Wednesday, June 08, 2005


I'll be honest: I expect presidents to be masters of guile.

If I were enduring a lawsuit, I would want the shrewdest lawyer in the land to represent me. And whoever represents my country must be shrewd too. Just about every president I can think of was a master at cunningness. They were artists of triple entendre; of evasion, persuasion, and the percipient shell game of power diplomacy.

One notable exception of the shrewd president is Jimmy Carter, the 'Sorrowful President,' who treated his job like he was the Psychologist-in-Chief. I joke sometimes that President Carter should've been impeached just because he was so stolidly honest. How many times did he give away our nation's hand at the poker table?

European leaders are guileful too. Are the EU and countries like France and Germany built on a foundation of truthful, soul-rending and confessional leadership? Hardly. Chirac and Schroeder's impeccable political credentials are dripping with deceit and power mongering. Those guys are even playing against each other, not just us. And really, I hardly expect less. That's The Game. Their oily credentials made them the powerhouses that they are. For better and for worse.

Nixon's executioners, Woodward and Bernstein, and Clinton's, Drudge and Isikoff, received their journalistic pedigrees by skillfully shooting off the presidential fig leaf. Since then, that seems to be the hunting sport of journalist and citizen alike. They each have gold plated fig leafs mounted on plaques in their offices. They're lucky opportunists who got the scoops of their lifetimes, at any cost. Who among us really eschews opportunism, personally? We all do it. Competing in this world has a lot to do with figuring out how to cut ahead in life's implacable lines. Journalism aside, one can only imagine the guile and wit required of Woodward and Bernstein to obtain their golden presidential fig leafs, which must've been downright presidential in intensity. Awards can be so hollow.

Applying the impeachment standards established by the Boomer generation, presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt should've been impeached a dozen times over. Kennedy and LBJ too. Oh, and I almost forgot Reagan the warmonger, romping mindlessly in Central America on his Hollywood bronco with cakes for the ayatollahs. Yep -- haul Ronnie down, boys. Lord knows, they tried.

I suppose it would be nice if, in the serious game of global power politics -- where every entity really is out for its own interests -- that honesty, forbearance and just plain niceness was the ripest policy. A lot of people believe earnest shoulder shrugging makes the best foreign policy. Sometimes it is. But mostly, it isn't.

The real question to ask of any president's truthfulness is: Is he fighting for our country's inviolable sovereignty, or instead, some other extranational interest? Is he an American, first and foremost, with America's health and vital interests at heart? Or is he putting his religion first? Or his softness for transnationalism, corporations, or NGOs? The current and last president have me feeling itchy on those issues. I haven't been quite clear if Presidents Clinton and Bush have been batting for my country unreservedly, or instead for God or some globalized community of digital sharecroppers.

President Clinton's speeches often made me feel like he was trying to coax me into a broader vision of America, reduced -- like he was my helpful guide to America's descent into a postmodern political Pangea. And President Bush makes me suspicious in the same way, from a religious perspective. Any group that once used the monicker "Moral Majority" in politics gives me severe hives. President Bush flirts with those people, supposing that the Earth might be flat after all. If the people and ideals that motivate the president serve some higher cause other than American sovereignty and the Constitution, that's treasonous, not just impeachable. Political Christianity and One World Transnationalism has my radar blipping.

I'm sure it's way more complicated than this, but it seems to me that Nixon was disliked simply because he was Nixon -- the Red baiter who waxed Alger Hiss. He was the guy who sweated profusely on TV and had a ski-slope nose, and who made that disingenuous Checkers speech in '52. He was the little ugly man who hated the golden Kennedys. And the Commies. The fella who was scared of hippies. The guy everyone called Dick.

While Tricky Dick was busy opening talks with a reclusive Mao and trying to get us out of Southeast Asia with some modicum of international respect, he got sliced in his underbelly. Not only did Southeast Asians fill the American power vacuum with a few old fashioned, prolonged bloodbaths; America-as-global-heel lost a lot of clout on the international scene. We were damaged; unhinged. And who knows? Perhaps that was a major contributing factor to the rise of the militant, in-your-face political rat nests we're crossing swords with today, who seem to find empowerment from our weakness and lip-biting. Just maybe.

I would've much preferred it, in retrospect, if President Nixon could've stayed on and finished out his vision for a just peace in Asia, and engaging China. Instead, we got Gerald Ford, the presidential pixel. Slipping on the tarmac, Apollo-Soyuz, a girl named Squeaky, helicopters on the American embassy in Vietnam -- that's about all that sticks out in my memory of his presidential half-life. Thanks, Woodie. Thanks, Bernie.

And I would've preferred it, in retrospect, if President Clinton could've spent more time concentrating on terrorism, Saddam, WMD proliferation, the surplus and the whole advancing penumbra of millennial chaos that was descending upon us in the 90s, now having become umbra. Instead, his days were full of Monica and Ken Starr. Thanks Drudge. Thanks Isikoff.

