Saturday, January 31, 2004

Never hire anyone who went to school in Georgia
Many of us have given attention the recommendation of Georgia’s state school superintendent that the word that describes gradual change over time be dropped from the state science curriculum. What has gotten less attention is that the new curriculum recommendations do far more damage to History than they do to Science. Fortunately, Dave Morgen, a commenter to Calpundit was good enough to point out this drooling idiocy.

Following Dave to his source we find the following:
  • The new curriculum calls for teaching only the period from 1500 to the 21st century.
  • Students will no longer study such figures as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, William the Conqueror or Joan of Arc.
  • "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" will not be mentioned.
  • The development of democratic government in Greece and the fall of the Roman Empire will be skipped.
  • Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha and Confucius are not to be found in the new curriculum.
  • Great civilizations like ancient Egypt will no longer merit study, and the concept of feudalism will not be discussed.
  • Teachers will spend two or three weeks discussing the foundation of our country, with the remaining time devoted to studying events from 1876 to the present.

(Bullet points added).

This means that in American History:
  • That thing where some people own other people won’t be mentioned at all.
  • That flag that is a symbol of Southern heritage that liberals, northerners, and other traitors object to won’t be explained at all. It will already exist at the beginning of history.
  • The only reasons that will be given for Negroes to feel that they have been badly treated in the South or that Affirmative Action is justified will be something to do with drinking fountains and bathrooms.

And in world history, civilization begins with the Protestant Reformation. Nothing else matters.

I’ve taught college level Western Civilization. No one coming out of this school system would pass even the lowest level classes from me.
The misguided rationale behind the hastily prepared revision is that we teach too much history in high school. The solution? Eliminate 40 percent of the current coursework.

As a delightfully sarcastic student said to me once, “History was easier to learn when you were a student; there was so much less of it.” I gave her an A.
Imagine a similar approach with math. Teach half the multiplication tables and test only the half that is taught. Surely scores would rise and the headlines would scream that math scores improved! But students suffer when perception becomes more important than learning.

But that is only half of the point. The rest is the effort to remove anything even remotely controversial from the curriculum. When they get to the middle twentieth century: “Teachers are also encouraged to assign essays about dating in the Jazz Age and to show segments from ‘All in the Family,’ ‘Good Times’ and ‘Chico and the Man.’” Of course “Chico and the Man” was the most important thing to happen to America and the South in the seventies.

I don’t have to speculate that these laughable standards will put Georgia students at a disadvantage, I have the promise of the Biology Department at the University of Georgia:
As head of advising for biology majors at the University of Georgia, I will recommend that we not give advance placement credit for college-level introductory biology, regardless of test score, to students who take biology in Georgia high schools.

A student who wants to be a science teacher or go to medical, dental or other graduate school will have to retake intro biology here.

Perhaps here is an insidious new strategy behind all of this. When Kansas undermined evolution in their state curriculum, they became a laughing stock. So far this year Missouri, Minnesota, Montana, and Georgia are all reducing their curricula to something that could be taught from Jack Chick comics. If state after state adopts such curricula, how can any one be a laughing stock? When enough states do it, they establish a national standard. If all of the states are equally in the low level of their education, industries that are dependent on quality science education will have no choice but to accept them. It’s not like they can go to India to find high tech workers?

Thursday, January 29, 2004

New tactics
Here’s a silly new creationist tactic. If they can’t drive the concept of evolution out the schools, they’ll try to drive the word “evolution” out. The new guidelines for middle and high school science classes in Georgia do just that.
Much of the state's 800-page curriculum was adopted verbatim from the "Standards for Excellence in Education," an academic framework produced by the Council for Basic Education, a nonprofit group. But when it came to science, the Georgia Education Department omitted large chunks of material, including references to Earth's age and the concept that all organisms on Earth are related through common ancestry. "Evolution" was replaced with "changes over time," and in another phrase that referred to the "long history of the Earth," the authors removed the word "long."

The result of such curricula in other states is that it does not necessarily win kids over to fundamentalist view point as it’s sponsors hope; it just assure that they are confused about what science is, how it works, and what the leading theories are. When they get to college, the students are incompetent in geology, astronomy, some physics, and, of course, biology.
The Giuliani rumor
Along with the morning-after New Hampshire analyses, I became aware of a new rumor yesterday. I think it’s older than that, but yesterday is when I noticed it. Some people are speculating that the Bush might dump Cheney and take on Giuliani as his VP sometime before the election. Tristero just wants to run screaming into traffic. Jesse and Ezra at Pandagon had a short discussion about it. Jesse thinks it’s unlikely, but Ezra thinks the danger is real (the posts are here, here, and here the comments are good on all three posts).
I think Ezra overstates how bad it would be:
[T]here is almost certainly discussion underway on whether or not to axe Cheney. From a political point of view, it makes a lot of sense. Get rid of him and you get rid of the guy who is believed to be the puppet master, the ideologue, the one who got us into Iraq, etc. I wouldn't be surprised if he takes tacit blame for a number of mistakes (he's also the villain in O'Neill's recent book) and then exits stage right, taking criticisms with him. A tearful farewell at the Republican convention coupled with the surprise announcement of Rudy as VP would be political dynamite for Bush and a disaster for the Democrats.

Yes, there would be some advantage to letting Cheney take the fall for some of the administration’s failures and yes, there would be some advantage to taking “America’s Mayor” onboard. It would certainly raise the stakes on their schlock extravaganza that they intend to hold during the party convention/911 anniversary/WTC memorial dedication. Perhaps they think “America’s Mayor” can trump the presence of a half million protestors. But I think there would be downsides to both parts of that equation.

If Cheney was going to take the blame for anything, the administration would first have to admit that they might have done some things wrong and that would open up a discussion that they really don’t want to have just before the election.

Even if they just gracefully retire Cheney for “health reasons” and replace him with Giuliani, they need to remember that Giuliani had huge negatives before 9/11. They can’t count on the warm glow of his last days in the public eye continuing. All of his previous career would be dragged out for examination. He didn’t just annoy liberals like you and me; he also had some very devoted enemies to his right. When Giuliani was at the Justice Department he was the one who kept the fire under the feet of the FBI agents who tracked down and killed Posse Comitatus martyr Gordon Kahl. The Militia/Patriot/Identity Christian nuts that the administration has been quietly winking at would go nuts over him joining the ticket (and I don’t mean the good “oh-boy” kind of nuts). Except for law and order, he was pretty much a moderate on most issues. He is on record as pro-choice. He has marched in gay pride parades. He had a very public, very ugly divorce. How will all of that go over with the religious right?

