blueollie

Longish run/walk and Bishop Spong…

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I started this run/walk 45 minutes later than planned because I had to scramble to find my winter stuff. It was 27 F a the start! It then warmed into the mid to upper 30’s and there wasn’t much wind. So the day it self was sunny and pleasant.

The workout went fine, though I was disappointed in my return leg: 1:31 out, 1:33 back; both times via Tower Park and the Goose loop. The way back is downhill and I like to do that faster than the way out. Not today; I got very sore and heavy legged. I did run sort of hard on Thursday though.

There were other runners out; one lady told me that she knocked off 18 miles; I also saw Mat.

I finished with a slowish 3 mile cool down walk; that felt a lot like what one feels during an ultra walk.

Later: Barbara took me to Indian buffet and then to the UU Church to hear a lecture by Bishop Spong. He was an entertaining enough speaker and he gave some Bible basics. Most of what he talked about can be found in Rogerson’s book in greater detail. I can recommend the lecture part; he IS worth seeing.

The “questions” session was ..well, what one would expect: a forum for the lonely to have a captive audience. 🙂 Here Bishop Spong got a bit out of his element; there is far more to Trump than “white male anger” (try: economics). In fact, I’d defy someone to name a constituency that is NOT angry. Everyone is angry and only OUR anger is justified. 🙂

He also talked about his “word salad” deity concept; that was rather hollow and unconvincing. Interestingly enough, Spong emphasized the Jewishness of the Gospels and mentioned that the idea of God was that “there is neither Jew nor Greek…” Interestingly, I think that Jews are as exclusive as anyone else; the Jewish Bible is full of stories of Jews killing others for worshiping other deities.

April 9, 2016 Posted by | books, religion, social/political, walking | | Leave a comment

Welcome to 2016!

Workout notes: 8.3 course in 1:31:10 (about 1:30 slower than last week; but it was 24 F (12 F colder) and I ran a reasonably tough 8 two days ago). I was 43:49 at Heading, 1:22, 46:06 for the last 4+ (10:00 from the Park exit to home).

There were some trees down: a big one that I ran under and a smaller one I ran around (on the way up from the bridges to Cornstalk) and one I stepped over on the way down from Cornstalk to the lower park entrance.

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I didn’t feel that good until mile 3 or so.

Then we got take out from Jerusalem restaurant and Tracy came over to watch Notre Dame vs. Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

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Though ND moved it well, at times, they were outclassed 44-28. Ohio State had it all: running, short passing, deep threat. But ND didn’t embarrass themselves the way that Iowa is doing in the Rose Bowl (down 35-0 to Stanford at the half).

My goal for 2016: aside from my usual “one marathon or longer” goal, I’ll need to get to work on professional stuff. I don’t want to stagnate. I’ve got 3 ideas to work on, and I need to do it next week. One idea will just result in a dumb blog post that might help with calculus teaching; one will be an exploration of a “long shot” idea and the third is the mostly likely to pay off as a research paper.

Also, I want to read more books; I have one that I want to finish and I need to read some more substantial stuff. My brain is getting lazy.

January 1, 2016 Posted by | books, Friends, mathematics, running | Leave a comment

Reaction to Trump: It isn’t mere bigotry ….

Workout notes Though I got some very good news on the personal front yesterday, I am still having trouble sleeping. As of right now, it has not affected my physical abilities.

But I got to the weight room early: 5 sets of 10 pull ups, rotator cuff exercises
incline: 10 x 135, 4 x 160, 8 x 150 (strong).
dumbbell bench press: 10 x 70
dumbbell military press: 2 sets of 12 x 50 (seated, supported), 1 set of 10 x 40 standing.
dumbbell row: 10 x 70, 2 sets of 10 x 50.

abs: 2 sets of 12 twist crunches, 2 sets of 10 yoga leg lifts, moving bridge recoveries.

Swim: warm up 100’s: 8 x 100 on the 2, 200 (leaky goggle stop), 6 x (50 drill, 100 swim), 100 pull, 150 back, 2 x 25 fly.
Weight: 183 after swimming.

