Archive for February, 2010

Leon Lederman, a Nobel-Prize-winning physicist, once explained how at a lecture he faced an audience member who asked if he had ever seen an atom. At this point, electron microscopes were still advancing, but of course, Lederman’s detectors had “seen” atoms as well as they could be seen. The audience member persisted, “Yes, but have you ever personally seen an atom?” Lederman, flustered, replied, “Have you ever seen the Pope?”

This problem of requiring tactile and tangible proof of some phenomenon before accepting its existence has only gotten worse with the rise of the right-wing noise machine. Empathy is a trait often lost on the right wing, particularly when it forces one to cross ideological boundaries. Just look at the Republican response to Rep. Louise Slaughter’s (D-N.Y.) story of a woman who, without health insurance, had to use her dead sister’s false teeth: “sob story,” “They’re just recycling,” “Da funniest thang evuh!” Let’s set aside for a moment whether an individual’s story should be indicative of a whole movement, and take a look for a second at the lack of empathy. Instead of a logical explanation of the problems inherent in the bill itself (and whether the bill would actually help the woman in question), the response was mocking, insulting and void of any understanding of the woman’s situation.

Yet, when Republicans have a particular, personal cause that makes them close to the issue, in which they have personally experienced its effects, they suddenly find themselves bound to change. Consider Dick Cheney’s support of gay marriage and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or Sarah Palin’s defense of disabled rights. It’s no coincidence that Dick Cheney has a lesbian daughter and that Sarah Palin has a son with Down syndrome. The conservative mentality relies heavily upon personal experience to determine one’s beliefs. When a Tea Party protester gets injured without health insurance, he becomes cause celebre for donations, with no one questioning why unemployment should dictate a lack of health insurance.

This experiential mode of understanding makes it difficult to comprehend problems with a longer timeline or effects far from the original source. For example, running a deficit in hard times appears problematic if one considers the nation’s budget much like one’s personal budget. (“Balance the Federal Checkbook,” as one headline blares.) My personal experience tells me that it is bad to incur debts I do not repay; therefore, the nation should do similarly. This leads right wing commentators to make increasingly stupid statements based on personal experience (such as, my favorite, “Why doesn’t the U.S. just default on its loans?”). The nation’s experience with its finances is very different from a person’s experience, but that seems lost in the discussion.

The way the right wing approaches broader problems — global climate change, health care, economics, civil rights, foreign policy — is so determined by personal experience that alternate opinions cannot be tolerated, unless they have a basis in what the viewer has seen or felt firsthand (“We had a lot of snow this year, so there must not be global warming!”). The contemporary conservative worldview rejects the world of those it cannot understand, whose experiences it cannot process. When conservatives try to “reach out” to other groups, Hispanics being the most obvious example, the discourse varies from tone-deaf to insulting.

This is not to say that empirical evidence is a bad thing, but an inability to use evidence through any lens other than one’s own leads to untenable positions and dangerous misconceptions. Sarah Palin’s advocacy for the disabled may be admirable, but when confronted with other groups that have faced similar discrimination, she cannot “feel their pain.” Ask Sarah Palin about gay marriage, and she’ll cheer the constitutional amendment banning it. Ask Sarah Palin about maligned minority groups, and she’ll say they need to quit whining.

I truly believe that empathy is one of our greatest traits, and in an interconnected world, in which we understand how our actions affect the greater whole, the importance of empathy grows only greater. Rather than simply ignoring empathy, the right wing movement has rejected the opinions of others completely, focusing on only its pure-blood followers. The inability of the right wing to see beyond the blinders of its own experiences hurts our discourse and indicates a treacherous path for future debates.

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It’s hard to say.

I’ve written before about the myth of the Big Speech and its overestimated effects. The summit was not quite a speech, but Obama did speak more than anyone else did, so I think it’s comparable.

Was the public watching? No.

Did any of the politicians have their minds changed by the arguments put forward? No.

It then appears that this was mostly an event explicitly for the media. Politicians – particularly the Democrats – are all cowards, of course, so I’m guessing that they’re looking for some sort of cover. They want to be able to say, “See, we tried being bipartisan but they wouldn’t let us.” I still think this is an ineffective strategy, but if the party actually does try to pass the Senate bill in the House and/or pass a reconciliation fix in the Senate, then I would consider the summit an unnecessary but quasi-success. But it all depends on the Dems finding their votes. And spines.

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It’s got the best literal title since Snakes on a Plane

Stendhal was telling me the other day how every movie has two grades: the real one, and the ironic one. For example, Citizen Kane is like A+/C-, Schindler’s List is more like A/F, Big Lebowski is A-/A, and so on. Hot Tub Time Machine might be the rare jewel that ends up something like F+/A.

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This making-of video is long, but if you love the original commercial, it’s worth your time. For what it’s worth, Wieden+Kennedy makes the best ads. On top of that, though, I wonder what makes a “good” ad, particularly after watching Mad Men. Is there something in the creative juices that makes W+K so good?

The original:

Other W+K faves:

It’s gotta be the shoes!

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Doyle Redland is being retired against his will.

At least we’ll always have Smoove B.

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Newt Gingrich: “We should be brave enough to stand up and say let’s work together until we finish defeating the left and then we won’t have to work with them as much.”

(This is the same Newt Gingrich who writes pieces in Time Magazine about bipartisanship and how to solve America’s problems.)

Apparently, then, bipartisanship means forcing the other guys to do exactly what you tell them to do, so that you can then beat them in the election. Gingrich is a hack, whose embrace of “policy” is just cover for him to reenter politics and help his side win.

Let me point out that this is how it should be. One side does what it believes is best; then time tests the ideas of that side, while the other side tries to obstruct the first. That’s how the game is played. If you think my ideas are bad, fine. If Eric Cantor has no intention of having health care reform, no one is making him. If this is the case, then, let’s shuck off this idea that all legislation should be “bipartisan.” I wouldn’t mind all-out partisan war, so long as the sides were honest about their intentions.

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Because the world needs a metal cover of “I’m On A Boat.”

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