Sunday, August 31, 2008
Saturday, August 30, 2008
News from the Votemaster
The Reaction to Sarah Palin
John McCain's surprise pick of Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) to be his running mate has already achieved one of its goals: it wiped Barack Obama's acceptance speech, which many people of both parties saw as a great speech, from the news completely. Palin is the only story today. Here are a few photos of her. The first one is from her run at the Miss Alaska contest, where she was runner up.
Most reaction to Palin was predictable. Republicans see her as a staunch conservative, a fresh new face, a reformer from outside Washington, and someone with executive experience, which neither Obama nor Biden have. Furthermore, as a woman, a mother with five children, and a moose hunter (and life member of the NRA) she will appeal to women, moderates, Westerners and cement the GOP base. She even rides a motorcycle, which working-class men will applaud. A brilliant pick. But even among dyed-in-the-wool conservatives there were some dissenters, like David Frum.
Democrats don't quite see it like that. They say she is a featherweight who is completely unprepared to be commander in chief. Her executive experience is primarily 21 months as governor of a state with a quarter the population of Brooklyn. She is strongly antiabortion, not exactly what the disgruntled Clinton supporters are looking for. In short, a disastrous pick for the GOP.
Most neutral observers are scratching their heads. McCain's strongest argument against Obama is that he doesn't have the experience to be President. How can his first major personnel choice be someone with demonstrably less experience than Obama (6 years as mayor of a village with 5400 people and 21 months as governor vs. 8 years in the Illinois state senate and 3 1/2 years in the U.S. Senate)? Doesn't that undermine his whole campaign? With so many solid choices available like governors Romney, Pawlenty, Sanford, and Ridge, why a total unknown who is being investigated by her own (Republican-controlled) legislature for possible ethical violations. What is McCain thinking?
The Veep: A Short Play in One Act
Sometimes fiction is a better vehicle for getting inside someone's mind. Besides, it's all we have. Here is a short play for two actors. Let's call them Schmidt, a tough, savvy consultant, and McCain, a candidate. All names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Schmidt: McCain, Get your ass over here and look at this map.
McCain: It's the U.S. with the states red and blue. Seen it before. What's your point?
Schmidt: Obama's gonna win all the Kerry States. You have a small chance to pick off New Hampshire but 60% of the people think you're pro choice. When they find out you've been pro life for 25 years, forget New Hampshire.
McCain: Where does that leave me?
Schmidt: Bush won 286 to 252.
McCain: Fine with me.
Schmidt: But wait a minute. Obama campaigned like crazy in Iowa. Won the caucuses big time. You barely set foot in the state. The people of Iowa take their caucuses very, very seriously. You insulted them. Make that 279 to 259.
McCain: I still win.
Schmidt: We're not done yet. Obama has been leading in New Mexico all year. State's full of Latinos. They preferred Clinton but they're still Democrats at heart. I think we're toast there. Now its 274 to 264.
McCain: A win is a win. Still better than Florida was.
Schmidt: Yeah, but now Obama is just 5 EVs short of a tie (which means it goes to the House and he'll win there) and 6 EVs short of a clean win. Look, there are six swing states this time: Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, and Nevada. We have to win all six of them. Can't lose a single state or we're dead meat.
McCain: I'm a fighter. You know that. The gooks couldn't break me. I'll campaign like hell in all six. Don't worry.
Schmidt: I'm worried. We're 50-50 on all six. It's like flipping a coin six times and getting six heads. One chance in 64, roughly 2%. We have to do something dramatic. Something that will throw all calculations out the window. Something that completely shakes up everything. Something that gives us a fresh start. Gotta hit the RESET button.
McCain: Have something in mind?
Schmidt: Yeah. Pick a black or a woman for Veep.
McCain: You mean I can't pick Joe? He's my friend and a great guy.
Schmidt: Half the convention would walk out. Besides, Jews aren't a novelty any more. Thank Gore for that.
McCain:. Shit. But blacks are fine with me. Colin Powell is a great American and one of the most respected people in the country.
Schmidt: He doesn't want the job
McCain: No sweat. Condi's the smartest woman I know. Mind like a bear trap. She'll run rings around Biden at the debate. She'll say: "I've been there. I talk to Putin every week. You're just an old windbag"
Schmidt: She's got "BUSH III" emblazoned on her forehead. And Obama is a happily married man with two adorable little girls, Condi's a single black woman who is apparently not much into families. Won't work. What about Kay [Bailey Hutchison (R-TX)]?
McCain: She's tired of the Washington rat race. She wants to go back to Texas. Be governor or something, you know like Ma Ferguson.
Schmidt: Ma's husband, the governor, was impeached and convicted. Ann Richards would be a better role model. What other women do we have?
McCain: Jodi [Rell] and Olympia [Snowe] are smart and popular but pro choice. The Base distrusts me already. They'd mutiny.
Schmidt: Elizabeth Dole? Susan Collins?
McCain: With either of those we lose a Senate seat. I don't want to have 60 Democrats to deal with over there. Reid might grow a spine. Can't encourage that.
Schmidt: Lisa Murkowski?
McCain: Her dad appointed her. She won on her own later, but I don't need to deal with nepotism and cronyism. Smells like Bush. I'm a maverick, remember?
Schmidt: Got it. Some businesswomen? Sarah Palin?
McCain: Carly [Fiorina] is great on economics, but she nearly she ran her company into the ground so the board fired her and then gave her $40 million so she wouldn't feel bad. The 20,000 people she fired aren't too keen on her. Meg Whitman did a fantastic job at eBay but nobody's ever heard of her.
Schmidt: So Palin's the only one left? What about her?
McCain: I met her once, at a governors meeting. Cute as a button. She ran for Miss Alaska. Came in second. I woulda voted for her. But it's a real Hail Mary pass. She's popular up north there where the sun never shines (except for some minor problems when she tried to fire her state trooper brother-in-law). She was pregnant with a Down syndrome baby and didn't abort him. The Base will love that. Her hobbies are riding her motorcycle and hunting moose. The coal miners in Appalachia will go wild over her. How fast can we print a million 8x10 color photos of her for their lockers?
Schmidt: Fast. But what about her experience. I mean, she's only been governor a year and a half. What did she do before that?
McCain: I think she was mayor of some village with six igloos. Who cares? I think you're right we have to shake things up completely. Change the game. The Base will eat her up on abortion, the Hillary fans will see that we respect women (unlike their guy). We grab the mantle of reformers. The white guys will be transfixed by this hot chick who hunts moose. I get to be Maverick-in-chief. Sounds like a winner.
Schmidt: What about the debate with Biden? What if the moderator says: "What would you do if Russia invaded Georgia again?" and she says: "I'll get on Air Force One and fly to Atlanta immediately."
McCain: Most Americans can't find Georgia the state on a map, let alone Georgia the country. I'll get Lugar to tutor her on foreign policy. He knows everything about it. I'm sold. Let's go for it.
Well, maybe that wasn't the exact dialog, but the core idea is true: they had to do something dramatic to have a chance and picking a woman was probably their best shot. And most of the candidates had some flaw or other. Palin had the fewest problems.
No state polls today [hence, the play--got to have some copy :-) ]. However, Obama is getting a bounce in the national polls. Gallup's tracking poll puts him ahead 49% to 41% and Rasmussen's tracking poll puts him ahead 49% to 45%. These are three day averages and all the interviews were done before Obama's acceptance speech. We could see more bounce tomorrow. But with the Republican convention starting Monday, it might fade fast.
Ramussen ran a poll Thursday on the various Veep picks, including Sarah Palin. The results: 14% have a favorable view of her, 18% have an unfavorable view of her, 67% have never heard of her. This means that both parties are going to scramble to define her. The Republicans will push the young reformer from outside Washington angle. The Democrats will say she makes Dan Quayle like look a graybeard. Traditionally, tickets are balanced by geography. This time they are balanced by age. Obama the newbie, picked one of the most inside of all the insiders. McCain the sage old warrior went for fresh blood to revitalize the party.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
Political conventions have been meaningless for forty years. Protests of same are, well, silly.
Any city that wants to host a convention deserves what it gets.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008
According to the Denver cops, bicycles are now terrorist tools.
Fewer cars? Start trapping bicyclists!
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Bush negotiates deal to withdraw all troops by 2011. Troops to leave urban areas by 30 JUN 09 (actual withdrawal date).
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Monday, August 18, 2008
Valor does not offer the measure of an army's greatness, nor does fortitude, nor durability, nor technological sophistication. A great army is one that accomplishes its assigned mission. Since George W. Bush inaugurated his global war on terror, the armed forces of the United States have failed to meet that standard.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush conceived of a bold, offensive strategy, vowing to "take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge." The military offered the principal means for undertaking this offensive, and U.S. forces soon found themselves engaged on several fronts.
Two of those fronts -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- commanded priority attention. In each case, the assigned task was to deliver a knockout blow, leading to a quick, decisive, economical, politically meaningful victory. In each case, despite impressive displays of valor, fortitude, durability and technological sophistication, America's military came up short. The problem lay not with the level of exertion but with the results achieved.
In Afghanistan, U.S. forces failed to eliminate the leadership of al-Qaida. Although they toppled the Taliban regime that had ruled most of that country, they failed to eliminate the Taliban movement, which soon began to claw its way back. Intended as a brief campaign, the Afghan war became a protracted one. Nearly seven years after it began, there is no end in sight. If anything, America's adversaries are gaining strength. The outcome remains much in doubt.
In Iraq, events followed a similar pattern, with the appearance of easy success belied by subsequent developments. The U.S. invasion began on March 19, 2003. Six weeks later, against the backdrop of a White House-produced banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished," President Bush declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." This claim proved illusory.
Writing shortly after the fall of Baghdad, influential neoconservatives David Frum and Richard Perle declared Operation Iraqi Freedom "a vivid and compelling demonstration of America's ability to win swift and total victory." Gen. Tommy Franks, commanding the force that invaded Iraq, modestly characterized the results of his handiwork as "unequalled in its excellence by anything in the annals of war." In retrospect, such judgments -- and they were legion -- can only be considered risible. A war thought to have ended on April 9, 2003, in Baghdad's al-Firdos Square was only just beginning. Fighting dragged on for years, exacting a cruel toll. Iraq became a reprise of Vietnam, although in some respects at least on a blessedly smaller scale.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. Just a few short years ago, observers were proclaiming that the United States possessed military power such as the world had never seen. Here was the nation's strong suit. "The troops" appeared unbeatable. Writing in 2002, for example, Max Boot, a well-known commentator on military matters, attributed to the United States a level of martial excellence "that far surpasses the capabilities of such previous would-be hegemons as Rome, Britain, and Napoleonic France." With U.S. forces enjoying "unparalleled strength in every facet of warfare," allies, he wrote, had become an encumbrance: "We just don't need anyone else's help very much."
Boot dubbed this the "doctrine of the big enchilada." Within a year, after U.S. troops had occupied Baghdad, he went further: America's Army even outclassed Germany's Wehrmacht. The mastery displayed in knocking off Saddam Hussein, Boot gushed, made "fabled generals such as Erwin Rommel and Heinz Guderian seem positively incompetent by comparison."
All of this turned out to be hot air. If the global war on terror has produced one undeniable conclusion, it is this: Estimates of U.S. military capabilities have turned out to be wildly overstated. The Bush administration's misplaced confidence in the efficacy of American arms represents a strategic misjudgment that has cost the country dearly. Even in an age of stealth, precision weapons and instant communications, armed force is not a panacea. Even in a supposedly unipolar era, American military power turns out to be quite limited.
How did it happen that Americans so utterly overappraised the utility of military power? The answer to that question lies at the intersection of three great illusions.
According to the first illusion, the United States during the 1980s and 1990s had succeeded in reinventing armed conflict. The result was to make force more precise, more discriminating and potentially more humane. The Pentagon had devised a new American way of war, investing its forces with capabilities unlike any the world had ever seen. As President Bush exuberantly declared shortly after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, "We've applied the new powers of technology ... to strike an enemy force with speed and incredible precision. By a combination of creative strategies and advanced technologies, we are redefining war on our terms. In this new era of warfare, we can target a regime, not a nation."
The distinction between regime and nation was a crucial one. By employing these new military techniques, the United States could eliminate an obstreperous foreign leader and his cronies, while sparing the population over which that leader ruled. Putting a missile through the roof of a presidential palace made it unnecessary to incinerate an entire capital city, endowing force with hitherto undreamed-of political utility and easing ancient moral inhibitions on the use of force. Force had been a club; it now became a scalpel. By the time the president spoke, such sentiments had already become commonplace among many (although by no means all) military officers and national security experts.
Here lay a formula for certain victory. Confidence in military prowess both reflected and reinforced a post-Cold War confidence in the universality of American values. Harnessed together, they made a seemingly unstoppable one-two punch.
With that combination came expanded ambitions. In the 1990s, the very purpose of the Department of Defense changed. Sustaining American global preeminence, rather than mere national security, became its explicit function. In the most comprehensive articulation of this new American way of war, the Joint Chiefs of Staff committed the armed services to achieving what they called "full-spectrum dominance" -- unambiguous supremacy in all forms of warfare, to be achieved by tapping the potential of two "enablers" -- "technological innovation and information superiority."
Full-spectrum dominance stood in relation to military affairs as the political scientist Francis Fukuyama's well-known proclamation of "the end of history" stood in relation to ideology: Each claimed to have unlocked ultimate truths. According to Fukuyama, democratic capitalism represented the final stage in political economic evolution. According to the proponents of full-spectrum dominance, that concept represented the final stage in the evolution of modern warfare. In their first days and weeks, the successive invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq both seemed to affirm such claims.
According to the second illusion, American civilian and military leaders subscribed to a common set of principles for employing their now-dominant forces. Adherence to these principles promised to prevent any recurrence of the sort of disaster that had befallen the nation in Vietnam. If politicians went off half-cocked, as President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had back in the 1960s, generals who had correctly discerned and assimilated the lessons of modern war could be counted on to rein them in.
These principles found authoritative expression in the Weinberger-Powell doctrine, which specified criteria for deciding when and how to use force. Caspar Weinberger, secretary of defense during most of the Reagan era, first articulated these principles in 1984. Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the early 1990s, expanded on them. Yet the doctrine's real authors were the members of the post-Vietnam officer corps. The Weinberger-Powell principles expressed the military's own lessons taken from that war. Those principles also expressed the determination of senior officers to prevent any recurrence of Vietnam.
Henceforth, according to Weinberger and Powell, the United States would fight only when genuinely vital interests were at stake. It would do so in pursuit of concrete and attainable objectives. It would mobilize the necessary resources -- political and moral as well as material -- to win promptly and decisively. It would end conflicts expeditiously and then get out, leaving no loose ends. The spirit of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine was not permissive; its purpose was to curb the reckless or imprudent inclinations of bellicose civilians.
According to the third illusion, the military and American society had successfully patched up the differences that produced something akin to divorce during the divisive Vietnam years. By the 1990s, a reconciliation of sorts was under way. In the wake of Operation Desert Storm, "the American people fell in love again with their armed forces." So, at least, Gen. Powell, one of that war's great heroes, believed. Out of this love affair a new civil-military compact had evolved, one based on the confidence that, in times of duress, Americans could be counted on to "support the troops." Never again would the nation abandon its soldiers.
The all-volunteer force -- despite its name, a professional military establishment -- represented the chief manifestation of this new compact. By the 1990s, Americans were celebrating the AVF as the one component of the federal government that actually worked as advertised. The AVF embodied the nation's claim to the status of sole superpower; it was "America's Team." In the wake of the Cold War, the AVF sustained the global Pax Americana without interfering with the average American's pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. What was not to like?
Events since 9/11 have exposed these three illusions for what they were. When tested, the new American way of war yielded more glitter than gold. The generals and admirals who touted the wonders of full-spectrum dominance were guilty of flagrant professional malpractice, if not outright fraud. To judge by the record of the past 20 years, U.S. forces win decisively only when the enemy obligingly fights on American terms -- and Saddam's demise has drastically reduced the likelihood of finding such accommodating adversaries in the future. As for loose ends, from Somalia to the Balkans, from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf, they have been endemic.
