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.