Sunday, August 31, 2008

It is 9 minutes long, but you will laugh for 10. It is worth a watch. It completely cracked me up.

Sarah Palin

Genius. Inspired. Devious. Dangerous. These are just some of the views about Sarah Palin, Senator John McCain's VP choice.

My initial thought was "not a good choice because there are legitimate concerns about Senator McCain's age and this is someone who he thinks is qualified to be President. That choice brings into question Senator McCain's judgement (in light of his country above all rhetoric)."

My initial thought has not changed, but I do realize it is a crafty political choice because the choice does two things: 1) it shores up the conservative a solid segment of the conservative base can vote for McCain and hope that Palin succeeds him soon; and 2) the fight is now on for the worst segment of the electorate. The undecided voter, the indie, the low-information voter, whoever you want to think of that group of undecideds, the war is on for those few votes and some of them probably will vote for Palin just because she is a woman and the election of her will make history. She is young, talks like a teenager (watch the Kudlow interview with her from about 4 weeks ago), is a fresh face to compare to Biden who is energetic but definitely older and of a different generation.

I also think Senator McCain picked her because of his own height. Visuals are important and he has to be seen as Presidential, which is why every picture of him is shot from below. Senator McCain is just 5-7. There has not been a 5-7 President since 1900, William McKinley. Had Senator McCain picked Gov. Pawlenty, at 6-0, would have stood next to Senator McCain. An analysis of the height factor can be found here.

Even Bobby Jindal is two inches taller and the obvious symbolic aspects, an Indian just slightly taller...and remember, this choice is about convincing a small segment of the voters at this point.

Every possible VP choice that was listed, with the possible exception of Charlie Crist, gov of Flordai is too tall (and Crist has other issues that likely disqualify him).

Some may argue that Senator Obama is too in experienced. Perhaps, but he has won the nomination and thus millions of people disagree. Sarah Palin received only one vote, that of John McCain.

Anyway....this choice is for the worst segment of our electorate, in my opinion.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

More on the disappearing artic

That ship could soon be building oil rigs in the Artic sea.

Interesting article from the BBC here.

Although I don't really think the accompanying graph shows what the article claims, (a steeper decline in sea ice coverage for this year than last), that the ice is disappearing is the case.

I like the irony here: a warming atmosphere, driven at least in part by the burning of fossil fuels, may lead to increasing the supply of those same fuels because if the ice disappears enough...drilling would be easier!

I wonder how the antarctic is doing?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Petraeus Disagrees With McCain, Says Success In Iraq Was Possible Without The Surge

I'd like to see more verification of this story. The headline is pushing it a bit, and the story really just shows a cautious General, but, BUT, all along Gen. Petraeus has said there were some unexpected things that helped the progress in Iraq.

Here is the link to the story on the Huffington Post:

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The messy mixture of service, sacrifice and self-interest

Previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune Star, 8/23/08

Sen. McCain told Pastor Warren that he wanted to be president to “… inspire a generation of Americans to serve a cause greater than their self-interest.” This was a theme of Sen. McCain’s hour-long conversation with Pastor Warren. Sen. Obama, too, sounded a similar theme, although not as clearly stated. Responding to a question from Pastor Warren about the greatest moral failing of the U.S., Sen. Obama said it was the U.S. treatment of the lesser among us, presumably both here and abroad. Sen. McCain said that sometimes we, the U.S., forget that we are part of something larger, that we have focused too much on self-interest.

It was 47 years ago when President Kennedy uttered those immortal words, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Only 15 years after the end of World War II and selfishness was a presidential issue.

Fact: All of us are part of something larger than ourselves. We may not recognize it. We may refuse to admit or even to see it. Nevertheless, we are social animals, we exist as members of many groups and the groups are larger than we are individually.

A cottage industry exists to point out the loss of community in the United States, from academics like Robert Putnam, author of “Bowling Alone,” to the most recent offering, Dick Meyer’s “Why We Hate Us.” The observations are the same: Americans feel something is missing, that things are off track, that things are just not right. These authors essentially point to the same thing: too much “me” and not enough “us.” The most visible sign of the lack of community is the lack of civility in every nook and cranny of our society.

That lack of “respect” for others we find in our seemingly increasing “un”civil society, however, is the leveling of individuals in our increasing democratic culture. We forget how uncivil some groups were to other groups in the not-so-distant past. The open racism toward many groups; the patronizing and virtually invisible public status accorded to women; the shame bestowed upon the poor. Despite a culture of individualism, we still respond to people based on the groups with which we identify them.

There is tension between the individual and the larger group. Our culture tilts heavily toward the individual. As we exalt the individual over the group, we shouldn’t be surprised that so many decide that common norms are a bother and flaunt them. We see it everywhere, from text messaging friends during family dinners/celebrations to treating teachers rudely to candidates for public office maliciously spinning and lying about the character of other public servants only to turn around and hope to inspire people to public service because it makes one part of something larger than them selves. I probably should also point out that we expect cynicism today.

Community service is noble, but it is also a punishment for law-breaking. It is not that people don’t participate in things larger than themselves but that too many people do it for selfish reasons. Every college student states they wish to volunteer to help the community (“because it will look good on my resume and get me a better job”).

An important factor in the erosion of a “civil” civil society is that too many use the group for their self-interest: religious leaders who use their position to pursue their sexual preferences; politicians who feather their own nests while selling their influence to the highest bidder; school administrators who show overt favoritism to their friends and family members are just a few easy examples. Such events undermine our confidence in the groups these people are part of.

What we need are individuals who are (grudgingly) willing to sacrifice self-interest for the greater good. But when we all willingly demand tax cuts amidst a war; when we demand convenience at any cost; when we bristle at any suggestion that we bear any responsibility for the problems we face, and our leaders go along with us, then why are we grousing as we reap a bumper crop of that which we have been sowing? Because we all want the benefits of others’ sacrifices.

Cynical seems to be the norm today. Cynics lampoon the idealists. The idealists are out of touch. Where are the realists? According to an article I just read, in small group situations, if given a choice, the cynics and idealists would vote the realists off the island.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Inspirational thought

I am not usually one to seek or to write inspiring words. I have nothing against inspiration, but I am likely to be more inspired by a probability assessment than something that tugs at my heart. But the minister on Sunday offered this:

"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."--Thomas Alva Edison

I note that the two sentences are separate and don't know if they are two separate quotes or not...probably, but together, this is worth thinking about.

As one who submitted 11 times before getting my first academic article published, I can relate to this.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

If President Ahmadinejad changes his mind on nuclear development is that a flip-flop?

BBC ran this article

In short, it says the Iranian President changed his mind is open to nuclear talks, the day after saying he would not budge one iota on the issue. If good leaders don't flip flop, then doesn' such a sudden change make him a bad leader? of course, that is what we want him to do....

Of course, there really isn't a change, it is more to ensure "deadlock" according to the article. No flip-flops for Pres. Ahmadinejad, just hardline positions. Kind of like our non flip-flopping President.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

I want to be your leader but don't expect me to show leadership

News today, which means yesterday, something happened. Sen. Obama has changed his view of Offshore Drilling. While some think that is the news, what I find interesting about it is that the idea came from a bipartisan group of 10 Senators who are offering a "compromise" to end the dumb bunny stalemate in Washington about the gasoline price "crisis." Full story here (and this is better than the digested AP version)

The plan, offered Friday by 10 U.S. senators as a way to break the partisan impasse over energy policy that has stalled Congress in recent weeks, would expand drilling but also set new goals and establish new funding for the use of alternative fuels.

Don't know enough about the specifics, but this sounds to me like what politics is about, the "art of the possible" instead of winner take all, no drilling, exploration or anything in exchange for just more of the same, drill everything.

