…We Call Them Victims.

So there’s been a bit of hoo-hah over a new study that has been reported as “conservatives are cowards”. First of all, if anyone has access to the AAAS website, I’d love a copy of the full paper. As it is, I’m going off of the abstract and some of the news articles about it. Here’s the abstract:

We present evidence that variations in political attitudes correlate with physiological traits. In a group of 46 adult participants with strong political beliefs, individuals with measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control, whereas individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War. Thus, the degree to which individuals are physiologically responsive to threat appears to indicate the degree to which they advocate policies that protect the existing social structure from both external (outgroup) and internal (norm-violator) threats.

As I understand it, they measured startle reactions and other physiological reactions to ‘stressful imagery’ (like images of injured people and threatening situations).

Here’s a typical reaction:

Rightwingers scare more easily than liberals, according to a new study.

Jeebus, they went to all that trouble when they just could have asked Karl Rove? The GOP has been using fearmongering – on terrorism, evil axises, taxes, guns, God, gays etc etc – as a vote-getting tactic for how long now?

I’ll suggest an alternate interpretation and suggest that there may actually be something underneath this.

Col. Jeff Cooper – my first shooting instructor – is famous, for among other things, codifying a ‘defensive state of mind’ hierarchy which he expressed as follows (courtesy of John Schaefer):

White – Relaxed, unaware, and unprepared. If attacked in this state the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy and ineptitude of your attacker. When confronted by something nasty your reaction will probably be, “Oh my God! This can’t be happening to me.”

Yellow – Relaxed alertness. No specific threat situation. Your mindset is that “today could be the day I may have to defend myself.” There is no specific threat but you are aware that the world is an unfriendly place and that you are prepared to do something if necessary. You use your eyes and ears, and your carriage says “I am alert.” You don’t have to be armed in this state but if you are armed you must be in yellow. When confronted by something nasty your reaction will probably be, “I thought this might happen some day.” You can live in this state indefinitely.

Orange – Specific alert. Something not quite right has gotten your attention and you shift your primary focus to that thing. Something is “wrong” with a person or object. Something may happen. Your mindset is that “I may have to shoot that person.” Your pistol is usually holstered in this state. You can maintain this state for several hours with ease, or a day or so with effort.

Red – Fight trigger. This is your mental trigger. “If that person does “x” I will shoot them.” Your pistol may, but not necessarily, be in your hand.

In the shooting and defensive arts community, the class of people who don’t react to threats have a name – victims.

But there’s another interesting point here, and it goes to some of the underlying understandings of people who I tend to classify as liberal and conservative.

Liberals, like Dr. Pangloss, see the world as inherently benign and think that it is human agency that makes it otherwise. Conservatives, think that the world is inherently threatening, and see human action as the bulwark against the threats.

To a large extent, this summarizes modern liberal and conservative thinking – crime? “if we’d stop harassing those kids, they would stop being so violent.” foreign policy? “if we don’t act from a position of threatening strength, they will take advantage of us.”

It’s almost a restatement of the old problem of theodicy. Which in a way makes me less sanguine about bridging the gap. Religious wars are the hardest to prevent and the hardest to stop.

One, Two, Three

So, flew back from Chicago in time for Pizza and Movie Night, which has been a household tradition since Biggest Guy was watching kiddie films a long time ago.

Last night, TG and LG were – suspicious – to say the least at my latest Netflix film, Billy Wilder’s brilliant comedy “One, Two, Three“.

By the time the film was over, LG decided we needed to own it.

It’s a hysterical period comedy set in West Berlin just before the border was closed. If you haven’t seen it, you’ll never think of Pepsi (or Jimmy Cagney) in the same way again. Watch it tonight…

Ah, It’s Fall

…and it’s time for the “college fiction teacher explains why he’s sorry for the troops” oped. This one is in the Boston Globe.

My first impulse is to say, “I’m sorry to hear that.” Because I am. I’m sorry to know that the person I’m talking to might someday be maimed or killed on the job, or might someday kill someone else. Or refuel a plane that drops bombs on buildings.

I can’t see how anyone who calls himself or herself Christian – or human, for that matter – wouldn’t be sorry.

The fact that we have an army, that we need an army, is inherently tragic. It’s an admission that our species is still ruled by fear and aggression.

Gosh, that’s just too bad. But he’s just getting started. He’s obviously been reading the media about what depressed, enraged brutes our soldiers are.

It remains unthinkable for a politician (or public official of any sort) to say aloud that our troops sometimes commit atrocities, that they are not all worthy of support, that some of them – faced with a terrifying and ethically incoherent mission – are driven to savagery. This grim duty has been left to the soldiers themselves.

And he managed to blame them for war profiteering.

The problem with the knee-jerk militarism of the past several years is that it has led to an absence of financial and moral oversight that is fundamentally undemocratic. Our troops have become human shields for war criminals and profiteers.

Consider the $1.39 billion contract awarded in 2003 to a subsidiary of Halliburton. The reconstruction project was secretly bid – to one company. There was much tough talk in Congress about preventing such sweetheart deals. But five years later, the US government continues to pay vast sums of our money to firms with ties to the administration.

And he finishes up with a moral Klein bottle where he manages to invert the morality of his position without actually turning himself inside out…

Americans have often looked to heroic violence as a means of spiritual regeneration. Our most powerful national myth is the notion that anyone fighting on our behalf is a hero. I understand why friends and families of our soldiers feel this way. But for the rest of us, too often “supporting the troops” isn’t about the troops at all. It’s about the childish desire to feel morally exempt from the violence carried out in our names.

Let me retort.

By thanking the troops, the average citizen – like me – is actually reaching out and helping to carry the moral burden that soldiers must – of necessity – carry on our behalf. It is Mr. Almond whose position manages to position him neatly on the other side by throwing up his hands and claiming that his moral insight is obviously keen enough to ensure that he sees through the mythology.

Now I haven’t read Mr. Almond’s books, and I’m unlikely to. But I’ll bet that he’s no Jainist. He lives the luxury of a life in a society built on violence – violence that is a part of all of our histories. And he thinks he can scrub himself clean of that history with this kind of public declaration. I think it’ll take more than that.

Fast Economy Comments

OK a few sketchy comments on the economy.

First, I think it’s a mistake to think that we live in “an economy”; we live in a collection if economies, which intersect more and less strongly at different connection points. The economy I live in has very little to do with the economy of an immigrant worker who lives in Lima, Ohio and works in a building services company, nor with the economy of a hedge fund manager who lives in Greenwich. The economy is one of ‘layers’ that coexist geographically but really have more to do with a larger, global network of peers – mine in Bangalore or London or Boston. We’ve been living through a decades in which the old industrial economy layer in the US has been eroding while other layers – technology, services, financial services – did great. Now we’re seeing two layers – two critical ones (the housing market and financial services) – get slammed.

And these are getting slammed because the markets are doing exactly what they are supposed to do – slam people who are massively greedy (“pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered”) and who have been living and investing beyond their means.

And, I’ll suggest we’ve been doing that – somewhat – since the Clinton boom. I think we had two bubbles that started about the same time in the late 1990’s. One was the technology bubble, and one was the financial bubble that we’re just now starting to see deflate.

The financial history of America, remember, is one that was built on bubbles. Read Charles Beard on the economic history around Independence and the financial bubbles and manipulation that surrounded the actual creation of the country. The railroads left European investors with rooms full of worthless paper – and America with a railroad system. Global Crossing and the other tech companies didn’t just make Terry MacAuliffe rich; they left us with an infrastructure that’s valuable today.

I’m asking myself what will be left behind by this bubble, and to be honest, I’m not sure.

I’ll go read ‘Black Swan‘ again.

The Economics of Airport Reading

OK, something trivial and yet close to my heart.

I walked out of the airport bookstore with a copy of the Economist (still a damn good magazine), and didn’t buy the $30 – 550 page history book. Then I thought it through and realized that I’d done the wrong thing. The magazine lasted about 20 minutes, and the book probably would have lasted 5 – 10 hours. So the $7 copy of the magazine is far more expensive than the $30 (plus tax) book.

On the other hand, I’d have to lug the damn thing around.


This was emailed to me

FORT BRAGG, N.C. – The Army says a Special Forces trainee found dead this summer during a land navigation exercise in North Carolina was bitten by a poisonous water moccasin, also known as a cottonmouth.

The military said Wednesday the autopsy of 20-year-old Pfc. Norman M. Murburg of Dade City, Fla., ruled out heat or dehydration as a cause of death. Murburg was bitten multiple times while training at the Hoffman training area, near Fort Bragg’s Camp Mackall.

Well, it’s good to have resolution; it was a Giant Meteor Impact – my phrase for an unavoidable event. The only protection is to be someplace else when one of those strikes.

The Nub Of The Problem

Rasmussen’s email this morning links out to this

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sixty-three percent (63%) of voters say John McCain is prepared right now to be president, and 50% say the same thing about Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Biden. Forty-four percent (44%) say the man at the top of Biden’s ticket, Barack Obama, is ready, but 45% say he isn’t.

Just 26% say McCain is not ready, and 34% feel that way about Biden, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.
Over half of voters (52%) say McCain’s running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, is not prepared to be president, but 33% disagree (crosstabs available for Premium Members).

Among voters not affiliated with either major political party, 71% say McCain is prepared for the Presidency while just 35% say the same about Obama.

While hammering McCain for being a politician and Palin for being unprepared make good copy and excite the base (including the base working in big media companies) it doesn’t reassure the typical voter that Obama is ready for the Big Comfy Chair.

Obama needs to get back on message and talk about why people should vote for him, not why they shouldn’t vote for his opponent. If he doesn’t so that, he’ll both risk losing and in losing widen the political divisions that may lead to a Cold Civil War (a post I’m working on in my spare time).

Wish List

Sorry to have been so uninvolved in the conversation – been working on a server upgrade (we also host Patterico, his traffic has gotten kinda big, and our configuration wasn’t working out), and thinking about revisions to Winds to present to Joe (who still, after all, owns the joint). I’m thinking of upgrading to MT 4.2, which – among other thinly-tested features, offers the ability to have multiple authors with their own blogs, and then a common presentation of the latest posts from all of them.

Users can create (or, ultimately, import from Facebook or other sites) a profile, and see in one place all the comments or blog posts they have made.

The idea might be that there would be an armedliberal.windsofchange.net, joekatzman.windsofchange.net, metrico.windsofchange.net etc. – and each of them would feed www.windsofchange.net.

It implies a few things – that we come up with some definition of what the site is ‘about’ and some core topics we want to encourage people to participate in.

So – let’s trigger a bit of a discussion in comments – does this sound like an interesting upgrade, and what features would you like to see on the site? Let’s hold off on the topics discussion for a little bit.

Palin vs. The Editor’s Bay

So, as things tend to do, I sat down to make notes for a post, did a little surfing, and found that matters are more complex than I’d started out believing.

I started to write about the problem posed by an outsider – like Sarah Palin – who has political skills but much less policy knowledge. How do we know when too little policy knowledge is a problem? What’s the boundary, in other words, or is she Jesse Ventura?One of Bill Clinton’s great features was that he combined great political skills and deep policy knowledge – he could both talk about the history of an issue and rally people to act on it at a higher level than most politicians. What he was deficient in, to some extent, was judgment.

Because what we want from our political leaders is a combination of things – the political skill to rally people to join them in solving a problem and to build the alliances needed to Get Things Done – that’s the core job; the policy skill to understand the mechanics of issues and how best to exercise their political skills; and, finally, the judgment needed to decide on what policies to further and what politics to engage in.

I started to write about that, and about the legitimate concern that Palin may not be well-developed enough on the policy front to comfortably sit in the big chair in the Oval Office. I’ll come back and write about that some more (along with all the other things in the queue).

But in surfing around this morning, I found the same Newsbusters post that Glen Wishard linked to in the comments below, and fell into my usual high dudgeon about crappy, stupidly biased media. The parts they cut out are in bold.

GIBSON: Let me ask you about some specific national security situations.

PALIN: Sure.

GIBSON: Let’s start, because we are near Russia, let’s start with Russia and Georgia.

The administration has said we’ve got to maintain the territorial integrity of Georgia. Do you believe the United States should try to restore Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

PALIN: First off, we’re going to continue good relations with Saakashvili there. I was able to speak with him the other day and giving him my commitment, as John McCain’s running mate, that we will be committed to Georgia. And we’ve got to keep an eye on Russia. For Russia to have exerted such pressure in terms of invading a smaller democratic country, unprovoked, is unacceptable and we have to keep…

GIBSON: You believe unprovoked.

PALIN: I do believe unprovoked and we have got to keep our eyes on Russia, under the leadership there. I think it was unfortunate. That manifestation that we saw with that invasion of Georgia shows us some steps backwards that Russia has recently taken away from the race toward a more democratic nation with democratic ideals. That’s why we have to keep an eye on Russia.

And, Charlie, you’re in Alaska. We have that very narrow maritime border between the United States, and the 49th state, Alaska, and Russia. They are our next door neighbors.We need to have a good relationship with them. They’re very, very important to us and they are our next door neighbor.

GIBSON: What insight into Russian actions, particularly in the last couple of weeks, does the proximity of the state give you?

PALIN: They’re our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.

GIBSON: What insight does that give you into what they’re doing in Georgia?

PALIN: Well, I’m giving you that perspective of how small our world is and how important it is that we work with our allies to keep good relation with all of these countries, especially Russia. We will not repeat a Cold War. We must have good relationship with our allies, pressuring, also, helping us to remind Russia that it’s in their benefit, also, a mutually beneficial relationship for us all to be getting along.

You know, it sure seems like the interview was edited to make Palin look far less thoughtful and knowledgeable than she really was.

I’m tossing an email over to ABC News, asking “what the hell?