15 September 2016

This is just mind boggling, if your mind is boggled by such things.

From Wikipedia, on a subject dear to me, namely the question What is the size of the observable universe in proportion to the size of the entire universe that emerged in the Big Bang? 

[Per]"Alan Guth, if it is assumed that [cosmic] inflation began about 10−37 seconds after the Big Bang, then with the plausible assumption that the size of the Universe before the inflation occurred was approximately equal to the speed of light times its age, that would suggest that at present the entire universe's size is at least 3x1023 times larger than the size of the observable universe.[18] There are also lower estimates claiming that the entire universe is in excess of 250 times larger than the observable universe[19] and also higher estimates implying that the universe is at least 101010122 times larger than the observable universe[20]


14 September 2016

Some musings on the philosophy of science

I got into a lively discussion ​not long ago with one of my interlocutors about whether future scientists will laugh at the current state of scientific understanding about the basic nature of how the world works. You know, stuff like "on a basic level, matter is composed primarily of atoms, which are in turn composed primarily of neutrons, protons and electrons, with more subtle internal structure responsible for quantum effects on a micro level." And "the electromagnetic force is what prevents your hand from flowing into the mostly empty space of the table when you pound on it." These kinds of well-established assertions are not hubris, and they are not going to be in any meaningful sense proven "wrong" in the future. Science does progress, and there are new discoveries being made all the time, but they do not affect the "truth" of correctly adduced past propositions. Here is where there is a difference. Some past propositions, such as Ptolemy's Earth-centered cosmology, or the phlogiston theory, or the luminiferous aether, were not "correctly adduced." They were just wrong. But mechanics, fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, the general outlines of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, etc. are shown correct by so many Bayesian "credence corrections" that there is no reasonable doubt that any of them will ever be shown to be basically incorrect. And this is not hubris. Here are some interesting observations from Sean Carroll in his lovely new book, The Big Picture:


"[There] is a fundamental difference between the kind of knowledge given to us by mathematics/logic/pure reason and the kind we get from science. The truths of math and logic would be true in any possible world; the things science teaches us are true about our world, but could have been false in another one. Most of the interesting things it is possible to know are not things we could ever hope to 'prove,' in the strong sense. ¶ Even when we do believe a theory beyond a reasonable doubt, we will understand that it's an approximation, likely (or certain) to break down somewhere. There could very well be some new hidden field that we haven't yet detected that acts to slightly alter the true behavior of gravity from what Einstein predicted [for example]. And there is certainly something going on when we get down to the quantum scales; nobody believes that general relativity is really the final word on gravity. But none of these changes the essential truth that GR is 'right' in a certain well-defined regime. When we do hit upon an even better understanding, the current one will be understood as a limiting case of the more comprehensive picture."


I had tried to make this point, and even that the same is true of Newton's gravity theory vis-a-vis Einstein's. Newton is a limiting case of Einstein. Any future quantum theory of gravity will have Einstein's as a limiting case. (Indeed, it's already established that any quantum corrections to Einstein will be unobservably small on a macro level).

But there's another point that ties into this that is perhaps even more important. Many people seem to think that because science is adductive, empirical, and subject to falsification at any time (based as it is on Bayesian reasoning, which Carroll explains beautifully and that alone is worth the price of the book)... that it is somehow just another form of faith, based on unprovable belief. Religious people will often say that belief in evolution is just a form of faith in a secular religion. But it isn't, and that kind of reasoning is completely fallacious. Again, Carroll:


"You will sometimes hear the claim that even science is based on a kind of 'faith,' for example, in the reliability of our experimental data or in the existence of unbreakable physical laws. That is wrong. As a part of the practice of science, we certainly make assumptions-- our sense data is giving us roughly reliable information of the world, simple explanations are preferable to complex ones, we are not brains in vats, and so forth. But we don't have 'faith' in those assumptions; they are the components of our 'planets of belief,' [a term he coined and explains elsewhere], but they are always subject to revision and improvement, and even, if necessary, outright rejection. By its nature, science needs to be completely open to the actual operation of the world, and that means that we stand ready to discard any idea that is no longer useful, no matter how cherished and central it may once have seemed." (Some emphasis added).


Few religionists will acknowledge the same rules of reason and evidence for their beliefs. But the main point is that science is not committed to any particular view of the world; other than the view that any proposition must withstand challenges from actual evidence, at any time. Of course many scientists, being human beings, are subject to various biases and "pet theories." But science itself is, by its nature, self-correcting.

03 August 2016

Bernardo Pasquini

I posted on Facebook today that I'm working on playing three sets of keyboard variations by the not-exactly-well-known 17th/18th c. Italian composer principally known for his keyboard music, Bernardo Pasquini (1637-1710).

Very little information is available about Pasquini; even the Wikipedia article is rather spare. Here's from a review of one of the few disks available of his keyboard music (on Stradivarius, an Italian early music label):

Bernardo Pasquini was one of the most celebrated keyboard virtuosos of his time. He can be considered the successor of Girolamo Frescobaldi who - like Pasquini - worked in Rome for most of his career. Pasquini is an important link between the music of the renaissance and early baroque periods and that of the first half of the 18th century.
He was born in Massa Valdinievole in Pistoia and moved to Rome at the age of 13. Here he worked as organist in various churches. He played a crucial role in musical life in Rome, and often collaborated with Arcangelo Corelli in performances of his own vocal works. Today he is best known for his keyboard music, but he also composed operas, oratorios, cantatas and motets. It is interesting to note that not only was he influenced by Frescobaldi but also studied the oeuvre of Palestrina extensively.
Although he mostly worked in Rome, he twice travelled abroad: once to the imperial court in Vienna, and in 1664 he played to Louis XIV in Paris. His high status is reflected by his title of 'organist of the Senate and Roman people' and his inclusion in the Arcadian Academy, alongside such masters as Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti.
Very few of his keyboard works were printed during his lifetime. The largest part has come down to us in two manuscripts which are preserved in Berlin and London respectively. They show a great variety in forms, and Luca Guglielmi has recorded a programme which includes specimens of the different genres.
It is especially in the toccatas that the influence of Frescobaldi comes to the fore. These are pieces in improvisatory style, often beginning in a slow tempo and then speeding up, following the instructions Frescobaldi added to his compositions in this genre. One of the toccatas is based on the imitation of the cuckoo, which was very popular in the 17th century. The same goes for pieces on a basso ostinato; Guglielmi plays two passagagli. A third genre which we also find in Frescobaldi's oeuvre is that of the variation. Guglielmi plays Variazioni in C and Partite diverse di follia. The latter is on a pattern which frequently returns in the baroque period, for instance in the last of Corelli's violin sonatas op. 5 and in Vivaldi's trio sonatas op. 1. There is also a 'modern' element in Pasquini's oeuvre: the suite. Pasquini introduced this French form to Italy, although he didn't strictly follow the texture as had become common in France and Germany. The two suites in the present programme have no sarabanda. They begin with an alemanda, which is followed by a corrente and a giga. The suites close with a bizzarria. These suites are pretty short; the last two movements take less than a minute each.
Guglielmi plays a Pastorale as a bonus track. It is the only piece which is played on the organ. This reflects Pasquini's activities as an organist. The Pastorale is a genre which was also popular in Italy, often associated with Christmastide and imitating the flutes of the shepherds.
This is a nice disc whose programme is largely different from that which was recorded by Roberto Loreggian for Chandos and reviewed here (review ~review). Luca Guglielmi is a busy man who has produced several discs lately. This programme was largely recorded in 2003 and as far as I know has not been released before. That is rather odd, as Pasquini's music is not that well represented in the catalogue. His oeuvre is versatile and compelling, and so is Guglielmi's interpretation. He uses a copy of a beautiful late 17th-century Italian harpsichord, whereas the organ dates from 1752. I only regret that this disc is so short; I would have liked to have heard more.

Johan van Veen

29 July 2016

Hillary Clinton for President

I remain a devoted Progressive and Sanders Wing Democrat. But Clinton's speech was far and away the best she ever gave, and gives me some sense of reassurance that she will indeed be able to pull this off. And we, as Progressives, will have our work cut out for us pressuring her administration to follow through on her words.

I've argued with
​Jill ​
Stein voters till I'm blue in the face. But the stark choice is this: Centrist Democrat who's had to make some concessions to her Left Wing, or an Actual Fascist, the first to be a nominee of a major party in the US ever. At least since 1964, when there was real fear that Goldwater might use nuclear weapons, there has not been such peril in a presidential election.
​ The election of Hillary Clinton is imperative. 

26 July 2016

What the back of my car looks like as of this week

The bumper stickers, and the license plate, are both to note. 
Got driver's license, too. Officially Oregonian. 
And I couldn't find the "OK, Hillary then" bumpersticker featured in a recent New Yorker cartoon. 

25 July 2016

Re: Reality

"Trade deals will happen," but it's our job as progressive, and even not-so progressive, Democrats to make sure they aren't structured as corporatist giveaways that make environmental and product safety regulation almost impossible and cede judicial sovereignty to corporate friendly arbitration processes that actually take sovereignty away from states and local governments trying to enact sensible sustainable energy and materials legal structures. TPP is not a "trade deal;" it's an anti-competitive pact designed to circumvent the regulatory ability of governments in favor of multinational big business.

Again, it's not about free trade. It's about keeping the ability to regulate the marketplace to ensure sustainability, labor standards, and sovereignty. And it is the job of the US to lead in this arena as well, and ensure that any international pacts are designed to improve trade, not make it more difficult to regulate in sweetheart deals actually written by lawyers from Big Oil, Big Pharma, etc., by and for their own interests. Which is the fact of the matter. As I've noted before, we already have free trade with almost all of the potential signatories to TPP. What we don't have is anticompetitive extralegal regimes designed to disadvantage ordinary citizens in favor of large corporate interests. And THAT we do NOT need. See citizen.org's global trade watch page. 

On Mon, Jul 25, 2016 at 4:55 AM, Jim *+*+  wrote:

It's nice to trash TTP, which may be a job killer, but
globalization including trade deals is hard to stop.
American weakness in education and training for
21st Century jobs is exposed for all to see: 
High school drop outs, phony Dean's Lists in
Universities where most students get A and B
grades.    And where science, math and technology
have minimal attraction to students creates issues
in the present scene of global competition.   

