Paul From Minneapolis

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The State Of Play

Having been actively engaged in discussion with people recently (see several posts below), I think the basic difficulty can be summarized quickly.

In order for all of us to being talking to each other again, one of two things will have to happen:

The "right" (speaking very broadly here, with the main distinction relating to attitudes about the Iraq war) will have to fess up and apologize for being imperialistic, murderous and racist.

Or, the "left" will have to apologize for being perhaps over-eager to level such charges.

Maybe it's a compromise that's needed? Like, if I acknowledge that I'm a vicious racist, as evidenced by my lack of overt opposition to the war, will I be able to plea down the mass murderer rap? Some process like that will need to happen, I guess.

I would, though, ask my brethren and sistren on the left one question. If you step back and consider the options, which is more likely: that I and people like me have in fact thrown in with the dark side? Or that folks on your side of the question, owing to an admirable desire for peace and yearning for moral clarity, have gotten a little enthralled with a particular set of political analyses?

Update, much later: For a bit, I actually flirted with the idea of using this blog as a vehicle for chasing angry Bush-haters down and beating and/or tickling them into submission, that is, rationality. The act of doing so became self-patheticizing, so I quit. I decided to leave a few of the pertinent posts as evidence of my misguided thinking.

The experience also contributed in some way to my decision to turn this blog into a more relaxed endeavor. If I think of something to say, and it seems like it has a chance (however slim) of transforming our national politics into a more satisfying sport, I'll post. But only then, for now.

Remember The Titanic Sinking?

Slipping, in spite of its great bulk, into the sea, surrounded by former passengers bobbing in the cold water and going, “What the hell!?”

Just rename the ship the “S.S. Paul Krugman Credibility,” and you’ll see the combined effect of Friday’s column and the problems with it.

Okay, Donald Luskin really, really doesn’t like Krugman. But I don’t think he’s exaggerating here. Krugman trumpets an Ohio Republican scandal from his national perch, and it’s actually at least as much a Democratic party scandal. If not more.

This is not a matter of interpretation. Just facts. Amazing!

And as Luskin says, the importance of this is not the scandal. These things happen. It’s in the perfect illustration the mistake provides of how hatred produces this kind of blind stupidity.

Krugman supporters: I will not pull you into my boat until you at least acknowledge you are in the water. That is, until you at least ponder the possibility that this kind of rage might have had an effect on a lot of the man’s writing.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

My Trouble With Harry

The reason I’ve taken off after Harry Shearer (I envision a couple of bantamweights, in those outsized billowy shorts, one peppering the other with ineffective shots to the body in a flurry in the corner) is because I want to affect his thinking and writing.

Because I’m tired of our best minds thinking and talking and writing like idiots.

Here’s how they do it: by giving the opposing arguments absolutely no respect. By remaining unrelentingly, self-consciously ignorant about those arguments’ details, depth, heft, whatever.

And by taking every opportunity to magnify the moral weaknesses in their opponents’ arguments and character, resulting in the implication – which they gladly follow – that it is in fact immoral to take seriously those who disagree with them.

I expect it out of the Star-Tribune editorial staff. I do not want it out of Harry Shearer.

Ah, there’s the bell, sending me bouncing back to my worried corner man.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Only Connect

There's at least a possibility of actual dialog between ideological opponents in this thread over at the HPost. It's the same one I linked to below. I've had somewhat of a role, for which Karl Rove is paying me handsomely I might add.

On the off chance that a few new readers have popped over, I feel compelled to warn you that I haven't quite figured out how to do this on a daily basis yet. Constant posting: that seems to be a rule of Truly Effective Blogging. But sometimes I can't think of anything to say. Or I'd rather go fishing. Or there's a Seinfeld I've only seen 38 times.

Incidentally, if you try to head to the thread I link to, be warned that there is still some sort of glitch at the HPost, where only part of the discussion appears. Usually it's pretty obvious when that happens. But you just have to keep refreshing or shift-refreshing or whatever.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Chasing The Lynx

A couple years back, on a bright September afternoon, my wife-to-be and I were concluding a pleasant day of boating on a lake off the Gunflint Trail, a road that heads due north into the dark woods from Highway 61, yes that Highway 61, the one that begins in the deep south and ends up hugging Lake Superior as civilization ends. God said to Abraham, kill me a son, and whether Abe did that or not he also created a wonderful setting of supper clubs and resorts amidst always-cool weather. It can’t be beat.

