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30 May 2008

Boston Globe Cost-Cutting

Apparently, the Boston Globe, under orders from World Headquarters in New York City, has made some cuts to save money.

One of them is to replace the conservative op-eds normally served there with a op-ed-writing computer program. Here is what the program, Jeff Jacoby 2.0, produced two days ago.

"When you stand for your liberty," Bush told the world's prisoners of conscience in 2005, "we will stand with you." Yet while the brave democrat Ayman Nour rots in an Egyptian jail, Washington continues to send $1.8 billion in aid each year to the brutal regime of Hosni Mubarak.

That $1.8 billion per year satisfies the United States's obligations under the Camp David accords, which mandated contributions to both Israel and Egpyt.

That $1.8 billion payment is the main reason why Israel and Egypt, which fought a war in 1967 and another in 1973, have not fought a war since then.

Why Jacoby would prefer a world in which Israel and Egypt were at best threatening each other with war and were probably fighting one now and again, over a world in which the two countries have stepped well back from a permanent-war posture is a very good question. Why the Globe continues to insult its readers that historic events like the Camp David accords simply do not matter is another good question.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/30/2008 12:51:00 PM

27 May 2008

The Likudnik Lobby, Revisited

it was refreshing to read Josh Marshall's take on an article on the New York Times on the Israel problem.

[I]f Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Barak were running for president in the US, they might not be deemed sufficiently pro-Israel to be acceptable in the American mainstream....

I won't take the time to recapitulate the whole article. But you should read it because it covers a basic reality—by conflating being pro-Israel with supporting the continued colonization of the West Bank, many of Israel's 'friends' in the US are placing Israel in great danger and doing no favor to the United States either.

What Marshall writes what I and others have said for years: discussion of Israeli policies in the United States too often resembles internal discussions in the right-wing parties of the Likudnik coalitions in Israel. It is bad for Israel and bad for Palestine, bad for Israelis and bad for Palestinians, for a country like the United States to be so willfully ignorant of both history and politics in the Middle East. Israeli policies ought to be dubbed colonial when they involve setting up colonies in East Jerusalem or Gaza or the West Bank.

The problem extends even progressive institutions in the United States. I get emails from a lot of groups, and one is Tikkun, which publishes a progressive magazine on Judaism and politics. And even they sent out an email decrying a mention of a one-state solution to Israel and Palestine, even though such a thing is normal enough to hear in many circles in Israel. (Whether it could practically happen is a different story, but the objection was to the idea itself.)

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Posted by Tim W at 5/27/2008 07:33:00 PM

Misunderstanding Marriage

When the California Supreme Court ruled that the California Constitution required the state to offer marriage to gay and lesbian couples, it did not take long for Jeff Jacoby to roll out his usual screed against gay marriage. The first part is the slippery slope that gay marriage will inevitably lead to.

In American law, certain conditions of marriage have always been nonnegotiable. A marriage joins (a) two people (b) of the opposite sex (c) who are not close relatives. Under that venerable definition, there can be no valid same-sex marriage, no polygamous or other plural marriage, and no incestuous marriage. But if the opposite-sex requirement is an unconstitutional infringement on the right to marry - which the California court explains as "the right of an individual to establish a legally recognized family with the person of one's choice" - then so are the restriction of marriage to two people and the ban on incestuous marriage. If two women who wish to marry each other must be permitted to do so, why not two sisters? Why not three?

This was the same argument that Jacoby made on 21 November 2003. And if gay marriage really were a slippery slope toward polygamy and incest, then one would expect that in the 54 months since the November 2003 decision in Massachusetts that there would be a groundswell of support for polygamous or incestuous marriages. One would think that if one's arguments relied on examples from the real world.

The second part of Jacoby's argument was also in his November 2003 column and in his 16 May 2004 column and his 22 May 2005 column as well. You see, the main purpose of marriage is procreation and gay and lesbian couples cannot procreate.

