Friday, February 29, 2008

How Not To Mock Hopementum (JM)

'Hope' is politics, not real Iran, Iraq policy

Hello, welcome to the next eight months. May I take your coat?

February 29, 2008


The political salvos over Iraq between Barack Obama and John McCain the other day made for good political theater. More important, the exchange offered a revealing contrast between the politics of realism and the politics of hope.

Look, I have sympathy for mocking Hopementum. I have often found Obama lacking in realism. But his foreign policy is not any more na├»ve than faith in the magical surge. The truth is that foreign policy questions rarely makes any sense in elections as decisions on this front are often incredibly specific and contingent and can turn on a dime. Could you imagine in the Nixon-Kennedy debates if the crazy antecedent to crazy ole’ Tim Russert asked, “John Kennedy, what if you were to find evidence of nuclear weapons placed by the Soviet Union in Cuba. You then track ships that may be coming to supply these missile bases…” We can have an idea if a candidate is interventionist or not, their stand on multilateralism vs. unilateralism (a question which hasn’t popped up in 2341423454363256 debates) and several other singular issues, but it is nearly impossible to gauge a person’s foreign policy acumen by anything but their previous work. Of course, that would be a legitimate criticism of Obama, we have no idea what he’d be like, but not this inanity.

It began with a question to Obama during the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday. Obama has pledged to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq and was asked if he reserved the right to go back into Iraq. He responded that "if al-Qaida is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad."

The next day McCain mocked Obama, ''I have some news. Al-Qaida is in Iraq." Obama fired back, ''I do know that al-Qaida is in Iraq and that's why I have said we should continue to strike al-Qaida targets. But I have some news for John McCain. There was no such thing as al-Qaida in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq."

So what is Obama's Iraq strategy? It seems to be that he knows al-Qaida is in Iraq but he's going to pull out anyway. But if al-Qaida establishes a base in Iraq, he will go back in. Does that sound confused to you? Me, too.

I mean seriously, is this all that confusing? First of all, there is a huge difference between a presence in Iraq (which al-Qaida clearly has) and establishing Iraq as a main base for al-Qaida operations. Currently al-Qaida is an operation spread out amongst many countries with no central focal point. If Iraq turns in to the new Afghanistan, then yes we might have to rereturn. Secondly, maybe I am just a cynic, but does anyone really believe we are actually leaving Iraq any time soon. Sure, I expect a troop drawdown, the end of stop-loss, and sensible policies to be put in to place, but I have no expectation we won’t be in Iraq for a very long time. I just hope our next president is intelligent enough to make such sufficient changes in our policy that we can seek and will receive the help of the international community in securing Iraqi territory.

His policy, in a nutshell, seems to be this: Pull troops out of Iraq and hope for the best. And anyway, the real issue is what cowboy Bush and McCain did five years ago.

Look the future matters, but past is the best set of data points to determine the future. Obama has almost no data points*, McCain has some and they’re not all that good.

Given the nation's weariness with the war, that message has proved to be appealing to Democratic primary voters. They want no truck with the grim realism of McCain's position that Iraq is part of the wider struggle against Islamist jihadism and will require a long-term U.S. commitment. Arguing over what happened in 2003 is a way to avoid facing today's realities, McCain reasonably argues.

Have you ever notice when people want to do really bad things they couch it as the realist position. Me, I’ll go for empirical evidence and a debate on actual merits, instead of assuming the worst possible scenario must be the correct one.

Hope also figures in Obama's willingness, as president, to meet, without preconditions, America's adversaries like Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently said he wouldn't "shake hands with people who refuse to recognize Israel." He didn't mention names but he meant the Iranian president.

What’s your point here? I am actually bowled over by the irony of a neo-con position being bolstered by the French President… I am sorry, the Freedom President. Look, there’s a difference between liking Ahmadinejad or even compromising with him and meeting with him. Ignoring our enemies is great playground politics, but terrible international politics.

Obama's position is cheered by his enthusiasts. They see his embrace of yes-we-can-talk diplomacy as a refreshing about-face from Bush's bellicosity. Hillary Clinton is the voice of realism this time. But her efforts to paint Obama's position as a naive one for a president in a dangerous world apparently aren't swaying many Democrats. Her cause wasn't helped when Bush chimed in Thursday, saying meeting with a tyrant like Ahmadinejad only buttresses an oppressive government, confuses U.S. allies and demoralizes reformers in Iran.

I am pretty sure Hillary Clinton would a better statesman than Barack Obama. However, you cannot discount the overwhelmingly popular overseas support that Obama seems to have. His popularity rating amongst European countries is insanely high. I have no idea why this is, and generally making the European public happy is not really a concern I have when choosing a president, but giving the low level of regard for the United States that exists throughout the world these days some good feeling is not a bad second prize.

Given the complexities of the world, a president occasionally does have to meet with unsavory characters in pursuing vital foreign policy initiatives. Even when you think you've laid the proper groundwork, disaster can follow. President Bill Clinton labored mightily to coax Yasser Arafat to a negotiated end of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict only to see his work and peace hopes atomized by Arafat's allegiance to terrorism.

So your solution was to do what? Not meet with Arafat? I fail to see how this was an argument in your favor. Moreover, it wasn’t just Arafat’s allegiance to terrorism. It was that as part of his coalition there were many more hardline splinter groups that were only quasi under the control of Arafat. These groups were less likely to acquiesce to the deal made by Arafat and that is why things fell apart. Which, of course, is an argument for negotiating with the most hardline parties in these sort of deals. Which, by the by, is the opposite of your point. To wit: You lose.

A President Obama would be taking a big gamble meeting with a rogue like Ahmadinejad without preconditions. Iran wants nuclear weapons, is a sponsor of terror responsible for mass murder as far away as Argentina, and has been at the heart of Islamist-inspired turmoil for nearly three decades. It stones women to death for adultery. It executes more children than any country in the world. Tehran lashes gays and kills them by public hanging. It jails, tortures and executes political dissidents.

Please explain the gamble. It’s not like Obama would meet up with him to have a round of golf and stone some women. We can have a meeting, it can be cold and awkward, that’s fine. It can be the foreign policy equivalent of running in to an ex-girlfriend on the street. Exchange some pleasantries, pretend you’ll get coffee sometimes soon and go home and complain to your friends. Meeting with someone is not endorsing someone, at least not in this case. The only time I would be inclined towards this argument would be meeting with a leader of a particular faction from a country involved in a civil war.

When Columbia University, to its shame, gave him a platform last year, Ahmadinejad used it, in effect, to advocate an end to Israel, deny the Holocaust and claim no homosexuals are in Iran.

In a recent speech, Ahmadinejad said Iran has two missions. One was to complete the Islamic revolution in Iran. "Our nation's second important mission," he said, "is introducing the Islamic revolution to the entire mankind."

Hope may make for a good American political campaign, but it's not the basis for foreign policy.

It’s adorable when people think they’ve proved points that they have failed, utterly, to make.

*I suspect someone is going to bring up a certain speech, which I just couldn’t care less about as evidence; he wasn’t in the Senate, he didn’t see the same intelligence they did, and there was little to no cost to repudiating the war in so far as it would distinguish him from the pack if he was right and if wrong there was no cost because he could always claim to have not seen the same intelligence as those who voted for the war.

Greatest Sentence Of All Time (JM)

Those who think Jack Nicholson's neon smile is the last word in smiles never saw William F. Buckley's.

-George Will
That is all.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley and Discourse (JM)

My knowledge of the history of William F. Buckley pales in comparison to some of the amazing obituaries that are available. I highly recommend you seek them out. However, it has given me the opportunity to revisit the show Firing Line. We have nothing like this on television today, and never may again. Take the opportunity to view the two imbedded Youtube videos of Buckley and Noam Chomsky debating the ethical nature of interventionism and imperialism. It is simply a level of outstanding we may never see again. I may not agree with his politics, but he is perhaps the greatest debater I have ever had the pleasure of seeing:

EDIT: I will just point out that I say this, despite the fact that Chomsky clearly wins this particular debate.

Lest We Forget Who Our Current President Is, a Telecom Press Conference (JM)

I know we’re all wrapped up in choosing who our next president will be that sometimes it’s easy to forget who our current president is… And he was out today giving a delightful press conference on how we’re all going to die if the Democrats don’t pass FISA with telecom immunity. Let’s take a look, shall we?

QUESTION: ... if you can get the Congress to protect telecom companies from lawsuits then there's no recourse for Americans who feel that they've been caught up in this.

QUESTION: I know it's unintended to spy on Americans, but in the collection process information about everybody gets swept up and then it gets sorted. So if Americans don't have any recourse, are you just telling them when it comes to their privacy to suck it up?

Wow, this is seriously one of the best questions I have ever seen from a presidential press conference. Are you telling the American public to “suck it up”? Great stuff, given that this is precisely what the Bush administration has been advocating the American people do for years (though I have to admit, I’d be more entertained if the questioner had went Fonzie on us and used “sit on it” instead of “suck it up”.

BUSH: I wouldn't put it that way, if I were you -- in public. You've been around long enough.
Anyway, people who analyze the program fully understand that America's civil liberties are well protected.

There is a constant check to make sure that our civil liberties of our citizens aren't -- you know, are treated with respect.

“I wouldn’t put it that way, if I were you – in public…” Seriously, this is something the President of the United States just said. How creepy and Goodfellasesque does that sound? Also when “people who analyze the program” are members of the Bush/Cheney administration I am not so sure I am going to be happy with the definition of “respect”. Also I like that Bush’s standard for appropriate treatment of civil liberties is the nebulous concept of “respect”, not say some sort of constitutional standard or something.

BUSH: And that's what I want, and that's what most Americans -- all Americans want.
Now, let me talk about the phone companies. You cannot expect phone companies to participate if they feel like they're going to be sued. I mean, it is -- these people are responsible for shareholders. They're private companies.

Telecom companies would never be sued if we had a reasonable, constitutionally-viable FISA law.

The government said to those who have alleged to have helped us that it is in our national interests and it's legal. It's in our national interest because we want to know who's calling who from overseas into America. We need to know in order to protect the people.

It was legal. And now all of a sudden plaintiffs attorneys, class-action plaintiffs attorneys, you know -- I don't want to try to get inside their head; I suspect they see, you know, a financial gravy train -- are trying to sue these companies. It's unfair. It is patently unfair.

Gee… yes, it must be those damned plaintiffs attorneys. Always trying to scam companies with their frivolous lawsuits about massive rights violations. Also just because you’re the Decider, doesn’t mean you get to determine what is and is not legal. In fact, for all the complaints about the Bush administration, it seems clear to me that the bizarre use of executive power to interpret the legality and constitutionality of particular laws and regulations is absolutely the worst. The creeping spread of executive authority during his administration is downright frightening. What’s worse is, that no matter who we elect next, it’s hard to imagine them ceding many of these so-called authorities Bush and Cheney cooked up for themselves.

And, secondly, these lawsuits create doubts amongst those who will -- whose help we need.

BUSH: I guess you could be relaxed about all this if you didn't think there was a true threat to the country. I know there's a threat to the country. And the American people expect our Congress to give the professionals the tools they need to listen to foreigners who may be calling in to the United States with information that could cause us great harm.

We have perfectly reasonable legislation on the books that allows for foreign surveillance. There has not been one hindrance in foreign intelligence collecting since FISA expired. This is just a flat out, disgusting lie.

So on the one hand the civil liberties of our citizens are guaranteed by a lot of checks in the system, scrutinized by the United States Congress.

You cannot count that hand if you want them to sign a bill giving away those powers. It’s not a check if the check decides not to check… you see what I am saying?

And, secondly, I cannot emphasize to you how important it is that the Congress solve this problem.
The Senate has solved the problem. And people say, "Would you ever compromise on the issue?" The Senate bill is a compromise. And there's enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass the Senate bill. It's a bipartisan bill. And the House leaders need to put it on the floor and let the will of the housework.
My judgment happens to be the will of the people, to give the professionals the tools they need to protect the country....

Congress tried! The Democrats offered to extend FISA again. You and the GOP kept it from happening because you want your precious telecom immunity and provisions in the bill to give the executive branch absolute authority and no transparency. Your position of this is nearly farcical.

QUESTION: Mr. President, on FISA, do you worry that perhaps some House Democratic leaders are playing a high-stakes game of wait-and- see in terms of if we get attacked, we all lose, if we don't get attacked, then maybe that makes the case that you don't need all the powers in FISA?

Who asked this. Is that Dick Cheney sitting in the back wearing a fake nose and glasses set?

BUSH: No, I don't think so.

I mean, I think that's -- that would be ascribing, you know, motives that are just -- I just don't think they're the motives of the House leaders to do that.

I think -- look, I think they're really wrestling with providing liability protection to phone companies. I don't think they're that cynical or devious. That's -- it's just too risky. A lot of these leaders understand that there's an enemy that wants to attack.

The caucus, evidently, in the House is -- the Democratic caucus, is -- you know, is concerned about exactly Plante's question, you know. And I just can't tell you how important it is to not alienate or not discourage these phone companies.

We must never alienate or discourage phone companies. Sigh… if the FISA law you wanted didn’t have so many clearly rights violations there would never be any concern. Phone companies turn over information all the time in criminal investigations. They are not held harmless from liability, instead they know such charges would never stand up in court because of appropriate procedures to protect the rights of individuals. There are so many ways this could be done, it’s patently absurd.

BUSH: How can you listen to the enemy if the phone companies aren't going to participate with you? And they're not going to participate if they get sued.

Let me rephrase it: less likely to participate.

And they're facing billions of dollars of lawsuits. And they have a responsibility to their shareholders. And yet they were told what they were going do is legal.

Doesn’t that say something? Really and truly it does. Corporations just simply do not trust the word of the Bush administration that their actions are legal. Trust me, if these actions were totally legitimate there would be no problem. But these companies are terrified that they are going to lose in court and that’s because they know there is a legitimate possibility that the administration lied and these actions were totally illegal.

And, anyway, I'm going to keep talking about the issue. This is an important issue for the American people to understand, and it's important for them to understand that no renewal of the Patriot Act -- I mean, the Protect America Act -- is dangerous for the security of the country. Just dangerous.

I'm sure people, if they really pay attention to the details of this debate, wonder why it was OK to pass the Protect America Act last summer, late last summer, and all of a sudden it's not OK to pass it now.
And so I will keep -- keep talking about the issue and talking about the issue.

It was never okay. The Democrats, especially red-staters are just totally fearful and it is painful to watch. I want telecom companies to be afraid to act unless they are sure their actions are lawful. I want the presumption of any major corporation that controls private information to be that giving said information to the government is probably not okay unless they are compelled to do so. I want a system of warrants, checks and balances to guide this sort of data collection. Not just the say so of GWB. It’s sad that this is even a battle. I am baffled that the Democrats are not just throwing this right back in the face of the administration. Here’s the truth, the Democrats will never wrest power from the hands of the GOP until they are unafraid to challenge the politics of fear. They need to start talking about the core of our values and not trading them away because shadows and bogeymen, because in the end that is a battle the GOP will always win. Let’s go back to being a party of real values, instead of being weak-kneed at the idea of appearing week-kneed.

(Hat tip: Paul Kiel at TPM for the transcript)

A Few Quick Hits (JM)

This morning is kind of harried, but I have a few links and stories worth taking a look at for the start:

The first is a post by Josh Marshall regarding the possible (see probable) racist nature of the upcoming GOP campaign against Barack Obama. He seems pretty convinced that, despite McCain's rhetoric the McCain camp is going to be largely in favor of most of these scurrilous attacks (like the one leveled by the Tennessee GOP yesterday). I agree with him that it is almost impossible to tell the legitimate truth of the situation given this dance of repudiation and potential backroom dealings. I also agree that this is McCain's best chance to win. However, I have trouble making the absolute jump to the idea that McCain himself favors this racist rhetoric privately, while denouncing (or should it be rejecting) it publicly. This is going to be a very difficult situation to parse and I think it is up to the media to search for real evidence before exclaiming the McCain campaign in favor of these slurs.

The second is a story from CTV. Barack Obama apparently called Michael Wilson, Canadian ambassador to the United States, to inform him that he would be using inflammatory rhetoric regarding NAFTA. He then noted that it is not anything to worry about, it is just campaign rhetoric. Ahh... change you can believe in.

Finally, just a couple of charming stories about people mistakingly taken to mental institutions. My favorite: A Zimbabwean bus driver who stopped at an illegal bar for a few drinks while transporting mental patients. The patients escaped, so the ever savvy driver pulled up to a bus stop and offered a bunch of people a free ride. He delivered them all to the mental institution and exclaimed that they were very delusional and prone to wild tales. It took the institution three days to realize the mistake.

That's all for now, talk to y'all later.

EDIT: TPM is reporting that the Canadian embassy denies ever having had any such conversation with Barack Obama.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Racism Insult/Absolution Cycle (Dennis)

Shelby Steele, an African American conservative scholar on race, has said that African American public figures can be boiled down to two distinct types based on their response to past racism: "bargainers" and "challengers." Challengers are those who say to society "you must prove to me that you are not racist" through affirmative action programs and other such benefits for minorities. Bargainers are those who say to society "I will make a deal with you. If you do not treat me in a way that is racist, then I will assume that you are not racist." Challengers include such people as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, while bargainers include people like Tiger Woods and Oprah.

