Video of the day

I must say I am pretty entranced by videos of people surfing giant waves.  About 1:50 in this guy falls off and swims for his life.  Pretty amazing.  (via Kottke):

Photo of the day

I didn’t realize that National Geographic does a photo of the month, but this is it according to my email.  Not bad:

Photograph by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

In Japan the nighttime viewing of cherry blossoms in spring, like these at Kyoto’s Hirano Shrine, is a special event. “The cherries’ only fault: the crowds that gather when they bloom,” wrote Saigyo, a 12th-century poet.

DC Centrism

One of the most annoying features of inside-the-beltway journalism is the obsession with an amazingly facile centrism in which half-way between the two parties is surely the right place.  Or the frequently repeated line that if both sides are mad at you, you must be doing something right.  Nope– maybe you are just spectacularly wrong in every way.  Anyway, some good comments on this problem with the current budget debate.  First Ezra on Alan Simpson:

A few days earlier, Ron Fournier, the editor of the National Journal, wrote that President Obama was giving America “the shaft” by taking an increase in the Medicare age off the table. It is difficult to imagine him using similar language for a situation in which Republicans reject universal health care, or Democrats say no to a tax cut. Over the past couple of weeks, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough has reacted with evident astonishment to Paul Krugman’s argument that the long-term deficit is not a problem we need to solve right this second.

The secret to the special treatment that deficit reduction enjoys in Washington, I think, is that it’s a rare policy area that lends itself to pox-on-both-their-houses politics. “It’s such fun for me to irritate the AARP and Grover Norquist in equal measure,” Simpson told Allen. “It makes your life worthwhile.” It also makes deficit reduction a safe topic for otherwise strenuously nonpartisan figures to issue strong opinions on. After all, they can’t be accused of being partisan, as both parties are standing in the way!

And Yglesias:

Jonathan Chait notes that the Washington Post editorial page has seized the bull by the horns today, blaming both sides equally for the sequester standoff, even though the Post’s editorial board dislikes the GOP’s proposed sequester offsets—deep cuts in programs to poor people—and favors the Democrats’ proposed sequester offsets—cuts in farm subsidies and the “Buffett rule.” But where Chait sees illogic, I see the exploitation of an important principle. It involves the use of the word “serious,” as in, “neither party has staked out anything like a serious negotiating position.” By invoking the Principle of Seriousness, a way is provided out of the box. That’s because seriousness can refer both to the merits of an initiative or to its political viability. So scrapping the minimum wage in favor of a Guaranteed Basic Income isn’t a serious proposal, since obviously it stands zero chance of passing Congress.

Once you embrace the Principle of Seriousness, the way is clear for rigorous BipartisanThink. If the parties fail to agree because one party is being unreasonable and the other party is failing to cater to their unreasonable demands, then the apparently reasonable party is in fact failing to be serious. After all, a serious proposal is one that stands a chance of passing. Reasonable proposals will not pass a Congress in which one party is being unreasonable, so by definition the Principle of Seriousness allocates the blame equally to both sides. Balance is restored to the Force.

Short version: when you have one party that is increasingly radical by any objective, historical standards they can basically get away with it.  When the “center” is always half-way between the Democrats and the Republicans no matter how far the Republicans move, the whole country is shifted towards Republican radicalism.  How’s that for your liberal media?

Frum gets it wrong on guns

David Frum has written some really smart stuff on guns.  And there’s some good stuff in here, but I think this just gets things fundamentally wrong:

But here are two things that can make a real difference — without a vote in Congress.

First: The president can direct the surgeon general to compile a scientific study of the health effect of individual gun ownership.

The basis of the whole gun debate in the United States is the belief by millions of Americans that they need a firearm in the home to protect themselves from criminals. Testifying to Congress last month, a gun advocate named Gayle Trotter presented a vivid image of how guns might be used.

“An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon, and the peace of mind that a woman has as she’s facing three, four, five violent attackers, intruders in her home, with her children screaming in the background, the peace of mind that she has knowing that she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage when she’s fighting hardened, violent criminals.”

Thrilling. Also wholly imaginary. Such Rambo-like defenses of home and hearth do not happen in real life, unless the home also happens to contain a meth lab. (The oft-cited statistic that gun owners draw in self-defense 2.5 million times a year is a classic of bad social science.)…

Congress in the mid-1990s forbade the federal government to fund its own research into the health risks presented by guns. By now, however, enough research has been done by privately funded scholars that the surgeon general could write a report based on existing material. Such a report would surely reach the conclusion that a gun in the home greatly elevates risks of suicide, lethal accident and fatal domestic violence. The first step to changing gun policy is to change public attitudes about guns, as Americans previously changed their attitudes about tobacco and drunken driving.

The surgeon general can lead that attitude change with more authority than any other public official.

Oh, how I wish this were true.  Does Frum really believe that American gun owners who know that a gun keeps them safe, who know that a gun will protect them from a tyrannical government, who know bad stuff with guns only happens to other people are going to be persuaded by some study by some liberal academics just because it’s promoted by some fancy-pants surgeon general?!  There’s nothing in the gun debate that gives the slightest suggestion the gun nuts (“I’ll stand up against the evil federal government with my AR-15!!”) will listen to logic, statistics, and social science.   I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I’ve never encountered another policy issue where one side is so completely out of touch with reason, logic, and plain-old common sense.  Some academic studies– no matter how good nor whom promoted by– aren’t going to change that.

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