Gentlemen Prefer Blogs: Jerry Brown Enters the Blogosphere

According to a recent survey, gentlemen prefer blogs to the tune of 75 percent; roughly 25 percent of blog frequenters are female. But I want to invite all you ladies to invade the male space. What exactly is a blog? Well, it is an online journal or tabla rasa in the Internet zone where average people can post articles and comments, expostulate, and generally schmooze about topics ranging from food to politics.

It is also a retaliation against what bloggers call MSM; you know, mainstream media, such as CNN, Fox News, and the New York Times. The argument is that MSM is controlled by corporations and other insiders; the blog provides the opportunity for the little guys, or gals, to make their otherwise inaudible opinions known.

I stumbled upon this process when Googling for "Schopenhauer." It turned out Mayor Jerry Brown—formerly the Governor of California—had just started his own
blog. The philosopher that he is, he had made comments about Schopenhauer, as well as about teen drag racing through Oakland, curfews for ex-convicts, and freedom-of-speech issues.

I figured I would chime in without telling my fellow bloggers that I have a regular column in MSM. Someone had already blasted Jerry for having the nerve to start a blog when he can be heard on O'Reilly's Factor and Hardball.

I did not tiptoe into the medium, as I should have, but rushed in by calling America a land of parrots since 9/11, with only one line—a salute to the flag. This drew fire, and I was called a moron by some moron in the blogosphere. How dare he? He was tarnishing the reputation of blogging, straddling a fine line, butchering his chance of being graced by my deep, insightful words again.

I felt better a day later after reading the 255 entries on this one topic and finding that the anonymous and well-known--from some guy named "Smiling Simian in Shades" to Linda Ronstadt, Bruce Springsteen, Noam Chomsky, and even Jerry himself--had all been called equally insulting names. If Jerry--who is brilliant, in my estimation--can be attacked, it was not a big deal anymore.

The next day Jerry posted a comment about political extremism, and I was ecstatic because I knew it was my chance to delve into my favorite topic: dead philosophers. Both he and I seem to enjoy this popular hobby.

When I mentioned how I am particularly a devotee of 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, some guy who called himself "Bill Gates" (yeah, right) attacked Spinoza as "having been discredited long ago." Excuse me? It's one thing to fire bullets at me, but I will not stand for vitriol against my future husband—you know, in my next life.

"Bill Gates" went on to tell me to go live with the animals. Although he was referring to the furry kind, I politely replied, "No. I don't want to live with you."

Then someone named HA offered his two cents by insinuating that my carefully reasoned arguments were tedious. I asked, "Is this a mere joke as your name implies? Ha ha, HA."

Blogging is more than entertainment. It is a way to keep shelves stocked in the marketplace of ideas. It allows brave political souls to get input from their constituents about public policy. Eight million people have blogs and 3% of Americans read them daily.

Maybe you'll join the trend. Bill Gates is waiting for you.


Patriots or Parrots: Imprisoning Tongues in America

It can be dangerous to engage in free speech. This year alone, 242 journalists, in countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, have been tossed into jail for their words, and one has been killed.
Here at home, our bodies remain free, but our tongues are imprisoned. As Dan Rather stated after 9/11, "Patriotism has run amok." Reminiscent of Joe McCarthy's "red hysteria," we are told to shut up, salute the flag, and applaud White House policy during this "war on terror." Otherwise we risk being branded un-American.

Political satirist Bill Maher was publicly skewered and lost his show "Politically Incorrect." The Dixie Chicks were plucked off the radio, and a 33,000 pound tractor was used to crush their CDs in a public protest. The latest casualty in the "word witch hunt" is University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill who likened some World Trade Center victims to Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann, and who may lose his tenured position as a result. A number of journalists in America have lost their jobs.

Rather than examine the flaws or merits of their controversial speech, I will present three questions for further reflection.

First, is it patriotic to parrot the cheers choreographed by a Commander-in-Chief? Or was Thomas Jefferson correct when he wrote, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism"?

If one believes our nation's policies to be in error, isn't the path of courage to speak out, the path of cowardice to remain silent? Should one go down with the Titanic, if one may have a strategy for keeping it afloat, regardless of how much it might inconvenience or enrage the other passengers? Is it possible that those who have been demonized for uttering so-called seditious words are in some way assisting our country, whether for right or wrong, giving us a perspective that we may have otherwise overlooked?

