Archive for July 2008

Weekly Drive-By

Perusing the paper the last few days gives one pause to think about whether we actually can learn from our past counterproductive actions.  Here is this weeks sampling:
➢    Slim majority in state (California) backs oil drilling off the coast – Our problem has been our dependence on burning fossils fuels so let’s get us some more.  Actually I think what is really going on is that with the price of oil where it is, most people can’t see beyond their wallet.  This rapid rise in the price of gasoline has had a direct impact on most people’s standard of living so they want a quick fix.  The Republicans and some Democrats have reacted to their oil industry lobbyists whose profits are at record highs, to demand more drilling to fix this problem.  Problem is it will have no impact.  But people want action and this is all they see as an alternative.  It is the result of the deficit of big ideas about our future.
➢    Federal Media Protection Law stalls in Senate – This is the federal shield law badly needed by our press to ensure that they can report on government malfeasance without fear of reprisal.  It is basically protecting your right to know what your government has been up to.  And who blocked it?  Those forward-looking Republicans who don’t want you to know what they have been up to.  Republicans are good for one thing and I hope the voter’s are taking note.  It is for the status quo.  Do you like where we are today?
➢    Passenger found dead in airplane restroom – If you read my blog yesterday on the state of air travel, this cannot come as a surprise.  Some people, especially on long flights, go into the rest room and stay forever.  For this person forever meant forever.
➢    The Turkey Watch – The Constitutional Court in Turkey ruled that the ruling party would not be banned for their assault on secularism by trying to remove the head scarves ban in public universities.  The Court did issue a stern warning to the Justice and Development Party against turning back the clock and trying to institute Muslim laws against their purely sectarian state.  Turkey is a place to watch to see if Muslims who believe in instituting Sharia (body of Islamic religious law) can really live in a democracy and recognize minority rights.  The point of the ban was so that more fundamentalist Muslims could not identify themselves and others and also identify those that don’t follow their belief.  In a country that is basically monotheistic, democracy and minority rights are always in play.
➢    Karadzic arraignment today for war crimes – The world court is attempting to provide justice for the millions of Muslims that were slaughtered in former Yugoslavia and is a reflection of a civilized world that has common standards of law and decency.  Ever ask yourself why the United States shuns the world court?
➢    Fight erupts over opt-out proposal for health staff – George little brain Bush has proposed some rules that would allow health staff to opt out of procedures that they morally object to.  Here is the problem:  As a pharmacist I can choose not to dispense the day after pill because I object to it on moral grounds and if  you have no other choice, I can decide if you have that baby.  If it is legal, then you can choose not to  take the pill, but you should not be deciding for others.  For abortions, in federally funded clinics, this is similar to the head scarf issue in Turkey.  If you allow some to opt-out for moral beliefs, then you have set up a system that stigmatizes others.  If you don’t want to allow legal procedures, don’t work there and don’t take federal money.  This rule also defines abortion as anything that interferes with a fertilized egg, it could have a major impact on future research.  It is just another attempt to reduce your options to what the conservatives think you should have.  They really don’t like democracy and free choice very much.
➢    McMean campaign takes negative tack – You just noticed?  The Republicans are trying to frame the debate around question of Obama’s youth and inexperience.  They don’t do this by raising any substantive issues, but try to create an emotional frame using Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears.  It is a classic the issues don’t count, be afraid and pick us cause you know us.  It reminds me of the classic Eddie Edwards (Ex-Governor of Louisiana and state penitentiary resident) campaign slogan, “Vote for Me and Elect the Crook You Know”.  But the Republicans are experts at framing and the press falls for it every time.  In reporting on this new ad, the press uses the frame that Republican’s have crafted to describe the ad, but they don’t rebutt it.  So they repeat it over and over and it might lend it credence.  Our press are morons.

So another fun week in la-la land where  we do nothing and go nowhere, and nothing ever changes.

I’m Back, Maybe

Some of you may have noticed my missing blog with a “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” banner.  I think the appropriate term is being deconstructed.  On Friday, 18 July, I tried to post a really informative, witty, and deeply intellection Vine/Wine Friday (and now you will never know) only to get the message on my blog administrative site, “URL NOT FOUND”.  For those of you who techies, that meant that the address I have been using for the last 18 months no longer existed.  After some investigation, I found a notice on Hughesnetwebservices.com (these guys are who I subscribe through for my blog) that the site was being worked on but would be back after about 8 p.m. on Friday.  It wasn’t and it wasn’t up by Sunday either, but I did check my blog itself at http//onthecontrary.us and it was still there.  Curious.

So Sunday evening I sent an email to support at Hughesnet describing my problem.  Okay, first thing Monday morning I get an nice email from them giving me a brand new address to administer (post) my blog.  I log in only to find a whole new software suite I will have to learn and no old blog to edit, i.e., I had to start from scratch.  Time to pickup the old telephone.  So I called them and sure enough I got Eddie from New Delhi (names and places may be changed to protect the innocent).  After several dropped calls, miss-starts, and miss-directions, and an independent call to a company (quite reliable) called Tucows who had the contract apparently from Hughesnet to administer my blog, I found out that they had ended Tucows’ administration (too bad because they spoke English, were competent, and from the culture I am from) and had migrated (that means moved over in IT talk) the files and administration to Hughesnet which had then installed new software to manage it.  I was getting a serious feeling of foreboding.

Okay, but I don’t care about any of that because as of Monday morning my blog itself had disappeared and replaced with the “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” banner.  I just wanted it back and besides I am flowing out all these blog essays and they are getting backed up in mental constipation.  So finally Carlos (new guy, but when I greeted him in Spanish he was flummoxed) says he has created a new “ticket” and they will migrate my files over by Tuesday.  So along comes Tuesday and you guessed it, nothing.

