After a couple of weeks of the right wing desperately flailing at the deceased equines of Benghazi, AP, IRS/teabag, Marine-umbrellagate, and whatever else they can come up with, the American people have drawn their own conclusions. Those conclusions are not what the passed-on pony pummelers were hoping for.
Here's a summary of the relevant results from the latest CNN national poll. Obama's approval rating is at 53%, actually up a couple of points from the last poll in early April. The Democratic party's favorable / unfavorable rating has seen a net shift of 11 points in its favor, far outside the margin of error. The Republicans' favorable / unfavorable rating is 35-to-59, eight points worse than in early April -- and the worst unfavorable rating they've had since CNN started tracking the question in 1992. (Update: More analysis here.)
(And as noted in the last link round-up, Democratic candidates in Virginia and Massachusetts have even gotten a boost in the same period.)
As I've said before, if the Republican party were a centipede, it would still be running out of feet to shoot itself in.
There are already signs that right wing is starting to realize the scamdals aren't working. The Washington Post describes them as "falling apart". Skimming major wingnutosphere sites such as RedState, PowerLine, Breitbart, and PJ Media, at least at the moment I see far less front-page coverage of them than in the last week or two, though Hot Air is still giving them plenty of play. PowerLine even posts that the "narrative" on one scamdal "isn't compelling".
The tornado disaster in Oklahoma and Texas will probably provide a face-saving opportunity for the right wing to back down on the scamdals, letting them fume that it drove them from the headlines just as the public was surely about to start paying attention and turn against Obama. I worry a bit about where that could lead, though. How long will it be before we see a "tornado truther" movement claiming that Obama somehow staged the tornado to distract the public?
Even by the familiar debased standards of the Nobel Peace Prize, 2012's award was asinine; the committee bestowed the prize on the European Union for its "advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights". This after years of the EU's imposition of austerity policies which have wrecked the economies of the southern member states, inflicting mass poverty and unemployment and driving the most capable young people to emigrate, and its dogged pursuit of deeper integration despite the opposition shown by repeated referenda in member countries, making a mockery of democracy.
But what about peace? After the conflagrations of World Wars I and II, and before them the Franco-Prussian War, the Napoleonic wars, etc., etc., etc, Europe has now gone 68 years without such a major conflict. Doesn't the EU deserve credit for that?
Actually, there's no reason to think the EU had any role in preserving the peace during this period. There has never been an instance where two EU member countries approached war but were stopped by the EU, nor could the EU have done anything to stop them if they had. In the bloodiest conflict on European soil since 1945, the Yugoslavian wars, the EU was utterly impotent; what eventually mitigated the damage was American military intervention. It was not the EU that deterred a Soviet invasion -- NATO did that. As for "advancement of reconciliation" and promoting good relations, the EU's disastrous austerity policies and authoritarian bullying have created a state of mutual contempt and even hatred between the Mediterranean member nations and the Germanic core.
Some conservatives, pouncing on these obvious points, have argued that NATO should instead get the credit for keeping the peace. This, too, is absurd. The division of Europe (and most of the developed world) into two rival alliance systems replicates the conditions which made World War I inevitable. It was those alliances which allowed a local dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia to trigger a continent-wide mass slaughter engulfing major powers which did not even have any vital interest in the original local dispute.
So what did keep the peace all this time? Why has Europe (and the world) gone so long without another World-War-II-scale conflict?
As is so often the case, politics and ideology have been surface epiphenomena, while the true decisive change was a technological one. What differentiated most of that peaceful 68 years from the period before was the existence of the H-bomb. With both superpowers holding massive arsenals of these weapons, another all-out war between the two rival alliances would have meant the immediate annihilation of both sides, something that neither government dared risk.
During the Cold War, there was no shortage of events which could easily have played the role of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, triggering another all-out war between the two great alliances. The Soviet blockade of Berlin, the suppression of Hungary in 1956 and of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam, the Cuban missile crisis -- any of these could have triggered a new global war, if not for the H-bomb. Indeed, going by historical precedent, it seems safe to say that one or another of those events probably would have triggered a global war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, likely even bloodier than World War II, if not for the H-bomb. It was the H-bomb, and only the H-bomb, that spared us that.
Fear has always been one of the most effective motivators of human behavior, and the fear of total annihilation has been strong enough, for 68 years, to overcome the kinds of impulses that led politicians in generations past to blunder -- or strut proudly -- into all-out war. There was simply no point in launching an all-out war when it would have looked like this:
To note the latest example of the kind of backlash the EU is provoking in the real world, just this week Britain's upstart new anti-EU nationalist party, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) stunned analysts by winning 23% of the vote in local elections in that country, just two points behind the ruling Conservative party. Anti-EU nationalist parties, some of them disturbingly right-wing or even fascist, are on the rise in France, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, Austria, and other countries, as voters ignored by the pro-EU establishment parties turn to the only forces through which they can make their voices heard.
How well can the Democrats hope to do in next year's Congressional elections, and the contest to succeed President Obama in 2016?
First, 2014. The historical pattern is that a two-term President's party normally sees its share of House seats drop in the mid-term election of his second term. This has been the case with every second-term midterm election since the Civil War -- except one. The exception was 1998, under Clinton -- the most recent Democratic President before Obama, which makes it perhaps a relevant precedent. Admittedly, the Republicans at that time were in the midst of obsessively trying to blow up the Monica Lewinsky affair into a major scandal, an endeavor which exasperated the public and may have cost the Republicans some votes -- but the Republicans of today are, if anything, even more prone to clutch at such straws of ersatz scandal (see Benghazi).
They're also prone to damaging themselves in other ways, such as the recent defeat of gun background checks, which was yet another exercise in opposing anything Obama supports, as Senator Toomeyrecently admitted. Obstructionism for the sheer hell of it doesn't play well with voters, especially on a proposal which 91% of them supported. I don't know how much impact the background-check débâcle will have on an election which is still 18 months away, but the odds aren't bad that they'll pull one or more further such self-immolating stunts closer to voting time. Right now the polls actually favor us, which doesn't guarantee anything, but it does limit the Republicans' margin of error for recovering from blunders.
As for the Presidential election in 2016, most polls show Hillary Clinton utterly obliterating any Republican opponent, even being competitive in states like Texas and Georgia. I'm not so sure she'll run -- she'll be 69 on election day and, if victorious, would be 77 at the end of her second term. But people who would vote for one Democrat would likely at least consider another; and Obama, his legacy at stake, will be putting his not inconsiderable campaigning prowess and organization to work for the nominee. And there's another factor at work.
2012's Republican primary season resembled a cross between a clown show and a demolition derby, with a field of mostly colorful but un-serious characters being slowly winnowed down as the teabaggers and religious nuts tried and rejected one not-Romney after another. For 2016, right-wingers seem convinced they have a much stronger field, but there's a quite different dynamic at work; they've started the demolition derby long before the primary season gets here.
First, Chris Christie, one of the few major Republican figures with a demonstrated ability to appeal to large numbers of Democrats, was demonized for working with Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and recently again after once more praising the President. The consensus of the hard-right base is that Christie is finished as a Republican Presidential contender.
Next came the turn of Marco Rubio, who until a few weeks ago was being lionized as the party's great 2016 hope among those convinced that (a) the key to party revival is to do better with Hispanics and that (b) the way to achieve this is to nominate a Hispanic candidate. Now, though, Rubio is being demonized for his support for the current illegal-immigration reform plan. The vehemence of the histrionics I'm seeing across the wingnutosphere suggest that he, too, is now out of the running for 2016.
At this rate, before 2016 even arrives, every plausible Republican Presidential candidate will have been excommunicated and struck from the list of possibilities for one sin or another. What are they going to do then? Run Palin? Let's also not forget factors like the hysterics of the religious-nut element over the party's tentative efforts to move to the center on gay marriage, or how the attacks on Rubio are likely playing among those Hispanic voters the party needs to attract. As I've said before, if the Republican party were a centipede, it would still be running out of feet to shoot itself in.
We're not guaranteed to win 2014 and 2016. But they're ours to lose.
"I say all this to say that if I regret anything it is my pose of
powerlessness -- my lack of faith in American democracy, my belief that
the war didn't deserve my hard thinking or hard acting, my cynicism. I
am not a radical. But more than anything the Iraq War taught me the
folly of mocking radicalism. It seemed, back then, that every "sensible"
and "serious" person you knew -- left or right -- was for the war. And
they were all wrong. Never forget that they were all wrong. And never
forget that the radicals with their drum circles and their wild hair
This thought occurred to me some time ago: On any controversial issue, if you're not sure which side you should be on, check which side most of the people wearing dress shirts and ties are on. That's the side that's wrong. It works in at least 95% of cases.
Much to my dismay, the Faye Kane video of Will.i.am's "Reach for the Stars" which I posted three weeks ago seems to have vanished from YouTube. However, I found another very good video of the song, mostly using (apparently) NASA video.
Back in the days of the Wright Brothers, who would have thought we'd be doing this kind of thing barely a century later?
Here's Will.i.am talking about the song. He seems a hell of a lot more aware than most entertainers -- or people in general -- these days.
A couple of weeks ago I linked to this article about British doctor Sam Parnia, who specializes in resuscitation of patients thought to be hours beyond the point of death. Yesterday a reader sent me this one, which explores the phenomenon further.
What we're really seeing here is that our whole long-established concept of what death is, is mistaken.
We think of death as a sudden shift from one state to a qualitatively different state, which happens at a precise instant, the exact time of which is specifiable in principle, even if it's sometimes hard to pin down in practice. Furthermore, death is irreversible -- that is, once death occurs, a person cannot be restored to the living state, short of a miracle (literally so, since one of the miracles attributed to Jesus in the Bible is returning a dead person to life). If a person is said to be dead and later returns to life, it means we were mistaken and the person was not "really" dead in the first place.
All of this is wrong. It doesn't accurately describe what really happens.
In most cases, death seems to be more analogous to what happens to a machine as it stops running after the failure of some critical part. The heart or lungs or some other critical organ stop working, due to injury, or loss of energy (due, for example, to massive blood loss from an injury elsewhere), or exhaustion from the gradual decay of aging, or for some other reason. Other processes which depend on the failed organ begin to slow down and stop; cells and systems which depend on those processes stop functioning. Decay sets in, in the form of bacteria which start to consume cell components once the immune system stops keeping them in check, and chemical reactions which are no longer constrained to proceed in the ways normal cellular operations require. At some point fairly early in the process, brain function is sufficiently disrupted that it can no longer sustain consciousness -- and in any case, traumatic injury often shocks the brain into unconsciousness anyway. Eventually, so much damage has accumulated in the cells that there is no possibility of normal function being restored.
The point is, this is a fairly protracted process. There is no sudden moment one can point to which constitutes the border between "being alive" and "being dead". As so often is the case in nature, what seems to us to be an absolute distinction is in fact marked by a gradual transition. We tend to think that "the moment of death" is the point where the process becomes irreversible -- but as the linked articles show, this point varies depending on the type of technology available. As our knowledge and machines become more sophisticated, we can restore life in cases which, a few decades ago, would have been judged past the point of no return. There is also the question of how much "life" can be restored. Bodies can often be kept mechanically functioning even after brain damage is so severe that consciousness cannot be restored. Such a person is "alive" in some senses, "not alive" in others.
(People used to define death as the moment the "soul" leaves the body, but this was simply another primitive misunderstanding. Your consciousness, or "self," or whatever term you prefer to use for it, is not a "thing" distinct from the body, it's a set of processes which your brain is constantly running. Like programs running on a computer which is suddenly unplugged or damaged so it stops working, these processes don't "go" anywhere when your brain stops working -- they just stop. Whether they can be set going again, and how well, depends on whether brain function can be restored and how much deterioration has happened in the meantime.)
This raises the hope that the more advanced our medical technology becomes, the later after apparent "death" it will still be possible to restore life. If we can develop the capabilities in nanorobotics that some futurists expect, it may even be possible to reverse a fairly advanced state of decay by re-arranging the atoms of decay by-products back into the organic compounds from which they came, molecule by molecule, cell by cell -- of course, such technology could prevent most forms of death from happening in the first place.
In any event, the more we know about what death is and how it happens, the better. Death is the ultimate enemy of humans (hence the post title), and the better we know the enemy, the more victories we can win against him, and the closer we come to achieving his total defeat.
Individualist, transhumanist, American patriot, socialist, atheist, liberal, optimist, pragmatist, and regular guy -- it has been my great good fortune to live my whole life free of "spiritual" concepts of any kind. I believe that evidence and reason are the keys to understanding reality; that it is technology rather than ideology or politics that has been the great liberator of humanity; and that in the long run human intelligence is the most powerful force in the universe.