Holy Cow – Windows 7

I’ve decided to start blogging here again with short posts, while putting my main blogging effort in at newmediatheory.net.Yes, former readers I will opine politically, but not this time.

That said, I’ve been using Windows 7 since last night. I’m stunned at how good it is so far. It is beginning to show real integration with the way humans work. Download a file and it doesn’t get dumped on the desktop – it goes into the downloads folder. Vista had that, but in Win 7,  when you go look for the file there is a Downloads shortcut waiting for you in the Explorer sidebar.  Vista by the way put Downloads not in MyDocuments, which had been the top level data folder in Widnows forever, but under a user name folder like Unix. It took a while to find my first downloaded file, but I was cool with that – it made sense because I use Linux all the time. But I also can handle MyDocuments being the top level folder and Downloads being under it. Like most people, when I download something I want to go to it directly. And I don’t want to have to move it after I’m done with it.

I’ve also noticed that the task bar has an icon for open explorer windows – so when I am copying files from one place to another I can hover my cursor over it and see both windows and then click on them to bring them up. You can also see a thumbnail of the progress bar without bringing it up to check on the progress of a long copy operation – the kind you often have with a new installation.  The thumbnails are bigger than on Vista – bit enough to identify – and also can be closed down directly when you are finished with them. Another step saved. Best of all all these features were effortless – I discovered them following the path of least resistance. This OS is helping me work – out of the box. Holy Cow, Microsoft.

Back in Oz

After a three month self imposed silence I’m back in Australia determined to stop long boring posts. Today at the bookstore I noticed this title: Get Pregnant Faster It made my day.

Lookers

Walking in West Palm Beach in a mixed commerical district: big Winn-Dixie grocrery store, rail road tracks, freeway overpasses. Suddenly two good looking women are just to my right in front of a shop. One white, one black talking to each other. I must be hanving a good day because they look extra special nice. Dressed to arrest the male optic nerve, but not over done.  A boutique? A bit upscale for the neighbourhood, I think. Ah…It’s a 24 hour bail bond shop. Sat and Sun by appointment only. The phone number. Maybe their boyfrinds are ‘bad boys.’ Maybe their troubles are thier own. Maybe nothing. Life goes on.

Chez Lives!

There is a new post up over at newmediatheory.net about Chez Pazienza who got fired by CNN for blogging! Otherwise Yankeewombat remains on vacation in Florida enjoying his grand kids and family.

Hong Kong

I have been on the road and hors de combat. The wireless at my son Julian’s in West Palm Beach works a treat so Yankeewombat is back. First stop was Hong Kong. Here is a brief impression:

Hong Kong, which is now part of the People’s Republic of China, is much more like New York with that settled commercialism which would be familiar to a 17th century resident of Rotterdam. Other than the account of my adventure at the Golden Center computer emporium that I launched from the free wireless connection at Hong Kong airport, not much of interest happened except for a $20 plate of fried rice at the hotel serenaded by a chubby guitarist in a good suit singing soft sixties songs. Fortunately there was McDonald’s across the street. Then on the way back to the airport I saw a well groomed woman in an upscale neighborhood carrying a baby in a pink satin jump suit complete with hood. As she came by the bus I could see under the little hood and it was not a baby at all but a little dog with longish brown hair.

The Golden Centre

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I bought a computer in the mid eighties at the Golden Centre in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong. It is a bunch of small shops – stalls really – on the second floor of an old building in Fuk Wa Street. If memory serves the computer I bought was an early IBM Clone with an 8088 processor and an ‘irregal ROM’ containing ‘key parts’ of IBM’s proprietary Basic language to ensure that their hardware didn’t get cloned. It worked so well that IBM clones eventually drove IBM out of the PC buisness and nearly did for Apple too. So I went back today for old times sake and to nose around and see if I could find the Chinese Han Lin eBook reader.

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A customer looks at a PC with a 120 Gig HDD costing about HK8000

No bargains like the old days. And no one knew about the reader nor did I see any, but it is easy to miss things in that environment. I recently bought an Asus eee PC in Australia for A$500. It was going for just about the same price less our 10% GST or about US$450. It sells for $399 in the US. In general the prices were pretty much the same as US prices. Still, it was great fun. It would be great to have a market likethat available with dozens of motherboards on display at on4e shop,and even more video cards at another. Shops that specialize in RAM and others that just sell cases and power supplies. Yet others that just have printers and scanners, notebooks, monitors.

Obama II

Obama is still behind nationally but I am not sure that he is beaten. He looks like the future of the Democratic party to me and Hillary looks like the past. Her husband isn’t helping in that regard either. Jay Cost the HorseRace Blogger, the best analyst of polls I have ever encountered, isn’t calling this one either. In his latest analysis of the demographics he goes right to the critical question:

……can Obama win white voters?

Since he lost Nevada, pundits have been suggesting that he cannot. But I think the picture is much more complicated than it first appears.

First of all, we have to acknowledge that Clinton is currently beating Obama in the polls among white voters nationwide. The latest LA Times/Bloomberg poll tells the story pretty succinctly. Clinton leads Obama among white voters by 19 points. Compare this to Clinton’s 9 point lead among all self-identified Democratic primary voters – and it should be clear Clinton is doing better with white Democrats than with the Democratic electorate at large.

So, the more precise question is: can these numbers change, or has Obama “maxed out” among white voters?

Race still matters in America but it is whole lot different than it was back when I was a kid in the fifties. What is clear to me as a long time expatriate is that Obama is so archetypally American. America may not have entirely transcended race but it is clear Obama has. And it is clear that he is highly intelligent and that he can focus that intelligence effectively. Particularly outstanding is his ability to avoid divisiveness. Saying for example, “They are all good candidates.” of his opponents in both parties without seeming hypocritical. Or that it is important to acknowledge that Republicans can have ideas even if you don’t agree with them.

I see politics as a constant struggle to balance opposites and the primary pair of opposites in politics being the individual and the group. Johna Goldberg -coming from a very different perspective than my own – makes this exact point in a recent interview here with Glenn and Helen Reynolds of Instapundit when he says that all public policy issues boil down to Locke versus Rousseau – to individual versus collective. (Interestingly the point comes up in the context of Goldberg expressing his view that Huckabee’s compassionate conservatism is too collectivist for him a traditional conservative.) While both sides of politics must deal with both, the left has an affinity for the collective interest, the right for the individual. I look back on the politics of the 20th century and see the collapse of laissez faire capitalism in 1929 countered by a greater emphasis on the group provided by FDR. My father, like many of the people who lived through the depression, saw FDR as successfully helping America avoid the totalitarian collectivism of both Communism and Fascism while moderating the overly individualistic form of capitalism that had produced the boom bust cycle. In my own youth, I saw the left try to reinvent itself under JFK and come undone through assassination followed by getting bogged down in Vietnam. Meanwhile, the right had recognized that it had to reinvent itself after the Goldwater defeat of 1964 while the left drifted. The right’s moment came under Reagan and he moderated the big government liberalism that had dominated American politics since FDR.

Obama to his great credit recently recognized that Reagan was the last president to bring real change and by doing so shows he wants to be in that category of president. Initially Bill Clinton (and Tony Blair) excited me as politicians trying to reinvent the left, but I think both fell short coming up with more of an uncooked mix of the neo-Liberal reforms of Thatcher and Reagan along with essentially unchanged ideas from the old left. Hillary has said she wants to raise taxes to get back to spending more on the common good. The key words are ‘get back’ which I read as returning to familiar model of big government. Hillary wants to apply that model to health care. Obama says he wants to change the health care system so that big medicine doesn’t have every seat at the table. I’m not sold yet because I don’t see the detail in his policies but I really like the direction he seems to be headed.

So I see Obama as neo-left mark II. He is of a new generation and puts things together differently. I think if he gets in now he will do a lot of learning on the job. I am concerned with his emphasis on Iraq simply being a mistake and implying we can just end it without disastrous consequences. What I learned as an opponent of the Vietnam war that whether it was a good idea initially should not be the determining factor in how a war is ended. Abandoning people we have convinced to fight on our side at great cost is massively destructive to our national interest. More so if it is unnecessary as it appears to be at this stage. But I am not the slightest bit concerned that Obama wouldn’t give his best trying to move us into a new political era. He visibly recognizes the need for a fundamentally different approach and credibly shows that he is entirely capable of making the attempt. That is his great strength and why he will win if he can convince enough people. And if he doesn’t win this time he may get another chance.

Counterknowledge

At the end of a friendly exchange on the subject of conspiracy theory or ‘counterknowledge’ between Richard Landes and ShrinkWrapped which was started by Landes’ review of Counterknowledge by Damien Thompson there is the following commentary by Landes on the final paragraph of Shrinkwrapped’s post: (I’ve labeled who said what for clarity. Both quotes are from here.)

[ShrinkWrapped's closing words:] Just beneath the surface of even the most stable and reasoned mind exists a cauldron of irrationality. The Unconscious can never be fully tamed and is forever attempting to find access to the Conscious mind to enable and effect its desires. Conspiracy Theories, false prophets and messiahs, and easily identifiable scapegoats are the result; they are here to stay and will plague us and increase until we re-establish the safe haven that can only come from Knowledge.

[Landes' reaction:] I’m a bit confused by this finale. Can you explain what the “safe haven that can only come from Knowledge” is? Is this (regressive) pre-post-modernism: knowledge=truth=objectivity=reality? Why is knowledge “safe”? It may “set us free,” or empower us, or enlighten us, but nothing about it suggests either stability or safety. On the contrary, part of what is so frightening about reality and why people run to the cocoons of conspiracy theory and other forms of counter-knowledge is precisely to flee the ego-wounding world of registering what’s going on around us.

As someone long familiar with my own unconscious and that of others through psychology I agree with Landes that conspiracy theory or counterknowledge is a kind of cocoon – a defense mechanism. In my experience it helps to become aware that the unconscious follows patterns over and over. With awareness they become less something that needs to be contained and more like something that ‘comes around again on the guitar’. As in….’Oh, Bush knew about 9/11 in advance?’ ‘You mean, just like Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor in advance?’ A conspiracy theorist friend here in Australia is quite convinced that one ‘fact’ – as he calls them – proves the other. There is too much focus on the outer similarity of the events and too little on the inner need for a comforting explanation.

In journalism these repeating patterns are called memes. In drama themes. Jung called them archetypes of the collective unconscious. At a practical level these patterns are part of all of us – hence they are collective – and form the architecture of drama from Greek theater to soap opera. We know what is coming next in a soap opera because it fits patterns we already know too well. I would argue that in terms of the media environment the intrusion of unconscious patterns into public discourse is in part the result of the Internet following an era dominated by television. Because TV is a form of drama – even and particularly the news – it has blurred the border between inner reality and outer fact. Subsequently, the Internet has empowered anyone to publish anything and so increased the amount of material both good and bad available to us. But the Internet can be used to debunk the myths perpetrated by TV – precisely as Richard Landes has done in his examination of the al Durrah affair. It can promote constructive civil discourse as well as destructive counterknowldge.

The psychologist Robert Johnson tells the story of a little boy explaining to him that some things are true on the inside and shouldn’t be mixed up with things on the outside. Mixing things up that are true on the inside with those that are true on the outside is a fundamental human mistake that we make all the time. The form we call drama is an excellent way to explore what is true inside – that inner ocean with its tides of emotion and archetypal pattern that resides in all of us. But using TV to report the news is to use a medium more appropriate to explore inner truths than outer ones. We have had three generations of the news being shaped by the requirements of drama. Of being fooled into believing emotionally, if not intellectually, that we have witnessed events like the Twin Towers coming down. Or that the footage of the jihadi with the AK came to CNN or Fox from some intrepid stringer rather than an al Qaeda media emir. We are so accustomed to being manipulated by cinematic technique we hardly notice that our worldview has been being constructed for us by the film editors of the TV news establishment since the fifties. So it is no surprise counterknowledge spreads abundantly on the Internet and that many educated people apparently are more ready to believe anything. At the same time discussion such as that carried on by ShrinkWrapped and Richard Landes are not locked away in seminar room, but available to a much larger and diverse audience. The Interenet spreads much nonsense and worse things like beheading videos, but it also spreads awareness.

Political Risk

Here is a different approach to assessing the situation in Iraq. It is a small part of a larger assessment of political risk around the world by Ian Bremmer entitled A Political-risk Outlook for 2008. He is a political scientist who makes his living advising Wall
Street clients specifically on the political risk aspect of investment. He might be said to have invented the field. According to his Wikipedia page:

Bremmer is most widely known for advances in the field of political risk and,
more directly, bringing political science as a discipline to Wall
Street. In 2001, Bremmer authored Wall Street’s first global political
risk index, now the GPRI (Global Political Risk Index)—a joint venture
with investment bank Citigroup.

Here is Bremmer’s reading of the political risk in Iraq in 2008. The “dynamic” he is
referring to at the beginning is the initial military success of the war in 2003 followed by failure to get the politics right. In his view that dynamic is in danger of repeating in the current situation. He accepts that the surge is succeeding militarily but true to his specialty lays out the political risks as he sees them.

That much is history.But in 2008, this dynamic is unfolding again. Following a strongly criticized Bush decision to ignore the bipartisan (and exhaustively
vetted) Baker-Hamilton plan and press ahead with a troop surge, it’s
turned out that the American generals indeed knew what they were doing.
More than 150,000 well-trained American troops, tens of thousands of
well-paid mercenaries, the support of many tribal leaders (particularly
in the north), billions of dollars of reconstruction aid, and a
revamped counterinsurgency strategy on the ground have markedly
improved security in much of the country. The troop surge has led
radical Shiite cleric and militia leader Moqtadr al Sadr to stay on the
sidelines – not risking confrontation with U.S. military power – and
seriously degraded al-Qaida in Iraq’s capacity for attacks. All of this
has meant fewer casualties – U.S. military, Iraqi military and Iraqi
civilian.

But politically, the United States has actually lost ground. This is clearest in Baghdad, where Washington has all but lost its influence on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s administration – a stunning political fact given the extraordinary amount of cash and military support still funneled by the U.S. government into the country. This change became clear following Baghdad’s refusal to attend
the Annapolis conference on the Middle East, despite direct lobbying by
President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, or to sign up
for the American pact with Iraq’s Sunni tribal leaders to fight al-Qaida. The greatest political influence on Baghdad is presently Iran – a factor that will likely grow over time as Iraqi political actors await the withdrawal of American military forces and Washington loses the political will to provide economic support.

Which means that the military gains – though real and important – are temporary and cannot continue with a significant reduction in the American troop presence. U.S. domestic opposition to the war remains at its highest levels, and as the U.S. scales down its presence, the likelihood that the insurgency will grow precipitously is great. Sadr will stay on the sidelines until it’s safe to come out – but no longer. Ultimately, all this will likely produce a fragmentation of the country and a proxy war between Saudi-supported Sunni and Iranian-supported Shia, with the
Kurds eventually going their own way. This makes Iraq increasingly less of a mess domestically but more a factor for regional instability throughout the Middle East. This will become increasingly evident in 2008.

It is a fine line between assessing risk and making predictions. Although his language is sometimes that of prediction remember who Bremmer is accustomed to advising – people who are thinking of putting money into a particular country. What we have here, first of all, is one line of expert thought grounded in conventional wisdom such as the Baker report. This is exactly as it should be when it comes to investment – ignoring conventional wisdom is not the safe course. In a time of fundamental political change and uncertainty a leader may choose to ignore conventional wisdom precisely because it is based on the past and may no longer offer much chance of success. Bush chose the surge over Baker’s advice and he has succeeded so far, but there is a long way to go politically. Consequently, the most telling part of Bremmer’s analysis is his reading of the Milaki government’s current attitude to the US. I know that Milaki and Petraeus got into shouting matches over the empowerment of Sunni militias against al Qaeda early in the surge and that Milaki even demanded that President Bush fire Petraeus. My reading is that Petraeuus’ efforts are not just military but also politcal and that the goal behind the military strategy is to make reconciliation more likely by implementing bottom up political change through empowering local people to establish security in their own areas. I agree with Bremmer that the risk remains political disintegration and I would not invest my money in Iraq for exactly that reason. But I am glad that the President did not accept the conventional wisdom of his bipartisan advisors I wish the Iraqi people well and hope that they can find their way forward to the point where they can control their own security and destiny without US help.

The Horse Race Blogger

As the extraordinary drama of the American elections approaches its first decisive moment, the February 5th or Super Tuesday primaries, I find myself once again turning to Jay Cost, the The Horse Race blogger. I believe he is the best technical analyst of both polling and the the candidate’s underlying strategies. Jay Cost, “is [to quote his own original site where he covered the 2004 election] a graduate student of political science at the University of Chicago, currently penning a dissertation on American political parties.” He combines a scholarly knowledge of the history and structure of American politics with a genuine mathematical understanding of polls and what they do and do not indicate. His original site is still up and worth reading for his articles explaining the statistical limitations of polls. And how he organized a group of volunteer poll watchers on the web to feed him local results in key states like Ohio that allowed him to call the election before the media even had the figures his volunteers were supplying him. After the 2004 election he blogged at RedState for a while and now has found his natural home at Real Clear Politics. The words Horse Race Blog appear toward the bottom of the first section of the left hand column of the Real Clear Politics home page. The direct link to his RCP blog is here. The most important reason his work is so excellent is that he genuinely wants to understand what is happening, not make it happen. He puts it this way in his RCP About page:

I am not really interested in the “should” of American politics; I am interested in the “is.” Should Congress pass a comprehensive border plan, or should it just pass border security? I have my own opinions, but they are not what this blog is about. My interest here is in a question like this: Is it likely or unlikely that Congress will pass a comprehensive plan? This is not to say that my own preferences for the “should” won’t creep into my analysis of the “is,” but I am going to keep them as separate as possible.

He knows his history and he knows his math and because he keeps his own views separate while not pretending they don’t exist he puts himself in a position to pursue rational explanation to a deeper level. Again from his About page:

I am, as political scientists like to say, a “rat choice” guy. That is short for rational choice theory. If somebody asks me to explain why something happened, I would want to know who was involved, what were his goals, and what were the rules (formal or informal) that governed his behavior. I don’t understand politics as a pitched battle between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil. I understand it as the competition between divergent interests in the venue that Americans have set up to manage such conflict, namely our Madisonian system.

So you can take seriously this January 7 analysis of why Hillary’s prospects are different than Bill’s were in 1992 going into Super Tuesday to be a real analysis, not to be just another ideological driven cherry picking of the facts.

So, the implication is that if Bill could lose early contests and bounce back, Hillary could, too.

From a certain perspective, I think this conclusion is indisputable. I do not believe this race is over – and I say that as somebody who predicted that Obama would be a real threat to Hillary a while ago. Here’s my bottom line on the Dem race: Clinton has the money, the prestige, and the support to stay in the race through at least Super Tuesday, even if she loses all of the early contests. She also has, at least according to the latest national polls, much of the traditional voting coalition that has won her party’s nomination in year’s past. And remember – most Democratic primaries allocate delegates to the national convention proportionally, which means that losers still win delegates. So, Clinton could stay a close second through most of the season, and surge late to win the nomination. Of course, losses in Iowa and New Hampshire would seriously damage her campaign. No candidate who has won both Iowa and New Hampshire has ever failed to win his party’s nomination in the modern era.* However, as I have argued many times, history is a limited guide for us when it comes to party nominations. Hillary remains a candidate with real strengths – and she should not be underestimated.

Read the rest to understand how today’s Super Tuesday is different from 1992 and all the other factors that make Hillary’s pursuit to the nomination unique. Here is an analysis that shows how polling combined with mathematical understanding can shed light on a particular candidates chances – in this case Romney:

Romney lost Iowa, and then he lost New Hampshire. Accordingly, he is not the consensus candidate of the party. Far from it. While he has a toehold in the GOP electorate, that’s all he has. The recent Pew poll offers cross-tabs that tell the story in vivid detail. Even though the poll was completed before the Michigan primary, there is still a good bit to learn from it:

pew-poll.jpg

Huckabee’s strength is with evangelicals. McCain’s strength is with self-identified moderates and liberals; he is also strong among mainline Protestants and Catholics. Romney wins a solid portion of self-identified conservatives – but he is in a three-way statistical tie with Huckabee and McCain for their support. Clearly, he has not yet broken through with either demographic – be it ideological or religious. You could also slice the party by income – and you would see the same result. McCain dominates; Huckabee has a fair share; Romney has not broken through.

You really get an idea of how good he is when you combine his assertion that Hillary has great strength with the traditional Democratic voting coalition with this close analysis of polling data from Nevada and New Hampshire. Here are his conclusions:

Once again, it appears that Hillary Clinton won by turning out a traditional Democratic voting coalition: Catholics, women, and “downscale” Democrats. This time, she added to this coalition with strong showings among Hispanics, whites, men, and “upscale” voters.

Nevertheless, there is evidence that Obama is able to take a solid portion of the core Democratic vote – notably African Americans. This is good news for Obama in the short term. If you take these demographic preferences to South Carolina, Obama will probably win because each group’s share of the vote shifts. For instance, Hispanics are not a major factor in South Carolina, and African Americans are a much greater factor. This alone would probably yield Obama a victory next week.

But in the long run, my feeling is that a replication of Nevada’s result would give Clinton great success on Super Tuesday. The real concern for Obama should be the shift of white voters to Clinton. It remains to be seen whether this is sustainable (we saw nothing like this in Iowa or New Hampshire). If it is, Obama is in real trouble.

I’m not saying to not read other commentators. I am saying don’t miss out on a wonderful source of insight into this election season. As Jay himself puts it here:

It is a goal of mine that this space be full of clear and precise thoughts. Another goal I have is that what I offer you be novel. I like to observe what has not yet been observed, to infer what has not yet been inferred. I don’t like to waste people’s time through duplication. Who needs that? So, I will try to keep the content unique.




Welcome to The Yankee Wombat

I'm an American in Oz. This blog grows out of my experiences post 9/11 when politics forced itself into the foreground of my awareness. I found myself feeling strongly about political issues and felt I had something to contribute to the debate from an expatriate point of view. This blog is the result. Thanks for joining me. Comments are monitored and either accepted or rejected at my pleasure.

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