Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Observations in the aftermath of Sandy

1. The traffic in the blackout areas of Manhattan is lawless in the most literal sense: the traffic lights aren't working, so the law cannot be applied as usual. But "lawless" doesn't seem to be a fitting description; the driving seems better-behaved than usual. We're so used to seeing people act under a system of government rules that it's easy to assume that without the rules, everything would descend into chaos. But perhaps free people are generally capable of acting decently on their own. Of course, that's never going to be universal; but then, people break the law too. In fact, a dense set of rules tempts people to see how close to (or how far across) the borderline of legality they can go without being penalized. In the absence of governmental laws, people might focus more on other kinds of laws: social norms and ethics.

[Added: There actually is a law that applies when the traffic lights aren't working, but people probably don't know about that law, and they definitely aren't following it. We never get the chance to do a pure experiment on how people would act in the absence of any government, but this is closer to such an experiment than we usually get.]

2. Whenever there's a high-profile disaster, whether it's a storm or a mass murder or terrorism, so many people's instinct is to declare that their political ideology has been vindicated.

3. I like Adele, but the people who work at Starbucks must get tired of listening to nothing but Adele.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Jacques Barzun (1907-2012)

The New York Times reports:

Jacques Barzun, the distinguished historian, essayist, cultural gadfly and educator who helped establish the modern discipline of cultural history and came to see the West as sliding toward decadence, died Thursday night in San Antonio, where he lived. He was 104.

Mr. Barzun was a man of boundless curiosity, monumental productivity and manifold interests, encompassing both Berlioz and baseball. It was a life of the mind first cultivated more than a century ago in a childhood home outside Paris that became an avant-garde salon. . . .

He wrote dozens of books across many decades, demonstrating that old age did not necessarily mean intellectual decline. He published his most ambitious and encyclopedic book at the age of 92 (and credited his productivity in part to chronic insomnia). That work, “From Dawn to Decadence,” is an 877-page survey of 500 years of Western culture in which he argued that Western civilization itself had entered a period of decline.

Mr. Barzun was both of the academy and the public square, a man of letters and — he was proud to say — of the people. In books and in the classroom he championed Romantic literature, 19th-century music and the Western literary canon. He helped design the influential “great books” curriculum at Columbia, where he was one of its most admired figures for half a century, serving as provost, dean of faculty and university professor.

As an educator Mr. Barzun was an important critic of American universities, arguing in 1968 that their curriculums had become an undisciplined “bazaar” of miscellaneous studies.
I first read his book on writing, Simple and Direct, during high school, and I still reread it now and then. I still try to follow his guidelines on how to use the words "the" and "a," which turns out to be a surprisingly difficult matter.

Here are a few passages I've picked out from my copy of A Jacques Barzun Reader:
Removing ignorance in school is as painful as removing tonsils and calls for a rarer skill. Besides, the teacher should not use an anesthetic or be one. (593) (undated)

The purpose I gradually fashioned took the form of a resolve to fight the mechanical. . . . Where, then is this enemy? Not where the machine gives relief from drudgery but where human judgment abdicates. Any ossified institution — almost every bureaucracy, public or private — manifests the mechanical. So does race-thinking — a verdict passed mechanically at a color-coded signal. Ideology is likewise an idea-machine, designed to spare the buyer all further thought. (5) (from 1990)

Our love of order impels us to make theories, systems, sets of principles. We need them both for comfort and for action. A society, however pluralist, needs some beliefs in common and will not trust them unless they are labeled truths. It is there that our efforts betray us. Sooner or later, experience jabs us with an event, a feeling, or a perception that shatters the truth-value of the great inferred idea. . . [T]he breakup of old truths is painful, often bloody, but it does not condemn the search for truth and its recurrent bafflement, which are part of man's fate. It should only strenghten tolerance and make us lessen our pretensions. (18-19) (from 2000)

In a high civilization the things that satisfy our innumerable desires look as if they were supplied automatically, mechanically, so that nothing is owed to particular persons; goods belong by congenital right to anybody who takes the trouble to be born. This is the infant's normal greed prolonged into adult life and headed for retribution. When sufficiently general, the habit of grabbing, cheating, and evading reciprocity is the best way to degrade a civilization, and perhaps bring about its collapse. (9-10) (from 1990)

In presence of the highest art, you have to believe it to see it. (594) (undated)

[T]he abstract and the general (as Blake pointed out) are the death of art. It is because art embodies particulars that it deserves to be called a creation; that is why systems and absolutes falsify it under guise of giving us an explanation; and that is why also a lifelong student of art like John Jay Chapman said very soberly that "we cannot hope to know what it is." (592) (from 1947)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Live-blogging the foreign policy debate

9:22 - President Obama says that every time Mitt Romney has taken a position on foreign policy, he's been wrong. Then he praises Romney for supporting Obama's war in Libya.

9:38 - Obama criticizes Romney for cutting education spending as Governor of Massachusetts. I thought this was supposed to be a foreign policy debate. Also, I hate the debate tactic of pointing out that someone has cut spending. That's not very informative, and it's not inherently bad to cut spending on something important. How efficiently were those dollars spent?

9:41 - Romney: "Our Air Force is older and smaller than it's been since 1947." Well, of course it's older than it's ever been before! Everything is always older than ever before.

