I disagree with Hightower.

What you will find here is: a centrist's view of current events;
a collection of thoughts, arguments, and observations
that I have found appealing and/or amusing over the years;
and, if you choose, your civil contributions which will make it into a conversation.

He not busy bein' born, is busy dyin'. - Bob Dylan

Please refer to participants only by their designated identities.

suggestion for US citizens: When a form asks for your race, write in: -- American

Friday, December 28, 2012

What happens without guns?

On December 26, 2012 7:44 AM Tom added a reply to the Connecticut massacre story that is so good I want to repeat it here:
On Monday (Dec 24th) a Beijing a man ran down 23 students at a middle school. On December 17th a Chinese man wounded 23 elementary school students with a kitchen knife. The article below is not specific, but it appears there were no deaths in either attack.

China largely prohibits private ownership of guns.

My take away from the article is that the lack of readily available firearms could very well have had a great deal to do with the fact that there were no deaths in either case. It also tells me that guns are probably not the root cause of such attacks.


Sunday, December 23, 2012


To engage in hypocrisy means to claim to hold a certain position while in fact (deeper down?) you hold a quite different if not contrary position.

Hypocrisy is widely viewed in a very negative light and frequently that view is justified.

However, in certain circumstances there is a significant silver lining associated with hypocrisy.  In fact, I believe that, in certain situations, hypocrisy may be a first step in moral awareness.  

When A engages in hypocrisy he implicitly acknowledges that the position that he claims to hold is, in some sense, morally superior to a common alternative position.  Some observers will see the position A claims and his alleged reasons for holding that position to represent valid arguments and be convinced of the validity of that as the morally superior position.  Later, when they learn of his hypocrisy, those observers may have different responses to A.  But for some, what was a hypocritical position for A, will remain a very real position for them.

Of course I need an example.  I offer a classic.  “We hold these truths to be self evident – that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”  For how many generations has that been offered up as “our belief”.  Perhaps the parents of the boomer generation of Americans were especially convincing.  I do not know to what extent those parents’ claim of a belief in racial equality was real.  But many of their children took their parents stated support of the principle to heart.  The result was a large and necessary white component to the civil rights movement.

Therefore, far from being universally a negative activity I think the following is sometimes a better description.

Hypocrisy is the deference we show to those precepts that we recognize as valid, but are unable to practice. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Those spending cuts

For those of you who don't know the highest income tax rate being paid right now is 35%.  What would you think about it if the Speaker offered to count the income that is coming in from between 31% and 35% as a tax hike?

I'll bet you would agree that that little hypothetical was laughable.  The next one is not a hypothetical.

For those who do not know the interest rates that the government is paying right now are very low.  According to the PBS Newshour 12-18-12 the president is offering the interest that we don't have to pay because of those low rates as part of his spending cuts.

PBS noted it, but they didn't laugh.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mass Murder in Connecticut

A gunman armed with military style high fire power weapons just killed two dozen at a school in Connecticut.  Most of the dead were between 5 and  10 years old.

I just heard a congressman say that these shootings always occur in places where guns are forbidden and therefore the solution is to have lots more armed people around who can take these guys out when they do these things.

Poppycock.  There is no group of public spirited citizens, John Waynes all, who are looking for the opportunity to put their lives on the line to save the public.  Not to mention how many of them might shoot each other.

There are solutions of all kinds offered.  More mental health facilities, more security at schools, more ... , and less ... .  Probably some of those would help.

Eventually you come up against the fundamental question of guns.
It is true that guns don't kill people, people kill people.  The problem is that they usually do it with guns.

So what to do about guns?  In particular what to do about military type guns with very high fire power?  Then, of course, you eventually have to deal with the Second Amendment.

At first glance, it is not completely clear that the amendment is an unrestricted right for an individual to own any kind of weapons that they want.  It does not simply say: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

 What it says is this:   "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."  (Curiosity:  That was as ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State. As previously passed by Congress it said:  "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.")

However, in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that the right was independent of service in a militia.

Everyone agrees that the purposes of the amendment include providing people the right to hunt and defend themselves.  Most people believe that rifles, shotguns, handguns are sufficient for those purposes.

Why do some people want access to greater firepower, such as automatic military type weapons?

The other purpose, clear from the original debate in Congress, of the amendment was to provide for citizen resistance to a tyranny from either the Federal Government or a foreign nation.  This was a widely held concern and was not unreasonable in a time when tyranny was widespread and the average man's household gun was comparable to a government issued military weapon.

However, since that time, we have had a Civil War which tested, among other things, how well those militias and state power could stand up against the Federal Government, even when the weaponry was still somewhat comparable.

Fast forward to today and imagine those citizens armed with even the greatest firepower that some claim to have a right to keep and bear under the amendment: automatic rifles and handguns and perhaps even assault rifles. 

Consider now what would happen when they are called upon to meet their presumed mission:
         a)  to defend us from a rogue Federal Government with its superpower military  or 
         b)  to defend the nation against a foreign country which has already invaded and destroyed the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps of the United States.