Look at the high-tech companies and their hiring
practices.   They cannot find nearly enough US
citizens to fill the jobs so they lobby Congress to
expand the number of visas for foreigners so they
can fill those empty positions.

Trade deals will happen.  The US in the period from
1945 to 2000 could pretty much dictate to the rest
of the world who was or who was not eligible to belong
to the World Trade Organization.   Those days are long

The World moves on and the US must move with it
or lose.


24 July 2016

Selection of Kaine a huge mistake because.... TPP

I already commented on this issue, but here's another aspect. Clinton's choice of Kaine, if she were truly serious about trying to reconcile the divisions in the party, was a huge mistake. And the reason can be summed up in three words: TPP. This is not a minor issue. The TPP is far worse than NAFTA, and is a deal killer for a lot of working people. And Kaine is a big supporter. Clinton claims to have decided not to support it "in its current form," but this VP choice is going to be seen by a lot of Progressives as a signal that she only said that to get votes, and that in fact she intends to allow this huge corporate giveaway to go through. You should realize that the TPP actually has next to NOTHING to do with free trade (we already have virtually tariff free trade with nearly all the signatories); and EVERYTHING to do with corporate control and deregulation of international standards (especially environmental standards) for the benefit of large business. (See http://www.citizen.org/tradewatch for more information). 

I see TPP as the single worst policy position taken by Obama in 8 years, and this just confirms that Clinton intends no change in this area. And here's the thing: these are "mainstream" REPUBLICAN positions. No daylight between them. But while he's probably lying about it, TRUMP says he's against it, and a lot of people will believe him. If Clinton's at all worried about people on the left of her party just not voting in this election (most will not vote for Trump, of course), she could hardly have made a worse choice. 

(I am not one of them; I will of course vote for her, because the stakes are so high. But some will NOT.)

23 July 2016

Tim Kaine... meh

First, I am supporting Clinton. So please don't read this as Bernie or Bust.

But I have to say that, while he is OK on human rights issues and generally a reliable Centrist Democrat, I'm less than thrilled with Clinton's choice of Tim Kaine. First, I think it's not a good idea to keep picking presidential and vice presidential candidates from the ranks of senators and former senators. Historically, former governors of big states make the best executives. And a veep is a president in waiting, pretty much no more no less.

But mainly, come on. The primary was a relatively tight race between the first real Roosevelt progressive in years and the first woman
​major ​
candidate, who garnered quite a number of progressives herself for just that reason. The Democratic party has been trending left ever since Kerry's loss to Bush in 2004. Clinton should have picked someone who symbolized her embrace of that fact, and its policy consequences. AND SHE DID NOT. This bodes ill for party unity, and will make it harder for her to win, and with the spate of terror attacks and red meat for right wingers we've been seeing this summer, we Democrats cannot afford to cede ANY advantage.

10 July 2016

Bernie will endorse HRC soon

In furtherance of my prediction that Bernie will endorse HRC next week, I saw this quote posted by Joshua Holland on FB just now. 

"We now have the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party" 

--Bernie Sanders

♦ David Studhalter

26 June 2016

Sanders supporters rallying around HRC

I call to the attention of all my nervous HRC-supporting farflung correspondents the piece in the Washington Post today which finds that Sanders supporters are rallying around Clinton faster and more completely this year than Clinton supporters did around Obama in `08 as of the approximately same point in the campaign that year. 

Takeaway: Don't panic. We will defeat Donald Trump, and the party will adopt a good deal of the Sanders agenda going forward. And that is a good thing. 

Thank you and over and out. 

♦ David Studhalter

13 June 2016

I got an offer for free 12 week trial NY Times digital edition subscriptions.

I got an offer from the NY Times for 2 free 12 week gift subscriptions to the Digital Edition of the Times. If any of my farflung correspondents would like one, please let me know. First come first served. I imagine you'll have to cancel when the free period is up, so if that's a hassle you'd rather not deal with, keep it in mind. 

♦ David Studhalter

06 June 2016

Ryan Grim: Obama's SEA CHANGE on Social Security

Farflung correspondents,

Normally I do my own diatribes, but this one's worth passing on unchanged. /Ryan Grim.

♦ David Studhalter

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Ryan Grim <ryan@huffingtonpost.com>
Date: Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 1:53 PM
Subject: Obama went from cutting Social Security to boosting it. Here's how that happened...
To: studhalter@gyromantic.com

​ •

Barack Obama Once Proposed Cutting Social Security. Here's What Changed His Mind.

By Daniel Marans, Arthur Delaney and Ryan Grim

WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama announced his support this week for expanding Social Security benefits, it was nothing less than a sea change. Progressive activists claimed credit for the move as both a clear nod to their power in the age of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and the fruits of ambitious activism that slowly but surely moved the bounds of the mainstream political discussion.

Whether Obama's remarks mark a shift in his policy views, a politically expedient concession to an ascendant progressive wing or something in between, it is an unmistakable indicator of the Democratic Party's return to its New Deal roots.

But getting there required a slog through the political aftermath of the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression.

Fighting Popular Wisdom

Obama entered the White House at a time of economic crisis and rapidly increasing national debt. Virtually from the start of his presidency, Washington was seized with hysteria over the latter phenomenon.

