Friday, December 12, 2008

In love or politcs...

...the dreamer and the realist can have conversations.  One set of exchanged words, two conversations.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Where did the women go?

This article in NY Times has new numbers on the participation of women in the computing/programming work force. New and much worse than I had realized. The decline of the percentage of women who have jobs in software engineering was a shock to me perhaps because the particular place I work does have closer to 20% women and they work as both senior managers, researchers and engineers. The gains in technical fields by women stand in stark contrast to the decline in the computing related disciplines. WTF is going on? The article presents several theories but no consensus or even much breadth of agreement is reported for any of these ideas:
  • The popular perceptions have changed from computer-as-tool in business or science due to the rise of computer gaming which is culturally male.
  • The notion that computing is a geeky pursuit has become more wide spread and girls are turned off to that.
  • Nursing, for instance, is more attractive in terms of employment prospects.
  • In order for women to feel uninhibited about pursuing a computing career, it helps for them to have been raised in a home where both parents had careers in technical fields and computing was a visible activity in the household.
If that last notion held water, my daughter would be in computing instead of ecology...a well adjusted upbringing is a not a predictor of career outcomes but quite the opposite since it is the greatest granter of freedom to choose an interest.
I don't buy any of those explanations. The "build a computer game girls like and you will wind up with women programmers" seems a slight favorite among the researchers queried but it strikes me as terminally male-chauvinist: Just because the gaming route is an attraction to the field for men does not mean it should be for women.
I will buy and review Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming when I my projects at work stop spilling over into my hours at home;)

DOH! its the friggen hours! Its the unbalance of work and home life?

Monday, November 10, 2008

She was mostly an object in the mirror

Whether an object in the mirror is real or an illusion depends on whether you are aware of the mirror.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

And it is a very very low limit too.

There is a limit to the utility of letting the past as you remember it or the future as you imagine it haunt your present.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A little crow bar for when your relationships are stuck.

Honesty burns all the right bridges.

[and you don't even have to rack your brain keeping sundry stories straight]

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

just do it, do it justice

Election 2008 Voting Information

Today, November 4th, is Election Day! Remember to vote--not just for Barack Obama, but for Congressional, state and local candidates as well.

Where and when do I vote?

Find your polling place, voting times, and other important information by checking out these sites and the hotline below. These resources are good, but not perfect. To be doubly sure, you can also contact your local elections office.

What should I do before I go?

  • After you've entered your address on either Vote For Change or Vote411, read the voting instructions and special rules for your state.
  • Voting ID laws vary from state to state, but if you have ID, bring it.
  • Check out all the voting myths and misinformation to look out for:

What if something goes wrong?

  • Not on the voter list? Make sure you're at the right polling place, then demand a provisional ballot.
  • If you're voting on an electronic machine with a paper record, verify that the record is accurate.
  • Need legal help? Call 1-866-OUR-VOTE
  • Try to get video of the problem and submit it to

Want to do more?

  • Text all of your friends: "Vote Obama today! Pass it on!"
  • Volunteer at your local Obama office. Find an office here or here.
  • Make calls from home for Obama.

Now everybody go vote!!!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The part of love that's better than sex

If there is not at least one person to whom you would literally never lie, one person to whom you fiercely and at any cost, present your truest self in every moment and circumstance, then your life is shabby, a string of compromised amusements, a toying with the devil as he grooms you for his version of eternity.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Which troubles do you carry around lest others suffer and which, if you set them down would not require that anyone else pick them up, would in fact, cease to exist?
There are burdens we think we carry which are in truth only shrines to a past we foolishly wish to change.


I had imagined when I set out to write, that my words would be the cairns and guideposts I had found and revealed to lessen the missteps and troubles of others who travel through life.
What I have found on reading the words later is that they are more often just tracks left in soft earth by yet another soul lost in this wilderness.
There is a simple solution to this problem of conditional wisdom with its tendency to be as fleeting as its context: humbly embrace wilderness as our natural state. Know that a sense of being lost is a more realistic adaptation than a sense of certainty of your place.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

labels explain nothing.

If applying a label to some person or problem gives you as good a feeling as if you had come to a useful understanding of the are screwed to the ground and cannot move any farther.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Beyond labels, not beyond redemption

Looking forward, as we must now that a change for the better is likely in November, I begin to think about who will be on board and who needs to be on board in order for Obama to successfully enact much of the repair and reallignment he promises. Lincoln Mitchell posts his view of this prospective new government at HuffPo but I am wary of strategizing in strictly partisan terms. I prefer the vantage of HuffPo editor and general journalism maven, Thomas Edsall who, seeing that we can only go forward from where we already are, bids us look at where we are.

Looking back over my words of the last week or so, I am embarrassed at how many times I have written as if "Republican" or "conservative" was a specific and uniform moral disease, one I seem to presume stems from ignorance and congenital viciousness. And while viciousness is lately much in evidence at Republican political rallies, I still have to admit it is a stereo type that does not fit all who call themselves Republicans. It does not matter whether in pain or in enjoyment: I wrote in fits of sarcastic anger that blur into reflexes, as if the stereotypes, by explaining the brutal wrongheadedness that offended me, were becoming cherished beliefs about an entire group of people. Reality eludes the self-assured. In a calmer and more considered view, I admit that in order for Obama to win convincingly and in order for him to govern effectively, as we desperately need him to do, a few Republicans are going to have to pitch in. Whether they still call themselves Republicans at that point is a stupid thing on which to stupid as fretting over what I call myself.

I don't have much trust in labels of affiliation despite my partisan bluster. I have said, or at least repeated what others have said often enough about Obama: he is seldom tagged with the label I most prefer to wear: Progressive.

Fascist is another word I have slung but trust me, I do not use it lightly or in hyperbole. The standard motives and the social stresses that competent historians point to as fertile ground for a nation's transition into fascism are here. The Wagnerian motifs play softly in the background but are always around. I am not talking about skinheads either. Go to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and spend a day studying what quality of people can be brought in line when fear is mastered as a political tool. The first thing you must have is merely a population that disdains introspection about its own part in the problems that beset it. Such a population would embrace a wretched rash decider rather than a Hamlet-esque leader like Kerry who burdens himself with awareness of the divergent alternative views and priorities that contend for preeminence. The second thing that greases the slide toward fascism is a body politic that is easily numbed to the injustice or suffering of others, and more basically, just given to viewing any ethnicity or other identity category as "other", as "that one" or "one of them". When we shed the inconvenient truth of another person's humanity, their equality and their entitlement to life and liberty are empty words, if even that, to the mob given to fascist emotional politics. I use the term in dead earnest.

Generalizations about the character of political antagonists are rarely productive but how desperate is our need to understand why others take such destructive views and adopt such hostile attitudes! Often and mostly in vain, I have tried to analyze in my posts here what wrong turn a conservative takes. There is little hope of succeeding in that analysis since consevative is merely a label and vast disparities are lumped into the category, even when it is self-identification. Take the sad Mr. David Brooks for instance, who is a world away from the politics seen of late in the hustings of the Republican nominees. His job has shrunken with the prospects of his favorite politcal party so that now he works chiefly as an apolgist. He has been honest at times, such as in his dismay with Palin. But in his latest stab at the fuller view of a national political discourse, he both makes and mauls his case for cooperation:
But over the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. This expulsion has had many causes. But the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. Democrats kept nominating coastal pointy-heads like Michael Dukakis so Republicans attacked coastal pointy-heads.

"pointy-heads"? Way to go, Brooks. If you can't see any better than that, how do you expect to be seen?

With which of the parties accross our political spectrum can I still have meaningful dialog, with whom can I still work...and who is beyond redemption? None is beyond redemption. Sad to say, all that is on display in our politics this season is basic human behavior. But those who need redemption will not heed me. They must redeem themselves. We are easily led into error and anger and those who would lead us there for their own ends are profoundly irresponsible. There has been a decline approaching complete absense of getting to know our fellow citizens. There are better ways to meet the "other" guy than political rallies.

a correlation observed

Ever notice how your "low information voter" turns out to be your "high emotion" voter?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

To spare myself from a tempting generalization

You don't have to possess a low IQ to prefer an oversimplified description of circumstances.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The learned discourse of American Politics

How do you cast doubts and aspersions on another without causing the listeners to reflect on your own character?

