November 03, 2007

Bill, Hillary and Al: The troika splits and part of why Gore lost in 2000

In addition to how much the MSM might have picked on Gore and given Bush the nod of the soft bigotry of low expectations, there were more legitimate reasons for Gore’s loss, and I’m not talking butterfly ballots or Ralph Nader.

Gore was sometimes wooden, sometimes preachy on the stump, and like it or not, American presidential contests are in part about personality.

But, there was another reason. Besides Gore’s concern about distancing himself from Clinton, the distancing went both ways.

In the new Vanity Fair, Clinton White House staffer Sally Bedell Smith spills all sorts of beans including:

1. Bill and Hillary really were co-presidents of a sort in many of their workings
2. Bill basically felt he owned Hillary anything she wanted in the way of Senate race support, fundraising, etc. in exchange for her having stood beside him in l’affaire Lewinsky.
3. From the time she decided to run for Moynihan’s Senate seat almost immediately after Pat announced his retirement, Hillary made a conscious effort to cut Al out of the loop of the lion’s share of Bill’s support, and to cut Tipper out of her personal ring as well.
4. Well, well, before this, Al and Hillary competed strongly, not just competed, but strongly, for Bill’s ear. And, often, Al was the fifth wheel or odd man out, take your pick.
5. Smith also rehashes some of the subtle putdowns (not nearly as bad as Ike for Dick in 1960 but putdowns, nonetheless) Bill had for Al.

This, to me, does a fair amount of explaining why Al isn’t running for president.

I don’t doubt that he’s not 100 percent interested right now, but the Hillary factor is at play.

He’d have to compete with her for former WH staffers and fundraisers, for one thing. For another, the contest, because of everything listed above, if entered by Al, could have gotten very personal, even fratricidal/sororicidal, very quickly.

The VF article is an excerpt from Smith’s upcoming book, “For Love of Politics—Bill and Hillary Clinton: The White House Years.”

The U.N. — where Gore really belongs in a few years

In a little under a decade, the U.N. Secretary-General position will open again, and, IIRC, it will be the Americas’ turn to put forth the “consensus” candidate, per the informal global rotation.

Doorknob bless Gore and some people still pushing him for president, but it’s pretty clear to me that he could do a better job running the U.N.

November 02, 2007

Karma, karma-lite and evolutionary psychology

I’ve blogged elsewhere before about my take on full-blown karma, that it’s both as illogical as western monotheism’s heaven/hell, and personally, at least as offensive.

But, what about “karma-lite,” the non-metaphysical, or less-metaphysical, generic claim that “what goes around, comes around”?

There’s a better, scientific explanation from evolutionary psychology. It’s called “reciprocal altruism,” or, in even easier layperson’s terms, “tit for tat.”

Animals with enough memory intelligence to remember past good or bad actions by their fellows and attribute them to specific actors, especially amongst highly social animals, can and do practice this. In the case of bad actors, it’s the old “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” schtick. Intelligence social animals can and do remember who cheats in the old game of back-scratching and won’t let Mr. or Ms. Cad play in any more reindeer games.

It’s that simple. Nothing metaphysical needed.

And, scientists are finding the first genetic support for reciprocal altruism. The gene in question appears linked to dopamine production and a similar gene in voles that promote social bonding, which makes sense to me. Reciprocal altruism certainly promotes social bonds, and a dopamine-based “feel good” feeling for doing it would be the reward individuals get to be good group members.

So, do altruism cheaters lack a copy, or good expression, of this gene?

November 01, 2007

Fall is a time for poignant reflections

North Texas is not Michigan or Washington State. The days of fall, on average, don’t become perceptibly more overcast as they shorten. Nor does the amount of daylight in each day lose three or four minutes, unlike these northern locations.

In short, our area does not feel like it’s becoming sunlight-deprived as October rushes into November, with December looming on the horizon. So, the area is not a prime location to produce sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder, normally known by its acronym of SAD.

Nonetheless, this is a time of year I get poignant, to use a nice, high-dollar word.

Why?

In a word, or two acronyms, it’s the change from CDT to CST.

Our annual time to pay the piper for all those extra evenings of summer sunlight is now upon us, as we prepare to “fall back” to Standard Time.

I’m not awake early enough in the spring to notice my “lost” hour of dawn at the start of Daylight Saving Time, just my “gained” hour of evening.