I was folding up my boat (I don’t really recommend one of these) when the woman in my life struck me excitedly on the shoulder. I looked up and saw, for 1.18 seconds: an extremely large yellow cat crouching and then leaping into the underbrush by the lake.


An empty Forest Service boat launch and a big wild cat: yes. Thank you. Four feet long! Was it a mountain lion? Was it a lynx? It was one of those; either is possible but both are exceedingly rare.

Well, idiot, did it have a tail to speak of? I don’t remember. Which is absurd. An opposing attorney would gaze at me quizzically here. I would fidget. It’s down as an “unverified lynx sighting.” That’s us, one of the black dots way, way up north in Cook County.

At the moment, I needed to know more! Thinking quickly if not particularly effectively, I grabbed the pry bar for the foldable boat (a tool for the exhausting job of assembling the thing) and headed into the brush after, potentially, a mountain lion. And a lynx would be no treat.

As my old pal who now owns a restaurant down in Grand Marais said later: Hey, what could possibly go wrong! You’ve got a stick!

Nothing happened.

Anyway, the point is I’m doing something similar these days over at the Huffington Post: chasing the angry lynx. Once again I do have my stick, a pry bar of sorts. What could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Has Anyone Else Noticed...

...that the basic tactic of the liberal press recently has been to abandon reason and retreat from emotional self-awareness?

I sure have! Of course, I live with the Strib every day, so it's been extra hard to avoid.

Yes, we're faced with a full court press of stupidity lately. It's a brilliant tactic, in its way. It wears me out, I know that. Although it does also mean the left is surprisingly quickly becoming captive to the most spasmodic intellectual impulses of its most immature members - and again, I rely on watching the Strib editorial writers for this analysis.

It may be that at any particular point in this country, one side is rational and emotionally honest, while the other is not.

There have been revisions to how issues of the past are perceived. Yet it remains true that in the1950's and 1960's, the conservative status quo - that portion that avoided problems of pollution, or resisted civil rights legislation, or refused to accept that possibly Viet Nam was a debacle - back then, the conservatives played the stupid role.

It was a particular kind of stupid, a defensive, sullen stupid, and it was a hell of lot of fun to rail against.

But it's possible there's been a global shift, akin to the poles sliding 90 degrees like we're always being warned about. It may be that the left is becoming the stupid side.

It's a different kind of stupid. It's more aggressive, and it's anchored in dissent.

Dishonest stupid aggressive dissent: that's hard to respond to, it seems to me. Am I becoming a Burkeian?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

You Could Devote A Career To This Editorial

Here it is. It concerns closing Guantanamo. If you’re with me on most topics, read it as if manipulating a toxic substance via plastic gloves from outside a sealed environment.

If you’re not, do me the favor of noticing the Strib tactic: bending every fact and every interpretation of every fact in as negative a manner as possible. That’s the editors' version of truth and courage. You may approve, but keep in mind that it is what they’re doing.

Why do they do it? They are so consumed with hatred of this administration they are doing everything they can to bring it down, to tear down its moral standing, paying absolutely no heed to the simple fact they W is our president, as we did elect him.

So they insult the integrity of the nation, and of every single one of the man’s supporters; in fact every person who simply dares harbor any sense that perhaps W is trying as hard as he can to figure out the worst problem the country’s ever faced.

He might be a fool, a flawed heir of wealth, but he’s trying? Don’t think that. If you do, you’re an ally of evil.

It's in the way they present the arguments of the administration – in nearly every single case, in editorials going back years – as being morally baseless, and utterly dishonest.

There’s no other conclusion concerning their worldview: W and his crew are pure evil; anyone who doesn’t see that is facilitating it.

In this editorial the worldview reaches some kind of zenith. I won’t pick it apart, I’ll just point out that it operates within a morally bereft context.

