Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Best Christmas present for both your conservative and your liberal friends

Conservatives tend to have more, well, conservative tastes than liberals, who tend to have more, well, liberal tastes.

So it's rare that the same gift would be perfect for both the Merry Christ-mas crowd and the Happy Holidays crowd.

But this year it exists: "O Holy Night" a small album of four songs on a CD, plus a DVD with five song videos and an interview by a 10 year old soprano named Jackie Evancho.

I'm not going out on much of a limb. This $6 mini-album was only released November 16 and it's now the #2 best-selling album on

I wrote a long review of it on that you can read there, with more on my arts blog, plus numerous entries on's discussion threads--the links are below the product listing for "O Holy Night."

The point here is that it's equally appealing to the religious and the religiously irreligious, Lefties and Righties. It embodies all of our best wishes for our fellow creatures at this time of year.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm an empiricist who finds the word "God" undefinable--yet this very religious album would be my pick for a gift right now, because I find it so moving.

If someone says "child soprano" and you think either "sugary fluff" or "cute kid but it's not real singing" think again. If terms like "portamento" and "chest-head voice transitions" and "buttery high notes" are in your normal vocabulary, you've probably heard of her already. She's been on so many talk shows by this point it's hard to not have heard of her.

I love seriously heavy metal rock and roll and despite ooky-cutesy stuff but this kid still got to me. She's utterly sincere. I can't imagine what her parents must go through when they have to say "no" to her--look at interviews with her on YouTube and you'll see.

And, to the point of this blog, giving her album as a present when it might seem incongruous coming from you might be just the trick to opening a political discussion--BUT with the idea that you should both speak as if Jackie was in the room looking at both of you with her large guileless blue eyes. That would put everyone on their best behavior.

Added bonus: the people who don't like her reveal themselves to be Grinches. And don't you want to know who it is that you know who's a Grinch?

New litmus test for discovering who puts their party before their country: the START treaty

Our fewer-nukes treaty with Russia passed over the No votes of the vast majority of Congressional Republicans, despite it being supported in its present form by numerous moderate Republicans, every living Secretary of State of both parties, nonpartisan arms control experts, our military leadership's nukes experts, and that famous so-shul-ist Henry Kissinger.

If ever there was a Mom & Apple Pie issue this was it. Yet the Republican Party proved not just how extremist it has become--but also conservative it isn't. This was an issue that was supported by anyone who was a sane conservative (as opposed to people who call themselves "Conservatives"--you've heard the self-sanctifying way they say the word as if it makes them perfection personified). 

And the emotionalism of their approach was demonstrated by their arguments against it--as if the real issue was some sort of contest to see  which nations' leaders had bigger male organs. The Republican leadership sounded like those "male enhancement" ads you hear on late-nite cable TV.

It was especially disappointing to see Lindsay Graham join the whirly-eyes' side on this.

In my book every politician who opposed passing this this week is either a poltroon (great word!) or a political extremist who firmly puts his cause before his country. Not traitors--just disloyal.

I should add that their paragon, Ronald Reagan, would have done the same thing Obama did.

And if having the treaty on their desks for six months wasn't long enough, they need to get into a remedial reading class.

This is a great issue to use to discover if your friends who say their conservative really are, or if they just use the term as a tribal ID word.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The religion of peace

This week's edition of BBC's Newsnight includes an investigative report on how Egypt--our ally--has become an Islamist country while officially denying it.

Coptic Christians were in Egypt for centuries before Islam even existed. Today they're discriminated against at every level. Christian girls are kidnapped off the street by Islamist organizations and forced to "marry" older Muslim men. Then they're declared Muslim. The police tell their parents and extended families that they won't be permitted to visit these kidnapped and raped teens and women until the victims get impregnated and have a child.

Even if they escape their captors, they're now officially "Muslim" and are not permitted to either resume their Christianity or to marry a Christian. You can become Muslim in a minute, but renouncing Islam is a nearly impossible, life-threatening process, with the police turning a blind eye to Islamist organizations carrying out these pogroms.  If anyone dares complain to the authorities they just get stonewalled or even harassed themselves.

Coptic Christians find it nearly impossible to rise in their society. Most work at garbage dumps sorting garbage. It's nearly impossible to get a permit to build a church. Recently they built one illegally--it was dynamited and the Christian protesters trying to protect it were shot at by the cops using live ammo. Two died.

Officials stoutly deny all of this, and insist as well that there's nothing to investigate--so they don't.

All this in what's considered to be one of the more liberal Muslim countries.

