Tuesday, September 30, 2008

L'Shanah Tovah

Happy New Year. Sorry I was asleep at the switch yesterday!

Quick Hitters

Last political comments for awhile. I am forcing myself to go think about other topics. I used to be a fascinating person.

#1. I went to a discussion at the library about the book The True Patriot, which I reviewed a few months ago. The discussion was led by St. Anselm's professors Dale Kuehne and Meg Cronin, both much more liberal than I but not unreasonable people or unwilling to listen. Also in attendance were the very liberal, but also reasonable Tess Marts, who I knew years ago; a friend from church who is quite conservative; a fairly moderate Republican whose name I didn't commit to memory; and one of the librarians (with a "Banned Books" pin and so presumably liberal). Good discussion, actually. I spoke too much, and there were a very few testy exchanges, but mostly it was the ideas, not the people, which were provocative. The way life should be, perhaps.

#2. Lying. The people who do voice-stress analysis believe they can tell when people are lying. I am suspicious. They include a Bill Clinton clip that shows him lying at exactly where the technology said he was, which looks impressive, but you wonder whether that was chosen for PR purposes. The clips of Obama and Palin show them scoring as "lying" in bizarre places as well as a few where the content might be dubious. I'm not convinced, but perhaps it is a technology in its infancy.

I'll tell you something about lying from having to deal with it so much all day (not just my patients, but their agencies and families as well). When someone refuses to take any responsibility, blaming everything on someone else, they are usually lying. If they thought they were only 10 or 20% at fault they would pony up, lay out the facts, and trust that most observers would get it right. If they are 50-70% at fault they would admit to some responsibility and try to spin the impression on the rest. Only when people are well over 70% at fault do they have to take a reverse strategy and avoid the facts and try to construct a simple narrative of blame that they hope catches on with people. When people make categorical statements of blame, it's like Honest John's Used Cars.

A word of caution. Some politicians have perfected statements of appearing to take responsibility in their introductory comments but quickly moving on to zero blame for them.

#3. Tess, in the discussion mentioned in #1, above, was horrified by my contention that America does better than all other nations on racial issues. I would say that more clearly by grading America at a D+, which is unfortunately the highest grade in the class. We simply play at a much higher level than most nations. Most nations have fairly homogenous populations and so look more placid. But a very little scratching beneath the surface reveals how poorly they do. Scandinavia, which has a reputation for tolerance, is not doing so well with their Muslim and even Eastern European immigrants. For other European countries, you could reiterate the above, and also google their name with the word "gypsies" and get an eyeful. The mixed racial Latin American countries show strong prejudice the darker you are, and are quite horrible to their rural indigenous tribes. Most countries cannot achieve harmony among groups that are ethnically and religiously similar, for Pete's sake. America has large African American and Hispanic minorities, medium-sized Asian and Oceanic minorities, and a host of indigenous peoples as well as mixed populations and Other. We are simply playing at a much higher level than most countries, attempting harmony on a scale unknown in history.

Canada does pretty well, and likely grades out about where we do. Some better, some worse. Not being able to comfortably integrate populations descended from adjoining European countries has to count against them, though. India has a very different type of ethnic mix but is also quite diverse. Most countries are simply not even attempting ethnic cooperation on anything like our scale, and not doing that great even with lesser problems.

Monday, September 29, 2008

And Then It Hit Me

This Modern World, by Tom Tomorrow

Is the Liberal Equivalent of Chick Tracts

Sunday, September 28, 2008


For those interested in seeing Sarah Palin interviewed by someone who is asking her questions rather than trying to trap her (not that there's anything wrong with that), we have her in Charlie Rose's Green Room.

I have gone back and looked at the Couric video. I see what the fuss was about, because she was clearly flustered and lost - not very inspiring. On the other hand, what is happening in the interview is that she is being asked to support her claim of a particular good thing that McCain is known for. She can't come up with one, and she does not BS her way out of it as a good politician should. When you look at it, she is being asked about the specifics of McCain's legislative record. I'm not sure that should be the first priority of a governor-turned-VP nominee in getting up to speed.

For comparison #1, look at the questions Couric asked Obama. All are easier to answer. There's nothing of the nature of "What were the anti-corruption measures sponsored by Joe Biden that caused you to choose him for your VP?"

For comparison #2, Hillary Clinton did not finally face the media on a consistent, non-managed basis until this last year, 16 years after she has come into the national spotlight. When she had been interviewed in the past by tenacious people - the Tim Russert interview, her Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, and all her "I'm sorry I don't recall" deposition - she was repeatedly a disaster. She's not anymore, but she was sheltered from hard questioning for decades.

I have got to stop writing about politics. I'm making myself crazy.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Senator Dodd Back In The Saddle

Jim Lindgren at Volokh has read the bailout bill provisions, and notices that Chris Dodd is inserting a loophole, potentially redirecting tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars away from the taxpayers. On this 700 billion, whatever can be sold after it is stabilised the taxpayers are supposed to get back. But Dodd apparently can't let a pile of money float near him without wanting to change its course.

I weep for my country. This is Boss Tweed come back to life. They never quit. They never sleep. They are always campaigning and always scheming to reward those who vote for them.

Group Blog

I always wanted a group blog (sniffle, sniffle) and now my oldest son has posted several times on the debates (moist eyes). Thanks Jon-o.

Campaign Staff, VPs, and Olbermann vs. Damon

McCain wins on campaign staff interviews, based on interviews with Greta Van Susteren. McCain's chatted about the travel and how hectic things are, with a few mentions of how McCain was working for taxpayers. Obama's stuck with press release bullet points by continually answering friendly personal questions with "message" answers. Good idea in theory, but is actually quite annoying to watch.

Obama wins on VP interviews, since Palin was nowhere. They need to let that girl free. But on the topic of Biden, has he had a facelift or something? He looked scary tonight.

Keith Olbermann vs. Johnny Damon- who makes me angrier just looking at him? It's a toss-up.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Wrapping Up

So here's my breakdown

McCain did what he had to do: didn't get mad, focused on the questions asked, showed he not only understands foreign policy but cares about the economy as well, and didn't make his base cringe too much.

Obama did what he had to do: didn't stumble like he often does when he doesn't have a teleprompter, mentioned specifics (even if I thought his spin was inaccurate or dishonest), and showed he was an intelligent guy who had opinions on foreign policy.

So who wins? Well, I think that since Obama didn't blow it, the debate will be awarded to him. Whether that's fair or not is irrelevant. If someone didn't watch the debate, they'll hear that Obama won hands down. Does that help Obama long-term? Probably not, unless McCain flubs something soon and things snowball out of hand. Democrats are going to vote for Obama, Republicans will vote McCain, Undecideds are obviously not paying attention.


Whoa, cool! I didn't expect Jonathan to liveblog. Thanks. We were watching over at Gagnon's but abandoned ship after 45 minutes.

I'm not sure who won the debate, but I doubt it was the American people. McCain was the first to actually answer a question, on his third try. I gave Obama credit for answering his fifth question, but it was marginal. Lehrer was good as pressing them for specifics, but he had asked such open-ended questions to begin with that he was practically begging them to recite memorized speeches.

Both guys got their main talking points in, which is irritating to whatever percentage of people have been following them for the last year. They were aiming at those who haven't been attending, I suppose, and wanted to make sure they got them in. Tedious. They recited their lessons.

I thought Obama showed the same problem I saw in Giuliani in debate a year ago: he seems unable to bear to listen to someone saying things he disagrees with. Not a good sign.

I wanted wisecracks. I don't think that is just for entertainment and comic relief, but because things can sometimes be said more efficiently that way. Whenever Obama tried to tie McCain to the last 8 years I wanted John to say something like "I imagine George Bush will be fascinated by your theory that I was one of his greatest supporters. Be sure and mention it next time you see him." Obama has a face that could do comedy, and as long as he didn't overdo it by rolling his eyes or something, could have gotten a lot of mileage from an occasional sideways glance and barely raised eyebrow. I see now how Reagan got such mileage out of "Where's the beef" and "There you go again." Those are hardly guffaw lines, but pent-up audience tension from listening to serious people blathering makes humor easier. They know what points are coming - couldn't someone work that in?

10:15 pm Live Blog

Some updates:

1. Obama is still annoying me, but is not sounding like the "empty suit" that some people claim he is. He's a smart guy, and that is definitely coming out in this debate.
2. McCain would clean Obama's clock on foreign policy execution.
3. Again, stop interrupting!
4. The Red Sox are getting their clock cleaned tonight. And I still hate Johnny Damon.
5. Jim Lehrer is doing well on reminding them when they avoid questions. I like to see that.
6. McCain brought up Obama's seal. Classic.

