Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Monday, October 22, 2012
Thursday, August 19, 2010
About a week later, my grandmother, who has a habit of forwarding various bits of mostly harmless silliness to the entire extended family, e-mailed a link to that note along with a warning that we not "be fooled and sucked in" by the apologists for thinly veiled Islamic jihad.
Ordinarily, I let my grandmother's more nonsensical e-mails slide right on by, but Newt gets under my skin on a good day, and this note was hardly Newt on a good day. I responded to the e-mail, at about four in the morning, by adding my commentary to Newt's note. I won't bore you with the whole thing, but a couple of points are worth repeating here.
Newt: The proposed "Cordoba House" overlooking the World Trade Center site – where a group of jihadists killed over 3000 Americans and destroyed one of our most famous landmarks – is a test of the timidity, passivity and historic ignorance of American elites....
Me: The proposed building is 13-15 stories tall. When One World Trade Center, or Freedom Tower, is complete, it will stand 1,776 feet above street level—the top floor reaching the same height as the top floor on the former WTC buildings, with an additional 400 feet of spires and parapet. EVEN TODAY, the incomplete Freedom Tower is already 26 stories tall, twice as tall as the proposed height of Cordoba House. "Overlooking" is an interesting word to choose for a building that will stand 10% as tall as the building to which it is being compared.
Newt: Today, some of the Mosque's backers insist this term is being used to "symbolize interfaith cooperation" when, in fact, every Islamist in the world recognizes Cordoba as a symbol of Islamic conquest. It is a sign of their contempt for Americans and their confidence in our historic ignorance that they would deliberately insult us this way.
Me: Imagine this is actually true. [And by the way, it's not. Also, they've since changed the name from 'Cordoba House' to 'Park51' to tone down the reference.] Who cares? Georgia is named for King George II of England, and he was an asshole that we ended up overthrowing, and somehow we didn't find it necessary to change the name of our state because of how insulting it was to live in a state named after a tyrant. You know why? Because we weren't, and hopefully aren't, a bunch of petulant 6-year-olds. And while I'm no apologist for any religion, ever, but for what it's worth, the Caliphate of Cordoba wasn't all bad. The philosophy and literature of the ancient Greeks were preserved through Arabic translation during this time, and helped introduce Europe to a good deal of the ancients' work. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church of the time is a touch notorious for attempting to keep the work of the ancient Greeks out of the public sphere of knowledge—though it's also worth noting that the Muslims tended to avoid translating the more overtly political texts of the Greeks, as they didn't quite jive with what Islam was all about, so that's a bummer. Oh, and they introduced the region to toothpaste, and deodorant, according to Wikipedia.
Newt: Finally where is the money coming from? The people behind the Cordoba House refuse to reveal all their funding sources.
Me: The first time you see a "Newt for Prez 2012" sign, I want you to ask, does Newt agree 100% with the feelings of every individual who donated to his campaign?
Newt: America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.
Me: Again, assume this nonsense is actually true. Imagine that the people behind the center really are the jihadist-boogeyman-under-the-bed (or is it in the closet?) that Newt makes them out to be. Do we best combat this "Islamist cultural-political offensive" by playing into their stupid, willful ignorance and sink to their level, where we fight them on their own hateful terms? Can we win by displaying the same level of fear and intolerance that we claim to be railing against? Or do we stand a better chance of winning by standing upon the same moral high-ground that made us the greatest experiment in individual liberty in the history of the world? A giant Muslim YMCA that doesn't even really qualify as a mosque, built two and a half blocks and around the corner from the World Trade Center, is a testament not to what makes this country terrible, but what makes this country great. It says, we are bigger than your hatred, we are bigger than your ignorance, we are bigger than your religion. It sends a message to the world that our foundational values mean more to us than anything, even 3000 lives, even "famous landmarks."
Newt: Sadly, too many of our elites are the willing apologists for those who would destroy them if they could.
Me: It is Newt, and this line of thinking, that would destroy that which is most important and fundamental about this country. Let them build their mosque. We will be stronger for it.
The best part about Newt's bit of hysteria is his central, grade-schoolish point – "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." – or, put classically, "Nyah, nyah, wah, wah, nyah, nyah, nyah. Also, thhhbbbthhpbbth."
Newt Gingrich would like to see the United States lower itself into a moronic quid pro quo with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a theocratic monarchy where it is illegal to practice any religion besides Islam, gender equality is regarded as a quirky Western oxymoron, and a government ministry determines what is acceptable for Saudis to publish and view on the internet. Newt, a man never shy about his Christianity who has gone so far as to convert to Catholicism, evidently missed the part of the New Testament where Jesus shunned the old brutality of eye-for-an-eye in favor of a morality exhibited not by demanding that those with whom you disagree capitulate to the way you see the world or else face your wrath, but a morality revealed to, and compelled in, others by example and leadership.
But Newt is a political hack with delusions of ascendancy to the White House—I expect him to say these sorts of things, just as I expect the vast majority of the politically aware public to dismiss him out of hand. Shows what I know.
I assumed that this insipid nonsense, an emotional appeal to feelings of fear and sadness and entirely devoid of logic, reason, and even an actual argument, would simply go away. Instead, it turned into the most important thing in the history of the world, this summer. I have spent a goodish amount of time over the last few days trying to remember a "controversy" just plain dumber than this one. I have been unable to think of one.
This mosque controversy stands out because there is absolutely no legal, or even logical, argument being made by the opponents of the center as to why it shouldn't be built. The anti-mosque drive is based entirely on emotion, on feelings—on ethereal notions of what feels right, and what feels wrong. It's like President Obama's 2008 campaign for the White House, but for Palinistas. Stephen Colbert couldn't have scripted it any better.
There's a good reason that the arguments against the proposed Islamic Community Center have been entirely emotion-based: there is not a shred of legal rationale available to oppose its construction. If you believe otherwise, you are wrong. Park51's opponents largely acknowledge this fact. The only legal questions at issue are those of the local zoning ordinances variety, which have been sorted out by the local officials in New York City responsible for such things.
Putting aside the pundits and the politicians, about whom it must be assumed only ever do or say anything just for the sake of their own ratings, publicity, or page-views, is there something to be done for the 60% of the American public who are against the building of the fallaciously named Ground Zero Mosque? Probably not.
The fact that this is a nonacademic discussion makes engaging people who are opposed to building the mosque pointless. How do you convince a person that what he feels is wrong, that his visceral reaction to a set of circumstances is just incorrect? Nor would I want it to be that easy—if someone else's mind is so easily changed, what does that say about my own convictions and core beliefs? There is, however, something to be said for pointing those who seem to be blinded by emotion in the general direction of the light of reason.
People will be offended by anything, for any reason, at any time. As has been said many times before, and perhaps said most loudly by some of the very people decrying the "Ground Zero Mosque," no one has any right to not be offended. That we have no right to not be offended is one of the tenets of freedom of speech and expression, if not the very lynchpin of what it means to live in free society.
A woman without a headscarf. A woman in a headscarf. A person with red hair. A nativity scene in the public square. McDonald's. An animated Santa Claus pretending to be an animated prophet inside an animated bearsuit on an animated cable television program. A guy wearing the wrong school's colors. A guy wearing the wrong skin color. Any word or concept or situation or proposal in any conceivable context is going to offend someone, somewhere. Sometimes, things offend lots of people all at once.
It is not at all interesting that people are offended. It happens every second of every day on every corner of the planet. If you are offended by this proposed building, it proves only that you have the ability to have an unthinking, emotional reaction to something that some politician or pundit somewhere desperately wants you to have an unthinking, emotional reaction to. It is manipulation at its most base, and "discourse" at the absolute lowest common denominator.
Not to go too big picture here, but for me, anyway, the fun part about being a human individual is the ability to transcend my base instincts. I have immediate, emotional reactions to things all the time--so do my cats. My emotional reaction to a proposal to build any house of worship--be it a church or a mosque or a temple or a spaceship riding the wake of a comet--is one of immediate opposition. I am, as Christopher Hitchens would say, an antitheist, and rather relieved that no evidence exists to support the idea that some god somewhere actually exists, especially given how monstrously conceived said god might be, according to the various monotheisms.
That said, being a person capable of rational thought and empathy and not a complete narcissist or totalitarian, I can move past my feelings and logically conclude that if someone wants to build a house of worship for themselves and their like-minded fellows to hang out in, I'm in no position to be offended by it, and have no standing whatsoever to deny them the right to do as they see fit.
If anyone has made it this far, I'll close by posing the following worst case scenario:
Instead of just a couple of retarded Somali Muslim pirates getting it into their little heads that a sort-of-mosque sort-of-in-the-neighborhood of the World Trade Center symbolizes Islam's total global victory, it turns out every single Islamic jihadist on the planet believes Park51 to be a symbol of the coming submission of America to the will of Allah. There are high-fives and AK-47's fired into the air and much rejoicing.
Have we so little regard for ourselves and our principles that the delusions of psychopaths make us pink in the face with rage, that we walk around slapped and embarrassed and feeling the self-defeating impotence of "being offended"? We have the rule of law! We have the Constitution! We have a system based on the principle that people should be allowed to think, believe, and speak as the see fit! Our free society is designed to abide the delusions of disturbed human beings because liberty posits that people will behave irrationally, and allows for it. It is a tyrannical impulse that drives this controversy, an emotional impulse that must be overcome in the name of human freedom. We must be that shining beacon in the night that our founding ideals have always demanded of us, but our baser impulses and emotions have seemingly always prevented us from actually achieving.
Don't let Barack Obama's waffling, or Nancy Pelosi's baiting, or Sean Hannity's self-righteousness, confuse the fact that they're pandering to the lowest common denominator, attempting to tease out and manipulate emotions that don't even belong in the conversation. The three of them, and all the rest of the politicians and the pundits, are betting that most of us cannot escape the morass of our basest instincts. Yes, you can.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
On Monday's brilliant episode of The Bob and Abe Show, which you can find right here, we discussed the controversy that was ginned up last week when Rand Paul went on the Rachel Maddow show and shared his views on the constitutionality of one part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Miraculously, this has generated an e-mail from a listener--a listener that neither Abe nor Bob has ever met! Here's the e-mail, from a gentleman who is called Jeff:
The article at the link below argues the libertarian case and Rand Paul's position better (or maybe just clearer) than you did. While I agree with much of the article, I disagree with your arguments in the Rand Paul podcast. From the article: "Ideally, government’s role is to foster an environment in which individuals can pursue happiness in any manner they please — provided they do not impede other individuals’ rights to do the same." The key word in that sentence is "rights". What is the definition? It obviously varies from person to person. For example, I would say that I have a "right" not to be discriminated against on the basis of race, gender, sex, etc. by any public or private party.
Bear with me for a second. In an extreme discrimination hypothetical, a green humanoid person would be discriminated to such an extent that the person would not have access to private businesses (non-profits and for-profits). Now lets go back to the quoted sentence above and apply it here. How can a person pursue happiness in any manner he pleases if that person is denied access to private enterprise? Imagine if you had to grow or kill all your food. Imagine if you had to supply your own water, build your house...the list goes on. My point is that my right to access the free market as a consumer or producer trumps any right to choose which group of customers to serve.
As Jeff points out, the article that he links to does a helluva job outlining the libertarian principles at the core of Rand Paul's position. I highly recommend taking 5 minutes and giving it a read.
At the core of a lot of the more interesting discussions we've had on the podcast over the last year is a question that has been argued by many people through many ages. What, exactly, is a right? How one answers that question, and how one settles the constitutional issues that arise in corollary from answering that question, serves as the foundation upon which one builds a theory of the role of government.
That question, however, is of practically no consequence to a discussion within the framework of the US Constitution. Listen:
The Constitution of the United States rather succinctly defines the powers granted to the federal government. Our federal government is given its authority by the Constitution, and the government's power is strictly limited by that document. Any action taken by government that is outside the boundaries of power and scope established by the Constitution is therefore illegitimate.
It is important to note that the Constitution places absolutely no burdens, limitations, or boundaries on the action or inaction of citizens or any non-governmental institutions, associations, or entities of any kind. Absolutely none whatsoever. The Constitution was not designed to define or authorize or limit anything besides the scope of the federal government, and therefore has absolutely nothing to say about interpersonal interaction between or among non-governmental agents--including its citizens.
The Constitution only even recognizes the rights of private citizens inasmuch as it denies the federal government the power to infringe upon certain of those rights. It doesn't define or limit or authorize the rights of individuals--it says explicitly only what the federal government can and cannot do.
The Declaration of Independence, which has precisely the same binding legal authority as this here blog-post, says that humans have, among others, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Neither the Declaration nor the Constitution codify these rights into law--they merely acknowledge the existence of such rights and establish that the federal government cannot legitimately infringe upon them.
Before you even go there, let's talk about the 14th Amendment, which made the logical--and constitutional--leap of applying the same limitations on rights-infringement upon the state governments as already existed at the federal level. It said federal and state law must apply to all citizens equally, and that the rights of the people cannot be infringed upon without the due process application of those laws.
Again, even in the oft-cited 14th Amendment, the Constitution is only laying out the specific and limited powers of government, and not the rights of citizens, or the interactions among those citizens. The Constitution was written in such a way that it compels absolutely nothing of a citizen--it merely limits governmental power. If you can find a passage that suggests something to the contrary, send it my way. More to the point, the Constitution has absolutely nothing to say about the rights of citizens as they relate to other citizens. Not a word.
Therefore, a person may believe that he has the right to not be discriminated against by his fellow citizen for any of an endless number of specific classifications--race, religion, height, weight, acne, intelligence--and that person may well have a moral claim, but he certainly doesn't have a Constitutional claim.
This is the heart of why Rand Paul is 100% correct from a Constitutional perspective. The Constitution does not give the federal government the legal authority to regulate the private affairs of the citizens--it merely places limits on federal power.
The genius of the Constitution is as apparent in the silence between the notes as it is in what it actually says. As Jeff said, the definition of rights is likely to vary a great deal from person to person. The Constitution allows for these individual differences by utterly ignoring the problem. I'll say it in one final way--the Constitution is about the relationship between government and citizen, not citizen and citizen.
Hopefully we can agree that we are not, therefore, having a discussion of Constitutional import. I only make such a big deal of it because that is the crux of what got me so upset about this whole controversy in the first place--Rand Paul was giving his opinion on the Constitutional legitimacy of one part of the Civil Rights Act, and all anyone wanted to hear was that he thinks discrimination is totally cool, despite his constant cries to the contrary.
Moving right along. Jeff's basic point, slightly rephrased, seems to me to be the following: if a producer wants the privilege of access to the free market in order to sell his goods or services, than that producer gives up the freedom to choose to whom he sells his goods or services. Along those same lines, how can an individual consumer pursue happiness "in any manner he pleases" if he is not given unfettered access to purchase goods or services from anyone he chooses?
But we can't very well call it the "free market" if a producer is required to do something he doesn't want to do in order to participate, can we? The consumer is presumably still given the freedom to choose from which producer he will purchase goods or services--why shouldn't the producer be allowed the same freedom to choose to whom he will sell? If the free market is to be truly free, producers and consumers must be allowed to choose with whom they will do business. The consumer's right to pursue happiness cannot trump the producer's right to pursue happiness, can it? Are they equal, or aren't they?
The consumer does not have a right to pursue happiness "in any manner he pleases" because that would imply that his rights extend so far as to encroach on others' exact same rights in the society. Put classically, an individual's right to swing his fist ends where another individual's nose begins.
How about a few illustrative stereotypes?
Should a Jewish delicatessen owner be compelled to sell sandwiches to a guy who walks in with a Swastika plastered across his forehead? Should a private hospital, owned and operated by the Catholic Church, be forced to provide abortion services? Should a black guy who owns a barber shop be required to provide haircutting services to a guy who walks in and pulls a Ku Klux Klan hood off his mulleted head?
No, of course not. The neo-Nazi can go buy his tuna with extra mayo on white bread from somebody who won't be morally horrified by his existence. The pregnant woman can go to a hospital or a clinic where there aren't nurses and doctors who believe that by performing said procedure they are committing themselves and their patient to eternal damnation. The KKK loser can get his cousin/wife to trim his bangs.
When an individual applies a rights claim to economic (or any other sort of) interaction with another individual, he is effectively making a concurrent claim that the other individual is duty-bound to serve him. This is a violation of the very right to which the claimant is appealing, and therefore invalid.
Allowing bigots the freedom to reveal themselves for what they are affords me the freedom to choose to not give them my business. If there is a restaurant owner who refuses to serve Latinos, I value my freedom to choose to eat down the street.
As I said on the show, morality can only really exist when people are free to be immoral. If a person is only "acting morally" because of an authoritarian dictate that commands him to, then he's not really moral--he's just an actor. Free society must abide private discrimination because a free society values liberty above all else--and liberty must be applied to all individuals in the same way. Coercion, even in the name of something so laudable (if illusory) as fairness, is antithetical to liberty and is precisely that which cannot be tolerated in a free society.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The dog barks because he wants to be walked. The priest infuses the tone of his voice with just the right touch of pity-plea and stern reproach before the collection plate is passed down the aisles. Billy Mays screams at you from the great infomercial set in the sky about the AwesomeAuger. The radio plays two or three songs every hour of every day for two months among a rotating mix of maybe twenty or thirty others. The President of the United States pretends to be a sports fanatic so that the sports-crazed public believes he's just like they are.
One cannot, for the most part, walk around worrying about such manipulation. It is a fact of life. A person would go insane trying to recognize, much less avoid the influence of, the hundreds of thousands of tiny manipulations foisted upon him every day. That said, recognizing the big instances are important to developing a healthy awareness of the way the world works.
My example here is hardly one of the big ones. Just one of the more annoying.
Barack Obama is on ESPN's SportsCenter all the time. He did an interview with Stuart Scott during the campaign. He fills out March Madness Tournament brackets in long-running SportsCenter segments--he even filled out a women's bracket this year! He talks at length about being a hardcore Chicago White Sox fan, despite the fact that when asked, he cannot name a single player that he has admired in his extended fandom.
"I'm a South-side kid."
The President was born in Hawaii. He spent much of his young childhood in Indonesia. He went back to Hawaii for high school. He went to college in Los Angeles and New York City. He finally made it to Chicago at 24 or so, where he hung out and organized some communities for a few years before heading back east for Harvard Law. He settled down in Chicago after that, at about 30 years old. He is not a South-side kid. He's a Hawaiian/Indonesian kid who spent his young adulthood in the three biggest non-Chicago cities on either coast. Assuming he picked up his White Sox habit upon his return to Chicago in the early nineties, Frank Thomas is the answer. In fact, Frank Thomas is the answer whenever somebody wants to know your favorite White Sox player no matter what the era in question is--and whether you're a fan or not.
I guess the point here is that Barack Obama is not a diehard White Sox fan, but he portrays himself as one. I'm not mad at him for not being a big-time baseball fan--he certainly has more important things with which to concern himself. Hell, I have more important things with which to concern myself than the Braves and my fantasy baseball team, and I'm a pizza delivery guy, for chrissakes, and he's the leader of the 'free' world. What concerns me is not that he can't name a single, solitary White Sox player, but that he wants us all to think that he really gives a shit about the White Sox.
I don't care if my president is a baseball fan or not. I don't care if he likes to play croquet or go horseback riding or windsurfing or missed the Super Bowl because he was too busy playing gin-rummy with Eleanor Roosevelt and Don Rumsfeld. I just don't want to be told a thousand times, over and over again, that he is something that he is not, solely because his handlers or perhaps he himself believes I will like him more if I think I can sit down with a Budweiser and my Baseball Almanac and yap ChiSox history with him.
SportsCenter, which is on ESPN, which is owned by Disney--a company with quite a history of mass manipulation, in case you missed it--airs Barack Obama stuff all the time. There are many stories out there about how Barack and Michelle like to watch SportsCenter together. He references the show in speeches. He is probably our first basketball playing president, and certainly more has been made of his athleticism than any before him. Oh, and he throws like a girl. (See video evidence above.)
We are a sports-obsessed culture. The Obama administration is using this obsession to manipulate the sports-loving public into believing that Barack Obama is just like them--that he cares about the same meaningless shit that they care about. It validates their nonsensical obsessions while at the same time reinforces an image of Barack Obama in their minds that is not connected with reality.
For the other half of the nation, the public not obsessed with sports, such revelatory comments are a godsend, assuming they recognize his misstep. He's not a jocky meathead like that last asshole, George W. Bush. He has more important things to worry about than overpaid pituitary retards throwing balls around at each other. 'Let him make the idiots believe what they want to believe--I know he's smarter than all that!'
Oddly, this is the same reaction most secularists have when Obama speaks about his faith. 'Oh, he just has to say that, we know better. He's not really that way, he's just pandering--he's just being a politician.' This shouldn't excuse his behavior--we should demand forthrightness and honesty, or at least be willing to call out those that we may hold in high esteem when they're lying, or letting us down, or perhaps more appropriately, revealing their true selves.
Speaking of W, those that hated him believed him to be an idiot. Believing W to be a moron who didn't know anything about the world or current events is akin to the quiet bigotry of deluding oneself into the belief that 9/11 couldn't possibly have been planned by a bunch of sand-dwelling Muslims simply because they're not sophisticated enough. Never underestimate your enemy--foreign or domestic. If W came off as a little bit dumb, it's because that's what W's people wanted us to think, because it best served their agenda. In much the same way, Barack Obama is designed to come off as just a little bit smarter than the smartest guy in the room, because it best serves his agenda.
Manipulation doesn't end when your preferred party takes over, and it's no less acceptable when it's being done by someone whom you may generally like or even occasionally admire.
In summation, I have to go to work now, and have not had the time to make all my points, but that's life in the world of always being too goddamned wordy.
Friday, April 16, 2010
He believes that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, and that it's words must be taken literally and at face value, as illustrated in the video below. He wants a weekend in May--every year--to be devoted to reflectin' on the importance of the Christian Bible in the founding and subsequent history of the United States, and that goes double for you Jews, Muslims, and atheists.
There are a few reasons to like Paul Broun. There are a few glaring reasons to fire him, not least of which is the video below. Fire him and fire all of his idiot colleagues, no matter what.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Mark Steyn's rather excellent piece on Canada's distaste for free speech.
The Wikipedia entry on Constance McMillen's battle for her "right" to freak-dance to Little Wayne and Lady Gaga while grinding away prom night on her little girlfriend's tuxedo leg.
And then there's Hank Johnson. He kind of speaks for himself, doesn't he?