Chin Up, Shoulders Back, Aim for the Throat

Modified slightly from the discussion here.

This is my country and the regressive yahoos can take it from me when they pry it, etc. Especially since they don’t have a clue what to do with it except strip it of every unique thing it’s accomplished.

I’m not calling for optimism out of naivety. I know what the problems are. I know how bad our situation is. I also know the country is not going to stay the same. Countries never do. My choices are to give up on it and watch it move in the wrong direction, steered there by the underlying issues that have gotten us where we are, knowing I gave up, or to work to fix those problems and push the country in the direction I want it to go.

That’s it. No more choices.

Despair is a luxury we can’t afford right now. I know it’s been a long time since it’s appeared that there was anything to look forward to. I know you may be tired and dispirited. I’d buy you a beer and let you cry in it if I could.

But then I would remind you that there is work to be done. While we’ve been pushing for a long time, for the first time in almost that long, there are signs that the pushing can get something moving.

How long has it been since you’ve seen a majority of the electorate turn up its noses at negative advertising? How long has it been since most of the people you know don’t automatically associate free-market capitalism with prosperity and an aggressive military strategy with security? How long has it been since you’ve seen someone turn to a wonk who speaks in multisyllables for reassurance? How long has it been since you’ve seen people perk up at a call to their own responsibility?

We have an opportunity that I haven’t seen in my lifetime, but it won’t do us any good if we collapse at the critical point. There’s still fight left in the idiots who got us to this place. We have to find the fight in ourselves to keep them from winning.

Or, in the immortal words of Booger, “Buck up, little camper. We’ll beat that slope together.”

The Cynicism of the “Realist”

I ran into another one yesterday. You know them, the ones who say, “Obama isn’t perfect, you know. He’s just not that different from McCain. I mean, I’ll vote for him, but really….”

The next one gets swatted. Hard.

Aside from the fact that anyone with a brain can tell that there are big differences between Obama and McCain–of policy, of personality, of integrity–this statement is totally wrong in one thing. It reeks of cynicism.

This last one didn’t think so. He said, “Don’t confuse realism with cynicism StephanieZ. I do think there’s a legitimate case to be made for picking the lesser of two evils in swing states, but as Chomsky notes one should do so without any illusions.”

The lesser of two evils? If that isn’t cynicism, what is it? It’s certainly not realism.

How is it evil to suggest that more people should have access to affordable health care? How is it evil to say we need to understand the racial divide as a first step to closing it? How is it evil to suggest that our policies abroad are hurtful to the world and need to be changed? How is it evil to say that those who have profited from the last eight years need to help pay for them?

“But he’s not perfect,” I hear. Excuse me, but duh. Of course he isn’t perfect. Neither is the situation he’ll step into in January. Far from it.

Obama isn’t perfect. He’s progress.

Obama and his policies are progress that we desperately need right now. Every moderate to liberal politician we send to D.C. with him is forward motion. Each step we take in pushing those politicians to enact his platform is one step out of the mire.

That’s right. This doesn’t end with the election. We all still have plenty of work to do after that happens. We have to demand the changes we’ve been promised. Some of us will have to suck it up and pay our share where we haven’t been. We have to tell each other that hatred is unacceptable. We have to fight the lies that will be told.

We have to fight the cynicism.

This last piece is critical. We’ve been wandering deeper into the mire for far too long. It will take us years to get out. We’ll get tired. We’ll find it all too easy to say that another hard-fought step toward the edge still puts us in the muck, so what’s the difference? We’ll have all the realism we can handle.

It’s even possible that we’ll forget what the dry land beyond the edge looks like, but we can never dismiss it as an illusion. That way lies cynicism–and the realism of the mire.

Replace Michele Bachmann Blog Carnival

…#4 is up at Greg Laden’s Blog. He rightly titles this edition, “We Told You So,” and makes an admission:

A few weeks ago, Stephanie Zvan and I hatched a plot, I mean developed an action plan, to provide a weekly carnival of posts regarding Michele Bachmann. We quickly asked Radio Talk Show Host Mike Haubrich if he would join us in this effort, and he agreed.

Yep, the three of us, along with many local bloggers, including the tireless Dump Michele Bachmann blog, have been working to spread the news about just how atrocious Bachmann really is.

