Friday, October 24, 2008

PAIN: Personal, Abrupt, Immoral and Now

Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologist, gave a talk at Pop!Tech on why the threat of global warming fails to get our attention while the threat of terrorism consumes us.

In a nutshell, there are four characteristics of a threat that human brains have evolved sensitivity towards. Terrorism presents all four of these characteristics, global warming none.

Human agency (Personal):
Terrorism has a human face, global warming doesn't.

Rapidity (Abrupt):
Humans are good at spotting fast not slow, relative not absolute, changes.

Moral sensitivity (Immoral):
Emotions are raised around, say, food (nausea) and sex (disgrace), but we're oblivious to atmospheric chemistry.

Immediacy (Now):
Terrorism can kill you right now, global warming can't. The brain responds to present, not future, threats.

Sounds plausible to me.

The talk is available at the following links:
The Psychology of Global Warming I (YouTube)
The Psychology of Global Warming II (YouTube)
The Psychology of Global Warming (view or download from Pop!Tech)


Op-Ed Contributor - From Beirut to 9/11 -
This piece by Robert McFarlane, former Middle East representative and national security advisor, concludes with
First, however, we must win in Afghanistan — truly the decisive battleground in this global struggle. Never has there been a greater need for experience and judgment in the White House. Unless our next president understands the complexity of the challenge as well as what it will take to succeed, and can lead his cabinet and our country in resolute execution of that strategy, we will lose this war.
Mr. McFarlane's piece appears to be a between-the-lines endorsement of the McCain-Palin ticket. But if it was, why didn't he just come out with it? Is he being luke-warm towards the Republican ticket? Given the focus on Afghanistan, could it be a tentative endorsement of Obama-Biden?

Nah... He's got to be a McCain-Palin backer, possibly holding his nose.

As for his piece, a couple of paragraphs from the end he writes, in the context of cabinet policy debates and leadership, that
What is intolerable, however, is irresolution.
In the context of this editorial, that passage is a bit ironic.

I'm sympathetic to McFarlane's point, though. He may wish the Reagan administration had taken a more resolute approach to the kidnapping of US officials in Lebanon. Who knows what the details were, but on the first occasion that Soviet officials were kidnapped in Lebanon, the Soviets responded resolutely (with a certain savagery), got their people back and did not have that problem again. I wonder if McFarlane urged that sort of resoluteness on the Reagan administration.

It seems to me that an Obama-Biden administration has more potential than a McCain-Palin administration to understand
the complexity of the challenge as well as what it will take to succeed, and [be able to lead the] cabinet and our country in resolute execution of that strategy.
Time will tell, but we're in for a wild ride irrespective of how the election turns out.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Well, it's about &$(*@*! time! Worldwide:
Colin Powell, a former Army general who served in three Republican administrations, declared his support for Barack Obama in an endorsement that may enhance the Democratic presidential nominee's standing to be commander in chief.

Now, where are are Shinseki and Sanchez? I don't recall hearing anything from Shinseki after he retired, but Sanchez pretty thoroughly blasted the administration. Where is he now?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Nasty Appeal to Ignorant Bigotry

I took the red-bordered snapshot below of an email I received today. I'd love to know the identity of the lowlife who composed this trash. I'll simply refer to him or her as Mr. Lowlife.

Mr. Lowlife had to know that the book Mr. Obama is carrying is a serious, scholarly work authored by a well-regarded secular individual. The book is a best seller, it is not anti-American and it is not "a Muslim's view."

I Googled the phrase, "The Post-American World' -- it's a Muslim's view", and wound up looking at this page from the Modesto Bee's forums, which shows, by the date on which it was posted, that Mr. Lowlife's slime has been floating around for some time.

The message on the Modesto Bee's forum contains a link to the picture, not the picture itself. The link is to The New Republic, but not to The New Republic's post in which the picture was used. Lowlife's link was directly to the picture, with no mention of the context provided by the accompanying post. 

Mr. Lowlife is a scumbag and a liar. He represents the worst aspects of America.

