Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Every time a newspaper publishes an article that involves Israel--even tangentially--comments pour in from Americans, denouncing Israel, comparing it with Nazi Germany, yada yada. My comment:
Here's a question for all the frenzied commentors on this thread:
Where would you rank
* The Arab world's refusal to grant right of return to the indigenous Jewish populations (around 850,000) whose properties and businesses they expropriated and then expelled in and around 1948--along with their descendants of course
* Hamas' treatment of Fatah members in the Gaza strip, abuse of women, training of children as suicide bombers, and use of civilians as human shields in military engagements
* Communist China's treatment of
* Communist China's treatment of all its citizens apart from the 200 million or so urban middle class
* Communist China's treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority
* The treatment of women and dissenters wherever the Taliban rule (today mainly in the Pashtun regions of
* The torture of most girls throughout the Muslim-dominated regions of sub-Saharan
* The systematic murder, rape, and mutilation by various militias and governments in mineral-rich territories of Subsaharan Africa (hence the term "blood diamonds")
* The treatment of
* The substantial contribution to the world overpopulation crisis by the Catholic Church, along with the traumatization of countless thousands of boys and girls by pedopriests worldwide
* The brutal treatment of Somalis in the areas controlled by the country's homegrown Islamofascist organization
I could go on. The point is that even if the Israelis mistreat the Palestinians as badly as most of you say--they're small potatoes on this list of horrors, both in sheer numbers and in intensity of mistreatment.
Yet an editorial on any of these topics would garner only a smattering of comments--and probably none from the zealots on this thread.
So--why do so many Americans who are neither Palestinians nor Israelis kick
Israel is certainly an ally. But if it were truly a client state they'd do what we ask, and they often don't. relying on their powerful lobby here to sometimes thumb their collective noses at us. We also shower billions of dollars on Egypt, with comparably mixed results. Though Egyptian lobbying is far less effective--perhaps because there far fewer educated, politically active Arab-Americans compared to Jewish Americans.
So here's my challenge: assume for the sake of argument that I'm correct as far as the actual government-sanction abuse goes, apart from the question of who gave who money or supports such policies from abroad (relative to the abusing country). So we have the Israelis at or near the bottom of the stack I provided here.
Now--should Americans focus obsessively on the lesser abuses of our ally, or on the vastly worse-and vastly larger-scale abuses of countries that aren't allies, or which are, like China, "frenemies?"
And should we overlook the fact that many of the enemies of Israel (Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah especially) are our dedicated enemies as well?
And not just enemies because of our alliance with Israel. If you read Qutb's writings (he was the Moslem Brotherhood's chief thinker), you'll see that on his travels in America before Israel even existed he loathed us in every way. The freedoms of women upset him particularly.
And on that topic, why do those so passionately devoted to the Palestinians' well-being completely overlook Hamas' Taliban-lite treatment of Gazans?
Not to mention the fact that while Israelis have treated many Palestinians harshly and don't accord Arab-Israelis full equality (albeit more freedom that Arab-anything elses in the Arab world), calling Israelis Nazis and their treatment of Palestinians genocide leaves us without any language to describe the other situations on the list of abusive nations included here (see Amesty International for their list as well).
Client state or not, the Palestinians have it good compared to at least one billion other people on Earth--probably a lot more than that, but at least one billion.
And all the arguments given to justify singling out Israel above all these other nations holds water in my book.
I'm not letting Israel off the hook. But the frenzied denunciations I read constantly from American leftists are counterproductive. Calling a pickpocket a rapist insults both the pickpocket and actual rape victims. Calling Israelis Nazis so offends most Americans that it obscures whatever abuses Israelis might actually do.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
I know an extended family of South Africans whose ancestors migrated from India in the 19th century. As a group they love South Africa, and only one has moved away (to America, married to a German physicist who also emigrated here. Some of them are fiercely patriotic South Africans.
But they tell me about horrible crimes happening so often around them--and sometimes to them or friends or relatives--that there's an undercurrent of despair in their conversations.
Their experience gibes with South African violent crime statistics, which are ten times higher than the United States.
These people are all descended from manual labors imported by the Brits. Now they're all educated middle class people--who live in guarded enclaves if they can afford it, and all keep looking over their shoulders constantly whenever they go out.
And they tell me how antagonistic the majority of the black majority have become towards them over the past 20 years or so. And these aren't even "white." (I put that in quotes because actually Indians are Caucasians--i.e. "white.")
I'm guessing Indian-South Africans generally know about the mass expulsion of all Indian-descended Ugandans from Uganda by Idi Amin (Mira Nair's file "Mississippi Marsala" deals with this).
Of course, as Mr. Cohen points out, there are valid historical reasons for the crime, the hostility, the corruption etc. And there are valid reasons to love South Africa--starting with the stunning landscape.
But if I were in my Indian-South Africans' acquaintances' situation...I'd leave. The UK, Canada, America, Australia could all work, along with other places as well.
Because historical understanding is cold comfort in the aftermath of a violent home invasion. Today it's too dangerous to live there, and there's little prospect of it getting safer in the next few decades.
Especially since the now-traditional African style of government--a kleptocracy--seems to have taken hold there.
You don't have to be a billionaire to run for governor here in California. You're free to assemble support from various interest groups, or to just travel around the state in an old VW vans, soliciting votes. It's up to you.
Just as you don't have to be wealthy to defend yourself in court against criminal charges. You could sell your house and liquidate your other assets, if you have them, leaving your family without anything, or, if you're poor, avail yourself of a public defender.
Likewise, if a car dealer sells you a car that turns out to have been in a flood and cleaned up cosmetically, you can sue the dealer. It's a free country.
Just not a cheap one.
Right now, in our area, a giant out-of-state corporation is trying to get permission to pay over part of San Francisco Bay's marshlands to create a city of 30,000 people. I think it's a terrible idea. They think it's great. An initiative was put on the ballot of the city with jurisdiction to stop them, and it was defeated--by the application of over a million dollars in false and misleading advertising, a subverted city council, and Chamber of Commerce types calling for the city to defend itself--against the efforts of a handful of envronmentalists to defeat the giant corporation.
Hence the illustration.
