Friday, March 27, 2009

Thank you, Joe Parisi!

I wrote to my Wisconsin state representative, Joe Parisi, for the very first time this week. I confess that I don't follow state and local politics very closely. When they do gain my attention, it seems I am always playing a game of catchup until the national players regain my attention.

But recently the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice sent me a message via its Facebook group asking that I contact my state representatives to ask them to cosponsor state bill LRB 1256, which would require that the governor ensure that no Wisconsin Guard unit is unlawfully released into national service. "It directs the governor to review every federal call-up of the National Guard for its legality, and where there is no lawful basis for Guard federalization, to take action to keep the Wisconsin Guard at home."

Given our deep concern for our daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, and mothers and fathers who have been deployed and redeployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and given the apparent difficulty of extricating ourselves from those destructive and costly military actions that aren't helping anyone or keeping anyone safer, it seems reasonable enough to ask the governor to review the deployment of Wisconsin's National Guard for national service.

So I wrote the following letter to Joe Parisi:

Dear Representative Parisi:

Please join as a cosponsor for LRB 1256, a bill that would require the governor to ensure that no Wisconsin Guard unit be unlawfully released into national service.

According to the law as set forth by the U.S. Congress, the states can assert their historic national defense responsibilities. Having a newly elected administration in Washington does not change the need for this legislation. In fact, this is exactly when we should emphasize the rule of law as a moral and practical requirement for the use of military force.

Thank you for your consideration of this very serious matter.

Best regards,

Mary Ray Worley

So today I heard back from him:

Dear Ms. Worley:

Thank you for your e-mail requesting my support for LRB 1256, which would allow for the Governor to review federal call-up of our state's National Guard. I apologize for the delay in responding to your e-mail. I wanted to discuss the bill with its author, Representative Spencer Black, and learn more about the proposal. I spoke with Representative Black this morning and have signed on as a co-sponsor of this legislation.

Thank you for bringing it to my attention. If you have other questions or need more information about this proposal or any other pending legislation, please let me know.



State Representative

48th Assembly District

Amazing! I actually got the response I wanted. Now I'm feeling all powerful and buff. Further bulletins pending!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Economic "Expertise"

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has a great op-ed today about experts being a "stunningly poor source of expertise. ... What matters ... isn’t so much knowledge or experience as good judgment."

I began actually paying attention to things economic, oddly enough, when the economy went south last year. As I started really trying to understand, I became increasingly aware that the economic "experts" essentially just blather. They play with numbers and theories, but they don't really know any more than the next guy.

I know this because I myself have some facility with bullshit, having bullshitted my way through many a paper in college. I learned how to sound like I knew what I was talking about, whether I did or not. What astounded me was that my professors were taken in pretty much every time. Developing this facility turned out to be less of a waste of time than you might think, because now I can smell bullshit a mile off. And so much of the economic stuff the media churns out is clearly made of the same stuff as my college papers.

The "discipline" of economics (if you can call it that) apparently labors under the illusion that people are "rational actors." Holy cow! If you start from that assumption, then everything that follows is going to be a load of blarney. In my experience, people rarely act rationally. There is nothing rational about the greedy lunacy that took the world economy to the edge of a cliff.

So I've begun thinking about economics somewhat the way I think about astrology. It's interesting in that it sometimes drives the way the people who believe in it behave. That presumably sentient beings would make weighty decisions based on a lot of hooey fascinates me. In fact, I find it cheering in one sense. I used to think of economics as a sort of recondite science of which I was woefully ignorant. Now I understand that my occasional flashes of good judgment will serve me better than a Ph.D. in economics.

In his column, Kristof refers to an expert on experts (that should curl your toes), Philip Tetlock, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. (What? And we're supposed to believe this guy? But Nick, he's an expert!) Kristof scarily notes that the media's insistence on delicious little bite-size nuggets of certainty actually subverts any hope a media consumer might have of finding balanced, nuanced information. The "experts" you are most likely to read or hear in the media are the ones who offer those much lusted-after juicy sound-bites.
Mr. Tetlock called experts such as these the “hedgehogs,” after a famous distinction by the late Sir Isaiah Berlin (my favorite philosopher) between hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs tend to have a focused worldview, an ideological leaning, strong convictions; foxes are more cautious, more centrist, more likely to adjust their views, more pragmatic, more prone to self-doubt, more inclined to see complexity and nuance. And it turns out that while foxes don’t give great sound-bites, they are far more likely to get things right.

I've known a number of hedgehogs in my day. They are indeed very consistent, insistent, certain in their certainty. It's a very comforting line to take, albeit with essentially no basis in reality. They will wow you with their expertise, reminding you of your own ignorance and need for guidance. Yes, they will cause you to doubt yourself and to doubt what you in your better judgment know to be true. Falling for their hoodoo has gotten us into a world of hurt and has taken us perilously close to a terrifying economic precipice.

