This Far Left And No Further

For ‘Liberal’ NYT, Taxing the Rich Is a Fringe Idea
By Jim Naureckas

The New York Times is one of the most effective tools for limiting discussion in the U.S. political system. Falsely perceived as a left-leaning outlet, it has the power to make the most reasonable proposals seem ultra-radical by placing them beyond the pale.

[…] In other words, proposals like progressive taxation should be avoided because people might call you a liberal.  This from the daily news outlet that was named by journalists most often when asked to name one that was “especially liberal.”

For the record, taxing the rich is not an idea that has “a chance of winning broad public support”–it already has broad public support.

This is a very important insight. 

Extremely conservative opinions get voiced in the mainstream such as with Fox News, but what is perceived as extremely liberal doesn’t.  The particularly significant aspect is the perception of what is liberal or conservative, what is mainstream or radical.  Some pundits who act like populists may not actually espouse populist opinions.  And some opinions that get denied or ignored in mainstream media might actually be popular opinion. 

Because of this bias, smaller protests on the right such as the Tea Party get positive media attention and lots of it, but larger protests on the left such as the anti-war movement get negative media attention or else little attention at all.

Charles M. Blow: Conservatism & Racism

Charles M. Blow of The New York Times often has interesting things to say about conservatism and racism, separately and as they relate to each other.

http://blow.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/03/red-light-states/

A study by Benjamin Edelman, an assistant professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, titled “Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?” and published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that subscriptions to online pornography sites are “more prevalent in states where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles, and sexuality.”

No surprise there.  It’s actually rather predictable.  It’s just human nature that what is forbidden becomes more tempting.  It’s the reason why conservative states have the highest divorce rates.  It’s why some studies have shown that abstinence education might actually increase sexual activity.  I suppose it’s even related to why the war on drugs is a complete failure considering the majority of the US population will use illegal drugs in their life.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/09/opinion/09blow.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

Simply put, it’s about fear-fueled anger. But anger is not an idea. It’s not a plan. And it’s not a vision for the future. It is, however, the second stage of grief, right after denial and before bargaining.

The right is on the wrong side of history. The demographics of the country are rapidly changing, young people are becoming increasingly liberal on social issues, and rigid, dogmatic religious stricture is loosening its grip on the throat of our culture.

The right has seen the enemy, and he is the future.

Yeah.  That has been my assessment for quite a while now.  Demographics are destiny.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/04/opinion/04blow.html?_r=2

Lately I’ve been consuming as much conservative media as possible (interspersed with shots of Pepto-Bismol) to get a better sense of the mind and mood of the right. My read: They’re apocalyptic. They feel isolated, angry, betrayed and besieged. And some of their “leaders” seem to be trying to mold them into militias.

Many have already noted the every increasing outrage on the right. 

It is disconcerting that Christian fundamentalists and other rightwing extremists have been behind more terrorist incidents in the US than Muslims.  But what bothers me even more is that all of this anger is so unfocused or somehow unclear.  It doesn’t seem like many rightwingers are all that clear what they’re angry about and their anger too often seems misdirected.  They have reason to be angry, but I’d prefer they quit attacking doctors, police officers, gays, and people attending churches.

http://blow.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/25/not-yet-human/

Those following the New York Post cartoon flap might find this interesting.

Six studies under the title “Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization, and Contemporary Consequences” were published in last February’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Among the relevant findings:

Historical representations explicitly depicting Blacks as apelike have largely disappeared in the United States, yet a mental association between Blacks and apes remains. Here, the authors demonstrate that U.S. citizens implicitly associate Blacks and apes.

And …

After having established that individuals mentally associate Blacks and apes, Study 4 demonstrated that this implicit association is not due to personalized, implicit attitudes and can operate beneath conscious awareness. In Study 5, we demonstrated that, even controlling for implicit anti-Black prejudice, the implicit association between Blacks and apes can lead to greater endorsement of violence against a Black suspect than against a White suspect. Finally, in Study 6, we demonstrated that subtle media representations of Blacks as apelike are associated with jury decisions to execute Black defendants.

This may provide some context for considering the motives of the cartoonist and his editors, and for understanding the strong public reaction.

I don’t have much to say about this other than pointing out that this is more evidence of the subtlety and pervasiveness of racism.

Two-Thirds of Americans Object to Online Tracking

This is the type of issue we’ll see a lot more of.  I don’t know what the answer.  I don’t trust big companies, but neither do I trust big government.  I think it’s probably inevitable that privacy will slip away.  It will be up to private citizens to do what they can.

New York Times

Two-Thirds of Americans Object to Online Tracking
By STEPHANIE CLIFFORD

ABOUT two-thirds of Americans object to online tracking by advertisers — and that number rises once they learn the different ways marketers are following their online movements, according to a new survey from professors at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Berkeley.

 

Kyle Cassidy

[…]The topic may be technical, but it has become a hot political issue. Privacy advocates are telling Congress and the Federal Trade Commission that tracking of online activities by Web sites and advertisers has gone too far, and the lawmakers seem to be listening. Representative Rick Boucher, Democrat of Virginia, wrote in an article for The Hill last week that he planned to introduce privacy legislation. And David Vladeck, head of consumer protection for the F.T.C., has signaled that he will examine data privacy issues closely.

Marketers are arguing that advertising supports free online content. Major advertising trade groups proposed in July some measures that they hoped would fend off regulation, like a clear notice to consumers when they were being tracked.

The data in this area, however, has been largely limited to company-financed research or Internet-based research, which survey experts say they believe is not representative of all Americans. So the study — among the first independent surveys to examine this issue — has attracted widespread interest.

Barbara Ehrenreich: Poverty, Homelesness

Here is a series of articles (from The New York Times) by Barbara Ehrenreich (who is best known for her book Nickel and Dimed) that presents an analysis of poverty and homelessness in the US at present.  It’s a depressing but important issue.

In my own local community, homelessness and poverty have been in the news a lot and this town has barely felt the effect of the economic downturn.  In the comments section of the local newspaper website, many people argue about how to deal with the crime problem and yet few seem to actually care about how to help people who are at the bottom of our society.  This is a middle-class white liberal town, but surprisingly even here liberal compassion is rare for those who are different.  The hatred that some of my fellow citizens voice against the homeless and the poor makes me feel ashamed.  And the idiotic polarization and finger-pointing makes me want to knock some sense in people.

Too Poor to Make the News

A Homespun Safety Net

Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?

For those who prefer videos:

Carl Jung: 20th Century Visionary

The Holy Grail of the Unconscious by Sara Corbett

Henri Cartier-Bresson

This article is what I consider great journalism.  For one, Jung was a great thinker and so makes for a more than interesting subject.  Also, the research that went into this article was extremely thorough.  The author considers all of the people involved and paints a vivid picture of the Liber Novus which Jung seemingly considered a full accounting of his psyche, a direct expression of his soul.  I’ve never seen the thing myself, but I’d love to get my hands on a copy of it.

(Click here to see larger image.)

There are two reasons I’m writing a post about this.

First, this article is the type of thing that The New York Times does best.  Many articles about Jung have been written in that publication over the years, but this particular article is above average even for the New York Times.

More importantly, I simply want to recommend the article.  If you enjoy Jung and all things Jungian, then this is a must read.  Or if you’re just a curious person who enjoys intelligent writing, then this article probably will satisfy.  Jung isn’t for everyone, but he was one of the most influential men who lived in the 20th century.  You really can’t understand the world we live in without understanding one of the greatest visionaries of his time (and, I would add, without understanding the relationship between Freud and Jung and the flourishing of scholarship in the 19th century that influenced both).

For whatever reason, our culture at present doesn’t give much respect to visionaries.  The 19th century produced many visionaries, but the visionary as a respectable profession seems to have mostly died out in the middle of 20th century.

Even great thinkers influenced by Jung never quite live up to Jung’s greatness.  Jung covered massive intellectual territory, and did so with a creative flair and a depth of insight.  Some of my favorite thinkers such as Terrence McKenna and Philip K. Dick were influenced by Jung and they were innovative thinkers, but I doubt they’ll have the influence Jung had and continues to have.  Philip K. Dick probably comes the closest to Jung’s fearless explorations into madness and also Jung’s prolific output.  Sadly, though, thinkers like Philip K. Dick grew up in a time when visionaries were forced into the margins of society (science fiction in the case of PKD).

However, even Jung was marginalized by Freud’s fame.  Are all visionaries doomed to be only understood by mainstream society in retrospect?  Maybe so, but there do seem to be periods of history that create the right conditions that encourage the visionary profession.

I do hope that eventually the respect for visionaries will be renewed.  Present day visionaries are more of the flavor of Ken Wilber.  I appreciate Wilber’s scholarship but his visionary ability pales against that of Jung.  Joseph Campbell came closer to Jung’s level, but still fell short.  The world needs a new Jung.  So, who will be the visionary of the 21st century?

Racism in US

Here We Go Again by Charles M. Blow (The New York Times)

Here is an example of an article that demonstrates the type of reporting that impresses me.  It’s the occasional insightful article such as this that makes me feel that the mainstream media is still worthy of trust… to an extent (with some reservation and constant wariness).  This isn’t a complex article, but it’s evenhanded and informs me of data I didn’t previously know of.

But that’s where we are with race in this country: exaggerations and blanket denials. Race has become a vicious game of bludgeons and crutches, where acerbic accusers run roughshod over earnest egalitarians and political gain is sought even at the expense of enlightenment.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Most Americans know that racism is an issue in this country. The question is how much (that’s where the arguments start) and if — and to what degree — that racism animates critics of the president.

I appreciated that he cited several souces to support his analysis.  My only complaint is that he only linked to one of these.  For me to do my own analysis with the data, it would take a fair amount of effort to track down these other sources.

I also like this article for the simple reason that it substantiates my own intuitive sense of racism in the US.  Both those constantly using the race card and those constantly denying racism are clueless.  I can only hope that knowledge eventually wins out over ideology.  I just hope the ideologues don’t have as much influence as their loudly and often voiced opinions would suggest.

Violence, Dark Thoughts, Righteousness, Collective Mood, Contingent Love, Public Opinion

Here are some articles from The New York Times that caught my interest (I do look at other news sources such as The Wall Street Journal, but for whatever reason The New York Times seems to have more articles on subjects of interest to me).  Anyone who is familiar with my blog will notice that these articles relate to subjects I often write about.

 – – –

Memorial Held for Slain Anti-Abortion Protester by Damien Cave

Stephen McGee for The New York Times
About 300 people attended a memorial service Wednesday for James Pouillon, who was slain Friday while protesting abortion.
 
Paul Sancya/Associated Press
Mary Jo Pouillon sang at a memorial service for her slain father, anti-abortion protester James Pouillon, in Owosso, Mich. on Wednesday

I’m always saddened by killings based on ideology whether or not I agree with the ideology of either side.  A random killing by a gang or a crazy person seems less evil.  Ideological killings seem so evil because the killer often rationalizes their actions as good.

