Archive for Trump

Vultures

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2018 by deborah1960

The fact that the White House has initiated a policy of separating immigrant children from their families does not shock me.  Trump’s personal animus against people of color is not only well documented, but also deep-rooted.  After all, Trump cemented his friendship with Roy Cohn when Cohn defended Donald in a suit alleging that the Trump refused to rent to black tenants.  Trump railed against the Central Park Five—one Latino and four African American kids accused of raping, bludgeoning, and leaving for dead a young woman jogging in the park—and called for their execution in full-page ads in four papers. Even after they were exonerated conclusively of the crime, Trump still insisted that they were guilty.  And who could ever forget Trump’s pronouncement during the announcement of his candidacy that Mexicans coming to America, with very few possible exceptions, were drug lords, criminals, and rapists?  And don’t forget how he felt about all those “shithole countries” in Africa (except for Nambia, of course, whose health system, and, presumably, covfefe fields, are second to none).  No, Donald is a dyed in the wool racist who makes Archie Bunker look like George McGovern.

Naturally, Trump is not the first racist to occupy the White House, nor, sadly, is he likely to be the last.  However, previous presidents (at least those since the 1960’s) had the sense to realize that their racism was an embarrassment and not an asset.  Before Donald slithered onto the stage, openly bigoted politicians and officials generally did not have a long and fruitful public career.  Remember how we rolled on the floor laughing until our ribs hurt when David Duke, former grand poohbah of the KKK, ran for Senate?  And even if the pols were too stupid to hide their racism, they had advisors and handlers who hushed them and explained what they “really meant” to the media.  Not so with The Donald.  Trump famously marches along to the beat of his own whack-a-doodle drummer.  But even if he were amendable to persuasion, who in his coterie of advisors would actually say, “Stop, Donald! Don’t do such a stupid, immoral, and just plain evil thing”?

Certainly not Confederate flag-hugging Attorney General J. Beauregard Sessions.  Nor scion of a liberal Jewish family Stephen Miller, whose penchant for anti-Semitic insults is so bizarre that I wouldn’t blink an eye if I found out that he had started a college group called “Jews for Hitler.”  And certainly not the so-called adult in the room, General John Kelly, who only last month asserted it was not cruel to rip families apart.  I kind of had my hopes on Ivanka stepping forward, but all I’ve heard from her are crickets—presumably she’s too busy baking files into cakes for Jared’s future use, just in case.

So, no, I’m not at all surprised that the Trump regime has engendered and enforced a “zero-tolerance” policy on immigration that depends upon ripping nursing babies out of their mothers’ arms to act as a deterrent.  It is entirely within Trump’s “moral” compass to embrace a policy that is neither legally required nor morally just.  And given his well-documented obstinacy and absolute refusal to apologize for absolutely anything, I bet he’ll just dig his heels in more fiercely in the face of opposition from Congressional Democrats (and a few Republicans), his own wife, Former First Lady Laura Bush, religious leaders, or even, believe it or not, Franklin Graham.

Donald is a lost cause.  He doesn’t have a decent bone in his body.  A snarling, embittered bag of hatred, greed, and hypocrisy, of course he likes the idea of grinding the most vulnerable people into the dust.  How else would this totally inadequate human being feel powerful?

But the people I do wonder about are the ones who enable this policy. The ICE officer who tells a mother that she’s taking her daughter “for a bath” as a ruse to separate them (how’s that for Holocaust imagery?).  The shelter employee who obeys an order not to comfort a screaming toddlerThe contractor who rakes in government money to run these holding pens. The bus driver whose passengers are young, terrified, and on their way to their hell. The company that sells the tents to construct kiddie concentration camps.  The Senate Majority Leader who refuses to hold his party’s leader to account. The DOJ attorney who approved this policy.  The judges who deny legal representation to an immigrant child.  Any serious Holocaust historian will tell you that complicity in the infrastructure of an atrocity runs deep.  The Facebook reader who passively scrolls past an article about a two-year-old screaming for her mommy. If you participate at any level in this abomination, then you are complicit—no matter how queasy, regretful, or sorry you feel. At the very best, you are no better than Michael Palin’s “good Roman Soldier,” Nisus Wettus, in The Life of Brian—the one who mournfully guides the Romans’ victims to the proper place of execution.  “Crucifixion?  Good. Out the door.  Line on the left.  One cross each.”

