October 31, 2008
Nature Endorses Obama
[S]cience is bound by, and committed to, a set of normative values — values that have application to political questions. Placing a disinterested view of the world as it is ahead of our views of how it should be; recognizing that ideas should be tested in as systematic a way as possible; appreciating that there are experts whose views and criticisms need to be taken seriously: these are all attributes of good science that can be usefully applied when making decisions about the world of which science is but a part. Writ larger, the core values of science are those of open debate within a free society that have come down to us from the Enlightenment in many forms, not the least of which is the constitution of the United States.
On a range of topics, science included, Obama has surrounded himself with a wider and more able cadre of advisers than McCain. This is not a panacea. Some of the policies Obama supports — continued subsidies for corn ethanol, for example — seem misguided. The advice of experts is all the more valuable when it is diverse: 'groupthink' is a problem in any job. Obama seems to understands this. He tends to seek a range of opinions and analyses to ensure that his own opinion, when reached, has been well considered and exposed to alternatives. He also exhibits pragmatism — for example in his proposals for health-care reform — that suggests a keen sense for the tests reality can bring to bear on policy.
Show Solidarity with Khalidi
Ezra Klein has a good suggestion:
Okay, one more quick Khalidi comment. Over at the Motherblog, Tim Fernholz analyzes the controversy and concludes, "no one knows who Khalidi is outside of the media and high information voters, and an even smaller universe of people cares. The attacks by McCain are reprehensible...but ultimately this is not an election about small stuff. This is a big stuff election." If you want a one-line summary of why John McCain's Distract-O-Tron 3000 strategy has failed to connect, you can't do much better than that.
Meanwhile, Khalidi is, as everyone keeps telling you, a well-respected and incisive scholar of the Middle East in general, and the Palestinian struggle for nationhood in particular...
Presumably, this experience has not been a pleasant one for Khalidi. But it would be nice if some good emerged from it in the form of broader familiarity with his important works. So next time you hear Hannity explain how Rashid Khalidi urinates on a Haggadah during full moons, head over to Amazon and pick up a copy of The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Its an important book on its own terms, and its purchase is a worthy counter-statement to this type of anti-Arab fearmongering.
Green Porno: Snail by Isabella Rossellini
Thanks, Robin! ;-)
How Will Mobilization for Obama Affect the Vote on Proposition 8?
Scott Stiffler in Edge (Miami):
One of the largely unasked questions of the election is how the turnout by African Americans in California will affect Proposition 8. Will increased numbers of African American voters who arrive at California polls in support of Barack Obama play a decisive role in eliminating the state’s recent same sex marriage advances?
Several veteran human rights activists are working hard within the community to convince African Americans that defeating Proposition 8 is part of the logical continuation of gains made in the civil rights era and beyond.
Their work serves a s a rebuttal to a contentious New York Times article that speculated, "Black voters, enthused by Mr. Obama’s candidacy but traditionally conservative on issues involving homosexuality, could pour into voting stations in record numbers to punch the Obama ticket - and then cast a vote for Proposition 8."
Proposition 8, a result of last year’s state Supreme Court decision allowing for same sex marriage, asks voters to decide, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California." As each side spends millions to bend the hearts and minds of voters to their side, the latest polls from this past weekend show a statistical dead heat after adjustments are made for the margin of error. The first poll, sponsored by No on 8 and conducted by Lake Research, shows 47 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed. A Survey USA poll shows 47 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed.
But is the link between conservative voting patterns and skepticism among African Americans towards gay rights legitimate, or is it just another attempt to box a diverse population into a convenient label?
In Egypt Today, a profile of the new provost of the American University in Cairo:
After 20 years at Columbia, the move to Cairo and AUC is a big shift for Anderson, whose name became publicly associated with the Middle East when she invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at the Columbia World Leaders Forum in 2006. The controversial invitation — heavily criticized in the US and later rescinded by the university because of “security concerns” — illustrates Anderson’s forthright personality as a leader who is not afraid of challenges.
Anderson’s relationship with Egypt began approximately 30 years ago when she was a student at AUC’s Center for Arabic Study Abroad.
“The current state of my Arabic does not reflect well on the program,” she laughs, “but I had a really wonderful time. It was just one of those experiences that begins to change what you aspire to do. I ended up being a political scientist who works a lot in the Middle East.”
In September 2007, Anderson was appointed to AUC’s Board of Trustees along with Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and former US Assistant Secretary of State Dina Habib Powell.
“All along, I had been following AUC’s ambitious fundraising efforts for the new campus. I remember coming to Cairo last February and walking around the new campus for the first time. I thought it was just breathtaking. So when I was given the opportunity to come out and put the intellectual and academic meat on the bones of this campus, it was just too irresistible to pass up,” says Anderson. “The fact that AUC is undergoing this dramatic transformation was very much a part of the appeal for me.”
is it over?
This is the 13th presidential campaign I have followed, as a teenager and as an adult, and the only previous campaign that generated anything like the same passion and enthusiasm was the first of those: John Kennedy’s in 1960. For many people, including myself, the excitement of this campaign is the prospect of an African-American president who could change the direction of his country, and perhaps the world, after the barren Bush years.
However, we should not allow excitement to mask reality. The Obama-McCain contest has generated a number of myths about America's electorate - and it has also generated the polling evidence to extinguish those myths. What is that evidence? And how far can we trust the polls that tell us that Obama is heading for an emphatic victory?
more from The New Statesman here.
The enormous growth of the financial sector is one of the wonders of our age. In the 1960s the business of banking, broking and insuring accounted for just 10 per cent of total corporate profits in most developed economies. By 2005, this proportion had swelled to nearly 35 per cent in the US and roughly the same in Britain—the two countries that host the world's largest financial centres. Last year a staggering one in five Britons earned their living in finance.
