Responding to Annoying Liberal Remarks on Facebook, XIII: On Epistemic Closure and Liberalism

I’m thinking, now, that I may have to stay off Facebook until well after the election. All it does is inspire incandescent rage at how utterly impervious to reason certain people are. Before I go, though, there is one last individual I need to (rhetorically) destroy. Said individual is a “friend-of-a-friend” with whom I have tangled TWICE in the past two days, and he is a textbook example of a concept known as “epistemic closure.”

What’s “epistemic closure,” you may ask? Basically, it’s a fancy term describing a reliance on too few sources of information. Liberals love to declare that we conservatives are sufferers, but such claims are patently ridiculous. We get exposed to liberal thought all the bloody time. We can’t avoid liberals even if we tried because of the left’s stranglehold on the engines of our culture. Can liberals, meanwhile, say that they’ve sat down to peruse the National Review? Well, the aforementioned “friend-of-a-friend” certainly can’t.

(Cut for extreme length.)

I first ran into the individual in question – whom I will dub “Close-Minded Liberal,” or CML for short – in a discussion about Chick-Fil-A. As you might expect, CML was absolutely convinced that everyone who lined up for a chicken sandwich on the 1st was there to express their gay-hating bigotry. I jumped in to make the demonstrably true claim (see also: yours truly, Andrew Klavan, Glenn Reynolds, the posters at Gay Patriot, and the many people quoted in articles covering the Appreciation Day) that many people who are, at the very least, sympathetic when it comes to the gay rights movement have also come out in support of Chick-Fil-A. I then noted that the most likely animating impulse for the huge turn-out was the over-reach of certain liberal politicians. His response, which he has since repeated many times, can be paraphrased thusly:

The people who are framing this as a free speech issue are misguided. This is a free market issue. People were exercising their right to free speech in boycotting Chick-Fil-A, and if it hurt Dan Cathy’s pocketbook, tough titties. The liberal mayors only complicated things.

I didn’t respond to this because I was already out of patience regarding the whole Chick-Fil-A issue, but here’s what I would’ve said if I wasn’t tapped out:

Let’s leave aside your laughable belief that your precious boycott did anything significant to hurt the chain’s sales numbers. (Even before the Appreciation Day was called, the restaurant here in Woodbridge was doing brisk business regardless of the bad publicity.) Instead, let’s tackle the other claims. First of all, you strongly imply that social conservatives are simply objecting to the idea of a boycott because they don’t understand what free speech actually means. This is false. We don’t dispute the pro-gay left’s right to hold a boycott. We do, however, reserve our right to comment on what that boycott – and in particular, the deeply misleading liberal commentary promoting it – says about your potential for fascistic overreach (not to mention your apparent inability to understand and tolerate people who disagree with you). Over and over again, I’ve seen people like you advance the following line of reasoning:

People who hate gays are against gay marriage.
Dan Cathy is against gay marriage.
Therefore, Dan Cathy hates gay people.

This is what is known as a converse error (if you’re in geometry class) or the fallacy of the undistributed middle (if you’re a logician). The majority of people who have doubts about gay marriage are simply religious people who hate and fear no one. Perhaps they are misguided – I, for one, am not completely convinced that’s the case – but your attempts to involuntarily baptize them all into the Westboro Baptist Church will guaran-damn-tee that you will persuade no one to rethink his position. It has also convinced many that your true intention is to quash each American’s freedom of religious observance. Sure — you technically have a right to hold a boycott and call us all bigots for disagreeing. But we have a right to worry out loud about what you might do, given your hostile attitude, if you were to gain real political power. It’s not an utterly unbridgeable gap between declaring a viewpoint anathema and acting to legally suppress it.

And actually, in reality, the left’s totalitarian impulse can no longer be described as merely “potential.” The Obama administration has already realized that potential through their contraception mandate. So if we’re being a little hypersensitive, such apprehension is certainly not based on nothing. The president and his coterie are telling me that I while I can worship God in a Catholic Church every Sunday, I certainly can’t live my faith the other days of the week. How can I not fear for my constitutional rights?