You get someone else to do the dirty work. There need be no substance at all to an allegation if it is not coming out of the mouth of the candidate.

That whole mode of campaigning seems convincing primarily to the weakly informed and uncritical listener who is glad of any support for the preference with which he is already stuck.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Biology and Philosophy 101 for the lower 48

If you are grown up enough to make salutary use of news which is humbling and sobering, then Mr. Darwin's notion is as personally tonic as it is powerfully explanatory of biodiversity. It invites you to reflect that all human history is but our moment on stage in a plot with an infinite chain of murderers being murdered. You cannot begin to count the designs which seemed invincible in their time and then, cued by a change in the weather, became mere stony clues for us to study.

The "for us" part you may question, but only in Philosophy 101. The notion can't possibly care or have favorites. The notion itself you may take as good reason to leave any god out of the picture or as reason to conclude that god finds the unprepared unnecessary and stasis boring as hell. The notion does not care what you think about questions of its authorship or purpose. You have no factual refutation of the notion, even if you are from Alaska.

You would expect folks who can handle life in Alaska to regard people in the warmer 49 states as weaklings, good for a tourist dollar but full of useless advice. One way they show their disdain for our opinions is by the kind of politicians they send down here. I certainly don't believe everyone in Alaska is an idiot or a corrupt bumpkin, but what a harsh sense of humor they must have to rid themselves of the feeble minded by electing them to office and sending them away to Washington for the rest of us to scrutinize.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

proofs of existence

Until a person has changed his mind, there has been little demonstration that he even has one.

[In the way that intelligent people can and conservatives cannot, Brad DeLong reconsidered a long held belief...this was my inspiration.]

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When the crunch comes, when performance has been promised...

John McCain who dares dangle before the undecided voters the allegation that Obama is "not ready to lead", is himself not even ready to talk.

And he was so insistent on having debates only a few short weeks ago.

One nice thing about the 21st century: with all its instant communications and internet broadcasting of every little bit of news, your lies come back to haunt you a lot faster than in the 20th century.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Mother Teresa was all for creating the problems she spent her life solving...

I think it is a fine, and fortunately not too rare, human capcity to look upon wretched starving neighbors who are dying of hunger and disease and rather than shuning or fearing them, to be ready to spend your last cent on their betterment and to say to each suffering one "Your death is not necessary. This should not be your fate".

I do.  I really think there are people whose strongest inclination is toward such altruism.  And when we meet such people, we duely call them saints.

But a more complete and dispassionate vision would never lead us to a world with a permanent excess of souls.  We need that saint that can also say "The child you might bear is not necessary".

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The not-so-great generation

New York Times Op-Ed columnist Bob Herbert urges us to take Al Gore seriously, the way we took JFK seriously when he said we should shoot for the moon. But Herbert notes that a spirit of inadequacy, dependence and apathy seems to have stolen our resolve and our capacity to respond to inspiration where it is needed and when it comes. Don't you know that in so big and diverse a nation, there is always someone who is saying the right things? The question is, who is listening?

In Herbert's view, one I largely share, the nation is stuck in the conventional belief that we Americans just won't and may even think we can't make do without petroleum in earth-parching quantities. Perhaps we should do to the car company ad campaigns what we did to the tobacco company ad campaigns...we are after all a very suggestible population.

Herbert asks but does not quite answer this question:

The correct response to Mr. Gore’s proposal would be a rush to figure out ways to make it happen. Don’t hold your breath.

When exactly was it that the U.S. became a can’t-do society? It wasn’t at the very beginning when 13 ragamuffin colonies went to war against the world’s mightiest empire. It wasn’t during World War II when Japan and Nazi Germany had to be fought simultaneously. It wasn’t in the postwar period that gave us the Marshall Plan and a robust G.I. Bill and the interstate highway system and the space program and the civil rights movement and the women’s movement and the greatest society the world had ever known.

When was it?

Now we can’t even lift New Orleans off its knees.

But he does confirm that that sense of helplessness is more substantial than mere perception by a few liberals like myself:

Americans are extremely anxious at the moment, and I think part of it has to do with a deeply unsettling feeling that the nation may not be up to the tremendous challenges it is facing. A recent poll by the Rockefeller Foundation and Time magazine that focused on economic issues found a deep pessimism running through respondents.

According to Margot Brandenburg, an official with the foundation, nearly half of 18- to 29-year-olds “feel that America’s best days are in the past."

Well, I have my suspicions. And unfortunately, my generalizations don't sound any more tolerant or aware than Mike Savage's. In a word, I have to blame my own generation, the so-called Baby Boomers. We were the most privileged and pampered cohort...and one of the largest economic human history. We quickly took for granted our ease and the historical aberration of having resources that cost a tiny fraction of our incomes. We came to act as if this accident of prosperity were our earned entitlement. When? It is hard to say because it creeps up on us as we grow accustomed to ease. The relative fossilizes into the absolute. The phase becomes the norm and expectation. I share the view that it was that coddled mindset, unconsciously wincing at the vicissitudes of age and the clamoring third world, that quietly betrayed its future and its fleeting '60s values. We did not grow soft suddenly, but by turning from the dogged do-good morality of Jimmy Carter to the comfortable twaddle of Ronald Reagan, we marked a point of testing when we came up against something hard to do. Reagan was too simple to be the cause of anything. He was the symptom.

While the "greatest generation" had worked hard and suffered to bring us to the height of what was in fact a very unbalanced advantage:

  • so far ahead of the undeveloped world we could buy them out
  • so unscathed relative to the European countries that we could buy cars and dishwashers while helping fund their reconstruction of ruined cities and factories,

It is also true that America's decades of apparent ascendancy carried two distinct messages around the world:

  1. We seemed to have found some key to prosperity and lived a desirably luxurious life
  2. We took our prosperity as a mark of our superiority in every other measure you can make of a people.
We are the same kind of people that our parents were but that is the problem: we are just human. It is in our natures to take good times for granted but to find the virtue in hard work and sparing use of our supplies only when hardship enforces the lesson. The mental frameworks and illusions in which we dress our times and circumstances allow us to think or preclude our thinking in constructive ways about what is coming at us on the path of history. That path, some of us need to be told, is on the earth. The extent to which the sun, the water and the dirt have yielded the goods we commanded in our heyday is still largely unacknowledged in the daily media bombardment that has become so prominent a part of our experience. There was no profit in objectivity in the short run. In the long run, we are finding out we may not be so long running as our lulled and conceited self esteem would like to believe. I suspect that on a psychological level, the baby boomers simply never had to face the massive uncertainties and discomforts of the generation that endured a massive depression and fought an overt and hateful fascism all at once. Our willingness to deal with uncertainty has atrophied. We leave it to the children of the baby boom to relearn this strength.

They too are human. They can do this.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

In check

These thoughts are the luxury of a comfortable old salary man contemplating retirement. I wish for the whole world, but particularly for those caught up in the thought that they must do just the task that seems to be set for them lest they not eat or not have progeny or....the list goes on, ...I wish that you could each have and chew on such doubts about your to-do list.

A badly organized list of what to do is not much help. Even if organized well according to the logic of external priorities, it is no better than having a good accountant who can always tell you exactly how far in over your head you are in debt.

It has not often been there for me but I'd guess that what must exist for success, what must come first, is the more emotional and very short list of why to do things. I rail against the pursuit of "why" in religious contexts but in the utterly human predicament of how to discharge one's life in a responsible and satisfactory way, "why" must be felt. Only an idiot geek like me would have to reason his way to this conclusion. I figure almost everyone else is already at this point of feeling confident of why they do what they do. Feelings are something most of us have. Education or reflection are not needed to acquire them, only to keep them in check or to develop more altruistic ones than nature gave us.

That way in which feeling trumps logic may be how "love makes the world go 'round".