Steele has used this division of African American society to explain the popularity of Barack Obama. Steele says that Barack is the ultimate bargainer, he assumes (in public, anyway) that white America is not racist anymore. This brings him a lot of gratitude and affection from whites who fear the accusation of racism. Moreover, his candidacy as an African American offers absolution at the end of the road for whites who feel guilt over the legacy of racism.

I think Steele's analysis certainly makes sense, though I don't think the bargainer effect accounts for all of Barack's popularity, just some of it. I do think though that this idea has not just worked as a macro effect for Barack's candidacy, but also as many small events that push Barack's popularity up. The nature of Barack's background means that there will be many comments that come across as racist or bigoted whether intended (as with of the Tennessee GOP ) or not (as with poor Joe Biden). Naturally these comments will be pounced upon by the national media, with its 24 hour news-hungry cable networks. Commentators analyze and dissect them and some end up interpreting them in the worst possible light.

This has been great for Obama so far in the primary and will continue to be great for him in the general. Why? Because Barack, bargainer such that he is, will always be able to appear reasonable and above the fray responding to these comments, as others have already done the attacking. Even those who don't see the racism in relatively racist comments will look to Barack and say "ah see, Barack is a reasonable guy, at least, he is not going over board here." This constantly feeds him with good press. It makes him simultaneously look like a victim and also a strong person, and it makes whites who are guilty about racism more likely to vote for him.

I think Karl Rove recognized this when he warned the GOP to not use "Hussein" or use overtly racist tactics against Obama. Is America still susceptible to racism? Sure. But not if they are aware that that appeal is being made to them. How many people do you know who might say something questionably racist, but if anyone calls them out on it they will strenuously deny it with all the evidence they have at their disposal? That is the danger for Republicans who think about using racist tactics against Obama.

Is Barack's campaign feeding this monster? I think they are a little bit, Jon thinks a lot. But mostly they don't need to do anything with it since it's such a natural dynamic as the race is set up.

Is it bad that race is still a motivating factor in our elections? Yes. But I, for one, would appreciate the irony of it actually working in favor of an African American candidate.

From Ideology to Practice (JM)

Why does the Left still worship Fidel Castro and all his appalling fellow communists?

Daniel Finkelstein

A brief warning, unlike my usually mockery-laden Lord Finkelton posts, this is going to be more sober, because I think this is quite a legitimately interesting and important issue.

I had a strange idea yesterday. I had the idea of inviting Harriet Harman home for dinner. This isn't a thought that occurs to me often, but I suddenly felt it might be fun.

I'd invite my Dad too. And then, when we'd given Harriet a nice meal (what do you think she likes to eat?), my father could tell her his story.

Harriet Harman is the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, who recently exclaimed that Fidel Castro is a hero of the Left. Daniel Finkelstein’s dad is the man responsible for much joy and happiness in my life.

He could tell her how the Soviets and the Nazis closed in on his home town of Lvov in September 1939 and how the town council chose the Soviets to surrender to. Then he might tell her how the fathers of his friends were taken to the woods at Katyn and shot by the communists.

He might recount the story of his father's arrest as an antisocial element, of Adolf Finkelstein's repeated interrogations leading to a trial in his absence and a jail sentence of 15 years' hard labour. Then Dad could tell the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party about his own experience as a child, exiled to a remote Siberian village. And how he and his mother and his father never saw their home again.

This is truly and terribly awful. The Soviet treatment of Eastern Europeans, particularly those from Poland was criminal. This is particularly true for Jewish occupants of these lands of whom it can only be said they did not suffer in comparison to the treatment they faced at the hands of the Nazis.

And, when he'd finished, he could let Harriet speak. And she could explain to Dad why she thinks that Fidel Castro is a hero.

This is where I begin to take serious objection with Finkelstein’s position. Fidel Castro, while being aligned with Soviet Russia and being of a similar ideology, did not commit nearly such horrible war crimes in coming to power. It’s a disturbing and bizarre conflation of ideology and political coherency. In other words, despite Communism’s claim to be a totalizing ideology and a universal movement it was actually (perhaps to its long-term detriment) comprised of several distinct political actors. Castro had his faults, however he was not the Stalinist USSR.

Its been almost 60 years since my grandfather's arrest and 50 years since the Soviets invaded Hungary. The Prague Spring has come and gone, the Gdansk shipyard strike is history, the Berlin Wall has fallen. We've read Robert Conquest tell of Stalin's murderous deeds and Jung Chang tell of Mao's.

We've watched films about the Stasi and recoiled in disgust at the opulent lives of the Ceausescus. We know that Alger Hiss was guilty and that there was, after all, a communist conspiracy in America. We've read Solzhenitsyn and Sharansky. We know.

It’s true, there are countless crimes that have been perpetrated by the corruption of the Communist ideology. It is always a necessary fear in a political system that institutionally gives broadstrokes power to particular individuals. However, every single piece of evidence given here is about abuses in other countries. In order to build a compelling argument for why it is disturbing to call Castro a “hero of the Left” you either have to provide evidence as to Cuba in particular or argue that the Communist political ideology will always be practiced in such a way that it will necessarily lead to long-term, systematic human rights abuses.

Yet still the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, the Leader of the House of Commons, a member of the Cabinet, is in love with Fidel. When asked, earlier this week, in an interview: “Fidel Castro - authoritarian dictator or hero of the Left?” she answered unhesitatingly - “hero of the Left”.

Which brings me to this question - Why? Why does she think that? Why would she say that?

Let's eliminate from our inquiries the idea that Fidel was somehow better than the rest of them, better than Honecker and so forth. Those cigars, those battle fatigues, that beard. Kinda cool, no? No. Death sentences for those who want to flee, prison sentences for dissidents, gags for the press, jail for homosexuals, ruinous central planning for the economy, his support for a nuclear first strike against America, his opposition to any kind of reform, his four-hour long speeches, his personality cult. Fidel Castro was just like the rest of them.

This paragraph is certainly less specific than the detailed charges being leveled above. I agree, I don’t love Castro, he was not really all that great, but as bad as Honecker? It’s not even close. (On an almost completely tangential point, if you haven’t seen The Lives of Others you really ought to do so). In fact, for the most part I find it hard to distinguish between Castro and that other “hero of the Left”: Hugo Chavez. He has been quickly and assuredly consolidating power through non-democratic mechanisms and has a complete lack of transparency. However, because he does espouse the big C, but rather the small s, he gets quite the pass. My point is that there are orders of magnitude, and Castro is not exactly history’s greatest monster (we all know that title belongs to Jimmy Carter).

So if we want to understand Ms Harman's response, it is not enough just to think about Cuba. We have to understand why parts of the Left, people who think of themselves as impeccably liberal, still think of communism as an heroic doctrine and communists as basically well meaning and a bit “alternative”. It's a pervasive attitude that goes well beyond politicians. Go to Tate Modern and you will find an exhibition of Soviet art - workers joyfully producing tractors or some such. In the bookshop you can buy a book of posters from the cultural revolution. Hitler memorabilia is not on sale. They wouldn't dream of having a room full of artfully designed Juden Raus! posters.

This is truly worthy discussion, and one worth having. However, Finkelstein is conflating two issues here. The first issue is the merit of communism as an ideology. The second is the symbolic art and propaganda of the Soviet Union and its appropriate role as art. Let me address each of these in turn.

I must admit, the empirical evidence for the success of the Communist project is bleak. Most of the countries that espouse a Communist ideology have, in fact, also practiced devastating totalitarianism. However, history often provides us with a very small sample size for major historical movements. We cannot truly compare East Germany, China, the Soviet Union, et al. and conclude that Communism is likely to result in terrible, oppressive governments. These states all developed in the context and model of each other and thus, faced considerable influence in terms of the structuring and nature of their governance from the primary model: the Soviet Union. At best, it could be said that there were two models, the Soviet Union and China, and even if they had no influence on one another (a dubious claim), it is a sample size of two loaded to the bare with historical contingency. In other words, history proves very little other than Communist has been practiced badly, not that Communism is, per se, bad.

This is not to say that Communism may not have its flaws. There obviously have been entire academic fields devoted to the debate about the Communist worldview and its effect on governance. But these are really three separate issues. The first is the Communist worldview, in so far as it is believed to simply be the empirically reality of the world, the nature of existence simply cannot have a moral context; it either is or it is not. The second is the Communist ideology, for the most part it is hard to dispute the moral nature of collective governance. But here there certainly can be some dispute as to the nature of individual freedom and dignity, but that doesn’t seem to be Finkelstein’s man concern here. Finally, there is practice, which I have already addressed, and is simply not enough to taint the first two components unless I can be compelled that its practice will always and necessarily be devastating.

As for the art, I agree that Nazi symbols would not be widely popularized, not nearly in the way Soviet propaganda would be. I think you are right here to argue that perhaps most people give the Soviet Union a pass when it comes to their atrocious crimes and perhaps we ought to be a little bit more careful about what symbols we glorify. That said, certainly there is a place even for Nazi art and propaganda in our cultural discourse. We should just strive to give everything a clearer context. I would imagine on this point we would agree.