9:30 Live Blog from Ole Miss

Actually, I'm on the couch. But I am watching the debate on TV. So I'm there in the same sense that Biden was forced down in Afghanistan by Al Qaeda.

A couple of thoughts:
1. Obama has got to watch how he talks to McCain. He waves his hand towards him and calls him "John" when McCain's calling him "Senator Obama." It sounds dismissive.
2. Obama's doing a good job of doing bullet lists of what he would fix. That's good because it makes it sounds like he has a plan for everything.
3. McCain hasn't gotten mad yet, which is good for him. If Obama goads him into saying something stupid, he loses the debate.
4. Interrupting is really bad- it makes you look like you don't respect your opponent.
5. McCain is doing a fairly good job of getting into particulars. I was worried that he would stay too high-level and not sound like he knew what was going on.


The Palin-Couric post discussion is heating up, for those who like such things.

Simple Question

The Democrats have a majority in both houses. They know President Bush will not veto their current plan. Why do they need Republican votes at all? What is all this hoopla about?

Okay, that's two questions, but darn similar.

First Amendment Rights

David Bernstein at Volokh Conspiracy has asked that we circulate this attempt by the Obama campaign to violate the First Amendment rights of others. There's a video, too. (Volokh is a libertarian, not conservative legal site, BTW, has advocates for both McCain and Obama writing for it).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Good News, Bad News

Going into the playoffs, it is extremely encouraging to see how the Red Sox have pitched the second half of the season, especially the main relievers. Wow. Just wow.

OTOH, it is is uncomfortable to note how they have pitched against the Angels this season. Ugh. Just ugh.

We report, you decide.

Troy Brown Retires

You can get today's news here. Twenty months ago, I wrote the following about Mr. Troy Brown.
Troy Brown's numbers will not get him into Canton, OH. He is the leading receiver in Patriot history, but well down the league all-time list. He had a few years of stardom, but not a career full.

But in the Patriot Hall of Fame, or perhaps the New England Sports Hall of Fame, there should be a separate, small room, like a side chapel off a great cathedral, where it is quiet and the lighting subdued. There, fathers will solemnly bring their sons - and perhaps daughters - and softly say "Troy Brown was one of the great players of the game. Whatever sport you play, if you could play with the same attitude as Troy Brown, I would be very proud." It will seem puzzling to those who come after, I expect. They will see that Brown was versatile, smart, and consistent, but not get the full impact.

It's true, though.

Discussion Available

For those who like discussions of Christian morality that have a concrete example as their starting point, frequent commenter terri has one over at Wheat Among Tares. This one is about how public we should make someone's deception.
Eventually, it was discovered that not only had this woman's child not passed away, but she didn't have one....and probably had never had breast cancer.

It was all a false identity......shocking but true.

Catholic Vote

For an evangelical, I have always leaned quite Roman Catholic in my theology, and have toyed with converting more than once. Though this video is not aimed at all at evangelising anyone who is not already Catholic, it captures for me what I think are the strengths of that church. Some (issues)...are more important than others.

From Catholicvote.org

Quoting Myself

I'm not worried what Democrats do when they slip and aren't thinking; I'm worried what they'll do when they are thinking.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I have read reports that Sarah Palin did not do well in her interview with Katie Couric tonight. I haven't seen it, and don't plan to, but there were apparently several long pauses. Pauses seem worse on TV and radio than they do in real life, and politicians learn to cover glibly, learning that even a bad, vacuous answer looks less bad than nothing at all. Looking at the transcript, I am more struck with how political she sounds. That is probably what she is being coached to do - to foul off bad pitches as I said in my baseball analogy - but I confess some disappointment. The conservative fantasy is that she will speak her mind, even if that offends or even is clumsy at times.

But let's assume that it's true, and more than true - that Governor Palin did not merely appear flustered, but actually was flustered. Would that be a disqualifier for the vice-presidency?

It might, but that's a touch hasty. Communication of goals and plans is part of an administration's job. It was not merely because he was an affable and engaging speaker that Reagan called the Great Communicator. There were ideas he wanted to get across, and he studied that art and became good at it. Not having that gift would be a mark against Palin. It's not everything about the job, but it's part of the job. I am looking for one of two things: Preferably, that the ideas get across, even if she doesn't sound inspiring. This can only happen if she does actually understand the subject matter fully herself. Alternatively - and this is more likely, seeing that she is being trained for Washington-speak - that she can be facile, even glib, in any situation. While that choice would be a disappointment to me, I recognise that only in the movies do those speak-their-mind Daniel Boone in Congress types win over many people. Americans think they want that from their politicians, but clearly, we don't.

So, she can show either, but she must show one or the other, not just for appearances sake, but because it is a mark of her ability to learn quickly. A lot of comment has been made about Palin's need to learn quickly for this election, but presidents need to learn quickly throughout their terms, not just for elections. New situations and new information arise at any time, and there are no do-overs.

If, by the way, Palin actually did interview well and the criticisms are only from those who were already convinced she is stupid, my point still holds. Communication is important, but learning and adapting are more important.

VDH Article

Victor Davis Hanson has an excellent essay about Words Versus Deeds. Money quote (emphasis mine):
In this regard, I think Palin can speak, and reason, and navigate with bureaucrats and lawyers as well as can Obama; but he surely cannot understand hunters, and mechanics and carpenters like she can. And a Putin or a Chavez or a Wall-Street speculator that runs a leverage brokerage house is more a hunter than a professor or community organizer. Harvard Law School is not as valuable a touchstone to human nature as raising five children in Alaska while going toe-to-toe with pretty tough, hard-nose Alaskan males.

Opinion Bubbles

I visited a site today which had views quite different than mine. The original post was not completely nutso. It was wrong, but not insane. The comments, however, escalated rapidly. The word "lie" got tossed around rather loosely, and possible evil interpretations of McCain's actions quickly acquired acceptance through repetition, though no additional evidence was supplied.

That's easy enough for me to see as an outsider who disagrees. By about the tenth comment I was fuming at the irrationality, the supposition, the unexamined assumptions, and the extrapolation.

Do we wonder how investment bankers can come to believe that shaky investments are actually quite valuable? The fools, we think. Can't they even consider the possibility that it's a house of cards? Taken in the context of opinion bubbles, it's a little easier to understand. I expose myself to alternative opinions - all conservatives do, whether they like it or not - but mostly I gravitate to sites where people largely agree with me, where they tell me what an insightful guy and fine fellow I am. There are sites where the comments section shows similar inflation in the opinion bubble of conservatives to the gaseous excess I read from liberals today. In such an environment even the originally sensible people, who don't subscribe to the extreme formulations, have an enhanced sense of the rightness of their opinions.

The rule is simple, but not easy: Start with what you know. I tried to do that in the back-and-forth between the Obama and McCain campaigns about going back to Washington and postponing the debate. McCain says we need to go back to Washington to work on this. Obama says he and McCain agreed to put out a joint statement, then McCain added this in. If you think Obama generally lies you will find McCain's version plausible. If you think McCain generally lies you will believe Obama. McCain says it's crucial work that can't be done while distracted by campaigning. Obama says a president often has to do more than one thing at a time. Harry Reid says McCain's action is a stunt. But you can call anything a stunt. If you are a partisan Democrat you will tend to agree that McCain's action is just a stunt, that bastard. If you are a partisan Republican, you will see this as evidence of Obama's self-centeredness and irresponsibility. It should be interesting to listen to a Joe Lieberman, and essential Democrat campaigning for McCain. Should be. But partisans will find a way to disregard his statements whichever way they come out.

So we start with what we know. McCain is going to Washington, which he says will help achieve a solution. Obama says that's not necessary and will continue campaigning. If people need him for thoughts and negotiations, they should call; he is in touch with Pelosi, Reid, and Paulsen every day - which Republicans will quickly intensify into Obama said call me if you need me.

Is it indeed better for both candidates to be in Washington, or is phone contact just as good? Is "on the scene" a hindering photo-op, or more likely to produce results? Not knowing how Washington negotiations go, few of us can opine with assurance. But stripping it down as far as I can and then weighing it: McCain is possibly still campaigning by doing this; Obama is definitely still campaigning.

Rinse. Repeat. My belief is that this exercise produces a McCain advantage on issue after issue.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Stephanie Benninghof and The Truth

When I was at William and Mary there was a running set of Grendel cast parties, which continued long after the play "Grendel" had sunk beneath the whale-road. We played charades until the small hours. You have never seen charades until you see it played by drunken theater majors.