Of course, the profitability of the financial sector is declining on account of the credit crisis. But the politicians and financial authorities have felt obliged to plug the holes that have appeared in a deflating system with vast public support, and now even direct capital injections. Finance is now not only big, but worryingly unstable. Moreover, embedded in this growth is a mystery. Whereas companies such as Microsoft and Google have risen by devising products that have added to the productive capacity of the economy, finance provides no such final good or product. It is a utilitarian mechanism for bringing together savers and borrowers, and this has not changed markedly since the 1960s (although, as we shall see it has become considerably more complex). So what explains its relentless expansion?
more from Prospect Magazine here.
an american story
A year ago, no one here would have predicted that a black candidate would become the nominee of a major party and have a more than realistic chance of winning the White House on 4 November. And it's a testament to Obama's considerable skill that he has largely managed to make his race an afterthought. America is on the verge of something historic and it almost seems anticlimactic.
But black Americans are still pinching themselves, still not quite able to believe what has been achieved. And all Americans should pause from the heated political rhetoric and reflect on the sense of accomplishment, win or lose, that his candidacy represents - an affirmation of that American ideal.
I think back to my father, who suffered terrible racism in the south, still believing for his son: 'You can be anything you want to be.' That means any little boy can even dream of being President. And that really is only in America.
more from The Guardian here.
Trapped in the New 'You're on Your Own' World
In the NYRB, Robert Solow reviews Peter Gosselin's High Wire: The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families:
Statistical [income] volatility is an abstract fact. Gosselin humanizes it by choosing as his basic indicator the chance that a person or family will experience a year-to-year drop in income of more than 50 percent. Sure enough, this probability almost doubled between the decades of the 1970s and the 2000s, from one in twenty to about one in eleven. (The probability of a 50+ percent rise in income also increased from about one in nine to one in seven. Volatility works both ways, but it is the bad surprises that hurt.)
Then Gosselin does an interesting thing. What sorts of contingencies would lead to such a drastic and sudden reduction in a family's income? The obvious suspects are major unemployment, illness, retirement or disability, divorce or separation, death of a spouse, even birth of a child leading to one parent's withdrawal from a job. Adding all these together, Gosselin finds that their combined incidence was somewhat lower in the decade between 1994 and 2003 than it had been between 1974 and 1983. If one of them happens, however, the chance that it leads to a 50 percent drop in income was much higher in the later period than in the earlier one. So it is the financial risk that has jumped, not the generic hard luck. This sounds suspiciously like the tearing of a safety net. Welcome to the world of Individual Responsibility—the approach to economic security that has been advocated by government and the private sector in recent years.
John Judis on McCain's Attack on Khalidi
I have plenty of problems with TNR, especially on the question of Palestine, but this account of what's wrong with the McCain's campaigns slanderous assault on Rashid Khalidi is spot on. Calling Khalidi a neo-Nazi is directly in the tradition of McCarthy and the worst of southern racism (via Josh Marshall).
No on Proposition 8 in California: Fighting Legally Enshrined Discrimination
Marriage is the institution that conveys dignity and respect to the lifetime commitment of any couple. PROPOSITION 8 WOULD DENY LESBIAN AND GAY COUPLES that same DIGNITY AND RESPECT.
That’s why Proposition 8 is wrong for California.
Regardless of how you feel about this issue, the freedom to marry is fundamental to our society, just like the freedoms of religion and speech.
PROPOSITION 8 MANDATES ONE SET OF RULES FOR GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES AND ANOTHER SET FOR EVERYONE ELSE. That’s just not fair. OUR LAWS SHOULD TREAT EVERYONE EQUALLY.
by Mei Yao-ch'en (1002-1060)
A maid comes running into the house
talking about things beyond belief,
about the sky all turned to blue glass,
the moon to a crystal of black quartz.
It rose a full ten parts round tonight,
but now it's just a bare sliver of light.
My wife hurries off to fry roundcakes,
and my son starts banging on mirrors:
it's awfully shallow thinking, I know,
but that urge to restore is beautiful.
The night deepens. The moon emerges,
then goes on shepherding stars west.
translated from the Chinese by David Hinton
From Mountain Home: The Wilderness
Scientists prove it really is a thin line between love and hate
From The Independent:
Love and hate are intimately linked within the human brain, according to a study that has discovered the biological basis for the two most intense emotions. Scientists studying the physical nature of hate have found that some of the nervous circuits in the brain responsible for it are the same as those that are used during the feeling of romantic love – although love and hate appear to be polar opposites. A study using a brain scanner to investigate the neural circuits that become active when people look at a photograph of someone they say they hate has found that the "hate circuit" shares something in common with the love circuit.
The findings could explain why both hate and romantic love can result in similar acts of extreme behaviour – both heroic and evil – said Professor Semir Zeki of University College London, who led the study published in the on-line journal PloS ONE. "Hate is often considered to be an evil passion that should, in a better world, be tamed, controlled and eradicated. Yet to the biologist, hate is a passion that is of equal interest to love," Professor Zeki said. "Like love, it is often seemingly irrational and can lead individual to heroic and evil deeds. How can two opposite sentiments lead to the same behaviour?"
The study advertised for volunteers to take part in the study and 17 people were chosen who professed a deep hatred for one individual. Most chose an ex-lover or a competitor at work, although one woman expressed an intense hatred for a famous political figure.
(Picture: Michael Douglas and KathleenTurner played a couple with a stormy relationship in the 1989 film War Of The Roses).
THE IRONY OF POVERTY
A Talk By Sendhil Mullainathan: He is a Professor of Economics at Harvard, a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant", conducts research on development economics, behavioral economics, and corporate finance. His work concerns creating a psychology of people to improve poverty alleviation programs in developing countries. He is Executive Director of Ideas 42, Institute of Quantitative Social Science, Harvard University.
