Tuesday, September 30, 2008

American Exceptionalism

Exceptional Myopia.

Exceptional Hubris.

Exceptional Cowardice.

Exceptionalism in the first category leads to the second and does so via the third's close kinship to an exceptionally irrational devotion to religion which so infuses even American aetheists, in no small part, with a belief that, if you give the "other" any small degree of acknowledgment of value, then you have lost, and "they" have beaten you.

The idea that there is some sort of American Exceptionalism allows educated folk such as Sarah Palin and Ben Stein to believe that humans and dinosaurs once walked the Earth together; at least until the great ad nauseum grand parents of Every Person Now Alive became the first of the Boat People in order to survive some sadistic deity's wrath.

It encourages millions of middle class peops to vote against their better economic interests, year after inflationary year, in favor of the "trickle-downer" candidates with whom they think they'd rather have a drink. They'll even buy it for him!

We seem to believe (well, amongst other ridiculous things) that our mere proximity to the Rich and Famous and Powerful - even though only through the magic of television - somehow endows us with those same capacities. As if the greater become the fortunes of our wealthiest citizens we will somehow increase our own, even though the actual facts show, clearly and without illusion, that the divide between the wealthiest 5% and the overwhelming majority of income earners in this country grows untenously while so called "Conservatives" control the government. The fact that one millionaire can try and lump another millionaire into the same category as yet another, though lesser, millionaire in order make all us non-millionaire's believe the lesser of the three has in some mysterious way less in common with us non-millionaires, and that we buy it hook line and sinker is merely one more indication of the Exceptional Credulity with which Americans are imbued when it comes to our Exceptional Self-delusionment.

Ahhh forget it. This must just be a tired ol' Librul's Sour Grapes. I guess we should really just trust the President when he says, "Everything will be fine."*

After all, his retirement isn't in any jeopardy... That's something. Right?

* That link goes to der Spiegel and an article entitled "The End of Arrogance: America Loses its Dominant Ecomonic Role"

Is it only President George W. Bush, the lame duck president, whom the rest of the world is no longer taking seriously, or are the remaining 191 UN member states already setting their sights on the United States, the giant brought to its knees? UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon referred to a "new reality" and "new centers of power and leadership in Asia, Latin America and across the newly developed world." Are they surprised, in these new centers, at the fall of America, of the system of the Western-style market economy?

Even America's closest allies are distancing themselves -- first and foremost the German chancellor. When push came to shove in the past, Angela Merkel had always come down on the side of the United States. As a candidate for the Chancellery for the conservative Christian Democrats, she helped Bush in the Iraq war, and as chancellor she supported tougher sanctions on Iran and campaigned in Europe for an embargo against Cuba. "The partnership with the United States," the chancellor insisted again and again, "has a very special meaning for us Germans."

There was no mention of loyalty and friendship last Monday. Merkel stood in the glass-roofed entrance hall of one of the German parliament's office buildings in Berlin and prepared her audience of roughly 1,000 businesspeople from all across Germany for the foreseeable consequences of the financial crisis. It was a speech filled with concealed accusations and dark warnings.

Merkel talked about a "distribution of risk at everyone's expense" and the consequences for the "economic situation in the coming months and possibly even years." Most of all, she made it clear who she considers the true culprit behind the current plight. "The German government pointed out the problems early on," said the chancellor, whose proposals to impose tighter international market controls failed repeatedly because of US opposition. "Some things can be done at the national level," she said, "but most things have to be handled internationally."

Perhaps we've reached a rather exceptional point in History. I'm not convinced of this, yet, and I hope with every Vote I cast that the United States has not.

But be it Great Britain, Napoleon's France, Rome, Pharonic Egypt, the Ming Dynasty. Empires fall.

With grace and intelligence, my country may yet fall to something greater still; an Earth of humans who survive by pulling together.

Yeah. We'll be to see...

Monday, September 29, 2008

X-cellence in Orbit!

SpaceX gets rocket and mock payload into orbit without a glitch.

(From teh WaPo)

"Fourth time's a charm," said Elon Musk, the multimillionaire who started up Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, to make space launches more affordable.

