The Undiscovered Country

For the past month, I’ve been following Professor Sam Wang’s Electoral College Meta-Analysis. For election night he has an excellent Election guide/score card. I’m already on record with my prediction.

Today, I’ll be looking in occasionally at Tradesports for any last minute changes. I’ll also read BBC and check my favorite weblogs. Mostly, I’m going to go vote myself, and then try not to obsess about what other people are doing.

For election night coverage, I’m going to watch Fox News, CNN, and C-Span. If I had any sense, I’d put Lord of the Rings in the VCR and watch that until 10:00 or so. I think it’s dollar night at the video rental store. Maybe I’ll buy some Sierra Nevada Stout and a bag of cheap pretzels.

Here are what I see as some possible election-night surprises. I regard all of these outcomes as unlikely, hence the element of surprise. I just think these are the most likely of the unlikely outcomes.

  • A tie in Electoral votes.
  • An Electoral vote blow-out, where one side wins all the swing states.
  • Similarly, the Republicans could end up with fifty-five or more seats in the Senate.
  • A Popular vote landslide; There’s enough uncertainty that we could end up with one candidate getting fifty-five percent of the popular vote. The way things are today, I’d consider that a landslide.
  • The Libertarians do better than expected; If it’s close, this could make a difference in a few key states. The Libertarians have been under-reported this cycle; They certainly deserve as much attention as Ralph Nader.
  • High turnout and strong support for President Bush in the solid red states could give some unexpected Congressional races to the Republicans, and vice versa.
  • Could Hawaii go to President Bush? We don’t know enough to rule it out; This is an example of the level of uncertainty among the talking heads and pollsters; This ignorance is why I think an unlikely outcome is more likely than usual, if that means anything.

Finally, in my favorite unlikely scenario, everything goes smoothly. There’s a clear winner with a popular mandate, and we get on with our lives. Anyway, it’s time to go do my part.


If I’m not in the Inner Ring, am I in the First Circle?

When I hear people say, “I’ve been a Registered Republican, Democrat, or Independent for thirty years,” I always feel like I’m missing out on something. Where does one go to register? I’m registered to vote, but no one asked my party. When I vote in a Primary (here in Illinois) I have to ask publicly for a Republican, Democrat, or non-partisan ballot. I think what ballot you get is a matter of public record, but that’s the only official acknowledgement of party affiliation I know of. (It’s obvious to me that this system of closed primaries is corrupt. The parties are in theory private organizations that can choose their candidate however they want. Yeah, well; Theory and practice…) I could ask for a different ballot each time I vote in a primary, or not vote in the primaries at all.

I guess I could call up one of the parties and ask how to formally join. Presumably I’d pay dues and get a card for my wallet. Then I’d be a party member, right comrade? Or I could just start my own party. I could be the Chief Registrar, and after I registered I’d be a registered nitwit.

The problem with joining a party is the same as the problem with joining anything, union, party, denomination, or social club. You gain strength and safety in numbers, and loose some autonomy. Soon I’d find myself trying to defend a position I didn’t agree with, or working to elect some toad because it was his turn, or hanging out with people I didn’t much care for. People like me (note the irony there) say with pride that they’re not joiners, but I’m not sure cranky independence is a course I’d recommend to anyone else. I suppose you can go too far either way.

Here’s a hopeful sign that enough of us may be able to rise above partisanship. Robert Hayes says whether President Bush or Senator Kerry wins, he’ll be My President Either Way. I hope we have a high turnout, a clean election, a clear winner, and an honorable looser. It’s not impossible; it requires that all of us remember that the process is more important than the outcome. It will also require that about half of us stifle our outrage and do what’s best for the country. If you want to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women, you’ll have to achieve that through something other than the ballot box.

I guess I can wait until Tomorrow

What happened to that secret plan where the Saudi’s would drop the gas price before the election? When’s that supposed to kick in? I’d better hold off until Monday on getting the car filled up.

For a Suitable Definition of Victory

In this article on The Spectre of Declinism, Carroll Andrew Morse writes, “They assume that ‘getting real’ or ‘taking responsibility’ for the war on terror can mean only one thing — taking action to win the war on terror.” (Credit to Doc Rampage for the link.)

I think I finally understand Senator Senator Kerry’s plan for the war on terror; He’s offering a truce.

Of course he can’t come right out and say so. That’s not the way diplomatic negotiation works. But look at his talking points: Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11; Saddam was contained; He had no weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to us; Wrong war, Wrong place, Wrong time.

The message is, “You leave us alone, we’ll leave you alone. You don’t threaten us (other than verbally) and we won’t threaten you (other than verbally). We stand down, you keep the suicide bombers out of the continental US, and the whole war on terror goes from hot to cold; from a matter of war to one of law enforcement.” Nothing in writing, just a gentleman’s understanding.

Then we can get on with making the US a paradise of equality and social justice, with free medical care for all; You can get back to killing your own people, if you must; Leave us out of it, and we’ll let you retain power. The occasional low-grade incident won’t be handled by the Army, but by the Justice Department (Under new, more sensitive leadership, of course).

The effect of Senator Kerry’s campaign pronouncements, and the support they receive, is to offer the terrorists a cease-fire. Why would rational people capitulate, instead of fighting to win? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened. Francis W. Porretto at Eternity Road doesn’t think we’ll defeat ourselves again. In The Tale of the Tape, he writes, “The central fact about the United States at war is that the only adversary that can defeat us – that has ever defeated us – is ourselves. We won’t make that mistake again.” I hope he’s right.

It’s not that they (the American far left) are evil people. They mean well. They always mean well. The far left is chock full of good intentions. Nobody could possibly be more aware of their nobility of purpose than I am; Except maybe for they themselves.

Nor is the plan irrational, as such. It follows logically from the American far left’s convictions about human nature, how the world works, and what’s important. The views of Senator Kerry’s core supporters were formed in opposition to the Vietnam war, solidified by years of MASH reruns, and articulated by Noam Chomsky. They see Senator Kerry as the model soldier, and genuinely don’t understand why a substantial majority of soldiers on active duty vote Republican. Didn’t the Senator say he’d bring to office the same spirit he brought to Vietnam?

This, I think, is Senator Kerry’s plan for victory in the war on terror. It promises an end to the fighting, because that’s what the far left understands as victory. After all, Vietnam is the last war they won.

But what about today’s news? If any of this is true, what do we make of Osama bin Laden’s Halloween video? That’s left as an exercise for the reader.

Last-Minute Voter Guide

This year, we have a greater than usual number of new voters. Most who have taken the trouble to register know whether they prefer President Bush or Senator Kerry; Or at least they remember the number their shot-caller told them to punch. But at the local level things are more complicated, so I thought I’d share some tips that have served me well.

It’s especially important to have honest, capable people in local government, but often there are no particular issues, nor any way to distinguish the candidates. Some of the races are non-partisan, and some people are nominally independent. Now, first of all you should make a genuine effort to find out what’s going on and determine who you want on (or off) the school board.

If after reading the paper for a few weeks you still can’t decide, you’ll need to use indirect methods. Look at the yard signs, and see who people you admire (or detest) are supporting. Robert Heinlein said, as a last resort, to ask the opinion of a well-meaning idiot, and then do the opposite. If you don’t know any well-meaning idiots, ask around. I’ll bet your friends know at least one.

Still, sometimes you find yourself in the voting booth faced with County Board – vote for 4 of these 12. That’s when I fall back on my emergency selection criteria. I vote:

  1. For people I know;
  2. For people with Irish names(except ‘Ryan’);
  3. Against any school-board incumbents (except for the one I like);
  4. Against people with hyphenated last names.

Finally, I vote to retain any judge I’ve never heard of; and

I vote against any ballot initiative I don’t understand.

Of course you shouldn’t just adopt my criteria; Invest the time to create arbitrary standards of your own; That’s what democracy is all about.


After giving it some thought, I’m voting for President Bush.

Senator Kerry’s service in Vietnam was heroic. I’m prepared to assume that his subsequent opposition to the war was based on principle. I’ll go further and say that he’s continued to serve his country in the Senate, and has surely done a good job representing the people of Massachusetts, since they’ve reelected him. I think Senator Kerry is a decent guy who means well. I believe he is sincere in his religious beliefs. He’s an intelligent and articulate man who can speak French.

When President Bush was a young man he ran around, partied a lot, and drank too much. I don’t think he took seriously his duties in the National Guard. He didn’t go to Vietnam, and didn’t do anything heroic, but he got an honorable discharge. At some point, he realized he wasn’t doing the right thing, stopped drinking, and started going to church. Since then, he’s behaved himself about as well as any of us. He served his state and nation as Governor of Texas, and for the last four years as President. He’s an intelligent but inarticulate man who can speak Spanish. I believe he is sincere in his religious beliefs.

Neither of these men are so bad or so good that I’d base my vote solely on that. There seem to be people on both sides determined to convince me that one of them is the Anti-Christ. I don’t buy it. These men, though career politicians, are decent guys.

If the most urgent issues we faced were economic, I’d give Senator Kerry another look. Last week I drove for a few hours on I80 in Iowa. Somebody’s getting paid to drive those trucks, and the trucks aren’t empty. Ryan’s buffet is packed, and it’s not with “George Bush’s rich friends.” This time, it’s not the economy. It’s the war.

