Thursday, May 31, 2007


The following information was obtained from private websites and is relayed by me, a citizen of the U.S., no more than that.

May 30, 2007; Washington, DC - NASA administrator Michael Griffin tells NPR News that while he has no doubt "a trend of global warming exists, I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with."

In an interview with Steve Inskeep airing tomorrow on NPR News' Morning Edition, Administrator Griffin says "I guess I would ask which human beings - where and when - are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take."

Arrogant? As in coming from someone who does not live in a coastal community or someone who does not live in drought-prone areas of Africa?
Arrogant? As in we have the right to alter the climate to benefit humans at the expense of all other life? We're on top, right?

Just askin'. I don't know, of course.

Here's what Dr. James Hansen (NASA GISS) had to say as quoted from the Washington Post:
"Griffin's comments immediately drew stunned reaction from James Hansen, NASA's top climate scientist at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. "It's an incredibly arrogant and ignorant statement," Hansen told ABC News. "It indicates a complete ignorance of understanding the implications of climate change." Hansen believes Griffin's comments fly in the face of well-established scientific knowledge that hundreds of NASA scientists have contributed to. "It's unbelievable," said Hansen. "I thought he had been misquoted. It's so unbelievable."
Hansen said Griffin's comments help explain why NASA's earth science budget has been severely cut.
And, interestingly, here is what Congress and the White House had to say (also from the Washington Post):

In Congress, House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) said, "Setting aside NASA Administrator Griffin's personal views on the significance of global warming, I remain concerned that NASA is not doing as much as needs to be done on climate-change data collection and research."

"Based on NASA's own five-year budget plan, the agency will be unable to start any of the new Earth observations initiatives recommended by the National Academies for the foreseeable future," he said. "That's not going to get us where we need to be in our understanding of climate change."

White House science adviser John H. Marburger distanced the administration from Griffin, saying that "nobody should think that he was speaking for anyone but himself."

And this is an excerpt pulled from Just because. I actually can't figure out who wrote these words. I just say that as a private citizen, Y.E.S.

The comments on this topic, as well as those of our Administrator, are an embarrassment to me as a NASA Earth Scientist.

The issue is not whether or not the Earth's climate has changed in the geologic past due to "external" factors (including solar output, tectonic outgassing, etc).

The issue is that (a) current climate change is proceeding at an rate unprecidented in the geologic record; and (b) our civilization is adapted to an extremely narrow range of climate conditions. Mike Griffin is simply wrong when he states that some other climate could be more "optimal" - climate has been remarkably stable for the last 8000 years, and most societies around the globe are adapated to that static condition. Yes, a warming climate could enhance wheat production in northern Russia, but it would likely be detrimental to crops in Africa and (by the way) the Western Plains of the US.

The claim that "climate has always changed, therefore this is nothing new" ignores both the dramatic rate of climate change during the last century, as well as our collective dependence on the current climate regime.

I do agree that NASA's charter does include regulatory aspects that would dictate CO2 emissions. However, the Administrator's comments were a classic example of "passive agressive" leadership. In denial that global warming is a serious issue, Griffin grudgingly agrees to carry out research without any real enthusiasm. Imagine instead if he actually welcomed the challenge of grappling with climate change as a motivating force for his agency, and a national priority... what a difference that would be!

The part that just kills me is that it's not a denial that climate change is happening or that humans are causing it. It's not an attack on the science. It's a denial that climate change will cause some serious problems for humans and that we are going to have to learn to adapt like crazy. Climate change is going to hurt poor and struggling countries most of all because they do not have the resources to adapt. Those societies that depend on their climate for sustanence and water are going to be most hurt. To deny that is a problem and is something we need to be addressing - that seems like the height of arrogance to me, personally.
He is correct that NASA's role is the science and not policy action. But his own subsequent statements are in direct contradiction to that. As he was representing NASA in his official capacity at the time of the interview, he really should not have ventured into that sort of speculation.

So now that I'm on a roll with respect to global warming...

There is so much that I'd like to go into detail with on this subject but am hesitant to, for some obvious and for some not-so-obvious reaons. Let me just say this: scientists really aren't big idiots. They're really not - I promise. They don't sit around reading blogs and say "Oh sh*t!!! Maybe the sun really *IS* causing all this warming stuff!!!". You know what? (newsflash) They've actually thought about this for many years (decades) and have spent time and effort on it and have researched it and if you are interested enough in real results, I'll email you tons of peer-reviewed references that address any "Rush-Limbaugh" sorts of arguments you may have. The scientific consensus now is that humans are changing the climate. Period. I would LOVE it if some real science came out and showed that humans were not causing climate change, really I would. And if it really was fundamentally sound, it would be absolutely EMBRACED by scientists. The reason they haven't embraced some of these other arguments (variance in solar output for example) is that nothing compelling and fundamentally sound has been published yet. Perhaps it will be one day. But the current information and best research we have right now most definitely identifies humans burning fossil fuels as the largest contributor.

And for those who argue that "the climate has always changed", if you take the time to look at geologic records, you'll see that we are changing the climate on a time scale that is off-the-charts in quickness relative to anything the world has seen since the emergence of the human species. While climate change in general has always occurred (YES WE KNOW THAT!), the point is that we are changing it so quickly that species are not able to adapt. That is what makes this global warming significant, and is a point that Mr. Griffin seems to have missed.

I am so tired of the masses of scientific wannabes that think if they spend time researching blogs they'll prove the scientific consensus is wrong. You know what? Blogs do not equal real education and training. And whatever your thoughts are about scientists, I tell you again that most are very well able to separate personal political ideology from science. Science itself is pure, and the atmospheric/climate scientists I know are as well. As a naive youngster interested in learning how the atmosphere around me worked, I had no idea that one day the very foundation of what I learned as "searching for truth" would be hijacked by politics and twisted into an ugly facade by those less interested in science and those more interested in politics.

I'm not in a good place right now. Is it obvious?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

when time stood still

Daughter E woke up with a cold this morning so I told her I'd stay home with her. (Yes I have a proposal due and papers to write and research to do but whatever...). I decided early on that I was going to REALLY take this as a "sick day." No cleaning, no laundry, no mowing the lawn or refinishing the floors on a whim. I spent all day long lying on my bed reading and napping. I got up a few times to play the piano or check on E, but that was it.

I used to have days like that - with no point to them - all the time. Summertimes when I was growing up? I'd spend all morning lounging in my pajamas and all afternoon floating in the pool. No plans. No to-do list. In college, particularly between semesters/quarters or during summers, I reveled in listless days. Mare and I could spend all day sprawled across our beds in the bizarro apartment doing nothing but talking. We'd take a walk over to 7-11 for a bag of M&Ms if we happened to get hungry. I even remember having some of those days when I started work, prior to marriage and kids. As it is now, I can't imagine waking up and thinking "Hm, what do I have going on today? Uh - nothing!". There is always that list looming.

I don't think it's a bad thing. It's really a requirement now that I'm more or less in charge of several individual lives, plus a dog, an eldery cat, a gecko, and a hamster. It's an entirely different approach to life. And it's not like I don't make time for fun and relaxation on a regular basis now anyway. It's just that they're on the list. Maybe the difference is when we're younger, we're still naive enough to unconsciously feel that our life is boundless (***see note at bottom***). Time felt like it stood still all the time. The difference wasn't so much having days that weren't planned out, but it was the mindset. No reason to plan. Living by the seat of my pants was the norm.

I don't really want to return to that approach to life. Even now, I'm back to viewing today as one day lost that I really needed to work on my proposal. But it was nice to spontaneously dip my toes into those times again, sandwiched between days where I'm making 30 phone calls for the PTA after baseball games and before bathtime, working Field Day at the school, paying bills, making trips to dentists, doctors, and veterinarians, and trying to be both an employee and a sometimes at home mom - which are, out of necessity - on the list.

