Romney: Fanatic or Liar?

February 18, 2007

An anti-Mormon bigot heckled Romney at an event in Florida, calling him a “Pretender”; Romney responded, “We need a person of faith lead the country.” In other words, Romney believes, as Pat Robertson does, that atheists are unfit to lead.

Or, at least, that’s what he says to Evangelical crowds in Florida. To the mainstream media, he adopts a more moderate image, touting the importance of separation of church and state. On the one hand, he says, “Well, we have a separation of church and state in this country, and we should and it’s served us well.” On the other, like Obama, he opposes separation of church and state in practice. For example, on faith-based initiatives, he says,

Well, we don’t fund faith-based institutions, other than when they’re performing a non-faith role.

So right now we have faith-based initiatives in our state. Ann happens to lead that effort. And some of the faith-based institutions, particularly in the inner city, are doing a lot better job helping the poor, helping kids, helping families get on their feet than some government social service agencies.

So helping them in their secular role is, of course, fine.

There are several errors and sins of omission in that statement. Most importantly, there’s a huge problem of enforcement of laws against proselytizing on the state’s dime. In principle, religious organizations can get charity funding if a) they fund their charity activities from a separate, non-fungible account, b) the charity organization obeys all anti-discrimination laws, and c) the charity activities do not include any proselytization. In practice, none of the three conditions is seriously enforced.

It’s a trivial matter for a religious group to make its charity account de facto fungible. Engaging in charity is part of the job description; if the government didn’t put in a dime, the group would just step up its funding by spending less on religious activities. When Islamist groups engage in charity, Western governments often outlaw them based on ties to terrorism, even if the charity money is non-fungible. By the same argument, Dominionist groups that support discrimination against gays and atheists should be at least denied government funds, even if the government doesn’t outlaw giving them money.

Second, discrimination against gays in charity employment is routine. When New York State intended to start enforcing those laws, Salvation Army, which discriminates against gays, threatened to pull its entire operation from the state. Salvation Army went as far as engaging in lobbying against federal enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, while still enjoying a tax-exempt status.

And third, outside Romney’s disingenuous statements to the press, religious charities are always based on preaching. The prison initiative Brownback participated in was all about prayer. Obama’s Call to Renewal says that, “one can envision certain faith-based programs – targeting ex-offenders or substance abusers – that offer a uniquely powerful way of solving problems.”

In the rest of the interview, he keeps weaseling, waffling, flip-flopping, and triangulating. He first claims that “Abortion is taking human life” and then weasels out of answering the inevitable question of what the penalty should be. George Stephanopoulos tells him, “Murder is illegal in every state,” and he answers by spouting something about morals.

On gay rights, he begins by saying he’s against discrimination, and then continues by saying that “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ has worked well”; presumably, that the US military dismissed Arab translators, who were in shortage, because they were gay, does not conflict with working well. As expected, he’s against gay marriage even though he still says he’s for equal rights.

One of the advantages of Brownback is that I know where he stands. I know that when he rants about morality or abortion, he means it. In contrast, Romney is just an overall liar. As a secularist I can’t fathom even being neutral on him because of his open anti-atheist bigotry. Equally well, if I were a Dominionist I’d be suspicious of him because of his constant waffling on cultural issues.

Carnival of the Godless #60 is Up

February 18, 2007

Manifold Fates is still down, so Brent posted the 60th edition of COTG on UTI, including my own post about freedom from religion, which I don’t remember submitting to the carnival.

In related news, accidental blogger Ruchira Paul writes about the Texas legislator who said the theory of evolution was a Kabbalistic conspiracy and therefore unconstitutional to teach in public schools. She concludes, “Texas Governor Rick Perry recently issued an executive order to make vaccination of pre-teen girls with Gardasil mandatory in order to protect them from the Human Papilloma Virus.  Alas, no vaccine, mandatory or optional, exists to protect the children from the willful ignorance of their elders.”

Ann’s Weekly Feminist Reader has two stories about fundamentalist outrage. First, in Israel, certain ultra-Orthodox Jews are working hard to dispel the notion that Islam is uniquely abusive toward women. In Haredi areas, such as the entire city of Bnei Brak, buses are de facto gender segregated, with women sitting in the back. Now a woman who was harassed for not going to the back of the bus is launching a class action lawsuit aiming to break the gender-segregated buses.

And second, the Catholic Church is ranting about Portugal’s referendum. The national conference of bishops whined, “The favorable result for the ‘yes’ is a sign of accentuated cultural mutation by the Portuguese people.” I’m glad the bishops are coming to understand they’re behind the times. The Catholic Church has only itself to blame; it doomed itself to irrelevance when it elected Ratzinger Pope.

WordPress Installs LaTeX (and I Classify Finite Fields)

February 17, 2007

Hat-tip to Rod: WordPress has a new \LaTeX feature for mathematicians like me. I like Whig’s take on it the most; mine is going to be more prosaic.

Let K = \mathbb{F}_{p} = \mathbb{Z}/p\mathbb{Z}, and let L be an extension of K of degree n < \infty. Then L is unique among all degree-n extensions. To see why, note that |L| = p^{n} \Rightarrow \forall a \in L^{*}: a^{p^{n}-1} = 1, so L is the splitting field for x^{p^{n}-1} - 1 over K. As splitting fields are unique, the result follows.

Conversely, for every n, there exists a field L with [L:K] = n. To prove that, it’s enough to prove that the splitting field of x^{p^{n}-1} - 1 has exactly p^{n} elements. The polynomial has a nonzero constant, so it doesn’t have zero as a root.

If the field has fewer than p^{n}-1 nonzero elements, then it must have repeated roots. But its derivative is (p^{n}-1)x^{p^{n}-2} = -x^{p^{n}-2}, whose sole irreducible factor, x, doesn’t divide x^{p^{n}-1} - 1, contradicting the result that the polynomial has a repeated root.

To see that it doesn’t have more than p^{n} elements, note that the roots of the polynomial together with 0 form a field. This is because if a^{p^{n}} = a and b^{p^{n}} = b, then (ab)^{p^{n}} = ab clearly, and (a + b)^{p^{n}} = a + b by repeatedly applying the Frobenius automorphism.

That completes the classification of finite fields, which states that there is a unique finite field for each prime power order, and no finite field with an order that isn’t a prime power.

On another note, be nice to me. If you ask politely, I might go back to my earlier math posts and edit them to incorporate \LaTeX.

