Monday, December 15, 2008

Tunes Questionnaire

I saw this out on the internet. Here goes:

1. Put your iTunes on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
4. Pass it on.

"Kamera" - Wilco

"The Setting Sun" - Switchfoot

"McFearless" - Kings of Leon

"The Bends" - Radiohead

"Across the Land" - Sondre Lerche

"Narrative: Cinco de Mayo" - Brian Wilson

"Strong Hand" - Emmylou Harris

"Peace of Me" - Natasha Bedingfield

WHAT IS 2+2?
"Old Backstage" - Garrison Keillor

"Say the Word" - The Beatles

"Under the Floor" - Switchfoot

"You Don't Know Me" - Emmylou Harris

"Symphony # 3 - Mvt 2" - Philip Glass

"How to Disappear Completely" - Radiohead

"Moonlight in Samosa" - Robert Plant

"Only For You" - Garrison Keillor

"Angel in the Snow" - Elliott Smith

"Ten Years Gone" - Led Zeppelin

"Big Weekend" - Tom Petty

"Unknown Legend" - Neil Young

"There Once Was a Shy Young Man" - Garrison Keillor

"Cymbal Rush" - Thom Yorke

"I Know There's An Answer" - The Beachboys

"Icky Thump" - The White Stripes

"Paranoid Android" - Radiohead

"I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" - Louis Armstrong

"Lion's Jaws" - Neko Case

"Setting Sail / Muineira de Frexido" - The Chieftains

"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" - The Beatles

"Weird Fishes / Arpeggi" - Radiohead

"Hymn for a New Age" - Ray Davies

Some observations:
  • Radiohead and the Beatles are probably actually underrepresented on that list.
  • I only have one Garrison Keillor album, and iTunes' shuffle feature apparently sucks.
  • I really need to get that Robert Plant album out of there.
  • Notably missing (with multiple albums and no hits): Pink Floyd, Nickel Creek (and any of their side projects and solo albums), Arcade Fire, Beck, Bob Dylan, Glenn Gould, The Rolling Stones, The Who.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The end of all things

I have been reading and watching a lot of media about the end of the world and death lately.

A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller Jr. Rated PG-13 for violence. As promised, this was a story about the preservation of human knowledge by monks in the wake of a nuclear war. The war was blamed on intellectuals, politicians, and scientists, so a kind of pogrom was carried out against them, ushering in a new dark age. The story picks up centuries later, as humanity begins waking up from the nightmare. The book is bittersweet, as is any story of history repeating as tragedy and farce. A Hugo winner, a thinking person's book, a true classic. Highly recommended.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Tom Stoppard. Rated PG for adult themes. This is the play that focuses on two minor characters from Hamlet, staying with them when the action moves elsewhere. Hamlet is larger than life; this play is kind of the same size. I still remember the first time I saw this live, in 1997. I've read it and seen it many times since. I think it was just time again. It's about being lost, and about living without a sense of meaning. It's about what you lose by wandering around and doing as you're told. There are many possible interpretations, of course. It's witty and brilliant. Read it yesterday.

Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Rated R for nudity, language, violence, disturbing images, adult themes. This is the only comic ever to win a Hugo award, the only graphic novel on Time's list of the best 100 novels of the 20th century. It was trailblazing in many ways, and it's as epic a tale as you will ever read.

It's set in an alternative America where superheroism was briefly in vogue, but has since fallen out of fashion. The world's only real uber-man, Doctor Manhattan, was created in a nuclear accident. He has control over matter, time, and space, and allows himself to be pressed into service as America's Doomsday Device, Missile Shield, and Blitzkrieg all in one. He ends the Vietnam War victoriously, but the tensions of the Cold War, the specter of nuclear annihilation and the end of the world still hang over the story.

For all that, it's an unforgettably human story, with complex characters. And a metafictional extravaganza that embeds an entire pirate horror story in parallel with the action. And the best ending ever. It's heartwrenching, and so rereadable, even the writer said he had to read it several times to catch all the details the artist put in.

And then there's Six Feet Under, and I haven't really brought all this together yet... but I'll get there.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

How The West Was Won: Led Zeppelin Live

In another instance of Studio vs. Live, let me recommend How The West Was Won, a three-CD set of two Led Zeppelin shows from 1972 merged into one long concert.

I wouldn't dream of taking anything away from the Led Zeppelin studio material, which is about as solid and meaty as rock has ever been.

But being pummeled by the Led Zeppelin live show, I kept saying to myself, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

There's a continuum of great guitar music, between the delicate, beautiful folk of, say, James Taylor and then the insanely awesome power playing. This incarnation of Led Zeppelin is way over on the other end. That's a recommendation and a warning in one.

Here's the first track, Immigrant Song:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Studio Unleashed I

I'll borrow a trope from Andrew Sullivan and start naming posts that are actually about the same thing the same way. I think I want there to be more than one of these.

I am a big fan of live music, as you may know by now. One of the things I like best about it is when a band that does really great things in the studio is forced to do something different live. It can get rawer and more personal, although sometimes you have to sit back in awe at how much of the original album can be reproduced without overdubs.

So, Studio Unleashed: great songs from the studio that stayed great live.

Here is a gem by Arcade Fire. I don't know why I think it's so beautiful. It's on their first album, the Arcade Fire EP. The song is called "Vampire/Forest Fire". I suggest you listen to the studio version first. There are lyrics at the bottom of the post for your inspection.



You wanna be set apart?
Burn all of your art repair the wasteful part
I'm a vampire in a forest fire
Hey! we all gotta keep warm
driving towards the storm

Your father was a pervert
Face down in the dirt
He taught you how to hurt
My father was a miner who lived in the suburbs
Let's live in the suburbs
If I let where I'm from burn I can never return!

My brother reads you and me his new poetry
How embarrassing
Your sister pours the gasoline
I'll fix your meals
while your burns heal!

Find a house you don't have to rebuild
Stone by stone, brick by brick, nail by nail my father never meant to leave me this
Let this love last
I drive too fast
Said I'd return if I'd ever cared
But there's no Interstate I'd find to take me there.
to take me there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I wanted to surface a comment really fast

In the wake of the election, I've been talking a little about how progressive priorities might be just. I want to get deeper into this in response to a comment my friend Aaron left on a previous post (also Tina's comment on third parties a month ago; I think they actually make a lot of sense together). I don't have enough time this second, but let me show you that comment thread in case you missed it:

tori said...

Robin Hood has one fatal error. Stealing from the rich to give to the poor sounds great... but in the end, it is still stealing. Clear as that. Whenever you choose to vote to take something away from someone and not yourself, once is stealing. I'm trying out this new idea...I've only thought about it for two days. But I think an equal percentage tax on all Americans would be most just.
Glad that you won't get mad at me for saying this, Dan. We can just debate and not let it get personal.

Dan Lewis said...

I won't get mad, Tori. Be welcome!

I don't know how far we want to take the Robin Hood analogy. By this reasoning, if I don't like the tax structure I call it stealing.

For instance, in the status quo, I say the Bush tax cuts are stealing from poor people and giving to rich people. Someone might argue to the contrary that rolling back the tax cuts would be stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Both sides can make an equal-and-opposite argument, and they basically cancel each other out. Maybe it's not the best label.

We will have a tax structure one way or another. The question is whether it should favor the poor at the expense of the rich, favor the rich at the expense of the poor, or somewhere in between.

When I quoted Warren Buffett, the richest man in the world, he said he pays less total taxes as a percentage of his total income than his janitor. That is, we have a deeply regressive tax structure in this country, even though on paper rich people may be paying more.

There are lots of reasons why this is so. One obvious one is that if you become rich enough, it becomes cheaper as a percentage of your income to pay a lawyer to lawfully evade taxes than it is to just pay them straight down the line. That leads into another reason, which is that it's cheaper to lobby Congress to pass laws to create tax loopholes than it is to just pay them straight down the line. It is big business for rich people to game the system to keep more of their money. The working stiffs do not have the time or the money to play in this game.

The point of all this is that our tax structure is unfair, but it is unfairly skewed to benefit the rich. If you want a fair system, it probably needs to swing back the other way even harder.

We have a lot of policies that aid the disadvantaged in society. For instance, we have homeless shelters. The homeless do not pay for them, but we do it anyway. We all pay for health insurance for poor families (Medicaid) and the elderly (Medicare). It goes on. We do unemployment for people between jobs, welfare for people who are poor, food stamps for people who would go hungry. And so on.

These are "unfair" taxes on people who have food, shelter, enough money, jobs, their health. "Why should I have to pay for that? I don't get anything back for it. I'm doing just fine on my own." People who have money are giving to those who don't have it. It is not equal or even fair.