It does this by pretending that we do not know what we in fact do know about the prisoners at Guantanamo: most of them are terrorists who we picked up fighting with al Qaeda and al Qaeda's allies.

We can’t label them terrorists formally, because there is no such thing. I’ll nod toward the notion that it’s dangerous territory, to think this way, but I would really like a liberal friend to stare me in the eye and convince me he really, really doesn’t believe that most of these guys are hardcore terrorists.

Meaning we let them go, and some significant percentage of them will return to traveling the globe, searching for ways to kill as many of us as possible. And most of them would have done that a week after they were captured.

Morally bereft: because the editors are pretending there’s no dilemma. Pretending there is no threat. Or – and here’s the doorway to my rage, which is good to realize – that the threat doesn’t matter.

In fact it makes me suspect that the threat for them doesn’t matter, all that much, given that we’re the kind of country that supports a demon like W.

Anyway. On to some sanity. I’ve linked to this article before and I will again. It’s about an enemy I see. It’s not perfect but it is quite instructive. Think of it as a turn of the kaleidoscope.

I'm Stalking Harry Shearer

At least, that’s how he probably sees it.

One current advantage of the Huffington Post for a guy like me stems, oddly, from the proprietors' bizarre, Victorian attitude toward the “comments” option. Many posts don’t allow comments. For those that do, there’s a system of having someone (Arianna?) read every comment before it appears for the public’s edification.

It’s quite a rickety process. You offer a comment, and it can be hours – I’m not kidding – before it appears.

So what this has done is severely cut down on the number of people commenting.

I saw a Gary Hart post that allowed for comments but had yet to attract any. So here you are, with a former Senator and major presidential candidate, the world-famous philanderer philosopher himself saying something in public and specifically inviting people to respond: and nobody can think of anything to say. Not a word.

So, anyway, that's the advantage: I can say something to Harry Shearer – who strikes me like he must be sort of a decent follow, I must say – and he will probably actually read it.

Consequently I’m in here, down a ways, and then today I’m in here.

It’s my hunger for sanity, and a connection. I must continue on.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Use of the Word “Liberals”

Whenever I construct a passage using the word “liberals,” and ascribe some sort of characteristic to them, I run a risk. The risk is, I give an opening for liberals to say “Oh, there he goes, stigmatizing an entire group.”

The thing is, I’m just using the word. Sometimes I throw in “left-leaning types” or “left-ers” just to find a different word and hint at the existence of varieties. But there is no better word available than “liberal” when one is generalizing, which is allowed: liberals claim to wear the name proudly, right? If it means something in the positive sense, I don’t see why it should be forbidden to perhaps mean something in a negative sense.

Not that I’m always using it negatively! Sometimes I’m just using it. “Liberals are more likely to attend The Vagina Monologues than conservatives” or “Liberals sure do dominate Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis” or “Liberals I run into seem incapable of ever perceiving that they might be deeply mistaken about something, or lacking a certain essential perspective that opens up an entirely different way of looking at the world especially Iraq, and that seems odd, since they describe themselves as so completely open to Other Worldviews, it’s their thing, their métier, like Jake Gittes and divorce work.”

Okay, the last is negative, but I’ll stand by it. Generalizations have value and I like them. We all understand there are exceptions. For anyone reading this, I’m sure you’re one yourself. There's no doubt at all.

But I really don’t mean anything by it, except when I do.

Morally Adrift Bumper Sticker Enthusiast

"Dissent Is The Highest Form Of Patriotism"
(outside a south Minneapolis Walgreen's a few weeks ago, if it matters)

Monday, June 06, 2005

I Have A Fever

And I have since Saturday night, I've come to realize.

There is much to be said but not by me. I may think of something, but it would involve poultices or chillblains.

Oh here, if you read this, you'll maybe acquire a quiet confidence that self-styled leftist thinkers will someday wake up from embarrassment. I'm in the comments somewhere, not clever, just sick.

I've noticed that with the HPost, you sometimes have to keep refreshing to get all the comments. You hit refresh, but you end up with fewer comments. Like it's refreshed the document back to an earlier version. They have some kind tech flaw they haven't noticed yet.

