Sunday, December 7, 2008

Holiday party and haute cuisine

My company had their holiday party last night at the Portland Golf Club. What was really interesting was that this is probably the most upscale place we’ve held the party at, at least since I’ve been going to them (I missed my first year because I hated my department but I’ve gone every year since) and it was the weakest, as far as food and libations went, of the three. The food itself had haute cuisine portions (a tiny beef tenderloin medallion, in a passable sauce with a dollop of mashed potatoes, three or four wilted green beans which had been cooked in a balsamic vinaigrette and an edible orchid). The desserts, however, were even worse. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of cheesecake (another thing from my childhood that I used to devour) but I love a good mousse. Chocolate mousse, as my partner likes to point out, is something that is hard to screw up because even if it falls you still have this wonderful, rich, chocolate confection. But not in this instance. It was edible but overly bitter and it’s almost as if they made it from Nestle’s Quik instant chocolate milk. I’m not saying they did but it tasted as if it had. While we had drink coupons (and Jaime and I used them) at one point I wanted a Long Island ice tea but they wanted, wait for it, $11.50 for it! No, I had a local mico-brew (at a much more reasonable $4.50) instead.

Last year we had it at a private ballroom in downtown portland and it was buffet style. Much better food in much better varieties and the drinks were more reasonable.

That said, it’s been a while since I’ve been in a golf club and I forgot how the other 5% lives. Not sure that I would want that. The company at my table, however, was excellent.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Caribou Barbie sez: "Science is hard!"

So Sarah Palin appears to believe that fruit fly research is just so much pork driven by the Fruit Fly lobby, perhaps. Or maybe the world Fruit Fly Collective are pulling the strings of Big Fruit Fly Research.

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So, here’s the thing. Fruit flies are a standard model system in genetics. They have conveniently short generation times so you can watch gene flows move through them quickly. Research on Drosophilia has played a huge part in our expanding knowledge of genetics. So well done, Governor, you’ve demonstrated that even on the issue you claim to know so much about your knowledge is toilet paper thin.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

National Media: Do Your Jobs!!!!

As a citizen, I want to enlist you in a project. Please send this on to your friends and family. This will probably fail. Most petition drives to pressure corporations do fail. However, We the People, have to try to get the media to do their jobs. This piece is an attempt to remind you, the citizens, and the media what their jobs are and how they have utterly failed at it. Please feel free to forward or repost this.

This is the most important election of our lifetimes, perhaps the most important election since the election of 1932. The future of our country is literally on the line, the very nature of what kind of country we wish to be is the central question in this election. Yet, from the media, you wouldn’t know it. It’s not just the horse race coverage. It’s the outright tolerance for blatant falsehoods uttered by the campaigns. In another year, if we weren’t at war, if our economy was strong, perhaps, PERHAPS we could afford this cartoon of campaign coverage. But this isn’t that year, this isn’t that election.

As Paul Begala put it in a piece today:

If John McCain and Sarah Palin were to say the moon was made of green cheese, we can be certain that Barack Obama and Joe Biden would pounce on it, and point out it's actually made of rock. And you just know the headline in the paper the next day would read: "CANDIDATES CLASH ON LUNAR LANDSCAPE."
The thing is, he’s absolutely correct. The headline would NOT be, as would be appropriate, ‘“McCain asserts that the moon is made of green cheese. Is he mad?” or “McCain lies about the composition of the moon”. Rather, it would be the headline that suggests that, in fact, there’s legitimate reason for debate as to the composition of the moon. Yet, we know--not think but know--that the moon isn’t made of green cheese so why does the media treat these statements as the same?

I’m going to use two examples from today and yes, I’m a Democrat and yes, I’m an Obama supporter and I’m sure that a Republican could come up with his own examples. The continually repeated lie about the Bridge to Nowhere. Governor Palin is on the record, on camera, saying that she supported the Bridge to Nowhere but now, she can assert, without any penalty, that she didn’t support it AND that she sent the money back yet, it is again demonstrably true that she kept the money and only dropped support for it after Congress had put the kabosh on the project. Now, in my family, if you said something was so when it wasn’t and you knew it wasn’t so, you were going to be called a liar. Yet, the media is letting McCain and Palin get away with lying.

The second example, also a lie, is that Barack Obama authored and voted for a bill that would teach sex education to kindergarten kids. This is not true. He voted for a bill that would have age appropriate sex education which for little kids meant teaching them about appropriate and inappropriate touching. The language of the bill is available at the Illinois State Legislature website, you can read it yourself, it doesn’t say what the advert says it does. Again, the story is that there is ‘controversy’ over Barack Obama’s vote. But there isn’t controversy. The McCain campaign is lying and the media is actively participating in the lie by not calling it a lie. When my son would say that he had done his homework when he hadn’t, I told him he was lying.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the media should pillory McCain or Palin or any other Republican because they are Republicans. I am saying that you folks in the media get paid well to do a job and part and parcel of that job is to be the keepers of the 11th Commandment which is; “Thou Shalt not get away with it”. That’s your job. If someone on camera or on tape tells you something that is demonstrably untrue, your job, the ONLY reason you are worth your salary no matter how big or small it is, is to point out the fact either right then and there in the interview or in the article later on. It is not objectivity to say “some say the sky is blue while the McCain campaign stated that the sky is green”. Objectivity is saying “Candidate X said the sky is green, so we went outside and did some investigation and we found that the sky is blue.” Being a reporter means following up and asking the candidate, “Ms X, the sky is demonstrably blue. Why would you say it is green”. Now, it’s possible that candidate X may not like that you pointed out that the sky is blue. They may call you a New York elitist or claim that you have a bias against this party or that. Let them!!! It’s not your job to be loved, it’s not your job to be liked, that’s what your dog, your friends, your family and your cat are for. Your job is to always and forever keep the fear of the electorate in the minds of politicians! They should be terrified of telling a bald-faced lie lest it be discovered and they be called out for it. Yet, this campaign, you let them get away with the most grotesque and outright lies.

What’s more, you, media people, continue to hype up the most trivial aspects. Are we, the rest of us who can only consume your products, to understand that you don’t find foreclosures at their highest rate since the Great Depression newsworthy enough to focus on that in the campaign? Should we take your utter inability to ask direct and even-handed questions about the war to be a sign that you don’t care, don’t think we care, or you are just so utterly and pathetically unintelligent that you can’t think of a single relevant, policy-oriented question to ask the candidates?

You have a job, media. There’s a reason that the Founders put the First Amendment in the Constitution and it wasn’t to protect the rights of an 18th century Larry Flint. Rather, it was because a free and open and, quite honestly, obnoxious press was crucial to preserving our democracy. There’s a reason the press is referred to as the Fourth Estate. While your role is not Constitutionally mandated, it was Constitutionally protected. You have shown, in this election cycle (and a number prior to it that I could mention) to be almost entirely unworthy of the protections that we give you. The very least you could do is the minimal description of your job. Entertaining us isn’t in your job description. If I want entertainment, I’ll turn on The Simpsons when I want news I’m going to turn on the news or pick up my paper or surf to a news website. What I’d like to see there is reporters doing their jobs.

Do your jobs, media. Your job is as important, perhaps more so, than any three branches of government. We, the 300 million of your fellow citizens who rely on you to tell us the news of the day, need you to do your jobs. So far, in 2008, you are letting us down and I, for one, do not care about your predictable mea culpas that you will do as the 2012 campaign kicks off.

Do. Your. Jobs. If you can’t, get the hell out of the way and let someone else do it for you if you can’t figure out how to do it yourself. To quote from the movie “Network”, ‘we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!’
Adrienne Davis, Portland, OR

Monday, August 18, 2008

Should Gays and Lesbians Be Thanking Mother Nature for the Genes?

I wanted to address the idea of whether or not homosexuality is a question of ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’. To put it in more modern words, whether or not homosexuality is caused genetic or a choice. Firstly, the question may be meaningless. By that I mean that there is no satisfactory solution to the question as it is stated. Why? Because whether a given behavioral trait is genetic or environmental is, for any practical purpose, unanswerable. We are not products of traits that either are imposed on us by our genes or produced by our environments. Our genes do not, in any meaningful way, operate isolated from our environments. Our environment, although seemingly separate from our genes, is still influenced by them. So to suggest that homosexuality must be either genetic, in its entirety or environmental, in its totality, is to miss something exquisite going on in nature. Nature, once you look beneath the surface, is usually cleverer than we are.

