Blog Credo

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis.The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.
- Abraham Lincoln


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Two Health Stories

For a relative pittance, the Carter Center has come close to eradicating guinea worm.  By improving education, digging wells and providing treatment, they have managed to dramatically reduce a truly horrific parasitic infection.

Meanwhile, there is a new drug to combat HIV.  It is incredibly expensive - up to $14,000 a year - and has to be taken every day.  It can help at-risk people avoid infection, but again it has to be taken every day.  It has already started to create resistant strains, despite being on the market for only two years.  The people who probably need it most - sex workers and the population of sub-Saharan Africa - can't afford it.

Roughly speaking, you're looking at two ways of treating illness.  One is focused on public health and prevention.  The other is "there's a pill for that (if you have insurance)."

Obviously, drugs have made tremendous improvements in people's lives.  But the way in which we treat illnesses could be made more comprehensive.  It will be interesting - for instance - to see a longitudinal study of preventable deaths from cigarette smoking and see if high taxes have an effect.  It's only been about 15 years since the tobacco industry finally cried uncle about their product.  Has there been an effect?

Or is there now a pill for that, too?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Huckleberry Closetcase Needs To STFU

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/graham-kerry-delusional

Inevitably, Republican foreign policy can be reduced to "sending them a message."  Them can be whomever needs that message sent.

When Fluffy asked him how Kerry failed in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17, Graham actually said we should have been arming the Ukrainians.  To "send a message" to Putin, I guess.  Because Kerry didn't call Putin a "thug" which would have TOTALLY worked, because Putin may look like a Bond villain, but he's really as frail and vulnerable to name calling as a 13 year girl who just had braces put on.

Because what Ukraine needs right now is MORE weapons.  Maybe this time the government can shoot down a passenger jet with an American weapon.

Graham is a moron and should just shut the hell up.

Single Servings

When I was in college - an age when you are supposed to listen to "college" music - my college radio station was the FM station for central New Hampshire.  So we got - I shit you not - a bunch of Madonna, Duran Duran and Billy Ocean.  There was an AM station but its format was so bonkers you never knew what to expect.

Meanwhile, my peers were being immersed in the Smiths, Husker Du and REM.  The local DJ actually pronounced REM as rem.

So it took me awhile to cultivate musical taste beyond Jimmy Buffet.  I spent most of my college years listening to old R&B from the Atlantic Records vaults.  At one point I was into Gordon Lightfoot.

It was sad.

About ten years ago, all of that changed.  While I had been gaining access to a greater variety of music, it was the advent of the iPod and iTunes plus satellite radio that changed everything.  Suddenly you didn't need to have the cool dude at the record store recommend Grizzly Bear to you, because the iTunes Genius would suggest it after you listened to The Decemberists, which you heard on Sirius Radio.  Plus, the advent of MySpace and other sites allowed for small bands to produce and promote their own stuff.

As a result, you can tailor make what you want to listen to.

When I'm in a car without satellite radio, I feel force fed crap.  The annoying DJ chatter; the stupid ads, the mass produced pablum.

But recently, I've soured on satellite radio.  Having access to an iPod means you never have to listen to what you don't want to listen to.  And even the minimal DJ chatter from Sirius is gone.

We live in a world where you have access to more and more varied content.  Hundreds of channels, thousands of bands.  And increasingly you can only expose yourself to what you want.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying we live in age of unprecedented choice, but that choice often winds up narrowing our choices.  I'll listen to Leonard Cohen's atonal "singing" but not Neil Young's.  I'll listen to Snow Patrol but not Coldplay.

When sociologists look at this time period, they will see the moment when technology led us further and further away from each other and from communal experiences, into our own private world of personal preferences.

I don't think the trend is permanent, but it could be.  And that's a little worrisome.

We cannot afford to fail further apart on every little thing.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Damnit...

It pisses me off when I write a whole post like yesterday and Booman comes along and writes a better one on the same subject.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Deadly Folly

Two world leaders who most give off the vibe of "Bond Villain" have stumbled into a situation that Barbara Tuchman described as folly in her book The March of Folly.  Folly is basically a self-made error that people at the time recognize as being a self-made error.  This isn't something that benefits from hindsight, people at the time can see the error, but the powerful people in charge keep on marching.

Vladimir Putin exploited Ukrainian discord (that he helped nurture) in order to achieve the goal of re-annexing Crimea.  But in order to solidify his gains, he felt the need to arm a bunch of whackaloons in eastern Ukraine in order to keep the Ukrainian government back on its heels.  Yesterday, the readily apparent folly of arming extremists with advanced weaponry lead to the death of almost 300 people.

Sadly, the fact that those 300 people were overwhelmingly European means that we will care a little more than we will about the other massive act of folly unfolding right now.

Netanyahu's decision - which has a certain McCain-like simplicity - of "force now, force forever" has not worked.  It will not work.  There is nothing that raining rockets down on Gaza will accomplish - unless what you want to accomplish is more violence.