Donald Trump, Muslims and bigotry

Let me make this clear: I find nothing positive about Mr. Trump’s proposed “ban on Muslims coming to America”. But it appears that Mr. Trump “not caring” about what the “politically correct” critics are saying is playing well.

Now many have said that this is because the people who support Mr. Trump are bigots. Now true, *some* are. But I’d like to propose something else, and I am not talking about “fear”. After all, I have more to worry about from a drunk or texting driver or a garden variety mugger than I do from a terrorist. The statistics are clear on that.

I think it is more this: when one thinks of “Muslims” overseas wanting to come here, these are the images that come to mind:

deathtoamerica

insultingtheprophet

Hey, if “they” hate the USA and they don’t like free speech, why do they want to come here?

And there is this:

The values of the Muslims in these videos ARE incompatible with American values!

Do you want to see people rioting over cartoons? Do you want to see clerics issuing a call for someone to be murdered for writing a book? I sure as hell don’t want that here.

So yes, on the whole..on a world wide basis, Islam DOES have a major problem with these issues. To not admit as much is to be dishonest.

Nevertheless, that might not apply to those who want to come HERE. After all, we have Muslim neighbors and coworkers who are working hard and contributing to society, and we should welcome even more like these.

I think that the issue is that humans are emotional and our minds make very quick, crude approximations. After all, a Muslim in Turkey or Indonesia might not have that much in common with a Shiite Persian mullah or some Sunni from Saudi Arabia. People wanting to come to the US should be judged on a case by case basis, with no religious test applied.

And as far as Muslims in the US: the issue is complex. I can recommend the book Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam written by Professor Akbar Ahmed (he spoke at Bradley University a few years ago; we was a guest of the Muslim Student group on campus). It is well researched, well written and unflinchingly honest.

December 9, 2015 Posted by | books, swimming, weight training | , , | Leave a comment

Racism: difficult subject to discuss honestly

The recent events involving the deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement has put the issue of racism on my mind. It is not my intent to comment on the Ferguson or on the Staten Island deaths but to talk about racism in general. One can find data here.

But racism is a very hard topic to discuss (as Attorney General Holder pointed out) for many reasons. One reason, of course, is that there is a fear that saying the “wrong” thing can have catastrophic consequences; even a Harvard Ph. D. and a Nobel Laureate scientist can get taken down. So, it sure appears that some dialogues consist of someone in authority posturing about how super ethical and non-racist they are.

I went to one “Day of Dialogue” (perhaps 15-18 years ago) and my break out group included a Dean, who mostly bloviated on and on about how wonderful his department was. Talk about a waste of time.
And to many, what passes for public discussion on race is really just…well, liberal propaganda:

It’s obvious that there is no real race dialogue. The black community is rather monolithic in its repeating of liberal thoughts. The white community is split between liberal and conservative. Sixty percent of white America is somewhat conservative.
Black and white liberals agree with each other. If there is to be a real race dialogue, I believe it has to be between the black community and white conservatives.
The more conservatives are maligned or threatened, the farther away they will move. Their wealth goes with them. District 150 is a perfect example. It is incumbent on the black community to be reaching out to them. If I’m drowning, I can’t wait for a hand to show up. My hand has to go up and hope someone is there.
I envision a real race dialogue occurring between these two groups, who have the same Creator. There is one common denominator between the two — the church. White sitting next to black and not debating, not trying to win but simply be heard. The main obstacle right now is everyone is preaching to their own choir. We need to listen to each other.

Note: this guy isn’t the most articulate person, but I believe he represents a widely held point of view.

Another difficult thing is that racism is often equated with hate. I am sure that some of it IS a distrust of “the other”; after all, 50,000 years ago, we may well have been fighting with other tribes and bands over that life saving water hole or hunting ground. I can easily see some xenophobia coming from our hard wiring (which does NOT mean that we shouldn’t work to overcome it…we should!)

However I think that it is entirely possible that at least some racism is NOT driven by hate but rather by our tendency to think inductively. Humans tend to go by what they see, and our views tend to be local. I’ll give you some examples:

Say “Indian” and I tend to think of a merchant, a medical doctor or engineer; my vision of India is a country where everyone walks around with laptops. Of course, that is wildly untrue; what has happened is that the Indians I’ve encountered have all been professionals; many are highly intelligent and intellectually accomplished.

Say “Asian” and what do you think? Many think “excellence in engineering and mathematics”; witness this spoof (0:20-0:22)

I still remember my Chinese office mate at the University of Texas telling me “you know, there are a lot of stupid people in China! Really, we have stupid people too!”. That is why some of the scenes in the book/film The Sand Pebbles (Richard McKenna’s book) in which the (white) American sailors thought that the Chinese were too stupid to understand the basics of engineering struck me as very…odd.

Now think “typical NBA” or “typical NFL” player and you’d probably conjure up a black guy. Yes, 68 percent of the NFL is black, and 78 percent of the NBA is black. From that, one might (erroneously) conclude that the average black male is significantly stronger and more physically dangerous than other males of the same age which can lead to catastrophic interactions with the police in the event of an altercation.

Think about it: in the Eric Garner choking death, the police wrestled him to the ground with a chokehold. I remarked that this scuffle was tame compared to what I did in Judo competition. A friend reminded me that I was an in-shape 21 year old who was trained, ran, lifted weights…and Mr. Garner was an obese middle age man with asthma..certainly not an athlete in a martial sport. Police protocols should deal with the actual public that they serve and not with outliers in health and youth.

Then we also have some factors that seem, well, just taboo to bring up; and an honest discussion of the issues should involve some freedom to discuss the taboo ideas. If such freedom is taken away, then such a discussion is just seen as propaganda.

One factor is that the situation is simply not symmetric. In OUR country, there was no white slavery and no legalized segregation against white people. This point is brought home very well here:

Another factor is that blacks and Hispanics commit disproportionately more crime (example: here are murder statistics from 2011). Hence, wouldn’t it just be “common sense” to be more suspicious of black males? Well, the answer is “no” for several reasons. One is probabilistic: suppose 1 percent of the males in group X committed violent crime and 2 percent in group Y committed the same crime. Then those in group Y would be twice as likely to commit that crime, yet if one just randomly stopped a male in group X, the probability that they weren’t criminal would be 99 percent; it would be 98 percent for group Y.

Another reason: one has to understand what the crimes are about. In poor black communities, the police are not trusted to take the concerns of the citizens seriously. This is for several reasons, not the least of which is if one calls the police, the police are likely to investigate the caller for something trivial in the caller’s past. Hence, much of the violent crime is retaliatory in nature; “taking the law into one’s own hands” (vigilantism). See Stephen Pinker’s book Better Angels of our Nature for more details.

Another factor is that it is just plain difficult to put yourself into someone else’s lives. If you’ve been treated well by police, it is easy to say, “hey, don’t do anything wrong and you have nothing to fear from the police”. Of course, that is completely untrue; witness this non-life-threatening but humiliating experience

Belk

Keep in mind this is an accomplished professional whose story could have been checked in a few minutes… (and my African American friends have told me that they have encountered similar). Even former Republican Representative JC Watts recounts being pulled over for a merely “driving while black” in his book What Color is a Conservative. Many people simply refuse to believe that this happens at a significantly higher rate to a specific group of people because…well, it hasn’t happened to them or to someone they know.

And, much more tragically, there is this. Watch the video; the police pulled up and shot this kid within two seconds, and he was such sitting on a park bench!

Another taboo idea is the fact that minorities underachieve intellectually both in educational outcomes and on standardized tests. This IS a source of embarrassment to minorities; J. C. Watts says (in his book) that the tendency for liberals to “lower the bar” for blacks was one of the reasons he wasn’t a liberal. Leonard Pitts has a candid column on this topic and Law Professor Stephen Carter talks about his experience (and some embarrassment) of receiving affirmative action in his book Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby.