Our team had assigned Oxford English Dictionary to the other side to act out. Predictably, the actor went for what should have been the easiest syllable first. Book. Three words. Third word. Four syllables. First syllable. Prick. Penis... It went downhill rapidly after that, with people screaming synonyms for male genitalia while the actor shook his head with increasing anger and frustration. As the obscene slang became more outrageous and unlikely - I recall that "whistler" was one of the guesses (whistler? Huh.) - people were collapsing in hilarity.

Throughout it all, sweet, clever, quiet Stephanie Benninghof had guessed "Dick...dictionary?...Oxford English Dictionary?" and was trying to break in with her guess while the overdramatic drunks fell over the sofa racking (or "wracking" seeing that it was a Grendel Party) their brains for more penis-slang. We, the other team, heard her and sat quiet, hushed, hoping that her own team would not notice she had gotten the right answer. This went on for three minutes, the allotted time each team had.

"The Oxford English Dictionary?"
"WIENER! Not Wienie, WIENER!!! WIENER!!!
"TESTICLES! PREPUCE!!! (Bio major, there) BALLS!!!"
"The Oxford English Dictionary?"

I thought of that today as I read things around the internet that don't seem to make it to the national conversation except on the right side of the blogosphere. Gateway Pundit has a list of 17 times Bush tried to avert the fannie mae crisis and was stopped by the Democratic Congress. (His whole site is filled with stuff you didn't know.) Powerline has simple summaries of the under-reported Obama scandals entitled Deep Secrets (there are four in the series so far). Researched, linked, damning information. But of course it was more important to discuss whether Bristol Palin got laid on Prom Night.

The analogy works. The Mediaheads are the drunken drama queens shouting clever, titillating, but irrelevant information. The right blogosphere is Stephanie, quietly repeating the correct answer while no one listens.

The Unseen Crisis

The Tarrance Group's Battleground poll, which was one of the most accurate in the 2004 presidential election, is now the George Washington University Battleground poll. Run by Republican Ed Goeas and Democrat Celinda Lake, it has a reputation for objectivity.

They run internal polls and questionnaires as well, to help them understand the final numbers better. One month ago their questionnaire included a ranking of what issues people considered most important. (scroll down the pdf to page 5). 1% of Americans thought the mortgage crisis was the most important issue, and another 2% thought it was the second-most important issue.

There were similar numbers in August 2001 for who thought terrorism was the most important issue. We think we know the world, and build narratives to explain it to ourselves. I read a transcript of a Hillary Clinton interview today, a reporter trying to nail her on her husband's contribution to the financial crisis. She reverted immediately to stock answers, claiming that it is the Republican world-view that hates all regulation that led to this. I wondered if this is just cynical manipulation of media, or is she no better off than the rest of us, retreating in fear to a comforting narrative?

Anyway, it's straight out of The Black Swan. A turkey collects data for a thousand days showing that humans want turkeys to be healthy, protected, and well-fed. The turkey becomes increasingly convinced of humanity's good will toward turkeys, and that confidence is in fact at a maximum the day before the turkey's head is cut off.

Monday, September 22, 2008

AVI Looks At The Financial Crisis

I have tried to read some offbeat commentary, all laying the blame for the crisis at different feet, and was trying to create a simple synthesis for my readers of What Happened. It was developing into a quite remarkable theory of everything, but halfway through I stepped back. "This is not your strength, Pooh" said one side of my brain. "You're right Piglet. It isn't." said the other. "Asking the very smart people like Owl and Rabbit, and even Christopher Robin, has never solved a financial crisis."

The Assistant Village Idiot looks for the obvious, as that is likely being overlooked.

1. We are now talking about trillions of dollars very offhandedly. None of us had a good grasp of what a million somethings is. Small government people have complained for decades that we don't really grasp what a billion is, and thus have allowed spending to run amok. We think of a billion as sort of a fat million, so that when politicians switch from talking about $90M to $1.2B, we sort of think it might be a little less. I have read a few references to trillions of dollars over the last year or two - all in connection with the US government - but we now have an explosion of them. You can read about $5-6 trillion or $25.2 trillion all over the place in the last week. We haven't the faintest idea what we are talking about. We think of a trillion as a fat billion, and a billion is just a fat million, so these new numbers just seem like really really fat millions. Which we couldn't conceptualize anyway, being wired to understand no more than a hundred or so somethings. After that, we only understand numbers comparatively, able to say "that pile is bigger."

2. If George Bush were trying to reward his Wall Street pals, he would have done something else. Newt Gingrich has a four-point plan that would make them squirm with glee. It would also solve things, I'll bet. Because it doesn't punish rich people, it is politically impossible. Instead, Bush has the idea that the government can't possibly do any worse than these buffleheads, and so should take over. I have no opinion as to whether the government will do worse. I am sure it can do worse.

3. As soon as a plan was developing, Democrats had other things they wanted to tack onto it. Since you're spending 700 billion anyway, they said why not package it in ways that make us look good and you look bad? The idea of the bailout, right or wrong, is to prevent a depression - like, a real one, not the crap you keep whining about - and keep unemployment from going over 10%. It's more for the little guy already, so that there are jobs and places to put your retirement money. No matter. The Democrats are painting it as money going to rich people, and they want to divert it to attractive but useless alternatives.

4. McCain's solution to this is that he's going to appoint a guy to oversee it. He has made some suggestions, including an honest (but not especially competent) Democrat. Obama's solution is also to appoint a guy to oversee things. He won't say who, but his main economic advisors are people who got us into this mess. Yet it will be a Smart Guy, you can count on that. On this score, George Bush wins the adulthood award, even if he's dead wrong. McCain wins a college sophomore tag, and Obama's thinking parallels a middle-school work group planning a diorama and skit.

5. No one has said a word about affirmative action. With twenty different theories about whose fault this is, all theories point to white guys, with a few yuppie black and hispanic guys thrown in. Yet no one is clamoring for a woman to be one of the ones to figure this out. Why not? Isn't it a woman's turn to preside over disaster? Isn't it your turn, ladies? I think everyone looks bad here. Even liberals reveal that in a crisis they trust a serious-looking male, preferably with silver or gray hair. I hear no women's groups complaining at the moment. They reveal their true selves in a crisis. And yet, and yet, this is the time when their argument is strongest. White males occupy almost all the possible seats of blame. What better to time to use the argument "Give me a turn, Jimmy! You've tried six times and haven't hit a thing!"

5A. I don't see Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton insisting that we have Black Solutions to this. They are lying in wait for the truly delightful morsels that will drop from this table. Screw those urban black males that don't have jobs. We'll lie to them later. Right now it's dinner time.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another Corner Heard From

The always-irritable but often correct Spengler at the Asia Times comments on the financial crisis.
An enormous hoax has been perpetrated on global financial markets during the past 10 years. An American economy based on opening containers from China and selling the contents at Wal-Mart, or trading houses back and forth, provides scant profitability. Where the underlying profitability of the American economy was poor, financial engineering managed to transform thin profits into apparently fat ones through the magic of leverage.


I had a recent post on Bush's Great Mistake, which suggested that Bush's noble and hopeful trusting of Putin and inviting him to lead Russia into the family of half-sane nations turned out to be his greatest error.

Ralph Peters, whose thinking I admire, has interesting commentary on that score: Why Putin Should Scare Us.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wedding II

An idyllic setting for Bethany's wedding in Bolton, MA, as you can see. The orchard is part of a winery, so the wedding was observed by families arriving for the PYO harvest. Her brother Tim officiated and struck the right balance between formality and informality. A younger brother is in a difficult position when giving the sermon of advice to the couple, but he found an excellent escape by focusing on "what I hope to learn from watching you two."

The bride was lovely and witty, leading the Twinkie Toss at the reception. I also got to meet Best Woman Alissa, who follows this blog.

Trying To Mirror

It's always easy to see the bad reasons why other people come up with their opinions - not so easy to see the bad reasons from your own side. I mean those other people who came to similar opinions as yours for bad reasons. I don't mean you. People here have nothing but good reasons.

Following Bethany's hypothesis that people who feel that doom is about to descend vote Democrat, while those who believe things will pretty much work out vote Republican, it's easy for me to listen to the Obama people and shake my head. No one seems to make much of a positive case why we should elect him, just the negative case that voting for McCain and the Republicans would be bad. Many of the McCain voters reciprocate, spending their time on how bad Obama is.

I don't object to that. Voting for negative rather than positive reasons has a long, respectable history in America, and may even work better than getting excited about a candidate who is, in the end, a politician for a living. I can well understand someone making the negative case that they are voting for X because they can't stand Y. As a McCain voter, I can understand the anti-McCain argument. Heck, I could make that argument myself. And my anti-McCain argument would have the advantage of not including the stuff that's untrue or easily refutable.

