August 2010

The reflecting pool on the National Mall covers an area of about 8 acres. [reference]
  An American football field including the endzones covers about 1.3 acres. [reference]
  The seating area of Michigan Stadium covers about 6 or 7 acres. [reference]
  The capacity of Michigan Stadium is about 100,000 people. [reference]

  At the most crowded locations, the density of people on the Capitol lawn today was no more than in a packed stadium. [references: lawn, stadium]
  Most of the people on the mall today were within an area of two or three reflecting pools in size (and white). [reference]

  (2.5 reflecting pools) × (8 acres per reflecting pool) ÷ (6.5 acres per stadium) × (100,000 people per stadium) × (average 0.5 density) = 150,000 people. More than 87,000, perhaps. Hundreds of thousands, as in more than 200,000? Not too likely. A million? No.

In his most recent essay, A Case of Mental Courage, David Brooks writes that America’s underlying problem is that “there’s a metacognition deficit. Very few in public life habitually step back and think about the weakness in their own thinking and what they should do to compensate.”

That is to say, Brooks laments Americans’ lack¹ of esteem for “mental character.” Hear, hear!

While stereotypes are imperfect, and often dangerous, it seems to me that Brooks has dug down to an important difference between “liberal” and “conservative,” at least as those terms are recognized and represented in the sphere of public media. Dug down to, but not recognized or explored.

Brooks identifies as “mental flabbiness” the unwillingness to confront personal bias. He appropriately deplores herd thinking, confirmation bias, and the rigidity of political debate. All of which are indeed deplorable. Unfortunately, however — and unsurprisingly, given his political bent — Brooks stops short of what he might find a painful insight: the biggest obstacle to the status of mental character is the “conservatives,” not the “liberals².”

Conservatives in politics and the press deride mental character. A striking example of this conservative disdain is the one-liner that badly hurt John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign: “He was for the war before he was against it,” with its implication that to change one’s mind is a character flaw. It’s not. Sadly, too few Democrats thought it would be useful to stand up for mental character; instead many shot back their own “for it before he was against it” quips.³

I’d go on, but it’s late and I’m out of footnote characters4. Regarding other aspects of Brooks’s latest, see the Times’s comments section and, for what I hope are interesting tangents, my footnotes below if you didn’t hop down to them yet.

¹ Brooks might say “loss,” not “lack.” In Brooks’s narrative, mental character is a characteristic men once upon a time valued, if not possessed. (“This emphasis on mental character lasted for a time, but it has abated.”) He frames mental character as Christian myth frames Virtue or Grace, and like a conservative cleric might argue about the decline of religion, Brooks argues that modern Man has fallen or turned away from mental character, which, like Christian Virtue, is a state Man can only aspire to achieve through constant struggle (and painful struggle at that, though I suspect the arguably vivid allusions in Brooks’s essay to self-flagellation were unintentional).

The mystical fog in which Brooks envelops (or envisions) this “ethos” notwithstanding, he and I agree that society would benefit by placing more value on mental character as he describes and defines.

² The political spectrum isn’t one-dimensional, and I’m generalizing and categorizing,  but not too dangerously, I hope. My characterization, while generally valid, still admits outliers — but they’re exceptions that don’t diminish the value of the characterization. Among media outlets, for example, one “liberal” voice that is unfortunately antithetic to mental character on many issues is the Huffington Post (in contrast to the New York Times, Washington Post, Daily Kos, MediaMatters, and scores of others). A “conservative” voice that thankfully shows considerable respect to mental character is the Atlantic (in contrast to [expletive deleted], National Review, the Washington Times, the New York Post, and scores of others). Such exceptions are relatively few.

³ Here I’ll risk exposing my own confirmation bias with some speculation: at least at first, I believe the Democrats hit back with the same “before he was against it” as one might return a schoolyard punch from a bully. This was quicker and easier than addressing Republicans’ base values. It might also have been less risky, because it’s not clear whether the public cared about candidates’ character more than their success at bullying. In a bullying contest, unfortunately, the conservatives are likely to win. (They’re better bullies by far. To wit: Beck, Limbaugh, Palin.)

4 Ok, I lied. I’m only out of the ones I can type without using the <sup>tag. But it’s still late.

It’s bad enough that Google News considers the Washington Times a news organization, but attributing the Times’s rubbish to George Washington?

I have my doubts about some of the other George Washington quotes Google News offers, too.

If the South Korean government can find a way to satisfy the letter of the law while channeling their economic activities away from Iranian institutions — non-Iranian banks, maybe in Dubai — that’s the first step.

BabyCNN doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should, given that they’re easily as irresponsible as their buddies at [expletive deleted]. Today they’re fanning the fires about “illegal immigration,” the current euphemism for people we don’t like because they’re brownish and speak another language especially Spanish. Writer Arthur Brice devotes a big chunk of a 900-word article on today to a discussion of “anchor babies,” the current not-so-euphemism for babies of people we don’t like because they’re brownish and speak another language especially Spanish. Here’s my brief rant on the article, “Report: 8 percent of U.S. newborns have undocumented parents.”

Before ranting, though, let me be one of the first to greet all these new and beautiful U.S. citizens: “¡Welcome, and bienvenidos!”

This rant has two parts. First, let’s see what “have undocumented parents” means, so we know more about this 8% on whom the goons will be spreading their invective. The phrase shouldn’t mean anything other than “have undocumented parents,” but somehow it does, and not just because of headlinic license. It means “has at least one undocumented parent.” Here’s the relevant wording (emphasis mine) from the Pew report Brice describes:

A child has unauthorized immigrant parents if either parent is unauthorized. A child has U.S.-born parents if all identified parents are U.S.-born.

Well, that’s stupid. The asymmetry reminds me of the definition of Colored, as in for the purpose of what school you can go to, what train car you can sit in, and what drinking fountain you can use, and, before the 14th amendment was ratified, as in whether you were a U.S. citizen, more or less.

Next thing you know, today’s goons who want to abridge the Fourteenth Amendment will find a way to damn not only these youngsters but sus hijos y nietos también, no matter what, probably because fuck the Constitution and Bill of Rights, God tells them to.

Not to mention that “[s]ome pregnant women from other countries are traveling to the United States to give birth and then taking their babies back home to raise them as terrorists that would return to attack America,” a concern raised by Texas state representative Debbie Riddle, “a Republican,” that Brice thought fit to pass on.

Tattooing the letter U on them to start, maybe? (You can bet they’d have no problem paying for that medical procedure with government dollars.)

Part 2: The word “anchor babies” doesn’t appear in the Pew report, but instead of leaving it out of the article entirely, Brice fills us in. He knows that more people will read an article if it’s about anchor babies.

“Babies born to illegal alien mothers within U.S. borders are called anchor babies because under the 1965 immigration Act, they act as an anchor that pulls the illegal alien mother and eventually a host of other relatives into permanent U.S. residency,” says an organization called The American Resistance, which has described itself as “a coalition of immigration crime fighters opposing illegal and undocumented immigration.”

Minor partial credit to Brice for using the past tense when mentioning The American Resistance, but he forgot to mention that they are “no longer an active – or updated – Website or effort,” and haven’t been since 2006, according to — well, themselves, in a message they left on the web four years ago. The fact that Brice names them at all is goofy, to put it kindly. There are dozens of non-moribund organizations he could have called up. A Youtube link to a [expletive deleted] broadcast from within the last week, maybe.

That’s all. Have a nice week.