Can the main stream media go lower?

I’ve been watching so many news channels and listening to so many different radio stations, I can’t say which one said it. But I heard it more than once:

the house needs to pass this bill; they can’t cave into their constituents

I can hardly believe this is happening. Like the people they are representing are the bad guys?

It seems I can’t be surprised often enough this week.

anti-americanism on the left

I just listened to this, an interview with Bernard Henri Levy regarding his book Left in Dark Times.

Levy points a stern finger at American leftist, who he says gage the suffering of the oppressed only in terms of whether it matches the leftist anti-american stance. He says that lefty types are all worked up over the suffering of the Palestinians–who are indeed suffering–but fairly indifferent to the suffering of the Chechens who are probably suffering more.

Why sympathy for the Palestinians and not for the Chechens?  Shouldn’t suffering wherever it happens be a cause for sympathy and action?

He says that liberal americans are only motivated to sympathize when the suffering upholds their anti-american opinions. Chechnya’s suffering is not caused by america, so it’s not interesting.

 Larry Mantle, the host, also points out and Levy agrees, that the left has a ‘cult of the underdog’ that gives importance to the oppressed people that does not require factual support.

I appreciate that this very passionate lefty liberal guy is willing to criticise his group. He seems willing to look at the man in the mirror, at the group he is part of, and say plainly that something is wrong.

I don’t agree with him, that the state has the responsibility to take care of all social problems. I think that individuals can come together and do it better than a big government entity. But we agree that social problems should be addressed.

It made it easier to listen to him with an open mind when he affirmed  “Capitalism is a good thing. There is no better than capitalism, but not the jungle…”

And he dismissed the system of communism, declaring that no one can take it seriously except a few fringe crazies.

I wish that he could go talk with some college professors.

I like that he is willing to point to the self-destructive elements of the left. I think that a willingness to grapple with the present realities is a first step towards finding a path towards improvement.


11 zeroes and all for what?

There are three pages that started this, and now there are 110 pages. Even though my office has CNN playing all day, I still don’t know a single point that those pages make. I have heard no definition of the problem, and no delineation of the solution.

I don’t know what that 700 billion dollars is supposed to do, for whom and for what.

I fell asleep Saturday afternoon to Bloomberg telling us that the market was very sensitive to what would happen with the bailout. I heard Palin tell Couric that the bailout should not reward mortgage misconduct.

But I have not heard what it SHOULD be doing. Or what it THINKS it’s doing.

I know that it’s unpopular. And somehow the TV pundits (who are these people, anyway?) and Nancy Pelosi seem to be implying that it’s shameful and irresponsible to not support it.The representative who are  listening to the many many voters  calling in to  say “DON’T YOU DARE DO THIS! THINK!” don’t really coalesce with Pelosi’s opinion.

The word from the capital is “Don’t listen to your constituents! Just vote yes on the bill in front of you!”

The bill did not pass. In a remarkable bi-partisan move, most of the house republicans voted it down and almost 100 democrats went against their “leaders” to reject this bill.

I am glad it did not pass. I believe that congress should take some action, since it is a certainty that federal agencies and regulators have been and will continue to be called upon during this mess.

McCain said:

“We won’t solve a problem caused by poor oversight with a plan that has no oversight,”

In the same article, Obama said congress needed to:

 “work quickly, in a bipartisan fashion, to resolve the immediate crisis and avert an even broader economic catastrophe.”

Before the vote, both candidates seemed to agree on what it should have in it to pass.

Obama seems to want credit for crafting the bill, and McCain seems to want to emphasize the effect of the bailout on average people.

In another odd twist, MoveOn has decided that the Bush-delivered and Democrats-backed bailout bill, limply endorsed by both Obama and McCain, is BAD and therefore must


I am finding this process to strain credulity. Opinions and actions in this matter are unmoored from facts.

I remember thinking that when McCain asked Obama to stop campaigning and go deal with this issue, it was an act of integrity. The fact that he backed down and went forward with the debate did not impress me.

But in this empty cupboard, I’ll take the crumbs that he at least had the impulse.

I don’t know. I’m starting to regret paying attention to this election after all. It’s just too tiring.

What the heck is going on around here?


John McCain: Honor and the Presidency

Time did an article back in August giving some history for John McCain.

McCain ran for President before, remember? back in 2000, and he was highly entertaining to all the reporters. He gave straight talk. And he lost.

Now, he’s not straying from his talking points. And he won the republican nomination and is at least tied if not ahead of Obama.

The article focusses on McCain’s sense of honor. And they say: “McCain stops short of drawing the line. He tends to bend institutions without breaking them”

I can’t tell if the authors consider that a flaw; it is possible they consider him a poser who is not willing ot really sacrifice everything for honor.

I come away feeling like this is a good thing. The willow can outlast the oak, because of bending, and live to strive on another day.

Politics is hard. Skilled politicians know that it takes lying in wait to accomplish things sometimes. Back off and come at it again. Eyes on the prize, and you will get there.


Review: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

By this time, Gone With the Wind is better known as a movie than as a book. But on the principle that the book is usually better than the movie, I picked up the novel.

As big as the movie was it seems that when the book arrived, it was even bigger. Some books take on an importance that’s hard to explain after the fact. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as any student that’s had to read it can attest, is not really great literature. But it resonated with the readers of its time in such a profound way that it changed history. I thinkGWTW was similarly recieved.

First of all, it’s a pretty good book. The story is exciting, and the Scarlett is really an interesting hero. It fits nicely into the genre of historical romance. Mitchell pays careful attention to the historical timeline, and the battles and strategies portrayed are really accurate.

But it’s not beautiful prose. For gorgeous writing about the civil war, I much prefer Cold Mountain. They were both made into movies. But GWTW got a Pulitzer and was a much bigger deal when it came out.

So, what’s going on?

Mitchell published the book in 1936, seventy-one years after the Civil War ended. The Civil War has had an astonishing half-life. Mitchell knew that, but It took 15 years and another Southern author, Faulkner, to put it unforgettably:

The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.

I look at the story of this book from two perspectives. First, I see it through the eyes of the characters in it. Scarlett, her father Gerald, Ashley, Melanie, and Rhett–we meet all these people in the impossibly gorgeous plantation lifestyle in Georgia. Oh! The balls and the dresses!

I cannot help but think of those other ball-and-dresses books by Jane Austen. Austen lived in the time that these were the norm, and she cast her ironic eye at the whole proceeding. She wrote in the early 1800s, and GWTW begins in 1861. Although Scarlett is not a reader of literature, many others in the story are. In their balls, social conventions and obsession with propriety I see an America once again desperate to emulate Europe. The chaperoning, the marrying off for social advantage is all very well-known territory.

The desire to be like the Old County begins even before the start of the story. Gerald O’Hara came over from Ireland with a dream of becoming landed. He wanted to be like the landed nobility of his despised Ireland. The culture and aspirations of the fathers and the children were plucked and planted into this new world.

But it crumbled. The lifestyle of luxury could not be maintained after the Civil War. In the timeline of the novel, the culture falters almost immediately. All the eligible young men are off to war, and the rest of society is left to fend as best they can.

Fending gets harder and harder. But for the people caught in the nightmare, there is a sustaining thought: how very good they used to have it. The possibility of having it that good again fades further and further beyond reach. The Southern gentry are left without the gorgeous dresses. They salvage what they can. If they can’t be rich and waited upon by scores of servants, at least they will maintain the morays and propriety.

Her friends and family cling to the memories. Scarlett, however, knows what she wants. Propriety was never that interesting to her; she wants the dresses back. She succeeds, but in the end discovers that her heartlessness has a cost.

Mitchell wrote about the origin of the customs of the South because she learned them growing up in Georgia. The customs were cherished and passed down with fondness. There is a romantic nostalgia for the plantation life that still lingers on for many. Mitchell learned from people who lived through the hard times of the war and the aftermath.