I am 100% in support of Israel's "right to exist" - as if that were really a debatable issue outside of the fringes of Islamic extremism.  But that support simply does not extend to waging war on one of the most densely populated areas of the planet.  The excuse I keep hearing is that Hamas is hiding their rockets in schools, hospitals and residential neighborhoods.  All of Gaza is a residential neighborhood.  And of course, they are going to hide their rockets in places that create moral problems when you attack them.

The idea that this is a "war" seems laughable when you look at the relative casualties.  This is a punitive exercise designed to kill Gazans.  This is a naked show of force, and it is the logic of occupation and oppression.

It may have some short term positive effects for Israel.  Tactically, they may achieve some goals, parade some captured Hamas rockets on TV.

But Israel was created out of global moral revulsion at the crimes perpetrated against Jews during the Holocaust.  And increasingly, their actions in Gaza are creating a similar wave of moral revulsion, if on a smaller scale.

Netanyahu's folly is thinking he can kill Hamas.  You can't kill an idea - even a repulsive one like the kind Hamas represents.  If you wanted to undermine Hamas, you would try and make life in Gaza less miserable, for every moment of suffering and pain in Gaza can currently be blamed on Israel.  Yes, Hamas' actions have led to the blockade, the bombardment and now the invasion.  But that sort of fine distinction is lost in the psychology of oppression.

If conquering the Palestinians would bring peace, we would have peace already.  If you could kill your way to a solution, we would have a solution now given the river of blood that have been spilled.

Both Putin and Netanyahu have reacted to the moment.  They are reacting tactically.  Neither one has a strategic plan to allow them to get what they want.  So despite his Bond villain vibe, Putin's folly is precisely his lack of a plan.  "Annex Crimea, Arm Separatists....And...."  Netanyahu has become the hammer that sees every problem as a nail.  He no longer has any long term vision for peace in his country.  I would hate to think he's as cynical as to create the conditions of permanent war in order to create a permanent Likud government, but you have to wonder if THAT is his real goal.  Few Israelis are dying in this conflict, so whatever mayhem he unleashes on Hamas and the civilian population in Gaza isn't hurting his electoral chances.

But the "World" still matters.  Putin's energy reserves can only buy him so much cover for the death of hundreds of people that his folly caused.  Netanyahu can only rely on American cover for so long.  We have excused and aided Israel's bad actions for the last decade or so as they moved from trying to find peace to embracing the logic of the occupier and the geography - yes - of the ghetto.

Things are shit right now.  The US didn't "do" this - except in our blank check for Israel, which no one in either party will condemn.  Putin and Netanyahu did this.  They created the chaos that has lead to death.

It's perhaps too hippie and simplistic to say, "War is not the answer" but really what else can you say?  You fight wars because you absolutely have to.  Putin and Netanyahu seem to have lost that thread.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Desperation

The logic of force is the logic of desperation, which is to say it is illogical.  It seems logical, but ultimately, it rarely works.

Ask the Russian separatists in Ukraine.

Ask the Israelis.

Ask the ammosexuals who fetishize their weapons.

Summer Reading

I've been forced to read a rather dry and tedious book called Beyond the University; Why Liberal Education Matters.  But I came across a quote from John Dewey that explain, I think, a fundamental idea present in the Tea Party right.  Here is the quote:

From a social standpoint, dependence denotes a power rather than a weakness; in involves interdependence.  There is always a danger that increased personal independence will decrease the social capacity of an individual.  In making him more self-reliant, it may make him more self-sufficient; it may lead to aloofness and indifference.  It often makes an individual so insensitive to his relations with others as to develop an illusion of being really able to stand and act alone - an unnamed form of insanity which is responsible for a large part of the remediable suffering of the world.

(Underlining is mine.)

It is not coincidence that the Tea Party steeps itself in Revolutionary Era rhetoric and a preference for some of Jefferson's more ludicrous statements.  Their goal is independence from the United States of 2014.  Independence from the tree huggers in Berkeley, the blahs in the inner city, the hordes of immigrants from the south, the Prius driving lesbian.  They want no part of that "other" US.

They see themselves as the mythic frontiersman, battling the wilderness and enemies alone.  That's why Cliven Bundy resonated so strongly with them.  He's a perfect avatar of what they see themselves to be from their cubicle at Initech.

I would argue that perhaps the strongest predictor of political ideology is whether someone sees themselves as "aloof" - to use Dewey's phrase - or interconnected.  Take climate change.  The stunning lack of regard for the damage that we are doing to our planet is nothing less than a profound act of selfish independence.  "If my house on Nag's Head gets flooded, I will just move inland, but it's not going to happen because scientists are fakes."  You're not only declaring your separateness from the hundreds of millions of people who would be displaced by rising oceans, you're declaring your separateness from science.

Or take the refugee crisis.  Ted Cruz wants to deport DREAMers, despite being the son of an immigrant himself.  And when I see the crisis on the border, I see children who crossed all of Mexico rather than stay in a violence plagued homeland.  In other words, my heart aches for these kids.  Conservatives scream at them and brandish guns.

One of the reasons you find more liberals in cities is because it is impossible to be independent in a dense urban setting.  And that's why you have conservatives dominating the exurbs.  It's both shaping them and shaping their choices about where to live.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Worth Watching

http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/zrmf57/america-s-immigration-crisis--kid-edition

2014

And we apparently still have to explain why a return to the gold standard would be a bad thing.

Many conservatives have well and truly lost their marbles.  And presumably the only way to disabuse them of some of their folly is to hand them the reins of power, but even when we do that in places like Kansas, they seem oblivious to the error of their thinking.

All that is left is to relegate their ideas to the same ash heap of history to which we consigned Leninism and Maoism.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Long Read

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/07/05/why-many-democrats-turned-against-teachers-unions/

This is an interesting - if long - read on why even some Democrats are turning against teacher's unions.

This is the Clinton - and to be fair, Obama - wing of the party that I distrust some.  The Aspen Institute/Davos/Tom Friedman set that has these "big ideas" that are going to be "disruptive" and "synergistic".

The key thing about these education reformers that I took from the article is that many of them are economists, not educators.  They are looking for efficiencies and productivity, and frankly, good education is inefficient.  It's time consuming and personalized.

If, indeed, the philosophical foundation of education reform is this economic perspective, then it is doomed to fail.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Picture, A Thousand Words

http://www.vox.com/2014/7/13/5893353/this-map-shows-30-years-of-unemployment-in-every-state

Interesting graphic of the changing state-by-state unemployment levels since the Carter Administration.

While we think of unemployment in national terms when talking about policy - "the unemployment rate is at 6.7%" - the fact is, unemployment is both an intensely personal experience and a communal experience.

When you see certain areas hit hard by unemployment, you are seeing the emotional devastation that accompanies each and every job loss written and rewritten over an entire community.  It is psychologically hard to loss a job and go on benefits for the vast majority of people.

While it is true that you can create a culture of dependency if a community experiences long term unemployment, it's important to note that it's the community aspect of this that creates social norms around dependency.  The guy who lives down the street and watches reality TV all day while he collects checks can only be "comfortable" (if that's the right word) if he's either unusually blind to public opinion or part of a community where that's the norm.

Or to put it another way: recessions turn everyone into poor African Americans.  Long recessions and depressions create whole communities of people who give up hope.  And in giving up hope, they abdicate their responsibilities towards social norms - or rather the social norms around them change.

What's striking about American politics ever since 1680, is that while a recession may turn a working class white person into the economic equivalent of an African American - who is used to being first fired, last hired - there is no corresponding empathy that is created among working class whites.

Tom Watson tried - during the First Gilded Age - to unite black and white farmers in the southern wing of the Populist party.  It proved impossible, and he adopted racial demagoguery from that point onward.  Even today, the machinist who lost his job can't see that the anger and helplessness he feels are effectively what African Americans and other minorities feel even during many "good" times.

The Dow is over 17,000.  The Lords of Finance are doing just fine, as they use the Fed's low interest rates to create another market bubble.

But the mass of the people aren't doing great.  Because the House of Representatives refuses to acknowledge basic macroeconomics (or acknowledges it, but prefers voters to be miserable and more likely to vote for them) we are stuck in a sluggish economy.  It's growing but not enough.  The promise that we feel entitled to as Americans is harder to realize.

But sadly, we are not seeing the creation of a "Labor" party to change this.  The closest we have is Elizabeth Warren, whose economic populism is leavened by a sense of social justice.

And this gets to the heart of my reticence about Hillary Clinton.  I think she would be a fine president.  But the moment calls for someone who can unite the millions of Americans who have been screwed over by an economy that is rigged for the 1%.  And I'm not sure that's her.

Eventually, the US economy will grow faster again.  But this could be a moment when we get working class whites to see that their economic situation is not protected by the color of their skin.  That their economic interests are only slightly different from the African American and Hispanic underclass that they have been trained to hate.

I worry that we've missed that moment already.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

More Driving

The Fascist World Cup (National Socialists vs Peronistas) is happening today and I have to drive a shuttle bus.

Die Mannschaft 2-1 over Albaceleste is my call.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Two Notes On Driving

Drove to Hyannis and back today to pick up the Things from Camp Grands.

Two things.

First, why in the world would anyone who lives in the Northeast NOT have EZ Pass.  There are enough toll roads and bridges to make is an essential part of driving.  And yet, I'd say half or more of drivers aren't using it.

Second, stay out of the left lane unless you're the fastest car on the road.  If there is someone behind you - or coming up behind you - get left.  Unless you, yourself are stuck behind someone traveling slowly in the left lane.

If Americans generally used the left lane for passing or very fast travel, my guess is not only would traffic jams decrease, but traffic fatalities.  Slowpokes in the fast lane are what causes people to jump lanes like maniacs.