I struggle a little to understand the distinction being made here, but I think it is this. It's not that the liberals are unaware that millions died under Mao and under Stalin. It's just that they think it was different. Hitler had a killing machine; under Mao (“the greatest man of the 20th century”, according to Tony Benn) and Stalin many people just up and died.

I've heard this argument made before. When I wrote that my mother had seen Anne Frank arrive in Belsen, I had an e-mail from a Nazi claiming that I was wrong to describe the little girl as having been killed by the Nazis. She had, he said, died of typhoid. I responded that if you imprison an innocent person in terrible conditions or starve them, or both, and they die, you have murdered them. The same goes for the communists.

I agree, the action/inaction distinction is irrelevant. Both crimes were awful.

There is another reason why people prefer communists to fascists. It is that the latter believe we are entirely the product of our genes, while the former regard us as entirely the product of our environment. Somehow genetic determinism is regarded with greater distaste than environmental determinism. I am not entirely sure why. In any case, scientific evidence now shows that both views are wrong. Even if they weren't, neither justifies the killings carried out in their name.

This, again, is absolutely true. I personally believe that ideology and politics is less a matter of choice than environment. There is very little that people do that isn’t determined somewhat randomly. However, I will one up you on this point just to say that I think the free-will distinction is irrelevant. I fail to see why it is more acceptable to attack those who have chosen a particular viewpoint than those who have it socially inscribed or are killed because of their particular genetic background. Mass homicide is mass homicide, no matter how you slice it.

Which leaves me with one final reason for the Left's attitude to communism - that anyone who defies the United States is somehow seen as a valiant progressive, whatever their crimes. I am sure that Castro's resistance to the US is a major reason for Harriet Harman's admiration.

I agree with this. It is much like the love that Hugo Chavez bizarrely receives throughout the world (and certain intellectual circles within the United States).

From time to time, Left thinkers make an effort to reconcile liberals and America. From Tony Crosland in the Fifties to Jonathan Freedland's admirable and convincing book Bring Home the Revolution, the efforts have failed. Almost anyone - a homophobic, misogynist Islamist cleric for example - is given some credit if the US is their punchbag.

A few months ago the Tory candidate Nigel Hastilow had to resign for saying that Enoch Powell may have had a point. And it was right that he went.

Calling Fidel Castro a hero is worse.

Enoch Powell was a former British MP that staunchly opposed the liberalization of race laws and immigration regulations. His positions on these issues were quite extreme by what we would consider contemporary standards. I am not sure that Fidel Castro is worse by any substantive measure. However, there is a more important distinction: Castro is a foreign leader. When Nigel Hastilow gave a head nod towards Enoch Powell he gave a head nod to policies that could have been in place for several years in Britain. It was a way of expressing a wish to have a certain policy evoked within British politics from a British politician. Endorsing Castro is a completely different beast, he’s a man of a different culture and place and cannot be construed as an endorsement of his policies for the here and now, just his position in the world.

Do I think this was a smart remark? Clearly, no. Do I think it is immoral? Not really. However, I do think it’s important to avoid conflating ideology with practice, because in the end we lose an awful many good ideas because of bad or corrupt practitioners. This doesn’t mean I think Communism, in particular, is a right or wrong idea, but that we need to separate it from its practice in order to have a fair and legitimate discussion.

Maureen Dowd is Vigo the Carpathian (JM)

Begrudging His Bedazzling

Is this a reference to the Bedazzler? The rhinestone gun that allows you to disco up your jean jacket? If so, might I just add Disco Stu don’t advertise.



A huge Ellen suddenly materialized behind Hillary on a giant screen, interrupting her speech Monday night at a fund-raiser at George Washington University in Washington.

This evokes a strangely entertain vision of a weird totalitarian society run by Ellen Degeneres. Yes, I am aware that I have made two comments with no points thus far, but to be fair neither has Maureen.

What better way for a desperate Hillary to try and stop her rival from running off with all her women supporters than to have a cozy satellite chat with a famous daytime talk-show host who isn’t supporting Obama?

Why is it desperate for Hillary to use Ellen as a spokesperson, but not Obama?

“Will you put a ban on glitter?” Ellen demanded.

Diplomatically, Hillary said that schoolchildren needed it for special projects, but maybe she could ban it for anyone over 12.

Certainly, Hillary understands the perils of glitter. The coda of her campaign has been a primal scream against the golden child of Chicago, a clanging and sometimes churlish warning that “all that glitters is not gold.”

Is that it? Is that what you spend five paragraphs setting us up for? Also not to nitpick, because I would never do that to so eminent a writer as you Maureen, but can a warning really be clanging. Moreover, churlish? Why is that anytime Hillary makes any attempt to win this election she is cast as mean-spirited?

David Brody, the Christian Broadcasting Network correspondent whose interview with Hillary aired Tuesday, said the senator seemed “dumbfounded” by the Obama sensation.

She has been so discombobulated that she has ignored some truisms of politics that her husband understands well: Sunny beats gloomy. Consistency beats flipping. Bedazzling beats begrudging. Confidence beats whining.

Experience does not beat excitement, though, or Nixon would have been president the first time around, Poppy Bush would have had a second term and President Gore would have stopped the earth from melting by now.

I wonder why this is. I wonder if it could have anything in the world to do with these types of columns. You, personally, Maureen have spent over a year tearing in to Hillary with seemingly no greater end than personal bloodlust, you Maureen once accused Al Gore of “lactating”, you Maureen probably would columns describing Nixon and shifty and jowly. On second thought, the Nixon thing probably would have been okay. But still you are a terrible journalist and you and your cohort are the very reason “excitement” beats “experience”.

Voters gravitate toward the presidential candidates who seem more comfortable in their skin. J.F.K. and Reagan seemed exceptionally comfortable. So did Bill Clinton and W., who both showed that comfort can be an illusion of sorts, masking deep insecurities.

::Jumping up and down and pointing:: See, see! Look how that last sentence might be a really good argument in favor of Hillary. I bet you’re about to follow up on this with some deeper analysis.

The fact that Obama is exceptionally easy in his skin has made Hillary almost jump out of hers. She can’t turn on her own charm and wit because she can’t get beyond what she sees as the deep injustice of Obama not waiting his turn. Her sunshine-colored jackets on the trail hardly disguise the fact that she’s pea-green with envy.

Why is it you think it is okay to just make up other people’s emotions? Why is it acceptable for you to just blatantly say mean-spirited things hidden behind terrible analogies and sophomoric wordplay. Is it cool if I were to write: “The red notebook Maureen Dowd prepares her columns in might as well be green due to the intense level of envy she has for the clearly superior intellect and talent of Hillary Clinton. Her vicious accusations are only cover for her incredible jealous over the fact that Hillary is role model for women through history and she is nothing more than a hack writer.” Is that acceptable? Sure. Why? Because I write a blog read by people who have nothing better to do than listen to the insane rants of a sarcastic New York Jew (P.S. I am not referring to the person who is currently reading this now, you’re totally cool, just some other people… definitely not you). You, Maureen, work for the New York Times.

After saying she found her “voice” in New Hampshire, she has turned into Sybil. We’ve had Experienced Hillary, Soft Hillary, Hard Hillary, Misty Hillary, Sarcastic Hillary, Joined-at-the-Hip-to-Bill Hillary, Her-Own-Person-Who-Just-Happens-to-Be-Married-to-a-Former-President Hillary, It’s-My-Turn Hillary, Cuddly Hillary, Let’s-Get-Down-in-the-Dirt-and-Fight-Like-Dogs Hillary.

Seriously all these different types could be condensed down to soft Hillary and hard Hillary. Also, awesome Sybil joke.

Just as in the White House, when her cascading images and hairstyles became dizzying and unsettling, suggesting that the first lady woke up every day struggling to create a persona, now she seems to think there is a political solution to her problem. If she can only change this or that about her persona, or tear down this or that about Obama’s. But the whirlwind of changes and charges gets wearing.

Alright that’s it. “Cascading images”?!! WTF Maureen? Are your columns corporately sponsored by the word cascading? Long time, AOTG readers will recognize that she has used the word in like seven of her previous articles and almost invariably in an inappropriate manner. It’s just weird, it’s just not that difficult or exciting of a word. What’s the deal Dowd?

By threatening to throw the kitchen sink at Obama, the Clinton campaign simply confirmed the fact that they might be going down the drain.

Sink… drain… get it? Also you write this article every week, aren’t you getting bored?

Hillary and her aides urged reporters to learn from the “Saturday Night Live” skit about journalists having crushes on Obama.

“Maybe we should ask Barack if he’s comfortable and needs another pillow,” she said tartly in the debate here Tuesday night. She peevishly and pointlessly complained about getting the first question too often, implying that the moderators of MSNBC — a channel her campaign has complained has been sexist — are giving Obama an easy ride.