Perhaps the freedom of speech amendment is First because the ability to speak openly is largely what it means to be American. The paradox is that the most outspoken polemicist can be both courageously loyal and yet demonized as a traitor. In fact, two true patriots can present diametrically opposed arguments at the same time. Parrots, on the other hand, have only one general line.

Secondly, is the "war on terror" really a war, and how does this impact freedom of speech? Traditionally, wars are armed conflicts between sovereign states; now we have declared war on an emotion, terror. Our soldiers are fighting and dying, but because the war is against "terror," it can never end. Terror, like drugs and poverty, cannot be entirely eliminated. Since the battle cannot end, does our silence never end? Can we never again speak against U.S. policy?

Thirdly, is it possible that slurs directed at individuals for their "lack of patriotism" are nothing more than political maneuvers, meant to gain power and discredit one's opponents? Democrats also use this tactic against Republicans, such as when Michael Moore said, "They are not patriots. They are hate-riots."

Yet, Republicans are viewed as the more patriotic party, thus enjoy greater success with this marginalizing technique. We should beware of suspicious labels and partisan motives that relegate ones political adversaries to the enemy's cave, to a conspiratorial pact with Bin Laden.

For each individual whose speech is targeted, there are no doubt hundreds, if not thousands, who censor innovative thoughts before attempting to offer them in the marketplace of ideas.

The next time you hear the word "unpatriotic" or "un-American" tossed about, do not accept. Question. Think about censorship and self-censorship. Think about whether you want our country to have a staple menu of bread and water or one listing many flavorful dishes.

Think about whether you believe in Voltaire's idea, "I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" or Ari Fleisher's idea that all Americans should "watch what they say" in this time of crisis.

Think about whether you want a land of parrots or one of patriots.


Conformity, Authority and Morality

There are financial scandals implicating and even indicting executives from Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Arthur Anderson, Tyco and Merck. There are statistics showing that 10% of American households steal cable television, that 70% - 75% of students have cheated in school, and that lying is a normal part of social interaction.

There are the prisoner abuse scandals that point to sadistic behavior by seven American military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, with follow-up accusations against European troops, and later against the California National Guard at a separate incarceration facility north of Baghdad.

Are these "questionable" acts indicative of the genetic or moral flaws of "a few bad apples," or is there a particular social climate or situation that paves the way for certain types of behavior? Is Shakespeare right in that "all the world is a stage," and this stage can transform a law-abiding citizen into a crook, an ethical person into a dissembler, or a pacifist into a sadist?

Numerous experiments have investigated this question and found that a person's behavior is often drastically altered by those around him and by his overall circumstance, rather than by inherent personality traits or professed individual values.

At the Princeton Theological Seminary, two psychologists conducted a study in which seminary students were asked to relate the parable of the Good Samaritan into a tape recorder at a nearby building. A "victim," feigning physical distress and needing help, was positioned en route. The instructor warned half of the students that they were late to make the recording and should hurry to the proper location, while telling the other half that there was no need to rush, but they might as well head over to the building early. Of those in a hurry, 90% walked around the injured "victim" or stepped over him to get to the destination. Of those with time to spare, 63% assisted the man in need. The context of the situation proved essential: the desire to obey orders and to conform to the perceived time limitation played a significant role in the seminarians decision as to whether to be a Good Samaritan.

Social psychologist Solomon Asch conducted his own experiments in 1951. He wanted to see if an ordinary person would conform with a group decision when it was clear that this decision was erroneous. An unsuspecting subject was placed in a classroom with seven actors who agreed one after the other that two lines were equal in length when there was in fact a huge discrepancy: one line was short and the other was long. Then the subject was asked for his opinion; only 29% of those questioned deviated from the majority, thus establishing the power of conformity and authority. Those who answered correctly reported feeling uncomfortable when doing so. If the decision-making had been related to ethics or aesthetics, rather than the empirically verifiable length of two lines, experts agree that compliance with the group decision would have been even higher.

Asch's work was inspired by Stanley Milgram, a Yale University psychologist who wondered if people would execute strangers if they were simply told to do so. Milgram was fascinated with the Nuremberg trials and wondered if Eichmann, a high ranking official of the Nazi Party, was inherently evil or had just followed orders in such a way as any person would.

