Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Palin as a Reader: Too Voracious By Half?

Sarah Palin treasures staying thoroughly informed, and to that end she reads voraciously on political and cultural affairs -- so voraciously, in fact, that she can't remember the titles of any of the many, many magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals she reads.

COURIC: And when it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this — to stay informed and to understand the world?

PALIN: I’ve read most of them again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media —

COURIC: But what ones specifically? I’m curious.

PALIN: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years.

COURIC: Can you name any of them?

PALIN: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news.
"Most of them ... all of them" --- dear gawd. The video is available here. And now here too:

Religion Poisons Hiking

Maybe it's too much to say that religion poisons everything, but it certainly can ruin a hike:

A stampede at a hill-top temple in western India killed more than 147 people and wounded 55 others who had gathered to celebrate the start of a religious holiday on Tuesday, police said.

More than 25,000 devotees were trying to reach the 15th-century temple through a steep and narrow pathway when the stampede occurred around dawn Tuesday, officials said.

...The crowd had gathered to celebrate the start of Navaratri or nine nights. For nine nights and 10 days, Hindus worship the various forms of a Hindu goddess.
Faith-based stampedes: equal parts tragic and unnecessary.

Almost One Dimension

[Update: Qualifications / corrections to this post have now been posted.]

Quelle surprise that when pressed on the matter, Sarah Palin can only name a single Supreme Court ruling, Roe vs. Wade. She can't come up with the key precedent to that, which her wingnut base is equally determined to overthrow, Griswold vs. Connecticut. She can't think of any others. None.

This is genuinely dumbfounding. She can't summon any of the others that have all but entered into the realm of idiom by now: Miranda? Brown vs. Board of Education? Plessy vs. Ferguson? Dred Scott? Marbury vs. Madison?

She can't name the ruling by which the current president was installed -- Bush vs. Gore?

At the risk of insulting gruel, that is some spectacularly thin, incurious, and disengaged gruel set before us and presented as a worthy vice president.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Bailout Dies ... For Now

A coalition of right and left managed to defeat the bailout. Hoorah!

Here's the roll call, where you can check how your representative voted. I am well pleased to see that mine, Democrat Earl Blumenaur, voted NO. Thank you Earl!

Dean Baker is making a lot of sense about this bailout and the shaky premises behind it:

the worst case scenario is that we have an extremely scary day in which the markets freeze for a few hours. Then the Fed steps in and takes over the major banks. The system of payments continues to operate exactly as before, but the bank executives are out of their jobs and the bank shareholders have likely lost most of their money. In other words, the banks have a gun pointed to their heads and are threatening to pull the trigger unless we hand them $700 billion.
Let them pull the trigger if they want to.

Meanwhile, the political parties are pointing fingers at one another over this -- a signal that there's a lot of election-year posturing going on and not a lot of sober policy-making.

Our Emetic Politics

Could someone please locate the hyperbole in Glennzilla's take on the bailout? I want to believe it exists, but I fear he has it exactly right:

Whenever you think that the Government has done things so extreme that it can't top itself -- torture, theories of presidential lawbreaking, a six-year war justified by blatantly false pretenses -- it always tops itself. On top of the massive debt under which the country was already drowning, another $700 billion is now being added in order to save the nation's richest individuals from the consequences of their own recklessness, allowing many of them not only to remain enriched, but become further enriched, all while basically ensuring that the Government is incapable of spending any money for years, if not longer, on programs designed to improve the lives of the vast, vast majority of its citizens -- the same citizens who are forced to fund this bail-out. That seems hard to top, but the only thing certain is that they will find a way to do so.
Grab your vomit pail and read the rest, and be glad you still have a vomit pail to grab ... for now.

McSame: The Audacity of Tiny Pie Slices

In the context of the actual scale of the fiscal mess the Bush-Cheney junta has created, John McCain's obsessive focus on earmarks [debate transcript] -- he'll make their sponsors famous, he will! He must break them! He'll drink their milkshake! He'll ask those punks if they feel lucky! -- combined with $2 is enough to buy a cup of coffee:



According to people who know what they're talking about, earmarks account for $18 billion, which is a lot of money in the abstract. But the relevant context is not the abstract, but the federal budget. The federal budget currently runs an annual deficit of $500 billion -- nearly 28 times the entire value of all the earmarks -- and the overall federal budget is about $3 trillion, or about 167 times the entire value of all the earmarks.

Cutting earmarks, whatever its rhetorical appeal, won't achieve anything.

This is yet another case where McSame demonstrates either an appalling ignorance of the matters he's shaking his gnarled old fist about, or a shamelessly cynical attempt to feed on (and feed) misconceptions about fiscal realities. Reasonable people could quibble over which is worse, but either way, the person behind it is unfit for the presidency.

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

The National Review: standing athwart history, yelling the N word.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Narcoleptics Are Mutants

New resarch points to a genetic basis for narcolepsy:

Japanese researchers found a genetic variant linked to a much higher risk of narcolepsy, publishing their results in the journal Nature Genetics ... They looked at the genetic code of hundreds of volunteers, some with narcolepsy, some without, to look for differences.

The variant they found was linked to an 79% higher chance of narcolepsy in Japanese people, and a 40% increased chance in other ethnic groups.

It is found close to two genes, CPT1B, and CHKB, which have already been singled out as candidates for involvement in the disorder - as they both have a role in regulating sleep.
Fabulous! Overnight, narcolepsy has gone from we don't know the cause and we don't have a cure to the modestly better we have some idea of the cause and we don't have a cure.

The cited article helpfully adds that narcolepsy can be distressing.

My cheap cynicism would probably go down better if I myself had any answers for the cause(s) or cure(s) of narcolepsy, but I have none. Not even one. I do, however, confirm that narcolepsy can be distressing.

McCain Supports Torture

A reader of Andrew Sullivan's blog writes in to perpetuate his delusions about John McCain's position on torture:

For obvious reasons, politics aside, McCain is an icon in our community for what he went through in Vietnam. It's been extremely uncomfortable having him implicitly come down on the side of torture. To have him state explicitly that we cannot torture, I though was a genuine, powerful and extremely important moment.
The commenter is referring to the moment in Friday night's debate when McCain said this:
So we have a long way to go in our intelligence services. We have to do a better job in human intelligence. And we've got to -- to make sure that we have people who are trained interrogators so that we don't ever torture a prisoner ever again.
This is a clear case where McCain's self-mythologizing as a "maverick" serves deception. Even Sullivan, usually an unswerving and clear-eyed opponent of torture, is unhorsed by this presentation enough to give an enfeebled reply of "I am angry that McCain betrayed the intelligence community and all of us by signing onto CIA torture in 2006" -- 2006? Maybe so -- he certainly did nothing to stop torture in 2006 -- but McCain also voted to grant the CIA the power to torture detainees in 2008.

We would like to think that a man that was himself tortured by war criminals would know better than to support torture. When he stands up in the largest possible public setting and declares that it is so, he invites us to fall prey to our hopes. But when the question has been put to McCain in a direct and unavoidable way -- when, as a Senator also seeking his party's presidential nomination -- he has sided with the pro-torture elements of his party. That he now declares the opposite signals only that he is a liar, and a liar on a matter of fundamental moral importance.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Maladaptation of Cath...