Saturday Link Roundup

February 17, 2007

I wanted this roundup to be science-themed, but there’s been too few linkworthy science posts and too many political posts. Still, starting with the science, GrrlScientist reports about how sulfur particles cause some global cooling, which can be exploited to mitigate global warming. The only thing I have to say about that is to recall the Futurama episode where Fry says at a ski resort, “It’s a good thing global warming never happened.” Leela retorts, “It did, but the nuclear winter balanced it out.”

Orac writes about the dilemma of whether to allow individuals access to experimental drugs. He comes down strongly on the side of not allowing, explaining that,

The entire ruling also seems to rest on a misperception that there are “miracle drugs” out there that we will have to wait years for because the FDA is too slow to approve them. However, if there really were such a “miracle drug” that was amazingly effective compared to anything we have now, a large randomized phase III trial would not be necessary to detect its efficacy. Indeed, its efficacy would almost certainly show up in even a small phase I trial. There’d be examples of amazing tumor shrinkage or even outright cures. In reality, we don’t see these things in Phase I trials, because there are no miracle drugs, at least not yet. Because the effects of most new drugs against various tumors tends to be less than miraculous, we need Phase III trials to determine safety and efficacy.

Kevin Alexander Gray of Black Agenda Report skewers Obama as a bland, white-identified politician who’s not listening to the black community’s concerns. Obama happens to be black, but he’s not the black voters’ candidate; black voters prefer Clinton, who they’re backing by several percentage points more than whites do, while supporting Obama by no greater numbers than whites do. It could be due to unfamiliarity, but it could also be due to Obama’s failure to tap into traditional sources of black support.

Matthew Yglesias turns his attention to Iran. Scott McLemee has an entirely misguided column on Inside Higher Ed that accuses liberals of not caring about Iranian democracy. Matt Yglesias notes that he has no idea what he’s talking about. After all, American conservatives want to bomb Iran, a surefire way to cement support for the regime, while the liberals are letting the regime crumble under its own weight.

Via Ars Mathematica I found a long article in the New York Magazine about praise and self-esteem. The two-line conclusion is that praising children’s intelligence will only hurt them by making them complacent and causing them to view failures as embarrassments, while praising their effort will make them work harder. In addition, praise needs to be specific – e.g. “It’s good that you can concentrate for so long” – or else it will be perceived as disingenuous. Draw your own conclusions about education.

A Platform We Can All Agree On

February 17, 2007

Having looked at the platforms of all the major Presidential candidates, I’ve come up with a synthesized platform that everyone can agree on and that everyone already campaigns on.

1. The economy must grow, and the faster the better.

2. The United States should win the War on Terror.

3. There should be fewer abortions and fewer teen pregnancies.

4. The health care and education systems ought to be improved.

5. Crime is bad.

6. The poverty rate should be lower.

Vote Jillack McRomani in 2008!

The US has Already Lost

February 17, 2007

I shouldn’t have to say it, but there’s still a large number of people in the US who fail to understand that the US has already lost in Iraq. Now that I’m back commenting on The Politburo Diktat, I’m realizing that shutting myself in a bubble of people who realize that the US is in for defeat isn’t productive.

So now that Yorkshire is calling the Democrats terrorists on Common Sense Political Thought, let me make a few things clear.

1. The US won the war almost four years ago; what this is about is winning the peace. And at that, it has had a consistently bad track record.

2. When Scott Ritter and Molly Ivins predicted what would happen almost to a t while Thomas Friedman has been reduced to perpetually claiming that victory is six months away and even the Bush administration is looking for another country to bomb, maybe it’s time to listen to the Ritters more and to the Friedmans less.

3. Bush said “You did not vote for failure.” He was right; the people who voted Democratic didn’t vote for failure, but for the recognition of failure.

4. You can spin the House resolution as giving aid to the terrorists. Equally well, you can spin it as telling the terrorists, “For four years, you enjoyed fighting an incompetent enemy that didn’t know when to quit. Now there’s a new sheriff in town, one that knows exactly where to hit you.”

5. Going by the 2006 Lancet study, 4/7 of violent deaths in post-invasion Iraq for which the perpetrator is known are caused by the coalition. Going by the figure of 600,000 excess deaths, this means 340,000 coalition-caused deaths in the first 40 months of occupation, or 8,500 Iraqis killed every month the US stays. Restricting to data from the last 13 months of the survey, we get 11,500 killed by the coalition every month. Even when ignoring deaths for which the perpetrator is unknown, we get an occupation-wide average of 4,500 and a last-year average of 6,500 per month. If you need to kill the entire civilian population off, you’re not winning the peace.

When Intuition Fails

February 17, 2007

A lot of abstract standards that have become intuitive tend to fail in situations too different from the one they were developed in. To see that in action, look no further than the standard of “Living human being,”* which people who believe fetuses should have more rights than adult women use to their advantage.

There are about three different ways to check if such an abstract standard fits a novel situation, of which two might be variations on a theme. The two are the scientific method, which relies on directly comparing the standard to scientific evidence, and the analogical or deductive method, which relies on looking at why the standard arose in the first place and seeing if the same situation applies. The third is a more philosophical method that’s based on seeing how the standard works in subjunctive and counterfactual situations.

And, it turns out, none of the 2.5 methods favors giving fetuses moral standards. Applying the scientific method here means looking at fetal development. At the earliest stage, that of undifferentiated cell clumps, the fetus isn’t even a real organism, but more like a pre-organism. Some pro-lifers recognize this and switch to potentiality arguments, which are mostly an act of desperation (“If my dad had gotten a scholarship to Columbia, then he wouldn’t have met my mom and I wouldn’t have existed; therefore, Columbia should be stingier with scholarships to people named Levy”).

Talking about fetuses without referencing developmental biology is less than futile. But once one talks about development, there’s any number of standards to apply to fetuses that make giving them moral status misguided. For one, there’s the oft-ignored fact that pregnancy isn’t just about the fetus.

Some people have a misconception that adult women are just fetus vessels that have no moral status of their own. Since these women are living human beings who exist in the same realm as the people that original standard applied to, we can safely ignore that misconception. Whenever there’s any fuzziness regarding the status of a fetus, abortion becomes an entirely moral act. If aborting a clearly sentient fetus is like refusing to donate a kidney to save a person’s life, then aborting a fetus whose developmental status isn’t entirely clear is like refusing to donate a kidney to save a gorilla’s life.

Beyond that, there’s the question of independence. Embryos aren’t organisms, and neither are fetuses. They have their own unique DNAs, but that’s just another standard that fails to make sense before birth; if it made sense, we wouldn’t talk of 130 million births and 50 million deaths every year, but of 850 million conceptions and 780 million miscarriages, abortions, and post-natal deaths.

