Use mention

There’s a difference between using a word:

>e.g., The Chicago Tribune’s Editorial page is full of morons.

and mentioning it:

>Some have said that Tribune’s editorial page is written by morons.

In the first example, moron is used to slur them. But sometimes words are only “mentioned”–as if the person saying it put quotes around them (people often do this with their hands). The person in the second example is reporting the words of another. Often times, however, people confuse this. Like, for instance, the Chicago Tribune Editorial page. They write:

>Imus, who crudely described the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos,” said rappers call women “worse names than I ever did.”

Imus used that phrase. Rappers, on the other hand, don’t “use” the phrase (and worse). They mention it. Rappers know the basic logical distinction that evades the smart guys at the Tribune:

> He and his defenders saw a double standard. Why, they asked, was he canned for uttering words that rap stars like Snoop Dogg, Eminem and Ludacris or comedians like Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Carlos Mencia use with impunity?

>Snoop Dogg, a founding father of gangster-style rap, fired back in language not quite suitable for a family newspaper. Imus was misinformed, said Mr. Dogg. When rappers use “ho,” he said, they are referring to gold-digging schemers, not college athletes. It was a distinction many people would find, well, ludicrous.

That last line is a joke, I think. In any case, the distinction is obvious to anyone who can tell the difference between an insult leveled at some basketball players by an aging radio personality and an oftentimes ironic description of a fictional world of a rap artist.

It’s just a word

Last Sunday the Washington Post published a poorly argued op-ed critique of Zbignew Brzezinski’s claim that the “war on terror” is anything but. Now the Hoover Institute’s V.D.Hanson shows that he can do Chertoff one better. He can claim that those who reject the term or the metaphor for the war on terror want thereby to abandon the efforts against terrorists. He writes:

> Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, goes further, assuring us that we are terrorized mostly by the false idea of a war on terror — not the jihadists themselves.

>Even one-time neo-conservative Francis Fukuyama, who called for the preemptive removal of Saddam Hussein in 1998, believes “war” is the “wrong metaphor” for our struggle against terrorists.

>Others point out that motley Islamic terrorists lack the resources of the Nazi Wehrmacht or the Soviet Union.

>This thinking may seem understandable given the ineffectiveness of Al Qaeda to kill many Americans after Sept. 11. Or it may also reflect hopes that if we only leave Iraq, radical Islam would wither away. But it is dead wrong for a number of reasons.

>First, Islamic terrorists plotting attacks are arrested periodically in Europe and the United States. Last week, a leaked British report detailed Al Qaeda’s plans for future “large-scale” operations. We shouldn’t be blamed for being alarmist when our alarmism has resulted in our safety at home for the past five years.

How stupid is that? If we have learned anything–which we obviously haven’t–terrorists are not dissuaded by firey rhetoric and Churchillian war metaphors. One might even argue that they are inspired by the privilege of waging war with us. Perhaps we should just let them be the criminal thugs they are and let the police deal with them.

Losing it

Some argue that the surge is working. Some, like Joe Lieberman, claim that the evidence of its not working is not to be seen as evidence of its failure, but rather as evidence of its necessity. He writes:

>Last week a series of coordinated suicide bombings killed more than 170 people. The victims were not soldiers or government officials but civilians — innocent men, women and children indiscriminately murdered on their way home from work and school.

>If such an atrocity had been perpetrated in the United States, Europe or Israel, our response would surely have been anger at the fanatics responsible and resolve not to surrender to their barbarism.

>Unfortunately, because this slaughter took place in Baghdad, the carnage was seized upon as the latest talking point by advocates of withdrawal here in Washington. Rather than condemning the attacks and the terrorists who committed them, critics trumpeted them as proof that Gen. David Petraeus’s security strategy has failed and that the war is “lost.”

Very slowly now:

>(1) the surge has increased the number of troops in Baghdad and other hot spots in order to quell violence of the type described in the passage above.

>(2) if that strategy were working, we wouldn’t see violence on this order.

>(3) we see violence like that.

>(4) the surge is not working.

From (4) Joe Lieberman concludes that we ought to continue surging. The failure of the surge is evidence of its need. When, one might wonder, would the evidence of its failure be evidence of its failure?

Worse than this, Lieberman accuses those who examine the evidence and ask the obvious questions of somehow siding with the terrorists: so the doctor who tells you that you have cancer is siding with the disease.

Argumentum ex malo

A while ago we wrote about Dinesh D’Souza’s sorry attempt to defend his indefensible book–you know, the one in which he blames the terrorists attacks of 9/11, and terror generally, on our loose morals and overly restrictive divorce laws. Now he uses the shootings at Virginia Tech in order to score points for Jesus. He writes:

>Notice something interesting about the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings? Atheists are nowhere to be found. Every time there is a public gathering there is talk of God and divine mercy and spiritual healing. Even secular people like the poet Nikki Giovanni use language that is heavily drenched with religious symbolism and meaning.

That’s not really interesting. At least not in the way D’Souza thinks it is. All the talk of Divine Mercy in the face of death and mayhem are precisely the kinds of self-interested motivations for religious observance that people like Dawkins seek to explain. And furthermore, they’re the kinds of things other atheists use in their arguments for the non-existence of God. “What loving creator, they argue, would allow such a warped young mind to destroy so many innocent lives?” they might ask.

And he continues:

>The atheist writer Richard Dawkins has observed that according to the findings of modern science, the universe has all the properties of a system that is utterly devoid of meaning. The main characteristic of the universe is pitiless indifference. Dawkins further argues that we human beings are simply agglomerations of molecules, assembled into functional units over millennia of natural selection, and as for the soul–well, that’s an illusion!

That’s a rather silly version even of Dawkins’ view. But no reason to bother with D’Souza’s lack of philosophical sophistication. Take a look rather at the conclusion:

>To no one’s surprise, Dawkins has not been invited to speak to the grieving Virginia Tech community. What this tells me is that if it’s difficult to know where God is when bad things happen, it is even more difficult for atheism to deal with the problem of evil. The reason is that in a purely materialist universe, immaterial things like good and evil and souls simply do not exist. For scientific atheists like Dawkins, Cho’s shooting of all those people can be understood in this way–molecules acting upon molecules.

>If this is the best that modern science has to offer us, I think we need something more than modern science.

D’Souza has probably not been invited either. Neither has, to my knowledge, Pope Benedict XVI. That doesn’t demonstrate anything. And it certainly doesn’t provide evidence for the view that atheism suffers from the problem of evil–for, on D’Souza’s on shamelessly ignorant account, for atheists there’s no meaning, so no evil. Just as however the absence of a God does not eliminate evil (but rather explains it), the human need for comfort and the hope for something better does mean there really is something to hope for.

Blame spiral

A commenter posted a remark by another blogger (or two) about “politicizing” the Virginia Tech massacre. They–Matt Yglesias and Majikthise–were tired of the accusations of politicization and argued that as it was an event in our lives, we ought to argue about it, especially now that the memory is vivid.

Fair enough, but it’s a little early for anyone to know what the lesson is. We ought all of us have the patience to wait for a little evidence before we draw any specific lessons.

But some lessons no amount of evidence will support. Take the following.

Mark Steyn blames the culture of passivity.

Neil Cavuto blames hatred for the rich.

Newt Gingrich blames “liberalism”:

>GINGRICH: Yes, I think the fact is, if you look at the amount of violence we have in games that young people play at 7, 8, 10, 12, 15 years of age, if you look at the dehumanization, if you look at the fact that we refuse to say that we are, in fact, endowed by our creator, that our rights come from God, that if you kill somebody, you’re committing an act of evil.

>STEPHANOPOULOS: But what does that have to do with liberalism?