So, I think it is perfectly reasonable for someone to think “well, black and brown people not doing as well in this country might reflect an uncomfortable reality that there are inherent differences in IQ, at least statistically.” After all, aren’t most countries in Africa and Latin America (and Mexico) third world countries?

I don’t think it is necessarily hateful to bring this up. In fact, I brought up similar thoughts in private discussions when I was an undergraduate. Fortunately, my good friend was a history major and he obtained some good resources for me to read. Later on, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel gave an excellent, well researched answer to such honest questions.

As far as the IQ issue goes, I can recommend this Ron Unz article in The American Conservative. Consider the following:

Consider, for example, the results from Germany obtained prior to its 1991 reunification. Lynn and Vanhanen present four separate IQ studies from the former West Germany, all quite sizable, which indicate mean IQs in the range 99–107, with the oldest 1970 sample providing the low end of that range. Meanwhile, a 1967 sample of East German children produced a score of just 90, while two later East German studies in 1978 and 1984 came in at 97–99, much closer to the West German numbers.

These results seem anomalous from the perspective of strong genetic determinism for IQ. To a very good approximation, East Germans and West Germans are genetically indistinguishable, and an IQ gap as wide as 17 points between the two groups seems inexplicable, while the recorded rise in East German scores of 7–9 points in just half a generation seems even more difficult to explain.

Bottom line: social factors CAN explain differences between group means in things like IQ tests.

Conclusion I suppose that what I am getting at is that I really don’t like the climate in which honest debate is stifled. It is possible for good people to disagree on things, and it is possible for good people to hold honest but erroneous views. But how can an erroneous view be dealt with if people don’t feel free to ask the honest question?

Sure, I get it: no one wants to be a captive audience to blatantly racist and hateful rants. But not all racism comes from hate; it can be a combination of unhelpful evolutionary instincts (we are NOT blank slates!) and being fooled by our tendency to go by what we see in our own little bubbles and our own tendency to reason inductively.

And yes, many who might say that they want a discussion really don’t; what they want is a sympathetic ear for their grievances, some of which are genuine and some aren’t. It is sometimes hard to tell which is which.

Example: in the early 1990s, I was driving north on I-55 in southern Illinois when I was tailed for 10 miles by a Illinois State trooper car. I could see the guy talking on his radio repeatedly. Eventually, he pulled me over and my then wife pulled behind him; then he realized that I wasn’t really a suspect for anything. So, was it merely my beat up car with Texas plates or did my race play a contributing factor?

Interestingly enough, when I posted this, I got a very interesting comment; it said, in part:

The Illinois State Police is the most professional police department in the state of Illinois.
To say they profile is rediculous. (sic) I’m sure you got pulled over because of your history with the Illinois State Police and the officer knew that upon seeing your car.

He called me “paranoid”. I go back to “this doesn’t happen to people I know, so something must be wrong with you” belief that many stubbornly hold. I seriously doubt that the person making this comment has the mental agility (and ability) too see beyond what seems obvious to him.

Of course, stupidity and criminality comes in all flavors; one can always find despicable people in any large enough group. And hey, none of us are perfect, least of all me!

December 14, 2014 Posted by | books, racism, social/political | , , , | 1 Comment

A few (of many) reasons an honest discussion of race in the US is very difficult

Workout notes: easy untimed 5 mile walk (Cornstalk)

I remembered Attorney General Holder saying this:

In his first major speech since being confirmed, the nation’s first black attorney general told an overflow crowd celebrating Black History Month at the Justice Department the nation remains “voluntarily socially segregated.”

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder declared.

Holder urged Americans of all races to use Black History Month as a time to have a forthright national conversation between blacks and whites to discuss aspects of race which are ignored because they are uncomfortable.

The attorney general said employees across the country “have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace,” but he noted that “certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one’s character.”

And yes, it is true. In my *opinion*, the reasons are many.

For one: when the subject is highly emotional, it is easy to forget to both speak and reason carefully. For another: quite frankly, many don’t have strong logical and reasoning skills. They know how they feel, but they often don’t articulate clearly or precisely.

So, typically, one of two things happens:

1. People, often white people, say what is on their minds and, to be blunt, much of what they think is obviously true is either erroneous or a grossly incomplete understanding of what is going on. But instead of being engaged in a respectful manner, they are shouted down (often by while liberals) as being racist and ignorant. So they leave thinking that what they believe is actually true, but too…well…uncomfortable to say in polite company.

2. People, often racial minorities, deny uncomfortable truths (e. g. that violence occurs at higher rates in poor, minority communities, or that college entrance tests have predictive power, at least on a statistical level) than it does elsewhere.

So, attempts to have a “dialogue” often end up with white liberals pontificating about how non-racist they are and people politely listening to minorities griping …and then leaving without a thing being changed.

My guess: this is an unfortunate side effect of humans being hard wired to reason inductively. Example: you watch a major college basketball team and notice that most teams are predominately black. So the mind forms the erroneous conclusion: “blacks are good at basketball”.

As far as books that discuss race issues honestly, I can recommend:

Stephen Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature; this isn’t about race but about human violence. It gives a detailed discussion of why violence rates in poor black communities are so high.

Andrew Hacker’s Two Nations Though the book is over 20 years old, it has plenty to say about what is going on today.

William Julius Wilson’s When Work Disappears: this book discusses some of the reasons social pathologies arise and made accurate predictions about the rise of social pathologies in white blue collar communities.

November 27, 2014 Posted by | books, social/political | | Leave a comment

Pinker’s book “Blank Slate” and baseball…

From time to time, I’ll watch our local minor league baseball team. It is economical and fun to do when it is pleasant outside.

But seeing this: it reminds me a bit of my childhood.

My dad just KNEW that he was going to mould his little athlete into a sports star. Start me early enough, and I was going to be good!

Trouble is, in a game…or against other kids, it didn’t always go well.

Oh sure, I bought into it. On my own (not my dad’s idea), I decided to lift weights to get ready for football; I started before my 8’th grade season and did that every year since.

Before my freshman year, one of the guys came into the weight room. I had been lifting for 2 years now.

He asked me: “what are you doing”? I explained that I was doing “bench presses” and I had 170 pounds on the bar.

He said “let me try that” and BOOM, sans warm up, just blasted it right up…first time touching it.

There was a reason he went on to become the starting fullback for Georgia Tech and I went on to peak out at being a marginal high school player.

So what does this have to do with Stephen Pinker’s book, The Blank Slate?

Though there is no doubt that the best academics and the best athletes work very hard to develop their talents, the talent has to be there to begin with, and that is simply genetic.

Had my parents understood that, there would have been no attempt to mould me into what I was not intended to be.

Oh sure, there is nothing wrong with exposing your kid to lots of things to see what they like…and I was taken to the library.

And yes, I checked out a book from our high school library and taught myself how to solve “separable differential equations” (the easiest type to solve) and neither of my parents even made it out of junior high. My interest: sure I had exposure, but the thirst to learn more was probably hard wired into me…my parents merely provided me with the spring, so to speak (and that is important!).

And so…I’ll probably go to another baseball game; it was fun.

July 10, 2014 Posted by | books, social/political | , , , | Leave a comment

Stephen Pinker: The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

Brief summary Read it. It is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.
Note: while it is well written and engaging, Pinker is very nuanced; this is a tough book to read while you are falling asleep. It does make some demands on the reader, but the reader will be rewarded.

What it is about
Pinker’s thesis is that human beings have a “nature”; that is, we are genetically programmed to act and react in a certain way. Certainly, there is quite a bit of variance between humans and human behavior can be influenced by the culture that they live in. But, we do have built in software to react to the environment.

He argues against three different competing viewpoints:

1. The “blank slate”: e. g. that our nature is completely determined by society.
2. The “noble savage”: e. g. that we are born with some noble nature that is corrupted by our local culture and
3. The Ghost in the Machine: that is, we have some “soul” that is apart from our bodies, presumably given by???

