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99 posts from June 2006

June 30, 2006

Why Jerome Armstrong's political astrology might matter

I can't decide whether I care about Jerome Armstrong's political astrology hobby or not. In order to make up my mind, I'd have to know the answers to the following questions:

a) Did Jerome ever take political astrology seriously? If astrology was just a party game for Jerome, on the level of a Quizilla quiz or a ouija board, then it's a non-issue.

b) Assuming Jerome ever took this stuff seriously, does he still consider astrology to be a valid tool for making strategic political decisions? If Jerome now believes that astrology is complete bunk, then his earlier interest in astrology is a total non-issue, even if he used to buy it. Actually, I'd give him extra points for critical thinking and good judgement if he gave astrology a try and abandoned it because it didn't work, or because he realized it was utterly implausible.

c) Are any of Jerome's current strategic beliefs derived from, or influenced by astrology? Specifically, does Jerome say or do anything today that he WOULDN'T if had it not been for the "evidence" he saw in astrology. I added that rider because, for some people, so-called divination techniques like astrology and prayer are really ways to step back and focus on the big picture, internally. For them, praying doesn't impair their judgement or introduce any new crazy ideas beyond what they believed before they started praying.

We secularists can interpret prayer and meditation as modes of deliberation in which people give themselves permission to take their emotions, their ethics, and their background knowledge into account to reach a considered judgement. Unless God actually talks to people, the "answer" to a sane person's prayer is just where he or she nets out intellectually and emotionally after thinking things over. We heathens call that a "gut check" or a "long walk in the snow", or whatever. If that's what astrology is for Jerome, then his hobby is a non-issue.

d) Does Jerome intend to use astrology as a predictive political methodology in the future? In his work as consultant for Presidential hopeful Mark Warner, for example?

I think that it is a big deal if Jerome still believes in astrology and still uses this crackpot belief system to inform strategic political decisions. Why? Because Jerome's a pro, and astrology is bogus. Reading star charts is no way to make a serious decision about anything.

A lot of people have argued that the notion that the stars determine your destiny isn't intrinsically weirder than the concept of a virgin birth, or the doctrine of the Trinity. In one sense, they're right. There are a lot of crazy-ass beliefs out there that we're culturally prohibited from making fun of.

We've all got some irrational and/or ill-founded beliefs. For example, I'm sympathetic to the theory that humans evolved from aquatic apes. I can't prove it, or even make an especially compelling case for it, but it doesn't usually affect my work. So, I hope you won't hold it against me, even if it strikes you as odd.

However, there's a critical difference between astrology and mainstream religion: If you knew that a political consultant used the Bible to time his ad buys (a la Bible Code) you'd probably be very concerned. Why? Because you know that The Bible Code is totally bogus. Sure maybe for your hypothetical consultant, the code is just an exercise that he uses to get his own thoughts in order. In which case, it's a non-issue. However, if he's actually using the code to make strategic political decisions, you would have every right to be concerned.

It's not enough to say that astrology is just Jerome's hobby without specifying what influence it has on his real-life politics. Some hobbies are totally compartmentalized, but not others. Depends on the
hobby and the person.

Suppose Jerome were a WW2 buff. Maybe he doesn't explicitly mention WW2 on the job or formally introduce any historical methods into his political analysis, but it's still possible that his hobby has a direct or indirect influence on his work. It's hard to imagine that an in-depth study of the military strategy and tactics probably does have some impact on a political consultant's approach to his or her work. Recreational scholarship of WW2 would probably be a good thing for a consultant. But wouldn't you worry if you knew that a WW2 buff/consultant had a hobby website about how the Maginot Line was strategically brilliant object lesson for the Iowa primary?

So, bottom line: If Jerome says that astrology is a bogus tool for predicting politics, or if he insists that astrology has zero influence on his political thinking today, and promises not to resort to it in the future, then I'm totally cool with his hobby. Otherwise, Jerome's astrology is an issue of concern to me.

That said, Jerome's a professional strategist and a leader of the netroots movement. If he admits that some of his strategic decisions have been influenced by methodology that I consider to be completely specious, I'm going to be extra-skeptical about his future prognostications.

I'll admit that as a moonbat lefty Democrat-outside-the-mainstream who believes that Russ Feingold can be the next president of the United States, I felt a little schadenfreude when the netroots' hard-headed, realistic, center right Blogfather turned out to be a closet astrologer. It was the same feeling I had as a ten-year-old when I heard about The Reagans' astrologer. The things grownups believe!

Still, it's important to keep this disclosure in perspective. I generally didn't agree with Armstrong before I learned about the astrology, but I've always admired his achievements as an organizer an organizer and a fundraiser. He did more for Howard Dean than Joe Trippi, and for that I'll always be grateful. I'm sure Jerome's achievements are despite his astrological predilections, not because of them, but I'm not prepared to write him off entirely because he has some incredibly stupid beliefs.

Returning to realpolitik... Is Jerome's astrological past a political liability?

Garance of TAPPED predicts that, "[Jerome's] reputation will not, I'm afraid, ever fully recover (the flaky astrology stuff being worse than the SEC settlement from a pure politics perspective)."

Frankly, I doubt that this revelation will hurt Armstrong or the netroots in the long term. I'm prepared to accept empirical evidence either way. Yeah, Jerome's astrology talk pisses me off--but file that reaction in the same category as my aquatic ape theory--heartfelt but not 100% defensible.

So, in lieu of a conclusion, I'll give the last word on Jerome Armstrong's beliefs about astrology to Jerome:

Another Update [2006-6-25 14:13:39 by Jerome Armstrong]: Oh yea, on the astrological stuff. I have done the new age type things over the years—life’s never boring that way. Down that line, I dabbled with planets and predictions in the most abstract manner, as one of several different predictive mathematical disciplines, when coming out of finances and into politics during my early blogging days (nobody is surprised that remembers the early 2001 days here), and since then have completely tapered out of it over time. So yea, the cons got me on this one being a little out of the ordinary… It has nothing to do with what I consult with in online political strategy. But hey, like JP Morgan once said, “millionaires don’t use astrology, billionaires do!” I hope to see those wingnuts that are obsessed with every little thing I do at the next bikram yoga or vipassana meditation session in DC-- but fair warning that I believe we evolved from monkeys!

Aquatic monkeys?

June 29, 2006

Bat-eating centipede

I "heart" David Attenborough...

Hat tip to Thad.

Something fishy

Eye*, originally uploaded by imapix.

Today's FlickrFind.

The Pope's Karl Rove

It's nice to see the Vatican taking its strategic cues from the White House. This week Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo told a Catholic news magazine, "We worry especially that, with current laws, speaking in defense of life and the rights of families is becoming in some societies sort of a crime against the state." [WaPo]

Legal experts say that the chances of the Catholic church facing any legal consequences for its religious teachings are slim to none. The facts don't stop Trujillo from turning on the drama when he needs it.

It's all about riling up the base and convincing them that the evil secularists want to persecute the faithful with their international codes of justice.

Sounds familiar doesn't it?

Supreme Court delivers stinging rebuke to Bush over military trials for Gitmo detainees

The Supreme Court delivered what the Washington Post calls a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration's proposed policy for Guantanamo inmates. The administration had hoped to try the prisoners at Guantanamo Naval Base under military tribunals, but the Supreme Court scuttled their plan with a 5-3 ruling that these tribunals are neither legal under US law, nor permissible under the Geneva Convention.

Marty Lederman of SCOTUSblog sees huge implications for this decision:

More importantly, the Court held that Common Article 3 of Geneva aplies as a matter of treaty obligation to the conflict against Al Qaeda. That is the HUGE part of today's ruling. The commissions are the least of it. This basically resolves the debate about interrogation techniques, because Common Article 3 provides that detained persons "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely," and that "[t]o this end," certain specified acts "are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever"—including "cruel treatment and torture," and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." This standard, not limited to the restrictions of the due process clause, is much more restrictive than even the McCain Amendment. See my further discussion here.

This almost certainly means that the CIA's interrogation regime is unlawful, and indeed, that many techniques the Administation has been using, such as waterboarding and hypothermia (and others) violate the War Crimes Act (because violations of Common Article 3 are deemed war crimes).

Steve Soto of the Leftcoaster says that the decision proves that George W. Bush isn't an emperor after all.

Scott Lemieux says that the Court's ruling slaps down the lawless administration.

ThinkProgress has the latest updates and analysis of the Hamdan decision.

On the relative kookiness of astrology and mainstream religion

In light of blogger Jerome Armstrong's forays into the world of electoral astrology, Digby asks whether astrology really any nuttier than mainstream religion.

Trying to predict elections with astrology is on par with snake handling, faith healing, and the most bone-headedly literal beliefs about intercessionary prayer.

I question the strategic judgement of any consultant who thinks that astrology is a valuable predictive method.

It's the same worry I have about the judgement of our POTUS literally believes that he's on a mission from God, related to him in English sentences during regular heart-to-heart chats at the White House.

Religious belief isn't inherently crazy, and it's unfair to most religious people to equate their belief systems with those of snake-handlers, fortune-tellers, and people who use The Da Vinci Code to pick stocks.

At least most mainstream religious beliefs are carefully circumscribed to avoid giving believers the false impression that they have access to bankable magic information.

June 28, 2006

Beyond freedom, dignity, and missing keys

Amy Sutherland used animal training techniques to break her husband of irritating habits. I say, good for her. She could have gotten the same advice from a behaviorally-oriented psychotherapist: praise good behavior, reward closer approximations of desired behavior, ignore bad behavior, never punish, and provide positive alternatives that are incompatible with the behavior you're trying to discourage.

Sutherland's husband got into a pattern of losing his keys and throwing tantrums. She learned to ignore this behavior. She realized that she had been reinforcing her husband's helplessness and his emotional outbursts by paying attention to his tantrums, even when the attention took the form of telling him not to freak out about his keys.

Some people think it's degrading or manipulative to use operant conditioning on other people. I disagree. A pattern of ineffective nagging is far more degrading for all concerned. If a nagging pattern develops, that's evidence that rational persuasion has been tried and failed. Nagging takes hold when the nagee realizes that the nagger is right, but won't change.

Hat tip to Amanda

Democrats push New Hampshire primary to 3rd

The DNC has pushed the New Hampshire primary from second to third:

The DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee voted 23-3 to push New Hampshire to third place in the 2008 Presidential nominating lineup. The vote recommended that the full DNC authorize an additional caucus between Iowa's leadoff caucus and the New Hampshire primary and an additional primary after New Hampshire's contest but before Feb. 5, 2008. [Union Leader]

As someone who grew up in Canada, the whole idea of sequential primaries strikes me as bizarre. It's bad enough that voters in a handful of states get disproportionate influence over the nomination process. It's even more perverse that the ordering of primaries necessarily has such a large effect on the outcome. Voters in the first primary make their choice without knowing how anyone else has voted, but voters in every subsequent primary make their choice in light of the outcome of all the previous primaries. Primaries should be designed to measure public sentiment about candidates, not people strategic guesses about who's still electable in light of the last primary.

At the very least, the ordering of primaries should be randomized. Better still, hold all the primaries on the same day and announce the results all at once.

Some people argue that sequential primaries are important because they measure a candidate's aptitude for retail politics--i.e., pressing the flesh, live, in a number of different locations. Be that as it may, an aptitude for retail politics is highly overrated at the presidential level. Presidential campaigns are anything but retail. Sure, all other things being equal, it's great if your candidate can make a good impression at town hall meetings in sparsely populated states. However, the idea that your nomination process should be structured in order to elevate a flair for retail politics over all other potential attributes seems quaint and wrong-headed in this day and age.

Parabasis podcast available

Over the weekend Isaac Butler of Parabasis and I sat down for a chat about blogging, politics, YearlyKos, and much more.

Part 1 of the Parabasis/Majikthise interview is now available.

New York charter school teacher fired for organizing

Nichole Byrne Lau, a New York City charter school teacher, has been fired for trying to organize her colleagues. In May, Ms. Lau received a glowing performance report stating that her students were "lucky to have her as a teacher." Now, says she's been fired for distributing information about pay scale discrepancies between teachers in charter and public schools. [NYT]

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, has taken up Ms. Lau's cause.

As president of the UFT, Weingarten offered repeatedly back an increase in school charters for New York on the condition of labor rights for teachers. Her overtures were been rebuffed.

Update: Steve Gilliard has more on the unions and NYC charter schools.