Archive for the ‘McCain’ category

Will No One Rid Me Of This Vexatious Solon?

February 21, 2013

I’m guessing that most of those who read this blog will already have heard about John McCain’s latest descent into former decency:

Constituents at a town hall hosted by Sen. John McCain Wednesday in Phoenix cheered after the Arizona Republican told the mother of an Aurora, Colo. shooting victim that an assault weapons ban could not get through Congress.

“My 24-year-old son, Alex, was murdered in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.,” Caren Teves said. “These assault rifles allow the shooter to fire many rounds without having to reload. These weapons to do not belong on our streets.”

“I can tell you right now you need some straight talk. That assault weapons ban will not pass the Congress of the United States,” McCain responded. The video, posted Thursday by Phoenix’s KTVK, showed the line drawing applause and cheers from the crowd.

YMMV, but from where I stand, it takes a special sort of person to tell the mother of a murdered child that they need “straight talk.”  And by “special” I mean…

…you know what I mean.

He’s got the self-righteous condescension act down, certainly.  I have no doubt that Ms. Teves has an abundance of experience of blunt reality, but John McCain still found it in him to set her straight. That’s impressive — albeit in a wholly unimpressive frame.

So far, we’re on familiar territory. John McCain is no maverick, never has been.

Study_of_Wild_Horses-Albert_Bierstadt

 

But for all that I didn’t catch the next level of wretchedness in this encounter until dinner time, when I told my son about it.  He listened, and then asked the question so obvious that I’m still wondering why it didn’t occur to me first:

Would McCain, my twelve year old wondered, would he have told a man that he needed some straight talk about his murdered son, and the implications of that death?

Who can say?  It’s a counterfactual, meant to stimulate thought, not to secure a certain answer.

But damn, that’s an instructive question.

The dismissive tone of McCain’s answer was obvious, of course.  But I didn’t at first quite hear the gender condescension.  If McCain’s questioner had been a 6′ 5″ guy with muscles and facial hair, would he have so blithly offered “straight talk?”

Maybe.  But I can’t convince myself that the president-of-the-Sunday-morning-shows would have let it fly quite so readily.

In any event, my takeaway from this (besides that I am, as usual,  proud of my son) is it sure took guts for John McCain to bully Caren Teves to make a few points at a town hall, didn’t it?  In that context, ISTM that the defining quality of all those few, unhappy few members of the GOP’s should-no-better faction  (and yes, I’m looking at you, Lindsay Graham, et al.)… is that core property of the sane-ish rump of the national party is cowardice.

It’s ugly as hell to watch, but I am comforted that these are the markers of an institution far down the oblivion express.  I share John’s weariness at having to whack the same damn moles day after day — but I am increasingly confident that it hurts them more than it hurts us.

And with that — it’s time to return to the last of the wine to wash down an excellent (and on-sale) rib-eye.

Image:  Alfred Bierstadt, Study of Wild Horses, before 1902

 

Stopped Clocks and All That

June 15, 2012

John McCain and I don’t agree on much, I reckon.  I think the old man has been a net drag on American politics for a long time.

But I can’t find much to dispute in his take on Sheldon Adelson and Citizens United. (Via TPM):

“[M]uch of Mr. Adelson’s casino profits that go to him come from this casino in Macau,” McCain told Judy Woodruff in an interview that aired Thursday night. “Which says that, obviously, maybe in a roundabout way, foreign money is coming into an American campaign.”

McCain, who once worked with former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, a.k.a. the McCain-Feingold bill, called the Citizens United decision the Supreme Court’s “most misguided, naive, uninformed, egregious decision” in the 21st century.

“Look, I guarantee you, Judy, there will be scandals,” he said. “There is too much money washing around political campaigns today. And it will take scandals, and then maybe we can have the Supreme Court go back and revisit this issue. Remember, the Supreme Court rules on constitutionality. So just passing another law doesn’t get it. So I’m afraid we’re in for a very bleak period in American politics.”

Unlike Romney — who famously said last summer that “corporations are people” — McCain said he believes that “corporations are not people.”

“That’s why we have different laws that govern corporations than govern individual citizens,” he said. “And so to say that corporations are people, again, flies in the face of all the traditional Supreme Court decisions that we have made — that have been made in the past.”