9:44 - Obama to Romney: "Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets. . . . It's not a game of counting battleships." Good point, but Obama made the same fallacy on education spending. [Update: Actually, the point about bayonets wasn't so great.]

9:46 - Obama says our sanctions against Iran are "crippling its economy." He adds: "Their economy is in shambles." Bragging about destroying a whole nation's economy seems rather callous.

9:59 - Romney has said the word "tumult" several times tonight.

10:01 - Romney describes Obama's foreign policy with words like "tumult," "turmoil," "tension." Obama says Romney has been "all over the map," whereas Obama's decisions aren't "poll-tested." If this debate has any purpose, it's for the candidates to seem presidential while repeating these kinds of buzzwords to frame the other side. I find it hard to believe that many voters are going to make their decision based on any substantive differences on foreign policy the candidates are airing tonight.

10:04 - Obama points out that many people in his administration, including his own vice president, were opposed to his decision to kill Osama bin Laden.

10:08 - Obama is beating Romney in the contest to mention as many regular citizens as possible.

10:11 - Romney is asked what he thinks about Obama's drone war. We don't get much in the way of details about what the drone war is actually doing, either from the moderator's question or Romney's answer: "I support that entirely." When it's Obama's turn to respond, he doesn't even mention his drone attacks, but talks vaguely about feel-good concepts like government reform in nations we're "engaging with," women's rights, etc.

10:15 - A Facebook friend says the moderator, Bob Schieffer, referred to "Obama bin Laden," but I didn't notice it.

10:19 - Romney accuses China of "artificially holding down the value of their currency." In other words, China is making our dollar stronger, and Romney would like our dollar to be weaker.

10:24 - Romney criticizes the US policy of "writing checks" to bail out the car industry — which, he points out, started with President Bush.

10:25 - Romney says he's in favor of public investing in "basic research," not "investing in companies." Actually, that's a surprisingly euphemistic way for him to refer to Obama's policy of transferring taxpayers' money to corporations.

10:28 - Romney finally catches up with his references to ordinary people in swing states. This is now the second debate where Appleton, Wisconsin (population 78,000) has been mentioned.

10:35 - The debates are over. Do you think the campaigns made an agreement that the candidates would have the exact same interaction at the beginning and end of each debate? They always pat each other on the side of the arm while laughing, as if one of them had said something funny in the previous split-second.

My mom, Ann Althouse, sums up the debate:

By adopting a strategy of only modestly challenging Obama and mostly seeming the same as Obama on foreign policy, Romney neutralized foreign policy as an issue and kept the election focus on the economy. He even refocused the discussion on the economy whenever he could over the course of the evening. The election is about the economy, and nothing either candidate said tonight will change that. The only way Obama really could have won is if Romney had tumbled into some kind of exploitable gaffe. That didn't happen.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A hypothetical, inspired by last night's debate

Say you're a police investigator, and you find a dead body with no clear cause of death. It's a high-profile case, and the public wants to know if there was foul play. You give a press conference in which you say, "One thing's for sure: no act of murder will ever shake our resolve." By making that statement, have you announced that the person was definitely murdered? No. You've just uttered a platitude to express the fact that you're taking the case seriously, without committing to a position on what actually happened.

(See the "10:15" update on my live-blog of the debate.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Live-blogging the "town hall" presidential debate

[Here's the transcript.]

I'll be live-blogging the 2nd presidential debate here. Keep reloading for more updates.

For more live-blogging, check out Althouse (my mom), TalkingPointsMemo, and the Economist's Democracy in America.

As always, any quotes will be written down on the fly, so they might not be verbatim but I'll try to make them reasonably accurate.

9:04 - A college student asks Mitt Romney how he's going to be assured of having a job after graduating. Mitt Romney says we need to continue giving Pell grants. "I know what it takes to create good jobs again. . . . I'm going to make sure you get a job."

9:05 - President Obama seems very upbeat: "Your future is bright!" He segues into paraphrasing Romney as saying: "We're going to let Detroit go bankrupt." He also strains to connect education to "investing in solar energy."

9:09 - Romney: "We have fewer people working today than when President Obama took office." Romney says that the unemployment rate is the same, but it would be much higher — over 10% — if the work force were as big as it was 4 years ago. He also retorts to Obama: "You say I wanted to let Detroit go bankrupt; you did let Detroit go bankrupt!"

9:11 - Obama: "Governor Romney doesn't have a 5-point plan. He has a 1-point plan: to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. . . . That's exactly the philosophy that's been in place for the past decade." It seems like a questionable strategy to impute the whole time he's been in office to his challenger's philosophy.

9:14 - Obama promises a questioner: "You're not going to pay as much for gas." Both of the candidates seem to be under the impression that the president is the Commander of the Economy.

9:17 - Obama says when Romney was governor, "you stood in front of a coal plant and said: 'This plant kills. We're shutting it down.'"

9:18 - While continuing the debate on coal, the two of them both walk slowly toward each other while accusing the other of lying about coal statistics. Romney to Obama: "You'll get your chance soon; I'm still speaking." [Here's the video:]

9:22 - Candy Crowley starts to move on to a new topic, and Romney, as usual, starts to debate the debating rules with her. She insists on going to a new topic, but Romney talks about the old topic (energy) anyway. Obama: "Candy, it's OK, I'm used to being interrupted."