And there is Giuliani himself. He has a bit of an ego. How well could he play second banana and pretend like he has seen the light about how wrong he was in his past opinions? The main bribe that the GOP could offer is that he would be the anointed candidate in 2008. But he has plenty of reason to believe that he is already in that position without debasing himself for four years.

None of this means that this deal is or is not in the works. I but it does mean that it is neither inevitable, I think many Republicans will have doubts about the idea, or invulnerable, Rudy’s advantages and baggage balance out. We can beat him.

Afterthought: Many of the comments at Pandagon dismiss Giuliani because they assume Jeb will be the inheritor of the Bush dynasty. This is a boogey of the Left roughly equivalent to what Hillary is to the Right. I’m sure Jeb would like that, but I’ve seen nothing in George Jr. to suggest that he is willing to lift a finger to make it happen. Keep in mind the embarrassingly Oedipal way he keeps trying to trump his father’s legacy. Keep in mind that for many GOP strategists, Jeb was their first choice as Bush II and Junior was their second choice. Also keep in mind that Jeb’s failure to to deliver Florida in 2000 created the need for Baker and Scalia to come to the rescue and cast a shadow of illegitimacy over his entire term. This is one of the most vindictive and petty men to ever inhabit the White House. It’s more likely that George Jr. wants to be THE Bush and would rather never see another Bush in the White House than hand the keys to his brother on a silver platter. The Kennedys worked for the good of the family. George Jr. does not play well with others.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Brain drain
Chris Mooney has a post on the consequences of various Bush administration (bad) policies and their openly anti-science attitudes. Namely, we are no longer competitive in the recruitment of scientists and high tech specialists. We are, in fact, driving some of our own scientists away. As causes he cites specific policies and attitudes of the administration that make the country less welcoming to foreigners and less business-friendly for intellectual industries while also lowering the prestige of American science abroad. There has been a dramatic reduction in the number of visas available for immigrants to work in science and technology. The government has shifted its attention from encouraging high-tech industries to subsidizing agriculture and resource extraction industries. Government policies on research are more directed toward getting politically desirable answers than in getting accurate information. And so the brightest stars are staying home or going to more science friendly industrial countries. But why do we need bio-tech, computing, and materials science when we have logging and mining to sustain our economy?
New Hampshire footnote
Atrios points out an interesting phenomenon in the primary results: ” ...a rather odd thing is the number of people who voted in the Republican primary, but wrote in the names of Democrats...”

I had to go look this one up. The full results from the primary show not only minor candidates, but write-ins as well. On the Democratic side, minor candidates and write-ins amounted to less than one percent. Bush got about one hundred votes (103, but a precincts haven’t reported as I write this). That’s less than on tenth of one percent. It’s easy to think of a few reasons why someone might enter a protest vote like that: Democrats strongly in favor of the war or mad at their party for some reason, independents who wanted to embarrass the Democrats, heavy drinking before voting.

Over on the Republican side 14.5 percent of the voters voted against Bush. More than half of those votes were write-ins for Democrats. Kerry got 2.3 percent of the Republican vote. Are that many Republicans that upset with their party? This is something that bears watching.

Monday, January 26, 2004

The migrations of January
It?s January. The state legislators have returned to the capitals to fuss over their declining budgets and try to do something that will convince their constituents that they deserve to be re-elected this fall. And following the return of the legislators is the inevitable migration of creationists with bills and guidelines in hand to protect our children from the evils of uncensored evolution and science education in general.

So far, I?ve heard of efforts to limit the teaching evolution and mandate the inclusion of intelligent design theory (the latest incarnation of creationism) in Montana, Missouri, and Minnesota. There will be others. This is a subject I feel strongly about. I?ll be writing about some of the individual state battles as they pop up (starting later this week). If you can?t wait, go to Pharangula and read about the Minnesota science standards hearings.
More baby talk from our leaders
It looks like the administration is engaging in a full on propaganda offensive to counter Kay’s unambiguous comments on what a waste the weapons search has been ("I don't think they exist"). Cheney is at Davos still babbling about “proven” al Qaeda-Saddam links and Ashcroft is in Vienna talking about evil sciences:
"I believe there is a very clear understanding that Saddam Hussein continued to pose a threat," Ashcroft said.
"Weapons of mass destruction, including evil chemistry and evil biology, are all matters of great concern, not only to the United States, but also to the world community," he said. "They were the subject of UN resolutions."

Not “chemistry and biology used for evil purposes,” but “evil chemistry and evil biology.” Pity the poor translator who had to try and deliver that line with some dignity. I have to take the obvious cheap shot here. In Ashcroft’s medieval mind, is anything done in a laboratory by scientists (who probably believe in evolution) some form of satanic alchemy? (I stole that joke from Pandagon.)

What is it with these people? They’ve managed to take a good word and, through endless repetition, make it sound silly and childish. Evil was a great word that only had it’s effectiveness and power as long as it was held in reserve for only the most polar extremes of human behavior. They’ve ruined it.

Is this the best Karl Rove can do to justify the war? Cheney on a rather pathetic big lie mission, repeating stories that even network news anchors know have been thoroughly discredited? Ashcroft making baby talk with no content at all? If the past is any indication, their options are limited. They will not admit to having been wrong and they will not honestly address the questions of their critics. That leaves trying to destroy the credibility of the messenger or trying to divert us. I suppose having just slimed Paul O’Neil, it might be too soon for another slime job without looking too obvious (although I expect the sliming to begin anyway). So what kind of diversion could be in the wings? Mars? Show trials for Guantanamo detainees? A massive, but unfunded, program to eliminate steroids from professional sports?

