Wednesday, January 05, 2005

OSC and the Science Fair

OSC tackles the big question of a final-term Bush science project. I like this sort of thinking:

One huge help to science would be to break the stranglehold of the printed scientific journals. Right now, university libraries are crippled by the necessity of paying thousands of dollars a year for each single subscription to the leading scientific journals.

There is simply no excuse for this. Peer review is not that expensive, and the internet would allow virtually free dissemination of scientific journals without them ever needing to incur the expense of printing.

The government could transform the situation by declaring that no federal grant money could be used to pay for subscriptions to any scientific journal that is not made available in cheap -- i.e., nearly free -- electronic form.

There will be screaming: "This is an attack on the core of scientific research!" but you have to ignore this. It is the death cry of the disease that you're hearing. There is no excuse whatsoever for access to scientific journals to be limited by money. Every college student in the world should have nearly-free access to any journal in any field, and the internet makes it possible, and our government can make it happen. It should be done, and done now.

Sounds a bit like breaking the stranglehold of MSM on the news, doesn't it?

Later on, OSC goes into what he thinks Bush's science project should be, and surprise surprise, it's Energy!
The massive project we need right now -- one that is far more important than the space program -- is energy research.

The reason is simple and clear. There is only so much extractable oil in the earth, and nobody's making any more. And oil is so useful for constructive purposes that it is criminal for us to have burnt so much of it already.

That's a way of putting it that I haven't heard, and he's right. Unfortunately, those constructive uses are also a part of the problem. How are we going to make petrochemical products when all of the petrochemicals are gone? We absolutely depend upon plastics in this day and age, and recycling only goes so far.

Looks like there are quite a few of us with bees in our bonnets about energy research (I'm not on about conservation, which is pissing on a bonfire IMAO). My prediction: if something is going to solve this problem, it's going to be with a technology nobody's thought of yet. We need to get to thinking of things as soon as we can.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Protesting the SOA

I don't have much to say about this, but I found this interesting:

An article about protesting the SOA in Columbus

A friend of mine at the army base actually mentioned the protest last month, which I would not have known about otherwise.

I found this, incidentally, not because I was looking for information on it, but because I was looking for information upon Jesuits in the state of Georgia.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Self-esteem Myth Myth

See here by Instapundit.


SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN has an article on exploding the self-esteem myth. Bottom line: "Boosting people's sense of self-worth has become a national preoccupation. Yet surprisingly, research shows that such efforts are of little value in fostering academic progress or preventing undesirable behavior." This isn't a big surprise. The Insta-Wife has noted for years that inflated self-esteem is often associated with negative behavior among teenagers, while teens with low self-esteem often behave well. (Here's a chapter from her book that discusses some of those issues.)
First of all, that article isn't exactly forging new roads through uncharted wilderness. The basic synopsis seems to be, "Concentrating on self-esteem makes kids happier, but doesn't fix much else." Hold that thought.

Second of all, that book chapter is discussing the warped viewpoints of sociopaths. That's not quite the same thing as an overcharge of self-esteem.

Back to the thought I was holding. Of course self-esteem isn't going to fix behavior. Happy, healthy people aren't always the same thing as well-behaved people. In many cases the very opposite is true.

It doesn't surprise me in the least that low self-esteem teenagers behave well. The already-beaten are easily cowed into submission: there's no better student than a reasonably capable young man or woman who cherishes a deep-seated belief that it is their performance that brings love and acceptance. Of course, the children who have trouble with that kind of performance seek love and acceptance in other ways, often rebelling, but that's another issue. Most people, when moving through a haze of fear, keep a pretty low profile.

You know, I've worked under supervisors with low self-esteem before. I must admit, it does make them easier to push around. Have you ever had a deadline enforced by a pushover? Anyone in customer service can tell you that it's more pleasant to work with customers who automatically feel like they are horrible people just for complaining. People with low self-esteem are docile, malleable, pleasant for the rest of us to be around. People with high self-esteem cause trouble, because they're not ashamed to breathe the same air as the rest of us and clear out the amount of elbow room they'll be needing. They accept that not everybody is going to like them, and do what they feel is necessary anyway... unlike low self-esteemers, who will put my whims before their needs as a matter of course, because what could be more important than being liked?

It's a lifestyle more fit for dogs than children, in my opinion. Several people I know would decline even to apply it to dogs.

If the original goal in emphasizing the importance of self-esteem was to cure bad behavior, then all I can say is that was short-sighted and silly. But I don't believe that was it. I believe the original goal in emphasizing the importance of self-esteem was to help with the underlying problems of depression and anger that common disciplinary problems are so frequently a herald of. To expect higher levels of self-esteem to cure discipline problems is tatamount to helping someone climb out of a pit and then expecting them to cut of one of their hands as payment; when you enable someone to be a whole person, you don't get to then choose who the person turns out to be. People are difficult critters to raise and teach. Does that mean that making them happy and healthy is of little worth?

I'm biased on this particular issue, being, as I am, an icon of living proof that standardized test scores aren't always as indicative of future performance as psychological evaluations.

We won't gain much by discounting the idea of self-esteem as feel-good new age mumbo-jumbo. Low self-esteem is emotionally crippling. You're not going to convince me that it's not a problem by explaining to me how much easier it is to shepherd a crippled flock than a healthy, rambunctious group of animals.

Monday, December 20, 2004

During this Holiday Season

Inattentive Blog requests humbly that any of you who wish to spend the season in peaceful spirits and nightmare-free, do refrain from Googling "chloracne", no matter how interested you might be in the appalling incident of Yuschenko's dioxin poisoning.

I mean it. Don't. Especially not the Image search engine.

You'll never be able to drink shaken eggnog again.

(And Cockalorum, that was a TERRIBLE. TERRIBLE. TERRIBLE groaner of a joke. Okay, I did chuckle, but I felt guilty about it.)

Incidentally... that greenish tone on Yuschenko's face... I have a suspicion that he's wearing green-toned pancake makeup to cover redness, but I could very easily be wrong. In any case, it can't be very comfortable. I hope that the surge of publicity this is generating in some measure compensates the agony he has had to go through, and will have to go through.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

It's Beginning to Look alot Like...

... I haven't posted in too long.

But I have an excuse. I've been decorating:

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

ADD: When Brain Fog Attacks

I have been meaning to do more ADD blogging; after all, it's my title. Today is a good enough example of a "Day in the life of an ADD Ewin"; and per most personal-life blogging, YMMV.

This morning, I looked outside at the drizzling rain, and felt a sickening lump of tension forming in my stomach. No walking, no time outdoors. HULK SMASH!

Making it through the work day was difficult. I got horribly brain fogged around 3pm or so, and went blog-surfing. I recognize it these days for what it is: self-treatment. I read something about politics or the daily news, and it upsets me, which abruptly pulls my scattered brain together toward a singular purpose... and that state of disturbed alertness is far more tolerable than the blindly frantic lack of focus.

I exercised Saturday and walked around taking autumn pictures on Monday, so Monday's work day was more productive than today's. I still managed to turn out a halfway decent report by the end of the day. Then I left the office, and forced myself to go to the store.

A brief selection of my thoughts while I was at the store:

I need oranges, okay, oranges. There they are. Wait, lemons? No, I need oranges. Oranges. *picks up oranges* Okay, now what do I need... *checks list* I need cranberries and a flour sifter, and chopped citron. *passes by someone* Wait, what? *checks list* Cranberries and a sifter, and chopped citron. Wait, what? *checks list, growing frustrated with myself* Cranberries! Sifter! Citron! *gets cranberries* Now what? *checks list again* A sifter. And citron. Damnit.

When I was diagnosed with ADD last year, I scored clinically significant levels of ADD-type effects in five categories of symptoms.

The category I scored the highest (or the worst) on was memory problems.

The other four categories, I can't remember.

No, I'm not kidding.

(But yes, it is funny.)

By the time I was done with my ridiculously short shopping list, I was gripping the rung handle of my shopping cart with sweating, mottled fists, and flinching every time another shopper passed by. Brain fog irritates my agoraphobia. It's as if I go into survival mode; somehow, I know my reflexes are at their worst and my ability to deal with stress is cut to a fraction of normal levels (and those aren't exactly the highest in the land), and I'm automatically nervous of any situation where I'm surrounded by unpredictable objects. Like shoppers two days before Thanksgiving. The store really wasn't very crowded, and I didn't have to stand in line, but I was very relieved to get home.

I got home, promptly changed and lifted weights until I couldn't stand up. Then I stood up (heh), and headed for the shower.

Situation now: I still have quite an array of things to accomplish this evening, but they have all fallen neatly into intervals of time in my brain. I probably won't be able to get much exercise on Thursday, which is my next calendar workout day, but I'll live, because I won't be at work. I can supplement my sanity by spending as much time outdoors as possible; also, I will be cooking, and that helps.

Tomorrow evening, I'm going to try to make that cranberry bread that Megan McArdle keeps pushing.

The Pixilation of the Christ

Quoth Andrew Sullivan:

CRUCIFIXION GAMEBOX: They're selling a "Passion of the Christ" video game? Does Jesus try to get away or something?

I'm at a loss for words.

But I bet Strongbad could do something with that.

Monday, November 22, 2004


A picture I took today, of leaves that looked like they were glued to the pavement, and almost transparent:


I would have just posted it here, but the formatting would not permit it. The picture was too large.

I'll figure out a way to do that later.

Ambitions of... .... ... .FOOD?

From Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary:

An overmastering desire to be vilified by enemies while living and made ridiculous by friends when dead.

Or, as I like to say, "It's easy to get people to hate you. Just pass in front of their field of vision." There's a direct relationship between visibility and extremity of the reactions people have to you.

Given that, why am I trying to write in public?

I'm not sure. I'll have to think on that one.

ADD notes: Had a close call at work last week, and now I'm doing much better productivity-wise. I won't go into the personal details. Suffice to say, it's a rarity that I avoid disaster in such fine style.

A part of the reason why I'm doing so much better today than I was last week is movement. I began exercising again, over the weekend. For someone with foggy-brainitis (and a relatively small person who nonetheless has the medication resistance of a bull elephant), working out has become essential. My brain was staggering along quite well up until a few weeks ago on daily walks and large doses of caffeine, but then the rain struck, I stopped walking for several days in a row, I started this blog, and then work dwindled away to nothing.

So tonight we'll blog a little blog about fitness, ADD, diet, and apolitical (but nonetheless frequently religious) things like that.

I was delighted when a friend online gave me the link to this site, a training site for women who want to power lift, and just a dash of women's studies philosophy on the side.

I'll go ahead and weigh in on this: I like the idea of women's studies, and frankly, this particular woman seems to have her head screwed on straight. I also like the idea of men's studies, though. I would be very happy if we could do a bit of objective study on the sexes without a furor arising from every quarter of the world. I don't actually consider myself a woman, most of the time. I consider myself an entity in the body and mind of a woman. And frankly, that body and that mind frequently do things that make no sense. More study, please! I appreciate all the study I can get.

One of the things I really like about Krista is her approach to dieting. All my life, despite my own weight problems, I have had a tendency to avoid diets like hazardous waste. It wasn't the idea of dieting itself; more just the automatic repugnance I felt toward the attitude of the many, many, many, MANY MANY female friends and relatives who swore by diet after diet and spent their entire lives obsessed with their weight. Of course, these days I'm obsessed with my own, so what do I know? :) I do at least consider it a minor victory that I made it through this culture and into my mid-twenties before deciding to obsess over what I was eating.

In early college, I read all the way through Protein Power by the Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades. I highly recommend the book (as a book, not as a religious text). It's liberally dosed with facts and case studies, and frankly, whenever the authors say something they're not sure of, they say, "We're not sure about this," which rather nullifies any cultish effect it might otherwise have.

I, personally, had a very good experience with Ray Audette's Neanderthin book and diet plan. The idea of the paleolithic diet appealed to me on a very basic level; it was a stripped-down, unprocessed version of a low-carb diet with fewer rules but stricter. I found it more motivating to look at a chocolate bar and say, "That's poison, my body will have an allergic obesity reaction to it," than to say, "That has 50 effective grams of carbs and it will push me back into intervention stage of blah blah blah..." I stayed on that diet for six months straight, and lost thirty pounds, and then was forced to get off it again when I lost a job and my money ran low. Fresh meats and veggies are simply pricier than stale mac'n'cheese, alas.

Of course I gained all the weight back.

I did take a few things with me after dieting so strictly. For one thing, I've never quite gotten back into the habit of bread. Somehow, it tastes like pulpy paper going down, now. And it inevitably turns my stomach into a vat of acid. Then, there's milk: I used to love milk and cheese, and now I can barely tolerate the stuff, and milk... well... drinking milk just seems ridiculous to me. Why would I want cow juice? Nevermind the fact that I'm genetically privileged to be one of the peoples on this planet who drank milk for a few dozen thousand years earlier than all the other peoples, thus rendering me less prone to lactose intolerance. I just don't get it anymore. And cheese tastes like rubber most of the time. The only dairy product I really like these days, still, is ice cream. Ah... I have no clue about that one.

Unless I'm much mistaken, the Neanderthin site still sucks. *checks*

Oh, no, they've changed it! They've finally updated the site! How exciting!

And they're selling pemmican! With ALL GRASS-FED BEEF AND BEEF TALLOW!


Oh, you'd probably have to have done the diet to understand. Pemmican is something that very quickly becomes addictive. I have my own tub of beef tallow -- purchased from a soap supplies place, since not many people seem too familiar with pemmican materials marketing -- and I just bought some dried cherries and other fruits recently in anticipation of making a batch soon. The tub holds 20 gallons. Which is good, because otherwise I'd be tempted to buy some of that online pemmican, and I do not need to go and put $82 down the snack-hole.

But, oh, I'd still love to pick up some grass-fed buffalo steaks.

Neanderthin is a very short book, and a very easy read. The facts are kept a bit spare, compared to Protein Power (whose authors endorse Audette's program, incidentally), but the bibliography is substantial. The thing that makes the plan so compelling is that it's not really a weight loss plan. And that same fact is what made it possible for me to stay on it for so long, and what is making it possible for me to try and go back, now that my pay level is relatively stable again. Ray Audette put himself on such a strict diet, not to lose weight (he was a very thin man), but to treat his diabetes and his rheumatoid arthritis. The diet worked, not only well, but quickly. He's still touring and lecturing, it thrills me to see. When I read his story, I thought, "Perhaps it would help with my depression." I hadn't been diagnosed with ADD at that time. But it did, indeed, help with the depression. And there is a certain vindication you get from losing weight without having to eat a lesser volume of food.

At any rate, I was going to say, a few paragraphs ago, that the Neanderthin website used to be less than satisfactory; obviously it's been improved. But I still highly recommend the Paleodiet site for information on paleolithic diets. Just start at the top and scroll through until you see something that looks interesting ("aquatic apes?"); there is tons of fascinating data available. Don't miss The Weston A. Price Foundation site: it contains just about everything you wish you hadn't just found out about soy.

All that information is nice, but the fun is over at Paleofood... because that's where all the paleolithic recipes are. I have almost the entire site printed out and stored in the kitchen for quick-reference; the cookie section is particarly handy. Paleolithic cookies have a very wholesome flavor to them, which I've grown to prefer over the years. Cheap synthetic cookies, while convenient, now taste like paste and cardboard. And of course there is no match for paleolithic spaghetti (sans noodles): because it's just the same as regular spaghetti, except with all fresh ingredients.

I need to wrap this up, so I'll end on a less-healthy note:

Ginger-flavored Altoids. They burn a great and mighty ginger burn, not unlike true ginger beer.

I'll be all philosophical again tomorrow.

Incidentally, here's a deep, dark secret: you can always tell how conscientiously I have proofread an essay by counting the number of commas. The above is rife with comma abuse. We are operating on the "just write something, dummy," principle.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

ADD Notes: Panic Mode

Blog status set to DISABLED until brain status can be brought back to FUNCTIONAL. The management appreciates your patience.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Libby-Con Myths

Ways in which liberals and conservatives misunderstand each other: read the whole thing.

What a relief. One less essay for me to write; he wrote it better than I could have, too.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Return-Salute to the Iraqi People


I am a young woman, single and never married, living in the state of Georgia in the U.S.A. I support myself by building databases and spreadsheets to process data for a company that I will not name here. I live very close to my workplace; in fact, I walk to work most days.

My voter registration states my name, my address, and the location where I am expected to vote on election days: it is a Protestant church not more than a mile away from my home. On November 2nd, because the voting location was so close, I decided to walk there.

I walked the sidewalk of a busy road for that mile, unstopped by officials of church or state, unimpeded by any detritus of war or ruins, and took such things for granted. From the moment I left my apartment, I knew with absolute assurance that I would make it safely to the election, cast my vote in privacy, and make it back home a citizen counted in the process of my country's ruling.

I passed by two "Kerry 2004" signs planted in lawns. I saw no less than thirty or forty "Bush 2004" and "Kerry 2004" bumper stickers on passing cars -- it's a busy road. Some cars had additional stickers; pro-war, anti-war, every opinion under the sun. I was a Bush supporter in a county that voted for Kerry, in a state that voted for Bush, and in an election that was widely being denounced for its divisiveness, I did not see a single sign or sticker defaced, on election day or the weeks prior.

When I arrived at the church, I saw a long line of young mothers with small children, and I followed them into a side entrance. An employee of the church spotted me, probably because I looked lost, and asked, "Are you here to vote? It's around the other side of the building." I had accidentally stumbled upon the church's daycare program. Many of the mothers voted after dropping off their children; I know this because of the stickers. When you vote in many places in the U.S., you are given a sticker that says, "I voted!" to put upon your shirt. I still remember, as a teenager, seeing that sticker on my mother's shirt on voting days, and feeling proud that my family had been represented in those elections.

