Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Teaching Treasure

As I was driving to work yesterday, I caught part of a talk radio interview with Foothill College astronomy instructor Andrew Fraknoi. I've been listening to this guy for decades, and every time I hear him, I am bowled over by his unflagging enthusiasm for astronomy and his supreme ability to convey complex scientific concepts in strikingly clear and simple terms. He's a science teaching treasure, and I wish he had wider media exposure, the way Carl Sagan did, and that there were more teachers like him not only in the sciences, but also in other disciplines such as philosophy and integral spirituality.

I also wish there were more people like him in all walks of life, gushing with enthusiasm not only for their work but for life in general, and radiant with benevolence and a love for learning.

I think we all benefit from having role models, and Andrew Fraknoi is one of mine.

A PBS interview with Andrew Fraknoi

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Quote of the Day

I have no sympathy for Madoff. But the fact is, his alleged Ponzi scheme was only slightly more outrageous than the “legal” scheme that Wall Street was running, fueled by cheap credit, low standards and high greed. What do you call giving a worker who makes only $14,000 a year a nothing-down and nothing-to-pay-for-two-years mortgage to buy a $750,000 home, and then bundling that mortgage with 100 others into bonds — which Moody’s or Standard & Poors rate AAA — and then selling them to banks and pension funds the world over? That is what our financial industry was doing. If that isn’t a pyramid scheme, what is?
--Thomas Friedman

Searching For a Way Through It All

These are scary times economically. I want to believe that things won't get too bad, but it's a struggle when knowledgeable people such as Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, and Robert Reich keep telling us how apprehensive they are.

Then there are the real prophets of doom such as Gerald Celente. He ominously predicts the imminent end of the world as we know it or, at least, of the United States as economic chaos inexorably engulfs us in the worst depression any living person has ever seen and produces catastrophic unemployment, poverty, hunger, and mob violence.

When I first heard Celente speak on Coast to Coast AM, I thought he was some kind of crackpot, albeit an articulate one, gearing his message to a listening audience filled with crackpots. But then I found out that respectable people take his economic and social forecasts seriously.

Then I read articles like this in Robert Reich's blog about how the leaders of the financial institutions and the "Big Three" auto manufacturers believe that our economic woes are less the result of bad business policies than they are of inevitable economic cycles and that as soon as the current situation improves, they will return to business as usual if we let them. Reich writes:
Right now, Wall Street and Detroit are willing to say whatever they need to say to keep the taxpayer money coming. But when the economy begins turning up, my betting is that their Washington lobbyists will push back hard against any major restructurings the government wants to impose on them. New regulations of Wall Street will be watered down and circumvented; new requirements on the Big Three for green technologies will be resisted.

Yet the bailouts have been sold to the public as means toward fundamental change in finance and autos. If the bailouts are to do what they're supposed to – stop Wall Street from wild risk-taking with piles of borrowed money, and push the auto industry into making fundamentally new products that conserve energy -- Washington will not only have to set strict standards now and in the months ahead when the bailout money flows, but also hang tough when the economy begins to revive.

I read things like this, and my hopefulness suffers further decline. For even if we manage to climb out of this economic mess before too long, it sounds to me as though the policies that got us here will resume, and we'll find ourselves in another and possibly worse mess before terribly long. Either that or these economic upheavals really are cyclical and there's nothing we can do to prevent them. Neither prospect instills optimism.

Yet I try to remain optimistic that, individually and collectively, we can find our way through these trying times and learn enough to prevent or, at least, delay and soften future ones. I'm looking to find my way.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Quote of the Day

Let Michael Moore point out, entirely correctly, the close ties between the Saudis and the Bush family, and he’s blasted as a crazy conspiracy theorist. On the other hand, let Donald Luskin suggest, in 2004, that George Soros is planning to engineer a financial crisis to defeat Bush, and he gets to publish front-page articles in the Washington Post Outlook section declaring that there isn’t a recession.
--Paul Krugman

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Quote of the Day

If TARP is a slush fund, everything's arbitrary. We're no longer a nation of laws; we're a nation of Treasury and White House officials with hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money to dispense as they see fit.
--Robert Reich

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Quote of the Day

Seriously, we are in very deep trouble. Getting out of this will require a lot of creativity, and maybe some luck too.
--Paul Krugman

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rambo House

In the late 1980's, an exciting stickfighting scene between John Rambo and his opponent in a ring in Thailand was featured in the movie Rambo III. This scene has special significance for my wife and her family because it was filmed at her house in Bangkok where she grew up. Her family still owns the property, although most of them no longer live there. However, they continue to call it the "Rambo House."

The scene took several days to set up and film, requiring modifications to be made to the building, where my wife's family business built boats, in which the fight took place. After the fight, Rambo gets on a boat and heads up the river from the same spot from which my wife used to travel almost every day to school or work.

Of course, my wife's family was paid for the use of their property, and they certainly enjoyed having the biggest movie star in the world at that time filming a major motion picture in their yard. Below is almost the complete scene, courtesy of the miraculous resource YouTube.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Muslim Silence

Why have Muslim organizations, very quick to protest insulting cartoons, been mostly silent about the atrocities in Mumbai?
--Camille Paglia

Why, indeed.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Like Father, Like Son

L. Subramaniam is one of the finest violinists on the planet, and it looks like his son is following in his footsteps.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Economic Double-Think

There's kind of a weird double-think involved in arguments that the slump should be allowed to follow its natural course. It's true that classical economics says that we should let market forces do their work; but classical economics also says that severe recessions can't happen. This idea that we must not intervene is based on a worldview that is refuted by the very fact that the economy is in the mess it's in.
--Paul Krugman

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Overcoming Poverty of the Spirit

And I marveled to find that at last I loved you and not some phantom instead of you; and I did not hesitate to enjoy my God, but was ravished to you by your beauty.
– Saint Augustine

To deepen our love, to unify our desires, the Lord – the Self within – on occasion gives us a fleeting taste of the joy of union. Once we taste this joy, all we want is to be permanently aware of him in everyone, everywhere, every minute. This intense longing is the mark of genuine spiritual experience.

At the same time we experience the joy of union, we see clearly the great mass of self-will that weighs us down and keeps us from our most cherished goal.

Yet none of us need feel disheartened. Remember how even great figures like Saint Augustine almost despaired when they saw how powerful was the pull of selfish satisfaction. That is our human conditioning, and it is no reason to give up. All of us can learn to reduce our excess baggage.
Eknath Easwaran

If I'd ever had Easwaran's "fleeting taste of the joy of union" with the Lord, perhaps I would hunger and strive with all my heart to know it permanently. But I have not, and so I do not.

How can I, and how do I? By meditating and contemplating enough? How much is enough? And how does one do enough without the inspiration of which Easwaran writes? Just as one needs money or other resources in order to earn more money, doesn't one also need to feel inspired in order to make an enduring effort to make big spiritual gains? I often feel like a man who is too poor to become rich.