I used to teach a poem by Chinua Achebe called “Vultures.”  In this great little poem, Achebe ponders the nature of human evil.  How could the commandant of Belsen concentration camp stop off at a candy store on his way home, “with fumes of/human roast clinging/rebelliously to his hairy/ nostrils,” and buy a chocolate “for his tender offspring”? How can love co-exist in a monster’s heart?  The answer, I think, is that there is no such thing as a monster—that all monstrous people have a spark of love in their core.  But the flip side is also true—that good people have a spark of evil in their core (“in the very germ/of that kindred love is/lodged the perpetuity/ of evil”).  Good people can do evil things as surely as evil people can do good things—and that is what makes evil perpetual.

Look folks, this issue is not about immigration policy. It isn’t even about the wall.  It’s about whether good people will allow an outrage to continue.  Take a stand.  Be counted.  Don’t fall for what-aboutism or apathy. Even if you can’t quit your job at ICE, at least call your representative.  Be a witness for what you see.  Join Sleeping Giants and contact the companies whose goods and services transform Steven Miller’s  anti-immigrant fever dream into a reality.  And for the love of all that is good and worthwhile, never, for even a single instant, think that what is going on is normal, acceptable, or justified.  Act as if your soul depended on it.

©2018 D.R. Miller

 

 

 

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Presidential Grammar 101: Aphorisms, Adages, and Proverbs

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2018 by deborah1960

I know.  We’ve all been there.  You’re snoozing away in your cozy bed, adrift in the Land of Nod, and then you wake up, in a cold sweat and with your heart pounding.  What, you find yourself asking, is the difference between an aphorism, an adage, and a proverb?  It’s not as easy as you might think, actually, so your midnight panic attack is entirely understandable.  Luckily for you, I am ready, as ever, to help you out.

According to the fine folk at Smart Words (and who am I to say otherwise?) an aphorism is a pithy and memorably phrased statement of a truth or an opinion.  One of my favorite examples of an aphorism is from Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance”: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, adored by little statesmen, philosophers, and divines.”  Seriously, isn’t that just the most beautifully expressed critique of people who relentlessly demand conformity for the mere sake of conformity? You know, the kind of crank who holds rallies and demands total submission to whatever cockamamy idea or outright lie he’s spouting off? Another aphorism that keeps buzzing through my mind these days (goodness only knows why) is Lord Acton’s famous dictum that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Short, to the point, and easy to remember:  I’d happily posit that these two are pretty much perfect examples of aphorisms.

An adage appears to be a grown-up aphorism that has passed the test of time and slipped into common usage. Alexander Pope is responsible for quite a few aphorisms that have morphed into adages: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast;” “To err is human; to forgive, divine;” “Fools rush in where angels fear to dread;” etc.  The words trip out of the speaker’s mouth so naturally that it is easy to forget that they were once original thoughts. I find adages frightfully earnest, mainly because they have lost whatever irony they might have had when first uttered. People say them, thinking that they are pointing out some profound truth, when actually Pope was a pretty sarcastic man capable of saying some caustic things. I mean, my goodness, he doesn’t have a lot of faith in the human capacity for wisdom, forgiveness, or realism, does he?  However, whatever sharpness his finely wrought words once held has been smoothed out from constant repetition over the ages.  Maybe it’s the fact that Pope was a poet, lending an innate cadence to his words that makes you stop noticing how cynical he’s being.  That’s the peril of becoming an adage: unthinking repetition causes the words to lose their glint, and they run the danger of becoming tawdry clichés.   (On the other hand, I can’t imagine Dorothy Parker’s aphorism that “you can lead a whore to culture but you can’t make her think” will ever attain the status of an adage!)

So, what are proverbs, then?  Well, again according to Smart Words, a proverb is “a simple and short saying, widely known, often metaphorical, which expresses a basic truth or practical precept, based on common sense or cultural experience.”  In other words, these sayings are so old that they seem to have sprung up from some well in the depths of our collective consciousness.  “A watched pot never boils.”  “Birds of a feather flock together.” “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”  But since we’re talking about language, there are, of course, exceptions to this rule.  Some of our best-known proverbs in English (“Early to bed, early to rise, etc.”) are attributable to Benjamin Franklin.  So much for the non-attribution of proverbs, huh?

All of this is great fun, of course, but you’re probably wondering why I brought this fascinating subject up in the first place.  Well, I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve noticed that a number of aphorisms, proverbs, and adages have become scarily literal.  In general, figures of speech are metaphorical, dammit, and they should stay that way.  What’s weirder is that other sayings seemed to have disappeared as completely as Rudy Giuliani’s sanity.

