Archive for May 29th, 2007

Simple Answers To Simple Questions

Greg Sargent has a question:

One of the key charges made by Timesmen Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta in their much-talked-about new book on Hillary’s lifelong ambitions is that way back in the early nineties, she and Bill were already plotting two terms in the White House for her, too.

But we’ve just received our copy of legendary reporter Carl Bernstein’s forthcoming book on Hillary — and his reporting appears to directly contradict this key allegation made by Gerth and Van Natta.

Who’s right?

I’m going to have to go with… The one who’s not a total dishonest hack with a long history of Clinton-bashing.

6 comments May 29th, 2007 at 08:58pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Clinton,Media,Politics,Wankers

Headline Of The Day

From today’s WaPo:

Man Clad in Underwear Pins Leopard

Awesome.

May 29th, 2007 at 06:07pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Great Headlines

Brooks On Books

David Brooks, already a world-class wanker extraordinaire, really outdoes himself with his “critique” of Al Gore’s new book:

If you’re going to read Al Gore’s book, you’re going to have to steel yourself for a parade of sentences like the following:

“The remedy for what ails our democracy is not simply better education (as important as that is) or civic education (as important as that can be), but the re-establishment of a genuine democratic discourse in which individuals can participate in a meaningful way — a conversation of democracy in which meritorious ideas and opinions from individuals do, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.”

But, hey, nobody ever died from contact with pomposity, and Al Gore’s “The Assault on Reason” is well worth reading. It reminds us that whatever the effects of our homogenizing mass culture, it is still possible for exceedingly strange individuals to rise to the top.

Gore is, for example, a radical technological determinist. While most politicians react to people, Gore reacts to machines, and in this book he lays out a theory of history entirely driven by them.

He writes that “the idea of self-government became feasible after the printing press.” With this machine, people suddenly had the ability to use the printed word to debate ideas and proceed logically to democratic conclusions. As Gore writes in his best graduate school manner, “The eighteenth century witnessed more and more ordinary citizens able to use knowledge as a source of power to mediate between wealth and privilege.”

This Age of Reason produced the American Revolution. But in the 20th century, television threatened it all. In Gore’s view, TV immobilizes the reasoning centers in the brain and stimulates the primitive, instinctive parts. TV creates a “visceral vividness” that is not “modulated by logic, reason and reflective thought.”

TV allows political demagogues to exaggerate dangers and stoke up fear. Furthermore, “conglomerates can dominate the expressions of opinion that flood the mind of the citizenry” and “the result is a de facto coup d’état overthrowing the rule of reason.”

Fortunately, another technology is here to save us. “The Internet is perhaps the greatest source of hope for re-establishing an open communications environment in which the conversation of democracy can flourish,” he writes. The Internet will restore reason, logic and the pursuit of truth.

The first response to this argument is: Has Al Gore ever actually looked at the Internet? He spends much of this book praising cold, dispassionate logic, but is that really what he finds on most political blogs or in his e-mail folder?

(…)

Gore seems to have come up with a theory that the upper, logical mind sits on top of, and should master, the primitive and more emotional mind below. He thinks this can be done through a technical process that minimizes information flow to the lower brain and maximizes information flow to the higher brain.The reality, of course, is that there is no neat distinction between the “higher” and “lower” parts of the brain. There are no neat distinctions between the “rational” mind and the “visceral” body. The mind is a much more complex network of feedback loops than accounted for in Gore’s simplistic pseudoscience.

Without emotions like fear, the “logical” mind can’t reach conclusions. On the other hand, many of the most vicious, genocidal acts are committed by people who are emotionally numb, not passionately out of control.

Some great philosopher should write a book about people — and there are many of them — who flee from discussions of substance and try to turn them into discussions of process. Utterly at a loss when asked to talk about virtue and justice, they try to shift attention to technology and methods of communication. They imagine that by altering machines they can alter the fundamentals of behavior, or at least avoid the dark thickets of human nature.

If a philosopher did write such a book, it would help us understand Al Gore, and it would, as he would say, in fact, evoke a meaningful response.

Wow. Just wow. So much wankery in there, I hardly know where to begin. I’ll just note the “Algore is a cold-fish Vulcan weirdo” cheap shots in passing, and start with the three examples that Brooks uses to demonstrate that Algore is incoherent and out of touch. Notice that that they all have a common theme: The key to democratic government is democratic discourse. Gore states this in the abstract in the first passage, then cites the specific examples of the printing press and the internet in the other two. I can certainly see where Brooks might not see the value of discourse of/by/for the people, as opposed to top-down, one-way communications from the corporate and government spheres, but he’s not exactly an impartial observer here. When David Brooks tells me that it’s a bad idea for the unwashed rabble to have their own voice, I’m going to be a leetle bit skeptical.

As for his other main point, that Gore is advocating the sterile supremacy of reason over emotion, I fail to see the problem – he is talking about public discourse, right? The problem with our mainstream media today is not the presence of appeals to emotion, but the absence of anything else. Indeed, to anyone paying attention, Algore himself is not unemotional in private or in public – far from it. But he clearly recognizes that emotion should serve reason, not replace it. Consider Al’s beloved blogosphere, which Brooks takes an uninformed swipe at: On the liberal side, contrary to what Brooks and Chait believe, there is an abundance of both logic and passion, and that synthesis is what makes the progressosphere so appealing and powerful.

Of course, Brooks’ specialty is fact-free pro-Republican generalizations issued from the heights of Mt. Olympos, so I can certainly understand why a book calling for the return of rational, participatory public discourse might make him feel a little threatened. One of these days, he will have even fewer readers than I do, and there will be much rejoicing.

32 comments May 29th, 2007 at 11:55am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Gore,Media,Wankers

If Of The Decade

And the award for the most creative use of the word “If” goes to… Richard Cohen, in his column about how Dubya is actually a liberal idealist (no, seriously, I’m not kidding):

But if you don’t think [the war in Iraq] was waged on behalf of oil or empire, then one reason for our involvement was an attempt to do some good — rid the world of a really bad guy and make life better for Iraqis and others in the region.

Sure. And if I were a trillionaire, I’d buy the WaPo just so I could fire Cohen for being a colossal blithering asshat.

3 comments May 29th, 2007 at 11:11am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Iraq,Media,Wankers,War

Now That’s What I Call Zero Tolerance

Perhaps a teensy bit excessive, but at least China is taking corruption seriously:

The former head of China’s top food and drug safety agency was sentenced to death today after pleading guilty to corruption and accepting bribes, according to the state-controlled news media.

(…)

The unusually harsh sentence for the former director comes at a time of heightened concerns about the quality and safety of China’s food and drug system after a series of scandals involving tainted food and phony drugs.

China is also under mounting pressure to overhaul its food export controls after two Chinese companies were accused this year of shipping contaminated pet food ingredients to the United States, triggering one of the largest pet food recalls in United States history.

The nation’s regulators are also coming under scrutiny after diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical sometimes used in antifreeze, ended up in cough syrup and toothpaste in Latin America.

(…)

The incidents pose a huge threat to China’s growing food and drug exports and have already led to international calls for new testing and screening methods for Chinese-made goods.

The problems are more serious in China because tens of thousands of people are sickened or killed every year because of rampant counterfeiting and phony food and drugs.

(…)

Small Chinese drug makers have long been accused of manufacturing phony or substandard drugs and marketing them to the nation’s hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. And mass food poisonings involving tainted food products are common.

The Chinese government, however, has stepped up its patrols in recent weeks, announcing a series of measures aimed at strengthening food and drug safety and cracking down on counterfeiting operations.

Today, the government said it was preparing to release its first regulation on nationwide food recalls.

The government also said it would crack down on food products that are being illegally exported, bypassing food inspections.

Wow, a government taking regulatory responsibilities seriously! Amazing!

Of course, as the story implies, China is in serious disaster-control mode after the melamine catastrophe, and lack of confidence is starting to hurt their food and drug exports. But contrast this to BushCo’s default strategy of stonewalling, lies, and denial, no matter what the stakes. They still haven’t figured out that the rest of the world isn’t as gullible as the American people in 2004. Hell, they still haven’t figured out that the American people aren’t as gullible as the American people in 2004.

2 comments May 29th, 2007 at 07:57am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Corruption/Cronyism

More Language

I can’t think of any practical use for this, but it sure is interesting:

As any new parent will attest, babies are amazing. And to the list of remarkable things infants can do, here’s a new one: they can distinguish one language from another just by the sight of a talking face, not sound.

(…)

The researchers showed silent videotapes of a bilingual speaker saying a sentence in French or English until the baby got bored and looked away. They followed that with a tape of the speaker saying the same sentence in the other language, and observed whether that caught the baby’s attention, indicating that the baby recognized a difference and was attracted to something new.

They report in the journal Science that 4- and 6-month-old infants from English-only households were able to tell that a different language was being spoken. Eight-month-old infants from English-only homes, however, were no longer able to discriminate between languages.

“They’re losing sensitivity to this” as they grow older, Ms. Weikum said. “There’s really no reason for them to hang on to this ability if they are only going to be learning one language.”

By contrast, 8-month-olds from bilingual households could still discriminate between languages.

It has been thought that visual cues like lip, cheek and head movements provide just redundant information for verbal communication. Auditory signals are much stronger, Ms. Weikum said, and transmit more cues for babies to pick up.

The research shows that infants have the power to process all kinds of cues. “From a very young age, they’re capable of taking in a lot of language information,” she said.

That really is pretty cool.

May 29th, 2007 at 07:16am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science,Weirdness


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