Stephen Colbert gets serious

08/27/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
From here

He does, however, have one earnest convention agenda, provided he wangles sufficient access: "We want to find out actual information about Republicans. We want to know where the pods are, where they're grown, and we want to photograph them before they're harvested." Just kidding.

Mission accomplished ?

08/26/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
From here

WASHINGTON, Aug. 26 — The number of Americans living in poverty rose by 1.3 million last year, to 35.9 million, while those without health insurance climbed by 1.4 million, to 45 million, the Census Bureau reported today.

It was the third straight annual increase for both categories.

Or maybe it's just the hair

08/26/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
"I believe this will be an event best observed from afar," said Daniel Peres, the editor of Details, the sexually ambiguous men's magazine.

"I don't want to see a lot of bad Men's Warehouse suits and a lot of badly parted hair walking around my neighborhood," he said. "All Republicans part their hair the same way."

Politics and the Brain

08/26/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
Alot of people may think that this is going out on a limb: the same kind of wild predictions were made 100 years ago after the publication of Freud's thesis on the mind. It was just a short matter of time, everyone said, before all of mankind's problems will be neatly taken care of, now that its inner secrets were accessible via psychotherapy.

And while it's true that eventually (probably sooner than later) the mind's secrets will be revealed, this,so far, is just another clue.

In this article, and in a followup article in the Times magazine (which I can't get a permalink to) the suggestion is that different parts of the brain light up in people of different political persuasions.

The attached photograph exposes one of the assumptions: that democrats and republicans are opposites on some kind of scale, which leaves out an awful lot of other political parties such as the luddites, whigs, greens, and the posse commitatus.

The new tools used by the researchers mentioned in this article aren't new: it's just MRI on a person's brain while he/she is being exposed to different politically themed advertisements.

Then, the results were tabulated and correlated to whether the person considered themselves democrat or republican. The most significant difference was activity in the amygdala of people of democratic persuasion. From previous research, the amygdala is associated with emotional response.

The default assumption would be that people who consider themselves democrats tend to use more emotion in their thinking and reasoning. But in what turns out to be another in a long line of famous conundrums and paradoxes, people with damaged amygdalas, while being fine at logic tests, show profoundly bad judgement.

All of this research is being conducted by people associated with UCLA, but who are actually in the political consultation business. They're more interested in how political ads affect voters than they are on the basic research of the difference between people of different political affiliations.

If the objective weren't political in the first place, then we might be seeing experiments on democrats and republicans that don't involve political advertisements, which quite possibly is complicating the research. For example. Democratic brains showed fear when being exposed to both nuclear bombs and 9/11 videos, implying that they have a much greater adverse reaction to violence.

But another explanation is that 9/11 implies a Bush victory since he is using that imagery to a huge extent in his campaign. Perhaps showing something non-political such as car crashes, or a boy pulling the wings off of a fly would reveal more.

One of the more interesting conclusions that's come out of all of this is that there is more to it than issues that bind the different parties together: in fact it appears that people make a political affiliation first and adopt the opinions on the particular issues from the party platform later. This would make sense if it were some other kind of selector that was drawing the parties together besides issues.

I, for one have always wondered how the different planks in each platform have come together. When you get right down to them, some seem to have extremely weak bonds based upon a common philosophy at all, save for the fact that they're there in the first place. Each party combines paradoxes of freedom and control.

If, as this research suggests, there is some other underlying commonality between members of political parties -- something in their personality that each person can detect in others, then it makes sense that people would seek out others of similar sensibility. The politics and issue-based opinions then serve as the grout between tiles that are already glued together.

From my armchair, it does seem to make a bit of sense. People who have an adverse reaction to violence would probably spend more time obtaining their ends through the means of politics and negotiation than through coercion and violence. I've often wondered how the pro-war set justify so easily dropping bombs on others or sending people off to their deaths in an electric chair without spending too much time worrying if they've got the wrong person.

It would be easy to run with the ball. I don't want to make the same mistake as the paleoentologists make in Monty Python: uncovering the toe of some critter and wildly extrapolating some crazy hairy beast connected to it.

That said, it appears that what I'm calling an aversion to violence may also, in a more general sense, simply be called empathy.

Is it that Republicans simply don't spend as much time worrying about the other person? Could it be that, as I noted in my previous posts, Republicans playing more to win compared with Democrats playing more for the truth? Could be this empathy in action? How about when applied to patriotism? Hating the French is easier to do when you don't care about things that aren't your own. You, your family, your country.

Republicans have always thought that the Democrats were wimpy and the Democrats have always thought that the Republicans were Rambos. Is it empathy that separates the two parties? Could a difference in the ability to consider others around them at the core of political differentiation?

These are just musings, certainly leaving much more about causes of political differences to be pondered when viewed from this light.

Objectivity = artificial balance

08/26/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
From the creators of on an interview on On the Media
MIKE PESCA: One thing that I see is that people who have a horse in the race either way, they want the media to be more outraged by either Kerry's lies or Bush's lies, but they can't hammer it because if one side lies more, and then the media's always pointing it out, it really makes it seem like they're rooting for the other side.

BRYAN KEEFER: Well, the media has interpreted objectivity to often mean artificial balance. So what happens is when Bush says something like "The average tax cut was 1500 dollars," the media will print that, and then if they're going to contradict it, they'll go to some outside expert or maybe they'll go to the opposite campaign saying "No, it wasn't 1500 dollars. The average tax cut for people in the middle income bracket was a few hundred." But the problem is, is that when it's he-said, she-said, the readers don't really get a sense of who's right and who's wrong.

MIKE PESCA: But in the major papers of America, I see an effort to run features that they might call an ad watch or an ad check, where they tell you who's lying, as someone who's reported on campaigns, there's nothing we reporters like more than catching anyone in a lie.

BRYAN KEEFER: I mean, ad watch pieces are wonderful, as far as they go, but the problem is they're out of the news cycle, and when Bush says Kerry voted 350 times for higher taxes, eventually they do an ad watch piece and an op-ed kind of piece, and finally it finds its way into the news coverage a month later. And so the problem for readers is that they hear the misleading sound bite long before they hear it debunked. You know, the Annenberg Public Policy Center did a survey of voters in swing states in particular asking them about the claims that had been in ads, like the 350 votes for higher taxes, and they found that people believed them, for the most part.

MIKE PESCA: The interesting thing [LAUGHS] about that survey is that people said you know I don't believe these ads; I know to take 'em with a grain of salt, but then when they say - well what about 350 votes, they say oh, well that's a fact.

Objectivity, Daily Show Style

08/26/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
STEWART: Here's what puzzles me most, Rob. John Kerry's record in Vietnam is pretty much right there in the official records of the US military, and haven't been disputed for 35 years?

CORDDRY: That's right, Jon, and that's certainly the spin you'll be hearing coming from the Kerry campaign over the next few days.

STEWART: Th-that's not a spin thing, that's a fact. That's established.

CORDDRY: Exactly, Jon, and that established, incontravertible fact is one side of the story.

STEWART: But that should be -- isn't that the end of the story? I mean, you've seen the records, haven't you? What's your opinion?

CORDDRY: I'm sorry, my *opinion*? No, I don't have 'o-pin-i-ons'. I'm a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called 'objectivity' -- might wanna look it up some day.

STEWART: Doesn't objectivity mean objectively weighing the evidence, and calling out what's credible and what isn't?

CORDDRY: Whoa-ho! Well, well, well -- sounds like someone wants the media to act as a filter! [high-pitched, effeminate] 'Ooh, this allegation is spurious! Upon investigation this claim lacks any basis in reality! Mmm, mmm, mmm.' Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.

STEWART: So, basically, you're saying that this back-and-forth is never going to end.

CORDDRY: No, Jon -- in fact a new group has emerged, this one composed of former Bush colleages, challenging the president's activities during the Vietnam era. That group: Drunken Stateside Sons of Privilege for Plausible Deniability. They've apparently got some things to say about a certain Halloween party in '71 that involved trashcan punch and a sodomized piñata. Jon -- they just want to set the record straight. That's all they're out for.

STEWART: Well, thank you Rob, good luck out there. We'll be right back.

Playing for truth versus playing to win

08/25/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
I was listening to Maureen Dowd being interviewed on the Daily Show last week. She's been on the circuit promoting her new book Bushworld which is a collection of her columns on Dubya.

There were a few chuckles, especially when she compared Bush I being the "good" daddy and Cheney being the "bad" daddy, and then when asked why Cheney was the bad daddy, she replied "I don't know, because he's barking mad".

Towards the end of the segment, however, she made the point that the Democrats seem to be chasing after the truth, while the Republicans are not so much interested in that as they are in winning. That would imply, then, somehow, that you can either do one or the other, but not both.

That point was brought again to mind after reading this article :
Slater acknowledged that Democrats have not been as successful at attacking as Republicans have, and McMahon agreed. "I think Democrats always naively believe that elections are going to be about issues, and Republicans understand that presidential elections are about character, and issues are relevant only to the extent that they provide a more complete context for a person's character," he said.

McMahon said it's time for the Democrats to turn that view around. By focusing on Bush's sketchy military service -- and his dissembling about it -- McMahon said the Democrats can "shine a light" on a whole series of Bush obfuscations, from the reasons for going to war in Iraq, to the costs of the war, to the effect of the tax cuts. But that requires going for the jugular in a way that the Democrats seldom do.

Maslin wonders why. "Is it because the Republicans have fewer hesitations about this kind of thing? That they have no scruples? That they have a willing news media that gives them the benefit of the doubt on this stuff? I don't know."

I'm not certain that it's all about character. What it most definitely doesn't appear to be about, though, is issues. I don't think there's any argument, however, the the Republicans are much more ready, able, and willing to use the tactics used against Dukakis, John McCain, and now Kerry to win.

Not that the Democrats don't use them, but not nearly as much or nearly as effectively as the Republicans. Is that to their credit?

Florida election troubles again!

08/25/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
From the what-were-they-up-to department:

Following the contentious 2000 recount, e-mails on former Sec. of State Katherine Harris' computer revealed that she had been in contact with Jeb Bush during the recount, contrary to both their claims. Miami Herald reporter Meg Laughlin discovered that e-mail messages sent to Jeb Bush from Harris had been deleted after the recount. Harris then had the operating system of her computer changed, a procedure that erased all its data. "What was odd about what she did," said Mark Seibel, an editor at the Herald, "was that they installed an old operating system—not a new one—which makes you wonder why they did it."

To the here-we-go-again department

For one, Hood and Jeb Bush have strongly endorsed the state's Republican-controlled legislature's new rule that outlaws manual recounts. This means that if any of the new optical-scan or touch-screen machines fail—as they did in the 2002 elections; and the recent March primaries; and just last week, when a backup system failed in a test run in Miami-Dade—there will be no recourse for counting votes.


There is also the matter of Florida's large elderly population, which can be susceptible to manipulation. For example: For years, until he disappeared in 1982 after a drug-smuggling indictment, a Bay of Pigs veteran named Rafael Villaverde bused hundreds of Cuban exile ancianos in Miami-Dade from old-age homes to the polls so they could deliver the vote for the Republican Party.

Not to mention the recent irregularities of sheriff's deputies visiting elderly black (democratic, by coincidence) voter activists based upon flimsy or missing evidence.