I just don't get any positive Obama argument. What's he going to do except not be the other guy? The positive sounding items, like "hope" and "change," are just disguised versions of dissing his opposition. So. Everyone who feels that the world just isn't right, somehow has a possible attraction to Obama. The Arts & Humanities Hive knows the world isn't right because they're not in charge. The African-American voter knows that America is still not right on race; the government worker knows that there's never enough money going into their part of the government anyway. Yes We Can. Can what? Kick Them Out And...And...

Back when I listened to Rush, he said similar things about the Democratic presedentiual candidates in 92, 96, and 00. Probably 04, too. List three things you think Gore is going to do. And, right on cue, progressives would call in and say how the Democrat at least wasn't going to do all the dumb stuff Republicans would. It could hardly be worse, they would claim.

As I said at the outset, it's pretty easy for me to see how feeling-based rather than reason-based that is. But since that has been the basic presidential campaign for the Democrats since...since Reagan?...even Nixon?... I have to conclude that this is the core motivator, or one of the core motivators. They are animated by stopping conservatives...stopping capitalists. Even health care, which looks at first like a positive goal, turns out to mostly be an anti-pharma, anti-insurance company, anti-you-selfish-bastards argument.

My suspicion is that it barely goes deeper than that, even for bright word people who wax prolix. The fundamental sense that the world is going wrong somehow, and we must do something else. I wonder how closely tied that is to just not liking reality. Life is difficult. Poverty and conflict are the natural condition of humankind.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sununu Surprise

When you live in a small state like NH, it's a pleasant surprise when any of the locals gets a positive mention nationally. According to the Hartford Courant, John Sununu was one of the few voices pressing for reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - years ago. The others were Richard Shelby, Elizabeth Dole, and Chuck Hagel. Good on them, then. It may be because Sununu is one of the few Senators who can do basic arithmetic.

The major opponents of reform? Chris Dodd and Barney Frank.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Schoolhouse Rock

Jeanne Shaheen’s campaign ad this morning accused John Sununu of voting with George Bush 90% of the time. There is some vague sense in which that’s understandable, as a president’s general position on matters is pretty well known to the Senators. But “general position” isn’t the same thing as “voted for,” especially when it comes to byzantine legislation. Mostly, I’d like Shaheen to rewatch How A Bill Becomes Law. Before she becomes a senator. Though that sort of ignorance would make her a good companion for Senator Claire McCaskill.

Update: I got an email telling me I had heard wrong, that the ad only said "followed" George Bush. I think that's a different ad, but I'll listen carefully over the next week (rather than just shutting the radio off, as I do even for the ads of the people I support at this point). If I'm wrong I'll pull the post.

The Playground and The Library

When you take your kid to the playground, you expect it to be reasonably, but not entirely safe. Kids running around climbing things and chasing things is inherently risky, but we expect that there shouldn't be collapsing equipment, or boards with rusty nails sticking up. Parents titrate their supervision according to the age and general tendencies of their child. We hope – no, we expect – that at a certain age we can send our child barely supervised, then unsupervised.

There are lots of things that can go wrong at the playground. Kids break arms, they come in contact with other children who may not be good for them to be with. If your town has a pool and swimming lessons, the person teaching it may be terrible with children, or have some cockamamie idea about how swimming should be taught that just freaks your kid out. The town may develop rules for use of the playground that you don’t like, such as no pets, or not have rules you would like, such as no hitting.

Parents’ expectation for the playground have changed only a little over the years. In my childhood we were sent unsupervised at younger ages, and there were fewer people monitoring the physical environment; there is some difference in equipment and there are lots more signs because there have been lots more lawsuits. Beyond that, there’s not much change. Kids play. There were unreasonable parents who expected that their child should never get a scrape or hear a bad word while they were at the playground, just as there are now. We assume there are more of those parents now than then, but that's just an impression.

Parents expect something similar from the library. I walked to the library by myself most Saturdays starting at about age 8, and my mother was far more worried what I would be exposed to in the neighborhoods I walked through than what I would be exposed to at the library.

Before I explore how reasonable this expectation is, I have a tangent. Of the NYTimes, (via neoneocon) links to the research of Jonathan Haidt. One of his contentions is that conservatives have a more complicated set of measurements for morality, five scales instead of two. Haidt clearly thinks those 3 additional are extra and unnecessary, but the observation is at least some sort of progress. He identifies one of those dimensions as community rather than individual rights. I think he is wrong in that, perhaps even backwards in his estimation. One could certainly make the case that it is progressives who are currently pressing for group over individual values; it follows that this scale of morality is something they take into account as well. But I also think I see what Haidt is driving at with this categorization, and we meet that “community values” question here. It is not really a community rights versus individual rights question, though it has some similarities.

Conservatives want to live in a place where they can increase their children’s independence at what seems to them a normal pace. I think everyone realises, as folks did back in my day, that your 12-year-old might sneak over to the adult section of the library to look at sex books. For some children this would be a big joke, for some a serious excursion, and for most it would be both. This strikes most people as a non-problem. Not all people. I am sure there were parents who insisted to the librarians in the 1960’s that they should have kept a better eye on little Debbie when she went over into the 600 section.

A number of things have happened to change that dynamic. Because it's easier to measure damage to the body than damage to the mind in a lawsuit, libraries have to spend more time monitoring the physical environment. Librarians have become more liberal. People move around more, and a consensus of values is harder to achieve in any area. We are all more sensitive to the individual child who might be insulted or isolated by being outside of values taken for granted by others. (We are not so sensitive to whether we are harming children in the other direction, by exposing them to adult political propaganda, but that's the trade.)

Yet the idea remains. I want to go into the library and let my child pick out her own books. Not because it is a break for me, not because it is intrusive and embarrassing for me to scrutinize everything she touches (though both those things are also true), but because it is part of her development and independence. There are certainly parents who have unreasonable expectations on this point, and it is hard to know where to draw lines. But it is an entirely reasonable position for parents to say I don’t expect everything to be just my way. It’s a big world and my child might pick up a book that is scary. My child might pick up a book that deals with situations that I think are inappropriate. I can deal with that. What I do not expect to deal with are books of propaganda that are wildly inappropriate. That is what I pay for when I pay the town to have a library.

You can disagree with that position. You can understand it but think it impractical and outmoded. You can point out a dozen places where that value comes in conflict with other values. There are several things you really can’t do, however.

You can’t walk away as if the subject is closed, because there are return arguments that you have not heard. The bibliotherapy idea that we are rescuing some child from the pain of isolation by carrying Daddy’s Friend and Heather Has Two Mommies has no evidence to support it. (Those are not chosen randomly just because they are at the extreme of controversiality. Those were two It’s an adult fantasy that we are going to give children a transparent piece of propaganda in the form of a book about a child their own age and it will somehow make the world right for them. When books rescue, it is in an entirely different way. Keep that in mind about any challenged book. The parent says “I think this is harmful.” It's not just the ALA that says “no, we can imagine a way in which it might be helpful, even though we have no evidence.” Thinking about this post, I realised that I do it too. I changed my mind somewhat thinking about this post

Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn is sometimes challenged because it includes the word nigger. I have always thought parents objecting to that book is ridiculous. It's literature, for crying out loud, it's Mark Twain. Yes, it includes the word nigger but that's part of the cultural context, and much of the point of the book is that Jim, who is supposed to be the ignorant slave, is the wisest one present.

Maybe so, but that's a rather complicated idea for a kid. An average fifteen-year-old could follow that, but could a ten-year-old? What guarantee do we have that the reading level is going to match the abstract-reasoning level? And can't all of us imagine some smartass kid (probably male) starting to use the word nigger, hiding behind the rationale that it's used in an assigned book? No, that's not reasonable, but children aren't reasonable. That's why they have adults around, theoretically.

Look, I'd still put Huck on the shelf, but I now realize I haven't got solid proof it's a good idea. The unreasonable parents have a better case than I thought - not because their ideas make any more sense, but because the arguments against them are weaker than I thought. People who are readers act on intuition quite a bit in this area. They have to, because how are you going to measure whether a book is beneficial or damaging? In the absence of definite knowledge, who gets to make the call?

Oh yeah, the second thing you can't do in the face of this argument? You can't call these parents evil or stupid, or even imply it. Because the book-saving argument isn't much stronger than the book-removing one. It feels stronger because Americans have a natural aversion to anything that is even second-cousin to censorship, but when you press the issue, there isn't good scientific data about what topics should be introduced and the method of presentation. We can hope that Judy Blume wasn't damaging, but we don't know the effect. We don't know it for even our most respected and beloved children's authors either. We hope we're right.

Bubble Economy and The Black Swan

We get angry about bubbles in the economy. Dot-com bubble, housing bubble. We like a nice orderly progression. Those days are gone. Get used to the bubble economy. In the age of swift information exchange, this is now normal. The economy of the US is generally going to go on growing, because people are productive and tech assists push things forward. But within that growth there are going to be continual bubbles, with entire sectors taking massive hits. Each will spill out into the other sectors, but will not cause overall downturns of any duration. It’s going to seem catastrophic when it’s your sector, especially if you are not one who adapts quickly to new environments. Adaptability is going to become an increasingly important characteristic to get by in the world.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, has recent commentary over at The Edge about the financial crisis. It's not the same analysis you'll read everywhere else. (HT: The Barrister, over at Maggie's Farm). I have referred to him often before and am an admirer of his work.

Community Organiser

Find where Jesus advocated collective action. The one thing I can think of that sorta kinda fits is when he sent them out to preach two-by-two. Not much organizing in that. Preach. Go in pairs. The content of the preaching seemed more the point than the method of delivery in that case.
You could make a better case that community organisers killed Jesus. The Sanhedrin, and the guys they sent to stir up the crowd. Those are the closest thing to community organisers in the story.

Unfair? Sure. That's what happens when you try this crap.


Sometime commenter bsking is getting married this Saturday, in an apple orchard, no less. She is the daughter of sometime commenter michael, the second time this summer we have had that father-daughter commenter combo on this blog. I don’t know what name she will be taking/keeping. “King” hyphenates rather humorously with anything, and I don’t know if she finds that appalling or appealing. She’s the sort of girl who could go either way on humor. Girl. She’s 27 now. Sorry.

I once worked with a woman named Lucy Lord-Lippincott, and as she was a bit imperious I always thought of her as Lucy, Lord Lippincott. Unfair to the poor woman, I know, as she wasn’t really a bad sort.

At any rate, congratulations to Bethany.

Technically Summer

In NH, we are used to autumn really beginning September 1, sometimes with hints in late August. The astronomical date of the equinox is fairly irrelevant here. We also think of Thanksgiving as the dividing line between fall and winter. Yet we are aware of the technical dates of the seasons because they appear on the calendar and schoolchildren are taught to keep track of them.

Frost tonight, in summer.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Boy Team/ Girl Team

I have got to think about something other than politics...

Global statement: It is better to have one sex predominate rather than have near-balance. But it is not good to have one sex exclusively for your cooperative group either.

My job is structured around a team approach. A dozen patients, all in crisis, and we meet for 90 minutes each day to review each of them daily. That's seven minutes each plus interruptions and one-liners, which isn't much if it's your crisis we're dealing with. But those 90 minutes set the course of the rest of my day. Concision and camaraderie are of enormous importance.

There are 5-8 players every day, plus student observers about half the time. Most are regular daily players, but because nursing and rehab works weekends, we have mix-and-match coverage people fairly regularly. I have done this for a long time, and have been on teams that are all or nearly all male, and teams that are nearly all female. When one sex predominates for any length of time I will kiddingly point it out. Boy Team. Girl Team.

The ideal is to have two of one sex and the rest of the other sex. Neither gender does well when it gets the whole culture to itself, and having one female among males or one male among females is usually not enough to change the prevailing culture. Even for a dominant personality like mine, outnumbered is outnumbered, and being on Intense Girl Team for too long gets wearing.

But an equal balance turns out to be worst of both worlds, and no fun at all.

A Pox On All Their Houses

Lehman Bros, AIG, & The Campaign

I heard quotes on the news from all four POTUS/VP candidates about the financial crisis today. The choices are: Are they lying, are they stupid, or do they think we're stupid?

Obama is blaming this on the Bush administration and warning that we'll have four more years of this if we elect McCain. Yeah? Go ask Chris Dodd and Charlie Rangel about this, Barack - damn your eyes.

And I like McCain and plan to vote for him, but when he started in with this "I warned this administration and the Congress two years ago..." I just shut the radio off. You were in this yourself, John. Not a ringleader, but you held their coats. You got more $ from Lehman than any other Republican.

And Joe Biden, the Democratic Senator from the MBNA credit card people, assures us that if we just let him regulate...

I had a sneaking hope that we'd get one of those movie moments from Palin, where she'd announce she was for real deregulation, not this re-regulation under another name with different rules, and she was even going to keep on McCain's case about it, but that was pure fantasy on my part. She gave a slightly more free-market version of McCain.

They all know that it's complicated, but they pick one avenue of blame, which however deserved, is deceptive. Was it greed? (Well, duh.) Was it forcing banks to get more minorities in the door by lowering their lending standards? (How'd that work out for those poor bastards now?) Was it Congress looking the other way? (Never.) Was it the Bush Administration not vetoing the last bailout? (Don't get me started.)

They are all smart enough to know that this is all complicated, with plenty of blame to go around, but they talk like it's a simple solution if we would just kick those other thieves out and let them enact the True Solution. Yeah, people may think that Palin isn't that smart and she may really believe some oversimple idea and I say "If only that would be true. Dude, don't tease me like that." Because the people who have an oversimplified idea of how to fix stuff usually succeed in at least fixing the one part of it they understand, while all the geniuses try to fix everything by horse-trading and posing for the cameras and making everything worse.

Well, they have to campaign that way. If any of them got up and actually tried to articulate the many things that went into this they would A) lose the votes of the people who deserve some blame but are trying to hide, and B) confuse the audience, who would be uncertain when to cheer. So they say what they know isn't true...

Because they think we're stupid.

And they're pretty much right. Black and white, man and woman, rednecks and pointy-headed intellectuals, we all want it to be one person or group's fault and get mad at 'em. The intellectuals like to say that it's all more complicated, so they can keep talking, but when you boil them down, they've got one big idea, based on the writings of some long-dead economist or philosopher, that they're really selling.

Up here in NH we learn young that it takes forty gallons of sap to boil down to one gallon of maple syrup. Which is about the same ratio as politicians' speech to content.

PJ O'Rourke, unsurprisingly, has the right quote: The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it.

I think I need to read more PJ these next seven weeks to keep my head on straight.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wasilla Public Library

As a librarian's husband, a libertarian-leaning conservative, and opinionated about many things, I could be expected to weigh in on the Sarah Palin controversy. I browsed around and read up on the subject, including reading the blogs of (mostly) outraged librarians, the ACLU and ALA sites, and two law & religion sites. Then I thought about it all today. Late in the day, I followed an Insty link to The Volokh Conspiracy, a multiple lawprof blog from a libertarian perspective. I should have started there first and saved all the browsing and thinking. There are three posts today that tell you much more than I ever could:
1. What has the Supreme Court said about when government libraries may remove books?
2. "Bookbanning"
3. Did Palin try to ban books from the local library?

In brief, despite the assertions of the ALA and the ACLU to the contrary, removing books is not automatically unconstitutional. If you read carefully, you will see that the ACLU site does not explicit claim it is. They throw the words "constitutional rights" around pretty freely in places where it is debatable, however, and strive to give the impression that it is too unconstitutional.

Please understand that these organizations are not wrong in what they tell you, but they only give you one side. They are advocates, and their interest is in converting you to their POV, not offering a balanced discussion of the issues. The same may be said for Safe Libraries, an organization which advocates the opposite position.

For those who think they have finally read up on all the facts on this case, Cecil Turner over at American Thinker has new data in his essay Media Cooking The Books on Palin. Quick summary. There were several incidents about the library and the town government in that era, some involving Palin and some not, and everyone involved seems to have mixed them together, all in slightly different ways. Those who read the contemporaneous Anchorage newspaper story of the time should know that that source came closest, but still didn't get it all.

I do have some perspective to add which I have not seen elsewhere, but will save it for an upcoming post. Thought provoker - I considered how a town library is similar and different from other town entities - playgrounds, the dump, police, schools.

Benjamin Update From Houston

We are in occasional contact with Ben. He is cautious about his cell phone running down. He has enough food and water through tomorrow, and there are HEB stores open nearby, though they are picked pretty clean. He ran out of allergy medicine but now has a new bottle. He is still without power and has only one candle left, so he mostly sleeps after sundown, but it is hot without AC in Houston. He is learning in a painful way why that area was pretty empty until AC became common.

He is right on the edge of where Centerpoint Energy leaves off and Entergy picks up, and he doesn't know which one serves his area. I am guessing from the map that it is Centerpoint, and that would be good, because they are less damaged and getting people back online faster.

He is worried about finding fuel for his car. He still has half a tank, and the vehicle was not touched by flooding, but he keeps hearing how quickly places are running out after a delivery comes.

