Monday, February 28, 2005

A mind is a difficult thing to change: Part 2--Therapeutic change

In Part I I revealed my plans to write a series of posts about the process of intra-personal political change. I've got a bunch of posts planned on that topic, but this isn't one of them. Before I tackle political change, I think it would be helpful to offer an introduction to a generalized theory of therapeutic change as a foundation. So here is a somewhat dry (and, mercifully, relatively brief!) introduction to the topic of how therapists view the process of change in therapy.

Of course, like any other discipline, therapy has no lack of theories from which to choose. But the one that made most sense to me when I was studying marriage and family therapy was the idea that change can occur on any--or all--of the following dimensions: cognition, feeling, and behavior (another way to describe the three would be thought, emotion, and action). I would also add a fourth, the spiritual, but for the purposes of therapeutic change or political change we can safely ignore that one. (Although political change does have something in common with religious conversion in the sense that it involves leaving a social group and changing a deep and powerful belief system, spiritual change appears to occur by quite different mechanisms--and, what's more, I didn't study it.)

Different schools of therapy approach clients through different parts of this troika of cognition, feeling, and behavior. For example, (surprise, surprise!) cognitive therapists work on changing thought patterns, many psychotherapists work on feelings, and behavioral therapists work on--well, behavior. But a therapist can also work eclectically and choose to approach on any of these dimensions, and that's the method that made most sense to me, choosing the point of intervention based on the particular presenting problem. Intervening to change one dimension could end up changing another, and ultimately changing them all. The idea was that lasting change could start anywhere, but would then (at least, ideally) cause a ripple effect that would end up changing the family or individual on all three dimensions.

To use a very simple example with an individual: changing a thought ("I'm ugly") could lead to a change in behavior (going out more) that could lead to a change in feeling (from depression to joy). It usually seems much easier to start with either a thought or a behavior, because they are fairly easy to define and describe (to operationalize). Usually the change in feelings would follow the other changes.

Here's another way to conceptualize it, if you're familiar with old Broadway show tunes. The song "A Puzzlement" (lyrics here) from Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I" is an excellent example of a person in the throes of cognitive change (actually, it's also an excellent example of someone in the throes of intrapersonal political change, but that's getting ahead of my story). The song "I Feel Pretty" from "West Side Story" (lyrics here) is an example of someone for whom feelings--in this case, of course, being loved--have transformed cognitions, and even behavior. And the song "I Whistle a Happy Tune" from "The King and I" (lyrics here) is a classic example of how change on the behavioral level--acting "as though"--can lead to change on the other dimensions.

Of course it's rare that things go anywhere near that smoothly. I have in my possession a text entitled, "Mastering Resistance," by Carol Anderson and Susan Stewart. The entire book is devoted to dealing with the roadblocks clients put up to resist change, because change is so hard. There's even a word for it in family therapy--homeostasis--the tendency of the family system to resist change.

So, that's it for today. Class dismissed. No quizzes.

[ADDENDUM: For Part III, go here.]

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Scientists for Summers

To my intense relief, some scientists--even some female scientists--are bravely defying the PC police and stating the obvious, which is that Larry Summers' controversial remarks merely reflected the current state of scientific knowledge in the field.

The Enlightment lives to fight another day!

Impulsive bloggers

Bloggers work alone. Oh, I know, there are group blogs. And probably there are some bloggers who show their posts to spouses or friends before clicking on "publish." But my guess is that most spouses get worn out with that pretty soon, and most bloggers end up writing alone, and they make their posting decisions alone, too.

Bloggers have to produce at a steady clip. With the exception of someone like Bill Whittle, who takes his sweet time to churn out a lengthy masterpiece every so often , the rest have to keep it coming on a daily basis in order to have any hope of keeping those readers visiting. And you know the old saying: haste makes waste.

Other writers--even those who churn it out under time pressure for newspapers and magazines--have editors and colleagues to bat around ideas with, to get opinions from (yeah, I know, I know, ending my sentences with a preposition--well, I don't have an editor, do I?). In writing a book, an inherently lonely activity, the author has the luxury of lots of time to get feedback and help from others. But bloggers have to move it, and quickly. And they ordinarily do that alone, in front of that nonresponsive computer screen.

In blogging, there's also a lot of pressure to get attention; and one of the ways to do it is to take risks, to be shocking, to pack a lot of punch into the writing. So an idea that looked really really good at 2 AM (or any other hour when the blogger is all alone), a phrase or a statement that'll really wow 'em, can seem way over-the-top when viewed in the cold light of day and/or reflection.

I think that's what happens sometimes with those bloggers who pride themselves on never pulling their punches, who specialize in going for the jugular. I won't dignify the worst of these comments with links to them and further discussion of them. Most of them have already been chewed over in the blogosphere ad nauseum, and those of you who follow blogs probably can think of plenty of examples yourselves.

The computer is a technology that works so quickly it fosters and rewards implusive behavior, at least of the verbal kind. Blogging is no exception. And, people being what they are, it will continue to happen.

Since I like to coin words, I'd like to suggest one for that sort of post, the kind that bloggers regret having put up there in a moment of solitary impulse, although they may never admit it. How about blart (as in: blog fart)?

Used in a sentence: Hope this whole post doesn't end up being a blart.

ADDENDUM: Then there's a blurp (as in: blog burp). Similar to, but somewhat less intense than, a blart.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Dr. Sanity for King!

Dr. Sanity, already the queen of the thera-bloggers, is running for King of the Blogs (don't worry about the gender confusion, we neo-neocons are socially liberal and can handle it). A vote for Dr. Sanity is--well--a vote for sanity. And doctors.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Mohammed Atta's Eyes

Michelle Malkin links to an article about the Portland, Maine airport worker who looked into Atta's eyes early on the morning of 9/11, saw something strange and terrible there, and didn't act on it.

