Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

HOME PAGE                             
    Philosophy and Religion
    Ethics, Moral Issues, the Law
    The Environment

On Politics
    The Crisis
    Foreign Relations, War, Peace
    The Media
    The Elections
    Civil Liberties and Dissent
    Republicans & the Right
    Democrats & the Left
    Lies, Propaganda & Corruption
    Culture War & Religious Right
    Coup d'Etat, 2000

Published Papers

Unpublished Papers

Reviews, Lectures, etc.    

Internet Publications


Lecture Topics

Conscience of a Progressive
    (A Book in Progress)

A Dim View of Libertarianism

Rawls and the Duty to Posterity
    (Doctoral Dissertation)

The Ecology Project

For Environmental Educators

The Russian Environment

    (Critiques of Post Modernism)

Notes from the Brink
    (Peace Studies)

The Gadfly's Bio Sketch

The Gadfly's Publications

The Online Gadfly: Editorial Policy

The Gadfly's E-Mail: gadfly@igc.org

Classical Guitar:
"The Other Profession




The Gadfly Bytes -- April, 2001

Lest We Forget: Notes on the Late Election

By Ernest Partridge
University of California, Riverside
www.igc.org/gadfly // gadfly@igc.org

April, 2001


On Reliability, Validity and "Chads"

Trivial Pursuits and the Triumph of Info-Tainment

One Dollar, One Vote

Post-Script: On Reliability, Validity and "Chads"

(An Unpublished Letter to the New York Times)

Are hand counts of punched ballots more "accurate" than machine tabulations? It depends upon what one means by "accurate." Machine counting is more reliable. Advantage to the Bush team. Hand counting is more valid. Advantage to Gore. The Gore team has the better argument.

The reliability/validity distinction is well-known to most practicing teachers and to all applied statisticians. Reliable instruments give consistent scores with narrow margins of error. Valid tests yield the information that one is seeking. IQ tests are certifiably reliable. But do they validly measure "intelligence." That is a very controversial question. True-False and multiple choice tests are unquestionably more reliable than essay exams. But philosophy professors correctly prefer essay exams (notoriously unreliable), since they more validly display a student’s ability to express an idea and to criticize or construct an argument.

Punch-cards machines reliably tabulate whether or not a laser beam has passed through a hole in the card. However, they do not validly count votes, for when a voter punches through a card, clearly expressing an intended vote, the chads occasionally remain attached, or previous chads "build-up" preventing a "clean punch." . And since the machine does not count an undetached chad, such intended votes are not tabulated. Accordingly, punch card voting systems, while reliable, are not completely valid.

The best remedy is visual inspection of the cards, as the laws of Florida and Texas have recognized.


Trivial Pursuits and the Triumph of Info-Tainment

According to the media, the great issues of this campaign are kisses (planted on Tipper Gore and Oprah), rodents ("Rats" and "moles"), dog medicine, lullabies and sighs. There are other issues, less conspicuous in the media, that will be decided by this contest:

  •  should we allow the courts and the Congress to continue to cede the rights and security of the citizens to the corporations?

  •  should we consent to the "privatization" of public lands, the public schools, and even the Social Security system?

  • will we absent ourselves from international attempts to save the common oceans and to prevent catastrophic alterations of the common global climate?

  • shall we allow the government to claim control over a woman’s body?

Or else, to the contrary:

  • shall we, the citizens, take back our government from those who have purchased it through campaign "contributions"?

  • will the budget surplus be used to improve public education and health, and to reduce the national debt (6 trillion dollars, 2/3 of which was accrued during the administrations of Reagan and George The First), or will half of it be turned over to the wealthiest 1% of the population?

  • shall we, at last, put an end to "reverse Robin-Hoodism," whereby wealth moves from the poor and the middle classes (who produce the wealth) over to the rich (who own and control the wealth)? Incidentally, the attempt to reverse this trend is called, by "conservatives," "class warfare." Conservatives do not approve of such "warfare," preferring instead, unconditional surrender.

These issues are eclipsed because discussion and contemplation thereof require serious reflection, and critical linear thought has become less and less "fashionable" of late. In the evening network TV news shows, word-laden "content" has been replaced with "images." In cable TV, ideas and events give way to "personalities." Public Television has fallen ever more under the control of its corporate "contributors." Even the so-called "educational channels" (e.g., the Discovery and History Channels) have become the video equivalents of "The National Enquirer," whereby every sort of far-out kookery might be displayed, while informed scientific inquiry recedes into the background. The public demands "entertainment," and images have been found to be more entertaining than ideas, astrology more entertaining than astronomy, and "show-biz celebs" more entertaining than scholars, writers and scientists, who are dismissed as mere "talking heads." The "free-market of ideas," envisioned by Jefferson and J. S. Mill has succumbed to a kind of "Gresham’s Law," whereby quality ideas and argument are driven out by junk and drivel. And so, a new regime prevails in the media: If information is not also entertaining, then fagedabowdit!  Hence "Infotainment."

Thus, in the present campaign, rats, moles, kisses, lullabies and sighs prevail over health care, education, national defense, global warming, etc. And in the  "Great Debates," we have seen the media behave more like drama critics than journalists, as they meticulously examined demeanor, tone, charisma, "comfort level," and "connection," while they ignored substantial issues and policies.

The media, with the acquiescence of the candidates, have adopted "the mushroom theory of politics: "Keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em bullshit."

Quite frankly, as a citizen of the US of A, I am acutely embarrassed, and I fear for the future of my country as I contemplate Jefferson’s observation: "That nation that wishes to be ignorant and free, wishes what never was and never will be."

One Dollar, One Vote

Carved over the front entrance to the Supreme Court Building are the words "Equal Justice Under Law." The justices who voted in the majority in Buckley vs. Valeo (1976), must have habitually entered the building through the rear entrance. In this, the most wrong-headed decision since Dred Scott, the Supremes proclaimed that "cash is speech." Thus the court apportioned electoral influence with wealth – in effect, legalizing bribery. So much for "equality before the law."

And so we have a system whereby the demand of the majority for handgun control is effectively "outbid" by the arms industry and its surrogate, the NRA. Prevention and treatment of nicotine addiction is squelched by a Congress which, in fact, pays subsidies to the tobacco farmers. The oil consumption spree continues unabated, as no politician dares to point out that some day, sooner or later, the Earth must yield the final barrel. (Sooner, given our aversion to energy conservation). Meanwhile, research in alternative energy sources languishes. All this is the result of a Congress that is more "bought and paid for" than elected – that represents its sponsors more than its citizen constituents. (See our "Modest Proposal," this site).

No other Western democracy has so completely mortgaged its election procedures to private and corporate wealth. And, since 1976, this outrage has been validated by the Supreme Court. The Court must be given another go at this, but only after it has been sufficiently "liberalized." Don’t expect this from George W. Bush, whose exemplar of the ideal Justice is Antonin Scalia.


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .