Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dogs, Not Barking

An occasional item about things not in the news -- which is, therefore, newsworthy.

1. Why don't we have controversial surgeon generals any more? I had to look to check; turns out it's been (shocker, I know) vacant since mid-July, with apparently no current nominee (to replace Regina Benjamin, who as far as I know mostly stayed out of trouble)...yes, that's a three-month vacancy with no replacement named. I suppose one way to avoid controversy is to avoid nominating anyone, but still...surgeon generals used to be front-and-center in "culture war" issues.

2. The Euro. Or at least the Euro crisis. Yeah, it's been in the general news some, but (at least in the US) it's mostly gone away as an any-day-now kind of crisis story.

3. The Fed board. Yeah, this again. There are basically three openings: one current one, since August; the spot that will open up assuming that Janet Yellen is confirmed (or, I suppose, Bernanke's spot if she isn't); and the one that will be open when Sarah Bloom Raskin goes over to Treasury, assuming that she is confirmed. That's three opening, zero nominees. As Kate Davidson notes in a nice article, there's another potential opening at the end of the year, although presumably Jerome Powell will be renominated when his current term expires.Yes, Fed Chair is a big deal, but the rest of the board matters, too, so it's time to start cranking up the "when is Obama going to get around to this?" campaign. Again.

4. I don't know what to use as the kicker any more. I think fear of a revived Fairness Doctrine is really pretty much dead now (quick googling leads me to more liberals wishing it was back than conservatives fearing it, so I really can't use it any more, I don't think. I certainly can't use gun control; of course the NRA fears of what liberals really wish they could do are silly (not to mention the fears of those who think the NRA are squishes), but Democrats certainly pushed a gun measure, so can't use that. So I'm back to looking for ideas. The idea is something that one party or group is constantly warning that the other party will enact, but in fact the other party has little or no interest in it. Also helps if it's funny in some way.


  1. Unfortunately, climate pricing might be justifiably classified in #4 right now.

  2. A small correction: The plural of "surgeon general" is "surgeons general," not "surgeon generals."

    1. Incorrect. As long as enough people use "surgeon generals" in reasonably formal register, and they do, it's correct English.

      People who insist on pedantic "rules" in language have no legitimate authority to overrule the choices of the masses. Language is wonderfully democratic in that sense.

      Now go off and split some infinitives.

    2. I tend to agree with that attitude most of the time, but for official titles it seems reasonable that the plural be whatever it's "officially" supposed to be. I don't think "surgeon generals" is wrong per se, but hey, they're uniformed officers, you might as well be formal about it.

    3. As far as I'm concerned, it's a recognized alternate spelling, and I'm sticking with it for now. If it becomes the case that I need to write multiple posts about multiple people who occupy the office, I'll reconsider.

      (Of course, I have been writing about Mitchell, Kleindienst, Richardson, etc...)

  3. The "euro crisis" bascially ended when the ECB said it would be anything to stop a run. NO sense fighting a guy with a printing press.

  4. The idea is something that one party or group is constantly warning that the other party will enact, but in fact the other party has little or no interest in it.

    Many Republicans are afraid that Democrats will bring in lots of new immigrants for the purpose of building an ethnic coalition that will outnumber unfortunate oppressed white people, but actually they will not.

    Also many Democrats are afraid that Republicans will bring in lots of new immigrants for the purpose of cheap labor for big business, but actually they will not.

  5. Conceptually/grammatically, was the Fairness Doctrine a "dog not barking?"

    After all, the dogs WERE barking about the Fairness Doctrine. The dogs were barking at something that wasn't there, as dogs sometimes do.

    Dogs not barking should mean something like a true negative, right? The absence of dogs barking implies something also missing. The Fairness Doctine stuff, though, was really more of a false positive: "the libruls are coming to get us" when, in fact, they weren't.

    So, every time Newt surged in the polls, the dogs barked loudly. The dogs really didn't bark with Romney, so that implied the dogs accepted Romney. In 2000 with Bush, the dogs very loudly were happy with that choice (dogs wagging?)

    1. I'm ignoring this comment. Blogger's prerogative.

    2. The problem I have with the phrase "dogs not barking" is that it reminds me of the Sherlock Holmes story "Silver Blaze." There the fact that the dog did not bark did not mean that nothing was going on; something WAS going on, but it was being done by someone the dog knew and trusted. Which does not seem to be what you mean.