I want to close a loop, which I'm calling "The Irony of Poverty." On the one hand, lack of slack tells us the poor must make higher quality decisions because they don't have slack to help buffer them with things. But even though they have to supply higher quality decisions, they're in a worse position to supply them because they're depleted. That is the ultimate irony of poverty. You're getting cut twice. You are in an environment where the decisions have to be better, but you're in an environment that by the very nature of that makes it harder for you apply better decisions.
October 30, 2008
Does Nature Break the Second Law of Thermodynamics?
From Scientific American:
Science has given humanity more than its share of letdowns. It has set limits to our technology, such as the impossibility of reaching the speed of light; failed to overcome our vulnerabilities to cancer and other diseases; and confronted us with inconvenient truths, as with global climate change. But of all the comedowns, the second law of thermodynamics might well be the biggest. It says we live in a universe that is becoming ever more disordered and that there is nothing we can do about it. The mere act of living contributes to the inexorable degeneration of the world. No matter how advanced our machines become, they can never completely avoid wasting some energy and running down. Not only does the second law squash the dream of a perpetual-motion machine, it suggests that the cosmos will eventually exhaust its available energy and nod off into an eternal stasis known as heat death.
Ironically, the science of thermodynamics, of which the second law is only one part, dates to an era of technological optimism, the mid-19th century, when steam engines were transforming the world and physicists such as Rudolf Clausius, Nicolas Sadi Carnot, James Joule and Lord Kelvin developed a theory of energy and heat to understand how they work and what limited their efficiency. From these nitty-gritty beginnings, thermodynamics has become one of the most important branches of physics and engineering. It is a general theory of the collective properties of complex systems, not just steam engines but also bacterial colonies, computer memory, even black holes in the cosmos. In deep ways, all these systems behave the same. All are running down, in accordance with the second law.
How Simon Cowell saved American democracy
Alan H. Fleischmann in The New Republic:
There's actually every indication that young people will flock to the polls. But the pundits still have it all wrong. If high school seniors, college kids, and twenty-somethings flood the electorate this season, it will have a lot to do with Barack Obama for sure. Of course, he's inspiring them. But there is another man who is as important in their development as citizens and has significantly less faith in the power of idealism and hope: I'm speaking of Simon Cowell.
Cowell is that acerbic Englishman who serves on the panel that judges "American Idol," the hit singing competition on Fox. For nearly the entirety of the Bush administration, "Idol" has dominated the Nielsens and occupied far too large a space in the collective mind of the nation. The reasons for "Idol's" appeal are readily apparent: It is about young people performing under enormous pressure and being subjected to Cowell's acidic wit. But the show also owes its success to its interactivity. That is, the public gets to dial 1-800 numbers and text message the votes that determine which contestants succeed (or fail). The success of "Idol" has spawned a raft of other reality shows where the public votes to determine the outcome.
There are important differences between "American Idol" and our constitutional American system. "Idol" is a direct democracy, for one. (And, like in Chicago of yore, "Idol" watchers can vote as often as they desire.) But, at the end of the day, they are both about voting. And as much as some might scoff at the deleterious effects of "Idol" on our culture, it has created a culture of voting among our young people.
Hockey Mama for Obama
And keep this in mind:
A Fateful Election
From the New York Review of Books:
For an election in which so much is at stake, we asked some of our contributors for their views.
the story as of late last night
more from FiveThirtyEight here.
Epic Games is a privately owned company and does not disclose its earnings. But on a Monday morning in late April, while standing in Epic’s parking lot, at Crossroads Corporate Park, in Cary, North Carolina, awaiting the arrival of Cliff Bleszinski, the company’s thirty-three-year-old design director, I realized that my surroundings were their own sort of Nasdaq. Ten feet away was a red Hummer H3. Nearby was a Lotus Elise, and next to it a pumpkin-orange Porsche. Many of the cars had personalized plates: “PS3CODER” (a reference to Sony’s PlayStation3), “EPICBOY,” “GRSOFWAR.”
The last is shorthand for Gears of War, a shooter game, which Epic released in November, 2006, for play on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console. Gears of War was quickly recognized as the first game to provide the sensually overwhelming experience for which the console, launched a year earlier, had been designed. Gears won virtually every available industry award, and was the 360’s best-selling game for nearly a year; it has now sold five million copies. On November 7th, a sequel, Gears of War 2, will be released; its development, long rumored, was not confirmed until this past February, when, at the Game Developers’ Conference, in San Francisco, Bleszinski made the announcement after bursting through an onstage partition wielding a replica of one of Gears of War’s signature weapons—an assault rifle mounted with a chainsaw bayonet.
more from our pal Tom Bissell in The New Yorker here.
the Claude Lévi-Strauss century
In 1938, the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss drove a mule train up a derelict telegraph line, which wound its way across the scrublands of Mato Grosso state in Brazil. He headed an ethnographic team conducting fieldwork among the semi-nomadic Nambikwara who roamed the plains through the dry season. Photographs from the journey look dated even for their era. Men in pith helmets mingling with virtually naked tribesmen, mules heaving crates of equipment through the wilderness, laden-down canoes and jungle campsites – it all has the feel of some grand nineteenth-century scientific expedition. Yet, after the Second World War, Lévi-Strauss would add a modern twist to anthropology with the development of a completely new way of thinking about ethnographic data.
more from the TLS here.
Who broke these mirrors
and tossed them
among the branches?
shall we ask L’Akhdar to come and see?
Colors are all muddled up
and the image is entangled
with the thing
and the eyes burn.