The church is suggesting that he pick up a charged video camera and film relief efforts, particularly where their congregation is helping. Great idea if you've got gas for the car; otherwise, not so much.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

In Honor of Ben, 1997

From Carl at "No Oil For Pacifists"
There are two kinds of vacations: forced march and beach. The former consists of constant motion, Michelin green guides, history, art, hundreds of photos, half-a-dozen espressos a day. Beach trips are the opposite: sloth, sleep and books.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

This Seems Odd

Like many on the right, I am not so much a fan of Sarah Palin (she seems okay but not magic) as an amazed commenter on what her critics are saying. Today's example: I have read three exposes this weekend that have included the accusation that she calls, texts, and consults with her husband who is not a state employee about sensitive government issues. Gasp.

Does the name Hillary Clinton ring a bell?

Bush's Great Mistake

Most Americans would nominate something to do with the Iraq war, or perhaps the economy, as George W. Bush's greatest error. That will hold up for 20 years, I think, but later observers will call them successes. The Iraq and Afghani wars, or something very like them, needed to be done and he did them. Arguments about how well he did them or whether someone else could have done better will become irrelevant. Counterfactuals are interesting in their approximate time period, but soon become science fiction (not that that's a bad thing). Al Gore would have done something different - or not. Kerry would have gotten us out sooner - or not. My own take is that we now know the UN was never going to provide support, and the UK supplied good soldiers and bad strategy - we would have done better to simply go in ourselves in 2002, and who knows what we might have found before Sarindar (google), eh? Certainly, everyone wishes we'd ditched Bremer and found Petraeus sooner.

Vlad Putin was George Bush's big mistake. Russia was bleeding and half-dead on the floor after the breakup of the USSR. Yeltsin, for all his faults, looked like he was trying to bring Russia into the community of half-sensible nations, and we encouraged this. But Bush met with Putin in 2001. "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul..." Vlad Putin ate his lunch over the next 7 years. After 9-11, we appealed continually to Russia to help defeat, or at least not actively assist, governments sympathetic to jihad. We needed Putin to do this and kept overlooking any infraction in the hopes of winning them to decency. He played us well.

It was a noble mistake. It was an offer to reach out and treat Putin and the Russians decently in spite of past conflicts, in the hopes that they would respond to our good will and become more decent themselves.

Isn't that the approach the Bush critics have advocated we apply to every nation? Isn't it progressives who often believe (minus the sensing of his soul) that this is what works in the family of nations? The religious left, at any rate, has frequently advocated such approaches.

I will not overgeneralise about liberals on this one. There were plenty who counseled more caution, even suspicion of Russia on this score, and were critical of Bush for being too trusting. Many isolationists and Realpolitik types were approving of this action of Bush as well: just do business with people and don't blather on and try to interfere in their affairs. But those people who say if we don't want terrorism, we shouldn't terrorise; who call Bush a provocateur and aggressor and assure us if we stopped thinking of other nations in terms of good and evil that we'd see them come 'round to jolliness - don't those people usually vote for Democrats?

Putin has been remarkably successful at making Russia a power again, in the old style. Whether he can continue to be disciplined and not overreach, whether Putin turns out to be enough for a failing and unstable country, and whether the Russians have any more like him after he's gone remains to be seen. We can hope not, and will perhaps have a chance again to invite the Russians into the community of half-sane nations. But for now we are back in danger again.

Qualities Of Leadership

Leadership is easy. All it takes is someone to make the decision. And if you are right more than half the time, so much the better. attributed to President Josip Broz Tito
Let us assume for the moment the popular progressive stereotype of Sarah Palin; that John McCain knows twice as much as she does about the topics a president needs to know: foreign affairs, the economy, energy, the military. Assume further that those brilliant Democrats know three times as much as she does, and that other candidates - Hillary or the previous nominees Kerry and Gore - know four times as much. If we looked around further we would uncover others, Condi Rice or somebody, who have five times the information Sarah Palin does about crucial subjects. I don't for a moment think it is true, but let's grant it arguendo.

Under those assumptions, you would think that we would be crazy to vote for the person who knows only one-third or one-fifth as much as someone else. Why not seek those who know more?

Because it's still not enough, that's why. Condi Rice in the assumption above would know 5% of what she needs to be president; Gore, Kerry, and Hillary 4%; Obama and Biden 3%; McCain2%, and Palin trailing the pack at 1%. Any single person knows only a small sampling of the necessary information to manage the world's remaining superpower. Other factors are of enormously, ridiculously greater importance. The ability to choose advisors and managers, the ability to persuade, the ability to intuit a whole from a part, personal balance between determination and flexibility; adaptability, willingness to listen, willingness to stop listening, self-honesty, and a set of general principles that can be fit to many situations.

There are very few professions that actually require a seriously high IQ, and most of those are in the sciences. Churchill was clearly an intellect, but was DeGaulle? Eisenhower or Truman? For that matter, do we think Hitler or Stalin were possessed of an abundance of little gray cells, or that they had some other shrewd, emotional intelligence? Jefferson was brilliant, but Washington and Lincoln were probably not very far above the average. One standard deviation, about 15-16 IQ points, is more than enough.

I am making no claim that Governor Palin has those other impressive and necessary qualities for public office. I am only noting that one supposed qualification is overrated. If you wanted lots of that quality, you should have elected me instead. And believe me, you're glad you didn't.

The Road Runner

Versus Wile E. Coyote Heh.


Update: Link fixed

They Have Lost Their Minds

This video is a cute idea, and the people making it must have had a good time, acting like theater majors at a cast party or - tell me, Ben - film students at 2am. But it really doesn't work, and becomes self-parody. Sorry if I ruined the music for you, Erin.

I'll stop commenting, because Dr. Melissa Clouthier, blogging from The Woodlands during the hurricane, is much funnier.


My reading of the polls as of this morning is that the Electorals are split 269-269.

That would be a lot more interesting than any of us want, I think.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike

Ben is going through his first hurricane in Houston, and he's excited. Even though he's inland, there'll be gusts to 80mph after midnight. Plus flooding.

To his parents, not so comforting.

Cultural Improvement

Hearing these mentioned on the radio this morning, it occurred to me that I haven't seen them in years. They've gone out of fashion. This is a great cultural victory.

On the main site, the drop-down menu lists a "Delivery to" countries menu. The first one, which comes up automatically, is Afghanistan. I would love to send one of those to Afghanistan. It would do them a world of good.


The Physician's Weekly poster over in the medical suite has the headline LUTS Increases Fall Risk In Older Men. You can probably guess how I read that at first glance.

Damn, one more thing to worry about, I thought.

War Budget

The car in front of me in the parking lot today had one of those bumper stickers reading "Why is there always enough money for war but not for education?" There was one of those mostly orange pie charts that's deceptive about the military budget as well.

Well, it seemed like a good question, so I went looking in the town report. I can't find the war budget anywhere. Is it hidden under one of those odd sounding items like "Overtime" or "Miscellaneous?" I'd like to get the exact numbers, so I can compare, y'know?

Same thing with the State of NH budget, though there do seem to be some things about the National Guard and Emergency Preparedness. It must be really awful if the government goes to such lengths to hide it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The West Wing

Ben insists that this election has had eerie similarities to season 6 of The West Wing. America is currently re-enacting Season VI. Other similarities here, where he wonders if John Wells may be the Antichrist in foreseeing this so well.

The Whole Thing

Women who have had an abortion might want to hesitate before reading this post. I don’t think I am in the least condemning, but it may bring up thoughts that are painful.

After reading Neo-neocon’s poignant stories of unmarried women who had gotten pregnant in the 60’s, I thought it wise to rethink my rhetoric. I have been harsh with feminists who have made abortion the defining issue as to whether someone is “for” women. I have played off the illogic of that, pretending not to understand why it became so central. But I do understand, at least a bit. Perhaps my frustration stems from the fact that I can go part way down that road before taking a different turn, rather than not seeing that road at all.

To switch metaphors, it is not that those cards have no value, but that there are other cards which trump them.

So. Should I start with the explanation of my shared understanding, or with my objections? There have been two recent examples of respectable outlets publishing deranged essays, both of which illustrate the illogic of Prolife + Anything = Anti-woman; there is also an essay over at lawblog Volokh Conspiracy showing how abortion is a dead issue legally, except skirmishes at the edges (it is entitled, appropriately enough “It’s All Over But The Shouting”). And there’s plenty of overheated rhetoric you can find on your own. But I think I’ll just leave those as links, for you to engage or not, as you choose. I’ll talk about the other side.

Abortion is not the only women’s issue, but pregnancy is a place where many other women’s issues come to a hard point. This was even more true in the early years of feminism, when abortions were difficult to obtain. That was my generation – I was born in 1953 – and some memories are yet green. I have much less understanding of why the issue has such symbolic importance for women a generation (or two) younger, because the ground is different now. I don’t intuit why they regard limiting abortion as equivalent to rape, for example. That springs from some other part of female psychology tied into body questions of sexual experience, and childbirth, nursing, and dependence. I don’t get that.

But for my own generation, I think I understand something of how the issue looked to everyday women of my era.

We grew up in the first generation of widespread prosperity, and also the first generation in which many women might aspire to careers other than the Big Three: teaching, nursing, and secretarial. They were raised to aspire to having a small business, or some training after high school, or going to college, or even – gasp – graduate school and the professions. Yet the old world was still quite visible, and girls were very aware that they were fortunate to have these chances. Their mothers and aunts hadn’t, nor even their older cousins. There was a bright new world, which they might not make it to, but could at least consider and try for.

Or you could sink back into the old world of a woman’s lot for hundreds of previous generations. We see that differently now, knowing that there are other, less direct paths to our goals. Those indirect routes were available then as well, but were less common, and less visible. There was a sense that you were only going to get so many chances to grab the brass ring. I think this was especially true of girls who were the first females in their families to go to college – and college women were the bulk of early feminists. To have a baby was to leave school, probably never come back, and have your sights lowered, presumably forever. Your college sisters who hoped to become more than “just a housewife” would now look at you as “just a housewife” – if they ever thought of you at all. Even if you went home you would have to make new friends, because your friends from high school were away at college.

Plus, you would feel you had let your family down. They also had had hopes you might do something different. You had not only sinned, you had failed, and it would be tough for them to take - or admit to their friends.

Having babies was seen, and still is in some circles, as an admission you couldn’t hack it in the new world. You were one of those women who had to retreat to the old ways – not one of the smart, capable girls who succeeded.

If you “went away” to have the baby, a lot of people would guess what had happened, but you had some chance of keeping the secret half-hidden, especially if you moved and started again.

This sounds disappointing, but not particularly terrible. A little bleak, but not tragic. There was another cultural current that made everything even more precarious, however.

In the old world, the boy had to marry you. “Had to” is a loose term, because some didn’t, but those boys then had complications of their own, usually having to move away and start off somewhere else. Usually, it was easier for everyone to just get married. He was, after all, your boyfriend, so you must have liked him somewhat. She was your girlfriend, so you must have seen something in her. Everyone knew that there were grimmer situations of rapes, unfortunate liaisons with people who shouldn’t be married, or denials of paternity, but because these were a minority of cases, society could regard the hasty-marriage solution as basically solving the problem. It covered most situations. (Abortion was always the unspoken option in that horrible minority of cases, because they were already so grim that little could make them worse.)

People knew those marriages were less likely to be happy, but that was the price you paid. You couldn’t say it was a horrible life, because it was awfully similar to the life everyone around you had. It wasn’t the new life that other people were getting to move into, but it was familiar, endurable – perhaps even for the best. Sure I wanted to be a chemist. But I wanted to be Wonder Woman when I was four, and a ballerina when I was nine, too. Life changes. It’s okay.

Those rules were changing. Because the boy in question also had dreams and expectations, and was perhaps the first in his family to go to college, he was more likely to balk at giving up those dreams as well. A girlfriend’s pregnancy might be the prime moment for a boy to reveal what an irresponsible jerk he was. Having the baby meant marrying the jerk or being an unwed mother and see your marriage prospects really drop. An abortion solved that. You would not only get a reprieve on your career path, you would also dodge an unhappy marriage. Birth control gave the illusion of being bulletproof, and pregnancy was seen as an unfair role of the dice. What kind of job could I (or he) get now? We’re half-trained for something, fully-trained for nothing but low-paying jobs.

If for good reasons or bad you were not going to marry the father, then you were not just moving one step down in your expectations, but two or three. You were now facing a life you had never mentally or emotionally prepared for. If I seem in any way to be minimizing that, I apologize. I don’t think that a small thing. Young people may overdramatize, and we can see in retrospect that Her Whole Life was not at stake, but it certainly looks that way at the time. It is at least partly true.

Let me interrupt myself to note that this cultural shift is not a rigid distinction. The past scene I have painted is not unknown now, nor were modern choices completely unavailable then. It’s a continuum, varying in different families and regions.

All this conspired to keep the more abstract moral notions out of the picture. Having an abortion might be wrong – some people thought so, some didn’t; but being humiliated, giving up your dreams, failing – those were definitely wrong. Everyone agreed on that. Weighing how wrong one thing was versus another is extremely difficult when you are actually in the situation.

The act of getting an abortion has one more aspect which pulls it away from moral reasoning. At the last, it is passive. It is something that someone else actually does. The woman has it done to her. There are good studies about decision-making that reveal we make a distinction between actively harmful and passively harmful acts. The Trolley Problem illustrates that we view the morality of events not only by their probable outcome, but by the actions we actually have to perform. Allowing the man to die on the trolley track is permissible; pushing him onto the track is not, though the outcome is the same. If the abdomen were transparent, perhaps abortion would be more rare. But it is not transparent.

In 1969, as now, it was not pregnancy that was an unfairness to women. But pregnancy highlighted many other inequities. Women got worse jobs and got paid less; a baby was more work for her; the sexual double standard delivered more social opprobrium to a female; her secret was more difficult to hide; the fall from grace was much farther and more lasting.

Is that fully encompassing moral reasoning? Of course not. Very little that any of us do is. But it is understandable that some women could see the abortion question as The Whole Thing.

Rookie Of The Year

I thought Barack Obama had Rookie of the Year locked up, and was even in contention for MVP. He had a great first half, so they moved him into the cleanup spot, where’s he’s less protected. Recently he’s been swinging at bad pitches, trying to hit a home run every time. Now that pitchers have learned his tendencies, they’re getting him out more easily. He went 0-4 against O’Reilly the other night, barely making contact. Maybe he’s been reading his press clippings. His fielding has dropped off as well, making a lot of mental errors. He’s better as a leadoff or two-slot hitter, and I think they’ll have to move him from SS to 2B eventually. He’s not really a power hitter, but he’s been put under that expectation because of injuries this season.

Steinbrenner once unfairly accused Dave Winfield of being Mr. May, in contrast to Reggie Jackson’s Mr. October. That wasn’t true of Winfield, but it might turn out to be true of Obama.

This Palin kid up from Triple-A is impressive so far. She’s more of a line-drive hitter, steals a lot of bases. Her fielding has been specatacular since she’s come up, including that game-saving throw to the plate last week, but her usual game is consistency. If she just stays within herself she’ll do fine. It’s too soon to tell. She has to learn to foul off bad pitches and make opponents work to get her out. I also don’t like her stolen-base percentage – a little too aggressive, trying to force errors. I don’t know if she’ll have enough at-bats to qualify, but she’s contributing in a pennant race, while Obama is choking.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Another Thing About Prophets

If they'd had TV 2-3 millennia ago, "prophet" would have been featured on the show "The World's Most Dangerous Jobs." A lot of the OT prophets tried to get out of the job as fast as they could. There was a lot of whining and lame excuses. That's not because they were less righteous than you and I are but because they were smarter.

Contrast this with all the people volunteering to be prophets today. Anyone volunteering for a job like that should be suspect.

Taking A Breath

Sarah Palin will be neither as good as her supporters hope nor as bad as her critics claim. That should be obvious, but because such things get easily buried, let me say it more strongly. Sarah Palin will not be as good as her supporters hope by a long shot. I think she is a refreshing hope for reducing some of government waste and corruption, but it’s a big government, and she’s just one person. Nor is her record entirely unblemished. She gets credit for being the one who killed the Bridge to Nowhere, but her claim to have opposed it from the beginning doesn’t seem to be true. It’s a perfect example. She’s likely to be better than others, but she is still – deep breath – a politician, dammit.

On the other side, the worries from the left that she’s going to make everyone live like she thinks they should is overstating by a long shot. Asking the librarian if she would remove books, being told no, and then dropping it, is not the mark of an Inquisitor. I think Palin has social-conservative instincts, and would grab what victories she could as they went by on that score. But she is not a social crusader, and nothing in her record suggests it. She goes after the big targets and hangs on. That’s fine. As for troopergate, there is a lot being made of what are at most inappropriate interventions. A trooper is drinking in a state patrol car? If I did that it would be immediate dismissal. I don’t know how common it is to shoot moose from the car in Alaska, but I’ll bet that would be fireable in other states. And threatening to put a bullet in your father-in-law should disqualify you from being a state policeman, in my book. So once you know about these incidents – whether you read them in the paper, whether they came across your desk, or whether your sister told you, I can see why a governor would want to make sure that person was removed for the good of the citizenry. If the trooper’s supervisor decides that a five-day suspension is enough, that’s a little nuts. If you’re the governor, you now have reason to suspect that the supervisor doesn’t run a very tight ship. We would hope that any public official would, however, realize that they were too close to the case and pass it to someone more neutral. To keep yourself as involved in it as Palin did seems a little…entitled. What you would expect from – a politician.

Let’s apply the same thing to Obama. The swooning and messiahship memes have been offensive and a little frightening. But so are the people trying to read the entrails of goats about his Muslim sympathies. He leans pretty far to the left and has a pretty elevated picture of himself. But he is not going to take office and start kicking the Jews out of Florida and giving pieces of NYC to Pakistan. (Alaska, maybe, but not New York). I think he will be prone to a type of international diplomacy that will weaken us, and an interventionism in the economy that will slow us up, but I don’t think he will actually forget he is president of the US and start thinking of himself as president of the world.

Thank You, Barack

Researching the prior professions of the US Senators, I decided a lot of those guys look alike. And not a good alike. We should be grateful for Barack Obama being in the Senate, because he actually does look different. That’s not a reason to elect him president – our presidents have already been somewhat varied in appearance. In fact, it might be a good reason to keep him in the Senate. But thank you, Barack, really. When you look at all those other senators in succession, it gets a little spooky.

There is more variety among the female Senators, but even they, er, can look something like a realtor’s billboard.

Predictably, most Senators are lawyers. 34 out of 51 Democrats (including Sanders and Lieberman) have law degrees, a percentage that is sure to make conservative Republicans jump out of their seats with the veins in their necks sticking out, shouting “See? I told you so!” Not so fast. The Republicans have 27 lawyers out of 49 – more than half. I think having some lawyers in the US Senate is a good thing. I don’t think 60% is so good.

It gets worse. There are people in both parties who essentially started running for political office as soon as they finished school, and a few others whose only other career has been in government.

For scientific training, the pickings are slim. The Republicans offer two doctors, two vets, and an engineer. The Democrats don’t have anyone with specific training. Maria Cantwell did start a high-tech business, and that should count for something. And there are certainly specialties of law which require familiarity with science concepts.

Businesspersons refers to large or small businesses, entrepreneurial or established.

The list of what Democrats did before going into politics:
34 Lawyers
5 Businesspersons
2 Social Workers
2 teachers
2 other educators
2 govt.
3 politicians
1 non-profit director

And the Republican list:
27 lawyers
9 Businesspersons
2 physicians
2 veterinarians
3 politician
2 govt
1 engineer
1 farmer
1 Athlete
1 Military

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

John Sununu Recommendation

Incumbent John Sununu (yes, the son of the brilliant and irritating John Sununu who was Reagan's Chief of Staff) is gaining on Ex-Gov Jeanne Shaheen in the NH Senatorial race, after having been quite a bit behind all year. NH has become a blue state over the last two decades.

John could use a Vice Senatorial candidate who hunts caribou, I think.

In all seriousness, it's a damn shame. There are very few people in the US Senate who understand any science at all, but Sununu has a Masters in Engineering from MIT. Shaheen is a cipher, a pleasant woman who was an ineffective governor.

I'm going to go find out what US Senators did before becoming politicians. I figure that lawyers will predominate, with a few businesspersons.

I know that the Republicans have two physicians and the Democrats have two social workers. We'll see what else is there.

Concerning God's Judgment

I briefly introduced this topic about a week ago. The comments are better than what I actually wrote.

After 9-11, Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or someone (maybe both) made comments that God was punishing the US for its sins. I forget whether it was abortion or homosexuality that was supposedly ticking off God at that point. More recently, there was a report that a Jews For Jesus rep speaking at Sarah Palin’s church claimed that terrorist attacks on Israel were God’s punishment for something. Not believing in Jesus, most likely, given the source. Obama’s pastor, the Rev Jeremiah T. Wright, was captured on video saying “God damn America” for its sins. I again forget which sins were supposed to be the operative ones in this case, though I recall they were more social than religious. The exact quotes don’t mean much for our discussion, as it is the general principle I am concerned with.

This is not quite the same as statements about chickens coming home to roost. That would refer to some sort of natural forces coming back to bite you. I am interested in this idea that God himself punishes nations.

Right up front, we know that it is a biblical possibility. Yahweh is quite specific throughout the Old Testament that He will bless or curse Israel on the basis of its behavior. Insincere worship, as evidenced by evil dealings with other human beings, is the usual accusation, exceeded only by God’s wrath at actual worship of other gods. It shows up in the New Testament in the words of Jesus as well, warning that cities which reject his gospel messengers will fare worse than Sodom and Gomorrah did. Finally, such punishments are predicted in the Revelation to John as well, though the focus seems to have shifted to churches somewhat.

Point #1. Biblical punishments are announced beforehand. That would seem to get us off the hook but for one problem: How would we know? The warnings of the Hebrew prophets were widely known in their day, but there doesn’t seem to be any guarantee that everyone got the specific message You. There in the field. Smarten up now or the Assyrians are coming in. In our own age, how do we think God would go about making sure we got the memo? We have our general directions about what to do, but how would the specific “last chance” warning get delivered? Who would we listen to? Maybe there’s a few hundred prophets out there who have already delivered the message. But with a few thousand prophets to choose from, how would we know which hundred were the right guys? Or gals.

It all seems rather shaky. You can set up shop, telling people that God is going to punish us for whatever really torques you off personally, and then when anything bad happens you can say, “See? Toldja.”

Point #2. Why us? It’s easy to see how other countries might blame the wrong targets, choosing especially those nations, which can’t or won’t fight back, but we have to figure God has a clearer idea who has really been sinning. If He’s punishing countries for homosexuality and abortion, how did the Netherlands escape notice? If Our Lord is singling out nations that have had slavery and abuse the poor, how did we make it to the top of the list over, well, everyone else? How did we make the cut and move on to the next round in this reality show?

This is just American exceptionalism turned inside out. Though he hardly intended it, Rev. Wright is declaring that we are a chosen people when he preaches like this. The idea of the prophetic voice speaking on behalf of the poor to the powerful is popular in the African-American churches and has moved into the social activist circles of the mainstream denominations, but it carries an American arrogance hidden in its backpack.

Nor is there any escape in the idea that these are our prophets, other nations have theirs, and what they do is none of our business. Who are those prophets? If they were out there, mightn’t we have heard at least a whisper of ‘em? European clergy seem to condemn their own governments only for their cooperation with US policy. In a part of the world with weekly church attendance at less than 10% - sometimes little more than 1% - wouldn’t an Old Testament God at least mention their religious practice?

Point #3. Concerning Israel. Things get a bit trickier here. An argument could be made that modern Israel is at least a partial equivalent to the chosen people God seemed to warn quite frequently a few thousand years ago. Plus, modern Israel does have a number of prophet-type people giving religious warnings. Just because I can’t sort out which ones should be listened to and which ones ignored doesn’t mean much. In that instance, the argument that they have to figure out who those prophets are without help from Americans might make sense. Whether a Jews For Jesus preacher traveling the US and talking primarily to Gentiles fits in that basket is an open question. If I read Habakkuk correctly, Israel isn’t allowed the “Hey, at least we’re better than our neighbors” excuse.

Still, it’s a stretch. Jewish exceptionalism has considerable precedent, but we are still left with Point #1, prior warning.

Point #4. And yet. And yet God has worked this way before, and He is pretty darn clear that nations of some sort will be judged at the end of the age. I imagine that Jews living in the days of Jeremiah and Micah had reasons to believe that God wasn’t threatening them, not really.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Red Sox Update

Red Sox fans might smell first place in this upcoming series, but don't get greedy, or disappointed if it doesn't come to pass. We only need one win out of the three games to hold our wild car dominance.

Not bad for a team which had so many injuries to key players this season.


Republicans who go over to Pollster.com might get worried at first. In the current configuration, it looks like John McCain could have to win all the tossup states and still lose the presidency 270-268. For him to win, he would have to overtake Obama in some state listed as "leaning Democrat."

Be of good cheer. Rasmussen has been the most accurate predictor for quite some time, and Survey USA and Gallup have good histories. CNN/Time, Zogby Internet, and the smaller polls have much weaker records. Click through state-by-state, focus on those better polls, and when they were taken, and adjust the cute color-coded map of the US accordingly.

The site is non-partisan, BTW, and full of excellent commentary on what poll numbers really mean to professionals.

Update: Michigan has moved already.