Mr. McCain could make some points, could display some leadership, by placing a Gallery of Shame prominently on his website under the banner, "DON'T DO THIS!" With this "Muslim's view" vomitus near the top of his Gallery of Shame, McCain could show that he was seriously trying to distance himself and his party from this sort of filthy tactic. He might actually swing some voters his way. But no.

Response to a forwarded e-mail

You may have received, or seen elsewhere, a letter from Joe Porter, of Champaign, Illinois, about Mr. McCain's qualifications, and Mr. Obama's lack of qualification, for the Presidency. The entire letter, as I received it, is reproduced below along with my comments.

(Forwards and email addresses deleted.)

I disagree.

A proper self thinker would not have included a reference to Obama's "Muslim background".

There are plenty of "self thinkers" who favor Obama over McCain.

An impassioned letter from a 'nobody'. But he gives his telephone number at the end.
No, he doesn't.

Sent: Monday, August 18, 2008 3:19 PM
Subject: FW: A letter from Ilinois

Dear Friends:

My name is Joe Porter. I live in Champaign, Illinois. I'm 46 years old, a born-again Christian, a husband, a father, a small business owner, a veteran, and a homeowner. I don't consider myself to be either conservative or liberal, and I vote for the person, not Republican or Democrat. I don't believe there are 'two Americas ' but that every person in this country can be whomever and whatever they want to be if they'll just work to get there and nowhere else on earth can they find such opportunities. I believe our government should help those who are legitimately downtrodden, and should always put the interests of America first.
Joe Porter sounds like a nice guy. We seem to have a lot in common. Husband, father, homeowner, veteran, neither conservative or liberal. Neither Republican or Democrat. Good stuff. Me too. But Mr. Porter doesn't believe there are 'two Americas'. He's mistaken. Look around you, self-thinkers!

The purpose of this message is that I'm concerned about the future of this great nation. I'm worried that the silent majority of honest, hard-working, tax-paying people in this country have been passive for too long. Most folks I know choose not to involve themselves in politics. They go about their daily lives, paying their bills, raising their kids, and doing what they can to maintain the good life. They vote and consider doing so to be a sacred trust. They shake their heads at the political pundits and so-called 'news', thinking that what they hear is always spun by whomever is reporting it. They can't understand how elected officials can regularly violate the public trust with pork barrel spending. They don't want government handouts. They want the government to protect them, not raise their taxes for more government programs.
I can go along with that.

We are in the unique position in this country of electing our leaders. It's a privilege to do so. I've never found a candidate in any election with whom I agreed on everything. I'll wager that most of us don't even agree with our families or spouses 100% of the time. So when I step into that voting booth, I always try to look at the big picture and cast my vote for the man or woman who is best qualified for the job. I've hired a lot of people in my lifetime, and essentially that's what an election is - a hiring process. Who has the credentials? Whom do I want working for me? Whom can I trust to do the job right?
I can go along with that, too, except that this year I'm looking more at the party than the individuals running for office.

I'm concerned that a growing number of voters in this country simply don't get it. They are caught up in a fervor they can't explain, and calling it 'change'.
'Change what?', I ask.
'Well, we're going to change America', they say.
'In what way?', I query.
'We want someone new and fresh in= the White House', they exclaim.
'So, someone who's not a politician?', I say.
'Uh, well, no, we just want a lot of stuff changed, so we're voting for Obama', they state.
'So the current system, the system of freedom and democracy that has enabled a man to grow up in this great country, get a fine education, raise incredible amounts of money and dominate the news, and win his party's nomination for the White House, that system's all wrong?'
'No, no, that part of the system's okay we just need a lot of change.'

And so it goes. 'Change we can believe in.'
If Mr. Porter says the dialog above characterizes his experiences, then I guess it does. What it does not do, though, is reduce the certainty that a lot of change is required on fronts as diverse as health care, foreign policy, energy policy, education, regulation, law enforcement, trade agreements, civil rights and on and on.