For example, significant members of the Trump family appear to have taken the adage that “charity begins at home” quite literally indeed. The general understanding of this saying is that your first responsibility is to yourself and your family; if you don’t take care of them, then you can’t help others.  Dickens, with his characteristic subtlety, used Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House to outrageously lampoon people who neglect this primary responsibility. Mrs. J. gleefully spends all her time worrying about setting up a mission in Africa instead of tending to her frightfully feral children.  Needless to say, her African venture isn’t much of a success, either. The Trumps, on the other hand, appear to be the anti-Jellybys. Their charity is all about the home. In fact, not only does charity start chez Trump, but it is locked up good and tight and never allowed to see the light of day.  According to the Attorney General of New York, the Trump Foundation is not so much a philanthropic entity as an ancillary checking account.  And some of the allegations are so outrageous (for example, the Board had not met for nineteen years, and the official treasurer had no idea that he held the position), that a reader might be forgiven for thinking that Mr. Dickens had written the petition.

An example of an aphorism coming to life is Shakespeare’s statement from The Merchant of Venice that “the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”  Just the other day, Attorney General Jefferson Beau-regard Sessions quoted Romans 13:1 (“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” (Sorry if this isn’t the version Sessions quoted, but I simply adore the King James Version, don’t you?))  Given the fondness our Attorney General has for the Confederate flag, it should come as no surprise that he would quote this particular verse:  it was, after all, used by slaveholders to justify adherence to the Fugitive Slave Act.  No—what I found shocking was the malicious gleam in his eyes and, dare I say it?, his impish smile.  Seriously—watch it here.  And then tell me this:  are those liver spots on his forehead, or are they just where he hides his horns?

As for proverbs, well look no farther than Scott Pruitt.  The head of the EPA is literally “muddying the waters” and “taking up all the oxygen in the room.”  And just between us, I think the real reason why Sarah Huckleberry Slanders always wear dresses is that she’s terrified that her pants will spontaneously combust from telling one too many lies.

But just as the White House has become a veritable tableau vivant of some old sayings, there are quite a few that are MIA:  “the buck stops here,” “honesty is the best policy,” and “follow the golden rule,” for example, appear to have been utterly banished.  Trump seems to have taken “make new friends” to heart, as he ignites a bromance with Kim Jong Un ( Gosh! I hope Vlad isn’t jealous!), yet he seems to have allowed the second part (“but keep the old”) to fall by the wayside at the last G-7 summit.  And here’s the weirdest one of all:  Trump’s own aphorism to “drain the swamp” came alive when a  sinkhole appeared on the White House lawn, but its metaphorical meaning—to eradicate corruption—has gone so thoroughly AWOL that one doubts it will ever be seen again!  It seems to have morphed into a linguistic Schrodinger’s cat:  simultaneously here and not here.

Crazy, huh?

©2018 D.R. Miller

 

Critical Thinking Today’s Q and A About the Mueller Indictments

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2017 by deborah1960

Well!  You can’t say that Robert Mueller doesn’t know how to throw a curve ball.  Everyone knew about one indictment, and some savvy money was on Manafort, but two? And an admission of guilt?  Who says Christmas comes only in December?

In case you’ve been under a rock, here’s the low down:  Bobby Mueller has convinced a federal grand jury that Paul Manafort and his minion Jack Gates have committed a vast array of federal felonies, including conspiracy, tax evasion, money laundering, and failure to register as foreign agents.

Additionally, there’s the admission of guilt by George Papadopoulos.  In it, Georgie admits that he’s been a very bad boy indeed, having lied to the FBI about the timing and nature of interactions that he had with various Russian nationals on such sundry matters as emails and dirt on Hillary.  Of course, President Trump is saying “George who?”, but it wasn’t so long ago that Candidate Trump glowingly referred to Mr. Papadopoulos as “an excellent guy” who was one of his campaign’s five foreign policy advisors.

So those are the facts.  Now, some questions from the audience.

  1. What’s the big deal? It’s not like Jack and Paul are convicted or anything.

I can see your point.  In a sense,  this ain’t much—at this point in the game, all Mueller has to do is convince the grand jury that it’s more likely than not that a crime was committed in order to get the indictment.  It’s no guarantee of an ultimate conviction. True enough, but here’s a little piece of fat to chew over:  under the DOJ’s Principles of Federal Prosecution, in an indictment, a US Attorney should not recommend charges that he or she does not believe can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  And there’s something about the cut of Bobby’s jib that makes me think he takes those principles very seriously indeed.

