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I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing that ever interfered with my learning was my education. I am Freeman Dyson, and I approve of this blog, but would warn the author that life as a heretic is a hard one, since the ignorant and the half informed, let alone those who should know better, will automatically trash their betters who try to enlighten them with independent thinking, as I have found to my sorrow in commenting on "global warming" and its cures.
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Obama off to a fast start, meets reality head on

February 7th, 2009

Natural aristocrat, thoughtful visionary takes over in spirit of democratic leadership

Concern for all replaces concern for few; ideals of America reasserted

But worries mount that he has steep learning curve on system

Why it matters to us that Obama sees full extent of financial corruption

Now that two million tearful celebrants of the unexpected ascension of their young (47), cool, calm, tall, slim, well educated, authoritative, direct, professorial, handsome, ladykiller, loving, ambitious, clever, sensible, reasonable, analytical, congenial, determined, idealistic, practical, nonpartisan, centrist, tough minded, bold, venturesome, responsible, mature, original, curious, thorough, literate, aristocratically caring and trusting black and white global celebrity Presidential Prophet and Savior have returned to their daily and increasingly jobless lives to await rescue from the White House, we can analyze how likely that is.

Will the unlucky of this nation and the world be saved by our new Miracle Worker on Pennsylvania Avenue or will they not?

Obama maps his meta-intentions

Now that it has receded into history for three weeks, we see that Obama’s speech may not match Lincoln’s as one for the ages, but it was finely phrased and serves very well as a set of banners of principle and intent under which his administration will now march. Listened to in attentive silence by the huge crowd, it is worth reading over again to savor its supreme common sense, especially if you were as distracted at the time as we were by the circus ring excitement that attended the Hope filled enthroning of our new political Headmaster in executive government.

We found the well staged Inauguration and party (well staged except for those in the purple ticket holding tunnel) quite thrilling in many ways, large and small – the sense that an outsider had ridden into town and become sheriff, the irony of verbal stumbling by the Chief Justice, Michelle Obama’s romantic, one strap bridal dress, the remarkably, almost Heavenly peaceful mood in which no one at all was arrested, and especially the lovely John Williams “Air and Simple Gifts” composition, played so exquisitely by Yo-Yo Ma and his colleagues.

All in all, a splendid incarnation of the group fantasy which Obama has generated in the American mind, to which we wholeheartedly subscribe. Have we changed our mind since? Not at all!

True, we are glad we didn’t know at the time the music was actually tape recorded two days before in case the musicians’ instruments split in the cold. The intruments they pretended to play were not even the priceless antiques they usually play on, but cheaper modern ones, and not even the strange carbon fiber ones promised to withstand the freeze. But every musical performance at big events these days is pre-recorded, it seems, from the Olympics to the Super Bowl, so one shouldn’t complain.

Admittedly, also, we were slightly taken back to learn that Jon Favreau, the 27 year old chief speechwriter, had sat in Starbucks and drafted the speech for Obama before our new writer-author-philosopher President made it his own, in the manner of painters of old.

However, this only makes us sure that if Obama had had more time to write his own first draft, he would have matched Lincoln himself. It was probably his forced dependence on Favreau that made the final result a tad too sober, grounding what otherwise would have been a full flight of divine inspiration.

Obama inauguration: Words of history … crafted by 27-year-old in Starbucks • Chief speechwriter known as president’s mind reader • Young aide studied past inaugural orations (Guardian UK)

In composing the high notes of the speech, Obama has leant on Favreau, whom he discovered almost by chance four years ago when the younger man was working on John Kerry’s failed presidential bid. “Favs” has since studied Obama’s speech patterns and cadences with the intensity of a stalker. He memorised the 2004 speech to the Democratic national convention which first brought Obama into the limelight. He is said to carry Obama’s autobiography, Dreams From My Father, wherever he goes. As a result, last November when Favreau sat down to write the first draft of the inaugural address, he could conjure up his master’s voice as if an accomplished impersonator.

In fact, the only flaw in the proceedings we detected, apart from the incident where people who had traveled great distances to attend this once in a lifetime event with purple tickets were held underground until it was over, was the use of Lincoln’s bible for the oath of office, which surely in the 21st Century should be replaced by a copy of the Constitution.

