Category Archives: Ideology

More than just Resistance to Science

In the May 18th issue of Science there is a revew paper by Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg. An expanded version of it also appeared recently in Edge and many science bloggers are discussing it these days.
Enrique has the best one-sentence summary of the article:

The main source of resistance to scientific ideas concerns what children know prior to their exposure to science.

The article divides that “what children know prior to their exposure to science” into two categories: the intuitive grasp of the world (i.e., conclusions they come up with on their own) and the learned understanding of the world (i.e., conclusions they absorb from the adults around them):

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Do Serbs really want to join the EU?

An interesting poll came out of Gallup yesterday:
Despite Kosovo Intervention, Serbians Favor EU Membership

On May 15, the Serbian parliament approved a new coalition government led by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and President Boris Tadic, both moderates who would like to see their country join the European Union within the next decade. “Serbia’s aspiration to become a full member of the EU is a clearly declared commitment of every party in this coalition,” Kostunica told the parliament prior to confirmation.
However, Serbia’s refusal to compromise on any plan for the future of Kosovo that grants independence to the breakaway province is a stumbling block on the road to EU membership. Kosovo has been administered by the UN since 1999, when NATO ousted Serbian forces that had killed 10,000 ethnic Albanian civilians in the region.
What does the Serbian public think about the EU? Despite that the EU has brokered the Ahtisaari Plan that would grant Kosovo a form of “supervised independence,” 63% of Serbians living in Serbia say they have a “very positive” (24%) or “somewhat positive” (39%) opinion of the role the EU is playing in the Balkan region. A similar number, 62%, say they think Serbian membership in the EU would be a good thing. Just 9% feel it would be a bad thing.

Sure, the brunt of anger is directed at the USA, Warren Christopher, Madelaine Albright and Wes Clark (and at the domestic war criminals as well, including Milosevic, who should have offered his hospitality to the aforementioned trio in his cell in The Hague), not the Europeans which are natural neighbors, allies, friends and business partners. America is a far-away continent somewhere at the edge of the world map and can be safely ignored, but Europe is where the country is, so one better play nice with the EU.
Also, many see the 1990s as a temporary interruption in the road to EU membership. Back in the late 1980s, when Belgrade almost got to host the ’92 Olympics (lost to Barcelona in the last voting round), Yugoslavia was first in line to join the union. Many there see the renewed effort as a continuation of that process. After all, if they are now all lovey-dovey with the other ex-Yugoslav republics (of which Slovenia is already now an EU member) after they went to war against them, why treat EU as an enemy?

There is less consensus on whether the Serbian government is doing everything necessary to join the EU. Just under half (48%) of Serbians feel it is, while 37% say it isn’t. One possible factor in these perceptions is the ongoing failure of the Serbian government to locate and arrest war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic. In May 2006, the EU suspended talks on the first steps toward membership, declaring that negotiations would not resume until Mladic was in custody.

No surprise, after a strange and prolonged election earlier this year. Everyone is looking askance at the leadership.

Results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted during February 2007 with randomly selected samples of 1,566 Serbians aged 15 and older. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

This is troubling – face-to-face? This means that most of the people interviewed were in big cities: Belgrade and perhaps (hopefully!) a few other big cities like Nis, Novi Sad or Kragujevac. I doubt that the Gallup people trekked into the mountains to interview people in tiny villages.
The entire 1990s wars of the Balkans were wars between city and country, between an urban, modern, democratic, liberal, pro-European mindset held by people who are educated, speak foreign languages and travel abroad, and the rural, illiterate, backwards, conservative, patriarchal, nationalistic, religious-fundamentalist mindset held by people living in small places. Sorta like the Red/Blue divide in the USA. It was the local conservatives of various ethnicities who joined the paramilitary groups and faught each other, while the local liberals remained in the cities or fled the country. Bombings of Vukovar, Sarajevo and Dubrovnik were bombings of cultural and social elites (of many ethnicities living together) by the drunk peasants from one ethnic side or another. Bombing of Belgrade by NATO was exactly the same thing.
Kosovo is historically the cradle of Serbia. A millenium ago Serbia was Kosovo – it is only the later wars and realignments that gave Serbia additional territory to the north, including Belgrade. All the churches, monasteries and monuments that define Serbian statehood are located in Kosovo. The emotional atachment is completely understandable.
Imagine if Virginia decided to secede from the USA and the entire rest of the world threatened military – including nuclear – intervention (on top of cessation of all trade) in case the US government interfered with the secession? Can you imagine the emotions this would elicit?
A century ago, Kosovo was inhabited by Serbs and Albanians in about a 9:1 ratio. Differences in birthrates, slow emigration of Serbs over decades for economic reasons (Kosovo is the poorest region of the former Yugoslavia), and the ethnic cleansing of Serbs at the hands of KLA in the 1980s (that was the first use of the term in history – Milosevic rose to power by promising to stop it and protect the local Serbian population) completely reversed that ratio to 1:9. Finally, in 1999, almost all of the rest of the Serbs fled Clark’s bombs and depleted uranium, leaving only tiny scatterings of Serbs still living in the province.
So, what is one to do? The rural folks, who have nothing personal to be proud of, who suffered group-related humiliation for a decade (demonization of Serbs by the western media, loss of territory, getting cleansed out of Croatia and Bosnia, finally getting bombed, while Milosevic gave up on everything one thing at a time) have only one thing to cling to – Kosovo. Defending it to the bitter end. It is a matter of ego.
But the urban folks – those who were likely the majority of interviewees in this poll – are pragmatic. They can afford to, because they have individual, personal strengths to keep their self-esteem. They are educated, perhaps successful in business, politics or academia. They are capable of losing Kosovo without losing their identities (and without losing their minds). They see Kosovo as a thing of the past and EU as the future, and future is more important.
So, I’d like to see a poll that carefully differentiates between urban and rural folks (party affiliation may be a better indicator than actual physical address, as many of the rural folks are now refugees in big cities) before I agree that the Serbian population as a whole is so enthusiastic about joining the EU.

