Showing posts from January, 2005

Kerry Redux

I caught some of John Kerry on Meet The Press this AM and was surprised by the strength of the aversive response induced. All those annoying affectations that I managed to ignore during the campaign - the compulsive double talk, the rhetorical bloat, the evasion - now seemed intensely repellent. Almost as bad as trying to watch Condeleeza Rice on ABC. It sort of helps me understand how the American people could have made such a catastrophic mistake in re-electing - excuse me - electing George Bush. Please Democratic Party, don't do this again. Not Kerry, not Hillary, and not anyone like them. And not Shrum.


Gregg Easterbrook has up a new review of Jared Diamonds "Collapse." He is fulsome in his praise but wants to reject the conclusions. Unfortunately for Greggie, his example merely documents his own confusion. Diamond's analysis discounts culture and human thought as forces in history; culture, especially, is seen as a side effect of environment. The big problem with this view is explaining why China -- which around the year 1000 was significantly ahead of Europe in development, and possessed similar advantages in animals and plants -- fell behind. This happened, Diamond says, because China adopted a single-ruler society that banned change. True, but how did environment or animal husbandry dictate this? China's embrace of a change-resistant society was a cultural phenomenon. During the same period China was adopting centrally regimented life, Europe was roiled by the idea of individualism. Individualism proved a potent force, a source of power, invention and motivat

What Bush has Wrought

Tom Friedman is still in recovery mode from his peace through mass murder vision, but his new Op-Ed Column in the NYT has some good bits. One of my favorites: Both girls I interviewed wore veils and one also wore a full Afghan-like head-to-toe covering; one was of Egyptian parents, the other of Tunisian parents, but both were born and raised in France. What did I learn from them? That they got all their news from Al Jazeera TV, because they did not believe French TV, that the person they admired most in the world was Osama bin Laden, because he was defending Islam, that suicide "martyrdom" was justified because there was no greater glory than dying in defense of Islam, that they saw themselves as Muslims first and French citizens last, and that all their friends felt pretty much the same. If this attitude should become prevalent in the huge French Muslim community, it's hard to see much alternative to a bitter civil war resulting in tragedy for France and catastrophe

Where do we get these losers?

I just saw Congressman Rham Emanuel get humiliated on Meet the Press. Tim Russert asked him *The Question*: "Knowing what we now know about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, would you vote for the war..." and the sorry blankety-blank weaseled, not once, but repeatedly. What the hell is his problem, aside from looking like Anderson Cooper's slightly more effeminate sibling? Why would anyone in their right mind still think thts war was a good idea? Especially a Democrat? Next Timmy beat him over the head with some Clinton quotes on a "looming Social Security crisis." Once again, our sorry excuse for a spokeman - excuse me, spokesperson - weaseled repeatedly. Can't we find somebody with more balls, like, say, Nancy Pelosi, to represent us in this fight? Social Security is a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party, and, so far at least, we haven't shown much.

Religious Science

I recently wasted a good part of two days in fruitless argument with another blogger. The subject of the argument was a speech by the science fiction writer Michael Crichton, in which he cited SETI and global warming, together with some other once popular but now discredited ideas as examples of "consensus science," which he called not science but religion. More broadly, he claimed that believing something untested was religion not science. Anyway, with that as prolog, I was very interested to see this article in the NYT, in which several scientists answer the question "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" A lot of the usual suspects showed up - god exists, god doesn't exist, true love exists and rats have feelings. A few that caught my eye were: Roger Shank ...I do not believe that people are capable of rational thought when it comes to making decisions in their own lives. People believe they are behaving rationally and have tho

Social Security

Tomorrow's Washington Post has This great story on the coming Social Security fight. I don't think I've seen the issues set out more clearly anywhere. Jonathan Weisman starts out by laying out the facts: In just 14 years, the nation's Social Security system is projected to reach a day of reckoning: Retiree benefits will exceed payroll tax receipts, and to pay its bills the system will have to begin redeeming billions of dollars in special Treasury bonds that have piled up in its trust fund. Well, er, trillions - but what's a factor of a thousand among friends. The fight will come over the implications: To President Bush, this is a crisis, worth nothing short of dramatic structural changes to a social insurance system that since 1940 has lifted the elderly and disabled from poverty. To those who wish to preserve the system, it is merely the day when Congress must own up to its past profligacy and begin repaying Social Security for the trillions of dollars it h

American Dynasties and the Fall of the Republic

This Story in The Economist is the latest symptom that the American Republic is once again in trouble. The problem is a dramatic increase in inequality and a corresponding decrease in social mobility. Some quotes: This is not the first time that America has looked as if it was about to succumb to what might be termed the British temptation. America witnessed a similar widening of the income gap in the Gilded Age. It also witnessed the formation of a British-style ruling class. The robber barons of the late 19th century sent their children to private boarding schools and made sure that they married the daughters of the old elite, preferably from across the Atlantic. Politics fell into the hands of the members of a limited circle—so much so that the Senate was known as the millionaires' club. Yet the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a concerted attempt to prevent America from degenerating into a class-based society. Unfortunately, the last 25-50 years has seen much of