9:25 - Romney is asked about his tax plan. He emphasizes: "The top 5% of taxpayers will continue to pay 60% of income tax the government collects. So that will stay the same." He also repeats what Paul Ryan said last week: that Obama's spending increases will lead to higher taxes on the middle class. Of course, Obama says the opposite: that he's going to cut taxes for the middle class. We've heard all this before, and neither candidate's "plan" is very convincing. (See the 9:47 update in my live-blog of the vice-presidential debate, where I said Ryan had a "brilliant tactic.")

9:30 - Obama says that Romney said during the primaries that he'd give a "tax cut" — not a "tax rate cut" — for everyone, including the rich. Does Obama really think it's going to be effective for his critique of Romney on taxes to hinge on that semantic distinction?

9:31 - Romney blatantly panders to women by referring to the increase in "women living in poverty" during the Obama administration. Has there not been an increase in men living in poverty, or do men living in poverty just not matter as much?

9:36 - Obama points out that Romney was "a very successful investor," and would never have accepted a plan as "sketchy" as Romney's proposal of tax cuts and military-spending increases. Romney flips this around by suggesting that you should trust him because he's been so successful in business and government. Romney's retort to Obama: "How about $4 trillion in deficits? That's math that doesn't add up. . . . He said he would cut the deficit in half; instead he's doubled it."

9:37 - Obama is asked what he's going to do about women earning less on average than men. "That's a great question." Why should we trust Obama's explanation of any statistics, if he isn't willing to point out the statistical fallacy with inferring discrimination from raw averages which don't consider any of the legitimate factors that cause people to be paid differently based on the different choices they make?

9:41 - Romney says we need to have "flexible schedules" to help women. How is it the job of the president to decide what job schedules people have?

9:45 - A member of the audience asks Romney what the biggest differences are between him and George W. Bush. "Trade — I'll crack down on China. President Bush didn't." "I'm going to get us to a balanced budget; President Bush didn't." He says "President Obama was right" to say that deficits were outrageous under Bush; of course, Obama increased them even more. "President Bush had a very different path, for a very different time."

9:50 - Obama goes for the jugular, pointing out that Romney is investing in China while promising to crack down on China. "Governor, you're the last person who's going to get tough on China."

9:51 - Obama says Romney is different from Bush: "George Bush didn't propose turning Medicare into a voucher. George Bush supported comprehensive immigration reform; he didn't suggest self-deportation. George Bush didn't stop funding Planned Parenthood."

9:53 - Obama lists his accomplishments in a much snappier way than he did in the first debate: he ended the war in Iraq, he's fought terrorism, something about health care, etc. He then lists several of Romney's promises, repeating that he's vowed to defund Planned Parenthood.

9:55 - Romney walks toward someone whose question has just been answered by Obama, speaking to him directly: "I think you know better. I think you know that the economy for the last 4 years hasn't been as good as the president just described. . . . He keeps saying: look, I've created 5 million jobs. That's after losing 5 million jobs!" Ah, Romney nows says there are more "people in poverty." So, men do count after all! Romney is very fluent with his statistics: "Median incomes are down $4,300 per family."

9:59 - An immigration question. Romney: "America is a nation of immigrants. . . . We welcome legal immigrants into this country." Anyone with a degree in science or math should "get a green card stapled to their diploma." He'd punish employers for hiring "those who came here illegally." He uses that phrase — "those who came here illegally" — over and over. He's clearly been advised that some people are offended by the word "illegal" being used as an adjective applied to a whole person.

10:01 - Obama starts out by echoing Romney's answer: "We are a nation of immigrants. But we're also a nation of laws." Like Romney, he says we need to encourage highly skilled people to immigrate.

10:04 - The moderator, Crowley, asks Romney to "speak to self-deportation." Romney: "No!" But a minute later, he does explain his views on "self-deportation." Romney likes to pick fights with the moderators.

10:06 - Romney brings back the issue of China, repeatedly asking Obama: "Have you looked at your pension lately?" Obama: "No, mine isn't as big as yours, so it doesn't take as long to look at." Romney: "Look at your pension — you also have Chinese investments." Crowley asks Romney "if I could have you sit down." [Here's the video:]

10:11 - Obama on the killings in Benghazi, Libya: "We'll find out who did this, and we will hunt them down. When folks mess with Americans, we go after them. . . . These are my folks, and I'm the one who's got to greet those coffins when they come home."

10:12 - Romney on Benghazi: "This was not a demonstration — it was a terrorist attack. It took a long time for that to be told to the American people."

10:13 - Romney goes on autopilot, listing his talking points about Obama's foreign policy: "The president's policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour," Obama is "leading from behind," his foreign policy is "unraveling."

10:15 - Obama gives a forceful rebuke to Romney's description of his response to the Benghazi attacks:  "That's not what we do." He says that he called it a "terrorist attack" immediately afterwards, in his Rose Garden address. Romney says it actually took him 14 days before he used that language. Crowley intercedes, saying that Obama is right that he immediately used the word "terrorist," but Romney is right about his larger point that it took the administration 2 weeks to stop characterizing it as a spontaneous reaction to a video. [Added: A transcript on Fox News quotes Obama in the Rose Garden address, the day after the attacks:]

The United States condemns, in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack. . . .

We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None.

The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts. . . .

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.
What do you think? Did he refer to the killings as terrorism? If you take his words literally, he was talking about what no acts of terror will ever do, without specifying whether terrorism had just occurred. At most, there's an implication that the Benghazi killings were terrorist attacks that would not shake our resolve and so on. But that's too debatable for the moderator to be weighing in on who got it right.

[Update: A hypothetical.]

[Added: Here's the video of the whole section on Libya:]

10:26 - They're asked what their plan is to reverse the trend of jobs being outsourced to foreign countries. Romney brings back the line he used at the beginning of the first debate, saying that Obama has used "trickle-down government." American businesses can't compete with countries that have more lax regulation. He threatens to impose "tariffs" on China.

10:35 - Romney shouts at Obama: "Government does not create jobs! Government does not create jobs!" That's not what he said in his first answer in the debate!

10:35 - Romney uses a line he often repeated during the primaries, but which he didn't say in the last debate: "I spent my life in the private sector, not government." A few minutes later, he makes a list of promises and says: "I served as governor and showed that I can get this done."

10:38 - Obama rattles off platitudes: "Everybody should have a fair shot, and everybody should do their fair share, and everybody should play by the same rules."

10:38 - Finally, Obama brings up the fact that Romney said that 47% of the country refuses to take personal responsibility for themselves. "When my grandfather fought in World War II and came back and got a G.I. Bill that enabled him to go to college, that wasn't a handout." And with that, Obama has the last word in the debate. It seems quite unfair that Romney wasn't given a chance to respond to Obama's attack.

At the very least, Obama "won" the debate by cutting off the narrative that had been going on since the last debate about his lack of vitality.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Why have the Democrats gotten the most attention in the debates?

Isn't it weird how in both debates so far, the candidate whose performance got the most attention was the Democrat? But they're the incumbents! We can judge them on their record in office. We don't need to resort to looking at how well they handle themselves in debates. The debates should be a more crucial test for the Republicans. Everyone seems to have this backwards.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Thoughts on playing sad songs and easy guitar parts

I'm working on a major project that involves me playing cover songs. I hope to eventually release it to the public once it's finished, but that won't be for a while (maybe years). Of course, I'll post something on the blog if and when I do release it.

(If you want to receive an email alert once it's released, send me an email with "album alert" in the subject heading, and feel free to leave the rest of the message blank. You can find my email address in this blog's sidebar. I won't use your email address for any other purpose.)

A couple things that have come to mind while working on this project:

1. The easier a guitar part sounds, the harder it is to play. The audience expects perfection in the seemingly easy parts — which are often clean and exposed. But they'll overlook flubs in the seemingly hard parts — which are usually blurred with distortion.

2. Every good sad song has an ironic subtext: "Yes, life may be miserable at times, but hey — at least we're making this great music about it." Happy songs are more straightforward: they're supposed to make you feel roughly the same feeling expressed by the music.

That second point was prompted by covering this song:

I saw the Zombies in concert recently, and I highly recommend seeing them if you get the chance. Their normal show has the full five-piece band, though the two in that video are the only original members. The keyboardist, Rod Argent, is the genius who wrote "She's Not There," "Tell Her No," and "Time of the Season."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Live-blogging the vice-presidential debate of 2012

[Added: Here's the transcript.]

I'll be live-blogging the only vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan here, starting at 9:00 Eastern tonight.

Keep reloading this post for more updates.

You can watch the debate online on or YouTube.

As always, I'll be doing writing down quotes on the fly without the aid of a transcript or pause/rewind button, so they won't necessarily be verbatim but I'll try to keep them as close to accurate  possible.

Feel free to comment on the debate in the comments.

9:03 - They're sitting down. That might produce a calmer vibe than in the last debate.

9:04 - Biden promises "to find and bring to justice the men" who killed Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

9:05 - Biden says that Obama on day 1 made it a top priority to get Osama bin Laden, whereas Romney said during his previous campaign that he "wouldn't move Heaven and Earth" to kill bin Laden. "It was about more than taking a murderer off the battlefield. It was about restoring America's heart, and sending a message to terrorists."

9:06 - Ryan says that "if we're hit by terrorists, we'll call it what it is." Instead, the Obama administration "blamed the YouTube video" for the killing of Stevens. Ryan thanks veterans, turning to Biden and extending the thanks to his son Beau.

9:08 - While Ryan keeps giving his long answer about the attacks, Biden rudely mutters over him: "Do I get to say anything?" Once it's Biden's turn, he says, "With all due respect, that's malarkey. Because none of what he said was accurate."

9:11 - Biden says that Romney's decision to hold a press conference about the Libya attacks was "not presidential leadership." Is Romney not allowed to say anything about a foreign-policy crisis during his campaign just because he's a challenger? That doesn't seem fair.

9:14 - Ryan says a Romney administration, in contrast with the Obama administration, "will have credibility" on sanctions against Iran. Biden: "Incredible! . . . These are the most crippling sanctions in history, period. Period."

9:15 - Biden rhetorically asks if Ryan wants to start a war with Iran. Ryan interjects: "We want to prevent war!" Biden asks what more Romney/Ryan would want Obama to do on Iran, "unless they want us to go to war."