Carnival of the Liberals #39

Well, it’s been a while…. since I hosted the CotL #3 about a year and a half ago. It’s ripe time to do it again. Not that it was ever easy to choose ten best written and most creative posts out of dozens of great entries! I spent the last few days agonizing and wishing I could include 20 or 30 or 40…but rules are rules, so here it goes, the brand new Carnival of the Liberals:
The Ridger of The Greenbelt digs for deeper causes in Not slavery – abolition:

Upsetting tyrants is noble, isn’t it?

Charles H. Green knows that Trust Matters and right now you should trust me that his post is well worth your time to read: Does Business Squeeze the Poor?:

Their arguments have the sound of 18th century English political theorists writing about natural law.

(Th)read carefully when Hell’s handmaiden goes subversively satirical before turning deadly serious: Guns and killin? And knives and garden tools, cars, rat poison?

Even good, well adjusted, happy people can be volatile sometimes.

Dave of Daveawayfromhome has a nine-point plan for Iraq. You may not agree with each point, but it will surely make you think (out of the box): My baby’s nation wont return my calls, redux:

The Iraqis are not a bunch of children.

GreenSmile of The Executioners Thong has a radical idea: Strangers in a strange land:

Only adults should ever study such dangerous stuff.

Faith of the gorgeous That is so Queer… blog wrote a post in two parts, one going in, the other pulling out (yes, you have to learn in slow, easy steps): Logic…or, ‘Hello? Is this thing on?’ and Oh no they didn’t:

Essentially it’s about the big abstinence pull-out…

Zeno is almost Halfway There, or, actually was 100% there in 1980 when the story takes place: Farewell to Falwell:

He pulled all of our strings simultaneously, carrying the unwilling along with the perfervid true believers.

Romeo Vitelli of Providentia provides a lesson in history: Becoming Lili:

The resulting furor when this reached the media was all that could be expected.

Steppen Wolf is The skeptical alchemist and she shows how everything is interconnected in, well, every country in the world. Perhaps a look at Italy can help jumpstart some inquiries closer to home, wherever that may be: Map of power in the Country of Jokes:

No, it is not going to be cheesy: it is going to be scary.

Now we can finally understand the root causes of all of Jon Swift’s problems: My Mother Is a Terrible Person:

Thank goodness my father made an honest woman out of her and saved me from being a bastard.

Everything you wanted to know about the Carnival of the Liberals you can find on its homepage. The next host will be the Grand Champion of the Carnival, Dr.Biobrain, so start sending your entries today using this easy submission form.

If the (description of the) Beginning was wrong, so is the End

A must-read by Sara Robinson. You can use it to understand the persistence of Creationism. Or the lack of Internal Locus of Moral Authority in people belonging to Moral Majority.

Feldman Skewered

It appears that scientists are not the only ones who do not grok framing. Jeffrey Feldman’s book got blasted by some ninkompoop in NY Times yesterday. Jeff responds:

Indeed, when I read that passage I wondered if the reviewer had given up on reading my book just after glancing through the table of contents. It seems that, instead of writing about my book, Fairbanks popped in a DVD of “The Matrix,” or maybe “A Clockwork Orange,” and then churned out a piece of creative non-fiction reacting to those other works of sci-fi.

Update: More about the “fairbanksing” of Feldman here, here and here.

How many things are wrong with this study?

Here, have a go at it. Even better, if you can get the actual paper and dissect it on your blog, let me know so I can link to that. Have fun!
Good Behavior, Religiousness May Be Genetic:

A new study in Journal of Personality shows that selfless and social behavior is not purely a product of environment, specifically religious environment. After studying the behavior of adult twins, researchers found that, while altruistic behavior and religiousness tended to appear together, the correlation was due to both environmental and genetic factors.
According to study author Laura Koenig, the popular idea that religious individuals are more social and giving because of the behavioral mandates set for them is incorrect. “This study shows that religiousness occurs with these behaviors also because there are genes that predispose them to it.”
“There is, of course, no specific gene for religiousness, but individuals do have biological predispositions to behave in certain ways,” says Koenig. “The use of twins in the current study allowed for an investigation of the genetic and environmental influences on this type of behavior.”
This research is another example of the way that genes have an impact on behavior. “Society as a whole assumes that home environments have large impacts on behavior, but studies in behavior genetics are repeatedly showing that our behavior is also influenced by our genes,” says Koenig.

The Power of Emoti(c)ons

Energy Use Study Demonstrates Remarkable Power Of Social Norms:

Most people want to be normal. So, when we are given information that underscores our deviancy, the natural impulse is to get ourselves as quickly as we can back toward the center. Marketers know about this impulse, and a lot of marketing makes use of social norms. This is especially true of campaigns targeting some kind of public good: reducing smoking or binge drinking, for example, or encouraging recycling.

This tendency may not always be used for good. This is, after all, the idea behind the Overton Window, which the Right wing has abused for about three decades now – moving the ‘window’ of what is socially and politically acceptable further and further to the Right, to the extent that extreme Right-wing rhetoric and ideas, bordering on fascist, are acceptable, while anything left of center is deemed unpalatable (“socialist”, as if that was a bad word or something).
I have noted before that neither Clinton nor Obama understand the concept and thus play straight into the conservatives’ hands, allowing or even helping them to keep moving the “center” further to the right (while only Edwards understands this and wants to move it back to the Center where it belongs). This also explains why people with a Compulsive Centrist Disorder, including the pundits, keep moving to the Right and keep calling it the Center.
But, perhaps the study linked above can give us some ideas:

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Blog Against Theocracy

Neural Gourmet and Blue Gal are organizing a massive blogospheric Blog Against Theocracy weekend:

I’d like invite you all to Blog Against Theocracy. This is a little blog swarm being put together by everybody’s favorite panties blogger Blue Gal for Easter weekend, April 6th through the 8th. The idea is simple. Just post something related to, and in support of, the separation of church and state each of those three days. Something big, something small, artistic, musical, textual or otherwise. The topic is your choosing. Whether your thing is stem cell research, intelligent design/Creationism, abortion rights, etc., it’s all good. Separation of church and state impacts so many issues and is essential.

Mike Dunford wrote a couple of killer posts recently:

McCain, the Media, and Baghdad Security and A sadly necessary introduction
Unfortunately, that second one of them appeared as ‘Most Popular’ on Google News so the comments are filled with stupid Bushies (but hey, traffic must be great!). Perhaps an avalanche of readers not encumbered by irrational fear of terrorists, moslems, gays, women, blacks, liberals, etc. can go there and do some spring cleaning (I already did too much troll-feeding there…).


The best way to make it easy for the low-brow followers to kill the enemy is to dehumanize it. That is what right-wing talking-heads have been doing for a while. Of course, if someone actually gets killed, they did not do it – they were just telling “jokes” on radio or TV.

The Iraq War is four years old…

…yet even at the start of it, back in March 2003, The Onion understood the dynamics of war and the psychology of defenders of war better than almost half of Americans and all of GOP today.
[Hat-tip, commenter Lindsey]


A few months ago, Mike defined the Compulsive Centrist Disorder and I have argued something similar a number of times in the past, e.g., here and here. In short – there is no such thing as a political middle. There is no line between “Left” and “Right” that you can put your own dot on. Most issues are quite binary – there is a “for” position and an “against” position, with each perhaps having additional modifiers. On each issue, one makes a decision. If on most issues you take a conservative option, you are predominantly conservative, and likewise for liberal option. Most people hold some of both. Rare are the people who are 100% one or the other.
The effective electoral strategy is to force the issues on which most people are taking your position and to prevent the opposition to force the issues that favour them. Nobody is wishy-washy middle (not even Joe Klein) – either you are liberal or conservative on any given issue. If Dems want to win, they need to remind people of their liberal stands.
There is an interesting article and discussion about this topic over on Rockridge Institute’s site called Biconceptualism that may be of interest to you (but read Mike’s and my definitions first).

Video of the Day

Via Pam and Melissa, from Nation, the CPAC: The Unauthorized Documentary – must-see video showing what conservatism is:

Quote of the Day

And you don’t even have to believe in dinosaurs to share their fate.

From here. And the preceeding paragraph? Another great quote:

“You know how taking so long to end slavery is a shameful part of our history, and how long it took us to give the vote to women is a shameful part of our history? Well, I think in 20 years, we’re going to think that denying marriage to gays for so long is one of the great shames of our nation, too.” That’s from a teenager in Redneckville. She’s our future–and Donohue, LaBarbera, and company are just desperate dinosaurs.

The Reducible Complexity of John McCain

Evolution works according to a very small set of simple rules. If a) there is variation in a trait in a population and b) that variation is heritable and c) one variant is better adapted to the current local environment, then d) the best adapted trait will increase in the proportion within the population in the next generation. Once you understand this simple algorithm (perhaps, for fuller understanding, learn some basics of the ways genotype maps onto phenotype via development), everything about the living world is explainable without magic.
John McCain works according to a very small set of simple rules: “If the wind is blowing from the Right, blow your wind towards the Right, if it blows from the Left, blow your wind to the Left, if it comes from the Center, blow straight ahead.” Once you understand this simple algorithm, everything about John McCain is explainable without magic.
If you do not know the simple evolutionary algorithm, everything about Nature looks mysterious and you are likely to come up with ridiculous notions such as “irreducible complexity”. You become a creationist and join the Discovery Institute.
If you do not know the simple McCain algorithm, everything about him looks mysterious – why did he say one thing today and the oppsite yesterday? – and you come up with ridiculous notions such as “McCain the Maverick”. You become a lazy, incurious beltway journalist and join the CNN crew.
Also, have you seen McCain’s website? Jet black. Worthy of Loni Riftenschtal (sp?). But the “McCain wind theory”, as a true scientific theory, has predictive power. It predicts that, the day McCain wins the nomination (if he does), his website will turn red and sunny and lose the 1930s Germany feel to it.
So, there is no surprise that Discovery Institute is one of the sponsors of the McCain campaign stop in Seattle today.
And don’t expect the media to notice anything strange about it, either.

Horowitz still at it….

Trying to push an anti-free-speech bill in Arizona:

The Arizona bill, if enacted, could take self-censorship in schools to a new level.
“This is yet another bill that is seeking to restrict the free exchange of ideas on campus, and, frankly, this is probably the most extreme form we’ve seen yet,” Fitzgerald said. Unlike its cousins in other states, it lays out specific penalties when a teacher or professor advocates “one side of a social, political or cultural issue that is a matter of partisan controversy.”

And where MSM has to retain a dignified tone, the blogs can move in and trash the idiot with the full force of scorn Horowitz really deserves:

Nothing you say or write can be trusted or taken at face value–certainly not this newest tantrum. Your language play is too crude… you are like a con artist who has tried his tricks on the same people once too often.

How many ex-Yugoslavias?

How many ex-Yugoslavias?Back in May 21, 2006, Montenegro seceded from Serbia. Here is what I wrote:

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Wimp Factor

You know that I think that Wimp Factor is one of the most important yet least appreciated books about ideology and politics in recent years. So, I was really glad to see an excellent review of it by Amanda:

Regardless of you feelings about whether or not he’s got the right reasons for why anxious masculinity exists, his examination of the effects of it is right on the money.


It is all about sex, the repressed variety.

George Will is stuck in the 1930s

George Will is stuck in the 1930sThis is less than a year old (March 05, 2006), but instructive now that the campaigning has actually started…Also, click on the spiderweb icon to see interesting comments on the original post.

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The Importance of Words

Escalating Truth:

Words have meanings; they express ideas and ideas are important. The word “surge” came with the idea of a relatively small short-term increase in force that would be effective. Such previous troop increases had been ineffective and the joint chiefs saw no reason that this one would be effective either. The actual proposal called a “surge” was the opposite of what the word meant. In short, the very use of the word “surge” was a lie.
People all over the country noticed the “surge” framing immediately, and quickly — and accurately — reframed the President’s proposal as an “escalation.” Escalation is a strategy employed by an apparently superior power that is losing when it was expected to win. It is the strategy of raising the level of force and, hence, of violence, bringing in more troops, deepening one’s commitment to a strategy already in place, raising the bar for what is to count as “success” and for the removal of troops.

Fighting Words: Conservatives Stifle Progress on Iraq and Climate Crisis:

In recent years, many progressives have been learning that facts alone — without framing that conveys their context — are not enough. This lesson is forcefully demonstrated in cases in which conservatives tenaciously resist the use of language that reveals truth and lays bare their failed policies. The latest examples of this include a proposed non-binding Senate resolution opposing the deployment of greater numbers of troops to Iraq and an international report on the future of the world’s climate.

‘Spiral of Death’: How the Right-Wing Uses You to Attack PBS & NPR:

The $2.9 trillion budget that the Bush administration proposed this week cuts the budget for public broadcasting by nearly 25 percent. The cuts have already prompted the reaction that the Bush administration surely expected: progressive groups are asking their members to lobby Congress to protect PBS and NPR. Are progressives falling into a right-wing trap that reinforces the conservative framing of PBS and NPR as tools of a “liberal elite”?

Family Values:

Conservatives have long invoked family values to promote wedge issues and win elections, but the implications of family values on our politics and society run far deeper than campaigns and elections. In the Rockridge Nation video that we have just released, George Lakoff examines the extraordinary influence of James Dobson on parenting in America. He also discusses progressive and conservative conceptions of family values, and why progressives must overcome the conservative dominance of this subject.

On Edwards, Bloggers, and Religion

Ah, why do I have to be so busy on a news-filled day (no, not Anna Nicole Smith)? I barely saw the computer today. I’d get home, have about 5 minutes before I have to go out again and so on. NPR did not mention Edwards until 4pm or so (that I heard in the car), so when I first got home I only had time to open e-mail, scan about 50 new messages, home in to the one that had the news, open it, get the links and quickly post without more than a quick skim of the statements by Edwards and others, let alone any time to add commentary (except for what the title implied I felt at the time). And then there were comments I did not have time to respond to. And all the other blogospheric responses I was missing…Ah, well. The family is asleep so I’ll try to catch up now.

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Wingnuts really are imploding!

If they think that something like this will endear them to anyone not certifiably insane (via PZ), or to think that WorldNutDaily is not satire… It’s like when you catch your kid in a lie and he starts spinnikng and digging himself depeer and deeper. Exept that thse guys, like wounded beasts, can be dangerous.

Teen Sex, ‘Hooking Up’, Gay Marriage, Femiphobia and Bush Victory Are All Interconnected

Teen Sex, 'Hooking Up', Gay Marriage, Femiphobia and Bush Victory Are All InterconnectedContinuing with the last week’s topic (originally posted on March 11, 2005 – click on the spider-clock icon to see the comments, including by Mark O’Connell – who I subsequently met and blogged about, on the original post)

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Hooked on Hooking Up, Or What’s Wrong With Conservative View Of Marriage

Hooked on Hooking Up, Or What's Wrong With Conservative View Of MarriageThis is two years old (February 16, 2005) but still as provocative….(also my belated contirbution to the Blog For Choice Day) and I’ll repost the second part of it next Friday.

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‘Flock of Dodos’ screenings in Raleigh

*N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences
/Downtown Raleigh/
**Thursday, January 18
“Flock of Dodos” screening with filmmaker, Randy Olson
7:00 p.m. Museum Auditorium
*Filmmaker and Evolutionary Ecologist , Dr. Randy Olson, presents his
new film */Flock of Dodos/*: /*The Evolution / Intelligent Design Circus.*/
“Flock of Dodos” is the first feature-length documentary to present both
sides of the Intelligent Design / Evolution clash and tries to make
sense of the issue by visiting Olson’s home state of Kansas. The film
digs below the surface of the debate by examining the language being
used by both sides of this “circus” and the actual people presenting
each side. By doing so, Olson poses a serious question to the
scientific community as to who really is the “flock of dodos.”
After the screening, Dr. Olson will give a presentation followed by a
Question and Answer session.
The Museum will host additional free screenings of “Flock of Dodos” at
the following times:
Saturday, February 3, 3:00 p.m.
Saturday, February 10, 3:00 p.m.
Monday, February 12, Time is TBA — “Darwin Day”
We are hoping to have a panel of speakers in conjunction with the Darwin
Day screening. If you may be interested in participating on a panel to
further discuss this topic, please let us know.
The Museum is located at the corner of Jones and Salisbury Streets.

Psychology of Political Ideology

There is a new manuscript online which I will undoubtedly find interesting, I bet, once I find time to read its 52 pages (OK, double-spaced TXT with a long list of references and an Appendix of stats):
The Secret Lives of Liberals and Conservatives: Personality Profiles, Interaction Styles, and the Things They Leave Behind (pdf) by Dana R. Carney, John T. Jost, Samuel D. Gosling, Kate Niederhoffer and Jeff Potter.

ABSTRACT: Seventy-five years of theory and research on personality differences between political liberals and conservatives has produced a long list of dispositions, traits, and behaviors. Applying a “Five Factor Model” framework to this yield, we find that two traits, Openness to Experience and Conscientiousness, parsimoniously capture many of the ways in which individual differences underlying political orientation have been conceptualized. In four studies we investigate the relationship between personality and political orientation using multiple domains and measurement techniques, including: self-reported personality assessment; explicit beliefs, values, and preferences; nonverbal behavior in the context of social interaction; and personal possessions and the characteristics of living and working spaces. We obtained consistent and converging evidence that personality differences between liberals and conservatives are robust, replicable, and behaviorally significant. In general, liberals are more openminded in their pursuit of creativity, novelty, and diversity, whereas conservatives seek lives that are more orderly, conventional, and better organized.

So, you read it before me and tell me what you think…
(Thanks to Chris for the heads-up)

The Two-Party System in the USA

The Two-Party System in the USAHere is a post exactly a year old (January 02, 2006)

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Do You Want Me To Biggie-Size That Rectal Tube For You, Sir?

Do You Want Me To Biggie-Size That Rectal Tube For You, Sir?If you do not know who Roper is, read this, this and this. A total fundie wingnut in charge of a large teaching hospital! Oy vey! I did not know that fact when I originally wrote this post, but this explains it….(From July 15, 2005)

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If only people read the Bible the way they read their contracts…

If only people read the Bible the way they read their contracts...So, why do Creationists and other quacks try so hard to sound all ‘scienc-y’? (June 15, 2005)

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The Warriors

The WarriorsMore than a year ago (September 26, 2005), and what has changed?

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Rockridge Nation Blog

When the Rockridge Insitute was first founded, there were forums on the site for a few months, which were then shut down. Today, the Institute starts a new blog/forum Rockridge Nation, “a community of progressives working to frame the issues and restore our values to the heart of public life. This blog will draw attention to some of the interesting questions, stories, and analysis that members of Rockridge Nation contribute.”

A simple explanation

A simple explanationOf Religion and Morality (December 02, 2005)

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Nationalism is not Patriotism

Nationalism is not PatriotismHere’s another topic seen through the Lakoffian looking glass (July 23, 2005):

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Books: Michael Pollan – The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Amanda just reviewed Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and also recently wrote a post on the same topic while under the influence of the book. I agree with her 100%, so go and read both posts.
I have read the book a couple of months ago and never found time to write a review of my own. I also remember that I finished the book on a Thursday afternoon – an important piece of information as it is on Thursday afternoons that there is a Farmers’ Market here in Southern Village, barely a block from me. The first thing I did when I closed the book was to walk up to the Farmers’ Market, buy some locally grown food and talk to the farmers about all the issues raised in the book and, lo and behold, they all agree with Pollan on everything I asked them about.
They were also a little taken aback that I tried to talk to them. But, I grew up in the Balkans. A big part of going to the Farmer’s Market is to chat with the farmers, banter, joke, complain about the government, haggle over prices, and make sure a kilo of cheese is reserved for you for next week – it is a very friendly and talkative affair. Great fun! Here, there is much more of a class divide. The farmers set the prices. The elegantly dressed city-slickers pick and pay. And all of that is done pretty silently, with a minimal exchange of words. No eye-contact. Nobody is haggling! At the Farmers’ Market nobody is haggling!?*@#%$^&! Travesty and Heresy!
In his book, Michael Pollan initially set out to make three – industrial, organic and personal – types of meals, but once he learned more, he realized he had to do four: industrial, industrial-organic, local-sustainable, and personal.
So, although the book officially has three parts, it really has four. Each of the four parts also reads differently and has a different style and tone:
The first part (industrial) is full of facts, stats, governmental documents, etc. – it reads like Molly Ivins’ Bushwacked or Chris Mooney’s Republican War On Science, although I heard he played loose with some stuff, i.e., cited as true some studies that are very contentious within the scientific community.
While I am a biologist, focusing on animals made me “plant blind” and I learned more about biology of corn from this book than I ever knew before.
The key event, according to Pollan, is the change, during Nixon administration, in the way farmers are paid for corn – everything else flows from that single event: the monoculture, the oil, the feedlots, the fertilizers and pesticides, environmental destruction, obesity and McDonalds.
The second part (industrial organic) is a little bit less of an onslaught of information and he gets a little looser and slower, a bit more personal. He looks at the way organic food production changed since the 1960s hippy farms to today’s giant organic producers who are, more and more, playing by the rules of Big Agra.
While the food they produce is still better than the Industrial and the practices are still more energy and environmentally friendly than Industrial, it only looks good because it is compared to the Big Industrial which is totally atrocious. This part of the book resulted in a big back-and-forth debate between Pollan and John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, resulting in some changes in the way Whole Foods operates. You can find the relevant links on Pollan’s website.
The third part (local-sustainable) is totally fascinating – it is a mix of a travellogue and analysis – he keeps jumping back and forth between his dialogues with his host – Joel Salatin of the Polyface Farms – and the data. This is really the most riveting part of the book and the key element of it. This is also a part of the book that covers most new ground, not stuff found in Fast Food Nation or other well-known books. It also exposes, even better than the first part, the perniciousness of the way our agricultural system is set up, the way Big Agribusiness controls legislation and regulation, and eliminates small farmers from the competition.
Joel Salatin is a Virginia farmer who has perfected amazing agricultural practices on his farm – practically nothing has to be bought by the farm and nothing gets thrown away. Everything has its use and re-use. Everything makes sense when patiently explained to the reader. I actually bought Salatin’s book Holy Cows and Hog Heaven and read it immediately after Pollan’s.
Interestingly, although the guy is a conservative, libertarian, Christian Creationist, I agree with him on almost everything. His distrust of the Government is perhaps a little bit over the top for my taste, but his Creationism is fascinating because his whole philosophy and his whole methodology of the way he runs the farm reveals a deep understanding of evolution and ecology. His farming practice is BASED on evolutionary thinking. He is, for all practical purposes, an evolutionary biologist. Yet, he says he does not believe in evolution. How is that possible? Because he has no idea what he word “evolution” means. He probably has some “chimp is your uncle” cartoon notion of evolution, while at the same time not giving his own evolutionary ideas any name at all. Someone should tell him.
The fourth part (personal) of the Pollan’s book is in a completely different mood, very introspective, sometimes even mystical. One important thing that sets this part apart is that the type of food production described in it is the only one of the four that cannot in any way be affected by legislation, politics or activism – unless one completely bans hunting, gathering, catching, picking, stealing from neighbors, planting stuff in your garden, or collecting yeast from the air!
The best part of this portion of the book is his look at animal rights and his dialogue with Peter Singer. He, being such a typical city-slicker and “Birckenstock liberal” (Come on – slaughtering a chicken, and later a pig, made him sick? Has he never watched or participated in any kind of animal slaughter in his long life yet? Never spent some time on a farm? Dissected an animal in a biology class? What a woefully unnatural and alienated existence!), started out very sympathetic to the idea, but, over a dozen pages or so, dissects the underlying logic and discovers its fatal flows and exposes it in a brilliant paragraph – the best one in the book. You’ll find it and recognize it immediately once you read it – and you will read it because Omnivore’s Dilemma is one of the most important books written in the last few years, and should be a battle cry for many political activists and a source of ideas for many candidates for political office.
In the meantime, go read Amanda’s review.

Names of Reproductive Organs Used as Insults!

Neil’s attitude towards vaginas is very positive.
Lindsay asserts that swearing is a fascinating philosophical topic.
Amanda debunks the old tired counter-arguments.
And many, many comments on all three threads will keep you busy for a while. Mind you, considering the topic, the language in those posts is NOT safe for work (or your work may not be safe for it, in which case you should quit).

I Want Bigger Government!

I Want Bigger Government!An oldie but goodie for the connoisseurs of my long political rants (May 11, 2005):

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You gotta be nuts to vote for Bush!

You know that Bush-apologists say crazy things. They get cited, chastized and mocked for it every day on the liberal blogs, after all. You may have also wandered, by mistake, onto comment threads on Little Green Foodballs, or The Corner, or other nasty Right-wing blogs and suspected that those people are not really ‘all there’. And you may be aware that there is actually quite a large body of scientific evidence that Conservatives are Crazy and Dangerous, er, that conservative/authoritarian ideology correlates strongly with a number of (environmentally induced, i.e., through upbringing and socialization) traits usually associated with at least deep emotional problems if not outright mental ilness. Bulk of that literature has been reviewed and meta-analyzed in these two nifty papers:
Conservatism As Motivated Social Cognition (pdf)
Exceptions That Prove the Rule–Using a Theory of Motivated Social Cognition to Account for Ideological Incongruities and Political Anomalies: Reply to Greenberg and Jonas (2003) (pdf)
The research did not stop in 2003, and new studies have cropped up here and there, e.g., this, this and this.
Still, most of those studies involved analysis of more-or-less normally functioning people, free to roam around, work, have families, run for office, or preach in church. Today, however, Archy discovered a brand new study of real psychiatric patients (OK, outpatients, but still):
Are George W. Bush lovers certifiable?:

A collective “I told you so” will ripple through the world of Bush-bashers once news of Christopher Lohse’s study gets out.
Lohse, a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.
Lohse says his study is no joke. The thesis draws on a survey of 69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse’s study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.
But before you go thinking all your conservative friends are psychotic, listen to Lohse’s explanation.
“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.'”

And before you start weaving conspiracy theories about ‘liberal academia’, the findings emerged from data-mining and were not the reason the study was performed in the first place. Furthermore, the author is no flaming liberal:

For his part, Lohse is a self-described “Reagan revolution fanatic” but said that W. is just “beyond the pale.”

Update: As expected, many liberal bloggers took the press report of the study at face value. I hope you did not think I did – my point was to place it in the context of previous studies, alert teh blogosphere to its existence, and provoke a discussion hoping that, once the actual paper comes out we can get the opportunity to dissect it. Nobody has seen the actual study yet, so we cannot say if it is any good or not (although it is consistent with previous research) until it is released. Orac has already written some criticisms of the study from what it could be gleaned from the news article, although I think it is premature at this point. We can use his post as a guideline what to look for once the paper becomes accessible, though.

Biophilia? Not what E.O.Wilson had in mind!

Love for animals, even the dead ones, can sometimes go too far, dontcha think?

Certitude is for Cowards

Dick Armey on NPR on Friday:

“Dialogues are what Democrats do, not what Republicans do. Only liberals think that if you’ve had a dialogue about something, you’ve done something.”

Bill Hooker responds:

No matter how sure I am, no matter how careful I’ve been, no matter how smart I like to think I am, no matter how intellectually and emotionally satisfying I find my position, I might be wrong. And the corollary: if I am in fact wrong, I will be better off knowing about it, and preferably sooner rather than later so that I don’t waste effort on mistakes that will later be pulled down around my ears.

…and points to this post by SteveG in which he gives, among else, a Lakoffian analysis of the attitude:

Someone needs to explain to these people that leadership does not mean being a bully. If you coerce people into doing your bidding, that does not make you a strong leader; it makes you an asshole. Real leadership is having the fortitude and concern to consider the options in good faith and wanting to do right not just win the argument.

Read both posts.

The Public Park Parable of Political Psychology

The Public Park Parable of Political PsychologyAnother one on psychology of political ideology (form April 08, 2005):

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Never Again!

Never Again!I know, I know, Tuesdays are supposed to be for touchy-feely personal posts or navel-gazing posts about blogging, but today is an election, so I decided to go with provocative, hard-hitting stuff instead (originally posted on June 27, 2005, click on the clock-spiderweb to see the original):

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The Perils of Ideological Continua and Coordinate Systems

The Perils of Ideological Continua and Coordinate SystemsThis post (from January 14, 2005) is how I see the political/ideological landscape in the USA.

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Aspergers under white hoods

Dave proposes
Sara disposes
You comment.

The Kindergarden Regime

A hat-trick from Orcinus:
Sara explores new frames in Adult Supervision. Funny, as well as insightful.
Dave on Science And Republicans and Those Republican values.

Amanda’s Hat-Trick

Three-in-a-row for Amanda Marcotte, on what liberalism is, totally brilliant (can someone hire her, please, for an editorial page?):
The non-ideological era
Liberalism in ascendance
Who Counts?:

…what conservatives mean when they say they’re for “small” government and liberals are for “big” government–those adjectives describe the size of the number of people that count as worthy of government attention, protection, and assistance in their view.

How Should We Call Them?

How Should We Call Them?A follow-up on last week’s repost (originally from April 06, 2005)…

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Framing research

Go help Chris do a study on framing in politics.

Obligatory Reading of the Day

Publius is on the roll again with two posts, each putting a novel angle to a well-known story:


While we are discussing femiphobia, mysoginy and the “new male anger”, you may want to take a break from hundreds and hundreds of comments on all the threads on all the posts (see the links within links on the last link!), and instead read an old, old science fiction story on the topic (is there any ethical dilemma that SF has not covered decades ago?). Gmoke, in a comment on this post on Orcinus links to The Screwfly Solution by Raccoona Sheldon (aka Jane Sheldon aka James Tiptree Jr). The whole story is online.
Gmoke also cites Wikipedia on the story:

“The story begins with an exchange of letters and news clippings between Allan, a scientist working on parasite eradication in Colombia, and his wife Anne at home in the U.S., concerning an epidemic of organized murder of women by men. Although some scientists suspect a biological cause for this sexually selective insanity, the murderers feel it is a natural instinct and have constructed elaborate misogynistic rationalizations for it, including a new religious movement. Allan himself becomes affected, and tries to resist his violent impulses. In the end, Anne, pursued by an entire society bent on “femicide”, discovers the source and motivation behind the plague.”

While I don’t like the Aliens deux-ex-machina in the end (the story could have been better and scarier if the cause was completely this-worldly with a natural explanation), it makes one realy wonder what is physically and mentally wrong with the fundies.