Google analytics

Friday, November 30, 2012

We are Borg: I am now post human

by John MacBeath Watkins

There are philosophers of our post-human future who say that we became cyborgs as soon as we donned spectacles. For me, that would be age 14, but I didn't buy the notion that I became part machine at that point,

But now, I've definitely been assimilated by the Borg. While delivering books Tuesday to the new location for the bookstore in Ballard (2001 Market, which may be why I'm thinking of this in sci-fi terms) I fell into the hole where the new side entry will be (the silly thing had no railings or markers.) The hole was about a meter deep, cushioned only with nice, dry concrete, and I landed on my elbow and wrist, which both fractured. The wrist is really no problem, but the elbow part of the ulna broke clean off, so that my muscles were attached to a bit of free-floating bone. Any movement created indescribable pain.

My business partner, Jaimie, was there to help me out of the hole (even then, without a ladder we'd have called 911,) and we walked all of a block to the nearest emergency room, where a grim-faced Dr. Brown told me surgery would be required, and would need to take place within a week.

Group Health got me into surgery yesterday, installed a titanium butt joint, and I am now in an entirely different state of agony as I recover from the surgery. Pain pills can only do so much.

The crew at Group Health were wonderful. Thanks to Dr. Adelman and all those others whose names I can't recall (sorry, I wasn't at my best.) Jean Cocteau said that healing is like a slow wound in reverse, and that is certainly how it felt until they got the right pain meds for me. No I'm trying to remain as still as possible for as long as possible to minimize pain and maximize healing.

Updates here: http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-borg-who-walk-among-us.html

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Higher Tide on Vashon

by John MacBeath Watkins

Now, here's a funny thing. A few days ago, high tide left the park in front of the old homestead looking like a scene from Spirited Away.


The parking lot was about 20% under water, and the park bench was all at sea.


Not at all the way it looks normally.

Which set me to wondering, how much has the sea level risen since whites settled Vashon Island (the first land claim was in 1864, but not much happened until the 1880s.)

The NOAA shows about eight inches of sea level rise since then.

Which, over 130 years, happened so slowly you'd hardly notice it. How much change does it take, and how fast does it have to happen, to get peoples' attention?

In The City of Falling Angles, published in 2006, there's an account of a man building a replica of Casanova's gondola, and finding that it would not fit under bridges Casanova reported clearing with ease.

http://books.google.com/books?id=MrW...eplica&f=false
"It was a dramatic demonstration of how much the water level in Venice has risen over the past 250 years," he said.
 
(By the way, if you are so unfortunate as to have never seen Spirited Away, get it from Netflix, buy the DVD, or whatever you have to do to watch it.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The translation game, now with approved borogroves

by John MacBeath Watkins

In a somewhat obscure Philip K. Dick book, The Galactic Pot Healer, the futility of the hero's life is revealed by a hobby he shares with similarly lonely and directionless souls, sending well-known phrases through a series of translations, then challenging the other players to guess the original text.

Robert Frost defined poetry as "that which is lost in translation," so I decided to try it with a well-known poem. I don't think you'll have too much trouble guessing the original text, but this is how it looked after being translated into Hindi, Arabic, Maltese and back to English, with possibly some other languages I've forgotten.

Say what!?

(not as written by) Lewis Carroll

`Twas brillig and slithy Tove.
       WABE ring and Gimble.
All approved borogoves.
       Mome raths asshole.


"Beware the Jabberwock my son!
       Jose, claws that catch the dust!
Jubjub Birds stay away.
       Frumious Bandersnatch! ".

Grab Vorpal sword in his hand.
       To his enemies Manxome -.
Then placed Tumtum tree.
       It was intended for a period of time.

Uffish and thinks he is.
       Jyoti Eye with Jabberwock.
Whiffling Tulgey wood.
       burbled as it is!

One, two! One, two! By scoring.
       Light vorpal blade dazed!
Leave dead, and with its president.
       Went galumphing.

"Jabberwock?
       Lady, Beamish my boy!
S frabjous today! Callooh Callay! ".
       He delighted chortled.


`Twas brillig and slithy Tove.
       What is the area and Wabe Gimble;
All approved borogoves.
       Mome raths asshole.


