Saturday, January 22, 2005

Ricky? Dude, you're a junior in college
A fellow Yalie has taken it upon himself to tear into blogs. In doing so, he pretty much shows himself to have almost no experience with blogs whatsoever.

He starts out with an innocuous background of what blogs actually are, mentioning the fact that Yalies now use them to fill extra time. No complaint there. However, the reasonable part ends quickly:

"Conventional wisdom would suggest that the appearance of blogs—especially those of the political variety—signals a resurgence of young people's interest in the world around them. So impassioned are they with new ideas that they immediately log on and post them for all to enjoy."
That's an awfully big conclusion, based on pretty much nothing. Sure, it signals that some young people are interested enough in politics to comment on everything political—but that in no way implies a correlation to the overall political interest level of the youth. Next:
"It would be wonderful if blogs did encourage intelligent political debate in a new forum. Just imagine the possibilities: students from all over the world circumventing the much-maligned mainstream media and talking directly to each other about real issues. If, as Jon Stewart lamented, shows like the recently cancelled Crossfire were hurting America, blogs could serve as the antidote, proving to the networks and cable-news channels that we are smarter than they expect us to be.

"Sadly, however, blogs have fallen short of their potential thus far. Many blogs are counterproductive to promoting any sort of legitimate dialogue. To be sure, bloggers do debate: They debate the idiosyncrasies of each other's posts. Shouting about semantics has been substituted for honest dialogue."
I think it's inane columns like this that prove people who go by "Ricky" are no smarter than we expect them to be. But seriously, folks. If Richard had actually read a reasonably broad range of blogs, he would have encountered a vast range of opinion. Ultimately, news shows provide what people take the time to watch, and blogs provide what they're willing to look for. I agree that many, many blogs provide nothing but partisan b*llsh*ting—but that doesn't mean that they all do. Moving on:
"The medium of the blog itself contributes to the problem. Cyber-writing—especially the style used in many, but not all, blogs and AIM conversations—is not conducive to subtlety. How many times have you misinterpreted a joke online as an insult?"
He's got a point—until he acknowledges the fact that "cyber-writing" is not used on all blogs. In fact, it is used with extreme infrequency on political blogs.

Now, here comes my absolute favorite part. Remember, we've just decided that blogs fail because of their authors' inability to write with sublety. From this, he concludes:
"Bloggers thus feel the need to bludgeon us to death with their opinions. Rather than speaking to each other's contentions, they merely restate their points with more sarcasm, insulting anyone who may disagree."
Sorry, Ricky, but it's entirely possible to use sarcasm and still be precise, and even subtle. If some writers cannot express themselves, then the blog medium isn't conducive to their communication of opinion. That in no way removes from the fact that blogging can be useful in an overall debate. The only real difference is that traditional opinion writing has many restrictions on general participation, while almost everyone has access to the internet.

He goes on:
"It is true that debates over a cup of java, as opposed to those written in Java, may be prone to the same sort of degeneration; but in person one may be more inclined to nuance and less to malign. In a country as polarized as this one, blogs push us farther apart when they should be bringing us together. It is sad that we cannot have an honest political discussion without devolving into ad hominem attacks. Desperately in need of an interchange of ideas, we find only a barrage of insults."
Again, I think it's inaccurate to portray all blogging debate as malignant. Sure, debates over fundamental issues (like abortion, for example) will result in anger and hurt feelings on the internet, just like they will in person. Other, less ideological topics, however, result in reasonable discussion quite often. It's the topic, not the medium that matters.

Get ready for another great leap in logic:
"Traditional campus outlets for dialogue—the newspapers—also suffer at the hands of these digital diaries. We no longer respond to each other in the press. Why go through the trouble of having to submit a column that may be edited when you can write whatever comes to mind and post it online immediately? Editors, keep an eye on your jobs: You may soon be a dying breed."
We no longer contribute to college opinion pages? Really? Then why does the Herald still have plenty of submissions? Why did the YDN have three times as many people apply for regular columns than it has to offer? I, for example, never wrote an opinion column until after I started blogging. I've found them to compliment one another—I write a blog post, and decide to expand it into a column quite regularly, even if they are rarely published. Most of the best known bloggers are either regular columnists, or regular guest contributors to opinion pages. So, Ricky's basically just making things up.

