Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Someone actually believes this will work

I expect that Reaganbook to put Facebook out of business just like Conservapedia destroyed Wikipedia shortly after it launched in 2006.


My Facebook feed is a monument to PEPism

Brooks' unsurprising column

David Brooks articulates what seems to be the prevailing view among the pro-attack on Gaza side: that Hamas started this conflict because of its isolation in the Muslim world. To get there Brooks, like virtually all the attack-on-Gaza advocates I know, has to completely disregard the reasons that Hamas gave at the beginning of its rocket campaign: the crackdown against Hamas in the West Bank (which included the deaths of ten people--including two children--the beatings and arrests of hundreds, and the re-arrest of people who were previously released in the Shalit prisoner exchange deal). Maybe Hamas' reasons were just a pretense. But you need to at least argue it was a pretense if you think that was the case.

The nice thing about Brooks' narrative, is it makes the entire conflict entirely outside of Israel's control. It also perpetuates the conflict by disregarding all of the reasons that people on the other side sees as driving this conflict.


Hobby Lobby should be doubled edged, but probably isn't as much as people expect

The Satanic Temple's attempt to use the Hobby Lobby decision to get a special religious exemption from the rules that legally mandate women to read pro-life literature before getting an abortion is entirely predictable. Not that I predicted this particular use of that decision. But the basic idea that once you let religions get special exemptions from laws of general application, it's inevitable that a non-Christian group is going to try to use it to do something that the conservatives behind Hobby Lobby won't like.

I also think the Satanic Temple will lose. They shouldn't lose. If the Hobby Lobby rule were really taken seriously, they would have a good argument. The reality is that judge's don't treat "non-mainstream" religions the same way they treat "mainstream" religions. Where exactly the line lies between "mainstream" and "non-mainstream" varies a bit from person to person. Certain religions, like Christian Science, the Church of the Latter Day Saints, and even Islam, are mainstream for some people and non-mainstream for others. But just about everyone has these kinds of prejudices and puts someone's belief system into a different category than, the Baptists.

Every religion is really weird if viewed from the outside. That weirdness is rarely visible from the inside. The true believer does not generally have any sense of how odd their own faith looks to other people. They might see some difference between the Satanic Temple and Catholicism that makes Catholicism more serious than the Satanic Temple because they have never thought about the ritual cannibalism inherent in the idea of communion. I think that is why, so long as a decision like Hobby Lobby stands, minority religions will always be at a disadvantage. That is also true for less flamboyant religions than the Satanists, like Judaism.




Monday, July 28, 2014

Тур де Франс

Um, isn't it called le Tour de France:
After Kazakhstan won the Tour de France, the central Asian state now wants to host the Tour, a top official said on Monday.
I don't follow the Tour, but I am aware that it sometimes dips into neighboring countries. But most of it is still in France, right? And Kazakhstan is far from being a neighboring country. If the race is in a different continent, it's not a tour of France anymore.

Cloak and dagger shenanagans is preferable to corruption in a judicial proceeding

Is there any plausible explanation for the U.S. government's action in this case other than the allegedly private non-profit group "United Against Nuclear Iran" being a CIA front?

Personally, I hope that is what is going on. Because if not, it just means that a politically connected advocacy group is getting special privileges in a court case.


Silver, again

I know I have made this point before, but it really is remarkable how badly Nate Silver is blowing things with his new site.

We are less than 100 days from a major national election. Which party controls the Senate for the next two years--a question that will essentially determine how Obama can act for the remainder of his time as President--hangs in balance. In every other recent election, Silver's blog, in whatever iteration it was at that time, has always been my go-to place to review the state of the key races and the overall national trend.

But not this time. I almost never go to the new FiveThirtyEight.com. When I do, I don't see much about the upcoming election on the front page. There isn't even a huge amount of coverage of the upcoming congressional races under the site's "politics" tab. The only real analysis of the overall election immediately visible there is this Senate overview post from almost two months ago. Silver's prior sites used to update their projections ever day. Where are the charts and maps? Where are the rankings of polling firms by past performance or discussions about how Silver thinks the various polls should be weighted? The current site has almost none of the things that once made Silver a required daily read. It is not just me. For the first time since I heard the name "Nate Silver," he is almost entirely absent from discussion in political blogs.

