Saturday, August 28, 2004

Link to the Press Policy Forum wherein Jim Lehrer proves himself a wuss

Here is the link to the transcript discussed two posts ago. It's an amazing example of how easily one mixes intellectual honest with CYA once one rises to certain rarefied heights.

Mea culpa, we were wrong... But not too wrong, and we don't apologize, well kind of, but we have nothing to apologize for and we had no other choice.

I wish I had access to the Daily Show so bad.

And Now for a Word

Not from our sponsors, but rather a quote from a book I~m reading, Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States. It is most apropos to what I wrote here about US, democracy, and our "territories" -- specifically, Guam, US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico (though I feel like I may be missing one or two; if that's so, what I say obviously applies to them as well). (This very ignorance of mine is emblematic of part of the problem.) The quote below serves for today as much as it did then, especially if you replace those territories above for the mentions of the downtrodden class in this passage.

"Fellow Citizens: Pardon me, and allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today: What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence: are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us: And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from you independence to us?...

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival...

--Frederick Douglas, Fourth of July, 1852

Harsh words. The Holocaust obviously springs to mind as a modern day atrocity that the US cannot compete for. And perhaps not. But how quick we forget, nonetheless, the 1 million Vietnamese died in the Viet Nam war? We suffered grave casualties, yes, but what did we inflict? With the two so far apart, how can we spend so much time mourning for our own and so little for others? We have lost perhaps 1,000 troops in Iraq. Iraq has lost perhaps 13,000 civilians and 5,000 or more soldiers. Yet we hear of our casualties so often; so often. And they are truly losses beyond recompense. Yet we almost never hear of the Iraqis' casualties; are their losses less tragic? How? Why? It's said by our military that 1,000 of Muqtada al-Sadr's fighters died in the recent clashes with the US in Najaf. We may not believe in what they're doing, but they believe they are fighting for independence just as we did over 200 years ago. Does our belief that they are wrong invalidate that they are also people's sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers? Do they deserve to die because we think they're wrong to oppose what we want to do with their country? And our handpicked successor, Allawi, ex paid CIA collaborator? Would we like to have a Baathist appointed leader of the US come November? Oh, but what if it is a really GOOD Baathist operator, is it ok then? Then why for us, and for Allawi?

I leave with a second quote. Many may say, should they read this blog, that I hate America. Yet they are wrong. I hate the deeds of the United States that are reprehensible, and I wish to see those responsible out of power forever, prosecuted, and remembered as a lesson. (What the hell is Kissinger doing still walking around?) If anyone should understand the concept of hate the sin, not the sinner, it should be some of those who most decry us America Haters, those who profess true belief in a Christian god. Yet they ask us to prove we love the sinner, by forgetting or endorsing the sin.

"If war be declared... Will we fight in defense of a government which denies us the most precious right of citizenship?...The States in which we dwell have twice availed themselves of our voluntary services, and have repaid us with chains and slavery. Shall we a third time kiss the foot that crushes us? If so, we deserve our chains.
--The Colored People Press, 1841

"Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reforms. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of struggle...If there is not struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will..."
--Frederick Douglas, 1957

Is it just me, or could he be talking of the Irish and the Ulsters, the Iraqi insurgents and the Coalition Forces, WTO and Convention Protests, or even the desire to put Kerry in in order to put out the brightest fires of imperialism yet still letting it burn...

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

On The Media -- Why Impartiality is Bull Shit

The (American) “mainstream” media don’t seem to understand why people are increasingly getting their news from The Daily Show and the likes (though they lump TDS in with Jay Leno et al., which is a valid classification based on time slot, but in terms of richness and depth insofar as political coverage, they are in error – when was the last time Jay researched a book and asked the author tough questions about factual accuracy?). There are, I think, reasons of many shades, including what Ted Koppel didn’t get in his interview with (Jon Stewart), where he didn’t really think that people went to Stewart because they wanted to see “straight talk.” (He also seems to have the cut the interview off and canceled his appearance on TDS.) Ok, but to get to the brass tacks:

Jim Lehrer doesn’t believe it is the press’ job to call anyone a “liar” (links to come). Lehrer points out, correctly, that in the real world, it rarely comes down to 100% right – he says, if someone is only 30% right, his job is to point out the facts and try and press and press this 30% guy on them.

