Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Make No Law Respecting The Establishment of Religion and Free Exercise Thereof

This is posted without comment, because both Cenk and Craig Scarberry are pretty eloquent in their views:


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Airport Body Scanners and Privacy

To add to the hassles of airline travel, now we've got to deal with X-Ray body scanners, or, if you are opposed to that, rather invasive pat-downs. This is yet another in the long line of reasons that I really dislike flying these days. I'm going to rather agree with this article on CNN. This is more invasive, more onerous, and more...well...disturbing than any other country puts up with.

Now, TSA wants to argue that they are merely trying to keep us safe and working "with" the American people, and like to point out that in 2009 a majority of Americans agreed with the idea of having body scanners in airports. I'd like to cite a bit of buyer's remorse in this case, but moreover, I'd like to add that this a strange case of invasion of privacy. Now, for security purposes, the courts have largely argued that these agencies are able to circumvent certain laws that bind the rest of us. Certainly we've all heard of warrantless wiretaps, and how the courts are sort of okay with this, despite the fact that it violates a lot of civil liberties. But now we have a case where, if these people were not TSA agents, are undertaking actions which could easily be taken to court, or grounds for immediate termination. I mean, if I demanded to perform an "extended" pat-down on anyone, I'd be fired. If I used a backscatter X-Ray to gain images of people's bodies...well, I'd likely be charged with a lot of things, including sexual assault.

While I am all for a certain measure of security in flying, I find this excessive. I find it sad that we've had to give up on a lot of our liberties and privacy for the sake of "safety." I don't think this is ever a good trade-off, and I hope that sometime in the near future we can have sensible security measures at airports that are not this invasive and...well...absurd.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Day After

The day after the election, and the Republicans have taken the House, a lot of them promising to repeal basically everything that's been done in the last two years. The Democrats kept control of the Senate by a narrow, narrow majority. Lessons to be learned? People still aren't huge fans of the Republicans, but they'll vote disappointing Dems out. The other major lesson? The Dems are not unified, and did not have a strong message this go-round.

This piece from the Chicagoist sums up a lot of my feelings on the matter.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Confidence Breeds Error

Click through to here to see an interesting article, showcasing the effects of confirmation bias. You really have to put in some hard work to be worse than random chance, but confirmation bias is a strong predictor for it.

This is why the majority of my posts on politics are opinion-based, and, likewise why I would strongly urge you to vote. It's probably about the best thing you could do to screw with the pollster's predictions.


Election Day 2010

Today is election day. I strongly urge to go out and vote. I say that no matter your politics - one of the most important things you can do as a citizen is to actually voice your opinion at the ballot box. Unfortunately, most of us, as private citizens, don't have the kind of money to really influence our politicians. We don't have the social pressure either. What we do have, however, is a large group effect - that is to say, the one power that we do have is to vote into office people we like, and do not vote for those we don't want. Now, the sad thing is, in most races you're going to be choosing between the lesser of two evils, and for the foreseeable future, that's the nature of the game.

So why vote? Well, it's your one true option for putting action to your opinions. It is the rare one of us that is invited to speak in a public forum, and much less than that are invited to appear on TV (in fact, most of us are far too moderate and reasonably-minded to get on TV...we don't make for good ratings). So, aside from standing on a street corner or attending your local poetry jams, you've got the option of voting your conscience, and thus, in some small way, holding your politicians accountable. The real trouble comes when your only other option for an office is so, so much worse...to my mind, that recalls Harry Reid and Sharron Angle. I've been highly disappointed with Reid most of the time...but Angle...Best of luck, Nevada.

Let's consider a little bit of the atmosphere today, and what it could mean for the future, after the jump.

By almost all the polls out there, today is supposed to be a bloodbath for the Democrats. They're expected to lose the House and potentially the Senate (though probably not). A lot of the governor races are close, and the news is slightly better there, but in many cases, slightly better means, "You might not lose!" How has it come to this? Two years ago, Obama rode on a groundswell of voting and actually captured a lot of young voters. The Democrats rode into power as well in 2006 and have stayed in power for four years. For Democrats, in this day and age, that's pretty good. There's a reason why there's a mantra about the Democrats always finding a way to screw up their own election, clutching defeat from the jaws of victory, and all that. But how did it happen?

Well, first an interesting point. According to most polls, people actually prefer Democrats to Republicans, in pure opinion. When you start asking people which way they're going to vote, though, most lean Republican. What does that mean? Well, on the face of it, it means that even though most people don't prefer the Republicans, they're tired of the Democrats, and in this country, that almost always means you have to vote Republican. People are angry - they see the economy as stagnant, unemployment too high, and a lot of people feel that Obama focused too much on the grand ideas (health care and the like) without first fixing the economy.

That's an interesting point, and one that I go back and forth on. One the one hand, I'm incredibly disappointed in the financial reform bill - it's got too many loopholes and does nothing to actually fix the underlying system. On the other hand, now that we're living in a country that requires a super-majority to get anything passed (wait until the Republicans take control again...that word will more than likely disappear for the simple reason that Democrats don't have the sort of party-line unity Republicans can muster, and a lot of them are actually pretty willing to compromise. I mean, seriously, check out the Rep's "YouCut" website. They maintain records of the voting on their issues, just check out the numbers), it's unlikely that Obama could ever have gotten anything near good enough through Congress. That's disappointing, but it's the world we live in. So, Republicans get to crash the economy and then blame Obama for not fixing it fast enough and use the crash itself as a platform to get re-elected. It's a bit sickening, really. They also get to use the TARP funds, which were the previous administration's idea originally, to hammer at Obama and the Democrats in general. Now, I'm not a huge fan of TARP. I realize that some bailout was probably necessary, but I don't like how the money was handed out, with not strings attached.

So we have an angry populace upset with the way the administration is handling the situation, who are likely to vote the Republicans back into power, regardless of their previous record. This seems like a dangerous situation, and if they do gain power again, I'll guarantee that their first order of business is eliminating everything the Democrats have tried to get passed since they took office. Farewell, any thoughts of a regulated health insurance industry, farewell financial regulation, farewell any sort of fiscal responsibility (not that the Democrats have really got a hold on that either, but letting some of the tax cuts expire would be a pretty smart move. The other, smartest move, that no one is willing to make - cut the Defense budget. It's way...way...over-bloated, and for what?)

Unfortunately, we can expect the House to go Republican, and maybe the Senate as well, and then watch whatever small baby steps in a more liberal direction we've taken in the past few years get immediately cut off. And then we have to ask, what will the Democrats have learned? If they decide that their problem was that they were too liberal, and they should be more like the Republicans...well, that's just a sad, sad state of things. Especially considering that many of the seats in the House that are up for grabs are more "moderate" Democrats, this would have been maybe their first chance to actually present a good, liberal, face. The other thing that they may learn is that when they say they're going to change the system, to fix some of the most basic problems, maybe they should actually make that case, forcefully, and often, until the myths and lies from the opposition party are actually exposed. Offer the hand of compromise, yes, but at this point it's rather clear the Republicans want nothing to do with you. John Boehner is gloating right now that this is not the time for compromise, and if they win, you can expect none of it from the Republicans. After the first few times they smacked your hand down (and let's be honest...they did it on basically everything you ever brought to the floor), well, maybe it was time to move on without them. I know which one is more likely, and sadly, I think it's the worse choice.

This doesn't have to be the case, however. Only around a third of the eligible voting populace is actually expected to go to the polls today. It's only a little past noon on the East Coast right now, and you have time to go and make your voice heard. Massive effects can be made by small individuals, each taking part in a collective action, so, I implore you, exercise your hard-earned rights, and vote.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Finishing up the Bartending Posts on Bases

I've finished my review of alcoholic bases in a three-parter.

Find Part II (rum and gin) here, and Part III (tequila and whiskey) here.

Expect an update on mixers and what not soon, as well as crepes recipes and others.

Also expect a more politically-influenced post in the near future.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Recipe: Osso Bucco Inspired Chicken

Here's my take on a very traditional, very delicious dish, Osso Bucco. I typically have a hard time finding veal shanks around here, so, I've adapted it to chicken.



Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Blog. Food Blog.

So Steph and I have started a new food blog, primarily revolving around our own culinary adventures, but which will also include reviews of restaurants and kitchen gadgetry. Instead of totally reposting things from there, I'll merely post links here.

Thus, post one in what I imagine will be a long series on bartending, to be found here.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Recipe: Oat Bread

Suppose one morning you wake up and decide to make oatmeal. Let's also assume that you use good old-fashioned, rolled oats. None of those instant or quick oats, please (we'll explain in a bit). Suppose, also, that you a lot left over...like say, 12 ounces of cooked oats. Now, what are you going to do with that? Save it for several more portions of oatmeal? That's a possibility. But let me suggest something different: oat bread.

Now, I will fully admit that Steph and I are true fans of Alton Brown - I would label myself in the "Briner" category...look that up, in case you're wondering. The recipe that follows is our first attempt at a recipe of AB's that recently aired, Oat Cuisine II. How was it? Read, and follow along on this particular culinary journey.

: Oat Bread

12 ounces cook rolled oats
2 Tablespoons agave nectar
1 Tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for bowl and pan
1/4 cup warm water
11 ounces bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
1 envelope dry active yeast
1/4 cup uncooked rolled oats, plus 1 tablespoon rolled oats, divided
1 egg yolk
1 Tablespoon water

Let's prep this dish as though we had every intention of cooking it from the start, as opposed to making due with leftover oatmeal (which, I will note, is equally viable...depending on what exactly you put into your oatmeal).

So, in a large bowl, you'll want to combine 11 ounces of bread flour (by weight, of course), a packet of dry active yeast, 1/4 cup of rolled oats, and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, such as the following mixture:

This will be our dry team. Now, let's also prep our wet team. That'll be 2 tablespoons of agave nectar (this is a rather delectable, honey-like sweetener made from the agave plant [yes, the same plant true tequila is made from]. Where can you find it? Well, certainly any health food store, and almost every market in Chicago that I've seen has it somewhere, usually close to where they keep things like honey. It's as cheap as honey, so, if you're really penny pinching, why not buy a bottle of agave nectar instead of honey? Try it out. Or, you could substitute honey for the agave nectar in this recipe), 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and 1/4 cup of warm water:

Once you have that assembled, you're going to want to cook 12 ounces of rolled oats on the stove top, according to package directions. Why rolled oats? Well, they stand up a lot better to cooking and manipulation. See, instant and quick oats are chopped before they're rolled, creating thinner and thinner strips that really just fall apart when they're cooked...the texture is not great.

Anyway, you might want to try to have somewhere between 7 and 9 ounces of rolled oats, before you add water, to create 12 ounces of cooked oats (season with a pinch of kosher salt, of course!). It's likely you'll have leftovers, but hey...now you've got a bowl of oatmeal! Awesome!

So, our cooked oats:

And our leftovers:

So, measure out 12 ounces of the cooked oats, and add the wet team:

Stir together a bit, just to get everything coated, and then start slowly adding the dry team, in about three batches. Here's batch one:

Mix together with each addition, and you'll end up with a very, very sticky dough about like this:

When you've got that, take some bread flour and lightly flour a work surface. Turn the dough out onto the surface and knead for a full 10 minutes. A quick aside: one of the first times I ever made pasta by hand, I kind of skipped this step. It's not that I didn't knead it at all, I just kneaded it for a few minutes. I didn't understand all the stuff going on with the formation of gluten and other structural changes: I just thought this step was about incorporation of ingredients when they got too stiff to mix with a whisk or spoon. I thought it looked pretty well incorporated, so I went about the rest of the recipe and ended up with pasta that was just awful...it had no structure, and you couldn't do anything with it. So...the kneading is quite essential:

Once you've kneaded the dough, lightly oil a large canister or bowl and toss the dough in. Roll it around a bit to get a bit of a coating around the dough and then cover with a tea towel and let it sit in a dark, warm place for a full hour, or until it has doubled in volume. This will incorporate some good structure and development, which is always nice...as well as boosting a lot of flavor. You'll be able to smell a bit of the yeasty/bread smell if you get close to it. That's how you know it's working.

When the dough has risen, turn it out of the bowl/container and punch it down and then form it into a loaf and drop it into a lightly-oiled 9 inch by 5 inch loaf pan. Cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight, or full a full eight hours.

A note on this: a lot of bread recipes call for a short second rise at a regular temperature. This recipe, and one of the many reasons I love AB's recipes, calls for a long, slow rise in the fridge. I personally find that it creates a better overall texture and taste in the end.

After that eight hours/overnight period is over, you can take it out of the fridge, and you should be rewarded with something that looks roughly like this:

At this point, you'll want to prepare an egg wash. Take one egg yolk and one tablespoon of water. Mix that together well, and brush it along the top of the loaf. Take one more tablespoon of uncooked oats and sprinkle it along the top of the loaf, finally producing something like this:

Put that into a 350 degree oven for 55 minutes to an hour, or until the internal temperature of the loaf reaches 210 degrees. An instant read thermometer is hugely helpful for this. You should be rewarded with a loaf of bread looking basically like this:

You'll want to turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack and let it cool for at least 30 minutes before you slice into it. This will allow it to stabilize and cool enough to eat, which is always good. Why turn it out onto a wire rack? Well, it gets it away from the residual heat of the pan, and the bonus of a wire rack is that it allows even flow of air even under the loaf, instead of just across the top and sides. Anyway, after 30 minutes feel free to slice to your pleasure:

How does it taste? One word: Delectable. In another word: Scrumtrilescant. It's soft, with just a bit of a crunch. The oats on top provide a nice contrast of flavor, while the oatmeal in the dough itself very nicely dissolves and is imperceptible except for the wonderful taste.

The only real note I would make about this recipe is that you're going to want to make sure the oatmeal still has some moisture in it before you start mixing the flour in. I'm not saying you should make soupy oatmeal, or that it should be soaking, but I know I made the oatmeal a little dry and had to add a bit of warm water to the dough to get it to come together. Not too much, but a little bit. Otherwise, this one worked out perfectly. I highly recommend it!

Next up? Maybe some bar philosophy, and then perhaps getting into the quest for the perfect Long Island Iced Tea - definitely not my favorite drink, and rather bloated, I feel, but it's handy for a lot of other tips in bar-tending general.


Recipe: The "Marie" Sandwich

I figured I'd start adding some recipes and music to this blog, and to that end, I'd start with a rather simple sandwich, named for and inspired by a very close friend of ours who has left for the foggy British Isles. We call it the "Marie" Sandwich. It's a rather simple mix of avocado, tomatoes, and cheese, but it makes for an absolutely delicious sandwich, and can be greatly modified to suit the individual palate.

All of last year, Marie was a constant fixture at our house, and she was great for cleaning out the last of the leftovers we had in the fridge. We met Marie while she was directing the Dean's Men (a local theater group) production of Romeo and Juliet - Steph played the part of Tybalt and I mostly cooked for people and gave rides when they needed it. Steph and Marie became fast friends and started designing, and redesigning, all the costumes and props in the play. For a while, our apartment was overflowing with plaster and newspaper while we made face masks for the masquerade scene of the play. Through all of this, even though she was incredibly busy with classes and directly, Marie was always there for us and always willing to hang out.

So, during one of those marathon work sessions, Steph was working with Marie and her apartment, and Marie decided to make lunch - just simple sandwiches. Apparently, it was so good that Steph immediately called me to run to the store and pick up everything we'd need to make it ourselves.

By now, this has become a staple lunch-time or tide-me-over-till-dinner sandwich at our house. It's simple and quick to make, requires very few ingredients (unless you want to start modifying it...then you're only bound by the stability of the sandwich itself), and tastes great.

Recipe: "Marie Sandwich"


1 half of a large, ripe avocado
1 medium, ripe tomato
2 slices Muenster cheese
1 sub bun

Use a serrated bread knife to open the sub bun, splitting it into two pieces. Using a sharp knife, such as a chef's knife, carefully slice the avocado length-wise, cutting around the pit. Gently twist the halves apart and set aside the half without the pit. Cover your hand in a kitchen glove or with a towel and get a good grip on the avocado half with the pit. Using a sharp knife with a heavy blade, strike the blade down into the center of the pit, trying to use the part of the knife close to the handle. If the avocado is ripe enough, a gentle clockwise or counter-clockwise twist should free it.

Stretch your thumb and first finger around the spine of the blade and pinch/push the pit off of the edge. It should pop off easily. Then, you can carefully cut a small grid through the flesh of one half of the avocado and use a spoon to scoop it out and onto the bread. Try to evenly spread the avocado half onto each half of the loaf. If you can't mash the avocado easily, you may want to first put it into a bowl and mash it with a fork or potato masher. You can then cut the cheese slices in half and layer those on top of each half, and finally thinly slice the tomato and layer slices of tomato along one half.

Put the sandwich on a cookie sheet or other baking tray and put it under the broiler until the cheese has melted and the bread is lightly toasted. Remove from the oven, press the two halves together, and then let cool slightly before consuming.

Now, a quick note about sandwich making. There is much talk about "sandwich-physics," and it's important to figure out a few of the more important pointers there. Alton Brown, on the show Good Eats, goes into this in his season 8 episode "Sandwich Craft." In fact, I hear tell there are entire blogs and syndicated columns on the art of constructing the proper sandwich! I leave you to find those on your own, but I will reiterate Alton's rules from Sandwich Craft, because they are good reference, and they do have some bearing on this recipe:

1) Soft ingredients (such as egg salad) go best with soft breads.
2) When using wet ingredients (e.g., tomatoes), always use a moisture barrier, such as mayonnaise, oil, butter, or cream cheese to prevent soaking. (note, this is also why when making a PB&J sandwich, it's best to coat both pieces of bread with peanut butter, instead of leaving the jelly exposed to naked bread on one side)
3) Do not place layers of slippery ingredients next to one another - this will cause everything to call apart as you're eating it - you have to think about the proper amount of friction to hold the sandwich together. And finally,
4) Never use a bread you wouldn't eat on its own. If it's not good enough for consumption plain, it's not good enough for sandwich-making.

Now, that being said, we should look back at our recipe and realize we might have a few potential issues. Most of them aren't serious and can be overcome with a little careful thought, but let's review and suggest a few possible modifications.

First of all - the sub bun or Hoagie roll. This works fine for us most of the time, but you may want to consider exactly how you're going to want the finished sandwich.

Consider, for instance, if you want an untoasted/unheated sandwich, you may want to get a roll with a rather crusty exterior, like say, a baguette, cut it in half, and dig out a bit of a trench in the bread (use the leftovers for breadcrumbs, or fondue, or dipping in soup!). You can fill that trench with the avocado and layer the tomato and cheese on top. If you wanted, you could create a simple vinaigrette by putting:

1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard into a mixing bowl and whisking with 1 Tablespoon of red wine vinegar and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper. Slowly drizzle in 3 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil while whisking constantly to create an emulsion.

You could slowly drizzle this mixture over the sandwich, place the two halves together, and then compress it in plastic wrap for a little while to let the flavors mingle.

But let's say you wanted a hot sandwich, maybe a pressed sandwich. In that case, you could almost completely slice the bread in two, add some mustard or olive oil, layer down the avocado, then the cheese, and the tomatoes in the middle, fold and crimp the cheese into the interior, and press the sandwich. This doesn't necessarily mean that you need a sandwich press. You could probably do it between two heated baking sheets, maybe with a hot cast iron pan on top. Leave it pressed for about ten minutes, and you'll have a pretty delicious sandwich.

As for additional toppings - spinach is a possibility, different cheeses can work, a little olive oil and vinegar, or a touch of salt and pepper...all of these can be added to personal taste - just keep in mind that you don't want to overpower the sandwich with two many competing flavors, and if you go too crazy with ingredients, it may not hold together.

Next up on the recipe list...I'm thinking oat bread.


Friday, October 22, 2010

House of the Rising Sun

Here's Joe and I doing a bit of House of the Rising Sun by the Animals. Obviously, my voice is going like crazy on this one. Forgive me.


Wild Horses

This is Joe and I practicing Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones. Obviously, I forgot some of the lyrics and some of the structure of the verses...it was late, we'd had a bit to drink, and I was a little distracted. I do appreciate Butter's laughter though.



Here's Joe and I practicing Moonshiner, by Uncle Tupelo:


Wagon Wheel practice

Here's Joe and I practicing a bit of Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show, the night before the wedding. My voice was going all night, but, hey, gotta take the first step out there and take some criticism, no?


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Conversations with the Parents

My parents, mother especially, occasionally forward me things. I read these, all of them, but rarely reply. This one forced it out of me, and again proves that I could never really go into politics (I would have a heart attack within a few years). This was a quick reply (hah...quick...), so it wasn't researched anywhere near well-enough, but it got most of the basic points into it. I'll post the email I received first and my reply after the fold.

Date: Thu, 3 Jun 2010 16:36:54 -0700
From: --------------------
To: ----------------------------------------------------------

What if he is right?

I hope you find the time to read this with an open mind. It's interesting. Please read it with the open mind rather than immediately breaking it down into left or right, but rather look at it from the neutral viewpoint of right or wrong. It's like the line below says, "what if he is right?"

Take the three minutes to read this. Maybe he is wrong, but what if he's right?

David Kaiser is a respected historian whose published works have covered a broad range of topics, from European Warfare to American League Baseball. Born in 1947, the son of a diplomat, Kaiser spent his childhood in three capital cities: Washington D.C. , Albany , New York , and Dakar , Senegal . He attended Harvard University , graduating there in 1969 with a B.A. in history. He then spent several years more at Harvard, gaining a PhD in history, which he obtained in 1976. He served in the Army Reserve from 1970 to 1976.

He is a professor in the Strategy and Policy Department of the United States Naval War College . He has previously taught at Carnegie Mellon, Williams College and Harvard University . Kaiser's latest book, The Road to Dallas, about the Kennedy assassination, was just published by Harvard University Press.

History Unfolding

I am a student of history. Professionally, I have written 15 books on history that have been published in six languages, and I have studied history all my life. I have come to think there is something monumentally large afoot, and I do not believe it is simply a banking crisis, or a mortgage crisis, or a credit crisis. Yes these exist, but they are merely single facets on a very large gemstone that is only now coming into a sharper focus.

Something of historic proportions is happening. I can sense it because I know how it feels, smells, what it looks like, and how people react to it. Yes, a perfect storm may be brewing, but there is something happening within our country that has been evolving for about ten to fifteen years. The pace has dramatically quickened in the past two.

We demand and then codify into law the requirement that our banks make massive loans to people we know they can never pay back? Why?

We learned just days ago that the Federal Reserve, which has little or no real oversight by anyone, has "loaned" two trillion dollars (that is $2,000,000,000,000) over the past few months, but will not tell us to whom or why or disclose the terms. That is our money. Yours and mine. And that is three times the $700 billion we all argued about so strenuously just this past September. Who has this money? Why do they have it? Why are the terms unavailable to us? Who asked for it? Who authorized it? I thought this was a government of "we the people," who loaned our powers to our elected leaders. Apparently not.

We have spent two or more decades intentionally de-industrializing our economy.


We have intentionally dumbed down our schools, ignored our history, and no longer teach our founding documents, why we are exceptional, and why we are worth preserving. Students by and large cannot write, think critically, read, or articulate. Parents are not revolting, teachers are not picketing, school boards continue to back mediocrity.


We have now established the precedent of protesting every close election (violently in California over a proposition that is so controversial that it simply wants marriage to remain defined as between one man and one woman. Did you ever think such a thing possible just a decade ago?) We have corrupted our sacred political process by allowing unelected judges to write laws that radically change our way of life, and then mainstream Marxist groups like ACORN and others to turn our voting system into a banana republic. To what purpose?

Now our mortgage industry is collapsing, housing prices are in free fall, major industries are failing, our banking system is on the verge of collapse, social security is nearly bankrupt, as is Medicare and our entire government. Our education system is worse than a joke (I teach college and I know precisely what I am talking about) - the list is staggering in its length, breadth, and depth. It is potentially 1929 x ten...and we are at war with an enemy we cannot even name for fear of offending people of the same religion, who, in turn, cannot wait to slit the throats of your children if they have the opportunity to do so.

And finally, we have elected a man that no one really knows anything about, who has never run so much as a Dairy Queen, let alone a town as big as Wasilla, Alaska...All of his associations and alliances are with real radicals in their chosen fields of employment, and everything we learn about him, drip by drip, is unsettling if not downright scary. (Surely you have heard him speak about his idea to create and fund a mandatory civilian defense force stronger than our military for use inside our borders? No? Oh, of course. The media would never play that for you over and over and then demand he answer it. Sarah Palin's pregnant daughter and $150,000 wardrobe are more important.)

Mr. Obama's winning platform can be boiled down to one word:



I have never been so afraid for my country and for my children as I am now.

This man campaigned on bringing people together, something he has never, ever done in his professional life. In my assessment, Obama will divide us along philosophical lines, push us apart, and then try to realign the pieces into a new and different power structure. Change is indeed coming. And when it comes, you will never see the same nation again.

And that is only the beginning..

