Torture is a complex subject. Senator John McCain, who knows a thing or two about it, says torture is beneath us. “We are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us.” That sounds good, but is it realistic? If a terrorist kidnapped a newborn baby, and left it to die of exposure at an undisclosed location, what mother would balk at using torture to force the terrorist to reveal the baby’s whereabouts? I suspect most mothers would eagerly torture a terrorist personally if necessary to save their newborns.
So the morality of torture comes down to a question of when, not whether, it is justified.
Torturing the English language, on the other hand, is never justified. It is always unpardonable.
That’s what makes the Senate report so disturbing. What kind of government manacles our language, rips into its verbal womb, and extracts such lexical malformations as “enhanced interrogation techniques” or “rectal rehydration”?
“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow,” Senator McCain said last week, presumably meaning orally, not rectally. “But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.”
So here’s the truth, America. Our government is a serial torturer of the English language. Continue reading
Gvetch, gvetch, gvetch.
This blog — like so many other punditic ventilators — complains a lot. In the past year, it has grumbled about political correctness, Obama’s foreign policy, lawyers, and even college reunions. And those were just the lighter essays.
Negativity may attract internet traffic, but it is not humanity’s entire story. There are many positive stories lurking in the recesses of the news. Now, the afterglow of Thanksgiving, and on the threshold of the Christmas and Chanukah season, may be an appropriate time to pause and take note of five unreported or under-reported good news stories.
How small of all that human hearts endure,
That part that laws or kings can cause or cure.
In case you missed it, Silicon Valley has a “diversity problem.” That, at least, is the view of the New York Times, which published an editorial earlier this month, lamenting the fact that most Silicon Valley employees are white and Asian men. “Among technical employees,” the Times noted, “few are women, and even fewer are Latino or African-American.” The editorial noted that there is “a lot the government needs to do” to address the issue, and it urged the technology industry to “start tackling its diversity problem right now,” implying that if the industry doesn’t fix problem, the government will.
We probably won’t read about it in the Times, but there are even more egregious “diversity problems” throughout the economy. For once you assume, as the editorial does, that any divergence between the demographic profile of the population at large, and the demographic makeup of a particular industry, represents a “problem” – why then, in the words of a famous Broadway hustler, “we’ve surely got trouble, right here in River City.”
If anyone wants to “start tackling a diversity problem right now,” they should start with the Cambodians. This ethnic group comprises 0.09% of the national population, less than one tenth of one percent. Yet here in California, 90% of the doughnut shops are owned by Cambodians. In other words, Cambodians are one thousand times over-represented in the doughnut industry, at least by the logic of the Times. That means that whites, blacks, Latinos, and all of us who are not Cambodian are dramatically under-represented in the doughnut business.
Last week, one of the nation’s premier institutions of higher learning held its 40th year reunion. Members of the Class of 1974 left their corner offices, boardrooms, television studios, summer estates, and – yes – even their comfortably ordinary jobs and homes, to reconnect with old friends and classmates.
The climactic event of the reunion was a series of presentations rather misleadingly dubbed “The Eureka Moment!”. This was not the kind of Eureka moment experienced by Archimedes in the bathtub. Instead, members of this distinguished company vied with one another to present the most distressing, depressing, and often intimate episode of their lives. The format was eerily reminiscent of the old “Queen For a Day” television show, where contestants competed to see whose life was the most pathetic, with the winner receiving a slew of valuable prizes.
What led these successful people to participate in this strange event? Quite possibly, the same compulsions that made them successful in the first place. Continue reading
Daniel Pearl. Nicholas Berg. James Foley. Steven Sotloff.
Four American noncombatants have been beheaded by Islamic fanatics, and the videos of their murders brazenly circulated over the internet for the world to witness. Another Westerner — David Cawthorne Haines, a security expert hired by international aid organizations – faces the same gruesome fate.
Why do they behead us?
The question goes to the method, not the motive, of the madness. Murderers’ motives don’t matter much in the Middle East. In local eyes, there are so many causes to kill for, and so many victims deserving death. But assuming one is inclined to butcher, why do so by the particularly peculiar method of beheading? Why not butcher by shooting, or by hanging, or by detonation?
This is, to put it mildly, a grim inquiry. But it is worth the trouble to explore. For the answer may tell us something about the nature of the evil we face. Continue reading
Richard Nixon and Barack Obama are rarely compared. But the way these two presidents have dealt with crises in the Middle East provides instructive contrasts on the nature of leadership.
This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the resignation of President Nixon, a man more associated with skullduggery than leadership. But in October 1973, when his Vice President was resigning in disgrace and the congressional investigation into his own misconduct was moving to its fatal conclusion, Nixon demonstrated how a leader can take command, master events, and shape history.
His example provides a contrast to the current President, whose concept of leadership involves “leading from behind.” To the extent it involves taking initiative, it is the initiative of “avoiding doing stupid shit.” Continue reading
“Then the Philistines seized Samson, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza.” Judges 16:21.
Something about Gaza, and the way its Hamas bosses periodically goad Israel into military action, turn otherwise sensible observers into sightless chumps — incapable of distinguishing between initiating and responding to force, and blind to the difference between attempted murder and self-defense.
We see that day after day after day in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, CNN, and other mainstream media outlets, which report on the crisis as if it were a contest between two antagonists competing on a morally level playing field. It appears in the television graphics of careful neutrality: charts showing the number of Israeli air strikes compared to the number of Hamas missiles and mortars; comparisons of the number of casualties on both sides; and reports on the relative suffering of the noncombatants.
This is nonsense. Three important principles underlie this crisis, which ought to be evident to anyone with eyes to see. First, there is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas. Second, inchoate crimes are still crimes, and in wartime, they are war crimes. And third, “proportionality” has no proper role when thugs are trying to murder your children. Continue reading