Archive for January, 2011

The Office waves the white flag by bringing in Will Ferrell

January 27, 2011 2 comments

Perhaps proving that I am well on my way to stuffy ol’ adulthood, I was more perplexed than pleased by the news of Will Ferrell’s four-episode guest spot on The Office. Ferrell will appear during the story arc that sees off Michael Scott, adding some seemingly redundant hoopla to what was already going to be the highly publicized event of Steve Carell’s exit from the show.

Ferrell will appear not only in Carell’s final episode but in one more after that. It’s hard to see this as anything other than a panic move. Stunt casting of this magnitude can’t help but create the impression that the producers don’t have much faith in the show’s ability to hold an audience once Michael Scott isn’t at its center. That may or may not be true, but it’s absolutely the message they (or NBC) are sending. Unfortunately it’s one I happen to agree with.

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Categories: Pop Culture, TV

Public Polling and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (A nerd two-fer!)

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

On Twitter, Steve Silberman links to a new report showing that only 52% of Americans know that vaccines don’t cause autism. As another Twitterer points out, the veracity of online surveys is always tough to measure, since they tend to be self-selecting. But it raises another question for me, one I haven’t seen addressed very much: Does the very nature of polling people about empirical facts make them more likely to think that the topic is more subjective than it really is? That is, is there a Heisenberg effect in polling, whereby one cannot effectively measure public opinion without also shaping it?

A lot of noteworthy polls in the last few years fall into this category. The proven, incontrovertible facts about which the American public is regularly queried include whether anthropomorphic climate change is real and whether the President of the United States is a Muslim/Marxist/foreigner/take-your-pick. The so-called debate about autism fits more closely with the former subject than the latter, in that accepting the reality depends on at least a passing understanding of, and trust in, science. But all of these questions are about cold hard truths, not preferential matters like taxes or immigration policy.

Polling, however, is much more commonly deployed to gauge belief rather than knowledge. Is it possible that respondents make this association (polling = opinion) so easily, and so subtly, that when a question is posed to them in that format they naturally suspect the topic is a subjective one?

Of course, there are going to be hardcore true believers who need no such encouragement to cling to their conspiracy-addled worldviews. But many more people are bombarded by conflicting and disreputable information and unsure what to think. Could the very fact of continuing to ask whether humans cause climate change, or whether vaccines cause autism, introduce just enough doubt to grant the deniers broader acceptance than should be tolerable in an educated society?

I have no idea whether this is true or even plausible, but like I said it’s something I haven’t seen discussed, and I’d be curious to know if any studies have been done touching on it.

Bridges to Nowhere

January 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I suppose I don’t have anything against bipartisanship per se. Nor do I consider it a positive good in and of itself. It’s a helpful tool sometimes and a harmful one at others, mostly depending on who’s wielding it, like the Bible or Wikipedia. What I can’t understand or abide is the cult of Bipartisanship Uber Alles, and the notion of compromise as an end rather than a means, which is as empty as Evan Bayh’s suit.

The latest exercise in empty symbolism is a proposal that members of Congress should sit in one unified mass during the upcoming State of the Union address, rather than following the usual practice of Democrats on one side of the aisle and Republicans on the other. You can practically hear David Brooks’s heart fluttering like a 12-year old girl who’s just been given a pony wearing a Justin Bieber backstage pass around its neck.

So this is what the world looks like through beige-colored glasses. Guys, there’s still time to organize a pre-address singing of “Row Row Row Your Boat” in 535-part rounds. Okay, now just the junior senators!

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Violent rhetoric and free speech

January 9, 2011 2 comments

Many threads of debate have been winding through my Twitter feed today in the aftermath of yesterday’s tragedy in Arizona.  One that I’ve been particularly tangling with concerns the role played by the media and political climate, specifically the venomous hostility that’s de rigueur on much of the right. George Packer sums up the argument against “the ugliness to which our politics has sunk” in the New Yorker.  Over in Slate, Jack Shafer dismisses the notion that political speech might motivate violent behavior, specifically calling out Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, whose remarks have been much pored over in today’s coverage.

It’s obviously pointless to speculate on what motivated Jared Loughner’s rampage, especially until trained professionals are able to assess his clearly irregular psychological state.  It seems reasonable to presume that he was not guided by any rational political philosophy. To me, the question of whether vitriolic rhetoric inspired Loughner in any way is at best the third-most pressing issue raised by the incident, far behind 1) Our need to expand access to decent mental health care, and 2) Our unwillingness to have a serious conversation about responsible firearms regulation.

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January 7, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a short story I wrote last year. Copyright © 2011 by Andrew Daglas. Reprinted here by permission of me.

Categories: Personal