I don't say this because I am depressed or demoralized; I say it because I don't know what to do, yet, I continue to look for it.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Quote of the Day

I’ve been ruminating over economic prospects for next year, and I’m getting scared.
--Paul Krugman

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Witty Reply

I just returned from the supermarket. While waiting in line to pay for my groceries, I overheard this exchange between a customer and the checker.

Customer: How was your Thanksgiving?

Checker: We had to work.

Customer: That's too bad. But at least I guess you got paid well.

Checker: We got paid closer to what we're worth.

I thought this was a good, witty answer. This is one reason why I don't use the checkout machines to pay for my groceries even if I could do it faster that way. I like the human touch, and I like to hear conversations like the one above.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Opportunity Lost

I don't know what prompted me to check up on him yesterday. I just had the feeling that I should. I did that periodically with him. Just to see how his career was going. He and I were never close friends. In fact, I never had any close friends growing up. I was a loner. But he lived down the street and around the corner from me through elementary, junior high, and high school, and we spent a fair amount of time together playing playground football and basketball and walking home from school discussing music, politics, religion, school, classmates, the Vietnam War, "recreational" drugs, and whatever else caught our attention through the wild and crazy times of the mid to late 60's and early 70's.

Once, in our early teens, we were throwing rocks at each other, the way rambunctious boys like to do or, at least, we did, and I hit him with a big rock in the head just above or below the eye. He ran into his house crying. He and I were lucky I didn't blind him or worse. But he didn't hold it against me. I could have been the one hit instead of him.

One day, as we were boarding the school bus, he was the one who told me that Jimi Hendrix had died. I wasn't as familiar with Hendrix back then as he was, but I still remember feeling sad that such a famous musician had died so young and so pointlessly.

For a few years back then, I fancied myself a reasonably smart guy. Then, in high school, I found out who the really smart people were, and I wasn't one of them. But my friend was. I first became aware of this when we took a physiology class together in our junior year. He excelled; I struggled to memorize the locations of the organs we had to identify on the human cadavers on which we were tested. He and I both wrote term papers on sleep. But his was much better than mine. As I recall, he even secured an interview with William Dement at nearby Stanford University. I simply paraphrased books and magazines from the school library.

After high school, I saw my friend only one time. It was a year or two after graduation. It was a summer afternoon. I was visiting my old elementary school to shoot some baskets, check out the old neighborhood, and see if anyone I knew came by. I was hoping most of all to see my old friend. And I was happy when he did come by and we talked for awhile.

My memory is fuzzy about details. It always has been. But I think he sat and played a guitar. I do recall us talking a little about John McLaughlin. I had recently discovered him and was eager to sing his praises. I think my friend had heard of him but wasn't familiar with his music. I felt sad when we parted company, like I was losing one of my only connections, tenuous as it was, with the past.

I didn't attend our 30th high school class reunion, but my friend did. Had I gone, he was the one I'd have most wanted to sit down and talk with. For I had Googled him off and on over the years, and I would have loved to hear firsthand about his work. Until yesterday, I had this fantasy that I would finally become enough of a success in life to attend my fortieth or perhaps I'd have to wait until my fiftieth class reunion, and my friend would be there, and we could have that talk I'd been wanting to have with him for decades.

But I found out yesterday that I'll never get that chance. My friend died last year. I don't know how he died. I just know that if I ever do attend one of my future class reunions, he won't be there. That means I probably won't attend.

I dreamed about him last night. I seldom remember dreams very well, and last night's is no exception. But I do remember that Steve and I were on a bus together. It was evening. We were on our way home but got off early to eat at a restaurant. At least I thought he was going to join me at the restaurant so we could eat and talk and catch up on old and not-so-old times. But he declined to go in the restaurant with me. He just said "bye" and took off walking. I went in the restaurant, disappointed, but I couldn't eat. I came out and gazed up the street, hoping to see my friend. He was gone from sight.

I wonder how many people with whom I used to play sports during recess or after school or sit in class have walked up that road and disappeared forever, except, perhaps, from my dreams. And I wonder if anyone from my distant past thinks of me the way I did of my friend and hopes to meet me at the next class reunion and reminisce with me about old times, and if I should go on the off chance that someone does, before there are no more chances.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Criminalizing Homelessness?

I heard Michael Medved say something interesting again yesterday. He was talking about homeless people, and he said that people don't have a right to live on the streets. Ok. So where are people who have no place to stay supposed to go? What is the law that Medved would like to see enforced supposed to do with the homeless? Throw them in jail? For what fair reason? For how long? And to what effect? If you have no place to stay, where are you supposed to live? Where are you supposed to sleep? What are you supposed to do? You can try to get a job. But what if you can't? And what if the job you get doesn't pay enough to rent a place to stay, or it will take a long time to save enough from it to rent a place? What's a person to do until then? What is the law to do with him? How should we as a society regard and treat him?

Michael Medved seems like a smart person. He also seems like a fool.

Friday, November 21, 2008

In The Right Way

Michael Medved made an interesting remark yesterday on his talk show. He urged his fellow conservatives to stop attacking Obama's presidency before it even begins and to get behind him and give him a chance to succeed. After all, our nation is in such a mess right now that everybody should want to see him succeed "in the right way."

I found that "in the right way" to be revealing. What Medved seemed to be saying is that he wanted the nation to prosper, but only by Obama following the conservative ideology of minimal taxation and government, huge military, and one nation under the Judeo-Christian God.

I wonder if this means that Medved would prefer that the country fail rather than succeed if Obama follows liberal principles of bigger government, higher taxes (especially on the wealthy), a smaller military, and continued separation of church and state. I further wonder if Medved would rather see the country fail under conservative policies than to see it succeed under liberal ones.

I suspect that he would, even though he'd probably never admit it, even to himself. I suspect that he's so wedded to his conservative ideology that it's more important to him than practical results.

It would be easy to condemn him for this. But then, to be fair, I'd probably also have to condemn myself too for being something of a mirror image of Medved. For, deep down in my heart, I'd probably rather see the country flail and flounder under liberal policies than prosper under conservative ones. I try not to feel that way. I try to open my heart and mind to whatever truths lie along the entire political spectrum and to value results more than ideology, but it's an arduous uphill climb.

In the final analysis, I want to see as many people in this nation and entire world be as healthy and happy as possible, and to see the Obama administration enact policies that foster this condition. I suspect that such policies would have to incorporate elements of both liberalism and conservatism to such an extent that they ultimately transcend both. That, ideally rather than emotionally speaking, is what "in the right way" means to me.

That's a tall order, but one I hope to see begin to come to fruition under President Obama.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dennis Prager Puts His Faith Above Archaeology

I just heard Dennis Prager make a very interesting argument on his radio show today. He was talking about an upcoming NOVA episode on PBS television concerning the Bible. He said it claims to "debunk" the Old Testament as a factual history of the Jews, using the latest and best archaeological findings and knowledge.

But Prager insisted that he isn't swayed by archaeology. Archaeology can't trump his faith, he said. His main argument was that the Old Testament is the only historical record he knows of that paints the origin of its own people in such uncomplimentary terms. The "histories" or mythologies of other peoples make them out to be brave and noble creations or descendants of the gods, whereas the earliest Jews are depicted in the OT as "ignoble" slaves and savages. Therefore, argues Prager, the Old Testament history of the Jews must be true, and archaeology be damned.

I don't know if Prager is correct in claiming that only the Jews have constructed such an unflattering history of themselves. But whether he is or isn't, does he make a good argument for disregarding scientific evidence about the historicity of his faith?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quote of the Day

If you want to know where we are right now, rent the movie “Jaws.” We’re at that moment when Roy Scheider first sets eyes on the Great White Shark and comes back and says to the skipper, with eyes wide with fear: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
--Thomas Friedman

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Boycotting Those Who Supported Prop 8?

A Sacramento theater director resigned recently after patrons learned that he'd contributed $1000 to the Proposition 8 campaign and they threatened to boycott the theater. On a radio talk show soon after, the host and numerous callers, even though many of them opposed Prop 8, expressed sympathy for the director and disagreement with those who sought to punish him for freely exercising his legal right to support a cause in which he believed.

At first, I was inclined to agree with this stance. In fact, I guess I still am. But I've read about this story and done some thinking about it since then, and I'm a little more equivocal about where I stand than I was at first. For one thing, I'm sympathetic to the argument that he earned money from the productions staged at his theaters and used some of this money to support Prop 8. So, how could someone, in good conscience, continue to put money in his pocket that he could end up using to deny people their basic human rights?

Suppose the director, Mr. Eckern, had supported a ballot initiative to constitutionally ban interracial marriage or same-sex couples joining in "civil unions" granting the same rights to them that married couples enjoy. Or imagine that he were a NABMLA member who supported a proposition to legalize pederasty. Would and should we be so quick to sympathize with him and to criticize those proposing to boycott his work from which he earned money to support these dubious causes?

You might say that these hypotheticals, expecially the NAMBLA one, are not equivalent to supporting Prop 8, but if you were homosexual and fervently believed in same-sex marriage, you might well disagree. I'm not gay, but I still have some difficulty comprehending a clear difference between my hypotheticals and Mr. Eckern's support of Prop 8.

So, to be consistent, I'd have to say that I wouldn't boycott someone for supporting a ban on interracial marriage (even though I'm a Caucasian man married to an Asian woman) or for supporting the legalization of pederasty (even though I find pederasty appalling) any more than I would for his supporting a ban on same-sex marriage, despite the fact that it would be my legal right to boycott him for exercising his legal right to use the money he earned from my patronage to support any of these causes. But I'd darn sure want to.

What about you?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Nanny State Nonsense

Last night I heard Dennis Miller rail against the "nanny state" he thinks Obama and the Democrats are poised to usher in whereby the invigorating "American Way" of having to work harder and harder to keep a roof over our and our family's heads, food in our mouths, clothes on our backs, and, if we're lucky, minimally decent health care will give way to the innervating security of big government satisfying our every need and whim while we sit back snugly and twiddle our thumbs.

Well, I work my butt off forty hard hours a week for peanuts, I have no paid holidays or vacations, no employer-funded health care coverage, even though I work for a major metropolitan health care system, and no pension, and I pay an astronomical sum, given my and my wife salaries, for health insurance under COBRA because my "preexisting condition" makes it impossible for me to obtain even remotely affordable coverage any other way. And, even so, I have it better than a lot of other Americans.

I don't think that I or we would be sapped of all ambition and vitality if we had paid holidays and several weeks of paid vacation each year to refresh and recharge ourselves, solid health care coverage provided by our employer or the government, and a livable wage. In fact, I know I'd be grateful for all of this and willing and able to work just as hard if not harder to earn what I received. It seems to me that working too hard for too little in return and worrying constantly about finances and health care is what actually saps our energy and ambition most of all. Many of us are too preoccupied with just staying afloat, and I believe that the "American Way" can and should be about more than this and that the government can play an important role in making this happen without turning our country into an emasculating "nanny state."

I think that Obama, in contrast with many Republicans, believes this too, and this is one reason why I'm glad he'll be our next president.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Better to be a fool for all of eternity than a fool pretending to be a sage."
--Anonymous Friend

Monday, November 10, 2008

Robert Reich's Economic Solution

One of the few blogs I read regularly is Robert Reich's blog. Reich used to be President Clinton's Labor Secretary, and he now teaches at U.C Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy. He believes that our nation's economy is now in such severe difficulty that it qualifies as being in a "mini-depression," and that what we need is a "maximum strength remedy" of substantial deficit spending on our crumbling infrastructure.

Reich argues that just bailing out the financial sector isn't good enough because "the real problem is on the demand side of the economy" with consumers who are afraid to spend or borrow (even if extremely cautious banks would lend to them) because they're already deeply in debt, their real incomes are falling, and they're afraid of losing their jobs. Cutting taxes won't work either because this mostly benefits the wealthy who'll tend to save the money they obtain from tax cuts more than they'll spend it, and the rest of us will tend to use our modest tax rebates to pay off debts or buy products made mostly overseas.

So, what we need to do, argues Reich, is spend $700 billion or more next year on "repairing roads and bridges, levees and ports; investing in light rail, electrical grids, new sources of energy, more energy conservation" to cause a "double whammy" effect of creating many new jobs and improving the workings of the future economy. However, we need to draw up a "capital budget" that lists spending priorities to make sure that we "avoid pork." To objections that we can't afford to increase our already monstrous budget deficit, Reich replies:
Government spending that puts people back to work and invests in the future productivity of the nation is exactly what the economy needs right now. Deficit numbers themselves have no significance. The pertinent issue is how much underutilized capacity exists in the economy. When there's lots of idle capacity, deficit spending is entirely appropriate, as John Maynard Keynes taught us. Moving the economy to fuller capacity will of itself shrink future deficits.
I'm not an economist. Hell, I couldn't even stay awake when I tried to read my economic textbooks in college. But what I'm gathering from reading the "experts" now is that an increasing number of them agree with Reich about what we need to do to rescue our economy from its downward spiral. And I suspect that Barack Obama is going to do or try to do what Reich recommends.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Magic of Pistol Pete Maravich

As I browsed through books at Borders bookstore today, I came across an enthralling biography of the legendary basketball player Pete Maravich entitled Pistol. I'm going to check this book out of my local library tomorrow and read it. But I read enough of it in the bookstore to rekindle my awe of the late Maravich's basketball wizardry. No, he couldn't fly through the air like a Michael Jordan and perform amazingly acrobatic dunks, but he could do other things with a basketball that can only be described as magical.

He averaged a remarkable 44.2 points per game in college. This was before there was a three-point shot, and one college basketball coach later reviewed all of the shots Maravich took in college games and calculated that had there been a three-point shot when he played, Maravich would have averaged 57 points per game. After Maravich graduated from college, he immediately became a star in the NBA. In high school, college, and the NBA he executed dazzling dribbles, passes, and shots that have to be seen to be believed, and below is a YouTube video that provides a tantalizing glimpse of his phenomenal skills.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Not Sarah Palin

Did Governor Sarah Palin really not know the three signatories of NAFTA and that Africa is not a country but a continent? If so, I don't think she'd fare too well on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? much less as president of the leading nation on earth.

I've felt this way about her all along, from the moment I first heard her speak. Yes, I was impressed that she could wow a receptive audience with her idiosyncratic charm and pizazz while mouthing carefully crafted words or force-fed talking points. Yes, I really thought for a time that she would bring McCain the presidency. But I never believed that there was meaty substance behind the arresting style. I never believed that Sarah Palin had the right stuff to be Vice-President and literally a melanomic 72-year-old's heartbeat away from President of the United States of America.

Many others disagreed. Some were very smart and well-educated. They included Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved, Bill Kristol, and even Camille Paglia. I admit that this made me wonder whether I was blinded by my biases against Palin's staunch political and religious conservatism, hyper-folksiness, and overbearing self-righteousness. Was I just not seeing the presidential potential, the diamond-in-the-rough that others saw (or pretended to see) in Sarah Palin? Or was there nothing to see except by those desperate or otherwise compromised enough to see a mirage in the desert?

If the allegations I've been hearing about her lately on, of all places, Fox News, by, of all people, members of McCain's campaign staff are true, it appears as though my judgment was sound. Of course, some have argued that one doesn't need a stratospheric IQ, an Ivy League graduate degree, or even a rudimentary knowledge of geography, history, or international relations to be smart enough to learn what one needs to know when one needs to know it and to exercise enough good sense to effectively perform the duties of Vice-President or even President under even the most difficult circumstances. Moreover, maybe these disgruntled McCain staffers-- whom Palin has recently denounced as "immature," "cruel," "mean-spirited' "jerks"--now slamming Palin for her alleged ignorance and prima donnish behavior on the campaign trail are just using her as a scapegoat to cover up their own mistakes, failures, and incompetence.

I don't know for sure about any of this. All I know is that I continue to believe that Sarah Palin is not and should not be "the future of the Republican Party" that some are hoping and saying she is. Actually, not long ago, I would have gladly let her become the GOP's future, because I hated the Republican Party and wanted to see it fail as miserably as possible. But I now believe that we need dialogue, struggle, and cooperation between the most capable politicians of both parties to make this country the best it can be and that the best person for president could someday well be a Republican. Just not Sarah Palin.

Your Next Bike?

A new Honda V4 engine powered concept motorcycle. Could anything like this actually end up on the streets before, say, the 22nd century?

Stay tuned.

Friday, November 07, 2008

End of the Reagan Revolution?

The Obama triumph means the Reagan revolution is over. The antigovernment, antitax, trickle-down, every-man-for-himself ethos collapsed with a whimper during the catastrophic presidency of George W. Bush, and Obama's election put it out of its misery. By electing Obama, the American people have emphatically rejected the selfishness, masquerading as freedom and rugged individualism, that has been the calling card of the American right wing since Barry Goldwater. In its place, they are calling not just for a new and expanded vision of government's role in American life but for a new vision of American society.

That vision represents a return to the idea that Americans are bound together by more than just a flag, that we are all part of the same community, and that the strength of a community, like the strength of a family, is measured by its members' commitment to each other. The America envisioned by Obama is one in which the privileged care about the plight of the less fortunate because that care, that solidarity, is an inseparable part of who we are as Americans.

And that solidarity extends beyond our borders, to the people of the world. More than our wealth and power, this is what has made America a beacon of hope across the globe. After 9/11, Bush had an opportunity to reach out to the rest of the world. In his arrogance and folly, he chose to bully it instead. The election of Obama signifies that America is rejoining the world. How telling it was that in his speech, Obama said that America would defeat not our evil terrorist enemies, the rhetoric we have grown used to, but "those who would tear the world down." His is a larger, calmer vision, one that does not play into the hands of terrorists by exaggerating their threat.
--Gary Kamiya

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A New California Proposition Proposal

Supporters of California's Proposition 8 argued that constitutionally banning same-sex marriages was necessary in order to protect the institution of marriage and the social fabric from destruction. They never explained to my satisfaction how same-sex marriages threatened heterosexual ones or society as a whole, but they managed to persuade enough people, most of whom probably didn't require much persuading, to vote for the proposition that it won. This ill-advised speech by San Francisco's mayor Gavin Newsom surely didn't help, making it sound as though hordes of rampaging gays would soon be forcing themselves upon us, with sadistic glee, through our 'open door.' Barring a successful court challenge of the federal constitutionality of this change to the state's Constitution, California's Constitution will presumably be amended to define marriage as possible only between "one man and one woman."

I'm not sure how this will impact same-sex marriages that took place while they were legal. I've heard that they are likely to go on being recognized and that only future ones will be precluded. But if marriage is now constitutionally limited to heterosexual couples, how could any couples violating this definition be considered married, even if they married before the amendment was passed? Wouldn't this be a little like making Prohibition applicable only to those who weren't already drinking before that amendment went into effect?

Well, I say give the supporters of Proposition 8 their definition of marriage. At least until enough of them die off or change their views that the amendment can be repealed, just as Prohibition was. But then let there be an amendment on the next ballot that authorizes same-sex civil unions, by whatever name, that bestows upon same-sex couples precisely the same legal and economic rights, privileges, and responsibilities that apply to marriage, and let us hope to the real God that it passes too.

If and when this proposition meets opposition, as I expect it will, from the same quarters that supported Proposition 8, at least this will expose their pretense that Proposition 8 was about marriage, and nakedly reveal that what it was really about was denying same-sex couples "equal protection under the law."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

OUR Great Communicator

I thought John McCain gave a gracious concession speech last night. I thought Barack Obama gave a brilliant victory speech.

Nevertheless, I agree with the old maxim, "Actions speak louder than words." I agree with those who say that Obama's actions as president over the next four or eight years will define his presidency far more than will the sum total of his speeches and press conferences. I predict that his actions will serve him and this nation well, even though I realize that my predictions aren't worth much. After all, I predicted after the Republican convention that McCain would win the presidency. But we will ultimately have to wait and see what Obama does and how we the American people and the rest of the world respond.

Yet, I know that, whatever else happens, I will now look forward to presidential speeches and press conferences, and I will no longer feel embarrassed when our president meets with foreign leaders and represents us on the world stage. And I will no longer cringe over our president's mispronunciation of the word nuclear.

This may not seem very important. Who cares whether our president acts and sounds like a simpleminded ignoramus? Who cares whether foreign leaders and peoples laugh at him and look down on him and on us for electing him not just once but twice?

I do.

Now we at the so-called "left" and center of the political spectrum have our own "Great Communicator," and while that doesn't mean everything to me, it sure means something.