Now I am starting to get really warmed up.  This has taken up about 6 hours of my time now, still with no resolution.  So I get another able person from Mumbai.  I had to start from scratch but he finally figured out the problem after three or four conversations with his supervisor and they assured me that they would get my site restored enough that I could use the new software (which I have no idea how it works) to get my site reconfigured and they would send me two months free credit for the inconvenience.  Since I am paid up through December and I make over $100/hour, this has cost me more than 6 hours so far and they were giving me a $8 credit, I literally jumped for joy.  But I could be up by Wednesday so please, just get it done.

About two hours later I get an email saying that my “ticket” had been resolved, that they were going to give me two months credit, but since their new software did not support the old site, I would have to create a site from scratch and transfer the “text” file by file to the new program.  And oh, by the way, they lost all my pictures.  Hot is not the word.  Let’s review.  They lost my old site, destroyed my data and their fixed is eight bucks and I could rebuild it if I wanted to take the time.  So long, it’s been good to know you.

That’s when I sent them the termination notice and the request to transfer my domain name (onthecontrary.us) to another web hosting company that was rated very good and I called their tech support number and talked to someone who was in this hemisphere.  Not that this is an easy process, because Hughesnet is dragging their feet as we speak on transferring it, but when they do, I will have to start again, learn new software, build a site, before I can start bombarding you with my wine induced thoughts.  But at least these  new guys are fairly competent.  By the way, I did log into the “new” Hughesnet site, construct a blog just so I could leave a message about their incompetence and my upcoming move, but it never posted and all you get is “UNDER CONSTRUCTION”.  I could call tech support, but I think they know what my content is and it is never going to post.

You can come to either of two conclusions about this:  First is that if this is the state of American commerce, no wonder we are a receding power.  I don’t know if they created a plan and did risk assessment and mitigation planning (standard project management stuff), but if they did, they did one sorry job of it.  Second, they apparently had no plan when “shit happens” and it always does.  In my case the approach was just to flush it.  Outsourcing your contact with your most valuable resource, your customers, is just plain stupid.  Then there is this nagging thought I have:  The second possibility is that the government has finally caught up with me, they are on to me, and they have silenced the website.  But then I think Arianna or Kos would get hit long before me and Olbermann would be looking for work.  No, I just think it is the arrogance of a large business that doesn’t know their customers and won’t have them for long.  Maybe they learned their long range planning skills from Ford, GM or Chrysler.  Anybody need another 12 mpg vehicle?

One last thing:  I am not against outsourcing of tech support, even to India, Pakistan, or Bangladeshi, but there is a difference between understanding the language and understanding the culture and the difference is a total lack of communication.  That is multiplied by no one in charge having any real authority in the tech center and trying to move each call along to reduce their wait time.  Companies may need to re-think this little cost saving strategy as most of us are tired of having a 10 minute problem take hours to resolve and our time is important too.

Flying in America or the Benefits of De-Regulation

On my consulting travels I had to fly to Oklahoma City Monday morning and return Tuesday night.  It was another awakening in hell.  Not Oklahoma City, which I didn’t get a chance to see much of, but inside the hollow aluminum tube of torture called coach.  First I can’t figure out why the airlines are loosing so much money.  All the flights I am on are always full or overbooked and if the issue is cost of jet fuel, raise the ticket prices.  Thanks to farsighted thinking by our government leaders and the stupidity of thinking the market place will solve all problems, we have no alternatives.

So I have a 1:00 pm Central Time meeting in Oklahoma City so I get up at 3 am to catch a 6 am flight (PST).  I get to the airport plenty earlier and with the tight connections and the new restrictions on checked baggage I just have carry-on.  Now If you are only going to have carry-on you have to plan your shaving kit and take all the gels and liquids not to exceed 3.5 oz in a 1 quart baggie to be put in the x-ray machine separate from you other bags, computer, and shoes.  Then you need to put that baggie somewhere convenient so while you strip naked at the security screening, you can quickly find that and separate it out.  As luck would have it, when I got my ticket out of the ticket kiosk (no checked baggage) there was no seat assignment.  Of course the flight was over booked and they were looking for volunteers.  Now think about this.  You can’t go get coffee or make that last stop at the restroom because you have to be there when they finally call your name for a seat: center seat of course.  Do they plan this stuff?

The rest of the trip out was fairly uneventful except that you are flying coach smashed into the center seat with you knees touching the seat in front of you, praying that the guy/gal in front of you doesn’t recline his/her seat, and if you try to bend over to reach your bag under the seat in front of you, you can’t quite make it because your head is smashed against the seat in front of you.  If I had been Osama bin Laden’s driver I would have spilled my guts at this point.  No need for water boarding.   Much like that poor guy, I would have told you anything you wanted to hear.

Return flight started out well as the flight out of Oklahoma City was on time and not fully booked.  The people in Oklahoma City I found to be really polite and friendly and the gate agent looked at my seating assignment and said, “We can do better than this” and reassigned me to “Economy Plus”.  I liked his attitude.  Well it added about 6 inches to my knee room and made the whole flight a very different experience with plenty of room for my knees (I am only 6’ so this is not asking much), easy access to my bag under the seat, and no fear the person in front of me will recline.  Good start, but I think it was a set up.

Connecting in Denver, once again I was shoved back to coach with the peasant class, but at least I had a window seat which makes sleeping easier.  That’s when the games began.  Never, never, never schedule the last flight out of Denver to your destination (mine was Sacramento) because that is the flight they will delay to accommodate connecting late passengers or any other schedule glitch.  So sure enough, after a gate change, plane change, seating assignment change, and an almost 2 hour delay we were about to depart.  But there was hope!  The center seat was unoccupied and all the passengers had boarded.  But just before push back they open the door and a lady entered and of course it was the center seat.  Worse, she like about half the flyers around me who had not seen the lean side of 250 pounds for a long time.  Good thing I was in a window seat because about half of my seat toward the aisle was taken up by my seatmate.  About half way through the flight I thought about ripping the emergency door open and jumping out.