Bruce Schneier wrote, By its very nature, defense against terrorism means we must be prepared for anything. That’s a great point. To defend against terrorists, we have to get everything right, all of the time. This makes me think we need to stay on the offense. We need to decide where the next attack will come.

Senator Kerry would take a more defensive approach. Building alliances and playing defense was how we won the cold war. But that’s not the war we’re fighting today. The Senator’s focus on Osama bin Laden is misplaced. This isn’t about catching a murderer, it’s about winning a war.

Senator Kerry’s commitment to diplomacy is commendable, but I’m afraid it will cause him to shrink from ordering military action when it’s unpopular. I don’t believe that Iran, Syria, Sudan, or North Korea will respond to anything other than force. They only negotiate to buy time.

President Bush’s strategy is to go to where the terrorists are and kill them, and to discourage the governments that aid them. In the longer term, we’re undermining terrorist recruitment by encouraging the formation of democratic governments. The President is doing this by diplomacy when there’s any prospect of it working, and by force when there isn’t, whether the United Nations likes it or not. Bush’s strategy is primarily one of attack.

I’m convinced that President Bush, whatever he was four years ago, is the man we need today.

That’s what I think. Whatever you decide, make sure you vote.

For us the living

In his posthumously published novel “For Us the Living”, Robert Heinlein refers to “the US Medical Academy.” This is where all the doctors are trained in his fictional World of Tomorrow. He’s not specific in how it all works; his point is that things could be different and still work quite well.

We could train bright people to do heart by-pass surgery. No need for years of med school. Just follow the procedure step by step, like it says in the flow-chart; There would need to be recognized levels of skill: apprentice, journeyman, master. Two years of technical training, followed by testing, apprenticeship, and certification; Clearly, a master by-passer would make good money. Possibly as much as a master plumber.

Master bypasser? Okay, we’d also have to develop good terminology, but we’re Americans; we excel at that.

I maintain that the success rate would probably be as good as we have now, and the whole thing would be way cheaper. To the extent that patient outcomes were suboptimal, this would be offset by enhanced access. (See? Think a European could have coined that phrase? And I’m just an amateur. We rule!) But it’s not just about medical efficacy. There’s a whole set of social consequences to consider.

Taking the money out of it would, well, take the money out of it. Prosperous doctors need insurance to protect their assets from their own fallibility and from predation. An insurance company is a big pot of money held in reserve for emergencies. Money attracts lawyers like blood attracts ticks, in an ecological sense. That’s not to say that lawyers are uniquely wicked. In the past, money attracted armed bands of Anglo-Saxon reivers, so there’s progress, of a sort.

My point is that it’s an ecological process. Exterminate the brutes (I’m referring to the ticks, of course) and something else will emerge to take their place, because the blood is a tempting target. Blood necessitates bloodsuckers. Would you rather have tiny blood-sucking hummingbirds?

Of course people would oppose adoption of this new system. They’d cite safety concerns; They’d point out that only a highly trained physician could respond to the unexpected. Ignoring questions of cost and availability, they’d launch ad campaigns featuring the grieving and the grateful. Every identifiable group that’s part of the existing system, except the anesthetists, would line up to fight the changes. Even if it were finally adopted, my ingenious new system would evolve as part of an ecology as well.

Suppose we had a large union of smart, well-paid technicians whose livelihood depended on doing bypasses. What might the consequences be? Think that’d have any effect on surgical innovation? Would the union lobby urge caution in the approval of new drugs? How hard would it be to get into the union? Would the union have any political clout?

But this isn’t really about unions, or even the medical system. It’s about the limits of directed action; Our inability to do just one thing. Our whole system is so tightly optimized and interconnected that any change comes out somewhere else almost immediately. It’s the law of unintended consequences, on steroids. Faced with such a system, how might we move forward?

  1. We don’t; we just muddle along while avoiding complete collapse;
  2. Pursue a course of incremental, opportunistic change and hope it leads to a better arrangement tomorrow;
  3. Scrap the existing system, more or less violently, and replace it with a better system.

The third option is the most risky, but has the biggest potential payoff. If applied to the whole society, it could lead us to a workers’ paradise. A society of peace, justice, and universal prosperity that would endure until…

Right; until protestors tore down the wall and burned the headquarters of the secret police. So that one’s out.

I guess we have to choose between one and two.

…and the Madness of Crowds

A few weeks ago, I got a Gmail account, and subsequently some invitations of my own. There must be a general principle of social networking, that by the time I have Gmail invitations they`ll no longer be desirable. On the other hand, I didn’t buy one on ebay for big bucks.

As Doc Rampage generously notes, I’ve given in and started a blog. First I ignored blogging, then I posted a few things on my Slashdot journal, then the Zeitgeist won, and here we are. So, does my entrance mark the end of blogging as a social phenomenon? Time will tell.

Anyway, let me know if you want a gmail invite.