SocraticGadfly: 9/16/07 - 9/23/07

September 22, 2007

Does the current state of most Democrats demand less idealism, or MORE?

Here’s my take on my willingness to vote third-party in 2004, and again in 2008, or in future midterm elections, even should I live in a swing state like Ohio:

Is it a “test of ideological purity” to say that I won’t vote for candidates that support remaining in Iraq, or a political party, too?

Sorry, but that fact (especially my mentioning Greens “too often”) was one of the two reasons I got banned from Daily Kos — proudly banned, I’ll ad.

BG makes my point exactly, but with a different conclusion: the older I get, the more I see there’s too much at stake for half measures on a number of issues. I voted against Kerry, and for David Cobb, not only over the Iraq War itself, but, the imperialism-lite of too many Democrats. (It's too bad Kevin Drum didn't tackle this issue at Political Animal in his otherwise excellent post about the “foreign policy establishment.”

To me, the “we gotta support the Democrats in the end” exemplifies not just what’s wrong with current Democrats/Democratic Party, but what’s wrong with the deep structure of U.S. politics.

First, to look at the Democrats.

Where’s a bill for federal public financing of Congressional campaigns, including reasonable provisions for financing third-party campaigns? Before the midterm elections, a federal Congressional campaign finance bill, but one that would squeeze out third parties, was rumored to be in the mix. I found it appalling that such a thing would even be considered under the guise of campaign reform.

Where, at state or federal levels, are Democratic supports for things like Instant Runoff Voting? Nonexistent, that’s where.

At an even deeper level, and even more idealistic one, though, I’m convinced our Constitution itself needs reform. Not at the edges, though, right at the center.

The only real way for third parties to have a chance in the American process, AND the only way to adapt the speed of the American government to the nuclear/computer age, is to move in the direction of parliamentary democracy.

I heartily recommend David Lazare’s “Frozen Republic” as the best writing I’ve seen on this subject. (Reviewed by me on Amazon.)

Short of that, though, I won’t hold my breath on either Democrats or Republicans doing anything at all at the federal level, and precious little at the state level, to make it easier for third parties to get more of a purchase on the political process.

Beyond that, I hope that as I get older, I become less apologetic for being idealistic.

Update: Per Broken Ladder’s comment in the Google comment box (I need to strip that out so that people use only Haloscan, now that Haloscan is updated for Blogger “beta”), I used IRV as a sample of a voting alternative to straight voting.

I’ve read about alternatives to IRV. Fact is, ALL alternatives to straight voting have some disadvantages. Mathematical word-problem type illustrations have shown that. As for which alternative to straight voting is the best, I’m non-committal at this time.

I would consider a partial use of proportional representation, such as the German Bundestag having a majority of single-member seats (whether we would use plurality voting, as it does, range voting, IRV, or something else) combined with a “national list” elected by proportional voting. Such a national list, in fact, would be one of the things to help move us more toward a quasi-parliamentary government emphasizing more national, versus, federal features to boot.

September 21, 2007

Man bites dog: Mattel apologizes to China over recalls

Well, the degradation of both U.S. business and U.S. labor over the almighty cheap foreign worker is now complete. Mattel said it was taking the blame for design flaws and for recalling more toys than necessary.

Yes, one of its recalls was based on design flaws, the one over tiny, swallowable magnets potentially becoming detached from some toys. But, last time I checked, lead paint wasn’t a design flaw. As to that:
In a statement issued by the company, Mattel said its lead-related recalls were "overly inclusive, including toys that may not have had lead in paint in excess of the U.S. standards.

So, Mattel would rather NOT be safe than sorry, instead of kowtowing (how appropriate to use the word concerning the country of its origin) to Chinese government trade and industry officials.

Update, Sept. 26: Now we're getting 200,000 Thomas and Friends toys recalled for lead paint, too; so, definitely contrary to the one comment in posts, I'll repeat that Mattel was kowtowing.

September 20, 2007

Steroids DO make that much a difference for baseball batters

A physicist’s study says a 10 percent increase in muscle mass can help increase home runs as much as 50 percent.
Calculations show that, by putting on 10 percent more muscle mass, a batter can swing about 5 percent faster, increasing the ball's speed by 4 percent as it leaves the bat.

Depending on the ball’s trajectory, this added speed could take it into home run territory 50 percent more often, said Roger Tobin of Tufts University in Boston.

“A 4 percent increase in ball speed, which can reasonably be expected from steroid use, can increase home run production by anywhere from 50 percent to 100 percent,” said Tobin, whose study will be published in an upcoming issue of the American Journal of Physics.

So, let’s have baseball realize how serious the problem is.

At the same time, let’s remember it’s not just a hitter’s problem. I’d like to see a similar study for how many mph a 10 percent muscle mass increase can put on a pitcher’s fastball.

And, let’s remember this isn’t just a baseball problem.

How much extra yardage would a 10 percent muscle mass potentially put on a quarterback’s long bomb max? Or on a PGA golfer’s driving range?

That said, this is a good first study, in that, for at least one sports game action, it quantifies just what steroids can do.

