Monday, November 30, 2009

Five words that you are probably mispronouncing

When I was in graduate school, I served as a teaching assistant for the lowest-ranking professor in the history department. He had never published anything, so his salary was unbelievably small -- under $30,000 in 1991. I heard him pronounce a few words strangely during his lectures, and I mistakenly jumped from his lowly position in the department to the belief that he must be wrong. I had to eat humble pie when I looked those words up in the dictionary and found out that he was right, contrary to almost everyone else I have heard say those words. Here they are, along with some others that I have been surprised to learn:
  • schism: ignore the "ch" in this word; it is pronounced "sism."
  • eschew: unlike schism, pronounce the "ch" firmly in this word; ess-chew.
  • long-lived: most people say this with a short "i" sound, like the verb, "to live." It should be a long "i." Think of it as "long-lifed," with the "f" changed to a "v." This makes sense when you think about other words that you might add "long-" in front of: long-legged, long-winded, long-eared. They are all nouns.
  • coitus: there is no "oy" sound in this word. It is co-itus, literally "going together."
  • dour: pronounced like "door"; it does not rhyme with "sour," despite appearances.
I'm not sure of the value of pronouncing words correctly. You might impress someone with your erudition, but it's more likely that he doesn't know the correct pronunciation, so he will think you are doing it wrong. I do it because, once I learn the right way, I can't bring myself to say it the wrong way; but I don't know that it does me, or anyone else, any good.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Offensive mascots

Thanksgiving started when pilgrims and Indians had a meal together in peace, so it seems like a good time to think about those who want to make Indians and white people hate each other. I am referring, of course, to the small but loud-mouthed minority who object to sports nicknames based on Indians.

(I know, I should say "Native Americans," but I think that is offensive since the name "American" comes from an Italian, so it's not really any better than Indian, is it? We should call them some Indian name, but since Indians spoke over 1000 languages, we could hardly hope to come up with one name that identified them all. So I will stick with Indian, because it is a lot less typing than Native American.)

The issue of Indian team names also comes up this time of year because the NCAA ruled in 2006 that no college can host a bowl game or an NCAA tournament game if they have an Indian team name or mascot that the NCAA deems "hostile or offensive." Apparently the NCAA, along with many liberals, is under the misapprehension that team names are created to "exploit" and "disrespect" their subjects. If all but a few teams used nicknames like the wildcats, tigers, and panthers, there might be a case that Indian names are disrespectful. But how, then, could one explain the use of state nicknames such as the North Carolina Tar Heels, Indiana Hoosiers, Oklahoma Sooners, or Tennessee Volunteers? Why would many schools adopt nicknames based on their field of study -- the Navy Midshipmen, the Purdue Boilermakers, the UTEP Miners, and Aggies at a number of agricultural schools? Why would religious schools often use religious themes when choosing their names and mascots: the Providence Friars, the Holy Cross Crusaders, the Siena Saints, the Ohio Wesleyan Battling Bishops, even the Wake Forest Demon Deacons? I particularly like the fact that the University of Pennsylvania's teams are named the Quakers, since sports are competitive and often adopt war-like imagery, whereas Quakers are commonly pacifists. Strangely, I haven't heard of any Quakers complaining that their religion is being exploited or disrespected by Penn.

Some people try to draw a distinction between mascots that represent a college's origin and those chosen arbitrarily (see the Wikipedia article "Native American Mascot Controversy" for this and other arguments against Indian mascots). This may work for Louisiana Lafayette's "Ragin' Cajuns," but it is a complete flop for Notre Dame's Fighting Irish: as you might gather from the name, the school was founded by a Frenchman. Notre Dame may or may not have had a large Irish contingent prior to its naming (I have been unable to confirm this), but it is certain that another team, the Boston Celtics, has an Irish nickname with absolutely no basis in its founding or its players. The name "Celtics" was adopted, first, because of a successful prior basketball team with that name; and, second, because of the large number of Irish living in Boston.

In other words, the team's nickname was chosen not because of what the team represents, but because of what it thought its fans would identify with. Professional teams typically adopt names with strong local connotations, commonly an industry (Steelers, Pistons, Magic), but, in this case, a nationality. Similarly, college teams tend to adopt names associated with the college's type of education or with some local significance. That's why we have the Iowa State Cyclones, the Miami Hurricanes the Brooklyn Bridges, and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. It's also why we have the Florida State Seminoles, the Central Michigan Chippewas, the Utah Utes, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, and the San Diego State Aztecs. Other teams choose animal names, but, in all cases, they choose names that will excite pride among their players and their supporters. (Except for the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, but they are just weird.)

Another argument used against Indian nicknames is to point out the lack of black, Mexican, or Asian nicknames in sports. As one person wrote, "Could you imagine people mocking African Americans in black face at a game?” he said. 'Yet go to a game where there is a team with an Indian name and you will see fans with war paint on their faces. Is this not the equivalent to black face?'"

No, no it's not. A person wearing face paint at a sports event is not trying to mock Indians, but to indicate his identity with them. People dress up and put on face and body paint because they are proud of their school and want to show it; and it is not just teams with Indian mascots whose supporters paint themselves. But why Indian mascots and not other nationalities? The unfortunate truth is that Indians and whites have spent much of their history at war. Even at a hopeless techonological disadvantage, however, Indians fought bravely, and we still admire their courage and tenacity in face of the odds. There is no such history of blacks, Mexicans, or Asians in America -- so much the better for their survival, but so much the worse for their suitability as mascots. It is also interesting that, apart from Indian names, the most common racial names are celtic: in addition to the Fighting Irish and the Celtics, there are the Iona Gaels and the Wooster Fighting Scots. Like Indians, Celts have a tradition of being the underdog, and of fighting stubbornly even though outnumbered and outmanned.

Opponents also argue that mascots do not provide "realistic" and "positive" views of Indians. Mascots are not sociology books, so I don't expect them to give a very realistic impression; mostly they emphasize characteristics relevant to sports. Not all mascots are about positive stereotypes, either; Notre Dame's symbol shows a short Irishman ready for a donnybrook, and the Deacon of Wake Forest is a grumpy old man with a cane. Since Baptists are in as much danger of being stereotyped today as anyone, I would have expected them to complain about this if it were a bad thing. But the stereotype Indian mascot is overwhelmingly positive: brave, loyal, and steadfast. If anything, it seems that Indians are idealized, not denigrated, in team mascots. As for historical accuracy, if a mascot named after a particular tribe uses an incorrect costume or is otherwise inaccurate in its portrayal, I suspect that the college would be likely to correct the problems if the Indians wanted to point them out.

I am not completely insensitive to the idea that mascots could be offensive. Unlike some people, who think it is a fine thing to submerge a crucifix in urine or to spread elephant dung on a portrait of the Virgin Mary, I think society works best if we don't go out of our way to offend each other. Of course, no one has a right not to be offended, but I would certainly think twice about doing something offensive to others. That's why I consider it relevant that the vast majority of Indians are not offended by Indian team names. A Sports Illustrated poll in 2002 found that 83% of Indians favoured keeping Indian names on professional sports teams; even 67% of Indians living on reservations supported the use of Indian names. An Annenberg Public Policy poll from 2004 provided even more affirmative results: 91% of Indians approved a nickname that people commonly assume to be offensive, that of the Washington Redskins. The bounteous common sense of most Indians should shame liberal activists into silence. Here is Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma, not only an Indian but director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office in Kykotsmovi, Arizona:

"I don't see anything wrong with Indian nicknames as long as they're not meant to be derogatory. Some tribal schools on Arizona reservations use Indians as a nickname themselves. The Phoenix Indian High School's newspaper is The Redskin. I don't mind the tomahawk chop. It's all in good fun. This is sports, after all. In my living room, I'll be watching a Braves game and occasionally do the chop."

Several Indian tribes have officially endorsed the use of their names by colleges: the Utes (Utah), the Seminoles (Florida State), and the Chippewa (Central Michigan). But the fact that most Indians take mascots in the spirit in which they are intended is no deterrent to the activists who want to get rid of them. Central Michigan University recently held a forum "to discuss different views on the use of the nickname." Not only does this seem to be superfluous in light of the Chippewa's professed support (including financial backing to the school), it's also odd that the "different views" on the panel did not include a single representative in favour of keeping the name.

Obviously, some Indians are offended by Indian mascots. But why are non-Indians so anxious to end the use of Indian mascots? Doesn't the approval of most Indians suffice for them? Of course not; for them, the use of Indian mascots is bad, and it doesn't matter what Indians think. (See, for example, this article from the American Indian Sports Team Mascot website which disputes, not the Sports Illustrated poll itself, but its significance in the debate). If I were an Indian, I would be more offended by this patronizing attitude than by any mascot.

Personally, I am saddened by the loss of Indian team names and mascots. Who would have thought, a century ago, that white people today would probably proclaim "I am a Seminole" or "I am a Ute"? We can't bring back those who have died, but we can honour them by holding them up for emulation. This was the case with Chief Illiniwek, the mascot for the University of Illinois until 2007. As recently as 1995, the chief of the Peoria Tribe (the closest living descendants of the Illiniwek Confederacy), declared:

"To say that we are anything but proud to have these portrayals would be completely wrong. We are proud. We're proud that the University of Illinois, the flagship university of the state, a seat of learning, is drawing on that background of our having been there. And what more honor could they pay us?"

Another tribal elder, Ron Froman, said that protesters "don't speak for all Native Americans, and certainly not us." At some time in the next 5 years, however, Froman changed his views entirely; as chief of the Peoria in 2000, he led the council to pass a resolution calling for the retirement of the chief. Under pressure from the NCAA, the university stopped using the chief in 2007.

Pressure will undoubtedly increase on other schools, and, eventually, they may give in. The University of Iowa is among those pushing for a change, as it refuses to schedule non-conference games with teams that have Indian mascots. Ironically, the Iowa nickname, Hawkeyes, was itself derived from an Indian. A friend of Chief Black Hawk suggested the name in order to "...rescue from oblivian [sic] a momento [sic], at least of the name of the old chief." The university has buried the Indian origin of its name by adopting a hawk as its mascot. And so Indians are steadily removed from one of the last areas of public life that their memory and heritage are preserved.

[Check out an update here.]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Psychology and conservatism

You may not think that psychology is likely to be of much use to conservatism as a movement, given that psychology is a soft science, and academics outside of the hard sciences are likely to espouse feel-good, politically correct ideas. I would have thought so myself, except that I accidentally stumbled upon the blogs at the Psychology Today site. I forget how I ended up there, but one of the first blogs I read was The Scientific Fundamentalist by Satoshi Kanazawa. I'm not a religious fundamentalist, but I can't help taking a title like "The Scientific Fundamentalist" as though the author had slapped me across the face with his gloves and dared me to a duel. Naturally, I couldn't resist reading some -- and I couldn't have been more surprised.

In a blog post provocatively entitled "How to Be Happy," Mr. Kanazawa offers this advice: "The best thing to do is to kill all the feminists and hippies and liberals." Why would this aid our happiness? Because, contrary to what feminists claim, men and women are very different, and "one of the ways that men and women are different is in what makes them happy." He explains, "Forget what feminists, hippies, and liberals have told you in the last half century. They are all lies based on political ideology and conviction, not on science. Contrary to what they may have told you, it is very unlikely that money, promotions, the corner office, social status, and political power will make women happy."

After a blog post like that, I naturally went on to read more of his stuff, such as Why modern feminism is illogical, unnecessary, and evil. It is fascinating stuff, and I think I would be fascinated even if I didn't find him convincing. Not everything he writes supports a conservative position, of course (although if we follow his advice and kill all the liberals, there won't be much opposition), but it all provocative. His current blogging subject is Why Do People Vote?, which concerns an interesting political problem from a psychological point of view.

There are more blogs at the Psychology Today site than anyone could possibly read. My sampling suggests that many of them are likely to be interesting; I've also discovered that Kanazawa is not the only psychologist whose conclusions support conservatism. Just today I came across a blog entry, The Danger of Self-Affirmation by William B. Swann, Jr., that points out the futility of our obsessive attempts to instill people with self-esteem.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Three stages in liberal denial of media bias

I was 15 years old in 1984, and an avid follower of politics and the news. When Reagan was making his decision whether to run for re-election, I was opposed to it. It wasn't that I didn't like Reagan; I loved him. But I was convinced that he wouldn't stand a chance in the election, and I didn't want to see him lose. Of course, he went on to win one of the most lopsided elections in history. Why was I so wrong? Because I had been watching network news (the only kind, back then) and the coverage was overwhelmingly negative.

Since that time, I have watched with disbelief as liberals have criticized Fox News as unbalanced, culminating in the amazing spectacle of the president himself declaring that Fox is not a legitimate source of journalism. Meanwhile, these same liberals refuse to acknowledge that ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, etc. (ad nauseum) have any bias of their own. What makes this all the more incredible is that a number of studies have been produced demonstrating media bias in a scientific fashion: use of "extreme conservative" and "far right" vs. "extreme liberal" and "far left," describing liberals as "pragmatic" and conservatives as "ideological," citing self-identified liberal think-tanks as news sources, and so on. Even when the evidence is clearly against them, however, liberals refuse to admit that it is an issue.

My aim in this column is to outline the three modes of defense that liberals use against claims of media bias. I was inspired to this task by a recent article in Forbes. The article contains the results of yet another study demonstrating liberal media bias, but what interested me particularly were the comments. Because Forbes is a mainstream publication rather than a specifically conservative one, it has attracted a number of comments from liberals, where you can find the following defenses advanced:

It's all subjective

The first line of defense is to claim that bias is in the eye of the beholder. Conservatives think some outlets are biased liberal, liberals think some outlets are biased conservative, so who's to say which is right? For example, Todd Charske writes the following in the comments: "Opinions and words can be taken however you want. Fair and balanced I'm sure they think that but probably CNBC thinks the same thing. Strange world."

It's only unbalanced by American standards

The previous line of defense only works as long as you are willing to ignore the evidence, so liberals eventually fall back to a second defense: Sure, the news leans to the left, but that's only because America is so far to the right. Compared to the rest of the world, our news is actually to the right. I didn't see this argument used in the article's comments, but I heard an otherwise very intelligent history professor use it.

Journalism isn't supposed to be balanced

The idea that news in the United States should be held to the political norms of France, Sweden, Brazil, or North Korea is prima facie silly. Since there is no other way to defend the news as balanced, liberals instead offer that news is not supposed to be balanced; it's supposed to be right. Journalists favour liberal politicians because they are on the right side of the issues (and not lying crooks like conservatives). Here's user "mynameisjon" commenting on the Forbes article: "Here's the problem with the article and Fox's claim of fair and balanced in general:
Journalism doesn't have to be balanced. If one candidate is horrible, makes dozens of mistakes while making a damn fool of himself, then the coverage he gets is likely to be, and should be, predominately negative. Creating a sense of balance which doesn't naturalistically exist without prompting is creating a bias, no matter which way the scales tip. So to say Fox is more balanced because it was harder on Obama than the other networks doesn't show that Fox has more integrity, is more honest or has tougher journalistic standards. It only shows that they gave McCain a bigger pass and slung more mud at Obama than the other news outlets while ignoring the facts that were staring back at them. By failing to report on the McCain's missteps, time and again, they blurred the lines of reality in order to make their chosen candidate seem more appealing than the alternative."

Another user, "schmoe," put it more simply: "Let's suppose that Abraham Lincoln is running against Joseph Stalin. Would it be "fair" for a news network to post positive/negative coverage of each candidate equally? Of course not. Balanced, yes. Fair, no."

Finally, we are getting somewhere. Liberals who take this position are at least being honest, and, truth be told, I have no problem with journalism presenting a particular point of view. Everyone has his own ideas, and those ideas are bound to come out in journalism. Far better to make your point of view explicit than to try to sneak it in under the guise of neutrality. Besides, the idea of journalism promoting the best ideas is the only way I can see that we can excuse not covering Dennis Kucinich, Lyndon LaRouche, and David Duke to the same extent, and with the same neutral tone, that we cover sane politicians.

For many years, almost every newspaper in America was openly partisan, aligned clearly with one party or the other. It is only since World War II that objective, neutral journalism has become the ideal. I don't want to say that objective journalism is a bad idea. If we could have someone report on events without any bias, it would be nice -- although even then, the person would have to make decisions about which events warranted inclusion, and I don't think there's a completely objective way of determining that. What irritates me are journalists who claim to be the height of independence and neutrality when they are, in fact, more liberal than 95% of the population. Their reason for claiming neutrality is clear: it gives them certain privileges and respect as protectors of democracy, and it lends more credence to their partisan views.

Thankfully, the American people do not seem to be falling for this confidence game. They are very sceptical of network news, and are fleeing it for Fox in droves. In the end, therefore, the issue of liberal media bias doesn't concern me too much as a pratical issue. What does concern me is when the White House attempts to shut out Fox News because it is supposedly biased, or when Democrats talk about reviving the misnamed "Fairness Doctrine" with the idea of limiting conservative outlets such as talk radio -- and exempting the purportedly objective network news, of course.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Obama and Fort Hood

I wrote on Friday that I had not realized how oblivious many liberals were to the Islamic war -- their war against us, not ours against them -- until their reactions to the Fort Hood massacre came in. I have learned something that surprised me even more: that even senior Army commanders are oblivious to the war. I read a quotation from one that Fort Hood was a tragedy, but it would be an even greater tragedy if the army's diversity were lost as a result. I'm all for diversity in the army. I've known several devout Muslims, and I would trust them with my life. But would their exclusion from the military be a greater tragedy than 13 dead and 40 wounded? And how many other people who have died in the cause of diversity already, and will yet die in years to come? What is your definition of "tragedy," general?

In any case, I'm not arguing for the exclusion of all Muslims from the military. What I want, and what most Americans want, is some common sense on the part of the Army. I want them, and the FBI, to recognize that there are radical Muslims who want to kill Americans and overthrow our government; and when a Muslim declares openly that terrorists are right and Americans are wrong to be fighting them, they might want to classify that person as a radical and keep close eyes on him. If he's in the military, they might even want to expel him and to deny him a license to own firearms. That's the least they can do. People talk about an anti-Muslim backlash, but they are making a backlash more likely, not less, by failing to act against likely terrorists. If you were a soldier, how would you feel about serving near a radical Muslim? How would you feel if you lived next door to one?

Obama has said that he wants to make sure that the massacre at Fort Hood never happens again. That's great, but is he prepared to take the steps to ensure that? Is he going to acknowledge that there is a terrorist threat and take action against likely terrorists? Is he going to pursue the war against terrorist abroad with the vigour his predecessor did?

Obama is vulnerable on terrorism, politically speaking, because he has opposed almost everything the Bush administration did to fight it. The fact that Nidal Hasan was apparently operating in isolation gives him some breathing space -- had it been organized in conjunction with Al-Qaeda, it would hurt Obama a lot more. But there could be another terrorist attack at any time, a planned attack targeting civilians. If that happens, it seems likely that Obama will take a lot of the blame. How will he respond? Will he attempt to minimize the threat, or will he respond forcefully.

Honestly, I expect Obama would morph into a hawk in that case. He desperately wants peace with Islam, but his opinion could change in the event of a major terror attack during his watch. He has already disappointed his leftist supporters by moving cautiously on the release of Guatanamo Bay prisoners, moving slowly on withdrawing from Iraq, and retaining some of Bush's surveillance procedures. We can't know his true motivations, but one would presume that he thinks his actions are necessary for the security of our country. If that security were to be breached by a terrorist attack, I think he would revise his defense policies even further in the direction of safety over rapprochement. A strong response would also enhance his popularity, an even better reason to expect that route.

Monday, November 9, 2009

November 9th in German history

Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the crucial events in German history. Most people don't realize that November 9th was already an important day in German history prior to 1989. On this day in 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated and the German republic was proclaimed. On this day in 1923, Hitler attempted a coup in Munich and was decisively defeated, the failed "Beer Hall Putsch." And on this day in 1938, Germans looted and burned Jewish stores and synagogues in what became known as Kristallnacht. Except for Kristallnacht, a pretty good day for Germany and Germans.

Of course, the significance of November 9th is coincidental. Many other major events in 20th century German history -- the outbreak of both world wars, Hitler's election, the Reichstag fire, the Berlin blockade, and the erection of the Berlin Wall -- happened on other days, and only Kaiser Wilhelm's abdication and the fall of the Berlin Wall would come up in importance to these other events (unless Kristallnacht is considered a crucial stage toward the Holocaust). Moreover, the date of the kaiser's abdication is fairly arbitrary, as it was just one stage in the process of creating a democratic government. The Allies would likely have given Germany some form of democracy anyway; and this government was not destined to last, so that it had to be rebuilt in 1945.

All the same, I love historical coincidences like this. It reminds me of my favourite of all time, also relating to German history: the Diet of Worms. It was during this meeting in 1521 that Martin Luther, prior to being condemned, issued his famous words: "Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen." There is nothing coincidental about the historical events, but the name "Diet of Worms" still makes me giggle inside whenever I hear it. The name "Worms" is a German corruption of a Latin corruption of a Celtic name, which has nothing to do with platyhelminthes, nematodes, or annelids. I once had a political theory professor (Dante Germino, author of an important textbook on political thought) who claimed that the name "Diet," as opposed to assembly, parliament, or some other term, was arbitrary, but I don't think he was right about that. An Imperial Diet is literally a Reichstag, or "Imperial Day," I presume from the fact that a particular day was designated for the Imperial estates to come together in a meeting; and "diet" comes from the Latin word for day, dies, recognizable in such terms as ante meridiem and diurnal. Therefore, nothing could be more natural than to call this assembly a diet; and nothing could be funnier than a Diet of Worms.

Even if the German events associated with November 9th are not as striking as they might at first appear, it is still a fascinating day for its other events, which include the Meiji Restoration, Napoleon's coup, Robert McNamara's appointment as the first president of Ford Motor Company not in the family, and Garry Kasparov's becoming the youngest world chapion in chess. Perhaps we will have more to say about this day next year.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fort Hood and Berlin

Obama was in the news for two things toward the end of last week: his reaction to the shootings at Fort Hood, and skipping Germany's celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Some people are outraged about his non-appearance in Berlin. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it certainly does seem strange to me. Of course, the president can't go everywhere he is invited, but this does seem like a particularly strong case: Germany is a very powerful country, and one of our close allies; the fall of the Berlin Wall was one of the seminal moments in German history in the past 50 years; and America was closely involved in the story of the Berlin Wall, both its erection and its destruction. I don't know why he would choose to miss a chance to celebrate the occasion. I'm sure the Cold War is not one of Obama's strong points; as someone pointed out, Obama was hobnobbing with Marxist professors at the time the Berlin Wall fell. Still, this was a no-cost opportunity to talk about the triumphs of freedom over tyranny and to strengthen relations with an important ally, and I don't see why he would miss it.

I occupy a similar sceptical position regarding Obama's response to the Fort Hood shootings. Some people are outraged that he began the announcement with some light-hearted comments about other events, including a shout-out to a colleague. (Remember when Sarah Palin gave a shout-out during her debate with Biden, and it was widely ridiculed? See, e.g., the fourth paragraph of this article. Funny how Obama is now doing it.) I don't feel strongly one way or another: on one hand, the moment was obviously serious; on the other, it doesn't seem too bad to get the less important things out of the way. Perhaps if I was there, I would have a stronger visceral sense of the rectitude (or lack thereof) of his actions.

What I don't understand so well is his warning not to jump to conclusions on the motive of the shootings before we have all the facts. In general, I agree that not jumping to conclusions is a good thing. Most major events are followed quickly by people journalists and opinion-makers jumping to drastic conclusions about their significance. After a close election in 2000, we heard that America was permanently divided; after Obama's victory in 2008, the Republican party was doomed; after the election last week, not so much. Everyone wants to make a big deal out of everything, because that is how you get attention. You don't get a lot of hits on a blog by making qualifications; you get them by making assertions.

Even so, I have to wonder, what was Obama afraid of? If some people do jump to conclusions, what then? Are there going to be riots in the streets and massacres of innocent Muslims in America? Almost certainly not -- if there weren't after 9/11, there very likely won't be any after Fort Hood. Perhaps Obama did not have enough information at that early stage to identify the motive himself, but I don't think he needed to urge people to caution. Moreover, now that the incident is well over and it is perfectly clear what the motive was, I think he needs to make a statement placing it in context. The problem is, I'm not sure he understands the context.

Until the Fort Hood shootings, I didn't realize how little liberals grasped the nature of our struggle against radical Islam. Sure, they opposed the Iraq war, but that was not primarily motivated by the conflict with terrorists. Sure, large numbers of Democrats think Bush was responsible for 9/11, which is scary, but a lot of people who aren't closely attuned to politics have nutty views, and I try not to worry about it too much. But I thought that most liberals realized that there were Muslims out to destroy our country; Muslims who preached against the United States and whipped people into a fury about us and even urged people to commit suicide to hurt us more effectively. Now there's a guy, a Palestinian Muslim, who not only opposed the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but who actually said he supported the other side -- this guy shouts "Allahu akbar" and shoots nearly 50 people, and liberals are still, like Obama, not sure why he did it. Oh, Muslims shout Allahu akbar all the time, it doesn't have any particular meaning. Sure it doesn't. I have known some devout Muslims, and I have never heard them say Allahu akbar (or the translated equivalent); and while I wouldn't be surprised, or even particularly alarmed, if they did say it, I would certainly consider any subsequent action to be religiously motivated.

Come to think of it, this really does have a lot to do with the Berlin Wall, because, in both cases, liberals refused to recognize our enemies even when the enemies themselves declared themselves as such. They justified the "we will bury you" quotation as humourous or ironic, and they ignored or justified all the other explicit Communist statements about destroying capitalism; and now that radical Muslims are making very similar statements about the U.S., liberals are again examining the situation carefully and concluding that their attitude isn't somehow fundamentally hostile.

There's a book in the library in my children's school called "The Lovables in the Kingdom of Self-Esteem." I'm not sure I would believe it was real if I hadn't seen it myself.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More church names

I have written before about churches with strange names that seem to conceal their religion rather than reveal it. Today I received a flyer in the mail from another one, the Harmony Community Church. In the fine print, it says it is Southern Baptist, but nothing much else on the flyer would give you that idea. I'm also not too sure about the motto on the back of the flyer, "Family is everything...come be a part of ours." If you're a Southern Baptist, or any sort of Christian, it's pretty clear that family isn't everything. No doubt they are exaggerating in order to attract visitors, but it grates on me to see it expressed in such terms. Couldn't they have said, "Family is important," or even "Family is vital"? "Family is everything" sends the wrong message, in my opinion.

This reminds me of one of the first churches I attended after getting married, a Lutheran church in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. They gave us a refrigerator magnet with the motto, "There's a place for you!" Now, there should be a place for everyone in a Christian church, so in that sense the motto is perfectly reasonable. However, after attending the church, it seemed to me to be a hint that it was a church without strong beliefs; "Come join our church," it seemed to be saying, "we don't have any core dogmas!" Again, I recognize that there is room for a lot of flexibility in one's understanding of religion within a church, but there ought to be some uncontestable beliefs. When I read about one Anglican priest who didn't even believe that Christ had died for people's sins, I had to wonder why he wanted to be in the church at all.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Environmental pathos

I know that the big news of the day is yesterday's election. As a conservative, obviously I am happy at how things turned out. As a Virginian, I am excited that Virginia has elected a Republican for a change -- only the third since I began following politics in 1980. As an analyst, however, I have nothing new to add, so I will write about something else: environmentalism as a support system for the depressed.

I was excited recently to find a link to the following video, which I had seen back in May, but had been unable to locate a link since then (thanks to Linkiest):

Everyone ought to see this video to see what some environmentalists are like. As their name indicates, "Earth First!" is about "biocentrism," or "spiritual and visceral recognition of the intrinsic, sacred value of every living thing" -- plants on the same level as humans. Actually, as you can see in the video, "Earth First!" also values decidedly non-living things such as rocks, to which at least some of its members ascribe life.

What can one say about such beliefs? Would it be reasonable to describe them as geocentrism, since Earth (and not people) is obviously at the center? Would it be reasonable to describe it as a form of paganism, since it attributes spiritual value to plants and inanimate objects? I think that comes close, but I would guess (and it is only a guess) that a druid from Caesar's day who should happen upon these people would be even more puzzled by them than we are. The thing that strikes me most is that the people in the video are extemely sad and very much focussed on non-essential things. All life is valuable, but if you find yourself attaching as much spiritual meaning to a tree -- let alone a rock -- as you do to a human, you have gone seriously astray.

I love the internet for the chance it gives to view video clips like this, and like Jeremiah Wright's sermons, that people would never get otherwise. Conservatism has benefitted from new media in a number of ways: the existence of Fox as a counterpoint to broadcast news, and especially talk radio. On the other hand, it strikes me as interesting that I have never seen a real conservative take on the mock news show, à la Jon Stewart (or Saturday Night Live's versions before him). I was therefore happy to find "NewsBusted," a very brief but well-done news humour video from a conservative perspective:

It has been coming out at least since 2007; I'm sorry I didn't hear about it before.

"Policy Translated" is a conservative video with a different approach: the videos show an individual discussing a particular area of public policy, while subtitles translate the wonky talk into popular slang. I love these, but they haven't produced any new ones in a while, and I don't see any way to embed them.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Speaking Truth From Power

President Obama's Senior Advisor recently announced that the administration was going to "speak truth to power." This is, of course, ridiculous, since the administration is power (although I recommend you read the linked article anyway, as it is amusing). I'm not going to focus on the obvious logic lapse in this incident, but rather the assumptions implicit in the idea of "speaking truth to power," because they underlie a great deal of liberal reasoning. It might seem contradictory that liberals support freedom for all manner of violent, abusive, and perverted speech while, at the same time, promoting speech codes on college campuses; but I will give them this much credit, that some liberals, at least, are aware of the paradox, and have an answer for it: the rules are different depending on whether you are in power or not. The poor and downtrodden are allowed to do almost anything because they are poor and downtrodden, and therefore don't have a fair chance to express their views on society. We have to let them bend the rules in order that they might be heard. And, by extension, liberals who support the downtrodden are allowed the same freedom.

Why is it okay for Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to make derogatory comments about Jews, but not okay for whites to make comments about blacks (even completely innocent comments such as using the expression "catch a tiger by the toe")? Because whites are in power and blacks are out of power. Why is it okay for women to talk about men as Neanderthals, but not for men to make condescending comments about women? Because men are in power, and women are not. Why is it okay to submerge a crucifix in urine but not to make fun of Islam? Because Christians are in power and Muslims are not. Why is it okay for liberals to speak out against George Bush, even alluding to (or frankly recommending) assassination? Because Bush was in power.

Here we hit a stumbling block, because Bush is no longer in power, and Obama clearly is. The rationale for suspending the rules of rational discourse is over, and yet the desire remains. What is a liberal to do? One option is to embrace power and decide that it isn't so bad as long as a liberal is in charge. Therefore, anyone who opposes Obama is a hooligan, a racist, etc.; there are not only no liberties to be taken when speaking truth to power, but actually fewer liberties than those in power have to expound their ideas.

Some liberals have adopted this approach. However, it is difficult for many liberals to accept the idea of being in power. The whole idea behind liberalism, at least that branch of it going back to the 1960's (in which many current leaders were bred), is resistance to authority. Therefore, you get ironies like Valerie Jarrett, the senior Obama advisor referenced above, talking about "speaking truth to power." If one were to ask her to clarify what she meant, I bet she'd justify it by reference to the supposedly dominant white, male, Christian, conservative culture, as though the existence of a Democratic president and Congress meant nothing against the murky background of a vast, right-wing conspiracy. I expect to see more evidence of this sort of thought in the remainder of Obama's presidency.

I should add that I don't think liberals are entirely mistaken that the rules should be bent in certain circumstances. Women do get beaten by their husbands, a lot less now than historically, I would suspect, but it is still a problem; I think it is worth being more careful about not seeming to endorse wife-abuse than not endorsing husband-abuse, which I doubt seriously will ever be an endemic problem anywhere. Where I differ is that I believe the law is blind, and should not be changed to give preferential treatment to certain groups of people, even if historically oppressed; and free speech is free speech, regardless of how unpleasant. I put the burden on the private individuals and institutions in the country to promote civility; moreover, I call for civility from everyone, not just those historically or presently in power.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Elevating political discourse

I like to report on people doing the right thing, so I was happy to discover Megan Carpentier at Air America calling out Keith Olbermann for his pointless ad hominem attack on Michelle Malkin.

One can say a lot of things about Michelle Malkin's politics, her tactics, her strained relationship with reality and her commenters' propensity to embody the worst of the Internet. Or you could do what Keith Olbermann did...A liberal, progressive critique of Malkin need not and should not resort to an attack on her looks or her gender or rely on silly stereotypes or imagery that brings to mind victims of domestic violence.

If people on both sides would be more honest about criticizing each other for doing the wrong thing, the debate would be entirely more civil. Unfortunately, they are usually too busy circling the wagons to be willing to point out faults among others inside the defenses, and the ever-escalating rhetoric contributes to this sense of beleaguerment and us-against-them mentality. It takes courage to come out and say it isn't worth winning at the cost of losing one's honour, so kudos to Mrs. Carpentier for her essay. Her readers' comments show that, unfortunately, most people are more than willing to sling mud rather than to engage in debates.

On a similar vein, thanks to Sarah Palin for her gracious comments on Dede Scozzafa's withdrawal from the congressional race in New York. While I strongly support running more conservative Republican candidates over moderate ones, I agree with Newt Gingrich that there is no reason to run the moderates out of the party. Members of one wing of a party can take over from another, but they can only govern if they keep the party whole.

I wrote some time ago about content as the major factor differentiating country music from rock. Given that the content is overwhelmingly nationalist and Christian, it is easy to assume that country music listeners would be more likely to vote Republican than Democrat. Now someone has come along and done the research to prove it, and there is even more correlation than I had expected: the existence of country music stations is a highly predicitve of a region's voting pattern. While television, movies, and most music stations are on the liberal side, country music has become a major voice for conservatism in entertainment.