Beating on the press is the lamest thing you can do. It is only because of the utter open-mindedness of the press that Hillary can lose 11 contests in a row and still be treated as a contender.

Oh yes, the press is so totally gracious. It’s so sweet of them to have allowed Hillary to stay in this race. You are the lyingist liar who ever did lie. About your last 30 columns have been Hillary hit jobs (or at least contained a quick hit or two on her character). Chris Matthews spends his nights figuring out ways to unfavorably compare Hillary to 17th century Chinese moguls. Most of the MSM has been trying as hard as possible to kick Hillary to the curb. The press has been simply terrible to Hillary and all the wishful thinking and assertions to the otherwise in the world won’t make it untrue.

Hillary and her top aides could not say categorically that her campaign had not been the source on the Drudge Report, as Matt Drudge claimed, for a picture of Obama in African native garb that the mean-spirited hope will conjure up a Muslim Manchurian candidate vibe.

God, you are just totally disgusting. I am sorry readers, much of my Maureen bashing has gone from mockery to simply reviling every word she has to say. This is just so totally unethical that I almost through my keyboard at the wall. She denied it to the best of her knowledge? What do you want her to do? Claim total omniscience about everything her staff ever does? Meanwhile when Obama hedges on a billion different things, not a word from you. But I suppose we should just all be totally grateful you and the press have let Hillary stay in the race. So kind of you.

At a rally on Sunday, she tried sarcasm about Obama, talking about how “celestial choirs” singing and magic wands waving won’t get everybody together to “do the right thing.”

This was genuinely one of the funniest things I have ever seen in a campaign. Dennis, a hardline Obama supporter agrees. This was simply great politics.

With David Brody, Hillary evoked the specter of a scary Kool-Aid cult. “I think that there is a certain phenomenon associated with his candidacy, and I am really struck by that because it is very much about him and his personality and his presentation,” she said, adding that “it dangerously oversimplifies the complexity of the problems we face, the challenge of navigating our country through some difficult uncharted waters. We are a nation at war. That seems to be forgotten.”

Actually it’s not forgotten. It’s a hard sell for Hillary to say that she is the only one capable of leading this country in a war when she helped in leading the country into that war. Or to paraphrase Obama from the debate here, the one who drives the bus into the ditch can’t drive it out.

A Maureen Dowd Column Staff Meeting (with herself)

MD: Hey, Maureen, people seem to think you’re not a terrible impartial journalist.

MD: You know, you’re right, I am great. And that just grates on people. What do they want, I’ll put the “scary Kool-Aid” quote in my column.

MD: It’s like that episode of Growing Pains when Mike gets a phone in his room and then Carol wants one.

MD: Yep, okay, I get it. I will end with non-sequitor attack on Hillary, just to make sure I am fair and balanced.

MD: You’re just great Maureen.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Obama-Farrakhan Smear (JM)

When Russert asked about Louis Farrakhan's endorsement of Barack Obama, Obama responded quite firmly. His terminological vaccilation was a bit silly, but Hillary should nothave parsed words and demanded that Barack reject his support. Instead, had she been gracious and pointed out that that it is quite clear Obama is not anti-Semitic, she could have had a moment similar to the type we saw Obama have when defending Joe Biden against charges of racism at an earlier debate.

However, the truly reprehensible aspect of this whole exchange is when Russert began reading out some of Farrakhan's most disgraceful anti-Semitic comments. It served no purpose in the debate, other than driving the perception that Obama is connected with this same rank racism. It's unclear if this was even a legitimate topic of discussion (I am sure there are several base individuals endorsing various candidates of whom we are unaware, probably more often in the GOP). Josh Marshall has excellent analysis about this over at Talking Points Memo. But the larger point is this: This is not just bad for Obama, but also bad for people of the Jewish faith and pretty much everyone who believes in civil discourse.

If Russert really wanted to agitate the perceived divided between Barack Obama and Jewish-Americans (it's unclear if this divide is empirically proven) he could have asked a question about Obama's quotes about Israel that I discussed earlier this afternoon. This is a legitimate political issue that would have fostered important debate amongst the candidates. Instead, he chose to go for the "gotcha" and trade in racism for ratings, it's disgusting and Russert and MSNBC should be condemned for it.

Live-blogging the debate (Dennis)

8:44- I'm settling in to watch the Democratic debate and I hope to do a better job live-blogging this than Jonathan did of the Oscars. I really think this is Hillary's honest last chance for her campaign. With the strength of Obama's ground game and his surging poll numbers she is headed for a double digit loss in Texas and a close contest in Ohio. What we've heard from Camp Hillary is that she needs to win both of these states to stay alive, so if things stay on course we could see her exiting the race a little more than a week from right now. Hillary needs to seriously score some big points here.

8:57- Ah Brian Williams and Tim Russert moderating. I think they locked Tweety up back in Washington, D.C. fearing he would do a real life version of that SNL sketch.

8:59- Round table format, why do we need these increasingly bizarre formats? What is wrong with podiums?

9:05- They are basically having the exact same healthcare debate they've had the past few times. There is nothing new so far. I have mixed feelings on these plans. I think they are both pretty flawed but improvements on the status quo.

9:16- Hillary just complained about getting the first question all the time (which is twice in this case). As a debater who knows going second is easier, I can see her point, but I'm not sure how much complaining in a debate helps her out.

9:22- They are talking about NAFTA now. This argument is so silly, they both think NAFTA is kind of good, but think more labor and environmental conditions should be put in. Here I think Bill Clinton had basically the correct position and they are both inheritors of that.

9:28- I caught a picture of Hillary looking at Barack during his answer, her face is very different than what I saw earlier. Before she would smile at the person answering almost daring them to say something negative. Here, she is frowning. I wonder if this is calculated or a genuine change in mood.

9:59- I think Obama is winning this debate for once. He is making his points better than usual and Hillary looks tired and annoyed and is generally making her points worse. Also a certain Hillary supporter we both know and love seemed furious at Obama for this debate when I talked to him on the phone.

10:12- Well that was certainly a bizarre exchange. Obama "denounced" Louis Farrakahn but said he couldn't reject his support because he couldn't "stop him from saying I am a good guy." Then Hillary said that she rejected the support of the Independence Party when they were anti-Semitic, and then Obama said "fine, if reject is stronger then I also reject." I'm not sure who looks worse, Obama for flipping around or Hillary for being small.

10:23- Alright, asking Hillary the name of the Russian guy who is succeeding Putin was silly and a true gotcha question. It's not like asking Bush about the leaders of three major countries, this is a guy who isn't president and who won't even really be calling the shots.

10:36- I thought the debate was pretty much like all many others. Hillary didn't score a major victory or change things in a big way. Minus an unexpected development in the next week, I think Barack Obama will win Texas and/or Ohio and will be the Democratic nominee.

The Israel Question (JM)

Obama today came out with some fairly strong rhetoric on the question of Israel. As quoted in the Jerusalem Post, via Matthew Yglesias, he had the following to say:

"I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud ap-proach to Israel, then you're anti-Israel, and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel," leading Democratic presidential contender Illinois Senator Barack Obama said Sunday.

"If we cannot have an honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we're not going to make progress," he said.

He also criticized the notion that anyone who asks tough questions about advancing the peace process or tries to secure Israel by anyway other than "just crushing the opposition" is being "soft or anti-Israel."

It's always difficult parsing out the almost coded language in which people tend to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Let's get a couple of things out of the way. This writer is of the belief that there absolutely ought to be a Palestinian homeland. There ought to be an attempt to establish a framework for peace involving not just these two groups, but the many surrounding nations as well. However, there also must be cessation of violence. The old phrase, "a good compromise leaves everyone angry" really applies well here. The problem is, that this anger often leads to violence, leaving it an open question of how compromise can ever be achieved.

So returning to the question of Obama's rhetoric, I largely have no problem with what he is trying to say. I don't think you have to agree with a "crush the opposition" approach to be a friend to Israel. What you do need to agree with is that such an approach exists on both sides. On both sides, there are factions that would will the other out of existence. My constant fear about the neo-Israel rhetoric is that often times it simply wants to lay the blame at Israel's door. Is Israel perfect? Of course not. But imagine trying to run a functioning democracy surrounded by several nations that simply want to wipe you off the face of the earth.

Now, since this came from the Jerusalem Post I am not certain what words of praise and mitigation also came from Obama. However, if he really wants to change the game plan in the Middle East simply blaming Israel isn't going to do it. In fact, getting out in front of this issue really means leaving behind blame and leaving behind responsibility. Obama should live up to his rhetoric of looking in to the future instead of the past and set aside this sort of sound and fury signifying nothing.

This is an intractable problem, but the blame game doesn't make it any better. In fact, marginalizing the hardliners on either side is simply going to bolster their attitudes. Some of the best compromises in Israel have come from some of its most hawkish leaders. Entwined in the pasts of both Israel and Palestine is history, emotion and nationalism. Looking to that past is not going to get us anywhere, rhetorical turns will also fall upon the rocks. Simply, forward-thinking pragmatism is the only chance we have, and that means not liminalizing either party in this negotiation.

Commercial Speech, Lipitor and Regulations, Oh My (JM)

Is there such a thing as distinctly commercial speech? Well throughout our legal history, since the Valentine decision in 1942, it has been considered a unique class of speech with varying levels of isolation. I am not going to bore you with a layman's con law history of "commercial speech" conceptions. Instead, the First Amendment Center provides a pretty good historical overview, if you're interested. I would rather get to the broader implications of this issue.

Pfizer today decided to remove those heinous Dr. Robert Jarvik advertisements for Lipitor. They were particularly disagreeable ads because Robert Jarvik is not a medical doctor of any sort. Of course, when we watch commercials like this, we have absolutely no point of reference for authority. Which is why, of course, it is insanely stupid to make your own medical decisions, especially on the basis of commercials (for instance, I am pretty sure I want Cialis, I equally sure I don't know what it does). But as crazy as self-diagnosis and self-medication is, it is a full on trend in American society. Mark Penn actually does a really good job laying out and establishing this pattern in his book Microtrends. The fact is, that more and more people are influenced by these advertisements.

This leads to one of the key problems with the "marketplace of ideas" metaphor that is supposed to protect us from any damage that granting absolute first amendment rights to commercial enterprises: we don't have perfect information. The "marketplace" is an awesome metaphor if all ideas have an opportunity to be weighed equally. However, that is so obviously not the case. Instead we live in a society where our exposure to these commercial ideas is essentially proportional to the money backing those ideas. Moreover, these ideas don't come at the public in the form of discourse and contention, but instead are highly stylized, culturized packets of noise with the express goal of connecting us with the object's identity without ever being connected to the explicit content of the object itself; again, I need Cialis, but I know not what it is. I know distortions of the marketplace are kind of my hobbyhorse, but the marketplace is not simply one dimensional and has many assumed aspects that are not necessarily as freeing as free-marketeers would have you believe.

Now in the case of medical drugs there is the presumed counterbalance of physician prescriptions. However, doctors are becoming increasingly complacent in their right to veto the prescription of drugs, ceding ever more to their patients' whims. An even deeper issue is that these very same drug companies intensely market doctors with free gifts, trips and incredibly attractive salespeople. The truth is that on both ends of the spectrum "commercial speech" is taking place, but rarely is that speech about the actual product.

It's this disconnect that worries me. It seems quite clear to me that commercial enterprises have a right to inform the public about their product, and in turn the people have a right to be informed. The problem is this shift from actually informing the public to the types of advertisements we see today. I think the government has a very real role in making sure to protect speech, but also guarantee that speech is informative. Of course, this sounds rife with the possibilities for corruption. Obviously some balance must be struck. However, on one hand government regulation tempered with commercial opposition might provide some good, while our other option is to allow commercial speech unfettered. People always assume this weird false dichotomy, it's either government intervention or freedom. That's missing the boat, it's either government intervention or market intervention (or any countless types of intervention), the point is freedom is always referential, it is not some natural state that is oppressed only by dint of governance.

Rhyme Time with Lord Finkelton (JM)

Alright, I admit, I spent a lot of time making fun of our favorite British journalist, Daniel Finkelstein. To be fair though, I generally like him more than not. And sometime he comes up with ideas like this. You see, over at the Times of London they are trying to find foods that rhyme with Nobel Prize Winners. The best amongst them:

Seamus Heaney - Ham Panini
(Nobel Laureate in Literature, 1995)

My suggestion: Saul Bellow = Lime Jello. I look forward to yours, but it doesn't have to just be Nobel Laureates, I would also accept Supreme Court Justices and famous British empiricists.

Dodd Endorses Obama, Potentially VP Candidate? (JM)

The Courant is reporting this morning that Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) is coming out to endorse Obama for President. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Dodd, this doesn't change my mind, but it does make me a little comfortable. One wonders about the timing, however. There is no particularly geographic or political imperative for Dodd to come out now. Given that he is going to have to work with Hillary in the Senate very closely, should she lose, it would have seemed more prudent for him to hold off.

The only thing I would speculate is that the Obama camp has enticed him via a cabinet post or perhaps even the number two slot. I am not sure being vice president holds much attraction for Dodd, unless he is going to have Cheney-level authority. However, he makes perfect sense for Obama. He is a senior statesman with an absurd amount of foreign policy experience. Also, although I am reasonable sure this isn't going to happen, but if Lieberman we're to get the VP nod on the other side we could see a debate between CT's two senators. Either way, the timing is enough to fuel the speculation, just a little.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Semiconductor Spintronics? More Like Schemiconductor Schimtronics! (JM)

Pure Spin Currents In Silicon Generated, Modulated, And Electrically Detected

Oh awesome… this should be good.

ScienceDaily (Dec. 5, 2007) — Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) have generated, modulated and electrically detected a pure spin current in silicon, the semiconductor used most widely in the electronic device industry. Magnetic contacts on the surface of an n-type silicon layer enable generation of a spin current which flows separately from a charge current. The spin orientation is electrically detected as a voltage at a second magnetic contact. The relative magnetizations of these contacts allow full control over the orientation of the spin in the silicon channel. This was accomplished in a lateral transport geometry using lithographic techniques compatible with existing device geometries and fabrication methods.

Riiiight, you expect us to believe you can detect spin electronically at the second magnetic contact without accounting for wave interference. Also relative magnetizations allow for full control? BS, my friends, BS. At least you had all your super awesome lithographic techniques.

This demonstration by NRL scientists is a key enabling step for developing devices which rely on electron spin rather than electron charge, an emergent field known as "semiconductor spintronics." Progress in this field is expected to lead to devices which provide higher performance with lower power consumption and heat dissipation.

Semiconductor spintronics?!! Hi, I’m Tycho Brahe, I study ancient physics. God, semiconductor spintronics, that is soooo 2003. It sounds like a gym class for god sakes.

The electronics industry has relied largely on the control of charge flow, and through size scaling (i.e. reducing the physical size of elements such as transistors) has continuously increased the performance of existing electronics. However, size scaling cannot continue indefinitely as atomic length scales are reached, and new approaches must be developed. Basic research efforts at NRL and elsewhere have shown that spin angular momentum, another fundamental property of the electron, can be used to store and process information in metal and semiconductor based devices.

You know what, maybe quitters would think scaling cannot continue indefinitely. I for one don’t think I would let atomic length scales stop me. Whatever.

The 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the discovery of giant magnetorsistance, a phenomenon based upon spin-polarized electron currents in metals. This research moved from discovery in 1988 to commercial products in approximately 10 years, and is credited with the availability of low-cost, high density hard disk drives which are widely found in consumer products ranging from computers to video games and hand-held electronics.

Sigh, why must we keep going through this. It was such total crap that the discovery of giant magnetorsistance won the 2007 Nobel Prize. Sumio Iijima was totally robber for his pioneering work on carbon nanotube, which ignited a revolution in both physics and chemistry. That was like when Crash won the Oscar that year, just as absurd.

The spin angular momentum of electrons can be used to store and process information in semiconductor devices just as in metals. Indeed, the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) has identified the use of the electron's spin as a new state variable that should be explored as an alternative to the electron's charge. The use of pure spin currents to process information is regarded as the "holy grail" of semiconductor spintronics, as it frees one from the constraints of capacitive time constants and resistive voltage drops and heat buildup which accompany charge motion.

The ITRS?! Seriously, they are such an activist international technology roadmap organization. Allowing the spin of electrons to be considered a new state variable is basically the quantum physics equivalent of judicially legalizing gay marriage. Perhaps we should have some empirical experimenting before we start on roadmaps. Ridiculous.

Much of the initial research success in this field was achieved in III-V semiconductors with a direct band gap such as gallium arsenide, where powerful optical spectroscopic techniques are relatively easy to apply and enable detailed insight into the behavior of the spin system. Significant strides have recently been made by NRL scientists to utilize spin transport in silicon, an indirect gap material, as they demonstrated efficient injection of spin-polarized electrons from a ferromagnetic metal contact (Nature Physics 3, 542 (2007)). They have now taken an important step towards the realization of a functional silicon spintronic device.

Hi, I’m the NRL. I love III-V semiconductors. No, really I do. It’s just like, silicon it’s pretty good too. Look, seriously, I don’t hate the III-V semiconductors, I am just looking for something a little different.

In this very recent work, NRL scientists first inject a spin polarized electrical current from a ferromagnetic iron / aluminum oxide tunnel barrier contact into silicon, which generates a pure spin current flowing in the opposite direction (see figure). This spin current produces shifts in the spin-dependent electrochemical potential, which can be electrically detected outside of the charge path at a second magnetic contact as a voltage.

A Play

Spin Current Flowing in the Opposite Direction (aka. SCOFDY): Excuse me, what are you doing here?

Daniel Finkelstein: Gee willikers, I dunno SCFOD! I was just going for a stroll down the lou and ran in to a bobby, I ran in to the lift up to a flat and here I am.

SCOFDY: I am pretty sure Jonathan ran out of jokes and your entry in to this play is at least guaranteed to make Dennis laugh.

Daniel Finkelstein: Jolly good… spot of tea?

SCOFDY: Well, as an esoteric physical concept I don’t really have a mouth…

Daniel Finkelstein: Right-o! How about a coffee then?


The NRL team showed that this voltage is sensitive to the relative orientation of the spin in the silicon and the magnetization of the detecting contact. They further showed that the orientation of the spin in the silicon could be uniformly rotated by an applied magnetic field, a process referred to as coherent precession, demonstrating that information could be successfully imprinted into the spin system and read out as a voltage. The generation of spin currents, coherent spin precession and electrical detection using magnetic tunnel barrier contacts and a simple lateral device geometry compatible with "back-end" silicon processing will greatly facilitate development of silicon-based spintronic devices.

Are you sure you mean magnetic tunnel barrier contacts are you sure you don’t mean vulcanize spherical physiotronic devices? Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

The complete findings of this study, titled "Electrical injection and detection of spin-polarized carriers in silicon in a lateral transport geometry," are published in the 19 November 2007 issue of Applied Physics Letters.

When I was a little kid, every night before I went to bed my parents would read me “Electrical injection and detection of spin-polarized carriers in silicon in a later transport geometry”. I would smile and fall asleep content. Then, one day I saw the side of the journal… and it said Applied Physics Letters, November 2007. The journal was from the future… the journal was from the future!

The NRL research team includes Drs. Berend Jonker, Olaf van 't Erve, Aubrey Hanbicki, Connie Li, Mike Hollub and Chaffra Awo-Affouda from the Materials Science and Technology Division, and Phillip Thompson from the Electronics Science and Technology Division. This work was supported by NRL core programs and the Office of Naval Research.

Look, I will spare you the obvious Olaf van’t Erve joke. Let’s just say we all know what goes down at the NRL, we all know.

Ralph Nader (Dennis)

Very close readers of AOTG and friends of mine are possibly aware that, early on in college, I was a Green Party supporter, so it is appropriate that I mark his entrance into the race with a post.

I really think it's time for Ralph to shuffle off the stage of politics. He now has the feel of a comedian who doesn't realize that his act stopped being funny 30 minutes ago and that the audience is beginning to squirm in their seats. I don't fear, however, that Nader's presence in the race will be a serious threat to a Democrat getting elected in 2008. Absent a Florida 2000-like scenario where one candidate's victory over another is so small that it could reasonably attributed to a near infinite variety of sources (poorly designed ballots, a badly run campaign, a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon), I don't believe we'll be waking up on the Wednesday after Election Day shaking our fists at Nader. Sure he may get some votes, but so won't the Prohibition Party and whatever candidate right wing crazy pissed off fringe Republicans run against McCain (here's your chance Dick Cheney!).

I am beginning to tire though, of liberals who are now ripping Nader apart as some sort of selfish fraud who gave them George Bush. Let's be clear: the man who gave us George Bush more than anyone outside the Bush campaign was Al Gore. Al Gore is great now, but in 2000 he ran a weasily milquetoast campaign that wasn't inspiring anyone. Remember John Kerry? Al Gore looked worse and less principled in 2000. Even Al Gore has shown us how clearly he regrets that campaign by being exactly the opposite of 2000 Al Gore from the moment he gave his concession speech.

Nader in 2000 ran a principled campaign based on issues that simply were not being addressed by either party: universal healthcare, workers rights in a rapidly globalizing economy, and environmentalism (yes, even Al Gore, Mr. Nobel Prize, did not make environmentalism a centerpiece of his 2000 campaign). What Nader voters saw in 2000 (not me, I was 16 at the time and probably would have voted for Gore) was a Democratic candidate who mainly supported giving more drugs and more money to old people and a Republican candidate who supported those things except with tax rates that would cripple the budget and judges who might overturn Roe v. Wade. I think it was perfectly reasonable at the time to support neither of those two choices.

I am of the opinion that we who believe the system is broken and corrupt should never shout down people for saying that the system is totally broken and corrupt and needs to be run against, simply because it hurts our chances in the next election. For many years, Ralph Nader stood up for ideas to which mainstream Democrats have only recently begun to champion, and it's because of people like him that the Democratic party is now arguing not whether to use the government to achieve universal health care, but how to do it. Shame on those who now want to kick him to the curb for actually acting on his belief that the two parties are hopelessly controlled by big money.

100th Post (JM)

Since I noticed that my Daniel Day-Shoeless post brought us to 99 posts, I might as well go for the gold. Here's our 100th post. Less than a month here at AOTG and we've been linked at Politico and TPM. But mostly we love doing this and we hope to around for awhile. We hope you enjoy reading as much as we enjoy writing. Feel free to drop us a line or any suggestions you might have. And to my most recent e-mailer... leaving Maureen Dowd alone is not a suggestion that will fly around here. Talk to you all soon!

Daniel Day-Shoeless (JM)

Whether it is the love a good shoe-related pun or the love of Daniel Day-Lewis I thought I would share this gem with the good folks at AOTG. Apparently, Daniel Day-Lewis spent a summer working as an apprentice to a high-end Italian shoemaker because he found it fascinating. This is Daniel's world, we just live in it... Also, there is a shoeblog... yep, that's right, a shoeblog...

Superdelegates Should Decide on Their Own (JM)

Mostly I am using the post to link to an excellent op-ed piece in the NYT from Geraldine Ferraro about why superdelegates ought to vote for the best representative for the party, not just follow the delegate count. Her position is quite clear and well argued. She points out that this not a terribly democratic process to begin with, that at most 15 percent of registered Democrats voted the primary/caucuses and that because some of the caucuses are open it is not exactly a measure of Democratic will. I found this bit of her argument particularly noteworthy:

Perhaps because I have endorsed Mrs. Clinton, I have noticed that most of the people complaining about the influence of the superdelegates are supporters of Mr. Obama. I can’t help thinking that their problem with the superdelegates may not be that they’re “unrepresentative,” but rather that they are perceived as disproportionately likely to support Mrs. Clinton.

And I am watching, with great disappointment, people whom I respect in the Congress who endorsed Hillary Clinton — I assume because she was the leader they felt could best represent the party and lead the country — now switching to Barack Obama with the excuse that their constituents have spoken.

I may be a cynic, but I’m a fairly knowledgeable political cynic. If Mr. Obama wins the nomination, those members are undoubtedly concerned that they would be inviting a primary challenge in their next re-election campaign by failing to support his candidacy.

But if they are actually upset over the diminished clout of rank-and-file Democrats in the presidential nominating process, then I would love to see them agitating to force the party to seat the delegates elected by the voters in Florida and Michigan. In those two states, the votes of thousands of rank-and-file party members will not be counted because their states voted on dates earlier than those authorized by the national party.

Read the entire column, it is worth it regardless of your position. The storms a'brewing, and if Clinton wins Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania it will happen. Get ready for an exciting convention folks.

Second Life to Second Strife or Life As We Know It Continues (JM)

Sometimes in life we come across a story so amazing that we know our world will never be the same. However this is a story that makes me fundamentally sure that, as we move along in to the digital age, life as we know it will continue. It lies at the nexus of two special brands of people: supporters of the Front National and people who use Second Life. You see, Jean-Marie Le Pen rightist, nativist leader of the Front National has opened a political party office within one of the worlds within Second Life. Immediately after this happened massive digital protests formed outside his virtual office. Apparently some of the virtual protesters threw exploding pigs at Le Pen and his office.

A few thoughts on this. First of all, as Second Life protects digital private property and institutions it is quickly becoming clear that the digital simulacrum is actually not really that much different than the world in which we live. To be sure, it was initially an artificially even playing surface, which is nice, but slowly but surely it will turn in to the uneven economic realm we have come to know. Secondly, it's great to know that political contention will not change one bit; albeit with a slight more cartoonish quality. I actually think this presents a distinct advantage to the digital realm, in that cathartic violent forms of political contention can be enacted, without any physical harm accruing. But it cuts another way, at the point digital institutions replace real institutions the lines of contention become less real. In other words, institutions are already quite unreal, quite inhuman, can you imagine what Marx would have had to say about alienation from digital labor? Now, we have alienation from political life and social life as well.