"Sean" commented on my last post. You can read his comment in that post's Comments. My answer was too long to fit there, so I'm putting it here. Mainly I'm trying to lay out common ground between left-leaning centrists like me and right-leaning centrists like, perhaps, Sean. Not that we agree about everything by any means, but as Americans we should all have some common ground, and it behooves all of us to seek out that common ground when we argue with others about politics. So here goes:
Sean, let’s start by looking at where I hope we agree:
1. Deficits are generally bad (though I note that in the business world nearly every great corporation got there through heavy deficit spending at the beginning, then becoming more prudent once they’ve arrived—not many startups are self-funded);
2. Structural issues (such as the repeal of Glass-Steagall, gerrymandering and much more) cause much of the mischief we see in government—and many of these structural issues are fundamentally nonpartisan. I’d love to see a Republican-Democrat unity drive to clean up the structural issues that are nonpartisan—though we have to acknowledge that to a degree we’re really divided between incumbents of both parties on one hand and everyone else—because a lot of the shenanigans are designed to tilt the playing field in favor of incumbents of both parties. That’s the basis of
3. Both parties have a conflict of interest between their rank and file voters and special interests who fill their campaign coffers. Big business leans strongly Republican, though they’ll unhesitatingly grease Democrats if they feel it serves their interests. Democrats in office are beholden to unions—particularly to public sector unions, and trial lawyers.
4. Both parties have partisan bases whose legislative/executive wish lists don’t entirely overlap with the general welfare of the Republic.
The GOP has a reliable constituency of older white male Southern (and like-minded) voters, along with single-issue zealots opposing abortion (including many older white women), and those with a focus on religious issues. The Republican constituency centers on smaller, more rural states (with the notable exception of
The Democrats have a reliable constituency of Black, Hispanic, and other ethnic minorities, as well as urban Whites, and younger voters generally, along with single-issue zealots promoting women’s rights (including abortion rights), and homosexual rights. Democratic states are mostly large, very urbanized, and are “donor”states that send more money to the Federal government than they get back.
5. Both parties contain both crooked and saintly legislators. Both parties are susceptible to the influence of money in general, given that our elections are privately financed. The Republican Party positions itself as the party of traditional morality, while the Democratic Party positions itself as the party of “secular humanist” morality, though it always challenges this in public forums.
And because the GOP puts itself on a pedestal of personal probity, the character lapses of
Republican legislators (such as the handful of privately homosexual but publicly anti-homosexual legislators) leaves them open to accusations of hypocrisy.
But because the Democratic Party puts itself on a pedastel of defending the little guy, its frequent capitulations to monied interests leaves them open to accusations of hypocrisy.
There are ex-legislators of both parties currently in prison.
6. Both parties’ zealots have great difficulty discussing political issues in mutually acceptable terms. Partisans insist on tilting the playing field in their favor before debate even begins. “Pro-life” and “Pro-choice” are typical—and typically egregious—examples.
Likewise, both parties’ zealots deal with political issues with the parts of our brains that we share with chimpanzees, rarely engaging the prefrontal lobes and the cerebral cortex (confirmed by MRI studies during the Bush-Kerry election).
7. People who are able to debate issues may issue fiery denunciations that seem identical to those from zealots who can only talk with those who already agree with them. You only really know which is which when you challenge them, however.
8. Only a tiny minority of the right and left are actually out to destroy the
Some radical leftists are, and I’ve known some, who truly hate this country and in particular gloat over the white majority becoming a minority, want open borders as a way of erasing the nation, and in general root for our enemies. This is also true of some radicalized Muslims, who are highly conservative…but not Republicans.
OTOH some radical right wingers also hate the federal government, and while they claim fealty to something they call the
But overall I’d guess that only a few million Americans are like this.
9.A larger group is those who don’t hate our country, yet whose activities are dangerous to its wellbeing and its future.
On the left, the most dangerous group is public sector union employees who have gamed the system so much that their lavish wages and pensions and medical benefits are literally bankrupting government from the city level on up.
I’d also include the millions of Americans who are either immigrants from or the children of Mexicans, who identify themselves as Mexican, not Mexican-Americans or Americans, according to a nonpartisan Pew survey. Plus illegal immigrants, many of whom actively dislike America and only want citizenship to get benefits their government has told them we owe them because we stole the Southwest from Mexico, so it’s actually theirs and we should leave (but keep providing them benefits, of course).
I’d also include those who regularly write wide-ranging diatribes against America in newspaper comment threads—often combined with diatribes against Israel (but never against Burma/Sudan/Saudi Arabia/Iran/China/Zimbabwe and other oppressive dictatorships).
On the right, the most dangerous are the very rich who I believe don’t have national affinities because they’ve decoupled their own prospects from those of the nation. Whether
And they pay Republicans (and to a greatly lesser extent Democratic) legislators and government apparatchiks (such as MMS operatives) to help insulate them, as part of their schemes to outsource risk.
These people don’t belong to some secret organization; they just have common interests: that is, obstructing and if possible removing all forms of government regulation, maximizing corporate welfare, eliminating taxes, and spending as little as possible on social welfare, infrastructure and the like.
Since there are so few of them, they also need some way to get voters to act against their own interests and vote for their people in government—nearly all Republicans. This is done through sophisticated marketing aimed at polarizing the country instead of forging centrist coalitions, and getting their side so angry and fearful that they’ll vote for those who are robbing them.
That is, they’ve turned the Republican party from an organization with an actual political philosophy into a tribe, with the Democrats identified as the enemies of Our Tribe. So instead of seeing themselves as Americans, they’ve redefined “American” as “Republican” such that Democrats aren’t actual Americans.
10. The cause of the current economic crisis isn’t one “cause” it’s a list of factors, some Democrat, most Republican. For the details, look up the economist who accurately predicted the current debacle. His latest book is Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance by Nouriel Roubini.
11. All economists are alarmed by the current deficits of many countries. But deficits aren’t the only issue, and many mainstream economists point to an overemphasis on deficit reduction in 1937 being responsible for prolonging the Great Depression, as well as for the 1932 plunge after the
There is serious thinking today that Chinese financial manipulation and co-opting of governments worldwide has fostered China’s success at everyone else’s expense—including ours…and that this may be more responsible for the current downturn than factors internal to various countries including ours.
That line of thinking doesn’t let us off the hook. But it does indicated that globalization has become so entrenched that we must look beyond our borders to understand and tackle even issues that once would have been strictly internal matters.
I’m not substantiating a lot of things I say in my blog because I’m not writing academic treatises and no one’s paying me to crank out the footnotes. I’m most interested in helping centrists refute the logic of both sides’ extremists, which doesn’t require original research. Thus I’m trying to stick to assumptions that could be backed up by mainstream authorities—like Dr. Roubini.
Friday, June 25, 2010
The Republican Party leadership and nearly all of its members in Congress don't care about the deficit. They're only using "The Deficit" as a tool to defeat Democrats. They'll abandon it as soon as they regain power.
I'm not reading minds. Just relying on what they did when they were in power.
The Republicans in Congress--especially their leadership--have no interest in deficit reduction, except as a propaganda tool until the instant they regain power.
I don't have to be a mind reader to say this. I just have to remember what these amoral moralizers actually did--as opposed to what they said--when they controlled all three branches of government for six years.
And when they regain power, they've given us no reason to believe they won't take up where they left off: with as much government expansion as Democrats like (only in different areas), enormous tax cuts for the rich, inconsequential tax cuts for the middle class (offset by all the hidden forms of taxation Republicans have become adept at levying), and major belt-tightening for the poor--all adding up to a big ramp-up of the deficit.
They're done this pretty much every time they've gotten into power, justifying it by claiming that if we give the rich what they need to become the ultra-rich, these Masters of the Universe will deign to toss us a few crumbs.
Only they don't. In the recovery from the 2000 downturn, middle class real wages didn't go up--the ultra-rich appropriated pretty much all the increase brought about by the recovery. Turns out feeding greed doesn't satiate it--it just ramps up to take the present largesse for granted as it lusts for more...always more.
So now they're lying. Unless you believe they've had a spiritual awakening as cataclysmic as St. Paul had on the road to Damascus.
None of this means the Democrats in Congress and the White House are angels with halos. It just means that putting the Republicans back in power--even if you believe that deficits are the problem, rather than unemployment--won't get you what you want.
The problem is that cutting spending now is what our intuition tells us to do, and what Professor Krugman advocates is counterintuitive.
But we can't depend on our intuition any more than we can depend on Republican leaders (as opposed to Republican rank and file, of whom I know many, including my spouse, who I would and do trust with my life).
See, our intuition evolved to keep us safe and happy as nomadic hunters and gatherers in the highlands of East Africa 100,000 years ago. It hasn't changed since we started adapting our environment to us instead of adapting to our environment.
Go back to living as a nomadic hunter/gatherer and you'll be able to rely on your intuition. Otherwise you have to take it with a grain of salt.
And here we have to remember that no one is saying "deficits don't matter." You remember who actually said that, right? President Obama is just saying we should be spending now--in specific ways--to get us out of this slump. He never said we could or should do that indefinitely.
The Achilles Heel of the Democrats is that--even accepting liberal economists Paul Krugman's position (tackle unemployment now, then the deficit when the economy has recovered), which I generally do--government employees are generally overpaid relative to their employers in the private sector--us. And that includes unfunded pension time bombs that are starting to bankrupt cities, counties and state governments.
Democrats would do a lot to gain credibility for their position if they tackled this issue aggressively.
Oh, and to those who blame this downturn on Obama--it takes a lot less time to rob a bank than to build such an institution. And the Republicans had six years to loot the treasury, which they did with a vengeance. It will take vastly longer than that to rebuild all the regulatory mechanisms they destroyed as they looted and pillaged--like bank robbers blowing up the alarm system and the safe locks.
They may well persuade enough people that Obama did this to us instead of the Republican leadership. After all, money talks, and the Republicans' paymasters have literally billions to spend on black-is-white up-is-down propaganda.
Limitless campaign spending puts the bullhorns in the billionaires' hands. Obama was able to overcome this in 2008 through adroit campaigning, but a repeat performance will be dicey at best.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
This was a second entry commenting on the article mentioned in my last post. It raises a new topic, however. Men: you may get an "aha" experience reading this. Women: you may blush at me breaking The Rules by revealing to other men the covert war you're engaged in. Here goes:
The word "objectification" is a cultural artifact masquerading as scientific fact.
it stems from a cold war that's been going on since our ancestors clambered down out of the trees, about six million years ago.
The war is between what I call Plan A females and Plan B females.
Plan A are are the Good Girls--born on the right side of the tracks, skilled in all the domestic arts.
Plan B are the Bad Girls from the other side of the tracks, excluded from birth at any chance at wedding the Alpha males of a given society.
In many societies their only route up is on their backs--and the only domestic skill they need to master is the kind that made Ellliott Spitzer (and so very many others) stray from their Plan A mates. Their attire and body language advertise what their claimed expertise, just as Plan A females' fashionable dress and perfect coiffures advertise their suitability as Alpha males' mates.
All this was clearing before the 1960s, but it would be obtuse not to see that all this is still around--and always will be.
There's also a Plan B male--sometimes known as Bad Boys but that's too narrow, because it includes what used to be called Back Door Johnnies, who are often as androgynous as David Bowie.
Like Plan B girls, their only demonstrable skill is often romantic/sexual. You wouldn't expect them to be able to balance a budget or bring home much bacon.
"Objectification" is the term of opprobrium used by educated Plan A females to try to banish their Plan B competition to the outer darkness.
What's funny is that apparently Plan A females are as likely to stray as Plan A males--only Plan A females lie about it, while Plan A males brag about it. That's the conclusion British researchers came to a few years ago, as cited in the BBC documentary "The Sexes."
But Plan A males don't have a term like "objectification" to lambaste Plan B males, because most Plan A males don't perceive Plan B males as compeition.
All this is found across the animal kingdom. Smaller sea elephants wait in the surf until an Alpha male starts combat with another Alpha wannabe beachmaster. Then the Plan B male sneaks in and has fun with the harem until the fight is over, then scampers back into the sea.
Female chimpanzees one-up this by pretending to be in heat to attract Plan A dominant males--but still sneak off with the cute guys when they're really in heat.
Numerous other examples show that the Plan A females' war on Plan B females is won that they're never win. It's a war of generalists against specialists. The generalists will get the big prize in most cases, but the specialists are playing for a different prize, as i've detailed here.
