Sunday, December 30, 2007

Odds and Sods

Roundup of Excellent Pieces
Glenn Greenwald, always worth reading, has an excellent piece up today titled Oligarchical decay that covers a range of related topics that are favorites of this blog.

In case after case, our political establishment has adopted the "principle" that our most powerful actors are immune from the rule of law. And they've adopted the enabling supplemental "principle" that any information which our political leaders want to keep suppressed is -- by definition, for that reason alone -- information that is "classified" and should not be disclosed.
And now, our government just destroys evidence crucial both to all sorts of court proceedings and a comprehensive investigation into the worst attack on U.S. soil in our history -- part and parcel of its general pattern of destroying or "losing" key evidence -- and the Honorable, Independent Attorney General tells both the legislative and judicial branches that they have no right even to investigate. And although we know for a fact that the top aides to both Bush and Cheney were involved in discussions of whether the tapes should be destroyed, we have no idea what they said and are unlikely ever to know, and even if we did find out, it's impossible to envision anything happening as a result.

Remember folks: Republicans are "tough on crime."

Digby at Hullabaloo takes on the phony cries for "bipartisanship", more accurately known as shutting up and letting Republicans do what they want in the name of the greater good as they define it.

Isn't it funny that these people were nowhere to be found when George W. Bush seized office under the most dubious terms in history, having been appointed by a partisan supreme court majority and losing the popular vote? If there was ever a time for a bunch of dried up, irrelevant windbags to demand a bipartisan government you'd think it would have been then, wouldn't you? (How about after 9/11, when Republicans were running ads saying Dems were in cahoots with Saddam and bin Laden?) But it isn't all that surprising. They always assert themselves when the Democrats become a majority; it's their duty to save the country from the DFH's who are far more dangerous than Dick Cheney could ever be.

The Magic 8-Ball was not Available
One of the great things about reading Hullabaloo is that Digby will make predictions that quite frequently come true. As opposed to say William "Quayle's Brain" Kristol, who has been announced as a NYT guest columnist after unceremoniously parting ways with Time Magazine.

A good take down of Bloody Billy is available here, among plenty of other places. I find it hard to believe that he needs to be taken down; anyone with a brain and an honest bone in their body should be able to read and watch him and quickly realize that the omnipresent smug grin is the summation of his character.

William Kristol is a pundit in the mold of Frank Gaffney: someone who will say anything, no matter how dishonest, foul or offensive to the intellect as long as it helps their side score points. Putting party above country is something they take pride in.

In a now-famous strategy memo, Kristol warned that Republicans had to kill, rather than amend, the Clinton proposal. Its success, he warned, would “re-legitimize middle-class dependence for ‘security’ on government spending and regulation,” and “revive ... the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests.”

William Kristol was opposed to the government health care plan because it might succeed and in succeeding help the Democrats. That's a true patriot.

This bit by Bill Maher, while not the most well-sourced or comprehensive comment on William Kristol, is my personal favorite as it is both brutal and funny.

Journalistic "balance" is pure folly, a worthless goal that places keeping up appearances over delivering the truth. But if the NYT is dead-set on maintaining a perceived balance by hiring another conservative writer they could at least pick one who did something more than deliver pure marketing fluff that even he must know has no basis in reality.

The fact the William Kristol can still be found anywhere other than a local cable access channel is an indictment of our media. It seems a conservative commentator can never be too wrong, too destructive and too dishonest to be unemployable.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

On Language: "Satire"

Brilliant Satire? Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It (This link is the best-formatted reproduction I could find)

Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It

John Petroski
Opinions Editor

Most people today would claim that rape is a terrible crime almost akin to murder but I strongly disagree. Far from a vile act, rape is a magical experience that benefits society as a whole. I realize many of you will disagree with this thesis but lend me your ears and I’m sure I’ll sway you towards a darkened alley.
In actuality, rape’s advantages can very much be seen today. Take ugly women, for example. If it weren’t for rape, how would they ever know the joy of intercourse with a man who isn’t drunk? In a society as plastic-conscious as our own, are we really to believe that some man would ever sleep with a girl resembling a wildebeest if he didn’t have a few schnapps in him? Of course he wouldn’t, at least no self-respecting man would, but therein lies the beauty of rape. No self-respecting man would rape in the first place, so ugly women are guaranteed a romp with not only a sober man, but a bad boy too, and we all know how much ladies like the bad boy.

Dishonest speakers often use words incorrectly on purpose to take advantage of certain connotations. "Satire" is one of those words. Sarcasm, hyperbole and contrariness are similar to sarcasm in that none of them are meant to be taken at face value, but satire alone is considered valuable political discourse. So it's no surprise that hyperbolic and contrarian speakers appeal to satire in attempts to sort-of kind-of but not really disown their own writing.

The above piece was defended as satire. Satire of what? It's impossible to plausibly explain what is being sent-up. People who believe that rape is a "magical experience that benefits society" are in short supply and any satire of those few individuals is an exercise in irrelevance.

The latter excerpted paragraph reads less like satire than like the slight hyperbole of an annoying college-age Limbaugh-wannabe provocateur -- a fairly accurate description of the author. It is mean-spirited in a non-satirical manner, especially when you consider that his "satire" is similar to his serious writing and that his writings on women and humanity in general are full of contempt.

"Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I do not endorse, support, or condone rape. That aside, I chose to satirize rape in order to illustrate that no one pays attention to news unless it's sensational," Petroski said.

This explanation by the author is nonsense. The piece does not satirize rape, it does not satirize rapists nor does it satirize the news. His explanation, that it satirizes rape itself, is the most far-fetched of the three already unbelievable interpretations. What it even means to "satirize rape" is beyond me.

Clearly the author enjoys tweaking people and playing the provocateur, his other writing makes that immediately apparent. Unfortunately provocative hyperbole is not satire, it's petulant childishness.

This sort of writing reeks of the typical college conservative fair: mean-spirited attacks divorced from any real politics or philosophy. Which brings us to Ann Coulter, whose work at the Cornell Review helped define the template for hyperbolic gasbags masquerading as satirists.

My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.

Editor & Publisher magazine defends Coulter as "satire."

Ann Coulter writes highly charged political commentary that's laced with trenchant satire -- satire that can be traced all the way back to Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," written in 1729. No one really believed that Swift was seriously advocating that the impoverished Irish relieve themselves of the burden of their children by feeding them to the rich.

Ann's hyperbolic style of delivery delights her conservative audience, much to the displeasure of liberals.

Ann Coulter is the next Jon Swift? Probably not. What Jon Swift wrote was an inversion of what he actually believed; what Coulter's writes is a slight exaggeration of her real views. (At best, according to her it is exactly what she believes) Had Jon Swift been a Coulter-style "satirist" he would have believed that while feeding children to the rich may be a bit much feeding their non-essential parts likes ears and feet to the rich is perfectly acceptable.

David Horowitz is also confused about what "satire" actually means:

I began running Coulter columns on my website shortly after she came up with her most infamous line, which urged America to put jihadists to the sword and convert them to Christianity. Liberals were horrified; I was not. I thought to myself, this is a perfect send-up of what our Islamo-fascist enemies believe - that as infidels we should be put to the sword and converted to Islam. I regarded Coulter's phillipic as a Swiftian commentary on liberal illusions of multi-cultural outreach to people who want to rip out our hearts.

Let's review once again the Swiftian formula: take opinions opposed to your own, exaggerate them and present them as your own opinions as a way of mocking true adherents.

Now let's feed Ann Coulter's dreck into that formula. Ann Coulter wrote that we should invade Muslim countries and forcibly convert them to Christianity. The subjects of her "Swiftian commentary" should therefore be people who honestly beleive something similar. People like Norman Podhoretz, Michael Ledeen and other neo-conservative hawks. Yet oddly enough Christian warrior hawks are a large part of her fan base, which is composed mostly of people who agree with her expressed opinions at face value.

Reading David Horowitz it's clear he has no idea what satire is. He can't decide whether it is funny or serious, taken at face-value or as the opposite. Ann Coulter said of 9/11 widows "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much." In the following interview Horowitz describes these and other comments as "satire" -- then defends them as accurate and "a service."

HOROWITZ: When Al Franken does satire, people understand it's satire.

RUTTEN: Do you think this was satire?

HOROWITZ: Yeah, I absolutely do.


HOROWITZ: I think this is serious. I think that Ann has done is a service.


RUTTEN: David -- David, two-thirds of this book, not about the war in Iraq. About her opposition to stem cell research, the theory of evolution, public school teachers who she accused of mass child molestation.

HOROWITZ: I agree with her.

"I agree with her."

Someone needs to explain to David Horowitz, speaking slowly and with small words, that agreeing with satirical comments is a bad thing. You cannot claim that something is satire and in the same breath claim it is serious and agreeable. Unless you are dumb like David Horowitz.

Read more!

On Language: Introduction

Pictured: Mitt Romney's words to live by.

Something I've touched on in some posts without addressing explicitly is abuse of language. Sloppy language is both a cause and effect of sloppy thinking. Or as George Orwell put it:

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. [emph. added]

In the On Language series I'm going to explore the abuse of language directly in the context of political speech, with plenty of examples to keep things interesting. With each post I'll focus on a particular word, phrasing or rhetorical device.

Introductions are boring so on to the first post.

Read more!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I am not smart. Not smart at all.

After struggling with custom script solutions to add labels to my posts I finally realized there is a handy "Labels for this post" entry field directly below the box I am currently typing in.

Quite the computer expert am I.