And finally, there’s the question of sentience. Again, fetuses fail that by any reasonable standards. According to Visible Embryo, the first detectable brain waves, which plenty of species have, are present after 7 weeks. The brain isn’t even connected to the visual and auditory systems until week 24. It may sound like a severely retarded person, but severely retarded people can feel pain, which fetuses can’t until week 31. It’s only after birth that a human baby matches a severely retarded adult; for example, Ashley, who is about as mentally retarded as people go, is mentally a three-month-old.

The analogical method proceeds largely along the same lines, whence my comment that there are 2.5 rather than 3 different methods. The key observation here is that the standard of “living human being” developed because living human beings displayed clear signs of sentience, whereas other animals didn’t. This standard long predates any understanding of development or even pregnancy, so it’s not surprising it fails to hold for fetuses.

Once we’ve established the precise realm the standard was originally abstracted from – situations readily available to primitive tribes – we can start comparing fetuses to it. Born humans display self-awareness, which fetuses don’t. Biologically they’re independent, while fetuses are parasitic on another person.

The philosophical method works in a completely different way. The idea is to list as many subjunctives and counterfactuals to see if the standard is as universally applicable outside its original context as those who advance it say it is.

First, somewhat trivially, if we found another intelligent species – say, if dolphins were self-aware, or if we encountered an alien civilization – we’d have to include it in the list of “living ___ beings.”

Second, good science fiction recognizes the issue of AI rights. Sentient AI exists in a realm that is somewhat outside this of self-aware organisms, for reasons such as natural death and debugging. Still, the clear fact of sentience means something, even if AIs don’t really live. HAL-9000** has a personality and obviously resists disconnection, and yet the “living human being” standard would skip it entirely.

Third, standards that might make sense when talking about humans fail to hold in general. There are mite species that develop by eating their way out of their mother’s abdomen. As long as food is abundant, every female larva will die of motherhood. A self-aware species that is like that would have a different set of standards to apply to abortion from humans.

Granted, the third point doesn’t mean much if there’s any independent standard for abortion – e.g. the self-awareness test combined with a maternal rights override – but it only shows how the “living human being” standard is so fragile and in need of further justification.

The notion that fetuses have rights isn’t based on reason. It’s based on abstracting a principle to a situation that fails to apply, and then calling anyone who objects a monster. Occasionally, there’s a pseudo-scientific rant about heartbeats; presumably, by the same standard, a ten-hearted earthworm deserves the same moral status as ten people. But by and large, it’s a position based on lurid magnified photos of aborted fetuses. It might make good press, but good press isn’t necessarily good ethics.

* Actually, it’s usually “Living, breathing human being”; pro-lifers tend to elide the “breathing” part because fetuses don’t breathe.

** Yes, I know I talked of “good science fiction.” You can substitute Neuromancer if you’d like; HAL-9000 just has a more obvious personality, whereas Neuromancer is mostly a behind-the-scenes character.

Europe is Getting Tough on American Abuse

February 16, 2007

Update: I forgot to link to the relevant story.
In the wake of the release of a European Parliament report about the CIA’s use of European territory for illegal operations including kidnapping of innocent civilians, an Italian court has just indicted 26 CIA agents in an ongoing investigation of a kidnapping that occurred on Italian soil. The New York Times reports,

Despite the indictment, issued by a judge in Milan, it is unlikely that any of the Americans will ever stand trial here.

All the operatives, which included the top two C.I.A. officials in Italy at the time, have left the country. Moreover, Italy has not requested their extradition, and if it did, there seems little chance the Bush administration would agree.

But the indictment nonetheless marked a turning point in Europe, where anger is high at the secret American program of “extraordinary renditions” that whisked away terror suspects in contravention of the law after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The Italian investigation is less solid than the German one for several reasons. First, Prodi is under fire for not requesting extradition; such a request would be purely symbolic because no US President, much less Bush, would approve it. Second, the Italian justice system’s reputation could be better. And third, there are specific reports of irregularities in the investigation, including wiretapping Italian agents.

But still, despite the natural slowness of such investigations, the message is clear: the United States is not above international human rights laws.

What Clinton understood and Bush doesn’t understand is that American power isn’t monolithic; the US needs the cooperation of its allies to be able to achieve anything. Under Clinton, the CIA would have found ways of kidnapping those people that wouldn’t trigger a counterreaction from Germany and Italy. Bush would have none of that, because of his notion that his power shouldn’t be limited by anything, up to and including political reality.

Bush’s blatancy is as always his downfall. The CIA breaks the law countless times every day, but only when it does so in such a blatant way do local governments take enough of an interest to derail it. And only when the US has already squandered its support in the world do those governments take the step of indicting CIA agents.

In a way, Bush is the quintessential American. The American view of international politics is that respect for human rights is for lesser nations; Bush’s view of national politics is that respect for the Constitution is for lesser people. Where Clinton minimized the American proclivity for hotheadedness in policy, Bush exaggerates it.

I’m not naive enough to think American abuse is going to end just because Europe is starting to indict CIA agents. CIA abuse has a long history that includes openly flouting US law, to say nothing of foreign laws. And saying “I think the US should be limited by international law” in the US is like saying “I’m pro-American” in any other country. However, this investigation helps things a little bit if only because it creates a link between committing atrocities and losing the world’s goodwill.

Most American Christians Hate Atheists

February 16, 2007

Hat-tip to Jim: Gallup has just released a new “Would you vote for a well-qualified ___ Presidential candidate?” poll where the blank can stand for any political minority. As expected, atheists are the most hated.

If Your Party Nominated A Generally Would You Be Comfortable In Voting Well-Qualified Candidate For WH ’08 For A WH ’08er Who Was ___, Would You Vote For That Person?

                          Yes No
Catholic                  95%  4%
Black                     94   5
Jewish                    92   7
A woman                   88  11
Hispanic                  87  12
Mormon                    72  24
Married for third time    67  30
72 years old              57  42
A homosexual              55  43
An atheist                45  53

Nonreligious people were about 14% of the American population in 2001, up from 8% in 1990, so by extrapolation we can assume that 17% of Americans are nonreligious and that all of them would vote for an atheist. That means that of the remaining 83%, 64% wouldn’t vote for an atheist compared with 34% who would.

On another note, Romney is a Mormon, Giuliani is married for the third time, and McCain will be 72 in November 2008.