I really can't believe that Nate Silver is blowing this chance to build a loyal audience for his new site by doing what he does best.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chocolution 30: Green & Black's, Dark 70%

This is one of the more well-marketed bars I have tasted in this series. Green & Black can be found at most Whole Foods and Whole Foods-ish stores. There is a sense that the more obscure, harder to find bars would be somehow better. But I don't think that is really true. Green & Black's has a more smooth buttery texture than most dark chocolate fancy bars, even the ones that are more expensive and hard to find.


There don't have to be gaps

Today's NYT:
Significant gaps remain on the parameters of a durable truce. Hamas wants the release of high-profile prisoners along with open border crossings into Gaza and a lifting of Israel’s restrictions on fishing, farming and trade. Israel wants international guarantees that Gaza will be demilitarized, including a monitoring system to ensure that imported supplies would not be used to rebuild tunnels.
The maddening thing about these conflict is that those two sets of goals are not mutually exclusive. It is possible for the parties could do what each side says they want. Or at least it would be possible in a different world with a different political landscape.

Back here on Earth, I don't see either side agreeing to what the other side says they want, even if their side got what they say they want. I mean, it is so bad that each side is rejecting the other's humanitarian ceasefire proposals, just because the proposal is not originating on their own side.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Gogui

I have a map of Mali on my wall. I bought it when I visited the country in 2001 and it happens to be hanging in a spot that I pass just about every time I got to the bathroom on the second floor. This is what Mali looks like:

(click to embiggen)

See that portion of Mali's border with Mauritania that is a horizontile line? I'm talking about the bit that lies at the Northern edge of Kayes, Koulkoro and Segou provinces. See it? Do you notice how in the northern bit of Kayes province, the line isn't exactly horizontile? There is a little tiny bit that juts North into Mauritania. This is what it looks like close up:


It looks to me like whoever drew the border wanted to make Gogui on the Malian side of the border instead of the Mauritanian side. And so the straight line is disrupted to allow for a little enclave jutting North to bring that town into Mali instead of Mauritania.

Why did whoever do that? There doesn't seem to be anything special about the town of Gogui. The Wikipedia entry does not note anything about the place that would explain why it was worth disrupting that nice straight line to make Gogui Malian. That entire jutting-into-Mauritania territory only has a population of around 13,000. So why did they do it? Why why why?!?!?

That question haunts me every time I go to the bathroom on my second floor.


Bibi lied people died

I wonder if there are any wars in recent history that weren't caused, at least in part, by a political leader lying for his own ends.

Not that this was a surprise. Israel's own security establishment was advising caution just when Netanyahu was ordering the crackdown on Hamas.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Doing their opponents a favor

I'm on a ton of democratic party emails lists (and the lists of democratic leaning but allegedly independent groups). They spam two different email addresses I have every day with alerts and pleas for money. Based on the emails I have gotten over the past few days, it looks like the democrats believe that the impeachment talk by the loons on the right is a nice fundraising tool.

That, I think, is why the Obama administration is trying to pretend this is a serious threat. They want to use it to make their base feel threatened so they open up their wallets. I'm not sure it will work. Unless the Republicans are so stupid that they really do try to impeach the guy. Then the base really will rally. Because currently a rallied Democratic base is currently bigger than what the Republicans can bring to the polls (one of the main reasons that the GOP is expected to win in the upcoming midterms is the projection that a lot of democratic voters tend to sit out non-presidential races), the GOP would be doing the democrats a massive favor if they do.

I don't think they will do it. No matter how hard they try, this spam has failed to alarm me.


Anti-

A little over ten years ago, I opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and I was called "anti-American." This year, I oppose Israel's war in Gaza and I am called "anti-Israel." I think both charges are inaccurate--the belief that a country is making a horrible error in judgment and harming a lot of people in the process does not mean I am against that country or its people--but that is not what this post is about.

