Showing posts from August, 2008

Ethnic Wars: History Still in Operation

One egregious Neocon fantasy was the idea that the spread of democracy might bring "The End of History," with war being abandoned in favor of peaceful trade. Of course this is yet another example of the stupidities that come from ignoring the facts of history and biology. Among our most intractable sources of conflict are ethnic tensions. Of course people of different ethnicities and cultures do manage to live peacefully with each other much of the time, but that other 20-50% causes a heck of a lot of carnage. The recent conflict over Georgia is only epsidode one zillion in this story. Much of the story of the human race is the story of ethnic conflict and reulting genocide. Genocide is actually such a deeply embedded component of human nature that it didn't really even have a name until it was turned upon the most literate and accomplished culture in the Western world - the slaughter of the Jews in the Holocaust. That disturbed the world enough that the laws of w

OJT: At the Foot of the Master

Not to worry about Governor Palin's lack of national security expertise, says a top McCain advisor: She’s going to learn national security at the foot of the master for the next four years, and most doctors think that he’ll be around at least that long,” said Charlie Black, one of Mr. McCain’s top advisers, making light of concerns about Mr. McCain’s health, which Mr. McCain’s doctors reported as excellent in May. Wait, wasn't that what Clinton got in trouble for? How about a little more respect for a forty-four year old grand? mother? Let's hope that fan boys Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman are around to help keep the master straight. On those little details, I mean, like which countries border Iraq , and who those funky Sunni and Shia are.

Danger, Will Robinson!

Few things did more to cement the image of the Bush coterie as callous and feckless incompetents than Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. A major American city drowned while Bush played air guitar with McCain, and the subsequent response was agonizingly slow and misdirected. Was it mere incompetence, or was it Rovian strategy to tilt Louisiana to the right? With these SOBs you can never tell. Now another large and extremely dangerous hurricane has New Orleans in its sights, and by all accounts, State, Local, and Federal government are working hard to prepare and trying to avoid the worst blunders of 1985. We must wish them well, but we should also note that they are very late. Very little has been done to prevent the kind of catastrophe that happened last time, and by most accounts the levees are not yet fully repaired, much less adequately strengthened. The three years frittered away mean that flight is the only real option for those in the hurricane's path. The measures ne

Veepstakes Winner

Nobody ever thought that John McCain lacked boldness - he's a guy who crashed a bunch of planes and never saw a war he didn't like - but the choice of Sarah Palin as his Vice is another good example. On the positive side, she's an attractive and popular governor and mother with sterling right wing credentials. She can hardly help but shore up McCain's campaign where it's weakest - among women. Lefty bloggers have already launched an all-out, and in my opinion, highly premature assault on her. This, I think, is a big mistake - many women are likely to be offended. Check out, for example, the comments to this blog post by Brad DeLong. Her most obvious weakness, the thinness of her resume, applies with only somewhat less force to Obama. She does appear to have some skeletons in her closet though, including a tendency to lie rather outrageously. Democrats need to take their time, master the details of the case to be made against her, and, if the evidence is the

Despicable, Contemptible, Racist

David Brooks comes through for the wingnut right with a suitably despicable, contemptible, and racist pre-action to Obama's acceptance speech. It should win him a spot on some prestigious Fox News expert panel. Check that. Did I say contemptible? I think I meant beneath contempt.

One Believer

Andrew Sullivan believes . It was a deeply substantive speech, full of policy detail, full of people other than the candidate, centered overwhelmingly on domestic economic anxiety. It was a liberal speech, more unabashedly, unashamedly liberal than any Democratic acceptance speech since the great era of American liberalism. But it made the case for that liberalism - in the context of the decline of the American dream, and the rise of cynicism and the collapse of cultural unity. His ability to portray that liberalism as a patriotic, unifying, ennobling tradition makes him the most lethal and remarkable Democratic figure since John F Kennedy. What he didn't do was give an airy, abstract, dreamy confection of rhetoric. The McCain campaign set Obama up as a celebrity airhead, a Paris Hilton of wealth and elitism. And he let them portray him that way, and let them over-reach, and let them punch him again and again ... and then he turned around and destroyed them. If the Rove Republicans

The Speech

Home run. Out of the park.

