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February 23, 2009

The Absence Of Angels In America: An Argument For Anarchy? genre: Econ-Recon & Nouveau Thoughts & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Philosophers have long debated the question, "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?". In these moments of economic peril and in light of our advancing animosity, perhaps the question should be, "Are there any angels in America?". Better still, "Could today's anarchists be tomorrow's angels?".

At this unprecedented economic juncture, the inertia that accompanies our adherence to accepted, acrimonious, and antiquated algorithms has, by attrition, abrogated the principles of osmotic parity that have the potential to prevent our collapse...a collapse that would undoubtedly be defined by our dogmatic deification of unchecked political capitalism...a lecherous linking that history would likely depict as the opportunistic and incestuous appetite of the "ruling" class to copulate with corporate concubines in order to share in the symbiotic perks of prostitution that permeate the shameless pursuit of power and profit...absent a sufficient appreciation for the ameliorative aspects of altruistic governance and the shared success it should support.

When government is little more than the means to obtain or hold political power, it has become, by its very existence, the prevailing argument for the initiation of anarchy.

The aforementioned dysfunctional formulation of governmental "order" is antithetical to the symmetry oft associated with the social contract defined by our forefathers. As such, one can reasonably argue that our recent and rampant self-serving configuration of capitalism may well precipitate the initiation of anarchy as the means to destroy an unintended and unabated disease.

In this current conflation of chaos...a top of the pyramid chain letter economy powered by a Ponzi scheme psyche...perhaps anarchy (disorder) can actually be the means to "order"...an antidote that purges political prevarication...a virtual vaccine that seeks to supplant a systemic infection whose signature symptom is a seemingly endless urge to usurp utilitarianism.

The virulent nature of this virus leads many to seek the leverage that accompanies the disparate distribution of power and profit. It transforms those it touches into careless arsonists who peevishly persist in passing it on...thus acting as accelerants for an approaching anarchy.

Those in the media who promote political pettiness in order to insure the flow of dollars to the kingpins of corporate capitalism simply serve up the obnoxious oxygen that insures the ignition of inequity. Instead of enabling erudition, their lamentable locution does little more than circumvent any commitment to cerebral acuity or empathic expression.

In its final iteration, capitalism unchallenged becomes the hemlock of homage to the advancement of ad hominem histrionics that serve as a shortsighted and circuitous sheepskin shell designed to disguise the dogged drive for the lion's share of the spoils...despite the derivable certainty that such shenanigans assure the anarchy that an adherence to such an ideology will undoubtedly advance.

In the 1993 Broadway play, Angels in America, the perilous and poignant promise of Kushner's millennium is exemplified as a society of individual's who, despite their awareness of their ailments and the attendant adversity, come to celebrate diversity despite its innate complexity...embrace redemption and reconciliation regardless of their unequivocal elusiveness...and endure their ongoing agony in the hopes of occasional ecstasy. His notion of the future is predicated upon the simple theory that our destination emerges when our dances of deception are dutifully debunked.

Fate is the fallacy of fools. The maelstrom of the millennium no longer approaches...it has arrived. We must shape tomorrow or it will consume us. What began must end. The future is now...or it will never be. Choice is the wisdom and the wherewithal to adopt anarchy when the continuation of the status quo insures its inevitability.

Tagged as: Anarchy, Angels In America, Capitalism, Economics, Humanity, Politics, Tony Kushner

Daniel DiRito | February 23, 2009 | 9:21 PM | link | Comments (1)
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February 4, 2009

Capitalism At The Crossroads: Time To Wing It? genre: Econ-Recon & Hip-Gnosis & Nouveau Thoughts & Six Degrees of Speculation

In Beckett's "Waiting For Godot", time is both passed and suspended in anticipation of arrival. Neither the passage of time or the thoughtless suspension of its value is a worthwhile endeavor...yet so much of the human condition is spent accordingly.

Fortunately, the ebb and flow of life frequently compensates for this miscalculation and we are rarely forced to face the futility of our allegiance to being unaware.

At the same time, history, in retrospect, has meticulously recorded such periods of ambiguous angst with the application and affirmation of a seemingly all-encompassing "ism" of merit. Sadly, we humans rarely understand our migration from one "ism" to the next...at the moment it transpires...frequently leaving us in the same suspect and suspended scenario as those waiting for the transformational Godot to arrive.

America, in its quaint yet quixotic commitment to the courtesan we call capital "ism", is being confronted with such a stretch of meaningless moments...waiting anxiously and aimlessly for the arrival of someone or something to remove the paralysis that permeates our propensity to participate in the chain letter economics that powers our Ponzi scheme psyche...even though we "share" in the ironic experience of watching our pyramid collapse under the weight of its own egocentric and ignoble ideations.

Two events provide perspective on our predicament - one a calamity and the other a harbinger of hope. The former, 9/11, brought us together long enough to offer consolation and condolences before scurrying out the door with our credit cards and the cash created by our homage to home equity high jinks...in hopes of perpetuating perceptions rather than recognizing realities.

The latter, the safe landing of an aircraft on the Hudson river and the preservation of every single passenger's life, allowed us to reconnect with the principals and perseverance associated with the mythical America and the essence of the collective spirit that had come to define it...all of which evaporated so quickly following 9/11.

Here's the problem. Today, Captain Sullenberger's landing on the Hudson is no longer just a job well done or an act of American stick-to-itiveness; rather it must be morphed into an extraordinary act of unexpected hero "ism"...a deed beyond the pale...an act of selflessness in a society all about the self. In America, tragedy is synonymous with litigation and triumph with accolades...both of which have material enrichment as their expected outcome. Hence American decency is but a function of fault or fame...not an intrinsic component of character.

As such, in this dark hour of economic uncertainty, the core constructs of capital "ism" still trump our actual ability to embrace the noble identity that gave it life. Like spectators at a Gladiator match, we sit on the sidelines of our "Super Bowl" society admiring the exceptional athlete or the precise pilot...ever focused on the means and methods to our own nascent notoriety...never mindful of the inevitable intersection of motivation and moral maturity.

Let me be clear, when I mention moral maturity, I am not invoking an absolutist ideology or an adherence to religion; rather I'm imploring us to understand the essence of our shared humanity. Moral maturity is not the means to superiority...it is the simple act of enabling and embracing equality in lieu of cachet and celebrity. In fact, doing so not only fosters an appreciation of altruism over the accumulation of assets, it disarms the drive for deification by substituting the satisfaction of service for the seemingly endless search for the satiation of selfishness.

Should there be any doubt as to the dubious nature of our situation, and therefore our ever expanding and suspect sense of entitlement, look no further than the latest Gallup Poll on the merits of the President's stimulus plan. Only 38% of respondents believe the stimulus plan should be passed as proposed by Barack Obama. Another 37% are in favor of a stimulus plan but they believe it must include major changes.

While the majority of Americans favor Congress' passing some type of stimulus plan, there is remarkably little confidence on the part of the public that the plan would have an immediately positive impact on the U.S. economy. Americans are also pessimistic about the plan's potential positive impact on their own families' financial situations.

There's only one way to interpret these numbers. Self-interest is the primary motivation that drives debate in America. Confronted with the worst economy since the Depression, and an uncertain future, most Americans cannot view the stimulus plan absent the bias of the status quo...and most of our elected officials must be included in this group. The shortsightedness is astounding.

A comparison may help explain my concerns as well as my contention that capital "ism", in its current form, is no longer viable. Let's start by assuming that our economic situation is dire. If so, then one should be able to construct a scenario to evidence the gravity of this moment as well as the complacency that has grown out of our commitment to the tenets of capital "ism" as they have existed since the Watergate years.

For this exercise, let's assume that NASA has identified an asteroid heading towards earth in ten years and that its trajectory puts the U.S. at great risk. Now suppose that in response, our government decides to establish safe shelters in all major metropolitan areas. Logically, one should be able to presume that Americans will get behind the effort and pitch in to insure that the country is prepared for the worst. One should also be able to expect that individuals will put self-serving objectives aside in hopes of achieving maximum safety and survival. In other words, while some people might feel slighted by the placement of shelters...or other aspects of any response plan...the gravity of the situation undoubtedly dictates that such concern is set aside in order to work towards a collective solution to an anticipated crisis.

Notwithstanding, I'm of the opinion that our adherence to a "me first" mentality may well preclude our ability to react effectively to this or any other plausible threat. Therein lies the inability to visualize the risks of maintaining our seemingly insolent and intransigent mindsets. You see; the instincts we momentarily demonstrated in the aftermath of 9/11 still exist. Unfortunately, the fact that we so easily slipped back into more of the same doesn't portend well for addressing the current economic crisis...a crisis that is more than a glitch in the U.S. economy...a crisis that won't be solved by imploring Americans to go shopping...a crisis that is the leading edge of a reordering of the world and the manner in which we humans serve as stewards of this earth...and therefore whether we will be purposeful proponents for the ongoing existence of humankind.

The fact that so many of us latched onto the "Miracle on the Hudson" as a tangible measure of the enduring human spirit serves to illustrate the paradox we seem so unwilling to acknowledge. On the one hand, we marvel at the fact that a trained pilot was able to land an airplane on water...yet we forget that absent years of training...a concern by the flight crew for the safety of their fellow man...and finally...the presence of wings...it not only couldn't have successfully landed on the water...it would have been unable to support and sustain the 155 individuals who stood upon those wings while waiting (and believing) that kind and compassionate passers-by would come to their aid.

America is a plane in trouble...but our fate need not be dependent upon the heroic acts of a select few. At the same time, we must be wise enough to listen to those who may have more insight. This plane of ours will never achieve a safe landing if each of its passengers demands their turn in the cockpit...regardless of ability. The role of being a good citizen is also an act of hero "ism"...even if it means sitting quietly in coach while the pilot brings us to safety or helping an elderly passenger make their way onto the wing once the plane has landed.

America can no longer wait for our Godot to arrive. We needn't a savior or a heroin...we needn't aspire to the adulation we believe accompanies a seat atop the pyramid...we needn't support or negate our leaders based upon political ideology...Godot is every man and every woman...Godot is merely a belief in each other predicated upon the notion that we grant the humanity we seek...Godot need not come if he is already here...Godot does not exist if we need him...humanity does not exist if we betray it.

If we humans are too survive, it's time for us to wing it...which is nothing more than believing that the service of humanity floats all boats...as well as the plane in which we are all passengers. Fighting over the stimulus plan while the plane is crashing is absurd. Human "ism" may lack the glitter and glamour of capital "ism"...and it may mean less in a few pockets but more in most...but it may well be the only remaining "ism" of consequence.

Its merits will never be fully known if its value is never fully affirmed...yet it has always been there for us to accept. If it isn't adopted in the here and now, history will fail to recognize and record it. You see, in the absence of humanity, there is no future. If there is no future, there will be no history. In the end, all "isms" lead to the same destination. We can travel willingly or we can jeopardize our very existence. The waiting must end...the wings exist. There's room for everyone.

Tagged as: Beckett, Capitalism, Civilization, Economics, Godot, Hudson, Humanism, Obama, Politics, Sullenberger

Daniel DiRito | February 4, 2009 | 2:02 PM | link | Comments (1)
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January 22, 2009

Prism Prison: In Search Of Rainbows? genre: Nouveau Thoughts & Six Degrees of Speculation

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. In stating as much, they omit the fact that the absent heart may be neither fond nor profound. Hence in many cases I suspect it is but momentarily vacant. Such is the explanation for my period of absentia from blogging.

With that stated, my return to writing is an exercise in conflict. Specifically, in the aftermath of the November election, I've been in search of vision...the ability to see beyond my own malaise in order to capture the essence of the existential angst that envelopes my own psyche and leads me to conclude that all is not well in the evolving identity we define as the human condition.

In order to offer insightful observations on this or any other subject, I frequently travel the only path I've found fertile enough to germinate a glimmer of advancing awareness...isolation. You see, I'm convinced that the momentum of our fundamentally mundane and mechanical morass is the very means by which we find ourselves disconnected from that which can keep us traveling towards a more meaningful and noble destination...a more perfect humanity and the sustaining spirit that would invariably accompany it.

The election of Barack Obama, on its surface, incites hope, which is as it should be. On the other hand, the circumstances that led a majority of Americans to effect his election require a more thorough examination...one that respects, retains, and relies upon the missing elements alluded to above...that being both the curiosity and the cynicism necessary to move us forward while simultaneously forcing us to question the prudence of our precarious path...the one we've traveled to get here as well as the one we're still walking.

Let me be clear. In stating my clearly cautionary pessimism, it should not be construed as an indictment of our newly elected president or his aspirations for our advancement, which he so artfully outlined during an inspirational campaign.

Notwithstanding, in light of our unprecedented economic uncertainty, I suspect we are a society and a world in the throes of an inevitable sea change...the kind that history so aptly tells us has the potential to signal the death knell of an antiquated "ism" or to embolden the emergence of one that has not yet been defined. At the same time, history also tells us that the gravity of these tipping point events is rarely identified at the time of arrival.

For the seeker...a moniker to which I aspire (redundant and ironic)...travails and time are intertwined in an effort to envision what exists around the bend while lacking tangible evidence. It's the equivalent of reading a book and predicting the ending without having read the intervening chapters...a feat that defies logical construction yet one that is achieved and that is frequently recorded by historians as the astute observations of a visionary...all of which illuminates the unfortunate predicament of the seeker.

The seeker assumes the role of a prism...demonstrating a willingness to see what went before, endeavoring to receive it as real while hoping to tease essence out of its obviousness in order to emit something that is more than the sum of its observable parts...only to be defined as an instrument of distortion...despite the fact that the vision that the prism (the seeker) emits is wholly constructed from reality...though ordered in ways that defy convention and incite accusations of engaging in acts of incantation or pessimistic prognostications.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite expressions, "Everything's shit...until it isn't". The prism realizes that the reverse is equally profound, "Nothing's shit...until it is". Those who are able to ascertain these moments of transformation are met with ire in the here and now...and then...at some point in the distant future...the still blind byproducts of humanity's persistent progeny proclaim the prescience of the prism...and history's equation remains intact.

Unfortunately, the seeker rarely has the satisfaction of witnessing the affirmation of his or her hypothesis. Death has long since consumed what remained of his or her human form. As such, all that is the tragic nature of the human condition is affirmed in a legacy of legitimacy never lived...though dutifully recorded years hence by virtual stone tablet statisticians in a surreal semiconductor society.

The heart stirs...though the circuitous circumlocution of the human condition remains elusive. A bend approaches...the seeker seeks.

Tagged as: Capitalism, Death, Economics, Humanity, Politics

Daniel DiRito | January 22, 2009 | 3:13 PM | link | Comments (3)
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October 9, 2008

The Evolution Of Elections - Intelligent Design Debunked genre: Hip-Gnosis & Nouveau Thoughts & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

As we move closer to the election, I've witnessed a phenomena that has only recently begun to make sense to me (by the fact that it doesn't make sense). First, I have to hand it to my Republican friends...their tenacity in creating tangible talking points out of thin air is unmatched.

Let me provide an example before I attempt to draw the connection between the manner in which they analyze and strategize elections and the predisposition of some Christians to promote intelligent design over evolution.

Over at the National Review, flummoxed politicos are desperate to craft a salient narrative to leverage John McCain back into a position to win the election. What they fail to realize is that their lurching from one idea to the next is simply supporting the Obama mantra that John McCain and the GOP are erratic. Take a look at the following.

From Jonah Goldberg (Part One):

I have no idea whatsoever if there's merit to this, and if there is how much merit, but lots of email like this:

When are people going to start talking about the REAL reason the markets are down - Obama up in polls. If I was McCain, I'd start telling people, "If you want to lose more money, vote Obama."

From Jonah Goldberg (Part Two):

Now, it's far more likely that the causation and correlation suggested by some readers is backward: the markets tank for non-political reasons and Obama does well as a result, rather than Obama does well and then the markets tank. Still, I think Pethokoukis' point that Obama's success may make investors more pessimistic about the future has some plausibility to it.

Finally, it sounds like this reader has it right (and I should correct a bunch of emailers who seem to think I was suggesting McCain blame Obama for the crashing markets, which I think would be ludicrous).

Jonah,

The suggestion that markets are down because of Obama's rising in the polls shows a preposterous misunderstanding of economics, and McCain will be (rightly) pilloried if he tries to make that claim. I have no doubt Obama will be an utter disaster for business and economic growth/recovery in this country, but the markets are reacting to fact that unemployment is way up (and climbing), manufacturing numbers are way down, housing prices are still falling, credit has seized up, overnight funding is near impossible to acquire at anything but prohibitive cost, there continue to be real questions as to the solvency of financial institutions and their nightmarish balance sheets, etc. Just about every piece of data that comes back these days is negative, with the exception of falling commodity prices and a strengthening dollar, as Kudlow correctly mentioned last week. Companies growth prospects in this kind of environment are bleak at best, and the markets are reacting in kind. In addition, the ban on short selling of financials rolled off today, so some of the downward pressure that had built up over the past week released itself today.

We'll reach a bottom of the market eventually, however--and I mean no disrespect to the previous e-mailer you quoted below--it's naïve to suggest the continued hammering we're all taking has anything material to do with the political zeitgeist.

OK, to argue that the ascension of Obama in the polls is responsible for our crashing financial system requires the suspension of reality. Now in fairness, I have to note that Jonah, in his second posting, dismisses the notion offered by the emailer in his prior posting. At the same time, this has seemingly become standard operating procedure for my friends on the right. Again, there's no fault in testing trial balloons; though there is folly in releasing the ones that don't merit a moments consideration. Doing so gives them an air of legitimacy that fosters more of the same.

Here's the problem...all too often GOP operatives establish an outcome (the preferred fact or belief) and then they create a hypothesis to support it. Clearly this isn't out of the ordinary with regards to scientific study. Virtually every hypothesis has at its origin some level of belief that it may be true, which leads to its testing. The problem with many on the right is that their bias and partiality leads them to corrupt the construct in order to rig the results. In other words, the scientific method is an acceptable construct when it yields the preferred result. Should it refute the optimal outcome, the kitchen sink must be tossed at it in order to discredit it.

That brings me to the connections between those who oppose the theory of evolution in favor of creationism or its most recent stepchild, intelligent design, and those who would put forth an intellectually dishonest explanation to further their political objectives.

Let me be clear, it's a free country and we're all entitled to attempt to influence others with whatever arguments we choose to employ. The problems arise when the credible and convincing means to measure the validity of a theory are cast aside in deference to ideological intransigence. You see, when an individual can dissect the Bible into those portions they accept and those segments they set aside...all the while maintaining the infallibility of the process and the indisputable nature of the conclusion...fiction has been elevated to a level commensurate with fact.

Even worse, there is no rational or reasonable means to compel these believers to abandon their arbitrary assertions in favor of a fact driven formula. Once this rejection of reasonability is rejected relative to religion, the distance to its dissolution with regards to other disciplines is easily abridged. In the field of politics, once dogma is allowed to dethrone dutiful deduction, extremism is enabled.

Hence, the efforts to assign arbitrary attributes to Barack Obama is the epitome of embracing this elusive equation. Not only does this promote discord, it precludes its resolution. Before it can be corrected, the quintessential question must focus upon uncovering the underlying motivations.

As I watch John McCain and his minions grapple with the prospect of defeat...and the fear that imparts...it supports my suspicion that terror management is at the core of our conundrum. Terror management posits that we humans are prone to obsessing upon the fear of our mortality and acting to diminish it.

