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    • “Behave” By Robert Sapolsky
      For much of last year my daily routine included sipping a drink and reading a book at a coffee shop in a big box bookstore. I went thru a lot of books that way. A few standout, and Behave was the foremost among those. When you’ve read a lot of books, you rarely read much […]
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May 31st: The collision of Politics and Voting

They say that politics is a game. Politics being the games and tricks that go on behind the scenes:  The wheeling and dealing,  The leaked memos and dirty secrets, the tricks.  And that being so, the players are either winners or sore losermen.

But, I think that most of us see democracy as a combination of politics and voting — not just the politics.   In fact, it’s possible that most of us think of democracy as the voting.

So I’m thinking about Democratic Primaries and politics vs voting:

  1. The Democratic Primary is a club.  Pretty much anyone can join but, never forget – it’s a club and they can set their own RULES.
  2. States – say for example, Florida and Michigan – are governments and they can schedule elections (even primary elections) whenever they want.

In 2008 #1 – Democratic Party RULES collided with #2 the PRIMARY ELECTIONS in Florida and Michigan.
That might seem like a small thing to you but, here’s what happened.  The Democratic Party (DNC) said that the Florida and Michigan elections didn’t count because the Democratic National Committee didn’t approve of the date of the elections.

Oh, in the end – May 31, 2008 – the DNC granted Florida and Michigan 1/2 their delegations.  But, it was at the cost of the reappropriation of the Michigan delegation.  For reasons not even remotely explained, Obama was given all the uncommitted delegates and 4 of Hillary’s.

We had a collision between the Politics and the Voting.  And the Politics won.

What would Aquinas do? The Kill List Saga

It turns out there’s a whole book coming out about the Kill List – Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency by Daniel Klaidman. (I would have known about this if I watched Morning Joe but, luckily I read the New Yorker story and got caught up.) It’s due out in June but Newsweek has published an excerpt:

Drones: How Obama Learned to Kill

Sometimes called “crowd killing,” signature strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan. Obama struggled to understand the concept. Steve Kappes, the CIA’s deputy director, offered a blunt explanation. “Mr. President, we can see that there are a lot of military-age males down there, men associated with terrorist activity, but we don’t always know who they are.” Obama reacted sharply. “That’s not good enough for me,” he said. But he was still listening. Hayden forcefully defended the signature approach. You could take out a lot more bad guys when you targeted groups instead of individuals, he said. And there was another benefit: the more afraid militants were to congregate, the harder it would be for them to plot, plan, or train for attacks against America and its interests.

Obama remained unsettled. “The president’s view was ‘OK, but what assurances do I have that there aren’t women and children there?’?” according to a source familiar with his thinking. “?‘How do I know that this is working? Who makes these decisions? Where do they make them, and where’s my opportunity to intervene?’?”

Did he really mean that it’s OK about the boys — but what about the women?

The president had come a long way in a short time. Schooled as a constitutional lawyer, he had had to adjust quickly to the hardest part of the job: deciding whom to kill, when to kill them, and when it makes sense to put Americans in harm’s way. His instincts tilted toward justice and protecting the innocent, but he also knew that war is a messy business no matter how carefully it is conducted. He saw the drones as a particularly useful tool in a global conflict, but he was also mindful of the possibility of blowback.

In this overheated election season, Obama’s campaign is painting a portrait of a steely commander who pursues the enemy without flinching. But the truth is more complex, and in many ways, more reassuring. The president is not a robotic killing machine. The choices he faces are brutally difficult, and he has struggled with them—sometimes turning them over in his mind again and again. The people around him have also battled and disagreed. They’ve invoked the safety of America on the one hand and the righteousness of what America stands for on the other.

Stop right there. … “The hardest part of the job: deciding whom to kill, when to kill them” — When did we put THAT in the job description?

This story isn’t at all different from the NY Times version but it’s interesting that the Times obviously didn’t do their research in a vacuum.  As disgusting and disturbing as it is, it seems this really is a story President Obama wants told — and told before the conventions too. They must think we’re going to like it a lot.

I don’t think so.

Thursday’s Kill List Reading List:

The Huffington Post shares the episode of Morning Joe where he and his colleagues discuss the NY Times & Newsweek stories and The Kill President. It’s scarily-sickeningly fascinating. And I still hate it.

Cleaning Up Obama’s Dark Side by Glen Ford

THE PRESIDENT’S KILL LIST by Amy Davidson, New Yorker

The “Kill List” Is a Shiny Object by emptywheel

And finally The American Extremist point of view:

American Extremists: “Worst-case scenario”

Are you better off now than you were 400 years ago?

My sample ballot for the New Jersey primary on June 5, 2012.

