Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Years, Y'all!

To answer all the myriads of questions pouring into the Biobrain mailbag: No, I'm not dead, and yes, my presidential exploratory campaign is still in full swing and I should be declaring my candidacy for the 2008 presidential election before too long. But with the holidays and lots of traveling (more than I had planned on), including long stints without computer access, the Biobrain site has gone black for a while. But I'll be back and better than ever coming into the new year, so fear not.

Anyway, y'all have a wonderful New Years Nite and make sure to drink far more than you'll wish you had tomorrow morning. I know I will.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Living to Attack

One mistake many progressives make in regards to Obama is their belief that his open embrace of bipartisanship is a clear sign that he's going to get suckered into being nice to Republicans and giving them what they want, which will be seen as a sign of weakness, and they'll just keep demanding more. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Because Republicans don't actually want Obama to be nice to them. They want him to attack them. They want for him to start behaving like a progressive and announce a socialist agenda of high taxes, heavy government regulation, and the end of free markets. And they want him to announce that he agrees with Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers and their hidden agenda to destroy America. That's what they want. And we know that's what they want because they keep telling us this is who Obama is, because it's the only argument they've got against him. So it'd really help them alot if Obama would finally start acting that way.

And what they don't want is a bipartisan Obama who isn't scary, radical, or hateful. And sure, if they were dictating terms to him, they'd want him to bow down and obey them. But they're not doing that. In fact, he hasn't been playing their games at all. If he had run on a platform of heavy taxation for the rich and middle classes, and was attacked for it, and had to scale back to the moderate plans they wanted, they'd be happy. But he never gave them a tax plan they could attack. Same with his moderate suggestion for healthcare. While conservatives would prefer that he not do these things, Obama really never gave them much material to work with. Obama has moderate suggestions that are quite uncontroversial with most folks, and Republicans made fools of themselves by pretending it was otherwise.

Because conservatives don't really care about Obama's taxes or his former preacher or his healthcare plan. All they really care about is attacking liberals. And we know this is true. They tell us this every damn day. They don't care about policies and were willing to accept just about anything from the Bushies, and often completely betrayed their rules about big government and deficits. And they hated Clinton the most, even though he was actually fairly conservative. And so what they want from Obama is someone to attack. A radical agenda to oppose. An outrageous statement to object to. That's what it's all about. It's not about ideology, it's about opposition.

And unfortunately, many progressives are the exact same way. That's why they're so upset at Obama. In fact, the only two groups who are really mad at Obama are the extremists on both sides, because he's denying them the epic struggle they've been waging for years. It defines who they are. Without an opposition to oppose, they don't really exist. They're not trying to cure problems or get healthcare for everyone. They're trying to screw the other side. And because Obama isn't helping them with that, they have no use for him. He's upsetting their worldview. They're convinced that there is no compromise with the enemy and it's winner-take-all, and they'll be damned to allow some two-bit politician prove them wrong on that. This is the only excitement that exists in their mundane lives. It's all they have to live for and Obama is trying to deny them that. They need excitement and fever, not liberal policies.

But of course, these people are all flipsides of the same coin. The extremists on both sides may have completely opposite policy goals, but the same ultimate goal: Fighting. And that's why these two groups hate Obama the most: Because he's not giving it to them.

Oh, and in case I don't mention it again: HAPPY CHRISTMAS, Y'ALL!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Big Breakfast Lobby

Nutrition researchers can be maddeningly stupid.  I just read about a study which showed that people who choose to eat healthy foods for breakfast are more likely to choose healthy foods for other meals.  Conversely, people who ate crap for breakfast were more likely to choose to eat crap for their other meals.  Now, no reasonable person would think that there was any causation here, merely that people are consistent with their food choices.  Somebody who eats a healthy breakfast isn't as likely to go to McDonald's for lunch as the guy who scarfs down three long johns with his morning coffee.

But what do the researchers in this article suggest?  What else: That if we get people to eat cereal for breakfast, magical fairies will appear and make them eat salad for lunch.  But that's just fucking stupid.  This study doesn't suggest there is anything magical about healthy breakfasts.  The message should be that ALL meals should be healthy.  And of course, that is a message they often say.  But emphasizing the healthy breakfast as a way of getting folks to eat healthy lunches and dinners is just plain stupid.

And hey, perhaps you think I'm summarizing this wrong.  So I'll just quote from the article:
Overall, people who reported eating a low-energy-density breakfast in the past day were more likely than their counterparts to choose lower-calorie foods for the rest of the day as well. As a group, they also had a higher-quality diet -- eating a wider variety of foods and more vitamins and minerals.