As a serious student of history, I thought I would never come to experience what the ordinary, moral German must have felt in the mid-1930s. In those times, the "savior" was a former smooth-talking rabble-rouser from the streets, about whom the average German knew next to nothing. What they should have known was that he was associated with groups that shouted, shoved, and pushed around people with whom they disagreed; he edged his way onto the political stage through great oratory. Conservative "losers" read it right now.

And there were the promises. Economic times were tough, people were losing jobs, and he was a great speaker. And he smiled and frowned and waved a lot. And people, even newspapers, were afraid to speak out for fear that his "brown shirts" would bully and beat them into submission. Which they did - regularly. And then, he was duly elected to office, while a full-throttled economic crisis bloomed at hand - the Great Depression. Slowly, but surely he seized the controls of government power, person by person, department by department, bureaucracy by bureaucracy. The children of German citizens were at first, encouraged to join a Youth Movement in his name where they were taught exactly what to think. Later, they were required to do so. No Jews of course,

How did he get people on his side? He did it by promising jobs to the jobless, money to the money-less, and rewards for the military-industrial complex. He did it by indoctrinating the children, advocating gun control, health care for all, better wages, better jobs, and promising to re-instill pride once again in the country, across Europe , and across the world. He did it with a compliant media - did you know that? And he did this all in the name of justice and ... change. And the people surely got what they voted for.

If you think I am exaggerating, look it up. It's all there in the history books.

So read your history books. Many people of conscience objected in 1933 and were shouted down, called names, laughed at, and ridiculed. When Winston Churchill pointed out the obvious in the late 1930s while seated in the House of Lords in England (he was not yet Prime Minister), he was booed into his seat and called a crazy troublemaker. He was right, though. And the world came to regret that he was not listened to.

Do not forget that Germany was the most educated, the most cultured country in Europe . It was full of music, art, museums, hospitals, laboratories, and universities. And yet, in less than six years (a shorter time span than just two terms of the U. S. presidency) it was rounding up its own citizens, killing others, abrogating its laws, turning children against parents, and neighbors against neighbors.. All with the best of intentions, of course. The road to Hell is paved with them.

As a practical thinker, one not overly prone to emotional decisions, I have a choice: I can either believe what the objective pieces of evidence tell me (even if they make me cringe with disgust); I can believe what history is shouting to me from across the chasm of seven decades; or I can hope I am wrong by closing my eyes, having another latte, and ignoring what is transpiring around me.

I choose to believe the evidence. No doubt some people will scoff at me, others laugh, or think I am foolish, naive, or both. To some degree, perhaps I am. But I have never been afraid to look people in the eye and tell them exactly what I believe-and why I believe it.

I pray I am wrong. I do not think I am. Perhaps the only hope is our vote in the next elections.

David Kaiser
Jamestown, Rhode Island
United States

Pass this along. Perhaps it will help to begin the awakening of America as to where we are headed...

So, that was the email my mom sent me. Here was my response:

Hey Mom,

I'm going to dedicate a little time to replying to this one because, well, I feel it's important. I think I should note from the beginning that I am actually very disappointed in Obama, but I'll explain that later. That being said:

First, this article is not by David Kaiser. I thought that was odd to begin with, because I've heard some of Kaiser's talks about history, and this didn't seem to agree with anything he's ever said before. So, via snopes, http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/proportions.asp , the article actually comes from a reader's comment on a conservative blog.

To his first proposition, that we demand and then codify into law that banks make loans that we know people cannot pay back, this is largely an effect of the deregulation that began in earnest under Reagan, continued in a strong way under Bush senior, coasted through under Clinton, and then picked up again under Bush junior. The heads of the banks figured out how to make a bet that would make money no matter what - essentially loan out mortgages that would be tied to the national interest rate instead of fixed, and then bet against them so that if they ever went bad, they would get a huge pay-out. Alan Greenspan had artificially deflated the interest rate around this time to about 1% and the Fed urged everyone to buy adjustable rate mortgages because they would be so much cheaper in the long run. Now, it doesn't take much to see that when you have an artificially deflated interest rate, especially so low of one, there's not much lower that it can go. Thus, statistically, it's likely that it will rise, and rise close to the "true" interest rate, given the prevailing market. So, at the urging of the Fed and bankers, many people bought these AR mortgages, I suppose believing that the interest rate would always remain low. Of course, it didn't, and when the interest rate skyrocketed back to the level that it should have been at, many people could not pay their new rates, and thus the housing crisis. The problem here was multi-faceted - there was a historically low interest rate, which makes people interested in buying homes and property anyway, the banks' creation of a new type of (for the time) cheaper mortgages and loans, and the urging of government and religious bodies (this was also the beginning of the Christian Prosperity movement, which was very emphatic about everyone being blessed to own a home) to buy housing. Add the rising interest rate, and thus the increase in foreclosures, to the fact that the entire housing scheme was little more than a massive Ponzi scam, then it's not surprising that when the housing bubble burst and entrance funds ran out, the whole system collapsed under it's own weight, except for those massive pay-outs on all the back-door bets that the system would collapse anyway.

Why did this happen? A large part of it is the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. From the creation of this Act until its repeal, we did not have another financial collapse on the order of the Great Depression or the economic collapse of today. Essentially, the Act separated the banks into two parts - those that loaned money to citizens, with a certain amount of capital dedicated to that, and another part that invested money, using the bank's credit. It's a pretty clear conflict of interest when the banks use the same pool to lend money and to invest. The Act also did not allow banks to own other financial institutions, like say, institutions used to rate the quality of a bank's investment package. That last part was repealed in 1980 under Reagan, and the second part was repealed by the Republican-majority Congress under Clinton in 1999. Democrats and Republicans share the blame for this, but as it was the Republicans who proposed it and pushed so hard for it from the beginning, I'm going to lay a slight share more of the blame on them. It's long been a conservative rallying cry to de-regulate, so, this is the eventual consequence of a true free-market with a pure-profit motive.

As to the bailouts, I am likewise very upset and disappointed, but again, there is a rather short-list of people whom we can reasonably lay some part of the blame on. First, the Senate. It is not a stretch to say that all of the Republican senators and the majority of the Democratic senators have taken huge payouts from the banking industry and are willing to do anything and blame anyone but the banks themselves. If this means shoving more citizens' money into the banks, they're fine with it. Most recently, we can see this by the Republican opposition to a measure to force the banks to create their own "bailout fund", with their own money, so if they fail they have a bit of a safety net and the taxpayer will not be required to bail them out again. Apparently this was a terrible idea in the minds of the Senate Republicans, who would prefer that taxpayers do the bailing out however many times is necessary to keep the banks in the black. The same holds largely true, but to a lesser extent, in the House of Representatives. The problem is not so much Republican vs. Democrat (although, if we're being fair and looking at from whom these guys are getting paid, the Republicans are definitely much more in their pockets), but a problem that the majority of both houses of the Senate could be called "corporatist." They don't represent the people because they get too much money from the banking industry, the industrial-military complex, and other corporate entities who have their own self-interest at heart. I can't blame for that - it's capitalism, and as long as it's regulated to a degree, it can do wonders, but for the past three decades at least we've been trying harder and harder to deregulate everything.

The banking institutions can obviously be blamed - they set up the bad loans in the first place. The regulatory agencies can be blamed, but only a little. Our government, following conservative free-market principles, has done all it can to limit the power and oversight of regulatory agencies, or have them bought out by the institutions they are supposed to regulate (this was particularly a problem under Bush junior, who stacked almost all the major regulatory boards with people who were former employees, or were still technically employees, of major companies in the industry they were supposed to watch over, including, in the case of the MMS, a representative who had a long history of safety violations and trying to cover them up). Obama can be blamed to an extent - it's clear that he doesn't particularly understand the financial industry and is willing to let Timothy Geithner and Ben Burnanke run the show, both of whom have a long history of being cozy with the banking industry. Geithner was the one who orchestrated the bail-out in its present terms, which essentially means that we, the taxpayers, payed one hundred cents on the dollar for the banks' bad loans and had no plan to get any of that paid back. Now, if Obama had nominated say, Joseph Stiglitz, or Paul Krugman, or Paul Volcker to the same position, things may have been very different. Or, as seems likely now, they still would not have been confirmed because all of them are much less conservative that Geithner, and as there are still over one hundred nominations that have not been allowed to be tested yet, we can see that the Republicans are very much a party of opposition right now.

I'm a little confused by his assertion that we have de-industrialized the economy. In some ways, this is obviously true. We do indeed have proposals that are trying to shift people into newer, technologically driven fields because all signs point to the fact that these fields will dominate the foreseeable future. In other cases, it's clear that some of the larger industries refused to change their business model at all, and so collapsed under their own weight. In other cases, we've given strong incentives for companies to move oversees, but, as is beginning to happen, places like China are becoming more expensive as their own industry expands, and companies are returning here because we're now among the cheap labor.

The paragraph about dumbing down our schools is largely true, especially in certain areas of the U.S. If we look at the Texas Board of Education in the past few months, controlled entirely by conservatives, they have made it clear that Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Mark Twain are persona non grata, because they do not adequately reflect the idea of a strongly Christian, white, free-market, conservative nation. It's also become increasingly clear that these people do not see men like Benjamin Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, or John Adams as our "Founding Fathers," but instead the Puritans and other strongly religious groups who first settled here and continued a history of sectarian warfare leading up until very close to the American Revolution. I do strongly wish that we would teach our founding documents, but this is entirely against the conservative agenda. For example, all the rights presented in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are granted to every person in this country - citizen or not. How can I defend that? In the Bill of Rights, every amendment makes use of the word "person." By itself, this would not mean much, but if we turn to the 14th amendment, we come to actual definition of a citizen - any person born or naturalized in the United States. This means that all the conservatives in states like Arizona who want to deny citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants born here are strongly, and I mean strongly, anti-Constitutional. Also, most importantly, as soon as the word "citizen" is defined, the writers immediately revert back to word "person." Of particular interest is this line:

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Notice, they define citizen, explain the rights of citizens, and then explicitly say that these same basic rights are granted to any person within the jurisdiction of the United States.

Now, also to reach ahead a bit, this bears directly on the recent Arizona laws about illegal immigrants - number one, by the numbers of arrests and the demographics of people questioned, this law is obvious a codification of racial profiling and thus is anti-Constitutional in that it denies due process to the people in the jurisdiction of the United States. Secondly, as the latter half of this article is so fond of drawing ties to Nazi Germany, I can think of a particular regime where the words "Show me your papers" was a bit of a catchphrase. In fact, there's hardly a movie made about these people that does not include that phrase somewhere. Brown shirts, indeed.

I can understand the desire to protest close elections, and I think people have a stronger sense of it now than they did say, before 2000, when a president who lost the popular vote was elected anyway. As for Proposition 8 in California, there are numerous reasons why that vote was so controversial. First off, it was primarily funded and advanced by certain religious groups like the Mormons, in an official, church-sponsored way. Why is this controversial? Well, this also ties into the bit about history and why actually studying history so goes against the conservative line, but we have a long history of a process called separation of church and state. While conservatives love to harp that this line is nowhere found in the Constitution, I would point out two things - 1) God is likewise never mentioned in the Constitution, and in fact the opening line is the most important -
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Notice, it is We the People, not, We Under God, or any other such statement. To add to this, you have the signing of the Treaty of Tripoli by John Adams, one of the founding fathers, who makes it explicit that the United States is not a Christian country and in fact endorses no official religion at all. James Madison and Jefferson were the real source of the idea of separation of church and state, and why this is important I'll get to later, but created the Jefferson Bible, which removed every supernatural element of the text and essentially left a history with some proverbs and teachings.

Also, 2) we do have the establishment cause and the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, which guarantees that the government will make no law respecting the establishment of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. This is a pretty broad-ranging statement and also explains why, at least in its current form, the National Day of Prayer is not really Constitutional either.

Why does the United States have a history of separation of church and state? There are several reasons, but among the most important are these - 1) The founding fathers were all strong proponents of reason and believed that if religion, any religion, had any element of truth to it, then people, being reasoning creatures, would be able to find this out for themselves. Moreover, imposing upon these people an established religion would only impede the effort of their own free reason, and thus would more than likely lead people into falsehood than promote a truth. Moreover, the founding fathers had seen the long history of sectarian warfare in Europe and in the early Americas, largely brought on by established religions, and had no desire to repeat this. It's little wonder that, until recently, when the myth of the United States always being a conservative Christian country has become so entrenched, America has never had to worry about a religious war or strong religious persecution. The entire idea of the 1st Amendment, and the idea of separation of church and state, is that everyone is free to practice their own religion or lack thereof, and neither the government, nor any other person, can impinge upon that, so long as the practicing of religion is not harmful to others or does not impinge upon the rights of others. In reflection on Jefferson's words, the Supreme Court had this to say:

"The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organization or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect "a wall of separation between church and state."

This means (and this is the way things are, as much as conservative voices like to claim otherwise) that in a public school, children can pray as much as they like, but a teacher or principal cannot lead them in prayer. Why? Because to have children pray, or to have a group of students organize around a particular religious belief (say, the Christian athlete organizations which are very popular) do not, in and of themselves, impinge upon others' rights. To have an official lead people in a prayer of a particular faith, however, does impinge upon others' rights to potentially of another religion, or to lack a religion entirely. Also, it is not fair to make people declare their religious beliefs, because we are granted a right to our own conscience.

So, against all the conservatives (and liberals too, let's be honest, everyone falls prey to this one in a political battle), I would say that no, we are not a Christian nation built on Judeo-Christan values. We are the descendants of a government established as the world's first secular government that recognized that the only way everyone could actually be free was to never endorse or prohibit the exercise or non-exercise of religion by any free individual. In fact, until the rise of the evangelical movement, the various religions in the United States have been the ~strongest~ proponents of the separation of church and state, with the possible exception of Catholicism.

The reason that Proposition 8 was so controversial in that it was a religious organization advocating for it is because it is a violation of the separation of church and state. If individuals of a particular religion want to get together to propose something like that and fund it, that is fine. When a religion itself funds it, it is strictly against the rules - why? Because it violates the idea of one religion imposing its beliefs on other people, and violates the idea of the government making a law respecting the establishment of a religion. It's fine that these people believe marriage can be only between one man and one woman, what's not fine is them using their official positions as religious leaders to get the government to agree. If religions want a voice in the government, from an official position, then at the very least they should pay taxes and pay the membership fees to the government. The other major problem is that marriage is often seen as a right for citizens. On this particular issue, people of other racial groups have had to fight incredibly hard - first blacks for the right to marry at all, and later for the right of inter-racial marriage. What this comes down to in the end is that the government should not oppose the marriage of two consenting adults. However, conservatives see it somewhat differently, in that, largely based on religious ideas, they do not think that gays or lesbians should be considered as full citizens, guaranteed the full rights of citizens, or allowed access to the same services of other citizens.

I am even more strongly upset about this line about our "sacred political process being corrupted by unelected judges". By the rules of the Constitution, the Supreme Court is appointed, not elected. Apparently, the writer of this article does not believe in our political system at all, and instead believes that we should throw it all out and start over. In fact, the idea of a "sacred political process" is itself extremely anti-American. The whole idea, as pointed out above, is that this is a secular government and that it can and should be changed from time to time, according to the needs of the people.

As to the point about Acorn, number one, the organization is not Marxist, unless by Marxist it is meant that all those people who can vote should be allowed to vote and educated about the process and issues. In fact, I can't think of a more American sentiment than that. Acorn's primary intent was to educate people about their government and its processes. Now, I'm sure we're all familiar with the video that's circulated (and eventually led to Acorn being defunded and closed) of a teenager dressed as a pimp asking for information about how to set up a prostitution business. What's not shown, and mentioned only a few times by anyone, is that the kid never went into an office dressed as a pimp, but instead had a highly edited video. Almost all of the offices he visited, when they came to understand what he was asking, refused him service. Only a few places provided him any information at all, and from the extent of the unedited video, it's rather unclear whether they really understood what he was getting at. It's also rarely mentioned that the guy was later arrested after impersonating a telephone repair man and attempting to wire tap a Democratic office. I seem to recall that we in this country had a similar event a few decades ago that led to a lot of anger and then an impeachment. I believe it was called Watergate. But, of course, the media instead reports this kid as a hero or a martyr. So now we have defunded an organization who likely had a few bad people working for them, but overall had been rated extremely high for getting people to go and vote and educating people on politicians' stances on various issues. Of course, this is likely a large part of the Republican opposition to Acorn, because especially recently, figuring out what the Republicans actually stand for has driven a lot of people away from them.