Whereas, if a normal person saw a politician say something 30% true, they would almost certainly call him/her a liar. I mean, if I call an whale a hippo, well I’m kind of part right, they descended from the same thing, but in common parlance, we call that “wrong.” Or let’s say I call a full-grown coyote a puppy. 30% right means 70% wrong – and I think Lehrer et al.’s jobs as self-proclaimed “gatekeepers” to the information barrage the world generates is to say what they think – “pressing” someone on the facts doesn’t cut it, because they can evade that. And they DO. Anything less than calling them out directly is bullshit. (“Well, little Jonny, most would say that that’s a coyote, and a vast majority of people would say you shouldn’t pet it.)

People (some people, i.e. me and my friends) like Jon Stewart because he says what he means – and that’s what we would do. If a normal person feels someone is intentionally deceiving them, they don’t simply point out the counter-evidence and leave the synthesis up to a third party. Stewart’s one of us.

So, ok, maybe the news anchors shouldn’t be one of us. But the idea that a presentation of “the facts” as compared to “what person/politican X said” has a number of problems. For one, presenting “the facts” simply adds a 3rd side to the “he said, she said”, as few people really believe that news is either a) flawless or b) unbiased. Thus, you have “he said, she said, we said,” which doesn’t really resolve anything. In fact, I would have to say it puts the facts as presented by the news (which is supposedly/hopefully the relatively impartial evaluator/mediator) at a disadvantage. If I give 10 points that I say proves X, and someone else 10 points that they say proves Y, and one or both of us is 30% wrong, it is not terribly helpful for the news to say “Well, here are our 10 points. That’s it,” then it appears not as if they are being impartial but as if they feel it is inconclusive which are valid and which are not. To modify the old saw, if the Democrats said the sky were green and the Republicans were to say its violet, and then the News says “Many independent scientists, however, have come to the conclusion it’s blue” – it makes all three points seem dubious without helping resolve any at all. (And quite clearly, as I said, most normal people wouldn’t say “Oh, well, both parties were part right – violet and green are close to blue on the spectrum, and colors are arbitrary anyway” – they would say “Liar!”)

So what would be the alternative?

One word, what I tell my students to do: Synthesize. That’s right. Say it with me. SYNTHESIZE. To process a new thing out of their ingredients, roughly. To say “If 1+1=2, and 2+2=4, then 1+1+2+2 must equal 6. Don’t just say “Most say the sky is blue,” and let them dissemble about how colors are arbitrary, and, say, that several new studies by the Heritage Foundation (or Brookings) shows that many think purple better describes it. Saying “Well, we have some differences of opinion, good night,” makes it seem like either a) maybe there IS doubt – after all, that arbitor of facts, the news guy, only said some people think the sky is blue!”

The point is, what the fucking hell good does it do us if reporters hide their own personal conclusions? It’s not nearly the same thing as not having any conclusions; they may as well not have correspondents but just footage of events with no color commentary. If the point of the news is to help bring facts together in a complex world, then why stop at the line right before just saying what the facts seem to point to? Eh? Take global warming: for a long time, journalists reported on both the pro and con sides, that is, scientists convinced by the evidence and those not. Nothing wrong with that. But hey, since the average person is not a climatologist, how much fucking sense does it make to just report what the different scientists have found? We could’ve just read their fucking papers, ok? Translating jargon into plain English is a good first step, but to treat each side as if they’re the same, when perhaps 95% of scientists are on one side, eh – what good is that? And if people in the news suspect the 5% are not on the up-and-up (or the 95% for that matter), I think it is their job say so and say why.

The point is, not showing your “bias,” or own conclusions, doesn’t mean you don’t have them, for God’s sake. This one guy on TDS with Jon Stewart (Brian Williams I think? Some news guy) said he didn’t even tell his wife and kids who he wanted to vote for. He was very proud of it, of his political opaqueness.

It just pointed out the absolute poverty of this approach. He doesn’t tell his FAMILY? Why not? So they don’t find him to be a biased human being? Or is it really because telling them means they may tell others – and his dirty secret, that he HAS conclusions, may leak out? Ruin his delusions of credible impartiality? As if somehow, being secretive about his opinions were the same thing as not having opinions, and that having a lack of opinions is the core of journalistic integrity. He’s apparently asserting that he can’t possibly be biased as long as it’s absolutely unclear what he thinks. Apparently he doesn’t realize this is moral relativism of the crassest kind; it makes it appear that all ideas and opinions are no more or less valid than anyone else’s, and he shouldn’t let his “bias” – his worldview – sneak in. He should let those with less information than him (inevitable in the process of editing the world’s information down to a usable news show) draw their own conclusions (good), without telling them what conclusion’s he would make based on the same evidence (bad).

