Overwhelming Force

Overwhelming force is great for a military campaign, but its probably not the best idea for defending your home.  Thoughtful post by my grad school colleague, Bill Ayers (no, not the “domestic terrorist.”)

I’ve written before about the role that guns play in our cultural understanding of self-defense (or, as one very eloquent Australian practitioner and lawyer describes it, “civilian defense“). Today comes a tragic story that only underscores the point:

Connecticut man shoots burglar dead, turns out to be own son

I know that gun-as-self-defense supporters will cite other cases in which guns were the right response. And certainly there are cases – precious few, but they do exist – in which someone armed with a gun (along with practice in its appropriate and skillful use) succeeded in defending him/herself, or a family, or someone else. There is always another story to tell.

But that does not take away from the fundamental point: guns are a terrible, awful means of self-defense. They are too deadly, too quickly and too easily. The damage they do is frequently irreversible – the consequences of their use drastically overwhelm the split second it takes to fire one.

We think of guns as a “good” method of self-defense because we want to find short cuts – the proverbial (and in this case ironic) “magic bullet”. In so doing, we make two enormous mistakes:

1) We misunderstand the point of civilian self-defense. The point is to protect yourself by whatever means necessary. The point is not to disable/disarm/neutralize your attacker – because that often isn’t necessary

2) We fall into the trap of thinking that if we prepare for the “worst-case scenario”, that will cover all other scenarios. It doesn’t.



What do we want? The same. When do we want it? Now.

Really nice post by Yglesias about the status quo bias in American politics (and honestly, I suspect in most countries).  When you get down to it, people really just don’t like change.  Yglesias:

Roughly speaking, liberals and conservatives have the exact same “glass jaw” in American politics, which is that they want to change things and the voters don’t. The political press seems to have a hard time admitting this, but all evidence points to the complete opposite of a widespread hunger for change anchored by bold plans and courageous thinking. What people want, overwhelmingly, is a politician who’ll promise not to do anything. As Republicans discovered when they tried to privatize Social Security and again when they unveiled a plan to privatize Medicare, people don’t want a transformation of the American welfare state. And as Democrats discovered with their universal health care program, people don’t want a transformation of the American welfare state. Nobody will spell out what tax deductions they would eliminate as part of a comprehensive tax reform becuase people don’t want a transformation of the tax code. People mock the timidity of Mitt Romney’s promise to balance the budget by cutting PBS funding, but it turns out that cutting PBS funding is unpopular. In fact, people don’t want to cut spending on anything any more than they want a serious policy to tackle climate change.

Policy entrepreneurs who are seriously committed to change tend to find ways to persuade themselves that voters secretly agree with them, but these soundings always suffer from abstract/concrete problems. 53 percent of voters are “completely” or “somewhat” dissatisfied with K-12 education in America, but only 21 percent are dissatisfied with their own kids’ school. Romney’s most important promise in the Medicare reform debate is that nobody who’s old will have to face any changes, and Obama’s most important promise in the Affordable Care Act debate was that nobody who’s currently insured would have their coverage change.

Yep.  As if change in our political system wasn’t hard enough institutionally-speaking, ordinary Americans are just not big fans of change.

The atheists are coming!

(Via Pew):

Of course, ” no religious affiliation” is not the same as atheist, but that makes for a less dramatic headline.  Any why?

With few exceptions, though, the unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion that would be right for them. Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.

Well, no argument from me there.  Lots of good political stuff in here, too:


Godless liberals, indeed.


In defense of political scientists

There’s a reason that Ezra Klein is the favorite journalist/blogger of pretty much every serious political scientist.  It’s because he gets it.  Today he wrote a great post on the value of PS wisdom versus the noise from the pundit class:

Political scientists will tell you that debates don’t usually decide presidential elections, or even lead to noticeable changes in the polls. In their huge survey of every publicly available poll in the last 15 presidential campaigns, Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien concluded, “there is no case where we can trace a substantial shift to the debates.” A study by James Stimson came to much the same conclusion.

But Mitt Romney’s lopsided win in the first presidential debate is causing some to turn their guns on the earnest researchers. “Political science proclaims, ‘debates don’t matter,’” writes David Frum. “After this election, we may need to retire a lot of political science.”

For the record, I’ll take political scientists looking at thousands of polls over multiple elections over pundits freaking out after the first few polls following the first presidential debate. This, in my view, is exactly what political science does well: Reminds you to calm down, to take the long view, and to ask yourself whether you think this election will break from historical precedent, and if so, why.

I would say that the last week has been an object lesson in why it’s worth paying attention to the evidence gathered by political scientists and tuning out some of the more excitable pundits. Pundits have every incentive to make sweeping pronouncements based off incomplete data. The work political scientists have done gives us some body of past evidence against which we can check those sweeping pronouncements. It’s too early to say how much this debate mattered, but the wild reaction it’s generated among political pundits has convinced me, more than ever, that political science matters.


Photo of the day

Slate gallery on “The Mysterious Polaroids of Bastian Kalous.”  Here’s the deal:

Generally when I think of Polaroid photographs I’m reminded of old family snapshots, perhaps a camera passed around close-quarters at a party, or a few artistic captures of flowers, textures or an old beat-up vehicle. Photographer Bastian Kalous has a very different approach, carrying his Polaroid camera around the world into the sweeping vistas of the Grand Canyon, the valleys surrounding the Grand Tetons, and other expanses of forests and mountains near his home in Freyung, a town in Bavaria, Germany. These are locations rarely explored with instant film these days, and I find his work both refreshing and mysterious. Luckily he has several hundred photos to explore, and I strongly urge you to do so.

Just love the lone sheep staring at the camera:


(Bastian Kalous)

Is Obama over-rated?

Nice piece from Chris Cilizza yesterday that makes come good points about Obama.  In so many ways, politics is an expectations game and certainly when it came to debates, Obama suffered from unreasonably high expectations.  There was never a lot of reason to expect he’d do particularly well.  Not, in a fair and objective world, he did get beat, but it becomes all the worse because people expected him (perhaps without all that much basis) to do much better.  Cilizza:

Obama’s debate performance also raised a bigger question: Is he overrated as a candidate?

Four years ago, that question would have been unimaginable. After all, this was a man who in his first run for national office not only outmaneuvered the Clinton family to win the Democratic presidential nomination but also went on to claim a 365-electoral-vote general-election landslide against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz). And, oh by the way, Obama did all that while raising $750 million (including $500 million online) — a sum that shattered all fundraising records.

And yet, even in that campaign, there was some evidence that candidate Obama had flaws — the most notable of which was that while he delivered solid performances in the debates against McCain, he was far from the champion performer that many expected. (The coverage largely glossed over that fact because a) the race had already heavily tilted in Obama’s favor by that point, making the debates less meaningful, and b) McCain was a decent debater at best, which made Obama’s performance seem stronger in comparison.)

Fast-forward to this campaign — and specifically its last two major public events — and you see Obama’s flaws as a candidate in starker relief.

His acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention was flat and, rhetorically, felt like a patchwork effort — five or six different speeches all clumped into a single address. His debate performance was glum and defensive, leaving anyone who watched with the overwhelming sense that the president would have rather been anywhere but sharing the stage with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R).

Now, like most of your Conventional Wisdom types, I think Cilizza goes a little overboard in his critique of Obama on both counts, but it without a doubt that he benefited from a weak debating opponent in McCain four years ago (people easily forget that Hillary largely got the best of him in most of their debates).

So, in the end, however poorly Obama fared (and it was not that poorly), his probably is that he is being judged against a high bar which was never particularly realistic for him.

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