  1. Why did Mueller release the indictments at the same time as the admission of guilt?

Other than wanting to give his legions of admirers an extra treat, there’s an excellent tactical reason for Mueller’s decision to release  the Papadopoulos admission at the same time as the Gates/Manafort indictments:  nothing says “you might want to reconsider your decision not to cooperate with the prosecutor” like an act of mercy juxtaposed with a napalm attack.  I wouldn’t be surprised if George ends up with probation, while Gates and Manafort, if found guilty of all charges, could be in for a very, very, very long sentence indeed.  The message should be clear to all possible actors in this sordid attack on our government:  speak up, and I’ll be merciful; be a dick, and you’ll rue the day you were born.  Even Jack and Paul should be able to read the tea leaves; if they showed up at Mueller’s office with a contrite heart and a willing set of jaws, I bet they’d be pleasantly surprised at how smoothly all this could go for them.

  1. Papadopoulos was arrested on July 27, but no one knew about it until his guilty plea was released on October 30. All that time, he was a “cooperating witness,” which must have been quite a mean feat to pull off. But when I read George’s admission of guilt, I got the distinct impression that he was a suit short of a full deck of cards. How in the world did he manage to keep his yap shut for such an extended period of time without letting on to any of his co-workers?

Well, yes, I think you’re right:  it was an amazing trick.  However, you might have misplaced the credit.  I think that Mr. Mueller, and not Mr. Papadopoulos, managed to pull off that particular caper.  I don’t have first-hand knowledge, but I suspect Mr. Mueller employed an old prosecutorial trick called the Ninja nut-twist.  It takes years of experience to know how to achieve that Platonic balance of employing enough rigor to get the witness to do what you want without making him squeal like a stuck pig.  I imagine that Robert is a Zen master by this point.

  1. By the way, what does a “cooperating witness” do?

The short answer is, whatever the prosecutor wants him to do.  As for the particulars, I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess—but I bet George’s former colleagues are doing just that as I type these words!

  1. Robert Mueller is saying one thing, and the President is saying another. Whom should I believe?

Seriously?  This is a question?  Tell you what.  As your Critical Thinking Teacher, I’m going to give you some homework.  Check out this brilliantly written masterpiece on how to judge the credibility of a witness by using RAVEN (Reputation for honesty, Ability to see, Vested interest, Expertise, and Neutrality), and then get back to me with your answer. Here’s a hint:  focus on “R.”

6. But what about Killary’s uranium? And Benghazi?  

 I. Can’t. Even. Here. Read this.  And this. Life is just too short.

  1. Ha, ha! Just messing with you! My real question is, since the first leaks about the indictments surfaced, Faux News, Rush Limbaugh, and others of their ilk have come out with guns a blazing, saying that the real scandal is anything remotely to do with Hillary.  I know that this is a false equivalency designed to distract me from the matter at hand, which is whether the Trump campaign gave a tiny but helpful hand to Putin’s plan to wreck our election.  But I can’t decide:  is this a red herring, or is it ignoratio elenchi?

Excellent question, Hermione, and a succinct description of both of these logical flaws.  The distinction can be difficult to make however, because it depends upon the intent of the person throwing rhetorical sand in his opponent’s eyes.  As you might recall from the delightful article “Ignoramus Rex,” a red herring requires intent, while ignoratio elenchi occurs when the opponent blurts out an irrelevant refutation without intending to do so.  Now, to absolutely prove intent, you would have to enter Rush’s mind—a sad and lonely place, to be sure, and I really don’t recommend it.  However, judging from the highly coordinated nature of their verbal blitzkrieg upon logic, I think it’s safe to conclude that they actually meant to fling their balderdash.  Hence, I would characterize their flaw as a red herring.

Well, that was fun.  I’d love to answer some more questions, but there really is the most marvelous World Series going on.  Gotta go!

©2017 D. R. Miller

Critical Thinking Today Scoops Exclusive VP Interview!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2017 by deborah1960

Critical Thinking Today’s exclusive interview with Vice President and Mrs. Pence was granted hours after the Vice President announced the salient features of the GOP’s Forced Birth Initiative.  Here’s the transcript of our interview, where Vice President Pence shares his and his wife’s views on contraception, female autonomy, and God’s plan.

CTT:  Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Pence, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview.  Our readers have so many questions about the, uh, thinking behind your party’s position on contraception, abortion, and women’s health care.

VP:  It’s our pleasure. Right, Mother? Frankly, nothing is more important to the health of our nation than the continued fertility of American women.  That’s why the GOP has gathered the finest panel of experts on woman things.  This panel, the Council of Fathers, has looked at the issue of female health from all sides, inside and out, and you ladies can be assured that we have your best interests at heart.

CTT: The “Council of Fathers”?

