Clearing the Fog
in the
War of Words


  logomachy--1. A dispute about words. 2. A dispute carried on in words only; a battle of words.
logomachon--1. One who argues about words. 2. A word warrior.




I'll be away from blogging for a couple of days, while I am at the Right to Life March in Washington, D.C.


"Endless Party": The internal contradictions of liberalism

After one of the most ideological campaigns in memory, the Democrat current wisdom is somehow congealing into “the party had no message”. William Voegeli analyzes the party’s electoral problems in the Claremont Review of Books and concludes that the Democrats’ stumbling block is the empty core of liberalism (hat tip to Powerline).

That emptiness has long been a target of conservatives. Curiously, liberalism’s emptiness is indicated by its inability to specify goals. Bill Buckley once made a complaint to the effect that liberals talk about the “Great Society” but can’t tell you how you’ll know when you’ve got there. The result is what Voegeli calls “The Endless Party”. Voegeli shows how since the New Deal the liberal program has had no goal other than “progress” and the expansion of government in its pursuit:
. . . most people would consider securing "abundance and liberty for all," ending poverty and achieving racial justice, a pretty good day's work. For LBJ it was, astoundingly, "just the beginning."
There was a further problem. Even New Deal liberals recognized that Americans might at some point consider they had done “a pretty good day’s work” and get too comfortable with all the progress they had made. But liberals are stopped from prescribing a cure for this “spiritual unemployment” by their conviction—following John Stuart Mill—that there is no prescription for the good life. The best they could do was say “that we should
all live however we want, constrained only by the need to choose a “lifestyle” that does not interfere with anyone else's living the way he wants to live
“But they have never been content to leave it at that”, Voegeli points out with relish.
The social critic inside every liberal cannot resist berating other people's unsatisfactory lifestyles . . . . Fifty years ago this scorn was directed at suburban split-levels. Today the target is evangelical churches. Meanwhile, the social worker inside every liberal cannot resist treating these unfortunate lifestyle choices as problems to be solved.
Liberals’ relativism combined with their constant carping about non-liberals’ failure to measure up to a shifting standard of perfection reveals the emptiness at liberalism’s core, as it balloons with no limit on either direction or range. As a political philosophy, it is a prescription for tyranny.

If the Democrats think the “big question” is “What do the Democrats stand for?”, Voegeli says, then there is a “better and bigger question still: What do the Democrats stand against?”

Voegeli leaves it at that. I think the answer is that not having an answer is an unalienable part of liberalism. As Voegeli describes, liberals have no concept of the Good other than constant “progress” that leads to ever more “progress”. This scrawny ethic is typified by Bill Clinton’s frequent inanity “that character is ‘a journey, not a destination’", never mind that
to leave home without a destination, convinced that the very idea of a destination is arbitrary and false, is to embark on a "journey" that will be no different from just wandering around.
Yet liberals, like all of us, want to feel justified, and consequently they prove their virtue by living the only good life they know: being committed to “progressive” causes. Unprogressive things, preeminently Republicans, as they imagine Republicans to be, are about the only things liberals can be against. Liberals' virtue lies in their liberalism; to put limits on that would make them little better than Republicans.

Hence liberals’ repeated assertions that the Republican political ascendancy means not just a slowing of movement “forward”, but the ineluctable onset of the mean-spirited dystopia described recently by Garrison Keillor:
In the new privatized low-tax minimal-services society the Republicans are striving to lay on us, public transportation will offer no pleasure whatsoever. The bus will be for losers and dopes . . . full of angry and sullen people who have lost hope that their kids can rise in the world and have a better life, which is the hope that makes it possible for me to turn to you and say something about the weather []]. . .

In Republican America, you will not enjoy public life, period. The public library . . . will become a waiting room for desperate and broken people, the alkies, the whacked-out, the unemployables . . . the public schools will become holding tanks for children whose parents were too unresourceful to find good schools for them . . . politics will be so ugly and rancid that decent people will avoid expressing an opinion for fear of being screeched at and hectored and spat on.
[Homegrown Democrat more…]
Now,that’s something any Democrat can be against.


Is this really a problem?

The comments to my post on sex-linked aptitude for math and academic achievement have some more information.

Most complaints about unfair representation contain the unspoken premises that any two demographic segments should match on some arbitrary characteristic and not matching is a problem needing a remedy.

