Saturday, December 29, 2007

Virtual Swordsmanship

"My work becomes the deterrent, not so much the products of my work," said Martz, an advocate of the virtual swords concept. - from John Fleck's Albuquerque Journal Article.

"...
that the deterrent benefit accrues through the weapons existence and is robust across disparities in the technical details" - from the Arms Control Wonk

The issue that connects these observations to news is Plutonium Pit Production in Los Alamos (John is a far better explainer, so consult his article for the details). More importantly than that, they are comments on what new plutonium pit production means for the United States nuclear stockpile, and the aims of nuclear weapons programs.

The big justification of new production is that the United States no longer needs to have the weapons on hand, but that the production capabilities should still be present. This is interesting logic, and it's quite distance from defense thought about terrorism. Nuclear deterrent requires fixed targets, and somewhat rational people who can be effectively deterred. Insurgencies, terrorists, and guerrillas all seem to be off limits for the power of nuclear force, and so nuclear policy as deterrent is directed at nations and governments. Nothing new, but it's worth clarifying that the policy, as it stands, is focused on deterring wars between states, and not wars within states or asymmetric war against states. The threat of a nuclear attack does little, if anything, for those other scenarios.

This is the virtual sword, a new outlook which is a step back from the days of Mutually Assured Destruction, and looks instead at conflict with an eye towards high costs, but not necessarily world ending ones. A nation in conflict with the US will have to weigh the cost of a nuclear attack, of some scale, against pursuing that conflict. This has worked for all conflicts between nuclear nations, which have been blissfully few; Pakistan v. India being the exception, and then war has been halted and not accelerated but the presences of nuclear arsenals and a very, very, very high cost to waging war beyond conventional means. Nuclear retaliatory force, and the knowledge that that force will be replenished, allows nukes to enter into the algebra of war, moving it from a last ditch, too-hard-to-consider option to an incredibly costly and futile option. Nations are unlikely to risk either, but I see this as a step down for the US (not a bad thing, necessarily); cold war capabilities guaranteed a tremendous amount of destruction, should the wrong sequence of events happen. This new rationale, this Virtual Sword means that any state risking armed conflict with the United States will still have to worry about a nuclear attack; the attack will render the conflict moot, and doesn't entail the most terrifying degree of destruction imaginable.
Nuclear conflict will still not be an option considered; the weapons capability is such that it will be on board as a possibility to back away from, to step down from. More notably, though, a reduced capability (in terms of numbers) but continued research means two things. One, that nuclear power will stay relevant, should an effective defense be devised, and two, that the arsenal is not enough to attack fifteen nations at once (as Cold War plans intended). Sheer volume is not what is needed for a nuclear arsenal in the future, and this necessitates new plans in hypothetical nuclear war planning.

This brings us to the Arm's Control Wonk's quote. Nuclear weapons are nuclear weapons, and as deterrent little more than being nuclear and deliverable is needed. Any weapon that is developed that affects this policy will meet both of those requirements, and so the details, the nitty-gritty of what exactly each can do, how deep the blasts can go, and how particularly devastating each weapon will be, are more or less irrelevant to the politics of the weapons use. Not that the details of a weapon are purely military considerations; they aren't, and that attitude is damaging. But whenever nuclear weapons are considered, they are to be considered as nuclear weapons, and the threat of usage of nuclear weapons is a political aspect, that varies little whether or not the depth penetrated is 3 meters or 50. Nuclear deterrent just requires that nuclear weapons capabilities exist, and be perceived as threatening enough to prevent a state from risking war, and especially war on a large scale.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Dennis Kucinich

I've stated before several times that I tend to align on the far left. The left right dichotomy isn't a good model, but it's a familiar model, and if I identify with a fringe, odds are a person will understand what disagreements they can expect. The fringe is a diverse place, and the Democratic Party currently fields two candidates who adequately fit that description - Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich. I'm picking Dennis first, out of sympathy (I favored another candidate in '04, watched the left go center-left, and was sorely disappointed). Also, the "New Mexico Presidential Preference Caucus" is coming up, and I want to make sure i cover my own party in adequate depth before moving on. It's democrats from here until February, unless circumstances change.

The format - This is my opinion on Dennis's written opinions, as stated on the issues page of his campaign website. He has two issues pages, so I will be going through the more immediately available page, as it is both simpler and shorter. I'm sure his opinions will change little, and that detail will be the omitted factor instead.

Before I go into this, there's a quick note I would like to get out about UFO sightings and presidential candidate. I more or less refuse to let things candidates do, other than vote or speak about issues, affect my opinion of their competence as a world leader. What matters is what they say, and for those still troubled by presidential smalltalk, I request you read this comic before continuing on.

Dennis Kucinich through the lens of Kelsey Atherton

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Strength Through Peace: Voting records are important from those who have them, and Dennis voted against authorizing the war in Iraq. That's just plain sensible, and it puts this section off to a good start. After this point, his site stops feeling like the standard run-through McCain and Richardson presented, and instead he discusses the US military, and how superiority is so unquestioned right now that war doesn't make sense, and that war has failed to prevent a litany of woes (acknowledging, of course, that terrorism is among those woes). He provides over two dozen links for further reading on his specific stands (including bills), and lets specifics be specifics. It's an interesting approach, and seeing the raw ideology is something I enjoy. Acknowledging strength, Kucinich believes we should move towards other solutions. There's some hyperbole, and he underestimates the armies of the rest of the world, but I like it. Keep the military, and then move on.

A Healthy Nation: A "Universal, Single-payer, Not-For-Profit health care system" is what Dennis is proposing, and it's bold. It turn health care into a public good, values an insured populace for the benefit of the whole of the nation, and aims to cut bureaucracy. It fascinating, it seems to be the far extreme of what people want, and it polarizes nicely with Ron Paul. Kucinich places full trust in the competence of government, and no trust in the free market system. Ron Paul is the reverse, and every other candidate falls in-between. I would like to trust both government and the free market, I don't see them as opposed, and so I am looking for a good middle-of-the-road solution here, but I would be fine being part of a living laboratory with either (such is the confidence of my youth)

Survival of the Middle Class: Phrasing is big with me, and the phrase "casino captialists" doesn't stick, which makes many of his attacks fall short. On the other hand, he quotes from a book (citation and everything) when he admits others may know more than he does, and is smart enough to use the information for good.
Moving on from his language, we get to policy. Kucinich has a radical plan to make the middle class the most important group in American politics again, and hurls favors their way. Better tax refunds, universal pre-k through college educations (!) at government expense, the previously discussed health care plan, a New-Deal style agency for energy and the environment, powers against unions curtailed, and the word "patriotic" applied to tax incentives for businesses that remain domestic are all part of his plan for improving the middle class. The cost comes from the military, from savings made possible by universal health care, and by a shifted tax burden to even further up the economic ladder.
What he is saying is brilliant, and if all went well it would make the USA a middle class nation, with the pacifism and progress a middle class nation can expect to enjoy. It offers nothing to the people it disadvantages, and a new political efficacy for the middle class would be hard to form in the face of upper class opposition that is bound to follow. I like most of it, but I think that it would drive him out of office after one term and replace him with a powerful laissez faire and "trickle down" center-right candidate.

Securing Constitutional Democracy: In a discussion of civil liberties, it is worth noting that Dennis has a solid voting record, having voted against the Patriot Act. The action's enough to support him, and he expands his focus, looking at the justice department, and specifically the fired loyal republican attorneys, as signs that a "unitary executive" and concentrated, increased presidential powers are a threat for everyone. He defends the loyal opposition when they help principle before the party line, and that's a good move as well. Associated with that, Dennis claims that prosecutions for voter fraud are far less important than the harm to democracy caused by voter intimidation. I like the gist of his statements here (excepting the "We don't elect Kings" quote), but my problem is that I am only getting general opinions. it's enough to understand principles and ideology, but it isn't nearly as easy to dissect as stated plans.

A Sustainable Future: A redundant first paragraph is unfortunate, and when assessing quality by semantics, that's no good. I'm not that petty, so instead, let's focus on his acknowledgment of global warming. That's a good thing. He talks about sustainability and alternative energy, and that's very important, solid stuff. He proposes a new works administration to help do the groundwork for a new energy sector. He actually calls for reduced energy use, a first among candidates that I've covered. It's great stuff, from the modern and environmentally as well as scientifically aware voters perspective. And then he gets to nuclear power.
I've discussed my view on nuclear power before, so I won't rehash them here beyond a simple statement. Nuclear power is an idea worth considering, and excluding the idea from talk of a sustainable future out of fear seems to me to be folly, whether or not nuclear power is ultimately used. Kucinich, for his part, argues that nuclear industry is more threatening than nuclear terrorism, and that having nuclear plants, beyond being too risky in and of itself, provides opportunities for terrorists. It's a good watchdog perspective, and one that serves well in the legislature, making sure harm is minimized. It doesn't strike me as a presidential stance, and I also feel his fears of nuclear waste transport are overblown.
Reassuringly, he moves onto that other big issue of the future, and joins Richardson in acknowledging water as an important sustainability issue (Ron Paul and McCain didn't address it). He views water itself as a public good, beyond the reach of commodification, and publicly owned by safeguarded by governments on behalf on the entire world. It's very interesting, and I'm in general agreement with his principles. For sustainability, he's two for three for me, and I think it would be impossible for him to ignore nuclear power if he ever became president, so I would be content with him, far as these issues are concerned. He would make an incr3edible secretary of the interior.

