September 2004 Archives

Behold The Meta-Blog

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One of the latest political memes making the circuit has had to do with the accuracy of the media's portrayal of the situation in Iraq. The Readers' Digest version is that things are actually improving fairly drastically over there, but the media wants you to the think the war's still going on full throttle.

Obviously both sides are skewing the available data to suit their agenda; that's par for the course with statistics, as I'm sure Mr. Twain informed you (though before anyone jumps in, yes, I know he was just quoting Disraeli, so sit down). Sareth beat me to this one, so it's probably just as easy to link to his post and to my contribution.

And that's pretty much all I have to say about that, at least until Xepel posts his rebuttal to my corollary to Sareth's rebuttal to Xepel's rebuttal to Sareth's rebuttal to Xepel's comment on Sareth's post.

And so this post has no real content at all. I like it. I think I'm going to call this meta-blogging, assuming the term isn't already taken. It probably is - it's a cool term. "Meta-Blogging": it just rolls of the tongue, doesn't it?

Dan? Rather...

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When I read a (well written) scholarly paper, it comes with footnotes. I can trace the information back to its original source; I can follow the writer's logic step by step. I am presented with all the information necessary to make up my own mind, and if I disagree with the author at least I can nail down the cause and nature of the dispute.

When I read a (well written) legal document, it comes with explicit explanations of all pertinent terms. I can trace the assumptions of the document; I can follow the logic which is applied to those axioms. I am given all I need to make up my own mind, and if I disagree with someone while interpreting the document, it is a trivial matter to determine the specific itemized point on which we conflict.

When I read a (well written) web page, it comes with hyperlinks. I can trace the information the author is providing; I can read more detailed descriptions or discussions of subsidiary points the author uses to make his or her arguments. I am provided with all the information I need to determine to what extent I trust or distrust the author, and to what extent I agree or disagree with the author.

When I watch CBS news, I have no choice but to take their word for it. There are no footnotes. There are no detailed explanations of information CBS believes to be axiomatic. There are no hyperlinks. CBS gives me Dan Rather, brief glimpses of documents, and un-contextualized partial segments of interviews with individuals about whom I possess a similar dearth of information. I am not provided with sufficient data to interpret events myself. I am not permitted to hear of interpretations besides those of CBS.

And that is why I don't trust CBS. Or for that matter ABC. Or CNN, or MSNBC, or Fox News. I have a smattering of trust for NBC, but that's really not founded on any rational basis and the more intelligent part of my mind believes quite strongly that I shouldn't.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Neutiquam Erro: Reloaded

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I'm in the process of redesigning this site. As you may have noticed, the current design is somewhat suboptimal. The new design is a bit cleaner, puts the posts right on the front page where I've finally recognized they belong, and is more-than-partially-derivative of kottke.org (the design is; the MT templates and CSS were designed from scratch in a clean-room environment). The new design is still a work in progress, but you can view a preview here.

TiVo/Netflix Partnership?!

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If this article is accurate (and TiVo and Netflix actually get it up and running), then this is, in my conservative estimate, the best thing ever.

Yay!

Look, Up In The Sky...

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I'm not a big reader of comic books, but I do own a few of those paperback compilations you see occasionally in Barnes and Noble. I've always preferred the DC comics to the Marvel books. I'm a particular fan of Superman.

People make fun of Superman, because on a logical front the whole concept is laughable. An alien who happens to look exactly like a human, who somehow uses solar power to fly without wings. He can shoot heat beams out of his eyes. His style sense leaves much to be desired. And somehow, when he dons a pair of glasses, he looks like an entirely different person.

But you know what I like about Superman? He's the man of tomorrow. Superman is about hope, about the possibility of what mankind could become. He doesn't kill, he doesn't even injure when he can avoid it. He'd willingly die to save innocent lives, and has done so. The entire DC universe is like that; there's a core faith in humanity, a deep-down belief that good will triumph over evil simply because that's the order of things.

Contrast this to the Marvel comics universe. Things are dark. Really dark. Heroes are hated and feared. Racism is rampant. The Marvel universe is about fear. I recently read a crossover where the Marvel and DC universes intersected (creatively titled JLA / Avengers), and it's interesting to see how each team responds to the other world; the Marvel Avengers are overwhelmed by the DC world, refusing to believe such a paradise could arise from anything but fascism, while the DC Justice League members quickly come to the conclusion that the heroes of the Marvel universe simply aren't trying hard enough.

What does this have to do with anything? The ever-informative Sareth, in a comment to my previous post, pointed me to an interesting post on a site whose archives I really ought to peruse. Go read it now, or the next paragraph won't make much sense.

I agree with Red. Completely. And I'll geekily extend his argument by saying that the first America, Schwarzennegger's America, his America, my America, our America is all about Superman. About the belief in truth, justice, and the American way. About believing that a man can fly.

Giving people fish hasn't worked; teach them to fish instead.

It's remarkable how many don't seem to have understood what the whole Compassionate Conservative thing is about. It's really not about being a conservative, it's about a more effective and logical way of responding to society's problems. The traditional shorthand is that Democrats want to expand social welfare programs and Republicans want to eliminate them. The CC agenda is essentially the GOP moderating its stance.

There are hungry people in this country, there are people who are suffering. Neither George Bush nor John Kerry wants to see Americans suffering. Nobody wants to see Americans suffering, except for Al-Quaeda and maybe the French, and I don't think anybody besides Michael Moore is going to vote for them.

The problem is that the traditional Democratic way of helping people is to just give them what they need. Or more often, what the Democrats think they need. This may help the problem in the short run; hungry people get food. But it doesn't do anything about tomorrow, when those same people will be hungry again. It creates dependance, and it breeds weakness. It fosters what Bush brilliantly termed "the soft bigotry of low expectations".

Bush's speech last night was excellent, in my always-ever-so-humble opinion. There were however a few off-notes. Specifically, it's tough to reconcile Bush's belief that "[t]he story of America is the story of expanding liberty" with his support for a Constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriage. I personally don't feel particularly strongly one way or the other on this issue, but I'm sure the people who do will jump all over this contradiction.

I also felt like he was missing something in his platform; he kept telling us we had to hope, that there is greatness in our future, that there are historic goals within our reach, but there were no grand goals presented, outside of continuing what we're already doing.

I would have liked to have seen something sweeping up on that podium: leaving for Mars before his term ends; eliminating gasoline-based cars entirely in the next four years; building a space elevator by next Tuesday. Something that would capture our collective imagination, something awe-inspiring, something that seems fantastic and impossible and futuristic and wonderful. And a lot of the speech seemed to want this certain something as well.

All in all though, it was a knockout of a speech. I didn't catch Kerry's rebuttal at midnight (didn't even hear anything about it till after it was over) but it sounds like the consensus summary is that it was petty and confused, so all in all I'd say Bush won yesterday. Now he just needs to keep doing that for two months.

GMail!

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Sean has GMail invites. If any of the six people who actually read this stupid site want GMail accounts, let me know.

( famous.original.skerwin - @T - GMail.com )

Can you believe some dastardly fiend out there took 'skerwin'? I'm so disappointed.

Idiocy In A Major (Owens) Key

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Major Owens (and how's that for a first name!) wants you to know that Bush is leading this country "into a snake pit of fascism", down a path reminiscent of "Nazi Germany". Obviously nobody ever told the man about Godwin's Law.

Submission

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I don't consider myself particularly racist or biased against any group; I try to hold all of humanity in equally low esteem. But I'm not stupid, and I'm not too timid, and that means that I occasionally break taboos and commit the unholy sin of noticing patterns and speaking of them.

Al-Qaeda wants me dead. If you're reading this, they probably want you dead too. Incidentally, everyone in Al-Qaeda is a Muslim.

There are terrorists holding schoolchildren hostage in Russia. There are a number of reasons to believe these terrorists are Chechnyan, and that means that they are most likely Muslims.

There's a war being fought in Darfur. Rampaging militias are attacking everyone they encounter, be they military or civilian. It just so happens that these militias are composed primarily of Muslims.

A 26-year-old National Guard Specialist was arrested in February for attempting to provide US military secrets to Al-Qaeda. Coincidentally, in 1999 Anderson quit being a Lutheran Christian and became a Muslim.

Iran recently announced that it would once against throw caution to the winds - and international law out the window - by restarting its nuclear program. Iran is a 'Theocratic Republic', a polite euphemism for a religious dictatorship, and by some strange quirk of fate, most of the folks doing the dictating are Muslims.

Try this: Go to World section of Google News. Count the stories that aren't about Muslims attacking, holding hostage, or blowing something up.

I count three. One about France Telecom raising money, one about China building nuclear power plants, and one about an active volcano in Japan. So out of twenty stories on the page, seventeen are about Muslims causing trouble. That's a lot. That's 85% of the world's problems. If we eliminate the volcano (acts of God aren't really anybody's fault) it's 17/19 = 89.47%.

I know there are good Muslims; I've even met some. But you've got to ask yourself what makes members of this group so prone to making headlines - and making rubble, widows, and orphans. Some would suggest it's a cultural issue, that Middle Eastern culture is just that screwed up - in fact I read a fascinating article on that subject recently which I would highly recommend. But with all due respect to Mr. de Winter, that can't be all of it, because you'll remember one of the folks on my little list above was an American convert.

Perhaps Islamic dogma is attractive to individuals who are already disposed towards violent acts? That would explain Mr. Anderson. It would also explain why some Muslims practice peace and some fly planes into buildings; the religion in this case would be a red herring, as in any non-selective group (and since you tend to inherit your religion with your last name, I'd say this qualifies as non-selective) you'll inevitably have some people one each side of sane.

Unfortunately that still doesn't quite explain why so much trouble seems to emanate from the Middle East, from Northern Africa, from the Balkans, and from Indonesia. It could simply be a statistical coincidence that these regions coincide with that religion, but that degree of correlation is difficult to dismiss out of hand. If there's no causal linkage, you'd think there'd be at least one Christian or Hindu or Buddhist world flash-point. Of course, one might mention India and Pakistan here, or Israel and the Palestinian movement, but most independent observers would agree that these situations are largely Muslim aggression against a state with relative freedom of religion. This makes it difficult to to call these Hindu or Judaic problems, as there are Muslims in both India and Israel who are free to practice their religion without any threat from the state.

Again: I don't want to be racist. But what other conclusions can you draw? The bulk of the world's problem seem to be caused by Muslims, and there doesn't seem to be any evidence that this is incidental. I'd really appreciate it if someone out there could provide a nice, logical reason why I'm wrong, because I'd really like to find one.

'Frances' Is The Plural Of 'France'

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Hurricane Frances.

We had George - pronounced something like 'Giorj' - a few years back. We just had 'Charley' - not 'Charlie', not 'Charly', not the basic 'Charles' or the more common 'Chuck'. And now 'Frances'. To be followed shortly by 'Gaston' and 'Hermine'.

I must once again repeat my lament: why don't any of our storms have normal names? Where's hurricane Frank? Joe? Harry?

Ah well. At least this one's aimed at the other coast. Unless FPL decides to throw another one of their just-because blackouts, the server shouldn't even go down this time. I'd hope.

News? Weak.

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I've been reading Newsweek magazine for as long as I can remember. It's always been, to my mind, a fairly accurate read. It has a bit of a leftish slant, but the editors always seemed to be aware of this bias and actively working to compensate.

Well, at least that's how it used to be. Something seems to have changed - apparently they've given up on compensating.

In recent issues Newsweek has become little more than an unapologetic appendage of the Kerry campaign. Every mention of Bush has been negative, every mention of Kerry has been positive or negative-spun-as-positive, and major electoral issues like the Swift Boat Vets have been relegated to the cartoons page, where the vets are portrayed as lackeys, liars, and babies.

Let's check out the cover of the latest issue. 'The Virtues and Vices'... well, that's fair. You've got to take the good with the bad, right? But what's this? 'Stubborn Resolve'? Warning, danger Will Robinson! Stubborn is an inherently pejorative term. They don't call Bush insistent, they don't call him steadfast, they don't say he sticks to his guns, they choose to employ an adjective that gets most of its work referring to mules.

And the big type, the major headline, the main event? 'No Excuses'.

I just don't get it. What needs to be excused? An excuse is an explanation for a misdeed or a faux pas... The headline carries within it not only the accusation of some sort of evil, but the conviction of the unspecified act as well. This sort of headline might have been appropriate if printed in reference to Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, but to paste this slander in 160-point Helvetica above a president who has only been accused of misdeeds by a disingenuous filmmaker is beyond irresponsible.

And don't even get me started on the scribblings above the masthead! 'Why are we still in Vietnam'? We're in Vietnam because John Kerry took us there! His Vietnam service has been the centerpeice of his campaign, and it seems to be the only point on which he wishes to differentiate himself from the incumbent. Making this campaign about Vietnam was solidly Kerry's choice. Just as it was Kerry's choice to testify before congress about supposedly witnessing atrocities in Vietnam, just as it was Kerry's choice to lie about being in Cambodia, just as it was Kerry's choice to claim to possess medals that don't even exist!

So anyway, long story short, I don't think I'll be reading Newsweek anymore. I get more accurate and more up-to-date information from the Internet anyway.

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