9:19 - Ryan's main debate tactic on Iran seems to be repeating the word "credibility."

9:20 - The moderator, Martha Raddatz, says Biden is "making it sound like [Iran doesn't] want a nuclear weapon." Biden says no, but "facts matter," and they're still far from being able to make a weapon.

9:22 - Ryan is stumbling over his words a lot, e.g. saying "desperation" when he means "daylight."

9:22 - Ryan warns of Iran getting a nuclear weapon, which would set off "a nuclear arms race in the Middle East."

9:23 - Biden on Iran: "We've made it clear . . . This president doesn't bluff."

9:24 - Biden paraphrases Romney: "47% of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives." He mentions that Romney himself pays relatively low taxes, and points out that Romney's "47%" includes veterans and elderly people on Social Security.

9:25 - Biden says Romney/Ryan are "holding middle-class tax cuts hostage" in order to cut taxes for the very wealthiest Americans. He's clearly putting into practice what many people felt President Obama should have done last week.

9:27 - Ryan repeats Romney's defense of tax cuts for the rich, which is that those taxes apply to small businesses, which create jobs. Why couldn't they amend the tax code with enough precision to give a break to those small businesses, without cutting everyone's personal income taxes?

9:30 - The debate has been pretty somber. Biden brings up the car accident that killed his first wife and daughter.

9:31 - Ryan focuses on something I don't remember hearing about at all in the previous debate: the fact that there was single-party Democratic control of Congress and the White House for the first half of Obama's term. "They had the opportunity to do whatever they wanted. Look where they are right now." He points out how much higher unemployment is than the administration projections.

9:34 - Ryan gives a passionate, personal defense of "entitlements" — Medicare and Social Security — describing how they helped his mother and grandmother to be successful. He and his mom collected Social Security benefits after his dad died, and this allowed her to go to college and start a business.

9:37 - Biden says Ryan supported the Bush administration's plan to privatize Social Security. "Imagine where all those seniors would be now if their money were in the market."

9:38 - Ryan: "They got cut with their hands in the cookie jar, turning Medicare into a piggy bank for Obamacare."

9:39 - Ryan: "I know you're under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground, but I think people would be better served if we didn't keep interrupting each other." True. [Added: here's the video:]

9:42 - Ryan says Biden has "nothing to run on," so he's painting his opponent as "something to run from." Ryan says Biden is wrong to call their Medicare plan a "voucher" system.

9:47 - Ryan: "There aren't enough rich people and small businesses to pay for all their [Obama/Biden's] spending. So when they say it's time for the wealthy to pay their 'fair share' — watch out, middle class, they're coming for you!" [Added later: this was a brilliant tactic of inverting Obama's argument from the first debate that the math of Romney's tax plan doesn't add up, and the middle class will end up getting stuck with the bill.]

9:50 - The moderator asks why Romney/Ryan aren't giving the specifics of their tax plan. After Ryan answers, the moderator sums up: "Still no specifics."

9:51 - Raddatz should be more aggressive about stopping Biden from constantly interrupting Ryan.

9:53 -There's an extremely busy back-and-forth between Biden and Ryan over what kinds of taxes and tax deductions Romney would cut.

9:55 - Ryan accuses Obama of trying to cut the Navy to its smallest size since World War I.

9:59 - Biden says Romney's position on withdrawing from Afghanistan is: "It depends." "It does not 'depend' for us."

10:01 - Ryan on Afghanistan: "What we're seeing when we turn on our TV screens is the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy."

10:04 - Biden on Afghanistan: "The only way to make 'em step up is to say: 'Fellas, we're leavin'. Step up.'"

10:05 - Ramesh Ponnuru asks: "Are normal people still watching this?" He also made a good point back in the section on taxes:

The Democrats could have permanently extended the middle class tax cuts in 2009-10 if they really wanted to.
10:12 - I'm not following the discussion of Syria, and I wonder if it's really going to affect anyone's vote.

10:14 - Ryan is asked about his criteria for military intervention in any country. "Only when it is in our national-security interest."

10:15 - Ryan, asked about abortion, says: "I don't see how a person can separate their public life from their private life — or from their faith. . . . I believe that life begins at conception. . . . The policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortion, with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother." [I originally didn't catch whether or not he included the mother's "health" as an exception. Based on the transcript, he didn't.]

10:17 - Ryan says Democrats used to say abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare," in Bill Clinton's famous words. "Now, they support it without restriction, and with taxpayer funding."

10:18 - Biden says he's personally opposed to abortion based on his Catholicism, but "I refuse to impose that on equally devout Christians, Muslims, and Jews."

10:25 - Ryan says Obama won't show us a "credible plan" to prevent the debt crisis. (Again, he emphasizes credibility.) What we get from the administration is "speeches, not leadership." He's trying to hoist Obama on his own petard (they won't show us their plan).

10:27 - More disorienting crosstalk from Ryan and Biden. Raddatz: "Let me calm this down." She asks what each of them could bring to the country that no one else could. Ryan smartly rejects the premise that no one else could bring what he would.

10:30 - Biden, in his closing statement: "You probably sense my frustration with their attitude toward the American people. My friend [Ryan] says 30% of the American people are 'takers.'" He repeats Romney's 47% line. "They're talking about my mother and father."