L’Akhdar must gather these mirrors
on his palm
and match the pieces together
any way he likes
the memory of the branch.
from Without an Alphabet, Without a Face;
(Graywolf Press, 2002) Translated from the
Arabic by Khaled Mattawa
Call Him John the Careless
George F. Will in the Washington Post:
One excellent result of this election cycle is that public financing of presidential campaigns now seems sillier than ever. The public has always disliked it: Voluntary and cost-free participation, using the check-off on the income tax form, peaked at 28.7 percent in 1980 and has sagged to 9.2 percent. The Post, which is melancholy about the system's parlous condition, says there were three reasons for creating public financing: to free candidates from the demands of fundraising, to level the playing field and "to limit the amount of money pouring into presidential campaigns." The first reason is decreasingly persuasive because fundraising is increasingly easy because of new technologies such as the Internet. The second reason is, the Supreme Court says, constitutionally impermissible. Government may not mandate equality of resources among political competitors who earn different levels of voluntary support. As for the third reason -- "huge amounts" (McCain) of money "pouring into" (The Post) presidential politics -- well:
The Center for Responsive Politics calculates that, by Election Day, $2.4 billion will have been spent on presidential campaigns in the two-year election cycle that began in January 2007, and an additional $2.9 billion will have been spent on 435 House and 35 Senate contests. This $5.3 billion is a billion less than Americans will spend this year on potato chips.
What it means to be an Obama in Africa
Andy Isaacson in Slate:
The day before, in Kisumu, I was talking about Obama to a boatman on Lake Victoria when a nearby car radio blared the following judgment: "God has already chosen Obama on Nov. 4! Who are you to say no?" Nowhere in Kenya—perhaps nowhere in the world outside of blue-state America—is there more optimism about an Obama victory as in Kisumu, a predominantly Luo city on Kenya 's western border with Uganda, which still bears the scars of last winter's election violence. Indeed, the widely held fear that vote-rigging on Nov. 4 could snatch the election from Obama reflects the lingering sentiment among Luos here that Kenya's tainted presidential election—in which Odinga officially lost to Mwai Kibaki—was stolen from them. I've been asked several times, "Do you think John McCain can steal the votes?"
Obama's likeness appears on watch faces, key chains, posters, T-shirts, calendars, and women's shoes. Hawkers offer CDs of Obama-inspired reggae and Luo songs in the open-air bus depot. Mockups of $1,000 bills with Obama's portrait filling the oval are plastered on public minivans. ("I just asked the designer to pimp the van, and it came back like this," the driver told me.) A generation of newborns named "Obama" are entering the world. A schoolteacher in a local village says her students sing Obama songs: "He is a genius/ He is a hero/ He comes all the way from Africa/ To go compete in the land of the whites/ He makes us proud/ For at least he's made Africa known to the world." The campaign 8,000 miles away has been closely observed. When I arrived in town, my tuk-tuk driver offered punditry of the third debate: "For the first 20 minutes, it was competitive and McCain was good, but then Obama was much smarter."
More here. And here is a bonus video [thanks to commenter pirano]:
Kenge Kenge: Obama For Change
The Things He Carried
Airport security in America is a sham—“security theater” designed to make travelers feel better and catch stupid terrorists. Smart ones can get through security with fake boarding passes and all manner of prohibited items—as our correspondent did with ease.
Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic:
During one secondary inspection, at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, I was wearing under my shirt a spectacular, only-in-America device called a “Beerbelly,” a neoprene sling that holds a polyurethane bladder and drinking tube. The Beerbelly, designed originally to sneak alcohol—up to 80 ounces—into football games, can quite obviously be used to sneak up to 80 ounces of liquid through airport security. (The company that manufactures the Beerbelly also makes something called a “Winerack,” a bra that holds up to 25 ounces of booze and is recommended, according to the company’s Web site, for PTA meetings.) My Beerbelly, which fit comfortably over my beer belly, contained two cans’ worth of Bud Light at the time of the inspection. It went undetected. The eight-ounce bottle of water in my carry-on bag, however, was seized by the federal government.
Accusation Against Writer Reopens Traumas of Czech Past
Dan Bilefsky in the New York Times:
Life appears to be imitating art in a drama convulsing the Czech Republic: an accusation that Milan Kundera, one of Eastern Europe’s most celebrated writers, denounced a Western intelligence agent to Czechoslovakia’s Communist police when he was a 21-year-old student. The agent, Miroslav Dvoracek, served 14 years in jail, including hard labor in a uranium mine.
In Mr. Kundera’s first novel, “The Joke,” a mordant satire of Stalinist Czechoslovakia in the 1950s, the protagonist, Ludvik Jahn, is expelled from the Communist Party and forced out of a university after being denounced by his friend Pavel. For the unlikely crime of possessing a sense of humor, Ludvik is sent to work in the mines.
Few here have failed to notice the parallel, which has added a fitting literary tint — along with the sort of denunciation and betrayal that haunt Mr. Kundera’s books — to an episode that has spurred a complex bout of national soul-searching. The accusation was published Monday by the Czech political weekly magazine Respekt and immediately denied by Mr. Kundera.
Where are the books by women with big ideas?
From The Guardian:
If you'd predicted that economics was going to be the big new thing in books five years ago you'd probably have been laughed out of the room. But thanks to the success of books like Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt's Freakonomics, Chris Anderson's The Long Tail and Tim Harford's The Undercover Economist, a new genre has been spawned. And despite the collapse of western capitalism it's still going strong, with football due the Freakonomics treatment in the new year.
But the question that's being asked is why aren't any of these books by women? Julia Cheiffetz, blogging at publishing website HarperStudio, dubs the genre "big think" books – making serious non-fiction subjects accessible and popular. "The point is, all of them promise access to a club whose sole activity is the exchange of ideas; all of them promise, however covertly, to make us feel smarter. And all of them are written by men," she writes, also singling out The World is Flat by Thomas L Friedman, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki and Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. "It is hard to know whether women are better at telling stories than propagating ideas (I'm thinking of Susan Orlean, Mary Roach, Karen Abbott), or whether the intellectual audacity required to sell our hypotheses about the world simply isn't in our genetic makeup."
