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Teagan Goddard's Political wire today features two stories that indicate the Republicans have made a huge strategic error, or at least that the combination of anti-contraception pandering and non-condemnation of Rush Limbaugh's for essentially hitting a girl (which is rightly anathema to most Americans across the political spectrum) may be creating a  big problem for them across the board.

Apparently, both Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) now have leads over their challengers that are composed largely of women voters. This mirrors President Obama's national lead and his FL numbers.  And if Obama takes FL, he wins; Democrats have won presidential races without the Sunshine State, but no realistic scenario allows the Republicans to do so.

The Republicans could have stuck with opposition to abortion, which usually works for them.  There are enough voters across the ideological spectrum who would sincerely like to see the number of abortions reduced that this position tends to give them a net electoral gain.

However, coming out against birth control. cost them on two levels.  First, on the emotional: being pro-life is actually less threatening than being anti-sex;  the enjoyment of sex is on the top of most people's minds far more than the process of reproduction. Take umbrage if you must, but that's the hard-wiring of the human brain.

Second, opposing both abortion and a means to prevent it (contraception) puts them in a logical bind that is laughable to many voters.  Calls for abstinence fly in the face of a culture that is as focused on sex as ours.

I think they may have a point when it comes to calls for more responsibility and less hedonism.  I'm far from the celibacy bandwagon, but I am concerned that sex is becoming disturbingly detached from respect, which, even if eternal love is not present, should be a constant.

But you can't encourage  responsibility or respect without practising either. Further, you may be able to coerce obedience, but coercion is an ineffective way to change values.  

Any good student of the human mind can tell you that behaviour changes caused by threats tend to disappear when the threats are gone. The most lasting changes are come as a result of an individual's internal reasoning.

Persuasion can work where coercion can't, though each takes time and resources to be effective. However, persuasion is more attractive.  It requires less of a punishment apparatus. It can create long term changes. Most important, it gives those who practice it  something that coercion can never provide: a chance to lead by example.

Those who would set standards have an obligation to keep them.  When public figures call for wars in which they would not fight, sacrifices they won't make, and moral codes to which they won't adhere, they break a rule every child knows: practice what you preach.  

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Sat Mar 17, 2012 at 10:49 AM PDT

The Pentagon's Power to Persuade

by TheGrandWazoo

Jack the Ripper got more headlines than infant mortality in his heyday.  But I'm willing to bet the latter took more lives than Red Jack did over the course of his career.

Action is more vivid and memorable than its opposite.  Whatever else an obscenely bloated weapons budget does, it provides lots of action when its purchases get used, and, even when they're dormant, their potential is vivid and omnipresent due to all the violet entertainment that dominates print, video and gaming.

In contrast, the prevention of disease, poverty and decay dosen't provide either good visual or dramatic narratives for TV (ER and House being notable exceptions, and even they are watched as much for the characters as the subject matter).

The vividness of evidence skews its perceived weight.  So, when we judge the relative seriousness of threats to our society, we tend to spend our limited resources on the attention-grabbers, which, while the most dramatically violent, may not be the most damaging.  

We lose more opportunities, property and human lives  due to what we foolishly  ignore than we do to what we raptly watch.  This is understandable, we've survived for 300,000 years by getting out the most obvious trouble at hand.

But overspecialization is the doom of species.  We can run from lions like champions, but lions are no longer a threat to us.  The threats we face now, many of them the result of our success at getting rid of past dangers, require some serious rethinking of how we appeal to our own instincts.

Those of us who see more security in actively improving our society to meet real challenges than we do in defending its deterioration in the face of nonexistent threats need  to learn to make our cases.

The human instinct  to respond to vivid danger is not going to change.  It's carved into the DNA of every cell.

But please notice my choice of words.  I said "carved" instead of "written" or "coded" in the last sentence.  For me, and I think for many, that word is most vivid choice.  

The right understands the use of compelling imagery and anecdote.  Further, they have the advantage of promoting policies that deal with vivid, yet fake, threats to the US. Saddam Hussein's nonexistent attack on America, and his  unstoppable military, which was stopped in about week, come to mind.

The left needs to learn how to be compelling as well.  We need to make the consequences of inaction as vivid as the promise of action.  Fortunately, this is easily done due to human risk and loss aversion.

We hate losing one dollar more than we like finding two; there is a mountain  of experimental evidence that proves this (I chose "mountain" which has an associated image, rather than "plethora" which doesn't).  

This explains a lot. It's why every commercial you see for any sale tells you "don't miss this opportunity" instead of "come see this opportunity". The appeal is to potential loss, not potential gain.

So when we talk about poverty, pollution, disease, and infrastructure, our stories need to blaze with pictures of the death and destruction these plagues promise.