The Falcon 1 rocket carried a 364-pound dummy payload designed and built by SpaceX for the launch. Musk pledged to continue getting rockets into orbit, saying the company has resolved design issues that plagued previous attempts.

"This really means a lot," Musk told a crowd of whooping employees. "There's only a handful of countries on Earth that have done this. It's usually a country thing, not a company thing. We did it."
[One small step for Private Enterprise. One Giant Leap for mankind.]

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Politics as Unusual?

Not much time here, but I just finished an article in the WaPo which gives me a little hope for our socio-cultural future.

Enjoy. As such...
Where Have All the Protests Gone?
By David Segal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 24, 2008; Page C01

... (T)here are those who say that most political agitation today isn't on the Web or on campuses. The action now, according to Daniel May, who once worked for the Service Employees International Union, is all door to door. They're raising money, they're getting out the vote.

"The organizers of my generation were shaped by 1968," said May, who is working toward a master's degree from Harvard. "But one lesson is that 1968 marked the first year of 40 years of conservative rule. Why would we want to replicate that? There's a real limit to protest politics. It's politics as catharsis and that eventually leads to cynicism."

It would be a mistake, in May's estimation, to confuse the lack of effigies with a lack of passion. The kids who once marched are now trying a different approach, he said, using techniques that were dismissed by their parents as too establishment. May's mother, Elaine Tyler May, a historian at the University of Minnesota, says she used to think that the youth of today just couldn't be bothered. But she has changed her mind.

"My son tells me it's politics that's more interested in power than in protest, and on a good day, that's how I see it," she said. "I still have this impulse to go yelling in the street, but what I see my kids doing is far more effective. I think we're just old and we don't realize -- there's a groundswell of political engagement that we just don't see."

[Different rhymes for different times, eh...]

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

But Thinking is Hard!

People don't enjoy thinking about parts of their lives over which they have little direct control. This is just an instinctual part of our intellectual capacity. If something doesn't make "common sense" to us - ie, it's not what we are used to thinking - then we struggle to accept that it could be the right thing to do.

Case in point: Oil As former CIA Director James Woolsey* points out, energy independence vis-a-vie other nations (Middle East Oil anyone?) does Not mean the total elimination of any of that resource from our national energy diet. Rather, it is a matter of rational decision making as to how much dependence on oil we absolutely must maintain in conjunction with alternative means we can develop and utilize to spread our options.

From last September's National Review Online

The energy-independence question is really about oil — the rest of U.S. energy use presents important issues, but not the danger of our being subject to the control of nations that “do not particularly like us,” as the president put it. Some of the engine racers have an economic interest in keeping our transportation system 97-percent oil-dependent. Less understandable are the authors of a recent Council on Foreign Relations report accusing those working for such independence of “doing the nation a disservice.”

The authors of that report and their followers define “independence,” contrary to both Webster’s and common sense, as essentially “autarky” — i.e. complete self-sufficiency, or not importing oil even though we remain dependent on it. Such a Pickwickian definition captures none of the thinking of serious advocates of reducing our oil dependence: The point of independence is not to be an economic hermit, but rather to be a free actor.

It is true that some who promote oil independence spice their remarks by implying that we might substitute oil from domestic sources or from our near neighbors for cheap Middle Eastern imports, and somehow manage to insulate ourselves from the world oil market.

But speechwriters’ tropes shouldn’t be taken as serious policy proposals. Geology will not cooperate in any such fantasy. There is no reasonable way that we can leave oil in place as the near-exclusive fuel for the world’s transportation systems and simultaneously wall ourselves off from the world oil market. If we want to end dependence on the whims of OPEC’s despots, the substantial instabilities of the Middle East, and the indignity of paying for both sides in the War on Terror, we must define oil “independence” sensibly — as doing whatever is necessary to avoid oil’s being the instrument of despotic leverage and foreign chaos.

Those who won our independence as a nation didn’t just fling imported tea into Boston harbor — they did whatever was necessary to wrest themselves from British control. We need not call out the Minutemen, but to avoid the consequences of dependence we must become independent — not just of imported oil, but of oil itself.

Does this mean that we cannot use oil or import any? Of course not.

[Now lets put our thinkin' caps on, kiddos!]

