Friday, April 29, 2005

Roping Republicans

People like to pretend that conservatives and liberals are really different kinds of people. That they want a different kind of world than the one we want. And to some extent that's true. But when you really get behind it all, you'll see that we're really not all that different. Specifically, it's not that they want a different world. It's that they see the world differently; acknowledging different facts. But once you acknowledge those facts, the necessary course of action is not as much in dispute.

So the difference between liberals and conservatives isn't that we disagree with how things should be, but that we disagree with how things are.

And that's screwed up because there is only one set of facts in life: reality. And it requires objective observations in order to determine what reality is. But that set isn't good enough for them, so they have to invent their own. We all know this is true, but we often fail to understand what it means. We know that they shun their own observations and objective findings, but we refuse to take the next step and do what is necessary to save them. Too often, we use it as a reason to attack them and punish them; but we all know what we really need to do: pity them.

Stone-Age Nuking

And this is important because, if the conservative's facts were correct, they'd be perfectly right in doing what they do. If almost all Muslims really are trying to destroy us and they cannot be persuaded not to, and if military force is the only means to stop them, then we'd be right in attacking them. It's simple self-defense, and anything short of that is self-denial. If this was the case, liberals really would be traitors for not attacking all Muslims. We'd be wrong for not wiping them out, or nuking them deeper into the stone age. That is simply undeniable.

But we don't believe that to be true. The facts are clearly against it. We see that Muslims are like other people and that they should be dealt with using non-military means. While some Muslims, like bin Laden, want to destroy us; most Muslims do not. Not yet, anyway.

And most of the Muslims who do want to destroy us, want that because they themselves have fallen victim to a bad set of beliefs; a wrong set of facts. And that the bad Muslims who are perpetrating this fraud on the other Muslims do so, not out of religious fervor, but from political scheming and power plays. For them, religion is merely the tool to gain power, with Islam giving them an established group with which to work with. They claim they work for Allah, so that they can persuade the religious to work for them. Kind of like another group that we deal with daily.

Moreover, we believe that military means will only make things worse. Irreparably worse. That direct military assaults on Muslim countries only encourages more Muslims to accept bin Laden's false facts; thus playing directly into his hands. And eventually we really will be in a religious war that can only be solved using military means.

Fixing the Middle-East

But if we could somehow get conservatives to drop their flawed set of facts, and acknowledge our set of facts (otherwise known as Reality), they would quickly give up their Muslim-nuking schemes and adopt our policies. And we could then get around to finding real solutions to our problems, much of which involve empowering disenfranchised Muslims and drawing them into western culture. And bin Laden knows that. He doesn't fear our weapons; he fears our culture. He wants war. We need to give them Seinfeld and baseball.

Most of all, they need to be convinced that we are not their enemy; and bombing them is really not the best way of doing that. And we need to help reform the middle-east so that they can establish a healthy middle-class which will serve to drain the anger of the disenfranchised poor and enfeeble the tyrannical rich. Which will eventually bring about the democracy that the conservatives wrongly believe they can create at gunpoint. That is the only solution.

Belief-Based Solutions

And that's our problem. It's not that we see the same facts, but disagree as to the solution. It's that we see two different set of facts which have their corresponding solutions. But it's the facts that are different, not the answers. And empiricists know that there can't be two sets of facts; so something's got to give.

And this applies to everything. If Welfare and Social Security programs make people lazy and undermine our society, doing more damage than they fix; then they should be stopped. If taxing the rich at a higher rate damages the economy and loses more money than it gains, then we should have to cut their taxes. If there's a god and he opposes abortion and will hold all Americans responsible for the genocide of the unborn, then we'd be fools for being pro-choice.

The list goes on and on and applies to every single issue. But the converse is true with each of these. If the facts are against these ideas, then it's obviously the conservatives who are wrong, the religious who are wrong. And we'd be fools for supporting any of these items.

And that's why empiricism is so important. Because our opinions and beliefs cannot be trusted. Because people can believe anything, and our "heart of hearts" will always feel confident in it's trustworthiness and will lie to us about anything. Beliefs are like assholes and they keep fucking you up.

Belief-Based Problems

And that's the problem with belief. Because belief requires a leap free from the binds of logic and facts. That's why they call it belief. But without logic and facts tying us down, we can float off to anywhere and accept anything as true. Miracles, divine intervention, ghosts, Bush's inner-strength, you name it. Without the restraints of reality, we are doomed to float endlessly to wherever our imagination takes us. Trapped, floating down the river of life without a paddle and unable to see where we're going next.

And that's where these people are. They think they need their faith to guide them through life; but it only serves to trap them and blind them. They need to shed their faith before they can begin to guide themselves.

And so what we have to address is why they believe these things, and to find out what we can do to persuade them to question those facts. Not to call them names, or assume that they're bad people or stupid. But to address the basic facts which are causing them to draw the wrong conclusions. And I'm not saying we need to get them to accept our facts necessarily, but to at least try to question their own. So that they can begin to shed these false facts and begin an honest search for the truth. They'll never look for answers that they think they already have. And that can't be achieved through direct assaults, but only through friendly inquiries.

Why Be Conservative

Conservatives are not bad people. They're just weak, and overly prone to accept only those set of facts which make them feel better. That's why they choose to be conservatives, because it feels better. Liberals concern themselves with helping other people and believe that the world can be a better place...even if they have to shout and throw paint on people to get it. And conservatives think that's foolish and that everything's great and that they have no other responsibility but to themselves.

They're not really like that, but that's what they like to believe. Conservatives are likely to be as helpful individually as anyone else, but they don't accept that as policy. Overall, they chose the ideology that makes them feel better about themselves, and that's why they're conservatives. Their motto: If it feels good, believe it.

Roosevelt Republicans

But it's not evilness; it's an affliction. We shouldn't deal with them as if they're the enemy. We need to deal with them as if they are mental patients suffering from delusions and overwhelmed by their fantasies and paranoia. Because that's what they are.

If someone believes they are Teddy Roosevelt or that space aliens require them to be homeless and drunk, you wouldn't directly attack those claims. You'd feel pity towards them. You wouldn't denounce them and call them delusional. It's so obviously true that it would be a horrible thing to say, and would only force them deeper into their madness. You'd befriend them and try to find out why they believe these things, and try to figure out what you need to do to save them.

And it's different with each person, so you need to listen to that person and figure out where they fell off the path and show them the way to get back on it. And listening is the key. You must listen, and refuse to be baited by their cheap smears and offensive tactics. Those are just defense mechanisms intended to upset you, so you'll leave them alone. And that's what they want: to be left alone to stew in their own juices; unencumbered by the intrusion reality and unpleasant facts. Mental illness is quite proficient at protecting itself.

And so what I'm telling you is that you need to befriend a Republican. Yes, yes, I know. It'd be easier to breastfeed a grizzly bear with gasoline. But it's essential. Not only for our country and the future of mankind, but for their own sake. It is your duty to rope these people back in and bind them to the world of empiricism and logic. Not as a liberal persuading a conservative; but as a human helping a fellow human. It's the compassionate thing to do. It's the liberal thing to do.

Learning From Liars

I've been reading The Final Days by Woodward and Bernstein, and it's a great book. A really great book. It tells you a lot about Watergate and Nixon's final days as President, but it also tells you a lot about politics and how things work at the top; along with a few funny anecdotes for good measure. If you're interested in this kind of thing, I can't recommend it enough. I've read a few Watergate books, but this is by far the best. I'm not a Watergate junkie, but I know what I like.

And I've been meaning to write about it for some time. For lots of different reasons. But something I read today seemed applicable to what I've been writing about lately, and so I thought I'd reprint some of it for your reading pleasure. You owe me one.


Context: The Nixon Administration has been in a holding pattern for months and months and can't seem to shake the noose of the impeachment. They've been putting up a good fight, but everything seems futile. And rightly so. The Watergate tapes were horrifically damning. There's no doubt about it. The Nixon Whitehouse was a crooked place, and crookedness had just become part of doing business. Nixon and Co. really didn't think they had done anything wrong; and believed they were just taking advantage of Presidential perks. Which was the very reason he had to be taken down. Nixon had made the Presidency too powerful and he had to be removed from office.

Now the impeachment hearing is imminent and the Whitehouse is leaking like a sieve. But they're still trying to put up a good front, and act as if they'll be sticking it to those partisan Democrat "Nixon-haters". That's the line they had been telling their people for months, and that's what they were sticking with now.

I quote from page 299, Monday, July 29. I'm too drunk to bother figuring out which year it is, but you get the idea. Nixon chief-of-staff, General Alexander Haig questioning David Gergen, Whitehouse speechwriter, about possible leaks in the Whitehouse. Gergen admits to being one of them.

"Gergen put the paper down and looked at Haig. Things were bad, Gergen said. There wasn't any coordination and, yes, it was true, he was not optimistic about the chances of organizing successfully to defend the President at this late date.

The general reminded him that the Washington Post was not the proper forum in which to voice his frustrations. Haig doubted the ability of the liberal press to handle such information fairly, to refrain from sensationalizing it. There was a question of loyalty, even of patriotism, he said sternly, and that applied to each member of the staff.

Gergen said that he understood, but that he felt foolish trying to keep up an optimistic facade. He had been doing it for months; he had told acquaintances in the press over and over that the President had turned the corner on Watergate. He had compromised himself.

"What do you think about me?" Haig shot back. He was the one out on the front line, sticking his neck out. His own doubts ran deep, very deep. "He's guilty as hell." Haig said.

Gergen was startled. Haig was the ultimate loyalist.

The chief of staff drew a deep breath. He still had to keep the ship together, he said. Again, it was a question of loyalty and patriotism. He had made his decision and he would see it through. Everyone on the White House staff should do the same or they should get out."

He's Guilty As Hell

And that just about says it all, doesn't it. That's exactly the type of people who we are dealing with. "He's guilty as hell." But it's not about what you know to be true, it's about what you want to be true and about making other people believe what you know to be false. That's how you shape reality into being what you want. Not by confessing the truth and admitting unpleasant facts, but exactly the opposite.

