Saturday, July 29, 2006

Abandonment of Reason

Our country's increase in partisanship has led to an abandonment of reason. Entire networks have been created to encourage shortcuts to thinking. Don't form an opinion .... we'll form it for you. They tell you that "fair and balanced" means giving a voice to unpopular but valid opinions not heard elsewhere. What it actually means -- giving a disproportionate amount of time to an ideological slant and fake science (creationism, intelligent design) ... to the exclusion of proven science.

Giving equal time to two opposing viewpoints is neither "fair" nor "balanced". Doing that assumes that both viewpoints have equal merits. It would be like having 5 experts come on FOX and say that the sky is blue and 5 other experts saying that is was pink. No one would mistake that for being a "fair and balanced" look. You would be unfairly weighing in favor of the nutjobs that said the sky was pink. This is what happens when you have shows that will have one expert saying that global warming is happening and one that doesn't. It would only be accurate if the show had 999 global warming experts and 1 dissenting expert. And that one dissenter shouldn't be a talented novelist (but not a scientist).

I've seen the abandonment of reason. People will discount facts because of bias. I don't think they are stupid. But they do allow themselves to be influenced by religious or political bias. I've read people on these very blog pages discount global warming merely because they hate Al Gore. I've seen embarrassingly specious arguments to counter valid scientific ones. One such one that I have read is the ice cube in a glass argument. It goes that the water level does not rise if the ice cube melts. So, the polar ice caps melting won't have an influence on sea levels. That people will use an argument that could be disproven by a middle school science student is sad. And that they do it with a straight face is beyond explanation. I could go into a long-winded explanation but simply put, a good deal of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are above sea level (because of land). An ice cube in a glass does not take this into account.

Global Warming Is Rapidly Raising Sea Levels

Another argument used is that ice is increasing in the interior of Greenland. These "earth-is-flat" doubters will be so proud of themselves when they say this one. Though they hate science, they'll gladly trot it out if they think it reinforces their opinion. Ice is increasing in the interior of Greenland because a warming climate increase snowfall. It is at the edges of the ice shelves that show the true story.

Another easy way to determine who is telling the truth is by following the money. Who stands to benefit monetarily for the opinions they are projecting? It is not surprising that Bush, Rove, Cheney use every opportunity to diminish the importance of global warming. They have made their money from big oil. A world that uses less fossil fuels potentially hurts their bottom line and those of their major contributors. That future generations will pay the cost of this shortsightedness does not concern them. The thing is ... they know they are wrong and it doesn't matter. People like Karl Rove are not looking to change people's opinions. They are looking to cast enough doubt in order to influence an election. This is because they are not so much bound by ideology but rather by money. They do not want to believe in global warming because they have an economic interest in not doing so.

Scientists and others that speak to the dangers of global warming have no other self-interest than for the survival of our race. If anything, people like Al Gore have paid a political cost by so enthusiastically talking about global warming for 30 years.

If you don't like the messenger, then find sources that do not have an economic or political axe to grind. Tom Brokaw has a great special on the Discovery Channel:

Global Warming: What you Need to Know with Tom Brokaw

Don't just believe things because you get them in a chain e-mail, or because your church told you to believe them. That doesn't mean don't believe anything that you hear. It just means that you should ask yourself why people are giving you a certain opinion. Do they have a genuine concern or are they pushing an agenda? Also, are your reasons for believing or disbelieving something based on financial, political or religious considerations?

Thursday, July 27, 2006


I should preface this post by stressing how lame it is that I'm even taking the time to show this to you guys. How far has my life sunk when I need to revel in such fleeting and trivial moments of nonexistent celebrity? These moments aren't even in the same ballpark (pun intended) as Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame. These are more like 1.5 seconds of fame. I'm so pathetic.

The first moment came during the previously mentioned ballgame that Alex and I went to. They were great seats and we were frequently in the line of the on-field cameras. I had DVR'd the game hoping that we might have shown up on TV. After hunting through an hour of footage, this is the best I could come up with:

Todd Helton had just gotten tossed and the cameras had panned to the right of where they normally did. So, an hour of footage ... frame-by-frame, and that's the best I got. Sad, so sad.