Quite frankly, I don't believe that vague proclamations of change hold any promise for me. In recent months, I've been asking virtually everyone I encounter how they're voting. I live in Illinois, so most folks tell me they're voting for Barack Obama. But no one can really tell me why only that he's going to change a lot of stuff 'Change, change, change.' I have yet to find one single person who can tell me distinctly and convincingly why this man is qualified to be President and Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful nation on earth other than the fact that he claims he's going to implement a lot of change.
I share Mr. Porter's apparent disdain for the phrase, "Change we can believe in," but pointing out that people in your circle can't verbalize specifics doesn't discredit the candidate.

We've all seen the emails about Obama's genealogy, his upbringing, his Muslim background, and his church affiliations. Let's ignore this for a moment. Put it all aside. Then ask yourself, 'What qualifies this man to be my president? That he's a brilliant orator and talks about change?'
Obama's genealogy is irrelevant unless you're a racist. That he turned out OK as a result of his particular upbrining is evident. Obama is a Christian, not a Muslim, and any reference to "his Muslim background" discredits the author. Obama's church affiliations are pretty tame and less objectionable than Mr. McCain's courting of the sort of "agents of intolerance" he rightly criticized in times past.


Friends, I'll be forthright with you I believe the American voters who are supporting Barack Obama don't have a clue what they're doing, as evidenced by the fact that not one of them - NOT ONE of them I've spoken to can spell out his qualifications. Not even the most liberal media can explain why he should be elected. Political experience? Negligible. Foreign relations? Non-existent. Achievements? Name one. Someone who wants to unite the country? If you haven't read his wife's thesis from Princeton, look it up on the web. This is who's lining up to be our next First Lady? The only thing I can glean from Obama's constant harping about change is that we're in for a lot of new taxes.
Not one can spell out Obama's qualifications? Come on now. Even if that assertion is true in Mr. Porter's experience, that the people Mr. Porter talks to can't satisfy him says nothing about the candidate.

Michelle Obama is an impressive woman, and she's going to make a fine First Lady.

For me, the choice is clear. I've looked carefully at the two leading applicants for the job, and I've made my choice.
So have I.

Here's a question - 'Where were you five and a half years ago? Around Christmas, 2002. You've had five or six birthdays in that time. My son has grown from a sixth grade child to a high school graduate. Five and a half years is a good chunk of time. About 2,000 days. 2,000 nights of sleep. 6,000 meals, give or take.'

John McCain spent that amount of time, from 1967 to 1973, in a North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp.

When offered early release, he refused it. He considered this offer to be a public relations stunt by his captors, and insisted that those held longer than he should be released first. Did you get that part? He was offered his freedom, and he turned it down. A regimen of beatings and torture began.

Do you possess such strength of character? Locked in a filthy cell in a foreign country, would you turn down your own freedom in favor of your fellow man? I submit that's a quality of character that is rarely found, and for me, this singular act defines John McCain.
Senator McCain's military record, though admirable, does not constitute qualification for the Presidency. It's just one factor among many.

Unlike several presidential candidates in recent years whose military service is questionable or non-existent, you will not find anyone to denigrate the integrity and moral courage of this man. A graduate of Annapolis, during his Naval service he received the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross. His own son is now serving in the Marine Corps in Iraq . Barack Obama is fond of saying 'We honor John McCain's service...BUT...', which to me is condescending and offensive - because what I hear is, 'Let's forget this man's sacrifice for his country, and his proven leadership abilities, and talk some more about change.'
No, it is not condescending, not offensive, to acknowledge Mr. McCain's military service then move on to any number of other issues that require attention. Hero worship is not a good way to pick a President.

I don't agree with John McCain on everything - but I am utterly convinced that he is qualified to be our next President, and I trust him to do what's right. I know in my heart that he has the best interests of our country in mind. He doesn't simply want to be President - he wants to lead America, and there's a huge difference. Factually, there is simply no comparison between the two candidates. A man of questionable background and motives who prattles on about change, can't hold a candle to a man who has devoted his life in public service to this nation, retiring from the Navy in 1981 and elected to the Senate in 1982.
Questionable background and motives? Like Obama's being a Muslim, right? Insinuation discredits the author.

Perhaps Obama's supporters are taking a stance between old and new. Maybe they don't care about McCain's service or his strength of character, or his unblemished qualifications to be President. Maybe 'likeability' is a higher priority for them than 'trust'. Being a prisoner of war is not what qualifies John McCain to be President of the United States of America - but his demonstrated leadership certainly DOES.
I appreciated Senator McCain's leadership in the Gang of 12 effort to break a deadlock over judicial nominees. I appreciated his initial stand on torture, but not so much the wafle that followed. I did not care at all for his involvement in the Keating business. I most certainly do not approve of his choice of running mate, and I don't like his social conservatism.

I don't trust a McCain administration to respect my civil rights. I expect a McCain administration to further the tendency to authoritarianism. I don't trust him to honor his debate pledge to end federal programs that don't work; rather, I'm confident that a McCain administration will, for example, stay the course in the War on Some Drugs in deference to the prison cop complex.

I don't trust him to make good judicial nominations. During the debate last night McCain said he would have no litmus test for federal judges, but then went on to say that a judge who thinks Roe was correctly decided wouldn't make the grade because he wouldn't be a strict constructionist.

I don't trust McCain when he protests that he is not George Bush; instead, I expect a McCain administration to be a continuation of the Bush administration.

Mr. McCain does not have my trust, nor that of the majority that will probably elect Mr. Obama in three weeks.

Dear friends, it is time for us to stand. It is time for thinking Americans to say, 'Enough.' It is time for people of all parties to stop following the party line. It is time for anyone who wants to keep America first, who wants the right man leading their nation, to start a dialogue with all their friends and neighbors and ask who they're voting for, and why.
Speaking of party line, I don't trust a McCain administration to do anything other than toe the Republican party line.

There's a lot of evil in this world. That should be readily apparent to all of us by now. And when faced with that evil as we are now, I want a man who knows the cost of war on his troops and on his citizens. I want a man who puts my family's interests before any foreign country.
I agreed with Mr. McCain at times during the last debate, particularly when part of his answer to the question, "What don't you know and how will you learn it?", was the simple truth that "Nobody knows what will happen."

Nobody knows what will happen, but I'm confident that an Obama administration will bring better qualifications to the office than a McCain administration.

I want a President who's qualified to lead.
Yes, that would be good.

I want my country back, and I'm voting for John McCain.
Phone: 760.434.1395
I want the Republicans out, and I'm voting for Senator Obama.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Republicans Ashamed of Their Republicanism?

I thought it was funny when, yesterday morning, two guys that looked vaguely familiar came to my door, introduced themselves as running for state office and gave me a campaign flier.

The thing that immediately jumped out at me was the lack of any indication of party affiliation. Nothing. Just their names and a couple of paragraphs ending with the URLs of their respective web sites. Between the few words one could discern Republicanism, but the total lack of any overt party declaration was interesting.

So I went to the computer to check out their respective web sites.

The first one was just an Apache HTTP server test page which is still there this morning.

The second guy's web site also didn't declare any affiliation to the Republican party. It wasn't until I looked at the endorsement from the local newspaper that Republican party affiliation became clear.

It so happens that Tivo had recorded a joint campaign commercial for these two gentlemen. I just watched it again carefully. Twice. Not a peep about the Republican party.

So I looked at the state ballot. It lists them both as Republicans.

So, the Republican party is such an embarrassment that their own candidates don't advertise their membership? I don't know how widespread this is, but it sure stuck out to me.

I'd have to give some credit to one of these guys. That he was effectively removed from office by the fundies must speak well of him in some respect. From what I've seen, I could even vote for him, except that I will vote a straight Democratic ticket this time around because the Republican party deserves to die.

Once again, I'm voting against, not for.

Sarah Palin: The view from Alaska | Salon

Sarah Palin: The view from Alaska | Salon:
What’s with the smug posturing, recently adopted fake Minnesota accent, and that gosh-darn-it hockey mom pitch? Maybe it plays well in Peoria (and presumably Duluth), but it’s all an act. “She’s definitely put on a new persona since she’s been a vice-presidential candidate,” says Kertulla, who has worked closely with Palin for the past 18 months. “I don’t even recognize her.”
Hat tip: The Misanthrope.