(***note at bottom***)
Maybe the difference is when we're younger, we're still naive enough to unconsciously feel that our life is boundless.
You know, I'm thinking naive is the wrong word there. That implies it is the wrong way to live, and I don't think that's necessarily so. Maybe I should have written "we're not uptight enough to stop believing our life is boundless."
Or something.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

yuck yuck yuck

Family pizza/movie night was last night and I picked up "Supersize Me" for me and DH to watch. Bleah. I watched it while eating pizza (granted it was veggie but still). I felt like the grease was oozing out of my pores.

I think the movie was more than a bit over the top but you cannot argue with the facts about how unhealthy our country is becoming. And the obese kids. Wow. I don't think suing the fast food industry is the answer, but I do think we need to allocate more public dollars to advertising for healthy eating and for providing better foods at schools. Our CULTURE promotes unhealthy eating and inactivity. We've got to turn our culture around somehow.

I gave my kids soup with whole wheat crackers, fresh watermelon, applesauce, baby carrots, and soy milk for lunch today. They didn't complain actually - it's not so different than I usually give. DH and I are going to enter a battle over stopping at McDonalds after baseball games though.

In any case...
E and I are taking off in a little bit to go watch Shrek III at the movie theater. I can GUARANTEE you I won't eat any popcorn. I'll probably buckle and let her have some though. It's all about moderation, not exclusion.

Half a pound of french fries in a supersize pouch. Isn't that BEYOND absurd?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Rites of spring

In addition to the sound of balls slapping into a glove and the ping of a bat, the smell of popcorn and hot dogs and the cries of "Play Ball!!!," there are certain other rites of spring that I celebrate. One in particular is close to my heart - the spring band concert:

There are my son Q and his duplicate overachiever best bud R. They were singled out for winning "superior" ratings on their solos, which were level 2 (no one else in 5th grade attempted a level 2). Excuse me while I preen my proud mommy feathers for a little bit. Preen preen preen.

I should add for the benefit of Mare...Note that Q and best friend R are 1st and 2nd chair clarinets. His other friends are M (first chair trombone) and J (first chair sax). The band clique continues. Does that give you a warm fuzzy?

It was a fun concert and I came fully decked out ready to totally and completely embarass my offspring. My still flash camera was around my neck and I also carted in my video camera. At one point during "We Will Rock You" when I was attempting to juggle filming video with my left hand and taking still photos with my right, I dropped my camera and took a nice bright flash photo of my lap. Friend Jamie (R's mom) and I dissolved into giggles. I decided I should probably just sit back and enjoy.

"MOM!!!!! Do you HAVE to take my picture????"
"Yes, and not only that, I am going to parade you right over to friend K's house so she can take a picture of you out on her deck in front of the mountain laurel. So there."

Here is Q with his awesome first band director, Mr. Collins (of Isley Brothers fame). Q adores him. He's a total nut case and is a true typical band director, complete with dumb jokes and wiseass comments that make the kids think he's as close to god as you can get.

Monday, May 21, 2007

my children

What I have learned from my son:

* There actually is a male version of me in this world.
* Perfectionism is less of an attribute to inspire success than an attribute that weighs you down.
* Some people really are *that* shy.
* It is really possible that more chocolate ice cream can remain on the outside of your mouth than can make it inside.
* It is also possible that a 5th grader can understand more of the real science behind global warming than a large sector of the nation that continues to deny it could be possible. (I'm talking understanding it to the level of global warming potentials of various greenhouse the scientific sense. It's a little frightening).
* Musical genes can be passed from generation to generation. This is not limited to the ability to read music. This is the awe that some people have from the simple fact that melodies and harmonies blend together to make emotions.

What I have learned from my daughter:

* I wish I had been a tomboy when I was a kid. It seems like a lot of fun.
* You can be a tomboy but still like sparkly silver toenail polish.
* The fact that daughters can wrap their daddies around their little fingers is most definitely NOT a myth.
* It really is *that* cool that all the angles inside a triangle always add up to 180 degrees. And pink protractors ROCK.
* It is difficult to decide whether to save hard-earned money on a Nintendo DS or to spend it on nachos at the ballfield. It is difficult to the point of tears.
* Some people have a way with dogs. Really a way. Like freakishly a way.

Saturday, May 19, 2007



I know I've been bad about keeping up with this blog. I've actually written a couple of posts that I've ended up not posting after all this last week, despite the fact that they were destined to win multiple literary awards and would make the world fall in love with me. They were well-meaning posts, but quite honestly were written mostly under the influence of either too much wine or too much emotion so my newfound maturity (stop laughing - there is always some form of newfound maturity in my life) would not let me post them. For my wine-stupored or emotion-stupored self they were absolutely amazing though, and covered topics such as the politics of help (spurred on by Liz from As the Tumor Turns) and altruism and whether there really is such a thing (the latter even included Nietszche and all kinds of deep thinking pretensions).

Ultimately, although they were amazing in my little mind, they weren't going to change the world, so rest assured that all is as it would have been anyway. In case you were worried.

My mom's sister Sandra Holloway, died from esophageal cancer a week ago Friday. I've been remembering the times I spent at her house with my dear cousin Kim when I was growing up. I remember our attempts at creating new recipes in her kitchen - she pretty much gave us free reign. And lordy did we get creative. As a homemaker now, and now better understanding her need to hold onto control of her home and to be an exquisite hostess, the fact that she let her daughter and me run free in her kitchen for a weekend means very, very much to me. I remember her beautiful home and the nights with Kim reading "The Wizard of Oz" and learning that you can fill the bathtub to near overflowing (I'd not been brave enough to do that myself until my cousin showed me you could do it and still survive) and the trampoline in the backyard, and something about neighbors that would sunbathe nude outside (this is all hazy memory to me and I don't know what is real and what is the wishful thinking of two little girls). I remember her taking us to see "The Sound of Music" in the theater and I was bowled over that they actually had an intermission in the theater (THE MOVIE THEATER) with red curtains. I remember when I was older, thinking how much she reminded me of my mom and of her other sisters, and I thought the bond the four sisters shared was so very special. Aunt Sandra, you were elegant until the last breath you took.

I spent today thinking about friend K as they put a new contract on a house up in Wisconsin (WINCONSIN! - That is such a long way from here). I have tried to hide my tears from my other friends but finally decided that was impossible (dear friend M saw me in the front yard with K's dog Hobie and with red eyes from a few hours of tears). All this is because of love. Love of children, love of community, love of each other.

I've been snowed under by the intermingling of love and loss this week.

And then I was driving to pick up my son from a birthday party with his very good friends today and listenening to my favorite song from Five for Fighting, and looking at the clouds and the wildflowers on the side of the road made me cry just because they were. We're all connected whether we believe that a god connects us or that a universe connects us. Doesn't matter.

So that's where I am. Cherishing every friendship that is out there - every connection from human to human or lifeform to lifeform (I'm dogsitting multiple dogs this weekend so feel the need to include those sweet lifeforms in my blubberings.) The touch of another human, or the laugh or the encouraging smile - that is what keeps me going.

Monday, May 14, 2007

8 Random things about me

Ruthie from Zaftig tagged me with a meme to list 8 random things about myself so here goes:

1. I like to reread cheesy romance novels, especially when I'm not in the mood to think much.

2. I routinely destroy books from reading in the bathtub (can't help it).

3. I flew home from London to Washington DC on December 21, 1988, same day, same time that Pan Am Flight 103 went down in Lockerbie. On this the same trip, we'd arrived in London on Dec 12, 1988, where we caught a train from London to Edinburgh on the same day, same time, as a major train crash there.

4. I absolutely adore key lime pie.

5. I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1986 (I am not proud. I am, in fact, horrified by this, with all due respect to my more conservative friends...(grin))

6. I never remove the label from the top of a wine bottle before pulling the cork. I'm either impatient or lazy.

7. I once ran off to Quebec City with an Iranian guy I barely knew. I've not done all that much impulsive in my life, so I like to cherish the few times I did.

8. I have never ever tried illegal drugs - not even once.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I like being a mom

My kids just couldn't stand it. They had to give me my Mother's Day presents as soon as we got home from baseball tonight. So I have a homemade clay pot painted sparkly blue and gold and white, some wonderful smelling bath salts, a little gardening purse, some candies, a picture, and a song written just for me. With all that love and a cold beer after an exciting (excruciatingly exciting) night of little league baseball, I couldn't be more content. Well, perhaps I'd be more content if my DH wasn't in South Dakota again. That'd be nice.

Good heavens - that baseball game. Q's team is tied for 2nd in the league, and the team they played tonight is in last place. I thought this was going to be an easy one. They were tied 4-4 for most of the game. Top of the last inning (they play 5), Q's team (Mets) scored no runs. Other team (Cubs) had 2 men on base, 2 outs, guy up to bat had 2 strikes and 3 balls. Gah. We struck him out.
They went into extra innings.
Q's team scored a run. 2 men got on base. Then this kid Landis actually HIT IT OUT OF THE PARK!!!! (I haven't seen that before in this league). So cute - the Mets all ran out to home plate and screamed and yelled and celebrated with him. So it was 8-4.
Then the Cubs come up to bat. Scored a run. Got two men on base. 2 outs. Hit a huge pop fly out into right field. Way out there. Guess who is playing right field? In slow motion, I saw my little boy running back for the ball, glove outstretched, nice form. It would have been a spectacular catch. But, it tipped off his glove and hit the fence. I thought I was going to throw up for him. He slipped while throwing it in and misthrew. They scored two runs. Next guy up to bat got to 2 strikes, 3 balls. I hid in the van and was afraid to watch. Struck him out. Final score was 8-7. THANK GOD. Who knew I'd be having heart palpitations over a little league game.
Q was in tears and I wisely stayed away and let his coaches work it out with him. When he finally came out of the dugout I got all excited and started chattering on about his two good hits (he hit in two runs earlier in the game). He finally came around but holy moly that child is so hard on himself. He gets straight A's, was selected for Gifted and Talented (about 8 kids out of 120 in his grade), he's a fabulous piano player, 1st chair clarinet in band, a decent ball player, and he thinks he is a complete failure. I don't know how to help him enjoy himself. :-(

So - global warming and the evil scientist discussion again. I ran into a co-worker in the lady's bathroom today and she was telling me how horrified she was at a recent DC meeting to run into a policy maker type who was convinced global warming was a total hoax. Flabergasted, she asked him, "Really? Even now as it's pretty much an international scientific consensus, especially given the recent IPCC reports?!" I told her that well of course people are skeptical because we scientists are making so much money off of global warming. We spent the next few minutes rolling on the floor in hysterical laughter then returned to our computers to read about the next round of cuts in earth science funding by the government and prepare for the next going away party for the most recent co-worker of ours who is fleeing this line of science because of the research cuts. In my building, they just put up a picture display showing all of us that work in the building. I was looking it over with my lunch gang and B, after several minutes of looking at it, said "this is a bunch of old people." Sure enough, *I* am one of the youngest ones up there. That's what happens when there's no money to hire anyone.

So (snort) Forgive me, oh skeptic ones, for getting a hearty and quite bitter laugh off of your mistaken impressions...

It's all ok though. Because I have the most beautiful Mother's day presents ever. (and the bath salts are mine, mine, mine despite the fact that darling daughter keeps taking them back for herself - bah)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

global warming frustration

Here's the post Lynne asked me about. I put it up, then took it down for various reasons. I'll put it back up.

OK, I have to make a comment or two about global warming, seeing as how this is pretty much what I spend 21% of my awake hours doing (that's a rough estimate). I've been doing some web surfing lately and have happened to run across, oh, 10 or so blogs in the last 2 days that just absolutely ridicule the whole idea of global warming.

