Tag Archives: engagement

Move on over, Movember.

Should I do the #Movember thing? I gave up on mustaches back in 1999, after I’d laid the groundwork to bring them back into style.


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The enemy is… human?

There is not much I can add to this very useful post by conservative blogger, Caleb Howe, entitled “I don’t like Roger Ebert.” Personally, I do like Roger Ebert, most of the time, but I can see why conservatives find him to be almost as maddening as I find Glenn Beck to be. Now, perhaps I can try to see the humanity in Glenn Beck. Might be tough…


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The Hearty Boys: competing with a big ol’ phrasemonger

If I gave awards for competing with phrasemongers, the inaugural winners would be the Chicago caterers, one-time Food Network stars, and gay fathers Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, professionally known as the Hearty Boys.

I’ll recap very quickly: Mike Huckabee gave an interview to The College of New Jersey’s student newspaper, The Perspective. In the interview, he compared homosexuality to drug use, incest, and polygamy. He also suggested that gays and lesbian couples should not be allowed to adopt, because, “Children are not puppies.” He clearly implies that giving rights to LGBTQ people, whether to serve openly in the military, to marry, or to adopt children is just social experimentation, not an issue of human rights.

So, this was published, and then Huckabee claimed his statements in the interview were grossly distorted, and asked the paper to release the tapes to prove it. So they did. No distortion is apparent.

So, here Mike Huckabee has become the phrasemonger of the week, with egg all over his face that he refuses to acknowledge. This is where the Hearty Boys step in. Basically, in an effort to repay an insult with a blessing, they’ve invited Huckabee to come to dinner at their home, and meet them and their son, to see for himself that they are a stable, loving family. Is there a better way to compete with phrasemongers? Inviting somebody to your home for what is sure to be a fantastic dinner sure beats the arguing I engage in, here!

Smith and McDonagh, I salute you for being ready to sit down with and serve and feed and share with somebody who wishes you could not enjoy the family you enjoy. That is the most Christian response I can imagine.

This story is getting some traction in the news. You can follow the story as it unfolds via their Facebook site, Twitter, and McDonagh’s new blog.

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The cognitive difficulties to competing with phrasemongers

I’ve heard about these studies before–the ones that demonstrate how woefully inept we humans are at integrating information that contradicts our existing opinions or beliefs. I’ve heard about it before, even studied this confirmation bias, as psychologists refer to it, in school, but still, this op-ed in the NY Times seems designed to make me conclude that my whole blog is a waste of time. I’m actually asking people to coldly and rationally consider the evidence when forming opinions on controversial issues? Is this some sort of martyr complex?

I actually do believe that we have the capability to debias ourselves, dial down the rhetoric and dial up the fact-checking. It takes effort, but I think it is well worth it. What about you? Do you think this is a worthwhile approach? Or would I be, strategically, more effective just making up facts to convince people to agree with what I think?


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Some things never change: hysterical scaremongering vs. healthcare

Keep America Committee flyer, 1955

I found this flyer on a post at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub. I wanted to know more about the “Keeping America Committee,” so I did a little lazy, wiki-based research. It appears that the third evil plot listed in the flyer refers to a past attempt at federal provision of mental healthcare, the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act of 1956 (Alaska was still a territory).  The Act was opposed as a Communist/internationalist/UN plot by a familiar-sounding coalition:

…a nationwide network of activists began a vociferous campaign to torpedo the Alaska Mental Health Bill. The campaigners included, among other groups and individuals, the white supremacist Rev. Gerald L. K. Smith; Women for God and Country; the For America League; the Minute Women of the U.S.A.; the right-wing agitator Dan Smoot; the anti-Catholic former US Army Brigadier General Herbert C. Holdridge; and L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology, which had been founded only two years earlier.   (see link for full wiki)

If you have time, the wiki is a chilling read, particularly section 3. The cast of characters reminds me of the Tea-Partiers in their increasingly bigoted, violent hysteria (note the reflexive mention of anti-Semitism in the flyer), and the rhetoric could have been written by today’s Republican Party. And what were they protesting? The establishment of an Alaskan mental health care system, by land-grant of the federal government, to stop the outsourcing of care to a cost-padding hospital contractor in Portland. More specifically, they were protesting the establishment of a panel that could commit mental patients. Never mind that such panels already existed elsewhere–this would be on federal territorial land, funded with federal territorial resources. The land grant was therefore obviously the first step toward a Siberian gulag in the USA, intended to purge UNESCO critics. What else could it be?

10 years ago, I would have laughed at this loose coalition’s willingness to out-McCarthy Joe McCarthy and make themselves a particularly sorry, fringy footnote in the history books. But now, after a year of healthcare reform debate, it just sounds tiresome and far too familiar.

So have today’s conservatives just temporarily reverted to 1955?  I’m afraid not. As you no doubt know, in one of the less believable sorties against healthcare reform the Republican National Committee Chairperson, Michael Steele, claimed that fighting the Democratic healthcare bill was really about defending Medicare. This is an interesting 180° turn for the Republicans, given the amount of scaremongering against Medicare when it was established in the 1960’s. You might recognize the narrator of this screed, as he was our President for 8 years and is the patron saint of the Republican Party. Here is the Gipper, trying to scare the shit out of our parents and grandparents.

(On a side note, just for the sake of exposing hypocrisy, there is an excellent summary here of attempts by conservative Republicans to eviscerate Medicare over the past 30 years. With defenders like this…)

But let’s get back to another one of those 3 scary devices of the Red Menace in the flyer at the top of the post. The polio vaccine as Communist infiltration tool is too ridiculous to even address, but what about the scourge of fluoridated water? Now, as exceptionally backward and ludicrous as the flyer appears, there is a fringe community in the US that still believes fluoridated water is a mind-control device. Alex Jones was pursuing the fluoride hysteria just two years ago in the name of Ron Paul, and apparently he thought the flyer was pretty good evidence that people have known about this all along. Whether or not fluoride in our water helps our teeth, it obviously hasn’t worked so well at mind-control, or we wouldn’t have such a polarized political climate, would we?

I have friends who object to the healthcare plan for honest, conservative reasons. Too bad they can’t make their voices heard above the lunatic fringe.


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Phrasemongery galore!

First, we have the Texas Board of Education, mongering the history books. Then, we have an outraged pundit who seems to want us to think that the Texas Board of Education is making their decisions at Klan meetings. Nice one. Thanks for not helping at all. It seems far more likely that the Texas Board of Education is a group of in-over-their-heads amateurs making embarrassing calls on the basis of haste and ignorance.

Anyhow, two more tic marks in the bad-for-public-discourse column.  Here’s one on the good side: Chris Cillizza’s 5 Myths column in this coming Sunday’s Washington Post. We appear to be time traveling, reading a column about healthcare reform THREE DAYS INTO THE FUTURE! Cleverer and cleverer.

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Weather and climate change aren’t the same

This is a quick one. Plenty of people have been saying that this winter’s very cold temperatures are proof that global warming is not happening. Of course, if one engages in five minutes of study of global warming, one learns that global warming doesn’t predict local weather events, like hurricanes or heat waves or cold snaps. It predicts rising temperatures, on average, over time, which might lead to greater weather volatility, and less polar ice. Global warming models have about as much to do with weather prediction as your 401k has to do with intra-day stock trades and short-term commodities speculation. Very little.

But here’s an interesting article about arctic oscillation, the source of our current cold weather in the northern hemisphere. Unfortunately, this cold weather in our temperate latitudes comes with higher temperatures in the Arctic. Doh! The effects on sea-levels, however, are unclear, because the attendant wind currents might prevent some of the arctic ice from drifting south to melt.

Let us be more informed, and not base what we think about global warming on the weather we experience day-to-day.


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She asked him why did he not write out his thoughts.

She asked him why did he not write out his thoughts.  For what, he asked her, with careful scorn.  To compete with phrasemongers, incapable of thinking consecutively for sixty seconds?  To submit himself to the criticisms of an obtuse middle class which entrusted its morality to policemen and its fine arts to impresarios?  
– James Joyce, A Painful Case

The above is a cultural reaction to which many of us can no doubt relate.  Joyce seems (again) particularly prescient, as we find that a thought lasting longer than 60 seconds is a terribly rare and precious commodity in our brave new millennium.  Of course, as Joyce’s idealist discovers, the ivory purity of self-imposed exile is neither satisfying nor free of consequence.

So hey guess what I decided to blog.  Original, I know.  I find myself increasingly frustrated with the very poor quality of analysis and discourse in the public sphere, which, thankfully, does not make me unique.  I don’t flatter myself to think I can change this, but I suppose that I must make my own case for deep analysis and applied reason, with the goal of greater insight.

If you’re reading this initial post, you are most likely a friend of mine already.  So I hope you’ll forgive me when I don’t post in the most regular fashion.  I’ll do my best, and I will avoid filler.

Feel free to leave a shoutout in the comments.



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