I bought my Dad George Lakoff’s book on framing for Christmas. Dad’s a language nut with deep dislike of President Bush (second only to his hatred of the Yankees), so I knew he’d enjoy it. I basically accept Lakoff’s premise, which is that the Democrat-Republican divide comes down to a “Nurturant parent” vs. “strict father” frame. But I do think he’s a little over-the-top in some of his wilder accusations.

Still, I can’t say I agree with this criticism of Lakoff:

The list of GOP deceptions is seemingly endless. Republicans don’t support tort reform because they care about the cost of frivolous lawsuits; they want to bankrupt a Democratic Party that relies on contributions from trial lawyers and leave corporations free to pollute the environment. The war in Iraq, as one might expect, is really about “the self-interest of American corporations.” On issue after issue, “what conservatives are really trying to achieve is not in the proposal,” Mr. Lakoff explains. The “real purposes are hidden.”

    Such paranoia calls to mind earlier, left-wing critiques of conservative conspiracy-mongering.

Sorry bro, but I’m a little tired of Republicans calling folks “paranoid” when those folks accuse the Republicans of less-than-noble tactics. This idea that conservatives just listen to the voters, and don’t use high-paid consultants like Democrats is a bunch of hooey. Republicans are manipulative. So are Democrats. That’s the point of politics, sales, advertising, and every other attempt to influence the masses. To manipulate.

When Newt Gingrich told his party to call the estate tax the “death tax” or to always refer to Democrats as “sick” and “pathetic,” am I just to assume he had noble intentions of the people at heart? Or maybe he was just, oh, I dunno… framing the debate.

The Ground Beneath

Wonderful op-ed in today’s NY Times on the year of earthquakes. The author, Simon Winchester, writest that 2004 has much in common with 1906, a similar year for seismic happenings across the globe.

Then the article goes deeper:

Plate tectonics as a science is less than 40 years old. It is possible that common sense suggests what science has yet to confirm: that the movement among the world’s tectonic plates may be one part of enormous dynamic system, with effects of one plate’s shifting more likely than not to spread far, far away, quite possibly clear across the surface of the globe..

Makes perfect sense to me. There is only a finite amount of Earth to go around. Did the stirrings at Mt. St. Helens recently predict the coming of the Sumatra quake? Could be. It’s humbling to think what an advanced system it must be, since modern man has yet to crack it. Moving on:

In recent decades, thanks largely to the controversial Gaia Theory developed by the British scientists James Lovelock, it has become ever more respectable to consider the planet as one immense and eternally interacting living system – the living planet, floating in space, every part of its great engine affecting every other, for good or for ill.

Mr. Lovelock’s notion…makes much of the delicacy of the balance that mankind’s environmental carelessness increasingly threatens. But his theory also acknowledges the somber necessity of natural happenings, many of which seem in human terms so tragically unjust, as part of a vast system of checks and balances.

I must admit I more or less buy into the Gaia theory. I believe in chaos, in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things, of really, REALLY complex-yet-deterministic systems. I wonder, though, what the implications truly are for the Gaia theory with respect to environmentalism. If Winchester is quoting Lovelock appropriately, then he’s assuming that mankind is somehow outside the system, ruining what would otherwise be a harmonious, stable planet. But how could that be? Unless man is descended from aliens, then we are part and parcel of Gaia, and therefore what we do to the earth MUST necessarily be part of the Gaia design, not somehow outside or above it.

This all reinforces my long-time theory that mankind’s destruction of nature is, well, completely natural. But we do have intellect, and therefore a choice. I have no doubt we’ll be able to adapt to survive in a desolate, tree-less, garbage-filled planet. But we could choose another future. This is why no one buys those environmentalists who preach apocalypse. It’s not about whether we destroy ourselves, it’s about what kind of survival we choose to have.

Me? I’ll take pristine air and snow-capped mountains any day.

Iraq/Vietnam Revisited

Slate has a piece up today comparing body counts in Iraq and Vietnam. Basically, the argument is that, if you control for advances in military and medical technology, Vietnam in 1966 is as deadly as Iraq in 2004.

That’s frightening in and of itself. But it prompted me to do some investigation of my own. I’m still skeptical of Iraq/Vietnam comparisons for two reasons: (1) the draft vs. the all-volunteer (well, sort of) army, and (2), the fact that the opposition in Vietnam was state-based with a governing ideology (Communism), whereas the opposition in Iraq seems to be a bunch of nihlists/anarchists/foreigners with no plan for what happens if they win.

Besides, Vietnam’s population, I reasoned, is about 85 million, but Iraq is only 25 million. Even with all the terrorists swooping in from Jordan and Syria, we’re still ahead in the numbers game.

Whoops… forgot to control for inflation.

According to this site, Vietnam’s population in 1965 was about 35 million. Iraq’s 2004 population is about 25 million. Given that troop levels in Iraq are a mere fraction of what they were in Vietnam, the picture looks less rosy. And advances in military technology aren’t helping as much as they could. With all this street-by-street fighting, we’ve lost most of our force multipliers in Iraq.

So it begs the question: when can we compare Iraq to Vietnam? Us reasonable centrists are supposed to bristle at the comparison. “You’re being hysterical,” we tell the peaceniks when they try to force the issue. But unless we pull out something close to a miracle with these January elections, the hysterics will look more and more reasonable.

So when can we begin to compare? Hard to say. I’d like to ask my fellow “reasonable” folks, the Tom Friedmans and Chris Hitchens’ of the world, for a number, so I can stop thinking about it. If we have 3,000 dead Americans by 2006, does that make it okay to compare to Vietnam? how about 10,000 by 2009? Or should we focus on Iraqi casulaties? 100,000 by 2007? Just give me a number and I’ll stop worrying and go back to being a reasonable centrist again.

The Fight for the DNC Chair

First, I was very interested in who would become the next chair of the DNC. The race was heating up, and I read Kos daily to see whether Fowler, Dean, Rosenberg, so some other dark horse would be the front runner.

Then I got tired of the whole thing. Pretty quickly, actually. The DNC chair is an operator, and an important one, for sure. But there are so many other issues facing the Democrats right now, and with odd advocacy groups like this one popping up left and right, it seems like there are bigger fish to fry. So why, I wondered, are Democrats so riled up about who might be the next DNC chair?

The answer came to me today when I saw an ad for Donnie Fowler on Wonkette today. The poor Democrats are so excited about this election for one reason: no matter what happens, a Democrat is going to win. After a dismal showing in November, the DNC Chairmanship is guaranteed to result in a Democratic victory! They can’t lose this one!!

You go, kids.

(ps, sorry for the snark this holiday season… I’m in that kind of a mood).

Alms For the Poor

Sullivan’s guest bloggers bring up the idea that there is a coalition to be forged between bleeding-heart liberals and evangelicals, centered on their shared belief in helping the poor. They quote Kristof:

Members of the Christian right…are the new internationalists, increasingly engaged in humanitarian causes abroad — thus creating opportunities for common ground between left and right on issues we all care about.

I used to be pretty into this idea, but I’ve become less sanguine of late. Because even if we can get liberals and evangelicals to agree that poverty is a problem that needs to be dealt with, I imagine we’ll still be arguing about whether it’s the government’s responsibility to deal with it. And if they ever did find common ground, I imagine it would look a LOT like Bush’s faith-based initiatives, wouldn’t it?

Phoneblogging: Sage Advice

I’m thinking about a new feature here at B&P, we’ll call it “Phoneblogging.” In september, I moved to the 21st century by getting my first camera phone. So let’s start it out with some sage advice from the New York City Subway:

There’s a joke in here somewhere about Social Security and the “third rail.” I’ll leave it to those clowns over at the Cato Institute to fill in the blanks.

President Jackass

I don’t really know how else to say it. I cringed watching yesterday’s press conference on Iraq and Social Security, among other things. It’s painful watching this guy talk to reporters.

Now I know how Tony Blair feels. Every time Bush and Blair have a joint press conference, Blair always steals the mic when it’s time to talk seriously about the objectives in Iraq and the broad case for democracy. Blair knows the whole project has no global cred when bush speaks.

It’s gonna be a long four years…

A Progressive Case for SS Privatization?

So I’m pretty sure I’m against Social Security privatization, as the President has proposed it. I don’t know why, other than that most of the people I respect and listen to oppose it.

But it occurs to me that there might be a progressive angle in aguing for privatizing Social Security.

One thing that comes back time and time again to hurt progressives is the Wall Street’s insanely short attention span when it comes to evaluating companies. Wall Street doesn’t care one whit if the company is paying attention to future generations… they only care about next quarter.

However, if Social Security were privatized, and folks were asked to invest, they would have to look at companies whose long-term (30+ year) growth outlook was rosy. And that just might lead them to companies who are innovating in creating sustainable technologies and rewarding their workers with decent wages.

Maybe it’s a long shot, and maybe if 401k’s don’t get us to the same point, there’s no reason SS privatization would. But there might be a way here for consumers to reward companies that thing long-term.

Foreign Troops Need Not Apply?

I’m pretty sure Matt Yglesias is an avowed multilateralist, so I’m puzzled as to why he’s writing stuff like this in TAPPED:

…but the question of what it would have taken to pull Iraq off better deserves a rigorous look. As Beinart writes, “at the beginning of the fairly successful Bosnia and Kosovo nation-building efforts, NATO boasted more than 22 troops for every 1,000 local civilians. In Iraq, when Saddam fell, there were six.” That implies we should have had almost 480,000 soldiers in Iraq. The Army only has about 500,000 active duty soldiers, backed up by 700,000-odd National Guard and Reserve troops. That’s not even close to enough to sustain a 480,000 person commitment to Iraq for a long enough time on top of the other things the Army needs to do…

….So it’s really not clear that nation-building in Iraq could have been pulled off without an earlier, major upsizing of the Army or major reorganization of U.S. security commitments around the world.

Umm… Matt? Isn’t that what multilateralism is for? Isn’t that what John Kerry was for? Isn’t that what this whole election was about? Of course we don’t have enough troops to sustain Iraqi operations unilaterally. That’s why we hate George Bush, remember?