When it came to the Weinberger-Powell doctrine, civilian willingness to conform to its provisions proved to be highly contingent. Confronting Powell in 1993, then ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright famously demanded to know, "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?" Mesmerized by the prospects of putting American soldiers to work to alleviate the world's ills, Albright soon enough got her way. An odd alliance that combined left-leaning do-gooders with jingoistic politicians and pundits succeeded in chipping away at constraints on the use of force. "Humanitarian intervention" became all the rage. Whatever restraining influence the generals exercised during the 1990s did not survive that decade. Lessons of Vietnam that had once seemed indelible were forgotten.
Meanwhile, the reconciliation of the people and the Army turned out to be a chimera. When the chips were down, "supporting the troops" elicited plenty of posturing but little by way of binding commitments. Far from producing a stampede of eager recruits keen to don a uniform, the events of 9/11 reaffirmed a widespread popular preference for hiring someone else's kid to chase terrorists, spread democracy and ensure access to the world's energy reserves.
In the midst of a global war of ostensibly earthshaking importance, Americans demonstrated a greater affinity for their hometown sports heroes than for the soldiers defending the distant precincts of the American imperium. Tom Brady makes millions playing quarterback in the NFL and rakes in millions more from endorsements. Pat Tillman quit professional football to become an Army ranger and was killed in Afghanistan. Yet, of the two, Brady more fully embodies the contemporary understanding of the term patriot.
Demolishing the Doctrine of the Big Enchilada
While they persisted, however, these three illusions fostered gaudy expectations about the efficacy of American military might. Every president since Ronald Reagan has endorsed these expectations. Every president since Reagan has exploited his role as commander in chief to expand on the imperial prerogatives of his office. Each has also relied on military power to conceal or manage problems that stemmed from the nation's habits of profligacy.
In the wake of 9/11, these puerile expectations -- that armed force wielded by a strong-willed chief executive could do just about anything -- reached an apotheosis of sorts. Having manifestly failed to anticipate or prevent a devastating attack on American soil, President Bush proceeded to use his ensuing global war on terror as a pretext for advancing grandiose new military ambitions married to claims of unbounded executive authority -- all under the guise of keeping Americans "safe."
With the president denying any connection between the events of Sept.1 and past U.S. policies, his declaration of a global war nipped in the bud whatever inclination the public might have entertained to reconsider those policies. In essence, Bush counted on war both to concentrate greater power in his own hands and to divert attention from the political, economic and cultural bind in which the United States found itself as a result of its own past behavior.
As long as U.S. forces sustained their reputation for invincibility, it remained possible to pretend that the constitutional order and the American way of life were in good health. The concept of waging an open-ended global campaign to eliminate terrorism retained a modicum of plausibility. After all, how could anyone or anything stop the unstoppable American soldier?
Call that reputation into question, however, and everything else unravels. This is what occurred when the Iraq war went sour. The ills afflicting our political system, including a deeply irresponsible Congress, broken national security institutions, and above all an imperial commander in chief not up to the job, became all but impossible to ignore. So, too, did the self-destructive elements inherent in the American way of life -- especially an increasingly costly addiction to foreign oil, universally deplored and almost as universally indulged. More noteworthy still, the prospect of waging war on a global scale for decades, if not generations, became preposterous.
To anyone with eyes to see, the events of the past seven years have demolished the doctrine of the big enchilada. A gung-ho journalist like Robert Kaplan might still believe that with the dawn of the 21st century, the Pentagon had "appropriated the entire earth, and was ready to flood the most obscure areas of it with troops at a moment's notice," and that planet Earth in its entirety had become "battle space for the American military." Yet any buck sergeant of even middling intelligence knew better than to buy such claptrap.
With the Afghanistan war well into its seventh year and the Iraq war marking its fifth anniversary, a commentator like Michael Barone might express absolute certainty that "just about no mission is impossible for the United States military." But Barone was not facing the prospect of being ordered back to the war zone for his second or third combat tour.
Between what President Bush called upon America's soldiers to do and what they were capable of doing loomed a huge gap that defines the military crisis besetting the United States today. For a nation accustomed to seeing military power as its trump card, the implications of that gap are monumental.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Friday, August 15, 2008
Rabbits cry horribly. Luckily, it did not suffer long.
Had to dispose of the body. Not fun.
So much for reading in the back yard on my day off. It's a reminder of the real world. My military profession usually celebrates making ace, but, I'm not feeling like the O Club right now...
Thursday, August 14, 2008
The main problem with biking is the delays at high-volume intersections. I'm making better and better time enroute, but I have to face the intersections of death. Most combat missions scare me less than having to face Manchester Road, Brentwood Boulevard, and Hanley Road. The geography forces me to take them, instead of safer side streets (crossing Deer Creek, for example). Hanley and Manchester is truly bad, bad, bad. Marshall Avenue is out, as the drivers there show no mercy for bikes on the narrow road- and you have to get past Laclede Station Road (Hanley) and Marshall, probably a higher risk than Manchester. Plus, it adds commute time. Newport Avenue is just as bad for width, plus it's another half-mile south.
Walking to the bus means an 0630 launch, rather than 0700. Driving, I can launch at 0735, and make it. Welcome to a Fourth Turning. The walk is pretty risk-free. No bike to worry about, and one can nap on the way.
Met a fellow worker who also bikes in. He didn't get the saddlebags and rear rack, so when he attempted riding home from the store with a bag held from each hand over the handlebars, he took a major spill. Glad I coughed up the extra for the saddlebags.
One of my co-workers spent an hour on I-55 in traffic, burning fuel. He drives in from Imperial to downtown.
The Georgia/Russia business smells like 1914. Not good.
Made a mistake today. I posted two threads on a board. Never argue with fools. There are good people to talk to on that board, but the idiots make a meaningful conversation impossible. This is why the number of churches in town have to equal the number of bars in that town: The social groups just don't mesh all that well, resulting in schisms. Rule of 150, again.
Blogging is much simpler than trying to start a church or bar. :) And, I've discovered that the idiots read my blog, despite how much they ridicule me.
Major self-esteem moment: They need me more than I need them. Found that one of my former opponents let his blog just die, even when linked to Instapundit- looks like being tragically hip just isn't sustainable, long term. He tried creating his own domain- now, it's a placeholder. Light comedy works lots better. One way or another, I'm able to keep people amused. :)
Which brings me to another marker: I'm running Traveller, again. Good first session. Worked out one kink with a player, fixing a character mismatch (I designed too many PC's, and the one he got wasn't a good match. It's fixed), and it's off and running. Got to eat lots of pizza, too.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
And what happens when it goes too far (looking at you, Rock Hill):
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Anheuser - Busch Enhances Employee Buyout Program
Filed at 10:30 a.m. ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch Cos Inc
The brewer of Budweiser, which agreed to a $52 billion takeover by Belgian rival InBev NV
(Reporting by Martinne Geller, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)
By DAVID BROOKS
Harmony and the Dream
Chengdu, ChinaThe world can be divided in many ways — rich and poor, democratic and authoritarian — but one of the most striking is the divide between the societies with an individualist mentality and the ones with a collectivist mentality.
This is a divide that goes deeper than economics into the way people perceive the world. If you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing. If you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank, the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim.
These sorts of experiments have been done over and over again, and the results reveal the same underlying pattern. Americans usually see individuals; Chinese and other Asians see contexts.
When the psychologist Richard Nisbett showed Americans individual pictures of a chicken, a cow and hay and asked the subjects to pick out the two that go together, the Americans would usually pick out the chicken and the cow. They’re both animals. Most Asian people, on the other hand, would pick out the cow and the hay, since cows depend on hay. Americans are more likely to see categories. Asians are more likely to see relationships.
You can create a global continuum with the most individualistic societies — like the United States or Britain — on one end, and the most collectivist societies — like China or Japan — on the other.
The individualistic countries tend to put rights and privacy first. People in these societies tend to overvalue their own skills and overestimate their own importance to any group effort. People in collective societies tend to value harmony and duty. They tend to underestimate their own skills and are more self-effacing when describing their contributions to group efforts.
Researchers argue about why certain cultures have become more individualistic than others. Some say that Western cultures draw their values from ancient Greece, with its emphasis on individual heroism, while other cultures draw on more on tribal philosophies. Recently, some scientists have theorized that it all goes back to microbes. Collectivist societies tend to pop up in parts of the world, especially around the equator, with plenty of disease-causing microbes. In such an environment, you’d want to shun outsiders, who might bring strange diseases, and enforce a certain conformity over eating rituals and social behavior.
Either way, individualistic societies have tended to do better economically. We in the West have a narrative that involves the development of individual reason and conscience during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and then the subsequent flourishing of capitalism. According to this narrative, societies get more individualistic as they develop.
But what happens if collectivist societies snap out of their economic stagnation? What happens if collectivist societies, especially those in Asia, rise economically and come to rival the West? A new sort of global conversation develops.
The opening ceremony in Beijing was a statement in that conversation. It was part of China’s assertion that development doesn’t come only through Western, liberal means, but also through Eastern and collective ones.
The ceremony drew from China’s long history, but surely the most striking features were the images of thousands of Chinese moving as one — drumming as one, dancing as one, sprinting on precise formations without ever stumbling or colliding. We’ve seen displays of mass conformity before, but this was collectivism of the present — a high-tech vision of the harmonious society performed in the context of China’s miraculous growth.
If Asia’s success reopens the debate between individualism and collectivism (which seemed closed after the cold war), then it’s unlikely that the forces of individualism will sweep the field or even gain an edge.
For one thing, there are relatively few individualistic societies on earth. For another, the essence of a lot of the latest scientific research is that the Western idea of individual choice is an illusion and the Chinese are right to put first emphasis on social contexts.
Scientists have delighted to show that so-called rational choice is shaped by a whole range of subconscious influences, like emotional contagions and priming effects (people who think of a professor before taking a test do better than people who think of a criminal). Meanwhile, human brains turn out to be extremely permeable (they naturally mimic the neural firings of people around them). Relationships are the key to happiness. People who live in the densest social networks tend to flourish, while people who live with few social bonds are much more prone to depression and suicide.
The rise of China isn’t only an economic event. It’s a cultural one. The ideal of a harmonious collective may turn out to be as attractive as the ideal of the American Dream.
It’s certainly a useful ideology for aspiring autocrats.
Author: Seth Borenstein / Associated Press
WASHINGTON - NASA is not properly emphasizing safety in its design of a new spaceship and its return-to-the-moon program faces money, morale and leadership problems, an agency safety panel found Monday.
The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel cited "surprising anxiety among NASA employees" about the Constellation moon program and said the project "lacks clear direction." Its 143-page annual report specifically faulted the agency's design of the Orion crew capsule for not putting safety features first.
Officials in charge of the program, defending the design safety at a news conference, wouldn't say whether astronauts are among the worried employees. Astronauts would have to fly in the Orion crew capsule, with a first launch planned by 2015.
Past NASA spaceships were built with enough backup safety systems "to ensure safety and reliability," from the start, the report said. But it said that because of weight problems with the Orion design, NASA has used a different approach, one "without all safeguards included" from the beginning. In the Orion project, any added safety feature would have to "earn its way in" to the design by justifying that the increased safety was worth the extra cost and weight.
That's not right, said the safety advisory panel, which includes two former space shuttle astronauts. It was created after the deadly 1967 Apollo 1 fire. The panel said it is "concerned that this process may not be capable of providing adequate protection against hazards that will only come to light once the spacecraft is in operation."
As the safety panel report came out, Constellation program officials announced that their own ambitious internal schedule for the first launch of the Orion capsule with astronauts aboard is being pushed back one year for lack of money.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Best way to stop illegal immigration is to turn us into a society like this article shows. Last eight years or so, we've been doing a great job on that plan...
Friday, August 8, 2008
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Justice served on a laptop user.
How many laptops get stolen with critical data on them? How many laptops are issued as a badge of political power? How many laptops are symbols of who is cool and who is not?
And lastly, just how much of a pain in the ass/expensive it is to maintain the evil soul-suckers?
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
He personifies the leading-edge Boomer.