Now I come to my second perspective on the book: the times that the first readers were living through. Mitchell was born in 1900. She was in her 20s during the roaring 20s. When the Depression arrived, she felt all the lack of her former times. When Black Tuesday hit in 1929, all of America got a chance to feel the grinding hardship of survival. And pretty much everybody knew what it was like to be nostalgic for better times.

When GWTW came outin 1936, the Depression had been going on for 7 long years. It is easy to see how the story of Scarlett, belle of the county but reduced to scrambling for food in the ground and vowing “I will never be hungry again!”, would resonate with the people who watched the hobos and maybe stood in the soup lines.

401K plans, Upward Mobility and Free Market Forces

From WSJ “How Well Do You Know…Your 401(k) Plan?” by Leslie Scism and Jennifer Levitz

In the 1970s, some corporations asked the government if they could put aside retirement money, tax-free, for their executives. Officials gave permission, provided the companies  offered the opportunity to all workers, never expecting the plans to take off….The 401(k) plan slipped in “under the radar,” says Teresa Ghilarducci, and economist at the New School for Social Research in New York. The idea was that this new plan–in which workers set aside pretax earnings in investment accounts–would supplement the rank-and-file’s old fashioned pension plan, the type that sends out a monthly check.

But as companies sought to hold down costs, more and more froze the old-fashioned plan and went solely with a 401(k). “What [the government] didn’t anticipate was the erosion of well-defined benefit plans,” she says. “They never conceived that the 401(k) would be the only retirement plan that companies provided. That’s what we economists call ‘unintended consequences’ of a law.”

The 401(k) is replacing pension plans. And it’s easy to see why. Pension plans are a real albatross around the neck of companies.  Pension plans support people who don’t work for these employers anymore.

The employer-sponsored pension plan was a market driven phenomenon to begin with. It appears that railroads were some of the first to provide the pension in America, to attract good workers and keep them.It was the Free Market at work. The Free Market inspired compaines to add pensions to wages and motivate workers to start working and stay working for them.
So what did that mean? Mr. Railroad Worker would put up with crap in what we TODAY might call a dead-end job. If he put up with crap he would have a pension at the end, and he’d have money after he was too old. His wife and kids would be taken care of.
“Career path” wasn’t part of his vocabulary.
But suppose his buddy down the street had an idea of a new business they could start and Mr. Railroad Worker would be in charge.  Mr. Railroad Worker would say, “What are you kidding? I only have 15 more years before I get my pension. I can’t quit and start a new venture with you!”
The system put a damper on innovation and job creation.

Now, with this new portable pension, each worker has ownership of their retirement money. All of us are able to change careers and start any kind of business we want.

HOORAY! The individual is in charge!

But wait..

OH NO! the individual is in charge!

Most 401(k) plans require that the individual actually put some money in. The employer will match funds, but you have to ante up. It’s your own fault if your 401(k) is empty. And you are free to screw it up.

Old-style pensions were managed by the employer and doled out a set amount each month. Pension plans could go under if the company went under, and the individual is powerless to do anything.

Pensions and 401(k) plans are both subject to the market. But the employer swallowed the risk in pension plans. With the 401(k), the risk and the reward is on the individual. The individual has the power with a 401(k).

It started out that the muckity-mucks in large companies wanted a way to feather their own nests. But in the end, all of us are more free to move around, improve ourselves and our careers and maybe even find our own path to muckity-muckhood.

It just shows how it’s best not to over-regulate market forces. If the government gets out of the way, things can shake down in positive ways. No one predicted how this would happen, but it’s resulted in a lot more freedom for everybody.

1 year

A year ago today, Chris and I got married.

His grandmother said it feels like the year went fast.  It didn’t go fast for me, not really. But it’s been really good.

Proof I picked the right guy:

This weekend he spent the whole time cleaning the garage.