If we can define desire as an abiding sense of motivation, not necessarily within the reach of explanation, directing us toward the attainment or maintenance of some possession, relationship or situation, then we should distinguish it from a wish by saying a wish can arise from no prompting at all or random circumstance and wither or grow into a desire. Which course, only fool would predict: the answer will be found in trial and effort and time. We do not know until we have had to provide time and carve resources from other commitments that absorb our personal stock of goods and powers, whether and abiding urge will form or any attachment arise.

It is only when you drop all else that you know you have picked up your heart's desire.

Friday, June 27, 2008

In the devil's funhouse, only the devil has fun.

Ego is a snare and a delusion. But worse is its power to distort and pervert. A gun is a physical thing. A simple machine for making its bearer lethal. The machine has no intention. The naked ape has no lethality. The combination of the two conjures and alters, borrows from the depths of hell, a power the ego desperately craves but the mind is not competant to use.

Questions of safety and protection seen only through the lens of self, the perspective republicans exploit well, are seen backwards. No amount of rationally weighed factual information counters the view in that sick fun house mirror image of security that the presence of a weapon you think of as your tool makes you safer.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How to tell if your empire is rotten

The powerful pay no price for telling huge lies but the common and poor people may pay with their lives for believing the lies, or with jail time for making up little lies of their own.

If you tell a whopper, you are either more likely to get away with it or you may get a good laugh.

Confidence game

Confidence is not a given in the characters of lovers. It may in fact be the outcome or reward of love honestly pursued and won. If it is present a priori, then it is dangerously attractive.


Beware of lovers who attract you with their cool confidence. Even if not feigned, it means you play on an uneven field.

Monday, June 02, 2008

you can't break a rule you don't know you are obeying

We work within the limits of our ability out of necessity but mostly we work within the far more confining limits of our habits.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Ownership Society

Having a burden of possessions is called ownership. Having a burden of possessions others actually own such as a mortgaged house, is slavery. Can you imagine any other alternatives?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Be Calmed

We set up the prize to avert our eyes
From the courseless tossing waters we row,
"Something to live for", a passable guise
For an emptiness we don't want to know.
Our wiring rewards all striving towards
The project that projects self on goals.
Losing whatever floats our boat, the ground of being affords
A respite on the shoals.

Do not despair. The wiring is still there.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

When things go wrong

When things go wrong, it is vastly more fruitful to seek what went wrong than who is wrong.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Its not forever, its not magic

I don't believe in magic. I do believe my own mind has more workings than I will probably ever be aware of let alone understand. I am therefore prepared to take tentative steps on faith conditioned by observation. These steps would be counterintuitive to anyone in the grips of the Republican mindset of insecurity, scarcity and self preservation. But, as my saintly old teacher would say to me: "Try it and see how it makes you feel".

If you let yourself be guided by the concern for the condition this world's rights and resources will be in when and as you leave it to others, a kind of magic happens. You will cease to fret over the world to which you may go after departing this one. In fact,
The big tip-off that you haven't understood your life in this world is your obsession with a next world.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Implementing the golden rule

It is one of humankind's most noble intentions. It is a matter of personal belief perhaps, but I believe it is in fact nothing less than practical advice, the only advice that can be followed without eventually needing an army to back you up. Yet, despite being one of the most widely praised bits of wisdom and being rediscovered and restated in many cultures and religions, the Golden Rule has not been implemented as an enduring social norm. I just checked the newspapers this morning and its status as law or practice seem to be confined to two circumstances:
  1. As law, it only exists in the form of specifications for redress when the principle itself has been violated.
  2. As practice, its implementation is only in the realm of personal seems to evaporate in the wilting entropy of "taking care of number one".

Even in the personal arena, it is mysteriously difficult to abide by the rule. It really is a rule we teach children because one has to be very much a grownup to follow it when they have acquired a life and the basket of perceived self interests. The "but"s abound. I offer you a lower threshold of difficulty, a less steep path, toward the noble intention:

Listen to others using the same openness and attention with which you would like to be heard.

Seriously. What if, for instance, you were able to listen to Rush Limbaugh so carefully that you actually figured out what the origins of his confused pain and neediness were? That example is a tough case but it will make the daily confrontations of your life seem a bit more tame perhaps.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

If you did not reach this page by accident....

...then accept my apologies. Do not adjust your mindset, we are experiencing technical difficulties. The name changes of late have demonstrated that my hit counter was, as I have suspected, mostly counting Google's scratching when others have an itch to see underwear that hides little. That is then to say, the hit counter lies to me, and measures nothing. This is a technical consequence of the unfortunate name choice. In the near future, the blog title will stabilize at "Pithing Contest".

I have been in a funk lately. Depression is not the problem but I seem able to find dozens of reasons not to lift a blogging finger to the keyboard. Spring rages just outside my window, the earth calls me to poke it with a shovel and make it green. The one thing I can control in my life is how many different boxes I parcel my crap into. "This blog is all about me" is a trap. So, it seems, is "this blog is all about X"...choose the X you like but then try like crazy to bend every post to relate in some way to that X.

Readers are imaginary friends. Not that there is never an overlap of interests but focusing only on why-writers-write with no thought of why-readers-read is a sound formula for wasted web pages. Thinking hard about what people want to read and learning to satisfy that want is a job for professionals. So I have a compromise. Separate blogs cost me nothing while allowing consistency of topic and voice. In a little while, I will be pointing you to the experimental first cut at that compromise.

I have never been face to face with more than two or three people who read what I write here. They have either forgiven me or forgotten me. By examining my own bookmarks and blogrolls, I see that I only browse for an ostensible purpose and a particular kind of content. Only a few bloggers slip into the comfortable category of "interesting AS a person, lets see how she/he is doing"...we mostly go for a particular kind of news, or interpretation. The dozens of tags that cropped up for posts here is idle amusement. I do not believe "post categories" is a useful feature...or at least that many bloggers apply it so well that it actually serves readers

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

From a distance it can be hard to distinguish

Who was that woman you were with last night....someone who saw you with her told me.

That was not exactly a woman. That was fate. We are just friends.

Some friends! I heard you were dancing with her!

No, I was not. But I can see how it might have looked that way. I have learned to bow gracefully to my fate.

I have a hard time believing you. You have quite the reputation as a Lothario.

I understand that view for in a sense I was just that. But first I had to seduce myself with the belief that I could pick my fate. Then choice after false choice I made, pursued and abandoned in disappointment. That, you see, is the hard part: thinking the plain one could not be your fate and the pretty one must be. And then I seduced myself with the belief that I could struggle against that which was not my fate. I call that a belief because it is a great truth resting upon a great assumption. I never knew my fate but she knew me. Thus it was my fate to struggle. I still know nothing but I feel better.

Friday, May 09, 2008

A narrow narrow path

You might think freedom should somehow mean the ability to go in any direction at any time. Does an expectation that will have you running into obstacles almost constantly really sound like a plan to experience true freedom? Quit worshiping yourself and come back to this world. True freedom begins as a narrow path that threads between not giving a damn what other people think of you and not giving a damn about other people period. Richard Feynman might have had a bit too much of the former. Most conservative pundits are busily cutting the legs out from under struggling humanity with their wild but unacknowledged surplus of the latter.
PZ Meyers and certain spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama seem to manage the balancing. So might a small percentage of the hobos and superannuated hippies I have seen living hand to mouth in warmer places than New England. Since not all who have found this liberation are wealthy, we know the American myth that hitches prosperity to freedom, often forcing them to pose side by side in the same vacuous sentence, is false. At least the freedom it speaks of is a misapplied name.

Socialization in general and our civics curricula in particular have conventionally meant being taught in various ways that our freedom is an ideal that can never be absolutely achieved because we share the world with others. That implied balance of an individual's needs with needs of others and its manifestation as social contract is only the minimum necessary to prevent violent social collapse. It is an inadequate definition of freedom that seems only fit for the ego. Freedom for egos as enshrined in western thought is enslavement to ego.

My observation is that not only are freedom and prosperity not positively linked but that valuing prosperity conditions the mind to become an engine of striving. The need for one's prosperity becomes the justification for another's eventual loss of freedom. But to even start on that path, one surrenders their own freedom to their own desire. And that is a narrow narrow dead end.

