Monday, March 27, 2006

The Scalia Chin Shuffle

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has been a major topic of discussion across the country today for reportedly flipping the bird at the media as he was leaving Sunday mass in Boston. Thoughts on this from bloggers and the MSM have been varied, ranging from amusement to admonishment. Some people don't even seem to think he should be a Supreme Court justice if he can't act in a more dignified manner. (Most of those people were also probably right behind Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal, but that's to be expected.)

What you're not hearing very much about is the question that provoked Scalia's response, which the AP now reports was actually a dismissive Italian hand gesture. You've probably seen it before; the post title is a fairly accurate description of what it looks like. I have yet to find an exact quote of the question. However, according to the article above, a reporter from the Boston Herald asked Scalia, as he was leaving Catholic mass, if he "faces much questioning over impartiality when it comes to issues separating church and state." Scalia's response makes sense in that context:
You know what I say to those people? *makes hand gesture* That's Sicilian.

The implication here is subtle, but it reeks of anti-Catholicism. If you honestly believe that Catholics cannot think independently of the Pope (as people used to back when JFK ran for President, which is why it was such a huge deal that he won), then you might come up with a question like that. You would also have a response similar to Scalia's if you were used to hearing this kind of stuff all the time. It's also disturbing because a line of questions not far from this one was levied at Chief Justice John Roberts during his confirmation hearings. Roberts is also Catholic. Honestly, who has the nerve to ask him a question like that? It appears to have a logical basis at first, but ultimately it becomes a thinly-veiled attack on what someone stands for and assumes that their judgment would be somehow impaired.

The other point of contention for me is that the original Boston Herald report is not exactly impartial. An excerpt:
Although one of his sworn duties is to uphold the freedom of the press, a jocular Scalia told the shutterbug, “Don’t publish that.”

This may be one of the most loaded sentences that I have ever seen in a mainstream newspaper article. Though he really can't stop the photo from being printed [prior restraint - Ed.], attaching the qualifier "jocular" would imply that Scalia was joking anyway. So why come out and state the obvious...unless you're editorializing?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Another Weapon In The Stalker Arsenal

Normally, discussing competition in the field of technology is about as exciting for me as folding my laundry. This case, however, is a little different. The college networking site Facebook (which you know about unless you've been living with cavemen for the past two years) has been running banner ads at the bottom of each user's home page. One of the ads in rotation is a banner for the new Windows Live Local mapping service. This, like the Windows Live main page, appears to be Microsoft's answer to Google. WLL works in a manner similar to that of Google Maps, but it focuses more on its "bird's eye" functionality. If a location is supported, the resulting view is incredible, allowing for closer and more realistic-looking imaging than Google Maps. As an example, compare Google's version of New York City with the Microsoft version. A little more crisp, a slight angle for added depth...yes, Microsoft has the goods right now.

The implications for a student should be obvious. A newer form of bonding between people at college (especially large colleges) has been to sit at Google Maps and find the exact location of your house to show your friends. With the view provided in WLL, you can now pick out individual windows and even the front door, assuming your city's in the database. Morgantown, sadly, is not in the database at this time. Charleston isn't either, but other midsize cities allow close enough a view to allow you to see storefronts (assuming the stores existed when the photographs were taken). It's quite simply a great, semi-educational time killer as far as students are concerned, and also another way to put off doing homework, as I must confess to be doing right now.

Now here's where it gets creepy: Because it allows you to type in full addresses, it would theoretically be possible to find someone's house without their knowledge so long as a mailing address could be found. It doesn't bother me personally; my house would probably never show up in the database, and I'm generally not paranoid enough to feel threatened if it did. But what about the beleaguered ladies of Facebook colleges, who have dealt with so much harassment as to add the term "Stalkerbook" to the lexicon? I know that some of these women might want to hand a restraining order to any anonymous blogger that crosses their paths at this point, but I honestly am a little concerned. This is why privacy concerns have been such a big deal lately; simply put, the Internet is making it almost too easy to find any information you desire. A stalker barely has to try to find your house now if you're in the database and your address is sitting around somewhere in the Web. Protect yourselves, people.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Sidebar Update

A quick note about the links: I came across the WVU College Republicans website the other day and added it to the sidebar. Should the Young Democrats also happen to have a website, I'll link to that as well for the sake of fairness. Keep sending me your links, people!

The Stereotype Breaker

If you follow politics at all, you've most likely heard all of the stereotypes. Republicans are supposed to be the hawkish wackos, Democrats are supposed to be either immoral or pansies (depending on what part of the country you're in), and Greens supposedly really, really love trees.

(Notice how I left out libertarians. There's rarely much to suppose with them: they're usually structural conservatives who may not like wiretaps much and tend to know how to party hard. Needless to say, a lot of Republicans at WVU are not-so-closet libertarians. But I digress.)

But what if I were to tell you a new study just came out today that turns some of these stereotypes on their heads? It's true. The report, a special to the Toronto Star, claims that whiny kids grow up to be conservative adults. The article goes on to say that "the confident, resilient, self-reliant kids" usually turn out liberal. Wimpy conservatives? Tough-as-nails liberals? It almost sounds sacrilegious.

Alright, reality check time. If you haven't followed the link (and you should), let me help lay a few key points out for you:

1.) The study in question was conducted by UC Berkeley professor Jack Block, who tracked about 100 people in the Berkeley area from nursery school to adulthood. In other words, the study was longitudinal and was conducted over the course of a few decades, starting back in the 1960s. Character traits were determined by personality tests.

2.) The participants all grew up in one of the most liberal areas of the entire country. UC Berkeley is so infamously liberal that I've seen some commentators refer to it as "Berserkeley." Like conservatism in the Bible Belt, liberalism is the status quo there.

3.) As anyone who's taken a basic psychology course knows, correlation does not equal causation. There could have been other variables determining what these people became politically when they grew up. In that part of the country, wouldn't it make sense for stable people from stable homes to be liberal out of tradition? After all, "liberal" and "non-conformist" are not necessarily synonyms. As Star writer Kurt Kleiner wonders, "The results do raise some obvious questions...does an insecure boy raised in Idaho or Alberta surrounded by conservatives turn instead to liberalism?" And of course, no study should be immediately taken as gospel, though journalists have a nasty habit of doing just that.

I do find it comical that some conservatives have already expressed outrage at this study, because when you consider all the potential variables and how non-representative the sample is, it's not indicative of the general population whatsoever. If there were several hundred of these people being tracked from all different regions of the US, and a correlation showed up, that would be a story. As it is, it's more of a basis for a philosophical discussion. Why do we hold the political opinions that we have? Are they dependent on how we were raised, or are they intrinsically tied to our personalities?

I was very self-reliant and confident as a kid; though blogging may suggest otherwise to some, I'm pretty well-known for not whining. I'm conservative, yet more liberal than either of my parents. Some of their strongest political views never really got passed to me. I still do a lot of back and forth reasoning on the hot-button issues of our day, often to the point that I end up becoming a true moderate for specific arguments. I really do keep an open mind, so much so that I find myself using liberal arguments on occasion because I'm so used to putting myself in left-wing shoes. I've always found it arrogant to believe that roughly half of Americans can be consistently wrong on any given topic, which is why I try never to bash a liberal for the sake of bashing them.

If the study is right, I guess I'm sort of unique. Then again, one man, much like this study, can't hope to be an accurate example of everyone.