McCain concedes

Obama Declares Victory

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Just Voted

I just voted. I stood in line longer than I ever have to vote. But it was worth it to participate in what may be one of the most important elections ever in this country. It is certainly one of the most interesting if not exciting.

I voted for Obama. Not because I think he's the black Messiah, but because I think he's the smartest, most knowledgeable, and most capable overall of the viable candidates to be our next president.

But given the state of our nation and world, I don't envy whoever wins the election today.

What If?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and William Ayers

I've begun listening to a Teaching Company course on Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life. The first lecture focused on the impact of great books on the character and life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a promising theologian who left academia to become a pastor who ministered to the people. But during World War II, he also joined an underground movement in Germany that sought to oppose and assassinate Adolph Hitler. He reasoned that the call to undermine and destroy the evil that was Hitler and to save Germany from destruction was higher than his duty, as a German citizen, to obey his country's unjust laws and evil leaders. He was eventually arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned for a year and a half before he was hanged naked by piano wire in particularly brutal fashion. While imprisoned, he was able to read the Bible, Plato, and Plutarch and write his Letters and Papers From Prison.

When I heard the part of the lecture addressing Bonhoeffer's opposition to Hitler, I thought of a discussion I heard on talk radio a few days previously about William Ayers. In the late 60's and early 70's, Ayers took part in protests of the Vietnam War that included bombings of the U.S, Capitol building, the N.Y City Police headquarters, and the Pentagon. Nobody was killed in those explosions, but some of his fellow protesters were killed by accidental explosions of the bombs they were working on. Ayers went on to become a respected education reformer in Chicago who served on a board with Barack Obama to distribute education grants, hosted a meeting for Obama's first run for office, and contributed a small sum to Obama's re-election to the Illinois State Senate. John McCain supporters have seized upon this modest association between the two men to accuse Obama of "palling around with terrorists." The implication is that Obama either likes terrorists or that he, at least, lacks the good judgment to shun them.

Defenders of Obama typically argue that his dealings with Ayers have been too insignificant to reflect badly on him. In other words, as bad as Ayers might be, Obama didn't have enough of an association with him to be tarred by it. But the talk show host the other night asked a provocative question. If Ayers did what he did because he believed that he had a higher calling to oppose our government's unjust and horrifically destructive war in Vietnam, is he someone who should be condemned and shunned as a terrorist, or should he be embraced as a true patriot? After all, in the Declaration of our nation's independence, Thomas Jefferson argued that the people have a right to oppose, by whatever means necessary, bad government. Isn't that what Ayers did decades ago?

Now it might be argued that Ayers used unnecessary as well as ineffectual means to oppose the Vietnam War. But if his motives were good, should we condemn him and Obama's relationship, such as it was, with him? I'm inclined to think that we shouldn't.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Question for the Day

"If I go on grabbing and grabbing, at what point do I become secure and feel no more need to grab?"
--Eknath Easwaran

Proposition 8

There is much discussion here in California about Proposition 8. It would amend the California Constitution to recognize or validate "only marriage between a man and a woman." Those who support the proposition call it the "California Marriage Protection Act." They argue that the people of California need this proposition to protect the institution of marriage. But I want to know what they are trying to protect it from. If this amendment doesn't pass and homosexual couples continue to marry, will heterosexual married couples get divorced or stop loving their spouses because of it? Will heterosexual couples not marry who otherwise would, or will they fall out of love with each other? Will people who would otherwise be heterosexual and marry someone of the opposite sex now turn homosexual and marry someone of the same sex?

I don't feel my love for my wife or my commitment to stay married to her for the rest of our lives diminished one iota by homosexual marriage. I think I can safely report that my wife feels the same way. And I certainly don't see homosexual marriage causing us to divorce each other because we have suddenly turned homosexual and now want to marry someone of the same sex.

So, I will be voting against Proposition 8. Why would anyone vote for it?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sunday, Sunday

I picked up my wife at the airport Sunday. She visited her family in Thailand for two weeks. As we left, we got caught in horrendous traffic. It resulted from people leaving the 49'er game. Thousands and thousands of cars spilling onto the freeway at the same time.

Why do people put themselves through this ordeal just to see a football game in person? Even if I liked football, I wouldn't do it. I'd watch it on TV. Or, if it wasn't on TV, I'd listen to it on the radio. What I wouldn't do is get up early on a Sunday morning, drive miles and miles to the stadium, pay God knows how much for parking and a ticket, endure the unpleasantly hot, cold, or wet weather to watch overgrown men run into, over, and around each other on the field for three hours, and then fight my way through the exiting crowd to get back in my car and make an arduous evening drive back home in ridiculously heavy traffic.

I have better things to do on a Sunday. I have better things to do anytime.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Give and You Shall Receive

I listened to a psychiatrist talk on the radio the other night about troubled people in these troubled economic times. She said that many were so fearful for their finances that they were allowing themselves to become ensnared in a vicious downward circle of crippling anxiety causing hoarding causing greater anxiety causing greater hoarding. Her advice was to "tithe" or donate as much as one could afford, even if it was only a minimal amount, to avoid this vicious circle and elevate oneself in a virtuous circle of giving causing a liberating positive outlook and constructive action leading to more selfless giving of one's money and time to benefit the whole community. She argued that this would not only benefit the community but also the giver who is, after all, part of the community.

I think this is sound advice reminiscent of "give and you shall receive."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Certainty vs Freedom?

God does not "compel" acceptance of his authority, or we would not be free. Thus, the typical atheist who asks for miracles in order for God to "prove" his existence is really asking for God to remove his freedom. But that is something he will never do.
--Gagdad Bob

I've encountered Bob's argument above many times and in many places, but I've never understood it. What kind of "freedom" is Bob talking about? I take him to mean that if God doesn't prove himself to us, we have the freedom to either believe or not believe that He exists, whereas if God did prove himself to us, we would be compelled by that proof to know that He exists. There would be no freedom to disbelieve that He exists.

Yet, why is it better to believe in something that may or, for all we know, may not exist than to know that it exists? I've never understood why God would prefer the former to the latter. In fact, it seems to me that He would prefer the former. That is, He would want us to worship only a God whom we know to exist rather than to worship one who, for all we know, may be an illusory God or even a real devil.

Moreover, it seems to me that even if our freedom to disbelieve in God's existence is removed by compelling proof that He exists, we would still have the freedom to either "accept his authority"--i.e., obey His commands--or not accept it, just as a child who knows that his human father exists can choose to either accept or not accept his authority. Why would it be better for the child to only believe that his father exists and commands him to act in certain ways than it would be to know that he exists and that he issues those commands? Can't the child still choose to accept his father's authority and obey his commands or to not do so?

So, again, why is it better to merely believe that God exists than it is to know that He does? And, it if isn't, why doesn't God "prove his existence"?

Peggy Noonan on Sarah Palin

In the past two weeks [Palin] has spent her time throwing out tinny lines to crowds she doesn't, really, understand. This is not a leader, this is a follower, and she follows what she imagines is the base, which is in fact a vast and broken-hearted thing whose pain she cannot, actually, imagine. She could reinspire and reinspirit; she chooses merely to excite. She doesn't seem to understand the implications of her own thoughts.

No news conferences? Interviews now only with friendly journalists? You can't be president or vice president and govern in that style, as a sequestered figure. This has been Mr. Bush's style the past few years, and see where it got us. You must address America in its entirety, not as a sliver or a series of slivers but as a full and whole entity, a great nation trying to hold together. When you don't, when you play only to your little piece, you contribute to its fracturing.

In the end the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It's no good, not for conservatism and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism.

--Peggy Noonan

Friday, October 17, 2008

Debate Revelations

I listened Wednesday night to the final debate between Barack Obama and John McCain. I won't presume to say who won. I wasn't on the debate team in school, and I've never studied how debates are supposed to be judged. What objective standards are we supposed to use to score debates?

However, my subjective impression of the third debate, as it has been of the two previous ones, is that Obama came across as much more presidential in his nuanced understanding of the world, his unflappably calm and self-assured temperament, his pragmatism, his earnestness, and his charismatic vitality. By contrast, McCain came across as doddering, desperate, dismissive, sarcastic, nervous, awkward, overly ideological, and vapid.

I suspect that a growing majority of the American public perceive the two candidates largely the same way and that this, more than philosophical or policy differences, is what's giving Obama his daunting lead in the polls. It's not so much that we think Obama has the better preconceived plans for improving the economy and confronting the innumerable other challenges that face our nation as it is that we believe Obama has the superior intellectual and emotional resources to handle the rigors of the job and solve formidable problems as they arise.

I suspect that this is to what "we the people" are always paying the most attention. Yes, we listen to the candidates discuss and debate their political and economic philosophies and policies, but what we really want to know is who can step into the Oval Office and on to the world stage and best accomplish what a president of the world's most powerful nation needs to for the sake of the nation and the world. And political ideologies and policy proposals are far less predictive of this than are the elusive constellation of qualities that Barack Obama appears to have in abundance and John McCain does not.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tim Dickinson Summarizes "Make-Believe Maverick"

I recently posted an entry about The Real John McCain in which I questioned his selfless service to this country and his suitability to be president. I quoted at some length from a Rolling Stone article titled Make-Believe Maverick authored by Tim Dickinson. I suggested that anyone who endorses McCain for president should read this article and research its allegations before they cast their vote for McCain in November.

I had planned to distill those allegations into a future post. I may still do it. But, in the meantime, I'd like to share with you a video synopsis by the article's author himself of some of its key points. I want to thank my dear friend Tom Armstrong for sending me the link to it.

Tim Dickinsom on John McCain

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hitchens on McCain

On "the issues" in these closing weeks, there really isn't a very sharp or highly noticeable distinction to be made between the two nominees, and their "debates" have been cramped and boring affairs as a result. But the difference in character and temperament has become plainer by the day, and there is no decent way of avoiding the fact. Last week's so-called town-hall event showed Sen. John McCain to be someone suffering from an increasingly obvious and embarrassing deficit, both cognitive and physical. And the only public events that have so far featured his absurd choice of running mate have shown her to be a deceiving and unscrupulous woman utterly unversed in any of the needful political discourses but easily trained to utter preposterous lies and to appeal to the basest element of her audience. McCain occasionally remembers to stress matters like honor and to disown innuendoes and slanders, but this only makes him look both more senile and more cynical, since it cannot (can it?) be other than his wish and design that he has engaged a deputy who does the innuendoes and slanders for him.
--Christopher Hitchens

Quote of the Day

I think Obama's relatively weak but nonetheless real interactions with William Ayers are a legitimate campaign issue. But Obama's best response, after telling the facts of the relationship, is to point out who else supported him. Republican machers Walter and Leonora Annenberg gave the former terrorist $50 million. They also gave money to Rick Santorum, Strom Thurmond and Mitt Romney. Annenberg was Nixon's ambassador to Britain. If Obama is "palling around with terrorists," the Republican Annenbergs are funding them.

Yesterday, the McCain campain put out a press release boasting that Leonore Annenberg had just endorsed him for president. Why is McCain happy to accept the endorsement of a funder of terrorism?
--Andrew Sullivan

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Lost in Confusion

I took my wife to the airport today. She'll be spending the next two weeks with her family in Thailand. I don't like driving to the airport. San Francisco International is eighty miles away and is an intimidating maze for me. Even though I worked there for almost two years, I still get lost in that place. And even though I worked there most of the time as a baggage handler and have subsequently flown out of there myself once and taken my wife and others to fly out of there several times since, I still get confused about check-in and boarding procedures. I simply don't know what to do or how to do it. If I didn't have someone with me who does know, I'd be lost in confusion, even if I somehow eventually managed to muddle through. This is one manifestation of the learning difficulty I've often written about here.

Another example happened last night. At work, I wear a badge attached to a lanyard. Last night, the lanyard became entangled with my headphones that I use to listen to my Walkman. I spent over ten minutes struggling to untangle them but only made matters worse. I looked at the tangle and tried to figure out how to resolve it, but my brain just couldn't make sense of it. So, at quitting time, I ended up throwing my tangled badge and headphones in my backpack, bringing them home, and asking my wife to untangle the mess.

I could have struggled with it more at home, but I wanted to see how quickly my wife could undo the tangle. She looked at it for no more than a few seconds and took only a few more seconds after that to extricate the headphone cord from the lanyard. It was no problem for her whatsoever. She could instantly "see" how to do it before she began. By contrast, when I'd looked at it, all I could see was a tangle that I had no clue how to resolve, so I tried haphazardly to untangle it and only made it worse.

When I venture outside my comfort zone of narrow routine, this is the sort of thing I deal with constantly. So I've lived a very circumscribed life that has spared me all the wasted time and frustration of trying in vain to untangle life's knots and navigate life's mazes. If I had believed that taking on these challenges more often would make me better at resolving them, I would have done it. But lifelong experience has told me that practice not only doesn't make perfect but seldom results in significant improvement of any kind.

Yet, I'm now trying to disregard voices speaking of the past and focus on creating a different present and future.

Sonny Rollins and Leonard Cohen

I've seen some great musicians playing great music on television. But here is some of the best of the best. The immortal Sonny Rollins in a sublime duet with Leonard Cohen that sent chills of awe up my spine when I saw it over twenty years ago on David Sanborn's amazing program Night Music. Thanks to the divine blessings of YouTube, I joyfully present it to you here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Gagdad At His Best

I never imagine that my life will change in any fundamental way, no matter what happens. I realize that the environment I live in is in my head, and that the only way to really change things is to change my head. Here again, this can be confused with solipsism or narcissism, but it's quite the opposite. I just mean it in a very concrete, experience-near sense. You must be very, very careful about the ideas you allow to take up residence in your head, because they will end up sharply limiting your ability to know the Real, which always transcends any idea you have about it. Life is impossibly rich, with hundreds of little daily pleasure that will pass you by if you do not heighten your awareness and hone your ability to appreciate them. Never imagine that getting what you want will satisfy you so long as you cannot appreciate what you have.
--Gagdad Bob

The Real John McCain?

I didn't decide to run for president to start a national crusade for the political forms I believed in or to run a campaign as if it were some grand act of patriotism. In truth, I wanted to be president because it had become my ambition to be president. I was sixty two years old when I made the decision, and I thought it was my one shot at the prize.
--John McCain from Worth the Fighting For

Dennis Miller thinks John McCain is a "great man," and he's voting for him in the upcoming election. Not because of what McCain's done in the House or Senate, but because he's a "war hero" and a principled man who has selflessly loved and served his country his entire adult life.

No doubt Miller speaks for many McCain supporters. But I wonder how many of them have read Tim Dickinson's Rolling Stone article Make-Believe Maverick. If what that article says about McCain is true, is McCain even close to being the selfless hero and man of principle he and his campaign make him out to be? Or has he been a spoiled, undisciplined, impulsive, tantrum-throwing, narcissistic, self-serving, and venal individual from childhood on?

McCain said during his nomination speech that his POW experience radically transformed him into a man who has put country and principle above himself ever since. But Dickinson's article recounts the following, which, if true, casts McCain's alleged "transformation" in a very different light.

t Fort McNair, an army base located along the Potomac River in the nation's capital, a chance reunion takes place one day between two former POWs. It's the spring of 1974, and Navy commander John Sidney McCain III has returned home from the experience in Hanoi that, according to legend, transformed him from a callow and reckless youth into a serious man of patriotism and purpose. Walking along the grounds at Fort McNair, McCain runs into John Dramesi, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who was also imprisoned and tortured in Vietnam.

McCain is studying at the National War College, a prestigious graduate program he had to pull strings with the Secretary of the Navy to get into. Dramesi is enrolled, on his own merit, at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in the building next door.

There's a distance between the two men that belies their shared experience in North Vietnam — call it an honor gap. Like many American POWs, McCain broke down under torture and offered a "confession" to his North Vietnamese captors. Dramesi, in contrast, attempted two daring escapes. For the second he was brutalized for a month with daily torture sessions that nearly killed him. His partner in the escape, Lt. Col. Ed Atterberry, didn't survive the mistreatment. But Dramesi never said a disloyal word, and for his heroism was awarded two Air Force Crosses, one of the service's highest distinctions. McCain would later hail him as "one of the toughest guys I've ever met."

On the grounds between the two brick colleges, the chitchat between the scion of four-star admirals and the son of a prizefighter turns to their academic travels; both colleges sponsor a trip abroad for young officers to network with military and political leaders in a distant corner of the globe.

"I'm going to the Middle East," Dramesi says. "Turkey, Kuwait, Lebanon, Iran."

"Why are you going to the Middle East?" McCain asks, dismissively.

"It's a place we're probably going to have some problems," Dramesi says.

"Why? Where are you going to, John?"

"Oh, I'm going to Rio."

"What the hell are you going to Rio for?"

McCain, a married father of three, shrugs.

"I got a better chance of getting laid."

Dramesi, who went on to serve as chief war planner for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and commander of a wing of the Strategic Air Command, was not surprised. "McCain says his life changed while he was in Vietnam, and he is now a different man," Dramesi says today. "But he's still the undisciplined, spoiled brat that he was when he went in."

According to Dramesi, McCain was no more heroic or exceptional as a POW than anyone else. McCain told the North Vietnamese soon after his capture that his father was an Navy admiral so that they would tend to his wounds. He then disclosed to them a variety of other information about his and Navy operations in general, and he turned down a typical offer for early release because, had he accepted it, he would have had to make disloyal statements about America that could have subjected him to condemnation and even court martial when he returned home. As another fellow POW said, "Many of us were given this offer. It meant speaking out against your country and lying about your treatment to the press. You had to 'admit' that the U.S. was criminal and that our treatment was 'lenient and humane.' So I, like numerous others, refused the offer."

The article proceeds to cite many other incidents and details about McCain before and after his POW experience that make him sound to me like one of the last politicians I would want as president. I don't know if all of these things are true, and I suspect that, even if they are, there are also positive things to say about John McCain that Dickinson's article doesn't. But I believe that anyone who supports McCain and, like Dennis Miller, considers him to be a great hero owes it to himself and this nation to read the article and then do some fact-checking before casting his vote for McCain in November.

And if anyone can show me where anything in Make-Believe Maverick is false, I encourage them to do it. So far, I've seen many scathing denunciations of Dickinson's 'contemptible hit-piece,' but I've seen no refutation of what he cites as facts.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Quote of the Day

Locate your center -- your psychic being -- which is "behind" the empirical ego, and is the blueprint of your true self. It is like a bead in a celestial string that descends from God to you. Find the divine language, the logos, that speaks to this true self; in a sense, the two cannot be separated, for to find the idiom is to locate the Self. Then it's just a matter of deepening the conversation.
--Gagdad Bob

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Quote of the Day

There was a time when conservatives lamented the dumbing down of American culture. Preservation of basic standards in schools and workplaces compelled them -- or so they said -- to resist affirmative action for women and minorities. Qualifications mattered; merit mattered; and demagogic appeals for leveling were to be left to the Democrats.

Not anymore.
--Joe Conason

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Quote of the Day

We are, just now, stuck between eras. The old order -- the Reagan-age institutions built on the premise that the market can do no wrong and the government no right -- is dying. A new order, in which Wall Street plays a diminished role and Washington a larger one, is aborning, but the process is painful and protracted.
Harold Meyerson

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Who's The Man?

and now Obama, who doesn't even seem adolescent to me, just nothing. Not only is he of indeterminate developmental age, but of ambiguous "gender" as well. He has a pseudo-adult mind that can only recycle half-understood slogans he learned in college, and he seems devoid of any manly virtues at all. Like Clinton, he can only imitate them.
--Gagdad Bob

Obama is devoid of all manly virtues? What virtues are those? Working hard and earning a good living? Being a devoted and faithful husband and loving father? Successfully raising a family? Playing a mean game of basketball? How is Obama any less a man than YOU? How is his "gender" any more "ambiguous" than YOURS? Who and what are YOU to denigrate Barack Obama's manhood? What "manly virtues" do YOU exhibit that Obama doesn't?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Three Conservative Pundits

I feel pretty bored with my job much of the time. I imagine that many people do. Fortunately, I'm allowed to listen to my little Sony Walkman radio while performing some of my more monotonously menial tasks, and I like to listen to talk radio some of that time.

The only talk radio station I can pull in clearly, besides a conservative Catholic station, is conservative newstalk KTKZ. It's 6AM to midnight lineup consists, in the following order, of syndicated hosts Bill Bennett, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Miller, and Mike Gallagher.

Despite my liberal leanings, I enjoy listening to this station. I used to switch back and forth between it and a local liberal talk radio station so that I could get contrasting perspectives on controversial issues and, more generally, the world at large. But when the liberal station changed to an all gospel music format, KTKZ became my only local newstalk radio option.

Since I work swing shift, the hosts I hear at work are Dennis Miller and Mike Gallagher. I must admit that I was surprised the first time I saw Miller on HBO praising President Bush and the war in Iraq. I suppose I entertained the naive assumption that anyone who used to do a satirical newscast on hip Saturday Night Live had to be "one of us"--the few, the proud, the liberals.

Well, Dennis Miller is no liberal. He thinks Bush is the best president of his lifetime and has tremendous admiration for him. He is 100% behind the war in Iraq and constantly lampoons liberal politicians, ideas, and causes. But he's also a very sharp guy who's remarkably articulate and witty and who has an amazing memory for movies, TV shows, sporting events, and other elements of past and present popular culture and can draw clever allusions to them with machinegun-like rapidity. Even when I disagree with him, which is much of the time, I enjoy hearing him riff on politics and politicians. And another thing I appreciate about him is that he doesn't come across as a fanatic. He seems to have a healthy distaste for zealots on both sides of the political continuum and will challenge them to justify their opinions.

Mike Gallagher is an entirely different story. I might formerly have characterized him as a Rush Limbaugh wannabe whose booming, blustery voice and stereotypical arch-conservatism is, wittingly or unwittingly, a caricature of right-wing lunacy. And I might have proceeded to comment that when he goes to a commercial break, a synthesizer plays a long note undoubtedly meant to sound imposingly momentous but which actually sounds like a monstrous human gasbag deflating before the pressure of its verbal flatulence builds to a sudden, massive explosion that reduces the poor man to human fragments scattered all over his studio.

I might have said that, but I won't. I'll just say that anyone who states, as he did awhile back, that Bill Maher is such a horrible person that if he were on fire, he, Mike Gallagher, wouldn't so much as urinate on him to put out the fire, I figure here's a guy who either has some serious psychological "issues," or, if he's just pandering to his perceived audience of conservative nutcakes, has stepped way over the line. Frankly, I suspect that this self-professed Christian meant what he said.

This is kind of like a certain clinical psychologist who specializes "in the treatment of psychological barriers to spiritual growth" and who has authored a book and keeps a blog purporting to dispense psychological and spiritual wisdom to the "intellectually gifted" while disdaining the"idiot masses," who calls Bill Maher a "rat faced homunculus" "moron" and "devil" and Maureen Dowd, Erica Jong, and Gloria Steinem "desiccated old feminist hags," and who makes jokes about Muslims like this:
And the Iranians are still pushing ahead with their Manhattan Project. Of course, they say they're only developing nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes. Personally I'd feel better about it if Muslims had figured out peaceful applications for rocks and belts. For them, it's a wardrobe malfunction when some boob doesn't explode out of his vest.
I listen to or read all three of these conservative "pundits,"but I often wonder why.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Quote of the Day

Sarah Palin's performance in the tiny vignettes of unscripted dialogue in which we've been allowed to see her has been nothing short of frightening -- really, as I said, pity-inducing. And I say that as someone who has thought from the start that the criticisms of her abilities -- as opposed to her ideology -- were much too extreme. One of two things is absolutely clear at this point: she is either (a) completely ignorant about the most basic political issues -- a vacant, ill-informed, incurious know-nothing, or (b) aggressively concealing her actual beliefs about these matters because she's petrified of deviating from the simple-minded campaign talking points she's been fed and/or because her actual beliefs are so politically unpalatable, even when taking into account the right-wing extremism that is permitted, even rewarded, in our mainstream. I'm not really sure which is worse, but it doesn't really matter, because with 40 days left before the election, both options are heinous.
--Glenn Greewald

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Elitist Quote of the Day

I don't want to write for the idiot masses.
Gagdad Bob

Quote of the Day

Conservatives who insist that electing McCain is crucial usually start, and increasingly end, by saying he would make excellent judicial selections. But the more one sees of his impulsive, intensely personal reactions to people and events, the less confidence one has that he would select judges by calm reflection and clear principles, having neither patience nor aptitude for either.

It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?

--George Will

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Quote of the Day

History is trying to get somewhere, and it is our job to help it get there.
--Gagdad Bob

Monday, September 22, 2008

You Can't Blink?

What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. Watching her deny to Gibson that she had ever harbored the slightest doubt about her readiness to take command of the world's only superpower, one got the feeling that Palin would gladly assume any responsibility on earth:

"Governor Palin, are you ready at this moment to perform surgery on this child's brain?"

"Of course, Charlie. I have several boys of my own, and I'm an avid hunter."

"But governor, this is neurosurgery, and you have no training as a surgeon of any kind."

"That's just the point, Charlie. The American people want change in how we make medical decisions in this country. And when faced with a challenge, you cannot blink."

The prospects of a Palin administration are far more frightening, in fact, than those of a Palin Institute for Pediatric Neurosurgery. Ask yourself: how has "elitism" become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated.

I believe that with the nomination of Sarah Palin for the vice presidency, the silliness of our politics has finally put our nation at risk. The world is growing more complex—and dangerous—with each passing hour, and our position within it growing more precarious. Should she become president, Palin seems capable of enacting policies so detached from the common interests of humanity, and from empirical reality, as to unite the entire world against us. When asked why she is qualified to shoulder more responsibility than any person has held in human history, Palin cites her refusal to hesitate. "You can't blink," she told Gibson repeatedly, as though this were a primordial truth of wise governance. Let us hope that a President Palin would blink, again and again, while more thoughtful people decide the fate of civilization.
--Sam Harris

Quote of the Day

Here, finally, was a performer who—being maternal, wounded, righteous and sexy—could stride past the frontal cortex of every American and plant a three-inch heel directly on that limbic circuit that ceaselessly intones "God and country." If anyone could make Christian theocracy smell like apple pie, Sarah Palin could.
--Sam Harris


There are so many idiots out there, such as Bill Maher, who take scripture literally, and then attack it for being so literal. As such, when he attacks religion, he is really attacking his own stupidity.
--Gagdad Bob

Don't all Christian churches teach that what the Bible literally says about the nature of Jesus and his purpose on earth is literally and not simply metaphorically true? If so, how is Bill Maher the "barbaric idiot" Gagdad says he is when he accurately characterizes the teachings of institutional Christianity and the beliefs of its members about Jesus?

I agree that there may be something "barbaric" about Maher's blatant mockery of Christian teachings. But don't we find the same "barbarity" in Gagdad's mocking attacks on atheists such as Maher and on Muslims? However, doesn't the barbarity lie not in the criticism of false or dubious beliefs per se, but in the disrespectful if not hateful treatment of the "children of God" who hold them? And when Gagdad disparages another for perpetrating the same misdeeds of which he himself is guilty, doesn't he compound his own barbarity with hypocrisy?