Where's the bible now?  Roberts tries again

Perhaps that overlap of church and state was what caused the brain of the great expert on the Constitution, Chief Justice Roberts, to short circuit and fumble the oath. But this accident only gave Obama, in his Christ-like way, a chance to exercise his divine kindness and forgive the sin by adopting it himself, ie save Roberts from embarrassment by also displacing the word “faithfully” from the verb it qualified.

That they later had to do the whole thing over again in the White House (this time without a bible, we see from this official picture) to placate conservatives who worried he wasn’t really President yet, after all, only emphasized that Obama’s natural breeding is on the level of true aristocracy, something which bodes well for a country in need of it in governance.

Barack’s red, blue white and black America

Here in tribute to our new writer-home office-thoughtful-outsider-natural aristocrat president – finally, a president with whom we can identify in many ways! – are what we think are the finest excerpts from his historic text, best because they delineate a correction in philosophical perspective, an upgrading of values and a return to the America founded by men fundamentally wiser than recent Presidents:

THE TABLET OF OBAMA

We will clear up the Mess; the challenges left by Bush will be met :

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights. Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.

At last, a 21st Century approach to problems that are now global in extent and shared between all nations, and as such must be addressed on a communal level nationally and globally, setting aside the dim witted and narrow minded petty ideologies which still inspire most political opinion in the US today, especially those who do not Believe.

The end of political id and ethical ego: Grow Up America!

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness…

A new, non-partisan vision for America to replace the time worn cliches of the cynics whose statistical analyses – such as the campaign analyses which said a black could not win the Presidency – are no longer relevant, transcended by a new spirit of Kennedy-esque national community spirit in which all hang together instead of hanging separately while trying to hang each other.

Confidence fuels the economy, so let’s refill the tank:

We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed.

In thoughts reminiscent of Maynard Keynes, who tried to lead the world out of the Great Depression by advocating governments boost spending, Obama is aware of the great difference between monetary activity and real production in economics, that we are potentially as productive as ever in real terms, and that the key to recovery and the future is how to run the great US engine of productivity on fuel other than Wall Street fantasy and highway robbery, and (we hope that Obama meant this, since his actions don’t seem to have always reflected it since) we will restore confidence and output with government spending that gets real income moving, rather than just pushing money at bankers and CEOs who can pocket it faster than the eye can see, without interrupting a downward spiralling deflation that could lead to a decade of depression.

Let’s recover our 21st Century economy with job-based investment in the future from rebuilding bridges to greening and connecting America:

The state of our economy calls for action: bold and swift. And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its costs. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age…

We will restore science to its rightful pedestal and base our economic future on repairing the tumble down infrastructure of America left languishing by President Bush and expanding the sectors which will count in the future, such as the greening of America and making every major town and city a free hotspot, led by a Blackberry wielding President who knows how to connect.

The fact that email stopped working at the White House for a whole day, and that for two days Obama’s biography appeared at the top of any google search for “miserable failure” (since the new tech staff failed to switch off the link bomb that made Google searches for “failure” and “miserable failure” lead to Bush’s bio at whitehouse.gov) does not for one moment dent our faith in our new President as hip to tech needs.

The end of cynicism

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government. Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched. But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

The restoration of democratic values such as transparency and accessibility in government, equality of opportunity and restraint of exploitation by the wealthy, will bring the return of trust in America and reignite the economy, led by a government and Congressional system repaired and brought up to speed by a new president whose nature and skills are miraculously fitted to the task.

A bridle on markets :

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched. But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.


The power of personal gain to generate productive output in unmatched, and Obama is well aware of the importance of free markets, but the extreme of capitalism totally off the leash has drained brains and resources from more socially productive arenas to Wall Street, and now that the Masters of the Universe have crashed and burned amid prosecutions for fraud and massive government bailout, a proper balance between greed and ethics must be restored, including bringing the population at large back into the prosperity created.

Defense with principle under law

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more. Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Obama repudiates Bush’s use of extreme violence in waging war on terrorism and ushers back on stage the traditional America of democratic ideals and humane ethics where this country set a good example to the world and dominated with diplomacy and soft power more effectively than it can ever rule with bunkerbusters and torture. Without such moral leadership, America cannot permanently suppress or defuse the antagonism its selfish gains arouse in the less successful parts of the world.

Coming together

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. .We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace. To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

As already indicated, we will now lead the way to peace and prosperity with a more cooperative and constructive communal approach at home and abroad, which excludes tyrants and aggressors but welcomes even atheists.

Rescuing the needy :

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we have already indicated repeatedly, a new era of noblesse oblige will replace primitive and selfish Bush nationalism and privileged materialism with a more sophisticated and responsive government which aims to help the weak in every nation and leads humanity in conquering poverty and injustice by sharing our resources.

The spirit of service :

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.
We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service: a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all. For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break; the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate…


Extending the riff even further yet again, Obama calls on us, in the same spirit as Kennedy and his Peace Corps, to ask what we can do for America, rather what America can do for us.

Citizens unite!:

What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task. This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

Aux armes, citoyens! A call to spiritual arms to deal with the moral and material mess which is the Bush legacy, which enormous, 9/11 times one hundred size smoking Pancake yet may prove so great and hard to rebuild that it will sabotage all the Hope that Obama has engendered.

Obama’s own message, and he means it

Fine, stern but rousing rhetoric, telling us the outlines of where Obama promises to lead. Does Obama mean it? Surely he does. Obama wrote the speech himself, even if it was drafted for him, so we take it as scripture for a Presidency in which he will implement the spirit in which it was finished. Maybe not a road map, which would be premature in the circumstances, but a set of banners under which the men and women of the White House, the Congress, the civil service and the nation he leads will now march, regardless of what may stand in the way.

Obama’s message is convincingly sincere because it it is his own, and has not changed from the beginning. Colleagues say it is the same from his early days on the streets of Chicago. One of the reasons Obama’s campaign was successful, his campaign managers have said, is that they didn’t have to work on the message. Unlike other politicians whose campaign writers adapt their speeches from polls, Obama always knew what he wanted to say from the beginning.

He had a genuine vision for America coming together and reestablishing its ideals, and as he said when he was elected, now “change has come to America”, in the form of this man and his vision, now empowered.

Obama takes charge

So will these generalities be implemented successfully? After three weeks the jury is still out, of course, but it has become clear that Obama’s divine vision has already encountered some very human difficulties and frustrating bumps in the road.

Having unnerved his liberal supporters who expect Change by forming a Cabinet of Experience ie of Clinton and Bush retreads, the shirt sleeved President Obama got off to a flying start initiating promised action on major fronts – transparency of government, Guantanemo ethics, bombing Pakistan, bipartisan economic rescue etc. But since then things seem to have bogged down a bit as Obama encounters the reality of the system in place in Washington.

It is not just that he has been embarrassed by the number of his Cabinet selections who seem to have forgotten to pay their full taxes or in Daschle’s case peddled influence too blatantly after losing his seat, or that Obama has been shocked – shocked! – to find that fat cat kleptomania is rife on Wall Street even after a bailout by taxpayers.

It is more that the spirit of bipartisan cooperation in finding a quick surgical fix, however radical, for the near death of the economy seems to have quickly evaporated in Congress as both as both Republicans and Democrats challenge whether his currently $930 billion rescue plan is aimed well enough at reviving an patient whose pulse is fading as deflation gathers momentum.

<b>Obama in papier mache by art student</b>

In other words, there is now some sense that Obama may not pull off the grand fantasy he excited in the minds and hearts of his greatest supporters, despite his good intentions. The fear is that Obama as naive idealist may founder in centrism and compromise, and stumble from leadership inexperience at the top level. After all, he is already apologizing for “screwing up”.

So some wonder, is Obama too good for his own good? Does he understand how much may be concealed beneath the surface of those who have risen in politics and business without his own vision of the civic good, and his own confident and highly accomplished nature? Does he judge others with too high a measure of goodwill, as it were, even though he easily mastered the roughhouse of Chicago black politics?

Obama will “do it”

All this remains to be seen, and opinions are two a penny. For our part we dare to say there is nothing to worry even though a tug of war between what Obama genuinely seeks and what he can win from others seems already to be a reality. We still have faith that this man is the best possible captain to steer the listing ship of state off the political and economic rocks that the inattentive Bush crew, busy playing Monopoly in the Captain’s cabin, as it were, navigated onto and back it into deeper water and a safe harbor.

Everything so far still indicates to us that he is a man of character with exceptional powers of mind and vision, whose rapid emergence and ascent has marked him as a man of destiny. We expect him to succeed in leadership as well as he has succeeded in everything else, unless he is hounded by exceptional bad luck.

Obama’s success secret

<b>Obama maps the levers of power

Added to this, however, there is another reason for faith in Obama achieving control, one that suggests he will get what he wants on the national and international level as well as he got it on the urban and state level.

It is that Obama’s political education contains an important element – the analysis of power he studied and taught in Chicago which has born such rich fruit in his political career. Obama is a student of power, who has it and how to get it, and he has implemented his knowledge brilliantly so far.

So we believe that the kind of concerns that are being raised at the moment are short term, arising from the task he has now of analyzing the power structure of the Washington system which he is encountering for the first time from the top, and working out how to manipulate its levers.

And after all, the chief characteristic of Obama’s approach to all kinds of political problems, as clearly described in The Audacity of Hope, is balance and comprehension. He will take in all sides of an issue before seeing his way through.

Learning the controls

Inevitably some worry this ability to see all points of view – the right, the left, the market oriented, the income equalizing, the Keynesian, the conservative, all the points of an issue and the carrots and sticks relevant to it -and to listen to one and all in forming his understanding, even his foes – will translate into compromise and trying to please everybody. But clearly Obama makes up his own mind and steers his own course even in crisis, as he proved in dealing with Rev Wright with his speech on race, which none of his campaign advisors suggested and some feared would sink him.

Moreover, his choice of Cabinet officers has demonstrated that their political color is all the same to him, right or left. He remains transcendent, just as he did not allow the predictable cacophony that arose from liberal bloggers to change his course on staff selection, however disenchanted they might sound, as for example at This Can’t Be Happening.

If there is any new thinking going on in the new Obama White House, it seems focused on ways to neuter the progressive forces that put him in that building in the first place. In this, Obama is running true to form for a Democratic president. Traditionally, at least since the days of the New Deal, Democrats have run for office promising progressive government, and have then run away from their promises as quickly as possible. The difference with Obama is that he is betraying his base faster than any of his predecessors. His latest appointment of New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg as Commerce Secretary is a case in point—a man deeply conservative, opposed to the very existence of the Commerce Department he will head, and to top it off, Obama worked out a deal to have the Democratic governor of New Hampshire fill Gregg’s vacated Senate seat with a Republican appointee, forfeiting the right to add a Democrat to the Senate and eliminate any chance of Republican filibusters.

Above all, Obama is simply interested in “what works”, and takes from all sides in his determined attempt to reach a transcendent synthesis.

What we think is the matter is simply that it is early yet for Obama in mastering the controls of the Washington system, a very large plane he hasn’t yet flown far on his long journey. And that plane, like the economy, is one he has pledged to reshape in mid flight.

The one part of his performance that gives us pause is his rush to put the second half of the bank bailout through without any more control than before, and the widespread doubts that his stimulus package is targeted in the right places to cause the quick response Obama insists he is looking for.

While we haven’t yet reviewed the current revisions of his stimulus package, which we will do in our next post which will summarize the shape of the current decline and outlook, these widespread complaints suggest that Obama may not himself have come up with the wording of his speech which so well emphasized the need to “create new jobs” now.

Could it have been the 27 year old in Starbucks? We hope not.

Why it matters to this science commentary site

All this of course is mostly none of our business, since even those embedded in Washington cannot hope to predict the outcome even in the short run as the hitherto irresistible force of Obama meets the long immovable rock of the Washington system.

We are forced to post on it only as background to discussing the economic outlook, nowadays a great influence on science politics, and as relevant to the very distant possibility, if there is one, that Obama in his effort to reform a very undemocratic Washington and Wall Street, may one day decide to investigate the one place where both these systems of corruption have invaded science, namely HIV/AIDS, where a blatantly questionable paradigm rules only thanks to their non-scientific influence.

Perhaps one day he will decide that this is a fruitful area for review if only to “lower its costs”.


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