Which brings me to your attempt to minimize the role of Mayors Menino and Emanuel. I’m sorry, but no — there is good reason to believe that their actions are what primarily drove the turn out the other day. As far as I can tell from looking at the dates, Huckabee did not call for a Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day until after Menino announced his intention to block Chick-Fil-A’s expansion into Boston. There were complaints about the pro-gay left before, yes, but once the aforementioned politicians got into the act, that’s when the conservative response exploded exponentially — and rightfully so, because Menino and Emanuel were now proposing that municipal governments use their power to issue business licenses and zoning permits as a stick to beat people like Cathy for not toeing the liberal party line. Such actions would clearly violate the First Amendment, a fact already noted by several libertarian, conservative, and honest liberal commentators. The Chick-Fil-A flap is not over our right to free speech? Dishonest nonsense! You can’t arbitrarily put the mayors aside just because they inconveniently blow giant holes in your “Chick-Fil-A’s supporters are all gay bashers” narrative.

ARRRRRRRRGH! Rahm Emanuel does not represent the “free market,” you tool.

Okay — now let’s move on to the next dispute. My Facebook friend, who is a moderate liberal and a genuinely nice guy, posted one of those dumb Facebook memes that advances Obama’s Roanoke argument regarding our responsibility to the government, remarking in passing that he thinks both sides – liberal and conservative – have advanced points regarding said speech that are correct. CML immediately responded (and again, this is a paraphrase), “That’s impossible. The Republican viewpoint depends on being willfully ignorant regarding Obama’s larger point.”

Well, I leaped into the fray at once, because I can’t stand this new liberal meme that claims we all misunderstood what Obama said in my home state. Oh please, liberals. Let me call the WAAAAAAAAAAAmbulance. We conservatives understood him perfectly. Obama made the wholly banal observation that the government does a number of things that keep us safe and allow the economy to function in order to advance his perennial argument that the rich have a patriotic duty to accept higher tax rates. But as we logic freaks might say, “Non sequitur!” I already took apart much of this rhetoric a few posts ago, but since then, I’ve come up with a few more rejoinders. For example:

1. Many of the government services that liberals like to cite because they’re popular – like fire and police – are handled at the local level, not the federal level. How does it make sense for Obama to ask certain people to pay more federal taxes for things the federal government doesn’t even do?

2. In other cases, liberals commit another logical error: They automatically assume that because the government was involved in the moon shot (or some other genuine accomplishment, like the interstate highway system), we should support current and future government funding of any other “innovation” Obama and his buddies personally favor (like “green energy” or high speed bullet trains) or else be branded as “unpatriotic” and “selfish.” It is true that, in the 20th century, politicians tended to default to big government solutions. That was the high water mark for centralized, top-down “blue state model” thinking. And it’s also true that the government didn’t completely fail at everything it touched. (See also: the moon shot.) But you cannot therefore conclude that we would not have nice things like electricity and telecommunications were it not for the intervention of a 20th century-style federal bureaucracy — or that we won’t have nice things in the years to come if we slim that bureaucracy down to a more sustainable size.

3. Even if we stipulate that certain things must be handled by the federal government – and most conservatives do, by the way – that absolutely does not mean that our present government is discharging its obligatory tasks in a way that is efficient or financially smart. Duplication, waste and inertia are endemic in DC. Take something simple — like the weather. The NWS and the NOAA seem like obviously beneficial organizations. We all want to know when a hurricane is coming, right? But as SABR Matt has discussed here, here and here, even the NWS and the NOAA are weighed down with silly redundancies and out-dated technology. Why should we be satisfied with this? And why should we fork over more money to the alphabet soup when it’s clear it won’t be used wisely? I’m not saying that there aren’t excellent federal employees who honestly wish to serve the public good. I am saying, however, that the inherent characteristics of the federal bureaucracy often make it difficult for the sincere public servant to do his job. The federal government desperately needs to be audited and streamlined — and until that happens, Obama has no justification for holding his hands out.

4. Finally, while the government does perform critical functions that keep the economy moving, it also performs many non-critical duties whose consequence is to block economic growth. I was working as a secretary at a fairly large insulation company the year Sarbanes-Oxley went into effect, and holy crap was that a nightmare of epic proportions! Currently, businesses are forced to spend a great deal of time and many millions of dollars annually on crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s to avoid being hounded by government regulators — and it’s all because leftist consumer advocates and environmentalists want us to chase the utopian fantasy that is zero percent risk. In the same vein, if you’re currently unemployed and you decide you want to sell cookies out of your kitchen, hot dogs in the park, or lemonade on your driveway, forget it. The government will eventually come crashing down on you because you don’t have a “license.” Yet the arrogant left wants us to bow down and thank the government for making our prosperity possible? Bull. At best, the government harms as often as it helps. (By the way, Sarah Hoyt has written a very good post on this very subject entitled “Of Fists and Noses.” You should read it.)

Now, in dealing with CML, I didn’t say all of the above. After all, Facebook is hardly an ideal platform for lengthy explications of my political thought. What I did, do, however, was defend the idea that individual initiative matters. I noted that while thirty other students took AP Stats with Mr. W., my all time favorite teacher, only two students got 5’s on the AP exam. The students in my class all grew up in similarly situated families and had access to the same award-winning instructor, but only one other student and I got top marks. That seems to contradict this idea that we owe our success to others. In reply, CML insisted that Obama didn’t deny the importance of a successful business-person’s hard work and whined once again that I was missing the point. To that, I say, “Whatever, dude.” Granted, there was a throw-away line in there that mentioned individual initiative. But you have to take into account the overall tone of the speech — especially the passage at issue. When Obama says, “There are a lot of hard-working people out there!” he is outright mocking the ordinary (and justified) pride people take in what they’ve accomplished. When he says, “There are a lot of smart people out there!” you can hear the resentment and derision dripping from his voice. No — when I listen to that speech, I don’t hear a president who respects the business community. Even if I put the most charitable spin on this and accept that Obama didn’t completely abandon the traditional American understanding of prosperity and its roots, he certainly severely devalued said understanding.

CML also tried to lecture me about how we owe our forebears for this wonderful system they created and all the infrastructure they established. My instinctive reaction? “Kiss my ass.” (Well — that’s a printable interpretation, anyway.) I am thankful for what previous generations have done for me; if I had a time machine, I would go back and thank them right now. But that’s not what Obama is asking us to do. Instead, he is using this “legacy of previous generations” horse dung to guilt the gullible into paying for his pet boondoggles. You see, he is just so eager to play venture capitalist — even though, as the whole Solyndra disaster reveals, he has no effing clue how to recognize a viable business model. And, oh yes — while he’s at it, he also wants us to pay for an overhaul of our health care system that is almost certain to do more harm than good. This doesn’t have jack to do with preserving “American values.” It has everything to do with enriching the president’s cronies at the taxpayers’ expense.

Along the way, I also stated, accurately, that we conservatives don’t object to paying taxes for those things that are necessary. CML then tried to claim that celebrating tax evasion is the new meme sweeping the conservative movement. This was news to me. Since Obama’s inauguration, I have been reading Commentary Magazine, The Weekly Standard, The American Spectator, and the National Review. I’ve also frequently visited Instapundit (the indefatigable conservative/libertarian aggregator), Hot Air, PJTV (& PJ Media), Townhall, The Daily Caller and the Breitbart Feed. What’s more, I’ve read conservative books – a lot of conservative books – and have gone to conservative political conferences. In all of those places, I have never read (or heard) even so much as a sentence praising tax avoidance. So I bluntly told CML he was imagining things and challenged him to present his evidence. What did he give me? Remarks by Senator Lindsey Graham as interpreted by Think Progress and one blog post. I’ll get to the blog post in a minute, but first I want to talk about Graham, because – unlike Obama – he is misunderstood. Here’s what he actually said a few weeks ago (and I should say here that the Huffington Post deserves credit for including enough context to contradict Think Progress’ screaming headline):

“As long as it was legal, I’m OK with it,” Graham said. “I don’t blame anybody for using the tax code to their advantage. I blame us for having it so complicated and confused. Pick a rate and make people pay it.”

In the meantime, anything within the rules goes, he argued.

“It’s a game we play,” Graham said. “Every American tries to find the way to get the most deductions they can. I see nothing wrong with playing the game because we set it up to be a game.”

The senator’s solution to such gamesmanship is a major overhaul of the tax system, similar to the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan that calls for lowering rates while closing loopholes.

“I want to end the game,” Graham said. “I want to make it so simple that you know what you owe, and if you don’t pay, we’re going to whack the heck out of you…”

So what Graham is really advocating here is that we remove those cozy little tax shelters and make the tax code flatter and more predictable — yet Think Progress interprets this as “Lindsey Graham says it’s American to avoid paying taxes,” and CML interprets Think Progress’ interpretation as, “Lindsey Graham says tax evasion is awesome. Wheeee!” Good God, there are so many comprehension failures at play here that I’m pretty sure no additional comment is required.

