Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Modern China: More Diverse than You Might Think

With the Summer Olympics fast approaching, the amount of amateur punditry concerning the Land of the Dragon is going to skyrocket (indeed, talk of China is all over BMG right now). And while I'm not expert, there is one facet of Chinese culture and politics that I think is important to keep in mind.

Even though it's different and distant, China is not a monolith.

The overwhelming challenge for any Chinese government of any ideology is simply to keep the country together. While we hear a great deal of Tibet, China is a far more diverse place than I think many Americans realize.

A Xinhua news article quoted here posits that nearly 1 of every 6 Chinese citizens do not speak a dialect of Chinese. There are significant differences between the dialects common around Shanghai, Beijing, and Honk Kong -- enough to make mutual comprehension touch-and-go. Hakka is a dialect spoken by 34 million Chinese, and is essentially incomprehensible to Mandarin speakers.

I lead with language because that is the strongest building block of national identity in the modern age, but strong regional divergences in economic prosperity, vocational concentration, and educational availability also haunt China. Not to mention the sheer distance of the third largest state land area in the world.

Thus, I don't think Chinese reaction to regionalist movements in China is based on simple authoritarianism. China is far less diverse than many other countries (the Han ethnic group form 92% of the population), but it is unwieldy due to size, differentiation, and history. While Tibet does have the strongest legal case for independence, there are enough linguistic, historical, or even religious differences within the country to nurture dozens of sovereignty movements, should such a trend occur. Hainan is a culturally unique place, Manchuria has a history of autonomy, entering the 20th century as an independent state...and that doesn't even touch on Taiwan or Xinjiang.

As Tibetan independence would be a problem, so too would formal independence in Taiwan would also start the avalanche. I submit that the Chinese are in no real hurry to try to assimilate Taiwan...rather, they fear the precedent that would be caused if their sovereignty were officially acknowledged. This is the same tendency that underlay the joy in Chinese regaining of Hong Kong and Macau -- and its smooth assimilation.

I think a key parallel is to Moscow's rough treatment of the Baltic Republics in the late 1980s, particlarly the insistent sovereignty movement of Lithuania. They were right, of soon as the center began to fall, every single republic sprung from Moscow's grasp almost instantly.

To be clear, I am not rationalizing the anti-democratic tendencies of the Chinese regime. However, I think there are elements beyond popular suppression at work. The government has long used nationalism as a glue to bind together the country, and it seems to be succeeding. While many of the marches outside of Japanese and Korean embassies regarding historization of World War II are government-staged, the anger of Chinese counter-protesters along the Olympic torch relay were probably spontaneous.

The currently constituted People's Republic of China is as large a conglomeration of land under Chinese rule as has been achieved in history. Maintaining requires a dedication to the current borders that supersedes interest in democracy, and I would say, Communism. Far worse than the label of the American president who "lost China", I would say, would be the person known as the Chinese Premier who lost his own country.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


When I woke up today, my original plan was to finish by seeing Deval Patrick's latest town hall appearance in my neck of the woods. I confess that I didn't end up going.

And it's not due to some hatred of the governor, but I was pretty much still too keyed up to go hear some minor politicians take 15 minutes each before introducing him. Because that afternoon I went skydiving.

I won't....can't really describe it. It's not very easy to put into words because my brain still isn't entirely sure what happened. It has snippets -- for a few seconds, the ocean, land, and sky were all moving rapidly in all the wrong places. For just under a minute there were wicked (120 mph) winds buffeting my body. I landed next to a building I couldn't even see five minutes previous.

I can say, and will say, three things, though.
1 - The team at Skydive Cape Cod is friendly, knowledgeable, safe, and affable. If you do skydive in eastern New England, do it with them.
2 - It was entirely safe and comfortable. The landing was gentler than a slide into second base.
3 - It's a rush. A thrill. Do it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Chaos: Japan's time experiment

Intriguing article today in the Globe (and elsewhere) about Japan's experiment with daylight savings time. The idea has a checkered history in Nippon, as it was introduced with the American post-war occupation and eventually abandoned. So far, the five year experiment to resurrect the idea is chugging along uncertainly, restricted to the island of Hokkaido.

Hokkaido is home to many lovely things, include the Olympic city of Sapporo, snow monkeys, and the indigenous Ainu culture, an intriguing society that among other things uses a base 20 counting system. The Ainu are the most prevalent non-majority group in this stunningly homogeneous society.

But anyway, this is the part of the article that blew me away:

One big problem is that people don't turn their clocks an hour ahead, as they do in the West, because daylight saving time is entirely voluntary. Hundreds of companies and government offices in Sapporo and elsewhere on Hokkaido participate in the program, but others ignore "summertime," as it's called here. Some banks follow it, but other institutions, such as public schools, don't.

"Everybody has different ideas about it," said Mitsuhito Araya, 52, director of the Sapporo general planning department.