But here is the reason for this post: Why isn't Obama and/or McCain one of the original Gang of 10 (as the Senator's have been tagged)? Obama's rhetoric is that he would be this kind of leader (he did quickly support the move because he sees it as the way to get what he wants, a focus on alternative fuels and energy) and McCain has a history of reaching across the isle and supporing compromises, he was part of the Gang of whatever that stopped the stalemate and possible nuclear option in the senate over supreme court justices. Yet, where are they now? Campaigning, not leading.

I grew up in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, which would be significantly impacted by oil exploration and I do not favor it. Flordia's fragile ecology is about broken, this is only going to put it further to the test. Nevertheless, I think that a "crises" has been constructed (fuel and energy are readily available, they are just more expensive, this is not 1973 when oil truly was unavailable), and public opinion is such that we will drill every spot. In that sense, our leaders have collectively failed us because this situation was foreseeable (since at least 1973) and the American public is completely unwilling to accept any meaningful change for the future. A democracy gets what a democracy wants.

Friday, August 1, 2008

A case of rising expectations not being met

An opinion piece by NPR's Dick Meyer is a real downer (if you are an uncritical reader). Full article here

He argues that American's confidence in everything public is about as low as it can go. He isn't so bold as to suggest a legitimacy crisis, which, in fact, would be a crisis, but nevertheless, in the "negative" industry, this one is well worth it. A couple of excerpts:

At the beginning of the summer of 2008, three and a half decades after the Watergate hearings, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll came out. It found that 82 percent of those polled believed the country was seriously on the wrong track. They were the gloomiest results in 15 years. But they are not out of whack with the basic trends of public attitudes since the 1960s.

Hmm, worst in 15 years...15 years ago was 1993. The beginning of the Clinton Presidency, which followed 12 years of Republican/Conservative rule, which was a constant undermining of everything public....the market, the market, private, private...the schools are bad, religion is good, social security bad, money markets good.....

More from Meyer:

It isn't just government that Americans have grown to disrespect. Major companies had the confidence of 55 percent of those polled in 1966, but just 16 percent in 2007. Organized religion fell from 41 to 27 percent.

Meyer points out much social and material progress and that social scientists say we are not as "happy" as we once were.

He points to both liberals and conservatives crossing their fingers at the "toxic" pop culture (even as it makes more and more and more money).

He doesn't really offer an explanation except for "blame the media:"

In politics, the vacuum of strong leadership, effective political parties, bipartisanship, sober media and political tolerance has been filled by media, marketing and phoniness. In private life, the vacuum of tradition and community has been filled by, well, media, marketing and phoniness

Of course, we don't have any idea how happy people were 100 years ago, since modern polling techniques did not exist. Actually, the modern polling techniques really came to the fore in the 1950s, so, we can't use today's numbers with the past.

If we could have conducted a telephone poll among slaves in the middle 1800s, would they have been less happy then as former slaves were 20 years later? The question is silly for a reason.

If everyone is so down on America, why were their record numbers of voters, new voters signing up, incredible amounts of money raised from everyday folks? Is Sen Obama the answer? No, ... today doesn't matter as much as what the expectations for tomorrow are. And, all the progress that Meyer notes in his essay have the effect of RAISING EXPECTATIONS. I don't think our politicians are much different than they were in the past, we just expect more of them and probably hold them even more accountable in many ways....even as incumbents are harder and harder to kick out of office. But it does happen.

Expecations rise, and guess what? People can't keep up. Impatience is an American character flaw. Expectations rise, we expect it now. When expectations are not met, then we get cranky.

I'm not trying to sound "panglossian" here. There are many problems, but ask people about the future when you ask them about today. And, of course, the current 2+ year Presidential campaign is nothing but Ameica is screwed up, vote for me to fix it. Nobody runs to not fix, this never ending campaign constructs problems, points out things that many people might not have noticed, all in the rising expectations game. Jeez, it used to be a chicken in every pot, now politicians re promising virtual immortality! Yikes, am I going to be disappointed when I die.
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