Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's the tribalism, stupid...

In a recent Gallup poll, 59% of Pakistanis said the US is the biggest threat to Pakistan--only 11% said it was the Taliban. A majority of Pakistanis--and this includes the middle class there, not just uneducated poor people--blame the recent spate of bombings there on outside forces--Mossad, India, the CIA, the West's "War Against Islam" etc.

This confirms my growing belief that a majority of humans in developed countries and even more in poor ones are primarily tribal in their orientation. Tribalism excuses everything anyone on your side does and ascribes only evil motives to anything the "other tribe" does, and always blames one's own culture's troubles on "outside forces."

In the South at the dawn of racial integration in the 1960s and 70s, White Southerners usually blamed the Blacks' struggle for equality on "outside agitators."

And today Republicans blame America's ills all on foreigners--mainly Democrats, who they regard as not actually Americans, abetted by the United Nations and international banks etc.

Partisan Democrats aren't much better, never acknowledging any legitimacy to conservative thinking even when it's correct, as with illegal immigration.

It's tribalism that blinds people to reform efforts, and to the idea of using principles rather than tribe as your central philosophy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Justice for all--if they have the scratch

For many years, middle class Americans have been vaguely aware of how poor, uneducated people get railroaded by the legal system, with overburdened public defenders mainly there to propose plea bargains because prosecutors routinely amp up the charges to terrify defendants--it's a well-oiled conviction machine.

What the middle class has not faced is the fact that if they are accused of a serious crime, whether they're guilty or not, it will take their life savings--including selling their house--to mount a competent legal defense.

They tell themselves "It can't happen to me." And mainly it doesn't. But no one makes movies about this, do they? It's an invisible Sword of Damocles hanging over all our heads.

But people should realize this, because if you ever get a traffic ticket and choose to fight it you'll get a lesson in how the courts have become convction machines. Again, guilty or not, it's nearly impossible to get a traffic commissioner to find you not guilty. And if you choose to appeal your conviction you'll wind up spending $10K to fight a $400 ticket, because nothing short of that will work at the appeals level.

Our system now provides all the justice money can buy. A fortune won't get you off necessarily. But it will get you a competent defense. Otherwise you can kiss your assets goodbye.

Think about that the next time your local DA brags about how "tough on crime" he or she is.

Monday, November 23, 2009

How much is that pundit in the window?

We view Congress and elected offices in general as seats of great power. Even if you have serious beefs with Congress...still, a visit to the chambers is going to affect you. You'll feel a bit of awe.

Thus it's hard for the average American--Democrat and Republican--to understand how America's richest 1/2 of 1% see Congress.

They see it the way we might look at a pet shop.

They go there to buy Congressmen, then take them home and train them. And like any good pet owner, they rarely beat their pets. They learn the tricks needed to discipline and control them. And of course sometimes a pet becomes intransigent--it might even attack its owner. Such pets must be dealt with, of course.

Meanwhile, most pets, like a good German Shepherd or Siamese cat, say, try to maintain their dignity while keeping their pet perks coming. It's quite a trick but the best pets learn how to do it.

And of course while you may come to feel a lot of affection for your pets, and they may feel quite at home around you, you never forget that they are not your equals. They're your treasured pets, nothing more, nothing less.

Then, once the Masters of the Universe have mastered the art of acquiring and training CongressPets, they use the same tricks on voting blocks and pundits. Make Mexican Americans think they'll be lost without your guidance--and that they can't trust anyone but you and your peeps. Make Fundamentalists think that God will smite our nation for its pornography and ho-mo-sex-uality (except for yours, of course, which is to be forgiven, since you're my peeps) unless you put your trust in me, who looks and talks just like you (except in my private life).

And the pundits will get in line too, of course. It's just a matter of figuring out the carrots and the sticks appropriate to the particular person.

Not everyone's for sale, to be sure. But they tend to get ground down by the river of money flowing around them. To make small, unimportant compromises at first...

The next time you see a Congressman spouting off on TV, think of how the powerful people you never see see him. Or her.

I'm not saying this to say it's hopeless. Just to help you see others' perspectives. And the magnitude of the task reformers face, both in and out of government.

Now there's a good boy. Here's a chew toy. Sit!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lou Dobbs Show et morte--progressive victory?

The Leftosphere is gloating over Lou Dobbs' ejection from CNN. By their accounts he's a "nativist" who hates all foreigners and all immigration, and everything he says is "hate speech." Particularly pleased are organizations aimed at extracting special favors for Mexican citizens living in America illegally, along with all others with Latin ancestry--as long as those others support these special interest groups.

But the Devil is not as black as he is painted, as they say. Dobbs opposes illegal immigration--not all immigration. He opposes flooding the country with unskilled laborers who drag down the wages of American unskilled laborers. He has wandered off the deep end on other topics, such as playing footsie with the birthers for a while. But most of what the Leftosphere says about him is exactly as distorted and demonizing as what they accuse him of being.

Physician, heal theyself.

Dobbs probably did need to leave CNN--IF CNN places itself as the neutral "news station of record" placed at the equipoise between MSNBC and FOX.

But that's another falsehood, because CNN has other hosts--notably Rick Sanchez--who ceaselessly editorialize on behalf of Mexican citizens living here illegally.

So if CNN gets its pro-illegal activists to knock it off or gets rid of them, then Dobbs should also have exited.

Otherwise CNN has simply caved in to special interest groups.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Do drones help or hinder the war on terror? Do we need a national conversation on drones?

The left is up in arms (so to speak) over drones--particularly armed ones. They say drones set back the war on terror, alienating the people we're trying to protect with indiscriminate killing.

Certainly the jihadis are up in arms (not so to speak) over drones--and their propaganda machine is in full cry trying to stop them, since drones are killing the leaders who normally stay out of harm's way as they send their forces into battle.

Note that I'm talking about "forces" and "battle." But I'm not talking about war. Because there is no such thing as a "war on terror"--that's a nonsense term coined by propagandists. Wars are conducted against states. But here our enemy is a loose confederacy of non-state actors, some with state support, some not, all working under the aegis of militant Islam. Their goal is an Islamist empire run by them. Their enemy is, among others, evey living American citizen.

We can't fight this amorphous non-organization with armies, except in special cases. Nor are local police departments equipped to deal with such international groups.

So we're waging a new something--call it a quasiwar, perhaps. And that requires new tools, including what many tag as "drones." The military prefers "UAVs" (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). Drones were radio-controlled aircraft used as targest in figher pilot training mainl

The need for public debate isn't so much for UAV technology pro and con as to educate our public about the nature of this quasiwar, which 8 years of Bush did little to illuminate.
What's really needed regarding UAVs is a vastly better propaganda effort to show Muslims how many innocents Islamofascists expressly target. It's not collateral damage for them, as innoncents killed are for us. Innocents are the target for them. That's a crucial difference, and we need to do a vastly better job of talking about that.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Is Major Hasan responsible for his actions? Are we?

The Major Hasan case once again raises a fundamental conflict between liberals and conservatives.

It's an article of faith for conservatives that we are and must be completely responsible for our actions. This total responsibility apparently kicks in at the moment of our 18th birthday.

But it's an article of faith for liberals that we're depraved on account of we're deprived (as Stephen Sondheim neatly summarized this debate in "Officer Krupke" from West Side Story).

Who's right?

Neither. But I'm right. The bottom line is: people do what they do for many reasons, including outside influences, moral reasoning, brain chemistry, etc. We can get into endless arguments about degrees of culpability in crimes because of this--but we don't need to--IF we reorient the criminal justice system around public safety instead of its current orientation around punishment.

Anyone with life experience should realize that some people are truly unable to control themselves--as is the case with those afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome. I've heard that at least 20% of prison inmates are mentally ill. I'm guessing it's even higher.

Or take someone whose brain chemistry is intact but whose single mother was, say, a meth addict, and this someone has never heard a kind word or felt a gentle touch in his 18 years of life. He isn't compassionate because our society has failed to give him any personal experience of it in his life.

But--and it's a huge but--even if you believe that no one is responsible for their bad behavior--that it's society's fault, or bad genes, or rotten parents--that doesn't mean we can tolerate letting dangerous people run around loose.

The question should always be: is this person or organization dangerous to the rest of us? If so, they must be made safe for the rest of us. That could mean prison, or a mental institution, or a halfway house, or supervised probation, or something else. But as long as someone's a danger we must act.

So, for example, a habitual drunk driver with scads of DUIs is a candidate for doing whatever is needed to keep them from driving--even if that means putting them in a low-security jail of some sort. The same goes for street people with no visible means of support and a string of very expensive (for us) trips to the ER for alcohol poisoning or ODs.

If anything, I'd advocate taking a lot of people off the street who are now running around loose--but letting loose a lot of people who are no danger to us.

Doesn't that make sense? Many police departments are called departments of public safety. I advocate taking that seriously. And sidestepping the useless wrangling lefties and righties constantly carry on.