We can't miss the opportunity.


Yes, he has lost some popularity and revenue, but he is essentially a purveyor of a very popular line of goods facing the PR challenge of a product recall.
There are plenty of others willing to take up the slack of supplying bigoted BS.

The question is: what is fueling the demand?  While there is a certain percentage of genuine sadistic thugs in any society (see Clive James' historical argument for this in his essay an Terry Gilliam in the book Cultural Amnesia), I don't believe that it is big enough in th US  to make up the combined audience of Limbaugh and his fellow cowards.

It takes the right circumstances to bring out the exploitable  worst in people.  Right now, we face the end of an excruciatingly long and useless war which gained us not even the illusion of accomplishment, plus an economic crisis no one seems to know how to fix.

The result: frustration.  We want to see something, anything get done.

But nothing of substance can get done. There is no money to spend, and those who should pay their fair dues shout patriotism from open mouths but deny their country with closed wallets.

Enter social issues.

Making prejudice policy is easy. First, it costs the taxpayers little directly (though the hidden financial burden of dividing the citizenry is huge: it takes a lot of money to build, maintain and man barriers).

Second, it plays to deep human instinct.  Behavioral economics provides ample evidence that we are not the rational creatures traditional economics would like us to be (I will provide references when I can).

Given the choice between one salary that is comparatively  greater than those of our peers, and a slightly higher salary that is comparatively less, most people  choose the former.  In other words, we would rather have more than our peers than more for ourselves.

Worse, recent experiments entailed giving students a dollar amount from 1-10, and then having them distribute and additional 2 to either those who originally had either 1 dollar more or less than they did.  Those students who originally had 2 wore more likely to give to those who had 3 than those who had 1.  If this works on a societal level, it would mean that we would rather the rich get richer if the alternative is that we switch places with the poor, even if our finances remain unchanged. The situation is arguably worse when the disadvantaged are seen as somehow different, say, because of complexion.

Propagandists understand these instincts on a deep level, and tap them to promote their agendas.  Magicians know how to exploit blind spots.

It's called "baiting" for a reason; it lures us. The metaphor is extandable via the image of Neil Gaiman's character Despair, whose symbol is a hook.

As long as we continue to maintain a situation in which no forward movement is possible, those who peddle backward movement will be able to profit by landing customers with the hook of desperation.


Welcome back to the online Kossack poetry slam!  Following up on cassandracarolina's recent (and guffaw-inducing) limerick contest, we will now have a round of similarly rule-bound and possibility-laden poems: alliterations.

Here are the guidelines you must plant in the soil of your imagination before you comment (and please do so, the potential for laughs and/or profundity is endless)

1. Every word of the poems in question must begin with the same letter. However the titles of poems.

2. The poems must make at least as much grammatical sense as a tabloid newspaper headline.

3.  In the unlikely event that a pie fight should break our, the moderator/monitor (me) will warn everyone to put down the banana cream pies.

Here are some examples:

The Canonization of Reagan
Loathing Left, lapdog legions lionize lunatic.

Jolly Saint Rick
Pandering Pennsylvanian prude practices puerile politics; promotes putrid policy.

Newt's Dream
Malicious megalomaniac mauls minimally moderate Mormon.

Huntsman's Folly
Estranging executive, erstwhile Excellency exits embassy, expecting electoral elevation.  Erroneously.

The Fall of Paul
Pot-Promoting Privatizer's polls plummet.

The 1% on the 99%
Hateful, heathen, health-hazard hippies!

The 99% on the 1%
Arrogant aristocrats avoiding admirable acts!

Pro-protection plus pro-privacy?  Promote Pill, please.

There are the seeds, let the flowers bloom!


cassandracarolina just held a fun post contest with her post GOP Insanity Driving You Nuts? Chill Out with our Indigo Kalliope Political Limerick Challenge!! Check it to see to see your Kossacks at work.

I contributed, but found I couldn't stop thinking about it.  There's only so much psychosis one can fit into five lines, so I expended my entry into the following multi-verse foray.  I enjoyed writing it; hope you enjoy reading it.

The Song of Wrongs

In light of strange current events,
the prospect of satire presents,
which I hope will comport
with the norms of a court
and accepted rules of evidence.

Together we'll take up the question
of whether the right wing's suggestion
that blatant classicism
means patriotism
should cause, at the least, indigestion.

Republicans, down and exiled,
for Obama, a slander compiled:
"He's a mullah who's callin'
both Hitler and Stalin!
Plus he's foreign, thus should be reviled."

Jury note: I suggest misdirection,
and that, since the '08 election,
they just haven't seen fit
to come out and admit
that their real beef is with his complexion.

That said, I will give them some credit.
There's policies, too, they would edit.
Heath care for a child,
is blasphemous, wild!
as their savior, Ayn Rand, might have said it.

But, since each bravehearted partying tea-sipper,
each wannabe Reagan, each wee Gipper,
says "I'll get back your money
(and keep my projects, honey)"
He or she, you'll agree is a flop-flipper*.

Still, the right had momentum there, brother.
With the Democrats calling for mother.
Their guns, locked and loaded,
with power exploded
unfortunately, aimed at each other

The establishment's anticipation
trumped caution and consideration
that a prize so darn tempting
would cause some preempting
by nutjobs who seek nomination.

Michele Bachmann, at first had, the limelight,
then Perry the Texan (not too bright),
Cain dropped his pants
which gave Gingrich a chance
But Santorum's the one Romney must fight.

(Ron Paul, the eternal outlier,
still tries to sell his desire
to mass privatize
and pot legalize
so while you get screwed, you get higher.)

In every debate and each forum
They throw out all sense of decorum
each the other outdoing
with venomous spewing
till Joe Public says "just ignore 'em."

Obama, meanwhile, stands aloof.
A smart man, and there's the proof
It seems that he read
What Napoleon said:
"Don't ever interrupt your foe's goof."

So to sum up, the right tried to muster
all who could blather and bluster
But, friends in the jury
just review sound and fury
and you'll find its a fuck a la cluster.

*saw this term in another poem once.  Anyone who can provide the reference, please do


Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 02:39 PM PST

The Wazoo is Sorry. REALLY sorry

by TheGrandWazoo

-to have been away.  Good Lord, I take my finger off the pulse of the nation for a relative second and Rick Santorum moves from Republican outlier to front-runner. Mia copa, folks.

If anyone saw this coming two months ago, congratulations: you have just won an all-expense paid trip with me to Vegas, where I will bet however you tell me on whatever you tell me to.  We’ll split the take 90-10, your way, and I’ll still retire happy once we get back.

How the hell to explain this?  The work of two great minds offers clues.

First,  there’s  Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who kicked the economics profession in the scrotum with the Black Swan. Keep in mind, I’m referring the book on risk and unpredictability, not the film about ballet derangement with a straight man’s fantasy of a lesbian affair subplot.  We are, after all, talking about Santorum here.

Taleb is a genius when it comes to explaining how low-probability high-impact events (Black Swans) can rock the world. I think his insights apply here. Politics is a chaotic system.  It’s hard to predict anything specific at all.  Find me one person who, just 10 years ago, put money on the idea that we would see a Catholic with three wives battling a Mormon with one to get a black man out of the White House; good luck on your search. Santorum’s rise may well be the modern mother of all political Black Swans.

The other great thinker we should consider is Hunter S. Thomson, who, in the ‘60s, summed up American, and perhaps all, cultural upheavals, in one profound sentence:

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Thus, Rick and his legions.  These are weird times, and an army of animated Normal Rockwell portraits, ready to raze Sodom and Gomorrah to the name of St. Ronald the Gipper, is an appropriately weird symptom of them.

While it is hard to explain the former Pennsylvania Senator’s rise in particular, it’s possible that we could have read the Tea Party leaves to see some general tendencies.  After all, we did see the conservatives turn to every other non-Romney in the race, one after another, in a desperate attempt to find someone acceptable to them.  Further, we know that there are two (and that may be the limit) coherent strains of thought on the far right:  get the gays out of the country and the IRS out business.  And, I almost forgot, no blacks at 1600 Penn.  Unless they’re rich.

Okay, all that’s a given.  But again, why Santorum?

I get the feeling Republicans are tuning to Santorum because they believe he means what he says. When he talks about family, he leaves Gingrich nowhere to stand (which is ironic considering that Gingrich, with his three families, actually knows more about the subject).  When he stresses his conservatism, he clobbers both Gingrich and Romney, each of whom changes positions more often than most people change socks.  

There may be precedent for this.  There are those who argue that, after Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, a good chunk of his supporters actually moved over to George Wallace, a segregationist with whom Kennedy had only one thing in common: people believed that he meant what he said.  The positions of the candidates were less important that their sincerity.

It’s as if the American electorate occasionally becomes the Peanut’s Linus  van Pelt on Halloween, convinced that the Great Pumpkin will rise and bestow gifts upon the little children who have the most sincere pumpkin patch.

This makes as much sense as anything.

That said, being more principled and consistent than Gingrich or Romney is not a tough lift.  And, even as Santorum’s apparent convictions win him Republican delegates, they cause his party serious problems.

Frank Zappa once said that jazz wasn’t dead, it just smelled funny.  The same can be said of the culture wars, but the odor is far less pleasant, and a lot more American are sick of the stink than Santorum and crew realize.

