Voting Against Norm

There are plenty of reasons to vote against Norm Coleman for senator. He was chosen by Karl Rove to be one of the Bush administration’s buddies in the Senate. He’s a political windsock, going from being a Democrat when city elections required it to being a Republican thug in the Senate to swinging back toward centrist in time for the big local paper to give him this ringing endorsement:

Coleman didn’t begin his Senate service as an agent of bipartisanship. But that’s the note on which he wound up his six-year term and which he has sounded repeatedly in his reelection campaign.

In fact, Coleman almost wasn’t elected senator at all. In 2002, Paul Wellstone would most likely have been elected to his third term in the Senate, despite just having voted against the popular-at-the-time Iraq war resolution. Norm Coleman was a failed gubernatorial candidate, having lost to a professional wrestler four years prior. If it hadn’t been for a plane accident eleven days before the election and some gross misrepresentations of what happened at Wellstone’s memorial, Coleman would probably have been a failed senatorial candidate as well.

Coleman is, at least professionally, a protect-marriage bigot. Despite his campaigning on a family values platform, his womanizing is well enough known that when Garrison Keillor referred to it in Salon, there was some murmuring about bad taste, but no stronger reaction. Despite having model/actress wife and a mistress, Coleman appears to feel entitled to more. Whenever his name comes up, stories like this and this are told of a grab-handy Norm. Put enough of these stories together, and you end up with a picture of a Coleman who likes to come onto women in no position to say no to him, those who have to choose between him and their jobs.

Coleman’s sense of entitlement isn’t limited to sex. He’s currently in his third corruption inquiry of the year. This one involves a CEO suing over payments he says his company improperly made to be funneled to Coleman. The first was over who pays what for Coleman’s DC apartment. Another was fueled by Coleman’s campaign refusing to answer questions about who buys his expensive suits. Coleman seem to have earned his place on the most corrupt list.

Then we get to the campaign itself. Coleman has run an ad campaign so negative that voters not only said it was disgusting, but were actually motivated to vote for someone else. He has again used lies about people remembering Wellstone for his own political gain. He is again suing a political opponent in the last days of a race over advertising. And in a new low, even for him, he just tried to disaffiliate himself from an appalling piece of negative campaigning (a comic book mailer, ironically about rape jokes) while repeating all its allegations for the press.

In short, Coleman’s political stance is determined by expedience, an expedience that includes both campaign support and personal gifts. He’s made it a practice to run the kind of campaigns that divide a country already steeped in vitriol. And I wouldn’t trust him to represent my interests in Congress any more than I would trust him in the smoky back room of a bar.

Vacation Over

The blog and I have had a little break from politics over the last couple of days. However, if I want to say everything I still have to say before the election, it’s time for that break to end.

To ease me back into it, here are a couple more skits from Kids in the Hall, election-themed this time.

Gay Marriage:

I love these guys.

The Goblin King

Fantasy Magazine has a column up about the 10 fantasy movies that make people think that fantasy is stupid fluff. I have no problem with fluff, and I’m rather fond of at least one of the movies on their list, but I did have to agree with the inclusion of Labyrinth.

I didn’t like the movie when I first saw it, although having watched it again a few years ago, there are bits I like (love the creepy hands). Fantasy Magazine thought:

…the movie ended up as the tale of a Mary Sue who is totally misunderstood by her parents, God! and ends up ripping the heads off furry marionettes in the middle of a sexual awakening.

Now, while I’ll admit that Sarah was an oppressively competent and admired little whiner, that wasn’t my big problem with the movie. Since I was in my mid-teens when I watched the first time, I didn’t figure out why I didn’t like it until much later.

It’s the ending. Specifically, it’s the scene where Jareth proposes to Sarah and she turns him down.

I know, I know. It was necessary. I fully agree that she had to turn him down for the story to work, and I would have been creeped out if the fifteen-year-old had accepted. That’s not the problem.

The problem is that she didn’t even think about it.

How often does one meet a goblin king? How often does one defeat him? How often does he offer to lay his kingdom at one’s feet? Sure, it’s an offer that can’t be trusted, but should that make the idea any less tempting? Shouldn’t one take just a second to wonder what it would mean if it were something one could accept, just one little moment to imagine?

But no. She just takes the baby and runs. She never even looks back. Stupid girl. Stupid, stupid girl. Far too stupid to spend two hours of my life with.

At least there were muppets.

An Audience Divided

Sunday morning, I was out to brunch with the usual suspects. My friend Kelly peeked over his shoulder at the table of senior citizens directly behind him, didn’t quite shrug, and started talking. “So, I was at a reading last weekend. Man, talk about dividing your audience.”

His wife’s eyes got big as she smiled and nodded.

One of the readers was a mystery writer. His detective was investigating the death of a woman with a stable of boyfriends. For this particular scene, he was interviewing one of the boyfriends.

Kelly paraphrased the boyfriend’s dialog. “Then she pulled out the [moderately intimidating sex toy*], and I started screaming, ‘Avocado! Avocado!'”

We laughed. The senior citizens ignored us.

Kelly nodded. “We howled with laughter. There was one other table that was howling too.”

But nobody else in the audience understood what was going on. Kelly didn’t mention it, but I’m sure they must have been looking at the maniacs at the two tables, trying to figure out what was so funny.

The author then went on to read the part of the story that explained what a safeword was. Once the rest of the rural and small-town Wisconsin audience fully absorbed that piece of knowledge, something clicked. Then they really looked at the two tables.

We all laughed again, because, really, how can you explain without implying there’s something that needs to be explained. All you can do in that situation is smile. Shrugs and winks are, of course, fully optional, as suits your temperament.

As much as I laughed about my friends’ uncomfortable situation, though, it’s the author who I think was in the most unenviable position. Imagine writing that scene, knowing that you had to reach both parts of your audience–the readers who take this knowledge for granted and those who don’t even know there’s something to know.

Thinking about the reaction at the reading, I think this writer handled the whole thing perfectly. For the knowing few, there was the extra payoff of the absurd safeword to float them through an explanation of what they already know. For the blissfully clueless, the strangeness of “avocado” was a flag that they were about to learn something new about sex. They had the opportunity to brace themselves for the shock. The more I think about it, the more impressed I am.

I’m definitely buying this guy’s book (as soon as I remember to ask Kelly who he is). Not only does he sound hilarious, but I suspect he has a lot more to teach me about writing.

Maybe even something about sex.

* Redacted only because, if you’re Googling for that, this is not the story you’re looking for.

The Contentious Propositions

I have a confession to make. I am utterly overwhelmed by the scope of the stakes in next week’s election. I’ve been coping by narrowing my focus to local issues, where I feel as though I can make some difference. I have, maybe, but there’s so much more out there that needs attention.

For example, there are two statewide propositions, one in Michigan and one in California, that need attention. One is the product of those who would make everyone else bear the burden of their narrow views of morality. One is an attempt to block this thoughtless, moralistic behavior.

Over at denialism blog, PalMD is disecting the case against Michigan’s Proposition 2. Proposition 2 deals with human embryonic stem cell research. It would exempt Michigan from the kind of state-by-state battling that’s marked the abortion debate by keeping anyone from passing laws that are more restrictive than the federal laws. Needless to say, some people aren’t happy about this.

Every Sunday—early in the afternoon—anti-Prop 2 signs pop up like crocuses in March. Religious groups are making the usual arguments equating HESCs with little homunculi who are being murdered in the name of Science. But just in case going to church and hearing your pastor telling you how to vote is too subtle, there is the horrible, horrible beast—the Michigan Man-Cow.

Go take a peek at the horrid monster.

DrugMonkey is trying to find the rationale behind California’s Proposition 8, but he’s only finding rationalizations.

You will recall from your history books that even slavery and women’s suffrage issues were surrounded by (crap) rationalizations. The argument was not “just because”. And now, most Americans find the argument that other people should be chattel because of the shade of their skin or their place of origin wrong. Most Americans think that women are quite capable of voting in a way that will not RUINZ! our country. We have, as a population, shed many, many of our bigotries and mis-beliefs in the name of equality, democracy and civil rights. We look back and often sneer at those wrongheaded and ignorant views of past generations.

Well, I’m sneering at the H8rs right about now. What on earth is wrong with you people?

What, indeed. I’ve been married eleven years, but I’m surrounded by friends who have been in stable, committed, productive relationships years longer than that. Together, they’ve raised kids, renovated run-down city housing, created art, supported charities with money and time, worked through tough spots that have led to divorce in other couples. They’ve been an inspiration to so many of my generation, raised as we were by parents who didn’t choose mates wisely or manage to stay together. They showed us that we could.

About half of them are married. The other half have never had that opportunity, not legally. That this opportunity is held just out of their reach by the shape of a couple of chromosomes is beyond ridiculous.

DrugMonkey is right. It’s all about the h8, which is no basis for politics. Or much of anything else, for that matter.

Replace Michele Bachmann Blog Carnival #5

Welcome to the fifth edition of the Replace Michele Bachmann Blog Carnival: The Fallout Edition.

I’d like to start with a very special thank you to Representative Bachmann herself. After Bachmann’s comments on Hardball, traffic to all editions of our humble carnival multiplied unbelievably. My blog has seen record traffic for the last week and a half.

Thanks, Michele, we couldn’t have done this without you!

While this is the Fallout Edition of the carnival, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind the new Bachmann watchers that she existed before her Hardball appearance and that divisiveness is nothing new for her. Just one day before she became infamous, Bachmann used the issue of immigration to divide her constituents at a debate in St. Cloud.

“Without having some sort of a barrier at the border, we’re going to continue to have the kind of problems that we’ve had with Olga Franco that we saw most recently in the tragic death of four children in the accident,” Bachmann said, referring to an illegal immigrant whose minivan struck a school bus in Cottonwood, Minn. “These are preventable and we need to do that with sealing America’s borders.”

Dump Michele Bachmann has this and some other choice quotes. If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can watch that whole piece of the debate below.

Video bonus: Watch Tinklenberg almost do a spit take when Bachmann directly contradicts him on what his border security policy is. Note the laughter from the audience when he restates his position after she’s done.

Note also her total absorption in the papers in front of her. This was not long before Hardball. Was she cramming for the final she blew so spectacularly?

She recognized the importance of immigration for farming in the past, but now she only wants to let in a few highly-skilled technical people. Thanks to Liberal in the Land of Conservative for the video. The whole debate is here.

How does Bachmann want to stop the icky immigrants from getting into her country? The Minnesota Monitor provides the answer. She wants us to be like one of the most militarized nations on the planet, one under a constant terrorism threat:

…the argument that fences don’t work doesn’t hold water. Look at Israel and Palestine. Fences work…

Of course, this isn’t Bachmann’s first foray into the issue of immigration. On the Issues has the text of a bill she co-sponsored to make English the official language of the U.S.

Throughout the history of the United States, the common thread binding individuals of differing backgrounds has been the English language.

Hmm. Don’t anyone tell the Cajuns. Personally, I thought it had something to do with the values espoused in the Declaration of Independence and the rights guaranteed in the Constitution. I guess that’s what I get for being one of those educated elites.

Now if Bachmann had wanted to educate herself about immigration before talking, she could have easily found this out: While there is a cost to the crime that is committed by illegal immigrants, there is no indication that that cost is a measure of anything more than increased population size. In fact, illegal immigrants may commit less crime per capita than citizens.

But Bachmann’s not interested in facts. This is just a dividing tactic, a way to scare her constituents. If it were a major security issue for Bachmann, one of her first acts in office would almost certainly not have been voting against implementing the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations on cargo inspections.

Now, onto what Bachmann’s been up to since last week. Turns out, keeping track of where she stands on what she said, why she said it, and whether she meant it has been rather difficult. Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars does an admirable job of noting all the twists and turns, along with the dodging and weaving.

First, she claimed she never said it. But she then did a 180 and re-asserted Obama’s views were anti-American. Then, after her Democratic rival Elwyn Tinklenberg raised $1.4 million from Americans disgusted by her neo-McCarthyism, she tried to fundraise off her outrage at Matthews and liberal blogs for twisting her words.

John Nichols at The Nation takes a closer look at one of Bachmann’s favorite excuses for her “misunderstood” behavior: she’s just an outsider under attack by the elites. He’s particularly skeptical of her previous comparison of herself to Paul Wellstone, Minnesota’s most beloved senator.

It was an easy comparison to make, as Wellstone was not around to defend himself.

And Bachmann continues to abuse the privilege by suggesting that she serves and speaks as a Minnesota “outsider” in the Wellstone tradition

Speaking of Wellstone, Todd Beeton at MyDD examines how Bachmann’s Hardball performance may hurt Norm Coleman, who’s locked in a very tight race to hang on to the Senate seat left vacant by Wellstone’s death six years ago.

And Coleman seems to know this. On Sunday, on the same local morning TV news show during which Bachmann reiterated her comments about Barack Obama, Coleman tried to distance himself from them.

But distancing himself from her isn’t so easy after he’s been appearing by her side at McCain/Palin events throughout the state.

Of course, one doesn’t have to have loved Wellstone to hate what Bachmann has chosen to stand for. Seth Coulter Walls at the Huffington Post reports on the bipartisan rejection of Bachmann’s stance.

“Republicans who have never voted Democratic in their lives are sending me money because those kind of comments [made by Bachmann] are intolerable to them,” Tinklenberg told the Huffington Post, adding that many of the donations have come with notes attesting to this fact. “That makes me feel good — that they’re rejecting this across the board. It’s no longer a partisan thing, and it shows they’re understanding finally we are all Americans, and we all need to come together to move forward and the issues we’re facing. … And it’s certainly been reflected in the fundraising.”

It’s been reflected in Bachmann’s fundraising too. Her campaign is being coy about the amount raised since Bachmann spouted off, claiming “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The Minnesota Independent checks on the amounts that can be verified and finds less than $30,000 in itemized contributions.

But a spokesperson for at least one of Bachmann’s contributors — Schwan Food PAC of Marshall, MN — tells Minnesota Independent his company isn’t happy with
the congresswoman’s comments and indicates they will almost certainly be taken into account before making future contributions to her.

Demonstrating even further the scope of people repudiating Bachmann, A Christmas Story presents an open letter to her, including a stunning list of the people Bachmann has offended and injured.

I am just a working stiff, who wants to make life better for my family. I enjoy helping other people along the way, too. I care about life in my district, I care about life in my township, I care about life in my state. And I care about life in our country. Our district cannot boast about the things we once could declare as successful outcomes to the whole of the district.

Even the mainstream media, which has been remarkably “balanced” in its coverage of Bachmann’s extremism, is starting to question the congresswoman’s judgment. Ken Avidor at Daily Kos notes a local newspaper that is finally examining the Bachmann-Vennes-Petters “pardongate” in depth.

Dump Bachmann blog, the Minnesota Independent and other “new media” have been on this story for weeks… now the MSM has begun to write about Bachmann’s pardon request for Petters associate Frank Vennes Jr..

There’s one very important thing that we should all remember in the middle of the ever-so-satisfying Bachmann hating. She isn’t doing this alone. (She’s merely been the most inept at it.) Michele Bachmann gave one of the first speeches at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. She hasn’t made as many television appearances as she has because Larry King really wants to spend his time talking to a first-term congresswoman from the Midwest.

Or, as Andrea Langworthy put it:

While McCain’s had Sarah Palin doing his dirty work, bad-mouthing Obama, he’s been able to keep his hands clean and not be blamed for mud-slinging. The practice dates all way back to the Garden of Eden. Eve wasn’t the only one to take a bite of the apple but she certainly is the one who gets the most blame. The McCain camp sends Eve, Sarah “Pit Bull” Palin, from state to state to say biting things about Obama. Then, when asked about it by David Letterman, McCain just squirms in his chair and says, “There are a million words said in a campaign … it’s part of the political scene.”

Now, Bachmann has given into the temptation of spreading falsehoods. Fortunately, many people in our nation did not take McCain’s stance after she appeared on Hardball.

Greg Laden also looks at the responsibility for Bachmann’s act, with the tale of a brick and its consquences.

You see, all I was doing, as a dumb four year old kid, was taking what I sensed around me, but did not understand, to the next step. But the next step was too far. I took an issue that was probably small, or at least, already settled, misunderstood it, dressed it up in my mind, extended it’s life and expanded its import, and then went and made a brick bomb and threw it at someone.

And although that’s a rather somber place to stop, here is where we end the fifth Replace Michele Bachmann Blog Carnival. You’ll note that this edition doesn’t contain any goofy stories about the congresswoman. It doesn’t contain any funny pictures of the much-Googled (seriously) “Michele Bachmann Eyes,” or as a friend of mine snarkily calls that sort of thing, “the wide eyes of calm.”

We only have one more week until the election. The time to be amused by Bachmann’s cluelessness is over. It’s time to give up the ironic detachment and recognize just how angry we should be, and are, that someone like Bachmann–in fact, several people like Bachmann, just less silly–has been chosen to represent her district, her state, and her nation. It’s time to, well, I’ll just give Greg the last word here, since I think he said it best.

There are too many close calls for you or me to be comfortable. There are only two weeks left. You must now abandon other activities, put down the rake, turn off the TV, cancel the trip to the cabin, forget about organizing your stamp collection for a while!

Find a Democrat running for office. Give this Democrat fifty bucks … a cheap price to save your ass from another four years of creeping oppression. Volunteer to work for the candidate. Phone bank, door knock, clean the damn kitchen in the campaign office while other people are phone banking. Whatever, just do something!

Why I Hate the Suburbs

From the local paper:

Although Anoka bills itself as the Halloween Capital of the World, city officials and some businesses are a bit spooked by a macabre-themed head shop that has opened a pumpkin’s toss from City Hall.

Redrum — which read backwards, spells murder — opened in late September with a skull and crossbones above the door and red-stained razor blades dangling in the window.

Okay, so far, so good. If this were downtown or in Uptown or Dinkytown or on Lake Street or University Avenue, no one would notice. They might not go in if the shop didn’t carry anything they were looking for, but at most, they’d snicker and move on.

“The kind of people it brings downtown we don’t need,” said Beth Lennartson, co-owner of A Girl Thing, a women’s boutique a few doors away.

You mean people who buy things? Is there any other kind of people a business should concern itself with?

“This doesn’t help our ladies that come down here,” added co-owner Donna Texley.

You might be surprised, honey. But even if it doesn’t, does your corner of the world exist only for your customers? Do you protest barbershops opening up? Those don’t help your ladies either.

“Yes, we are the Halloween capital, but that is taking it too far,” said Krista Rothmaler, who owns Krista Artista art gallery down the street. “My opposition to Redrum has to do with the fact that it is not very family-friendly.”

Unlike boutique clothing shops and art galleries. Those are always so open to sticky-fingered younglings.

What actually gets me about all this is not the totally expected reactions. After all, I grew up in the suburbs–right up until I had a choice about where to live. No, what gets me is that Anoka is the Halloween capital. According to this article, they can’t handle anything remotely morbid or weird and they don’t like the sorts of people who love Halloween. How does that work?

Don’t get me wrong. I think Anoka is a plenty scary place. I just don’t think it’s any scarier than any other closed-minded, repressive suburb.

Young Science

Psychology, sociology, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, history, economics, political science.

Biological sciences, earth sciences.

Chemistry.

Physics.

Read one way, this is how sciences are commonly ranked on a Mohs scale of scientific snobbery. Real sciences, hard sciences, are at the bottom. Soft, squishy, fake sciences are at the top.

Read another way, this is both an inverted history of science and a ranking of the complexity of measurement.

A History of Complexity
Physics was one of the first sciences to be studied scientifically and the first science in which many of the fundamentals were discovered. Why? Because physics, at least the parts that most people learn, has the simplest subjects to test. Kinetics are visible. Pressure can be felt. Wave interaction is already present in our environments, ready to be observed.

