Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Who Sez?

The following excerpts were listed from a posting by David Brin. Can you guess who said what and about which conflict?
  • "No goal, no objective, not until we have those things and a compelling case is made, then I say, back out of it, because innocent people are going to die for nothing. That's why I'm against it." -Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/5/99
  • "If we are going to commit American troops, we must be certain they have a clear mission, an achievable goal and an exit strategy." -Karen Hughes, speaking on behalf of presidential candidate George W. Bush
  • "You think Vietnam was bad? Vietnam is nothing next to Kosovo."-Tony Snow, Fox News 3/24/99
  • "Well, I just think it's a bad idea. What's going to happen is they're going to be over there for 10, 15, maybe 20 years" -Joe Scarborough (R-FL) (Um... the Balkans intervention was a textbook case of Pax Americana police action that swiftly got transferred to effective and localized peacekeeping forces.)
  • "I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our overextended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today"-Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)
  • "Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?" -Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99
  • "Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is." -Governor George W. Bush (R-TX) (How about an exit strategy called “Go in with a good plan, use overwhelming force and skill, win quick, hand over to local cops, and get out within a year?)

A hint: it wasn't about Iraq.

Give up?

These comments were made about the Kosovo conflict, an operation the US, in fact, performed with precision, speed, and effectiveness. And the US are not in the Balkans now.

As for who said what, just highlight each paragraph. Especially the last one.

NOW it's about Iraq!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Ethan Zuckerman: the WorldChanging Interview

As part of their 'retro' week, Worldchanging has just reissued this interview with Ethan Zuckerman.

Zuckerman has some very insightful things to say about the blogosphere and its role in the developing world:
"The community of people who blog right now are largely wealthy, white European and American technocrats. The stories that come out of the community and tend to get amplified tend to be stories having to do with having to do with technology and American politics." -EZ
Mea culpa.

(I also like the story of how the people of Ghana ensured that the 2000 election was kept clean!)
"The coping strategy that everyone came up with was fascinating. It basically involved cellphones and talk radio. What happened is guys would go out to polling places with their cellphones, they'd see someone obstructing access to the polls, and then they'd call a talk radio station and describe what was going on. That put enough pressure on the police that they had to show up and investigate. It proved remarkably effective." -EZ
I missed this first time round. So, thankyou Alex for the reminder, and I invite you, dear reader, to not repeat my error.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Sheehan Effect

Oh, Cindy! What you say be true!
Else why dey telling lies 'bout you?

Which is to say, don't look at Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside the Bush ranch for the real story.

Watch the watchers.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Monkey and the Maiden

Update: it turned out that the 'helping strand' (Pastafarianism, or whatever IDer is driving this silliness) hadn't quite finished: I felt that there needed to be a bit more interaction between M & M. So, in the spirit of 'tinker' tinker', I've made some changes, as indicated)
I have what could be best described as 'clathrate trouble': a rich diet of information from Worldchanging and social speculation from David Brin has caused my subconscious to begin bubbling in a manner reminiscent of a warming Siberian peat bog (it's the methane).

What sparked this was an article on hybrid vehicles and how people are tweaking and improving their toys to improve mileage (solar powered Priuses?). Simultaneously, I was following Brin's discussion of the 'culture war' and observations of how mature outlooks can harness both sides of the conservative/progressive divide to produce a better outcome

The two influences have led to this outgassing:

The Monkey and the Maiden

Tinker, tinker, clever monkey!
Sprung from brow? Yer gunna flunkee!

Poor, full formed, and girt, Athena
tried to change: you shoulda seen her!

Maid to monkey: 'Where'd *you* come from?'
'Never thought: I'll ask around some!'

Monk to maid: 'Hey! Don't you know all?'
Asking questions? Horrors! Downfall!!

Athena's since got much, much freer:
admits to error thrice a year!

And monkey? Now he's built his cart,
can see a better place to start!
- Tony Fisk

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Flu! Are You Ready?

Your attention please! You can do something about this!

You've probably heard all about it: a big 'flu epidemic is overdue, and is likely to happen in the next year or two. So what does that mean to you? A greater number of sneezes next winter?

What should it mean to you?

Consider this. Flu kills.

Even the standard A-types that can make your life a misery carry off a noticeable fraction of the population each year, and the strain that's brewing in the bird population of SE Asia (and now the Russian steppes) isn't your standard A-type 'flu.

Oh, well? Have to get a flu shot, then. Dream on! There are no stocks of vaccine for this one. It will take far longer to develop them than it would for an outbreak to spread.

If WHO were to be warning about an outbreak of Ebola, you might sit up a little more. After all, Ebola is a particularly nasty way to go. But, while it's infectious, that's only in close proximity.

Now, what if the warnings were about bubonic plague? Is that scarier?.

OK then, how about this: a New Scientist editorial made a simple but grim calculation. If 1 in 3 people are infected (as typically happens with 'flu in any given year), and if the fatality rate for the avian 'flu is 75% (as it currently stands), then that points to a possible fatality rate of 1 in 4.

That's Black Death territory. Indeed, there is a certain school of thought that suggests that the Death wasn't bubonic plague at all. The spread patterns don't match the known outbreaks nearly as well as... 'flu!

And, when the storm does break and a human transmissible form does arise, all it takes is for each new case to spawn slightly less than 2 more cases. With a world population of six billion (2 raised to the power 35), and an incubation period of 2 days, it could require no more than 2 x 35, or 70 days (2 months) to infect the entire world population. A plausible scenario, given the ease of travel these days.

That's right: avian 'flu could be every bit as spreadable, contagious and fatal as the most devastating plague in recorded history.

Even the Spanish 'flu of 1917-18 had a fatality rate of 'only' 5%. It killed more people than the Great War preceding it.

Do I have your attention yet?

Good! Because that was the bad news.

The good news is that there are things that can and are being done. While it would be nice to have a comfortable stockpile of vaccine, there are things that scientists and health authorities can do to monitor likely spread that were unthinkable even a decade ago.

And, as I said at the start, there are things that you can do, too.

Things such as :
  • reading this WorldChanging posting and associated links
  • following the practical advice it contains about practices that minimise spread.
  • starting to practise that advice now (eg remembering to blow into your elbow rather than your hands isn't something you want to be learning too late)
  • take WorldChanging's advice (as I am doing) and spread the message on your own blog, chat room, whatever. (Remember, all it takes is for 2 people to propagate your message...)
Finally, take heart in that what I've painted above is a hypothetical, intentionally alarmist, worst case scenario that will only happen if we let it.

If we rely on central authorities to work it all out for us.

If we panic when we realise, too late, that the problem is beyond them.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Notes on Framing

Since I've been ranting about reframing ID, I suppose it makes sense to put down some thoughts about what 'framing' is.

NB: I'm not an expert in this. I'm only presenting this to give you the gist of how your hearts and minds can be swayed, and to give terms by which you can express the frustration at how some quite ridiculous notions appear to be gaining public support. For a more in depth discussion, I refer you to George Lakoff's book 'Don't think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate'.

So, with profuse apologies to the course presenter to who's notes I'm interpreting, here we go:
In his discussions on Oration, Socrates defined three modes of address:
  • Logos (appeal to reason)
  • Pathos (appeal to emotion)
  • Ethos (appeal to belief)
These modes represent an insight, not on how your argument is delivered, but how it is likely to be received. It is important to realise that.

Quite often, when you are developing a presentation, you will be discussing it internally (especially if you're the shy introverted, geeky type, like YT). While good for defining the logical structure of your argument, this risks falling into the trap of presenting it to yourself, in terms that persuade you, not those whom you're addressing.

Unfortunately, this mode of address (logos), while it is essential for backing up your case with facts and figures, is a complete turn off to the audience. It is too abstract to engage the forebrain.

What does make people sit up and take notice is the appeal to emotion: a sense of the dramatic. You probably realise from writing classes that a good story always started with a bang! What holds for a story also holds for a debate. Indeed, it is a good idea to think of it as a story! By presenting your 'fact and figures' as characters in a play, you will be able to engage your audience far more effectively.

Where does 'ethos' fit in? Systems of belief are effectively immutable (oh, they might change over time, but the process is relatively slow). A good argument will handle this by avoiding any references that may impinge on the beliefs of the audience, and milk any cases it can make that supports those beliefs.

Which brings us to 'framing'.

What happens here is that the orator seeks to impose filters on the discussion so that the audience hears the argument presented in ways that make them inclined to agree with her. This is done by:
  • presenting all your supporting arguments in a manner that appeals to pathos (and ethos, if you can)
  • presenting all opposing arguments in ways that trangress ethos.

What is truly subversive about a well framed argument is that the technique works on the opposition as well! They may not end up agreeing with, but they will find it frustrating that they don't seem to have an effective argument.

Take the 'debate' currently being waged on 'Intelligent Design'. The proponents don't present facts, they present a case that someone is taking care of things: a comforting thought to anyone raised in even a marginally religious background. They claim that ID and NS are both 'theories' (a qualitative, if naive, comparision), and therefore should be given equal time. Simultaneously, the so-called 'wedge' document portrays scientific teaching as undermining morality. (Horror! How can something that undermines morality be defended?)

So, how have they framed the debate?
  • They present an idea with *appeal*.
  • They portray the alternative as 'just an idea' as well.
  • They portray the backers of the opposing idea as immoral
How is it being countered? By facts! Learned rebuttals that flagellates can be modelled in fewer steps than the IDer guys and gals claim. Dignified sniffs that ID isn't scientific because it can't be disproved. Scientists and geeks may follow this, but the average being on the Clapham omnibus?


Simple naysaying this stuff is precisely what a framed argument anticipates, and only serves to strengthen its underlying appeal to the audience. Indeed, all the IDers really want at the moment is attention. They have succeeded.

To many readers, there may well seem to be something not quite honest about this. Especially since that traditional basis of a scholarly debate: logos, has been relegated to the back benches. In truth, logos is critical for underpinning and backing an argument: indeed, it is likely to be the very thing that persuaded you to take up the cause in the first place! However, logos isn't so good on the initial offence. You need ethos to 'shock and awe'. The justifications can be used to hold the ground you gain afterwards.

Framing is a powerful tool of persuasion, and it is being used effectively by those whom I have lumped under the banner : 'Culture of Lief'

But it is only a tool, one that can be used by anyone, and which can be used to counter itself ('reframing')

For a discussion on how this can be achieved (and for examples other than ID), I refer you to
Nick Carney's article in New Matilda. who also refers to George Lakoff's book.

It's a pity the Democrats didn't

Friday, August 12, 2005

How to Reframe the ID Debate

[Updated, Jan 23, 2006. Additional material is marked like this]
Intelligent Design: I am (surprise) no great fan of it.

And the creeping fundamentalism from the Culture of Lief continues: not only does George W let drop that he is (surprise) in favour of it being taught in schools 'so that children know what the debate is about', but Australian ministers are coming out of the closet to announce the same thing.

How long before it hits prime time?

But it's reasonable, isn't it? It could be that pan dimensional superbeings are tweaking the more complicated aspects of evolution.

Read the fine print: ID should have equal footing with natural selection? The latter has been knocked and battered for one and half centuries, whereas the former is being pushed as a palatable alternative by practitioners of 'ratchet' logic (rhymes with...).

But that's the nature of framing the argument: place constraints on the wording so that your opponent has no option but to reply in ways you select. Even if your opponent seeks to deny outright your propositions, it serves only to draw attention to them.

And a few more followers join the cause.

Meanwhile, that relentless ratchet: all take, no give.

You don't fight this head on. Instead you go with the flow, reframing the argument as you do so.

So, to anyone who find themselves having to present ID to impressionable young minds, ignore the above rant. Instead, consider these suggestions on how to make sure that said minds can, indeed, view both propositions impartially and form their own opinions:
  • since both propositions are presented as scientific principles, make sure that there is familiarity with the basics of scientific method: observe, hypothesize, prove.
  • introduce the concept of Occam's Razor
  • for good measure, introduce its counterpart: Crabtree's Bludgeon ('no set of data, however disparate, exists which cannot be accounted for in a coherent manner'). [wiki stub is mine]
  • discuss the above in relation to the biblical commandments: in particular the one about not taking the word of God in vain (commandment #2)
  • when discussing each hypothesis, ensure that the historical development of each is covered.
  • Consider how things that did not have an explanation now do (eg the structure of the eye)
  • [Investigate items that could be considered 'bad' design. Discuss why they might be considered bad, and consider ways they might be improved upon (New Scientist ran a competition on this topic, if you want some inspiration.)]
  • Once you have covered both topics, ask for reviews on how the proponents of each conjecture seek to advance them. [Copies of 'The Wedge Document' may be of interest here]
  • Ask which is more honest with the audience.
Openness: the light just keeps on shining through!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Ground Zero

Originally uploaded by arf.
This has nothing to do with Hiroshima day (although it was taken on August 6).

However, the building in the photo does have a certain significance: it is set at the geographic centre of Melbourne (est. 2003)

How this is determined is presumably by population weighting, since the site is in Ferndale Park, Glen Iris: about 10 km east of the CBD. (to be picky, the trig. point is actually behind the telegraph pole on the left.)

And the building? A public toilet.

I suppose a 'thunderbox' is kind of appropriate...

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Happy Blogday

According to the date on my first posting, It's been a year since I took my first steps into the 'blogosphere'.

The experience has been pretty satisfying (after all, I'm still doing it!). It was intended to get my thoughts down and out in the open: thereby dragging me out of a funk. It achieved that, although I think the openness is a bit contrived since I know my audience is about zero (most of those counter hits being google searches which aren't followed up)
(I would like to know who occasionally has been doing searches for 'Tony Fisk', though!)

Not to worry. Here's to the next year!