Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Reading

Into the Wild — Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein lay the blame for the dysfunction of American politics at the feet of the GOP.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate — think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel — are virtually extinct.

Doghouse Riley chimes in:

The GOP hasn’t “moved from the mainstream”. It’s gained more power. The “center of power” hasn’t gone much of anywhere. It may have followed Goldwater West and South, thanks to the evil genius of Nixon, but it’s not exactly a seismic shift from Joe McCarthy to Jesse Helms, from John Wayne to Glenn Beck. When th’ hell was it Chuck Hagel’s party? When was it Nelson Rockefeller’s, for that matter? They called Truman a commie, for chrissakes.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. — The lesson from the twentieth anniversary of the Los Angeles riots over the Rodney King verdict still resonate.

It is an experience far older than the L.A. riots — and as relevant as the shooting of Trayvon Martin. On the surface, perhaps, the two incidents have little in common: the then-27-year-old drunkard beaten so badly after a high speed chase that his body and mind still bear the scars, and the unarmed 17-year-old boy shot to death by a neighborhood watchman who thought him suspicious because he was dawdling and looking around.

They are not dissimilar, however, in one telling aspect: delay. It took a ruinous riot and a new federal trial for Rodney King to receive anything approaching justice. It took 46 days, uncounted public demonstrations and the appointment of a special prosecutor for that process even to begin for Trayvon Martin. Historically, that has always been the problem when African Americans seek redress of grievances pregnant with racial overtones. Justice comes slowly, grudgingly, and grumblingly, when it comes at all.

I hear all these warnings not to “rush to judgment” in the Martin case, and it is sage advice. Yet I find myself wondering: when is the last time I saw anyone who is not black look at one of those episodes where the justice system failed African-American people — look at Trayvon, look at Jena, La., look at Tulia, Texas, look at Amadou Diallo, look at Abner Louima — and say, unprompted and unambiguously, that thus and so happened because of race. Outside of the most far-left liberals, they seldom do. Even when it is as obvious as a cockroach on white satin, it is something most cannot bring themselves to admit.

And yes, I know someone wishes I should just shut up about it. I hear that a lot. Indeed, more than once, someone has actually told me there’d be no racial problems in this country “if you didn’t talk about it.” What a piece of logic that is: ignore it and it will go away.

Such people, Martin Luther King once observed, mistake silence for peace. Silence is not peace.

Klout Clout — Nicholas Thompson on yet another new way to obsess about who is following you.

Social media also has a fraught relationship with competition. If you’re designing a social network, you want people to feel as though effort boosts status. That will lead to more effort. But competition can also be inimical to friendship. It’s hard to make everyone feel like a winner. And no one wants to use something that makes him or her feel like a loser.

Each site deals with these problems differently. Twitter does everything it can to make users obsess about follower count: every time you click on someone’s name, you see how many people follow them, and, for better or worse, you develop some notion of their worth. You know that they click on your name too. Google Plus shows its heart—or perhaps its lack of a brain—by concealing the number somewhat. LinkedIn’s solution is kind. It prominently displays the number of connections you have, until you reach five hundred. Then it just says you have more than that. New users get to experience the thrill and buzz of watching the number climb; but they rarely feel like the lonely kids in the high-school cafeteria.

The newest social media tool to grapple with this is Klout, a service for measuring your influence on all of these social networks. The company was launched two and a half years ago, and it has recently passed several important milestones. Wired just published a long feature on it; yesterday it released an iPhone app; and recently, for the first time, I read a letter from a job candidate that mentioned his Klout score.


But clever ideas are not necessarily good ones, and Klout is designed in a way that makes it likely to fuel both unhealthy obsession and unhappy competition. When you log into Klout, it makes it easy to see, in order of score, exactly how all your friends rank. The number is more personal than those used by other social networks, and Klout displays it prominently. The iPhone app shows your Klout score in a blaring red circle —just like the number of unread e-mails and unheard voicemails. “Look at me!” it’s yelling. And sometimes, when you do look, it tells you that you’ve become less important, less interesting, less retweeted, or less whatever. Do you really want something in your pocket that will tell you what you’re worth?

Doonesbury — Two men in a tub.