10:30 - Ryan thanks the moderator, the college hosting the debate, and "you, Joe. It's been an honor." Unless I missed it, I think Biden thanked only the moderator and the college, not Ryan.

10:32 - "Mitt Romney and I want to earn your support." He pauses and says the word "earn" very emphatically, as if to say: Obama and Biden didn't earn it.

10:40 - The debate is over. I was so wrong in my prediction that the debate would be relatively calm because they're sitting down. Here are two live-blog updates from my mom, Ann Althouse (an hour earlier than here):
8:51: The stress level is rising. Biden is so angry. Why is he yelling? Ryan needs nerves of steel not to lose his cool. I'm impressed that Ryan, when he gets his turn, is able to speak in an even, natural voice. It's hard to concentrate on the policy itself, because the emotional static is so strong.

9:11: Biden has been yelling at Martha Raddatz for the last 15 minutes (as the subject is war). It's so inappropriate!
Based on Jonah Goldberg's Twitter feed, where he's been retweeting other people including other National Review editors, it seems like conservatives weren't very happy with Ryan's performance. Jeffrey Goldberg says:
Biden right now is talking to people, Ryan is talking to members of the House budget committee.
Jonah Goldberg also says:
If Biden was advised to be angry at everything he doesn't find hysterical, he's executing perfectly.
So, Biden was too rude and aggressive, while Obama, by his own admission, was too polite and not aggressive enough last week. Maybe after Obama's campaign puts him through debate "study hall," he'll finally get it just right.


It's today! We'll have a couple more of these, then we need to wait about 90 years for the next one.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The fundamental difference between Obama and Romney that might explain how Romney won the first debate

Alex Knepper opines:

Barack Obama is much better at being than at doing. For all of his life, he has been rewarded for who he is — what he represents — rather than what he has done. . . .

Indeed, he seems instantly bored with whatever position he has ascended to — as Byron York hilariously (and depressingly) points out: he spent a few years as a community organizer, got bored, headed to the state legislature for a few years, got bored, went to the Senate for a couple of years, got bored, decided to run for president. . . .

Whatever his flaws, Mitt Romney is a doer, a man who is used to delivering the goods when it counts — and he came to last week’s debate ready to win. Obama, the man who only knows how to be — to sit back and bask in the adulation of people willing to reward him for merely existing — is simply not used to dealing with people who refuse to submit to his outsized ambitions — and it’s highly doubtful that he’s going to learn how to do that in just two weeks’ time.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A one-million-dollar salary for the president, members of Congress, and federal judges

You might not have expected to see the conservative/libertarian Thomas Sowell supporting that idea. But his argument isn't necessarily inconsistent with his ideology:

Any successful engineer, surgeon, or financier would have to take a big pay cut to serve in Congress. A top student from a top law school can get a starting salary that is more than we pay a Supreme Court justice.

No doubt many, if not most, government officials are already paid more than they are worth. But the whole point of higher pay is to get better people to replace them.

We may say that we want people in Congress, the courts or the White House who have some serious knowledge and experience in the real world, not just glib tricksters who know how to pander for votes. But we don't put our money where our mouth is.

Let's face it. You're not likely to get a good suit of clothes at a flea market. And you're not likely to get the cream of the crop to go into the government when they would have to accept a big drop in income to do so. . . .

There will . . . always be some people who are willing to sacrifice their family's economic security and standard of living, in order to get their hands on the levers of power.

These are precisely the kinds of people whom it is dangerous to have holding the levers of power.

Can we afford to pay members of Congress, the President of the United States, and federal judges the kinds of money that would enable us to tap a far wider pool of far more knowledgeable people with successful real world experience? We can't afford not to. . . .

To get some idea of the cost, ask yourself: How much would it cost to pay every member of Congress, the president, and every federal judge a million dollars a year?

There are 535 members of Congress, so a salary of a million dollars a year would cost $535 million, or just over half a billion dollars. There are 188 federal appellate judges and one President of the United States. That's 189 more people, bringing the total number of people to 724, and the total cost to $724 million, at a time when people in Washington are talking trillions.

That is less than one percent of the annual cost of the Department of Agriculture. Put differently, we could pay all of these 724 officials a million dollars a year each -- for an entire century -- for less than it costs to run the Department of Agriculture for one year.

If we limited how long any given individual could hold office in the government -- preferably one term -- we could have highly knowledgeable people with real world experience in charge of taking care of the nation's business, instead of spending their time doing things to get reelected.

They would be a lot harder for special interests to bribe with campaign contributions, when high officials would face no more campaigns after getting elected. We don't need career politicians. . . .

Is all this a realistic prospect in the world today? Of course not! What is the most realistic prospect today is the status quo today.

But the New Deal was not a realistic prospect three years before Franklin D. Roosevelt took office. It was not a realistic prospect in 1775 that the American colonies would become an independent nation a year later. The whole point of discussing new ideas is to get people thinking about them, so that they might become realistic prospects in the future.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ducks swimming for the first time in their lives

Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary explains:

Almost a year after our initial efforts to rescue over 160 ducks, geese, turkeys and chickens that were living with a hoarder in appalling conditions, we were finally able to bring them to safety. They are now enjoying sunshine on their feathers, water to swim in, clean bedding, warmth, grass under their feet and room to roam for the very first time. Initially, we tried working with their owner towards an amicable surrender, pleading with her to consider the quality of life for the birds and used many of our own resources to help provide a cleaner environment for them. The hoarder’s initial intentions were good and her love for the animals apparent, but she neglected to see how their overcrowding, over-breeding, lack of shelter and space and filthy conditions were hurting them. She also continued to buy chicks and ducklings online and mail ordered to her.

In the end, it took efforts by both us and the Ulster County SPCA, and then a judge’s seizure warrant to obtain the birds. Many were suffering from ailments caused specifically by their filthy living conditions. They lives in small sheds and animal carriers, overcrowded, living among layers of caked feces, and breathing in dust and the stench of ammonia. Due to inadequate housing, several of the birds did not have access to proper shelter and have lost toes and combs to frostbite. Inside her trailer we found another 25 birds running around freely and over 20 living in an enclosed back porch. The indoor quarters were worse than the outdoors. All the birds show signs of nutritional deficiencies.

We are treating all of their health issues by providing veterinary care, nutritional supplements, quality food and vitamins daily in their water. They are beginning to thrive with their new freedom.
Good intentions aren't good enough.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Why did President Obama do so badly in the first debate?

An article in The New Yorker quotes Laurence Tribe, who mentored Obama at Harvard Law School, responding to the debate:

“Although I would have been happier with a more aggressive debate performance by the President, I’ve had to remind myself that Barack Obama’s instincts and talents have never included going for an opponent’s jugular. That’s just not who he is or ever has been.”
Whether Obama's "instincts" are to go for the jugular might be impossible to know. But he seems to be capable of going for the jugular — when he's motivated to do so.

Remember when he said this?
While I was working on those streets watching those folks see their jobs shipped overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Walmart!

I'm surprised that in the whole New Yorker article, which is all about what kind of a debater Obama is, there isn't a single mention of Hillary Clinton.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The first debate of the 2012 general election

I'll be live-blogging it here tonight.

As always, any quotes I write down will be done without a transcript or pause/rewind button. So they might not be verbatim, but I'll try to be accurate.

For more live-blogging, check out Althouse (my mom), TalkingPointsMemo, and Democracy in America.

[Added later: Here's the transcript, and here's video of the whole debate:]

9:06 - President Obama criticizes the "top-down policies that got us into this mess." Is Obama trying to pitch himself as the candidate of bottom-up policies? That's hard to believe.

9:07 - Mitt Romney brushes off Obama's charges that he's going to take a top-down approach or "cut taxes for the rich."

9:08 - Romney says that Obama believes in something that doesn't work: "trickle-down government."

9:09 - Moderator Jim Lehrer asks Obama to expand on the idea of trickle-down government, and Obama responds by explaining his education policy of "race to the top." The debate has been very vertical so far.

9:10 - Obama makes the unpopular admission that the government needs to both reduce spending and increase revenues in order to control the deficit.

9:11 - Romney to Obama: "I'm not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people. High-income people are doing just fine."

9:12 - Romney describes the economic slump as an "economy tax" on the middle class.

9:14 - Romney makes the implausible promise to make "no tax cut that adds to the deficit."

9:16 - Obama says that even if you cut all deductions that benefit the wealthy, it wouldn't make up for the shortfall in revenue that would result from Romney's tax cuts for them. Is Obama assuming that all these enormous changes in the tax code would have no effect on behavior?

9:22 - Romney's explanation for how his math adds up is that he would cut taxes for small businesses, which would create jobs.

9:23 - Obama says that Romney is making "the same sales pitch [on taxes] that was made in 2001 and 2003." Obama equates his own approach with Bill Clinton's. So, "we've got some data on which approach is likely to create jobs for middle-class Americans."

9:24 - Romney goes on at unnecessary length about the debating rules: "He got the first answer, so I have the last word on this topic," etc.

9:26 - Romney: "The amount of debt we're adding, at a trillion dollars a year, is simply not moral."

9:27 - Romney promises that he'd go through all government programs, figure out which ones don't work, and stop funding them. This sounds uncannily similar to a promise Obama made in one of the 2008 general-election debates. (See my live-blog from October 7, 2008 — coincidentally, it's in the update from the exact same time, 9:27.)

9:31 - Obama attacks Romney for raising his hand in a primary debate when the Republican candidates were asked if they'd turn down an offer of a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts and tax increases.

(I stopped live-blogging here for about 20 minutes because the ABC News and YouTube feeds were too choppy. The C-SPAN feed works much better.)

9:52 - Romney says that Dodd-Frank is "the biggest kiss given to New York banks I've ever seen." He criticizes the "unintended consequences" of financial regulation, but says that some financial regulation is essential.

9:53 - Obama seems at a loss for words for an uncomfortably long time before he goes into his explanation of the causes of the financial crash.

9:54 - Obama: If you think the problem is that we had too much regulation of Wall Street, then Romney is your candidate. Romney rejects this: "It's not that Dodd-Frank was always wrong with too much regulation. Sometimes it doesn't give clear regulation."

