Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Season

It's that season again, as Election Day looms right around the corner. As usual, I don't yet know who I plan to vote for. Mainly because despite all I know about the various candidates for this or that local office, I don't seem to know the first thing about they actually plan to do. Yeah, I know they'll clean up government, fight for my values and make everything right with the world - but these are platitudes, not project plans. And I know that the other candidate will waste public money, sell us out to special interests and actively undermine anything resembling good governance - but as we all know, the point behind negative campaigning isn't to help people choose a candidate, but to try and convince people who might vote for the opposition to stay home.

So I feel that I'm awash in information, but that I still don't know enough to make an informed choice. Which makes me glad that elections aren't any more frequent than they are. Voting is too important to take lightly, but, it seems, too inexact to be too feel certain you've got it right.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

And Then There Were None

Well, the other sign is now gone. It seems, at least in my neighborhood, the debate is over. I wonder who won.

Monday, October 19, 2009

And Then There Was One

When I drove by the corner where the dueling signs over Referendum 71 had been set up (see previous post), I noticed that there was only one sign remaining, with no trace of its erstwhile sparring partner.

Given that the election isn't until early next month, it seems unlikely that it would have been taken down by the people who put it there, so I'm guessing someone swiped it, likely someone who disagreed with its position (or perhaps, just its positioning). It's something that seems to be gaining ground in political circles - the idea that the best debate is one in which only your side heard.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Which One Matters?

Every issue has two sides. And if you're lucky, only two.The current crop of election-season signs. Looks to be a good harvest this year.

On the ballot in Washington State this year is Referendum Measure 71. If approved, it would allow Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5688 to be enacted into law. According to the voter's pamphlet, this "would expand the rights, responsibilities, and obligations accorded state-registered same-sex and senior domestic partners to be equivalent to those of married spouses, except that a domestic partnership is not a marriage." It's up for a vote because opponents of the expanded role of (specifically) same-sex partners launched a petition drive to have the whole matter put to a vote of the public. It's been, ahem, somewhat contentious ever since.

Both sides have engaged in the now-standard political rhetoric to make their cases - A vote for will be a vote to protect all Washington Families, a vote against will a vote to preserve the greater social good, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda. It's the same as it always has been, and it basically misses the point. Or at least the point as I've come to understand it.

From where I stand, both sides of this debate are really attempting to make the same appeal to the voting public: "Tell us that we're relevant." Same sex couples (and their supporters, on their behalf) are looking for the perception of first-class citizenship - an acknowledgment that, in the greater American scheme of things, that they matter. The (mainly religious) opposition is looking to be told that they are still an important force in society - you could make the argument that they're asking for affirmation that this is still a Christian nation. (But unless all it takes to be Christian is going to church once a week and paying lip service to certain principles, I suspect that train left the station a very long time ago.)

Of course, this isn't really a situation in which the two positions are, by definition, mutually exclusive. And I expect that if you were to ask those who support R-71 (who, due to the vagaries of the initiative system, were opposed to it coming up for a vote in the first place), they would tell you they have no fundamental problem with the other side. But, and perhaps this is simply indicative of the most vocal boosters of conservative politics these days, the opposition to R-71 would earnestly tell you that you have to chose one side or the other. (In a distressingly familiar echo of time gone by, you're either with them, or against them.)

We'll see what "society" has to say. (I suspect that it won't be much... the only items on the statewide ballot are R-71 and Initiative 1033, so I expect that "turnout" {It's a vote-by-mail election.} will be somewhat low.) It's likely that whoever loses won't be willing to let things lie, so this could be the start of a very long back-and-forth campaign, with each side pleading to be told that they're relevant.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

OMG! You MUST Read This!!!!!

Earlier today, a co-worker showed me an e-mail that his brother had forwarded on to him. The top of it shouted in large, bold capitals that the message contained political cartoons that you (as the reader) would otherwise never see, because they were from Australia.

Except for the fact that they weren't from Australia, unless The Times-Picayune has gone very, very, far offshore. It turned out to be simply a series of conservative (as in anti-Democrat) cartoons from the likes of Glen McCoy, Chuck Asay, and others. Far from having to subscribe to am Australian newspaper to read them, all you'd likely need to do is navigate over to Slate.

In a similar vein, I've gotten e-mails myself from family and friends that take something reasonable, and wrap it up in hysteria.

All of this makes me wonder what it is about people that they don't seem to regard certain information as worthwhile for it's own sake, but as something that needs to be tarted up to attract people's attention. While these sorts of things tend to take on a life of their own in the wilds of the Internet, someone made the decision to try to make these things more attractive to readers, by claiming American cartoons are actually Australian, or that the vague recollections of an attendee of a self-defense seminar are actually warnings from a police officer. I mean, if your family and friends are conservative Republicans, why wouldn't political cartoons critical of President Obama and Democrats in general from New Orleans or Denver be of interest? Why would you feel the need to attribute self-defense advice to a police officer? Is that really the only circumstance under which people would read it?

