Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Pressing the Overcharge Button
Ooops, I meant the title of the post to be "pressing the reset button." Things just got messed up in the translation.
I found Hillary's cute little "reset button" ploy with Russian diplomat Sergei Lavrov irksome. The ploy seems to indicate that the Obama's Administration's foreign policy would be dominated by in house partisan bickering, as opposed to a simple representation of US interests and ideals.
The great advantage of the American system—where we have frequent changes in the administration—is that diplomats are able make changes to foreign policy on a regular basis. This allows an opportunity to hone and improve our foreign relations.
The great danger of the system is that political control of the system opens the temptation for the politically minded to use foreign policy to influence domestic politics.
A theme of the partisan media is that the left is inherently superior at diplomacy. This may be true. Condaleeza Rice may have been the ogre that the press portrayed. However, the stunt where the new administration opens relations with Russia with blatant partisan jab aimed at re-enforcing a domestic propaganda theme comes off as bad form.
That no-one even bothered spending the extra hour needed to check the translation is even worse.
This stunt happened while I was reconsidering the way I go about writing.
Through the years I've developed the habit of opening essays with quirky statements. The primary reason for this ploy is that quirky statements can sometimes encourage people to engage in the thinking process. When people realize the joke, they chuckle, and might be a bit more open to consider other ideas in the post.
Quirky statements are especially effective in the education process as they make a class a bit more entertaining. Quirky statements can help re-enforce the concept that there are many different ways to look at any issue.
The other reason for the trick is that I've encountered a large number of people who seem to wander around with automatic dismal filters between them and the world. People in the automatic dismal mode simply scan a post then snap back with the first dismissive comment that comes to mind.
When I put in quirky messages, they invariably snap at the quirky message.
Conversely, people who are into ideas for the sake of the ideas rarely comment on the quirk. I imagine such people shaking their heads at the intentional quirky statement, but reading on to see if there was something of value.
The method seems to work. But when I read back through posts on this blog, I feel that the method creates an ugly sub-context that tends to undermine projects that employ the technique.
That's not a problem with this blog. This blog has no purpose other than to blog for the sake of blogging. Most of the posts in this blog are free form essays where I start with a topic and see where it goes as I type. I often go back and insert a quirky statement to show the frivolous nature of what I am doing.
While doing this experiment, I am gradually coming to the opinion that quirkiness just for the sake of quirkiness is a net negative.
There should be important things in life.
My last quirky post was about an issue that I believe has deep connotations. It really was about the Hippocratic Oath. This oath resonates throughout Western Culture and is fundamental to the evolution of science and medicine. Medicine makes great strides when it adheres to the oath. We often see calamity when researchers ignore this one basic principle.
Look at the history of pharmaceuticals gone bad! The pattern repeats on a regular basis: A pharmaceutical company is so set on getting their product to market that they chinch on research, ignore side effects, and launch a seductive image driven campaign to hawk their snake oil.
People suffer as a result.
There is merit to the Hippocratic Oath! When medical researchers ignore it, they end up doing a great deal of harm.
History seems to show that whenever a segment of the research community raises concerns about the ethics of a line of research, society at large should be concerned. Many people felt uncomfortable with the direction that research on human embryos (embryonic stem cell research) and the fertility industry was headed.
The result of the demand to debate this issue resulted in a large number of extremely insightful presentations throughout the United States. The ethical debate pulled students into medical research and health care world. IMHO, it was the best science related debate that took place in the last several decades.
My last quirky post compared a fiat by George Bush that launched this debate to one given by Barack Obama that was dismissive of the debate.
Bush's fiat, of course, was that he would prevent taxpayers' dollars from funding the cloning and experimentation on human embryos (an omnipotent embryonic stem cell is just a fancy term for fertilized human embryo). This fiat appears to have given the research community a good starting point of engaging in ethical research. A lot of great research took place.
It is likely that Bush's executive order went too far. The press has told us so many terrible things about that horrible person that I am more than willing to except that Bush's actions were extremist.
I am happy to accept that Bush was a horrible person, but I read the science journals and popular opinion during the debate. It was a great debate on a very important issue.
As there was such a great debate, correcting the excesses of the previous regime should start with stating the reasons for the correction. Otherwise it appears as if the new administration is just engaging in base politics by issuing a new fiat.
Watching the process, I am left with the feeling that the new administration is simply making knee jerk decisions based on political themes without the quality debate that the administration of change had promised.
In a different political area, there is suddenly a renewed effort to frame the holding of "enemy combatants" during a war as the moral equivalency to the worst death camps in history. This reeks of partisan propaganda.
Yes, Bush was foolish to house prisoners in Guantanamo. Were he wise, he would have confronted the courts with the need to house prisoners of war during times of war. It is common sense issue that elitists on the bench aren't quite capable of fathoming, but that is every bit in keeping with a Constitution written by people who lived through war. The Constitution reluctantly gave the ability to deny a writ of habeas corpus when public safety requires it.
In times of war, denying habeas corpus is the best of the bad options.
The idea that we should try prisoners of war and find them guilty of some bogus international law is much more demeaning than recognizing that they are soldiers in an opposition army who are imprisoned for public safety concerns.
In times of war, one captures enemy combatants. One detains prisoners of war for public safety concerns. Their get released through a political process. It is possible that this war has reached a point where we can release the prisoners of war.
Obama's setting things up so that prisoners in the next war will be able demand habeas corpus is just setting us up for failure.
Obama seems to think that labeling a person an "enemy combatant" is some sort of assault on their self esteem. Having some court label a person a criminal is worse than labeling them an "enemy combatant." This is especially true with people who reject the legitimacy of their enemy's laws.
Bush should have argued this point better. He should have expended the post 9/11 outrage to make the case that, in the face of terrorism; we will find ourselves needing to deny the writ of habeas corpus for public safety concerns. This is what the United State's Constitution allows.
Of course there was no way Bush could argue that point. The image-driven partisan press is simply driven by the desire to associate negative images with the opposition party. As such the press frames the better solution to the dilemma of prisoners of war (denying habeas corpus) as villainous. They frame a worse solution (labeling people criminals though an international kangaroo court) as just.
In related news, a passenger on flight 51 to Detroit was diagnosed with Tuberculosis and is being kept in isolation by the CDC. Using progressive logic, we should frame the CDC as a horrible organization full of terrible people who deny the writ of habeas corpus for something as simple as a deadly contagious disease.
Where's the ACLU when we need them?
A man has the right to infect people with whatever disease he might carry! It's a first amendment right. Infecting people is an act of free expression. Dagnabbit!
… or maybe not.
One can't push freedom of expression to an absolute. I might hate ties, but I am not allowed to express that opinion by shooting people wearing ties.
I wish people would realize that the problems we face right now are not the result of Bush or Obama. What is killing this nation is the way that we are being taught in our schools. We are losing our abilities to engage in reason.
I don't think that rebranding "terrorism" as "man-made disaster" is going to stop terrorism any more than the efforts of our wizardly brethren to call Lord Voldemort "He Who Must Not Be Named" stopped dark magic.
I've always found this notion that we can change the world by banishing words from our language to be a bit absurd. It is especially absurd when we realize that the people out to get us speak a different language.
Anyway, through all of the manipulative tricks of new speak and new thought, we are being turned into a nation where an elite media yanks us apart through manufactured images.
Of course, one can't expect a society to engage in reason when the public schools don't teach logic
When people finally start catching on that we need to do a better job examining the principles and reasons for our actions, we suddenly find the media promoting clowns like Glen Beck who push principles to an absurdity.
When one pushes any idea too far, the idea turns into its opposite. If one pushes habeas corpus to the point that the government cannot assure public safety, then everyone loses their ability to roam around freely.
The best path to creating a free society is to promote habeas corpus, freedom of expression and other important freedoms, but to structure things so that there is a way out in extraordinary times.
The system of rights must also be structured to avoid the reflexive paradox. I could not express my opinion that Rush Limbaugh should be silenced by following him with a fog horn blaring.
Speaking of Limbaugh, why is the press secretary trying to frame all opposition to the current regime as a "cabal" led by Limbaugh?
The administration is engaged in a great deal of spending and action. But because they aren't leading with ideas, the quirks of the political techniques ooze through and risk dominating discourse.
IMHO, quality reasoning is firm, but not absolute. A person engaged in the process should be more concerned with the direction of the ideas than their appearance.
Unfortunately, our second rate public school system seems set on creating an image driven population that can be yanked about by the nose ring.
I've filled this blog with quirky posts while trying to figure out how to express my observation that it is the way we are taught to reason that is leading us to naught.
We aren't going to find answers to our problems in the political system. We find the valuable answers by improving ourselves.
The American political system seems to do little more than give the people a choice between the bad and worse.
When I was in school, the worse was in power. Americans rejected the worse for the bad and had a short run of prosperity. People got sick of the bad, and the worse is back on the throne.
This problem is not unique to America. It seems to be the very nature of politics and power.
I apologize for this long floating post. But this is what blogging is supposed to be about.
I was asking myself if pressing a reset button could get things on to a more substantive track, but clicking through the news and reading the paper, we seem to live in an age where the style of the day is dominated by snippy little quicks and tricks.