Gabriella Coleman, Author of Coding Freedom on the NSA Leaks

Yesterday Rahul Sagar, author of the forthcoming Secrets and Leaks: The Dilemma of State Secrecy, offered his thoughts on Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the benefit and dangers of whistleblowing. Today, Gabriella Coleman, author of Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking joins us to respond to Professor Sagar’s view, offer her take on the impassioned debate surrounding Snowden’s actions, and the media’s allegations of narcissism. (Also, catch Professor Coleman today on Huffington Post Live discussing whether the FBI has ‘dismantled’ the hacker collective Anonymous.)

Gabriella Coleman:

Out of all the charges lobbed against Edward Snowden I find the lay diagnosis of  his “narcissism” to be the most puzzling and spurious. How exactly is risking your life—by which I mean life in jail—an instance of a narcissistic temperament? Even though he went public, partly for self-protection, he has kept his interactions with the media to a bare minimum, clearly not seeking more undue attention. Given the lack of evidence of this pathology, labeling him as such strikes as a character assassination meant to detract from the more pressing issues his actions have raised.

If we contextualize what he did, not in terms of personality but in light of the contemporary historical moment, what we see without a shadow of a doubt is that Edward Snowden is not alone. He is part of a growing cohort of individuals who have for years diagnosed the explosive rise of state secrecy and surveillance as enough of a problem that they are willing to take on personal risk to impel debate and change. What is most notable is that this cohort is composed of insiders (William Binney, Thomas Drake, Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning) and outsiders (Julian Assange, Barrett Brown, and James Bamford). The fact that there is a chorus is significant.

The public should perhaps be more skeptical if it were only one person or only the Julian Assanges’ of the world—long time activists who have always sat outside the state apparatus —who were crying foul. That we have investigative journalists, military personnel, employees from security agencies, and activists join the fray signals the extent of the problem; there are different unconnected individuals from distinct walks of life coming forward identifying similar problems.

This brings us to the shores of the second issue: the sanctity of the law. What I think is clear by now is that the revealed programs violate aspects of the law in both the spirit and the letter. Lawyers have recently put it in no uncertain terms: “The two programs violate both the letter and the spirit of federal law. No statute explicitly authorizes mass surveillance.” In an ideal world we would simply use legal mechanisms to eliminate bad laws or fight grave injustices. Critics should walk down this path before law-breaking. This is exactly what happened in this case. Since the inception of the Patriot Act, which was passed under a time of great national duress and fear, we have seen various attempts by civil liberties organizations to curtail efforts at the vast enterprise that is unwarranted, warantless wiretapping using the law. One lawsuit first brought forward by the EFF and ACLU in 2006 against AT&T was not only drawn out, it was ultimately stonewalled by a dubious law that granted telecoms who cooperated with the government with retroactive immunity. The law has been tampered with to such an extent to have rendered using it in this case useless.

Along with legal efforts,  individuals have also used available channels at their disposal to effect change but to no avail. We have to look no further than Thomas Drake, a long time NSA employee who  grew uneasy with the violations he witnessed first hand. His first actions were reform based. He went to his superiors with his concerns and was told to stop. He went to the press with unclassified information for which he payed dearly being the subject of a DOJ investigation, eventually dropped but not before his career had been ruined.

The only actions to have engendered substantive debate and faint wisps of change have been Snowden’s leaks. Why? Foremost is that there is no fabled majority who support surveillance.
When news about Prism first broke and polls were taken, only 56% were in favor of state surveillance and the polls failed to mention Americans were targeted. Even then, how it is a number which represents a mere half of a country can be cast as a majority? It can’t. This issue is
unsettled. Further, as more damning allegations have come out, numbers have shifted, and more Americans are in opposition to current programs, especially when the question reflects the fact that American’s digital lives are being captured and stored.

Snowden’s reasons for revealing information cannot be simply reduced to “secrets should not be kept.” His statements about why he did what he did, and the documents that he leaked have shown a much more complicated rationale that cannot be omitted from our analysis. What Snowden did was open the spigot so valuable information could flow to a thirsty public who holds the right to know. Only then, can the public move to a realistic assessment about what course of action to take with a government agency, which currently holds limitless powers for surveillance and who actively withheld information and lied to Congress about its actions.

The type of impassioned debate generated by Snowden and the fervent coalition building and advocacy which has cropped up to press for change in the wake of these revelations and not blind respect for dubious laws, represents the living pulse of democracy. We are indebted to Snowden to have opened the gates. It is now up to us to finish the job.

Can whistleblowing ever be justified? — Edward Snowden exposes NSA’s confidential surveillance program and is said to be hiding in Hong Kong

The National Security Agency (NSA)National Security Agency (NSA) has a secret program that allows the commission to gain access to user information stored by big-name internet organizations. Some of the most recognizable companies include Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Skype.

29-year-old Edward Snowden, a mid-level IT worker contracted by the NSA, leaked top-secret NSA documentation about PRISM. PRISM tracks user information such as photos, content of e-mails, live chat, videos, and login alerts. Snowden is said to be hiding out in Hong Kong. All companies involved have allegedly denied allowing NSA to gain direct access to their databases. It is currently up for debate as to whether or not Snowden is a hero to the public or someone that acted recklessly, endangering the safety of all Americans.

PRISM is reported to have been authorized and enforced in 2007. President George Bush passed PRISM along with other changes to the US surveillance rules. President Barack Obama renewed the edict last year.

KQED Forum: Edward Snowden

The Guardian via Getty Images — Edward Snowden speaks during an interview in Hong Kong.

KQED Forum with Michael Krasny is a live call-in program that presents wide-ranging discussions of local, state, national and international issues, as well as in-depth interviews. On Tuesday, June 11, Krasny posted a session that includes political science expert and author of Secrets and Leaks: The Dilemma of State Secrecy, Rahul Sagar. Sagar is an Assistant Professor at Princeton University within the Department of Politics. Sagar has taken a firm stance that Snowden was “misguided” and his choice to leak information was ill-considered. He feels that Snowden has acted inappropriately by taking the law into his own hands. By exposing this information, Sagar believes Snowden acted wrongfully from a legal standpoint and should have pursued a safer avenue if he wanted his discovery to be revealed.

To hear more about PRISM and Sagar’s viewpoint on whistleblowing, listen to Krasny’s segment on the NSA leak:

View this recording on the KQED Forum webpage: http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201306110900

Secrets and Leaks:
The Dilemma of State Secrecy

Rahul Sagar

Rahul Sagar -- Princeton U: Assistant Professor, Department of PoliticsRahul Sagar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. His primary research interests are the field of political theory and include topics in ancient and modern political theory including executive power, moderation, tyranny, and political realism.

Sagar’s first book, Secrets and Leaks: The Dilemma of State Secrecy, is set to be released in October 2013. Sagar examines the complex relationships among executive power, national security, and secrecy. State secrecy is vital for national security, but it can also be used to conceal wrongdoing. How then can we ensure that this power is used responsibly? Typically, the onus is put on lawmakers and judges, who are expected to oversee the executive. Yet because these actors lack access to the relevant information and the ability to determine the harm likely to be caused by its disclosure, they often defer to the executive’s claims about the need for secrecy. As a result, potential abuses are more often exposed by unauthorized disclosures published in the press.

But should such disclosures, which violate the law, be condoned? Drawing on several cases, Rahul Sagar argues that though whistle-blowing can be morally justified, the fear of retaliation usually prompts officials to act anonymously–that is, to “leak” information. As a result, it becomes difficult for the public to discern when an unauthorized disclosure is intended to further partisan interests. Because such disclosures are the only credible means of checking the executive, Sagar writes, they must be tolerated. However, the public should treat such disclosures skeptically and subject irresponsible journalism to concerted criticism.

Will the bad voters please step forward? More from Jason Brennan

Jason Brennan, author of The Ethics of Voting created quite a stir here yesterday with his post on why most people shouldn’t vote, so I asked him to sound off on some of the comments he received, including the question of how to identify what some called the all-too-subjective “bad voter”. The burning question seems to be, how do you know if you’re a bad voter? Well, as Jason argues, you probably are. But read on for some interesting findings from political psychology that explain his views, as well as some practical advice on improving cognitive biases and becoming a good voter.

 

How Do I Know if I’m a Bad Voter

Jason Brennan

 

In The Ethics of Voting, I argue that most people have a moral duty to abstain from voting. See my previous posts, “Bad Government is Our Fault” and “Most People Shouldn’t Vote” for part of my explanation why. (Note that in “Bad Government is Our Fault”, I explain why I focus on bad voting even though bad voting is not the only thing that causes bad government.)