Liberals: missing the crucial details since God knows when.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Me, I Got No Problem With Cormorants

Here in Minnesota, on Leech Lake, there’s trouble:

Word has spread that walleye fishing on Leech Lake, one of the state's premier lakes, isn't what it used to be. That means fewer people will be staying at its resorts or visiting this lakeside town where livelihoods are tied to the elusive and tasty catch, prized above all in a state where fishing is king.

"People need fish, plain and simple,'' said Larry Jacobson, owner of Hiawatha Beach Resort. "They need walleye.''

In response, wildlife officials - prodded by resort owners and fishing guides who are convinced the cormorant is to blame - have reached a dramatic decision: Over the summer, they will kill 4,000 or more of the diving birds.

This is not purely a case of incompetent fishermen lashing out in frustration. If fewer walleyes are being caught, it is very like true there are fewer walleyes available to be caught. These walleye fishermen, taken in total, are an efficient machine. Greater than the sum of their parts, I would think.

Mark Martell, director of bird conservation for Audubon Minnesota, believes the cormorants of Leech Lake are being targeted unfairly.

Maybe their habit of nesting in large colonies makes them too visible and an easy scapegoat… Apparently this combination of colonial nesting habits, a preference for fish and a lack of cover-girl good looks -- even Audubon has failed to feature a cormorant on the cover of its well-known magazine -- has made them a target for "control."

To the locals, the connection seems clear. But Mr. Martell may have a point. Maybe the feds or the state DNR did something else wrong with walleye management and they’re taking it out on the cormorants, against whom we are said to share a prejudice that allows us to look the other way as our government slaughters them in their nests.

I’ve always been fine with the cormorants, myself. I’ve never been face-to-face with one in tight quarters, so I didn’t know they were ugly. Now I do. (That doesn’t make me automatically more inclined to slaughter them, but it also doesn’t tilt things the other way.)

This section in Martell’s commentary struck me (emphases added):

Audubon Minnesota believes…(a) proven link between cormorant numbers and economically harmful fish population declines must be established before any further control. Plans should include a review of all possible causes of fish declines.

I might agree with his general drift here. If all we're doing is sacrificing cormorants in some mad idea of appeasing the walleye god, we should step back. But taken at his word, in effect, Mr. Martell is saying that there can never be any such decsive control undertaken: he demands absolute proof, a rarity, of a subjective condition, adding significantly to the burden. I don’t think he even quite means it. But it’s the language of dogmatic liberalism, with surface-level compassion granted complete authority over other considerations, if a rather mundane example.

It’s not entirely harmless, however. In this case I tend to trust the “folk” conclusion about more cormorants eating more walleyes, a concept which is not un-backed by science. So following Mark Martell’s advice as worded would mean that the most effective measure would likely never be done.

Update: Effective even from Mr. Martell’s perspective, that is. He never distances himself from the proposition that, should push come to shove, we would all prefer more walleyes as compared to more cormorants. Sad as that may be, he accepts it. He's part of the status quo of walleye hegemony. So what this may be is a good-hearted liberal hesitating to face up to the inevitable sad consequences of actually doing something.

Update 2: Not to pile on Martell, who after all is only interested in protecting cormorants. As am I. But I also love that little touch of self-inclusion in this societal flaw of anti-cormorantism: how "even Audubon (his employer) has failed (is it a failing?) to feature a cormorant on the cover of its well-known (is it well-known?) magazine."

I believe liberals prefer to include themselves as perpetrators of the sins they point out, usually at one remove, granted, but done in all sincerity as a way of imparting the all-encompassing nature of the particular flaw they see, even if others don't.

As for the merits of this case, I would guess that the magazine has featured ugly birds over the years. If true that would obliterate the reason for the sentence: it would mean not including the cormorant is a coincidence, nothing more, indicative neither of a cormorant's true unsightliness or the magazine's attitude toward any such birds. Yes, for a definitive answer on the issue we would have to see if ugly birds are, if not absent from the covers of well-known bird magazines, perhaps underrepresented. The cormorants might have claim to victim status in that case.

But I would have to see proof of an economically harmful underrepesentation before any further measures are taken.