End to Poverty: Ever the internationalist, I'll offer this quote before my analysis "Dennis Kucinich will make it a national priority to fight poverty worldwide. He understands that the path to a safe, strong America is through peace, tolerance and committing our nation to eradicating the root causes of global poverty." Global poverty as a cause of problems in the United States? How wonderfully, wonderfully true. There's a brilliant speech on this page as well, offered in a tiny font but still worth reading. Kucinich believe poverty and urban decay to be more damaging and more worth fighting than Iraq, and more broadly then a war on terror. It's a Great Society he seeks to build, and while the page offers only the general guideline of less military funding and higher upper class taxes as a solution, he knows the problem is real, and hie is willing to address it with the effort needed. This is magnificent stuff.

Saving Capitalism: This page is incomplete, which is a pity. I'll check back when it's up, and both edit this post and link to it again. It's pretty frustrating that this isn't done, though. This is where he has his best platform to be Keynesian and to attack organizations that exploit capitalism, rather than feed into it. He promises to attack NAFTA and the WTO (and to withdraw the nation from both), but there is no more substance here.

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Conclusion -

Kucinich is brilliant, and it is easy to see why people are so passionate for him, and why there is such sorrow when they say he can't be elected. The trick is he can be elected, and has been, repeatedly, to perhaps the best office for him. Not to say that he wouldn't be a good president; he'd be an incredible one, but one who was stymied at every turn by both sides of both houses. The legislation that was passed would be pale shades of his idealism, but significant progress nonetheless.
Kucinich is the left fringe candidate, and so it is unlikely he will get the nod. That said, his candidacy is important, and votes for him will not be wasted. Kucinich is the name to vote for in a primary (or caucus, or whatnot) if you want the party to move further to the left, if you want idealistic votes to be counted for, and idealism to be somewhat accommodated by other candidates. Also, enough votes may help he gain a position of value that is not an elected office; secretary of the interior I've already mentioned, but there are other roles. Housing and Urban Development would be a particularly good choice for the Clevelander, while Labor and health and Human Services would also be valuable posts.
Kucinich has idealism, and that is just something hard to not support, to not automatically endorse, especially when it agrees so much with mine (Ron Paul is an idealist too, but one with a very different set of ideals.) I would like to see more substance, and though it is linked to on pages covered, it needs further investigation, and I will hopefully have covered those pages when I post about his updated stance on "Saving Capitalism". Then I will offer a final verdict, but for now I stand by my notion that a vote for Kucinich is a vote to shift the party to the left, and even if it doesn't help him, it does great things for the democrats as a whole.

One last note - Kucinich offers on his websites' sidebar link to a fun little quiz that I discovered back in August. It's fun, and is interesting as a tool, if not as a definitive anything. Bonus points for encouraging comparison shopping.

Russia and New Mexico

This is a summary of a conversation with John Fleck, who I need to add to my blogs sidebar.

Initial facts (the premise, if you will):
  • Russia, flush with new wealth and renewed national pride, is re-militarizing
  • Russia is fast becoming the regional power it should be, and will now be back as regional hegemon
  • Russia may well decide to renew its nuclear program (the conversation assumed they will; let's go with the assumption for now)
  • This is great news for New Mexico, as the threat (and not the reality) of nuclear war means lots more money for this state, and more good jobs)
Wait a second, why does a Russian Nuclear program necessitate a new US nuclear program? The old cold war scenario (below) no longer fits:
  • Russian tanks from Eastern Europe
  • Territorial Squabble
  • Escalation in turns
  • The small battle becomes the one moment when both sides try to win the war
  • Nukes held as last threat, but used simultaneously
The new Scenario doesn't involve static superpowers, and is more complex than two sides trying to win the last battle. The new nuclear escalation (as makes sense to me), is:
  • Civil unrest in a Central Asian Republic (the countries that end in -stan, and a few others); Azerbaijan will be the specific example (US already has plans for operations in Azerbaijan)
  • The government appeals for help, to many nations. Other factions may appeal as well
  • Acting unilaterally and independently, both the US and Russia intervene in the nation in turmoil (unilateral is assumed on behalf of at least one party; NATO/UN/EU could easily be the other)
  • A specific strategic resource. Ports, forts, government buildings oil fields are all likely. (In Bosnia, an airport was held by Russia. NATO, under general Wellesley Clark, were supposed to take the airport, and while troops were sent, communication with Russia worked, and accidental conflict was avoided)
  • Both sides converged on said specific strategic resource location, and both are unaware of the other's actions. A skirmish, as troops act to protect their own (George Washington, in the 7 years war, helped escalate the war by accidentally attacking allies)
  • Military decisions move faster than political ones, and the conflict escalates rapidly
  • Fear of retaliation mounts, and nukes become active
The idea is a political long shot, and one that hopefully improvements in communications technology and chains of command will have lessened. Also, more international cooperation would be beneficial in preventing this, but the scenario exists, even as a slim chance.

And this is relevant, because new nukes means better nukes means more jobs for New Mexico. High paying jobs, too.

Senators policies can be so weird sometimes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

John McCain

Taking advantage of a lull during finals week, and prompted by a classmate, I've decided to look at John McCain in this installment, with the next one focused on John Edwards. This post will follow the precedent established by my posts on Ron Paul and Bill Richardson, dissecting his opinions as they are best made available to the public. I have articles written by him in issues of Foreign Affairs, and comparing the two takes will be an interesting approach for later. Selling the intelligentsia requires such a different set of skills than selling "the masses", as it were, so it would be unfair to bring that in for this post.

I chose McCain for a few reasons. Firstly, I used to like him. In 2005, I wrote a report arguing that the way around partisan bickering and frustration was a center-center party, a collection of electable moderates who were willing to forge ahead with solid compromise solutions. I envisioned something like the political balance from 1820 to 1850, with a series of landmark compromises. At the head of this new electorate, I placed John McCain, and I chose him over the other reigning moderate Hillary Clinton. Hillary struck me as too much of a centrist, always gravitating towards the most universally minimally offensive position, and often falling in line with the president. McCain, I thought, was a man of some conviction, who was a moderate but ranged from left to right on his stances, and held strong opinions that allowed him to chose the right path for the nation. In 2005, I laid out an idealized version of John McCain, circa 2000. As I was working on this report, John McCain threw himself at the religious right, and later on helped authorize torture. This was off-putting, and I've been left with an impression of him as little more than a hack, trying desperately to flee from the left he once willing worked with. McCain is here to complete the trio of Ron Paul the idealist, Bill Richardson the pragmatist, and John McCain the hack.

Edit: Finals got the better of me, so this is coming out after he was endorsed by Lieberman; I would have cheered this in 2000, especially in 2004, but now it's a rather bleak turn of events.

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John McCain through the Lens of Kelsey Atherton

Government Spending, Lower Taxes, and Economic Prosperity - He gets points here for attacking the deficit, which is a damn good move from those of us who like a nation with a realistic ability to pays its bills. He loses all of them when he says that pet projects are what should be cut, offers to cut taxes, and devotes priority funding to the military. The war is running up the deficit, Mr. McCain, and there is no realistic way around this unless you cut war spending. As for pet projects, they are a way of life, and while they are frustrating on the national scale, they are going to be almost impossible to get rid, ingrained as they are in the American political process. As for cutting taxes - Really? We have a tremendous deficit and you are proposing tax cuts. Really? That's what you're doing here? That makes no sense. None. At all. Reaganomics failed for a reason, and the Clinton economy worked for a reason. That reason is taxes.
He goes on, here, talking about transparency (good), changes to social security (questionable), and then talks about how low taxes only work with low spending, because this will spur private investment. It's a common line of thought; my frustrations with it are that it doesn't account for jobs the private sector is unwilling/unable to provide for all people. It's a problem that stems from frustrations with privatized education, but it applies everywhere - if we want something to be available for everyone, it has to be a public good provided by the government; if we want something to be exclusive, allowing access only to those with the means to obtain it, we hand it over to the private sector. Much of what government does I am unwilling to see handed over to the private sector.
He ends with a note about opening up new markets. Okay, sure. If you include Cuba and other nations we've long been petty-spiting, I've no reason to object to this. The time to object would have been when China was opened up, and that isn't going to be undone anytime soon.

Lobbying and Ethics Reform - This section is full of wonderful little gems of wordplay; "John McCain would shine the disinfecting light of public scrutiny on those who abuse the public purse" being my favorite. He attacks pork barrel, he calls for ethic reform, and it is all decent stuff, if unlikely to happen (under any administration, not just his). He looks at campaign finance reform, and says that the free society practice of giving money to candidates a person supports should be allowed; this isn't quite saying that it should be free market, but it is interesting. He follows it up with a compromise that I'd been looking for in his rhetoric: "enforce long-standing prohibitions on corporate and union contributions to federal political parties". This is a party-balanced measure, aimed at limiting reliable donors two both parties, and its a good move. Realistic if not ideal, and what I would have expected from him in 2000.

The Consequences of Failure in Iraq - My problem with this plan is that I like it. Not the posturing, not the "staying in Iraq" bit, but as far as execution of a policy I disagree with, this is very good. There's a bitterness to his plan, a sense of atonement for Vietnam (see "Win the Homefront), and he is trying to restructure the United States into a position of strength, so that we can more effectively posture at Syria and Iran, political moves of which I don't approve . However, despite the faults, he sees the importance of stable military leadership, of the whole "rebuilding" process, of a more valid approach than small zones of control for US soldiers to more safely exist in, and of a stable national authority in Iraq. I disagree with the policy so much that I can't support him in his goals here, but it is a strong showing for undersecretary of defense. A step down, sure, but it deals with political and military realities, and it would be a useful position for him.

Border Security and Immigration Reform: This page is a quick read, a bullet point list of some overall plans, hitting upon such points as the need for business-friendly policy, the need to keep Latin America on our side, the need for a "flexible labor market", the need for immigrants to be properly instilled with righteous American values. It's textbook stuff, as it were, and while I'm surprised the Arizonan doesn't have a more definitive stance, it could just be that Arizona is the border state with the white-bread mildly xenophobic attitude we find cropping up elsewhere. He bothers me with they "shining city on a hill" metaphor; it's a phrase designed to instill a holier-than-thou attitude, and to say that we are the beacon of moral righteousness. I've more trouble with that metaphor itself (trouble better suited to an English essay), but the attitude itself is harmful, and it reflects siege mentality. We are a pious city on a hill, defending ourselves from the hordes of barbarians who try every day to assail our noble kingdom, and why don't we have a moat already? It isn't isolationist so much as it is imperial, or a fitting metaphor for a crusader state. Not what I like, and especially not what I like in regards to immigration policy.

Commitment To America's Service Members: Past And Present - Lots of benefits for veterans, interesting choice sponsorship of Troops-to-Teachers and an expanded G.I. Bill, and generally decent stuff about making the military, and part-time military service, a financially rewarding option, and with enough money to pay for families left behind. The troubling part in this section is that he "believes that the fundamental role of reservists has changed over the last decade", which is frustrating because it means that the Army could look to reservists as standard soldiers. This is bad because it means that the reserve will become more of an occupation force, instead of troops held back for dire circumstances/US invasion. Reserves just shouldn't be standard.

National Security - His intro here is a broad covering of why the US needs to be powerful, and why the US military needs to be the foremost military power in the world. China and Russia may come into play as regional rivals, he says, and it's bold, fighting words with Russia becoming more common of late than they have been for almost two decades. That's the secondary threat he mentions, though it is the threat that justifies high-end technological development. The main threat, of course are "Islamist extremists" (saying "fundamentalist Muslims terrorist groups" would have been too wordy and only, you know, correct). I'm going to disagree with anyone who thinks a 'war on terror" is a simple two-sided affair, and that terrorist attacks by private citizens is equivalent to the war engaged in by nations. Terrorism is a tool, utilizing terror against a government is an attempt to make the cost of some action that government undertakes too high for the government to continue to undertake it. If the US pulled out of the middle east, stopped supporting Israel, and gave up on the Saudi royal family, Al Qaeda's objectives on 9/11 would have been fulfilled. There is no forced surrender, and no desire to harm the US if they keep these things up. Terrorism is complex, and no amount of rhetoric pandering to Middle America will make it anything like simple. "Sacred responsibility" is a scary term for a secular government, and he uses it too much. Viewing terrorist doctrine as a doctrine of "hatred and despair" is wrong-headed and ignorant, and overlooks broader issues.
Missile defense is frustrating, as it increases the risk of nuclear war, while doing hardly anything (if doing anything at all) to increase the survivability of such a war. Also, North Korea isn't really a threat, much as they would like to be.
In his talk of funding, he uses the word "parochial" too much for my tastes; while pork barrel is nothing great, it's a misplaced attack, and he hammers it down.
McCain, in the phrase "knows that the most difficult and solemn decision a president must make is sending young Americans into harm's way" mistakes what a president can do for what congress should be able to do, and bad constitutionality is no good.
Lastly, while I disagree over most military matters, including his undiscussed troop increase, his idea for "a new mix of military forces, including civil affairs, special operations, and highly mobile forces capable of fighting and prevailing in the conflicts America faces." is slightly redeeming.

Stewards of Our Nation's Rich Natural Heritage: Despite the fancy title, McCain skimps in this section. He addresses global warming, he attacks liberals, and he believes in the government helping to further along things like nuclear energy and buying carbon credits as a way to help address this earth-changing phenomenon. It is an okay policy, and a republican addressing global warming is smart. The phrase "History shows that poverty is a poor steward." is an interesting one, and shows that he is putting economic concerns way up their in his environmental view, which makes sense, even if it is a tad disappointing.

Protecting Second Amendment Rights: He is in favor of citizens having guns. Safety's on the guns, ID checks everywhere, and harsher penalties for gun crime are the bones thrown to gun control groups. Removing restrictions on ammo clips, ammo itself, waiting periods for buying guns, and restrictions on what types of guns can be bought are all things McCain supports. I am in a tricky place on the second amendment, so I'll skip commentary.

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I can't support McCain. I like him in congress, from Arizona. I have little fondness for Arizona, and so he seems to be the best of what the state could produce. As a president, he would be the champion of compromise solutions between the far right and the center-right. That fringe of the left would be meaningless to him. He works well with Lieberman independents and Hillary democrats, making comprises between the center right and the center center. He takes more stands, and mobilizes the unwilling to resist. He's a product of the Gingrich majority, and of the compromise that is one-sided. Ron Paul is preferable, and I disagree with Ron Paul on half of what he says.

McCain would be a desperate gambit, a bid from the Republican party to sway the center. Look to him for vice presidential nominations.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Why does North Korea want Nucear Power?

I'll give you a hint:

The answer (as jfleck so brilliantly put it):
"Horrific failed states with evil dictators and collapsed economies don’t use much electricity."

But they'd like to.

They'd also like to have an excuse to make nukes, so it's not really that simple.
(Picture originally from the arms control wonk).

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Three Quick Things

I've been meaning to get back into the 2008 election fray, with posts covering other candidates I know next to nothing about (which, honestly, would be all of them). While it's a bit rough to wade through such rhetoric and ponder what this nation would look like if it was implemented, it's also proved invaluable to me in small-talk political debate, so ever the academic I'll be bettering my own knowledge (and maybe yours?) in the future. If you have a particular candidate you want me to analyze, let me know in the comments; I'm leaning towards discussing McCain but I'm open to suggestions.

Right now, however, my blogging energies have been exhausted lately with a debate about police. I can't exactly recommend reading the whole thing, and since the forum topic has been closed there's no point in weighing in further. I am, however, happy with what I wrote, and I think the content there may help to overcome the initial frustration of the poster.

Lastly, so as not to leave you without witty political commentary, I'd like to direct you to this page by the brilliant writer of indexed (another really good read). Here's a taste:


Friday, November 30, 2007

Bill Richardson

This is part two of my series (I guess having two makes it a series?) on candidates for the United States presidency in 2008. I chose Bill Richardson this time, partly because he's the foreign policy candidate (and that's a welcome break from Ron Paul's isolationism), and partly because I politically came of age in a Richardson New Mexico. He's probably influenced me, and his years running for president have been interesting. (Like my post on Ron Paul, I'm pulling and critiquing Richardson's opinions as stated on his site.)

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Bill Richardson through the Lens of Kelsey Atherton


Iraq - Richardson is bold here, and while that's at least partly a political move, it's a good one. Withdrawal, diplomacy, and a renewed focus on Afghanistan are all good points, but what sells me on his Iraq policy is this quote: "Key objectives of the conference should be assurances of non-interference and the creation of a multilateral, UN-led Muslim peacekeeping force". He's planning diplomacy, he sees the need for more interests than just those directed by the United States, and he sees the UN as capable of performing a function the UN is more or less charted to do. This is great, and other bits in his policy, while not fully developed, are great starts. Acknowledging that Congress needs to end this war, acknowledging that the military will know how to handle the withdrawal, acknowledging that Iraq's neighbors have a vested interest in Iraq's stability and deserve a role in negotiations concerning the exit of the United States are all great moves. Richardson, from this alone, would be an incredibly qualified secretary of state.

Energy - I don't like his tone, which I think is generally the New Mexican problem with Richardson. He has populist undertones, which are frustrating. As far as his policy is concerned, he proves himself to be a Keynesian here, not shying from the free market but instead acknowledging the positive ways government can influence the economy, for benefits that are not just about profit. Using government controls on the market here to make fighting global climate change and establishing energy independence feasible, and in fact expensive to not do, is a good move. His math could use work, and he does need to better phrase what Congress can do and what he will do (as he cannot do everything, no matter how much he tries to convince people that he can), but he says "multilateral" and sees the connection between oil security and terrorism. Acknowledging political realities is just such a good move.

Health Care - Before discussing his plan, I would like to say that his website would be a lot more readable if his sentences agreed with each other. Saying "Richardson" here and "I" there is a frustration, and unprofessional. As for his plan, it's a lot of promises, not all of them about functions he can actually perform. He rests a lot on initiatives he authorized in New Mexico, which at the time felt they were more show than substance, and seem to be the same thing here as well. He supports universal health care, through government programs already instituted, and he favors nanny-state taxes on things like cigarettes to pay for cancer research. Alright, but nothing remarkable.

Jobs and the Economy - He's strongest with his opener here, which looks at three factors that have made other nations highly competitive in terms of high paying jobs. His steps to remedy this problem are shaky. Fiscal responsibility is good, and I suppose he can't say what needs cutting (and what taxes will be raised) yet, but it is frustrating to have no idea of how he will address this issue. Tax credits are a good move, but he's vague about where they go. Starting Math, Science, and Innovation academies is iffy - it will look good, and it's way easier to do than fixing public education. I think the money spent on new schools would be better spent sending more Americans to college, and especially providing scholarships to students who declare in the fields he wants. Perhaps debt forgiveness towards students who pursue a highly skilled job upon graduation would work; Richardson isn't really offering innovation her so much as shiny packaging.

Agriculture - I would have expected yeoman farmers to show up on Ron Paul's site, but I find them in Richardson's vision. Breaking up agricultural conglomerates, combined with tax incentives for small-time farmers and technological improvements to rural areas is interesting, and bold. I do not know the economics of modern farming, but I strongly suspect that the age of the family farmer as viable is past. Farming is so climate dependent, so uncertain, that it seems a big corporation able to take losses is the way to go, though I suppose farmers' collectives organized nationwide could serve the same purpose. It would take an agricultural renaissance to work, but it is a bold vision. Beyond the logistics of farming in a global economy, his policy is mostly sound. Looking towards rural areas as places from which to draw renewable energy is also good, and favors highly skilled jobs and innovative technology. Proposing a system of labeling called "COOL" seems over-the top.

Civil Liberties - He supports net neutrality, which is great. He's against torture, because it is both morally wrong and ineffective, which is the best way to put it. Paper ballots and paper trails for elections are so good I'd call them vital. Native American self-determination, while I can hardly imagine it will be a major campaign issue, is still just a good thing, and it is reassuring to see him mention it in his campaign literature. Domestic partnerships are not the equality that would be ideal, but they are a compromise favorite of the moment, and gradually progressive will always get my vote before reactionary does. His pro-choice statement is good enough to quote, so here it is: "We can work together to make abortion safe, legal and rare. And we should do everything we can to support quality prenatal care and early child health care so that newborns and infants have the support they need to grow." It's good stuff, and while he isn't as outspoken as Ron Paul, and while he does dodge the Patriot Act, I can support everything he says here.

Defense - I like to think I'm a militarily conscious leftist, and reading his defense policy it is reassuring to know that other people consider these issues as well. The section has a rehashing of his Iraq policy, but after that it shows serious thought put into lessons learned by the political elite on how to use the United States military, how the US military is likely to be used, and how to change the military so that it will be capable in the decades to come. Removing mercenaries, creating joint civilian-military commissions to execute the aftermath of a war before the war is over, and providing a variety of ideas about what needs to be done in an occupation situation are all good moves, and moves that need to be taken. Moving funding away from cold-war era programs in general and nukes in specific is smart. Expanding the standing numbers of the army and of marines is an interesting point, and one for which he will take flak. This is unfortunate, as when these moves are coupled with his intended reforms of the national guard and of the army reserves, it allows for the military force that is supposed to remain at home to remain at home. This is all great policy, and as a final positive note, he includes humanitarian missions as part of the future role of the US military. It seems leftist military theory actually exists.

Education - This is an interesting one, especially looking at his rhetorical approach. He starts by talking about American power, an interesting choice given that this is his education page. He moves on, stating future goals and an optimistic outlook towards the United States public education system being improved. Pre-K next, and he says that we can fully fund it nationwide, which is a really good move. Scrapping No Child Left Behind for the reasons that students, educators, and state governments can all agree on is great. Raising starting teacher salary is a logical place to have built up to, but he tops himself in the next sentence by proposing 100,000 new jobs. That's big, not tremendous, but it's big. That would be like employing one in five people in the greater Albuquerque Metropolitan area. That's a lot of jobs, and jobs that take a lot of education to be able to have. He isn't quite living up to his posturing here, but he is putting forth some solid ideas. Public school choice instead of private school vouchers is something I support, and he does couple it with magnet and charter schools to make it effective. There's lots more here, covering a wide array of issues tied in with education, and it all seems solid. If half of this was passed, education would be greatly improved.

Environment - His environmental policy is sound and uninteresting. Restoring protections, removing many tax exceptions, making sure that the EPA actually works to protect the environment. It's good, what democrats will want, and dull. Only point worth mentioning is that he puts the Clean Water Act first on his environmental policies.

First Responders - An interesting category, this is designed primarily to make life easier on police and firefighters. Allowing unions, collective bargaining, and more benefits towards people who fulfill the public services we all expect to exist is good; that the entire section seems to be pointedly anti-Bush is petty and irrelevant.

Foreign Policy - This section is beautiful. Foreign policy is Richardson's strong point, and it's why I chose him as the follow-up to Ron Paul's isolationism. Richardson sees the US actively engaging in the world, willing to sit down and talk with all nations, and willing to reform the United Nations into a more effective entity. He favors expanding the security council, which is a great move, a realist move, and one that helps change the UN from a post-WWII winners club into something more substantial. The only bad move made here is the phrase "obnoxious regimes", which is more honest than we would like from a president. It reflects a clear bias, and Richardson is a man of clear biases and blunt language, who still believes in diplomacy. This is good stuff, and this will probably be what influence my primary vote.

Immigration - He's tougher than I expected here. That makes sense, moving away from New Mexico to a national arena (New Mexico is going to be about the most sympathetic state on illegal immigration). He wants no fence, but double number of border patrol agents. He doesn't offer amnesty, but instead a "tough but fair" path to citizenship. He wants to crack down on those employing illegals, and he wants to work with Mexico to make illegal immigration harder, while making legal immigration easier. He also wants a national ID, which is scary, and it being mentioned here was a little shocking. He is okay here, and is less militant than many. The national ID could probably be defeated in congress, and so I'd be okay with his plans here under that condition.

GLBT - This section has a grammatical faux-pas, saying either that Richardson's vice president will have aids, or will be GLBT, or both. What is intended is that the vice president will chair a HIV/AIDS commission, but sloppy grammar looks really bad. The area itself is another strength of his, though it seems he is trying to both show support for the GLBT community as much as he is trying to show off that he can be progressive in a conservative state. New Mexico isn't a red state, it's a battleground state, and whatever voting patterns it has, staunch republicanism isn't one. As for the policies, yeah, they are decent, and his "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" stance is nice and solidly nailed down, with the decency to say that sexual orientation doesn't matter; dishonoring GLBT people serving, and those who have served/were turned down from service is a pointless, harmful and entirely unnecessary act.

Women - He wants to bring back the Equal Rights Amendment. Awesome. Everything else here is decent, and he's very pro-choice and very adamant about how pro-choice he is. He's pro-affirmative action, and he wants employers to collect data on their employees race, pay, and gender, which is great for social scientists, but perhaps iffy for employers and civil rights. The section opener here is another good example of writing in his populist-realist mode, if you like to read politicians for style and not substance.

Veterans - Lots here, mostly health care related, with nice bits on some tax exemptions, and some money guaranteed. An improved G.I. bill is this sections best point, with debt forgiveness for veterans who graduate from college. The problem here is the $15 billion price tag, which can be added to all the price tags from previous sections and leaves a large chunk of either deficit spending, new taxes, cut programs, or unfulfilled promises.

Conclusion -

Money's the issue. He mentions $75 billion increase in tax spending (from education and veterans programs), and he mentions a $57 billion cut in defense spending. Already he has a gap, and it's a gap I'm okay with, but it isn't great. It will hurt him in getting what he wants passed, and in many programs for which he has no outlined cost.

Richardson would not be a great president. He's too populist, too "in your face", and too belligerent to have an easy time working with congress. His ideas are good, when he has them, and he has such good foreign policy and defense ideas that I would be content with four to eight years of him. Foreign policy is my biggest issue, and so I'm willing to give up a lot for a US that acts as it should in the international community. With Richardson, I wouldn't have to give up much, but he is so very much a realist and a pragmatist that his stances have some decent leeway. He would be Bush's pleasant shadow, that quietly began picking up the pieces in the rubble. I can settle for less than memorable.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ron Paul

Today was a GOP presidential debate on CNN. I hate televised debates, and the transcript isn't up, so instead I decided to go ahead and poke around Ron Paul's website. What follows is all reaction to his stated campaign opinions, and I am perfectly willing to respond to what he has said, instead of listening to people question him about issues he will dodge.

~
Ron Paul through the lens of Kelsey Atherton

American Independence - Strong advocate of American independence from international obligations. It's an USA-first perspective that clings more to isolationism than unilateral action. It's a stand I disagree with on many levels, and his fear-mongering about international law and community is terribly upsetting and does nothing to help improve both America's image in the world, and the idea of a world where negotiation and reason take the place of conflict and brinkmanship. If he was talking about Texas relative to the US in this way, it would be treason.

Immigration - militancy, which I suppose I should expect. I find his points about not rewarding the 10-20 million people frustrating. Deporting 10-20 million is also awful, and it doesn't really acknowledge the reality of the situation. Reform is good, but this is a nativist stance, and that too seems at least 90 if not 100 years outdated.

Debt and Taxes - he sees lots of issues with taxes, but doesn't say outright what he would cut. Reform of the Federal reserve is interesting, but without a proposed alternative, I'll treat it as bullshit.

Education - he's cutting bureaucracy everywhere. I'm skeptical of a plan that allows for $5000 tax credit to home school, but I'm more skeptical of making this entirely the parents decision. It seem possible that a parent could take the 5 grand, keep the kid at home, and then the kid would have no education and the parent would have money. Improbable, but I'll take bureaucratic waste over that possibility. Tax credit towards full time teachers is nice, though.

Environment - Ron Paul has no trust for public goods being used as public goods. I trust his actions here, if not his logic, and think environmentally, he would be a sound president. However, he follows the Lockian spirit of the constitution to the letter, and that has a serious flaw in holding that land is only valuable if it is held as private property. Interstate roads, public education, and the whole concept of the common are out of place in a Ron Paul United States.

Health Care - this is an arena where very interesting opinions have been presented, and Ron Paul's faith in the free market system to take care of us is matched only by his distrust of federal government's ability to do anything right. The free market approach here, and a return to a more constitutional (read: bare-bones) federal government seems appropriate here. I'm still skeptical, and think that health is, to a degree, a public good, but socialized medicine offers benefits in cost that it loses out in efficiency (far as I can tell). This would be okay.

Health Freedom - More fear of internationalism here, coupled with incompetence on the part of the FDA, and I think I'm picking up something implied but not overtly stated about illegal drugs here. This opinion seems among his weaker phrased -if the FDA has not done a good job protecting us, what can we trust to fill that role? Fear of international standards has flaws when he fails to take into account the role the US has in shaping international standards (hint - it's big). I do agree wholeheartedly about the forced vaccination not being something the government can order, and a violation of civil liberties (even if that is an instance of health as a public good).

Home Schooling - this is more weirdness. Yay to educational freedom, yay to resisting national standards, but providing exceptions especially for home schoolers, and using the Department of Defense instead of the Department of Education to regulate homeschooling strikes me as suspect. Also, it ignores the economic realities of those who have no choice to send their kids to public school; situations where all these great benefits will have minimal impact on working class mothers (or fathers, for that matter).

Life and Liberty - He's right to life, and he has enough evidence to prove that he is seriously committed to this idea. Good for him, and a smart move to let states overturn Roe v. Wade (instead of another supreme court decision). I disagree with it all, but he sticks to his guns, no arguing that. Using "Life and Liberty" as the title for the section does bother me.

Privacy - I agree in full. The man has this right, and I fully support him fighting these battles in congress. Working against the Patriot Act, making sure that we don't need national ID cards, and letting information be more discrete (with the subsequent reduction of identity theft possibilities), is great stuff. Bonus points here to you, good sir.

Property Rights and Eminent Domain - This one has Ron Paul in a nutshell "Property rights are the foundation of all rights in a free society." I disagree, as stated above.

Racism - Bonus points for attempting to address the issue, and bonus points for looking at institutionalized racism as a problem. While not outright saying it, his opinion has the core basis to argue against Affirmative Action, and against anything that has race as a requirement. Interesting, but the rest becomes fluff about rugged individualism, which is a concept of the American that died out (in practical terms) about a century ago, with the closing of the frontier, and that has yet to die completely in the public consciousness.

Social Security - repealing tax on Social Security rings like one of those "oh, duh" moments. As for keeping the system from paying out to illegals, I'm pretty sure there are plenty of illegals who get payroll taxed (meaning they pay into the system), but excepting that it makes cold, heartless sense. Also, letting those younger opt out (more or less), while still rewarding seniors who have paid into the system seems like the free market thing to do. Comprehensive promise, but... I mean, this is FDR's touchstone. FDR may be out of date, but this was good. Eh, I'm resistant to change - Paul may have the right idea here. It's, at the least, an original idea.

The Second Amendment - Well, the strict constitutionalist likes his guns. He;s smart about it, though, and says "this right is the guardian of every other right", which is a truism as the founders intended. I'm historically ambivalent about gun control, both wanting to not be shot, and also not wanting to have no recourse against an oppressive government. While the government has bombers and nukes, I think this right is more trivial, since no war of scale could be waged on behalf of citizens against the gov't, and instead guns will, as always, fuel crime and concerns about crime. I'll object to Ron Paul here, instead, for sponsoring "H.R. 1146 [which] would end our membership in the United Nations, protecting us from their attempts to tax our guns or disarm us entirely."
The UN is not nearly as big and scary as you want it to be, Mr. Ron Paul, and if it was, it'd be overthrown by a rebellion of most if not all member states. You want to cripple a three-legged dog, for fear that it may one day learn chase after children and brutally murder them. I think you are wrong here.

War and Foreign Policy - Despite his statements to the contrary, the man is an isolationist. This is all great stuff (again excepting the fear of the United Nations), and he knows how a foreign policy shouldn't be run. I don't think he knows how one should be run, as he quotes men who were not world leaders so much as they were leaders of a nation just barely in the world. I also have no idea what threat he feels is necessary to recall all our armies home to defend against. The last few lines might be about exercising soft power, which is a good thing.

Conclusion

Ron Paul is the ideal candidate for 1916. He has the right attitude, the right free market/strict constitutionalist/federal minimalist approach to better suit a long gone era in US history. Some of what he says holds true today, but on the whole, I cannot support the man. He is too wary of any good coming from governments. He fails to understand the United Nations. He has no concept of the Common Good. He believes in individual rights, to the point where I am convinced he could argue the dissolution of the state back to the level of the individual, and still have fanatical followers.
He's interesting, certainly, and it will be fascinating to watch how the republican candidate adapts to appeal to his constituency. I hope it's towards his war and privacy stances, or perhaps his health care or environmental opinion. He is, after all, not the worst man for the job, but he isn't an incredible candidate either. He would have great supreme court selections, and he would have a serious deadlock with congress all the time. Beyond that, we'd have four years of pleasant stagnation, with hopefully some small changes in the above mentioned areas, and minimal damage to the federal governments capabilities to satisfy the vital duties of a state.

~

I may well do another of these (the full clusterf*** is unlikely), but reading through campaign literature is very low on the fun scale. If you have a candidate you'd like me to evaluate, feel free to drop it in the comments, and if I do it, it'll be during winter break

Monday, November 26, 2007

Globalization and the Desert

At lunch in Albuquerque recently, a friend mentioned the efforts she went to to make a local Thanksgiving. It was an impressive display of work, especially given that it was both November and Albuquerque, and at the table we all spent time discussing the sustainability of our chosen desert home.

The meal ended before my thoughts finished forming, but here they are, in amazing bullet-point-o-vision
  • Albuquerque could probably only have a small population, if the population insisted on a local food supply
  • Agriculture in this state is very water intensive
  • Water is a terribly limited resource in this state
  • In terms of capital generated relative to water used, urban industry and urban living win out over local farming
  • Without this usage of water, Albuquerque would not be what it is today, and it takes a bit of technology and wealth to sustain this state of being (as evidenced by Albuquerque being 300+ years old, but only growing with any decency over the past 60 or so years)
  • Aurora, Colorado is a wealthy urban (really suburban) area that has water problems, but bought up the entire water of a Colorado County. That county had previously been agricultural dependent, and all I can imagine now is that it is SOL
So, what is the best use of water? Local food, and small population, or high-value urban water used to attract and sustain a city that has the money spent to pull in food from elsewhere?

Globalization seems to favor our desert city sticking to high technology at discount rates, with low land costs and lots of intellectual capital. Farming is mostly done elsewhere already, and the city is supported by the Labs, the Base, and Intel. Agriculture's place in a truly global economy is uncertain, but I can almost guarantee that it isn't in Albuquerque. Not when Albuquerque water has a much higher value sustaining the city as is.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Blog Readability

cash advance

Well, this fits my arrogance quite nicely, and bodes well for my blog functioning as the pretentious external brain I've always wanted.

