Somewhere I have a list of books I have read back in the 1990s or so, that I kept for a few years. It should exist as a Word document somewhere, on some old hard drive, probably unrecoverable any more…
One of the mistakes I made initially was to place too strict criteria on which book I can add to the list - I decided I have to have read at least 90% of it, preferably 100%. But I don’t read that way any more. I start many books, but finish quite a few.
The way paper is cut and the way books are bound requires certain lengths for a book which publishers insist on. So books are 200 pages long although they should have been 60 pages long (which may be the reason many Kindle Singles and eBooks seem to be better than traditional ones - they are the appropriate lengths demanded by the subject, not by the format). Once I have read enough of a book, I put it down. In my mind, I have “read” the book, but it can’t make the list. I also don’t have my own tablet or book-reader yet - I still prefer the old style on paper.
I also want to keep books as references - and most of what I read these days are non-fiction (or quite technical) books anyway, so they are meant to be more like references than novels are. Even if I just skimmed through a book, I usually know what is in there. Sometimes I need something from it. I hope the Index is good, but if it’s not I can skim again, re-read bits and pieces, or just “search inside the book” on Amazon in order to find (and perhaps quote) the relevant passage.
Finally, with my time spent mostly online, I don’t leave enough time (and frankly do not have enough patience any more) for reading entire books. I have always loved stories. So I may remember a story I have not read in many years. I pick up the collection that contains it, read just that story in order to see how intervening years have changed me and how that changes the way I understand the story and the way story affects and moves me. It can be a collection of SF stories, or one of my favorite story writers (e.g., Kafka, Borges, Twain, Poe, H.G.Wells, Chekhov, some Balkans authors), or someone I discovered more recently (Bailey White, Barbara Kingsolver…). Or it can be a collection of essays. Then I put the book back - but cannot add it to the List.
I am enjoying Becky Crew’s new book (“Zombie Tits and Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animal Stories”) very much because I can pick it up at any time, read one or two stories, and put it down. It does not require reading it through in one sitting…
In some hard-to-find notebook, I also have a list of movies Catharine and I saw during the first couple of years of our life together. I wish I continued with that list as well.
What happened to my movie watching? I don’t know. I used to watch a lot of movies. Seeing a new movie was a habit in Belgrade, even if some movies arrived with some delay.
The Museum of Cinema, owned by the School of Drama at the Belgrade University, had its own movie theater. The tickets were dirt-cheap, they served the best food and beer and wine of all theaters in town, and one could get in for free with a student ID (which I had for ten years!). They’d have a week of Kurosawa, and I’d go and see every movie (2-3 per day for a week), or a Woody Allen marathon day, or Japanese week, etc. I would go and watch a lot of that historical stuff. From Eisenstein to Chaplin, from Venders to Fellini to Bunjuel. I saw Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai’ and Bergman’s ‘Seventh Seal’ probably every time they showed either one of it, at least once per year. And ‘Hair’ and ‘Enter the Dragon’ and ‘Midnight Express’ and ‘Susan and Jeremy’ ;-)
So I got a good education in movie history.
When I first moved from Belgrade to Raleigh, Catharine and I went to see movies all the time. There were several art houses around, so we would see both Holywood hits and foreign/artsy movies. Even later, when kids were born, we had good babysitters and went to see movies pretty regularly.
I think we stopped, quite abruptly, when we moved from Raleigh to Chapel Hill. While we continued taking the kids to family-fare movies (up the street, literally walking one block to the theater), we found it difficult to get ourselves to drive out to artsy theaters, far away and hard to find parking, so we kinda quit.
April-November, the neighborhood theater also projects “movies on the green”, outdoors, and we saw a bunch of family-appropriate movies that way. Heck, I saw the third part of Lord of the Rings just by walking the dogs around the green for two hours.
I am also a horrible movie critic. I just sit back and enjoy. Sure, great movies are great. But I totally enjoy crap movies as well (but I hated ‘Crash’). Back when Catharine was still working as a nurse, she worked only night shifts. I’d watch C-grade giant mutant monster movies on scifi channel if I could not sleep, and I LOVED them!