It's essentially the power of prayers; of using belief to change reality. That's what we're up against. Truth is irrelevant. Propaganda is real. Propaganda as a form of prayer. Propaganda to make your dreams come true. And they think that we're doing the exact same thing.

The only difference between the Whitehouse then and now, is that the current Whitehouse learned the lessons of the Nixon Whitehouse. For them, the lesson wasn't that you shouldn't be corrupt or that you shouldn't over-extend the powers of the Whitehouse. It was that loose lips sink ships. You don't express your doubts publicly. You don't spill the beans on what you know. You act confident and hope that you can BS your way to victory. And all of their followers naturally follow suit.

For them, truth is for losers; winners make their own truth. They don't see it as lying. They see it as loyalty and patriotism. And that should tell us everything about who we're up against.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Wonderboy Watch

I don't get around to too many other blogs, so I was just wondering if anyone heard anything about the whole Rove job change in early February. At the time, I speculated that this was an outright demotion by the Big Guy, and that post-election, Bush wasn't going to take no crap from no one, including the guy most responsible for getting him the Whitehouse. I wrote that Bush felt he was justified in everything and almost invincible after the narrow election; and didn't like the idea of anyone thinking of him as a puppet. It's something we contemplate, and it should seriously worry Bush; whether or not it really does.

But inner circles clearly give too much credit to Rove, at least in Bush's estimation; and so I speculated that Bush wanted to knock Rove down a few notches; but without giving the appearance of punishing him, which would stain Bush. I know absolutely nothing about Whitehouse jobs and staff maneuverings, but Rove's new gig sounded like an odd-place to put the guy, and seemed to move him away from Bush and Bush's policy decisions.

I also speculated that this might be because Rove had tried to warn him off of his Social Security obsession, which really is political suicide; and that Bush wanted to show who was boss. That was my two cents anyway.

So what became of this? Is Rove all the more powerful as a deputy White House chief of staff? Did it make a difference? Was his preferred title of Viceroy Eccellente Supreme already taken by Cheney? What the hell was Rove before? Political Hitman? Has all this been forgotten about? Just another insignificant blip on a crowded political radar? Did it matter at all?

Lies Eternal, Part One

As I'm sure you've read elsewhere, according to Gallup, half of Americans polled now believe that Bush and Co. lied to get us into Iraq. As usual, the omnipresent Juan Cole was all over this one, as were many other bloggers. But I think a slight clarification is in order. It was implied in Cole's post, as well as many others, but it really isn't stated explicitly what exactly it is that we were accusing Bush of lying about.

The Lying Point

And the point is that we didn't need to discover the lack of WMD's to know that Bush was lying. His lie wasn't that he believed that there were weapons or ties to terrorism. After all, belief doesn't require proof, and he probably did believe that he'd find some WMD's and terrorist connections. That's what he was counting on as the ultimate backup for his plans: if all else failed, he'd have the WMD to talk about for election day.

His lie was that he said he had solid evidence to back up those claims. But whether or not he believed these things to be true, he knew that he didn't have the evidence of it. His lying wasn't from ignorance, but about his ignorance. It's not about whether he believed the claims to be true, but whether he had reason to believe those claims; and whether he conveyed the true state of the paltry intelligence, or if he intentionally overstated it.

And even IF we had found WMD's in Iraq, Bush was still lying. I can claim that I have proof that Cheney wears women's underwear, but I'd be lying even if it's true. My claim isn't about what Cheney wears, but on my supposed evidence. I'm not vouching for the panties, but for having seen the proof of them. So if I don't have the evidence, my claim is untrue, no matter what Cheney's choice of inner protection is. (I'm joking, of course. Cyborgs don't need underwear.)

And that is exactly what I was saying since before the war. Unfortunately for you, I didn't have this blog back then and my main forum of the Yahoo message boards has all but obliterated my posts. So you'll just have to take my word on this one. But this was exactly what I was saying before the war. Time has shown that we were right; but any honest person knew that going into this mess.

Well I've written a whole bunch more on this, but it wasn't really fine-tuned, so I'm saving the rest for later. It's pretty good and really gets more in-depth with this. But this was supposed to be a relatively topical post, and if I wait until I get everything in line, then I'll just keep waiting. But in the meantime, you can soak in my favorite quote. Or there's also this one. And of course, this one. Or just go hear them all. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Essay on Partisan Whitehouses

If you haven't already read this post from the impervious Atrios regarding the Bush Admin's litmus test against Democrat supporters in a telecom conference, go read that post and get back to me, as I don't want to have to cover that ground again. And here's the money quote of what I'm focusing on:
"We wanted people who would represent the Administration positively, and - call us nutty - it seemed like those who wanted to kick this Administration out of town last November would have some difficulty doing that," says White House spokesman Trent Duffy.

Nutty?? That's not the word I use. I use "stunning". This is simply stunning. You just can't do this stuff. It just doesn't work like that. I understand that people in the Whitehouse have always tried to use the powers of the Whitehouse in order to further their political agenda. That's just natural. And many of them have succeeded at that.

Partisan Abuses

President Clinton certainly wasn't adverse to using the office's perks to score a few partisan points. And Nixon clearly believed that it was an explicit right of the President to spy on his direct political opponents for no other reason than to gain pure political advantage. He believed the Presidents before him had done such things to him, and he had every right to do it to his opponents. And maybe he was right. We assume that he wasn't, but is it any better if Johnson and Kennedy really had used the CIA to bug Nixon; as Nixon believed. And if Nixon were right, and that he really was following established precedent, is that any reason to not impeach Nixon?

Of course not. That's even worse. That's why he had to be stopped. Not because he was doing something wrong, but because the Presidential powers had been expanded, either by Nixon or his predecessors, in a dangerous, unconstitutional way. We weren't taking down a President. We were removing a drunk from behind the wheel before he could cause more damage. And if Nixon wasn't the first drunk, we still needed to make him the last. And the only way left to do that was impeachment. The Presidential abuses had gone too far, and only the most drastic option was likely to have stopped it.

Marriage of Policy to Politics

And certainly it is often difficult to determine where the political stops and where the policy begins. After all, policy goals are impossible to achieve if political concerns aren't dealt with properly. Clinton was usually a popular President and he had popular initiatives and goals. Yet the Republicans were often able to thwart his policy goals due to political attacks against him. And these are the exact charges that Republicans make towards Democrats; that the Democrats are using partisan politics in order to thwart the Will of the People, represented in total by President Bush. Charges that get far too much coverage in our chattering media elite.

But that cannot excuse the Bush Administration's current wrong-doing. In fact, it only makes it worse. Past Presidencies were always cautious about appearing to use the powers of the Whitehouse for political gain. It was always seen as corrupt and outrageous, and rightly so. The Whitehouse does not belong to a political party or the individual holding the position. It belongs to the American People, and it is solely designed to fill their needs.

President For Hire

In a point I made earlier this month, the President is merely an employee of The People. Much the same way that stockholders hire employees to fill the job of President, CEO, etc. But the officers of a company are not necessarily its owners and are always forbidden from putting their own personal interests. Certainly that does happen, but at the heart of almost all of our recent corporate scandals involve corporate officers abusing the powers of their job in order to benefit themselves personally. And that's because the employees are only supposed to represent the will of the stockholders, and not themselves. Even a majority owner or partner in a small company is not allowed to plunder a company, or use the company to promote or benefit a separate entity owned by that owner.

And the similarity is obvious. The President is not allowed to use his job as a means of helping his personal goals, including politically. He's there to do the job that we hired him for, not to muck-around trying to further spread the Republican dominance in Washington. Once the campaign is over, governments are supposed to go back to work, and function as if politics didn't exist.

But in this quote, we hear Whitehouse Spokesman Duff outright stating that this is his intent. That things have gotten so partisan, that they bluntly state that partisanship is their reason. This is outrageous. At least the Enron and Worldcom guys had the self-decency to lie about it; claiming they had always been acting properly, always in the stockholder's best interest. They were lying, of course. But at least they knew they were supposed to lie. But the Whitehouse has clearly been in Wonderland for so long that even the Mad Hatter is making sense to them. I'm sure that'll be the nomination following Bolton's.

Sorry about this, but I'm going to have to fuck off the rest of this post. I'm leaving town on a business trip, and won't be back for a few days. And if I don't send this now, I'll never finish it and it will go unposted forever. But I think you can get the general gist of where I was going on this one, so you can just fill in the blanks yourself. Maybe I'll get around to finish this soon, or maybe not. This was pretty much writes itself, so I might not bother.

Friday, April 22, 2005

This Gay Thing

For the record, I was raised Catholic; which makes me a lapsed Catholic. And that means I get to say whatever I want about Catholics and nobody can accuse me of bigotry. That's just how it works. Fortunately or not, I don't really have any serious problems with the Catholic Church. In fact, as far as religions go, I rate Catholicism as one of the best ones. Easily in the top ten. They drink. They have lots of formal traditions and funky outfits. And you're already born guilty of everything, so they really can't fault you for anything you do. Sounds pretty good to me. Hell, if I thought I needed a religion, going Catholic might just be the thing for me. The services are a tad boring, but the music's great if you can find the right church. I really dig pipe organs.

But there are still a few problems with the religion, and the whole gay thing is one of the biggest. And my big problem isn't that they oppose it. Everyone has a right to their opinions, even bigots. But I want my bigots to at least have some kind of rationale for their bigotry. I honestly don't expect that from all of them, but there are a lot of damn smart Catholics, particularly their priests and bishops. In case you've never talked to a priest or bishop, some of them are really bright guys. Kind of makes you wonder what happened, huh.

Logical Goobily-Gook

And Catholicism has a long history of bright guys doing their thinking for them. Honestly. And you'd have to be smart, if you wanted to try to make any sense out of that goobily-gook. I'm sorry, but logic and belief just cannot mix. Once belief enters the picture, logic has got to go right out the window.