Unfortunately, Laura Bush seems to have fallen into this easy but questionable assumption. In the 16 January issue of Parade magazine ("We Need To Pay More Attention To Boys", available on line on 23 January), she announces that one of her second term priorities is to help troubled boys. One indication that there is trouble in River City is that boys now go to college at a lower rate than girls.

So what ]. This doesn’t rate a J’accuse Ass (and if it did, Mrs. Bush would get a couple of passes any way, because . . . well, just because), but it really is questionable. Two minutes ago the crisis of the day was that fewer women than men went to college. Isn’t anyone around here capable of declaring victory]

Is this a problem? Can’t there be any smart reasons that guys might be less inclined to go to college than girls? H’mmm.

  • Girls have greater verbal aptitudes and college emphasizes those. So does high school, so guys have less success in school and develop less interest in pursuing those kinds of activities in college.
  • The gender gap favoring women showed up first among blacks (1980 vs. 1994 for the general population); the disincentives probably fall more heavily on black males
  • While overall, education correlates to higher life-time earnings, guys have opportunities to make a good living, doing things they are good at (e.g., in the skilled construction and service trades). Girls are far less likely to be interested in jobs involving using tools, smelly and noisy things (don’t get me going on babies), and muscling stuff around. That’s a bonus for the guys; it’s a much more congenial environment when there are not a lot of nattering, whiney women around.
  • And the greater earnings data don’t support the conclusion that college is the cause. People get paid more for doing more valuable tasks. The correlation with education may simply be the result of credentialism. Employers can get people with degrees to do certain jobs, so they use the degree as a screening factor, as a proxy or substitute for thing they really want to know but which are hard to measure.
  • College standards have dropped in the past two generations. Women get degrees and associate degrees so they can be admin assistants rather than secretaries.
    That a degree is really necessary for a lot of jobs where it is the norm needs to be proven. Especially when college freshmen and sophomores are often covering material that high school seniors covered a couple of generations ago.
The difference in rates of getting college degrees is recent and fairly impressive:
About 42 percent of women in [the 25-34] age cohort have a college degree . . . compared with less than 36 percent of men. According to the Census Bureau report, this gender gap in higher education did not exist 10 years ago.
However, concluding that it is a problem and that the problem is that too few boys go to college is premature.


"Blue state", schmoo state--they're still Reds

Varifrank says “My absolute favorite thing about today’s political world is how the right has stolen the color red from the left.” He shows a purveyor of “count me blue” bracelets (she also sells “count me red” bracelets.

I’m going to demur on a couple of counts.

First, I’m not sure that this country needs any more of this in your face, I-can’t-let- the-election-go attitude. People took down their yard signs on 3 November. Most took off their partisan lapel pins, except for some pro-Kerry dorks who still have them on their shoulder bag straps. Bumper stickers fade and are not lamented. I’m all for divisiveness when it serves a purpose or is the result of some productive effort. I don’t want to move-on if the issue hasn’t been settled.

But this issue has been settled. Time to continue the fight on the new ground. The only good thing about declaring yourself “blue” is that you can’t dismiss anyone who expresses a non-liberal opinion as “ideological”.

Second, as for Varifrank's glee, the right did not steal red from the left. It was the other way around. In 2000, the networks suddenly began coding their electoral maps red for Republicans and blue for Democrats. (Yet another manifestation of Logomachon's Law: If you want to know what the Democrats are up to, look at what they are accusing you of doing.)

Maybe the explanation got lost in the hanging chad kerfuffle, but I doubt it. For one thing, there are too many explanations. The thing is overdetermined.

Maybe the MSM, with reflexive ant-McCarthyism, couldn’t bear to call the Democrats “red”. Sounds good to me, especially after reading this gout of question-begging squid smog.

If you want to, you can believe the NYT editor who said it was because "Both Republican and red start with the letter R". If you want to.

I prefer to think liberalism, having become in 1992 the political creed that cannot speak its own name, had in 2000 reached the point that it can no longer show its true colors.

Third, I want blue back.


Why can't these broads think straight?

J'accuse Ass is an irregular department. It recognizes a public accusation, complaint, insinuation, alarm, or whining notable for its arrogance, irrelevance, spite, stridency, obtuseness, or mendacity.
Harvard Chief Sends Roses to Fainting Female Prof
by Scott Ott
(2005-01-18) -- Harvard University President Lawrence Summers today sent a dozen roses to MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins after she nearly fainted last week during Mr. Summers' remarks about potential biological differences between the sexes which might explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers.