As such, religion and the promise of an afterlife is a strategy to assuage the anxiety. Those predisposed to acting from fear are therefore susceptible to strategies that allow irrational ideations to override objective analysis. When confronted with fearful events, the instinctual reaction is to resort to the suspension of reason in order to construct a place of comfort.

Unfortunately, this behavior has an "imprinting" quality such that it is self-reinforcing the longer it persists. In the political realm, it is manifested in a refusal to allow or applaud alternate avenues of governance. The Clinton presidency is an excellent example. There is little doubt that his tenure was a period of relative peace and prosperity...and yet many on the right refuse to recognize as much. These individuals often argue that the time a president is seated in office isn't the essential measure of his merit...or they prioritize other considerations...such as morality in the case of Clinton.

Here's the problem. This approach isn't applied consistently. Ronald Reagan receives credit for his time in office as well as for a number of ensuing years. Questions of morality, such as his having been married twice and his silence on the AIDS epidemic, are ignored. Shades of gray are danger zones and the pursuit of black and white...regardless of either's availability...is the ultimate safe haven from which to view the world. With the passage of time, the GOP and its pliable and therefore palatable propaganda becomes the only amenable world view...facts be damned.

Doubt is equated with death and it must, therefore, be banished. Science, though seemingly certain, is still too slow in providing a palatable domicile from which to proceed. To embrace it is to risk the possibility that one's earthly existence could end before it can afford acceptable answers to free one from fear. A retreat to the malleability of irrational ideations is the only avenue by which one can construct an illusory and idyllic island, insulated from the unmovable manifestation of mortality.

Death is certain; political suicide is optional. Come into the light my GOP friends...I promise it won't kill you. Besides, you'll still have heaven as a backup, right?

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Bill Clinton, Creationism, Death, Economy, Evolution, GOP, Intelligent Design, John McCain, Jonah Goldberg, National Review, Religion, Ronald Reagan, Science, Scientific Method, Terror Management

Daniel DiRito | October 9, 2008 | 4:30 PM | link | Comments (1)
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September 10, 2008

Dans La Rue! C'est Juste Le Dèbut...Le Combat Continue! genre: Nouveau Thoughts & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

TheDreamers.jpg

Call me a dreamer. The title of this posting is from the Bertolucci movie...The Dreamers...a film set in Paris during the tumultuous 60's. Bertolucci, a master at exploring every facet of his character's psyches, tackles the lives of three friends seeking meaning in a complex world...a world undergoing rapid changes...a world where some seek refuge in the safety of the past and others are pulled by the promise of a new tomorrow.

Theo and Isabelle, twins who reside in France while living in a make believe world built around lines they've embraced from the countless films they've watched at the cinema, befriend Matthew, an American student. As the lives of the three become increasingly intertwined, Matthew comes to realize that his friends, inviting as they are, remain enmeshed in an unbreakable bond that shields them from the world they so deftly discuss...a world they find too frightening to face.

So by now, you must be saying to yourself, what on earth does this have to do with the world in which we live. Well, it's the vehicle by which one can understand the gravity of the brouhaha over the utterance of "lipstick on a pig" by Barack Obama. I'll attempt an explanation.

In each of our lives, the trajectory of the society in which we reside influences the identities we adopt as individuals and shapes the standing we hold in the larger world. America has long been a bastion of reason amidst the brazen blustering of banal bullies intent upon exporting their ideologies...without consideration of the carnage that will be left in the wake of their wanton ways.

Unfortunately, the desire to lead America (an oxymoron of sorts)...now little more than the act of amassing power for profit...has deteriorated into deliberate attempts to distract voters. Like Theo and Isabelle, the average voter, traumatized by the inconsistency of daily lives that teeter between acts of terror and episodes of temerity, is increasingly drawn in by the lines uttered by actors propped up in front of us. While the strings that manipulate these partisan puppets are often in full view, the ability to discern fact from fiction becomes an abstraction on the order of kabuki theater.

Just as The Manchurian Candidate was remade to reflect the conflicts of a modern world, so too has Sarah Palin been recast as the protagonist in a plot designed to jumble the images we see when we look in the mirror...earnestly seeking to understand the essence of our nation's collective identity. This production, while a palpable parsing of words and an attempt to depict Palin as the pilloried govern-ess, is ultimately as unpalatable as the hemlock poured into the cup of the classic character, Romeo, who, like the voting public, was the victim of misdirection and misinformation.

Sarah Palin is an individual possessed of the same traits that make us all human...a mix of good and bad...but nonetheless fully human. Unfortunately, she has been tactically transformed into something else...ground zero for an ideological illusion designed to obfuscate...in order to divide and pull victory from the jaws of defeat.

Sarah Palin is adept at repeating her lines. She recites the divisive rhetoric, of those who chose her to transpose the trajectory of a nation desperately in search of a reasoned dialogue, with great ease. Her reference to lipstick, translated in literary terms, is apt to be the foreshadowing of a foreboding finale.

While this luminous lubricant has allowed her handlers to highlight her as something delicate and different...and someone to be protected from examination...their actions to cast her as victim serve to open wounds that have festered for years under the salve of a seemingly superficial commitment to civility.

As with all dreams, there is the possibility that this election will send us tumbling into the darkness we've come to know through nightmares. November will undoubtedly bring this election of esoteric interest to its inevitable end...but it may also ignite the same awakening that led Theo and Isabelle to cast aside their convoluted caricatures and enter the world they flirted with from afar.

When "the street came flying into the room", they recognized that their oasis of denial could no longer isolate them from the river of rancor racing through a fractured society. As they join the angry masses on the street, Matthew pleads with his friends to choose a different route. Despite his rational recitations, it is clear that Theo and Isabelle, damaged as they were, could no longer retreat to the confines of complacency. Their lives could no longer be reduced to clever lines cleaved from the cinema.

Life must be about choosing to live...here and now...free from the shackles of subterfuge...unencumbered by the ostentatiousness of gaudy gimmickry and manufactured memes. Come November 5th., America will have chosen its course. I, for one, will either be renewed by the refusal of voters to retreat under the weight of reckless rhetoric, or I will be exiting my cocoon of comfort...shouting..."Dans la rue! Dans la rue! C'est juste le dèbut. Le combat continue!"

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Bertolucci, John McCain, Lipstick, Politics, Sarah Palin, The Dreamers

Daniel DiRito | September 10, 2008 | 8:47 AM | link | Comments (0)
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August 8, 2008

On The John Edwards Affair - The Stop & Stare Society genre: Nouveau Thoughts & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

LionAndZebra.jpg

It's common knowledge that car accidents cause traffic jams...even after the vehicles involved have been moved to the shoulder of the road. I've often wondered what causes us to slow down and gaze out our windows as we pass by. Is it out of concern for the passengers or is it some morbid curiosity as to the carnage?

As I've pondered the possibilities, the first image that comes to mind is a herd of zebras, standing and staring with ears perked, as the lion they've just eluded puts the finishing clench upon the zebra that didn't get away. What makes a herd of animals suddenly stop to watch, as their comrade becomes an unwilling victim of the food chain, moments after running frantically for their lives?

If you're wondering where I'm going with this rather morbid musing, I've been looking for a way to make sense of our fascination with John Edwards' admission that he engaged in an extramarital affair. Let me be clear...I'm troubled by the deceit that preceded the revelation...but I'm more troubled by our seeming inability to focus upon the underlying issues.

You see, John Edwards may be unique in having had the opportunity to run for president of the United States, but his affair puts him on a par with the majority of the American public. The fact that we stop to gawk at him underscores our similarity to a herd of zebras, while our holier-than-thou looks of disdain uncover our propensity for self-forgiving double standards.

As we approach the November election, we're being confronted by the all too familiar rhetoric that same-sex marriage is threatening to destroy the family. Frankly, this is a manufactured issue that serves the purposes of politicians and preachers and serves as a distraction from what actually ails the family. Truth be told, the preoccupation with same-sex marriage and the affairs of others is the equivalent of watching the zebra in the grasp of the lion. It gives us something to look at while counting our blessings that we avoided capture...not by the lion...but by the discovery of our own undisclosed indiscretions.

Yes, I've long argued that gays should be entitled to the same marriage rights afforded to heterosexuals...but I've also argued that the institution is at best broken. In fact, I suspect that it is, in its current form, contrary to human nature. In saying as much, I'm not suggesting that we eliminate marriage. At the same time, I'm in favor of beginning the process of an honest assessment of the expectations we attach to our marriages and, therefore, the manner in which they're created...and dismantled.

Yes, I'm embarking upon an unpopular task that mimics the myth of Sisyphus...but then again...so are most of the individuals who choose to marry. If we admit that pushing the rock over the pinnacle is the equivalent of perfection, we should quickly understand the reason for Sisyphus' perpetual failure...as well as our own with regard to marriage.

Look, the human heart is fragile...it can fall as fast as it can harden...and in that dichotomy is revealed the precarious nature of love...as well as the inability to predict its path. While the mind can promise the heart, the heart cannot always be expected to abide. That's a reality we prefer to ignore...until someone's heart is broken.

Where we miscalculate is in our expectations of ourselves and others...antecedent to our marriages as well as the moment at which we recognize the one we're in is broken. In each of these moments, rather than acknowledge our human nature, we demand that another defy their own in order to protect the fragility of ours...and visa versa. Yes, this works well on the front end...but it fails miserably at the other.

In many ways, we humans are victims of our own success. In that it provided us with more choices and greater flexibility, it has also diminished our dependence on each other as well as the affiliations we believe we'll need to form in order to survive (make a living, raise a family, etc). Hence, marriage is no longer the essential sociological glue it used to be. While necessity may be the mother of invention, the lack of necessity has allowed us to reinvent our understandings of the roles we play as mothers...and fathers. As such, we've reached the point at which one can choose to be either without the requirement of the other.