Here’s a problem: the people I describe as bad voters are unlikely recognize that they are bad voters.

To confirm this in at least one instance, as an unscientific experiment, I discussed my thesis with a person whom I believe exemplifies bad voting.  He agreed that other people should not vote.

More scientifically, psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger have shown that incompetent people systematically overestimate their own knowledge, competence, and mental acuity, while they systematically underestimate others’ competence. The less incompetent people know, the less they know it. In contrast, more competent people tend to be more modest about their abilities. They know much, but they also know how much they don’t know. They overestimate how much others know. (This is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.)

In chapter seven and in the afterword of The Ethics of Voting, I give an overview of some findings from political psychology, as well as other studies in voter rationality and knowledge. The upshot of those findings is, in my opinion, that any random person should assume she is politically incompetent until she has good reason to think otherwise. The issue is not “How do I know I’m a bad voter?”—you probably are.*

Instead, the issue is “How could I possibly become a good voter?” In the afterword to the paperback edition, I give some practical advice about becoming a good voter. Becoming a good voter takes significant knowledge of the social sciences and of some current events, but that’s not the first step. Getting information is not only useless, but downright harmful, unless you have disciplined your mind to process information in a dispassionate, scientific, unbiased way. So, in the afterword, I outline some of the main cognitive biases we suffer from, and describe practical steps one can take to overcome those biases.

Now, I freely admit that most bad voters do not recognize they are bad voters. If so, one might object, how can they have a duty not to vote? They do not know they are bad voters, so how can they have a duty to abstain?

I don’t find this objection persuasive. Here’s an analogy. Suppose Bob beats his children for any minor infractions. He refuses to educate them, holding that education corrupts the soul. He verbally abuses them because he thinks this builds character. Bob does all of this because he thinks it’s best for his children, even though it’s clearly not. Now, suppose Bob isn’t crazy. Rather, he’s just in the grip of some false, bad beliefs about child rearing. In this case, most of us would hold Bob responsible for his actions. Sure, he thinks he’s doing the right thing, but he should know better. He’s a bad parent and should act better.

I have often compared bad voters to drunk drivers—they are like people steering the state while intoxicated. Suppose I am driving drunk and a child is crossing at a crosswalk.  Because I am so drunk, I am unable to see the child, and so I am unable to recognize that I have a duty to stop.  Still, even though I don’t know that the child is there, I have a duty to stop. Though I am unable to know I have a duty to stop, I am not relieved of that duty, because I had a responsibility to make sure I only drove the car while competent to do so. Similar remarks apply to voters. Many of them are too biased and irrational to make wise choices. But it’s their fault that they’re like that in the first place. So, they aren’t excused when the vote badly.

*However, people reading the Princeton University Press blog are much more likely to be good voters than randomly selected US citizens. I’m not saying that to suck up to readers, but because it’s true. The demographic factors that positively correlate with reading this post are also positively correlated with being a good voter, as I define the term.

Shame on You, Voter! A Case for Not Voting from Jason Brennan

We often hear that it’s our civic duty to vote, but according to ethicist Jason Brennan, author of the controversial book The Ethics of Voting, most people have no business heading to the polls at all, since they won’t vote in an informed, competent, and morally reasonable way. But no harm done, right? Certainly voting is a high stakes game, with policies that impact our healthcare, our rights, and our economic realities hanging in the balance, but the reality is individual voters—even ignorant, biased, and irrational ones—carry almost no power.  Shouldn’t this liberate your average uninformed but patriotic citizen to exercise their democratic right and vote however they please? Not according to Brennan. Read his post on why you (and your logic-challenged uncle and your current events-blind friends) shouldn’t feel guilty for staying home on election day:

 


Most People Shouldn’t Vote

Jason Brennan

 

When I see people with an “I Voted!” sticker, my first thought is, “Shame on you!”

Imagine 12 people are serving on a jury in a murder case. The prosecution and defense present evidence and call witnesses. The court asks the jury to reach a verdict. They find the defendant guilty.

Suppose four of the jurors paid no attention during the trial. When asked to deliberate, they were ignorant of the details of the case. They decided more or less at random.

Suppose four of the jurors paid some attention to the evidence. However, they found the defendant guilty not on the basis of the evidence, but on wishful thinking and on bizarre conspiracy theories they happen to believe.

Suppose four of the jurors paid attention to the evidence. However, they found the defendant guilty because he is an atheist, while they are Christians. Like many Americans, the jurors trust atheists no more than they trust rapists.

In the case above, the jurors acted in a vile and despicable way. The defendant is possibly innocent. He does not consent to the outcome of the decision. The decision will be imposed upon him through violence and threats of violence. The decision could harm him, and deprive him of property, liberty, or even life. Jurors have a moral obligation to decide these kinds of cases in a competent and morally reasonable way.

This line of reasoning applies even more strongly to the electorate as a whole. Political decisions are high stakes. Most citizens are innocent. Almost none of us consent to the outcome of the election or to our government.* The outcomes—including all ensuing laws, regulations, taxes, budget expenditures, wars, and so on—are imposed upon us through violence and threats of violence. These decisions can and so harm us, and can and do deprive many of us of property, liberty, and even life. At first glance, we should think that voters, like jurors, have a moral obligation to vote in a competent and morally reasonable way.

However, as I document in The Ethics of Voting, the best available evidence indicates that most voters mean well, but are politically incompetent. Most are like the first eight jurors in the thought experiment above. (Most non-voting citizens are even worse.) If so, I argue, they owe it to the rest of us to abstain. Citizens have no duty to vote, but if they do vote, they must vote well, for what they justifiedly believe will promote good government.

There’s nothing morally wrong with being ignorant about politics, or with forming your political beliefs though an irrational thought processes—so long as you don’t vote. As soon as you step in the voting booth, you acquire a duty to know what you’re doing. It’s fine to be ignorant, misinformed, or irrational about politics, so long as you don’t impose your political preferences upon others using the coercive power of government.

Of course, there’s a difference between jurors and voters. Individual jurors have a lot of power. Individual voters have almost no power. You are more likely to win Powerball than to decide an election. If so, does that excuse individual voters? My individual vote will not hurt anybody, so doesn’t that mean I can just vote however I’d like?

I don’t think so. I’ll illustrate why not with an analogy. Suppose a 100-member firing squad is about to shoot an innocent child. Suppose they are trained to shoot so that each bullet will hit the child at the same time. Suppose each bullet, on its own, would suffice to kill her. Suppose also that you can’t stop the shooters. The child will die regardless of what you do. Now, suppose the shooters offer to let you join in and fire with them. Is it okay for you to take the 101st shot?

Most people, upon reflection, think not. Even though you don’t make a difference, you have a moral duty to keep your hands clean. You have a duty not to join in with the group when the group harms innocent people. Only a monster would take the 101st shot, even though it makes no difference to the outcome.

So it goes with voting. If you are an ignorant, irrational, biased, capricious, or malevolent voter, your vote makes no difference. However, you’re the 101st shooter. We shouldn’t celebrate you for voting. We should hold you in contempt.

 

Jason Brennan is assistant professor of ethics at Georgetown University. He is the coauthor of A Brief History of Liberty.

On Having a Haunted Heart — Gordon Marino in the New York Times

Gordon Marino has written a fascinating and moving piece for the New York Times Opinionator as part of their Anxiety series about his experiences dealing with heart problems and the deep sense of foreboding that they often carry with them. Marino writes:

“I was given a stress test. I stood atop a treadmill in a darkish room, tethered to a full metal jacket of monitors and wires, and started walking . There were two nurses. Stupid half jokes and nervous laughter floated up. So far my chest was quiet. Kierkegaard, the first philosopher to attack the problem of anxiety, described it as a kind of foreboding. As I padded along and they ramped up the speed and elevation, the foreboding was there. Something was following me. Jocular and stoic as I tried to be, I was desperately hoping that the paramedics wouldn’t let me know if they saw anything — but I could feel it coming. Then one nurse, gruff and near retirement, finger toward the monitor, loudly whispered to the other, “There’s something here.” That was it for me.”

He is currently editing The Quotable Kierkegaard for the Princeton University Press. You can read his compelling piece here.

W. Patrick McCray, author of our forthcoming book THE VISIONEERS, on Elon Musk and SpaceX for CNN.com

Over the weekend, CNN.com published a wonderful opinion piece by University of California-Santa Barbara science historian W. Patrick McCray on the fascinating “visioneer” Elon Musk and his successful launch and docking with the International Space Station last month.

