Starry Starry Night

A friend of mine is a teacher, and she told me a funny story this morning. She took a group of 50 sixth graders to a camp up on the north shore of Lake Superior. They went to an evening teaching program, and she was walking the kids back to the building where they were staying. The night was pitch black and though they could see the light from the dorm as they walked toward it, it was too dark to see the ground or even the people right around you.

Now, some of these kids were inner-city tough-guys, and at one point, my friend heard the thud of a punch and somebody cried out. Some kid had punched another kid, knowing that he couldn't be seen. A commotion was starting around her, and my friend knew she had to do something, even though she couldn't see a thing. She reached out and grabbed some kid near her, then called out, "Look up!"

At the sight of the myriad stars and the Milky Way above them, the kids fell silent, except that one of them said one word - "Damn!"

This story reminds me of this, by Claudius Ptolemaeus:

I know that I am mortal and the creature of a day;
but when I search out the massed wheeling circles of the stars,
my feet no longer touch the earth, but, side by side with Zeus himself,
I take my fill of ambrosia, the food of the gods.

If you want to taste of the ambrosia, start at space.com:


Kick Some Arab Butt

During the first presidential debate, Bush was asked about pre-emptive military action. In defense of his pre-emptive strike on Iraq, he said, "the enemy attacked us."

Kerry jumped on this, saying, "Saddam Hussein didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us. Al Qaeda attacked us," and went on to criticize the administration for relying too heavily on Afghan warlords to prosecute the campaign in Afghanistan.

The president responded, somewhat petulantly, "Of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us. I know that." But, this response doesn't explain why he blurted out, "the enemy attacked us" to justify Iraq in the first place. Is it possible that at heart he really doesn't distinguish one group of Arabs from another?

Unfortunately, I think this is broadly true of Americans. Whatever the justifications they use now, the administration originally justified the war on the basis of WMD, and the war was extremely popular among Americans. When the WMD didn't appear, and it became clear that the intelligence was hyped, Americans continued to support the war. Support has slowly eroded, but it is taking a long time.

I couldn't figure out at the time why more people weren't outraged. We had been misled into a war, and few seemed to care. But, Americans in general never supported the war for the reasons the administration gave. They just wanted to kick some Arab butt, and which particular set of Arabs got their butts kicked wasn't a concern.

This is consistent with the theory that Bush is politically like a Guy in a Bar. He works from gut reactions, makes up his mind early (he likes to say he's "decisive") and isn't interested in complex analysis.


Cheney v. Edwards

I'm from Minnesota, so I know the aircraft company Cheney mentioned is http://www.cirrusdesign.com/. He claimed they could hire 200 more employees if they didn't have to pay for liability insurance. Of course, even if the Bush/Cheney limits on lawsuits succeeded, the company wouldn't stop buying liability insurance.

Small aircraft manufacturers are probably the worst case for product liability, but it is interesting to note that all Cirrus aircraft have an innovative parachute system that can bring the plane down safely in an emergency. Liability concerns and liability insurance companies have played a role in promoting this kind of technological innovation in product safety.

Cheney's comments on El Salvador gave me the creeps. During the cold war, we supported brutal dictators in El Salvador and other places, asking only that they be stridently anti-communist. The covering lie was that we were supporting freedom or democracy - it seems to me the core of the neocon movement consists of people who promoted this policy and eventually started to believe their own lies.

Edwards is an excellent debater. Sometimes Cheney would run down a laundry list of details, and Edwards would just ignore them and return to the main points he wanted to make. Given that he had only 30, 90, or 120 seconds to speak, this let him make the points he wanted and prevent Cheney from controlling the debate. He would also sometimes use the last 30 seconds on a question to introduce some new criticism of the administration, knowing that Cheney wouldn't be allowed to respond. Hee hee.


How Americans Torture

Dennis Hastert and others in congress are attempting to legalize the transfer of suspects in US custody to countries where they may be tortured. This would make us torturers, plain and simple. This is a democracy, so if my government condones torture, then I am a torturer.