The second moment is my wife's. She just began a job at a huge sporting goods store that is opening only it's 15th store of the country here in Glendale tomorrow. They've been having special nights: family night, VIP night (with the governor), etc. this week and one of the local newschannels were on hand tonight. I'm not saying the name of the place because I don't want to jeopardize her job just because her husband is a wacked-out liberal. I'm probably being too anal-retentive about it all, but you never know.

Her going to work for a company that one could probably assume has a conservative bent seems odd. But the fact that it is a half-mile from home and Michelle can walk to work and that we get a sweet employee discount on camping and fishing gear outweighs the oddness of it. So, that's one less car that we are going to have on the roads polluting. Michelle will put about 15K less miles a year on her car.

Anyway, Michelle's moment was a lot longer (about 5 seconds) and you could clearly see her. It blew my moment away. Sorry, I don't have any video posted, just a shot from my TV:

Pretty uninteresting moments, I know. But it was interesting that they occurred within days of each other. There has only been one other time that I can recall that either of us has appeared on TV. A few years back, Michelle was interviewed by a local newscaster as we were walking to our car from a ballgame. Do any of you have any interesting TV experiences? I'm sure they have to be better than these.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Sweet seats

Courtesy of a dear and longtime friend, Alex and I took in tonight's D-back game against the Rockies in the best seats that I have ever had for a sporting event. We were 4 rows back of the visitor dugout.

We were close enough to spit a sunflower seed and hit 'em in the back of the head ... not that we would do such a thing.

Of course, Alex is usually more interested in the peripheral things at a game, like touching the dugout:

While he's taking in all the extra stuff, I actually watch the game. And this was a good one to watch as the D-back won 6-2, Luis Gonzales tied Dave Parker for 30th on the all-time doubles list with his 526th double:

and Shawn Green knocked in his 1000th career RBI:

Plus, Todd Helton got tossed after arguing balls and strikes:

Add a beer and a footlong Cincinatti chili dog into the mix and you have a stellar evening.

Valerie for Vendetta

Saw this on Huffington Post:

Click to see full image

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Helping (or hurting) Your Cause

I saw two movies in the last week or so that are great illustrations of the ways in which people seek to make change or further their cause. Those movies were Good Night and Good Luck and Grizzly Man.

The first of these, Good Night and Good Luck, was given to me as a gift a few months ago. I had postponed watching what I felt was an immensely important film to watch because I wanted to watch it with my wife. Our work schedules clash and we don't often get a chance to watch a movie together. When there is a movie of particular cultural importance, I will force her to watch it ... whether she likes it or not. :-)

With that much of a build-up, great reviews, and my own deep respect for George Clooney and his work, I was bound to end up disappointed. I am thankful to say, that I was not at all. It exceed my expectations. It was shot in black-and-white, probably to accentuate the black-and-white perspective of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

This film is an example of someone, Edward Murrow, using his position as a newscaster, in a restrained and responsible manner to focus America's attention on the anti-communist witch hunting of McCarthy and his ilk. Obviously meant to reflect a parallel with the black-and-white, us-or-them worldview of the Bush Administration, it does so obliquely, making it more effective.

Murrow did not detract from his cause because he never overstated something or resorted to name-calling. By giving McCarthy a forum to express his views and, ultimately, defeat his own cause, Murrow was the very model of responsibility and integrity. And Clooney, in the way he directed the film, did not make McCarthy into a caricature. He refrained from mocking McCarthy's well-known alcoholism or his dealings with Roy Cohn. Actual footage of McCarthy is used.

In his own way, McCarthy helped his cause early because of the methods he used. He used fear and bombast. People were afraid to disagree with him because they believed they would be labeled as traitors. For example, from Wikipedia:

The criticisms of McCarthyism and McCarthy in particular were three-fold:

  • That he was ruining the reputations and lives of many people by accusing them without credible evidence.

  • That he used accusations of Communist sympathies as a counter attack against anyone who criticized his methods.

  • That he argued against freedom of speech; much of his rhetoric assumed that any discussion of the ideas of Communism was a dangerous and un-American activity.

Sound familiar? Ultimately, the power of the truth won out. But if there hadn't been people like Murrow, Joseph Welch, Arthur Miller, etc. questioning authority, who knows how long it would have gone. People will eventually catch on to the fact that they are being duped.

