If the chief danger associated with failing to punish Bashar al-Assad for gassing his people is that it will embolden our supposed enemies, shouldn’t it follow that by punishing him, we would expect it would be less likely for another country to do the same sort of thing? And if so, doesn’t Assad's recent behavior itself stand in refutation of this assertion? Put another way, what didn’t we do to Saddam Hussein? To be sure, he is permanently “deterred”. But his neighbors seem no less deterred than ever.
The key here, to my mind, is that it is a mistake to try and make sense of Assad’s behavior (and Qadaffi's before him) in terms of how US policy affects it. Game it out, from Assad's perspective: he faces an armed insurrection of religious fanatics who will surely execute him if they prevail. If he puts them down with force, he may face recriminations from the US and/or the international community. But if he doesn’t put the insurrection down, he is as good as dead anyway. Ergo, he really has nothing to lose by fighting his rebels by whatever means he deems necessary.
(If there is any lesson we ought to be taking away from Syria, it is that attempting to broker a swift, safe, and peaceful exit for the occasional tyrant is a policy approach that really should be examined. It may offend our sense of justice to have these men living out their days in comfortable obscurity, but how many Syrian lives--never mind US blood and treasure--could have been saved had Assad retired to Tehran 12 months ago? But this is a discussion for another day; that ship sailed for Assad when he gassed his people.)
The neoconservatives (and their occasional humanitarian interventionist fellow travelers) worry about the perception of US power on the part of our supposed enemies. What they should worry about is our own failure to perceive the limits of our own power. The unexamined assumption that we can do everything is diminishing our ability to do anything, faster and more thoroughly than any Syrian gas or Iranian nuke ever could. 

Brief addendum: I wasn't even going to talk about the president--because I couldn't care less about what all this means for his political fortunes, or those of his SecState or Congress--but Sully's summation is worth quoting in full:

If the Congress votes no – which, given the current arguments, it obviously should – then the president should accede to the wishes of the American people as voiced by their representatives. If he were to do that, the kind of transformation Obama promised in America’s foreign policy would be given a huge boost. This would be a president who brought Congress back into the key decisions of war and peace as the ultimate authority on them, as the Founders intended. It would be seen by history as the first key step away from the imperial presidency and the beginning of democratic accountability for the permanent war machine.

This could, in other words, be the dawn of a new, realist and constitutional age. Or the final death-throes of an empire that won’t quit until it bankrupts us both fiscally and morally. That’s why next week’s debate is so critical. And why Obama can still come out ahead on this, even as the conventional Washington wisdom will surely be all about his humiliation in a zero-sum narrative whose attention span is the next five minutes. If he defers to Congress on a new war in the Middle East, we are definitively in a new era.

One hopes. 



nothing to gain, everything to lose

I’ve been silent here (and pretty quiet elsewhere) for nearly two months now. At first, because I simply had other things on my plate that took precedence (a cross-continental move, finishing up old business on one side of the country, starting a new job on the other, setting up a new household, and trying to breathe a little in the interstices.) Later, because I found I just didn’t miss this very much.
Which is a roundabout way of me saying that the two-month hiatus from blogging I’ve been on will continue indefinitely. I know better than to say “permanently”, chiefly because I have a few times before. But I will say, it feels different this time.
Or rather, it doesn’t at all, and that is kind of my point. When I started doing this a little over a decade ago, my country had just waded into a war in the middle east, justified largely by the fact that another country’s leader had murdered  his own people using means that were somehow less morally acceptable than the time-honored tradition of hurling enough mass with sufficient force into a human body as to cause it to cease functioning. No one questioned that that man was repugnant thug unworthy of the title “human”, much less “president”. Nor that his people were suffering immeasurably under his thumb.
The problem was, no one seemed to be able—or importantly, willing—to make the case that by intervening with force, we wouldn’t make an already bad situation worse. Never mind making the case for the likelihood of a "good" outcome.
If this show is going into re-runs, count me out. I’ve said it all already.


(insert snowden pun here)

Dave Weigel:

At the risk of sounding overly Team Obama, is [tracking down Edward Snowden] like those other crises? This is a pretty-please campaign of asking other states to hand over a 30-year-old guy who leaked some greatest hits from his NSA homework. The insertion of the president in the negotiation raises the political stakes for the leaders of those states, the risks of failure are high, and they're especially pathetic. Remember when Obama personally appealed for Chicago to get the Olympics, and failed? Imagine that on a grander scandal.

This seems about right to me. Set aside for the moment the relative merits of Snowden's cause and actions--elevating his fugitive status just strikes me as a dumb move. How many Chinese and Russian dissidents have been granted asylum in the U.S., over the objections of those countries? Of course they are going to be uncooperative about it when presented with the rare opportunity to aid an American dissident.


ground rush

The movers are coming a week from today. They were originally supposed to be coming Saturday; when I found out that they weren't I was initially pissed off (mostly because it necessitated a hasty re-negotiation with my landlord, whose graciousness in the matter made what could have been a clusterfuck no big deal) but now I am relieved. I could use an extra couple of days to catch my breath.

Officially, I am still at work until the end of the week; unofficially, I'm hoping to get that down to about 3.5 days.

We are planning a trip to Winnipeg en route (not strictly en route, but close enough in the context of a 3000-mile drive to be worth it) to see our niece (and a few adult family members, if we must) who will be turning 1 year old while we are there. I'm looking forward to that. I'm also looking forward to a nice long drive across Alberta and Saskatchewan, but that may change if Alberta is still flooded this time next week.

The delay in the movers means we will have a little less time on our hands to mosey across the countries than I would have preferred, but hopefully we will get to do a little bit along the way. See some giant ball of twine, or maybe pull off in Chicago long enough to grab a hot dog. (That'll be about all we can do, as we will have an actual dog in tow.)

Anyway, even though I've been down this road a few times now, it still feels quite surreal and slightly panicked. I'm definitely glad we're not trying to buy a house at the same time. For us, landing two good jobs in the same metro at the same time (and it happening to be one in which we are quite eager to live again) is enough a coup. No need to press our luck.

I will probably be a bit of a non-entity in the land of ones and zeros for a while. Stay out of trouble.


probably the last time i will blog about seattle politics

There's a mayoral election coming up, which I will no longer be around to vote in. So, I won't belabor the point here. I suspect incumbent Mike McGinn may benefit from the fact that so many people are running against him in the primary (we have a non-partisan, top two candidates go to the general primary system in WA). And at the moment, it would appear that it will be down to McGinn and either Ed Murray (who has zero experience with city issues, and whose effectiveness in Olympia is frankly questionable) or Peter Steinbrueck, who is much more conversant in the issues of the city, but on the wrong side of too many of them (especially density and transit).

I think McGinn has dropped the ball on handling SPD, and that is not trivial. However, as far as the local economy goes, Seattle is doing really, really well. And even though McGinn can hardly take credit for all of that, it matters.

Apart from the police issue, the main complaint I hear about McGinn is that he just isn't nice enough. (File this as an "only in the Pacific Northwest" thing.) Given that the state government in Olympia is frequently and actively hostile to the city's interest, I consider that a feature, not a bug.

Steinbrueck is in denial about where the city is and where it is going. (The best description I've heard, and I apologize for not remembering from whom I've heard it, is "approaching San Francisco-like density with a Phoenix-like transportation system".) Murray, as far as I can tell, just really, really wants to be our First Gay Mayor, in an era where being "X's first Y Z" is becoming increasingly less noteworthy by the moment. (And that is a good thing.)

In other words, I don't see any reason to expect Murray to be particularly competent, and I worry that Steinbreuck would competently implement policies that are not in the city's best interest. McGinn may not be perfect, but I really think it would be foolish not to give him another term, given the options.

with diplomats like these...

...who needs a War Department?

Twenty years ago, in a debate over the war in Bosnia, Madeleine Albright, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, issued a challenge to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell. Albright wanted the U.S. to confront an aggressive Serbia; Powell and the Pentagon were hesitant. Albright grew frustrated: “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” Albright asked. Powell later said that he thought Albright was going to give him an aneurysm.

Flash-forward to this past Wednesday. At a principals meeting in the White House situation room, Secretary of State John Kerry began arguing, vociferously, for immediate U.S. airstrikes against airfields under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime -- specifically, those fields it has used to launch chemical weapons raids against rebel forces.

It was at this point that the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the usually mild-mannered Army General Martin Dempsey, spoke up, loudly. According to several sources, Dempsey threw a series of brushback pitches at Kerry, demanding to know just exactly what the post-strike plan would be and pointing out that the State Department didn’t fully grasp the complexity of such an operation.

Dempsey informed Kerry that the Air Force could not simply drop a few bombs, or fire a few missiles, at targets inside Syria: To be safe, the U.S. would have to neutralize Syria’s integrated air-defense system, an operation that would require 700 or more sorties. At a time when the U.S. military is exhausted, and when sequestration is ripping into the Pentagon budget, Dempsey is said to have argued that a demand by the State Department for precipitous military action in a murky civil war wasn’t welcome. 

Holy hell. If anyone should be able to grasp the problems with "precipitous military action in a murky civil war," it's John Fucking Kerry

big wheel keep on turnin'

You know we armed Iraq. I wondered about that too, you know. During the Persian Gulf war, those intelligence reports would come out: "Iraq: incredible weapons – incredible weapons." "How do you know that?" "Uh, well … we looked at the receipts. But as soon as that check clears, we're goin' in."
--William Melvin Hicks, c. 1993


further comment is not required

Will Wilkinson on the security state. Just read it.


edward snowden in his own words

From a very long reader Q&A at The Guardian:

Further, it's important to bear in mind I'm being called a traitor by men like former Vice President Dick Cheney. This is a man who gave us the warrantless wiretapping scheme as a kind of atrocity warm-up on the way to deceitfully engineering a conflict that has killed over 4,400 and maimed nearly 32,000 Americans, as well as leaving over 100,000 Iraqis dead. Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, Feinstein, and King, the better off we all are. If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school.


pretty sure i've seen this movie before

Well, fuck.

us law should not be a tool for international criminals

I mentioned my evolving views on the subject of legalizing prostitution a little while ago, my main misgiving being that legalization does not appear (at least in the cases examined) to do a great deal towards preventing human trafficking, and in fact may make it worse.

This recent series on the subject of human trafficking by WGBH is well worth your time. I listened to the last installment this morning, that summarized what can be done to combat this problem. I found some of their recommendations more satisfying than others, but most glaring to me was the policy recommendation that they didn't make, at least not explicitly:

Blanket, permanent immigration amnesty for suspected victims of human trafficking.

And yes, I do mean "suspected"--more specifically, that the crime of trafficking need not be "proven" in a legal sense (that no one need be convicted for it) for the victims to qualify for amnesty.

One of the greatest weapons traffickers have against their victims in the US is fear of running afoul of US authorities, of being deported and/or imprisoned, and --importantly--of being permanently banned from the US. This is a tremendous disincentive for trafficking victims to come forward. In effect, the traffickers are using US immigration law against their victims.

One might argue that putting such a broad amnesty in place creates a back door to immigration, that the system will be ripe for abuse. Perhaps. But personally, I am a great deal less concerned about someone getting into the US on a false pretense of being a victim of trafficking than I am about the trafficking happening under our noses going unpunished.


david brooks on the issue of the day

He manages to spill a few hundred words wildly speculating about Snowden's motives and absolutely none on the merits of the NSA program itself. Where to begin? Never mind, take it away, Twitter:

I mean...you do realize that Snowden in all likelihood outed himself to make it harder for the government to kill him, right? Given what he has firsthand knowledge of, I think it is fair to say that his assessment of his chances of being found out might be...slightly better than average.

So fine, speculate about his motives, his politics, and whether or not he'd make a good neighbor. But maybe, just maybe, it is worth considering that he knowingly put himself at considerable risk for a cause he considered much greater than himself.

(in which i begin my career as a quasi-anonymous political operative)

I've mentioned that things are getting a little bit nutty down in Raleigh. Truth be told, I've barely scratched the surface of it. Expect more on that when I am in thick of it.

I've come to realize that life in Seattle has made this libertarian-leaning liberal a bit...complacent. Don't get me wrong--I'm happy to see my neighbors getting (legally) married. I'm happy to know that no one in my state is going to go to jail for simply having pot. It's really pretty great when one of the most heated topics of local debate is whether we need more bike lanes or not.

But I'm moving back to the front lines. And holing up on the island of comparative sanity that is Durham and Chapel Hill just isn't going to do.

So I've started a new project, which I intend to be unapologetically partisan in purpose, but ruthlessly data-driven in execution. Putting it bluntly, it's going to be wonky as fuck, which is why I'm not doing it here. And I'm serious about the fact that it will not be a venue for partisan debate. The only debates entertained there will be how best to go about defeating Republicans in North Carolina.

This may--if I have the juice to maintain it for as long as I hope--take a little bit away from the goings-on here. But don't worry; I don't have the attention span to only ever write about one thing...


friday tab clearing

--A great write-up about Durham, NC-based start-up Organic Transit, who is producing what might very well be the most innovative and promising alternative to the automobile in the United States, if not the world. (By way of disclosure: employees 1 and 5 are close personal friends of mine, I donated to their Kickstarter, and I've gotten to take the ELF for a test drive. It's pretty awesome.)

--Marijuana is going corporate. It's a brave new world.

--James Lipton was a pimp. No, seriously.

--Patrick Stewart: still one of the coolest human beings alive.

that'll be the last time i link to the daily caller

As the great man said: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice...we won't get fooled again.


white house smoke in the irs scandal? (updated--probably not)

(Compiled by and further discussed at The Daily Caller)

I'm with Sully on this: there are plenty of reasons to distrust The Daily Caller as a source. But they appear to be drawing from public records, and acknowledge the caveats of the data (specifically, that not all high-level visits to the White House are logged). And in any case, 150+ visits by the IRS commissioner to the White House seems like a hell of a lot in absolute terms; never mind how that actually compares with Eric Holder or Hillary Clinton.

This needs an explanation from the top. And soon.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan's readers are doing a pretty thorough job of dismantling this--or at least going a long way towards pointing out that The Daily Caller has (shockingly) skewed the data to cast the President in the worst possible light. To wit:
I shared the same concern regarding the disclosure of IRS Commissioner Shulman’s visits to the White House.  But they were quickly assuaged when I looked at the actual data, which can be downloaded here.  The correspondence from your reader on your updated post seems absolutely correct – looks like many (if not most) were about health care. I engaged in a cursory review of the first 20 or so Shulman entiries, and virtually all were with individuals involved with the health care reform proposal.  In particular, the contact for most of the initial meetings was Nancy-Ann Deparle, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, who was at the center of shaping health care reform.  One entry specifically notes that it was for the “bi-weekly health reform deputies meeting.”

