Monday, October 03, 2005

History has passed Blair's hopes on the wayside

The argument was advanced that this would be likely to force a cut&run approach. However with Blair likely to hold on to power through 2007, my argument is that when it comes to guns and butter and the EU it is butter or the EU that will lose.

As an overview of past events, Newsweek notes:

It's not that he hasn't tried. During Blair's first two terms, he pursued a reformist agenda but was hobbled almost every step of the way. First, he chose to go slow so as not to spook Conservative Party voters who crossed party lines to vote for him. Further along, the Treasury under Brown, Blair's longtime rival, stifled reforms it didn't like or believed Britain couldn't afford, operating as "a government within a government," in the words of Labour Party biographer Andrew Rawnsley. Then came the war. As one of Blair's closest associates put it, "The entire second term was hijacked by Iraq."...

Brown's Treasury has always had leverage over Blair's policy initiatives by controlling the money to pay for them. Now the British economy is cooling. GDP growth is at a 12-year low, consumption growth at a 10-year low. The budget deficit, at 3.2 percent of GDP, is in breach of European Union rules. "I sometimes think No. 10 is in denial about how much they can do," says a government official who used to work at Downing Street.

Gordon Brown's projected budget deficit was 2.6 % and as it turns out if you take 1.3 billion which is the cost of the war yearly and divide it by 519 billion you get 0.25%. Britain is into the 3.2% deficit range, which means that eliminating the cost of the war will not bring the budget back in line. Certainly it would help but the bottom line is that Labor needs to stop doing things like cutting the inheritance tax at the same time the Council Tax is fast outpacing inflation. Essentially the council tax is a property tax that funds local services while nominally progressive is in practice regressive and hits seniors on fixed incomes rather hard.

Now what if Blair had never gone to war? Well the war happened while Britain was in better financial straits. It is arguable that if Tony Blair had not gone to Iraq, many of his social initiatives in his second term would have been further advanced. The war costs could have gone to pay for progressive social changes instead. However that is not the same thing as saying that if Britain could quit the war now and produce progressive social changes instead.

There are three clear political choices. The first is to quite the war and spend the money on social reforms instead. The second is to try to blow off the EU and hope the markets underwrite spending. The third is to cut back on social reforms and undermine a progressive legacy. Given that Blair is ruling out a quick exit from Iraq, claims that 'Iraq invasion crucial for UK security', and that Blair is trying to hang on to power as long as he can with his main rival and heir Brown so far at least publicly being patient then it is highly unlikely that option number one will be taken.

The cost of the Iraq war is a fixed and unrecoverable cost in the past now for Britain.There are no do-overs unfortunately in history. Cutting and running will not buy them a progressive future. It is more likely given this cruel reality, that the time for change has passed by Blair, that trying to push back against EU criticism of the budget and cutting corners on social spending in some combination are likely to be the response to the deficit over target spending.

In Econ-speak we can say that cutting war spending doesn't have any marginal utility for a progressive future, and that the sunk cost of the war was the opportunity cost of forgoing progressive social changes at a time when the national economy could have supported them. That all being water underneath the bridge, there is no economic incentive to cutting and running now when it will cost political capital in terms of personal face for Blair and in fact for Labor more generally. Entering the Iraq war destroyed Britain's chance at a progressive future for a generation in all liklihood. Everything else is just details at this point.

For graphic of British budget expenditure and more complete citation, refer to my BOP post here:

Thursday, September 29, 2005

No easy answers

Sometimes in life there are no easy answers. Take for instance, Iraq. It's clear in hindsight (and for some foresight) that invading and occupying Iraq has been a disappointment. However pulling up stakes now will cause even more chaos and blowback. Yet, it may be inevitable at this point so we might as well take our medicine like aduls and not waste more effort trying to save the unsalvageable.

But knowing that, having in one's head played out the logical conclusion of the chess board, is not the same as the country being ready to do it. The time to oppose the war, to vote against it, or to at least abstain voting for it, would have been at the onset. Getting up and screaming and getting red-faced on a podium won't bring troops home sooner, and might indeed get one blamed for undermining the war effort.

It is not outrage that will end this war, but fatigue and irony. Comedy and the ludricuousness of the situation are the true anti-war weapons. Where are the WMD? Where are the flowers and candy? Some cakewalk, right? Are the troops going to be home some year soon? Wonderful care Rumsfeld is taking of our boys, still denying them reimbursement for body armor a year after the Congressional act mandating that the Pentagon do so. So we gonna win this war some decade soon please?

People are slow on the uptake sometimes, not because they are stupid, but because they are as all of us loathe to admit that they were wrong. So Iraq will not fall apart in some politically panicky cut & run, but it will fall apart and die a cut of a thousand deaths. When the occupation has become a feature in American living rooms and a thousand jokes have been told and retold and repeated around water coolers and the people who were gung ho for the war are not red-faced but just quiet and tired and give up well then and only then will the war end. It is not a bang we are looking for but a long drawn out whimper.

Having failed to stop the war when it was launched and having failed to prevent its creation, it must run its course. It must run its course until every delusion and every rationale and every rosy-light-at-the-end-of-tunnel has not just failed but mocked to a restless grave. When the supporters of the war have nothing left to say, when Bush is out of office, when the next President exhausts his own political capital trying to save American face by tip-toeing out and then we get smacked on the rear by the door getting slammed on us on the way out then it will end.

It must end that way because people still aren't ready to force the leaders desperately wasting lives to try to keep themselves from being embaressed to walk away. That's the way a democracy works. We get the leaders that we allow to take power. They stay there and do what they want until we force them, by statuatory term limit or by electoral ballot box revolt, to leave. It's not the most romantic view of Democracy but it is the one that most comports with the facts on the ground.

So Bush will continue to try to make Iraq work while looking for a way out where he doesn't have to admit he was wrong. He won't find either, and so we'll be stuck while he holds out for a way not to be ridiculed as a failed war leader. Iraq will continue to get worse no matter what is done at this point and it will degrade us, it will drag us down, and when we leave it will blow up in our faces. And we will put up with it and shuffle on because that's how this sort of thing works.

Trying to hurry it along won't earn you any thanks, it will end when the next President tries to disentangle himself from it without getting too much mud on his face. And yes, all the words written about not having enough supplies and not enough troops and not enough brains to make this war work right are true and they matter. It's just that they matter mostly to the people in Iraq getting screwed over by this, our soldiers and the Iraqis. It also matters to the nation's greatness, because each day that slips by we lose a bit of our national greatness. A not inexhaustible amount, a possibly renewable, but presently declining greatness frittered away by weak liberals and wrong conservatives.

It is the doom of our generation to see Vietnam, part II, the remake on steroids. What we learn from it and how we take care of business at home to clean up all the abuses and failures of the system that produced this monstrousity, that is our work. That is where we can make a difference. That is where we should focus our efforts. Never again, but never again what? Never again a 5-4 Supreme court split deciding the electoral winner of the Executive of the United States of America? Never again fuzzy electoral results producing an unfit leader? Never again a corrupt party politics and an insanely pandering grassroots machinery that produces ineffectual and wasteful government in the name of trying to reform it? We have a lot of things to do, there is much that can be done, but first the Vietnam and only then when it's clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that it all went wrong and there is no defending it, then we move on.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

As many of you here know, I have from the beginning asserted that the incompetence of GWB and his team were going to ruin Iraq. However something happened today which made me think that matters were worse than even I had considered. What happened is that today marked Iraq's first known female suicide bomber.

:01 p.m. September 28, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq – The woman slipped into the town, passing checkpoints where women are not searched. Then, donning a man's "dishdasha" – a traditional white robe – and kaffiya headscarf, she blended in with the men waiting in line to join the Iraqi army.

She then set off the explosives strapped to her body, killing six would be recruits and wounding 35 – and sparking worries over a potentially dangerous new insurgent tactic.

While news analysis has focused on the "security hole" the cultural implications of this event could be drastic. Past studies of female suicide bombing indicate that they require in general a much higher degree of provocation to incite them than men. Either extreme hopelessness and oppression, rape by military/police units, or the provocative death of husbands/male relatives/lovers are generally required to incite women to suicide bombing. This could be a one time event, but if it comes more often it will be a damning sign that our occupation of Iraq has turned septic and has produced grevious wounds in the hearts of Iraqis.

Yes, I'll crosspost from now on from BOP

I have not yet personally come to a conclusion myself how I want to handle things. I tend to be slow to make up my mind, and then decisive in acting. Just a personal trait. For now I will be posting my work here as well sans graphs. That's a major advantage of the BOPnews site that I can upload graphics which I can't here. One of the ideas I've been exploring is setting up my own modest website and offering more in depth analysis and numerical crunching and graphics - for which I would pay the minimal requirements to get the bandwidth and storage to get it up and running.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Return of Spring in Fall

Even as the summer turns over into indian summer and begins the slow maturing into autumn I find myself at an unlikely regeneration in the midst of decay. Some art historians will tell you that depression can be a powerful creative force for artistic achievement. I'm here to tell you that they're right.

A lot of emotions have been going through me lately. Anger. Irritability. Anxiety. By lately I mean the last few months. I wanted to just do the normal thing. Which is to find another job, jump on that, immerse myself in the work. Instead I found myself deliberately passing by opportunities personal and professional. Sometimes spitefully.

I'll give you an example. There was this attractive woman who lived across the hallway. I briefly helped her move some stuff in one day from her car when it seemed like she needed a hand. Some weeks later, I heard a knock on my door. I asked who it was. She said she lived across the hall, and I recognized her voice. She said she needed some help. I asked what for. She said her car wouldn't start and she needed a jump. At that point, I quite spitefully told her I was going to go into work soon and couldn't help out. She tried asking again, and then stormed off saying in an exasperated tone of voice:

"Oh, never mind!!!"

What if she really needed help? I emerged a short time later that day to drive to work and her car was gone. Guess she didn't need help afterall. She was a good looking lady, with a nice car, and I'd seen her elderly parents and a glowering brother with a uni-brow visit her. Women like that call family or tow truck drivers out of the yellow pages or boyfriends to help them start their cars. Women like that are drowning in help and I don't need to waste my time "helping them".

So why didn't I do it for me? Well as much as I would like to say I would want to be in a relationship, I don't want to be in a relationship. I mean, really, it sounds nice to be approached like that ... but let me tell you something I have never ever helped a 'damsel in distress' and ever failed to have her take advantage of me. White knights in fairy tales rescue maidens in towers, in real life a woman who makes a practice of routinely getting into trouble and needing bailing out or worse decides to make a first impression on you by decieving you that she needs help and taking you as chump enough to fall for it has psycho-bitch written all over her.

Besides the particular dynamics of that particular situation though, I've been in a funk. I've been miserable. I've been irritable. I've been impossible to please. I also haven't called my mother as much as I should have. I've been AWOL on my friends and even on my public writing.

On the other hand, in the depths of my personal self-indulgent misery I've begun work on two novels. To put that in perspective I don't do fiction. After several disasterous attempts almost two decades ago, I realized that my forte was in non-fiction, technical, and analytical writing. However somewhere in the muddled mazes of my misery I had two brainstorms and the manuscripts are practically writing themselves, as living organic stories.

In addition, after an extended bout of self-doubt and self-recrimination for not being more powerful, ruthless, and utterly an asshole and blaming that for my life's problems I began to make some progress on other work I had put on the backburner a long time ago. A former professor and I are collaborating on a physics textbook and I really believe it could impact positively how physics is taught nationally since it is based on research methods and results I have been practicing for years in the classroom and have proven statistically to be useful. I've also been having some profound insights into mathematics and hard physics ideas which I've been toying with for years but are approaching publishable form for the first time. They could be submitted to a journal by X-mas, though that is optimistic. I say that only to convey the sense of intellectual excitement and momentum that I am seeing for the first time in years after a long stagnant and dry period of disastisfaction.

I suppose you could say that for a long time I was sad and sullen. Then I got mad. Then I decided to get even. But I just wanted to rush through all that. Sometimes in the pits of my self-loathing I truly questioned everything that I had done for the past two decades. There were to be fair a large number of in hindsight regrettable decisions.

The past two years for me have been extremely trying. Even before my father's passing over two years ago now, I had come to question and even betray by decisively moving against much of what I had politically supported and helped contribute to for the previous portion of my life. Philosophically I was in shambles and I had one gut wrenching moment after another where I decided to be a civilized human being and in return experienced mortifying humiliation and shame. I'm not sure which was worse, when I had it coming or when I didn't. When I had it coming, it forced me to recognize that sometimes I'm not the greatest human being and that some of my unhappiness is from my own base nature. When I didn't have it coming, it felt like I was getting screwed over but had to be noble in the face of injustice which let me tell you sucks.

In the end it made me a much more self-deprecating and ultimately hard individual. It made me rethink how I treated those close to me, and made me ask how I could be better to them. It also made me rethink my former attitudes toward competitivenes and ruthlessness when it comes to real assholes. Winning I think is a lot more important to me now, because I have seen first hand the consequences of what happens when I am not all-out 110% trying to win. It is in part the vacuum created by my underachievement that lets in creeps who game the system. The failure to take the number one spot is to watch others ignoble take it instead.

To be better to my friends and less merciful to my enemies and to do both by just winning whenever I could was my resolution.

No more underachieving.

But no fear, I'm not going to run out and try something over-ambitious either. There are no shortcuts in life, and all things take their time. I had a lot of doubts about letting myself stew in my own feircely self-reproachful depression, but it shook a lot of cobwebs out of my head. The truth is that I hadn't been happy with what I was doing for a long time, not because it was not fun in and of itself, but life is a complete package. For too long I tried to live life ala carte' and the result was that I just wasn't able to maintain my motivation, and I just wouldn't be able to do what I had to do to make things right when they were wrong.

In all things we have to acknowledge personal responsibility, and by failing to do my best all the time I was creating an opening for the worst to move on in. I helped create this situation in my life, heck I helped create in my own special way the situation in the world today. I thought about that long and hard, and a lot of attitudes of mine had to fall hard, and I had to question if I was worth a damn before I found that answer for myself.

Just running off and doing something else before I had worked through all that would have just been a form of escapism. Every day I would get up and kick my own ass for not running out and just getting another job, but there was so much unfinished business personally and emotionally. I had to acknowledge that, work through that at my own pace.

At the present moment I live securely and without fear on my savings. I haven't needed to tap unemployment yet. And the local spot market for temp jobs looks good. So I'm not worried.

I feel myself moving toward something though. At first it was just all misery and cantankerous self-argument. Then there were blinking moments of inspiration. Then I actually started figuring out things would actually work, had to work if they needed to get done. It was and is still a long and tortuous process. But I feel it, inside, I feel it now. I have the desire, I got the hunger, it's coming back to me. Instead of burned out like I thought I would feel, I feel ... like a toothy smile.

For a long time I ignored what I wanted, and I guess what I wanted was not to do something different but to do it for the right reasons. When I failed to acknowledge that inner dimension of life, my ambition and limbido and creativity dried up on me. Now it's making a come back. Perversely, refusing to walk to anything but my own drummer has not made my outward circumstance one bit easier. But it's made me whole again on the inside, and each day wholer, though it took many days of long empty self-doubt before it began coming back.

It's not that my situation has improved, it's that I look at it in a different way now. But it's not something that came out of a self-help book, ten tips to turning around your life - shaken not stirred. It came out of my unhappiness and disatisfaction and seeming stagnation, because these things were a signal to me that I wasn't happy with how things were going and I needed a change. It took a lot of time to process that, to rework my thinking, come to peace with the past at least partly - I've lived a lot longer than my years though I don't talk about it a lot and that's how I got the nickname 'oldman'. I had some nightmares in there, wrestled with my demons, bad dreams, old deeds, skeletons buried in my closet, crazy shit. I had to work through that too.

A lot of 'working through that' consisted of saying "Gee even though I was sure I was right, now I feel like I'm wrong. I suck."

Surprisingly the admission of the "I suck part" was liberating. Acknowledging failure let me learn from it. I love my family better now. I'm trying to be a better friend. Even though I didn't mean to, I hurt some people in past and I want to do better by them in the future. Admitting I was wrong, even if just to myself, also brought back a mischevious sense of adventure that had been missing for a long time. It was like the burden of old mistakes unacknowledged had been snuffing the fun and inventiveness out of how I did things. And ironically, after I had been like that for a while, I came up with better ways to do things - technically and personally.

I'm still not perfect, but I'm better and I feel better. I can't say that I will immediately spring back into action. I don't want to rush into restarting "my life". There's something original and mysterious about how all this intellectual good is coming out of the emotional sewers I'd been bathing in that I don't want to screw up by moving too suddenly. I want to keep the sense of discovery or perhaps I should say rediscovery back in my life, the sense of to hell with the world I'll do it my way and the odd sense of humbleness that I feel now toward those close to me - as if it were a fragile privilege to love them as well as I can.

There's something very nice about that I can't put into words, an innocence that I thought I'd lost a long time ago, and a peace of a time when I slept without bad dreams.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

As I predicted: Blunkett is back!!!

The end of the semester wasn't so much hell as prolonged tedium. For me it meant one last chance to cram a few more research interviews in. My curriculum writing project after dragging on FOREVER led to a conceptual breakthrough earlier on this year. I decided to base the first semester on a series of provocative questions based around the concept of an object falling freely.

For years I had been puzzled as to how Newton could have understood so much from the story of the apple dropping on his head. After a little bit of head scratching, I managed to use just a) the concept of center of mass b) dimensional measurements of distance, time, and mass and c)the observation of an object freely falling in order to derive basic mechanics in physics from parabolic motion to circular motion to everything inbetween.

Needless to say being able to report that we have such a promising approach and one not typical to textbooks but quite sound and traditional should reassure those guys down at NSF greatly.

There was one bit of news which I would like to gloat over. It turns out Blunkett is back.

Michael White, political editor
Saturday May 7, 2005
The Guardian

David Blunkett last night returned to the cabinet table with one of the hardest jobs Tony Blair could offer him, as a reforming works and pensions secretary who must tackle the thorny problems of invalidity and provision for old age.

Four months after resigning as home secretary after his affair with the publisher Kimberly Quinn, Mr Blunkett's appointment came in a reshuffle which saw the newly re-elected prime minister struggling to make his plans fit the colleagues he has at his disposal.

Earlier I had predicted Blunkett would have a brief vacation and then they would bring him back. So they did. So much for all that hand-wringing over his "resignation". A four month break from government is more like a unpaid extended vacation or personal leave than it is a resignation and "exile".

I'm sure it didn't hurt either that it turned out quite publicly and disasterously that his ex-girlfriend Miss Quinn turned out to be on quite tabloid terms displaying behavior of quite outrageous and salacious a nature. When the person smearing you turns up to be stinking to high heaven of lies and deceptions, then well I guess people take the charges less seriously. I reiterate my position that it is not the affair I mind in this mess, but the appalling and immature behavior on the part of the people involved.

So like I said, Blunkett is back. Blair interestinly has been chastised and that is all to the better. He will be a better Prime Minister for it as well.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Without power ideas mean nothing,

However power is not typically universally easy to obtain. As the old adage goes, if it were easy (and obvious) then everybody would be doing it. It might be easy for a few lucky persons who happen to have the right background and happen to be convenient to the general forces of politics, but in general it is not.

Even if one does have the right background, there are others who do also. Being born into the right family does not guarentee that one will become a political leader and even if one does there are others who are also competing. Be born a Bush and you might be President, governor, or maybe just a failed S&L banking executive. By any measure it still is not easy, simply in some cases more possible than others. Nixon and Clinton were both from impoverished or rocky households, but then again so far all our Presidents whatever their humble beginnings have been white men.

Therefore all power requires sacrifices. First it is not easy and then on top of that others are competing for it. This is a truism of every field and profession. However in cases of power it requires sacrifices beyond the discipline and competition itself and having purely to do with manipulating the rules of competition. This is how we can define politics. Politics is politics not merely because it requires sacrifices to master a subject or sacrifices to win a competition but it requires sacrifices in order to manipulate the rules of the system.

A university administrator or departmental provost usually starts out an academic just like other academics. However at some point in time they make a choice. This choice usually involves being offered some key responsibilities for Administration. In order to expand these, they curtail their scholarly teaching and research activities. It is difficult to have both a full scholarly career and to advance in administration. So there are two sacrifices already, one for the mastery of the subject of administration and the other for cutting back scholarly activities to improve the chances of advancement for bureaucratic openings. However this job has not itself yet become political. When the provost or administrator begins shaping their decisions not according to the bureaucratic rules they must master but to advance or maintain themselves in a more favorable light compared to other competitors for reasons outside the strict technical criteria of competition then this becomes political.

So what is the sacrifice in the political? It is freedom. The freedom to make choices about what is the best course to pursue. From this comes the maxim of 'power is its own policy'. Those who tend to rise within a system or stay within it are those who over time are willing to make compromises away from the best course of action and toward that which advances their position within the system. This is why John Kerry did not contest the votes in the Presidential election.

In one sense, it would have cost him little. First of all, he owed it to the people who had voted for him so that they would feel that they had their interests represented aggressively. Secondly, the American electoral system is flawed on a technical basis and forcing these flaws to be exposed would have assisted in its eventual reform. Thirdly, he was at the end of a long and distinguished career of public service. If he had been ostracized for prolonging the vote count and contesting the election it would have only meant a departure to a quite luxurious private life.

On one level, the tatical level his decision makes perfect sense. To understand why we have to refer to a previous historical case. It was the election of John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon. Nixon lost a very close election and did not choose to contest it. Years later, eight years later in fact, he would return and win the Presidency and in fact go on to win a second term (though of course he resigned partway through the second term).

We can contrast that with the case of Albert Gore. He ran a very close election with GWB. Even if the tally were accounted as the Bush campaign contends it is acknowledged that Gore won the popular vote and only lost the key electoral college Florida vote by a few hundred or thousand votes. In a system rife with errors that is a very small and shaky margin to lose by. However he contested the election and eventually conceded. In doing so he did all the right things from an ethical point of view, but he was still effectively exiled from political life.

To his side he was an embaressing failure and to the the other side he was an uneasy reminder of the shaky mandate and legitimacy of their standard bearer. So he started teaching college and grew a beard and spent more time with his family. Overall I would argue that he is happier, since being the President is no picnic but he was definitely the loser.

So John Kerry is a person who has spent his whole life making compromises to maintain viability. He thinks back to Nixon, and he considers what happened to Gore, and he quickly and quietly concedes defeat. However this begs two questions. The first is that if a person of John Kerry's stature and legacy of public service cannot make sacrifices of power on principle then who can feel free to do so? The second is that Nixon may indeed have become President, but the same monomaniacal focus on power and obtaining it led to the growth a paranoia that would make him cross the line and bring his own Presidency down over a "third rate burglary".

The very sacrifices the power entails: the sacrifices of principle, of opportunities elsewhere, and of public scrutiny cause the power to become very dear to the person. It is indeed what they have given up everything else for. Yet that power by the very nature of its compromised origin will always be beholden to the system that produced it. This is why year after year new persons in the mold of the idealistic "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" seek to go into government and in the end become a part of the system instead of changing it.

The reason is that that whose who won't play ball don't last that long and those that do play ball soon lose track of why they were doing it. They're like these major league baseball players that have competed and slaved an entire lifestime to get to the literal big leagues as far as pay and perks go and then become assholes because they forget why people liked watching baseball: because it was fun. This is why Lord Acton wrote power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. A collary should be that all power requires sacrifice, and the more power the more sacrifices, and the more is sacrificed for it the harder it is to let go of the power for its own sake.

The system can only change when those who obtain power at the greatest personal cost then sacrifice the power itself to change the system. To change the system means to change the basis of power. It means to undermine one's own power base. Changing the system is the only change that matters, because everything else is produced by the system. The purpose of power is to spend itself in order to make the world a better place. If you end up with power you can either cling to it or you can use it up for the knowledge that you've improved the world.

I'm not sure I know where this line of reasoning is going exactly. This line of thinking is somewhat personally disturbing. Perhaps the only justification for power is that it allows one to move from addressing symptoms and phenomenas and that it gives one the opportunity to address the systemic and root causes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Why I Made A Mistake and How I View it

I would like to apologize to any supporters of John Kerry, apparently I made a mistake when I accused him of blowing a spies' cover. Furthermore though I was careful enough to prevent attribution and source myself, the journalistic level of cover your ass work on BOPnews I was more loose here and wrongly attributed the CIA operative identity to be Otto Reich. I fully acknowledge these errors and would like to discuss what they reveal about my own state of mind.

I believe that if you make an error that you should acknowledge it. Furthermore since acknowledging it publicly is harder because of the feedback of social scrutiny I believe that it is more important to acknowledge errors publicly than it is privately. Admitting errors privately simply is the price of belonging to the "reality-based community". Admitting errors publicly is the price of leadership.

My conclusions about this were formed a long time ago when I first began my search for the truth. I had this radical proposition that if one was seeking the truth, then the voyage would begin by being truthful. I know it sounds almost simple minded. Apparently it was a method that so far had been almost untried by the various philosophers of truth.

Instead of holding forth and dialoging and arguing about what I thought was truth, I would simply start by being as truthful as possible. Well it sounds straight forward but it wasn't. It started a multi-decade journey that I have still not finished and brought me all sorts of trouble.

For instance like everyone else, I occasionally tell white lies. However my commitment to the truth made me try to minimize these and to at the very least face up to the reasons why I would tell them. It was uncomfortable and it was sometimes quite embaressing, but it made me supremely aware of the difference between our self image and our projected social image and how our sense of identity was bound up in them. It also cost me a few relationships and jobs.

This didn't mean that I was uniformly and unerringly honest, but like a asymptope over time I started with some deviations here and there to approach it. Moreover it forced me to be over time the kind of person who could take public scrutiny without psychologically collapsing.

Another challenge I ran into was the standard of epistemology I was going to pursue. Was truth going to be defined in a factual and scientific way? At first this seemed like an objective way to approach things. However over time I found that while I could argumentatively win discussions and I could in a legalistic fashion tie other people up in knots that there was a difference between argument and reality.

That is simply because someone had a wrong rationale did not mean that they were wrong. It also meant that just because I had a technically correct argument I learned that didn't mean that I had all the facts about their situation. I learned that if I did not try to understand people, try to see where they were coming from, whether or not their arguments made sense then I could end up hurting people or their feelings. That was a very hard lesson for me.

In addition, not all truth could be reduced to scientific evidence or legalistic proof. This became apparent once I investigated the limitations of logical positivism and the nature of Godel's incompleteness theorem. Any logical system of thought has underlying assumptions that cannot be derived from the system. This means that any form of rationality is inherently an aesthetic rather than epistemological choice. You can critique certain systems of thought as being more or less consistent internally or externally with experience, but beyond that there are certain choices which are purely aesthetic and arbitrary. The layperson would call these things "values" erroneously but you get the idea.

Furthermore through the process of simply trying everyday to live with the truth, not an easy burden as it required constant self examination and investigation of hidden assumptions, and living through a few quite harsh moments of revelation where my assumptions crumbled about me brought me into contact with strange places and people. I learned that almost no one thinks of themselves as evil. Evil is the label we give to either self-consciously perverse behavior or to behavior by others that is antisocial in our estimation. Saddam Hussein let me assure you simply thought of himself as having made the best of his environment and was a misunderstood guy.

There is something called General Attribution Error. In psychology this means that people tend to blame the character of a person rather than failing to see that the choices were relative to their environment. I do not think that this absolves the individual of responsibility, but certainly without carrying it to the extreme that we are all "victims of our environment" or "helpless prisoners of our nature" that the primary characteristic from my point of view of human behavior is not morality.

After all everybody thinks for the most part that they are doing the best that they can. I'm sure even Paul Pot thought that. No instead what I see as the primary characterstic of people are ignorance, short-sightedness, and rigidity of thinking. People cannot solve their problems constructively and so they resort to highly negative fashions of externalizing their frustrations. I apply this to the sociopaths.

I mean is it really in the best interest of the sociopath to commit crimes which are nasty, risky, and have a large social opprobrium? If they want to kill somebody they can just become a mercenary or soldier and get the same thrill. As a matter of fact I have met some soldiers who were no more than just relatively well behaived sociopaths. You could even argue that it is a variably expressed trait in a population of a ambivalent social behavior trait. In a dog-eat-dog world being able to kill someone without remorse to a certain extent, as long as it doesn't get out of hand, can actually be a useful trait. However modern society has less and less room for such individuals. In Rome's gladiator pits or on the frontier subduing the provinces in the empire some two thousand years ago this kind of individual would have fit right in.

This doesn't excuse such individuals however. To borrow a bit from Star Trek, what defines humanity is not what it is but its struggle to be more than it was. Each person is given a nature and certain opportunities. It is up to them and up to society to attempt to transcend these circumstances and make something constructive, always wary of our own flaws, out of the original legacy which is always less than perfect and characterized by temptations and weaknesses.

From my perspective, people are always making mistakes but they rarely learn from them or attempt to redress them. Their particular beliefs are almost irrelevant. Left, right, capitalistic, socialist, good, evil, popes, kings, janitors, and tyrants they're all trying their best and at the same time rather narrow minded and rigid and rarely learning from their mistakes. This doesn't mean they're all the same. Some are better than others at trying to improve themselves and some are better than others at managing their flaws constructively.

What did I learn from my mistake? I learned that I had an emotional feeling that I detested John Kerry because I felt that he didn't fight hard enough after the election. I detested him for it because I felt that even at the end of a long and honored career he felt it apparently more important to preserve his status within the system than to sacrifice his own personal good for the common cause. I detested him because I felt that if at the end of such a long and honored career and with such a relatively light penalty - ending a career to go into private life at the same time when most people retire - that he could not sacrifice then who or when or how was there going to be a time when someone could do it? If he could not do it with so little to lose then when would be the time when someone could do it?

Furthermore I detested him because he put himself forth as a leader of courage and conviction but he folded without a fight for what I believe to be to merely cling to power. I think he would have lost, but that his fighting would have made a difference in improving the American electoral system.

I do not pretend that such a choice would have been easy. I know my own agony over clinging to things that I thought mine by right when the soul prompts another path. However that is what divides human beings from animals. Animals are often nicer than human beings, but they cannot help but be what they are. Human beings are sentient, ensouled, precisely because we have free will. And free will is ability to mold our characters by going against the grain, by refusing the obvious or path of least resistance, and the ability to define who and what we will be.

Yet because I detested his failure I was too quick to believe an accusation against him without checking it out. Recognizing this taught me that I still have work to do on striving to be neutral and objective, and judging issues by their merits as opposed to my estimation of the character of the person. The act however of admitting this, of forcing myself to think about it and reconcile it with my actions, of bringing to the crisis point of decision making consciousness is the very act of changing myself for the better. The next time a similar situation comes up, I will be slightly more cautious and a bit more patient in assigning blame. It may be almost subliminal but forcing myself to face this will have changed me ever so slightly.

The price of the quest for truth is being truthful. The reward for the quest for truth is insight. It is painful to force ourselves to not just be aware of our flaws but to force ourselves to examine the aspects of ourselves that lead to such mistakes. However that very consciousness illumines our own minds and allows us to take control of our own beings instead of being thoughtless products of them. It is no different from closing or opening your hand.

First you become aware of it. Then you become aware of how it is connected to you. Then you simply will it to open or close. So childishly easy and taken for granted commonly, until accident or disease interpose a barrier to such connection.

I am still prone I think to thinking the worst of people, that is something I think I shall have to work on.