Wednesday, November 26, 2008


We're into transition time and the left is mystified as to why Obama isn't picking liberal progressives, and the right is saying that the Dem establishment is the liberal/progressive pick is claiming he's just another Washington politician.


He's doing exactly what he said he'd do, keeping centrist. Despite the campaign hype, he's not a communist and not going to impose every left-wing fantasy upon us. If you read his position papers, you'd know that. Why are both sides acting surprised?

Time they both figured out that the so-called "silent majority" might just be (cue scare music) . . . moderate.

Okay, Here's a Test has a decent civics test up on its site. Unfortunately, the public doesn't do so well:
ISI crafted a study to measure the independent impact of college on the acquisition and maintenance of civic literacy over a lifetime. First, a random sample of 2,508 American adults of all backgrounds was surveyed, allowing comparisons to be made between the college and non-college educated. They were asked 33 straightforward civics questions, many of which high school graduates and new citizens are expected to know. Respondents were also asked several questions concerning their participation in American civic life, their attitudes about perennial issues of American governance, and other behaviors that may or may not contribute to civic literacy. Finally, the results were run through multivariate regression analysis, allowing ISI to compare the civic impact of college with that of other societal factors.

Seventy-one percent of Americans fail the test, with an overall average score of 49%.

  • Liberals score 49%; conservatives score 48%. Republicans score 52%; Democrats score 45%.

  • Fewer than half of all Americans can name all three branches of government, a minimal requirement for understanding America’s constitutional system.

My score:

So what's yours?

Side note: some of this ain't civics, some of it is political theory. For example, they ask a question about what the government should do in a recession (raise or lower taxes, raise or lower spending). That's economics, and it's dependent upon the causes of the recession and which economic theory you espouse. So there's a bit of a bias.

Side note #2 - SPOILER ALERT, TAKE THE TEST BEFORE READING IF YOU'RE GOING TO TAKE IT AT ALL: D says questions are changing between when he took it (He got 100%. Toldja he's smarter than I am.) and when I took it, as bloggers are calling the site out on nuances. (Question #9 specifically had originally included "levy income taxes" as its "B" choice instead of "make zoning laws" and both are powers granted to the U.S. federal government by the Constitution. As the commenter I linked said: Perhaps they're making some distinction between the original Constitution and the current version as amended (the power to levy income taxes was granted by amendment), but Amendments are properly part of "the Constitution".tax question, and was wrong. So given some inherent bias in the questions, and the fact that the questions are evolving, it appears it is not exactly scientific. But it's subtle enough and it's a good enough idea to know this stuff that I endorse it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Odds and Ends

I'm experimenting with acquiring a cat. The dog seems happy, something else to play with. The cat. . . well, it's getting better. She misses the other cats in the barn where she lived until I rudely took her home in her very first car ride. She still hides much of the day. But she uses her litterbox - 100% yesterday - and is becoming a little more bold. As for the dog, she's not liking it. It's a good thing she has all her claws. However, she doesn't choose to inflict any real damage and she seems more willing to tolerate being constantly sniffed. Funny moment: Dog and cat in face-off in hallway. Dog picks up rope and tries to get cat to play tug of war. Cat looks at dog with total "WTF are you doing? I'm a CAT!" look on her face.

Car update: still dead. Mechanic 1 says my timing belt snapped and he can't fix it, so I should call Mechanic 2 in the next town over. Mechanic 2 says I don't have a timing belt, I have a timing chain and get it over to him so he can figure out what's really wrong, he suspects it's a fuel issue. Tells me if Mechanic 1 wants to charge me more than $65 to tow it over, I should call him and he'll go get it instead. Arranged for the tow with Mechanic 1 for $65, plus he knocked half off the tow into the garage since it was pointless. I feel pretty good about Mechanic 2, though I'm always very nervous using people I don't know. Waiting to hear the verdict, using D's jeep in the meantime.

Computer update: Kmacis is very kindly working on it - he's eliminated the new hard-drive we installed six months ago, and eliminated one memory card. We're down to another memory card, which is apparently hidden somewhere and he has to disassemble more to find it (it may be in the motherboard itself), or the motherboard. I'm pricing new computers. Dammit. I'm also trying to work efficiently without any of my shortcuts or toolbars and with more printer issues - the computer finds the printer, but not the scanner. Odd.

CCD again last night (Catholic class). It's odd to me that there's no agenda, nothing I have to have accomplished by the end of the year. So it's totally organic. Last night we went from reading the story about the manna in the desert to them asking me what exactly is the separation of church and state and why do we have it, what the difference is between the Catholic and Protestant bibles. We also somehow diverged into doctrinal issues and things like the old "name it and claim it" issue, and I happened to mention Janis Joplin's song, Mercedes Benz. They'd never heard of Woodstock. Last week, we were talking about gay marriage and whether the government should ban it, and what the church's role should and could be. That makes it sound like a reasoned debate, but remember, they're 8th-graders. So it was more one person asking a question, and I try to answer it while three side conversations are going on, and then somebody blurts out another point, and I shut them up long enough to get something out. Like herding cats. I suppose if I were any better at this, it would look like a reasoned debate. Oh, well. At least we're having the conversations and I was never trained in this stuff anyway.

I should post something intelligent about the news of the day, but I'm too wrapped up in the little crap today. If you want it, you know where the news sites are.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Everything I Touch . . .

The computer thing? That's turning out to be a hardware problem. Either memory or the motherboard, the jury's still out. Greeeaaat. I'm borrowing D's old laptop and trying to cobble together my stuff on it enough to function.

I hadn't posted Monday about running out of gas, 'cause a) it's embarassing, and b) it's not important. Unless you find out Tuesday that your car dies even with a full tank of gas. You're cruising down the road and all of a sudden your speedometer is going down. I'm speculating it's either battery related or electrical, but it was the same damn thing. Good news: I was not wrong about the amount of gas left. Bad news: my car's dead. So I get to try to work in arranging repairs around my morning hearings. Woo hoo. (Read last with a sarcasm drip).

Fair warning - keep all your expensive gadgets a safe distance from me. I apparently cannot be trusted, and give off some kind of aura of electrical screwed-upness that is contagious. I'm praying for my cell phone.

Monday, November 10, 2008

More computer fun

So I went out and bought an external cd/dvd drive so I could use my XP startup disc to fix the boot problems, meanwhile I got the computer running enough (every now and again it booted instead of going into an eternal start/shutdown loop) to backup my documents and the programs file to an external hard drive. I'd had to reinstall the software to run that hard drive, since I hadn't used it in a while. I'd had a mirror copy of my c: drive on it, but I don't want to copy the whole damn thing over, just my documents and a list of my program files in case I have to reinstall everything - I've got a few cool freeware apps I'd found on the net a year ago that really make work more efficient and even if the backup copies don't work, I'll still have the list of programs so I can google them and reinstall them if the worst happens.

I get that done, then break out the XP disc and go into repair. It's not working well, and I figure out that the mirror copy of the c: drive on the external is throwing it for a loop. So I unplug the extra hard drive and try again. Nope. Everytime I get to a certain point in the repair I get the blue screen of death. Interestingly, however, the computer itself is now booting up just fine when I restart after the blue screen. Weird. Very weird. I know there's still an error there - I'd done a chkdsk, and you don't get the blue screen of death for nothing. But when I boot up without the XP disk in the external CD, there's no issues.

Then I notice, on the third go-round with the blue screen, that there's a reference to a USB device on the blue screen. I don't have either the printer or the external hard drive plugged in, so the only USB device connected with the thing at the moment is the CD drive that's running the recovery. Okay, I didn't want to push it by installing the new version of NERO that came with that device on top of everything else, so perhaps I need to do that. Or should I simply ignore the boot problem for now, since it doesn't seem to be a problem that's recurring and I've had to restart the damn thing at least six times, and focus instead on finishing a clean uninstall/reinstall of the printer, then install the new NERO software to run the external CD, and then use the XP disc to do another chkdsk and repair any problems? Or should I just say to hell with it and remove and reinstall everything clean now that I've got my stuff backed up? Decisions, decisions. I've now worked on this all day Friday, some Saturday, several hours on Sunday, and since I got up this morning.

It would certainly help if I had a better handle on the problem. I've got too many factors to work with. I also should've (hindsight) simply uninstalled the printer in the first place instead of messing around with the Norton GoBack. It seemed logical at the time, just take the computer back a couple of hours to before the update. But it's put a glitch in the system that I can't seem to isolate and is very, very weird. I mean, usually if you can't boot, you can't boot. It's not like you can't boot ten times and then suddenly it comes up fine. And then after messing around with backups and trying to uninstall and reinstall the printer (something that causes freeze-ups every time but only if you choose the "wireless" option, and still hasn't fixed the spooling error so I'm uninstalling it again) it suddenly boots okay. Unless you boot from disc and choose the "repair" option, in which case you get the blue screen of death.

I'm going to keep working at, but any suggestions are very welcome. I'd like to be able to get some actual work done today. It's a goal.

UPDATE: I decided the first logical place to start was to remove the printer entirely. Did so. And the boot loop returned. So I've isolated that the update on the printer must've altered the boot somehow to the point that if the printer's removed the boot loop occurs. This with an HP notebook and an HP printer. Hmm.

Went to "last known good configuration" and it started on the second loop. Tried installing the DVD/CD info, with a thought to getting those glitches fixed and then trying again on the repair from the XP boot disc. Unable to get a good install. Another try at just booting from the disc anyway and repairing - another blue screen of death. I'm coming to the conclusion I may have to uninstall and reinstall. And then download all the service packs. And then reinstall any add-ons. And copy back my documents. Then redo my settings. &^$^*&%#@#@!!!!

UPDATE UPDATE: Now it doesn't want to let me uninstall. Booting from disc to go through it's uninstall/reinstall or repair routine won't work, because it bluescreens me. Trying to let windows boot up, then running "setup.exe" from the disc doesn't work because it pulls up a polite little window declining my request to start the install program as my version of windows is newer than the disc version, from which there are no options available but to click exit. Restarting in safe mode with c: command prompt and using the C:\windows\system32\osuninst.exe command says I can't uninstall because there is a problem with the registry. Well, no shit Sherlock, that might be why I want to uninstall the damn thing? Kmacis - any suggestions? I don't want to call you at work about this. Meanwhile, I'm going to play around with booting from disc some more. If I can just avoid the blue screen of death. . . .

Nope. No avoiding it. I've now removed many programs via the windows installer cleanup route, but not even that has reduced the glitch rate, so I'm giving up on trying to somehow avoid the blue screen as it appears every single time. I've also now tried starting in safe mode with command prompt, and directing it to "format c:" After going through all the "are you sure?" language, it tells me it's in use, so I can't. So I did a change directory to d: and tried it from there. Same deal. Oh, it teases me with the idea that undocking C: might do it, but when I instruct it to force an undocking, it says it can't.

To sum: I can't start or do anything via the XP disc, 'cause I get blue screened. I can't go into windows and use the XP disc to install 'cause my version is newer than the disc's (which used to let you uninstall the newer version and go back, but I guess XP stopped allowing that. Nazis.) So far neither removing the OS nor reformatting C: from the command prompt has worked. WTF? Microsoft really doesn't want you uninstalling it's shit, does it? I've debated uninstalling each update via windows in the Add/Remove programs window, thus theoretically making my copy no newer than the discs and maybe the disc will then let me install and hopefully uninstall. But perusing the add/remove it seems to indicate some of the updates can't be removed. Oh, and I don't have a system recovery disc, just the original XP disc, so I don't think I can go that route. And clicking on system restore under administrative tools just gets me a bunch of error codes. I'm totally running out of ideas here and debating just grabbing a really big magnet and running it over the damn hard drive. The only thing stopping me is that I presume it would make matters worse.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Long Brain-Dump Politics as a Religion

As I've said before, one of the things that drove me nuts about this election was that many sites went beyond advocating positions and issues to create a religious movement of sorts - any disagreement with the party was considered heresy, any critique of party leaders was considered grounds for expulsion. At the time, I called it out more on the right than the left, because they had this whole Obama as Messiah message going, when they were doing the same damn thing. Hypocracy annoys me.

In retrospect, it seems to a centrist like me that parties are becoming all about the slippery slope and straw man fallacies. If you allow some economic regulations today, you will wake up tomorrow in the equivalent of a Communist regime. If you allow a carefully crafted ban on partial birth abortion today, even with life and health exceptions, you'll wake up tomorrow without any ability to access birth control. If we even talk about pulling troops from Iraq, terrorists will count it a win and come dive-bomb our cities at will. If we allow limited drilling on American shores or allow any encroachment into the territory of an endangered species, the entire ecosystem will collapse immediately. Allow a ban on certain assault rifles today, and by tomorrow owning any kind of firearm will be completely illegal. And both sides can point to at least one fringe person who holds the extreme position and say, "See? That's whose going to win control of our lives if we give one single inch to the enemy." Not only that, but we're generally equating our positions with ethereal concepts that provoke a viceral reaction. In the examples above, both pro-choice advocates and pro-gun advocates will tell you it's all about freedom, and they will fight for their freedom until their last dying breath.

May I suggest that perhaps it's time to take a step back?

Basic problems exist with both slippery slope and straw man arguments:
As an example of how an appealing slippery slope argument can be unsound, suppose that whenever a tree falls down, it has a 95% chance of knocking over another tree. We might conclude that soon a great many trees would fall, but this is not the case. There is a 5% chance that no more trees will fall, a 4.75% chance that exactly one more tree will fall (and thus a 9.75% chance of 1 or less additional trees falling), and so on. There is a 92.3% chance that 50 or fewer additional trees will fall. The expected value of trees that will fall is 20. In the absence of some momentum factor that makes later trees more likely to fall than earlier ones, this "domino effect" approaches zero probability.

Arguers also often link the slippery slope fallacy to the straw man fallacy in order to attack the initial position:

A has occurred (or will or might occur); therefore
B will inevitably happen. (slippery slope)
B is wrong; therefore
A is wrong. (straw man)
This form of argument often provides evaluative judgments on social change: once an exception is made to some rule, nothing will hold back further, more egregious exceptions to that rule.

These arguments are also the fuel for what I'm coming to understand as the Politics of Fear. By that, I mean the tendency for a candidate or a party to spend little or no time articulating what they actually stand for, instead focusing on what they're against. It's the essence of negative campaigning, painting the opposition as the Scary Other. And I believe it's losing ground in the current political atmosphere. If I'm reading it right, people are getting tired of being afraid. They want something to believe in, not just something to be against. Look at the huge reaction to Obama. Yes, if you're not for him, it's annoying and you're pretty much thinking that the kool-aid drinkers are going to get their wake-up call soon. But what's really driving it, and why didn't the McCain warnings work? It's that "Change you can believe in" thing, guys. People are honestly hoping we can focus on doing something right, not just be afraid of doing something wrong. If they screw it up badly, there could be a rebound that will allow the negative focus to resonate in 2012. But I'm actually hoping not.

Here's a bright spot I've seen. This post on Crooks and Liars is awesome:
I want to take Obama at his word, and make C&L possibly the first leftwing blog to actually try to WELCOME our conservative readers. To all our conservative readers, I’d like to know your thoughts about being a conservative, how your life has changed under Bush, what your hopes for the future are with Obama, how you think liberals could help reach out to conservatives (and vice versa) to help heal the huge gapping rift between us without either side having to sacrificing their opinions or principles. I really want to do exactly what I've been hammering on about over the past couple of years, find common ground to foster healthy debate over differing opinions.

Because something I witnessed truly moved me –I watched McCain’s concession speech, and was saddened by the booing when he congratulated Obama, called him a good man, and looked forward to supporting him as our President.

When I then watched Obama’s victory speech, I was moved by his praise for McCain, calling for unity, to be seen as a president for all the people, both on the right and the left… and by the crowd cheering in response to those words, many in tears of joy and gratitude.

And I’m not the only liberal to miss spirited debate with those conservatives still valiantly defending the reality based community, such as Gergen, Powell, Christopher Buckley and the like.
'There was a time when conservatives were, in my opinion, wrong about everything, but you could interpret facts differently from then and be right without necessarily dismissing them as insane. I really hope we can get back to that kind of honest debate. It was intoxicating.’

Right on, Blue Gal.

So I’m calling on my fellow liberals at C&L to take our President-elect at his word. I want C&L to be the first progressive blogsite to do what needs to be done – reach out to those conservatives who share more of our values than not; to welcome them to a forum of honest, and respectful debate; to share their hopes and dreams and ideas with us so we can make America a better place to live for all of us.

Exactly correlates with my thoughts, and here's why: I went into law school with a set of ideologies. I was put in classrooms with people who were all intelligent enough to get into such a highly competitive program, with a professor who knew the subject and whose job it was to teach us to think. We were not allowed to rant and chant slogans, we had to talk precedent and policy. What works? What doesn't? What are the risks in going this direction? Has this been tried before? Can the government do this? Should they be able to? What's the danger, what's the gain? In being forced to articulate and defend a position, I got to know my positions better. They changed, in light of some very good arguments on the other side. And I started to realize that the point is not to cling to dogma, the point is to look at it all intelligently and fashion a system that works.

When we retreat into our ideological enclaves and fail to engage the other side in actual debate, not just flame wars, we miss out on the opportunity to find the best solution. Our government is built on balancing powers, the individual versus the state, the courts versus the congress. Too much laissez-faire policy in the economic system and we get a bad outcome - children working in London sweatshops in the 1800's, and the tainted sausages memorialized in The Jungle. Too much regulation, and we get China after the revolution, putting professors into the fields to plow. Yet every regulation doesn't necessarily end in communism, and lifting any one of them doesn't mean we're heading back to the Jungle. It's a balance. What works best now? What are the potential dangers? How can we mitigate the dangers while exploiting the benefits? Where are our checks and balances? What if the checks and balances go out of whack? That's something to look at, on both sides. Another example: health care. I recall McCain warning that Obama's health care plan was socialization, that it would invest the Government with the right to choose your health care whereas his would leave these decisions between you and your doctor. Obama's proponents dismissed this, saying it would simply give you access to the same plan that Congress has. Now, I'm seeing this: article in the NY Times: Court Blocks White House Push on Medical Expenses.
A federal court has blocked the Bush administration’s effort to save money on Medicare by paying for only the least expensive treatments for particular conditions.

. . .

Congress set forth the touchstone for Medicare coverage in a 1965 law that created the program. The law generally prohibits payment for items and services that are “not reasonable and necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of illness or injury, or to improve the functioning of a malformed body member.”

If an item is covered, the payment rate is specified in other parts of the law.

The Bush administration argued that Medicare officials had the right to decide whether the expense incurred for a given item, not just the item itself, was “reasonable and necessary.”

