Archive for November, 2009

Ft. Hood – à deux!

November 26th, 2009 No comments
Hard at Work

Hard at Work fm The Weekly Standard

I am still working on a post about prison disenfranchisement. It’s a subject I find extraordinarily interesting considering the republic we celebrate. However, I received some interesting mail about my Ft. Hood post; the comments provided several areas to think about in addition to what was already published; and of the many blog posts and articles continuing the coverage, Christopher Hitchens and Robert Wright have a lively dance.

As always, I encourage reading Hitchens’ article and Robert Wright’s op-ed at The New York Times, well – not so much. Just kidding, read it – no, really. In a stunning race to oversimplify, Wright informs us that the left’s position is that the war on terror (oops, The War on Terror) is what made Major Hasan. Of course, Hitchens takes issue with this notion (me too, me too). Hitchens opens his Slate article like this:

It’s both amusing and educational to observe a consensus when it suddenly starts to give way at all points without yielding an inch. A couple of weeks ago, the consoling view was that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was a man more to be pitied than feared, a full-blown officer in the U.S. armed forces who was too shaken up by the stories of returned veterans to be able to function properly, and a physician too stressed-out to bear in mind that there was such a thing as a Hippocratic oath. Why, even the FBI had interpreted his e-mails to Anwar al-Awlaki as quite “consistent with research being conducted by Maj. Hasan in his position as a psychiatrist at the Walter Reed Medical Center” (Slate 20091123:1337).

As he did last week, he does this week – Hitchens shreds these pretensions. Then he takes exception to Wright’s article. It’s worth providing a bit of Wright’s own words here to get a taste of his reasoning. It’s seductive in its emotional content, and the emotional appeal is often accepted by readers at the expense of their critical thinking skills. The unvarnished argument is that if you call Muslims names it’s sure to cause violence. Most grownups don’t respond with violence unless they’re attacked with violence. Here’s the varnished argument:

The more Americans denigrate Islam and view Muslims in the workplace with suspicion, the more likely the virus is to spread — and each appearance of the virus in turn tempts more people to denigrate Islam and view Muslims with suspicion. Whenever you have a positive feedback system like this, an isolated incident can put you on a slippery slope.

And the Fort Hood shooting wasn’t the only recent step along that slope. Six months ago a 24-year-old American named Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad — Carlos Bledsoe before his teenage conversion to Islam — fatally shot a soldier outside a recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark. ABC News reported, “It was not known what path Muhammad … had followed to radicalization.” Well, here’s a clue: After being arrested he started babbling to the police about the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan (The New York Times 20091121).

Yes sir! You know how the liberal argument went down for the abortion doctor killer… why the more you denigrate those Christian fundamentalists the more slippery that slope becomes and… and, my goodness WE caused that evil little bastard to pull the trigger and shoot the doctor. Nope, didn’t quite go down that way – in fact, the prevailing opinion was that fundamentalist Christians calling for direct action against abortion clinics should be held accountable for their teachings. Anyone should be able to see that those teachings have consequences… hmmmm. Ok, enough of my mini-rant.

Hitchens takes aim in a somewhat different direction – who’s killing Muslims? After detailing a huge laundry list of Muslims killing Muslims, Hitchens reasonably questions Wright’s notion of the slippery slope, the “dubious” nature of foreign policy and more. Here’s his article’s finishing flourish:

Dubious? The only thing dubious here is his command of language. When did the U.S. Army ever do what the jihadists do every day: deliberately murder Muslim civilians and brag on video about the fact? For shame. The slippery slope—actually the slimy slope—is the one down which Wright is skidding.

It is he, who I am taking as representative of a larger mentality here, who uses equally inert lingo to suggest that Maj. Hasan was “pushed over the edge by his perception of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.” That’s a nice and shady use of the word “perception.” Might it not be equally true to say that Hasan was all-too-easily pulled over the edge, having already signaled his devout eagerness for the dive, by a cleric who makes a living by justifying murder of Muslims and non-Muslims alike?

In many recent reports of this controversy one has seen reporters from respectable papers referring not just to generic, uniform “Muslims” but even to the places where they live as “Muslim lands.” If you would object to seeing the absurd term “Christendom” in your newspaper as a description of Europe, let alone to reading about “Jewish land” on the West Bank, then please have the fortitude to complain next time violent theocracy is smuggled into the discourse under the increasingly feeble disguise of multicultural masochism (Slate 20091123:1337).

I’d say that pretty much wraps it up – except for a couple of articles at The Weekly Standard here and here that you may find of interest. They echo and expand on some of the elements presented here – including, wait for it… some evidence based journalism 😀

Again, Happy Thanksgiving all!

Let’s Give Thanks!

November 26th, 2009 No comments
Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

Here’s hoping all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day no matter how you might celebrate it, and moreover, that it be a day of fun and laughter… it’s nice to smile while being thankful.

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
and your pies take the prize,
and may your Thanksgiving dinner
stay off your thighs! ~Unknown

Cheers All 😀

Categories: Culture, Fun, Tidbits Tags:

Let’s Say Thanks!

November 19th, 2009 No comments
Something from David

Something from David

I was dropping by for my daily dozen and ran across THIS at Responsibility. As it turns out, Xerox has a nifty little website that sends cards to our troops.  It’s so easy a caveman could do it – so drop by and choose a card, a greeting, and send it along.  As Tom said at Responsibility, “If you have a blog, post this.  If not, send it on to your address list.  Someone who is away from his or her family at the Holidays will appreciate your efforts.” Thanks in advance for the cheer and good spirit you’ll bring to a person far from home.

Cheers all.

Categories: Culture, Fun, Healthcare, Manhood Tags:

Ft. Hood Redux

November 19th, 2009 6 comments

Islamist CartoonI opened this new version of Skalduggery with a post concerning cowardice and virtues that had as its triggering subject an article by Christopher Hitchens. It happened that I disagreed with Hitchens in that case – I found his claim that “religion poisons everything” unconvincing. More, it’s often easier to find ideological zealotry outside of religion; a god was not required for the butchery perpetrated by Mao, Lenin, or Hitler. Religion has produced some of the finest episodes in mankind’s short history; however, it has also been conducive to some of the worst intolerance in our history. I wonder how Muslims would respond to Hitchens’ most recent article and my commentary on it?

In Christopher Hitchins’ latest article for Slate, HARD EVIDENCE: Seven salient facts about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, he doesn’t just outline seven salient facts concerning the shooter at Ft. Hood, he also provides three salient characteristics of the Muslim death-squad type. Since I’m not really going to focus on the seven salient facts of the article, I encourage you to take a trip over to Slate and read the article. Hitchens opens this way:

The admonition not to rush to judgment or jump to conclusions might sound fair and prudent enough, perhaps even statesmanlike when uttered by the president, as long it’s borne in mind that such advice is itself a judgment that is more than halfway to a conclusion. What it plainly implies in the present case is that the actions of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan should not be assumed in any meaningful way to be related to his Muslim faith. (Slate 20091116:1146)

It is easy to see that the president’s admonition not to rush to judgment is in fact a judgment. If you haven’t seen his video address concerning the “Ft. Hood Tragedy,” then here it is for your consumption.

Just to reassure my readers… I. Am. Not. Rushing to judgment. If you’ve read my posts, then you know I have little patience for chowder headed extremists of any stripe. Unlike Hitchens, I am actually quite tolerant of most religions having been a devout follower of a religion at one time myself – I gave it up for lent. However, like Hitchens, “I do not say that all practitioners of woman-hating, anti-Semitic, sadomasochistic suicide immolations are themselves insane, but I do say that the teaching itself is demented. In the same way, I do not say that all Muslims are terrorists, but I have noticed that an alarmingly high proportion of terrorists are Muslim” (Slate 20091116:1146)… especially in the last 25 years.