Apparently, Frost was right.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Red Shift: Any resemblance to actual elections...

by John MacBeath Watkins

Liberals seem not to like conspiracy theories the way conservatives do. This may be why notions that elections can be -- and may have been -- stolen by people manipulating electronic voting machine totals are not popular. I ran across this on a blog post:
In 1871 William Marcy ("Boss") Tweed said: "As long as I get to count the votes, what are you going to do about it?" Paperless DRE machines ensure that only the company that built them gets to count the votes, and that no one else can ever recount them. 
And, of course, someone makes and sells the machines. They must be people of impeccable reputation, because the Help America Vote Act passed under the second Bush administration subsidized local voting authorities buying their machines.

Or not. From an article in Harper's Magazine:
In 2001, for example, a grand jury indicted Philip Foster, Sequoia’s southern regional sales manager, for malfeasance and conspiring to launder money. During the previous decade, he had facilitated a kickback scheme that funneled payments to a Louisiana elections official, who purchased Sequoia equipment while winking at millions of dollars in overcharges. The scheme, which also involved Foster’s brother-in-law and fellow Sequoia employee David Philpot, was hardly an advertisement for the company. Yet Foster, who gained immunity for his testimony against the elections official, not only avoided jail time but was promoted to vice president of sales administration and strategies at Sequoia.

One high achiever actually got his start in prison. Jeffrey Dean’s vote-by-mail software—developed while Dean was serving a sentence for twenty-three counts of embezzlement—came to dominate the U.S. absentee-voting market. Once out of prison, Dean launched his own ballot-printing company with narcotics trafficker John Elder. They later sold it to Global Election Systems, where, readers will recall, Bob Urosevich served as president and COO, before the company was sold to Diebold.
But while criminals might, by definition, be more easily corrupted than most people, this does not mean they favor one side over the other.

But not all the people involved are simply greedy. From the same Harper's piece:

Election Day is now dominated by a handful of secretive corporations with interlocking ownership, strong partisan ties to the far right, and executives who revolve among them like beans in a shell game.

Bob and Todd Urosevich are hardly household names. Yet the two brothers have succeeded in monopolizing American election technology for decades through a pair of supposedly competing corporations: the Ohio-based Diebold and the Nebraska-based ES&S. The latter was founded by the Urosevich brothers in 1979 and is headquartered in Omaha, where it has an Ayn Rand–flavored corporate address on John Galt Boulevard. It is also, let us recall, the same company that may have won Chuck Hagel his Senate seat.

Diebold became the most infamous name in the industry in 2003, when its CEO, Walden O’Dell, a top fund-raiser for George W. Bush, made a jaw-dropping public promise to “deliver” Ohio’s electoral votes to Bush. The following year, California banned Diebold’s touchscreen system, and Secretary of State Kevin Shelley blasted the company as “fraudulent,” “despicable,” and “deceitful.” O’Dell stepped down in 2005, right before the filing of a class-action suit that accused Diebold of fraud, insider trading, and slipshod quality control.

Concerned about its tarnished brand, the company removed its label from the front of voting machines. Then Diebold went one step further and changed the name of its voting-machine division to Premier Election Solutions.
This is all very suspicious, but it doesn't prove anything, does it? Even coincidences like this don't:
Late on Election Day, John Kerry showed an insurmountable lead in exit polling, and many considered his victory all but certified. Yet the final vote tallies in thirty states deviated widely from exit polls, with discrepancies favoring George W. Bush in all but nine. The greatest disparities were concentrated in battleground states—particularly Ohio. In one Ohio precinct, exit polls indicated that Kerry should have received 67 percent of the vote, but the certified tally gave him only 38 percent. The odds of such an unexpected outcome occurring only as a result of sampling error are 1 in 867,205,553. To quote Lou Harris, who has long been regarded as the father of modern political polling: “Ohio was as dirty an election as America has ever seen.”
Still no smoking gun, and the witness who was supposed to blow that whole thing wide open died in a private plane accident that his family regarded as suspicious (information about that is on the same page as the quote above,) so we'll probably never know what happened.

But it's a great scenario for a work of fiction, perhaps even a film from the notorious left wingers in Hollywood.

Red Shift
by John MacBeath Watkins

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons or elections is purely coincidental.

Kyle Roe knew where the bodies were buried. It was his job, after all, to order the hits and consign the incidents to sleep with the fishes, or the worms, as may be.

