November 2008


An old article (late Sept.) on the housing/credit crisis, but one that uses my favorite metaphorical maxim, the blind eye. (I’ve got a Google alert set for “blind eye” so I can track interesting uses of this phrase. This one, however, just popped up on the sidebar of an article in today’s NYTimes).

“Behind Insurer’s Crisis, A Blind Eye to Web of Risk”

It starts with a mind-blowing quote from the former executive at A.I.G. in August 2007:

“It is hard for us, without being flippant, to even see a scenario within any kind of realm of reason that would see us losing one dollar in any of those transactions.”

(a la Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers on SNL Weekend Update): Really?!

On second thought, with the tax-payer-footed bailout, perhaps he’s right after all.

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Apparently physicists have figured out–at last, or again, or provisionally–that the preponderance of material reality is vacuous, merely energy “fluctuations” in the vacuum of space. The vacuum (I think they’re saying) is really a matrix of virtual gluons and virtual quark-antiquark pairs, that blip and fizz in and out of existence all the time. So theory says. But there doesn’t seem to be a computer big or strong or fast enough to crunch the thousands of trillions of numbers in the equations that would test the theory. The conclusion is mirabile:

The Higgs field is also thought to make a small contribution, giving mass to individual quarks as well as to electrons and some other particles. The Higgs field creates mass out of the quantum vacuum too, in the form of virtual Higgs bosons. So if the LHC confirms that the Higgs exists, it will mean all reality is virtual.

I’ve always figured that reality is virtual, or as the ancients would say (and as they still are wont to say in philosophy), being is not, but all reality is phenomenal, becoming and passing away. Only I guess now we are supposing that becoming goes all the way down to the foundations, to the so-called “atoms” (and their oxymoronic “subatomic particles”) and all.

Just reading Al Gore’s NYTimes Op-Ed. This is important, debunking the “clean coal” myth, that the industry is busy foisting on Americans with slick ad-campaigns:

But in every case, the resources in question are much too expensive or polluting, or, in the case of “clean coal,” too imaginary to make a difference in protecting either our national security or the global climate. Indeed, those who spend hundreds of millions promoting “clean coal” technology consistently omit the fact that there is little investment and not a single large-scale demonstration project in the United States for capturing and safely burying all of this pollution. If the coal industry can make good on this promise, then I’m all for it. But until that day comes, we simply cannot any longer base the strategy for human survival on a cynical and self-interested illusion.

And here’s a good idea that integrates hybrid car batteries into the renewable energy grid:

In combination with the unified grid, a nationwide fleet of plug-in hybrids would also help to solve the problem of electricity storage. Think about it: with this sort of grid, cars could be charged during off-peak energy-use hours; during peak hours, when fewer cars are on the road, they could contribute their electricity back into the national grid.

The transformations that now seem possible and right on the horizon, after the election, just speak all the more eloquently to the nature of the deluded and obstructionist dis-government that still occupies the Executive branch in D.C.

I was just visiting http://www.change.gov, the new Office of the President-Elect, and writing some suggestions to them (along with hearty congratulations), and noticed the Inauguration Date: January 20. It clicked: why don’t we go? So I looked into it, and then sent off a heartfelt request for tickets (i.e. begging) to my congressman Rush Holt — who is, in fact, a rocket scientist! We’ll see. Seems like a longshot, though.

Meantime, it’s heartening to see that the end for Bush is already nearing outside his window:

As the L.A. Times reports, carpenters started erecting the inauguration stage the day after the election.

The NY Times has represented the shift from Republican to Democratic voting between 2004 and 2008 across the country with the following map:

blue-shift-2008-v-2004-nytimes

What’s immediately striking about this map is just how extensive and widespread the change in mood or opinion is. Even of those hundreds of counties that still came out with Republican majorities–and would be colored red on a map of just this year’s results–they were less red than they were in 2004. Obama’s appeal was higher than Kerry’s (not to mention McCain’s) almost across the board. He did not just win by turning out more urban voters. Southern and West Texas, the Midwest, North Dakota, Montana, Eastern Oregon and Washington, even Idaho and Utah were more drawn to Obama than Kerry (or less interested in McCain-Palin than Bush ’04). There is plenty of white, where things held steady, that’s true. But there is also a LOT of dark blue.

Right-wing pundits and Fox News have already been claiming that Obama’s win does not represent a “mandate.” But if a 6+% popular vote margin, with the widespread electoral shifts seen in the map above, is not a mandate then it’s hard to imagine what would be.

Secondly, what the map suggests about the state of the Republican party is just as remarkable. Except for a few outliers, the redshift areas are contained in the central South, with the firmest, brightest GOP last stand in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, northern Alabama and SW Louisiana. This is the Bible Belt and probably represents the only region this year where the old GOP values-based agenda (along with, of course, the historically deep-seated racism in these areas) still managed to trump the economic interests that the rest of the country seems to have considered the defining issue of the election.

In many ways even the evangelical mainstream has moved on from the old GOP paradigm of abortion, gays, and (inside this Trojan Horse) laissez-faire economics. More and more religious groups are becoming active and outspoken about other issues of social justice–poverty, health care, education, foreign assistance–as well as embracing a new theology of creation stewardship that is pro-environment. And on all these issues they can find common cause with, and find less to object to, in the basic liberal and progressive message as it has been articulated by Obama.

All this leaves the GOP and its staunch, still loyal Bible Belt base, increasingly marginalized and reactionary. And since–sad to say–that red swath has not been particularly well treated by recent economic trends (from job outsourcing, the youth/talent flight to cities, and the decline of extractive industries), it seems less and less likely that the GOP can rebuild their brand simply by appealing to this small and shrinking part of the American population. It seems less and less likely that Republicans will leverage this hardcore base into a political brand that can hijack the majority of us again any time soon.

Et deo gratias agamus for that!

Here are my predictions for today’s election results, as I wrote to a friend this morning:

I say that Obama will win, at the least, all the states that Kerry won (=252 electoral votes) plus IA, CO, NM, NV, VA, for a total of 291. Which would look like this (maps created on the WaPo interactive election map):

conservative election prediction
I think he has a good chance of taking OH and ND, which would bring him to 314.

Of the true tossups, MO, NC, FL, IN, GA, MT, I think Obama could win MO, NC, FL, maybe IN, for a total of 378. (He could take either of the others also, GA, MT).

I think the state to watch is GA, where 2 million voters voted early, when the total 2004 turnout was only 3.3 million. A majority of those are new African-American voters. If Obama wins GA, we will probably see a very huge Democratic sweep all across the country.

Bottom line: Obama will gain more than 314 EV, maybe around 350, maybe more.

If he pulled a full sweep of open and toss-up states, consider how changed the political landscape would look from the swaths of red 4 years ago:

clean sweep

We can only dream. We’ll see soon…

John Cusack can write. Good piece.

Towards the end:

“The real challenge is to erase the delusion that greed equals freedom and prosperity, let alone the hideous lie that it somehow spreads justice. Amazingly, we are asked to listen to this gibberish in political life no matter how high the bile rises.

Many believe economies must serve humanity and not the other way around. Economies must make a moral connection to the republic. Brace yourselves free marketers: the quality of economic and human transactions will have to take priority over money. Faith and hope have to manifest in the social transactions we make.”