Where does this path of true freedom lead? No place most of us want to go. The freedom from desire is not realistic...but seeing through desire is a kind of freedom. The end of the path might be freedom from self. And freedom from ego. I am not there yet. Maybe you can't function without all the attachments of ego...but seeing through them is a kind of freedom.

I have been watching myself getting more and more wound up by the politics and the denatured economics that cannot even frame or formulate a sustainable well being. I get to the point that I want to scream out corrections to the mistakes that lead our species to dismantle what should have been a permanent heritage of beauty and bounty on this earth. It was neither owed to us or made for us. It was just there because we were made by that bounty. We can do so much better. Every one of us has some reason for the things we choose to do or leave undone. Whether this is cause or effect of our belief that we are reasoning and reasonable beings, I do not care to sort out. The situation I find us all in is that we are far more irrational than reasoning. Our cleverness is the servant of something other than cleverness. In this, we are not free and cannot be. Thoughts timeless and clarifying may arise and tower over their thinker. We do not trust visions, nor should we. So rationality seldom persists. The visions slip through our fingers, get shredded by our tongues, seem like madness if we pursue too intently. We could be worthy of insights that arise in us if we knew they were in us but not of us and if we learned a language by which to test and share them. My screaming elicits resistance or is totally ignored.
My screaming lights things for an instant. My rationales catch your irrationalities like a flashbulb going off amid a melee in darkened room. A second later I too am one of the thrashing and flailing bodies taking blows in the dark from others blinded by the flash.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

My oddly successful failure as a blogger

Is there a way to cure yourself of writing, to the exclusion of job and housework, just to see your words served to a planet in need of almost everything but more words? What is it that addicts me to this blogging?
  • I dearly love the occasional kind word from my readers.
  • I have a sense of responsibility toward the people whom google sends my way for answers not about underwear. Yeah. Imagine it. Me the expert.
  • Writing as sport and craft always was and still is fun though I do it badly.
  • No better way to explore one's lack of oneness, to experiment with expression for all the altered egos and subpersonalities. You need an escape from sticking to the fixed and consistent person a boss, a spouse or a customer expects or demands.
  • Writing out who I am so I can be that person, articulate that person...and maybe someday be reminded who I was.
  • Community. Odd actually since I am pathologically coy about my real identity, but aside from my work with MoveOn, and a former turn in trail biking advocacy, I don't meet or mingle with people who share my causes. Blogging has changed that albeit at the remove of a mask.
  • Some kick-ass thinkers to look up to, and to berate as well. And quite a few of even the busiest of them will reply to you when you get on their wavelength.
  • Some would disagree with this but I have learned things about politics, the psychology of online communications and some economics...It was high time I did know more about these things. If you don't learn them you remain a boor and a bore and are stuck at the rung of verbal poo flingers.

If I could confine my news addiction and windy bouts of self expression to a harmless few hours a week like any other well behaved hobby, why would I not otherwise carry on in the manner I have with this blog?
  • My posts grow to three pages and seem unfinished, words come oozing out, no natural end of rewriting seems to come...I still look back and wish I had said less and not wasted words on the topic of the moment. Such topics go stale even when they are good illustrations for the bigger themes I was really and always hunting.
  • I am not connected to rare insider news sources, not up at all hours. I am fond of sunshine and strenuous exercise, idiosyncratic in speech and logic and crappy with deadlines since I take a lapidary approach to sentence construction. That makes me a complete misfit for DailyKos, Agonist, TPM or HuffPo though I click on them a dozen times a day. And going it on my own is....well, you are looking at it.
  • My hit counter is a one-way mirror in which vanity makes me compulsively gaze as if hypnotized. It tells me a little about you but of me it only says "attachment to illusion of self". The vast majority of hits are Google touching a page because in so many pages whatever words you seek are here but always in a strange order and a perverse usage. By the accident of my blogs name, 2/3 of my traffic. The scary thing is finding 80% of my hits are hit-and-run Google references but ET is often middle of the first page or higher. How can a blog few link, or read have a page rank of 5?
  • A blog for each interest has not worked. A catchall where you cannot reliably find your interest pursued has not worked. And I have spared you my poetry for the most part. Somebody already invented the "blog about nothing" so what is this and what is the point of it?
  • Temporal tyranny of the treadmill. Even your best post simply disappears as and old post.
  • To build a readership would take time I do not have. To do less is mere vanity and the love of ones own words echoing in an empty room.
  • By the accident of my blog's name, way too much of a kind of traffic I really do not want [imaged lest it prove NSFW]:

So, I need to make a few changes. For now, the name changes. That will mess with people who remember page title but not the URL, and rely on google to connect the DNS dots. That won't be many. The URL stays the same. But maybe I stop getting 45 of my 50 daily hits from porn seekers.

Science reporting that pisses me off

A news release from NCAR that says things like antarctic atmospheric models have run about 1/2 degree C warm:

The authors compared recently constructed temperature data sets from Antarctica, based on data from ice cores and ground weather stations, to 20th century simulations from computer models used by scientists to simulate global climate. While the observed Antarctic temperatures rose by about 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.2 degrees Celsius) over the past century, the climate models simulated increases in Antarctic temperatures during the same period of 1.4 degrees F (0.75 degrees C).

And some of the chill is due to the ozone hole but model errors center on water vapor estimates...

Part of the reason that Antarctica has barely warmed has to do with the ozone hole over the continent. The lack of ozone is chilling the middle and upper atmosphere, altering wind patterns in a way that keeps comparatively warm air from reaching the surface. Unlike the rest of the continent, the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed by several degrees, in part because the winds there are drawing in warmer air from the north. The models generally capture these wind changes, although sometimes incompletely.

got turned into this:
Climate models miss mark


If scientists overestimated the amount of water vapor a slightly warmed atmosphere would absorb, it could throw off the entire model.


"The entire model"! The model of what? Just the antarctic or the planet or the whole globalwarminghoax model? That concluding line is not supported by anything in the press release. Was the reporter coached, clueless or calculating on readership? The latter is a hunch that fits the observations: the first comment to the article was this:

"But Monaghan found the models consistently predicted that the continent warmed more than it actually did."

No!!! So, you mean that the Global Warming® models may, just may, be wrong?!? That's not possible because Al Gore (B.A. Political Science, failed out of divinity school) claims that we are all going to die due to extreme Global Warming®.

Thanks D.C. for printing a story that indicates that the models may not be right. We may not be in a "crisis."

Now, let the discussion begin using real science, not based on "models" with exaggerated formulas/predictions.


Why should I feel that I am being baited? Don't I know better? Anyway I like chomping on trolls:

Oh dandy, more bait for denialists. Only a morsel but they'll make a meal. I fault the title of the article for dog whistling to the clowns. Science is not a conspiracy to lord it over the fatuous, the uneducated and those who suffer faith-directed ignorance. It is an approach to knowledge. The approach has changed little since the time of Bacon. The knowledge, the current working set of facts and theories, of any given generation will change beyond recognizability in as little as one more generation...we scientists are OK with that. It delights us sometimes. The fear that "if any of it is wrong then it all must be wrong" is, as it should be, endemic among those with brittle belief structures, but such people should not project the way they operate on to others.

I often explain this as "A fixed truth is usually already broken."

The presumption of a moniker like "enlightenedProf" really ends the argument. Was it too hard to spell "lightened proof"? For the sake of any other readers who are uncomfortable not being on the side of the bully, listen up.

This story would not make the local paper in any other locale. This is a Boulder Colorado paper and there will be some readers whose profession this self styled "prof" belittles. Note that it is those very professionals who came right out with their new findings...probably knowing it will be snatched up by those inexplicable cases with an attitude that science is a plot to destroy the patriarchy or whatever it is thats eating them. Such ignorant blowhards should quit wasting everyone's time. Have they no more constructive way to get attention?
Repeat this: "Approach to knowledge". Get it? Not Truth, not Enlightenment, but good old "knowing how the world works so you don't bust it". Scientists do occasionally go for enlightenment after work. Note that Laurie Snider has to come up with a headline that will draw readers. She has done her job. Note that none of the quotes from the scientists involved portray any alarm or imply the new data upsets the whole enterprise...just improves the model. For those who consider theology or the platitudes of their particular political party to be the only "model" that can be accepted, the concept of adjusting a model is very hard to take in. At any rate, regardless of whether much actually changes in this or that GCM or any other climate prediction model, it won't mask the fact that the antarctic has been losing ice shelf acreage and baring never-before-seen bedrock at a rate above any other point in human history.