VP:  Yes.  Well, that’s what we like to call them.

CTT: Oh.  But how can we be sure that an all-male panel will have a full awareness of and sensitivity to all of the cultural, emotional, and medical issues that confront women as they make decisions about their reproductive health?

VP (patting her hand in an avuncular fashion): Aw, sweetie.  Don’t worry your pretty little head over that.  We got your back, don’t we, Mother?  Besides, it’s a known medical fact that thinking too much makes your uterus fall out.  So, be careful, okay?  Just got the carpets cleaned.

CTT (snatching hand away): But let’s look at one of the proposals that have come out of the Council of Father’s recommendations:  H.R. 490, the Heartbeat Protection Act.  Under the terms of that bill, it will be a criminal act for a doctor to perform an abortion if a heartbeat is detected.  But most doctors say it isn’t a heartbeat at all: it’s the motion that occurs in the part of the yolk sack that might eventually become a heart, isn’t it?  That can happen at about 6 weeks, when most women don’t even know if they’re pregnant!

VP:  That’s the beauty of using the rhythm method.  You’ll be fully in tune with the cycles of your body, and you’ll magically know the instant that God has blessed you with the gift of life.  And what right does anyone have to throw away God’s gift?

CTT:  But rhythm has a 20% failure rate! And what if the mother’s health or life is threatened by the baby?  The Ohio statute that this bill is based on had no exceptions.

VP:  Well, that’s the price you pay for being a vessel.  Blame it on Eve. If she hadn’t bitten that apple, none of you ladies would have to suffer.

CTT: (inaudible)

VP:  What’s that?

CTT:  Nothing.  Okay.  Let’s look at another issue.  Female contraception.  Under TrumpDon’tCare, employers will be able to refuse to cover the cost of their female worker’s contraception.

VP:  That’s right.  We wouldn’t want to violate anybody’s religious sensibilities, especially corporate America’s.  They’re so righteous and easily offended.

CTT:  But at the same time, Viagra and other medications for erectile dysfunction will be covered.  Aren’t you in effect enabling men to have sexual pleasure, while making it more difficult for women to fully express their sexual nature? Isn’t that hypocritical?

VP:  Hypocrisy is never part of God’s plan!  Here, let me explain it slowly so you can understand.  God intended sex in order to procreate.  We cover Viagra not to let men have pleasure, but so they can fulfill God’s purpose.  If they can’t get it up, how will they implant their seed in the fertile fields of their wives’ wombs?  The fact that there is pleasure in sex is really surplus to requirements, if you think of it.  Let’s face it:  nice girls don’t have orgasms.  Right, Mother?

Mrs. P (sighing):  I suppose.

CTT: (coughing)

Mrs. P:  Are you all right, dear?

VP:  Would you like a sip of the Kool-Aid?  It’s refreshing and delicious.

CTT:  Good God, no! I mean, I’m fine.  Thanks. (Takes deep breath).  So, if I’m reading you right, then you’re saying that the only real role that women have is to bear children?

VP:  Oh, goodness, no!

CTT: Oh, that’s good.

VP:  That’s what God says.

CTT:  Oh.

VP:  That’s what saddens me so much about the Jane Doe case.  You know, that girl in Texas?  The one that the ACLU sent to an abortion farm?

CTT:  The girl who ICE was holding in prison so she couldn’t exercise her constitutional right to an abortion?

VP:  Yes. We were that close to saving that baby.  And that benighted soul just slipped through our fingers.

CTT:  But what would have happened to her and the baby?  Would she have been able to stay in the States with her baby?  Wouldn’t the baby have been a citizen?

VP:  Oh, goodness, no!  We would have no choice but to send the mother back to Mexico.  The baby would have been given to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.  I’m sure it would have been fine. Eventually.

(Several seconds elapse)

CTT:  All right, then.  One last question.  If the Council of Fathers is so pro-life, then why did they recommend that the Senate pass a budget resolution that recommends over $1.3 trillion in cuts to all non-Medicare healthcare, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program? And another half a trillion dollar hit to Medicare? Surely if you are pro-life, you would want to ensure that all humans have access to health care?  I mean, aren’t you the party that claims that “all lives matter”?

VP:  Gosh, Mother!  Look at the time!  I had no idea it was so late.  Isn’t your Mothers for Life group meeting now?

Mrs. P:  Is it?  Oh, yes! Yes, it is!

VP:  This has been loads of fun.  We’ll need to do this again.  In the meantime, God bless!

CTT:  Thanks.  I’ll need it.