The West Wing got a great segment out of a county in Indiana which does not observe daylight savings, in contrast to its neighbors. But that's not on the same level -- or same planet -- as the right to determine for yourself which timing system to use. This is so...unusual. It's sometimes a struggle to keep track of time zones, but figuring out which commercial sector thinks it's 4:30, and which think it's 5:30 is bizarre. I can't imagine such an experiment succeeding anywhere.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Tell John Kerry to debate the issues

For a campaign trying to project confidence, John Kerry seems reluctant to debate his primary opponent Gloucester firefighter Ed O'Reilly. I'm not really sure why a man who mopped the floor with his last debate opponent is so reluctant, but by all means tell him that he should at least go through the motions of defending his record to his constituents. You may want to use the volunteer link...looking at his website, it seems that Kerry is only interested in your time and/or money...there's no way to actually talk to the campaign. While the 7-10 debates that O'Reilly proposes seem excessive, surely 1 or 2 wouldn't hurt the incumbent, right?

And for the slight majority of people on this online poll who think he shouldn't debate, shame on them. I'm eager to see polling on this race, as none exists out there.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Electoral news

Rasmussen says that Mark Begich has opened up a 9-point lead over the incumbent in the Alaska Senate race. But he still could use your help.

And do you think there's any chance that Colin Powell could end up addressing the Democratic convention this year?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

NCLB: Japanese priorities for an American system

I've been spot-reading the blog "All Kids on Track" for a while now, and it's time well spent. In addition to adroitly exploring the cyclical nature of money passing from pro-testing regimes installed by conservatives to conservative-owned testing organizations and back, it lays bare a parent's raw frustration with the NCLB-testing regime. As misguided as the current system is, at least I don't have a child of my own who is being directly victimized by it.

One of my major objections to the NCLB/MCAS model is its attempt to convert the American system into an improved Japanese model. (I use Japan as a shorthand for several East Asian systems in particular.) I think our resources are better used aiming to improve the American model.

Almost every critique of American schools over the last decade starts with test scores. Math scores, sometimes science scores. Look here, here, here, here, or here. I have no grudge against American students having a good grasp of science and math...those are essential. (Don't even get me started about the fact that many shot-callers on education "reform" are pushing more science education, while simultaneously denying the scientific theories of cosmology and evolution.) Mind you, I wish we'd hear more about the fact that Americans can't find Iraq on a blank map for example, but whichever.

Math and science are an important piece of success in the 21st century, but they're only one piece. A symbol of American economic success is symbolized is our intensive winning of patents. While lagging Japan in many measures, the United States is consistently first or second in the world in holding and receiving patents. This does get to science education of course, but much more so it gets to ingenuity. Aping previous experiments and drilling in trig does not lead one to ingenuity, but that's what we're told we must do. We must sacrifice our lead in this field.

Our medical and electronics advances are an important part of American success. But they're not the entirety of it...they're not even the most lucrative part. You know what is the single greatest export category of the United States?

Apparel? Not really.
Electronics? No.
Automobiles? No.
Raw materails? Not anymore.
Agriculture? Nope.

Popular culture. Movies. TV. Sports. The ocean of images and attitudes so natural is the single winningest product line ever rolled out by the Great Fifty. The single thing that makes the most money for the United States is what we create. The use of art and emotion to create identification and interest. Our culture is omnipresent. The Mickey Mouse symbol is one of the most recognized the world over. Everyone knows who Madonna is. You can buy Coke anywhere -- not because some science nerd created the idealized soft drink, but because some graphic arts and ELA nerds came up with advertising campaigns that spread it around the world. On the imdb all-time box office list, the first movie developed outside the American movie industry clocks in at number 229 . The Super Bowl is consistently one of the top 5 international broadcasts, even though almost nobody else plays American football.

This is what America is good at, and has been for decades!

A photograph of Bert from Sesame Street showed up at a Bangladeshi protest in support of Osama bin Laden. A guy burning an American flag on the Gaza Strip wore a New York Giants sweatshirt. Even when we're hated, we're loved. Our culture is inescapable, and everything from bicameralism to the sitcom has spread from our shores.

And math isn't a part of isn't a big part either. The contribution that America makes to the world, and for which it is paid, comes from ideas, not number. It's coming up with and working with ideas, and ideas is the province of English and literature. It comes from going through and studying history. From art, music, drama, graphic design.

What are we cutting in the new regime to make way for more math and science so that we can "compete" with Japan? History. English. Especially art and music.

We're trying to beat Japan at its own game, even though we're still tops at ours. We're sacrificing what makes America great to imitate what makes others great. It's like Picasso giving up his style to try to out-Impressionist Monet. So who's really winning here?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Happy Birthday Madiba!

The greatest living person on Earth turns 90 this week, to the good fortune of his family and friends -- anyone who loves human dignity and justice.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Model schools: A pretty good idea

As part of his seeming effort to save money while getting his name out there, Treasurer Tim Cahill just announced an effort to establish a series of pre-designed school buildings in order to crack down on runaway school construction. On the whole, it's a smart idea provided that these plans prove sufficiently customizable.

His idea:

The designs would be based on high schools built over the last 10 years. The buildings would be between 170,000 and 240,000 square feet, depending on enrollment, and would include a gymnasium, an auditorium, science labs, and energy-efficient systems. No field houses or swimming pools would be allowed. If communities want those things, Cahill said, they would have to be built as separate buildings that would not qualify for state reimbursement.

Roughly four designs would be chosen, and the architects of the winning designs would automatically work with any school district that selects the design. That could be a financial windfall for those architects, while leaving other firms with little work.

This new push is more or less explicitly in response to the Newton High School project, a new high school whose price tag almost double from $100 to $200 million. Policymaking in the wake of a failure of planning and oversight often misses the point, including this bill -- the largest price bump came from an unexpected asbestos slab that had to be carefully and safely removed and surprisingly hard foundation stone. This was not the fault of any contractor nor architect, but was merely rotten luck, and you can't legislate luck away.

Although Cahill's effort would have done little to change Newton's fate, on the whole it's a good idea. Every school has the same essential core: plant operation, classrooms, central office, etc., etc. I agree with Ryan that "each community's needs are different," and that is why I'd want a decently customizable approach. This may simply mean ensuring a hallway that ends at an outside door bordered by electrical, plumbing, and water conduits sufficient to handle significant usage. Thus, if schools wanted to put in luxurious athletic facilities or lecture halls, they could. If necessary, a town could purchase the school and gymnasium separately, and simply knock down one wall in order to hook up the supplemental buildings.

Schools should reflect the community's wishes and needs, but education is becoming increasingly generic in our state and country due to the existing legal framework, thus physical plant needs are as well. I don't see how four different arrangements of the core facilities is an unacceptable limit of choice, particularly if designed for addition in the future. It would save a lot of money in the design and bidding phase, even if that makes architects unhappy.

Of course, given the pressure to add more days to the school year and/or day, it would be important to design these buildings for significant more wear and tear. And frankly, if this is going to be the case, we're moving to the point where air conditioning will be more or less necessary in these buildings.

Tim Cahill shooting for the understudy?

In the wake of his surprisingly strident critique of Deval Patrick's budget, Tim Cahill has unveiled a detailed plan to limit school construction costs by giving districts incentive to choose from a limited number of pre-designed choices. Ryan gives his reactions to that plan here. There's much to be said about it in a separate post, but I will join the chorus that is looking at the choices our state treasurer is making.

Before doing any horse race analysis, I want to say up front that I think that this is a good thing. In general, I disagree with many of Cahill's critiques of the budget, and agree with much of what he has to say about school construction. However, the fact that we have two people at the upper level of state politics talking about the course we chart in this state is a good thing. Tim Murray has been invisible, as has Martha Coakley. At this stage, the most prominent Republican move has been that Democrats aren't sufficiently in favor of marriage equality(!) In terms of the lack of effective opposition of which I wrote earlier, Cahill is slowly moving into that role. While he isn't the conservative option that I believe many Bay Staters want, he is a differnet voice in the din. I like that somebody is asking questions publicly, not in cloakrooms at the State House. It's good for our state and its democracy.

Yet I can't imagine that Cahill is aiming at Deval Patrick. Deval has a corps of rabidly loyal supporters and all the advantages of incumbency right now. And while his popularity has sagged both within the party and across the state, it's still pretty notable and I'd wager sufficient to beat back Cahill. If Cahill is planning to try to oust Patrick, he's a fool.

Instead, I'd say that Cahill is thinking that he may not end up running against Deval. I personally think odds are slightly less than 50-50 that Deval will be working in Washington, DC in a year's time, and Cahill may see in Murray a much more vulnerable candidate: somebody based outside of metro Boston, who has been invisible over the last two years, and has uneven relations with labor.

Here's betting that if Deval does remain in Boston, we suddenly start hearing less of Cahill going forward.

More good news for Mark Begich

More good news for Mark Begich, Democratic candidate for US Senate in Alaska. A poll paid for by DailyKos shows him leading his opponent, incumbent Ted Stevens:

If 2008 election for U.S. Senate were held today, for whom would you vote for if the choices were between Mark Begich, the Democrat, and Ted Stevens, the Republican?

Stevens (R) 43 (41)
Begich (D) 48 (47)

Undecideds seem to be breaking, and Begich is essentially maintaining his lead. I'm an admirer of his because I like people with executive experience in the legislature and White House (Begich is mayor of Anchorage), and Begich, along with Jon Tester, represent a new kind of "Western Democrat" who is at the forefront of coutnering Republican framing by explaining our values in terms consistent with discourse out there.

My political donations this year will be going heavily toward Ed O'Reilly here in Massachusetts, and Mark Begich out in Alaska. Doesn't mean that you can't go to this nifty Obama fundraiser featuring and organized by the good folks at BMG.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Belgium Held Hostage Part II? Non!

Doing my part to fill the void of Belgium-centered news in the American media, I thought I'd update loyal readers on my series Belgium Held Hostage. Last we checked in, it seemed that a government had been cobbled together that could attempt to govern the country, some 200 days after the election.

Well, about 130 days into the government's tenure, the prime minister of Belgium, Yves Leterme, submitted his resignation to the king. Citing the inability to resolve these conflicts between the linguistic communities of Belgium before a self-imposed deadline, Leterme offered his resignation.

It's currently unclear what happens next, though Le Soir reports that Leterme may continue on as prime minister, and a team of "mediators" will be appointed to attempt to resolve this crisis.

