Thursday, December 13, 2007

Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson

How did these two clowns get major cable shows? It's a rhetorical question, of course. They have shows because NBC and CNN need their own O'Reillys.

I've watched Carlson only a few times, but often enough to have heard him criticize a network for letting Dick Clark do the New Year countdown after he had had a stroke. Carlson thought it was disgusting. (Yes, of course, the disabled should be hidden away from public view so as not to upset delicate constitutions.) Then the other day he said he couldn't wait until every last baby boomer was dead - and emphasized that he meant it when the interviewee suggested he was maybe exaggerating. That's about 75 million people. Of course, Carlson is only parroting the latest Conservative trope: that all of our problems are due to the Boomers. I can't help but wonder at the response had he said the same thing about, oh, say, all evangelical Christians.

Carlson is nothing more than one of those shallow, sophomore frat boys who's never had an original thought - which is no doubt why he supported the Shrub.

Chris Matthews is a blowhard who has absolutely no personal insight. While touting his book, he used the same example over and over to show how he learned the importance of listening: that's how Bill Clinton got girls in college. Now, let's ignore the reason for that particular anecdote (the fact that Hillary is running for President) and focus on the "listening" part. The one thing that Matthews does not do is listen. He shoots rapid-fire questions at the people he "interviews" and, during the few seconds they get to reply, you can see him preparing his next question out. The interviewees are there basically to give him time to get a breath of air, nothing more. He is so used to non-stop talking that when Jon Stewart actually tried to engage him in a conversation about his book, Matthews accused Stewart of making this the worst interview he ever had.

And during this primary campaign season, this self-described "even-handed, get-the-truth-out" Matthews has become so pro-Obama, he should rename his program the "Elect Barack Obama Hour". Obama can do no wrong except when, according to the political expert Matthews, early in the campaign, Obama didn't go on the attack. When he did, Matthews was thrilled. Of course when Clinton issued a few attacks in return, she was being despicable. No sort of slander against Hillary is out of bounds for Matthews or most of his TV and blog and press cohort. He and they apply a double standard as wide as a 10-lane highway when it comes to Clinton and Obama.

My favorite example: some weeks back an NPR reporter ran two stories, one about Hillary's visiting a restaurant, not paying, and not leaving a tip. This got huge, nationawide media attention, all bad. (plus lots of confusion about what really happened.) Nobody reported the guy's other story about a woman at an Obama campaign stop. She asked a question related to health care because her husband had cancer. Obama got off his podium, went down and took her hand. That's fine, shows he cares. Then he went back to the podium, repeated what he'd heard and said "maybe I'll write him a note afterwards" [probably not a direct quote] and he didn't. But the woman excused him because he cared. Can you imagine the media coverage if that had been Hillary? "How does she think a note could help a man suffering from cancer? And then she didn't even have the courtesy to do it."

I like all the Democratic candidates and would be quite happy if one of a particular set of four got the nomination. But I am becoming so fed up with these misogynist attacks on Hillary, that I am beginning to think I should vote for her just to give Matthews, Sullivan, Carlson, et. al. a bad case of heartburn.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Poll Interpretation Hall of Infamy - Margin of Error: today's winner is CNN

We've been using political polls for what, 70 years? Barely a day goes by during the now almost endless political season without one poll or another being announced. But journalists still do not understand what the margin of error means.

For ex., this morning my local news program introduced a CNN report with the statement that the economy was now more important to voters than Iraq. The CNN reporter repeated that, rather breathlessly, as though a major shift, Richter Scale 7 at least, had occurred. She interviewed several "ordinary" people, all of whom explained their fears about the economy.

Then I saw the poll results (for which we should indeed be grateful): 29% ranked the economy first; 28% ranked Iraq second. Not exactly a major difference. And, luckily for me, the chart also indicated the margin of error: 4.5%.

Now, this is pretty basic statistics, sort of Stat 101, first week. The margin of error represents the sampling error, the degree to which the reported percentages may be wrong due to the size of the sample and other polling characteristics.

In short, the relative difference in importance between the economy and Iraq is impossible to determine from this particular sample.

It wouldn't be so bad if this were a one-off reporting error. But it isn't. For decades now, journalists at all levels, continue to cite major shifts of one kind or another based on polls in which the changes are all within the margin of error. What is even worse is that professional pollsters seem to have given up trying to get these thick-headed reporters to understand the MOE and blithely second all the idiotic statements about the significance of this or that "move" in the polling data.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Well, yet again the MSM has managed to miss the most crucial statement in Bush's press conference today.

But let's first go back to Bush's WWIII announcement. That got a lot of coverage, which it should have. But the MSM missed the more critical statement: that is was important to prevent Iran from "gaining the knowledge" [quote marks are mine] of how to make a bomb. Bush was implying that a justification for going to war against Iran or dropping bombs all over the country could be made if that would prevent Iran from learning how to make a bomb. How, exactly, does one stop the acquisition of knowledge? Kill every Iranian with an IQ over 120? It may be possible to prevent a country from getting the physical materials they need to create a bomb, but if Bush wants to prevent anybody anywhere in the world from learning how to make a nuclear bomb, he's going to have kill a sizable portion of the world's population.

Now, to the current NIE. The MSM did latch on to one obvious question: if the previous NIE was wrong, how can we be sure the current NIE is right? This is a reasonable question. But they didn't bother to analyze Bush's follow-up that "well, if they stopped the program once, they could start it again, so they are just as dangerous" [my paraphrase]. So, lets get this straight: if Iran does not do what we tell it to, it is a dangerous country; however, if it does do what we want it to do, it is still just as dangerous. In short, Iran can't win. Whether it tries to build a bomb or decides not to build a bomb, Bush will still want to hurt it, in some way. Catch-22, Bush style.

The depth and danger of this mindset is on full display in an Andrew Sullivan blog entry. Before and after he pretty much analyzes Bush's statement as I just have, he still insists (just like Bush) that Iran is a danger!

Oh, special kudos to Wolf Blitzer who managed to question Bolton (who doesn't believe the current NIE report and announced that 2 agencies disagreed with the conclusion) for about 5 minutes or so without asking him what intelligence reports he is relying on. Does he have his own private CIA?

As with Iraq, this government has Iran Derangement Syndrome. For whatever insane reason, they have decided that Iran is now the most dangerous country in the world. Not North Korea, which has the bomb. Not Pakistan and India, which both have the bomb and have come close to all-out war on more than one occasion. Not Saudi Arabia which continues to export militant Islam. Not China. Not, for that matter, Russia. The United States of America, the country's only Superpower, as the neocons never fail to remind us, least we forget, which fought and defeated Germany and Japan, could, apparently, be destroyed by what country? Iran. Sheeeesh. How low the great have fallen.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Republican attacks on Hillary: a double-edged sword?