On this particular November 2nd, I know that I voted, my mother voted, as well as my sister and her husband. Someday, I know that I will have three grown nephews, and they will vote as well, because our family takes pride in the electoral process.

I found the appropriate entrance on the other side of the building, and got in a long line of people. In front of me was an elderly woman in a jogging suit, behind me was a middle-aged man in a business suit, talking on a cell phone. There was some confusion about voting locations; some people who were at the church were supposed to be voting somewhere else. We all stood, patiently, waiting for the problem to be sorted out. At length, a young man with a uniform vest and different-colored skin from my own, came to me and asked me what my last name was. Because my last name begins with a "B", I was permitted to go into another entrance, and skip the long line.

I showed my identification to some ladies at a table, and they opened a book of pages containing voter names. My name was listed between two names that originated in different countries from my own name. They checked it off. The bloc of citizenship associated with myself, my home, and that pertaining directly to me, was given its due regard and accounted for. I was allotted my single vote, the same vote given to every U.S. citizen; the same vote given to the young man of different skin, the same vote given to the two people on the list whose lineage came from different countries, the same vote to the middle-aged businessman, the same vote to the elderly woman. My full share in my country's stake was affirmed.

I went into the booth, and I cast my votes. One vote for President. Also: votes for Senator, House Representative, votes for Georgia officials and county officials, votes for school board representatives, and many other officials. I addressed all of my government, and I gave them my considered opinion upon who would best fill positions great and small. Then, I voted upon two different laws which were in the process of consideration for Georgia's state constitution. I, a citizen, was given a voice in what laws would govern me.

With me, I had a sheet of paper that I had printed off the internet, containing a list of candidates. I had been considering these candidates in the days and weeks before the election. I found information for each candidate on the web, quickly and easily, and I wrote down my selections. I used my voting sheet to guide my hand as I selected candidates on the screen. I stood, for two full minutes in a church of God, knowing that no matter what being was worshipped there, the rite of voting was sacred above all else.

I left the voting place, and was given my "I voted!" sticker at the door. I wore it proudly all day long, and when the day was finished, I peeled it off and stuck it to my voting sheet, which I will save, and use it to keep notes upon the activities of the candidates I selected. If a candidate does something that I do not think is right, I will not vote for that person again.

Not every U.S. citizen feels the way that I do about voting. Not every one of us had a similar, trouble-free experience; some people had malfunctioning machines, some states had trouble with counts. I'm sure there were more than a fair share of people who experienced rudeness and incompetence among the voting employees. But I believe that my own voting experience, with its ease and freedom and pride, was the norm. My district did not agree with my presidential vote, but that does not matter. I do not feel that my vote was useless. Well over 100 million of my countrymen, like me, considered their vote valuable enough to cast one. You saw them on the news, in countless pictures. I was lucky; I did not have to stand in the rain. But rain is nothing compared to the importance of voting.

I write you this, about my voting experience, because:

When I cast my vote for President, I thought of you, and of your country.

I had many considerations in my head when I voted, but none of them mattered to me more than this: I did not trust Kerry, and I thought that if he were elected, he would abandon you to the Ba'athists again.

I do not consider myself generous, in thinking of you. I thought of you because we need you. There is much in the future of the U.S.A. that depends upon your freedom and forging of your people and your country into a democracy. We could never ask this of you, if we did not believe it would be good for you as well. But I and many other Americans realize this: we desperately need you to become a democracy. You are essential to us. You are so incredibly important!

Many, many have been the countries over the past few hundred years who have needed the United States to be a democracy. Many have been the countries who have needed our example, our powerful economy, our strength, our spirit. We owe those things to our democracy, to our freedom. If you succeed, and you become a democracy, a free people acting together, there will be many countries that need you in the years to come. And you will have the strength to help them, as we have had our own strength over the years.

We can never be grateful enough to you and to your countrymen for the sacrifices you have endured. I hope one day that all Americans may honor your sacrifices as greatly as our own, because I truly believe that our own freedom is tied to yours. It is a horrible burden to lay upon you, and I want you to know that my spirit is lifted when I see voices like yours, speaking out in the name of freedom. You give us hope.

I wish, with all of my heart, for you to see an election day like the election day that I saw, November 2nd, 2004. I hope that the decision I made brings that day closer to you.

I am very humbled, and yet very proud, that you have saluted us for our election. I salute you in return. I wish you good luck, and good faith, and a safe passage through this horrible time.

Powell that Ends Well

I see that Colin Powell has announced that he will resign.

I look into my magical crystal ball and scry this: Everybody who is not a moderate in this country will verily vent forth a stream of bile after his retreating backside.

Powell was a moderate in the truest sense of the word. And everybody hates a moderate... except other moderates. Let's hope his famous likability will trump that particular law of human nature.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Baby, Bathwater, What's the Difference?

Thanks to Cockalorum for this link:


Partisan? Moi?

Not really. Just anti-fanatic.

Idealism, Fixation, and Assorted Silly Persons

Nevermind. It's been a slow work day, so I decided to go ahead and write something. Herein I address, to a limited extent, idealism. (Just imagine how nightmarish it would have been if I'd decided to address it thoroughly.)

I like definitions.

Main Entry: ide·al·ism
Pronunciation: I-'dE-(&-)"liz-&m
Function: noun

1 a (1) : a theory that ultimate reality lies in a realm transcending phenomena (2) : a theory that the essential nature of reality lies in consciousness or reason b (1) : a theory that only the perceptible is real (2) : a theory that only mental states or entities are knowable

It's not what you thought it was, is it? I always thought idealism meant a certain naive assumption that perfection was not merely desirable, but achievable.

Evidently, if you look up "idealist" instead, that's where you end up: an idealist as an individual who focuses on the "ideal". Idealism has to do with ideas; idealists have to do with ideals. I find that interesting. I also think that if more individuals could be idealists in the first sense and less in the second sense, idealists would be far easier folks to talk to.

Why should idealists be difficult people to talk to?

I was accused of idealism once (probably more than once, but this is the only case I can think of in which the word was used by name). It was when I was in my late teens, and I attempted to give what was, from my point of view, some much-needed relationship advice. The giftees? My divorce-considering parents. Let us compassionately draw a curtain over the rest of that scene. I assumed at the time, and rightly so I believe now, that the accusation of "idealist" had less to do with any wrong-doing on my part, and more to do with the impulsive gracelessness of the young.

I expect to be cured of attempting to heal breaches between Democrats and Republicans within a year or less. Watch the exciting process as it unfolds!

But that's beside my point, which is this: the ideal-centered kind of idealism is, at best, a phase everybody goes through on the way to adulthood, and at worst, a positive impediment to problem-solving. Idealists are frequently useless, and occasionally dangerous. We have a word for dangerous idealists: fanatics.

The problem is not the idea of perfection itself. I believe that there is such a thing as objective truth and goodness, and that it is a thing worth aiming at, and that it makes us better as human beings.

The problem is not lack of consensus. The more you study the holiest beliefs of all traditions, the more you will find in common between them.

The problem, as I see it, is that we seek perfection imperfectly.

In short, we try to cheat.

I can't speak for philosophies the world over, but in America, it's definitely true. You see it in story after story, legend after legend: the American ideal of the Good Guy is quite simple. Whenever we try to complicate him, we call those complications "flaws" and say that we're being edgy and realistic, as if to imply that in reality, there are no Good Guys. Even in acknowledging the reality of diversity, we somehow manage to reinforce that the Ideal is just that: singular. In actuality, we're vastly reassured by a singular ideal. It's easier to aim at, and it's most certainly a hell of a lot easier to fail at without having to feel too bad.

But, from where I sit, the concept of what is ideal can only ever exist in plurality.

If, like myself, you define goodness as a sort of wholesome holiness, a thing which produces beauty and truth and love and learning, and well, a whole host of other things through which human beings have garnered meaning through the millenia, then the idea of a plural ideal comes easily to you. This is an ideal which has different aims at different times for different people. It's a knottier and more difficult concept than any one single Good Thing; it is the combined force of all Good Things in their Right Measure. How unfortunate for the holier-than-thou among us that it's incredibly difficult to point a finger at someone when you can't even be sure, for yourself, what the Right Measure of Good Things should have been!

I think that theists have an advantage over atheists in this arena. Personally, being a worshipper of a God and a Christ brings the complexity of the Ideal home to me with great force, though many would assume the opposite.

You see, a god is a person. A perfect person, to be sure, but no account of any god in any religious tradition commits the error of presuming perfection to mean simplicity. The Judeo-Christian God calls attention to His own overwhelming complexity again and again. To worship a person, is to worship something that can never be completely known or understood. Even if you were to worship the person living next door to you this would be true; how much more true is it with a gigantic and cosmic person responsible for your own creation?

For a secular humanist, it can be a bit more difficult, I think. I'll admit firsthand that we religious sorts make it difficult, by claiming that we all know what we're worshipping. That's a claim made in pride and ignorance. The fact is, we use the shorthand of calling what we worship a person, in order to avoid talking about how immensely complicated it can get to know what it is we're worshipping. All you have to do is personify your deity, and all of the mystery that comes with personhood is encapsulated. A note to those of you who chastise the various religions for infighting: when was the last time you ever agreed perfectly with another human being on every aspect of, say, even a movie star?

Whereas any good secular moralist has to just come right out and admit it, unmistakably: what you worship is a massive and complex array of things which are good by standards you feel are correct.

Clear as mud, either way.

What idealists (of the "ideal" variety) have in common across all faiths is this: they have found an ideal that they are comfortable with, and are willing to share it with others.

The simple (complex?) fact is, the moment you feel you have discovered the Ideal, you have lost it.

C.S. Lewis spent quite a bit of time talking about this fact of morality... that all you have to do to turn a man into an utter devil, is to convince him that one aspect of morality is the absolute Good at all times. In this way, courage can turn a man into a mindless, blood-seeking tool; chastity can turn a woman into a contemptuous, resentful misogamist; prudence can create either wateriness or arrogance; mildness can create a living waste of matter. Devotion pursued to exclusion is lunacy. Holiness can never be sought without the awareness of its many different faces under many different circumstances.

I can tolerate the fact that an idealist tends to venerate a single concept. What tends to bug me, more than anything, is when said idealist undercuts my own moral struggles by trying to explain to me how simple it really is to be Good!

First of all, no, it's not. Second of all, living by said idealist's standard would make it harder, not easier.

Good is a great and vigorous thing. Complexity does not make it vague; it makes it factual, binding it firmly to reality. I fail to comprehend how someone can travel even a few years through this life and come to the conclusion that there are more forms of bad, than there are of good. Whether you are a theist or not, it simply makes no sense. For atheists, I can say the universe, for theists, I can say God, both or either of them have created a wonderful diversity of creatures to roam this planet. In every instance where strength or growth or progress is desirable, it is achieved through the unity of differences, hybridization. Evolution branches outward, or else God creates a wonderful variety, it makes no difference how it happens; if goodness applies at all, it applies in vast and unthinkable tracts of variety.

Do you remember my assumption that lies start to look the same after awhile? The opposite goes for truth -- and "the truth is stranger than fiction" is not just a tired aphorism. The truth is often the thing you fail to anticipate. But lies are limited by what they are; perversions of truth, and perversity is a limitation.

I believe any perversion of good operates upon the same system. Sorry, balance-theorists; I don't believe in yin and yang, light and darkness, in the classic sense. I believe evil is a far less robust force than good, a parasite of sorts. Something which attempts to turn good things into the much less complicated image of itself.

Hence, whenever someone begins to speak of things in highly simplistic terms, I start to get nervous.

It comes close to my thinking of idealism as an evil thing.

But I wouldn't define it that simply.

I think that idealism is a natural phase that human souls have to go through on their way to wisdom. Like youth; it's not bad, but it's not a place where you want to get stuck, either. Nor is it something you want to leave behind completely.

When idealists get stuck, you end up with the following:
  • picketers standing at the borders of a funeral procession holding up a sign declaiming that "God hates fags"
  • gun control activists defending the lives of deer -- who, for the purposes of this exercise, we shall refer to as "pronged rats"
  • fruitarians, who refuse to even kill a plant to attain sustenance (I challenge you to find clothing or any other necessity of life that is absolutely death-free)
  • pro-lifers who bomb abortion clinics
  • gay marriage advocates defending their stance by holding up Vegas ceremonies as an example of how marriage could not possibly become more sullied (wtf?)
  • elitist humanists
  • anti-war activists who wish for soldiers to die
  • religious fundamentalists who only decry theocracy as long as it's in the Middle East
  • people who venerate the sacredness of free speech by defending pornography (look, I like porn too, but it has honestly turned into some kind of flagship -- that's ludicrous)

I imagine you get the point. In every thing, there can be an excess, a perversion. Even moderation can be taken to excess.

There is a Good. And we must strive toward it. But at no point, while we live, are we permitted to sit flat, crush our laurels and say, "Welp, that's it. I've found the good. It's right here, and here I stay." Life is about growth, movement, and change. There will be plenty of time to fixate when you're dead.

ADD Note Upon Visitors; Questions Unasked

I am not expecting to be able to update the blog until tomorrow, and more likely Monday or Tuesday. I have a guest for the weekend, and I suddenly have to recall how exactly to keep my life in order while dealing with the distracting presence of another person in my home. :)

Upcoming topics: creativity and depression, religion and sex, comparing and contrasting optimistic liberalism with optimistic conservativism (and the respective alternatives), wealth and celebrity and guilt, and how all of these things relate to each other. Stay tuned, my new loyal set of four or five readers! It's gonna be an exciting trip!

In the meantime, I leave you with this:

Directly after 9/11, there was a chorus of activist (and mostly liberal) American voices volunteering answers to the question "Why do they hate us?"

Better phrased, the question is, "Why do they hate YOU?" directed at the great silent majority of non-activist Americans.

Post-2004-election, we are now hearing a chorus of liberal voices volunteering answers to the question, "Why do WE hate you?" to Bush voters.

I suspect that if that 51% were to give a voice to their response, it would be something like, "We never asked you either of those questions, and if we didn't care then, we certainly don't care now."

More about why that might be, later.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


I used to complain, to a much older and wiser friend, that I hated the way my mind works.

"I'm a dabbler. I skip from thing to thing, and I never finish. I can't concentrate on any one thing long enough to attain some kind of rigorous understanding and depth; I just have all of these bits and pieces of things floating around in my head all the time. Why can't I just concentrate?" (Of course I know the answer to that now.)

She replied, "You're a generalist." I must have given her a look of skepticisim, because she went on, "Yes, there is a word for how you operate. It's not a flaw. It's a difference. And people who think the way you do are, in fact, needed."

I couldn't accept the fact that my own modus operandi was valid and useful, without also generalizing that idea to all other ways of thinking. But, then, that's what being a generalist means. And generalism is coming more into favor as time passes, and the worldwide flux of information shows no signs of slowing. We're needed, to make patterns, to skip lightly over the top of all of this informative matter and produce something (more or less) coherent from it. Bloggers are often generalists, but not always. Many of my favorites are actually specialists, and there's nothing so delightful to a flighty generalist as a deeply entrenched specialist who has lots of data to stitch together in new and attractive patterns.

But, in celebration of generalists:

I found Creative Generalist today on blogspot, and was pleased to see I'm not alone. You should go check it out; some interesting things to see there.

I followed a couple of links, and found this: Cooking for Engineers. Watch out for cooking metaphors in my philosophical blatherings as time passes. Yes, I cook. I'm a generalist! I do almost everything! Not well, but hey, it takes all kinds to make a blogosphere.

While you're surfing, check this out: music and the brain. I'll find a way to stitch all of this together later.

Seeming and Doing

This is quite sharp, I think:

Now that the elections are over, and the Republicans beat up the Democrats pretty badly, everyone is offering advice to both parties as to what to do now.

From conservatives, the advice is pretty much what you might expect:

To Republicans: Stay the course. Don't go overboard (like in 1994), but you have a clear mandate to do some good things.

To Democrats: You're screwed, buddy. :)

But from the left, the advice is much more fascinating. I'm of course paraphrasing what I've heard from different sources, but it seems to boil down to this:

To Republicans: Don't behave like Republicans. Do things Democrats like.

To Democrats: Don't seem like Democrats. Say things moderates like.
I don't know how correct that is, but gosh darn it throws things into perspective.

The funny thing is, I think that's no different from what the Democrats have been doing, and did do, to lose the election. Perhaps it would have been better, my own theory on winning be damned, to just seem like Democrats.

Another viewpoint is, maybe both political parties act that way. In which case, the one thing we can extract from that is, seeming has little to do with how the public makes its choices.

My advice for both sides is still: meet each other. Talk. And stop listening to the fringe.

Hoaxes, Perspective, and Reality

Urban legends are something of a hobby of mine. I make frequent trips to Snopes, and my poor lecture-beleaguered mother has resigned herself to topping every forwarded e-mail to me with the header, "Is this true?" Which keeps her from sending out chain mail, and makes me feel useful.

In the interest of feeding my habit, I found a link through Snopes to a Wired article by Jonathon Keats about a man who hunted down the origin of what is probably the most widespread and longest-lived e-mail hoax known: the Bill Gates e-mail tracking scam.

I stumbled upon the Internet equivalent of a perpetual motion machine. Here was a hoax that had been in circulation since 1997, laden with factual improbabilities and logical contradictions, widely reviled and frequently debunked yet thriving on a Net strewn with spam and other causes of universal cynicism - a prank lacking in both brains and brawn that nevertheless, cockroach-like, had outlasted the Melissa virus and Saddam Hussein.
The story behind the hoax is fascinating, and worth analyzing a bit.

There are plenty of reasons to educate yourself about urban legends and scams. One quick and dirty reason: it keeps you feeling street-wise. When I first discovered Snopes, I devoured the site with a relish born of feeling foolish for having been taken in so many times.

But there is an even better reason to continue to keep abreast of this particular school of meme: it's probably the best education you could ever give yourself about (to steal a phrase) lies and the liars who tell them. When you're done learning about lies, learn about those who believe and perpetuate them. Several traits make urban legend uniquely suitable for this kind of learning: a) their relative prevalence under controlled circumstances, b) the easy availability of debunking sites, and c) the wide range of themes addressed in them.

And why would you want to know about lies? What is the use?

This simple fact: the more lies you hear, see, and are able to identify as lies, the more you learn to identify them. Lies, after a while, look very similar.

Not exactly the same, of course. But they share similar characteristics. When you look at lie after lie after lie, harmless lies, hateful lies, frightening lies and funny lies, you begin to notice a similar tone in them, something that remains the same no matter who is doing the lying or what the topic is. I've never been able to put my finger on just exactly what that is. And it's possible that it's not true for everyone. But for most people, I believe it is true: the more lies you see, the more you get an instinct for them.

It's not infallible, but that doesn't mean it's not useful.

Jonathon Keats offers a philosophy of urban legends that might explain some of what I'm talking about:
Chernin's note to me echoed all these motivations, but also something more. She wrote that the message "seemed to have a knowledge about Internet technology that was, alas, all too plausible, since it suggested a clear invasion of privacy." (Remember, Microsoft was going to track each email.) "Things that seem preposterous no longer seem so preposterous. One's sense of reality is probably shaken by living in our times."

In fact, successful hoaxes have always preyed on our tendency to imagine the future through the lens of our own hopes and worries. A celebrated 19th-century prank convinced millions that Thomas Edison had invented a machine capable of converting soil into cereal. A "top secret" report that became a best-seller in 1967 concluded that an end to war "would almost certainly not be in the best interest of stable society." Publication of the deadpan parody led Lyndon Johnson to cable every US embassy, insisting the report didn't reflect foreign policy.
Perhaps the defining tone behind all hoaxes is fear.

There's a vast and interconnecting web of concepts, of which this idea is a node. Some of the web's other nodes, in my own mind, are ideas having to do with the following: idealism, maturity, hysteria, perspective, propaganda, realism, optimism, cynicism, idealism, perfection, comprimise. Circle those words around in your head for a little while; see how they connect to each other. How does the fear level in a presented message relate to other idealogical systems?

At one point in time, I could hear any political message, and it would be evaluated as fact by my brain. Now, I have filters in place. And one of the most reliable one is the scare-filter: is the purveyor of this message trying to scare me? If so, is the purveyor of the message attempting to scare me toward a specific purpose?

Don't react automatically. Some of the world's worst lies are scare tactics presented with absolutely no specific purpose in mind whatsoever. Personally, when I am confronted with a frightening message that has an obvious goal behind it, I am relieved. The idea of a problem which has a corresponding solution encapsulates a system of relative optimism; and relative anything can only be possible through perspective. Perspective, in the web of ideas, has much stronger ties to the nodes of truth and realism than hysteria does.

Simplified: Perspective is closer to the truth than hysteria.

In the face of Snopesian levels of disillusionment, it's possible to simply disavow all faith in mankind, and assume them to be, by and large, either scoundrels or dupes. But to do that is to take half a step. You complete the step by relating the way you feel to what you have just learned: perspective is closer to the truth than hysteria. To despair of all except a handful (conveniently including yourself) of mankind is a viewpoint that lacks relativity, and when you tug on lack of perspective in the system, you are pulling yourself closer to hysteria and to lies.

A contemporary scientific view of the above would lead me to conclude, not necessarily that I could be wrong, but that I could have stumbled upon an interpretation of the truth that is not as perfect as I could have achieved. I like that translation. It's optimistic, in my opinion. It demonstrates perspective.

Several times in the past few days, I have come across the following statement in opinion articles: "This is not the best solution, but it's the best we have so far." It's funny how often that statement presages a tremendous breakthrough, in my experience. It's rather like the "Do the simplest thing that will possibly work" idea in computer programming, a method which I've used many, many times to combat my own ADD tendencies to fixate upon imperfections. "Try something, then fix it," gets you un-stuck. It works. And when I notice a certain theory working over and over again in real life, the non-material sides of my consciousness sit up (metaphysically, of course) and take notice.

Reality is increasingly being shown to operate upon the basis of interactive probabilities. Perspective is a key element of being able to evaluate and thus succeed in the world. Relativity relates to reason.

It's easy to see how what I've written above relates to my opinions about recent events in politics. Expect very few discrete blocks of ideas from me; everything you ever see here will most likely relate to everything else.

Dissolve the People

This is the loveliest thing I think I've seen in ages. From an article in the Wall Street Journal (link from IP):

On June 17, 1953, workers in the Russian Zone of East Berlin had risen up against the regime, and one of its top apparatchiks distributed a leaflet,

Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts.

About which Brecht observed,

. . . Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And choose itself another?

It is surely what America's cultural top drawer would like to do themselves.
Hence, secession. Not just from the red states, but from the red portions of all of the blue states as well... perhaps a secession with a dash of deportation?

The Role of the Artist

Roger L. Simon is asking why there isn't more talk in Hollywood about the murder of Theo van Gogh.

After reading this:

Theo van Gogh had won a reputation in the Netherlands as an out-and-out provocateur. He had accused the Dutch writer Leon de Winter, for example, of exploiting his Jewishness to sell his books. During the ensuing nine-year legal battle, van Gogh “touched up” his accusations with the claim that during sex with his wife, de Winter entwined his penis with barbed wire and screamed “Auschwitz, Auschwitz.”
... I can't decide if I'm surprised to be hearing so little from Hollywood, or if I'm not.

I watched Submission (link thanks to Michael Totten).

I think I'm going to sit quietly, now, and ponder the relative dangers of making offensive sexual holocaust-based insults, and those of making fairly innocuous narrative films with some veiled flesh shots.

The one is like sadistically slashing the throat of a saddle horse; the other is like dabbling your fingers in the water above a school of mutant piranha.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

A Preliminary Survey

Well, let's see...

So far, I have written entirely too much material for just two days of existence, most of it fairly foggy and long-winded. I'm sacrificing quite a bit of clarity to get in all of the little parenthetical tangents I'm so infatuated with. I've managed to express disgust with the metaphor of campaigning as romance, while simultaneously telling Democrats that they must "court" swing voters; and I've advocated understanding and mutual respect... while also comparing ruffled Dems to Turkeys.


I have not yet begun to blog!

Muah ha ha ha ha ha.


It isn't nice, but I couldn't help being reminded of Wangerin's turkeys from The Book of the Dun Cow, last week. In fact, after hearing the equivalent human cries of "Galoot!" I had to go back and re-read the book. The section in question involves the behavior of a group of animal characters in the midst of a war. Some Wild Turkeys haplessly blunder too close to the vicious enemy, and a heroic Dog saves them in the barest nick of time by running into them repeatedly and flinging them back into safety. Excerpt:

By the middle of the next morning it had become clear to nearly everyone that the Wild Turkeys had decided, to a man, to pout.

As blind and deaf as they were, they didn't know that one among their number -- Thuringer, his name -- had died by the bite of a serpent. They merely assumed that Thuringer had somehow escaped the altogether impolite pounding delivered unto the rest of them by a Dog and a vulgar nose. And nobody could tell them otherwise.... They "ga-galooted," and they "gaw-god-awfuled"; they groaned wonderfully and they limped, all within three feet of the meeting place. And they heard not a word of the proceedings....

The Wild Turkeys... were decided upon a personal duty. Their duty was to pout.

One of them, Corningware Turkey by name, stumbled and flubbered into the Coop itself. Once inside, he slammed the door with a right proper bang. Then he opened the door and stumbled out again, turned around, and slammed the door again. With his bottom wattles stuck out to the distance of a foot, for that is the expression of a pout, he reentered the Coop and banged the door, came out and banged the door, banged the door and banged the door. If anyone passed by, he casually lifted his stubby wing so that his many bruises would be apparent, then banged the door in that someone's face....

Almost before their eyes the animals saw a rampart rise up in a wide and perfect circle around the yard. The Ants made no complaint over the size of their duty. They worked in perfect contentment, and they built a wall, a bulwark of dirt which surrounded all the animals and finally stood as high as the gracious antlers of the deer. All around the outside of this wall they dug a trench quite as deep as the wall was high. And into the wall they buried here and there a Turkey up to his neck. Ants argue with no one if there is some way to keep schedule and do duty in spite of him. They didn't mind the Turkeys' pout. They didn't mind the Turkeys' plopping themselves upon the rising wall. And they thought that the naked little heads which finally stuck out of that wall were rather ornamental, if somewhat irregular.

The Turkeys, of course, pretended not to notice that they were up to their necks in the sod. The most wonderful pout of all is the kind which is snooty. It notices nothing at all -- and so is noticed by all, as it were, by accident. It says -- all unintentionally, to be sure: "You don't care about me, world. Well, then, go your way."
Wangerin would no doubt dislike having his book used for political comparison, but, hey, insight into human nature is insight into human nature, no matter where it's found or how it's used.

That Hideous MSM

Now for something short-winded, thankfully. It's a segment from C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength

"Don't you understand anything? Isn't it absolutely essential to keep a fierce Left and a fierce Right, both on their toes and each terrified of the other? That's how we get things done. Any opposition to the N.I.C.E. is represented as a Left racket in the Right papers and a Right racket in the Left papers. If it's properly done, you get each side outbidding the other in support of us -- to refute the enemy slanders. Of course we're non-political. The real power always is."

"I don't believe you can do that," said Mark. "Not with the papers that are read by educated people."

"That shows you're still in the nursery, lovey," said Miss Hardcastle. "Haven't you yet realised that it's the other way round?"

"How do you mean?"

"Why you fool, it's the educated reader who can be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they're all propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the little paragraphs about girls falling out of windows and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the highbrow weeklies, don't need reconditioning. They're all right already. They'll believe anything."
Lewis didn't know shit about sexual equality, but he knew quite well how to skewer the educated classes.

Orson Scott Card, and "Exposing" Oneself

I mentioned how some social conservatives see liberals as oppressive in the post prior to this one.

The first place I heard that idea was on Orson Scott Card's website.

I'll admit it. I am a drooling fan of his work. I was even privileged to attend one of his writing seminars, and I can honestly say that I know incredibly few artists who are so incredibly generous with their energy and devotion, in terms of helping novices of their craft, as he is.

I agree with him about war politics, and anything I could possibly say about that, he has already said here. As Glenn would say, read the whole thing.

I remember, just before the draft lottery that chose my number back in the Vietnam era, a professor asked me whether I would serve in Vietnam. I said, "Not if I can help it."

"Why not?" he said.

"Because we've already decided to lose. Why should I risk my life for that?" Nixon had been elected partly on the basis of a promise to get out of Vietnam. Having made that promise, he was no longer capable of negotiating a peace with the North Vietnamese that differed in any significant way from our complete surrender.

After all, why should they give in on any point, when their opponents in the negotiation had already promised to leave Vietnam regardless of whether the North Vietnamese gave concessions or not?

Likewise, Kerry's election will be interpreted by everyone in the world as meaning that the American people no longer have the will to fight until our enemies are defeated.

That means that if you enlist in Kerry's army, you will be put in harm's way fighting a war that the new president does not believe in and has no intention of winning.
Orson says a lot of things that I wish I could get away with saying. :)

On the other hand...

I also dislike his social conservativism extremely, and the arrogance that comes across in many of his essays.

But here is the trick: I know the man, and I know him by his works, and his works are good ones. Therefore I pay him the respect of accepting that he believes the things that he does for good and right reasons of his own, even if I don't necessarily believe that the things themselves are good and right. That is a fine line. But when the country is divided by a 51%/49% split, fine lines ought to predominate our thoughts for at least a little while.

If you don't understand what I'm talking about, let me phrase it a bit differently: I believe that if I had experienced life as OSC has experienced it, I could very well believe exactly as he does.

This is a very easy leap for me to make, considering I've believed on both sides of the fence. When I made the switch to secular social liberalism in my ideology, I first thought of myself as enlightened. Now, I just consider myself lucky... some days, not even that: a victim of chance, rather. Every single morning, I wake up to the knowledge that nature has created my body to bring forth children, and that mandate echoes loudly in my ears, despite the fact that I've never wanted children, and demands at all times that I re-evaluate my stance. Occasionally life would be easier if I could just give in and let the Bible tell me what my role and purpose in life is. But my experiences have shown me that the things I knew as a child simply do not reflect the way the world is.

Kerry states who are looking into secession: I would not recommend it. There is a secret in the above admissions I make. If you want to cross bridges and meet and understand people of different ideas in mutual respect if not agreement, then the key to that is exposure.

I used to listen to a beloved relative of mine practically smoke at the ears when she talked about homosexuality. It was ugly to watch, and uglier to hear, and I hated it and agonized over it and tried to argue it, and never made even a dent. She's since mellowed, and do you know what I blame for that? "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." I shit you not, and yes, it's funny, but it's also true. She admitted to me in a phone conversation once, that she had started watching the show, and I asked her why she liked it. The first thing she said was, "Well, they're obviously such nice guys, and they really seem to want to help, you know?"

Exposure. People are affected by arguments -- typically affected in that they tend to hold on more tightly to their challenged ideas -- but people are persuaded by faces. Why do you think the Family Research Council is so pissed off about gays on television portrayed as "normal people"?

And don't fake it, either. Don't pull a Guardian, making contact for the express purpose of demonstrating how condescending you can be. Because you should note that the word I chose was not instruction. It was exposure. (No, not at all like that.)

You do that by getting to know some of those red staters, even, perhaps, the ones you despise.

Oops, I forgot: exposure works both ways. You might get infected by a little bit of the Midwestern Cooties. I would be in favor of that.

I'm going to close with a quote, that a friend once said to me. I think it is the most insightful statement I have ever heard about political disagreements.
It's quite possible that ideal views and wants of two people are the same, but their "political" views are quite different. Sort of like, the end is the same, but the ideas for the means to reach that end aren't. I.e., say two people both want a violence free community, but one thinks that the solution is X while the other Y. Both are trying to achieve the same thing, one just thinks one way is better than the other.
No matter how different that sweaty oaf across the state from you may be, you and he, on a basic level, want the same things. You simply disagree about how to get there. Think about it. There is no issue that can not somehow be broken down to this level. To many people, that is frightening, but perhaps it's time it became reassuring instead.

I find it reassuring. I may be pro-war when it comes to Iraq, but I'm not the slightest bit interested in another war over an attempt to secede.

Suggestions for Democrats

I am completely delighted with just about everything found in Mark Kleiman's essay about Liberalism (not liberalism, Liberalism). Yes. Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Linked to their uncontrolled compassion is liberals' perceived (and to some extent real) indifference to the Puritan virtues -- chastity and sobriety and thrift -- or at least their unwillingness to act on behalf of those virtues in any way that might seem to imply disapproval or intolerance of those who display the corresponding vices.

On the other hand, liberals are perceived -- again, not entirely falsely -- as having strongly-held moral commitments and being willing to impose them on other people.
People who constantly rail against the Religious Right as some kind of Spanish Inquisition fail to realize that for many slightly more moderate social conservatives, the Liberal Left is seen in just as threatening a light. The fact that the liberals often have more illustrious podiums and better access to philosophy classes does not help their cause; some of the most attractive statements, to me, in Kleiman's essay, are the ones in which he admits to not understanding certain conservative issues:
Lots of my liberal friends are like me: they may not disapprove of target-shooting, but they really don't get hunting (which I think is mostly a guy form of nature-meditiation). They (we) think having guns for self-protection is sort of weird and primitive, and regard the "armed citizenry against tyranny" stuff as utterly nuts. Having guns around makes them (us) very uncomfortable. I've asked gun-carrying houseguests to leave their guns in their cars.

OK, fine. I don't like having guns around me, and try to arrange my own environment accordingly. The problem is that lots of liberals are willing to write that into law.
I have much more willingness to listen to someone who approaches my views with an outlook of, "I really don't get it, but hey, we're all different," than someone who decides that their own sensibilities have determined in them a superior comprehension of how my brain works.

Let me put it another way.

Democrats, if you want to win in 2008, there are some things you might wish to consider.

For instance:

You can not interpret a single event in two opposite ways if you wish to form a coherent strategy. Pick one: A) Bush used unfair methods to push an incredibly narrow margin and steal a win. B) Bush was elected by a red America filled with holy-rolling retarded church chimps. I'll ignore the fact that both of those assumptions are absolutely wrong, and simply point out that they just can't sit next to each other without getting into a fight. Pick one. If you pick option B, and manage to somehow live in that bleak worldview bubble for four years without killing yourself or leaving the country, then obviously your duty will become to educate the mindless masses. If you pick A (which I would prefer, but hey, we're all different), then you have very different goals: institute some security into voting, and court the swingers.

As far as the first part of that goal goes, I don't think Bush cheated, but I'm still all for better voting methodologies. I've already invited a guest blogger who's more of an expert on the potential technologies than I am, and I eagerly await his presentation of the data. Please! We could all use some improvement.