EP, you poor fellow, do you have a conspiracy theory that posits thermometers can somehow be in cahoots with the devils and scientists? Or perhaps the evil comes in to the process whenever a matrix of differential equations has more than 665 columns? Have you used a thermometer before? They are very accurate and could be very helpful in proving that you are not running a fever. You know where to put the thermometer?

Reducing science budgets until Norquist could drown them in a bathtub

I have gotten into the habit of scanning The write ups are short and generally good at conveying the impact of a journal article to a general audience but hey, its not war and politics they write about so how stimulating could it be? [or didn't y'all notice your volitional reading is geared to stimulation? Conditioned stimulus perhaps, but stimulation all the same!] Well, the writing is not always dry and the writers tap the right notes when the know they have more than science to report.
If you think the only class of people Bush and company cut adrift by neglecting Katrina-ravaged NOLA where the poorer and mostly black and this. A significant research team got its progress demolished there and the scientists finally got the message they should go elsewhere because the administration was never going to come through for the reconstruction of New Orleans. You may not understand all the talk of introns and RNA in which the remarkable findings are couched. Its not confirmed but a key mechanism of animal cell division appears to not so much evolved as arisen from a symbiosis in the very dim and remote past. I was quite stirred by the back story of a major biology research insight worthy of a PNAS paper clawing its way back to life through the dozens of generous acts of fellow scientists and the dedication and vision that it took to reconstitute the research using literally the kitchen sink if that could be spared to make a little progress.

Science Daily is not on my blogroll but maybe it should be.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Summary of Primary election outcomes.

This is my blog so I can play news anchor if I want. But this is your browser so you can wince and go elsewhere if you want. This is a wrap up of the May 6th I happen to see them.

10 oclock news: the margins of victory have shrunken for both candidates vs earlier counts. That is interesting since that means a 2% flip in the count would make Obama the winner in Indiana. Lake county has not reported at this time and we know it has problems.

2 AM: Lake county, saying the delay was to count absentee ballots comes in. I am relieved it was nothing worse. Hillary gave a speech at 11 PM that sounded like it was written as her victory speech for Denver in August, but the margin is now 49/51, far slimmer than her lead in the polls of only two weeks ago. ...Maybe her last chance to deliver that speech.

This morning's papers generally treat yesterday's voting as a modest win for Obama and critical reality check for the seeming success of Clinton's recently more negative tack. The Huffington Post front page was brutal, dismissing Clinton by showing Obama vs McCain as all that's left. But the story under the headline is a well written summary by a name brand journalism professor. Not so heralded, Obama actually is moving on to the bigger fight. It may not literally be over for Clinton at this point but for Obama, reports were that he was already working to focus on repairing the demographic rifts that were aggravated by the recent desperate campaigning tactics.

Was I too harsh on Hillary? Not as harsh as Arianna Huffington who appears to have a grudge against dishonesty and stupidity. How on earth is that Arianna going to write about politics with that attitude?
The coverage of the so called "Limbaugh effect" [yes, we do call this a democracy!] in Huffington Post graphically pairs HRC with worse company than even McCain:
But Limbaugh aside, what does a woman have to do to get elected? I do not know how her campaign determined that dumbed down petro-populism would give her an edge. I am sure she is smarter than that but she also has the stomach to strike any pose that will get her the nomination, which is pretty similar to the spinning compass of the explosive Capt. Windsock. It sure isn't working with me. Anyone can stand on the bed of a pickup truck at a gas station and milk the anxiety over gas prices with unworkable promises. The bed of a pickup truck is not much of an altitude from which to talk down to voters but talking down is what she is doing. Not all voters are that dumb. Not everyone is unaware that the gas mileage of pickup trucks is part of the problem. At least 49 percent of them in Indiana are not that dumb. Campaigning with a new-found and shallow populism that underestimates voters maturity, even if it properly assesses their pain, is more elitist than anything Obama has pulled. After three weeks of helping McCain by directly and indirectly raising every doubt and rumor, Clinton is as tarnished as her target.
More voters blamed Hillary for negative campaigning -- 63% of Indiana voters and 67 % of North Carolina voters thought Clinton attacked Obama unfairly. Only 43 % in Indiana and 40% in North Carolina thought the reverse.

Note that when republicans were given a choice between McCain and political corpses, 20% voted for corpses. I don't think that particular 20% would provide any help for Obama except by staying home in November...but Ron Paul supporters are strange creatures to me.

The economy is reported to dominate the choice voters make. What about the war? Two good signs I found:
  1. A down ticket election where the anti-war republican overcame all expectations
  2. NC counties where the military is a big employer STILL went for Obama over Clinton
Have we reached the point beyond which Clinton can only do damage? Definitely!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

the headlines alone make my head asplode!

Key Findings From Early Exit Polls
The economy is the major driving issue, with 65% In Indiana saying it was the most important issue, and 60% saying the same in North Carolina.

Exit Polls: Indiana, North Carolina Latest Information

The economy was on voters' minds in Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina. Two-thirds of Democratic primary voters in Indiana and nearly as many in North Carolina said the economy is the most important issue facing the nation. That's more than have said so in 28 previous competitive Democratic primaries with exit polls this year.

Clinton Gas Tax Holiday: Hillary Attacks Economists

When asked this morning by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos if she could name a single economist who backs her call for a gas tax holiday this summer, HRC said "I'm not going to put my lot in with economists."

2 + 2 = 0, apparently. Perhaps Clinton plans to have none of those rascally economists appointed into her administration. That makes her as similar to Bush as the hazardous old Capt Windsock. Repeat after me and the newspapers: "The economy is the big issue" and then say "Economists are the wrong people to ask about taxes" . Either you will come to understand one of our candidates or you have a stroke.

You call that a democracy? Cowboys and Indianans

I lifted this straight out of the newsfromunderground google group posting. And that in turn was content supplied by
Over and above the internecine negative campaigning Clinton introduced into the Democratic primaries, we now have a catalog of voting irregularities in Indiana...most of which involve disenfranchised voters in districts that were expected to go for Obama. What a surprise that is! Please note the plea for support to that appears at the bottom of this material. If you appreciate the access to the broken guts of your democracy that these people provide you then show it. You are not going to get this info on your foxxing cable news channel. In their words "We are supported ENTIRELY through small citizen donations". Do I have to tell you, mere citizen, that you are getting smaller every day?

There are voting machine problems, tens of thousands of voters who will be disqualified for reasons no officials have made clear yet...lots of dirt here and some tools you can use to obtain information and digest results. If Obama is going to be hit as only Rove used to be able to hit opponents, its going down today in IN. Is this what Hillary was talking about when she claimed greater electability?

In April 2008 when Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita announced the release of "record high" voter registration rolls, with 4.3 million voters set to vote in the Tuesday May 6 primary, he didn't mention that a whopping 1,134,427 voter registrations have been cancelled.

Now, the voter rolls are supposed to be tidied up prior to each election. Indiana's last general election was in Nov. 2006, and they have had a slew of special and general elections since then. So how have 1.1 million voters -- 26 percent of the current statewide list -- escaped the voter registration cleanup squad? Who are these million voters and where do they come from?

One quarter-million of them come from just two northwestern Indiana counties: Lake and Porter. Lake County reports purging 137,164 voters and neighboring Porter County cancelled out 124,958 voters.

Lake County, the home of Gary, Indiana, has spawned the Jackson Five and a great old musical (The Music Man) and has been referred to as "the second most liberal county in America." Lake County also has one of the heaviest concentrations of African-American voters that you'll find anywhere in the USA.

Nearby Porter County, the home of Valparaiso, is 95% white and went solidly for Bush in the 2004 election. It's also got a lot of college students.

For whatever reason, these two counties had ... what ... massive data entry problems? Exceptionally messy records? Lots of dead people who climbed back into their graves? I truly hope we aren't going to see a lot of disappointed voters on Tuesday, when they perhaps learn that they were among the lucky million people who got purged.


Lake 137,164 48% (Gary)
Porter 124,958 115% (Valparaiso)
Marion 68,12010% (Indianapolis)
Monroe66,00985% (Bloomington)
Madison42,95247% (Anderson)

Here's a picture map with the numbers and percentages for the whole state:

The percentage represents the ratio of the number of purges to the current voter list. Example: If a location currently has 100,000 voters on its rolls, and purged 53,000 along the way, we assign a ratio of 53% to the purge vs. current list.

It would be nice to have the original quantities, it would make for a cleaner number, but this is not available on the Secretary of State's Web site, so I haven't got a tidier statistic for you, wish I did. I also wish the time period for these purges was clearly indicated, but it is not indicated -- nor can it be derived -- from available information at Indiana's official election Web site.


It's always interesting to look for impossible numbers on election night, like the "more votes than voters" situation that sometimes crops up. It speeds things up to have a place to plug the information in. Here is a spreadsheet -- quick and not too fancy, I'm sure you can improve on it. It has every Indiana county, along with their official registered voter statistics for the 2008 primary, and some historical data from 1992 to the present, along with links for the source documents from the secretary of state:
(Excel file, 71 KB)

Here are links that may be very good to provide additional statistical information which you can plug in:

And here is a link to the source document containing the cancelled registration information used for this article:

Here's a quick spreadsheet with the Indiana voting machines by county -- you can get that on the Sec. State's Web site too, but it's not in a database format. You can cut and paste these into your analysis sheets if you'd like to get comparisons of results by county.


Another press release on the Indiana Secretary of State's Web site deals with the $360,000 penalty he's hitting Microvote with for failing to follow the law. Oh yes, and the Microvote Infinity voting machine, which will be very widely used in the Tuesday May 6 primary, has been DECERTIFIED!

That's not going to stop anyone in Indiana from using it, however. The decision was that anyone who already bought these things gets to use them -- despite the fact that these machines have been embroiled in lawsuits in at least three places, one in Pennsylvania for machines that just didn't work, and two in Tennessee where candidates have asked to redo elections due to bizarre anomalies -- like vote totals that wandered away in the wee hours of the night.

Microvote's insurance company declined to cover the firm, according to yet another lawsuit, because the insurance company alleged that Microvote was selling defective products. The judge ruled against the insurance company, saying the product wasn't defective, it just didn't work.

I haven't plugged this in yet, but those of you who are comfortable with spreadsheets can quickly add the voting machines by county to your voter registration spreadsheet, using that voting machine spreadsheet I linked above, to see how many votes all together will be subjected to Microvote.

Ah, but we aren't done with Indiana voting machines yet. Indiana is also fond of the ES&S paperless iVotronic touch-screens, the ones that lost 18,000 votes in Sarasota County Florida and were the subject of a blistering report by Dan Rather. In Rather's report, he showed shocking footage of the touch-screens being manufactured in a sweat shop in the Philippines. Their quality control test was to shake the machine and if it didn't rattle, it passed the test.


1. Do some public records requests to either the state or the counties, and ask for their VRG-5 form, which is the NVRA tracking form on which the number of voters purged must be reported.

For tips on how to do the records requests, here's our tool kit, scroll down to the section on public records:

Post the documents and ask for any advice you need here, and report your front-lines information for both Indiana and North Carolina here:

I'm pushing hard right now to get TOOL KIT 2008 done -- it's a stripped-down model with emergency measures for the fall election. Unless you tell me not to, I'll let you know as soon as it's ready for download.

2. Another useful form you can request: The CEB-9 form, which is the Indiana County Election Report that must be turned in after the election. Here's one, take a look at the information it contains:

3. If you are a number-cruncher, grab the spreadsheets here and wail on 'em during Election night. You can get additional historical information from this site:
(Choose the drop-down menu "general by state" and select Indiana, then choose the year you want. Confusion factor -- this site color-codes Republican as blue and Democrat as Red. Has lots of good stuff).

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE: People usually catch things like "more votes than voters" weeks after the election. The dang Indiana information doesn't break voter registrations out by party which makes crunching the primary numbers a little harder. But you may still get the jump on some red flags if you track this stuff as it's coming in on spreadsheets that tell you what the stats are going in.


You'll notice that those projections often change -- sometimes dramatically -- just an hour or so later. That's because we have learned that they are paying elections officials (through their associations or otherwise) to call and fax them the results off the voting machine poll tape.

In fact, the National Election Pool (used to be Voter News Service) is getting this stuff BEFORE the election officials and way before the secretary of state.

The first number they quote is the adjusted exit poll number, and it comes from asking people about who they voted for. The point here is, when what you thought was "exit polls" suddenly changes, that is the impact of those called-in poll tape results. Yep. That's the voting machines talking, and when they say something different than the people answering the exit pollers' questions, we should be looking at the programming on the machine, not the exit pollers, for answers. I expect to see early projections altered significantly as soon as those poll tape numbers are called in to NEP.

So to recap, good things to do Tuesday:
1. Public records
2. Number crunching
3. Pray

Good luck to us, all,

Bev Harris
Founder - Black Box Voting

Please help us protect 2008, muster up the "Dream Teams" for field
work, print the Tool Kits...
We are supported ENTIRELY through small citizen donations.

to mail:
Black Box Voting
330 SW 43rd St Suite K
PMB 547
Renton WA 98057

Hair of the dog

It is not too far fetched to say that America is a high risk debtor. Long before the sheriff comes to evict a man who has habitually borrowed more than he can pay and squandered it on luxuries, his borrowing habits show a pattern. It is essentially the pattern of addiction. Among people addicted to alcohol, the expression hair off the dog that bit you is a junk rationalization that has turned into an accepted bad practice: having a drink in order to dull the pain of a hang over. That practice looks like the only line our nation's money mavens can recite.

Here is an article from Asia Times that is quite clear about the world's disdain for Fed policy. I don't think highly of it myself.
We have been a vocal critic of interest rate cuts in the US because, in our assessment, they do much more harm than good: subprime borrowers or holders of illiquid debt instruments are shunned from the markets in the current environment because of general risk aversion, not because of the level of interest rates. Lower interest rates, however, may cause inflationary pressures to build further and may cause further downward pressure on the dollar.

I don't have that informed an opinion but if the current mess in bank liquidity is largely the blowback of Greenspan's shortsighted means of putting off the credit drought caused by a trillion dollar republican borrowing spree, how on earth is enabling yet more dubious borrowing a solution? I suspect the certainty of inflation has been accepted as a collateral damage if it comes. The current administration can blame inflation on oil prices and, in any case, it will fall more heavily on the next administration. That overdue and oft forestalled recession would hit soon if not expensively repelled and dent McCains Same Talk express.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Thomas Friedman Gets It

He says he gets it from you and me: Ordinary people are finally asking why is the US fighting the world when it should be fixing its own tattered house? Friedman knows and claims many of the people he has talked to around the country are aware as well: we can't afford to do both and, surge hype be damned, the fighting is not doing us any good. Whence hope when leaders treat you like a dope? Well, Thomas has his preference.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

I got the wrong Wright

I have been reluctant to say a word about the Wright imbroglio. I knew from his autobiographical Dreams from my Father that Obama had been recruited to the church by Wright more than the other way round .... and that was all so long ago. While I have said little because I knew little and don't put much stock in the religious associations of people who wear their faith lightly, I was still lapping up opinions that painted the angry Reverend as his own worst enemy. But Shokai over at his resumed blog has done more home work than many an editor or news anchor. Its good to get the whole picture. I would not hang McCain for Hagee's sake and I won't hang Obama for the anger of Rev. Wright...who is a more complex man than your TV news or even most editorials can communicate.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Immigrants: "may day! may day!"

Yes, the crowds are smaller this year than they were last year. But so are the remittances to struggling relatives that the immigrant workers send back to Brazil and Mexico. What a brilliant solution America has devised for its impasse over immigration! Become as third-worldly as the places immigrants fled ...and back they will go!

