Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Aid Never Works

Except when it does. Don't miss this.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why I Support Senator Obama

Senator Obama is falling victim to a disease that seems to strike down promising Democrats all the time: the media narrative is wiping out his candidacy by fundamentally misleading the public. This is despite his natural gifts as a politician and despite the sympathy that many individuals within the media have for his campaign.

Obama has fallen into two traps in particular. First, because he is eloquent and because the leading Democrats have no serious policy disagreements, he is being portrayed as someone who doesn't know or care about policy. Second, because he is black and because the race has become racially polarized, he is seen as the "black" candidate, the one who only does well because black people and guilty white liberals irrationally support him. I could write a lot more about how these narratives get generated and why they are false, and maybe I will, but for now let me explain why the narratives are so unfortunate: Senator Obama is the best candidate for president, and right now the media narratives are crushing his candidacy.

Let's start with substance - why he would make a good president. This is admittedly guesswork, based on limited data, but to me it is clear that Obama is likely to be the better president. First, his experience is arguably better than Clinton's. Sure, she's been in the Senate for four extra years, but she didn't achieve any striking legislative accomplishments. Obama served for 7 years in the Illinois senate, where he did push through some difficult and groundbreaking legislation (see below).

Meanwhile, here's an educated opinion about Clinton's policy skills, written by Brad DeLong, who served in Bill Clinton's treasury department. In fairness, I believe he has moderated his stance on the prospect of a Hillary presidency, but the point is that an intelligent, liberal, high-ranking Clinton treasury official had this to say about Clinton in 2003:

My two cents' worth--and I think it is the two cents' worth of everybody who worked for the Clinton Administration health care reform effort of 1993-1994--is that Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to be kept very far away from the White House for the rest of her life. Heading up health-care reform was the only major administrative job she has ever tried to do. And she was a complete flop at it. She had neither the grasp of policy substance, the managerial skills, nor the political smarts to do the job she was then given. And she wasn't smart enough to realize that she was in over her head and had to get out of the Health Care Czar role quickly.

But isn't Obama short on accomplishments? Isn't he just an empty suit? Actually, though you won't find the media reporting on it very much, he has accomplished quite a lot. Please click that link - it tells a very different story than the one you'll usually hear from the media.

Of course, even if Obama would make a better president than Clinton, that alone isn't reason enough to nominate him. You also have to believe that he could win in November. But actually, Obama is far likelier to win in November than Clinton. Bill Clinton said that with Obama the Democratic Party would be rolling the dice, but in fact nominating Clinton is a very risky move at a time when there is a lot at stake.

I don't agree with everything Obama says. He's too far to the left for my taste (ironically, because he uses moderate rhetoric, he's been savaged by some left-wing pundits). The thing to remember is that no candidate will ever perfectly represent your political viewpoint. Ironically, Bill Clinton came pretty close to perfection for me as far as ideology goes. That's why, on top of the prospect that Obama will lose because the media doesn't care about the truth, it's deeply depressing that Bill Clinton has lowered himself into the role of vicious, dishonest attack dog.

We can't elect Bill Clinton again, and at this point I wouldn't want to. We can elect someone with the potential to be an even better president than Clinton ever was, and we can do it while minimizing the risk of losing in November. That's why Senator Obama is the right choice, and that's why he deserves your support.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Culture of Death

I think most New Yorkers are aware that Giuliani is a vindictive prick, but few probably realize just how unhinged his tenure as mayor was. I certainly had no idea it had gotten this bad:

"There were constant loyalty tests: 'Will you shoot your brother?' " said Marilyn Gelber, who served as environmental commissioner under Mr. Giuliani.

[me again] Holy fucking shit. I guess I knew, on an intellectual level, that you didn't want to fuck with Giuliani, but this is ridiculous.

[UPDATE: Man oh man is this a sloppy article. Here are two examples:

"his toughness edged toward ruthlessnessand became a defining aspect..."

"Mr. Giuliani retails his stories of childhood toughness"

And that's just from the first page. I mean, I think the Times basically ought to be alerting the world to what a nutjob Giuliani is, but let's not let our zeal get in the way of basic copy-editing.]

Monday, January 21, 2008

It strikes me that both Martin Luther King and Jawaharlal Nehru used financial metaphors.

"In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'

"But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us, upon demand, the riches of freedom and the security of justice."

And of course you know what Nehru said:

"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

What's the Basis?

I remember someone once telling me about an assignment in which she read the descriptions of scientific studies, and then read the studies themselves. Often the description (in a textbook or whatever) was completely wrong. Certainly you also see a lot of distortion when the media reports on a scientific advance or the result of a medical study. It calls into question our ability to disseminate the knowledge we produce.

Anyway, I think this must also be a common experience for lawyers. Quite often, I'll see a case cited for a proposition that it simply doesn't support. Because of the way common law works, though, this misunderstanding can spread quite far. Case B misstates the holding of Case A. Case C cites Case B for the (incorrect) holding. Cases D, E, and F all cite Case C (or each other). When you drill down, you find out that there's nothing backing up the ostensible holding of Case A. It's extremely frustrating.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Fun With Etymology

I sometimes like to imagine what it would be like to give a tour of the modern world to someone from the past. "Pretty fucking awesome, huh?" I'd say while flipping a lightswitch on and off.

But then I'd probably say something that I thought made complete sense, and yet the person wouldn't comprehend. So for instance, imagine this conversation:

me: A beer bottle that lets you know when the beer is cold. Bet you never imagined that back in the day, eh, Julius Caesar?
Julius Caesar: [unintelligible]

You see, Julius Caesar didn't speak English. He wouldn't be able to understand a word I said.

Now imagine that Julius Caesar could speak English, but only the English that would have existed at the time he lived, had people spoken English back then. Try this out:

me: I was going to write a paper on sovereign debt, but I got sidetracked.
Julius Caesar: What is this... sidetracked you speak of?
me: Are you shitting me?

But he wouldn't be shitting me, because "sidetracked" is one of those words that you think is ancient but actually didn't come into existence until the way railroads function was widely understood. You see, if you're a train, and you're going down the tracks, but then you get diverted onto the siding - the side tracks - you're not going anywhere, buddy.

Another thing that didn't come into existence until railroads is time zones. How do you define noon? Traditionally it was when the sun was directly overhead. Therefore there was a different time for every longitude... there were infinitely many times, and they changed continuously as you moved east or west. I've blogged about this before (but note that, embarrassingly, I mixed up "west" and "east" when I discussed which people get screwed by the discrete, zoned system). Anyway, things were working just fine without time zones, until trains started slamming into each other at full speed. I bet they wished they'd gotten sidetracked. Anyway, we invented discrete time zones so as to coordinate train schedules better. I don't know why Greenwich got all the credit. If any city deserves the credit, it's Chicago, which is a major railroad hub.

Actually, I like to imagine that the historical figure I'm showing around is Black Hawk. See, Black Hawk was given a tour of the western world, in an attempt to impress upon the natives that resistance was futile (and that, hey, our way of life was pretty awesome). I don't think he quite bought it, though.

Hey, James, why aren't you working? What do we pay you for?

Oh, sorry, I was working on the assignment but I got sidetracked. If you even know what that means.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Thanks, Paul

A commenter writes:

Sorry Prof. Krugman but you have convinced me that Obama is unqualified to be president. Therefore for me the Iowa primaries are bad news. Although I will actually vote for neither, if somebody put a gun to my head, I would choose Huckabee over Obama.

— Posted by desertstraw

Now in fairness, you can find a commenter who says x, where x is any damn thing. What's troubling is that Krugman has put himself in a position where we have to contemplate the possibility that desertstraw is being sincere.

And actually, I feel quite a bit of sympathy with desertstraw. Like him, the only way I would ever vote for Huckabee over Obama would be at gunpoint.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Krugman: "Hey, I'm a Fair Guy"

In fairness to Krugman (or whoever moderates his blog's comments section), he has posted my comment. In order:

First, the offending post.

Next, the obnoxious comment.

Next, my response (you will note that I have repeated some of my points on this blog).

Finally, one last comment (I don't know how I missed this error the first time through).

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Run Run Run Run - Psycho Redneck

Something that a lot of Arkansans know, but doesn't seem to be well-known outside Arkansas, is that Mike Huckabee's son found a dog that was too lame to run away and hanged it from a tree. He was 17 at the time, at summer camp. It's the kind of redneck psycho thing that gives a very bad impression and, without knowing more, is probably unfair to bring up as an attack on Huckabee. It says a lot about his son, and a little about his parenting skills, but not a lot about the kind of president he would be. Nevertheless, I think it would be very effective for one of his opponents to use as part of an unofficial negative campaign strategy. I mean - he found a dog that couldn't run away and hanged it from a tree. ("Do you think they'll kick me out of the church, Dad?" "I don't know, son, but they sure kicked you out of summer camp.")

It turns out that the story reflects worse on Governor Huckabee than I thought. Apparently Governor Huckabee tried to use his influence to make sure that the cops didn't punish his son for - again - finding a dog that couldn't get away and hanging it from a tree.

Okay, so now maybe it's fair game, since it sheds light on Huckabee's petty corruption (it's along the same lines as the time he used the Governor's mansion budget - which is to be spent on the governor's mansion - to buy a Taco Bell dinner for his family). Still, it seems a bit tawdry to bring it up. To bring up, that is, the time Mike Huckabee's son found a dog that couldn't run away and so he hanged it from a tree.

Just a minute ago, though, I read that Mike Huckabee brags about it. Now we're into a whole different category of "what this says about Mike Huckabee." I think it's more than fair game - it's almost mandatory to bring this up. Sure, you don't want to ruffle too many feathers if you're Mitt Romney, but then again, if people like the idea of finding a dog that can't get away and hanging it from a tree, do you really want their votes? (Romney's answer: "Oh my yes") I've taken the liberty of writing a little passage Huckabee might consider adding to his stump speech:

"Folks, a lot of people don't like the idea of President Huckabee. Maybe they'd prefer a pro-choice Republican like Rudy Giuliani, or a pro-choice Republican like Mitt Romney. Oh, sorry, what day of the week is it? Tuesday? Sorry about that, I meant a 'pro-life' Republican like Mitt Romney. People question my mastery of international affairs and my commitment to cutting taxes. People say I'm just not cut out for the job.

But to them I say: My son found a dog that couldn't get away and he hanged it from a tree. You can see this blown-up mug shot of my son behind me - I couldn't be prouder of the boy. When I refused to dance with my wife at my inauguration as governor, he stepped up to the plate. But the pride I felt then was as nothing compared to the pride I felt when I got that call from the state police, informing me that my son had, well, you know what comes next. He'd gone and found a dog that couldn't get away and he'd hanged it from a tree."

Thank me later, Huckabee. Or should I say, President Huckabee.

Krugmanistan: Your Source for Illegitimate Attacks on Obama

I see that a commenter on Krugman's blog has picked up on the fact that he taught at the University of Chicago Law School - obviously, Obama is a market fundamentalist. I posted a reply, but it hasn't been approved yet (will it ever?).

All this crap strikes me as a sign of desperation. Casting aspersions on someone for teaching at the U of C law school is basically the definition of scraping the bottom of the barrel. Since that's what Krugman seems to be in the mood for (the comment wasn't his, but his trial lawyer stuff is almost as bad), I thought I'd go ahead and provide a central clearing house for grossly unfair attacks on the Senator. You can thank me later, Krugman.

Attacks You've Already Heard

1. Obama lived in Indonesia for some years. I bet he's a Muslim! (check out the comments section - awesome)

2. Did you know that his middle name is Hussein? See #1.

3. Did you know that he likes to wear a suit with no tie? So does Ahmadinejad. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? See #'s 1 and 2.

4. "Obama" sounds an awful lot like "Osama." That's quite a coincidence. See #'s 1-3.

5. Obama contrasted his own public service with another career alternative: being a trial lawyer. It's a bogus comparison, because everyone knows that trial lawyers are public servants.

6. Obama taught at the University of Chicago Law School. What an asshole.

Attacks You Haven't Yet Heard, That Are Nevertheless Awesome

1. Obama lives in Chicago. Chicago is extremely segregated. Obama is most likely a segregationist at heart.

2. Obama is a known Bears fan:

"Bear" is also the term for a large, hairy homosexual.

3. Obama economic adviser Austen Goolsbee is on the record saying that latkes are better than hamantashen (I'm not joking - I would never joke about something so deadly serious). Does Obama hate all Jews, or just Jews who like hamantashen?

4. Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. It's fair to say that he probably has a better understanding of the Constitution than most Americans. All the better to undermine it once he's in office.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year, More Krugman Bashing, Go Obama

I'm either going to be very happy or very disappointed after Iowa... or am I? Some people are saying it's going to end in some kind of tie. I doubt it - I think something will happen - but basically I really hope Obama pulls it out and goes on to become President.

Also, check out this Newsweek piece on why Krugman is wrong about the necessity of partisan rhetoric.

And finally, happy new year. 2008 is going to be pretty exciting, and right now I have no HBO access. It's making me very antsy, for obvious reasons. Also, we'll elect a new president.