Category Archives: Inexplicable

Big Boss Man

Michael Bloomberg is the Republican mayor of New York.  He has advocated a ban a gigantic sodas in New York.  This provoked the following reaction from George Will on ABC's "This Week."

STEPHANOPOULOS: And it's not easy. I want to get to one more issue before we go. Michael Bloomberg this week banning the sale of 16 — anything over 16 ounces of soda in movie theaters, restaurants (inaudible) got that ad right there in the New York Times. It says he's the nanny. And, George, I got to — I got to confess, the minute I heard about this plan from — from Michael Bloomberg, the first person I thought about was you…


WILL: Let me read you what Michael Bloomberg said, because in one sentence, he's got the essence of contemporary liberalism, that is something preposterous and something sinister. Listen to this. We're not taking away anyone's right to do things. Could have fooled me. We're simply forcing you to understand. Now, that's modern liberalism, the delight in bossing people around, the kind of irritable gesture that'll have no public…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it is a massive problem, George. Obesity is a problem across the country.

WILL: Of course it is. And regulating the size of these drinks at some outlets will do nothing about it. By the way, the sale of sugary, carbonated sodas has fallen 24 percent since 1990. The American people are getting the word on this. But what this really says is — what Bloomberg is saying, the government helps with your health care, the government's implicated in your health, therefore, we own you, therefore, the government can fine-tune all the decisions you make pertinent to your health.

Bloomberg, again, is a Republican.  How his behavior expresses the "essence of liberalism" is a mystery.  What it does express is the fact that many laws entail "bossing people around."  As a matter of very obvious fact, the law is a kind of big boss person, who tells you how fast to drive, to wear a seatbelt, or a helmet, or to have a child safety seat, or not to drive drunk, or to pull over for emergency vehicles, or any other of the hundreds of very bossy rules about driving, walking, and riding.  Some people, Republicans, also try to use it to tell you which person you can marry, or which words you can use on TV (could go on, but why bother?)

Will then finds that the Republican soda plan is just like climate change:

WILL: But this is one of the reasons liberals are so enamored of the issue of climate change. They say all our behavior in some way affects the climate. Therefore, the government — meaning, we, liberals, the party of government — can fine-tune all your behavior right down to the light bulbs you use.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Wow, the leap from soda to climate change. Donna, you get the last word, 10 seconds.

BRAZILE: George, all I could tell you is that this is a very serious concern and I commend the mayor for raising it and also giving you something to drink about.

Ah, the lightbulb thing.  Cheers to Brazile for the joke; but couldn't anyone have pointed out that Bloomberg is a Republican?  It's not that hard folks.

H/T Crooks and Liars.

Gospel of greed

According to Pat Buchanan, taxing investment at something north of half of the rate work is taxed is

rooted in the philosophy of envy and the gospel of greed.

(Video here.  Why's that?

Mr.Buffett says he is unhappy because he doesn't pay as high a tax rate as he says his secretary does.

I suppose he envies his secretary's high tax rate and is greedy for more tax payments.  Watch the clip, not even John McLaughlin can make any sense of this.  Asking Buchanan to explain how it is that Buffett's claim that it is unfair that he pays a lower tax rate on his investment than his secretary does on work might amount to greed or envy, Buchanan retorts:

I think he's a plutocrat who is playing to the crowd.

Plutocrats, always playing to the crowd by demanding higher taxes on themselves.  This has to be the worst ad hominem circumstantial in the history of the McLaughlin Group.

The whites of their eyes

I'm all for public debate of even the dumbest stuff–birtherism, etc., has its place somewhere in our public discourse.  But that somewhere really shouldn't be the Washington Post.  Today they publish the incoherent babbling of Dinesh D'Souza on the "anti-Colonialism" of Obama.  

The argument is that Obama is "just like his fathah."  Here's how it begins:

If you want to understand what is going on in the White House today, you have to begin with Barack Obama. No, not that Barack Obama. I mean Barack Obama Sr., the president's father. Obama gets his identity and his ideology from his father. Ironically, the man who was absent for virtually all of Obama's life is precisely the one shaping his values and actions.

How do I know this? Because Obama tells us himself. His autobiography is titled "Dreams From My Father." Notice that the title is not "Dreams of My Father." Obama isn't writing about his father's dreams. He is writing about the dreams that he got from his father.

In his book, Obama writes, "It was into my father's image, the black man, son of Africa, that I'd packed all the attributes I sought in myself." Those who know Obama well say the same thing. His grandmother Sarah Obama told Newsweek, "I look at him and I see all the same things — he has taken everything from his father . . . this son is realizing everything the father wanted."

People who have read this book seem to have a very different impression from D'Souza.  But anyway, let's just say that Obama is realizing everything his father ever wanted.  What did his father want, you might wonder?  What does Obama want?  Well, D'Souza continues. 

Some have described the president as being a conventional liberal or even a socialist. But liberals and socialists are typically focused on poverty and social equality; Obama rarely addresses these issues, and when he does so, it is without passion. Pretty much the only time Obama raises his voice is when he is expressing antagonism toward the big, bad corporations and toward those earning more than $250,000 a year. I believe the most compelling explanation of Obama's actions is that he is, just like his father, an anti-colonialist. Anti-colonialism is the idea that the rich countries got rich by looting the poor countries, and that within the rich countries, plutocratic and corporate elites continue to exploit ordinary citizens. 

I'm most impressed by the false sense of even-handedness–Obama's no socialist.  That's critical, because Obama, in D'Souza's world, is just like his father.  What was his father like? 

Consider the article "Problems Facing Our Socialism" that Obama Sr. published in 1965 in the East Africa Journal. Writing in the aftermath of colonialism, the senior Obama advocated socialism as necessary to ensure national autonomy for his country. "The question," he wrote, "is how are we going to remove the disparities in our country, such as the concentration of economic power in Asian and European hands . . .?

"Obama Sr.'s solutions are clear. "We need to eliminate power structures that have been built through excessive accumulation so that not only a few individuals shall control a vast magnitude of resources as is the case now." He proposed that the state seize private land and turn it over to collective cooperatives. He also demanded that the state raise taxes with no upper limit.

Just in case the point is unclear, Obama Sr. insisted that "theoretically there is nothing that can stop the government from taxing 100 percent of income so long as the people get benefits from the government commensurate with their income which is taxed." Absurd as it seems, the idea of 100 percent taxation has its peculiar logic. It is based on the anti-colonial assumption that the rich have become rich by exploiting and plundering the poor; therefore, whatever the rich have is undeserved and may be legitimately seized.

He was a Socialist.

To reconstruct.  According to D'Souza, Obama was just like his father, a socialist, but Obama is no socialist. 

Doesn't that mean Obama is not like his father? 

Up hill, both ways

David Brooks looks with nostalgia to a time when surgery was done without anaesthesia and draws some important lessons.

Burney’s struggle reminds one that character is not only moral, it is also mental. Heroism exists not only on the battlefield or in public but also inside the head, in the ability to face unpleasant thoughts.

She lived at a time when people were more conscious of the fallen nature of men and women. People were held to be inherently sinful, and to be a decent person one had to struggle against one’s weakness.

Character has always been mental.  But anyway, Brooks wants to draw an analogy between remembering something painful that happened to you and facing up to facts that do not correlate with your general political orientation.  These I think are completely different things.  It's one thing to remember a terrible experience and quite another to be self-critical in your beliefs about the world.  You're not morally wrong for having suffered a painful experience, and you're not morally obligated to remember the pain of surgery.  Unless, of course, you're the doctor.

Two Americas

Of the arguments against allowing muslims to build an Islamic community center (not a mosque for Pete's sake) in lower Manhattan (not at ground zero), Ross Douthat's has to be the silliest. 

As is often the case, it starts out sensible:

There’s an America where it doesn’t matter what language you speak, what god you worship, or how deep your New World roots run. An America where allegiance to the Constitution trumps ethnic differences, language barriers and religious divides. An America where the newest arrival to our shores is no less American than the ever-so-great granddaughter of the Pilgrims.

Hurray for that America I say.  But there's another America:

But there’s another America as well, one that understands itself as a distinctive culture, rather than just a set of political propositions. This America speaks English, not Spanish or Chinese or Arabic. It looks back to a particular religious heritage: Protestantism originally, and then a Judeo-Christian consensus that accommodated Jews and Catholics as well. It draws its social norms from the mores of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora — and it expects new arrivals to assimilate themselves to these norms, and quickly.

Not so good.  I don't like that America so much.  What will Douthat say?

These two understandings of America, one constitutional and one cultural, have been in tension throughout our history. And they’re in tension again this summer, in the controversy over the Islamic mosque and cultural center scheduled to go up two blocks from ground zero.

I'll even grant the dichotomy–for the sake of characterizing the general dialectical terrain–even though it's egregiously wrong (not "false" however in the fallacious sense).