Time travel policy: I am at a Bat Mitzvah on the 3rd, you wouldn't want me typing in the middle of the drash now would you? So the third comes a little early

Friday, May 02, 2008

Upside down

Maybe these guys prop us up because, dumb and brawny as we are, the US is  the hired cop, the tough but not too dangerous guy who will make the world safe for business even if you have to fool him into it by not correcting him when he says he is making it safe for democracy.  It is an inversion of the relationship we used to have with minor satellite nations: proxyhood.  We use to ship money and arms and the occasional adviser to places like Afghanistan and Israel and the actual fighting and dying to advance our interests would be done by our proxies.  Now we spend far more money and send OUR brigades and fleets.  Who's interest is served?  The business-as-usual flow of oil from the middle east and money to the oil producers is clearly being protected. And it is breaking our bank to do the dying that enables the Saudis to make a living.  If I look at it that way, then what are normally poor choices by financial criteria are still taken by oil billionaires because, geopolitically, they prop up a proxy in a fight that affects them.  The terms of this relationship are not even so different from foreign aid in the form of loans that we used to hold over the heads of countries whose Marxist guerrillas we did not want to tangle with personally.   We gave military aid to our proxies.  The sheiks LOAN money via investments, a bargain compared to the deals we struck with our proxies.  When its all over, if it ever is over, the sheiks will own us lock stock and 6 million barrels per day.

Relationships based on power, the uneasy dance where one party has a greater ability to dictate behavior, do not flip unless the relative power of the parties that underly their relationship also reverses.  We still sell arms to the Saudis but they also buy Bentleys and Lamborghinis and they aren't getting those scratched up either.  Wouldn't our lives be so much simpler if we didn't give a shit about oil?  We are not completely upside down yet but all signals point to our continuing to borrow until someone else cuts us off.  The prime is 2% today and the fed is auctioning to make life easier for the banks...debt will just keep going up.  When you borrow money, you lend power.  If you are wondering what mechanism will turn the dollars held by oil sheiks into an ability to dictate behavior, it might go something like this. I had heard rumblings of oil producers decoupling from the US dollar but I had no understanding of what the consequences would be.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Be all that you can be

And when that is not enough to win our stupid war, kill yourself. This country doesn't want to deal with psychologically damaged veterans. It doesn't want to face the fact that it owes something to vets who have gotten seriously messed up being told they are the good guys and the fight is a good fight and then finding they have to go berserk or park their conscience while they pretty much shoot anything that moves. As a nation, the US, not just some hippies or some liberals, but the whole damn lot of us, wanted to forget the war in Viet Nam by forgetting the men who came back. Its clear we are set to do it turn our backs on the long tail of consequences of our dumb decision to invade Iraq And we are starting with the immediate worst consequence: tens of thousands of wounded and PTSD cases on the doorstep of a negligent Veterans Administration. Now Iraq vets will start to replace the Viet Nam vets in shelters for homeless, haunted men who could never fit back in to society. The VA makes a good political football to throw at the heads of the most hypocritical hawks that ever ran a country. Are there actually enough voters pressing for effective and fair rehab for vets to get us beyond mere finger pointing? How do you feel about the veterans you run into? Did any of them come home to the welcome John McCain recieved? Do you ask them how welcomed they feel?

McCain felt vindicated for his enduring. Even now, even I have to admire his toughness and courage as a POW in sticking to what he thought was right. But I have to wonder at the selective way he deploys that courage and what, if anything these days, he holds to be true. Before he was against lobbying, he was a lobbyist.

To do right by these men and women would require admitting that the real cost of the war dwarfs the minor expenses and hardships portrayed to us by a lying president and Secretary of Defense. To take full responsibility for our obligation would require noting the broken men in our midst, their lost ability to control rage and their confusion in returning from the harrowing mayhem and daily uncertainties to a Disneyesque PR blitz that passes as our understanding of that war by the average American. How uncomfortable when news of these vet suicides intrudes on our practiced unawareness of the one reality of that war that is in our face: its victims among us? And how soon can we change the channel, pick up the funnies, go back to worrying about our credit card balance?

I say this from time to time, but looks like not often enough: Don't go numb to the soldier. Don't let your silence be taken as blaming them for a loss that our own stupidity and the arrogance of our leaders doomed us to endure. I recognize that there could come a time when we do need to send men to fight some real enemy. But I also recognize there is no glory in the deed but our talking otherwise is a vital salve to our consciences. I recognize that to have to risk death and to kill not only are unnatural conditions. Some of us can survive messed up childhoods and go on to great success. Some of us are unaffected by stress and others made mad by it. War could bake the given rationales for fighting to a diamond hardness or it could turn them all to gray areas and nuances such as plagued a mind like John Kerry's. That ideological side of PTSD is what puts some men in the VFW halls and Veterans day parades and other in Veterans for Peace.

The numbers who have ideological PTSD are large but less than the total number of vets. For Iraq, the numbers with actual PTSD are estimated between 1 out of 5 and 2 out of 3. That is staggering. And the longer tours and duty forced on national guardsmen who never expected to effectively be used like regular combat units all add to the stress. And now, we find that the numbers who are driven to kill themselves have been hidden from us.

UPDATE: Jude points to a crisis hot line that has been set up for veterans.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

But it wouldn't sell if we called it

..."making the world safe for hubris in a hummer"!

The NY Times editorial board has the awesome job of producing thoughtful and thought provoking commentary on the issues of the day...every day. There is a whole team devoted to the task and all in all they aren't bad at it. They are better than typical bloggers, a little. And they accept comments to the opinion pieces. Todays topic is how unwelcome and/or unsuccessful US attempts to force democracy on other countries has been. I provided the comment below but it had not appeared for over 12 hours.
Whatever your particular culture's notion of fair self-rule is, [we call ours democracy because of its deep roots in Greek culture...but that is OUR history], it is the height of arrogance and stupidity to presume that notion is right in other nations with vastly different cultures.

One of the most harmful of the mistakes made by neoconservatives is to compound the garden variety jingoist "we are better than those guys" by going on to "and we ought to do something about it for there own darn good". Trying to analyze their real motives for passing such thinking off as a basis for foreign policy is nasty fun and I shall refrain here.

I found this statement leading an opinion piece by Jonah Goldberg in a certain west coast newspaper [What rule obliges otherwise excellent news organizations to publish words by these fellows?]:
"Promoting democracy throughout the
world has been a driving force in U.S.
politics since the country's earliest days."

That is so wrong in so many ways that I don't have to write a word against it but point readers, and that bewildered commentator, to George Washington's Farewell Address. In that document, which ought to be as good a text to cite as any regarding the politics of the country's earliest days, there is clear admonition to do no such butting in to the political lives of other nations.

What was good enough for Washington then is good enough for me now. We have problems as it is just living up to our *own* constitutional ideals and cultural claims about granting the rights and exercising the responsibilities of citizenship by all Americans. Perhaps when we figure it out, we can show it to the world...they might follow if only we would lead.

I honestly suspect that we began to feel the need to force others to adopt our ways when our failures to adopt them ourselves crept into the back of our consciences, unsettling some of us greatly enough to cause us to compensate.

Eventually it showed up, and so did a lot of other comments most of which complimented the editors on calling BS on the "giving democracy to other nations" line of crap. The thanks they get for this? I did not take the refunded balance of my "Times Select" subscription. And they get to wear the proud label of "liberal east coast establishment press" while retaining Mr. Kristols talents.

