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.

Feat of clay

I never idolized either of the remaining two Democratic contenders for president. I have said to friends and may as well say to any who read the drivel I put up here that I would be happy to have either of them in the White House next January rather that John McBush. I'd be ecstatic to have Pelosi in there by, say, July if the stupid congress suddenly woke from its slumber and forthwith impeached the stupidest lying president and most evil destructive vice president in US history.

I have up until now accounted for my slight preference for Obama by pointing to his moral courage and independence in voting against the Iraq invasion from the get-go while Hillary joined the stampede and sang the Bush/Cheney fight song. Whether you reckon Obama has greater principles and sticks to them or you assume he is just shrewd and could see better how the country would feel about the war five years down the road and positioned himself accordingly ... it does not matter. We have had a most harmful lack of both shrewdness and moral courage in our presidents of late.

But other than that, I confess, I had not made much study of either candidate and am only now getting through Dreams from my Father [which if nothing else shows the presence of a great intelligence, power of expression and knack for empathy].

But now, in one of those forgettable actions that pile on one another like dead leaves and losing lottery tickets until the pile of them is called a campaign, Clinton finally tips the balance with some campaigning I do notice:
I guess she wanted to make damn sure I understood that she is a politician as usual doing politics as usual, trying for an advantage by claiming she supports a handout her opponent does not. OK, she doesn't call it a hand out but by prolonging our ability to waste gas and further unbalancing the federal budget she addresses the rising price of gas in the most harmful way. Wake up lady! McCain can play that game better than you can: he studied under Bush. And guess what? When that game is over, as it now nearly is, we are all broke. I want a candidate who is not afraid of asking voters to grow up. I guess I should be grateful for attacks on candidates by other candidates based on some claim of difference...such attacks tell me more about what the attacking candidate thinks of ME, my level of understanding and my acceptance of responsibility for repairing the world than about the target of the attack.

Do we get the politics we deserve? Neither candidate is my idol but one is showing feet of clay.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Comments, comments everywhere and not a thought to think

This opinion from New York Times editorial board that trade is NOT the problem behind the war on the middle class asks for a "fact based" treatment from the candidates.

I think their analysis is helpful but incomplete.

In the US any job that can hurt the environment has become harder for employers to invest in both for health, remediation and prevention costs that the "cheap labor" countries ignore. Those countries then suffer environmental degradation and toxicity at rates that even a republican run EPA could not tolerate. The US [and Europe for the most part] are not wrong in bringing the environmental costs of industry onto the books. The evil lies in exploitation of both workers and ecologies far enough away from our Wal-Mart experience that we can ignore them and pocket the change. A better deal for all would be to condition "free" trade on the insistence that wherever we get our goods, they must be produced with the same worker benefits and environmental protections we have in the US. That is , we should export our standard of living rather than importing the third world's standard of living. Neither NAFTA nor US corporate regulation support that direction of wealth transfer because they do not properly define wealth.

There are really two sets of questions to be addressed when a nation's economy gets sick.
1. where is our wealth going
2. where does our wealth come from

The Times opinion rightly points out that a major part of the answer to the first question is that owners and executives and perhaps a few holders of college degrees who provide the vital brain power that generates new products and processes are taking an increasing share of the paycheck while people who do work that can be done without an education are getting a shrinking paycheck. That is true enough and aggravated by the reduction of high bracket taxation that might have made the Boards of Directors think twice before assuming their CEO was worth 1000 to 10000 times as much as their truck drivers and assembly line workers. It gets easier to make such a lopsided decision when [a] no tax penalty goes to the company for such inequity and [b] that CEO sits across the table from you while half of the assembly line workers are not even in the same country. Paying someone tens of millions per year to lead a company might make sense if there were any downside or risk to the position. Its a weak argument to say someone who has some magic "rain maker" genes that rescue companies from dumb strategies and insure a profit in most quarters could be worth his millions. But they are getting the millions whether the company does well or not. That fact puts the general executive paycheck in the category of money down a rat hole. And when executives make 10 million, a few spend it but more bank it. If instead, the company's gains went more to the workers who carry the company to the finish line on their backs, that money would go immediately and directly back into the economy. All many executives seem to have on their backs is a golden parachute in case they screw up. Don't get me wrong: Jealousy of the boss is as old as employment and many companies probably could not continue to plan product and market strategies that would get them through the next year if they did not have dedicated and talented management. But the pay scales have become divorced from the consequences. And worse yet, the only consequences for which management seems even slightly liable in the US is this quarters earnings. Long term health of the company, its workers or its environment are either fungible or forgotten. Who is being rewarded for investing cash this quarter that will see no tangible return for, say, ten years? The only people I can point to in that situation are private investors of the buy-and-hold sort who follow Peter Lynch or Motley Fool. Certainly not any executives of those companies whose stock is purchased. The investors are even more removed from the plight of workers and environmental resources used up in the profiting than are the executives. Socially responsible investing has been a growing segment of the investing world but is still insignificant. And like the carbon offset credits market, I wonder if there is really as much net benefit as there is hype. The investor can instantly punish and abandon the errant executive by clicking the SELL AT MARKET PRICE button on his trading screen. That bullet tends to miss the executive who can walk away with millions when let go by the Board. As our trade agreements and corporate tax laws are presently operated, the quickest fix to any industrial bottom line would be to reduce wages and to take environmental and social costs off the books. So this same executive who wins a little more if the company has a good quarter and a little less if not must see the opportunities to produce in hungry less developed countries as extremely tempting.

There are of course other places our money goes without stopping along the way to do us any good. The current administration and the three Republican administrations before it have multiplied the national debt about 6-fold. Last year Congress let Bush have his way by borrowing another $1500 for each man woman and child in the nation. You may be having trouble paying your mortgage. Certainly you know some people are having awful trouble with personal debt. Banks are being bailed out with public money to deal with those unpayable debts. As of today roughly $30000 dollars is owed by the US government, much of it to foreign investors, and the interest on that is being paid how? Out of your taxes. Michael Hodges puts up a very informative website on the whole national debt situation. He is not a liberal by any means and would be happy to bring balance by cutting services rather than cutting out the war or raising taxes...but he is fiscally responsible and wishes his country were. So do I. His numbers are honest and just a lot handier than the treasury department's obfuscating information. My point in all this is just to support the contention that there are many reasons beside our trade, outsourcing and globalization to account for the dim prospects of American job seekers. The Times mentions that government expenditures for infrastructure would aid our competitiveness as an exporter and this is true. My own guess of about 5% interest on the debt , and ignoring payments against principle [are there any? the debt GROWS!] agree closely with Mr. Hodges about how much money the government takes in which it must turn over to creditors rather than help with university tuition, run job retraining programs or build ports, roads and canals: about 450 billion per year [it varies with the Fed's setting of the prime interest rate]. On the eve of George Bush the first taking office that number had grown to about $220billion and has doubled despite a drop during Clinton's term. That is way more than the GNP of most nations, it would pay for a lot of college tuition. It would retrain a lot of workers. That money is just gone.

