Today’s events have got me thinking, and I’d like to share my thoughts.
Before I start, I want to point out a deliberate editorial choice on my part. I am going to lump together the Republican Party, the “American Right”, the “Religious Right”, the “Tea Party”… in other words, what one might hastily refer to as “the right wing”… as “Conservative.” Note the capitalization. I am doing this because American Conservatism, as a brand, is anything but conservative (small “c”). There are many reasons why, but one big one is that conservatism, in the Burkean/Oakeshottean sense, is very much AGAINST rigid ideology. And that rigid ideology is what I want to talk about.
I want to start with an example of what many Conservatives would regard as a “liberal” cause: the legalization of marijuana. Most of the people I’ve read on the Internet who argue in favor of marijuana legalization also argue for a regulatory structure for the production and sale of the plant. Of course there are people who want no restrictions whatsoever, but these people are not the ones writing the initiatives and the bills that get voted on. Any time the issue is treated with any seriousness (which is rare, but getting less so), it’s discussed in the context of legalization with regulation. That’s moderate, right? That’s reasonable, I think.
Now contrast this with, say, the anti-abortion movement. This is one of the banner social issues for Conservatives. And their position is absolutist: no abortions under ANY circumstances. Paul Ryan (you know who he is) is opposed to any abortion, in any trimester, for any reason. He also, by the way, wants to outlaw birth control. Now, let’s just stop right there. If you were seeking to “reduce the number of abortions” being sought and performed, how would you go about doing it? Well for starters, how about making sure people have access to safe, effective birth control? I think that would help. How does outlawing birth control jibe with reducing the number of abortions? Conservatives are also having conniptions over the ACA (Obamneycare). I tweeted about this within the last month; I read a blog by an American Catholic woman who had lived in Canada for a few years. She was initially horrified about living under their “socialist, atheist” healthcare regime, but after having several children under that system, she “saw the light.” She saw that by providing free access to pre-natal care, free access to trained mid-wifes (wives?), free access to all of the resources a new mother might want, as well as 50 weeks of paid maternity leave (for EITHER parent!!!), Canada has created a culture where, even with abortion being legal, they have significantly lower rates of abortion than we do in the U.S. A young mother does not have to face the terrifying prospect of financial ruin if she becomes pregnant. She, and her baby, will be taken care of.
Now what is the lesson here? Why do Conservatives in America so vehemently oppose universal health care, by whatever means it may be achieved? Don’t they see that doing so is actually working AGAINST their efforts to reduce abortions? Don’t they see that opposing birth control (and making a spurious religious argument about it to boot) is counter-productive? Well of course they don’t. Because they aren’t really interested in reducing abortions. What they really want to do is reduce SEX. They want to control what people do in the privacy of their own homes and in the privacy of their most intimate human relationships. This is the vision of America that is most noxious to me and to a great many people who would otherwise be sympathetic to the idea of creating SOME restrictions on abortion. But can we have a reasoned, productive discussion about this? No, what we get is scary talk about the evils of socialism, and death panels. Death panels. Thank you Mrs. Palin for helping to elevate the discussion.
If I felt passionately about reducing abortions, my approach would be to put EVERYTHING on the table. Let’s find practical solutions that have been demonstrated in other countries to reduce the rate of abortions: birth control, sex education that actually talks about SEX and not the farce that is abstinence education (demonstrated time and again to be utterly ineffective at reducing teen pregnancy as well as the rate of abortion), and yes, universal health care, if only for newly-expectant mothers! How about that? Medicare for Moms! How about using public funding to promote a culture of adoption in this country? There are so many ways to go about this that would actually be productive and move this country forward on the issue instead of keeping us at the impasse we’ve been at for years.
And now I shall address gun control, a subject that has sadly been pushed onto the front pages of newspapers and news websites yet again. If I felt passionately about “protecting 2nd Amendment rights” (and I put that in quotes because I think there is a legitimate conversation to be had about the actual meaning of the 2nd amendment as opposed to what the Roberts Supreme Court says), I would ALSO advocate strongly for their responsible use. I would ALSO advocate strongly for keeping guns out of the hands of people who really shouldn’t have them. I would ALSO advocate strongly for public funding of mental health programs to keep the crazies off the street and in treatment. I would ALSO advocate for early education programs which have been shown time and time again to keep kids in school and out of gangs, resulting in lower crime rates. How many millions of dollars does the NRA spend on lobbying for the absolutist position of unrestricted gun rights? Don’t they see how counter-productive that is? Moderate people, like me, who don’t believe the government should take away all the guns, have a hard time with what the NRA does. They have made the topic absolutely toxic and off the table for discussion.
This I think is the source of the frustration that centrist and liberal Americans have with these issues and that results in so much snark. You don’t say “this is my goal” and then systematically shut down any discussion of ways to achieve that goal. Life is not black or white. Life is not either/or. And life sure as hell ain’t “my way or the highway.”
Now you may argue that the left does this too. Social Security has been called “the third rail of politics” for a reason, and that reason largely has to do with demagoguery on the subject by the left. Medicare too. But I ask you: when did President Obama declare Social Security to be off the table? When did he say that Medicare must remain untouched? Well never, I’d guess, since the ACA actually does address Medicare solvency through the ACA’s cost control measures among other things.