Although I think that odds are that Belgium will remain a unified nation, those odds seem to shorten every time I look.

Update: That is indeed what will happen. The king refused the resignation, and instead appointed the President of the Germanophone Community of Belgium, a Bruxellois member of Parliament, and a Francophone member of the European Parliametn to serve as eminences grises in the effort to create a new linguistic consensus.

Update II: I got a link from CNN for talking about this, for about five minutes.

A quick word

If you consider yourself to be a good American, it is essentially mandatory to buy lemonade from any kid selling it along the sidewalk. Carry on.

PS: Speaking of self-conscious Americanism...

The price of ineffective opposition

It's the nature of citizens in a democracy to seek opposition and accountability. Here in Massachusetts, we don't have a whole lot of either. The Republicans have completely blown any chance of being an effective voice against the Democratic Party here, leaving some people desperate to hold our government accountable. Some may have concluded that if you can't get people you don't like out of government, the only alternative left is to make the government disappear.

I'm a loyal Democrat, but I believe that democracy requires accountability. The federal situation is bad enough, where on everything from FISA to Karl Rove, the Democrats have a poor record in seeking that accountability. They talk a decent game, but don't actually do much.

At least Democrats in Washington have a systemic interest in oversight, however. In Massachusetts, there really isn't any accountability for the donkeys in charge. Take the Big Dig, a phenomenally expensive and fatal mistake that occurred on the watch of the former Democratic Attorney General, Democratic Auditor, and Democratic State House. While perhaps not responsible, they were there and they were silent. Hence folks may be suspicious that the Democrats of Massachusetts aren't always looking out for them. Sure, Democrats win, but most Bay Staters aren't registered with that party. Unbroken and increasingly total Democratic control over an uneven state government gives any reasonable citizen suspicions that it's getting a little too cozy in Boston.

And the Republicans, for many reasons, can't exploit this golden opportunity. And the Massachusetts Republican Party is really such a sad joke that they can't capitalize on the Big Dig Boondoggle, the Finneran and Bulgar episodes, the crack-ups of down-ticket Democrats. Since there appears to be little real consequence for the Democrats in the Democratic government of Massachusetts, some folks are attempting to create consequences for the "government" part of Democratic government. That's right, I'm talking about the appeal of the state income tax.

Now, I can't imagine anybody with a working cerebellum would think this is a good idea in its merits. Forty percent of the state's revenue comes from the income tax, so passage of this question would ax the government almost nearly in half. And to believe that 40% of our state government is waste that won't be missed is a simple disconnection with reality.

Given how inept the Republican Party has been in exposing chumminess, corruption, and waste in this state, that role in government is left empty for somebody to fill. While the average voter may not know the names Joe DeNucci and Bill Galvin -- two people who repeatedly receive undeserved free passes -- they know that accountability isn't much of a watchword to most folks on Beacon Hill. And while I firmly believe that 90% of the people in our state government are just doing what they think is best, there is currently nothing in the system to find and throw out the other 10%.

So people vote to "send a message", to "clean everything up" -- by voting to kill the income tax. Heck, for many conservatives who'll be looking at a ballot without real Republican candidates, this will be their only chance to cast a vote at a state level against Democrats. Without Republican candidates for State Senate or State Rep, the only conservative choice on the entire frakkin' ballot is to kill the income tax! Not much room for moderates there.

Had we a political movement in this state that could effectively keep an eye on Democrats, and truly call the Diane Wilkersons and Joe DeNuccis to account for their lassitude and poor judgment, this wouldn't be necessary. However, I think that many, many people feel the only effective way to send a message to the leadership of the Commonwealth will not be by voting for a Republican, but by voting to kill the income tax. If 50% + 1 feel that way, we're screwed.

It's ironic that the surest way for Republicans to achieve on of their goals -- shrinking government and opening up space for the private sector to replace it -- is by being stunningly incompetent. Talking about failing one's way to the finish.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Programming note

Project Runway returns tonight on Bravo. I liveblogged last season, but am on the fence about doing it again. Thoughts, O audience of 2?


Good comic in the papers today....not one I usually read, but the last panel brings it home:

Pretty sweet reference there. Monty (late Robotman) also is worth a look...

I wonder if that's a sly reference to a classic routine by my favorite comic, the late Mitch Hedberg:

I went to the park and saw a kid flying a kite. The kid was really excited. I don't know why, that's what they're supposed to do. Now if he had a chair on the other end of that string, I would have been impressed.

The danger of militancy

PZ Myers, author of the lovely science blog pharyngula, has gotten himself into heaps of trouble lately. His blog regularly takes on theocracy, particularly in the promotion of "intelligent design", the latest disguise under which theocrats seek to sneak creationism into their schools. For a college professor, he ends up involved in a fair bit of capers, not least of this wonderful anecdote whereby he is ejected from a creationist screening while celebrated atheist author Richard Dawkins saunters right past the bouncer. I typically enjoy reading his stuff, and think you should, too.

What has landed Myers into hot water is this post that ruminates on the high esteem upon which the Eucharist is placed in the Catholic Church, particularly in the backdrop of the persecution aimed at a Webster Cook for attempting to smuggle the Eucharist out of Church. It has resulted in near violence, and an open invitation from his college to harass him.

Myers opines:

I find this all utterly unbelievable. It's like Dark Age superstition and malice, all thriving with the endorsement of secular institutions here in 21st century America. It is a culture of deluded lunatics calling the shots and making human beings dance to their mythical bunkum.
Not the language I'd use, but the sentiment is one with which I can agree. My agreement with Myers stops when he continues

Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers?...if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I'll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare...treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web. I shall do so joyfully and with laughter in my heart.
I just can't understand what Myers, or any non-Catholic, gains by abusing a Catholic holy symbol. It would annoy and/or enrage Catholics, but it does not advance religious understanding nor it does not clarify the contradictions inherent in Christianity. It doesn't help the world, and it doesn't promote atheism. All it does is prove that an atheist can be as spiteful, mean, and vitriolic as any theocrat.

For me, atheism is the best explanation for the universe as I know and live it. I really don't care if I'm the only one, or one in 5 billion. Atheism works great for me, just as Hinduism worked great for Gandhi and Christianity worked great for Mother Teresa. While I bristle at the thought of anyone (including certain presidential candidates) shoving their religion down my throat, I've no truck with anyone worshiping invisible sky wizards with two, six, or no arms, that doesn't concern me. I disagree with them, sure, and that's why I don't go to worship ceremonies. But hey, I also disagree with many folks on Coke v. Pepsi. Doesn't mean it's something about which I'm going to get excited, because the two have about equal importance in my mind. Long as I can live an atheist life and drink Pepsi, I'm fine. If others don't want to, that's cool. Just live and let live -- that's what I like to think atheism is about at its finest.

But Myers isn't letting anyone live right now. He's going overboard here, and slipping from enthusiastic defense to miltancy -- aggressively and instinctively promoting a certain idea with no concern for the reasons or benefits thereof. Many folks are chomping at the bit to herald this a new age of militant atheism now that folks such as Myers, Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and others are starting to speak confidently and clearly of that understanding of the universe. Most of the time, those calls of militancy and extremism are mere propoganda and misunderstanding, confusing a demand to be heard with a demand to be obeyed. But with this move, Myers has given some substance to these depictions.

Thankfully, idiots such as Bill Donohue of the Catholic League have promptly gone overboard, with he and his kin attempting to leverage all possible gain from this episode. There are organized campaigns trying to get Myers fired, or outright killed.

I still think Myers is wrong, but boy are those who disagree with him so much more wrong! Such is the danger of militancy, particularly in large groups.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Old habits die hard...

...older habits die harder. John McCain insists on referring to a country that stopped existing before some drivers were born. He talks about Czechoslovakia as if it were an ongoing concern -- even Dubya called him on it in 2000.

I really don't want to make McCain's age an issue, but this is getting ridiculous. He reminds me of C. Montgomery Burns' famous line ""Yes, I'd like to send this letter to the Prussian consulate in Siam by aeromail. Am I too late for the 4:30 autogyro?"

Monday, July 14, 2008

Happy Bastille Day!

Like freedom? Today's a day to celebrate. Though highlighted by glorious moments during the war, often the American Revolution comes across as a particularly ambitious tax revolt. Remember the slogan "Taxation without Representation", which inherently implies that granting Americans representation wasn't the only solution.

In contrast is the French Revolution, which was an idealistic revolt against the monarchy. Socialism had its first dry run during the Paris Commune, and yes, they busted some people out of the Bastille. Most importantly, it was the beginning of a modern democratic, secular France. And the ideals of democracy and secularism spread from there through Europe, and beyond. The French Revolution converted the American experience into something resembling a normal way of life. Not a bad deal.

If wine isn't your thing, then get some French fries at least. Better yet, eat 'em with mayonnaise -- the only way to go.


I caught a bit of the ol' All-Star Home Run Derby on ESPN tonight. Baseball seems to lend itself most easily to an All-Star format, and I typically enjoy the festivities.

However, I was a bit taken aback by how ESPN annotated the players' stats. When each player comes up to the plate, a few stats are thrown up, including his time in the majors. And it's called "service", as in "MLB service: 5 years". Now, I like baseball, but I can't figure out how making millions of dollars to play a game and sell products is "service". Let's not devalue the word, hm?

Budget's Signed

...and Deval vetoed a bunch of line items (David compiles them here). The ones in your area are vital projects, the ones in other areas are pork barrel items.

It will be funny to see how this plays out. For the majority of the past decade, governor's vetoes were overridden as a matter of course; Democrats in the State House didn't owe Romney/Swift/Celucci* anything, and weren't going to pretend that they did. As a matter of fact, I find myself thinking that some vetoes were overridden out of sheer spite. Now, however, we can expect a little more legislative allegiance to the governor, which will make some of these votes rather closer. One of the traps for legislators, though, is to at least maintain an appearance of even-handedness; things could get ugly if all the metro Boston vetoes are overridden, but the spending cuts for the South Coast stick.

I'm doubtful of much of the pursuit of "earmarks" as an inherently bad thing, anyway. As part of their representative function, legislators are expected to work local priorities into the budget. It's not just line items that only benefit certain areas -- agriculture, mass transit, or fishing subsidies flow to selected regions as well by their very nature. While it's easy to pick out a couple seemingly outrageous examples, I personally find most earmarks inoffensive. I don't know how much a cultural center or new building is needed...that's the legislator's job to know that. I don't even know how to question some of these projects, and I doubt the executive does, either. All I'm saying is that McCain yammers on about line-item "pork", but doesn't say much when the government starts building warships and planes that the military doesn't even want.

Line items get singled out as waste because it's so much easier to do so. Any savings that can still be found in government are probably buried deep in departmental budgets, not plainly presented as a line item. I give Deval credit for issuing a restrained statement with the veto, and it will be interesting to see what kind of support he gets from the Chamber.

* Weld actually governed during the GOP high-water mark in recent times; at its apex, the Republicans had enough numbers in the State House to derail overrides.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Right state of mind

This is kind of coming off of a conversation I was having with tblade over at BMG. I'm thinking that with the right frame of mind, it's quite possible to enjoy the Bush presidency. Observe:

The American leader, who has been condemned throughout his presidency for failing to tackle climate change, ended a private meeting with the words: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."

He then punched the air while grinning widely, as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy looked on in shock.

Oh, yeah dude! Lookit him telling Frenchy how it is! You're in Geroge's world now, fool!

A chance meeting with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, became an argument about Cheney's ties to Halliburton Co., an international energy services corporation, and President Bush's judicial nominees. The exchange ended when Cheney offered some crass advice.

"Fuck yourself," said the man.

Oh, snap! We just twisted ol' man Leahy's Depends like a real mofo. Cheney don't play that Halliburton shit, so chizzeck yourself!

President Bush said Wednesday that American troops under fire in Iraq aren't about to pull out, and he challenged those tempted to attack U.S. forces, "Bring them on."

We're right here, punk, so you can bring it on all night long! We're gonna lay down the smackdown all over town! So when you're ready, come in and I'll break you! Step off!

Then Bush spotted New York Times reporter Adam Clymer, who has been with the paper since 1977..."There's Adam Clymer -- major league asshole -- from the New York Times," Bush said. "Yeah, big time," returned Cheney.

Duuude! He so told you, so why don't you go cryin' home to momma! You can't compete with the Bushdog!

To get in the proper frame of mind, I recommend a 12-pack of Bud Light and watching an hour of "extreme wrestling".

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Doin' a little design stuff

One of my main interests in Computer World is static design. I'm not much on animations, but I enjoy making little graphics (as I've done from time to time here.) I've spruced up my title logo, and Ryan over at Ryan's Take is allowing me to run a poll over at Blue Mass Group to choose between a new header for Ryan's place.

Anyhoo, if anybody else is looking for a title graphic or something similar, I'd be happy to work with them to come up with something. The service to my ideological brethren is, of course, free. Comment here, or follow up on my contact info here.

Oh, I couldn't think of a snappy slogan for the blog, so I'm open to ideas for that. Something a little sarcastic, partisan, slightly impatient but with a love for raillery.

Something worth reading on Janet Napolitano

If you're not familiar with the rather successful Democratic governor of Arizona, The American Prospect was a well-written overview of her. While I wouldn't say that she has made Arizona a Democratic state, she has found a way to preserve much of the Democratic agenda in a deeply red state. Although she hasn't talked Republican officials over to the Democratic Party, her style of governing is a bit reminiscent of Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas -- though she isn't helped by a fractured opposition the way Sebelius is.

Napolitano is a favorite of mine for many reasons, and in a just world, she'd be a powerful contender for the vice presidency. She's personally effective, has along record of executive results, and connects well with some important demographics. However, there is a persistent rumor that Governor Napolitano is a lesbian (something she says is not true), and the knuckledraggers in our country could never permit even a hint of suchness in the White House. I should note Arizona's admirable acceptance of alternative lifestyles. Not only do many Arizonans believe that Napolitano is gay while continuing to vote for her, the Grand Canyon State was the home of Rep. Jim Kolbe, a Republican Congressman who served 1985-2007, and was re-elected 4 times after "coming out". Furthermore, Arizona was the first state to reject an anti-gay popular initiative at the ballot box.

All that said, I can't imagine Napolitano gaining much traction nationally because of these rumors about her orientation (I should note that many, many voters do not believe her denials). In polls that I've seen, the only factor against a candidate more indemnifying than homosexuality is atheism. So another great talent is wasted by the prejudices of too many Americans.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Here's what you do...

I love to cook, and on occasion will post recipes for my loyal reader who actually looks at this blog during July. Here's a light, easy, healthy cook-out favorite:

Apple Yogurt Salad

3 apples (Braeburn works best, or Fuji or Gala)
1 container light, fat-free vanilla yogurt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds

Core, then dice the apples into small pieces.
In a separate bowl, combine the yogurt, cinnamon and honey. Wisk together.
Pour the mixture over the apples, and mix gently until coated.
Sprinkle with almonds.


In an attempt to rationalize their hunger to rape the environment during campaign season, desperate Republican candidates keep raising the specter of EVIL COMMUNIST* CHINA drilling for oil off the coast of Cuba. Part of the GOP's understanding, of course, is that the world's oil belongs to America, even if much of it is trapped under foreign soil. The whole "China drilling near Cuba" story is a fiction -- even Cheney admits it.

What cracks me up is some loser Republican candidate is claiming that since this story was discredited, maybe the Chinese have rushed in and started drilling off of Cuba. That's right -- the Chinese merchant marine and/or navy, which is about 15 years behind ours and is built around used hulls from the Ukraine -- snuck in over the last week and is driving into the waters off of Cuba! At this rate, it's a matter of time until the phrase "Yellow Peril" slips from the lips of some of our flailers on the right. Seriously, though:

1. The Chinese are nowhere near as omnipotent as Republicans think they are;
2. The Chinese are nowhere near as predisposed to hate the US as Republicans think they are; and
3. If 1 and 2 were as true as Republicans think, why do they insist on selling them all of America's debt?

*At this point, China is about as Communist as the Arab Republic of Egypt is a Republic.

Questions I Ask: Deval's Town Hall Tour

Deval's Back to the Roots Summer Town Hall Meeting Tour is underway. The governor is traveling around the state, listening to people. While it is true that we can contact the governor online, via email, phone, fax, or letter through his campaign website and his official website, what we need is more "listening". (Oh, there's always a good chance to see him in person, and until recently you'd do that by going out of state). I personally was disappointed with having only 11 ways to reach the governor, and I'm glad he invented this twelfth way.

But I do wonder if there's some carbon-based lifeform who could answer this question:

Who's paying for this, the government of Massachusetts or his campaign committee?

If it is the Deval Patrick Committee, at least this choreographed barnstorming tour is kind of paid for privately. Mind you, it's still true that he's using many public facilities to the cost of the town, and his security detail isn't free either. You can follow along on this campaign activity on his official website. For that matter, he's likely taking the time that should be devoted to his job for this. On the heels of the campaign-funded "Readiness Project", just how much of Deval's civic job is he attempting to shift over to his campaign apparatus, and is this thorough mixing of political and policy functions healthy for our democracy?

If it is the Government of Massachusetts, this is a disgrace. In addition to being a waste of money, the meetings are an abuse of that money. I count no fewer than eight campaign signs in this one photograph alone. All introductions thus far are being done by Democratic officials. Shouldn't the Democratic Party be paying for this activity?

In other states, the opposition party would be asking these questions. But with the morons in charge of the Mass. GOP, it falls to us. (I'm not hoping for more Republicans in the State House, necessarily, but I am hoping for more accountability in our state government.)

Update: As sco pointed out in comments, I was wrong to presume that photo was related to the a matter of fact, the photo used at politickerma is from a 2006 campaign rally. I still don't know who is paying for the other externalities of Patrick's tour, however.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Stupid Like a Fox: McCain on Social Security

Much fun is being had around the Interwebs with McCain's latest gem:

"Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed."

Well, duh, sez MyDD: "This could ruin him. As most everyone who earns a paycheck knows, young workers pay into the program, and retirees collect the benefit." No kiddin', chimes in DailyKos: "Every time McCain opens his mouth these days, he seems to be expressing either ignorance or disdain." At TPM, they just say "nonsense".

And they're right. From when Social Security was set up, the plan was for workers to pay the costs of those retired, and yes the program is functioning according to plan. If you have an understanding of the history of Social Security, his statement is foolish. Now, how many people in that large segment called voters-who-don't-blog have an understanding of the history of Social Security? The plan does sound weird...were such a program run by a private enterprise, it could be viewed as a Ponzi scheme. Would you enroll in this program were it described suchly by a salesman who came to your door?

But I'm not convinced this was a "gaffe" by McCain. As annoying as many things are that come out of politicians' mouths, I believe it is overlooked just how much cleverness and smarts it takes to get far in the field. Frankly, I don't think one tenth of political bloggers could keep it on the level so constantly as the professionals. (I particularly think of their glee when a politician on either side is caught doing a crossword puzzle or napping at some pointless policy hearing that would put any beating heart into a coma.) I'm inclined to believe that at least half the mistakes candidates make are on purpose, and I think this "slip" by McCain is one of them.

One of the sad truths about last-minute voters, who often make the difference in elections, is that they are incredibly, well, uninformed. (Christopher Hayes' article is a great read on that point.) And whether it be Obama-as-Muslim, Obama-not-sayin'-the-Pledge, or this, the Republicans are doing a great job targeting that uninformed voter. While policy wonks may get tickled at McCain's ignorance, I'd guess that twice, three times as many others are thinking "he's right, that don't make no sense." How many people are ignorant of the original setup of Social Security works? Bloggers and policy wonks are not McCain's constituency, and while he may actually be talking under our heads, he may be hitting his target audience square on.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Lousy cables

There is serial hand-wringing about how and how much to question McCain's suitability for President based on his age. I'm of the feeling that McCain's age isn't fair game -- we don't get to say that at X years, you're no longer capable of certain jobs. Bush was elected at 54 years old, and was disastrous from day one, pretty much. On the other hand, you have Warren Buffett, who is eight years older than McCain but still a man I'd trust to run this country.