To expect a good outcome of that conflict is to live in Wonderland.

It is time to abandon such fantasies and get rid of this other purpose of the Second Amendment.

Without that other purpose, simpler weapons are sufficient.

The Court has said to "keep and bear" is an individual right unattached to a militia.

Perhaps they could also say that if you are an individual unattached to a militia, then the weapons that you are entitled to keep and bear must also be "unattached a militia".  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Unions - some thoughts

If people who work hard for a living can't make a decent life, then we have lost America.

I agree with the following analysis by Abraham Lincoln: Italicised parts are implied.  

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. (Therefore) Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. (Which is not to deny that) Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights."  Abraham Lincoln – POTUS – 1861-65

Except for a short stint before college I have never been in a union.  But I support them because I think that they are the only way for the working people to get a big enough share of the fruits of their labor to raise a family.  Notice I avoid the word "fair" since I agree with Tom (who writes here) that fair is way too subjective to have any real meaning.  I wold add that, like FDR, I am not as enthusiastic about public employee unions.  The conflict of interest of the elected managers is too great.

I would even support the use of state power to assist the unions, because I believe that the disparity between the lower middle class and the upper middle class is becoming dangerous in this country.  It is not a classic rich vs poor.  The disparity is between the poor working class and the well to do knowledge class.

There are many of us who make (or made) a living with our minds and are doing very well in this new world.  If the disparity becomes too great it will produce instability.  This situation cannot continue in a nation which is fundamentally democratic and has even a large minority of poor people.  So how do you require the knowledge workers to grant the working class a greater share what they produce?  I see three ways to do that.

1.  Take it in taxation and mail them checks.
2.  Provide a broad array of free services – free education, medicare, and SS so that the obligations of the middle class are reduced.
3.   Have stronger unions.

I prefer a combination of 2 and 3.

I do have one problem with unions and that is this whole business of being required to join (or just pay) in order to work.  I see the validity of the argument that if you don’t pay, then you are a free rider and that is not fair.  But I find the argument that you have to join an organization that you may not agree with and pay for the things that it does in order to work there to be pretty offensive as well.  Huge amounts of that money go to the support of one political party.  If you oppose that party, then you are being forced to financially support something you are against.  Is there no reconciliation of this?  Is it not possible to just have the union contract apply only to union members and everyone else deals with management on their own?

Anyway, let me finish my note on unions with my real nightmare.

With the rise of multinationals and states and nations competing to attract industry (capital) the coin of the realm in which those deals are made is labor.  I find that very scary.  One can imagine this new world rising to be much like that of late nineteenth and early twentieth century America in which the states and the industrial leaders treated the workers as less than chattel. In that earlier environment there was the very powerful and overarching organization that was fundamentally controlled by the people:  the United States of America.  It eventually gave the people some leverage.  But in this larger world environment that same US will be just another one of the competitors.  The world itself is not fundamentally controlled by the people. This time there is no international entity that the people of the world can turn to for support.  

Throw into that mix the fact that some players and nations who are new to the whole capitalism game have no reason to respect the traditional rules which were made by those who are now their competitors.  Why should they be respectful of patents and copyrights made by those who happen to have gotten into the game first.  Then there is the possible rise of state capitalism where an entire nation might function as some corporate-state unit with people playing the roles of ants in a colony.  

Now there's a brave new world, so to speak.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Daily Show as a news source

On Tuesday night Jon Stewart did a piece on the Michigan Right to Work Law in which he related that:

 1.Gov. Richard Snyder had stated earlier in the year that he wasn't interested in a right to work law because it would cause division,

3. after the election the Republican controlled legislature adopted a right to work law, and

4.  Gov. Snyder signed it.

5. Jon thought this was very hypocritical of the Gov.

What Jon left out was

2.  The governor's preference for avoiding divisiness was not shared by the unions.   They proposed an amendment to the constitution which would have made union power much stronger than it was before.

That is, the unions insisted on divisiveness.

The amendment failed badly.

Elections have consequences.

One can only speculate as to why Jon left out that part.

If called on it I expect that Jon would say, as he has said before, I am just a comedian.


Rachel Maddow did a segment last night (found here) about gerrymandering in various states and I thought I would share in order to get some YA reaction.

No doubt that the D's would have engineered favorable voting districts for themselves if they could have, but that fact that there is such disparity between the popular vote tallies and number of representatives from the respective parties doesn't sit well with me.

I don't want to sound all "sour grapes" about my party not winning more seats, and should note that I was equally unsettled when some of the TV pundits were predicting an Obama win in the electoral college and a Romney win in the popular vote.


I am told that there are only three areas of human endeavor in which prodigies arise and those are music, mathematics, and chess.

The three activities which have been the loves of my life have been music, mathematics, and chess.

Why could I not even have approached being a prodigy in any of them?

