September 11, 2010

Day of the dogs

Prince Hamlet said it best: "Let Hercules himself do what he may, the cat will mew and dog will have its day."

The dogs around here have theirs on Labor Day, when a local wave pool holds a special dog swim each year on the day the season closes for humans. It was a big hit and there was lots of canine activity going on.

Some dogs took their swimming pretty seriously.

Others, like Little Edith Ann, were more about playing. But a good time seemed to be had by all.

September 10, 2010

Presiding while black

I was a kid when the film Blazing Saddles came out. I begged my mother to take me to the theater in Huntington and both of us wound up laughing until our sides hurt. I rarely go more than a week or two without using or at least thinking about some line from it.

(At one point, I had to bribe my son into not using a line from it, but that's another story.)

After Barack Obama was elected president, I thought it might be fitting to declare Blazing Saddles our national movie. My daughter and I sang the theme song on election night.

But there seem to be some differences between the Hollywood version and the real one, which maybe we should call the Fox News version. After a rocky start, Cleavon Little's character Bart eventually succeeded in winning over the people of Rock Ridge. As the theme song went, "he conquered fear and he conquered hate."

A sizable segment of the American population isn't having it. They seem to detect something just a bit different about this president. Maybe it's his alleged religion. Maybe it's his imagined place of birth. But maybe there's something else, some other quality about that new sheriff that just doesn't sit right.

I wonder what it could be. Here are a couple of suggestions, one from the UK Guardian and one from the Charleston Gazette.

KEEPING THE CUSTOMERS SATISFIED. Earlier this week (I think), I linked a New Yorker article about some oil billionaires funding lots of fun and games on the right. The West Virginia News Service just ran a story that pointed out that one recipient of their largesse is the economics department at WVU, long noted for its promotion of "unleashed" capitalism.



September 09, 2010

In the spirit of fair play

I've spent a good bit of time here taking swipes at right wing Whackadoodleism. In an effort to transcend the bitter polarization of our time, the spirit of fair play prompts me to state for the record that Whackadoodleism is not the monopoly of any political tendency (although these days it seems to tilt more in one direction).

Here's one example of Whackadoodlery on the left that is pertinent to the sporadic series of posts here about human evolution and social life. The great biologist E. O. Wilson is widely admired today for his scientific work on topics ranging from ants to ecology to biophilia as well as his advocacy for dealing with climate change.

It wasn't always that way. In the mid 1970s, Wilson wrote a book titled Sociobiology: the New Synthesis which discussed genetically inherited behavior patterns of various animals. None of that was particularly controversial for people who were paying attention. But Wilson had the temerity to extend his analysis to humans and to suggest that we had some evolutionary baggage of our own.

Left wing ideologues somehow took this to mean that Wilson was suggesting that war, racism, imperialism, etc. were biologically inevitable. (He wasn't, by the way.) At a meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, activists chanted "Racist Wilson you can't hide, we charge you with genocide" and poured ice water on his head as he prepared to give a speech.

(Genocide for writing a book? Really? And Sociobiology didn't discuss the issues of race.)

He gave the speech anyway.

For the record, I'm not endorsing all of his ideas on human evolution and our genetic legacy. Wilson himself has long accepted as valid some critiques of that formulation. But it there is a growing sense in the biological and social sciences that we are animals after all. Biology isn't destiny, but it is...well, biology.

(Plus, living around roosters has taught me a lot about human males.)

That doesn't spell the end of efforts to work for greater social justice, but it might be time to retire a cherished radical myth that human nature is a blank slate or some kind of silly putty that can be moulded into any shape we want.

WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? Labor Day has come and gone, but labor woes are still with us.

WHAT HE SAID. This op-ed by a friend of mine suggests ways West Virginia can strengthen its unemployment insurance program.

THE BEGINNING OF SORROWS. Here is a review of several recent books on the politically pivotal decade of the 1970s.