This is just wrong, and it is sad. The fact that Hastert can propose this without fear of being chucked out of office is a clear indication that Arabs and Muslims are being dehumanized in the American psyche.

Here is the low-down from Obsidian Wings, including information about contacting your representative to help make sure this doesn't happen.

Blog Roll

I read three blogs continuously:
Josh Marshall is a professional journalist and he comments astutely on media and on politics.

Kevin Drum must be a very level-headed person indeed to be able to post several times a day and always remain so sensible.

Max Sawicky is an ex-/neo-/kinda/-marxist and an atheist, but mostly he is an economist who can connect two dots on a graph with the best of them, and has more interesting ideas than most of them.

This one is also good, but she isn't posting much lately:

I ought to be able to add these links as a blog roll to my blogspot page, but I'll have to figure that out later.


I guess I should introduce myself. I am Mark Gilbert, and this is my blog. I like the idea of blogging, because I think I sometimes have interesting ideas, and this will be a way to record them and share them (if anybody shows up). But, I am not sure how consistent my posts will be - I don't have a lot of spare time at the moment because of this fellow:

Dante is 9 months old (tomorrow) and gol'-darn-it if he isn't the most wonderful critter ever to inhabit our Earth. I might be biased.

I expect to blog about politics (I'm center left, a la Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.), religion (I'm against it), and whatever else I find interesting. If you read my blog and find anything interesting, please post a comment or drop me a line - I'd like to know what people think.


Critters Is All Alike

On my 40th birthday, my dog, Nanuk, died. We got her at 1 year old and had her for more than 10 years. I walked her every day for that entire time, unless I was sick or on vacation. For most of those years, we walked twice a day, but we dropped the morning walk when I started running in 2000.

Nanuk was extremely beautiful. Watching her run was a wonder of natural beauty and a pleasure; she was so well-proportioned and graceful. She was also the sweetest creature I've ever met. She loved people, but after greeting you, she wasn't pushy or demanding of attention.

Here she is the day before she died:

I started writing about Nanuk because I wanted to tell this little story about my other dog, Raggs:

We got Raggs when she was 5 months old, and she has always been dominated by Nanuk. She was depressed after Nanuk died and didn't know what to do with herself. She is recovering now, some 7 weeks later.

Nanuk died on the operating table at the vet's. We told the vet we wanted to go by and see her afterwards. We were packing up to go, and we had to take our baby, since we had nothing else to do with him. So, we thought we might as well take Raggs, too. I figured that seeing Nanuk's body might help her understand what was happening when Nanuk didn't come home.

We went to the vet's and saw Nanuk on a table. Raggs sniffed and smelled her, but couldn't see over the edge. So, I picked Raggs up to let her see. She briefly saw Nanuk, but then turned her head away and refused to look. Even when I rotated in place to try to put Nanuk in front of her, she turned her head away.

This demonstrates an interesting trait in humans, which I now know we share with dogs. We don't think very well about death. We just don't think about it at all, if we can help it, and when we must think about it, we don't think clearly. Raggs didn't want to be shown that Nanuk was dead. Humans make up all kinds of stories that deny, in various ways, the reality if death.

Religions all around the world agree on very little. They agree on a minimal set of moral principles, and they agree that death is somehow not real. The moral principles are basic to human nature and are merely adopted by religion (I will write about that sometime), and the incapacity to clearly understand death is apparently also universal. A religion may say we are reincarnated or that we go to heaven (or hell) or that we are influenced by ancestors or that the dead come back for dinner once a year. Whatever it is, the denial that people are really just plain dead is universal in religion.

Invitation to Denial

In the debate, Bush repeatedly asked, "I don't see how you can lead this country to succeed in Iraq if you say wrong war, wrong time, wrong place. What message does that send our troops?"

That really is something a soldier would not want to hear. But, what if it's true?

Isn't Bush asking us to join him in his state of denial? A state where this was a war of necessity? Where Saddam was in league with Bin Laden? Where we really did find the WMD? Where things in Iraq are going swell?

In the real world, things aren't going so swell in Iraq, and the the Iraq war is a diversion from the war on terror. We need a president who knows that and says it, even if it's hard to hear, because it is true.