The first America, not surprisingly, views the project as the consummate expression of our nation’s high ideals. “This is America,” President Obama intoned last week, “and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.” The construction of the mosque, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told New Yorkers, is as important a test of the principle of religious freedom “as we may see in our lifetimes.”

The second America begs to differ. It sees the project as an affront to the memory of 9/11, and a sign of disrespect for the values of a country where Islam has only recently become part of the public consciousness. And beneath these concerns lurks the darker suspicion that Islam in any form may be incompatible with the American way of life.

This is typical of how these debates usually play out. The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes. The first America welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses; the second America demanded that they change their names and drop their native languages, and often threw up hurdles to stop them coming altogether. The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.

But both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success. During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.  

It seems there are three Americas then.  The third is the result of the historical-dialectical play between the first two.  But that's not really the point (and Douthat doesn't seem aware of this).  His point is that hegemonic cultural and religous bigotry is morally justified because it forces people to assimilate culturally and religiously.  This way, I think, they don't become victims of racism and bigotry–that would be unamerican.       

Bear with me

My colleagues have challenged me to look deeper into the abyss.  I did.  This is what I found (courtesy of Sadly, No!):

In February of 2010, ABC News published an article regarding the 2009 enacted right to carry law in National Parks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the article struck a tone straight out of a Brady campaign spot. A mosaic of Chicken Little ’sky is falling’ was painted in broad strokes and platitudes. All in response to a common sense measured signed into law by president Obama allowing citizens to carry a concealed firearm in the nation’s National Parks.

It’s a song and dance that we on the right have grown to be accustomed with concerning second amendment rights and the press. Virulent anti-gun groups and mainstream press outlets essentially spout the same talking points. We expect this, we accept this.

But with the recent grizzly bear attack near Yellowstone National Park that killed one and left two injured, one may wonder if the typical progressive, anti-gun canard still holds water?

I for one appreciate his patience.  But in any case, one has to wonder how the extremely rare (but nontheless terrifying) prospect of bear attacks on national forest property undermines the "typical" progressive case against gun rights.  One wonders this, in the first place, because the attack in question occured in a place (Gallatin National Forest) where you can carry unconcealed firearms.  From the National Forest FAQ:

Can I carry a firearm on the national forest? back to top

Possession of firearms. The possession and unconcealed carry of a firearm on the national forest is not restricted by federal law or Forest Service regulations with the exception of “prohibited possessors,” such as convicted felons (see 18 USC 922g ( and ARS 13-3101 ( State laws regarding the concealed carry of firearms and the carrying of weapons within or on a motor vehicle apply to all National Forest System lands.

Discharge of firearms. National Forest regulations prohibit the discharge of a firearm within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site, or any other occupied area; across a road or any body of water adjacent to a road; into or within a cave; or in any negligent manner that could endanger life or property (see 36 CFR 261.10d) ( The Tonto National Forest also has areas that are closed to recreational shooting year-round due to proximity to local communities (see Forest Closure Orders). During periods of high fire danger, additional restrictions on the use of firearms may be imposed. None of the temporary or year-round restrictions prohibit the use of a firearm in the lawful taking of game.

So a very rare bear attack on an unnarmed person (who could legally have been armed) somehow undermines the "typical" progressive anti-gun canard (not sure what that is).  Anyway.  It gets more entertaining:

Moments like this are teachable. Liberals love to go down the subjunctive mood route and justify positions within theoretical conditions. But those theoretical positions always fit the progressive mold and worldview. And as any student of history and logic knows there are always two sides to the hypothetical reasoning coin.

Therefore, I can add that if even one of the victims of Yellowstone/Soda Creek Campground grizzly attack had a concealed permit, and had been armed, the outcome early Wednesday morning may have been quite different.

And the anti-second amendment crowd will never admit that.

A teachable moment indeed, but I don't know what I am supposed to have learned.  Few could dispute that the second amendment (like the first, second, third, etc.) admits of some obvious restrictions as to nature and place (among other things).  Everyone knows what those are.  So it's not opposition to the 2nd amendment that's at issue.  It's opposition to the carrying of concealed firearms in certain situations.  But we've already established that this isn't one of them, so the hypothetical doesn't work in the first place.

Besides, how does having a concealed weapon help you in the bear attack scenario? 


