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      From a study by his officials: In the report, “The State of Homelessness in America,” even shelters get some of the blame for increasing the number of people who are homeless.The argument: Some people would be able to find their own housing if they were turned away from shelters. “While shelters play an extremely important role […]
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Seth’s Ideal Candidate

Seth Andrews, The Thinking Atheist, put this video together of what he considers his ideal candidate.  I think he’s onto something here.  Too many candidates tend to be plain, vanilla people who have never had a real job, done things they regret, or have failed at anything.  Psychologist Nassir Ghaemi, author of A First Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness would tend to agree.  The last person we needed to run the country in the last four years is a monogamous dude who has never known defeat or dark nights of the soul.  (Note that personality disorders, like sociopathy and narcissism, are not the same as depression or mania or other mood disorders.)

Where I differ from Seth is that I do believe there is value in experience for a public servant.  For example, FDR was Secretary of the Navy and Governor of NY. Just like anything else, achieving mastery in the art of governance is aided by experience.  To say that a person with little or no experience is desirable for the highest position of power in the world is probably not too wise.  That’s how we ended up with Obama and he clearly has no idea what options he has available to him to get things done.  Either that or governance is just not his thing.

The distaste for experienced public servants is a mistake of both the left and the right.  The left just hates the idea of politics altogether.  It requires shaking hands and knowing people well enough to anticipate how they will behave so that a selection of carrots and sticks may be applied and all of that is just oogie to them because they fancy themselves to be cool intellectual types who are above all that squishy emotional stuff. When they nominate the cool intellectual type, they tend to be ineffective. Take John Kennedy for example.  His whole cabinet was full of people who didn’t really like politics.  They didn’t like LBJ either because he was too earthy and touchy feely but it was Johnson who got much of Kennedy’s agenda passed because he wasn’t afraid to get in people’s faces and wheel and deal.

The right just doesn’t like government.  It doesn’t really matter who is in charge.  Their business is business.  Whether the various departments work well or not is really not their concern.  Get in, lower taxes on the rich, eliminate as many regulations as possible so that no one is minding the hen house, and get out before anyone attaches the disaster you caused to your party.  Reagan, and the two Bush’s are examples of that type.  Governing well was the last thing on their minds.

If anything, we need a president who actually enjoys being a politician and governor.  We haven’t had one for 12 years now.  What country in their right mind keeps saying, “We have a position open for the most powerful person in the world but we prefer a person with no practical experience in governing.  Poli Sci and International Relations majors also need not apply.  This is a entry level position.”  That’s just a crazy way to elect a president and we deserve what we get.

What makes a good president is a coherent worldview, a vision, a political philosophy, and the abilities and experience to use the power of the position to lead people in the direction of that vision.  You don’t have to be an intellectual genius, you don’t need to be pure in body or spirit and wealth is definitely not a pre-requisite definition of success.  What makes a good president is someone who genuinely cares about people and their welfare.  Think about all of our best presidents and they all have that in common.

I would add one more thing to this list.  A president has to be committed to the constitutional equality of all Americans regardless of gender, sexuality or religious affiliation or non-affiliation.  And that candidate should have a record that clearly and unambiguously demonstrates that commitment.  Because the last thing this country needs is for so many women, LGBT persons and non-believers to be forced to sit on the sidelines because they are convenient paraiahs to target in election years.  We can’t afford to waste any talent.  In particular, any candidate who fails to vigorously defend the rights and equality of women should be immediately disqualified.  A candidate who allows his or her party to kick around half of the population as a political football doesn’t deserve to be president.  Both candidates are guilty this year.

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Wednesday: I don’t like this

Aside from an Occupy march or three, my life is unexciting.  I’ve never had a speeding ticket, never been arrested, don’t do drugs.  But if I *wanted* to smoke a joint in my backyard, I’d like to think I could do so without some drone hovering a mile overhead watching me do it.  Don’t they even make little drones that look like insects and birds and stuff or did I read that in a Michael Crichton book?

