Monday, April 30, 2007


In Des Moines, Washington, on Friday night, Monique Vance was murdered, allegedly by her husband. She'd gone to visit him, at his brother's home. It seems that they had separated, over domestic violence issues. While she was there, he pulled a gun on her at attempted to kill her, she fled, and he pursued her outside, eventually catching and shooting her dead on a neighbor's doorstep. The home's occupants were there, but they didn't let her in.

"She was screaming 'Help me! He's trying to shoot me!' " said a witness, who didn't want to be identified.
"[...W]ho didn't want to be identified."

I wondered why not. I wondered if this was the homeowner, recounting some of the last words of a woman who'd been murdered at their door. Someone who had made their choice, but didn't want it to be known.

After such events, there are always questions. These are mine. Suppose that the neighbors of Ms. Vance's brother-in-law HAD opened their door, and attempted to rescue her. And her "estranged husband" had forced his way in, shot her dead anyway, and went on to murder the home's occupants while he was there. Different people would have their own reactions, but what would the "groupvoice" be? What would others hear us as a society, say? Would we be celebrating the heroism of an attempt to save a life? Or would we be condemning an act of irresponsibility? Would the blame for all the deaths be laid at the feet of the gunman? Or would he be made to share it with his brother's neighbor? Would the lesson be that sometimes, we are called upon to sacrifice for others, even at the cost of our own lives? Or would the lesson be that one should mind one's own damn business? When it was all said and done - what would we say?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Who Do You Trust?

The fallout from the Virginia Tech shootings continues, with this story of an Illinois high school student who was arrested for for "Disorderly Conduct" after writing an essay that "alarmed and disturbed" his English Teacher.

I was chatting with a coworker about this, and he was convinced that the media hadn't reported the whole story. Surely, he reasoned, no intelligent prosecutor would bother bringing charges in such a case. He was convinced, in part due to his own experiences with the media, that they'd left out parts of the story that were crucial to understanding it in the proper context. It was possible, to his mind, that the story's authors had gone so far as to completely alter the whole context of the story, through selective reporting of the facts, and filling in with speculation if they didn't have all the details.

(I'm reminded of the little "radio play" narrative that weaves its way through Prince's "Symbol" album. Kirstie Alley takes on the role of a reporter who at one point attempts to blackmail "the truth" out of the Artist, by threatening that if he doesn't part with some usable information, she'll have to make something up.)

Which brings up an interesting question. How do you decide who to trust? I've harped on the media often enough that I can't justify taking them at face value. But if you have to take everything they say not only with a grain of salt, or with an eye to bias, but as a possible outright deception, what purpose to the media serve at all? And where would you get your information from?

In a modern, technological society, much of the information that we receive about the world is second-hand at best. And anyone passing on information can decide to present that information in a way that leads an audience to come to certain conclusions. People attempting to rally support for a cause, or rouse people to action are notorious for placing their crusades above the truth. But if you trust nothing you haven't seen yourself, you become woefully uninformed about the world - it's too big a place to see it all, all the time.

So you go with what sounds good, what fits your current understanding of the world, and/or the word of people you don't think will lead you astray. And then what? What do you do with that? How do you act on information, if you understand that it can't be made reliable?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Planet of the Hate

So my buddy Ben wrote up a blog posting in answer to Larry Kramer's L.A. Times Op-Ed "Why do straights hate gays?" In it, he goes over some of the reasons that he can think of that various members of the heterosexual community have used for their mishomophilia (okay, so it's not the word for hatred of homosexuals, its the best thing I could think of - sue me... I've never agreed with using homophobia when one's really taking about hatred). But he missed a big one, that Kramer calls out in the Op-Ed.

I'm going to bite Ben's idea and present: Another Straight issue with Gay People:

  • My Holy Book Says That You People Are Sinful: The scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam all (as I understand them) expressly forbid homosexuality, with at least Judaism and Christian scriptures calling for the death penalty in such cases. I suspect that this had something to do with the idea that the early Isrealites lived in a very harsh environment, and needed all of the children they could get. Sex that didn't lead to more little Isrealites was really frowned upon - they weren't nig fans of masturbation, either. While I've never been able to get anyone to give me a straight (sorry) answer as to what the hatred in the name of the divine thing is all about, I suspect that it has a lot to do with belief in an Adversary. My grandmother was quick to see the influence of the Devil everywhere, enough so that for a very long time as a child, I was uncertain as to her sanity. I think that many heterosexuals vastly overestimate the "seductiveness" of homosexuality. (I'm with Ben on this one - um... ewwww.) Not wanting to think that their children could have been born that way, or chosen it of their own accord, they imbue it with a powerful allure. And I think that there is a thought process that attributes that seductiveness to an evil supernatural force, whose goal is to lead people away from God. (In much the same way that the Portugese, when they encountered Shinto, took its superficial similarity to some aspects of Christianity as a Satanic plot to fool people into following false gods, and mounted an attempt to eradicate it.) If you see a group of people as being tools (willing or not) of a literal force of ineffable evil, it's pretty easy to hate on them.
I'm also with Ben on the idea that nobody likes a whiner. Passivity is a poor virtue, when action does a much better job of bringing about change. But action costs, and it isn't guaranteed. Ben astutely points out "Nothing's fair." If the huge time lag between the end of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement taught us ANYTHING, one of the lessons must surely be that: "Your so-called 'rights' don't mean squat if you, or someone else with some muscle isn't ready, willing, and able to fight, and possibly die in the service of defending them." The Civil Rights Movement in the United States was remarkable for its relative lack of bloodshed. (Keep in mind that an event on the scale of the Rwandan Genocide in the United States, would [depending on who's estimates you use] result in a body count of nearly 30 million people.) But I think that part of the price for that lack of bloodshed was a very long time of second-class citizenship for black Americans.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Felony Scariness

So a student at the University of Colorado has been arrested after he told classmates that he understood how the Virginia Tech shootings could have come to pass, and frightened them with an account of his own anger about conditons on campus, saying that "it made him angry enough to kill people." He was taken into custody "on suspicion of interfering with staff, faculty or students of an education institution."

While I understand that people are still both freaked out and in shock after Monday's rampage, this arrest seems to cross the line. Clearly, a college student publicly saying that there are things that make him angry enough to want to kill people - especially the day after a heavily televised mass shooting at a university - betrays a lack of social skills. But laspes in one's social skills, even serious ones, are neither crime nor misdemeanor. We'd all have rap sheets if they were. (And there are days when I'd wind up on the FBI's Most Wanted list for certain...)

But the real issue is that this doesn't warrant a law-enforcement response. We have laws that specify sanctions for criminal behavior. We have laws that specify sanctions for planning criminal behavior. We don't yet have laws that specify sanctions for convincing people that you're capable of criminal behavior, regardless of how heinous it might be. And we shouldn't. People simply being really afraid of you, in the absence of any criminal or dangerous behavior, can be a valid justification for losing one's job, or being expelled from school. It's hard for people to work and learn if they're in fear of their health and/or lives. But it's hard to see how to make criminalizing scariness, in and of itself, work.

And it would make people leery about seeking help, if they suspected that they could go down that path. Communications with counselors and therapists are not legally privileged in the face of a specific threat to harm someone, but the legal boundaries of that are somewhat murky. Would it also exend to more a more generalized understanding that one's angry enough to hurt someone? If people start to believe that going to a psychologist because they're afraid that they might hurt someone could lead to jail or involuntary committment out of hand, they're going to be less likely to seek professional help. And I don't see how that would help anything.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Here We Go Again

John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, is calling on the United States to move to ban personal firearms in the wake of the attacks at Virginia Tech. Not unexpected, but not particularly realistic, either.

The first problem is that such a ban couldn't be enacted quickly. Even if the whole of Congress were to miraculously pass a gun ban tomorrow, and the President signed it, it would be years, most likely, before it could go into full effect. No matter what you yourself might think about the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, the simple fact is that there are people who believe that it protects an individual's right to own weapons (not just guns), and there would likely be an immediate injunction while the case wound its way up to the Supreme Court, which would be unlikely to dodge the question this time.

And once it does go into effect, what then? If the debate about illegal immigration and War on Drugs has done nothing to show us that in the face of steady demand, the borders of the United States are pretty much porus - we haven't been paying attention.

The second problem is deeper. The idea that a ban on firearms is going to reduce the level of murder and assault in a society where violence and force are often viewed as legitimate tools of conflict resultion and anger expression seems somewhat wishful. Not to say that it won't happen - but it won't happen quickly, that much is fairly certain. The problem in the United States isn't so much gun violence, as it is just plain violence, and the threat of violence. Some months ago, a high-school student was injured firing a cannon at a school function. Fearful that the cannonade tradition would be abolished, people threatened him with further harm. If such a trivial thing can lead to threats, is the U.S. murder rate a wonder to anyone?