He knew that the craggy-faced John Fairy, Democratic challenger to his old boss, President Geordie Thicket (a weak man but a useful tool and a genial face for his masters) would have won the last election but one had Roe not taken the precaution of arranging for a large number of votes to be flipped from Fairy to Thicket somewhere in the counting of ones and zeroes late on a cold Ohio night.

(Go to a flashback. Oh, hell, I feel lazy, this part can just be written with a search/replace program from coverages of the 2004 election.)

Late on Election Day, John Kerry John Fairy showed an insurmountable lead in exit polling, and many considered his victory all but certified. Yet the final vote tallies in thirty states deviated widely from exit polls, with discrepancies favoring George W. Bush Geordie Thicket in all but nine. The greatest disparities were concentrated in battleground states—particularly Ohio. In one Ohio precinct, exit polls indicated that Kerry Fairy should have received 67 percent of the vote, but the certified tally gave him only 38 percent. The odds of such an unexpected outcome occurring only as a result of sampling error are 1 in 867,205,553.

(With luck, I've changed that paragraph so much that will never figure out that it's plagiarized.)

Roe is tense on the night of the 2012 election, but he knows the fix is in. For four years, the nation has been ruled by a man Roe considers alien, a Vulcan, Zaphrod O'Bannon. Roe's candidate to replace him, Mech Omnibot, has been functioning badly, showing poor awareness of his audiences, saying things publicly that he is only supposed to say to his owners about how contemptuous they are of voters.

Mech is projecting confidence, knowing that his fellow machines will swing the election to him. He's been programed to prepare the public for his victory by claiming that his polls show that the turnout among robots will be higher than expected, and he will win fair and square.

Then, disaster strikes.

Roe is on television with his captive propaganda network, Faux News, when someone goes off the script.

The whole election is supposed to hinge on the outcome in a few counties in Ohio, making it dead easy to fix, but well before the numbers are "healed" to stop the bleeding in Omnibot's vote totals, Kegan Melly announces that Faux News is calling Ohio for O'Bannon.

Roe hits the roof. He starts protesting that only 75% of the vote is counted, claiming implausibly that there are enough Robot districts to bring it home for Mech Omnibot. The actual problem is that if even the Faux network calls it for O'Bannon, fixing the vote will cause suspicion.

The Omnibot campaign is frantically calling the Faux newsroom telling them not to call Ohio yet, but not everyone is in on the plan. Melly walks though the Faux News building to talk to the wonks at the decision desk, and the harried statisticians assure her that they know what they're doing.

Worse news is coming from the western and southern quadrants. States are flipping that shouldn't be, and the election is slipping out of control as voters in areas not controlled by Robot Party companies plump for the Vulcan party, making what Roe can accomplish with his carefully structured system moot.

Roe knows that his backers will be out for blood, and needs to make sure it isn't his. He cancels the maintenance contract for Mech Omnibot, and lets the corrupted programs that were causing problems late in the election do the rest. Soon, they are all out for Mech Omnibot's blood, and Roe's role in future elections is secure.






Saturday, November 17, 2012

Picture of Meerkat racing!

by John MacBeath Watkins

The Center for Wooden Boats is selling pictures of the Norm Blanchard Regatta, and I've purchased a couple of them. The photographer has kindly permitted me to put a couple up on the blog.

This one:
Photos by Mitch Reinitz, www.emelarphotography.com
And this one:
Photos by Mitch Reinitz, www.emelarphotography.com

If you had a boat in the regatta or just would like some very nice pictures, the photographer is selling the pix at this site: http://www.emelarphotography.com/

The prices are quite decent.


More posts on this topic:

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/06/building-new-boat.html

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/07/building-meerkat-very-small-catboat.html 

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/07/building-meerkat-very-small-catboat_25.html

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/07/building-meerkat-very-small-catboat-yet.html

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/07/putting-on-goop-building-meerkat-very.html

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/08/building-meerkat-very-small-catboat.html

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/08/building-meerkat-saga-continues.html

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/08/building-meerkat-very-small-catboat_16.html

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/09/building-meerkat-very-small-catboat.html

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/09/meerkat-now-black-by-popular-demand.html

 http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/09/splash-launch-and-first-sail-building.html

 http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/10/meerkat-victorious-building-meerkat.html

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/10/meerkat-gets-meerkart-and-some-sailing.html 

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/11/picture-of-meerkat-racing.html

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2013/02/building-meerkat-alternate-rig.html

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2013/03/by-john-macbeath-watkins-well-its.html

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2013/04/building-meerkats-crabclaw-rig.html

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mitt's apology tour to his donors and the future of the Nixon coalition

by John MacBeath Watkins

Mitt Romney claimed President Obama had gone on an 'apology tour,' apologizing for America.