Okay, I'm pretty sure McCain wasn't warning us that "If you get on Obama's plan, then those politicians like me who want to cut the pork out of all government spending will attempt to ensure that you get the absolute cheapest care whether it's the best care for you or not." And I'm pretty sure Obama didn't dwell on this as a potential side effect of opening a government healthcare plan to the public, he's too busy pushing the idea. Further, I'm pretty sure that if they make sure that the public has the exact same plan as Congress rather than some sub-category, Congress' own self-interest will weigh against the idea of mandating the cheapest care even if contraindicated by the medical community. However, it's only by examining all sides of that issue and being willing to critique both parties that you even see this particular danger, and note the solution to keeping it in check.

In a conversation I've had recently, the issue came up of whether this was even possible. It was with an Obama supporter, who felt that McCain supporters would not feel comfortable sharing their views: If they are afraid of Obama's supporters/former connections as being too radical, and they know that the person they're talking to is a supporter - and thus either doesn't see or doesn't care about the radicalism that they feel is so crucial to their own fear/rejection of him as a leader - wouldn't they feel any real dialogue is pointless because the Obama side just doesn't get it? And conversely, if the Obama person believes the McCain supporter doesn't see that these connections are not the threat that they're making them out to be, wouldn't they too feel it's pointless to talk? Isn't there just too much hostility on both sides? But that's where the law school analogy comes back in. There is this thing called the socratic method, which is normally associated with horrid grilling a la The Paper Chase, but is actually very effective if done in a non-judgmental way. Say you're the Obama supporter, and you're trying to engage the McCain supporter in dialogue and you run up against the Reverend Wright thing. You are dismissive of it, believing it's no different from some of America is being Damned speeches given out in the past by the likes of Pat Robertson. They feel it's essentially hate speech against America and shows a fundamental disdain for who we are as a nation and their own most cherished beliefs. What you have here is a failure to communicate. Instead of lecturing on how it doesn't matter or trying to make your point, ask questions and listen, nonjudgmentally: What most concerns you about Obama's connections with Wright? What about Wright's statements most concern you? How do you feel that's qualitatively different from some of the more mainstream preachers? How do you feel it's different than when we all hear our own churches preach something we don't agree with? The idea is that it becomes a "teachable moment" for both sides, instead of a vitriolic screamfest. Each may learn something about the other's POV - perhaps there's something in the other person's background that makes their position more understandable. For example, I have a large exposure to very rabid hate speech that was espoused by charismatic-style churches, so I tend very much to identify Wright's statements as being of the same ilk. Someone who has never attended one of those churches, and has only known churches where preachers discuss theology rather than current events, may be much more shocked by Wright's statements than I. I also have experience now in going to Catholic church and hearing an official position that I don't always agree with, yet attending the church anyway. That is also foreign to some, and they may not understand how I can morally make that decision to take the good and leave the rest. Those are just some examples, but it's that level of personal experience that can make two rational, thinking people look at the same scenario and have very real, very different viceral reactions to it. But if you don't take the time to understand, and to be non-judgmental in your questions, you never find out about those things.

Take as another example the big government/small government dichotomy. There may be a level of personal experience at play - a relative who never took personal responsibility for their own mess until they were forced to, and a projection of that example onto all government aid recipients. I'm fairly sure that's what's going on with Joe the Plumber - he's been called out on the fact he has been on food stamps in the past, and justifies that as he's paid back into the system on taxes. Yet he fails to make the connection that this is how the system is supposed to work, and is very much against that system. So I speculate: who does he know that didn't pay back, that he felt took advantage of the system far beyond what they should have? Himself? A close relative? A friend of a friend? Who pops in his mind as the someone his hypothetical additional tax dollars should he ever make $200,000 will be supporting that will never straighten themselves out, or won't until they can't get a "hand out" anymore? Why does he reject the idea of the system altogether instead of simply tweaking the system to fix the specific issues? I wouldn't know if I never asked. I may be utterly wrong, it may be no one. But again, you have to ask. Only then can the sides be examined to see if there is a flaw in the reasoning, or an error in the data.

Caveat: some people cannot be engaged, because they have invested their own self-identity into these beliefs. Some examples: Some people who have had an abortion may be unable to ever consider the idea that abortion in any form is wrong, because to do so (to them) is to admit the possibility that what they did was wrong and they can't go there in their mind. Doesn't matter if what's being discussed is actually analagous to their situation, anything about the issue is personal to them. Some eople who have overcome a serious problem - poverty, addiction, etc., can become more intransigent when discussing these issues because they have so much invested in what worked for them, and so much personal self-identity caught up in being proud of their transformation that counteracts and allows them to suppress the residual guilt or shame about having been an addict. I'm not saying it well, but it's the "I was strong, I got out, I am different, they need to do what I did, I know them and I know they're no good or lying or just too damn lazy 'cause that's why I didn't get out sooner" type of thing. It's too personal. Likewise, someone who feels that finding religion changed their lives and believes that it is only by undergoing as similar transformation can anyone else truly be saved . . . they're not going to be able to hear that this is not the answer for everyone, and they may not be able to hear negatives pertaining to their religion. It's so much a part of their self-identity that innate barriers go up whenever it's challenged. I am related to some people like that. You can dialogue like this, and discuss POV, and if their reasoning is flawed, they become more and more defensive. That's when it's time to back away and decide to disagree. Otherwise (and I know this from experience) the conversation becomes personal. In my case, I'm told that I've been taught too much that life is a shade of grey and I need to get some convictions, or that I'm just trying to trap them because I've gone to school to learn to argue, or that I think I'm so smart, etc. But walking away doesn't mean you don't come back another time and try again. Sooner or later, with exposure and life examples, people's attitudes can and do change. My rabidly anti-homosexual relative stunned me when a family friend was still invited to Christmas after she came out. Okay, it didn't change the attitude toward all gay people, but it appears that there became exceptions to the "they're all Godless immoral people trying to corrupt our children into their lifestyle" rule. Time may have tempered that further, if they hadn't passed away.

However, we also need to be aware of these issues within ourselves, usually manifested by an increasing hostility to an idea that is out of proportion to the subject being discussed. Be aware of our own biases. A personal example: I was raised in a household in which the label "dysfunction" doesn't begin to cover it. In my twenties, I was in a discussion regarding how to help a mutual friend whose life was going down the tubes, and the other person was making the point that he wasn't raised well, mother was an alcoholic, etc. I found myself getting disproportionately invested in the conversation, disagreeing with the most basic points. But I didn't see my bias until I spoke it aloud: The reason why I can't agree with you that he's doomed to failure in life due to his background is because I had the same damn background and have fought all my life against it, and if it's futile, then sooner or later I'm going to fail and I refuse to accept that inevitability. Interesting. It was a passionate, emotional, viceral reaction. But what I was not seeing is that different people have different ways of reacting to situations, different abilities, and different development. I'm blessed with intelligence, others aren't. I had a relatively normal childhood for the first ten years or so, and so was allowed to develop normally for that time period. Others don't, and we know from research that if certain conditions aren't met they can never be made up (you lose the ability to make certain connections in the brain). So what I was arguing so passionately was a fallacy - that his circumstances related to mine, or mine to him. They didn't. What I did and what kept me going is not what would help him. Some people do get to the point where they're beyond help, particularly if the same handicaps imposed on them by their conditions (mental illness, etc) are untreated or not treatable, and make them unable to see that anything is wrong, much less fix it. So I learned. But only by having the conversation and being open to correction of my own prejudice.

Wow, this is a long post. And I've taken several hundred extra words to make my point, can you tell I was an English major in undergrad? And I should probably go back and edit about half of it out, but it's too long and I'm too tired. Not like I'm being graded on this puppy. I just hate to see division simply for division's sake. I strongly advocate the idea that we start shifting away from a demagoglogical model of politics (Is that a word? It should be.) toward a rational discourse between parties to come to a better understanding, and hopefully the best solutions for all of us.

Friday, November 07, 2008


So in the middle of cruising news when I woke up, the HP printer discovers an updated driver. Sure, I'll let it install. Then I go to write a letter and print it. Spooling error. I try to cancel the print - it won't let me. Error message, follow the link. Need to install the latest HP drivers. So I let it test the computer for the latest drivers. Results page blank. So now I think I'll shut the machine off, as Word is hopelessly locked. I do so, and when it boots up I recover the doc and save it. I go to print - same error. Try the HP site - same results on the test. I decide, having been through this issue before with HP to undo the install through Norton Go-Back. I check everything's saved, and find the last safe point prior to the install of the updated driver. I tell it to go back . . . and all hell breaks loose. It does the goback, but when it boots up again I get the black screen asking me if I want to restore to the last known good configuration, safe mode, etc. I select start as normal, and it goes into a reboot loop. I select last known good configuration - same thing. I select safe mode - gobbledygook appears on the screen. Shit. After playing around in F10 startup mode and retrying the last known good configuration, I finally get windows up. Only, the long letter I wrote is gone. Nowhere to be found. And that spooling issue? Still there. I can't print anything. It's now 11:15 and I've been fucking around with this since 8:00. I've got two choices, as I see it. Remove the printer driver altogether and download a new one, or try the goback route again. My letter is probably gone and will take another half hour to redraft. May I politely say that I hate HP and autoupdates?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Thursday Quiz

Apparently I know everything. . . .

There Are 0 Gaps in Your Knowledge

Where you have gaps in your knowledge:

No Gaps!

Where you don't have gaps in your knowledge:


Wednesday, November 05, 2008


After that list this morning, and a day in the car going to visits and flipping back and forth between talk radio channels, I'd been immersed with the idea that not much had changed. Oh, there were some shimmers of light - listening to Maya Angelou discuss her reaction to the election (can't find a link, sorry), hearing Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards discuss thoughts about how the conservative movement has changed which echo some of my earlier musings and made me think that someone on the right gets it. But these were cancelled out in large part by Limbaugh's insistence that only by becoming more radical can the Republicans win again, and that everyone who "abandoned" McCain should just stay gone, Hannity's never-ending diatribes about middle-class tax cuts being communist in nature in the old slippery-slope fallacies, and general predictions that the American way of life as we (we?) know it is over.

But . . . Professor Nicholas Johnson over at from DC to Iowa had a wonderful link up to this NY Times piece discussing the reaction to the election from around the world. I read it, and was amazed. People in Berlin getting up at 5:00 to see what happened. People in the middle east glued to grainy television screens, waiting for the next result. The entire country of Kenya calling a national holiday. Wow.

And it made me think. When's the last time I stayed up to see who won an election in some other country? I can name many of the world leaders, but do I know who they ran against and why they were elected? Do we really mean this freaking much to the rest of the world? It's been a long, long while since I've lived outside this country, and I think I've forgotten the big picture of our place in the world. Shame on me. Let the remedial education begin.

Random Musings on a List

Barack Obama is the next president. The vote was not close, he has twice the electoral college votes and is the first president to have won a majority of the popular vote in thirty years.

While the Dems are celebrating, the Reps are wondering what the hell happened, and the post-mortem begins. I was over on Pajamas Media this morning and saw a list of the Top Thirty Errors That Doomed McCain. The jist: Ayers, Wright, and co. should've been hit harder, Palin should have been emphasized more and those who criticized her silenced, and the spectre of big government exploited much harder.

Holy crap, that's wrong. Not only is it wrong, it could lead to a long stretch of Dem control of the government. I'm just going to do a bit of a brain-dump here as to why I think that.

As it will not surprise everyone, I voted Obama. I analyzed the proposals, thought about what would help the country most, and factored in the "who can you trust" angle, and came out solidly in Obama's camp. Yes, there are risks with some of what he's proposing, and there were some negatives about him that I didn't like. But I honestly believed, after careful research, that there were more risks with what McCain was proposing, and his character cred had deteriorated over the course of the campaign to the point I believed Obama was being more honest.

Thing is, I used to vote Republican. Back when they didn't consider a tax cut for the middle class a socialist idea, but one of the tools in their fiscally conservative kit. When the abortion issue was important, but still in balance with the rest of the platform. Not a litmus test of whether you were good or evil, in or out. When they talked about incorporating work into welfare, to make it a hand up, not a hand out, but didn't dismiss all welfare recipients as thieves. When I could read transcripts of what their VP pick was saying and not giggle. Much. Okay, I giggled at Quayle with the "potatoe" thing. But I didn't think he was utterly incompetent, he didn't have people praying over him that witches would stay away, and they didn't try to sell me someone who really didn't know what they were talking about, and I voted for him. Back when the campaign was about what the Reps could do for us, not just how evil the Dems are - while demonizing some policies that they themselves had once espoused. When the far left-wing looked like moonbats, not sane in comparison.

The list on Pajamas media only underscores all the reasons why I ditched them this year. And if they keep going that direction, I will continue to vote Dem.

I left a comment over there, to the effect of: If you want to know how you lost the election, why don’t you try asking people who started out thinking McCain was a decent pick and ended up thinking there is no way they will vote for him? That’s your target audience, the people you lost. If you buy into the fallacy that they are simply sheep who fell under the spell of some mezmerizing messiah, rather than asking them where they diverged from the Republican issues and what it would have taken to persuade them to come back, you will only compound the error and increase the exodus from the Republican party. From what I can tell, they're not going to listen. The few comments after mine refer to RINOS (Republican in name only) and how those who try to temper the ideology will lose the base and lose the election. Good lord. They don't get it.

They started out, back when I came of voting age, as a primarily fiscally conservative party. Then back around the time of GWB, they tapped into an evangelical streak that put them over the top and thought they had a gold mine. Which they did. They had grafted on a new group of people, who were uber-psyched about electing Christian leaders, and worked hard to get the vote out. Those of us who are more separation of church and state types, but still thought the fiscal policies were good, kept with the program. With some reservations, but still. Then the war came, and they cobbled in the Hawks. That worked, too. We were all shaken up by 9/11, and we were all very patriotic.

But now . . . the Hawks are ignoring increasingly divergent opinions as to how this war should be run. The evangelicals are talking about purging the party of those who don't truly believe. Even the fiscal conservatives are talking about not just reducing government, but ditching some very necessary controls on the free market, and putting it in terms of good and evil, not simply economic theory. The add-ons have co-opted the entire message. If you're not for criminalizing abortions (not just pro-life, but pro- criminalization), you're a baby killer. If you're not pro-war, and pro-war in exactly the same way that the handbook says you must be including pro-torture and pro-warrantless wiretapping, then you're pro-terrorist. And those fiscal policies? They're no longer about what works and what doesn't, they're about good and evil, thieves and communists vs. hard-working Amercians. Corporations are now the good guys, and any controls imposed on them are attempts to steal freedom. The thing is, how many people believe exactly what you do on all these issues? How many people do you think are simultaneously rabidly evangelical, and big into warrantless wiretapping, and unadulteratedly free market? According to this vote, not enough.

They'll continue to dismiss what I say, many of them. They'll write me off as a former RINO, and talk about energizing "the base" instead of pandering to my ilk. And if the Dems really screw things up by taking this historic victory and ramping up the policies to be too far left, the Reps might win a comeback in 2012 without making any changes at all. I might even vote for them, if the alternative is bad enough. But that will be a loss for all of us, because then we'll once more be left looking at two extremes, not liking either, and going "okay, whose worse?" It also takes the momentum and gives it squarely to the Dems, because if they don't screw up, they'll be no opening for the Reps.

Wouldn't it be better to do some studying of what really happened? Obviously you've lost a bunch of voters. Why presume we're idiots who just didn't get the memo? Realize we got the memo, didn't like it, and sent it back for revision. So revise. Ask us where you got off track. Then give us a candidate in 2012 who really represents what the people want, not just what you think they'd better believe in, or else. I have a silly dream that we might one day have two good candidates with good ideas. Different approaches, but both excellent choices, and have a hard time choosing which one is better. I know, I'm naive. But couldn't we try for it? Just once? And meanwhile . . .

Dems: you haven't got a liberal mandate. You have better proposals on how to handle the current situation. Stick to them. The Reps didn't, and look what happened to them. Don't take this election and decide that your left-wing fringe has the right message and you need to hit the extremes even harder. This is a scary, scary time and we're counting on you. For now.

Just an idea.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

It's Not Rocket Science, People

According to this NYTimes article, there are still a bunch of people who don't know how they want to vote on Tuesday. There's the guy who's fiscally conservative and socially liberal. The woman who says the more she talks about them, the more confused she gets.


Okay, here's an idea. It may take an hour or two, but it should solve the issue. First, take out a sheet of paper. Write down all the issues you care about in a chart. Make it as specific as possible, don't just say "socially liberal" or "fiscally conservative," get down to topics: prayer in schools, gay marriage, the war in Iraq, saving the freaking whales; whatever floats your boat. Then make three or four extra columns for the outside issues, like whether you think they've run an honest campaign, whether you think they have adequate experience, whether you personally like the candidate, what you think of the VP pick, who you think you can live with best for the next four years, who you think is most likely to get what they promised actually done, and so forth. Any intangible you think will make a difference. If you want to get real fancy, weight the columns by listing the mega-important issues to you two or three times. Keep the candidates in mind somewhat while you do this - for example, if VP picks aren't normally important to you but you think Palin is a disaster, or if the candidate's religious beliefs are not normally an issue but you think Obama's attending Wright's church is a big problem, list it. However, the primary focus of this part of the excercise is what's important to you, so you need to make the list about your priorities, not what the media is telling you your priorities should be. That said, don't be stupid and leave out some huge issue like national security just because you think you don't understand it. Put it in. Finally, if you get to the end and there's an even number of columns, think of one more thing.

Second, read over the list and take the candidates out of your mind. Figure out what you would do if you were God or the President about each of the issues. Figure out what you would like to see the ideal candidate do. Keep it somewhat realistic, but let yourself think outside the box. Find out what's really important to you, and keep everyone else out of it.

Now, get out a newspaper that lists the candidate's positions, or do your research on the web. Find out what they're actually for. And in each column, put either an O for Obama, or an M for McCain, depending on who you agree most with. You don't have to agree with them totally, just who you agree with more. If it's a total tossup after you've struggled over it for a while, then either leave it blank or put both initials in. Try not to do this much, though, 'cause you're screwing around with the even/odd column numbers.

Once you're done, count up the number of O's and M's. Whichever is the most, is the candidate that's more likely to be what you want. Ta-da. You now have a decision.

One final thing: you may find yourself arguing with your own list once you get into it. That may mean you've actually made a decision and you don't know it yet. You can either give up then and go for the decision you've obviously made on a gut level, or complete the exercise and try to figure out why you've made a gut level decision that obviously doesn't tally with the actual issues. I'd recommend the latter. It's probably that there's something important to you that you haven't listed, that weighs heavily. Figure out what it is, so that you can not only understand what you're vote is, but why you're voting that way. Ideally, when it's all done, you should have a decision based on your own beliefs and impressions. And you can quit driving the rest of us nuts.