Occasionally, I suffer under the delusion that my country, the United States of America, because of its founding as a radical experiment in democracy, might actually behave better than other countries in history that have been in similar circumstances -- but usually events rapidly disabuse me of that conceit. Historian J.H. Elliott helps to remind me of one of the reasons why that's the case:
Every empire fears, but needs, the barbarians at its gates. For all the territory under its control and the overwhelming force at its command, there are lands and peoples on its edges impervious to its attractions and unwilling to submit. Untamed, and perhaps untamable, they represent the "Other," hostile, threatening, and, above all, different. They follow strange customs, they speak in strange tongues, and their proximity is a constant source of preoccupation to those whose task it is to defend the perimeter of empire and promote its aspirations. Yet barbarians on the horizon, or battering at the gates, can also have their uses. For they serve as a valuable reminder of the evils that empire claims to have extirpated from the lands that it controls. Barbarians stand for savagery, treachery, and violence; empires, by contrast, for civility, trustworthiness, and peace. The imperial enterprise gains justification, imperial ideology gains coherence, and the empire itself gains cohesion from the depiction, in a few crude strokes, of the enemy without.
It would nice if the character of our civilization was such that we could avoid such stereotypical behavior, but that's never going to be the case as long as reactionary anti-rationalist ideologues control our politics, our media, and our government.
China's leaders used to believe that humans can and should conquer Nature, that environmental damage was a problem affecting only capitalist societies, and that socialist societies were immune to it.
I've no doubt that this is a true statement about the beliefs of the leaders of communist China, but it's an absolutely extraordinary idea, that the political system of a country would somehow be determinative of its environmental consequences, that socialist or communist pollution is in some mysterious way less damaging than capitalist pollution. (What would be the mechanism?, I wonder, but such a question doesn't come into play for an anti-rationalists because that's not how their dogmatic and revelatory worldview works.) Such a remarkable concept of environmental exceptionalism is entirely anti-rational and is clearly driven by gross ideological preconceptions that bear no relationship to reality as we know it.
Unfortunately, a similar kind of environmental exceptionalism permeates the right-wing establishment which controls this country. It's expressed in denial of global scientific consensus, in attempted political control of science and scientists, and in confabulation and outright dissembling whenever inconvenient facts get in the way of ideological necessity. The Bush administration, in refusing to acknowledge the harm we've done to the global environment and the dire consequences of that damage, is as blinkered and unrealistic as it's possible to be and still manage to (barely) function in the real world.
The reality is, of course, that we'll all pay for it in the end -- for the delusions and madness of all the ideologues.
I've been spending a fair amount of time this last few days following the Olympic curling coverage and rooting on the two American teams (men's and women's). It's a fascinating sport that's strangely addictive and weirdly lovable. I mean, what's not to love about a sport where the players push 42 pound chunks of polished granite down a sheet of ice and use brooms to sweep in front of each rock to influence its path? That's sporting weirdness defined, and it's damn fun to watch. (My 6-year-old has already picked up on the jargon, and spouts off about "shot rocks" and "guards" like a long-time fan.)
And in case you've also been watching, and you've been wondering what makes a curling stone curl, there's this explanation from a physicist who's also a curler:
In conclusion, we tested our ideas by predicting specific results, and these were then confirmed by experiments that supported our ideas. Why does a curling stone curl the way it does? Because (1) melting occurs as the rock slides over the ice, and (2) the rock drags some of the thin liquid film around it as it rotates, making the friction much less at the front than at the back of the stone, especially when it is in its final feet of travel.
In a counter-clockwise rotating rock, the "sideways" motion at the front is to the left (dashed arrow), and the sideways friction on the front is to the right (solid arrow). The sideways motion at the back is to the right, and the friction is to the left. Because the friction at the back is greater than at the front, the rock curls to the left.
So, according to this, when the rock slows down, the differential in friction between the front and the back of the stone increases, causing the stone to move to the side more, which explains why a rock does most of its curling at the end of its pathway.
Of course, physics can't explain why watching curling is so engaging.
Soon after, [Kenedy County Sheriff Ramon] Salinas said, [sheriff's Capt. Charles] Kirk called him from the Armstrong Ranch gate. He told him he was there with a U.S. Border Patrol agent who didn't know what was going on.