There is a secular argument to be made that these policies really do pay for themselves. When we invest in crime prevention or preventive health care, these pay large dividends down the road. And there are similar arguments to be made for the societal costs of not caring for the elderly, the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and so on.

But I think there's a more telling argument for people who follow the way of grace. I think it is natural that we who are rich should give out of our abundance to those who are poor without expecting anything in return.

As Christians, the principle that the greatest among us will be the servant of all, that we will lift up the humble and cast down the proud, that the poor will always be with us, is even more strongly pronounced. We have special duties to care for the poor and defenseless, the widows and orphans, the outsiders.

One way we can do this is by voting for the engines of government to reflect our values. That's not stealing, it's empowering our representatives to work toward the balance we think is just.

Aaron said...

Hey Dan,
Thanks for your response...and for taking the time to explain so much on your blog. I can see where you are coming from...and even why you are for the pendulum swinging in favor for the poor rather than the rich.
It sure would be nice if taxes could be and would remain just. And it would be nice if the church would do the job of the church and care for the "orphans and widows in their distress." I'm just not sure that the main way the church should do this is through the government. Did the church fail in this? Is this why the government has to take over this role?
Unfortunately, because of the fall, the poor are no more righteous than the rich. You are in the minority... in voting on economical issues not for your own gain, but out of concern for those who are barely making ends meet. Many are openly voting for whatever will help their own bank accounts. Many of the "poor" think that they have the right to have their needs met by the government. This takes away the whole idea of grace and generosity. Instead it becomes something that is forced.
The whole point, I that people are totally depraved and will all look out for their own best interests as far as they understand them. The rich, in not paying even an equal percentage to the poor who have so much less- are (if we are to compare sin here) the worse sinners. They should not be able to get out of their equal percent for any amount of money. This is turning into a great conversational illustration of the doctrine of total depravity! So long as we are sinful and living in a Genesis 3 world... our economic policy will never be just. And then the question comes... are we as fervent in our giving to the poor outside of our own taxes (what we are obligated to pay the government) as we are to see legislation pass that may or may not help the poor?
Guess this leaves me at this point wondering what the real solution is? Do we implement unjust means to achieve justice? Perhaps the ends do justify the means in such murky waters? I'm not sure that the real heart issues will ever be discussed in politics....
and perhaps it is the church's job to call the government into account for "stealing widow's houses" as the Leaders did in the day of Jesus. But I'm not sure what that looks like. I'm not convinced that it takes place through a vote. The government will answer to God on the day of judgment. God has ordained the leaders and those in power... in His sovereignty (whether the person has what we consider to be "Christian values" or not) and on the day of judgment they will answer to Him (as the rest of us).
Oh... and what are your thoughts about proposition 8 in CA? If it gets overturned again... just what does our vote mean anyway? Government for the people by the courts?
OK... please explain where I obviously don't understand. :)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sunday, November 02, 2008

And now a fun post on books

I've read a lot of books since I last wrote here. I only have time for ratings, capsule summaries, and recommendations:

Saturn's Children by Charles Stross. Rated NC-17. After the extinction of humanity, an obsolete courtesan-bot takes up with a clandestine group of butler bots to prevent the reintroduction of humanity to robot society, which threatens its collapse. Read more for Charles Stross completeness than other motives.

The Sharing Knife vols 1 & 2 by Lois McMaster Bujold. Rated R. A pregnant farm-girl takes up with a grizzled ranger over twice her age. They fight zombies and meet each other's families. Good, but not as amazing and complex as her earlier work.

To Say Nothing of the Dog, Or How We Found The Bishop's Bird Stump At Last by Connie Willis. Rated PG. Historians from the late 21st century upset the space-time continuum and go through hilarious hijinks in Victorian England to set it to rights. One of the funniest books I have ever read. Hugo and Nebula winner. One hundred percent recommended.

Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King. Rated R. A werewolf enters a New England town with predictable results. Gorily told and illustrated. Read for Stephen King completeness. Pass it by.

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian. Rated PG-13. A sea captain, Jack Aubrey, and his surgeon, Stephen Maturin, sail the high seas in search of adventure and the glory of the British crown. Amazing authenticity of detail and language, funny, at times thought-provoking, complicated vocabulary, plot with long continuity, and of course sails, cannons, pirates, Napoleon, and Lord Nelson. Incredibly addictive. The first part of an eighteen-part series.

I probably missed a few there, but I have lost the records of my reading.

Up next, Bad Money by Kevin Phillips, which called the market collapse early, Pet Sematary by Stephen King, more Aubrey-Maturin novels, and A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller and Anathem by Neal Stephenson, both of which appear to be about monks preserving the remnants of Western civilization in the post-apocalyptic wake of a nuclear war.

The end of Bush-onomics and a new beginning

[The following is an argument I made in email with a friend. It's about whether it is just to "redistribute the wealth"; whether capitalism eventually shakes out good outcomes through the invisible hand of the market; and whether we think that spending money on the poor will actually achieve anything.]

I'll try to explain where I think Bush's economics went wrong, and why we shouldn't trust our current political and economic system to correctly determine winners and losers in the economy.

Trickle-down economics really doesn't work. Bush blew the doors off upper class tax rates and said many times that those tax cuts would pay for themselves. I think it is by now universally acknowledged that after eight years of such policies, the middle class did not see the benefit of economic stimulus at the top. The tax cuts did not live up to the hype.

There are a lot of reasons this is true. One that I think explains a lot is the marginal value of income. When people are poor, their money goes to necessities. Losing a hundred dollars can have serious effects on their weekly budget. Their quality of life diminishes a lot if a bill has to be late, or they can't pay for medical care when they need it or a hundred other things. Being poor or even middle class in America is a constant balancing act. Gaining a hundred dollars can have a real positive impact on their budget for the same reasons.

On the other hand, when people are rich, like a two hundred fifty thousand dollars a year rich, for example, they're taking home on the extreme end of conservatively, ten thousand dollars a month in net income after taxes. Losing a hundred dollars is not a blip on the radar of these people. Their standard of living does not change in any meaningful way. Gaining a hundred dollars is the same.

What's going on here is that the millionaire's last dollar is worth much less to the millionaire than the poor person's last dollar. It is discounted by the fact that around dollar $500000, or earlier, money became no object. So when we say that rich people pay the vast majority of taxes in a dollar amount, we should realize that even though they are paying much more as a percentage of their income than poor people are, they are paying out of the cheap end of their cash. The widow's mite story in the Gospels is still true today. [Ed. see here]

In the United States, the situation is even further off the deep end than that. Warren Buffett, the world's richest man, has a smaller tax footprint than his janitor, because of the way we tax income, payroll, and capital gains. He said in an interview two months ago:

"In my office, I have 18 or so people there, and I ask them to compute line 63, which is their tax, and then add payroll taxes, and compare it to line 43, which is their taxable income. And these people who make anywhere from $50,000 to $750,000 a year ... and the lowest person in the office pays a higher rate than I do. I paid 17.7 percent last year, counting payroll taxes. ... The (employees) average was twice mine. ... Those fellows say they fix up companies and they get paid for doing that. On balance, they're paying a 15 percent tax rate on that and no payroll taxes, and somebody that fixes up the restroom is paying 15.3 percent in payroll taxes, just to start with. ... [The janitor] pays a higher tax rate than people who fix up companies (being paid) hundreds of millions of dollars annually in income."

This is totally upside down and unjust, and it's a direct result of our political/economic system being flawed.

Our system is set up so that rich, powerful special interests are overrepresented in legislation and tax policy. They pass their policies, like the bankruptcy bill a couple of years ago, that increase the tail end of their profits and incomes at the expense of poor and middle class consumers who can't pay their debts any more. They pass their upper-class tax cuts, they pass Medicare Part D with massive giveaways to drug companies, they pass their Wall Street bailouts and buy nonvoting shares of failing companies, they give no-bid defense contracts to wasteful companies.

And then they call people socialists for daring to suggest that their casino gambling on derivatives of derivatives of insurance on unsafe mortgages should be regulated, and that after the world economy collapses.

If our politics and capitalism were a just system, we could lie back and let the system work itself out. We could trust that the just rise and the unjust sink. But by almost any statistic you care to name, be it income gaps, wages, consumer buying power, bankruptcy and foreclosure rates, overall taxes as a percentage of income, or health care costs, and the list is pretty endless, our politics are lifting the rich on the backs of the poor.

So yes, measures that take from the discounted end of the wealth of rich people and pay it to the valuable end of the wealth of poor people, I see as corrective action pushing back against an unfortunately corrupt machine. I don't see the harm in taking an extra $5000 a year from someone who makes $250000 a year.