I didn’t ask him to, and I didn’t give him any suggestions how to do it. He did it better than I could have suggested.

He didn’t ask for much help either. A couple of times, he came inside to get me and show me some particularly clever or difficult piece of organizing handiwork.

He is a prince.

Sunday Morning

It’s been a long week,  full of thoughts. As you can see, I’ve been caught up in that interesting maelstrom of politics.

Chris reminded me, since he’s such an old hand at paying attention to politics, that it’s only four years. And that as excited as everyone tends to get, not much changes. Checks and Balances, you know?

That’s true, generally.

I wanted to write a bit about my weird week. Monday I had my PMP test, and I passed it (YAY!). So I came home and went to bed early.

After I had fallen asleep, someone rang the doorbell. Dog was barking like mad,and I sleepily thought that Chris must have locked himself out somehow. I got up to answer it, but looked to see who it was. It wasn’t Chris. Had to grab my bathrobe and answer.

Big pasty white guy asked me if I “knew this man” and shoved a mug shot at me. I looked at the mug shot and looked at the guy. He was wearing some kind of police badge. I hadn’t seen mugshot man.

“Really? He’s your neighbor.”

No, I hadn’t seen him.

“He’s a child pedophile and we’re trying to get him off the street. Are you sure?”

many many things wrong with this statement. I looked at pasty man again. His badge said BAIL, not police. Trying to get someone off the streets is a job for the POLICE.

“It’s late.” I said.

“What time is it?” pasty said.

“ninethirty” Hey, I didn’t say that. THERE WAS ANOTHER GUY OUT OF SIGHT!

“oh, I’m sorry.” pasty said. and they left.

Now, I’m freaked out. I wish I hadn’t opened the door. I found chris and told him what heppened. He found the number for the police and I called them. They said they would send a car to see what was up.

Chris said I should have gotten him and not answered the door. I could see that now. We looked up megan’s law website and no such mugshot was listed in our city, so my first reaction–that they said guy was a pedophile just to get my sympathy and cooperation–was right. They were lying.

Took me a while to get back to sleep.

Tuesday, I had to get up way early, and drive to San diego for work. Super sleepy, but was booking along on the 5 in orange county when I ran over something. What was that? Barely had time to figure it out, when my tire blew out. Going 70 MPH on the 5. I had to stop, and persuade the other drivers to finally let me over to the shoulder. No collisions, and everyone is fine but the tire.

Staring at Disneyland exit, I call roadside assistance. In the end  they change the tire, I find a Sears to buy a new replacement tire and then go home. It took a long time to get the repair done.

SO! next day I accomplish the original San Diego visit, and all was well. Driving back on the 15, I am on a stretch of highway between two mountains and far from any exits. Motorcycle on my right pops a wheelie.

Well. Isnt’ he a daredevil. Shouldn’t be doing that on the highway. He speeds ahead of me, and then he starts driving with no hands. Yikes!

I lost trackof him for a second, but then I see him on my right. He’s moving around on his seat, and before I know it, he is


all this while traveling abou 75 miles an hour. In traffic.

This alarms me. I think he’s going to kill himself. He gets back down, and sits on his cycle the way he is supposed to again, but I’m looking for an exit. If this man wants to spread his body organs across the highway, I don’t want to be there to watch.

But there were no exits. I thought about Chris’s advice for avoiding crazy drivers. My inclination has always been to slow down and drive more carefully myself, but he says ‘get ahead of them. Damage happens behind them, not in front.’

I thought about speeding to get ahead of dangerman. But he was going pretty fast.

In the end, I slowed down and didn’t see him again. I did encounter a few more motorcyclists and gave them the evil eye til I figured out they weren’t dangerman.

Now, when thursday arrived, I was kinda worried about what would happen next. That was thursday, September 11th.

But nothing did happen. I sat at my desk and did very not dangerous things.

A smarty-pants article that explains it

I am tired of outrage, and I don’t really want to go on rants for a while.

