Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The "C" Word

Words are funny things. In the most simple sense, they exist to convey explicit meaning. A word has a specific definition, articulated in any number of dictionaries, and its use is intended to express this specific idea. In fact, these dictionaries could, in theory, serve as translation devices, converting seemingly random phonetic combinations into comprehensible meaning.

But, language is not so simple, for there exists an additional layer of connotational meaning in each word we utter. There may be a simple explicit meaning for a word in a given context, but that word may also carry a judgment or moral evaluation along with it. If we fail to recognize the existence of this connotational meaning, an important component of communication is lost.

Additionally, especially once we enter into the world of rhetoric, this implicit connotational meaning often overshadows the explicit message of the speaker in question. True, this is typically the sign of someone who either has a poor grasp of the language or is intent upon deceiving his audience (or both). But despite how poorly this phenomenon reflects upon those who employ it, language and its use cannot be understood without paying respect to this technique.

To demonstrate this phenomenon in action, I give you this post by a gentleman by the name of MacRanger.

MacRanger is upset by Representative John Murtha's recent statement that he would neither join today's military nor encourage others to do so. Now, I completely understand MacRanger's anger here -- Murtha's hawkish credentials make his criticisms particularly stinging to those who would make apologies for this ridiculous endeavor in Iraq. Were I bent that way, I too would be looking for a method to devalue his message. But, since I have a relatively strong grasp of the English language, I doubt I would follow MacRanger's lead.
Murtha needs to shut his chickensh_t pie-hole. Other's might not want to say that, but this ex-military career man will. There are two ways to undermine our military. 1) Give up secrets, 2) Give in to cowardess [sic].


…Your're not the only one whose served and said "War is hell". You pathetic coward.
He then goes on to approvingly quote an extremely disturbing memo by General Patton -- wherein he demands that soldiers who are suffering from trauma disorders be denied psychological intervention -- to underline his central theme: John Murtha is a coward.


Well, let me ask this question. Had John Murtha instead demanded that we stay the course or, better yet, increase the intensity of our aggression, would that make him courageous? Does MacRanger consider his support for the Iraq War a mark of bravery? In fact, is any statement -- pro or con -- made 10,000 miles from the frontline indicative of anything with respect to bravery or cowardice?

Of course not. And I'm willing to bet that MacRanger understands this (although, I'm more than willing to be proven wrong on this assertion). However, "coward" and "cowardice" are words heavy with negative connotational meaning. It might not be accurate in this context, but it does serve the purpose of tarring Murtha on the cheap. Why waste the effort of explaining why Murtha's position is wrong when one can simply call him names?

Since I don't expect an answer from MacRanger, I'll offer one: we're not in grade school anymore. When I want to insult someone, I'll use words that accurately describe his behavior and why his behavior is wrong. It just seems like the grown-up thing to do. In this way I feel that I respect both myself and my audience.

But, this grown-up stuff isn't for everyone. It's still a free country, after all. So, if this is your level of dialogue MacRanger, knock yourself out. And when you're ready to sit at the grown-up table with the rest of us, we'll all be waiting.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


As many of you have surely noticed, things have been pretty slow around here of late. There are a lot of reasons for this (school, work, etc.). However, I'm sure that if I were properly motivated, these obstacles could be overcome -- or at least managed better than they have been recently. This leads me to the somewhat uncomfortable realization that I'm not sufficiently motivated to run this project the way that it should be run. Over the last month, I've been able to post a few articles. But, clearly, both quantity and quality have been suffering. I've tried to work through it, to see if just grinding through an uninspired period would lead to greener pastures. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to have worked.

Therefore, I've decided to take a little break.

I've been quite proud of a lot of the work that I've done here and over at TIA. As I've thought about it, I've realized that I need some time away from this if I'm going to maintain the standards I've set for myself. It will allow me to read some new ideas, develop new insights, and simply re-energize my passion for this work. The only way I can do that is to stop until I'm ready to begin again. I'll know when that happens.

So -- that's it for now. But, don't worry. Like the great gropinator -- I'll be back.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Conversion Disorder

What can one say about The Volokh Conspiracy? On the one hand, their contributors are intelligent, intellectually honest, and generally civil. This is no mean feat given that the right-leaning end of the blogosphere is currently being overrun by dishonest idiots who also happen to be complete jackasses.

On the other hand, they have flaws -- the most serious of which is that they have a tendency to argue from an ivory tower (much like that stereotypical Manhattan liberal I keep hearing about). I first took serious notice of this back during the debate over bankruptcy reform, when Todd Zywicki casually questioned whether or not death should count as a serious medical problem. It's a classic case of being unable to see the forest for the trees -- the argument is solid as far as it goes, but the larger context renders it nonsensical. That's a problem.

Well, they're at it again and this time it's Eugene.
Gays and Lesbians Trying to Convert Others to Homosexual Behavior: I've seen lots of assertions that it's a "myth" that gays and lesbians try to recruit others into homosexuality…Yet it seems to me that this assertion of "myth" is likely itself something of a myth, or at least quite incomplete.
Now we all know what he's talking about here. It's a fairly stock piece of conservative Christian propaganda that there exists a homosexual cabal, ensconced in Hollywood and in our colleges and universities, that is actively attempting to lure otherwise God-fearing heterosexuals into the exciting, yet sinful, world of man-on-man/woman-on-one fluid exchange. I've always found this to be a rather amusing argument because of what it implies about those making it. I don't believe it because I know I'm not vulnerable to persuasion in this arena. To be blunt: I don't like dick -- and no amount of fancy talk is going to convince me otherwise. The fact that some people believe in conversion theory implies that they sense a certain -- shall we say -- personal malleability on this issue within themselves. How else could they be so certain that conversion risks exist?

However, that's not where Eugene is going.
The gay rights movement has aimed — in my view, on balance quite laudably — to make homosexuals feel more comfortable with their homosexuality, and to help people who are attracted to the same sex be more willing to act on that attraction. But it follows that the movement also necessarily, and I suspect intentionally, also helps people who are attracted to both sexes be more willing to explore the homosexual facet of that attraction. It thus increases the likelihood that the bisexually-attracted people who would otherwise engage in purely heterosexual relationships (because of fear of social stigma, or because of their own disapproval of their homosexual attraction) will instead be also willing to engage in some homosexual relationships.

If I'm right, the movement thus is trying to convert those who have a bisexual orientation but act purely heterosexually — or would act purely heterosexually, if we're talking about people who haven't started having sex yet — into also experimenting with homosexuality. This doesn't mean that most gays and lesbians are trying to do this to particular people up close and personal; there are obvious costs to that, such as the risk of rebuff if you get the other person's interest wrong, or the risk of quick abandonment if the other person is interested in experimenting but then concludes the experiment has been a failure from his or her point of view, so many gays and lesbians might well prefer partners who have a more definite homosexual preference. But there are many actions that might go into this sort of "conversion" (if only a conversion into a mix of homosexual/heterosexual behavior, and a conversion that in many cases will end up proving to be only temporary): Providing oneself for the actual sexual behavior is one, but so is public action to destigmatize homosexual behavior, or to provide positive homosexual or bisexual role models, something that for perfectly understandable reasons many gays and lesbians are indeed trying to do.
In other words, by creating an environment where the stigma against homosexuality is less severe, homosexual activists are "converting" non-practicing homosexuals and hetero-only bisexuals into practicing versions of same.

Now, I don't know about you, but that's not exactly what I would call conversion. In my mind (and in the mind of the conversion theorists), conversion means straights being drawn to the dark side and exploding as flaming queers, not the release of latent/closet tendencies that have been bubbling beneath the surface the whole time. When people talk about the "myth" of recruitment, they're talking about the former phenomenon, not the latter.

So -- it seems like the "myth" is a myth after all, and Eugene's argument is no more than a strawman. Sure, it might be interesting to examine how the softening of social stigma leads to an increased expression of homosexual behavior. And it might be technically accurate (as Eugene argues later in his post) to refer to it as conversion. But using that terminology in a public sphere, knowing the connotations it has in that context, is -- well -- clueless.

Fortunately, Orin Kerr pushed back on Eugene fairly hard (you can follow the entire discussion here), thus saving The Conspiracy's position on the blog roll for another day. But, I'm warning you guys. You do this 12 or 13 more times and you're cut.


Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Nope -- nothing here today.

However, my doppelgänger has once again appeared at TIA. Head on over.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Black Hat

Like many of you, I have been watching the Cindy Sheehan story evolve with a strange mixture of sadness, hope, and revulsion. Like so much of what passes for political discourse these days, this event plays out as a spectacular piece of calculated theater. But unlike our traditional diet of sound and fury, the emotions that drive Cindy Sheehan's display are not drawn from theory or generated from method. No matter what else you might say about Sheehan the activist or Sheehan the political figure, she is Sheehan: mother of a dead son. Everything else is drawn from that cruel reality. And everyone knows that.

So, in the moments where I am able to successfully repress the rage I feel as the soulless war apologists do everything in their power to obscure this woman's clear and simple message, I'm struck by how foolish the conservative reaction to this protest has been. In a certain sense, their reaction has been just another rendition of the old standby: attack the messenger. But by playing hardball with the mother of a soldier who died for the cause they support, it's nearly impossible to get away without looking like a total asshole. That might work when targeting a former ambassador, a presidential candidate and war hero, or a former counterterrorism adviser -- all of who have made a living, to varying degrees, in the rough and tumble world of professional politics. Not so with Cindy Sheehan. When they go after her this way, they voluntarily wear black hats.

I suppose that it's possible that this has simply become a reflex or that they simply don't know any better. But, I think it's a little more complicated than that. I think that Cindy Sheehan is extremely dangerous to the conservative case for war and I think that, consciously or unconsciously, they know it.

Last week, while justifying his use of the term chickenhawk, Publius had the following to say:
But even putting the whole chickenhawk point aside, you can tell from the actions of both the administration and the nation that people’s hearts are not in this war. Again, not from their words, but from their actions and. For example, the draft is not even whispered by an elected official in Washington (well, ok, 99.9% of elected officials). That’s an extremely telling action. If people really – really – believed in this war, they would be willing to accept a draft. But it’s worse than that. The American public won’t accept – indeed, are not asked to accept – even the tiniest sacrifice for the war effort. No new taxes to fund armor. No new taxes on gasoline to limit dependence. The President won’t even press people to sign up for the military (one sentence in passing, last I checked). And we are all familiar with the recruiting shortfalls.
This points to one of the most disturbing aspects of this conflict -- for most people, this war doesn't really exist. We see the news reports and we hear about the costs in terms of dollars and coalition lives, but all of that is an abstraction. Although there clearly will be a price to pay for this excursion somewhere down the road, there is nothing that is immediately tangible to it.

This fact has been critical to the marketing of the war. True, many of those who initially supported the war did so because of the threatened cross-section of Islamic terrorism and Iraqi nuclear weapons. However, an important corollary was the belief that we could easily achieve our goals and that the costs would be minimal. Now that the primary justifications for our invasion have evaporated, and weaker justifications have been promoted to replace them, it becomes even more important that the perceived cost of the conflict be low. Since the perceived benefit of the conflict has been reduced, our cost threshold has been similarly lowered.

But, as Publius pointed out, we really haven't been asked to pay anything. It's been a free ride. As long as you aren't directly connected to the military or living in Iraq, your metaphorical wallet has been safe.

However -- what happens when those who have actually been footing the bill start to complain?

This is the threat that Cindy Sheehan represents. She and many others like her have been paying the costs for the rest of us. First she paid by having her leave her side to enter the conflict. Then she paid by losing him forever. And when she does her cost-benefit analysis, it doesn't add up. It isn't even close.

Thus far, the families of those who have died or been injured in Iraq have quietly endured the burden we have placed upon them. They have chosen to believe that the cause has been just and their sacrifice noble. Some surely believe this. Others cling to it, the cognitive dissonance of meaningless death and dismemberment too overwhelming to face directly. Still others question the costs outright, but do so silently, afraid to speak out alone.

Sometimes, though, all it takes is for one person to speak out. When they do, others of like mind begin to crystallize around them. If that were to occur to any significant degree, the illusion of a cost free conflict would be broken. The sheer duration and the abstract tallies of combat losses have already begun to erode this myth. An army of Cindy Sheehans would demolish it completely. And though they might stoop to slime a single mother standing alone, they could not hope to turn the tide against a movement built around her. It would be the end of the war, pure and simple.

It is better to wear a black hat and hopefully nip this movement in the bud. Discredit her, label her a traitor, imply that she is dishonoring her son, and hope that this dissuades other mothers from asking why their sons and daughters had to die, whether this conflict is worth the cost they are paying. Before it's too late.

I've got to admit -- the war apologists find himself in a bad spot. Given that they can't address the argument on its face, they have no choice but to slay the messenger before her message reaches too many ears. It's ugly and they know it. Yet, above all else, the conservative justification for war must be preserved. If it means wearing an ugly stain on their conscience, so be it. All other priorities have been rescinded.

So, while it may be painful to watch this disgusting display, we can take heart in knowing that the uglier the response, the closer to the end we are. And given how ugly things have become, I think it's safe to say that there is at least one movement that is truly in its last throes.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Thinking Outside the Box

I have to get one of these for my car.

I'm all for teaching DUH
in America's schools!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Excuses, Excuses

Yes -- things sure have been slow of late. For that, I apologize. Doing this right takes time, and I haven't quite worked all the kinks out of my new schedule yet. It's frustrating, but the real world still has to come first.

At any rate, I've opted in general to be silent rather than post crap. If you ever got to see the stuff that doesn't make the cut, you would wholeheartedly endorse my decision. Trust me.

For now, check out my newest post hosted at TIA. I know -- it isn't Friday. But, sometimes things just work out this way. Deal with it.

Hopefully, I'll make strides in ordering my life, which will allow me to be a little bit more consistent. Until then, I appreciate your patience.

-- TTN

Update: Part II of the post alluded to above is now ready for your perusal at TIA. Don't miss it.
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