We all know what went on four years ago.  RBC hearing, rules manipulation, voter disenfranchisement.  All voters are equal but some voters are more equal than others, blah, blah, blah.  You know the drill.  You’ve heard it for so long now that it’s just a persistent, high pitched whine that has faded into background noise and can easily be ignored. Or avoided.

That’s not what I want to talk about today.  I want to talk about choices.  Back when I had to make a choice about whether I wanted to persist in taking math heavy science courses, which my years of switching schools did not prepare me for, or something less anxiety producing, my academic advisor suggested I go into law.  Yep, she said, you might make a good lawyer.  But did I listen?  Noooo.  All I could think of was that a class on torts would make my ears bleed.  So, now I am not only an unemployed scientist, I am also forced to figure out just what the heck a “kill list” is from a legal standpoint.  And the closest I can come to it is a Bill of Attainder.

It’s funny how Obama is falling back on Thomas Aquinas for moral guidance because a bill of attainder is positively medieval.  Basically, a bill of attainder is a sentence of punishment without the inconveniences of all that due process shit that just gets in the way.  King Henry VIII was the kind of monarch I have in mind when it comes to bills of attainder.  For example, Thomas Cromwell was stripped of all his worldly goods before he was executed and all he did to earn it, so the rumor goes, was arrange the disastrous, unconsummated marriage of Henry with the innocent Anne of Cleves.  With a bill of attainder, property could be confiscated, rights stripped and heads debodied with relatively little fuss.  You don’t like someone?  They threaten you, are treasonous or just phenomenally bad matchmakers?  Get a bill of attainder, problem solved.

Bills of attainder are legislative solutions, by the way, that were explicitly forbidden by the US Constitution, (Article 1, section 9).  Traditionally, an executive needed to go to a legislative body of government to get one.  I’m guessing that back in the day, this was probably pretty easy to do, considering parliaments were made up of your peers. If it was good for the aristocracy, by golly, it was good enough for you.  But then the commoners started taking their rights a little more seriously and government began to change in the 17th century to more of a constitutional monarchy and then to the US Constitution where bills of attainder were upstaged by the Bill of Rights and had to get around all those annoying amendments.  But the writers must have been really serious about banning this kind of activity because you’d think that the explicit prohibition of bills of attainder in Article 1, section 9 would have been sufficient.  Apparently not, so due process was spelled out in the Bill of Rights to put additional speed bumps in the way.

Bills of attainder have not disappeared.  In the past 230+ years, there have been attempts to fashion bills of attainders.  But they’ve been modified by the courts.  But the “kill list” takes bills of attainders right back to the divine right of kings.  It’s good to know that Obama has a moral conscience (that little bit from the campaign ops about the philosophers was probably aimed at the college sophomores) and consults with a bunch of other people (WHO are we talking about, exactly?) about who makes the list but that’s not really in his job description and it’s not a legislative solution.  Or is it?  Did we sign away all our constitutional guarantees with the Patriot Act and the NDAA?  Did we unintentionally (or intentionally) authorize bills of attainder through legislation?

It’s not the first time that losing basic constitutional rights, like Habeas Corpus, has triggered a bad reaction from me but this new twist blows my mind.

It means that the Democratic Senate and “Democratic” president must have wanted it to happen. How else should we interpret it?  Bills of attainder are about as loathsome as law gets. Anyone can be deprived of all of their rights and property by one or several individuals based on a sneaking suspicion.  It’s really hard to believe that the Supreme Court would let this stand.  But this is not an ordinary Supreme Court.  It would have been better to never pass or sign the stupid bills to begin with.  Why would any president do it?  Isn’t the US Court system adequate?  Or do we expect so many traitors in the next couple of years that the courts would not be expected to process them all?  If that thought doesn’t bother you, go to an Occupy march sometime and count the riot police in military gear.

Voters should think about those questions this year.  If the idea of a bill of attainder on your head frightens you, think about what that means to the future of the country. What kind of system of government do we live under these days and who is really running the show?

Should you have seen this coming four years ago?  Yes, you should have seen it coming four years ago.  A guy who is willing to invalidate the elections of two states for his own gain is a guy who should have raised suspicions.  I know some fans were suckered in and got a little infatuated and acted like lovesick teenagers.  But to the rest of us, it just looked like a bad precedent to let the party mess with the elections on behalf of one guy.  One guy with money.  Money from a small group of rich bankers.  His peers.

Now that the orgasm has worn off, think about what it means to write off California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, Florida and Michigan (list not exhaustive) to award the nomination to a guy who won caucuses in the sparsely populated states on the prairie.  And what the f&*( happened in Indiana?  That was just bizarre.  We just wrote those big states off, like they never even happened and we did if for a man who was in many respects a tabula rasa.  There are a lot of lefties who think our “problem” has something to do with Hillary Clinton but that’s a gross oversimplification of the issue.  Our problem is that more than half of the voters in the primaries were not counted and were silenced at the convention.  If it were Howard Dean who got the Hillary treatment, we’d never hear the end of  how outrageously unfair and unethical it is to disenfranchise 18 million voters. Right, guys?  You know I’m right.  But it’s Ok when it happens to someone else’s candidate.

Did we learn anything in the past four years?  I think some people have realized, too late, that they screwed up.  But is there something we can take from this example to guide us in the future?  I think the answer is that if you find out that a party and a candidate are willing to rewrite the rules on the fly and to apportion delegates to a candidate who wasn’t even on the ballot in one state in order to get a predetermined outcome, they will be more than willing to bend the rules to get what they want after the election is over.

I’d like to believe that there are still good people left in the party apparatus (still waiting for data on that) and that  those people would be willing to stand up and do what’s right.  If the primary system is meaningless, and all indications are that it is, then there should be little trouble questioning whether the “choice of no choice” this year is in the best interests of the party or the country.  Once upon a time, conventions were controversial and nomination votes went on for days until a nominee was selected.  Maybe this is the year to bring that back.

And there is still time for some of the more populous states of the nation to have their say.  Next week, California and New Jersey have their primaries.  Both states have a write in option.  Now is the time for voters to express their disapproval of the loss of their rights.  Maybe the spin doctors were able to write off the aberrations in the Arkansas, West Virginia and Kentucky primaries as racism.  But it’s harder to use that against California and New Jersey.

So, I am asking all voters in next week’s primaries to use your write in option to express your anger at the way this president and this Congress has trampled on your rights.  Write in a name.  You can choose whatever name you want.  Pick someone.  If you’re concerned with social/economic issues, why not Bernie Sanders?  If you are concerned with constitutional issues, why not Russ Feingold?  If you want a well rounded politician with experience, why not Hillary Clinton?  If you still think Howard Dean meant what he said about “the Democratic wing of the Democratic party”, write him in. YOU decide who that person is and write that name in.  These are big states and a write in campaign against the sitting president *will* get attention.

The Democrats, and particularly the Obama campaign, would like to control this election year so that nothing happens to distract the voters from the inevitability of Obama’s nomination.  And I say, fuck that shit. Don’t go down without a fight. What this country needs is a choice and some controversy and the ability to talk about stuff that concerns us without having some party apparatus muting our voices and changing the subject.

People are always asking, “I know it’s bad but what can we do??”.  You always have a choice.  Your vote is your own.  And just because Obama is the only named Democrat on the ballot in your state for President on the Democratic party’s ticket doesn’t mean you have to go along with the program.  All you need to do is tell two people and have them tell two people and so on and so on until there is critical mass (I’m guessing 30% of the voting Democrats would get their attention in a state the size of California).

Now, stop wringing your hands in frustration and worry.  You have 3 months to turn this ship around before the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina.  You can either be passive and allow the party to corral you because you are afraid of what might happen if you don’t go along with the program, or you can challenge the party and tell it to straighten up and fly right. Introduce some chaos so that the party isn’t just phoning it in this year.  Make them sweat. The last thing the party wants is a sign of disunity going into the general so its going to fight you.  But stand your ground and force it to have a national conversation about where it is planning to take the country in the future.

Because 400 years backwards is not my idea of progress.

Wednesday: “Kill List” Reading List

On this the day after the NY Times glowing report of our weekly “Kill List” I’m reading through the comments posted to the story:

The two-handed dilemma (recommended 153 times!):

On the one hand, one admires President Obama’s resolve and clear vision of the mission, as he has defined it. On the other hand, one cannot help but draw the unavoidable conclusion that the policy of pre-emptive assassination has, perhaps forever, changed what were once considered American values.

Hey! (here’s a surprise) Not all American’s are Pacifists (recommended 131 times):

It is true that violence produces violence, but not all Americans are pacifists, and not all Americans are willing to turn the other cheek to terrorist acts. President Obama by directly taking responsibility for these decisions is acting as a leader of the entire nation. US direct military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is decreasing, reducing one source of friction between the US and people in that region.

A proud voter (210 recommends):

In an ideal world such a policy would not be needed. In a world where folks are refining underwear bombs to make them more lethal and effective in bringing down plane loads of people, where the rights of innocents are ignored, and where folks say we love death more than you love life, I say I will vote for Obama again proudly.

And it goes on and on While there negative comments sprinkled through the collection, on the whole it seems that the New York Times knows it’s audience:

But, with any luck we won’t have to take the Times word for the wonder that is Barack Obama. Bubbling up around the Internets we find that not everyone is so accepting:

At Empire Burlesque, Chris Floyd is pretty scathing in his reaction:

Hymns to the Violence: The NYT’s Love Letter to Obama’s Murder Racket

In any other age — including the last administration — this story would have been presented as a scandalous exposé. The genuinely creepy scenes of the “nominating process” alone would have been seen as horrific revelations. Imagine the revulsion at the sight of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld sifting through PowerPoint slides on “suspected terrorists” all over the world, and giving their Neronic thumbs up or down as each swarthy face pops up on a screen in front of them. Imagine the tidal wave of moral outrage from the “Netroots Nation” and other progressive champions directed at Bush not only for operating a death squad (which he did), but then trotting out Condi and Colin and Bob Gates to brag about it openly, and to paint Bush as some kind of moral avatar for the careful consideration and philosophical rigor he applied to blowing human beings to bits in sneak attacks on faraway villages.

But the NYT piece is billed as just another “process story” about an interesting aspect of Obama’s presidency, part of an election-year series assessing his record. It is based entirely on the viewpoints of Beltway insiders. The very few dollops of mild criticism of the murder program are voiced by figures from deep within the imperial machine. And even these caveats are mostly tactical in nature, based on one question: “Does the program work, is it effective?” There is not a single line that ever suggests, even slightly, that the program might be morally wrong. There is not a single line in the story suggesting that such a program should up for debate or even examination by Congress. Nor is there even a perfunctory quote from mainstream organizations such as the ACLU or Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch — or from anyone in Pakistan or Yemen or the other main targets of Obama’s proudly proclaimed and personally approved death squad.

(snip)

Obama’s deep concern for “moral responsibility” is also reflected in his decision to kill according to “signature strikes” — that is, to kill people you don’t know, who haven’t even popped up on your PowerPoint slides, if you think they might possibly look or act like alleged potential “terrorists.” (Or if you receive some “human intelligence” from an agent or an informer or someone with a grudge or someone seeking payment that a group of people doing something somewhere might be terrorists.) This “moral responsibility” is also seen in Obama’s decision to count “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”

Guilty until proven posthumously innocent! How’s that for “moral responsibility”? Here Obama has surpassed Augustine and Aquinas — yea, even great Aristotle himself — in this bold extension of the parameters of moral responsibility.

It’s never hurt so much to snip out these quotes. Go read the whole thing… It’s great.

Other reactions to the Kill List story (Please post your links in the comments and I’ll add them here):

From Harpers: Obama’s Kill List

From Politico: Does ‘kill list’ prove Obama’s anti-terrorism commitment? … Answer? Hell Yeah!

Digby’s Hullabaloo: “He likes action, especially when he doesn’t leave fingerprints”

Read it and weep

From the New York Times article on Obama’s hit list summarized by Katiebird below, we find this tasty nugget that went unreported:

It was not only Mr. Obama’s distaste for legislative backslapping and arm-twisting, but also part of a deeper pattern, said an administration official who has watched him closely: the president seemed to have “a sense that if he sketches a vision, it will happen — without his really having thought through the mechanism by which it will happen.”

In fact, both Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the attorney general, Mr. Holder, had warned that the plan to close the Guantánamo prison was in peril, and they volunteered to fight for it on Capitol Hill, according to officials. But with Mr. Obama’s backing, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, blocked them, saying health care reform had to go first.

Holy snot! So weird for the NYTimes to report anything like this for Hillary.  Well, obviously, this is not a principled position.  She did it to make Obama look bad.  But I don’t understand why the NYTimes is mentioning it.  It’s just so unlike them.

Where’s a factchecker when you need one…

Things that are worse than White House Blow Jobs Including Things that Actually Deserve Impeachment:

This from the New York Times:

Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”

I don’t know how to pick and choose from this report — I’m so shocked I’m tempted to copy and past the whole thing.

But, Charles Pierce at Esquire – Obama’s Kill List and the End of the Post-9/11 World did a pretty good job so I’ll give him some credit here:

The big story on the front page of The New York Times today about the decision-making process involved in putting together the White House “kill list” — and I’m old enough to remember those romantic days when the only one involved was Gordon Liddy and the only name on the list was Jack Anderson’s — is not about the means of killing and the relative merits of killing from afar, or even about what the story refers to as the president’s “own deep reserve” about the possibility that he might have to drop a Hellfire or some teenagers. (Let’s face facts: If he didn’t have a “deep reserve” about this, he’d be a sociopath and, as it is, the available evidence indicates that he seems to overcome his deep reserve fairly readily.) It’s really not about what he does. It’s about what we tolerate.

Read these articles then tell me: Are we going to tolerate this?

