Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We The People

We, the people, have spoken. The U.S. voting public bombarded congressional representatives with e-mails and phone calls voicing opinion on the proposed 750 billion dollar bailout to save our financial system, and the opinion ran 80% against approval for the scheme. Congress listened to the electorate and failed to pass the measure. It was a triumph for our democracy and a shining example of the democratic process to the newly democratized people of Iraq. Goody, goody.

Just one small problem. The U.S. is a republic, not a democracy, because the Founding Fathers knew that the American public could be trusted to elect representatives—and nothing more. Modern Americans aren’t smart enough to know that they can decide what to eat BEFORE they actually get to the front of the line in a fast food restaurant. Listening to the voting public’s opinion on something as astronomically complex as the bailout package is like listening to a five-year-old’s opinion on nuclear physics. Hell, even Bush and Paulson don’t understand the ramifications of the bailout plan, and they’re the guys who cooked it up. We, the people, are idiots, and congress needs to take that into account. If 80% of us are against the bailout plan, it probably means the plan is pretty good.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Petroleum Science 101

There’s a political TV ad running in Colorado right now, and it claims that there’s more oil under the Colorado mountains than under the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As Jack Parr used to say, “I kid you not.” Actually, this is more of a half truth than a falsehood. The deception lies in the fact that there’s such a thing as oil—and then there’s OIL. The stuff under the Arabian peninsula is called, “sweet crude.” It’s pure petroleum, and it’s in liquid form. The stuff under the Colorado mountains is called, “oil shale.” It’s petroleum that’s locked into solid rock layers. There’s lots of it, but here’s the deception, the oil needs huge amounts of water and heat to be released from the rock. Colorado, despite its winter snowpack, is a desert environment. There simply is not enough water available to unlock the oil from the oil shale in quantities that would be significant. The required electricity to generate the heat is also in short supply, so the oil is “there,” but unavailable. Petroleum industry honchos aren’t stupid people. They wouldn’t have spent the last half-century investing in petroleum infrastructure on the other side of the planet if their product needs could be met right here in this country (see my blog 7/28). Most of the political rhetoric about unlocking domestic oil sources seems to ignore this basic fact.

Everything about the global energy problem involves possible solutions that are deeply rooted in science and engineering, and thanks to the Christian Right’s influence working through the Bush administration, science has been crippled in the United States during the last eight years. Only 18% of our high school students study any kind of science, and the majority of the world’s scientists and engineers are no longer working in this country. By following influencers like Dobson and Limbaugh, a nation can’t let a fanatic religious and ideological fringe take it back to the Dark Ages, and then expect to face the challenges of the 21st Century with scientific enlightenment. We’re either going to be medieval, or we’re not, and we can’t have it both ways,

Also see: $4.00 Gas—Soon A Cause For Nostalgia

Friday, September 19, 2008

Too Stupid To Be Governed?

Bill Maher said, last night on television, what many of us have wanted to say for some time- that the American electorate is too stupid to be governed. While I agree with the sentiment, I wonder if there might not be a better explanation for the fact that Karl Rove can work his Pavlovian magic, seemingly at will, on the gullible voting public. Then I discovered the following passage in a new novel by Brad Thor. The title is, "The Last Patriot." I am quoting.

"Up until the 1950s, American children yearned for adulthood. When their time came to be adults they stepped into the role proudly, leaving childhood behind and taking up the mantles of responsibility, honor, and dignity. They embraced and championed the ideals of those who came before them while valiantly tackling new ideas and problems that their families, communities, and nation faced. Those days were long gone.

"Americans now shunned adulthood, preferring to remain in a state of perpetual adolescence. By failing to move forward with grace and dignity, they left a gaping hole in American society. They treated relationships like disposable lighters, tossing marriages away when they ran out of gas. Children were left without families, and even worse, they were left without adults who could be role models of responsible behavior. With this lack of willingness to step forward and embrace adulthood, the nation had lost sight of its core values and ideals."

I admire Brad Thor for his insight in writing this. Bill Maher almost got it right, but not quite. In my opinion, Americans are not too stupid to be governed, they're too immature. Americans choose their political candidates the way that teenagers make their selections for class officers and homecoming royalty. Popularity, not competence, rules the process. How else can you explain the fact that a ditzy, glamor-puss cheerleader is now running for vice president?

Monday, September 15, 2008

I Just Don't Get It.

I'm confused. Recently, I've been present at two public events of the type that would customarily be kicked off with The National Anthem. At these events, however, the kick off was accomplished, not with The Star Spangled Banner, but with the song, America The Beautiful. Not an anthem, but a song. Just a song. Nevertheless, everyone at the event (everyone but me) stood at attention and placed their hands over their hearts. I felt like an outsider, and I wondered if the day would come when some of the patriotic C&W songs like God Bless The U.S.A. would elicit a similar response. I just don't get it.

This recent experience of mine ties into my feelings about the political news these days. Out of nowhere comes Sarah Palin, a kind of political version of Britney Spears or Paris Hilton, and the country falls all over her because she shoots a hunting rifle. These members of the Palin Posse are pretty much the same people who don't know that John Wayne was never a cowboy. I just don't get it.

Then, this morning, it was announced that Lehman Brothers went belly-up (financially speaking) while we all slept last night. The old banking house went back some 150-plus years to a time before the American Civil War, and it survived The Great Depression, but it couldn't survive the mortgage meltdown that George W. Bush describes as a "sound economy." Much of the mortgage banking business has been nationalized already (Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae) but evidently the Feds decided at this late stage of the game that nationalizing business institutions didn't look quite right in a free market capitalism. Somehow, the news this morning didn't look much like America The Beautiful, and God didn't seem to be blessing the financial sector of the U.S.A., but I doubt if the Palin Posse paid much attention. I just don't get it.

Here's what I know: all democracies are temporary. No democracy has lasted more than 250-300 years. The democratic form of government goes away when the elected officials cease to put the public good above all else. We all know that, but what we don't know is this: do the citizens in a dying democracy maintain their patriotism to the bitter end? Do they see things the way they want them to be, rather than the way they are? I suspect so. But I just don't get it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

It Will Take More Than Money

The United States government does one thing well— and one thing only. It can spend money like a Doberman can eat a prime rib roast. The U.S. government spends money, not with simple commitment, but with unbridled enthusiasm. So, today, when the Feds took over Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, we could all rest comfortably in the knowledge that a huge portion of the mortgage mess would be alleviated by the infusion of good old-fashioned government greenbacks. Never mind that those greenbacks would eventually need to come from inflation-generating government printing presses, or Chinese lenders, or that kind of surreal and mysterious metaphysical transfer system that defers the whole wad of cash into the future, and places it on the backs of our children and grandchildren. For the time being, this particular economic crisis proved that it could be smoothed-over by the one thing the government is good at— spending money.

I wish that all of our problems could be amenable to the same solution. Specifically, I wish that the energy crisis could be solved with big government money. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Pulitzer Prize winning writer and brilliant thinker, Thomas Friedman, is proposing that our energy problems can be solved by something he is calling, the ET revolution. ET stands for Energy Technology. He sees the ET revolution unfolding much like the IT revolution in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when home computers and the Internet transformed the way that we gained and shared information. Friedman’s analogy is interesting, but I see a drawback that might prove to be a deal-breaker. The fact is that 20 to 30 years ago, the majority of the best scientific and engineering minds in the world were doing their thinking and working right here in the United States. Not so anymore. Just like the Nazi regime in Germany drove away the best German scientific thinkers in the 1930s, and pushed many of them across the sea to our shores, so has the Bush administration has pushed scientific thought out of the United States and sent much of it across the sea to Asia. I don’t mean to imply that the Bush administration is the equivalent of Nazism. No way. But George W. Bush and his cronies have created an almost medieval, Spanish Inquisitional, modern Dark Ages where it comes to science— stifling research and even simple discourse on scientific subjects ranging from stem cell therapies to global warming.

Today, our public educational system is a pathetic failure in the teaching of language and mathematics, but it fails even more spectacularly in the teaching of science. Only 18% of high schoolers take even one science class during their years in the classroom. If (as the Republican presidential candidates are proposing) supernatural divine creation is inserted into the school curriculum, scientific learning will suffer even more. So the question is this— if an ET revolution is going to save us from energy catastrophe, then how will the technology (the T in ET) come about without a strong community of scientists and engineers? The answer is that the ET revolution will take place where science has now found a home. Unfortunately, that place is Asia, not the United States.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What We Can't Say

The newest rage on the campaign trail is to accuse the other guy (or gal) of being “out of touch.” Of course the candidates are “out of touch.” Everyone in America is out of touch with everyone else, and it’s because of all the things that we’re not allowed to say.

We can’t say that every country in the industrialized world has a better healthcare and education system than we do (even though it’s true). This is unpatriotic. We can’t say that Hillary must be really pissed because Palin is “in” and Hillary is “out.” This is demeaning to Hillary, and, therefore, demeaning to women. We can’t say that our greatest threat is Islamic fundamentalism. This is not politically correct. We can’t say that illegal Mexican immigration threatens our national sovereignty. This is racist. We can't look at the housing and lending mess and say that people shouldn't buy houses they can't afford to own. This is offensive to people who can't manage money. We can’t say that tiny foreign cars are better for the environment than gas guzzling pickups and SUVs. This is un-American. It's probably anti-cowboy, too. And we certainly can’t make any jokes about the effect of 23 hour Alaskan nights on the pregnancy statistics in Alaska. This is un-Alaskan, and sexist, and anti-feminist, and demeaning to pregnant women everywhere. So I won’t even bring it up. But you might want to Google, “Bristol Palin.”