His vision of unbiased is impossible. Your worldview is not a completely conscious part of you. All you can do is hide the conscious parts – i.e. talking about your own opinions, and banishing your assumptions from the front of your mind. This don’t mean they go away; so how are we better off if you pretend you don’t think anything?

What I’m saying is, the job of the news IS to say “I think you’re lying.” If that is what your gut as a journalist says, that is what you as a journalist must say. And you must give your reasons. That is how being a journalist is different, you should have to explain yourself, fully, and in detail. The news folk in the press and press coverage conference said that they might here “liar” in the newsroom and not on the broadcast (“We are nothing, if not gentlemen on the air”). Because the public good, and impartiality, are so much better served if you just pretend you’re an empty vessel. If you let everyone draw their own conclusions, somehow, they won’t be influenced by the deference you give every opinion, the fact that you present counter evidence but don’t use it to say “Are you wrong or are you lying?” like any normal person would after dealing with politickese for enough time.
The remedy here is to just fucking come out and say, “I’m Tom Brokaw. I think Kerry was incorrect, if not lying, when he said X and Y. And Pres. Bush was incorrect, if not lying, when he said A and B. The reasons are because of this, this, and this. You can read the original studies or whatever here, here, and here – in this paper, on this day, it was shown X and Y and A and B were wrong. Because of this, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush must be either mal-informed, or deceitful. I encourage you to read the original whatevers for yourself, and see if you agree. And please send in any arguments or evidence you have, and we’ll present it.”

Next week… “Well, it appears from evidence from NASA and 18 major universities sent in last week, that Mr. Bush was on the Moon when information contradicting A came out, so he may not be responsible for knowing it was 70% incorrect. 2 universities contradict this claim, but we view their credibility as in doubt because they are both Bob Jones U. However, we got 800,000 letters saying Kerry was right about Y; unfortunately, their evidence appears to be “Because he said so – and I agree”, which we would think is a low bar, and will have to report that it still appears Sen. Kerry is either lying or can’t read. Good night.”

Shocking? Well, is it somehow MORE useful that we don’t know what our correspondent thinks, that we don’t see how the evidence may be put together by a 3rd party, that instead of telling us they estimate a 70% incorrect statement to be an intentional lie, they show us a list of their own facts and don’t even bother to say “it looks like you’re in error where the facts are concerned, Mr. Senator”? Are we better off? Does hiding their opinions make their opinions go away? Does it make us suspect they are biased less? (Answer: no.*) And hey, if someone in the news, or in the readership, or in the punditry disagrees, have an editor from the other side represent the evidence, BUT FORCE THEM TO SAY WHY A,B, AND C SPECIFICALLY ARE WRONG, AND WHY THE 30% IS RIGHT.

Mis-aligned arguments are nobody’s friend. More later.

*(Pyschologically, as well, it would seem an attempt to be “neutral” is misplaced; studies show people give more weight to things that agree with what they know, and less weight to things that don’t; so a truly neutral part will in fact simply appear biased to everyone on both sides. May as well get it out of the way and simply be (or rather, show) your bias, for all to evaluate how it might affect your opinions?)

Self Reflection Aqui no Brasil

I was sitting here, wondering about my conversation with JV and IP yesterday (they are the thesis advisors of the J Continuum's doctoral work).

Problem solving. That’s the fun part. JV made a good point. Applying oneself to problem-solving can occur in any number of diverse problems, the riddle itself, that’s what’s thrilling – crosswords, the ecology of spotted toads, what’s the difference? It made me think… it made me sad.

The old J… well, I guess I kind of think of it as "The Old J". Don’t know if it really WAS the old J or the rosy backwards-looking glasses or what. But anyway, in this idolized version of days gone by, I was interested in anything, everything. (OK, I do remember hating math – of course, that’s the subject second only to straight bio and poli sci that I’m most using now!) (OK, that sounds lame – what I mean is that it’s one of the three major thrusts of my thesis.) And I feel like the old J would’ve been with Advisor JV on this one. Hey, yeah, it’s fun to solve any kind of problem, why not listen and think about it and wonder about it? Even if it is the ecology of spotted toads, completely divorced from the politics that has put them in a position of neear extinction?