Upon arrival, and you know you are dying to get off, breath decent air, go to the restroom and get in your car and be free, the lady on the aisle seat decided she needed a wheel chair so the whole plane had to wait until she was accommodated.  Now I don’t think these are random events.  I think they are carefully planned and coordinated and then at crew parties they show videos of your facial expression and die laughing.  It is what we get when we have let them monopolize our only way to travel.  High speed rail anyone?

Watching Meet the Press and Wanting to Throw Up

I watched Meet the Press this morning and it made me angry.  What is it about the mainstream Washington/New York media giants that makes them keep asking the same stupid questions over and over that does nothing to add to our dialogue about our future.  Maybe they are brain dead with their incestuous interloping with their colleagues and their same speak.  Frank Rich, in his column, calls them drama queens.  They focus on questions that would be more appropriate to the entertainment section of the paper, trying to elicit some kind of contradiction instead of asking in depth questions about issues that really affects Americans.

In the interview conducted by Tom Brokaw with Barrack Obama, Brokaw asked Barrack that knowing now that the violence is down now in Iraq would he now support the surge.  So what is wrong with that question?  First it assumes a direct cause and effect relationship.  The press has now assumed that the surge is primarily responsible for the reduction in violence.  The Sunni awakening which John McMean has reinvented as a result of the surge when in fact it started a year before, may be a larger factor than the surge in troops.  But the question misses the whole real issue.  The surge was a strategy to try to quell violence in a country where our invasion caused the crisis and it is now quite apparent that had nothing to do with our war on terrorism unless of course you assume we are the terrorist.  So standing back and looking at limited United States resources, the question is, is stemming the violence in Iraq worth pinning down our military there while our real enemy, al-Qaeda, grows and Afghanistan crumbles.  But the press would rather catch a candidate in a judgment error by focusing the question on the inner workings of policy than the policy itself.  It is their attempt to be entertaining by what they think are penetrating questions, when it misses the whole point.

Worse, and I know this is going to be a surprise to the media, but most Americans don’t care about Iraq.  They decided long ago that this war was a mistake and they just want us out.  So what is the plan to get out?  That is the only question that we in mainstream America care about.  Barrack has a 16 month plan, and John has a stay as long as it takes and nobody can get John to explain what “what it takes” looks like.  A good question is what is a long-term strategy against al-Qaeda look like?  There was an interesting story today in the Sacramento Bee (Afghanistan needs a plan, experts say)  that says just adding more troops in Afghanistan (kind of like a surge in Iraq) won’t help.  What we really need is a long term plan.  Do you suppose our TV media could read some of this stuff and ask what the plan is besides more troops?  That would really tell us who would govern better, but then that might require them to get out of the incestuous internal dialogue of Washington and really look at the important questions for our future.

What Americans really care about right now is solving our own internal problems.  Did Tom ask hard questions about what would stimulate the economy and what is Barrack’s 10-year plan for our economy?  Say we need more alternative energy is like saying I love America, it doesn’t mean much.  To borrow from that 80’s Wendy’s commercial, where’s the beef?  What would you propose ala T. Boone Pickens or Al Gore to really turn America’s energy future around?  What will that cost us and how are we going to pay for it?  Economist say that for the future the number one investment America can make is in its human capital.  They say we need a well-educated workforce that will allow us to compete in the world market place and maintain our standard of living.  What is your specific plan for this?

Oh but what we get is, were you wrong on the surge; do you think talking to world leadings makes you look presumptive; latest polls show….; who are you going to choose for Vice President; and endless discussions about political strategy, not real policy.  Our media isn’t just bad, it is horrible and should be re-titled Entertainment Tonight.  But we don’t need entertainment; we need real information asked by people who understand the details of the policies they are questioning.  Hopefully most of you read, because that is the only way we are going to find out the details.  My fear is that most of our population gets most of its information from our television media and as a result we may make another bad choice.

Vine/Wine Sunday?

Sorry for the delay.  Vine/Wine has been missing in action due to my heavy work schedule, lazy disposition, and interuprion of my blog site (See I’m Back, Maybe).  Anywy last weekend we had a lovely visit from Tracey and Jared Brandt of A Donkey and Goat.  We were joined by Ron Mansfield (Goldbud, and my vineyard consultant) had a lovely lamb dinner, and did some tasting of my different grapes.  Jared brought a sampling of my Grenache, my lower vineyard Syrah, and upper vineyard Syrah.  It had its own distinct flavor (obviously the Grenache was different from my Syrah, but both Syrahs were distinctly different) which tells you a lot about terroir.  We had wine and cheese and some sausage for starters, a green salad with sliced peaches and a light vinaigrette dressing, slow grilled leg of lamb, grilled potatoes, sliced fresh tomatoes, avocado, and red onion, with peach crisp for desert.

 Candace, Jared, Ron, and Tracey Testing Our Good Work

Candace, Jared, Ron, and Tracey Testing Our Good Work

Now to catch up up here is the news from the vineyard for last week:

Vine:  Okay, I admit it.  I have been very lax at writing about the vineyard.  That is because between my trip to France and my consulting work, I really haven’t been home much.  It is hard to write about what is going on in the vineyard from a hotel room in Burlingame, CA.  But I have been home for a week, almost caught up in the vineyard so here is where things are:  I have completed all of thinning with help from a crew that Ron Mansfield sent up.  Grapes are prolific little devils and will push shoots from everywhere.  So as I have reported in the past, you need to thin to two shoots per spur, assuming the spur is large enough to support two shoots.  An additional task for the trellis grapes (Syrah and Viognier) is to make sure the shoots are pushed up through the top wire so they don’t hang over the lower grape clusters and block their light.  It also expands out the foliage so that you are maximizing your sun gathering ability and providing room for air circulation.  This is a fairly simple job if done early, and a bear if done late when the shoots are 10’-12’ long.  I am always late because I am always gone during the critical time.  Anyway all that has been done, we have had good cluster formation and it looks like a large crop.  What comes next is just some thinning of the leaf cover especially around the grape clusters to balance the plant (leaf cover to clusters).  Once veraison (grapes turn red) occurs we will be going through and thinning the crop by dropping whole clusters to focus the nutrients and flavoids into the remaining crop.