Probably everyone who has since seen the famous photo of Atta (and nearly everyone has seen it) has noticed those eyes. You know them--eyes that seem drained of all humanity or compassion; cold, steely, and hard. It's not at all difficult, seeing those eyes, to imagine Atta walking onto an airplane with a bunch of innocent people, knowing that he was going to blow them all to bits. Difficult, in fact, to imagine him as much of anything else--as a person who had once been a little boy, for example.

The photo put me in mind of a book I read some time ago: James Gilligan's Violence. If I were to read it again, perhaps I'd now find in it some apologia for violence, but that's not the way I remember it. I'm doing this from memory, so I could indeed be mistaken--but my memory is that it was a fascinating book in terms of analyzing the genesis of violence, rather than making excuses for it.

I recall that in a chapter called "Dead Souls," Gilligan describes looking into the eyes of men who appear to have had the humanity scooped out of them. These men would kill (and did kill) with little provocation or remorse. Their eyes told the tale.

Not all killers are like that, of course; some seem to retain elements of what we would regard as normal human emotions. But Atta clearly appears to have been a member of the subset Gilligan describes as "dead souls." We don't know how they got that way, and although Gilligan has some ideas about commonalities they all share (fairly substantial abuse and shame in childhood), no explanation exists. Lots of people are abused and shamed; few (fortunately) grow up to become cold-blooded killers.

The man at the counter in Portland on 9/11 seemed to know instantly, however, that before him stood one of these "dead souls." He says, "It was just the look on the one man's face, his eyes...everyone in America has seen a picture of this man, but there is more life in that photograph we've all seen than he had in the flesh and blood. He looked like a walking corpse. He looked so angry. And he wouldn't look directly at me."

We seem to be hard-wired to be able to "read" emotions and faces very well. Not perfectly, but very well. Even babies can do this at an early age. And someone as far gone as Atta was an easy read for the man at the ticket counter.

What should that man have done? Hindsight is 20/20, and I doubt there's anything he could have done which would have been permitted at the time. I'm not even sure what would be permitted now, now that we know so much more about the enemy we face.

This discussion of "dead souls" puts me in mind of the many legends that feature changelings. I wonder whether such legends--in which human children were stolen away and replaced by the human-looking offspring of demons or elves--were early attempts to explain this sort of phenomenon: a person who is indeed a person, but who seems somehow to have lost some basic element we think essential to being human. We can sense this thing, but can't describe it. It spooked people long ago, and it fills us with dread now, to look into those empty, empty eyes.

Summers and science

Captain Ed points to a study that might tend to vindicate Larry Summers' speculations about possible differences between men's and women's brains. It's certainly not the first evidence of its type, and it won't be the last--unless, of course, the academic PC police ends up banning this type of research.

Most of the people jawing off against Summers probably haven't read the full text of his remarks. I can't say I blame them--the text is lengthy, and tough to slog through. But if one does study his remarks, it should be clear that he's talking about differences in the numbers of males vs. females among the very small percentage of people who are close to being geniuses in the sciences, people many many standard deviations from the mean. He never says women can't do science, or shouldn't be hired to do science--au contraire.

Another drawback is that, in order to understand Summers' remarks, it's necessary to know a certain amount of science and statistics. I don't mean to be elitist here, but it's a fact. And that's dry and boring stuff. So, it's much easier for people to fly off the handle at what they think Summers said than what he actually said.

But there's simply no excuse whatsoever for scientists themselves to misunderstand how careful and measured Summers' remarks were, and what he actually was saying. The conference at which he spoke was full of such people. That's why this entire affair is extremely chilling. There seems to be a trend in academia to try to drag us into a new Dark Ages--this time one in which political correctness, rather than religion, triumphs over science. And some of its proponents are academics and scientists themselves.

(For a previous post of mine on the subject see this.)

International law, and order?

Belmont Club, by way of The American Future, offers the following Guardian quote. :

The [Iraq] war was a reckless, provocative, dangerous, lawless piece of unilateral arrogance. But it has nevertheless brought forth a desirable outcome which would not have been achieved at all, or so quickly, by the means that the critics advocated, right though they were in most respects.

Poor old Europe--how to reconcile its worship of international law (and its idee fixee that the US flouted it) with the slowly dawning recognition that Iraq may be turning into some sort of success story?

International law is a beautiful idea, but it can work only with the consent of the governed. Ideally, all nations would hold hands and sing "Kumbaya," and then international law would function seamlessly. Short of that, the "law" has to have the "order" part as well--the teeth, as it were. And that requires force.

Ideally again, that force would be multilateral--even by old Europe's definition, which means: they would be included in it. But, short of that sort of overwhelming consensus, a consensus unlikely to appear in the real world of real nations (and we'll leave aside for the moment that the Guardian article conveniently ignores that most of the involved nations were on the take from Saddam, and would never have acted against him)--what to do?

The Guardian, along with much of Europe, doesn't seem to know what to do with outlaws. Saddam was an outlaw from international law. It's as though Europe thinks of the world as a sort of tea party, and that anyone knocking on the door and wanting to come in would quite naturally play by tea-party rules: pick up a cuppa, grab a cucumber sandwich, sit down and chat a while.

But it's no tea party, it's an armed world of high-stakes power struggles, with vicious and tyrannical killers such as Saddam holding the reins of an entire country and flouting international law. Then the European tea party breaks down, and the lawmen have to be armed. And sometimes outlaws have to be taken out, especially if they are holding an entire nation hostage, and have designs on others.