Milgram invited ordinary Americans whom he labeled "teachers" to give electric shocks to a stranger whom he called the "learner" when the latter was unable to provide the correct response in a supposed memory test. Of course, there were no real shocks and memory was not being tested, but each teacher was unaware of this. The learner screamed with pain and continually begged for the teacher to release him from his straps. The testing device was labeled from level 0 to 450. 100-150 delivered mild shock while higher levels were labeled "very strong," "extreme severity," danger, severe shock," and finally "XXX" (or fatal). Milgram had asked accredited colleagues in advance to guess what they thought the outcome would be; they hypothesized that no one would go above 150 volts with the exception of the rare sadist who would push the lethal 450 lever.

The actual results were quite different: 66% of the teachers "executed" the victim, merely because they were told to do so by the authoritative figure: the psychologist. Of those who refused to go to 450, no one stopped before reaching 300 volts; and nobody helped the victim, thus proving to Milgram that part of the human condition is blind obedience.
For 25 years, Milgram's obedience experiment was replicated by numerous researchers in the United States, Australia, South Africa and in several European countries with similar results. In a German study, over 85% of the subjects administered a lethal electric shock to the learner.

"Abuse" also resulted from a study conducted at Stanford University by Philip Zimbardo in 1971. He created a mock prison, and average university students were drafted to be prisoners and guards. They passed mental and physical exams, and coins were tossed to see who was to assume which role. The authoritative impact of the guard uniform with the accompanying nightstick and mirrored sunglasses converted these previously docile students into increasingly violent enforcers, and the inferior status of the convicts, reinforced by their low ranking garb, prison numbers (rather than names) and confinement to tiny cells, transformed them into victims. Formerly active prisoners became passive; healthy ones became sick.

Both sets of students said they lost their identities and forgot they were a part of an experiment. The illusion became a reality. The two week study was called off after only six days because the treatment of the prisoners became too brutal and humiliating. The photos revealing the Abu Ghraib violations are astoundingly similar to the video footage taken of the Zimbardo experiment.

There are studies that show how lying, cheating and stealing are also the product of circumstance rather than character and how the notion of "us" vs. "them" is a fallacy. Two Yale University psychologists Hugh Hartshorne and Mark May secretly gave approximately 10,000 children the opportunity to lie, cheat, or steal on various academic tests, sporting competitions and other projects. The children's personal values were evaluated during this extensive study, 71% of the kids exhibited "unethical" behavior, and it was concluded that "honest or dishonest behavior is largely determined by circumstances," not moral beliefs.

In another incident, computers in a Manhattan credit union failed and mistakenly permitted customers to withdraw unlimited funds over their available balances. Rather than inconvenience its customers, the union decided to trust their patrons not to overdraw their accounts with their ATM cards.

Four thousand customers took advantage of the error; some stole as much as $10,000 from the financial institution. In the end, $15 million remained missing, and the authorities had to be called to make arrests.
There are countless other studies about how external factors are highly predictive of so-called "moral" behavior. It may be disheartening to learn that people are generally conformists, blind followers of authority and highly influenced by circumstance rather than character and values, but there are reasons to be uplifted by these findings.

First, this behavior can be explained: people are genetically predisposed towards conformity and ethnocentrism because these traits aid in survival. We cannot live without the assistance of others, and this type of societal cooperation requires some adherence to established rules. Cultural group selection is certainly essential in the same way that natural selection is.

Secondly, political leaders, reformers, revolutionaries, creative thinkers, innovators, public policy developers and anyone with a different slant or position on an issue should rejoice. This paradigm shift means implementing change is much more promising: situations are fluid and malleable while internalized moral beliefs are often rigid.
The recent debate over gay civil unions is a case in point. When Massachusetts and San Francisco began challenging the status quo, polls revealed that most Americans were against the legally recognized pairing of homosexual couples. However, in the course of the past year, statistics have radically changed. It may be the pervasive news coverage, the compelling arguments in favor, the open national debate, or all of the above, but external factors have clearly contributed to a shift in perspective. In a CBS nationwide poll conducted in May 2004, the percentage of people who favored civil unions was up to 56% from 39% in November 2003, and those opposed was down to 40% from 53%.
The ability to change a situation, a political climate, a law, or a collective conscious is indeed possible without heavy-duty pliers or a hammer. Reform is not at war with genetic, entrenched, or internalized stagnations. To a great extent, the only real obstacles are more flexible, external factors, such as whether there are cameras in the prison to monitor prisoner abuse, whether teachers are vigilant about plagiarism and cheating, whether corporate America prosecutes its white-collar criminals, and whether a credit union shuts down its ATM rather than naively trusting its patrons. Perhaps "The Bad Seed" of circumstance is not so bad after all.


Writing L.A.'s Wrongs With A No-Kill Animal Shelter Proposal

Los Angeles kills 30,000 – 50,000 of our dogs and cats at our city shelters each year for an annual cost of $14 million dollars. Not only does this turn our city's animal "shelters" into death houses, at great expense, it is entirely unnecessary.

"No kill" means to end the killing of all healthy or curably sick dogs and cats at shelters within city boundaries.

Mayor Hahn says he wants to make L.A. "no kill" by 2008, but inside sources say this is mere rhetoric, for he will be out of office by then, and that city bureaucrats have no notion how this objective might be accomplished other than to increase shelter space.

The city is spending $154 million to renovate and build new shelters. At the completion of the construction project, the kennels will increase from 366 to 1253. These 887 extra "runs" may give the animals a longer holding time, but L.A. cannot solve its euthanasia problem without a more comprehensive plan, drawing on a cooperative effort between government agencies and the animal rescue / welfare community.

"No kill" is an achievable goal: San Francisco has virtually succeeded, while Utah, New York City and various counties around the country have begun the process.

These areas rely heavily upon financial assistance from a nonprofit called Maddie's Fund, which has $200 million dollars in free money available to aid localities, even entire states, with the "no kill" objective. Maddie's Fund provides a structured, ten-year (or shorter) plan.

Rich Avanzino, the head of the organization told me several months ago, "Until you, no one has ever asked us to help Los Angeles. We would probably give $20 million, but since the city is so big, we would require that you raise a matching $20 million in nonprofit funds over a decade. This would be easy. New York raised $16 million in a few months."

Though I was shocked to learn I was the first from LA to approach Maddie's Fund, I saw it as a cue, the impetus to do extensive research and write a full-scale proposal for Los Angeles.

My three-part proposal—which costs nothing to implement and will eventually save the city money—is weaving through the bureaucracy now. It has made it to the ears of the L.A. Animal Commissioners, been passed by the Greater Valley Glen Council, and sits on the desk of Guerdon Stuckey, the new General Manager of Animal Services.

The first two parts of my proposal are to be undertaken simultaneously.

First, I have proposed that each of the 86 Neighborhood Councils in Los Angeles appoint a local Director of Animal Welfare (DAW), who will have a duty to look out for the animals in the area. The DAW might arrange Animal Care Fairs, with free spay-neuter, dog training, education, and adoption services. One DAW might deal with dog-fighting problems, while another may assist with horse-related issues. Neighborhood Council meetings and newsletters are cost free means for reporting progress or pulling the community together for a particular project. A similar idea was practiced in Alameda County, resulting in emptier shelters.

Secondly, Los Angeles must prepare the general strategy. It should establish a nonprofit regardless of whether it decides to take Maddie's Fund money or "go it alone." The Maddie's Fund two-pronged program--which focuses both on increased adoptions and spay-neuter efforts--will not give money directly to any government entity, but only to a nonprofit set up on its behalf. In addition, people prefer to contribute when a nonprofit tax deduction is available. Two local businessmen have agreed to donate a combined $500,000 to start the matching fund.

The new Los Angeles nonprofit can review numbers, strategies, and successes related to current Maddie's Fund participants. Data is available on the Internet, and the base plan can be found at

Maddie's Fund money can be used to finance or supplement spay-neuter and adoption costs, as well as to bankroll less orthodox campaigns. Utah has a "Hooters for Neuters" program, which links pet population control with the restaurant chain. Some Oregon malls install satellites to advertise adoptable dogs and cats to shoppers.

Many localities have instituted free dog training, "pets ok" rental referrals, humane education, free feral cat assistance, foster homes for pets, enforcement of laws regarding current breeding limits, longer or different shelter hours to accommodate the public, better public relations and professional advertising campaigns, and bathed and beautified shelter dogs to make them look more adoptable. Incentives can even be provided for those who adopt from shelters, such as free shots and medical exams for their new companion animals.

Thirdly, my proposal allows for a potential legislative solution after the completion of part one and two; if, for example, Los Angeles has not eliminated the killing of pit bulls and pit bull type dogs. This is currently the problem in sections of Northern California. These types of dogs are regularly euthanized, while all other breeds find homes.

The State of California disallows breed specific legislation with respect to dangerous dogs (Section 31601), however it says nothing about breed specific legislation for highly un-adoptable animals. The latter shifts emphasis away from depriving people of a right, such as the right to own the dog of their choice, and towards the need to preserve a life.

A "Highly Un-Adoptable Dog Law" could be presented in the form of a short-term pilot program and passed as an ordinance by the L.A. City Council. It could require, for example, pit bulls to be "fixed" and micro-chipped, and prohibit those not already living in the area from entering. The pilot program could be evaluated routinely for its efficacy or lack thereof.

A number of city officials, Maddie's Fund representatives, animal welfare leaders, and insurgent animal activists reviewed my drafts in advance. All expressed approval and a willingness to cooperate with the plan, an astounding achievement, considering the conflicting opinions and combative attitudes that have dominated the L.A. shelter situation for some time.

If my proposal can find a home in L.A., perhaps our four-legged friends can look forward to homes too, rather than the rendering plant near Vernon, where many unfortunately find themselves now.


California's Sex Offender Database: Is Your Home at Threat Level Red?

Quick. Can you recite the name, address, and crimes committed by the sexual offenders on your street or in your neighborhood? Apparently many people can. During the first 96 hours after the Megan's Law database was launched on December 15, 2004, there were 14 million hits to the website, out of a total of only 35 million people in California. In fact, the site at was so clogged that many received a message, "Server busy. Try again later."

Moraga has only one sexual offender registered, as do Toluca Lake and Malibu. After an extensive search, I found only one area with a better record. It is Bermuda Dunes, wherever the heck that is. Turns out it is near Palm Desert, and it reports no sexual offenders at all. The most dismal records I could find were Modesto and Sacramento. Modesto has 513 offenders and a population of 200,000; this equals one offender for every 389 people in the area. Sacramento has 1567 offenders and a population of 407,000, which means one offender for every 259 people.

The "Big Brother type" database is not good news for the 63,000 offenders. The American Civil Liberties Union claims this group may become the victims of vigilante attacks, plus it is argued that many of these ex-cons committed illegal acts decades ago, purport to be reformed, thus should not be revealed at all. There is also the possibility that those listed will never find a job when the Google search engine retrieves the database in association with their names.

But what truly concerns me is never mentioned: the ramifications for non-offenders. It is not politically correct to mention anything that could detract from the noble and worthy goal of protecting children, but what if the database does not indeed defend anyone and what if it destroys the lives and livelihoods of non-offenders by its mere existence? I argue it could.

The first potential problem relates to the safety of children. Parents or guardians may embrace a false sense of security when they check to find no offender resides near their home or child's school, and as a result, may let down their guard. A full 20 percent of those listed in the database--indicated by a red check mark beside their name--have secretly moved to undisclosed locations. Plus those accurately listed have cars. They can drive to Bermuda Dunes.

Not all sex offenders have been caught; in fact, exact addresses are available only for the 33,500 who have committed the most serious crimes, and the website omits information on 22,000 other offenders convicted of less serious sex crimes. It is never entirely safe to leave a child unattended, regardless of what a database says. Complacency could prove a dangerous trend.

Secondly, the Sexual Offender Database is riddled with inaccuracies; the Attorney General's website, which hosts the list, warns about possible gaps in information and the danger of relying on names and addresses to identify people. Because so many of those registered have not reported their change of address; their new neighbors are unaware of their presence, and their old communities are stigmatized.

Kyle and Pam Brown, an East Bay couple, experienced this problem first hand. They were shocked to find their address added to the database with a detailed map to their home. They had purchased the property 11 years earlier, unaware of the previous owner's crimes. Frightened of revenge attacks and embarrassed to be linked to the offender, the Browns asked that the inaccuracy be rectified immediately. The State Department of Justice said it could not replace an old address until it received a new one from the sex offender. Only after pressure and unflattering media reports did the authorities agree to delete the address in a timely manner.

Thirdly, it may sound shallow, but the database could seriously impact real estate values and the ability to sell ones property. There are people, such as the elderly, sick, or financially strapped, who may count on their equity or need to sell in a hurry. They may encounter difficulty if Mr. Sexual Offender lives next door, across the street, behind the backyard, or even three homes away.

Because the database can be accessed by the click of a computer mouse, buyers are likely to check before making an offer, and sellers may be required by law to disclose these "unsavory" neighbors. As a result, property owners may find themselves unable to sell or forced to reduce the list price dramatically. This is especially problematic for single family residences because home buyers, who often have kids, are less likely to be nonchalant about a questionable neighbor.

Over forty percent of the offenders listed in Napa, Santa Rosa, Tarzana, Burbank, Ojai, Mill Valley, Vacaville, San Pablo and Northridge live in houses rather than apartments. Ironically, it could become commonplace to pay offenders to relocate. Why not pay a convicted felon $5000 to move to the other side of town when it will result in a $25,000 - $50,000 increase in equity? As odd as it seems, offenders could find they profit from the negative exposure on the Internet.

Lastly, there is the fear factor. Evidence suggests that offenders are more likely to re-offend under stressful conditions, such as when they are ridiculed or unable to find work. In other words, our communities and children may be in greater jeopardy when these people are publicly exposed.

Fear can also impact non-offenders directly. Talk radio callers boast about driving their children past the "dangerous" homes in their area. What is the emotional impact of this exercise on the child? On the adult?

We are arguably a fearful nation. The nightly news is replete with warnings, violence and disasters; perhaps because instilling fear heightens advertisers' sales. Perhaps because it scores high ratings for the network.

For two years, we have been treated to Homeland Security's color-coded terror alerts, though the government itself admits that "raising the threat condition has economic, physical, and psychological effects on the nation." Does this really make us more secure? Do people still notice these alerts?

It may follow that the existence of an easily accessible sexual offender database might have a similar impact on our state, raising fears, achieving little and impacting real estate values. Will we be better protected by knowing that little Suzy's house is in a red zone, little Bobby's school is in an Orange Zone and little Billy walks his dog in a Yellow Zone? I suspect not, but hope I am wrong.


Polls and the Power of Self-Manipulation

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Being a poll or focus group participant is more fun than visiting a therapist. In the case of the former, you are asked to share your opinion with a room full of total strangers or anonymously with the entire nation.

With respect to the latter, you are only able to tell one person: the psychologist. To make matters worse, this person is under an ethical obligation to keep your opinions private; unless, of course, you speak of committing heinous crimes. By making beastly confessions, you may be heard by all of the people, some of the time. But then you will end up in prison, only to be heard by none of the people, all of the time. It's a real bummer.

Focus groups are qualitative, in-depth interviews with a select group of people on a particular product or issue while polls are verbal or written questionnaires that must be answered in a multiple choice format. With polls, there is no room for explanation, details, or in many cases, accuracy. If you fail to fit neatly into the form's or interviewer's pre-ordained categories, you must guess, lie or risk not qualifying for the survey; which, of course, means your opinion will not be heard. And who wants that?

Although I have been involved personally with a number of market research focus groups—such as one sponsored by the White House years ago to help Hillary Clinton with her now defunct universal healthcare initiative—I have only once participated in a poll. This was for the 2004 presidential election, and what I learned about the polling process and potentially flawed results was shocking.

Polls seem to provide a valuable gauge of public opinion, yet they will always be criticized for accidental, sometimes intentional, inaccuracies. For example, polls were wrong about the Dewey - Truman race in 1948, Reagan – Carter in 1980, and Bush – Gore in 2000. They concluded Kerry would prevail in 2004. Polls were used recently to make the argument that American values are "red" and that no one will ever be elected president who tries to circumvent this "Gospel" truth.

Frank Luntz, the pollster who has gained notoriety through regular appearances on Chris Matthews' Hardball, says that words are critical in shaping public opinion. He adds that many politicians do not understand that the way a question or comment is framed can mean the difference between political victory or defeat.

The book, Perfectly Legal, says the question, "Would you pay more taxes to halt rising crime rates?" wins a substantially higher percentage of the "yes" votes than "Would you pay more taxes to increase law enforcement," although both mean the same thing.

This explains how religious groups can come up with figures showing public opposition to gambling while casino interests can demonstrate the reverse. It explains why conservatives may have altogether different statistics than liberals.

Measurement itself is subjective. If a pollster calls to ask if you saw the Bush vs. Kerry debate, what qualifies as an affirmative response? What if you saw a ten seconds while "flipping channels" in search of pro-wrestling or Extreme Makeover? What about a full ten minutes? What if you had the sound turned down, while negotiating business on the phone?

What if you watched the whole debate, but immediately forgot what was said after turning off the set? Can you honestly tell the pollster you watched it? If you do, will you skew the results? John Zogby says, "Even the most thorough polls are open to interpretation."

My 2004 election experience involved the Zogby International polling organization. I volunteered to be an e-mail respondent, and I received questionnaires on a regular basis, especially after significant events, such as the Democratic and Republican conventions and Kerry's hunting expedition.

What I learned from this experience was astounding. I was the victim of self-manipulation, and my vote was, in the end, not spontaneous, but instead the product of thought processes which normally would never have come to the fore.

The survey results I created for Zogby—and I say "created" because it became an inventive enterprise—were mostly born of cursory moves, but sometimes more deliberate ones. My ambiguous and puzzling behavior was evident in five ways.

First, there was the "It's better to fabricate a bit, but be counted" factor. This means that when I encountered a Zogby question which didn't work for me, such as when asked whether I was a liberal, moderate, conservative, libertarian, not sure, or none of the above, I refused to select "not sure" or "none of the above," even though these were closer to the truth.

I repeatedly answered "moderate," because "not sure" made me sound indecisive or doltish. With "none of the above," I was convinced my opinions would be tossed aside. I had to be counted. Better to be a "pretend moderate."

Secondly, there was the "Shoot, I misread the last question, but can't go back" factor. This was mostly born of computer fear and occurred when I would click to the next page of the questionnaire and realize that I botched the previous question. Hitting "back" is always risky. Better to leave the wrong answer than lose the survey in the Internet black hole. So I did.

Thirdly, there was the "Hazy memory" factor. When I encountered questions in which I had previously fabricated an answer, such as pretending to be a moderate, I would sometimes forget what I had said. This created panic and the need to try to reconstruct what I had done before.

I specifically had problems with my religion. I consider myself a "Jewish Jain." Along with various forms of the Christian faith, "Jewish" was an option, but "Jain" was not. This time, however, Zogby also provided a fill-in blank, along with the usual, less appealing "not sure" and "none of the above."

I could never remember whether I had chosen "Jewish," or written "Jain," or written "Jewish Jain," or completely gone crazy and answered "not sure" or "none of the above." It was terribly confusing and stressful. I found myself trying to re-create answers I had given in the previous weeks and months.

Fourthly, there was the "No one is gonna manipulate me, except me" factor. Because the questionnaires were sent after consequential events--such as when the Swift Boat ads aired or Cheney falsely declared he had never met Edwards--it became evident that Zogby wanted to know if I had been swayed by these factors.

I could not possibly look like a vacillator, like I could be controlled or convinced by a mere "incident" reported in the press. I was an independent thinker, by gosh. My self-image was at stake, so I steadfastly clung to the same answers time and time again; that is, if I could remember what they were.

Lastly, there was the "I can't disappoint the poll" factor." Since the onset, I had committed to the same candidate over and over, due to the "No one is gonna manipulate me, except me" factor.

I had completed my last Zogby questionnaire, and it was time to vote for president. It would be unethical to deviate now. I couldn't abandon that poor poll, leave it to wither, forgotten in a hazardous landfill somewhere. It trusted me. It needed me. It wanted me to authenticate it. I may have manipulated my vote in the end so as not to disappoint the poll. I cannot be sure.

But I am sure of two things. First, It would be interesting to see a poll about poll participants like me--the results which, of course, couldn't be trusted. Secondly, Seemingly accurate studies may be tied to the "Self-fulfilling prophecy" factor. Pollsters and poll participants may be fooling all of the people, all of the time. Including themselves.