Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Living History

Maybe we're all overblowing this, but it's hard to escape the sense that we are all sitting on the fault line, shaken by the perhaps the largest economic discontinuity in history. It may not be the most catastrophic--I think there's reason to believe our economic and civil institutions are more robust than in 1929--but certainly the largest. And it won't just be an economic discontinuity. I believe it may very well mark a major political realignment.

There is now pretty good polling data to demonstrate that, at least for the time being, Americans are overwhelmingly laying the blame for the banking meltdown at the feet of the GOP. And by GOP, read "market conservatives." And that blame is well-laid, I think, because, of course, "market conservatives" have been anything but since the sainted Ronald Reagan. Reagan began an era of aggressive deregulation, delirious deficit spending and regressive taxation that reached a vicious and insane crescendo during the Bush presidency. Progressives, like myself, have been waiting for almost thirty years for the other shoe to drop.

Given the poll numbers I linked to above, not to mention Barack Obama's current command of the electoral college, it looks like Democrats will have to clean up the mess, as they did under FDR. No candidate entering October with a lead in the polls has lost since 1960, with the exception of Carter, who was arguably an outlier because of a fresh military fiasco in Iran and a post Oct-1 debate. And so the economic discontinuity triggers a political discontinuity, as it must.

But I wouldn't look to a return of FDR. What we see will be something...different. Oh, sure, on the surface, it will have some similarities to the New Deal. I, for one, don't believe that Obama, a man who must be acutely aware of his place in history, will allow a gazillion-dollar tab for the bailout to clip his wings. I think he'll double down, and invest in technology, infrastructure, education and health care to a degree that will make techno-progressives swoon and paleoconservatives pop aneurysms like a child pops bubble-wrap.

But there'll be more to it than that. There'll be a new regime of regulation and government involvement in the economy--government investment in the economy. I just don't see how Congress, short of a full-scale and catastrophic Republican mutiny, can seal this breach without buying up huge amounts of equity in banks and mortgages. The government is going to be a shareholder--which means we'll all be shareholders. "The last nail in Ronald Reagan's coffin," as some GOP congressman put it. Aye, and good riddance, I say.

What kind of New New Deal will Obama and a Democratic Congress shape from this catastrophe? I don't know, because they don't know, and there'll be more than a little of Making It Up As They Go Along involved.

The biggest implication for what we're living through right now may be this: the greatest economic discontinuity in human history is taking place contemporaneously with the biggest ecological discontinuity--global climate change, loss of habitat, and a global mass extinction event. Will the shape of what emerges from the meltdown and the new ascendancy of progressivism (if, in fact, it materializes) be for the good or ill of our species and world?

Who the fuck knows? Fasten your seatbelts, because right now we're flying dead stick.

America, Religion and the Debates

So, you thought you didn't hear anything about religion at the first debate? Wrong. Check out this fascinating post by Bill Bishop over at Slate.

Among other things, this just underlies my ever
-growing conviction that old divides may scar over, but they never really go away. Look at the last few electoral college maps, and then look at the Civil War.

Or, if you really want an object lesson in how long historical patterns can persist, look at the full extent of the Roman Empire:

....then look at Cold War Europe:

Historical and cultural divides, once established, really tend to persist.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I Knew It!

That hypercircumcised peckerhead Steve Schmidt (McCain campaign manager) is on Meet the Press claiming that McCain engineered the bailout package. What a piece of shit.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Conspicuous by His Absence

Bunch of old white people just got up in front of some cameras on the hill to announce the largest government spewage of cash in history. Don't know what the details are yet, but everybody showed up to crow about a resolution. Pelosi, Frank, Paulson, Shumer, Blunt, everybody.

Everybody, that is, except John McCain. I've been concerned that McCain would try to take credit for whatever emerged and crow that his leadership (the Chinese fire drill of the last few days) was what made it happen. But he's nowhere to be seen, and his name was not mentioned. Indeed, it seems that if anybody got credit for the breakthrough, it was Pelosi.

Debate One: Tie Goes to Obama

I've been MIA again, yes I know, and despite my promises to the contrary. For all two of you who might drop in on this from time to time, my apologies. I don't know what to do except just pick up where I left off.

Political junkie that I am, I was up all night watching the pregame, the debate, and the postmortem. (I'm working a shift next week, the killer Mod 4, 1PM to post-midnight, please-fuck-me-deeper-harder shift, so I'll have to catch Biden-v-Bambi on TiVo). Bottom line: both men missed opportunities, and it ended in a draw. And a draw goes to Obama.

But that's understating it a bit, isn't it? This was, nominally at least, the foreign policy debate, and it was the last bar for Obama to hurdle in the Can-He-Be-CiC department. McCain, conversely, really, really needed to show the country that Obama was unqualified to be Commander in Chief.

That's right, he needed to show it. Not tell it. This is a critical distinction for people who write, say, science fiction and other less noble forms of literature. "Show, don't tell," is a key mantra in the liturgy of the effective storyteller. McCain kept telling us that Obama "doesn't understand." At the same time Obama kept showing us that, well, yeah, he does understand foreign policy, maybe even better than John "Bomb Iran" McCain. During the foreign policy debate he was able to fluidly spout enough facts to give voters the impression he knew what he was talking about, look more hawkish on killing Bin Laden than McCain, and appear reasonable, cautious and presidential.

Obama didn't just demonstrate his own fluency in fp, he was also able to go after McCain. Obama's litany of "you told us x about Iraq, and you were wrong" was one of the top sound bites of the night.
But he got as good as he gave. To my eye, Obama clearly lost the exchange over diplomacy--even though any thinking voter has to conclude he's right on the issue, McCain had the upper hand on the quip-o-meter at the end of this skirmish. But overall, Obama impressed me on the foreign policy side of the debate, and should have easily cleared the CiC bar with most voters. That's a triumph, and a major missed opportunity for McCain.

On the economic end of the debate, McCain fared better, but only in a negative sense, by steering the discussion away from the meltdown-bailout issue to his obsession with earmarks and spending. That kept Obama from connecting as fully as he wanted to with bread-and-butter issues--but it kept McCain away from the kitchen table, too. In fact, while Obama took as many opportunities as he could to talk about working Americans and the middle class, McCain never uttered the words--an "issue" that's getting plenty of attention on the airwaves, blogs and campaign trail today. Obama looked Too Cool for School on this front end of the debate, when he needed to be warmer and less professorial. Cool is great for the fp debate, and he had it there, but on the economy Obama needs more of that old Clinton bite the lip and feel your pain. He didn't have it. So the economy debate goes, marginally to McCain, for keeping O off his game. But it's a pyrrhic victory. And Obama has two more chances to wrangle Mac on the economy. My guess is the Professor won't make the same mistakes next time.

Before I went to bed, the insta-polls all seemed to be giving the debate to Obama, and by much larger margins than I would have guessed. On points, I thought it was a tie, or maybe McCain, although on style I thought it was all Obama. Obama was dignified, articulate, engaging, relaxed, commanding and, well, presidential. McCain was scrunched-up, prickly, snarky, and refused to look at his opponent, which seems to have given many viewers (including this one) the impression that debating this upstart was somehow beneath him. Doesn't play. Still, a 15-point spread in the insta-polls and focus groups for Obama? I have to think that this is a gmisch of sampling bias (probably 2-5 points right there) and low expectations for Obama on the foreign policy end.

Bottom line: neither guy self-immolated or knocked out the other. And that's a good night for Obama, if not a great one.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Open Mike Night: Political Commentators Caught Doing Political Commentary

Chuck Todd thought he was cutting to some governor. Oops. Instead, he and his round-table, including conservative commentator Peggy Noonan and former McCainiac Mike Murphy, got caught on an open mike, unwittingly telling the world what they really think. Below the clip there's a transcipt, courtesy of my new heroes LAT and Andy on the discussion board at Five Thirty-Eight. This is priceless.

Noonan: [Can't hear since Todd (who is still on air) is talking over her]

Murphy: Um, you know, because, I come out of the blue swing state governor world. Engler, Whitman, Tommy Thompson, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, I mean, and these guys, this is all how you win a Texas race, just run it up, and it's not gonna work.

Noonan: It's Over.

Murphy: Still, McCain can give a version of the Lieberman speech and do himself some good.

Todd: [can't really tell what he says, but he mentions something about "insulting to Kay Baily Hutchinson]

Noonan: [says something I can't understand]

Todd: She's never looked comfortable up there..

Murphy: Oh, fuck that.

Todd: I mean, is she really the most qualified woman they can obtain?

Noonan: The most qualified? No. I think they went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives...[couldn't hear the end of it]

Todd: Yeah, but what's a narrative?

Murphy: I totally agree.

Noonan: Every time Republicans do that, because that's not where they live and it's not what they're good at, they blow it.

Murphy: You know what's the worst thing about it, the greatest of McCain is no cynicism, and..

Murphy and Todd together: This is cynical.

Todd: And as you called it, gimmicky.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sarah Palin, Secessionist

Below is a video of GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin addressing the convention.

No, not the GOP convention. The AIP convention.

The Alaska Independence Party was founded in the seventies by Joe Vogler, who argued that the referendum that brought Alaska into the Union was unlawful, and that Alaska could and should secede from the United States. Volger died in 1993, and his last wish was that he be buried in Canada, rather than under American rule. The party has remained a player in Alaska politics, and many elements within the party continue to espouse secession. They've also toyed with the idea of becoming part of Canada. The party's website features this prominent quote from Vogler:

"I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America or her damned institutions."

This is the party to which Palin belonged in the 90s, with whom she still cultivates good relations, and whose convention Palin is addressing from the Governor's Office, telling them to "keep up the good work."

Talk about Country First.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Hero No More

I've seen any number of conservative shills try to make lemonade out of the catastrophically irresponsible selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate by John McCain, by casting it as a gutsy move, doing what Obama didn't have the courage to do--putting a woman on the ticket.

Bullshit. There's nothing ballsy about the selection of Sarah Palin. Quite the opposite. It was rank cowardice.

By all accounts, McCain was looking at a number of Midwestern GOP governors for the VP slot. But he was particularly inclined to tap indpendent Joe Lieberman. But as Lieberman--a bold, courageous and potentially game-changing choice--seemed more possible, religious conservatives and none other than Karl Rove began the arm-twisting. There was talk of a floor fight.

And so McCain relented, and went down yet another notch in my estimation. Then he descended even further when, in a desperate and flagrant pander, he tapped a dangerously unprepared neophyte to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

So it boils down to this:

The Hanoi Hilton couldn't break John McCain.

But Karl Rove did.

I'm Back...

It's been a crazy month, but a good one--long hours in the lab, and lots of kerfluffle to take care of.

In the lab, it's been eventful. We've ditched our implantable "Refrig-a-RAT-or" and developed a "Cool Suit" for our hypothermia model. Our focal ischemia model is coming together in preparation for the ISIS-funded investigation of our combination therapy approach.

And...we had another paper accepted! More on this later.