And I don't have a problem with belief, just as long as people understand what that entails...namely, no proof. If you have proof, you are no longer a believer; you're a knower. And anyone can be a knower. That's why God can't just show himself and do a few miracles; ala Oh, God. It just doesn't work like that. It's supposedly a test of some sort, and so God's just trying to make it hard on us. He won't give us hard proof, and you can't even logically deduce it. Otherwise, Heaven would be chock full of bad people who figured out how to screw the system. And God cannot have people screw the system. So we're just on our own with this one, I guess. Which I have no problem with. It all makes perfect sense.

So Catholics have always had all these smart guys who can talk themselves into pretzels trying to explain the unexplainable, and explict the inexplicable. And while I disagree with all of their results, which are utterly doomed to failure; I respect them for trying. They really put a lot of work into that stuff, and you got to admire the effort.

Nighthawks at the Diner

But it all falls apart when it comes to this gay thing. I don't get it. I just don't get it. What is their problem with the gays? Nobody knows. Nobody can explain it. There's just no logic to it at all.

Sure, the bible bans it. But the bible bans everything. Everything fun, anyway; and quite a few of the unfun things. Like eating eagles. You can't eat eagles. Or vultures, or buzzards. Like I wanted to eat a damn buzzard. Or ospreys. What the hell's an osprey?? I wouldn't even know how to find one, let alone how to eat it afterwards. I went to Sunday School for years, and they never warned me about that one. Never.

And there are tons of dietary requirements just like it. Are any of these enforced? Hell no. If you took a screech owl casserole to your local church's potluck supper, and served it up steaming hot; and then told everyone about it afterwards, they'd be pissed, to be sure. But not because you tricked them into violating their religious beliefs. But because you tricked them into eating a god damn screech owl in a casserole. And even the non-religious can understand that.

Or get this. I'm quoting from my "Catholic Living Bible" that I got for my Confirmation, and it even has my name on it, so you know it's got to be good. I quote: "If a man's testicles are crushed or his penis cut off, he shall not enter the sanctuary." What the hell is that all about? Was this really a big problem back then? Did ole Nut Crusher Joe keep interfering with their services, or something? Were they just grossed out by the whole thing? Whatever it was, I'm fairly certain this one's been ignored too. Again, twelve years of Sunday School and they didn't say zip about crushed nuts excluding you from the sanctuary. Nada. It almost makes it worth it, really.

And then there's the whole "If a man rapes a girl who is not engaged, and is caught in the act, he must pay a fine (literally, "shall pay her father fifty of silver") to the girl's father and marry her; he may never divorce her." Wowwy-wow! That's a humdinger of a rule. Talk about taking a trip down the crazy train river. Oh, and if the girl is engaged? Then she doesn't have to marry the guy; she just gets stoned to death with him. Unless of course it happens out in the country. Only he gets stoned to death in that case. Thank god for that.

And I could just go on and on. Nobody follows these rules. Nobody. Not even some mountain hermit monk who hasn't spoken in twenty years or bathed in thirty. Not even the Pope takes this stuff literally, and that's his damn job. If you tried to enforce this stuff, they'd lock you up in the looney bin faster than you can say "ecumenical".

Taking the Good Bits

So when it comes to the bible, it's obvious that they take the good bits, and leave the rest behind. And there's nothing wrong with that. That's a sensible policy. It's what everybody does with everything. Nobody knows Freud as well as Freud. And all those Nietzsche-heads out there, reciting Nietzsche on the public street corners? They're doing it too.

Nobody believes everything that any philosophy or religion says. You just can't. You take the parts that you like and you leave the rest behind. That way, you get the parts that are important and meaningful to you, without junking yourself up with stuff that doesn't apply; like remembering to not eat ostriches or not having sex with menstruating woman. And you're doing it whether you know it or not. That's just how people work. We're not damn robots. We're people. And we assimilate information in our own way; making new combinations of old information.

So there's nothing wrong with Christians and Catholics ignoring certain parts of the bible, while trumping up the important parts. That's the main reason Christianity has survived so long; its flexibility. When it comes down to it, you can find justification for just about anything in the Bible. If nothing else, just tell them that God told you to do it, and you're fine. People are allowed to rape women and ravage villages if you're doing it for God. I know. I read it in my Bible.

All, or Nothing At All

But what is wrong are people pretending as if the Bible is forcing them to believe these things and act in these ways. As if they'd be all pro-gay and pro-abortion, and everything, if only the Bible hadn't forbid them from being like that. Hell, one gets the impression that they'd be perfectly happy being gay, if only it wasn't forbidden to them. That's the way they act anyway. Like they perfectly understand the joys of doing it with someone of your own gender, but frown upon people going against God's way. They probably act the same way when they see someone eating a nice juicy steak on a Friday during Lent, I don't know.

And what it comes down to is that they just can't back-up their beliefs with logical arguments. They can't. There's no logical argument against gayness. It's retarded to even try to find one. And so they are forced to rely upon a dead text to help reinforce their argument. And while the Bible might be a good guide on how to live your life (assuming you use it properly); as far as using it as watertight proof, it leaks like a rusty sieve.

You can try to pretend that the Bible is forcing your hand on this one, but then you're stuck marrying your daughter off to your neighborhood rapist and freeing your Hebrew slaves in the sixth year that you one them. And nobody can afford to do that. And that's the problem with their "all or nothing" argument; you have to take all or nothing. You either follow every literal word in the bible, or you don't. And nobody follows every word.

Working Around the Word of God

And can they work around this? Of course. Everyone can rationalize anything when they want to; and people love to rationalize. Oh, God didn't really mean this, he meant that. Or, oh those words are such and such, and that means that it's ok to break those rules. Hogwash. Utter hogwash. It's moral relativity at its finest.

And they're all fine practitioners of it. Everyone can find some reason why they get to break the rules that they want to break. And that's why there are no truly evil people in the world. Everybody means well and has some justification for what they're doing wrong. Even Hitler convinced himself that he was doing the right thing. He didn't wake up and say "I think I'll be evil today". I'm not sure what Hitler said when he woke up, as I haven't taken German in years, but it probably had more to do with breakfast than anything else. But he had his rationalizations, just like everyone else.

And again, I have no problem with this. I'm a forgiving guy, and I understand why people do wrong things. They just can't help it. I don't believe we're sinners from birth, as I find that concept absurd. But everyone sins, and you just deal with it best you can and try not to do it again. And if you keep sinning the same sin, then you obviously don't think it's that big of a problem, or you wouldn't keep doing it.

Playing Telephone With God

But all this completely undermines their argument against homosexuality. They say it's "unnatural" or "freaky" or whatever. And they insist God is firmly against it, but how in the hell would they know? Because somebody told them He was. And how did that somebody know that? Because somebody told him. And how do we know that the first somebody wasn't just making it all up? Because that first somebody said he wasn't, and told everyone else to pass it on. And is that some rational basis for opposing homosexuality? Of course not. That's an utterly absurd basis for opposing anything. Especially coming from bright guys, like our priests and bishops. I wouldn't oppose hangnails for that reason, and I hate hangnails. Very irksome, they are.

And so what all this boils down to: they have an opinion, just like everyone else, and they're looking desperately for some rationale for them to hoist it off on the rest of us. And they're playing their Bible like it's some kind of trump card, when really they're just holding the rusty sieve.

And that's the thing. I don't mind somebody being anti-gay. That's fine I guess. Nobody has to be gay if they don't want to be gay. And if I ever run for political office, that will certainly be a part of my platform. Vote Biobrain: He's Gay Optional, the banners will say. Or maybe not. But in any case, I don't have a problem with someone not wanting to be gay. And if they say they're not gay only because their religion requires them to be straight, well more power to them. You can believe anything you want, as far as I'm concerned. That's what makes life so great.

Government Religion

But where I draw the line is them trying to force this crap on the rest of us. There's no part of their religion that says the laws have to obey their religion. I know, I've checked. There's nothing in their religion that says we need to get the government involved to stop people who aren't a part of that religion, from doing the things that violate that religion. Hell, there's nothing in the Bible that says the government should get involved to force someone's own religion on themselves! If you want to violate your own religion, the government's hands are tied.

You can read the Bible from cover to cover and back again, and you won't see that requirement. Religious rules are to be imposed on oneself. The religion is certainly allowed to kick you out, or punish you for violating the tenets of that religion. But that's no different than the KKK, and nobody's suggesting that we make their rules law...or nobody I'd like to meet anyway.

And we saw this same thing in the past election; people attacking John Kerry because he was a Catholic who voted against anti-abortion laws. But what the hell are they attacking him for? Does the Bible say that he's supposed to enforce his beliefs on his country? No. Even IF you think the Bible bans abortion (and it takes a lot of flexible interpretation to get that message), it only means that John Kerry shouldn't have an abortion. Or maybe he shouldn't personally encourage someone to have one. But it certainly doesn't suggest that he has to pass laws about it, to be enforced on Catholics and Non-Catholics alike. That's stupid.

If Catholics don't like abortions, fine. That's their problem. Let the Pope pass all the anti-abortion legislation he wants. He can also work on this gay stuff, too. It's his religion, he can do what he wants. He's the infallible one, not me. But those rules apply to Catholics, and if they choose to violate those rules, that's between them and their religion. Not the government.

But their religion does not say that they should enforce their religious rules on other religions. They like to pretend that it does, but it doesn't. Again, I've checked. It ain't there. Even in the Bible, we see incident after incident of the Israelites and Jews going against their religion; their kings included. So even the Bible doesn't have the perfect religious government running throughout. There are good kings and there are bad kings, and the Bible writers define which was which depending on how faithful they were to the religion. And even then, they often misled readers about the fate of some of the bad kings; making long-lived, successful rulers sound short-lived and miserable. Or they insist that the king must have done something wrong for God to have punished him. Some things never change.

And that was Israel and Judah we're talking about. These people were of the same religion by definition. And even they weren't in solid agreement as to whether religious law should be enforced by the government. And that's the basis that we're using for this stuff. So if people of the same damn faith can't even agree with what to do, why should America, which is chock full of all kinds of beliefs; sane and insane. Why should we use certain religious standards over all?

