Category: Politics

Looking Like George Allen's America

Posted by Andrew on October 11th, 2006

A letter to the editor in this week's (Oct. 16) Newsweek:

Beyond George Allen's is-it-or-isn't-it racial slur "macaca," his venomous "welcome to America" dig at a Fairfax County-born American who just happens not to look like Allen seems to me more offensive and more indicative of his nativist leanings. I'm not sure why that zinger of Allen's hasn't gotten more media attention. With that one line he has illuminated his view of what America is. -- Sean Riley, Los Angeles, Calif.

To answer Riley's question, media attention has focused on "macaca" because the public imagination has minimal awareness of the continuing prevalence of racism, limiting it to such rare and blatant acts as utterances of the "N-word" (or its Tunisian equivalent). The struggle against racism is thereby deprived of social relevance and relegated to history -- a history that has largely been taught in black and white. Most Americans, including most reporters, have never been asked to rethink their racialized views of "what America is," and certainly have never come to grips with the exclusionary effects of those views on Asian Americans like S.R. Sidarth.

The Science Agenda

Posted by Andrew on October 3rd, 2006

A new political action committee, Scientists and Engineers for America, has committed itself to "electing public officials who respect evidence and understand the importance of using scientific and engineering advice in making public policy." Intellectual property and antitrust law don't seem to have made it onto the group's agenda, even though both are of critical importance to the nation's science policy and both have suffered in recent years at the hands of ideology and ignorance. From what I've seen of their "Bill of Rights for Scientists and Engineers," it also looks like they could use a legislative director. But their heart seems to be in the right place.

Jim Webb's Blind Spot

Posted by Andrew on September 17th, 2006

It turns out Jim Webb, Virginia's Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, has the same blind spot regarding Asian Americans that his opponent Sen. George Allen has. Today in a studio debate on Meet the Press, Webb reiterated his argument that whites, Latino/as, and Asian Americans are on a level playing field, and that diversity programs should benefit only African Americans:

African Americans are the only ethnic group in this country that have suffered from deliberate discrimination and exclusion by the government over generations. When this program expanded to the present-day diversity programs, where essentially every ethnic group other than Caucasians are included, then that becomes state-sponsored racism.

This is stuff and nonsense, of course -- and all the more inexcusable from the husband of an Asian American woman.

George Allen's Political Blind Spot

Posted by Andrew on August 30th, 2006

Some communities are effectively in a political blind spot, where not only their speech, but the very existence of their voice, is obscured and marginalized. They have difficulty finding an audience, not only because audience preferences are dominated by mainstream perspectives, but also because any potentially receptive listeners wouldn't know of the communities' perspectives or even think to look for them. Such communities cannot benefit from the Web's low entry barriers and search costs. If no one knows you're speaking, no one will look you up on Google, and certainly no one is going to link to your site, even if many people might actually be inclined to do so.

=> Read more!

Mandel on Saving Science from Politics

Posted by Andrew on July 29th, 2006

My recent posting on "An Inconvenient Truth" observes "the fundamental incompatibility between journalistic balance and peer review as organizing principles for the pursuit of truth, particularly in a field susceptible to domination by wealthy, self-interested speakers," and concludes that

In designing legal and technological structures to accommodate rather than silence scientists, we should therefore take care that such structures do not privilege journalistic balance and the norms of rhetoric over peer review and the norms of science.

How can public policy discourse make room for the norms of science? In a recent article, "Technology Wars: Mending the Failure of Democratic Discourse," Albany Law School Professor Greg Mandel examines the political and cultural settings in which conflicts about technology adoption and regulation take place.  On issues ranging from nuclear power to genetically modified foods, policymaking debates have remained polarized and deadlocked, even when there might be compromise positions that would be clearly preferable to both sides.  The debates have also tended to ignore or misuse scientific information:

=> Read more!

"An Inconvenient Truth": A Glimpse Under the Hood

Posted by Andrew on July 26th, 2006

Yesterday afternoon, Judy and I finally saw An Inconvenient Truth (a.k.a. "The Al Gore movie"), belatedly fulfilling the pledge we had made to see it "on opening weekend." (No harm done, I trust:  Raleigh-Durham is far enough "out in the provinces" that the film didn't open here until its fourth week of release, by which time we weren't going to affect any subsequent distribution decisions by Paramount Classics anyway.)

The film lived up to its billing.  Its compelling message was presented as vividly, coherently, and accurately as a collection of mathematical forecasting models could possibly be communicated to a lay audience.  Having had some experience with such models myself, I did feel deprived of a glimpse "under the hood" of Gore's graphs and charts: observational constraints, control variables, assumed feedback mechanisms, confidence intervals, and the like.  But my experience in presenting such models to non-technical audiences also left me with an especially profound appreciation of Gore's achievement.

=> Read more!

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An examination of the legal and technological structures that keep almost all of us voiceless, by Prof. Andrew Chin (who?) at the University of North Carolina School of Law and Prof. Jay Kesan at the University of Illinois College of Law

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