Sunday, January 25, 2004

…and this one is clearly a Pringles can
Secular Blasphemy and Pharangyula have noticed that Richard Hoagland is still quite active. Hoagland became a staple in fringe science circle about twenty-five years ago when he began pushing the face on Mars (a mesa in the Cydonia region) as proof positive of an advanced extraterrestrial civilization in the distant past. When NASA wasn’t sending anything to Mars during the Reagan and papa Bush administration Hoagland claimed it was because they were afraid and demanded Mars probes. When NASA began sending lots of probes during the Clinton administration, Hoagland claimed it was to carry out a fiendish cover-up. Now he and his gang are going over the Spirit pictures rock by rock and declaring each one to be a manufactured artifact. Apparently the Spirit landed in a Martian auto wrecking yard. Naturally, when Spirit went silent for a while it was so NASA could work on the cover-up.

Update: Reader Rodger Stevens, points out that I got Mr. Hoagland's first name wrong. It is Richard, not Edward, as I first mentioned and have now corrected. There is at least one Edward Hoagland out there that I am aware of (the source of my confusion), a prominent essayist, whose subject matter is nothing like Richards.

Richard Hoagland is an entertaining example of one of the things that I find fascinating about certain inhabitants of the fringe. He is very intelligent and well read. Before he dicovered the face in Cydonia, he was a science journalist at the top of his game. I'm told he's a great speaker. But for some reason he looks at the same information as others and comes to radically different conclusions. P.Z. Meyers suggests he has apophenia, "the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena." Whatever the source, he has plunged deep into a conspiratorial outlook and shows no sign of coming out.
Panda gone?
I haven’t been able to reach Pandagon since Friday. Is anyone else having this problem? Does anyone know what the straight poop is on this? Are Jesse and Ezra under siege again, is it just me, or is something else going on? Did someone open the box and, upon finding no cat at all, cause the quantum wave function to collapse into a different shared reality with no Jesse and Ezra? And if so how will that effect the New Hampshire primary?

Just wondering.

Update: Jesse and Ezra have fallen back onto the face of the earth. They have a note from their mother, so it's an excused absence.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

A request
I've had a comment (and noticed myself) that the little archy icon in my logo doesn't display very well on all machines. For instance, I see it just fine at home but if I was to check the site on my machine at work (which I wouldn't, because that would be a non-work use of my time and therefore wrong. But speaking hypothetically, if I did...), I wouldn't see it. So, I've scanned a new image in a different format. If you are one of those people who couldn't see the old icon, drop me a line and let me know if you have any problems with this one. Thanks.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Captain Kangaroo is dead
Bob Keeshan, childrens' advocate and star of Captain Kangaroo for 36 years, died this morning.

Fred Rogers died about the time I started blogging and I was surprised at the outpouring of sadness from the blogging community. I respected Rogers and felt bad, but I'm old enough that I didn't have a strong emotional attachment to him. Captain Kangaroo is a different matter.

Like Rogers, Keeshan's genius lay in being calm, respectful, and intimate with us rather than pandering to our sociopathic natures as kids. He created a warm safe place for an hour each morning. While Rogers was a friendly neighbor, Keeshan was everybody's grandfather. I'm not sure whether he ever thought it out this way, but he picked a valuable role to play. In the years after WWII, as families became more mobile, many kids didn't know their grandfathers; the role of grandfather was empty and needed to be filled.

Like all good childrens' show hosts, Keeshan had a special talent for creating memorable characters to act as his sidekicks. On Captain Kangaroo, the most important one by far, was Mr. Green Jeans (Hugh (Lumpy) Brannum, a former big-band bass player). I think that Mr. Green Jeans was second only to Smoky the Bear in developing an environmental consciousness among the baby boomers.

Keeshan had strong opinions about his business and about taking care of kids. He personally approved any ads that ran on his show, rejecting products that he thought exploited kids or were a waste of time. He sat on the boards of numerous foundations. He wrote books for parents and lobbied congress. In his later years he became a full-time advocate, working Fred Rogers to push for better programing and with Lamarr Alexander to provide corporate day-care facilities.

I think all of the great kid's hosts of that day are gone now. Rogers, died last year, Miss Frances of Ding Dong School in 2001, Shari Lewis in 1999, Buffalo Bob Smith in 1998, and Mr. Green Jeans in 1987 (the late Jim Henson was the next generation, but he belongs in the same pantheon). Now we have mostly corporate crap and, though some it is quite good, it just doesn't have the same warmth as those cheesy old black and white shows. I'll mis him.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

This is more like it
Via Atrios:
Sources with knowledge of the case tell TIME that behind closed doors at the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse, nearby the Capitol, a grand jury began hearing testimony Wednesday in the investigation of who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak and other journalists.

The article goes on to say that they have not begun to subpoena journalists yet. I wonder who Time’s source is.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Bush is not stupid, but so what?
Pandagon points out a great quote from a Philosoraptor post that I manages to miss the first time around.
"All evidence suggests" that Bush doesn?t arrive at ANY conclusions independently. During the campaign of 2000, we were told that Bush would be our first "CEO president." Sure, he didn't know many, you know, facts, and sure, he wasn't a very good, you know, reasoner, but he'd surround himself by good advisors. And recently we found out that he doesn't even read the papers, but gets his information from those advisors, too. Leading one to wonder: why, exactly, does Bush need to be a part of the decision-making process at all? Either he follows the advice of his advisors to the letter, in which case he is basically irrelevant to the process or he deviates from their advice in which case the decision is made by the uninformed person rather than the informed people.

For Philosoraptor, this is just a throw-away point on his way to a discussion of what he calls "hiving" and the "great unhinging." The whole essay is a thoughtful exposition on a problem that bloggers and society in general need to address. But, for the moment, I want to stick with the decision-making capacity of the leader of the free world.

Pandagon suggests out that this borders on a betrayal of the public trust:
Would you feel better if you knew that Bush made the decisions or if he didn't? It's a tough one, and it strikes at the heart of this next election. We elect a president, not a cabinet. As such, we elect someone because we trust their ability to make the decisions that come across their desk. If Bush isn't actually making the decisions then he has, in a strange way, subverted the way we choose our government by having us choose a spokesperson and not a president.

Though a bit overstated, Pandagon nails the problem. The essence of delegation of responsibility (which is what we do when we elect someone) is trust. We trust our representative to make decisions in a way that we will approve of. Unfortunately, one of those decisions is who to listen to and whether to delegate further. Bush?s behavior as our delegate is an extreme case but not unique.

It's interesting that the 2000 campaign used the image of the "CEO president" to describe Bush, because the best parallel I can think of for his style is a bad business executive. Anyone who has worked in the bottom three-quarters of a corporation of any size has experienced the executive who has the trust and even affection of his peers and higher, but is generally regarded as a drooling idiot by everyone below. Typical comments from the productive classes are "Who hired that idiot?" and "Does he actually do anything around here?" Conference calls and charging lunch to the company seem to be their only visible skills, yet they do not seem to be aware of their intrinsic lack of worth. To hear them describe it, their value comes from something called "keeping track of the big picture." I'm not sure what would happen to that big picture if they stopped keeping track of it and I probably will never find out because they are ever vigilant in their track keeping.

All of the - admittedly anecdotal - evidence I've seen about Bush the businessman and Bush the politician fit that mold. Bush doesn't like to make decisions. He doesn?t like to be bothered by details. He doesn't like to be questioned and he doesn't like to be challenged (in either sense of the word). He likes to give commands. When someone brings a problem to his attention, he likes to be able to say, "Solve that problem," and not think about it again until it is time to celebrate the victory.

Bush is also the least curious person ever to inhabit the White House. He is uninformed, un-intellectual and often anti-intellectual. None of this means he?s stupid; it is said that he has a high level of political cunning. But combined with his management style, this leaves him shockingly isolated from the real world. Bush does have a few pet issues (winning the family penis back from Saddam was one), but as long as those are taken care of, his handlers pretty much have free reign to do as they please.

Bush shares another characteristic with the bad executive I've described: he has a very narrow conception of to whom he is responsible. Though millions of people took part in hiring him, he only cares about the couple thousand who paid for the election. The bad executive might be perfectly amiable to those below, or he might be a perfect bastard, but the bottom line is, the people below just don't matter. Only the big boys matter. Bush might do great things for the common people or he might destroy the lives of millions. In either case it would be an entirely unintentional side effect of helping the people who (to him) really matter. It is more likely to be the latter than the former because Bush's big boys are a corporate kleptocracy that seems intent on looting America and anything else they can get their hands on for short-term gain. I don't think he is bought and paid for by these people. I don't think he has an evil master plan. I think he just wants to please the only people who matter to him. If he wasn't such a disaster for so many people, he would be pathetic.

Some critics of Reagan commented that it was a shame the United States had combined the positions of head of state and head of government. Reagan, they said, was a crappy head of government, but would have made a good king. He looked great on horseback. He was a graceful and charming host for visiting dignitaries. Bush would be happy with that kind of job description, but sadly doesn't ride horses and is a rather tactless host. Since we can't kick him upstairs we'll have to let him go.
Etymology and marketing
Cheese Weasel informs us that canola oil does not come from canola plants; it comes from rapeseeds. There is no such thing as a canola plant. The rape is a relative of mustard, though the word rape derives from an old Germanic term for turnips. The rape has a venerable history in art and mythology. Who can forget the moving stories of the turnip of the Sabine women and the turnip of Europa?

It seems that when someone began selling oil from rapeseeds, their marketing department decided that “Rape Oil” would have limited appeal and made up a new name for it. “Canola” is short for “Canadian oil.” Heck, I could have called that one; marketing isn’t that hard.
Template fun
I've noticed since my template meltdown of two weeks ago that some of my blogroll links have not worked. I think I have them all restored now. Let me know if you notice any that are still funky.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Can we do it right this time?
Ever since the conservative strategy makers discovered how effective demonizing the liberal media was for rallying the faithful and extracting concessions from that same liberal media, news junkies and amateur politicos of both sides have spent more and more of their time analyzing news coverage for signs of bias against their position. Of course, during those same years the now famous American cultural trait of regarding victimhood as a highly desired status was developing. Whatever it’s origins, the art of hunting for media hostility has reached its fullest flower here in the blogosphere. To be aware of authorial bias and agendas is a sign of a sophisticated reader or viewer and Americans as a whole have become very sophisticated readers and viewers. And keeping the pressure on our major information sources keeps them honest (though in most cases laziness and gullibility are bigger problems than genuine dishonesty).

With that in mind and with the full knowledge that my request will have no effect at all, I’m going to ask that we all lighten up a little. Too often our media watching comes across as a childish game of gotcha. This is going to be a long emotional year for most of us; we need to conserve our strength and focus our energy where it will have the best results.

Writing to editors, producers, and owners over every tiny issue of nuance, interpretation, and detail produces bad results. We create so much white noise that the really serious complaints of misrepresentation and partisanship are lost in the shuffle. We make ourselves too easy to dismiss as “mere” bloggers.

Starting at the top produces bad results. When Michael Savage was on MSNBC many bloggers went right after Bill Gates. Gates was not Savage’s producer. He was not the program director of MSNBC or the president of MSNBC. He was the primary stockholder in one of the parent companies of MSNBC. Do we really want the stockholders of media companies dictating programming? Trust me, had he reacted, we would not have been happy with the precedent.

Complaining to the powers that be at Fox is a waste of time. They want to offend us.

On the other hand, biding our time, collecting our facts, and choosing our battles will produce the best results. If we organize our massive responses, that are respectful, well thought out, focused on facts rather than opinions, and directed toward outlets that really do want to do more than preach to the right-wing choir, we can have a real effect on the way news is reported.

Blogging has the potential to add something new and valuable to the way news is disseminated and interpreted. It also has the potential to become just another pointless source of noise in our lives. Remember, TV was originally hailed as a great educational tool. The way Kos and others are going into the guts of the nominating process is the best way to use this new tool. Filling comment strings, regardless of the original topic, with whines of “I want to talk about how the media is misrepresenting my candidate” is the wrong way to use it. Bring the best blogging voices together the way group blos like American Street do is the best way to use it. Laying siege to the New York Times over every Maureen Dowd opinion piece is the wrong way to use it.

This is not to say that hard political news is the only legitimate use of blogging. Gossip, community building, satire, stupid criminal stories, and science trivia also have a place in the blogosphere (and in archy). I’m just feeling cranky about some of the wasted political energy that I see. I’d rather see that energy focused on the most efficient action to make George Bush unemployed a year from Tuesday.