Basis for Laws

We shouldn't. We shouldn't base our laws on the whimsy of what other men tell us are the important bits of their religion. We should base it on logic, and on what's right for society and right for mankind. Not some artibrary decision to follow Deuteronomy 23:17 and Leviticus 18:22, while ignoring Deuteronomy 19:15 and Leviticus 20:18. But on an enduring idea of what laws are necessary to best facilitate life for everyone. Not on moral relativism, but on moral necessity.

To do otherwise is surely against our best interests; as the last thing anyone wants is jack-booted thugs kicking down their door to stop their annual Stork barbecue. Laws are important, but I gots to gets my barbecued Stork legs; and these strict religious adherents aim to stop me. Don't let them deprive me of my Stork, and I'll let you be as gay as you want to be. That's a promise.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Unpaid Endorsement

I cannot more highly recommend Netflix. I just started with them recently, so I can't swear that the service will always be good (though it was). But the movie selection is over the top. And the must have, gotta get DVD for everyone with a brain is Yes, Minister. It has everything you might ever want to know about how government works, and more than you could ever imagine. And it's funnier than a cat with a beehive. I swear. I couldn't recommend it any more if they paid me; though I wouldn't stop them from trying. This is required viewing for all visitors of my site. You'll never look at politics the same way again.

And rather than pay too much for cable, just to end up watching the Dukes of Hazzard every night on CMT; I can watch the absolutely best stuff out there. Don't get me wrong. Those Duke boys can be pretty entertaining for a week or two. But after awhile, even Daisy's fake charm starts to wear thin. And what is up with their damn legal system? You commit some heinous crime and steal a police car while taking the sheriff hostage with his own gun; and all you have to do is make it to the next scene and they can't arrest you? You're scotfree? Huh? And it's definite amnesty for you if you can make it to the end of the episode; and they always do! That just doesn't make any sense. Boss Hogg would really do himself a big favor if he spent just a little time tweaking the laws of Hazzard County so that they could arrest Bo and Luke Duke the next time that they see them. I'm not talking about a major legislative overhaul. Boss just needs to extend the statue of limitations a little bit; like say for longer than 30 minutes. And he should make it retroactive. And then he could arrest those Duke boys for all their past crimes of theft and kidnapping, resisting arrest, speeding, EVERYTHING. They'd get multiple life sentences! And then he would be home free to fulfill all his evil schemes. And don't even get me started on the screwed up laws of physics they've got there. I know they're just hillbillies from Georgia or Mississippi or somewhere, but come on! You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that you can't do any that stuff. It's just ridiculous. Jumping through trains. Ha! I tried that just once and I'm still paying off the damages. I should sue those cracker bastards for ever giving me the idea!

Anyway, sorry about that. But that's really what life was like for me before Netflix. And before that, it was Three's Company. Every night after The Daily Show; Three's Company. Another of my childhood favorites that just didn't stand the test of time.

So I recommend Netflix, and I highly recommend that you rent Yes, Minister as your very first selection. It's a four-disc set of the entire show; followed by Yes, Prime Minister, a three-disc set. I recommend you get them all. It's shit your pants funny, but does require a good sherry. I recommend Harvey's.

Blame Not John Cloud; Blame America First

Here's the thing: I really feel bad for John Cloud, the poor schlub who wrote the Time cover story of hag Coulter. I really do. I just read his sadsack interview in CJR and Eric Alterman's complete takedown of the boob. And I feel bad for him. He looks like a nice enough guy, and it's obvious that he just doesn't get it. He's in over his head, and doesn't understand what the big hubbub is about. He wrote a fluff piece about a very controversial person, and he sees it as par for the course. He really doesn't think he was supposed to fact-check her and thought it would be interesting to say that he disagrees with her detractors and to focus on her better side. And I'm quite positive that he really does believe that it's liberal bias that's blinding us and throwing us into this rage.

To him, he was just doing his job and he really doesn't understand why everyone's upset. And it's not that he's a right-winger who really believes what he wrote. He obviously doesn't. It's that he didn't think he was supposed to write what he believes. He was just telling a story.

And that's the problem. Not just with Nobody John Cloud, but with the media in its entirety! They are no longer journalists. Not in any real sense. They are entertainers. John Cloud is an entertainment writer who wrote about a controversial entertainer. To him, he wasn't writing about a serious pundit who discusses serious matters and needs to be handled objectively. It was just for fun. For him, this is no different than if he wrote a story on Bill Hicks or Andrew Dice Clay (yes, I am out of touch with modern pop culture, so work with me here). He knew he was writing on a controversial subject, but it really didn't occur to him that he was supposed to treat it seriously. It was just another sensationalistic story written to sell advertisements.

Life's a Joke

And that's our problem. The media treats everything like a joke or a game. Not all of them and not all the time, but in general. You find your angle, you quote a few people, you get in some snappy prose, and you're done. They feel no "Watchdog" responsibilities. They're not after "the Truth". They just have a really fun job which lets them travel and talk to important and interesting people and write about what they saw and who they spoke with.

That's what this is about. They don't see themselves as public servants, performing an important function for society. They see themselves as an elite club with no other duties than what they owe themselves and their media conglomerate. No more are the Woodward and Bernstein's knocking tirelessly on door after door, hounding down the truth. No. They've been replaced by Eighth Graders doing their best to fulfill their latest homework assignment.

Cloud wasn't trying to write an informative article to tell America who Coulter is. He was writing an interesting one which would say things that you hadn't read elsewhere. He even admitted as much in his CJR interview saying:
"Now, I had a choice of, do I want to, in my article, list every single Ann Coulter mistake ever made, even ones that have been corrected by the publisher -- which is, by the way, what almost every other journalist who has written about her has done -- or do I want to say something fresh and interesting about her?"

And that just about says it all, doesn't it. Not the strawman of "correcting every mistake", but about the need to say something fresh and interesting. He doesn't care about telling the truth. He doesn't care if what "almost every other journalist" is true or not. That's not his concern. He just wants to tell us something new; something interesting. To him, that's the point of journalism. Not to inform, but to entertain.

Consumer Editors

And why does he think that? Because that's what he's been taught. John Cloud didn't invent this kind of journalism. It's the culture he lives in, and is a direct descendent of the free market system. No longer are media outlets responsible for what they write; they have handed over that power to the God of Popular Demand. A story's importance is no longer what the editor or reporter believes it is. It's what they believe the consumers want. And they envision their role as no different of that of a Hollywood producer or television screenwriter: giving the people what they want.

So blame not John Cloud. Continue to assail him, but do so only as a warning to all others to not cross that line; of blurring entertainment with the hardcore pornographic punditry. And may this also serve as a warning to the media itself, to cease this assault on better judgment and objectivism. And to cease pimping false claims which interest America. America may clamor for controversy and sensationalism, but it is not for them to decide what is newsworthy. That is the responsibility of the media itself; and if they cannot fulfill that responsibility, they must be replaced by those who can.

The media must be forced to reclaim its responsibilities for its coverage, or suffer the consequences. To ignore the clamoring of America's masses for more and more entertainment; and to once again fulfill it's democratic duty as informer and educator of the masses. And if nothing else, we can achieve this by harnessing the one force still respected by our lightweight elite: popular demand. Make your presence known. Our Democracy demands it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Ever-Loving Oil

Alright, I'll admit it. Sometimes I'm an idiot. It was early and the coffee hadn't yet kicked-in and I read Publius' Legal Fiction entry regarding his prediction on what future historian's will see as the cause of the Iraq war, and I didn't understand his point. I missed it. I thought he was saying one thing, when he was, in fact, making a completely different point. So I started on what was supposed to be a short rebuttal, which (as always) turned into a long one. And towards the end of it, I started re-reading Pub's original post (which I had only skimmed before) and realized I had it all wrong. Not only that, but I couldn't disagree with much of what he wrote.

And so this post doesn't really address what he wrote about. I thought he was talking about Iraq and justifications for the war, when he was really just talking about oil and the pressing need to address that issue. And he even made some of the points that I made (though mine were superior).

But fuck it. I like this post anyway, it says stuff I've wanted to say for some time, and it's a good forum for it. So while it doesn't directly address his post, it could be seen as an addendum of sorts. Mine isn't about oil, but is about justifications of the war in Iraq; which naturally includes a discussion of oil. I've slightly rewritten this, but it's basically what I wrote before; which is why it starts so abruptly. And as a warning, I'll just state that I still haven't fully read his piece, as I agreed with enough of it to realize that I didn't need to keep reading.

Original Post

Publius asks, "So here's the million-dollar question -- why are we in Iraq? Are we over there for materialist reasons (oil) or ideological ones (spreading freedom)?" Is this a joke? Our two choices as the reason we went to war are Oil or Freedom? I know that this wasn't the point of his post, but it seems like a very sloppy way of getting to that point. His point was that we need oil independence for National Security, but historical revisionism, even in the name of simplicity, is never acceptable.

What's missing? National Security itself. Wasn't that the reason we were given for why we needed to go to war? Has Pub really allowed the Repubs to dump that down the memory hole? Maybe the real reason was oil. But Iraqi Freedom was never given as the end reason of why we went to war. Not until after all the other, better reasons had to be abandoned did they grasp at that straw. And that only happened because of the intrusion of reality.

But it was just a cheap trick to fool the masses; not something that future historians will give any credence to; and certainly not something that a smart guy like Publius should consider. It was a weapon with which to bludgeon anti-war critics and fence-sitting moderates; to accuse them of being anti-humanitarian, anti-Democracy, and even racist for not fully supporting Bush. It was a desperate attempt to turn Bush's blunder into some sort of political advantage. It allowed pro-war hawks to wrap themselves in the blanket of goodwill and idealism; so that if you criticized them, you were criticizing Freedom and optimism. And if you don't understand that, then you don't understand who the Republicans really are.

And it worked like gangbusters, and was so successful that a smart guy like Pub is even contemplating it as a possible cause for the war. Had Bush not successfully turned America's biggest blunder into a victory for Freedom, he would not be President today. But I seriously doubt that future historians will be so easily duped. We know more about past Presidents than their contemporaries, and historians will know more about Bush than we do. And I'm positive that history will not look kindly on our fearless leader.


But even beyond that, the issue of Freedom IS part of National Security, and should only be seen as part of that. Even IF the President's goals are humanitarian (something I seriously doubt), that is not the goal of his advisors and friends. Even the supposed idealists like Paul Wolfowitz don't see Freedom as an end goal itself. For them, Freedom is just one part of the strategy to bring about a stable middle-east. And a stable middle-east is good for America. So Freedom can only be seen as part of a National Security plan. And there's nothing wrong with that. That is a noble goal.

But it is obvious that humanitarianism comes second. Why else are we ignoring the non-oil dictatorships? Because they aren't essential to our security, and don't help us. Even moreso, we coddle many pro-American dictatorships and other oppressive regimes because it is good for security. Only a complete fool could look at the current world situation and believe that our current government supports freedom for all. Unfortunately, our media is full of such fools.

And so the reason we care about Iraqi freedom and stability in the middle-east is because of oil. That is obvious. So Iraqi Freedom takes an obvious backseat both to oil and National Security; and shouldn't concern us in the least.

Black Power

And certainly, oil is part of National Security too. Sure, it involves money and wealth for Bush's friends and associates. But it's also essential to America's well-being. It's not just that we want oil. We need the stuff. It's a requirement. Just as we need steel, and food, and computers. They are requirements of a modern nation. And if we are put in a position that might deny us of these requirements for a lengthy amount of time, we will be doomed. This isn't an academic concern, but a very real one which cannot be forgotten.

And there is a big test for oil concerns, as there are three reasons why you might grab oil. One is to open the spigot and let the oil flow cheaply; another is to control the spigot so that you can open and close it at will and better control the oil (and thus control oil-producing nations); and the third is to control the spigot so that you can close it, and let oil prices rise. And so determining what our plans are upon grabbing the oil helps us determine why it was grabbed. (BTW, when I say "grabbing" the oil, I obviously don't mean that we will necessarily own the specific wells. I just mean controlling it, either by direct ownership or puppet ownership.)

And the reason I say that is because oil companies don't want cheap oil. They want expensive oil, as it helps their profits immensely. It makes their own oil worth more. It makes deep-sea exploration and other expensive exploration and removal methods more profitable. And it helps them hide price increases at refineries and whatnot. Here in Texas, oil isn't as plentiful as it used to be. So it's harder to find and more expensive to bring up. So when oil is cheap, it often costs more to pump it out of the ground than what you'll get for it. And so people often don't bother, and will even cap existing wells. But when it's expensive, the costs are covered and the pumps will flow.

So an easy-flowing, cheap oil policy is bad for the oil companies. It's still good for companies like Halliburton, who make their money on oil facilities and maintenance, and benefit in either case. But it's bad for the oil companies themselves. They don't want prices so high that government intervention is necessary. But they like high oil prices. And our current oil situation is great for them.

As an aside, I someday envision $20/gallon gas prices, and vehicles that can go 200 miles on one gallon. So you still pay just as much to go the same distance as now. That's when real fuel efficiency will come about. When there's not enough oil to make current efficiency affordable. The oil companies will make a fortune, and they'll keep us on the pump forever. Just thought I'd share that with you.

Follow the Money

So, if we look at what our policies are, we can better grasp why we invaded Iraq.

If the oil flows freely and floods us with cheap oil, our economy will improve and thus our national security will improve. Not to mention the direct military reasons for needing oil. A cheap oil policy would certainly indicate that we invaded for the oil, in order to make America stronger. And there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. Our oil companies would get less, our own oil worth less, but things would be better for everyone else. And as long as the Iraqi's were compensated for their oil, all is well.

If we use Iraqi puppets to turn the spigot on and off, depending on our specific needs; maybe that's for national security or maybe not. It depends on what motivates us to turn it on and off. If we use it as a weapon against OPEC price controls and power-grabbing, as an effort to protect America's interests, then it might be for National Security. But if we use it for business concerns, solely for more profit for Bush's oil friends; then maybe it wasn't for National Security. It just depends on how we use that power.

And if we use it as a means to turn the spigot off, that could indicate that we're just wanting to help the oil companies, and that national security is taking a backseat. If you recall, many conservatives warned that European nations and Russia wanted to remove the sanctions against Saddam. That was one reason they urged for immediate war. Maybe it was just a ploy to motivate their isolationist masses. Or maybe they were really worried of a flood of Iraqi oil hitting the market and dropping the price. Remember, it's more profitable to sell your oil and gas at higher prices than to own more of it and sell it at lower prices. While we tend to believe that more is better; smart businessmen care more about profit margins than profit. It's better to spend $10 billion to make $2 billion, than to spend $20 billion to make $3 billion. 3 is more than 2, but 20 is far more than 10. And that's how these people think too (or they should anyway). So it's best of all for oil companies if Saddam's out of power and nobody can get that spigot open again.

And as that analysis indicates, as far as oil is concerned, what's good for oil companies is not good for America; and vice versa. And that includes American businesses who are stuck with high oil/gas bills.

Why I Opposed The War

And finally, one mistake that too many people make, both pro-war and anti-war, is that they seem to forget the primary reason we opposed the war. Or maybe they just never knew. It's not that we necessarily hate war. Sometimes it's necessary, and most people supported the Afghan war (myself included). And it's not necessarily that we don't agree with National Security concerns, or the importance of stability and oil. These are real concerns. Bush tricked us into going to war, but that shouldn't hide the real concerns. And it's not because Bush tricked us. That's a reason to have voted against him, but not a reason to be against the war. And it certainly wasn't that we "hated Bush". Again, most people supported his efforts in Afghanistan, and even those who didn't were usually the same libs who opposed Clinton's efforts in Kosovo and attacks on Iraq (and I'll leave out the righties who also opposed Clinton's efforts, though there were lots of them).

The reason we were against the war is because we didn't think it would work. Not that we couldn't conquer Iraq. But that we couldn't impose our will on them, and that it wouldn't work. That it would be costly and counter-productive. That we'd ignite an even bigger mess than what we had before. And rather than stabilize the middle-east, this war would further destabilize it; both in Iraq and throughout the Muslim world. And even the oil situation would be worse for us, due to a destablized and angry middle-east. Before the war, we predicted that anti-American feelings would increase within the Muslim world and that terrorism would only get worse. Or that's what I was predicting anyway. And, so far, the facts have bared that out.

So the reason we opposed the war WAS BECAUSE OF NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUES! It wasn't that we had one set of issues and the President had another, and our differing agendas conflicted. It was that we had the SAME concern as the President and his followers, but that we saw his methods as being worse than doing nothing. Most people were concerned with stability in the middle-east, because instability threatened our security. And we all were wanting a method to achieve that stability. So we didn't disagree with his goals, but with his methods.

Overall, we just don't believe that you can achieve democracy at gunpoint. A country either has the social infrastructure to permit democracy, or it hasn't. And any healthy social infrastructure Iraq might have is being seriously crushed under an American bootheel, literally and figuratively. And the war option guaranteed this outcome.

And so we disagreed with Bush's method as it was the equivalent of thrusting a stick into a hornet's nest to kill as many hornets as possible. You'll kill a few hornets, but you sure as hell piss off the rest of them; and you can't kill them all and will end up getting stung. And if we get stung, you can bet that the Repubs will blame us and will talk less about Muslim Freedom, and more about Muslim Death. And I say that even at the risk of being labeled as part of the dreaded "Blame America Crowd".

Unfortunately, we didn't do a good enough job of framing the big picture reason of why we opposed the war; with too many people focusing on oil or the trickery. But all the little reasons add up to the big reason: National Security. Bush may have had good reasons to go to war, or maybe not. But we certainly had good reasons to oppose the war; and it's foolish for us to now look back and pretend that Bush had our best interests in mind and that, WMD trickery aside, we should have listened to him. A direct implication of Pub's post is that, from a National Security standpoint, Bush's war was justified, and will continue to be so until we can wean ourselves of our oil dependency. And that's a grave mistake. Good intentions or not, Bush's policy is bad for our security. Oil wars will only beget more oil wars.

National Security For All

So what was the justification for war? It was for oil, it was for possible WMD's (that I'm sure they thought they'd find, which would justify everything), it was for stability, it was for freedom, it was for ideology, it was for political gain, and it quite possibly was for Israel. No intelligent people are so single-minded that they engage in large, dangerous actions for just one reason. These were probably all concerns. But they all lead back to one thing: National Security (well except the political gain issue, which Bush thought would give him an easy re-election and something to beat-up wimpy Dem Congressmen with, who he wanted to oppose his agenda).

So getting back to Pub's oil wars, yes, that is probably one reason. But it should only be seen in the context of the big picture. And even then, the most specific national security advantages come from cheap oil and a stable middle-east. But the mid-east looks far from stable, and I don't know about you, but here in Texas, gas sure isn't cheap. So while cheap oil and stability aren't necessarily bad national security goals; they sure look to be failed ones. I feel confident that history will concur.

Stupid Question

Why is the new food pyramid a pyramid? The old one made sense. Your basic foods were at the bottom because you were supposed to eat more of them, and the bottom blocks were bigger. And as you moved up, the blocks got smaller because you weren't supposed to eat so many of them. And that shape forms a pyramid. Which makes sense. I understand that. It's both symbolic and informative. Not that I ever used the damn thing, but at least it didn't junk up the place.

But the new one, why's it a pyramid? All the blocks are side-by-side; not very pyramid-like. And why do the segments get smaller at the top? Are they suggesting that the more you exercise, the less you can eat? Or does that represent us eating less as we get older; ever diminishing until we die? Is this what government existentialism looks like? And will people really start to exercise because they see a little abstract figure going up a colorful but pointless pyramid? Really? I doubt it. If they want people to exercise, they should try showing pictures of everyone's ass in an unflattering pair of slacks. That'll do it everytime. Not colorful stairs.

But this new pyramid thing, that won't do anything. It's just another example of people with too much time and too little brains. Or should that be too few brains? Whatever. It's a lame idea that someone in a meeting somewhere thought was clever. And I betcha all that person really wanted was a beer. But they're just too embarrassed to ask for one. That's really one of the biggest problems in life. For shame.

And the reason why this one's a pyramid? Because the last one was a pyramid and everyone knows it. It serves no function and might even confuse people. But at least it's traditional. We didn't use the last pyramid for jack dooky, and god knows we'll try damn hard to make sure no one uses this one either. They could have taken their time and tried to come up with something effective. But instead, they just said "fuck it" and slapped out another damn pyramid. And I have nothing better to do than to complain about it. I honestly don't.

So enjoy your new food pyramid. It might be the last one you get for a long time.

Why I Like William F. Buckley, Jr.

Not because he wrote this column. But because he writes columns like it...and he really doesn't have to.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Dumb Quote of the Month

I just finished reading Efraim Karsh's smear job of the infamous Juan Cole in The New Republic, and while the whole thing is a fairly dumb piece, one quote really stuck out. So much so, that I have been forced to create a "Dumb Quote of the Month" Biobrain Award, simply to bring distinction to the sheer dumbness of it. Mr. Karsh is apparently the head of the Mediterranean Studies Programme at King's College, University of London; and this is what that distinguished university produced for our reading pleasure:

Referring to the common belief that western nations are largely responsible for the instability and powerlessness in the middle-east due to western colonialism, Karsh states: These standard assertions not only ignore the active role played by local leaders in the reshaping of their region after World War I, they also overlook the fact that many Middle Eastern countries (Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, to mention but a few) are substantially larger than the country that is often held culpable for their ills: Great Britain.

Of course. Of course! Great Britain is a small country, so it can't be responsible for colonialism or for dividing the middle-east into subservient portions according to British needs. It couldn't have. It's too small. Britain can't be blamed. And India? No problems there. The Empire isn't responsible for that either. I know. I've looked on a map and saw that India is much larger than England. Size matters and Great Britain is just too small to be blamed for anything. As is any country which conquers a larger country. Perfectly acceptable logic.

Life is indeed simple. You can completely dismiss centuries worth of history and evidence, and all by waving your magic wand of logic and telling yourself that it's so. If you don't think something could have happened, it must not have happened. No proof beyond country size is required. Now, I'm not sure if Karsh is implying that Great Britain didn't colonize the middle-east, or if he's admitting that they did, but that they still aren't responsible for the problems it caused. Karsh never said. But he really didn't mean to. It's quite apparent that he's above all that. His rock solid logic is just too strong to deny, and no other thinking is required.

And beyond that, because local leaders in the middle-east also helped to shape (ruin) it, any culpability by anyone else is immediately dismissed. I suppose if you can prove that some African leaders helped capture slaves, then all responsibility of white slavers and slave owners is immediately forgiven. Similarly, if you can show that some Jews helped the Nazi's setup the Ghetto system, or received special treatment for helping control them; that all blame is off the Nazi's too. Responsibility isn't divided up according to specific actions taken, but simply lumped together and dumped at the feet of the victim. And all because some members of the victims' religion or race aided the oppressors.

Wait a minute. Some people DO dismiss slaver responsibility for that reason, though I have not heard too much from people dismissing Nazi responsibility. So I guess Karsh's theory is 2 for 3. Due to native compliance, western nations are not responsible for the plight of the Africans or Arabs, but the Nazis are still responsible for the holocaust. I understand perfectly.

The Rest of the Dumb Piece

Beyond the informative quote, the rest of the piece is a straight-up smear job. He acts as if he is about to dismantle Cole's theories and attitude, but never really gets around to doing it. Rather than argue against it, he describes it using derogatory language, intended to belittle Cole's opinion. He says things like "But, unfortunately, Cole suffers from many other common Arabist misconceptions that deeply prejudice and compromise his writing." And he uses phrases such as "misguided dogma" and refers to Cole's theories as "essentially derivative, echoing the conventional wisdom". Oh, and he can caricature Cole's position on Israel with phrases like "imaginary Zionist cabal". And as we all know, if you dislike what Israel is doing, it must be because you hate all Jews. What other explanation is possible? So Cole obviously hates all Jews too. Ipso facto. (which is Latin for: That's a fact)

Indeed. It appears that Karsh is an adherent to the idea that if you label someone, you own them. And that if you can describe someone in villainous terms, the person must be a villain. By definition. As if labels ARE reality, rather than a construct used to identify and communicate observed reality.

Empiricism and objective reality are turned on their head for Karsh's type. For them, reality is how you describe it...but only if you agree with them. Otherwise, you are forced to follow the rules of proof. Cole has to prove that there's a Jewish cabal trying to use American might for Israel's benefit, or that Westerners are responsible for much of what is wrong with the middle-east. But Karsh needs no proof that Cole hates Jews, or that westerners aren't to blame for the problems in the middle-east, or that Muslims will always hate Jews and Christians, or that God really wants the Jews to have that precious land.

He needs no proof, because he knows that it's true. Proof is what the other guy has to provide, not a fine mind like Karsh. And Karsh's mind is so fine that it is impossible for Cole to be right about anything. He might as well stop trying, because Karsh just ain't going to have it. All of Cole's proof goes straight down the drain when faced with Karsh's assertions and beliefs. That's just how it works.

Karsh's Proof

I confess. I read Juan Cole's site daily and know quite a bit about what he writes. But when I read Karsh's piece, I was waiting for some good anti-Cole proof. I know little of the middle-east, and do rely upon Cole to provide me with many details. So I wanted some juicy proof from the other side to show why I was wrong in believing in Cole. That is, after all, the whole point of Karsh's piece; to get us to stop listening to Cole. And, as an empiricist, I'm always willing to hear why I might be wrong. The past is dead to me, so I'd rather be right in the future than worry about being wrong in the past. To admit you were wrong in the past is merely to proclaim that you're smarter now. And I love being smarter.

But did he come through? Was I enlightened to Juan Cole's grave errors? Not even close. You either were already a believer in Karsh's beliefs, or you weren't going to be converted. For believers, proof is unnecessary and unseemly. Believers don't want proof, they just want fellow believers to say comforting things which confirm their beliefs. And Karsh really came through for them this time.

Beyond his disparaging description of Cole and his beliefs, what actual rebuttal does Efraim Karsh give? Easy. He blames Arabs for their own problems, because they helped westerners harness the middle-east. And he also cites a like-minded scholar who was once denied a doctorate and shunned by the scholarly community for disagreeing with Cole's conventional wisdom. And if they did that, they must have known that they were wrong. Why else would they shun him? We all know that all students are allowed to believe whatever they want, and are graded on the strength of their beliefs; and not on the validity of their claims. Or so I imagine that's how it's done at Kings College, anyway.

Inherent Religious Conflict

And even more importantly, he points out centuries old conflict between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. And that's it. That's all the proof he provides. As if conflict between the religions automatically explains everything going on now. And it might. Just as the centuries old conflict between Jews and Christians also might explain why all Christians continue to hate Jews and why they continue to fight, just as they always have. And just like how our current war in the middle-east can be seen through the lens of centuries old crusades. Just as they did centuries ago, Christians want the holy land back, and that explains why they're fighting the Muslims.
Everything old is new again.

Or do Karsh's rules only only apply to Muslims? I think they do.

And even at that, how does he know that he's right? Because...well because... he knows that he's right. And his opponents, and the conventional wisdom, and the bulk of middle-eastern academia is wrong. And most importantly, Juan Cole's wrong; so we're all wrong for reading his blog. And how does he know. Because he can use disparaging words to describe Cole and his beliefs, and that does it for me. No further rebuttal necessary.

And this is exactly what we should expect from the head of the Mediterranean Studies Programme of Kings College, University of London. Proof and evidence are beneath him. Labels and assertions rule the day. I wonder if I can attend his school. I have very strong beliefs and have a few choice labels for him. I'll get my doctorate yet!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Regarding Ann Coulter

A thought occurred when reading the officious Media Matters regarding Ann Coulter, and Time's fawning coverage of her. I disagree with none of the substance of their piece, but wondered of its necessity. My thought:

What IS the proper way for Time to write an Ann Coulter piece? And would Time have known how to do it, had it wanted to? It's my hypothesis that there is NO way to properly write an Ann Coulter piece, not by any magazine attempting to appear at all politically objective, anyway. Moreover, Time would not have written such a piece, even had it otherwise the inclination and ability. And the problem is that a piece properly describing Miss Coulter is completely outside of their milieu. It's just not their thing. Not for political reasons, even though that is certainly a factor also; but due to jurisdictional concerns. They just don't write those kinds of pieces. This either had to be a fluff piece, or it couldn't be done at all.

Polemic Junkies

And the problem is that, because Coulter is such a polemicist and her statements are so outrageous and offensive, she cannot be covered objectively. It is simply impossible. If you quote her absurd claims, you must also debunk the misstatements and lies; or otherwise risk implicit endorsement of them... as Times' John Cloud did, intentionally or not. And failing to cite any of her fameworthy statements also brings charges of bias, from both her attackers and admirers. But if you debunk her, you automatically enter the realm of biased polemicism. Not because fact-checking is inherently biased, but because Coulter's brand of partisanship and fervent self-imposed bias is so ingrained into her entire ideology that the truth of her facts are beyond the point. It's an objective nightmare at every turn.

The truth of her claims is irrelevant to her beliefs; their basis lies in your ability to believe them. Not because they are true, but because they are wanted to be true. And you either want to believe the facts or you do not. And if you don't want to believe those facts, then by definition, you are not on their team. In essence, belief in those facts are a form of initiation rites, or a test of will. Or a form of addiction. These people are not hoodwinked into believing Ann Coulter; they flock to her because she has what they seek. Despite popular misconceptions, drug dealers rarely create demand; they merely satisfy it. And she is nothing but a right-wing drug dealer, happily filling the crazed masses with the vitriol and certaintude they desire. And she makes millions at it.

Ideology of Inferiority

What's worse, she's not even ideological. She's not a rabid conservative tossing anti-regulatory chum to fool the masses. That's just a theme she uses as part of her attacks. Nor is she like Jonah Goldberg, a liberal Republican so desperate to empower his party that he's willing to abandon his own beliefs to spew the conservative rhetoric he believes will strengthen the Republicans. She's just a opportunist filling a niche market of hatred and ultra-snark. There are such peddlers on both sides of the spectrum, and Coulter is simply one of the more prominent members of the extremist fringes. She's not interested in helping the Republicans; she's just looking out for number one.

So objective coverage can't even conveniently pin itself to her policy goals; as she has none. When you get below her surface level of snark and attacks, you'll find at its basis is simply the desire to be snarky and attacking. Some use politics as a means to achieve policy goals. More use policy as a means to achieve political goals. Coulter's ilk use politics and policy as a means to achieve personal goals; namely making inferior people feel superior. Or more specifically, making people who feel inferior believe that they are superior to those they fear might be superior to them. Or something like that.

That is the appeal of Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly. They're strong and smart, and their strength makes weak people also feel strong and smart. The words don't sound nearly as convincing coming out of the listener's mouth, but they don't need to sound strong coming out of the listener. They just need to make the listener feel stronger saying them. And it does. These people aren't listening for the right answers; they're listening for answers that make them feel right. The truth can't always do that, but Coulter and Hannity can. Truth is elusive and rarely comes with guarantees. But Limbaugh and O'Reilly can give them answers before they've even heard the question. And as long as they have answers, these people will continue to flock to them; truth be damned.

Objective Bias

And that's why it's impossible for Time to objectively cover Ann Coulter. It's quite likely that their specific bias might be right-leaning itself, and that this piece truly was representative of the magazine's opinions. But that simply explains why they wrote the story. I somehow doubt that Time believed that the right-wing comedian was overly neglected by the media; and that they were giving well-deserved exposure to a rising star. They made a conscience decision to highlight the weird lady due to her popularity, and that alone exposed their bias.

But their offense was not in the lightweight coverage of Miss Coulter. It was that they covered her at all. Once they made that decision, the piece wrote itself as a silly nothing which intelligent people will ignore and ignorant people will relish; but which will inform no one. You either agree with what you read in the piece, or you disagree; and all based on what you believed going into it. And no level of debunking by Time would have altered that equation. All it would do is cause those who liked it to hate it, and vice versa. But it would influence no one.

While it is always prudent to fact check these people, it should be remembered why it is besides the point. To fact check them assumes that they are trying to be truthful. But anyone can give the truth. People flock to Coulter because her "truth" feels better. You can fact-check individual statements, but that's missing the forest for the weeds. You can keep pulling and pulling them, but you'll find that it's weeds all the way down.

Funnyman Coulter

I just posted this comment at Think Progress regarding Ann Coulter's presence on Time Magazine (and her apparently infallibility), and thought I'd just reprint part of it here for your viewing pleasure.

I don't understand why everyone treats Ann Coulter like she's a political pundit. She's clearly just a comedian and has no intent to be anything more. Read her stuff. She has absolutely no interest in the truth, and is just looking for punchlines. Her left-wing equivalent is Maureen Dowd, who never heard a snarky rumor that she wasn't willing to paraphrase into her own words. The only difference is that Dowd is far classier, far more willing to attack her own side (especially if they're named Gore or Kerry), and isn't as desperate for cheap laughs.

But neither of them performs any serious analysis on the world of politics; nor do they let facts get in the way of their targets. They're entertainers, with a focus on character assassination and mockery; not pundits. I see nothing wrong with people reading Maureen Dowd or Ann Coulter for the entertainment value. Even I have been known to agree with Dowd on occasion. I just don't think people should base their opinions on anything either of them say. Hell, many comedians like Louis Black and Margaret Cho deserve more respect than either Dowd or Coulter regarding political matters. They're openly going for laughs, but are still more trustworthy and intelligent than the two would-be pundits.

And I'm not comparing them to comedians to be rude. That really is the level that they choose to work at; assuming that it's their choice. They didn't gain a national audience based upon facts and truth-telling, as anyone can do that. It was their comedy stylings that gained that fame, and the truth often gets in the way of a good punchline. And that's why fact-checking Dowd or Coulter is like fact-checking Gallagher or Seinfeld. You might laugh, but the sock really didn't disappear in your laundry and you're really only there to see the watermelon busted open. Just because it's funny, doesn't make it true.

Flat Taxes for Flat Brains

I've been pondering a grand new post railing against the flat-tax for some time now, but that'll have to wait. But for now, I just wanted to add to what the ubiquitous Kevin Drum had to say over at Washington Monthly.

Like Drum, it bugs the hell out of me listening to flat-taxers, because they ALWAYS pretend like it's an all or nothing kind of thing. They rally against the inequities of the deductions system, but then insist on hoisting the stupid flat rate on us too, as if various tax rates are a problem. But the issues are separate. One determines how much income is taxed, and the other determines the rate at which that income is taxed. But the only arguments they can give are against deductions, and they never fully explain the advantage of the flat-rate. And all they really want is lower tax rates for themselves.

Tax Rates

I can tell you straight-up that as a CPA who does taxes, having various tax rates doesn't slow me down in the least. Hell, I don't even know what the tax rates are. Sometimes, clients ask me what rate they're taxed at, and I haven't a clue until I'm done with their return. And that's because I never look at tax rates. I have a general idea of what they are, but the computer takes care of all of that, and does it instantly. I plug in the numbers, and the tax software does the calculations...just as you'd expect. The secret of taxes is knowing how to treat income, what you can deduct, and where to enter everything. That's the hard stuff. But the tax rates aren't even an after-thought. I don't even consider them.

And why should I tell them what the tax rate is? That applies to their taxable income, not their gross income, and depending on their specific situation (kids, itemizing, etc), taxable income is all over the map compared to gross income. I could tell them what their the tax table rate is, but their effective tax rate (tax paid divided by gross income) is much more important. Your tax rate might be in the 30% range of taxable income, but still be less than 10% of gross income. And that's a much more relevant number. And that's an important issue, as most people are wrong about how much of their income they actually pay in taxes; as they use the tax table rate, and not the effective rate. It's a safe bet that most people believe they pay a higher rate than they really do.


Anyway, this isn't my big anti-flat tax post. I meant to do one on tax day, but I was much too busy and don't have the time for it now. But my main point is that, even if you don't like loopholes and deductions (many of which are seriously misunderstood) that's still no reason to switch to a flat rate. The primary benefit of the flat rate is to help rich people pay less, and I can't think of any other reasons beyond that. Especially as some of the biggest deductions don't even apply to the super-rich due to income phase-outs; and it's the super-rich who are the intended beneficiary of the flat-tax, despite the phony populist rhetoric.

So removal of deductions doesn't really hurt the super-rich, and the flat-rate will clearly benefit them greatly, easily reducing their effective tax rate in half. Based upon my rough estimates of a fair flat-tax system, the people who are likely to pay for that will be those in the $80k-$250k income level; with those below that level seeing little or no benefit, and those in the $500k+ range seeing great benefit. And I'm talking about annual income and not wealth, of course. So the typical American won't see a significant tax savings, those in the top 0.1% will have a significant tax savings, which those between the two will pay for. I'll explain my assumptions on that in another post.

That's all I have to say for now, but you can count on several more specific posts on why the flat-tax is a bad idea, especially as it's one of the only subjects that my expertise actually pertains to. And if you really have trouble figuring out your tax table rate, you have no business doing your own taxes. Hire professional help. Just not me. I'm too busy right now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Tax Break

I've wasted enough time recently posting extra long entries into this here site, but now time is running extra short for Mr. CPA, and I won't be writing anything else until after the 15th. There, there. I know. It'll be tough going without my special power b-brain to weigh in on the issues of the day. But my clients need me more and they pay me (something y'all might want to think about doing). I know you can handle it. You've gotten by much of your life without me, and it's just a few more days like that. This hurts me far more than it hurts you...especially as I'm a lazy ass who likes to use this blog as the excuse for why I'm not getting more work done.

And I can assure you that my brain is just buzzing with all kinds of great stuff that you ain't never thought of yet. I just need the time to type it all out. Maybe this weekend will be my big time...assuming that my brain is still functioning at that time.

Ownership Society

There's this idea that we owe something to Bush. This idea that Bush is our leader and that, like it or not, we owe it to him to provide our support to whatever he chooses to engage in. And also that we owe something to America; not we as individuals, but we as a group of people; as Americans. And many people really seem to believe that. Much of their crap is just noise intended to throw us off our game, and convince moderates that liberals are extremist. But I don't think this is one of those issues. I honestly think that most Republicans believe that we all owe something to Bush and our country, and should not criticize the actions of either.

The way they think of things is as if we, the people, are the employees and that Bush is the CEO and owner. And that he, as our leader, is supposed to tell us what to do. And we're supposed to follow his lead because he's the boss and can tell us what to do. And that someone who isn't doing what Bush says, that person's a shirker who isn't doing his duty; and deserves to be left behind and ignored. And this extends to America as a whole too. That Americans owe something to the company for everything the company has given to us.

And that's absurd and a complete inversion of reality. Bush doesn't own us; we own him. We don't work for Bush; he works for us. And I say that, not as one denouncing Bush or America, but as one supporting democracy. And this dangerous attitude of theirs is an offense to democracy, and thus to America itself. And by wrapping themselves in our America, they are inadvertently helping to destroy the very essence they wish to exploit. But America can't own us; we own America, equally.

We the Owners

In Democracy (and no, I don't want to debate that term, so just deal with it cause that's the one I'm using), we have no personal leaders; as we are all equals. Bush isn't our leader, in the way that a general is a soldier's leader. He is the head of our government. He is the boss over the government. Not us, the citizens, but the government. They have to do what he says. They have to obey his commands. The government workers, not us. It's just a job, and that's his job. This isn't controversial or an opinion. This is how it is.

And how did he get that job? Because we gave it to him. Not all of us, but enough voted for him in accordance to the bylaws of our nation. Just as stockholders at any company vote to elect their leaders. But the stockholders are not electing a boss; but choosing an employee. Their chief employee. That is the essence of democracy. Led, not by a superior; but by an equal. Not as a father; but as a brother. With our President owning as much of our country as anyone else.

To follow our business analogy, it is obvious that we are the stockholders of this company. We are its owners. And we hired him to be the President of the company and to manage its business. Not to own us or control us. Or to tell us what's good for us. Or to denounce us. But to do our bidding. To lead our country in the way we see fit. He can choose to go against the will of the stockholders, but they have the right to denounce his performance and even replace him. And that is exactly what us "Bush-haters" are accused of doing. Exercising our rights as owners of our nation. We don't owe America. We are America.

This may all sound quite obvious, but unfortunately it's not obvious enough. We need to remind people of this. And don't forget to smile. It helps.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Problem With Being Stupid

The main problem with being stupid is that, well, you're stupid. And that's bad. What's worse is that everyone is inherently too stupid to realize how stupid they are; as, if they were smart enough to know how stupid they are, they wouldn't be that stupid. So people are, at best, slightly more stupid than they realize; and, as is too often the case, far more stupid than they realize. And they're all more stupid than they want to be. I'm not blaming them for that, as nobody wants to be stupid and so they obviously can't help it. And the greater the separation between their level of stupidity and the awareness of their own stupidity, the more stupid they are and the less they are able to realize it. That's just a fact of life.

And what confuses the matter is that too many stupid people are able to learn the terminology and phrasing of smart people; and are thus able to fool themselves and others into thinking they are smart. They understand the context of when to use them, but not the concepts for why they are used. And as they don't know how stupid they are, they honestly believe that knowing the terminology IS true knowledge; rather than a communication tool used to express knowledge. In fact, learning the terminology is the first step of gaining knowledge, and not the end result of knowledge; as these people believe.

And oftentimes, they use terminology to hide their lack of knowledge from both themselves and the outside world. If they stopped using their loaded words, their ignorance would be more apparent and they might be able to learn more. And even knowledgeable people can get trapped into their own terminology and make wrong statements; which is one reason I tend to avoid fancy words and phrases. (The other reason is my poor vocabulary.) Agreed-upon terminology aids discussion with those who also agree upon the definitions in question. But with most people, there is no agreed-upon terminology and it is, in fact, the definitions themselves that everyone is arguing about. How can Conservatives and Liberals debate anything, if we can't agree about what even those words mean?

So I choose to not use big words, and say explicitly what I'm trying to say; which is why I always write so much. That way, I can't hide anything from others or myself. When I do use special phrases, they are often of my own creation and I really don't give a shit if others agree with my labels. I'm smart enough to avoid debates over word choice, and can beat anyone using their own words. And that's how everyone should be...if they're smart enough to do it.

National Embarrassments

But many people are too stupid to do this, and instead hide behind fancy words and meaningless phrases that they can't really comprehend. And thus, they embarrass themselves by not understanding fundamental concepts which are integral to modern discourse. In our recent commentary on the Chait v. Goldberg Opinion Duel, we saw that Jonah Goldberg embarrassed himself by not understanding some basic principles about what conservatives believe in, even though he believes himself to be one. And he also embarrassed himself by not understanding Chait's premise, which was supposedly the very topic they were discussing.

Goldberg uses fancy words and ideas that he picked up from his fancy conservative friends, but he utterly fails to comprehend any of them. Any intelligent conservative would readily agree with Chait's premise. It's part of their core belief. But Goldberg could only understand it as a petty insult. I've read enough of his ramblings to conclude that this is the only level he understands anything on. As I've said from the start, he's not an ideologue; he's just stupidly partisan. And he's too dumb to know the difference.

And this brings us to this very embarrassing statement by the fairly embarrassing Thomas Friedman (via the adorable Juan Cole), which is why I started writing this post. Speaking of the perceived lack of academic study regarding Arab Democracy, Friedman writes:
In the West, it was avoided because a toxic political correctness infected the academic field of Middle Eastern studies -- to such a degree that anyone focusing on the absence of freedom in the Arab world ran the risk of being labeled an "Orientalist" or an "essentialist." '

To which Juan Cole responds:
Third, the way you would get accused of essentialism is to engage in it. This fancy word just means that you say things that depend on there being eternal essences of things. So, for instance, if you said, "Palestinians are now and always have been a violent, fanatical, and duplicitous race." -- that would be essentialism (also racism). You would be assuming that Palestinians have a shared and unvarying essence. If you said, "Arabs are incapable of democracy because their political instincts are always authoritarian"-- that would be essentialism. If you said that most Arab governments are authoritarian, and tried to explain why that was with reference to changing political, social or economic factors, then that would not be essentialist. It would be social science.

Now, I confess. I'm not sure if I've ever heard the word "Essentialism" before. I guess I'm just not into reading that kind of stuff, and always thought philosophy and whatnot was for losers who can't think straight without assistance. Or maybe whenever I saw it, I just skipped over it and understood the context of it, without absorbing the word. I'm a concept man, not a word man. So like Thomas Friedman, I didn't know what that word meant. But there's a difference between us. You see, I have never believed that I knew what it meant. Nor have I ever used it in a sentence intended to convince anyone of anything. And most of all, I have never used the word in a sentence on the op/ed page of one of America's most prestigious newspaper. Beyond the fact that they wouldn't print my material, I generally like to know what I'm talking about, rather than making an ass out of myself.

And that's exactly what Friedman did. He's heard the word before, but clearly never understood it. And because he didn't understand it, he internalized it as a meaningless term that you hurl at someone of a particular belief, as if it's an insult. And this is similar to Jonah Goldberg who, failing to understand Chait's initial premise, wrongly viewed it as a petty insult and equated it to stubbornness. And like Goldberg, rather than admitting to ignorance and asking for a definition, he proceeded to blast about it in our national discourse; showing his ignorance to the world. And to tie this into our theme, their main problem was that they were too stupid to realize how stupid they are.

It's just a guess, by I suspect that Friedman has been labeled as being an essentialist on more than one occasion. He strikes me as a particularly simple-minded guy, and essentialism sounds like a simple-minded way of looking at life. It's basically a ridiculous position you are forced to adopt when you can't defend your ridiculous arguments in the normal way. I refuse to see how any rational, empirically-minded person could possibly believe that anything is the way that it is because it must be that way. That's just silly. Even if it's true, there's no way to know that it's true and therefore invalid as a reliable premise. I can understand an irrational, belief-based person using such logic; but they have no business taking part in our serious discussions.

Why This Matters

And that's why this is so important. This wasn't just an issue of someone using a minor word incorrectly. Everyone does that. But this wasn't a minor error, but a fundamental one which highlights their flawed logical processes. You see, when Thomas Friedman gets into major political discussions about issues such as this, and someone makes a criticism about his argument and tosses off a label, such as essentialist; he doesn't understand that they are making a fundamental statement about his beliefs. In fact, he doesn't even understand why they're saying it. But it's not that he disagrees; he just thinks it's a petty insult and glosses right over the matter of whether it's true or not. He doesn't even see how it's something that could be right or wrong. To him, it's just another insult and does not give him a moments reflection.

They react the same way as if the label was fascist, or neo-con, or imperialist. To them, these aren't valid phrases that could possibly apply to them; but just petty insults. And we can see that with their phrases of us. They don't actually believe us to be traitors, or anti-Americans, or (god forbid) Marxists. They just toss those out as insults to throw us off and keep us in line, and aren't really trying to define us in any way. Hell, they'd have to read Marx before they could know what they were calling us, and only commies read Marx. And so that's why they think that our phrases like "Essentialist" and "Orientalist" and "Fascist" are just cheap insults. Because they don't see how we're any different from them, and they use meaningless insults to taunt us.

And that was how it was with Goldberg. He dismissed valid criticism and accurate theories because he couldn't understand it as anything but an insult. Neither of them understood the criticism enough to debate against it. And that's the problem. Maybe Friedman isn't an Essentialist. And maybe conservatives are just as empirical as liberals. Or maybe it's true and they should gladly take the title. But Friedman and Goldberg are the last people who would know diddly squat about this as they're too stupid to ask for an explanation. And that's because they're too stupid to know that they don't know already. And that's because they believe that they already know the answers, and that anyone who tries to educate them is obviously wrong. So they remain in ignorance eternal.

I should add that I feel that Friedman's a smart enough guy that he might be able to finally understand that word, assuming someone sent him Cole's post. But even that's not likely to completely revamp the poor pundit's thought processes enough.

Stupid Stupid, Stupidly

And I'm not necessarily trying to single-out Friedman's boobery (though I do enjoy it so), this is just another example of the way that these people work, and why debating with them is so difficult. How can we expect them to debate complex issues, when they proudly display their own ignorance of the very words necessary for debate? We can't. It's impossible. We attack them for their simple-mindedness, but then pretend that it ends with their lame-brain theories. But it doesn't. It goes all the way down. They are fundamentally stupid and their ignorance is such that they don't even begin to comprehend anything we say.

And the cause of their ignorance is their belief-based system and thus their inherent anti-empiricism. Anything that goes against it must be rejected as false. And so they have no way of learning out of it. They're anti-intellectual, not because intellectuallism is bad, but because it gives them answers which they are forced by their beliefs to reject. And they are unable to comprehend that we aren't doing the same. They use the same words as us, which enables them to believe that they think like us. But they don't. We use observation to better understand what we should believe, and they use their beliefs to tell them what they observe.

Their ignorance is not always obvious, but it is always there. And until we understand that, we'll never be able to address their fundamental misunderstandings; thus making it impossible to debate the more complex issues that arise. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and these people are very, very dangerous.