On the other hand, this freedom may also provide us with the opportunity to choose our partners absent many of the historical calculations and contrivances. Unfortunately, our actions with regards to relationships seem to lack the full awareness of the evolving terrain. At the same time, there are those who experience this changing dynamic as anxiety which leads them to recoil and call for a return to conventionalism. Unfortunately, rolling back progress is akin to rolling our mythical rocks over the pinnacle. Sadly, the time spent doing so simply detracts from the time we can spend adapting and adjusting our relationships (and the expectations we bring to them) to the current paradigm.

It's time to admit that the idyllic image of marriage, invoked by those who claim to be its protectors, is no longer the nature of the institution. That which no longer exists cannot be preserved. Notwithstanding, the painfully natural, though imperfect, human emotions that facilitated the creation of marriage will remain...and they warrant our awareness and our embrace. Were we to refocus our efforts upon understanding the essence of these emotions, and establishing our expectations accordingly, perhaps the next announcement of an indiscretion could be met with introspective analysis rather than preoccupied projections.

When the voyeurs are enthralled in watching the lion lay waste to the zebra, the bonds that connect them with those they love are left unattended...hanging perilously exposed...ever ready to attach themselves to the first heart that has taken the time to acknowledge, accept, and allow its innate humanity to flourish. When this happens, the heart of the voyeur is apt to be crushed...not by the lion...but by the weight of its own untenable judgments.

Tagged as: Adultery, Culture, Elizabeth Edwards, John Edwards, Marriage, Relationships, Rielle Hunter, Same-Sex Marriage

Daniel DiRito | August 8, 2008 | 2:47 PM | link | Comments (1)
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July 20, 2008

The "Order" Of Things: Let Them Kill...Yes - Let Them Marry...No genre: Gaylingual & Just Jihad & Nouveau Thoughts & Uncivil Unions

OutOfOrder.jpg

I'm always amazed at public opinion...especially when it provides some insights into human nature in 21st century America. Over the years, I've always marveled at the prudish obsession with all things prurient.

I could be wrong, but I suspect a majority of Americans would rather allow their children to watch depictions of violence on television and at the movies than anything remotely sexual. In some ways, I understand how this happens, but in my moments of lucidity, I wonder why we never take the time to understand or alter this seemingly incoherent ideation.

To find evidence of this phenomenon, one need look no further than the polling relevant to same-sex marriage and the military's policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Despite the occasional outlier, it's fairly safe to state that more Americans oppose same-sex marriage than favor it. At the same time, numerous polls in recent years suggests that a significant majority of Americans are in favor of allowing gays to serve in the military. I find those two incongruent positions fascinating.

First, a look at the latest polling on both issues.

From The Washington Post On DADT:

Public attitudes about gays in the military have shifted dramatically since President Bill Clinton unveiled what became his administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy 15 years ago today.

Seventy-five percent of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll said gay people who are open about their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, up from 62 percent in early 2001 and 44 percent in 1993.

Today, Americans have become more supportive of allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the armed forces. Support from Republicans has doubled over the past 15 years, from 32 to 64 percent. More than eight in 10 Democrats and more than three-quarters of independents now support the idea, as did nearly two-thirds of self-described conservatives.

From CBS News On Same-Sex Marriage:

(CBS) Most Americans continue to think there should be some legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples, and 30 percent say same-sex couples should be allowed to marry - the highest number since CBS News began asking this question in 2004.

Twenty-eight percent think same-sex couples should be permitted to form civil unions, but more than a third - 36 percent - say there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship.

Americans' views on this issue have changed since 2004, although opinion has not changed substantially in the last two years. In November of 2004 (soon after the presidential election) just 21 percent of Americans supported the idea of same-sex couples being allowed to marry.

Majorities of both men and women support some form of legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples, but more women (36 percent) than men (24 percent) back the idea of same-sex marriage.

With regard to DADT, it seems fairly clear that the country is ready to embrace gays serving in the military. Virtually every constituent group agrees. As such, it would be difficult to contend that the favorable response is due to the vague or uncertain nature of the survey question.

With regard to gay marriage, the results are more nebulous. Don't get me wrong, there's little doubt that the trends are encouraging. In fact, one could make the argument that a narrow majority of Americans actually favor some recognition of same-sex relationships. Defining the specifics of that recognition would likely provide less encouraging results.

I'm intrigued by the disparity. On the one hand, it seems that patriotism and a desire to defend one's nation elicits thoughts of equality on the part of the electorate. In other words, if gays are willing to kill and die for their country, by God, we shouldn't deny them that opportunity. [Wave flags now] On the other hand, who a gay person chooses to love and how that love is recorded by society apparently elicits thoughts of moral rectitude on the part of the electorate. [Cover eyes now]

In other words, views about homosexuality seem to mirror the general pattern of allowing our children to be exposed to violence (masculinity...or behavior associated with men?) while shying away from exposure to, or discussion about, sexuality (intimacy...or behavior associated with women?). Is that an anecdotal observation and a broad brush approach to the subject? Perhaps. Does it offer a plausible explanation for the divergent data? In part, I think so.

Let's take it a step further. When one thinks about the treatment of those in the LGBT community, three things emerge. One, lesbianism (often associated with being a tomboy), while still objectionable to many, is also a source of male fascination, and as such, serves to insulate lesbians from intense societal derision. Secondly, gay men (often associated with being effeminate) draw the intense ire of a number of heterosexual men which is much more likely to lead to acts of derision and/or violence being perpetrated on homosexual men. Lastly, transgender males, seeking to identify as women (adopting virtually all aspects of feminine behavior), are potentially at the greatest risk for vitriol and violence.

I contend that if one were to ask all voters to quantify each groups social acceptability, each groups acceptability to serve in the military, and the acceptance of the love relationships each group forms, the discomfort would mirror the rankings I've noted above.

Let's return to the apparent discomfort with all things sexual and the seeming tolerance for depictions of violence. If one looks at the dance of sexuality, generally speaking, the male is in pursuit which can easily be construed as an aggressive act. Since men generally accept this role...and they also have daughters...a disconnect emerges which may well lead to the seeming silence with regards to all things sexual.

In simple terms, men, aware of each other's inclinations, are uncomfortable admitting and acknowledging that their daughters will be pursued sexually and anything that reminds them of this creates dissonance that is rarely resolved. The carnal nature of sex as conquest (masculine) can prevent them from viewing sexuality favorably as intimacy (feminine).

This may also explain the difference in men's and women's reported acceptance of gays in the military. Men, by virtue of their own views of sex, are apt to view the homosexual male similar to themselves...meaning they assume a gay man is in pursuit of a sexual encounter. At the same time, women are apt to be more comfortable with gay men as a result of their inclination to share expressions of intimacy.

I'll offer one additional observation. Sex, by its nature, involves unspoken understandings about penetration and being penetrated...tops and bottoms if you will. That again brings us back to the above ordering. Lesbianism, from a conventional view of gender roles, is often thought to be about penetration...meaning there is a perception that someone adopts the position as the top (the masculine aggressor). With gay men, the perception is that someone adopts the position as the bottom (the feminine placater). Lastly, with regard to the transgender male, the assumption is that the individual seeks to adopt the feminine role...although in this instance, with a heterosexual male.

Simply stated, the subconscious predisposition to favor masculinity over femininity (imposed over centuries by the prevalence of misogyny as opposed to any innately ordered hierarchy) therefore leads to ranking the three accordingly.

All of the above, in my opinion, helps explain why voters are more inclined to support gays in the military than to endorse same-sex marriage. The former is consistent with established societal norms that favor masculinity which makes it more palatable. Conversely, the latter serves to threaten the established order and unseat the stereotypical male identity from its lofty perch.

When it's all said and done, I contend humanity hasn't navigated that far from its awareness that the king of the jungle's demands are usually met (he writes the rules) and he is therefore afforded a wide berth...simply based upon an unspoken understanding that he has the ability to impose his will (penetrate) upon those who can't do the same.

Whether all of this suggests that love does or doesn't exist as we define it is open to debate. In the meantime, the message to the LGBT community is rather convoluted...and fully impeachable. In a world too easily inclined to violence, it's a shame to be rewarding gays for propagating aggression as the acceptable status quo while stifling their potential to act as loving agents for constructive change. It's time for the sleeping giant to assemble its parts and uproot the tree to which it has too long been tethered. It's time for a new order.

Tagged as: DADT, Discrimination, Don't Ask Don't Tell, Gay Marriage, LGBT, Military, Misogyny, Polling, Relationships, Same-Sex Marriage, Sexuality, Society, Violence, War

Daniel DiRito | July 20, 2008 | 2:27 PM | link | Comments (5)
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July 17, 2008

Dan Dennett: On The Prevalence & Power Of Ideas (Memes) genre: Nouveau Thoughts & Six Degrees of Speculation

In the following video, Dan Dennett discusses the power of ideas (memes) to hijack evolutionary rules and therefore the individual. When this happens, depending upon the idea, society and the individual can become the virtual victim of a parasite that promotes actions that are actually contrary to our genetic fitness. While the concept seems complex on its surface, Dennett does an excellent job of communicating the premise that ideas (memes) can be toxic and detrimental.

Dennett offers some examples to demonstrate this phenomenon. He actually uses the term infectious repetititis to describe the process by which ideas can become dangerous (viral if you will). Knowing as much, he moves forward to suggest that the antidote to toxic memes is a commitment to knowledge and rational thought designed to explore the factual merits of an idea...absent a preconceived bias (morally neutral). Hence, it becomes the responsibility of society to propagate good ideas and extinguish (refute) those that aren't.

I find the topic fascinating. Dennett, an adept communicator, is actually little more than a student of human nature who is committed to the expanded application of the scientific method. In other words, passion has its place...but it ought to be tested prior to its widespread distribution.

I've included a second video which I believe offers additional insight into the replication of ideas and the impact they can have on societies. The video basically traces the influences of the various religions, over time, and how their spread impacted the individual and the society. In the ebb and flow of these religions, people were persecuted and killed, customs were extinguished, and dissent by the individual was frequently prohibited. I think this second video does an excellent job of exemplifying and amplifying Dennett's observations and the concerns he brings forward.

Dan Dennett On The Power Of Ideas (Memes)

The Spread Of Religion

Tagged as: Dan Dennett, Evolution, Genetics, Human Nature, Intransigence, Islam, Memes, Religion, Science, Scientific Method

Daniel DiRito | July 17, 2008 | 9:10 AM | link | Comments (0)
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July 10, 2008

FISA: Four, Three, Two, One...Is What Counts Gone? genre: Nouveau Thoughts & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

When in the course of human events is truth self-evident? Or is truth a declaration independent of our capacity to recognize it? Is there a point at which the collective truth of yesterday is no longer sufficient to hold together that which seemed to be a more perfect union? Are such questions, cut from the fabric of our foundation, the tools needed to retrieve Major Tom from his solitary perch in space...or are the answers to such questions the reason he's convinced he can never return? Are we on the precipice of reentry or have we begun the final countdown?

How is it that the intersection of the Declaration of Independence and Major Tom, a Peter Schilling song from the 80's can capture my impressions regarding the state of affairs in American politics? Well, it's rather simple. The former has always represented the ideals which grounded this nation and functioned to form the fundamental bonds which made us citizens in a society steeped in shared purpose. The latter describes the isolation and alienation we've allowed to jettison us, one from the other, into independent orbits, absent the willingness to reconnect...floating weightless, drifting, falling.

Understanding the journey may be the only means of finding our way home. Strange as it may sound, the path we're currently traveling begins with death, a virtual reversal of the expected cycles. Such as it is, perhaps this is what makes our actions to preserve life as we once knew it so stifling and contrary to the spirit from which it took flight. Hence the unencumbered life we once lived seems to have died and fallen to ground on 9/11...and the death we now fear has become the constrictive cornerstone of the lives we now live...with our withered wings clipped and tethered to ground.

The weight of 9/11 may well be that which will forever separate us from the freedoms we once knew. Many believe that the passage of the FISA bill will undoubtedly serve that purpose...and they view it as a virtual death knell to the intentions enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and the remainder of our founding documents.

Like Major Tom, many find themselves disconnected and adrift...mindful of the inspiration that spawned a great nation...mournful that FISA, in its attempt to preserve life, may actually kill the inspiration that made this way of life worth living. Therefore, the anxiety exhibited is clearly a response to the intangible shadow FISA will cast...obscuring the vision of this and future generations...modifying the meaning and the measurement of our unbridled freedoms...substituting the avoidance of death for the long standing construct of preserving our freedoms...even when doing so may have come at the expense of lives lost.

Truth be told, only a few of us will ever find ourselves visible victims of FISA's probes and pursuits. For some, the mere knowledge of its existence is enough to consider the prospect of bidding farewell...metaphorically...to the essence of our collective identity. For others, the cost is negligible and they view the assurances of safety and security that accompany FISA to be a reasonable means to preserve life...physically.

Both points of view contain truths that are self-evident. Both are premised upon the recognition of value. Unfortunately, at this juncture in our journey, the measurements of value have become the points of departure...and our shared truths have become seemingly insufficient to hold us together. Those in favor of FISA believe their truth is essential to the preservation of a more perfect union. Those opposed to FISA view anything that tramples foundational principles to have precluded the possibility of a perfect union.

In the end, it becomes a question of the degree to which one sees life as an ethereal endeavor (FISA opponents) or whether one sees its essence as nothing more than the acts necessary to extend its duration (FISA proponents). In this comparison, irony emerges.

The former, idealists though they may be, are apt to be those who deny the existence of an afterlife. The latter, pragmatists in many ways, are more likely to envision an afterlife as an important adjunct to their identity. The former, quick to discount the notion of the rapture or the end of days, view FISA as the initiation of the journey towards the destruction of their homeland. The latter, Biblically instructed to be ever mindful of the signs of the coming end, view FISA as the means to preserve the homeland while they wait to gain entry into the ultimate kingdom.

So who is Major Tom? It's hard to say. Where is he going? I believe he's going home. Where is that home? It's rather difficult to determine. What is the nature and substance of home? Such is the quintessential dilemma we face.

Will we remain grounded in the principles of the Declaration of Independence or will we secede the controls to the likes of Orwell's Ministry of Truth? Is the countdown on...or is what counts gone? There's no reply.

Peter Schilling - Major Tom

Tagged as: 9/11, Death, Declaration of Independence, Dying, End of Days, FISA, Freedom, Major Tom, Peter Schilling, Politics, Rapture, Religion

Daniel DiRito | July 10, 2008 | 1:43 PM | link | Comments (0)
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April 28, 2008

Cross-Race Recognition Deficit: Why Linking Obama To Wright Is Wrong genre: Hip-Gnosis & Nouveau Thoughts & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

I've got a different take on the focus that is being placed on the statement's of Jeremiah Wright and their relationship to the candidacy of Barack Obama. I agree that he isn't doing Senator Obama any favors by appearing at numerous events...especially since many Americans seemed willing to accept his explanations and observations on the issue of race following the first release of excerpts from Pastor Wright's sermons.

However, realizing the detrimental effect of Pastor Wright's continued presence in the spotlight ignores an essential and salient question...one that asks why Wright's ongoing remarks and the associated media attention continues to result in a strong and persistent linkage to Senator Obama...despite the Senator's lucid observations on the complexities of race in America.

As I've watched this situation unfold, I've had a nagging suspicion that something else was at play. Fortunately, as I saw today's endless coverage of the topic, I was able to connect these troubling events with a theory I previously discovered as a result of my endless curiosity with human psychology. The theory hasn't received all that much attention though I suspect it soon will.

The theory, and my related hypothesis, suggests that the incessant linkage of Obama with Jeremiah Wright is indicative of a phenomenon that has typified race relations in this country for many years. The psychological concept has it's origin in the study of "cross-race recognition deficit"...or what would be commonly known as a predisposition to conclude that "they all look the same" when attempting to distinguish individuals of a race that differs from our own. Hence we are prone to conclude that 'they' all look alike...and more importantly...that 'they' are in fact alike in ways that exceed or transcend their physical descriptions or characteristics.

The following provides a basic explanation of, and a primer on, the research that underlies the theory of "cross-race recognition deficit".

From The American Psychological Association:

WASHINGTON - Why do people of one racial group fail to recognize faces from another racial group? This so-called cross-race recognition deficit, a topic of debate within the social science community, is sometimes explained by suggesting that people have less experience seeing faces from other races. But, a new research finding by Kent State University psychologist Daniel T. Levin, Ph.D., suggests that the information people "see" when looking at the face of a person of another race is information that allows them to classify the person as White or Black but is not information which allows them to individualize the person, such as the color of their eyes or shape of their nose.

Dr. Levin's conclusions, as published in the December issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, published by the American Psychological Association, is based on experiments designed to determine the kind of information people retain when looking at cross-race faces.

In his first experiment, Levin compared how well people recognize faces of other races with how readily they locate these faces in a visual search task. He made two average faces, one derived from 16 Black faces morphed together and a second created when 16 White faces were morphed together. These Black and White faces were at either ends of a cross-race spectrum of faces.

Using these faces, Levin tested 25 participants (the participants were nearly all White, with a few Asians also included) on their ability to locate a Black face amid a series of White faces or visa versa. Next, the same participants were shown yearbook photos of 16 White and 16 Black male students. They were then shown another set of photos and asked to indicate whether any of the second set also appeared in the yearbook photos.

As expected, on the face memory test using yearbook photos, participants were better at recognizing White faces than they were at recognizing Black ones. But, paradoxically, participants who performed most poorly in recognizing Black faces in the yearbook photo test were most likely in the first part of the experiment - the visual search task -- to locate Black faces among the White faces more quickly than the White faces among Black faces.

This occurs, according to Levin, because the information people focus on when looking at a face of another racial group is information that is optimal for group classification (that's a Black man") rather than individual recognition ("that's a man with a mustache and a down-turned mouth").

"Participants who were poor at recognizing black faces appear to code blackness as a visual feature while they may not code whiteness at all," says Dr. Levin. "The problem is not that we can't code the details of cross-race faces; it's that we don't. Instead, we substitute group information, or information about the race, for information about the features that help us tell individual people apart."

I contend that Dr. Levin's work on the subject is on the leading edge of better understanding what we're witnessing with regards to the campaign of Senator Obama and thus pushing us towards our next foray into understanding the impact of race in America.

Specifically, the notion of substituting group information or information about a particular race for the discriminations needed to distinguish one individual from another are at play with regards to the remarks of Pastor Wright and the linkage being applied as a result of Senator Obama's membership in his church.

Let's look more closely at the details of Dr. Levin's research. In his follow up work, Dr. Levin provides evidence that suggests that the recognition deficit does exist but he takes it a step further when he exposes the possibility that the deficit doesn't result from an inability to identify subtle differences; rather it may well be that we simply don't or won't.

The fact that he quickly demonstrates that it can be done with a minimal amount of instruction suggests that we're prone to what I would characterize as 'lumping'. Essentially lumping means that once we distinguish race, we frequently go no further in order to identify or delineate for the characteristics of each individual. I would argue that this process of generalization is apt to transcend physical attributes. If so, it may well explain why the words of Pastor Wright are being indelibly attached to Senator Obama.

From Monitor On Psychology:

People are notoriously awful at recognizing faces from other races. It's a human foible often explained by the notion that we have more experience looking at members of our own race and thus acquire "perceptual expertise" for characteristics of our own kind.

One influential version of that hypothesis argues that the so-called cross-race recognition deficit can be modeled by assuming that faces of other races are more psychologically similar than are faces of one's own race. But Daniel Levin, PhD, a cognitive psychologist at Kent State University, has been unsatisfied with that argument.