It is no secret that Republicans love to bash Hillary. She is the most uniting force the party has, one on which all its factions (social & fiscal conservatives, social moderates & fiscal conservatives, etc.) agree: she is the devil incarnate - and a guaranteed fund-raiser.

But Hillary-hating is only part of the equation. Republicans also think she would be the easiest Democrat to run against. Which brings us to the "double-edge" part of the sword. Suppose that all the negative attacks on Hillary (it's hard to find anybody who says anything positive about her) result in her not getting the Democratic nomination. The two most likely alternatives are Edwards and Obama, who both benefit by being underneath the radar. (Hillary is like a giant shield protecting the two of them from the right-wing smear machines.) Republicans would then find themselves facing, according to their own calculations, a more competitive rival.

Hillary and The Shrub: The popularity conundrum

If you think, as do I, that Bush is both the worst and most dangerous President we have ever had, you must also wonder, as do I, where his continued support (around 39% of the population, including a majority* of Republicans) comes from. Why do these people still support him?

Then there is the case of Hillary. The blogosphere and the TV punditocracy are drowning in negative statements about Hillary. Yet she retains a lead in most polls, both in terms of the primary and general election. Although I suspect that support is inflated, it does not seem to have occurred to anybody, at least anybody with a pulpit, to ask why people support her.

*I believe (based on a memory of a poll I read/saw) that a majority of Republicans still support Bush, but I have just spent a fruitless hour with multiple search engines and polling sites trying to find a recent poll that breaks down support by party. I wish this were the first time I've wasted an hour chasing down information that one would think would be simple to find only to come up empty. As far as I am concerned, search engines today (even Google - which I use regularly) still leave a lot to be desired.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Republicans and the Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton 28 year dynasty.

For at least a year now, Republican pundits have been having hissy fits about the liklihood of 28 years of rule by just two families.

This is, certainly, something to think about, but it takes a lot of chutzpah for the Republicans to make it an issue.

A little history: back in the late 60's and 70's, Republicans were in a perpetual sweat about the possibility of a Kennedy dynasty: John, Bobby, and Ted. John and Bobby, of course, were both assassinated - but not until Ted lost a primary run, and their God Reagan got elected, did the Republicans stop being afraid of a political dynasty.

So, did any of these anti-dynasty Republicans show even the tiniest bit of concern about running the son of a President who had been out of office for only 8 years? Not that I remember hearing. Father-son dynasties are, apparently, better than brother-brother-brother dynasties, at least if the father and son are Republicans.

And while the current Bush was riding high in the polls, there were whisperings about Jeb's running after W. finished his two terms. That talk has stopped, at least for the moment, because most Republican pundits know in their heart-of-hearts, that the current Bush is a disaster of such monumental proportions that Americans are not likely to vote for his brother.

But, you know something? If Hillary runs, wins and gets that 8 years these Republicans are already granting her, I wouldn't be at all surprised if these anti-dynasty pundits roll out Jeb.

So, before you decide to vote against Hillary solely because you don't like the idea of a dynasty, ask yourself who you voted for in 2000 and 2004. If you voted for Bush the son, you have no moral standing for voting against Hillary on an anti-dynasty platform.

Trend Micro - Internet Security 2007

I've been using Trend Micro for a couple of years on a laptop. I hated the long downloads (about an hour/week on dialup for each update), but it worked and I didn't have time to look for another. Bad decision.

I do NOT recommend TM unless you have a broadband connection and don't use third-party spyware products.

1. The download was 80MB - but TM didn't think that important enough to point it out when you're given a choice between a CD and a download.

2. The installation program took about 1 hour. First, of course, it had to unpack itself into a temporary directory. Then it discovered an existing copy of TM which had to be uninstalled. To do that completely required a reboot. The install program started up and found an incompatible spyware program. Choice: uninstall that or stop the TM install. Of course the uninstall required a reboot. TM's install program began again, and found another spyware program it wasn't compatible with. Same choices and another reboot. Would it have been so hard to program the installation SW to scan the computer BEFORE uninstalling the old version of TM - which ran just fine with those spyware programs - and listing all of the incompatible programs so one could make a decision before losing one's basic security program? Finally, the installation began but - yep, you guessed it: it took 15 mins. to complete and had to reboot the laptop again.

3. Fine, finally got the software installed and running. But the minute I got connected to the web, I got a flurry of warning messages with no information about what was upsetting it (no program name). If TM doesn't recognize the program - it provided no name at all - how on earth does it expect an ordinary user to recognize the program?

4. Then, to top it all off, this 3-month old program needed an update, currently downloading and scheduled to complete in 3.5 hours, on dialup. I had actually hoped that the long update downloads - taking an average of 1 hr./week - had been fixed in this latest version based on blurbs on the web site. Obviously, TM's definition of improvement is to triple the time required.

So, if you have a fast broadband connection and can live with TM's spyware capabilities, it will probably work fine for you. But next year, I'm switching to AVG and Zone Alarm for the laptop.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Bottom line, there are only two choices: stay forever or leave some time.
There are, therefore, only three questions about an exit strategy that must be answered:
1) under what circumstances should we leave (aka, how do we define victory)?
2) when will we leave - obviously directly related to #1
3) what contingency plans should be in place should things not go as we expect after starting to exit or actually leaving?

As the Vietnam War got into high gear, colleges and universities were almost inundated with teach-ins conducted by experts in the history, language and culture of Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Books such as Fire in the Lake became bestsellers.

Where, however, are the nonpolitical Iraq/Middle East experts?

Yes, a number of books have been written about what has gone wrong in Iraq, but their focus is on what the U.S. did or didn't do. Pundits (with little or no real knowledge of either Iraq or the Middle East - let alone expertise in the language - except whatever the conventional wisdom is) flood the radio and TV networks. But where are the academics? The historians (civil and military)?

First, let's face it (as the "deadlines" for evaluating the situation in Iraq have shifted from this summer, to September to November and now to next Spring or Summer): No matter what opponents says or do, Bush will not do anything more than, perhaps, a token withdrawal of a few troops prior to the November 2008 election.