We all are bidden to serve our biological master: the insensate desire of our gene pool to thrive. Those Plan B females win from the gene pool's point of view if they bear children by the Alpha male--doubly so if they can get him to support her and them, and the tradition of mistresses in many societies indicates that they often do.
And they'll continue to succeed as long as the Plan A males know they can hook up with such women, and, as they embrace, the Plan B female whispers "What would you like to do...?" and he knows what she means by that is vastly outside the operating parameters of his Plan A mate.
Same goes the other way, of course. Which is why so many apparently sound marriages would break apart if all children got DNA paternity testing.
I'm not advocating for either side of this war. Honest. I'm just the messenger. I'm completely monogamous myself.
As for Lady Gaga...she is a Plan B female. She was an outcast in high school--the "regular" kids thought she was weird. And she's not very pretty--amazing that the professor didn't notice this--so what she has to sell is outré sexuality, and sell it she does.
She's also largely self-made, and a very good singer, pianist and songwriter. I don't actually think much of her videos, but her musical skills are undeniable--far better than those of Madonna, who she visually emulates. I hope people see this.
Monday, June 21, 2010
The New York Times Opinionator section ran a blog entry--ostensibly about Lady Gaga--by academic feminist Nancy Bauer, titled "Lady Power: Are Lady Gaga and the women who identify with her confusing sexual power with self-objectification?"
My comment [#300 on the article's comment thread]:
Professor Bauer's essay was painful to read, and prolix to boot--yet with so many words expended, all the important stuff was left unsaid.
So let me say it.
Old-school feminists like Professor Bauer aren't at war with a still-sexist society that pays women less and in which men like to be pleasured by women while often not liking to reciprocate.
They're at war with nature itself, and for a good reason: nature doesn't play fair.
I got dealt a similar hand as Professor Bauer got dealt: by most measures I'm highly intelligent...and rather homely. So I can certainly put myself in the good professor's sensible shoes.
Stand me up next to Leonardo de Caprio and he'll get the girl. Put Professor Bauer next to Scarlett Johansson and she'll get the guy. Even if the girl or the guy doing the getting is an intellectual, and thus built to be more receptive to our charms, such as they are, Professor Bauer and I will probably still lose.
Or we'll get the girl/guy but, being intelligent, we'll realize that we only got them because they couldn't get deCaprio/Johansson.
"Objectification" is feminist-speak for this simple fact.
And no, it's not a cultural artifact. That's just another lame way to claim that in some other culture she and I would be regarded as the beautiful one and de Caprio and Johansson would be the ones outside, faces pressed against the glass, looking on forlornly as the Professor and I enjoy the limelight.
Or, just as delusionally, there's some society in which people have turned off their appreciation of all the skin-deep stuff and judge everyone solely on their "inner beauty."
I have a degree in sociology from UCLA and put in a lot of extra coursework in anthropology. There's no such society.
This beauty-loving thing is so hard-wired that even babies too young to crawl will look at photos of attractive people instead of homely folks if the pics are placed side by side.
Now of course we don't have to obey all our most atavistic urges. I'm now both homely and old, and my spouse of 28 years is less sleek than she used to be. But I won't ever leave her because of all those other things Professor Bauer wants me to appreciate instead of the skin-deep stuff. And I do.
But I don't base my philosophy of life on a denial of the nature of reality. I work with the hand I was dealt and acknowledge it. I'd love to have been born beautiful--not at the price of my smarts--but if all things were equal, that would have been just ducky.
And I sympathize with how females are pushed around by guys. Naomi Wolf's memoir "Promiscuities" about growing up in the Free Love era talked about the young men who preyed on high school girls like Wolf was once, and how Wolf regrets all the meaningless hookups she had as a consequence.
But again we have to confront things as they are instead of constructing an alternate mental reality, as the Tea Party types have done.
Fact: men are generally bigger, stronger and more aggressive than women, yet we're equally intelligent. Men also tend to be more optimistic. All this isn't because of a history of patriarchy--it's because all ground-dwelling primates are sexually dimorphic in this way, just as our arboreal cousins are not (because you can't mount a point defense in the trees, but you must on the ground).
Fact: women's reproductive potential degrades faster than mens' does. Again, not fair.
So women and men are different. Anyone who worked in, say, their church's nursery (toddlers from 18 months to 3 years) as I did know how different boys and girls are, long before they've been socialized.
That doesn't make men better. Actually, the differences are designed to make us willing and eager to die defending the women and children--so it actually makes us more expendable.
But these fundamental differences are NOT cultural.
There are societies that grotesquely exaggerate these differences--Islamofascist societies like Pashtun in Afghanistan, for example, or those of East Africa that practice FGM--just as there are societies that try to pretend these differences don't exist--such as American academic feminism, centered on college "Women's Studies" departments.
In both cases they're in denial of biology, which creates a constant frisson in everyone exposed to such belief systems, since we can intuit that they don't map to reality, however much we might want them to.
As for Lady Gaga--she's a case in point, in fact. Professor Bauer mischaracterized her. Men do not find her all that attractive compared to people like Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, Victoria's Secret Models, and the ultimate for most men, Ms. Johansson. Gaga's slim and reasonably well-proportioned, but her face is not beautiful.
Hence the artifice. It conceals her shortcomings--note how often they involve masks--and accentuate her other attributes. The artifice also attracts her core fanbase: homosexual men, which the professor failed to acknowledge. Perhaps this fact muddied her thesis, along with the other things I've debunked here.
The NYTimes has started a blog series on this topic, titled: "The Anosognosic's Dilemma: Something's Wrong but You'll Never Know What It Is (Part 1): A ludicrously botched bank robbery leads to the question, Can you be too incompetent to understand just how incompetent you are?"
350 comments so far--many from obviously intelligent people--yet not one (nor the blog authors) seem to realize the four biological facts that are crucial to this issue:
1. evolution is totally blind. It's a mechanism, not a purpose.
2. evolution does not select for the fittest individual. It selects for the most reproductively successful GENE POOL.
3. we evolved to succeed as hunter/gatherers in the Kenyan highlands, with minor adaptations to other hunting-gathering environments.
On the macro level, however, we stopped evolving for the most part once we learned how to evolve our environment to suit ourselves, instead of vice-versa.
So we're still optimized to be hunter/gatherers living in tribes of a few dozen people (i.e. no more than can find food in one place in one day). Biologically speaking, you could say that modern society blindsides our inner nomadic forager every day.
4. the human race has a high degree of genetic plasticity--that is, we breed every whichway, like dogs, and unlike cats. Meaning that nature keeps trying stuff.
This probably stems from our evolving during unstable circumstances, forcing us to be highly adaptable, not just as individuals, but, evolutionarily speaking, not \"knowing\" just what's going to work. In highly stable circumstances evolution produces highly specialized life forms. Think koalas, which only eat one thing and have the brains of a turnip.
So--sociobiologically, the bell-shaped intelligence curve stems from the fact that (1) most people have enough intelligence to learn what to eat, how to acquire stuff to eat, how to avoid what wants to eat or kill you, in a particular environment; and (2) a tribe can't have all chiefs and no indians.
But this blog wasn't about the prevalence of stupidity. Nor is it really about ignorance of ignorance. It's about unwarranted confidence.
To understand why we have that, consider this situation: it's 100,000 years ago. Your band of a few dozen people is walking through the veldt. You don't even know about bows and arrows--all you have is rocks and clubs. Maybe some spears--sharpened sticks, really. Now here comes a lion.
If everyone were completely rational and only lived for self-advantage, the alpha male would toss the lion babies and children until it was satiated and went away. Or everyone would try to hide behind everyone else, with the strongest pushing the weakest in front of them--with similar results.
But they weren't rational. The alpha male would be full of rage at the lion trying to take his possessions--the other tribe members--and he'd also be full of self-sacrificing protective urges for his own females and his children. And he and his beta males would stand shoulder to shoulder confronting the lion with their rocks and clubs etc.
And within each of they psyches they'd figure the lion may get the guy beside me but he won't get me. I'll succeed. I'll pull this off. Because...well, because I'm ME.
That's where this all comes from, and it's found to varying degrees in most of us, both smart and stupid. It's just more easily seen in the hapless American Idol loo-hooser contestants. But the BP CEO wanting his life back or Bernie Madoff have this same trait.
Those of us who are somewhat self-aware can realize the power of this build-in heuristic in our minds, and try to compensate for it. But it's really, really hard.
Worth trying, though. I wish everyone the best of luck in trying to perceive reality accurately in the midst of the hormonal hurricane that is the human mind.
And of course, just because you may understand the origins of some aspect of human behavior--such as overconfidence--doesn't free you from its grip. It just makes you more morally culpable. "Responsibility" factors into response-ability, after all.
So those who see sociobiology as excuse-making need not fear. It's anything but.
OTOH if you think understanding how we came to be what we are is irrelevant--well, the best way to be controlled by the adaptive heuristics buried in our DNA is to deny their existence. Plus, one of the commonest forms of overconfidence is the persistent human belief that we invented ourselves, free of any kind influence by society, family, language, propaganda...and biological heritage.
Tea Party Republicans got their wish for highly limited federal government...239 years ago, when America first organized itself, under the Articles of Confederation.
That's the document Tea Partiers want to return to, not the Constitution they claim to adore.
America lived under the Articles of Confederation from 1781 to 1789.
There was just one teensy problem with this fantasy of "getting the Federal boot heel off our necks." It didn't work.
Oh, and those who opposed this and urged a big powerful government called themselves Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton.
Today the Republicans trying to restore the Articles of Confederation call themselves Federalists.
But that's in keeping with their topsy-turvy, "black is white, up is down" Goodspeak, isn't it?
I consider myself a Federalist because I realize that in this world--even more than with that of the 18th century--we need a strong central government.
Yet when I say this, the Republican propaganda machine has been so successful at redefining political language that people assume I mean the exact opposite of what the word actually means.
They've done the same thing with the Constitution, the word "conservative," and more.
I'm saying all this as a centrist, not as a Liberal. All ideologue try to warp the language and rewrite history, Left and Right.
But here I'm just talking about the Republican sins, and whether Democrats do the same or not has nothing to do with whether they're sins--unless you're arguing at the level of an 8th grader.
Friday, June 18, 2010
According to the Left, we should high tail it outa there stat. According to the Right, we're honor-bound to bitter end it. The former viewpoint got another of those Vietnam=Afghanistan essays in the Washington Post recently, titled "From Vietnam to Afghanistan: Not winning hearts and minds." My comment:
This article makes the Left's brief for leaving Afghanistan, and in general for the complete hopelessness of us fighting insurgencies anywhere, anywhen--at least by military means.
The problem is that he's built his elaborate exegesis on sand.
That is, ideologues never discuss--except to dismiss--the downside of their side's position, while going on endlessly about the downside of the other side's position.
That's propaganda, not debate.
No sane person thinks we have a bright, shiny, low cost solution to Afghanistan.
Every single option available to us has terrible downsides. The President knows this, and generals like Petraeus know this.
There's no reason to take the opinions of the author and his allies in the Leftosphere seriously until or unless they advance a proposal of their own (criticizing others' plans does not a plan of your own make), along with a comparative discussion of the pros and cons of the contrasting positions.
Otherwise you're just being a Monday morning quarterback.
One example: UAVs (known by the antiquated term "drones" to many). The insurgents have IEDs, which we have yet to counter as effectively as we'd like). We have UAVs, which, like IEDs, strike out of nowhere, and have killed civilians along with our enemies.
That part isn't comparable with IEDs, since Salafist Muslims believe it's OK to kill anyone, any time, anywhere (including in mosques), if they think it advances their overall cause.
So they rejoice in killing civilians, while we regret it and do our best to avoid it.
This distinction is lost on the Left, which instead parrots the Islamofascists' talking points. (Pretty ironic, since the Islamofascists would happily murder every one of these leftists out of hand.)
Of course every weapon is only as effective as its targeting. Mistargeted UAVs don't achieve our goals, exactly like mistargeted anythings don't. But you don't abandon a potent weapon because it has been misused on occasion. You improve the targeting, and we have.
Their use in Pakistan has been the source of many Pakistanis railing against us. They think it's cheating somehow (unlike IEDs and 12 year old suicide bombers, apparently).
Well, news flash. The ones who hate us hated us long before the first armed UAV took off on it maiden flight.
And I'll bet that Al Queda's leadership hiding out in Pakistan's Pashtun country no longer feel safe. I would advise Muslim women not to marry such men if they want to live to a ripe old age.
War always makes many people hate you. Heck, there are many Southerners who are still fighting the Civil War in their minds, and that was a century and a half ago.
That doesn't mean "war is never the answer." It does mean you shouldn't go to war lightly, or wrongly (as we did with Iraq).
Neither of those things is the case in Afghanistan. And the difference between its erstwhile Taliban government and that of Germany when/where 9/11 was being planned, was that Germany's government was not complicit. Afghanistan's was.
BTW yes we could have won in Viet Nam, though not in the way 99% of Right wingers think. For the answer, read "On Strategy: a Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War" by the brilliant military thinker Col. Harry G. Summers, who fought in Vietnam himself.
His book shows how we systematically violated every single principle of war that Von Clausewitz advocated (and most military thinkers agree with), BTW, so conventional right wingers may not draw all that much comfort from it. Summers goes at it from a strictly military viewpoint, not that of a politician.
Unlike the author of this article, Summers' thinking went beyond the fact that he was being shot at.
In the novel "Catch-22" the hero Yossarian concludes that WWII was a plot to kill him, since when he flew over Germany the Germans shot at him, and when he returned the Allies sent him back over Germany.
That's the level of thinking of Leftists in the Oliver Stone school of philosophy. "I went to war. People shot at me. War is bad."
We're in a terrible situation in Afghanistan. It was tough enough to start with. Then possibly the worst Commander in Chief in American history dug us into a hole rivalling the one BP dug in the Gulf.
And time after time Congress allocates money to huge, fabulously expensive military systems even the military doesn't want, while giving short shrift to the recruitment, training, and retention of soldiers (and care of them after their service ends if they've been wounded).
And the Air Force dragged its feet on UAVs for sentimental aging flyboy reasons.
The only thing I can think of that would be even worse than staying in Afghanistan is pulling out.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
The Washington Post has an atheist columnist in its "On Faith" section, named Susan Jacoby. Her last column, "The Reproductive Right," dealt with abortion, producing a long comment thread full of religious anti-abortion activists. Here's my comment, which didn't appear in the thread. I guess Jacoby or one of her minions found it inappropriate? offensive? I've re-read it and can't for the life of me figure out what could have gotten it rejected.
In particular I was responding to a comment by an anti-abortionist named Eric12345 who'd claimed that it was right and proper to call fetuses "unborn babies" and in general to use the language of his side's propaganda in any debate. So here, exclusively (though not by my intent), it is:
It does not depend on what you choose to call things, but on whether your choice of terms is true or false. I can choose to call you an ox, but saying so doesn’t make it so.
And in this case it is false to define all zygotes embryos and fetuses as people/human being/unborn babies or anything of the sort.
First, many fertilized eggs aren’t viable. What we misname “miscarriage” is the spontaneous abortion of non-viable fetuses in most cases.
Second, many nominally viable fetuses have no chance of surviving the fetal environment, due to a toxic biochemical mismatch between mother and fetus.
Third, many viable fetuses in viable natal environments have no chance of being born alive in a state of nature because of birthing issues. That means you could define such a fetus in a rich country as an “unborn baby” because medical intervention could save the baby’s life, while you couldn’t define it as an “unborn baby” in a poor country where such a fetus could not become a “born baby.”
Fourth, many viable fetuses in viable natal environment with a viable birthing process still have no chance of becoming a human baby because of genetic defects such as anencephaly—i.e. no brain above the brain stem. Many more have severe defects that give them no chance of surviving birth or more than a few hours or days beyond birth unless they’re fortunate enough to be born in a rich country. Again this would logically force you to vary your definition of that fetus based on the wealth of the country.
Fifth, even a zygote with a positive situation regarding all of these caveats may not be an “unborn baby” because monozygotic twins and chimeras don’t form at the moment of conception. So the trope “life begins at conception” isn’t true if that means a human life. And if it doesn’t it’s meaningless. After all, my gall bladder is alive, but you aren’t going to picket hospitals that perform gall bladder removal operations.
So calling every zygote/fetus an “unborn baby” or even a “potential human life” is not true.
That’s the problem, even beyond the fact that you can’t have a debate about anything unless both parties agree to use neutral terms for the debate. Otherwise it’s just a propaganda campaign
But there’s an underlying issue rarely raised by those who call themselves “pro-life” and “pro-choice:” overpopulation.
Currently the human race’s numbers are expanding at the rate of over 140 people a MINUTE. Even America—far from a third world country—has seen its population double in the last 60 years.
And we’re running out of potable water. It doesn’t look like it, but 60% of America’s water comes from ground water, and we’re overpumping it nationwide—as are most of the world’s other nations, including China. Overpumped porous aquifers collapse—permanently—so they cease to function as reservoirs. So not only are we running out of water, we’re reducing even the existing water supply.
At the same time the 6.8 billion humans on Earth today are causing the largest species die-off since the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, and even with these desperate efforts, one billion of those people are starving, by UN estimates.
You might not care about the unborn unless they’re human unborn, but we’re talking about ecocide. And people kind of depend on this planet to stay alive.
Consequently, in the larger perspective, those who call themselves “pro-life” are really pro-death, unintentionally.
Our procreative instincts were honed over the 100,000 years during which the human race numbered in the thousands, then the millions. Now we must go against our instincts if we want to survive. Instinctively I want every fetus to become a baby, and every baby to become a happy, healthy adult. But my instincts don’t match current circumstances. Neither do yours.
One last political note: right now, in Mexico’s state of Quintana Roo, a ten year old girl who’d been raped by her stepfather is being forced to carry the fetus to term, due to the control over the law exerted by the Catholic Church. This is routine in countries dominated by that bastion of “pro-life” belief. So please make sure to tell Americans that this is part of your agenda for this country. Otherwise aren’t your beliefs inconsistent?
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
We don't have enough. Right now we're in water debt--60% of our water comes from ground water. And we've been pumping more water than is being replaced, and we've been doing so for decades.
And though we could use water more efficiently, there's a limit to that efficiency. Humans need a certain amount of water that can't be reduced beyond a certain point, as do the plants and animals on our farms.
Moreover, overall we haven't invested in our water infrastructure for decades, and it's going to cost a fortune even to maintain current clean water amounts delivered to your tap.