What this post is about the linguistic issue. Why are the terms that are used "anti-American" and "anti-Israel"? Why isn't it ever "anti-America", which is more parallel to the term "anti-Israel"? Or if "anti-American" is the right way to go, why wouldn't the other one be "anti-Israeli"? Is it anti- the country or the people? Why does "anti-American" sound more natural than "anti-America" but "anti-Israel" sounds more natural than "anti-Israeli"?

Do the natural-sounding antis vary by country? I must admit I don't have a good sense for anywhere else. Is it "anti-Colombia" or "anti-Colombian"? "Anti-Senegalese" or anti-Senegal"? "Anti-Tajikistani" or "anti-Tajikistan" (or, I guess, "anti-Tajik" if you want to suggest your beef is with the ethnic group and not the nationality)? They all sound equally natural to me. Is one more correct than the other?

I'm sure "human shields" explains this somehow

Wait, I thought only Hamas, rejects ceasefire proposals!!!

(That being said, it is not clear whether Hamas would have agreed to Kerry's proposal either. It does not include any easing of the blockade. On the other hand, maybe Hamas would have gone for it because it was only a week long truce so it still would retain its "leverage"--i.e. the ability to fling badly aimed rockets at Israel when the truce expired if there was no more permanent agreement.)


Propaganda is part of every war

Like Booman, I'm fascinated by the propaganda war accompanying Israel's attack on Gaza. A lot of what both sides say doesn't hold up if you look at it too closely. But the Israeli propaganda goes a lot further in the American press.

My basic philosophy is that to assume that any pronouncement about what happens in a bombing or firefight that either side's government, military, "armed faction", whatever, should be taken with a grain of salt. They all have a huge incentive to lie or at least spin the truth. That seems like nothing but common sense to me. That was true with my own country in the Iraq War (when virtually everything the Bush Administration said about Iraq turned out to be horseshit), it's true with the claims of the government in Kiev, the rebels in Eastern Ukraine, and the Russian government with regards to the Ukraine conflict, and it's true in Israel/Gaza.

The "human shields" thing is my particular favorite--just because of how often the claim that Hamas uses human shields is cited by the Israeli side and how much that side tries to stretch the logic of the charge to excuse itself of virtually any atrocity that occurs as a result of the Israeli campaign. The charge seems to be based almost entirely on the IDF's say-so. That doesn't mean it hasn't happened. I just can't seem to find any independent confirmation that Hamas intentionally uses civilians as human shields that doesn't ultimately go back to the Israeli military saying it does when it has a clear interest to absolve itself of killing civilians. The irony is that there seems to be more third party confirmation that Israeli soldiers have used civilians as human shields than there is for Hamas. At least in prior conflicts. For example, here, here, and here. That documented history has done nothing to stop the charge from being flung at Hamas pretty much any time any civilian dies because of an Israeli weapon. On top of that, even if Hamas did use "human shields", I don't think it relieves Israel of very much blame for civilian deaths. If you know someone is using innocent people as a human shield, you should stop shooting.


Is this really a big deal?

Sometimes I'm convinced an article is written just for the headline.


ISIS troubles

I don't know about "doomed", but ISIS is a lot more dependent on its allies to hold the territory it controls in Iraq than usually depicted in the Western press. The ISIS-Naqshabandi alliance seems to be a pure alliance of convenience. They both hate the Maliki-led government and that's about all they have in common. The more ISIS transforms itself from ISIS the insurgent army to "The Islamic State" with governing structures and policies, the more their alliance will fracture.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Funny polls that don't mean anything

This really is an apple-to-oranges comparison. I mean, if someone asked me whether I approve or disapprove of Darth Vader, I would interpret that to be a question about how much like Vader as a character. As it happens, I do. But part of the reason I "approve" of Darth Vader is because he is imaginary. If the genocidal dictator who killed the population of an entire peaceful planet just to prove a point were a real person, I would not approve of him. Likewise, if someone were to describe an imaginary character like Sarah Palin, I would probably think the character was amusing and might even say I "approve." But that doesn't mean I would ever approve of the actual Sarah Palin, clownish as she might be.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A way out?