I was prepared to say there's nothing I don't like about this song -- "Cath..." by Death Cab for Cutie -- until I saw the video, which threatens to defeat all the evocative beauty and wistfulness of the song by being too representational. I don't need to see actual hipsters in love! I want to see them in my mind's eye! Just show some Stan Brakhage or miscellaneous visual doodling if you need to put it on MTV and youtube.

Speaking of which, does MTV still exist? I certainly hope not.

Actually a very select few snatches from this video wouldn't be so bad, but it's better heard than seen. The characters and scenes that form in your mind are far better than this stuff.



Lyrics:

Cath, she stands
With a well-intentioned man
But she can't relax
With his hand on the small of her back
And as the flashbulbs burst
She holds a smile
Like someone would hold
A crying child

And soon everybody will ask
What became of you
'Cause your heart was dying fast
And you didn't know what to do

Cath, it seems
That you lived in someone else's dream
In a hand-me-down wedding dress
With the things that could've been all repressed
But you said your vows
And you closed the door
On so many men
Who would have loved you more

And soon everybody will ask
What became of you
'Cause your heart was dying fast
And you didn't know what to do

The whispers that it won't last
Roll up and down the pews
But if their hearts were dying that fast
They'd have done the same as you
And I'd have done the same as you

McCain Goes Palinesque: Fiscal <> Financial

Over at Obsidian Wings, hilzoy points out that McCain doesn't seem to know the difference between fiscal and financial (debate transcript):

"Lehrer: Are there fundamental differences between your approach and Senator Obama's approach to what you would do as president to lead this country out of the financial crisis?

McCain: Well, the first thing we have to do is get spending under control in Washington. It's completely out of control."
[hilzoy:] But that's really, deeply, totally wrong. When you're going into a recession, let alone a depression, you want to get more money into the hands of people who will spend it, lend it, or in some other way help the economy get back on its feet. It's the last time to be wondering how to cut spending.
Hilzoy is right that slashing spending now is a stupid idea, but more fundamentally, this is a crisis in the private financial markets ("financial"), not a crisis of the federal government's budget ("fiscal"). It is, I grant, a financial crisis that will quickly become a fiscal crisis if (a) the "solution" is to clean out the treasury to give welfare payments to Wall Street and/or (b) the "solution" is so poorly conceived as to throw the economy into deeper trouble, in which case government revenues can be expected to decline.

McCain is truly Palinesque in his misunderstanding of what's going on if he actually thinks that reducing federal spending holds promise for solving the problems in the financial markets.

And was anyone else annoyed with this?
LEHRER: Gentlemen, at this very moment tonight, where do you stand on the financial recovery plan?
Which plan would that be, Jim Lehrer? Again and again in the debate's opening moments, Lehrer spoke as though there is a single bailout plan under discussion, when in fact there are at least two plans on offer, and each is subject to continuing negotiation and modification. Asinine.

Obama to Fidgeting Old Fart: "You Were Wrong"

The very end of Obama's statement could have been sharper, but this was quite a good moment from the debate, one that made McCain look as though he wanted to crawl out of his skin:



It's odd how the two candidates have parallel arguments about Iraq. McCain wants to start the clock in 2007 with "the surge" of which he's so fond, and call everyone's attention to Obama's opposition to it (McCain doesn't want to mention his own real-time qualms and doubts about "the surge").

Obama wants to start the clock in 2003, and call attention to McCain's poor judgment from the start. As the war didn't start in 2007 but in 2003, and as the poor judgments over 2002-2007 that necessitated a change in approach in 2007 were the poor judgments of war supporters like John McCain, Obama has this right.

That the arguments are parallel does not indicate that they're equally valid. McCain was wrong and remains wrong.

And Obama was far too generous in not mentioning the most glaring recent instance of McCain's poor judgment, the selection of Sarah Palin for vice president. She is a joke, and not a funny one.

A Future President Debates an Old Crank

I watched last night's Obama-McCain debate, all the while aware that I was doing so in a sort of bad faith -- there is absolutely zero chance that I won't vote for Obama, so why even watch? I didn't truly expect anything interesting to happen, although it would have been a shame to miss a genuine moment of the kind that live TV always might deliver (a streaker runs onto the stage, someone faints or vomits, someone throws a temper tantrum, etc.).

Nothing like that happened, but for whatever it's worth, McCain slightly exceeded my extremely low expectations simply by answering as though he actually knew what the questions were about. I don't recall agreeing with any of his answers, but at least he knew what was being asked and knew which answer the Chamber of Commerce and/or Christianist Right programmed and funded him to recite.

And the very fact that the debate format allowed the candidates to actually debate one another was, I think, a mild testimony to McCain -- at least going back to the first president Bush, Wide Stance presidential and vice-presidential candidates have tended to treat these debates as a necessary evil, and their flacks and handlers have constrained the format to allow their dumbass candidates to stay narrowly on script.

So with that said, McCain was a sneering, condescending shit to his opponent in keeping with his shamelessly mendacious campaign to date. Too often he fell back on his lazy talking points -- tax cuts and unspecified spending cuts will cure all that ails us, subject-verb-earmarks, self-branding as a maverick (isn't maverick-ness one of those qualities that others should assign to a person?), vacuous repetition of the word "reform," returning again and again to distorted accusations centered on Obama's public record of votes and statements, etc.

Putting aside the obvious fact that some people will agree more with McCain and others will agree more with Obama on particular points, I don't think any reasonable observer can watch that debate and conclude that McCain shows more knowledge or judgment than Obama, for all his advantages in experience, and for all his claims that foreign policy -- the primary focus of the debate -- is his forte. Obama more than matched McCain in being conversant on all the topics discussed.

No one had anything like a 'deer in the headlights' moment, or in light of our special-needs Wide Stance VP candidate, a 'moose in the headlights' moment.

I think Daniel Larison captured it pretty well:

McCain was more aggressive, no doubt, but it is my impression that it translated into contempt and condescension ... He used the word naive how many times? He was scolding him as if he were a school master, but it is far from clear in any of the exchanges that he knew more. Obama was not forceful enough, but he was so much more focused than he was earlier in the year. McCain came off, in my view, as a snide, bitter old man. His comments betrayed the sentiment of, “How dare you even think that you can compete with me.” This is what Clinton thought, and it destroyed her. McCain is desperate for something to go right in his campaign, and now that the debate focused on his alleged “strength” is behind them he is going to start flailing even more desperately and angrily.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Wide Stance Bailout Plan: An Insult to Piles of Crap Everywhere

If you thought the Bush-Bernanke-Paulson bailout plan was so spectacularly awful that nothing could be worse, you were wrong. The far-right members of Congress have cobbled together an alternative, and suffice to say it demonstrates roughly the same level of knowledge and acumen that Sarah Palin has been showing of late. It's key features, each more hackneyed than the last, are these:

1. Tax cuts for the wealthy
2. Insurance for mortgage-backed securities
3. Deregulation
Lest you think #2 has a sensible ring to it, read the analysis of economist Michael Ettlinger, who says, among other things, "[t]hat’s akin to selling homeowners insurance in New Orleans after the dikes broke."

Just when you think these people can't go any lower, you find them furiously digging.

Palin's Shortcomings, McCain's Judgment

To state the blindingly obvious: for now, the principle reason to harp on Sarah Palin is that McCain selected her, and this choice speaks to the quality of his judgment. For the longer term, the reason to harp on Sarah Palin is that she might become president.

Of all the thousands of politicians, business leaders, and assorted other muckety-mucks McCain could have selected to be his running mate -- plenty of them as pleasing to The Base of his party as Sarah Palin could ever hope to be, plenty of them as female as Sarah Palin is -- he picked this incompetent, bumbling, shallow, incurious fool. Andrew Sullivan has been all over this:

[McCain] didn't vet her, made his decision impulsively based on no real knowledge of her, and ... his first serious judgment as a presidential candidate was so monumentally irresponsible that it doesn't just disqualify her for the vice-presidency. It disqualifies him for the presidency.
Nor is that all, of course.

There is the blizzard of shameless lies coming from McCain.

And there is the stupefying spectacle of subject, verb, earmarks: McCain is either stupid enough to think earmark spending contributed in some meaningful way to the ongoing financial crisis, or he thinks Americans are stupid enough to believe it. So he's either shockingly misinformed or appallingly cynical.

McCain and Palin are manifestly unfit for the offices they seek.

Registered to Vote?

Are you planning to vote on November 4? Are you sure you're registered to vote? Are you sure you're sure?

Oregonians can check here. The voter registration deadline for Oregonians is October 14.

Most states appear to have a similar online tool. Here's a state-by-state listing of resources to verify your voter registration status.

If you belong to one of the non-Caucasian racial classifications, I recommend you check this daily, especially if you live in a so-called "swing state" -- basically if you're seeing either McSame or Obama ads on your local tee-vee and/or hearing them on the radio, you're in a swing state.

Voting is good. Voting gives us the right to complain when our political leaders give all our money to Wall Street, indulge in indefinite wars, and teach us the sexual signaling of airport restrooms.

(H/T Portland Mercury)

Credit Unions Are Good (Shameless Commerce)

WaMu has now collapsed, and with other banks looking ever more shaky, what's a body to do?

Join a credit union. They're better than banks in a thousand different ways, not least being they tend to follow sound underwriting principles, they are not-for-profit, they're insured separately from banks, and most of all, they're member-oriented, indeed member-owned.

As I said, they are very different from banks. And banks hate them for it. Hate them back by joining a credit union!

Advantis is a really, really good one if you happen to be in its field of membership.

Credit Unions are a worldwide thingy, not just North American. If you live, work, or worship in the USA, chances are right around 100% that you are in at least one CU's field of membership: find out which ones here.

Portland Marathon 2008: Suffering the Nature of an Insurrection

Somewhere in the course of putting my wisdom on running the St. John's Bridge into words, I remembered that our car has a 26.2 bumper sticker on it (in addition to a lot of mud), and that choices must be made. It was something like this, from Julius Caesar:

Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream:
The genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council; and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.
Yes, a lot like that.

If I don't run the Portland Marathon this year, I mused, wouldn't I have to pry that sticker off the car? Surely we vet our bumper stickers more conscientiously than some vet mortgage borrowers or vice presidential candidates. Surely.

Facing the tiring Scylla of removing that bumper sticker or the taxing Charybdis of running 26.2 miles Sunday after next, I opted for the one that doesn't require tools.

Am I ready to run a marathon? As in, have I been putting in those 16-20 mile training runs at least once a week? Am I in mid-taper? No. But being physically ready and having thought things through is so elitist.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Treating the Least

This news item is anything but new:

Evangelist Tony Alamo was arrested Thursday in Flagstaff, Arizona, on charges related to a child porn investigation, an FBI spokesman said.

The 74-year-old founder and leader of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries was arrested without incident ... Alamo was charged under a federal statute with having knowingly transported a minor across state lines with the intent to engage in sexual activity, Johnson said ...

Over the weekend, about 100 federal and state agents authorities raided Alamo's 15-acre compound near Texarkana, Arkansas, and took six children into temporary custody.
Seedy happenings involving a preacher and kids in Texarkana? I'm familiar with Texarkana, and no part of that combination is novel. The nauseating predictability continues:
Asked why authorities were searching the property, Alamo compared himself to Christ.

"Why were they after Jesus?" he asked. "It's the same reason. Jesus is living within me."
WWJD? Why, he'd be brought up on child porn charges.

If Alamo is found guilty, and if word gets around the prison yard about why he's there, Jesus won't be living within him any more. And good riddance.

More Like This, Chubbs

They don't call it the most important meal of the day for nothing:

These lucky few world travelers are apparently trust fund kiddos whose parents hand them a passport, a backpack, and a wad of cash for them to blow on prostitutes in Prague, hash in Amsterdam, jugs of wine in Rome, and four-star hotels in Paris while she continues slaving away at the Dairy Queen and Motel 6, hoping to save enough money to buy the "C" volume of the World Book Encyclopedia and thus continue her education of foreign affairs. (I believe Cambodia was next on her list.)
And so it goes. There's more where that came from.

My Courageous Suspension

This blog post exists to announce that I am suspending this precious, precious blog in light of the ongoing financial crisis. Welfare for Wall Street before blogging, I always say.

Heck, welfare for Wall Street before kittens, butterflies, or breathing! But I digress. Returning now to my courageous decision to suspend this blog:

If you chance to see posts continue to appear on this blog in their usual volume and according to the usual schedule, don't let yourself think it means I am abandoning the suspension, let alone lying about the suspension. Suspending this blog is what's best for all, and it's what I'm committed to.

I am totally suspending this blog until our unscrupulous, reckless Wall Street overlords receive the succor, nannying -- and yes, it's not too much to say, love -- they deserve. Farewell.

This sentence doesn't exist. It doesn't exist because this blog, including this post, has been suspended. Nor does this sentence exist. You can't possibly be reading this because it's not here to be read. Stop reading suspended words! Stop it! You're behaving erratically!

Alaska's Proximity to Russia

Sarah Palin continues to use Alaska's proximity to Russia as a fact in support of her foreign policy expertise -- that the claim is laughably, insultingly stupid on its face does not deter her in her unblinking devotion to it:

COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.

PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our-- our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia--

COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We-- we do-- it's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where-- where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is-- from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to-- to our state.
See? Russians taking the via-Alaska air route to the USA pass over Alaska.

A couple of truths about Alaska might forgivably be missing from the working mental inventory of most people in the USA and abroad. First, Alaska is enormous; here it is superimposed over the rest of the USA (source):



Not only is the state immense, but the western side of the state -- the parts nearest Russia, "nearest" being relative given the sheer size of the land mass -- are almost completely unpopulated. The state has fewer than 700,000 people, and as seen in this population density map, they are concentrated in the eastern panhandle (Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway) and central parts (Anchorage, Seward, Fairbanks) of the state:



Even if proximity to Russia did constitute meaningful foreign policy experience, which it doesn't, Sarah Palin lives far, far from it. Mankind has yet to invent a front porch big enough to allow a view of any part of Russia from any part of either Wasilla (near Anchorage) or the state capitol in Juneau.

Palin: The World Cringes

Previously willing to give her the benefit of the doubt -- fair enough, I suppose -- Glennzilla has now seen what we've all seen and the doubts are gone. Note his shy, retiring, understated prose:

One of two things is absolutely clear at this point: she is either (a) completely ignorant about the most basic political issues -- a vacant, ill-informed, incurious know-nothing, or (b) aggressively concealing her actual beliefs about these matters because she's petrified of deviating from the simple-minded campaign talking points she's been fed and/or because her actual beliefs are so politically unpalatable, even when taking into account the right-wing extremism that is permitted, even rewarded, in our mainstream. I'm not really sure which is worse, but it doesn't really matter, because with 40 days left before the election, both options are heinous.
Do read the entire piece if you're somehow not yet settled in your opinion of Sarah Palin's readiness for high national office.