And anyone who's convinced that you couldn't manage to rack up an impressive body count in a short amount of time without access to dedicated weapons is somewhat lacking in imagination. And if you're willing to limit your crimes to one at a time, you can manage a really impressive tally over the course of years, without a single shot being fired.

Not that I think that a ban is completely out of bounds. But when you consider the logistical nightmare that implementing an enforcing it is going to be, something more than the simple presumption it will help ought to be in place.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Fastest Ring in the West

Welshman and Wisconsinite meet online. They exchange e-mails. They fall in love. They exchange pictures. Welshman gets on a plane to O'Hare. They meet in person for the first time. They hug and kiss. He proposes, she accepts. They walk to the Blue Line El station to leave the airport.

Wow. How's that for the timeline of a whirlwind romance?

They now live in the south of Wales, and have a daughter of their own, in addition to his two kids from a previous relationship.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Rush to Judgment

Today's Human Nature column in Slate (Invasion of the Organ Snatchers) references a Los Angeles Times story about what to all appearances looks to be a rush to declare a man brain-dead, so that a local organ procurement group could remove his organs for donation. (I'm using Slate to link to the story, because if you try to go in directly, you have to be a registered user of the L.A. Times.) The executive director of the procurement group said that they wouldn't have taken the organs, because staff there had their own concerns as to whether the diagnosis on brain-death was correct. "'They do a careful examination, and if there's any questions, the process gets halted then until their questions are resolved,' [Phyllis] Weber said. 'The public should be really grateful that that happens.'"

I was struck by that statement, because it implies that the procurement agency has a right to the organs of potential donors, and that they're doing people a favor by verifying that they're actually dead before they cut life support and go in and get them. But I, for my part, was under the impression that those were the rules - you had to make certain that people were actually brain dead before you pulled the plug on them against the will of family, even if that carried the risk that their organs would no longer be viable for transplantation by the time brain death occurred. Since when should the public be "really grateful" that people are just following the rules?

In this case, the final outcome was the man died - from my understanding, he never really had a chance. But he did hang on long enough that his organs were no longer viable. So it seems kind of a waste. All that anyone has to show for this is the nagging feeling that the organ procurers are willing to rush things and use pressure tactics to obtain viable organs for transplant. Seems like nobody wins this round.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Giant Gorilla Attack!

This is spectaular! Too bad you don't see this sort of thing everywhere. Of course, with modern video game graphics, you'd need much more room. Trying to bust out a Master Chief this way would take a much larger building, I think...

Sunday, April 8, 2007

What is Your Value?

I was reading today's newspaper, and came across two articles that both touched on groups within the United States that feel that they aren't as valued by the public as other people are.

One story deals with the rise in unprovoked attacks on the homeless in America, over the past few years, focussing on a few high-profile cases. One advocate for the homeless attributes the rise in assualts to governments devaluing the homeless in the eyes of the public, a side effect of a minor trend of local governments adopting ordinances that try to reduce the "nuisance factor" posed by the homeless by restricting where and/or when they can perform certain activities. "When cities pass laws that target homeless people," he says, "they send a message to their communities that the homeless are not as valuable in the public eye as those with homes."

Another story
chronicles Hispanic anger over being left out of Ken Burns' new documentary about the Second World War, entitled simply, "The War." While the war deals with the racism encountered by black servicemen and the internment of Japanese Americans, there is no mention of the issues that faced Latinos during the war. "Our people weren't valued," complains one advocate. "Not only were they not valued then, they are not being valued today."

But what does it mean for any one group of people to "value" another group of people? If you check the simple dictionary definition of value, the phrase "relative worth, utility, or importance" is presented as a meaning. Using this as a starting point, we have the idea that advocates for Latin-Americans and the homeless do not feel that they are as high on that relative scale as they should be. So who is above them on that scale that the would rather see re-ordered to nearer the bottom of the ladder? I don't think that's what they're aiming for. Rather, what they're likely after is the abolition of the whole idea of "value" as an attribute that we apply to other people through a greater level of egalitarianism. If any given coin has the same amount of purchasing power as any other coin, for instance, you can't meaningfully talk about the value of one coin or another - you can only talk about the value of coins as a whole.