Heavy Berry Load on the Mourvedre

Heavy Berry Load on the Mourvedre

Water this year has been very interesting.  I practice what is called deficit watering which allows the plant to almost go into shutdown before watering through drip irrigation to saturation at the 3’ level and then repeating the cycle.  The theory and some studies done by UC Davis show that this practice, although reducing production by about 15%, greatly increases the quality of the grape (flavors).  There are really two advantages.  The first is that as mentioned above, the quality is increased because the poor little grape plant starts to need water, figures it isn’t going to get anymore, and like any good parent when her children are threatened, focuses all her attention on her future by pumping nutrients to her progeny.   Or said another way, when the plant is stressed it focuses its growth on its future in the form of its grapes.  The second advantage is that deficit watering is believed to force the roots to go deeper and deeper into the soil looking for water.  This helps establish the plant, protect it from disease, and makes it less susceptible to damage in a prolonged drought.  This year I thought because of the dry spring I would be watering early.  I was wrong.  Based upon my moisture sensors that I have buried throughout my vineyard, I have only watered two blocks so far (Upper Syrah, and Grenache).  It takes about 96 hours of dripping 1 gallon emitters to saturate down to this level. The Mourvedre and lower Syrah have yet to receive any water and are growing quite nicely.  I would guess I will need to water the Mourvedre in the next week, and the lower Syrah, maybe not until August.  Each year I learn a little more about what my moisture sensors are telling me and allows me to stress them a little more.  On other thing, I moved the drip tips from near the plan to between the plants.  This seems to work well and keeps moisture away from the base of the trunk.

I completed several other nasty little tasks like mowing all the grass (annuals who have died out) and then weed-eating the hard to reach areas and doing some weed control.  But things are pretty much stabilized now and in good balance so now we wait for veraison, grape ripening in September, and the annual attack of the birds.  In other words, the major work is done and now I can just enjoy the beauty.

Wine:   I have lived such a sheltered life lately that I have stuck to my tried and true favorite Syrahs.  That would be Holly’s Hill’s East Slope Syrah and Mira Flores Methode Ancienne Syrah.  Both excellent Syrahs, but there are so many good wines out there including interesting Italian’s that are being grown up here, that I really need to get out.  I will pass on one piece of advice:  A friend of mine at a business lunch was telling me that his wife had bought him some wine in a carton, and it “wasn’t bad”.  I reminded him that I had a colonoscopy recently and it “wasn’t bad” either, but it is not something I would choose to do.  One of the important skills a wine lover learns is to discern good from bad wine as opposed to different styles of wine which don’t necessary appeal to your taste.  I have reached a stage in my life where I will never settle for an inferior wine.  There are just too many good ones out there and my time to taste them is limited.  A good wine is dependent on the style, reason you are drinking it, and of course the quality of the grape and the art of the wine maker.  For example on a hot day you are not usually looking for a full bodied red and a flavorful Sauvignon Blanc or a blend of Viognier and Roussanne, is quite nice if it is dry, acid, and fruity, with a clean finish.   If it is missing any of these characteristics, well, toss it.  I could go on, but you get my drift.  Enjoying wine is a lesson in life:  First and foremost slow down, feel it, smell it, taste it, savior it, and think about what you have just experienced.  Second don’t settle for just okay.  Maybe we have to make compromises in our lives, but I am not going to do that with my wine.

One last thought for you Pinot drinkers and I love a good Pinot.  My experience tells me this:  There are only two kinds of Pinots, good and bad.  There is no just okay and you get exactly what you pay for most of the time.  Or said another way, I have never found a cheap bottle of good pinot noir.  I have found a few bad bottles of expensive pinot noir, but the good ones were never cheap.  I think that comes from the nature of the finicky grape which makes it very hard to produce a consistently good wine.  So it has no middle ground, just wonderful or tossable.  I have two to try, a 2003 Marimar Estate Pinot (Russian River Valley), and a 2006 Migration (Anderson Valley).  I will let you know what I think.  Carpe Diem

Demise of the Republican Party

I watched a wonderful interview by Bill Moyers on his Journal last week where Bill interviewed Mickey Edwards, an old school conservative from the Goldwater days and author of “Reclaiming Conservatism:  “How a Great American Political Movement got Lost And How It Can Find Its Way Back”, and Ross Douthat who is a new young up and coming Republican whose book, “Grand New Party:  How Republicans Can Win The Working Class and Save the American Dream” which David Brooks, the conservative columnist for the New York Times considered the political book of the year.  The interview was a lesson in how the Republican Party is coming apart and that old conservatives don’t agree with young conservatives.  It was also a lesson in reinventing history, at least from Mr. Douthat, in why the Republicans have failed this country so miserably.  And finally it was a lesson that conservatives don’t have any answers to the problems facing us, but tired out programs and ideas that haven’t worked for years now.

Mr. Edwards spoke of original conservative beliefs and basic principles about divided powers, limited government, civil liberties that have been thrown overboard in the attempt to buy and stay in power.  I actually agreed with him but what was revealing is that almost all Democrats holds those beliefs and it is their core belief.  Okay, you say, I buy all the rest, but Democrats are for big government.  But Mr. Edwards distinguished himself from Mr. Douthat by not calling for small government, but limited government.  He drew the distinction saying that Government by necessity is going to be large (we have big problems), but it should be limited in that there are certain areas it has no business in, and some of those are right to die issues, abortion issues, and gay issues.  Of course Mr. Douthat, Brooks’ salvation for the Republican’s bankruptcy of ideas, just couldn’t let that go.  He was not about to distance himself from the radical right religious groups as Mr. Edwards was basically calling for.  In regard to the end of life question in Oregon and the Republican foray into the state to try to change their assisted suicide law, Bill Moyers asked Mr. Douthat what the conservatives were doing with their power:

ROSS DOUTHAT: “They were using it well, they were using it to promote, I guess you could say, conservative ideas about legislation about the end of life in actually in both cases.”