>GINGRICH: Well, who has created a situation ethics, essentially, zone of not being willing to talk about any of these things. Let me carry another example. I strongly supported Imus being dismissed, but I also think the very thing he was dismissed for, which is the use of language which is stunningly degrading of women — the fact, for example, that one of the Halloween costumes this last year was being able to be either a prostitute or a pimp at 10, 11, 12 years of age, buying a costume, and we don’t have any discussion about what’s happened to our culture because while we’re restricting political free speech under McCain-Feingold, we say it’s impossible to restrict vulgar and vicious and anti-human speech.

Finally, Tom Tomorrow shows us another lesson some will draw.

What is a war anyway?

Michael Chertoff, Homeland security czar (that’s not what they call him, but they might as well), today writes an op-ed directed against some recent remarks of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor. Brzezinksi has claimed that we’re not involved in a “war” on terrorism; terrorism is a method, not a group or a state or a thing (like drugs). Brzezinski argues that we have failed in the war on terror precisely because we have approached it as an actual (and not a metaphorical) war. Rather than working to prevent terrorism, capture terrorists, and do the other things that will prevent more terrorism (like, and this is just a suggestion, capturing bin Laden), we have incorrectly militarized what is primarily a political issue. Of course war is politics by other means, but Brzezinski’s argument is that we can’t achieve a military victory against a non-military enemy. And, more than that, the enemy in this instance yearns for the authenticity and legitimization that only we can provide (by calling it a military war).

Leave it to Chertoff–the one who lamented the possibility of “clean-skin” (i.e., white) terrorists–to misunderstand Brezezinski’s point. He writes:

>Brzezinski stated the obvious in describing terrorism as a tactic, not an enemy [“Terrorized by ‘War on Terror,’ Outlook, March 25]. But this misses the point. We are at war with a global movement and ideology whose members seek to advance totalitarian aims through terrorism. Brzezinski is deeply mistaken to mock the notion that we are at war and to suggest that we should adopt “more muted reactions” to acts of terrorism.

Right–He doesn’t see the threat. Now bring up Iran:

>The impulse to minimize the threat we face is eerily reminiscent of the way America’s leaders played down the Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionary fanaticism in the late 1970s. That naive approach ultimately foundered on the kidnapping of our diplomats in Tehran.

We were not and are not at war with Iran. So that wasn’t a war either. Analogies only work if things can be compared. Sure, no serious person doubts that terrorists will do violent and awful things if they get a chance. This doesn’t, however, make it a war. And furthermore, calling what they do a war doesn’t change what they do. It only changes what we do. And what we’ve done so far has been an abysmal failure.

El presidente

No explanation necessary:

>_”Politics comes and goes, but your principles don’t. And everybody wants to be loved _ not everybody. … You never heard anybody say, `I want to be despised, I’m running for office.'”

>_”The best thing about my family is my wife. She is a great first lady. I know that sounds not very objective, but that’s how I feel. And she’s also patient. Putting up with me requires a lot of patience.”

>_”There are jobs Americans aren’t doing. … If you’ve got a chicken factory, a chicken-plucking factory, or whatever you call them, you know what I’m talking about.”

>_”There are some similarities, of course” between Iraq and Vietnam. “Death is terrible.”

>_”I’ve been in politics long enough to know that polls just go poof at times.”

>As he has before, Bush told the story about how his first presidential decision was to pick a rug for the Oval Office, a task he quickly cast to his wife. He told her to make sure the rug reflected optimism “because you can’t make decisions unless you’re optimistic that the decisions you make will lead to a better tomorrow.”

>Later, when he talked about his hope for succeeding in Iraq, Bush said, “Remember the rug?”

Here’s the video. I think this man has broken new ground.

Deliver us from evil

What might the author of this (Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering and Oakland University) be saying:

>Still, the Virginia Tech shootings have already led to calls for all sorts of changes: gun control, more mental health coverage, stricter behavior rules on campuses. Yes, in a perfect world, there would be no guns, no mental illness and no Cho Seung-Huis. But the world is very imperfect. Consider that Britain’s national experiment with gun-free living is proving to be a disaster, with violent and gun crime rates soaring.

Hate to get into a factual dispute, but:

>The Home Office says that despite the temptation to assume that things are always getting worse, crime in England and Wales actually peaked in 1995 and has now fallen by 44% in the last 10 years.

Even if the crime rate were going up, it probably wouldn’t be “soaring.” But even if it were soaring, I think it would compare favorably with ours. And furthermore, and more fundamentally, whether less gun control would change things for the better is a distinct–a very distinct–question.

On this shaky basis the author moves toward the conclusion:

>In other words, most of the broad social “lessons” we are being told we must learn from the Virginia Tech shootings have little to do with what allowed the horrors to occur. This is about evil, and about how our universities are able to deal with it as a literary subject but not as a fact of life. Can administrators and deans really continue to leave professors and other college personnel to deal with deeply disturbed students on their own, with only pencils in their defense?

She might as well say “some say. . .”. That at least would be more honest about the straw man to follow. But, like Richard Cohen, she doesn’t need to wait for any fancy diagnosis or police investigation: it’s about evil. That’s even less helpful and insightful than her original suggestion. I don’t know of the psychological category for evil. My father, when he was alive, used to commit people like Cho to mental institutions as a danger to themselves or others. There was, and as far as I know, there still is no category called “evil” which is grounds for commitment. But while we were talking about all of this, several psychologically disturbed people just bought guns (legally) to deliver themselves and perhaps some of us from evil.

Evil problems

The other day Richard Cohen–liberal columnist for the post–declared Monica Goodling, preemptive 5th taker to be innocent, like Scooter Libby (who was found guilty on four counts), of any crime. Did he have special knowledge of her case? Nope. He simply declared, “Monica, you’ve done nothing wrong.” In a similar vein of prejudging events, Cohen moves in to analyze the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech. He writes:

>In my day, Fort Dix, N.J., billed itself as the home of the Ultimate Weapon. That weapon, depicted by a heroic statue at the front gate, was the lowly infantryman armed only with his rifle and appearing to shout something like “Follow me!” This was the Army’s way of countering the glamour of the other services, particularly the Air Force. It took boots on the ground — not planes overhead — to really win a war. It took, in short, the ultimate weapon. No one could kill better.

Maybe. Cohen continues:

>Now from Blacksburg, Va., comes additional evidence that there is nothing as dangerous as a single man and nothing as unpredictable as the mind of man. The man who is said to be responsible for all those killings, 32 in all, will be examined down to microscopic detail. But no matter what anyone says, Cho Seung Hui was just mad. Other terms will be applied to him and, of course, he’s already being called a loner, but the simple fact is that he was mad — maybe not for long, but when it mattered, long enough.

Scoring political points about gun control or the lack thereof before they have counted the dead is bad enough. Turning a real event into a broad moral lesson–one that it doesn’t even teach–is worse. As anyone who has read the accounts of the life of the shooter knows, his actions had been predicted (and feared) by many students and faculty. That’s one of the things that’s so appalling. But let’s not mind the facts–Cohen says–as a matter of fact, let’s proclaim that the facts won’t matter–the facts that is that will come out when we study what happened–for Cohen knows the answer: he was just mad.

Accounts have it that the killer left a long and rambling note explaining his actions. No matter. Let’s not wait to read it, Cohen says, because we already know the answer. Well, if that’s the case, then there is nothing more predictable than the human mind: Cohen knows without inquiry what it’s up to.

One at a time

E.J. Dionne writes:

>Arguing about Imus does absolutely nothing to provide our poorest African American kids with better schools, health insurance, or a chance at college and higher incomes. We rightly heap praise on those noble Rutgers women, but we should ask ourselves whether Imus would have gotten away with comparably sleazy comments targeting less visible and less successful women, or men. I think we know the answer.

We can argue about Imus (and all of his brethren) and the fact that the poorest African American kids need better schools, health insurance and so forth. Indeed we ought to do both. It’s puzzling to think of the implication of Dionne’s argument: we can have only one discussion of race going at a time.