Friday, December 19, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Friday, October 3, 2008
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Saturday, August 30, 2008
The whining war has started in earnest. Last month, when Phil Gramm famously suggested that these United States might be a "nation of whiners," it was considered such a catastrophic gaffe that the McCain campaign immediately dumped him as economic advisor. In the interim, though, it's become clear that Gramm's remark wasn't as random as it appeared. It seems that some conservative talking heads and "scholars" have set about trying to argue Marie Antoinette's point. One wonders if Gramm started the ball rolling or merely spilled the beans.
My favorite example thus far comes from my second favorite New York Times columnist, David Brooks (Nobody tops the Krug-Man). Brooks faces that wrenching internal conflict that bedevils all neoconservative 'intellectuals'. He'd desperately like to write like William F. Buckley but he'd prefer his persona to more closely resemble that of Chuck Norris. The result is a column that delivers broad-brush generalizations and shallow logic in really fine, learned language.
Brooks' column two weeks ago was a truly stellar example of the form. Fresh off his hilarious lampooning of pseudo-intellectual pretense, (One can only guess if he was really aware of that last layer of irony.) Mr. Brooks jetted off to China. He wasn't there to buy bootleg electronics either, he was there to learn.
The first Chinese dispatch took the form of an insightful gloss of Asian collectivism. For the second, Brooks was on assignment in earthquake-torn Dujiangyan and there he found a brand of stoicism that would shame Winston Churchill. People whose loved-ones had been crushed in an instant by the quake then cremated without ceremony by the military were cracking jokes under a communal tarp. Instead of getting choked up over their loss, they dwelt on the free healthcare they'd received from the government and the adequacy of their temporary digs.
It was obvious where he was going. Massive disaster, terrible loss of life, lethargic government response; his professed incredulity at the sanguine attitude of these Chinese survivors had to have its root in some sort of contrast. To whom would Brooks compare these happy-go-lucky proletariat mascots? The answer came in the last sentence. "When you compare these people to the emotional Sturm und Drang over lesser things on reality TV, you do wonder if we Americans are a nation of whiners."
Reality TV!? Really? Are you absolutely sure there's not some other group of people you were thinking of but didn't think you could call "whiners" in a national newspaper?
I know it's Tim Gunn's phrase and all but, as you toured the crumbling ruins of a Chinese village were you really thinking about Project Runway?
Just in case he was contrasting this Chinese unflappibility with another group of disaster victims that interrupted the president's vacation and wrecked his approval ratings, lets' not forget where we live. Despite the fact that we can no longer claim to be the world's greatest carbon emitter, the United States still has a larger economy than China's. This is despite the fact that we have fewer than a third as many people. In a nation as rich as ours and as powerful as ours, people tend to have higher expectations. People tend to expect the infrastructure around them to work and they expect their government to work for them. If it doesn't, instead of just making-do, people in the United States have a recourse that perhaps the Chinese don't. They can simply elect people who'll do a better job. It's not whining as much as accountability.
I suppose it's possible, however, that David Brooks was actually thinking about reality TV. In that case, it bears mentioning that Michael Kors can be a total bitch if your hems aren't straight.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Wisconsin's prima donna business lobby took the full brunt of one of Wiley's rhetorical stiff-arms today and I don't think anyone is surprised that they immediately started bawling.
I'll admit, I'm too lazy to check it out myself but it appears WMC's list of "factual errors" contains a few . . . well, factual errors. The Journal Sentinel pointed out that, if WMC actually did lobby for the passage of the university budget, they failed to report it to the state. Illusory Tenant piled on by helpfully explaining to James Buchen that, really, ad hominem is a fancy Latin word for a personal attack so, yes, WMC most certainly did level personal attacks against Lewis Butler.
Another high-profile shot across (if not into) WMC's bow. On the one hand, you could say that all of the heat they've been taking has been coming from "Liberal Madison." On the other hand, you could say that they've now been castigated by the state's most successful high-tech firm (Epic Systems) and the leader of its largest economic engine (UW - Madison). For a business lobby, things could look better.