There are a couple of issues enclosed in the question of ‘is homosexuality a choice or not’ and before I go about trying to answer them, I’d like to try to tease out the separate questions. Question #1 goes like this: “What causes homosexuality. Why are some people gay or lesbian”? Question #2 is best phrased like this: “If homosexuality is not a choice, what possible evolutionary reason would keep those genes around”. Question #3 goes like this: “If homosexuality is proven not to be a choice, what does that mean for the gay rights movement”? I’ll answer each one individually.

What causes homosexuality?

I will own, up front, that this is going to be a really cheap answer. No one knows, definitively, why some people end up being gay or lesbian. There is, however, a convergence of evidence that points to it being a, more or less, innate trait. At some level, it would appear that people are born gay or lesbian. This, however, is a very different statement than saying that something is entirely determined by our genes. Although what filters through to the popular media gives the impression that there is a gene ‘for’ any given trait that is not exactly the case. Certainly, no working biologist would suggest that there is a gene ‘for’, to take one example, risk-taking. So, part of the purpose of this article is to introduce you to a different kind of language for talking about our genes. What is more accurate is to say that there are certain genes (genotypes) that express (phenotype) a particular behavior, in interaction with their environment.

Now, before someone should take the last part of the above sentence to mean that I am suggesting that environment means the usual (and hopelessly outdated) tripe of ‘absent father’ or ‘overbearing mother’ or childhood sexual trauma or any other such pseudo-psychological babble, that is not what I am talking about. By environment what I mean is the complete set of historical experiences that any given individual passes through from the moment they are conceived. Make absolutely no mistake, the womb is part of our environment and is as much part of our history as any house we ever live in. So, for example, if your mother was malnourished during her pregnancy with you, you may (counter-intuitively) have more of a tendency to put on weight.

So, returning for a moment, to the question of gene-environment interaction I’d like to talk a moment about what genes do and do not do. It is, generally, thought that genes code for particular traits. Therefore we’ll say that one has a gene ‘for’ brown eyes or that one has a gene ‘for’ such-and-such malady. In most circumstances, it is convenient but not accurate to talk about genes in this way. Our genes code for proteins. Proteins are little molecular machinery, of various chemical natures, that go about the business of building bones, tissue, cells, brains, etc. If you have, for instance, brown skin your body produces significant quantities of a substance called melanin. Your genes code for proteins that are in charge of melanin production and you will have, on average, darker skin than someone who has genes that do not code for as much of that substance. If you then live in a place that does not get as much direct sunlight then your skin color will be, on average, lighter than someone with similar genes who lived in a place with high direct sunlight. This might sound like I’m stating the painfully obvious but note the language. Specifically, note the use of ‘on average’. In biology, it is useful to think of things happening on a gradient and each individual lies somewhere along that continuum. So, is there a gene for brown skin? Well, yes and no. There’s a gene that produces greater or lesser amounts of melanin. Everyone, who is not an albino, produces some amount of melanin. It would be slightly more accurate to say that there is a gene ‘for’ albinism, but most accurate would be to say that albinos lack the gene that produces melanin.

Another example, before we move on to the heart of the question of some kind of proximate cause of homosexuality. Take height. If you have been to Europe or have been in a really old (older than the 19th century) building, you might notice how low the ceilings are. In London, one might think that one has stepped into a village of Tolkiens’ hobbits. But you know better and you realize that the average height of people really was shorter than Westerners are today. Why? It is not, as intuition might suggest, because humans have evolved such that the average height for European women has increased from just under five feet tall at the start of the Industrial Revolution to around five-foot five-inches at the start of the Information Revolution. Rather, what has happened is that people in the West eat much better, are exposed to far fewer childhood diseases, and generally are healthier as children and growing adolescents than they were a few hundred years ago. What that has created is a situation where human height has been allowed to increase closer toward the maximum allowed for by our genes (which code for the proteins that make up calcium and muscle mass). So, lurking within the genes of your long lost relatives from the Old Country was the potential for a five foot ten inch woman, but chances are very few of your ancestors grew to that height. However, because you are fortunate enough to have been born in the Twentieth century, your genes had more of an opportunity to express them.

This is what biologists mean by gene-environment interaction and I hope that my two illustrations shine some light onto how these factors dance together.

So, back to the central question. Is homosexuality genetic? Most probably yes and not entirely. Since sex, desire and romance happen primarily in the brain here is my speculation. There is probably some sequence somewhere on our chromosomes that causes a particular protein to either express or not express while the fetus is in utero. The mother’s body, responding to this chemical presence turns on or fails to turn on some other chemical cascade that results in the brain forming in such a manner that the person, when their sexuality really kicks in, has a predisposition toward homosexuality. Because of the social stigma placed on homosexuals, the individual with this particular genetic-environmental mosaic then has some variety of responses to their emotions and at some point, hopefully, comes out and accepts themselves. That’s the best answer I’m comfortable giving and I’m sticking to it.

All of this, however, begs question number two. So onto that issue.

Passing through the sieve—Does Darwinism preclude homosexuality being genetic?

If you are not willing to concede that Darwin might have had some clue as to what he was talking about then not a great deal of this will make sense. Again, because I feel the need to own my own bias, I will say that I’m an absolutely unrepentant Darwinian. I think Darwin had one of the best ideas anyone has ever had and I know that, to use the phrase of one eminent biologist “nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution”. So, if we accept that there is probably some level of genetic component to homosexuality then it begs the question of how it could survive the ruthless winnowing of natural selection.

I’m going to suggest a hypothesis, and own that it is only a hypothesis but one that makes the most sense to me. Homosexuality has passed through the sieve of evolution not because it, in and of itself, is adaptive but because whatever genes that influence homosexuality are themselves adaptive when expressed in a certain kind of body. By adaptive, I mean it in a very strict sense, namely in the sense that it enhances the reproductive fitness of whomever is carrying that gene. Reproductive fitness simply means whether or not an organism leaves around more descendants than someone else.

That’s just one possibility but it is the one that makes the most sense and doesn’t get into the messy (and discredited) arena of group selection.

That said, let’s remember that being homosexual does not preclude reproduction and so there’s still potential for whatever genes ‘for’ homosexuality to pass through generations in that manner. Lastly, it is important to remember that, according to what is called ‘kin selection’ one need not reproduce oneself in order to benefit one’s genes.

If one is a sibling (or a non-identical twin) then one shares one half of your genes with your siblings. This means you share a quarter of your genes with their children. So let’s say your sister has four children, you have none. Something happens to your sister and you raise her children, you have now ensured that four times the amount of your genes will pass on to the next generation than you otherwise would have. So, even if homosexuality really were a reproductive dead-end it would still have any number of paths it could take from generation to generation.

Where the rubber meets the road—What does all this mean for gay rights?

So, having demonstrated that homosexuality really could pass through the merciless sieve of natural selection and having presented a plausible (although almost certainly too simplistic to be accurate) model of what might cause homosexuality we leave the relatively non-controversial arena of biology and enter the world of politics and culture. We have come to question #3: If homosexuality is proven not to be a choice, what does that mean for the gay rights movement?

One answer is that it might not mean anything at all. Those who are against gays and lesbians existing are going to remain so regardless of any findings of science. But for the larger society, what might it mean? As a rule, in America we have the idea that we are compelled to be tolerant (in both personal and legal matters) of those who have an inherent difference. Homosexuality is probably inherent enough that to speak of any ‘change’ is quite meaningless. However, does that mean that if a smoking genetic gun is found the NGLTF can close up shop and go home? Probably not.

What it might mean is that parents might not guilt trip their children when they come out. Schools would be compelled to not tolerate harassment of gay or lesbian students in the same way and for the same reasons that they cannot tolerate harassment of Latina or Chinese students. Businesses might become compelled to not fire homosexual employees because they are homosexual. It might even create the circumstances for full recognition of same-sex marriages. However, it would be a mistake to think that the entire architecture of heterosexism will come tumbling down should some biological Einstein come up with a gene-environment interaction that survives the scientific vetting process.

Although I understand the desire for us, as gay and lesbian people, to once and for all put to pasture the idea that we ‘choose’ our sexual orientation I would suggest that, perhaps, we are missing a point. Religion is ‘chosen’. No one is born Catholic and yet we protect Catholics from discrimination in employment, housing, etc. We are very right to do so, so it is not ‘choice’ qua choice that has created the circumstances we face. It is some other cultural baggage that we need to address.

That said, finding the smoking gun would be a triumph of biology. Understanding why some people are gay or lesbian would shed light into the whole arena of human sexuality. And, perhaps, the discussion of gene-environment interaction will finally put the tired and outdated ‘nature’ versus ‘nurture’ debate out to a well-deserved rest in the pastures of intellectual history.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Lynching Advocate Toby Keith: Obama "Talks, Acts, And Carries Himself As A Caucasian"

What Toby Keith said was racist. I was raised by a black father and a black mother, both college professors and throughout my childhood I had people say, first to my parents and then, as I got older, to me how 'articulate' and 'intelligent sounding' I was. It's racist when the likes of a Jessie Jackson says it, it's racist when the likes of a Noam Chomsky says it, and it's racist when the likes of Toby Keith says it.

So, one more time, just so everyone here on HuffPo can understand this and then go offline and tell your friends and family:


2> Being educated, intelligent and articulate is NOT, let me repeat that, NOT just for whites or Asians. Black and brown-skinned people can be and ARE educated, intelligent and articulate. It is NOT 'acting white' to read for pleasure, to think deeply about matters and to attempt to articulate them in an erudite fashion.

3> While there is no shame in being uneducated it is not something to stand up and be proud of either. While being educated and intelligent does not make you a better human being, it is nothing to be ashamed of either.

Got it? Good.


About Barack Obama
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Comparing and Contrasting Creationism and Evolution

On one of the discussion groups I participate in, the issue of creationism came up. I posted the following to the group as a means of comparing and contrasting between Creationism and Evolution. My argument is that there are a number of core differences between how creationists and scientists deal with their respective ideas. One of the first and most poignant things one notices is that in evolutionary biology, work proceeds apace without any reference to creationism. One could read through journals and never encounter a single reference to creationism. Put more bluntly, evolutionary biology stands on its own as a scientific theory. It explains phenomena based upon its own rules and need not look to creationist literature for definition. On the other hand, Creationism is what I call a negative theory. By this neologism, I mean that creationism can only define itself in reference to evolutionary biology. There are no free-standing creationist ideas, meaning that all of creationism can be encapsulated in the statement: “Evolutionary biology is wrong, therefore creationism is true”. This is stunningly sloppy logic. It is akin to assuming that because I don’t care for eggplant, that I must like okra.

I’ll spare you the discussion group specific run-up and jump right into it:

 I Googled for the exact same terms, changing ONLY the word
creationism or evolution.  I will take a representative sample of text
from *each* result which appears to best demonstrate the respective
positions.  My first search was "Genetic evidence for evolution" and
"Genetic evidence for creationism":
Here is a representative sample from a paper on evolution:
From the Abstract:
Rapid evolution driven by positive Darwinian selection is a recurrent 
theme in male reproductive protein evolution. In contrast, positive 
selection has never been demonstrated for female reproductive 
proteins. Here, we perform phylogeny-based tests on three female 
mammalian fertilization proteins and demonstrate positive selection 
promoting their divergence. Two of these female fertilization 
proteins, the zona pellucida glycoproteins ZP2 and ZP3, are part of 
the mammalian egg coat. Several sites identified in ZP3 as likely to 
be under positive selection are located in a region previously 
demonstrated to be involved in species-specific sperm-egg interaction, 
suggesting the selective pressure is related to male-female 
interaction. The results provide long-sought evidence for two 
evolutionary hypotheses: sperm competition and sexual conflict.
From the Discussion:
We have demonstrated that the female reproductive proteins ZP2, ZP3, 
and OGP are subjected to positive Darwinian selection. These results 
lend support to the models of sperm competition (1, 18, 19), sexual 
conflict (2, 20, 37), and cryptic female choice (15) driving the 
evolution of reproductive proteins, because these models involve male- 
female interactions. It is important for functional as well as 
evolutionary studies to examine the rapid evolution of both female and 
male reproductive proteins. Functional studies can glean important 
information not only from conserved regions of the molecules but also 
from the divergent regions under positive selection, because the 
latter may be functionally important for specificity. Our analysis 
identified several sites in ZP3 under positive selection. These 
include a region previously implicated as functionally important in 
sperm-egg interaction (41–43). Additionally, a region in ZP3 
immediately following the signal sequence was identified (Fig. 1 
Right) for which tests of functional importance have not been reported 
and which our data predict might also play a role in species 
specificity. The sites we identified in ZP2 as likely to be under 
positive selection are candidates to test for functional importance in 
ZP2's role as receptor for acrosome-reacted sperm (21, 27).
It is likely that the evolution of additional female and male 
reproductive proteins also are promoted by positive Darwinian 
selection. For example, many reproductive proteins (including ZP2, 
ZP3, and the sperm protamines analyzed here, but not OGP) are found in 
the 10% most divergent sequences from an aligned set of 2,820 human- 
rodent orthologs (ref. 51 and our unpublished analyses). These 
reproductive molecules are as divergent as many genes involved in 
immune response. Another ZP glycoprotein (ZP1) is also among these 
rapidly evolving proteins, but insufficient phylogenetic sampling to 
date precluded its analysis by using likelihood ratio tests. Future 
sequencing and phylogenetic analyses of these reproductive proteins 
are necessary to determine whether their rapid divergence is promoted 
by positive selection or caused by lack of constraint. It also will be 
important to determine in general what proportion of reproductive 
proteins show signs of selectively driven rapid evolution seen herein.
Our demonstration of positive Darwinian selection in female as well as 
male reproductive proteins lends support for models of sexual conflict 
and sperm competition driving the divergence of reproductive proteins 
(2, 20, 37). Although the nature of the selective pressure remains 
unclear, our observation that selection acts to diversify a region in 
ZP3 previously identified as functionally important for species 
specificity suggests that the selective pressure may be related to 
male-female interaction, in this case sperm-egg interaction.
The entire paper, so that you can read the whole thing (I cut out 
2/3rds of the paper for the sake of length and because it gets VERY 
technical), is located at:
One will note that in neither the abstract OR the discussion is ANY 
reference made to creationism.  (You will not find it in the technical 
text that I omitted either)  You will also notice, in the conclusion, 
that the authors make a positive argument FOR evolution not a negative 
argument *against* creationism.  This is what we would expect from a 
proper scientific paper.
Here is what the search for creationism pulled up:
32.   Genetic Distances
Similarities between different forms of life can now be measured with 
sophisticated genetic techniques.
Proteins. “Genetic distances” can be calculated by taking a specific 
protein and examining the sequence of its components. The fewer 
changes needed to convert a protein of one organism into the 
corresponding protein of another organism, supposedly the closer their 
relationship. These studies seriously contradict the theory of 
An early computer-based study of cytochrome c, a protein used in 
energy production, compared 47 different forms of life. This study 
found many contradictions with evolution based on this one protein. 
For example, according to evolution, the rattlesnake should have been 
most closely related to other reptiles. Instead, of these 47 forms 
(all that were sequenced at that time), the one most similar to the 
rattlesnake was man.b Since this study, experts have discovered 
hundreds of similar contradictions.c
DNA and RNA. Comparisons can also be made between the genetic material 
of different organisms. The list of organisms that have had all their 
genes sequenced and entered in databases, such as “GenBank,” is 
doubling each year. Computer comparisons of each gene with all other 
genes in the database show too many genes that are completely 
unrelated to any others.d Therefore, an evolutionary relationship 
between genes is highly unlikely. Furthermore, there is no trace at 
the molecular level for the traditional evolutionary series: simple 
sea life   fish   amphibians  reptiles  mammals.e Each category of 
organism appears to be almost equally isolated.f
Humans vs. Chimpanzees. Evolutionists say that the chimpanzee is the 
closest living relative to humans. For two decades (1984–2004), 
evolutionists and the media claimed that human DNA is about 99% 
similar to chimpanzee DNA. These statements had little scientific 
justification, because they were made before anyone had completed the 
sequencing of human DNA and long before the sequencing of chimpanzee 
DNA had begun.
Chimpanzee and human DNA have now been completely sequenced and 
rigorously compared. The differences, which total about 4%, are far 
greater and more complicated than evolutionists suspected.g Those 
differences include about “thirty-five million single-nucleotide 
changes, five million insertions/deletions, and various chromosomal 
rearrangements.”h Although it’s only 4%, a huge DNA chasm separates 
humans from chimpanzees.
Finally, evolutionary trees, based on the outward appearance of 
organisms, can now be compared with the organisms’ genetic 
information.  They conflict in major ways.i
A couple of things you will otice.  Firstly, there is hardly a 
sentence that doesn't talk about evolutionists or evolution.  If 
creationism is such a strong scientific position why is it that it 
cannot stand on its own?  (And in this instance, I quoted the page in 
its entirety).  Secondly, you will notice that not a *single* argument 
in favor of creationism is made.   This was from In the Beginning: 
Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood  which is a book put 
out by the Center for Scientific Creation (which is why I favored this 
over the ICR although a page came up for them which, upon reading, had 
the same kinds of flaws).  The letters standing on their own all 
represent footnotes which I ran down and found that those quoting 
evolutionary biologists or other scientists were all misquotations (in 
fact, one such quotation is such a flagrant and obvious one that I 
merely had to put in the name of the scientist quoted and the first 
several hits were ALL about the misquotation which makes one wonder 
why a purportedly scientific organization would put it in their book 
and on their website).
One last comment before moving on.  I have been FAR more generous with 
creationism than with evolution.  After I had found my representative 
sample for creationism and genetics, I kept looking for results, 
following some 25 links in the hopes of finding ONE paper that had the 
kind of scientific gravitas that my representative evolutionary 
biology sample did.  I could not find one.  EVERY web page I found was 
similar in that it did not make a case FOR creationism, it made a case 
AGAINST evolution.  I took the *third* result from my search on 
evolution (third on the first page of results) purposely eschewing 
TalkOrigins pages.
In other words, while taking pretty much the first thing I could find for evolutionary biology I looked for the BEST thing I could find for creationism and the most solidly academic thing I could find still didn’t stand on its own.

Monday, July 7, 2008

I feel like Mr. Peabody

This morning, I was mucking about with Entourage and then switched back, deleting the Entourage calendar in iCal. I managed to do this before switching my To-Do list back, thus all of my To-Do items went away. This was the second time since I’ve owned this machine that I have done something so entirely clueless. However, thanks to Time Machine I have managed to get them back and it just looks so cool. I need not worry about deleting things as long as I do so after I’ve been home from work or elsewhere that I’m disconnected from the Time Capsule (see below). (The actual Tardis on top of my TC (also named Tardis) is a USB hub)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I love mornings

I never thought I would be ‘that woman’. The one who is up at six in the morning on her own power, but that is who I have become. Some of it, no doubt, is a function of having our bedroom with an eastern exposure. The sun breaks over Mount Hood, the Willamette valley is flooded with the first, eight minute old rays of light, dawn seeps into our window and the light strikes my eyes. Then a cat will stir and I am awake. Many a work day morning that has saved my ass! In no possible way am I complaining, at least not on those mornings. Over time, as this tendency to wake early has become more pronounced, I have come to enjoy it.

This Saturday morning, I was up at 5:30. I thought, briefly, about going back to sleep but got out of bed to check on the back-up I’ve been running (the travails of setting up a new network) and that was all she wrote. The next thing I was hunched over my Mac, waiting for the last six gigabytes to go across the wire so I could unplug the wire and take it to the desk. I started streaming Weekend Edition, listening to host Bob Simons’ sonorous voice and two hours have passed. I started playing around with some photos in PE* and suddenly it was a quarter of eight.

(I’ve just heard Simon say that comments by Obama where he says it plain, when he says that the GOP will say, “did I mention he was black.’ Anyone who thinks that it *won’t* happen is living in some kind of fantasy world. McCain, of course, will have to try and stay above it but for him to be excoriated for saying what is manifestly obvious to anyone is just ludicrous and another example of how the media tries to turn the narrative to generate interest. He has opted out of public financing, Obama knows what is coming at him because the GOP *will* try to make Americans fear Barack Obama. He’s going to have to be brilliant because large parts of it are going to come out sideways. But to suggest, for example, that FOX news does not function as anything so much as a PR branch of the RNC is to engage in a willful blindness to the reality of modern American politics. )

At any rate, these quiet bits of the morning have become the very best part of my day. The world is largely quiet, those sounds that intrude are distant, street sounds that remind me that I live in a city. The only sounds are of Liam being Mighty Panther Ninja Cat and Willow sneaking up on me to escape the MPNC and NPR. Those moments where I can only write if I have only my own words in my head are what I love mornings for. At 8:40 on a Saturday, having been up for three hours, the day feels full of potential.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Lesbian pioneers' marriage decades in making -

Lesbian pioneers' marriage decades in making -

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, the women who founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian organization in the United States will be married today. This makes me so very, very, happy. They have been together almost six decades and were, in part, an inspiration for a story I wrote a number of years ago called Romantasy.

Years ago, when I was a wee young baby-dyke, I was going into the 7-11 in the Castro District in San Francisco on my way to the Dyke March. Del and Phyllis were coming out and Del, the butch one, winked at me. Nothing at all sexual, just a “you kids are cute” wink that had my knees quivering. I will forever remember that one glance from a butch woman, 45 years my senior. At that moment I determined that whatever it was she had, I wanted THAT so that when I was a crusty, old butch I could melt some other baby dyke as I was.

Del and Phyllis are pioneers who made it possible for me to come out in the late 80’s. I hope that my love, Jaime, and I are as happy when we’ve been together 50 years. If any two people on this planet have earned their happiness, it’s these two.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reflections on my 20th Pride festival

It’s kind of amazing for me to think about but this is my 19th Pride parade. Since 1989 I have always gone to Pride whether I was living in San Francisco (where I went to my first 12 Pride celebrations) or Portland, where I’ve done the last nine. At any rate, I am now sitting at Tom McCall Waterfront Park waiting for the Parade to start. This is one of only five where I have been purely a spectator. No drum, no marching with some non-profit or volunteer group or another. Some of that is that I think I’ve become somewhat jaded. It’s just another Pride festival. For Jaime, however, it’s all still new and fresh and exciting as this is only her second Pride and so she still has the excitement, the sense that it’s all new. We’re waiting for the roar and shaking of Dykes on Bikes, which last year in San Francisco, was renamed to the “Women’s Motorcycle Contingent” for reasons that still mystify me. It’s Dykes on Bikes, such as it always has been and, in my mind, such as it always will be.

Yesterday, I spent a good portion of the day at the Festival. I was on the setup crew for my Toastmaster’s club and, of course, had to wander the Festival for a while collecting my yearly queer SWAG. This year the pickings were kind of slim, but again, I’m a jaded old dyke these days and while I’m happy to be here with my wife if I had it to decide, I would have stayed at home and maybe done some writing. The parade should be here relatively soon now.

I’ve run into a few people this weekend, including someone from the old Lake Merritt Breakfast Club. She mentioned how good I look with some weight on me, reminding me of how skinny I once was.

Over the years, Pride has changed. There are a lot more families here. It used to be that kids were a relatively rare sight at Pride. We are surrounded by a family of four or five kids, maybe more. The other thing that has changed is that there are a lot more teenagers these days. It does my heart good to see so many teens who come out of the closet at such a young age. To me, coming out at 15 is amazing since I came out at 21. Wow, the years that have flown by. The old radical activist, member of Queer Nation and ACT-UP and Lesbian Avengers that I was feels somewhat ambiguous about how things have changed. On the one hand, this is what we worked for. This is what it is all about, creating a world where lesbians and gays can come together with our families. On the other hand, this means that things have been toned down considerably to accommodate the families. It’s not quite as queer, not quite as radical, not quite as in-your-face as it used to be. But this is the goal of all liberation movements, to become irrelevant which is not to say that the gay rights movement is irrelevant yet. Not nearly yet. But this is still no longer what it once was.