I did not review all the entries, and it is conceivable that there are others that raise suspicions.  But the log make one thing very clear: “visiting the White House” does not mean a meeting with the president.  Typically, it means (and apparently did in Shulman’s case) meetings with policy wonks and other staff.  Given Shulman participation in such policy meetings, it is hardly surprising that he was there frequently, or that a lower-level official might be present at the White House far more often than a cabinet secretary.

in which i praise (some of) the media, for once

I had jotted a mental note to myself yesterday, to write a post pointing out the absurdity of Eric Holder's offer to meet with Washington bureau chiefs to discuss the DOJ's policies vis a vis the investigation of journalists off the record, and to suggest that were said bureau chiefs to agree to such a thing one might reasonably consider that a (further) abdication of the press's duty to serve as watchdog of those in power.

But it appears that a good many of them have reached the same conclusion without my help.

So I will simply say: good for CNN, Fox News, CBS News, McClatchy, The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Huffington Post, and shame on ABC and The Washington Post.


i love this

Geez, Wolfie...condescend much?

Give this woman credit: if you are an atheist living in the Bible Belt, and find yourself put on the spot like this (never mind on national television), it is frankly a hell of a lot easier to just smile politely and go along with things. (I know of what I speak, here.)

She stays true to herself, and does so graciously. She's magnanimous towards her neighbors (some of whom--I absolutely guarantee you--are going to give her shit about this.) And she doesn't say anything along the lines of, "no, I don't feel I should 'thank the Lord' for killing someone else's children instead of mine this time."

(Which is probably what I would have done.)


friday jam: wugazi

A buddy of mine sent me a CD with a metric ton of music on it a while back, and it's taken me a while to get around to listening to it all. Which is a real shame, because now I know how much time I could have been listening to Wugazi's 13 Chambers, but wasn't

A mash-up of songs from the Wu-Tang Clan and Fugazi sounds like it could be gimmicky. Hell, it sounds like it should be gimmicky. And there is every reason to expect it to be terrible, because most mash-ups are terrible. But this isn't. Not only is it not terrible, it's 13 amazing tracks that could each stand on their own.

Just as one example (and I could probably do this for every track)...I don't think that I would have ever noticed the rhythmic consonance between the menacing piano hook of ODB's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya":

...and the understated guitar bass riff of Fugazi's "Forensic Scene":
...much less would I have imagined that combining them just so would produce this:

This might be the greatest gateway drug for hip-hop in a long, long time.


how to take a leak in privacy (or something like that)

Some solid, practical advice:

Of course, the job still isn’t finished. When you are done you must clear the browser’s cookies and turn off the Wi-Fi before turning off the computer and removing the battery. The dedicated computer should never be used on the network except when checking your press-contact account and only from open Wi-Fi connections away from home and work.
More--lots more--at the link. 


the problem is people (and it always is)

Farhad Manjoo wrote yesterday about the invasion of public spaces by canines and their owners. This has, predictably, kicked up a chorus of what passes for discussion these days.

This is silly. Manjoo raises some perfectly reasonable objections to dogs being off leash where they shouldn't, being present where they shouldn't, and being poorly controlled by their owners in public situations. (I say this as someone who will take his dog anywhere and everywhere that he can. After all, poorly controlled dogs are a problem for other dogs, too.) But this has nothing to do with dogs. You could write the same piece about children (Manjoo halfheartedly acknowledges as much himself), cell phone usage, bicycle riders, wearing perfume, leaf blowers, and probably a dozen other things that people do or have in public, that can either be handled with some basic consideration for the people around you, or not.

To single out dogs (or any of those other things) as being a particular scourge on society is to miss the point entirely. We should be talking about basic manners.


i've been on this road so long i'm going in circles now

I've kept mum about this here, since it has been up in the air for a lot longer than I would have preferred, but as I now have it in writing, and (by the time this actually publishes) have informed my current employer (not that he reads or knows about this page), I suppose I can say that this blog and its attendant author will be pulling up stakes and leaving Seattle in just under two months.

We will be moving to Durham, NC, which long-time readers will know is familiar ground.

Without going into a lot of googlable detail, I've gotten a much, much better job in the RTP area. I will still be doing science, but in a more collaborative and interdisciplinary environment, and at a much more "big picture" level.

That's all I should probably say about the job here and now. My wife and I are both very, very excited about this. Seattle has been a great place to live--I think that it is, for all its quirks, one of the better governed and most livable major cities in the country. Life here was great, and I'm grateful to have had a few years to experience it. We've met some wonderful people here, and hope that a few will remain lifelong friends.

However, despite its charms, I don't think I've ever felt truly at home, here. My work situation has been very, very difficult, and it wouldn't surprise me that given a better situation on that side of things if I would have found myself happy to put down roots and never leave. But that is not the hand I was dealt.

More than that, though, is that I've felt a nagging pull back to Durham since we left. We have friends there that aren't "like" family to us, they are family to us. And the community there is something very hard to explain, but very, very special. I'm amazed and humbled that the job market (and especially this job market) has provided us with an opportunity to go back to the one place I really do feel is home.

This will be my fourth major relocation in 14 years. But I'm hoping that it will be my last.
This is just nuts. I hope someone does these poor young women a solid and makes sure they know what a horrible person Nancy Grace is.


the war on salt water

I just got an email forwarded to me that originated with the WA Board of Pharmacy, to the effect that sterile saline for injection is considered a "legend drug" for the purposes of regulation. Which means--I kid you not--that it has to be kept under lock and key, logged per usage, and disposed of per very specific protocols.

I don't even think I need to add a joke, here.



From Slayer's Facebook page yesterday:

Slayer is devastated to inform that their bandmate and brother, Jeff Hanneman, passed away at about 11AM this morning near his Southern California home. Hanneman was in an area hospital when he suffered liver failure. He is survived by his wife Kathy, his sister Kathy and his brothers Michael and Larry, and will be sorely missed.

Hanneman had been suffering from necrotizing fasciitis following a probable spider bite in 2011--which is basically the most metal possible disease you can ever have--and this had kept him off the road with the band ever since. It isn't clear whether this contributed to his liver failure, but I cannot imagine that it helped.

Unfortunately, that video cuts off before the guitar chaos at the end of the song, but I really like this old version because it shows how fast they played this stuff when they were young. For contrast, check this performance from probably 15 years later:

Slayer is one of those bands that nobody has lukewarm feelings about. If you hadn't already made up your mind about Slayer, I'm sure you did about 20 seconds into that first video. Thrash sort of came and went by the early 90's as a major force in music, but Slayer kept churning it out well into the 21st century. And where bands like Metallica and Megadeth got more radio-friendly, Slayer never compromised their sound.

I've listened to a lot of metal since Reign in Blood came out almost 27 (!) years ago. And while there's been a ton of great stuff, I don't think anything has ever come close to topping that 29 minutes of raw brutality.

It's provocative. For some, it is downright scary. For others, unimaginably obnoxious. I get that. I don't put a Slayer record on when I've got company over for dinner. I don't make anyone listen to it in the car.