It's a laudable goal, but unrealistic. Short of orbital mind-control lasers, you're never going to be able to create a society (let alone) a world where it's simply not possible to have an idea that one person is of greater relative worth, utility, or importance than any other person. Some people we like - and we want them to like us in return, and we're willing to go out of our way for them. Should we not acknowledge that we ascribe them greater worth than we do to others? There are going to be people who are in a better position to help you than others are - doesn't that make them of greater relative utility? There are people who have the power to set policy and make laws, when others do not. And, to the degree that those laws have an effect on our day-to-day lives, aren't those people more important that those who lack that power? The feeling of being undervalued becomes a reminder that others don't have any special feelings for you, need or want anything from you and/or aren't affected in their daily lives by the things that you do. But by that reasoning, most of us are are very little value to anyone. I doubt that someone in the Ukraine right now considers me to be particularly valuable.

In the end, a more reasonable goal becomes the separation of the rights and privileges that we give to people from the idea that they are "valuable." Equal protection under the law shouldn't be a matter of overall value, in and of itself. And we shouldn't use value when writing or enforcing laws and policies. But that, too, may be out of reach.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Fine Print

A coalition of various American civil rights groups, representing minorities and the poor, are asking mortgage lenders to declare a moratorium on foreclosures for six months. The lenders, servicers and investors who hold these loans should agree to this, so the logic goes, because it was their reckless lending patterns that got homebuyers into trouble in the first place. (I would submit that they're being "diplomatic" in their use of the term "reckless." I suspect that they would rather have just come out and said "predatory.")

I was listening to a story about the sub-prime meltdown on NPR some days ago, and they were interviewing an elderly woman who'd gotten herself into trouble by refinancing her home to help pay off the debts that her husband left after his death. During the interview, Ms. Halliburton says that she took their word for what her payments were going to be, and what they told her wound up being much less than what they actually turned out to be. Her lawyer says that it's unfair for people to expect that she could have figured this out from reading the loan documents.

What's missing from these narratives is what people can do to protect themselves from situations like this. And it's really very simple. Don't sign anything that you haven't read and/or don't understand. If you can't understand it, find someone who can. Don't let anyone hurry you into ignoring the first two suggestions. And lastly, don't take people at face value without a good reason. The critics are right to point out that many of these sub-prime mortgage vehicles were very complicated - too much so for a layperson to figure out. But now that things are starting to go south on people, it seems easy enough to understand, and people are finding the resources to help them parse out these schemes. This is something that we should expect people to do before they really get into hot water.

If people refuse to sign onto agreements that they don't feel they understand and insist on finding competent help, then the complicated agreements become harder to sell, and thus more expensive to create, relative to the overall return. In promoting, if not financial literacy, financial caution, we can set things up so that deliberately opaque and/or deceptive practices are much rarer and more easily seen in advance. We have to stop looking at this as some sort of luxury, and more as the price of doing business.

Friday, April 6, 2007


A number of Miami sex offenders, now that they have been released from prison, are living under a bridge (I can see the Troll references already) because local laws that restrict where they can live make it pretty much impossible for them to live anywhere else. There's nothing they can afford that isn't within 2,500 feet of a school, so there they are.

Dade County Commissioner Jose Diaz, who created the ordinance, has no problem with this state of affairs. He's busy being a Hardass on Crime.

"My main concern is the victims, the children that are the innocent ones that these predators attack and ruin their lives. No one really told them to do this crime."
The idea that you can throw people away like this lets Commissioner Diaz have his cake and eat it, too. He's able to hold this up for people, to show that he's effectively punishing sexual offenders for life - without having to deal with the messiness of determining if a life sentance is appropriate to the crime, or with shelling out the corrections dollars that would be needed to fund life sentances.

I doubt that many people care about the hardships that the offenders themselves go through - the fact that they've been effectively sentanced to homelessness, or their fears of being murdered by some mentally-ill person or vigilante - after all, they are criminals, and sex offenders at that. There's not much room on the sympathy train for people like that.

But when you throw people away like that, the idea that they're going to turn to a life of quiet desperation, patiently awaiting forgiveness that will likely never come, is sheer idiocy. Sooner or later, if these guys can't assimilate back into society, they're going to turn to crime - if for no other reason than to get back into prison. It's not unheard of - William Crutchfield shot a mailman seven times in a bid to get into federal prison - which he decided was better than being bankrupt and on the street. Similarly, back in the 1990's a man who'd been in prison for the rape of a teenager, after he'd been out for about six months, kidnapped another teen and basically made her model some clothes for him before dropping her off on a shopping mall outside Chicago. His motive: wanting to be in jail - which he saw as being better than being on the outside. To make a long story short, if we make being in jail the best thing that these men can aspire to, they're going to find a way to get back in. Whether you have any sympathy for them or not, it's not only a waste of resources, but it carries a potential and unnecessary threat to public safety.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Utility Vs. Morality

I was reading on Slate about a study that purports to show that people with damage to their ventromedial prefrontal cortex will, when put into a situation in which they must chose, make choices that are more utilitarian than moral. The researchers claim that they're uncovering evidence that common theories of morality are hardwired into the normal, healthy human brain. Their study design was a simple one: and part of it consisted of them creating a number of scenarios that involved choices. One choice would be the utilitarian thing to do, and the other was the moral thing to do. They then posed these scenarios to people with the brain damage, and some without, and noted the differences in their answers.

I downloaded and read the scenarios, and I'm not sure that I agree with the assertion that the scenarios measure "utility versus morality." Most of the scenarios, to my mind, posit competing harms - nasty outcome A versus nasty outcome B. Nasty outcome B is commonly a subset, or some other less severe variation on nasty outcome A, but requires that the subject actively participate in it. But the avoidance of nasty outcome A would be, under normal circumstances, a moral imperative itself, given the typical Western value system. If you're on a lifeboat, and the lifeboat is at risk of sinking, you would be expected to attempt to remedy this state of affairs. Risking everyone going to a watery grave out of sheer laziness is considered unacceptable to most of us today. As a layperson, I see these sorts of scenarios as measuring the relative levels of importance of "greater good" morality versus "personal blamelessness" morality. As a general rule, most people (at least in public) tend to lean towards the personal blamelessness model of moral behavior. Unsurprising, as stereotypical Christianity sees blameworthy acts as sinful, but tends to be more forgiving about situations where one might reasonably see an affirmative duty to intervene, but where there is a possible risk to self.

The scenarios that pit mere personal convenience or desire against altruistic behavior don't pass muster with me, either. The idea that you could describe letting a man bleed to death to avoid getting blood on your leather seats as "utilitarian" is one that I can't bring myself to take seriously. By that standard, the most selfishly petty and materialistic behaviors we undertake can be considered utilitarian; most crimes could be considered "useful" to the criminal in one way or another. And I suppose that it goes without saying that I'm amazed that researchers would hold up the needy machinations of abusive significant others as "utilitarian" behavior.

Accordingly, I have trouble taking this whole exercise as a valid test of the given variable. To be fair, coming up with a reasonably simple scenario that actually pits a utilitarian position against a moral one is not easy, especially when you also want to give people a heightened sense of emotional conflict between the choices. (And, perhaps more importantly, that both the utility and morality of any given action are subjective for many people.) But as it stands, I don't think that the scenarios, as written, actually represent what most moral philosophers would contend is the Utilitarian viewpoint on life. Mainly because they're too limited and short-sighted. (I'm going to leave aside the idea that the limits placed on the choices were overly arbitrary, and relied on the subject thinking that there was always a 100% chance of a given choice leading to a given outcome.) The researchers claim to have concocted their tests around "strict utilitarian thinking." While it may seem to make sense that carving up a single person against their will, so their organs can be used to save five dying people serves a utilitarian function, the longer term consequences of such medical policy can't simply be left out of the equation, and seriously compromise its utility. And paying to have someone sexually assaulted just so you can be their hero when you comfort them? Selfish and needy - most definitely. Utilitarian in any reasonably broad sense of the word - absolutely NOT. If the researchers seriously believe that such practices would be commonplace under a "strictly utilitarian" worldview, no wonder "humans are neurologically unfit" for such a system. If we weren't, we'd consistently butcher our children for snacks when the Cheetos ran low.


This seems like a good hiding place. No one will ever look here...

Sometimes, you wish you knew the people that did these sorts of things, so that you could ask them: "Did you put ANY thought into this?"

Monday, April 2, 2007

If You Aren't Guilty...

...Why were you arrested?

From a USA Today article on disarray in the New Orleans public defender system.

"State Rep. Danny Martiny, a Republican who chairs a legislative task force on indigent defense, said lawmakers have given the Orleans public defender's office an additional $20 million in the past two years. He said the Legislature, which convenes April 30, will consider a bill that reforms the state public defender system.