This misdefining of the concept of independence is exactly what has kept the McCain campaign in the race. Americans want their big concepts small. We want to have everything in its little niche so that we don't have to stop and think about the results of our behaviour. We just want to act on what we know (our Common Sense) and have life flow as it will, preferably in our favor.

Ever hear of "Murphy's Law"?

The world we've created for ourselves' is far too complex for most folk to accept comfortably. Overcoming this cultural obstacle (and it is cultural, as opposed to biologically immutable such as our need for oxygen) is the number one thing we need to accomplish if we're to avoid creating a world which is uninhabitable by our own families.

As usual, more to come...

* Turning Oil into Salt
We must become independent — not just of imported oil, but of oil itself.
By R. James Woolsey & Anne Korin
September 25, 2007 5:00 AM

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Things to THINK About

From an email from mi amigo, the Aging Hipster. Not sure as either one of us can ascertain the ultimate source, but the questions asked are all supported by historic record. Some just lack relevance, except as to what they say about the those who would answer in the affirmative.

Help me. I want to make sure I got this right.

I'm a little confused. Let me see if I have this straight.....(hope I'm not offending anyone, and if I am, get over it)

* If you grow up in Hawaii , raised by your grandparents, you're 'exotic, different.'

* If you grow up in Alaska eating moose burgers, you're a quintessential American story.

* If your name is Barack, you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.

* If you name your kids Willow , Trig and Track, you're a maverick.

* If you graduate from Harvard law School, you are unstable.

* If you attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you're well grounded.

* If you spend 3 years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you don't have any real leadership experience.

* If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you're qualified to become the country's second highest ranking executive.

* If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2 beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you're not a real Christian.

* If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you're a Christian. [McCain]

* If you teach responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.

* If, while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state's school system, while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant, you're very responsible.

* If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values don't represent America 's.

* If you're husband is nicknamed 'First Dude', with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable. OK! *much* clearer now.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cat Blogging by Proxy

For all you cat bloggers who need to take a break. Happy Friday.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Not Just a River in Egypt

It's not the best thing one can do. Denying the truth about one's self. It's not even the worst. It's just something Homo does with a seriously studious attention to detail. What makes that easy, per se, is how much it hurts to acknowledge that we're not really "all that". Even when what we are is one hell of a lot of pretty damn good.

Why that's just not good enough is just about as to hard to pin down as the question for which the answer is 42*. The math is just too fuzzy for folks to follow all that easily...
On Wall St., a Problem of Denial
Published: September 15, 2008

(It) is not all that different from what is going on in neighborhoods all over the country. Just as homeowners took out big loans and stretched themselves on the assumption that their chief asset — their home — could only go up, so did Wall Street firms borrow tens of billions of dollars to make subprime mortgage bets on the assumption that they were a sure thing.

But housing prices did drop eventually. And when people tried to sell their homes in this newly depressed market, many of them had a hard time admitting that their home wasn’t worth what they had thought it was. Their judgment has been naturally clouded by their love for their house, how much money they put into it and how much more it was worth a year ago. And even when they did drop their selling price, it never quite matched the reality of the marketplace. They’ve been in denial.

That is exactly what is happening on Wall Street. Ever since the crisis took hold last summer, most of the big firms have been a day late and dollar short in admitting that their once triple-A rated mortgage-backed securities just weren’t worth very much. And, one by one, it is killing them.
[Petty Is as Pretty Does... Why we always gotta go an' get ugly about it?]

I've really wanted to tie this into my personal life, but, eff that. Easy as 'twould be, I think the point of the Times piece is more important right now, near the end of an election cycle. We're in a hole, the United States of America, because our leadership keeps giving carte blanche to Corporations run by puds who just can't get over how lucky they are.

Well, have been.

Well, heh, will continue to be unless we as a Voting Public require some serious Change in Business as Usual.


* Ie, ain't no thing. Homo just don't like admitting that this is all there is. Even when we do, we have to make more of it. It's what makes us so damned charming... {rollin'eyes}

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Republic of Petty Politics

As one might expect from what little we've learned of the "Lady",
Throughout her career, Ms. Palin has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and blurred the line between government and personal grievance.

[Kill 'em all so Gawd don't hafta sort 'em out... Err, I s'pose.]

Gee. Ya think?