Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Me! Me!

Michael has tagged me with the "Really Good Meme," or something like that. The rules are as follows:

1) Open the nearest book to page 123.
2) Post sentences 6, 7, and 8 from that page.
3) Tag five others.

OK, since I have two books on top of one another, I'll cite them both. Book 1:
In 1994, Koch, working with his own proprietary strains of yeast over multiple fermentations, fired the first shot in the ABV wars by blasting through the 15 percent brewing mark with a dark ale called Triple Bock at 17.5 perent, which had been three years in the planning and making. As if that weren't enough, Kock threw down a gauntlet to other craft brewers by declaring that he had brewed a beer that consciously crossed the line between beer, wine, and spirits; a beer that, after brewing, he had aged for eighteen months in oak whisky barrels before bottling; a beer that he said had "the complexity of a fine cognac, vintage port, or an old sherry" and that "should be sipped from a small snifter in a two-ounce serving."

Calagione was barely out of Pennsylvania's Muhlenberg College then and didn't enter the craft brew fray until the summer of 1995, when he and his wife, Mariah - his high school sweetheart - opened a brewpub near the beach in Lewes, Delaware, twenty miles from Milford, Delaware, where Mariah grew up.

From Travels with Barley by Ken Wells, who apparently likes long sentences.

The other book:
The EGF acts like a tonic to enhance the growth of important cells like these throughout your baby's body. Your milk also contains many of your hormones - vital substances that help important organs work better.

We have only skimmed the surface in pointing out the unique quantities and components of human milk.

From The Baby Book by William and Martha Sears. The third book I'm reading, Vonnegut's Player Piano, wasn't near me at the time.

Ben, Mike, Matt, Jacob, and Lindi, you're up. I'll tag a sixth, too... Trish. If I've forgotten any regulars who haven't done this yet, feel free to chime in.

It's A Gas, Gas, Gas

Baby pictures coming soon. I promise. I just have to download them first.

A little while ago David Ignatius asked whether the presidential candidates could be honest about the issues for a change. Mike answered no. I think I have Exhibit A that Mike's right.

I just read about this idea Clinton and McCain have about suspending the federal gas tax for the summer. Apparently they think this is a good idea. Let's take a look at the facts here...

1) We have a huge federal budget deficit.

2) Increasing demand, especially from China and India but also here at home, is driving the price of gas up.

3) Lower tax revenues make the budget deficit worse.

4) Higher gas prices will encourage people to conserve, thus limiting demand and slowing the rise of gas prices.

5) There's a little bit of a budget deficit in Washington right now.

6) The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents - about 6% of the cost of a tank of gas. Not much for the consumer, but a lot for the feds once you add it all together.


Well, that settles it. Seems like what we ought to be doing is trying to control our demand for gasoline, which should put a natural downward pressure on prices (not to mention help out with that whole global warming thing). Ah, but there are two little facts I forgot to consider...

1) It's an election year.

2) People vote for politicians when they pander, no matter how dumb the pandering policy.

And there you have it. Empty electoral politics > sensible solutions to one of our most important issues. Kudos to Sen. Obama for not signing on to this nonsense. Given that Obama and Clinton are, like, exactly the same on every other issue, I think I just made up my mind about who I'm voting for on May 6.

Here's what I think should be done:

1) Raise fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. This has been done, but needs to be done more. Ignore Detroit's whining - it's clearly possible.

2) Raise the gas tax substantially. (Note: this might need to come with an increase in the EITC, since this will probably hit rural poor people hard. Either way, the amount of revenue coming in from the gas tax hike should be higher than the amount of revenue paid out by the new EITC. That will leave funds for us to...)

3) Invest the revenue from that into programs that encourage conservation, such as mass transit. Help out with the research on more fuel-efficient cars if need be.

4) On the local level, encourage development that places residential and commercial sites near one another and near job centers. There are a number of ways to do this - zoning laws, help with the funding, impact fees for far-flung development, etc.

This should decrease demand somewhat, creating a moderating pressure on gas prices. Note that I don't support biofuel subsidies. The main reason for this is that biofuel subsidies are part of what's driving the global food price crisis, and any energy policy that creates famine in other countries is no kind of policy at all. (In fact, Obama supports continued ethanol subsidies while, as far as I can tell, Clinton and McCain don't... maybe I don't know who I'm voting for next week after all.) Biofuels also spend about as much energy to make as they would save. The sugar-based stuff from Brazil might be a solution, but I think that still might cause the food-price explosion. We should fund research on getting fuels from waste products (we have plenty of that lying around), but subsidizing production just seems like a bad idea to me.

But good luck finding a politician who will say that stuff, especially #2.

A final note to the American people: you have to pay for your programs. If you want lower taxes, you can't have that shiny new road. If you want that shiny new road, you have to raise taxes. It's amazing how many people don't understand this.

UPDATE: Tom Friedman agrees, although he states his case a little bit more intelligently (and just as angrily... I love it when op-ed columnists get pissed). One tidbit I didn't know: Congress is having trouble renewing the solar/wind production tax credits that are set to expire at the end of December. This despite the fact that oil producers got their tax credits. I think these will still get through (whether or not production tax credits are a good thing is another debate), it being an election year and all, but seriously... credits for oil/gas and not for renewables? If we're giving out tax credits, I think most of us would agree that those credits should go to the solar/wind/geothermal/tidal/whatever people rather than the fossils. So how did the more controversial credit get through while the least controversial credit languishes in committee somewhere?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In Which Godwin's Head Explodes

Blogging hiatus due to spending Passover in Arkansas and Arizona now over. I'll be posting the obligatory baby pics soon, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, get a load of this guy who's running for Congress in northwestern Indiana. Looks like he got the "completely crazy bigoted bastard" vote all sewn up!

Also, for a laugh, cruise his website for a few minutes. He appears to blame everything that's wrong with society on pornography, and blames porn on the Jews. Wow. (And hilariously, someone has been posting porno pictures on his message boards. He apparently can't get rid of them.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Response To A Fellow Blogger

Michael over at Oleh Musings has an interesting post wherein he dissects a column from Dennis Prager accusing the Democratic Party of having lost its way, foreign-policywise. Prager accuses liberals and Democrats of abandoning what Prager calls "the war against evil." Obviously I don't buy this, and here's why.

(Here's the link to Prager's column, though Michael hits all the important parts.)

Let's first dispense with the major flaw in Prager's argument, which is made crystal clear near the middle of the column. He laments liberalism's "embrace of the immoral doctrine of moral equivalence" and compares that to the good old days when liberals like Kennedy and Truman were anti-Communist. Perhaps this is true of some on the far left, but I simply don't see this runaway postmodernism out of modern liberals. Even those who I would argue do embrace some aspects of moral equivalence still draw a line between right and wrong, between good and evil. No sane liberal or conservative would claim that America is morally equivalent to Stalinist Russia or jihadists like al-Qaeda. So Prager's claim that Democrats are unwilling to oppose Russian Communism or terrorism is just plain factually inaccurate - and without that claim, his argument essentially collapses.

But there's a more interesting point to discuss here, and that is this: Prager, as would most conservatives, asserts that there are only two sides to any foreign policy issue: "good" and "evil." The misperception that Democrats don't want to "do battle with evil" comes from this idea. The change that has occurred within liberalism, and within the Democratic Party, is this: we have begun to appreciate that there are more than two sides to any foreign policy issue. The world's not as simple as "good" and "evil."

In Prager's world, Communism is evil. But what sort of communism? The Stalinism of Russia, to be sure, and perhaps China's Maoism. But how about the socialism of Latin American populists like Arbenz or Allende? Or the anti-colonial communist-leaning nationalism of Lumumba or, yes, Ho Chi Minh? Or the utopian communism of the Israeli kibbutz? Certainly not all incarnations of communism were connected, despite Marx's globalist rhetoric. How do we determine which implied expansion of the Soviet threat to America - and which were simply benign popular movements that threatened us none?

In Prager's world, fighting Communism is good. But does that make thugs like Rios Montt, Pinochet, Mobutu, and Diem "good"? Can we excuse genocide (in Rios Montt's case) and totalitarian oppression (in the case of the other three) - and can we excuse supporting them, as the US did in each case? And assuming that Prager (like anyone sane) sees jihadist terrorism as evil, would Saddam Hussein have then been "good" for maintaining a secularist society? And would he have been "good" for continuing to offset Iran? And would the Taliban have been "good" for fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan? Furthermore, are we currently "evil" for trading and having good relations with communist China and Vietnam?

Foreign relations aren't a football game. You don't pick teams and fight the guys on the other team while protecting the guys on yours. You have to look closer at each player in order to determine whether they are "good" or "evil." And frequently, each player will have a little of both.

Because, let's face it, evil and good come in a lot of different flavors. As far as evil is concerned, we have al-Qaeda. I'll give you Palestinian terror groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the governments of Iran and Syria if you want to make that claim. I'd throw the Burmese and Sudanese governments in there too, along with the rapists of the eastern Congo. Probably Kim Il Jong as well. There are any number of other unsavory characters out there who occupy varying degrees of sketchiness. But not everyone who doesn't subscribe to a liberal democratic pluralist ideology is "evil." And not everyone who opposes jihadism or nationalist terrorism or the governments in Burma, Sudan, and Iran is "good." What do we make of Jundullah, for example, an al-Qaeda affiliate that opposes the Iranian government? And what of Musharraf and Islam Karimov, cruel dictators who oppose Islamist terrorism? What of the Saudis, who hate al-Qaeda and Iran but also hate Israel? And what of China, which props up murderous regimes in Sudan and Burma but also props up our economy? Should we treat this motley crew of global players to the same one-size-fits-all policy of "bomb the bad, help the good?"

Prager fails to understand that there is more than one way to "fight evil." Another thing that the Democratic Party has recognized since Vietnam is that our military power and our espionage power have their limits. We cannot impose an ideology on an unwilling people, even if we believe that ideology to be absolutely good and beneficial to all. We were never going to convince Vietnam to embrace democratic capitalism via military force - indeed, by attacking the popular nationalists who were responsible for the communist movement there, we likely hurt the cause of American ideology rather than helped it. We have to be willing to use diplomacy and the power of popular persuasion in order to keep "evil" in check. And we have to be very careful about who we're calling "evil" - calling someone names isn't a particularly effective method of persuasion.

It's easy to look at conflicts as simple chess games between good and evil. It's simple to say that there's only one way to fight the bad guys, and that's with bombs and stubbornness. It's easy, but it's not true. The Great Lie perpetrated on America is that those who see the world as a complex place are weak, naive, helping the evildoers, and to praise simplicity as "moral clarity." But I present you, Michael, and Mr. Prager, and Sen. Lieberman, and whoever else might give voice to the myth of liberal "weakness," the following choice. Are we made stronger by the kind of "moral clarity" that led us to support Pinochet, and Diem, and Hussein, and Bin Laden, and that led us into wars in Iraq and Vietnam that damaged our credibility as purveyors of good? Or are we made stronger by a more analytical foreign policy that seeks to understand each foreign policy player and the true threat that they pose, and that seeks to solve diplomatic problems in the most effective and least morally questionable way? Is "winning" measured by defeating those who we claim as our enemies, or by making the world a better, safer, more moral place?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Your Tax Day Thoughts

- I suppose I don't mind paying my taxes as much as, well, everyone else does. The way I figure it, if we want our government to not shut down and leave us in a state of anarchy, we all have to pay up. I'm frequently unhappy with the way in which my tax dollars are spent (not to mention the fact that the government likes to spend way more than it takes in), but the fact that they are spent? Not so much a problem. That having been said, I sympathize with the effort to simplify the hell out of the tax code (why should a 1040 be two pages? Why?), and Atlantic Monthly blogger Megan McArdle's plan isn't half bad for a libertarian-inspired tax plan. I don't agree with eliminating all the anti-poverty programs, of course, but I could get behind pretty much everything else.

- Here's a fun little article on the effect of illegal immigration on taxes - namely, illegals pay billions in payroll taxes that they'll never recoup in Social Security benefits. They only account for 1.5% of SS/Medicare taxes that come in, but when Social Security and Medicare are taking in and putting out roughly the same amount, losing that tax revenue may be the difference between solvency and insolvency. So Social Security and Medicare essentially depends for its survival on taxes taken from workers who can't receive benefits? That makes me feel good.

Incidentally, here's a reason why the federal government isn't as interested in fighting illegal immigration as the state governments. The states have to pay for all the services, and the feds get all the spare money! Since meaningful immigration reform isn't coming our way anytime soon, that's going to continue to be a source of tension.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Selah's Guide to Style

Yesterday was Little One's first trip to shul, and we figured she needed to wear something special. And, you know, colorful. So here she is...

Future rabbi or future rock star?

Of course, it's not hard to look cute in cool dresses when you look cute normally:

Bitter Herbs

The pantheon of unfairly lampooned quotes, which currently includes such classics as Donald Rumsfeld's "unknown unknowns" speech and John Kerry's "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it," now has another entry, courtesy of Barack Obama. Here he is at a San Francisco rally explaining why it's tough for him to connect with working-class people:
'What's going on there? We hear that it's hard for some working class people to get behind your campaign.' I said, 'Well look, they're frustrated and for good reason. Because for the last 25 years they've seen jobs shipped overseas. They've seen their economies collapse. They have lost their jobs. They have lost their pensions. They have lost their health care.'... But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

The bullshit outrage machine, predictably, reached a fever pitch. "How dare he call working-class people bitter," they ask. Some have called it a gaffe.

Here's what I call it: STATING THE BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS. Poor people who can't find jobs because the economy sucks are bitter? No shit! If I had my job shipped overseas and couldn't find a new one and I couldn't feed my family, I'd be bitter too. I doubt all poor people are bitter, but there's gotta be a significant proportion who are. And being bitter isn't necessarily a bad thing - in fact, Obama validates the bitterness that the working class feels. Hell, the man worked among the poor for a significant portion of his life. I think he's somewhat familiar with the subject matter.

If I were working class, I'd be more inclined to vote for Obama now, since he at least is trying to understand me. Clinton and McCain, by expressing bullshit outrage at his statements, are simply trying to sweep the valid emotions of a good portion of the working class under the rug, pretending the bitterness doesn't exist. Look, there are good reasons to not vote for Obama, just as there are good reasons to not vote for Clinton or Big Mac. Just make an effort to separate the good ones from the crap ones, okay?

OK, I'll end this on a happy note...