Friday, March 28, 2008
But food fights feed no body.
...and yet, I cannot shut up while it becomes clearer and clearer that I live in a country where a decent human being can have his bid to lead the country simultaneously attacked both because he is alleged to be a suspected Muslim and because he is alleged to be too close to a mildly bigoted and loudly impolitic Christian pastor.
Maybe the US really does deserve all the death, angst and vast economic wreckage the bush league have wrought and deserve it simply because we are, in net effect, a very stupid country.
But how to rationalize that anyone else in the world deserves the consequences of our fearful intellectual laziness?
Friday, March 14, 2008
Who do you think you will fool with that line? More important, WHY do you want to fool them? [And damn Reuters for making news out of lies like that!]
All the smart people have seen the graphs showing how Bush approval ratings go up in lockstep with terrorist attacks. Osama was absolutely Bush's best vote getter. Are you soliciting similar help?
All the rest of the people vote for fear mongers and security pushers like you and bush. Neither they nor their candidates are smart enough to notice they are already half way to fascism.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
So reflect for a second on that bit of reality and then think of all the drinks, drugs, call girls, willingly believed myths about the existence of a durable soul, priests and gurus that people have turned to to rid themselves of the demons that this keen observer saw flushed away by a stroke. The stroke is a real, physical thing that happens and can be medically detected and dealt with. The ecstatic and detached states your spiritual practice may bring you are pale imitations and temporary respites. The near death experiences that are interpreted as visits to the heaven of the Christians are but misinterpretations of the phenomena this neuroanatomist had the misfortune to suffer and the good fortune to be trained to understand...and through that receptiveness, to learn even more.
If you catch assorted parties reading religious things into the story, just be patient. Ignoring superstition is more profitable than fighting it because it is your energy that is freed for better things. Conventionally spiritual interpretations are not required either to understand or gain inspiration from this unusual account of having a human mind.
Perhaps it would be more fitting to compare human-caused destruction of the environent as being like a maniacal serial killer who works to have a theme to the string of murders he commits. When we saw that our chlorinated and fluorinated and chloro-flouro-anything from refrigerants and crude pesticide and plastic manufacturing were erasing nature's UV shield and depositing persistent carcinogens in every bloodstream we curtailed their deployment. For 40 years science has been telling us in ever louder terms that our sloth in leaving carbon in the air had gotten ahead of nature's ability to put it back in the ground...and would cook us sooner or later. No meaningful response on that front has materialized. Today's news tells us the next pile of corpses will have "Nitrogen" as the note left by the culprit. We will pin the note on those vast and growing zones of "dead" water off our coasts. Sulfur might be next or was that the real story in acid rain?
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
For right now, everybody from gleeful republicans to glum democrats [mind you there are lots of colors outside that narrow spectrum] has at least 15 things to say. There will be weeks of police procedural type coverage and titillation. The guy did wrong. Behind all the details, which in hindsight might merely look stupid in the case of a man who knows the system as well as Spitzer, there really is a deeper flaw and I think Lindsay drew our attention to it first.
The worst in my view is that the whole affair reinforces a uniquely American political schizophrenia about "values". Via this outcome of a prompt resignation with no explanation, we demonstrate clearly the political force of the perception that mere personal consensual sexual behavior is, to Americans, a worse lapse than conspiring via multiple elaborate lies to take a nation into a disastrous war and to destroy economies and careers if they get in the way.
This electorate is as ready and fit to elect prudes and fundamentalist demagogues as the Iranians are.
Speculation on just what this departure enables the Commandeer in Chief to do is rampant, none of it good.
Didn't I say "just watch"? We didn't have to wait long for this:
U.S. Stock-Index Futures Drop; Humana, UnitedHealth Retreat
By Eric Martin
March 12 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. stock-index futures retreated after Humana Inc. reduced its earnings forecast and concern grew that the Federal Reserve's plan to stem credit losses may not be enough to avert a recession.
Dollar Declines on Speculation Fed Rescue Package Won't Succeed
By Gavin Finch
March 12 (Bloomberg) -- The dollar fell against the euro and the yen on speculation the Federal Reserve's plan to provide funds to banks won't be enough to break the gridlock in money- market lending and stem credit losses.