I started my day with talking to Debra Floyd, someone I met when I was a wee young baby dyke and she took me and Tracy and Nicole under wings.

Perhaps this feeling of nostalgic ennui is that because my son and my best friend, Jeff, are away at war and my father is ten years gone, almost to the day. (It will have been 10 years on July 1st). Whatever the reason, I feel very subdued today. Quiet and non-talkative. I don’t have much motivation to hang out at the Festival afterward although we almost certainly will.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Hard Working Americans

There was just an AP article posted that found that Senator Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans is weakening again and how the whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me and in independents, I was running even with him and doing even better with Democratic-leaning independents. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.” (Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)

Put those words into the mouth of Newt Gingrich or Bill O’Reilly. Let your mind wander through the myriad social and political consequences if that had been, say, Dennis Hastert or even the GOP standard bearer, John McCain. Would it be okay with you? If you are a progressive and you say anything other than “no, it wouldn’t” you’re lying to yourself. You know what you would think and you would be correct. I’m going to give Senator Clinton the benefit of the doubt and state, outright, that I don’t believe that she is a racist in the sense that I do not believe that she considers blacks, as a group, to be somehow inferior to her. But it is decidedly racist, at its very core, to use the racism of others to your political advantage. Senator Clinton is betting the farm on going into the primaries in West Virginia, Virginia and Oregon and courting the votes of whites without education, banking on the idea that whites with less education are more likely to be racist.

“...working Americans, hard-working Americans, white Americans...” With these words, the cracks in the bravado started to show. Senator Clinton is an unmistakably intelligent human being and certainly a savvy and formidable political powerhouse. Which is why what she said and the way she said it is so unfortunate. Now, right up front, I am willing to grant some level of dignified wiggle room for the Senator. Again, I don’t think it can be carried so far to say that she dislikes or feels superior to black people. Now, all of us who are at all politically literate know that ‘blue collar Americans’ is a pseudonym for ‘white working-class Americans’. Everyone knows who is being talked about but not much objection is raised, typically, because the term is generic enough to not to necessarily exclude non-whites.

Then there is the conflation of “hard-working Americans” with “white Americans”. Again, recall that she’s talking about the demographics of her voting bloc. It is obvious to anyone who is even nominally aware of what is going on that blacks are overwhelmingly backing Obama. So there really was no need for her to throw in the construction “hard-working Americans” except to be found in the same neighborhood as “white Americans” where the two phrases my enjoy a couple of shots before, say, watching the Indianapolis 500. This is still not prima facie evidence of deliberateness on the part of Senator Clinton. It can even fairly be said that what she said was factually accurate, since the AP story does report more or less those facts. The issue here is not whether or not the main thrust of her argument, that whites with less education are voting for her, is factually correct or not.

Let’s move on and meditate upon the last part of this stunning quote: “I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.“ Here, I think our friend the Babelfish, from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, could come in handy. The subtext here is ”there are more whites than there are blacks and, well, do the math...“ Essentially she’s looking to encourage the very kind of thinking that we so desperately need to get beyond ”Hey you! In the Ford F250! Vote for me, whatever else the GOP can say about me, at least I’m white!“

Now, here’s the astonishing statement. I don’t think that Hillary Clinton was consciously thinking any of this when the words escaped her mouth nor do I think she was thinking about it when she said that blacks would come back to her in the general election. I think that this is one of those things we think about but typically filter. I try, very hard, to be non-racist and while some might say that blacks cannot be racist I would disagree. I have had thoughts that were decidedly racist about, for instance, Indians or Filipinos. But I catch myself when I’m thinking them and pull them out and try to examine where they come from so I do not allow them any quarter in my meme-space. I would be surprised if others did not find themselves having to do something similar. The point is that Hillary Clinton is tired, this has worn her down, she’s very surprised by what has happened to her campaign and seems unsure as to whether she is going to try to exit with as much grace as she possibly can or if she is going to attempt to go out in some kind of Götterdämmerung which ends up in some kind of Greek tragedy.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Journey to the Mac Side of the Force

I have had my Macbook Pro for a bit over a month now. I have been a Windows user since 1989 with occasional contact with the Macs owned by friends or employers. Since I had used them before and lusted after them, I have always thought that Macs were superior machines. Now, almost twenty years after I bought my first modern computer (a 486/16 with 16mb RAM and a 128mb hard drive) I have bought my first new Mac (I briefly had a Macbook in 1997 that I bought when my employer discontinued supporting Macs that year, but it was stolen a few months after I got it in a home break-in) and I am loving it!

Because this was a new purchase, I had to buy a lot of software. I purchased MacJournal, Notes, Bento, Quicken, eMedia Guitar Method, Photoshop Elements 6, Aperture, iWork, Personal Backup X5, Personal Antispam X5 and the ubiquitous Norton Anti-Virus, I also purchased an Apple Time Capsule. So I’ve spent quite a chunk of change. This is a chronicle of that journey from the Windows to the Mac side of the Force.

As any of my friends or my partner will tell you, I am somewhat obsessed with having a cool looking desktop. Now, finally, I have that cool desktop.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying how things just work. So far I have jumped into doing digital photography and now I’m doing my blog more frequently.

MacJournal and iWeb have become my friends and soon I will work out Garage Band.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Freegeek: The Triumphant Return

Today is my first Saturday back at Freegeek after a nearly two year hiatus! It’s been good to be back here. Today I’m doing Office Hours which entails sitting in a big lab and answering various and sundry Linux questions on a one-to-one basis. It’s good to be back at the ‘Geek’, as I call this place. These are my people, nerdy, geeky, excited about technology and progressive, very techno-hippy.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Will this never end?!

Tuesday’s primary resolved absolutely nothing. Clinton pulled off a win in Pennsylvania which keeps her alive until the next primary in two weeks. Obama wasn’t able to win the victory he needed for her to get out and so it drags on and on. The longer this goes on and the more I see of the Clintons and how they are playing this thing the less enamored of them I become. The day after the primary, I found myself wondering if I would even vote for Clinton if she managed, somehow, to pull off a miracle and become the Democratic party nominee.

What’s more, the primary has been so bruising and brutal that I wonder if either of them have a chance of taking down McCain in November. It is very possible that they may have wounded one another enough that it is no longer possible and if that turns out to be the case the Democrats would have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory yet again! Of course, this would be different because this year wasn’t supposed to play out like this. This was supposed to be the year that it was supposed to suck to be a Republican. Their initial field of candidates was lackluster to say the least, white males all, with only Mitt Romney as the fair-haired boy among them and he had liabilities a mile long. Giuliani, Paul, Thompson never really had a chance and McCain was the least favored person for the conservative base. After it became clear that McCain was going to be the nominee, I was salivating at the prospect of watching the general election play itself out. Back then it looked like the match-up could be McCain vs. Obama and the latter was going to sidle up to the former and eat him like lobster!

Then Clinton decided that it would be a great idea to hand McCain his general election campaign and to take several pages from the Vast Right-wing Conspiracy and throw it at Obama.

I thought this was going to be an exciting election, at this point I think I could do with a little bored.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Our Day Trip to the Oregon Coast

Today we drove the car to the coast. First we stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory where we bought way too much cheese before heading up to Cannon Beach. On the drive there, I managed to pour an Italian soda all over my new khaki chinos which I wore for the first time. Wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t gotten blackberry. At any rate, this precipitated driving past Cannon Beach to Seaside where I bought a pair of cargo pants at Eddie Bauer . Finally we managed to get back down to Cannon Beach where we ate a very late (and gigantic) lunch at Mo’s before driving into town proper and walking around.

At this point, a couple of observations are called for. The first is that I LOVE living now. When I was looking for someplace to buy pants, Fred Meyer’s or something, I pulled out my trusty iPhone (which if I could have it surgically implanted in my body I would) and searched for the closest thing I could find. Not only did it find the nearest Fred Meyers (just outside of Astoria) but gave me directions based upon where I was. Now, THAT is some insanely great tech right there! Later, when I needed to find the bar we are currently sitting in where I am blogging this again, I searched and found the bar not knowing the address just the name and city.

Another observation, on our drive from Tillamook to Cannon Beach, I got a chance to open up the Audi a bit and see what it could do. OH MY GODDESS I LOVE THAT CAR!!! At one point I had to sprint past an RV that was holding up the works, unfortunately, the passing lane was in a curvy part of the road. I punched it, she leapt forward and suddenly we went from doing 45mph (72kmh) to doing just under 70mph (112kmh). We’re hitting curves rated at 40(kmh) mph at 65 mph. The car just leaned into the curve, gripped the road and didn’t let go. I thought I had driven before but now I understand how fun driving really can be!

Friday, April 11, 2008

From the well meaning stupid people are still stupid file

At the protest, Wednesday, about the Olympic torch’s pass through San Franciso, the following sign was carried high and proud by some well-meaning person:

Wouldn’t it be great if to be socially active you actually had to know something about the world? I’m amazed no one stopped the person and said “Ummm, 1936 in Berlin?” Sigh.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Vehicular Musings

Today I become a luxury car owner. It’s ‘only’ an Audi A4 Quattro but it’s going to be ours! What a difference a few days make. Originally we thought we were going to get a BMW 328i. That was what I really wanted but the dealer didn’t come down far enough into my price range. Jaime managed to find, on Craigslist of all places, a 2000 Audi that a couple was selling because they had a baby and a sport sedan isn’t as parental as a Volvo. So their loss (more his than hers by the sound of it) is our gain.

It’s got a Bose sound system in it (this I like) and the instrument console has more of a space shuttle feel to it (and that has always been one of my desires is to get in my car and feel like I’m piloting the space shuttle) and it’s going to cost us less than 9K (albeit just under 9K at $8700).

I finally after so many, many years have a Mac. I’ve always liked Apple computers, certainly since the early 90’s when I was working at Gamescape in SF and we had two at work, along with the one my housemate owned and another that was owned by the person who hosted my D&D group. And now I have one. I love my Macbook! I’m sitting on the MAX, writing my little heart out.

My buddy Todd was teasing me that I would stop riding my bike to work and would soon be as out-of-shape as many of the other folks in the office. I told him “watch me not”. I’m determined that even though I have a car, I’m still going to ride most days. I might give myself the luxury of driving one day a week but the other days are definitely going to be spent on MAX and bike. That way I can write. I have a novel and a non-fiction book about race burning a hole in my head and I want to get them written. An hour each way on MAX will give me that opportunity.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The song remains the same

At the request of a friend, I popped over and took a look at the doings on  This was a mistake, particularly after having read Bill Kristol's column today in the NY Times.  (More on that in a bit)  My friend requested that I look at the White Privilege thread and, of course, it was the same old thing only this time regarding Barack Obama's masterful speech on race.  There was the usual denying of white privilege and the usual copy-and-pastes of the same lists of what white privilege is by the usual people.  Someone, in an obviously mistaken attempt at levity, posted a link to this article at the Onion .  This was met, quite predictably, by attention being drawn to how the satire wasn't funny (it is, in fact, quite funny) and how the words used in the piece were precisely what POC go through everyday, etc. etc. ad nauseum infinitum.  Didn't people actually listen to the speech or did they just hear that the speech occurred?   Here was an opportunity for the POC on to be heard and, as far as I could read, many of the whites just weren't interested in listening.  What's more many of the POC didn't appear to hear something Obama said about white privilege, to wit:

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

Now, to my mind these are some of the most insightful and bravest words spoken about race in America anytime in my lifetime.  Not only because it is definitely true that, in fact, this is exactly how many working- and middle-class whites feel when they hear the words 'white privilege' but the very idea that blacks have any kind of obligation to do so much as acknowledge that it might hold a grain of truth is entirely foreign.  I will admit that on more than one occasion I have heard whites talk about that and closed my hears to their words, however, as I have grown and lived a bit more and realized what kind of amazing privilege I grew up with because of class and realized that there have been and are white folks who grew up with far less privilege than I did.  This doesn't mean that they don't have white-skin privilege but they do not see themselves as privileged and, to take one example, it is hard to imagine how my best friend from high school could have felt privileged compared to me because he was poor and I lived in a huge house compared to the small apartment then duplex.  It is painful to watch and I didn't post anything on (and won't after the trashing I got) but it seems that both sides of this debate have entrenched and are now just doing a kabuki dance with one another, both playing their assigned parts to the hilt.  It's almost as if one were watching computers caught in a looping dialog. 

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Coda on blog weirdness

"I think that the protocols of disagreement, how do we disagree and press our ideas, even press our ideas powerfully and yet not turn opposition into enmity...We need to find a way to struggle with one another and not make enemies of one another...what's so bad about the sell-out indictment, it alienates people who might otherwise be allies.  And that's yet another bad feature of the sell-out indictment.  You and I could argue strenuously and after a period of time could say 'let's carry our argument out over dinner' but if during our argument you called me a sell-out we're not going to go to dinner.  In fact, we're probably not going to talk anymore. Because even entering into a disagreement requires a certain level of trust and if you use that language of sell-out you destroy the basis of any trust." (Randall Kennedy on NPR's Talk of the Nation 7 Feb 2008)

When I heard this quote, I had an epiphany.  First, some backfill.  About a week after I posted on my Dreaded Memes blog about leaving one woman posted something rather, let us say harsh.  The original post was:

Well, well, well. Things sure do look different when the shoe is on the
other foot. I personally saw you sit silently by when another woman of
color was blatantly bashed. And no, it wasn't me, though I am a Black
woman. Don't think the other WOC don't notice your double standards.
You disavow other POC because they don't share your perspective or
privilege. That woman's comments to you were not racist and shame on
you for casting them as such. By the way, I've yet to see you admit
when you are wrong. It's too bad because your general assessment of BF
is accurate, it's just that you only seem to see it when it applies to

Now, I had left but still had an account there.  If this woman had wanted to say something to me, she could have done so privately either there or sent me an email since there is an email link on this blog.  But she posted it as a comment (and I pulled it and my responses down).  It was meant to a bit of schaudenfreude in my own house, if you will.  I reacted.  I didn't think, I just reacted and for perhaps a day or so, got pulled into the very kind of discussion I dislike where it is about the person and not the ideas.  I try to step back and really think things through so responding like this was somewhat out of character, certainly how I interact online.  But listening to Randall Kennedy discuss his book, Sell Out, I realize why this whole thing bothered me so deeply and profoundly. This was an attack that was meant to hurt.  This wasn't about sisterhood or anything noble.  This was just trying to get a dig in because there was a dig to be had.  Thus the necessity of doing so publicly and playing the cheeky game of not even telling me which incident (this woman had an incident in mind) she was talking about.  It was about shaming, not dialog.  And my reaction to this and subsequent posts, which I will spare you reading, makes a lot more sense to me.

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

GOP sources: Romney to suspend campaign -

GOP sources: Romney to suspend campaign -

And then there were two.  So it comes down to Huckabee and McCain which means that the GOP nominee will be McCain.  You know, gentle reader, as well as I do that the GOP is nowhere near suicidal enough to nominate Huckabee.  Well, I guess that pack of kids Romney has sat him down, realizing that this was their inheritance flying out the door, and said "Dad, knock it quite the hell off.  We have gotten used to being rich. We would like that tradition to continue."

Thursday, January 31, 2008

From the &quot;I wish I had said this" grab bag

Both of these worldviews, God-centered religion and atheistic communism, are opposed by a third and in some ways more radical worldview, scientific humanism. Still held by only a tiny minority of the world's population, it considers humanity to be a biological species that evolved over millions of years in a biological world, acquiring unprecedented intelligence yet still guided by complex inherited emotions and biased channels of learning. Human nature exists, and it was self-assembled. It is the commonality of the hereditary responses and propensities that define our species. Having arisen by evolution during the far simpler conditions in which humanity lived during more than 99 percent of its existence, it forms the behavioral part of what, in The Descent of Man, Darwin called the indelible stamp of our lowly origin. (Edward O. Wilson)


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Do Progressives think in terms of strategy or tactics?

First, some definitions:

Tactics, then, are isolated actions or events that take advantage of opportunities offered by the gaps within a given strategic system, although the tactician never holds onto these advantages. Tactics cut across a strategic field, exploiting gaps in it to generate novel and inventive outcomes. Tactics are usually used to spoil the running context.

Strategy is about choice, which affects outcomes. Organizations can often survive -- indeed do well -- for periods of time in conditions of relative stability, low environmental turbulence and little competition for resources. Virtually none of these conditions prevail in the modern world for great lengths of time for any organization or sector, public or private. Hence, the rationale for strategic management. The nature of the strategy adopted and implemented emerges from a combination of the structure of the organization (loosely coupled or tightly coupled), the type of resources available and the nature of the coupling it has with environment and the strategic objective being pursued.

Strategy is adaptable by nature rather than rigid set of instructions. In some situations it takes the nature of emergent strategy. The simplest explanation of this is the analogy of a sports scenario. If a football team were to organize a plan in which the ball is passed in a particular sequence between specifically positioned players, their success is dependent on each of those players both being present at the exact location, and remembering exactly when, from whom and to whom the ball is to be passed; moreover that no interruption to the sequence occurs. By comparison, if the team were to simplify this plan to a strategy where the ball is passed in the pattern alone, between any of the team, and at any area on the field, then their vulnerability to variables is greatly reduced, and the opportunity to operate in that manner occurs far more often. This manner is a strategy.

The question I want to ponder today is what a long-term Progressive political strategy looks like.  All progressives would agree that we need to do something about what we are doing to the environment.  Let's take a look at how the question of strategy and tactics plays itself out in this arena.  Recently, Greenpeace sent a ship, the Esperanza to shadow some Japanese whaling vessels.  Now, the Esperanza had to turn back because of fuel issues but this is a prime example of tactical moves.  There's a gap, and you exploit that gap to your ends which they did because even though they had to turn back, no small amount of ink and bandwidth was consumed in reporting on their actions and Japanese whaling in general. However, it doesn't scale well and isn't a long-term strategy.  It's something you do when you can do it, namely when a whaling fleet sets sail and you're in the position to do so.

Strategy, on the other hand, is longer-term and it is this that I wish to focus on.  So what would an environmental strategy look like?  Let me say, at the outset, that environmental issues are not my forte'.  What I know is from secondary and tertiary sources and not primary sources (meaning I don't tend to read journals written by people who studied environmental science).  So there will be much to criticize in this post but the specifics are less important than the overall picture.

So, what does an environmental strategy look like?  I would say that in order to formulate one, you have to look at the problem as clearly as you can.  I will take just one factor to keep things simple; carbon emissions.  We all know that a large part of the problem is that we burn fossil fuels to power our cars and our cities and that is just in the highly industrialized West.  The big problem is still coming on-line and that is China and India.  We (all of humanity) cannot afford for either China or India to live and drive huge gas-guzzling SUVs in any kind of numbers like Americans.  Yet, we have no right to pull the development ladder up and say "sorry, we recognize that your two great and ancient nations represent a full-third of humanity but you got to the industrialization party too late.  You really should've gotten this far in the early 20th century..."  So how do we address, long-term, the issue of Third World industrialization and all of its attendant issues (deforestation is another big one which, of course, leads to species extinction) while not doing some kind of paternalistic ladder-raising?  So we have three populations (American, Chinese and Indian) that need to be convinced to either accept some more inconvenience and pain (Americans--let's be honest, we could restructure our society so we don't have to drive so damn much) or to take a different industrialization track than the West (ideally, if they could just skip the 19th/20th century style of oil/coal power as a primary energy source this would go a long way). 

Now, the technologies are out there to be used (the amount of carbon I use getting to and from work is minimal because I bicycle, take the bus and take light-rail and none of those are exotics or novel) and there's the potential of solar power to really provide the vast majority of our energy needs (get cars, buses and trucks off of fossil fuels and onto electricity, use regional solar power plants to provide power to cities and, incidentally, our vehicles except airplanes which will need to use fossil fuels for the foreseeable future).  But how do we convince people to change their lives?  My co-workers largely look at me as if I were insane for riding to work, yet they all say they are concerned about the environment--just before they get in their SUV to drive the five miles to their home.  This is the kind of strategic thinking and talking about that I hope to see more of from Progressives. 

As an aside (sort of) Barack Obama was more right than wrong when he said that for the last quarter century, the Republicans were the party of ideas.  They have spent the last quarter century thinking about how to frame their political wants and desires in a way that is palpable and how to counter Liberal and Progressive voices or make them outright irrelevant.  But now, it's the Progressives' turn.  We have the gap in the American body politic (tactics) let's exploit it by beginning to really do evidence-based politics where we try to come up with
real solutions for real world problems.


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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The ultimate betrayal? Really? No, not really Virginia.

NOW-New York State Press Releases

And so it comes to this.  Ted Kennedy, the liberals' liberal has betrayed women (No one asked me) when he endorsed Barack Obama?

According to NOW-NY:  "Women have just experienced the ultimate betrayal. "  This is the final, horrible logic of identity politics come to fruition.  No where in the press release is there anything about how Kennedy's endorsement was for a candidate who is less qualified than Clinton.  And the over-the-top language?  Ultimate betrayal?  Not endorsing a female candidate for President is the worst thing that the Massachusetts senator could do to women?  Really?  Do they actually believe that?

Later they go on to say:  "This latest move by Kennedy, is so telling about the status of and respect for women’s rights, women’s voices, women’s equality, women’s authority and our ability..."  Again, I ask really?  What does it tell?  Only that NOW-NY backs Hillary Clinton because she's a woman first and foremost.  Is it possible that, even taking very cynical realpolitik into account, that Barack Obama is the most electable Democrat running?  Might it even (gasp) be possible that he is imminently qualified to be POTUS? 

Now, if I were a race-woman then this paragraph would begin by accusing NOW-NY of racism because they are supporting a white woman for POTUS instead of a black man.  But I loathe identity politics with such a deep and abiding passion that I refuse to indulge that thought, even though it crossed my mind for maybe a minute.  I do not believe that NOW-NY had racist intentions, just that in their rush to be feminist (a cause I absolutely support) they have merely gone to the other side of the coin.  So let me make this clear:  If Hillary Clinton is the nominee (and I hope she is not for purely political and policy reasons) I will vote for her (what other choice do I have) and I will be well-aware that I am casting a historic vote and if we wake up on the first Wednesday in November and discover that we have elected a female POTUS I will be proud and happy and joyful because she is a woman and it is about damn time we elected a woman.  But it would be indefensible for me, as a feminist, to support Hillary Clinton merely because she is a woman.  It is no different, in either style or substance, than someone voting against her because she is a woman.  I support Barack Obama because I want a POTUS I can believe in.  In the last decade of last century, there was a man I believed was that politician.  I remember remarking to my parents that I finally 'got it' about their love of John F. Kennedy.  And then Bill let me down.  He let me down in policy ways and he let me down by being politically stupid.  But I still want a President I believe in.  Watching Obama, I really understand what people mean when they talk about Kennedy.  Do I think he would make a perfect candidate?  No.  Do I think he would make a perfect President?  No.  But, I am not looking for perfection, just someone competent and in whom I can believe--at least a little.  At present, I believe Obama when he talks about wanting to heal the divisions in America.  I believe him when he talks about trying to rise above the politics of personal destruction.  So far, so good.  I am, of course, painfully aware that he is a black man and that if he is the nominee I will have the opportunity to cast a historic vote and if he is elected I will be living through a historical event that I will be able to tell my granddaughter.  But I will not be voting for Obama because he is a black man, I will merely be voting for him because I believe he can do the job and happy that, finally, I get to cast a vote for a black man for POTUS. 

NOW-NY has succumbed to what many committed activists do; the sirens' lure of identity politics where what you are becomes who you are and thus constrains your movements because you have to do certain things.  As a woman, I'm 'supposed' (using NOW-NYs' logic) to support Clinton because she's a woman.  If I bother to actually study her politics that's all well and good and no one should hold it against me if I do.  But I'm 'supposed' to support her because she's a Democrat (I have a feeling that if it was Condi Rice running, she would not have NOW-NYs' backing but I could be wrong) and a woman.  Nowhere is the idea that there are other, more pressing, political calculations to make. 

Now, I want to be clear, I think Hillary Clinton is an inspiring figure.  However, if you like the sound of President John McCain then Clinton is the Democrat you want him to run against.  The GOP base may not turn out because there's no love lost between them and McCain, unless by doing so they can prevent Clinton from getting into the White House.  Clinton is beatable and obviously so, Obama is not quite so beatable.  But as a woman I'm not 'supposed' to take that kind of realpolitik into consideration.  Well, this woman does because this woman wants to see a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic Congress.  Above electing a black man (which I'd love to see) or a woman (which I'd love to see), I want our nation to stop this destructive slide we are on and I think that a Democrat in the White House is our best, last chance for doing so.  The Democratic party is famous for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory (2004 Presidential election anyone) and this is one year we can't afford to do that (we couldn't in 2004 either but we did anyway.  John Kerry?  Really, he's the best we could come up with?).

NOW-NY is out to lunch but, in the making lemonade from lemons department, hopefully this will be yet another nail in the coffin of identity politics.


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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Barack Obama, you had me at 'Yes, we can change&quot;

Obama speech: 'Yes, we can change' -

I didn't hear the speech, I read it and now I wish I had heard it first.  This was a great American speech.  I hope that twenty years from now, they'll teach this speech.  But that's not what this is about. 

This is about how Barack Obama got me to believe him.  I'm willing to suspend disbelief because he really appears to be the real deal.  A more or less pragmatic Progressive.  I don't expect him to be ideologically pure.  I expect that there are places that folks can make many mountains out of molehills.  I'm sure that all manner of swiftboating will take place.  Yet, I think this man can be the next President of the United States. 

We're up against decades of bitter partisanship that cause politicians to demonize their opponents instead of coming together to make college affordable or energy cleaner. It's the kind of partisanship where you're not even allowed to say that a Republican had an idea, even if it's one you never agreed with.

That's the kind of politics that is bad for our party, it is bad for our country, and this is our chance to end it once and for all.

We're up against the idea that it's acceptable to say anything and do anything to win an election. But we know that this is exactly what's wrong with our politics. This is why people don't believe what their leaders say anymore. This is why they tune out. And this election is our chance to give the American people a reason to believe again.

But let me say this, South Carolina. What we've seen in these last weeks is that we're also up against forces that are not the fault of any one campaign, but feed the habits that prevent us from being who we want to be as a nation.

It's the politics that uses religion as a wedge and patriotism as a bludgeon, a politics that tells us that we have to think, act and even vote within the confines of the categories that supposedly define us, the assumption that young people are apathetic, the assumption that Republicans won't cross over, the assumption that the wealthy care nothing for the poor and that the poor don't vote, the assumption that African-Americans can't support the white candidate, whites can't support the African-American candidate, blacks and Latinos cannot come together.

We are here tonight to say that that is not the America we believe in.

That took me over the edge.  This cuts to the core of what has been wrong in this country for most of my adult life. As much as it pains me to cut Clinton out of this picture, but I think that the smart ticket is Obama-Edwards (poor John, always the Veep candidate).  I think that Clinton anywhere on the ticket is too much of a lightning rod and 'd like my son to live some part of his life in a world where a Bush or Clinton wasn't in the Executive, so far his entire twenty-one years has been spent with either a Bush or a Clinton in the White House.  None of which is to say that if she's the nominee I won't support her. 

This is a politics of hope.  A belief that the American people, while not always the sharpest knives in the drawer, can break out of being sheeple when the chips are down.  The country is in a mess, no question about that.  We let conservative ideas dominate the available dialog of solutions for a generation, that didn't work out so great.  There's a space open in the body politic, I hope, for us to turn away from the brink and bring a more compassionate sanity to our politics. 

Read the speech
.  It's really quite amazing.


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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Contractual Obligations

This is going to be very meta-. Since Matthew and I are doing this little project, neither of us having any idea what we're doing, I thought it might be useful—if only on my part—to make a longer preliminary statement. I do this, in part, because misunderstandings can arise in these discussions, particularly if the issue is race, one is black and one has a significant parting-of-the-ways with what could be called ideological orthodoxy. I am not a political conservative. By any reasonable definition, I am a Socialist for most practical economic purposes. I am a social libertarian meaning that unless there is some compellingly good reason for a non-harmfulact or substance to be illegal, it should not be illegal. I am, on principle, on board with the idea that you get to end your own life as you choose. I believe that the war-on-drugs is a massive and tragic failure. I believe that a woman's right to make decisions about her own reproductivity is an inherent right. I believe that marriage should be a contract that people can enter into and if some wish to impose religious ceremony or meaning on it, bully for them. Since there is no reason why two women or two men could not enter into such a contract, I strongly support gay marriage. I oppose the death penalty on a number of fronts although, to be perfectly honest, not categorically. If someone were to, for instance, release smallpox back into the ecology, death would be a fate altogether too good for them. I believe that it is indicative of racism that so many black men are on death row, relative to their representation in the population as a whole. I am no fan of free-market capitalism (regulated capitalism is another story).

In other words, I am a pretty typical left-coast Progressive. That said, my views on race and multiculturalism, in its strongest forms, are not in keeping with Progressive orthodoxy. Why this is so is the subject of this post.

Firstly, it would be helpful to define what I mean when I use terms like 'justice' and 'social contract' because they're very relevant.

I am a Rawlsian Liberal. Meaning that I take a lot of my thinking about Justice from John Rawls' seminal work, “A Theory of Justice”. In it, he articulates the idea of justice as fairness. As a thought experiment, he asks us to imagine creating a society ex nihilo. We get to make a truly just society, wipe the slate clean and start all over. Everyone involved in the negotiation starts from exactly the same place, as equals. The really clever bit is this, no one knows where they will end up in the social hierarchy; meaning that you don't know whether you will be rich or poor, in the ethnic majority or an ethnic or religious minority. No one knows if they will be male or female. The set of rules that this group of self-interested parties would come up with for ordering a society will tend to be a just one. There is a great deal more to it than that, of course. (It's a difficult book, it took me a long time to get through it because it's very dense but well worth the read. )

One cannot help but notice that this assumes a social contract which is the other grounding assumption I make. I believe that humans order society by sets of agreements between parties. We form coalitions, build alliances, have hierarchies, etc. All of these are relational and, ultimately, contractual arrangements. This may be a good thing or it may not be, for my purposes this is simply what is and what we have to work with if we desire to see great social justice and equality.

There is one last important grounding assumption I feel the need to confess. I believe that human beings are animals and that means that we are what we are because evolution. Whatever transcendence we may attain, however brief, we carry our Pleistocene past with us. We are not creatures of the city so much as we are creatures of the village. This also means that we are neither angels nor are we monsters. This means that there are practical limits to the perfectability of humans and thus, to our societies. I think we are not there. This is not it, there's a lot of work to do, but I think a better world is possible just very difficult to obtain and it can only be so much better.

Again, I felt the need to put this out there first before going to the meat of the matter. So here we go.

In order for there to be racial progress, and I think most folks would say that things have ground to some kind of impasse to some degree, we must re-envision what it is we are trying to achieve. We have to re-think what the struggle is about and this will change how we go about thinking about solving the problem. This is not my parent's civil rights struggle. They were involved in the Struggle during the 40's, 50's and 60's in Alabama. That is not where my life is lived, it is not really the life lived by any black folks in America today. This struggle is different and, to some degree, the greater part of it must take place within the black community. It pains me to write that. It pains me deeply to write it. But it must be said. This is not to say that this work is the whole of the thing, merely that it is a large part of the thing.

It is time for the black community, particularly the black intelligentsia, to abandon the strong form of multiculturalism. The strong form states that cultures are sacrosanct. All cultures are sacrosanct and have rights that transcend the rights of people within those cultures. Such that if one is a person of goodwill one is obligated never to criticize a culture except for the dominant one. What this has meant is that a number of things that really shouldn't be tolerated are tolerated and I am talking about things that have been going on in the black community, certainly as long as I have been aware.

Afrocentrism must die.

I will start with the most ridiculous (yes, that's the word I'm using) idea that I think does harm to race relations in America and that is Afrocentrism. At the core of this ideology is the idea that black children will only identify with figures of historical note or with various achievements if the people who performed these feats are of the same color. So the fact that someone built the pyramids is secondary to the idea that these people were black (which they weren't—these were not sub-Saharan Africans). Aristotle did not get his ideas from the library at Alexandria because when he lived,