I suspect that part of it is simply the sheer volume of information that comes our way. But I think that part of it also lies with the fact that perhaps we aren't as selective as we should be with the information we share, and therefore, we have to do more work to convince people that THIS random e-mail that we forwarded without fact-checking is somehow more worthy than the other 20 that we sent over the past month. It seems to me that the best way to get information through to someone is to be understood as a credible source. Time consuming, yes, but it pays off in the long run.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Let the Partisan Bickering Begin

The back-and-forth over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama is as certain as death and taxes to be partisan and rancorous. The fact that Jimmy Carter and Al Gore also won the prize recently is sure to have the conservative punditry accusing the Nobel committee of being so biased to the left, that the prizes are pure politics. Of course, those who appreciate the award will make their equally faith-based defense of the prizes as absolutely non-political, and the shouting will continue.

But hopefully, from the sidelines, it will be fun to watch.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Six Degrees of Sarah Palin

Father of Palin's grandson to pose for Playgirl.
Perhaps one of the most bizarre things about American celebrity culture is how certain famous people become a strange sort of composite being, encompassing themselves and a seemingly random constellation of other people. These other people don't normally seem to become well-known in their own right, but rather act as a means for the primary celebrity's name to stay in the news (for better or for worse), even when they aren't doing much, if anything, newsworthy. Because of this strange relationship, the satellite individuals tend to pop up, whack-a-mole like, at unpredictable intervals, but rarely, it seems, in such a way that they ever come any closer to entering the public imagination on their own.

The "father of Palin's grandson" is merely the latest iteration of this strangeness. The young man has a name, and while many people (like myself) know what it is, his name on its own isn't enough to gather eyeballs. Which makes me wonder how successful his latest publicity stunt will wind up being. But that aside, I wonder how long it will be before he ceases to be a strange appendage of the former Alaska governor, and either fades away, or manages to somehow become the one at the center of a group of vaguely famous unknowns.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Shepherd Wanted

Also on Marketplace this weekend was an interview with Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren, who was talking about her favorite cause, a proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

One of the things that this new agency would do, if Professor Warren had her way, is ensure that financial products would be short, simple and easy to understand. One of her favorite stories is about the increase in the length of credit-card agreements, from about a page and a half in the nineteen-eighties, to more than 30 pages now. This is a problem, in the Professor's eyes, because credit-card issuers tend to bury "revenue enhancers" deep in the document, where the customer tends not to read it. The CFPA wouldn't outlaw this practice, but it would require that issuers offer cards that had the simple page-and-a-half agreements of yesteryear.

I understand this, but it seems to me that there's a better idea - try to break people of the habit of signing documents that they don't understand. If, back in the day, when card-issuers increased the length of agreements from two pages to four, people stopped signing on, credit-card agreements would still be two pages. Not to say that greed on the part of the issuers isn't a driving factor in things, passivity on the part of the public is also a major part of it. One which the CFPA, by simply accepting, doesn't do anything to discourage.

In many ways, Professor Warren has suggested a typical Left-leaning solution. And like many, this one seems to have a basic flaw in it. In an attempt to make the world safer for passivity, the Left seems to have embarked on a never-ending quest to find a Good Shepherd to protect us from the wolves. But shepherds eat mutton, too.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Measurable Commitment

I was listening to a story on Marketplace concerning discouraged workers, those people who could, in theory, be working, but aren't currently in the market for a job. Interestingly, they aren't technically unemployed, and so the standard unemployment rate calculations don't include them. Marketplace correspondent Mitchell Hartman asked University of Texas economist Daniel Hamermesh why this is.

Their commitment to work is clearly less. They aren't looking in the last month, for whatever reason.
Leaving aside for a moment the vaguely insulting tone of Hamermesh's comment, since when is the idea of the unemployment rate to measure the public's "commitment to work?" I suppose that this would be a legitimate question for someone from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; but then again, so is why the unemployment rate only includes those people who are actively looking in the first place.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Gratification For Sale

So I saw that Glen Beck has a new book out. Unsurprisingly, the point appears to be telling conservatives both how smart they are, and how stupid liberals are. And then a thought came to me:

Beware of people selling flattery.
Flattery is a pernicious enough force as it is, even when people are giving it away for free. We like to think that we're above people simply telling us what we want to hear, all the while thinking that the tactic survives solely on the gullibility of others. But all belief, all perception of truth, is based on a willingness to believe. (Despite what we might think, it's actually not possible to make someone believe something that they don't wish to.) And while we may be unwilling to believe that someone offering free compliments is on the up-and-up, it becomes trickier when we've paid for the privilege of being told how wonderful, bright and wise we are.