But over the last couple of years, especially since we moved to the new house in the woods, we watch much less. Or, to be precise, I watch much less. I may take kids to see a movie a couple of times a year - but now they are big enough to go on their own with their friends. Catharine and I may go, once or twice a year, to see something that does not play in mainstream theaters, e.g., “Inside Job” and a couple of others last year. But she watches the movies a lot on her laptop, has Netflix account, and in general watches ten times more movies than I do. I find it difficult to focus for two hours any more, and find it hard to pull myself away from the Web and be persuaded to go see a movie. I cannot watch on laptop - totally distracted.
Sometimes only one of us would take the kids to see a movie, and even now we often take kids to movies one-on-one (e.g., I saw Hobbit a couple of weeks ago just with my daughter, while the rest of the family did not see it, and then wife and daughter saw Les Miserables which the rest of us did not yet see).
But I sure wish I kept track. And may re-start the list again. But first I have to get back into habit of watching movies regularly. I think equipping our house with a home theater is in order!
Rewriting Our Personal Narratives -
I keep going back and re-reading this. We all have stories we tell others - and ourselves - about ourselves. They are probably mostly true. But the way they are framed, the way they are told, the decisions we make where to begin and where to end each story, what details to include and what details to omit, where to embellish and where to stick strictly to the truth - all those are important, though subconscious decisions we make in order to present ourselves in the way we want to see ourselves and want others to see us. I rarely write personal stories. I may briefly inject personal anecdotes into my blog posts here and there (hard to find amidst 100,000+ posts I have written on multiple blogs), but rarely write just personal stories. If I write one on Facebook (like I did yesterday: https://www.facebook.com/coturnix/posts/454541837939433 ) that goes down the page fast and is hard to retrieve.
But I do have my “standard” stories I tell about myself. Those stories got polished over time as I repeat them. I have shorter and longer versions of those stories. And yes, I have stories that I never tell, or tell only to very few, very special people.
But, one thing that bothered me about the article. It tells how human mind is much better than a computer at connecting causes to effects. It uses very simple examples, e.g., “if an egg falls, it will break”. At this point I don’t really care if and why computers are bad at this, I’d rather focus on the humans. Much of cognitive psychology actually focuses on how BAD we are at this, how easily we make wrong connections and wrong causalities. Especially when things get a little more complex.
What I see as the role for narrative in science writing is exactly this, to subtly and gently dissuade us from some old, wrong, intuitive, common-sensical causalities and persuade us to adopt, accept (and take for granted as if we always thought so), more correct connections between causes and effects. We all have erroneous connections, old-wives tales we grew up with that help us make sense of the world. Saying “you are wrong, it is not X, it is Y” may encounter resistance. Some of our beliefs are quite cherished, we got them from our parents or other people who we trusted as kids. But by bringing us into the story, we don’t notice how subtly our understanding of causality changes, how easily we can be persuaded.
Rewriting Our Personal Narratives -
I keep going back and re-reading this. We all have stories we tell others - and ourselves - about ourselves. They are probably mostly true. But the way they are framed, the way they are told, the decisions we make where to begin and where to end each story, what details to include and what details to omit, where to embellish and where to stick strictly to the truth - all those are important, though subconscious decisions we make in order to present ourselves in the way we want to see ourselves and want others to see us. I rarely write personal stories. I may briefly inject personal anecdotes into my blog posts here and there (hard to find amidst 100,000+ posts I have written on multiple blogs), but rarely write just personal stories. If I write one on Facebook (like I did yesterday: https://www.facebook.com/coturnix/posts/454541837939433 ) that goes down the page fast and is hard to retrieve. Perhaps I should repost them somewhere else, e.g., my Tumblr or Posterous. But I do have my “standard” stories I tell about myself. Those stories got polished over time as I repeat them. I hav
Balkans people are a gregarious lot. And a generous lot. Kind of people who would take their shirts off their backs to give a stranger in need. Kind of people who’d kill the last chicken in order to feed a stranger. Anything less would be dishonorable. A different ethos…
At least that’s the way I remember it. I left 21 years ago and much has changed there. Two decades of wars, sanctions, bombing, economic crisis and this newfangled thing called capitalism must have affected the national temperament. Perhaps they are more frugal now, and less crazy about generosity. Perhaps today they would fit right in here, where keeping one’s own financial house in order is seen as being a good citizen (leading, at its extremes, to a view that one’s wealth is a good marker and symbol of being a good frugal provider for one’s family, thus the conservative notion that rich people are the best people).
Some families in Serbia had a completely open door policy. Someone is always at home - usually the stay-at-home wife - and there is always good food to serve. So guests are always welcome.