High Wind in Jamaica

The Atlantic hurricane season is on, and several menacing characters have made their appearance on the stage. Hurricane, now Tropical Storm, Gustav blew up suddenly just before impaling himself almost fatally on the high mountains of Hispanola. Having nearly recovered after a day or two in the warm soothing hurricane spa of the Carribean, he is now doing the same dance with Jamaica. If he survives that, he is likely to be a menace to LA or TX early next week. Meanwhile, his bigger sister Hanna is having her own celebrity death match with an upper level low just to her left. Even if these poop out, a whole train of strong tropical waves is coming off Africa, each looking to be the next king of the hood. Finally, another little rascal is cranking up in the Gulf of Mexico (Bay of Campeche), but with luck he will mainly irrigate Mexico.

In Command

Anybody notice the difference between the start of Clinton's speech last night and the start of Obama's informal remarks? Clinton kept starting, only to bee seemingly stopped by the continuing applause. I guess I really can't blame the old guy for wanting to milk the crowd a bit more, but contrast with Obama was striking. When he began speaking, a slight but commanding motion of his hand, and a very brief pause, bent the crowd to listen - they wanted to hear what he had to say. The man is a relaxed but masterful orator.

Morning Mourning

Jared Bernstein , via Kevin Drum : Trickle-down economics died yesterday morning at 10AM. The cause of death was a data release from the US Census Bureau, but trickle-down had been ailing from lack of empirical support for decades. Also known as "supply-side economics," trickle-down was the love child of Ronald Reagan, Arthur Laffer, and Jude Wanniski. It is survived by Larry Kudlow and Co., and the editorial page of the Wall St. Journal.


Stone Age Minds

Recent polls show Obama slipping versus McCain. How can that be when we can all see how much smarter and better Obama is? The answer might be in the instincts that we inherited from our stone age ancestors. When men choose a president, at least some part of our thinking is probably those stone age instincts we used in selecting the leader of the war party. Women probably didn’t do much of the stone age war, so they might have some other kind of default hardware—mate choosing, for example. It’s entire plausible that the criteria that served for those stone age war leaders was are less than perfectly applicable to modern circumstances, but aspiring politicos need to keep those old instincts in mind. What did you want in your SA war guy? Courage, leadership, trustworthiness, initiative, pugnacity, vigor, celerity in judgment and action, decisiveness, and good judgment. Conversely, you didn’t want cowardice, meekness, passivity, lassitude, vacillation, or bad judgment. Looking at t

Highbrow Music?

I don't attend opera very often, but one thing impressed me at Saturday's performance of Verdi's Falstaff . The patrons were tall, very tall. I am a moderately tall American at about 6' 2.5" (perhaps an inch shorter than I used to be before back surgery and old age). In my generation that put me in maybe the 97th or 98th percentile, but at the Santa Fe Opera there were a lot of people taller than I, many of them much taller (6' 6" plus). There were even a lot of women nearly my height. Kids today are somewhat taller, but many of these guys were of my generation. Usually if I see as many tall people, I have run across a college or pro basketball team. So is there something about opera that attracts tall people? Or this this just a Santa Fe thing?

Sue the Bastard's?

The courts have made it fairly difficult for politicians to sue for libel, even in egregious cases. The rational is that allowing such suits to succeed would chill political discourse. The rise of the Swift Boat Liars, and this years incarnation, William Simmons' American Issues Project shows the power of a couple of Texas Billionaires to corrupt the political process, and suggests that it might be time for the courts to revist the issue. Having to pay out a billion or so in damages, and facing some time in the clink, even a billionaire might think twice before deciding to publish outrageous lies.

Musicological Cred

Well mine just went down the toilet. It turns out that my favorite ABBA song was actually recorded (covered) by Blondie and written (and originally performed) by John Holt .

Georgia: Another Narrative

Bernard-Henri Levy's first hand account of doings in Georgia is interesting on every account, but perhaps most interesting in the different account of the provocation that Saakashvili provides. "Let me make one thing clear," he interrupts me, with a sudden gravity. "We cannot let them say that we started this war ... It was early August. My ministers were on vacation, as I was too, in Italy, at a weight-loss spa, getting ready to go to Beijing. Then in the Italian press I read, "War preparations are under way in Georgia." You understand me. Here I was just hanging out in Italy and I read in the paper that my own country is preparing for a war! Realizing that something was wrong, I rushed back to Tbilisi. And what did my intelligence services tell me?" He makes the face of someone who has posed a difficult riddle and is waiting for you to find the answer, "That the Russians at the exact moment they are showering the press corps with this garbage


American people appear to be entering too stupid to survive territory . Four more years!

Mating Attack

Huffpost, Drudge, and other garbage dealers are running with this meme about Obama choosing "a mate." WTF? Tarzan might choose a mate, but Presidential nominees choose a VP, or a "running mate." Aside from the general lameness, it's hard to escape the feeling that there is a racist subtext at work here.

Knee Bone Connected to theThigh Bone

It’s amazing how hard it is for a man to understand something when his paycheck depends on his not understanding it. ……………………………Upton Sinclair Substitute “his cherished prejudice” for “paycheck” and the theorem still holds. The latest meme at climate denial central seems to be the notion that all climate is local. To put it bluntly, this notion is laughable. In the first place, climatologists have looked at the statistics, and it just is not so. More importantly, it ignores the whole physics of weather and climate. Everyone, except maybe those who choose not to know, knows that the equator absorbs a whole lot more heat than the poles. This circumstance and the second law of thermodynamics drive the engines of weather, climate, and ocean circulation. On average the mid-latitude flux of energy pole ward in midlatitudes is a few peta-Watts (say 3 x 10^15 Watts). This energy transport drives the associated transport of momentum and moisture, and hence essentially all weather and prec

A History of Violence

(Promoted from comment discussion: ) Erhenreich: Only three types of creatures engage in warfare--humans, chimpanzees, and ants. Among humans, warfare is so ubiquitous and historically commonplace that we are often tempted to attribute it to some innate predisposition for slaughter--a gene, perhaps, manifested as a murderous hormone. The earliest archeological evidence of war is from 12,000 years ago, well before such innovations as capitalism and cities and at the very beginning of settled, agricultural life. Sweeping through recorded history, you can find a predilection for warfare among hunter-gatherers, herding and farming peoples, industrial and even post-industrial societies, democracies, and dictatorships. A reasonable start, but at that point Erhenreich goes completely off the rails. She starts by noting that war occurs not only in virtually every human society, but also in our closest animal relation

That's Rich

Kevin Drum decides to define rich. ....What is "rich"? I'm here to give you an answer with no shilly-shallying. I believe that Americans, for better or worse, believe that rich = millionaire. That is, someone with a million dollars in net worth. But here's the catch: that's what Americans thought a century ago. In today's money, that's about $20 million or so. So today, "rich" is anyone with a net worth of $20 million. His commenters comment, with most seeming to think $20M is a bit high. I have noticed, though, that rich people are remarkably unwilling to admit it. They always have some variation on so and so are rich, but I'm not. Some of it might be Jesus's "harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle." Even the unbeliever might fear the scorn of the religious. Part of it is comparison, of course. The cleverest definition I saw on Drum's site was "somebody who makes t

Global Climate?