So it's time to leave the hedgehogs—many of whom can be found, ironically enough, on Fox News—behind and find us some foxes who will help us think and act clearly, out of good conscience and sound judgment. Trust me on this. I'm an expert.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hard Times

Hardly a day goes by anymore when I don't ask myself, "Where are we going and why are we in this handbasket?" Just when I think I can wrap my mind around it, or even come close to it, I discover that it is actually much worse than I thought.

There are so many things falling into the "even worse than I thought" category that now I'm just lumping them all together: the economy, muscle spasms, the unfathomable depths of corporate greed and callousness, the state of my 401K. Part of my personal pathology is that I feel overwhelmed very easily. And lately I have been feeling intensely overwhelmed.

Rather than listing all of the contributing factors, though, I want to list all the things I tell my friends when they ask the handbasket question, the things I try to tell myself, although I don't always manage to get through.

Juliana of Norwich, medieval mystic:
All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well.
This is the long, long, long view. Ultimately, everything will be fine. All the crises and weights and conundrums will ultimately come to naught. At the very bottom and at the very core of everything, there is goodness, light, truth, beauty, justice, joy, and most of all, love. And because of that, "All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well."

Haldir, elf of Lothlorien (from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings):
The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.
True, there is great evil afoot. Evil is rampant in the world and having a heyday. But don't let it steal the show. Evil is always noisier, flashier, and more demanding. Good is quieter, steadier, stronger, content to work for the broader long-term benefit. If you sit quietly in the morning light, you can smell it. It is very powerful and available to all who seek it.

Despair can have its own deadly allure, but it is a great deceiver, because good is always more powerful and more enduring than evil. Always.

Another quotation from the Lord of the Rings, this time from the movie, The Two Towers:
Frodo: I can't do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.
In the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Ah, Samwise the brave and wise, the most fiercely loyal of friends. You could do worse than use Sam as a role model. There is indeed some good in this world, and it is most definitely worth fighting for.

This morning I was feeling, well, you know, overwhelmed and a bit blue. And a dear friend sent me a link to this video. It totally transformed my perspective. As she told me, "It's long but worth it."

When Tom came home this afternoon, not long after I watched that video, I told him how awesome and wonderful he is. And then I sat him down to watch the video while I got ready to go. I heard him laughing while I was in the shower.

No matter where we're going, no matter how fast, no matter how directly downhill—no matter that we're in an overcrowded handbasket—we can still be kind and encourage each other and love each other and focus on the things that really matter. We can spread more joy, more love, more hilarity. And those are most definitely the things that are worth fighting for.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Jon Stewart: Our Best Financial Analyst

This will cheer you up, regardless of the state of your 401K. It's not enough for Stewart to take on Santelli, he goes after CNBC, and he does it brilliantly, using their own words against them.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Enjoying the Spectacle

I have to admit that I'm enjoying the scuttlebutt about Republicans falling all over themselves to make nice with the lunatic Limbaugh. This is good entertainment. These Republicans are more spineless than the Congressional Democrats were during the Bush years.

Bob Cesca hits the nail on the head when he says, "Throughout the last several decades, the Republican Party has been careening willingly towards this destiny. Year after year, the Republicans have been magnetically drawn ever closer to the simplistic worldview espoused by far-right talk radio."

Furthermore, this is what happens in the vacuum left when a "unitary executive" leaves his post. The Republicans, without anyone in the familiar bully pulpit, must fill the void somehow. Bush had no more regard for the Republicans in Congress than he did for the Democrats. In fact, he demonstrated only contempt for Congress, as he did for the Constitution, and the American people, and the rest of the planet. His was a unitary position, flanked by his loyal bodyguard, smirky sidekick Dick.

No wonder they're lost. They are used to having a cocky cowboy father figure to tell them what to do, how to act, what to think. I love it that lunatic Limbaugh has stepped up to fill the void. This is genuine entertainment, comedy in the raw, true colors wildly waving in the wind. Apparently the fact that most of the nation loathes the lunatic doesn't figure in the equation. Oblations must be made.

To make it easier for the Republicans to offer their apologies and the requisite oblations, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has provided a handy dandy apology machine. Just pucker up and kiss his hinder here.

And kudos to Rex Babin for this accurate portrayal of the fringe lunatic party paying homage to the elephant god.

And finally, Bob Cesca again hits it out of the park:
No wonder the White House is gleefully winking and nudging everyone in the direction of this Republican clown car of awfulness -- if not for the political advantage, for the sheer spectacle of watching the once mighty Republican Party effectively screwing itself. The Democrats, on one hand, appear to be busily going about the business of cleaning up the mess left behind by three decades of Reaganomics while, on the other hand, the Republicans are duct-taping themselves to the ample bosom of the most self-satirical political sideshow geek in American media history, while also expecting this will help their electoral chances.
I confess to feeling a little guilty--just a little--about enjoying this spectacle when we're all asking where we're going and why are we in this handbasket. The world is indeed going to hell in a handbag. And with so much bleak and baleful news bombarding us day after day, a little levity, especially at the expense of those whose contempt drove us to this precipice, is indeed a delicious if guilty pleasure.