    3. Jim,
      That's my reference here, too.

      I dunno...I just did type I/type II errors in class the other day, and it got me thinking.

    4. Sure. OK, I'll admit to stretching it, but generally the idea is that something *is* happening; it's just something that doesn't count as "news."

  6. "The idea is something that one party or group is constantly warning that the other party will enact, but in fact the other party has little or no interest in it."

    Back in 2000, I believed that if Bush was elected, it would spell the end of Roe v. Wade, due to his appointing justices to replace those who had previously upheld it. This was an idea pushed by many Democrats at the time, including Al Gore. Obviously, that hasn't happened, and while that's partly because no abortion case has reached the Court to this date, I now have my doubts that the Roberts Court would really overturn it if given the opportunity.

    I'm not saying the GOP has "little or no interest" in curbing abortion rights, I'm just saying that something as earth-shattering as overturning Roe is probably not on the horizon right now. Of course, maybe I'm wrong about that, and I was right back in 2000....

    1. Well, Bush got only two chances to put judges on the Supreme Court, and the general assumption is that at least one of those, Alito, would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade if he got the chance. The general assumption may very well be wrong, but there is little in Alito's record to make one think so. Roberts's record is more equivocal, but I would not count on him to defend Roe v. Wade.

      Basically, the fact that it remained the law of the land through the Bush administration has more to do with Anthony Kennedy than George W. Bush.

    2. Roberts strategy is clear: incremental undermining of positions he disagrees with. He seems like a guy who's much more content to limit and complicate abortion access into oblivion, than to openly strike it down.

  7. Yeah, I thought about that, and it does have humor value, but I think the bigotry made it not as much fun to use as Fairness was.

  8. Fast food, Christmas (it's almost that time of year), and gas powered cars (look it up!)

  9. Adding to the Fed board point:
    (1) Powell: among market commentators, there is no consensus on whether he will be reappointed. I'm going with your bias that he probably will be.
    (2) Jeremy Stein: most guess that he will return to Harvard spring next year, otherwise he (probably) loses his professorship.
    (3) Yellen, whether confirmed for the chairmanship or not, will keep her own governorship tenure, not take over Bernanke's. The governors have weird terms and it is common for an appointee to fill a remaining term, then be reappointed for the next term and only serve part of that. It seems to be a technical point usually without great significance.


  10. Occasionally you hear someone from the far-right fringe contend that Obama has no intention of leaving office when his term is up-- that he'll make himself dictator-for-life or something. In fairness, the far left occasionally contended the same thing about Bush (or, really, more about Cheney). It was, of course, nonsense both times, but apparently the low-level fear the your opponents will break the entire system is pretty universal.

    My question: Does that count as a "dog not barking?" Or not, because it's only over advanced seriously by the fringes? To qualify, does the non-barker have to attract support from the otherwise-sensible mainstream of the opposing party?

  11. Mickey Kaus seems convinced that the Obama admin is hell-bent on gutting welfare work requirements, as Romney ads warned.

  12. “...of course the NRA fears of what liberals really wish they could do are silly...”

    Not silly. The ultimate goal of liberals is to make defensive firearms illegal -- just look at the models they most often use, Australia and Great Britain. Or look at the history of liberal gun control groups:

    The NRA can also freak out gun owners by simply citing laws actually passed by liberals in individual states. In my state, Massachusetts, unlicensed possession of spent brass is a felony. Even with a gun license (if you can get one!), a gun owner would be committing multiple felonies for simply possessing what most police officers carry around every day. Any state that needs to specifically exempt law enforcement from its gun laws has gone too far.

    1. It's an interesting question, I think.

      I'm about as liberal as they come on guns (toss the 2nd amendment, ban them, etc.) So, if conservative fears are based on the ideal world many liberals want, then those are rational concerns.....


      You have to ask what a liberal Congress/president would actually try to do. In that line of inquiry, the question becomes "what would they do if elected?", which is a different question.

      Naturally, one suspects that one's opponents would race towards their ideal world. Empirically, I'm not really convinced that's the case. Take the Fairness Doctrine example JB is (used to be?) fond of. Liberals may want to bring it back, but, quite frankly, they've got bigger fish to fry. So, is it rational to fear that? While possible, it's exceedingly unlikely. On guns, witness what a liberal(ish) president and Democratic Congress did from 2009-2010: nothing. After major shooting events (and, now, a split Congress), there was an attempt at background checks and clip limits; nothing even close to conservative fears (and, notably, the first of these things is a policy that conservatives used to offer as a fake offer (I don't think "fig leaf" fits) to make their position more palatable to folks in the middle). Democrats have built up a pretty rich history, then, of proposing policies that are quite a bit closer to the center than their ideal points are.

      So, if elected dictator-for-life, would Democrats take away the guns? Probably. But what do they do when they actually get elected? Not much.

      The question becomes: is it rational or even understandable to fear something that is fantastically unlikely? I would say no, but fear is not rational. I'm scared of flying, which is an irrational fear. I can bring whatever rationalism I want to the table, but every hard bump of turbulence still has me gripping the armrests. Yet, I'm still able to will myself onto the plane (6 flights in the last two weeks). So, fear can be overcome, and one could look at the relative risks rationally.

      Are conservative fears of liberals WANTING to take their guns silly? No; a lot of us liberals do want that. Are the fears of liberals actually TRYING to take their guns silly? History suggests yes.

      Now, psychology suggests that conservatives are much more likely to be guided by their fears than are liberals; a conservative is likely to have a more developed amygdala than a liberal, who will more likely have a more developed anterior cingulate cortex. In neither species is either brain structure absent (good thing, too....that amygdala does A LOT of stuff!) It's a difference of degree, not kind. But, perhaps it does suggest a reason why conservatives might be more governed by this fear that liberals are coming to take their guns (at root, a fear based on physical safety, I would think, because why else would you want a gun?).

      (And a minor quibble: liberals don't care too much about defensive firearms. Rather, they tend to think that any firearm is truly capable of being an offensive weapon, and that's what they're concerned about. You don't see many liberals trying to limit armor, do you?)

    2. Matt, I appreciate the thoughtful response. I have voted for people I disagree with on gun control -- but after seeing how easily this can become a front-burner issue, I'm much less likely to in the future (context, as you say, matters). As for being excessively "fearful," I would call it vigilance and it's not a vice if it's in the defense of fundamental Constitutional freedoms being threatened (perhaps we should be so vigilant in the defense of all our liberties?). But if the outcome of one's fear (say, one's fear of gun violence) is to take away freedoms, that's what concerns me.

      As for the reasonableness of Democratic proposals, try to see it from the perspective of gun owners. The magazine capacity limit would handicap some of the most popular rifles and handguns in the US. Again, these are the very firearms that police officers use to defend the lives of themselves and others. You say that liberals are ok with the defensive use of firearms, but it is the best defensive firearms that they are the most interested in getting rid of. Even body armor seems to be making its way onto the hit list:

      You also say that:
      "...a conservative is likely to have a more developed amygdala than a liberal, who will more likely have a more developed anterior cingulate cortex."

      I really hope this is some kind of twisted joke.

    3. Marginally disagree, maybe just on emphasis, with Matt. It is definitely true that some liberals would ban guns if they could...but there are also, as far as I can tell, a lot of liberals who really don't have that position.

      And, yes, it's very low down on most liberals priority lists, which means that anything significantly more than what Obama pushed this year has zero chance, no matter what kind of Democratic landslide would happen.

      What I do think would be a realistic possibility to be concerned about is some liberal-passed law that was more disruptive than effective -- that is, disruptive from a gun owner's perspective, and effective from gun controller perspective.

      But some kind of sweeping gun legislation intended to get rid of guns, end of story? Just not going to happen in any realistically plausible scenario.

    4. What a great discussion. Thanks to Couves, Matt, and JB.

    5. "But some kind of sweeping gun legislation intended to get rid of guns, end of story? Just not going to happen in any realistically plausible scenario."

      Gun control is kind of like abortion, in that the agenda of both sides is driven by people on the ideological extremes. The big difference is that conservatives have the upper hand on gun policy, whereas liberals have largely prevailed on abortion. The losing side knows that it can’t get what it really wants, so it goes for “reasonable regulations.” To someone who knows little about guns or abortion, they probably seem reasonable, but the other side naturally sees them as unnecessary encumbrances intended only to restrict and discourage the activity being regulated.

  13. Well, yes, it's bigotry. But it's also completely out of left field. How will this religious law become imposed on the United States? Maybe we should have a Constitutional Amendment to stop it!


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