One just cannot help but wonder if this changes the rules of the game or if it's just the same old song. But the other totally interesting part of this is that it's blatant nationalists that are taking up the political cause in the digital realm. Take a look at the at FN's press release regarding their entry in to Second Life. They are there for the discrete purpose of promoting French language and French institutions. This is fascinating, because if there is any political alignment that faces a real threat from international digital universes, it is nationalist/nativists. As the digital universe tears down borders and identity groups, groups that play politics with this kind of identity have become incredibly fearful. The real question is what assumed boundaries will be preexistent in the digital world. Second Life has already made its choice; corporatism and capitalistic identities are preserved, while national and cultural identities are quashed. It will be interesting to see how this plays out on both ends, and whether this is truly the revolutionary new change for which we've been waiting.

What Lies in Wait or Bill Kristol is Hiding in Your Bushes (JM)

It’s All About Him


Normally I wouldn’t touch William Kristol with a ten-foot pole. It’s like shooting proverbial terrible conservative writers in a barrel. However, I am going to make an exception for this piece, because is emblematic of the type of bombardment Barack Obama is about to face in the general election, should Hillary not pull out the miracle.*

Last October, a reporter asked Barack Obama why he had stopped wearing the American flag lapel pin that he, like many other public officials, had been sporting since soon after Sept. 11. Obama could have responded that his new-found fashion minimalism was no big deal. What matters, obviously, is what you believe and do, not what you wear.

Way to start us off with a William Howard Taft-sized lie. If Obama has proclaimed he removed the flag pin because of fashion minimalism, you would be skewering him for that as well. This article would have started: “No big deal, Barack Obama said choosing not to be patriotic is no big deal.”

But Obama chose to present his flag-pin removal as a principled gesture. “You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin. Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest.”

This a bit pompous, I grant you that. But the sentiment is totally fair.

Leave aside the claim that “speaking out on issues” constitutes true patriotism. What’s striking is that Obama couldn’t resist a grandiose explanation. Obama’s unnecessary and imprudent statement impugns the sincerity or intelligence of those vulgar sorts who still choose to wear a flag pin. But moral vanity prevailed. He wanted to explain that he was too good — too patriotic! — to wear a flag pin on his chest.

I agree that the explanation was a bit… err… high-minded, but the sentiment is totally legitimate. I mean seriously Bill, may I call you Bill… do you really not think that dissent and courage is amongst the most patriotic of virtues? You can feel free to question whether Obama really has spoken out on controversial issues, but not the principle itself.

Fast forward to last Monday in Wisconsin. Michelle Obama, in the course of a stump speech, remarked, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”

Michelle Obama’s adult life goes back to the mid-1980s. Can it really be the case that nothing the U.S. achieved since then has made her proud? Apparently. For, as she said later in the same appearance: “Life for regular folks has gotten worse over the course of my lifetime, through Republican and Democratic administrations. It hasn’t gotten much better.”

It’s pretty clear that this is not what she meant. Was it a politically stupid thing to say? Yes. Why? Because people like you will continually repeat it without reference to clarification and content.

Now in almost every empirical respect, American lives have in fact gotten better over the last quarter-century. And most Americans — and most Democrats — don’t think those years were one vast wasteland. So Barack Obama hastened to clarify his wife’s remarks. “What she meant was, this is the first time that she’s been proud of the politics of America,” he said, “because she’s pretty cynical about the political process, and with good reason, and she’s not alone.” Later in the week, Michelle Obama further explained, “What I was clearly talking about was that I’m proud of how Americans are engaging in the political process.”

You know, if you’re going to use a phrase like, “almost every empirical aspect”, perhaps you ought to provide some empirical evidence. It’s true, there are certainly things that were pretty good over the last fifteen years. However, it is crazy to claim that in all respects we’re better off when the rich/poor divide has gotten more and more extreme over the last fifteen years. People continue to assume that an increase in total wealth is the only relevant measurement of economic health, but there are two other factors to consider that do not speak well for this nation in the last fifteen years. The first is distribution of wealth and the second is the buying power of the limited wealth the working class has. Both of these are ways in which the U.S. hasn’t been great empirically over the last fifteen years.

But that clearly isn’t what she was talking about. For as she had argued in the Wisconsin speech, America’s illness goes far beyond a flawed political process: “Barack knows that at some level there’s a hole in our souls.” This was a variation of language she had used earlier on the campaign trail: “Barack Obama is the only person in this race who understands that, that before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation.”

Okay, that quote is, in no way, evidence that Michelle Obama didn’t mean what she said she meant. In fact, it kind of lends credence to the theory of new politics. That said, if this is a real quote that’s really super disturbing and kind of makes me want to vomit.

But they can be repaired. Indeed, she had said a couple of weeks before, in Los Angeles: “Barack Obama ... is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.”

Alright, seriously? I have to wonder what’s hiding behind that ellipsis. But if this is basically the quote, I am again kind of disturbed. It makes me wonder why you didn’t lead with this. This is crazy, this is like some hopped-up aerobic instructor/cult leader running for President. Weird…

So we don’t have to work to improve our souls. Our broken souls can be fixed — by our voting for Barack Obama. We don’t have to fight or sacrifice to help our country. Our uninvolved and uninformed lives can be changed — by our choosing Barack Obama. America can become a nation to be proud of — by letting ourselves be led by Barack Obama.

You were sooooo on the cusp of a good point and just overdid it by a lot. This is precisely the opposite of Obama’s general message, which is he can’t do this alone, that he needs the people with him to create a movement for change. I am cynical about this, but can easily spy the opposite of the truth which is your above paragraph.

John Kennedy, to whom Obama is sometimes compared, challenged the American people to acts of citizenship and patriotism. Barack Obama allows us to feel better about ourselves.

This is also part of the Obama scheme. This is sad Billy, may I call you Billy… we were on the same page for a minute there, but now you’re just flat out lying. Obama called for national service and has claimed he is going to demand sacrifices of the American people. It’d be nice to know what sacrifices, but still… it’s not just a cult of him.

Obama likes to say, “we are the change that we seek” and “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Obama’s rhetorical skill makes his candidacy appear almost collective rather than individual. That’s a democratic courtesy on his part, and one flattering to his followers. But the effectual truth of what Obama is saying is that he is the one we’ve been waiting for.

What is it about NYT columnist and their ability to just assert things as true. Here is a lot of evidence for X, but of course we all know the truth is negation X. I mean I suppose that is the only way to survive as a neocon, but still: wretch.

Barack Obama is an awfully talented politician. But could the American people, by November, decide that for all his impressive qualities, Obama tends too much toward the preening self-regard of Bill Clinton, the patronizing elitism of Al Gore and the haughty liberalism of John Kerry?

What are all people who were or would be waaaaaaaaay better presidents than GWB or eleventy billion year old John McCain.

It’s fitting that the alternative to Obama will be John McCain. He makes no grand claim to fix our souls. He doesn’t think he’s the one everyone has been waiting for. He’s more proud of his country than of himself. And his patriotism has consisted of deeds more challenging than “speaking out on issues.”

Oh Billiam, may I call you Billiam… I agree, McCain has done way more good for this country. I would totally vote for John McCain if I wasn’t convinced he might invade Mexico. Seriously, McCain has been for and against tax cuts, has a spotty record on the environment despite rhetoric to the otherwise and has espoused socially conservative opinions that make it more likely he’ll about more Scalias to the bench.

This type of argument; quotes out of context, questioning of patriotism and attacks on experience is what await us in the general. I have no doubt we can win, no matter who the candidate is, but it simply not going to be easy. Too many Obama supporters I know think that his numbers in red states and lovability will make Barack almost impossible to beat in the general. This is foolish, and this is how we lose the general. We will lose many of the states Obama has won in the primaries and McCain is a very different sort of competition amongst independents. He has this bizarro outsider appeal, while still having tons of experience and nearly unassailable character credentials (despite evidence to the otherwise). We as Democrats need to be ready for this, and should start with a couple of important things: 1) Both Obamas and their surrogates have to be very very careful with their language over the coming months, maybe add some traditional patriotic rhetoric to their stump. A sort of “only in America, could I have gained this opportunity” kind of speech would be a winning effort; 2) resist the call of picking a fresh-faced VP. The Obama camp seems to be in love with newer red state Democratics. It would be a mistake to add some one like Governor Sebelius to the ticket, instead he needs to balance with experience and strength (also she is the least compelling speaker I have seen in a long time, even if she gets reelected in Kansas). The best choices for Obama would be Joe Biden, Wesley Clark, or even Hillary should she be willing to accept (probably not though).

Anyway, prepare to be ill, prepare to hear all about Barack Hussein Obama, prepare to hear about drugs, prepare to hear about Rezko. For all y’all who had a problem with the way Clinton campaigned, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Not even the tip of the iceberg. It’s going to get way worse before it gets better.

*This author is fully cognizant of the fact that some people, perhaps certain co-bloggers of mine, would not consider this a miracle.