Of course I'm liberal, I believe in liberty.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Daily Show Takes on Bloggers

Via Daniel Drezner (whom I'm told is conservative, but I always seem to agree with him, so that can't be right), the Daily Show's take on bloggers:
They have no credibility -- all they have is facts! Spare me.
For therein lies our only hope. For with legitimacy, the bloggers get a seat at the table, and with that comes access, status, money, and power -- and if there's anything we've learned about the mainstream media, that breeds complacency.
Full 'report' here.

UPDATE: More Daily Show on blogging here.

Conservative America

The Economist1 ran a pull on American social values that seems counter intuitive yet gave back exactly the results I was expecting. Basically, everyone in America agrees that the country is more conservative now than it was several years ago. However, American's view of the actual social issues themselves are, with the exception of abortion, consistently more liberal. Here's the graph:

The full survey is here.

Americans believe we are more conservative than ten years ago, but realize we are more liberal than our parents. We are more tolerant of gays, less tolerant of the death penalty and, a bit to my surprise, more willing to legalize marijuana.

Marijuana is an interesting one. I agree that it isn't more dangerous to use than alcohol, but that's a comment on alcohol more than pot. And I certainly agree with the basic premise that prohibition doesn't work and we are wasting jail space and people's lives locking up pot smokers. On the other hand, what do we do about second hand smoke and children? I don't believe any child should be exposed to marijuana smoke. Also, although pot isn't more dangerous than alcohol, the two together can be deadly. Alcohol is a poison that will kill in large quantities, it is only the body's ability to purge itself (worshiping at the porcelain altar) that saves the heavy drinker. However, marijuana's main medicinal benefit is its ability to reduce nausea, allowing the alcohol to kill.

On abortion it seems we are both more pro-life and more pro-choice, with more and more moving to the middle ground. Only 14% believe abortion should be Illegal in all circumstances (down 1% since '95) while only 29% believe abortion should always be legal (down 4%). A solid 53% believe believe abortion should only sometimes be legal (up 3%). It's interesting that neither party can muster a 50% majority on either extreme. America really is pro-life and pro-choice, despite all the claims this was the one issue there could never be a compromise.

It turns out Hillary was right. After her speech on abortion I expected only mockery from the pro-life crowd, but the response was far more positive than I anticipated. Yes, the mockery was certainly there, but so was the praise. For examples of pro-life praise see The Moderate Voice and the Bull Moose, each with their own links to other sources. NARAL's request to pro-life America to help them prevent abortions was another good move towards moderation by the pro-choice crowd.

Abortion has always been about two completely different issues. The issue most of us think about is weighing the right of the unborn child versus the right of the mother. Until the feminist movement women were considered by most to have few rights, so the balance was obvious. Since feminism was a liberal cause, abortion rights became a liberal cause as well. But the true pacifist liberal, like Kucinich until a couple of years ago, those who consistently believe in life and the whole Maya Keyes gang show the division isn't so obvious.

The other issue, though, is there are some conservatives that want to make abortions illegal just to put women in their place, back in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant. Personally, I don't think this is more than a percent or less of the whole pro-life side, so why do I bring it up? Because I suspect many on the left believe this group is much, much larger than it really is, which leads to a dig-in the heels, can't budge mentality. But for those who now assume the sexes are equal, instead of fighting to prove it, the issue becomes what it should always be, the weighing of two rights.

Approval of Unions are also more moderate now than before. Those that approved of unions dropped from 60% to 52% in just eight years, but disapproval dropped from 31% to 27% over the same time. Maybe this is because people just don't think about unions as much as they used to. Personally, I'm strongly in favor of the existence of unions, I think they are one of the more powerful tools available to balance the natural, unhealthy power employers have over workers. That said, the odds of me siding with a union in a labor dispute are small; I'd probably remain neutral and would be just as likely to take the businesses side if I thought the union was demanding too much. I'm always looking for balance and distrust excess of power in any form, including unions.

On the question of business versus the environment everyone flocked to an answer that wasn't allowed in a '95 poll: both should be given equal priority received 49% in the survey. Those that chose an extreme went with the environment over business by a margin of two to one, just like in '95, only both numbers halved due (I assume) to the new choice.

So with all this moderation, why does the country feel so extra divided today? The Republican mastery of the wedge issue is part of it and Iraq and other extreme Bush policies help as well, but I don't think it explains everything. Personally, I think Jon Steward was right and the Crossfire culture in the media and blogosphere has done wonders to emphasize and magnify our differences. We aren't really all that divided, it just looks like we are on TV.

1 That magazine free trade liberals like myself want to love, but can't. For example, they recently wholeheartedly endorsed Bush's social security privatization plan, except, of course, for every single detail. Maddening.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Data Blizzard

Over the past few weeks or so I've enjoyed reading David Brin's essay-in-parts on modernism but I've read enough a Brin to know where he was headed most of the time. For me, nothing Earth shattering. However, there was a anonymous comment that has had me thinking for a while. I'm not quite sure what to make of it, but I think it's an important idea. Here's the post in whole:
In part 10 you imply that what you call modernism should be judged on the "pragmatic success-failure ratio" of various endeavors. Presumably you believe that ratio is greater than 1, and that any honest observer will come to the same conclusion.

The problem is that many honest observers won't, and here's why, via an analogy. There's a paradox in mathematics where it can be shown that the number of even numbers is "the same" as the number of numbers in general. The problem is that both sets are infinite. For every number you can pair up a corresponding even number, and vice versa, so there's justification in saying there are as many of each kind, even though one is "obviously" larger than the other.

A similar principle applies when it comes to evaluating data points in support of political positions today. For any situation where there is some disagreement, both sides will have an effectively infinite number of facts to support their position, due to the fact that a vast amount of raw data is collected about everything these days. Anything one side comes up with to support its position can be match on the other side with something to support its position.

So now it's not simply a matter of "my side has more facts to support its position than yours". Both sides have "the same" nearly-infinite number of facts supporting their positions. Your view of the world then comes down not to some kind of objective comparison, but by how things *feel* to you personally.

So when you say "obviously, the modernist program has had more successes than failures", someone who feels the opposite can say "that's not so obvious" and counter every success you cite with a failure.

(The environment created by this blizzard of data is what allows modern spin-based politics to exist, and figuring out how to deal with it will be necessary if we think the future of the country shouldn't necessarily be directed by whoever has the best public-relations apparatus.)
This is certainly something I've thought of before, but never at quite this level. It's an awfully nihilistic view of today's information overload. I'm not positive this is relevant in the Real World, but in the blogosphere and perhaps the media and public arena at large I this may be dead-on correct. This certainly is an idea to mull over.

Almost random, quasi-related thought: I once drew a stair with four steps, Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom. Each step required additional intelligence and, ironically, fewer datums. Sometimes we confuse the first step for the last.

Maya in Post

I missed this yesterday, a column on Maya Keyes in the Sunday Post.

Fighting Spirit

CB states:
How should a peaceful society approach fighting a just war? Should we fight with gusto, relishing every victory and eager for more, or should we approach it grimly, with reluctance, and mourn every loss, innocent, friendly and enemy?

The answer is: both.

In the policy-making plane, when we are deliberating what to do, how to pay for it, etc., we absolutely need to be sober and grim about the momentous choice of going to war. But in the operational plane, the people, resources and activities involved in actually conducting the war, unwavering commitment is critical to good performance. It is the operational plane I will discuss in this post, and show that neither recent efforts to muzzle a politically incorrect General nor the idea of reinstating the draft are useful to enhancing the war effort.
Carpe Bonum commenter Mark, proprietor of The Moderate Liberal blog, calls me out on a comment I made regarding Marine Corps Lieutenant General James Mattis:
Mattis: "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

CB: "Thank God we have people like General Mattis to do it."

Jesus: " But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well." "...I say to you, love your enemy..."

Now, I'm nowhere nearly as liberal as Jesus and think in the real world we really do need to resist the evil doer. But do we really need to enjoy it?
A discussion of whether the Iraq war is just belongs in the policy-making plane, so I'm not going to get into it here. And if you don't believe Iraq is a just war, I'm sure I lost you on the first sentence of this post anyway. So, assuming we are fighting a just war in Iraq, do we need to enjoy it? Answer: no, but we need to maintain and maximize our troops fighting spirit any chance we get.
I wasn't lost on the first sentence. It was a nice try, though. :-)

There are many just reasons for this war, a couple of them where even mentioned quietly once or twice before we invaded: for example this war was probably the only way to lift the sanctions that were seriously hurting the people of Iraq while their brutal dictator continued to live in luxury.

The reasons usually stated for invading Iraq weren't particularly just reasons, but there were others. But the main reason I opposed this war wasn't due to it's legitimacy, but it's wisdom. I believed the war would hurt our fight against Islamic Fundamentalists by driving moderates away from us and towards the radicals. But now that we are in, I agree we need to see this through, as I've said a few times before while still believing the real goal is to win the hearts and minds of moderate Islam.

Anyway, CB raises an interesting issue of liberal and conservative PCness. Conservatives have been trying to enforce a form of political correctness where no one should ever criticize the war, the decision to go to war or the Commander In Chief. He brings these points up again, pointing to the need to keep moral high in Iraq. While I think there is some truth to this, I believe the American system of open and honest government is far more important, both in general and to the success of the mission. Many mistakes have been made in the war and many of them came from this administration ignoring alternative views, particularly from it's own State Department. It's messy and annoying, but the American system of government is based on openness. debate and dialog. It works.

That said, it works both ways. Some of the right's complaints about the left's complaints have been on the money. But not most. Most on the left have been very careful to support our troops and not repeat the mistakes made during the Vietnam war.1

Now I certainly won't support the rhetoric of those extreme left wing wackos we hear about from time to time (though, of course, I'll defend their American right to say it), but it's vital our nation's civilian and military leaders listen to the criticisms from the left. They need to stop saying inflammatory stuff like Mattis' quote, "our God is bigger than their God", etc. It isn't because I care what they say, it's because people in the Middle East care. Once again, and I need to repeat this over and over again, the real fight is for the hearts and minds of moderate Islam. Right now we are losing that fight.2 If all we do is push them into the radical fundamentalists' camp we have truly lost. We can't kill them all, as much "fun" as that may be.

For the record, this is what Republicans who push the hard line patriotic support of our troops and Commander In Chief say when it doesn't meet with their own political agenda. I remember hearing this stuff several years ago and easily googled it up, I'm sure anyone can find other, similar quotes. I got these from Salon:
"Once the bombing commenced, I think then [Slobodan] Milosevic unleashed his forces, and then that's when the slaughtering and the massive ethnic cleansing really started," Nickles said at a news conference after appearing on Meet the Press. "The administration's campaign has been a disaster. ... [It] escalated a guerrilla warfare into a real war, and the real losers are the Kosovars and innocent civilians." On Fox News Sunday, DeLay blamed the ethnic cleansing on U.S. intervention. "Clinton's bombing campaign has caused all of these problems to explode," DeLay charged in a House floor speech replayed on Late Edition.
"I had doubts about the bombing campaign from the beginning," Lott offered on Late Edition. "I didn't think we had done enough in the diplomatic area." Nickles called NATO's prewar peace proposal to the Serbs "a very arrogant agreement" that "really caused this thing to escalate."
I'm not complaining about this criticism, mind you. They were part of a healthy dialog, just like the one conservatives keep trying to discourage today.

1 Think of it as hate the sin, love the sinner, if that helps. Nah, never mind, that just confuses me as well.

2 The war is hurting us terribly on this front. On the other hand, a free and democratic Iraq will help us tremendously. Will the good stuff make up for the bad stuff? If I'd thought so I'd have supported the war, but we've already got most of the bad stuff. Let's see if we can get some good out of it now that we're there.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Parable Of The Beekeeper

There once was a beekeeper who believed the ancient Tome of the Keepers. No word was questioned and no letter disobeyed. And so he lived his life.

The Tome of the Keepers said "all bees fly by the will of the Queen and by the will of the Queen they shall be lifted." And the keeper believed.

The man of science said it is not the will of the Queen, but the wing and the muscle and the lift that keep the bee afloat, but the keeper did not believe. Nor did the keeper's wife. Nor did the keeper's neighbor.

The man of science made very careful studies of bumblebee flight and came to the conclusion that bumblebees cannot fly at all. But they did fly, and the man of science could not explain.

The keeper exclaimed the Tome was righteous and the people believed. The man of science protested but the people would not let him continue to look for natural causes for natural events. The Tome explained all.

Now, it is known to all, the bee flies only by the will of the Queen. Never again did the man of science look for a natural cause and thus, he never found one.

And for all time the people forever explained gaps in their theories and understanding by claiming the supernatural, and there was peace, for the people learned the joy of just giving up.

The End