Monday, December 7, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
At work there is a young woman – and by “younger”, I mean younger than me – who has a seeing eye dog. This is her second dog since I have known her. We held a retirement party for her first dog, “Penny”, and then she was gone for six weeks while she broke in her new one. This one is a yellow
I have to walk past Randy’s office to go out to the soda machine, cafeteria, and at the end of the day as I go home, and I say hello to Randy, but I hadn’t actually spent any time with him. But yesterday I was bored, so I walked to one end of the office where there are windows that look out over the parking lot and the city. Then I thought I would go out to the soda machine and get something. I turned around and, looking down the path I would walk, I saw Randy, about 150 feet away, looking at me. He continued to look at me as I approached, and then when I got close to him, he picked up a rubber ring – one of his toys – and offered it to me. I took hold of it, and there ensued a tug of war for awhile. Then I said, “Do you want me to throw it?” and immediately he let go and got prepared to chase it. I tossed it down the way I had come and he bounded after it, catching it on the second bounce. He brought it back to me and wanted another little tug of war. I said, “Ready?” and he immediately let go and tensed for another run. I threw it and he chased it down. We continued for awhile as I threw the ring down the hall over and over. Each time I would say, “Ready?” and he would get set for another run. Finally he came back and did NOT offer the ring to me, but tossed down on the ground and flopped down next to it. I said, “OK, we’re done” and rubbed his ears. I started toward the door again, and his owner murmured in my ear, “Thanks.”
I got to thinking about other dogs I have played with. One of my daughter’s friends had a dog named “Seven”, a young golden retriever or perhaps yellow
Then there was Barney, a mixed rotweiller/retriever, who belonged to a friend of ours. Barney was a city dog who easily got car sick, but he liked to come out to the cabin, and after a few trips, began to get over his car sickness as soon as he figured out he was headed toward the cabin. Barney had a herding instinct, I guess, because he was very conscious of the whereabouts of everyone in the family. He would make the rounds of the house in the middle of the night to make sure that everyone was in their right place. I would wake up with a cold nose in my face and reach out to pet Barney and assure him that I was all right, and my wife would do the same. One night Barney came in to check on us when my wife had left the bed to go to the bathroom. People say that dogs don’t really have different expressions, but I tell you, Barney did the most astonishing double take when he looked in the bed for Carol and didn’t find her there. It was so human-like that I nearly laughed out loud. Then Barney put his front feet on the bed so he could get up to see better and looked up and then down the length of the bed for Carol. He was clearly just astounded that she wasn’t there. Finally I said, “She’s in the bathroom, Barney.” I believe he understood what I said because he immediately got down and walked over to where he could see the bathroom door and sat down to wait for her. He waited until she came out and escorted her back to bed where she belonged before leaving to check on the rest of the household.
Another time my daughter came out to the cabin with a new baby. Barney was extremely solicitous of both mother and child, and took it upon himself to monitor the health and welfare of the baby. If my daughter took the baby into the house, Barney would escort her to the door and would be at the door when she came out again. He followed the baby everywhere and sat next to whoever was holding the baby. From time to time he would move to where he could see the baby’s face to make sure it was all right. If the baby cried, Barney (his hearing was better than a human’s) would come right to the mother and move toward the house, looking back to see if she was coming yet. You could almost hear him saying, “Come on, come on, the baby needs you.”
Another friend came to the cabin one time and brought two German shepherds. One was quite old but the other was more frisky. She accompanied me out into the woods where I was working, but when I turned to go, she didn’t want to come. I discovered that she had found what looked like a dead limb that was mostly buried in the leaf thatch that covered the forest floor, and had gripped it in her jaws and was trying to pull it loose. She tugged and tugged at it, and each pull loosened it a little more. After a bit, she finally got it loose and triumphantly hauled it into the meadow – her every expression and body language just shouted “gleeful”. Well, it turned out to be a bit more than a “limb”. It was almost 20 feet long, but she waved it back and forth to show everyone what a great hunter she was. I tried to take it away from her, but only got into a tugging match. Between the two of us, we finally managed to break it up enough to have pieces that were small enough to throw and fetch, which we did for the rest of the day. Hmmm, she slept most of the next day too.
These dogs were all astonishingly smart, but unfortunately not all dogs are smart. When I was young, we had a
I think there is nothing so attractive as intelligence. Dogs – people – intelligence makes them come alive, and that is so very attractive.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
"They're not concerned with the long-term, just the next election."
From his column:
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias is apparently shocked that liberal politicians would rather maintain their own power than work for "the public good." George Mason University law professor (and Reason contributor) Ilya Somin patiently explains to Yglesias how the political world actually works:
A politician willing to do anything to take and hold on to power will have a crucial edge over an opponent who imperils his chances of getting elected in order to advance the public interest. The former type is likely to prevail over the latter far more often than not. This is especially true in a political environment where most voters are often ignorant and irrational about government and public policy. Candidates have strong incentives to pander to this ignorance and exploit it in order to win elections. Those unwilling to exploit public ignorance because they place the public interest above political success are likely to be at a serious disadvantage relative to their less scrupulous opponents. Thus, those who value power above other objectives are more likely to succeed politically. As economist Frank Knight wrote back in the 1930s, "[t]he probability of the people in power being individuals who would dislike the possession and exercise of power is on a level with the probability that an extremely tender-hearted person would get the job of whipping master in a slave plantation."
Monday, July 27, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
When my first child was born, we had an old black and white television that was given to me some years earlier. It was a vacuum tube affair, with knobs that wobbled loosely on their connecting rods. I used to have to lie in front of the TV, on my back, and continuously twiddle the knobs with my toes to keep a picture on the screen. I watched the first moon landing on this TV, and somewhere I have a picture of my son – barley old enough to stand by himself – standing in front of the set while on screen Neil Armstrong is taking his first step onto the moon’s surface.
As my children grew up, we had fascinating conversations around the dinner table, and one of the things we did was to dissect the television advertisements, and discuss the use of the English language through the prism of advertising propaganda. One of my favorite advertisements touted the ability to “… borrow up to $50,000 – OR EVEN MORE!” I would say, “Well, that about covers it, all right.” My children thought making fun of advertising was hilariously funny, and joined in enthusiastically; but early in their life, they learned to distinguish how language was used not jonly to inform, but also to sway opinion.
This tendency of mine to make fun of how our language is used and mis-used must be some hold-over from my own childhood because I can even to this day repeat verbatim, advertisements that I heard on the radio as a child – and can still sing those that came in the form of jingles, not to mention racy jokes shared with my friends about some of the products: “DUZ does EVERYTHING!”
Dissecting the techniques used and the motives that drive how language is mis-used in advertising is both serious and entertaining – sort of serio-comical – but the ability to determine both techniques and motives becomes a serious requirement when it comes to politics, where, in part at least, it is my money they are talking about spending.
In the United States, there are two broad views of government: There are those who have been raised to believe that supporting the government with their tax money is part of the responsibility of being a citizen; that the money spent by the government should go to buying something that benefits the citizenry as a whole; and that the government should otherwise keep out of their affairs. There is another view of government: That it is there to provide essential services to those citizens who should provide them for themselves, but don't, or can't; that the citizenry won’t provide this help unless they are coerced, hence the government needs to take the lead; and that other people than themselves – notably the “rich” who everyone knows have more money than they really NEED – should pay for them.
There are people with views, of course, that range all the way from the one end of the spectrum I have drawn, to the other end, but my point is, people have different views – sometimes radically different views – of what government should be and do. Candidates who run for office have their own views of government, and during their campaign for election they want to present those views in the most positive light. Their goal becomes not to inform, necessarily, but to get elected. What they do, in essence, is to form a business, of which they are the chief operating officer, the sole purpose of which is to present the candidate in the most positive light. In short, the candidate’s organization becomes a specialized advertising agency, with the candidate as its product. In this light, our childish game of critiquing television advertising becomes a much more serious tool for choosing among candidates for office.