Monday, August 11, 2008
The panel was overruled by a political appointee, Undersecratary Jay Cohen, who obviously took more away from his meetings on the subject with Mississippi representative Bennie Thompson (D- MS) than Thompson did. Thompson claimed never to have talked with anyone at Homeland Security about the center. The department says he talked to Cohen twice. Indeed, all of Mississippi's powerful congressional delegation seemed very sure they weren't aware of the ratings system and indignant that such a "rumor" would get started. At any rate, the department was free to disregard the recommendations of this "phantom panel."
Bottom line, it stinks and clearly Cohen anticipated why. With several biotech powerhouses vying for the opportunity to host the center (UW - Madison kept company in the losers pile with sites in California, Texas, Georgia, Maryland and Missouri) why slip in Flora Mississippi? Cohen's logic on the subject is a simple misquote of Kevin Costner, "When Built, they come."
The phrase holds partly true here. No-doubt, Homeland Security could build the thing in Guam and they'd find people to staff it. The question is, who? Are top researchers in bacteriology and virology, who can command a lucrative research position at any of the multiple institutions trying to lure them, going to pack up and move to rural Mississippi? What opportunities for collaborative research and technology transfer are going to be lost because the lab is unaffiliated with a major biotech hub? Did anyone consider any sort of accountability to the taxpayers to build the facility someplace that might actually facilitate its function?
Oh well, another victory for blatant cronyism. Maybe, with better placed congresspeople, UW could snag a federal grant to study gulf-coast hurricanes.
p.s. It should be noted that, in dismissing UW-Madison's bid, Cohen cited local opposition in the form of resolutions from the Town of Dunn and the Dane County Board. I suggest that, in thanks to the board and town for torpedoing a multi-hundred-million-dollar facility to pander to a bunch of cottagers, we uproot the disgusting monolith of a courthouse the county threw up in the middle of one of Madison's signature views and plant it squarely on the shores of Lake Kegonsa. Just a thought.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Damer's right, of course, in pointing out both the mediocrity of public art in Madison and the staggering blandness of the State Street redesign. He's also right to point out the city's habit of ignoring the expertise at the west end of State Street in favor of committees of well-heeled novices or, I might add, expensive outside "experts." I suppose it's worth noting that the University's own athletic department probably didn't consult the art faculty either before they erected a giant phallus . . . er obelisk-made-of-footballs in front of the fieldhouse.
Damer's advice to the city is to simply stop trying create public art pieces and use the money instead to create an actually attractive streetscape. My guess is that would fail too. It seems to me that the problem here is the entire concept of design by committee.
When I took my first job as a choral conductor, I considered some of the people I was directing to be better musicians than I. (This is going somewhere, I swear.) This bothered me at first because I was constantly afraid that my interpretive ideas would differ from theirs; and who was I to overrule them? It finally occurred to me that I was the conductor. It always helps for the decision-maker to be the best qualified but, in music, its more important that the decision-maker is one person. Had everyone felt the need to assert all of their own ideas about tempo, phrasing and interpretation, we'd either have taken months to work everything out or simply sounded like crap.
In visual art, it seems that the artist should be her own conductor. Committees are perhaps a fine way to pick an artist to begin with, provided they have actual expertise to judge the field of candidates but, that person having been selected, every demand, every outside direction and every compromise is a step along the path to mediocrity. If you trust your artist to have good ideas, then you should give her leave to fully realize them.
But what of the controversy? What if people hate her idea? Well then they do. If you've chosen well, a fair number will love it too. Good art should evoke strong emotions in people. No-one wants to spend a quarter-million dollars on a giant visual conciliation. The last thing you want, the lowest of the low, is that piece that no one really hates. Everyone just dislikes it a little.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Old growth is not a very renewable resource. Old-growth trees are typically centuries old and they acquire their sought-after close grain and high density from growing slowly in the shadow of pre-existing, centuries-old trees. Thus, the question is, if the Pacific Northwest had been logged down to a few owl-islands in a little over a century, what were they planning on doing once they'd logged the rest of a resource that takes a good chunk of a millennium to replace? The issue wasn't whether or not to stop logging. It had to stop. The issue was whether to stop before or after destroying an entire ecosystem.
A similar issue stands before us today. Oil prices are rising, apparently as a result of tight-supply in the face of rising world demand. This puts stress on the economy, most directly manifested here in the closing of the GM SUV plant in Janesville. To combat rising oil prices, many would have us drill in areas currently closed to resource exploitation due to environmental sensitivity. We need that oil.
