Monday, January 31, 2005

Just how stupid is Ann Coulter?

Pretty much this stupid.

ADDENDUM: It's worth pointing out the embarrassing dishonesty of some of the commenters on that site rushing to Coulter's defense. One of them, "BC BUD", quotes from the Canadian Encyclopedia: "Ten thousand young Canadian men fought in the US armed forces in the Vietnam war," cleverly ignoring the reality that all of these people voluntarily joined the U.S. Armed Forces and went to Vietnam as part of the American military.

To suggest that this implied official Canadian government involvement in Vietnam is as jaw-droppingly stupid as suggesting that, because American John Walker Lindh was captured in Afghanistan voluntarily fighting on the side of the Taliban, the United States officially sent troops to support that same Taliban.

I trust you can see the idiocy in that point of view.

Yea, verily, Republican Jesus really does pack a rod.

Yes, he does. That would be this rod, by the way. Available in infant, toddler and George Bush foreign policy sizes.

So much for that "democracy making things better" idea.

Gee, you'd have thought that, with the democracy in Iraq so thick you have to wipe your boots off before coming inside, the military might get a breather. Think again. (Original PNAC letter here.)

So, how about that, all you 101st Fighting Keyboarders? There's still time to sign up. Or do y'all have "other priorities"?

Your morning dose of political humour.

Because some of this is still eerily relevant.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Shooting the messenger to avoid hearing the message.

And, oh, you had to know this was coming. As Kos explains so eloquently
over here, the same people who have been telling you for months that everything over in Iraq is going just swimmingly, absolutely ducky and peachy keen, are finally having to admit that it's all going to hell but are, of course, blaming it on the same people who've been warning them about it.

It just doesn't get any funnier or sadder than this. From the right, you don't hear, "Mother of God, how the fuck did we make such an unbelievable mess of things?" No, no, what you're hearing is, "How dare you people point out how we made such an unbelievable mess of things!"

As I've pointed out numerous times, this really is the "everyone else's fault" administration. It's almost time to figure out a way to blame Bill Clinton, isn't it? Wait for it. It's coming.

Coming soon: The death of (hypocritical, politically-expedient, opportunistic, Republican) outrage.

More Republican moral values.

George W. McChimpster, restoring integrity and decency to the White House, one scandal at a time. (Courtesy of the fine folks at truthout.)

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Open thread.

Whew. OK, I think I've fulfilled my quota of prose for the weekend, and I will now turn my attention elsewhere. Specifically, hand-rolling a new Linux operating system for
one of my recent acquisitions. Yes, here at Cynic HQ, we're all about open source and whizbang high technology, almost to the point of personal injury.

You have my permission to be intensely jealous. Again. :-)

When ideology and reality meet, and ideology gets bitch-slapped.

Subtitle: "Boy meets world. World hoofs boy in nads."

(This is a piece I've wanted to write for a little while. It does have a point but it takes the long road to get there so make yourself comfy. And appreciate the fact that I can touch type 80 words per minute. :-)

Ideology and reality -- a love story in three parts (sort of).

As regular readers have noticed, the level of ideological discourse these days is pretty much at an all-time low. If you're listening in on left-versus-right debate, you just don't hear dialogue like, "Well, you have a point there, but you should also consider this ...". Or, "Hmmm ... you're right, I never thought of it like that -- I'll have to reconsider my position."

No, what you hear is more like, "You are a lying, hypocritical sack of cat crap. I blow my nose at you and I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster, and your father had intimate relations with Ann Coulter blow-up dolls." You get the idea. But how did this happen?

I think the major reason is that both sides of the discussion have pretty well developed their own cocoons -- call them "echo chambers" if you will -- that insulate them from the possibility of dissenting views intruding on their ideological tranquility. (Not surprisingly, I think the political right is far worse when it comes to this, but that's not an important issue here.)

Both sides have, at this point, developed their own communities, and rarely stray. The right have their own media -- TV networks, newspapers -- their own blog community, and so on, and what this does is give them the opportunity to avoid even the hint of a dissenting opinion. The blogs link to the newspapers, which refer to the columnists, which tout their newspapers, which promote the TV programs, which are used as blog material, which ... you get the idea.

With this self-sustaining community in place, it's not surprising that, after a while, people will simply take the most absurd things as gospel. "Social Security is in crisis!!", the majority on the right will proclaim, having no idea that that's just nonsense. All one has to do is look at the numbers to know that this is plain silliness but, being rarely presented with a dissenting view, it's almost impossible to blame them -- as long as they don't stray outside of the echo chamber, they'll never hear a different viewpoint.

And that's the problem. In effect, with this kind of intellectual cocoon, there is no notion of something like "checks and balances". There's no concept of an objective moderator to say, "I'm sorry, but that argument is just rubbish." Quite simply, as long as you don't stray from the echo chamber, you rarely get the chance to test your opinions against reality. Every so often, though, it happens in the most unexpected places, and the results can be enlightening.

I draw your attention to the previously-discussed story of one Ahmad Al-Qloushi who, as a 17-year-old student at Foothill College in California, became a right-wing cause celebre when, according to news reports, he was told by his college professor that he needed psychiatric help just because he wrote a stirringly-patriotic, loin-tingling essay praising the U.S. Constitution and Admiral Bunnypants. Not surprisingly, the college's Young Republicans leaped to his defense, without mentioning that Ahmad was, in fact, that group's president. Oops. That's the kind of thing that really belongs in any story about this. In journalistic circles, it's known as "disclosure". (See: Right-wing hacks secretly taking administration payola to write nice things about them. Sort of like that. But ... onward.)

Now, at this point, it's kind of important to figure out just how seriously we can take Ahmad's accusations, because it has a bearing on the rest of the story. So, while we have no solid proof, we can certainly speculate based on what's available. And, not to toot my own horn but, as a former faculty member at a Canadian university, I think I can safely say that I know of what I speak. So, what can we surmise here?

Well, let's first try to fill in the blanks. As we saw before, there appears to be little doubt that the essay itself is pretty well dreck. (There's also little doubt that this is the actual essay since it is being hosted by the right-wing Students for Academic Freedom, to which the college's Young Republicans provide a link. So I think we can safely assume this is Ahmad's actual work.)

And why is it obvious dreck? Because even the conservative commenters over here accept that verdict. Regardless of your ideological leanings, quite simply, Ahmad did not address the issue. He failed to discuss the actual question given, and proceeded to ramble on about unrelated and irrelevant issues. Even the commenter "Conservative TA" at that site could muster up only a lukewarm "I do not think the essay too bad", giving it a B-, and his/her logic to get even there was pretty lame.

In short, we're on pretty firm ground to say two things:
  1. The essay was junk.
  2. Based on the fact that it was junk, it almost certainly received a poor, if not failing, grade. (This is obviously speculation, but I think it's well-founded speculation.)
[Ed: Apparently, the failing grade is not mere speculation, as the Times article describes Al-Qloushi as "fearing the failing grade could cost him his student visa". We here at Cynic HQ stand corrected. And exonerated.]

Having established the above, we can now address Ahmad's primary accusation and, having a pretty good idea of how academia works (having worked on
both sides of the desk there), I think I'm safe in saying that it's highly unlikely things went down as Ahmad and his Repub college groupies describe it, for a number of reasons.

First, let's consider Professor Woolcock's most probable reaction to a crappy essay. Assuming that Woolcock has been doing this for a while, and has seen his share of crappy essays, it's highly unlikely that he would get incensed by this one to the point where he'd actively seek out Ahmad to recommend psychological therapy. Trust me on this one -- professors just aren't going to make the emotional investment in something like this. They will read the essay, realize it's shit, briefly explain why in large red letters, give it an "F" and move on and forget about it. Almost certainly, Woolcock has seen his share of junk in his time, and there's no reason to think that this particular paper would suddenly incite him to unreasoning anger.

In addition, the news reports make it clear that the student is 17 years old. This strongly suggests that the course in question is almost certainly a first-year course, perhaps in introductory political history or something similar. Now, it's possible that a faculty member might get a bit irate if someone in a higher-level course had handed in something so abysmal. Certainly, a paper that bad would be totally unacceptable in a graduate course. But anyone who teaches first-year courses anywhere has to expect everything from the brilliant to the appallingly stupid, and there's no way a half-competent professor is going to do more than just read the essay, mark it, hand it back and wonder if the faculty club is open yet.

(One final point. Given that the course is almost certainly a first-year course (or even second-year), it's entirely possible that the essays were graded, not by Woolcock, but by a tutorial assistant, which is quite common for introductory courses. And, trust me on this one too, TAs are certainly not going to get caught up in a pissing contest with a freshman. For the most part, TAs just want to get the job done, collect their stipend and hit the nearest keg party.)

In short, the accusations (at least, the way they've been presented by the denizens of Freeperville) are simply implausible. But if that's the case, where did this story come from? And here's where we can start to close the circle.

Based on all of the above, we can continue to speculate on the most likely sequence of events:
  1. Ahmad writes crappy essay.
  2. Crappy essay gets completely-justified failing grade.
  3. Ahmad gets back crappy essay with failing grade, and doesn't take it well.
And what do I mean by "doesn't take it well"? Time for a little more speculation here, so indulge me a bit longer.

Recall that Ahmad is not just a regular 17-year-old college student who can't write an essay to save his life. No, Ahmad is the president of the college's Young Republicans, which means he would almost certainly have been immersed in the right-wing echo chamber for some time. As the group's president, he certainly would have been expected to organize Republican-related activities, give promotional talks, perhaps have the occasional debate -- in short, he would be expected to carry the banner for right-wing hackery all over campus.

However, if you think way back to the first part of this essay, there's a good chance he would have done a lot of this in the environment of the insular right-wing echo chamber. That is, it's most likely that he would have participated in only those activities that reinforced his right-wing view of the world -- the blogs, the discussion groups, and so on. And as a 17-year-old, I'm willing to bet that he had his share of freeper groupies, constantly telling him what a wunderkind he was, how he was a Republican on the rise, someone to watch, and so on. And as insulated and idolized and pampered as he was, it's unlikely he ever had to test his ideologies against actual reality.

Until Professor Woolcock.

Because this might very well have been the first time that Ahmad, having basked in the delicious comfort of the right-wing echo chamber for who-knows-how-long, suddenly ran into someone who had the power and the authority to look at his typical arguments and say, "This stuff is absolute shit," and actually make it stick.

Imagine Ahmad's probable reaction: This isn't possible. I've toed the right-wing line faithfully and reliably, I have been praised, I have been commended on my obvious intellectual potential, I have never heard a harsh word from my fellow freepers. How can this be? One can only imagine how Ahmad's world is suddenly rocked by the idea that, for the first time, someone is telling him his ideas are crap, and one suspects he is not going to take this well.

Personally, I can visualize Ahmad striding imperiously into Woolcock's office afterwards, and making an absolute pain of himself (as 17-year-old right-wing wankers are wont to do).
I can imagine Ahmad standing there, absolutely baffled as to how his precious essay, which would receive only huzzahs and accolades from his buddies as a work of absolute genius, could have been so summarily dismissed as worthless junk. I can imagine Woolcock patiently trying to explain that Ahmad simply didn't answer the question, and Ahmad not even remotely understanding this. I can imagine Woolcock pointing out to young Ahmad that the "F" in "FDR" stands for "Franklin," not "Frederick".

And I can imagine Woolcock, after several minutes of this,
finally giving up trying to pound an actual idea into Ahmad's head and telling him to please get out of his office and, perhaps, making a snarky comment about Ahmad needing some counselling. And, no, this scenario doesn't in any way justify Woolcock saying anything like that, but it's certainly a more believable story than the one you've seen in the news.

As I've said repeatedly, a good deal of this is speculation, but I think it's pretty solidly grounded. At the very least, it's actually moderately plausible, but I guess we'll just have to watch the news to see how this plays out. I'll do my best to keep you posted.

In any case, we've come full circle and I need more coffee.

Open and honest intellectual discourse. Pot. Kettle. Black.

For those of you who still have the stomach for it, I waxed just a little philosophical on the whole notion of debating and discourse in the comments section
here (after, of course, deleting several identical posts from You-Know-Who). Nothing earth-shaking, just some random justification for why I do what I do. But there's one more point I'd like to make before I move on.

Before right-wing wankers go wandering into other folks' blogs, pissing all over the place, and calling everyone out for a showdown at high noon, they might want to take a few minutes to get their own houses in order. As Exhibit A, I give you one Tom Watson who, as you can read, took exception to some obvious hate speech over at one of the more prominent right-wing echo chambers, FreeRepublic.

As you can see, Watson was offended by some blatant Arab-bashing and decided to make his point thusly:

So I logged on to FreeRepublic and posted under the moniker Teddy Roosevelt, hoping to find some common ground:

"Looks folks - politics is one thing, hate speech another. When someone on this board attacks John Zogby because he is an Arab: "John Zogby and his brother James are Arab scum that want to see the USA defeated by bin Laden and company"...This is wrong and has nothing to do with "grassroots Americans who support our Constitution and look for honesty, integrity and honor from those in government." This kind of speech doesn't require censorship; it requires repudiation. Who here has the guts?

My post received 12 replies within two minutes - one agreeing, one saying "how do we know it's not true," and the rest calling me, essentially, "newbie, Democrat, traitor-loving bastard." Then the "freedom-loving" owners of the forum removed the entire discussion. And revoked my posting privileges.

Oh. My.

Apparently, open, healthy debate is a good thing unless it's in their neighborhood. As you can see (and this is, I'm told, standard operating procedure over at Freeperville), if you post so much as a moderately centrist or liberal comment, it will be removed, the thread deleted and (as you saw above) your posting privileges revoked. Permanently.

And note carefully, Watson wasn't acting like an imbecilic six-year-old. Rather, his was a literate piece, challenging others in that forum to denounce what was clearly despicable, racist hate speech. For his trouble, he got bounced. Apparently, the denizens of Freeperville aren't going to tolerate any of that namby-pamby, pansy-ass, tolerance and inclusion, live and let live crap in their house. As they say, you can cut the hypocrisy with a chainsaw.

So, really, I don't need to hear any more crap about how I refuse to participate in an open and honest intellectual discourse. I, at least, am open to comments from anyone and everyone, until they start acting like total fucking dickheads. Which is way more than you can say about the citizens of Freeperville.

Friday, January 28, 2005

That's all I can stands, I can't stands no more.

Goodbye, Mr. Gatsby and Mr. McHue. Life is just too damned short to listen to the infantile drivel of self-absorbed jackasses like that. From this point on, I am simply going to delete any comments made by either of these two gentlemen. No discussion, no negotiation.

If either of these individuals have something they want to say to my audience, they're more than welcome to say it on their blogs, which you can find here and here, respectively. If you like that kind of childish rhetoric, hey, knock yourself out. If you feel compelled to leave a note over there, you're welcome to do that, too.

I, on the other hand, am tired of debating with children. Time to, as they say, move on.

Are there minimal ethical news standards here in Canada?

It wasn't that long ago (just last fall, actually), that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
approved Fox News' application to broadcast the right-wing Fox News Channel here in Canada. It's not like there was any doubt it was going to happen and I didn't give it a whole lot of thought at the time or since.

Until now that is, when I followed a couple of links that led me to a story about Fox's 1998 broadcasting of a deliberately-biased story that got them in a heap of trouble, which I'd read about some time back but had forgotten all about. Read the whole story, but make sure you dwell slowly and lovingly on the best part, describing a guilty verdict against Fox which:

"was then overturned in 2003 when an appeals court accepted Fox's defense that since it is not technically against any law, rule, or regulation for a broadcaster to distort the news, the journalists were never entitled to employee protections as whistleblowers in the first place."

Yes, read that highlighted portion again: Fox's defense was that there was no law against broadcasting distorted or dishonest news.

Which got me to wondering, don't we have some sort of minimal ethical guidelines or codes of conduct for news media here in the Great White? Did anyone bother to point out the above before Fox's application was approved?

It's almost certainly too late to do anything about Fox's approval, but aren't there mechanisms in place to enforce a certain minimum standard for fairness in broadcasting? Perhaps someone who knows more about it than me would like to weigh in.

Canadian government to Catholic Church: Piss off.

Well, it's about time:

The Roman Catholic Church should keep its nose out of the government's same-sex marriage legislation, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew suggested yesterday.

Asked about plans by church groups in Quebec to launch a campaign against same-sex marriage, Mr. Pettigrew said the government and churches should not get involved in each other's affairs.

No shit. Given the Catholic Church's somewhat unseemly history here in Canada, they really are the last people who should be lecturing anyone on the propriety of sexual relations. Assholes.

Sympathy for the fighting man. Not.

Oh, look. Apparently,
they don't give a shit about the wounded, either. And this is all my fault ... how, exactly?

And the trickle becomes a steady stream.

First, there was right-wing flack and secret Bush administration shill Armstrong Williams. After which we had "independent" marriage expert (and journalistic hooker) Maggie Gallagher. And the crowd of under-the-table, Republican, journalistic, payola-inspired hacks
continues to grow.

When will it end? What will we tell the children?

Who gives a crap about dead Marines? A play in one act.

The scene: the Oval Office. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld sit on opposite sides of a coffee table, involved in a game of Risk. Both are clearly struggling for control of the Middle East, while the entire Indonesian region is bare -- neither of them seems interested in having anything to do with it.

A television is quietly on in the corner, showing President Bush giving a news conference. Neither Cheney nor Rumsfeld seem all that interested in the conference, only occasionally glancing at it, then turning back to the board.

Several minutes later, Bush bounds back into the room, smiling.

BUSH: All right. Let's go, Don, pay up, you wanker. You know you can't top that.

RUMSFELD: Yeah, yeah, I guess you're right. Damn.

CHENEY: Um, what's going on here? What are you talking about?

BUSH: Me and Don-boy here had us a bet as to who could not give a bigger damn about all them dead U.S. troops over there in Eye-rack, and get away with it. And, ya gotta admit, Don, there's no way you can beat that press conference. Yee ha! Loser.

CHENEY: What do you mean? What did you just do?

BUSH: Weren't you even watching, Dick? I made it through my whole speech without so much as mentioning all those stiffs. And I could have got away with it totally if that asshole reporter hadn't asked me about it after. Big-time asshole. But that's OK, I blew him off with a bunch of high-falutin', sympathy-sounding rubbish, you know, "We're always sorrowed when one of our brave troops dies," that sort of crap. Anyway, you get the idea. Pay up, Donnie.

RUMSFELD: Yeah, all right, you got me there. I mean, all I had going for me was not even bothering to sign all those condolence forms personally, until some other asshole reporter found out about it and whined. I'll bet it was that bitch Helen Thomas. Man, what a pain in the ass she is. But I'm still not convinced you won this one. I mean, that was just a press conference. I'm the one who sent all those troops over there without even giving them any decent armor for their fucking Humvees! And all those "stop-loss" orders? Come on, George, there's no way you can top that.

BUSH: Can't top that? CAN'T TOP THAT? You gotta be shitting me, Donnie. Who's managed to avoid attending even one goddamned funeral for any of those poor bastards? Can't top that, my ass.

CHENEY: Hang on. Don't I get to play? Jesus Christ, I mean, it was my company that ripped off the troops and overcharged for their food, for crying out loud. That should count for something!

RUMSFELD: He's right, George. And there was the time ol' Dick's company overcharged the Army for gas.

CHENEY: Damn right! If there's a contest, I want in. You want callous fucking indifference? Hell, I invented that shit.

There are several seconds of silence in the room as all of them try to figure out how to pick the winner, until ...

RUMSFELD: You know, George, sooner or later, somebody's gonna catch on to the fact that we don't give a rat's ass about what happens to all those grunts. Things could get a mite uncomfortable then.

BUSH: Ah, dontcha worry about it, Donnie. I got it all figured out.

CHENEY: Yeah? And how would you deal with it, George?

BUSH: No sweat. I'll just blame it on Canada.

All three of them burst into laughter. Fade to black ...

UPDATE: Hmmm ... apparently, Dick doesn't give a rat's ass for any of their dead soldiers, either.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The proper question to ask is, "What would it take?"

By way of a long-winded and circuitous path to get to the point, let me tell y'all a story. Many years ago, when I made it a hobby of crushing scientific creationists and their arguments, I had just finished giving a public evening presentation at a local university and, not surprisingly, as I was chatting with a few stragglers after it was over, there was one annoyingly insistent young man who took umbrage with my entire presentation.

He was adamant that there was no way he was going to accept biological evolution -- it contradicted his interpretation of the Bible, how could random chance have produced such marvelous life forms, etc, etc. Every argument I'd heard a hundred times before and, since he didn't seem in a listening mood, I mostly tuned him out. Until he said, "And besides, evolution says there should be all these transitional forms. Well, there aren't, are there? I mean, there just aren't enough of them to prove evolution, are there?" (Emphasis added.)

At that point, I had pretty much had enough of this, so I snapped back, "Fine. Then what would be enough for you?" Blank stare. Puzzled look coming over face. "Uh ... what do you mean?", he asked. "What would be 'enough' to make you happy?" I asked again. He still looked a bit adrift, and it suddenly struck me that I was onto something here.

"Pay attention," I said, in a suitably condescending tone of voice. "You just said that you didn't accept evolution because there weren't 'enough' transitional forms. So, rather than waste my time presenting one after another to you, which I can certainly do until they kick us out of here, I want you to define what would be 'enough'. I want a number."

At this point, he realized he was being put on the spot to produce, so he quickly tried to weasel his way out by saying something like, "Well, that's not fair. I don't know what a reasonable number would be."

"Well, you damn well should," I replied. "You're the one who used the phrase 'not enough', which clearly suggests that you have some value in mind that constitutes the boundary between enough and not enough. You used that phrase -- I didn't. So let's have it. I want a number. What would be 'enough' for you to accept biological evolution? Come on. Let's go. I want a number and I want it now."

Now, there were a couple options for my young, pitifully confused little creationist. If he came up with a reasonable value -- even up to, say, 500 -- I could have produced those out of some of the reference books I had at the time, and he would have been trapped by his own words. On the other hand, if he came back with a ridiculously large value, I could have accused him of setting impossibly high standards, and asked him to be just as rigorous with his evidence for creation science. And if he said that there was no number that would be sufficient, I would have just blown him off by saying that he just admitted he had a closed mind and it was a waste of time discussing it with him. In other words, he was pretty much damned no matter which way he turned.

In any event, the important point was that, rather than stand there wasting oxygen producing one transitional form after another, to which he could simply have kept saying that it wasn't enough, I demanded that he give me a number. In essence, I wanted a target that he wasn't going to keep moving on me. I wanted a clear idea of my goal so I'd know when I got there, and when I could claim victory. In short, I reduced the entire argument to asking a simple question, "What's enough? What will it take to convince you?"

What will it take?

That is an amazingly powerful question, since it shifts the basis for the discussion onto the other person. No more wasting hours presenting argument after argument to support your position, only to have your opponent constantly move the goalposts on you and claim that you still haven't presented a convincing case. Demand the requirements up front, and make sure your opponent understands you're going to hold him to them. You want examples? No problem.

Consider White House spokesweasel Scott McClellan, who is an absolute master at ignoring reality and sticking to the script. Most people remember when, even in the face of miserable job creation numbers, he kept saying that "We're happy with the numbers and we feel we're on the right track." Regardless of how poor those numbers were, no reporter could shake him from that message because no reporter had the sense to ask the right question.

But what if someone had had the temerity to ask, "Scott, you keep saying that these numbers prove that this administration is on the right track. What numbers would force you to admit that you were on the wrong track?" Now, almost certainly, McClellan would try to weasel out of the question. I suspect he'd try his standard dodge of "Well, that's a hypothetical question, and I make it a point not to answer hypothetical questions."

But it's not a hypothetical question at all. As with my adorable, clueless creationist friend, if McClellan describes something as being on the "right track," the burden of defining what that means is his, and no one else's. If he can't identify the dividing line, then his statement is utterly worthless. And our intrepid reporter friend should sink her teeth in and demand an answer.

Want another example? One of my favourites involves Republican George Nethercutt, who got himself into major trouble back in 2003, as you can read here:

... At issue is a story about Nethercutt's Oct. 13 town hall meeting in Seattle, held after he had visited Iraq with a congressional delegation.

Nethercutt showed a videotape from the trip, then said the story of U.S. reconstruction in Iraq is not being told fully by the news media. On that much, the congressman and the newspaper story agree.

Near the start of its story, the P-I said:

"The story of what we've done in the postwar period is remarkable," Nethercutt, R-Wash., told an audience of about 65 at a noon meeting at the University of Washington's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs.

"It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day."

Now, there is considerable controversy about whether or not Nethercutt was quoted fairly and in proper context, but there is no dispute that he said the words highlighted above. The obvious implication in those words is that two soldiers a day are an acceptable loss. And you can see where I'm going with this; if two a day is acceptable, wouldn't it have been amusing for a journalist to ask Nethercutt how many troops would have to die for it to be unacceptable? Almost certainly, there would have been much sputtering and outrage, and perhaps a "How dare you ask such an offensive question?" But the question itself is perfectly fair, and most assuredly would deserve an answer.

As another example, consider the nauseating rubbish coming out of the White House these days describing the increasing chaos and death rate in Iraq as being on the right path, or whatever idiotic phrase they're using these days. So wouldn't it be useful if someone worked up the nerve to ask, "Um ... just how bad would things have to get for this administration to admit that this whole invasion thing is on the wrong path?" Yup, perfectly fair question. Just don't expect an answer.

Finally, remember a couple years back, when the entire neocon community was braying about how it was absolutely essential to attack Iraq since, well, as everyone knows, they were behind the attacks of 9/11 and, besides, they had all these nasty WMDs that we had to take care of. And after the invasion was well underway, wouldn't it have been fun to ask, ever so politely, "Just out of curiosity, somewhere down the road, what would it take for you to accept that this invasion was a mistake?"

I'll bet it wouldn't have been hard, back then, to get an admission that, well, if Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 and he doesn't have any WMDs, yeah, that would be kind of embarrassing. Naturally, you won't hear any such admission these days. But it sure would have been nice to have something like that on the record, don't you think?

"What will it take?" It's amazing how much information you can get if you ask that question properly. "What will it take to convince you that the invasion of Iraq was illegal? What will it take for you to accept that American troops tortured Iraqis? What evidence will I have to produce to make you admit that the United States violated the Geneva Conventions in their treatment of prisoners?"

What will it take? I have every right to ask that question, and it's your responsibility to have a meaningful answer when I do.

Why most folks don't have a clue how Social Security works.

Bob Somerby, over at the Howler, has a pretty good description of why most people are totally baffled as to what to think about Social Security. Where do they find "experts" like this?

Mr. McHue plays the field, and whether comments are worth the trouble.

Just having fun with Google yesterday, and I ran across
this. Hard to believe, isn't it, that our very own Jinx McHue could make such a complete prat of himself on more than one site. Personally, I'm hurt -- I was kind of hoping that he was my very own personal, right-wing chew toy. Ah, but loyalties can be so fleeting. Bummer.

Mr. Duff, however, does write some thought-provoking stuff, though, like this piece, whose relevance I'm sure you can all appreciate. Food for thought.

IRRESISTIBLE UPDATE: I fought this -- truly, I did -- but, finally, I have to draw your attention to the Wonkette-bashing article on McHue's website where, down in update four, we read

You can't say they weren't warned. I've cleaned out the vulgar, trollish comments and banned those responsible.

"Banned"? "Banned", you say? My word, this can't be the same Jinx McHue who, only recently, was so adamantly defending the notion of free speech, could it? I'm shocked, shocked, that McHue insists on wandering over here on a regular basis, dumping his insulting, right-wing swill all over my blog, and yet apparently denies some of his critics the same freedom over there. Gosh, if I wasn't feeling so charitable, I'd suggest that McHue was a complete hypocrite.

Fish. Barrel. Boom.

Oh, look. Another right-wing hack on the take.

This part is bad enough. But then it gets worse. (Cue numerous right-wing wankers trying desperately to draw a parallel between this and Kos doing public, fully-disclosed research work for the Dean campaign.)

Thursday afternoon update: Time to pile on, I guess.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Dilbert, and the art of rhetoric.

There's an amusingly-relevant Dilbert cartoon that relates nicely to the quality (or lack thereof) of discourse on this blog lately. In the strip, ubergeek Dilbert is chatting with a colleague who has the annoying personal habit of over-exaggerating what other people say in order to discredit their arguments:

Dilbert: "You know, if we added this feature to the unit, it would increase its marketability."
Dilbert: "Um ... you exaggerated what I just said so that it's not at all what I meant."

You know the type, don't you? You've met them before. Sound familiar?

CC: "I really don't have much sympathy anymore for American troops dying in Iraq."

You get the idea. Now, let's all sit back and watch for the next example, shall we? Shouldn't be long now.

Apparently, I am not sufficiently sorrowful to satisfy Mr. Gatsby.

... as you can see
here, to which Mr. Gatsby, in a fit of sanctimonious rage, links from here. And, naturally, in Mr. Gatsby's world, none of this is the fault of the right-wing, war-mongering imperialists in the White House who sent all of these soldiers to die for Halliburton and the Carlyle Group.

Oh, of course not. No, rather than place the blame where it would (uncomfortably) belong, Mr. Gatsby would rather deflect all that discomfort onto an anonymous Canadian blogger. And should we wait with bated breath for Mr. Gatsby to post a link to anything he's ever written where he's expressed any outrage over the deaths of clearly innocent Iraqis? We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?

But while he's scouring his archives for that post, I'm sure he'd be happy to fill us in on why his beloved Simian-in-Chief can't be bothered to go to any dead soldiers' funerals. Or why, until recently, SecDef Rumsfeld couldn't even be bothered to personally sign letters of condolence.

Ah, well, I'm sure it's that the both of them are just so gosh-darned busy making the world safe for democracy. I'm sure both of them really do feel all those families' agony over the loss of their loved ones. They just have a different way of showing it, I guess.

RANDOM ADDENDUM: Mr. Gatsby accuses me of not caring about those dead troops. In a sense, he's right. In the first place, I didn't even know them, but that's not much of an excuse. What's more salient is that, at this point in the invasion, after some 1400 or so dead American soldiers, and the number of dead increasing all the time, at some point, it really is just a number, and I can't work up the outrage anymore. Sort of the way most Americans really didn't give a shit about this. Oh, I'm sorry, you'd forgotten all about that, hadn't you? We hadn't.

But it's where Gatsby directs his anger that is so puzzling. I may come across as callous and uncaring. But I'm not the reason those troops are dead, am I?

DUM DE DUM DUM ... Still waiting for that link, Jay. And while we kill time, shall we place bets on whether anything Mr. Gatsby posts will reflect any sentiment whatever along the lines of "Hey, you're right, I never thought of that"? Or perhaps, "Golly gee, I guess you might just have a point there, CC". Or maybe even, "You know, you've given me a lot to think about, maybe I'll go away and ponder this for a while."

Any takers? I'll give you odds.

THURSDAY MORNING REMINDER: Still waiting for that link, Jay. And, just so y'all appreciate this, this is an example of meticulous and intellectually-honest discourse. There is currently a well-defined issue on the table; I've challenged Jay to produce a link to any post he's ever made on his blog where he's expressed sorrow and regret for the thousands of obviously-innocent civilians killed in the illegal invasion of Iraq. So far, a deafening silence. So the issue is going to remain on the table until it's resolved. No weaseling, no tap dancing, no passing the buck, no changing the subject, as Jay likes to do. I've made the request, and I want the link. Now we'll see if Jay can suck it up and play with the big boys, or whether he's just going to run whimpering back to the safety of the keyboard in his parents' basement, and post more blog entries about how that big, bad Canadian blogger is being mean to him.

(By the way, I should point out that, if I wanted to play this game at Jay's level of maturity, I'd be over at his blog, posting numerous, identical comments every day demanding to see that link. But, unlike Mr. Gatsby, I grew out of that kind of behaviour decades ago. Besides, I suspect that, if I actually went over to comment on his blog, I'd have a powerful urge to take a shower afterwards. But that's just me.)

Still waiting for that link, Jay. Time to put up or shut up, no?

Your teaser for right-wing sleaziness re: Social Security.

In the next day or so, I'm going to do a bit of an overview on the appalling dishonesty and outright theft that is the Republican plan to "reform" Social Security. Until then, you can amuse yourselves with this piece that catches the swine over at NRO making stuff up, getting caught, then pretending it never happened.

Cue: outraged, right-wing hacks, whining about the inherent unfairness of hanging other right-wing hacks with their very own words.

WICKED UPDATE: Oh, man, I might not even have to write about this, since a number of others have caught the Bushies absolutely lying out of their backsides. Here, Atrios shows how the Bushies' very own presentation contains obvious lies.


this online piece over at CNN:

Thirty-one Marines were killed in a helicopter crash near Iraq's border with Jordan, bringing the number of U.S. troops killed Wednesday to 36 -- the deadliest day for U.S. forces since the start of the war in Iraq.

I guess that's what you would call having a bad day. But hey, not to worry -- democracy is taking root, freedom is on the ring, ... or whatever is the dyslexism of the day.

A musical recommendation.

For no good reason whatsoever, I'm going to suggest that, if you've never heard her before, you should check out Asheville, NC singer/songwriter Christine Kane. Don't ask. Just do it. You'll thank me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

OK, 13 hours in the car is enough.

Rolling to a stop back here in the Great White, seriously glad that that little road trip is out of the way. Just enough time to decompress, clean up, abuse the cat, grab some dinner and plump up the couch cushions for tonight's episode of "Corner Gas".

Authentic Canadian humour. Accept no substitutes.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Your morning chuckle.

Remember this?

"It's extremely difficult to govern when you control all three branches of government," says [Republican House Speaker Dennis] Hastert spokesman John Feehery. -- Washington Post, May 23, 2004.

Apparent translation: "It's not our fault. We simply have too much power to run things properly." Is that going to be the excuse for the next four years as well?

Something all Republicans can be proud of.

If you voted for Bush, you voted for this. Just remember that.

This just in: Jerry Falwell still a total hypocrite and dickhead.

As you can read

Sunday, January 23, 2005

"Free speech", Republican style.

Just another perspective on an earlier posting, in which ProtestWarrior Gil Kobrin defended his confrontation of peace activists in Northwest Washington by stating, "We're expressing our freedom of speech just as they are expressing theirs."

Oh, right, you mean this kind of liberal freedom of speech, which involved arresting people for having the wrong kind of t-shirt at a Bush rally? Or maybe even this generic freedom of speech, which involved evicting three schoolteachers who simply thought protecting civil liberties was a good thing?

One suspects that, when it comes to free speech, the right-wing Kobrin should be the last person trying to equate the treatment on both sides of the ideological spectrum until he, you know, gets a freaking clue.


It's worth pointing out that suppressing someone's freedom of speech doesn't always have to be a violent, confrontational thing. You can be just as successful in a subtle, more genteel way by simply preventing them from participating in the political process as even a spectator.

Recall the infamous Bush "loyalty oath", described here and written up in numerous other places, which required people who simply wanted to listen to campaign speeches by Bush or Cheney to promise that they already supported those candidates. The official justifications of those oaths were hilariously inept and irrelevant.

As you can read in that initial article, rally organizers claimed that they were trying to prevent disruption of the rallies by a sinister but nameless "known Democrat operative group." But how they could do this with the use of a loyalty oath is a bit of a puzzle. Did the organizers imagine that the hypothetical troublemakers were going to show up incognito, rubbing their hands with glee, thinking, "OK, we're here, let's get ready, we're going to cause all kinds of trouble and mayhem, just have to get inside and ... whoa, what's this, we need to sign this piece of paper? Hey, I can't pledge allegiance to Bush, that would be just ... well, wrong and unethical. Darn, I guess we'll just have to all go home." I'm pretty sure even Republicans aren't dense enough to imagine that happening.

But it's doubly absurd to have required that loyalty oath, since some of the people who wanted to attend were not registered Democrats; they were, in fact, undecided voters:

"I'm outraged at this. I'm being closed off by my own government. It's crazy," said East Mountains resident Pamela Random, who added that she is an unaffiliated voter.

As most sentient beings realize, one of the first rules of marketing is that you don't waste your time and money marketing to people who are already your loyal and committed customers -- you go after new clients to grow your customer base. From the political perspective, undecided and unaffiliated voters are precisely who you should be trying to attract. And yet, here we have the Republicans, dismissing exactly those people. There's little political sense in that, until you realize that the Republicans had no interest in attracting new voters. Rather, they were more interested in showing a united front with absolutely no possibility of even the slightest hint of dissension or questioning. In short, if you weren't already totally on board, you had no value to the Bush campaign, and they really didn't give a crap about what you might have to say.

In any event, you can see the pattern here. Unless you were a confirmed, committed Bush-backer, prepared to swear absolute fealty in writing, you just didn't matter. You might technically have had freedom of speech, but not in any way that allowed you to be heard. Is anyone surprised?


Kos has an excerpt from an interview in which one medical corpsman tells the story of soldiers in Iraq having to sign a loyalty oath to participate in Bush's sleazy, opportunistic photo-op involving a turkey that troops never got to eat. Apparently, Democratic soldiers are good enough to die for BushCo, but not good enough to be treated like human beings by their snivelling, cowardly Chimp-in-Chief.

Does this even remotely surprise anyone anymore?

I guess overthrowing global tyranny is, you know, hard work.

So much for
"the calling of our time". Apparently, the weight of crushing tyranny the world over would have cut into the calling of their party time.

Christian missionaries, winning hearts and minds. Not.

John over at AmericaBlog links to a
really disturbing story of Christian intolerance. But, as some commenters have noted, parts of this story just don't seem to ring true. It seems unlikely that a group of (Roman Catholic?) nuns would have behaved this way. As we've already seen, though, this is pretty much exactly the sort of thing you'd expect from the more wingnut, Protestant lunatic fringe.

In any event, given the suspicious lack of details in this story, I think we'd best just withhold judgment until we learn more.

The 101st Fighting Keyboarders run into a little trouble.

(CC News) -- A number of self-proclaimed macho, he-men, right-wing Bush supporters apparently got more than they bargained for when they tried to disrupt an anti-Bush demonstration:

Hundreds of people gathered at both ends of Meridian Hill Park in Northwest Washington for a peace rally sponsored by the D.C Antiwar Network.

But there were interlopers: Thirteen members of ProtestWarrior, supporting the Bush administration and its policies in Iraq. When the Bush supporters arrived, about 20 black-clad, self-described anarchists emerged from the crowd, shouting profanity and epithets and demanding that they leave the peace rally.

When the Bush supporters refused to leave, the anarchists tore the sign out of the Bush supporters' hands and stomped on them. When ProtestWarrior leader Gil Kobrin objected, several male anarchists knocked him to the ground, kicking him in the back and punching him. Other anarchists punched and shoved Kobrin's 12 colleagues.

After D.C. Antiwar Network members broke up the fight, the Bush supporters heeded their order to leave the park. Kobrin then called D.C. police, who are now guarding them at the entrance of the park as they hold up their pro-war signs. "We're going to hang tight," Kobrin said. "We're expressing our freedom of speech just as they are expressing theirs."
"I don't see what their problem is," said Kobrin during an interview, cowering behind a phalanx of D.C. police and occasionally whimpering like a little girl. "I mean, all we did was spend the last four years questioning their patriotism, calling them un-American, Saddam lovers, locking their protests into "free speech" zones and even having them arrested if they show up to protest at all and this is how they treat us. Man, it's like they're taking it personally or something."

When questioned about any future protest plans, Kobrin suggested that, as soon as his scratches heal, he and his fellow Warriors were thinking of heading down to a local biker bar, wearing t-shirts that said, "Only fags ride Harleys."

Upon overhearing this, one of the district policemen just shook his head and was heard to mutter, "Are they all this f**king dumb?"

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The big Social Security "bait and switch" con game.

Just in case you really need to see how the U.S. got where it is regarding the alleged "crisis" with Social Security, I suggest
an old Paul Krugman piece here from back in 2004. As Krugman suggests, Alan Greenspan has chutzpah. No integrity. But buckets of chutzpah.

Fox News calls Smirky a liar.

You figured it had to happen eventually, but it's pretty jaw-dropping when it's
Fox News of all people that calls the Bushies on their bogus "Social Security is going bankrupt!!" silliness. What is the world coming to when one has to count on Fox News for actual reporting?

As a tutorial, the administration has been crying for months about how, unless it's fixed (read: privatized and given away to the robber barons on Wall Street), Social Security will go "bankrupt". But, as anyone with the brains of trout can figure out, that simply can't happen. Mathematically, Social Security can't go "bankrupt", for a fairly obvious reason.

As most people already know, the benefits of SS are funded by taxes on current workers. Quite simply, SS just transfers funds from those who are working to those who are eligible for SS benefits. Really, it's not hard to understand. And what this means is that, as long as there are any workers at all paying into SS, there will be benefits. That's it. There is no possibility of "bankruptcy" since, as long as more than zero people are employed and paying taxes, there will be money flowing into SS, which can then pay benefits. So, what's the big fear?

Well, under this scenario, it's certainly possible that the number of retirees is going to overwhelm the number of workers, leaving fewer workers to try to support more and more retirees. Of course that can happen. But (to make a long story short), all that's going to happen in that case, if nothing else is adjusted, is that benefits will slowly have to be whittled back. It's not an ideal situation, but it just as definitely isn't "bankruptcy", as Fox News' Chris Wallace points out to Bush spokesferret and guest Dan Bartlett:

WALLACE (1/16/05): Let's turn if we can to another big issue, maybe the top of your legislative agenda on the domestic front: Social Security. The president keeps saying that there is a crisis, that if there is no change the system will go broke by 2042. Let's look.

BUSH (videotape): I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now.

WALLACE: As a simple fact, isn't that wrong?

Holy Republican dishonesty, boy wonder! It's pretty hard to more directly accuse someone of being a liar than to just flat out ask them, on national TV, "Isn't that wrong?" Obviously (and to his credit), Wallace has done his homework and knows the administration is full of lying swine and that this story is nonsense. But it's how Bartlett tries to recover that's cause for fits and giggles. Let's watch:

BARTLETT (continuing directly): Absolutely not! And the bottom line is—the fact of the matter is that when you take the Social Security system as it is, this is a mathematical issue, not an ideological issue. In 1950, there were about 16 workers—

Heh heh. First, as a mathematical issue, Bartlett has to know he's full of it. And, to try to salvage the situation, he's clearly going to try the "less and less workers trying to support more and more retirees" scare story, which we already understand has nothing to do with bankruptcy. But these swine are nothing if not predictable. However, Wallace, to his infinite credit, can see exactly where Bartlett is going and cuts him off at the roots:

WALLACE: Let me just interrupt, because I know the fact that there were 14 workers for every person when it was first— The fact is that in 2042, if you did absolutely nothing to the system, it wouldn't be “broke.” It wouldn't be “bankrupt.” In fact, there would be a problem, but you would be able to still pay about three-quarters of everybody's guaranteed benefits.

Exactly! And thank you, Chris Wallace, who represents precisely what we need more of -- interviewers who will simply interrupt right-wing liars in mid-sentence to correct the record. Oh, frabjous day! But let's watch Bartlett try to save himself by (you guessed it) moving them goalposts:

BARTLETT (continuing directly): But what you’re talking about—in 2018 we go into the red. In 2042, you start actually bankrupting the system, which you're having to get funds elsewhere. You're right, the payroll taxes at that moment could pay about 70 percent of the benefits.

WALLACE: But that isn't "bankrupt."

Again, heh heh. Caught red-handed lying, Bartlett has little choice but to admit that "You're right, the payroll taxes at that moment could pay about 70 percent of the benefits," to which Wallace correctly responds that that doesn't constitute bankruptcy -- it represents a completely predictable need to reduce benefits if absolutely nothing else is done, but it's not bankruptcy. Sadly, Bartlett is just too stupid to realize he's been exposed on national TV as he keeps trying to redefine the word to suit his tastes:

BARTLETT: Well, it's absolutely bankrupt, because you're absolutely in the red, and you're having to take dollars from elsewhere. And that problem only continues to get worse.

Note how Bartlett is simply tripping over his own lies by now. In the space of two sentences he claims that SS is "absolutely bankrupt" and will only continue to "get worse." If it's absolutely bankrupt, how can it get any worse?

In addition, earlier Bartlett claims that 'you start actually bankrupting the system', but now, only seconds later, the system is 'absolutely bankrupt'. You see what happens, boys and girls, when you can't remember which lie you told only moments earlier? You start tripping over those lies and embarrassing yourself, to the extent that even a Fox News host finally points it out.

Does life get any weirder than that?

ADDENDUM: I'd like to think I didn't have to explain this part but, for the learning disabled who read this blog, let me directly and explicitly point out the inherent dishonesty and contradiction in the current Republican position regarding Social Security when they, on the one hand, claim that SS will be "absolutely bankrupt" in 2042, while simultaneously admitting that, even if nothing changes, SS will still be able to pay 70% of current benefits at that time.

Now, do we all see the dishonesty here, or do I have to type this more slowly?

Monday, January 17, 2005

More bogus, right-wing, Republican "persecution", college style.

(A story that goes back a couple of weeks that I passed on at the time, but a recent development makes it worth chuckling over. So here you go.)

In the beginning was Foothill College student Ahmad Al-Qloushi who, according to reliable right-wing media (chuckle), was lambasted by an obviously evil, biased, left-wing liberal college professor for simply praising the United States in an essay.

Which begat much frothing and howling in the right-wing blogosphere, as numerous conservative wankers, dittoheads and howler monkeys chipped in about the despicable liberal evil that is academia.

Which begat an outraged press release from that college's Young Republicans who, of course, only care about the integrity and sanctity of the academic process.

Which begat some actual investigative journalism by someone at the San Jose Mercury News (scroll down to "Needed: a grain of salt") who pointed out the curious fact that "Al-Qloushi happens to be president of the Foothill College Republicans -- a fact the group's press materials neglected to mention". Oops.

Which, all by itself, is enough entertainment for one posting but is nicely completed by the capper that the essay itself is, quite simply, a piece of shit.

And thus endeth the story.

ADDENDUM: Back then, Jesus' General had his typically wicked perspective on this as well, here and here.

FRI, JAN 21 UPDATE: (Been out of town for a couple of days, no access to the 'Net. Ouch. Regular blogging to resume in a day or so.)

I wanted to think I didn't have to point out the following, but for the irony-impaired, there was one thing about Al-Qloushi's essay that jumped out at me. If we are to believe that the posted essay is actually Al-Qloushi's (and it's always possible that it's a fake, but all of the evidence seems to suggest that it's legitimate), read carefully the actual assigned essay topic (emphasis added):

3. Dye and Zeigler contend that the constitution of the United States was not “ordained and established” by “the people” as we have so often been led to believe. They contend instead that it was written by a small educated and wealthy elite in America who representative [sic] of powerful economic and political interests. Analyze the US constitution (original document), and show how its formulation excluded majority of the people living in America at that time, and how it was dominated by America’s elite interest.

As you can see if you are even moderately literate, the topic is clearly asking the student to discuss an issue related to the U.S. Constitution at the time of its writing. Now, regardless of whether or not you agree with the topic itself, the restriction to discussion of the "original document" is unmistakable.

And yet, in making his case, Al-Qloushi quotes Thomas Jefferson and (you guessed it) George W. Bush. Apparently, this George W. Bush guy is just a stunningly historical dude, whose superpowers reach across space and time to affect even the drafting of the original U.S. Constitution. Is this guy the greatest president ever or what?

But that's not even the best part, as Al-Qloushi (allegedly) writes:

The United States constitution might have excluded the majority of people at the time. But it progressed and America like every nation in the world progressed and became a greater nation the constitution is now a document held in great esteem by Americans the Founding Fathers of America are greatly enshrined in dollar bills and the American people are proud of their country and history.

In other words, after struggling mightily to disagree with the actual assigned topic, Al-Qloushi admits that it's effectively true, but changes the subject by immediately talking about how we should ignore all that because the Constitution has "progressed". And, once again, when conservatives don't like where the goalposts are, they just move them elsewhere.

Next up: the "theory" and "fact" of biological evolution.

Great minds think alike.

Or is it, fools seldom differ? I always get those two confused. Anyway, speaking of goalposts and moving, Kos has another delicious example of exactly that. See? I don't just make this stuff up out of thin air. Rather, I have a top-secret liberal, left-wing weapon: it's called "research".

Your classic "moving the goalposts" legal defense.

Courtesy of a once-upon-a-time post by Josh Marshall over at TalkingPointsMemo:

"Your honour, my client couldn't possibly have committed this murder since he wasn't even there at the time. But even if he was there, he didn't do it. But if he did do it, it was self-defense. And besides, that son-of-a-bitch deserved it anyway."

Sound familiar?

Of "historical" documents, rutabagas, dental floss and bad arguments.

(I'm curious as to whether this happens with every other liberal, left-wing blogger on the net, or whether it's just my site that seems to have a sign on the door reading, "Welcome, right-wing wankers. Come on in, make yourselves comfortable, and feel free to act like total dickheads." Never mind, that was rhetorical.)

Not surprisingly, I've had a few close friends email me privately, and ask, "Why do waste your time with these conservative bozoes? Just ignore them, life's too short." In a sense, they're right. But in another sense, I'm still tempted to respond, not just for the sake of responding but because I see many of those exchanges as teaching opportunities for exposing the intellectual bankruptcy of conservative rhetoric. And as an example of said intellectual bankruptcy, well, some of the comments to
this piece are absolute beauts.

Now, in all fairness, I'll admit that McHue has a point. In fact, even as I pulled out of my driveway yesterday morning for an all-day drive, I was thinking, "CC, that was kind of unfair. McHue did in fact have a valid point, and you shouldn't have blown him off like that." Unfortunately, McHue's point does nothing to bolster his argument, and herein lies the lesson for the day. (Feel free to take notes -- there will be a test at the end of the term.)

The issue, as you may recall, revolved around whether George W. Chimpster's "National Prayer Day 2004" proclamation qualified as an "historical document." Well, that depends on your precise definition and context of the word "historical", and it's here that both Gatsby and McHue embarrass themselves yet again. (And, no, I'm not even keeping count anymore. Life's definitely too short for that.)

So, what does it mean to say something is "historical"? Well, the first and simplest definition would require something to be, well, old. And, obviously, Smirky's 2004 prayer proclamation fails miserably on that score. End of argument. Can we all agree on that? (Cue sound of most people nodding in agreement, while Jay Gatsby frantically tries to think of a way to change the subject.)

However, it's also possible to define the word "historical" to mean something like "of clearly historical significance regardless of its age," as both McHue and Gatsby quite correctly propose. As Gatsby so pompously suggests as he does his Church Lady victory dance, the recent Iraq War is obviously historic, and no reasonable person would dispute that point. (Although, rather than "Iraq War", I'd probably describe it instead as "the illegal invasion and occupation of a sovereign nation by Republican war criminals", but that's neither here nor there. Onward.)

Using this second, perfectly appropriate definition, one can also say that the 2001 terrorist attack of 9/11 was an "historic" event. Ditto the recent "historic" tsunami-related disaster in Southeast Asia. And so on. However, as I've written before, that scraping sound you hear in the background is the sound of goalposts being moved.

Note that we weren't talking about historic events. We were talking about historic documents, a critical distinction both Gatsby and McHue hope you're too dumb to notice. So their reference to recent but historic events is quite irrelevant to this discussion, as I suspect most readers will appreciate. In short, this was the classic, intellectually dishonest, bait-and-switch argument and it failed miserably. So, are we done here? Actually, not quite.

To be fair (and, Lord knows, I try to be fair even when it hurts), let's give Gatsby and McHue the benefit of the doubt and consider the possibility that even recent documents can be considered "historic." That is, it's quite possible that a recent document can have major historical value based on some kind of obvious historical significance. For example, one can argue that the Declaration of Independence itself was an historical document right from day one. Can anyone possibly dispute that? I don't see how.

Similarly, the Treaty of Versailles defining the end of the First World War was an obviously important historical document, right from the day it was signed. So what does this do for McHue's and Gatsby's argument?

Sadly for them, absolutely squat, since Admiral Bunnypants' "National Prayer Day 2004" decree has no historical value whatsoever, even under this looser definition. Quite simply, a national proclamation to honour prayer is as historically meaningful as, say, a federal decree promoting National Rutabaga Appreciation Month, or Dental Floss Awareness Day. That is, not at all since, as everyone knows, these proclamations are little more than feel-good political proposals to give various demographics and constituency groups their 15 minutes of fame. Politicians get to suck up, voters get to feel important, everyone gets to think they've done something meaningful and, when it's all over, all you can say is that the whole exercise accomplished exactly zero. As Shakespeare would say, an event "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

In other words, McHue's and Gatsby's argument is utterly worthless, but is the perfect example of the rhetorical shenanigans used by the right -- move those goalposts, toss out a red herring, bait and switch -- and hope like hell no one notices. Sorry, guys -- been there, seen that, demolished it way too many times to be taken in again. Next.

P.S.: You know, it is at least a little amusing to watch this administration pander to their base with things like "National Prayer Day." I don't suppose we should expect to see, any time soon, something like "National Critical Thinking Month", or "Federal Science Education Awareness Week." That would be asking a bit much, wouldn't it?

P.P.S.: It's not like I have any interest in dragging out this torture, but there is one more point I'm going to make, after which I'm moving on since I don't get a lot of personal satisfaction in remedial instruction for conservatives. To paraphrase an old saying, educating a right-wing hack is like trying to teach a pig to sing: it's a waste of time, and it annoys the pig.

Anyway, the point is, even if I were to bend over backwards to give Gatsby and McHue the benefit of the doubt in every aspect of their argument, it turns out that what they suggest is still hopelessly irrelevant for one simple reason.

Even if one grants that Bush's "National Prayer Day 2004" proclamation is an historically significant document and an historically significant event, it has nothing to do with the teacher's case since his defense of historically significant documents was related solely to documents describing the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers. Even Williams' attorney admits this when he states:

"It's a fact of American history that our founders were religious men, and to hide this fact from young fifth-graders in the name of political correctness is outrageous and shameful."

There. Read that quote again if its significance escapes you. The discussion of "historical documents" in this case was entirely in the context of describing the religious views of men well over 200 years ago, which means not only that Bush's 2004 proclamation is utterly meaningless here, but it also means that, among all their other rhetorical sins, both McHue and Gatsby are guilty of quoting out of context. At this point, one might reasonably ask if there's anything these two haven't done dishonestly.

Now, can we move on? I'm getting really tired of feeling like the boxer who keeps saying, "Now, stay down. I mean it. Just stay down, because if you get up, I'm going to have to hit you again. Aw, man, there you go, getting up again ..."

If it aggravates you two so much to come here and read my posts, there's a simple solution -- don't do it. I don't come and dump steaming turds on your blogs, so why do feel the need to do that to mine? If you have something you want to say, get your own blogs and say it. I'll even post an article linking to them just so people know where to find you.

Signing off now, optimistic that, somewhere, a light bulb is beginning to glimmer, even faintly ... but knowing that, somewhere, goalposts are being moved yet again.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

A short followup on the Cupertino Declaration of Independence brouhaha.

For those of you who really need to see the appalling disinformation that you're fed regarding just
this one media event, let me leave you with a bit of homework. And while you're checking out these references, feel free to keep track of how each of them has a habit of differing from all the others in some of the subtle and not-so-subtle details.

First, this SFGate article seems to be reasonably balanced and low-key -- most of the details seem to be correct, and they're explained well. In addition, if you really have some time on your hands, check out this site by the Stevens Creek Parents group.

Having laid the foundation for some actual scholarship, steel yourself for a trip through the right-wing twilight zone, and see how the following sites describe what went down in Cupertino -- it's hard to believe they're talking about the same thing:
  • WorldNetDaily (affectionately known around these parts as WingNutDaily): Note how they claim that the issue is about whether a teacher can just read the Declaration.
  • Rush Limbaugh, where the right's favourite drug addict claims that "a teacher has been forbidden from teaching the Declaration of Independence because it says "God" in it. Sadly, that's the sanest part of Limbaugh's rant.
  • FreeRepublic: Yes, these clowns are always good for a chuckle. I'm not even going to comment on their rantings; you can see for yourselves.
  • Traditional Values Coalition: More of the same ... yadda, yadda, yadda.
And the list just goes on and on, minor to glaring misrepresentations in every one of them. And, hey, it's not like you even need to take my word for any of this. That's what the links are for.

At this point, I think I've ridden this mule as far as it's going to go. Tomorrow's another day and another topic.

P.S.: There is one mildly-amusing point made in the SFGate article. The author initially describes Williams' handouts as "historical documents to supplement the district-approved curriculum", and yet, later in the article, he notes that one of those handouts is "President Bush's statement on National Prayer Day 2004". Let me guess -- this guy is not the school's history teacher.

A little high-tech in-your-face bragging.

And shortly, I should be getting my hands on my new kick-ass, laptop. 1.8GHz processor, 1G RAM, 60G 7200 RPM drive, Wide Screen UXGA display, from which I will ruthlessly wipe the pre-installed evil that is Windows XP, to replace it with God's own operating system -- Red Hat's Fedora Core 3 Linux.

Yes, you have my permission to be intensely jealous.

Attention blogger formatting weenies.

OK, a simple question for you blogger experts: What's the magic incantation to render some text literally in the middle of an article? That is, I'm looking for the equivalent of HTML's "pre" start and end tags, so I can literally display some HTML content without blogger trying to render it as actual HTML.

I've tried "pre" and a couple other tags, but nothing so far. Hints?

A primer on Christian "persecution": How to read the news.

Having read the
latest article on bogus Christian persecution here at Cynic HQ, I'm sure you're asking yourself, "How does he do it? How does that CC guy dig up that material? How on earth can he be so well-read? So dogged? So resourceful? So humble and self-effacing?"

Actually, it's not hard, once you develop the talent for reading the news as if you weren't a partisan, right-wing wanker with an agenda. A lot of the time, the clues that something is amiss are right there in front of you, if you would but only see them.

For example, take a few minutes and read this Nov. 24 MSNBC article about the mythical banning of the Declaration of Independence in a California elementary school. Really. Go read it. Carefully. I'll wait right here. Dum de dum dum ... OK, now that you're back, did you notice anything suspicious? Anything that might set off warning bells that there's more going on than that article is letting on?

Note first the subtitle, "Calif. teacher prohibited from giving Declaration of Independence." Sure sounds absurd. Why would anyone complain about giving students a copy of the Declaration? Actually, right there is your first warning sign -- it just sounds too damned stupid to be legit. And, like they say, when it sounds too stupid to be true, it probably is. But there's more.

Things take a weird turn in the very first paragraph, which states:

A California teacher has been barred by his school from giving students documents from American history that refer to God — including the Declaration of Independence.

Whoa, hang on: "documents ... including the Declaration of Independence"?? Suddenly, it's not just the Declaration anymore -- there are apparently other unnamed documents involved. Gee, you'd never have known that from just the subtitle, would you? Definitely something rotten in the state of Denmark. So you continue to read, but suddenly much more skeptically, until you get to the teacher's attorney, stating:

There is nothing in the Establishment Clause (of the U.S. Constitution) that prohibits a teacher from showing students the Declaration of Independence."

Whoa again. Now we're back to just the Declaration. What happened to those other unnamed documents? And was he giving his students or just showing them the Declaration? Even this one article can't seem to tell a consistent story, which makes it pretty safe to assume that someone, somewhere, is lying like a cheap toupee. But, hard to believe, it gets worse, as we read further down that:

Among the materials [the principal] has rejected, according to Williams, are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, George Washington's journal, John Adams' diary, Samuel Adams' "The Rights of the Colonists" and William Penn's "The Frame of Government of Pennsylvania."

WTF??? "Excerpts"? What moron edited this piece? As you can see, in the space of a single article, we've bounced around to suggest all of the following:

  1. giving students a copy of the Declaration
  2. giving students a copy of the Declaration, and other stuff
  3. just showing students the Declaration
  4. either showing or giving them just excerpts of the Declaration, and some other stuff

At this point, you'd be pretty safe in concluding that this story is a steaming load of cow flop. I also sense a potential Gatsby award: "Most thoroughly self-contradictory and incomprehensible piece of right-wing journalistic hackery masquerading as real news."

There will be more nominations. Trust me.