Friday, April 25, 2008

The Outrage Drug

I've been so worked up about the democratic primary race that I've had to take a two-week time-out between the Pennsylvania and Indiana/North Carolina primaries. Watching cable news channels and surfing web sites like the Huffington Post and Politico was driving me nuts, so now all of that is off limits.

I think those web sites and especially the cable news outlets feed two addictions (and I use that word literally) prevalent in people. The first is the addiction to reading and hearing opinions that reinforce your own. "Thank God other people realize how truly corrupt and unfit to govern Hillary Clinton is. What a relief!" It feels good to read many different opinions and angles on that basic belief that seems so clear to me and cries out for reinforcement in the face of its far from universal adoption.

The other is the addiction to outrage at seeing contrary opinions - some people actually think Clinton has what it takes, is more electable, is not so obviously a robotic sociopath dead set on assuming the seat of power at ANY cost. They think Barack Obama is a fraud, or worse, that America's not ready to elect a black president, so even if he's the better candidate - even if he's the ONLY one with integrity and decency - better to vote for the one we think is more electable. (I feel the outrage bubbling up even as I write this).

Those addictions are what drive the ratings for the cable news shows and the traffic to those web sites. But are they serving any other purpose? Maybe they motivate citizens to write or talk about the issues, but you don't learn much by talking with like minded people, and you don't get anywhere talking to people whose beliefs inspire outrage in you. In short, I'm not sure how constructive the emotional responses are - perhaps a sense of injustice or passion for the truth would inspire some to actually do something about the state of affairs - march on Washington, write to your government officials, campaign for a candidate or donate money to a cause. But otherwise, you're merely driving yourself nuts and perpetuating businesses that have tapped into your addiction.

And the cable networks and political web sites have a sense of what works to drive readership - your outraged attendance will only inspire more outrageous coverage designed either to reinforce your beliefs or rail against it.

This tendency seems to be spilling into sports writing and reporting, to ESPN and elsewhere - there's a sense that saying outrageous things - even things that generate hate mail - will get you noticed. And attention is a kind of popularity - the one that advertisers care about. If you can't stand a particular pundit or his views, the best way to handle it is to turn him off. Don't respond, don't criticize, don't mention him. Your emotional outrage is his oxygen, and you can suffocate him by turning away.

If we want the scourge on our democracy that is cable news to go away, we must collectively resist the temptation to give in to our addictions and watch it. We need to be informed of the facts, but to avoid both like-minded and contrary opinions as much as possible.

The chemistry in our brains that draws us to these emotional states probably isn't that different than the kind that drives us to drink or use drugs.

After a few days of enforced withdrawal, it feels good to just say no.

Waves, Particles, Stocks and Dollars

I can't remember the exact context in which initially I read about this. Apparently, all matter has both wave and particle-like properties.

I started thinking about this in relation to my stock portfolio which fluctuates so much from day to day and week to week. If my stocks went up $1000, should I go out and spend $500 comfortably, knowing I still had half my profits left? But what happens when it goes back down then?

At the same time, your portfolio is worth what it's worth at any given moment in time, and that $1000 gain is real assuming I wanted to realize it. So stocks are like matter in that they have this duality about them - they're a fluctuating wave, and also a particle. Once you sell, you get particles (dollars). Of course, those also have wave-like properties as the currencies rise and fall.

I suppose the wave/particle duality paradigm is useful for looking at a lot of phenomena, and it helps us embrace fluctuation and inconstancy more comfortably. Which is good given that we ourselves are particle/waves, too.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Faithlessness of Hillary Clinton

There's a lot of bullshit about who's more in touch with the American people, which includes the usual declarations by both candidates that they're people of faith. But faith isn't about going to church or talking about God, is it? For it to have any authenticity, you'd think it would include a sense of doing your best and leaving the rest of to Providence - or whatever else you choose to call it.

And that's where the Obama and Clinton campaigns differ so starkly. Obama makes his points, does his best and lets the chips fall. If he has an issue with his pastor or some ill-chosen words, he acknowledges the communication error and moves forward.

Clinton on the other hand denied that the Bosnia slip-up was a lie, then when the evidence was overwhelming says that she misspoke. She throws the "kitchen sink" at Obama, feigns outrage at his criticisms of her over NAFTA (which turned out to be true) and cynically tried to exploit Obama's "bitter" gaffe by pretending to be a gun-lover. There's no sense of her getting her vision and message out and being true to herself which is what you'd expect for a person of "faith." There's just no confidence in her message, in the American people or in way of Providence. In fact, it's just the opposite - she seems like a giant ego fighting and scrapping against the way things are to the bitter end.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Letter to Maureen Dowd

I don't mean to single her out for writing a bad column on Obama's "bitter" gaffe - pretty much every pundit did. It's because they're not analyzing what Obama actually meant, but instead what they think the dumbasses in Pennsylvania will think. But apparently those dumbasses aren't as dumb as they think. According to polls, Pennsylvanians actually get Obama's intent. In any event, here's my letter to Dowd:

Ms Dowd,

I usually enjoy your columns, but I find this one to be particularly off base. Not only do you make the mistake that many have of interpreting Senator Obama's remarks implausibly, but you also spin them to fit your half-baked thesis that he can't close Senator Clinton out.

The truth is he has closed her out - just so gently and gentlemanly that you haven't even noticed. Perhaps you would prefer more drama, but it's not his style. She's finished, but in a free country, she's entitled to her delusions, of course.

As for your interpretation of his remarks, he can't possibly believe that people only hunt or attend church because they're broke. He's saying people vote defensively because they've lost hope that the economic situation will get better. They don't trust Washington to fix it (with good reason) and hence they're bitter. So they cling to the couple things they hold dear and vote DEFENSIVELY - do whatever you want with the tax cuts for the rich, but at the very least don't start letting gays marry and take away our guns.

When Kerry lost, the polls showed VALUES played a huge part. That's what it was - that no one trusted Kerry to fix the problems, and the cynical republicans basically said - this guy's an elitist, he doesn't care about you. So vote for us because we're the party of God and guns. And it worked.

That's all Obama was saying - that in the VOTING BOOTH, they cling to these things and vote defensively.

Clearly, no one can seriously believe that hunting and churchgoing only happen when people lose their jobs.

Again, I typically enjoy your column and your wit, but I think you've missed the mark here.

Thanks for the column

Not sure I actually enjoy her columns - some are okay, others are a little gossipy. But I was hoping to get a response. Which I haven't gotten yet.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pundits Get Obama's "Bitter" Quip Wrong

Barack Obama might have "inartfully" described Pennsylvania voters as "bitter", but most of the pundits I read have completely botched the analysis of it. Probably the worst offender - and he's been pretty brutal throughout the campaign season is Mickey Kaus' in his blog on - which has also slipped generally.

Kaus cites commentary by Michael Lind and calls it useful:

According to Obama, working class (white) people "cling to guns" because they are bitter at losing their manufacturing jobs.

Excuse me? Hunting is part of working-class American culture. Does Obama really think that working-class whites in Pennsylvania were gun control liberals until their industries were downsized, whereas they all rushed to join the NRA...

This reading of his statement is totally off base. Obama's not saying they're clinging to guns literally as in, they're grabbing a shotgun and hunting only because they're having problems paying the bills. He's saying they're VOTING based on issues like guns, gay marriage and religion because they've lost faith in voting the real economic issues. And they've lost faith for good reason - because politicians have lied to them. So they vote based on these narrow issues instead because at least they can agree on them.

In other words, he's not saying their culture of hunting or going to church exists only because of bitterness toward the way they've been neglected economically - he's saying that they VOTE defensively to protect what's left of their way of life because they've been given so little reason to expect improvement from government. The Clintons and Bushes despite pretending to be the friend of small-town working-class Americans have abandoned them. They vote defensively, and Obama is explaining that to his supporters - that it constitutes a challenge to his campaign.

The reading by Kaus and Lind is either deliberate spin to make the remarks sound worse, or they're both just stupid.

Also, Hillary Clinton, of course, is the one condescending to the people of Pennsylvania because she panders to that defensive voting - saying, among other things, that she believes in the 2nd Amendment. She's basically saying: "Keep voting on dumb things that aren't really helping you rather than throwing the bums out who neglected you and your families." She's trying to stoke their attachment to these more minor issues which, as Obama implied, serve to displace their real and pressing concerns about their quality of life.

This is similar to the way in which Islamic radicals stoke hatred of the West to young Arabs crushed by poverty and lack of opportunity. Their real anger is toward their governments and leaders, but the militants get them to displace that and direct it toward the West.

I don't think Clinton's strategy will work because Obama spoke the truth, and enough voters in the remaining states will get that.

Friday, April 4, 2008

There Were Orders to Follow

2008 7:43 am

I read a post somewhere saying the mainstream media's not giving this much play, and in truth, I don't really care about it, either.

It's not that it isn't horrendous - it is. But so what? Bush and Cheney and Gonzalez and Yoo and Rove did something else that was horrendous. I mean, no one's going to DO anything about it, so why even waste time on outrage? Why even click on the headline any more. And the media senses this, and that's why it doesn't get much run.

Outrage is great when there's a path to its satisfaction. Will we impeach someone, put him in prison, embarrass him to his face? No, we won't do such a thing. I don't know if anyone watched Jon Miller and Joe Morgan on ESPN's Opening Day Sunday night broadcast, but President Bush stopped in, and they had the most amiable chat imaginable. No one's going to do anything about it, so why bother with this stuff. I don't care to read more. Just do something about it, please. Let's have some accountability. Otherwise, what's one more affront to the constitution or our civil rights?

That's also why no one wants to hear about Iraq any more - because unless someone's held accountable - and I mean seriously accountable - as in liquidating the assets of the neocons bank accounts to pay for veteran's medical care - (which would be a slap on the wrist compared to the true karmic retribution in store for them if such a thing exists) - then it's a miserable story because there's no justice.

That's the real problem with this. And the unlikelihood of justice makes outrage unsatisfying and therefore depressing. So honestly, who cares about these torture memos and what happened in Iraq's prisons and the war profiteering and rendition and Guantanamo and the Patriot Act and warrantless wiretapping and the political persecution of US Attorneys and Katrina - because heads are not rolling.

So please, don't bore me with new revelations that continue to prove something I already knew: that the people in charge for the last eight years did terrible things.