Monday, September 29, 2008

Put Buffett in Charge!

== A side rriff back into politics. (Can’t help it!) ==

Compare these two sets of credibility scores:

1 -  “In my view, derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.” Warren Buffet, in his 2002 report to shareholders. Buffet is now an economics advisor to Barack Obama.

Also (on the same side of credibility), there’s the tale of Freddie Mac's Chief Risk Officer, who expressed concerns in mid-2004, that the company was buying bad loans that "would likely pose an enormous financial and reputational risk to the company and the country...leading to his being fired in 2005." opposed to....

2 - "Hands Off Hedge Funds" by Sebastian Mallaby, a fellow currently in McCain's brain trust, writing in Foreign Affairs, February 2007: "Moreover, hedge funds collectively do not so much create risk, as absorb itHedge funds can also reduce the danger that economies will over respond to shocks." Thus…"restrictions on hedge funds are the wrong way to deal with it."

Which isn’t as staggering as what the GOP platform said in 2004. “The most significant barrier to homeownership is the down payment. We support efforts to reduce that barrier, like the American Dream Downpayment Act and Zero Downpayment Mortgages.”

Or take the worst example of all -- the actions of McCain’s chief economics advisor, former Senator Phil Gramm, to forbid and remove all oversight from derivatives market! An act that today’s shame-faced SEC Chairman Christopher Cox now calls directly and clearly responsible (along with rampant greed and failure of “self-policing”) for the mess we are in.

Inside-Job-movieNote, how the right wing bloggers are desperate to shift responsibility... now they are trying to blame a Quadrillion dollars in foolish wagers -- and twenty billions in corrupt commissions -- on a few tens of millions of dollars in loans to poor hispanics... who actually happen to repay at a rate well above the national average!

See the excellent documentary Inside Job, directed by Charles Ferguson with its insightful portrayal of the 2008 financial crisis.

Key point: which of those two groups (above) should have higher credibility scores? 

--Or deserve more of our trust?

--Group number one or group number two?

What can we conclude from all this? Other than the fact that Obama’s economics advisor has been right a lot and McCain’s have wrought only catastrophe?

Well, let me put it quite simply. Since we seem about to have a “bailout package” as a done deal, whether we like it or not.

But there is still time to shout and holler and yell for one last element of sanity, to be inserted into the bill!

Let’s pray that a single senator has the guts to stand up, threaten a filibuster, and make one demand, on our behalf.

Put Warren Buffet is put in charge of picking the securities that the Treasury will buy, with all those tax dollars. That’s Buffet... and not Paulson or anyone else who helped to make this mess.

It is a simple position to take, easy to defend. And an easy modification to make. And the result will be the best possible chance we have of breaking even, instead of this becoming a socialist klepto raid to save the hash of Paulson’s rich friends.

Tapdancing To Work300.grid-4x2This is an idea that is so simple, so obvious, that even we economics dunces ought to be able to insist on it. Instead of trusting the foxes to save the chicken cook THEY have demolished... let's hire the watchdog who warned us in the first place.

Give “the world's greatest investor" one more chance to buy low and sell high. 

For all of us.

Viral it.

==Hiding from the Truth==

Want a metaphor for the monomaniacal way that our beloved ostrich friends and neighbors hide from the truth? Faced with cognitive dissonance that would make lesser delusions shatter into dust and gas, these stalwarts cling to rationalizations that vector upon the hysterical. Conjuring up incredible stories like “illegal hispanics defaulting on zero-down mortgages caused the collapse of a quadrillion dollar Ponzi scheme.”(Seriously, that fantasy is hitting the rounds!) Oh, and Obama is a marxist-muslim.

1988They_Live_poster300Okay, I thought of just the right metaphor! They Live is a 1988 movie directed by John Carpenter, based on Ray Nelson’s Sheckleyish 1963 short story "Eight O’Clock in the Morning". Rent it! It is truly wonderful. And there's this scene that will make you laugh & cry at the same time, in which these two big, decent-but-dumb guys beat the crap out of each other over whether the black dude will simply put on a pair of special sunglasses that will let him see the aliens who are enslaving the Earth.

Oh, but what a perfect metaphor! THAT is how bad it is with ostriches. There are no levels, no criteria under which anyone could rationally defend anything that has in any way been done by the Republican party since the 1995 Welfare Reform Act. Today, they are a wholly owned subsidiary of the S'udiroyal court and every path they have sent America down has led to our further ruination. It is as clear as the twin towers were, out the window of every passenger on those planes.

But how they’ll fight for their illusions! Oh, if only it were as easy as forcing our neighbors to put on some sunglasses.

== Catch a SPORE ==

ExorariumA couple of years ago, Will Wright asked world renowned tech artist and professor Sheldon Brown - and me - come up and visit Will’s shop in Berkeley, because he heard we were working on a concept somewhat similar to SPORE. He was relieved to learn we had 1/10,000th of his funding! Still, in order to grasp what had him (briefly) worried, see our Exorarium Project Proposal ... (and if you hear of any big money groups that want to compete with SPORE, let us know.;-)

If ever carried to completion, the Exorarium would offer many of the same delights as SPORE -- such as building your own, evolved species and playing interactions with others. Only, with some crucial differences.

1) Wil's concept is classic-patterned game. The player has a budget and "buys" species traits, then earns a bigger budget by winning battles. Yeah, my kids enjoy it (good job Will!) But there are alternatives, and some perhaps just as fun, while being a lot more like nature.

While SPORE starts small, in a droplet of water, the Exorarium asks the player to begin by choosing a star, then a planetary system, a planet, an ecosystem... etc... and letting the chips fall where they may. As you dial in with your choices, the vast forrest of evolutionary pathway-possibilities gets chopped and winnowed, getting narrower with every decision, till you wind up with a slender tree of possible evolved outcomes. Still a matter of “choice” I guess. Only our approach emulates and incorporates and joyfully explores the range of possibilities offered by science.

Because of this (and Will got a chuckle when I said it), the Exorarium is a simulation of evolution, while SPORE is much more like "intelligent design"!

2) Because the Exorarium revolves around real science, there is obvious potential value as an education tool. In fact, the worldwide game would ideally be "anchored" with two or three or four lavish installations in some of the great science museums, like the Hayden or Griffith Planetariums. (See the gorgeous conceptual drawings, created by Sheldon Brown.) Though of course, 99.9% of the players - and revenue - would be generated by home and internet-based players. Both museum kinds of users would have the option (not required) of learning about all the different sciences that helped to make us, from astronomy to chemistry to biology.