©D.R. Miller 2017

The NPS’s Real Reason For Banning Nude Female Statue

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2017 by deborah1960

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—OFFICIAL NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE STATEMENT ON REVOCATION OF R-EVOLUTION STATUE PERMIT

It has come to the attention of the Director of the National Park Service that a height variance permit requested by the organizers of Catharsis on the Mall had been erroneously granted and has been consequently rescinded.  Structures normally must be no more than 45’ tall; while the statue itself is under the limit, it is placed on a 2’ stand, making the statue soar way, way over the limit.

Furthermore, the subject matter of the statue raises legitimate concerns whether the turf on the Mall would be harmed by allowing the erection of this particular object to take place.  The statue depicts a nude, short-haired woman who is standing in the mountain pose, a traditional yoga position that connotes strength, focus, and watchfulness.  Obviously, having a symbol of female power next to the Washington Monument would provide such a damning juxtaposition that experts fear it might cause cracks in the foundations of white male supremacy that underpin the Mall and its environs.  After having spent millions of dollars to ensure that the Washington Monument will thrust ever upward for generations, the NPS is simply unwilling to take that risk.

However, given the inevitable hue and cry over so-called First Amendment rights, the Director was unwilling to take this position without consulting the finest legal minds in the country.  Sadly, only Attorney General Jeff Sessions was available.  However, he said that he was equally appalled, and that, “the only thing that would make the damned thing worse would be if the statue depicted [a woman of color].”  Later conversations with the White House confirmed that the President concurred in the decision.

In consultation with White House staff, the NPS is willing to extend the hand of helpfulness to the little ladies at Catharsis on the Mall and offer this compromise.  We would be happy to grant the permit if the following reasonable changes to the statue were made.  Instead of mountain pose, the statue could perhaps be in a more suitable position, such as down-facing dog.  She should also be clothed in order to avoid traumatizing the millions of visitors to the Mall who have never witnessed a liberated female body.  We recognize that appropriately clothing a statue of such proportions in a short period of time might be a daunting task.  Consequently, the First Daughter has graciously offered to lend the organizers patterns for slinky evening gowns and totally practical stiletto heels for the working mom from her Plagiarista™ line, at nominal expense.

We trust that this accommodation will address the concerns of all parties involved.

Questions may be addressed to John Thomas Wankersmith III, White House Press Officer in Charge of Female Things.

© D. R. Miller 2017

 

 

 

Who Quoque? Tu Quoque!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2017 by deborah1960

My beloved has suggested on more than one occasion that I should write a Critical Thinking textbook, using examples from Trump’s tweets and other public pronouncements to illustrate logical flaws.  I like this idea, and I just might take it up some time.  Lately, however, Trump has committed so many assaults upon logic, linguistics, and just plain human decency that it has been bloody difficult to keep up with him. Indeed, the onslaught has been so overwhelming that my most recent posts have focused upon the substance of what he has said (or done) rather than on how he has communicated his, for want of a better word, “thoughts.” While I’ve enjoyed writing these little bagatelles, I have felt a little guilty.  The role of a Critical Thinking Teacher, after all, is to teach Critical Thinking, and the first rule of Critical Thinking is “look at the details.”

Consequently, I resolved to redirect my attention in order to focus upon his actual words and phrasing, and to look for particularly choice examples of egregious thinking. It wouldn’t take long, I thought, before he would commit some logical faux pas or other.  And of course, Trump and General Kelly soon accommodated me by providing a magnificent catalog of ad hominem attacks upon Rep. Frederica Wilson (D., Fla. 24th).  It was easy pickings in the grove of Critical Thinking.  Believe me!

Too easy, in fact.  Everyone knows that ad hominem attacks are bad, bad. By attacking the arguer instead of the argument, they distract the listener from the issue at hand, and tend to provoke such an emotional response from all involved that reasoned discourse is impossible.  Up until recently, it would be considered bad form to accuse a female moderator of treating you unfairly because she had “blood coming out of her whatever.” Or to make short jokes about a Senator who happens to think you’re a menace to the nation and perhaps humanity at large.  Or to mock a reporter with a physical disability. Once upon a time, a bag of bile who would spout such things would be ostracized for an apparent inability to engage in civilized discourse.  Now, he’s in the Oval Office.

Do you see my problem?  Using Trump as an example of the evils of an ad hominem attack, while apt, would hardly win me any points for originality. I was about to hang up my towel when I heard something on the radio that pricked my ears.

As you may or may not be aware, President W gave a speech that, without naming 45, was a fairly damning assessment of why Trump, besides being an appalling human being, is also an existential threat to American ideals.  Bush asserted that nativism, bigotry, and protectionism are antithetical to the values we hold as a country.  In other words, Bush was a righteous oratorical antifa.