My first point is that it is laughable to me to imagine that scientists are part of some big conspiracy to dupe the public into believing something that's made up. Aside from sounding a lot like the "we never went to the Moon" argument, I challenge you to show me a valid reason that a scientist would perpetuate a global warming "myth".

I guarantee you that I could make a lot more money than I do now if I were to decide to work for an oil company and were to begin to push "evidence" that global warming were a myth. Publicly funded environmental science (which is how this type of research should be funded in order to assure scientific integrity and honesty) is not exactly a cash cow. It is a challenge to find ways to support continued research on climate change. I wonder if I'm stupid for staying in this line of research sometimes. It's entirely possible that I will be forced to change to something different within the next several years because research funding for climate change/global warming research is shriveling up to next to nothing. What possible motivation could I have as a scientist to claim that global warming is a concern, other than the fact that I just happen to have this need to search out the truth? In my experience, scientists really are pretty apolitical lot when it comes to our work. I certainly have my personal political views, but I went into science because I wanted to know how things worked, not so I could manipulate people. I have no problem admiting when I'm wrong (it happens a lot). I work side by side with ultra-right wing conservatives, hippy-dippy liberals, and every color in between. 99.99% of us that work in this field agree that global warming is occurring now, as a result of human activity. That's the scientific take on it. The problem is that the message that is getting out to the public is shuttled through journalists and the media and when it comes out with all this hype and scare tactics and finger-pointing, the natural response is one of skepticism.

Here's a plot I want to show.

Here, our current date is on the left and the scale shows thousands of years as you move to the right, out to about 400,000 years ago. Data is from ice cores. The inset shows a blow-up of the last 1000 years or so. The reason the last hundred years looks out of whack with the last 400,000 years is that for the first time in the history of the earth, there's been a way to move very large stores of carbon from the ground to the air in a very short time (volcanoes do some too, but the amount of CO2 from volcanoes is about 1% of that from burning coal and oil). It goes from 275 ppm (parts per million, which means the number of molecules of CO2 per million molecules of "air") to 375 ppm within a time period that is almost instantaneous when it's compared to history. Normally, the carbon balance is controlled by migration of carbon from ground to air to ocean from natural processes that take thousands to tens of thousands of years to occur. When humans learned that burning coal and oil from the ground produced useful energy, we began a very very fast migration of carbon from the ground into the air, and the absorption of carbon from the air into the ocean can't keep up. Here's a higher resolution plot (meaning we can see variations during the year in this one).

This shows measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere taken at Mauna Loa, Hawaii since 1955, and this time the current date (or close to it) is at the right. You can see a clear yearly cycle - the "wiggles" show changes in CO2 during the summer (when active vegetative growth takes up CO2) and winter (when it doesn't, and when decay of dying vegetation returns CO2 to the atmosphere). It's also clear that the magnitude of these processes is much less than the general increase since the 1950s. There aren't very many people left who can argue with the fact that this is a result of the burning of fossil fuels.

Does CO2 make the atmosphere warmer?
This has been known for a very long time. We have a significant amount of CO2 in our atmosphere already from things like volcanoes and decaying vegetation (remember I mentioned the natural evolution of carbon from ground to air to ocean?) If we didn't have any CO2 in the atmosphere, our world would be too cold for us to exist. It is only because of CO2 that our climate is what it is.

Lab experiments have long shown that CO2 increases temperature in the atmosphere. Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere will increase the temperature, all things remaining constant. It's the "all things remaining constant" phrase that has scientists working long hours on this. All things do not remain constant. We don't know what the atmospheric feedback is from clouds and aerosols. But I can tell you with confidence that the level zero analysis from science is that the climate is changing due to the increased amount of CO2 humans are putting into the atmosphere. The sea ice over the Arctic is decreasing something like 7-8% per decade for the last several decades. Permafrost is melting up in the Arctic.

The biggest challenge for scientists is being able to relay what we learn to the public. It is rare to find a scientist that is also an engaging public figure. Since none of us want to do it, journalists and politicians have taken over and don't always do things like I'd like to see it done. Seems we'd be a lot better off if the hysteria were removed from this argument and we spent time brainstorming workable solutions that would not destroy the economy. There are some solutions out there (nuclear power! Did I just say that? (g)). We also need to come to terms with the fact that the climate is changing and learn what steps we need to take to minimize negative impacts from that. We can address these issues. Instead, we're running around like the sky is falling and shouting at each other about conspiracies and myths.

Take a look at the Real climate folks I have linked to in my side bar. They really are awesome. They're quite up front with their discussions, and include plenty of science for those who are curious enough to want to dig into it. They've sounded frustrated to me lately, too. Seems like several old arguments against global warming are being recycled again and given media/air time. Sigh. Rewind. Replay. Anyway, use their search tool to look for discussions on things you've heard about and are curious what the science take on it is. The problem is that it takes time to research and think about things on our own. It's a lot easier to take at face value what's handed to you by skeptics or proponents either one. But we're smarter than that.

sign of intelligence?

My dear dog, not quite 1 1/2 years, is still firmly in the chewing phase. She has very specific tastes, however. There are certain items that I must keep put up or they will be shredded to bits. Pencils and books are the big ones. She will delicately rip page after page out of any book she finds lying around, then will finish off by chewing up the binding. I do NOT want to go back to the library and tell them we must pay for a book because "my dog ate it". Again. But I must.

For dessert, she will eat barbie dolls or polly pocket dolls.

And no, her tail has not ever stopped wagging. Books make her happy, apparently. This is why she fits in so well here.

Friday, May 04, 2007

hamburgers and politics

I've been especially enjoying reading some of my favorite blogs this week.
Ruthie (Zaftig) wrote a nice commentary on hip-hop culture. She was very clear to distinguish between the dangers of the culture of hip-hop versus the music itself. Personally, I don't hate hip-hop, but I can't say that I've got any on my ipod either. It was nice to hear about how meaningful some of the songs can be to some folks. And then J wrote a nice commentary on Christian Scientists. I didn't know much of the history of that religion.

I sure would like to put together a thoughtful, thought-provoking, intelligent post just now. It's morning and I'm refreshed from a hard, dreamless sleep, the rest of my family is still in bed and I've got my second (or third?) cup of coffee with me. It's slightly dreary and wet and cloudy outside and nice and comfortable in my house. I have my flannel Milk-Bone doggie pajamas on. Life is good, and conditions are ripe for writing. And I can't think of anything interesting to blog about.

There's the whole political thing, I guess, and how frustrating it is to me that it has turned into such a for/against, game. I'm frustrated at how the general population seems to view politics as inherently holding the requirement that you take sides and join up with a team. You're liberal, or you're conservative. You're Republican, or you're Democrat. You're for Ga Tech, or you're for the University of Georgia. You're a Blood or a Crip. You're "either with us or against us." (G.W. Bush). You're good or you're bad. You're black or you're white. We have devolved into a place that leaves no room for fuzzy borders or grays or any other color. We've turned our society into a giant football game. The thing that is destructive with that is that when you pick a side, your opinions have been made for you. You no longer need to take the trouble to think about issues and develop fresh new ideas about possible solutions. You just whip out your "liberal" or "conservative" pre-printed script when you're faced with a question, e.g., "I'm conservative and therefore am against abortion."

I went out for lunch yesterday with several friends from the PTA after a successful kindergarten registration at our school. We were sitting outside with iced teas and hamburgers and chatting about our children and the transition to middle school and all kinds of suburban soccer-mom sorts of topics. At one point, one of the moms diverged into politics and related to us her answer to her kids' question "What's a 'Liberal', mom?" In the midst of her explantion of how liberals liked to throw hard-working people's money at everyone else (gag), I raised my hand and smiled at her and said "You can tell them that a liberal looks like me." I leaned over to her and said "Before you go on, I don't want you to feel bad later, so I need to let you know that I'm very liberal." It all stayed light-hearted, but I'm glad I spoke up to remind her of that. Because you see, I've made this mistake before too. When I'm with people that I'm comfortable with - people that I respect and like - I tend to assume that we think alike more often than not. After all, with it being pounded into our heads how "we're" on the good side and "others" are on the bad side, it's hard to imagine that we might be fraternizing with the enemy when we're with someone we think of as one of the "good ones."

And now because I have exposed myself as a liberal (did anyone really not know that already?) and because I'm anxious to actually write a blog entry again, let's just take a quick look at that "liberals throw money at everyone" comment from lunch, AKA the "Tax and spend" label that is so often attached to liberals. Let's start with the problem which is, what do we, as a society, do with the poor and needy among us? I think only the most extreme among us would shrug and say "tough luck." I hope no one out there reading my blog has that opinion.

Conservatives and liberals both are concerned about these people and have different approaches to helping them. It's really not very complicated. More or less, the choices are to
1) tax those who are not poor and use that money to provide both direct basic needs and also the opportunity for the needy to move out of poverty and into a job by providing job training programs and educational grants (also funded through taxes) so that the poor can eventually move on to an independent existence, or
2) to encourage the wealthy to grow the general economy (via tax breaks for the wealthy) in order to create an environment with plenty of jobs for that poorest segment of society, therefore providing them with both the motivation and the means to provide their own basic needs.

Is that a fair analysis? I'm trying to be unbiased.

You can find errors in either approach. With 1), there will be those who take advantage of the direct aid (welfare) and refuse move on to the next step of the plan which is to obtain a job, resulting in the wealthy forever supporting the needy and the needy forever staying that way. What motivation is there to educate yourself and get a job when the government continues to provide you with food stamps and housing? With 2), there is the (very real, IMO) concern that these jobs that are supposed to be created for the needy among us aren't ever actually created - at least not jobs that don't require a significant level of education and training (which the poor among us cannot afford to obtain on their own). This results in the wealthy getting wealthier and the poor getting more poor. Dean Hartwell looks at the two approaches that politicians must balance in terms of error analysis in mathematics. He says
They could spend too little on government programs and deprive truly needy persons of help (Type 1). Or, they could spend too much on these programs and provide help to those who do not really need it (Type 2).

Conservatives are willing to take the chance that a "Type 1" error will occur. They justify this point of view by saying that there will always be poor among us.

Liberals will allow the possibility that a "Type 2" error will take place. They justify this attitude by opining that no one in need should be left behind, even if the price is allowing unworthy individuals to get free help from the government.
So in my judgement, I've found that I'm more willing to accept that fact that there's a lazy segment of the population that is going to take advantage of government hand-outs. I don't like it and it pisses me off. But I'm willing to live with that reality and that choice. I'm less willing to live with the idea that there are some people who are struggling and who have slipped through the cracks and find themselves unable to move out of poverty. It's not just the adults I'm worried about - it's their kids who are hungry today, who are not going to be able to afford college on their own, and who will be the "needy" in 20 years. So while I'm not all the way over on the left side of the spectrum, it's certainly tilted toward the side that's labeled "liberal."

My point, in relation to the topic I started out on, is that the labels we have gotten so used to sticking on the other side really shut off any meaningful discussion. When I immediately label my conservative friends as uncaring trickle-down rich folks, I'm not hearing their concerns (which are valid - see the type 2 error above). My friend's "tax and spend" lable for liberals like me means that she's discounted the fact that we actually do think about this stuff and want to find a good solution. We just have different comfort zones and "errors" that we're willing to allow to happen.

I really do hate that there is such a division out there. We're comfortable when we feel like we "belong" to a team, and even more comfortable when we think we belong to the right team. We can build ourselves up by pointing out how "the others" are so wrong. The problem with this is that we're so busy with feeling good about ourselves and feeling right and shouting about how the others are wrong that the problems that are out there become fodder for political posturing and become sound-bite words ("the needy"). The fact that there really are people out there (including children) who WILL go hungry today seems to have been lost.