Update: Corrected wrong first name for Savage and some sloppy punctuation.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Summary of the previous three posts
I really don’t get grown-up economics, but I think Bush is bad for working people.
Rebuttal to the previous rebuttal
But wait! We liberals are not just hate-filled; we’re actively evil (just ask Rush and Ann). If we believe Bush is bad for America, we must want to have more of him. Therefore, we need to create the illusion of an improving economy to help him win reelection and do more damage to America. Remember, we hate America for some reason. We need to goof off more to suck up the unemployment and make Bush look good. Don’t go to work at all on Monday.
Rebuttal to the previous post
As hate consumed Bush haters (the redundancy shows just how hateful we are), we need to do everything possible to drive the hated usurper Bush from office. Working less to lower unemployment creates the illusion of an improving economy and protects Bush from one of our most powerful arguments against his whole illegitimate regime. Bush is bad for the economy. We know this and are so sure of our guns that we will do everything in our power to make the economy worse and ensure his removal come November. We are so consumed with hate that we care nothing about the additional suffering that our working harder creates. So, don’t wait for Monday; go into work on Sunday and put in extra, unpaid hours (if you aren’t already just to keep your pathetic insecure job). By doing so you’ll put more people out of work and defeat the object of our hatful hate.
The morality of goofing off
Whenever the talking heads and government spokes-units begin to talk about the economy, one of the statistics that inevitably gets thrown around is that of worker productivity. Productivity is up and high productivity is good! I’m going to take issue with that judgment.

Think about it. What does higher productivity mean? It means each worker produces more. We get the same amount of output from fewer workers. In a time of high unemployment, or any unemployment for that matter, how ethical is that? By producing more, we are keeping jobs from people who need them. Snatching, as it were, bread from the mouths of their hungry children—of their cute and completely blameless hungry children. As bleeding heart liberals, our duty is to produce less and thereby create jobs for our unemployed comrades.

So, for the good of America, when you get to work on Monday, Google the names of as many of your grade school friends as you can remember. It’s the right thing to do.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

New Blog on the block
Some of my favorite bloggers have banded together to form a new group blog The American Street. The ring leader seems to be Kevin Hayden of Reach em High Network Noose. The cast is rapidly growing, but so far includes the best legal blogger around, Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft, economic blogger Angry Bear; Mary Ratcliff of Pacific Views and the Left Coaster; the eponymous Mark A. R. Klieman of Mark A. R. Klieman; and an old friend of mine (who inspired me to become a blogger), David Neiwert of Orcinus. All of these bloggers are first-rate sources of insightful commentary and background. If you want more than sound-bite news, American Street should go on your daily read list.

I should have all of these good people on my blogroll over to the left. If I lost any in my template meltdown last week, maybe I can make up for it by posting The American Street right at the top of the roll.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Bad moon rising
I was a kid in the sixties. Among other things, that means I grew up during the waning days of whiggish faith in technological progress, which is just a big-word way of justifying being a space geek. By the twenty-first century, I expected to be able to take a monorail, jetpack, or flying car out to the nearest spaceport and whiz off to a cheap lunar vacation or even just a weekend jaunt on my three-day weekends. And although my enthusiasm for all things space related continues unabated, I am not in the least impressed with Bush’s Moon and Mars proposal.

There are endless reasons to object to this plan, but let me mention just the three that tick me off the most.

We can’t afford it. I hate to have to say this because this is the perennial objection of opponents of basic research in general and the space program in particular. As a fan of science and space it really gripes me to have to be on their side on this one. I think a big open-ended project with an inspiring goal like the original moon program is a great idea. It would do wonders for the country, by giving people something bigger than their grubby lives to work toward. It would provide a huge works program for middle class professionals, the people who contribute the most to charity and local economies. It would have countless positive unintended consequences (the opponents of space research sneer that the moon program’s only practical results were Tang and Teflon. They are wrong. It produced quantum leaps in materials technology, medical monitoring, and computing). However, in three short years, the Bush administration has made such a basket case out of our economy that we can’t afford a big investment in anything that won’t produce an immediate financial return. Clinton could have afforded it and Bush could have afforded it before his first idiotic tax refund for his rich peers. Today our government can’t afford science.

It’s bad science. There is very little to be learned by going to the moon that hasn’t already been learned by going to the moon. Sending a robot to the moon is vastly cheaper than sending a human to the moon, and we don’t declare an entire generation traumatized when a robot makes a crater instead of a smooth landing. We have two space programs that are in direct competition for the same dollars. One program is for pure science; what can we learn about the universe beyond the surface of our planet. The other is to learn how to send people into space; the goal of such is to solve engineering problems, not to create knowledge. The former can help the latter quite a bit. The latter can only very rarely help the former. We need both, but a very careful balance must be struck between the two. A massive manned program will destroy that balance. The Bush administration is aware of that and has decided to completely give up science.
Sources said Bush will direct NASA to scale back or scrap all existing programs that do not support the new effort. Further details about the plan and the space agency's revised budget will be announced in NASA briefings next week and when the president delivers his FY 2005 budget to Congress.

The space shuttle nearly destroyed hard space science for NASA. During the entire eight years of the Reagan administrations, no new scientific missions were initiated. The United States can only support a couple of big science projects at a time. During Republican administration we can usually afford one or two, and those are safest if they can claim some military utility. Bush’s space fleet might sound cool, but it would essentially mean the end of federal science spending in the USA. We would have no particle research, no advanced biotech, no fusion research, no nanotech, and no global warming research. Maybe that’s the point.

They aren’t going to do it anyway. But my biggest objection is that I think it’s a load of crap. This is the most nakedly political administration in the history of the republic. As we work or way up to the State of the Union address, Bush’s handlers will come up with a whole slew of “bold” initiatives (I know, “bold” was last year’s word. I haven’t yet received the RNC memo on this year’s word). “Old people dieing because of the price of medical care? Promise them cheap drugs. Soccer moms think we’re cold hearted; Hispanics aren’t voting for us? Promise to be nice to immigrants. Educated boomers think we lack vision? Promise them Mars. Just make sure there are no measurable milestones before the election.”

Even Greg Easterbrook knows it's a boondoggle: "[W]hy might George W. Bush endorse a Moon base or Mars mission? Either he's a science illiterate surrounded by advisors who are science illiterates, or it's a blank check for aerospace contractors." Bastards. They're just ridiculing our dreams. I wouldn’t trust this crowd if Rove himself came to my house and gave me my jetpack.
Sweaters are not bad
I want to like Maureen Dowd. I know a lot of bloggers want to bash her as just another media whore, but I’m inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. As a regular reader of the New York Times op-ed page, I enjoy her as a breath of fresh air among the solid, pontificating, testosterone-laden males that dominate that page. So I find her latest column about Wesley Clark’s sweaters a bit disappointing. She could have taken a fresh angle on this piece or she could have repeated the Oh-my-God-Al-Gore-wears-brown silliness from 2000. She chose the latter. In case we missed the point, she even repeated the Gore canard, “Al Gore sprouted earth tones in 2000, hoping heathery brown sweaters and khakis would warm him up.” Sigh.

This could have been a very pleasant story about a man who hasn’t had to dress himself since he left his mother, learning how to be a civilian. The current inhabitant of the White House dressed in a uniform he is not entitled to, in order to disrupt the home coming of an entire aircraft carrier full of honorable service members on their way back to their families, for an embarrassingly premature victory dance and photo op. Gen. Clark exposed himself to the intrusive glare of the press while he sheepishly tried to learn the dress of the most honored rank of all: citizen of the republic. He should get credit for this effort, not snide scorn.
Lucky stupidity isn’t a crime
Jeralyn over at TalkLeft has this little goodie:
DENVER (AP) - A 24-year-old Army sergeant was removed from an American Airlines flight after an inert land mine was found in his checked baggage, the Transportation Safety Administration said.

TSA screeners noticed the land mine Friday, pulled the bag from the luggage system at Denver International Airport and confiscated the mine, TSA spokesman Mike Fierberg said. No flights were delayed. The soldier, whose name was not released, could face civil penalties for trying to put a prohibited item aboard a flight, Fierberg said. No criminal charges would be filed, he said. The man was released by police, but the airline refused to allow him aboard his flight to Dallas, Fierberg said.

For lack of more details, I’ll have to make a few assumptions here. I’m guessing that the term “inert” in the first paragraph means nonfunctional and that the land mine was rendered nonfunctional by removing the explosive charge. In other words, he was carrying the empty shell of a land mine home as a souvenir. At least that’s what I hope it means based on the fact that no criminal charges were made. I can’t imagine the authorities not bringing criminal charges against someone who tried to bring a functional explosive device, or any kind of explosive substance, on board a commercial flight. “Victor,” in the comments at TalkLeft suggests that this is the case and the civil charge the sergeant is for not declaring such an item.

What was the good sergeant thinking? Hasn’t he heard that there is a war on and that some people, especially around airplanes, are a wee bit paranoid? Actually, I do know what he was thinking; I’ve known too many people like that. He managed to rationalize his way around to talking himself into something really stupid. Oh, it’s not a real mine and they don’t check all of the baggage so they probably won’t even notice. He just doesn’t take that next step in his chain of thought: but what if they do notice? The sergeant is lacking in plain common sense. I hope his superiors give him a firm talking to when he gets back to the base.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Why libertarians hate us, why they shouldn’t, and what we can do about it
I spend a lot of time thinking about the nature of the American Political spectrum. Over the years I have oppressed my wife and friends with long pedantic expositions on the subject and have produced a few posts on it since I took up blogging.

Jim Abrams of the Associated Press had an excellent piece last week on how thoroughly the Republicans have abandoned their states’ rights and libertarian and embraced the exercise of coercive power from the federal center. He doesn’t present much analysis, but he lists a large number of lesser-known usurpations by the federal government now that it is in Republican hands. We should all keep a copy on hand to produce during debates with libertarians.

He wasn’t the only one to discover how much the Republican leadership has abandoned some of the GOP’s core issues and core constituencies. Sheryl Gay Stolberg had a piece in the Sunday New York Times. She has some more analysis and focuses on some of the unhappy fiscal conservatives in the party.

Does this sudden love of the Federal government mean that the Republicans were lying hypocrites to begin with or that temptations of power are too strong for any of us to resist (except Gandalf)? Have they abandoned those issues and constituencies because the party has been taken over by a band of zealots pursuing some other agenda or because their leaders care about nothing but short-term political advantage and nothing? All of the above or none of the above?

As interesting as it may be to sort out the ideological evolution of the upper reaches of the Republican Party or trace the history of recent factional struggles in the same, for the moment I’m going to say it doesn’t matter. What matters for the purpose of this post is the simple fact that the Republican leadership and Bush administration have abandoned a core constituency. I want to use that observation for two purposes: first, to make some observation on the current state of the American political spectrum and second, to point out an opportunity for the Democratic nominee in the coming election.

My own interpretation of the American political spectrum rests on a few main points (some of these I’ve blogged on; some I have not). The familiar left-right or liberal-conservative political scale is an imperfect metaphor for the range of positions represented by the two main political parties. The scale is almost worthless for describing a broader world of opinions and positions not represented in the two party coalitions. The two parties are non-ideologically based; they are based on coalitions of interest groups (short digression re “special interest groups”: are there interest groups whose interest isn’t special?). There is no single objective philosophical criterion that can be applied to predict what position the parties will adopt on a new issue. The differences in the parties, and therefore the scale, are more psychological than anything else (this is point that I hope to get back to with a longer post someday). The parties periodically shift around on the scale. The scale itself periodically shifts around.

I’ve always been a little baffled by the alliance of libertarians and conservatives and by the hostility of libertarians to the Democratic Party. In their rhetoric, both the libertarians and conservatives rail at the supposed “big government” and intrusive “nanny state” tendencies of liberals and Democrats. Yet the conservatives and Republicans are have produced their own pet intrusive, bureaucratic programs—the War on Drugs has been a perennial favorite of theirs—and they have presided over the most fiscally irresponsible administrations of the last half century. During the same period of time, liberals and Democrats have been defenders of privacy and freedom in a number of spheres.

Libertarians do not fit well on the traditional political scale. In theory, at least, their position on most issues should be determined by a philosophical principle. At best, both sides of the scale have something to offer that pleases libertarians and something that annoys them. So, why do they focus their entire wrath on one end of the scale and not the other? What the hell is wrong with the libertarians?

I think the answer is that liberals and Democrats have suffered from their own successes. Generally, liberals and Democrats favor greater freedom in areas of personal conscience, morality, and artistic expression and greater regulation in the economy and property relations, while for conservatives and Republicans the stands are reversed. Libertarians favor greater freedom and less regulation in all areas. The liberals and Democrats have all ready delivered most of what they have to offer libertarians as part of their revolutions from the New Deal to the sixties. For the last thirty years, it has been the conservatives and Republicans who have had the most to offer libertarians through their attacks on government regulation and support for unfettered property rights.

This situation has clearly changed. The Bush administration is attacking many of the freedoms that the libertarians have been taking for granted. It is now the liberals and Democrats that have the most to offer the libertarians and the Republicans who are the greatest threat (at this point I have to separate the conservatives and Republicans because the Bush administration is clearly abandoning those traditional conservative issues and constituencies I mentioned above). Libertarians must now make a choice between the principles that they espouse and the alliance they have clung to for so long. In other words they need to choose which they like more, freedom or liberal bashing.

This election is the best opportunity the Democratic Party has had in a generation to peel a few Libertarian votes off from the Republican Party. It might be that this chance is only good for forging a temporary alliance of convenience, but it might be that a significant number of libertarians could be permanently convinced that the left is the better alliance. This is one of the messages that we need to cultivate this year.

Even if the libertarians can’t bring themselves to actually vote for a Democrat after demonizing them for decades, they might choose to stay home or vote for the Libertarian Party candidate next fall. It might be worthwhile for anyone who is very serious about getting Bush out of office to do what you can to see that the Libertarian Party has a place on the ballot in your state. Sign their petitions and when you talk to those friends and relatives that would rather die than vote for a Democrat convince them of the value of third party protest voting.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

AWG disease
The press has had a great week and a half obsessing on the mad cow discovered scattered across eight Western states. Yet we should all try to maintain a sense of perspective in these perilous times. No cow, no matter how mad, has ever blown up a federal building, stockpiled cyanide pipe bombs, or assassinated a doctor on his way to work. In our own lives we are far more threatened by angry white guy disease (AWG) that we are by mad cow disease.
This is a test
Most of my template has vanished making archy unreadable. It goes without saying that this sucks.

Update: Well, that was unpleasant. I’m still not sure what happened. I think that sometime yesterday a large portion of my template vanished and the FTP connection between my Blogger front-end and the Blogspot server was disrupted. I discovered it this morning. Only the upper left-hand corner of my blog, with about half of my blogroll was publishing. I spent about two hours digging through Google cached pages from my site to reconstruct the template into something resembling its former glory. At that point I ran into the FTP problem. No matter what I did at Blogger, nothing changed on the published page fragment. Now it seems to be back.

I’d still like to know if this was caused by some kind of crash at Blogger/ Blogspot or if I was hacked. The latter would be kind of cool because it would mean someone actually read me and cared enough about what I wrote to get cranky. I’ve considered staging a feud with one of my fellow low-circulation bloggers as a rating stunt. The trouble is, I’m a wimpy fighter. Even faking it, I’m too polite and reasonable to produce very entertaining flames.

Oh well, back to work. I don’t think I have all of the recent additions to my blogroll restored. Remember kids, keep a back-up copy of your template code in a safe place.

Another update:I think I have everybody back on the blogroll. If you were there a few days ago and are now missing, let me know. It’s not because I hate you (unless you want me to hate you (see previous update)).

Friday, January 02, 2004

Why am I wasting my time?
Two clear messages that tell me I should give up this nonsense and take up weaving pine needle baskets. My yard would be neater and I would be happier.

First, via Atrios, Pat Robertson is on record letting us know that he was talking with God the other day and the big guy let slip that Bush will win in a landslide. I’m disappointed, but I don’t see that I have a lot of room to argue.

Even worse than that, Jim Rittenhouse reports that the Philadelphia Weekly Hip-o-meter has decided that blogs are out. Pointless and unhip, can I take this kind of judgment again? I hated discovering that about myself in high-school. I had hoped to have outgrown such a painful revelation.

What a bummer, man.
Playing with maps
Like many bloggers, I’ve been pulling out my electoral maps and handicapping the next election.

The big topic of conversation so far has been: can the Democrats win without the South. I first became aware of elections during the last days of the old “Solid South.” In those days Northern progressives and Southern racists had a devil’s deal to work together to produce Democratic majorities in congress. The price each side demanded was free reign in their territory. It was never a perfect alliance; cracks were evident from the very beginning. Once the Northern and Western Democrats embraced racial civil rights in the sixties, the only thing that kept the South from bolting immediately was a tendency to reward seniority by reelecting incumbents and the continuing effectiveness of local Democratic organizations. The decline of the Democratic South was slow. For a while, those of us who liked to play with maps could divide the south into “their South” and “our South.”

For a while a similar condition existed in the West. Although in this case the progressive West vanished overnight in 1980 when Church, Magnusen, McGovern, and Mansfield were all ousted in one night. The literature on the decline of the progressive West is nowhere as complete as that on the Solid South. There are a couple good books that need to be written here. But like the South, a clear “our West” and “their West” emerged in the eighties. In fact the trend was more definite in the West. In the South, our South shrank with each election; in the West, the inter-mountain states became more Republican with each election as the coast became more Democratic.

In the rest of the country, the Democrats gained some new strongholds. New England and the Mid-Atlantic states became more dependably Democratic. The upper-Mississippi enclave of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota stayed Democratic.

Although the Democrats lost ground in congress after 1980 they remained competitive. They lost and regained control of the Senate twice and lost the House but stayed within an election of retaking it.

Meanwhile the Republicans have behaved as if God and time are on their side. All they need to do is remain patient and all things will come their way (though even that seems like too much to ask for some). They gain strength and turf in the South with each election. Their lock on the Midwest and Mountain states just gets stronger and they think they can project that lock into Wisconsin and Minnesota in the near future. In some elections they can split New England into “ours” and “theirs.” On the West Coast, demographic trends in Washington and Oregon seem to be going their direction. They can trot out poll after poll that show young people are more conservative than their boomer parents. Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals who once sat out elections in large numbers have become increasingly politicized over the last generation and are overwhelmingly Republican. For twenty years, they have worked on establishing the Grand Old Party among Hispanic communities as firmly as Democrats are established among Blacks, confidently telling themselves that the Hispanic population is growing faster than the Black population.

But things aren’t working as smoothly as the Republicans would like. The fabled Southern Strategy not only gained them the strength that Democrats once boasted, it has gained them the same weaknesses.

Critics of science fiction often point out the self absorbed Americaness of certain plot conventions. One such convention is the space colony that is cursed to suffer the same divisions and crises as Mother Earth. The message of the book is: hatred of the other, even though he be our brother, is the original sin that we cannot escape. The critics sneer at the simplicity of this message and call it a singularly American obsession. That these critics are wrong, arrogant, and just plain annoying poop-heads is the subject for another post. The racial question, as they would have called it at the beginning of the last century, is one of the great inescapable themes of the American plot.

The success of the Southern Strategy has doomed the Hispanic Strategy. The Republicans have taken over the devil’s deal that Democrats once embraced. The old Democratic alliance of Northern progressives and Southern racists was possible in the mid-twentieth century because there was no true national news media and the reach of the central government was weaker. The party could promise one thing in one state and something else in another state and get away with it because the news media wasn’t extensive enough to call them on it and the power of the states was still strong enough to actually do one thing in one state and something else in another state. No longer. The Republicans are trying to replicate the mid-twentieth century Democratic success in a completely different environment. They cannot pander to white supremacists and immigrant bashers on one hand and expect to captivate the Hispanic vote on the other. The Hispanic Strategy has failed. After twenty years, the Republicans can only manage a majority in some Hispanic districts and still lose many.

While the Republicans are smug that Washington and Oregon are no longer safe for Democrats, they have failed to notice that Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and soon Colorado are no longer safe for Republicans. A large section of the West is no longer guaranteed to either party and must now be actively fought for. This is largely because the Hispanic population is growing rapidly in the Southwest and the highly touted white male population is not.

A few weeks ago I handicapped the election and figured the Democratic presidential candid ate could win without the South if we kept Wisconsin and Minnesota and won all of the Mid-Atlantic and steel belt states (except Indiana). That was a pretty big if. Things would be better if we could take a few Southern states. I considered our chances in the Southwest to be something meaningful for ’08 or ’12, but not really significant now. My first targets for a safety margin were Arkansas, West Virginia, Louisiana, and—dare I say it—Florida.

Since I made that first map, Bush handed us Pennsylvania and West Virginia on the steel tariff decision and made Ohio easier to fight for. Today it was revealed that the Ashcroft Justice Department is demanding every hotel, casino, and airline in Las Vegas hand over their personal information for all of their customers during the holiday period. That’s information on about 300,000 without a warrant. Under the current Code Ernie alert, they may have good reasons for this, but they haven’t made that case and I can bet this will get up the nose of a lot of the sagebrush rebel libertarians in Nevada. We may have just won Nevada.

Finally, Florida is not as bad as we may think. The Old Miami Cubans are as temperamental as ever; they don’t like Democrats but they periodically find reasons to want punish Bush. And even if they do rally to his flag, many younger Cubans and other Floridians are tired of their tantrums and might Democratic just to piss them off. Many of the voters who were disenfranchised in 2000 will want to make sure they vote, vote right, and are counted this year. The military absentees will not be as overwhelmingly Republican as last time. And I wonder what the effect of a couple hundred Democrats in Alabama or Georgia moving across the state line might be. Normally, such a suggestion would be a joke, but as close as the 2000 election was, a few cranky Democrats going where their votes really matter could tip the balance.

All in all this should be an entertaining election. No matter what happens, hearts will be broken. I hope mine isn’t one of them.
Just a thought
Doesn’t blogroll sound like it should be a pastry? I suppose it would have to be a soft cheese roll filled to overflowing with bologna.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

From the Sarcasm-is-wasted-on-children file
Trent Duffy conducts the morning press briefing at Crawford Middle School on Tuesday.
Q Could you confirm or knock down reports out of the Middle East that the President may go to Libya next year?

MR. DUFFY: I don't have any updates on the President's schedule at this time.

Q Can you assure us he's not going this week, though?

MR. DUFFY: I don't have any updates on the President's schedule.

Q That was a joke.

Minimum wage
Kevin Drum and Kos have both come out in favor of linking the minimum wage to congressional pay. This is an idea that I have long been a fan of, though I don’t claim that it was an original thought for me. I wish I knew where I first heard it so I could give due credit.

I think I came across the idea during or after the ’92 election. Clinton was in favor of raising it pointing out that it hadn’t changed during the previous twelve years of Republicans in the White House. Bush Sr. was not only against raising it but actually wanted to lower it for service workers through the mechanism of his bogus “training wage.” Somewhere, among the white noise of the talking heads, I remember someone counting up how many times Congress had given itself a raise while refusing to do anything for the working poor. Their solution was to tie the two together. I thought it was a fair and elegant solution and nothing has changed my mind since. It has been a permanent and prominent plank of my if-I-ran-the-world platform for the last dozen years.

My own variation of the plan is this. I want a constitutional amendment that defines the pay for all of the elected positions defined in the constitution (President, VP, and both houses of Congress) in terms of multiples of the minimum wage. This would enshrine the minimum wage in the constitution and further limit the ability of our elected leaders to play games with their pay. I think this would be a perfect follow up to the 27th amendment, which postpones raises congress votes for itself till after the next election.

Normally, I’m against demanding constitutional amendments as a solution to every problem. The constitution should be reserved for general principles not specific legislation. And even then, the principles should be very carefully considered. Too many people want to amend the constitution to create an exception every time they find the first amendment too restrictive or too lenient (I should be able to stick my religion in your kids’ face but you shouldn’t be able to insult the flag). In fact, I pretty much have a knee jerk reaction of being against any amendments until convinced that there really is no other way around he problem.

The minimum wage is one of my two exceptions to this rule. The other exception is that I really think we need an amendment barring owners of local businesses from appearing in their own TV ads. I might be able to get a mass movement behind this. If you won’t do it for yourself, think of the children.