The Border Patrol agent wouldn't let Kirk in, but that's not what attracted my attention. Instead, I'm pleased to see that we've solved a riddle, we've found out what's causing that damn "porous border" problem the wingnuts are always complaining about -- you know, where Mexicans are pouring over the border in droves, destabilizing our economy and causing the Federal deficit by taking welfare payments and such. Well, it seems that Border Patrol agents (who, we're told, are stretched incredibly thin) are busy guarding the gates of private ranches for the Vice President instead of guarding the borders!
That explains that!
(BTW, read the firedoglake post for a look at the cozy relationship and deference to authority shown by the Kenedy County Sheriff.)
[Thanks to Polly]
Update: Corrected the name of the county from "Kennedy" to "Kenedy". (Thanks, Roger.)
Listening to the news this afternoon that Cheney's victim may have had a heart attack due to some of the shot lodging in his heart, I all of a sudden thought that it was possible that Cheney might actually have to resign because of this incident. I'm sure that doing so goes against every instinct in his miserable body, but it just might have to happen.
Update: BTW, I'm sure it's just my own misperception, but does it seem to anyone else that the doctors and administrators at the hospital where Whittington is being treated are going out of their way to minimize the extent of his injuries? He's "very stable" (sort of like "completely unique", in the use of an intensifier without real meaning, but which sounds doubleplus good), his heart is better than mine, said one, another was visiting him just like he was in his living room, he's going to be discharged in a few days, he only experienced a minor heart attack, and so on.
If this is true, that they're deliberately playing down the damage, it would be interesting to know if they're doing so under orders (and whether those orders were local or from the home office in DC), or on their own because of political choice. Or perhaps they're just sharp enough to understand that crossing Big Dick would be hazardous to their careers.
Bitch PhD has the straight dope on the Cheney shooting incident.
Funny, reducing the number of Republican millionaires is supposed to be on our agenda, not theirs, albeit via more peaceful (and legal) economic means. Maybe Dick read the wrong memos, or perhaps it was his way of sending us a little present on Darwin Day.
From the Boston Globe, another indication that the propaganda effort preceding military action against Iran is in the ramping-up stage:
Iran is prepared to launch attacks using long-range missiles, secret commando units, and terrorist allies planted around the globe in retaliation for any strike on the country's nuclear facilities, according to new US intelligence assessments and military specialists.
US and Israeli officials have not ruled out military action against Iran if diplomacy fails to thwart its nuclear ambitions. Among the options are airstrikes on suspected nuclear installations or covert action to sabotage the Iranian program.
But military and intelligence analysts warn that Iran -- which a recent US intelligence report described as ''more confident and assertive" than it has been since the early days of the 1979 Islamic revolution -- could unleash reprisals across the region, and perhaps even inside the United States, if the hard-line regime came under attack.
This is blatant fear-mongering in the guise of a warning about consequences -- Iran has missiles! It might use chemical weapons! Iran has elite special ops teams ready to attack us! Iran will unleash its pet terrorists on us! OH NO!! Let's think really hard about whether to attack them, and when we do decide to attack them, we'd better hit them damn hard so they can't do any of those bad things to us in retaliation.
Since I don't generally watch a lot of TV on commercial networks (the Law & Order series and Monk is about it), I don't get exposed to a lot of TV commercials, so when the Olympics roll around, all of a sudden there are all these ads to watch that I've never seen before. It's a crash course in television advertising.
So far, not a lot of what I've seen has struck me one way or the other. The Coca-Cola series which features an Olympic cheerleading team should be funnier than it is, and I confess I don't really get the McDonald's ads which center around a full-size plastic Ronald McDonald -- aren't they rather reminiscent of the Burger King commercials or the Quaker Oats ads where the kids pull around a full size Quaker figure? And what's the appeal of these ads anyway?
I am glad to see that Chevy has dug in its heels and rejected all this talk about global warming, the possibility we're reaching the point of peak oil, and the danger of our national addiction to petroleum and the internal combustion engine, and is running an ad where a family in one of their huge gas-guzzling SUVs looks down their noses at a family going by them in a smaller, more fuel-efficient car. (The joke is that the smaller car is so small that the family has to get around in three of them, with the dog and luggage in the last car which has no driver -- talk about your straw man argument!! "Buy our wasteful and expensive to operate vehicle because otherwise your dog will need his own car.")
Chevy's intransigence comes when other automakers are touting their hybrid cars, which, however expedient and opportunistic on their part, at least reflects the slowly turning popular viewpoint that we'd better start getting a little greener. I mean, shoot, even George W. Bush's advisors could see that worm turning (enough to insert some greenish-sounding mumbo-jumbo in the SOTU), but GM apparently doesn't have a friggin' clue. I expect their complete inability to grok the zeitgeist will be reflected in the stock market sooner or later. Too bad that innocent people will lose their jobs because these bozos don't know their asses from their elbows.
By the way, I'm undecided as of yet about NBC's coverage. There's still much too much human interest stuff, interviews, medal ceremonies and various sidebars, all at the expense of actually watching, you know, athletes compete, but maybe the balance is a little better than in previous games. I'd still like to tape an hour of prime-time coverage and count how much competition they show in 60 minutes, just to know.
Still, it looks like they'll be showing a fair amount of curling, which struck me hard at the last Winter Olympics, so that's good, even if some of the coverage comes at 3 in the morning. Hooray for DVRs!!
I recently wrote a post in which I counseled Democratic Party leaders to listen to the voice of their rank and file, but remarked:
There is, of course, no guarantee that they'll be a font of wisdom on every issue, nor will they speak with one voice (especially on the Internet, where dissension on the left sometimes seems to be as much an expression of the right to disagree as actual fundamental disagreement), but Democratic leaders had better understand that in the age of Bush, the electorate is damn angry and not in the mood to be trifled with.
I'm fully aware, from my own experience, that people of basically similar views can disagree strongly about what the best policies are and how to go about achieving the power to put those policies in effect. What seems obvious to one person is a complete non-starter to another, despite their basic agreement on what's wrong and what needs to be done.
Which brings to mind the thought that, corruption and lack of integrity aside, one reason that elected officials may pay more attention to lobbyists than they should, is that lobbyists are so admirably clear on exactly what they want, precisely what solutions they favor, and what they want from elected officials. In the face of such certainty, the confused cacophony from The People at large doesn't have much of a chance.
1. They are people that claim their religion is the only one because religion for them is not about how to be ... it is about solidifying an identity ... shoring up an insecure ego ... and an extremely fearful one. This is why religious intolerance is so bad and so evil. It causes wars ... just look at the harm religious fundamentalism has caused in history - far more harm than good.
2. They don't anaylize things deeply ... they feel things deeply. They feel threatened by people who lead the examined life in terms of reason. They are fundamentally emotional in their thinking and are afraid. Life is a mystery but they can't handle that. They fight tooth and nail for views that make them feel secure
3. They have felt excluded from mainstream society for a long time and now that they have some power they are ecstatic ... but extremely worried about losing it.
4. Religion for them is not about love, learning how to live with diversity, or humility which involves the recognition that we as humans really know very little
5. They are authoritarian based and focus on power before love. Love is about letting go and welcoming all ... power is about holding tight and excluding many.
6. This group of people needs to be worked with.
Let me ask this:
What do people see in the above lists that are openings for us to heal the divide in this country? i.e. how do we take the reigns away from Rove and the Bushies in their "pit the right and left against each other so we can do our dirty work in secret" game plan? I think that the Democrats need to learn how to help right wing fundamentalists feel: 1. safer with Dems in power. Because their need to feel safe is PARAMOUNT 2. Don't rub the fact they supported the monsters that are now in power, just welcome them back to sanity. Because these people's weakness is they cannot admit being wrong 3. Learn more about what makes them tick ... they are just people. And they are not bad people, just ignorant. 4 don't fall for the personal attacks anymore. Just stay on target when talking to them ... sort of like the scene in Star Wars "STAY ON TARGET!" as the fighters are buzzing around the pilot that blows up the death star. Just keep coming back to the issue/idea being discussed OVER and OVER, ignoring the personal attacks.
In an aside, has anyone noticed that the "right-wing cult" meme keeps popping up all over the place?
Well, it looks like the blizzard here in NYC (as well as some necessary but mundane household chores which need to be done) will prevent us from taking in the Darwin exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, but I think we can find something to do around the house which wll honor the intellectual achievments of Darwin -- after all, what's important is making sure his legacy continues through education, not indulging in idolatry. Darwin is important to us because of what he did not because of who he was.
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
quoted by Nicholas Wade in "Double Helixes, Chickens and Eggs" in NY Times Magazine (1/29/95)
With respect to the theological view of the question: This is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically, but I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars or that a cat should play with mice... On the other hand, I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance.
Letter to Asa Gray (1860)
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
Origin of Species (1859)
Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.
The Descent of Man (1871)
Those who look tenderly at the slave owner and with a cold heart at the slave, never seem to put themselves into the position of the latter; what a cheerless prospect, with not even a hope of change! Picture to yourself the chance, ever hanging over you, of your wife and your little children - those objects which nature urges even the salve to call his own - being torn from you and sold like beasts to the first bidder! And these deeds are done and palliated by men, who profess to love their neighbors as themselves, who believe in God, and pray that his WIll be done on earth! It makes one's blood boil, yet tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty.
Voyage of the Beagle (1836)
If ... men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.
[T]he aim and the work of the terrorists [is] to keep the targeted population in the grip of fear. Here is how the Department of Defense describes the defining goal of terrorism:
"the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological."
Terrorists don't expect to achieve their goals through the physical destruction of a society using violence, the way a nation at war attempts with its military. The violence inflicted by terrorists is simply a tool for ratcheting up the fear level, and the fear of the violence, rather than the violence itself, is the primary tool of the terrorist. The greater the fear of the targeted population, the closer the terrorists are to achieving their goals.
SO... that being the case, who is it in our society who seems to be working overtime to keep people in a state of fear about terrorist attacks? Who raises and lowers the Homeland Security alert level in synchrony with their political need? Who released details of a supposedly foiled plot to fly airplanes into a Los Angeles skyscraper at just the time when criticism is mounting about illegal and unconsitutional warrantless searches?
Glenn's got the answer, but, then again, so do we all. As he says, Al Qaeda has a good friend in the White House.
I live in New York, I take the possibility of a terrorist attack very seriously. What I don't take at all seriously is anything this administration has to say about them, what they're supposedly doing to prevent them, or the attacks they've heroically saved us from, because all those things ultimately have a political purpose to them. I don't believe for a microsecond that they are in any way really serious about preventing a terrorist attack, except to the extent that another attack might be harmful to Bush's approval numbers. If they were serious, they would have concentrated on capturing Osama bin Laden instead of invading Iraq.
The monorail is extraordinary in that it can be built elsewhere and then carried in and installed in mid-street with little confusion and no destruction of businesses. In a matter of a few months, a line could be built from Long Beach all the way along Western Avenue to the mountains with little disturbance to citizens and no threat to local businesses.
Compared to the heavy elevateds of the past, the monorail is virtually soundless. Anyone who has ridden the Disneyland or Seattle monorails knows how quietly they move.
They also have been virtually accident-free. The history of the monorail shows few collisions or fatalities.If we constructed monorails running north and south on Vermont, Western, Crenshaw and Broadway, and similar lines running east and west on Washington, Pico, Wilshire, Santa Monica and Sunset, we would have provided a proper cross section of transportation, allowing people to move anywhere in our city at any time.
There you have it. As soon as possible, we must call in one of the world's monorail-building companies to see what could be done so that the first ones could be in position by the end of the year to help our huddled traffic masses yearning to travel freely.
The freeway is the past, the monorail is our future, above and beyond.
My 6-year-old son is a train nut, so for that reason alone I'd love to see a major metropolitan area build a real monorail system, not the small-scale demonstator system such as in Seattle and the Disney parks, or the limited systems in use at many airports, such as Newark. On top of that, LA could obviously use an effective mass-transit system that goes to all the places that people want to go, but color me unconvinced by Bradbury's op-ed, which smacks more of Ain't I a clever visionary rather than a serious attempt to lay out the benefits and drawback of monorails in Southern California.
Bradbury really glosses over the problems inherent in having elevated tracks running through a neighborhood, even if the structure of modern monorail tracks is less bulky and shadow-making than old-fashioned "els" such as we have here in New York and in Chicago. Where those els went, blight followed, but perhaps it would be different with the monorails. And accident free? The monorail in Seattle was closed down when I was last there because of an accident, and I just read that it's down again. That may be a specific problem with the Seattle system, but there's no reason to suspect that a monorail will be any more or any less accident-prone than any other mass-transportation system. Where there are motors and heavy things moving, there will be accidents.
But the biggest problem with his suggestion is one he doesn't really go into, that for a mass transit system for Los Angeles to be effective and reduce car trips significantly, it has to go to a lot of places. Because LA is so spread out, because there is not just one city center but many of them, because people live in residential areas all over the place, and then have to get to work all over the place, an effective transportation system really has to have the capability of going to all those places in order to make it reasonable for people to give up their cars.
Throwing up a couple of monorail lines, even if they go to the most popular destinations, is not likely to have any more effect on LA's abysmal street traffic problem than the new subway has, because it won't go all the places where people need to go, and as long as there's at least one destination in a day's itinerary (drop kids off at school, go to work, have lunch with friends, pick up kids and bring to dance lessons, go grocery shopping, home) which can't be reached by mass transit, people will use their cars because to do so is not only inconvenient, it's impractical.
LA's sprawling nature was long ago defined by the railroads, then the street car system, then the freeway system which replaced it, and that sprawl is an integral part of its identity now. The only kind of mass transit system which can save LA is one which adaquetely services that sprawl, by mirroring the routes that the railroads, street cars and freeways put down -- and even then the immense size of the city mitigates against it, since the chances are that the place you're going to, even if it's in the general vicinity of a monorail stop, is not going to be within walking distance.
I'm not an Angeleno, so I'm not in a position to say that I'm agin' it -- besides, I'm not really against it at all, I would just like to see some kind of proposal that's real and had even a marginal chance of success. LA really does badly need some kind of mass transit to take the stress off of the overloaded streets and freeways, but Bradbury's idea sounds like a non-starter to me.
I don't think it's a good idea to crow too much about George Deustch quitting his job at NASA. (Deutsch is the guy who tried to muzzle James Hansen, one of NASA's top scientists, so he wouldn't go around telling the world what everyone except the Bush Administration, some right-wing nuts and the oil industry already knows, that global warming is a fact, and we're in a shitload of trouble because of it. He also attempted to get the word "theory" added to every mention of the Big Bang on a NASA website because, in his religiously-determined view, the Big Bang is only an opinion and not a fact.) I mean, I'm glad that he's gone, but I doubt this is the last we'll hear of him. In his brazenness, his willingness to go on the attack no matter how precarious his position, and, as Ed Brayton puts it, his mastery of the art of "confidently asserting the truth of a transparent lie," Deutsch has shown that he's got all the skills needed to thrive in right-wing Republican politics, and he's bound to go far.
All that's happened is he's learned some important life lessons about covering your tracks, knowing how far you can go in specific circumstances, and falling on your sword when necessary. I mean, this scandalette has probably helped the guy, providing a nifty post-graduate course in how to be a Republican operative. (Not "post-graduate" literally, of course, since he never graduated from Texas A&M as he had claimed to, which was the proximate cause of his having to resign once he was outed by a blogger.)
I think I'll set up a Google Alert for him, and see where he ends up, because I don't believe we've seen the last of Mr. Deutsch.
Addenda: The Texas radio interview with Deutsch is here (parts 2, 3 and 4).
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
Thanks to: Breeze, Chuck, Ivan Raikov, Kaiju, Kathy, Roger, Shirley, S.M. Dixon
i've got a little list...
Steven Abrams (Kansas BofE)
Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson
Roger Ailes (FNC)
Alan Bonsell (Dover BofE)
Bill Buckingham (Dover BofE)
George W. Bush
Bruce Chapman (DI)
The Coors Family
William A. Dembski
Leonard Downie (WaPo)
John Gibson (FNC)
Fred Hiatt (WaPo)
James F. Inhofe
Philip E. Johnson
by Joel Pelletier
(click on image for more info)
Stephen C. Meyer (DI)
Judith Miller (ex-NYT)
Sun Myung Moon
Elspeth Reeve (TNR)
Martin Peretz (TNR)
Richard Mellon Scaife
Susan Schmidt (WaPo)
John Solomon (WaPo)
Richard Thompson (TMLC)
Bob Woodward (WaPo)
All the fine sites I've
Be sure to visit them all!!
Arthur C. Clarke
Daniel C. Dennett
Philip K. Dick
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Harder They Come"
Ursula K. LeGuin
The Marx Brothers
Michael C. Penta
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
"The Red Shoes"
"Singin' in the Rain"
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Hunter S. Thompson
"2001: A Space Odyssey"
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.
If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.
(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)
Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.