Now, he's in a position of apologizing to his donors (owners?) for wasting their money.

And he's blowing it.

Worse, having blamed the voters for not choosing him because they wanted "free stuff," a reminder of the famous takers versus makers frame he used before the election talking to donors in the infamous "47%" video, he's back to talking to donors this way, apparently not realizing that some of them might be disgruntled and tape it.


Thing is, no Republican looking to the future wants the party wearing this come 2016, even if it's what their donor/owner class believes. And it's easy to attack Romney. He's a loser, and he never represented any wing of the party.

And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, thought by many to have presidential ambitions of his own, was quick to pounce.
“I think that’s absolutely wrong,” Jindal said later Wednesday at a news conference in Las Vegas at a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. “We have got to stop dividing the American voters. We need to go after 100 percent of the votes, not 53 percent.“
But of course, dividing America and going after 53 percent has been the Republican strategy since Nixon brought the Southern strategy to the party following the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

Consider a 1972 Pat Buchanan memo to Nixon:
"In conclusion, this is a potential throw of the dice that could bring the media on our heads, and cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half."
 If Jindal is right, the formula that has brought the Republican Party so much success for the past 44 years is wearing thin, and they need a new playbook, which Jindal hasn't proposed. But perhaps he's not willing to go that far in following the implications of his own thought.

More on the fraying Republican coalition here:

http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/10/romney-and-weakness-of-nixons-electoral.html

And as the maps on that post make clear, President Obama has twice won without needing the electoral college votes of the former Confederate states -- essentially, the McGovern coalition is now bigger than the Nixon coalition. If that proves to be a durable coalition for Democrats (something I'm less certain of then some) the Southern strategy could consign the old Nixon coalition to make the Republicans a regional party. People like Jindal need to give this problem more than lip service.

“We should do what is within our power to have a black nominated for Number Two, at least at the Democratic National Convention.” Such gambits, he added, could “cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half.”

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/05/26/080526fa_fact_packer#ixzz2CRVR09gr
Nixon was coldly mixing and pouring volatile passions. Although he was careful to renounce the extreme fringe of Birchites and racists, his means to power eventually became the end. Buchanan gave me a copy of a seven-page confidential memorandum—“A little raw for today,” he warned—that he had written for Nixon in 1971, under the heading “Dividing the Democrats.” Drawn up with an acute understanding of the fragilities and fault lines in “the Old Roosevelt Coalition,” it recommended that the White House “exacerbate the ideological division” between the Old and New Left by praising Democrats who supported any of Nixon’s policies; highlight “the elitism and quasi-anti-Americanism of the National Democratic Party”; nominate for the Supreme Court a Southern strict constructionist who would divide Democrats regionally; use abortion and parochial-school aid to deepen the split between Catholics and social liberals; elicit white working-class support with tax relief and denunciations of welfare. Finally, the memo recommended exploiting racial tensions among Democrats. “Bumper stickers calling for black Presidential and especially Vice-Presidential candidates should be spread out in the ghettoes of the country,” Buchanan wrote. “We should do what is within our power to have a black nominated for Number Two, at least at the Democratic National Convention.” Such gambits, he added, could “cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half.”

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/05/26/080526fa_fact_packer#ixzz2CRV597Oo
Nixon was coldly mixing and pouring volatile passions. Although he was careful to renounce the extreme fringe of Birchites and racists, his means to power eventually became the end. Buchanan gave me a copy of a seven-page confidential memorandum—“A little raw for today,” he warned—that he had written for Nixon in 1971, under the heading “Dividing the Democrats.” Drawn up with an acute understanding of the fragilities and fault lines in “the Old Roosevelt Coalition,” it recommended that the White House “exacerbate the ideological division” between the Old and New Left by praising Democrats who supported any of Nixon’s policies; highlight “the elitism and quasi-anti-Americanism of the National Democratic Party”; nominate for the Supreme Court a Southern strict constructionist who would divide Democrats regionally; use abortion and parochial-school aid to deepen the split between Catholics and social liberals; elicit white working-class support with tax relief and denunciations of welfare. Finally, the memo recommended exploiting racial tensions among Democrats. “Bumper stickers calling for black Presidential and especially Vice-Presidential candidates should be spread out in the ghettoes of the country,” Buchanan wrote. “We should do what is within our power to have a black nominated for Number Two, at least at the Democratic National Convention.” Such gambits, he added, could “cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half.”

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/05/26/080526fa_fact_packer#ixzz2CRV597Oo
Nixon was coldly mixing and pouring volatile passions. Although he was careful to renounce the extreme fringe of Birchites and racists, his means to power eventually became the end. Buchanan gave me a copy of a seven-page confidential memorandum—“A little raw for today,” he warned—that he had written for Nixon in 1971, under the heading “Dividing the Democrats.” Drawn up with an acute understanding of the fragilities and fault lines in “the Old Roosevelt Coalition,” it recommended that the White House “exacerbate the ideological division” between the Old and New Left by praising Democrats who supported any of Nixon’s policies; highlight “the elitism and quasi-anti-Americanism of the National Democratic Party”; nominate for the Supreme Court a Southern strict constructionist who would divide Democrats regionally; use abortion and parochial-school aid to deepen the split between Catholics and social liberals; elicit white working-class support with tax relief and denunciations of welfare. Finally, the memo recommended exploiting racial tensions among Democrats. “Bumper stickers calling for black Presidential and especially Vice-Presidential candidates should be spread out in the ghettoes of the country,” Buchanan wrote. “We should do what is within our power to have a black nominated for Number Two, at least at the Democratic National Convention.” Such gambits, he added, could “cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half.”

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/05/26/080526fa_fact_packer#ixzz2CRV597Oo

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Legalization of marijuana, the logic of markets, and the drug cartels

by John MacBeath Watkins

The voters in the states of Colorado and Washington have chosen to make marijuana legal under state law (it's still illegal under federal law) and we are now in a position to test some assumptions about how markets work.

In the years legalizing pot has been discussed, we've heard the same argument come up time after time: It won't reduce crime, because criminals will just move on to other drugs. This is related to the argument that shutting down an open air drug market does no good, because drug dealers will just move to a new location.

Both of these arguments fail if you consider the drug business to be like other businesses.

I'm a businessman. As a retailer for 20 years, I know the three rules of retail: Location, location, and location. If you do not position your retail operation where your customers are, you will not put yourself in a position to sell to them. Furthermore, even if you are an established business, if you have to move, it will take time for your customers to find you, and some never will. It has always amazed me that people who argue that hot-spot policing doesn't work just assume that illegal businesses are somehow exempted from the logic of markets.

It's a market, guys, so it acts like a market.

Similarly, we're told that if we legalize pot, criminals will just move on to other illegal drugs to make their money.

So, if you make it possible for someone to provide, say, textiles, for a lot less than domestic manufacturers can provide them, do you say that's not a problem for the people working in the textile industry, they'll just move on to making something else?

American textile companies didn't just start making something else in their mills, they shut them down, and completely different businesses under completely different owners eventually produced jobs in many of those communities. In some cases, the communities pretty much died out.

Face it, if drug dealers were good at business, they'd be making a living in a way that doesn't risk their freedom. Do we really think they can adapt in a way that the hard-headed businessmen of the American textile industry could not?

People who use marijuana often wouldn't have anything to do with meth or heroin, so those are customers lost to the illegal trade. And it's highly unlikely that the drug cartels could compete with, say, British American Tobacco or Reynolds American.  The tobacco companies could likely produce marijuana for about the price of tobacco.

Should we legalize marijuana nationally, it would reduce the crime rate in two ways: Many activities that will continue to go on would now be legal, which is the most immediate way the crime rate would fall, and since they are legal, the practices of the drug cartels, such as murders over territory and money laundering, would not happen in the market for the legalized drug.