The basis for advertising, whether for a commercial product or a political candidate, is information. But there is information – a neutral rendition of factual content without “spin” (e.g., adverbs and adjectives); there is mis-information – information that is designed to mislead, either intentionally (e.g., innuendo) or unintentionally, even when the information itself may be correct, although it not always is; and there is dis-information – information that is deliberately false and/or factually incorrect. From these categories of information an advertising campaign is constructed. Remember, for a candidate the primary goal is not to inform, but to sway opinion to get him elected to office.
The subject of the advertising campaign may be the candidate himself, or his views, for which usually information and mis-information is chosen, although dis-information may also be used: “I deny categorically that I ever said (or did) that!” Or, the information may be about his opponent, in which case the usage is almost always either mis-information or dis-information. “My opponent says … (mis-information) …, but I say … (information or more mis-information) …”. Or, “My opponent believes … (dis-information, always)”. These uses of information collectively form the techniques of propaganda.
Propaganda techniques have been studied for many years, but interestingly, they are not always recognized by the public. In addition, it is not only the candidates that employ these techniques, but the media as well, all the while telling the public what good watchdogs they are. “Yellow Journalism” is not new, it is just that none of the journals admit to it.
Here are some common techniques:
Assertion – an enthusiastic or energetic statement presented as a fact. It may or may not be true, but it is presented as if it were.
Bandwagon – “Hop on – EVERYONE is doing it!”
Stacking the Cards – Selective omission of information contrary to a position.
Glittering Generalities – Using words linked to highly valued concepts, whether they actually apply or not. “Change”, “good”, “honest”, “fair”, “best”, are examples.
Lesser of Two Evils – Presenting a proposal as the least offensive of the only two available options, denying that there are other options.
Ad Hominem – Rejecting an argument on the basis of derogatory facts (which may or may not be true) about a person. Attacking a person instead of his argument or views.
Name Calling – A form of Ad Hominem: The use of derogatory language or words when describing the opponent.
Straw Man – Ascribing a false position to a real or imaginary opponent, and then demolishing that false position.
Simplification – Reducing a complex issue to a choice between good and evil, or a “bumper-sticker” slogan.
Transfer – The attempt to link a negative (or positive) feeling about an object or word to the proposal at hand (e.g., presenting the proposal while standing in front of a flag to invoke patriotic feelings; having a spokesperson stand in front of a well-manicured bookshelf of important-looking books, to imply a scientific basis.
False Analogy – Portraying two things as similar, even though they are not.
Testimonial – Using well-known personalities to testify on your behalf.
Plain Folks – Using a folksy approach or people to obtain support.
Faulty Logic – There are many techniques that deliberately misuse the rules of logic to support a position.
Contradiction – Information that conflicts with other information within the same argument.
False Cause – Because one event follows another, it must be the cause of the other event.
Begging the Question – Circular reasoning: Constructing an argument in favor of a claim that amounts to making the claim in the first place.
Evading the Issue – Answer to a question that amounts to changing the subject.
Composition and Division – Arguing that because the claim is true for one, it is true for all, or vice versa.
Poisoning the Well – Blindly explaining away all arguments, no matter how absurd the explanations become.
Appealing to Emotion – Use of an emotionally-laden sob story or argument to help prove a claim.
Appeal to Fear – Unless you support my position, really bad things will happen. “We can no longer afford to wait …”, “We risk a long-lasting and deep depression …”.
Even with these techniques in mind, it sometimes takes time to recognize them in practice. Television commercials and political campaigns are two good places to find them and learn to recognize them because these two sources are so very rich in propaganda techniques.
When we elect a politician -- especially to national office -- we not only elect that official, but in effect we also elect all those people whom that candidate will be authorized to appoint to government positions, and depending on the political office, this may be a very large number indeed.
A final thought to keep in mind: The primary goal of advertising is not to inform. It is TO MAKE MONEY. The primary business of newspapers and television news organizations is TO MAKE MONEY. And similarly, the first and primary business of politicians is TO GET ELECTED. Keeping the primary motivation in mind will be a substantial assist to decoding the propaganda they promulgate.