dislogue

Books, culture, fishing, and other games

October 14, 2004

Pregnable Zell

My favorite Democrat, Zell Miller, has a great oped piece in the Washington Times today, "Iwo Jima, if covered by media today." It casts the battle for Iwo Jima in World War II as if it were being reported on by today's media. It's not often I read an oped and flat bust out laughing. Okay, I admit I'm strange, and have a sense of humor that sometimes doesn't translate, but, for what it's worth, this is great (emphasis mine):

Cutie: "Pfc. Doe, what's that mountain in the background? Is that the one they say is impregnable?"
Pfc. Doe: "I don't know what that word means, ma'am, but that's Mt. Suribachi, and we're going to put a flag right up on top of it just as soon as we can. I gotta go."
Iwo Jima Memorial
Iwo Jima Memorial
(Marines hoisting U.S. flag atop Mt. Suribachi)

Aside from the pun in the choice of "impregnable" (a more pregnant symbol is hard to imagine than Mount Suribachi looming in the background, considering what it has come to mean to us, and the U.S.) which already had me smiling, that line Zell puts into a Marine's mouth (remember, Zell is a Marine) is simply priceless: "I don't know what that word [impregnable] means, ma'am." It's worthly of Shakespeare. It works on at least three levels, maybe four. That the reporter is named "Cutie Cudley" and this is a Marine who's been and is facing death injects a hint of double entendre of the more common sort too. But the flatpanned delivery of what is so easily read as "a Marine doesn't know the meaning of impregnable objective, ma'am" epitomizes the "can do" attitude of our guys and gals fighting for us and freedom right now. Then there's the situational irony that what the reporter refers to as impregnable will prove to be pregnable, and its impregnation with the U.S. flag will become a potent national symbol memorialized across the river from the very center of U.S. government, and adjacent to the orderly rows of thousand upon thousand of white markers for the sacrifice of Americans in the service of freedom.

As usual, the reporter doesn't see that potential, or potency, in the situation, she sees obstacles and the barrenness of the immediate scenery:

Cutie to camera: "No one has yet really confirmed why this particular battle in this particular place is even being waged. Already, on the first day, at least 500 Marines have been killed and a thousand wounded. For this? (Camera pans to a map with a speck of an island in the Pacific. Then a close up of nothing but black volcanic ash). For this? For this?" (Cutie's sweet voice becomes more strident as it fades out.)

What's sad, though, is, as I read on and on past this point, I stopped laughing. Zell boosts the level of sarcasm to nearly unbearable, but he borrows heavily (and fairly) from things we have heard or read about the Iraq war in recent months. It's very hard to face the tragedy and triumph of the victory of Iwo Jima when it's cast in the actinic glare of modern media, a glare so harsh that all the beauty of sacrifice and success is lost in the details of corpses and bloody, cratered foxholes. The nobleness of the cause is overwhelmed by the dirt, blood and tears of the immediate. The latter is what interests the media, not the former.

Do they not believe in the cause? Or is the cause just old news? Sad to say, I put them mostly into the former category. They really disbelieve that America is a force for good.

Zell ends with a historical note, probably necessary to most readers under the age of 30 due the the marvelous efficacy of our public education system:

Historical note: In one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, when it was said "uncommon courage was a common virtue," 6,000 Marines were killed and 18,000 wounded. Some 21,000 Japanese were killed. The island itself is still barren and only a handful of people live on it. But after it was secured by the Marines, B-29s made over 2,200 emergency landings on it, saving the lives of more than 24,000 crewmen. AP photographer Joe Rosenthal won a Pulitzer Prize for the flag-raising photo. Of the six men in the photo, three were buried in that black volcanic ash, one came out on a stretcher. Only two walked off the island.

Do read it.

Hat tip to Charles at Little Green Footballs for the link to this one. Priceless.

Posted by dan at 05:18 PM | Comments (0)

October 11, 2004

Four More Years... of Laura Bush!

I just went down to grab a Diet Coke from the news store in the lobby and saw the President speaking on MSNBC on the lobby television. He's in, I think, New Mexico. He was talking to a crowd, just in the process of greeting them and introducing the people. What stopped me was his mention of Laura. After telling the anecdotes we've mostly all heard by now, he went on to say that one of the major reasons to send the Bush-Cheney team back to the White House was to ensure that Laura Bush was the First Lady for the next four years. That was interesting. Bush is pretty gracious, and not one to criticize people directly (except, of course, for his immediate opponent in the race), but the way in which he delivered that line wasw clearly meant to raise this question: Do you want Teresa Antoinette Heinz Kerry as First Lady for the next four years?

I've actually defended Teresa on one occasion. That remark about getting the food, water, and generators to the hurricane victims in the Caribbean after the hurricane did not strike me the same way as it did most others.

Visiting volunteers in New York packing relief supplies for Hurricane Ivan victims, the Democratic presidential nominee's wife said that food and water are more important than clothes in the shipments to the Caribbean islands.

``Clothing is wonderful, but let them go naked for a while, at least the kids,'' Heinz Kerry said, raising some eyebrows. ``Water is necessary, and then generators, and then food, and then clothes.''
Boston Herald, September 17, 2004.
I was brought up in a clothing-optional-for-kids part of the world, and I suspect the same may be the case in Madagascar. If the climate is tropical, clothes are not a priority except for reasons of modesty. Food and water are necessary for life. Power is of great importance in the healthcare infrastructure, and in repairing the damage. Once you keep the kids alive and healthy you can worry about clothing them. In temperate zones or farther toward the poles, where the climate is harsher, we think of clothing as shelter. It's more important to sustaining life. I can't say for certain that Teresa was thinking in this practical fashion when she made that remark, but the context suggests it. It's only insensitive to put the issue the way that she did if you see clothing as a part of the survival equation, or if you place modesty above life. I hope everyone criticzing her remark falls into the former category.

But I may be giving her too much credit. She certainly has made more than her share of silly , or flat rude, remarks. The same story lists four more gaffes:

During the Democratic convention in July, Heinz Kerry told a journalist to ``shove it'' - an episode that was caught by a nearby TV camera.

More recently she touted her husband's health care plan, saying: ``Only an idiot wouldn't like this. Of course, there are idiots.''

Heinz Kerry, one of the world's most wealthy philanthropists, also said: ``The common man doesn't look at me as some rich witch.''

When pro-George Bush hecklers interrupted a Kerry rally and chanted ``Four more years'' she shot back: ``They want four more years of hell.''

A diplomat Teresa is not. And while we aren't voting to elect a First Lady per se, the First Lady certainly can have an effect on national and international relations. First Ladies can and have affected policy. Hillary Clinton tried to drive through a heathcare plan. Nancy Reagan drove the "Just say no" plan to fight drug use among kids. Laura Bush has been involved in issues of education, and especially reading, but she's played a quiet and unassuming role, not looking for the national spotlight.

Laura is there for George. We don't get the impression that she's creating incidents or causing issues for him. They certainly aren't making headline news. The same is clearly not true in the Kerry family. And to anyone who recognizes the importance of money in relationships, the dynamic in the Kerry family has to be very different from that in the Bush family. More so even than in the Clinton family, Teresa as First Lady would wield enormous power. She controls the family purse-strings.

So, when George Bush says one of the important reasons for re-electing him is that Laura will be First Lady for for more years, he's really saying, obliquely, that we won't have to worry about having Teresa as First Lady, with all that that would imply. In this case it implies a lot, billions according to some estimates.

Posted by dan at 11:57 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Show your work!

Beldar's post on "The blogging mindset and the compulsion to "show your work" " got me thinking.

One of the things I love about this medium is the ease of and, perhaps as a result, the proliferation of, hyperlinks. I find I read nonfiction books (and I wish fiction used more footnotes) differently since becoming immersed in online media, but especially the more serious blogs. And a book that doesn't cite its sources doesn't come across as authoritative as those that do, unless the author is a known quantity and I am reasonably trusting that he is writing from personal experience.

I just read Daniel J Flynn's Why the Left Hates America after reading Tour of Duty. Flynn has copious and specific footnotes with references to specific articles. He's writing a polemic, but it comes across a lot more forcefully than Brinkley's Duty because Brinkley isn't specific. It's hard to verify Brinkley's assertions or even to tie his notes to specific assertions. It's amazing that what is more history/biography, Duty, is a lot less attentively documented than a polemic, Why the Left Hates America.

Perhaps the difference is that Flynn sees himself as putting out an argument that he knows will generate a direct response and severe criticism. Thus he's pre-enmpting the weakest form of criticism, "you can't prove that!" by proving he's basing his statements on verifiable evidence. Brinkley on the other hand is working largely from private documents that he knows will probably never be available to the general public: Kerry's private archive. Of course, should Kerry ever become President, that might change. But were that to be the case, Brinkley's book will have served its obvious purpose and any proven errors or misstatements of fact will undoubtedly be forgiven since all served to achieve a greater goal. And, Brinkley expected, and mostly got, a warm reception from the usual venues of criticism, the major media and the academy. Those two major outlets of criticism of books want Tour of Duty to achieve its aim, so they are unlikely to undermine that by pointing out issues in the book that might focus the wrong sort of attention on their candidate of choice.

We should impose the same standards on reporters that we have imposed upon lawyers, though perhaps not to the same degree. We can require reporters to cite their sources, and link to them where available (and make more available by posting them online). With the new media it's now a reasonable imposition. Old media remains stuck in old systems. Footnoting a newspaper isn't very practical, but there is no excuse (except inertia) for not correcting that in an online edition. Notes can be scanned and posted. Pictures alreaady are. More and more books are available online, if only through Amazon.com's "search inside this book" functionality in many cases.

Why should we accord reporters, who are not governed by any professional body that enforces a code of ethics, nor licensed, nor even required to prove competence, a special status that exceeds that of scientists or lawyers. Reporters are not even routinely subjected to peer review before what they publish is offered to the public as "the facts."

All of these things would, no doubt, be seen as infringements on "the freedom of the press" by the existing media establishment. But are they really? Is asking what likes to see itself as "the fourth estate" of government to immune from the same review standards as the other three? Judges are subjected to standards, and their work is reviewed and subject to appeal. Legislators and the executive (the Prez) are subject to public vetting (they are elected), which is reviewed on a 2-4-6 year basis. Do citizens somehow vet reporters? If one is performing subpar, can we elect to remove them?

It's an open question. We have seen a few removed following exposure of incompetence or outright fraud, but some of the more glaring examples recently are not yet resolved. Dan Rather is still claiming to present the facts as news. Dan Okrent still claims the New York Times is fair and balanced ("How Would Jackson Pollock Cover This Campaign?" hatip Powerline, "The Times Critiques Itself"). (Why must these guys have the name "Dan?") They are probably well-meaning, even Mr. Rather. But they are wrong more often than we deserve. They must be allowed to learn from being wrong by being punished for their errors. They rest of us are. Why should the media be immune? Freedom to fail, freedom to suffer the consequences of one's actions, and freedom to learn from experience are freedoms also. Right now there's a dearth of those freedoms in the press.

Maybe if we'd force the media to show their work they'd take more care with getting the facts right.

Posted by dan at 10:45 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 07, 2004

Why the Left Hates America

I've just finished Daniel J. Flynn's Why the Left Hates America. Aside from some interesting citation of facts, it didn't teach me much I hadn't already gotten from other sources. So, from a personal standpoint, I have mixed feelings about the book. It made its case, but broadly rather than deeply. Were it not backed up extensively with more than 30 pages of footnotes on sources, I'd consider it lightweight. But it is. Thus, while it scratches only the surfaces, it documents every scratch, nick and smudge on the way to marking out its thesis: the Left hates America because Anmerica flat contradicts in practice the theoretical utopias that the Left prefers to believe possible.

On reflection, this book can serve well as a remedy to those who don't even realize they're infected with leftist memes. Those memes are so everpresent in Western society now, that even those of us who try to be aware of them miss many. My personal experience of going back to college in middle life was a constant exercise of realizing and innoculating myself against those mostly hostile memes. I was only partially successful. Knowing what children are subjected to in grade school now, the indoctrination based on those leftist memes, it's amazing that some actually manage to fight them off in university. The density there is far higher. But some do. Perhaps it's due to the general rebelliousness of youth, the striving to make oneself individual and different from the norm that clashes with the desire to fit in.

This book can serve as a vaccination of sorts for those without the benefit of a worldview based on hard facts and careful reasoning. Both of those are rare in public schools now. That this book is broad does not mean it is not well-structured. It leads the reader through the leftist memes, but rather than delving deeply, presents the lie, offers documented examples and points out the conflict with observable facts. Always it asks the question of why, if America is so bad in the way the Left claims with the latest meme discussed, so many from elsewhere in the world are giving up everything to come to America. Voting with one's feet is the ultimate test. Immigrants come here is droves and very, very few of the complaining leftists leave for the greener pastures that they claim exist elsewhere.

So, I recommend this book to anyone who cares about Western Civilization and America as the greatest developments to date in human history. Included within those, though perhaps that is backwards, is the emergence of Christianity which, along with its Judaic roots, made both of those possible. Give it to your college kids. Let them filter what they are exposed to in the university through the coarse cloth of this book. What results won't be pure, but it will at least help them filter out the worst of the dirt and impurities of nonfact from the no-longer pure fountain of truth which is our present education system. While other books may do better at removing one particular poisonous meme, this one, with its broad-spectrum approach, will do a lot to lower the overall toxicity. And it offers, via its footnotes, a useful source of
citations to employ as examples, in those cases where the less-informed dispute the particulars.

I won't say I enjoyed the book. It's not that sort of book. I'd described my reaction more as angry. But that's not terribly different from reading the news. And it is interesting, in the sort of way that it is for a clinical pathologist to observe the behavior of a new strain of disease.

Flynn's Intellectual Morons awaits, though I think I'll sidetrack into fiction first.

Posted by dan at 06:04 PM | Comments (0)