Lumo has some comments that illuminate his point of view of climate change. There is no "global climate". When people talk about "global climate change", it is the whole "climate change" that is supposed to be supplemented by the adjective "global": we are surely not talking about the changes of the "global climate" because the latter doesn't exist. . . As the logicians have noted, once you make one false assumption, you can proceed to deduce anything whatsoever. It's true, of course, that climate was originally a local concept. Different regions of the planet have different climates, so going to the idea of a global climate is a generalization, slightly remniscent of the generalization of the concept of kinetic energy to other forms of energy. Global climate only makes sense if global climate trends and events exist. Fortunately, the evidence is uniquivocal on this account, even if the causes are less certain. There is amp

News Flash News Flash

In a surprise announcement this morning, CNN and Fox News announced mergers with Russian counterparts. In what is apparently a play on an old Soviet era joke, the new organizations will respectively be called Pravda and Isvestia. (roughly, "Truth" and "News"). The joint operating agreement specifies that there will continue to be no news on "Truth" and no truth on "News."

War and Human Nature

Genocide is God's way of resolving territorial disputes. War is His method of population control. ...................Cynical Sayings for Cynical Times Most people profess to hate war, but it's an undeniable and intrinsic aspect of human nature. Such an intrinsic characteristic has to have its roots in biology, and those roots aren't hard to find: population pressure and the competition for resources. The oddity is that so few, liberal or conservative, are willing to acknowledge this rather obvious, if bleak, feature of human nature. Ever since humans became the top predator, probably a million years or so ago, the main threat to humans has been other humans. There is a lot of unpleasantness associated with war, of course, so biology had to supply some motivational tools, and in fact it is remarkably easy to stir groups to righteous anger and murderous fury when they are presented with real or imaginary threats to their group, be it family, tribe, gang or nation. Once the na

Fan, Sh*t. H*t.

Putin and Bush are now playing that most dangerous of games , with Bush talking shit and Putin pushing tanks ever forward. What exactly Putin wants out of this is an open question, but it looks like he is not willing to settle for a defiant Georgian government backed by US rhetoric. We have actually seen this movie before. The last couple of times it was called WWI and WWII.

Brother, Can You Paradigm?

David Brooks' talent, or at least his shtick, is taking some common idea and turning it into a paradigm of universal significance. Not uncommonly, there is more than a bit of Procrustean adjustment of the facts required. In yesterday's episode , our hero takes on the subject of individualism versus cooperation, or, as he prefers to style it, "collectivism." He asserts that the West in general, and the US in particular, is the bastion of individualism, while the East, epitomized by China, is collectivist. Noting that Americans tend to prize individual accomplishment, while Chinese and Japanese tend to celebrate subordination of the self to the group is not exactly discovering America, so Brooks needs to conflate some likely independent notions. Some say that Western cultures draw their values from ancient Greece, with its emphasis on individual heroism, while other cultures draw on more on tribal philosophies. Recently, some scientists have theorized that it all goes

Georgia Revisited

The cease-fire is signed, a few thousand Georgians and Ossetians are dead, wounded, or homeless, and John McCain has had a chance to strut, posture, and play the fool. The Georgians have learned a hard lesson Americans are just now grasping: Don't trust George Bush; and another one: don't bait the bear in his own den. I predict that George W Bush Avenue will be renamed Martyrs to Treachery Avenue , or perhaps F George W Bush Avenue. The rest of the states adjacent to Russia will be justifiably nervous.

Foreign Policy CS

Via Josh Marshall , Fred Kaplan takes a look at the ways the Bush clown shown precipitated the Georgian fiasco: Regardless of what happens next, it is worth asking what the Bush people were thinking when they egged on Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's young, Western-educated president, to apply for NATO membership, send 2,000 of his troops to Iraq as a full-fledged U.S. ally, and receive tactical training and weapons from our military. Did they really think Putin would sit by and see another border state (and former province of the Russian empire) slip away to the West? If they thought that Putin might not, what did they plan to do about it, and how firmly did they warn Saakashvili not to get too brash or provoke an outburst? It's heartbreaking, but even more infuriating, to read so many Georgians quoted in the New York Times—officials, soldiers, and citizens—wondering when the United States is coming to their rescue. It's infuriating because it's clear that Bush did ever

Conservative Policies Fail

Greg Anrig via Brad DeLong : The belief system and finely crafted policy pitches that enabled the right to dominate the war of ideas for the past 30 years have produced a relentless succession of governing failures, from Iraq to Katrina to the economy to the environment. ... The single theme that most animated the modern conservative movement was the conviction that government was the problem and market forces the solution. It was a simple, elegant, politically attractive idea, and the right applied it to virtually every major domestic challenge -- retirement security, health care, education, jobs, the environment and so on. Whatever the issue, conservatives proposed substituting market forces for government -- pushing the bureaucrats aside and letting private-sector competition work to everyone's benefit. So they advocated creating health savings accounts, handing out school vouchers, privatizing Social Security, shifting government functions to private contractors, and curtaili


We do have the mystery of why the Georgians embarked on this folly. Did they think Bush had greenlighted it? McCain? Militarily, the logistics are impossible, even if we weren't already fighting two wars. I doubt that our navy could dare the Black Sea even if the Turks permitted it. Still, the Russian Bear is hardly the monster of twenty-five years ago. It's Russian air power that is really killing the Georgians, and I expect that a relatively small chunk of our air power could sweep the skies pretty clean. If not, why the hell are we spending more on our military than the next thirty countries combined? Come to think of it, why are we anyway? The real reason we can't fight the Russians, of course, is that they still have all those nukes and the means to deliver them. A tiny fraction of their nuclear missiles could wipe us off the map. Unfortunately, our allies in Europe are terribly dependent on Russian oil and gas, so it's unlikely that they have much stomach for conf

Georgia on My Mind

What are Putin's ambitions in Georgia? Putin has stated his dismay at the disintegration of the old Soviet Union, and may have dreams of rebuilding the old Russian empire. If so, what can the US do about it? It's not clear that we can do much. Even if the US military were not already tied down in Iraq, Georgia would seem to be beyond our reach. So what led Georgia to bait the bear? Perhaps they thought they had friends in high places . Georgia's independence hangs by a thread, but the fact that Georgia was foolish enough to make the first move (by invading its breakaway province of South Ossetia), can be seen as yet another consequence of the drugstore cowboy presidency of George Bush. Bush looked into Putin's eyes and saw a "good soul." Putin looked Bush's eyes and saw a weakling and a fool. If Putin has decided on conquest, then the Cold War is on again, and on again in a moment of maximum weakness for the West. The paranoid in me, thinking of t


Lubosh should be happy. Czechia scores the first gold medal.


... and more than a little scary. I'm not normally a fan of opening ceremonies, but the Chinese have clearly moved into another galaxy with this one. They went all out to impress and sure as heck succeeded. I didn't think that an opening ceremony could be an impressive demonstration of national power, but I'm convinced.


My mind on the Olympic opening ceremony.


Envy is only number six among the deadly sins, but it's the key to Maureen Dowd's Grand Unified Theory of McCain: Invidia . Dowd at her best, flailing away at the other guy for a change. The Arizona senator who built his reputation on being a brave proponent of big solutions is running a schoolyard campaign about tire gauges and Paris Hilton, childishly accusing his opponent of being too serious, too popular and not patriotic enough. Even his own mother, the magical 96-year-old Roberta McCain, let slip that she thought the Paris Hilton-Britney Spears ad was “kinda stupid.” . . . Some of McCain’s old pals in the Senate are cringing at what they see as his soulless transformation into what he once scorned. “John’s eaten up with envy,” said one. “His image of himself was always the handsome, celebrity flyboy. “Now somebody else is the celebrity,” the colleague continued, while John looks in the mirror and sees his face marred by skin cancer and looks at the TV and sees his dashing

T. Boonedoggle

T boone Pickens, the bucks behind the Swift Boat Liars, is now starring as your Dutch Uncle in a series of ads designed to sell you on wind energy, Texas style. Kevin Drum takes a look and finds some reasons why you might want to cast a skeptical eye on this used air salesman. If nothing else, another reason not to be afraid to tax the hell out of these guys - they probably stole the money from you in the first place.