But McCain's mental faculties and "connectedness" to the world are an appropriate thing to question. I don't care whether it's due to age, fatigue, or control from pod people, the fact that he can't keep straight Somalia and the Sudan -- repeatedly -- makes me wonder. It's not just a lack of knowledge, but also the ability to hold his own with other world leaders. You have leaders of Malaysia and Iran blogging, a hyper-awareness on technology from the leaders of Germany, Britain, and Japan, and we elect...a man afraid of his own computer? It is indubitably fair to question any candidate's understanding of the world around him. A technophobe who confuses disparate African countries, and can't keep Sunni and Shia straight, shouldn't be president whether he's 35 or twice that.

If a 40 year old candidate groused about "the cables" like this, I'd worry...

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

Though as flawed as any human enterprise, a day to celebrate the country that has been the greatest force for freedom and human dignity the world has ever known. Thoughts for all those working to ensure that force grows and strengthens, whether at home or serving around the world.

Since our last July Fourth, the Republic of Kosovo has come into the cherished gift of's hoping they use it well.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Americans worried about education. Media, not so much

Interesting piece via is the top priority, as in more than Iraq or the economy, for young African-American adults. Education is appearing in the top three issues for general election voters as well. We can expect a plethora of debate questions and media coverage on education plans to match examinations of gas prices, mortgages, and Iraq policies soon on the campaign trail.

Haha...just kidding. The media doesn't "do" education. Over some 20 primary debates between Democrats, one questioner mentioned education once.

Snapshot o' the blog...

Courtesy of

Have an awesome Fourth, everybody...

On the other hand...

...the money that was destined for Obama's campaign is now available to deserving folks such as Americans United, Ed O'Reilly, and Mark Begich. So it all works out.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Recycling myself

I used this line elsewhere, but I wanted to put it here:

I expected the Democratic nominee to glide toward the center after winning the nomination. What I didn't foresee was him sprinting from the left, stumbling over the center, and pratfalling onto the right wing.

A thought on the whole Clark-Obama thing

Reflecting on the imbroglio about Clark's critique of McCain, and Obama's quick abandonment thereof, I think that not all actors are being taken into account. To wit, the fourth actor in this whole drama -- the media.

I've read elsewhere (including here) the theory that the Obama campaign hoped for a quick end to the whole patriotism argument with a quick comment. Bob over on BMG sharply points out that in his speech about race, Obama stated a desire to move past these types of ticky-tack discussions. And for the most part, during the Primary he was able. I can agree that Hope Central felt that a quick denunciation would not only eliminate Clark from VP contention, but put this debate back into a bottle right quick.

However, what has changed recently is Obama's opponent -- and the media's feelings there toward. The media was constantly willing to abet Obama in completing his strategy, due to their fondness for him, and their unquenchable hatred for all things Clinton. Obama quite ably directed the media during the primary campaign, and the media quite ably obeyed. However, now he's facing McCain, the Man the Media Built. This vestigal loyalty (somewhat thin due to McCain's weak poll numbers) keeps the media from too enthusiastically obeying Obama's directives.

Also, Obama was earlier seeking to close out debates on race and gender, two arguments with which the media is still manifestly uncomfortable. Most pundits don't like talking about such things lest they make a mistake and lose the respect of other pundits. Plus, the obstacles proffered by Hillary's gender versus those offered by Obama's race was a minefield without a correct answer of standard response. Thinking, risky journalism simply isn't in the interests of Punditocracy, Icnc.

However, patriotism is a subject they love to debate, partially because the script is already written: Republicans have it, Democrats not really. Asking the media to stop questioning a Democrat's patriotism and respect for the military is like asking a 6-year-old not to see her favorite movie over and over.

If Obama's campaign is honest with itself, it will accept that they won't have the media on their side from now on, and will adjust strategy accordingly. Hopefully this week will be filed under "learned it the hard way".

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Obama announces today that Bush's religious bigotry and assault on the Constitution doesn't go far enough for his liking:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans to expand President Bush's program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and - in a move sure to cause controversy - support some ability to hire and fire based on faith. He also only supports letting religious institutions hire and fire based on faith in the non-taxpayer funded portions of their activities.

This is a man who declared in his 2004 marquee speech that "we worship an 'awesome God' in the Blue States." This is a man who in 2006 called on "liberals" to inject their religion into their politics and policies. A man who expanded on this chastisement in his early books. This is a man who pridefully recounted his recent "endorsement" of the most prurient and reactionary evangelical leaders of the country.

Obama has chosen a side in the question of separating church and state. People who are not affiliated with a religion (for practical purposes, that means Christianity) -- about one quarter of the nation's population -- are inferior. We should be overrun in national conversation, and our tax dollars should reward groups that assault those who don't share our beliefs. Obama wants to use our money to help other people bribe others into thinking differently than us.

I am proud to be a secularist. It hasn't made my personal life easy, but the truth rarely makes things easy. And I cannot countenance the idea of a president who sneers at those who share my beliefs -- and works to undermine them.

I will be proud not to vote for Obama this November. At this point, I'm not even sure I want him to win.