The issue here, again, is that, even if drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve and elsewhere could provide immediate relief (it can't), we'd only slightly postpone the inevitable. We're going to run out of oil and, as production declines and demand continues to rise, it's going to get more expensive. Until SUVs run on something other than gasoline, they're just not going to be that practical. GM would've done well to realize that earlier and re purpose that plant before things got this bad. They didn't.
We will find a way to meet our energy needs without fossil fuels. The choice before us is how much of our world we'll irrevocably destroy before we do.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
I agree with the thrust of the editorial; banning painted chests at WIAA events does seem to be a solution in search of a problem. What annoys me is that the State Journal Editorial Board seems to be stuck in grade school. I don't remember exactly when it was that it was explained to me that "dumb" means mute, not stupid, but I'm pretty sure it was well before a box of crayons ceased to be a requisite school supply.
Generally, I'm not one of those people who thinks we should all be speaking Victorian English out of reverance for the grand edifice of the English Language. Our language has been changing for as long as it's existed but that's not what's going on here. The editors weren't using some new bit of common parlance to keep up with the times nor were they, in this instance, fudging arcane grammatical rules to match common speech (something that can also drive me insane). They simply chose to use the wrong word. The State Journal could defend this as an attempt to sound less like the literary elite if it weren't for the fact that most people who don't know what "dumb" means haven't learned to read yet. For those people and the State Journal Editorial Board, here are a couple helpful examples of "stupid" and "dumb" properly used in sentences.
1. It's stupid to use a word in a published article that doesn't mean what you're clearly trying to say.*
2. I was literally struck dumb by the inanity of that State Journal editorial.**
. . . Now you try.
* Note my use of the second-person in this sentence where the third would be more formally appropriate. I'm totally hip.
**I also might have underlined "State Journal" but I'm not using the full title and it's the wild, wild internets. Anything goes. Language policing always balls up into a petty game of tit for tat but, really, words should mean what they mean.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
We were the first people to wander into the room and, after I'd relished first pick of the donuts and continental breakfast, I took a seat just near enough the end of the U-shaped conference table to be inconspicuous (any closer would've looked weird for the first people in). As I enjoyed my fruit medley, a well-dressed gentleman sat down next me. It was ex-Clinton-nemesis turned libertarian evangelist, Bob Barr. He was accompanied by his lovely wife and we had a polite conversation innocuous enough that I've completely forgotten what we talked about; then he and ACLU President Nadine Strossen gave a presentation on the abuses of the Patriot Act.
All in all, my encounter with Bob Barr was thoroughly unremarkable. He's a pleasant, principled man . . . who will not be president.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Enter Rick Esenberg who applied the "activist" label to a decision of the California State Supreme Court last week (he did scrupulously avoid an ad hominem attak). He alleges the four majority justices disregarded the meaning of the plain language of the California State Constitution (which I'd wager he's not familiar with) when they rendered their decision (which he admits he hasn't read). I can't argue with that. We'd both need to know what we were talking about. Fortunately, his actual argument is philosophical . . . and wrong.
His first stab recycles a popular conservative yarn about the procreative nature of marriage. He's not a bigot, you see, marriage is just about creating a framework for raising children.
This is nonsense. Disregarding, for the moment, the fact that marriage has, historically, mostly been about property rights, (I remember attending a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony where the contract illustrated this pretty clearly) there's the inconvenient fact that couples without the ability or intent to have children get married all the time. There's also the intention of many same-sex couples to adopt children. Conservatives would be quick to point out the potential "damage" to the child but, with mounting evidence, nobody's ever been able to demonstrate any systemic disadvantage to the children of gay and lesbian parents. What would be needed to make a compelling argument against same-sex marriage is a clear disqualification unique to same-sex couples. This argument fails to disqualify and the absence of a functional, matched pair of reproductive organs (with intent to procreate) is not unique.
Next, there's the strain on poor marriage. Already she's endured the sexual revolution and no-fault divorce, another rapid change could do the old gal in.
Personally, I don't think the cultural defense argument really holds any water. It seems singularly unamerican to place the perceived welfare of some cultural orthodoxy ahead of individual liberty. At any rate, two years after its own decision, Massachusetts' divorce rate doesn't appear to have shot through the roof.