All of those considerations affect where the money goes and they seem largely out of whack to me.

As for where wealth comes from. Inventiveness is just a seed and money the fertilizer. But day in and day out labor and ultimately something ripped from the earth are constant ingredients of what we finally put in our shopping carts. And with out the raw ingredients, we have nothing, not even the opportunity to perform the transformative labor. Management is primarily the art of seeing businesses as a whole and tweaking all the little human parts and arts that make the whole perform, knowing well what each part is worth and what it is contributing. Management then is responsible for keeping the engine humming but is itself neither the engine nor the fuel. The increase in value of finished goods over raw materials is often viewed as a kind of golden egg of capitalism's goose ...the fount of wealth. Raw materials themselves provide income to those who wrest them out of the earth but seldom does the ultimate source ever get paid or compensated in a way that would support restoration of what was taken. Sustainable agriculture, more a theory at this time than a practice, comes closest. Mineral wealth and the poorly quantized economic value of a benign climate are treated like god's endless gift, burnt as if they were a candle of infinite length. Have you checked the price of paraffin lately? Its made from oil and the Chinese are in the market for candles too This citation of physical resources as the ultimate source of wealth may seem to some as relevant as saying that someday the sun will burn out. From here on out, "someday" is right now. The price spikes we have begun to experience are the harbingers of wide and spreading dearth. Our globalized industries make the nations work rather like cars in a freight train: so coupled that one hitting an obstacle makes all shudder to a halt. Trade, as the Times points out is not that obstacle, it is only the coupling.

Update 28 April:
Mr Yarrow at HuffPo has picked up on the presence of the republican elephant taking a dump in the middle of our living room. I find it odd that no candidate will address this issue.

thongish metablogging

I have been struggling for time and for the will to hit the publish button lately but not for words to say. The whole "bitterness" thing and the petty playing on what self appointed media opinion shapers and campaign strategists consider the dominant fears of undecided voters is beginning to sicken me. Jude puts it well. My notion that a blog devoted to complete examination of comment threads in more or less neutral media might be a way to discover [though perhaps to my horror] just where the heads of the electorate are at ... well that is a tougher assignment in some ways than I had imagined. It obviously will take time and less obviously a way to assess divergent views without my usual "liberal bias", not by the impossibility of becoming neutral but by the possibility of making my interpretation a sidebar or otherwise separable input. One last problem is which places to look for representative threads. NY Times accepts comments without editorial assessment on its blogs. For some OP-ED and editorial pieces it takes comments and rates them. Those are fun and I recommend reading the comments but they disallow certain comments I consider fair and they are managed haphazardly. For example Frank Rich pieces can have comments [sometimes 400] that are subsequently withdrawn from the server. I need permalinks to do real blogging and I don't know what is stable. The editorial I am commenting on here is not accepting reader feedback. That is a shame as I am sure there would be a ton of it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

This is so darn cool

In 2003, some guy in Montana digs up a T-rex, one of the last of the thunder lizards to go extinct. In 2007, a gal in North Carolina makes an amazing discovery: recognizable protien fragments are preserved deep within these massive 68 million year old bones. This week Science will publish the report of a medical genetics team at Beth Israel-Deaconess hospital in Boston, directed by a Harvard evolutionary genetics researcher who got strong evidence from protein sequence data obtained in the frail specimens that overlaps sequences in several modern bird species.

Rough and speculative analogies between avian and dinosaur skeletons, pelvis in particular, led to the earliest birds-are-from-dinosaur theories. A few Archaeopteryx fossils were found in 1862 but did not fit perfectly...a lot of missing links had to be postulated. But the last decade has seen a steady flow of fossil discoveries in China that provide virtually all the fossil links paleontologist could want. Fossils are only one chain of evidence.

Genetics are quite another kind of evidence and nothing is sweeter than having more than one completely distinct chain of observations that equally support an hypothesis. But the luck of finding usable protein of that antiquity is amazing. The only way this could not be cool and amazing is if you live in the world manufactured by the god who was manufactured by the creationists. They are left to their ideal worship and the rest of us can concentrate on how frikkin cool this is.

Well, I might be a little biased. Until about the 6th grade, I was positive I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up. I am not a paleontologist yet but maybe I am not grown up yet either...its just such neat confirmation. That "guy" from Montana is a scientist named John Horner and I bought one of his books when my kids were in the 6th grade [oh I s'pose I bought it for nostalgic reasons too]. Think I will go re-read the chapter on birds.

By the way, this development does not mean "Jurassic Park" scenarios are immanent. That idea was concocted by a smug fool who only knows enough to be dangerous to people who know even less. [Horner's consulting on that movie must have paid well]


Update: Zinio just delivered my online copy of Science and that linked me to the online materials :
Supporting Online Material for
Molecular Phylogenetics of Mastodon and Tyrannosaurus rex
Chris L. Organ, Mary H. Schweitzer, Wenxia Zheng, Lisa M. Freimark, Lewis C.
Cantley, John M. Asara
Published 25 April 2008, Science 320, 499 (2008)
DOI: 10.1126/science.1154284

They used collagen...that was the protein remnants found in the fossil bones.

Several statistical methods were applied to detect commonalities among amino acid sequences of collagen samples among about 20 living and two extinct species.