Oh, well.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Right to Work

On Monday President Obama told UAW members in Michigan “What we shouldn't be doing is try to take away your rights to bargain for better wages or working conditions."

I agree. Does the President know of any efforts to do so?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Affirmative Action 2

The Data Plan 

What will replace affirmative action if the Supreme Court kills it?

from the New Republic

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Ever since conservative courts and voters began trying to eliminate affirmative action in the 1990s, universities have sought creative ways to boost their enrollment of minority students without explicitly relying on race. When California voters banned racial preferences in public universities in 1996, for example, the University of California responded by adopting admissions preferences based on socioeconomic status instead. And after a federal appellate court struck down the University of Texas’s race-based affirmative action program, the school adopted a plan that guaranteed admission to those students graduating in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

When the Texas effort—known as the Top Ten Percent Plan—failed to generate the racial diversity school officials sought, the university returned to using explicit racial preferences. Those preferences are now being challenged in the Supreme Court case of Fisher v. Texas, and many expect the conservative justices to deal what could be a fatal blow to race-based affirmative action at American public universities. Once again, however, the universities have a secret weapon they hope will allow them to circumvent such a ruling: data mining.

Whether it’s used in airport security or online advertising or education, data mining works by finding patterns and correlations. Based on census data, the spending patterns of my neighbors, and my Washington, D.C., ZIP code 20016, the Nielsen Company classifies me as someone who lives among the “Young Digerati”—that is, high-income consumers who are “tech-savvy and live in fashionable neighborhoods on the urban fringe.” My fellow Washingtonians a few miles to the southeast in Anacostia are categorized using very different terms. They are the “Big City Blues,” a community of “low-income Asian and African-American households occupying older inner-city apartments.” Based on where we live and what we spend, Nielsen creates aggregate predictions about our likely buying habits so that advertisers can send us ads that reflect our interests. That’s a little creepy—but then again, we’re talking about advertising. To some education experts, however, data mining also represents the future of public education.

After Michiganders voted in 2006 to ban the use of racial preferences in college admissions, the University of Michigan wasn’t willing to give up on the goal of enrolling more minority students. So it turned to a data-mining program called Descriptor Plus, which was originally developed by the College Board to help admissions officers more efficiently target likely students. The program employs the same kinds of algorithms that Nielsen uses to provide consumer data to advertisers based on demographic patterns and spending habits, but in this case, it sorts those data into categories that are useful for higher-education institutions. Descriptor Plus works by dividing the country into 180,000 geographic neighborhoods, and then regrouping those neighborhoods into 30 more manageable “clusters” whose residents share similar socioeconomic, educational, and racial characteristics.

Take two distinct clusters identified by Descriptor Plus. High School Cluster 29 is most likely to include high-achieving students who have aced standardized tests, stand out in their elite private high schools, and demonstrate superior math ability. “There is very little diversity in this cluster,” notes Descriptor Plus. By contrast, the students in High School Cluster 30 are much more likely to be ethnically diverse. While also college bound, they have far fewer resources than the junior achievers in Cluster 29. “These students,” concludes Descriptor Plus, “will typically end up at a local community college.”

Armed with the Descriptor Plus categories, the University of Michigan could give preference to applicants from low-income clusters like 29, in which African-American students were disproportionately represented, without explicitly relying on race. The method worked. Two years after Michigan voters banned the use of racial preferences, Michigan’s freshman class saw a 12 percent increase in African-American enrollment, even as the overall class size shrank and other minority groups lost ground.

If the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher puts new restrictions on racial preferences, it is likely that universities will expand their use of data mining to get around the ruling. But data mining has proved to be an even less effective a way of promoting racial diversity in the classroom than the explicit preferences it’s designed to replace. In a new book, “Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It,” Richard H. Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr. note that as seniors in high school, African Americans are more likely than whites to express interest in majoring in science, technology, engineering or math majors, known as STEM. Once admitted to elite schools, however, African Americans pursuing STEM majors were more than half as likely as whites to finish with a STEM degree: students who feel less prepared than their classmates tend to leave science for less challenging humanities courses after their freshman year. Sanders told me that the minority students admitted under Descriptor Plus are, by definition, less academically qualified than those admitted under the Texas' Top Ten Percent Plan—because if they had graduated in the top 10 percent of their class, they would have gained automatic admission without the Descriptor Plus boost. By admitting minority students with lower levels of academic preparation than those admitted under the Top Ten Percent Plan, Sanders said, programs like Descriptor Plus might exacerbate the problem of racial mismatch and self-segregation.

WHILE LEGAL PRESSURES on affirmative action prompted the initial expansion of data mining as an admissions strategy, schools are also beginning to use it for other purposes—and in ways that may result in ever more segmentation and segregation of students based on their racial backgrounds, tastes, and preferences.