And, finally:
"College campuses should be forums for the most candid political exchanges. If America is going to heal, we are going to be the ones to do it. However, bridges cannot be built from our dorm rooms. Yale's burgeoning political minds need to step out from behind the keyboard and talk to each other face to face, confronting the real issues rather than the irrelevant squabbles of the blogosphere. But while we're waiting, at least espn.com will be there to tide us over."
(Author's note: the espn comment is a reference to his introduction, where he proposes blogs as an alternative to the traditional college time-drains.) First off, I'm not part of that crowd that thinks coming together is a positive step—I think that honest disagreement leads to progress. More than that, Yalies have a traditional debate format available in the Yale Political Union, and have not historically bridged the gap in any other forum. The internet has opened up another path, not replaced coffee houses, or wherever else Ricky thinks we should be discussing politics.

So, there you have it: my fisking of young Ricky. I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to comment.

Friday, January 21, 2005

McAuliffe sucks, Dean doesn't matter
Political Wire says Dean's battling an image problem: "A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds Howard Dean is fighting 'a tarnished image in bid for Democratic chairmanship. Just 27% of party backers view the Vermont ex-governor positively, down from 48% a year ago. But he's less of a lightning rod for Republicans than during his presidential bid; 37% view him negatively, down from 58% in January 2004.'"

This brings to mind a couple of thoughts. First off, it doesn't seem that Dean has such an image issue, quite as much as nobody cares about him anymore. I think that's probably just a result of the fact that he's been out of the national limelight since shortly after the infamous scream—speaking of which, it probably doesn't help that his most recent major media coverage focused around apparent lunacy combined with total failure to win a single primary.

Second, the article seems to imply that it's odd that Republicans hate him less and Dems like him less. Don't these things seem completely in concert to anyone else? And should anyone even care about Republican sentiment for a Democratic Party position? Furthermore, is there any polling data from right before Clinton chose McAuliffe? My guess is that you'd find 90% or more of the Party didn't have a clue who he was at the time, which would imply that Dean's way ahead of any image that should be expected of a candidate for party chair.

The Greatest?
Daniel Drezner offers his five choices for the greatest Americans of all time. I like his nominees, personally, though I think I'd move four up to three, swap one and two (my uncle's influence, probably), and make Reagan the new four. What do you think?

It's called a revolution for a reason
The reason being, primarily, that it cycles back on itself. In that line, Dave Adesnik invites you to consider a specific selection from Reagan's second inaugural address. He concludes: "This is the seed from which Bush's rhetoric of freedom has grown. Yet as Reagan learned, freedom is easier said than done."

He's right, but he misses an important point. Have you ever heard the maxim "If all else fails, lower your expectations." It's one of the worst ever created, and the embodiment of pessimism. Yes, Reagan learned that it's hard to achieve, but does that mean it should never reach the top of our goals list?

Shameful
No wonder public opinion is so drastically turning against the Iraq war and the discussions of "should we fold this losing hand right now" are intensifying so rapidly. All I can say is: Wow.

More catholic than Catholics
A very interesting OpinionJournal piece, today, about the architecture of two churches in Milwaukee—the one a renovated Roman Catholic cathedral, the other a new Episcopal chapel. The author concludes: "Indeed, for Catholics who think that the Milwaukee renovators have done a lamentable job of fixing a cathedral that wasn't broken, the Episcopal chapel displays such reverence for ancient usages that it might seem, well, almost Roman."

I have to say that I've seen this shown in other ways, too. I'm an Episcopalian—a high church Episcopalian, even, to the point where I classify myself as an Anglo-Catholic. The church I attend in New Haven is neo-gothic, and posesses all the trappings of the traditional R.C. Church. The few R.C. churches I've been in, on the other hand, seem to have an identity crisis. Their hymns are modern and, well, sort of tacky, but the priests still use latin. The buildings themselves have been more like the hymns, while the altar follows tradition.

Now, I don't want to say that all Episcopal churches are more traditional than Roman Catholic churches—that would be patently false. There is, however, an overall struggle within the American Catholic Church, which I think is at the root of this architectural issue. The Episcopal Church, by way of contrast, certainly has its problems (remember the gay bishop?)&8212;but generally adapts to change more readily than the Catholic Church, through its range from high to low.

I'm sort of rambling. I might try to better coordinate my thoughts on these issues later, though I'm likely to be quite distracted today, and over the weekend—personal stuff going on. For more on the Catholic crisis in America in the meantime, however, start by reviewing Peggy Noonan's comments from a few years ago.

Science and Religion
An interesting piece about, well, science and religion at OpinionJournal: "In some cultures, however, science provokes neither admiration nor intellectual hunger but, instead, a fierce political resistance. V.S. Naipaul has written irrefutably of the conflict between the West and the Islamic world as being a conflict over modernity. In essence, the discord is about science and the imagination--our open-ended science and their tightly sealed imagination.

"Our Islamist antagonists have an underdeveloped sense of science, chiefly because of their inability to let the (sacred) Word slip out of the mullah's grasp. The empirical will always struggle to exist alongside the religious in lands where godly texts are not open to candid evaluation. How can there be data-testing--and an impartial imagination--if no one asks hard questions, if one is taught that all the answers to everything exist already, in the Book?"

More Inauguration Stuff
Peggy gives her overall impression of the inauguration as a whole, and the speech itself. When she's turns to the speech, she is surprisingly critical, but, I think, pretty accurate. Take a look.

Inauguration Comments
Lileks apparently had a reaction to the inauguration that's closely related to a discussion I had last night. He says "I'd heard the speech earlier in the day, so I didn't pay attention to the rerun. And I suppose some will say it's just a rerun in the first place - blah blah freedom, blah blah tyranny, etc. I found it striking, but I suppose you'd expect I would."

A friend of mine said "A good speech is a good speech," implying that her impression of Bush yesterday was negative. And I think on some level she's right that one can tell a good or bad speech regardless of content. But that level, more specifically, is the charisma of the speaker.

I read the inauguration speech before I saw the video. In text, I think it was a very well-written piece—though it doesn't add much to the national debate, or to predictions regarding the second administration's likelihood of success. In the performed version, however, it's easy to see Bush's shortcomings as a public speaker (though one must also admit his vast improvement over four years ago). I compare this to a speech given by Clinton when he visited Yale several years ago.

After the speech, everyone who saw it—regardless of party affiliation—swooned over what a great speech it was. So, out of curiousity, I found a text of the speech. Reading it, I quickly discovered that he had said absolutely nothing, and that it wasn't even very well-written nothing.

So, in conclusion, I think there are different parts of rhetoric, and depending upon which piece one focuses on, one can judge the same speech in completely different ways. Basically, even the best speeches can be destroyed by a bad speaker, and even the worst speeches can be saved by a good one. In the case of this inaugural address, Bush falls in the middle-to-bad category, and his speech falls in the middle-to-good category.

All the news that's fit to spin
Today's YDN features an article about Yalie participation in the inauguration protest, which they describe as "Bush's parade."

So, where to begin...
It's nice that they interviewed Yale College Republican president Al Jiwa to add some balance. I understand the sentiment. But I'm beginning to worry that the YDN thinks he's the only Republican on campus.

More than that, I happen to know that a sizable number of students attended inauguration balls, as well as the parade and the speech in order to support the president. So where's the article on that? Or to be even more fair, where's the slightest mention of that fact?

UPDATE [1/21/2005 - 7:25]: There is another article today, headlined College Dems send the president a messsage. I don't have a serious problem with the article as a concept, but I am a little bothered by this quote: "Stollwerk said as students at Bush's alma mater, the College Democrats feel a particularly strong duty to express the views of Yale students to Bush."

Now, I'm a friend of Miss Stollwerk, and I respect her greatly. I also feel fairly confident that she didn't phrase her statement in quite this way, hence the paraphrasing chosen by the YDN. I recognize that this is splitting a hair, but I think it's an important one—the sentence should have been written "express the views of some Yale students," or even "of most Yale students."

Generally, I could probably sum up this post by pointing out that conservatives are in a minority at Yale, and I'm a bit tired of the YDN (with the exception of the editorial page, which is doing much better this year) minimizing our presence.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Well now.
Let me begin by asking a simple question: how long would it take for France to conquer the US?

Yeah, I know, it's a trick question. Sorry about that. I couldn't resist, though, as CNN.com quotes the French foreign minister as saying, again and again, 'we want an alliance, not French submission to the US." To which I say: if we want you to submit, you'd better submit.

Obviously I'm exaggerating here. But to be perfectly frank, since we went to war in Iraq, France has been asking us to be nicer to them, to start going to Paris again, to start buying French wine again, and, more than anything else, to recognize how much we really need them—and I'm tired of it. If you want compromise, offer an apology, or something that we can actually use. Until then, quit your whining just because you didn't get your way and you have more to lose by mistreating us than we have to lose by ignoring you.

Despicable
Just read it. I won't even bother you with my take on things. (And I promise, it's short).

Do you ever feel like you're in bizarro world?
This is a CNN.com headline from today: "Poll: Nation split on Bush as uniter or divider."

Um. Forgive me for stating the obvious. But doesn't that inherently mean that he's a divider?

Are you making it up as you go along?
I have some serious issues with the piece by Dick Morris in today's New York Post. So, let's begin: "PRESIDENTIAL second terms usually end in failure. Since 1900, only Teddy Roosevelt could boast of a second term that was as good or better than his first.
Woodrow Wilson lost Congress, then couldn't bring America into the League of Nations. FDR, whose third term was a success, failed to pass anything in his second after he alienated Congress by trying to pack the Supreme Court and purge recalcitrant Democrats. Harry Truman's popularity plunged over Korea, as Lyndon Johnson's did over Vietnam. Ike had two recessions and a hospitalization. Richard Nixon resigned. Ronald Reagan had Iran-Contra, and Bill Clinton was impeached."


Out of all of these men, the only one I could truly call a failure would be Nixon. Nixon was forced to resign, generally a sign of failure. To me, failure comes only in the absence of success. Sure, all presidents are failures if you consider their inability to achieve all that they had hoped. Man, I mean, Lincoln was shot and killed his second term—what a failure! I won't belabor the point, but I'd submit that each of these men finished out their terms, and succeeded in at least a few of their goals. That they were effective enough to win two terms in the first place is an amazing achievement, and perhaps it's just the nature of the office that anyone is lucky to have one totally successful term. Next: "But if the flat tax is a voluntary option, allowing people either to pay it and claim no offsets or to itemize and pay under the old tax rules, the legislation will likely go down easily. Then, our normal preference for a simple life will lead, inevitably, to a larger number of flat-tax payers each year."

Allow me to rewrite that first sentence with some reality thrown into the mix: But if the flat tax is a voluntary option, allowing people either to pay it and claim no offsets or to itemize and pay under the old tax rules, the legislation will likely result in a total failure to meet any of its intended goals, while decreasing total government revenues notably.

This is just a stupid idea. The point of the flat tax is to simplify the tax code, and eliminate loopholes. Now, you're going to add another complication, and give people the option to pay whichever version of taxes allows them to pay less? That's. Just. Dumb.

It's like saying, "Americans will never want to go to war with Iran, so let's give them the option to devote their tax dollars to a war with either Iran or Canada, and we'll do both!"

Like I said on Monday, sometimes it's a part of leadership to force the American public to do something against their will because it's better for the country as a whole.

Figure it out!
This is the lede in a piece from the Chicago Tribune today (via Political Wire): "As congressional Democrats prepare to watch President Bush take the oath of office Thursday, many within the party are growing frustrated at the lack of a clear Democratic strategy for dealing with a president who they believe is not particularly popular despite his re-election."

And here's the first sentence from an opinion piece in today's Yale Daily News: "Americans are split along party lines more evenly and bitterly than in past decades."

It's times like these that I really wish my readership was higher than it is, because this is something that the overwhelming majority of Americans does not seem to understand, and they need to. What the author of the YDN piece goes on to make the overall point of his column, that parties are in no way set in stone, is correct. But starting from the basic assumption that the country is more divided than it has been at any time in history is simple.

I think what people do is they see that the relative size of the parties is pretty close, so we must be strongly divided. They look at Bush and say "hey, half the country voted against him, he must be unpopular. Well, in his reelection campaign, Clinton only got 49% of the popular vote, and turnout percentages were significantly lower than they were this past November. This shows that Bush is not nearly as unpopular as many might like to believe, while also illustrating the fact that this country is perpetually divided politically.

Yes, a lot of people cared very passionately about the outcome of this election. And yes, about half of them were crushed by the result, leaving another half that were ecstatic. And here's the key point: at MOST this group of the crushed and ecstatic makes up maybe thirty percent of the total population, leaving a whole mess of people who vote more out of duty or habit than anything else.

Now, this is not to say that the political landscape is the same as it always has been. In reality, this is the first time in decades that there are more registered Republicans than Democrats. And, the part that really excites me, is that Bush completely changed the expectations of a national campaign. You see, historically, campaigns have been very easy to summarize: each candidate runs to the extreme of his pary in the primaries, and then sprints to the center once he's shored up a base. Kerry tried to follow this strategy, but ended up labeling himself as a flip-flopper. Bush, on the other hand, never moved much further to the right than he has traditionally stood, and then completely refused to move back towards the center. And he won, by completely throwing the model out the window. So how did this work?

Not because the nation is more evenly, or bitterly divided than ever before as many people incorrectly assume, but because the division has moved. Need an example? Look at the war in Iraq. The traditional divisions about war were defined in the sixties and seventies over Vietnam. So, when a war came up, supported by a Republican president, the left went to its playbook and started shouting the same things as they had in their previous lives. They had done the same thing when we were in Somalia (remember Black Hawk Down?), and it worked to perfection. The problem is, the line had been redrawn after 9/11, and Americans no longer define all wars in the Vietnam context so readily. As a result, despite the many different, well-defined anti-war positions, the one candidate with a pro-war stance won out in the end.

Basically, the line has moved to the right on the preponderance of issues. (Meanwhile, stem-cell funding, gay civil unions—gay marriage hasn't moved much at all—and a few others have moved to the left, and you may notice that much of the right is just as confused by these issues as the left is on everything else.) On these issues, which controled the electoral rhetoric, the left was dumbfounded. The more they tried to run for the old center, the more they found that they couldn't pick up votes there. Bush, on the other hand, could sit pretty because, for once, the center of the spectrum had shifted in his favor. Recognizing this as early as 3 years ago was the genius of Karl Rove—and yes, he picked issues like gay marriage to try and accentuate this new alignment during the first term, but it was already there.

Make sense?
[End Rant]

Bath and Body Works
A little break from the political today, as Lileks writes an open letter to BaBW: "If you have set foot in your stores recently, you will notice the accentuated preponderance of floral and spicy scents, as though someone had swabbed the walls with an expensive prostitute."

Personally, it makes me sneeze incessantly until I leave the store. Also, I think it's a marketing ploy—they know women need these scented things, right? And they can't help the lure of the store. So they go in, and very, very carefully lift and smell every single product in the store until they've found just the right scent. They pay for it and take it home. Unwrapping it with total ecstatic anticipation, they quickly realize that it smells nothing like it did in the store. I've seen this happen several times. And in almost every case, the resulting conclusion made on the spot was (drumroll, please): "Well, I'll have to go back and get something different." And with that, BaBW has now sold twice the products they would have otherwise. Brilliant.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

What bias?
Roger L. Simon points out: "Is it possible that any US administration, Democrat or Republican, at this juncture in history would not be directing its intelligence agencies to take a long hard look at Iranian nukes and game plan how to deal with them? Of course not. In fact it would be at the very top of anybody's agenda."

Of course, he's right. And yet, strangely, reports originally given by Seymour Hersh have led the MSM to rip into the Bush administration as if they were planning an invasion of Iran. Folks, planning for a possibility does not equate counting on an eventuality.

Monday, January 17, 2005

God Bless the Founders
They really were on to something.

I've taken several classes in American government, as well as classes studying public discourse and public opinion, most often in a discussion format with a lot of very smart undergraduate students. Without exception, we come to at least 10 different versions of the roll government should play in public discourse, and the role public discourse should play in government. Also without exception, we agree that the only true option for an effective government "of the people, by the people, for the people," is a representative democracy, rather than a pure one. That is why I am so bothered by the fact that anyone is even asking this question: "In this year's survey, Americans were nearly evenly divided about whether and how the United States should change troop strength in Iraq: Twenty-four percent said more troops should be sent, 26 percent said troop strength should not be changed, 21 percent said some troops should be withdrawn and 25 percent said all troops should be withdrawn."

We have a representative government because the average citizen can never have a full set of information on every issue. While some may be experts in specific areas, many lack expertise on any issue of serious concern to the greater public, and the vast majority know a very little about a broad range of issues. It is for this reason that we elect people we trust to work on our behalf. Their job, of course, is to work for what their constituents desire in many cases. But in others, where the public cannot be fully informed, they are required to work with a special set of knowledge granted to them by their position and make tough decisions.

In this case, the people who know the most about the best troop strength are, in descending order: commanders in Iraq; commanders stateside; the civilian leadership of the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the CIA and others around this level; and the White House. Now, let me be clear, we can dispute the actual ordering of these things, but the overall point remains clear: the American people are not qualified to make a determination regarding troop strength in Iraq—they lack the requisit information and the training to use that information.

OK, so by now a lot of you are probably thinking that I'm making a big deal out of nothing. And it's true, thank God, that we do not have a direct democracy, and the public does not make the determination. However, in the modern day of constant public polling, we are approaching that point rapidly. Students of statistics, of political polling, and of public opinion know these things that I've said. The problem is, many in government do not, and almost no one in the general public does. The result, then, of a poll like this, and more specifically of CNN giving it coverage as important information, is an increase in the perception that it means something. People read that and say "well, if the American people think xyz, then there must be some credence to that thought." In short, it removes that important ability of our representatives to govern based on their own instincts and knowledge without exposing themselves to political suicide for facing down the public.

I'll admit, I'm not sure what to do about any of this, but it's an important thing to consider.

Support for Cosby
Coming through the decades from Martin Luther King, Jr., via William Raspberry. Enjoy.

OK, Enough is Enough
Can we all finally admit that reporters are out of touch with reality? Even if we can't agree on what direction their aloof existence takes them on the political meter (i.e. left or right), we can certainly agree on that basic premise. So why does this come up?

I was reading an article on CNN.com about the kidnapping of a Catholic archbishop near Mosul. That had me upset, and I planned to make some comments on it, until I came across something so absurd that I couldnt' let it go. The following sentence makes me want to laugh, cry, and scream at the same time: "Reuters reported that the Vatican called the kidnapping 'an act of terrorism.'"

Whoever wrote this CNN article thought that this sentence was newsworthy, as did Reuters. Of COURSE the Vatican is calling the kidnapping "an act of terrorism." Why? Because it is an act of terrorism. But the fact that the Vatican's definition of it as such is newsworthy proves that these two media organs are so disconnected from the public that they can't call a spade a spade. They don't see it as terrorism, they see it as what someone else is referring to as terrorism. That's a big and important difference that represents the most basic reason that the MSM is in trouble.

A little over the top...
...but still pretty funny.