But when it's just me at the end of a long day, blowing off steam with a run or a round with the heavy bag...there is nothing I'd rather have piped into my ears.



breaking: george w. bush is still a walking piece of excrement

The other guard dragged me out with my toes tracing the way, and threw me in a truck, which immediately took off. The beating party would last for the next three to four hours, before they turned me over to another team that would use different torture techniques.
“Stop praying, motherfucker. You’re killing people,” [ ? ? ? ? ?] said, and punched me hard on my mouth. My mouth and nose started to bleed, and my lips grew so big that I technically could not speak anymore. The colleague of [ ? ? ? ? ?] turned out to be one of my guards; [ ? ? ? ? ?] and [ ? ? ? ? ?] each took one of my sides and started to punch me and smash me against the metal of the truck. One of the guys hit me so that my breath stopped and I was choking. I felt like I was breathing through my ribs.

Did I pass out? Maybe not. All I know is that I kept noticing [ ? ? ? ? ?] several times spraying ammonia in my nose. The funny thing was, Mr. [ ? ? ? ? ?] was at the same time a “lifesaver,” as were the guards I would be dealing with for the year to come; all of them were allowed to give me medication and first aid.

After 10 to 15 minutes, the truck stopped at the beach. My escort team dragged me out of the truck and put me in a high-speed boat. [ ? ? ? ? ?] never gave me a break; they kept hitting me.

“You’re killing people,” said [ ? ? ? ? ?]. I believe he was thinking out loud: He knew he was committing the most cowardly crime in the world, torturing a helpless detainee who was completely submissive and turned himself in. [ ? ? ? ? ?] was trying to convince himself that he was doing the right thing.
Inside the boat, [ ? ? ? ? ?] made me drink salt water, I believe it was direct from the ocean. It was so nasty I threw it up. They put an object in my mouth and shouted, “Swallow, motherfucker!” I decided inside not to swallow the organ-damaging salt water, which choked me as they kept pouring the water in my mouth. “Swallow, you idiot!” I contemplated quickly, and decided for the nasty, damaging water rather than death.

More (much more) here, if you can stomach it.

And the man ultimately responsible for this stain on our collective conscience was verbally fellated by every living U.S. President last week. But remember, we're supposed to consider the "whole man" because he writes nice thank you notes.

Fuck. That.

a rare post about sports (kind of)

--Someone please tell Chris Hansen that he just got played. The NBA has figured out that the most valuable thing to it about Seattle is to use us as a threat to get more money out of other owners and host cities. (Speaking as a Seattle taxpayer for now, I am totally OK with this, BTW.)

--That sound you heard yesterday morning was about a third of the WNBA clearing their throat.

--A lot of people want to lay the backlash against Tim Tebow on his outspoken Christianity. It seems more likely to me that his outspoken Christianity might have contributed to him getting more attention than his actual playing ability (in the NFL) warranted.


this and that

From the weekend's reading...

--A piece from the Wilson Quarterly about the potential relationship between genetic diversity of human populations and economic prosperity. In short: too much diversity and you don't get enough cooperation. But too little, and there is no dynamism. The sweet spot is in the middle somewhere. (Also, Ethiopia is the most genetically diverse country on earth. I did not know that.)

--A profile of the unfortunately-named Jan Assmann and his controversial ideas about how the introduction of monotheism fomented a level of conflict previously unseen among the previously polytheistic societies of what we would now call the Middle East. (Astute readers will note that this was essentially the premise of the Battlestar Galactica spin-off/prequel Caprica.)

--Porn star/model/aerialist/writer Stoya on casinos, megachurches, and what both have to do with human evolution.


quote of the month

first election 2016 post

Don't worry, this won't become a habit. I promise.

But it is worth noting the news today that Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) is retiring at the end of his current term. At first glance, this looks like a seat that could be an easy pickup for the GOP in '14. However, if you've paid any attention to Montana politics in recent years, you might know that its massively popular and recently term-limited Democratic governor Brian Schweitzer is an early odds-on favorite to run for the seat, and very likely to win it.

The Democratic bench for 2016 is rightly derided for being bereft of promising candidates that aren't named Hilary Clinton. Personally, I think Schweitzer could make a fine president: he had a successful governorship, he's served in the Executive Branch, he's done international development work (in the Middle East, no less), AND he's worked in the private sector.

The only thing really holding him back is that most Americans don't know who the hell he is. But if recent history has told us anything, a two-year stopover in the Senate is really all it takes to fix that...



Here's the thing that bugs me about the bombing in Boston (besides the obvious.)

It really doesn't fit a pattern. Or actually, it fits a couple of patterns imperfectly, that are more or less mutually exclusive.

Islamists (and other religious/political terror groups, like the IRA) historically make a point of claiming responsibility for their work. As far as we know, there haven't even been dubious claims of responsibility for this one. So even though the M.O. of a low-tech IED set to maximize random carnage fits the profile of AQ and their wannabes, nothing else really does. (Some might argue that these guys look a little...swarthy...but so does Gino. So do I after a week at the beach, for that matter. Seriously, the only thing that we can say about the suspects from those pictures is that they are not sub-Saharan Africans, and at least one of them isn't east Asian. They probably aren't Swedish, either.)

On the other hand, our home-grown politically motivated terrorists do tend to like this particular week in April, but they also tend to go after government buildings. Avenging Waco seems like a hell of reach, too.

What I am struck by, though, is the ingenuity (please don't mistake my word choice here for admiration or approval) of the timing and the setting of the attack. And to a lesser extent (because it might have been serendipitous) the physical nature of the blast damage.

I'll take the second point first. Based on the injuries suffered, it would appear that the blasts and shrapnel radiated outward along the ground. That's why so many people lost legs and feet, and probably why one of the casualties was a little boy. It makes for a horrific scene. In some ways, grievously injuring a couple of hundred people is more of a spectacle than killing a handful.

Which brings me back to the first point. The bomber(s) weren't targeting the marathon. They were targeting the crowd on the side of the course. At the finish line.

In other words: a crowd of people in a place and time where nearly everyone had their camera out. Add to that the delay between explosions was too short for the old tactic of waiting for the first responders to arrive, and setting off a secondary explosion. But it was just right to be certain to be caught on any number of camera phones being whipped out after the first one.

Maybe this was political, or religious, or some warped version thereof, a la Eric Rudolph. But really, this just looks to me like someone wanted to really hurt some people, and for the world to see it.

Needless to say, I sincerely hope the bastard(s) responsible for this are brought to justice. But I think we should be ready to find the answer to the question "why?" very, very unsettling.


why equality matters

This is completely indefensible.

A gay man was arrested at a hospital in Missouri this week when he refused to leave the bedside of his partner, and now a restraining order is preventing him from any type of visitation.
Roger Gorley told WDAF that even though he has power of attorney to handle his partner’s affairs, a family member asked him to leave when he visited Research Medical Center in Kansas City on Tuesday.
Gorley said he refused to leave his partner Allen’s bedside, and that’s when security put him in handcuffs and escorted him from the building.
“I was not recognized as being the husband, I wasn’t recognized as being the partner,” Gorley explained.
He said the nurse refused to confirm that the couple shared power of attorney and made medical decision for each other.



the president's teachable moment on interacting with female colleagues

Mr. Obama created a minor stir last week--particularly among a lot of his core constituencies--by noting that California Attorney General Kamala Harris "...happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general,” in public remarks.

A few thoughts.

1. That was a dumb thing to say. Lindy West does an admirable job of pointing out why, with typical good humor.

2. When a man works 80-hour weeks and has every public utterance recorded, transcribed, and scrutinized, it is inevitable that he will occasionally say dumb things, and we will know about it. Mr. Obama is one of the least gaffe-prone public figures in recent memory; I think he can be forgiven a momentary lapse of judgement without also dismissing what he said as "no big deal."

3. If you, as a man, find this confusing or frustrating, please allow me to offer a bit of friendly advice. I'm no expert on gender relations, nor a dedicated student of feminist theory--but seriously, this isn't rocket surgery. Here's a very handy rule of thumb: if it would be weird to say it to one of your male colleagues, it most likely isn't appropriate to say it to one of your female colleagues. Stick to that, and you will rarely, if ever, go wrong.



Is there any event more deliciously communal than the death of a polarizing figure?

Those who love you have the chance to sing your praises. Those who hate you a chance to stomp on your grave. The former the chance to deny the latter their joy--all in the name of decency, of course. The latter the opportunity to bask in the sheer force of their conviction. All while the indifferent get to revel in the simple pleasures of falling for neither hero-worship nor the unseemly impulse of schadenfreude.

Satisfied self-righteousness for all! There's even room for the odd columnist (or blogger!) to craft a few clever words and pretend he's somehow above it all, even when he knows deep down and damn well that he is not.

So, regardless of how you feel about the late Mrs. Thatcher: enjoy the day. It's rather hard to see how you couldn't.

Mark the sequel: Not long afterwards, I was at a reception in the Rosebery Room of the House of Lords. She came. (I'll try and keep this brief.) A mutual Tory friend offered to introduce us. I agreed with some alacrity. The subject of the moment was Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. I held one view on this. She held another. The introduction was effected. Did I imagine it, or did she recognize the name of the scribe who had hymned her feminine allure? At once we were embroiled in an argument on the subject of racism and decolonization. I was (I only mention it) correct on my facts as well as my principles. She was lousy on both. But what a bonny fighter! She wouldn't give an inch. I found myself conceding her a trivial point, and bowing as I did so. She smiled."Bow lower," she said.Suddenly robbed of volition, I complied."No -- much lower."By now near to drowning in complicity and subjection, I obeyed. She withdrew from behind her back a rolled-up copy of the Parliamentary orders of the day, and she gave me a sound smack before I could --how does one put this? -- straighten up. I regained the perpendicular in some blushful confusion and difficulty, to see her swing away and look over her shoulder, the words "naughty boy" floating over me in my near trance-like state, as the journo witnesses closed in to say, "What was that all about?" I told them they would never understand, and -- what do you know -- they never did.


an aside on comment moderation

I'm using moderation instead of captchas to police comment spam because 1) I hate captchas, and 2) I really, really fucking hate captchas.

Generally, I turn your comments around rather quickly, because notices go to my email, which goes to my phone, which I (almost) always have with me.

I have, however, noted a couple of quirks in the system. One is that notices sometimes get "threaded" in Gmail, which means that if several come in in quick succession, I might not notice the one in the middle. I think this has happened a couple of times. I've made every attempt to rectify that. The other is that if you hit "publish" (even inadvertently) it is going to come to me. A couple of times there have been clear cases of double posting, or of an incomplete version of a subsequent comment coming in. Here, my guideline is common sense: if it is obvious that the second comment says what was intended (but incomplete) in the first, I just publish the latter comment.

The second scenario is the only time I have knowingly deleted/neglected to publish any comments. I'm not saying I'd *never* refuse to publish something here (other than spam), but honestly, you'd have to say something pretty horrible. And if I did, the fact of it and my reasoning would be acknowledged in that comment section.

In case you were wondering.


quick thoughts on the brain initiative

I will probably have a great deal more to say about this in the coming days/month/years, but here are a few very quick points I want to make:

1. I am broadly in favor of big public investments in basic science, and not only because my livelihood depends on them. I think it is good policy. Unforeseen benefits tend to accrue from asking fundamental questions that don't have immediately obvious application. Examples include the device on which you read these words and most cancer drugs. There are many, many others.

2. That being said, I am less of a fan of congress or the president setting strategic priorities for research, for precisely the same reason. Most of the publicly-funded science done in this country in the last half-century has been investigator-initiated. It's a "bottom-up" model and I think that on balance it has worked exceedingly well. Science funding is largely zero-sum, both in terms of the money itself, and the time and creative energy that individual scientists put into developing their projects. A "top-down" approach diverts monetary and intellectual resources into what the politicians decide is important and away from the scientists themselves think is worth pursuing.

3. The comparisons to the Human Genome Project are tenuous. The HGP had a well-defined endpoint. We knew what the data would be, and we knew when we would be "done". Getting there was simply a matter of brute force. The brain is infinitely more complex than "ATACGGATTACG ATTACCGATAG CGGCTAGCCTAG, etc."

4. $100 million isn't as much as you probably think it is.

5. Much of what the BRAIN Initiative purports to accomplish is the subject of research already underway by very capable investigators. A cynic might be tempted to point out that this smacks of politicians (and particularly the President) trying to swoop in and take some credit for whatever happens next (and was going to happen anyway.)

when a place you love goes horribly wrong

I'm going to keep this one in my back pocket for the next time I hear Republicans whinging about how their religious liberty and/or the Constitution is under attack:

A bill filed by Republican lawmakers would allow North Carolina to declare an official religion...
House Bill 494, a resolution filed by Republican Rowan County Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford, would refuse to acknowledge the force of any judicial ruling on prayer in North Carolina – or indeed on any Constitutional topic:

"The Constitution of the United States does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional; therefore, by virtue of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the power to determine constitutionality and the proper interpretation and proper application of the Constitution is reserved to the states and to the people," the bill states.

"Each state in the union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion," it states. 


SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.
SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.
The 1st Amendment has been incorporated many times over, of course. The most the bill's sponsors can hope for is to pass the bill and then waste state money defending it unsuccessfully in court.

Oh well...it's nice to know one state has money to spare these days.


credit where credit is due dept., spd edition

Yesterday afternoon, I was feeling a bit out of sorts, so I decided to leave the lab a little bit early and catch a bus up to Pike Place Market to take in the view of Elliot Bay and buy some tulips for my wife (it's peak season, they are super-fresh this time of year from just up the road in the Skagit Valley, and they are her favorite flower.)

Hopping off the bus at 3rd Ave and Pike, there was a rather large tangle of people ahead of me on the sidewalk at the corner of Pine St., and a couple of police cruisers at the curb. Neither of which is terribly remarkable in and of themselves--that block, despite being two blocks from tourist central in one direction and from the core of the downtown shopping district in the other, is a well-known open air drug market. Shit happens there all the time, but it rarely gets truly dangerous.

Turns out this was one of those rare times.

I found myself near the front of a crowd that one SPD officer was working mightily to keep back (he wasn't very tall, and so I didn't see him until I got much closer than I would have on purpose.) Behind him, two or three officers were on the sidewalk, trying to stop a guy with multiple wounds from bleeding to death. Based on the size of the adjacent puddles, I'd say he'd lost a liter or two of blood at that point. Multiple police units arrived to help with crowd control, and my morbid curiosity quickly gave way to a much more prudent sense of "don't be here". I turned back and crossed over a block down.

It was at least another three minutes before the ambulance got there, due to rush hour bus and car traffic. Based on the police report, I figure I walked up within a minute or two of the stabbing.

I've heard a few people wondering how the police on the scene--who were literally right around the corner when this happened, and actually saw the beginning of the confrontation between the two men--managed to let the assailant get away. I have to say that based on what I saw, those guys did the right thing. If they hadn't immediately starting administering first aid, putting their backs to a chaotic and potentially dangerous situation a few feet away (particularly if someone had decided to come back and finish the job) that kid would surely have died before the ambulance showed up.

They did their job, and they did it well. 


a distinct advantage of the smart car

This guy is looking at hit and run charges instead of vehicular homicide.

Seattle Police arrested a 28-year-old Capitol Hill man in Saturday night’s reported hit and run involving a Car2Go vehicle striking a bicyclist at the intersection of Bellevue Ave and E Olive St.

According to an SPD report on the incident, officers were able to track the driver down at his Capitol Hill apartment with help from the car sharing service. Saturday night, Car2Go was able to provide the name and address of the person who had last rented the car reported by the victim and witnesses at the scene of the 8:30 PM incident and also located the vehicle — still checked out to the suspect — at E Thomas and Harvard Ave where it sat with “fresh damage to the front end.” We’ve asked Car2Go for more information about its policies regarding this type of incident but have not yet heard back from the company.

The 28-year-old booked on investigation of hit and run of a pedestrian told police he was driving the Smart Car at the time of the hit and run but was not aware of having hit anybody.
If you've ever seen a Smart Car up close, you know that it is rather unlikely that you could run over a bottle cap without knowing it. 

I wonder whether the driver would have tested over 5 ng/ml?


Some quick thoughts about this week's (potentially) historic week at the SCOTUS:

1) DOMA is clearly unconstitutional, on 14th Amendment grounds at least. Probably 10th as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see the four liberal justices rule against on the basis of the 14th, with Kennedy (and maybe even Roberts) concurring on 10th Amendment grounds. (I suspect a few of the more level-headed Republicans in congress will live to regret not repealing DOMA when they had the chance.)

2) Chief Justice Roberts' criticism of Obama enforcing DOMA while refusing to defend it in court is valid insofar as one might expect that the President's obligation to uphold the Constitution implies that he ought not enforce laws he genuinely believes to violate it. But of course, had Mr. Obama "the courage of his convictions" he would be roundly (and perhaps rightly) criticized for taking on the role of arbiter of the Constitution, one properly reserved to the judicial branch. In other words. he cannot really "win", here, regardless of what he does. I think the middle course he has charted here is the most prudent, if not the most courageous.

3) Proposition 8 is trickier. It is rather difficult to argue on one hand that DOMA constitutes federal overreach, but that the State of California does not retain the right to determine family law on the other. The way out is of course that Prop 8 also violates the Equal Protection clause. Personally, I think it does. However, I think the Court's aversion to issuing a sweeping ruling that will effectively legalize same-sex marriage nationwide will carry the day. Either Prop 8 gets upheld, narrowly (i.e., in such a way that only affects California) or they dismiss it on the basis of standing.

Between those two, I'd prefer the latter, because that would at least (re)-legalize extant marriages in California.

4) Despite the Court's aversion to another Roe-like ruling, I think they would do both the Republicans and the country a huge favor by effectively ending the substantive policy debate nationwide. Otherwise, we're looking at years of state-level fights on this and the Republicans will have little choice but to own the issue until the current crop of pissed-off old white guys dies off.

That is, of course, no basis at all on which to rule on constitutionality. But there it is.

of apples and trees

I should state at the outset here that it is probably a bit unfair of me to use this piece by Molly Redden about the children of prominent politicians and the rapid evolution of views on marriage as the jumping-off point for the point I want to make, because my beef is rather far from the focus of her piece. That said, sections like this really bother me:

Other political children have been out ahead of their parents, using their famous last names to bring attention to the issue even when their parents still opposed it. The three eldest Huntsman sisters—Mary Anne, Liddy, and Abby—all publicly supported same-sex marriage before their father, Jon Huntsman... Barbara Pierce Bush, one of George W. Bush’s twin daughters, filmed a short spot in favor of a 2011 marriage equality bill in New York State. Her mother, faced with the opportunity to do the same, chickened out, asking that supportive statements she’d made about same-sex marriage be pulled from a pro-marriage-equality ad. (Meanwhile, George W. Bush has given no signals that he’s moving on the issue.) And while being a Republican and marriage equality advocate can be a real bitch—her words—Meghan McCain has pushed the issue tirelessly as a writer and speaker. She apparently won over her mother, who appeared in a pro-same sex marriage photo shoot in 2010; John McCain, however, remains opposed.
The underlying premise to this observation being in any way remarkable is the unspoken expectation that the children--and specifically, the adult children--of public figures are predisposed to share the political beliefs of their famous fathers and mothers (though I cannot help but notice that every example above is a case of daughters and fathers). As though to bear the family name is to inherit the political philosophy.

Ms. McCain in particular--regardless of whether you find her particularly insightful or interesting--has certainly earned the right to be considered in her own right. Not because she's willing to break with daddy on the issue of marriage, but because she has built a career as a prolific writer and engaging media personality. That she would have opinions of her own and express them publicly is approximately as surprising as the sun coming up.


10 years of pointless blathering

(I'm traveling today, but scheduled this to post when I realized the anniversary was coming up.)

I sent the first edition of this place down the memory hole in a fit of embracing impermanence, so I don't have an easy link to show it, but I started blogging 10 years ago today.

I've been able to get to some of the old stuff via the Wayback Machine, and have allowed myself to indulge in a little bit of reading myself. As one might expect, this activity elicits more or less equal parts nostalgia and cringing. I think I'm a better writer, now. I'm less strident in my opinions (really). I'm definitely less ideological, and specifically less reliably libertarian.

Probably the most important difference between then and now: nowadays, for every post you see here, there are about three that get started and never posted. Editorial discretion was not something I possessed 10 years ago.

Anyway, thank you for your attention. 

Some high (and low)lights from the early days:

My first post (other than a quick hello earlier in the day) from March 26, 2003:

First line out of today's CBS coverage of the war: "As the war many hoped would be short enters its second week..."

Umm...excuse me? How short were we expecting this war to be, boys and girls? Did you think that we would start bombing on Friday and US GIs would be dancing in the streets with the women of Baghdad by the next weekend? The last Gulf War's ground campaign took 100 hours, but let's examine a few crucial differences:

1) In '91, Iraq was occupying Kuwait. They were easily cutoff from their supply lines. Furthermore, the objective was to get them out of Kuwait, NOT to CONQUER IRAQ.

2) The '91 ground campaign began AFTER 39 days of relentless air strikes. The Iraqi army was pretty much beaten by the time American soldiers were within firing range. They were essentially there to mop up.

3) In '91, we weren't marching through the homeland of people who might resent foreign invaders, regardless of how noble said invaders intentions are reported to be.

What are they teaching in journalism school these days that the average reporter can't see the differences? If they can't analyze the situation just a tiny bit more critically than this, what exactly are they here for?
(I wish I knew as much now as that guy thought he did, then.)

More on Iraq, from March 31, 2003:

I don't think for a moment that the primary goal of this campaign is "liberation", regardless of how often the president and his mouthpieces say it. The goals of this war are to depose an unfriendly, but weakened, regime, and in doing so, send a message to the Pakistans and Saudi Arabias of the world: take care of the undesireables in your backyard, or we will take care of you. It is a dangerous foriegn (sic) policy gambit, at best, and one that I think will keep our forces perpetually engaged for years, perhaps decades. [emphasis added] Liberation isn't the objective, but for the people whose homes and lives will be destroyed in this process, it is the least that we can do.
 (I really take no pleasure in having been more or less right about this.)

 My first foray into obituary, from June 25, 2003:

"...such is the duality of the Southern Thing."--DBT

The City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia lost two icons of our recent history this week: Maynard Jackson on Monday and Lester Maddox just last night. Jackson was Atlanta's first black mayor; Maddox was the state's last segregationist governor.

Both men were incredibly complex; whereas Maddox was notorious for meeting would-be black customers to his restaurant with a pistol and friends armed with pick handles, and was elected to the governor's mansion as a hard-line segregationist, as governor, he appointed more African-Americans to public positions in Georgia than anyone who had proceeded him, and his administration is still regarded as one free of corruption...not a small feat for a southern governor. Jackson, on the other hand, was involved in the civil rights movement, a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and is widely credited for making Atlanta a modern city of the "New South"; there are also many who've criticized his administrations (both in the 70's and the 90's) as using affirmative action as a system of patronage, quotas and set-asides as cover for graft. Even when he was succeeded by Bill Campbell in 1994, it was widely believed that Maynard was still running the show...and personally benefitting from racial preferences in city contracts.

Don't misunderstand what I'm trying to say here...far be it from me to cannonize Maddox or to demonize Jackson; both men contributed the growth and evolution of the place I call home. Both built, reformed, fought for what they believed, left their respective marks--and both were undeniably human.

I think that we too frequently see our leaders as larger than life. We project our ideals onto them. We credit them for single-handedly winning wars, freeing people, and changing the world for the better. We blame them for bad economies and moral decline.

Maybe that's just easier than all of us accepting responsibility for the world as we continually remake it.
Media criticism from October 8, 2003:

By the way, the FCC says you can say "fuck" on TV now, as long as you don't use it to describe the act of fucking. So you can say, "this is fucking great", "that fucking sucks", and even possibly "fuck you you fucking fuck", but you can't say "Honey, I'm home! Wanna fuck?"
Late-night TMI from the Fall of '04 (when your host was writing his dissertation):

...you cannot comprehend how disgusting I am right now. I think I went to the gym last night (was that last night?) and skipped my shower this morning to go directly to the office from bed. I think I've worn these pants for three or four days in a row. I had onions for lunch. Coffee all day. The way I smell is offensive to me right now. I feel like I should ride the bus home even though my car is here. I was in the bathroom down the hall (which is actually accessible from the main part of the hospital) washing my face just to wake up. I was afraid one of the security guards would come in and think I was a homeless person.



Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.


this and that

--Requiem for a badass. This guy tried to kill Hitler twice (in one case volunteering for a suicide mission to do so), ended up in a concentration camp, and still managed to die an old man in his bed at the dawn of the 21st century. Definitely something to keep in mind when your plans fall through.

--There's a lot of talk in Seattle these days about how increasingly dense and vertical development threatens what is apparently our city's greatest asset: views of the Space Needle. I think that this is an excellent response to that. 

--A paper in Nature The Lancet this week shows that clogged arteries were probably fairly common among our pre-agricultural ancestors.  This is interesting for a number of reasons, among them that it ought to really put a damper on the idea that a lot of human disease derives from our "modern" (i.e., post-hunter-gatherer) diet. Eating paleo might very well make you leaner and make you feel better, but you aren't going to cheat death. And cutting animal fat out completely is unlikely to stave off atherosclerosis.

My take is that while a (reasonably) healthy diet is certainly worth having for the short-term benefits (feeling and perhaps looking a little better), there's really no point in expending such a great effort to die with pristine arteries. The best you can hope for by doing so is to die of something even worse, like cancer or Alzheimer's. You might as well enjoy cheese.


seriously, though...

...you should be nice to your bartender. Even if you are a teetotaler.
I would like to congratulate my Catholic friends on having a new pope, and look forward (along with the other 6 billion non-Catholics of the world) to getting back to the business of studiously ignoring him.

mea culpa

I was wrong. Paul Ryan isn't serious about fixing the budget, either.


male bonding

This is excellent:

The oddest thing about my late father was that he didn’t have any male friends. Well, he had one. His name was Archie, and he lived 200 miles away. My father depended on women to answer the call of his self-questioning, and that was an awful mistake. He didn’t see the way male friendship could just fire a different part of your brain. He was surrounded by bright women, women brighter than him, but he missed out on that egotistical refurb, that cool, rough blast of alternative selfhood, which can only come from human adults who pee the same way that you do.

Read the whole thing


this and that

--If you are still getting any "news" from Breitbart, you are officially an idiot.

--What would you do with $400 billion? Well, you could fund the NIH for 10 years, with 5% annual increases, and still have money (about $10 billion) to spare. Or, you could buy 365 airplanes that might or might not work. (h/t to commenter and occasional contributor Dave)

--I was at a cardiology meeting this weekend. There's a lot of money in tubes.

--Have you watched House of Cards? I was put off by Kevin Spacey talking to the camera at first, but it is growing on me. I find the characters a bit two-dimensional, but the story is pretty entertaining. I don't know if this sort of thing (i.e., producing its own content) will ultimately help Netflix fend off the coming wave of competition in the digital streaming market, but it is a substantial improvement over Lilyhammer (which I couldn't get past the first 10 minutes of...seriously, it's terrible.) 


this and that (i'm inna mood)

Looks like we won't have Hugo Chavez to kick around anymore. 

A lot of my friends back in Durham are understandably upset about this little ditty in the Daily Tarheel today. I choose to interpret it this way: even the criminals in Durham know better than to fuck with people in Durham.

I was going to make the observation that The Daily Caller's Taylor Bigler must have written this piece with one hand, until I realized that Taylor Bigler is a woman, which kind of ruined it for me. Then, after a moment's contemplation, made it much, much better.


Sully is making peace with the sequester:

...in a budget crisis, where the GOP is rightly demanding structural spending cuts, we have two big shiny objects to raid: Medicare, and defense. (Social security could be saved with minor tinkering). Now if Americans were to choose between taking care of granny or policing the entire Pacific ocean for the indefinite future, I have a feeling they’d pick granny...

The public wants cuts; and it wants them overwhelmingly from defense, rather than Medicare. So let the sequester begin. It’s the dumbest version of what the American people want – but with this Congress, dumb is as good as we’ll ever get. [emphasis mine] As for Medicare, it too needs major surgery. But Obama has pledged to cut it by the same amount as Bowles-Simpson over the next ten years. If a Republican president had said that, they’d be giving him a standing O. But this is the moderate Republican Obama – and there’s nothing more that the GOP base hates than a moderate Republican. Eisenhower would have no home in this party. He loathed its core elements more than perhaps any other Republican president apart from George H W Bush.
I will freely admit that I am caught between my own (very immediate)  professional/personal concerns about the sequester, and what I'd like to see happen in the big picture. But, it is pretty clear that the Pentagon's budget will never be brought in line with a scalpel. A chainsaw is in order.

As to Medicare, I am less sanguine about the president's intentions than Sully is. But we have to start somewhere. It may as well be where we actually are.


why prostitution isn't like pot

Both Andrew Sullivan and Dominic Holden have brought up the problems and possibilities of legalized prostitution in the last few days. This is a topic on which my own views--to borrow a phrase--have evolved. Quoting, er, myself from the comments section of Dominic's post:

My bias is definitely that [prostitution] should be legal (as should any voluntary exchange among adults that does not involve force or fraud).

However, my enthusiasm is tempered by some counter-intuitive research that found higher rates of human trafficking into countries where prostitution is legal.

So although it makes intuitive sense (it did to me, anyway) that legalizing it would improve conditions for sex workers and reduce incentives to trafficking, what actually seems to happen is that the market gets so much bigger that it incentivizes trafficking further.

In other words, this might be where the pot analogy breaks down: there is not a pent-up market waiting for pot to be legal. Most everyone who wants to smoke pot, does.

That doesn't seem to be the case with prostitution, at least based on the LSE study cited above.
I'm not really sure how to resolve this. I still have no philosophical or moral objection to any consenting adults entering into an economic exchange that involves sex. If that is the state's affair, it is difficult to imagine what isn't.

But it would be irresponsible in the extreme to be cavalier about the impact of such a policy shift on the lives of sex workers, generally, and on the young people potentially being coerced into sex work, particularly.

Clearly, the devil is the details. My sense is that the Australian system works reasonably well (though I don't know a great deal about it) whereas the Dutch system appears to be failing miserably at its stated goal of bringing the sex trade above-board and improving working conditions. The last time I strolled through the red light district in Amsterdam (summer of 2005) it was...pretty seedy. A lot of the girls I passed knocked pretty enthusiastically on their windows when they saw me, and it isn't because I'm some prize--I just looked a LOT less scummy than the average guy rolling through. Drug dealers plied pretty openly on the streets, and--most unsettlingly--it was often hard to tell whether the guys working "security" were keeping the dregs out or keeping the girls in. Based on Bindel's account, it sounds like it has only gotten worse.


"...the American people will not hear us out if we stand against their friends, family, and individual liberty."

That Jon Huntsman was never considered a serious contender for the GOP nomination for president tells you everything that there is to know about the Republican party today.


a superlative presidents' day

You are invited to make your own nominations in the comments, with one stipulation: the incumbent is not eligible for any of these, because 1) I think we should judge the entirety of the term(s), and 2) aren't you just a little tired of talking about him?

Best President
I've turned this over in my head for years, and I always come back to the same answer: George Washington. He set every precedent that counts, from eschewing any title more ostentatious than "Mr. President" to gracefully ducking out after two terms. This country was very fortunate to have a fan of Cincinnatus as its first executive.

Worst President
George W. Bush is certainly my generation's Richard Nixon, but Richard Nixon was Richard Nixon. The man might very well have committed treason while running for president in 1968 (and likely lengthened the Vietnam War in doing so), and it really kind of went downhill from there.

Most Underrated President
This is difficult; there are a lot of presidents I (and most people) just don't know very much about, which almost certainly makes several of them more literally underrated than George H.W. Bush. Still, we're talking about a man who ushered the U.S. (and really, an awful lot of the world) more or less safely through the collapse of communism, and assembled a truly broad international coalition to contain Saddam Hussien. He wasn't perfect--and I certainly have no love for the Bush family--but can you seriously imagine Mike Dukakis pulling all that off? I can't.

I just wish I could go back in time to 1945 and talk him into getting a vasectomy.

Most Overrated President
In my bones I want to say Reagan, but seriously, what is that thing you Boomers have for John F. Kennedy? He averted a nuclear war only because he damn near started one. (And don't try to tell me the Soviets started it by moving missiles onto the island to repel a U.S. invasion, because a U.S. invasion of Cuba wasn't exactly a paranoid fantasy, was it?) If he hadn't been martyred, we'd blame him for Vietnam, too.

Most Complicated President
Being born in a city that was burned to the ground by Union forces during the Civil War probably has more than a little to do with it, but I don't know how anyone could answer this with anyone other than Abraham Lincoln. Ending slavery? Awesome. Prosecuting a war that killed approximately 2% of the U.S. population? Less so. Regardless of what you think of Lincoln: we are still living the legacy of the Civil War in our politics today. A century and a half later.

Would it have been better to simply let the South go? Would doing so have ultimately threatened the security of the remaining United States? I have no idea, and neither do you. Like I said...it's complicated.

Alright...whaddaya got?


i'd hate to see what would have happened if he'd had the nerve to nominate a member of his own party

The biggest problem I have with the Senate Republicans' behavior on the Hagel nomination isn't that they are acting like petulant children (though they are), or that they are in danger of setting a terrible precedent for pretty much every cabinet-level nomination in the future (that, too),  so much as the fact that most of what they are using to smear Mr. Hagel is just some shit a conservative hack made up and put on the internet:

Hey, guess what, [Friend of Hamas] is just a totally made-up group that does not exist. Dave Weigel did this crazy thing where he actually spent some time looking into the claim and it turns out, whoops, Breitbart.com’s Ben Shapiro published a made-up, untrue thing, because Breitbart.com’s Ben Shapiro is both a liar and a moron. (Mostly moron.) Hint No. 1 should probably have been that a pro-Hamas front group would not call itself “Friends of Hamas.”

So, in case you were wondering, if you want to viciously smear someone, all you have to do is send a stupid lie to a Breitbart guy and he will publish it and then everyone in the conservative movement will repeat it. Just type, “Dear Ben Shapiro I heard Chuck Hagel cashed a check for ten million Soviet rubles from a group called ‘THE ALLIANCE OF EVIL’” into your AOL mail program and I guarantee Sen. Ted Cruz will be demanding answers within a week.
Laugh so you don't cry. 



I was looking for something in the archives, and it came to my attention that some older posts are lousy with comment spam, most of which seems to have appeared in the last month or so. So...for the time being, my highly permissive commenting policy is suspended. Not that I've been giving you much to comment on lately, anyway.

Hope to have this cleaned up in the near future. And if you're looking for Viagra, Cialis, or Tramadol...there are some great deals in the old comments sections, but they won't be there for long...

(UPDATE)--Ugh, it's worse than I thought. I've just taken the digital equivalent of napalm to the place...apologies if any of your witticisms were collateral damage (one post had over 500 spam comments.) I'm afraid moderation may be here to stay...


quiet time

Everything is fine, but my energies and attention are elsewhere these days. Don't see that changing anytime soon, but I'll be back when I have something to say.


immigration reform in our time?

We've a ways to go, but it seems a lot more likely than it did yesterday.

I'll withhold judgement until I've had some time to digest specifics, but the broad strokes of this look promising, and it would appear the White House is on board.

Glad to hear that some Republicans (in the Senate at least) seem to have found a new top political priority.


science journalism isn't political journalism

Or it least it oughtn't be, argues Zack Beuchamp: 

What’s particularly galling about The Daily Beast‘s vaccine “debate” is that it treats science criticism like punditry. Political writing is plagued by a consensus of bores, commentators who all have opinions within the same narrow band of “acceptable” views...

Science journalism has, if anything, the opposite problem. The basic task of a science journalist is to explain complicated scientific findings to people who don’t have the time or the expertise to learn it from primary sources. Increasingly, science journalists are acting as science critics as well as science expositors, but that doesn’t undermine the need to fully understand and embrace scientific methodology (if anything, it intensifies it). Science journalism, sadly, often fails in both of these roles. This generally happens when writers lack the time or background knowledge necessary to properly digest and explain the research in question...

By setting up vaccination as an issue up for debate in the same way that political questions are, the Beast articles can leave a reader who isn’t aware of the overwhelming scientific consensus might simply throw up their hands (as happens in the climate debate) and say “who knows whose research is right?” But that’s not how it is. People who conclude that there’s a real case that the flu vaccine might do more harm than good are less likely to get flu vaccines, for them or their family. That makes people more likely to get sick and, possibly, die. There isn’t any real debate about this among epidemiologists. This should be settled.