Then, finally, we get to the meat of the "activist" accusation. Regardless of what the California constitution says, when its framers said "equal treament," or words to that effect, they couldn't possibly have meant to include gay people. Everybody hated gay people until "a few years ago."
When one attempts to characterize constructionism by claiming its adherents are simply attempting to divine the thoughts and subliminal intentions of a law's authors, (unless it's an environmental-protection or anti-discrimination law) one is usually in for a verbal thrashing. In this case, I fail to see what else Esenberg could be doing. When the founding fathers said "All men are created equal," it is likely that they did, in fact, mean just men, and only white ones. Since then, it has often been the "activist" courts who have had to be at the fore in saying that, in plain language, equal means equal, and there's no substantive distinction between white men and black men, men and women, or straight women and lesbians. Yes, it's taken a while to figure this out but do we really expect the courts to pretend the last two-hundred years never happened? We know more than our forefathers did and we'd be fools to ignore that knowledge.
But wasn't the court overturning the "will of the people?" Yes, and so what? If this were actually a direct democracy, we wouldn't need a constitution in the first place. If it was allowed a vote, the body politic may indeed come to a different opinion about what should be done with my hair or my lawn but they don't get a vote. It's my hair, its my lawn and its my marriage. The idea that civil liberties should be put to a vote is ridiculous. Regulation of public behavior is something we do, for better or worse, quite regularly. Regulation of private conduct and access to public institutions is rarer and requires greater care than a year-long slug-fest/slogan-contest over a poorly worded ballot question. It requires actual evidence that curtailing freedom yields a public good overriding the violation of private liberty. A history, however long, of violating that liberty for no good reason does not constitute a justification.
So was the California court being "activist" when it decided to look at the world in front of its nose rather than gazing into Antonin Scalia's crystal ball? Who cares? Regardless of what label gets attached to the decision, it's left the state of California freer and more fair.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Fred Mohs' "Out of My Backyard" suggestion simply moves the problem to a different part of town. The Trib article points out that one possible reason for increased trouble in downtown student neighborhoods is recent efforts to move panhandlers off of State Street. The rants since the start of the latest "backlash" seem to fall into two camps (apart from David Blaska's macabre, victorian workhouse fantasy). First there's the "let's all throw away this namby-pamby, liberal compassion pretense and judge them!" response. John Roach, for instance, suggests we dedicate an official month to brainstorming ideas for combatting the homeless menace. This dovetails nicely into the "Throw them all in prison!" camp, which is really what these people are getting at. Fining people with no money doesn't work. Moving them around the city with petty restrictions doesn't work. We're talking about incarcerating a group a people we're afraid of. Imprisoning Madison's estimated 3400 homeless residents, at $30,000 per inmate, would cost right around $102 million a year. Are these people really willing to spend this much? If they are, I've got a better idea.
Let's return to reality for a moment. Let's come back to the world where (assuming it even was a homeless person) we're worked up about one guy in a community of thousands of people who've been completely neglected by society and whose only common offense is lacking a roof and four walls. How about we take just a fraction of that hundred-million-dollars a year (say a tenth) and invest it in transitional housing, humane mental-health and substance-abuse treatment, and even a few more level-headed beat cops like Officer Meredith York (featured in the Tribune article).
Will it mean an end to unsolved murders, aggressive panhandling and even homelessness? Of course not. There are too many issues here and too many individuals to fall under any blanket solution, especially with the poverty rate rising. What it will do is get more of these people off the streets and into programs focused on helping them, rather than prisons focused on punishing them.
Regardless of who's to "blame" for any one person's homelessness, there are people in this city in need of shelter. We can deal with them constructively or we can deal with them punitively. . . or we can try not to deal with them at all. No points for guessing which we'll choose.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
The Journal goes on to frame the election as a contest between a liberal judicial philosophy and a conservative one and, after listing Justice Butler's myriad assaults on corporate liability protections ends with this stern warning, "A seat on the bench is not a sinecure, and justices who abuse or contort the law must sometimes answer for their actions."
What a load of crap. The merit of the right's all-encompassing "activism" label notwithstanding (it's implied here and used explicitly earlier in the piece) to frame the discourse of this election as having anything but the slightest connection to corporate liability is horribly dishonest. To be sure, protection from civil liability was at the heart of the corporatist push to elect their hired man at any cost but this wasn't something the Gableman campaign or any of its surrogates were eager to share with the public. "Elect me and I'll slam the courthouse door in your face." isn't a rallying cry that really resonates with the rank and file. No, apart from using a liberal enough sprinkling of the "activist" label to make it clear that even he wasn't sure what he meant, Mike Gableman ran his campaign on pure fear.
In tough times, the right has made fear its weapon of choice. Fear of communists, fear of minorities, fear of homosexuals, fear of terrorists, they've all been used to justify and defend some of the worst decisions in this nation's history, everything from draconian civil-rights abuses to our current, disastrous foreign policy.
Gableman's choice was fear of criminals. He used it to blind the public to the true role of Supreme Court in Wisconsin's judicial system to say nothing of the role of public defenders. In Gableman's world, there was no presumption of innocence, no right to due process of law and no ethical obligation to ably represent the accused. He wanted you to think that Butler was just trying to let these people out SO THEY COULD KILL YOU!!!
So do I, as the Journal suggests of Doyle, think too little of the Wisconsin electorate? If I thought so, I wouldn't be writing this. These types of scare tactics have played far too large a role in our public discourse lately and they wouldn't work if people took the trouble to think about what's really going on. We live in a state that incarcerates twice as many people as Minnesota (at $30,000 a piece) with no real difference in crime rate to show for it. We live in a state that barred equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians without a shred of credible evidence that fears of some catastrophic societal degradation were remotely founded. We now live in a state where corporate interests from all corners of the globe can sully our airwaves and lie to our faces for months and be rewarded with a bought-and-paid-for partisan hack on the Supreme Court bench, twice!
A century ago Wisconsin cleaned up nonsense like this and I think we can do it again. All it takes is understanding where the true threats lie, not to fear them, but to face them.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
The Benedictus is no cakewalk and, especially for a younger tenor, it's not so easy to pull off those high notes in a tone that would be widely considered appropriate for Bach (my effort was marginally successful), especially when one is expected to sit silent for a half-hour before getting up to sing (singers begin to de-warm-up after about ten minutes). The solution, hydration! The more water I've got in me the happier my cords are. But therein lies the problem: I have to sit silent for a half-hour after loading myself up with as much water as I think I can hold. Nobody was looking forward to that intermission more than I.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Yesterday, on Wisopinion, Tom Still pondered the possible benefits of replacing UW - Madison's outgoing chancellor, John Wiley, with someone from the business community. The obvious reason for hiring a businessperson to lead the university is money. The legislature has made a sport of grumbling about "waste" in the university. Perhaps someone with a little more managerial acumen could curry more legislative favor come budget time. A rapport with the type of person who might donate large sums to the cause would also come more naturally to someone coming from the business community. Still makes a well-argued point that the regents might want to consider someone outside of academia but I think there are few holes. First, putting a businessperson in charge of the university doesn't necessarily mean more money. Second, money isn't really supposed to be the point anyway.
The UW - Madison has a two-billion-dollar annual budget. Currently, the state provides around 19%. State support for higher education in Wisconsin, like most other states, has been falling precipitously. That being said, it's a little naive to think that a change of management on Bascom Hill would convince the legislature to loosen the purse strings. Even assuming mismanagement is a large problem at the university (it's not), one wonders how, precisely, the legislature thinks that massive funding cuts provide a remedy. If they were truly interested in eliminating waste, they'd address it directly. As it is, the perception of waste is simply an excuse to take more public money away from higher education and spend it on things that actually fund legislator's campaigns like contracts and tax-breaks for well-connected cronies. It also helps to fill budget holes created by the legislature's own terrible mismangement. If the University of Wisconsin is to get more state assistance, the shakeup has to happen on the other end of State Street.
In terms of fundraising, the UW foundation's coffers are filled with several billion reasons to think that John Wiley, an academic, was about as effective a fundraiser as the university could've hoped for. Within that bonanza lies the problem with focusing on money. As state funding has been replaced with research dollars and private donations, the university has undergone a transformation. As it chases dollars to keep the lights on and keep the state's economy afloat, those parts of the institution that don't attract their own funding, be it through research dollars, financially successful alumni, or special state initiatives, wither. The arts, humanities and a good portion of the core curriculum are in real trouble in a lot of public universities and UW - Madison is a sad follower of that trend.
When the University of Wisconsin was founded it wasn't dollar signs that drove the state's commitment, it was education. Since its earliest days, Wisconsin has been a pioneer in public education because the state's founders realized that an educated populace is vital to a healthy democracy. A thorough grounding in history, culture and philosophy may not help bring home the bacon but they certainly help someone who holds a vote in the most powerful country in the world understand that world a lot better.
The next chancellor of the UW - Madison isn't just going to have make sure the university remains the state's premier economic engine He or she is going to have make some serious decisions about whether or not it remains the state's premier educational institution. If the UW is to be more than a glorified technical institution, resources need to get to the programs that most need them as well as the programs that most attract them. These issues are not invisible to business people but thinking about them isn't really necessary (in fact it can be antithetical) to keeping the shareholders happy.
So now we return to Stanley Fish, whose actual point was that there are people who have been successful both in the world of business and academia; so why choose someone with no academic credentials? Without money, an academic institution can't survive. Without academics, it can't exist.
Monday, February 25, 2008
To the City of Madison: I’m glad you’re putting that no-warning, whiner’s ordinance to good use. It would be completely unreasonable to expect anything less than dry pavement after an ice storm in the snowiest year on record. I was intrigued, though, that you considered my sidewalk to be dangerous. It’s in exactly the same condition as the sidewalk along that patch of city land that borders my backyard. You know, the one I mow for you. Maybe when you send people over tomorrow to clear my sidewalk they can do yours as well. I went out tonight with the pickaxe and gave them a head start so they won’t have to spend as much time on mine (presumably with hairdryers). Speaking of my limitations, there’s just been an unexpected drain on my pocketbook. I’m afraid I’ll have to cut back on gas for the lawnmower. If your inspectors are less busy in summer, maybe they could mow the patch next to the bike path.
I live in the city because I like the sense of community. Now I know why people move to the suburbs.
Update 5/20/08: Lest anybody think this incident has permanently turned me into the bitter crank I was when I wrote this post, I've been mowing the city patch as often as I mow my own lawn (not often enough). I'm still fighting the snow removal fine, though.
Friday, February 22, 2008
As everyone is, by now, aware, Tammy is one of the Democratic party's 842 super delegates, not bound by primary results. Russ Feingold is reportedly poised to pledge his support to Obama but Baldwin seems likely to exercise her prerogative to vote her own will as opposed to that of her district.
Four years ago, when the toppling of the Bush administration seemed like a real possibility, I saw Tammy speak at the UW. Her primary issue then, as now, was health care. For almost her entire tenure in office, Tammy Baldwin has been working toward universal health care. So why would she still be committed to Hillary Clinton? Because Clinton is the better candidate on health care.
Yes, the Obama and Clinton health care plans are very similar but Clinton's at least makes an attempt at universality, something that's actually necessary to keep individual costs down. Obama has indicated his willingness to impose penalties instead of Clinton's "mandate" thus punishing you for trying to game the system only if you lose said game. In trying to set himself apart on this issue, he's actually been attacking Clinton from the right, even going to so far as to resurrect the horribly distorted Harry and Louise ads that became emblematic of the right's efforts to sink universal health care the first time Hillary tried to make it a reality. So Baldwin has made her decision, for now.
But what of democracy? Isn't Tammy Baldwin an elected official, bound to the people's will? Well, not in the primary. One of the reasons the primary election system in this country is such a hodge-podge is that primaries are a relatively recent development. The Democratic party isn't a public institution. It's a political party and political parties can nominate their candidates any way they want. Less than a century ago, party nominating conventions had nothing to do with the results of public elections.
Progressive reformers began to push for primary elections in the early twentieth century as a way to lessen the influence of corrupt party bosses on candidate selection. As a vestige of the old system, superdelegates would do well to keep the progressive heritage of primary elections in mind. That being said, Tammy Baldwin is hardly a political fat-cat making unaccountable decisions in smoke-filled rooms. She's a well-loved and well-respected public official who feels very passionately about the need for health care for all Americans. We would all do well to respect that.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
The fact is, Darwin Day makes me a bit uncomfortable. Not because of what it celebrates but because of the capitulation it represents. Detractors of the event are only too quick to point out that a majority of Americans don't believe in evolution but this is precisely why it's held. Promoters of public scientific literacy have been saying for years that the scientific community has been remiss. Science hasn't promoted itself and it's been outstripped in the public marketplace of ideas by religion and superstition. People are happy to take for granted the vast array of technological achievement and medical advancement that surrounds them without any concept of the knowledge and methodology that made it possible, despite the fact that it's taught in schools! So the University of Wisconsin and similar institutions around the world hold these events to try to explain to the public why it is that, yes, science actually is the best way to explain things.
The difficulty lies in explaining science to people who don't think scientifically. To most people, what someone says really is less important than how they say it. A whole lecture of right, complete with visual aids, isn't as convincing as that emphatically, ecstatically wrong preacher they listen to every Sunday. Should science really start acting like a religion and respond to these people on their level?
I suppose it may be necessary. Regardless of how it's done, people have to be educated. Having a majority of people disbelieving one of the central tenets of human self-understanding is a very dangerous thing in a democracy. The church of humanism may yet have to spread its message of hope and objectivity across the land. Just don't expect me to get up for services.
Monday, February 4, 2008
The GOP's witless wonders in media-land have reason to feel a little insecure of late. They've been cheerleaders for the party's two biggest constituencies, bible thumpers and plutocrats for decades now. Neither group is currently in the best PR position and they're none-too-pleased with each other at the moment. The public is not enthused about conservative business as usual.
Enter John McCain, the great maverick of the Republican Party, the man who would buck the powers that be. Except, of course, he's not. There was the John McCain who partnered with Russ Feingold to pass a campaign finance reform bill and stood, momentarily, against his party on the Bush tax cuts but, ever since he bent over backward to kiss Jerry Falwell's ring, America's crustiest presidential candidate has scarcely missed an opportunity to signal to the party elite that he's more than willing to sell it all out for a shot at the White House. He even backpedaled on immigration and all-but lied about his initial reasoning for opposing the tax cuts,
So now we come back to Coulter and Co. throwing eggs at the Straight Talk Express, denouncing a man they should know damned well is every bit their candidate. Are they really incensed at their loss of influence or really desperate to hide that they haven't lost any?
Monday, January 21, 2008
Obama jumps to an early lead on foreign policy. Clinton voted for the 2002 authorization to use force in Iraq that ultimately lead to the Iraq war. Obama couldn't have voted for or against it, not being in the Senate in 2002, but he's on record speaking forcefully against war at the time. Furthermore, even recently Clinton displayed a disturbing pliancy to the administration's foreign policy rhetoric by voting for the president's September, poke-Iran-with-a-stick resolution declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. (The Iranians responded by declaring the CIA a terrorist organization. . . touché, though lumping in the U.S. Army was just gratuitous.) So kudos to Obama for seeing the folly of hijacking U.S. foreign policy to get into pissing contests with middle-east despots. How does he do on the domestic front?
Sadly, not well. As Paul Krugman points out over and over and over and over and over again, a lot of Obama's domestic policy positions, specifically on health care and the economy, lie well to the right of reality. Hillary has a more credible health care plan and the sense to realize that, when dealing with the right-wing machine, a conciliatory stance is a weak one.
So what we need is a president who will keep the country out of horribly ill-conceived military debacles that compromise our security and standing in the world. In Iraq, people are dying. We also desperately need a president who will work to restore a strong middle class and really guarantee health care for all Americans. Here at home, people are dying.
To be honest, I'm not quite sure how to finish this. The fact is, they're both politicians (yes, Obama too) and it's hard to see, while they're trying to win the vacuous popularity contest that is the U.S. presidential election, what they'd actually do in office. Here's wishing the stakes weren't so high.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Is the media simply too stupid to understand anything beyond petty trivia that wouldn't make it into a school paper's student-council-race coverage or are we?
Monday, January 7, 2008
Throughout the course of a normal day, there's usually a thing or two that sets me to ruminating. Be it a new little factoid or someone's opinion, I start thinking about a response. Until now, these have been published only in my head or the odd letter to the editor if I'm particularly motivated. Well now I've decided to place these musings on a more permanent/public medium, *the internet*!!! Eventually, it'd be neat if people read these things and used the comments feature to tell me how stupid they think I am but, for now, it looks like it's just me. Oh . . . and hi Chris.