Sexual moral crusading was pretty effective during the Reagan Presidency. Heck, it allowed many notable ideologues to condemn millions to death worldwide by preventing an effective response to the AIDS crisis (at the time, it mostly affected their enemies: homosexuals and minorities.  The tune changed when middle-class straight whites began to die.)

But the power of  sex scares declined from the end of Reagan’s presidency until it reached a spectacular low point in September of 2011, when Jerry Farwell blamed the 9/11 attacks on American homosexuals.  

Now, there may have been one thorazine -deprived individual out there who saw a Hindenburg- sized Harvey Milk (piloted by Will & Grace) crash into the World Trade Center, but most everyone reacted to Farwell’s comments by telling him to shut up and stick to the TeleTubbies.

Not that the religious right didn’t see an opportunity in the wake of the attacks.  After all, they had just been delivered the ultimate new fear-mongering tool: every single Muslim on the planet.  The PR possibilities were endless: Bin laden hiding in your closet is a lot scarier than Ellen DeGeneres coming out of hers.

This worked like a charm for years.

However, Bin Laden is dead now.  Iraq is in rubble. Afghanistan has been blown back into the Stone Age (which is where it was to begin with. That’s why everyone who invades they place finds is so hard to declare victory and get the hell out of Dodge.) More than a trillion dollars has been flushed into the sewer. Lots of Americans, and incidentally, darker-complexioned foreign people, have been killed.

The American enthusiasm for war, when times are flush and there’s no draft, may be limitless.  But its attention span is not, particularly when things get tight at home.  The Middle East is yesterday’s news.  Yes, the drumbeat for attacking Iran goes on, but it is muted by a murmur of anxiety over housing, jobs and gas prices.

Time for the religious right to go back to the old standbys of chastity belts and gay-bashing.  So into the fray the send their new champion, Rick, astride his gelding warhorse Celibacy, to rally the faithful.

But he and his pals have a problem.  It seem that, over the last 10 years or so, a lot of hetero Americans have encountered, tolerated, knowingly worked with, and even befriended gay Americans. They’ve even gone so far as to honor those who died fighting the above-mentioned heathen-commie-fascist-Islamo-terrorist-evildoer guys.

What now can the legions of the uptight do  to get revenge for how few dates they got in high school>  If only, oh if, only there were a venerable institution, clothed in majesty, moral authority and political muscle, that could join them in their cause.

Enter the American Catholic Bishops.  

The welcome party must have been great: “Sorry about those centuries of anti-Papal name-calling  and religious marginalizing, guys.  Just business,” say the Bible thumpers. “Shut up and pass the ammo,” respond the bishops.

The American bishops are not the reason I became ambivalent about the Church; but they sure keep me and a lot of other former (and soon to be former) Catholics that way.

There are two major traditions within Catholicism.  One leads to the Mother Theresas and Archbishop Romeros of the world.  The other leads to expedience and its sibling, injustice.

The Catholic Church has, for decades, been socially conservative and economically liberal.   If you don’t believe the latter, just consider that Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during the Clinton impeachment, praised the American Bishops for the former while also calling them a bunch of socialists.

But emphasis matters.  And by holding to a completely skewed set of priorities, the bishops have blown a chance for renewed moral and political relevance into orbit and beyond.

They could have looked have looked at those Americans demanding economic justice and said “You know, this kind of remind us of that whole ‘feed the poor ,heal the sick and clothe the naked’ deal.  There was an important guy who told us to do that, right?”

They could have looked at the beatings, jailing and other persecution those same people face and said “That same important guy told  ‘whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.’  We might not want to ignore the least of brothers here.”

They could have done the right thing and heeded the call for economic justice.  And they might have seen an influx on new Catholics as a result, which would have been great at a time when Masses aren’t exactly standing room only.

Instead, they chose to pander to those Catholics on the right who still make sizable donations.  They picked a fundraiser over a recruitment drive. Put in terms any MBA can parrot, they are looking for profit at the expense of growth.

The Bishops have chosen to say that birth control and tolerance of homosexuality are the greatest threats to the Church. They got it wrong.  The Bishops themselves are now the greatest threat to the Church, just as the religious right is the greatest threat to the Republican Party.

Our current mess is characterized by the debt left over from a useless foreign war that accomplished nothing and an ongoing economic crisis no one believes we can solve.  Real leadership, secular and religious, would entail rising to the occasion by showing that, as conservative hero Ronald Reagan once said, “There are simple answers, there just aren’t easy ones.”

The easy answer to our problems is to ignore them.  Just throw in the towel on anything that requires work or sacrifice and instead do the one thing that creates change without effort: legislating persecution.

But the simple and hard answer to our problems is to face them by fighting for all Americans.

Who will do that? Times are unpredictable.  It might seem weird to hold out hope, but hey, when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

Let’s profess our hope.


Before Going on to the post below, note this except from  US Congress' Joint Economic Committee's Report Iran's Oil and Gas Wealth:

Fifty-six percent of Iran’s oil exports are to Asia and 29 percent to Europe.  Japan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) together buy over one-third of Iran’s oil exports.  The U.S. buys no oil from Iran (other than specially licensed swaps for Caspian oil).

In other word, as of 2006, most of Iran's oil was going to major powers who were US creditors, trade partners,economic competitors, military allies, or some combination thereof.  And the push for sanctions affects them all in different ways, adding to the risk inherent in anything we do.

Proof from today's headlines:

Montreal Gazzette

Iran warns Saudis not to use spare oil capacityEU and U.S. move closer to new sanctions as concerns rise over uranium enrichment

Iran warned Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to rethink an offer to make up for oil lost to world markets as a result of threatened curbs on its exports, as diplomats said an EU embargo may be in force by July.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi urged Riyadh to "reflect" on its pledge to use its spare capacity to compensate for any reduction in Iran's oil sales that results from U.S.-led efforts to tighten sanctions over the Islamic republic's controversial nuclear program.

Salehi said the Saudi offer was "not friendly."

In a boost to Iran's efforts to protect its key oil sector, its second-biggest client, India, said it had no plans to curtail purchases.

"We continue to buy oil from Iran," Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said in New Delhi....

Meanwhile, ahead of a key meeting on Monday, diplomats in Brussels said the European Union could have an embargo on Iranian oil imports in force by July, as a compromise took shape between champions of tougher sanctions and member states that rely heavily on purchases from Iran....

Some member states wanted an earlier, three-month deadline, whereas financially stressed nations that rely on Iranian crude - notably Greece, Italy and Spain - wanted up to a year....

Last week, U.S. ally Japan appeared to backtrack on a pledge to cut its imports from Iran, while China has refused to bow to U.S. pressure.

Bloomberg Businessweek

Oil Trades Near Three-Day High as Iran Tension Counters Economy

Saudi Arabia can “easily” boost crude production to as much as 11.8 million barrels a day to offset a shortfall from Iran, Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said in an interview with CNN on Jan. 16. The kingdom has the capacity to produce 12.5 million barrels a day and pumps about 9.8 million, he said.

“If this comment is the official stance of Saudi Arabia we advise Saudi officials to be more wise and responsible in their approach,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said yesterday, according to the state-run Fars news agency.

European Union foreign ministers are scheduled to meet Jan. 23 to decide on proposed sanctions on Iran’s oil imports, in a bid to halt its nuclear program...

...The global economy will grow 2.5 percent this year, down from a June estimate of 3.6 percent, according to the World Bank. Turmoil in Europe has the potential to trigger a financial crisis reminiscent of 2008, the Washington-based institution said.

Washington Post 1/18/2012

Japan finance minister concerned about effectiveness of sanctions on Iran, impact on banks

Japan has given mixed signals on the sanctions. Azumi declared last week that Japan would move quickly to reduce its oil imports from Iran after meeting with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, but other officials including the prime minister have said economic implications need to be considered.

Azumi also struck a more cautious tone Wednesday, telling journalists at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan that if the sanctions were imposed immediately, they could sustain “tremendous” damage to Japanese banks. The sanctions would bar financial institutions from the American market if they do business with Iran’s central bank.

Now, past the thought balloon of progress below, I invite you to read a reprint of my last diary, which I have deleted and posted again. (If this is a problem, please let me know, and I will restore it)

Continue Reading

Sat Jan 07, 2012 at 04:59 PM PST

Learning from Norquist

by TheGrandWazoo

This was originally going to be a comment on the allways-thoughtful jamess' post, When are we going to start calling it the Norquist Economy? but as I wrote it, I felt like sharing it with all.

I believe that we have to study Norquist and his tactics, just as Patton studied Rommel and his.  The man is on the wrong side of most issues, but his political sense is incredible.  Learning how he does what he does can help us duplicate his success.

First, a recommendation.  For an in-depth look at Norquist, his background, and the growth of his influence, see the section on him in Gang of Five: Leaders at the Center of the Conservative Ascendacy, by Nina J. Easton

There are a number of reasons he has been so effective at what he does. Among the most important:

1.  Americans for Tax Reform was built into a serious force by maintaining a laser-like focus on one issue, taxes, at a time when different kinds of conservatives, social and fiscal, were not getting along.  He picked the right issue and stuck with it.