There was nothing particularly interesting about this article except for one line.

His killing is believed to be the first of someone protesting abortion, and at the memorial and a vigil later outside a Planned Parenthood office, he was praised as a symbol of dedicated action.

That is utterly amazing.  He was the first anti-abortion protester to be killed.  On the other hand, anti-abortion protesters regularly kill abortion doctors.  Why did Damien Cave leave that important detail out?  There are two extensive Wikipedia articles about anti-abortion violence.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-abortion_violence

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-abortion_violence_in_the_United_States

Why is this one murdered anti-abortion protester a symbol of dedicated action?  Are all of the doctors, nurses, receptionists, and security guards who died in supporting abortion (or simply doing their jobs) also symbols of dedicated action?  Going by the Wikipedia articles, anti-abortion protesters have committed hundreds of incidents of violent attacks, death threats, murders, attempted murders, kidnappings, bioterror threats, property crimes, bomb threats, bombings, arsons, vandalism, and trespassing.  Most of those, of course, were committed in the US.

This reminds me of protesters who try to protect nature and animals, but the situation is in reverse.  Evironmentalists and those against animal testing have never killed anyone in US history.  However, these protesters have been the target of numerous threats and acts of violence leading to many deaths and injuries.  Why is that?  Why are conservatives (social conservatives in the case of anti-abortion protesters) more prone to violence than liberals?  The most violent liberal protesters ever in US history were the Weather Underground and even they never killed anyone.  The Weather underground used bombs, but were always careful that people wouldn’t be harmed.  Contrast that to anti-abortion bombers who specifically target people.

What is interesting is that liberal protesters are often threatened, harmed and killed by people working for the government or large corporations.  The reason for this is that liberals are more likely than conservatives to clash with authority probably because conservatives by nature are more subservient to authority (which can be explained using the research into boundary types which shows that thick boundary types are more likely to be promoted in hierarchical institutions).  Maybe I’m being unfair, but it seems to me that conservatives for whatever reason are more likely to turn their aggression towards private citizens (i.e., those they perceive as being below them rather than those they perceive being above them).

Actually, I wonder how true it is that conservative protesters are less likely to confront and conflict with authority.  There are some conservative protesters that are aggressively confrontational to the powers that be and they tend to be libertarians especially of the religious variety, but maybe that says more about religious extremism than conservativism.  I was also thinking about how libertarians (such as farmers and other landowners) will support environentalists against the government and big business (such as when the government wants to take or otherwise use their land).

The odd thing is that Fox news was during the Bush administration so critical of protesters.  But now that a Democrat is in power they support and actively promote protest.  However, the protesters of Bush were often libertarians.  Why does the conservative party have an uncertain relationship with libertaranism.  When it comes to protesting, libertarians became identified with liberals because it’s often impossible to tell them apart and even the protesters don’t necessarilly make this differentiation.

So, there are two questions.  Why are conservatives reluctant towards becoming involved in protesting and often critical of protesters?  Why are conservatives the most violent protesters when they do become involved?

 – – –

Stumbling Blocks on the Path of Righteousness by Benedict Carey

Ross MacDonald

I really loved this article.  It goes against commonsense, but I must admit it’s the type of thing that has always made sense to me.  I’m just happy when research supports my own intuition.  🙂  However, I have no special power of intuitive knowing.  If you’ve studied widely the subject of psychology, I doubt you’d be surprised by this research.

In recent years, social psychologists have begun to study what they call the holier-than-thou effect. They have long known that people tend to be overly optimistic about their own abilities and fortunes — to overestimate their standing in class, their discipline, their sincerity.

But this self-inflating bias may be even stronger when it comes to moral judgment, and it can greatly influence how people judge others’ actions, and ultimately their own.

Heck, you don’t even need to study psychology.  Just observe people and this holier-than-thou effect is fairly obvious.  There really is nothing surprising about the fact that moral judgment has a personal bias.  That’s just basic human nature.  However, self-awareness of one’s own human nature isn’t inherently of human nature… or, to put it simply, most people are oblivious to their own biases.

A quote from the social psychologist David Dunning is more intriguing.

“But the point is that many types of behavior are driven far more by the situation than by the force of personality. What someone else did in that situation is a very strong warning about what you yourself would do.”

That is something that is so important that it can’t be over-emphasized.  Social conservatives always worry about moral relativism, but what their ideology misses is the actual psychology of moral behavior.  People should think twice before judging someone else.  If you had the same experiences and were in the same situation as another person, you’d probably make the same choices.  In this light, righteousness isn’t very moral in and of itself.  Compassionate awareness and humility is more likely to lead to tangible moral results.  I would guess that the more righteous someone is the more likely they’re to act against their own stated beliefs.  This is partly why outspoken evangelists become involved in socially unacceptable sexual activities.

“The problem with these holier-than-thou assessments is not only that we overestimate how we would have behaved,” Dr. Epley said. “It’s also that we blame every crisis or scandal on failure of character — you know, if we just fire all the immoral Wall Street bankers and replace them with moral ones, we’ll solve the problem.”

And that is exactly what moral conservatives believe.  This attitude comes up all of the time in the comments of the local news website.  The more different someone is the more likely they’re to be judged harshly for their failings.  It’s easy to dismiss the situation of another person when you’ve never lived in that situation.  Also, people tend to want to take credit for the advantages they were given in life and claim it as “moral character”.