LOOSE WITH THE TRUTH. Here's another look at misinformation on health care reform. We're probably going to see a lot more of that.


September 08, 2010

Whatever happened to supporting the troops?

OK. I am not the biggest fan of the current US war in Afghanistan. Politics and the morality of war aside, my understanding of history as far back as Alexander the Great suggests that the country is the Mother Of All Bad Places to Wage a Counter-Insurgency.

Still and all, it boggles my mind that right wingers in American these days are pushing all the wrong buttons and making a bad situation even worse for people serving and living over there. The Manhattan mosque controversy sends a bad enough message to Muslims and puts the whole hearts and minds thing in jeopardy.

But even that is pretty mild compared with the international reaction to the plans of a "church" in Florida to mark the anniversary of 9/11 by burning copies of the Quran.

Here's how it played in Afghanistan, according to a weekend AP report:

Hundreds of Afghans railed against the United States and called for President Barack Obama's death at a rally in the capital Monday to denounce an American church's plans to burn the Islamic holy book on Sept. 11.

The crowd in Kabul, numbering as many as 500, chanted "Long live Islam" and "Death to America" as they listened to fiery speeches from members of parliament, provincial council deputies, and Islamic clerics who criticized the U.S. and demanded the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country. Some threw rocks when a U.S. military convoy passed, but speakers shouted at them to stop and told police to arrest anyone who disobeyed.

These kinds of deliberate and gratuitous provocations are likely to get a lot of Americans and Afghan civilians killed. It's little surprise that General Petraeus was not amused:

"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort," Gen. Petraeus said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community."

As the saying goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?

THE CLOCK IS TICKING on a program that has created 240,000 jobs unless the Senate extends the Emergency TANF provisions of the Recovery Act.

THIS COULD BE INTERESTING. A new rule by the Securities and Exchange Commission could shake up things at companies like Massey Energy.

MONEY AND HAPPINESS. Here's more on the link between the two.


September 07, 2010

Deja vu again

It seems to me that President Obama isn't as lucky as FDR was in dealing with the last massive economic meltdown. The Crash of 1929 happened three years before Roosevelt was elected president. This gave Hoover plenty of time to own it and FDR quite a bit of leeway in dealing with it.

The Great Recession, on the other hand, started in late 2007 but it didn't really hit hard until 2008 and 2009. While it was brought on by the excesses of nearly 30 years of deregulation and supply side policies, that chain of cause and effect isn't visible to many Americans.

Paul Krugman sums things up pretty well in today's NY Times:

Here’s the situation: The U.S. economy has been crippled by a financial crisis. The president’s policies have limited the damage, but they were too cautious, and unemployment remains disastrously high. More action is clearly needed. Yet the public has soured on government activism, and seems poised to deal Democrats a severe defeat in the midterm elections.

Roosevelt hit a similar rough patch in 1937 and 1938. In the end, the Depression was ended through deficit spending associated with World War II. It will probably take additional deficit spending to spur job growth, at least until the economy is firing on all cylinders. Krugman again:

The economic moral is clear: when the economy is deeply depressed, the usual rules don’t apply. Austerity is self-defeating: when everyone tries to pay down debt at the same time, the result is depression and deflation, and debt problems grow even worse. And conversely, it is possible — indeed, necessary — for the nation as a whole to spend its way out of debt: a temporary surge of deficit spending, on a sufficient scale, can cure problems brought on by past excesses.

The problem, of course, is that the current political situation makes that hard to do, and it will probably get harder in the future. This could lead to prolonged economic misery as well as social and political nastiness.

As Oliver Goldsmith put it in the 1700s, "Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ill a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay..."

ONE GOOD COLUMN DESERVES ANOTHER. Here's E.J. Dionne on what the labor movement has meant to the building of the middle class.

WHY NOT ONE MORE? Here's Harold Meyerson while we're at it on the state of labor (short version: it isn't good).

STUDY THIS. New research on how people learn questions some old beliefs.