The Media

4/30/11

Thinking as a Progressive Process: An Epistemology For Politics

The title of this weekend essay is deliberately misleading. (That is not a statement equivalent to the bromide conundrum "This sentence is false.") No, my title is deliberately misleading because of two words: "Progressive" and "Process." The idea you have about "progressive" in the context of this website is that strain of political thought and action which holds that government can use its concentrated power to make things better for its citizens, such as by improving transportation by building roads or by setting a goal to reach the moon before the end of a decade or by sponsoring research into the causes and possible cures of cancer. Progressive in that sense is deliberately pitted against the idea that private enterprise is the source of all good developments in the country, including the infrastructure, such as private tollways, and private medical research institutes, and even privately owned space vehicle development. But, as I have already said, that is not the "progressive" I am interested in today (although you can and should keep the American political tradition of Progressivism in mind.)

The "progressive" I am thinking of is the more abstract idea that thoughts are linked to one another in a great chain of "thinking," and the metaphor chain is instructive in the sense that the thinking usually, but not always, follows proven and habituated pathways through the thickets of facts and emotions already learned by the brain. This is the bare bones of the thesis propounded recently by Dr. Stanley Fish in the New York Times with which I will take issue and optimistically declare there is a way of getting through to people stuck in their conservatively conditioned, pessimistic, and outrageously wrongheaded ideas about our country.

Here is the link to Dr. Fish's essay, which you should read now so what I have say about it makes some kind of sense.

Fish believes that we are caught up in a socially constructed matrix of possible thoughts that only remarkably freakish events can change, and then only by small bits and pieces. He writes

The obvious answer to this not entirely frivolous question is, “you can’t think of everything,” and that’s the right answer. Despite imperatives like “broaden your thinking” or “extend your horizons or “widen your sense of ‘us,’” thought is not an expandable muscle that can contain or comprehend an infinite number of things.
I am sure Stan believes he has accomplished a coup de grace of logical insight here, but in fact he has shown the way out, inadvertently and nevertheless conclusively. His paragraph describes "thought" (which is a process, not just incidentally) with the brain (processor) which he calls (for purposes of his evasion of the truth) a muscle. This is a metaphoric description, a slipping in of one word for another to bring in this case some concreteness to the issue so that people will understand it better, if imperfectly. The ancient Classical Greeks and Romans had a name and organization for this kind of metaphor, "metonymy."

I wrote a doctoral dissertation on Russian intellectual history using terms like "metaphor, metonomy, synechdoche, and irony." My mentor on this took his lead from leading lights in the study of rhetoric and language and literature. None of us, including the professor of Psychology on my committee were truly well-versed in neuro-anatomy or neuro-physiology, but fortunately those disciplines were in their infancy and functional MRI scanning and some new ideas about brain function were just popping into view. We read this material avidly and the more we read the more the disparate fields of rhetoric and brain function physiology seemed to have a deep resemblance. To put it simply and to fulfill my promise to tell you how the term "process" is misleading in my essay's title, you should understand the word "process" a little bit better. Pro means "for" or "forward." The "cess" part is more complicated, but generally the root of it is the idea of "give or giving." In brain function the process is not a "procession" of links in a chain; it is a mass action wherein engrams—neural complexes of synapses which consciously evoke in our conscious brains "images," of things, sounds, smells, tastes, tactility, etc.—are strongly or weakly stimulated by their complex of associations through the physical medium of dendrites AND the "unloading" of synapses at sensitive frequencies nearby and in other parts and regions of the brain complex, all the while being continuously stimulated by consciously and unconconsciously received new outer stimuli. So, "process" is not a parade, it is a "fermenting" of connections between established and being-established engrams. The difference may seem precious to you, but it is as important as the notion of a spherical planet in a world that thinks of the land and sea as a scene ported around on the back of a huge turtle.

If you have the curiosity to click on the link (name and organization) to Silva Rhetoricae, which I strongly recommend for those of you who want to learn something new, yet very old, you will notice that the folks at BYU rhetorical studies have named this valuable website with a metaphor on "a forest." And that is especially important, given the homily about "not seeing the forest for the trees," which is exactly what Professor Fish has done.

Metaphor (broadly, including all its subcategories) is the method of our ability to move beyond the hardwired parts of our brains, evolved to provide us with instant responses in dangerous situations, and the soft-wired parts where we have become accustomed to thinking in sequences like "salt ... then pepper" or "GOP .. then business" or "Marilyn ... then Monroe," for three simple examples. Metaphor is the method by which we slip in a "ringer" term and let the brains of the audience consider the output on their own. When someone says the "cavernous mind of an Einstein" the imagery I get is of a "hitherto unsuspected vastness with stalactite ideas dripping droplets of inspiration onto growing stalagmites of new ideas." You might get a different image, but you will understand that "cavernous minds" are not just empty holes, but full of "micro-processes" and even "blind albino fish" of sterile notions, which swim in the imagination attracting attention, but proving almost nothing.

Fish ignored metaphor. He used it, as we have seen, and we can see how in using it he actually undercut his own thesis. Perhaps understanding that our daily verities can be overturned by metaphor will enable us to take control of our thinking processes in such a way as to make more likely that we will understand why 47% of Republicans think that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Does it go back to their beliefs about family and their rudimentary ideas about the genetics of personality? Do they understand that Obama's family in Kenya were Seventh Day Adventists and that his father converted to Islam in a fit of embarrassed rage? What do these facts and processes do to our own thinking?

Fish is dealing with trees, even groves sometimes. He misses the grandeur of the forest in so doing, but his lesson is one that should be learned. We all too easily fall into habits of mind that lead nowhere, provide few solutions, and answer no questions. But, Fish is wrong that we must wait for a tree to talk to us. We have!

JB


4/22/11

Media Reflections of Our Times

I like this recent essay about immoral and amoral corporate policy. It provides the basic rationale for refusing to put government into the hands of corporations ... as the Republicans want to do ... based on their notion that corporate leaders are better at organizational behavior than anyone else. It isn't true, and this essay shows why.

I like this recent article about the perfidiousness of political leaders whose imaginations are shorter than their attention spans. I like particularly the exposure the governors of Florida and New Jersey get in this piece. Both are blowhard demagogues and will be replaced soon enough so their states can begin to prosper. Lazy thinking and no-think politics are not exclusively Republican, but they seem to have twice or three-times as much as any other group.

This article about the sneaky work of Steve Jobs' Apple Corporation, deliberately tracking purchasers of their toys, is exactly the kind of thing that corporations do, regardless of the implications for personal freedom and privacy. Big Brother does not originate in government, but in corporate immorality ... and thankfully we caught this and will rub Steve's nose in it until he whimpers.

Paul Krugman's piece today on the perverse framing of the medical costs issue is good. Krugman is exasperated by the GOP metaphor of consumer, and rightly so. This is a rhetorical battle that will not be so much "won" as "countered continuously." It is not only a GOP foible that creates this metaphor; it is intrinsic to the whole MBA-ishness of social analysis.

This news item about Congress intervening in national diplomacy has me wondering whether the White House and State Department are "in on" this, "oblivious," or have been sucker-punched by the GOP. The law of the land is that the Executive runs diplomacy, but as we all know, Congress has the right and duty to investigate and accumulate knowledge about anything it may be called to legislate about. Still, this article has me watching for more clues.

Finally, this piece also from the New York Times about the shallow waters of Republican presidential hopefuls has me smiling about the underlying problem ... GOP ideology. You see, the GOP is a front organization that must pay at least convincing lip-service to the idea that they represent interest beyond those of corporations. They do this by framing issues ... like the medical costs issue ... in terms that please corporate leaders and resonate with other themes in the lives of normal Americans, but are false analogies and thin camouflage for the basic position that corporate power is good for American workers. Their philosophy of life is manifest in the hypocrisy of their erstwhile leaders, none of whom have the corporate/chamber of commerce framing engine on their side yet. Pathetic!

JB


4/20/11

Reframing Barack Obama

George Lakoff is a linguistics professor at Berkeley. He is very much involved in the analysis of political rhetoric, by which I mean that he parses where others merely read or listen. His framing theory is well-known, and for reasons that defy explanation, continues to be ignored by the political left. Well, if not ignored, then not very well implemented. The reason may be that the left is a herd of cats doing their own things.

This suggests that framing is not the only matter involved. I would suggest that "democratic centralism" as practiced by the right is equally the key. This does not detract from Lakoff's insights, by the way, but it does suggest that the left must work extra hard to agree on frames and then use them. The GOP is very much more disciplined (and, therefore, hidebound) about it.

The other day George wrote a piece in Huffington Post that you will find interesting. He is pretty sure that the old Obama who won our votes in 2008 is back.

This article retraces some of the steps Professor Lakoff has taken to arrive at his theory and his conclusions, and is therefore a seminal piece of political analysis. Enjoy!

JB


4/17/11

Sunday Browse

Rogen Cohen is not my favorite columnist by any means, but he is intelligent (and more than slightly self-indulgently) middle-rightwing. This piece on Sarkozy is really about France, and it looks like we have a new France to befriend.

I use Maureen Dowd frequently, on the other hand. Her brand of Liberalism was built in from her family and circumstances and represents a strain of legitimate progressivism that we need to keep in mind. But today's meow-ish piece on the arrival of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" in your movie theaters Friday, has neither deterred me from or lured me to that film. I was going anyway to see if my youthful indiscretions have been cleansed.

William H. Freehling is new to me although he seems to be deeply committed to a fair analysis of the state I grew up in—Virginia. Freehling disects the Old Dominion in a way that explains very well my discomfort with the place and the reason I will not return, yet it is intended to be, I think, modestly exculpatory. The fact is that Virginia 85 years after the Revolution was no longer the Mother of Presidents, but the sanctuary of jackasses like Wise, whose rhetoric reminds me of the jackasses on Fox.

Yes, I know these are all from the New York Times! It is simply the best place for sampling the flavor of our times. Notwithstanding that, the annoyingly jingoist Washington Post has an editorial today that I think clearly refreshes the image of Barack Obama as a man with too little understanding of the necessity to act decisively and let the devil and the historians take the hindmost!

JB


2/17/11

The Corporatist Press

People I talk with about American politics generally doubt my (and many others') assertion that America has become a corporatist state. It is strong testimony to Bill Moyers's point that belief is stronger than curiosity in most people. It directs the conscious and the subconscious in the selection of facts, choosing those that corroborate a belief system. Americans just do not like the idea that their democracy is effectively bought and paid for by the corporations. Moreover, the rude facts that Congressmen and Congresswomen are "on the take," representing interests antithetical to democracy and to local economic and cultural interests is ignored under the rubric ... "well you just cannot trust politicians" or "politics is a dirty business." This as if there were no reason other than human frailty for the deceit and dishonesty that politicians daily exhibit.

The most insidious form of corporatism, perhaps, is the undermining of the information economy, the free press, the very freedom of speech that is the sine qua non of democracy. Without a free and unfettered system of information distribution, what we call a free press, democracy cannot possibly survive. Yet, time and again we see the major corporations in apparent collusion to suppress certain kinds of news or to impose on an event a point of view that may be at odds with the facts on the ground. This article from The Guardian in the United Kingdom and reprinted in the website Common Dreams tells such a story. The piece leaves no doubt in your mind about the power that corporate leaders have over the information you accept passively as "news."

JB


2/16/11

Moyers on the Fight for Democracy

There is usually something for everyone in a keynote speech, and Bill Moyers's keynote address at the 2011 History-Makers Convention in New York City late last month was no exception. Bill has a wealth of experience and connections to people who are about to make news or are still doing it. The speech was a rouser, as expected, and if you had to boil it down to the glue of its theme, you would be talking about Freedom of the Press.

Often, though, Moyers's thoughts lean heavily on the role of the rich in our information economy. It is amazing to me that more of our plutocrats do not understand that their own rampant and egregious violations of freedom of information will come back to destroy them sooner or later. Such is the arrogance of money and the Olympian view from the corporate boardrooms.

Bill chose a title for his speech that reminds us of an old joke he used to tell. "Is This a Private Fight or Can Anyone Get In It?" But, as you will soon see his topic is no joke and his point is clear. Yep! You are in this fight!

JB


2/8/11

Here's One for the Gipper!

First, let's be clear. "Gipper" is nonsense. There is nothing and no one in the world named "gipper". Ron Reagan's appropriation of the term from a movie in which he once was a supporting actor tells you nothing about Reagan or America. It is about nostalgia and friendship—a darned good frame for a presidential hopeful. It is, though, a ruse and part of the fantasyland that has been created about Reagan.

The mythology of Reagan is revealed quite nicely today by the Washington Post's columnist Eugene Robinson. The mythos certainly is built from selective memory most of which is outright false. Read Robinson now and tell me the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth is not a fairyland of forgetting the facts and building an image of something the conservatives are in fact unable to do or be in real life!

JB


2/6/11

Egypt and What We Know

Someone wrote this morning that this day's Super Bowl was irrelevant and no one cared. It was a good game, though, and the Pack led the whole way, yet it was exciting. Best commercial for me was about Chevy trucks. The Black Eyed Peas were raucous and well staged. Good show overall; I'd give it a B+.

Meanwhile most of the world could care less, and in fact are a little annoyed that the U.S. is so preoccupied with itself. Frank Rich, in the New York Times does a good job with this. He shows pretty well that Americans know almost nothing about the Muslim world and are unlikely to learn much from the U.S. media, who for reasons that related to our corporatist oligarchy who see opportunity in the idea of trashing Islam at every turn. He damns our culture for thinking that anything positive that is going on is about us. It definitely isn't.

Then, David Brooks, also in the Times, writes to inform in his semi-academic way. He pegs Egypt as a 40% nation, a middling nation among the nearly two hundred on this planet, middling in all the political and cultural dimensions one might look for in a search for hope in this revolution. Forty percent is not bad as third world countries go. Mubarak can hardly be credited with that much success, but the people of Egypt need to see themselves as optimistically as Brooks does. It is going to take huge work to bring Egypt up out of poverty and corruption, but maybe it can be done. The sixth seeded Packers did it from the middle!

JB


1/19/11

Interview with Gabrielle Giffords's Husband Astronaut Mark Kelly

This is an interesting interview. Already the rightwingnuts are poo-pooing the sentiments involved, and that should tell you where they are coming from ... from reptilian hatred and fear ... completely without dignity or class, appalling at every syllable. Gabby has tactile cues she is sending to Mark, it is not some "liberal" poppycock designed to ingratiate Giffords to the American public.

Here is Diane Sawyer's interview on her 20-20 broadcast Tuesday evening, in case you missed it.

JB


1/13/11

She Opened Her Eyes, Can We?

These words filled my heart with hope. Thank you Captain Kelly for allowing President Obama to utter them at the memorial service here in Tucson yesterday. She opened her eyes for the first time, a sign unmistakable in the progress my Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is making. Survival is the main thing, of course, but we all want her to recover as much as is possible. Some brain material was removed in the surgery, but, as the neurosurgeon told us that day, the amount was minimal. Some brain tissue was permanently damaged, perhaps ruined, as the bullet traversed her left hemisphere.

You should read some of the stories about traumatic brain injuries of the past to get a sense of what we are dealing with. In the 19th c. a man in Vermont or New Hampshire had a metal rod jammed through his frontal cortex and lived, worked, and was almost normal for years afterward. The story is interesting because of the nature of the deficits he experienced. Bob Woodruff of news reporting fame, was grievously wounded in the head in Iraq and is back on the job today. Maybe we can hope for as much for Gabrielle Giffords, too.

But the news was that "she opened her eyes." And that immediately offered to me a metaphor or theme for an essay at ALP and at what is now my home website, Iron Mountain.

Being a co-founder of The American Liberalism Project has been a wild ride. The nation has undergone probably the worse presidency since that of James Buchanan, the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorism, two brutal political campaigns, and a disaster on Wall Street, the effects of which are still being felt strongly by millions of unemployed and dispossessed of their dreams. We have done a reasonable job, I think, of bringing to you the issues of the day with, of course, our Liberal and Progressive biases clearly there for people to see and emulate or just ignore. The question is whether we have be hateful about it, whether we have stooped to the mendacity that those we have described in our essays are wallowing in? I think not. We have not been hateful, but we have grazed close to that peril many, many times. I cannot tell you how much I dislike Rush Limbaugh, Tom DeLay, Dick Cheney, the owner of Xi Services (formerly Blackwater), O'Reilly, Beck, Coulter, Malkin, and a couple dozen more of the deliberate hate and fear mongers of our American society. I dislike them a lot; I think they are abusing the freedom of speech and the basic principles of honest journalism. They are dishonest people making a buck (lots of bucks) with their hate speech.

I do not think that I can open their eyes. There is almost nothing I can write that would divert them for a time long enough for the truth to burrow into the rat's nest of their minds to clear them of their hatreds and prejudices and love of money. I do not think I can open the eyes of my next door neighbor who, with his dear wife, is a devotee of Glen Beck, that atrocity of a man, weeping his way into the simpling minds of the aged and change-fearing people of our country. At that I fail every day.

So I ask myself in the wake of the tragedy in Tucson that struck down my friend Gabrielle Giffords and killed six, I ask myself what am I doing here at this keyboard hour and hours a day, reading disparate views from six or more sources, boiling them down, finding an eloquent statement of them for you to read if, perchance, you missed it yourself. What is the purpose? What is the really practical result?

She Opened Her Eyes. You must do the same. You must have the courage to open them and keep them open, to act, as old Emmanuel Kant suggested in his Categorical Imperative, as if what you do may be a model for others. No shorter statement of the importance of your motives is written anywhere. And so that is my reason, my raison d'etre. It is to remind you to seek out your next door neighbor and sneak into his heart and mind with a neighborly comment that proves that you are not the ogre he thinks you are. Take your time. Be well informed. Speak to friends about the issues first and practice your own words. Bring the message of a just society into your message. I hope we can help.

JB


1/10/11

Our Toxic and Dangerous Society

There already has been much written about the motives of the shooter here in Tucson, the "troubled" young man who set out to kill his and my Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. Sheriff Dupnik nailed it on day one. The climate of discourse in the United States has become literally toxic and there are repercussions. There may be more as Paul Krugman suggests in his eloquent and anguished comments on the situation.

I have been musing about my part in the escalation of rhetoric into the toxic zone. I am afraid that from time to time I do get quite angry about the other side and their lies. How does one confront a lie, you should ask. How else but by calling it or showing it to be a lie. Then can you not call the person a liar? They are liars, but they are also deliberately inciting people to anger, rage, and behaviors that have no place in our society. Lying to incite is at least double the sin of these people, and I for one cannot sit idly by and let them do it, because what is at stake is my country and my society.

Everyone knows that we have 1-2% (maybe double or triple that) of our population who are chronically unstable, unreliable, untrustworthy, unbalanced, uncivil. We really do not know what to do about them. So, it seems to me that in the absence of a societal resolve to deal with these persons, in the absence of initiative from us, we must—since this is real—accept the consequences of our inaction. That would be the loss of general security for the whole. It does not sound like a good bargain to me, but it is what you get when you steadfastly refuse to incarcerate and correct and cure the "unbalanced" members of society. Do nothing adult and responsible to address the problem, you get the result, mayhem!

We do not allow the "unbalanced" on airplanes and endure public humiliation from the security forces so that we can fly with a reasonable sense of security. We must provide something like that level of security for our elected officials, and that means a diminution of access, for there will be citizens who believe they (because they are "balanced") should have unfettered access to their representatives. After all the corporations and lobbyist have unfettered access and it has all but destroyed the heart of our representative democracy.

There is no easy road from here. Imposing rigorous security measures without addressing the problem on its own "demerits" will lead to a police state. We must provide security now, especially in this toxic environment. We must address the needs of society and the individuals who are unbalanced, even if that means incarceration at "great expense" (certainly less than the cost of the Tucson-style mayhem)! And we must deal with the agents of toxicity, principally Sarah Palin and Rupert Murdock and his FOX network of hate-mongers. Their "free speech" cannot be allowed to include incitement to violence!

JB


12/22/10Net Neutrality

I saw "Tron: Legacy" yesterday in 3D. It is, from a technical point of view a tour de force movie, and despite the shallow tween-aged focus on virtual killing by violent means, the acting goes beyond the usual cardboard. It does not compare to anything in "The Matrix" series. It does begin to point out the trend in gaming computing, however, that being that more and more people are getting sucked deeper and deeper into "the grid."

In fact, "grids" are proliferating, providing rapid, graphic, human-like, and sensuous media for communication along the lines that most human beings are familiar. Grids like "Second Life" and "Blue Mars" will someday interconnect and people (users) will have the opportunity to establish identities that transcend the limitations of one commercial grid, according to "Elenia Llewelyn," founder of a grid called "InWorldz". This is pretty exciting stuff for USERS in any of these "worlds," but unlikely if the net neutrality regulations do not allow sufficient elbow room for entrepreneurs to compete profitably. That is half the story.

The other half is that entrepreneurs are the least likely people on this planet to worry about civil rights. They issue terms of service for USERS to accept or not (if not they don't get to use the service). The terms of service recitations are long, fine-print, legal documents that reserve most rights to the vendor and restrict the users to certain (usually mundane and reasonable) kinds of activities. But that is about grids. Not all things on the internet are about grids (yet).

A simple form of computing nowadays is a free-email account, say at Juno or hotmail. There are terms of service for using these systems for communicating with friends, but hardly anyone reads the ToS carefully, and will be surprised when they try to forward a big video clip of Britney Spears taking a bath to their old college buddies. It is easy to see why ToS limit the size of email attachments. They clog the internet with mindless stuff.

An even simpler form of internet usage is clicking on an icon that contains the URL (uniform resource locator, which means "internet address") and reading what is being posted at that website. You are doing that right now. This website is small potatoes compared to Macy's or BestBuy, so small accounts like ALP and Iron Mountain will be granted equal access to the broad internet, but only if they are propagated through cables, wires, and other physical means. So far, then, net neutrality is good.

What is bad about the new net neutrality regulations is that there are no regulations for internet propagated wirelessly, as for instance to that new Droid 4G device in your pocket that has a telephone service embedded in a nest of other electronic marvels, including access to everything on the internet including Google. Specifically, what is bad is that if you want to read my rantings wirelessly while riding to work in car


pool, you may be out of luck. ALP and Iron Mountain may get pushed back in the router queues so far back that you give up trying.

Google is a good emblem of what goes on in the internet. Zillions of people a day ask Google questions about things they are interested to know more about. Google provides the answers lickity-split and, if you are "Googling" from Home Depot, you know almost instantly whether Lowe's has a better price on a particular bar-coded Ryobi drill set. Could save yourself tons of money over an extended shopping spree, you know! Well, Google also provides you with paid commercials when you ask it a question. Underlying that ploy is the question of whether Google is putting paid-for information at the top of the list of 23,202 "hits" on your subject. Net neutrality says that they should not do that.

Scale that question up a bit and consider that monopoly is not just a Parker Bros. game, but the holy grail of many high-end businesses. They know they will never achieve a real monopoly in their product or service line, but they hope to get as close as possible so they have more elbow room on pricing (aka "price gouging"). Net neutrality regulation cover this, if the service is wired, but not if wireless.

Then there is "the cloud." The "cloud" is computing services that you do not download, or only download a thin, lightweight interface for. Microsoft is in favor of cloud computing for Office, for instance, where you will pay a small fee for using Word or Excel or Powerpoint on their servers, which will have the latest up-to-date versions of the software, of course, thus eliminating all the hassle of propagating versions to a hungry world containing relic computers and high-end quad-core beasts that easily defeat the bad guys found in Matrix and Tron. There will be some applications in "the cloud" that are useful to mobile, wireless users. These will not be regulated.

So the big question is whether the Comcasts of the world have decided that they can get sufficiently rich from wireless apps, or whether they can mount pressure on the physical network regs from catbird seats in the wireless regime? In fact, as this article and its reference (be sure to read both) indicates, this situation is polarized along partisan lines and the GOP and large corporations are going for the jugular of the FCC.

Personally, I am satisfied that "net neutrality" has been recognized for what it is, a serious issue akin to the issues that resulted in the breaking-up of ATT a generation ago. ATT got too big for its britches and telecommunications suffered. Now, "land-line" telephones are produced by the billions by anyone who wants into that market and service has improved and broadened so that you can call anywhere in the world these days for a very nominal fee. Understand the ATT issues and you understand the Net Neutrality issues.

Of course, I despise the likes of Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) who will fight tooth and filthy finger nail to cripple the FCC. She believes in the power of corporations to progress, but she ignores human nature, the human condition, and human history in so doing.

JB


12/16/10

The Scientific Method is Sound

The New Yorker magazine ran an article last week with a subtitle suggesting that the scientific method might be wrong. I found this both annoying and gratifying, being (among other things) an historian of science and particularly of the history of progress of societies with science in the core of their methodologies.

I found it annoying because "the scientific method" is simply formulated as the development from observations, intuitions, and inductions of hypotheses and research to falsify or confirm these hypotheses. It is wrong to call the publication process part of the scientific method.Lehrer's article concentrates on the "confirm" side of research and takes the prejudicial rhetorical position that "falsification" of hypotheses is less the objective of scientists.

I was gratified because as an historian of science with a good deal of reading about all kinds of science under my belt and as a former university administrator charged with promotion of scientific research and research ethics (particularly with live animals and with human beings as subjects of the research), I felt that my many years of effort were vindicated (in absentia, since I am retired). Scientists are often sloppy and arrogant, and all too willing to brow beat "civilians" to their will.

The bottom line on Lehrer's essay is that the need to publish or perish leads scientists to take extraordinary means to obtain or to find confirmatory results in the data of their research. Lehrer does not question broadly the design of research, which he could have, of course. And, indeed, the essay concludes from reasonable research on research that from the very beginning of the process of defining an hypothesis, scientists are thinking of things like finishing degree programs, getting tenure and promotions, getting published, becoming famous, and so forth, none of which is likely to produce objectively replicable results. We all know this to be true. It is not the fault of the scientific method, however, except as humans are necessary to the carrying out of science. But, the point of the essay should have been that other researchers find errors and do not find the statistical significance that first reporting scientists find. So, in fact, not only is the scientific method sound, but the social infrastructure of science is sound, as well, especially given neutral contexts where millions and millions of free dollars are not at stake, as unfortunately they are with pharmaceutical research and high-roller grantsmanship.

The Lehrer essay also glosses over the processes involved in the formulation of research hypotheses. A good deal of falsification as goal takes place to hone down an hypothesis sufficiently that a rational research project can be undertaken to verify or disconfirm the major elements of the hypothesis. Leaving this out of the essay seriously derails the truthfulness of the message.

The message is, of course, that science is a human activity completely at the mercy of human foibles and unspoken (or unconscious) goals. The scientific communities must be vigilant always to see to it that replicable studies are done when new science is "discovered" by earnest researchers. They often are not. National politics plays into the way moneys are spent in the National Institutes of Health, for instance. And, I can tell you from personal experience that program officers in the federal agencies (leaving out their office names deliberately) are little interested in getting involved in ethical disputes with rich universities or corporations.

The ironies in the Lehrer article are instructive. You will be able to read the abstract of the article online, for instance, proof that information science (and engineering) are stable enough to provide you with this little miracle of dissemination. And, the world is full of success stories emanating from the use of the scientific method and its social infrastructure. For me the article proves only that we get lulled into a false sense of security periodically, and that a jostling in the popular media is perhaps sometimes necessary. We are not about to dispense with the scientific method, however, and certainly not on the say-so of ambitious writers in the New Yorker.

JB


11/7/10

Olbermann's Time Out

Welcome back to Standard Time, folks. We Arizonans never touch our clocks and get along pretty well considering that we need the early morning daylight in summer ... and anyway, those geniuses up the road in Phoenix think it is socialist to be monkeying with God's own time.

So, Keith Olbermann, however, did send some money to Grijalva and Giffords here in Tucson. He could have saved himself some trouble by skipping Grijalva, and Giffords (whom I worked for assiduously) really needed the infusion of cash. He shouldn't have violated that onerous GE/NBC contract, btw. It is totally enforcible, but probably unconstitutional in theory.

That's where Keith should take this issue ... to the Supreme Court (if need be). The idea of pristine journalism was put to rest with Ben Franklin. NBC is an old, beat-up, ugly whore of a company (not syphilitic and HIV+ like Fox, however) who thanks to the Supreme Court can make unlimited donations to candidates, PACs, and fifth columnist organizations to their black heart's content. Do they actually believe Keith has to pimp for them, too??? Give us a break!!!

I gave up on Keith over a year ago, largely because his show (and it is a "show" not a newscast) contains so much puerile crap. Rachel bested Keith within a few weeks of her own "show" taking off, and I gave up on her too ... just up to here in the waste of precious television time on coddling the cyber generation into 90 second attention spans. MSNBC is GE and GE is one of the major parts of the military industrial complex, so I read the newspapers and take a pass on all that tv fun.

Oh! You might want to read Frank Rich's column in the New York Times this beautiful Sunday in November. He rarely froths quite this much on a leaves-are-changing, football and tailgate Sunday, after an election, when everyone is finally at five minutes peace with the world.

JB


11/6/10

Nancy Pelosi for Minority Leader!

Washington is all antsy about Nancy Pelosi's completely reasonable and rational decision to run within the Democratic Caucus for Minority Leader. After all, if you look at it from a decent perspective, no one in Congress knows more about Congress than she! Why would you throw that away?!!!

If you read the Washington Post article on this story and wade through the sports metaphors (and having grown up in the Washington area and been a WaPost deliveryboy, I can tell you there is no reason for the Post to use sports analogies), you will notice that the whiners are from the "blue dog," GOP lite, bench-warming side of the Democratic party spectrum and not the leadership, i.e., Pelosi's ideological compatriots! On a sports team you weed out the ineffective players and only as a last resort fire the coach, and never fire him or her for being too effective. Remember, Nancy Pelosi was the whipping girl of the GOP and still managed miracles with the fractious majority she inherited.

But, read the New York Times article on the subject. Here you see the truth of the matter emerging more clearly. The so-called "blue dogs" who are straddling the great divide between democracy and corporatism, the Evan Bayhs and the little squeaks mention in the Post article are the ones feeling the pain. If they would stand up on their hind legs and be Democrats they would find the going a lot easier.

Bob Herbert yesterday was completely correct in describing this election as a clearing out of the confused and incompetent middle. The "indies" may have been the efficient mechanism for that, but independents have the sense to see when a mugwump is causing more trouble than he is doing good. And clearly the problem we face now is that there were too many meek, timid, ineffective Congressmen to pass effective legislation two years ago. Now, of course we are stuck for two more years with the results of a housecleaning on one side, ready for the clean up two years hence as the TeaParty folk overplay their hand.

JB


11/4/10

Interpretation of Elections: An Industry

Dan Balz is a veteran reporter and writer for the Washington Post, and some of what he says in his article today on interpreting the results of election day make sense, and frankly some do not.

First, there is the overwhelming fact that 50+ races for the U.S. House of Representatives up-ended Democratic incumbents. That raw information is useful, but "interpreting it" vis-a-vis any particular piece of government business or potential legislation is hazardous until you read the records of each of those up-ended, their beginning chances for re-election, and the platform of the winning GOP person. Clearly the removal of some sitting Democrats was personal and some was ideological, some both, and some neither. Balz and others have not done their homework on the effect of massive amounts of money in some races.

Second, the pieces on the chessboard are being thought as a referendum on President Barack Obama. This is a favorite idea of pundits and analysts, and I agree with it up to a point. It is a bit like taking a book of matches away from a kid who has just burned down the dog's house. It goes almost without comment that the kid learned his behaviors from the GOP who burned down the main house and have left millions without jobs. But, Obama has been clearly deficient in communicating to and from we the people, and even more importantly the base.

Balz says that the center expected a Centrist presidency. Horse manure! Obama's short record in the U.S. Senate labeled him the most LIBERAL of all 100 Senators! How can Balz say something so foolish! The Center expected Change and movement toward the Liberal ethos, and they did not get it. Obama reneged on many promises that were in his personal-presidential power to effect: open government for one, ethical treatment of terrorists, skepticism about the war in Afghanistan, Realpolitik in Iraq. He should have prosecuted the worse offenders on Wall Street and led "the mob" to Congress to tighten up the impossibly loose rules governing finance. So, yes, people voted their discouragement and their disappointment, but that does not mean they have turned to the big money party for relief. I doubt that 20% of the voters who removed a Democrat really want to turn rightward again. They have attention spans that encompass two years, and want relief from this economy now!

Yes, I know that interpreting elections is an industry with vested interests in keeping the topic hot and sweaty. I think readers would be well advised to understand that and to understand that the corporate press and media have an agenda, and that agenda is not ours!

JB


9/27/10

Glib Assurance and Glib Criticism

Today, Monday, in the Boston Globe our old mentor James Carroll shifts gears and gets into the grist of this mill. His essay is worth your time, especially in these last weeks before the election. I think you will find The Time Required for Change to have hit the nail squarely on the head.

The biggest question these days is whether the voting public will come to its senses in time to register a responsible vote or, as the media are suggesting, teasing, promoting, will they follow through with their little temper tantrums, their little revenge for little injustices. Will they be able to see the thieves in the forest, or will they concentrate on the big tree and fell it and all around it out of pique and distress.

The question actually resolves down to a question of whether Americans can stand on their own two feet anymore. Are they so spoiled by a half century of economic expansion that broadened the middle income strata out to include a rainbow of collar colors that they will just stammer out their puerile rage against the universe that no longer tucks them in and kisses them good night.

Yesterday I had a wonderful conversation with a prostitute. You might think that a poor employment of my valuable time, but in fact I am also a prostitute, concocting an exchange of something I want for something I want you to want. I think she was dead on right in the convolutions of our cryptic verbal intercourse. We all have raging desires and most of us have the means to attempt getting our way. There is no guarantee that anyone will get satisfaction, but at least there is the road to satisfaction as Michael Douglas's new "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" deftly demonstrates. The movie slowly and inexorably pulls away the curtains of techno-babble within which the finance sector has shrouded itself. We are left finally with a vivid picture of how distorted are many of the personalities that run our world.

In the movie it comes down not to money or credit default swaps or any other unconscionable means of profiting without working, but to animal aggression and murderous competition laid bare as the engine of life on this planet. Finally, the financiers adopt Darwin, but only half. In all of life there are two modes and forces, and yes, one of them is competition, ubiquitous and unrelenting. But, in parallel, just as all- pervasive and just as inevitable is cooperation. Oh yes, cooperation! I remember! Isn't that the basis of communism the right wing screams from its vulgar perch on the obstructionist side of competition?!

The key word of this essay is "glib," not because glib is unprepared communication, but because glib is slick. Yes SLICK. It is the carrier of unannounced infections and illogical conclusions. It is the Trojan horse of rhetoric, the fast sales talk, the appeal to our infantile need for simplicity. It is the life blood of Fox and many others all over the political spectrum. We imbibe at the peril of our republic.

JB


9/18/10

Impossibly Impatient

Recently, (about a month ago), I challenged Rob Kall the owner and operator of OpEdNews, a political website where I have posted over 200 essays. With a sharp tongue in cheek I accused him of prescience he clearly does not possess, and told his audience that drubbing the Democrats from Democratic pulpits was at the very best counter-productive, probably suicidal. Rob called me delusional in return, as if my allegiance to the Democratic Party and to Liberal ideals were some sort of particularly perverse naiveté.

I have stopped writing for OpEdNews largely because of this incident and despite the fact that just weeks earlier Mr. Kall offered me an editor job at OEN ... without pay, of course. The other part of my reasons for dropping OEN off my list is the surly behavior of the audience, many of whom are clearly poorly educated and whose critical thinking skills are virtually non-existent. In other words, I got sort of tired of responding to folks' concerns that my doctoral degree in Russian History might be fake (U.C.L.A., 1975) or that despite my intention to come off as a Progressive Liberal I am really a professional elitist. Enough was enough.

In Saturday's edition of the New York Times Charles M. Blow writes about the calumny being heaped on the Democrats, some by Democrats and some like Rob Kall and his regulars, and the inverse relationship of those digs and puerile disappointments to the facts. Blow does mention the tradition within the Democratic Party for dissention and outright rebellion. We know about that, all of us, but it always has seemed reasonable to me that if you are going to call your movement a political party, you should have some discipline, not Leninist or Trotskyist "democratic centralism" where dissent is actually not tolerated, but something like what the Republicans have ... namely, to be circumspect about commenting on other Republicans, particularly those who have serious jobs and may have some information that is not widely available to street-side pundits and commentators.

Well, if you read Charles Blow's graphic you will see that the Democrats are in far or at least somewhat better shape than the Republicans as told by a NYT/CBS poll conducted recently. The Democrats are likely to lose some seats in the House and maybe a couple in the Senate. This is the tradition in our country. Every party at every juncture feels pressure at the first mid-term election. The reason should be obvious.

Two years is not enough time to plant new programs and harvest a new crop of benefits. It is particularly difficult when the opposition continuously says you have planted the wrong crop and has no compunction whatsoever about lying about your efforts. Moreover, usually the fields are pretty badly abused by the opposition that has just been recently defeated, so their objective is to cover up their maladministration with ever more lies and mispresentations.

But, two years is all you get. You, as a Progressive and Liberal Democrat have to understand that people like Rob Kall ... ostensibly on our side ... are trying to make a living dealing in opinion. Controversy attracts more attention (along with scandal) and so they do what they can to keep an audience coming back, and that often turns to unwarranted criticism for its own sake and gossip mongering. Kall is actually the least of the practitioners of this sort of journalism. Kall knows full well that the President's plate was heaped with manure on Day One and that Republican obstructionism has hurt Obama's legislative plans and administration staffing. But, Democrats choose to have short attention spans and high ideals, to ignore salient facts and demand actions that are clearly impossible once you know the facts. Frankly, it is time that Democrats grow up and fact the real truth that their petty activities do add up to trouble and that endless repetition of falsehoods gives them credence in the mind of the untutored public.

JB


8/15/10

Pruning the West Wing

One of the stories this past week was the outburst of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs whining about the "professional left," that sector of the Democratic Party that seems to not like Barack Obama much at all. They are the pundits, like Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow at MSNBC, whose motives are as suspect as anyone's over at Fox Noise. (I stopped watching Countdown months and months ago, finally fed up to my lids with the childish antics and format.)(I never got an independent Maddow habit, so my pique at Keith for his bombast and tell-tale corporate water-carrying eliminated Rachel more or less automatically.)

The so-called "professional left" are people whose livelihoods are centered on politics, though few among them are politicians, and none are diplomats. They are, like the rest of us, annoyed that Obama chose to "move on" rather than investigate, try, and convict the criminals who inhabited the Executive in the previous administration. In fact, there is no question that the so-called "professional left" had a hang-over after eight long years of Cheney and Bush, and was unable to get past the abuse of our democracy perpetrated by those people. They are insulted by the Obama's response to the verifiably center-right orientation of the electorate. They are annoyed by the failure to live up to 100% of the campaign ideas. (They are never really promises, by the way. The press uses that term to establish a fake distance between themselves and the successful candidates with whom they have been embedded for up to two long years.)

Maureen Dowd sees this breech of press corps relations etiquette as sufficiently grave to warrant the dismissal, perhaps promotion to "counselor," of Robert Gibbs. I cannot say that I disagree, but her drawing out of the litany of accusations and disappointments avoids the hard fact rocks on either side of the straits Obama has been guiding our ship of state.

I am not going to be endlessly apologetic for Obama, but the record of his short administration is not terrible, only disappointing because of the smoothness of the transition from the Cheney years. I am not going to suggest that Obama make a big deal out of the sacking of Gibbs for what is obviously an event that will poison waters that needed to be relatively pure. I will suggest that the occasion be given the gravity it needs by reshuffling several people in the White House all at once: Rahm Emanuel to some distant shore where his vulgar and cynical personality will be diluted by the indifference of his new surroundings, Gibbs to the Gulf Coast where he can chat with red-necks until he learns that even they have brains, Summers to some suitable purgatory for fouling up our private relations with Europe and "deviant" opinion domestically, and Axelrod to the DNC, where, I believe, he can patch things up with Howard Dean's concept of how to run a political party like the ill-disciplined, fractious, and alternately lazy and loud-mouthed Democratic Party.

The time is right at Labor Day to make these moves. It will give the chattering class plenty to discuss, optimists the opportunity to find a pony in the West Wing amid all the other evidence, and pessimists too much to chew on all at once, thus attenuating their pernicious blathering.

Finally, whether any of the so-called "professional left" understands it or not, politics in this country is still party politics. If Obama has illusions otherwise, he needs to be disabused of them instantly. The fate of the nation hangs on the willingness of Dowd's meaningless "Progressives" to find a way to support the basic party. Doing so at the eleventh hour does not work. Setting up Obama for one-term can be managed much more deftly than they are currently doing it.

JB


7-21-10

Amazing Oracle Owns OpEdNews

You may know that in addition to posting my progressive liberal thoughts at The American Liberalism Project, which I co-founded many years ago, and at my own website Iron Mountain, which is dedicated, but not completed devoted to, exposing the military-industrial complex in America, I also post my essays at OpEdNews, a top 100 blog site among tens of thousands of blogs (according to Technorati, the blog measuring people). I do that because OpEdNews gets lots of hits. Essayists like me like to be "hit on," even though many, perhaps the majority of readers are poorly informed about national or world events and are even worse as expressing their own thoughts. Oh well, we learn to live for the occasional bright light or the opportunity to agree in part and to guide thinking away from logical inconsistencies and factual errors. It is a good life, but it doesn't pay anything! LOL

So, today I noticed that Rob Kall, the proprietor over at OpEdNews somehow got headlined with a diatribe against President Barack Obama, including within certain prognostications that are based on his own distemper with the White House. Since I have been asked to participate more over at OpEdNews I kicked myself around the block here, because had I taken him up on the offer, I might have dissuaded him from writing such a tendentious and (as I have alluded) distempered blog.

First, the notion that everything that goes wrong in the country is attributable to the President is juvenile thinking, perhaps infantile! Second, the list of "abuses and ignored opportunties" by Obama turn out to be extremely complex situations for which there are no (none whatsoever) easy answers in terms of national policy and national politics. The failure to close Guantanamo detention facility, for instance, leaves the President with the unsavory political choice of lodging the inmates domestically, say in an unused Illinois prison, a decision that would immediately bring in the press to ponder the likelihood of terrorism emanating from within the prison via whatever means they could manufacture in the editors's offices. Or, he could let the inmates go and be assured that they will (thanks to Cheney and Bush locking them up in the first place) go on in life to become major martyrs and terrorists in their own right.

But, Rob Kall in his tantrum forgets that what Barack Obama sees is not Rob Kall's agenda, but instead what his Chief of Staff calls a SHIT PIE inherited from the previous occupants of the West Wing ... and the East Wing, btw. It should not be lost in passing that the Chief of Staff is a large percentage of the problem and must go soon. It is alleged that this is already underway. Obama would do himself and the nation a huge favor by expediting the removal of Rahm Emanuel and his stultifying effect on the rest of the staff. Leo McGarry spins!

What is in the unsavory pie is an economic situation that cannot be described in full for the simple reason that if the White House were to do so, panic across the globe would surely ensue. Why panic, because the situation was (and continues to be) the most dangerous economic situation ever encountered by the United States. The economy of America is predicated on the U.S. currency being the "reserve currency" of the world. This gives the United States additional leverage (in the classical non-debt sense), additional cushions for domestic politics to make small errors, and additional responsibilities for guiding and assisting smaller economies. The United States is the largest economy in the world, despite challenges by the EU and China ... and India, Brazil, and combinations thereof. To put it simply, if the U.S. economy tanks ... and it very nearly did ... the world economy tanks and the misery will be endless. That's what's on Obama's plate, but you will see scant reference to it in Rob Kall's diatribe.

Then, of course, there are two political situations in Washington that impinge strongly and painfully on the White House. The Democratic leadership in the the Congress is not strong, certainly not of the calibre that the times demand. Nancy Pelosi is a savvy politician, but she is still very much a woman, and unable to play hardball with the jackasses within her own party and especially those in the Republican Party. The Republicans are the other factor, of course. They decided as a hedge against making any creative mistakes of their own, to object and obstruct everything the Democrats were elected to do. They have lied, cheated, lied, prevaricated, lied, and stood their stupid ground as if the American public were too stupid themselves to notice. With John Boehner appearing in the nightly news with various new shades of tan on his perplexed face, the Republicans have gotten a pass from newspapers and television critics alike, as if the "fair and balanced reporting" doctrine required the press to find something ... anything ... to say nice about a bunch of obstructionist morons! Give us a break!

The answer to Rob Kall is obvious. Democrats, whether they be conservative or progressive must understand that the President and his staff are not being deliberately aloof, nor are they thumbing their noses at bloggers scattered around the internet or the people who read these blogs and make their comments on them. The President is guiding the ship of state through extremely dangerous waters and, frankly, tempests in the teapots of the internet really go a short way toward making the situation worse. They are not important comments, but they set up a background of distrust and ill-will, that could just as easily have been a conscientious understanding of the big picture.

JB


6/21/10

The Dog Days of Summer

One of the things that pundits do is write pretty much on a daily basis, whether there is real news or not. Of course, in Washington (and New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco) the columnists know how to start their own news upon which they comment in the ensuing days.

The word "pundit" is derived from the Hindu word "pandit," meaning "learned (and usually respected)." The current crop of practitioners, however, gets its etymology from the French, apparently. French "dire" is one of the Gallic ways to say "speak"; "dit" is a conjugation of "dire." And speak the pundits do, the Olbermann's and the Maddows's recently running out of real things to talk about, have jumped on the pronouncements of other voices and decided that this summer's barbecue will feature Barack Obama.

It would be disingenuous of me to suggest or lead you to believe that I am completely or even substantially happy with the way the Executive is behaving and talking these days. As you know I really dislike Rahm Emanuel and believe him to be a major part of the problem. (We have some reason to believe that his obscenities and abrasive personality will be otherwise employed shortly, however.) With that hopfully marvelous outcome we can be assured that relations with Capitol Hill and the press will change. But, we cannot wait for the ejection of Emanuel. It seems to me that the obligation of a Liberal columnist in an environment of distrust and rancorous division across the nation would be to consider the probable causes of his or her own distress and be a little "conservative" about ditching the President before there is any real reason to.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, sometimes a frequent flyer on Olbermann's Countdown, opens up a volley of nonsense today about Liberals falling out of love with Obama. The very title indicates the foolishness of the idea: we were never in love with Barack Obama, nor he with us. It is politics, and love hardly ever mixes with politics successfully. We handed him our hopes for change and change there was as Ross Douhat in the New York Times astutely points out this morning, too.

The facts are and the truth is that Washington is a swamp of deceit and corruption that would boggle the "mind" of Beelzebub himself. Then when you figure that out, you have to consider that even reasonably fair-minded people disagree about fundamental issues, creating discord, cacophony, and eddys and whirlpools of chaos. Just for instance, take Dr. Paul Krugman on the current slide toward deficit panic in Washington and abroad and compare it to Jeffrey Sachs's peeing in his pants over at Scientific American. Of course huge deficits are scary, but how much scarier are stunting one or two entire generations of Americans and, indeed, human beings of all nations, by letting this Great Recession go into double dip for decade or two, squandering all the previous deficits and making the right choices nearly impossible?

How dangerous is it to beat up Obama when religious fanatics like Huckaby being touted as the GOP's best choice for a presidential run in 2012? It is extremely dangerous and the dog days of summer are no excuse at all for this mindless chattering. This itchy feeling we all have is that our hopes and dreams suppressed for e i g h t l o n g George W. Bush/Dick Cheney years are just not being instantly gratified!

Grow up Liberals! No one really cares that you were in a deep psychological depression for a decade. How smart are you, anyway? Can't you see the situation for what it is? It is hot, slow, and frustrating inside the Oval Office, and out here in the encroaching desert, where the signs are unmistakable that moronic anosognosia has afflicted the very people who could contribute materially to responsible attitudes and activities against anthropogenic global warming. A long hot summer of childish whining at Barack is not going to be helpful and probably will backfire in the worst ways and the worst times!

JB


6/13/10

The Irony of Irony

Maureen Dowd fired one across the bow of President Obama today in her New York Times column. As a former Naval officer I can tell you that firing across a bow is intended to show that you have ammunition and are willing to use it to further your own aims ... and that your aim is good. Today Maureen Dowd missed hitting the bow by only a hair's breadth and threw up a column of water onto the decks of the still slightly questionable seaworthiness of the USS Obama. The skipper is doubtless not pleased, being soaking wet from the experience, and being not pleased will doubtless retreat further into that place that Ms. Dowd penned him.

Such is the power of the press to create self-fulfilling commentary. Or, is this just a bit of hubris on Dowd's part when she asserts that [even though]

Jon Stewart and bloggers mocked the journalists, suggesting they were too chummy with power ... the picnic was on the record, and good reporters can’t be co-opted by some cold French fries. Whenever you see politicians in a relaxed or stressful situation, beyond the usual teleprompter speeches and scripted photo ops, you learn something about those charged with making life and death decisions. You may even pick up some news.

Cold French fries, indeed! One gets the notion that journalists eat out of dumpsters with a passion and a cold French fry becomes a story about cooling Francophilia. No, I think Maureen is many times too self-righteous about the positive qualities of her profession. Still, (as I mentioned to someone today), the press corps is pretty much the same as it was in 1933 or 1956 or 1982 or yesterday. It has deadlines, a need to fill screens or pages for sale, and clearly each member and each publication has a prevailing point of view. In other words, it is not pristine, it is not beautiful, but it does incorporate a certain "free market of ideas and positions" that in time sift out into effective political journalism or ineffective fluff.

Irony is a trope, a figure of speech, in which the intent of the speaker is to say one thing and mean quite the opposite. In modern America the term has been invested with inanimate objects and public opinions, cultural values, and the like. So, Irony is complicated. But, at least we can agree that Irony is about value reversal and gestalt-like shifts from positive to negative or vice versa. Dowd is telling us that she has resisted the gestalt shift on Obama fiercely (not really!) until today, whereupon she has seen the emperor naked and not nearly as comely as she had hoped. Her dashed hopes are a bit more whiny than she intended, I think.

Synecdoche (sin ECK doh key) is also a trope, a figure of speech, one where the part is taken for the whole, the whole for the part, or the container for the thing contained, and vice versa. If you spend a lot of time nuzzling the semiotics of synecdoche you will find that it is a favorite of philosophers like Hegel who posit "organic" causal processes, who resist strenuously the descent into Irony implicit in all tropes. Maureen Dowd jumped straight toward Irony, but it interesting to me that she avoided the complicity of journalists in the "making of the President" or the "unmaking," as you will.

Complicity is the press corps problem. They get nothing without "befriending" someone they might better be criticizing. They need deep background all the time, so they become part of the problem, as it were, an organic part of the administration. They are, however, part of two worlds, the general culture which is their primary audience, and the local establishment which is their bread and butter that they dare not (usually) to scourge.

My colleagues disagree about whether Maureen scourged Barack Obama, but I think they are in tacit agreement that an unfunny-bone was struck sharply. Given that Dowd is writing to and about Obama, her propositional attitude seems to be a surrender to the imperatives of her professional class that coincides with a need to let us know that Obama is not what we (or at least she) believed he was. This is not new; but it is Dowd, a loud voice in the culture.

Personally, I added her hypothesis to the several I have about Barack Hussein Obama, some of these hypotheses overlapping and some not. This hypothesis struck me as a theory of Obama that he expected the "Liberal press" to give him a free trip to the next campaign. I think that is more true than not. I do not think Obama dislikes the press categorically or for any aesthetic or moral reasons, although I think that the crafty Dowd tries to infer that. I continue to believe that Obama is poorly staffed in the West Wing and that his loyalty to Rahm Emanuel, among others, is taking on the color of being hostage. Emanuel is out of his depth; he belongs in a much lesser job. My evidence is the year-long debacle over health care reform. Rahm botched his role completely. He did not do such a hot job fingering Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania, either.

Who the Press Secretary is is irrelevant, since Maureen's comments go around that factotum directly to The Man. So, perhaps the deficiency in the White House is that there are too many people with too little clout with the basic person who is President. But that is another essay.

JB


5/3/10

Net Neutrality in Trouble

The Washington Post this Monday morning reports the falling of the other shoe. It is expected that the Chairman of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), which has been morally adrift for at least 30 years and which Slick Willie Clinton sold into corporate slavery during his pathetic tour of duty, will decline to regulate internet providers ... which means that safeguards FOR "net neutrality" will not be imposed, nor will the corporations who want to give faster access to their more profitable and less politically annoying customers be regulated.

This is a tragedy in the making, but one wonders why a Democratic administration would come down so flatly against the public good and for the corporations? The answer is that the Administration has an even more expansive target in mind, one which involves the corporations and their willingness to undertake the LEAST profitable sector of internet provision—inclusion of the rural and low-income populations to achieve 100% internet penetration.

This is a very bad bargain, a bargain in which the corporations will get federal assistance to extend the internet that last several miles and also get permission to treat the consumers at the end of the pipeline unequally. Not good! Worse yet for companies like Google that rely on natural "market forces" within the internet to provide information about internet use. No way to monitor a system that has artificial constraints on certain less profitable and more annoyingly political areas.

Chairman Genachowski should grow a pair and get on the right side of history, commerce, and freedom of speech immediately! Write him, email him, tell him how much this means to us!

JB


2/8/10

Internet

Last week ABC News—obviously not clear on the concept—promoted the idea that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made the internet the center of U.S. foreign policy! I hope the ABC News watching public understands that "the center" and "a centerpiece" are very distinctly different concepts. But make no mistake about this, Washington believes that the internet is crucial to modern American jingoism—the promotion of American values and our form of government (corrupt and otherwise ... certainly not the model of representative democracy that the Framers had in mind ... certainly the form that best suits a nation reduced to selling guns and peon-izing its citizens) across the breath and length of this planet.

There is more than just a cynical thread of truth in this notion of the importance of the internet, but Washington in its hubris misses the point that the internet, whatever its sources of funding, is essentially two things: it is democratic to a fair-the-well, and it is fragile.

I shudder when my computer crashes and I imagine millions of computers "crashed" because government has gotten control of the hubs and nodes and closes us down. Absolutist Control is a work in progress in China, of course, and that is the putative model for this notion that ABC has misunderstood. When the internet goes down for political reasons, there is no substitute for what we have evolved over these last twenty years. Commerce will plummet, in fact, there will be a depression, panic, and political upheaval. The internet is extremely important, but there is one thing that it is not.

The democracy of the internet is not a form of government. It is the democracy of three billion voices and ears and eyes. The internet is what we make of it, and sex is what we have made of it. This may speak more to the weird notions we have about the sexual nature of our species, but it is what happened. Sex and political propaganda, then commerce. The American ideal, if you are to read ABC News straightforwardly, is that people have the god-given right to access (and even contribute to) the array of sexual content, the political propaganda, and especially to buy stuff. ABC believes (and maybe Hillary does too) that the motives energizing the internet are "manageable" in the same way that television audiences are "managed" into bogus "reality shows" and news media that express corporate interests. ABC and Hillary may be right, for the facts are that the vast majority of people do not stop to question authority, assertions, or much less the psychology of presentation on TV. Why would they on the Internet?

We come to the conclusion that the "centerpiece" of American outreach to the rest of the world is for the rest of the world to emulate the American way of being docile and managed citizens. The hubris of this idea is astounding, and the possibility that it is accurate utterly horrifying.

JB


1/12/10

The Media! Do Not Believe Them

From my friend at The American Liberalism Project (which I founded) comes this summary of the intrinsic unreliability and moral bankruptcy of the domestic (and much of the foreign) press. It is worth your while to read this short piece.

I am certain that there is a movement afoot which will within months (perhaps 18, if the midterm elections go as I think they will ... more on this later) result in something that feels, looks, and smells like revolution. Yes. Revolution. Unsettling, isn't it. Better to be safe? I don't think so. Revolutions carry the innocent on their horns.

JB


12/4/09

Manipulating the News

Americans have been manipulating the news since well before the American Revolution. Other Americans are fairly used to the news being manipulated. Not that it is a tradition, of course, but Americans (and Europeans and people all over the world) have always suspected the bearers of tidings good and bad to embroider their stories to suit their own preferences, delivery styles (their songs, ballads, righteous propaganda, evangelism, proselytizing, monarchism, democratism, revolutionism, racism, and so forth). Today the number one issue in America is the economy, followed closely by our foreign policy. The key item in our economy, from the point of view of regular people, is employment. The significant factor in this area is unemployment, and the latest news is that the rate of unemployment has (momentarily) dropped by 0.2% amid wild cheering from people who should know better!

More on unemployment in a moment, but first a little reality check on foreign policy. If you read the left blogosphere (DailyKos, FireDogLake, OpEdNews, American Liberalism Project, TomDispatch and others) you will read about the great disappointment in President Obama and his decision to augment our troops in the AfPak War by some 30,000. To tell the truth, I was not happy about the decision, but, folks, that was the decision, and I understand it as far as it goes. Clearly President Obama, before being elected and since (prior to his December 1st speech at West Point), has seen the Afghanistan theater as an important step (real or perceived) against terrorism (for him, his administration, our country and others).

Why then do bloggers bother to write so stridently and foolishly about the latest decision, when in fact the die is obviously and widely cast and their better bet is to set up the frame for the next decision, to establish popular metrics for determining whether we are getting anywhere or not. Of course, we all understand that the current decision depends heavily (probably foolishly) on unreliable folks in west Asia (and President Obama should be given credit for understanding this) so with all that, what position should the bloggists take? Should they point out how unreliable Afghans and Pakistanis have been? No! What good does that do? They should point out opportunities won and lost in the coming eighteen months. How are they to know about these opportunities? Through the news, of course! But the news is manipulated. We don't know what CIA and Blackwater (Xe) are doing; we only know that they are doing it primarily (perhaps) in Pakistan in spite of the Islamabad government's protests. People who know how complex this "game" really is begin to relax their vigilance and just let it happen, taking note only when an AP reporter tells them that some prime minister somewhere has been carted off by the military and that nuclear arms are now safer.

Bloggers (and indeed the entire network of professional journalists) must dig deeper into Afghanistan and Pakistan and produce information that is relevant to the decision that will be made about 18 months hence. We must be all over the governments in Kabul and Islamabad, but more than that we must understand the people there and go deeper than the barely credible polls. Take Obama at his word, the policy in place now IS an exit policy.

Has anyone written about the relationship between our wars and our unemployment problems? Does anyone remember demobilization after WWII? Does anyone think that the contemporary U.S. economy could absorb 100,000 demobilized troops? ... 200,000? I was going to ask the former Marine Corps guy who came around yesterday advertizing his new window washing company. Does this man show up on Bureau of Labor Statistics radars?

The Bureau's stats for November are a delight for Xmas retailers. It appears that the newest millennium has arrived from the carefully scripted report. The first figure reported out by flash news services—165,000 jobs lost—is suddenly impossible to find online and now we read that only 11,000 net jobs have been lost in November. Recent month's historical data is revised to make the whole thing seem even less scary and more amenable to Xmas shopping sprees ... to buoy up the economy ... (of China)!

Take a look at the unemployment graph in the report linked to above. November shows a slight jog downward. But, look back at May 2009. Yes, there is another similar jog just before the whole thing began to climb at an alarming rate. Yes, clearly the recent three month's slope of the curve is less harrowing than that curve describing most of 2009, but please notice that the slope is still upward ... meaning that unemployment is still increasing. The best minds around predict a slump after Xmas ... principally because there is ALWAYS a slump after the Xmas retail sales. So, drawing a moderately bad slope on the unemployment curve is not naughty or unAmerican, it is simply straightening out the news ... and the record, because you sure do not want to risk your precious liquidity on BLS propaganda foisted off by a beleaguered administration and compliant media, do you!

JB


4/26/09

The "Cojones" Frame

Just recently William Greider wrote in The Nation an interesting piece about "Obama and the Big Dogs," the canines who typically inhabit the top floor, two-corner offices on "Wall Street." I wouldn't have known about the article at all except CommonDreams aggregated it into their daily "must read" dozen under a grab-you title "Testicular Politics." The way "CommonDreams" presented it, you would have thought Greider was framing the trouble President Obama has bitten off as somehow linked to Barack's manhood. In fact, Greider does play the Alpha Dog routine for all it is worth in his brief essay, so the combined effect of the publisher and the aggregator is to frame the state of the Presidency today pretty much as a mano a mano combat situation, with just a tinge of pejorative sexual/racial overtones to lend contrast, just a suggestion of wimp, without having to take too much responsibility for the slur.

Greider says that Obama is doing a good deal less than Greider would like to see in making sure the canines of Wall Street understand who's boss—who is Alpha Dog. I don't doubt for a second that the big dogs think they run the world. I have friends who despise these plutocrats and oligarchs, but believe when the trump are counted, these big dogs will have most of them. In fact, the oligarchs have had their way with government for many years now, beginning with Nixon, but clearly expanding under Ron Reagan. For the best part of a half century Americans have been listening to the carrier wave of right wing politics which drones on and on about how government is the problem. So canny are these folk that they don't even mention an alternative—that big business is the problem with America.

Greider and the aggregator are irresponsible to put the battle between NY and DC down in terms of how macho Barack Obama might be. They are, in fact, reducing the problem to one which will never be resolved in those terms, and so it is a canard and cop-out. The way Greider sees it, the big dogs have been baiting Obama, but the explanation in terms of bluffing the bailout and peeing on Obama's tree goes nowhere to really explain his or their behaviors, which in fact can be described in much less provocative terms. Since Greider is writing from The Nation and not The New Republic we can assume that he has good wishes for President Obama, even though he can hardly use the word President next to Obama's name. He doesn't.

The "cojones frame" is what this is and it says more about Greider and editor vanden Heuvel than it says about our new administration. It is vicious under the cover of being just prosaically nasty and rude. What effrontery to accuse "the kid" as he calls President Obama of being thumped around by these megalomaniac tycoons, while the President and his inside guy, Geithner, try to save their sorry asses—and are showing signs of success! It takes "balls" to write this kind of crap and that somehow JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America have saved themselves while accepting a bailout! The party that Greider and vanden Heuvel think they represent does not exist. It has not existed since Iowa, since the speech in Philadelphia, and not since November 2nd last year. Greider may be a seasoned journalist and may be used to the smells of corruption and wanton power-brokering, but he hasn't a clue about this new president. If he did, he would have begun to make the real case about Barack Obama that explains why we are so unnerved by his opening moves.

First, you have to give Barack Obama some credit for brains. He is not just a stump orator without a pot belly. He is a Constitutional scholar, a thinker, an activist who can see the world of hurt that some people begin to believe is their life's lot, and he can steer them past the rough edges of those worlds. He is an organized and disciplined man with a canny sense of the possibilities that others think are impossible. He is a change agent, but his idea of change is not that we will model ourselves on the sordid worlds of Bill Greider, but on a new set of relationships that will, frankly, tend to exclude Bill Greider. Greider is smart enough to see this coming in broad outlines, so he reacts.

The proof that Barack Obama is not clairvoyant is his selection of Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff. Rahm was to deliver strong and subtle messages to members of Congress, both sides of the aisle. Who knew that the Republicans would undertake a process of self-destruction that includes truculent no-ism? Rahm is completely ineffective at this point, but you can see his hesitating hyper-political influence in the question of what to do about torture. Rahm thinks he still has those motivate Congress duties. Fortunately, it has worked out differently, so Mr. Emanuel's caution about irritating the Health Care Base in the Democratic Party is so much froth on an empty beer can. I believe President Obama will have several Chiefs of Staff and that Mr. Emanuel will soon enough be back in Chicago running for the House seat he vacated to take on this work.

The proof that Barack Obama is not immune to pressure is his willingness to put out in the public the so-called "torture memos," knowing full well that once the chickens are allowed to go "free range" there will be endless trouble. Obama does not want to risk the recovery or health care or immigration or social security reform on torture show trials, and you don't want that either, so Obama has opened the door enough, for right now, to get the conversation going and to get the hotheads to identify and exhaust themselves. As a poker player, President Obama is as good as Greider has ever seen and much better than he understands.

But in poker there is a flinch factor. It is called "the tell." The cable television poker players wear wrap-around sunglasses, propeller hats, anything to take away the likelihood of an opposing player noticing his "tell." Every player has one (or many), so it is not a question of bearing down on one's disguise. It is a question of keeping the noise sufficiently loud that the "tell" is engulfed and virtually impossible to see amid the activity.

The activity is this: the administration is still forming and the principals are busy finding, cleaning, and testing the levers and strings, unearthing the Cheneyite "left-behinds." In a sense, President Obama (under the most intense scrutiny ever put on a President in his first three months) is temporizing until he can put his lieutenants out there with full confidence ... or sufficient body armor! You can "tell" this by the way Secretary Gates (a holdover and completely at ease in his own office) takes initiatives and speaks without President Obama there to prop him up. The rest, with the exception of Secretary Hillary Clinton, whose activities as ambassador plenipotentiary are deliberately personal and exceptionally unrelated to the organization beneath her, are biding their time and getting set to act.

So, what is Barack Obama's "tell?" It would not be good for me to say until you have your bets on the table, until you are committed to this hand, until you know who the big dog really is and where the bigger stacks of chips are. But, I will give you a muffled hint: Barack Obama is President. Think about it.

JB


Copyright © 2006-2010, James R. Brett.
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