Monday, June 22, 2009

Another Round of Devil's Advocate: Knowing When to Shut Up

Another piece of mine published at America's Right.

Iran held its 10th presidential election on June 12, 2009. Polls were kept open four hours past the scheduled closing time in order to accommodate the crowds, and pre-election analysis predicted that the greater the turnout the greater the chances for opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. And yet the official results gave the election to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a 66% to 33% landslide.

Mousavi announced: "I’m warning that I won’t surrender to this charade," his supporters took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands, and the largest civil unrest Iran has seen since the days of the Islamic Revolution was underway.

Read the rest at America's Right.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Inventing Prejudice out of Prejudice

I generally enjoy Camille Paglia for her brutal honesty and uncompromising independence, but in her most recent piece she engages in the kind of routine dishonesty that shocks me coming from her. Here it is:

the president missed a huge opportunity to speak with equal force to doubters in his own nation, where suspicion of Muslims has sometimes turned ruthless and paranoid. For example, while driving recently on the New Jersey Turnpike, I was passed by an SUV with a U.S. Marine Corps sticker and a black-and-white decal that said: "What do you feel when you kill a terrorist? RECOIL." For "terrorist," of course, substitute "Muslim" -- a scenario where a person without a military uniform can nevertheless be instantly targeted for slaughter and where the executioner, wrenched far from his native land, has deadened himself to feel nothing but the kick of his own rifle.

Where is the evidence that your typical American sees "Muslim" and "terrorist" as interchangeable? I know for a fact that some Americans do engage in this kind of bigotry. I got into a huge flame war with the owner of a small gun-rights forum when he stated that it's impossible to be both a good American and a good Muslim at the same time. But this kind of extremism is more often born from careless speech than genuine animosity towards Muslims. Some of this guys friends are Muslims and I know that - were it not for his staggering amount of pride at being called out - he would have rescinded those words not out of fear of reprisal, but because he didn't really mean them.

And that - a single example of a stubborn man refusing to admit that he screwed up despite knowing it to be true - is the closest I've ever experienced to anti-Muslim bigotry in the pro-gun, military-friendly circles I travel.

I'm not saying that there are no anti-Muslim bigots at all, merely that the number is very small, and that there's no justification whatsoever for Paglia or anyone else to swap "Muslim" and terrorist.

Why do they do feel safe in doing this?

Because it plays to the stereotype of conservatives as jingoistic, racist, misogynist, homophobic bigots. You repeat something often enough, and people start to see it as true.

Another example I saw recently was the NYT review of Glen Beck's Common Sense Comedy tour. There are a lot of unwarranted shots in the review (big surprise), but here's the germane ones:

One of Mr. Beck’s favorite tactics is a combination of misdirection and guilt by association: he doesn’t say nasty things about ethnic minorities or homosexuals, but he will slip in a reference to how all our cars will soon be built by “undocumented” workers, and he will, in a long, lame anecdote about liberal artists and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, switch into a high, lisping voice for just a second.

Mr. Beck’s appeals to racial solidarity are delivered in the same winking way: speaking of the “grand, magnificent” founding fathers, he leans toward his visibly homogeneous Midwestern audience and says, “and we’ve lost touch with how much like us they were.”

In all three of these examples we've got liberals kindly "translating" conservative code into plain English for us, without any defense of why we should be using the liberal-authored dictionary on conservative speakers.

Is there any reason we should believe that "undocumented workers" is code for "Hispanics"? None - other than the circular assumption that conservatives are racist.

The only lisping voice I've ever heard Beck do - either at the show or ever - is his immitation of Barney Frank. Who, you know, actually does have a horrible lisp. But since we already know that Beck is by definition a homophobe, we can just omit the fact that he's parodying Frank in particular.

But the last one is the most egregious of all. Beck comes out dressed in 18th century get-up for the last hour because he wants to demystify the Founders. His point is that they are just like us. Like average, normal people. That's the central theme of his entire last hour. And there isn't one damn trace of racism in it. Not even a smidgen.

So what we have here - and the irony gets tiring after a while - is an elite NYT reporter assuming that Beck is racist, homophobic, etc. Then he uses his own prejudice to interpret Beck's comments in ways that - if he wasn't already convinced Beck was a bigot - would make no sense at all. So - do you feel the irony thickening around you as you read? - the only "evidence" for Beck being a bigot is the fact that the reviewer is prejudiced.

It's getting old.

You want to show that Beck is a racist? Here's a thought: find something he said that is actually racist. Putting words in his mouth to make him fit your own narrow-minded prejudices just ain't going to cut it.

I expect this sort of nonsense from the NYT. But Paglia?

I'm disappointed.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Racism in America

Two stories have attracted my attention to this issue.

Maggie and John Anderson's "Empowerment Experiment" is an attempt to go an entire year only buying from black-owned businesses. Maggie, quoted in a Fox News article, says: "It's like, my people have been here 400 years and we don't even have a Walgreens to show for it."

The movement is apparently spreading. The article goes on:

Plans are under way to track spending among supporters nationwide and build a national database of quality black businesses. The first affiliate chapter has been launched in Atlanta, and the couple has established a foundation to raise funds for black businesses and an annual convention.

This raises two questions for me.

Isn't this racism? Surely it would be racist for white folks to refuse to patronize black establishments. Now I get that it's overly simplistic to just swap "white" and "black" out as though the two were interchangeable due to the fact that the country is roughly 80% white and only about 10% black (off the top of my head). Perhaps, due both to their minority status, uniquely tragic history, and continued disadvantage, African Americans can engage in the kinds of activities that would be forbidden for whites. But on the other hand, it doesn't seem right to say that because of those factors anything goes. Surely there are some forms of racial discrimination that can't be excused?

Is this one of those things?

Secondly - I want to know what the end goal is for those who seek racial justice and empowerment for minorities. To me - and I may be naive - I had assumed that the end goal was a society where racial differences didn't matter. Maybe I am just clueless, but wasn't that Martin Luther King's dream?

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Implicit in this dream of racial color blindness is a goal of integration. But racial integration is something that can't be achieved by refusing to buy from one race or another. And so it seems to me that certain kinds of racial empowerment sacrifice the vision of Martin Luther King for an integrated society in order to achieve short-term gains through divisive tactics.

How can we come together as a society of Americans (unhyphenated) if we insist on measuring everything by race, testing everything for racial equality, and making polices based on race. Why have race-based affirmative action when affirmative action based on income or family history (e.g. scholarships for the first generation in a family to attend college) would seem to be reach the same goals without perpetuating racial divides?

If the "Empowerment Experiment" wasn't quite enough to get me to ride this short piece, news that a black executive was fired for failing to support a black candidate pushed me over the edge. The New York Post reports that Joyce Johnson was booted from her position as president and CEO of the nonprofit Black Equity Alliance by the board of directors after she endorsed Bloomberg in March. Bloomberg - who is white independent - could find himself running against Bill Thompson, a black Democrat. Adding fuel to the fire, Johnson claims in her suit that the board of directors objected to her support of Bloomberg not just because he was white, but because he was Jewish.

And so the spectre of black racism is raised again. Tense relations between some black activists and Jewish groups are well known. Hispanic/black tensions are on the rise as continued immigration (legal and illegal) creates an ever growing Hispanic minority in the country. And according to many historians, the LA riots of 1992 became essentially an anti-Korean pogrom.

And so there is one more set of questions I see in addition to the first two.

The "Empowerment Experiment" illustrates an obvious fact: you can't choose to buy from one race without refusing to buy from another race. And so I have to ask: Will all attempts to seek racial justice through segregation by race inevitably lead to racism rather than equality?

The firing of Johnson for supporting a white Jew over a black poses the question in another way: Is it possible to pledge allegiance to one race without declaring war on every other race?

And, on the most broad level, is the lesson here that there are no true alternatives to Martin Luther King's dream of integration? Are the choices we face only between integration and a perpetual cycle of reciprocating racism?

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dick Morris Explains Why Obama's Polls Are Wrong

OK, the polls aren't really wrong. Obama has an approval rating in the 60s. That's pretty high. But the impression that this gives is wrong. This piece from Dick Morris reiterates what I've been saying since before Obama was even elected: Americans like Obama. They don't like his policies.

Right now America's fondness for Obama the man - and more importantly their need to believe our President has a clue - are on a direct collision course with his enormously unpopular and ineffective policies.

So Dick Morris writes:

When the Obama administration crashes and burns, with approval ratings that fall through the floor, political scientists can trace its demise to its first hundred days. While Americans are careful not to consign a presidency they desperately need to succeed to the dustbin of history, the fact is that this president has moved — on issue after issue — in precisely the opposite direction of what the people want him to do.

Read the rest at TheHill.com.

To add weight to the findings of the article, Morris only goes into the economic policies of Obama. He doesn't even touch on the social policies he has implemented, which have been almost universally unpopular.

It's a race now. Will Obama manage to push through his policies - and do irreparable harm to the nation - before his popularity runs out? It depends on what meager resistance the headless Republican Party is able to mount and how much in-fighting the ascendant Democrats engage in. And - as always - it depends on the extent to which Americans are able to see past the inspiring rhetoric to the depressing, decrepit policies.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Flues

Ever since news of the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico there has been a whirlwind of coverage. One thing that is impossible to miss is the incredible range in the tone of reactions. US officials have been largely muted, while countries like Russia are screening every single plan that arrives from the Americas. Randall Munroe of xkcd did a good job, as usual, of capturing the internet's reaction:


There's actually a good reason for the disparity in reactions, however. It's a tale of two flues.

Spanish Flu Pandemic (1918)

An outbreak of influenza from March of 1918 to June of 1920 that swept the entire globe, infected nearly half of the entire human species, and killed up to 100 million people. This strain of the flu was unusual in that it caused an overreaction in people's immune system which led to a higher mortality rate among young, healthy people than among the very young and very old.

Swine Flu Scare (1976)

After an army recruit died and others were hospitalized with a new swine flu outbreak, President Ford took an aggressive stance and decided to immunize the entire American population. (I guess he'd never heard of herd immunity.) It turned out this particular strain of influenza wasn't really that dangerous, but the vaccine was. About a quarter of the American population was vaccinated before the program was halted, and by that time about 500 Americans had died from reactions to the vaccine.

The memory of the 1976 vaccine debacle explains in part the reluctance of the United States to go to extremes in responding to the current outbreak. In addition, there's the fact that cases in the US so far have been fairly mild. Finally, there's almost certainly political considerations with regards to America's open border with Mexico.

It's important to point out, however, that waiting for the next deadly flu strain is like waiting for the next big California earthquake. It's a question of when, not if.

Final thought: The words "pandemic" and "epidemic" are being slung around a lot these days. These words actually have definitions that go beyond "when a disease is really bad".

epidemic - An epidemic occurs when new cases of a certain disease occur in a given human population, during a given period, substantially exceed what is "expected," based on recent experience

This separates an epidemic from a disease that is endemic. Endemic diseases exist in a society perpetually but at a relatively low rate. Chicken pox is endemic in the United States.

pandemic - A pandemic is an epidemic of infectious disease that spreads through populations across a large region; for instance a continent, or even worldwide.

So I'd say - as a non-expert - that we've already got a swine flu epidemic in Mexico. It's not the season for flu and yet we've got thousands of sick people. If the swine flu spreads substantially across the United States then - between Mexico and the US - most of North America will be infected and we can start calling it a continent-wide pandemic.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

We Need Reagan, Not McCarthy

Renowned American historian Richard Hofstadter published an essay called The Paranoid Style in American Politics in Harper's Magazine in 1964. Clearly, this essay--in many ways a rebuke of Goldwater--is not going to win friends and influence people here at America's Right. And that's okay. Hofstadter was wrong to write off Goldwater as a right-wing extremist, and he was wrong to write off McCarthy as nothing but a witch-hunter. The Verona papers prove conclusively the extent and depth of Soviet penetration into United States society. Just this week, news broke that documents reveal liberal journalist hero I. F. Stone was yet another KGB mole.

The importance and relevance of this essay is two-fold. First of all, it establishes the pattern for how society has dealt with movements that have been labeled conspiracy theories -- whether they were fairy tales or fact. But, more importantly from a conservative perspective, it places current fears of Obama into a historical context.

Read the rest of my newest piece at America's Right.

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