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March 27, 2015 9:33 AM Weekend Film Recommendation: Lola Rennt [Run Lola Run]

By Johann Koehler

Screen shot 2015-03-27 at 02.31.24

Everything in Tykwer’s representation of Berlin is heavily stylized. The film’s main premise has barely been set up before we’re assaulted with techno-music, split-screens, color-switches, and cartoon sequences. It’s an intentional sensory overload, and it’s relentless until the film’s 81st and final minute. This fanciful stylization fits neatly with the general improbability of the film’s premise. Tykwer adds yet another layer of stylization, however, by introducing the most video-game conceit available: Lola has three lives to make this work. Each twenty minute attempt is replayed from the same starting point when Lola picks up Manni’s phone call, and on each occasion we notice minute differences that play out with momentously different outcomes.

At times, it’s unclear how much of a commitment Tykwer really makes to this video-game conceit. It’s not as though Lola keeps learning from the mistakes of previous attempts as we might otherwise expect, although there are nonetheless some perceptible continuities between episodes (the highly astute viewer will pick up little Easter eggs left in each re-telling that weave together their own little sub-plots). It’s also not clear how much of the departure in outcomes from one episode to the next is attributable to differences in Lola’s actions alone (for example, whether Lola trips over a dog is hardly related to an old lady’s victory on the lottery).

All the same, the video-game-slash-butterfly-effect conceit enables Tykwer to do something that would otherwise be a real challenge with what is essentially a storyline constrained to twenty minute bursts: he constructs characters in whom we become unmistakably and sympathetically invested. This is quite the accomplishment, and it’s achieved in a variety of ways. One is by transitioning to an altogether different medium when representing Lola and Manni’s intimate moments, which are captured in sequences of still photographs rather than video to charge these otherwise ephemeral moments with emphasis and sentimentality. Another is by providing indulgently unnecessary glimpses that project forward into the lives of people who are only tangentially affected by Lola’s actions. In both of these, viewers aren’t just invited to watch the story; they’re gleefully being forced by Tykwer to consume it exactly how he wants you to, which is to say with disoriented intrigue.

Screen shot 2015-03-27 at 02.33.29

That’s why watching each of the three episodes is equivalent to taking a triple shot of espresso, washed down with a can of Red Bull, and rounded out with an open-handed slap to the face. The film’s 81 minutes go by quickly enough, but you’re left without an opportunity to process what’s just happened in front of - or, more accurately, to - your senses. The mere fact that each episode begins by rehearsing an almost identical opening does little to center you as a viewer, and denies you the moments that would be necessary to re-calibrate yourself to new surroundings.

However, while Lola Rennt is disorienting, the pace is thoughtfully conceived; the experience isn’t discombobulating in the way a badly-executed action film sequence, which flits between shots twenty times in fifteen seconds, might be. On the contrary, Lola Rennt is exquisitely composed so that the disorientation is tightly managed and draws your attention through to the next frame, so that we hope for reprieve in the story rather than full resolution. It’s remarkable.

Lola Rennt treads over similar philosophical ground as other films of this ilk: fate, time, chaos, and agency are all joyfully thrown around as though there’s meaning in the questions… but Tykwer knowingly dismisses any invitation to grapple with them in any serious way beyond the existential resignation to ‘let things stand as they must.’ The result is a film that some will find frustratingly shallow, and others will find enjoyably provocative.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

March 26, 2015 5:48 PM Graduated Re-Entry and the Rhetoric of Reaction

By Mark Kleiman

This country has about five times as many people in prison and jail (per capita) as it ever had before 1975, and about seven times as many as other economically and socially advanced countries. Unfortunately, and contrary to current myth, most of those people aren’t innocent, and aren’t harmless “NonNonNons.” More than half are currently serving time for a violent offense, and many of the rest have prior convictions involving violence. So we can’t escape the mass incarceration trap by releasing “low-risk” offenders; to get back to a civilized rate of imprisonment, we need to get some seriously guilty people out of cellblocks. The current system of taking someone who is locked up (and fed, clothed, and housed at public expense) one day and turning him loose the next day under sporadic supervision, with $40 and our very best wishes for success in his future endeavors, is obviously idiotic, and the results are predictably rotten.

Angela Hawken, Ross Halperin, and I have proposed an alternative system of early release under tight supervision and with supported transitional work and housing, plus strong incentives – in the form of gradually increasing liberty – to find and hold non-supported employment.  Since nothing precisely like this has been tried before – that’s true of any genuinely original idea – there’s no way to predict precisely what the results would be, but there’s enough data on specific elements of the plan, including the swift-certain-fair approach to sanctioning misconduct and rewarding compliance and achievement, to give us reasonable confidence that some version of “graduated re-entry” would outperform the current system.

Leon Neyfakh at Slate runs the idea past a distinguished criminologist and a leading advocate of decarceration. Their responses illustrate  that the use of  Albert Hirschman’s  “rhetoric of reaction” is not restricted to one side of the political spectrum. Every new idea, Hirschman says, is attacked on three bases: futility, perversity, , and jeopardy. That is, the idea can’t possibly work, will actually have the opposite of its intended effect, and will create appalling risks.

Of course, all of those things might be true about any given proposal – there are a lot more bad new ideas than there are good ones – but they can also serve as mere reflex reactions, designed to cut off debate rather than foster it.

The standard “perversity” argument against more effective community corrections systems is that they will “widen the net”: instead of substituting for incarceration, they will be added on top of incarceration. They are said to be futile on the grounds that punishment has been demonstrated not to work. And the jeopardy is that, since attempts at control are doomed to fail, closer monitoring and more consistent sanctioning will only further entrap offenders in the web of the carceral state.

In fact, properly implemented swift-certain-fair approaches demonstrably succeed in changing behavior, and demonstrably reduce recidivism and days-behind-bars. But the rhetoric of reaction is designed to be fact-proof.

Otherwise it would be hard to figure out how anyone could imagine that a program that starts with people currently in prison and not scheduled to get out would possibly “widen the net.” Obviously, a graduated re-entry program is more restrictive than unconditional release: that’s the whole point. And insofar as we can identify current prisoner who would be good candidates for unconditional release, using graduated re-entry on that population instead of letting them out unconditionally would involve unnecessary expense, unnecessary intrusion, and, yes, the risk that people who would have made it on their own will instead get tripped up in a cycle of technical violation and re-incarceration. But surely there must be some population not safe to simply turn loose but safe enough to turn loose under the right sort of close monitoring. Maybe that population is small, in which case the benefits of graduated re-entry will be limited, though it still might turn out to be true that a phased re-entry will work better than a sudden re-entry.

Here’s my challenge to those who oppose graduated re-entry on the grounds that it’s too tough on offenders: Imagine that you were in prison, or that your son or brother was in prison.  Would you prefer having the next year of that sentence be served in the new “super-min” program, or on a cellblock?  Once you ask the question that way, the answer should be fairly obvious.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

March 26, 2015 3:34 PM What Could Ted Cruz Win?

By Seth Masket

People may be tiring of analyzing Ted Cruz’s presidential prospects by now. (Hell, I’m tired of it, and I’m actually writing a post on it right now. I’m actually tired of this post already.) But there’s a bit of conflation in some of these stories that I wanted to chime in on.

A lot of people are talking about whether Cruz could win or not, and that’s where the comparisons to Ronald Reagan come in (e.g.: here and here). But we should be more explicit about just what we think Cruz could win, the nomination or the general election. Those are very, very different contests.

Cruz is greatly disadvantaged in his quest for the Republican nomination, for the reasons that Harry Enten and others note. The things that candidates need to win a major party nomination — endorsements by major party insiders, broad acceptance or at least toleration by various factions within the party, etc. — are things that Cruz just doesn’t have. His political career thus far has been defined by pissing off important people within his party. No one’s been nominated for president pursuing that strategy in four decades, and more than a few have tried. Besides, there are plenty of solid candidates running this cycle whom party insiders actually like.

But let’s say he somehow overcomes that and gets the nomination. Could he win a general election against Hillary Clinton, or any other mainstream Democratic nominee? Of course he could. His ideologically extreme stances would certainly hurt him, but not fatally. Candidates’ ideological positions do matter, but they can be outweighed by things like a collapsing economy or an unpopular war. Ronald Reagan is proof of this. He remains one of the most ideologically extreme major party nominees (for his time) since World War II, but the economy and foreign policy under Jimmy Carter were bad enough in 1980 that Reagan’s stances didn’t prevent his election. Similarly, if the economy tanks in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s in trouble and could easily lose to Ted Cruz. She’ll already face a bit of a headwind just by representing a party that’s held the White House for two terms.

So to sum up: Cruz’s chance of getting the Republican nomination are extremely slim. His chances of winning the presidency should he somehow get the nomination? Not bad. Not bad at all.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

March 26, 2015 9:29 AM Culture Crash: The Most Important Book of 2015

By Michael O'Hare

I have wrung my hands in the past, in this space and elsewhere, about the collapse of a workable market for digital goods.  I find it hard to get people as excited about this as I am–if I still had enough hair for anyone to notice it would be on fire–but I have some help from Scott Timberg now  so I am going to try again.  Short version: buy this book, Culture Crash, and read it. Now. I believe it is the Piketty of 2015, and the first book I’ve stayed up to read straight through at one sitting–sometimes literally in tears, both of pain and of rage– in years.  It is not just about culture, but about whatever really big issue you lie awake worrying about.

Long post, get a cup of coffee (no, not a substitute for the book; read it) .

Backing up for a running start: digital goods are basically all text, images, audio, and video embodied in computer files.  Not physical first editions of books, not oil paintings on canvas, not live music performances, not live stage plays and dance, but: newspaper articles, mp3 files of music, Kindle books, movies, this blog post. These goods are only made for us by creators of various kinds (reporters, composers, novelists, actors, columnists, performers, etc.) who traditionally have had distinctive competences and vision that make their work special, whether art or the kind of journalism that kicks off hearings and indictments, or gets legislation passed.  Absolute necessities for these creators are a roof over their heads and bread on the table; if we don’t pay them for what they are good at, the ones who don’t have trust funds go to work at WalMart, or the local cafe, or a bank. Too bad for them, but also for us: it means less of it (or none) for us, and worse because the creators’ concentration and focus is constantly broken.

All this content used to be distributed as physical stuff like CDs, books, and newspapers that allowed publishers of various kinds to charge for the product and pay the creators. Newspapers and magazines had a more complicated scheme that sold consumers’ attention to advertisers.  We paid a quarter for a newspaper to get the content, Macy’s and hundreds of individuals paid the publisher to put their ads next to the content or in the classified section, the newspaper paid reporters, editors, artists, and printers to generate the stories and the physical product, and the system more or less worked. It delivered us so-so to excellent news and commentary, created by professionals who had time to interview, travel, read, and think, and did it full-time because they were paid enough for that work to put dinner on the table. Some of these pros were paid a lot, but most were middle-class with health insurance and some retirement.  Similar systems called forth and delivered us the Beatles, Of Mice and Men, Frank Sinatra, the New York Philharmonic, Partisan Review, and Casablanca.

It was protected from theft by copyright,  by reproduction technology, and the economic structure of the production process.  Copying music from a CD or vinyl (or the radio) was a real-time (slow) one-by-one business with a cassette recorder, that made an inferior copy that didn’t compete well with CDs. Copying text was a matter of standing in front of a copy machine and ending up with something much less convenient than a real book.  Industrial copying, even after offset printing which didn’t require resetting a book’s type, had a high fixed cost for presses and equipment, same with business-scale cd piracy.  So large-scale theft happened at a few places, and thus could be enforced against well enough to keep everyone fed.

Finally, the kludgy systems of the recent past carried price signals to creators that gave some idea of what to do more of (or less) to create the most value.  A big hit sold lots of records and royalties flowed, while money from a song few people liked dribbled in fitfully, and producers reacted.

These systems were far from perfect: musicians and writers were ripped off and tineared guys in suits had too much to say about what content would be published. The price signals were pretty noisy: to get a hit single, you had to buy a $14 CD with 11 b sides, and the CD you listened to over and over sent the same royalty signal as the one you heard one disappointing time and put on the shelf. But the systems worked–again, well enough.

When all this content became digital and the web and personal computers allowed instant free distribution and near-instant copying (Timberg enriches this one-chapter story usefully), the whole jury-rigged system fell apart, and Timberg’s book is a tour of the wreckage that is both heartbreaking and terrifying. Talented people, who want nothing but to give us the best art and news they can:  waiting on tables, losing their houses, and trying to make ends meet doing work that wastes their real abilities.  The personal cost, and basic injustice, of this slow catastrophe are reason enough to hit the street with pitchforks and torches, but there’s more, and worse.   Here’s an example from the world of music: as the income stream from recordings has dried up. Musicians (already beat about the head and shoulders by the operation of Baumol’s disease ) can only earn money from live performance.  Live performance is good, but requires an economically large audience in one place, so the great promise of the web, that artists could have small publics distributed around the world, is denied when web listening can’t be monetized. Furthermore, live performance doesn’t pay at all in small venues, so popular music (for example) is driven to acts that work in an arena so big that sound is a jumble and what you see is out of sync with what you hear.  String quartet, gal leaning on a piano singing a ballad? Fuggeddaboudid.

Perhaps the worst thing about where we are now is that we cannot see all the great stuff we don’t have, but could.  And young people can’t even remember what life was like when we did have lots of great stuff, and there were two real newspapers in town, both full of news reported, written, and edited by experts. When the LA Times model was “print it once and print it all.” We are frogs in a gently warming saucepan.

I think life without music and literature isn’t worth living. Your mileage may differ; fine; some people like Frescobaldi and some like football. But what about global warming; is that a big deal for you?  Do you think we need to do something about income inequality and refractory unemployment? Are you at all worried about US health care costing more and working worse than every other industrialized country’s? Care if we invade and occupy another Middle Eastern country? You might, then, think about how a democratic society (or any society, actually) can get on top of any of these problems in the absence of public deliberation and news (yes, that’s the aroma of burning hair).  I know, there’s a blogger with a readership that will fit in your living room out there, perhaps on an academic salary, saying something that needs to be heard to stabilize the climate, but it doesn’t matter, or help, if she can’t be found or read.  Deliberation, analysis, and plain news is what we’ve lost more than half of, by column inch or any other measure, as our newspapers, magazines, radio and TV news have crumpled and crumbled for want of a viable economic structure.

Impoverishing content creators, then, is not just a matter of hurting people who deserve better. It’s a matter of tearing at our own collective flesh like Saturn devouring his children. The crisis in media is not just a crisis of media, it is a creeping gangrene of the whole society. When we have no way to pay competent journalists to tell us the truth, the Koch brothers and Murdoch and the people they play golf with still have money to tell us what it’s good for them for us to hear, and what will get them a larger and larger slice of the pie.

Timberg has hit a home run here, but not a grand slam. His gritty, textured tour of desperate, stifled, sabotaged creators, maimed culture, and cheated audiences, arrayed on an erudite and thoughtful framework of intellectual/artistic/market convention trends is a tour de force, but it would have been even stronger if he had engaged with Howard Becker’s indispensable Art Worlds ).

His prescriptions get mushy and vague–not enough things someone can actually do, and too many hoped-for outcomes–partly because he never explains the basic economics of digital content, and because he doesn’t confront iron constraints on content consumption.  As to the first, we meet file-sharing teenagers as pirates who should somehow be paying to listen, but we aren’t reminded that people who breathe the common air and walk on the sidewalk for free aren’t thieves in anyone’s view.  Digital content, as Timberg would learn from an hour with an economist and a blackboard, is a public good, non-rival and pretty much non-excludible despite efforts at DRM technical fencing and RIAA own-foot-shooting litigation. It must be provided at a consumer price of zero, and it is that way essentially and intrinsically, not because someone decided it should be. The sidewalk would be a public good even if it didn’t exist, or if a crazy libertarian mayor tried to charge people to walk on it; gasoline is not a public good no matter how much of it Maduro gives away to Venezuelans.

Of course reporters are not going to write for us for free, any more than the contractor built the sidewalk out of charity. The other design specification for the salvation of a free society (sic) and world culture (sic) is to pay creators, with public funds, in a way that signals (more or less well) the value they create (and, of course, protects them from censorship and coercion and also preserves consumer privacy). I am mystified that Timberg never tripped on the work of Lawrence Lessig and Neil Netanel. Or Terry Fisher,  who sketched the first (and to my knowledge, only) model for a workable digital goods regime.

As regards consumption limits and how they constrain the size of content markets, the whole media economics world, as far as I know, regularly fails to recognize what it means that:

  • each consumer has only about 16 waking hours a day over a lifetime to listen, read, and do everything else;
  • each new consumer has to accumulate her own cultural and intellectual capital starting from scratch;
  • Ariadne auf Naxos to the contrary, Baumol’s disease on the demand-side precludes reading two books at a time, or listening to Handel’s Largo prestissimo, or seeing all of Vermeer at once by squashing thumbnails onto a single screen; and
  • it’s essential to culture that content be both shared (everyone should not have his own private novel and symphony–or newspaper) and cumulative.

Every new work thus has to displace something from this finite attention space–most tragically, something that the contemporary artist may be expecting us to know in order to best engage with his new work. The capacity of society to consume content (especially art) does not increase with population, and each generation has a larger repertory to winnow. We have to constantly let go of really precious stuff–not always old stuff–and this has fell implications for the content market.

Timberg hasn’t wrapped up this most-important policy-analytic challenge and tied it with a ribbon.  But if this book is taken the right way, he will have put the work before us in a way we can only ignore if we have both hearts and brains of stone.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

March 26, 2015 9:23 AM John Sladek Had Ted Cruz’s Number

By Henry Farrell

Ted Cruz on … well himself.

The similarities between Texas Senator Ted Cruz and 16th-century astronomer Galileo Galilei are remarkable, according to Cruz. In an interview on Tuesday with the Texas Tribune, the newly-minted presidential candidate compared himself to … Galileo when discussing, of all things, whether climate change was actually occurring. “Today the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers,” Cruz said. “You know it used to be it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.” … “Anyone who actually points to the evidence that disproves their apocalyptical claims, they don’t engage in reasoned debate. What do they do? They scream, ‘You’re a denier.’ They brand you a heretic,” Cruz added.

The late John Sladek discusses the ubiquity of this trope among crankish defenders of pseudoscience (specifically palm-readers) in his glorious book, The New Apocrypha.

Palmists are of course in no doubt as to who was right. As with all cranks, they feel they haven’t been given a fair hearing and that orthodoxy is ganging up on them. [quoting palmistry author Noel Jaquin] “The reward of the pioneer is so often the ridicule of his fellow-men. We are not very much more just today. Of recent years men of genius have been deprived of their living and literally hounded to death by the ridicule of their more ignorant brethren.” How true, how true. They laughed at Galileo, they laughed at Darwin, they laughed at Edison … and they laughed at Punch and Judy.

[Cross-posted at Crooked Timber]

March 25, 2015 1:17 PM The Bottom of the Pit

By James Wimberley

Will Rogers said it first:

When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging.

From an IEA press release on Friday 13 March (sic), my emphasis:

Global emissions of carbon dioxide stood at 32.3 billion tonnes in 2014, unchanged from the preceding year. […]
In the 40 years in which the IEA has been collecting data on carbon dioxide emissions, there have only been three times in which emissions have stood still or fallen compared to the previous year, and all were associated with global economic weakness: the early 1980′s; 1992 and 2009. In 2014, however, the global economy expanded by 3%.

This statistic is highly reliable. The IEA was set up in 1974 with the initial task

to help countries co-ordinate a collective response to major disruptions in oil supply through the release of emergency oil stocks.

Keeping tabs on the oil market and giving advance warning of another price spike means counting barrels of oil, and later wagons of coal and millions of cubic feet of gas. It’s what they do for a living. If you want to challenge their methods, outlined here, feel free, but I reckon it’s a waste of time.

The other reason for trusting the carbon calculation is that it is based entirely on easily measurable physical quantities – I suppose production less net change in stocks – converted by standard carbon content. It does not need the pricing information that is the main source of doubt and error in economic statistics.

Still from Quatermass and the Pit, 1958

Still from Quatermass and the Pit, 1958

Could the data be corrupted by fraud? Again, most frauds involve pricing, not physical quantities. These products are generated by large corporations and sold with paperwork to others, who check the deliveries, all under the watchful eye of government taxmen. A worthwhile scam involving the underbilling or overbilling of large quantities needs the collusion of agents in all three types of organisation. If these scams exist, they are large and complex operations that can’t be ramped up opportunistically from one year to another. So I think we can take the IEA’s word for it. We are at the bottom of a very deep pit, but have largely stopped digging.

None of us can readily imagine a tonne of gas. It’s far more intuitive to convert the emissions from CO2 to carbon using the conversion factor of 3.67 (12+32/12), so the emissions were 8.8 gigatonnes of carbon. Carbon makes up 60-80% of coal by weight, 70-86% in various liquid petroleum products, 75% in methane, 50% in wood. Roughly speaking, taking 75% as the average, we need to increase the carbon number by a third to get a handle on the total weight of fossil fuels burnt: 11.7 gigatonnes last year.

1 standard Cheops. Not a Wales, not a bus

1 standard Cheops. Not a Wales, not a bus

A tonne is easy enough to imagine: it’s a cubic metre for water; slightly more for coal, a cube 108 cm on a side. But a gigatonne, a billion tonnes? Let me propose a journalistic unit like the London bus for volume, the Wales for area, etc: the Cheops, the volume of the Great Pyramid at Giza familiar from childhood through a thousand images. It’s 2.5 million cubic metres. A Cheops of coal would weigh 2 million tonnes. So the amount of carbon humans burn into the atmosphere each year is 5,318 Cheops. (That’s with the simplifying assumption that it’s all coal; a correction for the slightly different densities of oil would be tedious and not very enlightening). In 2013 it went up by 106 million tonnes, or 53 Cheops (IEA report, page 113). In 2014 the growth went from 53 Cheops to zero.

Stopping digging in the fossil fuel hole was a truly historic achievement. Is it a turning point? To climb out of the pit, emissions have actually to fall to zero, and much faster than a mere 53 Cheops a year. Staying on a 5,000-Cheops plateau merely postpones the apocalypse. But that does not seem likely. The strong forces that brought about the shift are still at work: structural change in rich and middle-income economies leading to a dematerialisation of growth; the rapid advance of renewable energies; and efficiency gains all round, from things like cheap sensors and intelligent controls, LED lights, and electric cars. The fall in the price of oil may delay the changes, but is unlikely to reverse them.

A major caveat is that fossil fuels are not the whole carbon story. To get the total impact of human activity, you need to add 0.4 gigatonnes/yr from the calcining of limestone in cement-making, a chemical requirement on top of the fuel burnt. And another 0.9 gigatonnes/yr from land-use changes, +/- 0.5, a huge error margin. (Source: Le Quéré et al, 2013, data for 2011). The trend in cement was still rising then, but it may well have plateaued along with other heavy industry. Net emissions from land-use changes have been falling since about 2000, but are still large. So we still have a net annual growth in CO2 emissions, up to 650 Cheops. The true emissions peak is still ahead of us. But it is climbable.

This news got little play in the media. Partly it’s the disgraceful cowardice or disinterest of the MSM. Partly, I fear, also a reluctance among many greens to play up good news, when our situation is still dire and even half-measures like Obama’s are fought bitterly with smears and lies. But Joe Romm is right. A message of despair just encourages partying on. To move people to action, you must leaven fear with hope.

And God said unto Noah …
Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it.

Footnote

A Cheops of oil should not be imagined as constructed out of cylindrical barrels, which leave a lot of air space. Noah should tranship the oil into containers that stack densely, like shipping containers, jerrycans, Tetrapaks, or Pentagon-specification Ziploc bags. There’s no good thought experiment for the gas.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

March 25, 2015 12:16 PM Mockery of Ted Cruz on ACA is Justified

By Martin Longman

Jonathan Chait is uncomfortable with the tone of progressive mockery.

It seems like everyone on the left is making fun of Senator Ted Cruz for signing up for ObamaCare. But, is it really ObamaCare if Cruz is only accepting his employer-provided (or -sponsored) health insurance? Even if it is technically ObamaCare, is this really an analogous situation to someone who loses employer-provided health care and must seek insurance on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges?

Are we lefties being a little too clever in calling Ted Cruz a hypocrite?

The answer is ‘no,’ not really. The mockery of Ted Cruz is basically fair.

If he wants insurance through his employer, which is his right, he has to get it through the exchanges, but his experience is still the same as anyone else whose spouse loses the family’s health coverage. You go see what is available on the exchanges and what, if any, subsidies will be available to you and your family. If Cruz doesn’t want any benefit from being a member of Congress or any kind of subsidy, nothing is stopping him or his wife from calling up an insurance company directly and getting insurance outside of the exchanges.

It’s obligatory for me to mention that the reason that Ted Cruz had to get his congressional health care benefit through the exchanges is because Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced an amendment to the Affordable Care Act compelling members of Congress to use the exchanges. He thought the Democrats would vote his amendment down, but they happily accepted it. The price for that is that, now, whenever a Republican member of Congress uses their health benefit we get to point at them, laugh, and call them hypocrites.

But it is more than just a game of Gotcha!

Members of Congress have great health benefits, and they get their insurance off exchanges used by ordinary citizens. Ted Cruz will be perfectly satisfied with his coverage but, by his own rhetoric, his whole family should be in the gravest peril.

When people lose their jobs, they can now get good insurance because of ObamaCare. That’s what Ted Cruz will be doing, and it’s what he doesn’t want tens of millions of Americans to be able to do.

Cruz deserves this mockery. It is making the points it is supposed to make, both about the politician and the health care law.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

March 25, 2015 12:14 PM Don’t Let Ted Cruz Teach History

By Martin Longman

This actually hurt my brain:

In an interview on Tuesday with the Texas Tribune, the newly-minted presidential candidate [Senator Ted Cruz] compared himself to the Galileo when discussing, of all things, whether climate change was actually occurring.

“Today the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers,” Cruz said. “You know it used to be it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier.”

I had to read that a few times, but then I realized that reading it was actually killing my brain cells and I had to stop.

I know that I enjoy the unique advantage of having a degree in philosophy, but I really don’t expect presidential candidates to engage in the The Myth of the Flat Earth. I’m discouraged that I need to introduce you to this concept:

The myth of the Flat Earth is the modern misconception that the prevailing cosmological view during the Middle Ages saw the Earth as flat, instead of spherical.

During the early Middle Ages, virtually all scholars maintained the spherical viewpoint first expressed by the Ancient Greeks. From at least the 14th century, belief in a flat Earth among the educated was almost nonexistent…

geocentric-universe

The dispute between the papacy and Galileo was about whether the Sun orbited the Earth or the Earth orbited the Sun. It had absolutely nothing to do with the shape of the Earth.

So, that’s error number one in Cruz’s retelling of history. Error number two is that he can talk about “accepted scientific wisdom” in the context of the 16th and early 17th-Century. When we talk about “science,” we are talking about a method of inquiry that wasn’t really understood until the 19th Century. Galileo wasn’t arguing with “scientists” or any kind of scientific consensus. He was arguing with theologians and priests. A fairer way of looking at it is that most people assumed that the Sun and stars orbited the Earth, and that view was supported by respected authorities like Aristotle and Ptolemy.

The third error is to consider Galileo to be the equivalent of a modern-day climate science denier. What distinguished Galileo from his Catholic (and Protestant) detractors was his willingness to go where the empirical evidence led him, even if it contradicted common wisdom and a few passages of scripture. He was using the scientific method at a time when the scientific method wasn’t yet a “thing.” The modern-day equivalent to Galileo is a scientist, not an unscrupulous senator from a carbon-rich state.

What Cruz was attempting to say is that common wisdom can be wrong, and most people used to believe that the Earth was the center of the Solar System and the Universe. If most people could be wrong in the past, then most scientists can be wrong today.

That’s true.

Why he couldn’t just say that instead of torturing the shit out of history and damaging my head?

It should be remembered, however, that Galileo, the one using the scientific method, turned out to be correct. The theologians, the ones relying on scripture and common sense, turned out to be wrong. So, while it’s certainly true that there can be a consensus among learned people that is incorrect, you’ll do better putting your money on the scientists than on people going with their gut.

And if one side is simply denying that the scientists know better how to interpret the evidence? And if that side has a financial stake in people not believing the science?

This isn’t really that hard to figure out.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

March 25, 2015 9:44 AM Write Better Hate Mail

By Keith Humphreys

A short note from all of us who write for magazines and newspapers to all of you who write long essays and emails denouncing us based on the title of our latest contribution.

(1) Authors don’t generally pick their titles. Editors do. Even if your screaming is justified, you are screaming at the wrong person. The author may not like the title either.

(2) It’s excusable not to know that authors usually don’t pick the titles of their articles because it’s the inside baseball of journalism. However, when you write your long ranting emails and essays based on a title that doesn’t match the content of the article (because a different person penned each) you are effectively announcing to the world that you feel comfortable making lengthy public pronouncements about material you have not in fact read. This is particularly acute when you make points that are in the author’s own piece and which you would have agreed with if only you’d troubled to read the piece you are criticizing.

End of PSA. You may now resume your regularly scheduled blathering, but those of us who write hope you won’t.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

March 24, 2015 11:06 PM Why Isn’t There a Liberal Version of CPAC? Thoughts on Party Asymmetry

By Julia Azari

About a year ago, some political bloggers on the left started discussing why there isn’t a liberal version of the CPAC conference (a couple of people point out on Twitter that there’s this, though). One commenter suggested that the reason for this was that a liberal answer to CPAC would “feature a keynote from Noam Chomsky, a panel discussing the successes and failures of the Occupy movement, and maybe a drum circle or two, but it wouldn’t get a single prominent Democratic political figure to attend.”

As a substantive description of the asymmetry between the parties, the answer above seems partly true and party false. It’s true that there isn’t a single event that draws Democratic hopefuls to talk about a range of issues the way that CPAC does on the right. But the quote also seems to suggest that the problem is rooted in the nature of the ideologies, and that liberals are inherently more anti-establishment. Yet, it’s the right that has a political movement built around anti-establishment rhetoric.

A bit of history puts this in further perspective.The organization that runs CPAC, the American Conservative Union, reflected an interest in having a conservative version of the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) a liberal group formed in the 1940s by some liberal activists you may have heard of, including Eleanor Roosevelt. The group counted among its members some office-holding Democrats and some pure activist types, and their priorities included civil rights and the expansion of New Deal-type programs. The ADA sought to influence the Democratic party and pull it to the left on a bunch of issues, including but not limited to civil rights. They still issue report cards for members of Congress and do some lobbying. But they don’t host an event like CPAC that attracts big names and presidential hopefuls - they’ve never become as deeply intertwined with the official party organization as CPAC has with the Republicans.[1]

This question offers a new angle on the debate over whether the parties have a “fundamental asymmetry,” as Grossmann and Hopkins argue in their recent piece in Perspectives on Politics. Is the absence of a liberal CPAC just a weird little factoid, or is it linked to another kind of asymmetry? We had a bit of back and forth on this blog last week over scholarly questions. But this is hardly just an academic question. Editorial writing is replete with stories about how “both sides do it,” often to the chagrin of scholarly analysts. How can we distinguish party asymmetry from party difference? The answer depends, in part, on how we define the core concept. Grossmann and Hopkins do a great job of coming up with a way to operationalize a party asymmetry, but as they develop the project, I’d push them to come up with a deeper conceptual definition of what asymmetry means, not just how it manifests.

I can think of three main ways to conceptualize asymmetry. The first is definitional - do the two parties have different visions of what party politics is or how politics is supposed to work? Grossmann and Hopkins hint at this when they note in their paper that Democrats and Republicans have different conceptions of party politics, and their main evidence of this is difference between responses about compromise vs. sticking to one’s principles. But this is a measurement of a particular attitude, which could signify different core attributes of the two parties.

Another possible definition is spatial: that the Republican Party is further right than the Democratic Party is left. Nolan McCarty made the case that Congressional polarization was asymmetric in 2012, and presumably this has not receded much, if at all, in the interim. But Grossman and Hopkins seem to intimate that there’s more to the story, and their data suggest that this is true. The compromise-principle gets at this, too. Are Republicans more conservative, or just less willing to compromise? An alternative interpretation of the data might be that Democrats are not less liberal - just more willing to move to the center if that’s what it takes to get some of their goals. Republican legislators, on the other hand, might rightly perceive a harsher penalty for compromising than for coming up short on legislative accomplishments. So which is it? We don’t know.

The final conceptual framework (that I came up with, anyway) is a functional one that brings activists into the picture. It also gets into one of the more uncomfortable interpretations of the recently published paper - that the Democratic Party is driven by particularistic interests (and, by extension, activists motivated by self-interest) and the Republican Party is driven by activists who are principled rather than self-interested. In his post last week, Hans Noel suggests that this is a false dichotomy anyway. And there are a lot of different ways we could gather evidence to suggest that interpretation is unfair or incorrect.

But the distinction, if it exists (and I think that it does), gets us to the role of ideological activists, and back to our ACU-ADA question. An additional conceptualization of party asymmetry might engage the role and importance of activists in the party who are motivated primarily by ideology. A phrase that comes up sometimes in this context is “purists vs. pragmatists.” The contemporary applications to the Republicans are obvious. But this tug-of-war isn’t new. Writing about the Republicans in the 1950s, Robert Mason describes this facet of the intra-party split between Eisenhower and Taft factions. Similarly, Phil Klinkner writes about the RNC’s concerns with pragmatism after Goldwater’s defeat in 1964.

We don’t hear as much about this on the Democratic side, which feeds the asymmetry perception. Again, this could be about effects or about levels. Liberal activists could, hypothetically, be weaker - fewer in number, less committed, less well-resourced (the last seems likely; the other two, less so). Or they could simply operate through other channels or otherwise keep themselves separate from the formal party organization.

These three conceptual definitions are all related - they could certainly all be core components of a robust concept of party asymmetry. The two that strike me as most likely to distinguish party asymmetry from party difference, though, are the first and the last. Hans suggests that both parties are ideological and group-based; they simply have different ideologies that lead them to emphasize different things.

But parties are organizations, not just coalitions of interests or identifiers in the electorate (this is where I respectfully depart somewhat from the perspective of some of my fellow Mischiefs). In this regard, party asymmetry might be more than just ideology vs. group benefits, or even a spatial conceptualization of left and right. It’s about distinct visions of what it means to be a political party, and about a dynamic relationship between the substance of beliefs and how they shape process attitudes like compromise.

As a result, I don’t think we can get very far talking about party asymmetry without talking about historical and organizational context. So, to return to our original question, why isn’t there a liberal version of the ACU-sponsored CPAC conference?

Part two will have my attempt at an answer.

[1] Both organizations have important links with the parties, such as leadership that draws from the ranks of former and current elected officials. But the relationships are still distinct…

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

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