As for Major Hasan--he's already been show to fit the profile of a mass shooter--a loser in his personal life, unable to form/hold relationships with women, physically unprepossessing (i.e. kind of chunky and short), showing signs of disordered thinking and religious obsessions that worried his peers greatly. Whoever assigned him to go to Iraq with this sort of background should be cashiered, by the way. I bet the person who did it was just trying to get Hasan out of his/her own jurisdiction.

But Hasan, regardless of whether he's insane or a terrorist, will never see freedom again--surely there's no disagreement on that front. And while I oppose the death penalty if there's the slightest doubt, there's isn't a smidgen in this case. He did it. And even if he's insane, he deserves to die, because it's immoral to force jailers to risk their lives around him.

Note that for an insane person he planned and executed his attack very effectively. To kill that many people--most of them trained soldiers--in such a short period of time took careful planning and execution that was both quick and methodical. And quite capable. That's not the kind of insane that I saw when I lived in Berkeley.

So from a public safety viewpoint I believe you can justify the death penalty in cases like this, even if you leave retribution/vengeance out of the equation.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The most fundamental problem with politics today

Some say the trouble with politics is that it has been corrupted by moneyed interests. Others that the other side has gotten too powerful through lies and deception--the right says this about the left, the left about the right.

But there's a deeper problem: society has gotten more complex than at any time in the past, as have the issues facing us--and this complexity is too much for the average human mind. Over half the human race isn't up to the task.

This is nobody's fault. Intelligence is expensive, metabolically speaking. You learn this if you get scuba diver training. Your body pumps an incredible volume of blood through your head in order to feed all those brain cells. Every animal's metabolism represents a compromise between effectiveness and efficiency--that is, we're only as smart as we needed to be 50,000 years ago--otherwise, extra smarts would have added too much need for high protein food. smart did we need to be? Smarter than other animals. We had that. And in our recent evolution (over the last million years or so) our ancestors got quite a bit smarter. Then we stopped getting smarter, a long time before we developed agriculture and the rest of civilization.

We reached a balance point between what it took to feed our brains and what our brains could do for us.

At that point we were smart enough to become masters of our primitive world--to know what to eat, what to not eat, what the threats were, what the opportunities to make our way through that world.

The problem is that that world doesn't much resemble this one. It wasn't simple, to be sure. Look at what Kalahari Bushmen living traditionally had to know--such as how to find water in a desertlike landscape. But it was an environment someone with an IQ of 100 could master.

Ours isn't.

So there's over half the population, in over their heads. Not so bad when things are going well, as they were in the 50s (if you were white at least). But as things have gotten progressively worse for this group over the last 30 years or more, this group has dimly realized that rising tides didn't lift their boats.

They want hope. They want answers they can understand. They want revenge on whoever did this to them. They want to feel something besides helpless and futureless.

And--especially in times of stress--they want leaders who look like them and talk like them.

This opens the door to demagogues. They make people feel like they do understand the situation, and that they can do something about it.

So what do you say? That they're incapable of understanding the situation, and they're helpless? That dog's not gonna hunt.

So we're stuck. Maybe Slipknot is right..."All hope is gone."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fort Hood mass murder

I keep thinking about something Osama Bin Ladin said a decade ago: that Christianity is a religion of life, while Islam is a religion of death, and that this fact made us weak and them strong.

So here's an American Major and a psychiatrist--and an Islamist. He was willing to die, to be sure. And to murder as many people as he could before going to his fate.

Nobody wants to deal with the possibility that Islam is more likely to produce Major Hassans than are other world views. This thought doesn't conflict with the likelihood that the average Muslim isn't murderous. I'm just asking whether Islam produces a statistically significantly higher percentage of terrorist/murderers than other world views.

And if so, what can we do about it? Every Islamic terrorist stands on the shoulders of Islamist thought leaders. We have to go after them, and do so in Islamic terms--that's the trick, I suspect. Instead of talking about how Islam is bad, we have to talk about how Islamists are bad Muslims.

We have to attack the underlying beliefs directly. Calling murderers like Hassan cowards or nut cases or solitary actors is both ridiculous and counterproductive. He wasn't a coward--given his beliefs, he was actually quite brave. Studies of terrorist murderers have indicated that they aren't insane in the sense that, say, a paranoid schizophrenic or a manic depressive is insane. And he didn't act alone. He was brought to this state of mind by legions of effective propagandists. I bet if you look at the websites he frequented and possibly the individuals he talked to at his local mosque, you'll find the ideological support for his murders.

Hassan was a Muslim terrorist, trying to achieve social change through murder. I'm sure that's how he saw himself (except for the "terrorist" label of course). Our challenge is to get other Muslims to view him as a bad Muslim.