Of course, it doesn't bode well for readers, but since when have blogs been about readers? Right. Since always.

This does give me the opportunity to state that, as you've probably figured out, my blog isn't really anything like appropriate for the blog mold. This is me playing around with the ideas for future essays and papers, full of my thought and very light on references. The kind of writing I really enjoy, but the kind that is highly suspect and perhaps intellectually bankrupt. I can talk a good game, but I can't yet defend it, which I suppose is a big point of the college education.

In the meantime, I'll direct you to the more accessible blog that pointed me in this direction, and then do final packing before returning to that little desert city I love.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Narwhal Windup

The post that this immediately follows is bleak, and while I felt the need to write it, and I think it has a purpose, I can't in good faith recommend it as something fun to read. So, this is here, before an angsty thing (and it owes it's name to a tradition on boing boing, which as a further parenthetical, you should be reading if you aren't). And, finally, the content.

My Pandora radio station
(another thing I heartily recommend) keeps pulling up Beatles-esque music, and has finally gotten around to the Across the Universe soundtrack. Can't wait to see that film. Anyone in Albuquerque waiting to see it?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lights Out All Over

[Disclaimer - this is a bleak one, and is best thought of as a companion piece to this article. If you've read that, and still feel like delving into revisionist pre-apocalypse nuclear policy, read on. If not, it's perfectly understandable, and one day I'll blog about kittens and how awesome sunsets are.]

I don't know how quickly the connection was made between September 11th, 2001 and a new era in nuclear policy, but we're sitting six years after the fact, and sixty two years after nuclear weapons came into existence. Increasingly, the end of the Cold War seems to be an interlude and a reorganizing, and less of an end to nuclear fear. Surely, the fears are different, but we've moved from mutually assured destruction to random acts of extremists. If one fears things on a personal level (and most people tend to), the fact that one random nuclear strike would not be nearly as devastating as a full launch of a nuclear arsenal is not a comfort. Extremists are random if weak; nations can be strong but are usually more predictable. And, as fear works, the one random strike is just as likely to kill kid A on the street as the full launch would be. If any statement better epitomized the disconnect between rational brain and the fearful brain, it was when John Kerry said that someday terrorism will only be a nuisance. No one thinks in terms of nuisance's - they will see themselves as victims, and random crime will inevitably hit home.

I don't see nuclear war in the future; the remote possibilities of Pakistan/India or Israel/Iran are still present, but will be as localized as nuclear war can be, and will only devastate earth in bits and pieces. The more likely scenario, the new scenario, is that some nukes will be used. A few, here and there, with devastation that nations can survive. The perpetrators will not long survive these things, but that won't matter - given the current population, people are incredibly cheap and delivery systems are expensive. Weapons themselves are expensive, but a whole cadre of nations will exist that can look favorably at a world where they lose nuclear weapons and their enemies suffer terrorist attacks. These won't, almost as a rule, be democratic or wealthy countries. They will be run by elites, those who see power as a game and apply Machiavellian insight to the usage of the most powerful weapon ever created.

Realpolitik hasn't been practiced lately because it's a zero sum game, and everyone is afraid of upsetting the balance and getting less. At some point, people without anything are going to be willing to go to lengths to increase their worth. A stable dictatorship, if oppressive, will look much better than an impotent republic or a formerly opulent empire. This changes the zero sum game, where no new values are put in, but some are lessened. Nothing looks a lot better when everyone else is sitting on negative values.

This isn't the way it has to go, and it's far too abstracted to have much relevance on how things will be. It's a possibility, though, and its one that lines up more with a Bush Doctrine view of the world. This view holds that terrorists act, if not at the behest, than with the explicit consent of sponsor states. These people are opposed to the United States, it's wealth and values, and the whole of the Western world. For the United States to do nothing, in this world view, is folly, and as a corollary, diplomacy is inaction. This doctrine holds that it is not safe to refrain from using power, and that any state capable and willing to sponsor terrorism must be forcibly prevented from doing so. This is why weapons of mass destruction were the reason given for invading Iraq, and why the invasion has failed by its own tenets.

Pakistan, as the article discussed, is a state much more likely to provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, and so Pakistan was either to be courted or attacked. The United States, being sensible, decided that bringing Pakistan into line ('courting' is too weak a phrase for the policy) made more sense than invading the foremost nuclear Muslim state. In this process, the Bush Doctrine admitted a fatal error: it allowed Pakistan to come on board and keep it's nukes. Alliance through disarmament may have been too much to ask for, but it was essential for this policy to work. Losing the alliance with Pakistan, after having helped them disarm, would have been disappointing but not globally destabilizing. Losing a nuclear Pakistan is terrifying. Expediency, as in most military affairs, was a flaw, and a consequence is the current political situation in Pakistan. The pro-US dictator is holding onto power, and more or less has to if Pakistan's nuclear capability is not to be let loose piecemeal. Piecemeal nukes are terrifying.

This isn't a good thing, and I can't ignore the decent person voice that says that the democracy protesters are right, that this dictator is bad, and that the general will of the people comes before preserving unfair power structures. This isn't good, and the whole affair is too rough a thing, too unjust a thing to let slow change fix. But this is what it demands. Ideology inevitably gives way to realpolitik, and to justify it I'd have to extend this social contract to the whole human community.

I'm not doing that. I'm not forgiving oppression. But it's a bleak day, a bleak era, and while it isn't 1939 all over again, it feels a good deal like January 1936.

United Nations Quickie

A longer post was planned, but I've learned to censor myself when it comes to meandering semi-autobiographical prose (thank you masters of western thought), and so here is the barest idea of what had been written.

The United Nations Paradox

1. The United Nations is weak and ineffective, because it has very little power and authority.

2. If the United Nations had more power, that power would come at the expense of national sovereignty, and this will lead to an oppressive world government that no one wants and many already fear.

This perspective baffles me, but if it is indeed the view held by many, it makes sense for why everyone thinks the United Nations is a joke. Doesn't make sense for why people still let the UN exist, and doesn't leave much more than simple idealism as the possible reason for the United Nations creation.

This can't be right. I'll have to look more into this, which means a follow up post to this one in December. Until then, I'll wear my peacekeeper beret, display my UN flag, and proudly support what most people consider a laughingstock.

Sounds good

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Back into the Fray: Vocational Style

APS Pepsi
Today I received in physical mail an article published in the Albuquerque Journal on November 7th. The article is short, but I'm not a big fan of the journal online, so I'll just quote the meaningful bits here.

"We've created an environment where we want every child to go to a four-year collegiate program," she said. Cole said there's a stigma attached to students who don't. But recognizing that all don't want the same future "allows students to choose a nondegree track if they wish and have that be an honorable decision."

I talk a lot about education, and an idea I've voiced in class that has yet to make it to the blog is that the notion of "every student can go to college!" is wrong and flawed. First qualifier - the big deal here is the use of "every". If it was just "any", that would be fine, and it would make sense for resources to be provided. After all, no one wants to be told that their kid can't make it to college. That will lead to all kinds of nasty territory, and that is not really a productive use of energy.

But to say that every student can go to college is wrong. It is a lie, and in a school district with a dropout rate close to 50% (under, but close), it seems to me criminal.

College isn't for everyone. 25% of Americans graduate from college. Public school serves more than 25% of Americans, and while it is realistic to expect that number to increase, it is unrealistic to expect it to increase that dramatically. College is not for everyone, and in a state where cost is increasingly becoming, if not a non-issue, much less of an issue, we should be content with the job already being done on this front, and focus on other problems.

The drop-out rate, say.

A solution to this, and a solution that the Great Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce (source of the quote above; and yes, I can hardly believe I agree with them) is to provide more vocational education, and to work with the city's secondary and post-secondary institutions. This makes lots of sense, and while the GACC may well want this to create a greater pool of skilled workers to attract investment, I see this as a way to make school meaningful for kids who don't see the point to taking math up to calculus, or the point of taking algebra 2/trig at all. Or even for the kids who see no point to history. Doesn't matter - if they don't think the college prep course is meaningful, they won't find the watered-down college prep (in path not quality) regular education system meaningful. And, well, vocational school, the trades and what not, they are more immediately meaningful. They're useful. And they're useful and meaningful for the youths who hear all this praise of college, know that college isn't for them, and don't know where to go next, except straight into the job market.

It's rather pathetic to not devote any resources to them.

~

Image by Esther

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hiatus

I'll be taking a break from blogging for a bit, heralded by last weeks lack of a post, and I probably won't post for a week more, maybe two. Schoolwork takes priority, and also seems to be taking all my interesting ideas.

I have more I want to say, and I will say it, but I want things a tad more polished than they have been, and perhaps more logically constructed. See you all (all three of you) in thanksgiving, if not before then.

(Image came to me uncited. Sorry if that irks you)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Education Reform on the Soviet Extreme

The New York Times today has a story about failing school ins California on its front page. Short column, little above the fold. The story reads, more or less, like the stories the Journal has put out, talking about how no one is really in any way satisfied with the state of things. Follow the law, repeal the law, allow transfers, have more schools that are succeeding to transfer students to, let schools take advantage of free tutoring provided after three years of failure, reorganize school radically after five years of failure (two years of allowing students to transfer out, two years of providing them with tutoring), blah de blah blah.

The problems that go into this are many, the approaches to fixing it varied. In this very space, I've discussed New Orleans, and the varied solutions New Orleans itself is pursuing. It's all well and good, but today, a different approach.

Every city, every single American city that has more than one elementary school, that has more than one middle school/junior high, that has more than one high school would have to adopt this reform.

Build one campus. One vast, vast campus, a beast of a thing, and ideally located in such an inconvenient place that every student has to be bussed in. Every student, of course, will be bussed in. No driving and dropping students off, and no student parking lots. This is to be a monolithic, homogeneous entity.

Every grade will have a building, large enough to accommodate the reasonable fluctuations in a cities population, and large enough to deal with a significant amount of expansion. In fact, each grade building, just to make this whole thing more towering, should have double the capacity expected of it. Every grade will have teachers who commit to that grade for five years or so, and an administration that has no opportunity for reassignment until ten years, at the least, have passed. Monetary recompense will be available so that advancement need not mean giving up a job one is doing well; gross negligence, high crimes, and treason will be valid reasons to get rid of people. Staff will need to be committed to this job, but at the same time there must be some form of pressure, so that this is not a guaranteed job whose performance is irrelevant to pay.

So, we have now 13 schools on a vast stretch of land, serving the entirety of a city, and each committed to a single grade, K-12. Add a 14th school, to allow for pre-k (and to allow for a lucky number of adventurers). There is no flexibility between grades for teachers, and a good deal of versatility in the education system is lost. Now every student can be reasonably expected to be educated the same. There will be no grade skipping, and there will be no honors tracking. If the school decides to have an honors system, it will have to provide a full array of educational specialty, assignment being made at a given year based on IQ test scores taken at the beginning of the year. Arbitrary, certainly, but with annual re-evaluation. Students will not be held back, and will advance with their peers, even if the class they go into is at a grade level or two lower. This hyper-tracking may be as inadvisable as no tracking, but the important thing is that the decision is made once, for the whole nation, and no greater deviance is allowed.

Test scores will be taken twice each year - once when kids enter the grade, and once when they exit. Test scores, for evaluation of teaching ability, will come from two set-ups. One will be end learning over beginning learning. The second will be from last years end learning to this years end learning, based not on "last years fourth graders were better than this years fourth graders", but based on "this years fifth graders show significant improvement over last years fourth graders". At an annual conference for all the teachers and administrators, the people who created the tests will come in and explain what the test results mean, as will knowledgeable critics. Test scores will be shown to teachers in such a way that, while individual teachers need not be implicated and blamed for having a disproportionate number of challenging students, deficits in what these kids are learning will be identified, and this knowledge can be passed on from the teachers who had the students to the 6teachers who will have the students.

The ideal here, the goal of this leviathan of education, is to create such a beast of homogeneity that as many variables are humanly possible can be controlled. This in universal nationwide so that the affluent don't flee to different cities, and that should be combined with a full shutdown of all private school, so that option is gone as well. Given nothing else, no other alternatives, people will make the public education system work, will have to make the public education system work, and inherent flaws will be dealt with and worked through by all parents and students, not just those with no other options.

This is not really an idea I endorse, but I fervently believe in giving every radical notion the full inspection that rational ideas are afforded. "Like the good archer, we aim to high, so that falling short, we still hit our goal"

And with Machiavelli paraphrased, I think it is time for me to go off to work. Tutoring, in a New Orleans school.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Social Science Made Relevant

On Friday, this article ran on the front page of the New York Times. Front page, above the fold, left corner.

I got around to reading it this morning, time and news both being slow in Louisiana. The article is very well written, and is more or less required reading (the NYT being free online now, this shouldn't be a problem). This is not required reading in the sense of "if you want to understand this blog post, you should read this." Blog posts are ultimately far too trivial to warrant a "required". This is required reading in the sense of "if you are a decent human being, you will read this." My criterions for being a decent person are rather biased, but read this. I'll give you plenty of time.

Good, good, keep going.

Okay. I'll assume you're done now.

This is the most brilliant military innovation since, well, diplomats, far as I am concerned.

We have here a fusion of academia and its flaunted understanding, and the military with its desire to act. Taken independently, we'll get books critiquing what should be done from people who are removed from the situation, and we'll get get soldiers acting without any connection to these enlightened policies churned out by intellectuals.

With deployment alongside the military, cultural anthropologists can augment the military with a whole array of capabilities that have little to do with winning battles, but have everything to do with maintaining order. The best evidence that this is a good idea? Since February, the 82nd airborne (to which anthropologists are deployed) has reduced combat operations by 60%.

This is huge.

HUGE.

60%.

For an entirely unrealistic example, this is World War II, with only the European theater, both fronts, but no rest of the world.

60% reduction in combat operations is just plain incredible. That it does so through a program that facilitates discussion, positive tribal interactions with US forces, and the simple premise that things are more complicated than merely shooting can resolve, is incredible. Just plain incredible.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Thank You Jim Lehrer

Ann Coulter is coming to Tulane. A one-night thing, nothing more, and she was invited by a student group.

She bothers me on a fundamental level, and I said rather loud and un-nice things about her at people who said she was the proverbial shit. It isn't really a dignified thing, and as someone who holds compromise and intelligent discourse as the highest political ideals, I can't say I'm fond of this. I've said to several people I'd prefer Ahmadinejad came, but then I'm reminded of the shambles that Columbia made of his visit, refusing to either provide a forum for discourse with a very important world leader, or by providing a snub to a man considered one of the greatest threats to the current world order.

I cannot stomach a debate that is holier-than-thou-isms, and I realize that this statement is itself, hypocritically, a holier-than-thou-ism. So, to be more effective, I am deeply troubled and fundamentally concerned that debate in the halls of academia is fostering a petty sensationalism and functions on exclusionary principle. And, let me be honest, I would be mildly less miffed if Michael Moore came, but I would be just as annoyed at the vapid following and the unquestioned obedience people give to their chosen radical. This isn't intelligent, informed discussion, and this isn't what I like about politics. This isn't discourse, and I refuse to boil it down to some petty slogan along the lines of "this is recourse".

I'm not sure what to do. If I go, I can attempt to have a discourse about what she said. If I don't, I can go to a park and play frisbee at night with decent people.

huh. Looks like my mind is made up.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Letting Schools Fail

This is brief, and with luck I'll get to expand on it later. Education in New Orleans is in an experimental stage right now, and lots going on that I keep finding out about is worth taking note of.

I'll go with something that is a little bleak. School are now getting closer and closer to a business motive, not yet attached to a true profit motive, but getting close . Money is linked to tests, schools that produce kids who do well on tests continue to get money, and in New Orleans, there are a few dozen different approaches being presented as to how these schools work. The Cowen Institute is emerging as a big player, and Cowen (while president of Tulane) is a business man. His ideas and his input for how to make things work come from the world of business, and so we are seeing an interesting new direction. At its best, schools function like franchises, and are given enough freedoms to fix problems, initiate new programs, and act quickly. At its worst, schools can fail to the point of what would be bankruptcy, at which point in the business world the failed model is culled from the herd, and the customers go elsewhere.

In order for this new experiment of New Orleans schools to succeed, the best has to be differentiated from the worst by some sort of culling process, and the end result of this is two-fold - A new, functioning system is designed, and some students who had the misfortune to go to failed schools are screwed. For the business model to work, this has to be present, and at the moment I'm looking at both a capitalist dream and a civic failure, that may well look like a success for both in eighty years, but it will take the death of every student screwed over to leave this as a clean slate.

//angst

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Settlers of Cataan

This is an adorable podcast interview of Klaus Teuber and his son Guido. Klaus designed Settlers of Cataan, which is a fantastic boardgame, as testified to here (the second link is one more suitable for home viewing, and best taken with humor and prior knowledge of the game).

Settlers of Cataan was a game I was first introduced to many years okay, at the age of eleven or twelve. It's wonderful, this virgin island that turns into a little contest of hardcore economic imperialism, with soldiers that are little more than robber barons and take a backseat to the machinations of trade.
The first time it reemerged recently was as the way my family spent my second-to-last night in Albuquerque before going off to college. We had a fantastic time, a rather unconventional map, and the game felt not so much new as fresh - it was unlike any other time I had played Cataan, and that was great.
The second time it came up was when I was reading Cronon's Natures Metropolis for my urban history class. Economic systems, the wealth of the surrounding hinterland being drawn in, and many cities, all interdependent, but vying for supremacy as the primary economic powerhouse are parts of both Settlers of Cataan and, well, the history of Chicago. I mentioned this to my professor, who had never heard of the game. I sent links, with long-term local game group plans forming in my head. (Or at least, whims of including game mechanics in a future research paper).

I also found the above podcast, which is just wonderful. It's a father and son talking about games design, with the family as the testing ground, and family game night as this wonderful period of interaction. Klaus mentions the "ghost" that gaming creates, and hints at this other entity that animates the room, that adds to the intensity and the fun of sitting with people you know and plotting, to their face, their demise (or, if you are like one higher-minded family member, your ascendancy; not everyone is motivated by spite). The games I enjoy most have this multi-person interaction. It's why I'd rather play spoons than Texas Hold 'em, or why I prefer Diplomacy to chess. Gaming is a social activity, and it should have it's share of social interaction - the muted, stifled tone that hardcore competitive games breeds is just, well, no fun. And what's the point without fun?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Makes Me Proud

My underground newspaper has grown up. Or at least, it's on its own, mostly, like adult kindergarten or the teen years. The first issue made entirely without my knowledge, input, effort, or anything had been produced, and is now up at the blog, linked on the sidebar and here.

It's rough-ish, being topical and holiday centric, and so only barely hits upon the social commentary it can grow into. But, its a zine, a free underground paper, and one that has outlived my time at high school. Training wheels off, here's hoping they make it okay.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

On Guilt

I'm going to start this off by saying that I missed the Jena Six protest on Thursday. The big one, with thousands of people, where the NAACP and other like organizations specifically called for white allies, so that they could challenge the racist notions of the ruling bodies of that town.

I didn't make it. And, to be perfectly honest, I didn't know that it was happening on Thursday until it was Thursday afternoon. I didn't know the call had gone out for white allies, and I didn't know that pitifully few white allies had shown up at the rally.

My ignorance here seems to be rather steep. To the point where it lines up rather nicely with apathy, an outsider could construe, and perhaps the delightful concerned citizen who informed me of all this drew that conclusion. With luck, they are a better person than that, and just needed to let someone know how much it hurt them, hurt there ideals, their notions of society, to have seen such a pathetic turnout. There was some degree of dismay, some of anger, and some of shock and lots of disappointment in the one-sided conversation.

I listened attentively, having been called out and correctly identified as having gone through YRUU anti-racism training. And, to be fair, I'm in New Orleans because of a commitment to social justice. The Jena Six, this great big, latter-day showcase of racism and unfair power structures, is the current Big Deal, and don't get me wrong, it is one. It's big enough to warrant
a large outpouring, a tremendous show in support of the accused. And I missed it; I was, in fact, ignorant of the rally, and it was well within my ability to find out, to show up, to protest, to even mobilize my peers towards such action. But, I didn't.

There is no changing of the past that can be done. That isn't how the past works, and so rather than being rallied, motivated towards some new great work, I was left there, listening to someone who knows superficially my commitment to justice, and told about how it was all a failure, and then told to go forth and organize my peers. No specific objective was given; it seemed to be an after-the-fact thing, like organize your peers to make up for the sin of not having been there today. Perhaps this entry's title and my tone give it away, but this was not a pleasant conversation. This was one of those moments where the appropriate course of action was to take on the guilt of the dozens who don't care. This is the moment where the kid sitting in class is scolded, while his tardy peers get off without the talk. This was a rather intense laying-it-on, as it were. I messed up, and Unitarians lack formal penance.

At one point, I asked what could be done. What work is there still to do, what more is needed, what can I do to help the cause, to atone for my well-established failure.

I was told nothing more than I had missed it. That this was the big one, the new mobilizing for another campaign in the Civil Rights movement, which now has less choice of battlegrounds and so must be ready whenever a situation is presented, unorchestrated as it may be. these are tougher battles, and the call had gone out, and I had missed it. There is nothing more to do.

This is useless guilt. This is guilt that has bluntly removed itself from a valid purpose. If there was more action to take, I would have been as ready for that as a three-time murder being told by Pope Urban II that if I took the cross to the holy land, I still had a place in heaven. But there was no plea, nothing more than a vague "be ready" given to hint at a way to absolve this. This Guilt has done nothing more than harm, and while all guilt comes with harm, it is considered good form to include healing instructions as well.

So, On Guilt - if there is no specific aim, no greater action that this guilt will make the individual undertake, if there is no social justice that can come as the result of it, it has very, very little place in, well, anything, really. It alienates allies, it lessens sympathy, and it gives off an unpleasant "holier-than-thou" attitude. It's a detrimental thing, and people eager to do good work don't need that, not without instruction.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Power of Informality

I come from a big church - in excess of 600 members, which is astounding for a denomination that considers big to be 200-250 people. So, being at the New Orleans church, with it's regular membership of about 80, is a new experience for me. It's this hard core of UUs, the group that will always be there but that my church has more or less moved beyond. Not that they aren't important, not that they aren't valued members and great people, but as the hard core, they are no longer integral. Not everyone does everything anymore.
This is, at its heart, something that can only exist in a small setting, like why communes can function but the USSR collapsed (very surface analogy there). This is a congregation in a very different sense than I am used to - this is a community, and informality is the guideline here, even in matters that seem to me to be beyond the reach of mundanity. This is discourse during a ritual, this is letting the whole thing be something other than a tightly run affair. It's a gathering of friends, an open house, where great words happen to be said and hymns happen to be sung. It is more involved and on a whole different level than I am used to. This is not a ritual of which the layperson has a part - this is a ritual that would not exist if every layperson didn't do there part. It's fumbling papers, mistakes admitted at the pulpit, and announcements shouted out from the audience. It is impressive, but it is so alien to me. It works, it works really well for the core, and I can now sympathize with what people have lost as the church grows. But the grandeur, the deep significance and overwhelming spirit of the sacred that the full church offers is nothing I would give up.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11 to 10/30. ~ I miss you, Roy ~

I was 12 for 9/11. I saw the second plane hit on TV as I went inside my friend Joe's house. I was a little early for the bus. My science class had a field trip today, and that went off fine. Caleb's father, an Air Force man, drove us out to Tent rocks. We joked, being middle school boys (of course, the passenger load was all male) and worried that Albuquerque might be a target, because we had an Air Force base, and everyone knew the mountains were full of nuclear weapons.

My father left work early, unable to grind through the job when something so gravely profound had just happened. He went home, to be with the family, who trickled in. I came back from the field trip, my brother from 4th grade, and mom came home from a day of substitute teaching.

At his elaborate retirement community, my Grandfather heard the news, and rapidly began the descent that ended in a hospital next November. I think, more than anything, more than the lung cancer, 9/11 is what broke him. He was a diplomat, you see. This was his life, this preventing and forestalling tragedy. He was crucial in the first Camp David peace accords, he had met multiple times with Yasser Arafat on behalf of the United States. This was a man who knew the middle east, as well as any outsider could, and he cared deeply for a peaceful solution to what always seems to manifest itself as an unending problem. 9/11 broke him.

I can't really separate the events now. There's over a year overlap, and the events were separate enough at the time. Just - this man was the inspiration to me, not so much from when I knew him, but from what I knew about him. He fits in my pantheon somewhere. My reaction to 9/11 will always include that, will include promises sworn at cemeteries by an idealistic 13-year-old, and will always have the whole distance that New Mexico brings to worldly events. I didn't really lose anyone, I had no one I worried for after the event. I just allowed the world to have its profound affect on my emerging adolescence.

So it goes.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Gods of Arr-Kelaan

I've been getting back into old webcomics recently, and stumbled upon one of my all time favorites that is still going, The Gods of Arr-Kelaan. It's a fantastic tale, and offers one of the most incredible, most in-depth created worlds I have ever seen. The premise got its start in a long, complicated process, the core of which is having no god for a character in a role playing game. Ronson, the most consistent protagonist of TGoAK, became the ideal lazy roleplayers god - he is apathetic, hates getting prayers, and spends his time drinking.

I'm unsure what happened to the game, but the setting moved on. A world populated by gods made out of everyday modern flawed folk (Ronson can come across as a much saner Homer Simpson, and on the whole is more redeeming than that) came into being, and in addition to the god of apathy, we have gods of wealth, knowledge (a former scholar), and a few of justice (one of whom treats his godhood as though he is a new superhero). The comic weaves in the origins of these modern folks godhood with several stories that develop the mere mortals, and how the populace of this world interact with a brand new pantheon of divinely gifted but rather less divinely driven people.

The story, while rather long, is worth a read from start to finish, and it reads differently than most webcomics. It's done in formal page layout, in a style that just feels like it should be thumbed through carefully before being stored in a plastic bag in a basement somewhere. The comic is actually available like that in print form, but what was the most exciting discovery is available here - to go forward, you'll have ti click and drag the corners of the pages. GO ahead and do this even if you haven't read any of the comic.

Got it?

Fantastic. This is incredible stuff, at least in my modest evaluation. It's "physically" turning pages online! This is so many degrees of neato-cool.