Saturday, February 13, 2010

International Evaluations of Obama

A recent article in The Atlantic Times gives a European perspective on President Obama. Reporter Peter H. Koepf writes:

The party is over. Great hopes have turned into serious doubts. Those who welcomed Barack Obama as a messiah a year ago have now been forced to admit that the 44th president of the United States is only human. His lofty visions have become far distant goals. The president, who formulated grand designs in an almost fundamentalist fashion, is operating – when he operates at all – as a pragmatist.

The article is entitled "Rude Awakening" and comes in the wake of comments by France's president Sarkozy, Germany's chancellor Merkel, and England's prime minister Gordon Brown, all of whom have been less than cheerful about Obama's international impact.

If not among the leaders of Europe, Obama had some fans among the media of those countries. But now, even the news reporters aren't very enthusiastic:

Now his fans are deserting their former icon. The “post-polarization candidate” (New York Times) has become a polarizing president. “Renunciation of the Savior” was the headline in Munich’s daily Süddeutsche Zeitung – a reference to falling support for Obama in the US.

It might have been worth enduring the contempt of Europe if it meant achieving good diplomatic relations with countries in other parts of the world: but in the Mid-East, Africa, Asia, and South America, government leaders are equally cool toward Obama.

In Germany, too, those who were most enthusiastic about Obama last year are now voicing the loudest criticism. The president’s former supporters are forced to realize that even with this leader, war – and nuclear weapons – are not about to disappear from the face of the Earth. Nor will the world become a fairer place.

Obama has done a lot of traveling during his first year as president; but these trips have only served to show various nations who he really is: instead of the diplomat creating international harmony, he has revealed himself to be, in some cases, abrasive and uncultured, and in other cases, capable of being unwittingly exploited by local rulers who wish to continue ignoring human rights and directing aggression toward neighboring countries. His diplomatic trips have not had the desired effect: the more other nations understand Obama, the less they are inclined to operate diplomatically with the United States. Obama fared best when other nations knew the image of him created by the American media: that image, because it was very inaccurate, created considerable popularity for Obama. Prior to his election, thousands of Europeans expressed a favorable opinion of him. Now, however, he is not welcome:

Obama’s speech in Oslo may have been the turning point. When the president accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in December, he said: “We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes.” Since then, not even the Germans have loved the American president quite so much.

Can The United States regain its image and diplomatic stature among the European nations? Perhaps. In any case, we cannot blame the current fiasco entirely on Obama: clearly, actions by the current Congress, and words from the current Secretary of State, have also earned international censure. Although Obama's bumbling and dithering haven't helped, he alone is only part of our problem. The cure will be change on a bigger scale than merely the White House.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Tired of Statistics?

For a century or more, writers and speakers have developed the habit of using statistics to support their views. This becomes clear if we compare, for example, a political speech given in 2010 with one given in 1510. This mathematical trend has been popular because it gives the appearance of being scientific and rational.

Reflective listeners and readers, however, have long realized that statistics are subject to manipulation and misinterpretation. One need only recall the primary lesson that correlation does not imply causation, or recall Mark Twain's quip about statistics, to understand why the numerals which adorn political texts need either to be carefully examined, or to be ignored.

We understand that quantitative analysis is important, and should be done, but we border on the absurd when a report is released by the Treasury Department, and it is immediately combed by various political parties, who harvest whatever numbers appear to support their agendas.

Is there an alternative?

Researchers hoping to escape the statistical madness have focused on a method of qualitative analysis. This type of investigation has long been used in situations where a statistical approach isn't possible: it has been used by the United States Air Force in debriefing crewmen after missions, by the FAA after crashes, by physicians in case studies, and by police detectives. When studying a single event or a unique case (N=1), statistical approaches are usually meaningless.

This type of qualitative analysis is now being transferred from situations in which statistical analysis is impossible to situations in which statistical analysis is unhelpful. In certain branches of medicine and economics, for example, quantitative analysis yields results which are ambiguous or misleading. Qualitative analysis, by contrast, can yield more understanding of the situation's dynamics.

So, in some situations, we can avoid statistics and get a better insight of the matter at hand!