Although a diverse array of economists believe Obama's $800-billion stimulus package played a key role in helping the economy recover, it elicited howls from the right for contributing to the already rising debt. Much of the growth in annual budget deficits for which Obama was blamed, however, was due to the Great Recession and the Bush tax cuts — things he had no control over.

Stopping "out-of-control spending," in the form of the president's stimulus package and other policies, became one of the nascent tea party's rallying cries.

Even as the country struggled to beat back double-digit unemployment, addressing the debt became among the most pressing issues in Washington. Think tanks and pundits on all sides of the spectrum lined up to warn of the dire consequences of avoiding an "adult" conversation about the unsustainable costs of Social Security and Medicare.

And the Obama administration — rather than fight the narrative of out-of-control debt tooth and nail — chose to accommodate it.

Just a year into Obama's presidency, the White House began to pivot away from fiscal stimulus and toward austerity. The president convened a bipartisan debt reduction commission in February 2010, co-chaired by Morgan Stanley director Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wy.), and charged it with forging a fiscal "grand bargain." That became the catchphrase of choice on the Bowles-Simpson commission — and in budget talks in subsequent years — for a compromise agreement to reduce the long-term debt, through a combination of Social Security and Medicare cuts historically anathema to Democrats and revenue increases and defense cuts hard for Republicans to swallow.

It was very lonely to be on the side that said: 'Absolutely no cuts, under any circumstances.'Alex Lawson, Social Security Works

A small group of organizations on the progressive end of the Democratic Party arose to mobilize against the commission's efforts with a focus on protecting Social Security.

Activists say they were emboldened by the knowledge that the Beltway elite was out of touch with how Americans felt about Social Security.

Perhaps thanks to its universal nature, even Republicans support it by wide margins. Opposition to Social Security cuts was the only policy position that supporters of all the presidential candidates agreed with in a March 31 Pew poll.

Social Security experts Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, both veterans of the 1982 commission that orchestrated the last round of major reforms to the program, secured foundation funding for the creation of the advocacy organization Social Security Works.

Social Security Works led the Strengthen Social Security coalition, an alliance of progressive organizations, labor unions and think tanks in what was then a fight to stop cuts expected to be recommended by Obama's fiscal commission.

The coalition members, which ranged from the National Organization for Women to MoveOn.org, rejected the policy arguments for the cuts on several grounds.

Social Security is a self-funded program that faces a modest financial shortfall andshould not be cut to reduce a deficit it did not cause, they argued. And besides, the activists maintained, Social Security has only become more important as other traditional sources of retirement income declined and newer ones have failed to close the gap.

But in a political environment where austerity was all the rage, advocates like Alex Lawson, Social Security Works' executive director, were initially at pains to find members of Congress willing to pledge not to cut the program, let alone expand its benefits.

"It was very lonely to be on the side that said: 'Absolutely no cuts, under any circumstances,'" Lawson recalled. "There weren't many allies."

The tea party was more useful than Democratic leadership when it came to killing a grand bargain that would have cut Social Security benefits.Adam Green, Progressive Change Campaign Committee

Deprived of access to the closed-door commission, Lawson began live-streaming the closed door on days when the commission met.

The gimmick resulted in a bombshell conversation with commission co-chair Alan Simpson in June 2010. Simpson went on a profanity-laden rant, tearing into progressives who questioned the commission's concern for "the lesser people" and repeating alarmist myths about Social Security's finances.

A couple months later, Simpson wrote to the head of the Older Women's League mocking Social Security as a "cow with 310 million tits." The comments prompted a high-profile — albeit unsuccessful — campaign for his ouster.

"Alan Simpson was the gift that kept on giving," Lawson said.

Thanks in no small part to Simpson, a letter started by Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) asking the commission to hold Social Security harmless gathered signatures rapidly, with 137 House Democrats eventually putting their names on it.  

Their efforts did not shape the substance of the commission's proposals, but they laid the political groundwork for a broader movement that would ultimately succeed.

Gene Sperling, who served as a White House economist during negotiations over the grand bargain that would have led to Social Security cuts, said that organized labor and Altman deserve significant credit for reshaping the conversation.

"You can argue over details and payfors, but the change in conversation from how to reduce Social Security for solvency to how to strengthen Social Security and overall retirement security for tens of millions of seniors is a very positive one," Sperling told HuffPost. (He is now an adviser to the Hillary Clinton campaign.) "And beyond the politicians, you have to give some credit to the AFL-CIO, Nancy Altman and the Strengthen Social Security coalition for helping to change the terms of the debate."


Obama Makes An Offer

The Bowles-Simpson commission's final report in December of that year proposedmajor cuts to Social Security, including an increase in the retirement age, a lower benefit formula for above-median earners and a stingier cost-of-living adjustment. Although it maintained the pretense of bipartisan balance, 69 percent of the commission's proposed budget savings came from spending cuts.

The proposal itself went nowhere. It became the blueprint, however, of subsequent plans to cut Social Security — especially after Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2011.

With Republicans hell-bent on holding hostage every debt ceiling increase and extension of government funding to extract major policy concessions, Obama decided to put one of the commission's proposals — the chained Consumer Price Index — on the table.