Well, I figured it out. At first, I thought it was because of the discovery, or rather my realization that there’s no end to knowledge – there’s no solving all the puzzles, there’s no knowing everything, there’s no… completion. And the thought that I wanted there to be an end to knowledge, to searching, was frightening. As I once said to Old Friend of J Juan Armando, the thrill “should” be in the fact that you’ll never run out of new, amazing things to discover. I’d never want to own “all the good music in the world” or have seen every good plot. I already feel like that watching movies and TV shows without the nuisance of it being true. (Sorry for the various references to esoteric J-folks, this started out as something I wrote for myself.)

I want to be excited about the new problem around the corner, excited that there’ll never be an end to them. But I realized… well I’m skipping ahead here because I just thought of this now, after ruminating on parts I haven’t written yet, but I realized that if I have “problems” to solve without end, I’d rather they involve people. People make me feel alive. Puzzle solving makes me feel… gives me that feeling of distracting myself from myself. Like the blare of white noise, or losing yourself in a video game or a really horrible show or what have you… you’re “enjoying” yourself because you’re in the existential grasp of not self-realizing; you’re caught up in another reality, outside of yourself, losing your self-consciousness in the process. It is not, of course, quite that ominous, but it does strike me similar to the idea of death being just… the end. The end of self, no afterlife, reincarnation, or end of days. Ok, off topic.

Puzzle solving in the abstract is fine and dandy, but it’s not my calling, I realized. And not because there’ll always be new problems, but rather because no problem is ever truly solved. Everything is a mystery unto itself, no matter how much you know. What are we made of? Matter. What’s matter? That which has mass. What’s mass? A property of matter, bending space-time around it; made up of subatomic particles: neutrons, protons, and tiny little 1 millionith of a proton’s weight electrons. What are those made of? Quarks. What are quarks made of? I have no fucking clue. But the next definition will no more be the end of it than the first (matter). All terms are subdividable; all events and objects fall prey to Xeno’s Paradox. (I once met a stripper who quoted Xeno’s paradox. It was bizarre. Not that strippers can’t be smart – but at the time I couldn’t have quoted Xeno’s paradox, I remembered the concept but not the name.) There is an infinity of space between you and I; and this is not just because you’re floating off somewhere in Internet world. That is, you can infinitely subdivide the space between you and I, whether you’re 1 meter or 1 terameter away. It is possible to bridge that gap, yes, but it is never possible to define every nanometer, and half a nanometer, and half of a half of a nanometer, etc.

As much as this is true of matter, or any other concept, object, type, shape, form, space, it is true of human existence. Or more precisely, our perceptions of our existence. And at some point, I realized that if I’m going to be trapped in an infinite regress, I’d rather it be about people. And really, very specifically about people – how and what brings us together. There are an infinity of ways to do this. As such, I like theatre, and music, and humanity and selflessness and chief among things I love, my family and friends. There are an infinite number of ways to know and to love them. It is difficult, at times, to find even one of those ways. But this is an infinite regress I enjoy, and things adding to that, like literature, I like insofar as they enrich life. But same as science, I realized that literature is subject just as much, if not more, to infinite regress. This, of course, is often related to contemplations on the most obvious and commonly cited existential puzzle – the very puzzle of existence; not what we are, but why we are. An interesting question, but one that, like biology or atoms, I realized can forever spiral in on itself, each insight growing your knowledge but bringing you no closer to an end. This is no reason not to start the journey at all, and given infinite lifetimes I would choose to know each of the universe’s infinite things. If I had time enough and world, as they say.

But I do not. And if I’m to spend my life dedicated to solving the unsolvable, working towards an end that by its very definition does not exist (the infinite regress of knowledge), I want to go not ever deeper into the same vortex, but rather visit as many vortices as possible. Not all things are of equal interest to me, but very few are as deeply interesting to me as just knowing people. I could never know enough people; and entwining them in the puzzle of my life and I in theirs brings joy in every occurrence, each step potentially as fulfilling, or more so, than the last. I don’t feel that way about science or philosophy; or I guess more precisely, I feel exactly that way about them (stay with me; this is like my current favorite expression “Well, that’s absolutely right… though in a different, and more important way, wrong.”) That is to say, I want to spend time getting to know the people I know further, sharing new experiences, and exploring infinity that way – reading new science, new philosophy, hearing new music, and chiefly making new friends. But never to spend an eternity knowing only one to the exclusion of others. Books, music, people, and alas, yes, for me, science, once you get to a certain comfortable familiarity, the adventure continues, but you can begin to spend as much time enjoying what you have as searching for more – because there are also infinite combinations of experiences and people that you already know! (Side fact of interest to no one: The Vulcan flag, this being the Vulcans of Star Trek, has IDIC on it, well, on the English version – Infinite Diversity, in Infinite Combinations.) (Cool.)

So in this realization, in this light, I can’t stand to spend so much time trying to solve the unsolvable riddle of one problem, in the abstract, with infinity to explore in all directions. I love political ecology because there is an “end” – in that a self-sustaining and self-perpetuating peace with the world and with each other is possible. It is, of course, only possible for some millions, and perhaps trillions, of years, but I’m comfortable building towards this practical limit as if it were infinity. That is to say, especially on the small scale where I want to start my work, you can find things that are working to help people, to help them provide for themselves and theirs, to learn and grow, to love their life, to love others, equally true for others as for oneself. I want to work towards making such things as close to perfect as possible, but with a very definable “end” in mind – that all people, in all the world, have an opportunity to become their best selves. What Amartya Sen has called equality in the ability to achieve. (Not, obviously, in a Kurt Vonnegut-y way, where we lower everyone to equality so no one is unequal.)

There can be a world where everyone has food (as my preliminary thesis work already shows – there are MORE than enough calories available per person in the world today – about 2800 calories/person/day are available (I think that's the number), and even in poor countries and famine regions, there is practically always over 2,200 calories/person present in the region – the problem is who has what and who can procure what, i.e. poverty and political impotence). There can be a world where a minimum of pollution is emitted, where we emit approximately as much as the earth can absorb without increasing the rate of extinction (there is a semi-controversial “background” extinction rate that one would expect if humans weren’t accelerating it – we have increased it to several thousand or several million times this rate, plus or minus – this part’s not an exact science, but the change is big, and it’s not good, this we know). Not getting into any argument about “inherent worth” or species, charismatic, mega, fauna, or not, there is the fact that it is technically possible to have such a world without lowering everyone’s quality of life unduly. A world with extreme wealth and inequality, probably not (sorry, it just turns out to be even less thermodynamically sustainable than contributions to entropy from egalitarian societies). A world where everyone can have children at the replacement rate (again, assumedly out of enlightenment, not out of coercion), and be able to provide adequate nutrition and intellectual stimulation to these children, and able to obtain and enjoy some of the world’s gifts, yes. A world where some people can do 2 – 2,000,000 times more of this enjoying than everyone else, no.

This is what I want to work on. This is a problem with an end, so great for a closure-oriented guy like myself. It’s a possible end, if a hard one to get to (and certainly beyond my lifetime, a fairly practical endpoiont). But that’s enough challenge for me; and one that I feel have world enough and time for.

Some infinite riddles are just going to have to be left unsolved; I’ve got my eye on one in particular.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

THIS is our "Opposition" Party?

Sigh... there ARE differences between Kerry and Bush (as said on Counterpunch, Kerry (aka Sen. Anyone) is taller), but he's trying his damnedest to extinguish any differences I care about... as if his milquetoast "opposition" to the Iraq War wasn't bad enough already...

(...and in a different, and dated, vein, Dean? Are you kidding me? HE was the progressive candidate? He opposed gay marriage! And he had the same approach as Kerry -- Iraq War was wrong, I would've had allies, I would get our troops out eventually... I frankly only believed in him as "The Great White Hope" for about 1 week. A little research showed him to be middle-of-the-road, just better at sounding progressive. At least IMHO (In My Humble Opinion).)

In Hindsight, Kerry Says He'd Still Vote for War

Challenged by President, Democrat Spells Out Stance
By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 10, 2004; Page A01

(snip)Sen. John F. Kerry said Monday that he still would have voted to authorize the war in Iraq even if he had known then that U.S. and allied forces would not find weapons of mass destruction...

On Friday, Bush challenged Kerry to answer whether he would support the war "knowing what we know now" about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction that U.S. and British officials were certain were there.

In response, Kerry said: "Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have.(snip)

As those great bards of South Park have said, "WHAT WHAT WHAT?"

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

A Wrinkle in Time

I think I'm getting too senstive to media stupidity (mediacrity?).

Just saw Asieh Namdar of CNN Headline News do the Global News Minute. GLOBAL NEWS MINUTE? Is it just me, or is this another one of those little signs that American exceptionalism has gone *way* too far? We can cover most of the important events in the rest of the world in a MINUTE? I guess an average of a bit less than a third of a second per country isn't bad, right? (60 sec/~150 countries).

A friend of mine pointed out a while ago, echoing Noam Chomsky I think, that if you want to find out what's really going on in the world, read the Wall Street News. They will have the best, most impartial news coverage (not editorial, mind you) because business people need real information to make decisions; only having access to the propaganda you're complicit in is bad for business. (The Economist, for example, has some of the best, most detailed information on Cuba, warts and beauty all the same, but it's available only to those subscribed to their costly economic intelligence reports.)

On an utterly different note, anyone wonder, what with all the talk of democracy these days, what we're still doing having Guam, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico (am I missing any?) under our administrative control? Sure, they have local governments, but these governments don't even have states' rights to protect them from a federal bureaucracy they're not voting members of (ignoring here my beef that states' rights are often misused to maintain the status quo).

How do we justify it? Well, largely, we don't. I'd say a very very low number of people can find these places on a map, much less explain their administrative relationship with the US (i.e. we are effectively "benevolent", if nominally hands-off, dictators in these countries... I mean territories). But the beautiful way to keep their occasional rumblings of independence off the radar is to strip it of rhetorical similarity to the US' revolutionary cry. They are not taxed federally; so there is no "taxation without representation!"

A nice tactical move, but a completely morally bankrupt one. Who are we to preach democracy when we still have several former colonies that are neither sovereign, nor have federal voting rights or voting members in the federal government?

Sigh. Someone please tell me where I'm wrong on this one. Ex-Girlfriend of the J Continuum was regularly quite exercised about the treatment of her Island (should be) Nation of Puerto Rico. (Not least of which: original testing of The Pill was done in part in Puerto Rico, in conjunction with their policy of tying many Puerto Rican womens' tubes, with or without their knowledge. Between these two parts of "La Operacion" -- the attempt to cure PR's ills with so-called population control, many women ended up chemically or physically sterilized. CHEMICALLY STERILIZED? For god's sake.)


Sunday, August 01, 2004

One of the Best Things to Ever Happen to Democracy

Hey, sportsfans. I've been bewailing for a couple of years the extreme difficulty of getting solid knowledge of candidates' actual views or beliefs, outside of extremely boilerplate-like rhetoric.

As if in answer to my gripes, I found Project Vote Smart, which has various extremely useful rubrics for voting in national and state level elections. My personal favorites are the NPATs, which are surveys given to the candidates, and gauge their responses to various questions (i.e. "do you support any of the following statements": abortion should always be legal, never be legal, should be illegal after the first trimester, should be legal in cases of rape, etc).

I have no idea if I'm simply the last one on to this (I doubt it), but I feel much cooler (read: informed) now that I've found it. So much less shooting in the dark! Hooray!

Oh, other awesome things on Project Voting Smart: Interest Groups' ratings of candidates; so you can find out if your (incumbent) senator/rep/etc. has voted for or against bills aligning closely with the positions of various groups. Planned Parenthood, ACLU, Michigan Farm Bureua, US Chamber of Commerce, the John Birch Society, League of Conservation Voters, etc! So good. There is quite a lot of information, but most of it digestable quickly. For example, you can rapidly scroll through the issues and interest groups, and relatively quickly gain a rough idea of how much you agree with the candidate based on how much they agree or disagree with various interest groups that you may agree or disagree with. This becomes more difficult, of course, if you're not already in the know about what interests these groups represent (for example, the Family Research Council may or may not mean what you think it means, INCONCEIVABLE! as that may be. (It is a conservative "family values" type group, of a type I don't support as a quasi-secular humanist, though, you know, one wouldn't necessarily immediately know if one were for or against "Family Research" only from the name.) (I don't believe in all tenets of secular humanism outlined in the link, but the general gist of it follows my general beliefs.)

Also, lastly and most directly in response to my prayers, a plain-english outline of VOTING RECORDS!. I wonder how Kerry stacks up according to things I believe in? Expose to come! (Or, possibly, reluctant re-acceptance of Kerry. But I doubt it.)