Subject: Defending Our Endorsement of Dubya
Re: " Chatterbox: The Economist (Really) Endorses George W. Bush"
From: Bill Emmott, editor, the Economist
Date: Nov 7 9:01 a.m. PT
Thanks for writing up our endorsement of Dubya. At the end, you pose a question: "In any event, since when is a campaign supposed to be a crash course in acquiring the qualifications to be president?" My question back to you is: Since when has any presidential campaign not been exactly this? Do you think Bill Clinton had what it took at the start of the campaign in 1992? No, he learned as he went on, and grew during the campaign. 'Twas always thus. Life would be easier if candidates arrived at the outset with clear qualifications that we could just mark up, like an SAT exam. But then we wouldn't really need campaigns, would we?
James Q. Wilson mentions Maine's practice of allocating half of its electoral votes on a proportional basis. Why not adopt something similar nationwide? Here's my proposal:
1. Make two votes from each state "winner take all." (These votes represent the Senate component of Electoral College vote.)
2. Make the other votes proportional. (These represent the House of Representatives—the body of the people.)
I haven't run the numbers, but this kind of solution would help mitigate Wilson's concern about third parties blackmailing major-party candidates by preventing them from winning a popular majority. More importantly, it would almost certainly ensure that the winner of the Electoral College wins the popular vote. Moreover, the states would still have representation, and we could keep those colorful Electoral College maps—which are so much fun at election time. (Abolishing the Electoral College, on the other hand, might oblige us to abolish the Senate—a reform that won't get very far.)
My problem with the current Electoral College: Swing voters in supposedly "locked up" states should be wooed by the candidates in equal measure with the supposedly "tossup" states. Also, why should, say, Arkansas have so much more influence in the election than, say, Orange County, Calif.?
Subject: Wright Only Half Right on Genes
Re: " Dialogues: Better Living Through Darwinism"
From: Joseph Richard
Date: Oct 27 7:45 p.m. PT
Robert Wright, insightful as usual, states, "Our genes bias our perceptions and our 'rational' thought and even our moral intuitions in subtle and often pernicious ways." In fact I would take it a step further. Wright seems to be disagreeing with James Burnham about the degrees of power our genes have in shaping our perceptions. I say they are omnipotent.
After all, what is consciousness but a byproduct of the human brain, which is a product of evolution? How can we think "rationally" if our every feelings and perceptions are constructed by evolution? Victor Johnston in his book Why We Feel—The Science of Human Emotions, points out that the pleasant sensation of "sweetness" is not a property of sugar molecules, but an illusion of the brain that emerged through natural selection because sugar is a great source of energy. All pleasant and unpleasant sensations evolved to advance the goals of our genes. (Rotten eggs smelling bad, tissue damage causing the illusion of pain, complex emotions such as love and sadness, etc.)
Even if we could "override" our genes, I'm not convinced that it is something that we should strive to do. After all, our emotions are what make life so beautiful. Yes, our emotions can at times cause us distress, humiliation, and despair but that's all part of the game. I'll take the bad over a finely-tuned emotionless machine any day.
Subject: Waking the Dead
Re: " Explainer: Why Are Federal Elections Held on the First Tuesday in November?"
Date: Nov 7 11:43 a.m. PT
Why are federal elections held on the first Tuesday in November? The politicians arranged for election day to come as soon as possible after Halloween so the most dependable of their voters would have had some recent practice climbing out of their graves.