Tags: civics

in motion

(no subject)

Been thinking about communication lately, and forms of discourse, and political debate. Good article in the Atlantic last month about the intractability of our entrenched beliefs, and how we can hold onto them even in the face of evidence to the contrary -- sometimes especially in the face of that evidence:

...In other words, if people start with a particular opinion or view on a subject, any counter-evidence can create "cognitive dissonance"--discomfort caused by the presence of two irreconcilable ideas in the mind at once. One way of resolving the dissonance would be to change or alter the originally held opinion. But the researchers found that many people instead choose to change the conflicting evidence--selectively seeking out information or arguments that support their position while arguing around or ignoring any opposing evidence, even if that means using questionable or contorted logic.

That's not a news flash to anyone who's paid attention to any recent national debate--although the researchers pointed out that this finding, itself, runs counter to the idea that the reason people continue to hold positions counter to all evidence is because of misinformation or lack of access to the correct data. Even when presented with compelling, factual data from sources they trusted, many of the subjects still found ways to dismiss it. But the most interesting (or disturbing) aspect of the Northwestern study was the finding that providing additional counter-evidence, facts, or arguments actually intensified this reaction. Additional countering data, it seems, increases the cognitive dissonance, and therefore the need for subjects to alleviate that discomfort by retreating into more rigidly selective hearing and entrenched positions. [emphasis mine]

The article concludes with this rather poetic way of looking at the problem:

Part of the reason, according to Kleiman, is "the brute fact that people identify their opinions with themselves; to admit having been wrong is to have lost the argument, and (as Vince Lombardi said), every time you lose, you die a little." And, he adds, "there is no more destructive force in human affairs--not greed, not hatred--than the desire to have been right."

[...]He points to the philosopher Karl Popper, who, he says, believed fiercely in the discipline and teaching of critical thinking, because "it allows us to offer up our opinions as a sacrifice, so that they die in our stead."

A liberal education, Kleiman says, "ought, above all, to be an education in non-attachment to one's current opinions. I would define a true intellectual as one who cares terribly about being right, and not at all about having been right."

Such a subtle distinction there, the difference between being right and having been right, and such a vital one. Go read it.


Via io9, this brief article on some studies at Stanford, about the circumstances in which people are most comfortable voicing their opinions. Nothing too surprising here: people are loudest when they believe their statements reflect the majority opinion, and people holding extreme views tend to speak out more than those with more moderate views. Still essential stuff to consider, in light of the social/cultural divisions that come about when people form identity within communities who (seem to) share their politics.

“You have a cycle that feeds on itself: the more you hear these extremists expressing their opinions, the more you are going to believe that those extreme beliefs are normal for your community.”

And finally: a short video blog by Penn Jillette that I found really moving.

"I sat on TV, while my hero Tommy Smothers yelled in my face how pissed off he was at me for appearing on Glenn Beck. It broke my heart."

"I've just always thought that the answer to bad speech was more speech."

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"time is on the side of change"

Really lovely interview with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the New York Times: "The Place of Women on the Court"

Q: Did you think that all the attention to the criticism of Sotomayor as being “bullying” or not as smart is sex-inflected? Does that have to do with the rarity of a woman in her position, and the particular challenges?
JUSTICE GINSBURG: I can’t say that it was just that she was a woman. There are some people in Congress who would criticize severely anyone President Obama nominated. They’ll seize on any handle. One is that she’s a woman, another is that she made the remark about Latina women. [In 2001 Sotomayor said: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”] And I thought it was ridiculous for them to make a big deal out of that. Think of how many times you’ve said something that you didn’t get out quite right, and you would edit your statement if you could. I’m sure she meant no more than what I mean when I say: Yes, women bring a different life experience to the table. All of our differences make the conference better. That I’m a woman, that’s part of it, that I’m Jewish, that’s part of it, that I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I went to summer camp in the Adirondacks, all these things are part of me.
in motion

the storm is getting worser and worser

In response to the insanely homophobic fear-mongering "Gathering Storm" video by the so-called National Organization for Marriage, Funny Or Die has come up with their own video, "A Gaythering Storm." 