I ran across this article that gives a great explanation of what has been driving me crazy for so long about the Democrats. It’s thick and hard to read, so I will put some excerpts here to share the ideas.

Haidt gives us his bias:

In the psychological community, where almost all of us are politically liberal, our diagnosis of conservatism gives us the additional pleasure of shared righteous anger. We can explain how Republicans exploit frames, phrases, and fears to trick Americans into supporting policies (such as the “war on terror” and repeal of the “death tax”) that damage the national interest for partisan advantage.

But with pleasure comes seduction, and with righteous pleasure comes seduction wearing a halo. Our diagnosis explains away Republican successes while convincing us and our fellow liberals that we hold the moral high ground. Our diagnosis tells us that we have nothing to learn from other ideologies, and it blinds us to what I think is one of the main reasons that so many Americans voted Republican over the last 30 years: they honestly prefer the Republican vision of a moral order to the one offered by Democrats. To see what Democrats have been missing, it helps to take off the halo, step back for a moment, and think about what morality really is.

I do not mean to simplify the sophistication of what he says. But let’s skip ahead:

the first rule of moral psychology: feelings come first and tilt the mental playing field on which reasons and arguments compete. If people want to reach a conclusion, they can usually find a way to do so. The Democrats have historically failed to grasp this rule, choosing uninspiring and aloof candidates who thought that policy arguments were forms of persuasion.

Preach to the choir…the are always appreciative. But the pews don’t fill up that way.

I would say that the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way.

When Republicans say that Democrats “just don’t get it,” this is the “it” to which they refer. Conservative positions on gays, guns, god, and immigration must be understood as means to achieve one kind of morally ordered society. When Democrats try to explain away these positions using pop psychology they err, they alienate, and they earn the label “elitist.” But how can Democrats learn to see—let alone respect—a moral order they regard as narrow-minded, racist, and dumb?

You wouldn’t want to be narrow-minded. I think he’s not getting the whole “it”, but he’s at least trying.

Haidt admits he was a full Kool-aid drinker, and among those who were not interested in seeing a moral order different from his own. But life happens, and he went on a trip.

Travel is broadening.

He went to India, and wanted to be one of those cool anthropologists who got right in there and grokked the culture. But the Indian family he was staying with were SO uncool. Servants and servile women and everything. Not at all the liberal standard. But after time, he attained cool anthropologist perspective.

Once he was able to understand that other people sincerely held beliefs that were different from their own, he took that ability back to America with him and was able to better respect the Republican culture.

I had escaped from my prior partisan mindset (reject first, ask rhetorical questions later), and began to think about liberal and conservative policies as manifestations of deeply conflicting but equally heartfelt visions of the good society.

Now that he could concieve that there was a ‘there’ there in the Republican mindset, he was able to take his psychological toolkit and study it.

Here’s where we jump into the deep end of the pool:

In several large internet surveys, my collaborators Jesse Graham, Brian Nosek and I have found that people who call themselves strongly liberal endorse statements related to the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity foundations, and they largely reject statements related to ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. People who call themselves strongly conservative, in contrast, endorse statements related to all five foundations more or less equally. (You can test yourself at

You have to read the whole article carefully to understand that. Or you could just read this analogy:

We think of the moral mind as being like an audio equalizer, with five slider switches for different parts of the moral spectrum. Democrats generally use a much smaller part of the spectrum than do Republicans. The resulting music may sound beautiful to other Democrats, but it sounds thin and incomplete to many of the swing voters that left the party in the 1980s, and whom the Democrats must recapture if they want to produce a lasting political realignment.

The democrats use a smaller part of the spectrum of morality than republicans? so the people afraid of being narrow minded are using a smaller section of their mind? a narrow slice of their mind? 


But that’s not fair. Despite the hypocrisy, I don’t with these people ill. It is a shame not to hear the whole of the music. I would wish for these people who say they value open-mindedness to achieve a broader perspective.