Tristan Denley, the provost of Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, has developed data mining programs designed to steer students toward the courses and majors in which they are most likely to succeed. One such program, Degree Compass, uses predictive analytics to estimate the grade a student is most likely to receive if he or she takes a particular class. It then recommends courses in which the student is likely to earn the highest grades. “It uses the students’ transcript data, all of their previous grades, and standardized test scores, and it combines that with the data we have with thousands of similar students who have taken the class before,” Denley told me. He said the predictions are accurate—within a half letter grade, on average. And he noted that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who used the program to select their classes experienced a more pronounced grade swing—from lower to higher grades—than students from higher socioeconomic groups, perhaps because they were being steered into easier courses. Although the program also records students’ race and ethnicity, Denley said he found a disproportionate grade swing in students from lower socioeconomic groups, but not from minority groups in particular.

Another program his university uses, My Future, employs similar predictive analytics to recommend majors in which students are most likely to get good grades and graduate on time. “Students are less likely to choose sociology as an incoming major,” says Denley, “because people don’t do sociology in high school; instead, lots of students choose business, pre-law or pre-med.” He hopes that by exposing students to a broader range of majors they may not have considered, My Future will help to match them with fields and careers in which they’re likely to thrive.

As college and even public high school and elementary schools record the race of students as part of their data-mining programs, there’s likely to be increased pressure to steer students with similar backgrounds into similar classes, reducing diversity in the classroom as a whole. Public high schools and even some elementary schools are beginning to input information about students’ race and ethnicity in giant databases that track their academic performance in order to construct models about what kinds of students are most likely to succeed in particular classes.

Highland Park Elementary School in Pueblo, Colorado, recently adopted a data mining program called Infinite Campus that is operated by Pearson, the textbook publishing giant. Ronda Gettel, who coordinates math and English programs at Highland Park, and she tells me she was shocked when her supervisors asked her to input information about the ethnicity of individual students while grading a math and reading program. “I was putting in how they self-reported their ethnic background, whether they’re black or Hispanic, and whether they’re getting free or reduced lunches, and their socioeconomic patterns,” says Gettel. “I thought maybe we shouldn’t be doing this—I’m a person that’s against tracking.

Of course, guidance counselors have always had the power to steer students toward classes that coincide with their interests and ability levels. But Gettel and others are concerned that by slicing and dicing students into profiles and clusters, data mining threatens to segregate classrooms in more permanent ways, creating profiles from which students can’t easily escape, and placing minority students into less rigorous classes because of the predictions of computer programs.

Diversity in the classroom is valuable because it encourages students to interact with peers from very different backgrounds and to explore classes and careers that might not have occurred to them before they enrolled. But not all human choices can be predicted by algorithm. If the Supreme Court eliminates the use of race-based affirmative action, and drives schools to pursue an ersatz diversity through profiles and computers models, it may inadvertently encourage the proliferation of technologies that allow even less consideration of students as individuals than the racial preferences they’re designed to avoid.

As a minor point I include one of the comments to the original in the NR that caught my attention.  The reference is in line 8 of paragraph 7.

12/08/2012 - 7:40pm EDT |

You write: "...African Americans pursuing STEM majors were more than half as likely as whites to finish with a STEM degree". You probably mean "less than half as likely". Or maybe not; it's not clear what you mean. One of my grade school teachers, Eleanor Wilson Orr went on to teach math in high school, many of her students were Black; she concluded that one of the causes for the difficulty they had with math is that Black English lacks certain kinds of language to describe quantity. She wrote a book about this and what to do about it, titled Twice as Less because some of her students would say "twice as less" where she would say "half as much". Maybe Mr. Rosen should take a look at it.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

My, My

And we have the quote from actor Jamie Foxx at the 2012 Soul Train Awards show: "First of all, giving honor to God and our lord and savior Barack Obama." 

So many things come to mind.

Taxes 2

  You have been hearing the elected Republican officials acknowleging that taxes will have to go up on the "rich"!  I  saw Democrat Howard Dean on TV acknowledging  that taxes will have to go up on the middle class as well!

Ezra Klein of MSNBC states clearly and plainly that, if we are going to continue providing government services at the current level, then the amount of revenue taken by the federal government is going to have to go significantly above the historical level of 18-19 percent of GDP .

He also suggested that it couldn't be collected through the income tax.

He also suggested a value added tax

My, my!

These guys (other than some of the republicans) are not the players, but perhaps they are harbingers.

Is there, in our future, a serious discussion of our fiscal situation?

PS 11PM  I am referring to what may or may not happen after the smaller fiscal cliff thing is done.

From Gib

This came from the Rev. Gib Field to a few of his friends.

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
John Donne, Meditation XVII
English clergyman & poet (1572 - 1631) 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The debt limit farce

One part of the president’s proposal on the “fiscal cliff” is that in the future the debt ceiling can be raised by the president alone (subject to reversal by law).

My first reaction to this was negative because it seemed to transfer a lot of power to the president.  While the Congress could override his decision by law he could in turn veto the legislation and Congress could have its way only if it obtained a two thirds majority in both houses to override the veto.  That would mean that the president could set the debt limit if he had the support of one third + 1 of just one house of congress.  Essentially that would be a complete transfer to the president while the congress would only be able to posture extensively about it to no effect except to further poison the political well.