Time to go back and edit old posts.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Case for Impeachment

Keeping up with administration scandals and incompetence is a full-time job; larger than a full-time job. It's a depressingly Sisyphean task, made worse by the fact that there is no end-game.

Impeachment of the President and Vice-President would almost certainly fail to pass the Senate. Let's get that out of the way first. It doesn't matter. There are two goals for impeachment: to get the offenders out of office and to resist the normalization of outrageous behavior. The second is far more important than the first.

The fundamental question of this administration is will it be an anomaly or the definition of the new norm? We are leaning towards the latter. We have established a very dangerous precedent: that the President can blatantly and repeatedly break the law and disobey the Constitution without repercussion.

When Nancy Pelosi stated that impeachment was off the table she wrote a blank check to the administration; there is nothing they can't do. Period. Impeachment is the one and only tool we have for dealing with a runaway executive.

Every time the administration breaks the law or skirts the rules without repercussion that behavior is normalized. Spare the rod, spoil the child. At best there is some meek disagreement -- what the president did was naughty and we should send him a disapproving letter. Imprisoning and torturing US citizens without trial, without access to legal counsel and without the Constitutional right to Habeas Corpus? That deserves a polite but stern missive, nothing more.

Impeachment is more than polite disagreement. Impeachment is the recognition that things have gone horribly off-track. Impeachment is the pronouncement that what the executive branch is doing is wrong, is illegal, is bad for America and is something we must fight with every available resource.

Republicans have become masters of shifting the debate in directions that suit them by tugging hard towards the extreme rather than moving towards the center. That is why Frank Gaffney writes columns arguing that speaking out against the Iraq War is a hanging offense. The extreme ideas make the slightly less extreme ideas seem reasonable by comparison. The discussion moves from "speaking up against an unjust war is something officials are morally required to do" to "maybe speaking up against a war isn't quite a hanging offense but it sure is awful!" And hence we get stuck with oft-repeated tripe that doing the right thing is "hurting morale" and "against the troops" and "providing aid and comfort to the enemy." The spectrum, as defined by the endpoints, has been shifted.

When was the last time you heard a Democrat say that Bush should be hung for his misdeeds? If speaking out against a war is a hanging offense then certainly lying about the reasons for a disastrous war is one as well. Disobeying laws passed by Congress and using executive orders to effectively write legislation must likewise be a capital crime. Denying US citizens the Constitutional right to Habeas Corpus should be an invitation to beheading.

Compared to those options impeachment looks downright moderate. Even a failed impeachment attempt is a win in that it places executive scandal and incompetence back into the realm of impeachable offenses. That is the bigger picture that many impeachment foes miss: whether impeachment succeeds or fails at removing criminals from office it succeeds in the larger sense of drawing the lines more towards the side of lawfulness and accountability.

If as President you willfully violate the Constitution we will do everything in our power to stop you. That is the message we should be sending. The message itself is powerful regardless of the outcome.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Everything Wrong in Political Reporting Today

From Raw Story, White House press secretary Dana Perino speaking to reporter Helen Thomas:

Helen, I find it really unfortunate that you use your front row position, bestowed upon you by your colleagues, to make such statements," Perino said. "This is a -- it is an honor and a privilege to be in the briefing room, and to suggest that we, at the United States, are killing innocent people is just absurd and very offensive."

Of course that suggestion is not absurd in the least, and is only offensive in that it is clearly correct and contradicts the truly absurd notion that the US is incapable of killing innocent people solely by virtue of being the US.

But more troubling is the notion that "it is an honor and a privilege to be in the briefing room" and that injecting reality into the discussion and behaving other than with total deference is an abuse of that privilege. Sadly many of our intrepid "journalists" subscribe to similar theories.

Katie Couric (emph. added):

The whole culture of wearing flags on our lapel and saying ‘we’ when referring to the United States and, even the ‘shock and awe’ of the initial stages, it was just too jubilant and just a little uncomfortable. And I remember feeling, when I was anchoring the ‘Today’ show, this inevitable march towards war and kind of feeling like, ‘Will anybody put the brakes on this?’ And is this really being properly challenged by the right people? And I think, at the time, anyone who questioned the administration was considered unpatriotic and it was a very difficult position to be in.

The "right people" -- such as the host of the 'Today' show and current host of CBS news for example?

Elisabeth Bumiller, a Washington reporter for The New York Times, was a Times White House correspondent from September 10, 2001, to 2006, on why the Iraq War press conferences was so passive:

I think we were very deferential because ... it's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you're standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.

Stephen Colbert, speaking at the White House Correspondent Dinner, nailed this:

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know--fiction.

Our curageous White House reporters don't want to get into an argument with the president; instead they laugh at his jokes about the lack of WMDs in Iraq. Because challenging the president is not appropriate but laughing about false justifications for a war in which tens of thousands have died is. (Of course, I'm not suggestion that any of those tens of thousands were innocent -- why that's just absurd!)

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