[This post was modified slightly to reflect developments in what I took to be a static situation]

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Talk about "out of touch", an open letter to McCain

Oh how original, McCain would 'put families in charge' of health care. Don't you get the picture you old fart? RIGHT NOW we are virtually in the following scene:
The doctors, their lawyers, the HMO and their lawyers sit on one side of the negotiating table. I and my family sit on the other. In the distant background, a gaggle of senators is strolling toward the putting green on the 7th hole, hosted by a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical industry. My employer has just gotten up from the chair beside me and moved over to an empty chair on the other side of the table because [1] it IS costing them a pretty penny to buy their share [even though it is a declining share] of my health benefits and [2] they are getting encouraging signals from the administration and each other that depressed labor market forces me to be less picky and unable to just get up and go talk to some company that DOES offer what was once a standard attraction in the competition for talent: a comprehensive and fully paid health plan. In some cases, the picture includes a union representative, his dentures loose, sitting beside me in his wheelchair and weakly piping up now and then that a "living wage" minus modern health care premiums is now a starving wage and having no coverage for catastrophic illness assures that I risk at some point having to choose between dying and knocking my family from precarious middle class security into the economic gutter.
THAT is the picture you should have in mind. Families that have any health coverage at all, are already being abandoned by employers to fend for themselves against the big guys unless they have a union. Once in a while a John Edwards sits on our side of the table. McCain's parroting of the Bush nonsense spells out a policy that could only exacerbate the situation: it is a position based on nothing but republican faith and ignorance. Why would it appeal to any working class family?

Did you perhaps mean you wanted to put families in charge of their own living wills and life insurance plans? Health care costs more each year because there is more of it and much of it is devoted to remedying preventable but increasingly prevalent health problems of a fat, sedentary nation. Health care costs go up with the number of middle men between me and the physician...the mighty bureaucracy for obscuring responsibility. Health care coverage choices are shrinking toward nil even as we speak.

Even USA Today found it difficult to write unsarcastically. Their two lead paragraphs:

John McCain spent much of last week emphasizing how he's a different kind of Republican. This week, he focuses on his plans for health care, which are more aligned with President Bush and other Republicans.

McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, wants everyone to get a tax credit to either buy insurance or offset the taxes on health care coverage obtained through work. The Arizona senator says variety and competition will help bring down costs. Bush has a similar tactic, offering tax deductions for health care costs.

Oh great! A yet bigger federal budget deficit! In exchange for what? We will get only the dissolution of the last vestiges of collective bargaining power on the part of health care customers, leaving the HMOs as the last corporate powers and the monopolists of health services. The dumb dream of individual families "shopping" for health care is the same old neoconservative market magic unctuously chanted in the face of yet another mounting catastrophe. Those who are awake may know that TODAY most families will be lucky if they can find one provider through their employers. Those employers leave a growing portion of the premium to the worker. When it is even possible to sign up for coverage outside of a group plan, we pay a significantly higher premium or get less service.

I will illustrate the unreality of McCain's imaginary world with an anecdote from someone I know. He is a 50-something engineer paid quite well for his services by one of the worlds largest defense contractors. Like its brethren in the Military Industrial Complex, it is enjoying boom times with several recent years of yet greater profits and stock price growth in each successive quarter. AND YET, last year the menu of health plans was cut from three providers to two. On top of that, a set of hurdles was instituted, via an outsourced agent who is to verify employee's marital status, to deny coverage of spouse if sufficient documentation of marriage is not provided. It will allow them to peel a tiny handful of people off its coverage eligibility rolls. I don't wish to finger the guy by the particulars but despite nearly three decades of Married-filing-jointly IRS returns, he doesn't actually have the documents they want. Why would McCain's borrowed and tired ideas even appeal to an upper middle class professional family?

Your advisers are idiots, McCain. But you are stuck with them since you have no idea what it is like out here in the real world. You should watch Moore's Sicko if you want a hint what it is like on the outside of your limos and jets. Did Bush teach you to stand in front of shuttered factories to console the suckers? Were your feet clean when you got back to the motorcade? You looked as out of place as the helmeted Dukakis peering from a tank. Go back to your own side of the tracks and waste someone else's time.

We already are in charge of our health you republican fool: We don't DARE get sick any more.

What Peak Oil means

This article has a theme you should get used to. Its headline is precisely and concisely what Peak Oil is all about. The things those damn liberal fear mongers say to take away your umurkun liberties...they are coming true.

"According to normal economic theory, and the history of oil, rising prices have two major effects", said Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Agency in Paris. "They reduce demand and they induce oil supplies. Not this time."

We have just sped away from the era of "normal" and lurch through territory history cannot illuminate for us. So, as they say in a metaphor that will become increasingly anachronistic: fasten your seatbelt.

Monday, April 28, 2008

No new Texans

positive investment: you put money into something in expectation of getting back money or some valuable enhancement of your situation at some point a stated number of years in the future. [eg your tuition]
Negative investment: you get money from some place with the certainty that you will have to cough up that cash plus fees and interest at some point a stated number of years in the future. [eg your college loan]
A government that borrows money to undertake some public program when it lacks cash in hand to pursue that project is engaging in both investments.

We have some awareness that the payoffs of the positive investments are not as certain as the fact that the money in the negative investments will come due. We choose to ignore this painful fact of life at our peril, a deferred peril but crushingly real and inevitable in its diffuse impact upon both our individual and collective financial well being.

Then we ought all to be highly concerned, and particularly our political leaders who instigate these investments should be almost obsessed with the balance of risk and reward that can be assigned to these projects. Instead, industries seeking exclusive benefits and ideologues arrogating pooled monies as the right and due resources of their peculiar views and causes line up at the doors of congress.

What we have lately got instead of monies spent with a reasonable hope of benefiting us is a fraud. To be sure it is a fraud milder, more genteel and more heavily coated with high sounding justifications and appeals to our insecurities than the bald corruption of African and Arab states and all the disgraced regimes of history. But think how the unprecedented scale of the United States Federal budget amplifies these well vetted boondoggles into harms at home an abroad that make all other nation's corruptions pale by comparison.

The negative investments, in the form of our national debt and our decreasing power to borrow publicly or privately now suck the oxygen out of our nation's financial atmosphere and weaken not just today but for decades any hope of undertaking further projects.

Some positive investments have paid back: NASA generated technology and weather satellite images and climate data that save lives and money every day. Internal commerce of the US has exploded in the decades since goods could move cheaply by truck on the interstate system. [Though now, the fuel economy of rail ought to have us rethinking what transport we subsidize]. Social Security and Medicaid with all their leaks and imperfections have made the life of our elderly more uniformly comfortable across the aging population than some haphazard patchwork of state, employer and personal retirement schemes foolish to frugal would have managed.

The fraud by government is however the greater part of many recent "positive" investments. The pretenses for going to war in Iraq included security to be gained from eliminating WMD and Al-Qaeda which were out and out lies. The net effect is in fact negative: we have strengthened the hand [and the oil export income] of our old nemesis Iran and put their veiled intentions to acquire WMD closer to fruition. We have provided fresh affronts to Arab pride that multiply terrorists and make Al-Qaeda's recruiting a breeze. Even if you presume, as I do, that an unstated investment goal of our abortive Iraq strategy was to gain a foothold in the oil rich middle east just as peak oil effects would be emerging from the fog of oil company lies and into the view of the common man...that has backfired. Iraq signs oil deals with the Chinese as it does with us, terrorists blow up Iraqi oil pipelines and we are soon to be paying $4/gallon at US pumps. NOTHING good has come from this poor bet made by the Cheney gang using our money. But as Stiglitz points out, the bill for the borrowed trillions has hardly been fathomed even though it is already having its slowly starving effect on our economy. The negative investment is severely negative.

The main thing your government does, in the end, is spend your money.
any customer in the shops at your local mall who took so little heed of what they got for their money would be instantly recognized as crazy or an idiot. Which are you America?

A short read about the longest time scale

I recommend reading this essay by Nick Bostrom at MIT's Technolgy Review. It is much faster than reading a book by Carl Sagan or Fred Hoyle on extraterrestrial life or any of these . This essay brings home strongly the most important part of the questions of where the aliens are to be found: does their absence hint that we too must inevitably parish before we can carve our initials on far flung suns and call out to the universe saying "Here we are, where are you?". Don't ever let the believers think they have cornered the market on the most teleological of concerns...they are pikers beside a good astrophysicist.
or astrobiologist.

Not that I expect much comment but if you are inclined to question some of Bostroms leaps and assumptions make sure you have properly considered how fleeting our species rise has been in the scale of all the existence of the universe...some 13 billion years at least. Assuming we are nothing special means there has been more than enough time for the half of galactic life that came before us to have evolved and conquered all the distances we can see. There has definitely been time. And the lack of evidence of such conquests means there never will be any.