As I understand it the national debt comes in two parts:  The public debt - treasury notes that are sold on the market - and the agency debt –the amounts that accumulate in agency accounts, e.g. SS, and are used to buy treasury notes.  If that is correct, then you could be in the ironic situation in which a sudden influx of money into one of those government accounts could trigger the need to raise the debt limit.

So what is this debt limit anyway?  Why do we need it?  After all, any expenditures have to be approved by congress anyway, so what it the point?  It seems that the point is more symbolic than anything else.  It is to remind us that we are still a frugal nation - long after we quit that and became more profligate than a drunken sailor.  Apparently the conservatives view it as way to control spending.  The debate last time led to all sorts of claims about what would happen if we didn’t raise the debt limit.  (It was claimed that the reduction in our credit rating was because we were debating whether or not to raise the debt limit.  I would think that annual deficits of 6% of GDP with no end in sight may have been a factor in the credit rating reduction.)  It seems to me that there are 4 ways to  deal with getting close to the debt limit: 1.  Default on our loans and obligations, 2.  Raise taxes, 3. Reduce spending, or 4. Raise the debt limit.  The Republicans are unwilling to raise taxes and the Democrats are unwilling to cut spending so the public presentation of the problem is: raise the debt limit or default. 

In practice no one can long oppose the raising of the debt limit.  Do so and you will very soon be labeled as someone holding the ‘full faith and credit' of the United States as a "hostage" to get whatever it is you want.

I think that the conservatives should give up trying to use the debt limit to control spending.
We should recognize that the debt limit is a sham and either abolish it or let the President set it.

Friday, December 7, 2012


The debt talks provide an ideal opportunity for the Democrats to pull out one of their current techniques.  It goes like this.

If the Republicans keep us from having what we want, then they are holding such and such “hostage.”  

This is a horrible technique because it attempts to delegitimize and dehumanize the opposition.  It is similar to the claim that anybody who supports abortion rights is for “killing babies.”  It is perhaps worse since it can be applied to anything.  

It is particularly pernicious coming from a president who, during campaigns, preaches that there are no red states and no blue states there are only the United States.

One measure of the independence of the media would be whether they supported this kind of talk which it poisons the well of the national debate.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lincoln, the movie

I will add my voice to the cacophony that is saying, "Go see Lincoln."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Where to look to see our future?

I remember twenty or thirty years ago there regularly appeared in the media, descriptions of where one should look to see the future of America.  These were the cutting edge places  in the country.  The places where all of the cool people hung out.  The places where "what is happening there now will be happening all over the country in the future".

Almost always at the top of that list was:  California.

Monday, December 3, 2012


I understand that the President has announced that he will respond to any petition which has 25000 signatures on it.
There are petitions requesting permission for this or that state to secede from the union.

I believe that Obama should accept their petitions and then answer them, more or less, as follows.  

 The eagle (our national symbol) which holds in his beak a banner of the symbol of our union:
                                                    e pluribus unum,
which means one out of many.  I thought that I should consult with them about it.

I found a group of them near a Hotel in California and The Eagles say:
"You can check out any time you like, but you can nevverr leave."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Breaking the law

The quote of the day for December 2nd is as follows:

 “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.” Martin Luther King

A fine line indeed and a concept  that has been touched on by yellowarmadillos in connection with civil disorder during the  “occupy wall street” movement, the behavior of congress persons in Wisconsin to avoid a vote on public unions, and organized disruptions on college campuses (the pepper spraying incident).

I can accept, and appreciate, the concept expressed in the quote.   Being a child of the 60s I have seen many instances of civil disobedience with which I agreed and I am glad they did it. Further,  I can imagine situations, in which all legal avenues have been exhausted, where I might even do so.

That having been said, the fact that I would be willing to break a law in protest against a law that I feel is unjust does not make it right and I see no logical path to justify saying it shows respect for the law.

Friday, November 30, 2012


This was a very nice movie.  I will leave a real review to others.

I want to disagree with this reviewer who says:

First, in an attempt to set the stage for his audience, Affleck begins the film with a two-minute rough sketch of Iranian history. Presenting centuries of Iranian history in two minutes is of course an impossible task, and the result is grossly oversimplified and ultimately falls short of providing the viewer with much-needed context for the events about to unfold. ...

I agree that the intro was brief.  But I thought it did a very good job of pointing out to an American audience a number of important things about the history of the region that they really ought to know. About how Europe and then America involved themselves there in a very heavy handed way.  I thought that it was done very well.

I think the reviewer has not calculated how short the American attention span is when they are having an example pointed out to them of an occasion when their actions fell somewhat short of their ideals.  It is also noteworthy that, in this case, they came to be entertained and probably would not have responded in a friendly way to an extended criticism.  Perhaps Afleck had to weigh things that were of no concern to the reviewer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Racial Malarkey 2

It has been three weeks since the election and, as I have said here and here, I agree with those who say that the Republicans must revise their attitudes.  However, a lot of folks who talk about that problem the Republicans have end up spreading an awful lot of racial malarkey. 

Fact:  Projections of current trends indicate that whites will become a minority in the US about the year 2050. 

1.  For one thing it is generally agreed that the Republican party is made up of old white men who  are scared about the non white demographic tidal wave that is coming.  The following data is from a national exit poll of the 2012 election by the Sacramento Bee:

A:        15% of those who voted were 65 or older
B:        Those people 65 or older broke 56-44 for Romney. 
C:        47% of all of the voters were male and 53% were female

A and B imply that 8.4% of those who voted were for Romney and were 65 or over. 

Include C in the calculation and you have (roughly) half of those 8.4% were men. (Men are probably overrepresented in the Romney voters)

Therefore, in the real world of data (http://www.sacbee.com/2012/11/06/4966431/2012-election-exit-poll-shows.html) only about 4 or 5 percent of the voters last Tuesday were men over 65 who voted for Romney.  

Fewer than that were white and it is barely possible that not all of them were scared about the coming nonwhite majority. Maybe they know that it is not scheduled to arrive for almost 40 years by which time all of them will be dead or at least 100 years old. 

But even if each member of this group of older male Romney voters is white and scared, this group still contains less than 1 in 10 of the Romney voters.   So this group of less than 10%  of the Romney voters does not seem to me to be nearly large enough to be fairly represented as the “base of the Republican party”. 

But it is good propaganda.

2.  An article in Slate  presents the best representation that I have seen of the Republicans as a racist party.   They have a good graph of the racial breakdown of each candidates votes and how each racial group split.

They describe this as “Romney's narrowly race-based candidacy”. 

It is possible to see it that way.  On the other hand one could also note that each of the identified nonwhite groups voted overwhelmingly for the nonwhite candidate.  Each of those groups cast what could be called “race based” votes.  On the other hand the whites split far more evenly between the two candidates.  So while you can say that the Republican candidate received a lopsided white vote, you can also say that the nonwhite voters cast their votes in a much more lopsided way than the whites did.  In view of that, can you clearly say that one camp is more race-based than the other?  Based on this data, I think that one could argue that the whites are the only trans-racial voting group.

3.  Sometimes the articles are just amusing in that they seem to believe that demographics is destiny:  GOP soul-searching: 'Too old, too white, too male'?.  As I said before I do not think that there is anything in Latino DNA that makes them permanently lean to the Democratic party any more than there was in O’Reilly’s ethnic group.  They generally start to feel at home and divide among the parties.  (Jon Stewart did a good bit on that the other night.)

Republicans face a crisis: The country is growing less white, and their coalition has become more white in recent years.

But the rapidly growing population of minorities is something that looms larger than one flawed candidate.”

4.  Sometimes it is obviously ridiculous  as in this piece in the Huffpost.  She asserts that: 

 Slate (see above)  put it best -- or at least most bluntly: "Only white people voted for Mitt Romney."  Even with some nuance -- "not quite only" -- the reality is that 88 percent of Romney's voter base was the rapidly-disappearing white demographic. (Emphasis added.) The writer then went on to (apparently) misunderstand and misrepresent other data from the Slate article.

5.  The folks on TV who make a living stirring the pot of controversy can - and will - say what ever they like about who was the deciding group.  But the biracial African American candidate Barack Hussein Obama got about 60 million votes.   He got a lot of votes from Latinos and blacks and Asian Americans. They all contributed.  But  the overwhelming majority, fifty six percent, of Obama's votes came from one racial group: white people.  That is what I think is the most striking racial fact about this election.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dear Mr. Rubio,

You were in the news recently and criticized vis a vis your lack of a position on the age of the earth.  I have a suggestion for you that may be worth your having a staff member look into.  The following assumes that it is not one of your objectives to force the the teaching of your religion in the schools.

For a long time now the left and the media have allowed candidates to take the following position:  I am personally opposed to abortion, but I would not allow my personal beliefs to interfere with a woman’s right to choose. 

Perhaps you could take some version of the following variation of that position:  I have my personal beliefs and some of them are based on the Bible. But, like Jefferson, I also believe in the separation of church and state and I would not seek to impose my personal beliefs on the academic world. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012


“Today's protests at Walmart stores across the country are a reminder of the enormous power of working people uniting to demand a better future with a living wage, affordable healthcare and respect on the job,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the 2.1 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

To fulfill the SEIU’s goal would we need a mirror group that will make the same statement substituting “create” for “demand”?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


The Hostess Company is in Bankruptcy court and has asked the Employees to take a wage cut that would allow the company to continue operations.  The Union(s) have declined.  It appears that Hostess will stop operations and liquidate it operations.

On the surface it appears that the Unions have taken a position that “killed the goose that laid the golden egg”.  Not so fast.  The Unions claim that the Company has lost market share due to mismanagement of their product line by not adjusting to health conscious consumers.  I suspect that no one would argue that Twinkies, Ho Ho’s, and Cup cakes are really good for you.

If we assume that the Union’s assertion is correct (and I think it is) that in no way changes the present situation which is that the immediate survivability of the Company is in the Union’s hands. What should the union do?

Monday, November 19, 2012


On Sunday I listened (live) to Obama’s press conference from Thailand.  When asked about the situation in Israel he made the following statement.

"We are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on peoples' homes."

The choice of words was striking.  Later, in his answer (the same answer), he made the following statements:

“We will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself”
“Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory”

This morning I heard talking heads on ABC, CBS, CNN & Fox state that (in his answer from Thailand) Obama expressed support for Israel and Israel’s actions.  I would point out that supporting a “right” is not the same as supporting a Country or a Country's actions.

Am I being too picky with words?
Video - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/18/obama-israel-gaza_n_2154008.html

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What should the republicans do? a

Governor Romney has, since the election, complained that Obama gave stuff to people to win the election and that the Rs were beat up by the media.

I have some thoughts on these remarks.

I’ll take the short answer first.  Any Republican who doesn’t know ahead of time that 90% of the media is against him is not smart enough to be president, anyway. 

On this giving stuff away, well I thought we all knew that there are two parties.  One of them claims to want to grow the federal government and the other claims to want to shrink the federal government.  It does not take a political wizard to realize that (in our case) the party that wants to grow the government is in favor of that larger government doing things for people.  But if your program doesn’t involve something more than pointing that out, then maybe you should get out of politics.  Which Romney will. 

Most republican leaders are chastising Romney for those remarks.  They’d better.  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said that if you want people to like you then you’ve got to like them.  While acknowledging that some people will game the welfare system Lindsay Graham said, “ Most people on public assistance don’t have a character flaw, they just have a tough life.”

And as I said on Nov. 8 what I think the Rs should do is:

1.  Accept that certain things are history and no longer negotiable.  Among these things are gay rights and women’s reproductive issues.  If you keep these items on the menu, then guess who's not coming to dinner.  Leave any  discussions about rape to the women in your caucus.

2.  Push hard to resolve the immigration issue.  Give up whatever you have to for the short term to get a rational long term solution.

3.  Continue and increase your outreach to minorities.

4.  (added 11-15)  Quit appearing to be the advocates of the rich.

I wish you success because the country needs at least two vibrant political parties.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beware the Big Data Campaign

"And Know They Love You"

Yesterday's post, "Teach Your Children", 
reminded me of a poem from the early eighties.

"And Know They Love You"
            (for  Glenda)

Pregnant at eighteen and then again 
before another year was out,

she told me once
that she had thought about giving her children away 
and joining the Weathermen.

It is a night sixteen years later: 
    we have taken over the stereo 
    and are playing sixties music.
    Crosby, Stills and Nash come on
    and when they get to "Teach Your Children Well" 
    I watch her son reach out and take her hand 
    and hold it while they sing,
    quietly, together. 


Citizens United decision

In case you don't remember, the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which came down in 2010 said, basically, that the 1st Amendment protects your right to spend money on advancing your opinions (including elections) whether you are spending $40 or $40 million.

Obama and the left were outraged.  Obama  very inappropriately (and incorrectly) chastised the Supreme Court during his State of the Union address about it.

We were warned that all of that money would put the government up for sale to the highest bidder.  Whoever put up the money could buy the government.

Well, we've had our first presidential  election since the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

It appears that the plutocrats have bought themselves the following results:

House of Representatives    Democrats gained seats
Senate                                Democrats gained seats
President                            Democrat reelected

PS  I find it passing strange that people can oppose this decision and, simultaneously, support the right of the NYTimes to make 14 Democratic endorsements in a row and Springsteen, Oprah, and Trace Adkins to generate god knows how much support for candidates.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Teach your children

I am choosing my favorite one hundred song playlist.  Why?  I guess because we have ten fingers and use base 10.  I'm having a little trouble getting it down to that so maybe I'll use 100(base 12) and I'll only have to get it down to 144 - that is 12 squared to those of you who do not watch Big Bang Theory.  (Yes, I know that there was a possible alternative question back there, but I don't have an answer for the other one.)
A number of them will be from the sequence Buffalo Springfield - Crosby, Stills and Nash - Deju vu - Harvest from the late sixties and early seventies which (as everyone knows) was the golden age of R&R.

I enjoyed an extended youth and perhaps that is why I appreciate the following description of the hard time on both sides of that transition.

From the album Deja Vu  (1970) by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, 

and Dallas Taylor and Greg Reeves

Hear them sing it here.

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

Teach your parents well,
Their children's hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lincoln quotes

Today's quote November 15 was:  In early 1861, with the Civil War coming, Abraham Lincoln counted his assets and noted:
 “I should like to think that I have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.”

 Dan noted his appreciation in a comment to another post.  I thought I would give him a chance to put it here and add that it is one of my favorites.

Another of my favorite Lincoln quotes is one which is now appearing in the trailer to the new movie "Lincoln." It begins-- " I am the President of the United States, clothed in immense power, and I will have ..."

I have been told that the following distinction is trivial, but I offer it to you anyway.

I think that it is profound that he did not say some variation of  "I am the immensely powerful President of the United States and I will have ...." which would imply that he saw himself as someone who held his own great power.  What he actually said seems to me to suggest that he saw himself as an instrument whom the people had temporarily 'clothed' in their immense power.

To see the difference, imagine which choice would have been made by, say, Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, or Lyndon Johnson.
(Slightly modified at 5:58.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The politics of Benghazi II

Upon reflection, I have nothing more to add to what I wrote here on Sunday, October 21, 2012

I believe the President was concerned that the terrorist attack on Benghazi would be seen a harbinger of the collapse of his middle eastern foreign policy.  That is why for two weeks his administration conducted a media campaign to convince us that it was a demonstration that got out of hand and not an organized activity.  Being more clever than most he also made a statement the day after which minimized any mention of terrorism and still included some indirect references that could be used, if needed, to claim that he had said all along that it was an act of terror.  Romney’s ineptness and Candy’s expansion of her role from moderator to active participant in the second debate made that work out for the President temporarily.

Perhaps on Monday we will delve into the broader issues centering on the fact that it was an organized terrorist attack.  I think there are two.

First is the question of whether there was appropriate security.  It appears not.  Biden’s defense in his debate with Ryan was that Ryan had supported a $300 million reduction in funding for Foreign Service Security.  This is a silly argument.  How much they had was not the problem.  The problem was where it was placed and that is a presidential responsibility.

Second is that the entire Obama policy for that part of the world is brought into question.  Whether it should or not it will certainly be part of the campaign. 

I do not believe that the murder of the Libyan Ambassador and others is a particularly important piece of evidence that our current middle eastern policy has failed.  (I hope not.)  However, I believe that the Obama administration thought that it was very important in that regard and that it had major political implications.  To blunt the impact of those political considerations is the reason that they have concealed evidence of the nature of that attack in the hopes of convincing the public that it was only a minor incident that grew out of a demonstration. 

As usual the attempt to cover it up is going to be worse for them than the event itself.  

PS  This was talked about by Tom and Rob in comments on the post on Oct 18.

Monday, November 12, 2012

General Petraeus

I have a great deal of respect for General Petraeus and I agree with the consensus that his situation is very sad.

However, there is one thing that confuses me.

Honor dictated that Petraeus had to resign because of the affair that he had with his biographer.

However, he did not resign until after his affair was exposed by the FBI.


This Article calls for a boycott of Papa John’s restaurants following an announcement that compliance with ACA requirements will add approximately 14 cents to the cost of a pizza.

I have no sympathy.  We were told the ACA would not raise taxes, no one said it would be free.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Time Enough for Love

 “Do not confuse "duty" with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect ... 

         So learn to say No—and to be rude about it when necessary. Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you. (This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don't do it because it is "expected" of you.)”
Time Enough for Love - Robert Heinlein

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Racial Malarky

Across the nation the pundits are telling one and all that the Republicans are history.  A big component of what these commentators see as the problem is racial.  They sometimes throw in “old white men” and other general demographic issues as part of the problem, but basically it is a racial song that they are singing.

It goes like this: blacks vote overwhelmingly democratic and Hispanics voted democratic in the recent presidential elections.  Therefore Hispanics are like blacks and will vote overwhelming democratic.  The percentage of the whole population that is Hispanic is growing.  The white majority is vanishing and therefore the democratic vote is going to grow and the Rs are doomed.    See Juan Williams: Obama's Daunting Demographic Message for the GOP 

I think that this is wishful thinking by the left. 

I do not believe that there is anything in the Hispanic dna that makes them inevitably democratic voters.  The blacks have, of course, voted overwhelmingly for the political party (first the Rs and then the Ds) that has used the power of the federal government to promote their group interests while the other party did not.  If the Hispanics see one of the political parties as being committed to their group interests while the other is not, then they will vote overwhelmingly for that party. 

I believe that, so far, the Ds have played the immigration issue very effectively and the Rs have played it very poorly.  Even in the face of that, the Rs have gotten 30-40% of the Hispanic vote in recent presidential elections.

That being said the Rs do have to review their situation.  As a centrist I would recommend the following:

1.  Accept that certain things are history and no longer negotiable.  Among these things are gay rights and women’s reproductive issues.  If you keep these items on the menu, then guess who's not coming to dinner.  Leave any  discussions about rape to the women in your caucus.

2.  Push hard to resolve the immigration issue.  Give up whatever you have to for the short term to get a rational long term solution.

3.  Continue and increase your outreach to minorities.

4.  (added 11-15)  Quit appearing to be the advocates of the rich.

I wish you success because the country needs at least two vibrant political parties.