Now if you cry “foul”; that is, if you accuse Pinker of putting up straw men to knock over, he carefully explains where these various assumptions show up in various academic disciplines.

But this book is much more than a list of evidence. Pinker spends a surprising amount of time pointing out why there is such as resistance to giving up on “blank slates” and explaining why the existence of a “human nature” is really nothing to fear. Of course, this isn’t an argument for our having a genetic “human nature”; if it is true, it is true whether we want it to be true or not. But Pinker’s writing might help get the fearful to at least consider his thesis.

He goes on to explain why rejecting the “trinity” will lead to better outcomes for society.

There are other aspects of this book; he spends quite a bit of time attacking the absurdities of the academic left (disclaimer: I am a lefty who is also an academic, but I teach mathematics; I don’t think that there is a patriarchal way of solving a differential equation. Hence I am immune to these attacks).

Pinker then dives into some hot topics and explains why a “human nature” thesis fits in.

Here are a few of them:

1. Children: Pinker notes the following: a child’s personality really isn’t influenced by the family that they grew up in! Sure, they learn things and habits. This what I mean: in terms of things like personality and mental abilities, two adopted kids raised in the same household are no more likely to be similar to each other than to kids raised in a different household (same culture, no neglect, etc.).

About 50 percent of the variance in personality is determined by genetics, and most of the rest is determined by the local culture (environment, singular events in the child’s life).

This isn’t to say that a kid’s childhood isn’t important; it is nice to have a happy childhood. But parents really can’t “mold” their kids.

2. Postmoderism: that is, “reality” is merely a construct of the mind of the person who is experiencing it. Actually, our brains evolved to help us make sense of the world as it is; otherwise we might not survive to reproduce. And yes, planes fly, computers work, vaccines work, etc. And no, this has nothing to do with “collapsing wave functions” in quantum mechanics.

3. Rape. Yes, I said it. Pinker points out that, yes, rape is a horrible crime that should be prosecuted and punished. But he also notes that, at least from the male’s point of view, there IS a “sex component” to rape. Think of it this way: greed is a factor in theft, right? So why shouldn’t some sociopaths have forcible sex if they think that they can get away with it?

Now, of course, people will confuse this claim with: The woman “asked for it” by, say, dressing in sexy manner. Nope. This is not a “lust run wild” model; this is a sociopath doing what they can get away with model. That is what makes prosecution so important.

I admit that education can be a factor; after all, as unbelievable as it sounds, there are college men who have to be taught that having sex with a “passed out drunk woman who is in your room” IS rape. Hence I support such education programs. It won’t eliminate all rape though and neither will any amount of attempts to “change the culture”.

4. The humanities: I know that Pinker has taken some heat by those who think that he is trying to make the humanities subservient to the sciences. He does think that the humanities can draw from the sciences. He also points out that some famous authors illuminate his points via their fiction and do it in a very clear way. He does this in his last chapter: The Voice of the Species. If nothing else, read that.

So, I can recommend this book without reservation.

Note: this TED talk by Pinker provides an outline and talks about art…it is interesting.

July 5, 2014 Posted by | books, science, social/political | , | Leave a comment

How Republican xenophobia and buffoonery hurts them politically at the national level

First things first:
I had a midday workout of weights followed by swimming.
Weights:

pull ups (5-5, then 4 sets of 5 with hip hikes and Achilles exercises as rest)
bench press: 10 x 135, 2 x 180, 2 x 180, 9 x 160 (rotator cuff exercises as rest). I found out that my arms are not symmetric when I lower the weights; I think that one arm is longer than the other.
incline press: 10 x 135.
military press: 12 x 50 dumbbell (seated, supported), 2 sets of 10 x 40 dumbbells, standing.
superset of pull downs and Hammer Machine rows:
pull downs: 7 x 160 normal, 7 x 100 to the chest (no rest) then 10 x 160 normal, 10 x 100 to the chest (no rest), 10 x 120 to the chest.
Hammer: 3 sets of 10 x 200.

Swim
4 x 250 free (easy)
5 x 100 on 2:05 (25 fist, 25 free)
8 x 50 on the 1:05 or 1:10
100 in 1:42
4 x 25 back
4 x 25 side.

This wasn’t much.

Politics
I recently read Jonathan Alter’s book The Center Holds. I talked about the book here.

But I have a bit more to say. In describing why Obama won so convincingly, Alter writes (page 360 of the hardback)

African Americans, 93 percent for Obama, remained constant from 2008 at 13 percent of the electorate. Boston (Romney’s HQ) had few contacts in the black community, and its assumptions (and those of much of the press) of dampened enthusiasm were inaccurate. To the surprise of everyone except African American politicians and local leaders, black turnout was actually up in battleground states over 2008. In Ohio, where 200,000 more blacks voted than the last time, their percentage of the electorate increased by nearly a third (to 15 percent), in part because many whites stayed home. In Virginia, eleven predominantly black counties in the southeastern part of the state increased their turnout over 2008, more than compensating for rural white counties that voted heavily for Romney.

Note: those who us who followed the polls closely were unsurprised by the election results; there was zero hope for Romney in the last round of polls in the battle ground states.

But never mind that.

The book went on to conjecture as to why black turnout was up. Of course, some of it was the state of the art “get out the vote” campaign tactics used by the Obama campaign.

But there was another factor: many African Americans were enraged by what appeared to be attempts to suppress the black vote (new voter ID laws). Many were outraged at the level of disrespect shown to the President (e. g. the racist caricatures). So while the press was full of stories of conservative white rage, well, some of us darker skin types were rather upset as well.

But the Republicans seemed determined to poke us in the eyes with sticks. For example, you are seeing sitting Republican Senators babbling on about “impeaching President Obama”. You are seeing nasty preemptive attacks on Hillary Clinton (e. g. the taking her line “what difference does it make” out of context).

Now, of course, this makes for great local politics. People who are running for office in ruby red states can outflank primary rivals to the right with such rhetoric. It works even better at the House race level.

Screen shot 2013-10-12 at 3.37.51 PM

But in the battle ground states: that might be just enough to get some lazy Democrats to the polls.

Frankly, Republican lunacy might well hurt them with respect to policy positions too.

For example: when it comes to immigration reform, I tend to be a “play by the rules” type of guy. But I am disgusted by Republican racism and xenophobia that is displayed during such debates. President Bush tried to get something done here, but got no support from his own party.

I might think that George Will has a point about “number of sexual assaults on campus” (e. g. percentages). But his associated views about “victimhood being a coveted status” (same column) and general intellectual ignorance are a massive turn off; frankly I regard him as one of those “what a dumb person thinks that a smart person sounds like” buffoons. (how did that 2012 election prediction turn out anyway?)

So, Republicans, keep opening your mouth. You are doing more to drive up 2016 Democratic turnout than I ever could.

June 9, 2014 Posted by | books, politics, republicans, swimming, weight training | , , | Leave a comment

The Center Holds by Jonathan Alter. My take on it.

Jonathan Alter’s book The Center Holds is a follow on to the book The Promise which I talked about in detail here.

The book starts in 2010 with the large Republican gains in the midterm elections and recounts events to the 2012 elections where President Obama enjoyed a decisive victory.

Some of it was a rehash of what I knew (what legislation passed and when, the debt ceiling fights, the killing of Osama Bin Laden), some of it confirmed what I thought of the Republicans (especially the new ones) but what was new to me was a discussion of President Obama’s weaknesses.

If you read one chapter, I’d recommend the chapter that discusses how President Obama does not have “the schmooze gene”. You can read an excerpt here. President Obama doesn’t think much of getting small gestures and therefore doesn’t give them; some claims that hurts his relationships among political foes and opponents alike.

It also contains a juicy paragraph about his run-ins with the oft-tiresome Professor Cornell West.

President Obama reminds me of President Carter in a way: if the policy idea was good, that should be its selling point.

So: I like him; I can relate far more to him than I could relate to the “car salesman” President Clinton. But that isn’t true for most.