And I'm not getting this from some wacky anti-Muslim website. This is BBC's Newsnight, which if anything has a liberal bias.

Of course it's even worse in our liberated "ally" Iraq, whose ancient Christian communities are being forced out of the country or murdered if they don't leave. This is what the Muslim Arab countries did to their 800,000+ Jewish citizens in and around 1948. Now they're doing it to the Christians.

Ironic that the Christian crusader George Bush was instrumental in freeing up the Islamofascists to do to the Chrisitans what they didn't dare do under Saddam Hussein.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Opposing taxes is not conservative--it's just shilling for the billionairocracy

No one wants to pay more taxes than is their fair share of supporting the government that manages so much for us.

But when the Republican leaders say--and they say this daily--that the taxes we pay are "our" money, implying that the government is robbing us--that's only the way the billionaires see it. They don't need social services. They don't need infrastructure. They don't even need national defense, except as a revenue source. So from their point of view of course it's unnecessary.

The libertarian position on taxes is exactly the billionaires' position, and the Republican Party has adopted it. At least when they're out of power. Then when they're in power they spend like drunken sailors and tax the future to pay for it. They say they're starving the beast, but that's ridiculous--especially since the overall size of governments expands under Republican rule. They just lie about it. What they're doing is another anti-conservative ploy: they're borrowing.

And as long as we expect our roads and sewers and national security and street lights to work--as long as we expect cops to come if we need them and dial 911--as long as we expect 911 to work--the taxes we pay are what we owe the provider of those services for services already rendered.

I was raised to believe "conservative" was synonymous with "responsible." Accepting goods and services and then not wanting to pay for them is welshing on a bargain.

And the billionaires owe it too, especially considering how much of the fruits of our labor they now keep for themselves--vastly more than when I was a kid.

There are unfair taxes and there is government inefficiency and waste. But that's an excuse for government reform, not for trying to weasel out of paying your fair share.

If you don't like it, prove it by going off the grid or by emigrating. Don't accept all those goods and services and then pretend "your" money is all yours. That just sounds like an 8 year old boy who accepts all that his family does for him as his entitlement and then refuses to do his chores.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

To my liberal and conservative friends as they yell at each other

A study done during the Bush v. Kerry campaign rounded up a bunch of partisan Democrats and Republicans, put 'em in an MRI brain scanner and while there had each consider material that was negative about their guy and negative about the other guy.

Both kinds of partisans reacted exactly the same: they experienced a moment of cognitive dissonance when they read negative stuff about their guy. They proceeded to rationalize away that stuff, and at the same time to treat the negative stuff about the other guy as presaging the End of the Republic if he won.

During this entire process their brains' cerebral cortexes never lit up. Not once. All the processing went on down in the Chimpanzee Core of the human bran, after which the partisan got a rush of endorphins upon getting rid of that distressing cognitive dissonance.

* Doctrinaire Republicans and Democrats process political information IDENTICALLY--with emotions and tribal associations, not reasoning.

* Each only sees the bad in the other and only the good in themselves.

* Each considers their political philosophy as if it were a religious faith, whose principles are self-evident and not to be questioned. 

* Each sees the other as having consciously decided to be evil and destroy America and themselves to be right-thinking patriots (though the extremes of both extremes hate America--both the commie one-worlders and the militia group conspiracy nuts). 

* And each defines the same political terms differently, making it nearly impossible for them to communicate with each other.

* Consequently each sees the other as believing self-contradictory things because they apply their own definitions to the things the other side says.

My conclusion: America needs liberals, conservatives, and centrists. So has every tribe back to the dawn of time.

The tribe always had to decide whether to move or stay put, go to war or flee or surrender, try the new berry or not, see if you can pull more with those round thingies or a travois (answer: depends on surface conditions, actually). And between the eager proponents of the new thing and staunch defenders of the old, of considering issues by probable outcome or by strict adherence to principles, a plurality of centrists has always been needed to mediate, listen, and make the soundest decision possible.

Politics gets out of whack when either liberals or conservatives get control--or when the whole shebang becomes so mired in special interests that nobody gets what they want except for a relative handful of powerful families, as is true in most of the third world, and as has become true recently in America.

Those powerful families are delighted by liberals and conservatives thinking each other is the enemy, when its actually a group that has no political philosophy other than getting power, keeping it, and getting more.

But every time the people start to get an inkling of what's been done to them, the richest families get us to go after each other--and by doing so, play into their hands.

The Republican Party's rich patrons aren't really conservative, except when it fattens their wallets. As a Democrat I consider my part slightly less corrupt, but only slightly, and covertly beholden to the same patrons under the table, along with certain special interests.

Some have said there's only one party in Washington--the Party of Money.

I wouldn't go so far. Liberals and conservatives have real differences, of course. But have you noticed that neither side gets what it wants after "their" party gets back into power? Bills emerge, but always so loopholed and skewed to satisfy the whispering voices in the corridors that they're hardly recognizable.

Take healthcare reform. Yay, we won. Only "we" wanted single payer. What we actually got was the mildest of reforms--trumpeted as Armageddon by the Right, of course. But watch what "your" pols do now.

The fact is that the incomes of nearly all Democrats and Republicans have stagnated for over 30 years, while the richest of the rich have appropriated more and more of America's financial output. This has held true through both Republican and Democratic administrations.

And that's the reality, folks. So just remember as you're yelling at each other--you're amusing the billionaires no end.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Global warming

I'm not a climate scientist--I'm a sociologist (BA Sociology, UCLA), at least by avocation. Professionally I was mainly a high tech editor/writer, spending most of my time analyzing and communicating about complex corporate software issues.

Looking at the climate change issue, I first explored the debate within the climate scientist community. Only there was no debate. This issue was settled years ago--the only questions are how soon and how big the disaster we're causing is going to really smack us down.

Then I looked at the popular discussion, and discovered that the biggest celebrity talking about this--Al Gore (the real one) had his heart in the right place, but also had an unfortunate tendency to exaggerate to make a point--not just about climate change but generally. His book "An inconvenient truth" was vetted by actual climate scientists and they found this to be the case. He's right, generally, but he compressed the probable timeframe.

But people who wanted to believe anthropogenic climate change was a hoax--or who wanted others to believe it--seized on Gore's exaggerations to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Likewise the so-called Climategate turned out similarly. Some climate scientists wrote some politically incorrect emails. Nothing they said or did had any impact whatsoever on the fact of AGW--I repeat, nothing whatsoever--but those who didn't want to accept AGW used the scientists' rudeness towards people like themselves to try (with a lot of success) to discredit the consensus of the entire scientific community.

So I asked myself--just who is denying AGW? And why?

In such situations, you always need to look for motive, means, and opportunity.

The big losers are the fossil fuel companies--and ordinary Americans. The former because it means we need to convert to forms of power that don't cook the planet. The latter because we have the most energy-intensive lifestyle on Earth, and we don't want to give it up. Oh, and all the people in other countries who want our lifestyle and sure don't want to give it up before they've even gotten it. Like a billion Chinese and another billion Indians, for starters.

Well, that's a marriage made in heaven. Exxon Corporation spends some pocket change (very big bucks by non-billionaire standards) hiring some smart people to create, launch and sustain a campaign to discredit AGW and anyone who supports AGW.

Now propaganda, however adroit and well-financed, won't succeed if it goes against people's natural inclinations. But this is in line with them. Who wants to give up our lifestyle? Almost no one. And here's proof that I don't have to give it up!

Rats love the taste of rat poison.

So the campaign to discredit AGW used/uses the following ingredients:

1. The fact that what's happening is happening slowly by human standards. Might not even hit big time until after we're dead, and then people we don't care about--like our own children--will have to deal with it. And people in the tropics, who we also don't care about.

2. The fact that average Americans are being stressed by a steadily declining standard of living, due to America's billionaires taking more and more of America's profits for themselves, but doing so so gradually people don't notice--like the old joke about how you boil a frog. America's income distribution was once like that of any other rich country. Now it's like Mexico or Russia.

Of course that by itself doesn't make people deny AGW--it just makes them fearful and angry, at a low simmer. They have less than they had, and their afraid of losing that. But when people are stressed and resentful, demagogues can turn that free-floating resentment against a scapegoat.

And "scapegoat" means "someone who isn't me or mine." The Stranger. The Outsider.
The Republican Party has morphed from the party of conservatism into a tribe of hooting, jeering, anti-intellectuals. It has been very profitable for the billionaires the Republican leadership works for--and that leadership, of course--to identify The Other as scientists and intellectuals in general, because if people start thinking they may realize who their oppressors really are.

And of course America's liberal establishment has done its bit by telling us that Mexico's overpopulation problem is our fault somehow and we're obligated to give American citizenship to any Mexican who want it. And by reflexive opposition to nuclear energy--an amazingly clean source of power--and by generally honoring and defending every culture and language on Earth except for Anglos and English. Worst of all, Amerca's Left denies that the biggest problem Earth faces today is human overpopulation (the Right also denies this, conveniently). We wouldn't have a human-caused global warming problem, regardless of the technology we use and our standard of living, if there weren't seven million people crawling about on this planet. The Earth had one billion people a century ago. Now it's seven billion--and that's six billion more than it can sustain indefinitely. And yet the Right and Left--each for their own selfish reasons--conspire to deny this fact because they can't handle the consequences of accepting it.

