September 2008

Everyone owes it to his/herself to read what this man has to say, and to think about it.

The one comment I would make on it is not a criticism — the post is written in special reference to the presidential race, and it covers all its bases accurately — but rather an extension after you have digested its initial message. The post really only covers the dynamic between “black” and “white” in the USA. If you belong to either group or to both or to neither, I encourage you to think how people respond to Muslims, Latinas, Catholics, Jews, Latinos, Chinese, hermaphrodites, Protestants, men, atheists, albinos, women, Indians, Koreans, pensioners, Africans, Mormons, Frenchmen, lesbians, Brits, Canadians, New Yorkers, beggars, Southern accents…

There is no such thing as bias-free humanity, but we can excise harmful and misfounded biases that have been handed down to us. 

And for gods’ sakes! Recessive pigment alleles shouldn’t outweigh incompetence and bigotry!

I must say, if I could ask to delay my papers, problem sets, theses, experiments, tests, and other central examinations of my academic capability as McCain has done for his convention and now proposes to do for the presidential debates, my life would be hella easier. This is when the nation gets to see the candidates grilled and hear exactly what they will do when they ARE in charge of this mess* — and remember, one of them will be, come January.

While McCain is busy ditching his primary duty, I have a question for him: how do you justify the Bush proposal as small government? This is not individualism, this is not laissez faire capitalism, nor is it free market policy; this is Big Brother-scale interference, and it isn’t going to work. In the individualistic, Smithian market that we proudly claim, big firms that fail are allowed to tank. If they can’t dig themselves out when the  markets begin to turn, it’s not the government’s problem. Others will rise in their stead after no great length of time, and it serves as a caution to other financiers.

To tell the truth, we don’t have an entirely laissez faire system because the government and the people are adversely affected by downturns, and they don’t like it. Some regulation is generally a good idea (look what happened to our deregulated airline industry after 911–it failed while the regulated industries of other countries thrived), but you can’t only have regulation when you’re in trouble; the point is that it softens the peaks as well as the troughs. Nor does it work when applied only to the top of the system; it has to normalize for everyone.

Bush & McCain seem to seem to see the government as a tool to soften just the downturns for only a handful of very rich men. Mathematically, it doesn’t work. Yes, our economy is in a bad way, but 1) it has been going downhill since Bush ran us into debt, and 2) we’ve known how things were headed all summer. Bush and McCain have spent the whole time vigorously denying the downturn in the housing market and the “not a depression.” Why is Wall Street now so important? Because your campaign officials consulted for them? Because “some call you the elite; I call you my base?”

At a guess? Yes.

Now, Obama is doing the intelligent thing by talking with his advisers and figuring out what people smarter than himself think. That shows that he’s capable of overcoming his personal limitations to deal with national issues. McCain, on the other hand, is once again ditching his duties because he hasn’t done his homework. As president, one doesn’t have the luxury of postponement. I hope I never find out what else McCain would try to put off as president.

*According to Palin’s interview, we can’t expect much from her running mate, unfortunately.

I’m still out of commission, but the Large Hadron Collider went online today! How cool is that?

Way cool.

Sorry this is taking longer than anticipated, but I’m still sick and decided to spend my free time today going to a panel discussion on the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol and Henry Kissinger vs. NPT (actually, Kissinger finds NPT insufficient). There will be a post on this as well as the civil discourse post I had planned for today as soon as my temperature is down. In the meantime, you can find information about the protocol initiative (and pdfs of the protocol) from Mayors for Peace and their 2020 Vision Campaign. Pass them out! Sign them! Signatures can be from anyone, not just mayors, although mayoral membership is key to the overarching plans.

The goal is a million signatures when this goes before the UN for the first time this October.

Make it happen.

