Friday, June 30, 2006

looking for my independence

We are going to celebrate independence day by being independent: we will go some where where the phones are not bugged. I think we will still be able to see the fireworks across the border.

Its not like I didn't leave you plenty to read.

Hope they let me back in.

[click. dialtone.............]

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Organic Behavior, No Fault Identities

Warning:  This post has taken on a life of its own and has been linked by some very busy blogs that argue for social justice regarding sexual orientation.  The material in this post will be updated if I come across relevant new findings.  Date of last revision will be in the footer.

[This is a continuation of a lengthy post belaboring a fairly obvious view that homosexuality (and probably a few other specific behavior complexes contradictory to "be fruitful and multiply" dogma ) are natural in the sense of being innate and are, per force, not a fair basis for stigma nor a morally valid cause for any kind of discrimination if they are not associated with antisocial or predatory behavior.]

[since Greta Christina is going to send readers here, I might just as well keep this post up to date as my reading brings me fresh findings. But a word of warning to all: If I find some well done study that indicates sexual orientation is a post natal or socially constructed development, I will report it. Just don't hold your breath!]

UPDATED 2007/04/10: I told you so!

Since this is more a personal than a scholarly or comprehensive tour of the literature I hope you will forgive some rough approximating that follows. I characterize the progress of the research by noting each decade had a dominant tool for its research. Whether that is exactly true is not too important. That the tools have gotten much sharper and their results harder to refute is what matters.

A note about the use of animal study results: while I don't mean to play fast and loose with findings from animal studies, warnings against such extrapolations like this quote from a 2006 PNAS paper from the Karolinska Institute,
Notwithstanding that the higher complexity of human behavior precludes direct extrapolations from the animal data to human biology, the colocalization of circuits processing signals from the two putative pheromones with the regions mediating mating behavior raises the question about a possible involvement of these same circuits in the physiology of human sexuality and sexual orientation.
,do not put my line of argument in any weaker position because all I am trying to convince the reader of is that the variant behaviors are physiologically based, whatever the details of the mechanisms. To argue against this general idea, the anti-gay posse will have to maintain that their own "normal" behavior is entirely the product of consciousness, free will and learned choices. If you want to see how far you can run on that track, just don't get run over by all the egos.

The 70's : genetic causes inferred from heritability.
Before genes could be matched, spliced and sequenced, we already had the theory that they determined our physiology via expression and development. Various ways of studying the heritability of physical and behavioral traits were only inferential tools but the best that could be done in that day. Twin studies done as long ago as the 50's are still quoted. Twin studies would track such things as degree of shared behaviors for identical [MZ] and fraternal [DZ] twins , raised together and, via adoptions, raised apart. The idea, of course is that identical twins would, at a genetic level, be perfect copies and so whatever traits the twins did NOT share must be weakly or not at all affected by genes. That turns out to be a bit simplistic but its not a bad start. But as each study was published it was subjected to a gale of critiques finding weaknesses in sample size, controls, questionnaire bias etc. The critics included a few who wanted sounder science and many who wanted the right answer: "there is no such thing as being born gay". Here is the most up to date of such critics. Updated and retrospective studies published in the early nineties, summarized here, leave a clear, though not cause-and-effect, interpretation that some genetic factor must be involved. It is also a reasonable interpretation to consider the much lower incidence for genetically unrelated (adoptive) compared to MZ siblings as a ball park figure for the general occurrence of homosexuality in the population as a whole. Beside twin studies, other questionnaire based studies found that women with unmarried male relatives were more likely to bear sons who turned out to be homosexual, implying that something in the X chromosome from the mother could be the, or a, "gay gene". Get your studies from someone who hasn't got an ax to grind...if you can find such a party.

The 80's: Child Psychology tries to separate nature from nurture.
The 80's opened up the study to consider sex-atypical play and other behaviors of very young children. The informal science view involved is that what children do before our cultural norms have been beaten into them must be "natural" or innate. Apparently the conservative and folk-wisdom view is more like "as the twig is bent, so grows the tree". NARTH and folks like Dr. Rekers, well intended no doubt, but more informed by the bible than the data, have probably done as much damage as good to some very young patients. If anything the "therapies" designed to "reprogram the deviancy out of your three year old" are ethically questionable experiments. Some deep interviews with the patients, 20 years hence, would be interesting. I recall a mention in a late 80's copy of Science news of a study finding that boys who were more interested in doll play than playing ball as 3 or 4 year olds did have higher chances of growing up to be gay. The most cited results are those from Richard Green's 15 year long study. It is a questionable inconsistency that decades after homosexuality was stricken from the list of recognized psychiatric diagnoses, gender identity disorders are still listed and so can be used to get money out of your insurance company to make sure your boys grow up macho and your girls effeminate.  

The 90's rediscover that sex is all in your head.
Though the 90's saw improvements in method and good retrospective studies published for the results based on older methods, the research took a much more biochemical and anatomic hard science direction. In 91, Simon Levay, at the Salk Institute, published a landmark, though disputed finding that a sexually significant part of the hypothalamus, known to be sexually dimorphic ALSO took on different size in males depending on their sexual orientation. BTW, Dr. LeVay maintains a page of the most succinct and best informed summaries of fact and evenhanded comment on the topic of gender and sexual orientation that I have found anywhere on the web and the most authoritative bibliography. Also, the notion that chromosomal DNA alone was the whole script of our physical development was giving way to a refinement: numerous in utero influences were proposed or suspected of being able to modify the blueprints or get the DNA to perform atypical development. Tools to image the active areas of a working brain multiplied with fMRI in development and PET mature and available though cumbersome. In '93 Dean Hamer reported a candidate "gay gene" on the X chromosome, claiming only "probable influence" and based on linkage studies. An over-simplified and overstated interpretation of that work has been a NARTH target ever since. The 90's also saw several papers by Canadian researcher Anthony Bogaert that hinted at in-the-womb influences where younger males with older brothers stood a greater chance of being gay. Levay's work was also reported in Scientific American where it came to my attention....and revived my curiosity at what would resolve the paradox as seen by my too-simple understanding of Darwinian selection as a competition-driven process. In Bogaert's work, I thought there was big clue: competition among a concentration of males for the available females would waste resources at the tribal or social group is an ensemble measure for any species that lives in ensembles. Was gayness nature's way of defusing internecine competition?

Lately: Making the Case ever more detailed.
Brain imaging studies have become much more common. They have uncovered gender specific differences of function. And they have found in sheep results similar to Levay's original findings that different sexual orientations correspond to different sizes for some brain regions. Bogaert continued to refine and expand his studies and has produced one of the least contradicted results: birth order of brothers is an influence.

A Swedish study published in PNAS in 2008 finds gay men and heterosexual women have similarly configured brains while lesbians and heterosexual men's brains are more similar to each other than to women's .. An even better write up is at Wired.

A 2004 heritability study based on interviews by U of Padua team led by researcher Camperio-Ciani reported that more gay male children were born to mothers who were particularly fecund. The weakness of interview based studies made this an assailable result but the theory it suggested was appealing:
Italian geneticists may have explained how genes apparently linked to male homosexuality survive, despite gay men seldom having children. Their findings also undermine the theory of a single "gay gene".
Thinking this may resolve the paradox, I wrote Levay to ask about the significance of the paper. He said the results have not been replicated. And I think now that Bogaert's results are relatively solid, whatever mechanism accounts for the "interference" of older male siblings with the sexual orientation of younger brothers will account for any fecundity-correlated result as well.
PET scanning to image the brains of males as they sniffed purported human pheromones allowed the Karolinska Institute team lead by I. Savic to show that a low level brain function associated with sexual behavior acted differently for straight vs gay males. This made a bit of a splash in the papers, as well it should. They followed up with a similar study, and similarly positive results, for straight vs lesbian females. LeVay warns that the sample size is too small for the Karolinska results to be used reliably...and humans don't consciously use smells the way most animals do for arousal but the very fact of its unconscious nature makes the results a good argument against the response being a matter of choice.
When Standford's Joan Roughgarden wrote a letter in Science arguing from the observation that homosexuality is actually common in many species, she was generally regarded as having gone overboard and accused by some of having as poor a grasp of Darwin as some of the ID fundamentalists. This exasperated take-down of Roughgarden's contentions was actually written by PZ Myers in 2004. But if you trace back through the links in Jonah Lederer's recent post, you find the dispute is still lively. The important thing to note in all of the Myers vs Roughgarden brouhaha is that for all their differences, it is a given with both parties that homosexual behavior works with the force of is organic behavior even if the mechanisms are in dispute. No sheep or college freshman "decides" they like the same sex.
In the latest edition of MIT's Technology Review, a citation of a PNAS paper on RNAi silencing reports the ability to turn off female sexual response in mice. It really is a rather dramatic result. From the T.R. article:
The study published online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences uses RNAi to show that one brain region and one gene are completely responsible for the female sexual response in mice.
Let me emphasize something for those who have had other things to read than neuroendocrinology and reams of studies on "knock-out" mice: altering behavior of a living organism as complicated as a mammal without having altered its DNA via genetic engineering and using only RNAi has only one similar precedent I know of and a scary wide open future. This result only strengthens the case that sexual response rests on neural activity of specific clusters of cells in the brain...for some species maybe only one cluster is calling the shots. If, indeed, a single locus and cell type are the origin of a vital sexual response and blocking of a single receptor extinguishes the response, then cases can be made and experiments can be designed to refine and test the "byproduct of necessarily robust feature" hypothesis PZ Myers offered.

There is a 2008 meta-study based on review of 250 primary investigations of the effects of hormone distrupters on physiological development and behavior that should have you worried whatever your sexual orientation.  It turns out there are hundreds of widely disbursed and poorly understood compounds in our air, water and food that are capable of throwing switches in our genes...and their bias is largely to switch toward female: 
"Feminisation of the males of numerous vertebrate species is now a widespread occurrence. All vertebrates have similar sex hormone receptors, which have been conserved in evolution. Therefore, observations in one species may serve to highlight pollution issues of concern for other vertebrates, including humans."

So what?
In spite of having gained so much knowledge, science enters this battle with one hand tied behind its back: If you read his "General conclusions", Levay's reticence about absolutes and unqualified pronouncements, you will see the due and respectable restraint that I admire about scientific outlooks but that makes honestly brokered knowledge a kind road kill in a Faux news world .

It was gratifying in a more than nerdly way to rummage the net for all the research links because I found, mostly, the kinds of answers [and reservations and qualifications] I expected. That business of knowing the answer you want is of course a great hazard and particularly in the high voltage topics like sexual preferences. It would have suited me to put much more of the raw data and observations into this post but that would have done more to turn off readers than it could do for my satisfaction. I think good opinions are like snow caps: if you can't support them with a mountain of evidence, they quickly melt away. Still, I'll suggest you trust the conclusions presented if not for the certainty of their claims then for the certain failure of the counterclaims: I found wads and moldy bales of critiques and denials of some of the more famous studies [of which only a few NARTH brick bats are linked] but only in the form of "debunkings" founded on misunderstandings. Peer reffereed publications, in respected mainstream journals like Science, PNAS or Nature, presenting research that finds GID and homosexuality to be a treatable disorder are so rare I found none. Dr. Rekers, a PhD at Leader U. is the only source of such research I encountered. You won't have to take my word for the quality of his work and credentials.

Illogicial and Illiberal are twins
If a person braves all the stigma and persecution to act on attractions they feel toward another person of the same sex, and their behavior meets all the criteria of consideration and responsibility applied to heterosexual attractions: consenting, mature, discreet, non-exploitive and protective of the health of the other, then we simply have no sound basis to deny either the reality of the impulses they report nor the pleasure they derive. The embattled but emerging likelihood that this behavior is organic may be a comfort but the opposing contention that it is a choice is a nonsequitor: nobody "chooses" to be a hunted, hated and marginalized third class citizen. The status of people with the less common variations of gender is about rights more than science. The inner workings of homophobic social schemes are pretty much the same as racial bias: "we militate against you because your genes are not the same as ours". The rationalizations are different but under the hood its ignorance begets fear begets hatred, the age old crap.

When "social relativism" is mentioned by social conservatives, it is often in the same breath as a vivid description of anything-goes depravity. The social progressives who see, and seeth at, the worst of the arbitrary shackles of disadvantage can, and in this blog alliance often do, spell out the instances of the ineradicable "What we really meant was 'All English speaking, white, middle aged, upper and middle class heterosexual men are created equal'" interpretation of our American social contract. When antique anti-miscegenation laws are invoked in the nation's most liberal state to stymie gay marriages, you are witnessing a jarring example of social relativism thrown into revese: A powerful segment of society retargets an unenforcible law against a weaker segment's marriage rights to block a newly emerged and yet weaker minority. Romney might just as well have said "Gay: Its the new black!" Who could call themselves a progressive and sit quietly by while society goes in reverse?

The indefensible root of the error in the anti-gay programs is the preference of some groups to condition their attitude toward another human entirely on receiveded notions of acceptable behavior and to basically ignore the person.

You can't ignore religion if it won't ignore you.
It is a sad fact that most of the organized efforts to criminalize and disenfranchise gay and lesbian lives and lifestyles are powered by particular Christian sects and churches that cling to narrow interpretations of Leviticus 18:22 while glossing over Leviticus 19:17-18. I personally expect to find a significant degree of neurosis, institutional and personal, in organizations that preach and practice intolerance...but I said I wouldn't go there. And yet more than a few churches [and synagogues too] hang out the rainbow flag and are communities of refuge for persons cast out by the larger community. That is in keeping with the most enlightened and loving of the precepts you can read in the bible. I look in on all this disorder from the outside and realize the people inside are just people and are pretty much picking and choosing their precepts to suit their values rather than the other way round.

Reaching for science as a defense against some religion's attempt to butt into your personal life is a poor second to just fixing the climate for personal freedoms. Some of us may never understand the science but all of us have to treat our neighbors with respect. Since fundamentalists have proven completely resistant to the understandings of our world that science provides, even for far more tangible matters than what feelings may bubble within our brains, the best that can be achieved is a coexistance. That coexistance, as the authors of the constitution recognized in the 18th century, depends on the separation of church and state. The ancient semitic tribal prohibitions against homosexuality don't need more debunking, they just need to be left in a history book. If one were permitted to ask questions about why there was a need to canonize long and specific lists of proscribed sexual activities in Leviticus, the most obvious start on an answer would be to observe that those behaviors must have been familiar and frequently observed to figure so prominently in the minds of the ancient authors. Nothing has changed in human nature since the days of that writing. Countries lacking the inertia of religious dictates about homosexuality wind up with very different trends in attitude and treatment of their gay minority.
The fundamentalist religious bigotry against gays has a problem: it HAS to maintain there is no underlying biology, darwinian or otherwise that can effect sexual orientation because choice and sin are the only dimensions that stunted faith conceives. Its whole edifice crumbles if there is any admission that in fact gays are made the way they are: for that the maker would have to answer.

Final Remarks
Whatever the answers that science eventually comes up with, once it is allowed to come up with any, those answers could only be grace notes to the main theme. Given the deep well of oprobrium that convention and some laws hold the less common sexual orientations to be, the gays, and others with variations on the theme of sex, get earlier and deeper lessons in matters of courage and identity than the rest of us are likely to face. Southpaws to some extent and women to a greater extent get a taste of what it is to be "made wrong" in a world where norms of tolerance were drafted by those who hold themselves to be made right. They're queer, they're here. Get over it and get it into your head: there isn't one good reason they can't raise kids, sustain life long committed relationships, pay taxes, defend their country, run companies or government, hold responsible jobs and make sensitive judgments...but plenty of evidence that they can. Difference per se is never inherently wrong, bad or inferior but only made so by frameworks of bias or civic standards and measures of efficacy and benignity. Difference just is and in particular, gay just is. I defy anyone to document the measure by which gays have failed any more than straights when the deck is not stacked against them.