Among men, those who ate a breakfast low in energy density tended to weigh less, even with factors like exercise and income considered. For women, any type of breakfast was related to a lower likelihood of obesity -- though the calorie density of other meals did seem to be important.

More research is needed to confirm those particular findings, Rippe's team notes. For now, they suggest that men should be encouraged to eat a breakfast low in energy density, whereas women should eat breakfast but also focus on choosing low-energy-density foods throughout the day.
And again, this study didn't find anything magical about breakfast.  So why the lie?  Call it a hunch, but I suspect it might have something to do with the group that sponsored the research: The all-powerful Breakfast Research Institute.  That's right, Big Breakfast is at it again, trying to persuade people that their meal somehow causes you to eat healthy for the rest of the day.  But it's not going to work.  For as much as people like looking good, people LOVE donuts.  And no amount of pro-breakfast propaganda will change that.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Average Millionaires

One of the weirder aspects of our modern media culture is how millionaire elitist pundits have held on to the idea that they're still regular Joes with a real feel for the pulse of what regular people want.  Not only do they think they know what makes "Joe" tick, they truly enjoy scoffing at politicians who fail to obey their invented rules for what "Joe" wants; despite the fact that most politicians have a much better understanding of what real people want.

And this becomes clear when we look at Media Matter's top ten selections for Most Inane Punditry for 2008.  Because looking over the list, it's obvious that the biggest offense involves pundits speaking for the "Average Joe" and deciding that some normal activity that normal Americans do will somehow sink a politician and doom their campaign.  Of the top ten, six of these fit directly into that category, and the other four involve cases of pundits using dumbed down criteria to evaluate our presidential choices.

And so we learn from these elitist millionaires that Americans want a president who bowls, drinks coffee, and eats at Applebees.  And a president cannot visit Hawaii, drink orange juice, play pool, or tip too well.  But of course, as the results of this past election show us, American voters do not abide by such absurdist rules.  In fact, I suspect that there are exactly zero Americans who actually care about any of these things.  

These are just asinine rules created by elitist millionaires who have nothing better to do than imagine that there is a Joe Voter that they can mindread.  In their universe, Kerry lost because he windsurfs and Bush won because he clears brush on his vacations, just like real Americans do.  And rather than elections being decided by the effectiveness of a candidate's campaign, everything is reduced down to an absurdist morality play based on a candidate's hobbies and food preferences.  

But Kerry didn't lose a single vote because he windsurfed.  And while the stage prop ranch in Crawford surely helped Bush, it wasn't because voters identified with the guy for clearing brush (for the record, I've lived in Texas for almost three decades and have never cleared brush).  The only impact these things had was on our nimrods in the media.  It distracts them from telling people the truth about what the Republicans are really doing and that's all it's meant to do.  Democracy can survive orange juice drinkers.  It's these morons who obsess on such things who have to go.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Chance For Consensus In My Empire

Via Carpetbagger, I just read an op/ed written by the illustrious Senators McCain, Lieberman, and Graham titled A Chance for Consensus on Iraq which really opened my eyes regarding the potentiality for my plans of taking over the universe.  

As they point out, now that we have a withdrawal plan in place for Iraq and an incoming president willing to implement said plan, violence in Iraq has subsided.  And so what else would be the wise decision but to decide to scrap said withdrawal plans and stay forever?  And as they say, by keeping more troops there in the short term, it will make it so we can eventually bring even more troops home later...or not.  Depending on our needs.  After all, there are military generals who say we can still win this thing.  Military generals.  Those are the best kind.

And as they point out, Iraqis don't like us there and their resentment against us will go down as they see more of our troops leave.  But that's no excuse to actually give up on our chance for a "long-term partnership" with them, you know, by leaving lots of troops in their country against their wishes.  Sure, we generally don't need to have troops in an ally's borders in order to have a partnership with them, but these Iraqis, they're not such bright people.  After all, they couldn't even get rid of a jerk like Saddam without us leading them by the nose.  What chance do they have without us?

Besides, if we withdrawal and the country doesn't explode into violence, but rather starts behaving like other middle-eastern countries by dicking us around, it'll make war mongers like McCain, Lieberman, and Graham look like real heels.  And we can't have that.  We need victory on our terms, or no terms at all.

Democracy Through Submission

And in that vain, I've decided to put my long sought plans out in the open and request that everyone form a consensus around them.  So without further ado, I am officially announcing my plans to become Master of the Universe.  That's right, I'm throwing my hat in the ring.  Naturally, this will mean that everyone's shit will become my shit, and they'll automatically be leasing it from me retroactively since the beginning of time.  And that means that everyone owes me a shitload of money.  But don't worry.  You won't be required to work it all off in your lifetime, as your children and children's children will be allowed to pay off your debts to me.

Now it's only natural that you might be asking yourself: Why him?  Why should Doctor Biobrain's plan be the one we form consensus around?  Aren't there many other worthy contenders for the job, perhaps even more worthy than Doctor Biobrain?  And the answer is: Because I asked first.  Because I put it into writing.  I was the one who decided to ask for consensus, and so anyone who doesn't coalesce around my plans is just rocking the boat and causing trouble.  It's that simple.

So sure, you can continue to act like ignorant slack-jawed combatants by resisting my non-partisan plans for a more wonderful world. can allow me to hijack Obama's gravytrain, which I repeatedly tried to derail, in order to make everyone ignore his plans and follow my own.  After all, nothing says democracy more than undermining the will of the people by doing the opposite of what they want.  If it's good enough for the Iraqis, by god, it's good enough for us.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Shoe Rebellion

Think Progress righfully hits Juan Williams for suggesting that Iraqis are ingrates for being upset that we invaded their country and trashed the place. But I thought the part before that was even more telling. Williams was talking about the dude who threw the shoe at Bush, and after O'Reilly suggested that he would have hit the guy for throwing his shoes, Williams said (in a rough paraphrase I made):
I'm serious. I really would have punched the guy. It's disrespectful to the President of the United States. We're a democracy. And I don't care about your dissent, that's not the place or the time. The fact is, you know what, President Bush was elected by the people of the United States even after the invasion of Iraq and after the weapons of mass destruction were not found. He's our president, so don't do that. We wouldn't do that to your pres...don't do that to ours.

But of course, when exactly would Muntadhar al-Zeidi have gotten the time and place to properly express his feelings about the horrors Bush caused in al-Zeidi's country? And who are we kidding? Had the guy actually told Bush his feelings, it would have made exactly zero difference. None at all. Bush would have completely ignored the criticism and politely told the guy to stuff it.

The Republican Model of Democracy

And that was the underlying problem with the Bush Presidency: It's not a democracy. Republicans see democracy as short-term dictatorships, where you try to get away with as much as you possibly can before the dictatorship ends. And if you tell the dictator things he doesn't want to hear, he won't give a shit. They won't take it into consideration. They won't try to fit your interests into their schemes. They will simply ignore you or try to find ways to undermine you and deny you power. And they've expanded that concept so thoroughly that they even regard negative feedback as if it was a usurpation of their authority. They don't just expect control over the people, they want control over reality too.

And that's why things have gotten as badly as they have. As I've said repeatedly, the big advantage of democracy isn't that it's the best system for picking leaders; as it obviously isn't. The big advantage is that it empowers people and gives them control over their own destiny. And this makes them a part of the system and much more likely to make sure that the system works. But in the Republican model, that's all thrown out the window. They feel that once they've suckered you into electing them, that's it. They're in. And as long as they can keep power, they get to keep it.

For them, voting is democracy. You got your stinking democracy on November 4, and you won't see it again until the next election. And that's it. Politicians have power. Presidents have the most power. Citizens have none. Presidents deserve respect, not because they earned it, but because they got the job. And as long as 51% of American voters picked somebody to run our government, that person deserves the respect of the entire world and nobody else can complain. And if you don't like it, Juan Williams will punch you right in the face. I'm serious. He will. Punch you right in your ungrateful face.

Power to the People

And that idiotic idea is clearly the basis for Juan Williams odd statement about democracy. Hell, it'd be illogical for him to use it against an American who had thrown his shoes at Bush. But Williams is basically saying that the leader of any country can do anything they want to any other country without the people in that other country having any right to do anything about it, because they didn't elect the guy. Huh? That doesn't even approach rational thinking. But again, it's simply an extension of the Republican model of democracy. For them, democracy is about picking leaders, not empowering people.

And what happens if people believe they have no power over the system? They blow shit up. They subvert the system. And they throw shoes, because it's the only outlet they have available. That's not to say this is necessarily justified, as the Oklahoma City bombers also believed that they had no say over the system and felt they needed to give the government a blackeye in order to take some of that power back. And the crazy twats attacking Obama's citizenship are a part of that. They firmly believe democracy is supposed to give them power, it didn't, so democracy must have been subverted. And they'll take back the presidency no matter what.

But this is all part of the same thing: If people believe they have no power over their lives, they take actions to obtain the power they think they deserve. And that's the exact point of democracy. It obviously doesn't always work, but that's the intent. And a society as large and complicated as ours could never function without it. And it's always like this everywhere. Bosses who empower their employees are more likely to get better work out of them. Same with teachers who empower their students. Same with every other similar situation. People who feel that they're a part of the system and have real input into it will do better than people who are locked out of the system. This isn't complicated. It just isn't explained properly.