MrBayes v3.1.2 (Huelsenbeck and Ronquist 2001) was used for Bayesian inference of
phylogenetic relationships. The prior for the amino acid model set to mixed, in which the
MCMC chain explores 10 fixed-rate amino acid matrices (Poisson, Jones, Dayhoff,
Mtrev, Mtmam, Wag, Rtrev, Cprev, Vt, and Blosum)....The Bayesian tree is identical to the likelihood tree and highly similar to the parsimony tree as well (see below). An additional tree (not shown) was inferred in which all sites (for all taxa) were removed that contained gaps (missing data) in the Tyrannosaurus sequence, resulting in a dramatically smaller dataset. The resulting tree was poorly resolved in multiple areas due to the lack of informative sites for all taxa, though the Tyrannosaurus still grouped with other amniotes. Another tree (not shown) was inferred in which regions containing gaps (missing data) in the alligator, ostrich, and T. rex sequences were removed. This reduced the amount of missing data in the set and produced the same topology, but it did not appreciably change the support for archosaurian nodes.

Phylogenetic trees were generated using Maximum likelihood (Sup. Fig. 1A and B) in PhyML v2.4.5 (Guindon and Gascuel 2003).

The resulting tree properly determines known relationship of species AND locates Tyrannosaurus with birds.:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Identifying Obama, Finding America and political emotion

The phrase "The American Story", if offered as the title on a blank sheet each of us was to fill with a story might produce a decidedly motley collection. The myth that somehow there is one even vaguely unified American story is apt to find uncritical expression in some glowing pean penned over at The grit, disappointment and glints of glory would more likely mingle in individual works cobbled up in a diary at Daily Kos.

You see, America, you never had one story. Or even one America. [Yes, I was for Edwards, *sigh*] You have had and enforced race, gender, class, religious and ethnic distinctions all through the history of your "one nation". The greatest political excitement, the buzz that lasts for decades, seems to occur when actual blends of the formerly segregated traits emerge in one candidate who can elicit an emotional connection with some portion of the main political stream. We did not get excited about Kennedy in spite of his Catholicism but because he enlarged our sense of what was tolerated and who could succeed in this nation. How deep and heartfelt that need for inclusiveness is among the non-bigots!

Obama is closer to an embodiment of "The American Story" if one is ever to be written, than any national candidate I am aware of.

The tenuous illusion of superiority based on no merit but accidents of birth in to one identity, be it racial or some other pretext for categorical thinking, is so frail it must be protected by instant ferocity and guarded by constant suspicion. You hardly have to read between the lines at to see that ignorance and fear at work. We are still the same creatures we have always been. That season when our nation, scarred by its civil rights struggles fixed so much hope on Jack Kennedy was as well the season when truly vile race and religious hatreds and anti-communist hysteria all surfaced and slunk around trying to swift-boat JFK.

So, America, you finally get a real American story, a candidate embodying the true and complete opposite of that illusion that purity of identity equals superiority and what do you do? You start looking, looking everywhere for stones to toss, for labels like "elitist" under which to hide raw ugly hatreds you dare not own up to.

I write this post as if there were one America to be addressed and do so out of profound hope. Having to pick ONE president definitely forces the issue and exposes the fallacies of our glib notions of national unity...but also challenges us to strive for that unity. The work is not easy and it is for conservatives, be they Democrats or Republicans, rather unfamiliar effort.

In spite of all the verbal gears you know are turning out there in your cortex, down in your limbic system politics is very much linked to and run by identity:" who am i, who are they, are they with me or against me"...that brutally simple and unexamined kind of thinking. I wish I could specify some meditation, some passage to be read or anything that would give the fearful among our voters [most of whom do not read blogs like mine] a glimpse of the irrationality that passes for political thinking. I should by now tire of saying this and you of reading it but just for emphasis: Emotion blends with reason largely outside our awareness. Reason is the tool and emotion the user. Emotion fires in ancient circuits laid out when dwell-times to reach a decision that exceeded a fraction of a second were punished with extinction. At the cost of nuance and deliberation, we have gross amplifiers of small discriminations built in to speed up decision. We work this way an know it not.

I offer two illustrations of the emotions at work in our political processing, for whatever they are worth.

Via casual but long standing acquaintance, I know several educated and successful persons who generally vote for Democrats and have mostly well targeted criticism for the failures of the Bush administration. Formative experiences for this particular set of people include religious persecution and being driven out of or unable to return to assorted middle eastern countries. Back when I was still wondering if Edwards was the candidate who best represented my values, emails were circulating among these expatriates repeating the false but mesmerizing rumors that Obama was a Muslim. Even now, in polite conversation with these people, they will offer some immovable doubt about whether Obama would sell Israel down the river. And that fear is followed by the speculation that McCain would be preferable to Obama. Hillary playing the Clingon-in-chief clearly speaks to these fears. Facts simply can't stand in the way of fears. In those very same conversations I hear reference to Obama being too long associated with Rev. Wright to credibly distance himself from Wright's inflammatory positions. Go figure.

I will confess now my own exercises that reveal to me my preferences among the choice of projected personalities of our candidates. My little meditation involves imagining having a conversation with or imagining what I would say to each candidate. I find myself trying to respectfully pose harsh questions to McCain, alternately enthused and annoyed and exploring certain inconsistencies with Clinton and most relaxed and fascinated with Obama. Its all just projection and mental exercise but if you relax and let your mind go, you can learn something about yourself. [By the way, with Dubya, I find the exercise of projecting engagement in conversation stalls when I need to explain the meanings of much of my vocabulary;-]

I suspect that exercise of mine is not so much a way to make a decision about feelings of allegiance as it is a way to find out via comfort level what decision your unconscious has already made. That doesn't really matter from an operational perspective since either would allow you to become more engaged in politics.

Foundering on the fathers: someone put Jonah Goldberg out of my misery

The lead sentence of this Jonah Goldberg opinion piece in the LA Times reads thus:

Promoting democracy throughout the world has been a driving force in U.S. politics since the country's earliest days.

Whether the other things Goldberg dismisses as thoughtless slurs against necons are true or not, one thing is clear, and Goldberg is the poster boy for it: Neocons are ignorant imperialists. The clearest guidance from the most respected leader of the early days of the republic would arguably be George Washington's farewell address. In that parting advice he warned against the temptations of an overdeveloped military
Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.
and [are you paying attention, Jonah?] he strongly advised us to butt out of other country's political lives:
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.
Nor, by the way, would Washington be pleased with the Bush administration's neoconservative disdain for the constitution:
It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another.
and he would be horrified at borrowing to raise expeditionary armies:
As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it, avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.
I would urge the pathetic babbling Goldberg to read a few words of those of whom he claims to speak. In fact now is a good season for all of us to consider George Washington's words, particularly on the hazards of party politics. And I will enjoy your arguments to me if you question the paragraph in which Washington offers
And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.
There is much admonition in that address that could underpin right action two centuries later. I particularly like this succinct expression of the American version of the social contract:
To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliance, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.
In the current administration, by the hands of Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney and John Yoo to name a few, we find scribbled onto the end of that paragraph the neoconservatives exeception to all social contracts: "unless you are the government".

I also did negative searching of the farewell address. The term democracy is absent. The word promote was used once: for institutions of education. I feel like I am unlocking the old guy from a musty dungeon where conservatives held him lest we see how broadminded and radical he really was. If some other document of that era differs with GW and agrees with JG, well, my reference is a pretty heavy contender.

I am not the only one who notices that neoconservatives abuse the memory of the nation's founders. Skipping forward to the Monroe doctrine, the point of that is not so much the liberty of South Americans as enlarging the security perimeter of the fledgling republic against the predations of colonial Europe. I think Goldberg dreamed his contention up and it is as fictional as the principles and the rest of the history and class structure he pretends to represent.

Admit where your ideas really come from Jonah, and open your eyes to see where they have gotten you...or just go on screwing the pooch in front of everyone. I for one will stand by the charge that "neocons are open imperialists". But to be strictly correct make only this modification: you never use the words imperialism or just exemplify them, thus making yourselves crypto imperialists. Except you are only hiding from yourselves...the rest of us can see you.

[I need a puppy to kick but a cretin will do]

Monday, April 21, 2008

What is stopping us

When otherwise liberal friends of mine discuss how to proceed in Iraq, quite a few are aware that one of the most significant political shifts Bush, and his Cheney gang have worked is the transfer, by default, of decisive political clout in the region into the hands of the Iranian theocracy. And knowing that, these friends are stuck, saying "we can't just pull out. The country will go to pieces and the pieces will fall under Iran's control".

But can't people see? We are already at that point.

If our imaginations have become so blunted that the prospect of peace can only be equated with defeat and the prospect of war, for all the good war has thus far done us, is alluring to liberal and conservative alike with its illusion of predictability, then we are lost in the darkness that swallows dying empires.

Let me offer my own imagination, which you may fault but not for want of the hope we need.

What other scenarios might unfold if we just pulled that tap out of our jugular, quit bleeding lives and trillions? Yes, just stop as fast as we started: leaving only the troops needed to guard that poor concrete mausoleum of an embassy to mark and mock our imperial hopes?
If the money now spent in Iraq were instead spent on the reconstruction and education that it would take to pacify and give hope to the Palestinians, rebuilding what has been bulldozed and creating a viable Palestinian state where physical security of both states was possible and the questions of ownership defused by swaps and purchases of land...
  • We would only be borrowing a page from the Iranians who buy favor and make trouble by funneling their money through Hezbollah [we can surely outspend Iran]
  • There would be no war in Iraq and the excuse that the factions would fall upon each other in a chaotic blood bath [1] describes present conditions well and [2] would quickly become Iran's problem if they actually failed to quell violence...because we all now know they can when they want to.
  • Iran would have its hands full trying to exercise control of Iraq and start getting the political black eye that the US possessed exclusively and it would stop having the spare change and the need to distract its population or seek favor with proxies by threatening Israel.
  • There would be universal condemnation of Iran's threats to Israel once they had no long suffering client/proxy in the person of the Palestinians. We would buy away that client because our money would be spent to give them some justice, hope and respect, not some victory.
  • It could hardly make oil any more expensive than bush has already made it.
  • And what really pisses me: it would cost us less than the war on Iraqis and earn us back the respect of the worlds people
  • This move would unsettle the Saudis. It is time we got rid of US administrations that suck the stopcock on Saudi oil wells. Some of the money we would cease spending on wasted munitions and boondoggle mercenary contractors could go into engineering a crash program in energy independence rather than the gelded efforts oil companies have allowed since Reagan's administration. I strongly suspect that spending that money here instead of sending it to our enemies with oilfields would have a wonderful effect on our employment figures.

The US already spends heavily in loans, foreign aid and material including to Palestinian leaders in order to patch together frail volatile truces that are all a generation of middle easterners have known. The Iranians are not stupid, they need to sell their oil, they can not afford the steel shod massive presence that has backfired so badly for the US. Chaos in Iraq threatens Iranian power though not as much as does the US military presence there. Being a reasonably smart person, Condi should ask herself if she has really given her bosses any more likely or hopeful options.

Pride, stupid and stubborn, is so obvious a fault in individuals...why is it so hard to see when it rules a nation?

Friday, April 18, 2008

the partisans

History got revised and simpler at least a little each time they sat to chat over a cup of tea.

what have I been up to?

Trying something different. Actually trying something for those who differ.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

this will sound like a this will sound like a this will sound like a

broken record. But I just gotta say it again. It is the stupid economy. I will post more when I get home but a quick note:

I can tell you the world economy is sinking and the US economy is the million ton anchor taking it down but why would you believe a nitwit like me? I have found good places to read and named them for your edification. That is how even I knew Bear Stearns was dying before Spanky Bernanke sneaked out one weekend and raised it from the grave to sell its corpse for $2/share. Still won't take my word for it that we are in a mess? Then how about the word of a famous apostate Republican ?

[hat tip to TPM]

Monday, April 14, 2008

The nakedly rationalizing ape

Desmond Morris did us no favors.

This post is mostly pasted from a comment I left at Pandagon. I suspect what most moves me to say something is what I see as a painful disconnect. On one hand it strikes me as desperately important to have an operational understanding of human nature instead of a pocket full of inconsistent rules of thumb and a lot of shoulder-shrugging "what can you do since were so crazy anyway?" attitudes: we know most of our troubles on this planet trace to our own impulses. On the other hand really smart people in cognitive and behavior research like Chris who regularly makes fine sushi out of the raw fishiness of MSM's botched psychology coverage in his posts at Mixing Memory or just generally smart people like Amanda dismiss evolutionary psychology faster than they would a smelly bum crashing a posh wedding.

Amanda assenting to an comment contemptuous of EP:
But fair enough, there’s a just-so-story bullshit aura about evo psych that makes it a sort of godless religion.
Chris wishing someone would provide a better debunking of EP:
That is a shame, because we could use a good book that discusses the many problems with Evolutionary Psychology that can be read by non-psychologists.

So I talk back to the Pandagonians:

Y’all are giving Evolutionary Psych a not entirely deserved drubbing.

The worst problem with the study of how any of our tropisms, proclivities and generally our demonstrated mental baggage and tools might have been selected for through the usual mechanism of survival advantage is that too many people pounce on ostensible findings as justifications for actions rather than explanations. As justifications, some EP results [or more typically their misrepresentations and popularizations] sure look like convenient detours around normal ethical objections to simple self gratification. But as explanations, they may help us to understand why some of us misbehave or do unethical things to others…and that can help us both in the legal and the correctional aspects of building in preventions to violation and cleaning up after violations. Everyone here is getting exercised over bad justifications. The scientists are not trying to justify but to understand and explain.

The second worst thing about EP is how tentative its findings are compared to how firmly some will count those results as law of nature. The complexity of the brain and the thousand twists of influencing conditions lost to us in the dust of a few million years of history mean most of the progress in EP research must begin largely as speculation and proceed by many careful and redundant paths of experiment and observation before a sound conclusion can be announced. Its results will seldom have unquestionable and unambiguous interpretation in the manner that the rules and patterns we derive in mathematics or physics do. The quality of the answers comes from the rationality and the rigor of the study but popular usage seems to lack both. Some researchers may get accused of going into their study already armed with an answer to be found but it is certain their readers often make that mistake.

Is it a “godless religion”? Only if it is used as justification for actions that would not pass ethical critique in the larger world…but that describes both the godful and the godless religions.

I have to say that Chris is generally a very clueful writer, his analytical side aided nicely by a sense of humor. I may yet discover his knocks on EP aim for a discipline less given to misapplication by the backward rabble.

And perhaps I should be careful about what I wish for. A psychological understanding powerful enough to provide some government a technique by which to rein in the dozen little personal domains of decision wherein we collectively ratchet our resources out of existence sounds profoundly scary. If the "wise" psychology I pine for did or could exist, who would use it?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

That Heraclitus sure knew his s..t

Speaking as a member, I am unsurprised to hear you can't build a fire with wet turds, even with 30 million dollars worth of kindling. As Heraclitus said,

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Think Globally: can YOU still the invisible machete?

For over a generation, the cool kids like myself have had a very good and general bumper sticker that, if heeded would do us more good than cattle cars full of preachers preaching:
Think Globally, Act Locally

But what would a global thought look like? Aren't the US Department of Defense, multinational corporations and the IMF among the very few bodies that are forced by the scale of their responsibilities and ambitions to think on a world scale? How about the UN? Maybe, but what is the point of thinking up solutions according to fatally underfunded mandates? Other examples exist but they are token forces in the real world. World Wildlife Fund or Green Peace come to mind. So the big budget operations that actually pay staff to gather data and hire suitably trained experts to think on an intercontinental scale are doing this scale of thinking but they do it for the small old reasons that politics has never outgrown: short term welfare of the leaders. In the case of democracies and consumer based commercial operations, the leaders do try to act according to the wishes [not necessarily the needs] of their voters or customers, as a matter of institutional self preservation. Species self preservation or environment preservation are virtually always third order considerations.
There probably are a lot of smart people, particularly in universities and especially in studies related to agriculture who do think long term and world scale...but they are not plugged into the power steering organizations I have named. They could devise programs or policies that might avert the headlong rush of the world's economy over the threshold of unrecoverable resource depletion. But these policies would be political suicide in a world where progress has been largely defined to the masses by the advertisers for hand bags, hamburgers, erectile dysfunction cures and cars. Among leaders who actually have useful political stature, only Al Gore has had the nerve and freedom to speak of such policies as pressing needs and requiring prompt and world wide adoption.

Walden Bello writes in the Asia Times that the barely visible iceberg of climate change has now bobbed within sight of the titanic of global capitalism. Not a quick read but much easier to follow than Brad DeLong and less US-Centric than Krugman, I urge you to read it if you want to be able to say a global thought has at least passed through your head. I like his essay and I am strongly with him in his conclusions...
The goal must be the adoption of a low-consumption, low-growth, high-equity development model that results in an improvement in people's welfare, a better quality of life for all, and greater democratic control of production.

Invented as "the invisible hand", capitalism was presumed to some how produce a general benefit from the collective effect of all the little players optimizing their own ROI. I say it is an invisible machete. I will restate the problem I see with that model: Economics was a kind of big lie. It has long claimed to be a positive sum game. I say it just takes a long time for the zero-sum nature of the complete picture to emerge. Or to use thermodynamic parlance, it pretended it was a closed system but actually balanced its conservation laws by the "free" input from nature. Capitalism can be democratic but then what is more democratic than the tragedy of the commons? Until Bush and Bernanke broke it, the main stated goal of the world banking system was to control [not "prevent"...that would seize up the machinery] inflation. Why was that? Because the ironclad certainty and inescapable bias of the invisible machete is inflation. A "well run" capitalist system has constant mild inflation, just look at the CPI for the last 50 years. It is the same in most developed nations. To navigate in such prevailing winds you build your ship with the rudder offset to one side and it works well enough till some idiots run you into the rocks. One of the "commons" we were supposed to most dread ruining was the value of our money.

But enough of abstractions and metaphors. Bello only supplies the first phrase of the bumper sticker. What about acting locally? The reluctance of "northern elites" Bello describes is one thing individual American voters can personally tackle. I mentioned that espousing low-growth politics is political suicide but that is just the conventional wisdom: politicians have been punished in the past for urging us to consume less so they expect that is always a bad position to take. It is up to us voters to change that.
Why does the honesty that comes so easy in a family situation not suit politics? Suppose the family breadwinner lost his or her job. A grown up, in this situation would promptly tell the family: "we are going to have to cut back on expenses". If a politician goes around telling us, "Take the bus, get rid of one of your cars, turn the thermostat down again..." would we vote for them? Remember Jimmy Carter? I built a house inspired by Carter's "the less you use, the stronger we'll be" leadership and nearly 30 years later, I still don't care what heating oil costs.

There is a bootstrapping problem at the moment because pollsters are not even asking the questions: would Americans seriously curtail consumption? Trust me on this: it is only going to be worse if the answer is thrust on you by decaying economics than if you write to and vote for leaders who can reformulate the country's economic goals properly. [Hey Al, you want the VP slot?]

My own global thought has been that capitalism never did a remotely honest job of putting the replacement costs of the natural resources its exploits on its books. Well, nature, that patient waiter has tired of bringing us cheap food and will not wait for us to ask for the check. The bill is here. My own local actions include writing this post as a suggestion for the rest of you.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Peak everything: controlled descent or free fall?

Its not just oil we are running out of. Lotta links here 'cause I did my homework. Now its your turn. There has been an uptick in news about grain shortages this week. Its the tip of the proverbial ice berg and some of us have watched that shortage drifting into the shipping lanes of the global economy for quite some time.

Reading informed and smart conservatives does not require believing all they say. Hutchinson writes in the "Prudent Bear" financial column and he can see a broken Federal Reserve system a mile away. But Hutchinson lays all blame for grain price increases to tariffs and export restrictions which is a dumbly narrow pro-business view. Many others say transport, borrowing costs, fuel scarcity, global warming and plain old population explosion are all factors to consider...and I don't doubt more than one factor is at work in this misery for the subsistence level grain consumers of the planet. The facts are plain enough: staple grain prices have doubled or worse in about a years time. You and I are weathering our $3.20/gallon gasoline with some strain but what administration could long stand if something you needed as much as food and which cost up to half of the average voter's monthly salary doubled in a years time? Nothing will withstand that sort of political pressure. Voting itself would likely be put on hold. I remind Americans that they live in a country blessed with agricultural productivity but that alone does not explain costs which are much lower than other developed countries pay for basic commodities like should really be asking "where is the rest of the money coming from or when will the hidden strains snap and the full costs come due?" You think you live in a isolated and protected place? You think, for instance, it is insignificant to you that the graineries are near empty in the Philippines? Bear Stearns is not the only thing being bailed out by your tax dollar and your government's debt.

Of all the causes indicted by Krugman, the war in Iraq is the one about which we should most be outraged. And unlike dwindling oil stocks being sucked up by the Chinese, the war is something we can fix by merely voting intelligently this November. We should DO something before starvation and riots consume half the planet.

Is that overly pessimistic talk? Is the situation that dire? I don' t really know because I live a comfortable upper middle class life in a well watered suburb of Boston and haven't time to dig up all the news the MSM can't be bothered to tell me about boring places like Sudan, Bangladesh and such. But I do know it is not some fresh alarmist invention. I have heard these shortages predicted by scientists for years now,[IPCC 2001] not by politicians of any stripe. It may be that the difference between a liberal and a conservative is not that one is more apt to sense threats to their security than another but that one senses threats when the security of all is at risk while the other is only worried about personally getting hurt by a bad guy. In our own country, starvation will be among the very last symptoms even if only for the benefit of farm subsidies.

Even dumb 'ol Time magazine was calling this problem in August of 2007.

Unlike the treatment Bushdom gives NASA scientist James Hansen, in some countries scientists are not funded by the government as if global warming were a hoax... so they have been at work fashioning grains that can grow in a parched world . But that is not going to bear crops soon enough.

Global warming will hurt grain yield both by too little water and by too much.

Note the dates on these links...none of this grain problem was sudden or unforeseeable...our leaders just have their heads up their asses what with optional wars, elections, house-of-credit-cards economic crises in ill-regulated markets, people to be tortured, people to be spied upon, Justice Department attorneys to be fired for their political affiliation and oh so many other matters far more important than third world famine in a flattened world.

UPDATE: via Raw Story, this very timely [for my post, not for solving any problems] report from the Guardian in the UK.
UPDATE 2[24 April]: Wow, it didn't take long for that problem to come ashore!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Could it be ..

...that the real reason we have embargoed Cuba is to force some place to develop the scaled back, low tech infrastructures of health and food production that our own sorry asses will need when the oil runs out?

Nah! nobody in this country can see two weeks ahead let alone foresee the many crises Bush has accelerated.

This could not possibly be legal

A radio talk show host in New Jersey, whom the news cast will not identify, has been urging his listeners to physically harm the superintendant of a school system in my neighborhood. Literally, folks: the guy has said on air that people should beat a man up. Why? Because he approved textbooks that show a tolerance for gay marriage and bringing up kids in a diverse variety of "family" configurations. That is merely tolerance and in line with the laws of the Commonwealth as concerning marriage.

I would have thought that possessing a broadcasting license hinged on adherence to a minimal set of guidelines that must include NOT using the public airwaves to promote harm and criminal violence.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Re-electing war 2008: tragedy vs pathos

For those who have no patience for a longish essay, the bottom line on McCain:
Respect the man and be clear to all who may hear you that his policies DO NOT respect the average citizen anywhere near as much as claimed.

You know the drill. You got it beaten into your head in junior high English classes: A tragedy involves a person with some stature or nobility who nonetheless suffers a bad end because of a fateful flaw in their belief or character. People who simply screw up or are just in the wrong place at the wrong time or get a horrible disease are sad and unlucky cases. Pathos is present then but not tragedy. [And yes "tragic" is diluted in MSM usage to the point of synonymity with "pathetic"...but the editors* only let people like Bill O'Reilly or Rush or Coulter use "pathetic"]

And then there is crime. A person without nobility who comes to a bad end because they lack a sense of fairness and do not care what harms they do others in quest of their own satisfactions and objectives lives out a drama with no tragic status. Situations that fit that template may be falsely mapped to tragedies by those who share the criminal's numbness to victims. The more important difference, to me, between the fateful flaw of a noble character and the callus selfishness of criminal is the matter of intention. The tragic character does not plan the harms that befall but acts according to mistaken principles. The criminal knows the principles but does not abide by them nor care much that harm is likely to result from their violation. So is the Bush/Cheney cabal a tragic consortium as the Neoconmen would like us to believe? Or are they criminals as most progressives who blog on this side of the blogosphere might claim?

It is too late to save many of the victims of this administration and we have not the congressional leadership to bring Bush and Cheney to justice so maybe energies are better spent on preventing further degradation of our nation and the conditions of working people.

