Friday, January 16, 2004

New Term

Not real happy to see My Baby's Daddy enter the lexicon as a term of art. Never had a problem with people having kids outside of wedlock, but am old-fashioned enough to think that couples can take better care of kids than singles. This is especially true when the single in question is very young and never had a stable relationship with the father of her child.

When it's so common for women to get knocked up by someone they're not dating exclusively that you need a special term for it, that's a problem (I'm assuming here that the word boyfriend would suffice if he was, in fact, her boyfriend).


Whenever a competitor announces a new product, you can be sure that Microsoft will announce that it's working ona something that fills the same niche, but with more features. They'll do this even if they don't have such a product in development yet, or even if they have no intention of ever developing one. This mythical product is known as vaporware.

The intent of vaporware is to make the currently available competive product less attractive to both consumers and investors. Why buy this product when a cheaper one with more features will be available soon? Why invest in this product if one with the marketing muscle of Microsoft behind it will be competing with it soon?

In politics, we see vaporware either as a competing proposal that is much cheaper and/or puts off real action for years, or in the call for more studies or research. The Bush administration has gotten very good at the announcement of vaporware for maximum effect.

Worried about golbal warming? Don't worry, we're gonna study it some more to waste tim make sure we really have a problem.

We saw this with the big fuss they made over hydrogen fuel cell autos, which won't be commercially available for well over a decade. We have hybrid cars now, we can make regular cars much more efficient than we currently do; but why worry about all that if hydrogen fuel cells will solve all our problems? This is a very effective way to distract attention from things we could being doing now that the Bushies oppose for either political or ideological reasons.

I'd put school vouchers and the No Child Left Untested Act into the category of vaporware as well. Why fix up urban schools, reduce class sizes, and pay teachers enough to make it a truly desirable occupation (all things we could do now, but which would cost lots of money), when we can simply wait for the vast number of quality private schools that will magically spring into existence at some point in the future (and it would truly have to be a vast number to make a real difference in our educational system) or for market mechanisms to fix everything without having to spend more cash.

Bush's Mission to Mars fantasy looks like more vaporware. It's aimed far enough in the future that the Bushies know they won't have to pay for it, at the same time as it's used as the reason to kill off other programs now. Bloggers have noticed, but the mainstream press has ignored (surprise) that Bush proposes to cut funding for every NASA project that doesn't point to the Moon and Mars. Some of these are crappy money wasters (the Space Station), some are cost effective and scientifically useful; but they want to shelve it all. I'm guessing that this is mainly just a chance to help pay for the Bush tax cuts, with a bit of payoff to big defense contractors thrown in.

The question is, how long will the public accept Bush proposals at face value?, and will they ever start to look at them as the vaporware they are.

Civil Servants

Am reading Robert Kaplan's An Empire Wilderness : Travels into America's Future, which chronicles here in America the growing divide between those who can thrive in the global economy and those who can't, as well as the gradual dissolution of the nation-state, patriotism, and public services in favor of private security firms, private schools, and a sense of belonging more wrapped up in self or local than national identity.

Kaplan has explored the latter more fully in The Coming Anarchy : Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War, in which he writes about places that never quite got a national identity off the ground (think of how much fun we had with those who thought of themselves as Serbians first, members of the Orthodox Church second, and Yugoslavians only third, if that).

Kaplan describes the problem with the police in many Mexican cities. Rather than fighting crime, they are criminals themselves: working as security and hired muscle for drug runners, shaking down businessmen and civilians, even carjacking and armed robbery.

Instead of the mixture of desire to do good and the desire for a secure job with good benefits that drives people into policework here, they surely see more police driven by the desire to make a quick buck easily [this is not to say that Mexico doesn't have honest cops trying to do well, just that the incentives don't work that way].

This made me think of the problems with corruption endemic in many 3rd world countries' civil services, where a bribe is necessary to get a marriage license, to get a loved one's body from the morgue, to take a school entrance exam, for any of the things in daily life we've taken for granted.

An honest, decently paid civil service is one of the things that is absolutely necessary for a livable society. Some societies have one, some don't, and I honestly don't know how a place like Mexico or India will be able to clean their's up. I'm guessing the key will be to pay civil servants enough to make it a desirable job, then to be ruthless in getting rid of anyone corrupt.

