Tinsel Wing

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Gimme that nickled and dimed religion

An idle thought.

Among first world nations, the USA stands out as being, by far, the most religious; and as having, by far, the lousiest set of welfare state bennies, which has by design been getting steadily lousier for the last thirty years. Could the first be a consequence of the second?

Imagine, if you will, a state whose populace is subjected to perpetual and rising free-floating anxiety, due to the knowledge that John or Jane QP and the family of JOJ QP are one serious illness or one pink slip away from living out of a shopping cart. Imagine that in this same state, every adult in the household has to work fifty plus hours a week just to keep marginally ahead of the loan sharks who happen to own Congress, leaving no time to cultivate any interdependent social network, or the sort of thing their foreparents knew under the now-quaint term "friends".

How is such a free-floating anxiety to be assuaged? One avenue might be to throw yourself into political activism, to try to alter the economic conditions that created the anxiety in the first place. But that takes time, up-front sacrifice, as well as information not easily found. A second avenue is to seek assurances that someone is already taking care of you. Just as there's a Big Daddy in Washington who is keeping you safe from those perpetual and (if Big Daddy has anything to say about it) perpetually rising anxieties about chemical attacks and bioweaponry and mushroom clouds, there is a Big Daddy in the clouds who will ensure that your home will always be encompassed by four walls rather than four wheels. And there's also a ready-made social network down at the church house, which won't except in some rare best cases lift a finger if that year of chemo or that lateral transfer to the unemployment office come along, but which can sure make you feel less alone up until then.

There is a lot more to genuine religion than a prosperity gospel, of course, or the comfort of familiar faces in the pews. But just because the USA has a lot more religion than its peers doesn't mean it has any more genuine religion at all, does it?

If I've fingered a real connection here, the synergy of the GOP strategy becomes clear: the more they demolish the social safety net, the more they swell the ranks of their fundamentalist base. The good news is, that anything which serves to rebuild the safety net will build synergy in the opposite direction.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Will the real Mitt Romney please sit down?

Around March of 2005, the media decided that John McCain will be elected President in 2008. Since they have the power to destroy whoever they like (see "Gore invented the Internet" and "Dean Scream" for details), and the power to suppress whatever information they find unpalatable (see - if you can find them - Bush's lost years in the Texas ANG, his suppression of federal investigations into electricity manipulation in California, and the invisible Texas Funeralgate story), chances are they'll be right about that.

But just in case the bobs and weaves of the supposedly straight talking McCain lead to his implosion somewhere along the line, it will be worthwhile tucking away a note on the guy who seems to be next in line, the telegenic Mitt Romney. Joan Vennochi recalls, in a Globe op-ed, Romney's dance to the right, how today's brimstone-breathing friend of the fetus and foe of gay marriage started out five years ago as defender of Roe and a champion of gay rights.
When he ran against Ted Kennedy for the Senate in 1994, Romney wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Log Cabin Club, pledging that as "we seek to establish full equality for American gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent." During that same campaign, Romney was accused of once describing gay people as "perverse." In response, Romney's campaign vehemently denied that he used the word "perverse" and said that he respected "all people regardless of their race, creed, or sexual orientation."

While running for governor in 2002, Romney and his running mate, Kerry Healey, distributed pink fliers at a Gay Pride parade, declaring "Mitt and Kerry wish you a great Pride weekend." He backed domestic partner benefits for public employees, winning the endorsement of the national Log Cabin Republicans. In his inaugural speech, he promised to defend civil rights "regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or race."
Romney's brand of politics is best served in stacks, with your choice of maple syrup or blueberry topping.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Teachers' organization finds a truth inconvenient

The producer of An Inconvenient Truth offered to distribute 50,000 copies of the DVD to schools for free. The National Science Teacher's Association refused to accept the gift.