The original wallows in so much over the top hysteria that it practically parodies itself, but I still like to see people having some fun mirroring that back to them.

in motion

happy inauguration day

Pär isn't really caught up in inauguration day excitement. The way he sees it, we've already celebrated the win, and now he wants to focus on what Obama will do as President: decisions, actions, the practical business of government.  It's probably his Swedish upbringing, but he has a gut-level, almost superstitious feeling that one should not glory in one's triumph; this should be a somber day, a quiet call to service.

I respect that approach, but disagree about the value of celebrating the inauguration. I think it is part of the business of government; even an important part. We'll see how Obama does with bills and foreign policy and economics and federal programs and all that over time, but the Presidency is also about setting a tone and helping to shape our national attitudes: around our identity as Americans, about the years to come, and toward the rest of the world. This might be something that only a born American can truly understand, how easily this rootless nation loses any cohesive sense of self, how strongly we respond to messages helping us define ourselves.  And often to our detriment; we are easily stirred by jingoism, the cheapest form of leadership. I can't recall many occasions in my lifetime when a President has made me feel good about what it means to be an American. 

But Obama excels at bringing people together, inspiring us to make the country great, by calling upon us to be our best selves. The fact that I can even say such corny things and mean them sincerely is an indicator of how unusual an experience this is, the swearing-in of a leader I have high hopes for.  Being President involves a whole lot more than inspiring the nation, sure, but it's a beautiful start, and I think we need it.  We're hungry for it.  So I'm very excited to witness this moment in time; no, to be a part of this moment in time -- and that's it right there, isn't it?  We're getting a President who encourages everyone to feel more involved, included, welcomed to the table. In a country with so many clashing cultural, racial, and economic divisions between its people, that's a nearly impossible task and nobody's going to manage it perfectly, but the fact that he's trying, it means a lot.  The inauguration ceremony provides a rare event that we can all share in as a nation.

My friend Mark, after attending the inaugural concert on the mall, wrote to tell me, "It's so so easy to retreat into the well earned cynicism of our ages.  But as I was reminded yesterday, it's fantastically - viscerally - reinvigorating to tap into the joy of others at a time like this."  Exactly.  It's an occasion of renewal, when we may tap into a nationwide joy and feel a little more connected, a little more hopeful about what our country can be.  Hell yes I'll be watching.

in motion

interesting times

Just rounding up a few odds and ends:

* The Boston Globe has published a striking series of Obama photos, taken on the campaign trail.  Includes the fist bump picture that's making the rounds:

* Heather Havrilesky at Salon writes An open apology to boomers everywhere

"Your earnest, self-important prattle has gotten on Gen X nerves for decades. But now we finally get it." (via Gwenda

* For 34 Years, Eugene Allen Carried White House Trays With Pride. Now There's Even More Reason to Carry Himself That Way.

...On to the not so happy news:

* More than a million American have been laid off in the past month, and it doesn't look to be getting better anytime soon.

* In Somalia last week, thirteen year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death by 50 men in a stadium packed with 1,000 spectators. She died pleading for her life, buried up to her neck in a hole in the ground. Why? Because she reported having been raped, which got her accused of adultery.  (Which still leaves the question "Why?")

...Okay, I don't want to end on that note.  Thankfully, there's always the pressing issue of... PUPPY INITIATIVE!

"Can we have a new puppy?"


in motion

but who wants to live in an institution?

Okay, I allowed myself a day of sheer giddiness over electing Obama; now I can't put off feeling a bit devastated by the success of Proposition 8.  It's not so surprising that anti-gay bans also passed in Florida and Arizona yesterday, but how could California go so wrong?

Well, one among many factors was how the "Yes on 8" people targeted African-American voters with false information, distributing flyers that lied about Barack Obama's position on the initiative to make it seem like he was in favor it.  So let's be clear on the truth: Obama is against Proposition 8, and has described it as "divisive and discriminatory". Several days ago, the Obama-Biden campaign further clarified their position by releasing the following statement:

“The Obama-Biden ticket opposes Proposition 8 and similar discriminatory constitutional amendments that could roll back the civil rights he and Sen. Biden strongly believe should be afforded to all Americans."

But plenty of misinformation was already out there, and the religious right has been up in well-funded arms over "the defense of marriage" -- a phrase which is surely one of the most preposterously Orwellian inversions of reality I've ever heard.