Science has been gaining insight into the genetic basis and other biological determinants of organic sexual behavior in spite of sailing into a steady headwind of biblical bias. The course seems clear if you stand back far enough to view all the tacks it has taken:
Science will probably find enough evidence to convince any educated person that homosexuality is "natural" and "not anyone's fault"...some day. Simple human empathy and an open minded attention to the reports others make from the heart can accept that homosexuality isn't a fault to begin

I dragged all those amateur reviews of decades of scientific work into this post because of what they have done for me. The science is sufficiently unambiguous that it pushed me to and past the point of seeing all the variations as matters completely outside the domain of fault.

I find that once you commit to objectivity, decency just comes about as a matter of course.

Though the subject has been gays or lesbians, this can be said of many others:

How short is the step from "Its not their fault" to "Its not a fault"?

Taking that step leaves no room for complacent quiet about the current status of people with the less common gender identities and sexual orientations. We are ALL of us just trying to be the people god or fate made us.

footnotes, the dates and sources of accumulating additions to the original post

December 12 2008: the retrospective study from Chemtrust was reported in December of 08 in numerous papers.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

You can't say "Gay is OK"...

...without saying "Gay is".
In their language and attitudes, I sense the homophobes don't think there really is such a thing as being gay. They speak as if the millions who are hounded for not showing the biblically ordained preferences are all just putting us on. I will try to refrain from amateur psychoanalysis of the bizarre delusion that millions of people would choose to suffer undeserved denigration for the sake of a kind of joke persona. I will fail. And it will take me a longish post to achieve this failure.

But long post or not, it is an auspicious day to lay out the cards on homosexuality as I happen to have read them.

I apologize for hooking the post title that way but it is at the heart of a matter I will not be able to dispatch with my preferred brevity. All I really have to remark here is that gay is ok but what matters more, once you get to that perspective, is that it can be stated as an affirmation but it cannot be a judgment. It looks to me like all god's creatures roll eggs about the same.

There is a hazard of rationalism I have touched on in other posts but I will found the point heavily here and build on it later:
If you need to explain some fact or phenomenon take care that you are not trying to explain it away.
Rationalism may be the perfect tool in the perfectly rational mind but most of us would do well to make sure we have picked it up by the handle and not by the blade. The hair I am splitting here is determining the source of statements that sound like acceptance, the better to weigh what is truly acceptance and what falls short.

I started this post months ago when egg rolling was an issue. The title and a one sentence insight struck me. I had to start with the attitudes I was raised with and move from them to what may be a more complete insight and acceptance. Fortunately, I did not have as far to travel as some do. Homosexuality has not been an emotionally charged topic in all eras and societies but it is massively so wherever the Abrahamic religions have cast their shadow. I won't waste your time with my guesses as to why that observation holds. The point is that, exactly like race hatreds, homophobia is not a naturally fated behavior in spite of it seeming natural in the way that dogs and cats naturally fight. The truth is, not all cats and dogs fight and for humans, race hatred is a learned attitude, even if deeply held once learned. That is why we boast of our human status when we add an "e" to the end of our species' name. Now we just have to live up to it. I was not raised to hate people just because they are different and have long since read enough studies to understand homosexuality is not a choice but is natural, which meant I at least could say to myself "its not their fault".

It is from that point that I had to move forward.

Its not fair to just say "I read some studies". I have read all kinds of science literature I since got out of college in the 70's. It is my fortunate habit that things which do not add up given the facts and understandings I possess recurringly irk or nag me. Its not a pit bull of a curiosity but at least a terrier.

I am about to go off on a considerable tangent of summaries of studies and findings. If you want, you could skip it. The sum of it all is that what turns people on sexually is wiring no culture can touch. I like to explain things, as I have said, but no amount of explanation can do more than amplify what you should already know: homosexuality is a natural variation in the range of human sexual behavior. If you still have doubts, get your reading glasses and come along. I will unfold the findings for you in roughly the chronological order of their publication. Just don't be blinded by the science: knowing a widely accepted scientific theory based on uncontroverted data showing that sexual orientation is inborn, organic and largely determined by genes and in-utero conditions is not as important as having an attitude toward each person that respects the reality of their reported feelings. By "not as important", I mean, "has less effect on" what happens in courts, legislatures and churches to ruin lives, marginalize people and deny the validity of a key piece of the core of their being.

I note, but reserve for treatment in a later post, that what determines a host of other behaviors you might lump into the category "sexually related behavior" or "instinctive behavior" [of which many fond examples like "mothering instincts" and "male bonding" are trumpeted as the exclusive norm by conservatives and hosed with bile by a few others] are fair game for the same scrutiny that homosexuality will get here. Let me define a term organic behavior as the category of all those appetites, reflexive responses such as the particularity of arousal cues and so on that cannot be culturally determined and for which physiological and genetic evidence of origination is compelling or at least plausible. We are just animals and the cultural programming a harness roughly bound to some vehicle collected of tropisms and sensitivities we still barely know. Numerous theories proposing some kind of biological basis for sexual orientation have been written up in the studies I will be citing, quite a variety of them. The science is not settled but, as you will read, the good bets are on some combination of genes and in-utero hormonal or maternal imprinting effects. I will just use the term "organic behavior" for the instinctual and innate aspects of ones sexuality. No one who is straight has to apologize or name a cause or even mention that they are straight. It a perfect world, all of us would be recognized as having a character we each built on top of natural proclivities. The only justifiable segregation would be to identify the antisocial and truly harmful proclivities. We ALL work with and from our organic behavior.

Now for the review of the science

I can't recall exactly when questions began to pop up but it would have been after I "got" Darwin's basic idea. And that could have been the 6th grade since I had a plan at that point to be a paleontologist when I grew up and could already recite the sketchy tree of evolving life that was known back in the 60's. So the first question was pretty basic: why wouldn't homosexuality self-extinguish from any population if it precluded or reduced reproductive success? Note that I got zero education about sex, any kind of sex, until long after it was old news. Specifically, in my upbringing on an isolated farm, no people and none of my of the science books I read said any thing about gay people and I was spared any of the Leviticus stuff. And there was nothing particularly enlightened about the playground conversations or the hour long ride home on the school bus: any kid with ears would know they didn't want to be a "fag" long before they had much of an idea of what homosexuality was. So I can't account for why I did NOT assume sexual orientation was a choice rather than an organic behavior. Anyway, I don't have much of an attention span and, lacking data, I put the question aside. If a teenager who never took a class in biology can tumble to it, we'd have to assume that my rediscovery of the "Darwinian Paradox" is routinely repeated by others.

My 1968 college text book on Intro. to Psych. said up front that homosexuality was one of the "taboo topics" and managed to nearly avoid the word for its entire 900 pages. But the move to seek the biological bases of any human capacity or behavior that might have such basis was already afoot. No data, no questions. I never heard about Stonewall Inn until the 80's
The 70's and 80's saw a few studies that indirectly attacked the question of whether sexual orientation had a genetically determined component by surveying twins to see if identical [monozygotic, "MZ"] were more likely to have the same sexual orientation than fraternal twins [dizygotic, "DZ"]. While not overwhelmingly convincing, both for confounding factors cited and sample sizes, these studies gave a weak boost to the probability that for some fraction of homosexuals, there was a genetic disposition. These studies mostly went on outside of my attention and in retrospect they did little to change the minds of people, even of "scientists" who had a biblical viewpoint with which all findings must agree.

to be continued...and probably spell checked too:( its getting late and I have had a long strange week.)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Con$ider their $imilarity to ballot$

Dollars that is.

Perhaps I don't get out enough. But having no face to face conversations with my political peers and seeing the world through the eyes of liberal bloggers, I became and continue to be apprehensive that we are a nation of complainers. Exposing wrongdoing is not complaint even if your post repeats the news but extends the reach of the news. Making sure people all know you are wrought up and indignant at the wrong doing will only change the minds of people who barely have one. Conservative talks shows seem ample demonstration of that.

Not that it hasn't been fun finding clever new ways to describe the mendacity and iniquitous selfishness permeating the politics and corruption Bush has brought out of the boardrooms and the woodwork but what has that changed? Who hears your message when you are the only one who wants to hear it? If Rove has found Bush and Cheney a way to appeal to the worst in us, those of us not seduced must do more than complain unless we want Rove's strategies to be rewarded again or at least not loose as soundly as they deserve.

Am I saying you should do something? Yes. Yes, even if by proxy, even if you can't leave your keyboard. You could give money to people who are at the fronts of the sometimes pitched somtimes simmering battle to keep elections honest. You could support news organizations that work as hard at not being bought or swayed by any outside money as they do at pulling together their stories. [I give about $100/yr and about the same to my local PBS which produces Frontline and airs Charlie Rose for me]. You could scroll down to STATE BLOGS on the left sidebar of myDD and click through to the blog for your state...they have lots of things for you to do (well, in Massachusetts they do ;-)

I bet lots of you give at least a little, let me know what you think the worthy causes are. With only eight comments in two weeks, I know my little cause [which, I admit, just puts a $pear point on what is basically automated complaining] is going to be my own little project for a while. That's OK. I wanted to keep my PHP/mySQL up to snuff anyway. I am just going to go forward with this as time and cash permit. Is the threat of a boycott amount to "doing something". Not sure. To control where we spend our money is a kind of power we all possess to the extent we have any money. One could say there are the vote$ you give and the vote$ you withold and each could cause change. The witholding might seem easier to do if you haven't got much money to spend. That rich people are conservative is only an average blurred into a generalizaiton. That poor people won't vote conservative is an assumption utterly flattened in the 2004 election if not others. In other words, whoever you are, you are not too poor nor too rich to get behind liberal concerns for injustice, favoritism toward the wealthy or the despoilation of nature with something more $ub$tantial than complaints.

I am perfectly damn serious. I don't "like" paying all the taxes I pay. Wealthy people don't become greedy because they are wealthy, they can just afford to exercise their conscience [sick and selfish or munificent as they are endowed] more effectively. Making a good income and being against all kinds of taxation is inconsistent and selfish unless all the tax is being misspent on wars and the already-rich freinds of the governemnt officials in charge of spending.

This public service anouncemnet was brought to you on a neutral internet.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

now time for riding

I'll be pedaling down to the cape for three days. This gives you lots of time to decide what vote/comment to add to my offer to give you a little more power. Or you could go read all those excellent carnivals. CotL freshly up at Neural Gormet.

Or you could just estivate.

The whole ball of whacks

The liberals I hang with were taught how to think. The conservatives that want to hang us were taught what to think.

It is almost inevitable that errors in the way you think will saddle you with errors in what you think building up unnoticed as so much psychosclerotic plaque. The way out is to shake off the saddle, slip off the yoke of belief. You travel through life much lighter if you don't confuse who you are with what you believe. But that confusion is pervasive, nearly universal in minds tribal or statesmanly. And still, the way out is to notice you are saddled and rather than trade one saddle for another by dwelling on what you or others believe, dwell on how you come to believe anything.

mind if I ask you a question?


6/26: With only eight comments in two weeks, I know this little cause [which, I admit, just puts a spear point on what is basically automated complaining] is going to be my own little project for a while. That's OK. I wanted to keep my PHP/mySQL up to snuff anyway. I am just going to go forward with this as time and cash permit.

6/22: I have left links to this post in the comments on a few of my favorite sites and begged people to respond to the proposal. Had Shakes Sis only written that she thought it was a good idea, I would have given it a banner font and treated it like a trophy endorsement but.... I was getting exactly what I asked for: the wisdom of the web. Shakes Sis knew, and it looks like a few others should know of Progressive Secretary. This is a site that runs on volunteer effort to provide a way you can easily fire off email to a range of decision makers in government and industry urging them to adopt more enlightened and ethical policies in key environmental and social issues we face. I'll be signing up with them.
So I need to clarify two points. I am proposing a service that is a bit different:
  1. Snail Mail, when properly addressed has more cred than email.
  2. The targeting is more dynamic...we will be able to respond to the wanker of the week by the end of the week.
  3. We are going after a different kind of decision maker: the sponsor who puts up enabling money for liars in the media.
  4. Our power to influence will come from the effect we have as consumers, not voters, on the profit margins of those decision makers we communicate with.

6/19: Hmmm, not such an appealing idea after all, it would appear. Or maybe I should have bothered to use the spell checker? The response makes me wonder exactly what the distinction is between apathy and an unwillingness to adopt a somewhat aggressive tactic. Am I just learning that liberals don't want more than their share of the influence or that I need to reach more people? Are liberals unwilling to imitate the organized harrassment used by the likes Sinclair Broadcast Group, the PTC and the AFA? Please keep in mind just what you are all up against if you'd hope your views were getting a fair airing on the TV. The proposed way of expressing your displeasures is very effective and should work for liberals as well as for conservatives.

6/17-6/18: Out of touch, gotta show my face at a wedding in NY.

6/16: Bora has very kindly lent me some eyeballs/visits. I hope others will comment here if they think of a better way to accomplish the purpose of giving us a voice where it matters: where the checks get written. I will leave this post at the top of the blog for a few days while the comments dribble in. Thanks for reading!

The original post, more or less:

I was wondering how many would take advantage of a little service idea I had....

PZ Myers argued that we should not ignore Anngry Coulter even though almost anyone not sharing her particular form of rabies has stepped back from her latest embarrassment. I am inclined to agree with PZ but the question then is what is the most effective way to stand up and be counted among those who are outraged by her vile caracature of conservatism? How to punish those who are desperate or stupid enough to give her airtime? Why don't those sponsors and networks offer us more palatable porn than a black vinyl miniskirted harpy who tries to berate disabled vets?

  1. Would you write to a sponsor of a show on which Coulter appeared to tell them you were negatively influenced about brands and products that promoted [inadvertently or otherwise] hate speech and ignorance?
  2. Would you actually boycott a product if it were identified to you as a sponsor of brainless unbalanced reportage or other content, assuming you had an alternate vendor to choose?
  3. Would you "write" such letters if doing so were as automated as, for instance, a e-mail petition drive?.
  4. If your personal information were suitably protected and used only when and as you directed, would you allow your name and zip code to appear in a letter written to sponsors, to FCC, to Congress? Most of these letters are considered garbage if not from individuals who are identifiable, at least to a degree that can eliminate duplicates. Advertisers know in which zip codes their bread is buttered.
  5. Would you worry if one of the bits of data used in such a letter writing campaign were "household income" used in the following anonymous way? Only the average buying power of those who assent to a protesting letter in their names would be reported. The objective is to show the sponsor the clout of those whom their carelessness has offended.
  6. How much email would you tolerate in participating in such a letter writing bank? One action alert per day? One per week?
  7. How would you like the targets to be chosen? [this answer I already know! Democratically!] Would you be willing to vote via polling on a blog such as this one [you know, select a radio button for the most egregious rightwing rabid squirrel least deserving of uncritical media attention of the week, then hit the "Vote" button] so I'd know who to look up?
  8. Would a "tips" inbox or form be useful? All the people who might want such a service to make their voices heard also provide a powerful way to collect some important information that is otherwise going to take some digging: Who spoke, what nature of baloney did they speak, what program, what station, what network, what sponsors....?
  9. Would you insist on your personal and positive confirmation for each and every letter sent out to each and every sponsor/network/newspaper/elected representative in your name? You should. This would be the least convenient and most important part of the little service I am hatching: you would have a PIN or password and you would email or respond to a form on a blog or key in something using IM or TM [note, the cost of the service is getting higher here as we go more mobile.] That level of effort is the only way to [1] keep it honest and [2] give it real force and respect [3] protect your privacy while you retain complete authority over your voice as a consumer of goods and one can speak for you.
  10. I plan to offer a choice of prewritten letters, as MO does but you could always add a personal touch. It is important to avoid abusive language, an advantage of prewritten letters nearly as important at the presumed enabling-by-convenience they provide. Do you think we could keep it civil?

I could write the code. Media Matters, and any others you care to suggest, might be willing to "own and operate" the service. Some servers , a few screens worth of UI for setting up the polling, taking registration, sending email notifications and blasting out the mailings, a fair sized installation of MySQL and a batch of printers and we are mostly there as far as infrastructure. Its just an idea. Its not so terribly different from some that are already out there. It needs money to set up and more money [I think "users" should subscribe and pay into a "postage account" with dues set to just keep us at break-even] to run.

11. Would you buy that?

I really want to know and I wish for a valid sampling of opinion so pass the link on to any busier sites or blogs that you think might be receptive.

I am sick to death of the utterly ignorant crap, pre-digested conservative views in many cases, fed to us by TV and most newspapers and I want to take back the air waves. And if they flip over to some kind of utterly ignorant liberal crap, they still deserve to get shot from both barrels. I get a few readers and naturally, given what I say and where I link, you are mostly liberal. I think its time I had a few readers at Toyota and Coke and Verizon. And NBC. [NSA are welcome to read as well but its yet further waste of my taxes for them to do so.]

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

And the door prize for our 10,000th visitor goes to... anonymized AOL user from "North America" Jun 21 2006 12:17:46 pm.

The executioner is perplexed by this purported milestone. Questions arise that already have answers.

Who am I congratulating?

Are you one of the sentient blog readers to whose benefit I profess dedication?
Who knows? You spent 0 seconds reading. We are no closer.

Did you wake up today thinking "I want to turn into a number today, for only as a statistic do I have any impact on the world!"?
No. Nobody thinks that but everybody winds up doing that anyway...especially when their number is up.

Are you grateful you weren't one of the many who come here by way of googling for "sweaty liberal thong party"?
No, you already were unidentifiable and you came from a bookmark or your browser doesn't put the referring URL in the HTTP get. I outted when you browse which would be trouble enough in some workplaces but your OS, ISP and browser version argue the computer is in the den or the bedroom...or business is so slow that surfing won't hurt it.

If you start thinking of yourself as just a number, an indistinguishable increment to the averages, at least you have aligned and scaled your thoughts about yourself to match the attention which all of humanity save your acquaintances allots to you. Sadly, this fails to actually put you in tune with humanity, which only presents itself to you one face at a time and each busily finding themselves to be unique and in need of uniqueness. With a bit of luck, your humility will be appreciated...but not emulated.

I used to just toss stuff in the attic

Then it got so I had to flip a coin to decide which little treasure got a spot in the attic and which went to the swap table at the dump.

But now there is e-Bay.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I hope its a trend

As Coturnix, and Carl Zimmer and PZ Myers...and a host of biology bloggers outside of Seed's umbrella all demonstrate, there is a rich cargo of information and explanation of biology, especially evolutionary biology available to and written for the benefit of the rest of us who are not trained in biology. All of us being organisms kept going and healthy by machinery we only partly understand, this is endlessly fascinating reading.

It occurs to me to wonder: Who is reading? Blogs generally cost nothing to view and otherwise pose no barrier to readership except literacy and access to a could be anybody. But we know from the ID battles that many in the US are strongly encourged by their religious leaders NOT to read up on this science. I would like to imagine that a recent choice of the NYTimes editors to add not just another pretty face but a name brand biology popularizer as a blogger, and charge admission, signals their assessement that there is a growing audience for good science writing, an audience interested enough to pay. The reason I think they may be right is that Ms. Judson's blog drew 216 comments on its first 14 posts...and people not inclined to pay are not being counted here.

What is the trend I am hopeful of here? That the IDiots stirred up a hornet's nest. That the strident anti-science of the creationists basically, and in the long run at least, servered to make a lot of people curious about the science that was being disputed. There may always be a need for some blogs primarily devoted to snuffing out the plagues of ignorance fundmentalists keep bringing into the classroom. But for the rest of us, the sign-in of the Times and the wide open doors of the biology community library seem to me like the ship of humanity's natural curiousity coming back on course.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Assessment Defeats Happy Disposition

I was cleaning up my study one day. Applying my broom to the tide of debris shed by my half launched, half finished, half million projects when it hit me. Quite transfixed me and made me sit down and type:

I am incredibly lucky. I am blessed with an interest in many things and the skill to accomplish something in many of those areas where I have interest. Luckiest of all perhaps is that most of the little changes to the world that I get excited to work on are even within my financial means to pursue. I could do just about anything to which I brought sufficient will and focus. But I can not learn to ignore or overcome the nagging feeling as I attempt to concentrate on Y, that not doing anything on X would some how lead me to lose X. It is as if potential were as dear and present as one of my arms and I dare not slight any of it. And it has gotten so bad that indeed, I get little done on a host of ideas and projects.

Where am I going wrong? Granted, my pleasure centers fire oddly and connect in whimsical ways to the world. But aside from an instant itch to pick at another task the second the task at hand offers any resistance, why can't I apply to the organization of my own life at least the principles I do grasp? The itch is unconscious only for a minute. Awareness catches on but won't take control.

I see one word that I mistrust, that taints the here and now and makes the flow of my attention a weak current.


That word deserves to be weighed as critically as all the things it has weighed.

Slogans of famous "War Presidents"

"Don't change horses in the middle of a stream" : Abraham Lincoln

"Don't change hearses in the middle of a stream" : Dubya

---or was it---

"Don't change hearses in the middle east"?

Monday, June 12, 2006

What [makes] me worry?

I got my reasons for blogging anonymously. If I had any inside stories or even moderately interesting ideas, somebody might care who I am.

Oh well.

I certainly try to qualify my blather by saying a word or two about my background where it shores up any implied claim of competence to opine. But I came across a little essay today that is all about the world as seen by a software entrepreneur and if you read it imagining that Greensmile agrees with or finds fascinating almost every word [qualifications and quibbles will make up the rest of this post], you will know me a bit better. Most of the years that it took me to reach oldfarthood were whiled away at a string of 10 or 15 software start-ups. Most of them are out of business but that is another story. Knowing me a bit better is not necessarily good for you but it can help calibrate your evaluation of my drecky editorializing.

If you don't care where American's next jobs are coming from, you can skip that essay. If you think technology is for geeks and completely irrelevant, you won't care about that essay. If the one word you understand is "taxcut" most of that essay will just make you sleepy. In a word, Dubya, you can quit reading right here.

This is not where I came in. I started this blog by promising aphorisms and I meant to stick to short posts because I and much of the online world, don't have time, don't make time, for long reads. Too bad. I just recognized in the voice of this geek Graham, many of the screwups that prompted me to blog. These screwups hurt ME. Graham rather offhandedly diagnoses faults in the system that the workers, the investors and the inventors in this country should most fear and most fiercely oppose. The author has succeeded where many have failed so perhaps his outlook is a bit more sanguine than scarred cast-offs of his industry like myself can support.

This is not where I get off. Yes, I seem to have said more than I thought would be worth saying. Yes, I can't keep from knocking over the capital R Religion honey jar. Yes, I know if I don't squeeze out something for you to chew on about once a day, my hit counter goes comatose. But I'm not going to look in that mirror any more. I just need to get in a few more hours on the bike, a few more camping expeditions, a few more yard and fixup projects now that the days are long. But when I get around to writing, I will try to get past complaining...all the way to, perhaps, writing my congressman.


Capital gains tax is, in my opinion, not a huge disincentive to the investor IF it is only applied to money that the investor has got by cashing in, taking the investment value off the table. At that point it is income. If, like Steve Jobs, you take a dollar of salary and the rest as stock, how the hell else are you going to eat? I am sure Steve has other money to spend but there have been plenty of us ( whose code you exercise daily) who took pay cuts, worked hours rarely asked of anyone but medical interns and all in return for the potential, some ISO shares. I got the brass ring one time out of ten start-ups. A start-up war horse continues working like that after a few bad outcomes by telling himself the sacrifice and the commitment and the learning look good on the resume. I would only exempt money taken out of an enterprise that prospered if that money were dedicated to funding some other enterprise. Its an abusable stipulation but I do believe private money knows better where to grow than government money. The government trough is for pigs and this administration can show you a whole feed lot of them. If you take your capital gains so you can buy a boat, pay the damned tax because you are just using it as income.

