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Mapping Things Out

First Matt Haughey did it, and then Nick Finck did it too, so I guess I’ll join the movement.    Here’s a map of where I’ve been in United States, one which I created myself rather than use the generator offered by World66.  I’ve never been to either Alaska or Hawaii, so I left them off the map.

A map of the United States showing the states which Eric has visited or driven through as of 2 February 2004.

The reddest state is my home state, and the one where I’ve lived for most of my life.  (Psst… it’s Ohio.)  The medium-red states are the ones I’ve visited, and the light red states are those through which I’ve driven on my way to some other destination.  In order to qualify as a “visited” state it had to contain a destination, a place I went intending to meet someone or see something, and where I stayed for at least a night.  Thus, although I once spent three nights in Arkansas, it wasn’t by choice (we were caught by the blizzard of late January 2000) and we were only there because we were on our way to another state, so Arkansas is light red.  I also left the Upper Peninsula of Michigan white because I’ve never been there, even though I’ve visited the Lower Peninsula several times.  It’s an arbitrary decision, I admit.  Yes, I know they’re all one state.

I thought about giving states varying shades of red based on how often I’d been there, but that seemed like way too much effort.  I suppose if I had GIS software of some kind that interfaced with a database of some other kind, I could have quickly generated such a map.  Again, the effort: too much.  I decided to move on to other things.

After reading my political discourses, Michael Glaesemann and Todd Roberts both wrote to suggest that I try the Political Compass, so I did.  I found it interesting because it plots your stance not only along a left/right axis, but also an authoritarian/libertarian axis; in other words, your responses place you somewhere in a two-dimensional space.  For those who are interested, here are my Political Compass results, in which I’m rather unsurprisingly graphed as a libertarian liberal.  Also somewhat unsurprisingly, I took the test twice and got two different plots, although both were the same general area of the same quadrant.  This plot represents my second run through; on the first run, I was plotted closer to the origin.

In doing a little more research, I came across some complaints about the Political Compass, particularly that its methodology is closed and there’s suspicion that it’s rigged to favor certain results (although not the results I got).  One critic decided to create his own political survey as a response, one based on an open methodology, and he titled it Political Survey.  Very creative.  So I took that one as well, in part because Andrew Sidwell wrote to recommend it, and here are my Political Survey results, which place me as a pragmatic liberal.  It’s tempting to claim that pragmatism and libertarian leanings go hand in hand, but of course that’s plain wrong.  One person’s pragmatism is another’s wild-eyed delusion.

As I mulled these results, I realized that while helpful, they weren’t as important as a more fundamental realization.  It’s simply this: when it comes to matters such as political belief, trying to plot yourself one-dimensionally will lead to thinking of a similar depth.  You need at least two dimensions to even begin to accurately capture the stances of real people, and to therefore be able to think with any real sophistication about the topic at hand.  What’s tricky is picking your axes.  Right/left (or liberal/conservative) is an easy choice, but what about the second axis?  The two surveys I took used that axis in different ways.  Suppose we were to take the two surveys and merge them, so we graphed political beliefs in a three-dimensional space.  Again, what do you place on which axes?  These are difficult questions in themselves.

As an example, the December 2003 issue of Scientific American describes work done to map the regions of the world in a two-dimensional space that represents modernity:

Modernization, the subject of intense scrutiny at least since the time of Marx and Nietzsche, has seldom been measured systematically. One of the most useful attempts to do so has been done by political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Wayne E. Baker of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

In their approach, being modern implies not only a lack of traditional beliefs but also a need for free expression. To measure these attributes, they use responses from the World Values Survey, an international collaborative study based on extensive questioning of people in scores of countries making up more than 80 percent of the world’s population. The first of these dimensions—the traditional versus secular-rational scale in the chart—derives from attitudes toward religion, respect for authority, and patriotism. The second dimension—survival versus self-expression—derives from questions about physical security, trust in other people, gender roles, and personal happiness.

That sounds pretty good, but should modernity be measured by picking different conceptual spectra to combine?  Not being a political scientist, I can’t intelligently answer the question, but I’m sure there’s plenty of room for disagreement.  If you’re already subscribed to the digital version of the magazine, you can read the whole article: Measuring Modernity, or you can see the resulting map published at the World Values Survey Web site.  For that matter, you can get a slightly blurry scan of the Scientific American article in PDF format from the WVS site.  My fundamental point is that, again, a two-dimensional map yields far more useful information (and a much more complete basis for debate and analysis) than any one-dimensional line could hope to offer.  Assuming, of course, that any debaters accept the graphed space as being appropriate; if not, then the debate can’t even start.

At any rate, the process of going through these surveys helped me realize just how poorly the current public political debate maps to the real opinions people hold.  The two American political parties jockey for position on the right/left spectrum, and the members of those parties try to move to the right or left of each other in an attempt to capture votes.  But what if what I want in a candidate is a particular placement along a y axis, not the usual x (right/left) axis?  The media just makes the situation worse, likely because simplistic right/left distinctions help keep news segments as short as possible.  Heaven forbid they should actually try to capture the nuances of a candidate’s positions and opinions.  That would take time, and might demand that viewers actually think.

So if nothing else, my public political musings have led to the realization that I was being far too restricted in my own thinking about the whole topic, which was an intellectual failure on my part.  I sincerely hope that this realization will spur me to consider other topics with a similar level of sophistication.  It’s easy to get trapped into a limited view—often all too easy.  Fighting that temptation is an important step toward thinking more clearly and completely.

Slouching Toward The Middle

As you no doubt already know, I’ve been pondering liberalism and conservativism of late (feel free to tell me when it gets annoying), and the pondering if anything has deepened my uncertainty.  This all might well be an effect of the impending Preseidential election, which I studiously ignored until this month because I refuse to waste time on the process until the calendar year in which the actual election takes place.  That potential Presidents should waste the time, money, and energy to campaign for almost two years is simply ludicrous.

Anyway, one of the sites I drop by to read every now and again is Keith Burgin’s What A Butthole (apologies to anyone whose content filter just tripped an alarm).  Keith’s a conservative and makes no bones about it, and he’s not shy about holding forth.  He’s taken me to task on occasion for things I’ve said here on meyerweb, in fact, and I respect him quite a bit for that.  I may not agree with him, but I’m always glad to hear his point of view.  (I was hoping he’d have some book recommendations for me, but sadly, no soap.)  In a recent post telling Rush Limbaugh where to get off, Keith had this to say:

I have a very strong set of beliefs and a moral code . . .  Conservatism to me, is taking responsibility for your own life and the lives of your family. It’s teaching your children your moral code and being there to set them straight when they stray.

I don’t think of that as being conservative, I think of it as being a mature adult and productive member of society.  I can have and do all that and still consider myself a liberal, as it turns out.  But does that mean that one of us is wrong about what we are?  I’d say no, which I suppose shows my left-leaning tendencies.  Keith also lists five bullet points worth of his views, and as it turns out I agree with just over three of them, although when you break it down I fully agree with two points, half-agree with two more, and hold a related belief on the fifth.

I still don’t feel like I’m a conservative.  I have a strong ethical code, but I do not believe it to be the best code for everyone.  I don’t have a particular desire to return the country back to “the good old days,” largely because there never was such a thing.  I do not think change is inherently bad (how could I, in my line of work?).  Where does all that put me?  This is what I’m trying to figure out, of course, and why I was looking for good books from the conservative side of the bench.  It isn’t as though I’m going to pick a side and then become a party-line parrot.  I’d just like to know where I stand on the spectrum.  Is there a political-belief validator somewhere online?

For those who, like both Keith and myself, think that the federal government could do with less power than it has accrued, here’s an excellent if disturbing piece: Slouching Toward Big Brother.  I might quibble with a detail or two, but certainly not with the overall theme.  One line reminded me of something I said recently, and that apparently struck other people:

Security is a trade-off.

It’s all tradeoffs, really.  But some tradeoffs are far more serious than others.  My choice of font sizing is nothing compared to the choices between liberty and security.

Oh, and speaking of font sizing, check back tomorrow to see the site’s new change of clothes.

Maps and Miracles

Last week I asked for suggestions regarding a good book on the conservative perspective, and to date, I’ve had six responses.  Three were from conservatives making suggestions (none of which overlapped), two were from liberals recommending books they liked, and one was a request to share whatever I learned.  I would, except I don’t feel like I know enough to make any recommendations.  On the other hand, Valdis Krebs has created an interesting map of recent top-selling books in this area (spotted over at Brewed Fresh Daily).  Check out the white paper, which details the methodology for creating the map.  He doesn’t list Red, White & Liberal, but a quick check of its Amazon “also bought” list reveals that it links up with four red dots and one blue dot on Valdis’ map.  Interesting…

I just noticed that Matt Haughey lists meyerweb as a blog he reads, which is really rather cool.  I should return the favor, as I do drop by there every now and again.  I also notice that he has never visited Ohio, and is apparently of a mind to undertake a major road trip to fill in the voids in his lifetime itinerary.  Maybe I can get him to drop by for some tea and crumpets… or maybe some really good sushi, tasty Ethiopian, possibly some great chicken ‘n’ waffles.  Note that I’m not in any way responsible for the sites to which I just pointed; I sometimes think that there’s an inverse correlation between the quality of a restaurant’s cuisine and that of its Web site.  We can only hope the same is true of WWW2004, because the both the current and previous conference sites have been… substandard.  Sub-standards, in fact.

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Speaking of food, which I was, we’ve recently discovered halloumi, a truly miraculous Cypriot cheese that is a touch expensive but oh, so worth it.  You can literally put the stuff on a skewer and grill it without it melting, and the taste is if anything better than just eating the cheese straight.  The texture is amazing; the taste, divine.  If halloumi had been the manna dropped for the Israelites after they left Egypt, they’d never have left the desert.

And that leads me to a question I’ve always had, but never had answered to my satisfaction.  We’re all more or less familiar with the concept of a miracle, even though one can stretch its meaning around a bit.  But let’s take as a basis the definition that a miracle is a divine action in the mortal realm, a supernatural act of God.  Good enough?  Okay, here’s the question: what is the antonym of the word “miracle?”  The results from an online thesaurus weren’t really satisfying; they expressed either an absence of miracles, or else simple bad luck.  Neither of those is quite what I’m after.  In other words, if God performs miracles, what does the devil perform?  (Sorry, “atonal symphonies” is two words.)

Familial Extensions

Congratulations to new uncle Tantek Çelik, who correctly identified his nephew via CSS selectors, not that his accuracy comes as any surprise.  There are some great pictures to be seen as well.  Family additions seem to be in the air of late, and it’s a very welcome trend.

On that same note, today is the first day that domestic partners (either hetero- or homosexual) can register their status with the city of Cleveland Heights.  Ours is the first domestic-partner registry in America to have been created by voter approval; 55% of city voters in November cast their ballots in favor of the registry.  You can read more about the effort and aims of this registry at Heights Families For Equality, which spearheaded the drive to put the issue on the ballot.  (Equal time: Cleveland Heights Families First Initiative, the primary opposing organization.)  It’s sort of odd to have this registry launching just as the Ohio Legislature has passed a Defense of Marriage Act, declaring gay marriage against the “strong public policy” of the state.  But life is rarely consistent.

I did hear an interesting criticism of the registry this morning, which is that it may create the illusion of rights that don’t actually exist.  For example, if a domestic-partner couple assumes that the registry confers inheritance rights, then a surviving partner may be very unpleasantly surprised.  In other words, get your wills in order, and don’t rely on the registry.  This is just good sense anyway—Kat and I made sure our wills are clear on that score, instead of relying on our married status—but it’s a timely reminder to make sure you understand what rights you do or don’t have, and act to fill any gaps you discover.

I dropped by Derek’s site after linking to it and noticed a link to this amusing, if slightly strange, Presidential transcript.  The opening line has kept me chuckling all morning:

THE PRESIDENT: I need some ribs.

It’s definitely a situation where I wish there were an audio copy, or at least tonal annotations, because the whole scene reads one way if you assume the President’s tone throughout to be serious and earnest, and another if you assume it to be joking and jovial.  Personally, I assume the latter, which still makes the whole thing read kind of like a “Kids in the Hall” sketch.

Left to Right

I had a very strange dream last night in which Bill Clinton had died of a heart attack in December 2000, just a few weeks short of the end of his presidency.  And before any far-right Republicans in the crowd start writing me mail congratulating me on having what they consider to be a pleasant dream, I should point out that his death came up because some friends and I were talking about how that event had provided an early start to President Gore’s first term in office.

Politics have been on my mind recently, probably because I finished reading a couple of political books recently.  The first was Al Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, a Christmas gift from a friend of mine.  I was moderately disappointed with most of the book, unfortunately.  The chapters on Ann Coulter didn’t tell me much that I hadn’t already read on Spinsanity (speaking of which, they have an analysis of the book), and the stuff about Bill O’Reilly wasn’t all that interesting to me since it didn’t tell me anything about O’Reilly I didn’t already know.  Furthermore, the bulk of the book was too vitriolic for my liking, with one exception.  The chapter on Paul Wellstone’s death and memorial service was outstanding—powerfully written, largely free of authorial vitriol, and in many places quite moving.  If the rest of the book had been like that, I’d have loved it.

The second book was Alan Colmes’ Red, White, and Liberal: How Left is Right & Right is Wrong, a text that was far more balanced than the subtitle might suggest.  (Think of “How” as “The Ways in Which” instead of just dropping it.)  I liked this book much better, although I suspect Al Franken, who refers to Alan Colmes as Colmes throughout his book, might not.  Red, White, and Liberal was intelligent, passionate, and was devoid of gratuitous character assassination.  Some criticism of behavior and speech, certainly, but there was no name-calling, even with regard people who probably deserved it.

Of course, as an “admitted liberal” (which I hope will get me a lighter sentence, yerhonor) I was pre-disposed to enjoy the book, but reading it also helped me realize why I’m a liberal.  Much of it I already knew, but reading the book also brought out some things I’d subconsciously realized or decided, but never brought to the surface.  The tone of the book definitely helped.  It also made me wonder if there was a similar case being made for the conservative point of view.

So, for those of you on the right who happen to be dropping by, I’d like to make a request.  If you know of any books that lay out, intelligently and passionately, the case for conservativism in modern America, and does so without name-calling or character assassination of those on the left, could you please send me your recommendations?  It doesn’t have to treat liberals with reverence, obviously.  I just don’t have time for a book that says, in essence, “Right-wing thinking self-evidently correct; left-wing thinking is the product of morons and the media elite” for a few hundred pages.  In other words, if you were thinking of suggesting anything written by Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh, please don’t bother wasting your time or mine.  I’m looking for an author who acknowledges that liberals want what’s best for the country and happen to differ in their approach and ideals.  An author who doesn’t center the text around “the liberal media” would be a major bonus, since I don’t accept that the media is inherently liberal.  There’s too much evidence to the contrary (and note that I’m not saying the media is conservative, either), although I’m willing to read a chapter or two on why they think it is.

Bear in mind that, due to my temperament and experiences, I am going to be a tough sell on the right-wing point of view.  That’s okay.  I think it’s important that I at least understand it, and I want to get my information from someone who has that view and can argue it well without demonizing the left.

(Addendum: a commitment to factual accuracy is very important in any recommended book, so please take that into account when suggesting something.  I can accept occasional errors, as will any reasonable author, but not a consistent and cavalier disregard for the facts and their context.)

The Fix Is In

I feel kind of honored whenever I find out a browser’s been altered (hopefully fixed) as a result of something I’ve done.  Check out point (20) in Dave Hyatt’s recent Safari progress update.  Glee!  I could also feel good about point (19), which I reported as a bug a while back, but I apparently they’d known about it long before I noticed it.  To see that bug in action, drop by the XFN profile document.

My optimism on Sunday regarding Libya may have been misplaced, it seems—or was it?  It’s hard to tell, and CNN isn’t much help, since it’s provided information on both sides of the fence.  In a summation article regarding an interview Gadhafi gave to CNN, it was stated:

Asked about his decision, Gadhafi acknowledged that the Iraq war may have influenced him, but he insisted he wanted to focus on the “positive.”

For that matter, the title of the article was “Gadhafi: Iraq war may have influenced WMD decision.”  That was on Monday.  I went looking for a full transcript, because I wanted to see exactly what was said, but didn’t find one.  When I went back again to look on Tuesday, the article had been updated and did not contain the above paragraph.  It instead stated:

Asked about his decision to dismantle programs and whether the Iraq war or the capture of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein may have influenced him, Gadhafi questioned why Iraq had to be his role model.

The title had been updated as well, now to “Gadhafi hopes for new era of U.S.-Libya relations.”  Still no transcript.

Notice that in neither case was Gadhafi’s answer on the subject of the war’s influence actually quoted.  So in the absence of video of that segment of the interview, or else a detailed transcript, I’m left wondering just what the hell he really said, and whether or not I should retract some of the things I said on Sunday.

So I’ll punt on the whole thing, and just share The Hoser with everyone.  Merry Christmas, eh?

Out Of The Cradle

As someone who studied 20th Century geopolitics in college, I’m quite fascinated by the latest news from Libya, which I had long assumed would only change course when Gadhafi left office (one way or the other).  To see a leader—any leader—take such steps is quite frankly astonishing; I feel like next thing will be Kim Jong-Il announcing that the whole nuclear-weapons inspection problem there was a big misunderstanding and he’d really like to get it all cleared up so McDonald’s can start opening some Pyongyang branches.

I’m even more fascinated by two things that will probably raise my Total Information Awareness rating for even mentioning them:

  1. The willingness of the Bush administration to support IAEA inspections in Libya (and Iran) when it denounced them as being useless in Iraq.  What’s the difference, I wonder?
  2. It would appear that, given enough patience, economic sanctions do in fact work, contrary to the administration’s claims when building a case for attacking Iraq.  You have to be in it for the long haul, but in the end they pay off.  After all, it seems that the sanctions imposed on Libya in the late Eighties were a motivating force in Gadhafi’s recent decisions.  Not the threat of attack, which Libya hasn’t faced from the U.S. since Reagan left office.  Just plain old exclusion from the global economy.  (Dissenters might point to Cuba as proof that this isn’t true, except Cuba is only excluded from the American economy, not the global economy.)

I’m not seeking to excuse Libya’s role in the downing of Pan Am 103, but then I could hardly do so: they admitted to it earlier this year, and explained their motivations.  Whether or not I agree with them is beside the point I’m trying to make here.  The real point, at least to me, is that Libya is on a course that I could hardly have imagined a week or two ago.  It gives me a smidgen of hope that humanity might be a little more grown-up than I tend to believe.

My deepest wish is that this starts a change in the way diplomacy is conducted in the future, and how nations choose to deal with the skeletons in their closets.  Right next to that is my hope that America responds to these moves positively and with a willingness to negotiate, to compromise if necessary.  We have to leave behind poisonous concepts like “unconditional surrender” and start working with leaders who want to act responsibly.  Given the increasing ease with which massively destructive weapons can be created, the future of humanity could very well depend on it.

Now That’s A Switch

From macosxhints, via xlab: how to restore Mac OS X to a little more sanity in the form of switching the keyboard shortcuts for “New Folder” and “New Finder Window.”  Contrary to the tip’s assertion, you will need to restart the Finder for the change to take effect, but it does indeed work.  Also, since the tip is somewhat ambiguous about what you should have in your com.apple.finder.plist file when you’re done, here’s what I have:

<key>NSUserKeyEquivalents</key>
<dict>
	<key>New Finder Window</key>
	<string>@$N</string>
	<key>New Folder</key>
	<string>@N</string>
</dict>

Those seven simple lines are all it took to remove one of my last major complaints about OS X: now I can hit cmd-N and get a new folder instead of a new Finder window.  I shed a tear of joy.  All I have to do is figure out what to hack so all of my new windows open in minimized List view, and I’ll be pretty much golden.

(As I also discovered, you can alter your shortcuts with TinkerTool‘s “Menu Shortcuts” panel, but I prefer directly hacking the OS.  It makes me feel all tough and manly.)

Now for a tear or two of sorrow.  Thanks to Jeffrey Zeldman, I went and read the New Yorker article about post-conflict Iraq, “War After the War.”  I’m pointing to the printer-friendly version, which should be a lot easier on the eyes than the narrow-column main article.  It’s a disturbing, disheartening piece that will likely not go over well with many in the right wing of the audience, but not because it’s slanted left.  It isn’t.  It’s a factual, first-hand report of what’s going on, in detail and from the mouths of soldiers and diplomats, in Iraq.  Some of those mouths are already stilled forever.

The personal downside is that, if you read the article all the way through—and it’s a long, involved piece, so don’t expect to rip through it in five minutes—you may have the same reaction I did, which is an almost overwhelming mixture of sorrow, anger, frustration, and helplessness.  Even worse, I’m not sure anything can be done at this point; even replacing the current administration would likely be too little, too late… and that assumes that the Democrats put up someone I would regard as a better choice than Bush, which is by no means assured.

Meanwhile, the sister-in-law of a friend of ours just got shipped to Iraq on almost no advance notice.  This person is a member of a National Guard unit that was classified “non-deployable.”  Whether or not such a distinction should exist, apparently it did.  Now the unit is being deployed, the very thing she was told would never happen, which is the only reason she decided to enlist; she has a husband and three children that she had no intention of leaving even temporarily.  When I hear such things, it makes me wonder if maybe the news from Iraq is more positive than the situation warrants.  Why else would the military choose to deploy a “non-deployable” unit?  That’s the sort of act I associate with desperation.

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