And if those efforts are successful in freeing the hostages and putting the tyrant behind bars, then one needs to reconsider whether the means used to accomplish that task may not have been right, after all. Acts need to be evaluated by ethical standards that take into account some sort of notion of the real world and how it operates.

Watch "High Noon" sometime. In the end, even Will Kane's pacifist Quaker bride learns the bitter and terrible lesson that force is sometimes necesssary for the enforcement of the law--and that it can't always be multilateral, if the townspeople just won't cooperate.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Barriers and walls: Iraq and elsewhere

When I turned on the news today, first thing I heard was that there had been another car-bombing of a police station in Iraq, with the death of 15 brave policemen. It seems the bomber got past the guard at the gate by wearing a police uniform.

I'm glad they have gates and guards there, although in this case the bomber managed to foil them. But I think they also need concrete barriers between the road or parking lot and the police stations themselves, to contain the concussion of such explosions. Not that a determined bomber still couldn't get in, but it would help make the task much harder, I assume, although I'm no engineer.

Thinking about that made me think of the old Cambridge Trust Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Now, that may seem an odd juxtaposition--and it is, to be sure--but there is a small connection. This story may seem frivolous, but the place I'm trying to get to with it isn't.

I lived in Cambridge for about seven years back in the late 60s through the mid-70s, back when a person with normal finances could actually live there and have enough money left over to eat every now and then. When I first arrived, the bank in the middle of Harvard Square had a huge glass window in front, light and airy. During some sort of demonstration or demonstrations (Cambodia bombing? after Kent State?) the window was repeatedly broken by stones heaved by angry demonstrators or vandals, or perhaps a combination of both.

And so the bank decided to brick up the entire front. It created a gloomy fortresslike facade that was a sad and tangible reminder of the anger and discord in our society (and, although I wasn't throwing any stones, I went to a few antiwar protests in my time).

And then one day, many years later, perhaps in the 80s (I was in the Square on a visit), I noticed a change. The glass front was back again. And it remained that way last time I looked, several years ago. For all I know it's that way still--I'll have to check next time I go there.

The reinstatement of the glass facade coincided with the transformation of the Square into a consumer haven. The old Design Research morphed into Crate and Barrel, and the much older Wursthaus became Abercrombie and Fitch (or is it Banana Republic? Oh dear; sometimes I confuse the two.) And El's, wonderful El's, dead and gone, although Bartley's remains.

So, the barrier went up, and it worked as long as it needed to. Years passed, the situation became calmer, and some higher-up decided the solid brick front was no longer needed.

The same process of building barriers is happening now in Iraq, for far more urgent reasons, against a far more vicious and implacable foe. The barriers will have to go up, lots of them. But it's my fervent hope that some day, even if it takes many years, they will come down again, because they will no longer be necessary.

Same for all those protective walls, I say (although here in New England we also say--or, actually, Robert Frost says we say, "Good fences make good neighbors.")

And some day soon when I visit Harvard Square again, I'll take a look at that bank building. Maybe it's not even a bank anymore, I don't know; maybe it's a Dunkin Donuts. But I like Cambridge and I like the Square, even though now I'm the oldest person strolling around there, except for a few fusty old professors, and even though I have to keep my mouth shut about politics lest I become the target of at least a few stony glances.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Ward Churchill, proud Native American...


Well, as Emily Litella would say, "Never mind."

If Colorado ends up firing him on the basis that he made false claims of ethnicity to get favoritism in hiring, he can always say he's a victim of affirmative action. It wouldn't surprise me if he claimed some sort of victimhood, anyway, after gaining notoriety by slandering the true innocent victims of 9/11.

UPDATE: Instapundit now writes that there is some question about the authenticity of the Churchill quote. We'll see--maybe in the end it's the blogosphere (wonderfully self-correcting organism that it is) that will have to say, "Never mind."

UPDATE OF UPDATE: Yep, it's official. The blogosphere says, "Never mind."

So now it seems that Churchill is actually "less than a quarter Native-American." Whatever that means. It all only serves to point out how absurd these fractional racial classifications are. And, apparently, Mr. Churchill can finally claim to be a victim of something: being misquoted in the MSM. Join the crowd, Ward!

Press pass: spread the word

I think it's a phrase whose time has come: press pass

Definition: the strategic spiking of a story that, if properly investigated, would be likely to reflect poorly on someone the MSM considers a friend or a good guy.

Usage (examples):

"The NY Times gave a press pass to Eason Jordan for his Davos remarks."

"The MSM gave a press pass to John Kerry on his failure to sign a form 180."

Spread it around, if you see fit.

Big Pharoah speaks...

...and he says "let my people go."

Right around the time of the build-up to the Iraqi war, the first Iraqi blog came into being, Salam Pak's, now defunct. It was fascinating to read an actual Iraqi's words, emanating almost magically from behind Saddam's iron curtain. From the start, Salam wasn't any sort of generic Iraqi, he was his own extremely unique person with an instantly recognizable voice, sardonic and clever, funny and iconoclastic.

Since the war there's been a proliferation of Iraqi bloggers with a huge readership hungry for their unique points of view. My own personal favorites, Iraq the Model and Free Iraqi, eloquent and stirring, are on my blogroll. Sometimes I think of them as the Patrick Henrys and Thomas Paines of their time and place.

Big Pharoah is another of these distinctive blog voices from the Middle East, this time from Egypt, where he seems to be the only blogger writing in English. Fascinating stuff. Despite the distance and the exotic locale, one of the things that struck me when I first read his site last spring was something he and I seemed to have in common: he reported being surrounded by people who don't share many of his political viewpoints.