In experiments as in life, the holier-than-thou effect diminishes quickly when people have actually had the experience they are judging: dubious accounting practices will appear less shady to the person who has had to put a good face on a failing company. And the effect is apparently less pronounced in cultures that emphasize interdependence over individual achievement, like China and Spain.

It’s hard to be humble and compassionate if you’ve never experienced difficulties and suffering, and even then you’ll tend to only sympathize with the specific difficulties and sufferings that you’ve experienced.  I always get irritated by people who judge others for something they’ve never personally experienced.  That is one of my pet peeves.

I appreciated the last comment about “cultures that emphasize interdependence”.  I’d assume that those cultures also emphasize sympathy because it’s through sympathy that interdepndence is encouraged.  On the other hand, I should point out that research also shows that interdependent cultures tend to isolate individuals and so the sympathy that is encouraged might be very narrow.  Anyways, an interdependent culture would certainly value personal humility over personal righteousness.

One practice that can potentially temper feelings of moral superiority is religion. All major faiths emphasize the value of being humble and the perils of hubris. “In humility count others as better than yourself,” St. Paul advises in his letter to the Philippians.

Yet for some people, religion appears to amplify the instinct to feel like a moral beacon. In a 2002 study, [ . . . ] the students in this highly religious group considered themselves, on average, almost twice as likely as their peers to adhere to such biblical commandments as “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The study also found that the most strictly fundamentalist of the students were at the highest end of the scale. “It reminds me of one of my favorite bumper stickers,” said Dr. Epley, of Chicago. “ ‘Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.’ ”

This reminds me of a long post I wrote trying to come to terms with Christians relationship with morality (Morality: Christians vs. Jesus).  I was comparing research done on the type of person who supports torture with the teachings of Jesus who was tortured.  The extremely interresting fact was that Christians were largely in favor of torture.  This seems rather odd until you consider the larger context of Christian history and modern fundamentalism.  This article adds even further data to explain this situation.  The more ideologically religious one is the more one is likely to judge oneself favorably and presumably more likely to judge others less favorably.  This might be explained partially by the way a religion creates a clear sense of an in-crowd and an out-crowd.  And the person not a part of the group is inherently less worthy (and this attitude is probably responsible for a fair amount of the violence in the world).

For all that, an abiding feeling of moral superiority is intrinsic to what some psychologists call self-enhancement. So-called self-enhancers think that they’re blessed, that they’re highly appreciated by others and that they’ll come out on top. And sometimes they do, studies suggest — especially in life-or-death crises like 9/11 and the Bosnian war.

“Self-enhancers do very well, across the board, on measures of mental healthin these situations,” said George Bonanno, a psychologist at Columbia.

But in the mundane ebb and flow of life, an inflated sense of personal virtue can also be a minefield. “Overconfident stock traders tend to do worse; people buy too many gym memberships,” said Dr. Dunning, of Cornell. “In the economic realm, the outcomes are not so good.”

This reminds me of research done on pessimism and optimism.  Optimists are more successful in many fields and there are many advantages to being an optimist such as better health.  However, pessimists have a more realistic assessment of the actual facts and also a more realistic assessment of themselves.  A pessimist may sound like a cynic, but they might be more likely to consistently act according to their own sense of morality.

 – – –

Why the Imp in Your Brain Gets Out by Benedict Carey

Scott Menchin

An important point I’ve read about before is the following.

But a vast majority of people rarely, if ever, act on such urges, and their susceptibility to rude fantasies in fact reflects the workings of a normally sensitive, social brain, argues a paper published last week in the journal Science.

It’s normal to have “abnormal” thoughts and fantasies.  It’s because people worry about these kinds of things that they become so prominent in the workings of our minds.  The person who acts on such horrible thoughts may actually think and fantasize about it less than normal.  However, these thoughts do have influence.

The empirical evidence of this influence has been piling up in recent years, as Dr. Wegner documents in the new paper. In the lab, psychologists have people try to banish a thought from their minds — of a white bear, for example — and find that the thought keeps returning, about once a minute. Likewise, people trying not to think of a specific word continually blurt it out during rapid-fire word-association tests.

The same “ironic errors,” as Dr. Wegner calls them, are just easy to evoke in the real world. Golfers instructed to avoid a specific mistake, like overshooting, do it more often when under pressure, studies find. Soccer players told to shoot a penalty kick anywhere but at a certain spot of the net, like the lower right corner, look at that spot more often than any other.

[ . . . ]

The researchers had about half the students try to suppress bad stereotypes of black males as they read and, later, judged Donald’s character on measures like honesty, hostility and laziness. These students rated Donald as significantly more hostile — but also more honest — than did students who were not trying to suppress stereotypes.

In short, the attempt to banish biased thoughts worked, to some extent. But the study also provided “a strong demonstration that stereotype suppression leads stereotypes to become hyperaccessible,” the authors concluded.

None of this is exactly new insight, but the point is that research is starting to prove it.  Psychologists and parenting gurus have been telling people for a long time to state things in the positive because the mind doesn’t understand a negative.  To the subconscious mind, the phrase “don’t think” simply translates to “think”.  Any self-aware person realizes the truth of this.

The point of taking this type of research into consideration is that it can be helpful to give people perspective.  People shouldn’t be so hard on themselves.  There is nothing wrong with you for having strange thoughts.  If you’re worried about acting on dark fantasies, your worrying demonstrates that your unlikely to act on them.  However, if those urges become too strong, I’d recommend seeking help.  When the voices tell you to kill someone, please get a second opinion.

 – – –

When a Parent’s ‘I Love You’ Means ‘Do as I Say’ by Alfie Kohn

Wesley Bedrosian

I was just recently writing about this topic and this author in my blog (Punishment/Reward, Good/Evil, Victim/Victimizer).  This article is about contingent love as a method of parenting (and I think this topic has direct bearing on the above article about moral righteousness).  One can question the morality of contingent parenting, but the practical side of it is simply whether it works or not.

This raises the intriguing possibility that the problem with praise isn’t that it is done the wrong way — or handed out too easily, as social conservatives insist. Rather, it might be just another method of control, analogous to punishment. The primary message of all types of conditional parenting is that children must earn a parent’s love. A steady diet of that, Rogers warned, and children might eventually need a therapist to provide the unconditional acceptance they didn’t get when it counted.

 Any reward always implies a potential punishment.  Even if the punishment isn’t overt or even intentional per se, what is the effect of this contingent love?

It turned out that children who received conditional approval were indeed somewhat more likely to act as the parent wanted. But compliance came at a steep price. First, these children tended to resent and dislike their parents. Second, they were apt to say that the way they acted was often due more to a “strong internal pressure” than to “a real sense of choice.” Moreover, their happiness after succeeding at something was usually short-lived, and they often felt guilty or ashamed. [ . . . ] Those mothers who, as children, sensed that they were loved only when they lived up to their parents’ expectations now felt less worthy as adults. Yet despite the negative effects, these mothers were more likely to use conditional affection with their own children.

[In another study] giving more approval when children did what parents wanted was carefully distinguished from giving less when they did not.

The studies found that both positive and negative conditional parenting were harmful, but in slightly different ways. The positive kind sometimes succeeded in getting children to work harder on academic tasks, but at the cost of unhealthy feelings of “internal compulsion.” Negative conditional parenting didn’t even work in the short run; it just increased the teenagers’ negative feelings about their parents.

 I’m a fan of research.  Most people ground their opinions in ideology rather than facts.  Of course, the data has to be interpreted.   There are always other interpretations, but even so an interpretation is only as good as the data it’s based on.  I don’t believe parents should simply submit to experts to tell them what to do any more than they should blindly submit to any other authority figure.  Parents should trust their own experience to an extent, but research can help us to understand the larger context of our experiences.  Any parent should take this kind of research very seriously.

In practice, according to an impressive collection of data by Dr. Deci and others, unconditional acceptance by parents as well as teachers should be accompanied by “autonomy support”: explaining reasons for requests, maximizing opportunities for the child to participate in making decisions, being encouraging without manipulating, and actively imagining how things look from the child’s point of view.

The last of these features is important with respect to unconditional parenting itself. Most of us would protest that of course we love our children without any strings attached. But what counts is how things look from the perspective of the children — whether they feel just as loved when they mess up or fall short.

 I liked these ending comments.  This answers the crticisms of those who would oppose unconditional parenting.  It doesn’t simply mean to let kids do whatever they want, but it means having a sympathetic and understanding of one’s child.  The idea is that if you want respect from your children then you should treat them with respect.  If you  want to teach your children how to be loving, how to be open and trusting, then you should teach by example.  One has to decide about one’s priorities.  Is it more important to force a child through fear (or withholding of love) to respect one’s authority or is it more important to raise a happy and well-balanced child?

  – – –

Does a Nation’s Mood Lurk in Its Songs and Blogs? by Benedict Carey

Wesley Bedrosian

This is the type of research that fascinates me.

In a new paper, a pair of statisticians at the University of Vermont argue that linguistic analysis — not just of song lyrics but of blogs and speeches — could add a new and valuable dimension to a growing area of mass psychology: the determination of national well-being.

“We argue that you can use this data as a kind of remote sensor of well-being,” said Peter Sheridan Dodds, a co-author of the new paper, with Christopher M. Danforth; both are in the department of mathematics and statistics.

“It’s information people are volunteering; they’re not being surveyed in the usual way,” Dr. Dodds went on. “You mess with people when you ask them questions about happiness. You’re not sure if they’re trying to make you happy, or have no idea whether they’re happy. It’s reactive.”

But I do have some criticisms.  Emotional expression may not be equivalent to emotional well-being.  The ways of expressing emotion may change, but I’m unconvinced that the basic level of emotion has changed.  Even so, I wouldn’t be surprised if such a change has occurred.  I do share the excitement of these researchers but I also share the opinions of the skeptics.

“The new approach that these researchers are taking is part of movement that is really exciting, a cross-pollination of computer science, engineering and psychology,” said James W. Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas. “And it’s going to change the social sciences; that to me is very clear.”

Researchers who specialize in analyzing mass measures of well-being are skeptical about what a content analysis of pop culture can really say, at least as a stand-alone measure.

“The approach is interesting, but I don’t see any evidence that the method produces a valid population-based measure of well-being,” Uli Schimmack, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, wrote in an e-mail message.

One issue is that pop culture and mainstream media have changed which might be the actual result of this apparent change in emotional well-being.  Media was more controlled and self-censored in the past.  There are more indie musicians who get their music out now than in the past.  There are more people voicing their opinions through non-traditional media.  So, maybe this only demonstrates a shift in censorship of emotional expression.

 – – –

‘Athens’ on the Net by Anand Giridharadas

Ridharadasp

I’m impressed by the quality of journalism in this article.  The subject matter a bit different from the other articles in this post, but it’s related.  It’s about how the common person participates (or not) in US democracy, and how this could change.  So, it’s about human relationships.  More importantly, it’s about challenging the hierarchical territory of politics where democracy only exists in name (btw I see this issue of hierarchical politics loosely related to the hierarchical style of parenting that promotes contingent love).  It’s a serious issue to consider whether democracy is doomed to be forever controlled and manipulated by the money and power of corporations and special interest groups.  It’s hard to imagine what a real democracy would even look like.  Some people claim a direct democracy where the average person’s opinion actually counts is an impossibility…. or even dangerous as the general population if given power supposedly would just turn into a mobocracy.

PERHAPS the biggest big idea to gather speed during the last millennium was that we humans might govern ourselves. But no one really meant it.

 Exactly!  Ideals are always nice.  They make for good political fodder and an effective method for subduing the masses… as long as they forever remain just ideals.

The headlines from Washington today blare of bailouts, stimulus, clunkers, Afpak, health care. But it is possible that future historians, looking back, will fixate on a quieter project of Barack Obama’s White House: its exploration of how government might be opened to greater public participation in the digital age, of how to make self-government more than a metaphor.

 I’ve been of the opinion for some time that we are in the midst of a major socio-political shift in our culture and probably in the world in general.  Technology is utterly transforming the world and we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.  With the technological generations coming into power and taking over the workforce, we are going to see a massive jump in technological innovation of the likes that hasn’t been seen in recent decades.  The industrial age and the modernist ideals it fostered are still very powerful, but a new paradigm has finally gained enough power to challenge it.  It’s been a long time coming, but the massive size of Boomers slowed down this shift.  Gen Xers have been working in the background building the infrastructure of the Information Age and now we have our first Gen X president.  Obama won by appealing to the youth which offers us a glimpse of what we’re going to see in the near future when in 2012 the Millennials will dominate the presidential election.  The US is no longer controlled by the Boomers, but the Boomers are far from being out of the game.  There will be some major generational clashing in the next decade.

President Obama declared during the campaign that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” That messianic phrase held the promise of a new style of politics in this time of tweets and pokes. But it was vague, a paradigm slipped casually into our drinks. To date, the taste has proven bittersweet.

 I’m not sure it matters that Obama lives up to his promise.  The important point is the promise was made.  The sweetness of it may be undermined with the bitterness of politics as usual, but still the sweetness once tasted creates a hunger.  Any promising ideal will usually fail when it’s first proposed.  If one looks to history, it can take centuries for a good idea to really catch on and succeed.  Without a revolution to overthrow the government, it takes time to change established politics.  However, technology may speed up this process.

Federal agencies have been directed to release online information that was once sealed; reporters from Web-only publications have been called on at news conferences; the new portal Data.gov is allowing citizens to create their own applications to analyze government data. But the most revealing efforts have been in “crowdsourcing”: in soliciting citizens’ policy ideas on the Internet and allowing them to vote on one another’s proposals.

During the transition, the administration created an online “Citizen’s Briefing Book” for people to submit ideas to the president. “The best-rated ones will rise to the top, and after the Inauguration, we’ll print them out and gather them into a binder like the ones the president receives every day from experts and advisors,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, wrote to supporters.

 It sounds good in theory.  LOL  The author describes the results of this gathering of public opinion.  It may not seem inspiring, but I’d rather hear people’s actual opinions no matter what they are.  Even if the average person’s opinion is completely stupid, that is still a good thing to know.  Maybe the public isn’t capable of more serious opinions until their collective opinion is taken seriously.

There is a lively debate in progress about what some call Gov 2.0. One camp sees in the Internet an unprecedented opportunity to bring back Athenian-style direct democracy. [ . . . ] The people in this camp point to information technology’s aid to grassroots movements from Moldova to Iran. They look at India, where voters can now access, via text message, information on the criminal records of parliamentary candidates, and Africa, where cellphones are improving election monitoring. They note the new ease of extending reliable scientific and scholarly knowledge to a broad audience. They observe how the Internet, in democratizing access to facts and figures, encourages politician and citizen alike to base decisions on more than hunches.

But their vision of Internet democracy is part of a larger cultural evolution toward the expectation that we be consulted about everything, all the time. Increasingly, the best articles to read are the most e-mailed ones, the music worth buying belongs to singers we have just text-voted into stardom, the next book to read is one bought by other people who bought the last book you did, and media that once reported to us now publish whatever we tweet.

Yes, it’s a strange new world.  The question is does this actually open debate.  Do people just listen to the crowd and follow along?  Do people just get stuck in their own self-created niche where everything caters to their biases?  There are definite dangers.

Another camp sees the Internet less rosily. Its members tend to be enthusiastic about the Web and enthusiastic about civic participation; they are skeptical of the Internet as a panacea for politics. They worry that it creates a falsely reassuring illusion of equality, openness, universality. [ . . . ] “Many methods and technologies can be used to give voice to the public will. But some give a picture of public opinion as if through a fun-house mirror.”

True it creates an illusion, but politics at present just creates another kind of illusion.  Choose your illusion, as they say.  From my viewpoint, the risk is worth it because the opportunity is increased (as are the stakes).

Because it is so easy to filter one’s reading online, extreme views dominate the discussion. Moderates are underrepresented, so citizens seeking better health care may seem less numerous than poker fans. The Internet’s image of openness and equality belies its inequities of race, geography and age.

Now, there is a criticism that resonates deeply with me.  I get annoyed by how few moderates choose to voice their opinions and I get annoyed that so many ideologues feel it’s necessary to announce their every thought.  The internet is a specific medium that attracts a specific type of person.  The internet is Social Darwinism in action where thoughtful debate isn’t always fostered.  It takes effort to encourage people to relate well, but the ease of the internet doesn’t lend itself to people going to this effort.  People often make their quick rude comments and the people running the site are too busy or lazy to moderate such trolling and other anti-social behavior.

Lies spread like wildfire on the Web; Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, no Luddite, warned last October that if the great brands of trusted journalism died, the Internet would become a “cesspool” of bad information. Wikipedia plans to add a layer of editing — remember editing? — for articles on living people.

This sounds like fear-mongering to me.  The great brands of trusted journalism aren’t going to entirely die out.  The ones that do die out will be replaced by new ones.  People want good journalism and anyways the quality of journalism was suspect long before the internet.  People have been looking for alternative journalism for much of this past century and now the opportunity is here for alternative journalism on a large-scale.  It will take time for all of this to develop, but it will develop because the demand is there.

Perhaps most menacingly, the Internet’s openness allows well-organized groups to simulate support, to “capture and impersonate the public voice,” as Mr. Fishkin wrote in an e-mail exchange.

Ah, yes.  This very well may be the biggest danger of them all.  The new technologies allow for manipulation and propaganda on a scale never before possible.  The workings of the internet are so subtle that most people don’t even notice the inherent biases to search engines.  Also, it’s hard to tell if a website is trustworthy or even who is running and funding it.  Even so, there is more info than there ever has been.  The difference of todays technology is that it allows people to research something if they want to.  However, the average person has little desire (not to mention time and energy) to research most things.  If manipulation succeeds in todays world, it’s because of willful ignorance.  As long as people are willing to unquestioningly accept lies and deception, then there will always be those willing to supply it.  But this has always been true no matter what kind of technology is used.

There is no turning back the clock. We now have more public opinion exerting pressure on politics than ever before. The question is how it may be channeled and filtered to create freer, more successful societies, because simply putting things online is no cure-all.

Damn straight!  There is no turning back.  Full speed ahead be it utopia or dystopia.  It’s a brave new world, baby.  However, I don’t see too much reason to worry about it mainly because worry won’t alter the change that is happening.  We all might as go along with the flow.  Instead of struggling against the inevitable, let’s save our energies and keep our eyes open.  Democracy needs to be able to adapt and that is true now more than ever.  Also, democracy needs vigilance.

To end on a humorous note, I shall reward anyone who made it all the way down to the bottom of this post.

My Response to the News

C.I.A. Sought Blackwater’s Help in Plan to Kill Jihadists
By MARK MAZZETTI

One official familiar with the matter said that Mr. Panetta did not tell lawmakers that he believed that the C.I.A. had broken the law by withholding details about the program from Congress. Rather, the official said, Mr. Panetta said he believed that the program had moved beyond a planning stage and deserved Congressional scrutiny.

“It’s wrong to think this counterterrorism program was confined to briefing slides or doodles on a cafeteria napkin,” the official said. “It went well beyond that.”

I wrote about this story previously, but this is new info.  It seems that the argument for it being withheld from Congress was false.

Current and former government officials said that the C.I.A.’s efforts to use paramilitary hit teams to kill Qaeda operatives ran into logistical, legal and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset. These efforts had been run by the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center, which runs operations against Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks.

Paramilitary hit teams… oh how it brings back the memories of America’s dark past.

In 2002, Blackwater won a classified contract to provide security for the C.I.A. station in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the company maintains other classified contracts with the C.I.A., current and former officials said.

Over the years, Blackwater has hired several former top C.I.A. officials, including Cofer Black, who ran the C.I.A. counterterrorism center immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.

C.I.A. operatives also regularly use the company’s training complex in North Carolina. The complex includes a shooting range used for sniper training.

It sounds like the CIA and the former Blackwater are so entangled as to be inseparable.  Big government and big business melded together… fascism anyone?

Some Congressional Democrats have hinted that the program was just one of many that the Bush administration hid from Congressional scrutiny and have used the episode as a justification to delve deeper into other Bush-era counterterrorism programs.

If we were to go by American history, then there probably were and are all kinds of covert programs being hidden from Congressional oversight.  In my previous post about this story, I pointed out that it’s hard for Congress to serve it’s purpose of oversight when it’s left in the dark.  How does the Congress oversee an agency whose practice is to control info and keep it secret?  The only reason we see this info now is because there was a change in CIA leadership and the new guy didn’t want to get in trouble for the wrongdoings of the previous leadership.  However, even he didn’t know about this CIA program even after being head of the CIA for several months.   It was a secret even from him.  The CIA even lacks clear internal oversight.

A Nuremberg for Guantánamo
By GUÉNAËL METTRAUX

AT the end of World War II, the Allied powers found themselves in charge of thousands of captured enemies, many of whom had committed unspeakable crimes. Some among the victors thought that the prisoners should simply be shot. Others, including many in the American government, steadfastly insisted that these men should be subjected to criminal proceedings. Thus the Nuremberg trials were born, tribunals that meted out justice for some of the 20th century’s worst atrocities while demonstrating the return of the rule of law on the European continent and the superiority of democratic values over Fascist lunacies.

[…]

An international criminal tribunal would not answer all the legal questions surrounding the war on terrorism. But by putting its faith in the law, the Obama administration would send a potent message to both its supporters and its enemies. By giving a fair trial to the Guantánamo detainees, the United States would reassert its core values and demonstrate the supremacy of those values over the evil that has been challenging them.

Oh, what a lovely dream!  An America dedicating itself to justice, civil rights, and faith in the law… could such a thing be possible!?!

Sadly, there is a reason the US government doesn’t want to support international military tribunals.  There are many people of many countries (including politicians and leaders) who would like to see a number of Americans sent to trial for war crimes.  If we decided to subject citizens of other countries to fair trials, that might just lead to other countries demanding the same in return.  That is a can of worms that even Obama wouldn’t want to open.

Priority Test: Health Care or Prisons?
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

The United States is anomalous among industrialized countries in the high proportion of people we incarcerate; likewise, we stand out in the high proportion of people who have no medical care — and partly as a result, our health care outcomes such as life expectancy and infant mortality are unusually poor.

Choices always have to  be made about how limited money is spent.  For that very reason, the way America spends it’s money seems bassackwards.  Even if you assume that even the majority of criminals (who, by the way, are non-violent) can’t be rehabilitated, wouldn’t it make more sense to spend the money on people you can help?

¶The United States incarcerates people at nearly five times the world average. Of those sentenced to state prisons, 82 percent were convicted of nonviolent crimes, according to one study.

¶California spends $216,000 annually on each inmate in the juvenile justice system. In contrast, it spends only $8,000 on each child attending the troubled Oakland public school system, according to the Urban Strategies Council.

¶For most of American history, we had incarceration rates similar to those in other countries. Then with the “war on drugs” and the focus on law and order in the 1970s, incarceration rates soared.

¶One in 10 black men ages 25 to 29 were imprisoned last year, partly because possession of crack cocaine (disproportionately used in black communities) draws sentences equivalent to having 100 times as much powder cocaine. Black men in the United States have a 32 percent chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives, according to the Sentencing Project.

I like statistics.  Nothing like facts to put ideology in its place.

Indeed, education spending may reduce the need for incarceration. The evidence on this isn’t conclusive, but it’s noteworthy that graduates of the Perry Preschool program in Michigan, an intensive effort for disadvantaged children in the 1960s, were some 40 percent less likely to be arrested than those in a control group.

Above all, it’s time for a rethink of our drug policy. The point is not to surrender to narcotics, but to learn from our approach to both tobacco and alcohol. Over time, we have developed public health strategies that have been quite successful in reducing the harm from smoking and drinking.

If we want to try a public health approach to drugs, we could learn from Portugal. In 2001, it decriminalized the possession of all drugs for personal use. Ordinary drug users can still be required to participate in a treatment program, but they are no longer dispatched to jail.

“Decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal,” notes a report this year from the Cato Institute. It notes that drug use appears to be lower in Portugal than in most other European countries, and that Portuguese public opinion is strongly behind this approach.

For many many reasons, punishment just isn’t a very effective method.  To put it in laymen’s terms, it doesn’t give you much bang for your buck.  Besides, for a supposed Christian nation, we seem a little too much in love with punishment.  If Jesus was here, he wouldn’t approve.

“There are only two possibilities here,” Mr. Webb said in introducing his bill, noting that America imprisons so many more people than other countries. “Either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States, or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.”

It makes me happy when someone states the obvious.

Obama Calls Health Plan a ‘Moral Obligation’
By JEFF ZELENY and CARL HULSE

“These struggles always boil down to a contest between hope and fear,” he said. “That was true in the debate over Social Security, when F.D.R. was accused of being a socialist. That was true when J.F.K. and Lyndon Johnson tried to pass Medicare. And it’s true in this debate today.”

Hope and fear may not be the best way to put it, but it’s not entirely inaccurate.  Research shows that liberals and conservatives tend to be of two distinct personality types (Ernest Hartmann’s thin vs thick boundaries, Myers-Briggs’ Sensation vs iNtuition functions, etc.).

Conservatives ‘fear’ change because they tend to want the world to stay the same or else to return to some idyllic past.  Conservatives are interested in the concrete reality of the present which is built on a sense of continuity with the past.  They’re more comfortable with what is familiar.

Conservatives seem to be more pessimistic.  Research shows that pessimists have a more realistic grasp of the way things actually are, but because of this they tend to get stuck in whatever situation they find themselves in.  Another positive of pessimism is that it allows the acceptance of (even maybe necessitates the expectation of) human failure.  At its best, this can be a very compassionate attitude.  But the dark side is that if people can’t change you might as well just punish them and lock them away instead of trying to rehabilitate them.

Liberals ‘hope’ for change because they tend to want improvement and progress.  Liberals are interested in imagined possibilities that even though not entirely real in the present have the potential to be real in the future.  They’re more open to new experiences.

Liberals seem to be more optimistic.  Research shows that optimists have less realistic grasp of the way things actually are, but because of this they tend not to get stuck in whatever situation they find themselves in.  Another positive of optimism is that it allows for hope and even determination… no matter how often people fail, there is always potential (many successes only come after hundreds of failed attempts).  At its best, this can be a very compassionate attitude.  But the dark side is that if people are unable or feel unable to change unrealistic expectations are unhelpful and possibly dangerous such as if unrehabilitated criminals are released.

Even though the two attitudes balance eachother, America has always been a country of hope.  If there is any single defining ideal of America, it is definitely the ideal of hope.  At the same time, America’s being a young and less stable (or more dynamic if you prefer) country contributes to a constant fear of what we’re collectively becoming.

Cheney and the C.I.A.

Cheney Is Linked to Concealment of C.I.A. Project, by Scott Shane (The New York Times)

This is sad, but not surprising.  In fact, this is sad because it’s not surpising.

As you read this, keep it in context of the entire dark history of the CIA.  I don’t know if there is more to this story, but it’s highly probable this is just the tip of an iceberg.

May the Bush administration be remembered in infamy!