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December 06, 2005

RINO Sightings up, it's a Karaoke Carnival!

The weekly carnival of the Ragin' RINO's, known as RINO Sightings, is available over at No Credentials. This week's Sightings host, Rose Nunez, has modeled the carnival as a karaoke office party! As always, lots of good stuff...enjoy!

Update: Now that I have posted the link I went back and spent some time enjoying Rose's work. I'm due to host the Sightings at the end of January, and I tell you, I'm getting intimidated! This is a really fine bit of creativity, that sets a tough standard to follow. Kudo's and thanks to Rose!

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Posted by Jay on December 6, 2005 at 11:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 05, 2005

Homespun Bloggers Radio #11

I'm a bit late with the announcement again but the latest edition of Homespun Bloggers Radio, the eleventh in the series, is worth hearing on any schedule (and not just because I return to contributing this edition.) Forty Two minutes of wisdom and wit from the Homespun Bloggers.

Download the recording here, or grab the podcast here. Go ahead...do it now!

(Kudos to Doug Payton, who produces HBR in addition to authoring "Considerettes." )

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Posted by Jay on December 5, 2005 at 05:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Something else that is "not rocket science"

I am loath to dip into religious talk on this blog, many readers will click away at the first whiff, I fear, but I think I'll risk it on this occasion.

Ancient Jewish law was noted for a great many detailed restrictions and mandates (read Leviticus for good examples). In one of his regular debates with the legal authorities of his day, the Pharisees, Jesus famously reduced whole of this extensive law to a two line summary, love God with all your heart, and love others as you love yourselves. Jesus teaches that the myriad of "thou-shalt-not" and "thou shalt" laws were just specific applications and interpretations of this simple exhortation to love.

I like Jeff Harrell's blog, Shape of Days, and read it regularly. I admit that I have never before found occasion to draw a parallel between Jeff's writing and the preaching of Jesus, but this morning Jeff managed to bring Jesus' simplification to mind. Jeff notes that the more-or-less smooth functioning of society depends on adherence to an extensive list of generally unwritten societal rules; the sort of things one learns in early grade school. Nowadays the teachers call it, "socializing the child." Jeff finds that all of these little rules can be adequately summarized in one.

We teach small children many things. Share your toys. Use your inside voice. Don’t fight. Don’t tell lies. No one wants to hear your armpit noises. There are a million tiny lessons we all learn as children, a million tiny rules we follow. But they can basically all be summed up like this: Don’t be an ass.

I like this summary. "Words to live by." Be nice to see it carved in stone above the entrances to schools and other institutions. Moreover, Jeff notes another phenomenon that parallels an observation made by Jesus.

Again in questioning from the Pharisees, Jesus noted that as bad as sinners were, they at least knew themselves to be sinful, and therefor held out some hope that they might decide to change their ways. Far worse were sinners who believed themselves to be pure (meaning the Pharisees) as they would not repent and effect a change.

Similarly, there are people who fail to observe the "Don't be an ass" dictum. Whether the person is doing so inadvertently or has decided to be an ass for some reason, there is a chance for that person to reverse course. The really dangerous are those who convince themselves that being an ass is a noble thing.

Yes, occasionally you’ll run into somebody who talks too loudly or who makes impolite noises or who behaves in some other fashion to offend those around him. But people like that are subject to an onslaught of sideways glances and dirty looks and, as an absolute last resort, a “Hey, buddy, do you mind?” Usually the offender relents, even apologizing for his misdeeds. Once in a great while you encounter someone wholly oblivious to social graces and ignorant of the fact that he is displaying none; in those cases, you bite your tongue and count the minutes until you can get away from there.

But a problem arises when these violations of the social order become more than the mindless acts of people too self-absorbed to notice their effect on others. Sometimes these minor social crimes are carried out with malice aforethought, by people who act with deliberate aggression.

And sometimes, worst of all, the people who perpetrate these acts do so in the name of almighty freedom.

It takes a whole bunch of thinking to twist one's mind to the conclusion that rudeness can be righteous, but some otherwise smart people seem to have accomplished it. Now ponder why I felt moved to discuss this post on Radical Centrist, my political blog. Something about this subject seems very relevant to political discourse, especially the part about someone thinking that being an ass is a noble action.

American politics has never been "courteous" and is never going to achieve true "civility", but the simple rule, "don't be an ass" seems like an achievable standard; a constitutional amendment to this effect would please me more than an anti-flag-burning amendment.

OK, the religious stuff is over now. You can take your fingers out of your ears.

Posted by Jay on December 5, 2005 at 11:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 01, 2005

Pretending to be stupid

The most significant problem with blog-style punditry, whether in a true blog or in a traditional column, is the tendency to drift into cynical snarkiness. Most of the high-readership bloggers agree that punching up the "attitude" level will drive up your readership. I have to admit, as I look at my feed-reader, that I too seem to drop-in most regularly with those writers who can toss off a quick quip. It fits with the "blog reader lifestyle", I guess; a quick mental break between tasks at work.