Yesterday Big Pharaoh wrote some words that made my heart glad. Maybe they'll do the same for you. Listen:

something is beginning to happen in Egypt. In fact, something is beginning to happen all over the region, from the revolution of the purple fingers in Iraq to Lebanon's anti-Syria red demonstrations today. The enemies of freedom as well know that something is happening and they are trying to stop it.

Something amazing does seem to be stirring, the power of freedom. And recently freedom's enemies actually appear to be getting weaker--although that story is far from over, and probably never will be over.

It seems those long-ago framers of our Declaration of Independence really were onto something big, something well-nigh universal. Isn't it ever and ever more "self-evident" that people desire liberty--as much now as they did in 1776, perhaps even more?

Although, of course, not every single person on the face of the earth wants it. Some are afraid of it--afraid for themselves, or, more commonly, afraid for others--but that's another story, for another essay.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Condi and Jackie

Those not interested in fluff, please skip this post.

Am I the only one who thinks that Condoleezza Rice and Jackie Kennedy bear some sort of resemblance to each other? Physically, I mean. Think about it. The extraordinarily slender clothes-horse elegance, the erect and regal posture, the wide-set eyes and proportionately large head, the hairdo--and, of course, the beautifully tailored suits, not to mention the nicknames. Stick a pillbox on Condi's head and call it done.

UPDATE: Well, someone else made a connection, but it's not the same one.

Nature, red in tooth and claw

When I signed up for the Truth Laid Bear ecosystem, I did it for the laughs. Likening the forms of life in the blogosphere to the Linnaean classification system and the Great Chain of Being (both which I had to learn about in some detail--and even, in the case of the former, laboriously memorize--way back when) gave me a chuckle.

But I'm not chuckling now (oh, well, maybe just a little bit). Because it turns out this is a heavy responsibility, and hard work not to slide back down the slippery slope.

Not that anyone cares but me, and I'm not sure how much even I care, but still--how often in life does one receive such a quantitative and seemingly objective rating of one's rank and station? I started out an Insignificant Microbe or Lowly Insect or whatever it was I started out as. But now, thanks to a few gracious links, for one brief shining moment I've crawled out of the primordial slime (at least partially) to reach the relatively exalted rank of Crawly Amphibian.

But I'd ascended before, only to fall. I hadn't realized when I signed up for that thing that you're only as good as your last weeks' stats. I had slithered up in the Truth Laid Bear world before, and yet it had taken only a week of slothfulness to ooze back down again to Lowly Insect.

It's a jungle out there.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Instapundit: the Ed Sullivan of the blogosphere?

An amusing post at VietPundit (be sure to read the comments section, too) raises a somewhat serious question, at least for us bloggers toiling away at our keyboards: how does Instapundit Glenn Reynolds do it? How does he churn it out, day after day, night after night, through rain and snow and sleet and...well, you get the idea. And manage to hold down a full-time job of some distinction, have a family--and, I suppose, eat? And still get more traffic than the San Diego Freeway at 5 PM on the Friday before Labor Day?

VietPundit's answer--that Instapundit is not one, but many--is one I've entertained. Perhaps he has a fleet of unpaid law interns scanning the internet in search of nuggets to highlight. Perhaps there was a typo, and his blog title was supposed to read "Instapundits" instead, and now that he has such brand recognition he can't change it. Perhaps he, like many bloggers, has a combination of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and insomnia. Or perhaps he doesn't need more than a couple of hours of sleep a night, anyway.

But all of that only explains how Glenn does it in terms of mechanics. The question that interests me more is: what is it about his blog that generates all that traffic? He's not the most flamboyant or polished writer, although his prose gets the job done with clarity and an economy of effort impressive to those of us inclined to be a bit wordy (who, me? couldn't be!). Unlike LGF or Powerline, he was not a major player in exposing the CBS forgeries. He's smooth, with the smoothness that hides all trace of effort. And the fact that he was one of the earlier bloggers and thus built up his base before there was much competition still doesn't explain why that fan base has stuck with him and actually grown, along with the blogosphere.

So, I submit my own Theory of Glenn. He's one of the first bloggers I ever found, and I still read him pretty much every day. He fills a niche in the blogosphere that no one else occupies--that of companion, generalist, and affable guide. It doesn't take a whole lot of time to read him, and people are busy. There are very few bloggers who seem to have less ego, who are merely saying, "Here, read this, it's interesting," in a low-key and unthreatening way. The blogosphere can be a pretty heated place, with lots of sturm and drang, full of prima donnas and flash. Glenn is quiet and calming, but he can zing it with a pithy (that's pithy, not pissy) comment now and then. His "Heh" says volumes.

Pardon me, Glenn, I don't mean this in a bad way--but he's the Ed Sullivan of bloggers. Always brings you a really good show, and then steps back and lets you enjoy it.

Is this the real "Arab street"?

Is this the real "Arab street"? Somehow, I think so.

Beirut used to be a wonderful, cosmopolitan city, before all the troubles. Funny, too, how all those bleating about the US occupation of Iraq are curiously silent when asked about the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.

I submit that, if the Syrians leave Lebanon soon (a consummation devoutly to be wished), no small part of the reason will have been the infant democracy building in Iraq as a direct result of that US occupation.

A Minstalanch (Instalanch, twice removed)

I've been the pleased and fascinated beneficiary of a mini-Instalanch (for which I hereby coin the phrase "minstalanch"). Meaning? Dr. Sanity linked to me in this post, then Carpe Bonum linked to Dr. Sanity here, and then voila!, Instapundit, the great Hub of the blogoshere (see my blogroll), linked to Carpe Bonum here. A simple and elegant two degrees of separation.

So there you have it: an Instalanch, twice removed. Minstalanch. Not really akin to an avalanche--but relatively speaking, a pretty big snowfall, good for skiing and sledding, and fun to see on the old sitemeter. Welcome, all!

