Friday, December 21, 2007

Wordsmithing, part 8

At-tack verb
to act against (someone or something) aggressively in an attempt to injure or kill: criticize or oppose fiercely and publicly

On an online forum on theology I was participating in recently, someone posed the question: why are new converts more likely to "attack" anyone who questions their beliefs? I posted the following:

Please elaborate: what do you mean by "attack others"? Knock them down and beat them up? Scream at them to shut up? Disagree and try to convince them that their own beliefs are correct? If the latter, I reject your characterization of this as "attack" and I would argue that this attitude is an example of the contemporary redifinition of the word "tolerance" so common in today's parlance. Tolerance was formerly viewed as a sufferance of disagreable views--in other words, society didn't forcibly silence or punish the adherents. These days a disagreement or disparagement of another's views, or even the assertion of one's own views with any degree of moral certainty is viewed as, at the least, bad manners, and even more frequently, Cretinous intolerance.

Where upon I was soon accused myself of an attack. This highlighted several current tendencies in our culture.

The first I must give attribution to Dennis Prager for first bringing to my attention, and that is the proclivity to take offense at any statement with which one differs. Where in times past people would simply disagree--perhaps even heatedly--it now seems fashionable to act morally wounded at contrary views. He gives the example of the woman professor at Harvard who said she was so offended she became physically nauseated and had to leave the room when Lawrence Summers (the then president of the university) gave a speech in which he postulated that the reason his attempts at attracting more women professors into the hard sciences and mathematics had failed might be due to a natural tendency of the female sex to be less adept at those disciplines. The result of Summers' transgression of such sacred feminist orthodoxy was his forced resignation, even after a self-debasing apology.

Another is the compartmentalization of values--except for a very select few--to a private zone, censored from public discourse. A few values are allowed out of the box--equality, and inclusiveness--to name two, and given sanction for unlimited discussion, but anything suggesting judgmentalism or limitation of license must be silenced and kept in the private realm of the individual's inner life. Any violation of this is considered bigotry, or a form of "attack", or the favorite designation of cognoscenti--hate speech.

So the question arises, what does constitute an attack? Let me offer this criteria: when the derogatives are aimed at the individual rather than the idea, this is an attack. We have a perfectly good and time-honored phrase for this: ad hominem, which is Latin for "to the man", (i.e., directed to the man instead of to the argument). The irony is, this is an endeavor the Left engages in with depressing regularity. Criticize an idea, a policy, a social trend, or worst of all, a lifestyle injurious to the greater culture, and you will most likely find yourself labeled a bigot, a hater, or a just plain bad person.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

All "Persons" are Egalitarian

Dinesh D'Souza, in his exemplary new book, What's So Great About Christianity (which I am partially through reading), argues persuasively that the origins of human dignity proceed almost entirely from Christianity, the truth of which was asserted by none other than Friedrich Neitzche--albeit contemptuously-- in The Will to Power:

"Another Christian concept, no less crazy: the concept of equality of souls before God. This concept furnishes the prototype of all theories of equal rights."

Jefferson's statement in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal," has become so common to the American psyche that we easily fall prey to the notion that everybody thinks this way, and always has. ...and always will. The most casual examination of pre-Christian history, or non-Christian societies, will demonstrate that pre and non-Christian societies not only did not think this way, but would have considered such an idea a type of madness just as Neitzsche did.

It has become fashionable for even elements of the Christian church today to deny the influence of Christian thought on the foundations of American law, but what I find even more alarming is their insistence that American principles can be maintained divorced from the Judeo/Christian moral truth that served as their primary source.

The folly of this belief can be seen in the constantly shifting line of the definition of "person" in American law. The human fetus, according to Justice Blackmun's decision in Roe vs. Wade, is not a "person" (and therefore due his or her own right to life) until after the first trimester of its existence. "Person", you see, has become the legal word substitute for "human" in attribution of rights, since science has confirmed the undeniable humanity of even the single cell of fertilized ovum, zygote. But the advent of "partial birth" abortions has changed even this demarkation to one, not based on the duration of its life, but the location if its cranium: if the fetus' head is still in the birth canal (though the rest of the body has been pulled out with the use of forceps), it can be legally judged a de facto "non-person" and destroyed in deference to the mother's wishes, even up to the eighth month of its life.

For further understanding of the directions such ideas will lead, read the social theories of Princeton professor Peter Singer.

Christian moral truth, upon which American law and government was founded, defined human life as being endowed by its creator with inalienable rights, and consequently all human life is to be viewed as morally equal. But those who would redefine the value of human life predicated on utility destroy the foundation of this most cherished right: human equality. Men cannot be deemed morally equal if the value of their lives is graded by conditions outside their control--race, intelligence, genetic endowment, disease.

As the United States goes the way of post-Christian Europe and repudiates the Judeo/Christian underpinnings of its foundation, it will witness the inevitable degradation of the rights enumerated in the American vision.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Perpetuation of Evil

As another example of how impressed I am by Theodore Dalrymple's book, Our Culture, What's Left of It, I'm reprinting another excerpt, this time from an essay entitled, "The Frivolity of Evil" that starts out the book, and which I found particularly powerful and moving:

My patient already had had three children by three different men, by no means unusual among my patients, or indeed in the country as a whole. The father of her first child had been violent, and she had left him; the second died in an accident while driving a stolen car; the third, with whom she had been living, had demanded that she should leave his apartment because, a week after their child was born, he decided that he no longer wished to live with her. (The discovery of incompatibility a week after the birth of a child is now so common as to be statistically normal.) She had nowhere to go, no one to fall back on, and the hospital was a temporary sanctuary from her woes. She hoped that we would fix her up with some accommodation.

She could not return to her mother, because of conflict with her "stepfather," or her mother's latest boyfriend, who, in fact, was only nine years older than she and seven years younger than her mother. This compression of the generations is also now a common pattern and is seldom a recipe for happiness. (It goes without saying that her own father had disappeared at her birth, and she had never seen him since.) The latest boyfriend in this kind of ménage either wants the daughter around to abuse her sexually or else wants her out of the house as being a nuisance and an unnecessary expense. This boyfriend wanted her out of the house, and set about creating an atmosphere certain to make her leave as soon as possible.

The father of her first child had, of course, recognized her vulnerability. A girl of 16 living on her own is easy prey. He beat her from the first, being drunken, possessive, and jealous, as well as flagrantly unfaithful. She thought that a child would make him more responsible—sober him up and calm him down. It had the reverse effect. She left him.

The father of her second child was a career criminal, already imprisoned several times. A drug addict who took whatever drugs he could get, he died under the influence. She had known all about his past before she had his child.

The father of her third child was much older than she. It was he who suggested that they have a child—in fact he demanded it as a condition of staying with her. He had five children already by three different women, none of whom he supported in any way whatever.

The conditions for the perpetuation of evil were now complete. She was a young woman who would not want to remain alone, without a man, for very long; but with three children already, she would attract precisely the kind of man, like the father of her first child—of whom there are now many—looking for vulnerable, exploitable women. More than likely, at least one of them (for there would undoubtedly be a succession of them) would abuse her children sexually, physically, or both.

If you wish to read the entire essay (which I recommend you do!), you can find it here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Popular Culture, or the runs?

...another excerpt from Dalrymple's Our Culture, What's Left of It from an essay he wrote about the funeral of Princess Diana:

That her tastes were, despite her privileged upbringing, utterly banal and plebeian appeared very clearly at the funeral, where Elton John sang his bathetic dirge immediately after the prime minister read St. Paul's magnificent words in Corinthians It was highly appropriate (and symbolic) that this lugubrious booby, with his implanted wig, should sing a recycled version of a song intially dedicated to the memory of Marilyn Monroe--a celebrity who at least had had to make her own way in the world, and who also made a few films worthy of commemoration. "Goodbye, England's rose," he intoned in a mid-Atlantic accent that spoke volumes for the loss of Britain's cultural confidence, "from a country lost without your soul."

You can say that again. In the orgy of sentimentality into which much of the country sank after Diana's death, and which reminds me of the hot bath into which I gratefully sink after a hard day at the hospital, one thing has become evident: that the British, under the infuence of the media of mass communication, which demand that everyone wear his emotion or pseudo-emotion on his sleeve, have lost their only admirable qualities--stoicism, self-deprecation, and a sense of irony--and have gained only those worthy of contempt. They have exchanged depth for shallowness, and have thought they got the better of the bargain. They are like people who imagine that the answer to constipation is diarrhea.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Our Culture, What's Left of It

I just finished reading a remarkable collection of essays by English physician/psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple entitled Our Culture, What's Left Of It. Dalrymple, before retiring to France, spent the bulk of his career working in prisons and government-run hospitals in England. This gave him, as Bertrand Russell used to say, "knowledge by acquaintance" of the British welfare system of which he has virtually nothing good to say.

Included in this book is an essay which makes the clearest, most well thought-out argument against an idea I grew up hearing, and even used to espouse myself for awhile, namely legalizing drugs. The essay, oddly enough, is called Don't Legalize Drugs. Here's a short excerpt to give you the flavor:

...many others--even policemen--have said that "the war on drugs is lost." ...Never can an unimaginative and fundamentally stupid metaphor have exerted a more baleful effect upon proper thought. ...If the war against drugs is lost, then so are the wars against theft, speeding, incest, fraud, rape murder, arson, and illegal parking. Few, if any, such wars are winnable. So let us all do anything we choose.

In another essay entitled How to Read a Society he introduces us to a lesser known work by Alexis de Tocqueville that gives us the origins of the English welfare system and a critique of its beginnings that foreshadows the horrors to come:
Tocqueville's Memoir on Pauperism was published in 1835, shortly after the first volume of Democracy in America. He had visited England, then by far the most prosperous country in Europe, if not the world. But there was a seeming paradox: a sixth of the population of England were--or had made themselves--paupers, completely reliant upon handouts from public charity. This was a proportion greater than in any other country in Europe, even in such incomparably poorer ones as Spain and Portugal. In the midst of what was then the utmost prosperity Tocqueville found not only physical squalor but moral and emotional degradation.

Tocqueville surmised that the reason lay in the fact that England was then the one country in Europe that provided public assistance, as of right, to people who lacked the means to support themselves. The reign of Elizabeth I had conferred this right, as a way of dealing with the epidemic of begging that followed the dissolution of the monasteries. In the past they had provided essentially private and voluntary charity to the poor, on a discretionary basis.

Dalrymple goes on to paint a vivid picture of the end results of English welfare in the twentieth, and now, the twenty-first century in his experiences with his lower-class, immigrant, and prisoner patients. It's an often terrifying, yet fascinating (and wonderfully written) account, with profound cautionary warnings to America which has not yet descended to quite the depths of cultural disintegration and moral bankruptcy as our English cousins across the Atlantic.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Remorseless Machine

One of my cultural heroes, Dennis Prager, brought the following to my attention a couple of days ago on his radio program:

Immediately after president Bush vetoed (for the second time) a bill seeking to overturn prohibitions of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, Senator Hillary Clinton struck out at the president. "This is just one example of how the president put ideology before science," she said to the press.

Prager pointed out the utter moral corruption implied by this statement. Does the New York senator actually advocate that scientific research be completely unguided and separated from moral considerations? Take a moment to think of the implications of this... Actually, you don't have to think about it, because we have a perfect example of the implications in history.

Nineteenth century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche advocated a "hygiene of knowledge" devoid of value from any authority outside of self. He declared that, "Truth is fiction," and said, "I call Christianity the one great curse, the one enormous and innermost perversion, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means are too venomous, too underhanded, too underground, and too petty."

In The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,William Shirer wrote that Adolph Hitler, "often visited the Nietzsche museum in Weimar and publicized his veneration for the philosopher by posing for photographs of himself staring in rapture at the bust of the great man." Hitler personally presented a copy of Nietzsche's works to Benito Mussolini. He was so influenced by Nietzsche's writing that he based his Nazi concept of the master race on Nietzsche's idea of the "superman" the philosopher thought would emerge from the slaughter, madness, and chaos he predicted would occur in the twentieth century due to the "death" of God in Western civilization.

The horrors committed by Nazi scientists and doctors, unmoored from any moral consideration, untrammeled by any criterion other than the acquisition of knowledge, are so well known it doesn't require my retelling.

My point is not to compare Senator Clinton to Hitler, but to highlight the stupidity of her statement. I hope it was an example of careless speech; I fear it was not. I'm alarmed that it's another example of subtle manipulation of language, designed to move our culture slowly but inexorably toward the redefinition of human life, away from the intrinsic dignity endowed to us by our Creator (as stated by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence), to a worth measured only by utility. It's a move that has already given us abortion levels worse than many European countries, physician-assisted suicide in Oregon, and 3 billion dollars in taxpayer funds from the state of California for the destruction of human embryos to use for stem cell research. What else can we look forward to if "ideology" (the ideas that govern our behavior) is ultimately forced to kneel before a remorseless machine of science?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Wordsmithing, part 7

A-mer-i-can noun

A native or citizen of the United States

On June 4th, Democrat Senator and Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid said the following in a floor statement:

"This week, we will vote on cloture and final passage of a comprehensive bill that will strengthen border security, bring the 12 million undocumented Americans out of the shadows, and keep our economy strong." (emphasis mine)

The inept demagoguery and jaw-dropping stupidity of this statement hardly needs comment. Let me just point out two things:
1) The Democrat party was actually proud of this speech and posted a transcript on their website for several days--until they realized some of their constituency actually didn't appreciate illegal aliens being referred to as "Americans."
2) This is the vision of the Democrat party: to so redefine citizenship to this country that the only meaningful criterion will be residence on its soil.

One is left with a single burning question from this realization--why? The answer, though horrifying in the implications of their cynicism and willingness to barter the future of their country for short-term political advantage, is nevertheless easy to arrive at: more Democrat voters.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

War on a Tactic

I overheard a conversation in a restaurant the other day in which one fellow told another that the war on terror was the first time the United States was engaged in military conflict with a "tactic" rather than a state. This is an indictment that I've heard often from pundits from both the left and right over the last several years; one of them a man whom I greatly respect for writing one of the most inspirational books I've ever read--Dinesh D'Souza. (The book was What's So Great About America?)

First of all, it should be obvious to anyone that the use of the phrase, "war on terror" is nothing more than a deference to political correctness (and therefore political expediency due to the overwhelming power of identity politics these days) on the part of president Bush; and that in reality the "war on terror" is a global struggle with the followers of an ideology: radical extremist Islam.

When put in this context, the accusations of pundits that the present conflict is unique in American history is shown to be wrong. The first example should be fresh in the memory of anyone over 35 years old. Commonly called the "Cold War," the struggle that engaged the military, intelligence, and economic resources of, not just the United States but all the democratic nations of the West for some 45 years, was against the global expansionist forces of Communism.

There is another example from early in American history that bears an uncanny similarity to the struggle we now face: namely the wars conducted by the fledgling American navy from 1801 to 1805 against the Barbary pirates. Christopher Hitchens has written an excellent overview article that you can read here in its entirety, but let me quote one excerpt to give you some insight into what I mean by "similarities." cannot get around what Jefferson heard when he went with John Adams to wait upon Tripoli’s ambassador to London in March 1785. When they inquired by what right the Barbary states preyed upon American shipping, enslaving both crews and passengers, America’s two foremost envoys were informed that “it was written in the Koran, that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find and to make Slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.” (It is worth noting that the United States played no part in the Crusades, or in the Catholic reconquista of Andalusia.)

Understand that this was not the work of any single nation, but rather pirates operating from the Maghrebian provinces of the Ottoman Empire that conform to today’s Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia. And if the struggle that we now face with elements of radical extremist Islam who employ terror as a tactic can be rightly (though pejoratively) characterized as "war against a tactic", then so must our historic battle against Barbary piracy.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Wordsmithing, part 6

I recently read Words That Work by corporate consultant, political pollster and adviser to Republicans, Dr. Frank Luntz. In it he details his rules for crafting language that will resonate best with those to whom you are trying to sell a product or advance a policy. One example he gives in the book is his participation in characterizing what had once been called the inheritance tax as the "death tax."

In this series of blog posts I've dubbed "Wordsmithing," I've admittedly focused on the most blatant and dishonest examples of language distortion for political and ideological expediency by the left. But for the record, anyone making an argument or advocating a position will always make his case in the most favorable terms--and conversely the most unfavorable terms for his proponent's case. I'm not against the clever use of language; but I deplore the dishonest twisting and redefinition of words for political gain and ideological advantage.

To illustrate the difference, consider one of the most divisive issues of our age, and one that has engendered it own "happyspeak" lexicon: abortion. The defining terms, as we all know, are "pro life" and "pro choice." The advantages of characterizing one's position as "pro" *whatever* is self-evident, so the real question is the definition of the *whatever* the "pro" is modifying.

In the case of "pro life," the life part seems perfectly accurate and reasonable; a conclusion I easily reach since the "pro choice" side never seems to attack the term other than to assert the other side as "anti-choice," "denying women the right to choose," etc., or that "pro lifers" are hypocrites for claiming to be "pro life" for fetuses yet advocate capital punishment (an argument I've already dealt with in my blog post Moral Inversion).

The term "pro choice," however, is fundamentally dishonest; not in redefining the word "choice", but rather in its attempt to redefine that which the choice is ostensibly about: life.

In the run-up to the 2006 election I was called by what I presume was a Democratic pollster. One of the questions I was asked was, "do you believe in the fundamental right of a woman to choose what happens to her body?" I told the pollster that if his question was in reality regarding abortion, then the terms of the question were dishonest. "How so?" he asked. I explained it to him like this: to the question of, "should a woman have the right to choose what happens to her body?" the answer is, of course! But with the question of abortion, she's no longer choosing for her body--she's choosing life or death over someone else's body. For though that child--or fetus, or embryo, or zygote, or whatever other euphemistic obfuscating synonym you use--resides in the body of the woman--that child is a separate person.

And here's where we finally come to the real redefinition. A decade or so ago the pro-abortion lobby argued that the first trimester fetus didn't yet qualify as human life. Advances in biological science invalidated that argument, so we now hear a new terminology centered around a quasi-legal definition of "person," which goes something like this: yes, the first trimester fetus is human, but it's not yet a "person," and therefore it's okay to destroy it.

What we're talking about here is the redefinition of human life. The precepts of Judeo-Christian values and Christian moral truth that informed the founding documents and legal system of this country defined human life as invested with an intrinsic dignity and worth by virtue of the fact that we were created beings of God in his image, "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life..." (emphasis mine). But with the abandonment of these precepts, and the adoption of a purely materialistic worldview, many are attempting to redefine the worth of human life with respect to its utility. A fetus has no utility (except perhaps as raw material for therapeutic process or experimentation) therefore it warrants no protection.

Please understand that if this redefinition is allowed to fully take root, it will transform American society in ways we can't yet imagine. The implications for issues such as genetic engineering, cloning, euthanasia, and a host of others, are the fuel of dystopian fiction writers. Just consider: when human worth is measured by its utility, what other conditions and stages of humanity, or degrees of impeded or damaged function will be devalued to the status of "non person?" The severely brain damaged? The terminally ill? The birth defective? The retarded? The old?

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Wordsmithing, part 5

tol-er-ance noun
the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.

Tolerance used to denote sufferance of the improper or eccentric as in a failure to prohibit, (owing to its origin from late Middle English, the action of bearing hardship, or the ability to bear pain); it has now taken on a connotation of acceptance or even agreement. Popular messages instruct us to "celebrate" our differences.

Once tolerance was seen as a necessary ingredient to the melting-pot society that was America; it has now been elevated to one of the highest virtues in our culture. Examine the words used as antonyms of tolerance: no longer is the intolerant person considered rigid, narrow-minded and nationalistic; he is now regarded as bigoted, hateful and...evil. On the other hand, to be tolerant is to be inclusive, compassionate, and pure of heart.

Tolerance, as defined in the dictionary quotation in the header, was indispensable to American democracy. It allowed voices of dissent--even though they were outre and extremist--while at the same time validating the idea of the normal; it allowed society to hold--and declare--convictions of moral truth without the condemnation of those statements as "hate speech."

With the redefinition of tolerance, those who would have been considered tolerant under the former definition--allowing the voice of dissent while sternly disagreeing with it--are now seen, by reason of the very act of disagreement, or statement of moral certainty, to be intolerant and therefore bigoted, hateful, and...evil.

A curious derivative of this state of affairs is the reverence given to sensitivity nowadays. To be insensitive is no longer a mild faux pas -- it is the gravest offense to the soul of virtue and a social crime so egregious that it often warrants court-mandated re-education in the form of "sensitivity training." Many, these days, seem to measure their own goodness by the yardstick of their sensitivity alone. President Clinton said, "I feel your pain," and people wept at his nobility. Action is optional, but feeling is essential.

The lesson here is not that our culture is transforming to one without morality, but rather to one with a drastically different morality. Thousands of years of Western thought, informed by Judeo-Christian ethics, are being discarded and replaced--in the span of less than one generation--for an ad hoc system based on I'm okay, you're okay sentimentality. And anyone who doesn't hold with this sentiment is deemed NOT okay.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Wordsmithing, part 4

Pa-tri-ot noun,
A person who loves, supports, and defends his country.

Vice President Cheney, in a recent interview in Japan, criticized the plans of Speaker of the House Pelosi and Rep. Murtha to place restrictions on the President's request for additional funds that would make it difficult or impossible to send 21,500 extra troops to Iraq--the now famous "surge." In response, Speaker Pelosi called the office of the President to complain. When she was only able to talk to White House chief of staff Josh Bolton, which apparently left her unsatisfied, she issued the following statement:

Vice President Cheney continues to question the patriotism of those of us in Congress who challenge the Bush Administration's misguided policies in Iraq, but his latest attack is beneath the office of the Vice President, especially at a time of war.

This is equivalent to a basketball player who, when charged, falls down and pretends injury. It's also an example of wordsmithing which the Democrats have used over the duration of the Iraqi war. I have long since lost count of the number of times and the number of people who have made the accusation against the President, the Vice President, and many others in the Republican leadership, of "questioning their patriotism" any time their calls for a pull-out from Iraq are in turn criticized. But despite this tedious litany of accusation, I have yet to see one solid example of the words "unpatriotic" or "un-American" attributed to a Democrat by anyone in the Bush administration, or even the Republican leadership.

Nothing is easier than defining someone else's motives for the sake of your argument. This is a wordsmithing tactic that has almost limitless possibilities for exploitation.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A reprint

I was energized by an article I read today by John Andrews on, and especially the comments from readers posted after the article. After reading the entire thread, I decided to wade in myself. Click here for a link to the article and comments--mine included.
And below is a reprint of my comments:

I have to admit, this has been amusing. But here's a few responses; I'll try to be brief. To Mr. Hurley:

You assert that America is "being led by stupid, vindictive, short-sighted evil people who's only aim is power..." That doesn't tell me much except that you can string together a lot of adjectives. Can you--you know... give me some examples? The "evil" moniker, for instance. 'Cause I could spend the rest of my life giving you examples of why the rulers of Iraq, Iran, North Korea deserved President Bush's attribution as the "Axis of Evil." Or how about your accusation that the "Bill of Rights has been hidden in a dark, dark place." What exactly has led you and your mates to that conclussion? All this hyperbole really tells me is that you have an appalling ignorance of both American and British history, a trait you share with most of the American press, and pretty much all of the European press. I suggest you read Andrew Roberts' "A History of the English speaking peoples since 1900." Here's a link for you:

As to your reference to America pis*ing on it's (sic) [please see Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" Chapter 1, pg. 1] allies, you must have read your fellow Brit, Brian Reade in the "Daily Mirror" when he wrote: "Were I a Kerry voter, though, I'd feel deep anger, not only at them returning Bush to power, but for allowing the outside world to lump us all into the same category of moronic muppets. The self-righteous, gun-totin', military-lovin', sister-marryin', abortion-hatin', gay-loathin', foreigner-despisin', non-passport ownin' red-necks, who believe God gave America the biggest d*ck in the world so it could urinate on the rest of us and make their land 'free and strong.'" Since you live in the UK, and have traveled so extensively, I'm sure you can confirm that this sort of thing is daily fare, not just in every British newspaper, radio, and TV punditry, but all through the rest of Europe as well.

Here's another quote from you: "Will America wake up before AMERICAN citizens start disappearing into secret prison camps? Before the secret wiretapping of millions of AMERICAN citizens? Before there are secret military tribunals? Before defence (sic) lawyers are spied upon and vilified as traitors? Before people are held for years without trial or counsel?"

Which AMERICAN (can you please stop SCREAMING the word american at me?) citizens have disappeared into secret prison camps? Oh, of course they're *secret* so you can't know, you can only make the accusation; I understand. And millions of AMERICAN citizens wiretapped; really? Millions? Who reads all that stuff? I didn't realize the NSA had that many employees. Am I really supposed to take anything you say seriously after such fatuous remarks as these? And just between us, you make yourself look truly pathetic by sniveling "DISSENT WILL NOT BE TOLERATED," with reference to those who have angrily disagreed with you. Is it really necessary for me to point out that if your quarrel with Mr. Andrews' column were not tolerated, your post would have been deleted by

Now, to The Shrew:

I don't doubt for a second that the word "patriot" isn't used much by Brits these days, seeing as how the word means, "a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors," especially considering how the British military has been reduced to the pitiful remnant of its former self, as described by Max Boot in a recent article in LA Times:

"The total size of its armed forces has shrunk from 305,800 in 1990 to 195,900 today, leaving it No. 28 in the world, behind Eritrea and Burma. This downsizing has reduced the entire British army (107,000 soldiers) to almost half the size of the U.S. Marine Corps (175,000). Storied regiments such as the Black Watch and the Royal Scots, with histories stretching back centuries, have been eliminated.

"Even worse hit is the Royal Navy, which is at its smallest size since the 1500s. Now, British newspapers report, of the remaining 44 warships, at least 13 and possibly as many as 19 will be mothballed. If these cuts go through, Britain's fleet will be about the same size as those of Indonesia and Turkey and smaller than that of its age-old rival, France."

And since the British parliment obviously sees the funding of ever increasing welfare entitlements as more important than their own military (as they seem to be inversely proportional), it's no wonder Brits don't "fetishise" their flag as Americans do. (Hey, I've got to hand it to you, that was a nifty little contempt-ridden pejoritive you used for the reverence that we American's hold for our flag. Boy, it really endeared your argument to me!)

As for your claim that the United States acted in, "...overthrowing democratically elected governments (in Nicaragua for example)," where did you come up with that one? Are you really that ignorant of such recent history? Daniel Ortega took power over Nicaragua in 1984, then promptly consolidated that power by suspending any further elections, and collectivising property and businesses all over the country.

"Opponents charged that the Sandinistas had manipulated conditions during the election campaign in such a way that, although clean at first sight, the vote was actually rather tainted. The U.S. government of Ronald Reagan shared the opposition's criticisms and further intensified U.S. support for the so-called "Contra" rebels -- a coalition of dissatisfied peasants, former Sandinista allies and Somozistas. The result was a cruel and costly civil war that in 1989 compelled the Sandinistas to accept a peace arrangement negotiated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez.

In the February 1990 elections under the Arias agreement, Ortega and the Sandinistas lost to a right-centrist coalition led by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. Ortega relinquished the presidency the following April." (from CNN Cold War profile of Daniel Ortega)

So according to you, the Sandinista revolution that ousted Somoza and ended with the election of Ortega was a legitimate "democratically elected government," but the election that Violeta Barrios de Chamorro won against Ortega was an "overthrowing" of that government? How convenient for your argument!

And lastly, I'm weary to the bone of leftist claims that the US supported Saddam Hussein. As best as I can figure this is based totally on one picture, reprinted ad nauseum, of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Hussein during a short diplomatic stop in Iraq in the 80s. The fact is that under Hussein, Iraq was armed by Soviets and the French, and the majority of the chemicals they used for their chemical weapons programs were sold to them by the Germans. The United States had armed Iran, under the Shah. This is why the Iran/Iraq war (besides occupying both of our enemies fighting each other, and therefore not free to create mischief against us) was of such interest to both superpowers: it was a test of Soviet and French made weapons against US made weapons.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Liberty or security?

"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." Benjamin Franklin

Comedian and soon to be radio talk show host Dennis Miller appeared on daytime TV show "The View" a few days ago and was quoted a paraphrased version of the above by Rosie O'Donnel in reference to the Patriot Act, which she attributed to "taking away our freedom."

I could spend a lot of time arguing that the Left's ranting against the Patriot Act is unfounded hysteria, but since I want to talk about something else, suffice it to say that I have yet to read of a single abuse of the act. Does anyone doubt for a second that if the popular media could find such an abuse, it would haunt the front page of the New York Times and be the lead story on every major news cast for weeks on end, just as the Abu Ghraib scandal was?

What concerns me more is the way this Franklin quote has been used ad infinitum by the Left to argue against every security measure imposed by the government since 9/11. At it's heart it's a sham argument, an all-or-nothing way of thinking; one of the slogans endlessly repeated that at first blush has the sense of being profound, but which falls apart at the slightest prodding of reason.

Applying Rosie's logic in this instance, I might ask her if she has then abandoned her rabid advocacy for gun control. Aren't gun control laws, at least in theory (if not in fact), a case of giving up a liberty--the liberty to own a handgun--to gain security? How about speed limits on our roads; is she against those as well? Aren't they constraining my liberty to drive as I might like?

Consider another popular slogan repeated like a mantra of "progressive" thought: "I'm against all forms of censorship!" Seems reasonable enough on its surface--freedom of speech and all that. Until one asks the question, "so you think child pornography should be allowed?" And then, of course, in the clear light of logic it is instantly apparent that it's no longer of question of whether there ought to be censorship--of course there should!--but rather to what degree should society censor.

Move away from childish platitudes such as these and you realize that all such questions are a negotiation of competing desires: the desire to act freely, the desire to be safe, the desire to speak one's mind, the desire to retain our children's innocence. All our laws, our social mores, our civilization itself--all civilizations for that matter--is a negotiated, reasoned system of constraints--limits, if you will--on individual liberty, evolved over millennia of human experience, to protect us against the chaos and anarchy of absolute freedom.

Now that I think about it, that would make a pretty good horror story. A comet passes close to Earth and suddenly everyone feels no more compunction to obey any limits on their freedom. Everyone all at once begins to do exactly what he or she want, when they want... Come to think of it, that's a little too horrible to contemplate.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Wordsmithing, part 3

Is-lam-o-pho-bi-a noun,
a hatred or fear of Islam or Muslims, especially when feared as a political force.

As in my last post about homophobia, the above word is another example of wordsmithing in one of its most clever and effective forms: victimology. As one of its exceptionally potent weapons, the left in this country has used victimology to great success for many decades. In his brilliant book, Radical Son, David Horowitz tells his story of being raised by committed Stalinist parents who were both teachers in the New York public school system, and as one of many "red diaper babies" (children of the Stalinists who inundated the ranks of teachers in the New York public schools), walked in protest marches against racial discrimination as he was growing up. Black racial issues were, from the beginning of the Communist Party movement in the United States, a cause celebre for the left, not as a matter of genuine concern, but as a method of discrediting the United States government and diminishing its moral legitimacy. And of course in the case of racial discrimination it was all too true that the United States failed appallingly to live up to its principles as stated in its founding documents, and the "better angels of our nature."

Spreading out from that stone of authentic victimhood that Stalinists used to their advantage are concentric ripples of ever increasing absurdities co-opted by various constituents of identity politics. Mark Steyn, in his simultaneously hilarious and terrifying book, America Alone points out a delicious example of leftists victimology, with it's attendant wordsmithing, run amok:

For example, Iqbal Sacranie is a Muslim of such exemplary "moderation" he's been knighted by the Queen. Around the time Brokeback Mountain opened, Sir Iqbal, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, was on the BBC and expressed the view that homosexuality was "immoral," "not acceptable," "spreads disease," and "damaged the very foundations of society." A gay group complained and Sir Iqbal was investigated by Scotland Yard's "community safety unit" which deals with "hate crimes" and "homophobia."

Independently but simultaneously, the magazine of GALHA (the Gay And Lesbian Humanist Association) called Islam a "barmy doctrine" growing "like a canker" and deeply "homophobic." In return, the London Race Hate Crime Forum asked Scotland Yard to investigate GALHA for "Islamophobia."

Got that? If a Muslim says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, he can be investigated for homophobia; but if a gay says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, he can be investigated for Islamophobia.

Oddly enough, the one group in the United States of which it is perfectly acceptable to revile in any way and by any medium is Christians. There are literally hundreds of books presently for sale on the shelves whose premise is the danger, bigotry, intolerance, conspiracies to take over government, and a host of other horrors attributed to Christianity.

As an evangelical Christian myself, and therefore targeted by this tidal wave of vitriol, I occasionally find myself wondering if we should invent a victimology word of our own to deploy in our defense: Christophobia? Christianophobia? Evangelicophobia? Well, they don't exactly roll off the tongue, do they?

So, I guess not. Better to do what Jesus himself advised: turn the other cheek.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Wordsmithing, part 2

The word homophobe does not appear in my 1975 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary. My computer dictonary, however, defines it as: "an extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people." The word as so defined was first coined by clinical psycologist George Weinberg in 1969. As such, there can be no doubt that it was an invented word with an ideological purpose. But as ideologically charged as the word was from its origins, it's interesting to see how its usage has changed over time.

My best recollection is that the word was first commonly used to describe the truly irrational practice of "gay bashing" , where, usually, young thugs would prowl the inner city streets and target soliciting homosexuals for mugging. The accepted rationale for this phenomenon was the thugs' raging hatred of homosexuals. This certainly fit with gay rights activist's agenda of promoting greater social tolerance of homosexual behavior. I'm unaware, however, if a study was ever done to ascertain whether the motive, in the majority of such cases, was really hatred of homosexuals, or the perception on the part of the muggers of soliciting gays as effeminate, making them unlikely to resist and thereby easy victims of violence or robbery.

These days the word homophobe, and its derivatives, homophobic & homophobia are used like scatter-shot from a blunderbuss, an all-purpse accusation to silence not just any argument concerning the morality or respectability of homosexual practice, but also to punish and socially condemn anyone who refuses to celebrate the beauty and virtue of another variety of expression of human love. The fact that popular culture--academia, public schools, mainstream news media, and even television situation comedies--has so thoroughly embraced this idea, all in less than a single generation, perhaps explains why those of us who are advocates of traditional and religious morality are at a loss to come up with a vocabulary with which to argue our side. But of course the genius of this wordsmithing strategy by the gay lobby is that even if we had a lexicon for our argument, we wouldn't be able to use it. No matter how reasoned, dispassionate and authoritative our case, it would not be acceptable; it would not be viewed as a legitimate debate, but rather the ravings of the mentally unstable. To gay advocacy, disagreement with them, or refusal to socially endorse and even celebrate the legitimacy of homosexual practice is not fair argument: it's neurosis.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Smith, the most common surname in the English language, was originally a job title. A smith was a metal worker--hence, blacksmith (for a worker of black iron). The modern meaning of the noun from which I have derived the verb of my title, wordsmith, is simply "a prolific writer", but I'm implying something a bit different here, rather the molding of words to suit the user's purpose. One of the most blatant examples of this is the way--through very careful and cynical manipulation--the word gender has supplanted the word sex in contemporary speech.

This sort of thing happens naturally in language, but it tends to take quite a long time, and it happens organically. For instance, the word gentleman at one time in England specifically spoke of a man's social ranking as defined by the amount of property he owned. Over an indeterminate amount of time, the meaning changed such that it now holds no connotation whatever to property ownership, but rather denotes a fellow of gallant and polite character. But what has happened with gender, is something quite different. We have seen this change in just a few short years, and for very political reasons.

I first encountered this misusage of the word back in the 80's at a writer's workshop conducted in the house of writer and editor Damon Knight. A young woman, an extreme feminist (as were Damon and his wife, Kate Wilhelm, who co-hosted the workshop, by the way) used gender in lieu of sex in reference to someone, and Damon immediately corrected her. "Words have gender, people have sex," he said. Whatever Damon's politics, he had too much respect for language to indulge its misuse. And of course he was right. Gender is an attribute of words, most commonly in Latin-derived languages. So, in Spanish, words ending in "o"--hermano, mucho, luego,--are of masculine gender, and words ending in "a"--hermana, puerta, hasta--are of feminine gender. Arnold Schwarzenneger's famous line in Terminator II, "No problemo," was incorrect, because the word is actually feminine. He should have said, "No problema." People, however, are of the male or female sex. Sex denotes biology. And here lies the crux of why this change in usage has been engineered.

Proponents of identity politics--most specifically BGLT activists (BGLT, in case you're wondering, stands for Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transsexual)--want to remove the connection between biology and sexual identity. In universities all across the country the long-standing American custom of bathrooms designated by sex is being challenged. The underlying goal is to allow an individual's "feelings" about his or her sexual identity to determine social conventions rather than his or her biology. According to this way of thinking, if an individual endowed with male sexual organs nevertheless "feels" he is instead a woman, he should be allowed, not only to identify himself as such by wearing woman's clothing and adopting a female name, but also to relieve himself in the presence of biological women in bathrooms marked "women".

I'm not sure to what degree the bathroom controversy has been successful for the self-proclaimed "progressives" in our cultural milieu, but in the area of replacing sex with gender, they have definitely won the day. It's depressing to me to hear normally carefully spoken conservatives such as Michael Medved regularly indulge in this misusage. Let me here plead with my fellow conservatives: the next time you are tempted to use gender instead of sex with reference to human beings, please stop and consider that in doing so you will be participating in the destruction of the meaning of what it is to be a man or woman in our culture.