Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lies About "Lies"

Is there some kind of anti-thesaurus out there, funneling the English language's rich vocabulary into a Newspeak-ian handful of terms too broad to retain any real meaning? Anything liberals support (and/or anything conservatives find silly) is politically correct; any time a non-white person has a race-related complaint, it's an accusation of racism; anything Democrats do is socialist,[1] and so on. The list gets longer every day, and I'd like to add one more—lie, as in lies, lying, liar, and any other inflected forms in the title of that Al Franken book.

It should be obvious by now where I'm going with this: A substantial amount of so-called "lies" are, in fact, anything but. To be clear, this is very much a problem on both sides, but I've made a commitment to keep this blog biased and unfair, and I'm not about to change that now. So, without further ado (alright, one more parenthetical ado, because I just can't resist), let's get to some examples:[2]
This is perhaps the most fundamental, important lie in Obama’s entire speech: the recession we’re going through right now was caused by Republicans’ economic policies.
The "lie" in question is this snippet of the speech Obama recently gave in Ohio:
The flawed policies and economic weaknesses of the previous decade culminated in a financial crisis and the worst recession of our lifetimes.
Ok…where's the lie? Even if we go along with the unfounded inference that Obama was referring specifically to Republican policies, I don't think anyone would try to argue that the Republicans are absolutely blameless.[3]
His promise of not resting [until the oil spill is stopped] can be added to the pack of lies
Alright, so Obama should've been more sensitive to the negative attention he'd surely incur by publicly doing anything fun while the Gulf continued filling up with oil, but how is it not clear that "I'm not going to rest…until the leak is stopped" is not to be taken literally? I'm pretty sure he didn't expect to drink a ton of coffee, spend all night locked in his office, and have everything taken care of by the next morning.
Why isn't everyone jumping on Obama for LYING and saying he visited 57 states-Hillary cannot embellish a story without a pitt bull attack from rabid Obama worshippers?
Ha ha, just thought I'd throw this one in. I have no idea what's going on in the second half of that question, but the first half is a reference to the time Obama appeared to claim he had campaigned in seven more states than humanly possible. Maybe he misspoke, or maybe he actually didn't know the maximum number of states in which one can campaign,[4] but, either way, it was about as far from a lie as a statement can be without being true.

Still, it's fun to consider that maybe he was lying. What could possibly have been his motive for trying to convince the public that there are (at least) 57 states? And didn't it occur to him that his sinister plot to misinform would be met with resistance from the few remaining Americans who know better? Why not lay the groundwork by distributing some revised maps, or hiring some Hollywood friends to stage a campaign appearance in East Dakota, or having CNN announce polling data from Freedonia? Just a shoddy effort, all the way around.

Anyway, end of digression. Moving on to something of a slightly higher caliber than Yahoo! Answers:
[F]or Obama and the New York Times to mislead the American people into imagining that the White House has celebrated iftar all the way back to 1805 is simply a straight out lie.
Hey, it's Warner Todd Huston again! At least this time I can tell what he's upset about. Apparently, 205 years ago Thomas Jefferson met the ambassador from Tunisia, a Muslim, for a meal, which was eaten after sunset in accordance with traditional Muslim observance of Ramadan. Meanwhile, various online sources define an iftar, rather unanimously, as (1) a meal (2) eaten by Muslims (3) after sunset (4) during the month of Ramadan. Barack Obama described the 1805 meeting as an iftar. That, to Huston, is not only a lie, but a "straight out lie."

Ugh. What Obama said was, at worst, spin, and, at best, accurate. He took a set of facts—the truth of which, as far as I can tell, is not in dispute—and framed them in a politically-favorable way. That kind of thing is not, and has never been, a lie.

So, to review, the sort of statement that, in today's discourse, might draw shouts of "You lie!"[5] could actually be a defensive reaction to a perceived slight, an idiomatic expression interpreted literally, an innocent mistake, or plain ol' political spin. The only one of those things even remotely worth getting worked up about is spin—i.e. legitimate information used in arguably illegitimate ways—but still, it's counter-productive to combat misleading statements by conflating them with lies.

Why? Because someone who has been misled is well-armed with facts that sort of support their beliefs, and will thus be clung to with astonishing persistence. Tell them their beliefs are based on lies, and they'll double-check the facts and conclude that it is you whose pants are at risk of bursting into flames. But tell them their beliefs, while not indefensible, are based on misleading interpretations of the facts, and maybe, just maybe, they'll re-evaluate things. Probably not, but maybe.

1. I have no problem with Democrats being labeled socialists, as long as we can agree that they're only, like, 20% more socialist than Republicans.
2. I've written a few articles already in the here's-something-to-think-about-and-here-are-some-examples-that-don't-really-prove-anything-except-that-I'm-not-totally-making-shit-up format, and others are in the works, but this was by far the easiest to research. There's just so much of this junk out there.
3. Because if they did, they would be objectively, incontrovertibly wrong.
4. Call me a mindless ObamaZombie, if you like, but my money's on the former.
5. Interestingly, the most famous accusation of lying in recent years may, shocking immaturity aside, have been a fair one.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Senate Candidacy of a Bearded Marxist

Twenty-five years ago, an Amherst University senior named Chris Coons wrote an article on a subject that hits pretty close to home: How conservatives drove him away.

It's a well-written, thought-provoking article, in which Coons, who describes his pre-Amherst ideology as a product of his "sheltered, privileged, and politically conservative background," discusses the semester he had just spent in Kenya. A country like Kenya, it seems, is in many ways an extreme version of America. Wealth inequality is staggering, and the key to success most often cited by the rich—hard work and perseverance—is perceived by the poor as a load of fantastical nonsense. Granted, there's no doubt that America's image of itself as a "land of opportunity" has a more solid basis in reality than Kenya's, but we still face many of the same blah blah blah CHRIS COONS IS A COMMITTED MARXIST AND HE'S TRYING TO INFILTRATE THE U.S. SENATE!!!

That last paragraph just got a lot more interesting, didn't it? Probably because of the subtle tonal shift toward the end, which was my impression of what happens when Fox News latches on to a story:
On his September 16 show, Sean Hannity said "some unpopular Democrats are coming out of the woodwork to support Delaware's 'bearded Marxist' "—without mentioning that the title was based on what Coons called a joke that his friends made. On his radio show that day, Glenn Beck called Coons a "Marxist" and a "staunch anti-capitalist." On The O'Reilly Factor on September 17, both Beck and Bill O'Reilly claimed that Coons is "a Marxist" and "admitted it." On Fox & Friends on September 18, Eric Bolling said O'Donnell's "opponent now is a self-described Marxist."
It'd be a waste of time to go through all the reasons why this is absurd,[1] so I'll just mention my favorite: Coons is only in the news because his opponent is in the news, and his opponent is only in the news because virtually everything about her is insane.[2] I suppose Fox News, in accordance with the latter half of its famous slogan, just feels the need to balance things out.

Still, it should be noted that Fox is in a tough spot here. If they treated both candidates fairly, the coverage would be unbalanced, and if they focused on the actual issues, the coverage would be boring. So priorities have to be evaluated and compromises have to be made, and when that happens "The Democrat Senate candidate is a Marxist!" is going to win out every time.

1. The most obvious being that the "bearded Marxist" thing is a joke, and that we know this not from Coons's answer to a reporter's question, or from a campaign press release, or even from common sense speculation—we know it because the joke is explained in the article itself.
2. A quick top-seven list: (7) "Barack anti-American," (6) pretty much everything to do with her personal finances, (5) "homosexuality identity disorder," (4) her campaign's attempt to spread the rumor that her primary opponent is gay, (3) "there is just as much, if not more, evidence supporting" creationism, as there is for evolution, (2) "I dabbled in witchcraft," and, of course, (1) "the Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery, so you can't masturbate without lust."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's Just One Outrage After Another

Every weekday, Neal Boortz posts his "Reading Assignments"—basically a quick overview of the various ways liberals are attempting to destroy the world. Standard stuff, really, but every so often a headline reaches shocking new levels of outrageousness. Here are just a few of the recent crises to which I was thankfully alerted:
Is "Happy Birthday" Song Insensitive?
A ban on singing "Happy Birthday" lasted all of four days at Chesterfield Elementary School in Missouri after angry parents bombarded the school with complaints.