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Truth About Autism?

Columbia University has delivered the newest research-based information on childhood vaccines and a possible link to autism. Their conclusion is that no link, whatsoever, exists, and their research study was the most exhaustive one ever to be undertaken. Columbia might just as well have put their research efforts into disproving the existence of UFOs. The vaccine-autism-linkage belief has entered the urban myth catalogue, right along with alien abductions and Bigfoot and the alligators in the sewer system— true realities about which, “everyone knows the truth, in spite of those special interests who deny the facts to suit their own agenda.” According to the "autism-informed," evidently, the “agenda” of Columbia University was to allay needless fears of parents about protecting their children against disease through vaccination. Clearly (according to the "autism-informed") Columbia set out to dupe us.

Those intimidating, lipstick-wearing hockey moms are not about to be fooled by some smarmy scientists at some Ivy League, ivory tower institution like Columbia. No Sir! But here’s something to think about. Can you imagine the uproar that would occur if a link was proven between autism and cell-phone usage during pregnancy? Actually, the growth curves of autism incidence and cell phone usage are identical. Don’t worry. I’m not going to tell anyone about this.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Know Your Audience

The conventions are over, the rhetoric has reached new stratospheric heights, and we are left with the discouraging knowledge that one of these tag-team duos will run the executive branch in just four short months. I don’t fault them, or their speechwriters. The first rule of public speaking is, “Know your audience,” and those politicos that we watched on TV during the past two weeks knew that they were speaking to an audience dumbed down by the worst public education system in the industrialized world. So, based on the rhetoric, here’s what we can expect.

If McCain-Palin are calling the shots, we will get a proposal for a Constitutional amendment to turn back Roe v. Wade. The Dems in congress will prevent anything close to 70% ratification, the amendment will fail, and the Dynamic Duo will tell the Christian Right that they, “tried their best to affirm the right to life, but were thwarted by the Left.” Mission accomplished. If Obama-Biden are running the show, they will task the auto makers to double fuel mileage standards by 2020, GM and Ford will go out of business (that will happen anyway) and the Obama administration will leave office with automobile fuel efficiency essentially right where it is now. It’s called, “kicking the can down the road.” Neither administration will use taxation or surcharges to make giant pickups and SUVs less attractive, and small cars more attractive. They are doing this in China, now, and God-forbid that we should copy China.

Neither administration will pull money from the Pentagon budget to rebuild the American railroad system, or to make New Orleans immune to flooding, the way that Holland has been for 300 years. Railroads and sea walls are “old technology” and they’re not as sexy as aircraft carriers. Neither administration will pull money from the Pentagon budget to institute a healthcare system for every citizen, so that we can catch up to the rest of the industrialized world in this area where we currently rank dead last. Neither administration will pull money from the Pentagon budget to fund the kind of “Manhattan Project” science that it will take to develop clean energy that comes anywhere close to meeting our insatiable energy needs. Make no mistake about it—neither administration will pull money from the Pentagon budget for ANYTHING. To even think about such a thing is deemed to be unpatriotic, un-American, and unsupportive of the troops.

Face it folks, we’re much more like Sparta than Athens. If you’ve been through the American public school system in the last 30 years, you probably don’t understand the meaning of that statement.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

No Experience Necessary

I’ll admit one thing, Sarah Palin gives a good speech, certainly better than anything that ever came out of the mouth of George W. Bush or John McCain. The Dems continue to hammer her about her lack of experience, and she gives it right back to Obama with the same indictment. So here’s my question, “Who the hell made up the rules and decided that experience was the main qualifier for the job of President?”

Based on the backgrounds of the men who’ve held the nation’s highest office, and looking at their performance, the historical evidence would show that experience counts for nothing in this particular job. NOTHING. The man in government right now with the deepest and broadest experience is Dick Cheney. Before he became V.P. he had gained experience at the governmental department level, the cabinet level within a previous administration, and the congressional level. In addition, he had broad experience in high-level business outside government. On paper, he had it all, and then he became Darth Vader once he got elected on a presidential ticket. Close behind Cheney with their impressive “experience-based ” resumes would be Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, and neither of these two Vietnam-era honchos are being considered for inclusion on Mount Rushmore.

On the other end of the spectrum would fall two men with very little experience, Harry Truman and Abraham Lincoln. Their experience (or lack of experience) would be comparable to what we see in Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, but that didn’t stop Lincoln from ending slavery in the country, and Truman from ending racial discrimination in the military. Lincoln and Truman had good intellect, character, and temperament, and these are the qualities that the founding fathers hoped would be the criteria for selecting Presidents down through the history of the country. If the founding fathers had believed that the future of the nation depended on one man at the top with lifetime experience, they would have given us a king. Dick Cheney actually believes that’s what happened.

There simply is no kind of experience that can prepare a President for something like the American Civil War, or Pearl Harbor, or the Cuban Missile Crisis, or 9/11. The first three of those crises were faced by men with good intellect and temperament. Not so much with 9/11, and we can see what a lack of intellect has produced there. As American voters, we really do need to look beyond the “experience” baloney, or we’ll keep getting mediocre leaders with fluff-padded resumes and lame brains.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Is Sarah Palin the Future of the Republican Party?

On TV this morning, Republican strategist, Mary Matalin (she’s the one who talks without moving her lips, like a ventriloquist) said that Sarah Palin represents the future of the Republican Party. So here’s what we know so far. If she were to become President, the redneck beauty queen would move to outlaw abortion, and to implement the teaching of creation in the schools. She’s against birth control (she prefers abstinence) for unmarried teenage girls, and she has an unmarried pregnant teenage daughter to underscore her conviction on this point. She doesn’t accept the evidence on global warming. She has publically stated that she hasn’t “focused” on Iraq (those are her exact words), but she intends to get up to speed on this topic (probably with some mentoring from Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Pearle, and Dick Cheney). According to Mary Matalin, this is the future of the Republican Party.

Right now, in September of 2008, the United States is ranked dead last within the industrialized world for its quality of healthcare, public education, and mass transportation systems. We’re 5% of the global population and we generate 25% of the world’s garbage and CO2 emissions. The average American voter actually believes the myth that tapping our domestic oil sources will break our dependence on Saudi Arabia. By 2012, 90% of the world’s scientists and engineers will not live or work in the United States, partly the result of the current American anti-science sentiment. On the economic front, the Chinese now buy more U.S. Savings Bonds than do the Americans, and the U.S. dollar is no longer the dominant global currency. Our southern border is, essentially, an open border with Mexico, and the rest of the world considers our foreign policy to be a hypocritical joke. But these are not the primary issues that get mentioned in discussions about Sarah Palin, the future of Republican Party. Nor does the subject of that little trillion-dollar war get mentioned at the RNC, probably because the approval rating for George W. Bush within the convention hall is at 71%.

If you believe the wording of Mary Matalin’s endorsement of Sarah Palin, and then you consider the issues important to this neophyte Alaskan Governor, then the future of Republicanism lies with the abortion and the creationism issues. And why not? These are the only issues totally within the control of government. Everything else is difficult. Here’s the most pathetic thing of all— the abortion and creationism issues will probably get the Republican ticket elected in November. Nobody ever lost an election by underestimating the intelligence of the American voters.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Maverick Government

Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried.” He almost got it right, but not quite.

I, personally, look at governments based on three criteria— the economic and health-based well-being of the citizens, the level of civility and mutual tolerance in the behavior of the populace, and a peaceful and positive relationship with other countries. Using those criteria, the very best governments on earth are all kingdoms— primarily those in Scandinavia as well as the progressive Arab kingdoms like Dubai and Abu Dabi. The next tier of governments (based on my criteria) are the majority of the world’s democracies typified by the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the majority of the western European countries. Below those democracies, I would rank the oppressive kingdoms and theocracies which are found throughout the Middle East and the South Pacific. At the bottom of my list would be the Islamic democracies like Pakistan and Indonesia. I also include the democracy of India in this bottom tier, even though India is my favorite place in the world to visit. India is better for tourists than it is for Indians. My wife and I have been to 120 countries, and my personal opinions are based on what I’ve seen for myself.

I think that the reason why democracies don’t rank at the top is that democratic leaders must always do what’s acceptable, and they don’t feel constrained to do what’s best. I write about this, now, because I see Sarah Palin as an “acceptable” candidate. By no stretch of the imagination is she the “best” candidate. McCain gets a pass on this whimsical choice of his because he only needs to pass the “maverick” test. The Republican Party, now, is all about having a maverick on board. It can be argued that Bush and Cheney are mavericks, too. Starting a needless and unprovoked war, and becoming an aggressor nation is certainly a “maverick” thing to do by United States standards. As long as we maintain the delusion that having “maverick” leadership is automatically a positive thing, the progressive kingdoms of the world will stay unchallenged in their ranking at the top.