This article in The Atlantic should have all of us pretty pissed off.  There’s a limit to how much surveillance we need to keep everyone on the straight and narrow:

Drones, in my mind, make it clear how many of our feelings about privacy rest on the assumption that surveillance is time consuming or difficult. If someone smokes a joint in her backyard, she is making the (pretty good) calculation that a police officer is not watching. In our cars, we assume we can quickly send a text message at a red light or not wear our seatbelts for a few minutes or drive a few miles over the speed limit. We don’t expect that someone is watching our every move and that gives the law some give, a bendiness that reflects it’s a human construction.

But these little flying video and audio recorders, paired with powerful data analysis tools, make previously unthinkable levels of surveillance possible, even easy. Before the Internet, tracking someone’s reading and shopping activities would have been nearly impossible without a private detective. Now, new online tracking tools make it possible to easily capture every page that you visit on the Internet. So companies do. Technology doesn’t create entirely novel privacy questions, but it tilts the playing field towards or away from increased privacy without many citizens (or courts!) really noticing that anything had changed.

Let’s look at one example of how drones change the privacy equation. We tend to think of our homes as having a perimeter. Property maps are two-dimensional, we talk about property lines as if they were burned into the ground. There are access points in two-dimensional space — paths and roads — that channel visitors through a small number of places. We can build fences or plant hedges and they need not be high to mark the territory out.

A flying drone with a zoom lens, though, makes that whole sense of two-dimensional privacy an anachronism. If one wanted privacy from the government or other citizens, one would have to defend the entire volume of airspace reaching up from one’s property to several hundred feet up, if not much farther. This vastly increases the cost of physically hiding one’s activities. And, vis a vis law enforcement, the idea of “plain sight” hardly even makes sense anymore, as Jonathan Zittrain pointed out yesterday:

“The prospect of constant government surveillance of citizens through cheap drones tests the “plain sight” doctrine by which, under our Constitution, police are generally allowed to scope out whatever is in plain view, without requiring a warrant. Supercharged technologies face some limits — extra-sensitive remote microphones, or heat signature detectors of the sort that might be pointed at the wall of a home to detect marijuana-growing lamps in use inside.”

Anyway, the concept of a drone is sort of what my concept of biblical God is.  Doesn’t God have better things to do with his/her time than watch ordinary people do things that shouldn’t be illegal?  And what kind of life do you have when everyone is afraid to step out of line even a fraction of an inch for fear of being fined or jailed?  Isn’t that like being a cow or some other dumb animal?  You get up in the morning, go out to a pasture, chew some cud, go home and go to sleep.  What would be the point? I’m sure the apocalyptic evangelical fundamentalist crowd would see this scenario as some kind of earthly paradise but what about the rest of us?

On the other hand, all of those people who are looking for houses with a lot of “privacy” from their neighbors might as well give it up.  You’re never going to get a chance to have a threesome in the pool with your wife and that personal fitness instructor that you’ve been fantasizing about.

The writer of the Atlantic article thinks the additional surveillance (just because we can) will prompt citizens to run screaming to their legislatures and courts demanding legal protections and that the backlash will include things we don’t even think about now, like various internet giants tracking our every move through the web.  I don’t care if they check out where I’ve been but there is a limit to how much information I’m willing to share with the outside world and the world right now is pushing it.  And giving an entity this much power is an invitation to abuse.

One other thing that’s worth noting is the effect this will have on our most innovative, artistic, and politically useful people.  If everyone is forced to conform as if they live in a fanatical townhouse association with the Staasi for neighbors, then we’ll get the same cookie cutouts running our elected offices too.  Nassir Ghaemi, author of A First Rate Madness says that in times of crisis, the last thing you want is some normal dude or dudess who has no mental abnormalities and has never tested the bounds of what is socially acceptable, which is why it should come as no surprise that George W. Bush and Barack Obama have been such disasters. Monogamous, normal, sane, conformity minded people make the worst leaders in times of crisis and make horrendous decisions.  In fact, it helps to have had a mental health crisis of some kind or to have broken some social taboo.  Think Winston Churchill and his cyclical political career, JFK and his affairs and illnesses, Abraham Lincoln and his depression and atheism and finally Steve Jobs and his LSD use.  If there’s a drone watching you and listening in to every conversation, it’s much harder to think out of the box and do what needs to be done without fear of severe reprisals.  In fact, you may never get the chance.  Drones are going to nip a first rate madness in the bud (no pun intended).

