The Silver Lining

The Silver Lining

Did Frankenstorm take America off a Path to Catastrophe?

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

October 31st, 2012

First, I am truly sorry for the death and destruction that the Frankenstorm visited upon people in the Northeast. For the vast majority, the storm means a few days without power, and perhaps talks with insurance adjusters over payments for storm damage. For those who lost loved ones or their homes, my deepest regrets.

Coming as it did, a week before a presidential election, it’s impossible not to look at the political calculus of the storm. If the election were as truly close as some of the polls suggested, then the fallout from the storm seems to be strongly favoring Obama.

It isn’t just that it happened while he was President, and the country always gives support to the President in times of national challenge. Merely pointing that political fact out is significantly less cynical than the Republicans, who, days after 9/11, started trying to parlay that massive catastrophe into a tax cut for the rich. Give billionaires tax cuts or the terrorists win. It was pretty disgraceful.

In this instance, there were several other factors that exacerbated the boost that Obama got at the expense of Romney.

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Something in the Air

Something in the Air

Climate Change affects the election

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

October 28th 2012

Once again, a rogue weather pattern has everyone transfixed this weekend. This time it’s “Frankenstorm”, the aptly named confluence of a hurricane, a nor’easter, an arctic blast, and a winter storm from the Pacific. They’re supposed to more-or-less merge over New England, and up to a million square miles of northeastern America and southeastern Canada are going to see some of the wildest weather seen since at least 1991 (“The Perfect Storm”) or 1938 (“The Labor Day Hurricane”) or, well, whenever. I’m hoping, for the sake of the hundred or so million people in the region, it turns out to be a bit of a fizzle. In part because I don’t want people to suffer, and partly because the region is a Democratic stronghold. Well, OK, Quebec and Ontario not so much, but they’re far enough to the northeast that it will probably turn into an unusually large snowstorm, something they can deal with.

It comes right after four debates over the past month in which the topic of climate change was never mentioned. That’s something that affects people far more than abortion, gay marriage, defense spending, taxes or even Obama’s college transcripts. For starters, it will cost them far more, and is more likely to kill or dispossess them than any of the items listed.

Back last March, a heat wave struck the same region now ducking the wrath of Frankenstorm and sent temperatures soaring 10, 15, even 20 degrees—not above normal, but above all-time records for the dates. Just imagine if a pattern like that set up in July! It not only can happen—it will.

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Cultthink

Cultthink

When knowledge is an opinion, ignorance is king

 

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

October 22nd, 2012

 

No matter how this election turns out, the fact remains that the United States is a desperately sick society. You have nearly half the population apparently reduced to the status of religious cult members, and it’s only getting worse.

There’s even a tacit admission among the enablers of this cult that such a situation exists, in that they claim that everyone who doesn’t think like them is also a cult. It’s a false equivalency, of course. It’s possible for liberals, labor unionists and other groups to disagree with the Democrats and with each other without being dismissed and even excluded as heretics. In the great American cult, grown adults are expected to reject evolution and climatology, and pretend that the idea behind America was that authorities would tell the people what to do and how much they could make doing it, and not the other way around.

The greatest vulnerability in the American national character is the distaste for education. Day in and day out, it’s inculcated in movies, TV shows and the newspaper comics and nearly all other forms of entertainment that school is boring, tedious, an unwelcome intrusion in an otherwise idyllic existence.

It isn’t the entertainment industry that is to blame, and it isn’t the schools themselves, even though between zero-tolerance authoritarianism and the inflexible, grinding stupidity of “teaching to the test,” schools are rapidly going downhill.

Kids in America are taught to hate school, and this becomes, in far too many, contempt for education as they grow older.

There’s a British television show called “Skins” that I like to watch. The acting is good, and the writing is sometimes stellar. It’s probably no more representative of typical teen life than any other show about teens, but it has considerable depth and a sense of honesty about it missing from a lot of TV series. Now, with a few exceptions, these aren’t model kids. They drink, they do drugs, they have sex, they get into brawls, they fight with their parents. Where the show is strikingly different from American counterparts—and it’s a theme I see with other British and Canadian series—is that the kids don’t hate school, don’t consider it uncool to be intelligent. They want desperately to do well on their “A” Levels, school tests that sort of combine American SATs with Hogwarts’ Sorting Cap. The kids help one another academically, even the ones who aren’t so bright and face a life on the assembly line. If they are found ignorant, they are actually embarrassed.

Ignorance is considered a personal flaw.

It used to be the same way in America. Call someone ignorant, and they would be angry. And the more ignorant they actually were, the more angry they would get. If someone didn’t know the Earth revolved around the sun (and 30% of Americans don’t know that) if you asked him how he failed to learn it in school, he would glower and call you a know-it-all or worse.

It was perplexing, this mixture of embarrassment and pride. In the next breath, he might grin and say, “Science was never my strong suit; I was more into chugging parties and babes.” Well, that might explain why he doesn’t know the Earth goes around the sun. But it’s not really something anyone would want to brag about.

You can very nearly tell if someone is British or American by how they react to the song “We Don’t Need No Education” by Pink Floyd. A Brit will tell you the song condemned the system for its uniformity and forced conformity; an America is likely to tell you that the kids are rebelling against school, period.

In recent years this American character flew has taken an ominous and perhaps deadly turn. Not only is ignorance socially acceptable (provided you don’t CALL it ignorance), but now it’s just a matter of opinion. If you call someone ignorant for not knowing the Earth revolves around the sun, you are likely to just get a condescending smile and be dismissed as one of those Copernican crackpots.

Forty percent of Americans “don’t believe in” evolution. They regard it, at best, as “just a theory” and at worst as a kind of competing heretical religion. A majority now accept that the climate is changing, but it took a long series of horrific weather events over the past year to convince some of them. Until then, the scientific evidence was “just a theory.” You know. An opinion.

Evolution isn’t an opinion. It’s a theory, just as gravity is. But it’s pretty hard to get around the fact that gravity exists, so people accept it as “real,” although any scientist will tell you we know a hell of a lot more about evolution than we do about gravity. The evidence for evolution is so pervasive and wide-ranging that it simply cannot be dismissed as “just a theory.”

Nonetheless, it’s not evident on a daily basis, so it gets dismissed by the pridefully ignorant and regarded as an opinion by this cult, along with climate change, Republican economics, or the notion that the US is in imminent danger of falling to Sharia Law. (That last one is actually somewhat true; the laws religious fundamentalists want to impose come from the Old Testament rather than the Koran, but they are the same laws, written by the same people thousands of years ago.)

When reality is reduced to the level of opinion, there is no longer any such thing as ignorance. Any opinion constitutes knowledge. There is no baseline for reality, and it makes it possible for people to reject any argument, no matter how compelling.

It’s a social mindset that one associates with societies that are in extremis; on the verge of utter collapse, without hope, scared to death and looking for any way out. That the things that frighten Americans so much are largely imaginary (Iran is not a significant threat, Islam isn’t out to destroy the US, Obama isn’t a Moslem communist, and Darwin wasn’t a sociopath bent on killing Jesus) doesn’t make the fear any less real, or any less deadly.

Societies at that stage usually implode, often with utterly horrific results. Germany in the 1930s. France in the 1780s. China in the 1940s. And now, America.

I doubt the election will change that in any significant way. For sane people the choice in this election, as in most of recent vintage, is a choice between being hanged quickly or being hanged slowly. Obama might try to slow the process, but by doing so, exacerbate it. Nothing frightens and angers a cultist more than questioning the Truths the cult has vouchsafed him, and the only recourse sane people have is to question those Truths.

It’s a dangerous situation for the country to be in.

Ignorance, when it becomes king, rapidly becomes a terrifying tyranny, and blood flows freely.

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Debate II

Debate II

The gloves come off, so do the Mittens

 © Bryan Zepp Jamieson

October 16th 2012

 Well, at least Obama showed up for this debate. And he called out Romney on several of his lies.

The funniest moment came when both Obama and the moderator, Candy Crowley, were both trying to get Romney to explain how his tax plan works. You remember that? Cut taxes for everyone, increase spending, and, using players to be named later, balance the budget. Obama even parenthetically mentioned the “six studies” that supposedly supported Romney’s claim, a claim that has been roundly debunked. Nobody in the GOP or out of it can give a coherent explanation of how this Five-point plan of his would work. And Romney kept dancing away from anything that might look like a specific.

Romney was again doing his not-Romney, Mr. Etch-a-Sketch, making all kinds of moderate noises. He’s now in favor of the free contraception it seems. Oh, and doesn’t want to round up and deport undocumented aliens.

At one point during the immigration question, Romney falsely claimed that the Democrats had a super-majority in both Houses. It’s a favorite claim of the GOP in general, but it’s just not true. The Dems at the outset had 57 seats in the Senate. After ten months, they got a 58th, the result of Senator Al Franken finally being seated following a protracted fight by the sore loser. By then, both Senators Kennedy and Byrd were extremely ill, and Kennedy died just a few months later. There was never a “super majority”. The Senate requires 60 votes against the filibuster.

Continue reading “Debate II”

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The Business of America

The Business of America

…is not business. It’s being a society.

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

October 20th, 2012

A favorite stance by Republicans and libertarians, especially this time of year when voter registrations are being trashed by Republican party operatives and the son of the Republican candidate owns the company that counts the votes in most of Ohio is that America should be run like a business. Just like they’re trying to do with the voting.

Why, by lying, cheating, and using economic force to get their way, they’re already trying to run America like a business, and this should be a clear and explicit warning to anyone who doesn’t want to end up as corporate chattel.

The notion, one that Mitt Romney explicitly stated during the second debate, is that if America is run like a business, by a businessman, it will be far more efficient. Efficiency’s a good thing, right?

The notion is one that rests very comfortably on bumper stickers and in Republican brains, but doesn’t bear any actual examination.

Running a country like a business is an absolutely horrible idea. It’s been tried before, you see. Holland tried it in the 15th century and eventually crashed, never to be a major power again. Italy tried it in the 1930s and 40s, with dismal results. The trains did NOT run on time. Indeed, they barely ran at all. Then Italy went to war for national glory, and all the trains got blown up. Spain has never quite recovered from the Franco years. China, while mouthing communist platitudes, is as business-oriented a country as you can find, and it is a huge-scale social and economic disaster waiting to happen. When that bubble bursts, hundreds of millions will die, and the rest of the world will be forced to see the conditions under which the Chinese lived as peons in a business state.

Continue reading “The Business of America”

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Debate the First

Obama versus not-Romney

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson
October 4th 2012

 

The first debate is fairly easy to sum up: notRomney painted Obama as ineffectual and wedded to policies that hurt the middle class. Obama painted notRomney as vague and more than a bit scary. In short, both were playing trope-versus-trope for all they were worth, and neither had anything substantive to say. Romney decided he was debating as notRomney, the Unrepublican.

It was fun watching notRomney kind of pretend that he wasn’t sure who this “Paul Ryan” was, or why people should be afraid of him. Three times he said that his plan was not a five trillion dollar tax cut without acknowledging that he had supported the Ryan plan—which would do exactly that—continuously over the past two years. It’s strange to see a Republican repudiate the notion that his plan would cause a large tax cut.

He doubled down on the false claim that Obamacare would cut Medicare by $716 billion. Obama refuted it the first time he claimed it, noting that it saved that amount, but without cutting any benefits for anyone. Continue reading “Debate the First”

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