Sine Qua Non Pundit

And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good -- Need we ask anyone to tell us these things? ------ ------ ------ ------ E-mail: charlesaustin@earthlink.net

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Saturday, June 01, 2002
 
Amateurs vs. Professionals

I used to read TNR a lot for intelligent arguments from the center-left, but got tired of it about 5 years ago when they started moving farther from the center and the reasonableness of their arguments started falling, in my humble opinion.

I work my fingers to the bone, sacrificing family time and sleep to Scourge Richard Cohen. And now, reader Dean points me to this TNR article by Reihan Salam. Mr. Salam probably even got paid for this effort.

Life is not fair.




 

The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. XXVIII

(Ed. -- The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

Long before there was perky Katie, there was perky Laura, a real Petrie dish from Bonnie Meadow Road in New Rochelle, New York. Like a bad song you hear when the alarm goes off and you can't get out of your head all day, I've had this recurring flashback of Mary Tyler Moore saying, "Oh , Rob" in a crying falsetto voice for three days now. Damn that Richard Cohen for Personhood in a Petri Dish:

Come with me into Cohen's Lab.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

We are going to do some cloning.

Richard's not a doctor, but he plays one in this column. And what's with this "we" thing Kemosabe?

I have a client with Parkinson's disease, and so I take a cell from his tongue, extract the DNA from it, insert it into a human egg, zap the egg with electricity, add some chemicals (sorry, the exact formula is secret), wait about a day, extract the cells my patient needs and inject them into his brain so -- knock on wood -- he will have Parkinson's no more.

I find it fascinating that waving his wands and saying, "a miracle occurs here" is insufficient. Richard still has to knock on wood for luck to effect a cure. This is probably somewhat indicative of his (and most illiberal utopian statists) philosophical understanding of science.

It is at this point, if certain lawmakers have their way, that the cops will burst in, cuff me -- and throw me in jail for possibly 10 years.

But, what has this got to do with cloning or knocking on wood?

How much of this is science fiction?

I've never met him, but I'm certain Richard is not gay because he is such an excellent straight man.

Well, not the very first part about extracting the cell from the tongue and inserting the DNA into an egg. And not, would you believe, the last part, either.

Uh oh, here it comes.

If a bill sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) passes, human cloning of any kind -- even just for medical purposes -- will become illegal. This bill has already passed the House.

Jack-booted thugs, come on down. You're the next contestants on The Fascists Are (on the) Right! But assuming that Richard is trying to make an argument hasn't he already given the game away by advocating "human cloning?"

You might have noticed while in my lab that at no time was my human egg fertilized.

Trust me, right near the abosule bottom of things I want see is Richard Cohen fertilizing human eggs in any context.

So if you believe that life begins at conception, you are not getting life with this process.

Life begins at conception is a position used within the context of an argument about abortion. I don't think that anyone would seriously argue that a human egg or human sperm are not already alive. Well, maybe Richard Cohen would.

Mr. Cohen is really struggling with this whole logic thing, so I thought I would provide a number of URLs throughout this Scourge that provide examples and alternate definitions for the straw man fallacy so that perhaps he can recognize them and stop using what this URL calls, "one of the most unethical and cowardly of debating tactics, since you have so little confidence in your own position that you cannot even address the real position of your opponent." Couldn't have written it better myself.

You might have noticed also that I did not let the process proceed for more than a day or so. I did not implant the egg into a womb, nor did I grow it until term in the lab.

Guess you were hoping to avoid that whole murder thing.

Even if I had done so, the bioethicist Arthur Caplan tells me, I probably would not have gotten a child out of the process.

This sentence requires another essay, which I, unfortunately, do not have time for right now. Suffice it to say that, once again, Richard Cohen thinks that who says something is more important than what is said.

But what you should notice above all is that my goal -- my sole intention -- is to alleviate human misery.

A complete summary of the philosophy of illiberal utopian statists is contained in two words -- good intentions. Any means justify his ends as long as Richard has good intentions. Any mistake or catastrophe can be excused because Richard has good intentions. No accountability can be insisted upon because Richard has good intentions. And finally, if I question any aspect of Richard's words or deeds then I am a woman-hating fascist, because I do not share his good intentions. Perhaps Mr. Cohen is unfamiliar with the phrase -- the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I want to cure Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.

And, naturally, I don't.

I want to replace defective cells with brand-new ones, and because the donor and the recipient are one and the same, I don't have to worry about the body's rejecting the new cells.

If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride!
The truth of the adage can scarce be denied;
A paradox, though, in this proverb lies hidden:
The wish of all horses is not to be ridden!


I don't want to make so-called designer babies, nor, for that matter, is there any chance at the moment I could. At the moment, the sad fact is that I cannot even make the cells I want.

Uh, thanks for sharing.

Someday, maybe, I can.

Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant.

Someday I -- which is to say "we" ...

At first, I thought it was merely "is" that Richard and those he loves had trouble defining. I have come to see that he has trouble with "we" and now I see that it his confusion has bled into "I" as well. Perhaps Richard Cohen is unfamiliar with the wisdom of Poor Richard's Almanack, "He's the best physician that knows the worthlessness of the most medicines."

... can have cures for diseases that now make life so miserable for so many.

Interesting metaphysical leap from develop or invent to have.

The Brownback bill is supported by President Bush. No surprise there. In general, if you scratch an anti-cloner you will find someone opposed to abortion.

Sometimes if you scratch an anti-cloner, you might get punched. Have you ever noticed that "anti-" has picked up a negative connotation in our political discourse. While there is nothing inherently bad about the prefix per se, it is almost always used to indicate the "wrong" side in an argument. I think it may be an offshoot of the activist nature of illiberal utopian statists in their never ending battle against the stick-in-the-mud conservatives, always standing athwart history yelling stop!

And, for the most part, if you scratch someone in favor of experimental cloning (almost no one supports it for human reproduction) you will find someone supportive of abortion rights.

Richard's pretty catty today, isn't he? But I'll give credit where it is due, at least he is more honest than usual in describing his position as pro-abortion.

So this debate really is an extension of our cultural division. It is, at bottom, about sex -- how to control it, how to punish it.

Our secret plan has been discovered! We darned liberal realist individualists can no longer hide our intent to control and punish sex!

Brownback and his supporters are entitled to their beliefs.

Oh, really?

But they are primarily religious ones -- a determination that life begins when they believe it does. They feel so strongly about this that, in the Republican-controlled House, they rejected a substitute bill that would have permitted cloning for medical purposes only.

Well, that didn't last long now, did it? I guess democracy is kinda cool, unless, of course, people elect representatives that don't share your illiberal utopian statist visions, eh Dick?

Why?

Why ask why?

Because ultimately, they want to declare the fetus or the electrically zapped egg a person, protected by the Constitution. To destroy it is murder. Goodbye abortion.

The cognitive dissonance is deafening. Does Richard really give a damn about cloning one way or another, other than as an argument to support abortion?

But this bill is nothing less than an attempt to impose a religious doctrine on the rest of us.

Or did I have cause and effect reversed? Richard Cohen's column is nothing more than an over-the-top sequence of specious logical fallacies bearing little relation to the facts or issues at hand. By raising the hoary banner of the Neanderthal conservatives trying to take away abortion rights, Richard hopes to stifle legitimate concerns over cloning.

It is not that far removed from the Vatican's attempt to silence Galileo because he supported the Copernican theory that the earth revolved around the sun.

There is nothing I could write here that would make this statement look any more foolish than it does all by itself.

It is an attempt by legislative fiat to stop science in its tracks: Thou Shalt Remain Ignorant.

Damn that legislative fiat! Richard has consistently expressed his preference for judicial fiat.

But even the Vatican couldn't keep the earth from revolving around the sun.

Let's see if I can help make this clear. There is a difference between stopping the earth from revolving around the sun (an objective fact) and suppressing the dissemination of the belief that the earth revolves around the sun (a subjective inference). But any further discussion on this topic would be wasted on someone so immune to reason.

And not even Congress can stop medical research elsewhere in the world.

No doubt a subtle disappointment to an illiberal utopian statist, incidentally.

If therapeutic cloning can be done, it will be done -- and the desperate (not to mention the affluent) will get on airplanes for their treatment.

I guess the DNC talking points must still be pushing class warfare. What in the hell does this gratuitous slap at affluence -- without which none of this cloning technology would be possible -- have to do with anything?

The rest will suffer or die -- all in the name of personhood for a bunch of cells in a petri dish.

And what did they die in the name of before the invention of the petri dish in the 19th century?

I distantly fear, in some late-night movie sort of way, mad scientists giggling in the lab, whipping up batches of Saddam Husseins.

