Archive for March, 2006

Isolationists

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

Isolationists

A few years ago we were having a very high-profile, highly-visible debate about something called NAFTA. It was a proposed treaty establishing a trading bloc among the United States, Canada and Mexico. The pro-NAFTA and anti-NAFTA people were very sure of themselves as they argued back and forth about whether we should sign it or not. It wasn’t too long before people started talking about the “isolationist” faction that made an important plank in the anti-NAFTA side.

It seemed an innocuous label at the time. After all, if you’re an isolationist, shouldn’t you ‘fess up to being one? And there are good reasons for being an isolationist, or at least thinking about being one. “Foreign entanglements” is one of the troubling situations raised by George Washington in his Farewell Address.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people under an efficient government. the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

But make no mistake: However reluctant everyone may be to besmirch the words of our first President, the word “isolationist” is a deragatory term. It carries the connotation that the person being described, labors under an unworkably narrow worldview and will live to regret it. It’s not a flattering term; or at any rate, it isn’t used as a flattering term.

And there’s something a little unfair about that.

But here’s something else to chew on.

When someone from what we think of as the “right wing” embraces an isolationist platform — pick one: anti-illegal immigration, anti-legal-immigration, anti-trading-bloc, pro-tarrifs, anti-student-visa, anti-worker-visa, anti-Dubai-port-deal — we don’t have to wait very long before we hear the “I” word, do we?

I find that interesting.

There were a lot of reasons to oppose the Dubai port deal besides “isolationist” concerns. National security is a great example. It’s a perfectly valid point-of-view, and one widely held, that it’s mutually beneficial to do business with foreign countries — just keep those countries away from our port terminals when they have a history of doing business with the Taliban. So how well does the word “isolationist” fit? Sure, it overlaps. But an overlapping is not a fitting. Nobody’s out there saying Hillary Clinton is an isolationist, just because she opposed the port deal.

Here’s the bug up my ass: The “I” word is a perfect fit, like a hand sliding into a glove, to describe the hardcore left-wing effort to oppose the War on Terror and our operations in Iraq. Isolationists are exactly what those people are.

Some of them supported our operations in Afghanistan but insist the excursion into Iraq was an exercise in distraction from the stated goal. They insist that while Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, he was off-topic; therefore, by implication, they insist that all the other bad people in the world with ties to terrorism, are similarly off-topic until someone can offer a substantial, documented connection between the proposed target and undisputed, historical events of terror. And such historical events are to involve injury to the United States, and the United States alone, or else they will remain off-topic.

That’s isolationist. That’s the dictionary definition of isolationist.

Others among the anti-war left don’t even support the operation in Afghanistan. They worry about the image of the United States on the world stage, that our “hostile foreign policy” has caused other countries to “view us with contempt” and “squandered the goodwill” we had with “our allies.” This naturally raises a question about what kind of ally you have, when the ally is only your ally until you defend yourself, and then is your ally no more. But wisely, these anti-war zealots sidestep the question by simply refusing to engage it; they noisily debate only the things that give them traction, nevermind that real life stubbornly insists on debating all aspects of a policy, not just some.

In sum, they propose a policy where America improves its image — as perceived by other countries who would like us to shut up and go away. By piping down. Knuckling under. Let the snakes go ahead and take over the swamp.

That’s isolationist.

There are still others who support the anti-war movement: Those who are concerned about our “civil liberties” and the “erosion” of same. It’s a valid concern. We lead the world in the freedoms we have, thanks to our unique concept of limited government. This leadership is chiseled into our Constitution which, letter-by-letter, remains unchanged since the 9/11 attacks. But this advantage is supported by our culture as well, and out of necessity the culture has gone through significant transformation. It’s just a fact that on September 10, 2001, you could do a lot of things, secure in the knowledge that the government would never find out about it. And that this is no longer true. Some of that is necessary, but nevertheless it’s a good time to stay vigilant.

It’s a balancing act. But it’s the position of those who take up the anti-war banner, over the concern for civil liberties…that it is not a balancing act. They only want to think about one side. Not that they deny the existence of terrorists who want to kill Americans. They simply declare it off the table. Not a relevant topic.

That’s isolationist.

The word fits so well over the anti-war crowd, that I daresay if you show me a hundred anti-war zealots, I can show you a hundred isolatonists. Maybe a lot fewer than a hundred who would be willing to admit that’s what they are; but a hundred isolationists nonetheless. And I’ll bet a small amount of money that if you show me a hundred isolationists, I can show you a hundred anti-war zealots. I’ll bet a much larger amount of money that I could show you, let’s say, seventy or eighty.

Is anyone ready to dispute that?

No? Then how about applying the word that has become so deragatory, and such a synonym for dim-wittedness, knuckle-headedness, obliviousness, myopia, unwarranted hostility, immaturity, and general short-sightedness?

How does the word NOT fit the anti-war crowd? I’d be interested in any argument anyone would have to offer.

Does It F***ing Matter?

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

Does It F***ing Matter?

Justice Antonin Scalia made an obscene gesture in front of a church. Or he didn’t. What a contentious issue. Let us divide what is disputed in this episode, from what is not: On March 27, this story appeared in the Boston Herald.

Minutes after receiving the Eucharist at a special Mass for lawyers and politicians at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had a special blessing of his own for those who question his impartiality when it comes to matters of church and state.

“You know what I say to those people?” Scalia, 70, replied, making an obscene gesture, flicking his hand under his chin when asked by a Herald reporter if he fends off a lot of flak for publicly celebrating his conservative Roman Catholic beliefs.

“That�s Sicilian,” the Italian jurist said, interpreting for the “Sopranos” challenged.

“It�s none of their business,” continued Scalia, who was the keynote speaker at yesterday�s Catholic Lawyers� Guild luncheon. “This is my spiritual life. I shall lead it the way I like.”

A vulgar justice sitting on the Supreme Court. Making obscene gestures right in front of a church. What a scandal.

Not so fast. According to Kitty Arberg, a spokeswoman for the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia did not use an “obscene” hand gesture and he did not “continue” by commenting “it’s none of their business.” Rather, “it’s none of their business” was the point of the gesture and there was nothing obscene about it.

The Boston Herald reported Monday that the justice made “an obscene gesture under his chin” – which prompted some online reports that Scalia had used his middle finger.

Untrue.

“It was a hand off the chin gesture that was meant to be dismissive,” Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.

Scalia, 70, is Italian and known for wisecracks in and out of court.

The sign he used in Boston is frequently used by Italians to express displeasure with someone – from mild to deep irritation. It is done by cupping the hand under the chin and flicking the fingers like a backward wave.

Scalia himself sent a letter to the Herald, which appears to be consistent with this explanation (link goes to image) (link goes to partial transcript):

How could your reporter leap to the conclusion (contrary to my explanation) that the gesture was obscene? Alas, the explanation is evident in the following line from her article: “‘That�s Sicilian,’ the Italian jurist said, interpreting for the ‘Sopranos’ challenged.” From watching too many episodes of the Sopranos, your staff seems to have acquired the belief that any Sicilian gesture is obscene – especially when made by an “Italian jurist.” (I am, by the way, an American jurist.)

Boy, that’s telling them. And as a side note, I was going to invite Justice Scalia over for dinner the same night as some of the Herald staff and seat them next to each other. Better re-think that.

But wait! The Herald printed up some comments from photographer Peter Smith, who was there, and he says differently:

“It�s inaccurate and deceptive of him to say there was no vulgarity in the moment,” said Peter Smith, the Boston University assistant photojournalism professor who made the shot.

Despite Scalia�s insistence that the Sicilian gesture was not offensive and had been incorrectly characterized by the Herald as obscene, the photographer said the newspaper “got the story right.”

Smith said the jurist “immediately knew he�d made a mistake, and said, ‘You�re not going to print that, are you?’”
:
Smith was working as a freelance photographer for the Boston archdiocese�s weekly newspaper at a special Mass for lawyers Sunday when a Herald reporter asked the justice how he responds to critics who might question his impartiality as a judge given his public worship.

“The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, ‘To my critics, I say, ‘Vaffanculo,’” punctuating the comment by flicking his right hand out from under his chin, Smith said.

The Italian phrase means “(expletive) you.”

Vaffanculo. It appears that Peter Smith is correct about the meaning of the word (language behind link not suitable for a family audience). If only his account that Justice Scalia used the V-word, were truly undisputed, which it isn’t.

Perhaps the Justice is backpedaling like crazy. People in Washington, elected or not, backpedal all the time. How to tell what he meant? Well there’s the trouble: When you’re trying to figure out what people meant by what they said, other than asking the guy who did the speaking, there aren’t a whole lot of ways to figure it out. And the guy who did the speaking, has spoken.

Scandal? I’m not so sure. A Supreme Court justice is supposed to be one of nine refrees, pronouncing a ball as good or out-of-bounds. If you are an originalist as Justice Scalia has repeatedly stated he is, this should be as much a matter of fact as possible, and as little a matter of personal taste as possible. Like a math problem. It really doesn’t matter what I’d personally like three-times-two to be, it matters what the answer really is.

Now, if I’d just been asked what three-times-two is and I just got done saying the answer is six, and I was asked “what about those people who say the answer is five, and that you only said it was six because of your personal religious views?” That is an accurate parallel to what Justice Scalia was asked, according to my understanding.

And that’s undisputed.

Well, now. Scalia’s retroactive interpretation, “I could not care less,” seems quite appropriate.

“FUCK YOU” seems pretty appropriate too. Three times two has only one possible answer.

So for my edification, why exactly am I supposed to care about this?

Dangerous Diets, Huh?

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Dangerous Diets, Huh?

Sometimes I’m too prescient for my own good. The week before last, I wrote:

I’ve noticed after watching people for a long period of time, that there really aren’t too many things that can be opposed with widespread unity, quite so much as things involving young girls in skimpy outfits. And when large numbers of people oppose something with unity, and you ask them why they oppose it, in terms of incoherent, babbling, nonsensical answers you get back, the things involving young girls in skimpy outfits really take the cake.

Now, go back and read that one more time. Opposed…with widespread unity. Incoherent, babbling, nonsensical answers. Themz a lot of big wurdz, what do you suppose I’m talking about?

Here’s a great example.

Banned: Cheerleaders’ skimpy outfits

A TEAM of cheerleaders has been banned from wearing the skimpy new costumes they bought themselves over fears they could embark on dangerous diets.

Girls from the award-winning Spirit Shockers team, from Glossop, spent up to �80 each on their specially-designed pink and black outfits.

But the British Cheerleaders’ Association said the crop-tops fall foul of new regulations which prohibit exposure of the midriff. They are worried they might put pressure on young girls to diet and don’t want them to look like “exotic dancers”.

Now the 35 cheerleaders, who are aged from six to 21, are having to save for new costumes in time for a major competition in July.
:
Team member Beckie Bowman, 14, said: “If we are comfortable showing flesh, then we should be allowed to wear our uniforms.”

But the British Cheerleaders’ Association says that too many teams feature girls dressed up “like exotic dancers” with inappropriate costumes and make-up.

Chairman Bob Kirafly said: “This is something we have to be very careful about because young people are very conscious of their shape and size.

“There’s so much going on now about diets and obesity. The outfits may not be complimentary to some girls and it could put a lot of pressure on them to go on diets, which can be dangerous.

Now, this is an issue on which I come down on the side of the buckle-shoe, blunderbuss-toting Bible-thumping prudes. A cheerleading team consisting of girls “who are aged from six to 21″ could do better by taking on a more conservative design, or at least checking with the authorities who might have some say on the matter before shelling out eighty pounds per outfit and then kibitzing about having to save up all over again.

My beef is, why not just come out and say that? What would be wrong with saying “Uniform begins with ‘uni’ which means one…all the girls wear the same thing, and we have to be sensitive to the concerns of the parents of the younger girls as well as with the image of our association, it’s simply not appropriate to have seven- and eight-year-old girls representing our organization in an outfit like that.”

What’s wrong with that?

What’s this nonsense about dangerous diets?

Where is the concern that one would expect to rise up in response to a fragile excuse like this? If dangerous crash diets are your concern, and you’re quashing the skimpy uniform because someone might go on a crash diet…don’t you have a responsibility to put the kibosh on anything else that might put a chubby girl on a dangerous crash diet?

Isn’t it dangerous to be fat, too?

What’s with all the double-talk?

I tell ya…young girls in skimpy outfits. For some reason or another, it drives people absolutely freakin’ nuts. All they have to do is think about it, and suddenly nothing they say makes any sense.

Deep Sea Fishing in a Shallow Pond

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

Deep Sea Fishing in a Shallow Pond

There was this show on a few years ago called “Baywatch” where if you tuned in, you got to see something really shallow next to something really deep: Pamela Anderson in front of the Pacific Ocean. Well, Anderson has opened her mouth and said something incredibly shallow. But there’s something philosophically deep in how she’s chosen to frame her argument, and it’s probably worth pointing out — even though it’s always hazardous to find deep concepts in shallow things people say. So let’s just take a look at it.

Faxing a letter to the office of Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, she said

“As a proud Canadian who frequently travels abroad, I am alarmed that people are starting to see Canada as a country more beholden to a pack of greedy hunters and to the seal-skin ‘fashion’ whims of a few countries than to the massive international outcry against the hunt,” Anderson, a vocal member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said in a letter faxed to Harper’s office late Monday.

“One of the biggest problems facing the U.S. government is appearing aloof about its own hostile behaviour; I’d hate to see that happen north of the border too.”

Last week I came to the defense of Canadian Senator and America-bashing halfwit Celine Hervieux-Payette (although, I suppose, some would infer that my comments were sarcastic). The Senator chose to defend the seal-hunting industry, responding to a letter from a Minnesota family by, like Anderson, going off on the completely unrelated tangent about American policies.

The circle is now complete.

You bash the Canadian seal-hunting industry, you invoke American hostilities to make your point. You defend that same seal-hunting industry, you invoke American hostilities to make your point.

How long before someone is arrested for jaywalking, sidewalk-spitting, wife-beating, dog-immolating, pulling-legs-off-spiders, kicking-pregnant-woman-in-stomaching, parking-meter-vandalizing…etc…you get the idea…and, called on to make their own defense in court, invokes those oh-so-nasty American policies?

What we have had going on here — all over the globe — is a cultural schism. There are exactly two sides, no more and no less, and there’s going to be a lot of conflict until the day that one side completely prevails over the other. It’s not a pro-American vs. anti-American conflict, it is purely cultural. It has to do with what “your own business” is.

Supposedly, the Bush Doctrine is the catalyst of this conflict, with the pillar about pre-emptive action against entities perceived to be imposing a non-imminent threat. That’s what the conflict is supposed to be about, with the invasion of Iraq serving as a model for that hostile, negative-energy, American belligerance. And supposedly, the discovery that Iraq “posed no threat to us” (America) was a scathing indictment against the American Way Of Doing Things.

Ah, but Saddam was a threat. Our government, plagued by various hobgoblins as it was when trying to form an alliance with the United Nations, and bungling the public relations in the ensuing months & years as it has been doing — at least it defined what the threat was. This is the source of the criticism against them, even today. The definitions of the threat posed by the old regime of Iraq, are up for attack by anti-American zealots…because the definitions are at least there.

I am not at all sure what “the execution of [American] prisoners � mainly blacks � in American prisons” does to pose a threat to Sen. Celine Hervieux-Payette. Nor am I supposed to be sure about it. Nor is Sen. Hervieu-Payette going to be called on to explain what the threat is, as President Bush was called upon to explain to the United Nations about Iraq in 2002, and as Secretary Powell was called upon to explain the following spring.

I am not sure what the United States’ “aloof[ness] about its own hostile behaviour” does to pose a threat to Pam Anderson. Nor am I supposed to be sure about it. Nor is Anderson going to be called on to explain what the threat is.

That’s the culture war.

One side, the Yankee-centric side, is thought of as a buttinski for treating a looming threat as if it were an imminent threat, and forming alliances with others to do something about the threat before it becomes such an imminent threat. The other side, the Euro-centric side, forms alliances with others about things that both sides would agree are not threats.

That’s the appeal. When you aren’t even saying something is a threat, you’re spared from the burden of explaining how.

The second side is spared from any accusations of being a buttinski — not because they avoid being one — but because they never even pretend not to be one. It is a stunning inversion of logic. It reminds me of a time when, seven years ago, a certain American President was thought of us not being a pervert for getting a blow job from an intern right in the Oval Office while he was on the phone with members of Congress, then inserted a cigar into the intern’s nether regions…then, a certain prosecutor was thought of as definitely a pervert for writing about what the President did.

And that’s the upside-down logic that prevails over this culture conflict. The Yankees go butting in to things that are threatening, the Euro-pansies and Canucks go butting into everything threatening or not. And the Euro-pansies get to call the Yankees a bunch of buttinskis, because the Euro-pansies aren’t putting any effort into not being exactly what they call others.

The irony of it all? I can envision peace much more easily under the American way. A man living next to your house constructs a heavy rocket launcher in the middle of his driveway, which is an eyesore; he loads it up and points it at your bedroom, which is a threat. What should happen to him? Anyone with common sense would say when his project becomes an eyesore, he is dealt with through warnings and citations and demand letters and fines — and when it becomes a threat, he is dealt with through force. Common sense will insist, unapologetically, that the force was appropriate even though after the force was applied, the rockets were all found to be mocks, duds and blanks. That’s the American way.

The European way is that the warnings and citations and demand letters and fines are prevalent throughout the entire project, both when it is merely an eyesore and after it has become an imminent threat. And not only that, but before the tripod for the rocket launcher is even delivered, such warnings and citations are delivered against the man’s ugly pink flamingo lawn decorations. And for the off-color humor in the vanity plate on his car parked in the driveway. And for his house being the wrong tint of off-white eggshell exterior. And the fact that his live-in girlfriend is not his wife. And, and, and…guess what, the man with the rocket launcher gets to file a whole fistful of complaints of his own. Until the whole neighborhood descends into a dull roar of hyperactive homeowners-association nattering nabobism. Everything everybody does, is everybody else’s business, just nobody actually does anything about anything.

I know, that’s just one man’s opinion. Except, since there are people who agree with me, maybe we could re-define my opinion as what Anderson would call a “massive international outcry.” Maybe we could do that. And that, there, is exactly the problem. Who is the international certifying authority of “massive international outcries,” populist complaints worthy of being faxed into PM Harper’s office over celebrity signatures as prestigious as Anderson’s? Who decides this, in a world/neighborhood where everyone is complaining about everything, threatening or not, all the time? Because from where I sit, just by way of example…the Saddam Hussein I remember from the 1990′s was a much bigger problem than some guy in Newfoundland running out and clubbing some animals over the head.

Too Tolerant to Allow Such a Thing

Monday, March 27th, 2006

Too Tolerant to Allow Such a Thing

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here!” said Peter Sellers, in a memorable role as President Muffley in “Doctor Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964) — “This is a war room!”

We have a real-life parallel to this classic line.

This weekend I was raising questions about the phenomenon of politically-motivated rock concerts, noticing that the music genre we call “rock” seems to have certain bedrock values that are either conservative, or ready to exist in harmony with conservatism — and why is it that when rock concerts have political themes, those themes always lean left? What would happen if such a rock concert were to be organized, to promote school choice, gun rights for otherwise-vulnerable women, an end to reverse-discrimination, etc.? Well thanks to the real-life parallel mentioned above, I have my answer.

A Christian youth rally took place this weekend in San Francisco and (somehow) earned the enmity, through this peaceful exercise of free speech, of the elders serving on the city council. In a move that would surely have made President Muffley proud, the council even passed a resolution “condemning the ‘act of provocation’ by an ‘anti-gay,’ ‘anti-choice’ organization that aimed to ‘negatively influence the politics of America’s most tolerant and progressive city.’”

No, I’m not making it up, really. Say the wrong thing in “America’s most tolerant and progressive city” and the leaders of that city will condemn you. They’re too tolerant to let your peaceful blatherings go uncondemned.

The rally, which also will visit Detroit and Philadelphia, featured religious rockers, speakers and the debut of what [organizers] called a Christian alternative to MySpace.com – at advance ticket prices of $55 and walk-up prices of $199.
:
Barricades separated Luce’s crowd with counterprotesters about 6 feet away who said the Friday and Saturday event amounted to a “fascist mega-pep rally.”

Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, told counterprotesters that while such fundamentalists may be small in number, “they’re loud, they’re obnoxious, they’re disgusting and they should get out of San Francisco.”

This is why we have liberal movements in this country. We don’t really have liberal people. Not in significant numbers, anyway. Sure, every few election cycles you can get some Democrats elected because now & then the electorate will be sold on the idea that Republicans have some kind of monopoly on scandal. But Mister Average American does not agree with liberals at all. Neither does Mrs. American. If Mr. and Mrs. are in favor of abortion, the repeal of Roe v. Wade, leaving abortion laws up to the states, would suit them just fine. And average Americans certainly don’t agree with “I support the troops but not the mission.”

No, we have liberal movements because liberals don’t talk the way conservatives talk. If the conservatives took hold of a city the way liberals have taken hold of San Francisco, and a liberal rally was held and the conservative leaders wanted to express their angst about it, they would have to pepper their statements with all kinds of diluting disclaimers like “of course, they have the same right to free expression as anyone else, but…” and “while I’m not in favor of silencing their free speech…” which would effectively purge their snippets of any punch. People just don’t get whipped up by a talking-point with the word “but” in it…so it’s good for liberals, that they don’t have to use this the way conservatives do.

Liberal slogans fit on bumper stickers much better. They don’t have to disclaim a damn thing. It’s not that a liberal’s support of free speech is presumed, it’s just kind of…declared off-topic. The liberal cause is so noble, who the hell are you to question a liberal’s support of free speech?

Well, since I’m questioning it — here in the blog that nobody reads, one of the few places you can question such things — I can’t help but notice I don’t have much reason to believe in it. Does Assemblyman Mark Leno believe in the right to express onesself freely, if one is what he calls “loud, obnoxious, disgusting” — and disagrees with Assemblyman Leno? Maybe he does. I don’t know that. This is an issue with me.

Don’t expect it to be an issue with anyone else.

This world is nuts. It’s really stark-raving looney-tunes. Apparently, you can pass a resolution refusing to tolerate certain rallies in your “tolerant” city because your city is too “tolerant” to allow such a thing…and nobody will bat an eyelash. Just amazing.

Couldn’t Have Said It Better Myself… VI

Sunday, March 26th, 2006

Couldn’t Have Said It Better Myself… VI

Last year, there was this movie that came out. It was the final installment to a science-fiction space-opera movie saga/franchise that started 28 years previous called “Star Wars” and this chapter was called “Revenge of the Sith.” People have been split right down the middle about whether Star Wars is any good or not, with the loud noisy voices of movie reviews and Hollywood trend-setters and amateur critics saying it sucks, and people who actually purchase movie tickets finding it to be a wonderful and rewarding experience, unable to get enough.

Star Wars has been like the Cinderella of movie-making, with “real” movies playing the part of the ugly stepsisters. The more orthodox gliteratti “A-list” celebrities/directors/producers continue to cogitate on how wonderful they are, pumping out such classics as………… I don’t know, “Oceans Twelve” or “Dogma” or “Steel Magnolias” or “Natural Born Killers” or “Erin Brockovich” which we’re told are highly enjoyable, and if we don’t see the wonderfulness we must be stupid or something. While, like Cinderella, “Star Wars” has done the real work of keeping us awestruck, entertained, mystified, and enchanted by wonderful stories of good versus evil. And earning criticism. Lots and lots of criticism. Mostly over stupid crap that really doesn’t matter.

Anyway, someone at Star Wars apparently decided the time was right to ratchet up the effort of marketing, and it would be okay to insert some effort-toward-marketing within the movie script itself. And they did something which I think is extraordinarily clever. Yes, they tossed in political commentary, but that’s not clever, it’s done all the time now. But what political commentary? It’s a matter of opinion. Purely. People see what they want to see. So tighty-righties who want to make it a felony to have sex in the wrong position or use the “F-word” in public and want to bomb every country that isn’t Christian, think Star Wars endorses all their ideas, and lefty-loosies who want to spit on soldiers and butcher babies and pay criminals money to not misbehave, are quite sure Star Wars agrees with them.

The latter of those two, the Bush-bashing liberals who want to blame our President for freaking hurricanes, have been much louder in the forums where people try to figure out Star Wars’ political leanings. This is because you have to do a lot less thinking in order to divine their perspective from the movie script itself, and boy howdy, liberals are very good at not doing much thinking. The scene in which they find support for their position, comes a half-hour before the end of the film. in this scene protagonist-and-antagonist face off for the final climactic duel over a river of deadly lava:

Anakin Skywalker (bad guy): If you’re not with me, then you are my enemy.

Obi-Wan Kenobi (good guy): Only a Sith deals in absolutes. I will do what I must.

Skywalker: You will try…YEEEAAARRRGGGGHHH!

There you go. In just two lines the bad guy as-much-as directly quotes not only President George Bush, but also Howard Dean, current Chairman of the Democratic party. So the movie is saying quite plainly that President Bush is nuts.

No, that’s not the liberal argument, because of course in liberal-land you can’t slander anything that’s liberal even when it cries out for slamming like Chairman Dean has been doing for two years straight now. They’re just saying that the bad guy here is a metaphor for President Bush’s statement in November of 2001 that “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.” So it’s settled. Star Wars movies don’t like President Bush, and neither should the rest of us.

Okay, point made.

First sign of trouble for that paradigm, is this perplexing question: If the Star Wars stands as a saga lecturing us on the various problems with moral absolutism, how long does this lecture stand? And the answer is, about eleven minutes. Yeah, that’s right. Put the DVD back in the player and watch the movie again…aforementioned good-guy-and-bad-guy are fighting real hard, this time floating down the lava river on some kind of whatchamecallzem hovering platform thingies, and it goes like this.

Skywalker (bad guy, remember): I should have known the Jedi were taking over!

Kenobi (good guy) (exasperated): Anakin! Chancellor Palpatine is evil! (Like, duh! C’mon!)

Skywalker: From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!

Oopsie. Good guy stands for absolutes, bad guy stands for moral relativism. Just like the Republicans keep telling us.

I pointed this out already, back in November when the movie first came out on disc. To be fair about it, the Star Wars saga is indeed trying to say something philosophically deep about moral relativism, and the message is a lot more complicated than “it sucks”. There are passages in the older movies that appear to endorse the moral relativism, or at least to imply that this is the way the universe works and it would serve us well to simply adapt to it.

But it’s obvious that, assuming we’re inclined to take our moral and political lectures from Star Wars, the franchise would caution us from getting too cozy with relativism. Indeed, in the newest chapter referenced above, about an hour earlier in the film, the head, top-notch, Godfather, big-master-honcho bad guy, whose job it is to represent evil itself, actually comes out and says “Good and evil is a point of view.” You can’t get plainer than that. Evil works to seduce us by whitewashing over its own definition, causing us to doubt its existence and thus to question our wanderings into its perimeter. People have been saying this for thousands of years.

Well, enough of that rant, it’s been done before. Pull up Google and ask the “innernets” how we’re supposed to interpret “only a Sith deals in absolutes.” Opinions here are cheap. The web is fairly dripping with them.

But this one is worthy of special recognition, I think. I find the reasoning to be unsually sound.

…nowhere is this parallel alleged to be seen more than in Obi-Wan’s response to Anakin’s earlier statement – “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” Really?

And the Jedi don’t?

Why then must Anakin hide his marriage to Padme if the Jedi do not make absolute moral judgments on the character of their numbers?

Why then is it not the Jedi way to kill an unarmed prisoner?

What then does “The Chancellor is evil!” mean? Is that not an absolute moral judgment?

If the Jedi do not deal in absolutes, then what is Obi-Wan doing on Mustafar in the first place?

Things that make you go hmmmmm…

This kind of logic is solid because it supports an abundance of parallels to real life. How many times have I seen a liberal lecture everyone around him that nobody is deserving of hatred and nobody’s outlook on life or religion is absolutely wrong…and then go on to direct hatred toward Republicans, and wax eloquently about how Christianity is absolutely wrong. Not that liberals have a monopoly in that kind of hypocrisy. It just goes to show that to a weak mind, it’s easy to say “you shouldn’t be putting out negative energy, man,” and then go on to put out negative energy in certain directions where it’s somehow okay to put it out.

Thing I Know #30. A lot of people who crusade against absolutes, employ absolutes quite frequently, especially while crusading against absolutes.

On Rock Concerts

Saturday, March 25th, 2006

On Rock Concerts

I had another thought after inspecting the report from Karol at Alarming News about the politically-themed anti-Bush anti-war rock concert, which I used to substantiate my observations about Fungi Fallacies. This is a fairly frequent modern occurrence: rock concerts with themes. The anti-war rock concert is inextricably woven into the history of rock music, of course, but there have been other themes as well. Rock concerts enjoy an extremely high potential for making money, and of course everyone likes to feel good about where their money goes. So we have rock concerts to help farmers and rock concerts to find a cure for AIDS.

I’m sure if I ask a rock music fan what values are promoted by rock music, he’d include something like love, an end to hunger and war, opposition to oppression by the corporate classes, etc. Helping the poor to have food, helping the children to live, helping the grown-ups to learn to love. Stopping people from oppressing each other. I can agree with all that. At one time or another, I’ve seen rock music speak up and promote all of these things.

So I’m wondering about several politically-themed rock concerts I have not seen. Why have I not seen them?

California is considering a moratorium on the death penalty. How about a rock concert to help keep that death penalty in place? For the children. We could call it a “No More Polly Klaases” rock concert. Rock music wants kids to be alive, happy, healthy and free. Here in the Golden State, our track record for smoking the perverts who would abduct and murder those children, is dismal, and we’re thinking about giving up. How about some action?

Rock music doesn’t appear to be in favor of raping women, or allowing this to happen by inaction. A woman’s chances of being raped or murdered, drop considerably when she is allowed to purchase and carry a gun. How about a rock concert to protect our right to keep and bear arms? Oh, yes, I know that sounds politically agitating, but there’s nothing politically extreme about protecting women from being violated. Nothing at all. And the right is in our Constitution. Look it up. Now, how about that concert?

Rock music appears to be of the mindset that we’re all just one big family all over the world, and it seems to present a certain hostility to the concept of national borders. Since rock music is also all about personal freedom, how about a rock concert celebrating the fall of Saddam Hussein and his sons, Uday and Qusay? I’m not misstating the values of rock music, am I? Well, the musicians who think the war was a bad idea, are out there, but they’ve had their say. Seems to me it’s a given that if you want the Iraqi people to be free, the celebration is overdue. Let’s go.

Rock music also appears to show acrimony to any sort of racial discrimination, and embrace the vision that skin color will one day become absolutely meaningless. We just had a Supreme Court decision that says we need another quarter century, give or take, of giving special privileges to people with a certain skin color, and this is causing distress, cynicism and rancor. How about a “We Don’t Need Another Twenty-Two Years” rock concert promoting the idea that we’re ready for color-blindedness right friggin’ now?

I believe rock music would agree with my sentiment that children should grow up to choose their own destinies, and that it’s bad when they’re hemmed in to a certain range of lifestyles — especially when this confinement takes place because of the incompetence of today’s grown-ups. Where is the rock concert promoting school vouchers?

Why am I not seeing these concerts?

Fungi Fallacies

Friday, March 24th, 2006

Fungi Fallacies

I lay claim to the concept, but my friend James Bostwick of Newsblog Central gets credit for the name. Fungi Fallacies, a modern plague, threatening to infest and smother and starve us as surely as anything from the Book of Exodus, consisting of nothing but so much intellectual nonsense.

I’ll explain.

We live in an age of a troubling paradox, and I believe it is unprecedented. In all of recorded human history, we’ve managed to rely on an unwavering truth about the information we can gather: Quantity will invariably lead to quality. Put another way, in times past, it was easy for us to take some of our more glaring mistakes, whether the mistakes involved intentional fraud or not, and tie them to some nugget of good information we didn’t have. Had we known just a little bit more, things would have been better. Our parents could do this, as could our grandparents, our ancestors from a century or two ago — it has been, as they say, ever thus. Bad information has a correlation to inadequate information.

And so it has been part of the human condition to, like a dog chasing a car, wish for more information. And like the dog catching up to the car, here we are. We have the “innernets,” which by themselves/itself, put us into an entirely different world. What we want to know, we can find out. Instantly. Usually, free of charge or any obligation whatsoever. And what we call the “web” promises to be merely the first ray of sunshine in a whole new dawn.

And like the dog chasing the car and finally catching it, we find we’ve answered nothing and just raised new questions. We barely comprehend what it is we’ve achieved, and as for the new situation this achievement has placed us in, we’re entirely clueless.

We find ourselves submerged not in useful information, but in crap. It’s up to our armpits. And most distressing of all, before we had all this information, the crap wasn’t here. “Back in the day,” crap was something you found on the bottom of your shoe once in awhile. Now we’re swimming in it. If the crap was only ten percent of everything we heard, like it used to be — or twenty or even fifty percent — we’d be on easy street. But we have all this information, and now ninety-nine percent of it, or more — not ten percent — is nothing more than pure feces. What happened? We were supposed to be enlightened, and instead we’re being smothered.

Why is that? Well, to answer that question, consider what a “fungus” is. The mushrooms you buy in the store to put on your salad, are a fungus. The growths, and the fuzz, and the slime you find on the north sides of trees and rocks deep in the forest, each of these is a fungus. What grows in your crotch when you don’t change your underwear or take a bath is a fungus. The plural is “fungi,” and what amazing things fungi are!

They have it in common with each other that they are fragile. Incredibly fragile. Depending on what kind of fungus we’re discussing, the band of acceptable temperatures is relatively narrow, and they always need moisture. In addition to water, they require a lot of food, preferrably nitrogen-rich food. They can’t digest things very well on their own. So a constant supply of somebody else’s “used food” is ideal. And they don’t like light.

What’s remarkable about a fungus, is that for something so picky and fragile, they are extraordinarily low-maintenance. It’s really a miracle of nature. You get the right conditions in a house, on a tree, on your foot…and there you go. Fungus. Fungi are so low-maintenance, that you don’t even have to work to get fungus — you have to work to not get fungus.

That brings us to the fungi fallacy.

Just as an interested person can now use the “innernets” to learn whatever he wants, we tend to forget that a charlatan can use the same device to sell whatever he wants to sell. That has been the case since before the web, of course. Vaudeville-era chronicles are replete with stories of “snake oil” salesmen and the like. But with the planet covered with a virtual network, today’s snake-oil salesman can be connected instantly with whatever environment he wants to transform into a market. They get to select the enviornment in which their wares are peddled. Just as the student can be connected instantly with whoever might have the information he wants. It’s not a one-way street.

And because the charlatans choose the environment much the same way as the fungus chooses the north side of a rock, we have this “information fungus.” Lots and lots of it. We get to hear ideas that have no intrinsic structural integrity of their own, and are just as intellectually strong as a fungus is hardy. That is to say, not at all. But like the fungi, those ideas get to thrive wherever their advocates feel the ideas have the best shot. Wherever there is moisture, fecal matter, and an absence of light.

In generations past, we had a “fungus” like this. People said Ronald Reagan was trying to advance a nuclear arms race, when America already had the power to “blow up the world seven hundred thousand times.” This started out as “blow up the world five times,” if memory serves, and then the number kept getting bigger and bigger. But there was no “web,” so to propagate, the canard had to tumble through several different enviornments involving several different cultures.

Now look what happened. The myth survived, because we all have it in common that we don’t want to see the world blow up. But for its own continued survival, it had to mutate into something called the Nuclear Winter. Evidently, someone got embarrassed because someone else was asking probing questions. Like…”Whaddya mean, blow up? You mean South America will be flying in one direction and Asia will be flying in the other direction? How did you conclude we have the power to do that even once?” Someone was asking questions like that. You can’t tell me nobody was asking it. I was asking it.

Nowadays, when you get silly mythologies like that going, you can choose where and how they propagate. Our information-oriented society has made it possible to keep such a chestnut a virtual secret from undesirable audiences, while spreading like wildfire only among the desirable ones. Consequently, it takes much longer for common sense to seep in.

And so we get to hear “all the scientists agree there is global warming and it’s dangerous.” This is simply not true. But it seems to be so, because whoever wants to promote that fallacy, can use a modern infrastructure to plant the message where it is expected to grow.

You can’t go just anywhere and say “we need to raise the minimum wage to bring the unemployment rate down.” There are too many places where someone might say “how does it bring the unemployment rate down, when you make it more expensive to hire people?” …or, “raise it to what, ten dollars an hour? Why not twenty? Why not fifty? If a little of something is a good idea, isn’t a lot of it better? Why not?” — and there you are. Fallacy ruined.

Like a fungus, such silly ideas are fragile. They can only grow in certain environments.

But where the environment exists, the fungus will take root.

So we get to hear about “the war in Iraq is all about oil.” We’re a victim of our own success. A generation ago, this idea would have found its way to us through exposure to a diverse audience, and somewhere in there someone would have asked a question bothersome enough to pop the whole theory like a balloon. Like…”if we’re in Iraq to get free oil, why are we letting them keep it?” Like that. Well nowadays, the message can be communicated and ultimately transplanted to a hospitable environment, without surviving such scrutinizing questions. Ergo, we have nonsensical ideas. We’re buried in them. Fungi fallacies.

Here’s an even better example, courtesy of “Karol” at Alarming News. The author is describing a personal experience at a politically-themed rock concert:

We have this contingency of people, who actually believe they are the majority. It was mentioned several times last night that most Americans have come around to their view, that the troops need to come home now. How do they know? Well, polls say so! Which, fine, you want to believe polls, that’s ok with me. But how come their elected officials don’t believe those same polls? Why aren’t their Senators and Congressmen calling for withdrawal en masse? If the majority agrees that immediate withdrawal is necessary, why is it a touchy political issue? It should be so simple. In fact, I highly recommend that Democrats follow the polls and run in ’06 on the idea of immediate withdrawal. I want to see how that would go down, exactly.

And there you have another example. Suppose I want the troops back home, now, no matter what. I think everybody agrees with me. The polls say so. But like Karol points out…I don’t pressure my representatives in Congress to pay attention to those polls. That is not the right environment for my message, just as a salt bed isn’t the right environment for a mushroom. No, this is something for a rock concert.

And the author makes a great point. A truly populist sentiment is ripe for a lot of other places besides rock concerts…but we’re buried in moose feces types of ideas that don’t seem to be sufficiently durable, to be offered just anywhere. They have to grow only in places where they feel at home. But once those environments exist, they grow by themselves.

Moral of the story is, more information is not better. We’ve had to contend with this before in recorded human history…just not quite as often as we do now.

Ouch III

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

Ouch III

I will be turning forty this year and I’m still an apartment rat. Let me just state for the record that when I finally have my 45,000 square foot dream house with the electric turntable that chooses for me whether I’ll be driving the Bentley or the Harley or the Miata or the Targa or the Diablo, and said house is crammed full of carpet-critters during the summertime who are my grandchildren, and I need glasses for the very first time, and people constantly ridicule me for “typing” stuff into those whatchamacallzemz “keyboards,” and the doctors have ordered me to never look at caffeine again because I’ve consumed my lifetime quota already…I believe, firmly, that Ted Kennedy will still be the senior senator from Massachusetts. Oh, he’ll get that shiny film of sweat over his bloated skin and his face will get red and blotchy every six years as he worries about his prospects. But over the long haul, he’s very secure. Probably moreso than his 99 colleagues in that august deliberative body.

And let me state for the record that what this says about the people of Massachusetts, is, to use a charitable adjective…”unflattering.”

But Senator Kennedy is up for re-election this year, and I almost have to feel sorry for the old boy for the rough start he’s getting. And the year is still young. First up there is the matter of the Alito hearings, during which he took point in flailing around for reasons to block the nomination. Yes, flailing around. Grasping. Searching for reasons when few such reasons were available, and the ones that could be found were anything but compelling. That is what it looked like, because that is what it was. Someone decided Democrats would gain more capital by telegraphing the message “we’ll find ways to stonewall a good idea” than “we mean it when we say we will work together for a better America.” Worse still, someone decided it was mutually beneficial for Ted Kennedy, and the Democrats, for Camelot’s Favorite Son to take point in that sorry charade. Worst of all, appearances being any indication, that someone was either Senator Kennedy or someone who works for him.

To put it more concisely, Ted Kennedy thinks that when he attacks someone with the integrity of Justice Sam Alito, there are more people yelling “right on, Ted!” than there are like me, wincing with disgust, silently wondering “couldn’t you guys have found someone else?” In matters of closets and skeletons, I have to do some slow, burdened, labored thinking to imagine a target more out-of-place than Justice Alito. I have to do more labored thinking to imagine an accuser more out-of-place than Senator Kennedy.

It was kind of embarrassing to watch. With the passage of time, I halfway expect more and more Democrats will be willing to agree with that. Not their finest hour.

No, I’m not referring to the misstep involving the Owl Club. That was just gravy on top. The mashed potatoes, by themselves, were salty enough. To what I suspect is a large majority among the nation’s electorate — and an I-honestly-don’t-know-what in Massachusetts — Kennedy had already made an ass out of himself before that fiasco.

What else has happened to him this year to help bolster his chances for reelection? Well the next month after the Owl fiasco, a student caused a little bit of a stir before an appearance by Kennedy at Massasoit Community College.

Paul Trost, 20, a student at Massasoit Community College in Brockton, Mass., says he was upset by an introduction of Kennedy given by Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., in which the congressman noted how the long-time senator overcame hardship in life on his way to success.

“Lynch said Kennedy had overcome such adversity to get to the place he was, and that’s a bunch of bull,” Trost said of the introduction, which occurred in the school’s student center yesterday morning.

Just as Kennedy began speaking, Trost was walking out of the room when he shouted, “Remember Chappaquiddick!”

“Most of the crowd gasped,” Trost said. “Then I walked out of the student center.”

Brevity can pack a punch that a rambling treatise never can, I am told frequently by people who take the time to read my rambling treatises. This just goes to show how right they are. Remember Chappaquiddick; how in the hell would you go about arguing with that? No thanks, I’d rather forget? It didn’t happen? It was a long time ago? Don’t say that?

What happened next really cuts to the quick in exposing Kennedy’s problems.

“One of my teachers called me ignorant and told me this was an embarrassment to the school,” Trost told WND. “She said to me, ‘Can’t you forgive him after all these years?’ And I said, ‘No, he killed somebody.’

“If it had been me or any other person, we’d be in jail,” Trost says he told his instructor.

Referring to his two-word shout, Trost said, “I did it because I know about Kennedy’s past. I know what happened at Chappaquiddick.

“I wanted to send a message to him that my generation still knows about it. We haven’t forgotten about it.”

Trost said he was satisfied to know that students on campus were talking about the Chappaquiddick incident later in the day � some of whom, in fact, were not familiar with it.

I find it interesting that, if you take Paul Trost’s word for it — and there’s really no reason not to — Massasoit Community College is packed with 20-year-olds who didn’t know about the Chappaquiddick incident until it was pointed out to them. It’s even more interesting that this unidentified teacher thinks it’s an embarrassment to the school when a student has become aware of it, but in that private deliberative space between the student’s left ear and his right ear, in which he has the God-given right to percolate thoughts subject to inspection and censorship of absolutely nobody else — has not seen fit to forgive Ted Kennedy.

Oh, maybe she thinks it’s an embarrassment the way I think it’s an embarrassment. Paul Trost did break protocol, after all. He showed a lack of discipline.

But “Can’t you forgive him?” seems out-of-place if that’s the motive. It’s far less extravagant to suppose the lack of forgiveness is what’s embarrassing. She said so, after all.

Ignorance is not embarrassing.

Awareness, followed by forgiveness, would not be embarrassing.

Being aware of what happened that summer in 1969, and reacting as a normal person would, while the authority figures instruct you that this isn’t the reaction you’re supposed to have. That’s the embarrassment.

And this is what is really damaging to Democrats like Ted Kennedy. They look good when people’s thoughts and opinions are subject to authoritarian control. Their public images would flourish in a society wherein people look to their overlords to form their private opinions…where there is a loudspeaker kiosk on every street corner telling you “today is Wednesday and your favorite color today is orange.”

I’m repeatedly told that Republicans and Democrats are exactly the same. People who tell me that aren’t advising me to leave that open as a possibility, they’re instructing me to believe that just as the kiosk in my hypothetical tells me my favorite color is orange. Democrats, similarly, aren’t advising me to keep my mind open to the possibility that Iraq is a quagmire. They aren’t recommending that kind of critical thinking; they are condemning it. They’re instructing me to believe Iraq is a quagmire. And that my favorite color is orange.

Republicans and Democrats are not the same, it turns out. They think differently. Democrats, especially the ones like Ted Kennedy, must tell people what to believe. A Republican talking-point, therefore, can embrace brevity. The Democrat talking-points have come to resemble balloons, so Republicans can respond to them with needles. “What about the Owl club?” is devastating. “Remember Chappaquiddick!” is even moreso. Just as a red-faced dad during a kids’ birthday party can huff and puff all day long getting the balloons inflated, you can drone on for months at a time about how Ted Kennedy has triumphed over adversity and been confronted by every conceivable misfortune, blah blah blah…you can pour millions of dollars into making made-for-TV movies about the Kennedy family. And then someone says “Remember Chappaquiddick!” — POP!

By the way, Trost is not a Republican. He calls himself an anti-war liberal. And it looks like the school will not be disciplining him after all. Good. Schools are supposed to be hallowed grounds for independent thinking.

Back to Ted. What happened next? Well, Dick Cheney is again in the mood to >speak candidly. Just as my favorite color is supposed to be orange, I’m aware that I am supposed to hold the Vice President at a very low level of esteem. I’m dutifully informed that his popularity is extraordinarily low, and therefore, his popularity with me should be low. I really don’t think too much about him, but when he speaks candidly in this way, his “polls” with me spike upward a little bit.

To whomever I’m supposed to apologize to about that: Sorry, I guess. My favorite color isn’t orange today.

Sen. Kennedy’s “The Last Man I’d Go To…[on] How We Should Conduct U.S. National Security Policy”

Vice President Cheney pulled no punches today on Face the Nation:

Q Let me read to you what Senator Kennedy, liberal Democrat from Massachusetts, and a long-time opponent of the war said on the third anniversary. Here’s part of his statement. He said:

“It is clearer than ever that Iraq was a war we never should have fought. The administration has been dangerously incompetent. And its Iraq policy is not worthy of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. Yet President Bush continues to see the war through the same rose-colored glasses he has always used. He assures the American people we are winning, while Iraq’s future and the lives of our troops hangs so perilously on the precipice of a new disaster.”

Dangerously incompetent is what he is saying. I want to give you a chance to respond.

VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I would not look to Ted Kennedy for guidance and leadership on how we ought to manage national security, Bob. I think what Senator Kennedy reflects is sort of the pre-9/11 mentality about how we ought to deal with the world and that part of the world.

We used to operate on the assumption before 9/11 that a criminal attack – - a terrorist attack was a criminal act, a law enforcement problem. We were hit repeatedly in the ’90s and never responded effectively, and the terrorists came to believe not only could they strike us with impunity, but if they hit us hard enough, they could change our policy, because they did in Beirut in 1983, or Mogadishu in 1993.

We changed all that on 9/11. After they hit us and killed 3,000 of our people here at home, we said, enough is enough. We’re going to aggressively go after them. We’ll go after the terrorists wherever we find them. We’ll go after those states that sponsor terror. We’ll go after people that can provide them with weapons of mass destruction. We’ll use our intelligence and our military services very aggressively. And we have.

We did in Afghanistan. We’ve done it in Pakistan. We’re working with the Paks. We captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda. We’ve done it in Saudi Arabia. And obviously, we’re doing it now in Iraq. That kind of aggressive forward-leaning strategy is one of the main reasons we haven’t been struck again since 9/11 because we’ve taken the fight to them.

Senator Kennedy’s approach would be pack your bags and go home; retreat behind your oceans and assume you can be safe. But we learned on 9/11 that, in fact, what’s going on 10,000 miles away in a place like Afghanistan, or Iraq can have a direct impact here in the United States when we lost 3,000 people that morning. And we know now that the biggest threat that we face of all isn’t just another 9/11, it’s a 9/11 where the terrorists have something like nuclear weapons, or a deadly biological agent to use against us.

The Iraq situation has to be viewed within the broader context of the global war on terror. It is a global conflict. You can’t look just at Iraq and make decisions there with respect to how that’s going to come out without having major consequences for everything that’s going on. And I think we are going to succeed in Iraq. I think the evidence is overwhelming. I think Ted Kennedy has been wrong from the very beginning. He’s the last man I’d go to for guidance in terms of how we should conduct U.S. national security policy.

Now I ask you. Is there something wrong with what Dick Cheney said? Oh, I can hear it now: “Lies blah blah blah fracturing decorum blah blah blah civility candor diplomacy blah blah, not fit for the high office of blah blah blah.” Yeah right, dipshits. Civility like what we saw from the Massachusetts senator during the Alito hearings. Tell me another.

Well, the Boston Herald has come out swinging in the Senator’s favor. They “reported” on the Vice President’s remarks in an editorial. It’s okay to put opinion in an editorial, so that is the way they chose to do it. I always find it entertaining when an editorial carries the news, written in such a way that the author expects the reader is learning about the event for the first time. It’s good journalism to tell your readers what you’re talking about before you talk about it, of course. Here at the blog that nobody reads, that’s what we try to do.

But another benefit is that this way, the editorial can be a substitute for the news. You don’t need to run a half-dozen paragraphs from Dick Cheney, verbatim, as I did (by way of the Worldwide Standard) above. You can pull out snippets to substantiate the point you want to make. And if your editorial is the vehicle by which people learn of the event, well hey, that just saves time — and it’s certainly not your fault, right?

So you get to tell people their favorite color is orange. Take a look. Now that you’re up to speed on the transcript of Cheney’s remarks, go over this editorial from the Globe, see how little meat and real information there is on it and how much of the piece is hot air, telling you what to think. It does start to resemble a balloon, come to think of it. This is what you need to prop up the likes of Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Cheney vs. Kennedy

March 21, 2006

THE BUSH administration’s post-Sept. 11 strategy led the United States straight into Iraq. Vice President Richard Cheney, one of its architects, had the gall to question Senator Edward Kennedy’s criticism of the war there. But American political leaders have to call a halt to the reckless unilateralism born on 9/11 before it enmeshes the United States in more conflicts around the world.

Cheney, on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” was responding to Kennedy’s statement that the United States should not have gone into Iraq. Cheney said: “After they [the Al Qaeda terrorists] hit us and killed 3,000 of our people we said ‘enough is enough.’ We’re going to aggressively go after them . . . We’ll go after those states that sponsor terrorists.”

“Enough is enough,” an emotionally satisfying response, can lead to overreaction. The United States waged war in Afghanistan, justified by international law and supported by allies, but instead of figuring out a secure but humane method of dealing with prisoners captured there, the administration set up the camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the mistreatment of prisoners has caused an international scandal. Cheney’s remark about ”states that sponsor terrorism” recalls the administration’s campaign to drum up support for the war in Iraq more than three years ago by linking Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda. Saddam was a vicious tyrant, but he had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks. US troops used coercive techniques imported from Guantanamo Bay to mistreat Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. Cheney and President Bush ought to have the intellectual courage to acknowledge that the American presence in Iraq may be spawning more terrorists than US and Iraqi forces are killing.

According to Cheney, the administration’s ”aggressive, forward-leaning strategy is one of the main reasons we haven’t been struck since 9/11.” That is his bedrock argument, for who can say what has kept the United States safe from attack over the last 4 1/2 years. But terrorists have attacked in Britain, Spain, and other countries, and the United States has lost the support of many of its friends around the world in the process because of Guantanamo Bay and Iraq.

Kennedy supported the war in Afghanistan, opposed the Iraq conflict, and has raised questions about conditions at Guantanamo Bay. The administration, in its latest strategy paper, likens the struggle against terrorism to the Cold War. The United States made many mistakes during that 40-year conflict, many of which could have been prevented if policy makers had heeded their critics.

“He’s the last man I’d go to for guidance,” said Cheney of the senator. Given Cheney’s record on the war, a bit of humility is warranted, if not expected.

Given Cheney’s record on the war, a bit of humility is warranted, if not expected. Huh, that’s a laugh. Expected by whom?

Let me speak for probably millions more people than those who find favor with your comments, Boston Globe. I am fed up-to-here with humility from this White House regarding the war. Humility is not this administration’s problem. If there is one single thing they have really screwed up on this war, it’s not logistics, tactics, training, command structure, Abu Ghraib, consulting with the U.N., or any of the other. It’s public relations.

Humility? Are you out of your gourd?

Come to think of it, to paraphrase Vice President Cheney…Senator Kennedy is the last man I’d go to for examples of your much-vaunted-humility. Kennedy tied up everybody’s time and energy in some misguided snipe hunt about “CAP memos” during Justice Alito’s confirmation hearings. Thirty-seven years after he got a girl killed.

Yes, Massachusetts, you got a real winner there.

The Trouble With Protests

Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

The Trouble With Protests

Another “Bush is incompetent and he’s scaring little kids” war protest has made the headlines. Bigger protests and littler protests will make the papers, and other protests will be staged without making the papers. This one is a little bit special, in that it consisted of two people.

“The ways of peace are not bombings and breaking into houses and scaring little children and families,” said Judy Whitehouse, 63, of Phoenix, adding that pulling troops out of Iraq would force Iraqis to work together in building a society.

Linn Russell, 56, of Scottsdale, said the war is being mismanaged and shows President Bush is unqualified.

“I feel he’s a leader who has failed to lead us in moments of crisis and is leading us in the wrong direction politically,” Russell said.

This just goes to show the problem with protests. They are noteworthy in that they manifest an opinion; but since just about everybody anywhere has an opinion, and some opinions directly contradict other opinions, that by itself doesn’t make them noteworthy. There must be something else.

So what is it? Is it the verifiability of the opinion? Does the opinion represent a course of action that, in times past, has turned out to be the right way to go? No, that has never been the case. A generation ago, the idea was to show off what an incredibly large number of people had the opinion, and furthermore, thought it was sufficiently important to brave the elements and make the journey and take part in the protest.

That is supposed to have been what was really remarkable.

Well, now I guess you don’t have to have a lot of people. Two will do. So what is the news story here? From the looks of things in the photograph, the weather is fairly nice. Hell, this looks more like a case of cabin fever than a protest.

Process of elimination says, there can’t be anything noteworthy about this except that the women have an opinion. That is the problem with protests. If you’ve presented a compelling reason for me to pay attention to you just because you have an opinion, then logically, anybody who has a different opinion presents an equally compelling reason for me to pay attention to them, too. The only question remaining is if there is someone somewhere who has an opinion different from the opinion of the protester.

And by protesting, hence, proving there is a need to do the protesting, the protester provides strong evidence that someone somewhere has that different opinion. That’s the whole problem with protests. It’s the Law of Thermodynamics about every reaction having an equal and opposite reaction — and the opposite reaction is intrinsic to the protesting. It’s like the man in the sailboat trying to make it go, by blowing into the sails while he’s standing in it.

By the way, I find it amusing that fifty percent of these protesters have chosen to misrepresent what the United States is supposed to be doing in Iraq — “breaking into houses and scaring little children” — and the other fifty percent of the protesters are insisting the George Bush is incompetent. It seems almost settled that there should be no problem coordinating the message among a protest rally of just two people, so what is the overall message here? Our armed forces are trying to break into houses, and can’t quite figure out how to pick the lock? George Bush is jumping out in front of children and trying to scare them, and the children go on about their business, unstartled, because his scary mask is so lame?

Yeah, I know, I’m being silly. That isn’t my point. The point is I’m being silly simply by taking their message seriously. That doesn’t say anything good about their message.

Supporting Celine

Monday, March 20th, 2006

Supporting Celine

As of this writing, I cannot locate a complete, unedited copy of the letter written to Canadian Sen. Celine Hervieux-Payette by the McLellan family of Minnesota, or the Senator’s now-notorious response. When and if I ever do, perhaps I will find something that will cause me to change my mind. But for now, count me in the Senator’s corner because based on the information I’ve been able to get, it’s clear to me that her response was intended as satire.

Think about it. She is a Canadian politician, well-experienced in serving the government as well as what passes for the “private” sector up there. She’s been surrounded by the Canadian “you ought to do things the way I think you ought to do them” faux-European attitude for all of her six-and-a-half decades. That’s enough to drive anyone nuts. Six and a half days would be plenty enough for me, thank you very much. Yes, I chose to put ketchup on my fries when someone else would have used vinegar. Yeah, I took my coffee black when you would have had cream. Okay, my car is a five-speed stick and yours is an automatic. We make different decisions because we think differently…very perceptive of you. Now kindly butt out and mind your own business please. You know, back when my country first began presenting the case to the United Nations to authorize the invasion of Iraq, I would have found a diplomatic way of saying that…and I’m at the point where I can’t do that anymore. I can snap at people who try to make my decisions for me, and ratchet the whole conversation down into the depths of acrimony, hoisting upon my neck the albatross of guilt of having thrown the first punch. Or, I can use comedy. Ridicule the opposition. I think that’s what she did.

A little background:

A Liberal senator has replied to a family in Minnesota upset about Canada’s seal hunt with a letter denouncing the United States for executing prisoners at home and killing people in Iraq.

The McLellan family had written to Canadian senators to say they cancelled a vacation in Canada because of the hunt, which they called “horrible” and “inhumane,” Montreal’s La Presse reports.

In her response, Senator C�line Hervieux-Payette said that what she finds horrible is “the daily massacre of innocent people in Iraq, the execution of prisoners � mainly blacks � in American prisons, the massive sale of handguns to Americans, the destabilization of the entire world by the American government’s aggressive foreign policy, etc.”

She said Americans are not in a position to criticize others. “They must start to look at their own behaviour, the permanent heightening of the planet’s insecurity since the election of Bush,” she told La Presse.
:
The family “did not choose a good cause,” she added.

Hervieux-Payette is in a little bit of a stew over this. I would expect that if she was still part of a democratically-elected body, which the Canadian Senate is not, she could take the defense often used by left-wing self-loathing American politicians when they get tripped up by their own efforts to appeal to America-hating constituents: Essentially, that defense is “hey, if nobody agreed with me, I would not be here.” As an appointed official, she is supposed to represent the party and not the people. So her party has been backpedaling from her comments like crazy, and I’m sure she’ll feel the heat somehow.

Opposition Leader Bill Graham issued a statement Friday saying those words “reflect her personal opinions and not those of the Liberal Party of Canada.”

“The Liberal Party of Canada values the friendship and commitment to democratic principles that Canada shares with the United States.”

The Liberals are sensitive about perceived anti-Americanism within the party in the wake of past controversial comments by several MPs.

Former prime minister Paul Martin banished Carolyn Parrish from the Liberal caucus after she made harsh comments about U.S. President George W. Bush. But she was a sitting MP in a government party while Hervieux-Payette is an unelected senator from the Opposition.

There was no suggestion that Hervieux-Payette’s comments might bring disciplinary action from her caucus.

Being unable to review the original letter from the McLellans, I do not know if they ‘fessed up to helping to elect President Bush, or if they even commented on this. If they did vote for this President that this Canadian senator doesn’t like, their vote came to count for nothing as Minnesota’s ten electoral votes went to the challenger. I have access to this information and I’m not a highly-experienced public servant in the Canadian Parliament, so I have to assume Hervieux-Payette knows this. Her point is just plain nonsensical.

And if the McLellans had a point, it appears that this was equally nonsensical — which I think is really what Hervieux-Payette was trying to address. At this time, the Wikipedia entry for the Canadian Senate contains very little material that supports this chamber as an influential lawmaking body that can do much, if anything at all, about seal-hunting.

The Senate is referred to as “the upper house” of Parliament, and the House of Commons “the lower house”. This does not, however, imply the Senate is more powerful than the House of Commons. Indeed, as a matter of practice and custom, the Commons is by far the dominant chamber. Although the approval of both Houses is necessary for legislation, the Senate rarely rejects bills passed by the democratically elected Commons. Moreover, the Government of Canada is responsible solely to the House of Commons; the Prime Minister stays in office only as long as he or she retains the support of the lower house. The Senate does not exercise any such control. Although legislation can normally be introduced in either house, the majority of government bills originate in the House of Commons. Moreover, under the constitution, money bills must always originate in the lower house.

Sen. Hervieux-Payette’s message to the McLellan family is clear, at least to me: What is the matter with you people? We senators are no more to blame for seal-hunting, which you detest, than you are to blame for electing this Present whom I detest. And it is no more your province to determine something is wrong with Canadian seal-hunting, which is a matter to be decided by Canada, than it is mine to determine United States policy which is a matter to be decided by the U.S.

So using sarcasm, what she’s saying is let’s all just mind our own business. You can bemoan the cute seals that are getting clubbed, just as I can decry the loss of life I think results from your country’s invasion of Iraq. You point a finger at someone else, three fingers curl around and point back at you, so to speak. This exercise of dictating what other people ought to be doing, has a predictable but little-anticipated finish, so let us not even start. To lift the quote from Joshua, the all-powerful computer in War Games, grossly out of context: “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?”

At least I think that’s what she’s trying to say.

I could very well be wrong about her intentions. But she has demonstrated these things are so…so does it even matter what her intentions were?

Thing I Know #5. It takes a lot of maturity to keep your silence on an important decision, simply because you recognize it belongs to someone else.

The Campaign

Sunday, March 19th, 2006

The Campaign

Every two years, our political parties, both major and minor, start up campaigns so that they can win seats. If they’re fortunate enough to be able to buy time on the television or radio, they somehow get ahold of some talent to actually produce those ads: write the scripts, hire the actors, produce the visual/sound effects, etc. Those people get paid a lot of money. Before that, though, something else takes place: Someone analyzes what’s going on this year, news events, polling data, and the like, how it all impacts the message that should be put out to get the best results possible — which may, or may not, resemble the message that would have been put out two years previous. The people who decide that, also, get paid a lot of money…except now, we’re talking heap-big money.

Hey Republicans. Here’s an idea you can have for free.

Richard Belzer is an airhead liberal Hollywood celebrity who pulls his opinions pretty much out of his ass, and recently appeared on Prime Time with Bill Maher to convince everyone that he’s not just an airhead liberal Hollywood celebrity who pulls his opinions out of his ass. Here is your clip (some language NSFW). He decided to make his case while being the only one in the studio wearing fancy sunglasses. Now that, right there, is a tip-off that Belzer can review exactly the same information that finds its way to me, and for whatever reason, come to an entirely different conclusion about what should be done.

And that’s okay with me.

But it doesn’t seem to be okay with Belzer. Our current President, having been elected to the job in which one assumes the authority and responsibility for figuring out who, if anyone, should be attacked, decided Iraq was the place. Belzer thinks we should have attacked something else. What that something else is, I don’t know. Why he thinks this, I don’t know. How sure he is that he has all of the relevant information needed to decide this, I don’t know, so don’t bother asking me whether I share his certainty or not.

But on Planet Belzer, if one guy has the job of deciding something and another guy doesn’t, and the two guys disagree on that thing, the guy who does not have the job of deciding that thing is “right,” and the guy who does have the job of deciding that thing is “wrong.”

Case by case, that’s something that could very well be. On Planet Freeberg, the logical next question to ask would be Atticus Finch’s favorite: “Do you really think so?” Or more precisely, “Why do you think so?”

It wasn’t asked.

It hasn’t been asked.

Things left unchanged, it never will be asked.

Hells bells. Belzer even mentioned, repeatedly, that he knows better what’s going on in Iraq than the people who have the job of being there, because he reads twenty newspapers every day. Did anybody bother to ask him what the twenty newspapers were? He was practically begging them to ask him. Not a peep.

And there’s your commercial, Republicans. The public perception is — since it has been repeated over and over, and never contradicted anywhere — that liberals, be they the Hollywood variety or not, are being “silenced” from offering their “dissenting viewpoints” and “questioning our policies.” That’s bullshit. Simply say so. If anyone questions why you’re calling it bullshit, show them the video clip, linked above.

Liberals are not only having a lovely time airing their “dissenting viewpoints,” they’re practically having orgasms doing it. They’re being cheered, they “dissent” very, very loudly, and they interrupt whoever is talking any time they feel like it. The viewpoints they offer, are very seldom vigorously explored, either by themselves or by those whose job it is to ask them probing questions. What does end up being vigorously explored, is that fuzzy line between being “outspoken” and being what is called “rude.”

If I may be allowed to paint with a broad brush — and I think in this case, it’s fair — anti-war liberals think they’ve given an audience a persuasive reason to agree with them, when that audience would otherwise not be so persuaded, simply when the liberals talk in a loud, annoying voice and say the same things over and over again.

That makes it hard to discuss these things without expletives being thrown around or voices being raised (as Maher, to his chagrin, found out). But it makes it hard to do something else, too. It makes it hard to run things…like, for example, a country.

Republicans, there is nothing unusual at all about what happened on Maher’s show here. Nothing at all. Happens every damned day with an anti-war liberal, somewhere.

These people have no arguments. They have statements that they can’t back up. They think they have a shot at taking over Congress this year, and on that point, they may very well be right. Point out that they have no clue why they think the things they think, nor do they care — only that they want things done the way they want them done.

Point it out. This year. Now.

The nation’s security probably depends on it. Oh, and if you need to ask me why I think that, rest assured, I’ll be able to tell you. I don’t live on Planet Belzer.

I Speak Of… II

Saturday, March 18th, 2006

I Speak Of… II

There is this thing you can go out and do that happens to be illegal. I’m not saying what the thing is, but because it is against the law, our peace officers spend considerable effort trying to keep people from doing this thing, and punishing people who are caught doing this thing. Maybe I’m talking about armed robbery, maybe I’m talking about traffic stuff.

Anyway, every now and then people still do this thing. And when they do, if they’re caught, they have to appear before a judge, and then they may be fined and/or sent to jail.

Now, because people are still doing this thing, I could say that our efforts to stop people from doing the thing, represent a dismal failure. I could say that, but of course that would be nuts. “What, are you nuts, Freeberg?” you would say. And you would be right. It would be silly to make it legal to, let us say as an example, jaywalk, just because the city has been handing out tickets for jaywalking and people are still jaywalking.

Or robbing liquor stores, or banks. Of course people are still robbing liquor stores and banks. That doesn’t mean we make it legal to do so, or pronounce the laws against robbery a collective failure.

Now, let us say I start collecting some statistics about people getting hurt when this thing is done. If we’re talking about armed robbery, let us say I can present some statistics that say when a hundred stores are robbed, in 99 of those robberies, nobody is hurt. I don’t know if that’s the case, nor do I care.

The point is, that in that hypothetical, the point I would be making would be a bad one. It would be laughable. Fine, it’s one percent dangerous this year, you would say; what’s it going to be next year? The year after? How would you like to be the guy being robbed, you would ask me — probably getting a little bit huffy-puffy about my silly, tedious and intellectually dishonest challenges.

Being a sane person, you would sneer even more pronouncedly about my recidivism argument. Yes, Freeberg, robbery has been with us since biblical times. Jaywalking has been with us since there were cars in front of which you could jaywalk. So the hell what? With exasperation, I expect you would eventually abandon my argument, and the discussion of same, and move on to something more worthwhile.

My wasteful analysis of who is helped and who is hurt when this illegal thing is done…silly.

The claim that the illegal thing nearly always leaves everyone involved physically unharmed…even sillier.

The claim that people who do this illegal thing end up continuing to do the illegal thing, even after being busted…sillier still.

And the claim that law enforcement actually spends effort and money enforcing the laws against this illegal thing…silliest of all.

In fact, the longer I talk about this thing, the more you would start to form the opinion that, perhaps, I have a vested interest. Perhaps I do this illegal thing myself. Perhaps I just got busted for it, and I lack the maturity to figure out that if I don’t want to be arrested, all I have to do is stop doing the illegal thing. You would think that…although you’d be unable to prove it. And you’d probably be right.

Of course those would be the decisions you would make. You’re a sane person, after all, pursuing reasonable decision-making processes. You would call out my arguments for being tedious, tiresome, ridiculous, deceptive, and in summary a huge distraction from other things more important.

Somehow, though, there are millions of people in this country who tolerate all those arguments — indeed, even argue passionately on their behalf — when it comes to the thing I’m really talking about. I speak of using controlled substances. And I’m addressing the attacks on what we call the “War on Drugs.”

When drugs are illegal, they’re illegal. Possessing them, or using them, is therefore illegal. The fact that people still do it…somehow…is used to justify the idea that maybe the laws are bad. We don’t allow that argument with regard to any other illegal thing; most of us don’t, anyway. But somehow, we permit it with regard to this.

Why?

Anyway, enjoy this letter from Walter Cronkite, and the accompanying anti-anti-drug narrative about the ensuing dust-up between the venerable old anchorman and Bill O’Reilly. Cronkite’s fund-raising letter seems to have hit, in just two paragraphs, every single point I listed for legalizing jaywalking and armed robbery. Every single tired, dishonest, distracting, logically unsustainable one of them.

“And what is the impact of this policy? It surely hasn’t made our streets safer. Instead, we have locked up literally millions of people � disproportionately people of color � who have caused little or no harm to others — wasting resources that could be used for counter-terrorism, reducing violent crime or catching white-collar criminals.

“With police wielding unprecedented powers to invade privacy, tap phones and conduct searches seemingly at random, our civil liberties are in a very precarious condition,” he added. “Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on this effort — with no one held accountable for its failure.”

Win Some, Lose Some

Friday, March 17th, 2006

Win Some, Lose Some

Regular readers of this blog, which nobody actually reads, know that we here like to keep an eye on issues involving women in skimpy outfits — because this blog is written by a red-blooded normal man, and that’s what red-blooded normal men do. Actually, there are other reasons to oggle these issues, some of them not quite so pleasant. It has to do with people of both sexes being…funny.

We live in a time where nearly all of us become aware something is happening, more or less at the same time. We can achieve unity with each other supporting some things, and opposing other things. I’ve noticed after watching people for a long period of time, that there really aren’t too many things that can be opposed with widespread unity, quite so much as things involving young girls in skimpy outfits. And when large numbers of people oppose something with unity, and you ask them why they oppose it, in terms of incoherent, babbling, nonsensical answers you get back, the things involving young girls in skimpy outfits really take the cake.

  • It objectifies women. Actually, unless a girl is being somehow physically forced to wear something skimpy that she doesn’t want to wear, nobody’s objectifying anybody.
  • It exploits women. Same as above. If free will is involved, whatever’s being “done to” the young lady is something she’s doing to herself.
  • It’s inappropriate for the young children who may end up seeing it. Funny, this is reserved for the appropriate things like G-rated sports bars, and issues of Sports Illustrated. Very seldom does anyone use this to slam something that children really should not be seeing, like Playboy, or Hustler, or Penthouse, or adult nightclubs, or “juice bars.”
  • It reinforces the message to men and young boys, that women are nothing more than sexual objects to be used. Speaking as a man who’s had to make his share of decisions about whether a woman is a sexual object to be used, I can tell you that some “message” is the very last piece of reference material I call on in making that decision. Oh, unless you’re talking about “messages” from the lady herself.
  • Young girls are taught that their worth depends on the sum of their body parts. Aw geez, what a quivering, neurotic blob of gelatinous goo I would be by now, if I listened to other people tell me what my worth depended on. Are young girls really that insecure? They do a lot more talking and chattering than little boys the same age. It doesn’t look like insecurity to me. What young girls are you talking about?
  • Anyway, you get my point. These answers are easily slapped-down, but they’re something else. They’re monotonous. They lack the passion that answers have when they are dished out by people who actually believe in them. It’s weird. It’s like some telepathic orbiting Mother-Ship has taken control of these people’s brains, and they’re protesting something, only pretending to intrinsically understand the reason why they’re protesting.

    People are seldom more confused, nonsensical, indecipherable, and generally wombat-rabies bollywonkers crazy, than when they band together to oppose something that has to do with cute girls showing their thighs, breasts, bellies and butt cheeks. Very few other calls-to-arms are so well-established in creating so much heat and motion, and making so little sense. And very few other issues will unite them so closely. I’m a little bit scared by that.

    This blog takes a special interest in things lots and lots of people do, that make very little sense. So we keep an eye on this…especially when the enterprises involving young ladies in skimpy clothing, are entirely G-rated. Which means we follow Hooters very, very carefully.

    Last May, I had a lot of interest in the fact that Hooter’s Air was expanding coverage to cities in Pennsylvania and South Carolina. I’ve never been to South Carolina and very seldom go to Pennsylvania. But it was notable because the airline industry as a whole was in full-scale retreat, and here was Hooter’s expanding.

    Well, it seems that was a case of beginner’s luck. Lehigh Valley International Airport is being pulled off the routes; looks like Myrtle Beach remains for now. At this point, the airline industry is still in a little bit of a depression, so you could chalk it up to that. Hooter’s Air, for both the old routes and the newer ones, appears to have triumphed over the frumpy soccer moms waving picket signs, who live in daily terror that their husbands might get an eyeful of something younger and like what they see. This latest shrinkage seems to be a case of response to supply and demand.

    I really don’t go to Hooter’s that often. But I’m convinced beyond the shadow of any doubt, that most of the people who protest when Hooter’s thinks about moving in across the street, have never gone to one. I’m the first to get nervous when I learn I’ll be living next to a sleazy old bar…or a Karate studio (which I do)…or a check cashing business…or a liquor store with bars in the windows.

    But Hooters? If I was thinking about buying a house and Hooters signs started popping up at a business a block away, I’d pay extra. Some people think the food could use some better quality control. But I’ve been to a lot of different restaurants, and I’ve never had bad service, not once.

    Oh, how many businesses do I wish I could say that about. Really.

    That’s Different!

    Friday, March 17th, 2006

    That’s Different!

    This story from my old stomping grounds starts out a little on the funny side, then quickly gets really, really disturbing.

    That’s intentional on the part of the author, one “M. Savo.” What M. Savo did not intend, I think, is how thought-provoking the article becomes about halfway down. I’ll explain.

    A 24-year-old computer-repair technician at Quidnunc�the bustling computer store on California Avenue Southwest at Alaska Junction�is used to seeing porn pop up on people’s computers. “Everything from beaver shots to weirder stuff like Japanese animation featuring tentacles and slime,” he says. “You get pretty desensitized.”

    However, the file he saw last month while repairing one customer’s computer freaked him out. It was titled “5-year-old Girl” and it was a picture of a grown man having sex with a little girl. There were several other JPEG files with similar titles, he says.

    Now, it would be illegal on the part of the computer repair shop to let this go and not report it. So…they reported it. And this is where the story mushrooms into a far more public issue. It’s an issue that, in the minds of some, has something to do with the War on Terror which affects us all:

    Last week, in response to the Police Beat item, Quidnunc received the following anonymous letter: “Although I do believe child pornography is wrong, sick, disgusting, etc., I believe it is equally wrong what your employees did… I do not want to be concerned about some misguided do-gooder taking my private information and reporting it to ‘Big Brother.’ This is just one more example of the decay in civil rights in this country and you have chosen to contribute to it. I will not let this happen. I will no longer patronize your business… Just two days ago I referred a friend to your business to have his computer upgraded. I immediately called him and strongly advised him to go elsewhere. When I explained why, he agreed. We need to begin organizing boycotts against individuals who threaten our personal freedoms.” [emphasis mine]

    Big Brother. Decay in civil rights. Threatening our personal freedoms. Sound familiar?

    Just for the record, I don’t think there’s any correlation between babbling about civil rights & personal freedoms just because you can no longer make poorly-advised jokes about bombs at the airport metal detectors — and storing kiddie porn on your computer. That is not my point. Indeed, the people who have developed amnesia about the September 11 attacks, and just want things to be the way they used to be, far, far outnumber people like me. I think we’ve completely lost track of what “civil liberties” we’re trying to defend. I think some of the additional powers that have been legislated to the Justice Department, are long overdue. In short, I simply think you can’t have it both ways: When someone commits a crime or conspires to commit a crime, and that crime involves victims or potential victims, and the criminal ends up walking because of extravagant and tenuous “civil rights” that were never legislated and aren’t listed anywhere and that nobody can even coherently articulate what they are — if you cheer for that, when you know the bad guy was really in fact guilty, it’s like a slap in the face to the victim.

    That, to me, seems just like common sense.

    Savo, however, in an opinion no doubt shared by the vast majority, embarks on an argument that achieves a pinnacle of extravagance at the expense of soundness. He chooses to agree with the author of the anonymous letter on the War on Terror and associated issues, but disagree with him in the matter of child pornography.

    Which doesn’t automatically make Savo wrong, or stupid, or nuts. But I do think the argument is left incomplete. We “sacrifice freedom for security” as the saying goes, in the area of pornography, but not with terrorist attacks. Why is that?

    Civil Libertarians are rightfully on edge these days. Congress just reauthorized the constitutionally questionable USA PATRIOT Act, which allows “sneak-and-peeks” where law enforcement can search your home or office, take photos, and seize items without letting you know that a warrant was issued. A week later, the GOP majority in Congress lowered the bar on domestic surveillance guidelines, retroactively accommodating President Bush’s creepy spying program. However, skittishness about the right to be left alone, justified and righteous as it may be, seems way off point in this case where�if the pictures are authentic�young children are being sexually abused.

    The skittishness is way off point because young people may be sexually abused.

    As my old boss used to say: “Scooby Doo…Rrrrrr?!?!?”

    Maybe this is a good lesson for me. Maybe I’m gaining new insight on the people who oppose the Patriot Act and are “skittish,” so to speak, about their civil liberties. If M. Savo speaks for them, they must be of the mind that our personal freedoms are being exchanged for nothing. It’s the old Michael Moore slogan about “there is no terrorist threat.”

    I mean, I’m sure M. Savo would agree with me that if a little girl is in danger of being molested, or put to an agonizing death in a puddle of burning jet fuel with no escape except a nose-dive off a hundred-story skyscraper — it would probably be better for her to be molested. Yes that sounds awful, I know, but think about it.

    The planes did crash.

    The people did burn.

    And jump, they did.

    I’m not trying to be disrespectful or dismissive toward Savo’s argument. He’s just left it incomplete. A law fights terrorists who want to kill us to make some kind of sick political statement, and another law fights perverts who buy and sell pictures of little tiny kids engaged in sex acts. Both laws “cost us our freedoms,” so to speak…as nearly all laws do. Oh, how I wish we could have a knock-down drag-out debate about sacrificing-of-freedoms, with regard to every single law that comes along.

    Why am I to automatically assume it’s a worthwhile exercise when we prosecute molesters (in which case, I do agree with Savo; many, many people disagree with the two of us, passionately) — and it is not a worthwhile exercise when we prosecute terrorists who we know beyond the shadow of any doubt are really out there? Why am I to think the former is on the up-and-up, and the latter is just a big flim-flam, with a huge crater remaining to this day smack in the middle of Manhattan?

    I understand that I’m supposed to divine some kind of meaningful difference between those two. But I’m not going to lie. The difference entirely escapes me. Perhaps it’s because we’ve completely skipped over that part in our national debate…because certain noisy advocates wanted us to.

    Payback Mountain

    Friday, March 17th, 2006

    Payback Mountain

    Alright, there are obviously several things about this kid that are messed up. But one of the things he’s got out of place, is something that a lot of “normal” kids and “normal” adults have busted too. It concerns a certain movie about a couple of gay cowboys.

    There’s been this wave of amateur reviews on this gay-cowboy movie, in which one is expected to find it a wonderful movie if one is liberal and to find it a horrible movie if one is conservative. I haven’t joined the parade because I don’t have an opinion on how good of a movie it is. I don’t have an opinion on how good of a movie it is, because I haven’t seen it. And I won’t see it.

    I’m not refusing to see it because of my values.

    I’m not refusing to see it because I expect that it’s a bad movie.

    I’m not refusing to see it because it will gross me out.

    I’m not even refusing to see it.

    I simply don’t plan to.

    I don’t plan to see it because…get ready for this staggeringly complex, philosophically profound decision-making process…here it comes…I’m not gay.

    And that, to me, represents such an incredibly simple decision to make, I’m at a complete loss as to understand why any heterosexual person would decide any differently (unless, I suppose, they had some gay friends dragging them to it).

    Well, we have lots of straight people paying good money to watch the movie. Is that such a bad thing? I think it probably is, because try as I might I can’t come up with too many reasons to watch it when you’re straight, and aren’t watching it with a gay friend:

    1. You wish to broaden your understanding of and compassion for gay people;
    2. You want the movie to do well, so that other straight people are forced to understand gay people better;
    3. You’re bored;
    4. You want to be able to say you saw this movie because the movie is new;
    5. You want to be able to say you saw this movie because the movie is controversial;
    6. You want to be able to say you saw this movie because the movie is “progressive”;
    7. You like Ang Lee’s films, or Jake Gyllenhaal’s films, or Heath Ledger’s films;
    8. You heard about Anne Hathaway’s nude scene.

    #1 and #7 are somewhat healthy, but there are other ways to achieve those. Come to think of it, there are other, better, cheaper ways to address all eight of these. Unfortunately, I suspect #2 captures most of the ticket revenue from the wallets of straight moviegoers, and #2 is the sickest of the lot.

    People just don’t work this way. Repeated exposure to the gay culture, does very little to cultivate sympathy for that culture where it does not previously exist. What it cultivates, in fact, is hostility.

    Well, enough of that rant, and back to the subject at hand. Brandon Flyte is not in the news because he’s a straight person who chose to see “Brokeback Mountain”; he’s in the news because he seems to be something of a psychopath. And this was found out about after he, as a straight student, chose to make a movie along the lines of the gay cowboy movie.

    The school forwarded to police e-mails threatening to burn down the school and other claims of physical threats.

    It started with an English assignment to film a tragedy. Flyte created “Brokeback High,” which told the story of a secretly gay high school athlete forced to live the life everyone expected of him despite it being a lie. After meeting an openly gay student, he eventually admits his homosexuality. The two end up in bed together, shirtless and snuggling. Flyte, who is a heterosexual, played the part of the athlete.

    “It’s just something we wanted to do,” Flyte said of the project. “There’s not a lot of straight kids out there making gay movies.”

    The assignment, however, forbid sex scenes, nudity and violence. Flyte removed the snuggling scene for the English class and got rave reviews for the film. Several other students also had to remove scenes from their projects. The class voted Flyte best actor.

    No, making a gay-athlete movie has very little to do with threatening to burn down a school. (One has strong doubts, after reading the story carefully from beginning to end, that Flyte has anything whatsoever to do with these threats.) There’s a much stronger connection between the arson threat and typing stuff into a web page…and what is it that I’m doing right now?

    Except people have been known to put up blog pages that nobody ever actually reads, which is also something I’m doing right now. On the other hand, to make a movie for an English assignment based on a real movie, you have to expect some critical mass among your peers has been exposed to the real movie. And I doubt like hell you’d be voted Best Actor by those peers, if those peers hadn’t seen the real movie.

    I doubt like hell that all of the students who’ve seen the real movie, are gay.

    Among the straight students who’ve seen the movie, I doubt like hell that very many of them, at all, were motivated by #7 in the list above. Or #8.

    No, no, I’m not writing some elaborate treatise about the gay culture trying to “recruit” our straight high school students into becoming gay. I’ll leave that to someone else. My beef, here, is actually the intrusion into the gay culture. Heterosexual high school students, somehow, are coming to the realization that a cultural item — in this case, a love story in a movie — created for the commercial consumption by homosexuals, has some compelling interest for heterosexuals. When, in fact, it doesn’t. They’re coming to that faulty realization on their own, or they’re being coerced into it.

    Well, that’s really nothing new. Any time you see a married couple going to a Barbra Streisand concert, you could say there’s a guy being coerced into thinking he’s interested in something that actually has no appeal to him. But that isn’t nearly as offensive. When a man loves his wife, he starts to actually want to “waste time” on things his wife likes, and besides, the decision to buy tickets is a personal decision that applies to that couple alone, impacting nobody else.

    This is a prevailing cultural sentiment that says: The time has come for straight people to pretend they’re gay. Why? Maybe the Brokeback Mountain phenomenon is actually “Payback Mountain.” I’m sure a lot of gay people between the ages of sixteen and sixty, have had to pretend they’re straight while going to a James Bond movie, for example, and who knows how many other high-profile films.

    Point made. But is payback healthy?

    What about the elites dictating to the commoners what the commoners should pretend their sexual preference is? If you’re gay, and you’ve had to pretend you’re straight so you can appreciate straight culture, then obviously this can’t be said to work very well if you’re still gay. Therefore, this “Brokeback Culture” is a huge waste of energy — just for starters. But there are other messages packed into it. Like, we all have some pressing business to get excited about things that other people happen to be excited about.

    That is what really rubs me the wrong way. What happens to these high school students if they have gay friends, who went to see Brokeback Mountain and really liked it, and those straight high school students decide not to get excited about the movie and/or to go see it? What, is that some kind of an attack on the gay students now?

    That seems to be where our culture is heading now. I remember when I bought my car, new, my mother was still alive. I was telling her, half-jokingly, that one of the things I was most excited about was the spoiler on the back. She turned to me, smiled, and said “if you like it, Honey, that’s all that matters.” There was no mistaking her unstated meaning, at all.

    You know what? She’s been dead-and-buried for thirteen years now. The car has 320,000 miles on it. And I don’t think, since that day, I’ve ever heard anyone say that to anyone else: If you like it, that’s all that counts. I don’t think anyone can say that now. THAT, right there, is the bee in my bonnet. We have lost the societal ability to say to each other “I like you, and you like X, and while I don’t like X I’m happy for you that you are happy with X.”

    It appears this has been entirely re-written. If Bob likes X, and Bob is friends with Dave, Dave has to like X, even if Bob is gay, it’s a gay movie, and Dave is straight. Nevermind. Dave has to become an X fan, or else Dave is attacking Bob. There is no in-between.

    Yes, this is a problem. No, I don’t think it’s connected to school arson. Because even if the arson threat was a real threat, and even if it actually came to pass, that isn’t something that happens all the time.

    But for the last several months, it seems I can’t go from one weekend to another weekend without hearing some straight person pretending to be exuberant and thrilled about a gay movie…at least half a dozen times that week.

    We’re at war, and a lot of people are unhappy about that. Even those of us who support the war, are supposed to want peace. We’re supposed to be in complete agreement on that desire. For the most part, I think we are. Well, that’s the first step to peace, boys & girls. You like your things; I like mine; they’re different things. This doesn’t make us enemies, and if we’re friends we stay that way.

    Are we losing that? I’m afraid we are.

    Thing I Know #8. It is hard to get people to argue about private matters, but easy if you can somehow turn them into public matters.

    Update: Brandon Flyte’s blog is still up and is still being updated with his comments about the situation.

    My own comments, above, stand. Nothing really wrong about straight students making gay movies. Nothing really right about it, either.

    Rob Me Blind, Poison My Food, Insult Me

    Wednesday, March 15th, 2006

    Rob Me Blind, Poison My Food, Insult Me

    There are two ways to look at this:

    Facing threats of litigation and pressure from Washington, colleges and universities nationwide are opening to white students hundreds of thousands of dollars in fellowships, scholarships and other programs previously aimed at minorities.

    Southern Illinois University reached a consent decree last month with the Justice Department to allow nonminority students and men access to graduate fellowships originally created for women and minorities.

    In January, the State University of New York made white students eligible for $6.8 million of aid in two scholarship programs also previously available just for minorities. Pepperdine University is negotiating with the Education Department over its use of race as a criterion in its programs.

    “They’re all trying to minimize their legal exposure,” Susan Sturm, a law professor at Columbia University, said about colleges and universities. “The question is how are they doing that, and are they doing that in a way that’s going to shut down any effort or any successful effort to diversify the student body?”

    The institutions are reacting to two 2003 Supreme Court cases on using race in admissions at the University of Michigan. Although the cases did not ban using race in admissions to higher education, they did leave the state of the law unclear, and with the changing composition of the court, some university and college officials fear legal challenges.

    The first is that, golly gee, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Sam Alito have barely even started to warm up the bench with their butts, and already the college admissions world is being turned upside-down. No Supreme Court decisions, or decisions from any lower court, inspiring this mini-revolution. Just changing faces, that’s all. One justice resigns, another one dies, the empty seats are filled, and voila. We have a different set of rules.

    This is a settled matter of fact, because it is exactly what’s happening. It’s also an endorsement of a faulty doctrine; the doctrine that the Supreme Court is essentially a mini-Congress, and it’s up to The People and Congress to make sure it bears a healthy resemblance to the rest of us. You have to have some libs in there, and a bunch of women, a few more blacks and latinos, and unless 56% of us are Catholic, some of those five Catholic justices should step down soon.

    Well, my perspective deals with settled matters of fact too, and it’s different.

    My take on it is this: Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003), and its companion decision Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003), together represent a plural decision that is a textbook example of what our Supreme Court should not be doing. Agreeing with the latter decision and not the former, I would have been happier if the Supreme Court decided against my preferences in both cases rather than in just one of them. For what they did three years ago, really, is hand down three decisions: 1) A “compelling state interest” causes an act of discrimination to be compatible with the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, when such an act would otherwise not be (Grutter); 2) there is a residual level of incompatibility being trumped by this compelling interest, which is exacerbated to such a level that it can no longer be trumped, if the process becomes unacceptably mechanized (Gratz); 3) As far as how mechanized you can get, you have to keep watching the Supreme Court because, after all, this really isn’t a matter of principle — it’s a matter of which authoritarian zealot gets to make the rules.

    And I have the biggest problem with #3. Passionate advocates on both sides of quota-counting affirmative action policies, will insist that whatever policy should prevail, this is about fairness and principle. It seems obviously counterproductive to have the refrees disagreeing with the players about that, when the refrees hand down the decisions by which all must abide.

    To put it more succinctly, this is supposed to be about interpretation. O’Connor writes the decision, Alito writes the decision — it shouldn’t matter. It isn’t supposed to be personal interpretation, therefore, it shouldn’t matter whether a justice is Catholic, Protestant, gay, straight, white, non-white, male, female.

    Otherwise, what in the hell are those senators supposed to be grilling the Supreme Court nominees about in those hearings?

    This is one thing I don’t get about the Supreme Court. The people who sit there, and the hundreds of law experts you can interview on the subject, and the thousands of people who watch the Supreme Court, and the perhaps millions of people like me who simply take an interest in it, we all seem to agree on something: The Supreme Court does a “good” job when it acts as a restraining mechanism on itself, and takes pains to define with laser-precision what matters of law should be settled, and what matters should pass without comment. Nobody’s terribly wild about getting brain surgery with a sledgehammer, in other words.

    And yet according to that, we should have universal agreement that Earl Warren was a terrible Chief Justice. How many decisions from the Warren Court caused mini-revolutions in the judiciary? How many of them really had to?

    Well, I can certainly buy that Earl Warren was bad for the country, but these days I’m in the minority on that. Okay, maybe I’m wrong. And maybe the doctrine of minimal-impact and self-restraint, has to be applied selectively in order to make sense. I can buy that too; the black-and-white absolute is a hobgoblin and a harbinger of future mistakes.

    But couldn’t there be a national consensus that the Bollinger decisions represented a failure, at least for the purpose of defining failure?

    Uncertainty and second-guessing before the decisions…uncertainty and second-guessing after. Confusion before, and confusion after.

    What in the hell did the Supreme Court bring to the party?

    It’s enough to make one yearn for the bygone days of Earl Warren. Chief Justice Warren might have done his brain surgery with a sledgehammer, but at least once the patient came out of the surgery you could tell the surgery had been done. What are the rules now? Do they really have to change just because there are new people on the Supreme Court? And are we still a nation of laws, not of men?

    So I’m ticked, not because of the way the rules have been, or how they’re changing, or even that they’re changing. The bee in my bonnet, is that this is a rare opportunity to figure out something is terribly broken, and I’m not optimistic that the opportunity will be properly realized. A different set of judges shouldn’t create a different outcome, and it certainly shouldn’t create a wave of new policies as the college administrators anticipate that different outcome. I know sometimes it’s a fact of life…but that doesn’t make it right.

    It’s got to do with the way the law actually works. And guess what? If you’re more interested in watching American Idol than in following the way the law works…the law applies to you just as much as it applies to geeks like me, who are interested in following what’s going on. You’ll just learn about it a little bit later, that’s all.

    This guy doesn’t seem any happier than I am.

    Advocates of focused scholarships programs such as Theodore Shaw, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., challenge the notion that programs for minority students hurt whites.

    “How is it that they conclude that the great evil in this country is discrimination against white people?” Shaw asked. “Can I put that question any more pointedly? I struggle to find the words to do it because it’s so stunning.”

    I think Mr. Shaw is going to be even unhappier when he sees himself quoted in this story. For one thing, unless he said some more stuff that I’m not seeing here, he never “challenge[d] the notion that programs for minority students hurt whites.” What he seems to be doing here, is challenging the notion that “discrimination against white people” is “the great evil in this country.” Not that I see how that’s relevant. Lots of things are evil, without being “the great evil.” Wrong is wrong.

    But ultimately, this is a decision being made by our elected representatives and it belongs to We The People, right? So we can keep an eye on what’s going on, right? Wrong.

    It is far too early to determine the effects of the changes on the presence of minorities in higher education and how far the pool of money for scholarships and similar programs will stretch.

    Firm data on how many institutions have modified their policies is elusive because colleges and institutions are not eager to trumpet the changes. [emphasis mine]

    I would suggest if Mr. Shaw is wondering how reverse-discrimination is harmful, he could get his answer simply by following what’s going on, unless he’s making money off the status quo (which is probably the case). We have these special opportunities for people with certain skin colors, but the opportunities aren’t written into anything binding — they’re determined by what faces are on the Supreme Court. The faces change, the opportunities change. And how? Nobody really knows. Nobody, who is in a position to know, will say. And, I guess, if the faces change some more, the opportunities will change some more. How’s that? I, of course, don’t know, and neither do you.

    Some opportunity. Real fair stuff.

    Quota-counting lacks vision. It has to; it must. People who must live by established rules, have always considered themselves and will always consider themselves to be better informed about the impact of those rules than those who make them. It contradicts human nature for elites to tell commoners, regardless of the color-of-skin of those commoners, “you must stand aside and give things to other commoners with a different skin color, to make up for past wrongs that had nothing to do with your personal actions in any way” and for the aggrieved commoners to say “the authority has told me this is fair, so it must be so.” That doesn’t work for white commoners or non-white commoners. People respect authority to a certain extent, and in all cultures, this practice far surpasses that extent. It’s just the way people work. They know unfair when they see it.

    So quota-counting breeds resentment and is anathema to any vision of harmonious integration. It doesn’t matter how you’re counting the quota. It doesn’t matter who you think is being helped. If you get out of bed in the morning and you’re determined to achieve something that day, you have to presume the things you’re going to do are going to be a lot more important than just sitting around being…white, or black, or red, or yellow. People have to believe that. They have to have hope, and confidence in the things they do. If this hope isn’t given to them, they will go out and find it.

    And that means if you’re asked to step aside for someone lesser-qualified, or let your brother take an extra turn in Monopoly, or forced to give money to someone who you’re not personally convinced is “poor”…in your heart, you’re going to think it’s a boneheaded decision. And you’ll be right. Because elites don’t know this much about common affairs, and never can, no matter how elusive those elites are in releasing the data upon which they make those decisions. This isn’t an issue of fairness to be decided by college chancellors or deans, or by Supreme Court justices. Note that here they are, trying to decide it, and what do they end up doing? Looking at each other, trying to divine answers that aren’t forthcoming, endlessly pointing to someone else in the daisy-chain like a bunch of spineless bureaucrats. In the end, Job #1 has nothing to do with fairness or principle, it all comes down to “make sure nobody blames me.”

    Ultimately, if a university official commands a non-white student to give his opportunities to a white student, or a white student to sacrifice for a non-white student…if the university official ends up somehow being “right” in this decision, he’s only right in the way a stopped clock is right twice a day. There is no knowledge about the issue being offered from this position of authority, and when the rubber meets the road, there’s no knowledge anyone’s even pretending to offer. It ends up being just a tired, soulless ritual, practiced by spineless bureaucrats seeking only to obey the rules as written and interpreted by someone else.

    So if you seek to see how this can be a great evil, Mr. Shaw, there’s your answer. The practice pretends to stand up for principles and fairness and decency to the individual, but in the end, does no such thing and cannot do any such thing. It simply causes injury to what we have done, and what we can in the future become. And as frosting on the cake, the process tells us that none of us, black or white, will do anything in life any more noteworthy than just be…whatever color we are.

    To sum it up, it intrudes into our homes, plunders all of our possessions, poisons our food, and on the way out turns around & insults us. All of us.

    Imitation is the Sincerest Form VII

    Sunday, March 12th, 2006

    Imitation is the Sincerest Form VII

    Three months ago, regarding the Democrats’ stated plan to avoid forming a specific strategy on Iraq (unbelievable, yes, I know), I wrote

    Evidently, the Democratic party’s plan for the Iraq mission, or quandry, or conundrum, or quagmire or debacle or whatever you want to call it, is this: Nothing. You read that right, nothing. They don’t know what to do about it. There is no plan, and there is no plan to make a plan. There is no intention to rally around a single, blessed, party-position about what to do to solve the problem, not even later on when the midterm elections are in full swing. The official party position, is that it’s every Democrat for him- or herself…
    [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi said Democrats will produce an issue agenda for the 2006 elections but it will not include a position on Iraq. There is consensus within the party that President Bush has mismanaged the war and that a new course is needed, but House Democrats should be free to take individual positions, she sad.

    “There is no one Democratic voice . . . and there is no one Democratic position,” Pelosi said in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors.

    …Can both sides of the aisle, at least step up and come to an agreement that what Pelosi’s party is offering, is something that falls short of leadership? Seems obvious.

    I don’t know if Byron York, of the National Review, reads my blog. I would suspect hardly anybody does. But how else do you explain this gem which appeared Thursday on The Hill:

    The Democrats are the real party of arrogance

    How many times have you heard Democrats describe George W. Bush as “arrogant”?

    Too many to count. And truth be told, a number of unhappy Republicans are using the A-word themselves when referring to the president these days.

    But if you want to see arrogance � lots and lots of it � you need look no further than the Democratic Party�s plan to win the House and Senate this November.

    Simply put, Democrats believe they can ask voters to give them control of the legislative branch without revealing any sort of policy or plan to deal with the most pressing issue before the country today: the war in Iraq.

    And Bush is arrogant?

    Not only do Democrats not have a plan, they�re proud of not having a plan. [emphasis mine]

    Last December, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sat down with a group of reporters and editors of The Washington Post. The journalists asked what Democrats would do about Iraq were they to win power in 2006.

    “Pelosi said Democrats will produce an issue agenda for the 2006 elections but it will not include a position on Iraq,” the Post reported. “‘There is no one Democratic voice … and there is no one Democratic position,’ Pelosi said.”

    It was dramatic proof of the party�s disarray on the war, but the Post gave the story the most charitable headline possible: “Pelosi Hails Democrats� Diverse War Stances.”

    I’ve been robbed, but I’m not calling the police. I’m quite flattered.

    Over a hundred million of us voted in the last Presidential election. A large chunk of those voters will be voting in the midterms this year.

    It is an established fact that a major political party participating in those midterms, is on-record with their failure to arrive at a plan, and the pride they take in this failure to form a plan, to deal with the most critical life-and-death issue our nation faces today.

    This story is huge, huge, huge, huge, huge. So I hope Mr. York is just the first in a long line of people waiting to rob me by taking notice. Step right up.

    What’s So Scary About The Nazi Party?

    Friday, March 10th, 2006

    What’s So Scary About The Nazi Party?

    You know what I really can’t stand?

    I really hate it when I’m watching a movie, with an incredibly complicated storyline, and tons and tons of genetically perfect gorgeous hot people of both sexes — much younger than me — and suddenly, I don’t have a clue what is going on because the guys all look the same. The hero who will shoot the villain at the end (or heroically lay down his life for his hot gorgeous co-star), the villain himself, the jackass who picks on the nerd, the jock, the sidekick. Look at that, one of these guys is the star, one of them is just a supporting character with hardly any speaking lines at all. Why are they both white? Why are they both five-foot-ten? Or, one of them is married to a woman and being cuckolded, the other one is poking her when the husband’s away. How come the casting people didn’t make one of them blonde and the other one dark? Why didn’t the costuming people put earrings one just one of them? Sometimes, when the actors are all too physically-perfect, and all have the same build, the same facial features, the same hot new fashionable hairstyle…to a guy who is sexually attracted to women and not to men, these guys look enough alike to cause a lot of confusion as to what’s going on. Then I have to rewind to find out what’s going on. Usually, that ruins everything because the movie was never designed to be good enough for multiple viewings.

    Now, I could do a lot of things about this. I can write a post in a blog about how much I hate it when that happens…and then let it keep on happening, just, making sure I don’t sink too much money into those movies.

    That isn’t what feminism does about things that it finds similarly annoying in modern culture, like, say, girls in skimpy outfits.

    I could form a support group of other straight men who look forward to the stupid movies with hot girls in them, but are similarly annoyed when the guys look enough alike that they lose track of what’s going on. We could get together and drink beer and munch on some buffalo wings, every week or so, and get it off our chests — so that the rest of the world could keep working the way it does, and irritate us a whole lot less than it otherwise would.

    That isn’t what feminism is about, either.

    Or I could start an entire bulletin board about this thing, take out a subscription to Teen Magazine or GQ, keep an eye out for changing mens’ hairstyles, and when something gets popular I could bellyache on my bulletin board to the effect of “I’ll bet in the next year I’m going to waste fifty bucks or more renting stupid movies with one or two hot young girls, and probably a dozen hunky guys I can’t tell apart wearing this same stupid new hairstyle.”

    And the rest of the world would keep on spinning.

    And that last part is my point. Being from earth, and having red blood, I figure when I don’t like something that’s just my little cross to bear. In other words, there is a threshhold of pain I have where, once it’s crossed, I’ll start bellyaching and make myself tedious; there’s a much higher threshhold where I must start marching through the streets, interfering with other peoples’ business, and generally making a real pain in the ass out of myself — refusing to take no for an answer, changing the world, et cetera.

    They’re two different threshholds.

    Yeah.

    I know, it’s an old-fashioned concept. I can be mighty annoyed by something, and still let people be the way they are.

    If somebody else likes something that I don’t like, even if I don’t like it because it costs me money in the form of renting movies I end up not understanding, that’s essentially…fine. Life would be boring if we were all the same. And things that are, are; whatever will be, will be. The fact is, we have a lot of lusty young women who like to spend booku bucks on stupid movies, with dozens of guys therein all wearing the same stupid hairstyle. Maybe since those girls find men sexually appealing and I don’t, maybe this gives them some superior ability to tell those guys apart so they can figure out what’s happening in the movie. I don’t know. I don’t care. I’ll try not to get fooled, so I end up renting the movies I like, and they get the movies they like.

    I will not ostracize.

    I will not coerce.

    I will not try to purify society.

    Well, what we call the “feminist movement” wants to purify society. Some men, myself included, happen to like looking at young ladies who wear skimpy outfits. Just as some young women like to rent movies chock full of guys with fashionable hairstyles — who don’t look like guys those young women would actually be willing to date in real life. I think that’s foolish. It irritates me a little, for the reasons explained above, but I’m not going to try to “fix” them. The way the feminists would like to “fix” me.

    A man who finds a gorgeous young woman in skimpy clothing appealing, you see, is an unfinished task. Feminists don’t want me to be attracted that way, or if I am, they don’t want to hear about it. That would be fine, but we see a lot of evidence of feminists going out of their way to “detect” the hunchbacked knuckle-draggers like me. They want to know we’re out here. It’s the first half of the “Search And Destroy” mission.

    I’m not supposed to call them “feminazis” or tolerate anyone else calling them that. This Wikipedia entry for the word indicates a great deal of controversy over whether the moniker is “acceptable,” as if that were not a question to be decided privately by each individual choosing to use it. Why should they not be called this?

    The people we call “feminists” don’t work through deliberation. They work through purification.

    That isn’t just my opinion. It’s the opinion of self-proclaimed feminist Debra Bruno. And it’s an opinion she proclaims, right in the middle of questioning why anyone would be scared of feminism.

    What’s so scary about feminism?
    ‘Consciousness raising’ just means honest discussion about our behavior and our choices.

    The other day at work, some colleagues and I were discussing a chain restaurant known for its scantily clad waitresses. I was taken aback for a moment. “They have the best sports bar in my area,” one person said. “I hear they have great Buffalo wings,” said another.

    It was a moment of disconnect. “But how can anyone go to places like that?” I asked. “What about the objectification of women’s bodies?”

    The what of the who?

    My colleagues, many of them young enough to be my offspring, gave me puzzled, bemused looks.

    “This is one of those feminist things, isn’t it?” someone asked.

    “Yes, I’m a feminist. Yes, I did consciousness raising,” I said.

    “What’s consciousness raising?”

    It was my turn to be startled. Hasn’t everyone at least heard about consciousness raising? A quick survey of the people in my office revealed that no one, male or female, under the age of 30 had even heard of what in my day was so common we called it “CR.”

    As I said, I’m from earth. And I have red blood. So when I think about deliberating attributes of the public sensibility for the greater good, and “consciousness raising,” one of the very last things to run through my head is people running around making innocent comments and then their counterparts being bemused, puzzled, taken aback, and/or startled. I don’t think that’s a productive discourse. “OHMYGOD I can’t believe you just said that!” is not a statement for what I think of as consciousness-raising, and it follows that any argument based on the exclamation or the underlying sentiment, similarly fails to qualify.

    I think what Bruno is finding out here, is that it is the feminazis who have been purified out of existence — except naturally. Nobody has started a movement to “backburn,” if you will, the feminist movement. What happened, was people thought independently. They observed the feminists trying to control what people see, what people hear, what people say, and what people see & hear that they like, or dislike. The young people have figured out that, okay, social movements can be started for the purpose of controlling these things. Once started, can such movements be successful? And are they good things?

    And the young people watched, learned, and evaluated what they saw.

    They saw high-profile figures like Robert Packwood, and their careers destroyed.

    They saw other high-profile figures like Clarence Thomas, and their careers nearly destroyed. Over probably nothing; certainly, nothing provable. They saw, what was supposed to be “consciousness raising,” emerge as something actually more like political-agenda raising. Or friend-raising and enemy-crushing. Favoritism in its purest, rawest, most naked (oops! Sorry, Debra) form.

    And then a most peculiar thing happened.

    They saw a high-profile figure who happened to be the President of the United States, arguably just as guilty of denigrating women as sex objects as Sen. Packwood and Justice Thomas, even moreso — certainly, more provably so — given a free pass. So they saw it never had to do with consciousness, ever. Or sensibilities. Or decency, or respecting women. It never had anything to do with those things. It was really all about controlling the way people think in order to control the way people vote.

    So feminism, having obviously become much more concerned with its political self-interests than with its stated goal of improving society, was abandoned.

    And to try to reclaim some semblance of relevance, we see the movement, through advocates like Debra Bruno — exert more control. Now, they throw up red flags when they see normal, straight men traipse along to Hooters to get a plate of wings, a cold brew, and an eyeful. Beep Beep Beep! We’re here to sound the alarm. We’re still relevant.

    Well, I hope not. You people scare me. Maybe now you know why…but I suspect most of you weren’t as mystified about it as you put on.

    Hiding Behind Someone Else

    Thursday, March 9th, 2006

    Hiding Behind Someone Else

    Maybe I watched too many cowboy movies when I was a kid, but I’ve navigated my way to this midpoint of my life-expectancy with this presumption pretty much unchallenged, that cowardice is anathema to being an American. And by “cowardice” I mean hiding behind weaker people when someone comes gunnin’ for you. I have been laboring under the assumption that Americans don’t like that. Hiding behind old women, hiding behind kids, hiding behind cripples, to escape some kind of justice, retribution, or intellectual scrutiny. Americans, I think, would almost tolerate someone actively beating up on an old crippled guy, more than they would tolerate someone hiding behind that old crippled guy to escape…a mall cop, a meter maid, a lawyer, an angry mob, whatever.

    Fighting your own battles, is an American value. I think.

    Unions are supposed to represent an American value. That’s what I’ve been told. They were legislated into existence in order to support our First Amendment right to assemble peaceably.

    Unions are American, fighting your own battles is American.

    Why, then, oh why, is it, that whenever I hear the point-of-view of a union, they are always hiding behind someone else?

    Union goons and union thugs and union bosses wanted Gray Davis to remain the Governor of California, and for the recall effort to go away. Did they say that? No. They said “policemen oppose the recall” and “firefighters oppose the recall,” when rank-and-file policemen and real firefighters opposed no such thing. “Nurses oppose Gov. Schwarzenegger’s initiatives.” “Reagan is hurting air traffic controllers.” “Bush is hurting longshoremen.”

    It seems anytime someone wants to take on the organizational structure and management of a union, and the policy decisions of same, the union’s defense is to attack the attacker: They are denigrating, or conducting an assault on, …insert name of large-eyed puppy here. It’s not us. Nobody’s got anything to say against our questionable decisions. It’s the puppy.

    And now John Stossel is hurting little schoolchildren. Here we go again. [emphasis mine]

    Teachers unions are mad at me. The New York State United Teachers demands I apologize for my “gutter level” journalism, “an irresponsible assault on public school students and teachers.” This is because I hosted an ABC News TV special titled “Stupid in America,” which pointed out:

    – American fourth graders do well on international tests, but by high school, Americans have fallen behind kids in most other countries.

    – The constant refrain that “public schools need more money” is nonsense. Many countries that spend significantly less on education do better than we do. School spending in America (adjusted for inflation) has more than tripled over the past 30 years, but national test scores are flat. The average per-pupil cost today is an astonishing $10,000 per student — $200,000 per classroom! Think about how many teachers you could hire, and how much better you could do with that amount of money.

    – Most American parents give their kids’ schools an A or B grade, but that’s only because, without market competition, they don’t know what they might have had. The educators who conduct the international tests say that most of the countries that do best are those that give school managers autonomy, and give parents and students the right to choose their schools. Competition forces private and public schools to improve.

    – There is little K-12 education competition in America because public schools are a government monopoly. Monopolies rarely innovate, and union-dominated monopolies, burdened with contracts filled with a hundred pages of suffocating rules, are worse. The head of New York City’s schools told me that the union’s rules “reward mediocrity.”

    Noonan

    Thursday, March 9th, 2006

    Noonan

    Last December, I got into a rather silly and spicy exchange with some other blogger who inflicted his glorious assault against this blog, which calls itself the blog that nobody reads, with his condescending pronouncement that nobody will ever read this blog. Well, surprise, surprise. I fired the opening salvo in that exchange, charging that opinions were being formed based on alleged facts that, according to the opinion-formers themselves, fell short of commanding overwhelming merit or even lukewarm merit. This, I charged, was ill-advised for a resource calling itself the “Hammer of Truth.” Interestingly, his pattern was to swivel the subject around from a dialog about verity, to a dialog about brevity. Never mind what’s right, or wrong, or verifiable, or falsifiable, or what remains an enigma: MY SHIT WAS TOO LONG.

    Well, I’m not going to sit here and type in some nonsense to the effect that I fancy myself innocent of the charge. I write short stuff when I feel like it, and I write long stuff when I feel like it. I do what I want. People read it, or they don’t; which is why it’s called the blog that nobody reads. But it’s interesting: Mr. VanDyke is not the first to point out, upon perusing my products, that Hey Themz A Lot Of Big Wurdz Up There and try to launch literary criticism based on this discovery. And there’s merit to this literary criticism. Some. I see something written for the intent of being read, and I have these feelings of tedium and exhaustion that compels me to avoid reading it, it’s natural to suppose the author would benefit from that information — and it’s very human to suppose many other potential readers are weighed down by the same sense of exhaustion, before I’ve verified this is the case.

    “Human,” however, isn’t always right. That’s an important thing to realize in a dialog where one party wants to debate what is quick-and-snappy, and the other party wants to debate what is right. I think I’ve picked on VanDyke enough, but there are many other people running around with the same issues: I see something I don’t like, something which is based on fact or legitimate question, but runs on a little bit long. I pronounce the facts delusive or the questions baseless, because I don’t like the result — but I’ll pretend it has something to do with the length. Yes, that’s it. Your stuff is really long, so it must not be right.

    To these critics, I present Peggy Noonan, speechwriter for arguably the greatest public-speaking United States President in modern times. Noonan is compelling. Convincing. Soothing. Is she quick? Snappy? Witty? Do I suddenly realize a Noonan speech is over, and am I left wondering where all the time went because I had such a great time listening to it? Is her product what you would call a “page-turner”?

    No, no, no, no and no.

    In terms of presenting the product in a bite-sized package easily digested by an audience with a limited attention-span, Noonan isn’t even competent. Nor does she even try to be. No, Peggy Noonan strives for accuracy. And comprehensive coverage. She is like the grandfather or uncle who receives for Christmas, because of someone’s poor judgment, an eight-megapixel digital camera and now floods your e-mail multiple times a week with casual snapshots of the family cat, 24-bit True Color, several megabytes in size, compressed. The difference is that Noonan knows what she’s doing: She has a list of things she wants to cover, she’s already whittled that list down from something else thank you very much, and damn it, she’s going to cover all of what’s left. And she has her reasons for hitting it all.

    Her essays are like a chapter in The Godfather. If you can’t remember what the point was in any particular passage, or you understand the point but fail to see how it melded in with the rest of the work, you just go over it again. And it’s always a pleasure to go over it again.

    Of course, maybe if you disagree with the point she’s trying to make, or you agree with it but only grudgingly, perhaps that’s not pleasurable. But that’s true of anything.

    But the point is, Noonan’s product, in its own way, works. Reagan kicked ass. Both times. And it’s generally agreed, even among people who despised Reagan, that his victories were due to his speeches — his ability to connect with his audience.

    Now, discounting that tidbit about “we begin bombing in five minutes” what was the shortest Reagan speech ever? They weren’t short. Nobody cared. Through Reagan’s presidency, Noonan was able to convey not only the text, but the culture in which the text was wrapped: I am the writer, you are the listener. We both have jobs to do. The speech is as long as it needs to be, but it makes sense. It’s up to you to put it together.

    That’s a good thing. Not that brevity is a bad thing; sometimes brevity can be a good thing too. But being apathetic about it, and being more passionate about the truth than about length, is always a good thing. Because when you subordinate your respect for the truth to other considerations, it calls into question everything you have to say, and everything you’ve absorbed in order to form the things you have to say.

    And at that point, even a single word is way too long.

    Noonan is a heroine. She is one of my heroes. This is not to say when you read a Morgan Freeberg essay, you’re seeing something trying to be a Peggy Noonan essay — I have other heroes too, who write differently. But she breaks rules. Time-honored, time-tested rules that “everybody knows” represent the “right way” to do things. She breaks them, and yet, her success is beyond question. Like it or not, her success is a demonstrated fact.

    Take a look at this careful, plodding mission of identifying everything she has seen, good-and-bad, and stating the obvious in such a way that the reader may be inspired to think of a thing or two that aren’t quite so obvious:

    Which gets us to George Clooney, and his work. George Clooney is Hollywood now. He is charming and beautiful and cool, but he is not Orson Welles. I know that’s like saying of an artist that he’s no Rembrandt, but bear with me because I have a point that I think is worth making.

    Orson Welles was an artist. George Clooney is a fellow who read an article and now wants to tell us the truth, if we can handle it.

    More important, Orson Welles had a canny respect for the audience while maintaining a difficult relationship with studio executives, whom he approached as if they were his intellectual and artistic inferiors. George Clooney has a canny respect for the Hollywood establishment, for its executives and agents, and treats his audience as if it were composed of his intellectual and artistic inferiors. (He is not alone in this. He is only this year’s example.)

    And because they are his inferiors, he must teach them. He must teach them about racial tolerance and speaking truth to power, etc. He must teach them to be brave. And so in his acceptance speech for best supporting actor the other night he instructed the audience about Hollywood’s courage in making movies about AIDS, and recognizing the work of Hattie McDaniel with an Oscar.

    Was his speech wholly without merit? No. It was a response and not an attack, and it appears to have been impromptu. Mr. Clooney presumably didn’t know Jon Stewart would tease the audience for being out of touch, and he wanted to argue that out of touch isn’t all bad. Fair enough. It is hard to think on your feet in front of 38 million people, and most of his critics will never try it or have to. (This is a problem with modern media: Only the doer understands the degree of difficulty.)

    But Mr. Clooney’s remarks were also part of the tinniness of the age, and of modern Hollywood. I don’t think he was being disingenuous in suggesting he was himself somewhat heroic. He doesn’t even know he’s not heroic. He thinks making a movie in 2005 that said McCarthyism was bad is heroic.

    How could he think this? Maybe part of the answer is in this: The Clooney generation in Hollywood is not writing and directing movies about life as if they’ve experienced it, with all its mysteries and complexity and variety. In an odd way they haven’t experienced life; they’ve experienced media. Their films seem more an elaboration and meditation on media than an elaboration and meditation on life. This is how he could take such an unnuanced, unsophisticated, unknowing gloss on the 1950s and the McCarthy era. He just absorbed media about it. And that media itself came from certain assumptions and understandings, and myths.