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Amen, James Cameron! March 25, 2010

Posted by Peter Hornby in currentaffairs, movies, rationality.
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I don’t really know much about James Cameron, other than his ability to make modestly entertaining movies which earn astonishing amounts of money.  In particular, I’d never thought much about his views on the big issues of the day, such as global warming and the sanity of Glenn Beck.

However, following the wonderful outburst described in The Hollywood Reporter, (including a somewhat NSFW video), I have to count myself as one of his greatest admirers.  I shall go out and see Avatar immediately, if not sooner.


HCR ructions in Washington state March 23, 2010

Posted by Peter Hornby in currentaffairs.
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Apparently the Washington State Attorney General, one Rob McKenna, possibly considering a run for Governor in 2012, has announced that he will be challenging the health care reform bill passed by the House of Representatives on Sunday evening, joining several other state AGs in this attempt.  It further seems that he didn’t bother to notify the Governor or other state leaders before announcing this move.  It would be an understatement of historic proportions to say that Governor Chris Gregoire is unhappy about McKenna’s action.  Check out her press conference:

Link from Kos via John Cole at Balloon Juice

Six healthcare myths March 23, 2010

Posted by Peter Hornby in currentaffairs.
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According to Brad DeLong, this, from Alter S. Reiss, was originally linked from Making Light.  It’s good to have some of these myths cleared up.

Oh, and do make sure you don’t miss the comments.

Festival of Books – politics April 29, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in currentaffairs.
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One of the major draws of the LA Times Festival of Books is the comprehensive collection of political panels available to attendees. Now, the Festival is all about selling books, so the panelists all have books to punt. Still, that doesn’t seem to diminish the quantity or quality of the panels – it doesn’t seem like we’ll ever run out of political books, or, indeed, political authors.

One amusing wrinkle is that the session audiences are, shall we say, almost uniformly liberal, in a very LA sense. Sometimes it seems as though the conservative panelists are sacrificial lambs. Audiences are very willing to hiss, boo, and call out brief editorial interpolations – “Rubbish!”, “Are you crazy!”, and the like. As Daniel Schnur said, after the panelist introductions had been completed – “I’d like to announce that, after the panel, David Frum and I will be hosting a meeting of our supporters – in my car”. The quip received a generous laugh, but there wasn’t much else for the conservative panelists to smile about.

So, who did we have? Unfortunately, Christopher Hitchens, who is a regular panelist here, was a notable absentee this year. He dominated a wonderful panel last year on religion, and I had been hoping, in vain as it turned out, for a return visit. No-one handles a hostile audience with Hitchens’ blend of superciliousness and intellectual combativeness. This year, the highlights for me were Eric Alterman, Ariana Huffington, John Dean and, especially, Amy Goodman, Nancy Snow and Robert Scheer. On the conservative side, I was impressed with Hugh Hewitt and, well, that was pretty much it.

Amy Goodman and Robert Scheer seem to be regarded as the Festival’s favourite children. Both were applauded loudly when they were introduced. In particular, Amy Goodman’s message seemed to resonate particularly strongly with her audience. Her central theme is one which is not unique to her. I heard it at the Festival a couple of years ago from John Dean, after he introduced what has turned into his “broken government” meme. Dean was asked “What can we do to fix this?”, and he was very clear and straightforward – my paraphrase would be “we need media who are prepared to speak the truth”. That’s Amy Goodman’s core message, I think, and it’s also what Nancy Snow was telling us in the “Can Government Work?” panel with John Dean. Nancy is a Professor in the Department of Communications at California State University, Fullerton, and she specialises in propaganda, and the way in which much of the broadcast and print media subordinates itself to the needs of power.

Naturally, the election, and in particular the fight for the Democratic nomination, was strongly represented, and there were some very interesting moments. It’s clear, of course, that the Republicans are enjoying every moment of the struggle between Senators Clinton and Obama, as David Frum made clear. What also seems to be clear is that they hope that Senator Obama wins the nomination, because they believe him to be unelectable as President. Hugh Hewitt made this point very strongly, and I think he caused the audience, normally not disposed to hear such things, to think for a moment. Hewitt’s point, one which was also made by Frum, was that you have to live with the electorate you have, and that, no matter how much Reverend Wrght comes across as a kindly old pastor, no matter how much Senator Obama backpedals from a tenuous association with a former member of the Weather Underground, a substantial, and probably definitive, fraction of American voters will simply not vote for him. Robert Scheer tried to point out that almost no-one had actually listened to Reverend Wright’s words, other than in inflammatory soundbite form, and that the full sermons, which were up on TruthDig, painted a very different story. “Doesn’t matter”, said Hewitt. Even the kindler, gentler Reverend Wright, he said, paints a picture of America that many Americans don’t recognise, won’t accept and, most importantly, won’t vote for.