Put this another way:  McCain actually seems to recognize that Mittens is setting up to be the front man for a presidency whose IOUs belong to Adelson’s Israel-first hunger and, as McCain himself points out, that Chinese connection that will surely disappoint those who actually credit Romney’s bluster on confrontation with Beijing.  (Not to mention all the other notes that will have to be paid to folks like the Kochs, et al.)

John McCain sees this as “a very bleak period in American politics.”

Grandpa: you’re on to something.

Image:  John Singer Sargent, Charles Deering at Brickell Point, Miami, 1917.

 

 

Last Thoughts Before Canvassing (2): Unargued Assertion About Science and the Election

November 3, 2008

One last thought about the stakes for science (and society) in this election.  I am going to be spending essentially all my waking hours between now and 8 p.m. tomorrow electioneering, so I’m not going to come up with a long supporting argument for this statement, but beyond all the specifics of policy claims and budget promises, there is a fundamental difference between a McCain/Palin led GOP and the Obama/Biden approach that I and a fusion physicist buddy of mine were just talking about this morning.

For McCain or at least the GOP base, science is instrumental, and divisible.  It is conceivable within the science-world view of much, though not all of the GOP electorate to say that molecular medicine is fine, but evolution is not — so we’ll have the one and not the other, thank you very much.

I have been planning for a long time to write a much more considered essay about why this is false — drawing in part on wonderful parallels from Chinese history that I can draw out of filial respect for my Chinese historian father.

But for now, I’ll simply state the obvious:  evolutionary ideas are not merely the context of modern biology, they are essential to process of reasoning that runs through that field.  The same is true across discipline after discipline; the geology that locates oil is the geology that creates the climatological and evolutionary history of the planet through deep time, and vice versa…and so on.

All of which to say is that a political movement that owes any debt of power to those who want the technology, the goodies, without the intellectual machinery needed to advance the inquiry wants something for nothing.

Science is the cultural value that we all think it is, I believe; it is part of the reward of being human that we get to ask and answer great questions.  But it is also, and historically speaking, first, the means by which we advance human wealth and well being.  One side in this election lacks the commitment to fundamental science that the other retains.

That’s an assertion more than an evidence-defended argument in this post, I know.  I’m assuming a certain amount of shared knowledge of, for example, the Palin wing of the GOP and its blithe disdain for the way science actually works.  John McCain may not agree — but he has harnessed his hopes to the energy and ambition of that wing of the GOP.  So forgive me here if I just assert my conclusions here.  I’ll write a more reasoned argument in their defense the next time this kind of thing flares up.  Whoever wins, America being America, I’m sure there won’t be long to wait.

In the meantime, please forgive the pure, “this is what I thought on my summer vacation” nature of this post, and vote. Vote early, and in case you had any residual doubt about this blog’s stance:  Vote for Obama/Biden.

Last thoughts before canvassing (1): Out of the Mouths of Babes…

November 3, 2008

Dropping my kid off at school he said to me, taking pity on my quivering state of feckless anxiety, that he wished kids could vote tomorrow, because then he would get all of his Lego Star Wars guys to vote for Obama.

That would rank as the only redeeming thought to come out of a truly all encompassing Sith/Jedi obsession, but I’ll take what I would get.

PS:  As  my niece notes, it is a fact that Darth Vader just endorsed McCain.  Just sayin…

John McCain’s Potemkin Candidacy — a science-ish perspective.

October 30, 2008

Matthew Yglesiashas a a post today that crystallized my sense of the idiocy upon which McCain has based his candidacy.

Yglesias writes that the formerly respected economist Douglas Holz-Eakin continued his pattern of inadvertent truth-telling about McCain’s lack of actual policy plans, this time in the area of support for college education.  DHE admits that the sum total of the McCain effort here will be…begging:

As president, Mr. McCain would take a bully pulpit approach to student aid, aides say. Rather than propose any new federal money, he would jawbone and publicly try to coax colleges to slow their rate of tuition increases using the federal tax exemptions they receive as leverage.

Also, we learn that support for Pell grants, the major federal support for low-income college goers, will be limited to saying that it would be nice if they were more valuable, without any money actually going to that goal.

What I realized reading this is that this is McCain’s entire approach to policy.  He wishes for things.  He promises “plans” that do not, on closer inspection, exist.  He clicks his heels and hopes for magic.

This is another way of saying that from a point of view shaped by thinking about and reporting on science, McCain’s candidacy is based not on any rational approach to problem framing and problem solution, but on magical thinking.