Lately I've been thinking of making some modifications to my usual practice here.  One thought is that I should wander into some of the darker corners of the internet (by which I mean the National Review or Ann Coulter's website–if she has one, but she probably does).  One reason for this is that it's a sure bet you'll find something really silly.  Another reason is that I confess I sometimes think I'm guilty of the philosopher disease: shoddy and imperfect public discourse is too uninteresting to bother with (oddly enough, this disease produces two contrasting sets of symptom: (1) ignoring shoddy public discourse while engaging in the same; (2) being overly charitable to shoddy public discourse because it's not worth one's time to look at crappy arguments).  Well, crappy arguments exist, they really do.

And you don't need most of the time to leave the hallowed pages of the major dailies to see them.  Take this little gem from our favorite paralogist, George Will:

The name "progressivism" implies criticism of the Founding, which we leave behind as we make progress. And the name is tautological: History is progressive because progress is defined as whatever History produces. History guarantees what the Supreme Court has called "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."

The cheerful assumption is that "evolving" must mean "improving." Progressivism's promise is a program for every problem, and progressivism's premise is that every unfulfilled desire is a problem.

Funny.  "Liberalism"–Will's usual name for the hollow man brigade he attacks–implies and endorsement of the "Founding" ("liber" means "free" or "book" or "child," well anyway).  Nonetheless, this has to be one of the sillier things he's written of late.  In the first place, a progressive, I would imagine, does not define his view tautologically, as Will says.  I think rather they have a pragmatic definition: are things working better, as in, "did you make any progress on the problem of the oil spilling in the Gulf of Mexico? " "No, we've made no progress.  Time has marched forward, so we have progressed into the future mind you, but we haven't made any progress with regard to our goal of an oil free Gulf of Mexico."  See, it's just not that hard. 

Second, in that phrase he quotes from the SCOTUS, evolving does mean "improving."  Oftentimes, however–at least in a scientific context–it doesn't. 

These objections of Will's are just silly.  Besides: didn't the "Founding" leave much to be improved upon?  After all, we had to declare that corporations were persons.  Also women.  And African Americans.

One-circle Venn diagram

An article in the NYT on the tea partiers comes to the conclusion most of us had already drawn–they're confused:

Their responses are like the general public’s in many ways. Most describe the amount they paid in taxes this year as “fair.” Most send their children to public schools. A plurality do not think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president, and, despite their push for smaller government, they think that Social Security and Medicare are worth the cost to taxpayers. They actually are just as likely as Americans as a whole to have returned their census forms, though some conservative leaders have urged a boycott.


Asked what they are angry about, Tea Party supporters offered three main concerns: the recent health care overhaul, government spending and a feeling that their opinions are not represented in Washington.


[warning nuts ahead] “I just feel he’s getting away from what America is,” said Kathy Mayhugh, 67, a retired medical transcriber in Jacksonville. “He’s a socialist. And to tell you the truth, I think he’s a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction, I don’t care what he says. He’s been in office over a year and can’t find a church to go to. That doesn’t say much for him.”


And nearly three-quarters of those who favor smaller government said they would prefer it even if it meant spending on domestic programs would be cut.

But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”

Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.

Others could not explain the contradiction.

“That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” She added, “I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”

Enter usual caveats about polling and reporting, but "paying into and deserving benefits" is how government ought to work.  Remakring on the results of the poll, Steve Benen quips: 

If you were to make a Venn Diagram of the issues Tea Party members care about, and the issues Tea Party members are confused about, you'd only see one circle. 


Which hunt

Michael Gerson has an odd sense of time.  Read the the following paragraph closely:

Holder launched his tenure by showing disdain for the work of career federal prosecutors when it fit his ideological predispositions. In 2004, a task force from the Eastern District of Virginia investigated allegations of misconduct against the CIA and found insufficient evidence of criminal conduct or intent. Holder ignored the views of these respected prosecutors and appointed his own special prosecutor, appeasing a political constituency that wanted the CIA to be hounded and punished. As a result, morale at a front-line agency in the war on terrorism has plunged. What possible reason could a bright, ambitious intelligence professional have to pursue a career in counterterrorism when the attorney general of the United States is stubbornly intent on exposing and undermining his colleagues?

In 2004 George W.Bush had not yet begun his second term of office.  That was five years ago.  Something seemed odd to me about this argument, so I googled it.  If you Google the phrase "2004 task force Eastern District" you get an article from the Weekly Standard on Holder's "witch hunt".

Without many added premises about how the 2004 inquiry resolves any future allegations of torture, Gerson cannot possibly expect us to draw the conclusion that Holder is "intent on exposing and undermining his colleagues."  If crimes were committed subsequent to 2004, then that is another matter.  It's not an insult to suggest that his colleagues failed to stop future crimes.

I call “shotgun”

Today George Will is all about rights.  Rights are bad, you see:

If our vocabulary is composed exclusively of references to rights, a.k.a. entitlements, we are condemned to endless jostling among elbow-throwing individuals irritably determined to protect, or enlarge, the boundaries of their rights. Among such people, all political discourse tends to be distilled to what Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School calls "rights talk."

Witness the inability of people nowadays to recommend this or that health-care policy as merely wise or just. Each proposal must be invested with the dignity of a right. And since not all proposals are compatible, you have not merely differences of opinion but apocalyptic clashes of rights.

Rights talk is inherently aggressive, even imperial; it tends toward moral inflation and militates against accommodation. Rights talkers, with their inner monologues of preemptive resentments, work themselves into a simmering state of annoyed vigilance against any limits on their willfulness. To rights talkers, life — always and everywhere — is unbearably congested with insufferable people impertinently rights talking, and behaving, the way you and I, of course, have a real right to.

People think and speak about rights in a lot of different ways.  Some rights they see as fundamental human rights, like the right to non-human-sacrificing religious expression; some rights are less fundamental, like calling shotgun or dibs.  These are rights too, but people, normal people anyway, would be quick to tell you that they don't rise to the level of basic human rights.  In addition to these two categories of right, there are also–perhaps unfortunately–the enumerated rights of the constitution.  I say "unfortunately" because some native-born English-speaking Americans struggle with reading and so they tire out after the Second Amendment, they one that says they can keep "bear arms."  The Ninth Amendment, you see, admits that one has other rights that are not enumerated in the Constitution's listing of the previous eight or eighty.

So the concept of right, even as it is used in ordinary speech, has a lot of meanings.  One must be careful before one asserts that someone means the one rather than the other(s).  Now of course George Will doesn't care about this at all.  He never cares about honestly representing the views of people with whom he disagrees.  I can tell this because of the toss-off line about health care and rights.  He suggests that this unwarranted assertion of rights is the foundation of arguments pro or con.  By my reading of the arguments, this comes up not very often.  Even if it did come up very often, George Will ought to reference it. 

Instead, the argument for the absurdity of all of this rights talk regards speed bumps in an affluent DC suburb:

Recently Paul Schwartzman, a war correspondent for the Metro section of The Post, ventured into the combat zone that is the Chevy Chase neighborhood in the District of Columbia. It is not a neighborly place nowadays. Residents are at daggers drawn over . . . speed humps.

Chevy Chase is, Schwartzman says, "a community that views itself as the essence of worldly sophistication." Some cars there express their owner's unassuageable anger by displaying faded "Kerry/Edwards" and even "Gore/Lieberman" bumper stickers. Neighborhood zoning probably excludes Republicans, other than the few who are bused in for diversity.

Speed humps — the lumps on the pavement that force traffic to go slow — have, Schwartzman reports, precipitated "a not-so-civil war . . . among the lawyers, journalists, policymakers and wonks" of Chevy Chase — and Cleveland Park, another D.C. habitat for liberals. The problem is that a goal of liberal urbanists has been achieved: Families with young children are moving into such neighborhoods. They worry about fast-flowing traffic. Hence speed humps.

And street rage. Some people who think speed humps infringe their rights protest by honking when they drive over one. The purpose is to make life unpleasant for the people who live on the street and think they have a right to have the humps. One resident, whom Schwartzman identifies as the husband of a former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, recently sat on his porch and videotaped an angry driver who honked 30 times. Other honkers "gave residents the finger as they drove by."

Can't liberals play nicely together? Not, evidently, when they are bristling, like furious porcupines, with spiky rights that demand respect because the rights-bearers' dignity is implicated in them.

Fortunately, it is a short drive from Chevy Chase to the mellow oasis of the River Road Whole Foods store, where comity can be rebuilt on the firm foundation of a shared reverence for heirloom tomatoes. And if you, you seething liberal, will put the pedal to the metal you can seize the store's last parking place. So damn the humps, full speed ahead.

Note that nothing in Schwartzman's account mentioned "rights."  A mind-reading Will interjected the notion of "rights" as an explanation for why people–liberal hypocritical people of course–are rude.

But even if they were asserting their rights–they're not wrong.  It is an interesting question, after all, as to who gets to determine what the street in front of your house looks like.  It's a question more interesting than calling "shotgun" but less interesting than flag-burning.