One other fascinating insight was something which I hadn’t thought about before, and which horrifies me. The Democratic candidates, and Senator Obama in particular, have mobilised a huge number of people who have never been active in the political process before. Whoever wins the nomination, there will be many, many disaffected workers on the losing side who have vast amounts of emotional capital invested in their candidate, and that these people will not know how to deal with losing. Hugh Hewitt conducted a straw poll in the audience. “How many Clinton supporters are out there?”, he asked. A substantial minority of hands went up – this was big-time Obama-land. “How many of you”, he went on, “will not vote for Obama in the general election if he wins the nomination?” And, astonishingly, a good few hands went up. If Democratic voters are sufficiently suicidal that they would rather see a Republican win the election than the “wrong” Democratic candidate, then they deserve to lose, and the next four, or eight years will, I predict, pay them back in spades.

Short answers to long questions April 19, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in currentaffairs.
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I don’t know who originally came up with the Internet meme : “Short Answers to Long Questions”. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it might have been The Poor Man. Whatever. The idea jumped back into my mind while I was reading a recent post in Robert Reich’s blog, referring to Tim Russert and his “Meet The Press” guests riffing on Barack Obama’s “bitter” quote:

Q: [Posed by Reich] : Does Russert really believe he’s doing the nation a service for this parade of spin doctors talking about potential spins and the spin-offs from the words Obama used to state what everyone knows is true? Or is Russert merely in the business of selling TV airtime for a network that doesn’t give a hoot about its supposed commitment to the public interest but wants to up its ratings by pandering to the nation’s ongoing desire for gladiator entertainment instead of real talk about real problems.

A: Regrettably, the second.

Not an auspicious start for Guardian America October 24, 2007

Posted by Peter Hornby in currentaffairs.
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Brad DeLong mentioned the debut of Guardian America.  Well, I used to read the Guardian every day during the fifteen years or so I was working in the UK.  I subscribed to the Guardian Weekly as soon as I moved to the US, and use the Guardian website as a primary source of news, just behind the BBC.  So I was over there like a shot.

Given my location in Orange County, California, some 18.000 acres of which is currently on fire,  I scanned the front page for their story about the fires. 

I’m sorry.  I really did not want to see something under the headline “Stars remain stranded as California fires move inland”.  There’s a sub-editor somewhere who urgently needs to return to his natural home in the tabloid press.

We’ll see how this goes.  I’m hoping for great things.

Power corrupts.. September 5, 2007

Posted by Peter Hornby in currentaffairs.
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Four and a half years ago, Daniel Drezner, following a few wasted minutes reading a “..long, dull and witless ramble” from Thomas Friedman concerning the introduction of “democracy” to Iraq, suggested the following competition:

Can anyone..give me one single example of something with the following three characteristics:

  1. It is a policy initiative of the current Bush administration
  2. It was significant enough in scale that I’d have heard of it (at a pinch, that I should have heard of it)
  3. It wasn’t in some important way completely fucked up during the execution.

Four and a half years on, it seems to me that Daniel Drezner is in no danger of losing his money.

The story which prompted me to search for this quote is from Deborah Hastings, of the Associated Press.  The story was published on Forbes.com on August 24, and concerns the sanctions, official and unofficial, which have been applied to people who’ve attempted to expose the corruption which seems to be endemic in the work going on to rebuild Iraq.  Donald Vance, an ex-Navy veteran working for a private security company, attempted to tell the FBI about sales of arms – guns, land-mines, rocket-launchers – to anyone, and I mean anyone, with the cash to pay for them.  For his pains, Vance spent three months under interrogation in a security compound outside Baghdad.

Hastings has other stories along the same lines.  It’s pretty obvious that whistleblowing on the immoral, not to say illegal, activities of the current administration’s corporate friends is not a good career move.   I don’t think anyone’s under any illusions about the extent to which the Iraq rebuilding effort has turned into a bonanza for the multi-national corporations who have cornered this market.  It comes as a shock, though, to realize the chilling extent to which the Washington power structures are prepared to take the side of greed, mendacity and corruption and to use their power to silence the people who want the truth to come out.

Thanks to the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, for blogging this

Federal Reserve FAQs August 16, 2007

Posted by Peter Hornby in currentaffairs.
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As an engineer, I’ve been interested in several less-travelled aspects of the current financial crisis, mostly concerning the mechanics of how the banks and other authorities actually perform their various interventions.  You know the kind of thing -“the Fed have injected $38b of liquidity into the system”.  All well and good, but what exactly is “liquidity”, and how exactly do they go about injecting $38b of it into the system?

Via the indispensable Brad DeLong comes this reference to a FAQ put together by Steve Cecchetti, who is Professor of Global Finance at Brandeis and, as a former Executive Vice-President and Director of Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, might be expected to have the answers.  He does.  Check it out.