Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Obama-nation that pauses derogation

The term derogation has two important senses in the English language: any act which belittles or disparages someone, or a legal term of art denoting that which limits the scope or impairs the utility or force of some preexisting legal authority. 


The Obama administration has strongly signaled an intent to put the brakes on the incessant and unproductive derogation and vilification of each major political party by the other.  He has done this in various ways, such as dining with conservative luminaries and appointing pragmatic and relatively centrist (or non-partisan) figures such as Robert Gates, Mary Schapiro and Ray LaHood, people who have built their careers on professionalism and merit without much regard for ideological litmus tests.  One begins to sense, with cautious optimism, that Obama’s many promises of building up a post-partisan dialogue (and even a bi-partisan consensus on certain crucial issues) may well be something more than mere campaign puffery, after all.  This is most encouraging as we enter an era during which our national prosperity and security may be too imperiled to be rescued by the efforts of only half of our nation’s leaders and policymakers.  Of course, such reconciliatory efforts may not work with a Congress so opposed to Progress, but surely it is heartening to see the chief executive having a go.


In its legal sense, derogation implies a partial impairment, as opposed to complete abrogation which wholly overturns or annuls another legal authority.  The question of whether the actions of the Bush Administration were actually in derogation of fundamental constitutional rights and other well-marked limitations on executive power remains to be fully adjudicated, although the weight of legal scholarship is certainly leaning towards an affirmative answer.  That said, it should be clear by now that the Obama administration has already made steps to shift the balance of powers between the federal branches on to a more soundly constitutional footing, by laying out clear policies on coercive interrogation and shutting down a prison system which was always intended as an end-run around the federal courts.  These actions should raise cries of applause from the hardcore constitutionalists who constitute the anti-federalist tip of the American right wing (as we have heard from Libertarians and Bob Barr) but such retrogressive extremists may not take constitutional limitations on executive power quite so seriously as the name Constitution Party would seem to imply.


I wish the new President the very best in his efforts to roll back derogation in both senses, but unless Congress itself determines to move forward on key issues, it is unlikely that he will be given the chance.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reddest State Redux

This is a quick follow-up to an earlier post about which states are the reddest. Here it is in an easier to visualise format:

From Blogger Pictures

Monday, January 5, 2009


I’ve downloaded all available episodes of my favorite radio show and podcast: This American Life.  Out of 370 episodes to date, I’m only missing two.  I am sworn by all things holy to listen through every episode before A.D. 2010.  To that end, if anyone has any hint of the whereabouts of the mysteriously missing episodes numbered five and eight, please drop me a line.  Thanks!