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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 9 December 2003

Topic: The Media

Is angry talk dangerous? It's only talk. A social scientist considers the question.

Another odd site came my way: The Left End of the Dial: Dr. James Benjamin's periodic musings and rants - primarily of a political nature, as well as jazz, poetry, haiku, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.

The Left End of the Dial is pretty much "angry left" as you would imagine. Benjamin is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Department of Behavioral and Social Science at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. He's not really a doctor in the MD sense. Here's what I found: Doctor of Philosophy University of Missouri-Columbia (2000), Major Area: Social Psychology, Dissertation Title: The Moderating Influence of Individual Differences on the Provocation-Aggression Relationship: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Literature

Yeah, that's cool. A Meta-Analytic Review. Sure.

Well, he doesn't like Ann Coulter and all her talk about bombing the New York Times building and stuff like that, and others on the right who talk about the moral right to "perform procedures" (kill) abortion providers as a way to stop mass-murder of innocent "children" [sic]. Yeah, Ann Coulter, in her 1998 book, High Crimes and Misdemeanors, suggested the only viable discussions for dealing with Clinton came down to whether we should "impeach or assassinate." There's been a lot more talk of such things in the air recently. A couple of weeks ago the nationally syndicated conservative columnist Kathleen Parker approvingly quoted an anonymous military man's wish that the nine Democratic presidential candidates be "lined up and shot."

There seems to be no real parallel to this "verbal behavior" from the left, but maybe I've missed it.

Is such talk dangerous? It's only talk.

Benjamin has some things to say about the dangers of right-wing "rant radio" -
... the general trend of political hate speech is truly the domain of the right wing's politicians, pundits, and rank and file. Research on authoritarian aggression is especially pertinent, as it appears that individuals who are high RWA tend to be prone to act in aggressive or violent ways if those actions appear sanctioned by those they consider as authority figures (see, e.g., Altemeyer, 1981, 1988, 1996).

What is troubling from my standpoint as a social scientist is that much of the writings and speech advocating violence against liberals and other political enemies is coming precisely from those authority figures. Television and radio talk show hosts are for better or worse viewed as authorities by those who make up their core fan base. Same with those who hold political offices or who are considered religious leaders. If these authority figures appear to sanction violent acts against other groups, there is an increased risk that someone among their followers will ultimately act violently. The danger isn't so much from what is said by these authority figures (most of it comes across as sophomoric at best) but rather the danger is from the interpretation of the meaning of those hate-filled words based on the rather black-and-white mentality held by their followers.
Benjamin has no faith in the essential goodness and good sense of most people? Perhaps so. Not one of the Democratic candidates has been shot yet. He's being alarmist, no doubt.

And all the talk on the right now is about how much the left is being so unreasonable and just full of blind hatred of George Bush - and not being civil and responsible and moderate at all. The left has been consumed by its irrational hatred. You hear that everywhere.

Here is Benjamin's psychologist's take on the right, particularly Fox News, lamenting all this recent criticism of Bush as no more than "hate speech" -
What is projection? Freud viewed projection as an ego defense mechanism used to ward off anxiety. What the individual does is to attribute their undesirable traits onto someone else, thus enabling them to hate said others instead of themselves for possessing those undesirable traits. For example, a husband who has been carrying on an extramarital affair may project this undesirable quality onto his wife by showing suspicion towards her potential to be unfaithful. Let's face it, that various famous and obscuroid right-wingers have advocated violence against various liberal and/or Democrat targets is well-documented and need not be repeated here. To the extent that these people want to portray themselves as "reasonable" or "fair and balanced," such pronouncements by themselves or likeminded individuals has to be inducing some cognitive dissonance. What better way to handle a guilty conscience or to reduce the dissonance than to latch onto any angry rhetoric from one's political enemies and use it as "evidence" that those enemies are a bunch of hate-filled violent thugs.
I like this guy.

Check out his site.

Posted by Alan at 21:19 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 21:31 PST home

Topic: Iraq

Strange doings in Washington - an attempt to simultaneously severely punish the French for being such miserable fools, and to convince them to be good folks and help us out. No wonder they are puzzled by it all.

James A. Baker fixes things for the Bush family.

The Bush family assigned Baker the task fixing the mess in Florida when the vote count was in dispute in the last election. He did. He led the legal team that worked the issue all the way through the US Supreme Court. He got the job done.

Now he has been given the task of jawboning the countries that are owed money by Iraq into either forgiving or generously restructuring Iraq's debts.

See Bush Sending Baker to Iraq to Deal With Its Debt Problem
Maria Newman, New York Times, December 5, 2003

And who are those states? Right up there are France, Germany and Russia. The Paris Club list (PDF format) has them ranked.

So? What's the problem?

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has just signed a directive barring French, German and Russian companies from competing for the $18.6 billion of Iraqi reconstruction contracts for "the protection of the essential security interests of the United States."

See U.S. Bars Iraq Contracts for Nations That Opposed War
Douglas Jehl, New York Times, December 9, 2003

A bit of a challenge for Baker? I'd say so.

Don't these guys talk to each other?

Stick it to 'em but good.

And sweet talk 'em into writing off ten or twelve billion dollars.

That'll work.

If you were the French diplomat assigned to talk with Baker when he comes calling, what would you say? You could be outraged. You could giggle. Or you could sigh and do your best to be civil and diplomatic.

Posted by Alan at 19:50 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 20:18 PST home

Topic: Election Notes

Politics: The Other Endorsement Today

Kris Kristofferson is the actor, singer, songwriter ("Me and Bobbie McGee" for Janis Joplin) who was once a Rhodes scholar. His masters thesis, whist he was at Oxford, was on the British poet William Blake (1757-1827 - "The Road of Excess Leads to the Palace of Wisdom" and all that). He has just endorsed Wesley Clark as the best man to be the next president.

Clark, from Arkansas, was also a Rhodes scholar. I guess those who are Rhodes scholars stick together.

Here's the endorsement:
Just when the world is being dragged into the death spiral of an unending cycle of violence by a vision-less, coldblooded collection of think-tank warriors goose-stepping their way into the new millennium with a stunning lack of respect for human rights, the environment, or international law, along comes a man with the proven credentials of intelligence, integrity, and courage singularly equipped by his spirit and experience to lead us out of this mess. Don't listen to what the lying liars say about him; listen to what he says. Wesley Clark is a prayer answered.

Bill Clinton was also a Rhodes scholar. And from Arkansas.

But I have no conspiracy theory about all this. Just three damned intellectuals dissatisfied with Bush.

Is such an endorsement good for Clark, and for the country? Should one question the elected (or at least legally appointed) leader of the country in a time of all-out war?

Is it prudent?

One might glance through Blake's The Proverbs of Heaven and Hell (1798). "Prudence is a Rich Ugly Old Maid, Courted by Incapacity."

Pithy. And appropriate.

Posted by Alan at 19:16 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 19:50 PST home

Topic: Oddities

It wasn't the Arabs! It was the Brazilians!

On December 1st I posted an item - Now what? The Wright Brothers weren't first? The Arabs invented manned flight? Oh no! - that linked to an article from NovaPlanet in Paris, Les Arabes ont invent? l'avion.

Well, in Reuters today one finds another view - it seems it wasn't the Arabs at all.

See Who Invented the Airplane? A Brazilian, of Course
Reuters, Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The claim?
PETROPOLIS, Brazil - As Americans prepare to celebrate the centennial of the Wright brother's first flight, a whole country is cringing at what it believes to be a historical injustice against one of its most beloved heroes.

Ask anyone in Brazil who invented the airplane and they will say Alberto Santos-Dumont, a 5-foot-4-inch bon vivant who was as known for his aerial prowess as he was for his dandyish dress and high society life in Belle Epoque Paris.

As Paul Hoffman recounts in his Santos-Dumont biography "Wings of Madness," the eccentric Brazilian was the first and only person to own a personal flying machine that could take him just about anywhere he wanted to go.

"He would keep his dirigible tied to a gas lamp post in front of his Paris apartment at the Champs-Elysees and every night he would fly to Maxim's for dinner. During the day he'd fly to go shopping, he'd fly to visit friends," Hoffman told Reuters.
Well. That settles it!

Reuters notes Santos-Dumon was an idealist who believed flight was "spiritually soothing." Santos-Dumont financed his lavish lifestyle and aerial experiments in Paris with the inheritance his coffee-farming father had advanced him as a young man. Always impeccably dressed, he regularly took a gourmet lunch with him on his ballooning expeditions. But of course....

Here's the real controversy:
... it was on Nov. 12, 1906, when Santos-Dumont flew a kite-like contraption with boxy wings called the 14-Bis some 722 feet on the outskirts of Paris. It being the first public flight in the world, he was hailed as the inventor of the airplane all over Europe.

It was only later that the secretive Orville and Wilbur Wright proved they had beaten Santos-Dumont at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, three years earlier on Dec. 17.

But to bring up the Wright brothers with a Brazilian is bound to elicit an avalanche of arguments - some more reasonable than others - as to why their compatriot's flight didn't count.

"It's one of the biggest frauds in history," scoffs Wagner Diogo, a taxi driver in Rio de Janeiro, of the Wright's inaugural flight. "No one saw it, and they used a catapult to launch" the airplane.
A fraud?

Apparently, the debate comes down to how you define the first flight of an airplane.

Henrique Lins de Barros, a Brazilian physicist and Santos-Dumont expert, argues that the Wright brothers' flight did not fulfill the conditions that had been set up at the time to distinguish a true flight from a prolonged hop.

But Santos-Dumont's flight did meet the criteria, which in essence meant he took off unassisted, publicly flew a predetermined length in front of experts and then landed safely.

"If we understand what the criteria was at the end of the 19th century, the Wright brothers simply do not fill any of the prerequisites," says Lins de Barros.

And that's that. The link will give you full detail.

And you'll also find this: Santos-Dumont was probably the first male civilian to use a watch after asking his friend Louis Cartier to make him a timepiece he could use while flying. Previously, only royalty and soldiers had used watches. To this day, you can still buy the Santos-model Cartier watch for only a couple thousand dollars.

Posted by Alan at 10:20 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:35 PST home

Topic: Election Notes

Gore endorses Howard Dean and things come to a head...
What to expect in the new year by way of "the buzz" about it all...

Okay, so Al Gore has endorsed Howard Dean. That may mean that it comes down to Wesley Clark and Dean, and pretty much no one else, as potential opponents to Bush in the next election - in spite of Al Sharpton's amazing performance on Saturday Night Live where he proved he actually can sing and dance. Well, he was for a time the stage manager for James Brown, so the "I Feel Good" thing just flowed naturally. In any event, the others running against Dean might well be toast now.

We shall see. I'll glance at the newscasters and pundits on television who say they have a sense of what's happening here - particularly CNN's Anderson Cooper, Gloria Vanderbilt's son, who now tracks the pulse of America on his own news show.

Perhaps things are shaking out and we will begin to see what the next year will be like, politically.

If it is now Dean against Bush, or Dean-Clark or Clark-Dean against Bush-Cheney or Bush-Rice, or Bush-Limbaugh perhaps - just what will be said to "get" the Democrats?

Bush has two hundred million now to flood the media. So?

The irritatingly anonymous Hesiod at Counterspin Central has some thoughts:
THE LATEST ATTACK ON HOWARD DEAN: This one is coming from the Anti-abortion activist community [probably with Karl Rove's blessing].

They are hinting and suggesting [without a shred of proof] that Howard Dean performed abortions when he was a medical intern in the 1970's. What's their evidence? Dean "served as an intern in an OB/GYN rotation at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Burlington [Vermont]."

Dean, for the record, says the neither he nor his wife ever performed abortions [they are both physicians], but that he staunchly defends the right of women to make that choice.

Look for that to be a prominent "push poll," or "whisper campaign" item next year when Dubyah is desperately trying to hold onto his job.
Okay. That's one line of attack.

The second is that "Howard Dean is an elitist, pampered, arrogant snob."

Hesiod notes these are both "general election" style criticisms.

He says the Republicans see the handwriting on the wall, and are now road testing their negative attacks on Howard Dean.

"They are trying to get these memes and themes into the media bloodstream. The same way they started tagging Al Gore as a serial exaggerator more than a year before he even announced his candidacy for President."

That seems about right. Start the buzz early.

The sources?

Dean's Planned Parenthood Ties Raise Questions About Abortion
Marc Morano, Conservative News Service (CNS), December 08, 2003

The opening:
As the current frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and the only physician in the field of candidates, has been clear about his support for abortion rights, but adamant that he never performed an abortion himself.

"I did not perform abortions. I'm a medical doctor. Nor did my wife," Dean told a Boston television station in July. Dean's wife Judith also is a physician.

Yet, Dean's extensive ties to the Northern New England chapter of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., including his internship and work as a contract obstetrician/gynecologist at one of the group's Vermont clinics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, are producing more questions about the nature of that involvement at a time when Planned Parenthood was cementing its role as America's largest abortion provider.

While Dean may not find his Planned Parenthood connections too politically damaging in Iowa and New Hampshire, site of the nation's first two major political contests, he could face some fallout in the crucial Feb. 3 Democratic primary in South Carolina, where voters are more culturally conservative.
And so on and so forth...

Morano notes that Dean has been one of the Democratic field's most vocal supporters of legalized abortion, including the procedure known as partial birth abortion, which Congress and President Bush moved to ban this year until three federal judges blocked the ban from taking effect.

On Nov. 6, the day the president signed the ban, Dean called it a "dark day for American women, who are seeing their reproductive freedoms restricted by a President acting in concert with a right wing congress. As this controversy moves to the judicial system we are reminded anew of the importance of electing a pro-choice president next year."

Well, who should make medical decisions? On medical matters you have to trust the Republican politicians, after all, don't you? What is moral and right trumps what is called for medically. Some of us disagree, but that question is well on its way to being settled.

The link will take you to a detailed history of Dean's medical training, his residencies, and his record on abortion and the law. It's long.

The other "meme" that's starting - Howard Dean may justly be called the Jacques Chirac of America - is documented here:

His Indignant Majesty, Sir Howard Dean
Scott Shore, American Daily, December 8, 2003

Here's the opening:
Every generation or so, our great Republic manages to give birth to a political figure so obnoxiously certain of his moral and intellectual superiority over the "booboisie" that we lowly, simple folk eventually begin to heave with nausea.

The insufferable Governor Dean is the latest incarnation. Born deep in the heartland of Manhattan's Upper East Side, schooled at only the best of New York's private preparatory institutions before entering the real world of the Ivy League, young Howard spent his summers in the Hamptons. Certainly these early life experiences prepared Mr. Dean to empathize with the average, middle-class American.

One might assume that this upbringing, while not disqualifying one to represent the great expanse of America, would insulate Howard from the common man. This is not to say that Howard was not nice to the family's "domestics." In fact, I would gainsay that Howard was very polite with the "help" and probably engaged in conversation from time to time. At Yale we learn over and over and over again that Master Howard actually had not one, but two black roommates!! Ultimately Howard received a medical degree and chose the life of a country doctor in Vermont. Vermont is a place where "real people" live. Of course this was no longer the Vermont of old Yankees, but ex-hippies and the counterculture. The spoiled little snots of the Sixties had found their little haven in Vermont. As an illustration, look at Vermont's only Congressman, Bernie Sanders. He's yet another ex-New Yorker who ran and won to become the only openly socialist congressman in the US House of Representatives. Indeed Vermont is as American as...well, crepes.
And this goes on this vein for quite a while.

In the middle you'll find this:
Howard Dean's Manhattan-prep school-Hampton-Ivy-Vermont frame of mind is, in fact, a little island of democratic socialist Europe within America. Howard Dean may justly be called the Jacques Chirac of America. Like the slightly overweight Chirac, Dean nearly bursts out his suit and ties with indignation and outrage over the small mindedness of anyone who can not see the secular, multicultural worldview of himself and fellow "progressive-minded intelligentsia." His worldview reminds me of a professor I had at Harvard who would begin each pronouncement of opinion by stating, "As we all know..." The problem was that the rest of the sentence was almost never an obvious fact or "given" but rather the ideological assumptions of the Left which were to be taken as unassailable to them as the Nicene Creed to orthodox Christians.
And it ends with this:
The interesting thing about Howard Dean is that he is, in a sense, the mirror image of Bush hatred. Howard Dean's elitist Archangel stance has made him far more of a perfect figure one loves to hate than George Bush. Howard Dean joins the ranks of other humorless, self-righteous prigs like Woodrow Wilson or Jimmy Carter. Unlike the aforementioned, Governor Dean is unlikely to occupy the White House. He does appear increasingly likely to become the leader of the Democratic Party and, by all accounts, lead it to a defeat unseen since George McGovern or Alf Landon. Circling like vultures around the carrion of the Democratic party are the Clintons and their merry band of Soft Money Marxists of the George Soros variety. Unlike the pompous and preposterous Dean, the Clintons are more dangerous because they are more cunning. Like chameleons they blend with political landscape until they can show their true colors. Unfortunately for the Democrats and the rest of us, the Clintons have the same real agenda as Howard Dean sans the ridiculous persona. That is the real danger to the future of the Republic.
So things are settling out and the fun begins.

It should be an interesting political year.

Posted by Alan at 09:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:29 PST home

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