Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Jeremiah Wright line of the day

Whatever you think of Sam Schulman's thesis that Jeremiah Wright matters so much purely because Barack Obama has, in his career, done so little, you have to admire the way he sums up said thesis in the final line of his take:

"The Book of Jeremiah Wright matters because there is no corresponding text: the Acts of Obama."

HT: The Corner

David Oliver just asked Randy Guidry...

..."What the hell is Kenny doing in this picture?"

Monday, April 28, 2008

I won't go on a rant...

...because Mark Steyn has handled the job for me.

I especially want to emphasize this quote, which goes to the heart of one of my two deepest complaints about the kind of liberalism that some of my good friends (I know from the best of intentions) espouse:

The first victims of poseur environmentalism will always be developing countries. In order for you to put biofuel in your Prius and feel good about yourself for no reason, real actual people in faraway places have to starve to death.

And no, I don't think that's exaggeration; I've been willing for decades to argue that environmentalism kills people, and that Western environmentalism reduces to rich Westerners protecting their preferred forms of recreation at horrific human cost to the Third World. It's pretty simple economics, at least for those of us who have figured out that Marx was, you know, a flaming-butted moron.

My two deepest complaints with progressivism as a philosophy (as opposed to progressives themselves as individuals) are:

1. The means (government-sponsored violence against those who have dared merely to think that progressives are wrong, or even that progressives have good goals but very silly ideas about how to achieve them) are evil, and therefore not justified by the ends.

2. The means, being predicated on progressives' thorough and apparently incurable ignorance of economic law, are consistently counterproductive, and therefore should be rejected on grounds of simple prudence even if they weren't to be rejected on moral grounds. (You are never so completely and utterly and comprehensively screwed as when a progressive shows up with a government program with which he intends to help you.)

Having said this, I think it necessary to specify explictly that my friends who are committed to means that I think are evil, certainly are not deliberately using evil means, since they do not themselves see any problem in their methods (except of course when those methods are used by Republicans). I do not consider them evil, merely suffering from moral confusion.

Also, I'm just firing off a here's-how-I-feel emotive piece, not starting a debate. I know my friends think I'm wrong on both my objections. And I think they're wrong right back. And I don't have the time to wage a full-scale debate on economic and political philosophy that won't change anybody's mind anyway. So perhaps the thing to do is cheerfully to buy each other a couple of beers and watch the NBA playoffs.

Next demonization installment

Okay, now I understand where some of the miscommunication between Jim and myself lies.

Jim, when I say "association with iconic evil," I don't mean "mention of iconic evil." I mean that you either explicitly or else implicitly (but unmistakably) suggest that the target of your rhetoric is in the same class as Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot.

So, let's look at the passage that bothered you:

if you were in the left-hand half of the American Left, I suspect that you would react to being called “Osama” with rather less outrage and hurt feelings than if one of your fellow Kossites were to call you “Dubya.”
Now, the point here is that I did not, in fact, call anybody “Osama.” If someone were to address a Kossite as “Osama,” then that would be demonization. If one Kossite were to address another Kossite as “Dubya,” that would also, in those social circles, be taken as demonization, simply because Dubya has attained the status of iconic evil among Kossites and the Democratic Underground.

The point I was making is that at this point, if you wish to arrange to be punched in nose by one of the denizens of Daily Kos and HuffPo and the DU, my impression is that you could do so far more efficiently by accusing them of being like Bush than you could by accusing them of being like Osama -- that, in fact, if you simply look at the vitriol spent in accusing Bush of being evil and compare it to the vitriol spent in accusing Osama of being evil, the lunatic left is way more invested in Bush's evilness than in Osama's. But to point out what seems to me to be a largely indisputable fact involving the Kossites' attitudes toward Osama and Bush, doesn't become demonization just because Osama and Bush both happen to count as iconic evil to the Kossite subculture -- because I am not saying, "The Kossites are just like Osama and/or Bush."

If, however, I were to say, "Just like Bush with his family-revenge-driven fixation on getting Saddam, the Kossites desperately seize at any excuse to claim that Dubya must be overthrown by any means necessary so that Al Gore's stolen election can be avenged..." Now that would be saying, "The Kossites are just like that icon of evil, George W. Bush." Which, in the vocal and (within the Democratic Party at least) influential circles where Bush and the Devil are indistinguishable, would most certainly qualify as demonization.

Jim, do you see the distinction I'm making between "association with" iconic evil and "mention of" iconic evil?

Bad news, good news

The good news: Natasha finally found my Japanese grammar book last week, so that I could get to work learning Japanese in order to start speaking it to Sean and Kegan (who are in the Japanese Club at school). So I joyously read up the basic grammar rules and then started listening to the tapes on my way to work that morning.

The bad news: That very afternoon the hard drive died on my laptop, and I hadn't backed the Japanese CD's up from my hard drive to the network...and I can't find the CD's now. So my Japanese lessons lasted precisely one day.

The good news: Got to see the Met's out-of-this-world production of La Fille de Regiment last Sunday in HD at a local movie theatre.

The bad news: I don't have time to write the 2,000-word low-budget review rave of a blog post that the production deserved.

The good news: In the you-don't-see-that-every-day department, I ran across three cars parked side-by-side in a Sugar Land parking lot: the one on the left had a Hawaii license plate, the one in the middle had a Texas license plate, and the one on the right had an Alaska license plate.

The better news: I got a picture of it.

The bad news: When I downloaded it to the laptop today in order to post it on the blog, I discovered that the glare from the sunlight made it impossible to read the license plates. So the picture's worthless. Bummer.

The divorce news: have instructed my lawyer to file a motion asking the court to go ahead and appoint a lawyer for the children now rather than waiting until 28 July, which is the date to which the divorce hearing has been postponed.

Seems like I had several other things I wanted to post while my laptop was dead but I can't remember them now...which the candid Gentle Reader will no doubt place in the "good news" bin...

Another person gets with the program

I've been saying for years (including at least once on this very blog, where I set out my proposal for a new Constitutional amendment) that I think there's a gaping hole in the Constitutional checks and balances system, because the Constitution doesn't put a check or balance on the Supreme Court's power of judicial review as established in Marbury v. Madison. To be quite frank, I think there is no check on this power precisely because the Constitution doesn't grant the Supreme Court any such power, and the Supremes usurped it to begin with.

At any rate, since we seem to be stuck with M v. M, well, fine, then -- but you have to have checks on the Supremes' power. I think they ought to get kicked off the Court after ten years. And I think a super-majority of Congress ought to be able to overturn any Supreme Court decision with the approval of the President. And finally I think that judicial activisim -- by which I mean, appealing to any authority other than that of the Constitution and the laws of this nation, and especially appealing to one's own "personal experience" or to "international law" -- ought to be grounds for impeachment.

Now, here's somebody else who thinks we need a Constitutional amendment to allow the other branches to overrule the Supreme Court.

We may get the bastards under control yet.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sure sign the Whitney days are gone for good

I wander into the living room, where the girls have left the TV tuned to music videos, just in time to catch the old Whitney Houston "I Will Always Love You" video. I pause to indulge a bit of nostalgia, remembering back in the day before the cocaine and the physical abuse, when she was arguably the most beautiful woman in America and without a doubt the best female pop voice.

The front door opens and Kinya passes through on her way to her room to change out of her bikini, having apparently had enough swimming for a while. She glances over her shoulder and, though she doesn't break stride, her face brightens with recognition:

"Oh, smotrí [look], it's Oprah!"

Ah, that explains it

The Isiah Thomas error era, I mean.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A bit more about moralistic atheists

For those of you who liked my recent post on atheism, I treated the subject rather more fully, and rather more coherently, a couple of years ago here.

Pay the man, Shirley

A Houston Chronicle columnist (Norman Chad, I think his name is?), having seen one too many beer commercials during the young NBA playoff season, ruminates thusly:

"If Budweiser is the Great American Lager, then America needs to rethink lager."

This reminds me of my friend Rich Pedersen, whose father, in inculcating social virtue into his son, used to tell Rich, "Whenever you're hosting a party, you always have to make sure you have plenty of Coors Light available...for those of your guests who don't drink beer."

And that further reminds me of a Norwegian friend of mine who once, over dinner in London, asked me if I knew why American beer is like sex on the beach. Unfortunately, this being a family-friendly blog, I can't tell you what his answer was. But I can tell you that he really does not like American beer.

I-Swear-It's-True Pointy-Haired Boss Story Dept

Could've sworn I already blogged this but if so I can't find it.

A good friend of mine, for medical reasons into which I have been careful never to inquire, found it medically necessary to be circumcised in his mid-30's, which is (a) no fun and (b) knocks one well and truly out of action for a few days. So he sends in notification that he's taking a week's medical leave of absence.

Shortly thereafter his supervisor, whom my friend already knew to be the primary inspiration for Dilbert's pointy-haired boss, calls him into the office. "So, what's up?"

My friend is trying to be discreet. "I just need to take a week to have a minor procedure done."

"Really? What's the problem?"

"Oh, I just have some minor surgery."

"Bummer. What kind of surgery is it?"

This cat-and-mouse game goes on until my friend finally gives up. "Well, actually, I'm getting circumcised."

