Circling the Sun With Copernicus

Nicolaus CopernicusOn this day in 1924, the chess Grandmaster David Bronstein was born. In 1951, he made it to the World Chess Championship to challenge Mikhail Botvinnik. And over the course of 24 games, they ended tied with 12 points each—five wins each, and 14 draws. So Botvinnik retained the championship. Garry Kasparov claims that based upon the quality of the play, Bornstein should have won. He was an extremely innovative player and one of the greatest chess writers. And shockingly, he won a major tournament at the age of 70.

John Frankenheimer was born in 1930. He was a great director whose films included a string of three in the early 1960s: Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, and Seven Days in May. He is best known for thrillers, such as Black Sunday. And then there is Ronin. I’m very fond of it: a very intelligent action film. It had some of the best car chases I had ever seen. This included a chase going the wrong way down a freeway. And then, I started seeing that in just about every movie. I’m pretty sure Ronin was the one that started it. Now, I hate to see it. But I still think this is pretty cool. Those other directors are amateurs.

The singer and songwriter Smokey Robinson is 74 today. I don’t have a lot to say other than he really is one of the greatest songwriters ever. Here he is doing “Tears of a Clown”:

Other birthdays: playwright David Garrick (1717); physical chemist Svante Arrhenius (1859); sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876); expressionist painter Gabriele Munter (1877); actor Merle Oberon (1911); actor Lee Marvin (1924); game designer Danielle Bunten Berry (1949); novelist Amy Tan (62); fine actor Jeff Daniels (59); novelist Helen Fielding (56); actor Justine Bateman (48); and another really good actor Benicio del Toro (47).

The day, however, belongs to Nicolaus Copernicus who was born on this day in 1473. He’s the guy who put together the first model of the solar system with the sun in the middle. That was a brilliant insight. I remember a story about student talking to his teacher, “Those primitive people were so stupid to think the sun goes around the earth.” And the teacher replied, “Yes, just imagine how it would have looked if that were true!” The point is that it would look the same. There is nothing obvious about thinking the earth goes around the sun. Indeed, did you see this article, Poll: 26 Percent in US Do Not Know Earth Goes Around Sun. And the funny thing? “[Americans] did better than EU residents on the question about whether Earth moves around the sun.” Go figure.

There’s an interesting thing about Copernicus’ model, though. It wasn’t very successful. He had a brilliant insight, but it still wasn’t right. He had planets moving around the sun in circles. Well, they don’t move in circles. The world had to wait almost a hundred years for Johannes Kepler’s insight that the planets moved in ellipses. (Yes, I know that circles are ellipses!) So all those old models with the earth at the center of the universe might have been complicated, but they were still better at predicting where things would be in the sky. So old Copernicus made a necessary (And difficult!) contribution to knowledge, but all alone, it wasn’t sufficient to improve the practical science.

Also: Copernicus was old. And wise. He waited until he was dying to publish his book. No torture for him! That’s my kind of guy.

Happy birthday Nicolaus Copernicus!

Liberalism in American and at FC

Obama NopeA couple of months ago, Milt Shook wrote a good blog post, Of Course Obama’s Progressive! Give Him More Democrats, See What Happens. I have many problems with Obama, but he is basically right. Any politician has to be seen in the context of the political environment that he is part of. There is an unfortunate tendency among liberals to look back fondly on Reagan and Nixon. And indeed, on domestic issues, Nixon was pretty good. What I think people forget is that these men existed in a political environment. Nixon could not act like Ted Cruz does now. What’s more, if Nixon were alive and in politics today, he would be as extreme as any of them. Ditto (even more so) for Reagan.

However, Obama is the result of a 50 year assault on the political Overton Window. Republicans do not need to win elections; they have already pushed the political battle ground so far to the right that what now passes as liberal, is at best what passed as center or even center right a few decades ago.