The calculus we need to make is, does making the drug illegal do more harm that having it legal would be? I believe that in the case of marijuana, more and more states will move in the direction of legalizing pot, but I don't think that's a gateway vote for harder drugs.

Washington and Colorado are now poised to be the laboratories in which this is tested. Don't blow it, guys.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Lift a glass to the histories that can never be written

by John MacBeath Watkins

When I was in college, a classmate used to joke that as our records were increasingly kept in electronic form, we'd eventually have someone say, "oops. I just lost the 14th century."

Well, part of the 21st century has disappeared at the push of a button.

From today's Seattle Times:

A strange thing happened when Christopher DeLara filed for disability benefits after his tour in Iraq: The U.S. Army said it had no records showing he had ever been overseas. 

DeLara had searing memories of his combat experiences. A friend bled to death before his eyes. He saw an insurgent shoot his commander in the head. And, most hauntingly, he recalled firing at an Iraqi boy who had attacked his convoy.

The Army said it could find no field records documenting any of those incidents.
Why couldn't they find those records?

Sometimes it was a simple case of "format disk." Sometimes the hard drives were physically destroyed.

In Baghdad, Centcom and the Army disagreed about which was responsible for keeping records. There was confusion about whether classified field records could be transported back to the units' headquarters in the United States. As a result, some units erased computer hard drives when they rotated home, wiping out the records stored on them.

In summer 2009, for instance, the Washington National Guard's 81st Brigade was ordered "by higher-ups" outside the Guard to erase hard drives before leaving them for replacement troops in Iraq, a Guard spokesman, Capt. Keith Kosik, said.

"It was part of their 'to-do' list before leaving the country," he said.

Through 2008, dozens of Army units deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan either had no field records or lacked sufficient reports for a unit history, according to documents. Entire brigades deployed from 2003 to 2008 could not produce any field records, documents from the U.S. Army Center of Military History show.

The Pentagon was put on notice as early as 2005 that Army units weren't turning in records for storage to a central computer system created after a similar record-keeping debacle in the 1990-91 Gulf War.
 The immediate problem is for documenting disability hearings for veterans. That can be dealt with, awkwardly, by getting statements from the men who were in actions in the combat zones. But another problem, less easily solved, is that the records needed to write the history of this war simply no longer exist.
Army historians were dispatched on a base-by-base search worldwide. A summary of their findings shows that at least 15 brigades serving in Iraq at various times from 2003 to 2008 had no records on hand. The same was true for at least five brigades deployed to Afghanistan.

Records were so scarce for 62 more units that served in Iraq and 10 in Afghanistan that they were written up as "some records, but not enough to write an adequate Army history." This group included most of the units deployed during the first four years of the Afghanistan war.
We cannot write an adequate history of our nation's longest war.  I don't believe even George Orwell would have anticipated such a problem arising not from a deliberate tyranny, but from the usual military snafu.

Unless I'm being too generous, and some of those records were destroyed so that we would never know what was done in our names. In that regard, we don't even know what we don't know, and it's unlikely we ever will.

So, let's lift a glass to the files lost in the war zone, and the histories commemorating the sacrifices of our fallen soldiers that can now never be written.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/11/10/174326/missing-documentation-complicates.html#storylink=cpy


Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/11/10/174326/missing-documentation-complicates.html#storylink=cpy


Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/11/10/174326/missing-documentation-complicates.html#storylink=cpy

Stories, language, parasites, and the recent election (more on the strangeness of being human)

by John MacBeath Watkins

Now, this (by Greg Sargent) is interesting:

Obama guru David Axelrod is a believer in the centrality of storytelling to politics — he has been described as “the keeper of Obama’s narrative.” Faced with terrible economic conditions and an implacable opposition, Obama’s brain trust knew Obama would only survive if he ran a scorched earth campaign designed to tear apart his opponent. But the Obama team also married this to an uplifting narrative about Obama that appropriated the very economic and political obstacles he faced.
As long-time readers of this blog will be aware, I'm thoroughly convinced that telling each other stories is the way we construct our world.

The campaign we've just watched was between Barack Obama and someone who felt those stories were infinitely malleable,  to the extent that Mitt Romney ran as one person in the primaries and introduced an entirely different persona, "moderate Mitt" in the first debate, intending to Etch-a-Sketch away the previous image of him. In addition, throughout the campaign, he was relying on quotes from his opponent taken out of context, statements that could be construed as narrowly true but intended to convey falsehoods, and outright lies, which were chronicled by Steve Bennen week after week.

