Thursday, September 30, 2004
Candidates' Circadian Profiles
I heard that Bush's handlers have been keeping him up late - they don't want him to look or sound "sleepy" during the debate. His bedtime is usually 9:00, you know...
But, to apply what we know about human circadian rhythms, keeping him up late will not do the thing. Sleep-time has a tiny if any effect on shifting the biological clock.
If Bush is a "lark", as I think he is from reports that he goes to bed early and gets up early, he will be sleepy at 9pm. Keeping him up late will just make him tired and cranky.
In order to have him be fresh, they have to keep him in a room with the light/dark cycle shifted a couple of hours later than the outside world for at least several days. They also need to shift the light cycle gradually. If the shift is sudden, he will suffer jet-lag.
I hope that Kerry is an "owl" - at his best at 9pm! He seems to fit the profile well, but I wonder if anyone knows his actual bedtime/wakeup routine.
It Takes a Village to Raise a Village Idiot
I got this by e-mail several times already, and also saw it on Kerry/Edwards forum and the JREgrassroots.org, but I want to preserve it here.
So, you want to cut taxes? Taxes are a burden, you say? You need tax relief, dont' you? It is your money, after all, isn't it, to the very last penny. You earned ALL of it through your hard work, perseverance and intelligence. You are a ruggedy individualist, a seat-of-the-pants kind of guy, aren't you? You never asked for or received any help, and you made your fortune through your own enterpreneurial spirit, all alone, a pioneer in the wilderness. Is your name Joe?
"A DAY IN THE LIFE OF JOE THE BUSH SUPPORTER"
Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with
water to prepare his morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some
tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards. With his first
swallow of water, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to
take because some stupid commie liberal fought to ensure their safety and that
they work as advertised.
All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his
employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their
employers for paid medical insurance - now Joe gets it too.
He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs.
Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to
regulate the meat packing industry.
In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo.
His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total
contents because some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was
putting on his body and how much it contained.
Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath.
The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought
for the laws to stop industries from polluting our air.
He walks on the government-provided sidewalk to
subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work. It saves him
considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants
liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the
opportunity to be a contributor.
Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with
excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because
some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards.
Joe's employer pays these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his
employees to call the union.
If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed,
he'll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid
liberal didn't think he should lose his home because of his temporary
It is noontime and Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can
pay some bills. Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some
godless liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers who
ruined the banking system before the Great Depression.
Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage
and his below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided
that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned
more money over his lifetime. Joe also forgets that his in addition to his
federally subsidized student loans, he attended a state funded university.
Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father
this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive.
His car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal
fought for car safety standards to go along with the tax-payer funded roads.
He arrives at his boyhood home. His was the third
generation to live in the house financed by Farmers' Home Administration because
bankers didn't want to make rural loans.
The house didn't have electricity until some
big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural
He is happy to see his father, who is now retired.
His father lives on Social Security and a union pension because some
wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so
Joe wouldn't have to.
Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and
turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad
and conservatives are good. He doesn't mention that the beloved Republicans have
fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day. Joe
agrees: "We don't need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After
all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves,
just like I have."
More seriously, here are a good article and a report on this topic:
'It Takes a Village to Raise a Billionaire'
It Takes a Village to Make a Millionaire
New Report Blasts Myth of the Self-Made Man
Dubya's Willing Executioners
Political system without a Separation of Church and State is called a Theocracy (see a post below on that issue).
Political system without a Separation of Business and State is called Fascism.
Below are links to several longish, thoughtful and well-written articles about the posibilities that the USA may be becoming a fascist country.
I am not sure on a cerebral level, but on a visceral level, the day G.W.Bush announced his candidacy for President back in 1999. I had a gut-sense of historical deja vu: oh-oh, 1933. Germany!
Thinking about it a bit more, I guess where we seem to be heading is more similar to Italian-style fascism than German-style Nazism, but in any case, the system would have to be shaped by the different time (21st century) and place (America), and would thus have its own characteristics.
So, is it fascism? You tell me.
When Fascism Comes to America
Germany in the 1930s and America today
The 14 Defining Characteristics Of Fascism
Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An Exegesis
(PDF is a book format, html is the first chapter which links to further chapters):
Bush, the Nazis and America
(in four pieces):
America's Mortal Danger
The Ghost of Vice President Wallace Warns: "It Can Happen Here"
Imperial President: Opposing Bush becomes unpatriotic.
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
More Lakoffian links
Here are a few more links to people who like (more or less) Lakoff and had something smart to say about it:
That's IT. I'm Moving to Rockridge.
Academics on the Way Candidates Talk
‘You have to reframe the issues before the facts can become meaningful and powerful.’
A frameable moment
I heart George Lakoff
Lakoff's View of Metaphors
This last one is particularly good for people who have not read several Lakoff's books before, but have just tuned in to his articles, interviews, and perhaps the "Elephant" book.
Monday, September 27, 2004
OK, here's some science and politics for real
Chris Mooney (http://www.chriscmooney.com/blog.asp
) has great news about a new 527 organization called Scientists And Engineers For Change(http://www.scientistsandengineersforchange.org/
). They have some good people on board (including the guy who, unlike Gore, actually did invent the Internet), collecting money, and going around purple states and giving talks at Universities. Their website is a treasure trove of everything you need to know about the treatment of science by this Administration.
Chris also has several posts analyzing Bush and Kerry responses to questions about science in magazines "Science" and "Nature". Apparently, other science magazines are trying to do the same. October issue of "Natural History" (the article is not online yet, check later at www.naturalhistorymag.com
) has an interesting contribution to the debate. The magazine sent their questions to both campaigns. Kerry sent his responses. Bush campaign told the editor to get the answers from the Bush website and other publicly available statements. The magazine did this and sent BOTH sets of answers to BOTH campaigns for review. Kerry used the opportunity to edit some of his answers, but the Bush campaign did not respond, so the answers are now published.
Reading this is quite hillarious, actually... While Kerry's answers are thoughtful (though carefully crafted for broad appeal!), Bush's statements were mostly taken from his speeches. Difference in style really jars when seen on the printed page. For instance, from Bush :"We've got to make sure that we conserve energy better. But, listen, we can do things in environmentally friendly way that we couldn't do twenty years ago", "Our biotechnology industry is strongest in the world", "America is proud of our space program" (do the really want people to remember the Bush grandiose Mars initiative today?), "I want people to understand that if you are concerned about the endangered species, then you need to be concerned about catastrophic fire. Fires destroy animals that, obviously, live amidst the raging fire.", "Today, children across America are showing real progress in reading and math", "My position on these issues is shaped by deeply held beliefs....I also believe human life is a sacred gift from our Creator", etc. Almost a litany of Bushisms, in stark contrast to Kerry's detail policy proposals (which, framing or no framing, is a perfect way to address a scientific audience). But the Bush campaign agreed to have this published. The editor could not believe this - he sent this to them again, and they still did not care to change a word of it. Are they nuts?
The worst thing is that for two questions there is no Bush answer at all. There is an editor's note instead, claiming that no pertinent statements were found in the public record. One of these questions is about funding of science museums. The other is about evolution, i.e., about allowing groups to eliminate evolution from schools, or introduce alternative explanations (kudos to Nat.Hist.Mag.:unlike "Science", they did not call these explanations "scientific
challenges to evolution"). Next to Bush's blank space is Kerry's short and clear answer: he believes in objective standards of scientific inquiry, funding of NIH and NSF to improve our understanding of the world, and "Evolution is a part of that understanding".
I do not know what kind of circulation "Natural History" has, but it must be pretty big, as even after the death of their super-famous essayist S.J.Gould, it is still a very good magazine. Many people are going to read this.
I will look soon (tomorrow is big teaching day, so perhaps Wednesday), if "American Scientist", "Scientific American", "Discover", "Science News" and "Popular Science" have similar questionnaires, and will post results here.
Also, I will do the wordcount of the Kerry/Edwards booklet. I did a quick scan for "science" when it just came out as PDF and the word showed up again and again and again. I will do it for several relevant words. Is there an equivalent Bush booklet? Can someone do the search of the B/C campaign website and post the results here, in the comments?
Kerry was, from the very beginning, the most vocally pro-science primary candidate. I had my other reasons to go for Edwards, but I am more than happy that Kerry is the nominee. This is just from pure narrow selfish interest: I want to be able to get a grant funded next year!
The only thing that bothered me in the Natural History pieve was Kerry's use of the phrase "sound science" in one of his answers. I am still not sure if that was a mistake, or a case of taking a conservative frame and runnig with it, subverting it from within. If you are not sure what I'm talking about, sheck these articles about "sound science":
...from an e-mail:
Sad to say, that article was not selected for our online feature. (We've gota great story on frigate birds and albatrosses that is now online.)
You will be able to e-link to the article fairly soon (we're not sure of thedate) through the EBSCO database. EBSCO can be accessed only bysubscription, however, and the cost (since it includes a lot of journals,not just NHmag) usually limits it to major public libraries, universitylibraries, and large institutional libraries.
"Discover" has published quite a detailed and thoughful comparison of potential scientific futures under Bush and Kerry administrations:
Bush vs. Kerry on Science
Nothing yet in other popular science magazines (although Scientific American has a number of good articles on electronic voting, Star Wars program, Rep.Waxman's struggle against Bush' anti-science agenda, etc.)
Sunday, September 26, 2004
The Four Horsemen Of The Horse Race
Eric at Total Information Awareness has a great post here:
"There is a popular saying amongst the media-watchers and gadflys that the press
will cover four things during campaigns, what I call the Four Horsemen of the
Horse Race: scandals (pestilence), mistakes (death), attacks (war) and polls
(famine) - though not necessarily in that order. So far, the media coverage this
presidential season has involved a healthy dose of all four of these topics,
and, predictably, sparse treatment of anything else of greater heft, substance
I keep coming back to his post again and again. I love the Four Horseman Metaphor and wish to spread the metaphor if I can...
As Eric notes, the most-often-touted polls (e.g., CNN/Gallup, Newseek) are the most methodologically flawed.
See, for instance these articles:
Even Zogby, who is trying his best to combine phone/online/mail polls does not completely trust his own polls. He is aware that even the best method leaves out a substantial (and highly specific) group of voters out of calculation, mainly young and poor (both of these groups are more likely to have a cell phone than a land line) or people who like Caller-ID, Call-blocking and other newer high-tech ways to avoid pollsters. You get old ladies on the phone (the oh-so-1980s urge to pick up the phone whenever it rings).
For a quit learning how to read a poll, pick one of the following sites:
What is more worrisome is that many of those high-profile polls were never meant to be surveys of the population. They are campaign tools. Schneider, and Luntz, and the boss at Gallup, and others are purposefully skewing the polls. They want the race to remain tight, or with a Bush lead until November 2nd. Why?
First, to de-energize Kerry supporters, especially soft ones. Many people "go for the winner" (witness how we got Kerry as candidate in the first place), like in the Asch experiment (http://slate.com/id/2095993
Second, if the polls indicate a tight race or small Bush lead, and Bush wins, there is no surprise and also no LEGAL way to ask for a recount. Thus, Diebold &Co. can do their part of the job. If polls showed a Kerry lead, but Bush wins, there is surely going to be legal grounds for recounts in several states.
There is an Action Item on Media Matters (http://mediamatters.org/
), asking people to e-mail CNN and insist that Schneider comes out on air as Bush operative and Right Winger that he is. The same should be done for Luntz at MSNBC.
As Eric notes, nobody made a significant mistake yet. Both Bush and Kerry said some silly things (easily mocked in TV ads), or showed up in pictures in funny-looking suits, but no Dukakis/Snoopy-in-a-tank yet. There is not much one can do about this stuff. One can be super-vigilant to minimize tha chances of such a thing happening to your candidate, but these things just happen.
These are attacks by the candidates themselves on each other. VP-candidates count here, too, as well as official campaign representatives. There has been quite a lot of attacking lately, mainly by Cheney. As the Big Boys get the most media coverage, it is exceptionally important to do your framing right. I have to say that in thepast week or so, Kerry has improved a lot. He is not just attacking, he is attacking very well. He is taking BushCo frames and using them against Bush. Look at his recent speech (see: http://slate.com/id/2107141/
for a good commentary): he is using even the famous "tax relief" Luntzism against Bush, not to mention making fun of "resolve", carefully and forcefully separating "war on terror" from "war in Iraq" (the mainstay of the Bush campaign), and in general framing his message in the way that resonates with voters.
"I have news for President Bush: Just because you can't do something doesn't mean it can't be done," is a devastating sentence. I was watching this over lunch in a neighborhood bar&grill and I jumped and shouted (with my mouth full, in spite of what my mother taught me):"Yes, yes, yes, this is great!!!". Waitresses agreed. They are all young single Kerryites and excited about being the uncounted, unpolled "surprise squadron".
Pestilence (Scandals) :
"The many scandals have received an inordinate share of attention - the Swift
Boat Veterans for Un-Truth (who continue their slander even today), the Kerry
medal flap, CBS News' memogate, Bush's delinquent National Guard Service, and
more recently allegations of cocaine use by Bush at Camp David. This is best
understood as the politics of gossip over substance - but gossip sells and the
media is increasingly concerned with maximizing profits. A pestilence spreading
throughout our press."
This is where elections are won or lost. Republicans, especially of the Attwater/Rove lineage, are masters of gossip. They are fantastic at countering gossip against their candidates, fantastic at pushing and promoting gossip against the opponents, and completely unscrupulous about inventing scandals out of whole cloth and letting the whispering do the job. That is how they beat John McCain and Anne Richards, that is how they are trying to beat Kerry.
On the other hand, Democrats are woefully slow and inept at countering gossip. They feel it is dishonest and ungentlemanly to promote and push rumors, let alone invent new ones. They want to concentrate on the issues. And it always backfires. Isssues do not win elections.
Democrats naively believe that the truth will prevail. They should take a quote from Lakoff and post it on every wall of every campaign headquarters (instead of "It's the economy, stupid" which is not true in 2004 as it was in 1992):"Truth will not let you free". Facts do not matter. People believe or not believe facts depending on the way those resonate with their worldviews and ideologies, with the way they were raised, with the way they understand the world. They will dismiss facts if these do not fall within their framework. They will believe ridiculous stuff if this fits into the way they see themselves, the country and the world. That is why Democrats' duty #1 today is to read "Elephant" and "Moral Politics" and act accordingly. This election is too important to lose due to bad marketing.
Saturday, September 25, 2004
Fires and drought are just God's way of reminding us who's in charge.
I found this nugget on churchofcriticalthinking.com (click on the title of this post for link), a post about South Dakota senatorial race between daschle and Thune. One of the commenters wrote:
"There are plenty of people out there who think dogs and children should be punished on a regular basis just to "remind them who's in charge". "
That is the most succint and revealing explanation of the whole Strict Father mindset. Who's in charge? That is the only question. "Who has the power?" conservatives ask. "Who does not share in the power, and why not, and until when?" is what progressives ask. "You got the power!", Dean used to say. We do, but until when? We better start using that power we still have before is completely taken away from us during next four years of totalitarian rule.
Friday, September 24, 2004
Top Ten Reasons Why I Will Never Be Elected a Dogcatcher, Let Alone a US Senator
I will never be elected a dogcatcher. I'd never run for that office as I happen to like dogs and would have a problem with taking them to the pound. Even if I ran I would never get elected for a number of reasons that I will elaborate below.
I don't think I will ever run for any elective office. I, most definitely, would not want to be the US President, or a Governor of a state - it is not what I am qualified to do, nor would I enjoy doing it, nor do I feel a moral obligation to try. But, during the election season, it is almost inevitable one thinks sometimes: how would I campaign, how would I fare as a candidate?
And my conclusion: I don't have a snowball's chance in Hell of winning more than two votes (me and my wife), and for a number of reasons.
First, I would not run for a local or state office. I do not really know local and state issues. I am a big-context kind of guy. I am interested in global stuff, like global warming; environment; world population trends; poverty, hunger and disease in the world; international relations between 200-some countries in the world; education in the developing countries; healthcare as a global issue; AIDS, malaria, SARS and other global diseases; space exploration; light pollution; endangered species; nuclear arms proliferation; preservation of cultural and liguistic heritage of the world; sustainable agriculture; free exchange of scientific knowledge around the globe, etc....
As the USA is one of the most influential out of the 200-something countries in the world, or perhaps, due to its wealth and military power, THE most influential country in the world, being part of the US government may allow one to address such global issues.
So, I would have to run for US Senate. How about 2006? That would mean beating Dan Blue in the primaries and Lizzie Dole in the statewide race. How can I possibly succeed? No way! Why not? Here are the Top Ten Reasons:
First, I am foreign born. That's a minus. Although. I can use this as a positive in my campaign ("dedicated patriot because I had to work to become and American in the first place", "possessing a fresh angle on many issues unbiased by being born, raised and indoctrinated here").
Second, I am half-Jewish, and there's not that many Jews in North Carolina, not that I am observant or Zionist or anything like that (what the Jews may like to see in a Jewish candidate). Still, I could try to use it as a positive, pushing for ethnic and religious tolerance and inclusion.
Third, I am half-Serbian, and the ten-year long state propaganda against the Serbs has never been countered. Perhaps I could use the stump to redress this bias. There are too few Serbs in NC to help. Even countryside, there are not that many Serbs here. Those that are here either arrived in late 1940s running away from Tito (making them old and conservative), or late 1990s running away from Milosevic (making them angry Clinton-haters), so I could not expect much financial help from the Serbian diaspora, no matter what I say in my stump-speech.
Fourth, as I stated above, I do not know and understand the fine details of specific North Carolina and local issues. I would have to study hard and learn fast. I am interested in that, but I wonder if people would understand me whenever I attempted to place local issues into global contexts.
Fifth, I know nothing about American football, baseball, NASCAR, or golf. And I am not willing to learn. Sports I practiced in my life (and got very good at) are karate and equestrian sports. Both can be used with a positive spin. W is afraid of horses (a cowboy with not a single Marlboro-man-pose to show his machism - Rove would have done this if he could have persuaded Georgie to come close to an equine) - I can shoot an ad with me on a horse, or breaking a couple of bricks....unforgetable ads.
Sixth, I am anabashedly liberal in a conservative state. I am for gay marriage, reproductive rights, assault gun control, and teaching evolution in schools. I am against death penalty and war in Iraq. I am also atypical in that I am fine with hunters and not fine with animal rightists.
Seventh, I am a geek, scientist, academician, member of the intellectual elite that the Repubs love to make fun of. I even used to have a Volvo and have no problem with Cafe Mocha. On the other hand, I mucked my horses' stalls myself (no grooms in Yugoslavia - riding was a poor man's sport there) and have no problem with dirt, bad weather, or hard physical work and I can stress that part of me. Also, this would have to be my greatest strength. What other qualification can I run on? I do not know law, or economics, or political science. I am a biologist. But I can argue that this is exactly what is missing in the Senate. The congressional science advisory body has been dismantled by the Bushies, and nobody in Congress understand science, not the lawyers, not economists, not professional poiticians, not even physicians. Science is not part of their background. It is a part of mine. And look at all the hot-button issues of today - they require understanding of science: stem-cell research, global warming, mercury/asbestos and other toxins in the environment, abortion, gay marriage, cloning, biotechnology, funding for Human Genome Project vs. Supercolliding Supercollider, genetically modified crops and animals, gene-replacement therapy, AIDS (and other diseases: Parkinsons, Alzheimers, cancer, Lyme Disease, Avian Flu, West Nile, SARS, malaria, antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, etc.), development of new weapons system including the StarWars, not to mention an understanding of statistics and probability. Doesn't it seem obvious that at least one Senator should understand the big issues of our times? Scientists around the country (and there are LOTS of them here in North Carolina) would probably help finacially, perhaps volunteer some, and vote for me in areas like the Triangle.
Eight, and this is the one that would kill me. I am openly a Bright (secular humanist/atheist/agnostic) and would run as such, not attempting to pretend religiosity, yet not looking down on people who are religious (I do not think they are dumb or crazy, I just think they are wrong). An atheist CAN NOT get elected for dogcatcher in the USA. Ever! Perhaps, I could use the campaign to break ground for the future non-religious candidates, by pushing the issue and pointing out its unfairness. This outspokeness would not get me many votes in NC, but would get me a lot of money from tens of millions of scared secular people around the country who are ready to support one of their own for a change. On the other hand, I have a spottlessly clean and ethical biography, I am happily married with kids, I obviously deeply care about people and the environment - so I can't be that bad even if I do not believe in Santa Clause and other mythical characters.
Ninth, I would absolutely not make negative ads. First, I love Dan Blue and cannot say anything bad about him. Second, only totally unscrupulous rogues like Rove and Bush can attack a woman (Ann Richards) and win. Attacking Liz Dole would totally backfire in NC - people here generally like her and attacking a woman is not something a Southern gentleman does. Thus, I would wage a completely positive campaign, and I would hire some REALLY creative people to make risky creative ads that will get people to pay attention, talk about around the water cooler, and remember forever.
Tenth, in order to win with a background like this, I would need to have tons of money (which I do not have) and combined efforts of Carville and Rove (and Luntz and Lakoff) which I cannot afford even if they ever agreed to be in the same room without killing each other.
So, I'll leave fantasizing behind and get back to work. But this little exercise I just did points to an unpleasant fact: there is only a very narrowly defined "type" of person who can ever be elected to any office in this country. Isn't this troubling?
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Elephant Kicks Ass Now, so the Ass Can Kick Elephant Out in November
Apparently, mention of the book in the blogosphere, particularly on high-traffic sites like Langauge Log and DailyKos, has pushed the Amazon rating for "Elephant" into the top ten:
Lakoff hits the big time, blogwise
Lakoff book surges
Some others have written good reviews of the book, too:
Don't think of an Elephant
Don’t Think of An Elephant—A Donkey Kicks Back
Some are already using Lakoff's ideas in campaigning, including these people who have made a DVD they use in training their volunteers:
How Democrats and Progressives Can Win: Solutions from George Lakoff
Here is a good recent article on the topic of framing:
The Disease of Right-wing Framing
By Robert Cole, AlterNet
The media continually reiterates right-wing language when framing the debate
over healthcare. The loser is not just John Kerry but also the American voter.
Links to a number of articles, some of which cannot be found on the Rockridge site, can be found here:
Two Americas: Framing the Language of Progressive Ideology
Finally, I wish I was in Berkeley to take Lakoff's class. For those of us who cannot be there, students in his class (with Lakoff's approval) are posting class notes, comments, and links to supplemental readings on their blog:
George Lakoff :: Ling 290L :: Language of Politics
Here is an old article by Lakoff on framing the Iraq war:
Metaphor and War, Again
and here is a blog discussion of that article:
This blog has several good posts about Lakoff and framing:
Not Quite Right, I Think
The Dangers of Poorly Chosen Metaphor
Maverick Philosopher on Framing
On the Framing of Framing
Framing, the Silver Rule, and Political Taste
I disagree with the notion that Lakoff childrearning-scheme is a frame itself, but I agree that many liberals (new on the Lakoffian bandwaggon) misunderstand what framing is all about. Please go and read this blog - it is thoughtful and will make you think.
There was also a response on another good blog:
Lakoff framing and reciprocity
...as well as a rant by a pre-Modern pseudo-intellectual gleefully-conservative mind here. This just shows that Lakoff is right. The whole so-called critique comes straight from a Strict Father way of thinking, with no effort to get out of it:
Lakoff on How Conservatives Use Language to Dominate
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Nurturant is not Coddly!
Discussions of Lakoff's theory are going on in several places in the blogosphere, including on DailyKos http://www.dailykos.com/story/2004/9/20/24655/5647
and many other places...just Google it and you'll be floored. Spend some times reading the comments - there is some good thinking there.
There is something happening in these discussions that really bothers me. There is a number of people, including some who claim to have read "Moral Politics", who object to the use of family-based terminology. What happenned? I think several things are going on:
First, some people are misunderstanding that the family model is meant only as a metaphor for the understanding of the nation, not as a reality (they usually object along the lines of "I do not want to be treated like a kid").
Second, some do not understand that the Lakoff's theoretical model is not a frame itself. They complain along the lines of "if we use these terms, conservatives will destroy us by painting us as effeminate". But, Lakoff does not suggest that we use the family-related terms in political rhetoric. Thinking of the nation as a family is a way to understand the psychological basis of framing, not a frame itself. Quite to the contrary, Lakoff suggests in several articles that progressives should use the frames that project strength, masculinity and uprightness, as well as to paint conservatives as cowards, sissies and "girlie-men". "Moral Politics" is a theoretical book describing how cognitive frames influence the way we think about political issues, it provides some examples of conservative frames, yet does not provide ANY suggestions for progressive framing. It explains why we think the way we think. It is descriptive. The "Elephant" book, on the other hand, is prescriptive. It glosses over the theoretical construct, and concentrates on the rhetoric that progressives need to use. Most Lakoff's articles and interviews, as well as online commentary, concentrate on framing while giving the theory very small space. Yet, the theory is complex and requires careful reading of "Moral Politics" to be understood.
Third, some object to the term "Nurturant Parent" and equate it to "mommy state". But that is not at all what Lakoff describes in "Moral Politics"! Where does the misunderstanding come from?
I think that we can use Lakoff's theory to explain misunderstanding of Lakoff! It is very difficult for people raised in one model to comprehend the other model. Nurturant Parent model is a 20th century invention, a relatively new thing under the Sun. Most of us have been raised in some kind of Strict Father family, or at least raised by parents who were raised in a Strict Father families but are trying hard to be "modern" and raise their kids along the Spock, Leach, Brazelton lines. For most of history, Strict Father was the norm - the only way to raise kids. Thus most of us have at least some idea how it operates, and have internalized at least some aspects of it. On the other hand, many more people have difficulty comprehending the Nurturant Parent, because it is so new it has to be learned - it is not an integral part of most people. Growing up, going to college, reading and thinking, may turn one into a progressive/liberal without internalizing the Nurturant family model. It is a two-step or two-generational process. One generation becomes liberal through learning later in life and their kids actually grow up and internalize the Nurturant Parent model. That is how the Strict Father model is slowly and gradually being replaced by the Nurturant Parent model. This process has gone much further in Europe than in the USA, but is progressing here at a decent pace, too.
Thus, many of us (progressives) in the blogosphere are first-generation progressives. We agree with a number of policies, as well as some basic principles, e.g., equality and fairness. Yet many of us did not get there by growing up in Nurturant Parent families. When we see the model explained, as in "Moral Politics", we do not comprehend it because it is not a part of us the way it will be for our kids. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is a fact that many of us grew up in some type of Strict Father or mixed-type family.
If you grew up in a Strict Father family, how do you think of your mother? As nurturant and loving, of course. She was there for you, someone to run to....to run to from what? From the angry father with a belt! But that sense of "nurturant" is not the sense that Lakoff is using. Mother in the Strict Father family is on a lower rung of the ladder than her husband. She is a submissive wife. She does not have strength to stand up to him (otherwise she would have beat him up, kicked him out of the house, dragged him through a messy divorce, took all his possessions, and hit him with a huge alimony). But you cannot be a Nurturant Parent without strength! Enormous strength is needed to be an effective Nurturant Parent! It takes time, energy, intelligence, knowledge and huge empathy to be a good parent. To be a good parent one also needs to be fit, healthy and happy in order to survive the task of parenting 24/7 as well as to be able to project empathy. This is hard work! A wife of a Strict Father is nowhere near up to that task. She is weak, thus not Nurturant. She hugs the kids when Father is around, and invokes his authority when he is not around because she has no real authority over the kids herself.
If you grow up in a Strict Father family, and then someone gives you terms "Strict Father" and "Nurturant Parent", you automatically think of your own family - that is the only mental model you have - and assume that the nurturant parent is your weak mother. Of course that is not the kind of political leadership you want! Who wants a weak, ineffectual, submissive President! But that is not at all what "Nurturant Parent" is. First of all, Nurturant Parents are two! A father and a mother (ot two fathers or two mothers - hence only recently has gay marriage appeared on the scene and is driving conservatives crazy), both equally involved, both strong, both empathetic, both authoritative without being authoritarian, both involved in a two-way communication between themselves and the kids. It takes more strength to be a good Nurturant Parent than to be a so-called "strong" strict father who goes out, makes money, has a beer with buddies, comes home to warm dinner, reads the "Wall Street Journal", watches football, yells at the kids, and expects his wife to clean the house and obey him unconditionally.
Nurturant Parents are strong. Strict Father is macho and abusive (covering up for doubts about own masculine prowess). His wife is subordinate and weak. I want a "Nurturant Parent" for President, not this guy we have right now - all posture, no strength. I bet Bush is gay or bi or sexually disfunctional. Next time Bush and Kerry give speeches, do not watch them on TV - listen to them on the radio. You will notice how Bush's voice is high-pitched, whiny, insecure, and effeminate. Kerry's voice is deep, sure, masculine and powerful - he can provide a voice for God in a cartoon.
My copy of "Elephant" has finally arrived and I will read it tomorrow and post my thoughts on it soon.
I picked up my copy of Elephant today (Wednesday, 22nd). I have read the first 34 pages online last week and now had a first quick look at the rest. As I predicted, it leaves the theory aside (and that is good - let the family-related terms remain in the academic literature, e.g., "Moral Politics") and focuses on practical advice for framing one's arguments and communicating to independents and conservatives.
Some chapters have been adapted frm articles he has published before (mostly available on the Rockridge Institute site).
Interestingly, on page 96, he responds to the question about Nurturant Parent being equivalent to "mommy state" and he responds EXACTLY the way I did above. I feel good about myself, of course... ;-)
Get the Book!
Lots more on blogs:
Centerfield: George Lakoff on framing
TomPaine.com - Blogs
BrothersJudd Blog: FATHER KNOWS BEST:
Aaron Swartz: The Weblog
Goodspeed Update 2004: News and Information for Students
onegoodmove: September 2003 Archives
Jon Stahl's Journal
PoliBlog » One of the Reasons Dems Have Problems
Framing the Media (Aaron Swartz: The Weblog)
MyDD :: Democrats
The Ruth Group
DNC: Kicking Ass - Open Thread
Monday, September 20, 2004
Kos discovers Lakoff
Kos has read "Elephant" and loves it. He has a nice write-up on his blog:
I am surprised that it took him so long. The Dems have been abuzz with the "framing" stuff for a year now. The topic kept coming up on the Edwards campaign blog throughout the fall and winter. The longest thread (more than 30 pages) on JREgrassroots.org is devoted to the subject, not to mentioned that the issue of framing keeps coming up no matter what the topic is, from foreign policy to education.
I have several posts here on the topic, starting with my very first post, "Moral Politics in the context of the history of marriage" (the book review), through "Moral Order" (expansion on that aspect of the Lakoff scheme), "Edwards' legacy" (on JRE's language and framing skills), "Safire's reptilian brain" (on analysis of a conservative with a libertarian streak), and "How to win conservatives over: Don't Think Of An Elephant" (announcing the new book), "War Of The Worlds" (on the super-religious conservatives), "Bush is a girlie-man" (on the importance of masculinity in framing the president), "Red and blue cultural tastes" (on where to look for frames), "Liberal Moral Core (Rush Limbaugh version)" (more on the Lakoff's scheme), and "Reframing "activist judges"" (my attempt at framing), "Talking to a Conservative" (a how-to advice), "Conservative America" (ties in economics to ideology), "The Political Brain" (applying neurobiology to framing) and ""Framing" is spreading through the Blogosphere" (about some excellent posts on various blogs discussing this topic), etc. (I am sure there are a few more related posts I cannot remember right now), so scroll down and comment.
Everyone who's read "Moral Politics" or Lakoff's articles and interviews has been waiting for months now for Lakoff to publish the "Elephant" book. I think of "Moral Politics" in relation to "Elephant", like Torah in relation to Talmud, or Das Kapital in relation to The Communist Maniphesto. The former is meat, the latter the sizzle, the former the theoretical beckground, the latter a self-help manual.
If you have no time and energy, but you want to go out and convert independents tomorrow, read "Elephant". If you want to truly understand America, and use that knowledge in political activity for a long term, read "Moral Politics".
Saturday, September 18, 2004
The best article of the year
This is a very, very long article but every word should be sipped slowly and swished around the mouth before swallowing, just like good wine. I have touched on some of the separate topics before, but the Master has put them all together into a bigger, better structure. Here are some short snippets, but please, reade the whole thing:
Journalism Under Fire
by Bill Moyers
Perhaps the most unmanageable of all problems, Bill McKibben writes, is the
accelerating deterioration of the environment. While the present administration
has committed a thousand acts of vandalism against our air, water, forests, and
deserts, were we to change managers, Bill argues, some of that damage would
abate. What won’t go away, he continues, are the perils with huge momentum – the
greenhouse effect, for instance. Scientists have been warning us about it since
the 1980s. But now the melt of the Arctic seems to be releasing so much
freshwater into the North Atlantic that even the Pentagon is alarmed that a
weakening Gulf Stream could yield abrupt – and overwhelming – changes, the kind
of climate change that threatens civilization. How do we journalists get a
handle on something of that enormity?
How do we
explain the possibility that a close election in November could turn on several
million good and decent citizens who believe in the Rapture Index? That’s what I
said – the Rapture Index; google it and you will understand why the best-selling
books in America today are the twelve volumes of the left-behind series which
have earned multi-millions of dollars for their co-authors who earlier this year
completed a triumphant tour of the Bible Belt whose buckle holds in place George
W. Bush’s armor of the Lord. These true believers subscribe to a fantastical
theology concocted in the l9th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who
took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative millions
of people believe to be literally true.
According to this narrative, Jesus
will return to earth only when certain conditions are met: when Israel has been
established as a state; when Israel then occupies the rest of its "biblical
lands;" when the third temple has been rebuilt on the site now occupied by the
Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques; and, then, when legions of the Antichrist
attack Israel. This will trigger a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon
during which all the Jews who have not converted will be burned. Then the
Messiah returns to earth. The Rapture occurs once the big battle begins. True
believers" will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to heaven where,
seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and
religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts and frogs during the
several years of tribulation which follow.
I’m not making this up. We’re
reported on these people for our weekly broadcast on PBS, following some of them
from Texas to the West Bank. They are sincere, serious, and polite as they tell
you that they feel called to help bring the Rapture on as fulfillment of
biblical prophecy. That’s why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the
Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and volunteers. It’s
why they have staged confrontations at the old temple site in Jerusalem. It’s
why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the 9th
chapter of the Book of Revelations where four angels "which are bound in the
great river Euphrates will be released "to slay the third part of men.’ As the
British writer George Monbiot has pointed out, for these people the Middle East
is not a foreign policy issue, it’s a biblical scenario, a matter of personal
belief. A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but
welcomed; if there’s a conflagration there, they come out winners on the far
side of tribulation, inside the pearly gates, in celestial splendor, supping on
ambrosia to the accompaniment of harps plucked by angels.
One estimate puts
these people at about 15% of the electorate. Most are likely to vote Republican;
they are part of the core of George W. Bush’s base support. He knows who they
are and what they want. When the President asked Ariel Sharon to pull his tanks
out of Jenin in 2002, over one hundred thousand angry Christian fundamentalists
barraged the White House with emails and Mr. Bush never mentioned the matter
again. Not coincidentally, the administration recently put itself solidly behind
Ariel Sharon’s expansions of settlements on the West Banks. In George Monbiot’s
analysis, the President stands to lose fewer votes by encouraging Israeli
expansion into the West Bank than he stands to lose by restraining it. "He would
be mad to listen to these people, but he would also be mad not to." No wonder
Karl Rove walks around the West Wing whistling "Onward Christian Soldiers." He
knows how many votes he is likely to get from these pious folk who believe that
the Rapture Index now stands at 144 --- just one point below the critical
threshold at which point the prophecy is fulfilled, the whole thing blows, the
sky is filled with floating naked bodies, and the true believers wind up at the
right hand of God. With no regret for those left behind. (See George Monbiot.
The Guardian, April 20th, 2004.)
I know, I
know: You think I am bonkers. You think Ann Coulter is right to aim her bony
knee at my groin and that O’Reilly should get a Peabody for barfing all over me
for saying there’s more to American politics than meets the Foxy eye. But this
is just the point: Journalists who try to tell these stories, connect these
dots, and examine these links are demeaned, disparaged, and dismissed. This is
the very kind of story that illustrates the challenge journalists face in a
world driven by ideologies that are stoutly maintained despite being
contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. Ideologues – religious,
political, or editorial ideologues – embrace a world view that cannot be changed
because they admit no evidence to the contrary. And Don Quixote on Rocinante
tilting at windmills had an easier time of it than a journalist on a laptop
tilting with facts at the world’s fundamentalist belief systems.
For one thing, you’ll get in trouble with
the public. The Chicago Tribune recently conducted a national poll in which
about half of those surveyed said there should be been some kind of press
restraint on reporting about the prison abuse scandal in Iraq; I suggest those
people don’t want the facts to disturb their belief system about American
exceptionalism. The poll also found that five or six of every ten Americans
"would embrace government controls of some kind on free speech, especially if it
is found unpatriotic." No wonder scoundrels find refuge in patriotism; it offers
them immunity from criticism.
But never has
there been an administration like the one in power today – so disciplined in
secrecy, so precisely in lockstep in keeping information from the people at
large and, in defiance of the Constitution, from their representatives in
Secrecy is contagious, scandalous,
toxic – and costly. Pete Weitzel estimates that the price tag for secrecy today
is more than $5 billion annual (I have seen other estimates up to $6.5 billion a
This "zeal for secrecy" I am talking
about – and I have barely touched the surface – adds up to a victory for the
terrorists. When they plunged those hijacked planes into the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon three years ago this morning, they were out to hijack our Gross
National Psychology. If they could fill our psyche with fear -- as if the
imagination of each one of us were Afghanistan and they were the Taliban -- they
could deprive us of the trust and confidence required for a free society to
work. They could prevent us from ever again believing in a safe, decent, or just
world and from working to bring it about. By pillaging and plundering our peace
of mind they could panic us into abandoning those unique freedoms – freedom of
speech, freedom of the press – that constitute the ability of democracy to
self-correct and turn the ship of state before it hits the iceberg.
I thought of this last week during
the Republican National Convention here in New York -- thought of the terrorists
as enablers of democracy’s self-immolation. My office is on the west side of
Manhattan, two blocks from Madison Square Garden. From where I sit I could see
snipers on the roof. Helicopters overhead. Barricades at every street corner.
Lines of police stretching down the avenues. Unmarked vans. Flatbed trucks.
Looking out his own window, the writer Nick Turse (TomDispatch.com 9/8/04) saw
what I saw and more. Special Forces brandishing automatic rifles. Rolls of
orange plastic netting. Dragnets. Preemptive arrests of peaceful protesters.
Cages for detainees. And he caught sight of what he calls "the ultimate blending
of corporatism and the police state – the Fuji blimp – now emblazoned with a
second logo: NYPD." A spy-in-the sky, outfitted "with the latest in
video-surveillance equipment, loaned free of charge to the police all week
long." Nick Turse saw these things and sees in them, as do I, "The Rise of the
Homeland Security State"
profound transformation is happening here. The framers of our nation never
envisioned these huge media giants; never imagined what could happen if big
government, big publishing and big broadcasters ever saw eye to eye in putting
the public’s need for news second to their own interests – and to the ideology
of free-market economics.
could they have foreseen the rise of a quasi-official partisan press serving as
a mighty megaphone for the regime in power. Stretching from Washington think
tanks funded by corporations to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal
to Rupert Murdoch’s far-flung empire of tabloid journalism to the nattering
no-nothings of talk radio, a ceaseless conveyor belt -- often taking its cues
from daily talking points supplied by the Republican National Committee – moves
mountains of the official party line into the public discourse. But that’s not
their only mission. They wage war on anyone who does not subscribe to the
propaganda, heaping scorn on what they call "old-school journalism." One of
them, a blogger, was recently quoted in Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard
comparing journalism with brain surgery. "A bunch of amateurs, no matter how
smart and enthusiastic, could never outperform professional neurosurgeons,
because they lack the specialized training and experience necessary for that
field. But what qualifications, exactly, does it take to be a journalist? What
can they do that we can’t? Nothing." ((The Weekly Standard, 9/6/2004).
I’ve just finished reading
Dan Gillmor’s new book, We the Media, and recommend it heartily to you. Gilmore
is a national columnist for the San Jose Mercury News and writes a daily weblog
for SiliconValley.com. He argues persuasively that Big Media is losing its
monopoly on the news, thanks to the Internet – that "citizen journalists" of all
stripes, in their independent, unfiltered reports, are transforming the news
from a lecture to a conversation. He’s on to something.
So the Internet may indeed engage us
in a new conversation of democracy. Even as it does, you and I will in no way be
relieved from wrestling with what it means ethically to be a professional
journalist. I believe Tom Rosenthiel got it right in that Boston Globe article
when he said that the proper question is not whether you call yourself a
journalist but whether your own work constitutes journalism. And what is that? I
like his answer: "A journalist tries to get the facts right," tries to get "as
close as possible to the verifiable truth" – not to help one side win or lose
but "to inspire public discussion." Neutrality, he concludes, is not a core
principle of journalism, "but the commitment to facts, to public consideration,
and to independence from faction, is."
I believe democracy requires "a
sacred contract" between journalists and those who put their trust in us to tell
them what we can about how the world really works.
Friday, September 17, 2004
"Framing" is spreading through the Blogosphere
Paperwight has written several posts on his Fair Shot blog expounding on the Lakoff work, including "Post-Reason Politics, Part Two" ( http://fairshot.typepad.com/fairshot/2004/09/postreason_poli_1.html
"Eden" ( http://fairshot.typepad.com/fairshot/2004/09/eden.html
"Post-Reason Politics, Part One" ( http://fairshot.typepad.com/fairshot/2004/09/postreason_poli.html
Those posts were comented on by Mixing Memory ( http://mixingmemory.blogspot.com/2004/09/karl-rove-feminist-bankteller.html
) and FUGOP ( http://fugop.blogspot.com/2004/09/liberalism.html
Very thoughfull stuff overall.
While the Un-Democratic Party has fully understood the power of framing a long time ago and deliberately sends messages straight to the reptilian brain of their pre-Darwinian constituents, the Democratic Party is still led by naive Dinosaurs who believe that truth and facts can win. I hope that this will change - FAST - and the inability of the publisher to satisfy hight demand for Lakoff's "Elephant" book may be a good omen. I have heard (not confirmed) that 100,000 copies were printed. I still cannot get my copy as, rumors say, the initial batch is going to the campaign staffs of various democrats around the country.
More on Darwin in Serbia
The Serbian Minister of Education resigned earlier today.
I have received a lot of newspaper clips (including a yet-to-be published manuscript) etc. from Serbia, and will write a longer analysis in a couple of days.
There is also an interesting and tragic story about the first translation of The Origin into Serbo-Croatian in 1878 (I am aware of only one other translation before that, into German in 1860), and I will provide juicy details later.
The Darwin crisis in Serbia ends. Here are several renditions:
Serbia education minister quits
Anti-Darwin school minister quits
Education Ministry reverses sackings
Anti-Darwin minister quits
Serbia education minister quits
Minister who dismissed Darwin resigns post
Anti-Darwin Minister Quits
'Anti-Darwin' Serb minister quits
Minister quits over evolution
Darwin Survives, After All
Darwin's expulsion sparks protests
Darwin gets new Serbian imprimatur
Serbia returns Darwin to the curriculum
Serbia puts Darwin back on school shelves
Serbs' Darwinian battle
and, from 4 years ago:
Darwin or Adam and Eve?
Thursday, September 16, 2004
The Political Brain
Using M.R.I.'s to See Politics on the Brain
The researchers do not claim to have figured out either
The Political Brain
party's brain yet, since they have not finished this experiment. But they have
already noticed intriguing patterns in how Democrats and Republicans look at
candidates. They have tested 11 subjects and say they need to test twice that
many to confirm the trend.
Do liberals ''think'' with their limbic system more than
How To Hack Your Head
conservatives do? As it happens, some early research suggests that Armey might
have been on to something after all.
As The Times reported not long ago, a
team of U.C.L.A. researchers analyzed the neural activity of Republicans and
Democrats as they viewed a series of images from campaign ads. And the early
data suggested that the most salient predictor of a ''Democrat brain'' was
amygdala activity responding to certain images of violence: either the Bush ads
that featured shots of a smoldering ground zero or the famous ''Daisy'' ad from
Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 campaign that ends with a mushroom cloud. Such brain
activity indicates a kind of gut response, operating below the level of
On Tuesday, the New York Times ran a front-page story about
The Political Brain. Why do Republicans and Democrats differ? Perhaps it's all in the head.
a study that analyzed the brains of political partisans as they viewed Kerry and
Bush campaign ads. If you thought Googling for yourself was the sign of a
self-obsessed culture, get ready for the personal brain scan.
Is there something intrinsically reductive or fatalistic in
connecting political values to brain functioning? No more so than ascribing them
to race or economic background, which we happily do without second thought.
Isn't it more dehumanizing to attribute your beliefs to economic conditions
outside your control? At least your brain is inalienably yours -- it's where the
whole category ''you'' originates. No one denies that social conditions shape
political values. But the link between the brain and the polis is still
uncharted terrain. Prozac showed us that the slightest tinkering with brain
chemistry could have transformative effects on a person's worldview. Who is to
say those effects don't travel all the way to the voting booth?
The Death President
UA study suggests people reminded of 9/11 support Bush
I've been thinking about the UCLA study ever since that first NYT article came out, and my thoughts went in two different directions. First, I was wondering how the experimental protocol can be improved to make the data more useful. Second, I was wondering about the possible interpretations of the data. Let me try to put on cyberpaper some of my trains of thought and see for myself if any of that even makes sense.
1) How to make a better protocol.
Brain scans are very, very expensive. Is there a cheaper way to do this that would allow for a much greater sample size to be used in the study?
What their preliminary data suggest is that some people (Democrats) respond to some images (mushroom clowd or Twin Towers burning) with greater activity in the amygdala. All that says is that some people respond to these images more emotionally than others. It is not neccessary to watch the amygdala in order to see if someone has an emotional response to an image. While a polygraph is lousy at detecting lies, it is great at detecting emotional responses, and is a million times cheaper, not to mention the ease of use.
What both techniques lack is the ability to distinguish between different types of emotions, e.g., fear, love, etc. I think that it is neccessary to introduce a separate way of getting at that kind of information and, unfortunately, self-reporting seems to be the only way. Speaking out the "name" of the emotion as it happens, pushing a button or turning a dial on a simple apparatus, or filling a questionnaire immediately after the test, may be some ways to get at this.
So, the UCLA people showed their subjects pictures of Bush, Kerry and Nader (no emotional response), followed by videos of either "Daisy" or "9/11" ads (elicited emotional response in Democrats only), followed by second run at the pictures of the three candidates (Democrats responding emotionally to Kerry, Republicans to Bush). We are assuming that both videos induced negative emotions of fear or anger. I would add some controls here, e.g., including images that elicit a positive emotional response.
Also, both videos show events that have been highly politicized. I would add an image that elicits a negative emotion but is not politicized, e.g., devastation by a hurricane. Finally, the "Daisy" ad, although produced by a Democrat against a Republican (as opposed to the "9/11" ad - produced by Bush against Kerry) is so old that it may not have much of an effect even on the people who may remember it and remember who was who in that election, i.e., it has depoliticized itself over time for at least some of the subjects.
Another problem I have is with showing images of Bush, Kerry and Nader. There are many "likeability" polls out there that suggest that Republicans like Bush much more than Democrats like Kerry. This may skew the data somewhat because what is measured is the emotional response. I would level the playing field by showing pictures of WHOLE CABINETS, including the most recognizible faces from the two parties. For instance one image shows Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Aschcroft, Rice, Wolfowitz, and the other one shows Kerry, Edwards, Clinton, Carter, Gore, Dean and Hillary. Forget Nader - he is a non-factor here (although his picture does serve as a kind of control). Alernatively, one can show symbols instead of faces, e.g., the recognizable logos of elephant and donkey.
Finally, where are the Independents/Undecideds/Moderates/Inerts? Aren't they the key question of the study? Isn't it what their brains do what the campaign managers really want to know? Is this a way to identify who will vote for whom in event of an October surprise, for instance?
2) Interpretation of data.
I am happy to see that nobody, so far, suggested the existence of a "conservative gene" and a "liberal gene". Actually, not much interpretation has been offered at all, beyond pointing to the results: Democrats tend to respond more emotionally to scenes of devastation; and, both Democrats and Republicans respond emotionally to the image of their leader if shown immediatelly after the images of devastation. One article mentions that the patterns of brain activity are formed by experience and stops at that.
What kind of experience can affect the brain patterns in ways shown in the study? What accounts for such sharp differences between conservatives and liberals? I will assume, by my own experience, that people thinking about this question will inevitably mention learning. I will suggest that this is a wrong way to think about it.
Model of learning most often trotted out is the learning of courtship song in songbirds. Father-bird is the tutor and son-bird is the student. After some listening and some practicing, the son-bird learns how to perfectly repeat his father's song. Thus, the local (or even familial) song gets transmitted from one generation to the next and the next and the next. This model implies that conservative and liberal worldviews are directly taught (by parents, naighbors, friends, teachers, preachers, preachers' sons, media etc.).
I prefer a different model. There was a study a few years back in either Science of Nature (I had trouble finding it in the database this morning, but I remember it well) of some kind of songbird (a sparrow of some kind?). Males were either sporting shiny blue feathers on the chest (preferred by females) or were drab-colored. The feather coloration was not determined by genes in any way. It was determined by the bird's overal health. The health was affected by the parasite load. The size of the parasite load was the result of growing up in a clean vs. dirty nest. In the division of labor of this species, it is the job of the father to clean the nest (by eating the bugs and worms in it). Healthy males with blue feathers are superb nest-cleaners and their sons, thus, grow up healthy, develop blue feathers and - clean their nests better! What the females are looking for are blue feathers. What is really transmitted from one generation to another is the habit of cleaning the nest really well. The study did not fully adress the mode of transmittion of the ability to clean the nest. It is likely that the sons learn the cleaning TECHNIQUE by watching their fathers (direct learning), but it is much more likely that they inherit the NEED to clean the nest (or to antropomorphize, the understanding of the importance of a clean nest) not by learning but by growing up in a clean nest. It is not watching their father, but growing up in a clean nest that makes the son a good or a bad cleaner. The father transmits the "value" of the good cleaning by providing a clean nest. It is not direct learning, but growing up in a particular environment that is the mechanism of intergenerational transmition of the key trait (blue feathers).
Back to politics. I do not believe that conservative or liberal values are taught. I believe they are the result of growing up in a particular environment, characterized by a particular childrearing philosophy of the parents. I wrote more about this below, in the "Moral Order" post. The conservative Strict Father model of childrearing is a harsh stick-and-carrot approach. If a child falls and scrapes his/her knees, the parent adds the insult to the injury by chiding the child for not paying attention or for being clumsy. The point is to make the child "tough" and self-reliant. A Nurturant Parent will pick up the kid and give hugs and kisses, fully understanding that falling is a natural part of growing up, and that the experience of falling naturally leads to being more careful (and nimble) in the future. From a child's perspective, sudden pain and fear is aggravated by the beloved parent getting angry. The child withdraws and learns to control one's own emotions. The child becomes numb to its own feelings and emotions (almost autistic in a sense). A person who does not feel much about oneself cannot possibly feel empathy for other people. Thus a Republican is raised. Of course there will be no lighting up of amygdala at the sight of 9/11 attack. Of course it is easy to cynically use 9/11 for political purposes. On the other hand, empathy is the very core moral value of the liberal worldview and the liberal parent's loving response demonstrates the power of empathy to the hurt child, thus reinforcing the value further. Thus a Democrat is raised. Of course such a person will respond emotionally to the sight of Twin Towers falling. Of course such a person will find it appalling that such an event can be used as a pretext for starting an unwarranted war, using the event for political purposes, or even making the ad that was used in this study. Of course such a person would feel much greater and more urgent personal need to make sure that such an event never happens again, and will put much time and effort into learning how to make America safer and implementing the best possible strategy.
The inert, the moderate, the uninformed, the independents, whatever you may call them are quite capable of switching between the two modes. They may use one at home, another at work. What was their upbringing? A combo (e.g., Strict Mother and Nurturant Father)? Perhaps neglectful, or over-permissive childrearing? Single parent family? How do they respond to devastating events? How much empathy do they have? How will they respond to a possible October surprise? Who are they going to vote for on November 2nd? I wish I knew, and I wish the researchers have done a better job with their study so we could glean at least some ideas about these important questions.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Darwin in Serbia, the He said/She said journalism, and the debate between the Democratic Party and the Un-Democratic Party
Eric, over at Total Information Awareness, writes a nice post on the religion vs. science controversy here (thanks for the plug, Eric):
Scanning the Serbian media, I see several repeated issues at stake there:
First is the obvious: struggle between rationality and superstition, empiricism and dogma, science and religion. The question is framed in a manner similar to the ways Creationist efforts are discussed in the USA. Some Serbian papers actually quote at length translations of the (U.S.) National Academy of Science conclusions on Creationism in schools, some court decisions from the U.S. cases, as well as the Pope's statement that evolution is a well-supported scientific truth. The outcry was massive and coming from all quarters, which in turn reassured everyone that the country is still generally sane - a big question for the past decade or so.
Second is the more general worry over the influence of the church in Serbia. As I wrote in the previous post, this is a new thing for Serbia, and something they will have to struggle with for years to come. After several decades of secular tradition, religion is making big inroads and nobody seems to know how to deal with it.
Third worry is the effect this controversy will have on the relationship to the EU. Apparently, the Serbs gave up on the USA. They duly report (whil shaking their heads) recent wild rantings by Richard Holbrooke who, after all those years dealing with the region, still has no idea what he's talking about. Unlike most of the world, Serbs are quite ambivalent about the US elections. On one hand, they can see what a totalitarian regime is being built by Bush, Cheney, Aschcroft et al., and do not like what they see. On the other hand, they like the way Bush left the Balkan region alone and is going after militant Islamists everywhere (still a big problem in Bosnia and Kosovo - places that are new HQ for Al Qaeida since they lost ground in Afghanistan). They like the democratic worldview of Kerry, but are deathly afraid of his foreign policy advisors - those are the very same people who drove Clinton into foolish decisions on Bosnia and Kosovo (the anti-Serb hawks like Holbrooke, Berger, Albright, Christopher, Shelton, Clark...). They are also afraid of the way Albanian, Hungarian and Croatian lobbies in the USA work together to fund now and influence later President Kerry. Not being able to do anything about the USA, the Serbs are setting their sights towards smoothing their relationship with the rest of Europe and hoping for inclusion into the EU one day in the future. Even after more than a decade of wars, sanctions and horrible mismanagement by the Milosevic regime, Serbian economy is still by far the biggest in the Balkans and it needs good relations with European countries no matter what happens in the USA or elsewhere. The fear is that the Darwin flop will have negative consequences in this regard. The country's reputation, on a slow rise after its lowest point in history, is damaged again.
However, the greatest emphasis in the media was on the questions of PROCESS. The country is still reeling from the events of the past decade and is trying its hardest to build an efficient democratic government that the population can have confidence in. The population is very sceptical of the government and the way it conducts its business. Most of the media comments pertain to the fact that Mrs.Colic's order was illegal (i.e., that kind of decision is not in her job description), and that the decision to reverse her order was also illegal (i.e., that kind of decision is not in the job description of the committee that did it). Thus the whole episode is seen as seriously undermining the claim of the government that it is following the word of law in the way it operates, thus greatly diminishing the confidence Serbian people can have in their government.
But back to Darwin and science/religion tensions. Of course, there are good places online to look for such stuff.
The premier science blog is Chris Mooney's who always provides good links, too (http://www.chriscmooney.com/blog.asp
For science/religion struggles, especially concerning Creationism, the place to go is Panda's Thumb (http://www.pandasthumb.org/
Skeptic. com is, of course a great resource, too.
Another good site (with an excellent collection of links to other good sites and blogs) is the Raving Atheist (http://www.ravingatheist.com/
In a recent post (http://ravingatheist.com/archives/2004/09/nonpartisan_atheists_for_truth.php
), Raving Atheist discusses the issue of Dan Rather/CBS/fake-or-not documents/typesetting controversy. Here are a couple of excerpts that I found interesting from my perspective:
This gets me thinking about the whole He said/She said style of journalism, currently dominating the USA media. This issue has been recently discussed in various contexts and here is a sampling of recent links:
Rethinking Objective Journalism
The networks do not yet, on their national news broadcasts, promote faith
healing over medicine, or creationism over evolution. Nor do they pretend, yet,
that there is no difference whatsoever between science and pseudoscience. But
that may all change, depending on which side prevails in the ongoing political
dispute. Make no mistake about it: if the wrong side prevails, the violence done
to the credibility of the already tottering mainstream mass media will be such
that it will be absolutely impossible to distinguish its pronouncements from
those of the 700 Club. Once authentic documents are excluded with false
evidence, or forged documents are embraced as an acceptable part of the public
discourse, or, anything goes. Every political discussion will resemble a debate
with a fundamentalist mullah.
But before you consider the experts, atheist
partisans on both sides of the aisle should consider that if Dan Rather is
forced to affirm or the documents based upon phony expert reports (or to give
equal time to phony experts), the networks may soon be at the mercy of those who
carbon-date the origin of the earth age to 4004 B.C. and the Shroud of Turin to
33 A.D. Conversely, if Rather is forced to retract the documents based upon
false evidence, we may be faced with a suppression of truth equivalent to
The problem with U.S. coverage is not political bias but a misplaced adherence to a shallow definition of objectivity.
Campaign coverage needs to read between the lines
The media are awash in "he said/she said/we're mum" journalism, "the practice of reporters parroting competing rhetoric instead of measuring it for veracity against known facts."
The Campaign '04 information war is fast, deep, and fraught with lies. The press must rethink its coverage, or drown in a toxic tidal wave
Media Bias on Climate Change
Climate scientists have long complained that when reporters cover global warming in a "he said/she said" fashion, the result is sheer inaccuracy as fringe viewpoints get the same treatment as the mainstream scientific understanding.
Think Again: False Objectivity in Science Reporting
In its most simplistic version, journalistic objectivity means that both sides on an issue should be balanced out against one another. But this definition collapses when it comes to scientific issues. Science isn't a democracy, and in practice, one side in a scientific debate is often much more reputable than another.
So, the science "types" are saying that most scientific controversies are very lopsided and that having representatives of both sides misrepresents the issue to the viewers. If 99% of scientists believe that global warming is real and aided by human activity, while the remaining 1% are suspect for their motives anyway, having both on the TV show every time the issue is discussed is de facto misleading the public. In essence, they say: "This is not politics - there is nothing fair and balanced about scientific truths".
On the other hand, the political "types" are saying that the political reporting should follow the example of scientific reporting. If there are news in science, they say, the TV anchor will invite an expert to explain it and there will be no opposing view aired. If the news are from biology or geology, the TV shows do not automatically invite a Creationist or a Flat-Earther to provide "balance". Thus, if one side of a political issue is correct and the other is not, or if one speaks the truth and the other speaks talking points or outright lies, then only the "correct" side should be represented on the show. And if someone from the "other side" is on the show and starts saying nonsense, it is up to Wolf Blitzer (for example) to jump in an correct it. As a journalist, he has greater credibility with the audience than either one of his two guests, and it is his duty to tell hs audience which side is lying and which side is telling the truth. In essence, they say "Politics is like science - there is nothing fair and balanced about political truths".
Now, if you subscribe to Lakoff's explanations (and I do), then you believe that the conservative worldview is based on notions about the world that are scientifically proven to be incorrect. The conservatives are not crazy - they are just wrong. If you follow that logic, there should never be a conservative guest on any TV show. Actually, the GOP should not be considered a legitimate political party worthy of reporting on, worthy of being given opportunity to air its views in the media, have its candidates participate in debates etc. If the conservative view is essentially elitist and non-democratic and this is a democratic country, then conservative parties should not be seen or heard in the media at all, ever. If you do not want to see a Creationist on TV every time a new finding in biology is published, do you also not want to see a representative of the Un-Democratic Party wasting the time of the Democratic Party member who came on TV to say something about news in the world of politics and government? And if the Un-Democrats are constantly posing on TV and debating Democrats, does that very fact undermine the reputation of the media, and will this degradation of journalistic criteria in politics lead to degradation of journalistic criteria in science, thus bringing the Creationists back on TV every time a biologists shows up to say something?