Just your everyday ad to appeal to the Republican base…


There is no social security crisis

Hopefully you were aware of that fact.  If not, Paul Krugman explains in Friday's column.  The central problem:

Inside the Beltway, doomsaying about Social Security ? declaring that
the program as we know it can?t survive the onslaught of retiring baby
boomers ? is regarded as a sort of badge of seriousness, a way of
showing how statesmanlike and tough-minded you are.

You can show just how politically knowledgeable you are by eschewing the inside-the-beltway wisdom and stop worrying about social security.  Medicare, you can worry about. 

Lethal Injection

Dahlia Lithwick, one of the smartest writers on legal/Constitutional matters, has a really good article up at Slate.com about the medical and legal mess that is lethal injection.  Though there may be a lethal injection protocol that would make sense, the current one would literally be illegal if used for cats and dogs.  Why does everybody keep using it?  Because that's what they've always used and to admit that it is problematic is to admit they've been using a very flawed way of executing people all these years.  When one learns how the protocol was adopted and then passed from state to state, it is pretty damning:

Even defenders of the current protocol concede it was simply copied
from state to state, each cheerfully adopting the 1977 version cooked
up by Dr. Jay Chapman, formerly chief medical examiner in Oklahoma, who
devised the system as a hasty alternative to the firing squad. A
state-to-state game of telephone: That's how the national patchwork of
lethal-injection protocols?many developed and administered in
secret?was born. Thus, at a 1990 meeting with Texas corrections
officials to devise a protocol for Louisiana, Texas officials were
asked why they used 5 grams of sodium pentothal instead of 2 grams,
like other states. According to testimony in a Louisiana appeal, Texas'
prison pharmacy director just laughed: “When we did our first
execution, the only thing I had on hand was a 5-gram vial. And rather
than do the paperwork on wasting 3 grams, we just gave all 5.” Dr. Chapman himself recently acknowledged that it's probably time to change the method.

Less to state governments– when coming up with a new policy and looking for models, do not assume that Oklahoma or Texas actually know what they are doing.  When I lecture on federalism I point out that one of the great features is that states can learn from the successes and failures of other states.  What's kind of disturbing is for them to blindly copy deeply flawed policies just because other states are doing it.  The “everybody does it” argument is no better for a rebellious teenager than a state government, yet:

The reason the states haven't acted is one part strategic and one part inertia. As the appellants' brief in Baze
(PDF) points out, most of the states have persistently stood by their
protocols with the argument that everyone else is doing it. Kentucky
adopted Chapman's cocktail without “any independent or scientific
studies” because “other states were doing it ? on a regular basis.”

As for whether we should have the death penalty, that's another post, but it is hard to argue with Lithwick's conclusion:

If carelessness, raw politics, and inertia should be driving policy,
the current lethal-injection system is a penalogical grand slam. One
shouldn't have to be opposed to the death penalty, be soft on
criminals, or be a liberal crybaby to insist that procedures that are
hopelessly outdated and medically suspect should be fixed.

Of good and bad Science Fiction

As much as I love to read (and as delinquent as I've been about updating my on-line reading list), I really ought to blog about books more.  that said, a couple thoughts on the science fiction genre.  I just finished an good science fiction novel, Rollback by Robert Sawyer, and put another one down after the first chapter (Glasshouse by Charles Stross) and decided not to continue.  What I think makes for good science fiction is taking intriguing premises about the future, technology, alien life, etc., and using those premises to illuminate the human condition.  What science fiction does is open up a vast array of new and interesting scenarios for us to think about humanity.  Thus, I think all the best science fiction is motivated by the human characters and what the author can ultimately say about them.  Unfortunately, there's a lot of science fiction authors out there who seem to be motivated primarily by the cool, speculative ideas.  Sadly, though, the coolest speculative idea cannot sustain a novel unless it has something interesting to say about people.  So, basically, to oversimplify, I've decided that there are two kinds of science fiction: that motivated to use speculative ideas to tell interesting stories about human character versus that motivated by coming up with coolest, most provocative speculative ideas, period.  I'll keep reading the former (e.g., Dune, The Sparrow) and dropping the latter after a few chapters. 

Voter ID = Democratic Vote Suppression

If there was any doubt that Voter ID laws are little more than a transparent attempt to suppress Democratic votes, the jury is in highlights via TPM:

# 21.8% of black Indiana voters do not have access to a valid photo ID
(compared to 15.8% of white Indiana voters – a 6 point gap).

# When non-registered eligible voter responses are included – the
gap widens. 28.3% of eligible black voters in the State of Indiana to
not have valid photo ID (compared to 16.8% of eligible voting age white
Indiana residents – a gap of 11.5 percent).

# The study found what it termed “a curvilinear pattern (similar to
an upside down U-curve)” in the relationship between age and access to
valid ID – younger voters and older voters were both less likely to
have valid ID compared to voters in the middle categories. 22% of
voters 18-34 did not have ID, nor did 19.4% over the age of 70.
(compared to 16.2% of Indiana voters age 35-54 without valid ID and
14.1% for 55-69 year olds).