We are publishing Professor McCray’s forthcoming book THE VISIONEERS: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future in January 2013 and one of the main characters of the book, Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill, is compared to Musk in the CNN.com piece.  Enjoy!

Recently, technology enthusiasts around the planet had the opportunity to get better acquainted with Elon Musk, the creator of SpaceX, the first privately owned company to send a spacecraft to the space station.

Launched in the same manner as a Silicon Valley startup, SpaceX designed and manufactured the Dragon capsule, which successfully completed a mission with the International Space Station before splashing down into the Pacific Ocean.

I see Musk, a 40-year-old entrepreneur who made his fortune by co-founding PayPal, as a “visioneer.” That is to say, he is someone who combines scientific and engineering prowess — in his case, a degree in physics — with an expansive view of how technology will upend traditional economic models, and has the ability to inspire others to support his work.

Musk has bold visions for the future. When he finished college, he identified three areas that could change the world. One was the Internet; another was new sources of energy; and the third was transforming our civilization in such a way so that it could expand out into the solar system….

To read the entire article on CNN.com, please click on this link.

“In Praise of Moderation,” an original op-ed by Aurelian Craiutu

 In Praise of Moderation

By Aurelian Craiutu

Moderates have not fared well lately in American politics. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) has recently announced that she will not seek a fourth term because of the growing political partisanship in the Senate. An iconic figure of moderation in American politics, she will be remembered for having played a key role in the passing of the $787bn stimulus package proposed by the Obama administration in 2009 that was opposed by the majority of her republican colleagues on ideological grounds. In the current republican primaries, Mitt Romney has been working very hard to defend himself against accusations of being a “moderate.” This label has made him unappealing in the eyes of many Republican voters whom he has tried to sway by calling himself “a severely conservative governor.” Politicians who are running for office in the upcoming elections are strongly advised to distinguish themselves from those who practice moderation and pursue their agendas while looking to—and even drawing from—both the left and the right.

For all the strategic considerations surrounding all political campaigns, this should surprise us since political moderation is the touchstone of democracy which cannot function without compromise and bargaining. Yet moderation remains a concept that challenges our imagination and appears as a fuzzy virtue which defies universal claims and moral absolutes. Not surprisingly, we often tend to misrepresent or distort the true meanings of moderation. The latter has often been regarded as the virtue of tepid, middling, shy, timorous, indecisive, and lukewarm individuals, incapable of generating heroic acts or great stories. A few decades ago, Barry Goldwater famously proclaimed (before losing in the presidential elections of 1964): “Extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Our current political culture seems to have embraced again his skepticism toward moderation and, perhaps, has taken it a notch further. Among other things, the impending retirement from the Senate of six moderates (two Republicans, four Democrats) underscores the little stock many voters seem to place in this virtue. Not surprisingly, many of us find it difficult to be enthusiastic about something that seemingly lacks charisma and carries the connotation of small-mindedness, opportunism, or dullness. Instead, they are often fascinated by firm and stubborn politicians who stand uncompromisingly on principle and whose universe is a one-dimensional, black-and-white one.

As I argued in a recent book on this topic*, moderation is a difficult virtue for courageous minds, and one that cannot be studied in abstract, but only as instantiated in various historical and political contexts and discourses. In other words, there is no objective theory of moderation outside of particular situations. There is something about the nature of moderation that can only be captured through embodiment in the specific political and historical context and actors. The principles chosen by moderates have been—and will always be— inseparable from their concrete choices and decisions regarding certain actions performed in specific political, social, and historical contexts. What is moderate in one context and period may significantly differ from another. More importantly, moderation has many faces connected to each other. It is much more than a simple trait of character, a certain state of mind, or a disposition. In addition to its ethical meaning, moderation also has a distinctively political and institutional dimension, being linked to balance (and separation) of powers, social and political pluralism, and mixed government. As Montesquieu and the authors of The Federalist Papers demonstrated, political moderation rests on a bold constitutional vision based on a complex institutional architecture. As such, moderation requires great skills, strong determination, a great deal of courage, and (often) a good dose of non-conformism. That is why the majority of moderate politicians are not moral chameleons who seek personal advancement. They are “trimmers” who try to adjust the cargo and sails of the ship of state to keep it on an even keel. These adjustments may be small and unheroic, and they may not always fit the “party” line (as in the case of Senator Snowe, for example), but they often save the state from anarchy or ruin.

Although radical or extreme gestures create bold and colorful narratives which are often much more attractive than moderation, searching for the middle and the mean (as attributes of moderation) is always more difficult than making one’s journey along the margins. Moderate political action requires balancing and weighing various principles in each situation rather than merely resorting to a single set of universal principles or values. Moderation presupposes reasoning and deliberation, but it also demands intuition, foresight, and flexibility for which there is no single or simple formula. That is why moderation is a difficult and eclectic virtue which is not for all seasons and all people. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would not have been successful in challenging the Soviet communist system had he adopted a more moderate approach. Sometimes, only immoderate voices like his can successfully oppose tyranny.

The recent growing partisanship in the Congress has silenced moderates on both aisles and weakened their appeal and base. Moderates’ willingness to compromise and work with the other side has put them out of step with their own parties and decreased their chances of being (re)elected in the upcoming elections. The moderate middle has become a very lonely place in American politics—and a very insecure one. Therefore, we must take a new look at this elusive and difficult virtue, one that, in Montesquieu’s words, represents the supreme virtue of the legislator. Moderation is neither a fixed ideology (party platform), nor a merely positional virtue depending on the vitality and agenda of the extremes. Defined as the antonym of fanaticism and single-mindedness, moderation is particularly relevant today. Through their actions, moderates remind us that in politics we do not have to choose between good and evil, but between what is preferable and what is detestable.

Moderates perform a vital balancing role in our society. Without moderation, John Adams once wrote, “every man in power becomes a ravenous beast of prey.” Defined as that virtue which allows us to see things in the right proportions and prevents us from resorting to hyperbole and violence, moderation blends measure, spirit, and reasonableness and makes one’s mind at once firm and flexible, full of common sense and vivacity. Moderation can be a fighting and combative virtue, and it should not be equated with indecision, shyness, and submissiveness. Moderates may sometimes benefit from partisanship and polarization insofar as the exposure to the crossfire of radicals can stimulate their imagination by encouraging them to develop original political and institutional responses to their problems. Paradoxically, like poisons taken in small dosages, various forms of extremism that act in the framework of legality can have healing effects if they trigger much-needed course corrections. By adopting the soundest attitudes and principles of all parties, moderates seek to facilitate agreements for the common good, and prevent the country from slipping into atomism, anarchy, or civil war. As members of a “party without banners,” they help preserve the fragile balance between various social forces and political interests on which pluralism, order, and freedom depend in our society.

*Aurelian Craiutu is Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. His most recent book is A Virtue for Courageous Minds: Moderation in French Political Thought, 1748-1830 (Princeton University Press, 2012) on which this short essay is based.

UT-Austin economist Daniel Hamermesh on Beauty and the Presidency

BEAUTY AND THE PRESIDENCY
By Daniel S. Hamermesh

The physical characteristics of this season’s presidential candidates have received many comments. Texas Governor Perry had a full head of thick dark hair, as does Santorum; Romney’s jawline suggests strength; Obama looks presidential; and even Gingrich and Paul look fairly decent for men in their late 60s or mid-70s. None of the male candidates is follicly challenged. Among recent female candidates Palin and Bachmann would probably be viewed by most observers as good-looking. Indeed, one Republican advisor noted during the 2008 campaign, “If Sarah Palin looked like Golda Meir, would we even be talking about her today?”

Looks might not matter in intra-party leadership contests in parliamentary democracies, where small groups of insiders choose the leader—as the Golda Meir example suggests. Nor might they matter in a one-party state, as the rise of Gustavo Dias Ordaz, Mexican president during the PRI era, from 1964-1970, suggests: When his enemies accused him of being two-faced, he remarked, “If I had another face, do you think I’d go around with this one?”

But do the candidates’ looks matter in elections in a democratic two- or multi-party state? Will their good looks, or their bad looks, affect the outcome of the election? A lot of research has shown that candidates’ looks do affect their electoral chances. In German, Finnish and Australian parliamentary elections better-looking candidates have been shown to be advantaged; and the advantage can be quite large, easily enough in many cases to overcome a large disadvantage resulting from voters’ party preferences. In U.S. gubernatorial elections citizens are able to predict who the winners would be based on very brief looks at the candidates speaking—they know that better-looking candidates are more likely to win.

Why does this happen? One reason is that in these lower-level elections the better-looking candidates get more press coverage. Like you and me, journalists, especially television journalists, prefer to look at better-looking candidates; and they know that you and I do too. We are more likely to watch their broadcast, or buy their magazine or newspaper, if they show us better-looking candidates. With additional press coverage comes more familiarity and a greater likelihood that voters will pick the candidate on Election Day.

In presidential primary elections the same factors are at play. In the early stages of the quadrennial presidential process looks may matter in determining who survives the winnowing process, although there is no research demonstrating this. Even before the first primary or caucus, though, some candidates who might think of running know that their bad looks will be a hurdle that will be difficult to jump early in the process. Knowing this, and thinking that they don’t have enough other advantages to overcome their deficient or perhaps only average looks, they will choose not to run. Even before the primary process is far along, otherwise desirable candidates who are looks-challenged will have excluded themselves from consideration, just as few bad-looking people choose to become movie actors.

Things change as the primary season progresses. People’s views about the (good-looking) candidates who have survived the early rounds become more sharply delineated. The candidates’ faux pas have become impressed on the public mind; their general political inclinations and their stances on specific issues have become widely known. Having heard more about and from the candidates, we feel that we know more about them than we infer merely from looking at their pictures. As with any interpersonal relation, the more familiar we are with people’s other qualities and characteristics, the less their looks matter.

It is not surprising that the major presidential candidates are typically quite good-looking. Their looks have already had an effect on our choices; they have already achieved some prominence, and their looks have been a factor in their initial success. Early on candidates self-selected into the process based partly on looks; and their survival in its early stages depended partly on their looks. By March or April of a presidential year, though, looks are much less important. And by the November election we will not be voting because we think President Obama is better- or worse-looking than Romney (or Santorum, or anyone else); we will be voting based on economic and political considerations.

The old comment is that, with his saturnine looks, Lincoln could not be elected President today. The mass media have greatly increased our familiarity with presidential candidates, initially with their looks, eventually with their beliefs and even their character. Lincoln might well not have survived the early stages of a primary season; but if he did, his character and beliefs might have become more widely apparent to the public than was possible in 1860. Exposure through the mass media might have helped him in a “fantasy-league” general election.

Daniel S. Hamermesh is the Sue Killam Professor in the Foundations of Economics at the University of Texas, Austin and author of BEAUTY PAYS: Why Attractive People are More Successful (Princeton University Press).

Ancient Roman campaign wisdom in Los Angeles Times op-ed by Philip Freeman

Philip Feeman, the translator of our timely new book HOW TO WIN AN ELECTION: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicans, had his recent op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times yesterday.  Take a look to see which Republican candidate(s) would have done right by Quintus Cicero’s (Marcus’s lesser-known brother) advice.  The “advice” was originally from a letter sent to Marcus when he was in the running for the biggest job in Rome.

What is the future of a new generation of European Muslims?

In Europe, the increasing presence of Islam has often provoked concerns about a threat to security and liberal democracy. Jonathan Laurence’s The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims challenges these ideas and shows how the transformation of a new generation into European Muslims has consisted of a complex mix of achievements and tensions. The book recently received a terrific review in The Economist. Jonathan was kind enough to answer a few questions about his unique look at European Islam, the debates surrounding it, and the connection to the Arab awakening:

Q: Anders Breivik was recently declared insane by the court. His act of violence is widely condemned, but aren’t his anti-multiculturalist views fairly widespread?

For Breivik, the year is 1683 and an Islamic empire is storming the Gates of Vienna. Some of the views in his Internet-age manifesto are popular, although what he did in Oslo and Utoya is of course condemned. An Italian politician from a party in government spoke approvingly of the Norwegian’s belief that Europe had “given up on its cultural identity without a fight.” In December, a poll showed 76% of the French public thinks Islam is “progressing too much.” So the vocal concern over Islam’s growth and Muslims’ integration is no longer the exclusive domain of the far right. It has become ritual for heads of government to declare the failure of multiculturalism, a catchall description increasingly taken to mean the arrival of Muslims in Europe. Breivik may be legally insane, but he is not alone in thinking that Europe is at a turning point vis-à-vis its growing Islamic minorities.

Q: What does this mean for integration policy in European countries, and how have Muslim groups reacted? Is this what the Minaret and Burka bans were about?

On the one hand, the focus on religious fundamentalism led to several well known bans on Islamic symbols in public spaces, from headwear to architectural design. It also provoked acrimonious debate about whether Islam “belongs” and if its associated practices –in all their diversity—can be reconciled with national identity. On the other hand, history tells us this is fairly standard treatment for a new minority entering the crucible of the nation state and joining the general citizenry. Increasingly, however, Muslim communities perceive the sum total of public debate as something akin to religious persecution or a kulturkampf against Islam. It’s not just the religious conservatives or the pious, but Muslims as a “group” who increasingly feel stigmatized. Last month, community eminences in France, Germany (and the US) independently cited the Nazi era and the gradual marginalization of German Jews to describe the political environment. It is not the most encouraging sign, obviously, if the main icebreaker between Muslims and non-Muslims is whether it’s 1683 or the mid-1930s outside.

Q: How did it come to this point, and is this a dead end? Or are there trends in other directions?

The competing narratives of victimization –and self-affirmation—are not new. But Muslims and non-Muslims do seem to be talking past one another at a moment when they need to be in constructive conversation. Nonetheless, it’s important to recognize the degree of cooperation that already exists between community leaders and European governments. A recent stunt to name Europe’s “tallest minaret” (35 meters) after Nicolas Sarkozy is not as ironic as it first appears. In many ways, European Islam has flourished in the past decade. When Sarkozy was interior minister in 2002–4, he helped forge the still-running French Council for the Muslim Religion and started a trend among his European colleagues to guarantee equal religious rights to Muslims. “State-mosque” relations have advanced by leaps and bounds. A thousand Islamic prayer spaces have opened in France in the last ten years. One hundred and thirty schools in Germany’s most populous state (North Rhine Westphalia) now offer Islamic instruction alongside existing religious classes, and the first class of German Muslim theologians began their doctoral program this fall. The list goes on. European governments and Muslim organizations have gotten to know one another better, and community leaders have been brought into a context that encourages their continued adaptation to life as a minority in Europe.

Q: You argue in the book that it’s not 1683 or 1938, but that European countries are at a crucial “nation-building” moment in between. What does your book have to say about the Arab awakening?

The book shows how Europeans responded to the same questions now confronting North African governments: how to balance religious freedom and the democratic rule of law? Can Islamist movements behave “moderately and democratically”? The first generation of European Islamists fled political persecution at home, and some of the religious tension in European countries is rooted in their old political battles. Perhaps the “settling” of Islam’s status in their countries of origin will engender a new dynamic and allow integration to proceed in Europe. On the other hand, European Muslims have made their home in Europe and are not as personally involved in 2011’s events as could be assumed. Nonetheless, the image of Muslim masses protesting peacefully and organizing themselves democratically could contribute in the long run to a continuing “normalization” of how Islamic populations and societies are perceived in Western democracies.

Jonathan Laurence is associate professor of political science at Boston College.

Economist Carmen Reinhart, coauthor of THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT, shares a prestigious NY Times Opinion panel with Paul Krugman, Tom Friedman, and Joseph Nocera, and

Wow, what a lineup! We are so proud to see Carmen Reinhart, the co-author of our New York Times bestselling classic THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, discuss economic issues on a recent New York Times Opinion talk with Times journalists Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, and Joe Nocera. This brilliant and entertaining program streamed live on the internet and covered today’s economic issues such as the Eurozone crisis, deleveraging, inequality, Occupy Wall Street, and space aliens. Check out the video if you want to see what great minds have to say about our economic situation and what’s coming next.

Watch live streaming video from nytimesopinion at livestream.com

Criminologist Federico Varese on “Is Burma the Next Mexico?”

Princeton University Press author and University of Oxford criminologist Federico Varese has published an op-ed on Reuters.com’s The Great Debate blog describing his recent research trip to Myanmar and the surrounding area. He wanted to see the opium trade and its effects on the local population. His work has led to the question “Is Burma the next Mexico?”  For a good read, check out Varese’s MAFIAS ON THE MOVE: How Organized Crime Conquers New Territories

From Reuters.com
Hillary Clinton had many “hard issues” to tackle during her recent visit to Myanmar. Yet there was no mention of one of the most, if not the most, difficult issue Burma faces: their lucrative drug trade.

Northern Burma is the home of the “Golden Triangle,” a hub for opium production and the location of hundreds of heroin and amphetamine refineries. So how do political leaders and the international community plan to tackle this problem in the event that Burma truly becomes a democratic country?

To read more, continue to Reuters.com.