Or check the cringe-worthy video:

What a Bad Idea Sounds Like

Last night, our judicially-installed president poked out of his brush-cutting vacation burrow and said some curious things, or so they sound to my inexpert ears:

Before long, these [mortgage-backed] securities became so unreliable that they were not being bought or sold [by] investment banks, such as Bear Stearns and they could not sell. They ran out of money needed to meet their immediate obligations, and they faced imminent collapse ... [A]s markets have lost confidence in mortgage-backed securities, their prices have dropped sharply, yet the value of many of these assets will likely be higher than their current price, because the vast majority of Americans will ultimately pay off their mortgages.

The government is the one institution with the patience and resources to buy these assets at their current low prices and hold them until markets return to normal.
To summarize: (1) The investment banks cannot sell these securities, so their prices have dropped. (2) Taxpayers should buy these securities that no one in the market wants to buy because they're currently hurting the feelings of Bear Stearns and other Wall Street welfare queens. (3) But don't worry, they're "likely" to increase in value over time. (Trust me! When have I ever lied to you?)

So much in this "analysis" of Bush's hangs on the claim that "the government is the one institution with the patience" to buy assets that are "likely" to appreciate in value. What time horizon are we talking about? Ten years? Fifty years? A hundred years? A thousand years? Ten thousand years? A few years after we leave Iraq?

Let me get this straight: there aren't any private investors with the requisite "patience"? None? No buyers out there with a long-enough investment horizon? Bullshit. Is this anything short of a straight admission that we taxpayers are being cornered into buying value-less garbage?

Bush also warned of what might happen if we don't hand every penny in the treasury (plus several trillion pennies we don't actually have) to Secretary Paulson to give to his needy Wall Street pals:
Even if you have good credit history, it would be more difficult for you to get the loans you need to buy a car or send your children to college. And, ultimately, our country could experience a long and painful recession.
Um, I realize this is perhaps the least original insight available, but isn't that exactly what's supposed to happen under Free Enterprise? Isn't that straight out of the Gospel of Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and the Great Greenspan himself? Namely, for a variety of reasons -- say, because banks have been careless and unscrupulous in their lending practices -- defaults spiral, the supply of money available to be lent dwindles, and lenders become more selective (and charge more interest) for the lending they subsequently do. Isn't this precisely the cycle of life we're supposed to revere in this Invisible-Hand-cradled world of ours? Why shrink from its glorious balances and cycles and creative destructions now, and at such astonishing expense?

Finally, Bush says, giving about a trillion dollars to Comrade Paulson ...
will free up banks to resume the flow of credit to American families and businesses, and this will help our economy grow.
Resuming the flow of credit under what terms? This is the nub of it all, right? If this just frees the banks to get back to sloppy, unscrupulous, careless lending practices -- and Bush's proposal certainly doesn't tighten regulations, regulations being anathema to his Free Enterprise outlook -- then we're proposing to delay the comeuppance, and at tremendous expense.

This sounds absolutely rotten.

Portland Marathon 2008: St. John's War

With the Portland Marathon less than two weeks away, Kelly at the Run Oregon blog has given some good tips for handling the infamous but gorgeous St. John's Bridge and asks for more.

What's the trouble? Beginning around mile 16, there is a climb of more than 100 feet from St. Helen's Road to mile 17 at the middle of the bridge. It's not the steepest or longest hill in the running universe, but at this point in the race, it feels like you need climbing gear. Or a car.

What follows is an exasperating mix of wise and wise-ass insights on handling this part of the course grounded on my extensive experience -- I've run it twice, and I've given semi-useless advice countless thousands of times. Which tips are wise and which are wise-ass? You decide! And throw your own in the comments if you wish. Ain't web 2.0 grand?

  • The Turn. The turn from the road onto the bridge is a sharp one, more than 90 degrees, and it comes after a long stretch of miles in a straight line. Take this turn carefully! The first time I made this turn, I felt an odd little sproing, a dull snapping sensation, in my shin and the shin has never felt the same since. And that was nearly two years ago. I wish I could say I was kidding about that.
  • The Apex. Do note Kelly's correct observation that the peak of the climb isn't until you're midway along the bridge itself. You might be tempted to drop out of hill-running mode after The Turn, but you still have climbing to do. Hang in.
  • The Calves. Don't let your calf muscles cramp up as you climb the hill; it's painful on every level and really slows you down. How to prevent muscle cramps, you ask? I have no idea, and no one else seems to know either. If you learn a sure way to avoid cramps, let me know, won't you?
  • The Carriage. As you leave mile 15 and begin uphill, a disquieting thought may dawn on you: this 26.2-mile run is going to be difficult. If you've been carrying any heavy objects up to now -- trophies from past running events, marble busts of running heroes, a fellow runner on whom you've taken pity, your Great Dane, whatever -- now is the time to put it/him/her down.
  • The Etiquette. Everyone struggles on this hill, even the freakish weirdos who have already crossed the finish line ten miles ahead just as you're starting up it. If you're still in a running sort of condition, good for you, but don't taunt or sneer at the people who have decided to walk some or part of it. For that matter, walk if you need to.
  • The Congestion. The road leading up to the bridge is wide and car-free, but runners are restricted to one side of the bridge, so expect congestion as you get onto the bridge. No elbowing!
  • The View. While this is the most difficult part of the course, it's also the most scenic. Take in the spectacular view of the bridge -- you can see it forever as you're heading toward it -- and enjoy the view from the bridge. If the weather is agreeable, you can see a lovely view of downtown Portland to your right, Mt. St. Helens to your left, and Mt. Hood more or less in front of you. And after you leave the bridge, you'll proceed through a very picturesque neighborhood near the University of Portland. This is the good part of the marathon? This is the good part of the marathon!
  • The Expectations. This is the hardest section of the course, but it's all downhill from here (more or less literally). So give yourself a little victory once you reach The Apex, and be aware that you'll enjoy a lot of good crowd support after the bridge, but attenuate your Glee-Despair levels to reflect the fact that you still have several miles to cover.
Happy running!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

McCain: Flailing First

John McCain wants to suspend Friday night's debate with Barack Obama so he can work on the financial crisis or whatever -- definitely, totally, completely, absolutely not because he'd prefer to disappear at this moment when the economy is in such vivid focus for voters.

Barack Obama replies that this is actually a good time for would-be leaders to be standing up in front of the country, so the debate should go forward as planned.

Question: what, precisely, would John McCain do on Friday evening to contribute to resolving the financial crisis? This begs the larger question of what McCain offers on this financial crisis at any hour of any day, and the even larger question of what he offers on economic policy aside from four more years of Bush-Cheney mimicry.

Is McCain urgently needed in the Senate on Friday night? For what? If he's urgently needed in the Senate, why wasn't he there today? Or yesterday? McCain is not a member of the Senate Banking committee, nor is Barack Obama. McCain has repeatedly said he doesn't know much about economics -- evinced clearly last week when he pronounced "the fundamentals of the economy are strong" -- and the platform of his party condemns the sort of bailout that his party's leader is now advocating.

I really don't know what McCain thinks he can contribute, either Friday evening or any other time. It's probably to the national good that he stay as far as possible from the work of the Senate -- and this he can handle, as he's very accomplished at treating his Senate seat as a much-neglected hobby.

A Wide Stance on Bailouts

The GOP wrote a fresh new party platform just a few weeks ago, but it's fair to ask why they bothered. Here's a hilarious instance of its mendacity:

We do not support government bailouts of private institutions. Government interference in the markets exacerbates problems in the marketplace and causes the free market to take longer to correct itself. We believe in the free market as the best tool to sustained prosperity and opportunity for all.
As with their endless encomiums to "fiscal conservatism" and "small government," so too their rapturous praises for "free markets" and against "government interference." How these people don't die from embarrassment is a fascinating open question for medical science.

For Fortified Parody

Here are a few examples of Roger Ebert's recent attempt to parody the claims of creationism:

Q. Was there a Noah, and did he have an Ark?

A. Certainly. There are many unverified reports of a massive wooden vessel on Mount Ararat. The Arc contained eight people, from whom we are all descended. It also contained two of each kind of animal. Since living species were obviously not created through an evolutionary process, every surviving land-based mammal species (about 5,400) had both ancestors on the Arc.

Q: What about dinosaurs?

A. They walked the earth at the same time as man, but were wiped out by the Flood, whose turbulence buried their bones in non-sequential sediments.

Q. What did the creatures on the Ark eat?

A. Food on board, fish, and possibly trapped sea birds.
Notice anything? Yea, me too -- and so did PZ Myers -- a parody collapses when there are millions and millions of people who take it straight. Sadly, millions of people actually believe every word Ebert typed in that parody.

You'd think a professional film cricket critic of many years and good standing would be past this point; surely Roger Ebert is aware of the continuing viability of the careers of Michael Crichton and Michael Bay, among others. How many Pirates of the Carribean films until Roger Ebert realizes that people are willing to swallow almost anything?

And does he realize, for that matter, that George W. Bush is still the president, that Sarah Palin stands a very good chance of becoming the next vice president, and that we as a country are about to hand nearly a trillion dollars to a Secretary of the Treasury so he can dole it out to welfare recipients with Wall Street addresses?

Parody has to be made of stern stuff these days.

The Dozen Lies of Sarah Palin

If you read only one blog post detailing twelve demonstrable lies by a major party vice presidential candidate this campaign season, make it Andrew Sullivan's write-up of Sarah Palin's lies:

- She has lied about the Bridge To Nowhere. She ran for office favoring it, wore a sweatshirt defending it, and only gave it up when the federal congress, Senator McCain in particular, went ballistic. She kept the money anyway and favors funding Don Young's Way, at twice the cost of the original bridge.

- She has lied about her firing of the town librarian and police chief of Wasilla, Alaska.

- She has lied about pressure on Alaska's public safety commissioner to fire her ex-brother-in-law.

- She has lied about her previous statements on climate change.

- She has lied about Alaska's contribution to America's oil and gas production.

- She has lied about when she asked her daughters for their permission for her to run for vice-president.

- She has lied about the actual progress in constructing a natural gas pipeline from Alaska.

- She has lied about Obama's position on habeas corpus.

- She has lied about her alleged tolerance of homosexuality.

- She has lied about the use or non-use of a TelePrompter at the St Paul convention.

- She has lied about her alleged pay-cut as mayor of Wasilla.

- She has lied about what Alaska's state scientists concluded about the health of the polar bear population in Alaska.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Non-Existence of God Attains 100% Probability

If god existed, this would not. Period.

Skip through as you need to -- I know I did -- but be sure to tune in at around 1:50. And you might want to start the shower now so it will be warmed up in time to jump in after you've watched all you can stand.



(H/T Portland Mercury)

Speaking of White Whales and Cat Pee

There are stirrings of a new film adaptation of Moby Dick, or something that gestures toward being a film adaptation of Moby Dick:

The writers revere Melville’s original text, but their graphic novel-style version will change the structure. Gone is the first-person narration by the young seaman Ishmael, who observes how Ahab’s obsession with killing the great white whale overwhelms his good judgment as captain.

This change will allow them to depict the whale’s decimation of other ships prior to its encounter with Ahab’s Pequod, and Ahab will be depicted more as a charismatic leader than a brooding obsessive.

"Our vision isn’t your grandfather’s ‘Moby Dick,’ " Cooper said. "This is an opportunity to take a timeless classic and capitalize on the advances in visual effects to tell what at its core is an action-adventure revenge story."
Hmm. I second Matt Yglesias in thinking that a graphic novel approach isn't the worst idea ever when it comes to adapting Moby Dick, but I despair at the assertion that the book's core is an "action-adventure revenge story." Moby Dick is a direct literary antecedent of Death Wish?

I suppose if you strip away about 98% of the sentences in Moby Dick -- including, it must be said, nearly every one of the sentences that makes the book worth reading -- you could winnow it down to an "action-adventure revenge story." I'm not sure why you'd do such a thing; you might just as well douse the book in cat pee and toss it in the fireplace.

For all that, I'm not yet prepared to loathe the idea. On the evidence presented, it's not inconceivable that this adaptation won't be outrageously terrible. In the same way that I'm prepared to be convinced of the existence of unicorns, leprechauns, and Jesus, I withhold my final assessment of what, for now, sounds very much like another big screen piece of shit.

In the Spirit

In the spirit of whatever is worth doing is worth doing well, Media Matters has a worthwhile petition to sign in advance of the presidential and vice presidential debates. This is an opportunity for voters to learn about the candidates, how and why they differ, and what they'll do if elected, but the reporters presiding over the debates will stick to personality- and horserace-oriented junk unless we demand otherwise, hence the petition. The video provides some background:



In the spirit of whatever works, you get a Wilco/FleetFoxes performance of a Bob Dylan song if you simply pledge to vote in the presidential debate. Pledge here.

Rachel Maddow is Great: "This is a conservative problem."



This segment from last night's Rachel Maddow Show illustrates what separates her from the typical breed of tee-vee gabber.

To wit: notice how she sees straight through Pat Buchanon's equivocation between Republican and conservative. In the sequence beginning at about the 4:05 mark, Buchanon replies to a Maddow's challenge of conservative/laissez faire ideology by invoking a couple of Democrats involved in the Fannie-Freddie debacle; Maddow cuts straight through that noise and observes that deregulation is a foundational tenet of contemporary American conservatism, which crosses party lines (there are, alas, conservative Democrats). This sends Pat into an embarrassing verbal evasion wherein he equates conservatism with sound underwriting practices.

Do watch the entire thing. This is what a liberal media would look and sound like if we had one. We do have Rachel Maddow until MSNBC decides that her combination of solid ratings, genuinely incisive commentary, and an authentically left-liberal viewpoint are unacceptable for tee-vee.

Raccoons Loose in Lownsdale Square!

That sounds better than "loose raccoons in Lownsdale Square," but either way, the point is this: in the predawn hours of this morning, I encountered a living raccoon in Lownsdale Square in the heart of downtown Portland, wallowing in the moonlight within a stone's throw (depending on your stone-throwing ability) of the elk statue shown here. It would have been terrifying if raccoons were the least bit terrifying, but they're not.

They are, however, now widespread in Germany of all places, having been introduced there in the 1930s by people who were apparently bored with the existing animals:

On April 12, 1934, two pairs of raccoons were released into the German nature at the Edersee in the north of Hesse by forest superintendent Wilhelm Freiherr Sittich von Berlepsch upon request of their owner, the poultry farmer Rolf Haag. He released them two weeks before receiving permission from the Prussian hunting office to “enrich the fauna”, as Haag's request stated. Several prior attempts to introduce raccoons in Germany were not successful.
At the risk of enraging my German readers, this passage gives me pause on two accounts. First, what kind of fauna was so impoverished in mid-1930's Germany that raccoons represented an enrichment? In my experience, raccoons enrich nothing: every raccoon looks exactly like the last, and apart from their charming (if slightly worrying) habit of obsessive hands-washing, they offer precious little in terms of culture or entertainment. They steal pet food, make few sounds, waddle around aimlessly, and end their lives in vehicular traffic. Second, I'm trying to imagine how one would fail to introduce raccoons to an area. Simply set a mixed-sex group of them free and wait, and soon they'll be waddling in front of every car in sight.

That which is too big to fail is too big to exist

That timely aphorism comes courtesy of Senator Bernie Sanders, who is is making sense, as he nearly always does:

We must end the danger posed by companies that are "too big too fail," that is, companies whose failure would cause systemic harm to the U.S. economy. If a company is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. We need to determine which companies fall in this category and then break them up. Right now, for example, the Bank of America, the nation's largest depository institution, has absorbed Countrywide, the nation's largest mortgage lender, and Merrill Lynch, the nation's largest brokerage house. We should not be trying to solve the current financial crisis by creating even larger, more powerful institutions. Their failure could cause even more harm to the entire economy.
Exactly.

White Whales, Cat Pee, and The Other

Via Normblog, here's Mick Hartley discussing Moby Dick and a certain fuzzy shibboleth:

One of the reasons Moby Dick is so popular in literary circles is that it's one of those texts - indeed, one of the seminal texts - where you can introduce that concept so beloved of literary critics, the Other. With a capital O. Moby Dick is a symbol of the Other. He's different, being white, very big, and, well, a whale. So naturally Captain Ahab hates him with a passion. He's Other. The Other.

It explains a lot, this idea of the Other. ... If something's different, it could well qualify as being the Other, and therefore become the object of our irrational hatred.
Well no -- and I think this is Mick Hartley's point by way of irony -- the characteristic trouble with the Other is that it doesn't explain anything. It occupies the space where an explanation should be; it displaces an explanation. But isn't that the way with passion? Isn't the best way to kill a joke always to explain it? And isn't the same true of love or hatred?

It's not that Captain Ahab is without his reasons for hating the white whale: for starters, he lost one of his legs to it. It's easy to go too far in imbuing animals with human-like agency, but then again, I get pretty mad at my cats when they pee on my shoes, so I can understand developing a rage at a smarter animal that inflicted a greater harm. And yet that doesn't quite cover it:
'Vengeance on a dumb brute!' cried Starbuck, 'that simply smote thee from blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous.'

'Hark ye yet again, -- the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event -- in the living act, the undoubted deed -- there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who's over me? Truth hath no confines. Take off thine eye! more intolerable than fiends' glarings is a doltish stare! So, so; thou reddenest and palest; my heat has melted thee to anger-glow. But look ye, Starbuck, what is said in heat, that thing unsays itself. There are men from whom warm words are small indignity. I meant not to incense thee. Let it go.
Yammering about the Other is vague but that's because our motives and emotions are often nebulous, as are the motives and emotions of some of the best literary characters. It is a way of calling attention to the gulf between reason and passion; 'the Other' covers what Ahab tries but fails to explain as he declaims against an animal.

Hartley continues:
So, inevitably, a BBC programme with a whole hour to devote to the subject of whales will end up discussing Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. You see the connection? The Other. Why do we hate (or rather, why are we encouraged to hate) Osama Bin Laden? Because he represents the Other. ... We attacked Iraq because Saddam was, for us, the Other. Not because he was in breach of UN resolutions, had invaded two neighbouring countries, had conducted a genocidal campaign against some of his own people, was in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and was setting up a dynasty of psychopaths in the heart of the Middle East. No, it was because he was the Other.
I didn't see the BBC documentary under discussion but I've encountered similar presentations. Yes, we can cite reason after reason -- none of them vague -- for why Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden deserve our enmity. But does that really cover it? Is there not something to the way they look, speak, and otherwise seem that contributes? I think so.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Watch that Nose Under the Tent

Austin Dacey and Colin Koproske have important things to say about ongoing efforts to undermine free speech in particular and human rights in general:

[S]ixty years after the issuance of the world’s first and greatest statement in favor of universal human rights, both the document and the institution put in place to protect its ideals ... are threatened more than ever. There is now an alternative human rights system, infused with religious language and layered with exceptions, omissions and caveats. The movement toward “Islamic human rights” (IHR) has been successfully presented to the Human Rights Council (HRC) as merely “complementary” to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It sounds so innocent -- "complementing" the UDHR with concerns for the sensitivities of religious believers. But the elimination of free speech begins in just this innocent-sounding way; it is the nose under the tent sniffing around for reasons to erect strictures, barriers, limitations.

We must insist on the right to offend, as the right to offend is inseparable from the right to think, speak, read, and write. The person who cares about anything is susceptible to offense; we might as well place limits on caring as place limits on giving offense.

The Center for Inquiry has the complete report.

(H/T Ophelia Benson)

Paging Naomi Klein

In response to the recent convulsions in the financial markets, our leaders in Washington are prepared to hand $700 billion to the Secretary of the Treasury. Just how blank is that check? Here's how blank:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.
No. Hell no.

Go here to contact your member of Congress and here to contact your Senators.

Cf. The Shock Doctrine (the video version).

Christianity, Unbelievers, and the Paranormal

Ross Douthat and Michael Brendan Dougherty are crowing along with a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece on what Americans believe. Quoting the WSJ:

"What Americans Really Believe," a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.
From which the crowing takes this form:
Anti-religionists ... bring to mind the assertion of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown character that all atheists, secularists, humanists and rationalists are susceptible to superstition: "It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can't see things as they are."
I hate to disrupt a perfectly good round of crowing, but isn't the explanation of this set of facts rather straightforward?

Namely, followers of "traditional Christian religion" are, among other things, people who receive and adhere to a specific set of teachings about the paranormal. Typically, this teaching is that the paranormal manifestation is not actually a space alien or a ghost or an actual ability to divine the future with astrology or palmistry but demonic intervention. I have heard this explanation of the paranormal for as long as I've been aware of the paranormal; Jesus himself attributes illnesses to demons and casts them thither and yon.

By contrast, people who do not receive or adhere to a specific set of teachings about the paranormal may fall prey to the one most frequently on offer -- that there are such things afoot. There are games being played here with the meaning of unbelievers: people without traditional Christian beliefs run the gamut from wishy-washy Christianity to purely agnostic with all sorts of attachments inbetween, but they are not to be confused with "atheists, secularists, humanists and rationalists." I find it difficult to believe that very many self-described (as opposed to WSJ-described) "atheists, secularists, humanists and rationalists" actually believe tales about ghosts, space aliens, lake monsters, fortune-telling, ESP, or the like. They may, I grant, be hesitant to declare these things absolutely do not exist, but their belief in the paranormal would scale with the quality and quantity of supporting evidence. That's the way of skeptics worthy of the name.

