Thursday, July 22, 2004

Pulling Together, Pulling Apart

I was touched and heartened by the appeals by members of the 9/11 commission for us to all pull together against al Qaeda. Unfortunately, my optimism was dented a bit by Dennis Hastert's subsequent comments. Although he did admit that 9/11 was not Clinton's fault, this concession struck me as particularly hollow. There is very little reason to believe that it was Clinton's fault; if it was any president's fault at all it is likely that it was Bush's fault. So Hastert's "it wasn't Clinton's fault, it wasn't Bush's fault" struck me as being something like "It wasn't Truman's fault, it wasn't Bush's fault"--a cheap concession in an attempt to deflect blame from its most likely-to-be-deserving target, i.e. Bush. Hastert then went on to make claims about how much Bush had done to fight terrorism since 9/11--again, thinly-veiled partisanship.

So, before the commission's appeal for unity had even reached the ears of most Americans, the Republicans were out front spinning for their man again, albeit in a slightly more subdued manner than usual.

Democrats and their sympathizers find themselves in an awkward position with regard to the issue of the current partisan viciousness in D.C. The viciousness is real and it has to stop and Democrats are the ones who seem most concerned to stop it--but it is Republicans who are most responsible for it. This point or similar ones has/have been made by several people, most recently by Paul Glastris in "Perverse Polarity" in The Washington Monthly (now my second-favorite political mag, right behind the indispensible New Republic. Speaking of which, Michael Crowley made a similar case there in his "Oppressed Minority" in the 6/23/03 edition). So if the Democrats were honest, they'd have to stand up and say "This hyperbolic partisanship is tearing us apart and has to end--and it's mostly the Republicans' fault!" That sounds like some kind of contradiction (let's all be civil, you bastards!), but it isn't. The partisanship does have to be stopped and it is mostly the Republican's fault, and even if Republican partisans will make bogus charges of self-contradiction, the Dems have to be honest.

The extremists who are driving this partisanship--like Grover Norquist and Tom DeLay--will never be convinced, nor will mindless Yellow Dog Republicans--but those aren't the people who we need to appeal to. We need to appeal to sensible Republicans and intelligent independents. Democrats can't simply compromise with extremist Republicans since that strategy will merely encourage extremism as a political strategy. Neither can they simply suffer in silence and allow DeLay and company to continue to fan the flames of a destructive partisanship. That means that the Dems are going to have to evolve into vertibrates, call a spade a spade, and be honest with the American people about the source of this problem. This may not work, and it may even backfire, but I think it's our only hope. And, oh, yeah, there is that pesky duty to tell the truth, even when telling it is inexpedient...

But as Glastris argues, the real obligation here lies with the media. They know damn good and well who is primarily responsible for the current divisive atmosphere, but they are afraid to report the facts. For one thing, they are afraid of being beaten with the liberal media stick. For another, there is some tendency to mistakenly believe that being objective about a story about conflict means pretending that both sides are equally to blame, even when this is demonstrably untrue.

Perhaps we might help our less-well-informed fellow citizens see the light by encouraging them to reflect on an illuminating set of phenomena with which they are likely to be more familiar--the adminstration's knack for making enemies on the international stage and alienating the rest of the world. At root, the alienation of the rest of the world and polarization at home are the effects of a single cause--the Republican leadership's unwillingness to compromise, brook dissent, and admit that they might--just conceivably and in some few cases--be less than perfectly right. Their contempt for other countries is of a piece with their contempt for other parties. Ultimately a strategy based on such contempt must fail. Let us hope--or, better yet, let us work to insure--that the strategy fails at home before its failures abroad become any more pronounced.

6 Comments:

Blogger ACHILLE said...

Nice blog. Have you seen your google rating? BlogFlux It's Free and you can add a Little Script to your site that will tell everyone your ranking. I think yours was a 3. I guess you'll have to check it out.

Computer News
In search of the best


Ask.com, Answers.com outperform more popular Web engines

Even as they become more savvy, the Internet's leading search engines still sometimes bog down in befuddlement when a specific kernel of knowledge is sought.

Hoping to fill the gap, Answers.com (from GuruNet Corp.) and Ask.com (from Ask Jeeves Inc.) have pledged to provide more adept responses to vexing but straightforward questions about history, science, geography, pop culture and sports.


Both search engines aim to provide a correct answer explicitly at the top of a search's first results page -- or with a highly placed link to a Web page that contains the information.

Their mission raises a question: Just how knowledgeable are these search engines?

To find out, I staged a very unscientific test consisting of questions culled from a recent edition of Trivial Pursuit.

My mock game pitted the avowed prowess of Answers.com and Ask.com against the Internet's most widely used search engines -- Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN.

The findings: Answers.com and Ask.com appear to be a small step ahead of Google and noticeably smarter than Yahoo and MSN when dealing with such esoteric questions as "What glass beads are created when a meteorite strikes the Earth's surface?"

Both Answers.com and Ask.com guided me to the correct answer (tektites) with the first link on the results page -- an aptitude that both sites displayed with 10 of the 20 questions posed in the theoretical game. When they didn't get the answer with the very first link in response to some questions, both search engines generally came through within the next two links.

Although they performed similarly in our game,-Answers.com and Ask.com rely on different formulas.

Answers.com relies on a combination of Google's search engine and human editors who have stoked its database with answers to frequently asked questions that they've obtained by poring through reference materials.

Ask.com, part of a Web family about to be acquired by e-commerce conglomerate InterActiveCorp for $2 billion, has devised a fully automated approach that fishes through the Internet's sea of information.

Although they are superior to the other search engines at this task, Answers.com and Ask.com rarely realized their ultimate goal -- making things as clear-cut as possible by summarizing the correct response at the very top of the results page so it wouldn't be necessary to click on a link and peruse another Web site.

Ask.com spit out a concise "Web answer" in just two of the 20 questions, while the only time that Answers.com delivered was when I sought the definition of "googol." (It's the number one followed by 100 zeros.)

Google, which drew its name from that mathematical term, fared reasonably well in the competition. The Internet's most popular search engine came up with the correct answer on the first link in eight of the 20 questions (including the one about tektites). That's something Yahoo did just five times and MSN only twice.

None of the sites was omniscient. Answers.com, Ask.com and Google each drew blanks on three questions (I considered it a miss if a link to the correct answer didn't appear within the first three pages of results). Yahoo and MSN each whiffed on six questions.

There was only one question that baffled all the search engines, "Who was the first Cuban defector to play in Major League Baseball?" Although they all contained references to him in their indexes, none of the search engines could figure out it was Rene Arocha, a pitcher who first signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in the early 1990s.


Though it lagged behind the other search engines in this competition, MSN looked brilliant on one question that stumped all the other search engines: What company was acquired in the biggest leveraged buy-out deal of all time? The first link on MSN's results page took me to a site that correctly listed RJR Nabisco.

The test also revealed the disadvantage of depending on search engines -- they sometimes point to sites with conflicting answers.

This occurred most frequently when I asked how many viewers watched the series finale of the TV show M*A*S*H. The search engines pointed to Web sites that variously listed the audience at anywhere from 105.9 million to nearly 125 million. Trivial Pursuit lists the answer as 121.6 million.

To paraphrase M*A*S*H's theme song, searching for online answers still isn't painless.


About the Author: Michael Liedtke


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7:26 AM  
Blogger cyberbet said...

I still think google and yahoo are the best search engines. Directories like Dmoz and Search are horrible for running searches. I have never met anyone that would use a directory over a search engine.

9:55 AM  
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1:55 PM  
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Blogger Dan said...

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6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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6:56 PM  

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