Palin has always struck me as a faker. No more genuine than those plants at the McCain rally that were so "I'm mad! I'm really mad!" and "I beg you!" Bullshit artists. Bad actors.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Understanding Sarah Palin: Or, God Is In The Wattles

Interesting piece.
These findings aren't carved in stone. A lot of the studies are correlational, the models are in their infancy, yadda yadda yadda. But the data are coming in thick and fast, and they point to a pretty plausible model:
  • Fear and stress result in loss of perceived control;
  • Loss of perceived control results in increased perception of nonexistent patterns (N&S again: "The tendency to detect agency in nature likely supplied the cognitive template that supports the pervasive belief in supernatural agents");
  • Those with right-wing political beliefs tend to scare more easily;
  • Authoritarian religious systems based on a snooping, surveillant God, with high membership costs and antipathy towards outsiders, are more cohesive, less invasible by cheaters, and longer-lived. They also tend to flourish in high-stress environments.
And there you have it. The Popular Power of Palin, explained. So the next question is

Now that we can explain the insanity, what are we going to do about it?

I don't know. My approach seems to be to try to embrace uncertainty.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


So I just watched the second debate between the Presidential contenders. I'm very happy that it didn't devolve into sniping about character, with references to "palling around" with terrorists and retorts about Keating. I suppose they must have agreed not to go there. Good.

Some of the questions were annoying, particularly one from the moderator, Mr. "Raucous Cacophony" Brokaw. I don't remember what it was right now, but, come on Tom.

Obama could have scored some unneeded points from me had he answered the "zen-like" question, What don't you know and how will you learn it? by starting out with a paraphrase of Mr. Rumsfeld's knowns, unknowns and unknown unknowns statement, the one that earned him so much unjust ridicule. Rumsfeld may have been a bit of an asshole, particularly towards the end, but it always annoyed me greatly to see scorn heaped on him for what was a perfectly logical statement. I wonder if Obama could have swayed some white, male fence sitters with that question by somehow working in a little defense of Rumsfeld's phrase, a bit about reaching across the aisle or something. Whatever...

Obama kind of irritated me with his insistence upon placing Osama bin Laden at the center of the terrorist question, as though killing him will be like decapitating a snake, which then dies.

McCain could have scored some needed points from me by including the useless War on Some Drugs among the things he'll be looking at in terms of cutting expenses. ONDCP apparently has a sunset clause he could decide to let go. Anti-drug resources would certainly go a long way if re-deployed for more constructive purposes.

I was glad when it was over. I felt I'd performed a civic duty in sitting through it. My vote did not change, largely because I'm furious with the Republicans, and certainly because of McCain's choice of running mate. Hockey Mom. Right. Winky dinky may I call you Joe pit bull shit artist. George Bush is an embarrassment, but I'd be mortified to have a President Palin (and it seems to be at least a 25% likelihood during the first term should the Republicans somehow win the election).

McCain's initial answer to the what don't you know question appealed to me. Nobody knows what will happen. Simple truth.

And that was that.

Raucous cacophony. I think I watched Tom Brokaw's first network piece, or one of his first, when he used that phrase in some report. He was a natural. Sounded perfect. The phrase was memorable and deliberate, and Brokaw delivered it as smoothly as can be. After the report, I think it was John Chancellor, Brokaw's senior on the broadcast, who immediately repeated the phrase with a smile of acknowledgment. He might as well have saluted Brokaw. Great television moment.

Damn, that's a long time ago!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Subprime Explained - Google Docs

Subprime Explained - Google Docs

Someone sent me this amusing but incomplete explanation of the subprime meltdown that's making the rounds.

I think it's incomplete because it lets politicians off the hook. In particular, it lets conservative Republican politicians off the hook. They are the ones with so much faith in the free market that they effectively gutted regulation and undid lessons learned as a result of the Great Depression it took World War II to get us out of.

I was going to add one more "fuck you" to the presentation, but what's the point?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Palin: Obama Is ‘Palling Around With Terrorists’ - The Caucus Blog -

Palin: Obama Is ‘Palling Around With Terrorists’ - The Caucus Blog -
"... Our opponent though, is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country?”
Obama is palling around with terrorists, eh?