"The perceptual expertise position is pretty intuitive, and it makes sense," he says. "But I'm arguing that it's not really the case. The problem is not that we can't code the details of cross-race faces--it's that we don't."

Instead, he says, people place inordinate emphasis on race categories--whether someone is white, black or Asian--ignoring information that would help them recognize people as individuals. In recent research, Levin has shown that people can, in fact, perceive fine differences among faces of people from other races--as long as they're using those differences to make race classifications.

Levin hypothesized that when people see cross-race faces, they code race-specifying information at the expense of individuating information--something they don't do when they see same-race faces.

To test the notion that people are able to perceive subtle differences among faces of people from other races, Levin next explored how readily people distinguish among cross-race faces versus own-race faces in making race classifications. Using the two average black and white faces from the earlier experiments, he created a continuum of faces that ran from black at one end to white at the other. Thirteen participants viewed pairs of faces that differed by 20 percent along the black-white continuum. For half the trials, participants judged which of the two faces was most similar to the face at the black end point face. For the other half, they judged which was most similar to the face at the white end.

He found that participants were more often accurate when discriminating between two faces at the black end of the continuum than they were for faces at the white end of the continuum. That finding demonstrates, Levin explains, that people possess the perceptual expertise to detect minute differences among cross-race faces.

A final experiment corroborated those results. As before, for faces on a black-white continuum, participants were better at discriminating between subtly different black faces than they were for subtly different white faces. But on a different continuum that had black faces at both end points, making it impossible for faces to be distinguished based on race, participants did not show such skill at discriminating between faces. That suggests that the extent to which the subtle variations convey race information, as opposed to individuating information, is an important part of the discrimination task, Levin argues.

The excerpt that follows includes remarks from other researchers on the validity of Levin's observations and conclusions. While a discussion of the data would clearly need to be more complex than the text provided below, the gist of the alternate argument contends that Levin fails to provide evidence of reversal...meaning Whites and Blacks should exhibit similar abilities to 'classify' the faces of other races.

A prior political event may help us understand why the reversal sought by others isn't necessary to confirm Levin's hypothesis. In fact, the example may actually direct us towards the additional research needed to conclusively support Dr. Levin's contention that one must look at the differences in majority and minority status to fully understand the causations and ramifications of this theory. That further body of work could also substantiate the extrapolations I'm making with regards to Reverend Wright and Senator Obama.

Back in 1960, John Kennedy's candidacy was endangered by his Catholicism despite his assertions he wouldn't be beholding to or guided by those in Rome. He, like Senator Obama, found it necessary to explain his membership and the fact that he would remain a participant in his church of choice. Skeptical voters sought assurances that he could separate the duties and objectives of his party and the office of the president from the doctrines and objectives perceived to be espoused by his clergy.

Many years later, in 2004, John Kerry met with the disfavor of a number of leaders of the Catholic Church. His support for a woman's right to choose (and other positions) was in opposition to the teachings of the Church yet his ongoing commitment to his religion of choice didn't elicit suspicions as to his allegiances or what he might do once elected. With the passage of decades, those who chose to support John Kerry were able and willing to accept that the Senator's beliefs differed from those within the hierarchy of his church. In fact, he was even able to separate his own personal beliefs on abortion from the constitutional obligations he felt came with winning the presidency.

Returning to reversal, Levin disagrees, as do I, that it is a requirement to validate his hypothesis. Instead, it likely means that further research and better understandings are necessary to explain why there may be an absence of reversal in the minority group. To that end, I suspect that minorities simply begin to internalize the categorizations that society imposes...regardless of whether they have been applied by the majority consciously or as a matter of unconscious, though ingrained discriminations.

In fact, I believe that those who feel such recognitions are applied as negative attributions would be resistant to adopt the use of similar discriminations. While doing so could be construed (by the minority) at some level to be a measure of retribution, it could also lend support to those seeking vindication for their actions and validation of their generalized, though often arbitrary, attributions. I suspect the absence of reversal in minorities is therefore accompanied by an increase in dissonance. Over time, the negative discriminations...and thus the dissonance...may well abate as assimilation is advanced.

From Monitor On Psychology:

Tim Valentine, PhD, of Goldsmiths College, University of London, also challenges Levin's interpretation. In order for Levin to support his claim that people more quickly classify other-race faces according to their race than they classify own-race faces, he says, "it is necessary to show that an effect for one race of participants reverses for the other race--for example, that black participants classify white faces faster than black faces. Levin has never shown this crossover that is critical for his hypothesis."

Levin disagrees, however, that showing such a reversal is critical. His argument, he emphasizes, depends only on having found that people who are poorest at recognizing cross-race faces are in fact best at discriminating between them on the basis of race.

And Levin concurs with Mullen that members of minority groups are likely to respond differently than are members of majority groups. Indeed, he points out, his report discusses previous research that suggests that minority group members tend to code not only people of other races at the category level, but also do so for people of their own race.

Ultimately, suggests Alice O'Toole, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Dallas who also studies face recognition, Levin's new findings may be compatible with perceptual expertise and similarity hypotheses.

"I see less division in the ideas than he does," O'Toole says. "One consequence of the perceptual problems that we may have with other-race faces could simply be that race is just a much more salient aspect of our encoding of faces of other races than it is of faces of our own race. I think the hypotheses are compatible, but Levin's idea is at more of a social level of analysis."

Levin acknowledges, "The problem with the [perceptual expertise] models is not really that they're wrong, per se. Rather, it's a problem of focus. They're focused on this sort of reductivist analysis of similarity, when they really ought to be focused on trying to figure out why people use the features they use."

In the final paragraph of the above excerpt lies the fundamental question of interest. Understanding the phenomenon of cross-race recognition deficit and all the behaviors that may be associated with it is only the first step. Being able to dissect the underlying beliefs that lead to this type of behavior is likely to help us understand and deconstruct the dynamics that drive racial tensions and the prejudices that fuel and promote them.

In the end, Senator Obama is an individual. While many impugn the validity of his stated beliefs and refuse to accept any of the distinctions he has made with regard to his beliefs and those of his pastor, the degree of doubt that remains is likely to be more reflective of the society in which we live than it is of our ability to make informed discriminations absent the influence of race.

Barack Obama may well continue to be harmed by his linkage to the words and images of Pastor Wright. Unfortunately, I contend that connection is a manifestation of the subtle and insidious racial divisions that continue to inhabit our perplexing psyches. Much of what Wright says may be wrong...but concluding Obama is wrong for America because of what Wright has said is also wrong.

Tagged as: 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Cross-Race Recognition Deficit, Daniel Levin PhD, Jeremiah Wright, John F. Kennedy, John Kerry, Kent State University, Psychology, Race Relations, Racism

Daniel DiRito | April 28, 2008 | 11:27 AM | link | Comments (2)
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March 7, 2008

All About The Onion: 63,000 Jobs & An Economy Without A Core genre: Econ-Recon & Nouveau Thoughts & Six Degrees of Speculation

Onion.jpg

It's difficult to find anything to smile about in the latest jobs report. Despite the assurances from the Bush administration that the economy remains strong, each new report brings evidence that we're in a recession. It looks like the administration is either in denial or simply employing the same "head in the sand" mindset that spent the last five years telling Americans that the situation in Iraq is improving. Despite the president's rosy rhetoric, I choose to believe that the data doesn't lie.

The current economic uncertainty reminds me of a metaphor shared by a friend many years ago. While discussing borderline personality disorder, a psychological condition prone to sociopathic behaviors, she described it as being akin to comparing an apple to an onion. The normal personality is like an apple, in that it has a core; whereas with the onion, you peel away layer after layer to find that no core exists.

It's not a perfect analogy, but it underscores my belief that this latest period of economic expansion has lacked the essential fundamentals to insure economic stability. When one strips away the facade of inflated home values...driven by artificially low interest rates...all that remains is a tenuous economy in the throes of adjusting to the instability and uncertainty of globalization.

The economy shed 63,000 jobs in February, the government said on Friday, the fastest falloff in five years and the strongest evidence yet that the nation is headed toward -- or may already be in -- a recession.

"I haven't seen a job report this recessionary since the last recession," said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. "This is a picture of a labor market becoming clearly infected by the contagion from the rest of the economy."

The loss in February was the second consecutive monthly decline in the labor market; economists had predicted a slight increase. The government also revised down its estimate for January to a loss of 22,000 jobs -- the first decline in four years -- and cut in half its estimate for job growth in December.

Wages stayed stagnant in February, further depressing the outlook for consumer spending over the next few months. Among rank-and-file workers -- more than 80 percent of the work force -- average pay grew just 0.3 percent to $17.20 an hour. Wages are effectively running flat when adjusted for inflation.

These job losses are only one segment of the current economic downturn. Truth be told, the housing crisis and its impact on financial markets looks to be an unprecedented debacle that has yet to fully unfold. The efforts of the Federal Reserve to reduce interest rates and make huge amounts of capital available to struggling financial institutions is a testament to the severity and complexity of this crisis.

I suspect the powers that be are hesitant to offer a candid assessment for fear it will trigger even more caution on the part of consumers. To a degree, that is prudent. Unfortunately, this snowball is already rolling and I see little reason to offer false assurances that it won't continue to expand. I look for the government to make added admissions in much the same manner found in a criminal investigation...as more evidence is unearthed, the administration will find itself unable to continue with the denials.

Look no further than a comparison to the Saving & Loan scandal of the late 80's to understand how the government will attempt to downplay the gravity of the situation. Sadly, I'm concerned this fiasco may be far more pervasive. While the S&L scandal was primarily isolated to commercial real estate, the current crisis involves residential real estate and millions of homeowners. That alone suggests a greater magnitude; one that will strike a blow to a core source of economic growth...consumer confidence and spending.

I don't want to be an alarmist, but I see a unique and troubling confluence of conditions that have the potential to challenge our existing economic constructs. The growth of multi-national corporations with GDP's that rival those of many nations serves to undermine the assumption that all Americans share similar economic objectives with consistent measures of success. It simply isn't true in this day and age of global investments and the outsourcing it facilitates in order to increase the bottom line. When the goals of a huge corporation no longer comport with the goals of their nation of origin, the established economic models have become outdated and virtually irrelevant.

I realize I'm painting a gloomy picture. At the same time, I'm convinced that the American public must demand an honest assessment and an open dialogue with regard to these dramatic developments. If we allow our politicians to plot the course...in conjunction with their corporate benefactors...we may find ourselves in a conflict with the United Empire of ExxonMobil...a conflict that we can neither overcome or endure.

On that dark note, I think the following video from The Onion captures much of the essence of this shifting economic construct. It made me laugh...but as with all comedy...it also underscores an undeniable truth that requires our consideration.

The Onion: Outsourcing Child Care Overseas

Tagged as: Comedy, Economics, ExxonMobil, Federal Reserve, Foreclosures, GDP, Housing Bubble, Humor, Interest Rates, Jobs, Multi-national Corporations, Recession, Savings & Loan Scandal, The Onion, Unemployment, Wages

Daniel DiRito | March 7, 2008 | 11:22 AM | link | Comments (0)
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February 11, 2008

Sometimes When You Get Too Close, You Get Too Far genre: Do Not Resuscitate & Nouveau Thoughts & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Generations

"Sometimes when you get too close, you get too far" is one of many pearls of wisdom handed down from my Italian immigrant grandparents. They used the expression to warn their children that all relationships weren't the same and that there are circumstances whereby getting too involved is ill advised. Fortunately, my parents passed those same words along to their children. I've been focused on the saying for several weeks as I've been seeking an understanding of my own indeterminate malaise.

Let me offer some background and then some explanation. I love politics and psychology and I often focus on their overlap when writing. I've done so because I'm convinced that all of our actions can be traced back to the individual's psyche. Try as we might, I suspect we actually understand very little about the mechanics of that entity...other than the fact that it undoubtedly makes each of us uniquely flawed individuals.

If we look close enough, perhaps we can find themes or threads that connect some of us. At the same time, it seems safe to infer that the reverse is true...meaning there are also threadbare holes in this imperfect human tapestry that divide us. Politics is thus the tundra upon which these commonalities and these differences unfold.

This current election cycle is a unique moment in our American history. Never before has it been inevitable that either a woman or an African American would be the nominee of one of our political parties. Part and parcel of that eventuality is the concept of change. Confronting this change, in my estimation, involves many of the same dynamics found in my grandparent's thoughtful insights.

There is a spoken belief that our nation long ago confronted issues of race and gender and set in motion the removal of the barriers associated with either. There is also an unspoken reality that neither has been achieved. As we approach the moment where our lip service may well be forced to acquiesce to the living of these lofty proclamations, we begin to see that the closer we get to its achievement, the further we may be from its existence.

The evidence that exists is no doubt the equivalent of a DNA match. Whether it's a product of our capitalistic mindset that idealizes winning and posits that the opposite is losing, I don't know for sure...but I suspect it may well be. If so, then nothing could be more divisive than to ask voters to affirm one oppressed group over another. It's as if fate is bringing us to the precipice of progress...only to ask us to make a choice that will catapult one group to the pinnacle while seemingly pushing the other into the abyss. While this isn't actually the choice, it may be the perception.

Worse still, those groups who lack a contestant in the competition for the quintessential prize worry that the elevation of one of their fellow second class societal equivalents may well result in the further disproportionate distribution of the spoils of success. Hence, if the perception exists that the proverbial pie isn't large enough to nourish us all, then the thought that one's longtime competitor (for the crumbs that fall off the table) is about to receive not only a place at the table, but a plate...and a bigger piece of the pie, is apt to create angst...and resentment. Therein lies what we must attempt to understand.

An example might be beneficial. I received a distressing call from my younger sister last week. As I picked up the phone and said hello, all I heard on the other end was my sister sobbing...telling me that she had just gotten off the phone with my mother. My heart sunk as my mind raced to guess who had died or was diagnosed with a terminal disease or fallen gravely ill. It's amazing how many thoughts can occupy a few seconds. I immediately asked, "What's the matter?" As I braced for the bad news, she replied, "I told mom I had caucused for Obama and she got mad and hung up on me".

You see my mom is in her seventies...and the thought that a fellow woman would choose to support "the other candidate" (a man who happens to be black) is akin to treason. Add to that the fact that she grew up in a small Colorado community as a Catholic whose Italian immigrant parents had distinct accents and customs that were foreign to those around them and one begins to see the generational impact.

Such is the insidious nature of discrimination and prolonged periods of lost or limited opportunities. Let me be clear...my mom doesn't have a racist bone in her body and I can't recall a single disparaging remark about any minority (save for her angry comments at my announcement many years ago that I was gay). Nonetheless, she is a product of a society that relegated her and other women to a lesser status and in so doing served to rob her and many others of the same opportunities as their male counterparts. The fact that she saw similar limitations placed upon her foreign born parents only exacerbated her awareness of the issue.

When I subsequently spoke with my mother on the phone, the gravity of the situation was revealed when she stated, "I want to see a woman elected to the presidency before I die." Yes, the same woman who idolized the charisma and the hope she found in JFK couldn't envision that my sister had seen the same in Barack Obama. She could only feel her own sense of loss and sadness at the fact that time is cutting short her chances to witness the culmination of her dreams and her hopes.

2008 will be a historical election...but whether it will be a transformative one remains to be seen. Sometimes the closer we get to fulfilling the hopes and dreams of the least of us, the more difficult it can be to preserve them for the rest of us. Hence, transformation can be a double-edged sword.

My love for my mom and my sister is unlimited...and yet it can't always bridge the gaps that come between people from disparate eras. When injustice has been administered and experienced over lengthy periods of time, it may be impossible to repair the damages or remove the regrets that accompany it.

We each see life through our own prisms. We occasionally see the same thing when looking through those prisms...yet if we see those things in our lives at differing chronological points, they will likely have different meanings. In the end, sometimes when you've gone too long without, you've gone too far within. Perhaps the lessons learned in 2008 will bring all of us closer to where we belong.

Tagged as: 2008 election, Aging, Barack Obama, Chauvinism, Death, Gender Inequality, Generation Gap, Hillary Clinton, Immigration, Italian Immigrants, JFK, Misogyny, Racism

Daniel DiRito | February 11, 2008 | 10:01 AM | link | Comments (2)
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December 13, 2007

Going To The Matt - Reach Out & Bring Them Back genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Nouveau Thoughts & Six Degrees of Speculation

Reach Out & Bring Them Back

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time researching Matthew Murray in hope of understanding what led him to the place that ended his troubled life and the lives of four innocent individuals who were far too young to exit this existence. In retrospect, I probably uncovered the person I expected to find. I say as much because I’m sure I have walked in his shoes at various junctures in my own life. I’ll try to explain…and in so doing…perhaps I can shine a much needed light on these lost individuals.

As a child, I was outgoing and generally popular at school…until I reached the eighth grade. In fact, I had always been one of the best students and I was often singled out in that regard. As fate would have it, I was also very small and I didn’t mature until I was a freshman in college. While the other boys in the class were growing and maturing, I maintained the stature of a child.

Needless to say, I knew nothing about girls and though I tried to participate in the games of courtship, I wasn’t particularly adept at it…and unbeknownst to anyone, my belief that I was gay was simmering in the background. Just to avoid misunderstanding, I never exhibited any of the stereotypical behaviors most people associate with being gay…save for what was likely an air of detachment due to the fact that I was different and didn’t know what to do about it…nor did I dare discuss it.

Having grown up in Catholic schools in the 60’s and 70’s, I knew how the Church…and virtually everyone around me…felt about homosexuality. It was not only a sin…it was a scourge…and I knew well what I would encounter should my true identity be exposed. Hence I chose to pray at night that God would let me wake up in the morning and find myself to be straight. I made countless bargains with God…and while I realize how silly that may sound…it was deadly serious to me. Notwithstanding, I remained gay.

So here’s the thing…we live in a society that prefers to isolate the unfamiliar…the different…the unordinary. We are a go along to get along nation. Perhaps it’s an offshoot of the competition which accompanies our capitalist orientation…perhaps it’s also a basic element of our human nature. At the same time, we likely place a greater value on success and winning than many other societies…a dynamic which serves to further isolate the awkward, the introverted, the socially clumsy, the overweight, the homely, and many others.

Fortunately, over time, most people find some semblance of success that can overcome the handicaps that were all too easy for others to point out during their formative years. Sadly, some individuals are so badly scarred by these early years experiences that they fail to find or see the attributes they possess. Instead, like a calf marked for culling from the herd, they are forever aware of their “differentness" and try as they might, they are forever anticipating the moment when they will be singled out.

In this awareness…in what seems to be a horrific and perpetual practical joke perpetrated by fate…these individuals become even further handicapped as they adopt the easily seen mannerisms that denote the full-scale manifestation of suspended socialization skills. It’s the inability to speak in groups, the looking down or away when spoken to, the nervous movements, the sweaty palms, and any number of other identifiers that scream, “I’m different and I know it…and it makes me squirm".

As nature would also have it, such individuals are quickly viewed as “defeatable"…they are not noted as competition and they soon become an afterthought in our haste to climb any number of ladders. As this news is disseminated…and, have no doubt, it travels quickly…they are even further set aside as inconsequential.

For me, I was one of the lucky ones. After bloodying the nose of the largest boy in my eighth grade class, I was restored as a viable being in the eyes of those who had made the assessment that I served no threat. However, that moment of vindication only came after months of begging my mom and dad to not send me to school, months of fearing what would be done to me the moment my grandma dropped me off and her car was out of sight, months of racing to morning mass in order to avoid time on the playground before school, months of sitting near the entrance to the school during recess in case I needed to escape into safety.

Yes, I survived to try again…but I did so while carrying any number of scars for more years than I care to admit. Truth be told, I didn’t even know how to accept my newfound status. I expected the other shoe to drop at any second and I remember listening intensely during every conversation for the moment when it would turn against me…when instead of talking to me, “they" would be talking about me…planning the next antic to embarrass me and snatch from me another piece of my already sparse dignity and my tenuous identity.

As I've pondered Matthew’s situation, I couldn’t help but think back to the fear I absorbed and the anger I swallowed before mustering the strength and the courage to punch someone in the hopes of saving myself. I would relate the feeling to drowning…it's that moment when you’ve gone under a couple of times…and despite someone being there attempting to help you…to pull you out of danger…all you can think to do is flail and grasp for any inkling of hope to keep you afloat…even if it is taking you and your rescuer under in the process.

And while I’ve nearly drowned both literally and figuratively…I can’t really say how to identify the inevitability of that pivotal moment of explosion, nor can I tell you how to anticipate it…either for oneself or for another one might encounter. And yet we must find the means to identify and prevent the next Matthew in order to save him as well as those he may take under with him.

All I know is this…there are individuals in our midst who are in waters where there feet cannot reach bottom in order to keep their head afloat…there are individuals who are adrift and will soon be in those same waters…there are no doubt some individuals who have already gone under the water once…maybe even twice.

Perhaps nature…ever the antagonist…has in this instance actually provided us with the answer…perhaps she gave us two hands knowing there would be times we would want and need to lend one to another. It’s too late to pull Matthew and those he took back from the depths…but I ask you now…take the time to pause and look around…somewhere nearby…someone is fidgeting and feeling all alone…reach out and bring them back.

Tagged as: Chrstnghtmr, Colorado Shootings, LGBT, Matthew Murray, New Life Church, nghtmrchld26, Youth With A Mission, YWAM

Daniel DiRito | December 13, 2007 | 12:18 AM | link | Comments (7)
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October 3, 2007

Move On Folks: Nothing To See Here But Us Humans genre: Do Not Resuscitate & Nouveau Thoughts & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions & Video-Philes

OK, let's face it...we live in a divided country. While it seems intuitive to believe that the events of 9/11 would bring us together (and it did for a while), in the long run, it may have helped to further divide us. Let me be clear...all American's abhor what happened on 9/11...but differences have emerged with regards to how to best address the threat of terrorism.

The invasion of Iraq seems to have been the primary catalyst in advancing the divide. While one could rehash all of the reasons, it actually serves little purpose at this point. Additionally, debating the war in Iraq doesn't alter the underlying issues. Terrorism does exist...it comes from hidden corners...and the hatred which facilitates it is real.

At the heart of any reaction to terrorism is an element of fear given the absolute uncertainty with regard to personal safety. Mothers want to protect their children...husbands want to protect their wives...and no one wants to witness another 9/11. How that is best achieved naturally creates conflict...and it also creates a degree of irrational expectations.

Fighting the school bully is a straightforward proposition; fighting a terrorist movement is anything but straightforward. Yes, both can be identified as the enemy...but one has a face and the other doesn't. That frustrating reality leads many of us to look for ways to simplify the problem.

For some, it's a call to secure our borders against all who may attempt to enter illegally...for others it's a condemnation of Islam as a violent religion which has as it's goal world domination...for some it should be a heightened level of intelligence gathering, law enforcement, and persistent vigilance, but by no means a suspension of civil liberties...and for some it is a call for the indiscriminate elimination of those nations which foment terrorists.

All of these views are flawed because they seek a solution to a problem which may never be eliminated. So where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us in disagreement as well as permanently burdened with our fears. It shouldn't leave us at each others throats...but it often does. May I suggest that while we may not agree, no one view is all right or all wrong. At the same time, our differences of opinion are natural and should be expected since we are not a nation of clones.

Unfortunately, we tend to vilify those who possess different views and beliefs...all the while ignoring the fact that wherever humans gather, differences will emerge. Hence, we endeavor to identify types of people...seeking to create a finite list...one that will inform us of all the possible kinds of people we may encounter. Sadly, life isn't that simple.

With that in mind, I decided to post the following videos. Each of them is relative to this topic and they demonstrate our efforts to understand each other in simplistic terms and types which I contend is a futile process but one that seems to bring us some level of comfort...even if that comfort results from blatant denial.

The first video was taken at a College Republican convention (by a Democrat) and it seeks to convey that these young Republicans are in favor of war but unwilling to serve in the military (the chickenhawk hypothesis). No doubt the videographer sought to prove his point and likely edited the footage accordingly in what I would remind the viewer is an attempt to bring certainty to an uncertain world.

The second video is from Real Time with Bill Maher and it is also an attempt to identify and portray those individuals who can be labeled as "chickenhawks"...those individuals in favor of an aggressive approach to terrorism but unwilling to serve in the military. Maher, like the prior videographer, seeks to prove a point and provide a level of certainty...albeit through humor in his case...but with essentially the same goal.

The last video is perhaps the most informative with regards to our futile attempts to bring order to a world which lacks order. This video posits that there are ten types of Republicans and then sets out to define each one. Again, it looks for certainty in hopes of understanding all of the people we might encounter...a task which cannot be achieved.

What each of these videos provide is a tangible representation of the fears we embrace as human beings who are afraid of death. Whether one is a Democrat or a chickenhawk or one of these 10 types of Republicans, the answers we seek will not be found and the certainty we prefer will not emerge.

Notwithstanding, these videos do provide some certainty...the certainty that we are all human, we are all flawed, and we are all different. Perhaps its time we focus upon what we can know and forego our efforts to discern and define what is beyond our capacity. What we share ought to be more important than what we don't. There is little to be gained in the attachment of labels. If we continue down the current path, it seems likely that all that will remain is the killing.

At The College Republican Convention

Bill Maher: New Rule - Chickenhawk Down

Ten Types Of Republicans

Tagged as: 9/11, Bill Maher, Chickenhawks, Death, Democrats, Republicans, Terrorism, War

Daniel DiRito | October 3, 2007 | 3:52 PM | link | Comments (0)
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September 10, 2007

Understanding Left & Right: It's All About The "W"? genre: Nouveau Thoughts & Polispeak

W & M

Results of a new study intended to gauge the brain differences between liberal and conservatives suggest that it all comes down to the "W''s...and in the case of George W. Bush, it may make perfect sense. All kidding aside, the results offer an intriguing look into understanding the role neurobiology may play in determining one's particular political leanings. Clearly, more research is needed and more will undoubtedly occur.

Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.

In a simple experiment reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information.

Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.

Participants were college students whose politics ranged from "very liberal" to "very conservative." They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.

M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M.

Researchers got the same results when they repeated the experiment in reverse, asking another set of participants to tap when a W appeared.

Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts, and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy.

Sulloway said the results could explain why President Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq war and why some people perceived Sen. John F. Kerry, the liberal Massachusetts Democrat who opposed Bush in the 2004 presidential race, as a "flip-flopper" for changing his mind about the conflict.

Based on the results, he said, liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas.

While it is difficult to extrapolate from such studies...given my own curiosity with psychology...I decided it might be fun to apply the basic findings of this research to the President and his actions in office. I offer the following thoughts for pondering in that regard.

1. Is there a desire to see M's which can be predicted to lead to the errors when seeing W's?

If conservatives look for consistency, is it possible that the President...when confronted with the aftermath of 9/11...sought to see the connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda even though they likely didn't exist to any substantive degree?

2. If choosing M's is the favored outcome...and M's significantly outnumber W's...then isn't it possible that W's are viewed as threatening rather than just different?

Can the desire for consistency be related to the opposition to gay rights, including same-sex marriage? If one is inclined to seek consistency and to avoid altering existing constructs, then isn't it possible that same-sex marriage elicits an natural averse and/or fearful reaction?

3. If the appearance of W's creates a degree of angst (they don't fit the objective of identifying M's), could that lead to oversimplifications in order to avoid the existence of conflicting data (a strategy emerges to ignore the W's)?

Does the desire for structure and consistency explain the President's success with identifying a few simple campaign phrases and repeating them over and over without deviation...regardless of changing dynamics and/or facts...as opposed to the oppositions more lengthy, nuanced, and potentially shifting campaign rhetoric?

4. If M's represent structure and consistency...that which can be equated with the status quo...do W's therefore come to represent frightening change that is rejected?

Is it possible that the seeming unwillingness to revisit and revise the strategy in Iraq results from a resistance to confronting the conflict that comes when the eventual outcomes fails to match the initial objectives?

5. If M's are identified as the letter of choice, does that lead one to view M's as ideal and therefore create a need to vilify the W's?

Could the Bush administrations inclination to characterize those opposed to the war as unpatriotic, against our troops, and down on America be explained as a need to avoid the conflict which may be created when the validity of U.S. actions are questioned?

I'm sure one could identify other possible links to the study but the above provide ample food for thought. I find the topic fascinating and I hope the research continues to expand. I say as much because I've always felt that a meeting of the minds requires that the participants are able to understand each others way of thinking and the prevailing propensities which may influence how each side interprets the situations and circumstances they encounter.

In the end, the study suggests that right and wrong may be little more than a function of biological structure. While that doesn't offer solutions, it has the potential to begin defusing the animosity which so often accompanies conflicting thoughts and ideas...a shift which could possibly lead to an added willingness to listen and compromise...or at a minimum to disagree without the need to condemn. Wouldn't that be a novel development?

Tagged as: Conservative, George W. Bush, Iraq, Liberal, Neurobiology, Psychology, Same-Sex Marriage

Daniel DiRito | September 10, 2007 | 10:13 AM | link | Comments (0)
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