Sunday, November 29, 2009
Black Hills, Ayn Rand, Leibnitz, etc.
I started thinking about someting my daughter told me today. She advised me to think "unthinkable thoughts," or thoughts that I have deliberately suppressed. I thought about my late wife who passed away two years ago after several years of declining mental and physical health. She herself said that she was a burden to me. I didn't want to think so. I loved her and didn't mind any burden she imposed at all. Now, those are two contradictory thoughts. Today I accept the fact that she was a burden. Her illness prevented me - actually, the both of us - from doing certain things.
We bought a new car in 1999 and planned to use it for many long trips around the country. We both were adequate and safe drivers and we would take turns driving. I would drive for an hour or two, then she would take over for an hour or two, and so on. That way neither of us would become sleepy or hypnotized and have a serious accident. The only driving we did was to drive to visit our daughter who lived near Berkeley, about 400 miles from our home in Los Angeles. About the time I figured the car had been broken in, my wife announced that she could no longer drive. That meant the end of our plan to drive to South Dakota to see the images of the four presidents in the Black Hills.
The four presidents were Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt. I've always wondered why Theodore Roosevelt was included. I agree that Washington and Lincoln were our two greatest presidents, and I won't argue as to which was greater. Jefferson was a great president also, but I'm not sure I would rank him as No. 3. I would tend to rank another Roosevelt as No. 3: Franklin, not Theodore.
Someh0w my train of thought switched to the writer Ayn Rand. I have recently read a review of two new biographies of her. Her political philosophy was quite different from that of any of the 4 presidents honored on Mount Rushmore. In her philosophy she disdained ideas of altruism and generosity toward the unfortunate. Following her, I should think that what I've worked to obtain is mine and no one else should try to take it from me. Naturally there are going to be winners and losers in our capitalist economic system. The system itself is good and we should accept the results of its operation. The President who rallied his followers around this simple philosophy was Reagan.
One reviewer pointed out that although Ayn Rand was discouraged and believed that almost no one agreed with her, at the time of her death her ideas were becoming very popular. Today, thirty years later, they are becoming less popular.
I am reminded - actually, I should write that my mind then wandered to the German philosopher and mathematician Leibniz. Mr. Leibniz is known to all engineers, physicists, and mathematicians as the invention of the notation used in calculus. In fact, he was one of the three persons who invented and used calculus. The other two were Archimedes and Newton. Archimedes calculated the volumes of objects of various shapes. Newton calculated the orbits of the moon, the earth, and the major planets. Leibniz invented the calculus of variations to calculate such things as minimum time trajectories of moving objects. He used arguments from the calculus of variations to convince his wealthy patrons that the economic system in which they enjoyed great riches and power was the "stable" system and that they should accept the results and enjoy being rich and not feel any guilt for the existence of the extreme poverty in which most people lived.
Voltaire satirized Leibniz as the character Dr. Pangloss in his novel Candide. Perhaps some Voltaire now living will satirize Ayn Rand and Ronald Reagan.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Does California Need a Lieutenant Governor?
The language of the recall law stipulates that the recall election shall include names of candidates to replace the official being recalled if appropriate. In most recall elections it would be appropriate because most elective offices in the State do not have a successor in waiting. However, the office of Governor is unique in that there is a designated elected official to assume the governorship if for any reason (including impeachment or recall!) the existing governor can not perform the duties of the office or is removed from office. Mr. Lockyear's precedent has changed the law.
Since Mr. Garamendi has resigned as Lieutenant Governor to assume his position as a Representative, there is talk about whether Mr. Schwarzenegger should appoint a replacement. His chosen replacement is a State Senator, Mr. Abel Maldonado. If Mr. Maldonado is confirmed as the new Lieutenant Governor, the vacant State Senate seat will have to be filled by a special election that will cost, say, two million dollars. Next year Mr. Maldonado would have to run for Lieutenant Governor if he wants to continue in the office.
Why do we need a Lieutenant Governor? In 1850, when California became a State, it made sense to designate someone to act as governor while the governor was out of the State and therefore not in rapid communication with the legislature and other State officials. The invention of the telephone, radio, cell phones, internet, and the like have removed that reason for having a temporary replacement governor.
I say, let's do away with the office, along with the 2/3 vote in the Legislature for taxes and budgets.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Why is everyone making such a fuss over Sarah Palin? I guess the men do it because she is pretty and attractive and sexy. I don't understand the women, but then I never did understand them. Conservatives are praising her as the next messiah. Liberals are damning her as unlearned and naive and rather stupid. She's just a cute piece of snatch and isn't worth all the fuss.
2. Joe Lieberman
I rather wish he were my senator. I could then write every day a letter to him, telling him what a big fraud he is and how he has turned on the people who once believed in him. That's right. Me. I once had a good opinion of Mr. Lieberman. I thought he handled himself very well in the vice presidential debate with Dick Cheney in 2000. Of course, that's not saying much. Cheney is almost as dumb as Sarah Palin. I must concede that both Dick and Sarah have problem children and they both show them, in public at least, admirable parental care and love.
Monday, November 09, 2009
"No Taxpayer Dollars for Abortion"
Naturally I am bothered by the abortion exclusion provision. The argument is that many Americans are extremely bothered by the existence of abortions, would like to prohibit them absolutely, but at least deeply resent having any of their taxes go to pay for them. I would like to tell them that I am extremely bothered by the wars we have started and are waging in distant places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. I think these wars are a mistake and the mistake should be corrected. Otherwise, according to a Chinese wise man, we make another mistake.
Abortion involves killing embryos or fetuses. War involves killing grown men, women, and children in Afghanistan and Iraq. These people who object strenuously to abortion say nothing about the unwise wars. My question is, why is it all right to kill an Afghan or an Iraqi but not to kill an embryo or fetus? I resent having any of my tax money used to kill Afghans and Iraqis.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
In my opinion, the reason that independent voters have a low opinion of our political parties and of Congress is that they are frustrated by the fact that our government, particularly the national or federal government, is not structured to be truly representative. The Senate in particularly is skewed in favor of the small states and against the big states, especially states that contain the large cities: New York, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and others. It is skewed in favor of small states with low populations: Alaska, Montana, Vermont, New Hampshire, North Dakota, etc.
In addition to the ancient recipe for the Senate, with two Senators from each state, regardless of population, the also ancient system of single-member districts for the House skew the representation in favor of the winners. The residents of these districts who didn't happen to vote for the winners are unrepresented. Republicans do not try to represent the minority Democrats in their districts and Democrats do not try to represent the minority Republicans. In addition, the two major parties are divided along fundamental ideological considerations. Republicans believe in "small government," no matter what the cost. Our constitution was drawn up and approved in 1787. Ideally, our government should do no more or no less for its citizens than it did in that year. Democrats believe in "government that provides needed and useful services." Social Security and Medicare are examples of such services. Democrats believe that government should do what is needed to provide every American with adequate health care, regardless of the cost. Democrats believe that the cost of not providing such care is greater than the cost of providing it. Republicans distrust government's ability to provide such a service efficiently and fairly.
The writers of the constitution distrusted and despised political parties. The man (or person) representing a legislative district should consider the wishes and well-being of the residents of his district, not the ideology of a particular political party. Unfortunately, things haven't worked out the way the founding fathers wished. Members of the federal legislature are very closely bound to their parties for support in campaigns to be reelected. Party support means campaign money and advantageous committee appointments. A representative of a rural district in Nebraska wants to be on the Agriculture Committee. A representative of a district in Nevada or Montana may want to be on a committee that deals with mines or national forests. A representative who doesn't toe the party line may find himself on committees that his constituents have no interest in. Political parties are here and they are going to stay. They have developed in every legislature or parliament in the world. Even local "non-partisan" legislatures like the Los Angeles City Council exhibit political parties. Although the members of the body are legally "non-partisan," everyone knows the party affiliations of all the members. We know that the present mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, is a Democrat. His predecessor James Hahn was also a Democrat. His predecessor was a Republican. And so on. Fortunately, party ideology doesn't play a major part in local politics and in forming local policy.
What can be done?
About the Senate, probably nothing without a new constitutional convention. Representation in the Senate can not be changed except by a unanimous vote of all fifty states.
About the House, some form of proportional representation would provide representation for the voters on the "losing" side. Such a change would entail multiple member districts. Party representation from such a district would reflect the proportion of votes each party's candidates received. This change would make it possible for minor parties, such as the Green Party, the American Independent Party, the Libertarian Party, and the Peace and Freedom Party to elect a few members to the national legislature. At present these minor parties are completely excluded.
Is it likely that such changes will be made in our national government during my lifetime?
Monday, November 02, 2009
Iran and Israel
Iran has a uranium enrichment program. We think the program can lead to producing uranium enriched enough in the 235 isotope to make a nuclear weapon. We would like to stop the enrichment program or at least stop the enrichment at about five percent or so U-235 instead of the ninety percent needed for a bomb. Iran is reluctant to accept any limit on its program even though it doesn't seem to be trying right now to produce nuclear weapons. Iran will agree one week to a scheme to export its uranium to Russia and France for enrichment to about five percent and fabrication into fuel rods for a reactor. The next week it pulls back from the agreement. And so it goes. Iran may be serious or it may be just stringing us along. We can't tell yet.
Israel has a program of building homes for immigrant Jews in various parts of the Holy Land. Many of these homes are a-building in an area that the international community believes should be reserved for a Palestinian state. There is a proposed boundary between Israel and the future Palestinian state that Israel refuses to recognize. Arab countries view the continuation of building settlements as proof that Israel has no intention of ever agreeing to the existence of a separate state for the Palestinians. Instead, the Arab view (and mine) is that Israel really wants all of the Holy Land for the State of Israel and intends to encourage or force the indigenous Palestinians to move to other Arab countries and give up hope of creating an Arab State of Palestine. The problem for the United States is that we need the good will of the Arab countries and we can not have it unless we can manage to create a viable state for the Palestinians.
Our approach to the Palestine-Israel problem is like our approach to the nuclear program in Iran. We talk. We assert that the continuation of the settlement building is an obstacle to any talks about a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestine. The government of Israel refuses to accept any limits on building new settlements. What can we do?
We don't have much leverage with Iran. With Israel, however, we have leverage that we haven't used. Israel can not exist without our yearly subsidy. Some of that money is used to build settlements. We could, in theory, cut off the subsidy until Israel quit the settlement building and agreed not to build any more. We could also insist that Israel accept the boundaries agreed to by the United Nations after the most recent war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Jews living in the settlements on the Palestine side of that border could be allowed to continue to live there if they wished, but they would be subject to Palestinian law and Palestinian police protection instead of protection by the Israeli Army which they now enjoy.
Jews should be able to live in peace in any part of the world they wish. However, just because a community is predominantly Jewish does not entitle it to become part of the state of Israel. Certainly no one would propose annexing the Jewish section of Brooklyn to Eretz Israel. Why, then, should Hebron become part of Israel - or Arab East Jerusalem, for that matter?
Sunday, November 01, 2009
Fox News, Jerry Brown, etc.
A few days ago Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco and bright young hopeful to become the successor to Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor of California, announced that he was abandoning the race. He hasn't been able to raise enough money to put on an effective campaign. That leaves the Honorable Jerry Brown as the sole major contender for the Democratic Nomination.
Mr. Brown was governor before, following Ronald Reagan and preceding George Deukmegian. Brown didn't do such a good job as governor the first time. Perhaps he wants to correct some of the mistakes he and other former governors have made. Proposition 13 was passed during Brown's terms of office. He wasn't able to persuade the legislature to put in place something as a substitute for 13. Well, actually, there was a Proposition 8 that year that addressed the same problem, but it went nowhere. The public was gung-ho to cut taxes, protect the business interests of landlords, and all that. Perhaps I shouldn't be too hard on poor Jerry.
My problem now, as a Democrat, is that I don't believe Jerry can win. I don't believe the voters are about to give him his second chance. I have to look at the Republicans in the race and try to decide which one of them I dislike the least.
I heard Meg Whitman the other day on the radio. Patt Morrison was interviewing her. Unlike nearly everyone who has commented on the disfunctionality of California's government, she didn't subscribe to the idea that California has become ungovernable because of the very structures that voters have put in place with our easy initiative process. Her idea is that what is needed is someone as governor who will show leadership. What she means is the kind of leadership she has shown running a large corporation. To her leadership means the willingness to fire 10,000 or more state employees if that's what is needed to keep expenses within the limits of the tax revenue the Republicans in the legislature are willing to accept.
I know very little about Steve Poizner. He has been the state Insurance Commissioner, a position first held by John Garamendi. Mr. Garamendi made the office an advocate for the users of insurance rather than the purveyors. Those of his successors who were Republicans have tilted the advocacy toward the insurance companies. I can't say the same about Mr. Poizner. As the only Republican among the state-wide elected officials, he has managed to keep a low profile.
I think I know a little about Tom Campbell. He used to have the reputation of being a rather "liberal" Republican when he was in the state legislature. I don't know where he stands today on the question of getting rid of the 2/3 vote in the legislature, universal single-payer health insurance for California, legalization of gay marriage, the right of women to choose to terminate a pregnancy, and other issues that I care about. Based on what was said and written about him a dozen or more years ago, I tend to believe that his positions on these things are closer to mine than are those of Meg Whitman or other "real" Republicans.
Sometimes I fantasize about changing my registration to Republican just so I can vote for Campbell in the Republican Primary next year. Of course, that's just a fantasy and it wears off quickly. My father and his father would both roll over in their graves if I were to leave the Democratic reservation.
Another issue that nags at me is the rather extreme partiality of Fox News for Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans. I often argue with H and R that Fox puts out a lot of "news" that just isn't so. My friend S points out that Fox presents both regular news and news comment. The comment is provided by such pundits as Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. Mr. Obama has recently taken on Fox News and is trying to discredit the organization. That's probably a mistake. Make Fox a martyr and people will flock to watch and listen to it. Better to take the position that the existence of Fox News is a small price to pay for the blessings of free speech.