Agnotology in Journalism

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Devil Made Me Do It

Choice is one of those issues that never leave the headlines for very long. The latest brouhaha began when Hilary Rosen, a Democratic Party advisor, claimed that Mitt Romney’s wife, mother of five, grandmother to 16, “never worked a day in her life.” What Rosen meant was that stay-at-home moms don’t contribute to the world of commerce as a plumber, or a lobbyist, might. Put aside for a moment things like tact or facts; and consider why an advisor or strategist would sneer at the rigors of motherhood on national television, in an election year – just a few weeks before Mother’s Day! The controversy echoes Hillary Clinton’s wild shot at women who bake at home.

 As is often the case in these matters, the follow-on apologetics made a poor choice worse. Ms. Rosen quickly took to the airwaves to change the subject, claiming that, unlike Ann Romney, most women couldn’t choose between mothering and the workplace; asserting that wives are compelled to work outside the home. Rosen’s claim was quickly endorsed by President Obama who insisted, on the one hand, that political spouses should be off limits; then with the other hand, dragged his wife, Michelle, into the fray; claiming that even the distaff half of a breeding pair of lawyers, with a mid-six-figure income, had to work outside the home to make ends meet. The president argued, like Rosen, that wives don’t have choices; implying that they are victims - of economic circumstance. Never mind that claiming mothers (compared to fathers?) are not free to choose is at once condescending or patronizing. Indeed, the very phrase “working mothers” is at best a pleonasm.

Two of the four principals in this controversy are lawyers. You might think that litigators would have a better grip on facts, rhetoric, and precedent; but the real agenda here may be political, not economic or moral. The Rosen/Obama trope casts women working outside of the home as victims, not free agents. Or perhaps Rosen and the president merely confused no choice with poor choice. Clearly, circumstances might mitigate a choice, but by tradition and common law, circumstances do not determine, control, or preordain. Unless the defense of poor choice is insanity, mothers are as liable for their selections as anybody. Custom and legal praxis does not support the Rosen/Obama twist on compulsion, on choice, on free will - or any related notions.

Arguments about free will and choice have an antique lineage. The decisive moment for Western culture came in the 16th Century when two Augustinian Monks, Desiderious Erasmus and Martin Luther, squared off in the middle of the Reformation. Luther landed the first blow by claiming that free will does not matter in matters of salvation. Fra Martin argued that an omnipotent God knew and predestined the fate of all men; some were saved and others were destined to burn. No amount of good works could lead to salvation. Luther’s argument is similar to what you might hear from empiricists today; just substitute biology, illness, or natural forces for God’s omniscience – or the devil’s grip.

(Flip Wilson, an American comedian with a finger on the pulse of modern absurdities used to justify his comedic antics with: “The devil made me do it!” Using the devil as an excuse for human frailties was given more than a little traction at the beginning of the modern era by Martin Luther.)

Back at the Reformation, Fra Erasmus replied to Luther that knowledge of good and evil was not destiny; just as a scholar’s knowledge of planetary movements did not influence those motions. He further claimed that free will was a gift to humanity; the capacity to choose between good and evil and suffer the consequences; rewards or punishment. Erasmus also argued that there would be no need for God’s commandments (or man’s law) if men and women were not responsible for choices or behavior. Clear lines between church and state had yet to be drawn in the 16th Century.

Still, the arguments of Erasmus had obvious civic significance. Verily, these arguments were made in a day when morality was a serious issue in the public square, not the quaint historical artifact it has become. Nonetheless, over time, the views of Erasmus prevailed even in the secular world. Today, all notions of individual accountability, law, and democracy itself are based on an accepted understanding of free will. Indeed, the act of voting in a democracy is free men and women, freely choosing – and living peacefully with the consequences. Voting is true choice.

Political assaults on free will today, like those of Rosen and Obama, are not as convincing as they are selective. The contemporary understanding of “choice” is an example. Choice will usually be invoked when one or more options are inconvenient, burdensome, or selfish. Marriage, children, birth control, abortion, sexual proclivities, and even racial identity are examples. Conversely, politicized notions of choice, or options, are seldom invoked when it comes to matters like: substance abuse, welfare, minimum wages, union membership, quotas, hiring, immigration, grade inflation, graduation standards, criminality, and now spouses in the marketplace it seems. In these cases, choice is often denied. A drunk, an addict, a dropout, or now a woman with two jobs is thought to be impaired, like a disabled veteran, as if choice had nothing to do with personal or even national destinies.

Indeed, many traditional cultures in the European Union, stimulated by generous welfare, labor, and immigration policies, are being displaced by primitive avatars. The no-go zones of France and northern Europe are egregious symptoms. Liberal immigration policies can be a value added, but when it morphs into colonization, the effects are far from salutary. Again, voting is choosing. Democratic choice in Brussels may be excising the adjective “European” from the noun Union.

Personal choices too, in concert, have enormous consequences. The correlation between selective notions of free will and poor choice has not gone unnoticed by science. Take the cumulative impact of no marriage, late marriage, birth control, abortion, and same sex unions among citizens of the free world.

As Dr. Charles Murray points out, such choices are not the conceits of a selfish elite or an oppressed underclass anymore; these choices in America are now made by largely white middle and blue collar classes. Individually, each of the above options might be defended as progressive choices, but collectively they amount to a kind of biological or cultural nihilism, if not national suicide. The worst collective choices are often made with innocuous personal motives. Free will does not warranty good choices.

As Erasmus might have said, individuals and nations are responsible for their choices, good or bad, nonetheless. Free will is destiny; consequence is the price of choice. In spite of what empiricists, lobbyists, or presidents might claim; we are not controlled or compelled by gods, devils, natural forces, or economic circumstances. And we are not free because we reside in a place called democracy. We are free only if we believe in free will - not moral evasions or selfish notions of “choice.”
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 This article (with hyperlink sources) appeared in the American Thinker and the New English Review on 1 May 2012.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mike Wallace; Requiem for a Lightweight

Mike Wallace, veteran media personality, died the other day at age 93. If air time and salary are measures of merit, Wallace was an American television star and an unqualified success. He was a triple treat too; pitchman, game show host, and actor. On the back nine, Mike liked to think of himself exclusively as a journalist. The network might have plucked him from day-time television; but, taking the shill out of the entertainer was another matter. Wallace was the quintessential barker, an ambulance chaser with Press credentials. He perfected the art of “ambush” journalism at the CBS network. With such tactics, copy only led when it bled. Indeed, Mike Wallace’s career echoes some of the more predatory traditions of broadcast journalism.

The idea that day-time television (a mind numbing mix of games, gossip, cartoons, and fake reality shows) is a good apprenticeship for serious journalism is a little like believing that playing doctor as a child is good training for urologists or gynecologists. Nonetheless, the career paths of chaps like Wallace, and larger icons like Walter Cronkite, followed that road where entertainment and news merge. The problem might be worse with women. Barbara Walters moves seamlessly from bimbo chat in the AM to hard news in the PM. Diane Sawyer is now another refugee from daytime fluff.

Such media figures usually have one or more characteristics in common; liberal politics, photogenic looks, variable standards – and a knack with a teleprompter. Of these, politics and visuals are probably the deal breakers. When was the last time you saw an obese, homely, or impartial anchor?

The values are all wrong and the politics are predictable in the entertainment bullpen. Standards seem to be confined to: appearance, salesmanship, limited expertise, and selective ethics. Wallace’s Vietnam War coverage for CBS and 60 Minutes is an illustration; a case where Wallace and the network, not content with real issues like military competence, chose to attack an officer’s character. Ethos is more entertaining than issues.

In 1982, fourteen years after the fact, Wallace accused William Westmoreland of cooking the Intelligence books on Viet Cong strength numbers in 1968. Had Wallace known anything about the Order of Battle calculations, he would have known that commanding generals do not get mired in the details of bean counting; relying instead on agencies like DIA and CIA and accepting G2 (Intelligence) numbers as received wisdom.

The 60 Minutes segment alleged that Westmoreland personally suppressed Viet Cong strength numbers, a manipulation which led to the Tet Offensive “surprise” of 1968.

CBS speculations were based on several flawed premises; including a flaky witness (Sam Adams) and the implausibility of underestimates in the middle of a shooting war. Estimates of enemy strength were not done exclusively at Westmoreland’s MACV HQ in Saigon in any case; calculations were also done by agencies in Honolulu and Washington, DC.

Nonetheless, enemy threat numbers usually err on the high side (recall the ten foot Soviets of the Cold War). Threat inflation is a no-lose hedge. Higher threat estimates are also key to bigger budgets. The Tet “surprise” may have been a low point in the war, but low numbers were irrelevant in any case. The war went on for another seven years.

The libel suite against CBS was settled out of court. Westmoreland might have proved defamation, but probably not the higher standard for “malice.” Still, Wallace’s personal conduct after the trail provides a telling coda; admitting first to profound depression and then to at least one attempted suicide in the wake of the battle with Westmoreland. Is truth depressing? Are winners suicidal?

With the “uncounted enemy” charade; CBS was telling one story, but selling another; a tale of personal destruction. And the practice of political journalism is not without precedent before or after Mike Wallace.

Walter Cronkite cried on air for John Kennedy. What network anchor shed tears for Ronald Reagan when he was shot? Were Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, a liberal jurist instead of a conservative black man, would he have been savaged by PBS and Nina Totenberg? More recently, Dan Rather, another 60 Minutes regular, was caught using forged documents to attack George Bush’s character. Even colleagues claimed that Dan Rather was “transparently liberal;” a charge that might be made about many network journalists today. Rather was fired for cooking the books, while Mike Wallace was just left to marinate with a troubled conscience.

The producers of 60 Minutes and correspondents like Mike Wallace might better be called “parachute,” not ambush journalists. Indeed, men and women with limited expertise are often dropped onto a hot issue for hours or days and then returned to air conditioned suites where they judge like experts. The near tragedy with Lara Logan, another CBS protégé, in Tahrir Square, is instructive. Who thought it was a good idea to drop a blond waif, with cowardly escorts, into a howling mob of angry Muslim men?

Hemingway was a credible war correspondent because he served at the Italian front in WWI. George Orwell was a believable critic of retail Communism because he served with Red partisans in the Spanish Civil War. Joseph Conrad was a reliable source on colonialism because he lived in the “heart of darkness.” Ernie Pyle was beloved by the troops and on the home front because he bivouacked with, and ate the same chow as, the GIs for the duration of WWII.

Recall the mockery of Wallace’s CBS colleague, Dan Rather, as “Gunga Dan” for his silly costumes and war zone pretense. The credibility of reporting is not enhanced by posturing. Since the Korean War, no correspondent is ever more than a helicopter ride away from air conditioning, happy hour, and room service.

The recent network eulogies for Wallace had all the appropriate spin; replete with the numbers of Emmy and Peabody awards. Yet these, like Pulitzers, have become a kind of Special Olympics for the glitterati. If you have one significant award, it might mean something; 25 awards is a kind of faint praise - just another statistic.

Few testimonials mentioned Wallace’s ethnic paranoia, and over compensation in the form of biased coverage of Jewish or Israeli news items. Fewer still mentioned his derogatory comments about Blacks, Hispanics, or homosexuals either. And almost none mentioned Chris Wallace, Mike’s son over at FOX, who became the journalist that Mike Wallace never was.

Ironically, a few days after Wallace passed away, this year’s print Pulitzers were announced. The reporting trophy went to an Associated Press exposé; a series on the NY Police Department and the city program to collect intelligence on Islamists. Yes, a little more than a decade after 9/11, cops are again the enemy - and the Muslim community is a victim (of “profiling”), not a potential source of terror. Mike Wallace would have loved this choice, a world turned inside out by political pretense and journalistic spin.

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The author served as a junior intelligence officer at 7th AF, HQ on Ton Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam, during the Tet Offensive of 1968. This essay with hyperlinks published in American Thinker, 23 April 2012.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mitt Romney, Straw Man

“A fool and his money are soon elected.” - Will Rogers

A few days ago, American Thinker carried a piece entitled: “How Mitt Can Win.” The argument was unremarkable, but the comments that followed were not. Published reader sentiments were almost universally negative, not about the writer’s facts or logic, but about Romney’s character – or lack of it. Such visceral animus is startling because many American Thinker readers might be described as somewhat east of Genghis Kahn - or be described as believers in “anybody but BO’B.”

Yet, queasiness about a Mitt candidacy or a Romney presidency is not news. He may never be the choice for most Americans, but he is clearly the preferred choice of the Republican establishment. Nothing says ‘business as usual’ like an endorsement from John McCain or the Bush family.

And Romney may be able to buy the nomination; yet, he is very unlikely to purchase the White House. Beating Obama was once thought to be lead pipe cinch. A Romney candidacy changes that calculus in many significant ways. If the character question can’t be answered for work-a-day Republicans, conservatives, or American Thinker readers; imagine what Democrats or liberals will do with that single flaw in a general election.

What Romney believes or pretends to believe no longer matters. That ship has sailed. What matters now is what voters believe about Mitt Romney. And here the news is not good.

Romney’s character problem is variously described as inconsistency, double talk, flip flopping, or any number of euphemisms that suggest that his beliefs are as variable as weather. Still, significant change of heart on any issue is not necessarily a political handicap. Churchill was fond of saying that a change of facts should alter beliefs.

Ronald Reagan provides a telling contrast. Early in life, Reagan was a liberal activist and high union official. Based on his experience with west coast Communists, California’s social profligacy, and union corruption; Reagan eventually altered his views and his party affiliation. Through his writings and speech making, it was always possible to audit the vector of his thinking. Reagan came over from the dark side and the electorate knew how he got there. Indeed, few presidents since Lincoln left a better paper trail of personal political evolution. With Romney, there is no intellectual paper trail, just a series of apparent reversals which paint him, fairly or not, as a serial opportunist.

Many voters seem to view Romney as the rich kid trying to pledge for the most exclusive fraternity on campus; more interested in joining the club than changing it. Hard to determine what Mitt stands for besides getting elected. And by playing to both sides of any issue, Romney panders to the worst instincts of the beltway establishment.

Surely, mainstream conservatives are looking for an iconoclast willing to break the social, economic, and geo-strategic paradigms that have contributed to the American decline. Romney is a lot of things, but few think of him as a game changer. He may have shed the jacket and tie, but not the image of a mediocre, buttoned down, traditional politician.

Obama’s greatest asset is that people know what he represents. “Obamacare” may go down in flames before the election, but no one has any doubts about Barack’s politics. Even his opponents will give him credit for an effort based on neo-socialist principles, however misguided those ideals might be. That much cannot be said of Romney.

Adding insult to injury, of four Republican candidates, Mitt is the one who makes Obama look the best. Indeed, Romney might have to spend the majority of his political capital trying to explain how a Massachusetts elephant is not just another Washington jackass.

Romney’s “etch-a-sketch” reputation was not created by Democrats. Even his staff appears to believe that Mitt is, and will be, a chameleon as the political terrain dictates. This may be, at once, a winning primary tactic and a disastrous election strategy. All that is certain about Romney to date is that he desperately wants to be president. And wanting to be somebody may not be enough. If Romney is selected as the Republican candidate, liberal or Democrat Party hit men may be the least of his worries.

Consider the following nightmare scenario.

Reagan conservatives, the Americans Elect movement, and traditional Jews/Christians represent three minorities whose influence in a close election could be decisive. True conservatives may not be moved by the “anybody but Obama” appeal and just stay home. Most voters are motivated to vote for, not against, a candidate. The Americans Elect movement, while possibly a Trojan horse or a fake “third way,” will, like hard core conservatives, nonetheless, tap into the ‘plague on both (Republican and Democrat)) their houses’ sentiment. Remember that Ross Perot made Clinton possible – twice. And traditional Christians, and some Jews, have long standing beefs with Bishop Romney’s co-religionists, the details of which are well represented in the Press and on the internet. If and when the Democrats have to go nuclear; religion is sure to be a weapon of choice.

Should a Romney candidacy be as inevitable as it now seems, 2012 may be known as the year of the lesser of two evils; or the year for choosing between the devil you know and the devil that makes you gag. If historical voting statistics mean anything, Barak Obama has the edge in such a contest. The loudest voice in any American election is often inertia.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Aphrodite's Fluke

These impossible women! How they do get around us!
Can't live with them, or without them. - Aristophanes


The non-sequitur is a bottomless pit. Take the ongoing debate in America over birth control and who should pay.

First, the loony congressional Left collared a naïve 30 year old Georgetown University co-ed and encouraged her to testify about her active social life; an ill-conceived masque put on to back government or industry subsidized birth control. In the interests of privacy, let’s call her Aphrodite – no Hera she.

Aphrodite would have us believe that a frisky law student can afford thousands for tuition at a Jesuit graduate school, but can not afford pennies for protected recreational sex. Recreational, presumably because distaff law students haunt the saloons of “M” Street and Wisconsin Avenues looking for hangovers or hook-ups, not baby daddies.

Ms. Aphrodite claimed that she needed $1000 worth of birth control per year. If the protection of choice is a condom; our heroine’s arithmetic comes to 12,000 safe couplings at taxpayer expense in three years of graduate school - or more than three encounters a day including weekends and holidays. The next time Nancy Pelosi holds a hearing on this matter, voters must hear from Aphrodite’s boy friend. The country needs to know what this guy eats, not what he wears.

Not content to let gaucherie marinate, Rush Limbaugh imprudently calls our lady lawyer a “slut” on national radio. The sweet stew of indiscretion then boils over and explodes into a hoochie mama media frenzy. Even the president gets into the act, calling Aphrodite and commending the now infamous law student for what may become known as the bonobo defense; indeed, the burdens of too much sex, too much exposure, and the need for a frequency subsidy. Aphrodite seems to be on the partner track before she leaves law school.

Then Limbaugh, ever the civic barometer, senses that he and Obama are inadvertently on the same page. OMG! The two seem to be turning a bimbo into a civil rights victim. Limbaugh, stimulated by show sponsors, apologizes quickly. Well, sort of. Rush says he shouldn’t have sunk to “their” level. Presumably we know who “they” are.

Having shot from the lip, Limbaugh and Obama both missed the target. The Aphrodite problem is not, as it turns out, morality or women’s rights; it’s an intelligence quotient deficit.

Had our heroine wandered out of the hook-up hothouse in Georgetown, she might have discovered that condoms are already free in the District of Columbia; as is all manner of social life style counseling, fungible ailment medications, or surgeries for any unprogrammed population growth.

So it seems that Nancy Pelosi’s Muppet masters were using Aphrodite to double down. Anyone can find free rubbers or pills in the big city. What the social democrats really want is wall-to-wall coverage, and mandates, for all means of birth and (after) control in the name of women’s health. Aphrodite’s Potomac sex life was just the salacious bait for a bigger fish.

Seems the birth control beef is a viral extension of the abortion logic, where the seedier dimensions of life style choices, eugenics, and population control are elevated with the rhetoric of women’s rights or health care. Never mind that miscasting abortion exclusively as a health issue is a little like confusing genocide with gentrification.

Before you could finish a chorus of Wankers Aweigh, flyover feminists jumped into the fray to sponsor a nationwide sex strike. Yes, a coitus moratorium to punish men; insensitive brutes who joke about condoms and bananas in sex education classes - and then refuse to stretch a condom into an inalienable right.

The sponsors of the sex strike are based in Austin, Texas. They call themselves the Liberal Ladies Who Do Lunch (LLDL). Their cyber manifesto reads:

“We are women between the ages of 25-125 who are liberals and proud of it. We enjoy conversations with likeminded women in a safe environment about topics other than boyfriends and fashion, and we like to grab lunch together. Hope you'll join us for some interesting discussions and fun times. NOTE: This group is for true liberals--both socially and fiscally.”

A quick visit to the LLDL web site reveals that average age is closer is closer to 100 than 25 and these dowagers, as a group, look like they could miss a meal or two and be healthier for the hiatus. And if years, girth, and the exclusions in their manifesto matter; sex with men is probably not a recreation likely to worry these ladies anyway. For these gals, giving up sex may be a little like a mayfly giving up a trout.

Yet, they are not without influence. LLDLers have inserted themselves into the condom conundrum; and their proposal is nothing short of astounding. Choice is now joined with chastity; to wit, choosing not to have to have sex at all.

The liberal matrons of Texas have endorsed abstinence! Like clenched knees, long thought to be one of those common sense, yet equally improbable, solutions we hear on the religious Right. With this, the Austin abstainers may have stumbled upon the silver bullet that neuters the extremes and potentially ends the “war on women”.

George Orwell was fond of saying that the quickest way to end a war was to lose it. Exactly! The clenched knee solution does just that. At first glance a tad misanthropic, but on closer examination, giving up giving it up, resolves every issue on the gender front; health, choice, civil rights, birth control, and abortion. If ladies “just say no,” Lysistrata will have been born again.

The sex strike is scheduled to begin on 28 April, too late for April Fools, but on point for Mother’s Day. Nonetheless, more than a few chads are still dangling.

Will a professional house call, an Eliot Spitzer if you will, be allowed? If the working girls can’t work, are they just labor statistics, do they get unemployment? And does an Anthony Weiner count? Is cyber sexting off the keyboard? And what about a Lewinsky? Ever since the Clinton administration, the meaning of “is” and genuine sex has been up in the air. And what about a Bill Maher, aural sex, or talking dirty? Will potty mouth be covered by the blackout? And who has checked with the White House and congressional intern programs? What are these youngsters to do during the moratorium?

Enough now! Quibbling about details will never give peace a chance; and better soft simulacrums than stiff kinetics any day. Sometimes the most obvious solutions hide in plain sight; a page out of Hilary’s foreign policy playbook maybe? Why shouldn’t sex sanctions work as well on domestic dinosaurs as economic sanctions work on atomic chauvinists in far flung places like Teheran or Pyongyang?

The gender wars have come full circle in a week; from bonobo to Lysistrata; from too much sex with government subsidies to no sex and no subsidies. But before those peace dividends are spent in May, Aristophanes provides some cautionary words about tumescent threats of the future. Or as that Greek chorus put it: “For I (women) am taxed too and as revenue provide men for the nation.” Amen, sisters!

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G. Murphy Donovan is a former carpetbagger and resident of Amarillo and San Antonio. Based on field research, the author is very skeptical that real Texas women will ever give up what is arguably, after football, the second favorite pastime in the state. This essay appeared in the April issue of the New English Review.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Act of Valor?

Socialist realism is making a comeback in some strange places – Hollywood and the Pentagon are good examples. Like the Soviet propaganda flics of yore, the good guys are ten feet tall and the bad guys are ambiguous nitwits. The action film, Act of Valor, purports to show “active-duty SEALs,” an elite cadre specially trained for covert warfare, in operations “based on true events.” For openers, it’s hard to quibble about the hype for feature length propaganda, but it’s also difficult to reconcile “true” anything and a Hollywood film crew.

And the nonsense about covert or secret is just that. Clandestine forces, and what they do, haven’t been secrets since the Kennedy administration. If special operations are covert, you might ask; why is the Department of Defense in bed with Tinsel Town again? If the secret Navy is on a heading from cloak and dagger to Hollywood Boulevard, recruiting numbers should hit bottom in no time. True warriors make poor actors and the best actors often make implausible warriors.

Beyond advertising hyperbole, this film fails as a recruiting incentive, art, or politics. Indeed, nearly two thirds of the early professional reviews are negative. And let’s not be too quick to write off the Media for their usual liberal bias. This ham-handed attempt to glamorize the special operations deserves all the bad press it gets. The whole project looks like a poorly made, and politically fishy, video game.

Kathyrn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (2008) was an award winning piece of military realism a few years ago because the film had good actors and great writing - sparse and laced with grim humor. Act of Valor has none of this. Hurt Locker had the look and feel of a documentary; because the director had the good sense to step back and avoid the usual Hollywood bravo sierra.

Who in the Pentagon or Department of Defense thought it was a good idea to show real SEALs fighting a fake enemy? Are we not fighting a real Islamists in what is now approaching half-dozen real Muslim countries? All the real action is in the real Muslim world; yet Act of Valor would have you believe that the bad guys are Russian drug dealers, Chechens, or Filipinos with weird accents. Are we to believe that the world-wide terror campaign against peace and civility only flourishes in the Caucuses or Mindanao?

The problem with national security awareness is not that the taxpayer or potential recruits have a diminished appreciation of military heroes. The problem with retention and recruitment is that the Pentagon, and now Hollywood it seems, can not paint an honest picture of the threat – an enemy with a toxic political theology that inspires suicide bombers. No one dies for ambiguity!

It’s a safe bet that every suicide bomber has a clear, albeit necrotic, picture of their enemies; and those enemies appear to be almost any Jew, apostate, or infidel in Europe or America. And Islamist clarity, no matter how malignant, covers motives too; in short, doing God’s will, crying “Allahu, allahu akbar” all the way to perdition.

Successful wars have four essentials; a competent militia, an unambiguous picture of the threat, a supportive populace, and a political class willing to be candid about the first three. After two decades of combat, only the first standard has been met; and the outlook for the other three is not good. For any perceptive audience, Act of Valor does nothing but underline some intractable and long-standing deficits of strategic candor.

The appearance of this film in an election year is also troubling. This is not to say the movies shouldn’t have political spin, but if the film is sponsored by the Pentagon, the trip wire between admirals and politicians should launch a blinding flare. The only thing “covert” about Act of Valor may be the politics.

Act of Valor, ironically similar to recent national security estimates, is a transparent, if not deceptive, picture of the who and the why of a tedious ongoing war. The taxpayer, that pays the bills, and the warriors, that do the bleeding, deserve better from Washington and Hollywood.

Think for a moment about the real subtext of Act of Valor. Through film, the Navy brass seeks to recruit brave men to fight in a series of wars where Europe and America have already surrendered! There is little evidence today that Europe or America is willing to defend the culture that made industry, democracy, art, and science possible.

Both political parties no longer use the language of victory. Indeed, the political class can not bring themselves to name the enemy, no less defeat him. The bad guys are always vague euphemisms like “radicals” or “extremists.” Terms like “stability’ and “nation building” have replaced achievable military goals and political objectives - like victory.

The oldest American military decoration is the Purple Heart. The front has a miniature profile of George Washington; the back is inscribed with three words “For Military Merit.” Sadly, this soulless movie, politically correct and trite, has little to do with real heart or real merit.

“We are not going to baby sit (sic) any civil wars.” – Barak H. Obama

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G. Murphy Donovan is a Vietnam veteran. He writes frequently about national security and politics. A version of this review, with hyperlinks, appears in the 1 March 2012 edition of the American Thinker.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Blow in the New York Times

“You can’t get rid of poverty by giving people money.” – P. J. O’Rourke

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum drew fire from the usual suspects the other day for his remarks on the utility of inequality. A typical reaction was that of columnist Charles M. Blow in the New York Times who accused Senator Santorum of “praising income inequality.” (Blow is best noted for sneering at Mitt Romney's "magic underwear".) Santorum was actually praising the value of individual and group inequity - as a necessary motive force for hard work, competition, and success. Unlike the shallow reaction of the NY Times, Santorum’s argument is underwritten by history, science, and common sense.

William Playfair (1759-1823), groundbreaking political economist, when discussing the rise and fall of individuals and nations concluded:

“The superior energy of poverty and necessity which leads men, under this pressure, to act incessantly in whatever way they have it in their power to act, and that seems likely to bring them on a level with those that are richer, is then the ground-work of the rise and fall of nations, as well as of individuals…. the triumph of poverty over wealth on the great scale as on the small, though very irregular in its pace, has continued without interruption from the earliest records to the present moment.”

Playfair’s contemporary, Adam Smith (1723-1790), underwrote the “poverty and necessity” argument in the Wealth of Nations. Smith concluded that individual economic effort, devoid of any larger social purpose; nonetheless, contributed to a greater common good. Smith’s “invisible hand” is the equivalent of Playfair’s “triumph of poverty.” The successful also have cultural utility; they serve as role models for the next generation. For such men, progress is a function of initiative and competition.

A few years later, philosopher Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) and naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) picked up the thread. For Hegel, progress in the world of ideas was a process of old ideas (thesis) competing with new ideas (anti-thesis) resulting, hopefully, in a better idea (synthesis), one which retained the best elements of the competitors. This common sense historical formula, for Hegel, explained the evolution of intellectual and social institutions. In short, utility is discovered by trail and error. Ideas are necessary, but only a dialectical test, or competition, of ideas is sufficient.

Darwin applied a similar notion of competition to the natural world. He argued that improvement of microbes and monkeys alike was a result of conflict between and among the weak and strong, a kind of natural selection which insured the survival of the fittest.

Of course, suggestions that Darwin’s hypothesis might be applied in the human realm, today, is usually dismissed out of hand for reasons you might never see on the editorial pages of the NY Times. Applications of social Darwinism are politically correct only in so far as they do not touch the third rail of human physical and social development.

In any case, struggle or “natural” competition that might make men and women more competitive, hence improve, is inhibited by the “visible hand” of modern government. Indeed, when enlightened social scientists, like Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), suggest that inept entitlement programs create and sustain generational dependencies; such arguments are often dismissed as racism.

Closer to our times, the best scholars, such as Jacques Barzun, complain about the corrosive effects of artificial leveling; that is, social promotions and affirmative actions, unrelated to merit or competition. Dr. Barzun may be too polite. The academic poverty of American teachers and students has gone from bad to abysmal since Barzun first wrote about the pitfalls of lowering school standards.

The most obvious artifact of merit in the American public school system is athletics - where competition and achievement are the only measures of effectiveness. Unfortunately, sports thrive in a school culture where athletic standards are higher than academic standards for a diploma or a degree. Low expectations are the cruelest forms of poverty.

Inequality and its symptoms, such as poverty, are value neutral. Like weather, climate, and heritage; these things are part of the human condition. And these are conditions that, in a meritocracy, can be overcome. Competition between unequals is the leitmotif of natural, social, and political history.

The NY Times and like minded social theorists ignore the key sources of social motivation; and then fail to reform those government programs, such as intemperate welfare and impotent public education, which actually make social and economic poverty possible.

The issues of inequality and justice are bound to dominate the coming electoral food fight where the table is set for another orgy of class warfare. Yet on Election Day, democratic equality will prevail nonetheless. Warren Buffett’s vote will not be worth any more than that of his over taxed secretary. And if four more years of economic and social leveling are still on the table next spring; who is to say that poverty, like a good appetite, will not be the best sauce?

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This essay appeared in the 16 February edition of American Thinker. See original for hyperlinks.

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About Me

The author is a native of the Bronx, a transplant to DC. He is a Vietnam veteran and former USAF Intelligence officer with tours at all of the major 3 button Intelligence agencies. He is a graduate of the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. School and Cardinal Hayes HS in NYC. He also has several degrees from less illustrious institutions. Check Six writes primarily at G. Murphy Donovan and Agnotology in Journalism. His work has appeared in various political, national security, and Intelligence journals.