If you believe that we're supposed to sink or swim on our own, I can see why you would disagree. But I think the machine is out of control, the pendulum has swung way too far, and people who profit from imperfect systems should give back to those who don't.

As far as putting more cash into the hands of poor people (or spending it on services, like health care and education for the poor), I would rather give a few of the wrong people more money than deny it to all of them. It is the same kind of optimism that lies behind innocent until proven guilty: letting several guilty people go free lest one innocent should be punished. We should apply the same rigor to making sure that not one poor person should be disadvantaged by our systems, even if it means getting taken advantage of a little.

Getting your vote to count

So the election is almost over. Sarah and I voted last Thursday, so I have been kind of chilling on the whole thing. One very interesting thing happened when we went in. We had our voter registration cards, which clearly showed us registering with our current address on May 2 of this year. But we got in to the early voting place and we were not listed on the voter rolls.

At this point, a poll worker told us we could vote provisionally. She insisted it was just a paper ballot and there was no big difference. I told her that it made my vote less likely to be counted. See, for example, a recent article about Ohio's provisional voting situation, with my emphasis:

But the most likely source of litigation is the state’s heavy use of provisional ballots, which are issued when a voter’s identity or registration cannot immediately be verified or when polls stay open late. Ohio has a history of requiring large numbers of voters to use these ballots, which are easy to disqualify and are not counted until after the election.

“Provisional ballots are really the Achilles’ heel of our electoral process, because in a close race that is the pressure point lawyers use to try to undo the results,” said Edward B. Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University who is one of the nation’s foremost experts on voting litigation. “The larger the number of provisional ballots cast in a state, the more vulnerable the Achilles’ heel, and Ohio has for a couple of elections used more of these ballots than most any other state.”

Provisional ballots are second-class citizens in our electoral system. You are strongly advised to avoid casting one or treating it as a substitute for a real ballot.

Fortunately, I had taken two hours off of work and there were no lines. So I stuck to my guns and the poll workers called the central office (Secretary of State? I don't know). It turned out that Colorado switched its registration database or some such this year, and oopsie, my wife and I got lost in the shuffle. That's my fodder for conspiracy theories about election dirty tricks.

Frankly, after a couple of election cycles of this mess, I think we should treat elections as if we're conspiracy theorists. It is appalling that elections are not above reproach and a rational person like me can put on the tin-foil hat when it comes to voter registration snafus, provisional ballots, vote machine under-distribution in urban (minority, which is to say Democrat-dominated) neighborhoods, and the exhaustively documented security apocalypse that is the electronic voting machine and vote counting system. When you read What Went Wrong In Ohio and realize that not much, not enough has really changed in the last four years, you'll put on your tin-foil hat too.

Don't forget that David Iglesias, one of the US Attorneys fired by the Department of Justice for not being ideological and partisan enough, was fired specifically because he refused to bring suit against Democratic organizations prior to the 2006 elections for "voter registration fraud". Here he is on October 18:
David Iglesias says he's shocked by the news, leaked today to the Associated Press, that the FBI is pursuing a voter-fraud investigation into ACORN just weeks before the election.

"I'm astounded that this issue is being trotted out again," Iglesias told TPMmuckraker. "Based on what I saw in 2004 and 2006, it's a scare tactic." In 2006, Iglesias was fired as U.S. attorney thanks partly to his reluctance to pursue voter-fraud cases as aggressively as DOJ wanted -- one of several U.S. attorneys fired for inappropriate political reasons, according to a recently released report by DOJ's Office of the Inspector General.

Iglesias, who has been the most outspoken of the fired U.S. attorneys, went on to say that the FBI's investigation seemed designed to inappropriately create a "boogeyman" out of voter fraud.

We waited for several minutes while our registration was transferred manually from the old system to the new one. If this happens to a bunch of people on Tuesday, the polling place will be swamped. They finally printed our election labels. I expressed my thanks to the ladies who had worked to get us straightened out, and the one who had downplayed the significance of voting on paper said she was glad that we were getting to vote the way we wanted.

Completely missing the point.

I hope she watches the news when those provisional ballots go to the courts, as they well could in Colorado. It's possible that there will be enough provisional ballots cast to put the state's electoral votes in Limbo. The only way it wouldn't is if an Obama landslide puts the battleground states out of reach.

Again, be frank, be polite, but remember: Provisional ballots are second-class citizens in our electoral system. You are strongly advised to avoid casting one or treating it as a substitute for a real ballot.

I figured out a secret of this blogging thing. I have a few more things to say tonight, but I will put them in one post per topic...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obama becomes first African-American President of the United States

And so you know, I feel like I need to start foamulating my comment for November 5 when you post something about Obama winning the election. Do you think you could give me a sneak peek as to what that post might look like so I can start working on it now?

So Travis, that's how it's going to start... unless a completely unlikely catastrophe happens in the next 12 days, we'll have a historic end to this year's presidential election. In the immortal words of James Brown,
Hey, country
Didn't say what you meant
Just changed
Brand new funky President

I wait with bated breath to see what he will come up with large majorities in the Senate and House. We can expect a pragmatic liberal agenda.

One thing I think is getting lost in the foofaraw about the economic crisis is that the next president's challenge will not be to tighten the budget during a deep recession. Like was asked in all three debates, I think, "Dontcha wish your economy was hot like ME? Dontcha wish you didn't have to cutcha domestic agenda like ME? DONTCHA? DONTCHA?" That's not the function of government, as Hoover demonstrated with disastrous consequences during the Great Depression.

The next president will have to find creative ways to stimulate the economy. We do that by spending in lean times and saving in fat times. I read the other day that there's fairly strong evidence that we've been in a recession for a year now. FDR did it by creating massive public works projects, employing people and strengthening the fabric of the nation. I look at Obama's clean energy agenda as a similar win-win, a de-facto stimulus in an area that our country and the world as a whole desperately needs. The next president should have long-term goals to cut the deficit and start paying down the debt, just not right away. (This is a "fundamental difference" between the candidates: hint, one of them proposed "a spending freeze".)

There is little chance that McCain will be president. He has to run the table in a number of states where he is behind by double digits. A lot of people have already voted in early voting, in historic numbers, so he can't flip them. I keep saying it's over, but it's OVER. You can follow the electoral projections in mind-numbing statistical detail at and But it's over.

On the lighter side of the news... I did see Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. I heard from several people who only watched the cold open, where, in a Hamlet-like recursion of scenes, we watched Sarah Palin watching Sarah Palin give a press conference. Instead of feeling the ironic distance between Fey and Palin, like Hamlet's murderous uncle, we are meant to feel the essential identity between Fey's portrayal and Palin. Alec Baldwin's bit where he mistakes Palin for Fey pushes them even closer together.

But what you really just gotta, gotta see, is the second Palin segment. She's on Weekend Update with Seth Meyers, and she demurs, again, from doing her planned segment (in the script; she said something similar about not wanting to do the SNL press conference). So Amy Poehler busts out the Palin Gangsta Rap, which is like a greatest hits compilation:

She had a very passive role in everything that was being done to her. I agree that she was a good sport about being pilloried yet again, but wasn't the point to show a different side of Sarah Palin? And yet we didn't see much of one...

I don't think you balance a ticket by starting with a qualified candidate and balancing with an unqualified one. And McCain's flat-out lie on Don Imus does not make me confident about his judgment of her: "I think she is the most qualified of any that has run recently for vice president." This is totally off the wall.

More qualified than Biden? He's been a Senator for over three decades and chairs the Foreign Relations Committee.

More qualified than Al Gore, a Congressman and Senator for sixteen years before he became VP? (He went on to win the popular vote in 2000 and the Nobel Peace Prize, but it would be unfair to compare that record to Palin's while she still has a chance to go on to accomplish those things.)

More qualified than Jack Kemp of Dole/Kemp, who was a Congressman for the better part of twenty years, then Housing Secretary under the first president Bush?

More qualified than DICK CHENEY (Evil as he is)?

Stanford professor Larry Lessig did a video about a month ago comparing Palin's experience to every serving vice president in history. It makes this question of experience eminently obvious.

So why did McCain lie?

I'm being called away to The Office, more on your more substantive points later...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Let me get this in right before the debate. There was a question in the last presidential debate about whether health care should be a privilege, a responsibility, or a right. That is, should it be up to each person to do what they have to do to get health care or not, or should everyone be entitled to health care? (There's not actually much difference between calling it a privilege and calling it a responsibility. A privileged person explains that you don't have a privilege because you were irresponsible.)

This boils down again to the partisan divide on systems. A staunch Republican will say that we have set up a health care system that basically functions like a market. Over time, the system will derive appropriate health care costs. If you can't pay your health care costs under the system, the Republican finds fault with you, not with the system.