Over at Galley Cat, they're not quite convinced, and shoehorn Susan Faludi and Naomi Klein into the "explain-it-all" category. "But we did find Cheiffetz's distinction between 'storytellers' and 'big thinkers', and the suggestion that these two types of writing might play out along gender lines at least as far as what sells, intriguing," they add.
Obama on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart
October 29, 2008
Michael Oakeshott on The Philosophy of History, a 1948 Broadcast
I was hanging out with Morgan last night, and we were lamenting the absence of conservative giants like Joseph Schumpeter or Michael Oakeshott on the intellectual scene, whatever the problems of conservatism as a philosophical orientation. Now the Michael Oakeshott Association has made a 1948 BBC radio broadcast on the philosophy of history available on the web.
In 1948 Michael Oakeshott made a radio broadcast about the philosophy of history on the BBC’s University Program. Leslie Marsh obtained permission from the BBC to play the broadcast at the MO Association’s inaugural conference in 2001 and to make it available on our web site.
Hence, available once again for you to download are the transcript of the broadcast and the following audio files.
Seed Magazine Endorses Obama
Sen. Obama's pledged stance on science resonates with us. He has vowed to restore integrity to the role of science advisor by reestablishing the senior status of the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and more broadly, by surrounding himself with individuals with exemplary scientific credentials; his selection of Dr. Harold Varmus as the campaign's science advisor was a very promising and laudable step in that direction. Sen. Obama understands that basic research is fundamental to how scientific advances are made. He sees the importance of expanding funding for "high-risk, high-return" work, strengthening tax policy to spur R&D, and encouraging the careers of young scientists who pursue innovative lines of thinking. He has offered a comprehensive plan to reinvigorate math and science education, and he recognizes the vital importance of re-architecting nationwide science literacy for these times. His positions on topics ranging from agriculture, alternative energy, and medical research to internet policy, patent law, and space are more robust and ultimately more in line with scientific consensus than those of Sen. McCain. These are important policy positions, and they reflect Sen. Obama's appreciation of the need to invest in science and science education as a precondition for growth and prosperity in the 21st century. We recognize, however, that these are not the issues that most voters will be thinking about when they cast their ballot.
Far more important is this: Science is a way of governing, not just something to be governed. Science offers a methodology and philosophy rooted in evidence, kept in check by persistent inquiry, and bounded by the constraints of a self-critical and rigorous method. Science is a lens through which we can and should visualize and solve complex problems, organize government and multilateral bodies, establish international alliances, inspire national pride, restore positive feelings about America around the globe, embolden democracy, and ultimately, lead the world. More than anything, what this lens offers the next administration is a limitless capacity to handle all that comes its way, no matter how complex or unanticipated.
Sen. Obama's embrace of transparency and evidence-based decision-making, his intelligence and curiosity echo this new way of looking at the world.
Forecasting the Election & The Open Question of Racism
For the technically minded, in the October 2008 issue of PS: Political Science and Politics, there's an interesting symposium on forecasting the election, and at you can find an associated video of a panel with many of the scholars. From Michael S. Lewis-Beck and Charles Tien 's piece:
Our Jobs Model forecasts that the Republicans, now incumbent in the White House, will experience a shattering defeat, indeed the greatest incumbent popular vote loss on record from 1948, garnering just 43.4% of the two-par ty popular vote. How accurate is this forecast? Consider simple statistical error. The standard error of estimate is 1.4; but adding even three times that amount to the point forecast would still predict a clear Republican loss ~at 47.7%!. Put another way, if Obama receives less than 50% of the popular vote, the Jobs Model would have registered an error of over 6.6 points. That would be the largest out-of-sample error in the data-set. It implies that there is less than a 1 in 14 chance that the model is wrong in forecasting an Obama victory.
Nevertheless, the Jobs Model is not a “shoo-in” for Obama, once ballot box racism is taken into account. By various estimates, Obama will lose a chunk of votes because he is Black, rather than White. This seems unavoidable. In the foregoing, we evaluated four possible correction values: 0.77, 0.87, 0.90, and 0.93. Which is closer to the truth? In order to avoid appearing arbitrary, we simply take the median of these four values ~0.885! as the proportion of voters who will not take race itself into account. By that reckoning, Obama would win in a close contest ~i.e., a 0.885 correction to the Jobs Model predicts an Obama two-party popular vote forecast of 50.1%!. 3 But if the correction number is lower, by even a small amount, he could well lose. In any event, we expect the competition to be much closer than what is implied by our original, uncorrected Jobs Model.
In Defense of Rashid Khalidi
Ezra Klein over at his blog has a mainstream defense of Khalidi, who's been offensively maligned in this election:
[Seth Colter Walls] A 1998 tax filing for the McCain-led group shows a $448,873 grant to Khalidi's Center for Palestine Research and Studies for work in the West Bank. (See grant number 5180, "West Bank: CPRS" on page 14 of this PDF.)
The relationship extends back as far as 1993, when John McCain joined IRI as chairman in January. Foreign Affairs noted in September of that year that IRI had helped fund several extensive studies in Palestine run by Khalidi's group, including over 30 public opinion polls and a study of "sociopolitical attitudes."
Of course, there's seemingly nothing objectionable with McCain's organization helping a Palestinian group conduct research in the West Bank or Gaza. But it does suggest that McCain could have some of his own explaining to do as he tries to make hay out of Khalidi's ties to Obama.
Oops. This, of course, just goes to show how absurd it is to suggest that Khalidi is some sort of radical polemicist. The guy is such a credentialed and respected scholar that even right-leaning organizations have funded his work, simply because it's good work. They may not agree with his personal conclusions, but Khalidi's scholarship gets taken seriously.