3) At the end of the fun process of unleashing (rather than controlling) evolution, each player winds up with his or her own species, just like in SPORE. Only with a surrounding ecosystem and companion/dependent/competitor species, as well as a place on a complex food chain! These can then be played in Phase Two of the game --the "extraterrestrial terrarium" -- in First Contact scenarios that follow some of the methods used at the venerable CONTACT Conferences. Guessing the motives of other species, based on limited knowledge, would make up half the fun. And war is only one of many possible outcomes!

4) Of course, a David Brin design would have to include Uplift!

Ah, well. Of course this would take somebody with deep pockets, who either cared about mass science education or else wanted a “killer” game to compete with this year’s killer game! Ideally.... both.

= = Some interesting alerts! ==

wisdom-of-crowdsNewsFutures is excited to announce the first Wisdom of Crowds Consulting Workshop, to be held in New York City on October 27th, 2008. It is designed especially for small and medium-size business consultancies who would like to acquire a working knowledge of how to put collective intelligence to work for their clients. A couple of days later I’ll be in Boston (MIT etc) Almost went to this. Anybody in the area, care to go attend and report?

----- Finally accepting the value of transparency and citizen action? The Pentagon this past spring launched its so-called Minerva initiative - a hunt for more information on the Chinese military, ways to marginalize al-Qaida, new anti-terror strategies. Thirty years ago, it might have been top-secret stuff. Today, the military is asking everyone for help - and will post the results in full public view. It's another example of a new world of problem-solving that seeks answers in the public square. Defense Secretary Robert Gates calculates that the transparency of Minerva is also its strength, that by looking to everyone for advice and letting the crowd weigh in on the results, the communal know-how will be that much richer.

----- A fan wrote in: “Joss Whedon’s new TV show, Dollhouse, is very reminiscent of Kiln People sans the kiln. Hope you’re benefiting in some way. If not its great to see original ideas on the tube for a change, just wish the originator gets some kudos.”

----- Here are my latest books available on Kindle.

== More Stuff ==

An extensive article about alternative energy... See the part about Masda City becoming the first carbon-neutral city...

United Solar Ovonic of Auburn Hills, MI, has teamed with Centria, a major roofing company, to create a metal roof system that integrates easy-to-install, flexible thin-film amorphous-silicon photovoltaic modules. (EnergyPeak) The partnership offers seven different prefabricated systems

Google is considering deploying the supercomputers necessary to operate its Internet search engines on barges anchored up to seven miles offshore. The "water-based data centers" would use wave energy to power and cool their computers, reducing Google's costs. Their offshore status would also mean the company would no longer have to pay property tax.

Saudi Arabia plans to build a petascale supercomputer system in two years that could rank among the 10 most powerful systems in the world, and beyond that, an exascale system (1000 times as fast as petascale).

Google, celebrating its 10th birthday this month, today unveiled a $10 million effort to implement ideas that can "change the world by helping as many people as possible." As part of the Project 10^100 (pronounced Project 10 to the 100th), Google plans to ask its users to submit ideas until Oct. 20 for ways to improve people's lives. Google will choose what it feels are the 100 best ideas and then allow its users to vote on which of them should be funded. The users will narrow the results to 20 finalists, and a panel of judges will choose up to five ideas that will receive funding, Google said.

Satellite company O3b Networks has linked up with Google and other investors to bring cheaper high-speed wireless Internet access via 16 satellites to areas unlikely to see investments in fiber infrastructure. O3b stands for "other 3 billion," a reference to the world's population that still can't access the Internet.

Wikileaks has developed an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. Wikileaks opens leaked documents up to stronger scrutiny than any media organization or intelligence agency can offer and provides a forum for the entire global community to relentlessly examine any document for its credibility, plausibility, veracity and validity. Its primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but it also expects to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations. The interface is identical to Wikipedia and usable by all types of people. To date, it has received over 1.2 million documents so far from dissident communities and anonymous sources.

The sun has reached a milestone not seen for nearly 100 years: an entire month has passed without a single visible sunspot being noted. The event is significant as many climatologists now believe solar magnetic activity – which determines the number of sunspots -- is an influencing factor for climate on earth. In the past 1000 years, three previous such events -- the Dalton, Maunder, and Spörer Minimums, have all led to rapid cooling. One was large enough to be called a "mini ice age".

If the 100 largest cities in the world replaced their dark roofs with white shingles and their asphalt-based roads with concrete or other light-colored material, it could offset 44 metric gigatons (billion tons) of greenhouse gases.

Intel has reported on "free cooling" using air-side economization. An air-side economizer can draw on outside air to cool the inside a datacenter, then push the hot air that exits the machines back outdoors allowing machines to be cooled by air temperatures as high as 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee's new World Wide Web Foundation is looking for ways to give websites a label for trustworthiness.

Melbourne-based ExitReality said its application allows users to turn any regular website into a 3D virtual environment, where an avatar representing them can walk around and meet other browsers viewing the same website. Founder Danny Stefanic said that previously only specialized websites such as Second Life and World of Warcraft allowed users to enter a 3D environment. "ExitReality goes far beyond that," he said. "It allows you to view not just one website but the entire World Wide Web in 3D."

==The Endless Universe==

The Doppler technique measures the reflex radial motion of a star induced by the presence of companions and is the most successful method to detect exoplanets. If several planets are present, their signals will appear combined in the radial motion of the star, leading to potential misinterpretations of the data. Specifically, two planets in resonant orbits can mimic very efficiently the signal of a single planet in an eccentric orbit. We quantify the physical implications of this solution degeneracy using the well known harmonic expressions of keplerian motion. We find that a significant fraction of the published eccentric one-planet solutions might instead be multiple planet systems in near circular orbits, and that several planets with masses comparable to Earth could have already been detected.

In a bold move, astronomers have begun a new search to understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of intelligent life in the universe. Called which stands for Wait for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, the institute employs an entirely novel approach to achieve its goals. Instead of actively searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, the idea is to simply wait: Wait until the ETs find us. "Waiting is a notoriously under appreciated method in our efforts to search for extraterrestrial intelligence," says the "It is cheaper and less stressful than any other type of research. The WETI Institute is part of OPEU, the Organization for the Passive Exploration of the Universe.

Patches of matter in the universe seem to be moving at very high speeds and in a uniform direction that can't be explained by any of the known gravitational forces in the observable universe. Astronomers are calling the phenomenon "dark flow." The stuff that's pulling this matter must be outside the observable universe, researchers conclude. (Go ahead, read up and have your mind blown.)

Only, now consider what I can’t get anyone to talk about! Until about 5 years ago, the consensus among physicists appeared to be that our Big Bang cosmos was “all there is” and that the bag did not explode “into” anything at all. Any other universes (and they admitted that, say, black holes might either create or lead into other cosmoses) were “forever detached with different metric and no method of informational contact. In fact, so sure they were that the entire PREMISE of the Big Bang was that it arose out of a fluctuation in the Uncertainty principle... and yet would not entertain discussion of any pre-existing cosmoses within which there was an Uncertainty Principle, which could fluctuate and cause a bang!

Um... right. Only, suddenly, a few years ago, it seemed that everything changed. Suddenly, cosmologists are talking about a vast “Macros Cosmos” within which our Big Bang occurred... sharing the same essential (though vast) background context of extensive space! In other words, even though zones of this macro cosmos are supposedly forever out of contact, because of speed of light limitations, nevertheless, we share the same overall (though unbelievably vast) continuously extending metric of the same general dimensions, and pocket universes like ours exist physically side by side, boundaries touching and all that...

...which means the Bang DID “explode” INTO someplace! And... this article now implies... there are even edges that may feel an external force stronger than we do, here. ANd there may even be beings in our Bangiverse who can see what we cannot... the edge into something else. Another realm. Maybe even weird.

Oy! Which is more boggling. These revelations? Or the blithe way the cosmologists appear to have made this change, without more than a wry shrug and a low-voiced “ooops!”

EndlessUniverse...Meanwhile -- Respected scientists have proposed a flock of theories to describe what might have happened before the birth of our familiar universe of space and time. The concepts have fanciful names such as "the big bounce," "the multiverse," "the cyclic theory," "parallel worlds," even "soap bubbles." Some propose the existence of multiple universes. Others hold that there's one universe that recycles itself endlessly, rather as Buddhists believe. Judeo-Christian theologians may have difficulty accepting any of these notions. Most of the hypotheses are variations on an older idea that the universe has no beginning and no end, contrary to the big-bang theory, which says that our universe originated at a specific point and will end sometime in the distant future.

"Neither time nor the universe has a beginning or an end," two leading cosmologists, Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University and Neil Turok of Oxford University, wrote in their 2007 book, "Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang." "The evolution of the universe is cyclic, with big bangs occurring once every trillion years or so, each one accompanied by the creation of new matter and radiation that forms new galaxies, stars, planets and presumably life," they wrote. "Ours is only the most recent cycle." Some scientists contend that observational evidence may be found to back up the speculation. They say that no scientific theory can be considered valid until it's been tested.

Huhnnnnnn... is Fred Hoyle having the last laugh, after all? And is nobody noticing that all of this is TOTALLY different than just 5 years ago?

Oh, but I did hint at it in some stories!!! ;-)

Look, we’re already in the unlikely side universe in which humans were smart enough not to fry themselves with nuclear weapons. Is luck and karma balancing out now? Oh, to ride the quantum collapse wave, like a character in a Greg Egan novel!

==Congratulations Elon!==

Elon Musk, and his great crew at Space Exploration Technologies, have succeeded in the first privately funded launch of a craft into earth orbit. This history-making effort comes as the fourth launch attempt for the new SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket; the company has launches scheduled going forward for this LEO-oriented satellite launcher, even as it continues development on two versions of the nine-engine Falcon 9.

Congratulations Elon! And to the entire enterprise.

Have a glimpse of the new look at! (Thanks to our wondrously skilled and creative webmaster, Beverly Price.) Comments and suggestions (and digg etc points) are welcome.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Who is credible to fix the mess? It's time for grownups.

I’ve been posting some of my better political essays on OpenSalon. Many of my offerings there are more formal. Less strident. Several are nonpartisan, unconventional win-win proposals that might help either major candidate to be successful and help us all.

(Folks are welcome to drop by, offering comments, diggs and upticks.)

Another of my essays: “Why The Candidates Should Stipulate,” has been circulating in various forms for years. I know the most recent version was read by people in Obama’s campaign. Could this be what gave them the idea for the following?

At 8:30 this morning, Senator Obama called Senator McCain to ask him if he would join in issuing a joint statement outlining their shared principles and conditions for the Treasury proposal and urging Congress and the White House to act in a bipartisan manner to pass such a proposal. At 2:30 this afternoon, Senator McCain returned Senator Obama’s call and agreed to join him in issuing such a statement. The two campaigns are currently working together on the details.

It does sound like precisely what I recommended. And the latest version is re-posted here.

Ah, but while those two essays were elevated, offering proposals that rise above partisan bickering...

...there is also a place for partisanship! And hence, the rest of this posting! Fasten seatbelts. My children are at stake. So are yours, whether you have any or not.

= POINT NUMBER ONE: Ask Warren Buffet to design the “bailout” - not those who made the mess =

I’ve long argued that we need to do, in politics and government and management, what medical science did long ago -- try to allocate credibility based upon outcomes, or how often you were right, in the past. I’ve offered some possible ways to do this. And I’m a member of the core group appraising progress in Prediction Markets.

Recall how the people who forecast Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait were not rewarded, but bullied and fired, for the crime of having been right. More recently: Freddie Mac's Chief Risk Officer expressed concerns in mid-2004, that the company was buying bad loans that "would likely pose an enormous financial and reputational risk to the company and the country...leading to his being fired in 2005."

Let me suggest that the current drive toward a $700 billion bailout is being handled all wrong. Some sort of major intervention may be necessary, but who should design it?

As Russ Daggatt points out: “It was McCain’s economic guru, Phil Gramm, who in 2000 successfully fought to exempt all derivatives from any and all regulation, through the Commodity Futures Modernization Act.

On the other hand, Obama is being advised by Warren Buffett who over five years ago warned against derivatives, which he called “financial weapons of mass destruction.”

Note Gramm’s handiwork: The total derivatives market worldwide is estimated at around $450 trillion – or almost HALF A QUADRILLION dollars. (Do you think a mere $700,000,000,000.00 bailout is going to solve the problems of our financial system? Or is it merely a sop and a prayer to get McCain past November.)

Meanhile, Warren Buffett is actually helping to solve the problem with a massive investment in Goldman.

This must be our fundamental, no-compromise position: No “fix” unless the commission recommending solutions is run by people like Warren Buffet.

Keep this simple. Put Buffet in charge of this thing -- or it’s no deal.

= POINT NUMBER TWO: Connect this scam to others.

Yes, some are pointing to patterns that stretch back to the 80s S&L crisis. But it just occurred to me -- this new shell game is actually another version of "privatizing social security."

Think about it. Both endeavors aim to improve outcomes for those who already hold securities, by adding fresh purchasers and "greater fools" to buy up their bad wagers.

Unambiguously -- and even without deception -- the real winners of privatizing SocSec would have been the existing owners of stock. That’s even if there were no skulduggery, because when you expand the number of buyers, prices go up for those who already have. Duh. But at least the millions of new buyers would have been allowed to make some self-interested decisions. Some might win. A bit. Well, not really.

(Democrats must harp on this central Republican plank! How much would average folks have lost, if the GOP had its way and gambled Social Security in the stock market? Are you listening, Florida?)

Only now, the new scam is inherently far worse. Because - in the greatest act of socialism in US history - they want 300 million new buyers -- or greater fools -- to be forced to buy securities that are all dogs! Moreover, unlike the SocSec proposal, this one comes as a dire emergency measure like the trillion dollar no-bid contract festival called Iraq.

hm... fool me twice... shame on... who?
Is there a senator brave enough to say "filibuster"?

= POINT NUMBER THREE: More on “credibility to lead” =

In 2003, Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Powel said (in effect) "We are the same gang who coddled both Saddam and bin Laden for years and propped Saddam back into power, in 1991 -- hence trust us as experts how to get rid of him."

In 2008, Bush-Cheney-Paulson-Cox say (in effect) "We are the same gang who created this mess, ignoring every warning -- hence trust us as experts how to fix it.''

It is that “hence” that should win them the Chutzpah Prize of all time.

-- Then there’s this --

"We do not support government bailouts of private institutions. Government interference in the markets exacerbates problems in the marketplace and causes the free market to take longer to correct itself. We believe in the free market as the best tool to sustained prosperity and opportunity for all."

Ah, but... ABC News reports the bailout comes less than a year after Wall Street’s five biggest firms—Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley—paid a record $39 billion in bonuses to themselves - even though the shareholders in those firms last year collectively lost about $74 billion in stock declines

== Oh but... ==

Dang... when George F. Will abandons the Republicans, you know this ship is beyond worth saving. (Of course, true to habit, George Will spoils it by defending, of all people, SEC chairman Christopher Cox. Brrrr.)

== Fish, or cut bait ==

Okay, I’ve been saying, since 2004, that this crisis is not about political ideology. “Left-right” is pretty meaningless at this point, when small business, the budget and the stock market always do better under democrats and when the Republicans have proposed the biggest acts of pure socialism in US history. When the civil servants and Officer Corps have been beaten into the ground and our childrens’ security sold off.

Okay, time to get busy. And I am talking to you! That means actually offering up some time and money, for the survival of a civilization that’s been good to you. Yes, send $ to Obama, that’s good... though he needs it less than this bunch. These are the contributions that will partly go to changing Congress and statehouses (where the real action is.)

Of course, if you REALLY care... go to your local Congressional candidate. He or she is the focal point for community outreach and get out the vote in your area. (Or, better yet, go to a neighboring district that's actually contested.) You are actually likely to have some fun, meet people. Feel good.

Oh, and you republicans and nonpartisans, who know we need change, but can’t bring yourself to use the dems to do it? Well, your local nonpartisan pollwatching group, like the League of Women Voters or even the county elections board, can use volunteers. (A serious matter, with Diebold on the loose.) So can the Libertarians, who will get saner, trust me, if they get into double digits!

There are even some fun opportunities out there. For example...

“The Jewish Council for Education and Research -- a new pro-Obama political action committee -- is organizing "The Great Schlep," in which hundreds of Jews will make the Southern exodus on Columbus Day weekend, Oct. 10 13. They will travel to the Fort Lauderdale area, where they will visit their grandparents, organize political salons in their condos and eat incredibly bad food. The grandkids also will meet up at a bar one night, which -- if the psychological impact of spending a few days with frail, elderly, widowed relatives is taken fully into account -- may do more to repopulate the world's Jews than the creation of Israel.. More than hockey moms or gun-toting God lovers, old Floridian Jews are the most important demographic in this election. They make up about 5% of the voters in a swing state with 27 electoral college votes. They never miss so much as a condo board vote and are normally reliable Democrats. But...”

Know any Jewish college students back east? Tell em about this!

And find some way of your own to help.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Scary Stuff -- (the political lamp is lit!)

First off, if you go blog-trawling, here's one I find very cogent, by my friend Russ Daggatt, former owner of the Seattle Sonics, on the financial crisis.

This list of “factoids” is especially devastating, such as the clear conclusion that Obama’s fiscal plan would result in 1.2$Trillions less debt than McCain’s. Or that US Troops overseas donated 6x more to Obama; our troops and prefer his Iraq plan by 30 pts.

But Senator McCain is good at distilling his philosophy to simple one-liners. Last month “We must eradicate evil.” Last week: “We must eliminate greed!” Dang. The man is ambitious. Will he alter human nature with gene-splicing? Or wires in the skull?

But it gets better. McCain’s plan for the health care industry: ”Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.”

Banking deregulation as a model for health care reform. Now that’s a winning campaign theme.

And better, still. Last week, the neocons became the biggest socialists in U.S. history, far and away surpassing FDR. As economics expert Daggatt puts it: “The US has performed the greatest nationalization in the history of humanity. By nationalizing Fannie and Freddie the US has increased its public assets by almost $6 trillion and has increased its public debt/liabilities by another $6 trillion.

“The US has also turned itself into the largest government-owned hedge fund in the world. By injecting a likely $200 billion of capital into Fannie and Freddie and taking on almost $6 trillion of liabilities from them, the US has also undertaken the biggest and most levered leveraged buy-out in human history, having a debt to equity ratio of 30 ($6,000 billion of debt against $200 billion of equity). This is the biggest and most socialist government intervention in economic affairs since the formation of the Soviet Union and Communist China.

“So foreign investors are now welcome to the USSRA (the United Socialist State Republic of America) where they can earn fat spreads relative to Treasuries on agency debt and never face any credit risks (not even the subordinated debt holders who made a fortune yesterday as those claims were also made whole).

Only it turns out, that was nothing! Today, Paulsen & Bernanke have announced plans to effectively create a National Mortgage Agency, assuming the bad debts accrued by a hundred thousand crazed gamblers, thieves and CEO-jerks who ought to be on a big chain gang, right now.

*** Only, by emphasizing buying the securities from banks, this bailout primarily benefits Wall Street. An alternative - lending directly to stressed homeowners, so that they won’t default at all - would help Main Street. It would stop the wave of foreclosures, keep homes off the market, and keep the federal government out of the business of managing millions of empty houses. Yet, somehow, that would be more socialistic. ***

But let’s reiterate the key point here, because it is time to rub it in the faces of your conservative friends, who refuse to lift their heads, when their country needs them to wake up! Not only has 95% of our national debt been squandered under Republicans, who always favor monopolists and let small business languish. Not only do the stock market, the economy, investment, production and business startups always do better under democrats. But the GOP has now led us into the biggest act of nationalization of business and outright socialism in American history, ever, making FDR look like a Adam Smith.

Oh, but who will they pick as scapegoat? It appears that McCain has zeroed in on one man -- albeit a deeply culpable one, Christopher Cox, head of the Security and Exchange Commission, whose principal job it has been to ensure that the skilled civil servants under him did nothing to impeded the greed festival. Well, before we have his head on a platter, let’s learn a little about this fellow.

My friend Joe Carroll offers this timely bit:

"Remember that the head of the SEC for the last 3 years has been Chris Cox, the former Orange County Republican congressman who instigated the famous 96 investigation of Gore (that led to larger penalties being recommended against the Republicans than the Democrats), and also the famous "Cox Report" (which was as full of innuendo and unproven charges as most claims by Joe McCarthy). I think that the Cox Report was the main factor that led to the 1999 redefinition of ALL spacecraft and support systems as munitions requiring State Department export control. My strong suspicion is that he did that to get at Bernie Schwartz of Loral, who was more dependent on Long March launches than anybody else in the US, and was on the board of governors of the Democratic party. That change has hurt far more than Loral. Cox's trademark is a naive single-minded focus on one issue, which leads to serious "friendly fire" damage to his friends and/or the rest of the country."Possibly Cox has learned from his experiences, and has been a good SEC chief. But I suspect not. In fact, I suspect that the melt-down is occurring now rather than after the election largely because fixes engineered next year would not be as generous as fixes engineered now."Fortunately, there may be time for some serious investigative reporting between now and election day."

Sure, he’s culpable. But the key fact is that he’s no isolated case. Was Cox ever even remotely qualified? Remember “Brownie” - whose qualification to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency was having run a few horse shows? What this typifies is the way major positions in the Bushadmin were selected entirely for the basest possible political reasons.

(Side bet! Has Bush promised to pardon Cox, in exchange for stoic silence? Someone tell him that Henry Waxman can offer a much better and more reliable deal, if he’ll squeal right now! In fact, the Wax-man may be one of the most important men in America, because of his power to offer immunity to singing henchmen.)

But far more telling is John McCain’s eagerness to let one human sacrifice suffice! Plus some vague arm-wavings about “reforming the mess in Washington.” But, again, this is not an isolated pustule! Look at the swarm of advisors surrounding McCain. Throw a rock in any direction and you’ll likely hit somebody just as culpable as Cox. And that is the thing that really should concern us.

All right. We’ve spoken of Senator McCain’s domestic policy advisory staff -- filled with lobbyists, aristocratic socialists and the same gang of thieves that brought us to this noxious state of affairs. But what about foreign policy? What about Senator Foreign Affairs’s War Cabinet?

OMG any group of “advisors” that includes John Bolton and Bill Kristol.... there are ten thousand implications, including the clear fact that the same Washington insiders that McCain rails against will stay in charge of foreign policy. But there is one fact, above all, that even neocons will have to admit. If John Bolton and Bill Kristol have anything to do with US foreign policy, their “up yours, foreigners!” attitude will finish off any alliances we had left. (Alliances? Neocons don’t need no stinking alliances!). Yup. we’ll start any McCain administration right off without a single reliable friend on the planet other than Albania.

Of course, the most prominent – (McCain’s top foreign policy advisor) – is probably the most radical of the bunch. Randy Scheunemann was a core participant in the lobbying, plotting and organized campaigns of deception that led America to war in Iraq. He was a close collaborator with Ahmad Chalabi through the 1990s. He helped draft the Iraq Liberation Act, which created the new funding stream for Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. At the start of the Bush administration he signed on as Don Rumsfeld's 'consultant' on Iraq at the Pentagon. And then when the administration started cranking up the machinery for the propaganda campaign in favor of war he went back on the outside to form and lead the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, to lead the press and lobbying campaign to make sure the war got started on schedule.

Remember, US intelligence later found evidence that Chalabi, in addition to foisting a bunch of bogus intelligence and lying informers on the US and pocketing a lot of US taxpayer dollars, had provided highly classified US intelligence to Iran. Scheunemann worked closely with Chalabi for years in his efforts to get the US into war with Iraq. He was also a go-between between Chalabi and McCain.

Again, this has to be pulled back from the arm-waving incantations, at which the neocons are masters. They mesmerize fear-drenched Red America with smoke and mirrors about how we've "won" in Iraq (as that country rapidly becomes a satrapy of the Iranians. (Indeed, I'm glad we'll leave Iraq a bit improved) No, the issue is simple: winners and losers.

Hammer home the obvious. Which four nations are vastly better-off after eight years of Republican US leadership?

Saudi Arabia

Which once-dominant world power has plummeted in power, strength, influence and by every conceivable measure?

The United States of America.

Oh, here’s a final, disturbing thought. Of the cabal of outright crazy foreign policy monsters surrounding John McCain -- nearly all of whom are deeply loathed by the foreign service professionals, by our military officers and by our allies -- by far the most rational is Joe Lieberman. Brrrrrrr.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nonpolitical (!) News, Wonders and Marvels...

Announcing my latest short story, now available for your pleasure at Baen’s Universe Magazine. The first half is up free. To read the rest (of part one), you need to subscribe to the magazine... which is well worth it! (There’s more content than in any print zine, and you can’t beat the convenience.) Indeed, you’ll be able to fish back and read Parts 1-4 of my hilarious serialized sf-spoof comedy, “The Ancient Ones.” And, coming this spring, another funny one in a much more broad comedic style: “Gorilla My Dreams.

Membership/subscriptions are on a sliding scale. If you get a premium membership now, you can see the other half of part I of my new story right away. Or wait until 1 Oct, and you can get a regular subscription for $30. And now, just for you folks, an added bonus! Type in coupon code EE329517B2 - which is good for $5 off any subscription!

And, moving on from fiction to nonfiction... A reminder to get your hands on Through Stranger Eyes, a collection of cantankerously unusual and interesting (!) reviews, essays, and fun, presented by Nimble Books. (So far, orders originating from bloggers have been... well... disappointing? (hint!)

And from literary analysis to speculation... Ever wish for some television for adults? I mean grownups interested in stringing thoughts together at the high end of the spectrum? Closer to Truth is a terrific series, based upon conversations held by Robert Lawrence Kuhn with luminaries as diverse as Francisco Ayala, Gregory Benford, Paul Davies, Freeman Dyson, Roger Penrose and so on.

The Closer To Truth Website - will feature about 1400 videos from 128 experts, each 8 – 20 minutes in length. The site recently went live though it will take ~6 months to upload all videos. In addition, the first three CTT episodes, one each on Cosmos, Consciousness, God, are now available (in low resolution). See also a listing of stations that will air the show. Robert Kuhn discusses his groundbreaking television on the Science & Religion Today website.

See especially episodes: 110 Could Our Universe Be a Fake? [Cosmos], and 303 Where are They, All Those Aliens? [Consciousness] wherein yours truly joins the putative eggheads at work! Doing what eggheads do best.

And, continuing with more recent brin-blather....

While visiting IBM Research, I did a brief, ten-minute oral-essay about how science fiction can change the world. IBM has podcast it. This is separate from my hour-long (and detailed) talk about Third Millennium Problem-Solving: Can New Visualization and Collaboration Tools Make a Difference? That much longer talk ought to be be available online, at some point. I’ll let you all know.

Reminder to join my Facebook fan page!

------ A Timely Survey for Blog Community Members! -----

I’ve received a request from Daniel Milamed Prendergast of the Psychology Department at New York University, in the hopes that some of you folks might be able to help them with timely and important NSF-funded research about the cognitive bases of electoral decision-making. ”We would be very grateful if you’d help us recruit politically inclined respondents to our survey by posting to your blog the link to the online survey we are conducting as part....ground-breaking scientific research in the hopes of better understanding voting behavior from a psychological perspective. The survey we are conducting is not aimed at changing respondents' opinions in any way. This stage of the study focuses on the information people use to inform evaluations during the last few weeks before the election. They seek respondents of all political leanings from all over the country (and from the rest of the world) to complete a 15-minute questionnaire, the responses to which will be completely anonymous.”

I find myself personally with too little time to participate. Nor do I know these folks personally. But it has the appearance of a worthy undertaking. People who report back should remain vague about the process and questions, in order not to bias others -- till the last questionnaire is finished. There are some $100 “raffle” prizes for participating. Here is the link to the survey:

------ Other matters of timely interest ---

See: THE FOURTH QUADRANT: A MAP OF THE LIMITS OF STATISTICS, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb... An Edge Original Essay... "When Nassim Taleb talks about the limits of statistics, he becomes outraged. "My outrage," he says, "is aimed at the scientist-charlatan putting society at risk using statistical methods. This is similar to iatrogenics, the study of the doctor putting the patient at risk." As a researcher in probability, he has some credibility. In 2006, using FNMA and bank risk managers as his prime perpetrators, he wrote the following: "The government-sponsored institution Fannie Mae, when I look at its risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite, vulnerable to the slightest hiccup. But not to worry: their large staff of scientists deemed these events 'unlikely.' " Taleb continues his examination of Black Swans, the highly improbable and unpredictable events that have massive impact.

--- Small Indie Movies Take Flight ---

First off -- the Postman legend continues!

Also... I have to tell you I was really surprised by the innovative first episode of this Indie group. Have a lookStranger Things is the first dramatic science-fiction anthology series shot in high definition and digitally-syndicated through the Internet, predating even the larger-budgeted Sanctuary. Stranger Things depicts a world of ordinary people stumbling into the secret lives of the paranormal, the metaphysical, the unnatural, and the strange. The stories expose the bizarre and the extraordinary things happening all around us everyday, hidden behind the veil of the "real world.".

--- Energy Matters ---

Could this be true???? Ever heard of the Bakken Formation? GOOGLE it or follow this link. It will blow your mind.

”The U.S. Geological Service issued a report in April ('08) that only scientists and oilmen knew was coming, but man was it big. It was a revised report (hadn't been updated since '95) on how much oil was in this area of the western 2/3 of North Dakota; western South Dakota; and extreme eastern Montana .... The Bakken is the largest domestic oil discovery since Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, and has the potential to eliminate all American dependence on foreign oil. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates it at 503 billion barrels. Even if just 10% of the oil is recoverable... at $107 a barrel, we're looking at a resource base worth more than $5.3 trillion.” And there is talk of an even bigger find in the rockies. These ought to be tracked.

Of course, global warming still means we have to get moving hard in other directions. But anything that removes the r’oil grip from around our throats.

More important: Companies will build two solar plants in California that together will put out more than 12 times as much electricity as the largest such plant today, the latest indication that solar energy is starting to achieve significant scale. The plants will cover 12.5 square miles of central California with solar panels, and in the middle of a sunny day will generate about 800 megawatts of power, roughly equal to the size of a large coal-burning power plant or a small nuclear plant. The power will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric, which is under a state mandate to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2010.

==== Misc. Stuff! ====

Watch Professor (and former Clinton White House Privacy Maven) Peter Swire talk about “The Federal Role in Privacy Protection.”

Yipes! What creepy fun by my collaborator Jeff Carlson!

See a fascinating comparison of Chinese vs. Western attitudes toward education. “Wealthy Chinese parents who worry that their kids cannot face the pressures of the country’s education are finding ways for their children to go to North America for their primary education. Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post recently reported on South Koreans paying for U.S. couples to adopt their children so that they can gain access to Western education.” and

Help crack the Russian Hacker Mystery. (Vernor Vinge makes the important point is that the nation that most lives by the silicon chip might be the one that dies by it. At least, its enemies will work hard to make it so. Buy metal storage sheds! Use them as faraday cages to store important backup equipment. Keep an old fashioned corded phone. If we had a real president, he’d have urged this long ago.)

A spurt in human intelligence about 150,000 years ago was caused by eating (mostly) cooked meals, which would have lessened the energy needs of our digestion systems, thereby freeing up calories for our brains

University of Geneva scientists sent pairs of entangled photons to labs 18 kilometers apart, showing that if superluminal signals are responsible for entanglement, they must travel at more than 10,000 times the speed of light.

I can’t buy or read every info-age/transparency related book that comes along. Has anyone seen (or care to review for us) Inescapable Data by Chris Statutis?

A cool fun “Large Hadron Rap.”

Reminder to sign up as a “follower” to this blog... and to RSS subscribe to the more formal Salon source (I’ve abandoned Kos). And to be sure and join that Facebook page. Subscribe to UNIVERSE!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Under-Appreciated Issues that Nobody Talks About

Once upon a time, I was an engineer and a scientist... till I realized this civilization will pay me more to be interesting, than to be right.  Ever since, I’ve made a living by poking at things people take for granted -- through novels or nonfiction or punditry about the future.  My aim: to offer a skewed or unusual angle on things, knowing that some of these perspectives will seem “crackpot.”  No matter, if fraction also prove useful.  Anyway, at least they don’t burn guys like me at the stake, anymore!

Not yet.

So, in that spirit -- poking away at assumptions -- let’s begin examining some under-appreciated issues of our current political season.  Matters that might make a small difference if someone paid attention.   We’ll start with a simple action item.  Not the most urgent, but one where time is running especially short.

  ----- Under-appreciated Issue #1:  Students and absentee ballots.

Millions of young Americans are more involved than ever.  Voter registration in the under-25 age demographic has risen sharply.  It also tilts heavily democratic. Yet, if history is any candidate Barack Obama will be lucky if 40% of these people vote.

Another factor: disproportionate numbers of politically active young people -- university students -- cluster either in states that are already blue, or in college towns that have been gerrymandered to limit their effect upon state offices and Congressional representation.

Are there ways for Democrats might help mobilize this friendly, but marginalized age group? Surely they have activists busy on many campuses.  One can hope they’re also busy near military bases and urban zones young people cluster.  These areas should get heavy get-out-the-vote action, come election day. (And volunteers are needed.)

Far more useful would be to press hard, right now, for young people to get absentee ballots, vote early, and mail them in.  Early and relentless nagging may be more effective than a flurry of effort at the last minute.

Even better?  Students in already-liberal college towns might register instead in their home districts and vote absentee there.  Especially if home lies in a battleground state, like Ohio, Michigan or Florida.  And even more so, if it has competitive races for Congress or State Assembly.

Yes, this adds a level of complication, so it should be urged only upon those who are reliable -- those who care enough to maximize their voting impact, and who will follow through without nagging.  Still, doesn’t that describe a lot of Generation Next?  Anyway, how many of us get this option?  To pick between two residence areas and vote where it might have the greatest impact?

Drawback:  There’s little time to act on this. Contact the young people you know!  Extort that vow to register and vote. Then follow up.  Even better, contact your local university political club and ask what help they need.  And if none of these things seem practical, well, there’s always money.  Send some.

  ----- Under-appreciated Issue #2:  The “Ostriches.”

It is a matter I’ve raised extensively elsewhere.  Each of us knows republicans of the sane/decent type, whose conservatism is sincere and worthy of respect, the way most people admired Barry Goldwater for his principled adherence to prudence, sobriety, constitutionalism, international caution and love of country.   Some of these decent conservatives have awakened - or partly-wakened - to the way that their movement has been hijacked, for a generation, by forces that Barry Goldwater angrily denounced, just before he died.  Forces that have transformed a commitment from:

* prudence to recklessness
* accountability to secrecy
* fiscal discretion to spendthrift profligacy
* consistency to hypocrisy
* civility to nastiness
* international restraint to recklessness
* efficiency to no-tomorrow wastrelness
* dedicated cleanliness to filthy habits
* logic to unreason.

Is it worthwhile trying to rouse that decent, sweet uncle of yours, out of his state of “ostrich” denial?  Or your gracious but delusional aunt to finally concede that her beloved party has been hijacked by a gang of thieves?  Yes, it will be a hard sell.  We’ve seen that long lists of facts are useless against thick-skinned rationalizations.

ostrichpapersStill, remember, one converted ostrich can sometimes become ten.  A seed-crystal, catalyzing others.  In any event, I have created a couple of sites. See The Ostrich Papers: How it will take ALL Decent Americans to Restore Decency to America.

For more “ammo” that anyone can use, in relentlessly yanking on their favorite, beloved deniers, hoping to eventually get their heads out of the sand, see A Cheat Sheet for Ostrich Hunters: What would you have said if Bill Clinton....
Enough for now.  This is just part one in a lengthy series that will briefly touch on issues that seem to be under-examined.  You thoughts and comments are welcome.

PS... folks on this blog, please also visit the new/occasional one at OpenSalon and help boost the numbers there!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Some Things Palin Comparison

What to say about the Republican Convention? So many levels. So many narratives and messages.

-- There’s the Chutzpah Prize winning theme: “help us mavericks throw dem Washington bums out!”

-- Dizzying promises to balance budgets, help small businesses, listen to allies, push energy independence, engage diplomacy, bring transparency/accountability to government, and so on -- without any specifics -- leaving one boggled speechless by irony.

-- Several keen observers expected John McCain to “prove his maverick chops” by openly challenging the delegates to alter one or two basic GOP planks. Odds suggested a nod to climate change, or “stewardship” or a turn away from the culture of secrecy. It might have been impressive to the country (and he may yet do so, before a picked audience). But he clearly felt it unwise to try at the RNC. What if they booed? Ah, courage.

-- The “Dr. Jekyl” side of this man, still worthy of some respect, reminded me of Robert Dole, all the way to the stiff arm, injured in service to his country. And, though often calculated and self-serving, McC’s rhetoric also merited a nod, for moments of passion, pathos and apparent sincerity.

-- But alas, for the topics never mentioned. Such as science. The environment. Or the demolished Army and National Guard, leaving us more defenseless than before. What? Not even science? But some in that crowd would have booed.

Each topic merits lengthy analysis. But there are pundits-a-plenty, already covering the obvious stuff. So let me focus on more-quirky aspects. Stories less spoken. Or not at all.

The underlying meaning of the “Experience Gap”

Oh, it’s been awe-inspiring to watch the rovean spinners, still deft, argue that GOP VP nominee Sarah Palin has “more executive experience,” after 23 months running the 47th largest state, than any of the three male senators in our fall lineup -- including John McCain. And, well, it’s arguable... though with Alaska wallowing in gushers of free oil money, budget-balancing is kind-of a snap.

In fact, the Experience Gap only highlights how desperately McCain, Obama, Biden or Palin would need expertise from others -- from dozens, hundreds, thousands and whole-agencies of others. Instead of filling an imperial White House with nodding yes-men, any of this quartet should emulate a great president who surrounded himself with the ferment of smart people in dynamic disagreement, as historian Doris Kearns Goodwin describes in Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

Indeed, all the present candidates claim to have this goal in mind. But there’s a surefire test of whether they mean it -- and two of them have already failed.

You see, we aren’t only choosing between Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin, nor between starkly polarized philosophies of right and left. Even if nothing happened re: health care and not a single new law passed, our national destiny would veer up or down, based on something far simpler. Whether public servants competently govern according to the law, as it already stands.

All four candidates speak of bipartisanship and honest competence overriding special interest. But, while he distances himself from Bush and the Republican brand, John McCain stays immersed in the same general swarm of ten thousand Republican appointees, lobbyists and political operatives, most of whom would simply slide from jobs in Bush’s administration to McCain’s. A whole political caste who - with some shifted chairs - would follow his old-boy top advisors into cabinet departments, agencies, and bureaus.

These aren’t the days of Eisenhower, or Clinton, or even Ronald Reagan, when political loyalty was only one of many criteria for these appointments. Today’s GOP operatives have been carefully vetted, culled, groomed and organized to turn all systems of government into Party tools. With a consistency and disciplined focus that resembles another party -- the Communist Party. In a latter-day version of the Spoils System, they have hewed closely to a core program -- to intimidate and repress the real public servants, the ones we depend upon. The fourth branch of government.

The men and women of the United States Civil Service.

There can be no greater polar contrast between two groups. Those with the expertise to administer our laws -- advancing through merit, hard work, training and performance -- versus a mob of venial hacks appointed by Bush-Cheney to quash the scientists and military officers, the accountants and FBI agents, the deputy U.S. Attorneys and deputy Marshals, the dam inspectors and CIA agents. The drug chemists and CDC disease monitors. The SEC examiners who might have protected us against fraudulent speculators and thieves. The researchers who might have settled the case on global warming, or found fresh energy solutions by now.