Graham does say: "Immigration policy is one area where a competitor could do better." But I think he gives a rosier impression than facts will bear

And he says "The US is a rich country": historically yes. At the moment, relative to other countries yes. The concentration of wealth, to the extent that some people have money to burn on the long-shot investments is just how Republicans think things should be. But the critical seed money for the earliest stages of start ups is not coming from the super-rich. The first few hundred thousand comes from another entrepreneur who has made it. The corporate and family wealth concentrations that current tax and investment policies foster are heading the country toward a Guatemalan profile of wealth distribution...seen any good Guatemalan start-ups lately? The largest fortunes are invested with a regimen of caution that would stifle a venture capitalist. Having a modest share of that US wealth that I got as wages means I do not personally suffer much from the ever more top-heavy distribution of that wealth. I do not suffer the blighted neighborhoods and crappy schools that need attention right now. But politics should also be about what policy you make now so that you will be better off later. It is the future I worry for. Our wealth as a nation is in decline for fundamental reasons that the Bush programs will not repair. The decline is one part of the problem but the rules that let what money we do have be sucked into the family fortunes of one or two percent of the nation to the detriment of the middle class is also a problem. The middle class investor is also a cautious investor but the increase of their numbers paralleled an increase in the formation of start-ups spanning the years from 1983 to 2002. This rise in numbers can be attributed to new IRA and 401K programs that gave individual investors tax protected options that used to be reserved for corporations and family trust funds. The rise in venture capital was partly induced by the attraction of a broadly rising market fueled by all that 401K money. Has that goose laid its last golden egg? The middle class is shrinking and has less to save. We are at the beginning of an era when that retirement money is cashed in to pay for things like assisted living.

The importance to intellectual vitality in both culture, politics and commerce that Graham claims for basic freedoms of expression is an accurate enough statement. The chilling effect on individuals [other than us hardy liberal bloggers of course] on the media and, of course on government employees of an authoritarian spy culture is a bit understated in the article.

One omission. Graham could have mentioned the stupidity of the barriers to innovation we have let our patent system become. Since Reagan's administration, rather than fund the USPTO so only sound and novel patents get assigned, we have instead left it up to the courts by allowing any kind of crap at all to gain a patent. So invent away but be ready to hire a phalanx of lawyers if you get some traction in the market.

But then I should remember: that essay was about why the US is the best place for start-ups.

so far.

Bush shows Hillary that he too can write a book...

It takes a village idiot

to raise a serial killer to the status of hero

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Carnival time.

Some things just need to blogged. Go over to Atheist Mamma's place and find out what they are.

Friday, June 09, 2006

something odd about playing the odds

We are all taught that gambling is evil or at least foolish and habit forming to boot. And then we are bombarded by product placements for Las Vegas vacations and advertisements promising escape and ecstacy at casinos. I grew up in Reno. I don't think I saw as much as one smile on the gaming floor for every thousand I'd seen on the billboards Harrah's and the MGM Grand used to plaster along interstate 80. I'd strongly agree that submitting yourself to the chance of losses gratuitously is indeed stupid but I would not legislate against it since it is a folly that defrays some of my tax burden.

Common sense either is not common or not sense. My common sense pipes up like a guy who is a few beers past his limit:
"But c'mon now! What planet is this? We are all schooled in gambling before we are 13 yeas old. The forcasters tell me there is a 50% chance of the Sox game being rained out tomorrow. Sell the ticket or hope for a rain check? The forecasters say the morning will be dry but there will be intermittent heavy thundershowers in the afternoon and evening. Do I ride the bike or leave it in the garage? "

Yeah, I suppose we can't help but be a wagering species once we have just enough spare brain power to recognize a choice of action with consequences that depend on unavailable information.

Some times the stakes are portrayed as enormous precisely because that brain power can imagine eternity but not bear to imagine its own absence from eternity. The social workers who try to pick up the pieces when gambling breaks someone's life have a well worn analysis of the syndrome. Magical thinking. Wishful thinking. Turning "its wanted" into "it is" or "it will be" with a sleight of mind that blinds and numbs. When the tokens handled by this broken accounting are also the tokens of power in the waking world, i.e. drugs or money, the wishful thinker sooner or later comes to grief at the hands of those who have benefited from his or her addiction. But when the goods traded are figments and fictions, what harm? I personally assess it as lost time, or lost opportunity to be here and now but that is just me. It gets called a disease in some cases but I wonder if it is not more of a universal affliction, differing more in degree than in kind between the "problem gambler" and the rest of us who are "normal". My recollections of games of chance among kids when I was a teenager is of insignificant contests taking on stakes only teenagers take so seriously: were we "man enough" to dare/withstand losing, were we smart enough to shave the odds in our favor if the game were poker or blackjack? All the significance of the insignificant comes from within, from our own needs.

I can't quite put my finger on the nature of the error that lets us think we can manipulate the unknown. I suspect it is founded upon a less detectable error that makes us want to have control when the critical information is unavailabe. It does not seem so different from the neurotic's constant war with adversity, their constant going out of the way to avoid inconveneince, pain, frustration. If the mechanism inside the phenomenon, be it dice, cards, weather or our particular susceptibility to cancer, is not known then is it only a mistake or is it something more willful that we supply not only a meta-mechanism, a black box, but suppose it to be a mechanism on which our wishes have some effect?

There is a hint in the psychiatric profile of the gambler that a formative experience involving bad luck would spare you from a life time of manipulating the fates by thinking lucky thoughts or making prayers of supplication.

Wanna bet?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Towards a ranking of attitudes.

While I am scoring and sorting attitudes, I might as well set Detachment on the scale somewhere. It looks superior to everything else when the only other option is getting hurt. It is better than pessimism which in turn is better than cynicism. You know I think I am going somewhere with this...

The cynic looks constantly into trash cans and diapers and enjoys the constant confirmation of his belief that people are insincere and hide their intentions and mistakes. Such a person has set out to never be disappointed by people.
The pessimist never looks up from the ground and so has the comfort of never seeing a contradiction with his belief the sun seldom shines and that his luck is usually bad. Such a person has set out to never be disappointed by events or people.
The detached just quits looking at herself. Trying to see the world by looking only at the shadows it casts on you lights a path of constant misjudgment. Comfort and confirmation are irrelevant.

Looking on the bright side of Pessimism

Colbert and I have warned you: cynicism is a cheap imitation of wisdom. But..

Cynicism should not be confused with pessimism, an outlook which is rarely disappointed.

Carnival of the liberals # 14 is on news stands now

well , on your virtual news stands anyway. Get a copy before they sell out. Not counting yours truly, a rather insightful collection of posts. Thanks Michael!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

dooH niboR

On the one hand, congress was strengthening the hand of creditors, who were already doing quite well with business rules as they were, but fancy they will fare even better if us little debtors never regain our good name once we get a few thousand dollars behind in our payments. On the other hand they were being wooed by an exclusively rich persons lobby to put out of reach one huge and growing pool of formerly taxable money. And all along, they are feverishly adding to the national debt that won't come due until this crop of bought-and-sold cowards is defeated or retired. Who is your nation's creditor?

National debt has been sloppily considered by most of us. We are not clear what it is...its some kind of funnymoney. The thing about bad debtors is that they have a pathological tendency to disregard or not see clearly just how much they owe and when its due. They forgive themselves far sooner than their creditors ever will. Our thinking just craps out when debt is scaled. Like the old Andy Capp cartoon: "If you owe a hundred pounds, your a failure. If you owe a few million, you are a tycoon [ask the Donald]. But if you owe a hundred billion, you are a government!"...ha ha ha. Money owed is funny, the more the funnier.

Its not funny to the creditor. As long as you are "good for it" your creditors love you. You want to see how fast they can turn on the slickest talkers once there's a wiff of rumor that they might welch? Look what happened to Bernie Ebber's loans.

Our nation's borrowing spree kicked into high gear when Reagan, one of the greatest economic minds the Republicans ever produced, moved into the oval office. Along with pollution control and population control, the great communicator also seduced us into abandoning fiscal control: All of these long term problems call for long term vision and we have not had it. Americans in the person of their economy kept winning free games in the pinball machine of macroeconomics until now: as long as our economy continued to expand, we could keep paying off the older, smaller debt by turning around and borrowing more. See if you can get three economists to agree on exactly what the US, you the worker, our weather, our petroleum resources and all our global trading partners would have to do to keep that expansion going until the now 8 trillion odd dollars is paid off. Go ahead. I'll wait.