The chained CPI would change the formula used to adjust Social Security and other benefits for inflation. Although scholars debate whether it represents a more accurate price index than the one currently used, one way or another, it lowers the value of benefits over time relative to what they would be otherwise.

Obama appears to have come closest to striking a deal with the benefit cut during last-minute budget negotiations with Republicans at the end of 2012, in the lame-duck session of Congress after he won re-election. The country faced what was dubbed a "fiscal cliff" at the start of the new year as a slew of Bush-era income tax cuts were due to expire and automatic spending cuts were set to take effect.

Obama offered Republicans chained CPI in exchange for providing more tax increases. But under pressure from hardline anti-tax legislators, Republican leaders in Congress refused to compromise more.

Thank you, tea party!Adam Green, Progressive Change Campaign Committee

At one point, the White House reportedly suggested putting chained CPI back on the table after Republicans had not presented a counteroffer on taxes with the budget deadline less than 36 hours away.

Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was apparently so peeved at the idea that he threw a note with the proposal into a blazing fire in his office fireplace.

Reid ruled out reconsidering chained CPI because it seemed to him that Republicans weren't serious about giving ground on the Bush tax cuts, according to Jim Manley, a longtime spokesman for Reid who by then had stopped working for the senator. And that was the last time Reid ever entertained the idea of messing with Social Security.

"Since then it's been, 'Hell no,'" Manley said.

Progressives recognize that they benefitted from hard-line conservatives' delusion that by holding out, they could win even larger cuts.

"One of the ironies is that the tea party was more useful than Democratic leadership when it came to killing a grand bargain that would have cut Social Security benefits," said Adam Green, co-chair of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, an online activism group at the forefront of the fight against cuts. "They were so crazy and unwilling to take 'yes' for an answer. That allowed us to live to fight another day."

"Thank you, tea party!" Green added.

According to a former Obama administration official who was involved in the grand bargain negotiations, Obama and his team at the White House concluded that, in order to get tax hikes out of Republicans, they'd have to give ground on a major Democratic priority. One camp was pushing for a bump up in the Medicare eligibility age, reasoning that as long as the Affordable Care Act was in place, people between 65 and 67 would be in fine shape. In fact, they thought, low-income elderly, would do better under Obamacare than under Medicare.

But the faction pushing to put chained CPI on the table won out. Once that decision had been made, the official said, Obama rationalized his way toward believing that it was merely a modest statistical adjustment.

In his second term, Obama even appeared to embrace chained CPI as his own, including it in his annual budget proposal in April 2013, which came after a fierce internal debate, according to one participant.

The budget encountered stiff resistance from congressional Democrats and progressive activists, spurring a petition delivery and protest outside the White House where Bernie Sanders spoke.

The following year, the provision disappeared from the president's budget.


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29 May 2016

Sanders v. Clinton on ELECTABILITY

As this signed editorial in Huffington Post argues, the possibility that Sanders really is more electable than Clinton is not entirely to be dismissed. I for one find it hard to imagine a scenario in which Sanders is the nominee at this point, but the fact is that it is entirely possible that Clinton will lose, where Sanders would not have, and that being the case, voters in the remaining primaries (which, of course, includes the biggest prize of all, California), should think long and hard before concluding that Clinton is inevitable anyway, so why bother to vote for Bernie.


♦ David Studhalter

Sara Benincasa: I'm voting for the Democrat in November Because I'm Not a Human Tire Fire

​Comedian Sara Benincasa wrote the following, and I am ignoring copyright and reproducing the entire thing because I doubt she'd mind, and it bears repetition. (Warning: some profanity).

I'm Voting For The Democrat In November Because I'm Not A Human Tire Fire

This is for anybody wasting time online blathering about how Hillary and Trump are the same; how if Hillary gets the nomination, they won't vote at all; or how they're super-stoked to vote for a third party candidate because THEY HAVE PRINCIPLES, GODDAMMIT.

Hi. I'm your Auntie Sara. Time to wake the fuck up. If you are decent, you are going to vote for the Democrat in November. Not because you love Hillary (or Bernie, for whom I will vote if Hillary doesn't get the nomination!) Not because you love the two-party system (I don't! Do you? That's weird! We deserve better!) But because we're dealing with brass tacks reality here, not our dreams.

No, I don't assume you're sexist because you want to vote for Bernie. Of course not. I know many good and decent people, men and women and gender queer folks, who want to vote for Bernie, or for Hillary, or for Jill, or for ALMOST anyone but Trump. Yes, Bernie Bros are real. Yes, Hillary people can be annoying. Yes, any folks can be awful. I am not a woman who thinks everyone who loves a dude is sexist. I love dudes too! Sometimes ladies also! Sometimes folks who don't conform to gender! Anyway, read on.

When I was a tiny baby woman of 20, I loved Michael Moore's assertion that Gore and Bush 2 were EXACTLY THE SAME, MAAAAAAAN. I loved this because he was funny and smart, this Michael Moore, in my opinion. I still dig Michael Moore, though only in part and not in an idolatrous way, because I have put away most childish things like blind devotion to anyone who says something that sounds good but does not bear up to actual analysis. He is a wonderful filmmaker and storyteller with whom I do not always agree. He has evolved and so have I.

Other people who I thought were funny and smart and sensible loved Ralph Nader, too! Especially this one girl I knew with expensive dreadlocks (yes she was white, you silly billy, but you knew that already!) I thought Nader sounded great! I recognized he would never ever win the general, so I advocated for Gore. But still, this Nader was a delight! Also he made sure we had seatbelts! Were you aware? History is fun!

Then Bush 2 won.


Remember No Child Left Behind? AHAHHAHAHAHAHA. Oh, how fun it was to contend with that gem of legislation a few years later when I was teaching in the public high school system. Remember abstinence-only education? Of course you do; it's how you had your first child. And your second. They're so cute now! Hooray!

My point is this: don't throw your vote away because your ego and your "personal brand" says you've got to Feel the [fill in the blank thing that sounds great but will not lead to the Democrats actually winning the presidency in November 2016.]

I get it if it makes you feel really good personally and like a great liberal with super awesome true blue standards to vote for Bernie and support Bernie. He has many good things to say! He's done some lovely stuff! He is smart and amazing and I admire him a great deal. I admire many people. That's great. I also enjoyed Ralph Nader for a time. You know who's also great? Dr. Jill Stein, the Green lady! She seems great! But when Hillary gets the nomination, and she will, it is imperative to vote for the Democrat because the DNC platform is vastly superior to the GOP values. And if it makes you feel good in your feelings to stay home from the polls because you don't like Hillary or don't agree with things that she has done or said, you are effectively voting for Donald Trump.

And I'm not voting for Hillary JUST because I think she's more electable. I admire many things about her, too. Too many to list here, in fact! I don't know her personally. I don't know Bernie personally. I don't know Trump personally. This is about the work. This is not about being a fangirl or fanboy or doing what will make my friends (most of whom love either Bernie or Hillary) happy. This is what I think is right for my country in the pragmatic long run where feelings cool and your angry or elated reaction to this post is but a mere memory and you and I and everyone we know has to actually contend with the policies enacted by our president.

So get your fucking shit together once Hillary is the nominee, unless your ego and need to talk about stuff at your organic locally grown dinner parties for the next four years is greater than your respect for and compassion for the people who would suffer terribly under a GOP presidency and the Supreme Court for the next 10 to 40 years.

Sometimes you make the best choice and you still don't love it. But this is real life, not your copy of "Be Here Now." I had that book too. It was great! It was written by a wonderful man who comes from a world of white privilege. I do too! Isn't it crazy that I can make sense in some ways and be annoying or odious to you in other ways? This is how life works: things are not always all great, and neither are people.

Yes, we ought to have a system in which two parties are not dominant. It'd be great to have more than two viable candidates for president. Can you magically make that happen by November? No? Cool. Don't vote Green. Don't vote Libertarian. Vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton. Because it matters, and your choice this fall, barring an act of a God who does not exist, is Hillary or Trump. That's your choice. Hooray!

You don't like Hillary's past support for military actions in XYZ? Cool! Me neither, sometimes! Show me a president who has never made a decision that led to the deaths of women and children and innocent humans at home or (more likely) abroad and I will show you a lie. You think Bernie wouldn't take military action if necessary? You think our bombs wouldn't land on kids even if he took every precaution to ensure only military targets were hit? In what fucking world is the leader of any country a saint? Saints don't exist. Saints are a lie.

You think that's an endorsement of policies that kill innocent children? Then you're sorely in need of a course in reading comprehension.

I supported Hillary in the primary back in '08. Then I supported Barack Obama in the general. Why? Because, as the title indicates, I am not a human tire fire. Barack Obama has done amazing things for queer people here! He has also okayed the use of drones that killed innocent children in Pakistan and elsewhere! If you cannot look critically at your candidate, you will not look critically at your President. You're a cult member. Cult members never do anything good ever, except for the Amish people who make really great soft pretzels. But they still oppress women, even with their charming bonnets! Can you hold many truths in your brain at once? No? I'm sorry about that. Please read more and then talk to humans who are not like you, sometimes.

In the real world, sometimes you do not get all of the candy. Sometimes you get a little bit of the candy and that is better than getting a pile of actual flaming garbage. Don't just think about yourself… Think about the people who will be affected by the policies of the next president, as well as the people who will be affected by the Supreme Court. Unless your politics is just about whatever T-shirt you wear, in which case you really ought to get more into football.

You think this is condescending? I'm using small words to help you understand what many, many, many of us get: your assertion that you can't in good conscience vote for Hillary is an insult to me and women and queer folks and all the people who benefit and even have a chance to thrive under Democratic policies. You'd consign us to 4 years of Trump and two or three decades of a disgusting, vile Supreme Court because you have a sad feelz in your tum-tum?

You're goddamn right I'm condescending to you. You deserve this.

Get with the fucking program.

27 May 2016

Drone Program is an Illegal Assassination Program, let's call it what it is.

​On the issue of Drone assassination, Jeremy Scahill has pointed out that there's no difference between Sanders and Clinton, and they BOTH, disturbingly, seem to endorse the idea of a "unitary executive" when it comes to the exercise of arbitrary military power by the president. The fact is that, by declaration at least, the US is SUPPOSED to have a policy against assassination. (Because it's not a DRONE program; it's a program of poorly targeted remote assassination, and it is ILLEGAL). In reality, they have made a calculation: the American people are more interested in apparent "progress" against terrorists than the fine points of international law or even basic ethics. A program that just automatically classifies virtually everyone it kills as an "enemy" when, in reality, almost all of them are unidentified, is preferred to appearing to be accomplishing nothing at all. But, again, the reality is that not only is assassination immoral and illegal, it is counterproductive. Essentially all we are accomplishing in the Middle East right now is blowback, more blowback, and still more blowback. Please read Andrew Bacevich's excellent new book on the folly of America's 35+ year war in the Middle East, and why it will NEVER succeed, "America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History," or see http://www.democracynow.org/2016/4/8/andrew_bacevich_americas_war_for_the 

20 May 2016

People like me, planning to vote for Bernie in the last primaries, are not "dead enders," and we're not undermining Clinton!

Robert Reich, whom I greatly admire, posted the following on Facebook. My reply follows.

Many of you who support Bernie ask me what you should do at this point. My suggestion:

1. Continue to work like hell for Bernie, especially given upcoming primaries in California and New Jersey on June 7. Putting aside superdelegates, the difference between him and Hillary Clinton isn't huge. So far, Bernie has won nearly 10 million votes and has 1,499 pledged delegates. Hillary Clinton has won 13 million votes and has 1,771 pledged delegates. California could make a huge difference.

2. Don't demonize or denigrate Hillary Clinton. If she wins the Democratic nomination, I urge you to work like hell for her. She'll be the only person standing between Donald Trump and the presidency of the United States. Besides, as I've said before, she'll be an excellent president for the system we now have, even though Bernie would be the best president for the system we need.

3. Never, ever give up fighting against the increasing concentration of wealth and power at the top, which is undermining our democracy and distorting our economy. That means, if Hillary Clinton is elected, I urge you to turn Bernie's campaign into a movement – even a third party – to influence elections at the state level in 2018 and the presidency in 2020. No movement to change the allocation of power succeeds easily or quickly. We are in this for the long haul.

What do you think?


Ah, the breath of sanity. I'm a total Bernie supporter, but I also recognize reality. I have had to defend my position... that every last vote and voter should be able to, and should, REGISTER their preference for Bernie and his agenda until every primary (and especially in my state, the largest of all) is over. Bernie should leverage his votes and his voters for as much of his agenda as the platform, symbolic and real, on which Clinton will run, assuming she is to be the nominee. THEN, Bernie will full throatedly endorse her, and we, Progressive Democrats energized and determined to advance his agenda going forward, will support her election against the proto Fascist Trump. And we will win that, while continuing to work for reform in our party and a genuine Progressive agenda for the country.

Sadly, I've had to defend this not only against "Bernie or Bust" folks, but against Clinton supporters who seem to think her weakness as a candidate, and the fact that her neocon foreign policy and Progressive-lite domestic agenda are failing to catch fire, is somehow Bernie's and his supporters' fault. The recordation of who supports who, and what, is what primaries are for, and Clinton supporters who say we're disloyal, or "harming" Clinton, for exercising our franchise are the ones who don't seem to understand how our democracy is supposed to work.

A better test case for why a short primary season and national primary with runoff or automatic runoff should be instituted as soon as possible I can hardly imagine.

18 May 2016

PLEASE READ: Clinton as presumptive nominee despite the fact that Sanders has at least half the party behind him

As a from-before-he-announced Bernie Sanders supporter, and wholehearted believer in the general outlines of Bernie Sanders's agenda, I don't endorse the behavior of every single Sanders supporter. Some are understandably frustrated by the dysfunctional primary system in this country, under which, legitimately, Clinton is on the way to nearly certain nomination, and as a result, have said some intemperate things. Still there is an undeniable late momentum in the Sanders campaign, which has won the majority of primaries in the last month and a half and has at least a shot at carrying California, the largest prize of all.

To those Clinton supporters who say Sanders is a spoiler, and are angry that he won't "drop out," I say: your argument is hollow and indefensible. Clinton herself waited until almost literally the last minute herself when she was in a somewhat similar situation in 2008. But that's not really the point. The point is that the Sanders campaign is not just a personality contest. The candidate must remain in the race to advance the agenda his supporters, now clearly at least half the Democratic Party, believe in. His campaign, in other words, is a movement for Progressive realignment of the Democratic Party. Sanders and his supporters expect to be taken seriously, and to have a significant voice at the convention. They expect the nominee to take their views seriously, and to address the FACT that Sanders's policy positions in general are currently favored by the majority of Democrats.

In short, Sanders's supporters demand to be heard, and we expect anyone who claims to be the leader of the Democratic Party to represent the views and aspirations of the rank and file. Which means no more neo-liberal Centrist "Clintonism." Hillary Clinton, if she expects to unite the party and turn this into a wave election with a very good chance of flipping the Senate and making significant inroads in the House, must articulate and actually put into effect major small-d democratic reforms in the way the Party functions, and, more importantly, must articulate and honestly work to execute a far more Progressive policy agenda than what she has articulated in the past. The fact is, as of the present, she is barely winning the unqualified support of half the party. To unify the party, she had better realize that she needs to move towards, and stay with, the Progressive base. That means no backtracking on the disastrous, failed trade policy of the Obama administration. Rethinking the neocon interventionism that is probably the most disturbing thing about her record, personally. Supporting significant movement towards single-payer or public option in health care with major reform in out of pocket costs to working people and America's vast marginalized underclass. Supporting labor interests over finance in all aspects. Ditching the centrist Wall Street compromise mentality underlying Dodd Frank and working to enact serious, effective and permanent Wall Street reform, as articulated best by Elizabeth Warren. Supporting major tax reform to shift the burden of taxes more onto the wealthiest Americans and closing the loopholes and offshore havens that allow many of them to (legally) evade taxes. Expand, not cut, retirement security. Work to enact massive infrastructure investment, especially in renewable energy. And work for family leave, paid child care, enhanced job programs, enhanced food security, and free public education through college. (Which we once had in this country, in case anyone has forgotten).

If she gets smart, and embraces substantially all of these things, she will not only win the White House in a landslide, she will have a real mandate to make major changes in this country, once we are able to gain control of the Congress, which, with this kind of mandate, could actually be within reach while she is still president.

But if she does not, if she reverts to form, tacks to the Center, brings in Larry Summers and Robert Kagan and their ilk as advisers, the chance that she will face the kind of gridlock that's hobbled the Obama administration, and that a rebuilt Republican party could come back to power sooner rather than later, will be much greater. And our country cannot afford that. Clinton could win the election but effectively lose the ability to govern, and squander an opportunity for real change, that she owes in a significant measure to the insurgent campaign of Bernie Sanders. And if she does not understand that, she is not nearly as smart as people say she is.

I wish I could say I was optimistic, but I'm not, particularly. I see many signs that Clinton is already reverting to the kind of compromise-in-advance, Republican lite politics that have disaffected, justifiably, so many in the natural consistency of a Progressive Democratic Party that should be there representing them. I hope against hope she gets a bit more of the "vision thing" before the Summer campaign season is fully underway, and campaigns on, and then put into effect, real Progressive policies. Clinton is supposedly a "fighter." If, as seems almost certain, she is the nominee, she will have to prove it.

03 May 2016

Reuters: Sanders leads in national poll

It's so painful to contemplate. Reuters has a poll showing Sanders with a national lead. And there is every reason, based on analysis and polling, to believe that he would be a STRONGER, not weaker, candidate against the Trump insurgency on the other side. Which most people recognize as quasi-Fascist demagoguery that we simply CANNOT allow to come to pass in our country. But the Byzantine electoral math, and protracted primary process, in this country has made it almost impossible for Democrats to simply assess their situation NOW, and choose the stronger, more popular, more electable candidate (notwithstanding conventional, but wrong, conceptions).

So if the machine grinds out Clinton as our candidate, I can only hope that she is smart, and wise, enough to recognize that the Sanders revolution is the future of the party, and that the way to counter the Trumpeter movement is to come out strong and bold with a policy and rhetorical campaign that presents a dramatic reform agenda and a promise of a "New New Deal" that will transform our ossified, oligarchic, and plutonomic political/economic system in a historic reform. Because if all she offers is establishment politics as usual (which is what her entire career represents), I really do fear that she could just possibly lose. And that would be a TOTAL DISASTER for our country. So, please, PLEASE, Ms. Clinton and all ye Clintonistas...

If ye have not and will not feel the Bern, at least GET THE MESSAGE. We need a genuine, strong, and determined Progressive alternative. And if it must be led by Hillary Clinton, then SHE MUST STEP UP and rise to that occasion. So far, I've seen very little evidence that she's capable of it. But hope springs eternal.

And meanwhile, I will continue to hope for a miracle, which is that Sanders becomes our nominee some kinda way. Hey, a guy's gotta have hope, don't he?

02 May 2016

Trappist-1, nearby (40 ly) brown dwarf with "Earthlike" planets?

I can never resist commenting on this sort of thing. Geek alert! If you aren't interested in life in the universe in its broadest sense, turn the page!


There are three issues the articles about this fail to cover adequately. 1. Brown dwarfs, to remain hot enough to warm even quite nearby planets to Earthlike temperatures, are likely to be quite young. Young celestial bodies translate to insufficient time for the evolution of complex life, which took several billion years on Earth. 2. Complex life insofar as we have any grasp of how it does or might possibly come into existence, requires photosynthesis. Chemoautotrophic life could exist, but no examples of such life developing sufficient energetics to evolve into complex microscopic organisms, are known on Earth, and there are pretty good theoretical reasons for concluding that the "engineering" of such organisms simply would not support that. And, as a corollary, the peak of the light curve of a dim star like this is so far in the infrared that the chemistry of photosynthesis, no matter how liberal you are in allowing for variations, simply DOES NOT WORK. There just isn't enough energy in the photons for the quantum states in the atoms involved in the reactions to change. No one can even suggest how photosynthetic reactions using infrared light might be made to work. And, again, there are pretty good theoretical reasons to believe this JUST DOES NOT HAPPEN, anywhere, at any time.

Artificial habitats in such places might be made to work; there is energy and matter. But it's highly unlikely that complex life (beyond the most rudimentary heterotrophs and chemoautotrophic bacteria-like organsims) could evolve there naturally.


Andrew Sullivan on Donald Trump and the threat of Demagoguery: "America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyrrany"