August 20th, 2008

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Good Morning!!

Last night I was going through old emails which was fun, and reading the magazines that accumulate here, which was less fun, since the state of the country is really depressing.  I rise and come to this column by Maureen Dowd.   It may seem like she goes too far, but I have long thought that the Clinton's desire to win is so strong that they didn't help Gore or Kerry as they might have done, thinking that Hillary would then have her chance.  This is not the best way to start the day but it is a Zach day, so that helps.  

Op-Ed Columnist
Published: August 19, 2008


In the dead of night in a small hideaway office in the deserted Capitol, a clandestine meeting takes place between two senators with one goal.

They grin at each other as they lift their celebratory shots of brutally cold Stolichnaya.

“Our toast to The One,” they say in unison, “is that he’s toast.”

“Obama should have picked you, Hillary,” John McCain tells her. “It isn’t fair, my friend. But it just makes it easier for me to whup him.”

“Don’t worry, John, I’ve put it behind me,” Hillary replies. “I’m looking toward the future now, a future that looks very bright, once we send Twig Legs back to the back bench.”

They chortle with delight.

“He’s a bright young man, but he got ahead of himself,” McCain says. “He needs to be taught a lesson, and we’re the ones to do it. Have you seen the new Bloomberg poll? Obama’s dropped and we’re even again. The Bullet’s getting all the credit, but you and I know, Hillary, that it’s these top-secret counseling sessions we’re having. And thanks again for BlackBerrying me the Rick Warren questions while I was in the so-called cone of silence.”

“Oh, John, you know I love you and I’m happy to help,” Hillary says. “The themes you took from me are working great — painting Obama as an elitist and out-of-touch celebrity, when we’re rich celebrities, too. Turning his big rallies and pretty words into character flaws, charging him with playing the race card — that one always cracks me up. And accusing the media, especially NBC, of playing favorites. It’s easy to get the stupid press to navel-gaze; they’re so insecure.”

“They’re all pinko Commies,” McCain laughs. “Especially since they deserted me for The Messiah. Seriously, Hill, that Paris-Britney ad you came up with was brilliant. I owe you.”

Looking pleased, Hillary expertly downs another shot. “His secret fear is being seen as a dumb blonde,” she says. “He wants to take a short cut to the top and pose on glossy magazine covers, but he doesn’t want to be seen as a glib pretty boy.”

McCain lifts his glass to her admiringly. “If I do say so myself, while the rookie was surfing in Hawaii, I ate his pupus for lunch. Pictures of him pushing around a golf ball while I’m pushing around Putin. Priceless.”

“I have a little secret to tell you about that, John. Bill made it happen. He loves you so much. He called Putin and told him that if he invaded Georgia, he could count on being invited to the Clinton Global Initiative every year for the rest of his life.”

“Wow. Should I call him? I saw your husband’s kind words about me in Las Vegas on Monday, saying I’d be just as good as Obama on climate change.”

“I think he’d like that,” Hillary smiles. “He’s still boiling at Obama. And you don’t have to worry about my army of angry women. We’ve spread the word in the feminist underground — as opposed to that wacky Obama Weather Underground — that ‘catharsis’ is code for ‘No surrender.’ My gals know when I say ‘We may have started on two separate paths but we’re on one journey now’ that Skinny’s journey is to the nearest exit.”

“But Obama’s says he’s finally ready to hit back,” McCain says, frowning. “He’s starting a blistering TV campaign and attacking me for attacking his patriotism.”

“Now, John, you know that every time he tries to get tough, he quickly runs out of gas. Sometimes in debates, he’d be exhausted by the third question. He must use up all his energy in the gym. He doesn’t have any stamina, and he certainly doesn’t have our bloodlust. Besides, you can throw that Mark Penn stuff at him that I couldn’t use in a Democratic primary about how he’s not fundamentally American in his thinking and values. While he’s up on his high-minded pedestal, you’ll scoot past him in your Ferragamos.”

“How can I ever thank you, my friend?”

“You can announce that you won’t be running for re-election because you’d be 76, and you can pick somebody really lame to run with, like your pal Lieberman. That means one term for you, and two for me.”

“It’s a deal,” McCain says, sticking out his hand to shake on it. “That was inspired to snatch his convention away — makes him look so weak. Listen, why don’t you stop in Sedona on the way to Denver? Wear a black wig and I’ll spirit you up to the cabin for the night. I’ll catch a catfish in the mill pond and grill it for you. It will be an adventure.” There’s a knock on the door. Jesse Jackson sticks his head into the meeting.

“Is it over?” he asks his co-conspirators.

“Yes, he’s over,” they respond in unison.


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Mikhail Gorbachev -

Here's Mikhail Gorbachev in the NY Times with a well-written comment on the situation in Georgia.

We need to begin treating other countries with respect.  This is an issue Barack Obama addresses, respect of other countries as opposed to McCain who continues to thrive on shouting "War," as articles published today are showing.

One problem right now is the lack of education and critical thinking skills of people in this country.   May Obama win this election for the good of the world.  He will inherit a mess of problems, but it is time for clean-up, cooperation and care.

Op-Ed Contributor

Russia Never Wanted a War

Published: August 19, 2008


THE acute phase of the crisis provoked by the Georgian forces’ assault on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, is now behind us. But how can one erase from memory the horrifying scenes of the nighttime rocket attack on a peaceful town, the razing of entire city blocks, the deaths of people taking cover in basements, the destruction of ancient monuments and ancestral graves?

Russia did not want this crisis. The Russian leadership is in a strong enough position domestically; it did not need a little victorious war. Russia was dragged into the fray by the recklessness of the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili. He would not have dared to attack without outside support. Once he did, Russia could not afford inaction.

The decision by the Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, to now cease hostilities was the right move by a responsible leader. The Russian president acted calmly, confidently and firmly. Anyone who expected confusion in Moscow was disappointed.

The planners of this campaign clearly wanted to make sure that, whatever the outcome, Russia would be blamed for worsening the situation. The West then mounted a propaganda attack against Russia, with the American news media leading the way.

The news coverage has been far from fair and balanced, especially during the first days of the crisis. Tskhinvali was in smoking ruins and thousands of people were fleeing — before any Russian troops arrived. Yet Russia was already being accused of aggression; news reports were often an embarrassing recitation of the Georgian leader’s deceptive statements.

It is still not quite clear whether the West was aware of Mr. Saakashvili’s plans to invade South Ossetia, and this is a serious matter. What is clear is that Western assistance in training Georgian troops and shipping large supplies of arms had been pushing the region toward war rather than peace.

If this military misadventure was a surprise for the Georgian leader’s foreign patrons, so much the worse. It looks like a classic wag-the-dog story.

Mr. Saakashvili had been lavished with praise for being a staunch American ally and a real democrat — and for helping out in Iraq. Now America’s friend has wrought disorder, and all of us — the Europeans and, most important, the region’s innocent civilians — must pick up the pieces.

Those who rush to judgment on what’s happening in the Caucasus, or those who seek influence there, should first have at least some idea of this region’s complexities. The Ossetians live both in Georgia and in Russia. The region is a patchwork of ethnic groups living in close proximity. Therefore, all talk of “this is our land,” “we are liberating our land,” is meaningless. We must think about the people who live on the land.

The problems of the Caucasus region cannot be solved by force. That has been tried more than once in the past two decades, and it has always boomeranged.

What is needed is a legally binding agreement not to use force. Mr. Saakashvili has repeatedly refused to sign such an agreement, for reasons that have now become abundantly clear.

The West would be wise to help achieve such an agreement now. If, instead, it chooses to blame Russia and re-arm Georgia, as American officials are suggesting, a new crisis will be inevitable. In that case, expect the worst.

In recent days, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush have been promising to isolate Russia. Some American politicians have threatened to expel it from the Group of 8 industrialized nations, to abolish the NATO-Russia Council and to keep Russia out of the World Trade Organization.

These are empty threats. For some time now, Russians have been wondering: If our opinion counts for nothing in those institutions, do we really need them? Just to sit at the nicely set dinner table and listen to lectures?

Indeed, Russia has long been told to simply accept the facts. Here’s the independence of Kosovo for you. Here’s the abrogation of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, and the American decision to place missile defenses in neighboring countries. Here’s the unending expansion of NATO. All of these moves have been set against the backdrop of sweet talk about partnership. Why would anyone put up with such a charade?

There is much talk now in the United States about rethinking relations with Russia. One thing that should definitely be rethought: the habit of talking to Russia in a condescending way, without regard for its positions and interests.

Our two countries could develop a serious agenda for genuine, rather than token, cooperation. Many Americans, as well as Russians, understand the need for this. But is the same true of the political leaders?

A bipartisan commission led by Senator Chuck Hagel and former Senator Gary Hart has recently been established at Harvard to report on American-Russian relations to Congress and the next president. It includes serious people, and, judging by the commission’s early statements, its members understand the importance of Russia and the importance of constructive bilateral relations.

But the members of this commission should be careful. Their mandate is to present “policy recommendations for a new administration to advance America’s national interests in relations with Russia.” If that alone is the goal, then I doubt that much good will come out of it. If, however, the commission is ready to also consider the interests of the other side and of common security, it may actually help rebuild trust between Russia and the United States and allow them to start doing useful work together.

Mikhail Gorbachev is the former president of the Soviet Union. This article was translated by Pavel Palazhchenko from the Russian.


alan's beach photo


I've tried to embed two things, younger than McCain, which is a hilarious look at all the things that are younger than McCain.  Even the Wizard of Oz is younger, and the other clip is of Bill Maher on Larry King last night.  Both are worth searching for, especially Bill Maher.  He says some things that need to be said and says them well.

I was to be with Zach today,  but his grandmother was hospitalized overnight with chest pains and is now cleared that it wasn't a heart attack, but certainly the stress of trying to orchestrate so much is too much for her, so Zach will go to preschool five days a week, and then be available later in the day.

I don't know how they're doing all they've been doing.  It is just too much, and it needs to be done, and I'm grateful "granmamma"  is all right and all can now proceed as best as possible as we continue to pray for some ease in the journey of Zach and his family.

Life is rough sometimes as we know, and it is why I wonder how politicians and manipulators live with such greed.  I spoke with my son this morning.   His professional life has involved solar power.  He believes in it.  It works. Other countries support it.  He has worked in Europe installing solar panels.  He worked for one company from almost the beginning and when it went public, he went to another start-up, preferring the hands-on world to the corporate one.

Now, they are swamped trying to get work installed before the tax credit expires.  The worry is that if McCain is elected, he will not renew it.  He supports oil, lets oil manipulate us again as it did in 1974.  With Obama, the tax credits will most likely be extended, so the election in November is critical for many reasons, but one of them is that if the Republicans win, these little solar power companies that have been working so hard may not be able to make it.  People cannot afford solar installations without the tax credit, and with it, they can, and do.

This is common sense.  How can we not support alternative sources of energy?   Oh, right, because the oil companies are controlling our world.

Vote for the Democrats!!   There are a multitude of reasons, and even if Barack is moving more central than many of us prefer in order to get elected, he is still vastly better than the alternative.   McCain knows two words, "Drill," and "War." 

We have Russia lecturing us on peace, and Europe showing us how to be energy dependent, and we are living in the Dark Ages, which, literally will be dark, if we don't figure out what is going on.

Support Barack Obama!!

I feel like Princess Leia in Star Wars, pleading, needing to believe he is our "only hope."   He may not be a savior, but he will be better than McCain.

ashes and snow - wings

The Long Now Foundation!!

This is an absolute must-read!!

Paul Saffo wrote the summary this time (I had to be in Chicago Aug. 8 and apparently missed one of the most amazing SALT talks of the year---by Daniel Suarez, author of Daemon.)

                                --Stewart Brand

Forget about HAL-like robots enslaving humankind a few decades from now; the takeover is already underway.  The agents of this unwelcome revolution aren't strong AIs, but "bots"-- autonomous programs that have insinuated themselves into the Internet and thus into every corner of our lives.  Apply for a mortgage lately? A bot determined your FICA score and thus whether you got the loan.  Call 411?  A bot gave you the number and connected the call.  Highway-bots collect your tolls, read your license plate and report you if you have an outstanding violation.

Bots are proliferating because they are so very useful.  Businesses rely on them to automate essential processes, and of course bots running on zombie computers are responsible for the tsunami of spam and malware plaguing Internet users worldwide.  At current growth rates, bots will be the majority users of the Internet by 2010.

We are visible to bots even when we are not at our computers.  Next time you are on a downtown street, contemplate the bot-controlled video cameras watching you, or the bots tracking your cellphone and sniffing at your Bluetooth-enabled gizmos.  We walk through a gauntlet of bot-controlled sensors every time we step into a public space, and the sensors are proliferating.

Bots are very narrow Artificial Intelligence---nothing that would make a cleric remotely nervous.  But they would scare the hell out of epidemiologists who understand that parasites don't need to be smart to be dangerous.  Meanwhile, the Internet and the complex of processing, storage and sensors linked to it is growing exponentially, creating a vast new ecology for bots to roam in.  Bots aren't evolving on their own---yet.

Left unchecked, bots will trap the human race because the automation they enable will make it possible for a few people to run humanity while the rest of us are unable to make decisions of any consequence.  Bots are thus vectors for despotism, with the potential to create a world where only a small group of people understand how society works.  In the worst case, the controls over bots disappear---for example, the only person who knows the password to a corporate bot dies---and the bots become autonomous.

We are in a Darwinian struggle with narrow AI, and so far the bots are winning.  But there is a solution: build a new Internet hard-coded with democratic values.  Start with an encrypted Darknet into which only verifiably human users can enter.  Create augmented reality tools to identify bots in the physical world.  Enlist the aid of a few tame bots to help forge a symbiotic relationship with narrow AI.  Stir in some luck, and perhaps we can avoid the fate of the Sorcerer's Apprentice who rashly enchants a broom to do his tedious chores and ends up terrorized by his imperfect creation.  We had better succeed, for unlike the fable, there is no Master Sorcerer ready to return to break the spell and save us from our folly.

                                --Paul Saffo


Stewart Brand --
The Long Now Foundation -
Seminars & downloads:

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from the Wall Street Journal -

The Wall Street Journal has a limit.  Peter Wehner, a former aide to President Bush, writing at Commentary magazine's blog on Jerome Corsi's controversial new biography of Barack Obama:

    (Anti-Obama author Jerome) Corsi's approach to politics is both destructive and self-destructive. If Senator Obama loses, he should lose on his merits: his record in public life and his political philosophy. And while it's legitimate to take into account Obama's past associations with people like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright - especially for someone like Obama, about whom relatively little is known - it's wrong and reckless to throw out unsubstantiated charges and smears against Senator Obama. Conservatism has been an intellectual home to people like Burke and Buckley. The GOP is the party that gave us Lincoln and Reagan. It seems to me that its leaders ought to make it clear that they find what Dr. Corsi is doing to be both wrong and repellent.  To have their movement and their party associated with such a figure would be a terrible thing and it will only help the cause of those who hold both the GOP and the conservative movement in contempt.

alan's beach photo

Whale Song -

Tonight I put on the CD of whale song that comes with the book Thousand Mile Song - Whale Music in a Sea of Sound by David Rothenberg.  

He writes, "If you speed up a humpback whale song, it sounds just like a bird. It has the tonality of a catbird, perhaps, with the rhythmic precision of a nightingale - beats, quips, melodies put together in a precise, definitive way. Why should these musical principles appear in nature at such different scales? Maybe music is a part of nature itself, something evolution has produced on different lines, converging into some living beauty that whales, birds, and even humans can know. Music is much easier to appreciate than language, of course. You need not understand it in order to love it."

Bella has never responded to music on the CD player before, but she is definitely interested in the songs of the whales, as am I.

The book is fascinating, beginning with a history that many of us remember and know.  Jon Carroll, currently of the SF Chronicle, is quoted from when he wrote for Rolling Stone, and Pete Seeger is here, along with Judy Collins and her haunting song, "Farewell to Tarwathie," where her voice is accompanied by the voice of a humpback whale.

Whales might have been extinct by now, but their songs joined ours, and that duet saved them, and they still need our reverence and protection.