So, sorry Mr. Williams, but if shoe throwing is the only outlet you give an Iraqi to express his anger at what Bush did, that's what you're going to get. And while you might not like to see your Prez getting dissed by some dirty Iraqi journalist, it's still a part of democracy. Democracy isn't a suicide pact. Nor is it something that's just done on Election Day. We're in it as long as it works for us. After that, anything goes; including horrid shoe throwing. Maybe if more people could throw their shoes at the people in power, the world would be a better place. Power is a priviledge; not a right.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Nutty Gun Nuts

While I'm not into guns at all, I've never really had anything against them.  And while I do think there should be fewer guns out there, I don't necessarily see them as inherently unsafe things.  Thus said, pro-gun people really can get a bit silly when defending their hobby.

Here's James Wallace of the Gun Owners Action League, defending the use of guns by children:
"But this is so rare; if you look at other activities kids are involved in, shooting sports at the ranges is probably the safest activity kids can get involved in," he said.
Ok, I see where he's going with this, but...the safest activity for kids?  Who is he trying to bullshit with this one?  Just off the top of my head, I can think of TONS of activities that are safer than shooting guns.  For example, not shooting guns.  And not being around other people who are shooting guns.  Shooting guns in a video game would seem safer.  As would playing non-shooting video games.  Tennis seems rather safe.  As does table tennis.  And of course, book reading is still very, very safe.  And sure, while I can think of activities that are probably more dangerous than shooting at ranges (car surfing, for example), it's quite silly to pretend as if shooting guns is the safest thing a kid could do.

And while I'm at it, what's with this Gun Owners Action League?  Are guns not exciting enough, so they have to add "action" to their name?  Are they perhaps a group of crime fighters?  And while their members may have a long storied tradition of being very serious people with a well-earned reputation for seriousness, I can't help but think that their name is reminiscent of something a group of kids might come up with.  Like the He-Man Woman Hater's Club or something (Full Disclosure: Me and my younger brothers once formed our own chapter of the He-Man Woman Haters Club for about two weeks when I was eight.)

Oh, and in an article with the headline "Gun clubs tout safety record after boy's Uzi death," would it really be too much for the reporter to actually report on the safety record of gun clubs?  There's only one reference to any safety record in the entire piece, which was the reporter repeating Wallace's assertion that they have a "near perfect safety record."  Not that I'm doubting that necessarily, but I really don't see what's so hard about including a few actual facts in a news article.  

Sunday, December 14, 2008

No Moving Parts

One basic flaw with conservative thinking is that they're idiots. Every action in life is made up of an almost infinite number of moving parts, but these simpletons have the innate ability to focus completely on one or two of these parts and imagine that they've found the key to everything going on around them. It's like this one episode on the old Batman show, when Batman & Robin were stuck inside some sort of devious contraption and all Batman had to do was locate one key piece and the whole thing fell down around them and allowed them to escape.

And so we see stupid stuff, like their stupid opposition to the auto bailout which seems to be based solely on hurting labor unions.  And their dogged belief that Obama would be destroyed if only people knew more about Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers.  And they're looking at these issues backwards: They gain nothing by attacking labor unions, Wright, or Ayers.  The voters they gain from these things are the voters they already have, and they're just going to piss-off everyone else.  For example, rather than labor unions feeling betrayed because the Dems couldn't help them, they'd double-down on their support of Dems, in order to hurt the Republicans that are screwing them over.  

But all the same, Republicans have used their laser focus to pinpoint these as the key issues and have tossed all other considerations aside.  And if you suggest to them that they're actually hurting themselves by focusing so intently on these issues, they'll think your crazy.  They knew that Wright and Ayers would doom Obama, because that's the best they had to work with.  And so the only answer for why it didn't work is because the attacks weren't made strongly enough.

No Government Needed

And that's exactly what they did with Iraq too.  They knew that they needed to topple Saddam and anything that made that look like a bad idea had to be tossed aside.  They had their beady little eyes on Saddam and that was that. 

But the fact that they had no idea of how they were going to reconstruct Iraq isn't simply limited to Iraq.  This is their idea of governance in general.  They have no idea how hard it is.  They don't know why we have bureaucracies and regulations and redtape.  All they know is that they don't like these things.  The almost infinite number of moving parts involved with the running of our country really does elude these morons and they're too stupid to realize it.