Have you been trying to figure out why the standard news outlets seem to ignore McCain's inconsistencies and obvious short temper? Some of the best minds in media analysis are pondering this problem. I think the reporters, the listeners and most emphatically, that candidate himself are making a humanly understandable but terrible mistake...

A dreadful choice looms. And a disturbingly large portion of our electorate profess to pollsters that they are not sure which decision to take. I append a concise list that provides of contradictions between positions Sen. McCain states and actual votes he has cast or advisors and supporters he has embraced. These appended matters are factual so far as I know and amply supported by references. But they are only the bad things about Sen McCain and you can be sure that over at, equally stacked decks of "information" are being provided to readers concerning the evils of Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton. Who sees any middle ground this way? Who is actually in the middle ground and at any stage of fruitful indecision? [I say fruitful because few who read here and fewer who read at are apt to budge from current voting is the middle that matters.]

I am not in middle but what, if I try, can I see or imagine that would tug a person from both directions, leaving them in that contested category?

What have I liked or do like about the man?

For one thing, as little as three years ago, I was very favorably disposed to the man because he said the right things and tried to put up legislation to go with his words in defending the integrity of elections from the uniformly damaging effects of the flood of corporate money spent to influence voting. At one time, I thought he really saw the problem as I saw it and weighed it as I weigh it. McCain has compromised himself on campaign reform blatantly and unapologetically. Too bad. He loses me there.

There is a second consideration not easily dismissed: Mustn't McCain the war hero have the right stuff to be McCain the war president?

Though the current war is unpopular and more widely regarded as a disaster than at any time in the past, I do not and never have confused the soldier with the war. We need from time to time, men and women willing to suffer and die for our safety. Viet Nam was not about to attack us and neither was Iraq. But you have to judge the soldier by their willingness to fight as much as by their ability to question the need of fighting or to be better informed then their leaders. John McCain has shown with his very life that he believes in what he fights for and does not shrink from the difficult or the risky parts that fall on the path he's taken. That alone raises him by a vast moral distance from the gaggle of draft dodging chickens that promoted and profited from the war against Iraqis. Being a liberal does not excuse one from seeing that part of McCain's resume as an unmovable foundation of his popularity in the estimation of many Americans. But that is perception. That is what a lot of people believe because his suffering as a POW is well known. I admire the combatants if only for their willingness to serve. The failure of the war campaign they lent themselves to is not their fault, far from it. And when and if they come home, they and the Senator from Arizona will have my support for all the medical treatment and rehabilitation to a state of fitness to live in peace and get a job among their neighbors. I just won't buy their indoctrination about the justifications of the fighting that might have taken their lives. I understand those justifications as humanly necessary for their personal sanity but hogwash all just the same. And I will not waste time trying to disabuse the willing soldier of their willingness...the day could come when Mexico tries to invade the US, you just never know. I sound sarcastic here but do not mistake me: my appreciation of their sacrifice is simple and sincere...just bring them home before more sacrifices occur.

As the POW, as the man who was willing to suffer when he felt his country called, I admire him just as I admire and am grateful for the thousands who have died in a vain attempt to fulfill Cheney's wish to possess or have access to Iraqi oilfields. But the role McCain plays now and the role he bids for are no longer that of combatant. He is no longer the soldier. He is the war. The confusion of the two works against the conservatives in a different way than it works against the liberals. The liberals should honor the soldier. The conservatives should disavow and dismantle the war. The rabidly partisan of either extreme will mistake your attempts to do both of those things as a failure to do the one thing they deem orthodox. But by god, a fair person should do both.

Having got to a point where I can see some daylight between the strength and valor that will face the sacrifices of war and the mentality that ordains warfare, where does that leave my regard for Senator McCain? Candidacy invites, begs, our judgment. I have argued myself some vantage from which to judge the man without judging his wars. Quite simply, he is a tragic character where, for instance Cheney is plainly a criminal. While many of his principles are latter day findings of his political career and have been corrupted by the "realities" of his political service, his patriotism seems uncomplicated and unwavering. What is that patriotism to us? What good is it? Is it too great a propensity to see enemies? That rap fits Cheney better than McCain. Is it too great a willingness to use armed forces? I think so. McCain will pursue the same failed course as Bush, even more aggressively if possible. He has said so plainly. But unlike the careless Bush, McCain is seen as a man who knows what the soldiers, sailors and airmen are in for and he cannot be accused so easily of cynicism or disregard. But so what? With the policy unchanged, the outcome is still going to be political isolation, military stalemate and a financial hemorrhage that ruins the nation That is what goes on now and our worst enemies cheer for its is THAT patriotic? T
hen we must all divorce our respect for the prisoner of war from our attitude toward the president of war.

Liberals who do not understand this very real aspect of McCain's character and perception will waste time and money offending folks in the middle who do feel like McCain is on their side...that would be a tragedy, a calamity flowing from firm principles and flawed perceptions: McCain misguiding from his deepest beliefs and his detractors throwing out the good with the bad because of their deepest beliefs. Liberals can have a field day with all the things McCain does NOT understand about domestic needs and the economy. They should hammer him on these issues. The war and foreign policy [which should not be so entwined as in bushdom] are presumed to be McCain's strong suit but a nuanced treatment of the topic takes his advantage away. Speak respectfully of the man, pity him if you wish, but speak up about the tragic course he is on. You are not a news person whose salary hinges on avoiding the knee jerk "how dare you insult a great war hero". But more important, you don't have to insult the war hero.

And as an aside, I find it interesting that Kerry DID serve and with a misguided zeal McCain would be proud to claim. Though Kerry finally resolved his conflicted attitudes toward the war to regret his actions, he willingly went where the bullets were flying. That made him an ideal candidate in my mind. But Republican millions were spent to smear his record and a few millions is all it takes to buy the American electorate's disapproval or disbelief.

UPDATE: I just came across Garrison Keillor's essay in Salon describing the fidelity-to-mission and suspension-of-criticism that kick in when some, maybe most, people put on a uniform. He describes it as human nature. Keillor may not be your ideal progressive but I pretty much agree with the man on this one topic. A liberal outlook, per my high regard for that view of life, ought to be one that can appreciate where people are coming from even when you'd never hold their view yourself. That capacity for understanding the other side is where you begin reaching common ground and changing other's opinions...and it ought to be a liberal's biggest advantage in political life.

*just a suggestion. It is not clear the named personalities have ever had the benefit of an editor.

That MO list:

> 10 things you should know about John McCain (but probably don't):
> 1. John McCain voted against establishing a national holiday in honor of
> Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now he says his position has "evolved," yet
> he's continued to oppose key civil rights laws.1
> 2. According to Bloomberg News, McCain is more hawkish than Bush on Iraq,
> Russia and China. Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan says McCain "will
> make Cheney look like Gandhi."2
> 3. His reputation is built on his opposition to torture, but McCain voted
> against a bill to ban waterboarding, and then applauded President Bush for
> vetoing that ban.3
> 4. McCain opposes a woman's right to choose. He said, "I do not support
> Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned."4
> 5. The Children's Defense Fund rated McCain as the worst senator in
> Congress for children. He voted against the children's health care bill
> last year, then defended Bush's veto of the bill.5
> 6. He's one of the richest people in a Senate filled with millionaires.
> The Associated Press reports he and his wife own at least eight homes! Yet
> McCain says the solution to the housing crisis is for people facing
> foreclosure to get a "second job" and skip their vacations.6
> 7. Many of McCain's fellow Republican senators say he's too reckless to be
> commander in chief. One Republican senator said: "The thought of his being
> president sends a cold chill down my spine. He's erratic. He's hotheaded.
> He loses his temper and he worries me."7
> 8. McCain talks a lot about taking on special interests, but his campaign
> manager and top advisers are actually lobbyists. The government watchdog
> group Public Citizen says McCain has 59 lobbyists raising money for his
> campaign, more than any of the other presidential candidates.8
> 9. McCain has sought closer ties to the extreme religious right in recent
> years. The pastor McCain calls his "spiritual guide," Rod Parsley,
> believes America's founding mission is to destroy Islam, which he calls a
> "false religion." McCain sought the political support of right-wing
> preacher John Hagee, who believes Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment
> for gay rights and called the Catholic Church "the Antichrist" and a
> "false cult."9
> 10. He positions himself as pro-environment, but he scored a 0--yes,
> zero--from the League of Conservation Voters last year.10
> John McCain is not who the Washington press corps make him out to be.
> Please help get the word out--forward this email to your personal network.
> And if you want us to keep you posted on MoveOn's work to get the truth
> out about John McCain, sign up here:
> Thank you for all you do.
> --Eli, Justin, Noah, Laura, and the Political Action Team
> Saturday, April 5th, 2008
> Sources:
> 1. "The Complicated History of John McCain and MLK Day," ABC News, April
> 3, 2008
> "McCain Facts,", April 4, 2008
> 2. "McCain More Hawkish Than Bush on Russia, China, Iraq," Bloomberg News,
> March 12, 2008
> s
> "Buchanan: John McCain 'Will Make Cheney Look Like Gandhi,'"
> ThinkProgress, February 6, 2008
> 3. "McCain Sides With Bush On Torture Again, Supports Veto Of
> Anti-Waterboarding Bill," ThinkProgress, February 20, 2008
> 4. "McCain says Roe v. Wade should be overturned," MSNBC, February 18,
> 2007
> 5. "2007 Children's Defense Fund Action Council(R) Nonpartisan
> Congressional Scorecard," February 2008
> "McCain: Bush right to veto kids health insurance expansion," CNN, October
> 3, 2007
> 6. "Beer Executive Could Be Next First Lady," Associated Press, April 3,
> 2008
> "McCain Says Bank Bailout Should End `Systemic Risk,'" Bloomberg News,
> March 25, 2008
> ome
> 7. "Will McCain's Temper Be a Liability?," Associated Press, February 16,
> 2008
> "Famed McCain temper is tamed," Boston Globe, January 27, 2008
> ed/
> 8. "Black Claims McCain's Campaign Is Above Lobbyist Influence: 'I Don't
> Know What The Criticism Is,'" ThinkProgress, April 2, 2008
> "McCain's Lobbyist Friends Rally 'Round Their Man," ABC News, January 29,
> 2008
> 9. "McCain's Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam," Mother Jones Magazine, March
> 12, 2008
> piritual-guide.html
> "Will McCain Specifically 'Repudiate' Hagee's Anti-Gay Comments?,"
> ThinkProgress, March 12, 2008
> "McCain 'Very Honored' By Support Of Pastor Preaching 'End-Time
> Confrontation With Iran,'" ThinkProgress, February 28, 2008
> 10. "John McCain Gets a Zero Rating for His Environmental Record," Sierra
> Club, February 28, 2008

Thursday, April 03, 2008

You want the truth? You can't afford the truth

But Ted Turner has the dough to get heard when he tells it like it is.
Lots of my blogging buddies have said the things that Turner gets quoted in newspapers for saying.  I have no problem with that if it causes people to listen.   I commend the man for his clearheadedness and his independence.  Neither of those traits, by the way, cost much unless you are in need of work.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Redefining the defining moment.

Lots of comments from just about anyone but McCain or the neocons in the last week have made strong [and well deserved] criticism of the stupid Bush pronouncement that the killing that flared up in Basra and elsewhere was somehow good...was a proof that Iraq in general and Maliki in particular had turned a corner toward self rule.  That is such bald and blatant Bullshit.  Iraq is so unstable and rife with aggrieved hotheads that any two-bit gang with a cache of small arms can ignite a spate of killings in a matter of hours.  But read  this view of the matter by a writer in Asia Times.  Who has ever demonstrated the power to put a prompt and largely effective stop to any battle or killing spree in Iraq? 

The Iranians. 

The only question left to be answered as far as that commentary was concerned was why Teheran was not more boastful in the media about its power-broker status.  One possibility mentioned was:

But the most important Iranian calculation would be not to provoke the Americans unnecessarily by rubbing in the true import of what happened.
Conceivably, Tehran would have decided with its accumulated centuries-old Persian wisdom that certain things in life are always best left unspoken, especially stunning successes. Besides, it is far more productive to leave Washington to contemplate over happenings and draw the unavoidable conclusion that if it musters the courage to make that existential choice, Iran can be an immensely valuable factor of stability for Iraq.

So Bush has a completely wrong and self serving take on this "defining moment" of America's misadventures in messypotamia.  Well, we already knew the dictionary was foreign territory to Bush so what is one more botched definition?