What is the voter who now counts more than you? The guys who hold our country's IOUs. And what is that voter's hunch about our prospects as a debtor?

I checked a few sources. wikipedia says about the same things of the national debt... :
The Bureau of the Public Debt divides the national debt into two main categories: debt held by the public, and intragovernmental holdings. Intragovernmental debt includes money for government trust funds, such as pension plans and the debt for social security, which is about $1.7 trillion as of May 2005. Overall, intragovernmental holdings account for over $3.1 trillion of the total debt at this time.

The remaining $4.6 trillion or so has been purchased by the public, including foreign entities. This largely comes from the issuance of U.S. Treasury securities. Nearly half ($2.2 trillion) is composed of Treasury notes (aka T-notes), while T-bills and T-bonds (including savings bonds) cover most of the remaining public portion of the debt. Bonds sold for infrastructure projects are also part of the national debt.

It is common for individual Americans and businesses to buy bonds and other securities, though much of the debt is now held overseas. At the end of 2004, foreign holdings of Treasury debt were $1,886 billion, which was 44% of the total debt held by the public. the Treasury department does. This number is not exactly same as wikipedia's but if you can open a MS Word doc and scroll to the ownership table, it does show foreigners increasingly are the ones who have the loose change to pick up our debt...we are broke! Between 1995 and 2005, foreign governments share of US debt instruments increased from 1/8 to 1/4 of the national debt while the total debt nearly doubled going from 4.8 T$ to 8.1 T$

Here is a short explanation of the gruesome interest spiral that ends a binge of debt repayed by more debt.

If you don't know what happens when you have to borrow money to repay the money you already borrowed, you haven't watched enough gangster movies...or seen what the new laws will let credit card companies do. When Japan, China, Korea and others send Guido and Louie around to get back what's theirs, the interest spiral that ends the debt binge will fall on whom? Right! It will fall on those who have not been able to put incomes and assets out of the tax man's reach...which as things are trending under Bush won't be anyone but us wage slaves.

The average American pays 200$ a month of the interest on the national debt. This herd of politicians you sent to Washington think they do you a favor or buy your vote because they can "give" you a $200 to $600 per year tax cut? They know you haven't done the math. Now you know they can't do the math. You should fire the bums, especially the bum-in-chief. YOU are paying 50$/month out of your pay check to solvent foreign governments and bankers who bought up our debt. That money is NOT going to foriegners who really need our help...suckers!

I am not an economist but I can prove that I know financial responsibility when I see it. Is there something crazy-wrong about expecting my nation's finances to be in as good shape as my personal finances? The congress has given the credit card companies the tongs and lashes to make damn sure MY finances stay in the black. What have they given my country?

Now, about that inheritance tax thing...are you going to call your senator?

[ok, so I am a fiscal conservative in sheeps, uh er, liberal's clothing. So sue me...if you can do it using your tax refund to cover legal fees. ]

The formula for a stone age economy:
"Neither a borrower nor a lender be."
But if your promises are beyond your means, your hungers have played you false.

UPDATE: if you think I am exagerating, then so is Ben Stein.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Inoculation can be fun

Whenever you run into a devil, be sure to get up close and greet him. Ask what he's selling and what he's taking in exchange. You don't have to shake hands. Ask only those questions, take away nothing less and nothing more than answers to those questions, listening only for those answers. He may tire of you before he is willing to be honest...that then is your answer.

That is the best way to avoid being one of those pious losers who, when faced with a tough choice, can't do better than the ancient abdication of responsibility: "Better the devil I know than the devil I don't know".

Not sure you'd know a devil when you saw one? Then you'll do well to fall back on a bit of advice from the Talmud:
Say little and do much; and receive all men with a cheerful countenance.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Slow motion train wrecks, mything the point

When myths about ourselves are too cherished to let reality in to our awareness, myths will collide with reality in horrible, repeating, predictable train wrecks.

Myth: America enjoys a uniquely decent culture and the pious and heterogeneous roots of that culture have made us more benign as individuals and as a society than other cultures, especially Arab cultures.
Reality: Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division in Haditha, Iraq on November 19, 2005, react to the death of Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas in an IED explosion by going into nearby homes and killing unarmed noncombatants including women and children.

This is not the only reality. Reality is an unknowably large record of "what actually happened". Even my hopes rose momentarily when Iraqis really turned out to vote. But to deny that angry barbarity is a part of the reality of what Americans can do is to make all claims of objectivity suspect. Those who are surprised that such things happen or who are still in denial that they have happened are indirectly at the root of why they have happened at all. What war never got nasty? Do we send saints for soldiers or are they rather ordinary youths different from enemies they hunt only in their expensive fire power? Who, any more, thinks the Marines have landed to save some kind of Grenada-with-camels? Why is there any surprise or disbelief that an atrocity in Haditha, and who knows how many more such, have happened and will happen? A "war president" owes his citizens, particularly those who have been kept at arms length from reality, a few frank reminders of what war entails. The sad truth is that if you don't come right out and say "we have decided to shed some blood in a far away country", you are going to catch some people by surprise when corpses turn up. Really, that is what war is. If I were a well armed young man still shaking from the sight of my best friend blown full of holes by a car bomb planted by faceless assailants in a neighborhood I had come to disarm, would I be calm? Could I stay sane at all? Really, that is what war is. If you aren't there, you can't say what you would do. Our country puts young men in these situations and dreams nothing ugly will happen, nothing counter to our myths. But we are sending only human beings to war and war coarsens the combatants it does not kill. Any more optimistic view of war than that is a myth. As the myth slowly disintegrates against the reality, there will be more handwringing in myth-burdened America than in Iraq where some myths are just one more luxury events long ago shattered.
When Iraq finds itself, in pieces or in tact, on some far off anniversary of the departure of American troops...then it will have its own new set of myths about its people's durability and we will not be flattered.

Playing to myth, taking political advantage of the fond beliefs that we Americans are all for and all of motherhood, family values and apple pie has been a key Republican strategy. It is divisive because it casts the "reality based" constituencies as outsiders. It is a disservice to those flattered to be identified as insiders in the circle of good people because it disarms their critical faculties. The misuse of myth for political advantage is not exclusively a Republican folly but now that it has blown up in their face, let us examine briefly the operation of myths implicit or explicit in their campaigns.

I will posit a working definition of myth first. A myth is a story exemplifying character or an assertion about character that may have little factual basis yet is embraced and even protected from examination by many because it provides a powerful label and a succinct means for possessing a positive identity for ones self. Some myths are about glorious things "we" did and some deeper myths are about who "we" are. Most, upon examination, seem like a tattered gossamer sail puffed out with a gale of wishful patriotic hot air. If you identify yourself via a myth, you stop looking for what is really going on and what will really make things better. I am not saying "myth" and meaning "necessarily false", I am not one of those dreaded America hating liberals. I am a stupidity hating liberal and I am saying the price we pay for labels and intellectual shortcuts and crutches for our collective egos is too high. I am saying "myth" and meaning "beliefs we use without proof or examination".

If my despondency shows in my choice of words, I beg you note that I am still hopeful my country will come to its senses. It is only that just now, I am depressed by watching a train wreck in slow motion.

Some myths even I believe: American democracy as it has grown up from the fertile ground of the US Constitution has, for all the inequities of our history, been a better form of government for more people than most of the schemes of government the other nations of the world have produced.

Some myths I have grown doubtful of: unbridled free enterprise, if you strip away the contribution of plundered natural resources and technology per se, may not account for the entirety of the explosive advance of the American standard of living over the last two centuries. Are we still in front of the crowd in technology? Do we still have resources to burn? How is our prosperity trending NOW?