One of the best of the "quick-quip" writers is James Taranto, well known for his "Best of the Web" column at Opinion Journal. I get his email version daily and look forward to it; it's a nice break, and often informative and insightful. That's the good news.

The not-so-good-news, as I said above, is that repeated snarkiness can lead to foolishness. Every so often I see a clearly intelligent and informed writer "pretend to be stupid" or perhaps, "dense" is the better word. Now that Sen. Kerry has poisoned the word "nuance" for political use, I worry that the concept of nuance is similarly off-limits. True, sometimes people can nuance themselves into delusion and illogical thinking, Sen. Kerry is an excellent example, but there is a proper role for nuance and there are many processes and phenomena in our world that cannot be reduced to soundbite-simplicity, at least not without wringing out most of the useful understanding.

So sometimes one can over-nuance things, and other times one can over-simplify. Intelligent people ought to be able to handle this. Remember how Einstein put it? "Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler." Usually this is not hard, but then sometimes it is hard. Most things are "not rocket science," but some things are "rocket science."

Getting back to "pretending to be stupid." If a subject actually does contain a smidgen of nuance or complexity, there is a temptation to exploit that for purposes of making a snarky comment or rejoinder. The writer pretends to not get the subtle point, in order to make his opponent's position look silly. Most everything President Bush says is grabbed by his opponents and repeated in an absurd simpification. It makes for jolly jokes on liberal blog sites. On the other side, some folks seem unable to hear any critisism of the war effort without shouting back, "Oh, so your support the murder of Iraqi children?" This is purposely not getting the point; a deliberate dense-ness. Sadly it works well in a blog. We would be better off if we lost this habit.

Taranto slipped over that line today, imho, in this little comment:

The New 'Fake but Accurate' "Some climate experts have said the potential cooling of Europe was paradoxically consistent with global warming caused by the accumulation of heat-trapping 'greenhouse' emissions."--New York Times, Dec. 1

The 'clever quip' is in the title, "The new Fake but Accurate." Clearly there are things that are "fake" but accurate, but the obvious meaning of the reference is to the "Rathergate" episode. It implies that a "potential cooling in Europe" is something that must be explained away through subterfuge and illogic; the embarassment of reality breaking in. That sort of thing happens all the time; it happened to Rather, but this strikes me as something very different. I have always thought Taranto intelligent and informed, so I perceive this as a deliberate failure to get the point, He's being dense in order to sound witty.

When there is a blizzard in New York or Washington, or, as in this case, when scientists see risk of cooling climate in Europe, those who wish to make climate scientists look foolish will jump at the chance to wonder how things could be cold in a world that it supposed to be warming. One might similarly wonder how scientists can describe the birth of the Universe as the "Big Bang", when there can be no transmission of sound in space. "How could there be a 'bang!' and who heard it?" Few would take such a critisism seriously. We recognize that the term, "Big Bang" is just a name, not an attempt at a scientific description. Similarly, "Warming" is an unfortunately misleading term that has become a handle for a much more complex and dynamic set of climate changes.

People who aspire to some understanding of national economic issues should have no problem with a conceptual understanding of climate issues. Almost the whole of the Republican Party's position on the economy is dependant on understanding the economy as a dynamic system of flows. Democrats take full advantage of this "nuance" by pointing out that it seems absurd, on the surface, to claim the tax cuts for investors could ever benefit the poor. In simplistic terms, the only way to help the poor is to take money away from those who have it and give it to those who don't. Economies don't actually work that way, and many Demorcrats realize this, but that doesn't stop them from appealing to the overly simplistic view when it suits political posturing.

This climate debate is closely analogous. There is plenty to debate, discuss and further research, just as there is on economic issues, without falling back on misleading oversimplifications. I wish we could avoid appealing to ignorance and misunderstanding, even when they are politically useful.

It took me long enough to prepare this post that another example has popped up. Ian Murray, writing on The Corner, this morning comments on a recent court decision regarding regulation of Carbon Dioxide emmisions with this aside:

...it had no authority to regulate carbon dioxide (which is a natural and vital part of the atmosphere) as a pollutant.

There are many compounds which are "natural and vital" to the human body which, if consumed in excess, will kill it. The statement in parenthesis is another example of being deliberately dense in order to mislead. Carbon dioxide can and does kill people directly. On any submarine, the management of carbon dioxide is of vital importance. In the overly simple view of the world, some things are "good for you" and other things are "bad for you." I assume, however, we are all adults here and capable of understanding that many things can be good for us in one context and bad for us in another. This is one of those "not rocket science things."

PS: If you're interested, hre's a down-in-the-details discussion of the new scientific findings that started this rant.

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Posted by Jay on December 1, 2005 at 12:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack