The Geometry of Language

Math has a certain concreteness that’s attractive. When you say 2+2=4, it’s a certainty to everyone except our Budgeteer-in-Chief who thinks 2+2=Eleventyseven. Language on the other hand is a tricky and fickle thing. It has nuance and subtlety, power and majesty, sometimes from the same words.

There’s a trick – often employed by advertisers, but equally beloved by politicians – that makes words say anything you want them to say. This trick is to replace negative language with something a little happier. Both sides of the abortion debate are good examples.

Anti-abortionists and right-to-lifers fashioned themselves into pro-lifers. Pro-abortion advocates became pro-choice advocates. Even though this happy talk put a nice spin on things, it didn’t change the debate one iota. Abortion is still a thing that almost everyone would just as soon avoid. The difference is in how strongly you want to limit the avoidances.

Or, take old-fashioned liberals who renamed themselves progressives. Progressive has a nice ring to it. After all, who could be against progress? The fact there are still liberal idiots and charlatans doesn’t count for much in this name change. Neither does the fact that progress isn’t always such a good thing.

Now you conservatives, wipe that shit-eating grin off your faces. This one’s for you.

You prefer conservative to right-wing flaming asshat, but you’re not conservatives in the sense people used to be conservatives. Conservatives used to be people who believed in low spending, small government, and as little intrusion into people’s lives as possible. Today, people who spend like drunken sailors, who want the government to fix everything (or at least what they consider to be broken), and want to legislate every moment of your personal life are conservative. They use the word Moonbat to describe liberals, er, progressives, but if you ask me, it fits them too.

Leave no child behind? Leave every child behind. Contract for America? Contract on America. Patriot? Traitor. Bold leader? Smirking monkey. Negro, colored, black, African-American? (Insert term du jour here). White, whiter, whitest? Aryan Brotherhood. Leak? Clarification.

All of this name changing has about the same effect as seeing signs that advertise, “Going Out of Business Sale” hanging in the store window for years on end. We all know that “Closed for Remodeling” really means we’ve gone belly-up and you won’t be seeing us here again.

So what’s the point of twisting words? Stupidity is still stupidity. Racism is still racism. Greed is still greed.

There’s a certain geometrical symmetry about that, don’t you agree?

Are Little Dutch Boys Good for the Country?

Another day, another leak. It seems our society sprouts leaks faster than a hybrid Dutch Boy/bionic octopus could plug them. They come from all sides and each is controversial in its own way. Valerie Plame gets outed. Sherron Watkins tattles on Enron. CIA officers freelance leaks to dampen poor decisions. White House rats on CIA folks for revenge and so on.

This spurting swirl of leaks is full of classic moral questions. When’s a leak justified? Does it matter if the leak breaks a law? What do we do when we find a leaker? Does ultimately being correct justify a lenient punishment? I’m here to tell you that even though I’m omnipotent, I’ m not sure what the answer is. However, I do know that anyone who sees this as a black and white, merely academic exercise is driving around with the lights off and the blinders on.

The recent CIA leak is a case in point.

The Bushies have repeatedly tried to make the CIA the culprit for bad decisions, and in some cases they may’ve been right, in others dead wrong. It’s a high-pressure pickle no one wants, especially when your job keeps the nation safe from all manner of global bad guys. You’re supposed to be on the same team, but the tension between you is like having Terrel Owens in the locker room.

Imagine yourself in the CIA. You’ve given your life to a job you justifiably consider vital and important. You do your best to give the decision-makers the right answers when they ask for them. However, you get a little miffed when the Decider-in-Chief decides he hankers for a piece of Iraqi Cherry Pie. He hand picks every damn cherry on the tree, but you try to stop him for his own good. First, you try the polite route, “Boss, we know you think there are nukes in there, but we’re not so sure. We really think you should hold off on the whole war thing until we figure that out.”

To which the boss answers, “Gimme a piece o’ that cherry pie. I gots tah have my piece o’ that cherry pie.”

You dutifully give him his pie and go back to looking at your satellite photos. But, you know more about what’s going on than some addled-brained brush-clearer from Texas. Each time a similar instance comes up, you have the same conversation, “Boss, blah, bla, blah. You should hold off.”

And, like a Presidential diabetic on a suger high, he says, “Pie! Gotta have me some of that pie. Gimme some more pie because I’m the decider around here. Hmm, cherry cider sounds good. Gimme some of that too!”

That exchange doesn’t have to happen too many times before you get pissed. You dwell on the damage that shit-for-brains is doing to the nation’s international standing and safety. You think about the damage to your ego and credibility because you know when things explode – and have no mistake, they will – the craven bastard will make you walk the plank for his error.

So you decide that a well-placed leak with one of those nice reporters down the hall would teach the evil bastard a lesson. You begin to think, “Hey. Who’s the intelligence expert here – him or me? I have the maps and secret sources, and tiny electronic devices, and he’s got no intelligence at all – and I don’t mean the spy-fed variety? “

So you accept that lunch date with the reporter, have a nice nosh, and drop some cleverly chosen information that won’t actually hurt anyone. It’ll just embarrass the boob so maybe next time he listens to you. What could be the harm? The guy’s evil, right?

But who appointed the pissed off spygal as political counterweight? Isn’t she breaking the law? What happens if she’s wrong? What happens if someone does get hurt, albeight unintentionally? What if the sock was on the other foot, like Scooter’s little lunch on Valerie Plame’s neck?

I’d be the first to admit that many of our nation’s greatest shitbirds have been done in by a well-placed leaker. The Enron boys would still look like the smartest guys in the room if Ms. Watkins hadn’t blow the whistle. And if Deep Throat hadn’t ratted Nixon out, Washington National airport might be named after Dick instead of Dutch.

Don’t get me wrong, but I’d be overjoyed if some young thing tattled on Dub for getting blowjobs in the Oval Office. I think he’s the scourge of the Earth and deserves to be trampled in much the same way he has trampled others. Ultimately, I do believe in karma.

But, I wouldn’t feel good about it.

I wouldn’t feel good, because I’d be a hypocrite. I’d be laughing as they rode Dub out of town on a rail, but depending on the circumstances, I might also be praising someone who broke the law. I’d be thinking in the back of my mind, “Ya know. I didn’t much like that when they did it to Bill. Who am I to be laughing now?”

And the answer would be, I shouldn’t laugh. Someone broke the law and sullied the reputation of an important office. I’m not so sure looking the other way for that indiscretion is either right or damaging.

And that’s not something I’m sure any of us will ever really ever know.

Proud Extremist

The good Reverend Gisher recently awarded us an Extremist rating, and we’re very proud. It may not be apparent from our writings, but we’re really much less extreme than we appear. By disposition, we’re a mixed bag.

We’re Libertarian in our opposition to intrusions on freedoms or personal rights. The power of a democracy flows from how it treats its most undesirable elements. It’s easy to celebrate diversity, it’s harder to support free speech for the KKK. Democracy is a tough nut that’s made for cracking.

On social policy we’re liberal, but usually give wide latitude to compromise and more conservative notions. For example, we understand that religious people might feel threatened, but we don’t think a compromise that allows them to quash non-religious thought or someone else’s religion serves anyone – including them. We’re also not a big fan of political correctness, in either policy or speech. For the world to function, everyone needs to grow another layer or two of thicker skin. Not everything is an intentional attack fraught with racism, sexism, or any other ism.

Economically, we believe in free markets insofar as they don’t give corporations unfair advantage over competitors or customers – our philosophy is, “Let them police themselves, but when they become police, judge, jury, and executioner, it’s time to regulate them.” Capitalism is a system based on greed and that’s not good. We’re cool with turning a profit, but we don’t see how squashing people and grabbing more cash than a thousand people could spend in a lifetime, is healthy for the society or the squasher/grabbers. We favor a benevolent capitalism based on better economic equilibrium rather than a laser-like focus on more money regardless of the cost.

Our military should be strong, though not overpowering. We are a democracy and not a junta. There are evil people in the world who occasionally need a good, old-fashioned bitch slap. We’re under no illusions that incessantly talking peace with the inherently unpeaceable gets us anything save a sore throat. We equally believe in real diplomacy first, followed by violence only as a last resort. Should that violence come, make it overwhelmingly ferocious, singularly crushing, and as quick as possible – and include a plan for the peace that doesn’t depend on an armed babysitting service.

We’ll generally listen to anyone’s opinion and try to respect it, no matter how asshatted we believe it is. Even certifiable idiots come up with something good once in awhile, it’s a mathematical certainty. We try not to discard ideas just because they come from known shitheels. Sometimes that’s hard with the current herd of shitheels, but that’s another post.

We became more extreme in response to the overbearing extremism of the right. We don’t buy into the Coulternian idea that your opponents are dangerous nutcases who should be shot before being consulted. We try to follow a policy of listen first, bash later, and then, only if it is truly deserved.

We’d like nothing better than to leave extremism behind and return to a time when moderate discourse was the rule. Where compromise was promising and all the eye-gouging was unnecessary. However, we can eye-gouge with the best of them if we feel the need.

We just want a peaceable place where we can all get along. That’s neither a Republican nor Democrat ideal. It’s not a conservative or liberal idea. It’s a belief that people are people and we should respect them because they deserve it, not because they demand it.

We guess we’re just a little old-fashioned that way.