They really do believe that we could abolish labor laws, safety laws, environmental laws, and the entire SEC with no ill effect.  Everything would continue to run as smoothly and safely as before, if not better.  They really believe that.  Not because they have some grand understanding of how things work, but merely because they've been told that these things are bad.  And yet because they don't actually want to live in the kind of country this would be without these things, they're forced to pretend that we don't need them.  Somehow, the laws that are stifling big business aren't needed because big business wasn't going to do these things anyway.

And at this point, I'm just ending this because I didn't finish it earlier today and just don't have the mojo I had when I started it.  Plus, I'm now drunk.  So there.  

The Spock President

Digby has a piece on Obama's pragmatism and at the end mentions that he's "somewhat inscrutable," which I took exception to because I see Obama as being the most scrutable politician I've ever seen. And because I've been too lazy to blog lately, I'll just repost what I wrote at Digby's.

I've never found Obama to be inscrutable. On the contrary, he's an open book compared with most people, who don't even understand their own motivations and desires. But then again, I think I'm an open book, yet most people find me to be completely unreadable, for reasons that escape me. So perhaps we're just birds of a feather.

The problem with understanding Obama is that he's not like other people. He understands himself. He knows what he's doing and why. He's not looking for short-term satisfaction or superficial victories. He's in this for the long haul. He's going to do the right thing because he understands that this benefits him most. That's how he won the presidency. Most people lie to themselves so much that they don't even know who they are. Their emotions run so deep that they don't even understand how they distort their very perceptions. And if they don't trust themselves, how can we possibly trust them?

Obama isn't like that. Obama is part of the new way of thinking. He knows that long after the graft-money is spent and the cheering dies down, there's a bigger goal: Benefiting humanity. Obama will leave a grand legacy, not because he was aiming to do so, but because he was focused on doing the right thing. This isn't about promoting liberalism or punishing our enemies. This is about fixing our problems. And if we believe that liberalism is the cure to our problems, and we do, then we must believe that Obama will do the right thing. Because he will find the cure as well as anyone can find it, because that's what benefits him most and he understands that.

The problem with selfish people isn't that they're only looking out for themselves, but rather that their thinking is so small-time that they don't understand how their own greed is hurting them. We all act in our own self interest. The only question is whether we're intelligent enough to understand the full implications of our decisions. What we define as "selfishness" is a form of ignorance. And Obama is probably the most intelligent president we've ever had. He'll do the right thing because he understands why that's in his best interest and he'll take whatever course of action is required to make that happen.

And when all this is done, Obama will be seen as the greatest person of our generation. For as much as he knows how to give a great speech, Obama is the Spock president. Emotions are the enemy. Selfishness is the surest way to hurt one's self. Obama isn't inscrutable. He's an open book. We just need to forget all the previous rules on how to read people. Obama is the new game. This isn't pragmatism for pragmatism's sake. This is the highest form of thinking. Welcome to the next level.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Modern GOP: Headless Chicken Alert

As I keep saying, the biggest problem Republicans face is that all the guys with the brains were too corrupt to stay in office, and all they're left with is a bunch of brainless attack sheep that don't know how the game is played.  All they know is "Attack!"  But they don't know what they're supposed to attack, when, or how.  These guys were picked for their ability to raise funds, repeat talking points, and most of all, do what they're told.  And without there being anyone to tell them what to do, they're still stuck in autopilot and praying that it will land them safely.

And we see this again with their sabotage of the auto bailout last night.  As Carpetbagger sums up, Bush and the Democrats came up with a deal that won bipartisan approval in the House, and then when Senate Republicans created a few obstacles to poison the deal, the Dems gave them almost everything they wanted.  But of course, this ISN'T what they wanted.  What they wanted was to have political cover for killing the deal, so they could pretend that the Dems were being unreasonable.  They had multiple reasons for not wanting this to pass, but they knew that it would hurt the party politically if they couldn't come up with some decent sounding excuse for why they were killing it.

But because Dems were desperate enough to make this work, they gave in, and then the Republicans were screwed.  The Dems called their bluff, perhaps without even realizing it was a bluff, but rather than play along in the trap they had created for themselves, the Republicans went ahead and killed the deal anyway.  And now, not only did they kill it without any proper political cover to protect themselves, they look like ideological crazies who fiddle while Detroit burns.

Captain Autopilot

And that's not what they wanted at all, but they just don't understand how the game is played.  They've got a few tactical tricks they remember being a part of in the old days, but they don't know how to properly set them up or what to do if they don't work.  And the biggest problem for them is that they couldn't create a strong enough poison pill to kill the deal, as anything too strong wouldn't provide proper political cover, as they'd still look too ideological.  And even as it was, their objections looked bad and weren't strong enough to give them real cover.

And more importantly, once their gambit failed, they needed to fold up their cards and move on.  They didn't have to vote for it, but they should have let the vote happen.  But again, they don't have anyone around who knows how the game is played, so they were stuck in autopilot and could only keep moving on their original course.  And so they got the worst of both sides and don't understand why they keep coming out on bottom.  

Of course, they killed the deal, which is all they really wanted; so in a way, they won.  But I'm quite positive that they have no idea why they wanted it.  Their wingnut supporters were demanding they kill it, but I'm sure they don't know why they wanted that either.  The best they can do is to continue following the last orders they were issued and try to fit those orders into whatever situation arises.  And they fail to appreciate why the orders stopped coming or why they were lousy orders to begin with.  

The chicken's head was cut off years ago, but the body keeps running around anyway.  And while the frenzy of activity is random and pointless, it's enough to screw things up anyway.  And the best we can hope for is that the new Dem majority next year will be big enough that the few sane Republican Senators left will be enough to make the chicken irrelevant.  

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Hard Bigotry of Impossible Expectations

It's going to be a loooonng eight years.  This one's a few days old, as I've been busy and wasn't able to blog about it, but it still applies now.  Ezra had a post about Obama's reaction to the factory-worker's sit-in in Chicago, and how it was refreshing to have a President who would offer support to the workers in this kind of situation.  And he also cited this as a possible good sign of who Obama might pick for labor relations and that sort of thing.

And what Ezra wrote was entirely non-controversial and no serious person could find any problem with it.  And then we have the people who are convinced that Obama is a sell-out.

We start with S Brennan who begins by saying:
To a whole generation, speech extolling simple decency has become an act of extreme about the soft bigotry of lowered expectations.
But of course, Ezra didn't say this was "extreme courage" on Obama's part.  He was merely saying that Obama's reaction was a "meaningful shift" and was glad we could finally have a president who had the common sense to act in such a way.  But being one of those who must believe that Obama is a sell-out, Brennan had to convert Ezra's statement into higher praise than it was, while also downgrading Obama's actions into "simple decency."  And thus, a non-controversial post about how refreshing it is to have a decent president becomes another opportunity to bash Obama and his supporters.

Brennan then went on to imply that Obama was actually being somewhat cowardly, because he said this during "the holidays" and "nobody is listening."  I have no idea what that means, as this was a week after Thanksgiving and several weeks before Christmas, and is the time you'd expect for Obama to say such things.  More importantly, this was a fairly big story and LOTS of people were listening.  He then ends by saying that Ezra should instead have praised Obama for picking General Shinseki, before saying that this was a mistake because General Shinseki was more needed in the field.  It's as if he thinks Ezra was just looking for a chance to praise Obama, and picked the wrong one.

So in S Brennan's world, Ezra was wrong for highlighting something good that Obama said, wrong for praising Obama for saying something no one would hear, and wrong for even picking this subject to talk about, instead of picking another subject that Obama was wrong about.  And Obama was wrong for talking about the subject when it came up and for picking General Shinseki for a post that most people think he was a good choice for.

Obama Always Wrong

And really, it all comes down to not being able to win.  I don't know who this S Brennan person is and have never read anything else they've written.  But if I had to guess, I'd say that S Brennan has been warning us about Obama the whole time and will never be satisfied with any decision he makes.  There's always a downside.  Always some flaw that shows that Obama isn't one of us and doesn't deserve our praise.  Sure, he said the right thing regarding these factory workers, but he deserves no praise for it.

And that's how things will always look to people like Brennan.  Obama will be expected to do the right thing on every issue and will get no praise for it, and anything less than perfect performance will be heavily criticized as proof that he's sold us out.  And even issues that, in hindsight, show that Obama made the right choice and the Brennans were wrong for criticizing him, he'll never earn retro-active praise.  We saw that throughout the campaign, when Obama was attacked for making "mistakes" that would doom his candidacy, but which everyone forgot about because Obama picked the right choice and didn't doom him.  

And it all comes down to the fact that these people were too hasty to get ahead of the curve and predict that Obama would sell us out, and now they're required to see everything in that light, in order to justify that hasty decision.  It's really that simple.  They're too cool and cynical to fall for Obama's charade and anyone who did was a Kool-Aid drinker being taken for a ride.  They know it's true and we're all fools for not realizing it.  To them, Obama sold us out the day he was born and they're just on the look-out for the proof...and to make sure to shoot down any suggestion that he's not selling us out.

And to be honest, I think we need such people criticizing Obama.  We need people who reflexively attack him and offer knee-jerk criticisms that make no sense.  The world needs crazies on both sides to offer balance, by demonstrating how crazy an argument can get.  I just sort of wish they weren't so self-righteous about the whole thing.  I know, that's part of the whole package: That the reason they're criticizing Obama is because they're holier than thou purists who demand "perfection" from "their" candidate.  I just wish they wouldn't rub our noses in their craziness quite so much.

Friday, December 05, 2008

When Good Religion Makes Bad Science

I really hate bad science. I just read of a study on religion and health which concluded:
When the researchers adjusted the data to account for physical health, age, ethnicity, income, education, social support, important life events and life satisfaction, they found that weekly religious service attendance was responsible for a 20 reduction in the risk of death. Attending less than once a week was responsible for a 15 percent drop in the risk of death.

Am I crazy for suggesting that the "risk of death" for everyone is 100%, no matter what they do? I mean, we're all going to die. And even adjusting this for what they probably meant, I don't understand what they probably meant. I refuse to believe that I have a 20% higher chance of dying at any given moment simply because I'm not religious. I'm sure they're not saying the odds are that high, as that should indicate that most atheists would be dead by the end of the day. But it never really is explained what they meant.

And then there's this tidbit:
Before adjusting the data, there was no significant difference in the risk of death between regular religious service attendees and those who chose not to attend.

So the straight results showed that there was no significant difference, and it was only after they "adjusted" the data that they found what they were looking for. Yeah, no hanky panky going on here, folks. I mean, this was a study conducted by the Yeshiva College at Yeshiva University, which has a "duel education" program which seeks to combine the sciences with the study of the Torah and Jewish heritiage, so there's no way they'd be screwing around with the facts. And hey, the article even quotes Dr. Koenig, the founder of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University Medical Center, and he says this was a "very well done study." So you know it's GOT to be good. There's no way that people seeking to combine religion with science would ever deceive themselves regarding their scientific studies on the wonders of religion.

And the funniest thing about the article is how they tiptoe around what they want to believe the real cause for this difference is: God. They're all coy about it and act like they're willing to accept non-God related explanations, but it's obvious which answer they think it really is. But of course, if something supernatural is the cause of this, then how to explain why it didn't matter which god people worshipped? If this is supernatural, I'd guess the monotheists are the big losers here, because it's obvious their One True God wasn't playing favorites.  

And does it really need to be said that the belief in the supernatural is inherently anti-science by definition?  I think not.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Reagan the Socialist

Here's Ronald Reagan from a 1967 debate with Robert Kennedy: 
But I believe if government is to mean anything at all, that all of us have a responsibility, once the action has been decided upon and supposedly by the majority will, that we then, while reserving our right to disagree, we support the collective or the unified effort of the nation. Otherwise, all law and order and all government breaks down, because we might have a citizen who has a conscientious objection to paying taxes and if we allow our citizens to voluntarily quit paying taxes the government breaks down--or obeying the law, or anything else that may come along. We give up certain individual freedoms in the interest of--well, I suppose it comes from our own Constitution our idea that every American or every person has the right, is born with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But my pursuit of happiness, if it comes from swinging my arm, I must stop swinging my arm just short of the end of your nose.
And while I don't necessarily agree with everything he said (and in fact, think he got a bit confused as to what he was talking about), this hardly sounds like the rugged individualist Reagan's supporters continually pretend he was.  And sure, he was talking specifically of the Vietnam draft, but it's obvious this applies to everything else.  Society is about people making sacrifices to help one another, and that includes making sacrifices so the government works better.  

But of course, all conservatives will agree to this idea, if they let their guard down and speak freely.  It's only when the requirements of their strange ideology make them speak gibberish that they fail to make sense.  But even they realize that we must all make sacrifices and work together to make the world better.  Sorry I don't have anything funny to add to this.  I'll try harder next time.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

How to Make Enemies and Scare People

Divide & Conquer. It's one of the most basic tactics of warfare, because it's obviously better to separate one's enemies into smaller groups in order to defeat them more easily than if they are all grouped together. Then why is it that so many people insist on lumping all their enemies into as big a group as possible? Because they don't actually want to conquer their enemies. They want to conquer their supporters by making them as scared as possible of the vast hordes opposing them.

And we see this on both sides of the aisle. Conservatives want us deathly afraid of the Islamofascist menace that consists of every single Muslim on the face of the earth, as well as any conceivable Muslim supporter (which is anyone not officially on their side). And so they lump all Muslims together and consider the Sunni v. Shiite divide that has gone on for centuries to be a cheap ruse to lull us into a false sense of security. But too many liberals use the same technique, and consider all Republicans to be identical, every Christian to be the same Christian, and anyone who isn't with them to be against them.

And I've never understood that idea. I've always believed that it's best to find ways of dividing your opponents rather than forcing them together. That it would be best to use sticks and carrots to make good Muslims separate themselves from bad Muslims, by convincing them that good things happen to good people and that they don't need to fear us. And for conservatives, that it would be best to convince the Social Conservatives that the Fiscal Conservatives are screwing them over, and to make both sides hate each they naturally should. After all, Social Conservatives support a large government that intrudes into our daily lives and forces us to obey their moral code. When it comes to interpreting the constitution, these guys are as liberal as they come.

But again, some people aren't interested in actually defeating their foes or winning the war. They just like the process that puts them at the head of faction of scared supporters. For them, victory would mean the end of power; and so it's best to make the enemy look as scary as possible.

Family Terrorists

And I was thinking about this while reading this NY Times piece by a former interrogator in Iraq:
Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money. I pointed this out to Gen. George Casey, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, when he visited my prison in the summer of 2006. He did not respond.
And this was one of the biggest problems with the war in Iraq. Sure, the Bushies wanted to win. But they had to win their way. The political victory had to come before the military victory, and if the two conflicted, politics won out.

Because the politics dictated that we were fighting evil. We weren't being attacked by brave Iraqis defending their homes, families, and lives. We were fighting the cowardly bastards who attacked us on 9/11, or at a minimum, people who were sympathetic to them. And for us to admit that we were fighting the people we were pretending to free, everything went down the tubes. That put the lie to the entire rationale for the war (after the WMD rationale turned out to be phony). Our foreign enemies list was written based upon our domestic political needs.

And worst of all, politics dictated that we needed to attack Iran. And so that meant we needed to pretend that the Sunnis attacking us were being led by the Shiites in Iran; despite all evidence to the contrary. And sure, the Bushies wanted to win the war in Iraq; but not if that meant they wouldn't get an easy shot at Iran.

Combine & Fear Monger

And so conservatives insisted that all Muslims were Islamofascists who could not be dissuaded from trying to destroy America, and must be destroyed.  But of course, this is all just stupid. In reality, everyone is really just looking out for themselves; and that's it. People will always work with the largest group that they think best serves their interests...always. And once you realize that it ceases to be in your best interests to stay in any specific group, you bail. It's that simple.

And so the question always comes down to how to make it so that it benefits people to join your group and reject your enemy's group. And in that context, invading Iraq and treating all Iraqis as suspected Islamofascists was a horrible idea. Because "Shoot First, Shoot Later, and Don't Ask Questions" is a sensible policy if everyone's a baddie. But if we're already treating Iraqis as if they were terrorists, then it only empowers them to actually become terrorists, as there was no disincentive to join.

And the same goes with dealing with Republicans and conservatives and Christians and anyone else who might side with our foes. It seems like they're one big monolithic group when they all recite the same talking points, but the problem is when you mistake the talking points for their actual beliefs. Because once you get around the talking points and start addressing what somebody actually believes, you'll find that every one of them has entirely different beliefs than any other one. And once you get to their real beliefs, you'll find that many of these people are actually liberals who simply lack the perspective with which to properly understand their own beliefs.

Liberal Cootie Shots

And that's really the whole point of conservative talking points; to inoculate these people against their own beliefs, while making their official positions sound unacceptable to us. But you'd be surprised at how many of these people still believe in a functioning government.  They might rant against Big Daddy Government intruding on their lives, but it's obvious from the very nature of their absurd caricature of government that it's a conservative myth that they hate; not the actual government.  And the "small" government they prefer is the one we actually have, while the government they demonize is merely the one that exists in their minds.

Hell, I know a lifelong conservative Republican who now blames the government for the financial crisis because our laws allowed lenders to get away with what they did, and actually blames the government for not having more oversight over the banking industry. Of course, she wouldn't put that in those words and still thinks that government is the problem; but it's obvious from her statements that the truth is otherwise.  She now thinks we needed more government intervention.  And this is the case far more often than we realize.  The truth is that most conservatives are liberals who have been trained to think otherwise.

Yet there are liberals who insist that we just can't deal with these people and must fight them at every turn; as if it somehow benefits us to see them as the caricatures they see us as.  And there are examples of this kind of thing throughout modern history, such as the neo-cons who now take credit for defeating the Soviet Union.  While they now insist they were proven right about everything, they were the absolute last people who predicted such a thing could ever happen...and it was one of the worst things that happened to them until they got their war with Iraq. 

Some people want to lead their side to victory, while others profit by sustained warfare.  And the way to tell the difference is to determine which side has plans to minimize the size and threat of their foes, and which side insists the foe is infinite and almost unbeatable. And if someone says that their enemy is so evil that we must copy their tactics to defeat them; watch out, the enemy is them.