13 Oct

Not back to the future

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Today’s Los Angeles Daily News had an opinion piece in what remains of their editorial pages, headlined “Propositions boost odds for bottom of GOP ticket” and subtitled “In California, the defense of marriage ban could prove very useful to the Republican minority.”  (They don’t really mean “defense of marriage ban,” they mean either “defense of marriage” or “gay marriage ban,” but that’s a separate issue.)

The gist of the article is that in California, many Republicans feel that they’re not going to be able to carry the state for McCain, so “state political leaders” are trying to pump up the conservative voter turnout by using ballot propositions instead.

In this election, the hot-button propositions for energizing discouraged conservatives are #4 and #8.  Proposition 4 is yet another attempt to force young girls to get parental (or judicial) permission before getting an abortion, and Proposition 8 is aimed at amending the state constitution to overturn the recent legalization of same-sex marriage.

Similar abortion propositions have failed multiple times in the past.  The anti-gay-marriage proposition has already spawned extremely toxic TV ads playing to the worst fears of the religious right.  I favor no political party (a pox on all their houses) but it seems to me that any intelligent conservative voter by rights should be insulted by this strategy, which appears to portray them as terrified troglodytes.

Conservatives, at least on paper, are in favor of less government intrusion.  They are for free enterprise and free markets and free will.  And yet what their “leaders” are cynically trying to do is use the power of the government to force back the tide of human progress.  Are conservatives so incredibly fearful of the reality of the 21st century?  It certainly appears that a lot of them are.  They want children to be the sole property of their parents (regardless of how abusive those parents might be) and they want to write their religion into law despite the First Amendment’s explicit prohibition against doing so.

I hope this strategy backfires as loudly as it deserves to, by energizing the people who oppose these measures to turn out in record numbers.  The constant fearmongering and attempts to shout back the tide of human progress have to be answered by the voice of We The People.  The reactionaries won’t give up easily, but the more often their proposals are voted down, the more likely they’ll get the message.

Over a century ago (how appropriate) Elizabeth Allen wrote a poem that seems to personify the GOP strategy of today.  “Backward, turn backward, Oh time, in your flight, Make me a child again, just for to-night!”  (You can read the entire poem here.)  Let’s hope that plenty of California voters make it clear that the past is not such a lovely place that we need to return to it.

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1 Aug

on youth, age, and politics

Let me begin this by saying that I don’t particularly like either of the major candidates running forAmerican flag
president this year.  While both of them have numerous admirable qualities and good ideas, they also both have numerous faults and failings and neither makes me enthusiastic about the consequences of voting for him.  I am not a supporter of either man, and on election day I will have to once again have to hold my nose and choose which I think will be the lesser of two evils.

Now, as for political propaganda–I recently read a forum post from a curmudgeonly fellow who was passing along one of those ubiquitous internet letters that people tend to pass on if they happen to agree with them.

The letter purported to be from a Cuban who made the point that Fidel Castro started out as a young, charismatic guy who promised change, and a lot of Cubans were sick of the status quo so they went with the young guy who promised change, and OMG LOOK WHAT HAPPENED.  The reader is, apparently, supposed to draw his/her own conclusions about the following of charismatic young guys who are all for change.  And, no doubt, vote accordingly.

This led me to thinking about other charismatic young guys who were all for change.  One of them wrote the following words, which, alas, far too few Americans have ever seen or paid attention to.

Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Barack Obama is 47.  In 1776, Thomas Jefferson was 33.  John Hancock was 39.  James Madison was 25.  Patrick Henry, who advocated change more fiercely than most, was 40.  Thomas Paine, who did likewise, was 39.  And George Washington was 44.  If charismatic young men like these hadn’t advocated change, we’d likely still be singing “God Save the Queen” today.  (I have often said that the descendants of people who were conservatives in 1776 have a special name–Canadians–because that’s how I came to be the descendant of a gentleman who scooted across the border from New Jersey to New Brunswick and stayed there.)

Many Cubans still hold a deep grudge about what happened at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and I know several who will never vote for a Democrat because they hold Kennedy and his cronies personally responsible for that.  However, even the most cursory examination of history will show that the Bay of Pigs was the Dulles brothers’ idea, that they’d gotten it pretty well set up to go before Kennedy was even elected, and that they were part of the Eisenhower administration while they did so.  They went ahead with it under the assumption that once it was under way, Kennedy would have no choice but to send in American troops in support.  Kennedy proved he did indeed have another choice, and he took it–but he was man enough to publicly accept the responsibility for what happened next.

John McCain is 72.  In 1961, Allen Dulles was 68. John Foster Dulles was 73.  Dwight D. Eisenhower was 71.  Should the Cuban who wrote the letter not be thundering about old men who thought they were still warriors, acted accordingly, and OMG LOOK WHAT HAPPENED?  Had the Bay of Pigs not happened, Castro would not have had a readymade propaganda victory at the very beginning of his rule, and what might have happened in Cuba as a result?

Obviously, both sides of that particular argument are hogwash and the comparisons they make are specious in the extreme.  Obama is no Castro and McCain is no Dulles.  To vote for or against a presidential candidate because some other guy in some other time and/or place did something is absurd.

But it seems that once again, a lot of people who, as Santayana said, know nothing of history, are once again doomed to repeat it.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Obese Seagull Productions

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29 Dec

Who’s pulling your chain?

It’s been a really long time since I graduated from high school. My 40th reunion is coming up in 2008. Yes, I’m old. :)

I don’t know if it’s true any more (my kids have been out of high school for years, too) but in those days nearly every high school had a required course in civics. At my school it was called “Modern Problems.” The unfortunate thing about civics classes is that they were almost always taught by coaches, because there just weren’t enough gym classes for coaches to teach, and besides, the administration had to make it look like they weren’t just hiring the guy to coach football.

And thus, since a lot of coaches were marginal at best as teachers (with apologies to Mr. G. who coached wrestling and was a top-notch physics teacher, too) nearly everyone snoozed through the classes and ignored pretty much everything once they’d regurgitated it on a test.

Which, in retrospect, is kind of a shame. Because there really were a few nuggets of valuable information to be had. One of the most important things we studied in civics class was the topic of propaganda techniques.

Of course, in 1967-68, propaganda was something those godless Commies did to “indoctrinate” their hapless masses. We were supposed to be able to see communist doublespeak for what it was. We weren’t asked to analyze what our own “indoctrinators” were spitting out. Which is also a shame. We could have learned a lot by paying attention to the politicians of the day.

In this day and age, one of the most important ways you can take a stand against ignorance is to recognize when you’re being manipulated. The techniques of propaganda are alive and well, even if they’re called “spin doctoring” or some other phrase today. Once you understand the method, it’s a lot more difficult for the spin-meisters to bamboozle you.

A complete discussion of propaganda techniques is beyond the scope of this short essay, but there is an excellent discussion here. Be patient; sometimes the site takes a while to load. Which is a good sign–people are learning what to look for.

Print that list of techniques out and read over it. Then, the next time you hear Warren Windbag, Barton Blowhard, Peter Politician or whoever “bloviating” on a subject, see how many of those propaganda techniques are being used. The more such analyses you do, the more you insulate yourself from claptrap.

This video is par for the course for my high school years, but if you can get past the laugh-out-loud factor, it actually does present propaganda techniques in a format that’s easy to understand. After all, it was being played in civics class.

Edit: Well, apparently the video doesn’t play nice with my theme… gonna have to take my own advice and learn something new today so I can fix that!

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