And thanks to all of us for lapping it up. Presidents are mortals who are lead by their talents and weaknesses, like the rest of us. Personally, I think Nixon and Clinton did their best with the talents and weaknesses that life gave them, and did nothing impeachable. Since Nixon, perhaps Johnson, the presidency has become the bullseye for a national therapeutic mud slinging contest. America is the looser in the process.

For pathetic fornicators like Clinton, I wouldn't really care if part of the unofficial presidential perk package simply included ladies of the night, if that's what keeps the Commander In Chief's eyes on the road. Just don't ask or tell. And for paranoids like Nixon, extra microphones and liquor in the cabinet, and a hippy voodoo doll with lots of rusty pins for some midnight presidential therapy. But please, all you presidents -- just keep your eyes on the road, OK? If a few vices help you do that, then vices you shall have. And please, everyone else -- let them drive. Don't forget that treason and human weakness are not the same thing.

All of this points to the rise over the last 40 years of the newest and truest power center in this world: Unbounded media -- "investigative journalists" and their Internet-inspired cousins, bloggers. Controlling the media is power play number one, from time in memorial. The Whitehouse lost that control sometime in the 60s to the MSM; and now the MSM is losing it in the Millennium to the Blogosphere. We applaud that here, but it comes with a heavy burden of responsibility.

That is why, blogger that I am, I have a tremble in my typing. I know that one day, someone in this expanding sphere will be the next Woodward, Bernstein, Drudge or Isikoff. And like them, they probably won't have a crystal ball to predict how the waves they make will form history. Here's hoping it serves our country.

Am I Blue?

Clearly, IBM is on to bigger things than making Apple computers blare iTunes for teenagers, which is now Intel's new job.

The Blue Brain story is a jar from the usual event corollaries we can't help but follow, day by day, like trains on a rail. The war, democracy, crazy Muslims, crazy Americans, crazy Transnationals and crazy Chinese stand more than a chance to be a blip in the future's history books. We can be so absorbed in things that don't necessarily matter.

Perhaps this is an example of life's diversions: Blue Brain: Illuminating the Mind
On July 1, the Blue Brain computer will wake up, marking "a monumental moment" in the history of brain research, says neuroscientist Henry Markram, founder of the Brain Mind Institute at Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). The event could usher in a new era of scientific discoveries about the workings of the human mind.

...The Blue Brain computer is the latest installation of IBM's BlueGene/L system, a radically new approach in supercomputer design. EPFL's machine has a peak speed of some 22.8 teraflops

...Markram's EPFL team, collaborating with IBM researchers and an online network of brain and computer scientists, will use Blue Brain to create a detailed computer model of the neocortex, the largest and most complex part of the human brain. "That's going to take two to three years," he says.

..."we'll be able to investigate questions about psychiatric disorders and how they arise," Markram says. Scientists believe that autism, schizophrenia, depression, and other psychological problems are caused by defective or malfunctioning circuitry in the brain.
Ah, yes. Self improvement -- always laudable. How many of history's greatest innovators were psychologically disordered, one wonders? Well, never mind. Perhaps the mission of technology is just to keep humanity happy and contained. And hopefully not enslaved in the process.
Next, that knowledge will be transferred into a torridly fast silicon simulator. Blue Brain promises a fantastic acceleration in brain research. It could be as dramatic as the leap from chiseling numbers in Sumerian clay tablets 2,500 years ago to crunching them in modern computers. And the Blue Brain Project just might culminate in a new breed of supersmart computers that will make even BlueGene/L seem like a piker.
Tom Friedman says the mission of parents today is to teach their kids to love learning. We've got to keep up with the Chinese and the Indians.

Daniel H. Pink says we have to become more right-brained as intelligent automation and Third Worlders extract number-counting technicians from their American jobs. The most creative will win in the neo-post-new-economy -- not people with photographic memories, which suited the industrial age. He's probably right -- we've got to keep up with the Blue Brains out there.

A lot of great innovation will come out of Blue Brain, to be sure. Innovation must curve ever upwards. It will be a tad interesting, though, to see how innovation starts to become the domain of our creations' minds, and not our own. Since we'll all be psychologically steadied by Blue Brain's bromides, we'll can pass the innovation torch over to HAL 9000. First the left brain jobs disappear. Next, the right brain jobs.

So while we consider Markram's bold claim that we're apparently blogging away on Sumerian clay tablets, let's be sure and have a few stiff drinks at the end of the day, and watch the kids frolic in the yard. The ultimate creative being might be one of Blue Brain's successors, down the road somewhere in the fog. That's sobering enough to justify an extra dash of gin in the 'ole tonic.

OK, back to the war.