steuard: (lake)
Thursday, November 3rd, 2016 08:27 pm

I've seen lots of people talk about this year's Presidential candidates in terms of equivalency: "They're both so awful this year," or "Why do we have two people who ought to be disqualified this time?" I doubt anyone's going to change my mind at this point, but I always really want to understand viewpoints that differ from my own. And yet when I try to list huge, potentially disqualifying problems for each candidate, I honestly can't see anything approaching parity. (Especially when we limit it to topics specific to this pair of candidates, rather than longstanding policy differences between the parties.) Here are the top few points cited as "deal breakers" for each candidate that I can think of:


  • Suggested the US might not honor NATO mutual defense obligations, which runs the risk of destabilizing the entire post-WW2 deterrence structure and courts global war between nuclear powers. (Even hints at this by a President would lead to those consequences, especially given Russia's behavior these past few years. I've seen claims that Trump having considered it publicly as a major candidate could have a negative effect, even if he loses.)

  • Suggested that the US could intentionally default (partially) on its debt, which could very easily lead to a collapse of the entire global financial system and would at least drive our cost of borrowing absolutely through the roof.

  • Actively encouraged racist and radical nationalist sentiments among his supporters, contributing to the public normalization of those attitudes to a degree we haven't seen in years (decades?): this is likely to persist well beyond the election even if he loses.

  • Bragged about his willingness to do sexual things to women without asking for consent. That's sexual assault, by definition, and even if you want to insist that doesn't mean he really did those things (despite women's claims), his words show at a minimum that he believes that behavior to be something that other men would admire. (This is just the most egregious of his many terrible behaviors toward women.)

  • Said he would insist that the US military kill the families of terrorists. This is morally breathtaking, and an obvious war crime. (He's also advocated other war crimes, like torturing terror suspects because "they deserve it" whether or not it's useful, or )

Again, that's just the absolute deal breakers that come to my mind offhand. There are plenty of truly awful policy positions that he's advocated (some of which trample on the Constitution and might deserve to be on this list for that reason), and in general he's demonstrated both serious ignorance of issues and structures in national and international policy and seemingly an unwillingness to learn what he needs to fill in those gaps (which might also be taken as a deal breaker).


  • Seriously mishandled classified information over email, using a private server for some State Department business. (Note, though, that the investigation was mostly completed over the summer and did not result in evidence clear or serious enough to merit prosecution.) If new evidence came to light that was substantially worse than all of the previous evidence collected, she could potentially be charged with a felony.

  • ...?

  • (Some might add "Would nominate Supreme Court justices who support Roe v. Wade", but that doesn't explain why she's framed as being so much worse of a candidate than any other Democrat in the past 30 years.)

I honestly don't know what the next item in that list is supposed to be. There have been countless investigations of her over the past 30 years (I think she has been subjected to more intense scrutiny than just about any other politician in my lifetime: you can decide how much of that was primarily politically motivated), but literally none of them have turned up actual evidence sufficient to convict her of a crime (or maybe even charge her) or to demonstrate that she abused her position or was negligent in her duties. Also, she's sometimes seen as "unlikable", but that's a different issue than "disqualifying".

I would really, really welcome help in understanding the perceived awfulness of Hillary Clinton, and while I won't promise not to push back against assertions I think are false or overblown, I'll do my best to be respectful and to try to understand.

steuard: (Default)
Tuesday, March 1st, 2011 10:25 pm
I've been absolutely glued to news about the popular uprisings in the Arab world over the past few weeks. Tunisia was somewhat under my radar, but once that revolution succeeded and the spirit of it began to spread throughout the region I was electrified. This may wind up being one of the most significant political developments we've seen for a very long time; if the ripples keep spreading, I could even imagine it being the biggest upheaval since the fall of communism.

Even if you want to read all this, you don't want it taking up this much space on your Friends page. )

I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
steuard: (Default)
Saturday, August 7th, 2010 11:37 pm
The comments on my last post have helped me better understand my reaction to the mosque protests, so I thought I'd promote some of that to a followup post. (But this will be the last one, really!)

First, an important point that I hadn't thought about when writing my last post: whatever their ultimate cause, some people have very real feelings of pain and anger at the thought of a mosque anywhere near Ground Zero. Sure, the basis for those feelings is probably an irrational but very human generalization of negative feelings toward "Muslim terrorists" to "all Muslims" (much as I described before), but we all find emotions clouding our logic at times. Looking at it that way, some of my earlier comments were harsher than they ought to have been.

And in fact, I'd be more sympathetic to the folks objecting to this mosque if their emphasis were on their own feelings and their own limitations rather than on the "offensive" actions of the Muslims involved. I'd feel much more comfortable if everyone who objected simply said, "I'm sorry, I hate to admit this, but in this place I still have strong negative associations with the Muslim terrorists who caused me such pain. I know it's unfair, but I'm not ready to cope with a Muslim community center so close just yet." But that's not the majority of what I've heard.

What I've heard (as previously quoted) is that building a mosque there would be "offensive", as if the Muslims planning it were the ones responsible for the pain. They're not! It might be more sensitive of them to refrain from building there (particularly if the objections had mostly been made in the way I described above), but the underlying problem is not of their making. Holding rallies to tell the Muslims they're not wanted (to the extent of driving away fellow Christian protesters if they happen to be Arabs) isn't a way of saying, "This is about my feelings." And it certainly isn't a way of saying, "...and I know those feelings aren't fair and I'm working to get over them."

That is why all these protests and objections bother me so much (and, I think, why I don't accept the word "offensive" as remotely appropriate in this context). If there is a valid reason to ask that the mosque not be built near Ground Zero, it must be made clear by everyone that even making such a request is an imposition on the innocent Muslims who are entirely within their legal and moral rights planning the project. But I don't think that's the spirit behind these protests. (And backing that up, the NY Times just published an article about opposition to new mosques all over the nation, most in "far less hallowed locations" than the general vicinity of Ground Zero.)

As a final thought, it's important to remember that the unfair mistreatment of Muslims in our society causes pain and humiliation and harm, too. We have to balance two types of undeniably real pain: the feelings of those for whom Muslims evoke the specter of terror, and the feelings of those innocents who face daily suspicion because of it. I don't know the best way to handle that. It may or may not be right, but I tend to have more sympathy with those who are being unjustly vilified than with those whose (real!) feelings are based on a flawed generalization.

False associations like "the terrorists were Muslim, so all Muslims are terrorists" are responsible for some of the darkest aspects of human nature. I think it's healthiest for everyone if we as a society work to recognize and reject them. And that's why I find it so upsetting when public figures who make these statements are taken seriously by society and the media rather than being condemned.
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Friday, August 6th, 2010 06:31 pm
I'm clearly naive and idealistic, but I continue to be astounded when I see mainstream public figures spewing blatant bigotry and hate and fear. I'm not talking Mel Gibson here: his racist outbursts have generally been publicly condemned by just about everyone (including himself, in a series of increasingly threadbare attempts to apologize). I'm not even talking about the gay marriage debate for the most part: most mainstream opponents of gay rights at least make some attempt to hide their prejudice behind rational-sounding arguments. I'm talking about cases where someone makes overtly bigoted statements and substantial fractions of the public and the media nod and murmur "good point".

I probably see this sort of blatant bigotry most often in discussions of immigration, but the example that's currently making me shake my head in disbelief is the controversy about building a mosque in New York City near the World Trade Center site. Apparently (and yes, I'm sure this is old news), "National Republican leaders, like the former House speaker, Newt Gringrich, and Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, assailed the proposal, calling it offensive." Their objection, as far as I can tell, is simply that because the Sept. 11 terrorists were crazy, fanatical Muslims, we shouldn't... er... let any Muslims congregate near the site? Or something?

I'll be honest: I don't even follow the supposed logic here. I have not come up with any way of understanding this position that doesn't boil down to the twin claims that "We think all Muslims are the same" and "Muslims do not deserve full citizenship in this country." The former is based on an egregious logical error. The latter is based on an astounding failure to understand our nation's bedrock principles. And both very openly reflect an unfounded hate for a specific group of people.

I do not comprehend how a mature person with any sense of public decorum would be willing to make this sort of statement repeatedly. I do not comprehend how a mature person can listen to these statements and not immediately think, "Whoa, that's over the line," the same way they do about Mel Gibson. But as noted, I'm naive and idealistic. So you jaded folks out there: how can this possibly be seen as acceptable in a civil society?
steuard: (Default)
Friday, May 28th, 2010 08:53 pm
I've followed most of the news about the oil leak in the Gulf, but I haven't read much commentary or analysis about it lately (too many guests and travel). So perhaps those of you who have been following the discussion can answer a question that's come to my mind:

Is there any reason at all that the hard-core environmental activists don't have every right to say "I told you so" to the rest of us after this? (Not that they should...) After all, given the likely enormous economic impact of the disaster (let alone the environmental consequences) this seems like exactly the sort of scenario they've been warning about for years (and in very much the way they might have predicted, with the government complacently believing the oil industry's rosy assurances that nothing could go wrong).
steuard: (Default)
Friday, October 9th, 2009 06:55 am
Kim: "It's 3am and a phone is ringing in the White House. Who do you want answering that call?"

Me: "Hey, at least they didn't give it to him last year."

Kim: "Good news! Steuard's chances of winning the Nobel Prize in Physics are a lot higher than we thought!"

Me: "Yeah, this paper that I'm writing? It could totally turn out great."

Kim: "I hope The Onion's staff goes into high gear this morning and comes out with a whole series of stories like 'New Resident wins Nobel Prize in Medicine!' Actually, I wondered if this was an Onion story at first."

Don't get me wrong: I'm just as much of an Obama supporter today as I have been for years. But c'mon, Nobel committee! We've been trying to convince people to keep their expectations realistic: he can't accomplish everything he wants in just a few months. Don't go hanging a "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him like this!

Is it too much to hope that he'll courteously turn this down? Or would that end up being worse?
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Saturday, November 8th, 2008 02:44 pm
I'm still mostly on LJ hiatus (I've got yet more job applications due next week), but I've got to share one of the rare bits of positive news from my home state: after mail-in ballots were counted, Barack Obama has won Omaha's electoral vote.

I was surprisingly obsessed with the Omaha count on election night (as Kim can attest), and I'm thrilled that one corner of Nebraska has gone on record in Obama's column. (Obama won by a decent margin in my hometown of Lincoln, too, but nowhere near enough to outweigh the rural areas that compose the rest of its congressional district.) It'll be interesting to see whether this raises interest in states splitting their electoral votes. (Omaha certainly got more attention from both campaigns this year than it would have if Nebraska's vote couldn't split.)

This makes up a little for the recent state slogan, "Nebraska: Fighting Rural Population Decline One Unwanted Child at a Time".
steuard: (Default)
Tuesday, November 4th, 2008 07:59 pm
Utúlie'n aurë! Aiya Eldalië ar Atanatári, utúlie'n aurë!
steuard: (Default)
Wednesday, March 12th, 2008 08:04 am
Yes, it's old news that Congress tends to give nasty pieces of legislation names that imply exactly the opposite of what they actually do (e.g. see "Patriot Act"). But sometimes an example just jumps out at me. Today, in a newspaper article about the surveillance system that flagged Eliot Spitzer's involvement with prostitutes, I read the following:
The federal Bank Secrecy Act requires financial institutions to report suspicious transactions to the Treasury Department.
You can't make this stuff up.
steuard: (Default)
Monday, January 28th, 2008 10:05 am
There we go: the Democratic primary has been decided. Barack Obama has been endorsed by xkcd creator Randall Munroe. I'm glad that's settled. (As most of you know, Obama's had my vote for years.)

[Hmm. I almost just wrote that "Obama's had my vote for ears". I'm not quite sure what that means.]
steuard: (Default)
Thursday, January 24th, 2008 05:33 pm
There was an article in the LA Times today about Hamas breaking down the barrier wall separating Egypt and the Gaza Strip. I haven't followed the recent details of the conflict enough to have a clear opinion on the event, but nevertheless there were points raised in the article that just increased my frustration with the situation in the region.

It was mentioned several times that a number of top officials in Israel are actually coming to the conclusion that an open border there will be a good thing overall. The border wasn't ever that secure in the first place (too many tunnels, among other things), and access to Egyptian goods will relieve a lot of the pressure on Israel from humanitarian groups.

And that's what's crushingly disappointing about the way this went down. The population of Gaza in general is extraordinarily grateful and the Israeli leadership thinks it's a good thing (at least off the record). It's a win-win situation that improves life for everyone. And friggin' Hamas gets the credit. They let Hamas get the credit. The stubborn uncompromising, right-wing-hobbled idiots let Hamas get the credit. I'm not saying that the Palestinian population would have been singing Israel's praises the same way if the action had come from the other side, but this has all the appearance of a huge moral victory for Hamas.
steuard: (Default)
Sunday, January 6th, 2008 12:26 pm
Well, for the first time in this primary season I actually watched the debates last night. (Previously, I'd felt like there were just too many candidates on the stage for me to get a real sense of any of them.) I think it was really helpful to finally sit down and get a sense of what each candidate was like (especially on the Republican side: I've been largely ignoring the details of that race so far). And the debate format this time was interesting: very conversational as compared with most Presidential debates that I've seen (with explicit encouragement for the candidates to directly address each other on stage).