The next paragraph is likewise highly offensive, and largely wrong. To begin with, it was a stupid idea at the beginning to name this war the "War on Terror." Terrorism is a tactic, and thus it doesn't make a lot of sense to have a war on a tactic. We don't have a "War on Guerilla Fighting," or a "War on Snipers" or a "War on Mutually Assured Destruction." As to the last, I rather wish that we would, not an actual war, but a recognition that while it was temporarily useful, it's actually a horrible idea. This leaves us with...what? I know the conservatives would like to say that this is a war on Islam, or Islamic fundamentalists, but to me, that seems wrong. The majority of Muslims are not terrorists, just as the majority of Christians are not. However, for every "underwear bomber" or "Time Square bomber," there is likewise a Scott Roeder, Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh, David Koresh, and others. There are anti-government terrorists who fly planes into IRS buildings, or break windows and threaten government officials, but rarely do we hear a call for a War on Domestic Terrorism, but then again, the majority of these people are white conservative Christians, so I imagine that would not play well in our politics.

As to Obama's experience, it's partially true. He's never run a country before. In fact, besides the former presidents, I don't think anyone in this country has run a country before. I'm not sure that there's much former experience that's useful to that task. Bush junior ran several companies into the ground before taking the reins. He had experience, sure, but I don't think it counted for much. Reagan was a movie star. As much as the conservatives love him, I'm not sure why they would ever bring up the "experience" or "celebrity" card about anyone else. And the opposition to Sarah Palin is much more deep-rooted than her lack of experience, her pregnant daughter (whom she constantly referenced by the way, and is now getting tens of thousands of dollars to talk about the value of abstinence-only education...the education policy shown to work the least by any measure), and her wardrobe. Though, I will say, it is becoming abundantly clear that Palin is ready to cut and run as long as more money is involved. Besides that, though, it's clear that she would utterly destroy everything that this country was founded on and convince a large percentage of people that it's exactly what the founding fathers had envisioned. This references some of the points about the educational system, above.

As far as never bringing people together in his professional career...well, that's a bit of a wonder. First, Obama was a community organizer, and by all accounts brought a large number of people together for a common cause. Beyond that, in his run for president, he created an extremely strong grass-roots effort that got him elected. I think watching his acceptance speech at Grant Park, it's hard to say that the man never brought people together. The thing that is really disappointing about Obama is that he has become increasingly conservative and increasing desperate to achieve "bi-partisanship," which the Republicans have never been interested in. I would like to see him strike out and say "Fine, if you don't want to play, we'll do it on our own," after all the press conferences where Republican representatives have said again and again that they will never vote for any measure proposed by this administration. It's clear that they're playing a political game and have no actual interest for the American people in mind, and yet they still win the rhetoric game because they know how to play to peoples' emotions and fears. If you want to look at a person dividing this country philosophically, look back the Bush years with all the "Anti-American" rhetoric.

Now, as to the whole history lesson on Hitler: This is almost laughable, if not for the fact that it has become a consistent meme among conservatives today. I would say that almost every negative attribute he attributes to the Nazis and Hitler is actually a case of projection - conservatives have done, and continue to do, all of those things. When you hear about violent, threatening rabble-rousers, 9 times out of 10, it's a conservative group. Look at the Tea Party protesters that bring assault rifles to meetings and carry signs saying "Next time they'll be loaded," or the constant death threats that Democratic congresspeople received, and continue to receive, over any new proposal. Look at the town hall meetings where you have people shouting down senators to say things like "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!" Think about that one for a while if you don't sense the irony.

In fact, conservatives should love Obama. He's only pandered to them since the beginning and compromised on every good proposal he had to give them everything they wanted, even when they ultimately vote against the bill in the end anyway. I have to say, this must be an extremely new breed of conservatives, and the Republicans under Clinton must have all been socialists. Otherwise, it makes no sense that conservatives today would call the Public Option a socialist plan when it was precisely what Republicans under Clinton proposed in opposition to his health care bill.

This actually makes an important point about the larger picture of why a reference to Hitler doesn't make sense. Fascism is inherently conservative - it seeks to control people's thoughts and education and organize everyone into a military complex, but it believes inherently in a completely free market and pure-profit capitalism. Now, it's pretty clear that these days, it's the conservatives who have come to dominate many of the school boards and are attempting to rewrite history. Texas went so far as to try to rename the "slave trade" the "Atlantic Triangular Trade" and remove most references to slavery. Thankfully, that change was rejected. Conservatives are also the first to propose expansions to the Defense Department's budget and never cutting any military projects, even when the military itself doesn't want them. No other nation on Earth spends so much on its military as we do, and it's really not clear exactly why. There is no other super-power with an advanced military left to fight right now. We have military dominance, yet, we continue to expand the budget, taking money away from science, educational, and health care programs because conservatives have made it very clear that those things are extremely low priorities for them. Also, as is evident, conservatives are the strongest advocates for completely free markets with no regulations whatsoever. They tried for years to achieve that, and now want to blame the collapse on other people. Likewise, as noted above about Arizona, but this also applies to United States citizens throughout the country, it is conservatives who have rounded people up for questioning. Under Bush, a large number of U.S. citizens were detailed indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism or terrorist-ties. To that, I would have to go back to the words of a Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin : "The society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."

As for Obama having a compliant media? Where? I suppose he has never heard of Fox News, which daily broadcasts total opposition to the Obama administration and touts itself as the largest and most-listened-to news organization in America. You can't have it both ways.

As for the laundry list of things that Hitler advocated for, this is a ridiculous argument. Not all of those things are bad, and not every policy under the Nazis or personal decision that some Nazis made were evil. For example, the Nazis were the first to institute a public anti-smoking campaign. I suppose if you want to carry this list further, we should all strike up a few cigarettes in opposition to Nazi policy. Likewise, universal health care is not an inherently bad idea. Certainly, every other major 1st-world nation has found a way to do it, and it's very popular among the people that do have it. In this country, granted, the Veteran's Administration and Medicare both got off to rocky starts, but they are recognized by outside observers and by the people in these programs as today being among the top Health Care programs in the world. And they're both government-run. The public option was not even universal health care, instead, it was an additional optional plan that people could buy into (i.e., pay premiums just like we do with any other insurance company). It would not "get in between you and your doctor" any more than an insurance company already does, and you could not be denied coverage. I don't see this is a bad idea, in large part because the insurance companies have a responsibility to their shareholders. This is not necessarily bad, but it means that on average, they have to cut coverage and raise premiums on people in their plans to be able to pay higher dividends to their shareholders. They're for-profit companies, so you can't blame them for this, really, but I think it should be recognized that having for-profit companies in charge of mediating health care, which is really a life-and-death matter sometimes, is not a great idea.

For example, we provide other services for these kinds of things. If you're being robbed or assaulted, you can call the police. If your house catches on fire, you can call the fire department. Neither the police or the fire department ask to see your Civil Service Insurance and have to call to make sure you're covered before they try to assist you. The closest thing we have for health care, though, is the emergency room, but even then we have to deal with insurance and whether they will cover something or not. It's not, in my opinion, a very smart system.

On the same matter, there are some programs that I believe should be government run and should be mandatory - vaccines, for example. This is a matter of statistics - the vaccines we currently have have a reaction rate that is an order of magnitude, at least, lower than the base rate of catching the disease they vaccinate against and dying. Because the anti-vax movement has become so popular, measles and a host of other preventable diseases are making a resurgence and killing tens or hundreds of children and elderly people. If a parent chooses not to vaccinate their child, their child may never catch the disease, or may have a mild case, but they can then pass it on to a child too young to be vaccinated, or to an immuno-compromised individual. I strongly hope that we don't have to watch thousands of children dying every year before we recognize the need again for vaccines.

To get back on topic, however, the most damning evidence against the writer of this article is that there is no similar piece from him during the Bush years. He apparently did not care about the direct violations of the Constitution, the rounding up of American citizens, the increased de-regulation that led to economic instability, or any other such matter until a Republican was no longer in charge. When Obama begins taking away peoples' guns, invading Canada and Mexico, and rounding up American citizens, then he may have a case about analogy to Hitler, until then, this is nothing more than an extremely strong case of projection, and it only fuels the fires of fear-mongering that has happened so often in the past few years.



Thursday, May 20, 2010

Holy Diver

This week the heavy metal music community lost one of its giants: Mr. Ronnie James Dio. For the uninitiated, Dio came to prominence in the late seventies in the Ritchie Blackmore (ex-Deep Purple) outfit Rainbow, with such songs as "The Man on the Silver Mountain." He attained true Jedi Council-status when in the early eighties he replaced a singer named Ozzy Osbourne in a band named Black Sabbath.