Assad, bin Laden, and Saddam, oh my! I am more concerned with some real life version of Mephisto creating a four-assed Saddam or a four-assed bin Laden (episode 105). Perhaps the publisher of the Washington Post should revisit its standard list of op-ed columnists, since as Mephisto observed after his experiments went badly awry, "nature did not intend for anything to have four asses." Oh, and Syria takes over the rotating leadership of the UN Security Council today, just in time to help prevent a nuclear war from breaking about between Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan. Gee, I can hardly wait for the resolutions to flow forth.

But in medical research -- medical research above all -- it is inconceivable that the government would use its police powers not to impose standards but to enforce ignorance and, as a consequence, human suffering.

Inconceivable? Since when? So, we should disband the FDA and the CDC and the NIH? After all, their histories have been less than perfect. Richard, please read this.

I don't think a cloned cell is a person. But I am sure a Parkinson's sufferer is.

Richard must have gotten bored with straw men. Now he's moving on to non sequiturs. Will my labors never cease?




 

All the News That's Fit to Wrap Fish Tomorrow

According to this Wanker headline:

Secret Middle East talks in Britain

Shouldn't that be:

FORMERLY Secret Middle East talks in Britain

But wait, it gets better:

Israelis and Palestinians have met in Britain to hold their highest-level talks since the failed Taba meetings of January 2001. Key figures in the Northern Ireland peace process were brought in for the first time to advise the belligerent parties. In three days of discussions, hosted by the Guardian, Irish politicians, including the former IRA commander Martin McGuinness and David Ervine, leader of the Progressive Unionist party, urged both sides in the Middle East to seek outside help in moving the conflict out of its impasse.

Wait until Emily Jones finds out about this! Martin McGuinness advising on peace proposals... amazing!

Absent from the talks was anyone from the Likud party, which is led by the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon. New initiatives to emerge from yesterday's talks include:
- creation of a shadow Israeli-Palestinian government as an alternative to Mr Sharon's government
- drafting of a peace plan that will flesh out the proposals at Taba, including setting out for the first time an exact figure of how many of the 3.5 million Palestinians will be given the right to return
- a draft document setting out two or three points about how to secure peace to be signed by key Israeli and Palestinian figures and published.


Wait until Charles Johnson finds out about this! A shadow Israeli-Palestinian government as an alternative to Mr Sharon's government... astounding!




 

Whoopi De Do

Whoopi Goldberg delivered the commencement address to Wellesley College.

Graduating senior Holly Holecek of New York said Goldberg's speech reinforced her desire nurtured in college to contribute to society and ``take action.'' ``She was a wonderful speaker and very inspiring,'' said Holecek. ``What she said was really apropos to the class.''

I was just thinking this morning that with the threat of an impending nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, what the world really needs now is another over-educated elitist activist who thinks Whoopi Goldberg has something important to say.




Friday, May 31, 2002
 

Scourgapalooza

Martin Devon confessed that he started reading Richard Cohen just to enjoy the Scourges. I am beginning to think that I write them just to read what Terry Oglesby writes to recommend them. I wish I had thought of this.




Thursday, May 30, 2002
 

Well, At Least I Haven't Slept with 3/4 of CSNY

I was a free man in Paris, I felt unfettered and alive.
Nobody was calling me up for favors, and no one's future to decide.
You know I'd go back there tomorrow but for the work I've taken on,
Scourgin' the straw man machinery of illiberal Richard Cohen.

Maybe I should just go home and lie down now.




 

Oops, I've Trod on a Cohen

Stay away from Richard Cohen's latest. Like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia's version of The Sorceror's Apprentice, Richard has set his straw man making machinery in motion and now it cannot be stopped. Unfortunately, I'm still at work and have many miles to go before I rest, but in answer to David Byrne's question "Who's got a match?", I do. My pyro itch will be scratched sometime in the next couple of days. Oh, and I said pyro itch, not pyra bitch.




 

The Boy Who Cried Jihad

Don't the endless calls for jihad lose some of their potency if they are made over and over about seemingly more meaningless or impossible quests? If any old mullah can issue a call for jihad for any perceived slight, when should we expect them to start some serious internecine warfare, especially when their impotency becomes clearer to their own people?

On a related front, it has been fashionable in some circles to make claims like, "so many people have died in the name of Christ, and I can't believe it all." When, exactly, will Islam pick up this same cachet amongst the tender-hearted? Is Islam any more of a "peaceful" religion than Christianity? At which point in history did it become so, since Mohammed was a warrior and Christ was not.




Tuesday, May 28, 2002
 

Get Over Yourself, Please

Piggybacking on Andrea Harris' idea for a list of people who desperately need to get over themselves, I nominate Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming, who gave us the dreadful "The Anniversary Party." Roger Ebert liked it, but my wife apologized to me after it was over for subjecting me to it. If you enjoy watching self-indulgent Hollywood people who are oh-so-clever and feeling sorry for themselves, then rent it and don't enjoy.




 

The Scourge of Richard Cohen, Vol. XXVII

(Ed. – The following is a bit of mean spiritedness that will be an on-going feature of this blog. Normally the author will endeavor to be reasonably fair, but this is an exception.)

Racism is bad. But like the crowd gathered outside Brian’s window, we are all different. Oh, and Richard borders on the extremely offensive and downright loony, but what else is new? There’s nothing much else to read here, so just move along.

I’m always worried that I have completely run out of new things to say. But then I read that Richard Cohen has been getting away with saying nothing on the pages of the Washington Post since 1976. So, like I wrote, just move along.

But if you insist, let’s count the number of petals on Mr. Cohen’s racial preferences daisy and watch out for Dick’s we-we as you waste the next 4.5 minutes reading A Study in Differences:

Vanderbilt University wants a few good men …

Is this a subtle taunt of my use of A Few Good Men last week in Scourge XXV? If so, then taunt away, Dick.

... preferably Jewish men (or women). The Nashville school, determined to lift its academic standing, thinks that enticing Jews to its campus is a way to do it.

Nashville, home of the Grand Ole Opry – otherwise known as the Hillbilly Mecca. I wonder if Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys are what they had in mind.

It's not the only school doing that. Texas Christian University, for one, offers merit scholarships specifically for Jewish students. You read that right: Texas Christian.

Sorry, I meant Kinky Friedman and the Texas Christian Jewboys.

At these colleges and others, Jews are valued for what sounds like a stereotype -- that Jews are smarter, for instance.

Racial preferences are bad?

Yet the numbers proclaim something like that to be the case.

Racial preferences are good?

On the recent College Boards, Jews averaged 1161. Unitarians did somewhat better (1209), but the national average was 1020.

Racial preferences are bad?

At the elite Ivy League schools, Jews make up 23 percent of the student body. They are a measly 2 percent of the U.S. population.

Racial preferences are good?

"Jewish students, by culture and by ability and by the very nature of their liveliness, make a university a much more habitable place in terms of intellectual life," Vanderbilt's chancellor, Gordon Gee, told the Wall Street Journal. "The very nature of their liveliness?"

So are they trying to increase or reduce diversity?

Is this man out of his mind?

Racial preferences are bad?

Actually, no.

Racial preferences are good?

Gee is speaking both a specific truth and a larger truth: Not all groups are the same.

A very, very deep truth – but I have heard that children can drown in 3 inches of water. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to speak of individuals rather than groups? Then all these problems would go away and we could save the daisies!

This, I confess, is why I seized on the Vanderbilt story.

Richard had a seizure?

For too long in this country, we have been determined not to notice what, literally, is sometimes in our faces: Groups, cultures, call them what you want, have different behavioral characteristics.

We? You got a post-modern bioethicist in your pocket Richard?

I don't know if Jews are smarter than other people, but I do know they do better than other groups on the College Boards.

Careful…

That makes them different.

No, it doesn’t. Perhaps Richard should consult with that post-modern bioethicist he’s carrying around in his pocket. One of the surest signs of pathetic utopian illiberalism is the willingness to look for simple cause and effect relationships – a good utopian illiberal can’t allow facts to get in the way of ideology. Is Richard claiming that it is all genetic? My God, I hope not.

Richard has also fallen into the trap of projecting an arithmetical mean average for the group onto the individuals of the group. The distribution of intelligence (however we want to measure it), just like every other attribute we can measure in a population, fits a bell shaped curve. The population measured has an arithmetical mean average, but that is very different than saying that everyone in the population possesses that measurement. But why should I expect Mr. Cohen to start treating people as individuals now, instead only as members of groups?

Normally, though, tons of epithets would fall upon the poor head of anyone who would cite such differences.

Like, Charles Murray?

We go so far as to treat all airline passengers as equal security risks, defying what we know about the real risk.

Actually, it appears as though “we” treat some people with kid gloves to avoid having to be accused of racial profiling. Maybe all that “virtual applause” went to Richard’s head last time he was in an airport.

This is done in the name of some sort of equality -- our national ethic that we are all the same.

No it’s not. It’s done to avoid an accusation of not treating everyone equally. That’s not the same thing. We are not all the same and that is not our national ethic anyway. This is a classic misstatement that equality under the law means that we are all the same. Think about it, if “we” really were all the same, equality would be automatic, wouldn’t it? “We” wouldn’t even have a decision to make.

Treating all passengers as equal security risks costs money, takes time -- and makes us no safer.

Care to extend that analogy into any zero tolerance policies?

In fact, it probably squanders resources.

Probably?

Sometimes the government's insistence on maintaining a false sameness borders on the comical.

Only Richard Cohen would find this funny.

In March, the New York Times reported that a study of speeders on the New Jersey Turnpike concluded that where the speed limit was 65 mph, blacks sped more than whites. This could not be, the Justice Department said -- and it buried the report. The Justice Department did not say why this could not be, it just knew that because all people are the same, they drive the same and speed the same -- and, therefore, if blacks are stopped more than whites, it has to be on account of racial profiling.

Racial preferences … good? bad? irrelevant?

It turns out the New Jersey study was the second of its kind. North Carolina did something similar. In both studies, students hid by the side of the road and snapped pictures of speeders. Then an expert panel studied the pictures to determine the race of the drivers. New Jersey reviewed an astounding 38,747 photos in a kind of mad parody of some racist experiment of old: Who's white? Who's black?

Mad parody? With apologies to Dave Berg (RIP), The Lighter Side of Racial Profiling?

But the results were suppressed. The facts contradicted ideology.

This has never stopped Richard before!

As any good communist can tell you (if there are any left), ideology always wins.

Response #1: Read anything about North Korea, Cuba, or China lately Richard?

Response #2: Check the Political Science departments of those elite schools trying to recruit more Jews.

Response #3: There are good communists?

Our national stake in sameness is both understandable and, in some sense, laudable.

No it’s not, and if it was it still wouldn’t be laudable! What about diversity?

We have been a racist nation.

“We?” Is this the same thing as saying we are a nation of racists? Is it fair to project the actions of some on to everyone? Is the foul whiff of reparations in the air?

We have seized on the slightest of differences to pigeonhole people for life: whites this way, blacks that way.

Yet again, “we?” It is just as aberrant of Richard Cohen to write “all” whites or “all” blacks as it is for David Duke to write “all” blacks or “all” Jews.

There is such a thing as racial profiling based on little more than bigotry. That, though, is not the same as racial profiling based on real behavioral differences among groups.

Would Richard Cohen care (CAIR?) to argue the subtleties of this with David Duke? What the hell is Richard thinking? This is a very slippery slope with which I am very uncomfortable.

Some Jews don't like what Vanderbilt and other schools are doing. I can understand that. If you single out Jews for real characteristics, what stops you from singling them out for fictitious ones?

Intelligence?

The answer, I both think and hope, is that we are past that.

Once again, “we?”

I would say something similar about other groups as well.

Mighty big of Richard.

Jim Crow is dead. Racism exists, but it is waning, a spent force.

I wish this were true. Unfortunately, it is an artifact of tribalism that will probably be with us forever. It may be possible to suppress it, but I doubt that it can ever be eliminated. Check out some of what is going on at "elite" universities around the country.

We must insist on equality before the law.

Amen. Now, about racial preferences…

But we must insist also that we are not all the same.

It is a fact, whether Richard insists on it or not. Imagine if facts of nature where subject to the whim of Richard’s insistence. My God, what if he changed his mind?




 

Dictionary Addition

In addition to Fisked, and Ralled, Thanks to President Bush we can add Gregoried to growing list of terms for responding to idiotarians.




Sunday, May 26, 2002
 

Bias

We've all read the various accounts of bias in the media. Most of these focus on how often the word extreme or the prefix ultra- is used to refer to the men and women of the Right vice the men and women of the Left. But sometimes, it is a little more subtle than that. Whenever a man or woman on the right takes a position that might please Howell Raines, they are usually referred to as being from the moderate wing of the Republican Party. But, when's the last time you heard of anyone on the left referred to as being form the moderate wing of the Democratic Party? Is it because Republicans are just naturally extremists?






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