2.  Norquist, understands the power of a written, public commitment. Acclaimed social scientistRobert Cialdini identifies, through research and field studies (some conducted undercover) six "Principles of Persuasion" among the commitment and consistency:

From Wikipedia

  • Commitment and Consistency - If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self image. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement. For example, in car sales, suddenly raising the price at the last moment works because the buyer has already decided to buy. Cialdini notes Chinese brainwashing on American prisoners of war to rewrite their self image and gain automatic unenforced compliance. See cognitive dissonance.

The desire to be consistent is even higher is a commitment is made publicly.  Thus, the power of the Norquist pledge.

My question is: why doesn't the progressive movement create a similar pledge? Or pledges?

Norquist's pledge focuses on making legislators promise not to increase something everyone dislikes anyway, taxes, which makes it so difficult not to sign.  Of course, this has broader implications, as a government that's broke can't do much of anything. In one step, it influences policy across the board.

I'm thinking we could find something similar that has both an immediate appeal and broad implications.  For example, if we asked legislators to sign a pledge to take no action to increase the level carcinogens in US air, food and water, they'd be hard-pressed to disagree with it.  Further, there would be broader implications as, in order to keep the promise, they would have to push for clean policies in environmental, food safety, energy, transportation, agriculture and consumer protection legislation, to name a few.

There are many other areas of leverage that could be subject to a pledge:  a promise to prevent any increase in total fuel consumption, a promise to raise the minimum wage every time Congressional pay is raised (thank you or a promise to pay for any military conflict with immediate tax increases are just a few. In any of these cases, progressives would put legislators into a position of having to keep a pledge or explain why they didn't sign it.  A win-win there.

Why not learn from the opposition?  They're pretty good at what they do.


Wed Jan 04, 2012 at 10:45 AM PST

The Kid with the Racist Sign

by TheGrandWazoo

in Kos' latest diary, Republicans want a united America! As long you're white, male and rich,looks young to me. Even if he isn't, he has counterparts at rallies who are pre-teens or younger, carrying signs made by their parents, with no exposure to even the thought that what they are doing might be hurtful, hateful and wrong.

I grew up a Democrat because of my parents, but I like to think I stayed a Democrat because of their encouragement of curiosity and because of my education, which required my to question premises and prove points.  I'm pretty sure that any indoctrination, intentional or not, that I experienced was tempered by an encouragement to be open-minded.

As I see it, that is a fundamental difference between left and right.  After all, a classic conservative likes the status quo, so any question is a threat.  A religious conservative can't tolerate questions that contradict divine writ as he or she sees it.  A fiscal conservative similarly views deviations form Adam Smith to be heresy.

It's no wonder that public education is always on the conservative chopping block: it is out of the direct control of ideologues, unless they are able to dominate a school board.

This gives makes me wonder, once again, about a problem that we, as progressives, all face: it is inconsistent for us to both believe that our opposition is brainwashed and hold them accountable for everything they do.  

Unfortunately, in politics, the winners of battles are often those who manage to stir up their own base's passions better than the other side.  This works in the short term, but practically ensures that the same battles will be fought again and again.

The more difficult task, in terms of time, energy and endurance, is to change the attitudes and assumptions of a larger majority.  This requires outreach, recruitment and persuasion, and it is hard.  

But I think it's worth it.  Great sea changes in attitude require ground-up and top-down efforts.  For all of recorded history, for example, chattel slavery was a fact of life, viewed at one end of the opinion spectrum as  normal and unremarkable, and on the other shame that, unfortunately, could not be changed.  Of the last two centuries, however, in much of the world, through efforts on the grass-roots, spiritual, and political levels, attitudes changed permanently to the point where no sane person,  no matter how racist, would seriously advocate the re-introduction of slavery.

The same sea change is required for poverty, which is often viewed as either normal and unremarkable or as an unfortunate but unchangeable reality.

But it will take more than occasional wins in unending political trench warfare to do this; it will require changing minds.  I hope we can do it.  I think that we can. I'm sure that we must.

Let's make one constant goal be to show the kid in the picture that he is better than he knows.  


Mon Jan 02, 2012 at 07:32 AM PST

The Real Meaning of Iowa

by TheGrandWazoo

won't be the final trifecta, because Romney will take the eventual nomination.

The real question for this primary and for all the others is: who will campaign all the way to the convention, even when the delegate count is certain for Mitt, and why?

There two reasons to do this:  to keep your name in there for the next presidential election, and/or to influence the platform.

I have a hard time believing Santorum is anything but a flash in the pan.  His Congressional career began when he stumbled across an opponent who made the mistake of spending too much time outside of his district, which kept the debate unfocused on anything resembling issues or ability.  It ended with Santorum on the receiving end of an epic defeat for an incumbent in Pennsylvania.  When you get brutally booted out of your own statewide office in a place with that many electoral votes, you ain't an ideal candidate. Further, no matter what happens in Iowa, Romney is gong to maul him in Hew Hampshire.

But what about the others?

I've been thinking for a while that Gingrich will hold on to the bitter end for the second reason mentioned above, as this is his last chance to be relevant as anything other than a commentator, and he knows it (it will also increase sales of his bad fiction, as well as his non-academic work).  

Now I'm wondering if a least one other candidate will do the same.  

Bachmann is a true believer in her cause and might fight on; same goes for Paul.  Perry might think he has a shot for 2016, even though his political tombstone has been carved (love to see a campaign ad featuring someone asking him where he put the nuclear codes and him responding: "oops"). Huntsman has stayed in this far for absolutely no reason, why not keep on going?

So the next question becomes, if any of these folks winds up with a delegate count high enough to get a prime-time spot at the convention, what will that do to Romney's prospects?

In '92, Pat Buchanan got such a spot in the convention that nominated Poppy Bush to run against Bill Clinton.  As Al Franken pointed out in, I think, the wonderful book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, Buchanan's call for America to declare a religious war on itself helped scare the entire country into voting Democratic.

Such an event would be nice this time around, too, though we have to take into account that 'ole Pat would be in the left wing of the Republican field nowadays.

Still, as long as the Republicans keep on stripping away each others' disguises, their chances diminish.  Hopefully, we can see this slip over into the Congressional races too, as Cantor and company start sharpening the knives and Boehner circles his wagons.  

With the right push, the biggest political story of 2012 could be "the continuing collapse of the Republican Party".

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Sun Jan 01, 2012 at 04:59 PM PST

Serious Blush Time for the Wazoo

by TheGrandWazoo

I can't tell you how much I appreciate the gift subscription and the recs, tips, republishes and plugs for "Finally A Wise Society.'  Feels great, and I hope to earn it and pay it forward.

But credit where credit is due:

All I did was tie in the basic premises of the Nicholas Nassim Taleb's Black Swan and mix in some words about the value of doubt with reference to the Framers of the Constitution, which was inspired by a gag piece by someone else whom I can't remember (though, as I said, I believe it was PJ O'Rourke in the book Parliament of Whores) with a view about the value of doubt.  

I encountered the ideas of Karl Popper (whom I have never read directly) through Taleb. I encountered Godel through the work of Douglas Hofstadter (none of whose books I have finished), but never read Godel directly.

The Godel to chaos connection I came up with myself years ago as a joke and saw it validated in Taleb.  I later added in what I understand about Pinker's view in How the Mind Works, which I haven'f finished either.

Attempts at humor are basically mine.

Now, don't get me wrong, I actually spend time thinking about this stuff, I'm just not an expert at philosophy. I see what I think are good ideas and babble about them in what I hope is a coherent manner.

So, with that in mind, please let me express my sincere gratitude to a community I truly respect, enjoy and hope to remain part of.

Best wishes,



Fri Dec 30, 2011 at 04:13 PM PST

Finally, a Wise Society

by TheGrandWazoo

Just for a moment, follow the bouncing neurons through a few sentences of philosophical history:

It was Plato who said, “He, O men, is the wisest, who like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing”.  Bookmark that premise.

Now jump forward a few thousand years to more contemporary thinkers.  The logician Kurt Gödel showed us, via the Incompleteness Theorem, that there will always be something true that we can’t prove, no matter what. The philosopher Karl Popper rubbed salt in that wound with his demonstration that we can only prove that a scientific theory is definitely wrong, or probably right, but never definitely right.  Then came chaos/complexity theory, which, if it has any merit, teaches us that, no matter what we think we know, making damn near any long-run prediction is impossible. John Maynard Keynes added insult to this injury by pointing out that, in the long run, we’re all dead.  Finally, just for a last kick in the intellectual butt, let’s throw in  evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker’s contention that the human mind never evolved the capacity to really think clearly about  big questions in the first place, being better suited to a focus on reproducing before becoming a meal.

From this collection of mighty thought, you could make a very good case that we don’t, won’t and can’t know jack about what we should be doing with ourselves, but at least we can prove it.  Socrates would be proud.

Such satori, depending on the kind of day you’re having, can turn you into the Buddha or the Joker.  Either way you’re laughing.

Why should we care?  We are, after all, a practical people, like the Romans.  They dealt with philosophical problems by killing Archimedes while he was studying geometry.  While they admitted the goof, it remained true that, as Alfred North Whitehead said, “No Roman lost his life because he was absorbed in the contemplation of a mathematical diagram.”

The answer is that we've always cared about our limits; it’s how we got to where we are.

The American Revolutionaries had their own little moment of satori in 1776. No, I am not claiming that the Enlightened One was reincarnated at that point wearing a tricorn hat.  However, there is very good argument that the founders appreciated the limits of human knowledge, and worked with that in mind.

I  don’t remember who pointed this out (I think it was PJ O’Rourke, with whom I disagree about almost everything else, but hey, he’s funny), but I once came cross the idea that part of the genius of the Framers of the Constitution  lies in the phase “more perfect union.”  Not “perfect union”.  There is no promise of anything like a workers’ paradise, universal brotherhood or a kingdom of God on Earth in that document.  For good reason: no one agreed on what was best.  It’s almost as Madison and Hamilton looked each other in the eye and said, “I think you’re full of it, and I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you, but I know we can do we can do better this. Let’s write that down.”

Gödel and Karl Popper anticipated in law, right there. I like to think the Framers knew they could never prove what was ultimately the right way govern, but that they were pretty sure they knew chicken shit from chicken salad.  They understood that they, and their successors, were going to make mistakes, and they built in measures to limit and correct them via the separation of powers and the amendment process. And for two hundred years plus, there has been a gradual, very painful but real expansion of the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness from landowning white males to the greater population. Imperfect at each stage, but recognized as such by enough people to keep the forward momentum.

That’s being tested right now.  William S. Burroughs, out there as he was on a lot things, was sublime in his contention that some of the most dangerous people in the world are those who believe they are absolutely right.  There is no progress without doubt.

Doubt is disappearing.  This is happening across the political spectrum, but the problem is greatest on the right.   For the first time since views on media have been recorded, a majority of the public indicates that they prefer news they believe agrees with them over news they believe is objective. Online, the very fact that opinions are expressed publicly in written statements archived, for all practical purposes, forever, makes it almost psychologically impossible for those who write them to admit a mistake, or for an audience to forgive one.  Our ingrained desire to be, and to expect others to be, consistent is trumping any efforts at improving knowledge and its application.

Politics has become trench warfare, with no victory in sight and only waste guaranteed. No idea or accomplishment is now considered without partisanship.  Even the greatest deliberative body in the world, the US Senate, has ceased to be a forum for its main purpose: cutting workable deals.

One way to break this stalemate is to recognize, once again, that we will not be able to avoid mistakes.  The question we need to ask is: in which direction are we willing to err?

Moving toward avoiding the worst, rather aiming at the best, is not as fun or glorious as trying out the next big thing.  But, as Nicholas Nassim Taleb points out very well in The Black Swan, it may be the most sensible course to take.  We are overexposed to disaster right now.  An increasingly interconnected world dependent on a limited supply of resources run, in large part, by financial giants removed from any risk stemming from their decisions, faces increased chances of internationally spreading disasters every day. If we are to attempt a major societal reform, it had better be something that reduces our exposure to this risk.  

First and foremost, we need to minimize the chance for irreversible mistakes.  Such include rushes to war that can’t be recalled, permanent destruction of human, never mind wildlife, habitat, and guaranteed energy shortages.  It is simple common sense that it’s a very bad idea to put all your eggs in one basket.  Such sayings stick around for a reason. It’s better to err on the side of learning more, rather than less.

Second, we must never abandon the duty to challenge ideas, not for the sake of the challenge itself, but for the testing of their merit.  Barney Frank has pointed out that it would be foolish to suggest an end to partisanship; out of debate comes ideas. But while there should not be an end to partisanship, partisanship should not be the end.  For this reason, we must err on the side of opening debate, rather than limiting it.

Unfortunately, the right has abandoned doubt and embraced risk on every level.  In Debt, the First 5,000 Years, David Graeber provide this lovely HL Menken quotation: “For every subtle and complicated question, there is a perfectly simple and straightforward answer, which  is wrong.” The right’s answers to the subtle questions of our day illustrate this.  Their answer to energy problems is to increase our dependence on a single source of fuel, thus increasing risk.  Their answer to national security issues is to promote another Middle Eastern war with no thought to the cost in treasure and lives, let alone the possibility of ever-spreading conflict and economic collapse, thus increasing risk. Their answer to any domestic issue is to reduce taxes  in order to let an unregulated private sector, which just caused a recession by ignoring a mounting ponzi scheme, to somehow make things better by repeating the performance, thus increasing risk.

The right is willing to do this because they know that the risk will be borne by others.  It’s easy to gamble with other people’s money, and to be brave with the lives of someone else’s children.  

I have a feeling that risk and doubt go hand in hand.  Having one’s own fortune and life on the line is an incentive to be wise.  And even then, you have to be careful, because those who fear the challenge of questions are always ready with the hemlock.  Still, we have no choice but to accept that that we know much less than we think. If we don’t, we’ll go over a cliff in a bus driven by a confident fool who can’t see the edge.

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