I can recommend this book to the more intellectually minded political junkies on both sides of the aisle. Those who are attracted to Fox News, Newsmax or to the film 2016 won’t like it.

June 6, 2014 Posted by | Barack Obama, books, political/social, politics/social | , , | 1 Comment

Fox News and Rove: what really matters to them?

You can tell that I love a book that I am reading when I post a blog note on it prior to finishing.
Right now I am reading Jonathan Alter’s book The Center Holds. It is about President Obama and the White House from 2010 to 2012; it is a follow up to his book The Promise which is about the previous years. I can also recommend David Corn’s book Showdown which talks about negotiations with the Republicans.

Right now, I am just past the “Killing of Bin Laden” chapter (midway). I am struck by many things; e. g. some of President Obama’s similarities with President Carter and how I actually LIKE some of President Obama’s political weaknesses. That is, if he had more of President Clinton in him, President Obama would be more effective and…to me, less likable but more likable with the public.

That isn’t what I want to talk about right now.

Fox News is frequently mentioned in this book. And to be sure, Roger Ailes, the Fox News chairman, despises President Obama. But the owner, Rupert Murdoch, appears to be more about making money than anything else. He knows that his viewership is the “angry old white people” demographic, so that is what he caters to. It is claimed that Fox News frequently reads the right wing blogosphere and minor media and decides to focus on what appears to be gaining traction there.

So, they might not have been upset that President Obama won reelection; more outrage means more money for them.

That also reminds me of this post made by Paul Krugman PRIOR to the 2012 election day. He openly taunted the wealthy GOP backers of being conned by Karl Rove:

Remember how Rove and others were supposed to raise vast sums from billionaires and corporations, then totally saturate the country with GOP messaging, drowning out Obama’s message? Well, they certainly raised a lot of money, and ran a lot of ads. But in terms of actual number of ads the battle has been, if anything, an Obama advantage. And while we don’t know what will happen on Tuesday, state-level polls suggest both that Obama is a strong favorite and, much more surprising, that Democrats are overwhelmingly favored to hold the Senate in a year when the number of seats at risk was supposed to spell doom.

Some of this reflects the simple fact that money can’t help all that much when you have a lousy message. But it also looks as if the money was surprisingly badly spent. What happened?

Well, what if we’ve been misunderstanding Rove? We’ve been seeing him as a man dedicated to helping angry right-wing billionaires take over America. But maybe he’s best thought of instead as an entrepreneur in the business of selling his services to angry right-wing billionaires, who believe that he can help them take over America. It’s not the same thing.

And while Rove the crusader is looking — provisionally, of course, until the votes are in — like a failure, Rove the businessman has just had an amazing, banner year.

What’s more, this makes sense of the embarrassing Rove “we’re winning! trust me!” piece in the WSJ, especially notable because — as Sam Wang recalls — Rove so famously declared that he had THE MATH just before the GOP debacle in 2006. It’s hard to think of any good reason to pretend that Romney has it in the bag — unless that pretense gets you one last big slug of business before Election Day.

Remember, this was written PRIOR to the election.

Back to the book: Alter mentions the Koch Brothers and mentions the money that they are spending. He contrast the operation of PACs funded by the Koch’s and notices that, for all their money, the Koch Brothers really can’t buy a type of PR/campaign effort that the Obama campaign had. You can’t buy believers.

So, I am beginning to wonder if the Koch Brothers are really just a nice moneymaker for the Democrats? After all, I frequently get e-mails from Democrats and liberal groups that pit us (the Democrat or liberal “grass roots”) against the evil Koch Brothers.

I really wonder if some of the top Republican groups and PACS are really, at their core, about making money for the Karl Roves and Dick Morris’s and the Fox News of the world than anything else.

Hey….there are worse things than bilking a bunch of bloviating, know it all wealthy republicans out of large sums of money. 🙂

June 2, 2014 Posted by | Barack Obama, books, politics, politics/social, republicans, republicans politics, social/political | | Leave a comment