As far as the second part of that goal goes...

All I'm saying is consider it. Because there is much evidence to suggest it was the swingers and the moderates who turned the tide:
Evangelicals made up the same share of the electorate this year as they did in 2000. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who are pro-life. Sixteen percent of voters said abortions should be illegal in all circumstances. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who say they pray daily.
(Aside: Can we repeat that number, please? 16% of voters said abortions should be illegal in all circumstances. Every time I think I've escaped the liberal media bubble, I'm reminded that I haven't. I had no idea that there was so little popular support for a flat ban on abortion.)

The reason you want to consider it is this: you can not win the Religious Right, and you can not evict them, and you probably can't even sit down to dinner with them at this point without coming to blows, Dar Williams' optimism notwithstanding. This much I promise: the more you say you understand them, the more they absolutely know that you do not.

But you can win the moderates. You can even learn to like them.
"If she could give love to IT perhaps it would shrivel up and die, for she was sure that IT could not withstand love. But she, in all her weakness and foolishness and baseness and nothingness, was incapable of loving IT. Perhaps it was not too much to ask of her, but she could not do it.

But she could love Charles Wallace."

--Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle In Time
Dramatic, yes. I quote lots of fictional or silly things that just so happen to spring to mind, in reference to the oh-so-Serious issues of the day. And here I say: come back to us, Democrats. You know you can never love the Religious Right. But you can love the moderates. They are still a part of your family. Remember?

James Carville's quote about the election is instructive: "The purpose of a political party is to win elections, and we're not doing that." I say, shame on the Democratic party for not doing that. SHAME on you. Shame upon your heads for considering your petty hatreds and lofty schemes to interfere with the knowledge that, if you do not win, you do not matter. This isn't a game of chess, where pleasure can be taken in the strategy and the art, and points given for an exceptionally elegant style. This is a democracy. The party that works to win, and only to WIN, and then, after that, concentrates on WINNING, is also going to be the party that vigorously seeks out the issues that the voters really want, not the issues that "really matter" ("didn't John Kerry win every substantive point on the issues that really matter?") according to some other standard -- and hence, it's going to be the party that represents the majority. There is no virtuous or principled loss, here, because the only prize that matters is this: who really represents the people, and who just pretends to.

In the meantime, while you're working so hard to ferret out those issues and use them to your advantage (YES! WIN!); it wouldn't hurt for you to put a cork in a few of your louder polemicists. Kerry was not a bad candidate, you know, and his difficulties were not insurmountable (for every person I knew who was ignorant of social security laws, there was another person who didn't know what in the hell a swift boat was). His chief difficulty, as his campaign committee saw it, was a lack of a coherent vision. I'd be willing to take that a step further: the electorate would have been able to see whatever vision he did represent much more clearly, had the cacophany of the Bush-haters not drowned him out at every opportunity. It's just a personal hypothesis, but I think it could be valid. If you can't get the very loud, very published, and very annoying fringe elements off your side, then you at least have to make sure you find a candidate who can talk moderation as loudly as they scream epithets.

You should be no more handicapped by your lunatic fringe than the Republicans are handicapped by the Religious Right; they're very similar elements. The difference is, Republicans are currently going around repudiating the Religious Right. Don't believe me? Check a roll of the most popular Republican-tilted blogs, and tell me you don't spot a resounding chorus of, "But I don't mind gay marriage!" (If you think that blogs don't matter, well, then, that releases me from the obligation of having to argue about early exit-poll data with you.)

So let's summarize:

- First, decide what your goals are.

- If you want to win, pick the goal that is achievable (plausibility helps).

- You'd better want to win.

- Repudiate the fringe.

Some of us wouldn't mind seeing a vigorous, healthy Democratic party springing from the ashes of the current one. I, for one, as a career Republican, hate to see my party get all fat and lazy with no real opposition to cut its teeth on.


I'm attempting to pay attention to work, while simultaneously reloading my sitemeter statistics once per second. Work is suffering. :)

I can dream, one day, that I will be famous enough for some Leftie to read the above statement and think, "I hope she gets fired!" Ah, vitriol, such precious validation. One can almost see how Michael Moore keeps such a positive outlook.

Thank you, Glenn. Maybe I'll get a few scores out of this site. Ya think?

Jesusland Vs. The Gays

I offer up, for your comparison, Ken Layne:

But that's not enough to overcome Jesusland. Back in the mid-1980s, I thought I was witnessing the peak of Jesusland and its hold on politics -- the time of Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority, etc. That version of Jesusland did crumble under the weight of its own sins & scams, but the new Jesusland is even stronger, and totally decentralized -- these people don't even belong to a known religion, like the Catholics or the Methodists; they literally just make the shit up and call it a church. While there is no headquarters for Jesusland, all of its subjects do march at the command of the RNC and Karl Rove.
And an article from the Family Research Council:
And so, as one part of our broad-based efforts to support the traditional family, we oppose what is sometimes called "the gay agenda." It is an agenda that demands the full acceptance of the practice of homosexuality--morally, socially, legally, religiously, politically, and financially. Indeed, it calls for not only acceptance, but affirmation and celebration of this behavior as normal. It even demands that homosexuality be seen as desirable for those who desire it. This is "the gay agenda"--and we are against it.
What a monstrous hydra is bigotry; it speweth forth such similar bile from such different heads.

Maureen explains it all:

Romance is often used as the best metaphor in campaigns. In New Hampshire, Kerry fans had a bumper sticker that said, "Dated Dean, Married Kerry," playing off the idea that while Howard Dean might be exciting, with all his anti-war, sweet-nothing rants, John Kerry was more solid husband, or presidential, material. It was famously said of Bush 41 that he was so lacking in pizzazz he reminded women of their first husband[...] a gag that he didn't like, by the way.
Gee, imagine not liking a comment like that. I think it's political gold to have your leadership of the country compared to the fumblings of a starter-husband.

Romance is an awful metaphor for a political campaign. What kind of a woman gives a man power over her, when she absolutely knows that he isn't going to be honest? And yet, the single thing you know about every politician before you hire him is that he is not going to be honest. We've equated the stereotype of lying men to the necessary fact of lying presidents.

I find there's something disgusting about comparing an administration to a romantic relationship.

First of all, I think it's sexist, and an easy way to discount the vote of most women as "emotional". I anticipate a lot of this kind of comparison in the press, as pundits ask themselves, "Why did Bush get a higher percentage of the female vote this time around?" Expect answers to range from Bush's supposed father-figure status, to his stereotype as the rugged Marlboro Man type (yes, I got that from Bill Maher) -- any way to avoid the assumption that women might have been thinking about anything more than the secondary sexual characteristics of the candidate in question.

Second of all, well... I think it's sexist, because the metaphor does, in fact, reduce the candidates to their secondary sexual characteristics. I'm sure that every political hopeful dreams of the day when he can finally reside in the oval office and have his policies interpreted through the lens of Freudian heuristics. The higher you go, the stupider they think you.

One of the things that I have always liked about dubya is that he is not a good speaker. I tend to be nervous of the kind of candidate who seems to agree that a campaign is a "seduction", more about talking smoothly and making the other guys look bad than about being a good candidate. Bush doesn't talk a good game, but he does play a good game.

If more women voted for him this time around, it may very well be because women weren't voting with their ovaries.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Let's talk just a little bit about hysteria

I want to take people like Maureen Dowd seriously.

Stop laughing. No, STOP. I mean it. I actually admire her writing, she really does grab you. I want to take her concerns about the country seriously, and I want to take seriously the concerns of people like her -- people who are so incredibly possessed of the notion that the victory -- perhaps I should use a less inflammatory term -- the *cough* Near Defeat of Bush means that we're all going to be eating the flesh of all those non-aborted babies in a few years as we grub about in the grime and filth just beyond Thunderdome.

That's going a bit far; color me guilty of hyperdystopiating. It's contagious.

Yes, the idea of an ultra-conservative court is a frightening one. But, as a good friend said to me the other day, "I'm all out of fear." I'm twenty-seven years old, and I understand that completely. How can our ears be so numb, and the ears of so many purportedly older and wiser, tenured and respected writers be so sensitive? Forget that; they're paid to be loud. What's wrong with all the normal people? (Did I sound like a Democrat, there? Oops! Gosh I'd hate for the two sides to have anything in common.)

I feel I'm in a special position, as regards apocalypse. I spent my "I know everything" years as a fundamentalist (and therefore evangelical) Southern Baptist. I would have said, before last week, that there is no greater height of knowing-everythingness from which to fall...

But this isn't last week, this is this week, and my benumbed ears got a good drenching of acid in the fallout after the *cough, hack* Near Defeat. (Note: must get that hairball problem looked at.)

I've heard Americans talk about how this country needs to be taken down a notch. I've heard them say things about praying for natural disasters, and how the mighty will fall. I have heard Americans call other Americans dupes of Evil and slaves to darkness.

I'm not talking about last week.

I'm talking about when I was in highschool, surrounded by a group of older and entrenched SoBaptists, casually chatting about the increase in earthquakes around the world and making comparisons to Revelation. Exchanging homespun philosophy on pornography and homosexuality, while shaking their heads lustily in memory of good ol' Sodom and Gomorrah.

Imagine my shock to hear not only the same sentiment and tone, but even the same language, frequently, out the mouths of self-proclaimed atheists.

I'm delighted. Now I don't have to consign Chicken Littleism to the ranks of the Religious Right. Which is good, because I do still cherish my religious roots, misguided as some of the policies inspired by its adherents might be. One needn't be religious, to be blinded by the glory of an imaginary apocalypse; evidently this is just human nature. What a relief!

But Demo-pundits: if I tell you that you sound like the Left Behind series, would that give you some idea of the level of silliness I'm referring to?

Both MoDo and Left Behind get quite a good readership, you know. We, as human beings, prefer vindication to perspective, and drama to reality.

So what is the reality?

I wouldn't presume to say. I promise you absolutely that we're going to find out at the exact rate of sixty seconds per minute, sixty minutes per hour, twenty-four hours per day, for some days to come, and then perhaps some more days after that. At this point in my life, all I know is how to spot what not to believe. This much I can promise: it becomes very easy to spot what won't happen after you hear it phrased exactly the same way in exactly the same tone, regardless of the mouth of issuance.

* * *

Edit: Except for the profanity. Just switch the "amen"'s with "fuck"'s and it's the same shtick.

* * *

Edit again: More here.

Vision and U.S. Politics

I had not yet heard the 2004 election compared to the 1996 one... but once I did hear it, I had a slap-to-forehead reaction.

I was never a Clinton fan (of him na' her neither, as my family would have said), and I loathed the scandals. But I also never quite got the demonization of him that took place well before everybody knew the name of Lewinsky. Let us not forget Jane's Law: The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.

There were many times during the nineties when I definitely wanted to "slowly back away" from foaming Republican friends and family as they talked about Clinton. I find it amusing about myself that with all the comparisons I've been making mentally, for the past week, I've neglected to associate that same feeling with the similar one I've been having toward frothing Democrats here and there.

It took Virginia Postrel to make the comparison for me, and I can't think of a better way to describe the problem than the title she chose for her blog entry: The Party that Hates America Always Loses.

[The 1996] election was a test of the notion that Republicans can scorn anyone who talks about freedom, treat issues as matters of bribery rather than principle or vision, alternate between patronizing and ostracizing immigrants and women, regularly denounce American culture, and generally act obnoxiously toward the country they supposedly represent -- and still win, because the Democrats are worse and Clinton is a sleaze.
The test failed then, as it has failed now. I won't say that America's tendency to want to support the visionaries rather than the reactionaries is good or bad (because I can think of perfectly sound arguments either way)... I will say that it's a characteristic that I personally like and admire, and one of the big reasons why I like living here. Visionaries can be amazingly stupid, but it's also amazing what one can accomplish when one refuses to acknowledge what one can't do...

It brings to mind a (slightly) old essay from Den Beste: American Robustness.
What the founders created was a system which was engaged in perpetual revolution. They designed a system that could survive and even encourage ongoing revolution without being destroyed....

The American Revolution didn't end in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris. It just changed that revolution from one against a foreign tyrant to an internal revolution which continues to this day. But it's a peaceful revolution, held in slow motion....

What was unique, and entirely unprecedented, was how it was able to adapt and change and improve. What was astounding was that it was designed to peacefully allow radical change which in almost any other known system to that time would only have been possible via violent revolution.
These are comforting words, to me. The First Amendment has never been perfectly enforced nor followed, but some group of silly visionaries somewhere were crazy enough to try it during a time when even today's limited success was completely unimaginable.

You want another dark glass reflection of the situation?

I have a couple of little notes that I keep posted on the wall of my cubicle at work. I ganked them off of this site. Hey, it's just an outline for a course. But what an outline! Take the fourth point, for example:
Filter #4: It is Wrong Unless it is Perfect
For the past week, what I seem to be hearing is that it is not merely Wrong, but quite literally the End of the World, if the current situation is not perfect. That kind of an attitude is death to a successful business meeting, and it's not much better in a political debate. (Then again, when one feels it is the end of the world as we know it, who cares about productivity?)

I'll go into the concepts of idealism (which encourages Filter #4) vs. cynicism, and why each is actually the opposite of what most people think it is, later.

ADD Notes

ADD notes concerning the last two posts:

The television is on, I have music playing, I am currently holding two conversations online, I am reading e-mail, and I am eating something.

I just concentrate better, this way...

The Populist Blogger

According to the fine folks over at Merriam-Webster, the second definition of the word "populist" is this:

2: a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people
My own favorite variant of the populist is this one: a believer in all three.

To believe, to have faith in something. And when you have faith in something, that doesn't just mean you believe it exists. It means you are investing some stock of yourself into the idea that the thing is good, that the thing will do you good.

I don't just give a polite nod to the idea that common people have rights. I believe that the fact that they have rights is a good thing, a thing I advocate, a thing I can depend upon, and a thing which will do good things for me in return. I could not do that unless I had faith in the wisdom and virtues parts of the equation as well.

Almost every single thing that I believe, politically, spiritually, and materially, follows from this faith, and assuming I continue to publish blog articles like a good little Ewin, you will hear me reference the idea again and again.

The idea, roughly engaged in the first published entry, that I am not going to fool around with comments or answer too many e-mails arises from the populist philosophy. Yes, it's something I've thought about, and even agonized over: whether or not I should publish writings online without hosting commentary* over them.

My populist answer is: frankly, I'm not required to, and I choose not to.

What makes it populist is: I nevertheless feel I have a perfect right to write what I want and advocate my opinions.

The common man has a common life. He holds a job, often cares for a family, and has many diverse responsibilities that do not fall under the heading of politics. In order to keep the world around him from interfering in his ability to do the things he must, and the things he wishes, he hires representatives. He hires representatives to care for the running of his various societies; those are called politicians. He hires representatives to think about and analyze whether or not the politicians are doing their jobs correctly; some of those are called journalists.

But here is the key: just because someone is a paid representative of the common man's eyes, brains, and mouth, does not mean that the common man is therefore obligated to keep all three of them shut in public.

Quite the contrary. Having faith in the common man, I believe he's capable of seeing things, from his humble post, that the hired eyes and ears miss. He certainly has a different perspective. And in my common opinion, every perspective is valuable.

You will hear me laud the words of conservative-to-moderate bloggers, for the most part, because I consider them my mentors. But I'm also one of the few conservative bloggers you'll ever see who makes a point of recognizing the right of a celebrity to use their status to make a political stand. I don't care if Actress X never finished college, and is presuming to question the opinions of the President. Acress X, regardless of her income, is one o' them thar common men I'm talking about. I have faith in her. I have faith in those who listen to her.

And I'm not about to give Barbra Streisand a license to run her mouth off, and not permit myself the same privilege.

I voted on November 2nd, 2004, and I voted for George W. Bush.

By comparison, my starting a blog is a paltry gesture.

* I chose the phrase "hosting commentary" very carefully. Assuming I ever get read, and say anything remotely controversial, there WILL be commentary. I just don't consider myself responsible for its feeding and stabling.

An Introduction

If you are working to establish a permanent niche for yourself in a job that you at which you have only recently begun to prove yourself...

If you are attempting to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days (Nanowrimo, anyone?)...

If you have recently moved into a new town and still have plenty of exploring to do, books to alphabetize, papers to file, etc....

If reading the news stresses you out and leaves you a numb shell of depression for days and days...

Why, then, you certainly wouldn't want to start a political blog.

Unless you are ADD Inattentive. In which case, you might want to start a political blog. ADD is characterized by a rather nutty tendency to fling oneself at new project after new project, thus ensuring that no project can ever truly be done well, much less completed.

Me? I am ADD Inattentive.

But there is some method to my madness. I am positive that if I put some of my political blatherings on this publisher, that I can a) give my Livejournal friends a break, and b) clear my own head and even perhaps get some paid work done now and then.

One warning: I have provided an e-mail address. I have not provided a comment section. I do not have time to babysit wounded egos or answer all your objections; if you don't like what I wrote, don't read it. The reason I have provided an e-mail address is so that you can have a target at which to fling invective should you really, really need the outlet. I don't promise to read them. It should go without saying that I therefore do not promise to respond.

You are all old enough to know how to operate Google, and therefore, if I launch into something provably mistaken, I trust you to eventually figure it out on your own. I used to be obsessive about accuracy; I am not anymore. I can not afford to be when I'm not getting paid to do it. (Considering how often paid writers screw up facts and figures, I'm not even close to feeling guilty about it.) Incidentally, my fact-checking policy fits in very nicely with the underlying philosophy of this blog, which I will outline in the next post.