The boss's reaction is about what you'd expect from any male having that bit of news sprung on him -- the widening of eyes, the sharp intake of breath, the sympathetic "Ooooo…" Then a silver lining occurs to him and he brightens up, and points out cheerfully:

"You know, I hear they can reverse that nowadays."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Local gas prices

My friend Novera forwards on to me the gas prices from the station where she fills up that hard-workin' little sports car of hers...

"I Think I Just Got Driven To Drink" Dept

"JD" sent this to Dan Collins at Protein Wisdom. Now there's some bona-fide motivation, lemme tell ya, fellas...

I almost titled this post, "Give Me Whiskey Or Give Me Death... Dept," except that I didn't think it was obvious that you Gentle Readers should fill in the ellipses with "...Because The Third Alternative Is Far, Far Worse."

Meanwhile, since we're on the subject of Protein Wisdom, Karl points out, in reference to the rumor that all three Presidential candidates were supposed to appear on WWE Monday Night Raw:

First, I am shocked that Obama is not taking the opportunity to tell the approximately five million viewers that they are rubes who cling to pro wrestling because of bad US economic policy. Second, this is clearly a misstep by all three candidates. The WWE audience is used to seeing beter fakers than this.

Now that there is some downright insightfulness, friends an' neighbors... [still chuckling appreciatively]

Monday, April 21, 2008

Since I seem to have been cranky recently...

I'll make it up to you by sharing these two YouTube clips with you.

Yes, I know the announcer does not know the meaning of the term "game-winning shot," but we'll let that one go without comment.

I'll buy it -- because I remember the contemptible Vince Young injustice

Bill Simmons says that Kevin Garnett is the MVP and I'll buy it. I'll buy it because I remember the Reggie Bush / Vince Young Heisman debates. I remember saying, "Wait, you Heisman voters...have any of you people watched Mack Brown's teams for the last five or six years? Set aside VY's stats. His coach is a guy who recruits super-talented teams and then very carefully teaches them to have the approximate mental toughness of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, Pre-Demonic-Possession Version. This is a guy who, everywhere he has gone, has recruited better talent than anybody else, and yet in his entire career has yet to win even one single conference championship at any level -- a man whose teams define the very word "underachieve." This is a guy who once had a twenty-year-old quarterback who was trying to man up and take responsibility for a bad performance, and interrupted the boy in order to behave like the kid was six years old...and seemed to think that in so doing he was doing the kid a favor (and do you remember the sick look on Simms's face as Mack did his rant? since Simms, unlike Mack, actually knew something about leadership). Ladies and gentlemen, your Mack Brown era...until Vince Young walked in the door and said, "Screw this bulls***, we're football players and by God we're gonna play like it." In the last half a century has any football player ever single-handedly transformed the entire psyche of a gutless, incomparably under-achieving team into his image rather than his coach's, and somehow made the coach love him for it as much as everybody else did? In his entire life has Mack Brown ever coached a team that could have risen to the Ohio State challenge? In his entire life, will Mack Brown ever again coach such a team once Vince Young leaves? How can you not give Vince the Heisman trophy for this year, and throw in next year's too just as a bonus?"

And that was before the national championship game. Anybody still think I was wrong and Reggie deserved the Heisman over Vince?

Not that I still feel strongly about it or anything.

So, Bill, I'm with you. Vince -- oh, sorry, KG -- for MVP!

Political comment not meant for the kids

My kids are forbidden to read the rest of this grown-ups-only post. Also, chivalry requires me to note that it is not really suitable for the ears of traditionally-minded ladies.

I presume many of you have run across links to Omar Al-Sweilem's paean to the 79 Virgins who await those Islamofascists who manage to muster sufficient devotion to the Merciful Allah to murder an adequate number of infidel women and children. (Obligatory not-all-Muslims-are-crazed-death-worshipping-jihadists note: how much antipathy to Muslims-per-se would you say is exhibited by my third-most-recent post on this very blog? Obviously if I didn't know perfectly well that "Fred" and Naj and Samihah were delightful people with no interest whatsoever in being a part of murder and terrorism, I wouldn't be socializing with them over dinner or sending my wife to Tunisia for their weddings. And God help you if you speak badly of my Kazakh friends the Shunaevs in my presence. End of obligatory note for the benefit of the "hate speech" jackasses censors.) What is striking to me is one particular detail, which makes Al-Sweilem remind me strongly of a Jim Croce narrator, in that he is so clueless that he doesn't realize what he has just revealed about himself and his followers.

These Real Men of Jihad are told by their leader about how marvelous the virgins will be, and in particular he assures them, "What softness! Without any creams - no Nivea, no Vaseline. No nothing!"

Um, in the light of that comment, just how good do you think the typical jihadist is at foreplay? Frankly, I consider this more evidence for my theory that the reason jihadists are so desperate to get themselves a roomful of virgins, is that it's their only hope of not having every gettin'-laid session in which they star end up with the lady lying there thinking, "I've had better."

What a bunch of losers in every possible respect.

On certain atheist confusions

Over at the Corner, resident atheist John Derbyshire appears not to know the difference between objective and subjective truth and certainty. One has to excuse him; it's a fairly new-fangled philosophical distinction, having only been brought into full clarity by St. Thomas Aquinas a mere 750 years ago. Gotta give these atheists time to catch up, you know...

In all seriousness, the claim of Christianity (in contrast to the claims of moral relativism) is that there are certain moral principles that are eternal and unchanging, and therefore when one culture says, "This is moral," and a different culture says, "This is immoral," it is entirely possible that one of them is right and the other is wrong. The Wahabbite culture simply is grossly more evil than is fundamentalist American Church of Christ culture, because the fundamentalists come a lot closer to getting it right. When multiculturalists condemn Nazi-ism, in apparent rejection of their own principles of toleration and of refusing to privilege one culture above another, they are indeed being inconsistent; but it's the Nazis-are-evil part they have right, not the all-cultures-are-equal part. But that's because there are right answers and wrong answers and the answer is determined by God's opinion not by human cultures.

And the denial of that fundamental principle constitutes a fatal heresy that ultimately will bring destruction upon any culture that denies it.

But the question of whether a right answer exists, is quite separate from the question of whether any given person knows the right answer. Muddle-headed people like Derb (or even great philosophers like Descartes and Kant) have always been prone to the silly-assed assumption, "If we can't nail down a provably correct answer to a question the way we can with a physics question, then the question must have no right answer." So Descartes tries to find a way to get a provably correct answer to the core questions of metaphysics; and in another corner one finds certain fundamentalists leaping to the conclusion that since the Bible is revealed by God and God knows the answer, then therefore the conclusions drawn (by however questionable logic) by the fundamentalist from Scripture are also revealed by God and infallibly correct; while yet another clique, including Derb, tells each other theology must have no right answers because people disagree about it. Yet all the while St. Thomas sits there saying the same thing he said three-quarters of a millenium ago, with his usual common sense: theology is, objectively (i.e. from God's point of view), the most certain of all sciences, because God knows the right answers and can't possibly have them wrong. But theology is, subjectively (i.e. from our point of view), the most uncertain of all sciences, because the topic under question is one that transcends human understanding and is therefore by far the most difficult for human beings to deal with.

And the denial of the fundamental fact that it's harder to be sure you've got the right answer in theology than in any other field of inquiry, also constitutes a fatal heresy, and will also ultimately bring destruction upon any culture or sub-culture that denies it.

This is very closely related to an objection to Christianity that goes back at least to John Stuart Mill. This is the objection that when Christians say, "God is good," they aren't saying anything meaningful, because anything God does is always excused by Christians. What Mill and his successors fail to understand is this:

There is, in practically all human beings, a strong sense that there are certain things that are intrinsically good and other things that are intrinsically evil. But people disagree on which are the things that are good and which are evil. Now there are, broadly speaking, two possibilities here:

1. The basic instinct that some things (like what the Nazis did) are really evil and other things (like what Mother Theresa did) are really good, is valid; but human beings are very bad at figuring out which things are which. This is the Christian answer: there is a right answer to the question, but people, being fallen and sinful, are really bad at figuring out what the right answer is. When a responsible Christian says, "God is good," he means, "There's a real right and a real wrong and God's on the right side," not, "My personal ideas of what are right and wrong represent a standard with which God is obliged to comply." Furthermore the Christian means, "If what God appears to be doing violates my ideas of right and wrong, then either I am confused about what God is doing or else my ideas of right and wrong require correction." Which means that responsible Christians' ideas of what it really means to "love" are lifelong works in progress; we are, if we are responsible Christians, always revising our opinions as our knowledge of God gets deeper. It is an interesting question to ask how people who do not believe in a universal standard of right and wrong go about testing their own opinions in order to refine them.

2. There is no right answer; morality is an illusion, a mere social construct. (Lots of atheist philosophers have tried over the years to show that even though there is no God and no universal standard of morality, there are still objective standards of right and wrong; but I know of no such boot-strapped moral construction that does not begin with a petitio principii. For example: right and wrong are valid because they lead to the survival of the species. Um, and why should I be morally obliged to care about the survival of the species? Or take Kant's Categorical Imperative. All you have to say is, "I don't buy it -- you gonna do sumpin' 'bout it?")