9:56 - Romney is asked why he wants to repeal Obama's health-care law. He cites the Congressional Budget Office saying that Obamacare will make health insurance cost $2,500 more per person. Also, "it puts in place an unelected board that will tell people, ultimately, what kinds of treatments they can have." He wants you to think "death panels" without him having to say it.

9:59 - Obama says that Obamacare will definitely let you keep your health insurance. (This calls for a fact-check!) It will just mean that health-insurance companies "can't jerk you around." He admits that "Governor Romney did a good thing" by enacting Romneycare.

10:02 - Romney says that Romneycare is different from Obamacare because the latter will cause people to lose their health insurance. He also reels off a dizzying array of other distinctions, which I doubt many viewers will be following.

10:03 - Obama mocks Romney's references to the "unelected board." Obama characterizes this as making "smart choices" and using "best practices"; the alternative is "to let businesses decide how long they can afford to keep paying premiums until they just give up."

10:05 - Obama says Romney is right that health-care premiums have been going up for the past 2 years — but they've been going up more slowly than in the past 50 years.

10:06 - What would Romney enact in place of Obamacare? He won't describe the whole thing, because the description would be too long. But his plan would include a rule against barring people with pre-existing conditions. And he'd let young people stay on their parents' plans, though he adds that this could happen purely through the free market.

10:10 - Obama says that Romney "says he's going to replace Obamacare" (yes, he did call it "Obamacare"), but he won't say what he's going to replace it with. "Is the reason he's keeping his policies secret, because they're too good?"

10:11 - Romney responds that he's holding back from giving more specifics because he's doing what Ronald Reagan did: laying out "principles" such as creating incentives for economic growth, broadening the tax base, and cutting taxes. Oddly, he adds a compliment to Obama for sharing some of Reagan's economic principles.

10:14 - Obama: "The genius of America is free enterprise." However, there are "things we do better together." He then segues back to his education policy: "Government can help. It can't do it all."

10:16 - Romney responds to Obama: "I reject the idea that I don't believe in great teachers or more teachers. Every state can make that decision on its own."

10:16 - Romney quotes various phrases from the Declaration of Independence, including "the pursuit of happiness." He seems to say that this means that the government has a responsibility to provide for those who are unable to provide for themselves.

10:18 - Romney says that federal funding should "follow the child" — that is, let the child and their parents decide where to go to school.

10:20 - Obama says that Romney hasn't been clear about his education proposals, but he would cut the education budget by 20%.

10:22 - Romney to Obama: "As president, you're entitled to your own house and your own airplane, but not your own facts. I'm not going to cut education funding."

10:24 - Lehrer says they're short on time for the remaining issues, but he's not going to claim he's done a good job of moderating. Obama: "Jim, you've done a great job!" Lehrer: "Oh, well, no . . ."

10:26 - Romney lists various things he's going to do on "day 1" as president. Obama points out that Romney is going to have "a busy first day," since he's also promised to repeal Obamacare on day 1.

10:30 - Obama: "Four years ago, I said I wasn't a perfect man and I wouldn't be a perfect president, and that's a promise Governor Romney probably thinks I've kept."

That's all. Check in here again for the vice-presidential debate next week.

UPDATE: About an hour into the debate, Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo, who of course is favorable to Obama, said:

My read so far is that if you go by energy and tossing out lots of data points, then Romney is running circles around the president. Obama has only on a few occasions really pressed a point hard. Whether that means he’s ‘winning’ I don’t know. But energy level, Romney all the way. But I think there are a lot of traps that Obama’s put out there for Romney. Romney really pressed his insistence that he just isn’t going to do what he says his plan is going to do. I think those statements – and the statement about vouchers – might be unpacked badly for him over the next few days.
The 7 bloggers at the Economist's blog Democracy in America seem to be unanimous in saying that Romney won. "W.W." (Will Wilkinson) says:
Romney won decisively. Obama clearly approached the debate with a mainly defensive strategy, hoping to come away without having done anything to rock his very comfortable boat. But the boat did rock. Obama was flummoxed by Romney's superior preparation, intensity, and execution, and tonight's truly dismal performance from the president has put the sustainability of his lead in question, if not actually in peril.
Another blogger at the Economist, "T.N.," says:
Obama seemed to sleepwalk through much of the debate - and the fact that so many potential attack lines were not exploited suggests that . . . this might be a deliberate tactic - to bore his way to victory over the next month.
Andrew Sullivan says:
Look: you know how much I love the guy, and you know how much of a high information viewer I am, and I can see the logic of some of Obama's meandering, weak, professorial arguments. But this was a disaster for the president for the key people he needs to reach, and his effete, wonkish lectures may have jolted a lot of independents into giving Romney a second look.

Obama looked tired, even bored; he kept looking down; he had no crisp statements of passion or argument; he wasn't there. He was entirely defensive, which may have been the strategy. But it was the wrong strategy. At the wrong moment.

The person with authority on that stage was Romney - offered it by one of the lamest moderators ever, and seized with relish. This was Romney the salesman. And my gut tells me he sold a few voters on a change tonight. It's beyond depressing. But it's true.

There are two more debates left. I have experienced many times the feeling that Obama just isn't in it, that he's on the ropes and not fighting back, and then he pulls it out. He got a little better over time tonight. But he pulled every punch. Maybe the next two will undo some of the damage. But I have to say I think it was extensive.