I think a loss gets noticed more easily than a gain, though. And, being a night owl, not a morning person, I’m more likely to notice an evening loss, too.

To sound a bit John Madden-like, all of a sudden, BOOM, there goes an hour of daylight. And, I’m left feeling, well, poignant, among other things.

I hate using the word “ineffable” about the word “poignant.” Nonetheless, I think a complex emotional state like poignancy has to be experienced, has to be felt, to be fully understood; words alone can’t do it justice.

And, with the change from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time being pushed a week later this year, I will probably have that feeling of poignancy intensified a little bit this year.

Even though I just said that “poignancy” might not be easily definable to a person who has not felt poignant, I’ll nonetheless make an effort at it, and perhaps wax a bit poetic in the process.

To me, it contains wistfulness at the process of change, whether that’s change in seasons and sunlight, or other changes. It also contains a bit of melancholy, a gentle tinge of sadness as I once wrote in a poem, at how life is passing onward. But it also has a warm glow from memories provoked by thinking about life’s ever-changing flow.

So, no, the complex emotion of poignancy isn’t a “bad” emotion, not that “bad” emotions are bad, anyway, when felt at appropriate times and expressed appropriately. It’s a very human emotion, one that distinguishes us from lower life forms as much as our abstract-reasoning human intelligence does.

In other words, poignancy is an emotion about being alive, fully alive. It’s about being aware of life as it surrounds us, of how changes in life impinge upon us, and how we can awarely interact with our larger world. Either other people or changes in the natural world can stir it up in me.

And, with that said, I can think of two reasons why I think the one-week delay in the change back to standard time may increase those feelings.

One is that the daylight will be a little bit shorter with the time change a week later than it has been in the past.

The second is that, with the time change occurring another week into fall, more fall foliage changes will be out there for me to see. A few more leaves will be yellow, orange or maybe brown. A few more will be falling from their branches, pinwheeling and tumbling to the ground. The smell of various types of red oaks, and their decaying leaves, will provide an aromatic fall backdrop, accompanied by the aural filigree of the sound of those leaves, and the occasional acorn or pecan, crunching underfoot.

Fall may not be a season of hope in the way that spring is. But, it can be a time of taking stock, of appreciating and accepting where our journey of life has us at right now, a nature-based equivalent of Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past.”

And that, in a native pecan nutshell, is what poignancy is about.

Can you say “stagflation”?

People my age and older remember this word from the Ford Administration. Now, with oil prices flirting with $95/bbl and likely ending further Federal Reserve interest rate cuts, and consumer confidence falling along with spending, while the housing-related credit crunch takes its toll, it may be time to break this word back out of cobwebs and bring it back into the lexicon.

CNN story blows a chance to educate people on the real sex offenders

CNN ran a story about various communities locking down, rounding up, or otherwise montoring registered offenders during Halloween.

What’s wrong with this story (other than, potentially, any civil liberties issues)?

The “dog that didn’t bark,” that’s all.

Everybody inflates “stranger danger” way out of proportion, and society still refuses to talk about incestuous parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and even older siblings.

The “perv” is FAR more likely to be dad or stepdad, or even occasionally mom, at home, than it is some stereotyped lurer of young children.

And, local law enforcement officials, like the ones in this story, who feed public sensationalism when they should know better, are part of the problem. So are state officials, like the Texas Legislature this year when it severely increased child abuser penalties on the unspoken, unwarranted assumption that it would deter abuse because abuse results from “stranger danger.”

Bottom line: In an America where American exceptionalism is assumed if not spoken, most Americans don’t want to face the ugly realty that child sexual abuse begins at home.

Revvvvvv. Fred Phelps, cough up $11 million

The bigoted Kansas pastor and purveyor of "homo-hate," who leads members of his family-heavy Westboro Baptist Church in picketing at funerals of servicemen, claiming the deaths are God’s judgment for our tolerance of gays, has just seen his church lose an $11 million lawsuit.

Albert Snyder of York, Pa., the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, sued Westboro in federal court for its picketing at the March 2006 funeral of his son.

Per the wire story, jury first awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages. It then awarded $6 million in punitive damages for invasion of privacy and $2 million for emotional distress. Also, Phelps and his two daughters, Shirley Phelps-Roper and Rebekah Phelps-Davis, were found liable for invasion of privacy and intent to inflict emotional distress.

October 31, 2007

Some suggested linkage on any nuke deal with India

Given that India’s as horrible on water pollution as China is on air pollution, and the quasi-official position of both Congress and BNP political parties is deliberate population growth as a tool weapon of international policy, especially vis-à-vis China? or Pakistan?, why don’t we link the nuke deal to population control efforts out of New Dehli?

Of course, W., sucking up to the Religious Right, isn’t going to do that. But, why don’t Congressional Democrats, or enlightened Congressional Republicans, raise this issue?

Mac users, another reason not to be smug about not using PCs

A Trojan written just for you.

What Rudy Giuliani are YOU listening to, lady?

On the campaign trail in New Hampshire, former New Yorker Winifred Stearns had this to say in comparing current NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg to Rudy :
“He strikes me as very autocratic — I don’t think he’s conciliatory enough, I don’t think he could work with Congress," she said. “Rudy could.”

Ms. Stearns, I’ll eat my hat if Giuliani is more conciliatory than Bloomberg.

October 30, 2007

Cry me a river on China trade issues, John Edwards

Edwards does the Curly Shuffle on not wanting to talk about how he approved free-trade relations with China while he was in the Senate.
Last Thursday in Iowa, [Tom asked him whether he now regretted voting for the China trade deal and whether competition from Chinese workers is a major reason why American manufacturing workers are so hard pressed.

He replied, “I think America’s trade policy as a whole is why workers are suffering. I wouldn’t isolate any particular trade relationship or any particular trade deal.”

He added, “We need to enforce China trading responsibilities, which is not being done. They’re manipulating their currency. They’re sending goods into the United States that are not safe and are largely not being inspected. I think the president has a responsibility to enforce China’s trading obligations to the WTO (World Trade Organization) and that has not been done.”

Asked again whether he regretted his 2000 vote, he said, “Bringing them into the world trading community, subject to rules, makes some sense. But it doesn’t make any sense if you don’t enforce their responsibilities and don’t hold them accountable for their violations of those responsibilities.”

He then proceeded to denounce the Chinese for building up their military, for their too cozy relations with Sudan and Iran, and for “devastating the environment” by building one coal-fired power plant every week.

Weren’t all of these same complaints true at the time you voted for the free-trade deal, John?

No, don’t shake your head “No.” Don’t try to always change the subject to Iraq. Just nod your head up and down and say “Yes.”

Trinity Tollway boosters and rejectors, here’s a good analogy

Certainly a better one than Steve Blow had in his newspaper column last week.

Go over to Fort Worth, to the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens.

Go all the way to the south end, where it borders I-30.

Stand there and listen.

That’s what a Trinity Park with a six-lane toll road will sound like. If not worse, as a freeway trapped inside levees will trap noise.

Toll road supporters, why don’t you just come out and scrap the park?

Housing prices take another tumble

Housing prices fell in August for the eighth month in a row and took the biggest decline in 16 years.
An index of 10 U.S. metropolitan areas fell 5 percent in August from a year ago. That was the biggest drop since June 1991. The lowest ever was a decline of 6.3 percent in April 1991.

Meanwhile, consumer confidence took a tumble, to the lowest point since just after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
I’m still waiting for presidential candidates to address the housing issue and possible recession more, and when they do discuss it, to do something besides offer a simple, guilt-free bailout. Remember, many subprime mortgages were not the lessee’s first home to buy, and in some cases, were even used to buy second or third homes as investment properties.

Are tech stocks due to bubble again? And the LBO market?

Bill Fleckenstein says he expects techs to get caught up in general bear market moves And, he expects the leveraged-buyout market to finish drying up, if not hitting its own bubble, soon as well.

I’m right with him on the LBO situation, including the possibility some banks will get severely “stuck” before this is all over. Expect several bank stocks to slip in the next 12-18 months, with the peak in subprime fallout combining with larger lending concerns.

October 29, 2007

Did State knowingly grant Blackwater non-grantable immunity?

The State Department’s grant of limited immunity to Blackwater mercenaries may have screwed up an FBI investigation because State didn’t have authority to grant any such immunity.

Wunderbar.

Right now, I’ll give you 50-50 odds that somewhere in the bowels of State, somebody knew about this whole thing in advance. And specifically ordered the immunity grant to screw up the system.