Posts from June 29, 2004

Extremism

Extremism

: I just opened the most upsetting email, one of many that responded to my view of Fahrenheit 9/11. It said in part:

Wake up Mr. Jarvis, we are a nation divided! It is us vs. them! What rock have you been living under for the past few years? I am much more afraid of Bush, Ashcroft, and the rest, then [sic] I am of any terrorists.

Now that is truly frightening. This man — a guy named Robert who lives in Moscow, ID (supply your own irony) — truly believes that his enemies are his fellow citizens and his President, not the terrorists who murdered 3,000 of my neighbors before my eyes.

What the hell is happening to America?

Or is it really happening to America?

Or is it happening to an extreme fringe?

When I was on CNN the other night, the only thing I said that surprised Aaron Brown and Jeff Greenfield — and it took them physically aback — was when I responded to the old saw that we are a divided nation and said, “It’s our fault.”

It’s our fault — in media and politics — when we paint America as a nation divided and it’s as if we want it to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is why I have such a problem with Michael Moore‘s Fahrenheit 9/11: It seeks to divide.

It demonizes. And it picks the wrong demons. It’s us vs. them, but the them is us.

I hated it when the right wing demonized Bill Clinton. So, you know what? That pretty much makes me honor-bound to hate it when the left wing demonizes George Bush. For I do not believe that the half of America that elected the one is evil while the half that elected the other is angelic.

I can’t stand Michael Moore for looking at America as inspiration for leftist invective just as I can’t stand Rush Limbaugh for looking at America and spewing his right-wing rants.

I hate it when my colleagues in media talk about how we all hate each other when I see absolutely no reporting that backs that up; I can’t stand being turned into a one-dimensional fool by my own business.

Am I going to light a candle and ask, “Can’t we all get along?” No. The issue isn’t us. The issue is how we are portrayed by politicians, political activists, and media. They’re wrong about America.

So it’s time to turn the tables and treat them as they treat us: Let’s cut them out of one-dimensional cloth, for they truly deserve it.

It’s time to treat Michael Moore as the extremist that he is. Simple-minded, simplistic, mean, venemous, a hate-monger who does nothing to advance the debate and aims instead to divide. Add your nominees on the left.

And the same goes for Rush and Jerry Falwell and others who spew their hate and half-facts and bile and intolerance. Add your nominees on the right.

They are extremists.

We’re not.

And media are their dupes or, worse, coconspirators.

But we the people now have a medium to call our own. We need to use it to reclaim the reasonable middle.

Don’t quit your day job, Brooks

Don’t quit your day job, Brooks

: Said it before. Say it again: When David Brooks writes a good column, it’s good. But when he writes a dumb column it’s a doozie. File today’s under doozie.

He has been trying to write about polarization in America (see the post above this one) and today he argues:

To a large degree, polarization in America is a cultural consequence of the information age. This sort of economy demands and encourages education, and an educated electorate is a polarized electorate.

He says that people who are more educated stick to their parties and sides more loyally, therefore they are more polarized. Or, professor, it could be that they’ve thought through their views and analzye issues differently — perhaps more intelligently.

He also argues that it’s a matter of geography:

The information age was supposed to make distance dead, but because of clustering, geography becomes more important.

The political result is that Republican places become more Republican and Democratic places become more Democratic.

That’s absurd, too. I live in a rabidly Republican county and I’m a Democrat. But I don’t yell at my neighbors about politics over the fence. Nor do I long to move to a place where I can sit in the Starbucks and talk with people sure to agree with me (in fact, I’d find that pretty damned dull). I might have no hope of winning a local election, but I cast my vote in the presidential election and mine counts just as much as the vote of the liberal in Upper Montclair.

But then Brooks really goes off the deep end with his suggested fixes for this problem he’s imaginging:

Still, it’s worth thinking radically. An ambitious national service program would ameliorate the situation. If you had a big but voluntary service program of the sort that Evan Bayh, a Democrat, and John McCain, a Republican, proposed a couple of years ago, millions of young people would find themselves living with different sorts of Americans and spending time in parts of the country they might otherwise know nothing about.

It might even be worth monkeying with our primary system. The current primaries reward orthodox, polarization-reinforcing candidates. Open, nonpartisan primaries might reward the unorthodox and weaken the party bases. To do nothing is to surrender to a lifetime of ugliness.

Oh, that’s cute: The ideology draft: Forced service to meet people not like you. Well, you know, everybody isn’t like me already. And “nonpartisan primaries”? That’s oxymoronic; it’s just plain illogical.

: Micah Sifry responds to the same doozie column asking, What political ghettoes?

Here are some problems with these notions:

-50% of us don’t bother to vote in presidential elections; barely over 1/3 vote in non-presidential years and in some cases single digit turnouts have been sighted for some municiipal and even statewide races. If partisanship was on the rise, surely that would lead to much higher identification with each party’s candidates, and thus be reflected in higher turnouts.

-More Americans are identifying as political independents and registering as such (or “decline to state”), while Democratic identifiers are sharply down and Republicans are flat. This recent column by Rhodes Cook spells out some of the salient facts.

-The information economy isn’t as big as Brooks cliaims, so his theory that more of us are suddenly free to move wherever we like and thus congregate in places “where people share their cultural aesthetic and…political values” seems like quite a stretch. And even in such places, diversity reigns.

Go read the rest.

See, we’re not as divided as they — media and politicians — say we are. Only the extremists are.

Let the people speak

Let the people speak

: Tim Blair, the most forward-thinking journalist I know, just did something great: He handed over his big-media Australian column to three Iraqi bloggers:

This week’s column is brought to you direct from Baghdad by Ali Fadhil, a paediatrician, and his brothers Mohammed and Omar, both dentists. Read more from the trio at http://iraqthemodel.com/.

How is life in Iraq? Depends on your point of view. A bunch of us were talking the other night; one friend, very angry, said: “Did you see what happened today in Antar Square? The Americans came, blocked the street and attacked the toy store. They were smashing kid’s bicycles!” Another friend, listening carefully, asked: “Was there a big loading truck with them?” Yes, came the reply. The second friend then told his version: it turned out he’d been at the store buying a bike for his son. “I was in the middle of tough bargaining with the shopkeeper when two Humvees and a truck stopped out front. One of the Humvees waved all the cars to pass. Soldiers from the second Humvee said they wanted to buy some bicycles. It didn’t take a long time, as they didn’t bargain, and they bought a huge number of bicycles and filled the truck with them and left.” Whom to believe? Here are two good friends and both were on the scene. As for me, it didn’t take a lot of effort to figure out who was closer to the truth. Those bikes have probably been delivered to a local school.

Fisk away

Fisk away

: Andrew Sullivan asked any blogger to create a transcript of Fahrenheit 9/11 and a day later, here’s the first chunk. And here’s Andrew’s take on the messianic parallels between Michael Moore and Mel Gibson.

What’s really happening in Iraq

What’s really happening in Iraq

: Winds of Change has a roundup of what the Iraqi bloggers said about the handover of power.

: Here’s Michele’s roundup.

: And reservist and writer Eric Johnson tells a story of the Washington Post’s bureau chief in Baghdad telling one view of what’s happening there, the dark view.

A place for my stuff, cont.

A place for my stuff, cont.

: Today’s packed PaidContent has two great items that point to the future of a Place for My Stuff:

: Motorola, Rafat reports, is restarting its iRadio initiative. Here’s Motorola’s description in the job posting Rafat found:

The value of links

The value of links

: Paid Content tells us that game company IGN just bought movie-review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes for $10 million. When you think about it, Rotten is a sort of early weblog — summarizing and linking to reviews everywhere — and it gets traffic (276k unique users per week), so it built value.

Supreme Court and free speech

Supreme Court and free speech

: The Supreme Court just blocked a law aimed at pornographers as a likely unconstitutional slap at free speech.

The court was divided and sent the case back to a lower court. But even in the case of pornography and children, the court stood behind free speech as a principle, an American ultimate, that requires protection. And if the Court protects free speech against even pornography and children, surely it will protect free speech against the indecent indecency legislation about to be signed by Bush.

“There is a potential for extraordinary harm and a serious chill upon protected speech” if the law took effect, Justice Kennedy wrote for the majority.

: UPDATE: Here’s Ernie Miller’s take on the decision. And here’s Eugene Volokh on the issue of prurient interest. And here’s Jack Balkin, who also says:

Putting together Justice Thomas’ opinion in Hamdi with his vote in ACLU v. Ashcroft, we may infer that the President can throw any citizen in a military prison indefinitely, but that the citizen has the right to view pornography while there.

Don’t you just love having your very own constitutional law experts at the ready?

: UPDATE: Henry sends me this great quote from Dennis Miller:

“The Senate overwhelmingly agreed on a bill Tuesday to fine broadcasters as much as $3 million a day for racy language. Oh, yeah? Well guess what, FCC. I’m still going to say whatever I want. So don’t intercourse with me.”