Friday, 1 August 2003

Open primaries + Duverger's law = Fun

Steven Taylor explains in plain English why America’s party system has essentially stayed a true two-party system, even though other countries with similar electoral systems (notably Britain and Canada) have accreted semi-successful minor parties as well. The secret: open primaries.

The basic goal in the primary is to convince voters not party elites, that you ought to be the party’s nominee. If there is sufficient support for your candidacy, you will get on the ballot. What could be more democratic (as in rule by the people) than that?

Works for me…

The Saudi Connection

It’s Friday. I know you want to go out tonight and have some fun. Before you do that, take 10 minutes and read this, now. Key phrase to whet your appetite: “We’re talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government.”

Link via Josh Chafetz at OxBlog.

Matthew Yglesias has more, including news that at least one prominent Democrat has finally figured out that this whole Saudi thing might *gasp* be a real issue. (You know, unlike the “Bush lied because I disagree with his thought process” and the “Bush lied because he told us that the Iraq war would be hard in the SOTU but nobody was paying attention to those passages, so no fair” issues.)

Not your father's GOP

My friend Scott Huffmon passed along by email a link to an article in the Middletown, N.Y. Times Herald-Record: Young Republican’s party plan crashes:

An aide to Orange County Executive Edward Diana is under fire after he and his friends invited some of the nation’s brightest Young Republicans to what was advertised as a booze-soaked sex bash in Boston.

The controversy surrounding Diana’s 24-year-old staff assistant, Karl Brabenec, started at the Young Republicans national convention July 11, when his friends distributed fliers “for lots of beer, liquor and sex” at a party dubbed, “Karlpalooza ‘03.”

Since then, copies of the incriminating invites have surfaced in Orange County, prompting cries of disgust from women’s groups, county legislators and fellow Republicans.

I guess I can see how a flier that called on young women to “wear as little clothing as possible” might be construed as offensive by some. Meanwhile, Brabanec supporter Laura Vance has come out swinging against Brabanec’s assailants:

A few, like Orange County Young Republican Treasurer Laura Vance, who called the Times Herald-Record and a WTBQ talk show yesterday, came to Brabenec’s defense. Vance said most of the criticism had come from political rivals, and she brushed off the Republican Women’s comments.

“They’re a bunch of old hags, and I’ll tell them that to their face,” Vance said. “I’m a woman, and I don’t feel offended. The party never even went on. It’s unfair to make a big deal of something back home that happened on someone’s vacation.”

By that logic, I guess Chrisapalooza ‘03 in Ann Arbor is on (woo-hoo!). It’s not like anyone back in Oxford could be offended by an evening of drunken debauchery taking place 700 miles away, right?

Then again, maybe in light of the Las Vegas “What happens here, stays here” ad campaign, maybe Vance isn’t too far off the mark.

The Constitution, gay marriage, the flag, abortion, and other issues of the day

As I noted here, placing issues of fundamental political debate in a society beyond the realm of ordinary politics is a monumentally stupid idea. That goes for economic and social rights like those proposed in the EU constitution, and it goes too for gay marriage, as Michael J. Totten points out.

(Michael is probably wrong about the political support for gay marriage in the public; CNN reported today steep declines in support for all sorts of “gay agenda” items in recent polls, perhaps as part of a post-Lawrence backlash. I suspect it will be 20-30 years before most Americans come to accept the idea of gay marriage, due to generational effects.)

I know why conservatives want to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage, just as they wanted to amend the Constitution to permit Congress to ban flag desecration, and want to use an amendment to ban abortion. Fundamentally, conservatives don’t trust the Supreme Court to leave politically contested issues to the people’s representatives, and perhaps they are right in that regard. But tying the hands of future generations is not the right approach.

Instead, let me offer a simple statement as an amendment: “Nothing in this Constitution shall compel the United States or any state to recognize a marriage formed contrary to federal statutes, nor shall this Constitution require the recognition of any marriage not between one man and one woman.” If Congress decides in 2040 (or 2005, for that matter) that they want to do the right thing and repeal Bill Clinton’s Defense of Marriage Act, such an amendment would permit that while stripping the Court of any means to legislate an alternative definition of marriage in the meantime.


Bobby A-G, subbing for Alex Knapp at Heretical Ideas, tries to defuse the complaints about President Bush’s use of the word sin in reference to homosexuality.

One thing that has stuck with me since our family reunion in May was what one of my relatives-by-marriage* said about sin: in God’s eyes, all sin is equal, whether it’s murder, taking His name in vain, or telling a lie. (In some ways this resembles Orthodox Judiasm’s approach to Torah law; it’s all or nothing.)

One can legitimately debate whether or not homosexuality is objectively a sin, or whether it ought to be one. But in the belief systems of most Christian sects, it is considered one, the opinions of non-believers notwithstanding. I think Bush’s point was that the severity of the sin doesn’t matter, again because God doesn’t care about the severity (or even acknowledge it)—He only cares about the sin. And everyone sins. So those who would condemn gays for being sinful without condemning themselves too for their own sins would be hypocritical.

Of course, since Bush allegedly doesn’t nuance [sic], I may be reading far too much into this.

My friend Scott emails to note that there is one unpardonable sin: blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost, if your denomination swings that way).

Mark 3:29 But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation (King James Version)

Matthew 12:31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. (King James Version)

This lapsed Methodist learns something new every day…

Ethanol boondoggle?

The AP reports that the proposed Senate energy bill includes provisions that double the use of ethanol in gasoline.

Advocates, like the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, claim that blended gasoline does not lower fuel efficiency in practice. Quoth the CRFA:

Studies with 10% ethanol-blended gasoline show that actual fuel efficiency is essentially identical to that of regular (ethanol free) gasoline. Yet ethanol contains less caloric energy than gasoline, which should, theoretically, result in poorer fuel efficiency. The discrepancy results from the greater efficiency with which ethanol-blended gasoline is burned during engine operation.

This advocacy site claims a 2% reduction in efficiency, but that it is “a small price to pay for a cleaner environment.”

On the other hand, some auto enthusiasts believe that ethanol lowers the fuel efficiency by ten percent or more (negating the savings on gasoline, and effectively increasing the cost to operate the vehicle per mile), although it does increase the octane rating of the gasoline. And anything that feeds more money to ArcherDanielsMidland (motto: “We keep the Sunday shows on the air.”) and our obscenely over-subsidized farming industry leaves me somewhat skeptical.