It has often been said that the best Republican president in recent memory has been Bill Clinton. Think of all the stuff that happened under Clinton that Republicans had been pushing for for YEARS: welfare reform, NAFTA, further deregulation of the financial industry (thanks Bill! Credit default swaps, anyone?)… the list goes on. It never fails to amaze me how the Republicans are singularly capable of refusing to accept “yes” for an answer. Obama came into office willing to work with the GOP and put everything on the table. What he got for his “naivetee” was Senator McConnell declaring that his number one legislative priority was to deny Obama ANY legislative successes whatsoever. But I digress. I really didn’t want this to become about Obama. It’s about the intransigence of Conservatives, and the utter frustration that I feel as a result. That frustration is perfectly summed up in a tweet that I recently saw and retweeted, which said, “the worst thing about the modern Republican Party is how they force millions of us to vote for Democrats.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
That’s why I’ll be pulling the lever for the D’s come November. I want to have a discussion about entitlements; I want to have a discussion about marriage equality; I want to have a discussion about adoption rights for same-sex couples; I want to have a discussion about universal health care; I want to have a discussion about true energy independence; I want to have a discussion about the very real and dangerous threat that is anthopogenic global climate change. And I refuse to accept “no” for an answer.
“But at every point, Romney has surrendered to the fringe of his party. Weak. And now in his first tough encounter with Barack Obama, Romney is being shoved around again. This is not what a president looks like – anyway, not a successful president.” – David Frum
Hey, Washington Post, do you know how easy it is to program your website to recognize what kind of browser I’m using? Hint: it’s really easy! So why is that you are showing me this:
…even though I’m using the the most up-to-date version of Google Chrome… ON A MAC?!!!
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This had some amazing ideas about language that tied into ancient history (Sumerians!), most of which were presented in the middle third of the book. Unfortunately, it didn’t really add up to much in the end. The whole story resolved in a fairly standard action-oriented way, unlike William Gibson’s Neuromancer, to which Snow Crash is often compared.
Facebook’s recent announcements regarding their “Timeline”, “Open Graph”, and “Frictionless Sharing” initiatives have again raised concerns about their attitudes toward privacy. It doesn’t help that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg declared in 2010 that “the age of privacy is over,” and this attitude is readily apparent in Facebook’s insidious infiltration of the Internet with their “Like” buttons, which track your activity even if you aren’t logged into Facebook! I won’t get into the technical details, but Nic Cubrilovic covers the issue quite well in his blog.
You may be wondering why Facebook does this. Facebook makes money by selling advertising in much the same way as NBC, People Magazine, and your local paper. The difference is that Facebook is able to offer advertisers something that mass media outlets cannot: they provide detailed information about all their users so that advertisements can be targeted only to the people who are likely to consume what’s being advertised. All of your connections with other people make up what is called a social graph. This information is compiled along with information about the articles you read, the music you listen to, the cat butt photos you find amusing, and everything else you do online to create a disturbingly accurate picture of “who you are.” This, in turn, is used to target advertising at you.
But wait, there’s more! Whenever you link your Facebook account to a third party’s website or application (such as Spotify or Farmville), ALL of your personal information is shared with that third party. And there are no limits to what that party can do with your information. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Many people are making money off of information about you, and in return you got to play Farmville. Was it worth it?
So now we turn to Google+. How is it different? Google certainly has the capacity to track everything you do much in the same way that Facebook does, but for now, Google claims that they do not compile data about its users in this way. But even if they did, I’m not entirely sure I’d be as bothered by it. Call me naive, but one of Google’s core principles is “don’t be evil,” and I believe they follow this as well as a multi-national mega-corporation can. More to the point, Google has been very forthcoming about what data it collects and how it uses it. Their botched launch of Google Buzz notwithstanding, I feel that Google has done a good job helping its users understand how information is shared, and giving users the tools and knowledge to control that sharing. Facebook, on the other hand, almost seems to go out of its way to make their privacy settings as confusing and opaque as possible. It also doesn’t help that they make drastic changes to the default privacy settings and behavior about every six months with no warning to their users.
So is this just a matter of picking your poison? I don’t think so. The deciding factor for me is the answer to the question, “what do I get out of it?” What do I get out of Facebook? Well, I have a nearly effortless way of sharing what I’m thinking and reading with a group of people who share similar things with me. And that’s it. I don’t use any of the Facebook “apps” because I want to avoid that third-party sharing issue. No one I know uses Facebook invites (or if they do, they don’t invite me anywhere!). I’m really not a fan of putting photos on there because of, again, nebulous language in their terms of service regarding ownership of photos uploaded to their servers. So, that’s about it.
And what do I get out of using Google’s products? So glad you asked! I’ve been using gmail for years, and I love it. I can’t imagine using anything else, and I really hope Google never gives me a reason to want to. Google Calendar is awesome; I can sync my Mac’s iCal program to it if I wanted to, but I don’t because the web-based interface is just as good (or close enough) as the iCal interface. Google Docs is quite nice; I’ve made several documents and spreadsheets with it over the years, and I rarely ever need to fire up Microsoft Office anymore. Ever heard of Google Voice? This is so cool, I can’t believe it doesn’t get more press. It has many uses (such as unifying all of your phone numbers under one number that directs calls where you want, or records incoming calls on voicemail and then transcribes them to email for you). I use it for making free calls from Canada to friends and family in the United States.
And now, of course, there’s Google+, which is like Facebook and Twitter combined, except it’s better than Facebook because it doesn’t have those annoying character limits on posts. It introduced* the idea of Circles so that you can target who you share things with. It is linked with their Picasa photo-sharing site, and it also has a unique feature called Hangouts that allows you to set up video chat rooms for one or more of your friends to join in; what a great tool for collaboration!
In short, I don’t mind if Google targets ads at me based on search terms, or based on the contents of my email, because I feel that I get so much in return from them, and it doesn’t cost me a penny. That’s a pretty good value proposition in my book. That combined with their clear privacy policies makes Google+ a far preferable choice over Facebook, which practically dares its users to leave with every new change and creepy initiative they announce. The time has come for me to accept their dare. I’m leaving Facebook.