For better or worse, we citizens own and rely upon these agencies, to defend us, to maintain fair and open markets, to encourage startups and discourage monopoly, to catch criminality even in high places, to give truthful intelligence, to peer ahead for threats and opportunities in complex times. We pay their salaries and half a million or so civil servants used to work hard to give us value back. Most would do so, again, if they were allowed.

However one feels about whether government should perform this or that function - until the laws are changed, should it not perform those functions well? The answer, given by the Republican political operative caste, has been in no uncertain terms, “no.”

(Why have the professionals been deliberately stymied? That’s another question. Perhaps out of dogmatic belief that government should fail. Or because that failure made it easier to steal. There are even darker scenarios. Anyway, government has grown, vastly, under the GOP. And though they complain, Republicans have a lousy record at deregulation. Of ten major deregulations, they crafted just three, that later proved to be vehicles for graft.)

Sure, it sounds like a boring “process issue.” No advisor will let Obama speak of something so dry. Still, I have to say that the Bushite assault upon the Civil Service has to be its number one crime. Because, without that first, enabling crime, so many others would have been caught or prevented by skilled men and women at the FBI, Justice, SEC, and so many other agencies duty-bound top protect us, that is, except for interference from above.

This is my biggest reason to oppose John McCain, and notice that it ought to cross all lines of ideology or policy. Because, despite some good traits (among some bad) and and noble-sounding words, McCain remains surrounded by all the “usual suspects” ranging from lobbyists who wrote Bush energy policies to personnel experts borrowed directly from the White House. The same coterie of fatcats supplies "free labor" and advice. He even hired into his circle the expert political hatchetman responsible for smearing him during the 2000 primaries, South Carolina political consultant Tucker Eskew. He will be their cats paw and shows no sign of even knowing it.

So much for “shaking up Washington.”

Top priority must go to ending the reign ten thousand political thugs. All else, even your favorite policy initiative, comes second. If Barack Obama simply does as he has promised, and releases the good men and women of the civil service to do their jobs to go back to enforcing the duly-deliberated law as-is -- then at least the Republic can function on a basic level.

Only then will it make sense to argue how to make it better.


Which brings us to the ghost at the banquet.

The High Road: The Dog that Did Not Bark in The Night

All right, forget the Civil Service. Let’s drop the Experience Issue as a distraction. What could candidate Obama and the Democrats really zero in-on, from the GOP convention? Already, Obama has pointed out that the Republicans made no mention of the economy. That’s a good start.

Indeed, among the speeches that I listened to there was something startling in its absence. A near complete lack of statistics! Yes, stats are boring, still, candidates and parties do hurl them back and forth like shuttlecocks and I expected at least a few volleys from the Republicans. The closest came when Laura Bush pointed overseas, (rightfully) bragging that the (bipartisan) African Aids Initiative has helped 50 million people over there.

Otherwise - though I missed a lot of speeches - I heard no stats at all.

Really? They could find nothing to brag about? Not one metric that's better now than it was eight years ago? I felt stunned. It was the ghost at the banquet. The dog that didn't bark in the night. Not one pundit will mention it, but it is staggering to me.

Obama and Biden have to speak clearly. “Stop pretending that you haven’t been governing us! You cannot evade that central fact by nominating a couple of different faces from the same team picture. We have a right to ask if you have governed well. And there are no measures... none at all... by which you have.”

The Low Road - some basic Palin Points:

By “low road” I do not include the really nasty sewer-stuff. Rumors of extramarital affairs and spotlights on her family -- soap opera tales of baby switcheroos and paranoid whatifs of more switches in the works. These are grist for the National Enquirer, not adults. Oh, Fox & CNN “journalists” are hypocrites to decry the public’s understandable curiosity as “sexism.” But Obama is correct to quash any involvement by the Democratic Party or its friends. These are not matters for either politics or journalism.

No, by “low road” I mean stuff that’s well-above sewer level, but still dicey. Like zeroing-in on a candidate’s actual views on life, destiny and religion -- shining light on how they’d govern. Prickly topics, riddled with minefield potential for back splatter. But relevant.

Some of these will come out via normal media-frenzy, like Sarah Palin’s long-close association with the Alaska Independence Party, whose rhetoric can make Rev. Wright look like Teddy Roosevelt. Other contradictions will be avoided by the Obama camp. But can we trust anyone in the media to raise them?

* Sarah Palin rails against standard sex education and teens learning about contraception. Without alluding to her family situation, someone must hammer home the blatant statistical fact that Blue America - despite including the poorest and most disadvantaged - has lower rates of teen sex, teen or unwed pregnancy, STDs, divorce and domestic violence than Red America. Till now, such comparisons were avoided by liberals, as divisive and playing up to Culture War. But somebody with enough cash and anger could lay it out.

Oh, but hold onto your seats. Now we get into really dicey territory.

* Sarah Palin believes (or let’s demand that she disavow) that more than half of her fellow citizens are damned either by nature or because of their beliefs, if not to Hell then to eternal exclusion from God’s grace.

Sure, holding to that tenet is her Constitutionally protected privilege. But since she declared that her decisions will be guided by those beliefs, we have a perfect right to see them in bare light. And people who she considers damned may legitimately ponder that, when deciding whether to vote for her.

Moreover --

* Sarah Palin craves, yearns-for and actively prays-for (or let’s demand that she disavow) the coming of a day, quite soon, when most of the world’s people will suffer torment, death and damnation, amid flame and other agonies, amid tumult that will include the end of the United States of America.

(See Palin getting very intense about mixing church & state.)

Now, of course, she would attempt to moderate these beliefs and fervent wishes, by claiming that the death and agony and damnation parts aren’t what she yearns for, but rather, the subsequent arrival of a Sanctified Kingdom on Earth that will be paradisiacal - that is, for the remaining elect. All the other vengeful-torment stuff is regrettable, but Heaven’s unalterable will. Anyway, those people (well, some of them) may yet avoid that dark fate by abandoning all of their own beliefs and adopting hers.

No doubt she - and her supporters - would indignantly denounce anyone asking about these views, as they are a matter of private conscience. But are they?

Strip away unctuous reassurances and we have someone asking to be trusted as potential master of America’s nuclear arsenal and defender of its Constitution, who openly avows to wanting - eagerly - the quick arrival of a day when fire will scorch the sky and flame sear land. When a majority of her fellow citizens will perish and tumble into torment, and when a closing curtain will fall for the nation and democracy she claims to love.

Of course, I may have imputed and extrapolated far too much. My interpretation may be unfair. In a spirit of enlightenment curiosity, I stand ready to be corrected. Still, we have a right to be concerned. Let Sarah Palin publicly explain how this interpretation is mistaken, so we might breathe easier.

---And finally ...from the Road of Silly Walks... ---
Palin for President!