This might come as a surprise to most observers of presidential rhetoric.  W was never known as a fine spinner of words, and Christ knows I wasn’t a fan when he occupied the seat behind the Resolute Desk, but damn, he did a pretty good job of skewering Trump.  Kudos, George.

However, this is not what got my logical juices running.  I was listening to a phone-in show on NPR, and Bush’s speech was the topic du jour.  Many people were quite complimentary about the speech, and quite a few of them expressed their shock at being in agreement with W.  I certainly knew how they felt.  Anyway, I was nodding my head in agreement when the token Trump apologist opined that it was pretty rich that W, who had started two wars that we’re still fighting and whose own disapproval ratings were shockingly low, had the brass plated cojones to criticize another president.  Or words to that affect.

“That’s a tu quoque flaw,” I smugly said to myself.  “His argument is fatally flawed.”

Now, faithful readers of this blog (Hi, Mom!  Hi, Dad!) will recall that I have extensively discussed tu quoque flaws in a previous article.  However, for those of you who are new to my readership or have short term memory issues, here’s a brief explanation.  “Tu quoque” (pronounced “tu kwo-kway”) is Latin for “you, too.”  It is the “and so are you” or “look who’s talking” retort that we make when we realize that our verbal sparring partner is guilty of exactly the same behavior that he is complaining about.  Basically, the Trump supporter was saying that President Pot has a helluva lot of nerve for calling President Kettle black.  Tu quoque is a form of ad hominem attack because you are focusing the listener’s attention to a personal trait of the speaker (Bush is a flaming hypocrite) rather than the substance of his argument (Trump sucks).

But at almost the same moment that I was mentally patting myself on the back for recognizing the flaw so swiftly, the following thought caught me up short.

What if he’s right?

I asked myself this question because, believe it or not, there are times when an ad hominem attack would not be considered a flaw.  I would hazard a guess that 99.9% of the time that an insult is hurled at an opponent, the hurler’s intent is to distract the listener (and opponent) from the subject at hand.  Thus, Trump’s designation of any unflattering story as “fake news” can pretty much be seen as an ad hominem attack on the outlet that published it. Indeed, so consistent is this rule that you can just about bet your kid’s education fund on the truth of the story and sleep well at night (except the bookies wouldn’t give you decent odds on the bet, so why bother?).

However—and stay with me here, I know it’s a stretch—let’s imagine that there were a network or website somewhere the sole purpose of which was to spread unfounded rumors and outright lies about, oh, let’s say a female presidential candidate. Crazy, huh?  Let’s take that wild hypothetical a bit further, and imagine that the website is headed by a fat, cirrhotic, lying sack of shit who will stop at nothing to achieve his ends.  Let’s call him Steve.  Now, if I were debating Steve and said, “Steve, you are a fat, cirrhotic, lying sack of shit who will stop at nothing to achieve his ends,” I would be guilty of making an ad hominem attack up to the point that I called him “fat” and “cirrhotic.”  The state of his physique and his apparent ill-health have nothing to do with his propensity for publishing fake news.  However, the rest of my statement, from “lying sack of shit” onwards, wouldn’t be an ad hominem flaw.  Steve’s honesty is the heart of the matter being debated and, assuming that I can back my assertion with facts, it is logically connected to my argument.   (Where, oh where would I be able to find back up for such a spurious claim?)  Similarly, my oblique characterization of our current president as a bag of bile, while not nice, also wasn’t an ad hominem flaw because it was linked to the idea that a president should be able to engage in civil discourse.

So, are there times when tu quoque isn’t a flaw?  Am I so blinded by my misotrumpy that I glossed over the importance of Bush’s failings as a president? I’m tempted to say, “Yes.  There are times when the charge of hypocrisy is so damning that the term tu quoque denotes not a flaw, but an appropriate label.” It seems reasonable.  After all, would we sit still for a lecture by Himmler on the evils of anti-Semitism?  How many copies of Harvey Weinstein’s The Importance of Eliminating Sexual Harassment could we reasonably expect to fly off the shelf?

But isn’t anti-Semitism evil? Shouldn’t sexual harassment be eliminated? And does the mere fact that a hypocrite made these statements make them any less valid? Does the degree of hypocrisy in and of itself invalidate the argument?

To me, this conundrum illustrates perfectly why tu quoque is such an insidious flaw.  The charge of hypocrisy is powerful because we have a visceral reaction to people who dare to tell us to act in one way while they blatantly act in the other.  They make us want to puke.

