August 2008

Cargo Cult Politics

In one of my favorite speeches, the 1974 CalTech commencment, physicist Richard Feynman decried what he called "cargo cult science." Cargo cults are the anthropologically fascinating result of the interaction between primitive cultures and developed ones.

Most famously, during the U.S. island hopping campaign in the Pacific during WWII, we built military bases on many small pacific islands. The native inhabitants previously had little or no contact with modern materiel, and when the war ended and the bases were deserted. Not understanding the source of the equipment, many native societies formed cults to bring back the supplies. They constructed all the superficial trappings of the military bases; they built runways with bamboo airplanes to lure the planes back. Men sat watch with coconut and bamboo radio headsets. Soldiers marched with wooden rifles.

Thoughts On Palin

Since McCain picked Sarah Pali, Governer of Alaska to be his Vice Presidential running mate, everyone has been scrambling to figure out "what it means" and "how it plays." I have a few general thoughts, and what better place to air them than the internet? Here they are in no particular order.

1) This was first and foremost a political pick. If the first major decision of the presidency is picking a vice president, McCain just failed and Obama passed. Obama picked a politician for both political and practical reasons; Biden is a great surrogate, but he is also a reasoned and experienced voice to have as counsel. Biden and Obama by all accounts developed quite a rapport over the campaign, and with Obama's trust, Biden will be an effective advisor and confidant.

McCain, on the other hand, had no relationship with Palin at all. She was picked first and foremost to shake things up, as the McCain camp understood they couldn't win on the fundamentals. I don't know how many times McCain and Palin have ever even met before the VP search began, but I'd be surprised if it were more than a handful of times. Also on her side was the paucity of good picks for McCain. As my mom pointed out "who the hell else was he going to pick? Romney? Giulliani?"

Things That Make My Ears Bleed

Cable news.

Specifically, when I come home and turn on the TV and hear talking heads complaining that politicians and parties "don't get" the problems of "average" Americans, and that these politicians and parties need to "explain" what they're going to do. I'm looking at you Tom Brokaw.

Perhaps I find this so exasperating because Obama's plans are so easily found on his website, accessible to any American with access to the internet (which certainly includes members of the media). Meanwhile, cable news spends hours upon hours complaining about the lack of substance, or policy, or details, or solutions, and quite literally no time examining the policies or proposals of the candidates.

I've seen hundreds of hours of news coverage this election, and not once have I seen even a 5 minute substantive report on the competing healthcare proposals, or energy proposals, or tax plans, or Iraq plans.

I have heard quite a lot of opinions and speculation from Tom Brokaw.

Dunces in the Corner

Last night at Drinking Liberally somebody who wasn't familiar with the National Review Online's "the corner" blog asked why we all thought it was the "most retarded collection of thoughts on the internet."

It would be impossible to document even a small fraction of the absurdity and stupidity at the corner, but I offer this non-comprehensive collection of corner highlights from the very recent past anyway. Note that this is a non-comprehensive list, in no particular order.

Starting recently, a mere 40 minutes ago, Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote the following:

McCain-Clinton 2008 Watch [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

Carly Fiorina meets with Tony Rodham.

08/20 11:24 AM

No, Sister Mary Kathryn, McCain-Clinton isn't going to happen. Next?

Yesterday, at 11 AM Kathryn Jean Lopez dropped a huge scoop on the cornerites.

It's Rudy [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

So many e-mailers this morning are predicting that the McCain trial balloon is really about Giuliani. I'm not there, but here's one:

I don't think it's being floated for Liebermann or Ridge.
I think he's considering Giuliani.

Glenn Beck Falls for the Hype

After the Olympics last night I briefly flipped to Glenn Beck (why do I do this to myself before bed?), and though I was expecting him to say any number of astonishingly ignorant things, I didn't expect him to talk about the BIG HUGE BREAKTHROUGH IN SOLAR ENERGY THAT WILL REVOLUTIONIZE EVERYTHING!

I couldn't resist a little debunking, in case anyone else has heard of this.

The short version is this. MIT researchers led by Dr. Daniel Nocera made a genuinly interesting and important discovery in electrocatalysis. Their discovery was an electrocatalyst for water electrolysis that uses more readily available elements than platinum, is about 70% energy efficient rather than sub 50%, and is self-healing (ie can be used without being replaced) and it surely has important applications.

More Speechifying

The Big Dog smacked around the GOP pretty well.

Joe Biden brought the heat also, but I can't find the video up yet. In the meantime here is his bio/hagio-graphy

One of the nice things about being a Democrat is all the elder statesmen of our party. Compare Clinton, Biden, and Kerry with Guilliani, Romney, and Thompson(!). We win.

Hillary Clinton's Convention Speech

Was pretty good I thought. I actually thought it was one of her best oratorical performances this campaign, but perhaps that's just because I'm predisposed to the message.

Meanwhile, The Daily Show skewers the dead enders. Gotta love how they brought in a child psychologist!

John McCain's Missed Energy Votes

One of the aspects of this election that hasn't really penetrated most of the mainstream media narrative is John McCain's complete lack of leadership or coherent position on energy, particularly with regard to renewables and energy independence. Recently, Tom Friedman noticed that McCain had missed a number of key votes on energy, but it's even worse than Friedman wrote. As I noted many times before, John McCain didn't even have an energy policy during the Republican primary. His rhetoric is completely unmatched by his plans and his record. His lack of a coherent energy plan has been discussed here and elsewhere before, however, so now I'm going to explain in moderate detail McCain's dismal senate record on energy policy.

David Shuster is the Man

Joe Scarborough is an ass. Has Scarborough been asleep for the last five years? After the Bush administration and the Iraqi government essentially adopt Obama's responsible withdrawal timeline, he's acting like the GOP had been there all along!

David Shuster was too smart to sit idly by. The rest of that gang? Not so much.

Somebody go dig up video of Scarborough calling Democrats defeatists for calling for timelines or benchmarks for withdrawal.

Scarborough has blood on his smarmy hands.

Joe Biden, a "Statesmen" for VP

(How am I beating John to this? :)

With the announcement today that Sen. Joe Biden will be Sen. Barack Obama's running mate, my political fervor has been restored. I've taken a bit of a vacation from politics since the primaries wrapped up, holding back from reading the news compulsively because I was tired of being run around in the same old political circles...the pundits bouncing back and forth on who is more of an elitist or who can take which demographic for whatever over-generalized reason. But the question that drove me crazy the most the last few weeks was the one none of us could ignore: "Who will Obama pick as his VP?"

I was soooo tired of it. All the speculation, and then the last few days the media stalking those being vetted...it was getting a little ridiculous.

But now we have an answer, and it's a pretty damned good one.

As everyone in the media and across the interwebs is echoing right now, Biden brings the "experience" factor that Obama needs the most. He brings the white-working-class spirit. He brings a depth of character that complements Obama's, as the presumptive nominee emphasized in introducing his new running mate today. And he has the necessary oratorial strength to campaign alongside such a dynamic crowd-pleaser of a politician as Barack Obama, wielding a sharp tongue that won't hesitate to take an honest jab at the competition.