BILL MOYERS: Coming from the religious right or from political right?

ROSS DOUTHAT: “Well, coming from I mean, I don’t think you can completely separate the two. And I, but I think that, you know, American politics and this isn’t just true of the right. Religion has been a force in American politics going back to the 19th century, going back to William Jennings Bryant, going back to the civil rights movement. I think there is an idea among liberals and some conservatives that, you know, religious participation in politics, using religious arguments is somehow illegitimate, you know, that the separation of church and state means that you can’t invoke religious arguments in public.”

Mr. Douthat is the new republican voice and he can’t see that there is a basic conflict between conservatism as many Americans understand it and forcing religious beliefs on others.  Then of course he bailed out by saying that it should be left to the states and that was their big error.   You know, State’s Rights, which is how they denied blacks the votes for so many years.  Mr. Edwards reasserted himself at that juncture to point out that the Republican National Convention platform from Goldwater until the last couple of decades, was to insist upon separation of church and state.  Now this is where Mr Douthat let us really see where these “new Republicans” are going:

“And I think this separates me from Mickey and makes me more of a social conservative than he is in the sense that I think government does have a role to play in conserving those morays and institutions, that America is a nation of, you know, one of the reasons we don’t need the kind of government, strong central governments you have in Europe, is precisely because we’ve always been a nation of strong communities, of strong families, of, you know, churches play a much more enormous role in the social fabric of American life than they do in Europe. Voluntary organizations, the same way. Charitable giving is much higher in the United States than in Europe. And I think all of these tendencies, this is what American conservatism exists in an ideal form to defend.”

Read this as we will define for you what a moral life is.  He is just the old conservative right in new cloths.  Worse he has no real experience with the European system and redefines history to fit his view of why it shouldn’t work.  I bet they would be surprise to know they don’t have strong families in Europe.

When Mr. Douthat was questioned on how his Republicans, who want small government, could grow the government so fast and be so bad at managing it, he blamed it on liberals.

“But the challenge for conservatism, though as a governing philosophy, is that it’s precisely that is a theory of limited government that’s operating in a society and in a framework that was built by liberals.”

See, the liberals are at fault for their failures.  On other issues he was equally myopic.  Whereas Mr. Edwards was unforgiving of the trashing of the Constitution by the Republicans, Mr. Douthat’s view was:

“And if you look at what George W. Bush has done on this front, whether it’s, you know, the detainee policy as it relates to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay or wire tapping citizens and so on, some of it is an overreach.”
An overreach?  It gets worse.  Here is Mr. Douthat’s view of the workingman that Ronald Reagan successfully wooed into the party:

“I think there are a lot of ways in which the working class is better off than they were in that era (Reagan years).  I think if just looking at wages is misleading because one of the things that happened thanks to free trade, thanks to policies that Republicans have championed, is prices, the cost of living, has fallen dramatically acroos the board for Americans.”

So there you have it.  He is so out of touch with reality in American and so strongly wedded to his beliefs that he lets his beliefs create his reality.  I think Mr. Edwards and Mr. Douthat really had little in common on a very basic level.  The only thing that did ring true is that they were both afraid of “liberals”.  The word was used like it was a profanity.  The problem is that the liberal they are so afraid of doesn’t exist and hasn’t for 30 years.

So what you have is this split in the Republican Party.  The real conservatives that want to go back to separation of church and state, restoring our Constitution and the role of Congress in the balance of power, and limiting government to stay out of people’s private lives , that would be Mr. Edwards. Note that most progressives today share his views.  We would have some interesting debates about the right solution for our problems, but we wouldn’t be fighting the values wars anymore.  Mr. Edwards’ conservatism is about personnel freedom and with a government that empowers that freedom.

Then you have Mr. Douthat’s conservatism that will prescribe for us what the appropriate “American morays” are and is totally out of touch with the real problems of America who reinvents history (“I think the Bush Administration came into power with an idea that they were going to be a  center right party that reformed the welfare state rather than abolishing it and sort of steered a middle course between, you know, the small government purists on the right and liberals”).   Mr. Douthats’ conservatism is about authority. The leader (whether is it George Bush or the market) is the source of authority and you should trust it and it will make the important decisions for you and you need to be a good rule follower of the revealed truth.

These two systems of thought are mutually exclusive and the Republican Party is cracking into pieces that can’t be put together anymore.  The party of Mr. Douthat would be one I would be truly fearful of because it really is not a party of small government, but intrusive government.  Fortunately since they can’t get a fix on reality because reality keeps denying the utility of their dogma, I don’t think they have a chance of gaining power unless we enter a fear phase like we did after 9/11.  If this is the guy David Brooks sees as starting a real debate to get the Republican Party to reinvigorate themselves, then David has either been smoking something or his conservative dogma no longer is relevant and he is grasping at straws.

If Your Are Buying This Stuff, You Deserve the Government You Get

John McMean (McCain has become Mr. What can I say nasty about Barrack next, hence McMean) has made some statements lately that ought to get major media attention which he is craving with Obama in the Middle East and Europe doing what John challenged him to do.  The trouble is the media is basically looking the other way, maybe because they are embarrassed or maybe because they are biased.  The result of all this is that if you liked your father’s view of the world your going to get it if you vote for Senator McMean.  The problem will be that your father’s world isn’t the one we are living in any more.  Hear is a sampling:

➢    “George Bush removed the ban on drilling offshore and prices went down by $10” (note there is an implied cause and effect relationship here that doesn’t exist) and Barack Obama has voted against off shore drilling and is the reason oil prices are so high.  No I am not kidding.  This is what he said.  I guess that means if President Moron proposes drilling in the Artic, we will be back to pre-war prices.  Oh, I forgot, he already did.  This of course ignores that Senator McMean was also against drilling but now he has seen the alleged cause and effect relationship and is now a proponent.  I guess that is why he switched from being against the Bush tax cuts to being for them.  He has seen the wonderful impact these tax cuts have had on our “fundamentally sound” economy.  Or said another way you see the world as you need to see it to uphold your false belief system.  It is old man thinking.
➢    “John McMean would rather lose the election than lose the war”.  No actually he would rather continue down the path he has chosen than adjust to changing circumstances.  Note he is implying that Barrack wants to lose the war which is another gross lie.  John just can’t get his arms around a timeline that even the Iraqis see as beneficial to their long term political future.  Now he can’t shift his position with shifting realities on the ground.  What does that say about a flexible leader who can take advantage of changing circumstances in the future?
➢    “The surge is working and we are winning”.  I am with the New York Times on this one: define winning.  If we have a police force in Iraq that ties up our whole military, lets al-Qaeda grow and return to the threat it was before 9/11, has Afghanistan descending into chaos, is that “winning”.  Iraq may survive and their political forces may, with us doing their job for them, finally take charge of their nation, but the religious civil war has not gone away and will not be solved for many years to come.  In the meantime, while we are reducing the violence in Iraq so they can run in place, we are losing the real war on al-Qaeda.  There is another twist here.  If the Iraqi political structure does take charge, they will by necessity throw us out in order to stay in power and be legitimate.  I wonder if John McMean understands this?  Of course he doesn’t.
➢    Probably most disturbing is the CBS interview with Katie Couric and John McMean where CBS edited out several answers that were historically incorrect and spliced in another answer.  First let’s look at what it says about John McMean, and then let’s look at what it says about our media.  John confused when the “awakening” (Sunni’s throwing out al-Qaeda and co-operating with the U.S.) occurred and said it was a result of the surge.  It actually it started about a year before the surge and the cause and effect of the reduction in violence and the surge is muddled by whether the awakening was really the catalyst for the reduction in violence.  Now none of this is really critical unless you realize the John recreates reality to meet his view of the world.  He also said, which was cut out of the CBS interview, that ‘Iraq was the first major conflict since 9/11”.  I guess Afghanistan doesn’t count and in his mind it doesn’t.  This is very similar to his “misstatements” on Iran helping al-Qaeda (they have not, they are Shiites, al-Qaeda is Sunni), and saying the problem in Iraq is al-Qaeda and not the religious conflict between Sunnis and Shiites.  Do we need another leader who has a preconceived notion of reality and selectively screens his “facts” to support that view?

So what we are seeing is your conservative father’s view of the world and our approach to our economy that is basically more of the same that has got us to where we are today.  What is most disturbing is John McMean’s factual deficit and the press’s refusal to start holding him accountable for these untruths.  These are not lapses of an old man, they are a reflection of a mindset that does not react to reality and redefines it to meet preconceived views.  CBS’s altering of the interview was not just normal editing, but was explicit changing of the content and the news world should be up in arms.  The only ones I have seen carrying this story are MSNBC and Media Matters.  I have yet to see an interview with the “straight talk express” that holds John McMean accountable for these miss statements and in not doing that they are failing as journalists and doing a great disservice to the country.  We don’t need another President Moron.

We have another problem in that we have “celebrity” news reporting.  Only the anchors can do the interview because they are the “star” and they do not have the in depth knowledge of most subjects to challenge falsehoods or “facts” stated by the interviewee.  They just allow most of these untruths or misstatements to flow by while they go on to their next question to highlight their “tough questioning”.  Thus unsubstantiated and erroneous claims go unchallenged and we live in a world of saying it is so makes it so.  John McMean is thriving on this culture of either ignorance, lack of professionalism, or malfeasance in our media and we may just get what we deserve in the next election if we don’t have the intellectual integrity to really look at his policies and beliefs in depth.

Thinking Big

The Saudis are thinking big.  They are planning six major industrial centers to be constructed over the next 15 years each costing over $100 billion which will provide jobs to their growing population, half of which is under 21 (and probably attending madrasas but that is a story for another day) (Washington Post).   The point is that they are looking beyond their present oil economy to the future and preparing for it.  They are investing in their future when oil will no longer be king.  Meanwhile here in  Thinking-Smallville, we are calling for more drilling.  Let’s see if you have the mental image yet:  Those guys in robes who cover their wives in tents have a vision for the future and are investing in it, while we of the “Christian Nation” can’t seem to plan past our current oil price shock.  The majority of Americans still think the answer to today’s problems are yesterday’s solutions, more drilling.   Even T. Boone Pickens knows better than this.

Meanwhile in Congress Nancy Pelosi is holding strong against more offshore drilling even though her colleagues are feeling the pressure of the rabble (New York Times).   What are they, lemmings?  If the people want something stupid they should just roll over and give it to them?  Why can’t we think big?  Our problems are not going to be solved by yesterday’s solutions.  In fact yesterday’s solutions are the root of our problems.  We have come to believe that government has no role but to accommodate business and the standard refrain is if you want something done bad, have government do it.  It has become the conventional wisdom that has paralyzed us from thinking big.

I live on a fairly large piece of property and my driveway is a quarter mile long.  I can’t really afford to seal coat it this year, but I can’t afford not to.  I have to think about the long term costs and impact if I don’t.  Do you get the analogy?  George Moron Bush and his minions have bankrupted the government with their tax cut free ride and frivolous war, but even so we can’t afford not to invest in our future.  It is time to start thinking big and digging deep.  If you look just at the energy problem, T. Boone wants a partnership between government and industry to build a wind and solar corridor in the Midwest.  It is a start.