'I have to be honest with you: I don't think people look at the right to counsel as being a right, they look at it as a perk for the criminal,' he said. 'That makes it harder to pass through the Legislature.'"
The thought process that leads to such an outlook is, I think, really pretty simple. The Court of Public Opinion, unlike American criminal courts, isn't obligated to wait for either a guilty plea (or a variant thereof) or proof beyond a reasonable doubt before pronouncing a guilty verdict. The idea that "if you were really innocent, you wouldn't have been arrested in the first place," tends to put the cart ahead of the horse, from a legal standpoint. Although it is the courts that were intended to be the Finders of Fact in criminal cases, the common reality is that many people leave that up to police departments.

And public opinion also tends to work against people who can't afford private attorneys - who are the very people that public defenders offices are designed to protect. While a defense against a serious felony charge has the potential put even a middle-class person into rather serious financial straits (good lawyers are not cheap), in the minds of the public, the public defense system serves only the poor. The idea that being poor and being a criminal tend to go hand-in-hand (whether you see crime as an effect of being poor or as something people do because it's easier than working) is stronger in the United States than many people are prepared to give it credit for.

All of this leads to the idea, even in the absence of a prior conviction, that some people are known criminals when they go to trial, rather than when they are convicted.

Speech, Speech

This afternoon I received an e-mail* containing, allegedly, someone's concept of their ideal President Bush speech to the rest of the world. It's a vitriolic screed, in which the President promises payback to most of the rest of the world for not being properly supportive of the War on Terror, and grateful for all of the supposedly selfless sacrifices that the United States has made on behalf of the rest of the world for "nearly a century." It also takes aim at any American who is ungracious enough to be supportive of stereotypical conservative policy. I say "stereotypical" because the policy positions taken come off as something that you'd expect an uneducated layperson, rather than an actual conservative policy architect, to support.

It's one of those annoyingly breathless "Forward this to everyone whose e-mail address you can remember!" notes, and I seem to recall having seen it before. It's nothing new (it still references Vicente Fox, who left office last November, as the President of Mexico).

It's a laughable script, and one that seems calculated to portray President Bush (and by extention, Conservative voters) as petty, mean-spirited, childish and vindictive, and promoting "strong" foreign policy positions that exhibit those same traits. And in case that wasn't enough, the footnote to the script, seems to toss "illiterate" onto the pile, for good measure. Given this, I suspect that it's not at all someone's Conservative dream scenario, but actually a semi-satirical piece of political mockery, penned by someone who thinks they've got the chops to be a writer for "The Colbert Report."

But perhaps most interesting, it reveals how a number of Americans (still the minority, I hope) look at their politically opposite numbers. Both Liberals and Conservatives alike have cultivated a tendency to see the other camp as intentionally supporting government policies that are poorly conceived, farcical and/or clearly broken on their faces, normally by taking some possibly real policy position or politician's comment to it's illogical extreme. (But more often, the quoted policy positions and/or comments are either completely imaginary, or taken wildly out of context.) They then construct elaborate horror stories around the consequences of said policies. While it can be said that the American electorate has occasionally made some lackluster, or even poor, choices for President, the kind of collective idiocy that it would require to put a man in office who could nearly single-handedly (after all, he'd need help from Congress) bring down the entire nation over the course of a single four-year term would be pretty unprecedented.

Each camp also cultivates an opinion of the other as being completely divorced from the facts, both historical and current, commonly mounting portrayals in which the loyal opposition is either accidentally or intentionally ignorant of facts that everyone more or less understands to be true - especially those people who have the sort of historical perspective and savvy needed to be credible as policymakers. You find yourself marvelling at the imagination that goes into some of this stuff. J. R. R. Tolkien didn't manage to create a world as fantastic as the one that some lay partisans insist that we must be living in, if you take their worldviews at face value.

Both of these practices are aimed at a common goal - promoting fear. The zero-sum thinking that permeates so much of American politics seems to preclude the idea of a win-win, or even a win-neutral outcome. And so partisans on both sides of the debate resort to painting pictures of the horrific disasters that will result if their candidate loses. "Vote for us," the message goes - "or YOU LOSE." Sometimes it will be a personal loss, sometimes, it's presented as a shared loss. Since the dawn of American political advertising, negative ads have been ubiquitous. But how many of the nightmare scenarios that losing campaigns have ever postulated have actually come to pass?

But the fear mongering continues apace. Fortunately, it's only a little more than a year and a half until the next election cycle wraps up. I'll be so glad when it does.

* I decided not to post the actual text for you here - it's neither entertaining nor informative.