Who do these people think they’re talking to?

I got this picture from Corrente in one of Lambert’s posts.  It’s a picture of the inside of Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago.  If you’ve ever wondered why so many of his fanboys sound like young guys who don’t have families or responsibilities, well, here’s your answer:

Do you see any women in that picture? There might be a few waaaaaay in the back but mostly it looks like the library of an oversized frat house.  I like the Adidas shoes though.  They remind me of the ones I had when I was a freshman at Pitt. Very comfy.

These are the same people who get on social media outlets and have little hissy fits when you suggest that their candidate might be out of touch with the average voter.  These are the guys who tell you that the ONLY reason you could possibly be dissatisfied with Obama’s performance is because you’re a racist.  Or stupid.  Yeah, I like that one.  You’re stupid because you can’t see that not voting for him is voting against your best interests.

And voting for him would be what?  And why is there an unspoken assumption that if you don’t want to vote for Obama that you’re naturally going to vote for Romney?  Isn’t that a bit presumptuous?  There are other candidates, you know.

By the way, how is insulting your voters supposed to work anyway?  When we’re out here struggling to get by on our dwindling savings why are we confronted with another teachable moment about race?  Is the Obama fanbase trying to suggest that if we weren’t racists we’d be more prosperous?  Or are they trying to blame our stupidity for our unemployment problems? Are they trying to depress us and strip us of our self esteem and make us feel bad about our situation, because that doesn’t seem like a winning formula to me. If anyone in the fanbase wants to address the logic behind the messaging and blaming the victims, I’m all ears.  Well, I’m all ears to a message that treats me as a college educated adult that can reason my way out of a paper bag.  I like a message that doesn’t condescend to flimflam me about Obama’s “accomplishments” and tell me that Lilly Ledbetter solved all my problems.  I’m not Cindy Lou Who.  If the message is going to give me a plan and concrete examples of how Obama is going to turn this ship around in the next four years that sound convincing, I could be open to that.  But I haven’t seen it yet and none of it passes my smell test.

Charles Pierce did a post on Obama’s headquarters last week.  Besides the fact that the place is locked down like a fortress and you can’t get in without surrendering your driver’s license, the place is locked down like a fortress.  These guys are on social media sites all day shaping the message.  This a the reason why I’ve avoided facebook and why I don’t hang out at many lefty blogs.

But who the heck are they talking to?  I don’t relate to these people and I doubt that they relate to me.  To me, they’re just the online manifestation of hooliganism.  They’re loud, aggressive and intimidating in the comment threads.  It’s not that I don’t think I can handle it.  I just ask myself why I should bother.  They’re not hired to have an argument with you.  They’re there to incite a bait ball frenzy with their partners,  shut you up and drive you away.  They’re not in the persuasion business.  They’re in the enforcement business, not unlike the riot cops who the DHS sics on Occupy protestors every time they get together.  It’s almost like they’re trying to prevent us from getting together and comparing notes about Obama’s performance.  We can’t have that.  We might discover that racism and stupidity have nothing to do with it.

We’re coming up on the 4th anniversary of that infamous RBC hearing in Washington where the rules were rewritten to make sure they were more equal for Obama at the expense of all of the other voters in America who 1.) didn’t think he was ready to be president and 2.) couldn’t identify with his asshole fanbase.  And the problem with Obama still hasn’t changed.  He’s still not ready to be president and he still has a bunch of assholes working for him.  And these assholes, who appear to have all of the experience of 22-28 year old unmarried men, have the nerve to dictate to the rest of us that if we don’t vote for him again, we’re stupid racists and if he loses, all of the catastrophes that follow will be our fault.

How about we look at it this way?  It’s not the responsibility of the voters to ensure that the fanboys’ employer gets reelected.  It is the candidate’s responsibility to do a good job and make sure he is leading the country in a positive direction with a vision of the future that the rest of us can relate to.  That’s the way it works.  It is and always will be the Economy, stupid.

The candidate lucked out when the market tanked in 2008 because from what I could see, the campaign wasn’t over and his presidency was not assured back then.  Now, we know what he is and he’s going to have to do a better job before voters give him four more years.  And these guys in their shrinkwrapped, airconditioned bunkers, sealed for their own protection and away from the real world are not helping his image.

One more thing: This is for all of the blogger/pundit types out there who write witty and incisive prose about the failures of the Obama administration (you know who you are).  We read your stuff and know that you’re just as horrified as we are that Obama has given everything away to Wall Street.  We know that you can predict how badly life is going to suck for those of us who will be on the losing end of the Grand Bargain.  We know that you’re appalled by Obama’s poor performance.  It’s not hard to read between the lines.  So, do us all a favor and stop running around with your hair on fire about how we must vote for him or Armageddon will come when Romney is elected.  That assumes that nothing can be done and all hope is lost.  That isn’t helping.  You haven’t even tried yet.