But does that mean they are illogical?  Or can’t their reasoning, no matter how insincerely held, be sound?  Even if the subject of the hypocrite’s argument is “why I hate hypocrisy,” wouldn’t the reasons for hating hypocrisy remain valid? In other words, if their argumentation is valid, why should their lack of moral standing invalidate it?

I’m not sure it should.

Let’s take Bush as an example.  I recall that I spat blood when W stole the election from Al Gore, so I’m willing, for the sake of this thought experiment, to ascribe all sorts of nastiness to him.  Let’s pretend that George Bush is a goose-stepping, tiki-burning, refugee-kicking fascist.  He even likes to dress up in lederhosen embroidered with swastikas. Now, let’s look at what he says.  The entire speech can be found here, but here are three fairly typical statements:

“Our identity as a nation—unlike many other nations—is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood.  Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility.”

“[B]igotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”

“Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children.”

Is there anything wrong with these ideas?  Are they illogical, biased, or flawed? Does the fact that they were uttered by the second-most incompetent president in the history of our fair land destroy their legitimacy? Or do they merely reflect some fairly basic tenets that in ordinary circumstances (remember them?) would not have to be said?

These are not terribly controversial stands for W to be taking, if you think about it.  Our history as a nation of immigrants pretty much makes the notion of an American people pretty absurd; what brings us together isn’t our ethnicity, but our belief in certain ideals and notions embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Marbury vs. Madison.  If we take the 14th Amendment seriously, with its Due Process and Equal Protection clauses, then we really do have to admit that bigotry is a destructive force that needs to eradicated, not propagated. Didn’t we even fight a war or two over those very principles? And kids really do need role models, preferably positive ones. The only reason why these fairly unsophisticated notions have attained the status of soaring oratory is because Trump has set the rhetorical bar so low.  Frankly, it is so refreshing to hear something expressed in such a gentlemanly, multi-syllabic, and (praise be!) grammatical manner, that we swoon to hear it.  In no way does Bush’s hypothetical status as a closet Trumpite make them any less basic or correct.

So, yeah.  Tu quoque is pretty much always a flaw, no matter how hypocritical the speaker might be.

Glad that’s settled.

 

 

©2017 D. R. Miller

Greetings From Nambia!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 22, 2017 by deborah1960

Dear World Traveler,

We at the Trump Executive Travel Group are delighted to invite you to explore Nambia, the jewel of the African Riviera and the home of the newest and most exclusive Trump Golf Club, Club Oligarch.

Located along the shores of the Bamboozle River in the outskirts of the capital city of Ponziville, Club Oligarch has fully exploited the natural riches of Nambia in order to ensure that you have easy access to the very best presidential golfing experience in the world that money can buy, bar none.  Believe me!

Personally designed by President Trump himself, the golf course is nestled between the legendary Quagmire Morale and the richest covfefe fields in the world!   Imagine teeing off on the first hole, with its splendid vista of the Nambian Alps, the strip mines barely discernable to the human eye.

Trump Executive Travel Group has also arranged special armed guard guided tours through the bustling neighborhoods of Ponziville, where you can explore Nambia’s rich cultural heritage from a safe distance.  While there, be sure to check out the newly unveiled Monument to Benevolent Colonialism, donated by the Trump Foundation.  This impressive twenty foot statue represents President Trump holding out his tiny hands in friendship and congratulations to the plucky Nambian natives, and is an appropriate token of his thanks on behalf of all his friends who made a killing in Africa.

Speaking of which, visiting Club Oligarch would give you an opportunity to investigate the many and varied business opportunities available in Nambia.  European and American investors have already established a very huge and amazing infrastructure to support a beautiful array of industries, including pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, gold mining, blood diamonds, pesticides, and the harvesting of human organs—all with total freedom from pesky health, environmental, and occupational safety rules.  Nice!

Finally, if you are concerned about your personal health while visiting Nambia, have no fear!  The government of Nambia has inaugurated a health care system and insurance program the likes of which has never been seen before.  In case you didn’t know, that’s really saying something.  Do you have any idea how complex health insurance is?

So, we hope you will take advantage of this very fantastic opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a very, very huge deal.  Inquiries may be made by calling 555-COV-FEFE.  Call before midnight tonight, and we’ll throw in a pair of Ivanka’s latest designer sandals from her extremely nice Plagiarista ™ line.

Meet me at the nineteenth hole—you’re gonna love it!

Reynard Foxworthy

Director of Marketing, Nambia Section

Trump Executive Travel Group