Ms. Hopkins told The New York Times, "When he started talking about innate differences in aptitude between men and women, I just couldn't breathe."
That’s not Scrappleface making up the quotation. She actually said that.

What gets Logomachon’s goat is a later remark by Hopkins. Summers said that the reasons for the preponderance of men at the top levels of math, science, and engineering in academia needed to be studied. He mentioned factors, other than discrimination, that might keep some women scientists from the top ranks at the top-ranked schools, including that “top positions on university math and engineering faculties require extraordinary commitments of time and energy, with many professors working 80-hour weeks”, like lawyers, bankers, and business executives. Whereupon Dr. Hopkins had to withdraw to regain her composure.

Later, the fair professor revealed that her episode of the vapors was caused by bad logic.
I didn't disagree, but didn't like the way he presented that point because I like to work 80 hours a week, and I know a lot of women who work that hard.
This is like objecting to the statement that “men are bigger and stronger than women”, because we can all make up from among our acquaintance half-a-dozen male-female pairs in which the woman could kick the guy’s butt. Contrary individual examples are utterly irrelevant to general statements about a class, especially when the statement concerns the distribution of a characteristic? Such statistical statements contain all the exceptions in them already.

Hopkins must know this. She’s a geneticist, so she must be familiar with population distributions.

The sophistry of Hopkins' remark goes beyond a mere whiney fallacy. Hopkins offered herself as a counter-example (and the NYT let her). But she isn’t.

Summers coupled his remark about high work loads with the observation that “few married women with children are willing to accept such sacrifices”. This idea is so uncontroversial that it has its own name and the feminists have demanded remedial measures: the Mommy Track. The mommy way has not been the Hopkins way. In what must have been a busy year, in 1973 she got her Ph.D. in biology from Harvard, joined the faculty at MIT, and divorced her husband. She never remarried, and her 80-hour weeks failed to win her the professional distinction she thought she deserved, despite switching her area of research. She finally made her mark by becoming an activist in the workplace discrimination/pay equity community.

My headline, by the way, is facetious. Dr. Hopkins was the only person to be flustered by the mention of a sex-linked genetic component to achievement math and science. The NYT article quotes several women scientists who challenged Summers on the basis of evidence or understood perfectly the kind of statistical comparison he was making and that he was calling for more research.


Bishops Sue for "First Amendment" Rights

(Howling Ether News Service, Washington, D.C.) The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has filed suit in Federal District Court to force the government to abide by the First Amendment’s “freedom of religion” clause.

The bishops' lawyer, Eustachian Hazmat, described the action as “an attempt to have the third most ignored clause in the Bill of Rights given the recognition it deserves”. Hazmat charged that government at all levels, especially the courts, was ignoring the “plain intent of the proscription that ‘Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise’ of religion”.

In their suit, the bishops say the Constitution requires the courts to dismiss out of hand suits to "remove prayer or references to God or religion" from "government building, documents, proclamations, and ceremonies". Suits like those of atheist Michael Newdow to change the Pledge of Allegiance and to block the inclusion of prayer and the Bible in Presidential inauguration ceremonies, said Hazmat, “ask the courts to act in a way that is prima facie unconstitutional”.

(The “religion clause” of the First Amendment reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”.)

“Secular activists like atheists and the ACLU claim they are keeping government from establishing religion”, continued Hazmat, “but that is irrelevant to the First Amendment.

“The ‘establishment’ phrase that the secularists depend on is moot, since there hasn’t been an establishment of religion in the United States in 150 years”, he claimed. “That means that there is no basis for rulings that citizens must refrain from any religious expression in the conduct of their civic life, or any activity touched by the state. Such suits are just attempts to turn the people’s government into a vast wet blanket smothering religion in America.

“That sounds like a ‘hostile environment’ to me”, Hazmat asserted.

“What’s next?”, he asked rhetorically. “Banning rosaries and St. Christopher medals from rear view mirrors because the driver is licensed and the vehicle is registered by the state? At the very least, I should think you would have to remove them during the annual state inspection.”

The Anti-Christian Litigation Unit and the People against the American Way announced that they would file petitions to have the suit thrown out.

“This is desperate attempt to turn back the clock”, said Maurice Borkmeister of the ACLU. “We aren’t going to just sit this one out. Not after 50 years fighting the forces of mediaeval religious repression to ensure that seekers and skeptics can go anywhere they want with no risk of being reminded that some people still believe in God.”

Borkmeister scoffed at Hazmat’s reading of “free expression”.

“Look”, he said. “We have dozens of rulings on ‘free expression’ in arts and sex cases—and art and sex aren’t even mentioned in the Constitution. It’s a settled matter! ‘Free expression’ means you can coat yourself with Ovaltine and dance naked at the Super Bowl halftime show. It means that guys can wear nun costumes and commit gay acts during Communion at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”

“But”, he added, “it doesn’t mean the Founders meant to allow religious symbols or religious expression on public property, unless they are covered with excrement. And even if they did, our developing understanding of the living Constitution has developed beyond that.”

Borkmeister added “Only a fanatical religious ideologue would suggest anything different.”

Borkmeister rejected the idea that there is any freedom of speech issue. “They’re completely different, speech and religion. I mean, we all know what speech is. I’m speaking now. It doesn’t have anything to do with prayers or other mumbo-jumbo and rigid, empty rituals.

“Speech and religion are even dealt with in separate parts of the Amendment”, he said.

“Religion is a profoundly personal and private experience”, Borkmeister went on, “and it should be kept personal, behind closed doors, the way we used to deal with sex, which is a profoundly personal experience on whose expression—public or private—the government cannot place any restrictions”.

Borkmeister was asked a hypothetical question: If a public school administration should ban a painting from a student art show on “establishment” grounds if it portrayed the Prophet Muhammad eating a pork chop with a Christmas tree stuck in his anus. Borkmeister dismissed the question as “hypothetical”. He went on the characterize it as “the sort of divisive, insensitive exaggeration that right-wingers always use to frighten people.

“The next thing you know”, he continued, “the town council wants to engrave Ann Coulter’s post-9/11 column in letters of flaming gold on the walls of the National Guard armory.”

(Coulter, a controversial right-wing syndicated columnist, wrote of the mostly Islamic background of the 9/11 hijackers: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity!”)

Howling Ether News Service—When you can’t find it anywhere else, it’s in the Howling Ether.


Turn Blue Day

Someone new to me (via The Anchoress) has a great idea for a counter-inaugural demonstration. Jim at The Sundries Shack proposes Hold Your Breath and Turn Blue Day!
Here’s how it works. On the day of the inauguration, find the nearest person to you who voted for the President. Once you get their attention, start holding your breath until you turn blue and pass out.

See, that’ll reinforce your “blue” image while showing them that you possess the sort of political maturity it takes to stage a protest that gets results!

And when the paramedics get there to check on you, you can tell them just how horrible things are for them since Bush isn’t giving them any Homeland Security money. They’ll appreciate that.

Have you noticed that conservatives argue for this or demonstrate against that, but liberals style their actions a “counter” whatever—-culture, convention, demonstration, inaugural. It’s as though it is not enough to oppose conservatives’ ideas and activities; they have to nullify conservatives. Conservatives and their works can’t be allowed even to exist.

Maybe that's a clue to why arguing with blue-staters is so often an exercise in frustration. They just don’t understand the idea of a counter argument.


The Lingonberries of UN assessment coördination

It’s everywhere. Yesterday the clerk at Ekerd’s asked me if I’d like to contribute to tsunami relief (via UNICEF). This morning at Mass there was a special collection for the Catholic Bishops Relief Fund (in addition to the regular annual collection next week). You’ll be glad to know that this huge, world-wide out-pouring of assistance is well in hand by the “UN Relief Council's coordinating leadership subcommittee. . . . Highlights include:
  • Under the leadership aegis of UNSNoRF Undersecretary Ralfke Bjarnerubbel, the executive steering committee has voted on a draft resolution to create coordination protocols between interagency observers.
  • UNKGooBR and UNsNOT task force staff have organized response evaluation schemas for situational aid coordination, and assessed hotel minibar inventories.
And thank God the UN Relief Committee of the Whole has not forgotten to issue “advisory warnings to illegally parked U.S. and Australian aircraft carriers, hospital ships, and helicopters”.

There’s more, lots more in this special interim evaluation by ?mläut ?ïldëqvist, at Iowahawk.

And be sure to catch the preceding post about the latest exiting adventure from the Inspector Rather Files.



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