As his work should.
Paul Auster talks
The novelist explains his rage at what the Bush presidency has done to the world - and the world we should be living in.
Alison Flood in The Guardian:
If there is something getting Auster's goat, it's American politics. It was his disgust at the outcome of the 2000 US elections that sparked the story-within-a-story at the heart of Man in the Dark, about a counterfactual US where civil war reigns and New York leads a movement to form the Independent States of America.
"It's a war of bullets and bombs, whereas the divisions in the US now are similar to a civil war, but we're fighting it with words and ideas," he says.
He can pinpoint the idea for his latest story to his "frustration and disgust after the 2000 elections ... Gore won, Gore was elected president, and it was taken away from him by political and legal manoeuvering, and ever since then I've had this eerie feeling of being in some parallel world, some world we didn't ask for but we nevertheless got. In the other world Al Gore is finishing his second term now, we never invaded Iraq, maybe 9/11 never happened, because they were getting close to figuring it out, the Clinton people, and then the Bush people ignored all the warnings, so I think that's the origin of it."
An Update on Cosmic Variance's Efforts in Donors Choose Blogger Challenge
Sean Carroll over at CV:
Time is running out! October is careening its way toward Halloween, at which point the month devoted to the Donors Choose Blogger Challenge will be over. As of this typing, we’ve received $6,110 worth of donations, which, I must admit, is extremely awesome. Even better, out of 23 proposals we chose for support, 13 have been fully funded! Still, it falls a bit short of our $10,000 goal...
And what is more galling, despite this groundswell of support, Uncertain Principles has pulled ahead! And he’s only one blogger (plus a dog). Are you going to stand for that?
It’s a great program, and you feel great after you donate. It’s the swank $200 donations that get all the glory (and we’re very grateful for them, don’t get me wrong), but — following the lead of the Obama campaign — we’re running a people-powered donation drive here. For the starving students out there, consider throwing in $10. Contributions that size would really add up if everyone chipped in. A small price to make the world a better place.
So consider helping out.
silly americans, this is the world's election
From my observation perch in Stanford, California, an English European turned 24/7-cablenews-Webcast junkie, I notice that many Americans still suffer from a touching delusion that this is their election. How curious. Don't they understand? This is our election. The world's election. Our future depends on it, and we live it as intensely as Americans do. All we lack is the vote.
The world may not have a vote, but it has a candidate. A BBC World Service poll, conducted across twenty-two countries this summer, found Barack Obama was preferred to John McCain by a margin of four to one. Nearly half those asked said an Obama victory would "fundamentally change" their perception of the United States. And it certainly needs changing. Over the two terms of President George W. Bush, the Pew Global Attitudes Project, a series of worldwide public opinion surveys, has documented what anyone who travels around the world knows: a substantial fall in the standing, credibility, attractiveness, and therefore power of the United States.
more from NYRB commentators on the election here.
This race is not decided
Hi there, Asad Raza here. Most people assume this election is already a done deal--this is simply not so. Turnout will be determinative, especially during an election when many voters will be tempted to stay home, thinking the race is decided. The party that does the better job of getting its supporters to the polls will win.
So, do some kind of civic service on U.S. Election Day this coming Tuesday. Even better, volunteer over the weekend as well. One reason: if everyone in the U.S.A. voted, our political discourse would be very different. No matter where you are, it is possible to do something to support the candidate of your choice. Talk with undecided voters, help the infirm to get their polling location, encourage people who have to work and then stand in a line for four hours at the polls. If you are homebound, go to your preferred candidate's website and download lists of people you can call and help.
Excitement about this election is running high. Here's an email a New York man named Conor Creaney sent to roust his acquaintances into action:
You know that the day will come when your doe-eyed offspring will gaze up at you and ask "Parent, what did YOU do the weekend before the 2008 election that could have changed the world?" Ponder for a moment how hard it will be to look the little one in the eye and say "I regrouted the tiles in the shower" or "I went to a really fascinating Maya Deren retrospective at Film Forum". That will be the moment you wave goodbye to your moral authority, and the moment your child realizes that she is aboard a rudderless ship and has carte blanche to defy and mock you at will. Your future as a moral being is at stake here, and there is only one option (I call it an "option" but we both know that choice is an illusion here): COME TO PHILADELPHIA THIS WEEKEND AND VOLUNTEER FOR THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN.
We are going there. We can provide transport, accommodation (nothing fancy, but it will be free), and we will put you in the hands of Sidra Campbell, Obama's South Philly Out-of State Volunteer Co-ordinator, a woman of formidable organizational skills. She will put you to work out of Obama's office on S.15th and Christian. Your energy and charisma will not be wasted.
PA is still in play electorally, McCain is pouring money and time into it. Sarah Palin is there right now, searing her message into the minds of these goodhearted people.
If you can't make it for the whole weekend, you come down on the bus for a day.
So get in touch (conor.creaney at gmail), and let's fix this.
A Concerned Citizen
I think Mr. Creaney has the correct attitude. Please consider joining him or someone like him. Thank you, and have a nice day!
it's the ground game now
The conventional wisdom in presidential politics is that presidential candidates win their home states. In Arizona one would expect every corner to look like a jubilee celebration in honor of John McCain. It's a hot election season, which means many street corners are festooned with red and blue campaign signs, lined up like colorful sheets drying in the Arizona sun. Surprisingly, though, McCain's name is absent from most corner festivities.
Even more surprising, volunteers are scant at McCain's Phoenix headquarters and other GOP offices throughout the state. The McCain campaign has a national website presence, but lacks a cadre of helpful and informed local volunteers -- people who answer for their candidate when he's away. Are these indicators that the McCain campaign is complacent in Arizona, or are Arizonans that blase about McCain's candidacy? The campaign did not return phone calls, so it's hard to know. In fact calls to Republican McCain offices around the state often go unanswered.
