Friday, August 27, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"It is with narrow-souled people as with narrow-necked bottles: the less they have in them the more noise they make in pouring out."
Alexander Pope
Photo:Galaxy M82 from infrared observations by Spitzer Space Telecope. NASA via Monitor.

The Week in Blogview

Here are a few off-headline stories that caught my eye this week:

A couple of interesting court cases: Zombies won the right to demonstrate against consumerism--well, activists dressed as shopping zombies. They won a settlement against restraint by police, whose excuse was terrorism, what else.

At least here in CA, Sarah Palin's big payday for a speech at a state university got some attention (not much.) Now a court has decided the terms of her payment must be disclosed. Update: and here's the contract.
$75,000, pre-screened questions and a bendable straw.

The state government of CA is busily self-destructing and taking the state down with it, but there are occasional glimmers of life--like getting it together to be the first state to organize its health-insurance market under the new healthcare law. It'll all happen too late to help me--I'll have Medicare by then--but implementation of reforms is going to be as difficult as passing them. So the biggest state economy in the country going first is a big deal.

And here's a mere detail of news you probably missed, since it wasn't exactly headlined: the much-maligned Recovery Act resulted in millions of jobs in the second quarter of this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. As bad as things are, they would have been greatly worse without it. Update: a great story in Time Magazine on how the Recovery Act will transform the future.

Sanity made a brief appearance on the rec list at Daily Kos this week. But I wouldn't count on a recurrence.

Finally, the NY Times has been doing a series on "Your Brain on Computers," a series of research-derived cautionary tales, which might also be classified under my "all your eggs in one basket" refrain. For this article warns that among the effects of being constantly plugged in is the lack of downtime for information to establish itself in memory. It's just a constant stream of triviality. Which I guess returns to the previous theme--the Institution of Ignorance.

The Institution of Ignorance

I've referred to the evolution of ignorance, and the ecology of ignorance. It has now become the institution of ignorance---ignorance as the official ideology of a major political party, and the media which controls it.

Timothy Egan's column lays out the basics and the consequences:

"It would be nice to dismiss the stupid things that Americans believe as harmless, the price of having such a large, messy democracy. Plenty of hate-filled partisans swore that Abraham Lincoln was a Catholic and Franklin Roosevelt was a Jew. So what if one-in-five believe the sun revolves around the earth, or aren’t sure from which country the United States gained its independence?

But false belief in weapons of mass-destruction led the United States to a trillion-dollar war. And trust in rising home value as a truism as reliable as a sunrise was a major contributor to the catastrophic collapse of the economy. At its worst extreme, a culture of misinformation can produce something like Iran, which is run by a Holocaust denier.

It’s one thing to forget the past, with predictable consequences, as the favorite aphorism goes. But what about those who refuse to comprehend the present? "
"Climate-change denial is a special category all its own," Egan writes. "Once on the fringe, dismissal of scientific consensus is now an article of faith among leading Republicans, again taking their cue from Limbaugh and Fox."

But it isn't just them. It's the American media in general. Kristina Hill, chair of the University of Virginia Landscape Architecture program who is looking ahead at designing for the Climate Crisis near future, said this:

Here, in the U.S., we live in what I call the American Media Bubble – where the media aren’t using climate change to sell papers, unlike their Canadian and European counterparts. Since they don’t see the headlines the rest of the world is reading, the average American doesn’t know what’s at stake. And as a result, their elected officials are discouraged from taking action. But the rest of the world is starting to prepare. Our economic future, and the health, safety and welfare of many of our citizens, depends on learning from the best practices that are out there."

The institution of ignorance is now the greatest threat to the immediate and long-term future. Even over the next few years, it will be difficult to dislodge misinformation and lies, and get this society moving to deal its real and present dangers, instead of its absurd and loathesome fantasies. But even that could be made immeasurably more difficult if Republicans use this perfect storm of economic discontent to actually put these willed ideological idiots in office. E.J. Dionne has written again on the necessity of Democrats generating a backlash against this extremism in the defense of ignorance. We'll see, but so far the signs aren't good.

Update: Well, maybe this is a beginning--a Democratic National Committee YouTube video. But viral videos won't be enough. Words from the top eventually will be necessary, I believe.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Emerson for the Day

“The first rule of writing is not to omit the thing you meant to say.”

Monday, August 23, 2010

Extremism is the Issue

I'm agreeing with E.J. Dionne that Democrats have to make a major campaign issue of Republican Tea Party Foxnews extremism.

The bigotry for sure. The news today is, what else, a poll, which purports to indicate that an additional 5% of Americans believe Barack Obama is a Muslim. It's gone from 13% in polls before the 2008 to 18% now. Apart from how little statistically this might be, here's one set of experts' conclusion:

A 2009 study on this question by University of Michigan opinion research scholar Brendan Nyhan and Georgia State University political scientist Jason Reifler conducted experiments in which subjects read mock news articles that contained misleading claims from politicians.

Those who were then shown corrections to the mock news often were not swayed by the update. They had more faith in the original, misleading piece, particularly if it conformed to their ideological preconceptions. Messrs. Nyhan and Reifler even documented something of a backfire effect: corrections made some participants cling even more tightly to their mistaken beliefs.

Corrective information in news reports may fail to reduce misperceptions and can sometimes increase them for the ideological group most likely to hold those misperceptions,” concluded the pair.

So it's not enough to correct the misinformation, because the actual facts don't matter to these people. The truth about them must be exposed: it's extremism, it's prejudice and bigotry. And this is dangerous, and must be named. It is also a hell of a way to govern. Do you really want to elect these people, just because you're pissed off? Their entire qualifications are bigotry and lies.

Moreover there is plenty of evidence that this is not just the Republican party welcoming bigots, it's the Republican party fomenting bigotry and extremism. Frank Rich (with a nod to Salon's Justin Elliot) chronicles how the current hate-fest over a mosque in Manhattan is pretty much the product of Fox News. Not even GOPer conservatives were upset about it when it was first announced.

But bigotry is just the obvious and ugly face of extremism. There is also the plain and simple extremism of their economic policy. Like the only federal measure they apparently support, the Bush tax cuts for the rich. As Paul Krugman writes:

What’s at stake here? According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, making all of the Bush tax cuts permanent, as opposed to following the Obama proposal, would cost the federal government $680 billion in revenue over the next 10 years. For the sake of comparison, it took months of hard negotiations to get Congressional approval for a mere $26 billion in desperately needed aid to state and local governments.

And where would this $680 billion go? Nearly all of it would go to the richest 1 percent of Americans, people with incomes of more than $500,000 a year. But that’s the least of it: the policy center’s estimates say that the majority of the tax cuts would go to the richest one-tenth of 1 percent."

What does this mean? Instead of continuing Obama's tax cuts to the middle class, the GOPer proposal amounts to cuts: averaging $3 million each to the richest 120,000 people in the country.

That's the essential extremism going on here. The rest is bigotry, orchestrated and fed in order to make sure the favored 120,000 get their millions.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"The lasting aim of literature is to display our destinies.”

--Jorge Luis Borges

The above illustration by Alex Schomburg was reproduced in the front and back of the science fiction novels for young people known as the Winston Science Fiction series, published in the 1950s. I found novels in the series in the public library beginning in fourth grade, and I would examine this illustration over and over, wondering about the stories these images made, or could make. While these did not depict our destinies in this world, they represented the investigation of destinies through fiction of the future.