One of the reasons that I'm a Christian is that if you adopt the first choice, you can live that choice out with a reasonable amount of self-consistency. The obvious conclusion is that you should take moral questions seriously but humbly: there's a right answer, and I need to find it, but the odds are I don't know it yet or at the very least do not yet grasp all its implications. And you can live that way without being constantly in flagrant violation of the principles you claim to believe.

But I don't know anybody who takes the second route and genuinely lives it. I"ve never met an atheist, or even a multiculturalist, who didn't just go off on anybody who was so unfortunate as to violate the rules said atheist felt were really right or wrong -- such as "intolerance," a crime of which all fundamentalists are guilty by multiculturalist definition. For example, Philip Pullman, author of the Golden Compass series, is a militant atheist with an open agenda against the Church, a man whose books are intended to encourage people to despise the Catholic Church for having attempted to impose its moral code upon others -- but he can't make it through an interview without complaining, for example, that C. S. Lewis's attitude toward women, as embodied in the Narnia books, is contemptible and immoral. Um, by what standard, exactly, if not Pullman's self-privileged personal prejudices and preferences? And if that's the standard Pullman is working from, why should anybody who doesn't happen to have Pullman confused with God pay the slightest attention to Pullman's prejudices rather than employing his own? And why, if it's wrong for the Catholics to expect Pullman to live by their rules, is it fine for Pullman to condemn Lewis for not following Pullman's rules? (Bertrand Russell is another classic example of precisely this form of flagrantly narcissistic self-contradiction.)

You see what I mean? In fact, the very people who most deny the existence of a moral code that is binding on all human beings whether they realize it or not, are in my experience the people most prone to the following "empirical proof" of atheism:

1. If there were a God, and he were good, then he would behave himself morally.

2. But the evidence shows plainly that the universe is not at all run the way that I personally, with my omniscient knowledge and my eons-long font of experience and my unquestionably unsullied personal moral purity and my objectivity perfectly undisturbed by personal loyalties or cultural presuppositions or subconscious agendas, think it should be run.

3. Therefore God doesn't exist, and by the way if he does exist, then he can go to hell because I hate him because he's a real jerk.

Having wandered far off topic I'll put an end to my ramblings at this point rather than trying to pull it all back together and to pretend I knew where I was going all along...trailing off into silence...le mani... al caldo... e... dormire.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Revisiting demonization

Got distracted by a bunch of other stuff (mostly divorce, which couldn't be going court date now moved back to 28 July, and since there will almost certainly be more than one court hearing, God only knows when the thing will really get finalized), and kind of left the demonization conversation hanging.

I want to respond to some personal criticisms Jim made, not because I object to personal criticisms (I take them seriously and gratefully) but because I think they clarify my point. First, though I want to respond to what I think is the question that matters most to Jim, and which carries very little weight with me, viz.: what do we do to change the sorry state of public discourse in America?

And the answer is: I don't think I can do a single damn thing about it, because who, besides the ten or fifteen people who read this blog, cares in the slightest about what I think? As Ghost Dansing put it bluntly in the first comment thread I ever participated on this topic, "Kenny, I understand what you are saying better than you think. I have to point out that your standards for discourse are your standards for discourse. [emphasis added -- KP] Rhetoric has been around as long as there have be human beings, and for some people unless you raise an exaggerated juxtaposition, they just 'don't get it'."

Now the Ghost and I know each other well and are friends and have wrangled cheerfully back and forth for a couple of years...and her response is basically, "If it bothers you, that's your problem."

So, um, I don't think I'll be changing the dynamics of nationwide political debate anytime soon, and don't plan on wasting my time and energy trying. But if you can figure out how to do it, Jim, I'll cheer you on every step of the way.

What I can do is try to make sure I make my own points in a responsible and charitable manner, and one of the best ways to do that is to publish my own standards of behavior so that in the future if I break 'em my friends can quite rightly blast me as a hypocrite and slap me back into line.

Now, this is precisely what Jim wants to do. So here's Jim's comment in which he explains that it looks to him an awful lot like I'm demonizing Durbin (a classic "physician, heal thyself" argument), which is something I took seriously because, as I say, my main reason for writing the post was precisely to give people license to blast me when I break my own rules.

Now, Kenny, let me point out a couple of things. I first read the start of this post on “All Things Beautiful” I personally think that is why you used the Durbin example -- You were playing to the crowd. Hmmm. Let me also point out you obliquely use comments like “if you were in the left-hand half of the American Left, I suspect that you would react to being called “Osama” with rather less outrage and hurt feelings than if one of your fellow Kossites were to call you “Dubya.”” At what point does this cross over into demonization? After all, you exaggerate, associate with iconic evil, play to your audience, etc. The only thing I can’t accuse you of in this statement, is imputation of evil motives. Except, and until you make the comment about aiding and abetting the enemy and the New York Times. Ok, call out complete, on with other discussion. But I know that since you were doing that for comic effect, it must not be demonization.

Jim is trying to measure me against the following characteristics of demonization that he had drawn from my earlier discussion:

1. Exaggeration, not for comic effect.
2. Imputation of evil motives.
3. Rhetorical association with iconic evil.
4. Playing to an audience known to be predisposed to hatred of the person or group being demonized.

Now, frankly, I'm mystified by the following bit, Jim, and you'll have to help me see where you're going with it:

Let me also point out you obliquely use comments like “if you were in the left-hand half of the American Left, I suspect that you would react to being called “Osama” with rather less outrage and hurt feelings than if one of your fellow Kossites were to call you “Dubya.”” At what point does this cross over into demonization?

In the first place, I can't figure out where the "iconic evil" comes in, unless Jim considers that the Daily Kos has itself achieved that status. And sadly enough, I don't think it's exaggeration, either. Have you read the Democratic Underground or Daily Kos comment threads recently, Jim? Or even HuffPo? I suppose I could be wrong about this, but in that case I'm not intentionally using demonization -- I'm just wrong. So I don't mind withdrawing the comment...but only if somebody can tell me that they've gone and read a week of the postings at the aforementioned three sites and have found anything remotely resembling as much Osama-directed outrage as they've found Bush- and Cheney-directed outrage. No excuses are allowed, in those cyber-neighborhoods, for Bush and Cheney, whom the New York Times opinion page has actually accused of doing evil purely for the sake of doing evil; but for Hamas there is a steady flow of how-can-you-blame-them-after-what-the-evil-Jews-have-done-to-them apologia. Look, Yasser Arafat, for God's sake, won a Nobel Peace Prize, and Jimmy Carter just visited the evil bastard's grave and left an affectionate wreath on it. What do you think the chances are that George W. Bush will ever win a Nobel Peace Prize, or that Jimbo will ever regard Dubya with affection? On the Sunday after 9/11 the primary spiritual guide of the Democratic Party's likely Presidential nominee pretty much said we had it coming, which comes pretty bloody close to excusing the perpetrators, and there are wide swaths of the American public who don't think Obama had anything to do with 9/11 at all; but the wildest speculations on the demonic plans of Bush and Rove are met with wide-eyed, childishly uncritical enthusiasm. So where, exactly, was my exaggeration?

Now let's look at the criticism of my original post as put up over at ATB.

I think it's going a bit far to describe the people at ATB -- a crowd whose most active poster besides Alexandra herself and me was Ghost Dansing, and where liberal Jewish guy Mac Brachman remains Alexandra's most loyal non-Ghost commenter to this day, as a "crowd" devoted to hatred of Durbin -- unless, Jim, by "crowd" you mean Alexandra herself. What I loved the most about ATB was that some pretty diverse opinions came into collision with a remarkably high proportion of light to heat.

But let's grant for the sake of argument that ATB was a "crowd" like the Democratic Party -- which isn't that big a stretch, so I'm fine with granting it. That raises an interesting dilemma: if you want to make a point that you believe desperately needs to be made, and there's a "crowd" that you know will be apt, through malice or ignorant habit, to misapply it, does that mean you have to let the point go unmade? I don't think so. I think the most you can do is make a serious effort to head off misunderstanding -- and if you go back and look at the original ATB post and the comments, I think you can see that I made every effort one could very well have expected to make it clear that I thought Durbin was mostly just being a moron. Also, the comment originally started, not with Durbin, but with the rule that "the first guy who mentions Hitler automatically loses the debate" -- and (a) most of the "Hitler" language for the last eight years has been thrown around by the Kos Krowd section of the Democratic Party, and (b) Durbin's quote was a classic example that had stuck in my mind because of my special interest in the gulag. Jim, would you deny that for the last few years the one person in the entire world who has been accused of being a new Hitler more than any other ten people combined, is Dubya? So the chances that I would take up that topic and not start with some Democrat who was accusing Bush of being Hitler, were pretty small.

But even so, I went to some trouble to make it clear that I thought that generally speaking it was a common tactic that was temporarily ascendant among Democrats but only after having previously been ascendant among Republican Clinton-haters, and at one point in the comments I even explictly pointed out that my opinion of Durbin was more or less the same as my opinion of Dubya -- which can't possibly have been playing to the same crowd, Jim, that you accuse me of playing to in bringing up Durbin in the first place. Here's the paragraph in question, by the way:

On the other topic, though, you [addressing the Ghost] seem to be disagreeing with my theory that Durbin said what he said through fatuous ignorance, and maintaining that in fact he knew perfectly well that he was indulging in demonization. You consider this an exculpation of the Senator, it seems, because you think you have shown that demonization is not evil, and thus you are trying to clear him from the charge of being a moron. Since I do not buy your rationalization of the tactic, if I were to accept your correction, this would force me to stop thinking of him as a well-meaning moron and instead drop him in the vicious-lying-bastard-politician slot. Therefore I think it's more charitable for me to continue thinking of Durbin as I have been so far, which -- ironically enough -- is pretty much the way I think about Dubya.
I think that also should show that I went to a great deal of trouble not to exaggerate. In fact in that comments section I gave an example of what my comments about Durbin would have looked like had I decided to give him a taste of his own demonizing medicine:

If it is possible that a person is engaging in the behavior you detest out of good but foolish intentions, then it might be appropriate to call him a "little Chamberlain," but to call him a "little Stalin" would be demonization.

Now, that Durbin was engaging in demonization (though I think in this particular case he was fooling himself as much as anybody else) is not really open to dispute. He was, quite clearly, engaging in demonization. But demonization was probably Hitler's single most effective propaganda weapon. So if you're going to defend Durbin, my dear Ghost, then you can't very well avoid saying that it's okay to be quite a bit like Hitler in some ways. [The Ghost had tried to say that it was fine for Durbin to say that Bush was just like Hitler, because it was wrong for Bush to be even a little bit like Hitler and therefore, as far as I could follow what she seemed to be arguing, any sort of flaming you wanted to do to Bush was justified by even the faintest resemblance to Hitler.] Indeed you tiptoe up to the very threshold of making that sentiment explicit when you try to excuse Durbin's use of a dishonest and destructive rhetorical technique that happens to have been Hitler's favorite technique as well, by saying, "Politicians use rhetoric." Well, yes, but there's a difference between using rhetoric responsibly and using it irresponsibly. For example:


When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Mr. Lincoln has a very convenient mode of arguing upon the subject. He holds that because he is a Republican he is not bound by the decisions of the court, but that I, being a Democrat, am so bound. It may be that Republicans do not hold themselves bound by the laws of the land and the Constitution of the country as expounded by the courts; it may be an article in the Republican creed that men who do not like a decision have a right to rebel against it; but when Mr. Lincoln preaches that doctrine, I think he will find some honest Republican -- some law-abiding man in that party -- who will repudiate such a monstrous doctrine.
Both Dr. King and Mr. Douglas used rhetoric. Would you say that the former's use legitimized the latter's?

At any rate, for my part, having more sense and integrity than Durbin, I'm not about to say that he is a Nazi just because I caught him engaging in demonization; I think his motives were not very Nazi-esque, even if his rhetorical methods were, and therefore it would be slanderous for me to say that Durbin is a Nazi, or to pretend that if I hadn't known in advance that the person who gave Durbin's speech was a Democrat, I would have assumed from the speech that he was a Nazi propagandist with no respect whatsoever for truth or justice. But by your rule, since he is unquestionably "a little bit" like Hitler, I could feel free to label him a Nazi with a clear conscience. May I respectfully submit that my rule is more likely to promote charity and compassion and compromise and civility in discourse, than is yours?

Again, from my Libertarian perspective liberal Democrats are doing "the same thing" as Nazis or Communists -- that is, they are (or would be if they could get complete control of the goverment) using the government's monopoly on violent coercion, and people's fear of what the government can do to them if they break the laws, in order to promote a political agenda that lots of reasonable people would disagree with and object to if your government were to fail to intimidate them into silence. Insofar as you want to pursue your agenda by expanding the government's power and directing it to the service of your agenda, Ghost, you yourself are more than just a little bit like Hitler and don't mind being so -- but you would object pretty strongly if I were to announce that from now on I would always refer to you as "ATB's resident Hitler." I certainly would object if anybody here were to start calling you "Eva Braun" -- but then I also object when people refer to Dubya as "Hitler."

So I did not exaggerate, and I explicitly defended Durbin's motives, and I explicitly said that it would be ludicrous to attempt to equate Durbin with iconic evil. To me, Jim, that seems pretty much to reduce your criticism to, "You criticised a Democrat in front of Republicans," which, while admittedly something that must be done carefully lest one tempt one's weaker brethren to uncharity, is hardly demonization, I think.

I even provided a version of Durbin's speech, at least as the Ghost appeared to be interpreting it in order to defend it, that (a) I would still have disagreed with, but (b) I would not have considered demonization. Here it is:

I know the President means well and is trying to protect the country against terrorists, but his policies are foolish, because if we allow our interrogators to cause physical discomfort to their interrogees, this will set in motion a chain of events that ultimately will cause the United States to be engaging in deliberate genocide and operating slave labor camps and death camps that will result in the deaths of millions. Therefore the President should change his policies and cease causing physical discomfort to the prisoners at Guantanamo.

And, Jim, I think you, given your definition of "torture," could argue that replacing "physical discomfort" with "torture" would still give us a speech without exaggeration, in which case I would grant that it was reasonable for you to excuse him of demonization. (Our disagreement then would revert to being about the proper definition of torture rather than the proper definition of demonization.)

But that's not what he said. He said you couldn't tell the difference between Americans and Nazis or the KGB without nametags because there was no discernible difference between the way the prisoners were being treated. And I think if people look at that original ATB post and the comment thread, and they look at what Durbin said (and later, as you, Jim, rightly have urged me to emphasize, apologized for), what you'll see is precisely the difference between criticism and demonization.

But I'd be interested to know if other people besides Jim agree that I crossed the line... 'cause it's a line I don't want to cross.

NOTE: In this post, I attempted to demonstrate, by the use of Swiftian satire, that Durbin was guilty of gross exaggeration.

Wise young man of the year

A friend of mine -- who, thanks to my having forgotten to ask until after I left the party, has not explicitly given me permission to blog this story and therefore shall remain nameless for the present even though I'm 99% sure he won't mind -- almost got himself disastrously married a few years ago. The girl in question is, like my friend, from the Middle East, and she is pretty much flawlessly gorgeous: her soft, intoxicatingly luxurious black hair; the tips of her delicate, shapely feet; plus absolutely everything in between.

Unfortunately she knows it, and she has a sense of entitlement that is, if possible, even more transcendent than is her beauty.

So my friend and this girl, whom I'll call Fred and Jasmine respectively, are in the final stages of getting engaged and the subject of logistics has come up, and Jasmine begins to set out for Fred her expectations between now and the wedding night. According to Fred, Jasmine informs him that any ring that isn't worth at least $10,000 to $15,000 will not be acceptable. Also he will have to pay for the wedding ceremonies that will be held in the States. Also he will have to pay for the second, and more lavish, set of traditional Arab wedding ceremonies that will be held back home. (Having sent Dessie to the Tunisian wedding of a good friend years ago, which wedding lasted a week with a different rented wedding gown every night, I have a decent idea of how much that would have set Fred back.) And then there's the honeymoon...

Fred interrupts at about this point, having done some rapid math in his head. "Now, wait a minute -- you're saying it's going to cost me, like, $45,000 just to marry you?"

Jasmine is insulted that he would be so crass as to raise budgetary objections, and she decides to remind him of just how fortunate he is. "Fred, you know perfectly well how beautiful I am; there isn't a prince in Egypt or Jordan or Syria or Arabia who wouldn't say yes to me."

Fred puts an end to discussion and engagement alike in one fell swoop, with the following immortal words:

"Well, I'm not a prince, and I'm saying no."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Merry makes the blog

The following dialogue takes place as the kids and I, driving sedately down a residential street in Sugar Land, are passed by a police car, which moves smartly on by before Rusty can read everything on the side of the car but not before he takes a shot at it:

RUSTY: "Police...station?"

DAD: No, Rusty, a police station is the building where the policemen go when they work. That was a police car. But, hey, [high-fiving him] good job reading the "police" part.

MERRY: [interjecting with a straight face] Dad, do you think they have a police station wagon?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Aw, man, if only I'd seen this three days ago...

I sure do miss Dave Barry's advice columns (this particular one has to do with maximizing one's federal tax deductions).

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Told ya so

Back when we first went into Iraq, I said the best thing about our going into Iraq was that Iraqis would for the first time start having to deal with the best America has to offer -- that is, our soldiers -- rather than just seeing the worst America has to be ashamed of -- that is, our Congressmen and our hip-hop artists and our Hollywood narcissists.

Here's what I was talkin' about (scroll down to the Valiant American Soldier bit)...

A dissident (from Mr. Incarnation Of Hope and Change, that is) viewpoint.

And it ain't just the Iraqis.

Hearts and minds, baby, hearts and minds...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

At long last I think I understand

Jimbo Carter's love for brutal and murderous dictators has always mystified me, but finally we may have an explanation...Jimmy, bless his heart, never was the most intellectually gifted of men, and I would imagine that conversations on subjects more complex than tic-tac-toe strategy are, for J.C., rather taxing affairs. So do you think he prefers the company of dictators just because it's simpler?

"In a democracy, I realize you don't need to talk to the top leader to know how the country feels. When I go to a dictatorship, I only have to talk to one person and that's the dictator, because he speaks for all the people."

Yep, he really said it. That's our boy.

(Yes, I know it's probably snarky and unfair, but if you'd read any book in which Peanut Boy has mentioned Israel in the last twenty years, you know you're not dealing with a guy who over-values charity and fairness.)