Recently, I asked some of my readers to take the Political Compass test. The results were highly skewed, because my writing doesn’t exactly appeal to conservatives. You can see them all as black dots in the lower left hand corner of the graph:

Political Compass Results

My results were -7.75 on the left-right scale and -7.23 on the authoritarian-libertarian scale: (-7.75,-7.23). The average of all of us was (-7.10,-7.56) with 90% confidence limits of (2.73,0.95). As you can see in the graph, the website owners have tried to assess the scores of famous people. Some of these are about right. In particular, I think Francois Hollande is correct: very slightly liberal, very slightly libertarian. The Dalai Lama, however, is way off—he ought to be down with all the Frankly Curious black dots.

Mitt Romney - No We Can'tI was quite interested in where they put the last presidential race. Obama got a score of (+7,+6). Romney got a score of (+8.5,+7.5). Overall, I think these scores are a little extreme. I don’t actually think that Romney is that bad, although that isn’t far off from where he campaigned. I also think I’d give Obama something more along the lines of (+3,+2).

I like Obama and in general, he is leading the country better than any president during my lifetime. But he is constrained by the neoliberal ideology of the New Democratic movement that he is very much a part of. The Republican Party may have been taken over by the Tea Party base. But the Democratic Party has been taken over by the New Democrats. They aren’t all bad, but they believe in a lot of economic policy that is just wrong. Still, I support them because they continue to believe in facts and they are at base practical.

The bottom line is that we need to destroy the Republican Party. Then we can fight about liberalism. I believe that the modern Democratic Party would make an excellent set of parties. One liberal (the New Deal/Great Society part that I am proud to include myself in) and one conservative (the New Democrats with their “free” trade agreements and ending welfare as we know it).

And here at the People Republic of Frankly Curious, well, you all know what you are!

Republican Hypocrisy of Minimum Wage

Raise the Minimum Wage?

Yesterday, the CBO came out with an estimate of the effects that a rise in the minimum wage would have on the economy. They determined that an increase of the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would cause a range of effects on the economy from the loss of as many one million jobs to a gain of a small number of jobs. Their “most likely” estimate is a loss of a half million jobs or roughly 0.35% of all jobs. The estimate for a $9.00 per hour minimum wage was a loss of 100,000 jobs, or roughly 0.07% of all jobs. Not surprising, the Republicans have run with this. Raising the minimum wage is a job killer!

There are a number of things to note about this. First is that this is a small number of lost jobs. Second, the purpose of raising the minimum wage is not to create jobs, even though there is a decent amount of evidence that it would do that. The idea is to allow those who work to get paid a reasonable wage. The Republican argument that we shouldn’t raise the minimum wage is the same as the argument for getting rid of the minimum wage altogether. I realize libertarians would make that argument, but very few mainstream Republicans would. And remember: according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 58% of Republican voters want the minimum wage increased.

Jonathan Chait brings up an excellent point about this, The Congressional Budget Office and the Bizarre, Partisan Jobs Debate. He takes a minor swipe at liberals, “[T]he party accustomed to heeding its findings has had to painfully spin.” I don’t think that’s right, but that’s all he has to say about that side. Quite rightly he focuses on the hypocrisy of the Republicans who are only ever interested in job losses when they come from programs for the poorer classes.

The Republicans were eager to end extended unemployment benefits. The CBO says that cost the country 200,000 jobs alone. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“the stimulus”) that Republicans claim did no good has increased employment today by between 100,000 and 800,000 jobs. And the Sequester that Republicans see as their greatest recent accomplishment has destroyed almost a million jobs with a range from a quarter million to a million and a half.

Add on to this all of the things that Republicans are not willing to do to create jobs and you get what you always get: a party that is focused exclusively on the rich. What I find amazing is that anyone listens to the Republicans on these matters. They are clearly disingenuous on matters of job creation. They don’t care at all about creating jobs. It is just a cudgel to use to argue for policies they do like: tax cuts for the rich, military spending, and cutting programs for the poor.