# 21% of Indiana registered voters with only a high school diploma
did not have valid ID (compared to 11.5% of Indiana voters who have
completed college – a gap of 9.5%).

# Those with valid ID are much more likely to be Republicans than
those who do not have valid ID. Among registered voters with proper ID,
41.6% are registered Republicans, 32.5% are Democrats.

Kevin Drum has excerpted some nice graphs and adds a terrific final comment:

By a substantial margin, the Indiana residents most likely to
possess photo ID turn out to be whites, the middle aged, and
high-income voters. And while this is undoubtedly just a wild
coincidence, these are also the three groups most like to vote for
Republicans. (2006 exit poll data here for the suspicious.) Overall, 91% of registered Republicans had photo IDs compared to only 83% of registered Democrats.

But like I said, this is probably just a coincidence. I'm sure Karl
Rove and the RNC had no idea that the demographics broke down like
this. Right?

There is no widespread voter fraud.  We are simply seeing a Republican attempt to use the institutions of government to further tilt the playing field in their favor. 

Giuliani the “moderate”

I was originally going to write this post about how Giuliani is just a nut and doesn't get any flack for it in the mainstream media.  Those of us who pay attention know that his foreign policy views are to the right of Dick Cheney and probably even more ill-considered.  The utter foolishness and inanity of his policy proposals is breathtaking.  To wit (from Carpetbagger):

He promised to end ?overspending by government,
overtaxing by government, overregulating by government and oversuing?
by Americans.

To cut government spending, Giuliani promised to replace only
half of the federal workers expected to retire over the next eight to
10 years
. He promised to retain the tax cuts put in place by the
Bush administration. Those two actions, he said, would require that
average Americans take more responsibility for their lives. (emphasis

The suggestion is absolutely absurd on its face (nice elaboration here).  When you do the math and learn that it means we would could lose 1/3 of the federal work force in a decade, you realize how profoundly unserious Giuliani actually is when it comes to government and policy. 

I was going to leave it at that, but I later came across a terrific Glenn Greenwald post on Giuliani.  Greenwald rightly excoriates the mainstream media for insisting that Giuliani is a moderate:

The very idea that Giuliani is a “moderate” or a “centrist” is
completely absurd. Regarding the issues over which the next President
will have the greatest influence — foreign policy and presidential
powers — Giuliani is as far to what is now considered the “Right” as
it gets. His views on foreign policy are far more radical and bellicose
even than Dick Cheney's, and his view of presidential powers makes
George Bush look like Thomas Jefferson.

This whole “moderate” myth is grounded exclusively in Giuliani's
non-doctrinaire views of social issues. But that's pure fallacy.
Political ideology doesn't function like mathematics, where two numbers
situated on opposite extreme poles can be averaged together to produce
a nice, comfortable number in the middle.

That isn't how political ideology works. A warmonger with
authoritarian impulses and liberal positions on social issues isn't a
“moderate” or a “centrist.” He's just a warmonger with authoritarian
impulses and liberal positions on social issues. 
[emphasis mine]

Oh, how I love that last quote and which it were my own.  I do think I may have to borrow it in conversation.  And actually, this topic more than deserves a post of its own (another time?).  You want to be a moderate in the media's eyes?  Simply take a position contrary to your party on abortion and/or gay marriage and you are a “moderate.”  Voila!

Be successful, join a group

The Science Times today ran an interesting little story about all the gender bias in animated insect movies.  Despite the fact that most social insect societies are completely dominated by females, the movies (e.g., Bee Movie, Bug's Life, Antz, etc.) tend to focus on males that would have no analog in the real insect world.  The article makes a pretty good case that you could have quite a dramatic story for an insect movie more based on gender reality (though, a comedy it would not be):

A successful male is a dead male. A failure [to successfully breed with a new queen] lives to stagger home and
beg to be fed and to try again tomorrow. After a week or so of lekking,
that?s it. The drone is deemed a drain, and if he won?t die for love,
he must die for its lack. ?The workers will start withholding food, the
male gets weakened, and at some point the workers will grasp him and
dump him out of the hive,? said Gene E. Robinson, who studies bees at
the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The story concludes by looking at the amazing dominance of social insects.  In the insect world, at least, living in a society means success:

A heartless ending, perhaps, but what a box office smash. Over 100
million years of evolution, the social insects have come to rule the
insect world, forcing solitary species out to the edges and to make do
with their scraps. Dr. Hölldobler observes that although ants, bees,
termites and other hive-minded tribes account for only 1 percent of
known insect species, ?this 1 percent makes up 80 percent of all insect
biomass.? The dry weight of ants alone, he said, already equals the dry
weight of our own. Who knows whether by tomorrow the standard master of
our domain won?t have a thorax, six legs and be best addressed as

In political terms, I think it is safe to conclude that the individualistic, (Libertarian?) insects are clearly the failures.

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