Now, whenever Dio's tenure in Sabbath is discussed, it is usually qualified with a remark such as, "Black Sabbath's best work was with Ozzy..." or "Only the original line-up is the *true* Black Sabbath." And these qualifications are all true: None of Dio's three albums with Sabbath (Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules, and Dehumanizer) reach the depth and artistry of those early Sabbath records -- you know, the ones that pretty much invented heavy metal ex nihilo. Nonetheless, by the late seventies, Sabbath was a band in decline, and as far as I am concerned Dio resuscitated that band. There are some truly great songs on those first two records he did with Sabbath, and some people think their song "Heaven and Hell" is the best song Sabbath ever recorded. (It's definitely in their top ten.) I had the great pleasure of seeing this line-up of Sabbath at Radio City Music Hall back in 2007.

After leaving Sabbath, he embarked on a successful solo career. Two records from that era stand out: Holy Diver and The Last in Line.

I have been following Dio's career for a long time, and I am sad to see him go. He was famous for being a nice guy, as this article can attest. I've included some select songs from his career below. \m/

With Rainbow:

With Sabbath:

With Dio:

And here's a tongue-in-cheek tribute from Tenacious D:


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Connecting Great Minds and Big Problems

Bill Gates gave a talk at the University of Chicago tonight in which he outlined the call to mobilize the brightest minds for the biggest problems. He also spent a significant amount of time fielding input from the audience and challenged us to offer our own ideas. These are mine.

First, social movement research has given us three principles of mobilization that may help us solve the big question. Give the brightest minds the frames by which to identify and solve the biggest problems and the culture to pursue them with vigor. Give them the resources to fully pursue their cause. Lastly, enable them to identify and pursue the opportunities for change that arise. The society of philanthropy is a renewable, self-reinforcing activity that can create its own resources and culture and seek out its opportunity. Anything you contribute to building the social good is returned in-kind.

So, of the biggest problems, he left them, in general, open. My theory is that, rather than framing them as problems, we should see them as the biggest solutions. I think, the biggest solutions are those that provide the capacity to have capacities. As the saying goes, teach someone to fish and they can eat for a week. The biggest solutions are those which give people the capacity to solve their own problems. For that, I applaud the Foundation's focus on childhood mortality. Life is the fundamental capacity that allows us all to have the chance to solve any problem. Health and education are the building blocks for a good society.

And, who are the brightest minds who you should invest your resources? He left this relatively open, but pointed to us (UChicago, and I’m sure Stanford and Berkeley and surely will MIT and Harvard). I respectfully and partially disagree. Much can be said for intelligence and strenuous intellectual engagement, but they can only work with information, knowledge, and appropriate values. The brightest minds are those who know how things work and value the work of social beneficence. Hence, it is crucial, as he mentioned, to work with local women on economic development projects because they tend to know how and want to maintain their own house. The brightest minds are not just astute, but also appropriately informed and directed. You can find them at Harvard and a tiny village outside Mogadishu.

On a final, more self-referential note, I have my own practicable ideas for such a better connection between great minds and solutions. First, entrepreneurship and incubation centers for nonprofits to support the great innovations in philanthropy of the future. The infrastructure and know-how are there. We just need the resources. Second, technology has been championed for “flattening the world,” but I believe that it can also enhance the local. I expect the Internet to include more localized content and augment our day-to-day interactions in our community. That’s why I am starting a website focused on cultivating and streamlining individual donorship in Chicago. I believe that technological localization, like I'm attempting, may offer a new way of enhancing local capacity in a new, self-reinforcing way.

That’s my educated two cents.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Extremism and the Politics of Legitimacy

I have been tromping through the online world of the Tea Party, Oath Keepers, and Southern Poverty Law Center looking through the discussions of conspiracy theories, radicalism, and the contemporary conservative grassroots mobilization. The movement, media, and analysts are caught in the conundrum of what to do about conspiracy theories and theorists who argue that the U.S. is about to be invaded, that citizens are going to be sent to reeducation camps or interned in FEMA concentration camps, and/or that a New World Order is about to be created in the form of a united, international government. On their face, the groups built on these beliefs organize themselves around traditional frames of democratic governance and the Lockean right to rebellion in order to legitimize their political position. I will go through the Oath Keepers "10 Orders We Will Not Obey to demonstrate the moral quandary within the discussion and ultimately why I do believe these people are dangerous.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and its Hatewatch blog with its attendant comments have become a good case study in the justification and defense of the conspiracy mindset. The SPLC has labeled such groups, particularly the Oath Keepers, various militias, Patriot organizations, and the John Birch Society as radical extremest groups because of their anti-government platform and threats of radical action. Their blog has attracted a wide-range of apologists for the groups which make for educational (if inflammatory from both sides) reading. The most common defenses are "we're not hate groups" and "we are defending the constitution - there's nothing wrong with saying we will not obey unlawful orders." While the former is an instance of miscommunication (the SPLC distinguishes Hate groups from Anti-government extremism), the latter is the perfect example of the moral ambiguity of these groups.

At face, no one would have a problem taking the oath of the Oath Keepers to not intern American citizens as Unlawful Enemy Combatants. In fact, I might suggest it for many police forces when it comes to profiling and stop and search routines. The problem is that the ideology and beliefs about the world which justify the oath, also justify violence against the government and collateral citizenry. The oath is not bad and does not define the Oath Keepers as extreme. In the same way, patrolling the border and preventing illegal entry by the Minutemen is neither illegal nor, by definition, dangerous. It's the understanding that immigrants are criminally violent, a fear of the "browning" of the population, and sense of personal, cultural superiority.

Take the Vdare blog for example. It's a policy and research-oriented forum on immigration issues written by the authors of "The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America" and "Alien Nation." The name is an homage to Virginia Dare and a celebration of "the mettle of those settlers." This pride in national history is at once virtuously patriotic and immorally ignorant in its unacknowledged celebration of colonization and "whitening"/brown eradication. The same dangerous double speak is found in the Oath Keepers whose Orders We Will Not Follow demonstrate their danger.

Let's use easy examples.

Order #7: "We will NOT obey any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext." The insinuation is obvious. The group is motivated by the belief that Americans are under threat of being placed in detention camps (maybe they mean prison).

Order #8: "We will NOT obey orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people to 'keep the peace' or to 'maintain control' during any emergency, or under any other pretext. We will consider such use of foreign troops against our people to be an invasion and an act of war." Again, the insinuation is obvious.

While it is a bit comforting to know that if the government decided to put me in a detention camp, there would be military and police officers who've got my back; I'm not comfortable with members of the police and military believing that the country is about to be besieged by foreign invaders and citizens rounded up in concentration camps. The reason is that it means that armed representatives of the law believe themselves to be under imminent threat. Not only does it justify these oaths, but it also motivates and legitimizes proactive violence to prevent such from occurring. The ideology behind these overtly legitimate stances and commitments is one based on a dangerous conspiracy of imminent threat and justified revolution. Such a dual legitimacy is a constant in the politics of hate and extremism as well as other forms of unacceptable platforms.

Rory McVeigh has finally come out with his book on the KKK in the early twentieth century. The biggest takeaway for this post can be garnered from the earlier article with his colleagues on the same topic "Corn, Klansmen, and Coolidge." During the 1920s and 30s, the Klan was actually much more of a political party than a civic group, paramilitary, or fly-by-night band of marauders. They developed an entire platform similar to the libertarian platform today with an additional emphasis on support for farmers, anti-immigration, and racial segregation. Racial superiority as an ideology was actually less prominent than their broader political agenda.

The lesson I want to draw out is that extremism and hate are always wrapped up in an account of how they tie into common, fundamental values of the American constitution and way of life (obviously in the American case). This is necessary for political power, but we must not confuse these claims for the fundamental raison d'etre ("reason for being") of the organization. For the Klan, it was white supremacy. For the Oath Keepers, it is defense against an impending totalitarianism. For intelligent design groups, it is the replacement of scientific knowledge and secularism with a Bible-centered education and society.

P.S. As for the spillover effects of suffering these conspiracy theories in the name of free speech, I must also acknowledge a correction I need to make to a previous post. I predicted that the movement would spawn violence next year. Joe Stack proved me wrong. (Despite the debate over his political leanings, his anti-government diatribe, principled Birch-style tax evasion, and the support he has received in right wing circles firmly sets him within the current anti-government extremist culture.) Secondly, as the SPLC has consistently shown, there have been many acts of violence and foiled plots well before I wrote the post. The real change I expect over the course of this year and next is an increase in the coverage of these plots, scale of violence, and increasingly formal ties to existing extremist groups. They do not have to foster their own violence. Simply fanning a conspiracy-driven climate of the fear of government tyranny is good enough to push sympathizers to violence.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Plate Tectonics Redux

A while ago I wrote a rather sarcastic post on plate tectonic denialists. I got a reply from Harry Dale Huffman, who claimed that plate tectonics was easily disproved and directed me to one of his blog posts. Go take a minute and read it. I'll be waiting after the jump.

Okay. Done with that? Let's talk about it. First I want to discuss warning signs, then logistical problems, and finally the actual content of the post. Maybe I should do this in reverse order, but at the moment I don't want to do it that way. I'll say at the beginning this is not an ad hominem, because I will discuss the actual content of his claims, but, if you want to claim poisoning the well...I'll partially accept it. However, I do believe that Mr. Huffman falls into the larger category of, to put it bluntly, quacks. If you read through that post, you get a lot of references to paradigm changes, that this is obvious if only people open their eyes, that these has been denied or dismissed by scientists, etc, etc. This should be a red flag for most people, it's the kind of language that you hear most often among the quack or pseudo-scientific community, be it evolution deniers, climate change deniers, HIV-AIDS deniers, etc. This is not to say that Mr. Huffman is not an intelligent man and cannot do actual research. I am sure he is quite competent, but it is to say that in this particular area, he is a bit of a quack.

It is interesting, if not particularly surprising, that many intelligent design supporters tend to be engineers. People who actually work in the field of biology see through ID rather quickly and don't accept arguments about design because, very simplistically, biological units don't follow the same rules and processes of man-made objects. There are some superficial similarities, of course, but deeper study reveals that this is a false analogy. Call it a special case of functional fixedness - after working for so long on design and being trained to look for elements of design, it isn't hard to see that these people often try to import their views on design into natural systems. So, yes, we tend to be rather wary when people start talking about design in natural systems - it hasn't really panned out yet.

As to logistical problems - there are a few problems. First, he claims that "seeing is believing." The short response to this is easy: "Wrong." The more detailed response is, as should be expected, more complex. Indeed, in some ways, seeing is believing. However, it is very easy to be wrong about what you believe, or what you believe you are seeing. Optical illusions are the easiest example of this - I would presume that Mr. Huffman would not argue that these illusions represent the reality of the situation. Likewise, perhaps Mr. Huffman would like to look at the Face on Mars (from the 1970's observation) and explain why that is or is not evidence of advanced civilizations and design on Mars. Perhaps Mr. Huffman also believes that the fractal patterns of ice crystals is also evidence of intelligent design of ice, or perhaps not. I would also question him about just how far he wants to take this statement - should we deny the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum outside of visible light because it is not readily apparent to the naked eye? Also, if this were really so evident as Mr. Huffman wants to claim, why is it that only he has noticed it, and that this "evidence" has completely escaped the best minds of the planet for centuries? This is a rather common issue among quacks - they always claim some secret knowledge that is "readily apparent," "completely obvious," "denied by modern science," and "discovered by hard work under the oppression of the establishment."

On another point, Mr. Huffman isn't really clear about how the whole movement of continents worked in the past and why it won't continue now. He doesn't deny that the continents have moved, he merely wants to argue that they have been purposefully moved and now, apparently they have stopped moving. As that I've gotten a lot of hits on this blog from the last plate tectonics post, and as that most of those hits are from queries that are looking for evidence specifically to disprove plate tectonics, I think it is important review some of that evidence here. This does not necessarily bear directly on Mr. Huffman's arguments, as he does not seem to deny previous continental movement, but we'll get to that.

First, we have the overall shapes of the continents. It isn't hard to see that they seem to be pieces of a large jigsaw puzzle and that they could be all fitted together. This was the original impetus for the theory of continental drift, but originally there was no mechanism identified for why the continents should move. Secondly, we have fossil distribution. The distribution of fossils of the same type and same edge along the edges of continents (and sometimes across continents like Antarctica) only makes sense with the assumption that at some point in the distance class the continents were either connected or vastly closer together. Third we have paleomagnetism. When a rock is formed, its magnetic alignment is frozen. We can see that looking at rocks of a certain age, if we draw the lines of their alignment now, they align somewhere in space above the earth, or are misaligned. If we assume the same continental placement/distribution that makes fossil dispersion make sense, then the magnetic alignments converge on the poles. This is a nice finding. We also have the evidence of the distribution and types of earthquakes and volcanoes - the majority occur along the proposed plate lines and actually serve to define these lines rather well. Likewise, at the proposed sites of new upheaval, such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, we see the expected gradient of age in rocks as you move further from the Ridge. That is to say, the youngest rocks are along the ridge and they get progressively older the farther away you move from the ridge. Likewise, we have the continued growth of mountain ridges where plates are grinding against one another. There are also symmetrical magnetic bands on either sides of these ridges, showing evidence of the previous polarity reversals and weakenings in earth's history. These are all converging lines of evidence that point towards the movements of the continents, and point toward plate tectonics, but as that Mr. Huffman does not directly disagree with previous movement of continents, they do not particularly bear on his points.

However, Mr. Huffman does want to deny current or future movement. He argues that the mechanisms of plate tectonics are physically impossible. Currently, the mechanism is described as convection zones of heat underneath the crust. This heat originates from (in a very small way) residual heat from the formation of the earth, and, more importantly, from the continued radioactive decay within the earth. A large problem with Mr. Huffman's ideas is that he would have to account for how this heat is going to be released if not through the movement of the plates. A bigger problem is whether or not he have a mechanism at all for previous movement, if not from the release of this built up heat. I would be very interested to know his ideas on how previous movement occurred and why it should stop now without catastrophic results, or perhaps he intends this.

Mr. Huffman's main argument seems to be a recapitulation of Pythagorean and Platonic ideas about geometric shapes and how they are reflected in the world or universe. Johannes Kepler struggled with this idea for a long time before eventually rejecting it - realizing that no matter how much the mathematics, design, and beauty of it all looked, the evidence just didn't back it up. I think this is largely the same case. Mr. Huffman wants the design to work out so badly that he's willing to flub some of his "data." Look again at his drawing of the prime lines that bisect the globe. Notice how there's not really much consistency in how far away some of these lines stray from the actual coast lines. Some are very close or even cross land, while others are pretty far into the ocean. His "Asian" line is drawn out to the coast of Japan, while his "African" line avoids Madagascar. Why are islands considered part of the coast line only some of the time? Why are his South American and North American lines allowed to cross land at certain points? Why is the Gulf of Mexico's coast line ignored while cowing the importance of the line's proximity to the Yucatan peninsula? Why, after discussing how important it is that these lines align along the east coasts of landmasses, does he note the importance of how close the fifth line comes to the ~west~ coast of New Zealand, which is not even a continent? What does Mr. Huffman have to say about the continued movement of the continents, continued subduction, continued growth of mountain ranges along the plate lines, and continued expansion along places like the Mid-Atlantic Ridge? Why is this moment in time, when these lines are possible to draw, so important?

It seems after all of this that Mr. Huffman is perpetuating two errors - 1) Confirmation bias, and 2) anomaly hunting. First, Mr. Huffman is dismissive of any evidence that would invalidate his claims, or even where his own method doesn't particularly work (e.g., his fifth line), but is quick to jump on anything that helps his bias towards ancient geometric traditions. Secondly, Mr. Huffman's argument doesn't go much beyond "isn't this interesting?" and taking what would appear to be a coincidence (if it is even that) to something very meaningful. These sorts of anomalies are to be expected in any system that is large enough or complex enough. In fact, it would be much more interesting if they ~weren't~ present. Mr. Huffman also falls into the same sort of argument that many evolution denialists fall into - the use of odds. These are almost always red flags and are typically quite misleading. Let us look at any crystal formation - the odds of each atom being in exactly the place it occupies is extremely low. The odds of being able to place, at random, each atom into its correct position are so low as to be past the point of being fathomable. However, these crystals exist - they have to take some state. This sort of argument is contained within the field of statistical dynamics, as stated in a previous post. What other system is Mr. Huffman considering when he calculates the odds of the continents being in their present location?

So, in conclusion, I would like to hear Mr. Huffman's explanation of why the continents are still moving, why mountain ranges like the Himalayas are still rising, and why new material is still appearing at mid ocean ridges, as well as to explain the inconsistencies within his own presentation. I do not agree with him, clearly, and I do not think that his case is anywhere near as self evidence as he would like to claim.