Fall Falls


I heard a guy on the radio say that Fall starts promptly at 8:44 this morning, so here we are.

I love the Fall.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Miscellany: Bailouts, Opinions, and DFW

The gigantic taxpayer-funded bailout that Secretary of Treasury Paulsen and George W. Bush are eager to put in place before anyone has a chance to think about it has all the appearances of a catastrophe, or perhaps a fresh new layer to an existing catastrophe. Among those who follow these kinds of things, skepticism abounds.

Here's a pretty interesting survey on the US presidential campaign. The survey is open to citizens and non-citizens alike.

Harper's has placed everything it published by David Foster Wallace in a single archive.

Love and Licks Puppies

The images and phrases in this advertisement are completely innocent. Get your mind out of the gutter!



(H/T Portland Mercury)

Islam: The World's Worst Mousetrap

It's not that I'm entirely unreachable. Insofar as radical Islam seeks to eliminate Mickey Mouse, I'm not convinced, but I can easily think of worse:

Sheikh Muhammad Munajid claimed the mouse is "one of Satan's soldiers" and makes everything it touches impure.

But he warned that depictions of the creature in cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, and Disney's Mickey Mouse, had taught children that it was in fact loveable.

The cleric, a former diplomat at the Saudi embassy in Washington DC, said that under Sharia, both household mice and their cartoon counterparts must be killed.
As I say, it's a start, but the god-addled freak lost me at Tom and Jerry. Tom and Jerry taught me almost everything I know about the humorousness of consequence-free violence.

Continuing with sheikh what's-his-face:
According to Islamic law, the mouse is a repulsive, corrupting creature. How do you think children view mice today – after Tom and Jerry?
I don't think someone so idiotically literal-minded should be in the habit of posing rhetorical questions, so I take this question as posed: I can't speak for all children, but when I was a kid, I distinctly recall the disappointment that actual mice weren't half as funny as Jerry. All actual mice ever do is skitter away, turn up dead in mousetraps, or serve as prey in nature documentaries. Which is to say, actual mice are very different from cartoon mice.

Speaking as the notional adult that that child became, I love Tom and Jerry, and if god considers them unclean and worthy of death, then god is a complete asshole.



(H/T Pharyngula)

What We're For

Here's a taste of that positive and hopeful outlook that critics of atheism enjoy accusing it of lacking, presented -- without any yelling whatever -- by an impressive lineup of thinkers:

The Necessity of Blinking

Sam Harris is alarmed at the combination of ignorance and confidence in the candidacy of Sarah Palin:

I believe that with the nomination of Sarah Palin for the vice presidency, the silliness of our politics has finally put our nation at risk. The world is growing more complex—and dangerous—with each passing hour, and our position within it growing more precarious. Should she become president, Palin seems capable of enacting policies so detached from the common interests of humanity, and from empirical reality, as to unite the entire world against us. When asked why she is qualified to shoulder more responsibility than any person has held in human history, Palin cites her refusal to hesitate. "You can't blink," she told Gibson repeatedly, as though this were a primordial truth of wise governance. Let us hope that a President Palin would blink, again and again, while more thoughtful people decide the fate of civilization.
Palin should learn to blink in Juneau, where the damage she does in the meanwhile will be limited, not in Washington DC. May we all return to not caring whether or when Sarah Palin learns about the realities beyond hunting moose, speaking in tongues, and divvying the spoils of state government.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Shut Up and Drive

Once again, General Motors has gone to great lengths and spared no expense in an effort to produce another practical, afforable, stylish press conference about an electric car. The market delivers again!

During its press conference, GM was careful to let reporters know the following:

The car will have a 40-mile range on batteries alone (G.M. says it’s on target to deliver that) and a top speed of 100 miles per hour.
I can only guess that "on target to deliver" is a phrase extremely familiar to holders of GM stock for the last, oh, two decades.

And who could gainsay the wisdom of promising a top speed that will constitute a moving violation on every street and byway in the nation? Americans reserve the right to imagine ourselves in situations in which, for love or money or fame or reputation, traveling at 100 MPH is de rigueur. Look at the way Sally Field has been airbrushed to gaze at Burt Reynolds as he defies that comically overweight sheriff. Does anyone really expect her to spread her legs for someone who can't get it up to 100MPH? This is America, goddamit! What are we, waste cheese?

Still. GM, do us all a favor and shut the fuck up. Stop talking about the better cars lying just over the horizon. Just stop it.

A Troubled Nation Rubs Its Eyes, Looks Around ...

... and declares in large numbers: "Sarah Palin is waste cheese."

This graph is reproduced from Daily Kos, and further discussed at Five Thirty Eight.

There is Power in Cheese

Kraft, makers of the only concoction of macaroni and cheese my son and his classmates willingly recognize as food, is using its waste cheese as an energy source:

Two cheese plants in New York will turn used whey into energy in a move that will supplant a third of the facilities' natural gas purchases. The company also will avoid the expense of hauling the waste away.

Digesters at the company's Lowville plant, which makes Philadelphia cream cheese, and a string cheese plant in Campbell turn the whey into biogas.
This is good news, but honestly, I mostly wanted to write a blog post that included the phrase "waste cheese" in hopes that it will catch on and gain wider currency -- the phrase itself and the secondary uses of the thing itself. I picture a sea of minds at work dreaming up new uses for waste cheese; and as for "waste cheese," it holds tremendous promise as an insult, suitable for all ages and backgrounds: "You're just a big pile of waste cheese!" Somehow "your mama" sounds exceedingly week as a comeback.

(H/T Buophonia)

There Are Squirrels in Foxholes

Champoeg has a large population of Washington Ground Squirrels, creatures that look like slightly bloated tree squirrels but behave almost exactly like prairie dogs.

Suffice to say it's an odd sight to see a squirrel sprint at the sight of a dog only to pass a few trees on his way to disappearing into a hole in the ground.

Champoeg



Only reluctantly do I drag myself back to the world that is not Champoeg State Park where these scenes were photographed. The 9,10,11, and 12-year old kids to which I played chaperon were full of surprises, not least being the wide variation in their abilities: on one extreme, a few could barely dress themselves, while on the other extreme, a few could probably have organized the entire outing at least as well as the adults. A few were extremely afraid of yellowjackets, and several have honed selective hearing to a fine art, but they were a really good group of kids.

As this was an educational outing, we heard from every available docent in and near Champoeg. It's fair to say that right now, this very moment, I know more about Robert Newell and oak galls than I have ever known before or will ever know again. I hope my "engaged adult" face was convincing to those kids, because it concealed a powerful boredom lurking underneath. The truth is, I have very limited interest in Robert Newell or the house he built on a hill after the massive floods of 1861; I'm glad it won't be on any test I'll have to take.

The kids were great, the park was lovely, and the break in the rut was very welcome.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Because I Could Not Stop for Death, God Set Up an Appointment

The Pope would remind us all that his favorite god brought death into this world and can take it out any damn time he pleases:

[T]he Vatican vehemently maintains that life must continue to its natural end. The pope said in his homily that the ill should pray to find "the grace to accept, without fear or bitterness, to leave this world at the hour chosen by God."
He will give you something to cry about!

But seriously: "natural end" qua that which is "chosen by God"? How on earth -- or how in heaven, if you roll that way -- are we to follow this rule and still put on clothes or pick the ticks off our skin or repel marauding cougars, let alone accept vaccinations? Nature is trying to kill each of us at every moment.

I realize this is not a novel question, but I'm not the one who put on a dress, took to France, and brought it up.

Being the Change I Want to See in the World

Why don't more blogs feature images of a man with a living snake looping through his nasal passages?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Joe Biden's Whereabouts

This graph is taken from a very revealing report showing the pattern of campaign coverage in the USA's mainstream press.

It's actually no mystery where Joe Biden has been or what he's been doing -- he's been campaigning on matters of substance, saying the kinds of things that responsible and knowledgeable people say when they're promoting a serious candidacy. He has not been kicking up celebrity-based conflicts, so the media takes little interest in him.

This is a long speech -- there's a lot to talk about when you're running for vice president -- but it's worth the time.

Shorter Ross Douthat

  • In support of my claim that there's no conceivable moral distinction between negative campaigning and lying, something something LBJ, FDR, Bill Clinton something something Mitt Romney something something a pundit said untoward words about Sarah Palin's family, so it's entirely appropriate that John "Country First" McCain should issue lie after lie after lie on matters big and small.

"Shorter" concept lovingly borrowed from Sadly, No!

S-Words

Few dare invoke the scare-words "safety net" or "socialism" when it benefits the rich.

On top of our recent nationalization -- please pardon the non-euphemism -- of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, we now own AIG and take on the obscene risks of its corporate leadership.

Congratulations? What goes to our collective portfolio next?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Valediction: Cautioning Against Mourning

Never one to allow not knowing what the hell I'm doing to interfere with a good time, I'm serving as one of the chaperons for my son's classroom's camping trip over the next few days. My blogging will be sparse until at least Saturday, but I am planning to put a few timed posts in the pipeline to keep you six readers edified, stultified, and embarrassed on my behalf. A blogger has certain responsibilities.

So if something of world-historical importance that I'd characteristically blog about happens between now and then -- John McCain loses track and names a second laughably unqualified running mate, a glorious new Caliphate is established somewhere in the Islamic world and proceeds to ban smiling, a crisis in the world calls for the re-posting of an image of a man with a snake hanging out of his nose, the Pope reaffirms his favorite god's enduring hostility to knowing things, PZ Myers and Matt Nisbet kickbox on youtube, Andrew Sullivan or Ophelia Benson or Ed Brayton or Matt Yglesias or Norm Geras post something I believe I can restate and nitpick elegantly, someone outside of Ponca City mentions Ponca City, a Republican politician is discovered in the arms of a man he had previously only known as the foot-tapping undercover cop in the next stall, etc. -- I can promise to respond with nothing better than prewritten posts that will probably seem grossly inadequate, even by the low everyday standards of this precious, precious blog.

Come to think of it, would you be interested to learn that each and every post on this precious, precious blog was actually written eighteen months ago during a Ritalin-mescaline bender and pre-timed for publication? I would be interested in that too.

Until Saturday.

Two Science-y Updates

Update the first, concerning the willingness of the two major party presidential campaigns to engage the Science Debate: the McSame campaign has deigned to answer the questions, so both sets of answers can now be seen side-by-side.

It should go without saying (truly it should) that I am completely objective in assessing the quality of these answers, and what stands out for me in McCain's answers are the dramatic commitments to funding. He wants to spend federal money on all kinds of science-related initiatives, and while I support that, I question whether these commitments can easily coexist with his simultaneous commitments to cut spending, reduce taxes, and balance the budget. Which is to say, these commitments plainly do not hang together, but exemplify the well-worn pattern wherein self-styled "fiscal conservatives" campaign as though simple math doesn't apply to their budgetary promises. Simple math does apply, and the numbers just don't add up. Given this, and given the serial lying of the McCain-Palin campaign, it's impossible to take any of McCain's science answers seriously.

Update the second, concerning the "teach the controversy" kerfuffle involving Michael Reiss: Reiss has now resigned from his position in response to criticisms from fellows of the Royal Society and other scientists. Richard Dawkins has written a solid commentary on these developments; I think I can faintly hear the sound of Matt Nisbet's keyboard typing out another demand that Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers shut up and go away for the sake of science's public relations. Stay tuned.

On the merits, I am not sure Reiss needed to go, but if his sincere view of the matter is close to that attributed to him by his harshest critics -- in which case he does see a formal, recognized place for creationist noise in science classrooms -- then he has done the right and honorable thing to resign the post.

Something More on Small Towns

From time to time I've been known to use small towns as a stand-in for the insularity, ambitionlessness, anti-intellectualism, and assorted other ugliness of America and Americans. It's little more than a cartoon, one I like to doodle now and then. As a cartoon, it tends to be a caricature.

So yes, I am guilty of deploying The Small Town as an archetype whose terms distort the apposite realities. But here's the thing: I am not running for president or vice president.

It goes beyond the fact that I not running for high office on the basis of some or other symbolic meaning I've half-assedly attached to small towns. Now is as good a time as any to point this out: if any of you six is following this precious, precious blog on grounds that it provides a definitive, nuanced, thoroughgoing exposition of The Truth About Small Towns in America, you have been mistaken to do so. Here and now I apologize for having created the contrary impression.

None of which is to say I will stop making fun of Ponca City, Klamath Falls (or its flora), Moclips, Elma, or the like. I will continue to insist on my doodles.

Small Town Values

As I continue to watch the Wide Stance party pretend to champion "small town values," I reflect back on the first eighteen years of my life, which was spent exclusively in small towns in Oklahoma, a state that was deep red before anyone ever talked about red states and blue states. I lived in Ponca City, McAlester, and Burns Flat, and spent considerable time in Idabel because my grandparents lived there, and spent a fair amount of time in Liberal, Kansas, where another set of grandparents lived when I was younger. All of these small towns are encircled by countless other small towns to which I was exposed regularly, including Tonkawa, Fairfax, Shidler, Newkirk, Blackwell, Winfield (KS), Arkansas City (KS), Elk City, Cordell, Dill City, Clinton, Krebs, Wright City, Hugo, Antlers, and oodles of others that may or may not have been mentioned in the annals of blogging before now.

I am extremely familiar with small towns, with the people who live in small towns, and with the values they follow. With my bona fides thus established, prepare to be shocked: small town people are no better and no worse than anyone else.

The first three -- and surely the first one hundred-and-three -- devoutly religious, astutely moral people I met came from small towns. So did the first three -- and the first hundred-and-three -- scheming drug addicts. Same goes for hard-working people; and for life-long shirkers; and for community leaders; and for spouse- and child-abusers. My parents divorced while they were living in a small town, but I can cite names of married couples who have been together for decades in the same small town.

It was in small towns and among small town people that I was first exposed to the realities of and the reactions to homosexuality, abortion, infidelity, bigotry, greed, cruelty, envy, abuse of power, deception -- and not, I repeat not -- as undesirable imports from big cities, but as home-grown, all-too-local manifestations of the human experience.

In case you've missed it, here's The Daily Show's coverage of "small town values." Great stuff.



Actually, I should make one correction: the people of Blackwell are complete assholes, every last one. Something is very, very wrong there.

In any case, beware the political party that claims to champion "small town values." Coming from someone who knows small towns, this is to champion everything and nothing. To speak this way is a feat of concealment, cheap branding, and empty sloganeering.