It's easy to get furious about a movement to actually amend California's state constitution for the sole purpose of invalidating marriage for same-sex couples. I can't even think about it without getting pissed off at the people who want to deny my little sister the right to share in society's big commitment ritual, people who take to the streets to scream and shout their loathing for her very existence, people who mobilized this entire campaign to ensure that the marriages of my friends and family will be rendered legally invalid. I don't care how they dress it up or what kind of godly self-righteousness they try to hang around it; this is nothing more than a spiteful middle finger flipped in the face of love. And it's hard not to respond in kind.

Instead, I'm going to try to respond the best way I know how: with more love, and more support for love. Because I've got to believe it's stronger. And it's already winning, which is what's provoked these reactionary contortions trying to stop it.  I was thrilled by Mayor Newsom's decision to allow same-sex marriage "whether you like it or not", but that was an act of civil disobedience which pushed forward some segments of society much faster than they were ready to move; it's not so strange that they protested.  We've come a long way in a short time, and I suppose it's only to be expected that the people who don't like it will freak out and try to turn back the cultural clock.  Still, despite how it feels as we're hit with these Propositions, stats show our culture really is shifting against them.

CNN exit poll

Vote by Age
            Yes No
18-29 (20%) 39  61
30-44 (28%) 55  45
45-64 (36%) 54  46
65+   (15%) 61  39

Kos: "That's why the Mormon Church and their bigoted allies are so desperate in this fight. Young people aren't afraid of the gays. They're on the losing side of history."

Soon we'll have a President who repudiates such legislation as the divisive and discriminatory crap that it is. The culture is shifting. It's an awful thing these Prop 8 people have done, but it won't last. And I suspect that in time, we may look back on this as a pivotal moment when the country began to be faced with the real impact of such laws. Prop 8 has given us a concrete cause to rally around: not some abstract scary homosexual agenda, but thousands of existing families that the so-called saviors of marriage have just screwed over:

"... I do wonder if the people who voted for Proposition 8 in particular have thought the implications of what they’ve just done. If, as I expect, the consequence of Proposition 8 is that 18,000 marriages are destroyed, they’ve just handed those who want equal marriage rights under the law an extraordinarily potent symbol, and a concrete goal: namely, the restitution of those marriages. The fight for those marriages starts today."

Suits have already been filed on the grounds that a constitutional amendment is illegal because it violates the equal protection clause, which is supposed to "prevent the targeting and subjugation of a minority group by a simple majority vote." 

From CNN today:

Hostin: I really think this is going to be a legal issue. I think this is going to go before the California Supreme Court. And we already know as you mentioned that there are three cases pending before the California Supreme Court. And what is interesting to note is that it's the very same court that allowed these marriages in the first place.

And so, my guess is that that court is going to weigh in, probably reinstitute the right to marry for same-sex couples and then that's going to be likely based on the U.S. Constitution and our Supreme Court is going to weigh in.

It's infuriating that we're not there yet, but we're close, and one way or another, this will end in strengthening gay rights.

Meanwhile, I know this is affecting some of us much more directly than others, and all I can say is: hang in there.  Because no matter what anyone else has to say about it, you will go right on loving each other.  The rest is on its way.

in motion

(no subject)

I know I've been posting like a fiend today, but my cup overfloweth.

Two last things:

* By way of this heartfelt post on Prop 8 by Meredith Yayanos at Coilhouse, some encouraging words of wisdom from Gandhi, who knew whereof he spoke:

First they ignore you,
then they laugh at you,
then they fight you,
then you win.

* And on a happier note for charitable works:

in motion

how he did it

Newsweek has begun publishing Secrets of the 2008 Campaign, "a seven-part in-depth look behind the scenes of the campaign, consisting of exclusive behind-the-scenes reporting from the McCain and Obama camps assembled by a special team of reporters who were granted year-long access on the condition that none of their findings appear until after Election Day."

They're definitely composing a narrative here rather than just dryly reporting events, but it's a lively and apparently factually accurate story, chock-full of fascinating litttle glimpses into the workings of Obama's campaign and the man himself. For example:

The debates unnerved both candidates. When he was preparing for them during the Democratic primaries, Obama was recorded saying, "I don't consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, 'You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.' So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, 'Well, I planted a bunch of trees.' And he says, 'I'm talking about personal.' What I'm thinking in my head is, 'Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I f---ing changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective'."

The series promises much more juicy stuff to come in the next several parts, including some really interesting behind-the-scenes info about McCain's and Palin's campaign as well.

(thanks, snurri !)