Bush has said often during the past several years that he plans on leaving Iraq to his successor(s). We have no reason to doubt this. Indeed, I suspect that many Conservatives now believe it, no doubt secretly, to be the best possible outcome for their objectives. They realize that, barring extraordinary circumstances, they are likely to lose the White House and remain a minority in Congress after the 2008 elections. Whatever happens in Iraq thereafter, they will blame on Democrats. If the new Democratic President withdraws troops and the worst nightmare scenarios do, in fact, happen, these Conservatives will happily campaign for the succeeding decade on how "the Democrats lost Iraq".


Recently, I read that a couple of economists have begun to concede that there may be some downsides to globalization. I'm not an economist, but these are two flaws that I see:

"High status" jobs can be outsourced as easily as. or more easily than "low status" jobs
Economists tell us that it is good for consumers for goods to be produced wherever they can be made most cheaply, then sold to us at a fair market price not subject to tariffs. They insist that U.S. citizens can then do those kinds of high value work that we are best at.

There are a couple of problems with this theory of outsourcing. First, it is obvious that lots of "high value" jobs can be just as easily outsourced as manufacturing jobs: software development, hardware & software phone support, legal work, tutoring, architectural drawings, etc. are already being done abroad But, with increases in broadband and video technology, it seems to me that the only jobs that are "safe" are those that require the presence of a physical body: farm labor, hair cutters, many medical positions (surgeons, nurses, technicians who draw blood, dentists), waiters, etc. The work of most magazine and newspaper writers, reporters, and editors could just as easily be done abroad. Why do we need to have TV reporters stand in front of a courthouse, the White House or the Congress, fro example, just because the story emanates from people who work in those buildings. Even Tony Snow's news briefings could be done via teleconferencing. And how many American pundits (print, radio or TV) could just as easily be replaced by pundits who live abroad. One needn't live in Washington to hold a conversation with a Senator. Come to think of it, why do we have to have CEOs who earn outrageous incomes stationed in the U.S. ? They head, mainly, multinational corporations so why couldn't the CEOs be foreigners? Think about all the kinds of "high status" jobs economists assure us will stay here. I suspect you'll come up with a very long list of work that could just as easily be done elsewhere. I can't wait until U.S.-based economists discover that their jobs have been outsourced.

Human skills and job requirements are not infinitely interchangeable
Second: these economists seems to assume that we are all capable of doing any kind of work, although this is clearly ridiculous. I doubt that Wolf Blitzer could, for example, design a new building if he lost his job (to say nothing of the fact that some architectural design could easily be done abroad). And could the average person working on a manufacturing line learn to be a lawyer or engineer (assuming, of course, that most legal and engineering jobs aren't also eventually sent abroad)? We all have different talents and, while most of us can learn to do something other than what we are doing, there are absolute limits imposed by the brains and bodies we have inherited.

In short, taken to its limits, globalization could result in an American workforce consisting primarily of jobs requiring on-site manual labor of some kind with, maybe a sprinkling of "brain-based" work.

Outsourcing is asymmetrical
Quite simply, under the current system of globalization, work can be located wherever it makes sense for a company to to do it, but all countries restrict immigration; some also restrict emigration. Workers, unlike jobs, are not included in the concept of globalization: they are not free to live and work wherever they want to. In other words, that low-paid Chinese or Mexican or Indian worker cannot simply pick up and decide to move to Denmark or Australia or the United States.

It seems to me that for globalization to be fair, people should be able to move just as freely as goods or services or jobs.


On Science Friday July 20, 2007, in the second hour, Joe Palca interviewed Elliot Aronson, one of the co-authors of a book called "Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)" on cognitive dissonance which seems to me to explain, if not justify, how President Bush can, among other things, authorize torture while at the same time denying that the U.S. uses torture. Although the author uses Bush and Iraq as his first examples of CD, I think the more telling example is that of the prosecutor who continues to insist on the guilt of a person who has been in jail for 20 years even though DNA evidence now proves that the person is innocent. (I have read before how eye witnesses are unable to believe that they were mistaken in their identification even when there is irrefutable proof that they were.) Bush and his supporters are guilty of exactly that kind of thinking but on a global level. They have unleashed so much horror, they are incapable of believing that they could have been mistaken in doing so.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Bush and the Breakdown of Constitutional Government

The Bush Administration, with its wholesale contempt for the Constitution (lying us into a war, signing statements, promotion of torture, warrantless wiretaps and arrests, denial of habeas corpus, etc.) has shown us that the system devised by the Founders to prevent just such a usurpation of power can be circumvented. The questions that must be answered are 1) how it happened, 2) why it happened, and 3) how do we prevent it from ever happening again.

The first indication that this was going to be a dangerous Presidency occurred early in Bush's first term when it became clear that he was going to govern not as a man who had lost the popular vote and won the electoral vote in an, at best, dubious fashion (vote counts in a state governed by his brother, a Supreme Court with a majority of his party's appointees). But even those of us who were shocked by this creation of a mandate out of nothing could not anticipate all the horrors that followed.

It would easy to dismiss the Bush Presidency as the political equivalent of the " perfect storm": one party rule covering all three branches of the government plus 9/11. But a Constitution that works only under the best of circumstances is barely worth the paper it is written on.

So, what elements need to be redesigned? Clearly, the 9/11 attack, per se, could not be anticipated. But it is certainly reasonable to expect our Constitution to prevent the abuses that may reasonably be assumed to follow such an attack.

The Electoral College
Should we abolish this to ensure that the winner of the popular vote wins the Presidency? I have mixed feelings about the idea. Although it clearly can thwart, on occasion, the will of the people, just as the Senate's composition gives extra weight to those citizens who live in small states, Without these two institutions, citizens who live in small states might face an almost permanent disenfranchisement. Candidates running for office would ignore them; laws would be passed against the wishes of a, possibly small, but permanent minority. (I am assuming that the citizens of small states probably differ in significant ways from the citizens of large states.) And, let us not forget, Nixon was elected, not once but twice, with a majority of both electoral votes and popular votes.

Two-party rule
Should we prohibit control of both houses of the Congress by the same party as the President.? How we could do this, I don't know, but would it work? Well, Bill Clinton certainly would not have been impeached had one of the houses been in Democratic hands. And some of Bush's most egregious acts might have been prevented had one of the houses been in Democratic hands. We have, however, now learned that the opposition party, even when in control of both houses, is limited in what it can do with a runaway Executive Branch. And we shouldn't forget that FDR was unable to pack the Supreme Court even though his own party controlled both houses.

The Justice Department
One element common to the two most corrupt Presidencies in the past century, Nixon's and Bush's, was the transformation of the Justice Department into a powerful political arm of the governing President.

Is there, then, some way we could isolate the Justice Department from both the Presidency and the Congress without making it totally unaccountable?

The War Powers
The Constitution, explicitly and for sound historical reasons, put the power to declare War into the hands of the Congress, not the President. The founders did not want their new country to be embroiled in war after war initiated because of a power-hungry King. Yet, since at least WWII (I think), the Congress has ceded this power to the President. It has issued concurrent "support" statements when a President has authorized a military adventure or authorized a President to take "whatever actions are necessary", but it has not issued a clear and simple declaration of war.

What is it about the modern world that has caused the Congress to repeatedly, regardless of which political party was in control of either branch of government, fail to insist on exercising what must be the most important power granted to it?

Separate the roles of Head of State and Executive
Perhaps we need to to change our form of government into a parliamentary system in which the President has no real power other than to represent the country while a Prime Minister governs. Many of the citizens of this country, perhaps a majority at one time or another, invest the POTUS with almost mystical powers, a person who should not be criticized while in office because he is "THE PRESIDENT". This makes it hard for those in opposition to make their case when they object to the President's policies. At best, criticisms of the President are interpreted as criticisms of the country. In times of threat or war, their criticism is interpreted as a lack of patriotism, even treason.. A PM however, in parliamentary democracies like Britain, is just a politician who can be, and routinely is, attacked by the opposition.

Perhaps there are other things that could be done, but certainly something must be done because we have slid very far down the road toward dictatorship - if we have not already, for all practical purposes, become one.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

CBS's Sunday Morning - Lying About Lying

Today, CBS's Sunday Morning opened with a segment on lying, entertaining but not particularly informative or worthy of comment.

What made me angry, however, was the use of a lie detector - a device that has absolutely no scientific basis. We don't know if it can detect lies at all or, if it can detect them, how often it can, or how often it misidentifies as a lie something that is the truth (or vice versa). Then the "expert" stated that he didn't even need the machine: he could tell if somebody was lying by listening to the voice. Proof? None, of course.

CBS would no doubt say that lie detectors are used by businesses and government agencies around the world, so there is no reason why it shouldn't use one. But, surely, there was no need to promote the device. The segment would have been just as interesting or boring, depending on one's perspective, without including it at all. Why not choose the "at least, do no harm" option?

How many people in the world have lost a job, not gotten a job, or been jailed because of a machine that is about as scientific as a Ouija Board? And why do so many people believe these devices actually work?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Intelligent Design - The Senses - First in a Series

I'm sure it's been said before, and probably better, but if human beings were designed, the designer was either a novice, an incompetent or a sadist.

So, I've decided to look at the human body as a designer and see what exists and what could be improved, starting with the senses.

The eye gets a lot of attention from ID'ers because, they say, it couldn't have developed over time. I'll leave the detailed response to that particular idiocy to experts. But have these people ever considered what the eye's defects are? First, we see only part of the spectrum. Perhaps it would be hard to function if we saw the entire spectrum all the time, but wouldn't an intelligent designer have given us a switch or two so we could choose what part of the spectrum we would see at any given moment? And wouldn't it be useful if we could see in the dark? Or had an eye in the back of our heads so we could see danger approaching from the rear? And wouldn't it also be handy sometimes to be able to see really, really, really small things? Or to be able to see the farthest stars without a telescope?

Then, of course, there are all the visual problems human beings are subject to: near sightedness, far sightedness, astigmatism, presbyopia, cataracts, macular degeneration, blindness, etc. The eye is not, of course, unique in this respect. The typical Windows installation probably has fewer flaws than just about any component of the human body.

What about hearing? And smelling? Well, just as sight is limited to a certain spectrum, so is our hearing. Lots of animals hear better than we do. Since the world can be a very noisy place, however, I think we should be able to increase and decrease our sensitivity to various sounds at will. I would just as soon not listen at all to jackhammers, leaf blowers, or rap. As for smelling - well, I don't know if I'd like to be able to smell more things, but this is another sense for which an on/off switch would be extremely useful.

Democratic Debate - June 3, 2007 High Points

First, the moderator: Blitzer could have gotten in at least a few more questions if he had taken the time before the debate to thoroughly prepare his questions and had practiced stating them as succinctly and briefly as possible. And, as usual with these debates, he wasted valuable time on ridiculous questions, such as what each of the candidates would do with Bill Clinton.

So far, none of the moderators has focused in on, forcing responses from all the candidates, the questions that matter most to me: what would they do about Gitmo and the wholesale assault on civil liberties in this country: torture, habeas corpus, the Geneva Conventions?

Nevertheless, a couple of the candidates did mention these important issues.

Edwards was correct in calling the "War on Terror" a bumper sticker slogan:
I reject this bumper sticker, Wolf. And that's exactly what it is. It's a bumper sticker.

As president of the United States, I will do absolutely everything to find terrorists where they are, to stop them before they can do harm to us, before they can do harm to America or to its allies.

Every tool available -- military alliances, intelligence -- I will use.

But what this global war on terror bumper sticker -- political slogan, that's all it is, all it's ever been -- was intended to do was for George Bush to use it to justify everything he does: the ongoing war in Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, spying on Americans, torture.

None of those things are OK. They are not the United States of America.

In response to a question about The Patriot Act, Kucinich was eloquent:
Benjamin Franklin once said that those who would give up their essential liberties to achieve a sense of security deserve neither.

The Patriot Act has undermined civil rights in this country. And as president of the United States, one of my first acts in office will be to move forward to have the Justice Department overturn the Patriot Act as unconstitutional.

We have to remember that 9/11 led us down a cul de sac. Americans need to reconnect with our deepest sense of self here, Wolf. We have to remember that, you know, the courage that it took to form this country is still within us.

And I want to have what I call the 9/10 forum to recreate -- help us reconnect with the deeper sense of who we are as Americans.

In response to a different, and later, question about genocide in Dafur, Obama made a point that should be central to every Democratic campaign speech:
Second point, our legitimacy is reduced when we've got a Guantanamo that is open, when we suspend habeas corpus. Those kinds of things erode our moral claims that we are acting on behalf of broader universal principles, and that's one of the reasons why those kinds of issues are so important.

Gov. Richardson, in response to the same issue, said what I want to hear from every candidate - but he was cut off by Blitzer who didn't have the sense to take this opportunity to get responses from the other candidates:
We should shut down -- I would as first day as president, I would shut down Guantanamo. I would shut down Abu Ghraib and secret prisons. That is the moral authority that we don't have...

On health care, Edwards was the most honest when it came to the cost of overhauling the health care system:
Let me say, first, I think it's a very healthy thing that we have Democrats coming out with health care plans. This country's health care system is completely dysfunctional. I am proud of the fact that I was the first person to come out with a specific, truly universal health care plan.

Senator Obama came out with a plan just a few days ago, which I don't believe is completely universal, but he deserves to be credited because he laid out what the cost is, and exactly how he was going to pay for it.

I do believe that -- and by the way, you didn't say this, but my plan costs $90 billion to $120 billion a year.

I'd pay for it by getting rid of Bush's tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 a year.

And I believe you cannot cover everybody in America, create a more efficient health care system, cover the cracks, you know, getting rid of things like pre-existing conditions and making sure that mental health is treated the same as physical health, I don't think you can do all those things for nothing. That's not the truth.

And I think people have been so sick of listening to politicians who come and say, "We're going to give you universal health care. We're going to change the way we use energy in America. We're going to strengthen the middle class, have middle class tax cuts, and, in the process, we're going to eliminate the federal deficit."

I think it is way past time for Democrats to tell the American people that they can't expect something for nothing, and for Republicans to admit that they support tax cuts not in order to leave more money in people's pockets but because they want to starve the federal government in order to close down all of the government programs, which means just about everything except Defense, that they oppose. The reason Republicans don't do this, of course, is because they know they couldn't get elected dog catcher if they were honest about all the programs they want to shut down.

Senator Dodd surprised me by mentioning some key statistics that every Democrat should quote when Republicans start spouting off about our having the best health care system in the world:
Well, listen, this is a -- there's not a person in this audience or who's watching this program who wouldn't tell you that they've encountered the problems of the health care system in this country.

It is shameful. We rank 42nd in infant mortality in the United States worldwide. We rank 45th in life expectancy.

It is shameful that in the 21st century we have 47 million of our fellow citizens without health care coverage; 9 million children. And the number's growing every single day.

Look, as we've said here, there's basic agreement about universality here, dealing with information technology, preventive care, chronic illnesses -- what's been missing in all of this is the ability to bring people together to get the job done.

Senator Obama touched on the primary problem with health insurance strategies that rely on forcing everybody to buy some kind of insurance:
... But on this issue of mandatory versus nonmandatory (OFF-MIKE) going around trying to avoid buying health care coverage. And, in fact, if you look at auto insurance, in California, there's mandatory auto insurance -- 25 percent of the folks don't have it. The reason is because they can't afford it.

But, on health care, Kucinich wins. A single-payer system (which, Republicans to the contrary notwithstanding, is not the same thing as socialized medicine) is the only one that makes financial sense:
I reject this whole approach.

And the American people should know that with half the bankruptcies in the country connected to people not being able to pay their doctor bills or hospital bills, premiums, co-pays and deductibles are going so far through the roof, 46 million Americans with no health care, another 50 million underinsured, there is only one way to get health care coverage for all Americans.

And that is to have a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care system, Medicare for all.
Wolf, I have written the bill. It is H.R. 676, with John Conyers, supported by 14,000 physicians.

On gays in the military, I was surprised to find, on reading the transcripts, that the Democrats support not just ending "don't ask, don't tell" but on ending discrimination against gays in the military:

Senator Clinton:
And yet I have watched how "don't ask/don't tell" has been implemented. And I've concluded that it is not the best way for us as a nation to proceed.

It has been in many instances implemented in a discriminatory manner. You know, after the first Gulf War there was a big flood of discharges of gays and lesbians because they let them serve and then after they finished the war, then they discharged them.

In this particular time period, we've had Arabic linguists discharged under "don't ask/don't tell" when we are unfortunately so short of having people who speak the very language that our men and women in uniform have to understand in the streets of Baghdad.

So I believe we could change the policy to let gays and lesbians serve in the military and be covered by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

So just like those who are not gays and lesbians, if there were conduct problems, then the conduct problems we looked at. But people would not be judged on who they are.

Senator Biden was both brief and inspired in his response:
Peter Pace is flat wrong. I've been to Afghanistan, I've been to Iraq seven times, I've been in the Balkans, I've been in these foxholes with these kids, literally in bunkers with them.

Let me tell you something: Nobody asked anybody else whether they're gay in those holes, those foxholes, number one.

Number two, our allies, the British, the French, all our major allies, gays openly serve.
I don't know the last time an American soldier said to a backup from a Brit, "Hey, by the way, let me check, are you gay, you straight?"

This is ridiculous.

And by the way, we got a war on our hands we're trying to end. In the meantime, we're breaking the military. Nine thousand of these people have been kicked out.

And on gay marriage, Edwards cut to the core of the issue:
I don't think the federal government has a role in telling either states or religious institutions, churches, what marriages they can bless and can't bless. I think the state of New Hampshire ought to be able to make that decision for itself, like every other state in the country. I think every church ought to be able to make that decision for itself.

And I think it's very important that we stand up against intolerance and against discrimination.

I think the state and federal governments should get out of the "marriage" business altogether: They should limit themselves to authorizing civil unions, regardless of the gender of the partners. Marriage should be a religious act , not a civil act. (In Latin America, a distinction between a civil wedding and a marriage por la iglesia has long been observed.)

Blitzer's dumbest question, about Bill Clinton, elicited the best response from Gov. Richardson:
Well, the ideal job for President Clinton would be secretary general of the United States. But that's probably not doable.

On global warming, we didn't get a lot of heat or light, but Edwards gets points for stating the obvious:
But in the short term, can America finally stop spending $3 billion a year of taxpayers' money subsidizing oil and gas companies that already make billions of dollars? That's what we ought to be doing.

One day I wish Republicans would should as much concern about corporate welfare as about social welfare policies.

Biden gave the best response on Iran:
Well, first of all, I would do away with the policy of regime change. What we're saying to everybody in Iran is: Look, by the way, give up the one thing that keeps us from attacking you and after that we're going to attack you, we're going to take you down.

It's a bizarre notion, number one.

Number two, understand how weak Iran is. They are not a year away or two years away. They are a decade away from being able to weaponize with exactly what the question was, if they put a nuclear weapon on top of a missile that can strike. They are far away from that.

Number three, in fact, we have to understand how weak that government is. They import almost all of their refined oil. By 2014, they are going to be importing their crude oil. There are much better ways if we had to get to the point of real sanctions of doing economic sanctions on them forcefully that way. But at the end of the day, if they posed a missile, stuck it on a pad, I'd take it out.

Most of the MSM appears never to have heard or, at least, learned from the saying "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me". Having not just been burned but scourged on the issue of Iraq and WMDs, most pundits are nonetheless confident that the government is telling the truth this time about Iran.

Kucinich raised an important point about how bad policies can boomerang:
I don't think that a president of the United States who believes in peace and who wants to create peace in the world is going to be using assassination as a tool.

Because when you do that, it comes back at your country. And I think that Osama bin Laden, if he's still alive, ought to be held to account in an international court of law. And so should any other person who's been involved in a violation of international law which has resulted in the deaths of many people.

And so, I think that an America which has a strong stand morally in the world is an America that shows a way to get to peace. And an America that stands for peace is a strong country. So I would say to answer that question, I don't believe in assassination politics, and when you do that, you inevitably bring the assassination of our own leaders into play.

As is true of all of these debates, there was a lot of bloviating and too little specificity. One should not expect Presidential candidates to answer hypothetical questions such as "under what circumstances would you bomb Iran", but I think every candidate for President should have well-considered plans about the tax system, health care, government priorities, etc.

The moderator and the during-and-after-debate pundits were also, as usual, the ones most deserving of outright disdain with their emphasis on who "won", who looked "presidential", what this did to their various chances, etc. I don't think I heard a single comment on something substantive.

June 3, 2007 Democratic Debate Transcript

Monday, June 4, 2007

Peggy Noonan and Conservative Values - Now We Know

In the June 2, 2007 Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan is upset. Why? Because the White House is calling Conservatives who oppose the immigration bill unpatriotic.

The president has taken to suggesting that opponents of his immigration bill are unpatriotic -- they "don't want to do what's right for America." His ally Sen. Lindsey Graham has said, "We're gonna tell the bigots to shut up." On Fox last weekend he vowed to "push back." Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff suggested opponents would prefer illegal immigrants be killed; Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said those who oppose the bill want "mass deportation." Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson said those who oppose the bill are "anti-immigrant" and suggested they suffer from "rage" and "national chauvinism."

Why would they speak so insultingly, with such hostility, of opponents who are concerned citizens? And often, though not exclusively, concerned conservatives? It is odd, but it is of a piece with, or a variation on, the "Too bad" governing style.

I don't recall Ms. Noonan's being upset when opponents of the war in Iraq were called "unpatriotic". Or when opponents to Gitmo were called unpatriotic. Or opponents to torture were called unpatriotic. Or opponents to the dismissal of the Geneva Conventions as "quaint" or the end of habeas corpus were called unpatriotic.

No, that was ok because they were, after all, just Liberals.

But calling opponents to the immigration bill unpatriotic is crossing the line.

So, now we know. There are only two things that can make a Conservative get angry at a Conservative President: raising taxes and calling other bona fide Conservatives unpatriotic. Trashing the Constitution is, however, the constitutional right of a Conservative President.

The End of Faith by Sam Harris - A Review

I finished the paperback edition a short time ago. This is a book even atheists should dislike. It is a thinly disguised jeremiad against Islam, not radical Islam or Islamism, but Islam, written by a man suffering (I hope) from a severe case of 9/11 PTSD.

[I am not and never have been a Muslim and, quite frankly, of the faiths I have studied, Islam would rank fairly low on the ladder of those that I might find personally attractive.]

Impetus (excuse?) for the Book
On page 152, (all page numbers refer to the Norton paperback edition), Harris asserts that "weapons of mass destruction will soon be available to anyone who wants them." Obviously, this is the line we have been fed by the Bush Administration. It has not occurred to Harris, or many others for that matter, that these Doomsday predictions are being thrown about by the same people who assured us that Sadaam had weapons of mass destruction that could be launched against the U.S. in 15 minutes. Perhaps I am being too cynical, but isn't it possible that these scenarios have been advanced as cover for the destruction of our civil liberties? Consider the following: The sarin gas attack in Japan has not been repeated. The anthrax attack in the U.S. has not been repeated (and, indeed, has disappeared from public discourse). The 9/11 attack was shocking in the way it turned a form of transportation into a weapon, but required no arcane knowledge. All of the attacks since 9/11 have also used conventional weapons. In short: if it is so easy to build and deploy weapons of mass destruction, where are they? Why are individuals still blowing themselves up with body-bombs? Korea, a modern, industrial country, has spent years developing a nuclear capability that, based on its recent tests, could not exactly be called a major success. But Al Qaeda terrorists hiding out in the mountains of Pakistan can build one? Maybe these Doomsday scenarios are not politically-inspired nightmares, but I think it reasonable to ask just how trustworthy the predictions are.

Still, it is clear that Harris is truly afraid and that fear is the obvious justification and explanation for this book.

His Solutions to the Threat
On page 129, he writes: "What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? ... In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime --- as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day --- but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe." Wonderful: he wants us to drop a nuclear bomb on an Islamic country we are not at war with if we think it will save American lives. (Korea's nuclear weapons do not, apparently, pose the same kind of threat. Because Koreans are not Muslims?)

Pages 192-199 are a defense of torture in which, among other things, he states that "there is no ethical difference to be found in how the suffering of the tortured or the collaterally damaged appears." "... if we are unwilling to torture, we should be unwilling to wage modern war." And "Make these confessions as unreliable as you like --- the chance that our interests will be advanced in any instance of torture need only equal the chance of such occasioned by the dropping of a single bomb." So if there is a .5% chance that a terrorist will drop a bomb and a .5% chance that torturing a person will elicit that information, we are justified in torturing? "If there is even one chance in a million that he will tell us something under torture that will lead to the further dismantling of Al Qaeda, it seems that we should use every means at our disposal to get him talking."

These are the assertions of an atheist. If he is representative of all atheists, then the world certainly has as much to fear from atheists as from religious fanatics.

Focus of Book
Although the book's title contains the word "faith", it is directed predominantly at the "people of the Book": Jews, Christians, and Muslims (with most of the emphasis on the latter). By so limiting his arguments, he fails to address seriously, if at all, many important issues:

1. Is there something about the nature of religious violence that makes it worse than non-religious violence? This could be framed concretely thus: Were the Inquisitions or the European wars of religion worse than the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pat? (Harris rather flippantly avoids dealing with this issue by redefining Nazism and Communism as religions in everything but name.) Is it easier to manipulate people through calls to faith than through calls to family, tribe, ethnicity, language, or nationality? Do some religions lend themselves more easily to such manipulation than others? If so, what are the characteristics that matter?