Hitchens then points out that the “gallant major,” the sarcasm is obvious in the original text (ok, dry humor for my fellow seminarians), may have been subject to a little ill treatment, but only up to a point. Hitchens reminds us that the major’s parents were given refuge here, that he joined an all-volunteer army, and was given permission by omission to “vent extremely noxious opinions about members of other faiths, to say nothing about his adopted country” (Slate 20091116:1146). To drive a point home that is apparently lost on some members of our citizenry, he reminds them:

Black Americans used to be segregated. Jewish recruits were mercilessly hazed, as were men or women who looked as if they might be gay. Did any of them ever come up with an act of mass murder as a response? Did any of them ever offer a black or Jewish or gay ideology in justification of it? Would they have earned sympathy and understanding if they had? By the time the mushy “pre-post-traumatic” school was done with the story, Maj. Hasan was not just acquitted of being a bad Muslim. He was more or less exonerated of having even done a bad deed (Slate 20091116:1146).

The next portion of the article should come as no surprise to people paying attention. A person worrying about the motives and intentions of a Muslim colleague is not “Islamophobic” in circumstances such as these. Take a gander over at the HuffPo on this subject and you’ll find assorted complaints about the right-wingnuts who mention these concerns – oh, and to be honest, there are actually a vanishingly small number of very legitimate complaints about behaviors this atrocity has spawned. I guess we Americans, whether Muslim, Christian, Jew, or atheist just can’t seem to follow the president’s advice on this one. On the other hand, it seems obvious that people will respond to an event of this magnitude – and Christopher Hitchens closing remarks seem especially appropriate:

I wrote some years ago that the three most salient characteristics of the Muslim death-squad type were self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred. Surrounded as he was by fellow shrinks who were often very distressed by his menacing manner, Maj. Hasan managed to personify all three traits—with the theocratic rhetoric openly thrown in for good measure—and yet be treated even now as if the real word for him was troubled. Prepare to keep on meeting those three symptoms again, along with official attempts to oppose them only with therapy, if that. At least the holy warriors know they are committing suicide (Slate 20091116:1146).

Somehow “Cheers” doesn’t seem like the appropriate sign off for this post. My daughters and wife have a perfectly serviceable adieu –

Love and light to ALL of you.

In Search of…

November 12th, 2009 4 comments
In Search of the Lost Chord

In Search of the Lost Chord

…the Big Bang, Schrödinger’s Cat, Bacchus (the god of wine), excellence, or – dare I say it – the Lost Chord! When I was a kid, the reason I liked The Moody Blues was simple; like most other kids they were in search of something (supposedly themselves). In the case of this album, In Search of the Lost Chord, several of the songs are about the search for spiritual fulfillment. Ostensibly the search is for the lost chord, and in the cut The Word, that chord has a name and it’s found at the end of the poem… which introduces the next song – Om. Um, ok, if we accept this Hindu thingy then we’ve found the source of all, um, well language and science and, um, well… everything! KEWL! But really, we know it can’t quite be true because The Moody Blues kept searching… for something, er, um, truth?

Doesn’t matter, I still love that album and am a fan of the band. Let’s face it though, like many modern people – especially in the west – the band was more concerned with the SEARCH for the truth rather than finding and holding her close. Why bother with The Moody Blues? Well… it’s all about citizenship! More to the point I suppose, it is about the certainties I spoke of in my post Bothering with Citizenship. I’ve addressed the notion of facts being real and independent of our persons, but the postmodernists of many different flavors would strongly disagree with me – because they are certain that there is no privileged point of view.

I’m trying to keep this short and manageable, but it will be most difficult. On several occasions I’ve addressed several of the problems with the idea that because I “feel it” it must be true. Something I have only addressed indirectly is the idea that the majority determines truth. Ann Marlowe, in a recent article for The Weekly Standard (TWS) entitled Cool Gone Cold, reviewed a book called The Birth (and Death) of Cool by Ted Gioia. At its most basic, according to Marlowe, the book chronicles the notion of “cool” in terms of jazz greats of the early 20th Century. Gioia complains that coolness deteriorated and “eventually boiled down to how one was perceived by others. Coolness, even more than beauty, is inevitably in the eye of the beholder” (TWS 20091109). Rather than quote Marlowe at length for her explanation of Nietzsche’s concept of perspectival thinking (which is excellent), I’ll settle for a quick and effective definition from the Dictionary of Philosophy by Alan Lacey:

Perspectivism: The theory that there can be radically different and incommensurable conceptual schemes or perspectives, one of which we must, consciously or unconsciously, adopt, but none of which is more correct than its rivals.

Marlowe believes that “The idea that reality is whatever it is perceived to be, rather than something with independent existence, is likely to be with us as long as our culture survives. This is a good thing, too” (TWS 20091109). Now, before I reveal why she believes this to be a good thing, let me mention a small bit of commentary from another TWS article: All Crisis, All the Time: The American addiction to overreaction by Irwin Savodnik. He first identifies what a legitimate crisis is, and then shows how our “Illegal immigration, farm, credit card, and education crises,” while substantive concerns – are hardly comparable to plague, world wars, etc. Savodnik also reports that American responses to these “substantive concerns” are overreactions that point “to mythical thinking, a way of embodying our emotions and impulses in tales of our fears, vulnerabilities, and guilt in strange, often colorful, stories” (TWS 20091102). Seriously, is the Chrysler crisis going to be resolved with a government designed vehicle?

Why does Marlowe believe that reality is whatever it is perceived to be a good thing? It’s worth an extended quotation here:

The radical subjectivism which gave birth to contemporary art and to counterinsurgency theory has also given us cultural relativism and a loss of confidence in Western values. But the skepticism inherent in perspectival culture will not be the destruction, but the saving, of Western civilization. Poseurs and, especially, their commercialization may be annoying, but they don’t blow up airplanes or commit suicide bombings. It takes a belief in the objective reality of one’s beliefs to produce fanaticism. (TWS 20091109)

Really? Take a short tour through the late sixties and seventies to notice that Marxist and other groups that were incredibly influenced by Nietzsche’s perspectivist perspective maimed, killed, and bombed scores of innocents. In August of 1970 – the Sterling Hall bombing. In 1971, the Black Liberation Army, a socialist group kills three police officers. In October of 1971 the Post Office Tower of London was bombed by the IRA. The IRA, Red Brigade, ETA, FALN were/are all left groups with perspectivist systems of belief. Although many of these groups demonstrate that subjective beliefs produced fanaticism, ultimately, these groups with shared perspectives on reality (defined in terms of their perceptions) are mere “quibbles” in this debate.

If the only real thing Marlowe is certain of is that there are no certainties, then it makes this kind of discussion virtually meaningless. On the other hand, we could pretend to believe what she seems to be implying here – that, like psychology, normalcy is defined by the majority. If reality is whatever it is perceived to be, then the majority view would tend to define reality… which won’t be the perspectivist “view” because they’ve lost confidence in their own Western values.

I hope we haven’t lost confidence in our Western values. I hope we stop overreacting to things that are not crises. I would equate Marlowe’s “radical subjectivism” to what Savodnik calls “mythical thinking.” It is:

…a way of embodying our emotions and impulses in tales of our fears, vulnerabilities, and guilt in strange, often colorful, stories. We dread our powerlessness and concoct magical cures for our weakness. Such thinking is regressive. That myths are the outcome of the flight from reality, that we hop from one myth to the other and supplant reason with emotion, tells us that we have regressed. We’ve chosen ways of thinking found in children, tribal cultures, and dreams.

There is a moral dimension to all this. We are not children anymore. We are not mere mythmakers. We know fairy tales don’t solve the problems that plague us. We have a choice between thinking in Dr. Seuss terms, and in reflective adult ways. When we don’t acknowledge this internal dichotomy, we are acting in bad faith. (TWS 20091102)

I wonder why so many are “going Galt?” Let’s find our certainties.

Cheers to all!

Categories: Culture, Government, Philosophy, Politics Tags:

The Day After

November 12th, 2009 4 comments

This should have gone up yesterday, but I was terribly busy taking advantage of the Veterans’ Day sales… OK, that was to get a few of the self-righteous’ knickers in a twist 😈 Seriously, thank you so very much to all veterans for their service and sacrifice, and especially to my father, father-in-law, and my two oldest daughters and their husbands for their tours in Vietnam, Korea, and Iraq (both daughters and husbands) respectively. Military service is sort of a family business for us… not a popular profession in many circles. To all you vets, to all you mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers of vets, please accept my family’s heartfelt thanks and gratitude to all of you!

I found this video over at Tom’s Responsibility – Freedom Demands It site – take a look at his fly the flag entry… and as for the video, well, I totally stole the idea 😀 and put it up here too! It’s a pleasant five minutes, so enjoy yourselves – and a great big hat tip to Tom!  Cheers all!

Categories: Culture, Somebody Else's Work!, Tidbits Tags:

All Hail P.J. O’Rourke!

November 10th, 2009 No comments

20091005 Jimmy saysGranted that’s a bit over the top, but I love reading this guy! He manages to be deliberately disrespectful by engaging his readers with accusations that fall only a little short of gross exaggerations. In part because of his journalistic background, but largely because he believes his readers share his own disgust with hate accusations so common today, he’s not just credible – he’s fun. The print magazine has an excellent bit of art for O’Rourke’s article – I’ll risk providing that bit of art and the first two paragraphs… Click the picture to access the article – it’s a grand bit of fun!

Whew, I’m pooped. Jimmy Carter has got me run ragged with all the hating I’m supposed to do. Jimmy says I’m a racist because I oppose President Obama’s health care reform program. Even Jimmy Carter can’t be wrong all the time. And since Jimmy Carter has been wrong about every single thing for the past 44 years, maybe–just as a matter of statistical probability–he’s right this time.

I hadn’t noticed I was a racist, but that was no doubt because I was too busy being a homophobe. Nancy Pelosi says the angry opposition to health care reform is like the angry opposition to gay rights that led to Harvey Milk being shot. Since I do not want America to suffer another Sean Penn movie, I will accept that I’m a homophobe, too. And I’m a male chauvinist due to the fact that I think Nancy Pelosi is blowing smoke–excuse me, carbon neutral, biodegradable airborne particulate matter–out her pantsuit.

If that doesn’t whet your appetite for a little fun, then you need to read this just to get your smile on. And your indignation. Take a trip to a great political rag… TWS!

Cheers all, happy Tuesday!

Tidbits for the Sunday Funnies

November 8th, 2009 No comments

I’ve had a bit of an exchange with a few readers and writers concerning the ethics and basic practicality of Obamacare – the Sunday Funnies seemed like something to make everyone smile just a little, and yet, say something worth thinking about. Sometimes political cartoons are just wonderfully fun! So, here are two I found while surfing my favorite wingnut haters at MSNBC… click the pictures for a listing of daily political cartoons:

matson on DC ethicswright on pelosi healthcare

Cheers all!

Bothering with Citizenship

November 5th, 2009 4 comments

“Politics should be the wise exercise, distribution, and maintenance of power.” ~Robert Redford in the movie Legal Eagles

“Politics is the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit. A politician is anyone who asks individuals to surrender part of their liberty — their power and privilege — to State, Masses, Mankind, Planet Earth, or whatever. This state, those masses, that mankind, and the planet will then be run by … politicians.” ~P.J. O’Rourke in the book All the Power in the World

PathwayToCitizenshipI suppose I could multiply quotes concerning the nature of politics, but the first one will do with one caveat, and that is “Politics is the acquisition, exercise, distribution, and maintenance of power.” While it should be wise, that is more wish than fact. P.J. O’Rourke’s definition, on the other hand, serves fine as is 😉 I’ve already written about my take on the nature of Apollonian vs. Dionysian religions as a paradigm for politics and governments. In that discussion I addressed the nature of (Apollonian) cerebral and (Dionysian) visceral man, and why virtue and liberty are so closely interrelated. One of the implications of that discussion is that certainty about one’s place in the world tends to express itself in certainty of action. Witness the certainty of action in the Muslim community worldwide with the Danish cartoon conflagration. America claims to support freedom of expression, diversity, even a diversity of ideas. More to the point, the Danes didn’t simply claim to support these ideas; they were internationally recognized as one of the most tolerant societies while remaining one of the most firm supporters of these civil liberties.

That brings me to the notion of citizenship – seems to be the next step after politics, hey? For the purposes of this discussion I am going to ignore the notions of “corporate” and “global” citizenship for the simple reason that these ideas are conjured up for reasons (to instill a responsibility to “surrender part of their liberty”) similar to that of many politicians when they are “acting in our better interests.” Another obvious reason to ignore these ideas is that there are no rights, privileges and immunities enumerated by consent that are associated with these supposed “corporate” or “global” responsibilities. In other words, citizens tend to be associated with democracies – for other forms of government the term is typically subjects.

So then, a definition of citizens’ rights and responsibilities of citizenship must reside in the correlatives of citizenship’s component parts. One can turn to the Wikipedia, Britannica, or other reference and find at least three common elements of citizenship. First, it implies membership in an enfranchised (the right to vote) democratic political community. Second, the collective rights, privileges, duties, and immunities connected with membership are a celebrated component of citizenship. Finally, participation in civic life that affords a certain equal protection under the law seems to be a clear component of membership. At the very least these elements combine to protect the citizen’s body and property from harm by “enemies both foreign and domestic,” and to offer reasonably consistent conditions for the many ways citizens interact, e.g., travel, commerce, and marriage.

Granted that this is a simple and cursory look at citizenship, I do believe it provides a basis to challenge our thinking on subjects which we are or are not certain. I’ve read a ton of these little essays on politics, citizenship, government, etc., and I have trouble locating sources – but I know I’ve read something like “Revolutionaries are the graffiti artists of history.” Tell me you haven’t noticed some graffiti that hasn’t captured your attention… Europe and America’s revolutions ultimately provided for universal suffrage, and this makes it necessary for our democratic populations to avoid confusion about political ideas and the arrogant notion that somehow modern ideas are necessarily better or superior to those of our predecessors. We must be on guard against the biases of the moment and recognize that the notion of progress assumes our current ideas and certainties are somehow better than those of the past.

This is dangerous. Today we tend toward cultural relativism, an avoidance of responsibilities to our fellow citizens by accepting that one culture is equal to another. We pretend that this somehow makes us superior to the overconfidence of the past. That opinion is somehow on the same level everywhere. This is dangerous; it is a serious self-delusion that hides our own arrogance concerning our own tolerance – that it is somehow superior to the ideas of our past and the prejudices of other traditions.

I hope the primary point isn’t lost in the discussion – we must be cautious with our ideas or risk falling to our own hubris. All cultures are not equal. All opinions are not equal. Some ideas and practices should be recognized for the vile violations of civil liberties they are… Squelching freedom of expression to prevent offense is nonsense. Squelching dissent to prevent a free exchange of ideas, or to assure an untrammeled path to passage of a prized bill is worse. As citizens we should be seeking to protect each other and our civic life from these encroachments.

Citizenship requires us to think reasonably – let’s not fall for a phony populism or a fake egalitarianism. A culture that accepts the mutilation of its women for “cultural reasons” is not equal to a culture that protects its women from mutilation. Period. Making distinctions isn’t inherently racist, bigoted or intolerant.

Find your certainties. Think them through. Act… and I’ll wait for the hate mail.

Cheers all, have a great Thursday.

p.s.     This piece was originally aimed at a discussion of felony disenfranchisement. Guess that will have to wait! I’ll let the current frustration settle, then try again 😀

Categories: Culture, Government, Politics Tags:

Monday Morning Tidbit

November 2nd, 2009 2 comments

Take a trip over to Responsibility – there is a killer post up concerning taking things one step at a time, especially when things are overwhelming or complicated… or overwhelmingly complicated. He takes as a point of departure Peggy Noonan’s article over at the WSJ in which she says that Americans are disheartened, and worse that:

We are governed at all levels by America’s luckiest children, sons and daughters of the abundance, and they call themselves optimists but they’re not optimists—they’re unimaginative. They don’t have faith, they’ve just never been foreclosed on. They are stupid and they are callous, and they don’t mind it when people become disheartened. They don’t even notice.

Look for a little optimism, a plan, or at least the next brick! We need to make sure our locals notice.


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