A mind is a difficult thing to change: Part One--Intro

When I first started this blog, one of the things I was sure I'd do an awful lot of writing about is what it means to change one's mind on a topic as fundamental and emotional as politics: who does it, why they do it, how they do it. I thought I'd explore the ways in which "changers" differ from those who don't ever change, and the repercussions changers face among friends and family who often consider them to be pariahs. I even thought that, if a bunch of these people ever migrated to my blog, it could function as a sort of combination support group (sorry, it's the therapist in me!) and clearing house on the topic of political changers and what makes them tick.

Somehow I haven't gotten around to doing any of this until now. Hmmm. Procrastination. Whatever. But I hope to finally start tackling this vast and unwieldy subject, bit by bit. I'll be thinking this through as I go along, so please bear with me.

Of course, the political change I know best is the one I've already made--from liberal Democrat to whatever it is I am now (what I call "neo-neocon," as a sort of joke). Nowadays, "neocon" is a term used most often as a pejorative, but its actual definition is something like "liberal hawk" (see this article for a more complete explanation, containing one of my favorite definitions, "the kind of right-winger a liberal wouldn't be embarrassed to have over for cocktails." Or, in my case, dinner. I'm much bigger on dinner. Especially if it's any kind of ethnic food.)

Way back when I was in graduate school getting my Master's degree, my fellow therapists-in-training and I (Democrats all, by the way) were forced to think long and hard (and to talk and talk and talk and write and write and write) about how it is that people change. Therapists are change-agents by definition, and it helps if a therapist actually believes that people can change. But every therapist knows a bitter truth, and that is that true and fundamental change is both difficult and rare, and that it is often exceedingly painful for the person who changes, and for everyone around him/her. The old standby about how many therapists it takes to change a lightbulb ("one, but the lightbulb has to want to change") is not only true, but insufficient--it would be great if wanting to change, and talking to a therapist about it, were all that was necessary for the desired change to occur. But of course it's not.

I not only spent years thinking, talking, and writing about how people change, but also trying to help people accomplish it--and, sometimes, actually even succeeding (although maybe they did it in spite of my help--one never knows).

But all clients who come to a therapist want to change--or, at least, they pay lip service to the fact that they do. So they start ahead of the game, because they are strongly motivated, motivated enough to pay a substantial sum (or have their insurance pay it) to a total stranger to whom they also must tell their deepest--and sometimes most shameful--secrets.

Political change is different. I think it tends to happen against one's will, often very much against one's will. The changer is dragged kicking and screaming to a different point of view by something--but what?

I'm not aware of any studies done on the subject, although I certainly haven't done an exhaustive search--unless you count reading a bunch of blogs written by people who've done this very sort of changing. These blogs appear to attract an audience with a high percentage of people who've undergone a similar political transformation. Changers seem to want to talk about it a lot with each other, much like those in 12-step programs, and there are a lot of jokes about that on these blogs ("recovering liberals" and the like).

Some of what I write here will be based on what I've gleaned from those blogs. Some will be based on any research I might be able to dig up on the subject (suggestions are welcome). Some will be based on--well, my thoughts on the subject.

To be continued....

[ADDENDUM: For Part II, go here.]

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Harvard in peril

Larry Summers is under fire for daring to suggest that research be done into whether there are biological differences that account, at least in part, for the paucity of women at the pinnacle of science. Summers seems to have been persona non grata for a long time to a lot of people at Harvard and in academia, and now they're really sinking their teeth into him with relish.

Now, I'm a feminist myself, although I part company with many of the more doctrinaire ones. But I'm also a person interested in rationality and the pursuit of truth. And, once again, this is a case where feelings seem to have triumphed over reason. That academics--and scientists, at that--would allow this to happen is not a good sign. Whatever happend to the Enlightment? If Galileo were to return at this point, he might be in grave danger again--at least, if he were to suggest that the earth didn't revolve around women.

In my own experience in an academic environment during the '90s, after decades of being away, I was shocked at how far the PC police had come in stifling academic freedom. It seemed the new criterion for censure was whether a remark had offended someone. However careful the professor might be to couch the remark with qualifications, however delicately it was stated, if it offended the tender sensibilities of anyone in the audience, the professor was in trouble.

My guess is that therapists bear part of the responsibility for this. The popularization of therapy and its portrayal in legions of self-help books and talk shows has helped foster an idea that, since all feelings are in some way valid (if only in the intrapersonal sense), therefore people have a right to demand that their feelings never be hurt. This is a distortion of what true therapy is all about, but it's a popular one--even among some therapists, unfortunately.

So, Larry Summers seems to have stepped into this particular pile of steaming do-do. The first reports of the reaction to his remarks contain the following gem from MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins, "I felt I was going to be sick...My heart was pounding and my breath was shallow. I was extremely upset."

I assume that, as a scientist, Ms. Hopkins had other, more rationally-based objections to Summer's remarks. But I have yet to read any that make sense. How could anyone have a rational objection to Summer's call for research into this question? Unless that person were afraid of the truth.

Now, I can certainly understand a concern that, if it were to be discovered that there are innate differences between men and women in that respect, the results could be used to harm women or discriminate against them in the sciences. But all scientists--even female ones--should know that that's no reason to stop the research. All scientific research is a double-edged sword that can be used for good or ill, and we never can know the ultimate results of any research before it is done--or even afterwards, for that matter. At no point did Summers suggest that the results of any research should be used to hold women back in the sciences--au contraire.

So, I'm with Andrew Sullivan on this one. As Sullivan writes, "[I]f Summers goes down, the chilling effect on intellectual freedom in this country will be intense." Preach it, brother Sullivan, preach it.

Bush lets his hair down--and guess what?....

....he's pretty much the same in private as in public, even according to the NY Times (linked article requires registration).

Let's see--so, he's insightful and relatively articulate (even without evil puppeteer Rove feeding him the words), loving towards his family, warm and jokey with friends, genuinely religious, resolute about his principles, unbigoted towards gays personally, upfront about his wild youth but more interested in talking about what he's learned from it. What a surprise.

Hard to take issue with that--unless, of course, you think Bush is an idiot. Then, it must be like that old Saturday Night Live skit about Reagan--expect this time, it's not so funny. You know, the one where Reagan is a doddering old fool in public and then, as soon as all the strangers leave the room and he's alone with his aides in the Oval Office, he's sharp as a tack and quick as a whip. I used to get a big bang out of that skit back when I was a liberal Democrat.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Martin Peretz and the liberals: feeling vs. thinking

New Republic editor Peretz issues a wake-up call to fellow liberals today. He asks them to come up with some new ideas (the New Republic site is for subscribers only, so I linked to a site that has the text of the article for free).

I think Peretz is definitely on the right track here. But notice that Peretz doesn't seem to be able to come up with any new ideas himself. Of course, the article is already long enough as is, and maybe he's just in the position of the physician charged with making the diagnosis. He's not the one being asked to come up with the medicine and the cure.

But I think this coming-up-with-ideas thing is going to be difficult for liberals. They seem to have reached a point--and I hope I'm wrong about this--where they are more interested in feeling than thinking (like some clients I've known). Now, feelings are all very well and good, and we certainly need to have them, but nowadays it seems as though many liberals feel that, if their hearts are in the right place, that should be enough. Many (and I number among them some of my very best friends) feel the right is full of heartless Scrooges, so it's not all that necessary to counter the ideas on the right, it's just necessary to call people on the right nasty names (which isn't to say that there aren't some heartless Scrooges on the right--but it's a mistake to think they predominate).

The left needs to recognize that, slowly but surely, Bush and Co. have co-opted many of the ideas for which the left used to stand--such as, for example, freedom, liberty, the downfall of murderous tyrannical dictators, and equal opportunity for black people and for women. And, when the left opposes such things for transparent political reasons, as many of them have done in Iraq, and as many of them seemed to have done when they accused Condoleezza Rice of being Bush's female Stepin Fetchit, they lose the most important thing of all--they lose people's trust. Their hypocrisy is naked and exposed. And, after that, someone like me could find it very hard to trust them ever again, even when and if they finally do come up with some good ideas. I'm sure they have some good ideas even now, but those are being drowned out by the self-serving debunkers who never met an idea of Bush's they didn't hate.

UPDATE 2/20: Just noticed an upsurge in traffic. It seems the gracious Dr. Sanity has linked to this post. A sanitylanch? Welcome, and feel free to take a leisurely stroll around the blog.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Earth from space--thinking outside the box

Look at a photograph of the cloud-covered sphere of earth, taken from space. It's a supremely beautiful sight, despite its familiarity--a predominantly blue planet liberally swirled with wispy white, and then some muted green/brown accents that constitute the land on which we humans live.

But the sight wasn't always so familiar. And I'm not talking about long ago, before we even knew the earth was round, or had mapped its landmasses. I'm talking about just a few decades ago, before the first pictures came back from the moon.

I'm not so very old, but when I grew up and artists or scientists drew conceptual drawings of the earth from outer space, the globe was always pictured as just that--a globe like those spinning ones in school, tethered to their metal stands (only, of course, without the metal stands). No clouds at all. Despite the fact that we all should have known better--all we had to do was look up at the sky most days to see those voluminous clouds--no one did seem to know better.

I still remember the shock of seeing those first photos (after you click on the link, scroll about halfway down the page for the photo) from the 1969 Apollo moon mission. Not only were the photos surprising, but it was surprising that they were surprising.

No one had thought of what, in retrospect, should have been obvious. The way the earth was thought to look was accepted knowledge, and no one managed to think outside the "box" of our earthbound perceptions. It's easy to be critical in retrospect--how could "they" have been so stupid? (same for pre-9/11 prognostications about terrorist attacks, by the way). But to make the conceptual leap to actually think outside the box--now, that's spectacularly hard.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Anonymities Anonymous

One somewhat-less-than-a-household-word blogger I like to read sometimes is The Anchoress. One of the things I like about The Anchoress is that she's anonymous, and unapologetic about it. In this post she explains why.

I, too, am anonymous, not to mention obscure--a great deal more obscure than The Anchoress. It seems that, for the time being, I intend to remain anonymous, although lately I've been trying to do a thing or two to make the obscurity a little less profound. At one point I had an offer to be quoted by one of the rather well-known blogs, but the blogger told me he didn't link to anonymous bloggers, and so I'd have to reveal my true identity before I'd get the spotlight. Although his link wasn't quite up there with the BBC gig The Anchoress was offered, still, for me, it was a relatively Biggish Deal. So I thought long and hard about whether to reveal my identity for a chance at my 1.5 seconds of blogger fame.

But I declined. Overall, I've found that the whole idea of celebrity, however fleeting, has never seemed attractive to me. I'm interested in trying to achieve something--communicating ideas, or trying to perform work I can be proud of. I'm not a social recluse, but I have never wanted to be well-known to a large community of people I've never met--although, honestly, at this point, it's not as though I'm in any grave danger of that.

I don't know how commonplace such a feeling is, but I see from her post that The Anchoress appears to share it. I have always preferred to be behind the scenes, and in fact, as a therapist-in-training, my very favorite place to be was always behind the two-way mirror, making suggestions to another therapist who was the one actually working with the clients. And one of the reasons I like to write is an attraction to the anonymity of it, the once-removed quality. I think many writers are drawn to this paradoxical element of writing--of allowing them to reveal themselves while simultaneously not really revealing themselves at all, or at least controlling the revelations. Of course, some writers are hams, and feed on celebrity, and many love to do readings in front of an actual public of living and breathing people. But others like to stay far away from that sort of thing.

In the blogosphere, I have nothing but admiration for those who use their names and jump unveiled right into the very thick of it. But some of us--including even such blogger luminaries as Wretchard--prefer, for a multiplicity of reasons, to proffer observations from behind the shelter of a nom de plume. Nom de plumes have an old and illustrious history, and are really nothing to be ashamed of, although there are those in the somewhat macho atmosphere of the blogosphere who probably think they are evidence of cowardice, and are somehow less-than-honorable.

In addition to these already-discussed matters of temperament (not as simple as, although related to, introversion vs. extraversion), I think that many of us who choose to remain anonymous are interested in setting boundaries between the different aspects of our lives. My other activities ("real work"?) are totally apolitical and done under my real name, and I've decided I want to keep those worlds very separate from my blogging.

So, call us cowardly, call us shy, call us macaroni--we anonymous bloggers have rights, too. I hereby invite all other anonymous bloggers to assemble as a new support group: Anonymities Anonymous (AA). Shout it loud: we're anonymous, and we're proud!

Friday, February 11, 2005

Blogswarms, meet press-pass

The term "blogswarm" (as in blog-swarm, not blog's warm) is being applied to the Eason Jordan affair. An interesting phrase, with its insect connotations. Bees swarming around a hive, worker ants on automatic.

The idea is that the blogosphere's fierce discussion of Jordan's Davos remarks is, to coin a few other cliches, a tempest in a teapot, a mountain out of a molehill. Nothing to see here, move along please. After all, he retracted his statements, so anyone who doesn't just accept that is a hate-filled attack dog (whoops, another animal metaphor) out to get him for no reason.

I've discussed Jordan in three posts preceding this one, so I guess I'm just one of the swarmers. So I'll not discuss the substantive issues here--just the phenomenon of accusations of a blogswarm.

It's a pejorative, of course, designed to belittle the concerns of the swarmers. I doubt very much the accusers would consider it a swarm if it's a topic that interests them; it's a term reserved for a topic on the other side. When the mainstream media went ga-ga over Al QaQa right before the election, that could have been defined as a media swarm, but I don't recall that it ever was.

One of the many things driving the blogosphere's focus on the Jordan story is the perception (and a correct one, I believe) that the press is ignoring it because it appears to reflect poorly on one of their own, and might even end up embarrassing CNN. At best, Jordan was guilty of a sloppiness with words astounding in someone in his position, and remarkable in its capacity--although limited to "mere words"--to do harm to foreign perceptions of the US military. At worst, well...let's just wait for that tape....

So, the press is ignoring the story. The blogosphere is not. If the bloggers are guilty of swarming, what is the press guilty of here? Is there a word for the opposite of a blogswarm? I've been trying to think of an animal metaphor, in the interests of symmetry, but I confess I'm stumped. All I can come up with is a "press-pass" (well, at least it's a pun). Suggestions, anyone?

UPDATE 2/14: Actually, I'm starting to like "press-pass." Of course, now that Jordan has resigned, the blogs are being blamed. No press-pass for the pajamahadeens, apparently.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

In the eye of the beholder--Sambrook reports on Jordan

I've been following a fascinating discussion on Jay Rosen's blog of the Jordan affair, in which Davos eyewitness Sambrook of the BBC participated for a while. Unfortunately, Sambrook didn't seem used to the somewhat heated give-and-take of a blog "comments"section (after all, he's only a journalist!) and he departed somewhat abruptedly from that kitchen, sweating rather profusely.

But I'd like to defend him, if only a little bit, from accusations that he's lying in his recall of Jordan's Davos pronouncements. I don't think he's lying at all--as in "deliberately misrepresenting what he believes to be the truth." But I don't necessarily think he's correct, which is why the videotape is so important. But, since we don't have it--and perhaps never will--we have to rely on eyewitness tesimony of those such as Sambrook who were there.

The problem is that eyewitness testimony is notoriously inaccurate This fact isn't generally known by the public, but lawyers know it well, as do psychologists. People's perceptions are skewed, often wildly, by their previous set of beliefs, among other things. So Sambrook may indeed think he is reporting accurately what Jordan said, and yet he might be very wide of the mark. And he himself wouldn't have a clue that this is so, and would be outraged at charges that he is lying. Which is understandable, since in fact he is probably not lying. But there is a good chance he is incorrect, nevertheless, and only the videotape can tell us.

Far more compelling is the fact that someone such as Barney Frank, a liberal Democrat, was outraged and troubled by Jordan's comments. Since Frank's pre-existing bias might have been more likely to have gone in the direction of supporting someone like Jordan, I find his reaction good evidence that Jordan did in fact say something that a reasonable person would perceive as an inflammatory and unsupported allegation.

And, speaking of videotapes and eyewitness reports: I used to work in a clinic that videotaped all therapy sessions for training purposes. I saw many couples (oh, couples therapy--now, there's a mighty hot kitchen!). Over and over, I thought I heard one or the other member of the couple misrepresenting what had been said in a session. And, in such cases, I had the extremely satisfying option of saying, "Well, shall we look at the videotape to see what was actually said?" It was often a real mind-blower for the client to see how he/she had misperceived statements made only a few moments earlier. We all do this to a certain extent, constantly editing our memories in one direction or another. But some people do it to a much greater extent than others, and some people do it much more in one situation or another.

So, the videotape: bring it on!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Eason Jordan and the risky shift

Way way back in college in the 60s, when I was a psych/soc major, I was required to take many courses--many more than I actually cared to--on group behavior. One of the more tedious among them featured research, and the culmination of the semester was an original research project each of us students was required to design and perform on his/her own. Ugh! To make matters worse, I wasn't even allowed to choose the subject of my own research--it had to be, just had to be, an exploration of the phenomenon known as "the risky shift."

Well, at least the name had a certain panache. "Risky shift"--what could it be? I found out that it refers to a tendency in homogeneous groups (bear with me here; it's going to become relevant, I promise) such that, in the process of making decisions, members will tend to make riskier and rasher statements and judgments than they ordinarily would. It's a form of groupthink that is common in gatherings of like-minded individuals.

I think the risky shift may be behind Eason Jordan's recent remarks about the US military "targeting" journalists. Emboldened by his presence in the bosom of this simpatico group, he probably couched his accusation in even more extreme terms than he otherwise would have. No doubt Jordan was absolutely stunned that Gergen and Frank voiced any objections whatsoever, because he had counted on them, as members of the group, to support his assertions. And he certainly wasn't counting on ever having to prove them or produce any evidence to back them up. Perhaps he didn't even think that anyone present would betray him--and the group--by telling the outside world what he'd said.

UPDATE: Some possible corroboration of my theory, from a Michelle Malkin interview with Gergen: "Gergen, who has known Jordan for some 20 years, told me Jordan 'realized as soon as the words had left his mouth that he had gone too far' and 'walked himself back'....Gergen also told me that he was under the impression that the panel was off the record."

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Eason Jordan, wordsmith extraordinaire

You may be familiar with the newest flap around some remarks made by Eason Jordan of CNN. Basically, he is reported to have accused US troops of "targeting journalists" in Iraq--as in "purposely killing" them.

Now Jordan has issued an explanation of his statement: he was merely responding to someone who had called these journalists' deaths "collateral damage"--which, according to Jordan, they were not. But he didn't mean to imply that the US military had targeted them knowing they were journalists, or because they were journalists.

As a journalist himself, Jordan is expected to be even more careful with words than the average person. When he says that journalists have been targeted by the US military, it has a generally accepted meaning, and it's not the one he's trying to claim. He can't get away with saying that what he actually meant to say was, "People who turned out to be journalists were shot in a combat zone by the military under the mistaken impression that they were terrorists or enemy combatants." That is simply not what the word "targeted" means, and Jordan should know that. If he doesn't, he deserves to be relieved of his position.

I guess it could be true that, technically, as Jordan says, this type of thing doesn't exactly fit the definition of "collateral damage," either, which might be something like "People killed by stray gunfire or explosives because they happened to be nearby when the military was targeting another person." Does the term "collateral damage" apply to mistaken identity, such as appears to have been the case with the journalists? I don't know. It's hard to get a good definition of the term "collateral damage" (I've looked, and the best I can find is "inadvertent casualties and destruction inflicted on civilians in the course of military operations.")

So, technically, Jordan may or may not be correct in saying that "collateral damage" is not the best terminology here, either. But it certainly is closer to the mark than "targeted," since at least it gives the impression that there is something accidental about it rather than intentional. Jordan's semantic nitpicking is a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease.

These journalist deaths should more properly be filed under the heading of, "Tragic cases of mistaken identity during the fog of war." Jordan, writer and journalist, must know this.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Elections and connections

I felt deep joy watching the Iraqi people dancing in the streets on election day. Part of the intensity of my joy was because the path to that moment had seemed so long. The First Gulf War. The long buildup to this war--the intensely frustrating UN stalling, with the inexplicable (and, post-Oil-for-Food scandal revelations, suddenly all-too-explicable) behaviour of nations such as France.

And the fear. I was afraid of a guerilla war that would last for years and resemble the Vietnam War--in actuality, not just in Democratic and MSM rhetoric. I was afraid hundreds of thousands or even millions of people would be killed--in actuality, not just in some biased statisticians' claims.

But most of all I think what I feared was failure. The consequences of that failure seemed to me to be the emboldening of terrorists all over the world, not to mention the continued suffering of the Iraqi people, and the gloating of America's enemies. And that idea was the main reason why, on November 2, 2005, I had gone into the voting booth and cast the first Republican vote of my life.

Now, I've always been emotional when voting--although I've never danced in the street. There is something corny but moving about voting--and, this year, more than ever before. When I voted, I did so with a fervor I'd never felt before, both because it represented a break with my long liberal Democrat past (although I still see myself as a Scoop Jackson/Zell Miller type of Democrat), and because I felt that more was riding on this vote than ever before.

And when I saw the Iraqi people on their voting day, so filled with the joy of long-enslaved people finally tasting freedom, I felt a connection between my vote on Nov. 2 and their votes on January 30.

And I see other connections, too. I think of the Exodus from Egypt--a celebration of freedom if there ever was one--and the Civil Rights movement. I think of all the young US servicemen and women (and those of other countries) who died in Iraq, all the foreign workers beheaded, all the dark dark days, and all those who said during those dark days that this election day would never come, or, if it came, that it would be a disaster.

I think of the people on the doomed flights of 9/11--people whose last sight was the skyline of New York, from a plane flying way too low and way too fast. Or people in the WTC whose last decision was whether to jump or whether to be burned alive. Or people, on another 9/11 flight, whose last decision was to rush the cockpit and take the plane down before it destroyed more people.

All of those people are heroes. But they could not possibly have foreseen that their deaths that awful day would somehow lead to this other day, bringing hope to so many millions who had lived with horror for so many years. The connection between those who died on 9/11 and those dancing Iraqi voters may be circuitous--but the connection is there, nonetheless.

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