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Worst American Birthdays, vol. 32

[ 26 ] November 30, 2007 |

Watergate co-conspirator and gibbering loon G. Gordon Liddy turns 77 today.

As a child during the Great Depression, Liddy quivered with glee at the sound of Adolf Hitler’s voice on the radio. As he recounted in his autobiography (appropriately titled Will), the Fuhrer’s words filled him with hope and delivered him from fear.

Hitler’s voice called out calmly, in low, dispassionate tones, but as he spoke of what his people would accomplish, his voice rose in pitch and tempo. Once united, the German people could do anything, surmount any obstacle, rout any enemy, achieve fulfillment. He would lead them; there would be one people, one nation, one leader. Here was the very antithesis of fear — sheer animal confidence and power of will. He sent an electric current through my body and, as the massive audience thundered its absolute support and determination, the air on the back of my neck rose and I realized suddenly that I had stopped breathing.

Hitler taught Liddy that if nations could be “lifted out of weakness,” so might a puny asthmatic boy like himself. To condition his body and soul for a long life of struggle against weakness, Liddy embarked on a fascist-inspired campaign of personal growth. He stood defiantly on railroad tracks, challenging oncoming trains to run him over; he scaled trees during storms and baited the lightning; he killed chickens and ate rats to prove that he could overcome his aversion to death and his fear of vermin.

I killed and killed and killed, and, finally, I could kill efficiently and without emotion or thought. I was satisfied; when my turn to go to war came, I’d be ready. I could kill as I could run — like a machine.

Though Liddy served two years as an artillery officer during the Korean war, he never left stateside and thus never got the chance to kill actual humans. This missed opportunity proved to be an enormous disappointment.

Two decades later, while working as one of Richard Nixon’s resident goons, Liddy’s bloodlust was further thwarted. Though the US continued to wage war against the people of Vietnam, it lacked the will to bomb the dams along the Red River — as Liddy would have preferred — and flood the country. His plans to bomb the Brookings Institution and kill journalists like Jack Anderson were similarly tabled, and Liddy was reduced to planning mere burglaries and scheming to tap the telephone wires of political enemies. Arrested and convicted for his role in planning the Watergate break-in, Liddy endured nearly five years in prison. After his release, he reinvented himself as a novelist, sometime actor and right-wing radio host, where he could apply the rhetorical skills he learned as a child and warn the fatherland of dangers to come.

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UnFairTax

[ 23 ] November 30, 2007 |

Although I agree that the biggest beneficiary of the Huckabee surge is Rudy Giuliani, it now can’t be considered entirely impossible that Huckabee will get the nomination. Given this, it seems worth pointing out that his national sales tax scheme is completely insane. Beaudrot is especially good on the bait-and-switch that the plan represents:

Frustration with the complicated nature of the tax code is a reason to simplify the tax code, not to enact some crazy regressive tax scheme that would have the side effect of creating a massive informal market in untaxed goods. You could have an income tax that computed your tax liability based on a seventh degree polynomial that you could fill out on a post card, so long as the only input is “How much money did you make last year?”. Instead, our tax code asks you how much you made from working, which is treated differently from money earned from interest and dividends, which is treated differently from capital gains. And then we start asking how much you gave to charity, how much you spent on health care, how many kids you have, whether any of them are in college or require child care, whether you bought a hybrid car, etc. ad nauseum. In addition, all these nickel-and-dime deductions and credits end up forcing the government to increase its overall tax rate on the income that is taxable. It makes you have a lot of sympathy for the “broad base, low rates” position that used to be the mainstream position in the Republican party.

Right. As was true with Forbes as well, the trick is to conflate complex with progressive, when in fact the two are logically independent. You can greatly simplify the tax code without making it more regressive. And what’s really sad is that this crackpot plan won’t keep the Hair Club For Growth and other Republican business interests from trying to destroy his candidacy anyway. (Although I can’t wait for Huckabee’s next pandering ad with “celebrity” endorsement: “Hey, I’m Giuseppe Franco. I’m not putting my name on the line for a crank sales tax plan that doesn’t work!“)

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Believing Your Own Press

[ 26 ] November 30, 2007 |

Thers asks: “what does it mean that The Matrix, the first one, is a watchable movie, when the dialogue is so astoundingly stupid?” Well, it means that a movie can be entertaining even if poorly written and not very well-acted if it has other virtues. But it also means that some movies of significant entertainment value but limited aesthetic mertis — especially if they have a soupcon of pretension — get inexplicably treated as if they were Works of Profound Genius. And what’s worse is that the Wachowskis seemed to take the highest praise given their decent B-movie seriously, leading to the leaden-paced, interminable, suffused-with-Baudrillardian-wankery sequels. Sad.

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State Sponsored Trolls

[ 14 ] November 30, 2007 |

Walter Pincus, via Defense Tech:

The State Department, departing from traditional public diplomacy techniques, has what it calls a three-person, “digital outreach team” posting entries in Arabic on “influential” Arabic blogs to challenge misrepresentations of the United States and promote moderate views among Islamic youths in the hopes of steering them from terrorism.

The department’s bloggers “speak the language and idiom of the region, know the culture reference points and are often able to converse informally and frankly, rather than adopt the usually more formal persona of a U.S. government spokesperson,” Duncan MacInnes, of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs, told the House Armed Services subcommittee on terrorism and unconventional threats on Thursday.

Huh. I wonder if Al Qaeda deploys teams of trolls onto “influential” American blogs; could we tell the difference between an Al Qaeda troll and a more typical wingnutty troll? On issues of gay rights or abortion, probably not. But then, these ruminations serve only to emphasize how important it is not to allow a “troll gap”; I would hate to think that the future of the Republic is threatened by a troll shortage.

Cross-posted to Tapped.

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[ 1 ] November 30, 2007 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson

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Are You a Liberal?

[ 77 ] November 30, 2007 |

Conservapedia has the scorecard. Give yourself a point for each entry that sounds familiar. Take a celebratory drink for those in bold. Give yourself two points if you have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about.

The style of a liberal often includes these characteristics:

1. calling conservative humor “unprofessional and meaningless, and degrades the quality of your encyclopedia.”
2. overreliance on hearsay, such as the false claim that most support evolution
3. unjustified praise of atheists and other liberals as “geniuses”, despite little achievement
4. calling the use of the term liberal when used in a derogatory context “stupid”
5. denial that people can grow out of a liberal viewpoint, such as atheism
6. denial of accountability
7. insisting on a mindless equality, as in “if you have an entry for Beethoven, then you must allow entries for vulgar rap artists!”
8. concealing one’s liberal views rather than admitting them
9. calling conservative free speech “hate” speech
10. pretending to know more than he does; Isaac Newton admitted that he knew almost nothing, yet a liberal rarely admits that and often pretends to know more than he does
11. resistance to quantifying things, such as liberal bias or openmindedness
12. preference for obscenity and profanity
13. insistence on having the last word in a discussion or debate
14. over-reliance on mockery
15. over-reliance on accusations of hypocrisy
16. hostility to faith
17. insistence on censoring certain speech, such as a description of The Flood or even teaching children about a massive flood, despite its acceptance by a majority of Americans
18. believing that the education of children is for liberals to control
19. believing that conservatives will fail, and refusing to accept when they succeed, as when George W. Bush won in 2000
20. reluctance to admit that anything is morally wrong
21. bullying conservatives who disagree with liberal views
22. draw an analogy between opponents and racists, no matter how illogical
23. claim that science supports their position, and ignore any evidence that shows their position to be false
24. often declare that an adversary should be “ashamed of himself,” while never saying that about a fellow liberal (such as Ted Kennedy or Bill Clinton)
25. willing to give away everything held dear by the majority to avoid serious conflict (such as the appeasement of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, or those liberals who wish to pull our troops out of Iraq, and embolden the terrorists).
26. using hyperbole instead of fact-based logic in an attempt to tug at people’s emotions rather than appealing to their sense of reason.
27. often long-winded and verbose, and in debates liberals often consume more than their fair share of the alloted time, leaving less time for the other side.
28. attempting to control the rules of evidence used in a debate. For example, claiming that Young Earth Creationism is false, and then refusing to allow supporting evidence by claiming that the scientists are religiously motivated.
29. attempting to control the definitions of words through political correctness. For example, referring to Israel as “occupied territories” or suggesting that Al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq are not part of Al-Qaeda.
30. Dismissing legitimate criticism as “a joke”
31. Denying something widely known to be true but difficult to prove, such as observing that men are far more likely to work in gas stations than women.
32. Will often deny being a liberal, or will claim to be a “true conservative”, while spouting liberal and democratic talking points and criticizing basic conservative beliefs and principles.
33. using non sequiturs in argument, such as responding to the point above that liberals over-rely on accusations of hypocrisy by citing an example of conservatives’ observing liberal hypocrisy. But their example does not help their argument. Quite the contrary, use of that example tends to prove that liberals do over-rely on accusations of hypocrisy (relativism). Think about that.
34. selectively citing the Bible when convenient, even though they hold much of it in disdain.
35. believing that bureaucratic honors or appointments are meaningful achievements.
36. silly demands for apologies.
37. can’t understand the difference between identity (e.g., color of one’s skin), perspective (e.g., Judeo-Christian) and bias (e.g., Bias in Wikipedia).
38. inability or unwillingness to differentiate between genuine conservative arguments and parodies of conservative arguments.
39. “Contrariness is creativity to the untalented” – Dennis Miller’s general observation about liberal behavior.
40. Assuming criminals are on the other side of the political fence, without evidence.

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As I was Saying….

[ 0 ] November 29, 2007 |

A program in Brooklyn that provides substance abuse counseling, job training, and other supports to people re-entering society after incarceration seems to be working and reducing recidivism rates. No big surprise. But add one more example to the pile.

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Henry Hyde

[ 57 ] November 29, 2007 |

Well, he certainly didn’t get to enjoy that Medal of Freedom for long.

I suppose Hyde will be remembered best for enabling the federal government to arbitrarily punish poor women for choices of which it did not approve, thus protecting the lives of fetuses who — once born — his party preferred to cast into the wind.

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More on Paul And Abortion

[ 5 ] November 29, 2007 |

Ramesh Ponnuru objects to my post about Ron Paul and abortion, but fails to address most of the points. To respond to each of his arguments in turn:

  • Ponnuru calls my argument that bans on “partial birth” objection do not protect fetal life — and hence (unlike a general ban on the procedure, at least in the abstract) cannot be defended in libertarian terms — “absurd,” but doesn’t explain why. On the question of whether such bans may result to injury to women, don’t take my word for it; believe Focus on the Family’s VP, who correctly points out that in some cases beinf forced to perform the D&E means there is greater…danger of internal bleeding from a perforated uterus.” (Being a pro-choice radical, I do dissent from his belief that more uteral perforation is a good thing.) Unless you believe implausibly that women will just stop getting D&Es, though, the bans also do essentially nothing to protect fetal life. Again, don’t take my word for it; Solicitor General Clement conceded at oral argument that “no woman would be prevented from terminating her pregnancy,” which is just self-evidently true; a woman prohibited from getting a D&X can always get a D&E. I have no idea what the libertarian justification for such an irrational federal statute could be, and Ponnuru doesn’t provide any assistance on the point.
  • On the question of whether Paul’s record is consistent with the assertion that abortion is a state issue, this seems pretty straightforward. When you say that abortion is a state issue and then vote for a federal abortion regulation…I think the contradiction is fairly ironclad. Admittedly, Paul’s inconsistency is lesser than most other “overturning Roe will send the issue back to the states” types; he has, for example, consistently voted against legislation making it a crime to transport a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion. This is in contrast to Ponnuru’s favorite candidate John McCain, who while arguing that abortion should be sent back to the states has not only voted for pretty much every federal abortion regulation to come down the pike but also supports a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion in all 50 states. I don’t think elaborate argument is required to demonstrate the inconsistency of such policy positions with the proposition that abortion should be a state issue, but this is pretty much the standard Republican position. While in some cases the federalism dodge may involve a simple error in judgment, when you simultaneously claim that abortion should be a state issue and favor federal abortion regulation I don’t think claims of dishonesty are particularly unfair. Ponnuru also claims that “there are good reasons to expect stalemate at the federal level.” This is probably true insofar as a flat-out ban on abortion is concerned, but 1)there are plenty of abortion regulations short of a ban which may have a chance of being passed (and some of which already have), and 2)such claims often involve the assumption that the abortion debate will displaced to the state level, which given that most opponents of Roe also favor (and logically should favor) federal abortion legislation is quite clearly false.

At any rate, I stand by both of my points: supporting federal “partial birth” abortion legislation is consistent with neither libertarianism nor leaving abortion as a state issue.

UPDATE: I was probably too generous to Paul above. As Tom points out, Paul has also sponsored legislation that would define the fetus as a “person” from the moment of conception. In other words, as long as the 14th Amendment remains in force Paul would make abortion first degree murder in all 50 states, and federal agents would also presumably have to routinely investigate miscarriages, etc. It remains unclear to me how this is consistent with the position that abortion should be left to the states.

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Another Must-See

[ 0 ] November 29, 2007 |


This year has had its share of must-see films for people who care about reproductive justice. There was Knocked Up, of course, which pussy footed around the question of “shmashmortion.” And then there was 4 Months, 3 weeks, and 2 days, the “Romanian Abortion Film” that took top honors at Cannes this year. And, more recently, Tony Kaye’s Lake of Fire.

Seems like there is one more to add to the pile: Juno, a film about a high school student who gets pregnant and decides to give the baby up for adoption. Sounds like a message film sent from heaven to the religious right, huh?

Well, we may all be in for a surprise. The trailer seems funny as hell and…well…not what I was expecting when I heard the film described.

Anyone seen it or know more?

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What Doesn’t Kill Me Makes Me Dumber

[ 12 ] November 28, 2007 |

So I’d just like to state for the record that — unlike John Ashcroft, Glenn Reynolds and god knows how many other jackass wingnuts — I have absolutely no interest in being forcefully drowned by my own government.

But since these fine gentlemen seem to think the practice ranks somewhere between riding a golf cart into a brick wall and having one’s testicles zapped with a home defibrillator, I don’t see any reason why they should stop with mere boasting.

Man up, guys. Really.

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Apology Not Accepted, Bill

[ 102 ] November 28, 2007 |

Saletan:

I missed something I could have picked up from a simple glance at Wikipedia.

For the past five years, J. Philippe Rushton has been president of the Pioneer Fund, an organization dedicated to “the scientific study of heredity and human differences.” During this time, the fund has awarded at least $70,000 to the New Century Foundation. To get a flavor of what New Century stands for, check out its publications on crime (“Everyone knows that blacks are dangerous”) and heresy (“Unless whites shake off the teachings of racial orthodoxy they will cease to be a distinct people”). New Century publishes a magazine called American Renaissance, which preaches segregation. Rushton routinely speaks at its conferences.

I was negligent in failing to research and report this. I’m sorry. I owe you better than that.

“Hack” doesn’t really begin to cover it. Saletan sallied forth with the argument that the evidence for inherent intellectual inequality between races was so compelling that liberals who questioned the science were equivalent to creationists. Now we find that, in addition to not understanding most of the science he was trying to talk about, he didn’t even bother to do basic research into the compelling work he was citing.

More Bill:

I wanted to discuss whether egalitarianism could survive if this scenario, raised last month by James Watson, turned out to be true. I thought it was important to lay out the scenario’s plausibility. In doing so, I short-circuited the conversation. Most of the reaction to what I wrote has been over whether the genetic hypothesis is true, with me as an expert witness.

I don’t want this role. I’m not an expert.

Huh. So I guess that’s why Bill devoted two columns to stressing how strong the science was and how reluctant to accept the truth liberals were, and one column to a few half-assed ruminations about the political implications. And I guess that’s why he felt the need to write this missive to the liberal masses:

Evolution forced Christians to bend or break. They could insist on the Bible’s literal truth and deny the facts, as Bryan did. Or they could seek a subtler account of creation and human dignity. Today, the dilemma is yours. You can try to reconcile evidence of racial differences with a more sophisticated understanding of equality and opportunity. Or you can fight the evidence and hope it doesn’t break your faith.

I’m for reconciliation.

Yeah; I’m pretty strongly against reconciliation with someone who thought taunting liberals for not believing shoddy racist science was more important than doing basic journalistic research.

Seriously, what does somebody have to do to get fired from Slate?

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