Saturday, November 8, 2008

On the political thinking of mass audiences

I am considering writing a new kind of post in which I filter the entire comment thread on an issue or topic as posted in a main stream media outlet. I had earlier considered declaring a DMZ blog, [demilitarized Zine?] where divergent but respectful discourses could occur. That is difficult and unlikely..I can hardly get 10 people a day to read my blog as it is. So instead I am going where the people are: the comment threads on online articles of major news papers and TV networks. These some times run to the thousands of comments but in that toilsome number is its virtue. The narrow clustering of opinion and rhetorical leaning that is found in blogs and news filters on the left [e.g. dailykos] or the right [e.g.] is suspect to me. Those represent non-dialog politics. There, divisive issues having already severed the body politic into camps that can talk only among themselves, the echo chamber provides encouragement but little learning. For all of their own biases and shortcomings, MSM in its online formats does seem to connect a wider spectrum of citizens. So that is where I am going in hopes of finding a better representation of the whole of the political beast.

These will be very long posts and much less frequent than daily. If you are not up for punishingly long posts, there will always be a summary. They will be full of nits picked and tiny follies exposed. Their fodder will be opinions and facts the cat or the NY Times drug in and I elected not to skip any...solely for the purpose of an accurate sense of where the population is at even if it turns out that the population has a dangerously inaccurate sense of the matter at hand. Further, I won't be accused of dishonesty by trying to pose as neutral on issues: I am not, and I am often rather wrought up about some things. I label myself a progressive. I would like to believe that a sound argument or a new but verifiable fact will still reach me and perhaps affect me. What I hope will occur, and hold me to this if I fail, is that the other side's ideas will be presented in their own words by their own partisans. More you cannot ask.

One thing that will burn me out or persuade me this is a waste is finding that the selection that turns up is still self-selected in some way and not balanced enough to meet my goal of encompassing political perspective. I will cast about for different publications to make sure I give my discoveries a chance at a breadth of fresh air. We'll see.

If readers have suggestions for online publications or particular single-topic posts with a comment thread they would like me to wade in to and weigh in on , do mention them in the comments to this post.

A note about the post date: it is a blogger hack to provide an expiration data for an introductory post that, when its date of obsolescence passes, the post receded int0 the archives.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

just do it, do it justice

Election 2008 Voting Information

Today, November 4th, is Election Day! Remember to vote--not just for Barack Obama, but for Congressional, state and local candidates as well.

Where and when do I vote?

Find your polling place, voting times, and other important information by checking out these sites and the hotline below. These resources are good, but not perfect. To be doubly sure, you can also contact your local elections office.

What should I do before I go?

  • After you've entered your address on either Vote For Change or Vote411, read the voting instructions and special rules for your state.
  • Voting ID laws vary from state to state, but if you have ID, bring it.
  • Check out all the voting myths and misinformation to look out for:

What if something goes wrong?

  • Not on the voter list? Make sure you're at the right polling place, then demand a provisional ballot.
  • If you're voting on an electronic machine with a paper record, verify that the record is accurate.
  • Need legal help? Call 1-866-OUR-VOTE
  • Try to get video of the problem and submit it to

Want to do more?

  • Text all of your friends: "Vote Obama today! Pass it on!"
  • Volunteer at your local Obama office. Find an office here or here.
  • Make calls from home for Obama.

Now everybody go vote!!!

Friday, April 18, 2008

A wheat producing nation critiques wheat shortage

The summary that follows is my take on the dominant good or bad idea sifted from the riot of opinions in the comment thread that I will point you to. My standard disclaimer is that that comment thread is there for all to read and if you doubt I have it right, please check my source. It was not drawn from a high traffic A-list article nor a huge comment thread. I just had to start some where and maybe this is just a warm up. I liked that in the end, I found somewhat more comments that I agreed with than I disagreed with.

If you mine the comments attached to reports of the grain shortage, the most amazing stupidity emerges. The anti-elites [Limbaugh wannabes] look at that portion of the problem that is attributed to corn diverted to ethanol as [a] a bigger part of the problem than fuel costs, drought and global warming or overpopulation and [b] a reason to blame environmentalists since it seems "obvious" to these dummies that the ecology minded were to blame for the switch to ethanol as a sustainable fuel. The former complaint shows ignorance of the situation in rice. Rice is the staple grain of a large portion of grain importing countries but not that big a deal in the US. Rice is not generally produced where corn grows...and rice takes a ton of water with flooded fields being the standard irrigation technique. Australia, devastated by unprecedented droughts, is [was] one of the great rice exporters. The latter contention is just false. The science community and many with a longer history, professional or otherwise, in green activism have provided years of warnings that ethanol from corn was at best ineffective and probably a loser form economic and environmental standpoints. See, Pimental, eg or Georges Monbiot. Or even a newspaper from Canada. No the real reason the US piled on to the ethanol fuel wagon was industrial and farm don't get huge rapid switch-over like that without tax breaks and investment incentives which only legislation can provide. And unfortunately in the US you only get legislation if you have a rich lobby. The twist the Canadians put into the issue is their Wheat Board...but let them explain that...

The Canadians have some foolish BUT MANY better informed comments. I waded through the entire comment set appended to This article about the wheat shortage on line at Canadian Broadcasting's web site.
I omit any opinion I that was duplicated, ambiguous, indecent or ungrammatical. Most of these opinions are provided by Canadians but not all.
The question the CBC asked was:
Are you surprised that in Canada we have a shortage of wheat?

thumbs up

  1. Richard of Halifax says the bio-fuels initiatives inevitably link grain prices to fuel prices. Not actually wrong but incomplete. They were always linked and are now more linked.
  2. Marge of Saskatchewan farms and is finally seeing a better-than-break even price ...what seems to be the problem everyone?.
  3. B Mills must work with farmers: he observes how poorly they are represented in political decisions, correctly observes bio-fuels have not helped without incorrectly blaming anyone for that outcome.
  4. Brendan of Manitoba provides some reality and forcefully refutes the GMO solution posed by Patricia of Ottowa. He also provides the extremely interestng speculation that to get rid of the CWB would invite the kind of giant multinational middlemen [think ADM] who suck up all the winnings of US farmers.
  5. Two thumbs up for Peter Hasse: he not only sees a full set of influencing factors in the problem and describes the factually...he is a farmer to boot. Many farmers come across as unknowlegable conservatives...go Peter!
  6. Greg Petrisor points out that the market is full of greedy middlemen who deserve scrutiny. Why do on-the-hoof animal prices barely cover farmers costs but packaged meat in stores goes up regularly? Grains like wise.
  7. Mister E of Toronto and Luc of Buckingham, each point out that food prices have been artificially low for decades and are coming to more realistic levels.
  8. Tamar of Banf says "the crux of the issue is subsidies to create energy" correct but incomplete.
  9. Patricia S is succinctly insightful: Now that we are trying to use land to make cheap energy when the fuel to make cheap food already ate up our profits, its a losing strategy.
  10. Not sure if he is right ,but Mark of Kingston intrigues with the suggestion that countries capable of over producing for local consumption force market regulation that either hurts or helps as supply/demand change. AND WHAT COULD RESULT is that less productive nations that can not afford to nurture a native industry will now see demand that could encourage more investment in local production. I think the problem with the idea is that nature has not cooperated with this scheme and we have made her cooperation less and less likely.
  11. Kevin Sutton contrasts the imbalance of the debate with balance of factors from market political and climate.
  12. Sven earnestly asks for explanation of the price regulation machinations that could so quickly amplify a foreign shortfall into a local price increase.
  13. Rowson informs that middle men up the cost and subsidies have long held it down...welcome to the REAL cost of your loaf of bread.
  14. Des Emery actually has the facts about the CWB.
  15. Annie in Ontario points out that socialism for benefit of corporations is not at all the same thing as socialism for the benefit of average citizens [the extremes of these two, I contend, would be fascism and communism].
  16. Jeff overseas has it just right that bio-fuel madness it politics, not environmentalism.
  17. Harold hotham's indignation about the categoric thinking is justified.
  18. Lk of Canada correctly notes the depressed history of food costs may have come home to roost and is aware that ethanol is much more the child of a greedy corn products lobby than of environmentalist.
  19. Bryan Hookenson knows whereof he farmed.
  20. Doug in Surrey has a pretty good balance to his view and particularly because he is thinking in longer time frames than most. [a pity since it was a lack of such thinking on the part of politicians and corporate interest groups that can take the lions share of the blame for the shortages of the moment (my opionion of course)].
  21. Jean-Marc of Moncton is dead on about the myths of ethanol being a environmentalists boondoggle. Its just a boondoggle, period, but one that is playing with everyone's food prices.
  22. Dman of Ottawa was representative of quite a few opinions to the effect that a more realistic price for grain products should help beleaguered farmers...I just hope that is true.
  23. Dan of Hamilton points out that biofuels made from agricultural waste as opposed to grain actually could be a winner.
  24. United Canada in Ab appears to be a particularly active and involved green...and speaks with some authority to the myth that greenies pushed ethanol. Also a hint: The CBC has promoted the myth but more truth would be found by investigating the correlation of commodity troubles and the advent of NAFTA.
  25. Cait of Ottawa, also clear that environmentalists have not pushed ethanol but prefer research into sustainability and haven't one percent of the budget of those who lobbied parliament for ethanol subsidies.
  26. JD of Ont. questions the stability of ethanol in fuel and reminds us of more fundamental and clearly natural as opposed to market-caused problems: we are losing the bees that pollinate our crops.
  27. Food Processor claims US pols actually know ethanol takes 1.39 gallons of fuel to make one gallon ... yet subsidize its production anyway. [I am not sure our lobbies have bought such smart politicians as all that]
  28. Lon of Saskatoon speaks, as I could ,of how a year of good weather brought bumper crops and low prices but a year of bad weather brings meager crops...and high prices. My dad farmed. Yep, that IS farming. Lon thinks the Wheat Board did little to smooth over such inevitable bumps but is hopeful the higher prices will trickle to the guys in the field.
  29. Russ appears to claim residents in the wheat producing regions saw the problem coming but nothing was done or note taken until concentrations of consumers were hit with the consequences. Sounds plausible but how would I know.


Charlene smith of Woodstock Ont. has more than one fact e.g. committing to grains-are-for-gas is not working and none are wrong nor given wrong interpretations...just doesn't make any connections.

thumbs down

  1. Darlene of Winnipeg says Let them eat quinoa and millet for a change [more spacey than clueless. I doubt all our woes are due to a lack of crop rotation.]
  2. Patricia of Ottawa says the farmers should have planted genetically modified wheat...has she ever been near a farm?
  3. rm says global warming is a hoax.,
  4. bill in Calgary doesn't get it that ethanol wont free him from "medieval minded" middle eastern petroleum exporters: we use over a barrel equivalent of fossil fuel to make a barrel equivalent of ethanol.
  5. M Nesdol does not even read the comments yet and speaks as if environmentally aware people have never spoken against is just ignorant to lump under one lable [tree hugger is a favorite] all people with any degree of concern for the ruin we are doin to the planet...they certainly DO NOT all have the same opinons about the solutions to the problems.
  6. pete in nb doesn't actually say anything except "I can be as selfish as I please"...perhaps because he doesn't actually know anything: a perfect conservative.
  7. Steve from the west [of canada] sounds just like Midwestern US farmer: libertarian with a persecution complex centered on the political power emanating from the more populous east. He is certain utterly free trade would solve the grain shortage.[..I am not sure I want to find out but I have to admit that utterly free trade ie as free of government as it is of cartels, is something we have yet to witness or experiment with in all this world.]
  8. Matt of bc: did you read ANY of the other comments on the composition and operation of the Wheat Board?
  9. Robert of toronto is the sort of knee jerk conservative that makes liberals out of the rest of us. His facts and his logic are a compact example of many typical pathologies found in conservative argumentation:
    • (1)introduces a lunatic contention ["man-made hysteria over global warming" *] but tries to pass it off as consensus by ascribing it "as others have commented". Did Robert read much here? Of the entire thread he is only the 3rd denialist and outdoes the rhetorical intensity of the others.
    • (2) uses anomalous or outright wrong factoids to shore up his nitwit denial of global warming. How come I didn't know that "the polar ice cap has grown to normal size and thickness"?
    • (3) extrapolation from the unsubstantiated to the ridiculous, he offers projected consequences of the "eco-catastrophizers...starvation in Africa - more expensive food means less food to go around for them; and..." [can you believe that? Your concern about global warming is the real reason Africans are starving! Such a genius!
  10. Master Wooten of Ont. cannot tell you why any government or collective program has ever been tried but he is quite certain they have all failed and need to be abolished. [perhaps he'd like to get rid of the army too?]
  11. Glenn of Toronto is absolutely aslosh with the CBC koolaid that environmentalists foisted ethanol conversion onto an unsuspecting public. Just RTF comments Glenn!
  12. R Stevens of NB cannot manage to connect any of the presumed causes and consequences of high wheat prices except to observe that food comes from farms. He is right that many who by food in supermarkets have little awareness of the long chain of processing, transportation and preservation or the stoop labor and dirt that went into that pound of beef in cellophane but all he has otherwise is a concatenation of dogwhistle phrases. Rush is not about to leave his post Mr. Stevens, so hone some other talent.
  13. Roch of Winnepeg says the Wheat Board is communist and not commercial...and a flop. Could be, but why are no other factors cited? Is the wheat shortage entirely the connivance of the CWB and all other reported causes lies?
  14. Rich of Victoria...half right but still wrong that the conversion of grain production capacity to biofuel was exclusively the work of "enviro-nut socialists". I guess we should all write the universities and insist they stop requiring socialist-environmentalism classes as a condition for graduation. Those two subjects actually are distinct Rich.
  15. Pete of NB, unimaginative koolaid drinker on the "ethanol was a plot of the environmentalists" meme.
  16. Beaconsfield Ray: slightly more imaginative...says Kyoto accords will reach their goal via mass starvation. Also thinks global warming is a hoax.
Canadians are sane and most of them have a good fix on how much of their problem is of their own making and how it was made. Lamentably, they have their own loon minority, as we do here in the US.


*this person really said that! he has to have a computer to have put it in the comments so I know he has access to better info than he claims. Was this man made hysteria? Its down to corroborating observations by three different sets of balloons don't get hysterical as far as I know. Does some one pay him to make such a fool of himself?

For another example of a largely Canadian thread on the grain supply, see this. The first comment of "Littleharbour" is actually pretty good.

For the morons who don't have a problem with global warming, here is a pointer to the "how", the particular mechanisms, that connect your carbon breath and the weather, and how that worsening weather connects to the price of your McMuffin.