If I had your megaphone, I would use it.

****************************

This video of the saucepan demonstrations in Quebec is going viral so let’s spread it around too:

See the difference?  Those are average people.  They’re not all from Sigma Pi.

Memorial Day 2012

This is my Dad.  He was a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars.  He served in the Navy as a nuclear reactor maintenance specialist for 20 years and retired in 1980.  He died 17 years ago and is buried at Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania.

He ended up working for a power company but in an ironic twist, forbid airconditioning in his houses, insulated the hell out of every window, was a tyrant about running the dryer for a single pair of wet jeans and instructed everyone on how to take a proper navy shower. The thermostat was kept so low that we got dressed for school under the covers.  When it came to conserving energy, he was way ahead of his time and annoying as all get out.  I have rebelled.  Sometimes, my showers last more than three minutes, the water is set to hot and I let it run continuously during the shampoo cycle.

He was born in the middle of the Depression and probably never thought we’d be stupid enough to get ourselves into another one.  He probably never thought the religious right would get as much control as it did because up close, it just looks too crazy to be powerful.  He used to joke that we should save our Dixie cups because the south was going to rise again.  But he probably never expected we’d have to fight the Civil War all over again. He probably never expected that the first person in the family on either side to have graduated from college would be out of a job.  He wasn’t particularly political.  The only time I remember him voting was for John Anderson, an independent.  I’m not sure where he would have fallen on the political spectrum today but I seriously doubt he would have been suckered in by *anything* on Fox News.  He wasn’t the gullible type.  Knowing his views on energy, I think he’d be in a no man’s land, but *maybe* skewing towards the Green technology side of things.  I think that would have been interesting to him.  I don’t think he would have been into raiding other countries for oil because that means we’d end up paying money for energy, which went against his nature. He probably would have believed in global warming. There are a lot of things he wouldn’t be pleased to see if he were here and sometimes, he had a temper.

Yep, if he were here today, I think he’d be pretty pissed.

I kinda miss that about him.

Have a great day, people.  It’s nice outside.  Go out and get a sunburn.

It’s not summer yet but this is the start of the summer vacation season.  So, here’s my favoritist summer song in the whole world.  I love the lyrics.

The summer smiles
The summer knows
And unashamed
She sheds her clothes
The summer smoothes
The restless sky
And lovingly
She warms the sand
On which you lie
The summer knows
The summer’s wise
She sees the doubts
Within your eyes
And so she takes
Her summertime
Tells the moon to wait
And the sun to linger
Twist the world
Round her summer finger
Lets you see
The wonder of it all
And if you’ve learned
Your lesson well
There’s little more
For her to tell
One last caress
It’s time to dress
For fall…

I live in the real world

Occasionally, I have to do a gut check to make sure that I’m not the one out of step with the rest of the country.  If I read nothing but the left blogosphere, I’d come away with the idea that Obama will have a bit of trouble winning the election this year but not too much to worry about.  Because Romney is a heartless bot who loves X-games Capitalism and true Christians distrust him.  And anyway, the Republicans are conducting a War on Women and in the end, women will come flocking to Obama.  So, even if Obama turns to the right and promises to compromise on the deficit to the point that he is indistinguishable from the Republicans, Democrats will realize that he is the only one standing between them and a fascist corporate dystopia where we are all doomed to despair.  With Obama we get someone who is really smart but so unfairly put upon.  Really, it’s not his fault.  He inherited this mess.  The public is being too demanding, he’s doing the best he can and, unfortunately, that means people will have to suffer because the Republicans are standing in his way.

Also, the Clintons are Third Way Democrats who can’t be trusted even though they make Obama look like a political amateur.

But I live in the real world.

I live in a state that has seen one of its major industries dismantled piece by piece and moved to Massachusetts, China and India.  I come from a professional class of people who have slipped into the precariat class even though only a few years ago, they were solidly middle class.  I live in a suburb where 80 teachers were fired after Chris Christie took office.  I live in a metropolitan region where the train system has increased fares by more than 30% in the past couple of years.  I live in a town where the new grocery store closed its door a year ago and its building is an empty shell in a strip mall full of empty shells.  I live in a state where the property taxes are so high that even if you manage to buy your house outright, you can’t afford to live here without a job that pays good money.  I live in a region where food prices are getting really crazy.

I live in a country where if you fall because you’ve lost your job, descent is quick and there is very little cushioning to make your landing safe.

Maybe the economy is coming back but I go to professional meetings all of the time and at some of them, everyone there is networking for a job.

That’s the way it is in the real world.

A couple of years ago, Jon Corzine ran a campaign much like Obama’s.  Property taxes are a big issue here in this state.  They’re highly regressive and burdensome to homeowners.  Corzine formed a commission and then threw up his hands in frustration.  He ended up doing very little.  During the fallout from the economic collapse of 2009, he ended up doing very little.  While the state was hemorrhaging STEM jobs, he ended up doing very little.  And the campaign he ran on was, “I did the best I could, there’s nothing much I could do but Chris Christie will be a terrible.”

And he lost.

The spin is that Christie was attractive to a lot of people.  But I saw Christie in debate in person and he was nothing special.  He wasn’t profound or dynamic.  He was just a morbidly obese average Republican conservative spouting average Republican stuff.  It looked like he was phoning it in.  There was an independent candidate, Chris Daggett, who shined in those debates.  He actually seemed to understand the state and seemed interested in doing something different.  He got my vote.  In fact, he got just enough votes that Corzine lost.

The country is not turning to the right.  The country is looking for someone who acts like he or she gives a shit.

I don’t like Christie and he’s done some damage.  The Democratic legislature keeps his more murderous impulses reined in.  But the national campaign feels an awful lot like New Jersey a couple of years ago and Obama’s campaign looks a lot like Jon Corzine’s.

I’m not living in the fantasy that the Democratic candidate is going to pull this one off this year.  This is not 2008 and his candidacy is no longer historic.  People can and will hold him responsible for his lackluster performance and will not accept excuses.  They’re burned out by the abortion wars and the whacked out suppression of women in politics by both parties.  And anyway, the Democrats have yielded so much ground on women’s rights that we don’t take their scare tactics about abortion seriously anymore.  There are already 5 votes on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe but it hardly matters.  The damage is done in the states with barely a peep from Democrats or the national women’s organizations that they have co-opted.  Meanwhile, there’s no jobs bill to put us back to work and our taxes are dumped into the Wall Street money pit with no accountability. It’s demotivating to the Democratic base and it’s frustrating.  And it makes us angry.  We just want someone who acts like he or she gives a shit.

Democrats should be worried.  You can’t force people to vote for your candidate or see something in him that the rest of us have missed in the past four years.  And activists and bloggers aren’t doing themselves any favors by going along with the program without question or panicking in fear of what’s to come. Now is the time to pressure the Democrats to do something, make them take a stand and show that they care.  After Labor Day, it will be too late.

That’s reality.

Friday Science Horror Stories

So, what does that make this, the third or fourth week of rainy weekdays?  I can’t remember.  The grays just blur into one another with teasers of blue sky.  Yes, we had a very nice weekend last week but it’s happened so rarely lately.  Mostly, it’s drizzling when I wake up, I have all kinds of plans to sand my deck and replant the bed out front where the creeping juniper used to be and I just have to sit on all of those things until the sun comes out.  No use in renting a sander unless I have a good four hours of no rain and I just can’t count on that these days.  The forecast is for more unpredictable precipitation until next Tuesday, although I might catch a break in the cloud cover tomorrow.  So, there’s hope that I can finish the f^(*ing deck.

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Update for my pharma friends:

Chemjobber has a post about visitors to the White House and how many of them have been from the science industry. Very interesting. Jeffrey Kindler, the ketchup king and now deposed head of Pfizer, was there many, many times.  Hey, did I mention that Pfizer decided recently to stop offering employees pensions so that they could risk all of their retirement money in 401Ks?  And Chris Viehbacher, he of the “good scientists don’t want to work for big pharmas” fame, (which indicates that he’s never actually gotten down from his lofty perch and spoken to any of the good scientists in his own labs), was there on March 11, 2011, about four months after his company bought Genzyme and proceeded to lay off most of his new acquisition’s chemists.

Well, they probably didn’t want to work for a big company anyway so, you know, conscience clear, and all that.

If you’re in the pharma industry,check it out and see if a CEO has been to visit the president or his advisors and viciously lied to them or collaborated with them or whatever those guys do in the White House.

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I’m almost done harping on Pharmageddon.  Yesterday, I had a conversation with a reporter from the Washington Post who says he is looking into the high number of layoffs among STEM professionals. (Many thanks to everyone who helped get the word out.  We appreciate it.)  Let’s hope there’s a crack in the cloud cover on this issue.  Either I’m paranoid that the present elected officials don’t want anyone to know how our scientific infrastructure has been decimated, or those same elected officials are dumber than a box of rocks and will believe anything the bonus class is telling them about structural unemployment, or there are too many scientific morons on the Republican side of the aisle in Congress, or they’re all being mislead by the out-of-date numbers of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. None of those possibilities give me peace of mind.  On the other hand, since there are so many of us out of work right now, we should look into replacing the clueless in Congress with our own geekier representatives.  At least there are two good years of employment and health bennies to look forward to.

Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline has a question for the ex-pharma crowd: What’s the craziest misinformation you’ve heard about the pharma industry or science in general?  He’s listed a couple that I’ve heard over and over again.  The first is that industry has found the cure for cancer and it’s sitting on it.  Friends, I know that anyone who reads this blog is smarter than the average smartass lefty blogger so I shouldn’t have to tell you this but that idea makes no f^&*ing sense.  If industry had the cures for cancer, they’d be marketing the hell out of them and charging whatever the market would bear, which would be plenty.  If you’ve ever had a family member who is terminally ill with cancer, you know that you would mortgage your house to buy him a cure and the guys in the marketing department of Trustus Pharmaceuticals know it too.  So, this is a ridiculous idea.  The truth is both good and bad.  We’re getting closer to understanding the mechanisms of cancers but we’re still a long way off from beating it.  What we need is more money and more commitment from our governments.

The second idea is that all of the science comes from government funded grants.  While it’s true that grants fund a lot of basic research, it is NOT true that industry takes that already discovered and perfect drug and markets it for a profit.  No, no, no, no, noooooooo.  At best, industry gets a clue from academia, maybe some insight, a mechanism, and occasionally a germ of a drug in its earliest form.  What industry does is accumulate all of the information about the proposed target as it can, sifts through it, determines if there is something it can work with, and then sets about doing the years and years of research it takes to develop those ideas into a therapy.  It’s a long hard slog that involves many steps of biology, chemistry, pharmacology and animal models to get to the point where *maybe* there’s a drug in there somewhere.

That doesn’t diminish the government’s role in funding research.  This research is vital to what comes after.  But it’s like Edison’s 1% inspiration followed by industry’s 99% perspiration.  And along the way, industry is able to add insights to the original problem.  We’re not just applied science monkeys.  We make our own discoveries along the way and add to the body of knowledge on a subject through our own papers and presentations.  That, in turn, helps feed science in general.  The more knowledge that’s out there, the more chances that academia and industry will find places to collaborate.  We are now seeing a lot more collaboration between academia and research.  And while that’s a good thing, academia needs to be funded more generously for new collaborations to work optimally and to boost academia’s contribution past that 1% inspiration.  Biology is undergoing a modern, “paradigm shifting” revolution right now.  We can’t afford for any government lab to be underfunded or our nation will be left behind.

What our elected officials need to do is make sure that the people who fund the collaborations benefit as well as the industries that develop the ideas.  Can we do it?  Sure we can.  We just need to think of the American people as stakeholders.

And here’s what will happen if we do not take this challenge seriously.  A recent article in the NYTimes says that American Physicists fear that we are losing our edge:

When three American astronomers won the Nobel Prize in Physics last year, for discovering that the expansion of the universe was speeding up in defiance of cosmic gravity — as if change fell out of your pockets onto the ceiling — it reaffirmed dark energy, the glibly named culprit behind this behavior, as the great cosmic surprise and mystery of our time.

And it underscored the case, long urged by American astronomers, for aNASA mission to measure dark energy— to determine, for example, whether the cosmos would expand forever or whether, perhaps, there might be something wrong with our understanding of gravity.

In 2019, a spacecraft known as Euclid will begin such a mission to study dark energy. But it is being launched by the European Space Agency, not NASA, with American astronomers serving only as very junior partners, contributing $20 million and some infrared sensors.

For some scientists, this represents an ingenious solution, allowing American astronomers access to the kind of data they will not be able to obtain on their own until NASA can mount its own, more ambitious mission in 2024.

But for others, it is a setback. It means that for at least the next decade, Americans will be relegated to a minor role in following up on their own discovery.

American scientists are facing a real dilema.  If our government is not going to invest in basic research, we will be putting ourselves decades behind.  As science accelerates in the rest of the world, we will fall back even faster.  Pretty soon, America will start to resemble one of those 2nd world countries where corruption is pervasive and where government is permanently underfunded and the number of Nobel prizes going to that country’s scientific infrastructure is vanishingly small.

We are at Robert Frost’s “two roads diverged in a yellow woods”.  The decisions we make now will affect the way our country develops.  Are we going to continue to cater to the conservatives who insist on allowing ignorance on evolution, climate science and private sector funding take us down the road to scientific obscurity or are we going to recommit to taking the lead in science and technology and demand that the wealthy step up, pay their taxes and help us refund our efforts so that American citizens, the stakeholders, benefit?  Can we afford for so many Americans to feel entitled to their ignorance?

Anyone?  Anyone?  Barack?