Race Carding from a Less than Full Deck

Reporter ( ) asks McCain to specify why he accuses Obama of playing the race card. After very long period of inarticulate mumbling he can't answer. The second part of the two part question he answers - with lies. I guess the Reagan Presidency was such a success that the R's decided this time to nominate a guy who already has Alzheimers. Either that, or he's just not that skillful a liar.

Curiouser . . .

NPR on Bruce Ivins this morning: Dina Temple-Rastin - breathless NPR reporter has clearly drunk any Kool-Aid FBI is serving, but has no details except "smoking gun" is some kind of DNA test. Credulous but hardly credible. Brother who thought he was guilty hasn't spoken with him for decades, knows nothing specific or general that would incriminate brother, sounds like dimwitted braggart. People who actually know Ivins don't believe it. We have known for seven years that the Anthrax strain matched Fort D, so what is the magic DNA test linking to Ivins? If test is any good, lets hear what it is. What's the deal with the "heroic" therapist who has now morphed into a social worker who filed the restraining order? Where is the evidence of the life long homicidal tendencies, and why didn't they come to light earlier? Is there a suicide note? UPDATE: Some details have now been released, and their "smoking gun" seems plausible. See this LA Times

Uppity Negro

One is a low achieving son of privilege who pulled family connections to get a prized (but dangerous) assignment despite his bottom of the barrel academics, parlayed prisoner of war celebrity into a series of adulterous affairs with flashy women, culminating in marriage to a wealth heiress, and has spent the last quarter of a century in Washington DC mainly in celebrity movie and TV appearances. The other is the mixed race son of an economically disadvantaged single mother who went from academic excellence to a political career starting near the bottom but ascending quickly. So which one gets labelled elitist? The McCain ads and Republican talking heads pushing this line are so preposterous that it's tempting to assume they are as McCain's mother called them, merely "stupid." This neglects the fact that the products of the Atwater, Rove, Schmidt Republican smear machine are always written in code, a code that is not so obvious to the intellectually sophisticated, but

Whistling Up The Apocalypse

Over at the Daily Kos, Larry Madill and others explain what the hell McCain is up to with the goofy ads calling Obama "the One" with fleeting images of Brit and Paris. It comes down to the dark Rovian art of "dog whistling." The dogs being summoned, in this case are the wackjob millenialists of the Tim Lehaye and Hal Lindsey stripe. John McCain's latest web attack ad is really a not too subtle code to the Christian Right Wing that Barack Obama is the literal Anti-Christ as foretold in the Book of Revelations and popularized in "non-fiction" books like "The Late Great Planet Earth" and Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" novels.

Conspiracy Theory

In the pre-Bush days, I scoffed at conspiracy theories, but by now I'm more than a bit paranoid. A bizarre crime goes unsolved for seven years, and all the evidence oddly points toward the chief germ warfare lab of the United States. The sophisticated nature of the agent demonstrates a technical mastery implausible in an amateur operation. The strain is one favored by US investigators. A peripheral figure is persecuted and hounded out of job and friends on the thinnest of evidence - after the story has been leaked to the New York Times. Meanwhile, back at Fort Detrick, a prominent Anthrax investigator is having red signs painted all over his back - psychiatric and counselor testimony paints him as a lifelong psychopath with homicidal fantasies and tendencies. Not, however, till the Bush administration winds down, does anybody find this strange enough to remove him from contact with our most deadly agents. Shortly thereafter, just as the FBI is getting ready to move in, he comm