Did you ever ask yourself why Mexico has a highspeed rail and we don’t?  Well the answer is simple and it is spelled Republicans.  They won’t let the government invest in anything unless our boys in private sector can get rich also.  It’s small thinking and it is why we do not have a real alternative to airlines.  If you have been to Europe or Japan, or most any other industrialized country in the world, they have a very good train system.  They are all subsidized by their governments because their governments feel that these transportation systems are essential to the countries economic well being.  No duh, but we can’t do it here because we can’t afford it.  We can’t afford not to do it if we want a future.

It is time to start thinking big.  Our politicians are not going to do it.  So we must demand that they do.  We need an energy plan, not a study, but a plan for our future.  It will include a mix of nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, with the hybrid car only the transition.  Notice I didn’t say ethanol.  This one needs to be looked at in terms of its net carbon impact, high requirement for water in its production, and its impact on food production.  T. Boone has given us a path forward from an oilman and it is a great start.  But until we have a plan, an implementable plan, not just perks for different industries (small thinking), we will go nowhere.

We need a transportation plan that provides us with energy efficient alternatives.  It should be a national goal to create a high-speed rail system throughout the United States with viable feeder lines that support smaller communities.  We need to quit investing in bigger and better highways through the center of our cities because most us are never going to be able to afford the fuel anymore and they destroy the tranquility and beauty of our cities.  We need to be investing in Metro’s like the one in Paris with connections to the rest of France through high speed rail.    It will be tough because vested interests that could lose in this deal will come out of the woodwork.  But this is about our future.

So where are the big ideas?  Well they are being stifled in a Republican created haze of limiting government and thinking small, and Democratic coward ness in not stepping into the “Breech” (Henry V).  If we are going to rise from the ashes of our neglect it will be through our government’s investment in our future.  It means that instead of investing more money in military expenditures than all countries combined, we will take some of that money and invest in our real security, our economy.  It means that some of us will have to pay higher taxes.  It means that we won’t spend our fortunes nation building elsewhere until we have nation building at home.  And when we spend our money on investing in our future, we create jobs and capital.  We all gain with these kinds of investments.  FDR figured this out.  Why oh why can’t American’s today figure this out?

McCain as Commander-in-Chief

According to the latest polls most Americans see John McCain as a better Commander-in-Chief than Barack Obama.  Oh really?  I wonder what it is we are looking for in a Commander-in-Chief?  Is it military experience?  Is it unfaltering and steadfast positions and looking and talking tough that got our present occupant of the White House in so much trouble.   John certainly has all that, but the only difference from President Moron is his military experience.  What is it about his military experience that would make him a good Commander-in-Chief.  Uh-oh, am I crossing a line asking about hero-John McCain’s experience?  Well too bad because it needs to be looked at in a harsh light.

Probably the critical skill of a Commander-in-Chief is the skill to decide when military force is effective and when it would not be.  That would be a skill that has eluded the present occupant of the White House and his Neocon buddies.  A Commander-in-Chief would never use his military resources frivolously and he would only asked the military to make that ultimate sacrifice if there really was no other way.  A Commander-in-Chief would understand that the military is not the ultimate tool, just one of many in his sling, and usually it is the threat of using it that is much more effective than actually using it.  It’s the threat that gets us to political bargaining which is the ultimate goal, not its use with all the unintended consequences.  Situations like Iraq and Iran are clouded with all sorts of complexities.  In Iraq we are learning that simply calling the bad guy al-Qaeda is missing the whole problem that revolves around Shiite and Sunni hatred and jealousy, and has nothing to do with our real battle with al-Waeda.  So ask your self why John McCain keeps confusing the players and talks as though al-Qaeda were the threat in Iraq?

The answer, I believe, revolves around some of what I was talking about yesterday.  That is George Lakoff’s theory that emotions are much more important that rationality when we examine “the facts”.  His whole view of the military and its effective use was framed around his experience in the Viet Nam war.  So let’s consider it.   John McCain was a Navy pilot.  As far as I know he never set foot in South Viet Nam.  He has no personal experience with the corruption of the South Vietnamese army or its puppet government that we set up.  He never saw the free fire zones or the resistance of the Viet Cong.  As far as I know he never really understood the nature of that civil war.  But he thinks we could have won it if our tactics were better.  You see it is all about better tactics.  It is not about the complex social fabric of the North and South Vietnamese.  It is not about the impossibility of intervening in a civil war.  It is simply a problem of management and fortitude.

John got shot down and his war experience is framed by his years as a POW.  He did not see or understand the political strife that went on in his own country; he just resented it because it complicated his life.   His whole emotional being is framed by the torture he withstood fighting to preserve his sanity while not allowing the enemy to use his words to say what so many others in his own country were freely saying, that this war was a mistake.  So John’s emotional being tells him that when you commit troops, it is to the end.  You stay the course.  His view of al-Qaeda as the source of the problem stems from his thinking that North Vietnam was the problem and all we needed to do was improve our tactics and we would have won and then his five years of imprisonment would have meant something.  He can’t see the complexity of the Viet Cong, corrupt and dysfunctional leadership in the south, and an eventual power play of South Vietnamese generals to see who would be king.  Of course winning would have to be defined in Viet Nam and it might have included wiping out the majority of the population.  It must really gall John today that us losing that war had no real impact on world events.  Viet Nam is becoming a very strong trading partner in the world and our friend.

