Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Stream of Conscious Blogging

I've been thinking about context ever since I made an offhanded reference to it in a previous blog post.

There is a big difference between having facts and understanding them in context. For example, I can read factual news reports about recent events in Turkey or Pakistan all day long and still not really understand what's going on over there. I -- and apparently most of our media -- lack the indepth regional knowledge required to assemble the facts together in a way that depicts reality. What we get instead are a bunch of jumbled images and distorted ideas. Most of the time I spend online is not about trying to get facts; it's about trying to understand facts in context.

It can be a very frustrating and humbling experience, this iterative process of "learn fact, find context, revise opinion".

A few related and unrelated items swirling around in my brain today:
  • It's nice to see I'm not the only one thinking about context... Americablog struggles to put the Pakistan crisis in perspective (with better results than I've been able to muster on my own).
  • As readers of my blog know, I don't do Iraq body counts. I don't count civilian casualties. I don't post about car bomb incidents. I don't howl about every suicide bomber. This is because individual episodes, and even monthly totals, can be entirely anomalous to the big picture. Anomalies distort the truth. We saw this in Iraq back in 2004 when the insurgency was in its last throws and democracy was on the march in the Middle East. With, like, one month's worth of data/events, I was questioning whether I'd been wrong in all of my assessments regarding the war. As it turned out, I was not... at least not then. And that's why I haven't gotten too excited about the current numbers, promising as they look. I don't have the context... no clue what caused the drop in violence or if its sustainable. I'd like a few more data points this time before we declare victory.
  • There was a little burst of discussion in the blogosphere yesterday regarding Republicans having a change of heart regarding Democratic positions on issues once they themselves have been personally impacted by those issues. The impetus of this discussion (also here and here and here) was the current housing mess but it led to other cases, too, like Nancy Reagan's support of stem cell research when Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I also recall a conservative columnist, Catherine Seipp, who extolled the virtues of the private sector until she got cancer and spent the last precious months of her life battling with her private insurance company for treatment. Less specifically, I would cite the overwhelming voter response to "culture of life'ers" like Rick Santorum (later booted out of office) for messing with Terri Schiavo's right to die (a little empathy apparently goes a long way on this topic). And if I were to be utterly crude, I would include the number of women who call themselves pro-life right up until they, themselves, need an abortion. Ah, yes... WIIFM ("what's in it for me?"). A little empathy goes a long way if you're capable of applying it in theory before it directly impacts you.
  • This sounds blasphemous even to my own ears but I wish like hell BushCo would have laid out its Middle East strategy in its proper context from the get-go: without oil, the US economy will be laid to waste. Not only is our economy vulnerable to the threat of peak oil, but also growing global competition for the world's oil reserves. And the Middle East's own intra-regional squabbles. The scariest thing, though, is that we're also vulnerable to deliberate economic blackmail and/or ruination if certain countries decided they wanted to bring us down. Just look at all the strange international alliances being formed around oil deals in the past year or two. In that context, the war sort of makes sense. Instead of laying out the cold truth, though, Bushco played a bunch of emotional cards in order to win over the sheeple, while completely alienating anyone who tried in vain to follow their trumped up logic. Am I saying I would have supported a war strategically designed to protect our oil interests in the region? I'm not sure... I'm pragmatic but I don't know if I'm THAT pragmatic. It sure would have opened up some interesting discussions, though, regarding conservation, our national will to sacrifice, financing of, and speculative investment in, alternative energy sources. Instead we wasted years of valuable time debating the existence of WMDs in Iraq and whether or not Saddam and bin Laden were butt buddies. How insulting.

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