Let me give just a couple of examples.  McCain has, from the start of the financial crisis, railed against greed and corruption on Wall St. and has promised “to put a stop to it.”  But look through his website for any actual set of policy proposals that will actually alter the regulatory framework of American financial markets, and please, write me if you find anything that says what McCain would do to achieve these ends.  I’ve looked and looked and looked some more, and haven’t found anything.

Same thing with the War on Terror.  McCain says he knows how to get Osama bin Laden, but strangely hasn’t managed to get the message over to the Pentagon.

Same thing with his response to the housing crisis:  a promise not to let those who profited off the mortgage business get rich off the bailout, and a proposal that would offer only “deserving families” who could afford a new, 30 year mortgage on the balance owed a crack at a new loan — which by his own admission would benefit no more than 400,000 of the estimated 2.5 million foreclosures that could occur this year alone (740,000 were already in some stage of foreclosure by July.)

It goest on.  I’ve already blogged more than once about an approach to climate change that seems to depend on increasing the incentives for the use of more fossil fuels.  An approach to balancing the budget that increases the deficit and so on.

Compare all this with what it takes to do science.  The form of a scientific paper is often misleading, presenting a much smoother picture of the transformation of an idea into a result, but still, it provides a useful idealization of what it takes to accomplish something.

You have to know what you are trying to do, come up with a set of procedures that you and your peers will agree addresses the problem you’ve stated, perform the experiment, and report and interpret the results.

McCain’s approach is much more like that famous S. Harris cartoon, in which one savant has covered a blackboard with a thicket of math to cover steps 1 and 3 — but at the crucial middle stage we read “a miracle occurs.”  His colleague, looking over the scribblings says only “I think you should be more explicit here in step two.”

I don’t know about  you, but I’m too tired right now to be polite — I’ve just come back from my third trip to canvas in New Hampshire this week, and I’m waking up in the dark of every night muttering the names of swing states.  So let me just say that we’ve had eight years of a combination of thuggery and magical thinking and I don’t want one minute more.

McCain lacks the intellectual rigor for the job he seeks.  No one who has tackled a real problem and knows what it takes should tolerate the kind of contempt his campaign has demonstrated for the hard thinking it takes to lead.

Clear enough?

Image:  The Flying Monkeys by W. W. Denslow from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, also known as The Wizard of Oz, a 1900 children’s novel by L. Frank Baum.  Source: Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library

The Science Vote: An Entirely Unsurprising Endorsement by Your Faithful Blogger

October 29, 2008

The past week or so have seen a number of significant endorsements for Barack Obama coming from moderate Republicans (endangered, yes — perhaps less than a hundred breeding pairs in the wild), and in a few cases, genuinely much further right than those, (see Adelman, Kenneth, self described as not a neo-con, but a con-con.)

Adelman’s endorsement and that of the big dog on the block, Colin Powell, both emphasized the larger question of the qualities of the two men running for President over policy specifics. Adelman even allowed that he disagreed with Obama more than McCain on a point by point basis, but that he nonetheless will vote for Obama “primarily for two reasons, those of temperament and of judgment” — as evidenced by McCain’s erratic lurching during the onset of the financial meltdown and his choice of Sarah Palin respectively.

Those are reasons a national security voter would seize upon, and I agree that they are, or ought to be, sufficient to secure Obama an unprecedented unanimous vote next Tuesday.

But it occurs to me that in my discussions of McCain’s disqualifications for the office he seeks from the point of view of what would be best for American science, I’ve tended to focus on process, on political nuts and bolts, to the partial exclusion of the kind of overarching “quality of his mind” arguments that the Powell and Adelman endorsements emphasized.  See especially this post for what I mean, this, and this besides if you are a glutton for punishment.

So it’s a fact that in all likelihood McCain will gut science spending, and pick winners and loser for reasons outside the judgment of professionals as to the promising areas of pursuit (think of it as executive department earmarks) is amply supported by the evidence.

But the deeper danger for US science research and education that a McCain and Palin adminstration lies with their catastrophic failure to understand what is required to do science in the first place.  They lack the understanding, the breadth of knowledge and experience, the judgment to be stewards of the single national endeavour that matters most to our longterm security and  prosperity.

Why do I say so?  Because that conclusion seems to me by far the most reasonable interpretation of the statements made by Sen. McCain and Governor Palin, both recently and over much longer time frames.

These statements are by now familiar to most folks likely to be reading this blog, so I won’t go into my usual logorrhea here.  But the highlights bear remembering.

John McCain repeatedly, and Sarah Palin very recently confirmed that they do not understand the connection between specific inquiries and broader research programs.  McCain has made a habit of decrying research into bear DNA.  Palin, more catastrophically, recently made insufficiently ridiculed remarks about “fruit fly research in Paris France,” adding “I kid you not.”*

Kidding she wasn’t; celebratory in her ignorance she was.  Not to belabor the point, but if you like the prospects of modern gene-centered research in particular and molecular biology in general, you have to do a ton of research just like the two maligned projects.

Elect Palin and McCain if you want put perhaps the single most fruitful research area in all of current science into the category of things you laugh at because they sound wierd.  This is a case where the two candidates demonstrate that they lack  ability to understand and interpret the connections between particulars and the bigger picture.  I can’t think of a worse attribute in potential Presidents.

Then there is the ability to hold contradictory ideas in one’s head without noticing.  There are too many examples of this to list.  Some of them, I think, merely expedient willed ignorance — think of McCain’s hopelessly impossible budget proposals, with its freeze that isn’t a freeze, a promised end to the AMT, renewed tax cuts for the wealthiest, increases in military spending, stimulus and financial bailout to add to the half-trillion dollar current deficit and a promise to balance the budget in four or eight, or four, or eight years or wherever Douglas Holz-Eakin has left his abacus rightnow.

But others are either truly cynical — lies told to gain political power, again, not a qualification for the office such behavior is intended to secure — or signs of real intellectual blindness.

A simple and obvious case is McCain’s attempt to suggest that he is at once serious about controlling climate disruption and increasing fossil fuel use — see e.g. the gas tax holiday, still promised on his website, and drill, baby drill.  The two categories are incompatible.  You can’t control human impacts on climate unless you create incentives to cut carbon use — that is to say, make the price of fossil fuels go up.  McCain has said he supports a cap-and-trade mechanism to do just that (though one of the posts linked above describes just how hollow a promise that is), but such a mechanism is meaningless in the face of determination to expand the availability and drop the price of fossil fuels.  You can’t do one and have the other.

And promoting such policies, as McCain did just today in Florida, means, just to repeat it, that he is either lying when he promises one outcome or the other, or he simply cannot process the fact that the two policy goals are incompatible.  You choose which explanation you like.  It doesn’t matter.  No such person can be trusted to make sensible decisions about the future of science (or much else for that matter) for the United States.

Again: the point I am trying to make is not that McCain and Palin have articulated bad policies for American science, though they have, but that the way they think, their poor judgment about technical and scientific matters, their lack of capacity to grasp how the actual daily work of science proceeds matter more.  Their willingness to ridicule specific bits of research they don’t understand exacerbates the problem by diminishing the value our culture as whole places on inquiry and discovery.

The bottom line:  a President McCain or, should the plausible succession occur, a President Palin, do not possess the qualities required to nurture the future of American science. Their ascendancy would rob the enterprise of both the hard cash and the oxygen of cultural approbation it needs to survive.

On the other hand, if you care about the ability of the United States to retain its narrowing pre-eminence in scientific and technical research, you would do far, far better to vote for Senator Barack Obama and his Vice Presidential partner, Senator Joseph Biden.

*I don’t mean to say that Governor Palin wasn’t ridiculed for her fruit fly idiocy.  It’s just that she wasn’t derided enough.

Image:  Joseph Wright, “An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump,” 1768.  Source:  The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202.

No, really, tell me what you think — Why I Love Charles Barkley Edition.

October 28, 2008

Sir Charles announces his intention to run for governor of Alabama in 2014.  Along the way, he discusses the issue of sociological rankings of his own and nearby states thusly:

When asked if he was serious, the former Philadelphia 76er said, “I am, I can’t screw up Alabama.”

He added that his native state could only improve. “We are number 48 in everything and Arkansas and Mississippi aren’t going anywhere,” Barkley said. (h/t T-N C)

Now if only another famous politician would take note:  this is how you do straight talk, my man.

(Now if we could only suspend geography and perhaps partisan affiliation (I really don’t know) and get Basketball Jesus to run against Sir Charles.  The depth, breadth and sheer outrageous quality of the trash talk would threaten to end the universe as we know it.)


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