Both of my parents worked, and our apartment was small, so my parents preferred to plan in advance, invite people, or have people announce their arrival well ahead of time so we could be prepared, and so we could be at home and not visiting someone else or going to the theater.
Our house was seemingly always full of people. My parents seemed to know everyone in Belgrade, and had so many friends of very different kinds, from reactionary, royalist friends of my Dad, to the high creme-d-la-creme of the country’s intelligentsia, university professors, journalists, artists, people who later became members of the parliament or ministers or ran for President.
Some evenings, there would be just one or two guests. But at least two or three times a month, our house would get packed with people, perhaps a dozen or more of them filling our little apartment, using every chair we had, sometimes even neighbors’ borrowed chairs. My mother would fix large quantities of some of her famous specialties. Sometimes, that would be fish soup and fried fish, freshly caught in the Danube that morning by my father’s cousin. Sometimes it was offal, like tripe, which I did not like. Sometimes her famous chicken-bacon meatloaf. My brother and I would be allowed to stay up as long as the guests are in, listening to the interesting discussions of politics, media, and whatever else they would talk about.
Of course, one does not go visiting empty handed. Not there. So each guest would bring flowers for my Mom, a bottle of wine (or something stronger) for my Dad, and chocolate for my brother and me. Sure, store-bought gifts, but that was OK for something like this, a routine occasion, a dinner that was organized “just because”.
But for special occasions, and for special people, there was a different undercurrent of thought. As most people earned roughly the same, there was no point in buying expensive gifts just to show off one’s wealth. That was considered un-classy, insulting, even stupid - why bust one’s monthly budget on an expensive present! Why rub it in that one has more money than another, when we are all supposed to be equal?
So, for special occasions and special people, a person was more likely to do something great, like organize a big trip out of town and a party for a bunch of friends, or, if there is skill and talent, make something with one’s own hands. That is an investment of time, thought and work.
Or one would give away one of one’s own treasured possessions. Now, that’s a treasure! Usually that happened within families, the younger generations getting family heirlooms or other items that have been in the family for generations. My children have already received several such items over the years.
Buying a gift in a store, for big occasions like that, was deemed cheap. That was outsourcing time, energy and skills to someone else. Buying off one’s own time and energy. Essentially stating that one does not really care, but can compensate with money.
An old friend of my mothers’, the guy who first put me on a horse when I was five, then taught me to ride for several more years until I could go on my own, was also an accomplished classical guitar player. He usually had several good guitars at home. One day, when I was just still very young, he gave me his smallest, cheapest guitar as a birthday present. That was in hope I would start learning to play. A couple of years later, seeing that I am actually learning to play, he gave me his next guitar for birthday. A few years later, his next. A few years later, he gave me his Number Two, an amazing concert-class acoustic guitar, made in Cuba, with an inscription from the guitar-master. Unfortunately, after I left the country without the guitar, there was nobody there to take good care of it, to tune it, to monitor air humidity, etc., so over time it dried up, cracked and broke. If it was still alive today, it would have been worth several tens of thousands of dollars. But as a gift, a gift from him, an important male role model in my life, it meant so much more.
Big gift-giving time was New Years. Orthodox Christmas is ruled by the old calendar, which lags fourteen days behind the new calendar, which then places Christmas a few days after New Years. Very, very few people actually celebrated Christmas at the time, being in a socialist country in which religion, though not outlawed (seminary and churches were working just fine), was frowned upon and ridiculed.
But New Years was big. The biggest holiday of the year. People planned parties months in advance, or were hoping to get invited to the hottest parties in town. Being part of the intellectual elite, my brother and I got to go to some of the most legendary parties of the time.
Everyone had a New Years tree, decorated with New Years ornaments. The city, and each house, and each room in the house was decorated. Sparkles were lit. Old, fat guy clad in red, Grandpa Frost, would put New Years gifts under the New Years tree. Sounds familiar? Yup, all of the Christmas traditions and symbols were adapted for New Years instead. Those few people who celebrated Christmas only needed to wait a few more days, put some fresh presents under the tree for the kids, and serve fat-free food, like cornbread and baked beans.
New Years was also the time when, due to sheer volume of gift-giving, it was perfectly OK to give store-bought presents.
Also, for several weeks before the holiday, the city would be covered with stands where people were selling New Years cards. Everyone bought and sent cards to everyone they knew, even the first door neighbors! People loved sending and receiving cards.
Our family never bought a single card.
Instead, every year, my brother and I would make them ourselves. My father was in editing, publishing and printing business. My mother worked in the government. Both had access to plenty of office supplies. They would bring home boxes and boxes of envelopes, and stacks of thin cardboard paper.
My brother and I would grab rulers and pencils and scissors, and cut the cardboard into nice strips, then fold them to make cards.
Then we would take out all sorts of art supplies - pencils, markers, black and colored ink, charcoal, crayons, watercolors, temperas - and start drawing and painting the cards. We would make hundreds of cards. They would get sent to every address our parents could possibly find. We did all the inscribing and all the addressing as well. For friends living abroad, we’d inscribe it in English and add “Merry Christmas” on top of “Happy New Year”.
As we grew up somewhat, we started resenting this annual ritual. We could not just suddenly say no to our parents, so we started gradually reducing the numbers of cards. Instead of making one for everyone in the world, we would only make cards for people we knew well and who meant something to us. Making fewer cards also meant that we could spend more time on each card. As we were getting older, our drawing and painting skills improved. Some of the cards we made in latter years were little masterpieces. Some ended up torn, crumpled and thrown away as not perfect enough.
We both loved drawing and painting anyway. We did it all the time. A few of my childhood drawings have been saved by my mother. Looking at them now, they look childish. I have no idea if the execution was average, better or worse than expected for the age at which I made them. Of course, like every child, I was told how beautiful each piece was. But I really have no idea if I ever had talent for art, or if I just managed to do some stuff well due to sheer practice. But one thing is sure - my choices of subjects and scenes were wildly creative.
Becoming more and more horse-crazy as a kid, more and more of the New Years cards, and in the end all of them, depicted horses. In the end, I only drew horses. I got pretty good at drawing and painting horses, while never actually practicing drawing anything else any more. So I can only draw horses now. A one-trick pony, I am.
Teenage years, teenage rebellion. My brother and I quit doing cards. Our parents found alternative ways to stay in touch with their friends over the holidays. Teenage years, new teenage interests. Perhaps a girl here and there. New Years was so passe now, but a person’s birthday is a special occasion. Or graduation. And for a special occasion for a special person, one makes something with one’s hands. What do we know how to do? We know how to draw good cards. So that is what we did.
That must sound totally nuts to Americans, but that is the way of thinking I inherited. I moved from socialism to capitalism, and different values are in play. Making something with one’s own hands, something that was considered the right thing to do there, must seem crazy here, may perhaps seem suspiciously “too special”.
Yet, artists I know send their own art for holidays and birthdays, at least reproduced on cards. Musicians may send their CDs. Cooks may send cookies. Writers may send copies of their own books. I may not be a professional artist, but I can draw a horse well enough that I can make a card myself, and by doing that I would not feel ‘cheap’ for buying one at the store. It’s all mixed up in me now, after 20 years, and sometimes old ethos prevails, sometimes new, sometimes I buy a present, sometimes I make one. Buying certainly makes it easier to get stuff in bulk and send to many people, which means that each one of them means less.
And then, in light of the article I linked here: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/12/the-christmas-card-may-or-may-not-die-but-its-spirit-has-conquered-us-all/266471/ , as the Web and social media make it so much easier to send virtual greetings, do hand-made gifts become even more “special”? Are the things in-between, the store-bought cards and presents, on the way out because they do not cater either to the superficial friendships or the deep friendships? What are the new, emerging mores of normal conduct these days? What is deemed a right thing to do? In Serbia? In the States?
Let’s talk….here: https://www.facebook.com/coturnix/posts/454541837939433
This article - http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/14/mythbusting-israel-and-switzerland-are-not-gun-toting-utopias/ - is useful as a counter to your pro-gun friends who trot out the examples of Israel or Switzerland (or former Yugoslavia) as countries where everyone’s packing. As it states there, it’s not true. But there is more to it….
In those countries, military service is compulsory. All men and some women spend a year or two or five in the Army. When they are on leave and go home, they are (I think, not sure about each country) allowed to take their pistol home. After all, they are on active duty, and if the small country is attacked, they are required to spring into action as the first line of defense, wherever in the country they may be. Once they finish with the military service, they are required to leave their guns behind. They may be given uniforms, gas masks, first-aid kits, that kind of stuff, but not weapons. Officers (perhaps officers above a certain rank, depending on the country, and also depending on which year/decade we are talking about as laws change), do get to take their pistols home. All of them are now reservists, and such small countries have defense doctrines that essentially mean “everyone’s a soldier in case of attack”. In case of attack, officers are already uniformed and armed, and can start organizing others. Privates know where to go, a nearby neighborhood military depot, to pick up their uniforms, weapons and other gear, then they know exactly where to go to report for duty.
This also means that half the country, at least, has military training, and a proportion of them may have weapons on them at any given time at any given place. Each country has different rules about the inclusion of women in the military (in Israel they all pretty much have to serve, not sure about Switzerland, while in former Yugoslavia only a small number of women volunteered to serve). Each country has different rules for how man can avoid military service, e.g., for religious or health reasons. I did not serve - my height-to-weight ratio was off the military charts. They did not care that, at the time, I was a super-fit top athlete in two different sports (karate and equestrian) - for military purposes I was unfit to serve. Great - I saved myself two years of life: a year in the army, plus six month before it when one ends all projects and packs up, plus six months after that is needed for one to mentally and emotionally get back into a civilian mode of life, pick up the pieces, and start reintegrating into society, start school or projects etc.
But this points out to another, much more important difference between those countries and the USA. In the military you learn something about guns. Sure, you learn how to take care of the gun, how to clean it, how to take it apart and put it back together, and how to get good at target shooting. Sure, you can learn all of that on shooting ranges and in gun clubs in the USA as well. But what military teaches is respect for guns. And respect for other soldiers. You learn what guns really are, what they do, what they can do, what they are meant to do. You are trained to think about guns in very different ways from the way you are taught about guns in your local camo-outfit, backwoods militia-type shooting club. You learn how to, and see fellow soldiers doing it, use your gun in much more realistic situations than target-shooting. If you are unlucky, you actually see war action and see what the gun can really do to a human body. You end your military service both loving your rifle and hating your rifle, but never worshipping your rifle, never having the illusion that it can do anything good for personal defense or anything else. You truly understand that it is a tool of war.
In the USA, only a very small proportion of people serve in the military, and then do not usually have guns once they get out. Here, one can learn respectful, responsible use of guns if one is a hunter, or a cop. Or one can learn from macho, paranoid militia-types, who have no idea what and why they are doing it beyond deeply-seated emotional need to make up for insecure masculinity. From people who do not understand that they ARE the government (remember: of, by and for the people) and see government as a separate entity, something they are alienated from, something they fear. Dictators? In America? Laughable paranoia.
What does that mean practically? This means that the person carrying a gun with an intent to kill civilians knows that most of the people at the scene will be unarmed and untrained to respond correctly. He will know that, even if there is someone there with a pistol, that someone is unlikely to be a soldier or policeman, trained in using the gun correctly, but probably some other gun-nut who may try to use it in order to be a hero, and who will totally botch it up, likely killing some additional innocents but not ever hitting the killer. You cannot have the same assumptions in Israel. Everyone there is trained to respond, and a few are likely to have pistols and will be trained in most efficient ways to take you down. You think twice before making any such plans.
So, just like “well-trained militia” (with muskets, the most advanced gun at the time) does not mean “unruly, untrained, armed populace” here in America, so in those smaller countries it also does not mean the same. Those are small countries with outside threats (like Britain was at the time of Second Amendment, for which it was written). They are not interested in deposing their own government, but in defending their countries from outside occupiers. And they all really are a “well-trained militia” because they all served in the military. Big difference.
Lots of discussion (plus more useful links) of this here: https://www.facebook.com/coturnix/posts/136977656456423
This elicited a thread of 106 comments on Facebook, and it’s still not over:
Over the past few years, I gradually acquired a feeling that Food is one of the most contentious, most poorly researched, and most atrociously reported issues in science, especially among those areas of science that affect us most directly, in our personal and/or political choices and actions. Yet, Food is something that people care about a lot. But it is also a very politicized issue, with wild opinions going rampant and unchecked everywhere, mostly because there is often not solid science to use in counter-arguments. It is all so shady and unclear and at a high-emotion level. Somewhat unwittingly, Christie Wilcox got thrown into the role of our resident “food blogger” on the SciAm blog network, having to study and learn quickly, suffer abuse in the comments, and generally be drawn away from topics she’d rather blog about. I keep looking at existing food bloggers and I like some of them but am not 100% happy with anyone. In the late summer of 2013 or so, I will do some number-crunching to see if I can afford to bring on a food blogger. In the meantime, I will keep looking, and welcome suggestions for existing food bloggers you like (with reasons why). One reason why I have not jumped on hiring any particular person yet, and also why I should perhaps consider a group blog instead of an individual, is that the topic is so complex. It has at least these components:
- plant science/animal science/poultry science/horticulture
- history/agricultural practices/economics/energy
- public health/policy/politics/propaganda
I don’t know if any individual person can cover all of this with equal levels of expertise and authority. Yet all of those aspects are related and intertwined and often play together. So even if I get a group blog, the co-bloggers would have to work together well, consult, coordinate, check each others work, not just share the same platform for their individual efforts. Thoughts?
We saw “Lincoln” last night. I liked it a lot. Funny how quickly the Southern Strategy completely reversed what the two parties stand for and who gravitates to which one of them. Also impressed with the almost obsessive focus on accuracy of historical detail - from actual history, to set, costumes, etc. The only downer for me was General Lee’s horse Traveller who was supposed to be a spirited, difficult colt, but in the movie was played by some old, quiet mare. Was it that hard to find a white-ish grey horse with black mane and tail, or just paint the mane?
I am going to make a bold, wild prediction. After a couple of more election cycles (I would not be surprised if in four years, as things are moving fast these days, but more likely in eight or twelve), we will still have a two-party system. And one of those parties will still be the Democrats. But the other party will not be GOP. We will have to choose between the conservative party (Dems) and a liberal party (some kind of Progressives, not Greens). GOP will be relegated to the small, third parties, trying to get enough signatures to get on ballots in various states, being ignored by media, shunned from debates, just like Libertarians, Greens, etc.
Let me explain:
When media pundits spout out that this is a “center-right” country, they are actually right. But this does not mean what they think it means, that GOP should be a party of preference for most people. It is the Democrats who are center-right, which is why they win elections. Socialists? Let me tell you something: I was born and grew up and spent about half of my life in a socialist country. I may have some ideas about what socialism is. And this ain’t it.
GOP is not even a political party any more. A political party is something that has to have policy proposals addressing real-world problems. They don’t. They have fear and hatred and jingoism. And, as many have already written (and I have as far back as 2004), they live in their own world, their own facts that have nothing to do with the world as it really is. And reality has a nasty habit of biting you in the ass. See: Tuesday.
I always liked Obama as a person. I never liked his conservatism, caution, willingness to compromise with obviously obstructionist GOP in Congress. I voted for him in 2008 primaries, but decided at the last moment. I like Hillary as a person as well. It was already May, only Obama and Clinton were still in the race at the time. And I did not want to see Bill Clinton foreign policy hawks back in power (they bombed my hometown after a decade of mishandling the Balkans, so it’s personal with me). I also predicted he’d win, because it is much easier to be openly sexist than racist in mainstream media, in advertising, etc. A racist slur, and you’re off the air. A sexist slur, and you get a laugh and a pat on the back (I am looking at you, Chris Matthews).
And of course I voted for Obama for President in 2008 and 2012. And I think his Tuesday speech was his best, much better than his 2004 convention speech that people say is his best. But I still think that he, and the Dems as a party, are far too right-of-center for my taste. Dems used to be on the Left decades ago, but by letting GOP force the media to move the Overton Window, by constantly compromising, by being over-cautious, they allowed themselves to be dragged across the center line into the Right side of the spectrum.
Yes, they are moving in the right direction on many issues. But slowly. Much slower than the rest of the world, e.g., Europe. And much slower than even the American culture. The strong statements supporting women’s autonomy issues are largely in response to the GOP attacks on the same - and to get women voters.
The support for LGBT is only a few months old. Remember the so-called “Biden gaffe” that supposedly forced Obama’s hand in the direction of support of gay marriage? That was no gaffe. They are carefully nurturing the stereotype of Biden The Gaffer. Biden is a pro (did you watch his debates, against Ryan, Palin, others before?). Every “gaffe” of his is carefully orchestrated and planned. He says something, and Dems crunch the data on who responded how, and what to do with that information. This was a way to get LBGT (and young) voters to the polls last week. Strategy.
But strategy for winning elections is not the same as moving to the Left, or even tracking the evolution of the society. If the Dems’ gradual adoption of these policies is slower than the actual evolution of the society, i.e., if the society is moving into the future faster than the Dems, they will forever remain behind the curve and forever remain right of center.
These kinds of policies, about women and LGBT community, were considered extreme left 50 years ago. They are dead center today. They are “normal”, the “of course” positions. The default. Support for gay marriage is the norm, not the extreme. Opposition to it is now extreme. World is changing for the better.
Obamacare is just a first step toward catching up with the world (and catching up with what Americans really want), not a 100% there yet. Still behind the curve. Climate? Not even mentioned during the campaign, though probably the single most important issue facing humanity today. Though the forceful way Obama mentioned it on Tuesday gives me hope he’ll start (finally!) tackling it in the second term, I still doubt it will be fast enough, or big enough to be considered anything but very cautiously centrist.
So, Dems are hogging the center and are unlikely to move away from it. Why should they? They will always appear to be sane compared to anyone else. They will look reasonable. They will be attractive to a huge proportion of the electorate. As the demographics shift, they will be attractive to more and more of the electorate. Which is why they have always completely ignored their progressive base. They know how to position themselves to win elections, and being dead-center, or slightly right-center, is the best place to be.
Now let’s look at the GOP. The media coverage of their current implosion, internecine wars, and finger-pointing are framing it wrong. It is not “extreme vs. moderate”, or “center-right vs. extreme-right”, or “truly conservative vs. RINO”. It is “reality-based vs. unhinged”. The GOP problem is that they have been taken over by the nutcases. The reality-based conservatives have been all but excommunicated (see: Frum, also Bloomberg). Nobody with a brain has any power in the party. For years, nay decades, the Right has indulged in the cycles of mutual misinformation. Right-wing media (Fox, Limbaugh, Breitbart, etc) invents and spouts lies. Their audiences lap those up, as they feed their fears and paranoia.
Those same audiences then require the candidates to repeat those lies, and pick, in the primaries, those candidates who lie the best (and they picked a real winner in that department this time around - at least Santorum really believes in the crap he talks about, while Huntsman, the only reasonable conservative, got nothing). This year, they finally completely closed the circle - they all (media, primary voters, candidates) actually fell for all of their lies and believed them for real. And reality bit their asses. Remember the Suskind interview? The “we make reality now”? Yup, that’s how it ends up when hubris is your party platform.
And worshiping Nate Silver is part of the reaction to this. People are sick of alternate universes of alternate truth, and are yearning for a return to reality. As media pundits are all in the “gut feeling” and “experience” territory, unreliable and untrustworthy (and a big reason why media is losing trust really fast), people turned to the guy who does numbers. The extreme of empiricism as a backlash. (I am planning on writing a post (on my blog), focusing less on politics, more on the media, and the role of Nate Silver in this moment.)
Many reality-based conservatives left the GOP. They switched the registration from Republican to Independent because they are disgusted with the current GOP. The most idiotic assumption Romney team made was that these people would vote GOP after leaving it behind, making life/identity-changing decision about NOT being Republicans any more. Bad psychology there.
So, what is left of GOP is the party of God, Guns and Money, the party of a fast-shrinking pool of angry white men and some of their wives. Party of fear, cowardice, anger, hatred, bigotry and femiphobia (google it). No policy at all. Unattractive to anyone normal.
What can reality-based conservatives do?
They can realize that Democrats are now center-left and become reliable Democratic voters. Some of those new ex-Republican Independents will probably go this way.
Or, they can try to take back the GOP and kick out the nutcases from power (force those to make their own Tea Party or whatnot). Good luck with that! And good luck electorally even if you succeed. Dems are hogging the center. A reality-based conservative party would be extremely similar to the Democrats (remember that Obama and Eisenhower economic and foreign policy platforms are essentially indistinguishable, though society has moved on since then on social issues, reflected in a more modern platform in those areas today). Why would anyone vote for a party with a GOP history and reputation of bigotry, if it’s not any different from Dems who are not pretending anything? Why vote for suspicious copycats when you can vote for the Real McCoy? Of course, even if reality-based conservatives somehow, through magic and mystery, manage to take over the GOP again, their “base”, the primary voters who choose candidates, are the same cowardly extremists as ever….hard to persuade them to go for a Huntsman or ilk. So the candidates will be Santorums…
Or, they can try to take over the Libertarian party. This year’s candidate, Johnston, was surprisingly sane and attractive compared to the years of their past candidates. I guess all the Ayn Randian, immature, selfish, sexually deprived, online-aggressive, greedy pricks left the party following Ron Paul into the GOP, leaving saner people in the Libertarian party. Again, the party’s history is something it has to overcome. People remember the nutcase candidates from the past and will be cautious about joining in. Some places where Libertarians usually do well, like here in NC, may see this movement more than others, as we had reasonable, reality-based candidates here (e.g., Mike Munger running for governor four years ago). Still, the homeless conservatives would probably prefer to have their own party, their own people running the show, than joining a party that already has its own people in positions of power.
Or they can try to restart the Reform Party. After all, Ross Perot got a LOT of votes back when he ran. And that wrestler got a governorship for a little while soon after.
So, on the right of center there will be a smorgasbord of parties. Nutcase GOP. Libertarians with inside battles for the soul of the party (as Ron Paulians start coming back). Perhaps Reformists. And the Democrats. In such a field, Democrats are the most palatable to most people.
Seeing this situation, the progressive left will see an opening. Instead of grudgingly aligning with the Democrats in the shared goal of preventing GOP from instituting theocracy, they will now feel that this danger is much smaller. They will feel it’s time to speed up the movement of the country into the future, something for which Dems are too slow. They resent the years of not being listened to by the Democrats, and will start exploring other options, how to challenge the Dems from the left, and institute a two-party system in which Dems are on the Right and something else is on the Left.
And for similar reasons that conservatives will be very cautious about joining the Libertarians, the left will be very cautious about joining the Greens. The Greens have their own checkered history, their own people in the positions of power, their own platform which, in some cases, is not as reality-based or science-based as the progressives would like (especially on food). Greens are, rightfully or not, the embodiment of the anti-science left. The progressive are looking for a pro-science, reality-based party that will push the Democrats to the left and the country to the left, by challenging the Democrats in a big way.
Forming a new party seems like the only way. It is hard. But it is possible. It is easier now (Internet, Occupy movement) than it was in the past. Reformists got temporarily powerful due to Perot’s money, but today, one can become powerful due to ability to galvanize a lot of people very fast, much faster than it was possible in the past. No guarantee, or even expectation, that such a party would do great in their first election, but can gradually build steam over a few cycles.
We’ll see what happens. Those are just some of my post-election musings. Let’s now hear the criticisms.
Cassie Rodenberg: In the Bronx, Rights Get Fuzzy -
I’ve been working with photographer Chris Arnade to document stories in Hunts Point, Bronx and often-ignored areas of New York City. Over the course of the last year, we have noticed the impact the city’s Stop and Frisk policy has on the neighborhood. Recently, we made the decision to…
Just a final reminder that at noon tomorrow, Tuesday, April 17, please come hear Duke neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis talk about his fascinating research on direct brain control of prosthetics and machines. His talk is titled “Beyond Boundaries - The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines and How It Will Change Our Lives” and an abstract is below.
Thanks to a grant from the N.C. Biotechnology Center, American Scientist’s noontime Pizza Lunch speaker series is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for the slice count) to firstname.lastname@example.org (No need to RSVP again if you have done so already.)
Directions to Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, in RTP are here: http://www.sigmaxi.org/about/center/directions.shtml
Beyond Boundaries - The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines and How It Will Change Our Lives
Miguel A. L. Nicolelis, MD, PhD
Duke School of Medicine Professor in Neurosciences, Depts. of Neurobiology, Biomedical Engineering, and Psychology and Neuroscience,
Co-Director, Duke Center for Neuroengineering
In this talk, I will describe how state-of-the-art research on brain-machine interfaces make it possible for the brains of primates to interact directly and in a bi-directional way with mechanical, computational and virtual devices without any interference of the body muscles or sensory organs.
I will review a series of recent experiments using real-time computational models to investigate how ensembles of neurons encode motor information. These experiments have revealed that brain-machine interfaces can be used not only to study fundamental aspects of neural ensemble physiology, but they can also serve as an experimental paradigm aimed at testing the design of novel neuroprosthetic devices. I will also describe evidence indicating that continuous operation of a closed-loop brain machine interface, which utilizes a robotic arm as its main actuator, can induce significant changes in the physiological properties of neural circuits in multiple motor and sensory cortical areas. This research raises the hypothesis that the properties of a robot arm, or other neurally controlled tools, can be assimilated by brain representations as if they were extensions of the subject’s own body.