Friday, September 26, 2008

Salt of the Earth

I woke up with this running through my head. It might be the voice of prophecy...or perhaps not.

(Rolling Stones, snarky British working-class version)

(Judy Collins, American populist left version, enough changes to make it a different song. "Salt of the Earth" starts halfway through the video--no better version, sorry.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

No no no no

Please don't give $700 billion to the banks, so that they can piss it away like the last trillion. I'll probably have more to say on this, and more intelligent things, but right now I just wish it would stop. Caw!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Obama's science advisory panel

List at Wired. It's an idiosyncratic list, and only one of the five is a woman, but the short bios all indicate knowledgeable, competent people. It is not even remotely plausible that a McCain/Palin administration would make picks near as good.

Monday, September 15, 2008


This one's an exasperated comment on "libertarian" arguments against public transit. You cannot mix apples, watermelons, and cherries, compute average statistics about the mix, and then honestly proclaim that you have proven something about apples. Sheesh.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Notes on energy policies that will work

I got tired of snickering at Republicans, so here's a few notes on things we know will work.
1. A huge amount of fossil-fuel generated and electric energy is spent to heat and light buildings. Careful design, retrofitting of existing buildings, and siting of new buildings can reduce this by at least 90%. The use of incident solar energy - sunlight and heat is enormously effective. The big win here is what are called "hybrid" techniques, where active systems that use small amounts of energy are used to control passive systems to store and and direct large amounts of solar and geothermal energy. Daylighting and heating techniques are widely known; one that is less so is the geothermal heat pump, which is a highly-efficient cooling technique. There are houses in Maine that use entirely solar heat; there are houses in Louisiana that use geothermal heat-pumps for cooling. Clever design can reduce building energy use enormously, and many of these technologies save money, even at low energy prices. Links: Overview at Worldchanging. Brown and DeKay, Sun, Wind, and Light an excellent practical guide to passive techniques. Deparment of Energy on geothermal heat pump technology. US Department of Energy on photovoltaics.
2. Long-haul freight rail. More efficient than long-haul trucking and much more efficient than long-haul air transport.
3. Medium-range passenger rail. More efficient than single-occupancy automobiles, safer, and you can do office work on the way.
4. Urban multi-modal transit. The amount of space required by the heavy use of automobiles is itself a huge cost, both in land and the energy required to develop it. Broadly, when there are enough people to use the systems, rail is both more efficient and much cheaper than buses. In local transportation, however, there are many uses where rail doesn't make a lot of sense--there's no energy advantage over an automobile with a family. Buses have the advantage of not needing dedicated rights-of-way, but are uncomfortable and more expensive to operate than rail systems. If a bus line is operating for more than 10 years, it makes sense to replace it with a streetcar.
5. Build closer. Sorry, guys--we've no idea how to make low-density urbanization energy efficient.
6. Solar electricity. For applications where there is no good substitute for electrical energy, this is a good technology that is still improving.
So...are we hearing about these from the Democrats? Sadly, not very much. But Al Gore's been talking about them for over 15 years!

"And you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska."

Well, yes, if you count the Diomede Islands in the Bering Strait. Little Diomede Island is a US holding; Big Diomede Island is a Russian holding. They are something like 1,000 miles from Anchorage and probably just as far from any significant place in Russia. A brilliant, deceptive, and meaningless claim. Sarah Palin has close connections with a radical anti-US party, the secessionist, theocratic Alaska Independence Party. Sarah Palin also has close connections with a remarkably strange version of Christianity. She has received protection from witchcraft. Palin Signed Off on Budget to Charge Rape Victims for Exams. She is given to cronyism and notorious for appointing inadequately-prepared friends to high office (NYT article, reg. may be required). Exhaustive analysis of Sarah Palin's conduct as Governor in several disturbing instances by Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Read it and weep. This is the all-purpose "why Sarah Palin would make a bad President" post. I may add more to it. Caw!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Further thoughts on Palin

When I first heard of Sarah Palin, my attitude was, "Oh, that's kind of cool." As the information began to roll in it was, "Oh, wow, she's really awful." Now it's, "WtF? Why does anyone care about her?" Interlarded, mind you, with "She's Nehemiah Scudder [fictional religious radical] in a dress. Have the Republicans gone crazy? Have we all?" I don't get it. Why does she matter at all? (And will I still feel this way tomorrow morning?)

On Sarah Palin's sexual politics

(An article similar in spirit but not language was deleted from an anti-Obama feminist blog, so I've decided to post this here in its stead.) I'm old enough to remember when abortion on demand was finally legalized. I have a good friend who grew up where it is still illegal, and my friend probably is sterile as a result of a backstreet abortion. Those of you who think that Palin would make a good president--if she becomes President, what will you say when your mothers, sisters, daughters, lovers, and wives start dying?

If we want Obama/Biden to win

Let's hear some good solid progressive arguments we can use for them. We need something really good, folks.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Reflections on Palin

Let's grant that Palin's selection was, in fact, a spur-of-the-moment decision on the part of John McCain, based on an inadequate search and interview. Yet if some master manipulator had tried to pick someone to focus the question of neo-conservative ideology vs. progressivism, they could hardly have done a better job than to seek out and select Sarah Palin and stand her against Barack Obama. We progressives say we want to make our case. Well, now's our opportunity. In fact, now we must make it. We say we know something better than neo-conservatism. We need to figure out what it is, and get it out there. Or we're going to lose. The real problem that Palin poses for us is that she discredits Democratic conservatism. Why vote for the copy when you can have the real thing, at least as VP? But, you perhaps object, perhaps, that she's not the real thing, that the thing doesn't exist, can't exist. That she's corrupt and self-serving. Well, yes. And W. Bush is even moreso. But he's president. We need a truth--or at least a compassionate story--that enough of the public wants to believe so much that they're willing to abandon their belief in figures like Bush and Palin. And we need Obama to tell that story.

"Change". OK, good. The problem is, the rest of the platform is bollocks. (All right, maybe 75% of it is bollocks.) There's no economic quick-fix for manufacturing; the USA is not going to build a modern manufacturing base in four years, not even in eight. It also probably requires a national health-care system. There's no such thing as clean coal and carbon sequestration is a very questionable idea. Even if the engines were 100% efficient and clean as a whistle, an automobile-based transportation system would still be inefficient and an ecological problem. And so on, and on. We've got to have something real, or at least be willing to seek something real. We can't win anyone's heart by being corrupt--the Republicans have the corner on that market.

In our favor: progressives don't have to be saints. People want something better. Give them a little hope they can believe in, and they'll grab on and start leading us. Isn't that what Obama has been saying all along? But we have to give them something, and we have to be willing to be led. Oh, the parties are not the same; that's false, and the counsel of despair. Even before Palin came on the scene, Obama and McCain stood for different things. But the parties are, in different ways, both part of the problem. The parties aren't willing to be led.

In different words, this is a criticism that has been heard before: the parties are unresponsive to the voters. Which most thinking people already know. There's hope out there, there's things we can do. There's even people who know what those things are and can articulate them. But if the party leadership is busy protecting the auto industry, the insurance companies, the oil industry, MBNA, the radical-right christians, the god-knows-what that broken John McCain will listen to, then they can't listen to us, or do the things we need to do.

Progressives need to pull Obama along. Sarah Palin is going to do the feet-to-the-fire job, better, probably, than any progressive can. She has already forced him to come out firmly pro-choice. So I think progressives need to advocate and hold out an alternative, one that can win. It might be our moment--let's try to seize it.

What Brung Them

The great liberal commentator Molly Ivins was so fond of the saying, "You got to dance with them what brung you," that she used it for a book title. By this she meant, of course, that politicians have to work with the people who bring them into office, whether with votes or money. So who has brought Obama and now McCain?

First, of course, wealthy lobbyists. The great unreported story of the Democratic National Convention, says the estimable Jane Hamsher at, is "the unhealthy relationship between Democratic politicians and their bigwig donors." Obama flirts with wealth and power, most notably with his selection of Biden as his running mate. McCain's connection with wealth are substantial; he married it, after all. Palin's connections with Big Oil are even more dramatic; if Obama flirts with wealth and power, and McCain has married it, Palin, despite her claimed Christianity, has had a long affair with them. But she seems to have married power, and fanaticism.

Second, the primary run of Hilary Clinton, McCain's pick of Palin and her popularity, show that women, more than any single group, have brought the Presidential candidates. Welcome to the 21st century. And--some women support Palin? If she has her way, it will be back to the times when everyone knew some young woman who had died from a failed abortion, some woman whose heart was broken by bearing a child and giving it up for adoption, or some woman or man who was forced into a bad marriage by an unexpected pregnancy! I suppose it is no different than tough working men supporting Republicans who have consistently sold them out, but it is heartbreaking to see anyway.

Third, progressive beginners. These are the young (and not so young) Obama supporters who support Obama's "change," even though they're not sure what it means. They don't want perpetual war, they want health care, they are environmentalists. I believe this group also includes some of the young Republicans who are thrilled by Sarah Palin. I think this group is much more likely to get what it wants from an Obama administration than a McCain (or Palin) administration, but it's not likely to get all of what it wants, because the conservatives are too strong. The Democrats aren't very happy with this group, as witness the choice of Biden for Obama's running mate, but they will probably have to make some concessions to them.

Fourth is reactionaries. "Give me back the Berlin wall / give me Stalin and St Paul / I've seen the future, brother: / it is murder."* This group wants change, but the change they want is a return to the real or imagined past. Obama, by not pinning down his "change", has attracted some of these voters, and through rhetorical prowess may even have persuaded some of them that there is hope, but by and large these are Republicans.

Fifth, still, are religious authoritarians. These bring the Republicans, and the Republicans have chosen Palin to lead their part of the dance.

So, to recap, we have:
1. Lobbyists
2. WOMEN!!!
3. Progressive beginners
4. Reactionaries
5. Religious authoritarians

How does this play out? First, the pervasive influence of great wealth in US government is not going away soon (duh). Second, the influence of women is bipartisan. But in the areas where the pols have some latitude, it seems the Democrats are going to be influenced by progressive beginners and old feminists, and the Republicans by reactionaries and religious authoritarians.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bill who?

"Sen. John McCain's top campaign strategist accused the news media Tuesday of being 'on a mission to destroy' Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin by displaying 'a level of viciousness and scurrilousness' in pursuing questions about her personal life." Caw!