``Read the need for such new measures as being a symptom of what ails the world and not a panacea for its problems,'' said David Simmonds, the London-based global head of currency research at Royal Bank of Scotland Plc, the world's fourth-biggest foreign-exchange trader. ``Stay short dollars.''
And as for the DOW? That injection had about a 30 hour shelf life and then it was back to downward trending forced by a financial world that finally sees the emperor has no assets.
True enough that no one-day chart picked from the past proves much of anything about the market or the person basing claims on the chart. But if a dolt like me can describe what will happen on a day in the future with a modest qualitative accuracy, and one predicting the opposite of what the powers that be were seeking...I think the writing is on the wall street, folks.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Fallon's ideas about military action against Iran have been a pain in the ass for the not-reality-based hawks in the administration.
His departure continues an unbroken tradition that only yes-men [and a few yes-ladies] will enjoy tenure with the bush league. Anybody giving odds on an invasion or bombardment of Iran better call their bookie. Who will replace him and how willing will they be to do Dick Cheney's bidding against Iran?
This increase in uncertainty is brought to you by neocon delusions of American dominance...All by itself it ought to be good for another dollar per barrel uptick.
The good news is that the people adding to the list of deadly sins are the same people who brought you the first 7 deadly sins. The worst of those sins, I would have thought, was murder so you could take some comfort from the fact that the church itself has demonstrated that killing people is actually OK.
The better news is that, being sins in the eyes of the Catholic Church means you can now be forgiven for cloning, deforesting, etc along with the old standards like cheating on your wife [yo, Elliot, you shoulda been a Catholic!]. I sure as hell won't forgive you for polluting or deforestation so this development actually marks a big improvement for McDonalds, Mr. Cheney and others.
Given the prevalence of all the original 7 deadly sins throughout history since their original declaration by the CC, I'd say its gonna be boom times for cloning and whatnot. Too bad they quit selling indulgences: adding important bioscience techniques to the list of deadly sins could be a real money maker for the strapped church, especially with all the venture money the biotech startups have to spend setting up research facilities. [it being tax season, I am wondering: If the biotech firm that contemplates cloning would write off the indulgence money as a charitable donation to a religious organization or as an investment expense in research?]
I am coming to the impression that the only thing that matters to the people at the helm of the economic ship, where you and I are in steerage with subprime bilge up around our knees about now, is the Dow Jones Industrial Average. I got out of stocks three years ago because I thought Greenspan was letting us all go down between the shoals of debt and inflation. I thereby missed some profits and was baffled that the market defied all the economic gravity of our situation.
Something that should matter just got kicked to the curb: the going price of our treasury bonds took an instant hit because of the Fed's move. Those bonds are the means by which your government borrows money. Via that means, for instance, the Chinese have lent us about a trillion dollars. You think they want to do that much longer? I wonder if they are tolerating such stupidity because they know the money is being spent on useless military adventures in the middle east...which have paved the way for the Chinese to access the Arab oil resources. That would be the oil our brilliant Commandeer in Chief was told his war would secure for the US! In any event, the rising price of borrowing money [and borrowing money is all the Republican president who knows how to run oil companies into the ground can understand of finance... not the repaying] means the amount of your taxes spent keeping our country's creditors happy must go up.
Historically the market was basically an ever upward trending thing. But that is not a given any more than the superior fortunes of white males is a given. It was a trend based on an America full of jobs with few foreign competitors and a vast stock of cheap resources the ends of which we thought we'd never see. I see now that brief swing at 13000 was economic smoke and mirrors. The liquidity they pursue is made of ever more frail and less substantial inventions...now your sorryassed over-mortgaged house is being put up by the bank and the only outfit willing to take it at face value for collateral is the guys in charge of making the economy appear sound. You just watch what happens in the next few days after the stock market is jonesing for another money fix and the rest of the world has to decide if it would rather be holding euros or dollars in light of yet another dilution. It is not a dilution of the dollar so much as of the faith that the dollar is representative of sound financial infrastructure rather than one swamped in debt. Just watch. I am on the sidelines just watching and grateful that tax-free municipal bonds and money markets based on them have not yet disappeared.
Granted there is an appealing unambiguous sense of the "score" or the "bottom line" about that one stock market number as a metric. Symbols and simplifications are a reliable road to error. It is a metric that matters in a direct way only to investors. Most of us are only indirectly investors in securities and far more affected by the percentage of our taxes that go into debt service and wars as compared to education, infrastructure and health care. The debt has mounted astronomically under the last three Republican administrations. Sucking all the real money out of the economy and making up for it with Federal reserve bank policy and Treasury bond sales that try to substitute borrowed money, has helped replace our factories with financial
America's part in the course of the world economy had to contract in any fair scenario. Our G7 and latter participations in planning globalization is necessary to make the vast populations of other countries more equal as players in the economy. Although industries shape these policies, they seem unaware that economies are ultimately just the tools by which we dispose and share the bounty nature left us. That is why I do not complain that our trading partners have become our equals and betters in capitalism. What I object to is that we as a country decided to forget about balancing our own checkbook and, to please a swaggering neocon minority and an insecure uneducated majority, simply continued to run a quasi-colonial foreign policy. Do you remember what Afghanistan did to the Soviet government? Do you think George Bush remembers Gorbachev?
I would recommend to those who wonder why so much is going to hell in our country's finances "in spite" of the Federal Reserve Bank's desperate measures and Bush's assurance that we are just in a little "slowdown" that you read a bit more widely. Asia Times is particularly valuable both for the political insight into important rising Asian nations and for the variety and depth of its economic writers. Even AT's conservative columnists, like Hutchinson, called the Fed's predicament quite accurately months ago. Agonist also has some very informed perspectives. Brad DeLong is prolific and I find him sometimes over my head but worth the time.
A question to billionaires from Wall Street and elsewhere who have had a perpetual picnic with republican tax cuts and pour a huge [to us it is huge] amount of cash into GOP campaign coffers: Do you have somewhere to hide all the money and continue to make money in this economic environment? Are you sure the Bush league and its policies are your best friend? Do you feel no pain at all? Sustainability is not just a concept for ecologists, you know.
And for the rest of us, yes, fellow voters, I do think it is teh stupid economy. What makes you think the other errors of our leadership have not grown so enormous as to become entangled in our financial lives?
Monday, March 10, 2008
After installation of drug trace monitoring technology in the sewers of the nation's capitol, an army of DC area police forces swept up the president, vice president, most white house staff and all but six congressmen. Booking was mandatory because they had each flunked drug tests which are required for federal employees. The "clean six" were found to be free of any trace of the various prescription substances because they never drink the water in the nation's capitol. Preferring imported Vodka to anything coming out of a tap, they were however already facing a variety of DUI charges.
In other news, Congress has voted emergency funds to upgrade water treatment for formerly ill-served neighborhoods around the Capitol where crack houses and the industry supporting them are often found.
NOTE: some people get paid to find Washington DC funny. The rest of us just do it for laughs.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
I have just seen a production of the play "My name is Rachel Corrie".
The production of that play was suppressed or postponed back in 2006 in Florida and New York...you will be able to guess why. It went on stage without delays in Britain. It was one of the more disturbing dramas I have ever attended...and it was nothing more than one woman on a stage providing just enough prop and action to set scene for the reading of a diary and some emails. It was not just a true story, it was the sort of truth that must be denied. I knew how it was to end before I went to the theater. Due to my own daughter's fledgling activism to find a just peace in Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I knew many of the facts that stick out of the play like so many spikes driven through flesh. And yet, it still left me somewhat stunned.
If nothing else, and whatever your biases, such tours through the "other side" of a conflict make you think. At dinner with the couple who invited us to see the play, they recounted the remarks of an HaAretz editor on Charlie Rose saying "US does not have a foreign policy on Israel: it has a domestic policy not to antagonize the Jewish vote". This I sadly admit is a well founded insight. And I am sad about it because my vote is presumed to be conditioned by my religious affiliation...I am not just taken for granted, I am mistaken for granted. As fellow protesters say: "Not in my name".
There were many lines in the play that wrenched and singed consciousness and belief about the nature of the Israeli state's occupation and the way it has betrayed the deepest hope and calling of any believing Jew: we were to have been a light unto the nations. Israel's cruel and sloppy overkill in uprooting families from the occupied territories has been so under-reported in the US that we Americans are understandably puzzled at our pariah status as the dominant financial and military support for the state of Israel.
You will have to settle for a paraphrase of the line that hit me hardest.
If you but scratch the topic you quickly hear there are more provocations for such atrocious takings of land, dwellings and livelihoods than most of you will know. For instance the thousands of Iraqi Jews scattered over the planet could tell you family histories of the death and humiliation used to displace their ancient community from Baghdad. Nothing the Baathists did to 200 thousand Jews who once lived and had lived since biblical times in Baghdad , nothing the Nazis did to the Jews constitute a defensible reason for the Jews to repay in kind. If you win by becoming as coldly destructive as your enemies, who won? There simply is not justice in the west bank settlement policies or the acts committed by Jews against Arabs in occupied territory.
Provocation is not justification. Being hurt by one party in one era and place and then milking that grievance to support striking back at another party in a different place and generation banishes any chance of peace. The weary majorities on both sides of the rising wall cannot out shout or out shoot the self righteous anger of the bellicose minorities among them. That would seem to be human nature at its worst, its typical and dominant worst. The main difference between the Ted Belman's of the world and ostensibly liberal people who try to support Israel without becoming informed about the range of actions taken by the Israelis is only this: the one is honest in saying "we seek annihilation or permanent war" and the other an ignorant assenter to the same policy.
Were it not for the fact that the bravest voices decrying the village by village ethnic cleansing of the west bank are those of Jews, many of them members or ex members of the Israeli military, I would turn my back on the whole stinking mess and support nothing except the cessation of the constant flow of dollars and arms to ANY country in the middle east.
As it is, we have a screaming example, the worst I know, of a failure to imagine what it is like for the other guy. [which failure I see as precisely the most critical difference between the liberal and the conservative mindset]. In one measure or another, that failure is at the root of most organized violence in human history. But claiming you are the good guy, and reading in your weekly Torah portion that "you shall not oppress the stranger" means that for a Jew the failure is far more culpable than a mere weakness of human nature. It seems almost willful or terribly cynical. If you pretend to be a light unto the nations because you have been given the rules by which to survive, surmount and stave off what is flawed in human nature but systematically destroy communities, histories and lives then either you or your rules are a crock. By betraying the hope and idealism that nursed Israel from an idea to shaky new nation, the fierce, reactionary country that has arisen has deeply angered not just its old enemies but many Jews who know the idealism is the more precious legacy than the dirt.
The reviews quoted in the Wikipedia article about the play write it off as propaganda. But to tell any story you must have a point of view. To insist that only one point of view of a multi-national and multi-cultural conflict is valid or tolerable or even publishable is ridiculous. Only holocaust deniers called Schindler's List "anti-German propaganda". When the subject of inhumane actions by Israel against Palestinian noncombatants is raised in even the most liberal Jewish circles the responses are mostly defensive and emotional. The commonest tactic I have seen is to immediately change the subject to atrocious things other Arab groups or nations have done to Jews. That is irrational. But I guess it is the nature of the beast. After all the millennia of learning the hard way what it is like to be on the wrong end of the gun, the Jews are the same as other people and being on the right end of the gun has transformed many of them into the sort of creatures that have lost all the compassionate insights their own faith once gave the world.
It is possible to be emotionally wrought up and still think rationally...but damn uncommon. It is so uncommon that assuming an emotional tone that you detect in some speech belies any reason you may hear is understandable. But our obligation is to know that whomever we face is human and will not have been dealt with fairly until we have gotten past their and our own feelings by listening long enough and deliberately enough to pick up their facts and imagine ourselves in their shoes. That is how I will try to approach the damaging diatribes of Ted Belman or of Abbas. We have a bumper crop of psychically damaged people on both sides and unfortunately the dealings with the situation at the state level simply damage yet more as time goes on.
In confrontations with fellow Jews over the Israeli program of settlement in occupied territories, the conversation often ends with the rhetorical question: "So what is your solution, Mr Pacifist!?" How can I tell you? You can't frame solutions if you don't listen carefully enough to know what the problem is.
Such a strange term humanity: as a noun its encompassing collectiveness is comforting and enlightened. But as an adjective, so rarely deserved, it is the most distant of goals for us.
Friday, March 07, 2008
I was reading an article by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker that I would describe as grudgingly admiring of McCain's straightforwardness and how that works well for him with the press corps.
Well, some of the press corps. A reporter with a nose for what McCain may feel are his weak flanks will encounter a wilting barrage of browbeating evasion and aggressively changing the subject. This is what Elizabeth Bumiller of the New York Times experienced today.
The funny thing about that particular encounter in which an irate John McCain tried to turn aside the question of his dealings with Kerry in 2004 by repeating
..."No. No. Because the issue is closed, as far as I'm concerned. Everybody knows it. Everybody knows it in America."
Could he describe the conversation? "No, of course not," McCain said. "I don't describe private conversations. Why should I? Then there's no such thing as a private conversation."
Why is that funny? Because the administration that McCain supports to the hilt [so apt an image in his case] and hopes to continue is writhing in its political skin to preserve its tissue of abrogated constitutional rights. There is no such thing as a private conversation in Bushworld. Will there be one in McCain's administration? Maybe only for Johnny boy.
update: I see there is a whole book about how the MSM just don't want to see the problems of a McCain candidacy or presidency.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Chalk it up to the claimed and accepted "greater experience" of the Clintons that Hillary's campaign got dirtier sooner.
Chalk it up to Obama's higher regard for the American voter that he was explicitly reticent and wary in practice about being negative and feels the need to announce that his campaign will now add such tactics to its arsenal.
I personally am cast into a weary disappointment by these developments.
Once someone is elected, the other guy and all that was supposedly wrong with him or her is ancient political footnotes and leaflets in a dumpster. What will be...or more to the point of this process, what we hope will be...is the substance of the candidate's policy ideas, the quality of the advisers they attract, their power to persuade and inspire the broadest spectrum within the electorate. In a word, the positives: who they are, what changes they will propose, how good they are at educating voters on the issues how well their choice of issues reflects the needs that people feel. The positives should dominate the campaigning.
I think this sour turn in the Democratic campaign betokens Clinton knowing and Obama finding out that the American voter is a cheap beast, easily bought by appeals to their insecurity and despite what they tell to pollsters, fond of a little blood on the campaign trail. It is sad to see what works and what does not work on the American voter...and maybe they are not so different from a German voter or an Italian voter after all.
The nearest thing to a silver lining is probably that the swift boaters McCain can count on without even the embarrassment of a phone call and his own attacks will finally be thrown at whichever Democratic candidate has the least to hide and has been the best at catching spears in mid air.
There will be no free lunch unless you learn to get by on grass.
Worse, if you do not learn to eat what you yourself can grow, will you go eat your neighbor's? The security sales pitch, favored tool of fascists and the Bush league and now coming into use by Hillary Clinton to revive her candidacy, never progresses logically or ethically beyond the equivalent of "there's bad people you should fear but trust me to shoot them before they shoot you". There may be bad people, there certainly are people who harm others. But I think none of those harmful people, except from the US, represent particularly well fed or prosperous elements of their respective societies. To divorce the issues of precarious and vanishing climate and soil resources from security in the strict political and military sense our politicians can focus upon is harming our policies and leaving us stupid options. I particularly like Stiglitz and will be quoting him in other posts on the economy but on the topic of that divorce, I take his word as vastly more credible than anything said by the palace playboy of Pennsylvania Ave or his would-be successor. Please notice that the sense of security is a feeling, a summation of haphazardly collected facts and impressions used with very little examination. When that feeling is running in its negative range, it has a terrible tendency to become self-fulfilling.
In spite of what the advertisers tell you, there is no way a healthy person can eat ice cream skip exercise and loose weight. In spite of all the commercials that spin the claims faster than the wheels, you cannot drive a 250 horse power car and still keep the planet clean and cool as it was a mere hundred years ago. Despite the drooling avarice of the corn distribution lobby, many studies have shown that ethanol production is a net negative substitute for fossil fuel...using as much as it produces and damaging the environment along the way.
But I had hoped...and Stewart Brand has argued, that nuke power plants could eventually save us. In my case, the hope was based on my rudimentary knowledge of the amazing energy density of uranium as a fission energy source. But the energetics of the key reaction are not enough. To know if a whole system of nuclear energy production will be a net benefit and workable on the necessary scale to replace coal and oil, you have to take many costs into consideration and you have to crunch quite a few numbers. Well someone has done the homework for us and the answer is: we could not make nuclear energy pay off. I think that puts us back where the truly green thinking has always been: use less, use MUCH less. The old math of renwables still stands as the hope for sustainable technologically developed societies.