Then there is the issue of the felon list. Florida is one of only seven states that does not automatically restore a felon's voting rights after his or her release from prison (another of the ignored recommendations made by the commission Jeb Bush created). More than 52 percent of Florida's felon population happens to be African-American, a demographic that voted Democratic in 2000 in unprecedented numbers. No matter whether one's crime has been marijuana possession, check bouncing, or DUIs, anyone who has been convicted of a felony must endure an arduous obstacle course in order to have their voting rights restored. Most will have to face the state's clemency board chaired by Gov. Bush and two other Republican officials. There is no appeal process. One veteran official with Florida's Corrections Department, who asked for anonymity, noted that, "We have the president's brother deciding whether people get to vote or not vote, which strikes me as a conflict of interest."

Do you like fish?

08/25/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
Don't eat too much of it:

Michael O. Leavitt, the E.P.A. administrator, drew his conclusion from the agency's latest annual survey of fish advisories, which showed that 48 states - all but Wyoming and Alaska - issued warnings about mercury last year. That compared with 44 states in 1993, when the surveys were first conducted.

The latest survey also shows that 19 states, including New York, have now put all their lakes and rivers under a statewide advisory for fish consumption. But Mr. Leavitt said that the widespread presence of mercury reflected a surge in monitoring - not an increase in emissions - as part of growing state efforts to warn local anglers about the fish they are catching. Last year, states issued 3,094 advisories for toxic substances, compared with 1,233 in 1993

Don't you feel better that Mr. Leavitt said that the astronomical levels were only due to an increase in monitoring. Makes you feel safer already doesn't it? Go celebrate with a piece of fish.

Looking forward, here's the issue:
"Even in light of new monitoring data," said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an industry group, "a well-designed cap-and-trade program remains the most appropriate response to dealing with mercury emissions from power plants."

But environmentalists, as well as President Bush's Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry, have attacked the Bush administration's proposed standards as weak and unnecessarily drawn out. The administration has proposed reducing emissions 29 percent by 2010 and 69 percent by 2018.

Emily Figdor, a policy analyst for Clear the Air, a coalition of environmental groups, said, "The technology is available now to reduce emissions by 90 percent by 2008, as the Clean Air Act requires, but there is no indication that the administration is considering a stronger proposal."

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, accused the administration of "dragging its feet" by endorsing a weak plan.

Pointing out emperor cable's new clothes

08/25/04 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General
I'm wondering if we're going to start seeing a trend back away from news-as-entertainment back to more news-as-news. One would think that there is a market for it. After all, that's how CNN made its debut and meteoric rise to the top. But then again, the great dumbing down of CNN was in response to the attack of Fox and the gain they were making in ratings.

From here

Over the last few weeks, 24-hour news networks have done little to find out what John Kerry did in Vietnam, but they have provided a different kind of public service: their examination of his war record in Vietnam illustrates once again just how perfunctory and confusing cable news coverage can be. Facts, half-truths and passionately tendentious opinions get tumbled together on screen like laundry in an industrial dryer - without the softeners of fact-checking or reflection.

Somehow, on all-cable news stations - CNN as well as Fox News - a story that rises or falls on basic and mostly verifiable facts blurs into just another developing news sensation alongside the latest Utah kidnapping or the Scott Peterson murder trial. (It is particularly confusing on Fox News, where so many of its blond female anchors look like Amber Frey.)

This article is a pretty direct broadside from the Times on cable. That's what leads me to wonder whether there's going to be a bit of the pendulum swinging back the other way.

This past week I've seen no less than 3 articles pointing out the notion of "impartiality" on many of these shows is just making sure that there are two opposing viewpoints without any resolution.

Are we that far down the path of nuance and linguistic relativism that there is no truth any more?

More from the article:

"I wasn't trying to be mean-spirited," Mr. Dole said. "I was just trying to say all these guys on the other side just can't be Republican liars."

That kind of air-kiss coverage is typical of cable news, where the premium is on speed and spirited banter rather than painstaking accuracy. But it has grown into a lazy habit: anchors do not referee - they act as if their reportage is fair and accurate as long as they have two opposing spokesmen on any issue.

Do we need to be counting heads to determine where the truth lies ?

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