2. Why do people believe? Not so long ago, the answer was rather simple: religion explained things that primitive (broadly defined) human beings did not understand: day and night, seasons, storms, droughts, etc. But today we know more about the universe than we have ever known; we know more about the development of life, the nature of our bodies than ever before. And every day we learn more. In short, science explains much (most?) of what various religions used to explain. Yet people still believe (and not just in the major religions but in astrology, tarot, black magic, etc.) It is not sufficient to declare that such faith is illogical. It is important to understand why, illogical as faith may be, billions of people do believe. On pages 37-39, Harris posits that it is the fear of death that is the source of religious faith. It is a not uncompelling argument, although Buddhists study to escape the cycle of unending rebirths, and I have read that it was Christianity's vision of a life after death that made it such an attractive alternative both to Judaism and non-deist religions. But, if faith helps people deal with the fact that one day they will die, what is the harm?

3. I know how Christian fundamentalists respond to such scientific findings as the age of the universe, but what about adherents to faiths not based on the Bible? Hindu cosmology describes a universe trillions of years older than ours really is, a universe that goes through ever larger cycles until it starts over.* So, how do "fundamentalist" Hindus respond to a science that says the universe is younger and is expanding forever? Do animists even care? In short, where are the fault lines between science and faith? If they are fewer, or nonexistent, in some faiths than in others, why?

4. I have studied many world religions, although not in great depth, but I think only those based on the Bible or Koran have adherents who believe that their religious texts were "written" (as it were) by a Supreme Being. The Analects of Confucius certainly were not. Nor, I think, are the basic texts of Theravada Buddhism so identified. Is the problem of a belief in an inerrant text limited to faiths based on the Bible and Koran?

5. Is religion enjoying a worldwide surge today and, if so, why? Or have believers simply become more vocal? Or are we seeing mainly a realignment: animists turning to Christianity, Catholics converting to Evangelical faiths, etc.?

Harris barely touches most of the above. He asks (p. 44) what sort of ideology would make one most capable of brutality and concludes that it is religion. But his arguments are all based on the Bible and the Koran and ignore all the other sources of violence. He may be right, that religion is the most dangerous ideology, but if he can't convince me (and I am willing to be convinced), he is unlikely to convince others. On page 13, he asserts that "intolerance is intrinsic to every creed". He simply ignores the fact that billions of people who believe widely different things have managed, at least on and off, to live at peace with their neighbors. Then there are the Latin American Catholics who also believe in astrology and tarot and black magic; the Chinese who were often adherents of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism at the same time; Japanese Buddhists who worship their ancestors in accordance with ancient Shinto rites. Hinduism is, perhaps, the most inclusive of all world religions, incorporating the symbols and stories of every faith it came in touch with until and excluding Islam. In short, not only have adherents of different faiths lived peacefully side by side but individuals can adhere to multiple creeds at the same time. This may be illogical, but it is nevertheless true. It is quite possible that the history of the world would have been much less bloody had religion never existed, but Harris doesn't even come close to proving such an assertion.

On page 53, Harris states that "Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion". True, but people may believe that blacks are inferior to whites, women are inferior to men, the English are inferior to the French, or, (a truly trivial example from a recent email I received) that it is a "myth that 'all caps' in online discussions is equivalent to shouting because shouting applies to hearing". In short, religion has no monopoly on people who believe firmly any number of things that may bear little or no relation to reality. Our ability to deceive ourselves appears to be pretty much unlimited.

The Attack on Islam
On page 33, Harris says "insert these peculiar beliefs, and one can only marvel that suicide bombing is not more widespread ." Hmmm, let's see. There are approximately 1.3 billion Muslims on the planet. (*) How many suicide bombers have there been? 500? 1000? 10,000? Let's say 10,000. That's 10,000/1,300,000,000 - a number so small, my calculator can't even handle it. A logical person, one not suffering from 9/11 PTSD, might argue that the vision of Paradise which Harris thinks is so compelling really isn't, or its attractiveness is mediated by other factors.

In Chapter 4, he asserts that "the problem with Islam" is that it is a "fringe without a center". He admits that "Christianity and Judaism can be made to sound the same, intolerant note --- but it has been a few centuries since either has done so." I think there are a few European Catholics and Protestants, to say nothing of Jews, who would be surprised to hear that.

On page 114, he dismisses the observation that Jews lived, relatively unmolested, for many centuries under Muslim rule when compared to Christianity by listing all the Muslim pogroms against Jews from 1700 to 1947. Great. Now we are comparing the relative humanity of two faiths on the basis of which has killed the most Jews? (I have often thought that the greatest tragedy that has befallen the Jews was not the destruction of the Temple or the Diaspora but the fact that Jesus and Mohammed were unable to create brand new, totally distinct religions that had absolutely nothing to do with Judaism or the Jewish Biblical stories.)

On pages 117-124, he lists a series of phrases from the Koran demonstrating its inherent intolerance. He admits that the Bible also contains some intolerant statements but concludes, with no evidence, that the Bible has countervailing statements which the Koran does not. Now, I have not studied either the Koran or the Bible in that kind of detail, but I find the argument highly suspicious. How does one weigh the intolerance of a religious text? By the number of "intolerant" statements? The percentage of violent passages to peaceful or loving passages? The actions of its most violent followers?

On pages 124-126, he discusses a Pew Research Center survey of Muslims asking if suicide bombing in defense of Islam is ever justified. Of 12 countries he lists, in two (Lebanon and Ivory Coast) more than 50% agree that it is. The percentages in the remaining 10 range from 13% to 47%. Harris sites these results as proof that Islam is inherently dangerous. I, on the other hand, given the current state of the world, was rather encouraged. Harris, anticipating that response, jiggers the numbers by including all but the "never justified" responses. The rankings, of course, change. Now, in six of the countries, more than 50% approve of suicide bombing in some circumstances. He says "These are hideous numbers. If all Muslims had responded as Turkey did (where a mere 4 percent think suicide bombings are 'often justified', 9 percent 'sometimes', and 7 percent 'rarely'), we would still have a problem worth worrying about;" Isn't it possible that those results are at least as dependent on modern events and political figures as on anything inherent in Islam? What would have been the results had the survey been conducted 100 years ago?

I found a Pew Research survey, conducted Oct. 2005, on the attitudes toward torture by Americans broken down by faith. []
63% of the general public (72% of Catholics, 65% of White Protestants, 45% of Secularists) approved of torture at least sometimes [I did the same jiggering that Harris did]. I find these numbers as frightening as Harris found his suicide bombing numbers. But what does this tell us? That Americans are awful people? That Catholics are more bloodthirsty than Secularists? Or that it is easy to get people who are afraid or feel vulnerable to support acts they would not otherwise have ever considered?

And I wonder what surveys in various countries over various periods would have shown for support for slavery, for anti-Semitism, for discrimination on the basis of sex, language or ethnicity, etc. This is not to say that the suicide bombing numbers are not disturbing. But they do not, to me, prove that Islam is inherently evil.

Concluding (somewhat rambling) Thoughts
Suicide bombing is a relatively new phenomenon. We find it especially abhorrent, I think, because of the Judaeo-Christian attitude toward suicide as well as the fact that the bombing is aimed at innocent civilians. But human history is unfortunately replete with the murder of innocent civilians. I doubt seriously whether the dead cared if they were killed by clubs, knives, arrows, machetes, guns, smallpox-infected blankets, bombs in a city square or bombs dropped from the sky. Does it matter if these civilians were killed because they were Protestants in a Catholic country or Catholics in a Protestant country, Basque speakers in a Spanish land, natives in the path of somebody else's Manifest Destiny, Tutus or Hutsis, or just road kill in the way of marauding armies? Warfare has never been limited to battles between competing professional armies.

During the past 2,000 years of world history, how many people have died at the hands of Christians vs. how many at the hands of Muslims? If it turned out that Christians had killed more people than Muslims, for religious reasons, would it prove that Christianity is inherently evil? How many people have died in wars that had no religious motivation? Was the slaughterhouse of World War I the result of religious differences? If one is going to make the argument that religion is the most dangerous force on the planet and that, of all religions, Islam is the most dangerous, one needs a lot more proof than what Harris offers in this book.

Milosevic was able to use religion to generate a genocide in the Balkans, among people who had lived side by side in peace for decades. Many of the people he roused had lived through the WWII Holocaust and so, one would have thought, would have been aware of the dangers of a genocidal appeal. But Milosevic was still able to make them see their neighbors as enemies.

For decades in this country, the phrase "Happy Holidays" has been an alternative to "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year". But two years ago, O'Reilly decided it was a sign of disrespect, an attack on Christmas by non-Christians (read "Jews"). All of a sudden, thousands of people who had probably never thought twice about it, started writing letters to major department stores, TV networks, magazines and newspapers complaining about the lack of respect for their religion. I wonder, not without some degree of fear, what the response would have been had O'Reilly demanded that department stores remove Channukah cards from their displays. Think about it. 90% of the people in America are Christian, but a few demagogues have made them believe that their religion is under attack. Why, therefore, should we be surprised if men like Bin Laden have decided to use the Koran to wage a war on the West or that they have been successful in winning adherents by doing so?

It seems to me that human beings have been designed to respond with violence to many types of appeal (think about simple mob violence). Are some religious beliefs especially amenable to manipulation by people with a thirst for power? I don't know, but Harris's book does not prove his case.

**I was more than a little surprised by the number of "secular/nonreligious/agnostic/atheist": 1.1 billion. Does Harris realize how much company he has?

*from the Wikipedia:
"The later puranic view asserts that the universe is created, destroyed, and re-created in an eternally repetitive series of cycles. In Hindu cosmology, a universe endures for about 4,320,000,000 years (one day of Brahma, the creator or kalpa) and is then destroyed by fire or water elements. At this point, Brahma rests for one night, just as long as the day. This process, named pralaya (Cataclysm), repeats for 100 Brahma years (311 trillion human years) that represents Brahma's life span. It must be noted that Brahma is the creator but not necessarily regarded as God in Hinduism. He is mostly regarded as a creation of God / Brahman."

JFK plot

Let's see. They infiltrated this group in January, 2006. 16 months later the group still has no money, no equipment, and only the fuzziest of plans.

Why, exactly, did they arrest this bunch now? Sure, you wouldn't want them to wait until they were about to touch off the match, but wouldn't it have been better - for the greater war on terror - to wait until they could catch some bigger fish?

And why do they announce not only the capture but the plans? We're not supposed to know who's in Gitmo because that would be giving aid and information to the enemy. This is different? And does it really make sense to let the world know exactly what the plans were? Isn't it possible that there may be people out there who had never thought of this particular tactic but will now consider it as one more option.

I think, perhaps, the greatest single danger to this nation at the moment, terrorwise, are these government officials who announce the capture of obviously inconsequential people with grandiose ideas that a more competent group of terrorists will learn from.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hillary and the Ambivalence of Women

As usual, Anna Quindlen, in her column for the Newsweek issue of May 28, 2007, nails it. In brief: women had been hoping that the first woman President would break the mold. But there is nothing mold-breaking about Hillary. She is the quintessential politician, male politician.

Anna Quindlen - The Brand New and Same Old

Elsewhere in the issue, Carl Sferrazza Anthony discusses what Bill would do, and what we should call him. First Gentleman? Yuck. But First Gent? Yep, I'll buy that.

And You Do What, Exactly?

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Polarizing Hillary Clinton

The adjective "polarizing" has been attached like a leech to Hillary Clinton. But what, exactly, is polarizing about Hillary? Perhaps more to the point, why is she "polarizing"? The answer is simple and awful: the only thing polarizing about Hillary is the fact that Right Wing Conservatives loathe her and Bill with a hatred that can only be described as pathological, going back to Bill Clinton's first run for the Presidency.

What is awful is that her qualifications for the job are irrelevant. The demagogues will probably be effective in stopping her. Even her biggest supporters can't help but dread a Hillary Clinton Presidency, not because she wouldn't be a good President - she could not, of course, be worse than the Shrub, although that's setting the bar pretty low since not many could be worse than the worst President in the history of the United States - but because her Presidency would be plagued from Day 1 with an endless stream of vitriol from the Right amplified by the scandal-hungry media. It would take a person with far more charisma than Hillary has to rise above those attacks.

I am not endorsing her candidacy. But I enormously resent having my evaluation of her candidacy being so thoroughly distorted and manipulated by hate-mongerers.

In Defense of Alberto Gonzales, Sort OF

As performance art, Gonzales' testimony in the House and Senate are Oscar-worthy. Nixon's attorney general John N. Mitchell was pugnacious, disdainful, arrogant (like Bork and Thomas during their nomination hearings). But I never saw anything but the blandest, almost sweet expression on the face of Gonzales. He mouthed inanities and inconsistencies with no apparent sense that what he was saying made him look to be a fool.

He makes me think of the underrated Vanna White. It is no small feat to turn letters over, smile, and clap minute after minute, over and over for hours at a time. (It is my understanding that multiple programs are recorded on a single day.)

Like Ms. White, Mr. Gonzales was almost always cheerful in his answers. His lack of concern for either truth or competence, a total lack of concern not disdain, would make him a superb press secretary.