Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Liberals

Anwaral al-AwlakiI was making dinner and I caught the end of The Ed Show. I want to be clear: I think Ed Schultz is an idiot. He is as rigidly partisan as you find in a liberal and he’s a blowhard. And we need a lot more of him. We need liberals who can talk to regular guys. Effete intellectuals like me are what people hate about liberalism. I am a big part of why people with liberal views still call themselves conservatives!

One of the most annoying things about Schultz is his daily call-in poll. Usually, it is something stupid like, “Do you think the Republicans will start being honest brokers with the president?” And the results are almost always what you would expect: 98% say no. The 2% who say yes are probably just people like me who hate the question!

But every once in a while, Ed asks a good question. Today, it was, “Do you agree with the policy of targeted killing of American citizens?” When I heard that one, I still thought it would be overwhelmingly in the “no” direction. Wrong again, Bob! Ed’s viewers voted “yes” 75.3% of the time.


This is why we can’t have nice things. This is the Dirty Harry effect. You know it, right? The film shows Scorpio kidnap, rape, and bury alive a poor girl. Unlike in reality, there is no doubt. We know who Scorpio is; we know he is the bad guy; so we cheer when Harry blows him away in the sixth reel. But that ain’t Anwar al-Aulaqi.

I don’t know if Anwar al-Aulaqi was a “bad guy” who the government rightly murdered. I do, however, know that he was an American citizen. I do know that the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution requires that any person (not just citizens, although it seems to be interpreted that way) shall be deprived of life without due process of law. I don’t see any due process of law in the case of Anwar al-Aulaqi.

But 75% of Ed Schultz’s viewers think that the government must be right. I wonder how many of them would feel the same if Bush were still president? Because let’s face it, sooner or later, someone very much like Bush will be in power. And then it might be some cannabis grower in Colorado who is an imminent (government definition: not imminent) threat.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Hugh Everett Alive and Well in Virginia

Hugh EverettWhen I first started studying physics seriously, Einsteinian relativity really bugged me. It just didn’t make sense. So I worked really hard to understand it—harder than I ever worked to understand any other kind of physics. And I never had an epiphany. Instead, I just accepted it. Relativity was just the way the world was. Things that are moving very fast relative to each other simply behave in ways that my intuition based upon things moving slowly did not prepare me to understand. Dr. Einstein or: how I learned to stop worrying and love relativity.

By the time I got to quantum mechanics, I was a Zen Master. It bothers you that reality is just a cosmic poll of individual quantum occurrences? The cow is slow but the earth is patient, Grasshopper! Or more to the point: shut up and solve your equations! And as time went on, I took some amount of solace in the belief that theories were not reality. One thing they don’t tell you in school: the very best theories might be accurate to within one part in a million. But no theory is perfect. And that makes reality a whole lot more interesting.

It also makes our place in the cosmos a lot more tenuous. As physicists bombarded atoms with more and more energy, I came to believe that we were likely just banging our metaphorical head against the box of reality that we were caught in. After all, with paradoxes in pure math, how could our physical reality be any less bizarre? At first, this led me to think that quantum mechanics must just be an outcome of our limited perception of a greater reality.

It turns out that the great physicist Hugh Everett thought much the same thing—although he did with equations because he was all smart and shit. But before getting to what he had to say, let me just say that Everett was my kind of a physicist. He over-ate, over-drank, and over-smoked. And he paid the price, dying at 51 back in 1982. He was a man of many vices and I respect that! Anyway, he claimed in a one-dimensional universe where a particle can go one way or the other, it goes both. Basically: there are two universes. And so on…

Now don’t start with me! I know the objections. It sounds like madness. It implies an ever increasing number of universes. Well, get over it! The truth is that when you get to cosmology, nothing really makes sense. Sure, the Big Bang makes sense. But as a cosmological theory, it is every bit as unhelpful as the God theory. The nature of reality has to be really strange—so strange that it doesn’t make any sense to us.

And that is why I wrote above that “at first” I thought that quantum mechanics was just our view of a larger reality. There is a problem. It implies that if we could see all of reality, it would make sense. But it wouldn’t. It would be just like relativity. We are by our nature parochial. The only stuff that makes sense is what we know from our parochial reality. But it is nice to imagine another parochial reality where all the quantum statistics broke his way, and Hugh Everett is a grand old man enjoying his retirement in Virginia.

H/T: Brad Plumer

Rand Paul Is No Hero

Rand PaulYou’ve probably read about Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle getting murdered by a comrade at a shooting range. It became a bit of a dust up due to libertarian wackjob Ron Paul tweeting out, “Chris Kyle’s death seems to confirm that ‘he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.’ Treating PTSD at a firing range doesn’t make sense.” I don’t see what the big deal is; Paul is showing his usual level of tact and discretion. And there is real wisdom in the second part of that tweet. Maybe part of the problem is the whole culture of guns and manly back slapping. But no one is really interested in that.

