June 2nd, 2004

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Well, *that's* not good...

Hmm. Okay, I'm not imagining it: my friends list is coming in semi-random order today. I skip back 20, 40, 60 entries and I'm seeing duplications all over the place. It isn't even showing up in order within a single page: when I have skip=60 set, I'm seeing entries slopping back and forth between May 31st and June 1st, over about a 24 hour period.

Anyone else seeing this? Have we heard anything about DB instability on the site? I despise missing entries on my friends list, so this well and truly sucks...
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On "Flip-Flopping"

I was glancing at the news this morning, and saw yet another reference to the Bush strategy against Kerry: to portray him as a "flip-flopper". And it occurs to me to wonder what this says about the electorate that this strategy makes sense.

I mean, consider the facts. Kerry is a "flip-flopper" in two specific senses:

-- He often takes a fairly nuanced stance on issues. He tends not to be blindly for or against things; rather, he tends to take a very middle-ground position in most cases, and precisely what he says depends on precisely what he's asked.

-- He occasionally changes his mind. I can blame him a bit for not being willing to say that in as many words, but modern American politics are bizarrely harsh on people who do so. But y'know, I have a lot more respect for someone who can change his mind from time to time, instead of sticking to a decision through thick and thin, regardless of later-revealed facts.

In other words, "flip-flopper" is being used as code for "moderate". This is apparently contrasted with words like "bold" and "decisive", which are being used as code for "extremist". I mean, Bush is drawing a very true contrast here. Whereas Kerry generally strives for the political center, Bush is constantly pushing towards the extremes: his views are in every respect more right-wing than any President in my lifetime. (He makes Reagan look like a weak-kneed liberal by comparison.) Whereas Kerry is constantly re-examining the landscape, Bush never changes his mind about anything, irrationally clinging to every decision, no matter how bad it turns out to have been in retrospect. (At best, he occasionally rationalizes that he has completed what he set out to do, and doesn't need to do that any more.)

Is Kerry a flip-flopper? Yes, if you use this definition. But y'know, if you're going to use that definition, a little flip-flopping is exactly what the US could use right now. And it depresses me to realize that a lot of people simply don't have the critical thinking skills to decode what's really being said here...
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On Passion

The previous posting aside, I'm slightly annoyed at Kerry for one thing: I dearly wish the man would get a little more passionate on the campaign trail. I mean, some of the stuff the Bush administration has been doing has been utterly heinous, not least the way Kerry himself has been getting abused, and Kerry just blandly takes it. And the worst of it is the realization that he's probably doing exactly the right thing politically.

I think it was siderea who observed a while back that our culture has become deeply suspicious of enthusiasm, and nowhere is that more apparent than in modern politics. Any politician who should dare to commit the sin of being passionate about something is immediately castigated in the press. Howard Dean's campaign was torpedoed largely due to a moment of unbridled enthusiasm. Al Gore, who last week did actually allow himself to get honestly angry about the horrors being committed today, was immediately ridiculed for it in the press. It's almost a knee-jerk reaction -- passion is somehow translated as a complete lack of control, something to be pitied or scorned.

And look at what that has gotten us. We have a President whose public self-control verges on the sociopathic. We have politicians who only feel safe speaking in code, and who hide their passions in under-the-surface agendas. We have a press that is unwilling to point out when the Emperor has no clothes. We have an entire society that is locking itself in the closet, unwilling to admit that it actually *cares* about this stuff, or indeed about anything at all.

I half wonder if it's actually related to the drug war. Consider: this extreme public dispassion comes at a time when the abstinence meme has really taken hold. I genuinely believe that particular meme to be deeply harmful, because it is fundamentally immoderate -- it paints the world in terms of Good (things you must do) and Bad (things you absolutely must not do), with little recognition of the gulf of middle ground in between.

The public attitude towards passion seems much like the politically-correct attitude towards drugs: something to abstain from, rather than something to use moderately. And that's downright unhealthy. When we teach people that the world is black and white, when it so manifestly is not, that failure of reality-checking amounts to nothing less than lying to ourselves...