And that groundwater? It isn't in underground lakes. It's in gravelly formations called the "porous aquifer." And when you overpump it, the gravel collapses, losing its ability to store water. Permanently.
Now consider all this in the context of America's population having doubled in less than 60 years, and the fact that it's currently expanding at the rate of 38 additional people in America every 10 minutes.
You can go into your kitchen right now and turn the tap and get drinking water, most likely. The amount you pay for that water isn't exorbitant. And you probably aren't being forced to ration water right now. Heck, there was severe flooding in the Midwest as I'm writing this.
So what I'm saying seems false--environmentalist fearmongering that has been debunked...those doom and gloom guys are all wet...desalinazation or something will produce the extra water we need--they'll come up with something, they always do...right?
We're drinking on borrowed water.
For example, the Colorado River now runs dry before it reaches its delta at the north end of the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. We've appropriated so much for agriculture and drinking that there's none left for Mexico. As a consequence the farms that once existed in Mexico along the Colorado are mostly gone.
Knowledgeable people are saying the next wars won't be over oil, but over water, because this is going on worldwide. China is one of the worst, threatening the water supplies of India and Vietnam, just to name two countries.
Remember how we acted as if the supply of fish in the ocean was infinite? Have you priced fresh fish recently? How many times and in how many places have fish stocks collapsed? This is going to be like that--our delusions of infinite supply making things far worse than they needed to be.
So the next time you find yourself talking about illegal immigration with someone, ask them where they're going to get the water the immigrants they're advocating for will need.
We should stop immigration of all but highly skilled workers and their immediate families until we get out of water debt--that or start preparing to live with severe water rationing.
Ask those immigration advocates if they're willing to live with, say, having tapwater metered at half the current allocation per home, and no lawns allowed, and no swimming pools, and no decorative ponds, all as the price of welcoming all those Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadoreños etc. that they demand we admit to the country.
Thomas Friedman recently visited Turkey, and came away dismayed as the Islamist direction it's taking, writing about it in a NYT column. My comment:
Adding to the general grief are the facts that most Western leftists (in America and Europe) vehemently agree with Erdogan--and that Israel seems to be stumped by the Palestinians' demographic time bomb (also by the intransigence of Israel's own religious fanatics).
I bet you'll be able to gauge the path
The first ones to pop up are a brave religious statement by conservative women. But after the tipping point, those who don't put one on get more and more pressure, regardless of their own convictions, and finally it becomes physically dangerous (i.e. you're risking your life) to not wear one in public--as is the case in Iraq today, for example.
As go headscarves, so goes the nation.
Monday, June 14, 2010
California voters just enacted an initiative that sets up an open primary system in our state, modeled after Washington State's.
We voted one in years ago, but the Republican and Democratic parties joined forces to defeat it in the courts.
Apparently the people's will means nothing to either party's poo-bahs.
Now we did it again, and the Washington State law it's modeled on was vetted by the courts. Not that the Democrats and Republicans won't try to kill this one, or at least tie it up in the courts for as long as possible.
Makes a fella wonder--are these our parties or are we supposed to be their pawns?
The initiative sets up a primary process where the two top vote-getters--regardless of party--will be the two, and the only two, in the fall election.
Naturally members of the splinter parties have their tightie whities in a twist over this. But none of them have enough members to elect anyone for any state office, making their concerns purely theoretical. Of course, most of them are theoretical-type people, so for them this is the End of Western Civilization.
Among the major party faithful condemning us citizens for voting this one in was conservative eminence George F. Will. In Proposition California ensures electoral blandness he abandons any pretense of independence and stands shoulder to shoulder with his Party.
"Listen to the Fool's reproach--it is a Kingly Title."
The word "fool" doesn't mean "idiot." You can be highly intelligent and still be a fool. As this column illustrates.
Mr. Will has now made it clear that he puts his party before his country. Many Republican and Democratic zealots do this, greatly harming our country.
Well it's time to break the zealot's deathgrip on government. They do not represent a plurality of the electorate--moderates do. And this measure helps both conservatives and liberals, even as it hobbles the two parties that claim to represent these philosophies.
I'm a Democrat living in a deeply Blue congressional district in a Blue state--and married to a very conservative Republican. Up to now she has had no voice in California or national politics. In our winner take all system, her vote has zero influence.
But under prop 14 she'll get to choose between two Democrats running for state and national offices. She'll be able to vote for the more conservative candidate, and, since this is neither Berkeley nor Frisco, her choice could well win.
The Republican party is not conservative, nor is the Democratic party liberal. Each is a congeries of stances and obligations, and factions, often mutually contradictory and opposed.
My spouse is conservative, and now her conservatism has vastly more chance of being expressed politically.
Both Democratic and Republican party hacks loathed this proposition, because it opposes them interposing their organizations between the people and their government. Adopted nationwide, this law would help the minority party's voters--whether Republican or Democratic--in a majority of states.
Now we should go on and adopt, nationwide, proportional Electoral College representation. So instead of California sending all its delegates to vote for the Democratic presidential contender, and Texas sending all of its delegates to vote for the Republican, both would split their delegates proportional to the vote, district by district.
Then the parties would have to campaign in every state, and Congress and the President would be forced to address the needs and wishes of all Americans instead of just the ones in the 17 battleground states. I don't say any of this as a Democrat.
I honestly don't know whether any of this will help my party per se. I say it as a patriotic American who wants our representative government to be more, well, representative.
New York Times political columnist and former arts commentator combined his past and present in Sunday's column on homosexual marriage, "Two Weddings, a Divorce and ‘Glee’." My comment:
"Glee" is great. My devout Mormon Republican spouse and I (empiricist Democrat) have watched every episode and love the show.
That said, it should be obvious to objective observers (including homosexual ones)--that the best parents you could hope for are a stable, loving heterosexual couple with no biases against homosexuals--if all other things are equal.
That way both boys and girls get appropriate role models, both for their gender and for interacting with the other gender.
I suppose homosexual babies might well be better off with homosexual parents, role model-wise, but we can't diagnose homosexuality at birth. Not yet, at least. And at any rate, homosexuality is perhaps 1% of the population (despite inflated claims by homosexual advocates), for what should be obvious biological reasons.
But--and it's a big but--all other things are often not equal. For example, my heterosexual parents [both long dead now] were an abusive drunk and a deadbeat. You expect a child who's had a tough day can go home, sit in mommy's lap (or daddy's) and be comforted. I never had that experience.
If you took Psych 101 in college, it's like I had the wire mother in
So in my case I believe I'd have been better off with two same-sex parents, if they were stable and loving etc. What kind of role model was my deadbeat dad? If I'd had a sister, what kind of role model would my drunken, cursing mother have been?
And for many kids the real alternative is a succession of foster homes instead of a homosexual couple.
So I agree with the traditionalists--Ozzie and Harriett would be better parents than Steve and Manny. But Steve and Manny trump what I got.
The only people who could disagree with this are religious zealots who believe homosexuals chose homosexuality because they worship Satan.
Certainly it's not the sex. No child wants to see or hear the slightest whiff of sex from any parent, regardless of sexual orientation. Virtually all children are innately revolted by their parents' sexuality towards each other (I'm not talking about pedophelia). Stable, normal (yes, normal) homosexual parents are just as discreet about their sexuality as heterosexual parents are. Duh.
So we should give stable, loving, unbiased heterosexual parents priority for adoption. But we all know there are far more kids available for adoption that that covers. Otherwise there'd be no need for every state's extensive foster care system.
So once the heterosexual parent pool is exhausted, homosexual parents should be considered preferable to foster care.
And anyone who disagrees with me about this must not know anything about foster care--or believe that Homosexuals are Satan worshipers.
But that leaves us with the marriage issue.
And there I may have a compromise everyone should find acceptable.
Let government get out of the religion business. Allow all religions to marry whoever fits their rules, and refuse to marry whoever doesn't. There are plenty of churches glad to marry homosexuals, after all.
Then let government deal with the civil aspect of marriage. Call it civil union. Make it available to any two people (sorry, I draw the line at polygamy and polyandry--it's innately unequal and also, in our culture, unstable). Have it govern childrens' wellbeing, hospital visitation rights, community property rights, and union dissolution protocols.
This doesn't discriminate against or regulate religions. And even today you need a marriage license to get married, regardless of what religion you may or may not use for a ceremony.
I propose keeping it that way. Just call it a civil union license instead of a marriage license. The word "marriage" has a religious aspect, and I see no reason not to leave it that way.
After all, homosexuals can live together today, and adopt or bear children in nearly all states. The only problems come if they break up or one of them lands in the hospital or dies or whatnot. It seems a matter of simple decency--and in the best interests of any children--for the state to provide a legal framework for those things.
Just don't call it marriage. For anyone.
And after all, heterosexual couples can get married in any religion they might belong to (except Shakers or Essenes, I guess).
Friday, June 11, 2010
Government creates nothing, produces nothing. Controlling deficits ought to start with a radical reduction in government programs and government workers. The government (federal and state in particular) is full of redundancy, inefficienct [sic] and waste. Worse yet, government oftens [sic] creates dependence on government - the opposite of self-reliance and innovation. Government makes us poorer and weaker.
This is the libertarian mantra.
So let's start by firing the Minerals Management bureaucracy, which oversees oil rig safety. After all, the oil companies have told us they'll self-regulate, because it's not in their own interest to have massive oil rig failures that will pollute the shorelines and fisheries of half a dozen states for generations, because that would mean they're short-sighted and mindlessly greedy. Which is just Communist propaganda. Everyone knows that Fortune 500 boardrooms are bastions of Chri$tianity. Er, I mean Christianity.
Now you might say Well, that particular bureaucracy was incompetent, weren't they? After all, they didn't prevent the most massive oil rig failure in American history.
To which I'd say we're looking at the consequences of the most thorough deregulatory pogram since the Robber Baron era. Bush II gutted the regulatory bureaucracy, starving them of funds, staffing them with cronies, having the industries write their own regulations, and removing the government's internal controls--you know, the ones designed to prevent regulators from being bribed or otherwise suborned by the industries they're tasked with regulating.
And it's not like President Obama can fire all those Republican cronies. For one thing, it's not easy to fire federal employees other than direct political appointees. The supposed nonpartisan, permanent jobs Bush filled with people whose qualifications were rock-ribbed Republican credentials such as opposition to abortion--you can't just fire those people.
And it's a lot easier and quicker to kick over a castle made of wooden blocks than to rebuild it.
Now let's go back to our libertarian's opening salvo: "Government creates nothing, produces nothing."
You could say the same of Wall Street. Once created to provide a source of capital for manufacturers, it now exists for the profit of the Masters of the Universe through manipulating money, while companies large and small desperately seek funding sources once supplied by Wall Street.
And the companies themselves, absent regulation, have used the quickest road to profits: fire the American workers and move the manufacturing to China and elsewhere. They're still manufacturers, but they aren't American manufacturers. They're foreign manufacturers with American headquarters. Such companies "create nothing, produce nothing" that benefits Americans.
Sure, you pay less for goods you buy by buying Chinese ones at Walmart...out of your unemployment check.
The libertarians can't face the fact that business not controlled by government (that is, us) comes to control government (witness the Bush II years). Whoever gains the upper hand in a competitive environment uses that upper hand to destroy his competitors. The natural outcome of all unregulated business environments is monopoly, followed by ruthless exploitation of ordinary citizens.
Now it's equally true that unchecked government becomes the monopoly, turning to self-dealing and a singular focus on preservation of incumbency.
The only hope the little guy has is government strong enough to keep business in check, and business strong enough to keep government in check, with transparency enough to let us keep both in check.
You can't abolish power. There is always power. The only question is who has it. Taking power away from government, by itself, just hands it over to anything-but-free enterprise.
That is, the real enemy of capitalism isn't communism--it's crony capitalism. Pickpockets work in teams, with a distractor and a lifter. Communist governments and crony capitalist "governments" each acts as each other's distractor, while the lifter--be it the crony capitalist or the communist--rummages around in citzens' wallets while we stare in horror at the proffered boogeyman. Soviet-era Russians were just as horrified about the Capitalist Menace as we were by the Red Menace.
I can't believe I have to say all this after the Bush II reign and its disastrous consequences, but the Billionaire's Club's propaganda machine has convinced at least a third of the voters that up is down, black is white, and the only problem with the Bush II era is that they didn't completely destroy government instead of just crippling it.