Chemistry was harder. We can’t see or feel the building blocks of matter. We can’t see the bonds that create matter with its own discrete properties from two or more unrelated elements. We can’t directly assess molarity. Chemistry had to build the tools to do the very basics, even as it determined what those basics were. That put it far behind physics.

Biological and earth sciences are more difficult yet. Not only do scientists have to study all the parts of complex systems in order to understand the systems, but they are also constrained in two important regards. They have to observe the system without changing it enough to make their observations invalid, and they have to exercise ethics in how they manipulate the system. These things can be done, but they require additional tool development, including the development of complex systems math, which makes for slower progress.

Then we come to our “squishy” sciences, the social sciences. All the difficulties of biological and earth sciences apply, only more so. These are studies of complex systems made up of complex systems. Observation of social phenomena is social phenomena itself. The ethics of personal and political interference are extremely touchy. The sheer number of variables that the math needs to be able to accommodate is intimidating.

Does that mean that the social sciences can’t develop the tools they need? No, no more than the biological sciences can’t. What it does mean is that developing these tools should be expected to take time. How long? I don’t know. How long did it take physics to figure out how to observe the universe free of the interference of our atmosphere?

The Forgotten History
One thing that hard-science snobs like to point to as evidence that the social sciences aren’t real science is the current influence of politics on the various fields. For example, in the current economic situation, people cite the influence of libertarianism on economics. Others have pointed to single-culture-centric definitions of mental normalcy.

Both are valid critiques of the state of the field, but they have no bearing on whether economics or psychology are sciences. Politics affect every kind of research. They always have, however pure someone might think their brand of science is. Cosmology has historically had some killer debates (literally) about theory, based on politics. It got over them with time. Do we judge genetics by eugenics or physics by the atom bomb?

The social sciences are very young, they seek to understand phenomena at several interrelated levels, and they face the additional challenge of having to ask the balls for permission before dropping them off the tower. This means that current results are of dubious universal applicability. It does not mean these are not “real” sciences.

Nor does it mean the people theorizing and testing with the limited tools at their disposal are not real scientists. Some of the people clinging to theories against all evidence may not be scientists, but the evidence against most theories is slim or mixed at this early stage of the game. It will take more work and more data from the empiricists to drive the irrational theorists out, just as it always has for every other science.

They’ll probably do it faster if they’re allowed and expected to sit with the big kids at the “science table” instead of being pushed away. They’ve earned more credit than they’re usually given on that score, even if they do have plenty of work left to do. And it can only help to steep the kiddies in each field in a culture of rigor.

One Honest Libertarian

I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.

Alan Greenspan testified before Congress today and said the one thing that every other libertarian has avoided saying to this point. This financial crisis is the direct result of the failure of his philosophy.

I’d like to give him credit for his honesty, for his willingness to examine his own beliefs critically, but all I can really do is wonder how he’s managed to stay so naive for so long.

Sure, the ideas that corporations behave like psychopaths and that CEOs are successful psychopaths are relatively new. However, any student of history can easily find examples of antisocial tendencies on the part of companies and of unchecked power that has had deleterious effects on trade. The credit scandal is nothing like unprecedented behavior.How does someone as bright as Greenspan has generally been considered to be miss this?

How does he miss the evidence of his fellow libertarians? Has he always been considered necessary by the people in power? Has he only ever seen the shark’s smile and not its teeth?

Has he not met the libertarians of my generation–the arrogant tech boys who don’t understand the amount of infrastructure necessary for them to do the one thing they know, the sheltered suburbanites dreaming of chaos, the recipients of public educations who consider themselves self-made, the swaggering idiots who think a piddly handgun will stop a determined crowd? Has he never seen the people attracted to his ideas?

What I’m saying to you is yes, I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact…A flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak.

A flaw. One. And he still doesn’t know how significant it is. Mr. Greenspan, the varieties and vagaries of human nature are pretty fundamental. The flaw is the model.

We listened to this man for how long?

Update: If you want to know more about “the libertarians of my generation,” Chris has a great post and a book recommendation up at denialism blog.