On to too many specific comments... )

In the end, I remained firmly in Obama's camp. There may have been some confirmation bias to that; it's hard to avoid, especially when a debate presents a lot to like and dislike about each candidate. But pretty much everything that Obama said made sense to me, and I came away with a sense that he had thought deeply about every issue that was raised (and that his way of thinking about them and his preferred answers were not too different from my own: I would trust him to make wise choices). At the same time, I felt like he was capable of the strength and confidence and leadership that we always need in a President. And I think he has as good a chance as anybody to reduce (at least a little) the deep partisan divide in this country, which I like to think could give him a greater mandate to create lasting improvements in how our nation addresses the issues of the day.

So I wish Barack Obama good luck in New Hampshire, and I fully expect that he will have my vote when he shows up on my ballot. As usual.
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Sunday, November 11th, 2007 01:02 pm
[ profile] patrissimo recently pointed to the current SelectSmart Presidential Candidate selector. I never know how much to trust automated candidate matching tools like this (or, for example, how sensitive they are to minor changes in my stated preferences), but it can at least be one starting point. A few of my top results, omitting people who aren't actually running:

1.Theoretical Ideal Candidate (100%)
2.Barack Obama(84%)
3.Dennis Kucinich(83%)
6.Joseph Biden(77%)
7.Hillary Clinton(77%)
10.Christopher Dodd(73%)
11.John Edwards(68%)

I'm glad to see that my fondness for Obama isn't just loyalty to my old state senator. A few more comments on my results... )
steuard: (physics)
Monday, February 6th, 2006 09:02 pm
By and large, the folks at NASA are pretty cool. In fact, as described in this NY Times story, NASA's top administrator just issued a statement endorsing "scientific openness" throughout the agency. That's good.

But the article shows that this fundamental aspect of science has been frighteningly threatened by political appointees at NASA. As discussed in detail on science blogs like Cosmic Variance and Bad Astronomy, the "intelligent design" folks sent there by Bush are now taking aim at cosmology. If you've been wondering why there's been so much fuss about attacks on evolution, this is the reason: these people aren't just against biology, they're against science as a whole.

The journalism major in question, George Deutsch, tried to insist that a NASA website on Einstein add the word "theory" to every occurance of "Big Bang". He said that the Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion". And lest you be tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt, here's his explanation:
It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator.
But wait, it gets worse:
This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA.

A few scientific details... )

Now, I won't claim that this one guy speaks for the entire Bush administration, and he clearly doesn't speak for most religious believers. But the point is, this sort of ignorant anti-science is right at home in the modern Republican party, and is often welcomed and even courted there. More to the point, a substantial fraction of our country honestly doesn't seem to recognize that claims like this are laughably wrong.

So those of us who are scientists (or even those who have some level of scientific training) have two responsibilities. First, we have to do a better job of sharing our work with our neighbors: educating the public is our responsibility, and we must not shirk it. And second, we must confront these attacks by the ignorant with all the force that we can muster. Science is a powerful force for good; we must not tolerate its destruction.
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Wednesday, June 29th, 2005 10:26 am
Like me, my friend Will is a physicist, but unlike me he's a serious foreign policy junkie, too. His focus on international relations often leaves him off to one side from our nation's conventional Republican/Democrat political spectrum. We don't always agree on politics or policy, but I always find his insights valuable and he's become one of my main sources of understanding in the international arena.

At any rate, he just had a letter published in the New York Times, regarding the past and current significance of the war in Iraq (it's the second one on that page). And even cooler, today's lead editorial in the paper quoted from it. For the sake of those who aren't registered (or who don't follow links), I thought I'd quote it here (with his permission, naturally):

To the Editor:

You note that Iraq had nothing to do with the conflict with global jihadism before the 2003 invasion. But that does not mean that the Bush administration is not correct to cast it as the central struggle against Islamic extremism today.

The war in Iraq, which I opposed, has evolved into one of the most consequential conflicts in American history. We simply must win if we do not want to see Al Qaeda ascendant across the Middle East.

The left has to get over its anger over President Bush's catastrophic blunder and recognize the seriousness of the strategic realities in Iraq and beyond.

Will McElgin
Chicago, June 25, 2005

I think that what he says here makes a lot of sense, and it's awfully close to my own opinion on the matter. You may agree, or you may not. But if you're interested in seeing more of Will's thoughts on global politics or in commenting on his letter, take a look at his blog.

EDIT: After some comments by Patri, I realize that it could help to mention that to Will, "win" more or less means "Get Iraq on track for a stable democracy and leave." A recent blog post of his gives more detail.