This week, without our help, she showed the world. The new edition of the carnival reflects all the attention it’s bought her. To highlight a few of my favorites:

Brian Lambert reminds us that Bachmann’s words on Hardball are neither isolated nor a fluke:

But Bachmann and her kind — Sarah Palin, the Rovians running McCain’s campaign, Sean Hannity, nine out of ten “personalities” on talk radio and nearly 100% of their listeners — don’t understand anything beyond the buzzwords, slogans, kill-phrases and hollow paeans to patriotism they hear on the radio and at CPAC conferences. More to the point, their reckless indifference to reality is now strikingly obvious to the general public.

Tangled Up in Blue Guy has had quite enough:

I am an American. I am proud to be an American and I am fucking sick if this goddamned attitude by these holier-than-thou ultra-right radical Republicans attacking the patriotism of those of us that actually think that this country should live up to our stated ideals.

The Vine faces the dilemma that all sane people do when looking at Bachmann:

Of course, common sense tells me that she’s such an obvious idiot that no one would listen to her, but then reality kicks me in the face and reminds me that, for some inexplicable reason, a bunch of people actually voted for her. WTF were they thinking?

The Minnesota Independent truly sums up the carnival’s theme:

Following Rep. Michele Bachmann’s appearance with Chris Matthews yesterday, America is learning what many in Minnesota already knew, which is that putting Bachmann in front of a live microphone is like handing an excitable 15-year-old a bottle of gin and a loaded gun. The only question is when something unspeakable is going to happen.

And much, much more.

The Introvert’s Bill of Rights

Shrinking Violet Promotions, whose blog is subtitled “Marketing for Introverts,” are putting together a little list of awesome. They’re calling it The Introvert’s Bill of Rights. Some of my favorites:

8. Introverts have the right not to have to explain why they need down time or alone time.

14. Introverts have the right to screen phone calls or cut short exhausting phone conversations as needed.

16. Introverts have the right to listen for long periods of time.

19. Introverts don’t have to raise their hand in class.

25. An introvert has the right to create a paradoxical public image, one that claims to reveal as little about themselves as humanly possible while doing the exact opposite.

See? Awesome. And they’re still taking suggestions. I’ve thrown out:

Introverts have the right, when told, “You must meet so-and-so,” to say, “No. I don’t. But I might do it anyway.”

Introverts have the right to be wildly social for a brief period without being congratulated for it and told they’re doing “better.”

Introverts have the right to smile without it being treated as an invitation.

Surely there are more. Why not add yours?

Thanks to Nathan for the original link.

Who Is Anti-American?

You’ve seen it, of course. U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann on Hardball. Just in case you haven’t, just in case you usually feel Matthews is too obnoxious to watch, I’m going to post it again here, because this may be the most important video of this election season. I ask that you watch it.

It’s tempting, seeing this, hearing this, to dismiss Bachmann as a crazy. She makes it easy, as she always does, with the startlingly wide eyes and the smiles at inappropriate times and the words. Oh, the words.

But dismissing her would be a mistake. Bachmann isn’t trying to scuttle her campaign. She isn’t quite insane. She’s so wrong on so many counts that it’s painful to think about, but she knows what she wants and she’s doing what she thinks she needs to get it.

What does Bachmann want? She wants what her church wants, as evidenced by her pastor’s endorsement. She believes that God has guided her life, not generally, but very specifically to this point. She wants to make the prosperity gospel an American reality. She wants the few who believe like her to see proof that they believe correctly. The only way for them to have this proof (to replace their faith) is to end up the ones on top.

With that in mind, Bachmann’s positions suddenly make more…well, they look more consistent. She wants to take steps like drilling in ANWR to make the country more financially independent but supports the Bush plan to bring American-style (read Christian) democracy to a Muslim country. This isn’t a conflict between isolationism and interventionism. It’s keeping the money here to reward those who are sending others to fight heresy abroad.

She’s a pro-lifer, because her church tells her she must be, but is happy to leave the health of everyone else in the hands of God. God will also provide, apparently, for transportation projects in Bachmann’s district–if he so chooses. Bachmann won’t. She’s not interested in sharing, even with her constituents. For everything else, her votes make up a litany of denial.

It’s with this litany that the point of Bachmann’s Hardball appearance starts to become clear. Matthews didn’t push her into saying anything she didn’t believe. He merely asked enough questions that she did what she’s been dying to do since the Republicans made her one of the voices of their party in September. She went off script and said what she really thinks.

Liberals, with their concern for more than the rich and the fundamentalist Christian, with their willingness to tax the chosen people, really are betraying America. They may be betraying only the America that exists in Bachmann’s head, in her pastor’s head, in the heads of those that follow the prosperity gospel, but this is still a betrayal.

They’ll do whatever needs to be done to stop them. Investigation, sanction, slander, more? That’s just fine. This isn’t a class war that Bachmann and the others are fighting, after all. It’s a religious war–in America.

And it doesn’t get much more anti-American than that.

Fun With Numbers

Michele Bachmann may have done in her congressional campaign last night. Want proof? ActBlue, a site that raises money for Democratic campaigns, had about $4,000 in receipt for her challenger, El Tinklenberg, before Bachmann’s appearance yesterday. They now have $141,000. Oops, I mean $142,000.

You can literally watch the money coming in–for a campaign that raised $1M in the first nine months of the year. Just click refresh. Or you can make it go up yourself.

$144,000. Whee!

Sensical Nonsense

Jessica has a post up at bioephemera about Turing tests and the Mechanical Turk, an eighteenth century hoax automaton. Good stuff. Go read. I’ll wait.
.
.
.
And welcome back. If you read all the way into the comments, you’ll have noticed that I said that any Turing test I administered would have to involve sensical nonsense. You’ll also have noticed that someone had difficulty with the concept. Or maybe only pretended to have a problem. Either way, it’s an excuse to talk more about a subject near to my heart.

‘I’m sure I’ll take you with pleasure!’ the Queen said. ‘Twopence a week, and jam every other day.’

Alice couldn’t help laughing, as she said, ‘I don’t want you to hire ME — and I don’t care for jam.’

‘It’s very good jam,’ said the Queen.

‘Well, I don’t want any TO-DAY, at any rate.’

‘You couldn’t have it if you DID want it,’ the Queen said. ‘The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday — but never jam to-day.’

‘It MUST come sometimes to “jam to-day,”‘ Alice objected.

‘No, it can’t,’ said the Queen. ‘It’s jam every OTHER day: to-day isn’t any OTHER day, you know.’

Lewis Carroll’s work is perhaps the pinnacle of sensical nonsense, but we all do it. It certainly doesn’t require a Humanities degree.

Think British rhyming slang. Think highly creative swearing. Think about the ability of any noun to stand in for XX in the statement, “Did you see the XXes on that one?” Think about teenagers. Have you seen the House outtakes where Jennifer Morrison and Lisa Edelstein deliver their lines in Valley speak?

To some extent, all communication relies on the willingness of both parties to understand and be understood. There’s enough flexibility in language that even the most careful communications can be misinterpreted, not just deliberately, but also through the writer and the reader not working to reach the same place.

Sensical nonsense requires a commitment to understand each other that goes beyond regular verbal communication. It requires a certain shared culture, so that the shape and direction of a conversation don’t have to be carried by the words. Instead, they can carry the words, so the words can be almost anything. For example:

Alternately, sensical nonsense can require the willingness to carry an extended metaphor beyond any reasonable limit and the trust that both parties are still talking about the same subject. It can require the tenacity to follow a conversation that takes sharp turns over the multiple meanings of a word, when a statement uses one meaning and the reply uses another. It can require the patience to filter through a stream of verbiage that does nothing more than express the identity of the speaker.

In short, sensical nonsense can be a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of work. And it depends on so much beyond mere language that I have no idea how one would ever teach a computer to do it.

Getting Out More

…well, at least on the internet. Seriously, I read more than the three blogs I’ve been running around interlinking with for the last few days. What else have I been reading?

Will Shetterly is also talking, as is most of the country, about race.

In Florida in the early ’60s—when I was marching with my family for civil rights, when we got anonymous death threats in the night, when we couldn’t get fire insurance because word was out that the Ku Klux Klan would burn us down—the classifications of prejudice were precise:

He’s also making pronouncements on the subject of endings.

There are two kinds of endings, abrupt ones and leisurely ones. When they work, they work for the same reason: they imply that characters’ lives have been changed by the events of the story. That may be especially true of stories that restore the status quo—in the best of those stories, the world is restored, but the characters and their relationships have changed.

Kelly McCullough is writing about endings too, specifically happy ones.

…one human being’s lie is another’s necessary myth. Sometimes you’re in a place in your life where you need look no further than tomorrow to see how ugly the world can be and then that lie of happily ever after can be the myth that keeps hope alive long enough for freedom or healing or happiness to become truth.

K. Tempest Bradford is, in her inimitable style, offering a different sort of advice for writers.

All you authors out there, we need to have a talk. Sit down.

Tell me, if someone were to Google your name, or the name you write under, right now, would they be able to find you?

Reesa Brown and Kit O’Connell are starting a series on business advice for artists.

Presuming the words “business model” haven’t already scared off our artistic readers, how do you start approaching this topic? Well, the same technology that provides new means of telling stories and sharing art provides new means of deriving income from the stories.

Christopher Waldrop just really wants to know whether zombies are dead.

But there are only so many things you can do with a walking corpse. What made Shaun Of The Dead so damned funny was that the zombies were almost secondary to the drama of a guy reluctantly growing up, but that’s also why, watching it, I felt like it was the apex of the zombie genre.

Jessica Palmer doesn’t just want to know things. She wants to know how we know things, and she features a project that can help us figure that out.

One of the hardest tasks I encountered as a professor was getting my students to recognize that all of their convictions – even assumptions as basic as “the world is round” or “the sun will come up tomorrow” – are built on a lifetime of accumulated experience. Sometimes the experience is direct: we’ve all seen the sun come up. But sometimes it’s not.

And almost immediately after posting an apology for her lack of posts (and hours before McCain tried to use it against Obama), Muse in Vivo brings us back to politics by dissecting the idea that spreading the wealth is a bad thing.

Seeing as that ideal – of a full time worker being capable of maintaining a basic quality of life – is not exactly working out on its own, we as a society need to fix something.

Enjoy. I did.

Diversity Now

Riffing off the discussion of racist arguments here and on Greg’s blog, DrugMonkey asked why ScienceBlogs looks so unlike the rest of the world. Shortly thereafter, Isis the Scientist took a bunch of us to task for advocating for diversity because it would make us feel better. (Utterly incomplete summaries of both posts. Read them and the comments.)

The conversation between Isis and her readers developed into a discussion of bottom-up versus top-down policies to increase diversity in science. After thinking about the matter further, I have to disagree with the dear Dr., and not just over the question of whether I’m “adorable.” I want diversity yesterday, and I’m not willing to wait until we get candidates who meet the same qualifications as the current crop of scientists.

Setting aside the social justice issues as givens, I have two very selfish reasons for wanting the inside of science to look the same as the world outside.

  1. It will increase the general trust in science.
  2. It will produce better science.

I’ve been in (probably far too) many discussions about the image problems of science. You know the refrain: “Those arrogant, irrelevant, condescending elitists? Why should I listen to them?” You’ll keep hearing it as long as science looks and sounds like “them” instead of “us.” As long as science doesn’t look like them, people won’t believe it’s working fully in their interest. And they’ll be right.

As long as science doesn’t include some group, it will fail to ask questions of vital importance to that group. Remember how the health of middle-class white men was once assumed to be the same thing as general human health? Nor is it over. What do decision-making and communication studies using undergraduate subjects really tell us about everyone else? Even when they’re replicated more broadly, how does the fact that they’re tailored for this group affect the results?

The best way to fix both problems is to make sure that the inside of science looks as much like the outside world as we can make it. I want everyone on the inside, all the insides.

I want men and women and the transgendered in there. I want people of all ethnic backgrounds. I want immigrants, native-born and aboriginals. I want parents and the childless and the child-free. I want the inspired and the plodders. I want people who came to science as a second or third career and those who have never once wanted to do anything else. I want the specialists and the bumblebees flitting from discipline to discipline.

I want workaholics and part-timers and hobbyists. I want people of all sorts of sexualities. I want grand theorists and precision techs. I want introverts and glad-handers. I want the poor and the economically privileged. I want administrators and people who want to play in the dirt. I want believers and skeptics. I want those whose personal ambition drives them to compete and those who view science as a community endeavor.

I want the followers and the feather-smoothers and the punks and the gadflies. I want gamblers and people who take only solid odds. I want city kids and farm kids and suburbanites. I want popularizers and people who qualify their jargon for precision’s sake. I want the disgustingly healthy and the disabled. I want the organized and those who will put ideas together because they pick up two seemingly unrelated papers when a stack tumbles to the floor.

I want everyone. I want people I don’t know I want.

The problem with having a limited outlook is that we don’t–we can’t–know what it is that we don’t know. None of us can know who will ask different questions than we do, important questions. None of us can know how different the world looks from even a slightly different angle, what connections others can see that we can’t. We need this information.

In science–in any endeavor that requires thinking–diversity is not just a nice idea. It’s a qualification in its own right. And it’s the one qualification that can’t be fostered without reaching outside.