Maybe the world works best when there’s a little bit of unravelling, a soupçon of testing the limits.  Sometimes you have to go up in energy to overcome some barrier.  That involves a certain amount of risk taking that others may not approve of.  As Nucky Thompson said, “We all have to decide how much sin we can live with.”  With a drone buzzing up above, that decision may be made for us.  And that’s not a good thing.

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

The People’s Party considers non-violence:

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In other news: Chemists are screwed.  The statistic in this article is old.  The pace of job losses has accelerated in the last two years for chemists.  You know, I can’t think of a more depressing prospect for a chemist than to have spent at least 4 years stuffing my brain with all this complexicated nollij and then be stuck in a CRO lab doing the same damn thing, day after day, like some low level factory worker, never being involved in the design of the compound or asked to participate in a project.  So, maybe it’s better if we just didn’t have American chemists at all.  Yeah, let’s all devolve.

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

The only guy who could compete with Jon Stewart, George Carlin, takes on the pro-life (actually, the pro-dirty, illegal abortionist) position:

It’s hard to believe he’s been dead for 4 years because he could have written this material yesterday.

I may be crazy, but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.

But is she crazy enough?

This may be old news to some of you but it turns out that our greatest presidents may have been a little bit “tetched”, if you know what I mean.  In the book, A First-Rate Madness, author Nassir Ghaemi argues that hard and unusual times call for hard and unusual characters, preferably depressive pessimists:

the very qualities that mark those with mood disorders—realism, empathy, resilience, and creativity—also make for the best leaders in times of crisis. By combining astute analysis of the historical evidence with the latest psychiatric research, Ghaemi demonstrates how these qualities have produced brilliant leadership under the toughest circumstances.

Take realism, for instance: study after study has shown that those suffering depression are better than “normal” people at assessing current threats and predicting future outcomes. Looking at Lincoln and Churchill among others, Ghaemi shows how depressive realism helped these men tackle challenges both personal and national. Or consider creativity, a quality psychiatrists have studied extensively in relation to bipolar disorder.
A First-Rate Madness shows how mania inspired General Sherman and Ted Turner to design and execute their most creative—and successful—strategies.

Ghaemi’s thesis is both robust and expansive; he even explains why eminently sane men like Neville Chamberlain and George W. Bush made such poor leaders. Though sane people are better shepherds in good times, sanity can be a severe liability in moments of crisis. A lifetime without the cyclical torment of mood disorders, Ghaemi explains, can leave one ill equipped to endure dire straits.

I suppose that being a  legend in your own mind is not outside the bounds of normal behavior, so Barack Obama is not unhinged enough to rank among the greats. The Nobel committee and the DNC didn’t help the situation by protecting Obama from the stress of actually trying and failing at something.  Obama was spared those character building exercises.  Barack Obama is a bland, uninspiring guy who might have made an OK president back in 1956.  Well, he could hardly screw up the fifties.

But for the present set of circumstances, he’s the wrong guy and we knew that back when the DesMoines Register endorsed Hillary for president in 2008*.  The difficult terrain of the times ahead was the specific reason why DesMoines rejected Obama’s (incredibly) naive (clueless) optimism in 2008.  That doesn’t mean that Hillary is nuts enough to be a great president but her resilience after 15 years of right wing hysteria and persistence after so many people in her own party turned on her does suggest a degree of pessimistic realism and masochism that would have been assets during the struggle with the bats@#$ crazy right wing fanatics and testosterone poisoned finance industry.

In the past week, I’ve been seeing quite a few columnists and former Obama supporters post their mea culpas, saying they were dazzled by the brilliance of Obama’s marketing campaign like magpies drawn to some shiny object.  {{rolling eyes}} OK, I will accept that but I think the fault lies with the magpies and not David Plouffe’s Liberace-esque staging.  Anyway, the latest person to turn and apologize for foolishly rejecting Hillary is Margery Eagan in the Boston Herald today.  There have been others.  The number of people calling for Obama to step down and spend more time with his kids grows with every stomach lurching drop of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  Yes, the Tea Party Republicans were responsible for setting fire to a fragile economy but Obama lent them the match.  He’s a disaster of boutique governance, first appeasing one group of electoral voters, then another, making it up as he goes along, reactively tailoring policy to the interest group du jour.  It’s driving the rest of us crazy.

Speaking of crazy, *we’re* the ones that keep getting described as “delusional” because we still think the most logical thing the Democratic party could do right now is have Hillary Clinton primary Obama.   I still have no idea why this idea is delusional but I feel honored to be wearing that label since 2008.  Can I do pessimistic realism or what??  Obama is wrecking the party.  He’s a poor president.  The man refuses to learn his job.  He can’t negotiate with a bunch of nutcases in the Republican House and he’s helping to kill the middle class.  He doesn’t even realize how many of us who used to have really good, high paying, technical jobs are now out of work and living on subsistence wages and our savings.  He is utterly unsuited to his task.  I knew he was going to be bad but not even my pessimistic realism could fathom just how incredibly bad he turned out to be.  And now the party loyalists say we must suffer through another four years of this nonsense because he’s the incumbent?  And *I’m* the delusional one?

The latest party propaganda on the subject comes from Joan Walsh at Salon.  Joan acknowledges that the party may have made a mistake in 2008 but you won’t hear Joan upset the weenie tray at the cocktail party.  No, indeed.  Joan is ready to commit the country to another four years of Obama just so she doesn’t get associated with the delusional Hillary diehards.  And you know who Joan has been swilling margaritas with by the content of her posts.  By their memes ye shall know them.  These posts have become so predictable that even I could write one.  Does the meaningless word “triangulating” show up?  Check.  Does she mention race as the primary reason why (stressed and panicky unemployed) voters are rejecting Obama? Check.  Is Sarah Palin’s name invoked to frighten the backslider?  And why are Obama’s defenders always comparing him to Sarah Palin anyway?  But whatever.  Does a standard Republican boogieman make an appearance?  Check.  So, the reasons we must vote for Obama, who exemplifies everything that makes the modern Democratic party is that he doesn’t know how to do politics, is African American and therefore above criticism and that a Republican would be sooooo much worse.  How does this take Hillary Clinton out of the running?  I don’t get it.  Joan probably saw all of this coming but she isn’t crazy enough to actually say it out loud, which is why we refer to her stuff as “conventional wisdom”.

No, Joan, what we really need is a taste of the unpredictable.  We need to get a little crazy.  We need to take the system up to a new energy level from the local minimum rut it’s in now.  The system needs to be perturbed.  I’m not sure that even Hillary is crazy enough but the idea that she could unseat an incumbent would be so unprecedented that it just might work to energize the voters.  Yes, I think she would have been a better president and still could be.  We saw her develop as a candidate in the last months of the campaign and if the Obots weren’t so blinded by the reflected light of Barry O, they would have been amazed and inspired at the woman who would “keep going” no matter what.  If the fires of adversity shape the unbalanced to become great leaders, we might just have one in Hillary.

Poor Obama just keeps on melting.

* That DesMoines Register of Hillary is oddly missing from the record books.  You might be able to find references to it and what looks like an edited version of it but you won’t find it at the Register’s site.  It’s almost as if someone was trying to bury this little piece of prophetic history.  “D’OH!  We can’t leave that out there or they’ll think that someone knew in advance that Obama would be a f%&*up.”

Crash this party, Hillary