This is McCain's backyard, so where are his supporters?
more from Huffington Post here.
McCain Supporters in PA
Who Slate's staff is voting for, and why
Noreen Malone, Executive Assistant: Obama
David Sedaris framed the choice with this metaphor: "Can I interest you in the chicken?" … "Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?" I definitely want the chicken.
Farhad Manjoo, "Technology" Columnist: Obama
This is the third presidential election in which I'll cast a ballot, but only the first time that I'll be voting for someone: The last two times, I was voting against Bush. I'm choosing Obama for one main reason: He's the smarter candidate. I don't just mean he's got smarter policies, though he does. I mean he seems to have the higher IQ. His books and speeches suggest deep intellectual curiosity—a calm, analytical, rational mind of the sort we haven't seen in the White House in years.
I've long admired John McCain; I rooted for him in the 2000 primaries, and I might have picked him over Al Gore in the general that year. I also admired his stance against soft-money political donations and the Bush tax cuts. If that John McCain had been on the ballot this year, I might have thought harder about this vote. But over the last four years, that McCain has transmogrified into exactly the kind of divisive agent of intolerance he once decried, and now I'm terrified at the thought of him in charge.
More here. [55 out of 57 votes to Obama, 1 vote for McCain.]
For Mohammed Zeid of Gaza, Age 15
Naomi Shihab Nye
There is no stray bullet, sirs.
No bullet like a worried cat
crouching under a bush,
no half-hairless puppy bullet
dodging midnight streets.
The bullet could not be a pecan
plunking the tin roof,
not hardly, no fluff of pollen
on October's breath,
no humble pebble at our feet.
So don't gentle it, please.
We live among stray thoughts,
tasks abandoned midstream.
Our fickle hearts are fat
with stray devotions, we feel at home
among bits and pieces,
all the wandering ways of words.
But this bullet had no innocence, did not
wish anyone well, you can't tell us otherwise
by naming it mildly, this bullet was never the friend
of life, should not be granted immunity
by soft saying—friendly fire, straying death-eye,
why have we given the wrong weight to what we do?
Mohammed, Mohammed, deserves the truth.
This bullet had no secret happy hopes,
it was not singing to itself with eyes closed
under the bridge.
From You and Yours (CBOA Editions, 2005)
Best Obama-Backing Videos
From Andrew Sullivan:
More here. [And you can vote there for your favorite, too.]
Impressions of rapture: Andrew Motion revels in the early flame of Chagall's talent and his later fame amid the tumult of modernism
From The Guardian:
Karl With, the German art critic who published a life of Marc Chagall in 1923, began his book with two definitions: "Chagall is Russian" and "Chagall is an eastern Jew (Ostjude)". He went on, "One part of him is reserved . . . melancholic and eaten up inside by burning passion . . . The other side of him is sensual, worldly, sensory, baroque, and blooming. He is lithe as an animal, agile, given to tantrums like a child, soft and charming, amiably sly mixed with a peasantlike coarseness and the delight of a provincial in everything colourful, dazzling and moving." Making allowances for the period language, it was a shrewd analysis - and although Chagall was to live for another 62 years (he died in 1985), it never ceased to be true. The paradoxes of Chagall's personality only became clearer with time. He was an introvert who delighted in the world. He was a dreamer and a manipulator. He was instinctively selfish, yet lavishly kind with his eye.
Jackie Wullschlager shows us all this and more, in her beautifully produced book. She has talked to Chagall's surviving friends, she has a sharp sense of what is gorgeously original in the paintings and also of what is tediously self-cannibalising, and she writes prose that registers intense feeling yet is coolly well organised. Furthermore, she has had the cooperation of Chagall's estate, so has been able to draw on Chagall's correspondence with his first wife Bella, who was the mainspring of his greatest work and a profoundly interesting spirit in her own right (her autobiography is wonderful). As had to be the case if Wullschlager was going to do her subject justice, her book tells the painter's story while also giving a compelling account of modernism in general, and of the 20th century political turmoil that both fed and frustrated it.
The French Fruit Fly Fracas
Coming from Sarah Palin, it sounded like the ultimate folly: U.S. taxpayer money funding a study of fruit flies in Paris, France. But scientists jumped to the defense of the work that the Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate derided as wasteful on 24 October during a speech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The studies, actually carried out at a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) laboratory near Montpellier, 750 kilometers south of Paris, may help protect California olive trees from a serious pest, scientists say. In a speech about her running mate John McCain's policies on children with disabilities, Palin condemned so-called earmarks, congressional mandates to spend money on specific projects. "You’ve heard about some of these pet projects, they really don’t make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good," Palin said. "Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not." In a video of the speech, somebody can be heard snickering in the audience.
To fight invasive insects, Hoelmer says it's important to be able to study them over the long term in their native habitats--in the olive fruit fly's case, the Mediterranean region and Africa. That would be impractical for U.S.-based researchers. EBCL's predecessor opened in France a century ago to study the European corn borer, which had just crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The lab also serves as a base for expeditions to scout for insects' natural enemies.
Hoelmer says that he believes he could convince anybody, including Palin, that his work is worthwhile. But as a government researcher, he can't comment on political speeches. Zalom can. "This kind of stuff always drives me nuts," he says. "It's a total lack of understanding of the importance of research."
In France, nobody cares if leaders are single mothers
Amy Serafin in The Smart Set:
If you were to go looking for evidence of France’s huge North African population, you’d find it in the grim public housing projects of the suburban cités, in the gritty peripheral neighborhoods of Paris, and near my home in the relatively privileged 5th arrondissement, where the Great Mosque draws enormous crowds on Fridays and during Ramadan. You would be hard pressed, however, to find many North Africans in the corridors of French business or political power, where they are close to invisible.