As I sat in anticipation of McCain’s address tonight, I had to revise my opinion of Sarah Palin, taking into account her address last night and some of the interesting news that’s come to light recently. Originally, I took Palin to be someone I would disagree with, but respect. That is no longer so. Palin was remarkably charming and chummy last night, but her manner failed to offset what every news source I read or listen to (including Palin herself) is telling me: McCain had no idea what he was getting into when he chose this woman.

Not only, as I previously posted, do Palin’s policies contradict McCain’s on the iconic issue of gas taxation, but she is the arch-conservative that McCain has striven to distance himself from. Yes, McCain needs to appeal to the far right base, but if he wishes to take moderate votes–after all, it’s not the right that will swing towards Obama–he needs to hold true to the Lieberman characterization: McCain as not your stereotypical conservative. 

Palin, however, is a reactionary. To start small, she wants to swap evolution for creationism in schools, which is a violation of our separation of church and state, and intensely anti-American. Sunday school? Fine, it’s your religion. Public School? Not okay. Our nation was founded for freedom of religion, and we help ensure that each person is free to follow his or her personal beliefs by providing secular schooling. Religious values should be taught at home and at church, not at school.

According to Time, Palin tried to ban a bunch of books at her local library for having inappropriate language. Not only is that entirely inappropriate behavior for a mayor, but she proceeded to threaten to fire the librarian “for not giving ‘full support’ to the mayor.” She also fired (wrongfully, it seems) a large number of department heads upon her election, generating great dislike among her own people. This provides a troublingly straight pathway towards Troopergate (also here) during the same term. Palin quipped last night that “being the mayor of a small town is sort of like being a community organizer. Except with actual responsibilities.” However, it appears that she didn’t take those responsibilities too seriously.

There’s also the proclamation that the Iraq War is a “task that is from God.” That is, in fact, the exact translation of the word jihad. The New Yorker could have a good time with that. I also note that she seems to have a shaky grasp of God’s injunction that mankind be good stewards of the Earth (Genesis 2:15), as noted in this statement reported by the Associated Press:

In an address last June, the Republican vice presidential candidate also urged ministry students to pray for a plan to build a $30 billion natural gas pipeline in the state, calling it “God’s will.”

Perhaps she mistook “dress” for “fashion design.” Maybe she just never read the bible.

Lastly, Palin has shown herself ready and willing to sacrifice her family for this campaign, in that her daughter is being forced to marry the unfortunate guy with whom she had a one night stand. Did anyone else feel sorry for the two kids sitting up there in the spotlight? My guess, on seeing their faces, is that neither one of them wanted this, neither of them had a choice (either about keeping the child or getting hitched, which takes the moral integrity from the snapshot), and none of the three is going to be happy.

Obviously, the abstinence only policy hasn’t worked.

The one conclusion I can draw from this is that McCain did not vet his running mate. When your campaign admits to using a hurricane as a distraction from disclosures about its nominees, you have a huge problem. Moreover, when you choose a running mate whose views oppose your own (even after you have made the customary shift towards conservatism that comes with a national campaign), you may well be accused of what, four years ago, we called “flip-flopping.” Obama has held true to his stances and offers voters a stable platform with consistent policies and well-defined goals. With someone like Palin on the ticket, McCain can’t match that, and he has just proven to the nation that he makes costly, avoidable mistakes. I do not expect his campaign to recover from this one.

ACHTUNG: the following is a 2 hot cocoa rant (HCR 2), meaning that it will take the author two 16 oz hot chocolates to recover from the depression of writing it.

I ran into an article on the NY Times’ science page the other day that upped (perhaps the correct terminology would be lowered) the reading on my despairometer. Apparently reporters are just now cottoning on to the idea that excessive carbon emissions aren’t our race’s sole contribution to environmental ill health–a fact that has been noted and researched in the scientific community since well before I was born. The article even cites a 14-year old paper!

This suggests that society has been in near complete ignorance of our efforts and research for longer than I care to think. There are papers, websites, videos, books, and classes devoted to many of the perils we inflict upon our world. To spark awareness, here’s a shortlist of (noncarbon) problems we create:

  • NOx and SOx emissions that contribute to smog, acid rain, deforestation, and detrimental changes of atmospheric chemical composition 
  • Nitrogen and other fertilizer runoffs that increase algae growth in oceans and waterways, choking out ecosystems 
  • the resultant loss of marine food sources for humans (and increase in disease among farmed fish) and decreased ocean biodiversity, which makes the ecosystem unable to bounce back after even relatively mild trauma
  • suffocation of soil where drainage is interrupted (ex. beneath cities, where pavement covers 90+ % of the ground)
  • increased pollution and flooding in areas around such paved sites–since water can’t sink into the ground (nobody uses permeable birms, for some reason), it  overloads nearby waterways and low points, taking oil and other leaked/dropped pollutants with it
  • Overworking/overgrazing of agricultural land, which turns what was lush into arid, and what was arid into desert. It is valuable to note that this has given humanity a number of problems over the years, including the expansion of the Sahara desert (in progress for a few thousand years, now), the 1930s Dustbowl (farmers have since learned how to prevent some erosion), and the Rwanda and Burundi massacres (which are bloody and maintained, since the people still have nothing to eat)
  • The renowned West Coast blazes, which are so disastrous because we work so hard to prevent them. Fire is essential to the pine forests; it clears the brush, deposits nutrient-rich ash, and triggers germination in many seeds. When left alone, forest fires tend to happen frequently enough that there is not enough fuel for them to spread too far or harm the mature trees. When we stop everything, though, the brush builds up. The next blaze, when it comes, has such an excess of kindling that it gets hot enough to burn the live trees. Then we struggle to put it out, the brush builds up, and the cycle repeats.
  • The destruction of coastal wetlands by clearing pathways for oil pipelines and shipping channels (the cleared channels let salt water in, which kills the grasses and cyprus). This is finally getting some attention now that Gustav’s “unexpectedly” high waters crested the levees in New Orleans. A healthy wetland system breaks both winds and storm surges, and is one of the reasons New Orleans was foundable in the first place. Ecologists and Environmental Scientists have been lobbying for wetland restoration for decades, while Louisiana’s coastline has shrunk miles every year.
  • In a uniquely American problem, the rerouting of the Mississippi and the control of its floods. Naturally, the spring floods deposit sediment on the delta, where New Orleans is built. This strengthens the delta and enriches the wetlands (which, as I noted above, need all the help they can get). When prevented from flooding (this is a mild flood, not Katrina material), the river spews tons of sediment into the Gulf. Guess what lucky compound the sediment contains? 
  • Slash and burn agriculture, on a large scale, is not only increasing harmful carbon emissions, but destroying one of our largest carbon sinks and our greatest drug development resource.
  • Over- or mis-prescription of antibiotics (along with patients not taking the full prescribed course) creates multi-drug resistant bacteria, which comes back to haunt us in the forms of incurable plagues (TB has gotten a bit of news coverage for this, lately).

The above are just a sampling of a few ways we routinely contribute to our frustration. We could detail and debate the reasons why people continue with ignorance and dangerous policies, but my point is that we haven’t the time. The Earth will continue without us, and that seems fine by most people*. Allow me to be selfish, however, and say that I’d like humans to be here as long as possible. That entails responsibility. Now, nobody willingly gives up even small comforts, but clinging to superfluous luxuries in the face of the extinction of your children or grandchildren–perhaps yourself, if we have a medical emergency–is the most asinine thing I can think of. Please, people, take a look at the impact of your actions, and have the guts to make the right choice.

*well, as long as it doesn’t decide to do so in their lifetimes, anyway

While I was unsurprised by McCain’s choice of a female running mate–he needs some figurehead in this campaign, and he wants those Hillary supporters*–I was amused by his choice. While she has been a financial savior for Alaska, Gov. Palin’s methods make her precisely unsuited to this campaign. She is charismatic, which is something McCain desperately needs, but also consider this:

Gov. Palin built revenue for her state by instating higher taxes for gas companies; while this is an appealing and practical notion, it is the opposite of what McCain has called for. I fear that, if McCain is elected, Alaska will lose an effective governor and the country will have a politically oppressed (read: leashed and ineffective and cranky because of it) president of the senate. She deserves a better career, and we deserve a vp who is free to do her job.

While we’re on the topic of her tax policy, we should also note that, while Palin has proposed a several billion dollar pipeline project, and while she endorses extended drilling in her state, she has entirely overlooked the possibility of harnessing Alaska’s awesome wind and waves as a sustainable, long-term energy source. This seems suspicious in such a reputedly progressive figure.

Unless its geography has changed significantly since I left high school, Alaska has some pretty terrific winds and has one of the longest coastlines in the country. With less environmental disruption than drilling (and using the same sacrificial anode technique to prevent corrosion that we use on pipelines), Palin’s state could harvest huge amounts of power via wind farms. The state is sparsely populated, so one could avoid placing the plant too near homesteads (the grandest problem with windfarms is the noise of the propellers).

On the non-icebound coastal areas, Alaska could invest in water power. The strings of what we always called ducks–the long, tear-contoured buoys that absorb wave energy–are pretty efficient, relatively safe (all you have to do is net them off so fish don’t get into them), and provide a somewhat calmer tide to the coastline. If the ocean continues to heat up, there will be even more wave energy to go around, and it would be a shame to waste that.

However, this seems not to be on Gov. Palin’s map. For the sake of her reputation, let us assume that that has nothing to do with her husband’s employment. Still, it shows a certain reticence in her policy making, or perhaps a lack of judgement. At this political juncture, we cannot afford for the president’s advisors to be superficial, uninformed, or less than innovative.

Apart from her energy stance, my doubts about Gov. Palin’s suitability arise from one of her editorials for The New York Times, Bearing Up. I agree with most of the reasoning–many activist groups really approach issues from an irresponsible and legally uninformed angle. Palin’s letter points this out and suggests, quite reasonably, that the process should be taken elsewhere. However, she acts irresponsibly, as well.

If she wishes to critique the lack of evidence for habitat destruction, I would like to see some figures. Without those, the article is charming, but unconvincing. Especially in this case, habitat loss is unrelated to state wildlife management, and the fact that her employees do their jobs well should not prevent a species from gaining federal protection. Since she only cites one of the species she is so intent on protecting (one who was off the list before she gained office), the article seems more like a sham defense of her position than an actually thoughtful case. 

What I would like to see here is the same sort of approach that she took towards the ban on health benefits to same-sex partners: refusing the proffered legislation while offering a different approach. In that case, she proposed amending legislation to segregate a group and deny it civil rights, which I vehemently oppose. If she were to bend that kind of comprehensive thinking towards all policies, though, she might get somewhere. However, she fails to bring an actual solution to the table (no, that last paragraph of hers actually doesn’t make any substantive contribution to the situation) in a case that is not directly related to her religion. Without proposing anything, Palin’s article falls short of what a vp candidate needs to offer. In the past this could slide, but not now.

As a last comment before I go off to statistics homework, I would like to commend Gov. Palin on the courage it took to bring Trig into a world that frowns on disability. It seems he will have a loving and supportive family, which is the best thing for any child. Both pro-choice and anti-abortion groups should note that aborting a fetus because it is typed for a fairly mild disorder has never been the purpose of Roe v. Wade. It is Ms. Palin’s right to choose that is protected by that decision, and I believe she chose well. However, she does not have the right to prevent others from making a different choice.


*Given Gov. Palin’s political stance, no thinking Hillary supporter is likely to swing McCain’s way. I’ve got to say that voting for someone based on X chromosome count seems a remarkably unstable method.