Texas Democrats move closer to control of the state House

That’s after Grand Prairie Republican Representative Kirk England announced he is becoming a Democrat:
"After one session in the House, I found that the Republican leadership in Austin had no tolerance for the values and priorities of the folks I represent," England said in a statement.

Add that to the retirement:of GOP state Rep. Fred Hill of Richardson, and state Democrats have given House Speaker Tom Craddick something more to worry about than an intraparty challenge to his holding the speakership. The Richardson seat should be competitive in an open election.

The House is currently split 80-70 with England’s switch; that means Democrats need to pick up five seats to tie and six to gain control. (Sidebar: will the House ever become smart enough to add one, or some other odd number, of members, to prevent a tie, barring third-party state representatives?)

I’ll give Democrats, as of this moment, a 40-60 shot of regaining the House in 2008; it all depends on how well they can hand Gov. Rick Perry, and Craddick, around vulnerable Republican incumbents’ necks.

I’m sure England feels the same; above and beyond his statement above, the possibility of change of party control surely is behind his decision.

September 19, 2007

Does “support the troops” include “support the troops’ mission”?

So argues Ted Rall, citing Alexander Coburn’s latest column in The Nation, among other things. He calls this the Achilles heel of the antiwar left, at least those who don’t face up to this logical conundrum, and I believe he had at least some degree of a point.

That’s why I have never favored the “I support the troops” me-too-ism of some antiwar people. Even if immediately qualified with a statement such as “I support getting them home,” it still seems a no-win proposition. It’s arguing on war supporters’ turf.

Antiwar people should simply insist, when conservatives try to go down that road, that it’s not a discussion about “supporting the troops” but rather one about “supporting the war.”

Beyond that, Rall says that if one believes the war is illegal, then one should support the right of Iraqis under international law to resist an illegal occupation. It’s easy to see how that collides head-on with “support the troops.”

Rall gets blunt:
Since war is a zero-sum game, it's our guys or theirs. “Support the troops by bringing them home” is an empty slogan that belies reality. With both political parties supporting the war, U.S. troops are not going to come home any time soon. As Gelderloos writes: “The approach of the U.S. antiwar movement in relation to the Iraqi resistance does not merely qualify as bad strategy; it reveals a total lack of strategy, and it is something we need to fix.” It also exposes an ugly truth about antiwar lefties. They don't believe in national self-determination any more than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

He’s right, and don’t expect “antiwar” Democratic leadership like Nancy and Harry to step up to the plate of reality any time soon.

(Sidebar: Rall notes that, contrary to the later historical repainting, there wasn’t any such thing as the French Resistance with capital letter during WWII; rather various resistances, like in Iraq, who sometimes fought each other as well as the Germans.

Cross posted at SocraticGadfly and Out of Iraq Bloggers Caucus.

September 18, 2007

Can math predict war?

So claim scientists at the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

They claim to have been successful in showing how their modeling could have predicted the various conflicts of the 1990s and early 2000s in the former Yugoslavia.

Foreclosures double from year ago

They even jumped 36 percent from July. It sounds like there could be plenty of fallout to come:
“The jump in foreclosure filings this month might be the beginning of the next wave of increased foreclosure activity, as a large number of subprime adjustable rate loans are beginning to reset now,” RealtyTrac Chief Executive James J. Saccacio said.

One in every 510 households is now facing foreclosure. In Nevada, the hardest-hit state, it’s up to 1 in 166; California is not too far behind with 1 in 224.

Oh, and Texas politicians claiming the Lone Star State is immune from housing problems?

Wrong. Texas is No. 9 by foreclosure percentage among states.

It’s not the teenaged kids that are brainless

It’s their parents Here’s some of the brainlessness of 35-54-year-old Americans:
• 18,249 deaths from overdoses of illicit drugs in 2004, up 550 percent per capita since 1975, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
• 46,925 fatal accidents and suicides in 2004, leaving today’s middle-agers 30 percent more at risk for such deaths than people aged 15 to 19, according to the national center.

• More than four million arrests in 2005, including one million for violent crimes, 500,000 for drugs and 650,000 for drinking-related offenses, according to the F.B.I. All told, this represented a 200 percent leap per capita in major index felonies since 1975.

• 630,000 middle-agers in prison in 2005, up 600 percent since 1977, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

• 21 million binge drinkers (those downing five or more drinks on one occasion in the previous month), double the number among teenagers and college students combined, according to the government’s National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health.

• 370,000 people treated in hospital emergency rooms for abusing illegal drugs in 2005, with overdose rates for heroin, cocaine, pharmaceuticals and drugs mixed with alcohol far higher than among teenagers.

• More than half of all new H.I.V./AIDS diagnoses in 2005 were given to middle-aged Americans, up from less than one-third a decade ago, according to the Centers for Disease Contro
What experts label “adolescent risk taking” is really baby boomer risk taking. It’s true that 30 years ago, the riskiest age group for violent death was 15 to 24. But those same boomers continue to suffer high rates of addiction and other ills throughout middle age, while later generations of teenagers are better behaved. Today, the age group most at risk for violent death is 40 to 49, including illegal-drug death rates five times higher than for teenagers.

Well, the one good part is that baby boomers older than I may not be around to deplete Social Security and Medicare.