And yet, for the last year and a half, a woman of Moroccan-Algerian descent has become famous as one of the most influential and glamorous figures in France. Rachida Dati is the minister of justice, and until recently one of President Sarkozy’s closest confidants. She is a self-made success story who radiates chutzpah, for lack of a better word. She’s also single — and pregnant. As of this writing, the identity of the father is still a secret, and guessing it has become one of the top dinner-party games throughout Europe.
Dati was born in a small town in Burgundy in 1965, the second child of 12. Her father was a mason from Morocco, her mother a French-born Algerian. To please her Muslim parents, Dati wed at age 26, but regretted her decision and had the marriage annulled soon afterward. She studied business and obtained a master’s degree in law.
She has always demonstrated an uncanny talent for meeting the right people. In 2002 she contacted Nicolas Sarkozy, who was then interior minister, offering to advise him on immigration issues.
The Jewish Extremists Behind "Obsession"
Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic:
I've only watched the 12-minute version of "Obsession," the film sent to more than 28 million people in various swing states, apparently by associates and partisans of the Jewish movement known as Aish HaTorah, or "Fire of the Torah," but it was enough for to understand that it is the work of hysterics. One of my favorite hysterics, the Jerusalem Post's Caroline Glick, is featured prominently, pieces of the sky falling about her head as she rants about the End of Days.
Aish HaTorah denies any direct connection to the film, which is designed to make naive Americans believe that B-52s filled with radical jihadists are about to carpet-bomb their churches, and are only awaiting Barack Obama's ascension to launch the attack. But the manifold connections, as laid out in this article, among others, make it clear that high-level officials of Aish are up to their chins in this project. The most disreputable flack in New York, Ronn Torossian, who represents Aish, makes an appearance in this story, which was to be expected: Torossian last made the news when he employed sock-puppetry in defense of one of his many indefensible clients, Agriprocessors, Inc., the Luvavitch-owned kosher slaughterhouse that treats its employees nearly as badly as it treats its animals, which is saying something, because Agriprocessor slaughterers have been filmed ripping out the tracheas of living cattle.
But I digress. It's said of Ronn Torossian that he represents "right-wing" Israeli politicians, but this description does not do his clients justice. "Right-wing" is Bibi Netanyahu. Torossian represents the lunatic fringe. Several years ago, in one of my only encounters with him, he introduced me to Benny Elon, a rabbi and settler leader who was then Israel's tourism minister, and who, at various points in his career, has more or less advocated the ethnic cleansing of Israel of its Arab citizens.
October 28, 2008
A Generational Statement by a New Generation(Via Andrew Sullivan:)
Playing With Fire
Cohen and Loury on bloggingheads:
In Case You Weren't Scared Enough
Todd Palmer and Rob Pringle in The Huffinton Post:
We are far from the first people to comment on this subject -- even within the Huffington Post -- so we'll keep it brief. But Palin's mockery of "fruit fly research" during her October 24th speech on special-needs children was so misconceived, so offensive, so aggressively stupid, and so dangerous that we felt we had to comment.
Here's the excerpt from the speech:
"Where does a lot of that earmark money end up, anyway? [...] You've heard about, um, these -- some of these pet projects they really don't make a whole lot of sense, and sometimes these dollars they go to projects having little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not!"
It's hard to know where to begin deconstructing this statement. This was a speech on autism, and Palin's critics have pounced on the fact that a recent study of Drosophila fruit flies showed that a protein called neurexin is essential for proper neurological function -- a discovery with clear implications for autism research.
Awkward! But this critique merely scrapes icing off the cake.
Fruit flies are more than just the occasional vehicles for research relevant to human disabilities. They are literally the foundation of modern genetics, the original model organism that has enabled us to discover so much of what we know about heredity, genome structure, congenital disorders, and (yes) evolution. So for Palin to state that "fruit fly research" has "little or nothing to do with the public good" is not just wrong -- it's mind-boggling.
What else does this blunder say about Palin and her candidacy? Many people have used it as just another opportunity to call her a dummy, since anyone who has stayed awake through even a portion of a high-school-level biology class knows what fruit flies are good for. But leave that aside for a second. Watch the clip. Listen to the tone of her voice as she sneers the words "fruit fly research." Check out the disdain and incredulity on her face. How would science, basic or applied, fare under President Palin?
Andrew Sullivan: The Top Ten Reasons Conservatives Should Vote For Obama
Andrew Sullivan in his excellent Atlantic blog:
10. A body blow to racial identity politics. An end to the era of Jesse Jackson in black America.
9. Less debt. Yes, Obama will raise taxes on those earning over a quarter of a million. And he will spend on healthcare, Iraq, Afghanistan and the environment. But so will McCain. He plans more spending on health, the environment and won't touch defense of entitlements. And his refusal to touch taxes means an extra $4 trillion in debt over the massive increase presided over by Bush. And the CBO estimates that McCain's plans will add more to the debt over four years than Obama's. Fiscal conservatives have a clear choice.
8. A return to realism and prudence in foreign policy. Obama has consistently cited the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush as his inspiration. McCain's knee-jerk reaction to the Georgian conflict, his commitment to stay in Iraq indefinitely, and his brinksmanship over Iran's nuclear ambitions make him a far riskier choice for conservatives. The choice between Obama and McCain is like the choice between George H.W. Bush's first term and George W.'s.
7. An ability to understand the difference between listening to generals and delegating foreign policy to them.
6. Temperament. Obama has the coolest, calmest demeanor of any president since Eisenhower. Conservatism values that kind of constancy, especially compared with the hot-headed, irrational impulsiveness of McCain.
5. Faith. Obama's fusion of Christianity and reason, his non-fundamentalist faith, is a critical bridge between the new atheism and the new Christianism.