The second film, Grizzly Man, chronicles Timothy Treadwell, who for 13 summers lived among the grizzly bears of Kodiak Island in Alaska. He did this seeking to understand the bears and pass on that wisdom to others. But he also seemed to do it because he wanted to get away from the "human" world.

By using Treadwell's self-shot footage, director Werner Herzog provide an interesting insight into someone who was walking a very thin line between sanity and insanity. It's hard to question Treadwell's genuine affection for the bears and for their plight. But it's easy to question whether he was actually helping them. He didn't seem to approach his time there in a scholarly or scientific manner, recording little data. He was overly concerned with his appearance, to the point of vanity. And his outbursts against just about anybody alienated some that actually believe in his cause.

The movie is entertaining but is not meant so much as a scientific study of bears and their habitat, but rather as a character study of a man. A sad, angry, sometimes funny, but predictably doomed man who died because of his cause. But that is probably the way he would have wanted it.

Two movies. Two interesting men. Two wildly different methods. I'm not trying to advocate one method over the other. I may be very Ghandi and MLK one day, but feel Guevera and Malcolm X the next. I think what I may be trying to say more is, "Don't get in the way of your message." If a stunt, a movie, a book, etc. is more about you than it is about what you are trying to get across, then you have failed. Maybe Treadwell thought his antics would open a wider audience to the plight of the bears ... maybe it did. But when too many discussions are about his background or how unhinged he was, it's the bears that suffer. Murrow was successful because he was right but also because he sounded reasonable and was not prone to hyperbole.

So, go fight for what you believe in. But don't forget that it's not about you.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Gone Fishing ...

The wife and kid abandoned me this week to visit her family in Iowa:

So, I pretty much just slaved away at work but did get a chance to slip away for the weekend to Kaibab Lake near Williams, AZ with my folks. This is the same place that we went camping a few times last year (Aug. '05):

We had a good time, caught a few fish, grilled steak and corn, and I got to catch up on a lot of reading that I don't allow myself when I'm surgically attached to this stinking computer. Some of the more interesting articles: Three Days in Rome -- about how our current Iran policy is being driven by the same people who were involved with Iran/Contra, and Every Breath You Take -- about the hidden costs of air pollution and how fixing the pollution is actually cheaper than letting it go.

I'm working on a post that will talk about the different way people work for their causes or beliefs and how unintentionally they can hurt their cause. I'll do that through contrasting two recent movies that I've seen, Good Night and Good Luck and Grizzly Man.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


"The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers." -- Ralph Nader

Republicans like to tout as virtue the fact that their party seems to speak with one voice. Whether it's anti-flag burning, marriage amendment, the war, etc., they are, with very few exceptions, lock step. But is it really moral strength? One person who should know is John Dean, former White House lawyer during Watergate. Citing information from a 50 year academic study, he took exception with that conclusion. In a recent discussion with Keith Olbermann on his show, Countdown, he had the following observations:
The data shows that conservatives are much more likely to follow authoritarian leaders

" ... Both those who are inclined to follow leaders and those who jump in front and want to be the leaders. It was not the opinion of social scientists. It was information they drew by questioning large numbers of people -- hundreds of thousands of people -- in anonymous testing where [the subjects] conceded their innermost feelings and reactions to things. And it came out that most of these people were pre-qualified to be conservatives and this, did indeed, fit with the authoritarian personality..."

" ... have found, really, maybe a small, 1%, of the left who will follow authoritarianism. Probably the far left. As far as widespread testing, it's just overwhelmingly conservative orientation."

" ... the followers -- a few of them will change their ways when the realize that they are doing -- not even aware of what they are doing. The leaders, those inclined to dominate, they're not going to change for a second. They're going to be what they are."

" It is one of the things, believe it or not, that still holds conservatism together. There is many factions in conservatism and their dislike or hatred of those they betray as liberal, who will basically be anybody who disagrees with them, is one of the cohesive factors ... they're very aggressive in their effort to pursue and help their authority figure out or authority beliefs out. They will do what ever needs to be done in many regards. They will blindly follow. They stay loyal too long and this is the frightening part of it."

"... there has been fear mongering, the likes of which we have not seen in a long time in this country. It happened early in the cold war. We got accustomed to it. We learned to live with it. We learned to understand what it was about and get it in proportion. We haven't done that yet with terrorism. And this administration is really capitalizing on it and using it for its' political advantage. ... when people are frightened, they tend to go to these authority figures. They tend to become more conservative. So, it's paid off for them politically to do this. "

"The lead researcher in this field told me, he said, "I look at the numbers of the United States and I see about 23% of the population who are pure right-wing authoritarian followers." They're not going to change. They're going to march over the cliff. The best thing to deal with them -- and they're growing, and they have a tremendous influence on Republican politics -- The best defense is understanding them, to realize what they are doing, how they're doing it and how they operate. Then it can be kept in perspective and they can be seen for what they are. "

Obviously the study and Dean's opinions don't constitute a definitive appraisal, but I do think that they do indicate the trend. Those that are prone to follow look for an authoritarian figure and a cause to unite around. And that cause can be a moving target. It's not idealism that drives them but rather a need to be part of the crowd. And cognitive dissonance allows them to justify it to themselves.

"What? You search? You would multiply yourself by ten, by a hundred? You seek followers? Seek zeros!" -- Friedrich Nietzsche

Sunday, July 09, 2006


"Beware of the man of one book." -- Thomas Aquinas

Some scary stats on reading posted by Josh at Schulzone(courtesy of
One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. Many do not even graduate from high school.
58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
42% of college graduates never read another book.
80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
57% of new books are not read to completion.

Unbelievable stuff. Laziness? Stupidity? Lack of access? Too many other things distracting us (TV, computers)? Probably a little bit of each. Exacerbated by a society of anti-intellectual pride where people of learning are viewed as effete snobs.

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture.
Just get people to stop reading them. -- Ray Bradbury

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Courtesy of the Center for American Progress:

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

July 4th

"... What? the land of the free?
Whoever told you that is your enemy?" -- Rage Against the Machine

July 4th reminds us of what was going on in the heads of our founders when they established this country. Like an independent judiciary:

Did Bush Commit War Crimes?

Those that love this country would respect the checks and balances supposedly inherent in our system. Not the Republicans. Senator Lindsey Graham feels the need to "rein it in" (Supreme Court). They feel that the Geneva Convention should not apply to the U.S.:

Gonzales, top Republicans anticipate law authorizing Gitmo military commissions

But it doesn't end with just crippling our judiciary and ignoring international law. It extends to the President consciously and openly ignoring our own laws:

Signing Away the Constitution
" ... more than 100 signing statements containing over 500 constitutional challenges President Bush has added to new laws passed by the Congress -- many times more than any of his predecessors.

While he has never vetoed a law, many constitutional scholars say the president is, in effect, exercising a "line item veto" by giving himself authority to waive parts of laws he doesn't like.

The practice has infuriated members of Congress in both parties because it threatens to diminish their power. They consider it an assault on the notion that the constitution establishes the United States' three branches of government -- legislative, judicial, and executive -- as co-equal ..."

Chris Durang has a great column on Huffington Post about how the right has hijacked July 4th and patriotism through history:

July 4th -- Now and in the '50's
"... Starting around the time of the Vietnam war, and the protests against that war, the flag was claimed by the conservative, pro-Vietnam war people as Their Flag. They hijacked that symbol so it represented their point of view. If you loved America and loved the flag, you supported your country whenever they said it was time to go to war. Criticizing the war was seen as disloyal ..."

Abraham Lincoln once said:

"I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him."

Bush and this administration may be proud of America but America should not be proud of them. History will mark the true patriots of this generation as Jack Murtha, Cindy Sheehan, etc. and those that weren't afraid to speak up when they saw our flag being trampled on by those who don't respect the rights that this country were established on. These Mayberry Machiavellians in the administration are so worried about desecration of the flag that they forget what it actually represents.

What does it matter that we have these documents and these institutions if the government will just bypass them? We have a government that has mistaken nationionalism for patriotism, suppresion of rights for security. I'll fly my flag again when this country is not hijacked by the Right. When "one nation" has meaning again.