Some myths I do not buy at all. Bush campaign speeches dripped with them, were hewn from them, were just a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker pasted on top of them. This is a Rovian form of persuasion in which Rove promises the media on the eve of the 2000 campaign:
Well, we're going to have to run a campaign that's based upon the issues. We're going to have to lay out a bold agenda to the American people, which we have been doing. I mean, every delegate is leaving here tonight with a 476- page book of the governor's policy speeches and white papers. We're going to run a campaign on the issues, these five big issues that we talked about a moment ago: Education, Social Security, Medicare, defense, poverty, and tax cuts. And we're going to be talking about that endlessly for the next 12 weeks.

But his boy Dubya plays to our myths thusly:
Its a Christian country or at least a country with theocratic leanings and that means we want "faith" to take over some jobs more typically considered as roles for government. From a Bush campaign speech in August 2000:
I'll work to triple the amount of money available for character education, expand the after-school programs that will encourage the involvement of faith-based programs and charitable organizations, all aimed at teaching children the difference between right and wrong; all aimed at mentoring children that says somebody cares for you, somebody loves you in society.
The American dream has some mysterious connection to "values" What did he mean when he said:
...making sure every child has a chance to access the American dream. You see, this American dream shouldn't be limited to a few. The ability to own your own business, the ability to raise a family in a safe neighborhood; the ability to grow up in a place where values are taught -- it shouldn't be limited to a few.
I too once held with some pride the notion that this was as good a country as any in which to aspire to financial success but its seriously tarnished these days.

The terrorism of 9/11 changed everything. In a campaign speech of Oct 20 2004, Bush milks fear before an audience that is suffering far more from economic conditions than terrorism. [mostly what has changed is how much the neocons think they can now get away with]
This is America's first presidential election since Sept. 11, 2001. The security of our country is at risk in ways different from any we have before faced.

We are in the midst of a global war against a well-trained, highly motivated enemy, an enemy who hates America for the very freedoms and values we cherish most.

The next commander-in-chief must lead us to victory in this war, and you cannot win a war when you don't believe you're fighting one. (Applause) Sen. Kerry was recently asked how Sept. 11 had changed him. He replied, "it didn't change me much at all."

And this unchanged world-view becomes obvious when he calls the war against terror primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation, rather than what I believe: A war which requires the full use of American power to keep us secure.

All of America's wars are great and just struggles for freedom, fought by selfless heroes. Addressing the American Legion on the eve of the 2004 Republican convention, Bush said:
In Afghanistan and Iraq and other fronts in the war on terror today, service men and women are carrying on your legacy of selfless service and courage under fire.

I know you share America's pride in them. They are serving our country with pride and they are bringing honor to the uniform.

Our fighting men and women are serving America under a proud flag, and that flag should be cherished and protected.

When John [McCain] and your national adjutant general, Bob, have come by the Oval Office, they always remind me about the Citizens Flag Alliance. I appreciate your leadership in that important alliance.

Like you, I support a constitutional amendment to protect the flag from desecration.

I admit to a bit of quote mining there. Anyone doubting Bush did not shamelessly promote jingoism as an alternative to intelligent defense measures can call me on would double the length of this post just to sample his more blatant appeals to emotional myths about American military goodness. The shame of it is that we really do have brave soldiers but, almost peculiar to the role of the soldier, they do not operate with the independence of conscience most liberals could demonstrate any day of the week. By the way, the Bush league have scored a major victory in making an independent conscience a dangerous thing for a government employee to exercise. I used this quote because I wanted to capture the shameful irony of that particular speech. He went on at length about how the administration had supported and was going to support veterans. Six months later, it was the ruckus raised by an embattled Sen. Byrd that actually restored almost a billion dollars the administration had cut from VA benefit programs. That is another, particularly sick American myth: we love our veterans...I think it is only true for about a week after the parades when they return from duty and it depends on whether we won the war or not...that short and conditional attention span is humiliating to me. The flag thing also underscores the political ploy, very similar to myth-milking, of substituting symbol for substance to forge political will.

I prefer the more factual if pedantic persuasion of someone like Gore.

Are there any objectively measurable differences between the use of myth by the left and by the right? Oh yes.

Google provides 15,700 pages if you query "liberal myths". The first screenful of links was material all about as thoughtful and informed as this sample from an article by Ray Thomas titled "Liberal Myths Part 3":
Why do the liberals fail at everything they try? Because they operate on a completely wrong premise. They think Americans are stupid, and that only they, the "elites" of the world, know what's good for us.

Who would you say has mythed the point in that typical passage, the author or his target? It was page after page of the same thing. The nearest approach to decent debate was a piece by Bruce Bartlett complaining that liberals think money for raised minimum wages must come from the tooth fairy. Lately the stingy gentleman has had to face the fact that dear leader was the guy who has been kiting checks on the tooth fairy's account.

The most interesting piece among the right wing debunking squad was by Fred Hutchinson. He tries to examine political myth making on his way to trashing Moore's sloppy "Farhenheit 9/11". Along with an imaginative description of the "myth making process of the left", Hutchinson provides one of the most tragically confused paragraphs the English language has ever had to bear:

Good Myths and Bad

The creation of myths and the delight in myths is a human trait. Myths can be good or bad. They can be good if they embody high ideals, give moral guidance, or tell essential truths about the nature of life. Myths can be evil if they call evil good and call good evil. Myths are evil when they tell lies, or put forward an image of life which is essentially false. Myths, like those told by Karl Marx and Hitler, are destructive because they breed devotion to wrong-headed causes leading to wars and revolutions and promote the rise of dictatorships. But the crowds cheered for the myths put forward by Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Mao.
No, Fred, its not quite like that. Read the newspapers. We are playing out policies and suffering the reality-gaps for those "good" myths about our high ideals. NO myth is good if it lets you stop thinking. Fred Hutchinson does not know me or, apparently, anyone like me.
  • Our family's yearly check to the IRS exceeds the median household income in our state,
  • I grew up Republican,
  • I have written a fair amount of software for the defense contractors,
  • I demand a damn good reason for taking up arms,
  • I want my vote to count as much as Ken Lay's [when he could vote],
  • I balance my checkbook every month and I don't think my government should be less fiscally accountable,
  • I have no debt,
  • I am actually capable of recognizing, without a preachers help, my interdependence with the rich and the poor, near and far who share this world with me while simultaneously being proud of and manifestly capable of taking care of myself and my family with no help from anyone else.
...and I cannot express how much I loath being lumped in with some failed dictators by a Republican paper pecker just because I don't buy Republican slogans. It is bone headed to speak as if anybody ever sold a "wrong headed cause" via wrong headed myths! Wars are always sold to us by appeal to the positive myths about ourselves.

Googling "conservative myths" only brought up 591 hits, the first of which cited more statistics and factual support than any of the conservative attacks except for a congressional memo. It might be subject for another post to analyze the difference in tone and content of right and left on the web...there do seem to be differences and I doubt that the radically larger amount of comparable right wing rhetoric reflects the difference in, say, voter registration between democrats and republicans. Red necks type faster? Astrosurf? I'll get back to you on that.

I cite these Googlings to illustrate what I am not talking about: myth as a code word for the other guy's lies, a propagandist's rhetoric. I am talking about ideas we all share more often than not and examine less often than we should...even the myth that there are "conservatives" and "liberals".

The seed for this post was my suspicion that conservatives
are far more likely to be swayed by appeal to myths. Anyone who, for some combination of emotional and intellectual befuddlement, thinks nothing is broken or that we have to return to a time when things were not broken, has already got one leg firmly planted on a cloud of myth. I figured I was not the first to reach such a conclusion and that the problem is not particularly modern. Not that there aren't abundant contemporary examples of myths the conservatives favor, or even author. But I was a little surprised at just how unoriginal that thought is. The connection between myth and conservatism was identified 2400 years ago when Plato imagined the "Statesman" as a herder of people. Attempts to bring that connection out of the philosophy departments and into the light have not been great political or commercial successes. And, of course, attacking our political follies at their mythic roots is an abusable enterprise. I would pick less Jungian, less academic myths, and dismantle the everyday myths about ourselves because our politicians desperately need to liberalize our world views before we all kill each other.

Resistance to myth and manipulation is an obligation of citizenship.

People I know and care about are on that train.