Archive

  • Why We Need Killer Robots

    See, they can be our friends. (Flickr/Brian Gyss)
    If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that we don't want killer robots on the battlefield, mowing down the pathetic human meatsacks in front of them as they practice for the inevitable uprising in which they enslave us all. Or do we? The other day, Rose Eveleth reported in the Atlantic about a company called Clearpath Robotics that had issued an open letter foreswearing the manufacture of killer robots (which we can define as robots that can make the decision to kill human beings without the approval of a human being). This follows on a lengthy 2012 report from Human Rights Watch laying out the case against any military creating such machines, and a UN meeting in May at which countries were urged not to develop autonomous systems with the ability to kill on their own. But I'm here to say: we need killer robots. Let's understand first of all that we're some time away from having software sophisticated enough that we could trust it to operate a lethal machine on its own on a...
  • Why Rand Paul Is a Press Management Wizard

    Flickr/Gage Skidmore
    How does Rand Paul do it? He's not someone who can give a speech that'll make you cry, like Barack Obama can, and he's not someone who lights up a room like Bill Clinton. He's never written a law, let alone an important one that improved people's lives. Nobody thinks he's some kind of super-genius. When he first came on the political scene he was stumbling all over himself to reconcile his quasi-libertarian beliefs with mainstream opinion. And yet he gets way more attention than anybody else running for president. While it would be foolish to talk about anyone being a front-runner at this point, he seems to have at least as good a shot as anyone at being at least one of the main contenders vying for the Republican nomination. So how does he do it? Let's take a look at today's case study, a front-page article in the Washington Post about a trip Paul took to Guatemala to do some charitable ophthalmological work. (Paul is an ophthalmologist.) The Post sent a reporter down with him, at no...
  • The Incompetent Pollster Mystery Solved!

    So many numbers...
    In today's Washington Post, there's an article about pollsters who fail miserably, asking how wrong you have to be to never work again. The answer, of course, is that there is simply no level of wrongness that will keep you from getting more clients. While the article has some interesting information in it, it fails completely to answer the real question: Why does this happen? Well, I'll tell you the answer in a moment. But first here's an excerpt: A pollster is one of those jobs — like a football lineman or an oil-tanker captain — that normal people tend to notice only when one of these specialized professionals messes up. In that sense, 2012 was a banner year for Republican pollsters. Romney may have lost handily in his quest to become president, but he famously thought he was going to win right up until the last minute. A lot of that blame fell upon a polling firm called Public Opinion Strategies. Neil Newhouse, who acted as Romney’s top pollster, still doesn’t like to talk about...
  • Why Congressional Democrats Are Upset that President Obama Doesn't Hang Out With Them More

    A man alone with his thoughts. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
    The other day, the New York Times published a long article on President Barack Obama's miserable relationship with Congress, particularly the members of his own party. The point of the article is that Obama doesn't put much effort into building personal relationships with congressional Democrats, and as a result they're rather disgruntled with him, which could make the remainder of his presidency more difficult. It's a good example of how, in its facts, a piece of journalism can be perfectly true, even revealing, and yet be completely misleading in its implications. Ezra Klein gave it the necessary dismantling : Obama does see socializing with Hill Democrats as a chore. But there's a lot that Obama sees as a chore and commits to anyway. The presidency, for all its power, is full of drudgery; there are ambassadors to swear in and fundraisers to attend and endless briefings on issues that the briefers don't even really care about. The reason Obama doesn't put more effort into stroking...
  • Why the Uber Controversy Won't Convince Young Voters That the GOP Is the Cool Party

    Flickr/Mike
    P eriodically, conservatives latch on to some emerging cultural development and decide that this the thing that will allow them to win over young voters, providing some crack in the door through which they can shove a foot and bring their message of free markets and small government to an audience they're convinced is just waiting to hear it. Remember " South Park conservatives "? There was supposed to be a whole generation of irreverent right-wingers, turned off by the excesses of political correctness and ready to rush to the arms of the GOP. It didn't work out that way. And lately, Republicans have been over the moon for Uber. In case you aren't aware, GOP politicians have been lining up to shower the company with love. Marco Rubio is an Uber fan. Newt Gingrich is an Uber crusader. The RNC has a petition you can sign in support of Uber in its conflicts with local taxi regulations that keep the company out. Here's a recent Politico piece : Kristen Soltis Anderson, a Republican...
  • The Ferguson Police Department's Top 10 Tips For Protester Relations

    Police officer in gas mask during a standoff between protesters and police Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
    (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) 1. If there's any chance that there might be violence, it's best to have your officers put on all the military gear they've got, including their body armor and camouflage outfits , because that's totally badass. Being decked out like that won't at all affect the way they think about their primary mission (to protect and serve the people of the community), and when protesters see it, they'll know that the officers are trained professionals who take their jobs seriously. 2. Park your armored personnel carriers in the middle of the street . That sight will let everyone know that you mean business, and won't in any way contribute to an atmosphere of tension. 3. When a protester approaches you with his hands up, it's best to point your rifle in his face . Round here, we call it the "Ferguson howdyado." It's a friendly way of saying, "I respect your First Amendment rights, but I'm also thinking about killing you." 4. Don't forget to position snipers with their guns...
  • 'Leave It to the States': Admirable Moderation, Or Cowardly Cop-out?

    Ah, the majesty of federalism. (Map from Wikimedia Commons)
    As everyone knows, opinions on same-sex marriage have been changing rapidly, which also means that the positions of politicians have to change to keep up. Now that pretty much every Democrat running for anything is in favor of marriage equality, they're done changing. Republicans, on the other hand, are going to have to keep tweaking their stance, confronted by the almost impossible challenging of signaling their open-mindedness to general election voters while not alienating a conservative base that, for a while anyway, is still opposed to gay people getting married. So what's the answer to that problem? "Leave it to the states." Is that an admirable bit of live-and-let-live, let-a-hundred-flowers-bloom approach to governing, or is it a cowardly cop-out? It's kind of both. It wasn't too long ago that Republicans were advocating a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. But few people in the GOP mainstream say that anymore. If you want to know where...
  • Why the Rand Paul Phenomenon Isn't Exactly a Libertarian Triumph

    ©Jenny Warburg
    ©Jenny Warburg Even if he's not a "real" libertarian, the Kentucky senator demonstrates the philosophy's core political problem. L ibertarianism is suddenly getting more attention from the mainstream media than it has in a long time, perhaps ever. And wherever you see it, there's a good chance that U.S. Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, is at least part of the focus. When the New York Times Magazine publishes a story about libertarians, it puts a picture of Paul on the cover. When veteran Washington Post reporter Dan Balz writes a story about the libertarian response to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, most of it is about Paul. Such attention isn't completely misguided (I'm doing it right now!), because Paul is a national figure who wants to be president of the United States, and that makes him important. But Paul's inescapable association with libertarianism shows the limits the philosophy faces if its adherents want to win political victories and not just intellectual...
  • How Chuck Todd Can Save Meet the Press

    He's ready for his close-up. (Flickr/PBS NewsHour)
    It's now official: Chuck Todd will be replacing David Gregory as host of the august NBC Sunday morning program Meet the Press , after a long period of declining ratings. If you're familiar with my previous criticism of the Sunday shows (see here or here ), you might imagine that I'd encourage Todd to bring more substance and an eclectic mix of guests to the program, freeing it from the endless and deathly recitations of competing talking points that characterize the genre. But no. In fact, I'd suggest that the path to success is to take everything that makes the shows so terrible, and do more of that. Meet the Press had its heyday under the late Tim Russert, who was revered as "Washington's toughest journalist." After his death in 2008 at a relatively young age, Russert was given the equivalent of a state funeral, as though he were a president and not a TV host. While his death was certainly tragic, I sometimes felt like the only person who, while he was still alive, thought Russert...
  • Could the Ferguson Conflict Produce Actual Reform on The Limits of Policing?

    Flickr/Elvert Barnes
    Every once in a while, a dramatic news story can actually produce real reform. More often the momentum peters out once the story disappears from the news (remember how Sandy Hook meant we were going to get real gun control?), but it can happen. And now, after the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missiouri, turned to a chaotic nightmare of police oppression, we may have an opportunity to examine, and hopefully reverse, a troubling policy trend of recent years. The focus has now largely turned from an old familiar story (cops kill unarmed black kid) to a relatively unfamiliar one, about the militarization of the police. The images of officers dressed up like RoboCop, driving around in armored assault vehicles, positioning snipers to aim rifles at protesters, and firing tear gas and rubber bullets at Americans standing with their hands up saying "Don't shoot!" has lots of Americans asking how things got this way. This issue offers the rarest of all things, an...

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