It seemed to work with a lot of people, but the people it didn't work on were those who had been recipients of the Obama narrative in an intense advertising blitz, residents of battleground states like Ohio.

I'm not a big fan of the electoral college, but it does have the advantage of concentrating the efforts of the campaigns in a small enough community that by the time the election rolls around, there are few low information voters in those battleground states.

In political punditry there's a lot of loose talk about "authenticity," which can be interpreted as being (or not being) "one of us" or being authentic in terms of meaning what you say. Conservatives seem to most value the "one of us" interpretation. Liberals tend to value the "meaning what you say" interpretation. And not surprisingly, we saw the conservative side of the recent election try to define President Obama as "the other," while liberals sought to portray Romney as another kind of phoney, a liar. The conservative interpretation of Obama seems to have resonated only among conservatives. The liberal interpretation of Romney actually agreed with the assessment of his Republican primary opponents.

People, we are told, don't like a phoney. Mind you, they frequently elevate phonies to high office, so I'm not so sure it's true, but it does seem to me that this is an attempt to deal with a very basic thing about communication: Lies are parasites on the communicative process.

A lie is a falsehood camouflaged as truth, disinformation disguised as information. The typical lie is intended to influence the behavior of the one who hears it to the benefit of the one who tells it, an effect it cannot have unless it is mistaken for truth. And like other parasites, lies can bleed their host dry.

Language exists to convey information. It works because the hearer trusts the speaker. President Obama has maintained a fairly high favorability in the polls even though he hasn't been able to get the unemployment rate much under 8 percent, in part because people sense a decency and honesty about him. Romney tends to do poorly on measures of favorability, so perhaps people interpret him as less reliable as a speaker. Based on his campaign's rejection of "fact checkers," they had every reason to.

Language, and the strange, symbolic world we have created with it, is the most distinctive characteristic of human beings. A man who undermines that is about as good a friend to voters as a praying mantis is to small insects.



The strangeness of being human is a series of posts about the way language makes us human, giving us abstract categories we use to think and memes that make up much of what we are.

1
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2011/06/to-read-is-to-become-stolen-child.html
2
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/03/on-disenchantment-of-world.html
3
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/02/blue-man-speaks-of-octopus-ink-and-all.html
4
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/05/bicameral-mind-and-strangeness-of-being.html
5
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/05/structure-of-thought-and-death-of.html
6
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2011/11/ane-how-will-our-minds-be-rewired-this.html
7
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/07/sex-death-and-selfish-meme.html
8
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/10/what-is-soul-of-man_10.html
9
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/11/stories-language-parasites-and-recent.html
10
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2013/02/god-language-and-structure-of-society.html
11
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2013/02/be-careful-who-you-are-more-on.html
12
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-strangeness-of-being-weird.html
13
Night of the unread: Why do we flee from meaning?
 14
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2013/03/night-of-unread-do-we-need-ethnography.html
15
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2013/03/when-books-become-part-of-you.html
16
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2013/04/drunk-on-milk-of-paradise-spell-of.html
17
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-power-of-forbidden-words-and.html
18
http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2013/04/so-like-filler-words-you-know-they-uh.html
19
The conspiracy of god, the well-intentioned lie, and the strangeness of being human
20
Spiritual pluralism and the fall of those who would be angels
21
Judging a book by its author: "Fiction is part confession, part lie."
22 
What to do when the gods fall silent, or, the axis of ethics
23 
Why do we need myths?  
24 
Love, belief, and the truth we know alone
25 
"Bohemians"-- The Journey of a Word
26
On being a ghost in a soft machine

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Some sense in our drug laws

by John MacBeath Watkins

One of the most popular posts on this blog is one proposing a peace treaty to end the drug wars. Now my state, Washington, and the state of Colorado, have signed on. Television newsreaders have responded mostly with giggles, so you have to go to the "print" (pixeled?) media for the straight dope.

This is from an AP story that ran in the Seattle Times:

Misdemeanor cases of marijuana possession will be dropped in Washington's largest counties after voters legalized the drug, prosecutors said Friday.
Associated Press

SEATTLE — Misdemeanor cases of marijuana possession will be dropped in Washington's largest counties after voters legalized the drug, prosecutors said Friday.
King County was dropping 175 cases, prosecutor Dan Satterberg said. Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist said his office will do the same, but he didn't immediately know the number of cases affected.
Under Initiative 502, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana will be legal for people 21 years or older after Dec. 6. The initiative passed on Tuesday with 55 percent of the vote.
"Although the effective date of I-502 is not until Dec. 6, there is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month," Satterberg said in a statement.
The cases in King County involve people over 21 who possessed one ounce or less of marijuana. Dropping those pot cases won't ease caseload, said prosecutor's office spokesman Dan Donohoe, noting that 6,700 misdemeanor cases were tried in 2011.
Lindquist cautioned, however, that cases of possession of marijuana linked to other charges, such as drunken driving for example, would proceed. The cases affected are solely marijuana possession, he said.
In Snohomish County, chief criminal deputy prosecutor Joan Cavagnaro said her office is in a "holding pattern." A call to the Spokane County prosecutor's office was not immediately returned.
Along with Washington, Colorado also legalized recreational use of marijuana on Tuesday. A legalization measure was defeated in Oregon.
Besides de-criminalizing possession, Washington's initiative also sets up a state-run regulatory system that will license growing and stores to sell marijuana.
State officials, however, are awaiting a response on the initiative from the federal government, which still considers the drug illegal and could intervene in court.
Some legal experts believe that the de-criminalization provision in the law could survive a legal challenge.
"The parts that are more likely to be enjoined are probably the parts where you got states actually authorizing the growing, the sales - with pretty direct conflict with federal law," said Mary Fan, a University of Washington law professor and former federal prosecutor.

The change is beginning. It's only a beginning, and it will take time for the message to sink in, and spread across the country. But the obvious has a way of making itself known. When something has become so much a part of our society, making it illegal only undermines the rule of law.

At that point, the quickest way to reduce crime is to make certain things legal. It's the one thing I strongly agree with libertarians about, and I credit them with the only sensible policy proposals to cut the crime rate.

The result will be fewer criminals, and more resources devoted to law enforcement that actually makes a positive difference in peoples' lives. And that can only make people respect the law more in the end.

Monday, November 5, 2012

My presidential election prediction

by John MacBeath Watkins

I'm predicting Obama will win a narrow victory, with a coalition consisting mostly of white voters, with substantial numbers of Hispanics, blacks, various Asian ethnic groups, pacific islanders, etc. Romney's vote total will be about 90 percent white. Glen Beck will say that Obama is a racist.

Demographics are catching up with the old Nixon version of the Republican coalition:

"Republican strategists clearly feel the weight of trying to assemble a national majority with so little support among minorities that they must win three in five whites. “This is the last time anyone will try to do this,” one said. A GOP coalition that relies almost entirely on whites could squeeze out one more narrow victory in November. But if Republicans can’t find more effective ways to bridge the priorities of their conservative core and the diversifying Next America, that weight will grow more daunting every year. "
The story that quote came from was titled "Obama Needs 80% of Minority Vote to Win 2012 Presidential Election." The thing is, "minority" is not an ethnic group, it describes a large number of ethnic groups that have one thing in common: They've been snubbed by the GOP. More on the coalition Nixon assembled in 1968, which has powered the Republican Party to many victories since, here: http://booksellersvsbestsellers.blogspot.com/2012/10/romney-and-weakness-of-nixons-electoral.html

And more here: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/05/26/080526fa_fact_packer?currentPage=1

I believe Romney will get about a quarter of the Latino vote, compared to George W. Bush's 40 percent, making him more dependent on the white vote than other recent GOP candidates.

The Democrats will keep a narrow majority in the Senate, the Republicans will keep a reduced majority in the House. The Republican 4-year temper tantrum will continue.

Obama's coalition is pretty much the same one Democrats have had since 1968, as well. One Democratic pollster remarked that the Democrats' coalition is "diverse America and Whites comfortable with diverse America," which apparently has never risen above 48% of whites.  Republicans in Florida and Texas are beginning to adapt to the new demographic realities, so the Democrats will certainly not have everything their own way in a new, browner America. A little history: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2008/12/05/presidential-candidates-share-of-white-vote-1968-2008/