Men and women are not interchangeable, and same-sex unions—no matter how devoted and enduring—cannot take the place of a married husband and wife. The essential function of marriage is to unite male and female. That is the only kind of union that can produce new life, and therefore the only kind of union in which society has a survival stake.

Of course many gay and lesbian relationships are stable, loving, and happy. But since they cannot do what marriage can—bind men and women to each other and to the children that their sexual behavior may produce—they have never been regarded in the same light as marriage. Somehow, that crucial distinction eluded a majority of the California Supreme Court.

One might think that a responsible paper, one whose editors and owners considered it a paper of record, would encourage its columnists not to make such utterly risible arguments. But the Boston Globe is apparently trying to show that unfettered hackery is still worthy of a byline on the op-ed page.

First, many gay and lesbian couples get married in order that they may raise children, and often those children are the genetic offspring of one of the members of the couple. Every state in the union recognizes the benefit of encouraging a heterosexual spouse to raise the genetic offspring of his or her spouse. Why should it be different for homosexual couples.

Second, many gay and lesbian couples adopt children and raise them as their own. It would be tempting to ignore the fact that Jacoby did not mention that marriage protects adoptive children by providing them with two parents—but Jacoby's younger son Micah is himself adopted.

Finally, while procreation is certainly an activity that each state encourages in marriage, it is hardly a paramount concern of marriage. No state forbids the infertile from marrying, or limits marriage only to those who intend to have children. Menopause, advanced age, tubal ligation, vasectomies, irrational hatred of children, and even a complete lack of libido do not act as bars to matrimony. Jacoby ought to be smart enough to know this.

No, it is the ick factor that drives conservatives like Jacoby. They may talk about the joys of small government, but what they really want is a panopticon that will prevent their neighbors from deviating from the absolutely normal. Fortunately, modern societies are just a little ahead of the conservatives' time.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/27/2008 07:11:00 PM

21 May 2008

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

How incompetent is the Massachusetts Republican Party? If it were a minor-league team it would be the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, only with a worse record. If it were a television network, it would be the CW, only without "America's Top Model" on its schedule.

In October 2007, Republican Jim Ogonowski narrowly lost a special election to replace outgoing Democrat Marty Meehan—he won 45% of the vote, but Niki Tsongas, widow of former representative and Senator Paul Tsongas, captured 51% of the vote.

How ineffectual is the Republican Party in Massachusetts? Let me show you two ways.

First, the party will not have a challenger to Tsongas, even though its choice in the special election won 45% only 7 months ago.

Second, Ogonowski decided that his 2007 campaign was the foundation for a challenge to Senator John Kerry. But it seems that the organization of his campaign leaves more than a little to be desired:

Republican Jim Ogonowski, who has the backing of key party members in his bid to challenge US Senator John F. Kerry, could be in danger of stumbling on his first crucial test: collecting 10,000 voter signatures to secure a spot on the GOP primary ballot.

With all the signatures submitted by the campaigns and the exhaustive certification process winding down, Ogonowski still needs at least 259 certified signatures to qualify for the September primary. But even that estimate is low, because he is expected to need a cushion of up to 1,000 more to withstand challenges to the validity of individual signatures that are sure to be mounted by his rival in the GOP primary, Jeff Beatty.

"There appears to be some question as to whether he will make it," said Secretary of State William F. Galvin, a Democrat whose Election Division compiles signature tallies submitted by individual city and town clerks.

How a candidate who recently ran a campaign, and his staff who recently filled key roles in that campaign, could fail to meet the fairly modest signature requirements to get on the primary ballot is nothing short of amazing.

But there is something that Republicans are good at—and that is fundraising dinners:

Galvin's questions about the viability of Ogonowski's signature drive coincided this week with a boost to Ogonowski from former governor Mitt Romney, who is hosting a $1,000-per-person fund-raiser tonight at the Taj Boston hotel on Arlington Street.

Now, that's rich.

(In a sane state, the utter incompetence of the Republicans and the ethical dodginess of the legislative leadership would get the Green Party to contest a bunch of legislative seats in an effort to get the Democrats to pay heed to the Green platform. As far as I can tell, the Green Party is running for one state Senate seat. One out of 200 possible legislative slots means that the Greens are running a vanity operation, not a party.)

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Posted by Tim W at 5/21/2008 12:36:00 AM

18 May 2008


How do you know when your local newspaper columnist is a third-rate hack? One way to tell is how quickly the right-wing memes of the moment make it into print. Case in point, Jeff Jacoby of the nominally liberal Boston Globe, with this gem from today. Last week, Bush tried to argue that the Democrats were appeasers, and like clockwork, the little bird emerges from the hole in the clock.

Speaking in Jerusalem on Thursday, President Bush criticized the appeasement-flavored mindset of those who imagine that the world's worst tyrants can be placated with face-to-face chats. "Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals," said Bush, "as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along."

Though Bush didn't mention anyone by name, Democrats decided that his target was Barack Obama. The Obama campaign blasted the president for launching an "unprecedented political attack on foreign soil"—and insisted that if Obama is elected, "we're not going to sit down and engage Iran, unless or until they give up their nuclear weapons program."

Really? Obama's own website describes him as "the only major candidate who supports tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions." When Obama was asked during a televised debate last year whether he would agree "to meet separately, without precondition . . . with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea," he promptly answered: "I would."

If Obama has had a change of heart, he should say so. Complaining of an "unprecedented political attack" when he hasn't even been named, let alone misrepresented, is peevish and pathetic, not presidential.

The idea that negotiations, even with people we really do not like, are somehow some sort of appeasement is both stupid and dishonest. When Neville Chamberlain agreed in September 1938 to allow Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia, critics decried the appeasement of German imperial ambitions. And there was much to worry about: Germany was an industrial and military superpower, run by men with ambitions to run the world. And there was no reason to think that Germany was going to start abiding by international niceties.

Iran, on the other hand, is a superpower in no sense of the word. Its military capabilities are severely limited—it is no threat to any of its immediate neighbors. The idea that Iran is going to try to annex any territory, let alone claim it needs lebensraum is absurd—it is Israel that has, bizarrely, decided that German claims on the Sudetenland and some sort of model for statecraft.

And Iran's nuclear weapons program is years behind those of countries that the United States has managed to abide. Why Iran's nascent program is somehow anathema while Israel's is not is a worthy queation. Why Iran's program makes it a potential enemy while Pakistan's program does not keep it from being an ally of the United States makes the United States look like global schmucks. (The fact that Pakistan's nuclear designers were running a global nuclear technology swap meet makes the worry about Iran even more ludicrous.)

Hacks like Jacoby would have us believe that any negotiations with countries like Iran makes us appeasers. History has shown that countries with many reasons to distrist one another have had ample reason to negotiate about those reasons. The SALT talks between the United States and Soviet Union were important steps in limiting how hot the Cold War got. The Camp David accords in 1978 came about because Israel and Egypt—longstanding enemies which had fought two wars in the past dozen years—knew that negotiating was neither appeasement nor suicide. And I will bet that even Jeff Jacoby took some flak from his friends when he negotiated his contract with the supposedly liberal Globe.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/18/2008 04:11:00 PM

16 May 2008

Sporting Decision

This is a good thing for sport, even if Oscar Pistorius is unlikely to run fast enough to qualify for the Olympics.

Pistorius, who had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old due to a congenital disorder, was cleared on Friday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to use his prosthetic carbon-fibre limbs to compete in able-bodied events.

He can now attempt to qualify for this year's Beijing Olympics although his coach believes a more realistic target for the 21-year-old may be the 2009 world championships.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had banned Pretorius in January, ruling that the prosthetics gave him an advantage over able-bodied athletes.

I do wonder, however, why someone who has always claimed that he was trying to play within the rules would wear prosthetic limbs called cheetahs. (Or perhaps that is just my Bahstin accent coming to the fore.)

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Posted by Tim W at 5/16/2008 11:35:00 PM

14 May 2008

Why I Am Glad to Be a Structuralist

When you have a blog with literally dozens of readers (and you know who you are), it can be a humbling experience to see some of the drivel that sometimes comes out of your much more successful counterparts. And I try to remember that structure does matter, that politics and economics are more than just some abstract notions of how "rational actors" supposedly act.

Today, at Eschaton, aimai wrote the following bit of wisdom for the ages in reference to Senator Byron Dorgan's exasperation with continued deposits into the American Strategic Petroleum Reserve:

"Why on earth should we be putting oil underground at a time of record-high prices?" -- Senator Byron Dorgan

Because saving for a rainy day means enduring some not-perfectly-sunny-ones without ripping open the mattress and throwing all the money in the air, ok?

The big question should be, "Why are we accepting royalty payments in the form of $126/barrel oil instead of in cash, unless we somehow expect that $126/barrel is somehow a cheap price?" Whether there are 702 million barrels or 727 million (the capacity of the reserve), it will not last all that long if that were all the country relied on.

And the idea that it is somehow untouchable is a bit daft—there have been 3 sales and 10 loans from the reserve over the last 10 years. Halting deposits would hardly be failing to store nuts for the winter.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/14/2008 04:55:00 PM

04 May 2008

Hallmark Thinks You're Stupid

Hallmark is advertising its new recordable Mother's Day cards on television, what with Mother's Day coming in seven days and all. The cards allow you to record a 10-second greeting before playing an apparently appropriate song.

The commercial features a young woman who sends her mother a card that plays "Unbelievable" by the group EMF (see the card in question at this page).

I see nothing wring in spending $6 plus tax to do something nice for your mother. But, frankly, I think that my mother would be insulted by a song that featured these choice lyrics:

You burden me with your questions

You'd have me tell no lies

You're always asking what it's all about

But don't listen to my replies

You say to me I don't talk enough

But when I do I'm a fool

These times I've spent, I've realized

I'm going to shoot through

And leave you

The things, you say

Your purple prose just gives you away

The things, you say

You're unbelievable

And that's just in the first verse and chorus; they leave out both the four-letter f-word and the sample from notable pro-feminist fellow Andrew Dice Clay.

Basically, someone at Hallmark thinks that a kicking hook is all that either you or your mother will remember from this song, and that the actual meaning—that you are unbelievable, and not in a good way—will escape the both of you.

Or perhaps someone at Hallmark thinks that you know exactly what you are doing and that you Mom will be none the wiser. But that's an awfully cynical tack to take on Mother's Day, is it not?

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Posted by Tim W at 5/04/2008 09:44:00 PM

Hip to Inflation Now

The New York Times every so often puts together a truly wonderful graphic, and today's illustration of what makes up the consumer price index is one of those every-so-often occasions. It is to pie charts what homemade lemon meringue pie is to those monstrosities that McDonald's passes off as apple "pies."

And it shows, in detail, the amount of work that goes into approximating the complex space of consumer spending in a large country into one dimension.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/04/2008 07:50:00 PM

03 May 2008

Ad of the Month

(Alas, this ad is not online, so there is no link to the advertisement per se.) Barclays has a bunch of exchange-traded funds called iShares and a recent ad in Business Week and most likely other publications included this smarmy prose.

Imagine a world without market timing, trend chasing or irrational investing. Now that's a world we should all want to be a part of.

Here's the problem.

The iShares Investor's Guide trumpets some of the advantages of iShares.

While iShares ETFs provide diversification, they actually trade like stocks. This means they can be traded in any number of shares during market hours. They can be purchased with limit orders. They can be traded on margin.

If one were really upset about market trading, one would not stress the ability to trade a security at a market price during a session. And if one truly wanted to decry irrational investing, perhaps one would not mention trading on margin, the favorite investment tactic of the irrationally exuberant investor.

There is nothing inherently wrong with an exchange-traded fund, but there is nothing inherently heroic about them, either, despite what the Barclays marketing department might have you believe.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/03/2008 12:47:00 AM

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