It’s not much of a choice for Americans come November 4

Thalia Mendoza has h...

Shaun Carney: “Every political contest is a question of relativities — as in, which candidate do I dislike least? — and when John McCain and Barack Obama went mano a mano for the first time in the presidential debate on Saturday morning our time, it gradually became clear that American voters will face a genuine dilemma on November 4. Both candidates are a substantial risk and a further sign that the political system of the world’s most powerful nation is not functioning very well.” (age.com.au)


This is being circulated by email:

U.S. Republican pre...

It was just before John McCain’s last run at the presidential nomination in 2000 that my husband and I vacationed in Turtle Island in Fiji with John McCain, Cindy, and their children, including Bridget (their adopted Bangladeshi child).
It was not our intention, but it was our misfortune to be in close quarters with John McCain for almost a week, since Turtle Island has a small number of bungalows and their focus on communal meals force all vacationers who are there at the same time to get to know each other intimately.

He arrived at our first group meal and started reading quotes from a pile of William Faulkner books with a forest of Post-Its sticking out of them. As an English Literature major myself, my first thought was “if he likes this so much, why hasn’t he memorized any of this yet?” I soon realized that McCain actually thought we had come on vacation to be a volunteer audience for his “readings” which then became a regular part of each meal. Out of politeness, none of the vacationers initially protested at this intrusion into their blissful holiday, but people’s buttons definitely got pushed as the readings continued day after day.

Unfortunately this was not his only contribution to our mealtime entertainment. He waxed on during one meal about how Indo-Chine women had the best figures and that our American corn-fed women just couldn’t meet up to this standard. He also made it a point that all of us should stop Cindy from having dessert as her weight was too high and made a few comments to Amy, the 25 year old wife of the honeymooning couple from Nebraska that she should eat less as she needed to lose weight.
McCain’s appreciation of the beauty of Asian women was so great that David the American economist had to move his Thai wife to the other side of the table from McCain as McCain kept aggressively flirting with and touching her.

Needless to say I was irritated at his large ego and his rude behavior towards his wife and other women, but decided he must have some redeeming qualities as he had adopted a handicapped child from Bangladesh. I asked him about this one day, and his response was shocking: “Oh, that was Cindy’s idea – I didn’t have anything to do with it. She just went and adopted this thing without even asking me. You can’t imagine how people stare when I wheel this ugly, black thing around in a shopping cart in Arizona . No, it wasn’t my idea at all.”

I actively avoided McCain after that, but unfortunately one day he engaged me in a political discussion which soon got us on the topic of the active US bombing of Iraq at that time. I was shocked when he said, “If I was in charge, I would nuke Iraq to teach them a lesson”. Given McCain’s personal experience with the horrors of war, I had expected a more balanced point of view. I commented on the tragic consequences of the nuclear attacks on Japan during WWII –- but no, he was not to be dissuaded. He went on to say that if it was up to him he would have dropped many more nuclear bombs on Japan. I rapidly extricated myself from this conversation as I could tell that his experience being tortured as a POW didn’t seem to have mellowed out his perspective, but rather had made him more aggressive and vengeful towards the world.

My final encounter with McCain was on the morning that he was leaving Turtle Island. Amy and I were happily eating pancakes when McCain arrived and told Amy that she shouldn’t be having pancakes because she needed to lose weight. Amy burst into tears at this abusive comment. I felt fiercely protective of Amy and immediately turned to McCain and told him to leave her alone. He became very angry and abusive towards me, and said, “Don’t you know who I am.” I looked him in the face and said, “Yes, you are the biggest asshole I have ever met” and headed back to my cabin. I am happy to say that later that day when I arrived at lunch I was given a standing ovation by all the guests for having stood up to McCain’s bullying.
Although I have shared my McCain story informally with friends, this is the first time I am making this public. I almost did so in 2000, when McCain first announced his bid for the Republican nomination, but it soon became apparent that George Bush was the shoo-in candidate and so I did not act then. However, now that there is a very real possibility that McCain could be elected as our next president, I feel it is my duty as an American citizen to share this story. I can’t imagine a more scary outcome for America than that this abusive, aggressive man should lead our nation. I have observed him in intimate surroundings as he really is, not how the media portrays him to be. If his attitudes toward women and his treatment of his own family are even a small indicator of his real personality, then I shudder to think what will happen to America were he to be elected as our President.

Mary-Kay Gamel
Professor of Classics, Comparative Literature, and Theater Arts
Cowell College
University of California, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, California 95064
831-459-2381 (office); 831-429-8803 (home)

Important to circulate if true, but it sounded abit over-the-top and stereotyped (e.g. the comment about their adopted child) so I wrote to Dr. Gamel for verification. She denies writing the piece but knows who does and, curiously, doesn’t address directly why her name was attached to it:

Friends: Little did I think when I forwarded this story to four or five friends on 16 September that I would be identified as the author or receive so many questions. Some of you have clearly received the email without the preface attached. Most simply ask whether the story is true, some praise “my” courage, some angrily accuse me of distortion and lies.

I’m sorry that I did not check the story more carefully before forwarding it. I am paying for my mistake by sending this clarification to every person who contacts me. Here’s as much of the truth as I know:

First of all, I did not write this story. Here is the preface to the story as I received and forwarded it:

To: Mary-Kay Gamel
Date: Tue, 16 Sep 2008 11:13:22 -0400
—– Forwarded Message —-
From: Kate Marianchild <katem@mcn.org>
Sent: Sunday, September 14, 2008
Subject: My Holiday with John McCain: a first-hand account
(Note from Kate: This shocking account was written by Ana Dubey, a friend of my cousin and her husband, who have known Ana for many years. Ana has a PhD in psychology and has a private practice in San Francisco . My cousin’s husband went to business school with Ana’s husband, who has since started and sold a number of successful companies. Ana’s husband is currently a Managing Director of a private equity firm in the Bay Area. Ana and her husband are not political activists and don’t have any personal ax to grind. In fact, in writing this account of her experience with John McCain, Ana is acting outside of her own economic self-interest as she and her husband are among the top 3-5% of our population who would benefit from the McCain tax/economic policies. Please pass this on to anyone you know who might vote for John McCain. Also please post it on blogs and send it to newspapers and radio stations.)

I am not Ana Dubey (whose full name, I believe, is Anasuya Dubey, apparently the daughter of a former Indian Consul in San Francisco). I gather that Turtle Island costs $2000/day–I could never afford such a holiday. After the email was further forwarded and people wrote with questions, I wrote to Kate Marianchild. Here is our exchange:

Dear Ms. Marianchild: I got your email with the shocking story and forwarded it. Some recipients are questioning it. I googled Ana Dubey and got a husband/wife team who run a bakery in Honolulu. Can you assure me that Ana Dubey really is a psychologist in San Francisco?


Yes, I can assure you of that. She is a private person and psychologist. And perhaps you can send this on to your friends:

Dear Friends,

Everyone is asking to talk to Ana Dubey or receive a direct email from her validating the “Holiday with John McCain” story. I emailed Ana and asked her how to handle all the correspondence I was receiving. She didn’t reply to me, which is understandable as we have never met and I am sure she is totally besieged with emails right now. I don’t feel comfortable forwarding lots of emails to her or giving out her email address.

However, I did forward one email – one I received from Frances Moore Lappe (author of Diet for a Small Planet, Food First, Democracy’s Edge, Hope’s Edge, Getting a Grip, and etc, and founder of the Small Planet Institute – http://www.smallplanet.org). Frances (aka Frankie), said she would like to pursue the story by talking to Ana, and that she would distribute it if she were convinced it was authentic.

Here’s what I just received from Frankie (Frances) Lappe. If you still have doubts perhaps you can contact Frankie, as she is a more public person than I believe Ana to be.

Kate Marianchild

I just spoke with Ana, who was wonderful.
Sounds like NBC is on it. Sure hope an interview gets aired.
Thank you so much for asking her to call me. I admire Ana very much.

Frances Moore Lappé
Small Planet Institute
25 Mt Auburn St., Suite 203
Cambridge MA 02138
617.441.6300 x 115

I have not contacted Ms. Lappe, and the story is still quite uncertain. As a reader of texts I think it has the ring of truth (especially given McCain’s well-documented temper). Some have questioned the idea of McCain shopping and pushing his then no longer infant adopted daughter in a shopping cart, but those could have been references to earlier times. Presumably the holiday took place in December 1999, and some have pointed out that the US was not at war with Iraq then, but bombing raids based on the sanctions were being carried out. The NEW YORKER portrait of Cindy McCain attests that the adoption of Bridget was indeed her idea. And so forth.

There are various sites where the story is being discussed. There is a lot of corroborating information at http://thebruceblog.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/my-holiday-with-mccain-oh-lord-i-cant-wait-till-this-gets-verified/.

There is much discussion on the web about the veracity of this meme, e.g. here. And here is what a Google search on “Ana Dubey OR Anasuya Dubey” will reveal. In summary, it seems too farfetched to believe, but just barely. As my friend Julia, who originally forwarded the email to me, observed, we’ve all had conversations with idiots like the man McCain is made out to be here. I’m saddened by this; McCain will hoist himself by his own petard easily enough without such scurrilousness.


Democracy on the Wane?

//...In country after country, democratic reforms are in retreat. The surprising culprit: the middle class. This Boston Globe article is quite shabbily argued. Beginning from the recent massive populist uprising against the government in Bangkok, the author opines:

“The events unfolding in Thailand are part of a gathering global revolt against democracy. In 2007, the number of countries with declining freedoms exceeded those with advancing freedoms by nearly four to one, according to a recent report by Freedom House, an organization that monitors global democracy trends.

And the villains, surprisingly enough, are the same people who supposedly make democracy possible: the middle class. Traditional theories of democratization, such as those of Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, predict a story of middle class heroics: As a country develops a true middle class, these urban, educated citizens insist on more rights in order to protect their economic and social interests. Eventually, as the size of the middle class grows, those demands become so overwhelming that democracy is inevitable. But now, it appears, the middle class in some nations has turned into an antidemocratic force. Young democracy, with weak institutions, often brings to power, at first, elected leaders who actually don’t care that much about upholding democracy. As these demagogues tear down the very reforms the middle classes built, those same middle classes turn against the leaders, and then against the system itself, bringing democracy to collapse.”

An alternate way to read these events is that the protests are not antidemocratic at all, but rather protests against the sort of pseudo-democracy that has been foisted off as an excuse for the real thing for a long time… at least since the West “won” the Cold War. These forces are antidemocratic in the same sense that Bush says the terrorists hate us because we are free. Our smugness about our “freedom” lulls us into a false complacency; Americans should be taking to the streets over the sham that passes for democracy here as well. It has long been evident that the US is at the pinnacle of perfection of authoritarian social control, so subtle that its victims do not even know they are being controlled. Maybe, in places like Thailand, it is just done more clumsily, so that the remaining capacity for outrage in the middle classes can be mobilized as it cannot here?



Auto Anthropomorphism

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Human Or Animal Faces Associated With At Least 90 Percent Of Cars By One-third Of Population: “Do people attribute certain personality traits or emotions to car fronts? If so, could this have implications for driving and pedestrian behavior? Truls Thorstensen (EFS Consulting Vienna), Karl Grammer (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Urban Ethology) and other researchers at the University of Vienna joined economic interest with evolutionary psychology to answer these questions.

The research project investigates our perception of automotive designs, and whether and how these findings correspond to the perception of human faces.

Throughout evolution, humans have developed an ability to collect information on people’s sex, age, emotions, and intentions by looking at their faces. The authors suggest that this ability is probably widely used on other living beings and maybe even on inanimate objects, such as cars. Although this theory has been proposed by other authors, it has not yet been investigated systematically. The researchers therefore asked people to report the characteristics, emotions, personality traits, and attitudes that they ascribed to car fronts and then used geometric morphometrics to calculate the corresponding shape information.

One-third of the subjects associated a human or animal face with at least 90 percent of the cars. All subjects marked eyes (headlights), a mouth (air intake/grille), and a nose in more than 50 percent of the cars. Overall, people agreed which type of car possesses certain traits. The authors found that people liked cars most which had a wide stance, a narrow windshield, and/or widely spaced, narrow headlights. The better the subjects liked a car, the more it bore shape characteristics corresponding to high values of what the authors termed “power”, indicating that both men and women like mature, dominant, masculine, arrogant, angry-looking cars.” (Science Daily)

I’m glad that’s settled. I have always, since I was a child, seen facial expressions on the fronts of cars and ascribed an emotional valence to each one. I always wondered how common that was. Up to now, my only clue was that my daughter once commented that she saw cars that way as well. It makes evolutionary sense, given the importance of figuring out what stance to take vis a vis an approaching stranger. The machinery of facial recognition takes up a disproportionate volume of the cortex. In fact, I have previously written here about the accumulating evidence that those with autism process human faces with their object-recognition circuitry, not the facial-recognition areas. This anthropomorphism is in a way the flip side of the coin. (I wonder if people with autism see facial expressions in cars…)


How to Land a 747

Kottke pointed me to this checklist, presumably if you are the civilian closest to the cockpit when the captain suddenly keels over. But also, probably, useful to the would-be hijackers among you. I’m going to store this with the other electronic memos I carry around with me for ready access at any time.