No, John’s view of military force is so colored by his perception of how it was limited in Viet Nam and how he suffered because of it that he ignores the complexities.  Or as I like to say, the devil is in the details.  That’s why John thinks we can win in Iraq.  Once again, define winning.  If we are going to have an extended occupation of Iraq to keep the two real problems from going at one another, I am not sure that is winning.  Staying the course only makes sense if the end is worth it.  I would rather have a Commander-in-Chief who understood what our long term strategic goals were and could focus the military where they might be more effective.  John McCain has called this “cutting and running”.  I use that phrase because it is exactly what his whole emotional being tells him cutting our losses in Iraq and focusing on the real threat in Afghanistan would be.  He can’t see it as the most effective approach to our problem of al-Qaeda.  He thinks we cut and ran in Viet Nam and we all know he thinks we could have won it.  And after all winning is everything even if you lose everything along the way.  I’ll bet in poker he never folds.

There is one more thing that scares me about John McCain.  Remember his comments about Bomb Bomb Iran and his latest, send them cigarettes, we can kill them that way?  Many thought it was funny, but it shows a real lack of empathy for the people of Iran.  And that is who we have to win over.  He doesn’t see the complexity or the real war of the winning over their minds, only the more effective use of firepower, “Bomb, Bomb Iran”.  No I don’t think John McCain would make a better Commander-in Chief than Barack.  Barack still sees the world as it is.  John sees it through the hash coloring of the past and five years in a North Viet Nam prison.  And no he is not better for it.

Framing the Issue

While mainstream Republicans pound the drum to drill more, drill more, T. Boone Pickens and Al Gore had a big idea.  Their idea is to capture the solar and wind power in the Midwest and fuel this countries thirst for energy with these renewable sources.  It is really kind of funny if you think about it.  Republicans can’t seem to get their arms around the idea that oil and our dependence on it is what created this problem.  They just think if they go after more, somehow that will solve the problem and the problem is not just the cost of gas, it is that we are going broke feeding our addiction to oil, sending our wealth to the Middle East and paying for this by selling our souls to the Chinese.  And of course, you can drill away, oil will become an ever scarcer commodity.  So just how is drilling for more going to help when no responsible scientist or economist will tell you that the effort will do anything for oil prices.  Well if it won’t help the prices, why are we doing it?  So we can face this crisis again down the road?  Why is it that these Republicans and many Americans still think drilling our way out is the right thing to do?

I hate to tell you this but a lot of it is about how the issue has been framed and our automatic responses to a narrative or a frame that we don’t prescribe to.  Alternate energy has always been associated with tree huggers and environmentalists.  Even more damaging in the Republican mind is that it is associated with climate change, which most of them still deny.  “It is those loony liberals trying to force a solution on the free market that will just end up costing us a fortune and not solve the problem.  Next they will want us to all hold hands and sing Koonbyya.”   If you are low on something, you go get more and drilling looks like you are taking affirmative steps to solve the problem.  People want to believe that things will get back the way they were.  They still talk like somehow we are going to lower gas prices or this is somebody’s fault and all we need to do is fix it.  So who is going to stand up and educate them that drilling and more oil is not the solution because it just keeps us focused on using more oil and world supplies may have already peaked?

Well two people step up to the plate, T. Boone Pickens and Al Gore.  Now we have been hearing from Al for a while, but the Republicans write him off as a climate change alarmist.  Then up steps T. Boone Pickens, a respected Republican oilman,  and he tells us we can’t drill our way out of the problem.  What is a good Republican to think?  But T. Boone has framed this argument in a way that will appeal to Republicans, national defense.  You don’t have to associate with those crazy tree huggers, and you don’t have to buy their whining about global warming (Al Gore).  We need to build this because we are sending money to our enemies and breaking our own bank and this is the way to fight those Arabs that are undermining our country and bankrupting us.  Note we buy more oil from Canada than anywhere else, but facts are not the issue here, framing of the argument is.

When T. Boone was questioned about how similar his plan and Al Gore’s was, T. Boone quickly distanced himself from Al.  This has nothing to do with climate change, it about the security of our country.  And that is true because Al’s plan foresees electric cars for their reduced impact on the environment, and T. Boone foresees cars running on natural gas which he thinks we have plenty of and keeps the oil companies happy.   The really big thing is that T. Boone understands that government has a major role to play that the marketplace is not going to fulfill and that is building the transmission lines to distribute this power around the country.  No business can afford this kind of capital investment so he sees an import role for government in his energy plan.  And you know what?  By framing his argument this way he may just break through the cloud of Republican marketplace dogma, framing, and narrative that has blocked this solution.   Because Republicans have always seen Democratic ideas as hindering the marketplace, either through regulation (like regulating the environment) or through inefficient government programs (anything government does, it does badly), anything that smacks of government involvement, they are against.  But when T. Boone raises the national security card, convincingly from one of them, he may just get their attention.

The funny thing is we do have a global warming problem.  We also have an economic problem in that as oil prices go up, our economy goes down.  And finally we have a security problem in that the money we are sending to the Middle East is funding countries and their bad intentions toward us.  Developing a full throttle program to transition to alternate energy is a good idea across the board.  But sadly for conservatives, the only argument that they can hear is the security one.  But at least T. Boone has framed it in such a way, that this time there could be change.

Meanwhile in La La land in the Republican Congress they are selling snake oil.  “We have to take action and start drilling to supply our own oil (yeah another drop or two);  drilling off shore is perfectly safe, these are different times (when have we heard that before); even though oil companies have 38 million acres of offshore leases they are not developing, we need to give more.”  Here is the one I love the most:  “Don’t you think if the oil companies could get oil out of those existing leases with the price of oil where it is today they would be drilling?”  Come on Congressman, certainly you took Economics 101.  Let’s see, I should invest hundreds of millions of dollars in drilling more oil so I can lower the price per barrel so the rate of return on the oil I already have will go down?  They will increase supplies only as it maintains a stable price and ensures a profit to their stockholders.  To do otherwise would be to be an impudent business person.  You think you guys in Washington would get that.  Maybe that is why you all have failed so miserably at governing.  You don’t really understand the marketplace.