Why? Because it might jeopardize the funds Big Oil regularly pumps into science curricula. See, this is why the private sector is where you should always turn for things like education. Unlike that nasty gummint, the private sector is altruistic, and wholly free of any agenda. Especially from those icky liberal agendas, like telling kids stuff that scientists know.

Poor Al Gore. He shoulda made sure to have lots of product placement for Coca Cola in the film, then maybe he and his producer could have snuck a little science into our science classes.

[Update: in view of a NSTA press release pointed out by commenter "anonymous", the first para should have said "offered 50,000 free copies of the DVD to NSTA for distribution". The sticking point appears to have been the distributing, rather than the acceptance of the gift.]

The margin of error in the margin of error

If you aren't a poll junkie like me, you can skip this one.

Though he leans well to the right, Rasmussen is a very good, very professional pollster, who bothers to publish a new job approval figure for Bush every day. (It's a tracking poll, which is to say, in order to get his 3.5 percent margin of error, he polls 300 odd people each day, and the day's published figure is the rolling average of the three most recent days.) He is also commendably transparent in discussing his methodology.

Recently, he explained why particular polls consistently show Bush's job approval higher or lower than other polls do. It depends on which of three usual ways of posing the question are used. Rasmussen's way, which requests a "Strongly approve", "Somewhat approve", "Somewhat disapprove", or "Strongly disapprove", regularly adds several points to the Prez's numbers. The trick is to ignore the absolute levels, and just follow the ups and downs within any given poll. Those changes will track each other closely, regardless of the form of the question.

My own interpretation, after reading R's essay, is that respondents, even when they think the Chief is sucking more than a little, tend to want to give him the benefit of the doubt if the poll lets them do that. If their feelings are negative but not strongly so, they'll pick whatever answer looks to them like the lowest passing grade.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Strange Seas and Shores

Politically, sure, it's been a nightmare. But sometimes I just love the 21st century.

Every issue of Science or Nature these days includes an article or two spelling out how some enzyme or bit of RNA expression machinery does its thing: clarifying how it hooks or snips or binds or stretches some other bit of the machinery, or perhaps just drafting a megamolecule's shape precisely enough that some future article can suss out the ways that shape can bend and move.

This is what it looks like when biologists and 3-D graphics professionals put a big fat stack of those brain-numbing articles together with meticulous accuracy, a good sense of space and color, and loving care. These are the dances that are going on in every one of your cells, every minute. It's a journey that puts that dear old chestnut Fantastic Voyage to shame.

Here the animation team describes how the 3 minute clip was created. And here is a summary of the plotline, from a biologist's point of view.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ketchup post

Items that lately caught my nictitating eye:

  • Torture from the top: The ACLU's FOIA endeavors have turned up a Bush executive order and a DOD memorandum authorizing torture. Or whatever they're calling it nowadays. In a Spiegel interview, Ron Suskind confirms that Bush knew who was waterboarding whom.

  • Go, Go, Go: WaPo today passed on the deliberations of a Pentagon review of three Iraq options: Go Big, Go Long, Go Home. Consensus is forming on bumping up in country numbers by 20 or 30K "for a while", then scaling back quickly to 60K for forever or until The End Of Evil.

  • A Connecticut Patriot: Senator Dodd introduces legislation to repeal the noxious portions of the Torture Act. He does a commendably thorough job.

  • Sneak Thieves? For reasons I may expound later, I'm dubious about this. But O'Dell and cohorts at Election Defence Alliance believe they have a smoking gun that November 2006 was rigged, but the ploy fell short because the riggers didn't realize how big the Democratic wave would be.

  • Euphemism of the Week: A Vietnam Vet commenting at TPM Cafe recalls how he and his fellow draftees, thrust to the front lines, summed up their job positions: "Ordnance Absorption Technicians".

  • Goo Is Good: Nanotechnologists at Rice University have come up with a high tech manufacture/ low tech distribution way to clean up the arsenic poisoning most of the drinking wells in Bangla Desh and southeast India. Rust particles, each smaller than a virus, can adsorb the toxin on their surfaces. Once they've done their work, an ordinary hand magnet can scoop them up, with their cargo, leaving potable water behind.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A fact so dread, he faintly said

Lewis Carroll's Mad Gardener's Song lends itself to almost endless variations on the following theme:
The Mad President's Song

He thought he saw a missile threat
From which Star Wars would shade us.
He looked again and found it was
A strike plan of Al Qaeda's.
"Clinton was paranoid," he said.
"These clowns are small potatoes."

He thought he saw a Pet Goat book
That he could read straight through.
He looked again and found it was
A plane that struck Tower Two.
"I'll just sit tight until" he said,
"Dick tells me what to do."

He thought he saw M. Atta link
Up to Iraq in Prague.
He looked again, and found it was
A puff of stovepipe fog.
"That makes no never mind," he said,
"We still can demagogue."

He thought he saw a mushroom cloud
That issued from Saddam.
He looked again, and found it was
A script by David Frum.
"Heck, let's still go to war," he said,
"To prove I am Da Bomb."

He thought he saw a guitar chord
He could strum happily.
He looked again and found it was
New Orleans undersea.
"What are those corpses there?" he said,
"Just Democrats to me."
Feel free to document any of the dozens of Dubya's other well-known hallucinations in the same format.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What a right-wing Webb we weave

We've all been assured, most recently by the sagacious Joe Klein in his Time cover story, that the Democratic party won by shifting sharply rightward. Exhibit A are five or so pro-life candidates in the mix, and exhibit B are the new Second Amendment senators Tester of Montana and Webb of Virginia.

The fourth estate would be astonished to learn how many of us old-line Hubert Horatio Hornblower liberals have come to appreciate, over the last six years, the value of not letting the gummint know where all the guns are. But now I'm feeling like rilly rilly betrayed, because Jim Webb has gone over to the enemy and -gasp!- started publishing op-eds in the Wall Street Journal. A tiny taste of his liberal bashing:
The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars...

This ever-widening divide is too often ignored or downplayed by its beneficiaries. A sense of entitlement has set in among elites, bordering on hubris. When I raised this issue with corporate leaders during the recent political campaign, I was met repeatedly with denials, and, from some, an overt lack of concern for those who are falling behind. A troubling arrogance is in the air among the nation's most fortunate.
Markos snarks delightedly over Webb's defection today. He doesn't quote what I found the most interesting of Webb's paragraphs, in which Jim addresses specifically the readership of the WSJ opinion page, whom he knows from experience have only been nodding off while he quoted the statistics of inequality, and limned its depradations on those unimportant losers who don't have the WSJ propped up next to their tea caddy in the morning.
America's elites need to understand this reality in terms of their own self-interest. A recent survey in the Economist warned that globalization was affecting the U.S. differently than other "First World" nations, and that white-collar jobs were in as much danger as the blue-collar positions which have thus far been ravaged by outsourcing and illegal immigration. That survey then warned that "unless a solution is found to sluggish real wages and rising inequality, there is a serious risk of a protectionist backlash" in America that would take us away from what they view to be the "biggest economic stimulus in world history."

More troubling is this: If it remains unchecked, this bifurcation of opportunities and advantages along class lines has the potential to bring a period of political unrest. Up to now, most American workers have simply been worried about their job prospects. Once they understand that there are (and were) clear alternatives to the policies that have dislocated careers and altered futures, they will demand more accountability from the leaders who have failed to protect their interests. The "Wal-Marting" of cheap consumer products brought in from places like China, and the easy money from low-interest home mortgage refinancing, have softened the blows in recent years. But the balance point is tipping in both cases, away from the consumer and away from our national interest.
The middle class is the goose that laid the golden egg of American prosperity. The moneyed elites, including the media (whose reporters are not liberal but libertarian), have been deliberately, and successfully, destroying the middle class. But ultimately, the karmic truth is that they do so at their own peril.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Cheese Stands Alone

The U.S. is now the only holdout. The world's deputy global warming bad boy, Australia, has joined the reality-based community, and will start playing the Kyoto side of the fence. As America's biggest G-W Denier, Senator Inhofe (R-Toto), is forced to take his fingers out of the ears of the Senate Environment Committee, Barbara Boxer (D-Green as Grass) will pick up the gavel and a megaphone. Perhaps even the High Sheriff Global Warming Bad Boy will put some chips down in the game now.

About time would have been six years ago. But I'll take it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Rovester's Last Stand

Rumsfeld's defenestration came as no surprise. But the fact that he was shown to the window mere days after Bush had sworn to the skies that he would stick to Don like glue to the end of his days did raise some eyebrows. That Bush openly admitted he was lying when he so swore, raised a few more. Talking through one's ten gallon hat has always been integral to the Cowboy Code, Crawford style; but fessing up to it is a new codicil.

You may ask which was the lie: the old assertion that he planned to keep Rummy on forever, or the newer assertion that Rummy would have gone packing even if Republican supremacy had stayed put. And the only answer will be a Rumsfeldian one: It's one of those unknown unknowns.

But what raised eyebrows in punditstan raised hackles among the Republican faithful. Why on earth did Bush make a categorical commitment to his SecDef, just when congresscritters on the stump were trying to emphasize their flexibility on the war? Didn't he realize he was handing over the Congress to the enemy?

I have a contrarian take on that. The facts are these: the middle had turned decisively against Bush, by nearly two to one. Not only did independents not like his war, they no longer thought him truthful. They would not have believed a sudden burst of "flexibility" from him.

Rove's whole electoral theory over seven years had been to play very hard right for the base, count on winning nearly half of the inattentive middle by default, and so to squeak out a 51% majority. The theory fell apart when the middle began to pay attention, and decidedly dislike what they saw. Once Bush lost credibility with the middle, a sudden feint to the left would have payed no dividends. Worse, it would have confused and depressed the True Believers. Rove had painted himself into a corner. He had deprived himself of all options but the same old playbook. He had to appeal even harder to the base, hope that the Dems were overestimating their new GOTV prowess, and hope that the middle just stayed home in droves.

Dubya's eternal commitment to Rumsfeld the Brilliant was the final application, the dying spasm, the last throes, if you will, of the Rove Theory of Conservative Domination. He and Bush weren't ignoring the plight of their congressional hopefuls. They were sending in the only cavalry they had left in the fort.

And they were trying not to see the arrows streaming through the air, or the ghostly aura of yellow moustaches streaming behind Karl in the wind, as he led the charge.

Just because

Check out this two minute epic from Youtube via Dependable Renegade, wordlessly but eloquently expressing the way tens of millions of Americans have felt this week.

That's what you call a tough house, eh?

Point of balance

The talking heads are all saying that Democrats now have to "govern from the center". That's all well and good.

I see from the papers we just had an election, and the electorate decided that Democrats are the center.

We'll govern from there.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Okay, Nancy, let's see how Grover enjoys being date raped

There's been some grumbling in the left blogosphere over the open hand of bipartisanship Nancy Pelosi extended today to Chancellor Bush. They naturally want to see her become our own Iron Lady, the embodiment of Kos's "fighting Dems." But though their fears of wimpitude to come may prove prophetic, the fact is that for now not-yet-Speaker Pelosi is playing her cards exactly right.

We won this election because the country no longer trusts the GOP, not because they trust us. Poll after poll shows the public has no idea what Democrats stand for - even in those simple, plain cases where our (unreported) votes ought to have made it plain as day. At the same time, they no longer automatically believe the old right-wing demon liberal caricatures. The fact that we've brought a new broom brings this bonus, that our slate is swept clean.

The weeks between now and Speaker Pelosi's first gavel fall will be spent trying to inscribe an identity on that tabula rasa. The Republican talking point will be to type us as angry partisans intent on wasting the country's next two years on vindictive "witch hunts" (formerly known to civics texts as "oversight".) Pelosi has just struck a pre-emptive blow against that tactic. The kid glove demurely encasing her mailed fist, combined with a unified message hammering home her first 100 hours agenda, will prepare the field to our advantage for the memetic war to follow.

Once in power, the Democrats need to display themselves, quickly, as the party that stands up for ordinary working Americans. There's very low hanging fruit, like raising the minimum wage, removing the negotiation ban on Medicare part D, allowing Canadian pharmaceuticals in. Things even Bush won't dare to veto. We've already settled on this opening salvo.

Quiet investigation, preparatory to public hearings, can go on in parallel.

The second thing the Dems need to do is to brand themselves as bipartisan on the war. Here "bipartisan" has nothing to do with playing pattycake with Bush. It has to do with playing pattycake with the Baker commission, and with the growing body of Republicans who would rather not have ongoing carnage in Iraq necklacing their Congressional chances in '08.

The Dems must impose bipartisanship on the GOP as the precondition for bailing them out of Dubya's Excellent Adventure. Only with Republican signatures on the dotted line does the war end. This means, first, that the pundits and right wingers will not be able to claim afterwards that "We would have won in Iraq, if only the Democrats hadn't forced us to cut and run." Or at least will not be able to make the claim pass the general public's laugh test.

And it means, second, that Democrats will get credit (even among some of the punditry) for bipartisanship and changing the tone. It may even become part of the brand. And that will further strengthen them when the investigations are unleashed.

Finally, they should brand themselves as cleaning up the corruption. Rather than a single bill, they should introduce each reform as a separate bill, with its own ballyhoo. March it through and dare the Republicans to obstruct it. A lot of that can be done as chamber rules, not even subject to presidential veto.

When all that's done, the public will have a reasonably fair notion of what the Democrats stand for, concerning which they are just now clueless . Just bulling full steam ahead with all the overdue oversight, without defining our new identity first, could forestall it all.

Pelosi's initial politeness doesn't worry me overmuch. I'm going to see how it goes.

[Adapted from a comment on Greenwald's blog.]

Monday, November 06, 2006

Just-in-time Justice

Everyone knows, though the "liberal media" have politely avoided mentioning it, that the Iraqi judicial panel sentenced Saddam to death on Guy Fawkes Day, because hanging was the sentence, and two days before the American election was the date, in the orders they received from their puppet masters in Washington. (The sentence is no doubt richly deserved, at least in Saddam's case. But the "coincidence" here lies not in the timing, but in the fact that the result of the show trial happens to match what a real trial would have determined.)

There should have been no lingering doubts on that score, since the panel postponed its announcement for over a month, and then postponed it again, saying they had not yet finished their deliberations. Yet despite being still at an impasse a couple of months beyond their deadline, somehow they were able to proclaim with confidence, several weeks in advance, the exact date on which they would be ready.

And, lo! Even so it came to pass. Norman Vincent Peale himself could scarcely produce a finer exhibit of the miraculous power of positive thinking.

The Bushbots naturally scoff at the notion anything but coincidence could be involved. The spectacle these stagehands present, sweeping their arms through the air above the Iraqi judiciary to declare, "See? No strings!", while ignoring the Rumsfeldian wrists which extrude from said judiciary's posteriors, provides some small amusement, I suppose. But now it appears the obedient little jurists couldn't roll all the lumps out of their cookie cutter justice quite on demand. So today Josh Marshall administers the coup de grace to the coincidence theory:

Saddam was sentenced yesterday. But we do not know exactly what for. The judges met their deadline for the sentence of death; but the bill of particulars, the actual verdict, will not be released for some days to come.

The protectors of the rule of law in the White House rise as one to shriek with the Queen of Hearts:
"Sentence first! Verdict afterwards!"

[graphic credit to beepbeepitsme]