From what I can tell Hamas' rockets don't have any real targeting system. So I doubt if they can shoot a plane out of the sky. But because its probably untargetted rockets have shown they can reach Ben Gurion Airport, the FAA has banned U.S. airlines from landing in Israel. Immediately after that move, Delta and U.S. Airways canceled their Israel-bound flights.

The FAA ban is only supposed to last for 24 hours. But I'm not sure what the agency thinks will be different 24 hours from now to make the airport less dangerous. If the ban is extended beyond tomorrow that will put some pressure on Israel to find a way to end this conflict. U.S. travelers would still be able to reach Israel, they just would need to switch planes in Europe to get there. If the EU aviation authorities--or even if just a few critical European airlines also impose a flight ban--that will put a whole lot of pressure on Israel to end the conflict, even if it means making concessions to Hamas that it rejected when it rejected Hamas' ceasefire proposal.

I wonder if the FAA's move is influenced by what happened last week in Ukraine. Hamas doesn't seem to have anything like the SA-11 Buk missile system. But that tragedy in Eastern Europe might have just gotten aviation authorities thinking more about the wisdom of flying passenger airplanes into war zones.


How it will play out

Maybe I'm misunderstanding how this works, but if the DC Circuit's decision holds up and the people who bought an individual health insurance policy in a state that does not run its own exchange lose their subsidy, there will suddenly be tremendous pressure for that state to begin running its own exchange so its residents can get their subsidy back. Am I being over-optimistic to predict that this decision may lead more states to participate in the ACA and not less?

The people who are eligible for subsidies are middle class Americans. They have too high of an income to qualify for medicaid as expanded under the ACA. This is a demographic that votes. I guess conservatives hope if the subsidy goes away and they have to pay more for their insurance these middle class voters will attribute the increased costs to the "skyrocketing premiums" that critics of the law predicted (instead of realizing that the increase in cost is due to the efforts of the opponents of the law). But the subsidy-ending premium increases are only going to happen in states that did not set up their own exchanges. Surely people will notice that. It will create an obvious discrepancy between what people must pay for insurance in states that set up their own exchanges versus those that did not. That may serve as a demonstration of how much better the law works if the state is just willing to cooperate.

UPDATE: Olga Khazan posted an analysis showing how much the average premium rates would rise in each state if today's D.C. Circuit case is upheld. So, as an example, the people who purchased an individual policy via the federal exchange in Pennsylvania will have their rates go up by 70-74% because of the loss of the subsidy. Just over the border in New York or Maryland, people who purchased individual policies will continue to pay the same low rates that Pennsylvanians got a taste of before this decision came down.

How can that not hurt the Republican party in the upcoming gubernatorial election? Tom Wolf is already running on the platform of fully implementing the ACA in this state. Right now, his web site mostly talks about Medicaid expansion. But if the DC Circuit court's decision is applied here, then you can bet he will start talking more clearly about building a state exchange and getting PA residents access to the federal subsidies that keep insurance rates low in neighboring states. Governor Corbett was already a goner before this decision came down. But what about a closer race like Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin, or Georgia? Couldn't this change give a real boost to the democrats?


False flag!

I must admit, if I'm looking for half-baked analysis to serve a pre-ordained narrative, Lambert never disappoints. I guess when I made this prediction, I should have written: "I predict that the pro-Russian people and the cowards of Correntewire will always believe that the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by the Ukrainian military and the rest of the world will conclude that it was probably pro-Russian separatists."
 

The National Guard!!!

Is there anyone in the country who doesn't see this as a publicity stunt? When Rick Perry officially launches his inevitable presidential campaign, every reporter should ask him why he billed the federal taxpayers thousands (millions?) of dollars just to make a political point.