Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The truth is that there is no truth. The truth isn't in the details. The truth is in the changing nature of the details. Context is everything. That is what this blog is all about. It isn't a particularly sexy topic for a blog, at least for people other than me. It may seem stupid and overly commonsensical. I wish it was. The fact that John Kerry could be discredited for 'flip-flopping' proves that it's not. Maybe it is as it always was, but it seems to me that more than ever the nuance has been drained out of politics. More than ever before, the issues seem to be painted in black and white. Certainly American politics has become particularly polarized. What really is shocking to me is how readily people accept the importance of context in many facets of their lives, but how steadfastly they deny it in others. Abortion is a clear issue for many. Killing is wrong. The truth is, of course, that no issue is that simple. And the issues importance doesn't change that. An ample illustration of an important issue where most of us readily recognize contextual distinctions is death (I know murder leads to death, but when I talk of death here I am thinking about the concept in the grand sense, inclusive of many causes).
On Saturday a close friend of my family died after a lung transplant surgery failed. His death was not totally unanticipated given his various health problems (bypass surgery, diabetes, and now a lung transplant), but it is shocking and upsetting all the same. Any death is, but this one is especially troubling. My great great aunt died a few months ago. She was in the 90 neighborhood, and had been on a long slow slope into her end. Her death was sad, but the context was different than the one surrounding my family friend's death. She didn't have two 20-something sons who had yet to find their careers, start families, etc. She didn't leave behind a grieving widow. She wasn't still a working and vital member of her community. She had reached the stage of her life when we expect death. More than anything, the impact of context comes through in the fact that now the death of a 62 year old is considered shocking and premature. That certainly has not always been the case.
So my question is, if the death of a person from 'natural' causes can vary in its impact, importance, and meaning over time (and place), why isn't the same true of the unfortunate situation where a life is deliberately taken. What about the situation where America has troops in combat, or the supposed constitutional right to have firearms, or the acceptability of particular romantic and sexual relationships? No one would object to an assertion that the death of a parent when one is 68 is a different situation than the death of a parent when one is 5. Why isn't abortion different from shooting someone in the head because you don't like the color of his hat, and why isn't one killing of a pre-birth life different from another that occurs at a different stage? I admit that these differences might be real, and still not impact one's point of view, but the multifacteed complexity encompassed in these differences must be taken into account.

Monday, December 04, 2006

At first blush, it appears that the University of Florida jumped over the University of Michigan in the BCS standings because a number of voters took changed circumstances into account. The Gators won the SEC Championship, and thus deserved to play the Big Ten Champion in the National Championship Game. This argument has certainly been made by some sports reporters and talking heads. Mark May, Lou Holtz, and the bozo that sits at the desk with them are three examples. Now, they wouldn't use words like context, but that is there argument. The argument is as silly as they are; and Lou Holtz is pretty silly.

There are two main problems with asserting that Florida should be in the National Championship Game because of changed context. First of all, this only works if you focus only on certain factors and ignore others. Second, Florida proponents don't give a flying @#$% about context, they are either trying to correct past injustices done to the SEC (unfortunately this is about as fair and sensical as it is when it is employed by the Oscar or other awards show folks -- essentially Florida is Jack Palance or Susan Lucci), or they are simply trying to avoid a rematch (that horror of horrors that never happens in any other sport -- what is that, you say it happens in EVERY other sport, oh well).

Let's tackle the context approach, which would be the right one if the actual context was being considered. Florida has a tougher schedule. This is true. It was true last week too. And Michigan isn't exactly West Virginia, so I am not sure why this is such a strong argument. The SEC was the best conference. If this is true, and I haven't been overly impressed by any of the SEC teams this year (I don't give a shit about how tough the conference was last year -- that was last year), then it was still true last week. Florida is a conference champion. Yes, that is true, but so what. So is Oklahoma, and it might be a better football team. Where does it say that the National Championship Game must involve two conference champions? Isn't supposed to be between the two best teams. No one seems to be seriously asserting that Florida is better than Michigan, except maybe in Florida. Vanderbilt played both Florida and Michigan, and they think Michigan is the better team, like everyone else. If this change is about taking a different context into account, than I'm not sure what context it is.
No, this is not an example of good decision making. This is actually an example of typical American decision making. First we locate the right and the wrong. Here it is easy, Michigan played Ohio State already so it would be wrong to let them have another shot. And now our decision is done. That was super easy. Yeah. And super wrong, but clear and easy trumps accurate and complicated any day. It doesn't matter that the game is supposedly between the two best teams. It doesn't matter that there is absolutely no evidence that rematches are automatically unfair or uninteresting. The only other factor here is that the average American has the attention span of the average infant. I am sure half the voters don't remember much about the Wolverines at all. How can you expect anyone to remember anything for two whole weeks.
This whole thing would be amusing, if this lack of analytical thinking was limited to sports.