But this isn't an easy problem to solve. Once the bribe-taking mindset becomes prevalent, it's hard to root out, especially for those places that don't pay their civil servants a living wage. If I was a cop who couldn't feed his family without bribes, I'd be shaking people down too.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

I Should Like Lieberman More Than I Do

At least on foreign policy matters, he and I both favor of muscular, interventionist liberalism; we're essentially Cold War Democrats. We believe that America has a positive role to play in the international arena (which sets us apart from a lot of other liberals), but that it can't do everything alone (which sets us apart from a lot of conservatives). Lieberman, Clark, and Kerry are the candidates I feel closest to on foreign policy, probably in that order.

Joe has a good environmental record, and is actually to my left on some other social issues like affirmative action. Like me, he doesn't buy into Reagan's dictum that government is the real problem. We both believe that the government can be and usually is a net positive in our society (of course, that's net, not in every instance).

So why don't I like Lieberman more? I'd divide it into one big policy difference and one smaller personal one.

When it comes down to it, Lieberman has simply become too comfortable with the concentration of wealth and of political power in fewer and fewer hands. Either he doesn't see these as a problem or he doesn't see them as being solvable. I, on the other hand, see that we need to prevent our slow division into have's and have-not's, into those with lots of power and those with noe if we're to prevent ourselves from being an increasingly brutal and dangerous society like Brazil or anyplace else with a wide and widening gulf between the rich and poor. Given my druthers, I'll choose Denmark over Brazil any day, and I see a steeply progressive tax code and strict regulation of corporate behavior as necessary to push us in that direction. I'm not sure Joe agrees.

On a strictly personal note, Lieberman's smarmy goody-two-shoes act gives me the creeps. It bugged me in 2000 when he spent most of the election lecturing Hollywood, and my reaction hasn't gotten any better.

We agree on more than I usually admit, but Lieberman and I are just too far apart on our vision of government regulation and of the tax code for him to be my guy. Sorry, Joe.

No Agua

Came home from work yesterday and there was no water coming from my taps. I figured that there was a water main somewhere being worked on, so I waited. Sure enough, the H2O started flowing again in a couple hours.

Like the last time freezing rain knocked out my power here in The London of the Piedmont (Buffet's description of Nashville's weather), this gave a bit of time to reflect on how soft and downright helpless Western Man has become. I may be able to fix a computer, drive a car, argue my way in and out of trouble, or even change a diaper; but put my ass in a situation with no electricity, no supermarkets, and no access to potable water and I'm in deep shit. And of the three, clean water is probably the most vital and hardest to get.

Millions of people, lots of them little kids, die each year because they have no way to get clean drinking water. Kinda puts my bullshit struggles in perspective, don't it? Makes me thankful to be here in America and feel a little unworthy of everything I've been handed at the same time.

SayUncle discusses freedom and what is necessary to preserve it and isn't happy with what he sees:

In short, guns are useless without the will to right wrongs and take risks. Sadly, I think America is at the point where most of us are unwilling to take risks, stand up for what’s right, and speak truth to power.

We sit by while our courts restrict speech; politicians authorize government agencies to snoop through citizen’s records without warrants; police randomly harass motorists; indoor plumbing justifies why police no longer have to knock and announce their presence before entering a suspect’s home; dissenters are quarantined to First Amendment Zones; judges tell people they can’t sell their book; local governments abuse eminent domain; men armed with machine guns parade around our large cities; people are detained without access to legal counsel, sometimes in secret; and the list goes on and on.

As long as Michael Jackson is in the news, Paris Hilton is sucking dick, and the latest reality TV shows are popular, we don’t notice. Or we don’t care.

Or we’re forced to pick two losing sides. Democrats and Republicans have equally deplorable records regarding civil liberties. It just depends which particular civil liberty you’re talking about. We often vote for the lesser of two evils.

It’s up to us to change it by holding politicians responsible. If we can’t do that now with our vote, we won’t have the will to do anything if our last hope turns out to be AK47s.


I hear lots of numbers as to how many Palestinians have been killed since the start of the most recent violence. Does anyone know how many of them have been killed by other Palestinians, either in bombings or killed for collaborating with the Israelis?

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Just a side note, but I really miss Rabin. He's maybe the only one who could've guided Israel through this without the bloodshed we've seen. I was happy to see Sharon stand up to the wingnuts in his own party and say that settlements must be dismantled, but I have yet to hear of any actually being torn down.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Can't understand why everyone seems so pissed about Israel building themselves a security fence. Seems like a great idea to me.

It'll allow the Israelis to better protect themselves against suicide bombers and other terrorists (there've been no recent bombings originating in Gaza, cause they've already got a big fence around it), which is the obvious intent. What gets less attention is that it will also force the Israelis to abandon the far-flung network of settlements they've built, especially those which are dangerously close to Arab towns.

That's the thing about really damned expensive fences, you tend to build them in the shortest line possible, without detours for tiny encampments on some distant hillside. I wrote last year that the Israelis would eventually have to withdraw behind defensible borders, and I remember Thomas Friedman advocating back in the 80's that they should simply hand the Palestinians their land back and say You're independent, deal with it. Don't expect to be trading with us or taking jobs here anytime this century (not a quote, just the gist of his idea).

The Palestinians have no inherent right to work for Israeli companies, nor to trade with Israel. They only get to trade with and work for people they're at peace with, and they're not at peace. Nor are the 1967 borders sacrosanct. They were the product of war themselves, after all.

Israel should simply fence off what they need to keep and can sensibly defend, then slam the doors and declare the Palestinians independent. After that, they're on their own.

Update: Just heard that a woman waiting to go through security from the Gaza Strip blew herself up, killing 4 Israelis. While the crossings through security fences are obvious weak points, one possible solution (but an extreme one) is simply to not allow anyone to cross.

Either a Joke or the Worst Scam of All Time

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Not a Fan of the Vanity Candidates

Just caught enough of the debate the other night to see Sharpton criticizing Howard Dean for not hiring enough blacks as Governor, which was just enough to annoy the shit out of me.

Cut the guy some fucking slack. He was Governor of freakin' Vermont, a state so white that it makes Idaho look brown. How the hell is he gonna hire many minorities in a state that doesn't have any to start with?

I know it would look bad to cut the vanity candidates out of the debates, but we really don't need to waste much time listening to guys who aren't really running for President. Let them draw attention to pet causes the same way everyone else has to instead of glomming onto free publicity from the Presidential Primaries.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Brian Linse agrees with me on possible VPs:
Edwards has always struck me as a Clintonesque candidate, and at the very least he should be considered as a great VP on a Wes Clark ticket if Dean tanks.

If Dean wins the nom? Dean/Clark would be the way to go for the best chance of ousting Bush Jr.

The Poor Man gives us a likely scenario for a Clark win, as he emerges as the main non-Dean candidate after NH then runs the table in the South and Mountain West.

Kevin Phillips is pissed and you should read what he has to say about the Bush family, inherited priviledge, and the future of politics in America:
This type of dynasty is antithetical to the American political tradition. The presidency is now subject to inherited views, inherited staff, inherited wars, inherited money, inherited loyalties. I'm not talking about particular policies -- I'm talking about a unique evolution of a corrupting institutional process in American governance.......

.......You have to focus on the Bush family itself. They have made the presidency into an office infused with an almost hereditary dishonesty. There's so much lying and secrecy and corruption to it. Just look at the way Neil and Jeb and Marvin and George W. have earned their livings, with all these parasitic operations: profiting from their political connections, cashing in on favors from big corporations and other governments. It's a convergence of arrogance -- the sense that you don't have to pay attention to democratic values. It's happening again with Halliburton. They can't help but let their old cronies in there to make buckets of money off the war.

VP Candidates

A few days ago, I wrote about Wes Clark being the most logical Democratic nominee not named Howard Dean, and that his choice for a VP isn't as constrained as Dean's is. I see the best choices for Clark as John Edwards and Jean Shaheen, both of whom I see adding something to the ticket nationwide, with the kicker of Edwards' regional appeal in the South and Shaheen delivering her swing state.

This made me think more about the strategy behind picking a VP nominee. There are two main schools of thought:

1) Pick a VP who helps you nationwide, even if only a bit, included in this would be picking a VP who fills in some of the gaps on your resume. This would be the rationale for Howard Dean to pick Wes Clark as his VP.

2) Pick a VP who helps you a lot in one particular area or key state. This would be the rationale for Gore to have picked someone like Bob Graham in 2000 (Graham would help in Florida and help with foreign policy in today's political climate)

The best VP picks, of course, are a mixture of both. They are candidates who have nationwide and regional appeal at the same time. Jean Shaheen would fit this category, as she could virtually guarantee New Hampshire and would add something in every state due to being a woman. Al Gore helped Bill Clinton in the South, and added foreign policy and legislative experience that reassured the rest of the nation.

An addendum should be that, of course, the VP should neither hurt nationwide nor in a particular region (and this obviously includes not picking anyone who is unfit to be President). This is where the Liberman pick failed. He did help in Florida and in California (where Gore didn't really need help), but he hurt elsewhere (I think the distancing Gore from Clinton thing was mostly of interest to the Press and was probably a wash).

As much as I'd prefer it to be otherwise, Lieberman's religion hurt Gore in Tennessee, Missouri, New Hampshire, Arkansas, West Virginia, and New Mexico, which he won anyway [this does not mean that I'm happy that there are still people who vote aginst candidates based on religion and ethnicity, but simply that they exist and that reality must be faced]. I also think his constant harping on Hollywood and rather conservative image probably drove a few more voters to Nader. He was obviously useless in the VP debate, but that is of minor importance in the big picture.

So who are the VP's I'd consider in '04?

A lot depends on the candidate doing the picking, and his particular needs. Next would be my take on the electoral map and where a VP might help most. Last, but not least, should be whether this election is one in which big risks are justified, and I think they are quite justified.

The first place people look for a VP are among other candidates:

Howard Dean: Good Presidential candidate, not a good VP candidate; centrist with public image of left-winger; no regional appeal outside the Northeast, which is already solidly Democratic (but would help in NH and Maine); MD gives added credence to postions on healthcare; excellent record as Governor; tendency to shoot off his mouth; main appeal is among the Democratic base; should only be considered as VP if needed to unite the Party; good campaigner

Joe Lieberman: Bad candidate, worse VP; has been far more critical of other candidates than any other Democrat in race, making it hard for him to turn around and join one of them; religion is both an advantage in some areas and a liability in others; soft campaigner; solid record as Senator; looks like Keebler Elf

John Kerry: So-so candidate, so-so VP; good military and foreign policy credentials; smart as hell; good ideas on environment and energy independence; trouble connecting with voters; weird hair; weirder wife; no regional appeal outside Northeast; would make much better President than candidate,kinda like Gore; in fact, much like Gore in many ways including all his weaknesses as a candidate

Dick Gephardt: Bad candidate, only slightly better VP; doesn't connect well with voters; so-so record in Congress; no eyebrows; some regional appeal in Midwest, but mostly among core Democratic groups; so-so campaigner; only a viable VP for an insurgent wanting to rebuild bridges with mainstream Democrats

Bob Graham: So-so candidate, better VP: got no traction in crowded field; solid foreign policy credentials; very popular in Florida, which should put him on anyone's short-list; weird diary habit; not an exciting guy, but might be perfect for a candidate who generates enough excitement on his own; would've won election for Gore in 2000

Wesley Clark: Good candidate, good VP; excellent military and foreign policy credentials; smart as hell; seems to be getting his footing as candidate and does well on stump; politcally untested; only candidate with an advantage on Bush/Cheney in military matters; slightly weird bugeyes; can be abrasive at times; background has great appeal among veterans, rural voters, and groups that might not respond to other candidates

John Edwards: Decent candidate, better VP; accent and background should have strong appeal across South and Midwest and in rural parts of West (even many non-Southern swing voters seem to respond to Democrats with Southern accents), but probably can't deliver NC; relatively untested; very telegenic; solid postions on a variety of issues; good campaigner; Clinton without the zipper problem

Not gonna consider the vanity candidates; will take a look at other possible Veeps soon.