Social Normality

February 16, 2007

In a brief exchange I had with Lynet a few days ago, she raised the question of normality. Writing about how culturally ingrained sexism discourages women from pursuing an interest in math or science, she says,

I agree about it being kind of a stretch to think that a girl would consciously choose not to study maths because it’s not ‘feminine’. The notion of femininity is strongest these days insofar as it affects sexual relationships with men, I’d say. Part of the method of communication can sometimes involve shared assuptions about how a woman who feels attracted to a man will react.

It might perhaps be more ‘normal’-seeming for a girl to be disinterested in maths; I think ‘normality’ plays a bigger role than ‘femininity’ here. Both notions are of course gender-dependent.

The conception of normality is of course far stronger than sub-notions like femininity or masculinity or whiteness. At the risk of engaging in totalization, let me suggest that in fact these sub-notions depend on normality. Restrictive gender roles can’t live without a sense of social conformity that tells men to act like men and women to act like women.

One continual source of frustration for progressive activists is their total inability to combat conformity. Martin Luther King talked about judging people by the content of their character, but all he managed to do was remove skin color from the long list of superficial bases of judgment. In post-1960s America, people are still judged by their clothes and manner of speech and height and weight (though, to be fair, the 1960s also ushered in greater tolerance for subcultures than before).

Similarly, gay marriage is a good way to advance equal rights for gays and lesbians, but the libertarians, liberals, and radical leftists who are hoping to see the state stop enforcing its model of marriage on people are going to be disappointed. Like interracial marriage before it, single-sex marriage will not change anything about marriage, except remove one specific restriction. In 30 years, polyamorists will be rebuked, “Marriage is between only two people.”

This all-encompassing conformity is of course strongest outside these social battles. Take the standard modern Western view of gender relations, which illustrates just how complicated things are. What’s considered normal dragoons people to choose an archetype within their accepted gender role and stick to it.

Traditionally, men are expected to be strong and sporty and tough and have the same range of emotions as a clownfish; women are expected to be sexless before marriage and subservient and sexually submissive after. Nowadays, men are supposed to have a sensitive side they can switch on and off at will – Jack Bauer is not a John Wayne character – while women can choose between subservient femininity and ultra-masculinity. Naturally, subcultures and uncommon attributes like homosexuality and geekdom complicate things further.

Now, let’s apply that notion to women in math. This being 2007 rather than 1907, a 14-year-old girl with interest in math has a few rolemodels, both historical and contemporary, and knows that it’s possible for women to do math. But since math is so immersed in geek culture in the West, she may well be inclined to do something else if she doesn’t have a geeky personality.

This applies to both boys and girls, but ends up disadvantaging girls more. First, current geek culture is less gender-neutral than it would like to believe it is. If Gary Gygax had developed D&D for a female or even mixed target audience, he’d have built it with a more developed social interaction system and a less developed combat system.

Second, there’s a self-perpetuating myth that men can be mathematicians without sacrificing other interests while women can’t. In a culture that discourages women from doing math, the only women willing to overcome cultural expectations will be insanely dedicated to the point of having no other interests. That will only reinofrce the notion that math is somehow abnormal for women, perpetuating the cultural discouragement. This is essentially the intersection of social normality with the problem of rolemodels.

And third, the current construction of masculinity has a 1940s/50s Hollywood kernel with some modifications from the 60s and 70s. Since there have always been high-profile male mathematicians and scientists, there has been plenty of time to cultivate a properly masculine appreciation of science. The current model is one of the scientist or the mathematician as a conqueror or an explorer in uncharted territory. This has little to do with how math and science are actually done, but it’s romantic enough that people believe it. That way, men can be mathematicians without losing their gender-dependent normality, while women can’t.

For sure, this is a very gross simplification. I was ostracized for years for reading encyclopedias in my free time and being both good at and interested in math. But I had a support group of fellow (male) geeks, whereas the only girl in my class who was that geeky was kept out of our group even more so than the genuinely mentally disturbed male computer whiz.

Expectations of social normality affect everyone, but they always affect the marginalized the most. Women, and probably minorities and the poor as well, have to spend a large amount of the cultural equivalent of political capital to be taken seriously even if they have no special quirks, such as a love of mathematics. The best analogy here might be law school student loans, which indebt everyone but cripple people who had to take loans to pay for college.

Iran War Links

February 16, 2007

6:29 am isn’t the most fruitful time for another lengthy post about the war on Iran, so instead, I’m doing a link post.

First, the Commissar has a beautiful piece of snark about the American allegations that Iran is supplying Iraqi insurgents. “Bush to Bomb Washington,” his mock headline exclaims. Stephen has the courage to say what I didn’t dare: the US is supplying the insurgents via its criminal incompetence, so why not bomb Washington?

On top of that, Saudi Arabia is promising to arm the Sunni insurgents if the US withdraws. Ostensibly it wants to “prevent them being massacred by Shia militias,” but as always, “prevent us from being massacred by group Y” is code for “massacre group Y.”

Brock of Battlepanda notes that the standoff is increasing oil prices, which funnels money into the coffers of the Iranian government. Since much of Ahmadinejad’s weakness comes from his inability to make good on any of his economic promises, it follows that the saber-rattling alone strengthens the regime.

Publius of Obsidian Wings, which I should really start reading and add to my blogroll, writes about how procedure isn’t enough. Clinton’s response to Bush’s latest attempt to bomb a random third-world country is to demand that he submit to Congressional authorization. Publius reminds everyone that the Democrats said the same thing in 2002, and then rubber-stamped the Iraq attack.

If Publius plays good cop with Clinton, Avedon plays bad cop. Blunt and hard-hitting as always, she says,

The reason Clinton is getting the emphasis wrong is that she’s trying to be really macho about Iran and doesn’t dare say that there are worse things than Iran getting nuclear power, and one of those things would be using military force against Iran. And she apparently does not understand that nothing makes Iran want nuclear power like the constant belligerence from the United States against Iran. So just shut up about Iran and tell Bush flat out that he can’t go there.

Kenneth Baer says on TPMCafe that Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are right to engage in waffling rhetoric about keeping all options on the table because that’s what the experts recommend. Ezra retorts by showing that Baer is just wrong. While Baer’s article is filled with his own speculations, Ezra sticks to quoting the experts, who are far less pro-war than Baer says they are.

Dan Froomkin shows how in the absence of concrete evidence Iran is supplying Shi’a extremists, Bush is resorting to florid demagogy.

Delegitimizing Peacemakers

February 16, 2007

Caroline Glick at the Jerusalem Post writes a wonderful article that aims to delegitimize every Palestinian political group, no matter how prepared it is for peace. The standard is always the same: nothing short of total acceptance is okay, and nothing short of total obsequity is peaceful. I see it among pro-Palestinian extremists who portray Israelis as uniformly oppressive, and among pro-Israeli extremists who portrays Palestinians as uniformly pro-terror.

Glick’s first contention is that Fatah is just a kinder, gentler terrorist organization than Hamas. Presumably, that Fatah is prepared to recognize Israel and focuses on nonviolent resistance to the Occupation is not enough; as long as it doesn’t tell Olmert, “Sir, you’re allowed to arrest and kill any of our citizens at will without due process,” it’s a terrorist organization.

And, of course, there’s the ridiculous attempt to delegitimize half of the debate on the I/P conflict. The gamut of views ranges from wanting to wipe out Israel and wanting to keep Palestinians subjugated indefinitely. It’s possible in principle to exclude people who advocate violence against civilians, but that will leave maybe 20% of people in, which is of course futile. But it’s never sensible to exclude people whoadvocate violence only on one side.

Israelis like to believe that the first approach to the debate must be recognizing the validity of basic pro-Israeli promises: Israeli life is inviolable (while Palestinian life isn’t necessarily), Zionism is good, non-obsequious criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, and so on. So Glick makes the incredible assertion that calling Israel an apartheid state is somehow anti-Semitic because it denies Jewish self-determination.

Look, if you want to argue that every nation deserves self-determination, go ahead. Even the most extreme pro-Palestinian intellectuals in the West – Chomsky, Judt, Said – are officially left of Fatah, to say nothing of Hamas. The people who criticized South African apartheid didn’t ever advocate killing off white South Africans, even when they supported the African National Congress’s violent activities.

If you think the debate on abortion is marked by preaching to the choir, read some magazines that deal with the I/P conflict. On that issue preaching to the choir is not only normal but also seen as the mark of good citizenship. An Israeli who doesn’t refuse a priori to talk to anyone who’s more pro-Palestinian than Peace Now is seen as a traitor; a Palestinian who doesn’t refuse a priori to talk to anyone who’s more pro-Israeli than Rachel Corrie is seen as a collaborator.

Of course, different sides have different premises. Fortunately, the world tends to offer enough facts that anyone who’s sufficiently intelligent, sufficiently familiar with the other side’s contentions, and sufficiently right can make headway. Retreating to shrill papers like Z, the Jerusalem Post, Counterpunch, and National Review, and insisting on ridiculous ground rules is the mark of the intellectual coward.

The real danger here is of course not about relatively insignificant writers on partisan papers. Rather, it’s that governments will heed those writers’ requirements and stop negotiating. As Rabin and Peres emphasized time and time again in the wake of the Oslo Accords, peace is something you make with enemies. At the time, the Hamas bombings seemed to belie that saying; now that Palestinians are ready to move on and Fatah is no longer pro-terror, it makes perfect sense.

A pro-Palestinian purist would see Rabin as an oppressor. Why wouldn’t he? During the first Intifada, Rabin didn’t pledge support for the Palestinians, but rather said that the IDF should “Break their arms and legs” (variant quote: “break their bones”). He made peace not because of humanitarian concern with Palestinian suffering but because he realized it was in Israel’s best geopolitical interest. Fortunately, Arafat had other concerns, so he negotiated.

It’s attractive for the purist to look for like-minded idealists on the other side, but it’s not happening. There are no Zionists anywhere in mainstream Palestinian politics. Likewise, there are no heavyweight pro-Palestinians in Israeli politics, or any anti-Americans in American politics, or British patriots in French politics. In realist politics, each side’s politicians are concerned with their own country’s well-being no matter what side they’re on; those on the left just see peace as more beneficial than war.

But for negotiations to go anywhere, the governments need to make sure these purists who legitimize the peacemakers have no power. Palestine is trying to do that by ensuring that the people Israel negotiates with are Fatah members; but in Israel, where the nationalist parties are more popular, it’s impossible at this stage.

The only serious solution within Israel is to delude the Likudniks into thinking they have any power while shafting them in practice. Unfortunately, there are no sufficiently skilled politicians in Israel who can do that. Sharon could and for the most part did, but he’s incapacitated now.

To paraphrase Churchill, Fatah is the worst government the Palestinians have had and the worst negotiating partner Israel has had, except for all the other alternatives. Delegitimizing that party for no good reason is not something any responsible columnist who favors peace would do.

Carnivalia, and Open Thread

February 15, 2007

The 32nd Carnival of the Liberals is up on The Greenbelt (and my post didn’t make it); the next edition will be posted on Blue Gal on February 28th. The highlights are, I think, Reality-Based Government and The Problem with Detention without Trial.

Class-A blog whore Martin Rundkvist has posted his edition of the Carnival of History. The next edition will be posted on History is Elementary on 3/1.

The 54th Skeptics’ Circle is up on Action Skeptics; the next edition will be posted on 3/1 on The Second Sight.

On a semi-related note, PZ’s started an Order of the Molly award, given to the best commenter in the middle of each month. The commenters choose a distinguished commenter, who receives recognition from the blogger himself. If this blog ever gets to the size of Pharyngula or Pandagon or even Majikthise, I promise to promote every regular commenter’s blog.

Also, remember that the next Carnival of the Godless is up on Manifold Fates (whichseems to be down) on Sunday the 18th, and the next Carnival of Mathematics is up on Good Math, Bad Math on Friday the 23rd.

Abstinence-Only Education Reaches New Lows

February 15, 2007

Amanda has a really good post about a variety of things, from the importance of abortion to flip-flopping to sex education. On sex education, she quotes a Washington Post article by Marc Fisher that documents just how disgusting abstinence-only education can get. Says Fisher,

In the matter of the “gum game” — the yucky attempt in Montgomery County schools to impress upon teenagers the dangers of sexual promiscuity by asking them to share a piece of gum — all involved now appear to be appalled at themselves.

The idea that abstinence is the solution to such social ills as teenage pregnancy is based more on ideology than on facts. Of all developed countries for which data is available (p. 15 in the PDF), Poland has the least promiscuous teenagers, followed by Portugal. But out of 28 countries for which teen birth data is available, Portugal has the seventh highest teen birth rate and Poland has the ninth. English-speaking countries overall do the worst; dropping them, Portugal becomes fourth out of 23 and Poland becomes fifth.

In the US, research into abstinence-only education shows that its effects on STDs are not statistically significant. The Heritage Foundation tried weaseling out of it by saying that the research showed teens who pledged abstinence had lower rates of STD infections than teens who didn’t, but the research did in fact show that the difference isn’t statistically significant.

And, note, pledges are supposed to be the most benign and effective form of abstinence promotion. Scare campaigns don’t generally work; politically they’re disastrous – just ask Jerry Kilgore – while in marketing and in social promotion, they just fail to produce results. The anti-drug scare campaigns that permeate schools have after all failed to curb drug abuse.

And here’s the full text submitted about another favorite exercise that won’t be used anymore: “Exlax game.”

In this game, students were handed squares of Hershey’s chocolate, but before they popped the candy, they were told that a few kids had instead received Ex-Lax laxatives. Still want to eat it? Few did, and, in fact, Tierney assures me that although this exercise “really freaks them out,” it is only a mind game designed to drive home the idea of random risk — no laxatives were distributed to students.

So, if it’s not about results, what is it about? The obvious answer – sexual control and prudishness – is only partially correct. The organization that organized those games was a conservative group that the school system outsourced sex education to, so we can assume its motives are the same as those of the uderlying conservative pro-life movement.

Saying that this total opposition to birth control is due to sexual control is of course consistent with opposition to abortion. But it’s not the only thing that’s consistent. Modern conservatism is anti-pragmatic on everything: on foreign policy it would rather breed enemies than talk to enemies, on economics it would rather kick people off welfare rolls than offer retraining to reduce the need for welfare, on interrogations it would rather torture terrorists than get them to produce good intelligence, and on abortion it would rather ban abortion than offer good sex education.

That’s how opposition to stem cell research, which has nothing to do with sexual control, ties in. The route from a pro-life belief that embryos are people to opposing stem cell research is very short. It’s very much what the Political Survey defines as the pragmatic/idealist dimension of politics.

So it’s likely that sex education and birth control are tagged with the same association to abortion. Pro-lifers have set up what they believe to be the culture of life, defined by fetal and embryonic personhood, and immutable moral codes overruling practical considerations. In contrast, it says, pro-choicers have a contraceptive mentality. In that framework, abortion, contraception, and sex education are all symptoms of the same problem.

Fatah and Hamas Form a Unity Government

February 15, 2007

Despite my low expectations, Hamas and Fatah did agree on a unity government. Prime Minister Haniyeh submitted his resignation to President Abbas, and a new unity government is expected soon.

The problem, of course, is that the Palestinians are still worried that Western governments will shun them because of Hamas. If they will then they’ll be worse than the EU is when it comes to accession criteria, considering that the main reason Hamas is forming a unity government with Fatah is international pressure.

There’s a fundamental hypocrisy involved with the treatment of Hamas. The New York Times calls it a radical group, on account of its lack of recognition of Israel. It’s certainly not a pacifist party, nor even a terribly good one, but “radical” is somewhat over the top.

Likud and Israel Beitenu, the latter of which is part of the Israeli government, don’t recognize a Palestinian state. Sharon was compelled to leave Likud for Kadima because the Likud’s core members would not accept his withdrawal from Gaza Strip, which paved the way for an Israeli recognition of Palestine. Israel Beitenu’s leader has gone so far as calling Arabs traitors and pushing for retaliatory attacks on civilian targets.

Fibonacci-Type Sequences, Part 2

February 15, 2007

Recall from part 1 that a sequence is said to be of Fibonacci type if it’s given by the recursion relation a(n + t) = k(t)a(n + t – 1) + k(t – 1)a(n + t – 2) + … + k1a(n), with set initial conditions on a1, a2, …, and a(t). Recall also that every such sequence is given by a linear combination of sequences of the form a(n) = (n^k)(r^n), where r is a root of the associated polynomial x^tk(t)x^(n + t – 1) – … – k1 = 0 and k is a number between 0 and one less than the multiplicity of r.

A Carnival of Mathematics submission that notes how a convoluted sequence that generates all integers not divisible by 2, 3, or 5 has just enough material that Fibonnaci-type sequences are relevant to to prompt me to write a follow up, showing a few additional properties of those sequences.

1. Trivially, a sequence is Fibonacci-type iff it can be written as a sum c1(n^k1)(r1^n) + … + c(m)(n^k(m))(r(m)^n). The only if direction is clear from the calculation in the previous post, while the if direction follows by creating a polynomial for which every r(i) is a root of multiplicity at least k(i) + 1, such as the least common multiple of (xr(i))^(k(i) + 1) over all i.

2. Every periodic sequence is Fibonacci-type. This is because a periodic sequence is defined by the relation a(n + t) = a(n) for some t, which provides a suitable recursion relation.

3. The sum and difference of two Fibonacci-type sequences are themselves Fibonacci-type. This follows directly from #1, because there is no restriction on the possible values of r(i) and k(i).

4. The product of two Fibonacci-type sequences is Fibonacci-type. To see this, multiply elements of the form (n^k(i))(r(i)^n) pointwise. We have (n^k1)(r1^n)(n^k2)(r2^n) = (n^(k1 + k2))((r1r2)^n).

5. If the associated polynomial of a(n) is f(x) and this of b(n) is g(x), then this of a(n) + b(n) divides the lowest common multiple of f and g. This follows from the fact that if r is a root of the new associated polynomial of multiplicity k + 1, then (n^k)(r^n) appears somewhere in a(n) + b(n), so it must appear in a(n) or b(n).

6. A Fibonacci-type sequence can be continued to zero and negative values of n by reversing the recursion relation to a(n) = (a(n + t) – k(t)a(n + t – 1) – … – k2a(n + 1))/k1.

7. Specifying any t distinct points of a Fibonacci-type sequence and its recursion relation is enough to determine it. Usually the points specified are a1, a2, …, and a(t), but any t points will suffice, since they will provide t linear equations using the basis elements (n^k)(r^n) that allow recovering all values of c(i). These points can of course correspond to negative values of n.

8. Given any Fibonacci-type sequence a(n), the shifted sequence b(n) = a(n + 1) is Fibonacci-type. This is obvious from the recursion relations, which are invariant under shifting. Changing n to n + 1 changes (n^k)(r^n) to ((n + 1)^k)(r^(n + 1)) = r((n + 1)^k)(r^n) = r(n^k + kn^(k – 1) + (k(k – 1)/2)n^(k – 2) + … + kn + 1)(r^n), which corresponds to the same polynomial as (n^k)(r^n), (xr)^(k + 1). Using #6, this also applies to the shifted sequence b(n) = a(n – 1), except of course with a slightly modified change to the basis elements.

9. It makes sense to define the derivative of a(n), a‘(n), as a(n) – a(n – 1); it shares some characteristics with the derivative of a function. If a(n) is Fibonacci-type, then so is a‘(n) from #3 and #8. By observing the action of differentiation on each (n^k)(r^n), it follows that a‘(n) obeys the same recursion relations as a(n).

10. The general root r of the associated polynomial of a(n) appears in the associated polynomial of a‘(n) with the same multiplicity. That the multiplicity in a‘(n) is no higher than in a(n) follows from #9. For the other direction, if the multiplicity of r in a(n) is k + 1, and the coefficient of (n^k)(r^n) in a(n) is the nonzero number c1, then the coefficient of (n^k)(r^n) in a‘(n) is c1(r – 1), from #6. But if r = 1, then the multiplicity goes down by 1, since r – 1 = 0. Indeed, observe that n^k – (n – 1)^k = kn^(k – 1) – (k(k – 1)/2)n^(k – 2) + … + (-1)^(k + 1) is a polynomial of degree k – 1.

11. It makes sense to define the inverse differentiation operator, integration, by int(a)(n) = a1 + a2 + a3 + … + a(n). It’s not difficult to see that int(a)'(n) = a(n). If a(n) is Fibonacci-type then so is int(a)(n), with the same associated polynomial except that if 1 is a root then its multiplicity goes up by 1. Proving it is complicated, so I’ll do it in stages:

11a. If a(n) = n^k, then int(a)(n) is a polynomial of degree k + 1. For that, let p(n) = c(k + 1)n^(k + 1) + c(k)n^k + … + c0. We want the n^k-coefficient of p(n – 1) to be 1 less than this of p(n), so that c(k + 1)(n^(k + 1) – (n – 1)^(k + 1)) = n^k + q(n) where deg(q) < k; for that, we expand (n – 1)^(k + 1) binomially to get c(k + 1) = 1/(k + 1). By a similar process, we equate the c(k) coefficients to get c(k) = 1/2, and so on until we get c0 = 0. That polynomial was constructed to have the recursion relation p(n + 1) = p(n) + n^k and the initial condition p(0) = 0, so it’s indeed int(a)(n).

11b. If a(n) = r^n and r != 1, then int(a)(n) is a multiple of r^n plus a constant. To see why, note that (r – 1)(r^n + r^(n – 1) + … + 1) telescopes to r^(n + 1) – 1, so that int(r^n) = (r^(n + 1) – 1)/(r – 1) = (r/(r – 1))r^n – 1/(r – 1). That turns a(n) into a Fibonacci-type sequence whose associated polynomial is (xr)(x – 1). To get rid of the extra root, we need to sum from negative infinity when |r| > 1, i.e. look at (r – 1)(r^n + r^(n – 1) + …) = r^(n + 1). When |r| < 1, we need to instead look at the negative of the sum from n to positive infinity, which will be (r – 1)(-r^nr^(n + 1) – …) = –r^(n + 1). When |r| = 1, this sum does not converge and is therefore meaningless.

11c. If a(n) = (n^k)(r^n) and r != 1, then int(a)(n) is Fibonacci-type. For that, assume that this is true for all exponents smaller than k, and in particular for all polynomials of degree at most k – 1. Then write rint(a)(n) = r^2 + (2^k)r^3 + … + (n^k)(r^(n + 1)) = r + (2^k)r^2 + (3^k)r^3 + … + ((n + 1)^k)r^(n + 1) – r – (2^k – 1)r^2 – (3^k – 2^k)r^3 – … – ((n + 1)^kn^k)r^(n + 1). By the definition of int(a)(n), we get (r – 1)int(a)(n) = ((n + 1)^k)r^(n + 1) – r – (2^k – 1)r^2 – (3^k – 2^k)r^3 – … – ((n + 1)^kn^k)r^(n + 1). The first term is Fibonacci-type by #9, and the sum of the rest is by assumption.

11d. The associated polynomial of int((n^k)(r^n)) is (x – 1)(xr)^k. The first term in #11c has the associated polynomial (xr)^(k + 1) from #9; the remainder has (x – 1)(xr)^k by assumption. From #5, int((n^k)(r^n)) is Fibonacci-type for all k with associated polynomial dividing (x – 1)(xr)^(k + 1). That division can’t be proper, because only the first term
has the term (n^k)(r^n) while only the remainder has a constant term.

12. The trigonometric functions sin and cos are Fibonacci-type. Note that because pi is irrational, sin(n) is not periodic. However, the identity e^ix = cos(x) + isin(x), derived from considering the Maclaurin expansions e^x = 1 + x + x^2/2 + x^3/3! + …, sin(x) = xx^3/3! + x^5/5! – …, cos(x) = 1 – x^2/2 + x^4/4! – …, allows us to express sin and cos in terms of exponentials. We get cos(x) = (e^ix + e^(-ix))/2, sin(x) = (e^ixe^(-ix))/2i. But ((e^i)^x) and ((e^(-i))^x) are Fibonacci-type; hence, so are sin and cos, by #3.

13. Separating a Fibonacci-type sequence into parts results in Fibonacci-type sequences. That is, if a(n) is Fibonacci-type, and b(n) = a(cn + d), then b(n) is Fibonacci-type. To see why, note that this turns (n^k)(r^n) into ((cn + d)^k)(r^(cn + d)) = (c^k)(r^d)((n + d/c)^k)((r^c)^n) where ((n + d/c)^k) is a polynomial in n of degree k.

14. Weaving several Fibonacci-type sequences into one results in a Fibonacci-type sequence. I’ll only prove it when “several” means “two”; the generalization is straightforward enough to be left as an exercise. When a(n) and b(n) are Fibonacci-type and c(n) = a(n/2) for even n and b((n + 1)/2) for odd n, we can use the fact that (-1)^n + 1^n = 2 when n is even and 0 when n is odd to alternatively activate or deactivate the sequence. More precisely, given (n^k)(r^n), note that (((n/2)^k)(SQRT(r)^n) + ((n/2)^k)((-SQRT(r))^n))/2 = ((n/2)^k)(r^(n/2)) when n is even and 0 when n is odd.

15. If a(n) is periodic of period t, then all of its basis elements are of the form r^n with r^t = 1 for all r. This follows from the definition, since the associated polynomial of the sequence is x^t – 1. Now, if r^t = 1, then e^(2pi*i) = 1 implies r^n = e^(2pi*in/t) = cos(2pi*n/t) + isin(2pi*n/t).

The carnival submission takes a sequence with periodic differences and constructs an explicit formula for it with trigonometric, constant, and linear terms. That is immediately a Fibonacci-type sequence from #1 and #11; #15 also shows that the associated polynomial has 1 as a double root, corresponding to the constant and linear terms, and every other 8th root of unity as a simple root, corresponding to each trigonometric term, where the argument is indeed a multiple of pi*n/4.

Why Do All These Women Care About Abortion?

February 14, 2007

E. J. Dionne is noting that politicians tend to flip-flop on abortion a lot, and suggests this is because it’s not that important a political issue except to each party’s base. And, in a way, he could be right. Most politicians don’t care about abortion. Why would they? The average politician everywhere is an upper-class male with a post-menopausal wife who has access to contraceptives.

In the US, there are only two serious Presidential candidates this issue means something to. Not coincidentally, one of them is the only woman in the race (the other is a genuine Dominionist). In the 2004 primary, when the only woman in the race was a lightweight, the only contender who cared about the issue was a doctor who had interned at Planned Parenthood and later encountered pregnant teens in his practice.

In such a climate, it’s not surprising that people who think the entire political arena will be a lot more civil if only women and the men who care about their concerns shut up. Fifteen years ago, the same sentiments were aired in connection to black people, and indeed the Democratic Party became the party of welfare reform and the drug war. The sentiment is always the same: unless an issue predominantly affects rich white American men, it’s not worth fighting over.

But then again, there could be other reasons why politicians flip-flop on abortion. One is confirmation bias: politicians flip-flop on everything, but Dionne is looking for a reason to dismiss only abortion. Edwards is woefully inconsistent on foreign policy, McCain is inconsistent on everything, and Romney’s campaign’s choice line is about a position he disagreed with in 2002.

Candidates usually don’t care about any issue but one or two core ideas. For Edwards, everything but poverty is secondary. For Clinton, it’s mostly foreign policy; she’s fairly consistently hawkish. For Brownback, it’s religious fundamentalism, which explains his relative centrism on economics and foreign policy. It’s very rare to find someone like Feingold, who consistently fails to flip-flop even on issues that aren’t central to his political identity.

But suppose Dionne is right and this trend is more marked for abortion. There’s an alternative explanation that he doesn’t even mention: the political gamut on abortion. Abortion is perhaps the only political issue in the US on which the political gamut spans all possible views; debate on other issues is very narrow.

The average poll shows that there’s at least a substantial minority for every position on abortion in the US from “available on demand” to “legal only to save the woman’s life,” as well as for every sub-issue, such as parental notification and state funding.

No other issues displays this breadth in the US. On foreign policy, Americans are divided on whether to approve every military action, or every military action except those executed with total incompetence. The gamut on unions runs from opposition to strong opposition. The gamut on health care runs from major reforms to a total overhaul, with Milton Friedman’s view and even support for the status quo being out of the question. On education, the issue of funding equality isn’t even on the radar.

In that light, it’s not surprising candidates will flip-flop on abortion, since their views are likely to be almost right in the middle. Anyone with even a slight left-of-center attitude toward economics, like me, can be relied on to support the Democrats, who are still to my right on the issue. But in a debate when the two mainline views on abortion are very far apart, a politician is very likely to be in the middle, where he’s likely to waver.

It could be that this is what Dionne is rooting for. A lot of pundits would like to see fewer distinctions between the parties, which would allow them to make broad policy pronouncements without antagonizing anyone. For the people, more distinct parties mean more choice at the ballot box; for the punditry, they mean being required to take concrete positions on controversial issues.

This is probably why the media loves Obama so much. Regardless of what he does in practice, in theory he calls for greater party cooperation, which is good for any media spectator who wants to gain political power without going through the trouble of convincing large numbers of voters that he’s right.

Lessons from Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2007

In the future, I’ll try modeling my relationships on the following observations from days like Valentine’s:

1. There’s a pandemic virus that blooms only 2/14 and destroys every relationship, unless it’s treated with cordiform chocolate.

2. Flowers are a convenient way of expressing anything without having to go through the trouble of saying it in a touching and intelligent way.

3. The reproductive organs of plants are an aphrodisiac. Those of animals are disgusting.

4. Buying your partner gifts on any of 364 days of the year is optional. Buying gifts on one specific day is mandatory.

Romney’s Weak on the Honesty Thing

February 14, 2007

Romney has just announced his Presidential campaign. His first act as a campaigner was to flip-flop on various cultural issues, signaling to cognizant conservatives that they can expect him to tell them what they want to hear and then shaft them once he’s in the White House.

First, as the linked article mentions, he was pro-choice in 2002 when he had to win a Gubernatorial race in Massachusetts, and is pro-life now that he has to win a Republican primary.

Second, his campaign website‘s featured quote is “America cannot continue to lead the family of nations around the world if we suffer the collapse of the family here at home,” the idea being that gay marriage is that detrimental. But in 1994, he believed gay marriage was a state issue; as late as 2002, he said, “All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual preference.”

And third, glancing at the list of issues the campaign website offers shows that there’s very little to agree or disagree with. Romney believes the US should win the War on Terror, successfully compete with China, improve its health care and education systems, discourage illegal immigration, and invest more in technology. Compared to that, Mark Warner is a wild-eyed idealist.

Melissa is Out, Too

February 13, 2007

Okay, I understand that Amanda is a lightning rod for conservatives. But why did Melissa have to follow suit and resign?

I regret to say that I have also resigned from the Edwards campaign. In spite of what was widely reported, I was not hired as a blogger, but a part-time technical advisor, which is the role I am vacating.

I would like to make very clear that the campaign did not push me out, nor was my resignation the back-end of some arrangement made last week. This was a decision I made, with the campaign’s reluctant support, because my remaining the focus of sustained ideological attacks was inevitably making me a liability to the campaign, and making me increasingly uncomfortable with my and my family’s level of exposure.

I understand that there will be progressive bloggers who feel I am making the wrong decision, and I offer my sincerest apologies to them. One of the hardest parts of this decision was feeling as though I’m letting down my peers, who have been so supportive.

There will be some who clamor to claim victory for my resignation, but I caution them that in doing so, they are tacitly accepting responsibility for those who have deluged my blog and my inbox with vitriol and veiled threats. It is not right-wing bloggers, nor people like Bill Donohue or Bill O’Reilly, who prompted nor deserve credit for my resignation, no matter how much they want it, but individuals who used public criticisms of me as an excuse to unleash frightening ugliness, the likes of which anyone with a modicum of respect for responsible discourse would denounce without hesitation.

This is a win for no one.

This is the entire thing, but go read Melissa’s post and make a sympathetic comment anyway. She is pristinely clean and perfectly articulate, and frankly I think her announcement is a lot more inspiring than Amanda’s. Change a few words and it becomes a straight talker’s stump speech.