"Singing is not permitted due to the sensitivity of all student beliefs," wrote Principal Jodi Davidson in a letter to parents dated August 13.
Teacher Assigns Students To Plan Terror Attack
Students at an Australian school were asked to plan a terrorist attack "to kill the MOST innocent civilians in order to get your message across" as part of a class assignment, Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported Wednesday.
Georgia Man Wins Right to Keep Flying American Flag at Home
A Georgia man has won the right to fly the American flag outside his home after getting sued for failing to remove the 16-foot flagpole from his front lawn, reported.
It's (almost) always the same. Lunatic does something loony. Reasonable people complain. Other reasonable people in positions of authority step in and do something reasonable. No lasting damage is done. Missouri schoolchildren can once again sing "Happy Birthday," Australia schoolchildren won't be required to plan a terror attack, and that guy in Georgia can adorn his property with the biggest damn American flag he can find.[1] The system works.

The only real purpose of these stories, then, is to get people all riled up. To be clear, these are perfectly appropriate reasons to get riled up (except maybe the flag thing—assuming the rule in question was content-neutral and was agreed to voluntarily). But, somehow, the outrage inevitably takes the form of "those stupid liberals are at it again" and "stuff like this wouldn’t happen if conservatives ran the world."

Internet commenters being representative of the public at large,[2] here's a sampling of what I'm talking about:
Another example of the leftwing loons to the rescue.
What in Gods name are we letting America become in the hands of the Liberals. The PC is killing our American Spirit…
This is the real danger of a liberal; no real understanding of human nature; no way to diagnose problems; no way to thus generate WORKABLE solutions.
Just have to adore those professional liberals and their compassion towards others. For them live is a simple creed of do as we say or else…
Man is this ruling gonna tee off the liberals who hate this country and its flag.
C'mon people grow up! DO NOT let the athieasts and liberals RUIN OUR FREEDOMS!
Who cares which comments go with which article, they're mostly interchangeable. And who are these people even arguing with? There are no dissenting opinions here. I suppose the voices in their heads—the ones telling them that anytime something ridiculous happens it must be a liberal's fault—have taken over, and that's all that matters.

You know, I'm not clear on the specifics of the Liberal Plot to Take Over the World, but if this is it—occasionally doing something stupid, then undoing it as soon as the complaints start coming in—I really don't think we have anything to worry about.

1. Subject to "any reasonable restriction pertaining to the time, place, or manner of displaying the flag…" I don't know what constitutes a reasonable restriction on flagpole height, but apparently the line will have to be drawn somewhere north of 16 feet.
2. There was a time when that would've been clearly sarcastic. Now, I'm not so sure.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Open Minds

According to Conservapedia,[1] a true conservative engages in "a never-ending quest for the truth," and is characterized by "a willingness to debate openly on all aspects of an issue or problem, without being tramelled by ideological preconceptions."[2] This is in stark contrast to your typical liberal, who "refuses to admit the truth in debate" and "ignore[s] any evidence that shows their position to be false."

In other words, if you value being open-minded, conservatism is the ideology for you. Sure, it's an ideology better known for its resistance to change, but the two concepts aren't necessarily incompatible. Respect for tradition is a great thing—as long as it doesn't reach the point where tradition is blindly adhered to in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Conservatives understand this, and they firmly believe they never reach that point, which is why they're so eager to proclaim that they—not liberals—are the ones who are truly open-minded.

As a matter of fact, an excellent illustration of this happened just recently. Charlie Crist, as part of his ongoing effort to swap one Florida statewide elected office for another, declared his support for a number of gay rights issues he once opposed. No one would expect Crist's announcement to immediately inspire hordes of conservatives to follow suit, but, in keeping with their stated principles, they've at least been respectful of Crist's positions and interested to learn more about what led him to this change of heart. Right?
Charlie Crist needs Democrats. Badly. So he is going through his entire inventory of “beliefs” and changing whatever principles he needs to in order to appeal to the left.
Ok, maybe that's not the best example, but Crist didn't exactly have a surplus of credibility among conservatives to begin with. What if a similar reversal came from a more revered source? Say, a life-long Republican who served in the Reagan and Bush II administrations. An early member of the Federalist Society. A prominent lawyer who has not only argued in support of numerous conservative causes, but once played a major role, as counsel for the Republican candidate, in deciding a presidential election.

Yeah, you know where I'm going with this. Here's Rush Limbaugh:
I don't know what's happened to Ted Olson…Ted Olson used to be one of us. He used to be anti-judicial activism.
And, as usual, Rush is not alone:
I am sad to report that Ted Olson is no longer worth listening to on legal matters or worth hiring by anyone who respects the Constitution.
[T]he position that the Constitution can and should be interpreted to invalidate traditional marriage laws can’t possibly be reconciled with the conservative legal principles that Olson used to purport to stand for.
I'm not saying conservatives should join Olson on the gay marriage bandwagon.[3] I'm saying the backlash against Olson (and, to a lesser extent, Crist) shows that a lot of conservatives see their belief system not as a broad philosophy, but as a simple list of opinions. Once someone un-checks an item on the list, that's it—they're out.

The obvious question, then, is this: When these people claim that theirs is the ideology of open-minded debate, why the hell should anyone take them seriously?

1. In terms of establishing a foundation for a legitimate point, is there a worse way to start than "According to Conservapedia..."? At least I didn't go with "According to the deranged wall-scribblings in my local gas station's bathroom..."
2. Trammel: a hindrance or impediment to free action; restraint. The double-m spelling seems to be more accepted, but, in keeping with my anything-goes liberal attitude, I see nothing wrong with "tramelled." Anyway, this footnote is here primarily because Conservapedia forced me to look up a word, and I think that's funny.
3. They totally should, though.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Right and Wrong

A while ago, in a post about that guy whose disappointment with the Discovery Channel far exceeded the normal level, I included an excerpt from a NewsBusters article written by Melissa Clouthier. That wasn't the only part of the article, however, that caught my attention. With an exasperated sigh, I bookmarked the page and left town for a week, and now that I'm back it's still astounding, so here goes:
From what I can tell, and it's a scientific fact to boot, leftists lack empathy.
"Whoa," I thought at the time, "not only is that sweeping and inflammatory, but its purported veracity is highly dubious!"[1]

She provided a link, at least, which led me to Jeffrey Ellis' The Thinker, a blog I had never heard of. I quickly became a fan.

What I like about the article to which Clouthier links is that, while it discusses an idea many would find offensive, Ellis is clearly concerned about doing so fairly and honestly. In other words, caveats abound:
The source linked to by Pajamas Media is not the study itself, but rather is another article which only reviews Haidt’s research and includes a brief interview with him.
I cannot find any paper describing the study itself, so I’m taking all this with a grain of salt. I can’t confirm that it’s actually good peer-reviewed science versus, say, a politically motivated fluff piece.
He then mentions another study from a few years ago that's sort of along the same lines, and is similarly non-definitive. Ellis' point, basically, is that two separate studies, neither of which are by any means beyond reproach, independently support the same theory: On average, conservatives are more likely to feel empathy than liberals. Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't, but either way it's interesting to think about.

And Melissa Clouthier of NewsBusters somehow turns this into "it's a scientific fact" that "leftists lack empathy." My mind is downright boggled. I'd write it off as sarcasm,[2] except that she spends the rest of the paragraph trying to justify it:
That is, they cannot put themselves in someone elses' shoes and modify behavior based on how they would feel if the behavior was turned toward them. They are rather autistic about their intellectual and social behavior. They'll tar and feather a whole segment of people based on the action of one crazy and not even bat an eye.
I don't particularly care who has more empathy—my own anecdotal experience is that people on both sides are dangerously low—but the evidence is out there that liberals have less, and I do care about how that evidence is presented. There's a wrong way and a right way, and Goofus and Gallant themselves couldn't have done a better job of illustrating the difference.

1. Ha ha, I'm just kidding. What I actually thought was "Bullshit!"
2. Or perhaps it's a sly preview of her eventual point—that conservatives should combat liberals' hysterical over-generalizations by doing the same thing, and then liberals will realize how ridiculous they are and start behaving themselves. Three thoughts: (1) Jonathan Swift would be proud; (2) In what universe is this not already happening? (the part about being ridiculous, that is, not the part about being self-aware); and (3) Wait, what?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Crazy Person Does Crazy Thing, Craziness Ensues

So a guy walked into the Discovery Channel headquarters, made it clear to its occupants—and soon to the rest of the world—that he suffered from crippling mental illness, stuck around for a few episodes of American Chopper and Dirty Jobs, and was just about to enjoy a two-hour block of Cash Cab re-runs when he was shot and killed. Now that everyone has taken a moment to thank their deity of choice that no one else was hurt, we can move on to the fun part.

James Jay Lee,[1] it turns out, was fairly opinionated—his belief system appears to have been an angry mess of environmentalism, hatred of human beings, and misunderstanding of the basic function of cable television.[2] It goes without saying (and yet, I can't resist saying it) that this story offers countless angles just waiting to be exploited in the name of ideological rhetoric.

Here are a few angles I've been able to identify, in ascending order of ridiculousness:[3]

If he was a conservative lunatic, you just know the liberal media would blame the big-name conservative commentators for inspiring him.
[I]magine, if you will, what would be going on today if this man had listed a book by Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity or Mark Levin on his website. You can be absolutely drop-dead certain that the ObamaMedia would be teeming with experts telling all of us that this was the inevitable result of all the hatred spewed by those extreme right-wing talk radio hosts and Obama haters.
Eh…maybe. Then again, given Lee's bizarre talk of “anchor baby filth” as a major contributor to environmental problems, I think the basic pre-requisites for blaming right-wing talk radio hosts have been met, but I don't see anybody doing it. (And considering the sites I looked at to write this article, I can’t imagine that such an implication would’ve escaped my attention.)

The bias of the liberal media knows no bounds—now they're trying to portray this guy as a conservative.
In a blog post titled “Purported Eco-Terrorist Angered Over ‘Immigration Pollution And Anchor Baby Filth’,” Think Progress, apparently without shame, named “anti-immigration” sentiment the culprit.
A website that reveals its ideological slant right there in its name published something consistent with that slant?[4] I'm shocked!

There go the liberals again, being hypocritical.
One failure of logic is to generalize from the anecdotal to the whole. Conservatives, who know rules of logic…understand this.
Lefties generalize from anecdotes unless the crazy person is one of their own (and yes, that was just a generalization). Then, of course, the crazy is an "outlier."
Bonus points for acknowledging the inherent problem with generalized accusations of over-generalization, but still, the insistence that conservatives don’t do exactly the same thing is exceedingly silly.

Someone in the liberal media reported that this guy was inspired by Al Gore! It's a miracle!
Wednesday’s CBS Evening News, without Katie Couric, uniquely amongst the broadcast network evening newscasts tied Discovery Channel hostage-taker/bomber James Lee to Al Gore.
So, it’s wrong to blame public figures for their roles in inspiring the crazy actions of crazy people, but it’s good that at least one of the major networks was able to overcome their liberal bias and mention Al Gore’s tangential connection to this fiasco. Alright.

This is just further evidence that liberalism inevitably leads to an act of insane desperation that puts innocent lives at risk and results in a gruesome, public death.
Stuff enough malignant lies into the brains of unhinged halfwits and it is only a matter of time until you end up with a few cases like James Jay Lee.
As Lee illustrates so floridly, liberal environmentalism is not just foolish and irritating: it is an antihuman and therefore evil ideology. Anyone who takes it seriously is a potential maniac.
Ah, Moonbattery, the brick wall that common sense eventually crashes into after it veers off course and stubbornly refuses to turn back.

1. Is anyone else reminded of the Simpsons episode where Homer finally discovers that his middle initial, J, stands for Jay? Yeah, I didn't think so.
2. According to ABC News, Lee's manifesto is "interspersed with references to esoteric philosophers, childish language, misspellings, and capital letters." My God! What kind of monster intersperses capital and lowercase letters within the same document?
3. As measured on the ridiculometer, which is logarithmic.
4. In contrast to the objectivity we expect from, say,, which has a perfectly neutral name.