John McCain's health care plan revolves around you making even more decisions in the market, essentially driving a wedge between you and your employer-provided health care, cutting you loose with five grand to pay for an individual health plan. And if you can't do it because he didn't give you enough money, don't come crying to John McCain.

A Democrat like me would point out that the health care system we have has gotten stuck in a local maximum.

A free market functions well when consumer choices are real and varied. The choice of a consumer for one provider or another puts pressure on the other providers to improve value. But a free market breaks down in the face of an oligopoly, a market where there are few choices. An oligopoly, or monopoly, has strong incentives to lower value and raise prices because there is no competitive pressure. History abounds with examples.

Ask yourself whether we have a competitive health care market.

That's just one among many reasons that people can't pay the costs of health care. Democrats see that as a failure of the system, not a failure of the people. So first, we have to fix the system. An interesting way to do that might be to open the government health plan, the one that John McCain is on right now, to anyone who wants to join.

Making health care a right is a way of saying a few things: "We guarantee that the system will not chew you up and spit you out. We guarantee that you won't have to go bankrupt because of necessary medical care. We guarantee that you won't have to choose between food and prescriptions." And we're also saying that an America where any of those things can happen to you is not an America we can countenance.

My dad used to tell us about evangelizing in the inner city. He said they would hand out tracts wrapped around sandwiches. The idea was that there are needs more urgent than religion. Maybe sandwiches are not as important in the long run, but they certainly are in the short run.

Health care is like the sandwich. There's little point in talk about high-minded ideals like freedom of speech, religion, and press for people who do not have basic access to doctors and health services.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Troopergate explodes

I have been chewing over Tina's latest comment and I promise I actually have something constructive. But first:

On July 11, Ms. Palin fired Mr. Monegan, setting off a politically charged scandal that has become vastly more so since Ms. Palin became the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

By now, the outlines of the matter have been widely reported. Mr. Monegan believes he was ousted because he would not bow to pressure to dismiss Trooper Wooten. The Alaska Legislature is investigating the firing and whether the governor abused the powers of her office to pursue a personal vendetta. Its report is due Friday.

Ms. Palin has denied that anyone told Mr. Monegan to dismiss Trooper Wooten, or that the commissioner’s ouster had anything to do with him. But an examination of the case, based on interviews with Mr. Monegan and several top aides, indicates that, to a far greater degree than was previously known, the governor, her husband and her administration pressed the commissioner and his staff to get Trooper Wooten off the force, though without directly ordering it.

In all, the commissioner and his aides were contacted about Trooper Wooten three dozen times over 19 months by the governor, her husband and seven administration officials, interviews and documents show.

“To all of us, it was a campaign to get rid of him as a trooper and, at the very least, to smear the guy and give him a desk job somewhere,” said Kim Peterson, Mr. Monegan’s special assistant, who like several other aides spoke publicly about the matter for the first time.

Ms. Peterson, a 31-year veteran of state government who retired 10 days before Mr. Monegan’s firing, said she received about a dozen calls herself. “It was very clear that someone from the governor’s office wanted him watched,” she said.

Nor did that interest end with Mr. Monegan, the examination shows. His successor, Chuck Kopp, recalled that in an exploratory phone call and then a job interview, Ms. Palin’s aides mentioned the governor’s concerns about Trooper Wooten. None of the 280 other troopers were discussed, Mr. Kopp said.

NY Times, in the first of many many articles to come. This issue will dominate the headlines for the rest of the election.

Palin has more executive experience than McCain. Unfortunately, it was experience in abuse of power and politically motivating firing, then shifting stories and lies in the media, then a massive stonewall from Palin, then several attempts to quash by the McCain campaign.

I don't see how anyone could, in the cold light of reason, vote for this ticket.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Slice of life

One thing I actually retained from a class in French cinema about ten years ago was this: when film exploded, the early cameras, cinematographs, only had a short amount of film (46 seconds), so you could only do so much with your reel. A lot of those films were actualités, short slices of life, like a lot of blogs.

Here's what happened. I was out at the mall with Sarah, Alex, and a couple of grandparents. We had finished our swing through the department stores and were on our way out. Sarah's dad decided to duck into Eddie Bauer, which is right in front of a wishing well. I stayed with the stroller and helped Alex check it out without falling in. It's pretty, especially when the koi are in there. I didn't see them tonight.

While I was holding Alex, I noticed a couple of teens dressed in what I assume is the à la mode slacker/stoner fashion. I did not witness them doing drugs, but they might have earlier. It would explain a lot.

The one with long messy hair was fishing around in the fountain stealing coins, and picking them off the rocks. What happens to a wish deferred? I remember throwing coins into the same fountain (the part without the koi) when I visited for interviews, and later with Sarah on our house-hunting trip. The bleached blond dude might have been a lookout, but he wasn't doing much of a job.

I almost said something to the guys. Instead I stood there and thought about the example they were setting for my son. I didn't feel like they injured my sense of community... more like offended my sense of propriety. The nerve! I don't think Alex really understood though. No harm done.

Near the end, the guy stealing coins rolled up his sleeve at one point to put his arm way down in the muck. He looked through them for a second, then shook out the water and rolled the sleeve back down. Shortly thereafter, him and his friend headed towards Eddie Bauer.

From behind my left, two police officers appeared, following them, and motioned to three others coming from the right. They caught up with the kids right at the entrance. I didn't see or hear much of the conversation after that, but I did see them cuffing the blond kid as we left. I was surprised that it escalated to that level over what is basically pocket change. Maybe they were repeat offenders.

The part of the story that doesn't make sense to me is why in heaven's name they thought they would get away with it. If you can rely on people like me not to make an issue of it, that's one thing. But the fountain sits in the nerve center of the mall. It has 360 degrees of visibility on the floor and you can see it 360 degrees from the banistered walkways on the next floor up. It is next to the elevator to the food court. There is a lot of foot traffic.

Were they high? Maybe the blond kid got cuffed for possession?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

VP Debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin

For those who didn't get a chance, here is the debate on Google Video, and here is the transcript.

Joe Biden, debate word cloud:

Sarah Palin, debate word cloud:

I had some minor trouble watching the VP debate, as I suspected. Also, Palin's mannerisms and wordsmithing drove me up the wall. Also, probably the first use of "shout-out" in presidential election debate history. Also, those were little things. Well, at least they were to me. Also. As for conservative columnist Rich Lowry:

I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, "Hey, I think she just winked at me." And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. This is a quality that can't be learned; it's either something you have or you don't, and man, she's got it.

Palin does not seem to be as effective as some other treatments for this little problem, which promise to let you choose the moment that is right for you. But her presence in the McCain campaign now seems to be explained. Even justified. Demanded!

Ok, ok, enough jokes about the still-feisty, surely virile McCain, who despite his 72 years is as rambunctious and impulsive as ever. The real problems I had with Palin were never that she seemed incapable of stringing English sentences together, or wasn't winking enough.

The real problem with Palin on the issues is that when she was taken off her talking points into the details, or asked to give a nuanced judgment of an issue, she crashed and burned. And she didn't crash and burn because she was providing too much information. She crashed and burned because she had no context for the things she was talking about.

As Mr Willems was so fond of saying, meaning is contextual. When an idea, incident or word appears, it plays in the foreground against the contextual background. It locates itself among the nodes of a web of concepts. It means something because everything else means something.

That's why it was so brazen for Palin to say, early in the debate,

I'm still on the tax thing because I want to correct you on that again. And I want to let you know what I did as a mayor and as a governor. And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.

What she said was that she wasn't interested in maintaining a conversation. She would be responsive if she chose. And when necessary, she would disregard the context and launch into stream-of-consciousness mini-essays on American life. Okay, she didn't say that in so many words, but...

Here is one of the most bald-faced examples. Gwen Ifill began with the question to Biden, what would your administration look like if you were forced into the Presidency? Biden explained that he would carry Obama's torch, essentially, by focusing on the middle class, doing health care and clean energy, restoring a foreign policy focused on diplomacy and cooperation.

But this question is perhaps the key question about Palin, the one that matters more than any other. If we had a President Palin, what could we expect? Could she cut it? Rather than answer this question, Palin avoided it almost entirely, and none too smoothly veered off into the economy. I'll italicize the point when she really went off the rails. We begin a little into Palin's answer, without omitting much of the point:

PALIN: ... What I would do also, if that were to ever happen, though, is to continue the good work he is so committed to of putting government back on the side of the people and get rid of the greed and corruption on Wall Street and in Washington.

I think we need a little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street there, brought to Washington, D.C.

PALIN: So that people there can understand how the average working class family is viewing bureaucracy in the federal government and Congress and inaction of Congress.