3. Even apart from scapegoating, average Americans tend to believe that people who are smarter than them--like climate scientists--aren't. This is called anti-intellectualism, and it's something Alexis de Tocqueville was warning Americans about over 100 years ago, though he generally admired American culture. It's just so easy to go from belief in equal opportunity to belief that we're all equal. Well we aren't. I can't jump like LeBron James. You can't sing like Jackie Evancho. I'm smart but Einstein was way smarter. The list is endless. Especially since humans are a species with lots of genetic plasticity. That means we vary a lot, like dogs, unlike cats.

4. And those least able to discern truth from fiction often have the highest opinion of their abilities. Look at the people who audition for American Idol-type shows who lack tiniest smidgen of talent, yet believe they're God's gift to singing (or whatever). Same goes in the workplace--the lousiest employees always give themselves glowing self-evaluations, while the best employees are usually very self-critical.

So you always find self-confident people with little to be self-confident about brashly contradicting what the entire scientific community agrees is the truth. They aren't daunted in the slightest, because they don't realize how marginal their mental acuity is.

5. The mechanism the Exxon propagandists use is a two-step.

First you frame the debate in personal terms, by villifying the scientists instead of really dealing with the issues. The personal campaign against Al Gore is a perfect example, and the one against President Obama has set a new standard for how low they can go.

Then, once you've convinced the useful idiots whose votes you need that their friends are their enemies and vice versa, you feed them facts--either taken out of context, or bald-faced lies presented as facts--woven into an internally consistent narrative. Humans will normally choose a string of falsehoods tied into a plausible narrative over the truth without a narrative. We're suckers for storytellers. Stories are how we remember large numbers of facts.

The narrative works best when it reinforces your tribal identification and demonizes the other side.

6. And here's the magic ingredient: money. Money to suborn government. Money to buy media outlets and obedient "think tanks" and commentators--money enough to give your side a gigantic megaphone while the other is nearly unamplified.

There's a saying that "Civilization exists by geologic consent--revocable without notice."

Venus wasn't always a hell-hole with a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead. It got that way through a runaway greenhouse effect. Earth is farther out, which is why it didn't happen to us as well--yet. And if may not. Nobody knows for sure. But another Venus is the worst possible outcome. And we don't know enough to write that outcome off as impossible.

Humans, as usual, have no idea what the stakes are in the game we're playing with our species' future--and that of the planet that's the only place in the universe we know for sure can support us.

But there's nothing like the short-sighted greed of the rich coupled with the inability to tell friend from foe of average people to create the climate change denial movement.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Secret of the housing crisis

Dan Rather Reports (HDTV) has made a compelling argument that explains why home foreclosures are proceeding apace, with no improvement over the last 3 years, despite public pronouncements by government and banks.

It's sooo simple. The banks don't own the loans. They sold them to investors in various bundles and packages. Their business is now...fees. Fees for administering loans--and fees for foreclosing loans and keeping homes in foreclosure, then selling them for a profit while the original loan owner takes it in the chops.

That's why people seeking to get into loan modification programs can't get them--they'll try for a year, with the bank "losing" all or part of the paperwork over and over and over and over and over. Because the bank makes its money off fees, not loans. Late fees. Illegal/unnecessary insurance fees. Lawn mowing fees ($100 to mow a forecloses home's lawn).

And one neat is telling people who've never missed a payment but want a loan mod that they have to miss three payments in order to get into the load mod program sponsored by the government. They do this over the phone so there's no physical record of this. Then when the payments are missed and the homeowner is told they're in the program--the new owners of the home shows up and tells them to get out. The bank forecloses--all they needed to act is those missed payments, and then the feels roll in.

This isn't nickel and dime stuff when you aggregate it. Wells Fargo make over $600 Million dollars in such "fees" last year--and the other big banks are making hundreds of millions of dollars in fees as well.

So yes the investors lose money on foreclosures--especially in the many, many cases where the owner could have and would have kept making their payments. But the banks aren't the investors.

The airlines are making fat profits off all those fees they're charging now--for each piece of luggage, for each blanket, bag of peanuts etc. It adds up. And the banks have taken the same route.

Remember the optimistic Hollywood classic movie "It's a wonderful life?"

Well, Mr. Potter won. And we're all living in Potterville.