They are, however, interested in grandstanding about how Ron Paul could be so rude. (This, from a man who thinks anyone careless enough not to have insurance should just be allowed to die. The Hippocratic Oath can bite Dr. Paul!) One such person is his pretend libertarian wackjob son, Rand Paul. He told that bastion of ethics in news, breitbart.com: “Chris Kyle was a hero like all Americans who don the uniform to defend our country.”

Really? All Americans who don the uniform to defend our country are heroes? That surprises me, because so many serial killers have donned the uniform to defend our country. Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, did so. I don’t think of him as a hero. Nor do I think of the guy who killed 16 civilians last year in Kandahar as a hero. I tend to think that most of the people in the military would agree with me. That is why they have court-martials; people in the military dishonor the traditions of the military—all the time.

I don’t understand the fetishization of the military. But I can see that it is a very bad thing for our society. Of course, I’m not that keen on the word “hero” anyway. I think it is best to use only the adjectival form of the word. Acts are heroic. People are not. The same person who is heroic in one situation can easily be cowardly (Or worse!) in another. But the idea that simply putting on a uniform makes you a hero, is ridiculous. And it leaves us without a word that describes truly heroic acts. The military, whose people are placed in far more positions to act heroically than is normal, should hate this kind of easy definition. Because such definitions just make people like Rand Paul bask in the glow of those who did don a uniform, without having to do so themselves.

After all of the brouhaha, Rand’s daddy provided a statement that puts to shame all the pretenders:

As a veteran, I certainly recognize that this weekend’s violence and killing of Chris Kyle [was] a tragic and sad event. My condolences and prayers go out to Mr. Kyle’s family. Unconstitutional and unnecessary wars have endless unintended consequences. A policy of non-violence, as Christ preached, would have prevented this and similar tragedies.

That’s what I call supporting the troops.

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: NRA

No NRAQuinnipiac has released a poll. It shows that when you ask Americans about particular gun law policies, they are very much in favor of (for example) universal background checks and an assault weapons ban. These are positions of President Obama. The NRA, on the other hand, is against universal background checks and any limits at all on assault weapons. So it shouldn’t be surprising what result Quinnipiac gets when they ask, “Who do you think better reflects your views on guns, President Obama or the National Rifle Association?” President Obama, right?

Wrong again, Bob! Americans think that the NRA better reflects their views by 46% to 43% for President Obama. This is yet another reason why we here in America cannot have nice things: we believe in people who not only disagree with us, but who actually work against what we want.

This is nothing new, of course. Ask Americans what they think about pretty much any specific policy, and you will find that America is at worst a center left nation—and probably just a left nation. But ask those same Americans whether they are conservative or liberal and they’ll say conservative.

In the United States, we can’t have nice things because we are a nation of sleep walkers. We vote for vague concepts like “strength” and “justice” even as we get (year after year) poverty and injustice. Even after two months during which the NRA has publicly embarrassed itself time and again—when it has shown itself to be far outside the mainstream of American thought—over half of Americans still think that the NRA speaks for them.

And that, my friends, is why we can’t have nice things.

Boehner’s Fake Indignation

John BoehnerThis morning, Paul Krugman puts a recent John Boehner quote into context. I suspect that you’ve heard the quote. It one of Boehner’s many, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” rants. He said, “At some point, Washington has to deal with its spending problem. I’ve watched them kick this can down the road for 22 years since I’ve been here. I’ve had enough of it. It’s time to act.”

Okay, first things first. Whenever I hear Boehner whining like this, I think, “This is what a party does when it has absolutely no good ideas.” This is the very definition of grandstanding. Boehner wants to fix our “spending problem.” But the very definition of the problem is disingenuous. Revenues are way low by historical standards. He might be able to argue that we have a budget problem, but there is no way that he can reasonably claim that spending alone is the problem.

John Boehner started his career in the House back in 1991. Has he really watched them kick this can down the road for 22 years? Well, as the following graph I made about a year ago shows: during Clinton’s time in office, the problem wasn’t kicked down the road. And what’s more, John Boehner was a big enabler for the Bush Jr spending spree.

Krugman - Total Public and Private Debt

In other words, John Boehner was not helpful to Clinton in balancing the budget and was very helpful to Bush in unbalancing the budget. If he’s been watching “them” kick any cans, it has only been since Obama took office when he reverted to his unhelpful ways from the Clinton years.