Just everyday working class Americans saying, you know, government, just get out of my way. If you're going to do any harm and mandate more things on me and take more of my money and income tax and business taxes, you're going to have a choice in just a few weeks here on either supporting a ticket that wants to create jobs and bolster our economy and win the war or you're going to be supporting a ticket that wants to increase taxes, which ultimately kills jobs, and is going to hurt our economy.

BIDEN: Can I respond? Look, all you have to do is go down Union Street with me in Wilmington or go to Katie's Restaurant or walk into Home Depot with me where I spend a lot of time and you ask anybody in there whether or not the economic and foreign policy of this administration has made them better off in the last eight years. And then ask them whether there's a single major initiative that John McCain differs with the president on. On taxes, on Iraq, on Afghanistan, on the whole question of how to help education, on the dealing with health care.

Look, the people in my neighborhood, they get it. They get it. They know they've been getting the short end of the stick. So walk with me in my neighborhood, go back to my old neighborhood in Claymont, an old steel town or go up to Scranton with me. These people know the middle class has gotten the short end. The wealthy have done very well. Corporate America has been rewarded. It's time we change it. Barack Obama will change it.

IFILL: Governor?

PALIN: Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education and I'm glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right? I say, too, with education, America needs to be putting a lot more focus on that and our schools have got to be really ramped up in terms of the funding that they are deserving. Teachers needed to be paid more. I come from a house full of school teachers. My grandma was, my dad who is in the audience today, he's a schoolteacher, had been for many years. My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here's a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate.

Education credit in American has been in some sense in some of our states just accepted to be a little bit lax and we have got to increase the standards. No Child Left Behind was implemented. It's not doing the job though. We need flexibility in No Child Left Behind. We need to put more of an emphasis on the profession of teaching. We need to make sure that education in either one of our agendas, I think, absolute top of the line. My kids as public school participants right now, it's near and dear to my heart. I'm very, very concerned about where we're going with education and we have got to ramp it up and put more attention in that arena.

Yes, there was a moment later where Biden got emotional that was really raw and human, a great moment, and Palin kind of just talked over it. But for me, this was one of the bigger moments in the debate.

I don't know how much of it to unpack, so let me just summarize this way. A Palin presidency would, according to Palin, be a small-government presidency, engaged in eliminating greed and corruption from Wall Street with a little Main Street elbow grease. Biden points out that the Bush presidency wasn't good for Main Street, and John McCain didn't disagree with him much over the course of that presidency. Palin clearly struggles to respond, first saying that the past doesn't matter about as clumsily as possible, then seizing on one word in Biden's point to launch into another issue wholly removed from the preceding context, again about as clumsily as possible.

Why did she have so much trouble? Maybe because Biden was telling the truth in a way that is pretty hard to argue, at least without seeming completely out of touch. (McCain's agreement with Bush was positive for the country! Main Street is doing just fine! Main Street doesn't understand how great things are!) But also, I think, because Palin can't articulate the difference between the McCain vision and the Bush vision, and what McCain will do for the middle class that George Bush wouldn't, and how she might disagree with the policies of the last eight years, as a dyed-in-the-wool Washington outsider.

She couldn't hook into the last eight years, because she hasn't been plugged in for the last eight years. Her populist rhetoric ran dry pretty fast in the debate. Imagine how fast it would run dry in a four-year presidency.

I'm not saying Biden or Obama were perfect in their debates. But if you watch them fairly, you can definitely see their concerns playing out against their ideologies of support for the middle class, clean energy, and a responsible foreign policy. And for all that I disagree with McCain's trickle-down, belligerent alternative viewpoint, at least he has a viewpoint to speak of. And then there's Palin.

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Arcade Fire

I tape Austin City Limits on PBS and go through them when I have a chance. I've seen some really great ones. Recently, The Decemberists, Ray Davies, Van Morrison, The Raconteurs. Watch them yourself whenever you get a chance. Sometimes it's the best of new music, sometimes it's legendary acts like Bob Dylan.

I saw another band, new to me, about a week ago and it just blew me away: Arcade Fire. They're a seven-piece-plus band out of Montreal that plays all kinds of instruments and sings songs about those fundamental things: life and death, love, religion, culture. Their show was epic, and not just because they had a horn section, violins, and a gigantic pipe organ.

They sing and play with fiery passion. There were about ten people on stage playing their hearts out, then switching instruments between songs. They would sing even when they weren't next to a microphone.

I found all their albums at the library, so they've been getting a lot of listens lately. The Arcade Fire EP, Funeral, and Neon Bible. Highly recommended.

Friday, September 26, 2008

First presidential debate, Obama vs. McCain

He he. I saw Wolf Blitzer say on CNN post-debate (paraphrase), "We've been getting emails about why we interviewed Vice Presidential candidate Biden but not Sarah Palin. We tried to get Sarah Palin, we'd love to talk to Sarah Palin sometime... down the road... we did talk to Nicole Wallace, senior advisor to John McCain." Apparently Palin declined the invitation. Here's what she did instead.

Sarah and I watched the debate together. She was paying more attention when Jim Lehrer asked the candidates at the beginning of the debate not to talk to him, but address each other, so she noticed first when McCain didn't look at Obama. We're still not sure why McCain did that.

After that, I watched reasonably carefully, and I don't think McCain really looked at him until they shook hands after the debate was over. On a related note, Obama addressed McCain directly, calling him John and talking to him in the second person; McCain was all third person all the time.

Without belaboring the point, I got the feeling that McCain was not engaging. If you covered up Obama's side of the screen and edited McCain's segments together, it would look a bit like a speech. It would not look like give and take. Haven't we had enough of a President who does not listen?

I got another idea just now. McCain says "my friend/my friends" all the time when he is addressing people in public. Maybe if he'd said "my friend" to Obama it would've looked insincere and condescending, so they had to go as far away from the second person as possible.

Another thing I was kind of surprised to see was McCain being the angry old man. Was I the only one to think Grandpa Simpson when McCain started telling yet another story about how he'd visited a country, which makes him some kind of foreign policy genius? I failed to see the huge point of "I've been to Waziristan", beyond grandstanding. If it's really that important... would you pick a vice president who's never really traveled or been interested in these issues?

Famously, he also visited Iraq a year ago and said there "are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods, today". He spoke from experience. He had just walked through a neighborhood in Baghdad. Of course, he had a bulletproof vest, and he was escorted... by 100 soldiers, 3 Blackhawk helicopters, and 2 Apache gunships. Anyone can just go to countries... but actually learning something with open eyes takes a little more effort.

Back to the main line, "I don't think John McCain understands" how he dated himself when he started bringing up Kissinger and how long he'd been around, and telling stories from the Reagan era... like bringing up SDI (!) on the missile defense issue. I caught it, but I doubt most of the country did. And I still missed the point, ie why he actually brought it up.

McCain came off as a get-off-my-lawn condescending old guy to me... I think that will not help his chances.

As for Obama, I thought he respected the format better than McCain. He wasn't always as firm as I would like in responding to McCain. He didn't quite bring up McCain's long record of financial services deregulation. Nor did he ask what victory and defeat mean in what is now, after all, not a war but an occupation of Iraq. But overall, a pretty solid performance, and that's probably all he needed.

Maybe I'll have some more deep thoughts later.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Your tax dollars at work

If you've been having trouble following the soap opera that is the market bailout (there is no Wall Street anymore, there are no extant investment banks, so I feel funny calling it the Wall Street Bailout), Krugman has a good catch-up post bringing us up to Wednesday. Here are some highlights. If you're interested, read the whole thing.

Before I explain the apparent logic here, let’s talk about how governments normally respond to financial crisis: namely, they rescue the failing financial institutions, taking temporary ownership while keeping them running. If they don’t want to keep the institutions public, they eventually dispose of bad assets and pay off enough debt to make the institutions viable again, then sell them back to the private sector. But the first step is rescue with ownership.

That’s what we did in the S&L crisis; that’s what Sweden did in the early 90s; that’s what was just done with Fannie and Freddie; it’s even what was done just last week with AIG. It’s more or less what would happen with the Dodd plan, which would buy bad debt but get equity warrants that depend on the later losses on that debt.

But now Paulson and Bernanke are proposing, very nearly, to do the opposite: they want to buy bad paper from everyone, not just institutions in trouble, while taking no ownership. In fact, they’ve said that they don’t want equity warrants precisely because they would lead financial institutions that aren’t in trouble to stay away. So we’re talking about a bailout specifically designed to funnel money to those who don’t need it.


So, three points:

1. They’re still offering something for nothing. ...
2. They’re asserting that Treasury and the Fed know true values better than the market. ...
3. Even if it works, the system will remain badly undercapitalized. ...

Palin's interviews keep getting worser and worserer. I'm having to invent parts of speech just to keep up with them. Seriously, no VP candidate should make you cringe when they talk about the issues. Listen when Palin talks about McCain's record on deregulation (near the end, I think).

I view McCain's "campaign suspension" (TV ads, stump speech at Clinton Global Initiative, and surrogates all over the news media notwithstanding) and flight to Washington as a jump-the-shark moment. I thought the election was over when I found out who Sarah Palin was... I keep thinking the election is over. Expect more shark-jumping as the polls get worse for him. I said earlier that Bush has governed by jumping from crisis to crisis and I believe McCain is campaigning from crisis to crisis.

Monday, September 22, 2008

She's real fine, my 419

I got this email in my inbox. Not sure where it started, but it's an important message for all Americans.

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The sky is always falling

The story of this presidency, repeating as tragedy and farce: Crisis X is mounting and will cause the end of Western Civilization. Emergency Plan Y must be put into effect this week or we are all DOOMED. Anyone who looks askance at Y is dangerously naive and will be the first up against the wall when X hits the fan.

Y has been, variously, putting domestic communications in the hands of the NSA, the PATRIOT Act, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the perpetrators of 9/11, invading a country without a casus belli, torturing the innocent and the guilty in our public and secret prisons, putting enemy combatants outside of the purview of the justice system, sending untracked cash to the money pit that was the Iraq Reconstruction...

This week, Y equals a 700 billion dollar bailout for Wall Street, run by the Secretary of the Treasury, with actions not reviewable, period. Here's the draft:

Sec. 8. Review.

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

I read The Big Picture and Infectious Greed to stay informed on the markets and the economy, and so should you. There are many many problems with this corporate welfare, but here's the obvious one: this is a replay of the Iraq Reconstruction, only instead of sending pallets of cash to God-Knows-Who, we taxpayers are sending pallets of cash to honest-to-God Wall Street fat cats, no strings attached.

Like the other Xs, the crisis is overblown, but we are being asked not to take time to think things through. Like the other Ys, the solution is half-baked and likely to be counter-productive in the long run, and hands over power to an unaccountable elite.

Chicken Little is our President. The sky is always falling: it is in stable geosynchronous orbit. We don't govern anymore. Instead, we continuously manage our way from crisis to crisis. There is no normal. Heart rates are always up, blood is always pounding through our brain, fight or flight. We have no long-term vision for policy, just tunnel vision.

This is one of my criticisms of the Democrats. On issues like this one, they aren't liberal and wonky enough. They don't get their dander up and stand firm against the excesses of the latter-day conservative movement, and, more importantly, they don't deconstruct the fear-mongering that spins us from emergency to crisis to apocalypse.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A few quick things

  • The content browser for Spore is very exciting. You can spend hours on it... Here are two takes on WALL-E.

  • The first one was done in the creature editor. The second one was in one of the vehicle editors. The thing to blow your mind is, somebody did that vehicle one since Sunday... and it probably took a couple of hours at most. It's introducing a whole generation to 3-D modeling and design...
  • Clueless governor department. See if you can spot my issues with her first big interview...

I'm almost done with Suskind's book. A review is imminent.

A must-see post-convention McCain interview

Watch McCain twist and dodge real, tough questions from a smart, respectful, hard-hitting reporter. Also, McCain flat out lies: "She [Palin] knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America." This one is a must-see. I would embed it, but it plays automatically when the page loads.

And incidentally, contra McCain in the interview, Obama did famously break with his party and most everybody else in what you'd have to say is one of the better calls of the last several years.

Now let me be clear — I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.

He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

From an anti-Iraq War speech, October 2, 2002

Good Morning America covering Troopergate

Trouble a-brewing. Sarah put on the TV this morning. Good Morning America aired an ABC News investigation that covered Palin, Monegan's testimony, his witness and emails that he was sent about the trooper. In other words, hard evidence...

You know what they say. If you've lost Good Morning America, it's over.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I got Spore on Sunday, like many other people in North America.

As you may know, there are several stages of life as we know it. Spore splits them into Cell (really bacteria, I suppose), Creature, Tribe (the beginning of sentience), Civilization (politics), and finally Space. At each stage, you customize your body, tribe (probably the weakest), buildings, and vehicles with almost endless variety in 3D editors that are years ahead of the state-of-the-art (they kind of invented their own state-of-the-art). There are various goals that you pursue in the first levels to proceed up the evolutionary ladder, such as subduing or befriending tribes, or eating things.

The reviews have been mixed so far. Everyone thinks that the content creation tools are great. Everyone who is playing is automatically uploading their content to central servers, which then spread them back out to all the players' individual games. There were 4 million shared objects in that database last weekend, the creature creator having been released a couple of months ago. Today, less than a week after the release, there are 12 million creatures, buildings, and vehicles in there (and no, that figure is not going to stand up if you read this post a week from now). And there is some stuff that is totally unreal coming out of it, like animals that look like cars, as well as more humdrum creatures with two arms, two legs, two ears, two eyes, etc (of course, a lot of people are trying to make Homer Simpson and all their favorite characters, so it's not as humdrum as all that). Here's my page of stuff.

But the goal-based gameplay in the first few levels is kind of dumb. I started on Easy, and it was pretty impossible to screw up (I still managed to die three times on Tribal phase). You'll pick it up pretty fast and get on your merry way shortly. But a lot of hardcore gamers didn't like this. They wanted a challenge from the get-go, and the gameplay lacked the kind of depth they are used to in the various genres that Spore pays homage to: Diablo-type third-person action games, Starcraft-type real-time strategy, and Civilization-type world-conquest games.

It is becoming more obvious to me now that the gameplay was made deliberately easy in those first four stages for two reasons: one, for the creative people who love to make stuff but could care less about being challenged, the gameplay was made simple enough not to get in their way; two, the first four stages are not much more than a glorified tutorial for the awe-inspiring Space stage, and the game designers wanted everyone to get there.

The Space Stage is one of those gaming experiences that hearkens back to the best of the grand strategy games, the Star Controls and the Civs, the buy-low, sell-high of Drug Wars, the space exploration of VGA planets... it brings some new things into the mix too, in modeling planets with food webs, atmospheres, and temperature. For some reason, I am really enjoying terraforming worlds and filling them with flourishing species.

Each world that supports life can have any combination of those animals, vehicles, and buildings, and can be at any of those stages of evolution that you passed through. There are (hundreds of?) thousands of stars in the galaxy, and several worlds per star... you could never see everything. It beggars the imagination.

I recommend starting on Easy. It will help you learn the ropes. I had many aha moments as I went through that will help me a lot on the second time through. I don't know if I'm going to finish the story part of the game, first time through. I am tempted to take what I know and start over, ready for a bit easier time of it.

I recommend it highly for anyone ready to get creative, have their mind expanded, and invest a lot of time. I spent about six hours just getting to Space the first time (it would be a lot faster second time around), and Space, the galaxy, is basically an endless playground.

PS There is a kind of protest going on about the digital rights management (DRM) the game distributor, EA, put on Spore. If I understand it, it only allows you to install the software on three computers, then you have to call in and prove you purchased the software somehow to keep installing it. It also phones home with your license key every time you connect to EA's servers for content.

A lot of people saw this as pointless, because you could download the software from various Bittorrent establishments on the day it came out. That is, the DRM only harms legitimate customers who went out and bought the game, while doing nothing to stem piracy.

Thus, for starters, people started giving Spore one-star reviews on Amazon. It has 2133 reviews, 1961 of which are one-stars. If you didn't read around, you wouldn't know about the critical acclaim it has received (with the caveats I mentioned above). It's a five-star game in my book.

Has the DRM hurt sales of this great game? I think so... I hope the end result is that the DRM is removed, that's a win-win. I am not a fan of DRM in any of its forms, I just couldn't help myself on this purchase.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Palin and the Presidency

I don't know a better way to respond to the comments substantively than promoting them to the front page. I hope my commenters don't mind...

OK Dan. Obviously last week I agreed whole-heartedly with you. Now, I'm in the McCain camp, and you can thank Sarah Palin for that.
I've also been putting a lot of thought into what the Biblical role of government should be. Is it really to be a provider? Shouldn't the church be doing that? Shouldn't we be afraid of a government that becomes so large that it could take everything away from us? Shouldn't we care about our national security enough to elect somebody that has a proven record of defending our freedom?

Maybe I'm one of those people that is easliy tossed about by the waves of politial hype...but I always kind of knew in the back of my head that I was being rebellious by supporting Obama...I'm not convinced he has my best interests in mind, I now have a hard time with the idea that by voting for him, I'm aligning myself with the downright nasty far-left liberal press, like the writers for the Huffington Post that smeared Sarah Palin's daughter for being pregnant - as if it's any of their business what happens in her family.

McCain's choice of Palin, in my opinion, shows that he is one that is not afraid to buck the establishment of Washington. The guy really is a Maverick and an American Hero. I want him represrenting me and fighting for my freedom. Can't wait for his speech tonight. I'll be praying for your mind to change! :) (Just kidding. I respect your opinion. Keep up the discussion!)

Travis, first, thanks for writing and for what you said a few posts ago. Sarah and I appreciate your support and interest. There are a lot of interesting points here. I will answer a few, in a spirit of frankness and friendship. Nothing I say next is meant to offend, I just call it like I see it.


I think it would be good to judge McCain's vice-presidential pick in the fullness of time. There are substantial reasons that I disapprove of Palin as a presidential pick. They go far beyond her private life.

The most obvious reason for me is a scandal called "Troopergate", where it is fairly obvious and well-reported that:
  1. Palin abused her office as governor to try to get an enemy of her family fired
  2. then fired the Public Safety Commissioner when he wouldn't fire said enemy (a state trooper)
  3. when the fired guy came forward, Palin denied everything, then was forced to change her story when hard evidence came out (one of the conversations was recorded)
  4. then (arguably) interfered with the congressional investigation of her abuse of power, and
  5. has now lawyered up and refused to testify to the same investigation.
If you can get past the left-leaning polemic, you can read a pretty concise description of all this in more detail, as part of a post here. The investigation is currently scheduled to release its findings just before the election. I'm sure we'll be hearing more about it in the coming weeks.

On a more general level, I think Palin is not, realistically, ready to be President. That's what we ask of the Vice President. A couple of months ago, she said she didn't really want the VP job
"until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day. I’m used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration. We want to make sure that that VP slot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans and for the things that we’re trying to accomplish up here. ..."
If she didn't know what the VP does, how can we possibly think she's ready to be President?

A few months ago, she had no real position on the Iraq troop surge, preferring to talk in platitudes:
Alaska Business Monthly: We've lost a lot of Alaska's military members to the war in Iraq. How do you feel about sending more troops into battle, as President Bush is suggesting?

Palin: I've been so focused on state government, I haven't really focused much on the war in Iraq. I heard on the news about the new deployments, and while I support our president, Condoleezza Rice and the administration, I want to know that we have an exit plan in place; I want assurances that we are doing all we can to keep our troops safe. Every life lost is such a tragedy. I am very, very proud of the troops we have in Alaska, those fighting overseas for our freedoms, and the families here who are making so many sacrifices.

I had a position on the troop surge (it was all hat and no cattle; no political gains in Iraq have been seen; American soldiers dying for short-term gains in physical security), and I was just making software. The real point for me is that this lady does not have awareness of the world around her. She is not curious about a subject that marched up and down the front pages for months. Yes, she will get coached to agree with John McCain's policy positions, but... I'll make a prediction, she makes a foreign policy gaffe, a real howler, in the near future (I'd say the next two, three weeks but I don't know when the McCain campaign is going to let reporters start talking to her). And she'll do it because she has never really been interested in this stuff.

We have already had an incurious, ignorant, inexperienced, showy, jes folks governor in a Presidential election, and it has been a pure nightmare for our foreign policy. We have lost our standing in the world and the moral high ground, not to mention blood and treasure. Sarah Palin is fool me twice; we should not do this again. (Watch the video where Campbell Brown lays into Tucker Bounds of the McCain campaign, asking what foreign policy experience or qualifications to be Commander in Chief Sarah Palin has. Spoiler: none, which makes the four-minute video quite entertaining in a painful sort of way.)

That's why I don't like the Palin pick, for starters... but no one really knows how deep the rabbit hole goes on Palin, because she was not vetted deeply by the McCain campaign before she was picked. There have been an explosion of stories in the last week on Palin because she was a complete unknown. Everyone wants to know about her, so everything is news.

(Special bonus video: Republicans on MSNBC caught talking off-mike about the Palin pick. Includes a swear.)


I too prefer to focus on substantive issues, not who's having whose baby. Focusing on the bad behavior of the fringes, though, Travis, is no way to decide what "side" you prefer to be on. I don't tar pro-life people with the same brush that I do the terrorists who bomb abortion clinics; you shouldn't tar Democrats, liberals, progressives with the same brush that you do the scandal-mongers at Huffington Post (especially when Obama said specifically that no one should be doing these kinds of stories).

And let me point out that "by voting for him, I'm aligning myself with the downright nasty far-left liberal press" has an equal and opposite argument; if you vote for McCain, you're on the side of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Karl Rove... you can read all the nasty quotes from them you want on Here's a famous one from Coulter:
  • Of course I regret it. I should have added 'after everyone had left the building except the editors and the reporters.'
Don't let irresponsible journalists on either side of the political divide cloud the real issues.


The role of government is a real issue. Here's an example that comes to mind often in this context. There are plenty of statistics that bear out my position that the health insurance industry shows signs of too little government involvement (and that's an understatement). If you have a catastrophic health event without health insurance, you'll lose your home and all your money. It's the leading cause of bankruptcy in America. It's a system that lets unfortunate people drown when they fall off the boat. The profit motive is screwing with health outcomes that would have been otherwise if care had been granted. There is no profit for the insurance industry in waking up and caring for more people, so the system is hardly likely to change now because of market pressure.

In general, churches don't provide you with insurance if you have none. Churches don't pay those bankruptcy-level medical bills for each of its members. There are some issues that are too big for one community to solve, that demand collective action.

The government's role, I think, is not to create so-called fair systems (like laissez-faire markets) and watch people sink or swim within them (and when they sink, say, "the system chewed you up and spat you out, you must not have been good enough, all's fair"). The federal government can improve systems and should step in when any system goes haywire, be it the regulation of energy traders (see Enron), accountants (Arthur Andersen), oil companies (profiteering), military contractors (Halliburton), pollutants (Clean Air Act), subprimes... deregulation or lax regulation in all these arenas has damaged the public good to the profit of a few. When we all say no to that, we want the government to lay down those laws.

Am I in favor of a strong central government? I am not in favor of wholesale surveillance and the erosion of privacy; I am not in favor of unaccountable strong police powers; I am not in favor of the unaccountable unitary executive being able to ignore the legislature on national security. To my mind, there is a big difference between having effective, nationwide (even nationalized?) social programs and having effective, nationwide social control. Somehow the Republicans became in favor of the latter and opposed to the former. I think that's upside down and we need to change it.

As for McCain on national security... that will have to wait for next time. Another can of worms.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Obama at the Democratic National Convention

  • The thing I liked best about Obama's acceptance speech at the convention was its emphasis on the progressive vision of the government: essentially, the pendulum has swung too far from "united we stand" to "divided we fall". You can find the speech on mp3 here. It's not much different than watching the video, I think, which is here. It was really decent and inspiring, a real way out of the world of the Bush Administration.
  • The Bush government has faith in the impersonal fairness of systems like world markets, corporate America, the insurance industry, the No Child Left Behind accountability algorithms, realpolitik, no fly lists, data mining of your phone and internet traffic. If you somehow get ground between the gears of the systems, obviously you're doing something wrong. And the people on top deserve to be there. All is right with the world...
  • Meanwhile, in the machine, us ground-up people can decide whether we want to be cooked in someone else's hamburger and served for lunch, or whether this is not in fact the way things should be.
  • There is nothing shameful about leaving behind 99 sheep to save the one that's falling through the cracks. There is nothing shameful about selling your property and giving the proceeds to the poor. There is nothing shameful about providing safety from the catastrophes of our modern era, guarantees that there is a way out.
  • If you're in jail, you should get a habeas corpus writ. If you're sick, you should be insured in such a way that you won't go bankrupt. If you're poor, you should get the help you need to stand on your own two feet. If you're on the no-fly list, you should be able to challenge your presence on the list. If you've profited from the machine, you should pay for those who haven't. If you're well, you should care for the sick. If you're free, you should visit those in prison.
  • As Obama said:
  • It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it.

    For over two decades, he's subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy — give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is that you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. You're on your own. No health care? The market will fix it. You're on your own. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps — even if you don't have boots. You are on your own.

    Well it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America. And that's why I'm running for president of the United States.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mark responds

First of all, how I even found this blog: Your basic followed links from a friend, followed those links and etc, somehow ended up here a while back and again recently.

Didn't mean to hit quite that hard of a nerve, still not sure why you have reacted so strongly. I didn't make the point I was hoping to make very well, here is what I really meant...

Based upon what I'd read in your blog, it seemed clear, to me at least, that you would never vote for McCain, quite the contrary, I'd expected you to be a rather enthusiastic Obama supporter. So, to read that something caused McCain to lose your vote seemed out of place, given that I never believed he had your vote in the first place. What you wrote seemed more like an excuse to not vote for him versus a reason. In some sense it seemed like you weren't being honest with yourself, when it seems so clear to me that you'd never really vote for McCain anyway.

The point had nothing, in substance, to do with comparing abortion to torture (but not possible to tell from my short comment) and the paradox that seems obvious; given that you embrace abortion, at least to some extent, but have zero tolerance for torture.

If I am mistaken and McCain truly did lose your vote, let me recommend looking to a third party candidate. I haven't voted for a major party Presidential candidate in many elections. There is a profound psychological barrier that causes us to want to vote for a winner, that if more people could overcome, the tight grip of the major two parties could be freed, I can only dream that could ever happen!

First, thank you, Mark, for giving me a second try. I do have strong feelings on these subjects, but you bit the bullet and wrote some more. Between watching Obama speak tonight and your comments, I've had a few more thoughts.

It is true that I have been a Democrat for a while now. A perusal of the posts tagged "politics" on this blog makes that clear. And it's true that I probably would have voted against another Republican administration even before having any specific beefs with their Presidential candidate. If the Democrats had put out a real dog, maybe I would have reconsidered. (Was Edwards a dog for cheating on his wife and lying about it to the press? I don't know.)

I have been listening to the Denver convention speeches off and on. One thing that really surprised me was hearing the critiques of the Bush Administration. They started to really move me, even bring tears to my eyes. It wasn't because I am enthralled by fully funding Headstart (which is nevertheless a good idea). It's because I started to realize that the Bush Administration will really be over. I feel profoundly tired of Bush, not just because he had terrorists in prisons tortured (and whoops, some of those terrorists turned out to be innocent nobodies caught up in random sweeps). My brain gets fried just thinking about the endless list... * Okay, that's totally derailing my train of thought.

I've been positive about Obama since I read this blog post. I preferred him to Clinton in the primaries, certainly. So it's true John McCain would have had an uphill struggle for my vote from the start.

But there's a difference between failing to win my vote and flushing it down the toilet, and that's what John McCain did with his position on torture.

A few months ago I went over McCain's cynical flip-flop on torture. The comparison of his position today (google [mccain torture] for an endless series of articles) and his editorial of 2005, neatly interwoven with lessons from his POW experience, should convince any disinterested observer that he has abandoned his principles on torture.

Why did I care so much? Here's one answer, an old editorial from 2005 that sums it up well, I think. Not torturing people should be a no-brainer for all of us. It's cruel and unusual. It victimizes both the torturer and the tortured. It turns human dignity inside out. And in the case of our prisoners, it's done to people who are completely helpless to harm us.

Not institutionalizing the torture of people should be even more obvious. Not normalizing torture in the public discourse as one option among many for dealing with foreign POWs... how did we even get to this point? It's like waking up one morning to find that the city government has reinstituted human sacrifices to Moloch, or that they're serving human brains at the diner. Every time I write about this, I feel crazy that we are even discussing it.

All that said, why react so strongly when Mark called partial-birth abortion torture and said I would probably find it in my heart to forgive Obama for holding pro-choice positions, even though I couldn't for John McCain? I think it's because I read an accusation that I was being inconsistent into Mark's comment. That is, I care about torture issues when it suits me and ignore them when it doesn't. It's OK If You're A Democrat. I take that personally because I have integrity and I want to be consistent, especially on the thoughts and issues that actually mean something to me.

I will say that I think the issues are different in kind. Torture is a black-and-white moral issue that cuts across political party, moral upbringing, geography. Before George W Bush practically everyone held very strong feelings against it. It is basically a crime against our common humanity. Now something like half hold the same feelings and the other half concoct excuses, but the same moral revulsion is hanging around.

Abortion, on the other hand, pits the life and dignity of the mother against the life and dignity of the fetus. There is a grey area here that is not going to go away (until we can switch on and off our fertility at will, or bring babies to term in artificial womb machines; see Lois McMaster Bujold's sf for more of this bewildering future). People disagree honestly and in good faith about what should be legal and illegal when it comes to it.

Here's Obama's position on partial-birth abortion, close to my own. It's a legitimate compromise in circumstances where people disagree.
On an issue like partial birth abortion, I strongly believe that the state can properly restrict late-term abortions. I have said so repeatedly. All I've said is we should have a provision to protect the health of the mother, and many of the bills that came before me didn't have that.

Part of the reason they didn't have it was purposeful, because those who are opposed to abortion have a moral calling to try to oppose what they think is immoral. Oftentimes what they were trying to do was to polarize the debate and make it more difficult for people, so that they could try to bring an end to abortions overall.

As president, my goal is to bring people together, to listen to them, and I don't think that's any Republican out there who I've worked with who would say that I don't listen to them, I don't respect their ideas, I don't understand their perspective. And my goal is to get us out of this polarizing debate where we're always trying to score cheap political points and actually get things done.
Source: Fox News Sunday: 2008 presidential race interview Apr 27, 2008 (link)

When I read something like that, I understand that it's a messy compromise that has to be struck in our pluralist society. Partial-birth abortion restrictions without exceptions for the life of the mother amount to demanding that other people immolate themselves on the altar of our principles. I don't think it's clear that we can or should make that demand, much less enshrine it in law. I would hardly call this an embrace of abortion, but I'll let it stand. I am not a fan of abortion, but I am a fan of leaving abortions legal.

When I compare issues like the normalization of torture and the legalization of abortion, I see a large difference of kind. If you don't, maybe we'll agree to disagree. Anyhow, that's my take on whether or not Obama would lose my vote for his partial-birth abortion stance, owing to my strong objections to torture: No. But no hard feelings, I was glad to articulate that and think about it.

There's also a question here about whether I am a one-issue voter. Have I lost my objectivity? Am I being narrow-minded? Well, if it comes to that, I feel happy with an Obama vote for many reasons, and unhappy with a McCain vote for other reasons. Mark is right, though, that I might be rationalizing here... maybe I think McCain's age is the real issue, which prejudice might reflect badly on me, but this torture thing provides a good cover for my real motives. Maybe that is less plausible now that you've got an idea of what I think about this.

Instead, I think the torture flipflop provides a window onto his character. It is located in a constellation of similar panders and locksteps by McCain, which make me all the more sure that he has abandoned his principles here. It is simply a catastrophe of misjudgment, magnified by his own experience at the hands of his torturers.

The way I see it, if you need more examples, they exist... but that one is enough for me.

As for voting for a third-party candidate...
From the sky comes a scream, as Homer is crashing right into the Capitol. A few footsteps later, he comes running down the stairs.

Homer: America, take a good look at your beloved candidates. They're nothing but hideous space reptiles. [unmasks them]
[audience gasps in terror]
Kodos: It's true, we are aliens. But what are you going to do about it? It's a two-party system; you have to vote for one of us.
Man1: He's right, this is a two-party system.
Man2: Well, I believe I'll vote for a third-party candidate.
Kang: Go ahead, throw your vote away.
[Kang and Kodos laugh out loud]
[Ross Perot smashes his "Perot 96" hat]

The next day, Kodos announces the result: "All hail, President Kang."

The field in front of the Capitol has now become a working ground where humans are whipped by aliens and used to carry materials.

The Simpsons family is working too, with Homer and the kids carrying wood, and Marge pushing a wheelbarrow of cinderblocks -- with Maggie on top.

Marge: I don't understand why we have to build a ray gun to aim at a planet I never even heard of.
Homer: Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos.

I think the best way to fix this is to fix the system so third parties have an easier time getting a foothold, for instance by lowering the vote threshold (5%, as this article on Nader mentions in passing) for parties to qualify for federal public funding of their campaigns. But being in the swing state of Colorado, I just can't afford to risk my vote on electing the Republican by default, not this time around... and besides, I think Obama will do a good job.

Hopefully that is not too much bloviating... we now return you to your regularly scheduled blog. And thanks again to Mark for raising the level of the discourse.

* US attorneys getting fired for political reasons (even during active investigations of the people they were getting fired by!?), refusing clearances to OPM lawyers investigating the executive branch, burning a CIA agent working on nuclear nonproliferation issues, and that to get revenge against someone who called BS on their case for going to war, aides stonewalling in contempt of Congress, the unitary theory of executive power, signing statements defying the rule of law, not to mention the shifting and ultimately groundless arguments for invading and occupying a country preemptively, the Katrina debacle, committing multiple felonies by illegally wiretapping internet and phone traffic in contravention of FISA... and those are just the lowlights that come immediately to mind. Wasn't there some stuff about illegal propaganda from the Pentagon? Illegal hiring practices at DOE? Missing emails not turned over? Abramoff? Using off-the-reservation email accounts... it just doesn't stop...