And as for the blog post? This is when I concluded once and for all that CML deserves to be called a CML — and an imbecilic one at that. First, let me give you a chance to actually read it:

Why It Is Patriotic to Not Pay Taxes

Done? Did you laugh as hard as I did and immediately demote CML’s intelligence to moron status? The above blog post is an obviously sarcastic criticism of companies – like GM (a friend of Obama) – that engage in crony capitalism. And by the way, if you go to the homepage for that site, here’s are some of the other blog posts you might find:

Chick-Fil-A: Real Chicken, Real Hate
The Bigoted Boy Scouts of America
Republican Pattern of Lying

Hmm. Doesn’t seem like a conservative blog to me. But, to be fair, I heeded CML’s plea that I Google some appropriate strings to find more. Predictably, while I tried several variations of “It’s American/patriotic to avoid paying taxes,” I found diddly-squat beyond a bunch of liberal sites maliciously distorting the conservative argument.

Now here’s what I have seen within the conservative movement over the last few years:

This is a quite different complaint. The people who carry signs like this are not upset that they have to pay taxes; they are upset that they are being asked to pay more even though Obama and his appointees and friends have amply demonstrated that they cannot be trusted with their money. This is not a push for anarchy; it is a request, tartly phrased, that the federal government be called to account for all the tax payer dollars it’s put through the shredder. But, of course, for people like CML – people who live in the hermetically sealed Think Progress bubble – it is just so much more convenient to portray us all as selfish Randian individualists and raging homophobic bigots. It’s so tidy, you know, not to have to consider your opponents’ concerns as anything other than the ravings of lunatic idiots.

With all due lack of respect, CML: Screw off.

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Responding to Annoying Liberal Remarks on Facebook, XII: The "You Can’t Argue With What’s In My Heart" Edition

Okay — so here’s how the most recent bit of Facebook liberal idiocy went down:

First of all, one of my liberal friends posted a link to a CBO report estimating that Obamacare will lower federal costs by $84 billion over eleven years.

In response, one conservative “friend of a friend” observed, quite reasonably, that:

The cost has gone up. It saved $200 billion over ten years back in March of last year. And then there’s the poll released today that shows 10% of companies are thinking of dropping their health coverage since Obamacare will force them to buy more comprehensive coverage than what they currently do. That will drive up costs by a bunch and isn’t accounted for in the current CBO estimate.

The original poster’s reply?

So we’re back to “Let them die.” Great. Including the couple that was shot at the Colorado movie. I’m sorry, my right-wing friends, but there’s just nothing you guys can say that will convince me we should let millions of Americans die because of this. And wasn’t it your side complaining about (made up) “death panels?” And your side that talks incessantly about a “culture of life?” And yet who is it that screams “Let him die!” at debates and wants to deny working Americans health care? I’m sorry, gang, but there’s just no way I can get behind that kind of approach to life. No way. No matter how you dress it up in anti-big-gubment rhetoric and complain about “socialized” this and that, it just isn’t gonna fly here. Take it elsewhere, because all the argument in the world will not change my mind or, more importantly, my heart.

Let’s take apart this completely unhinged statement one step at a time, shall we?

So we’re back to “Let them die.” Great. Including the couple that was shot at the Colorado movie. I’m sorry, my right-wing friends, but there’s just nothing you guys can say that will convince me we should let millions of Americans die because of this.

My visceral reaction to this is unprintable on a family blog. How do we go from opposing the Affordable Care Act to “letting people die?” Once again, in typical liberal fashion, you are arguing with a straw man. There is no one – NO ONE – who believes that our health care system is perfectly fine the way it is. There is no one who does not worry about rising health care costs — or about those Americans who may be slipping through the cracks. Disagreement only arises when we get to specific policy proposals. Those who oppose PPACA do not do so because they malevolently wish to deny working Americans access to health care. Speaking for myself, I oppose PPACA because I believe it to be a ridiculously bureaucratic “solution” that erroneously conflates access to health care with access to health insurance. I was uninsured from 2004 to 2006, and at no time was I ever denied care. I was still able to see my primary care physician. I was still able to see my rheumatologist. And when I landed in the hospital several times in the summer and fall of 2006, said hospital wrote off 75% of my expenses.

To be sure, privately insured patients tend to see better medical outcomes when you look at the averages, but the same cannot be said for patients on, oh, Medicaid, which PPACA seeks to expand despite the program’s desperate need for reform. Further, putting undue emphasis on broadening access to comprehensive health insurance ignores other avenues for change. For example, instead of introducing more third-party payers into the system, why not return some of the responsibility for health care to the consumer? If healthy and employed Americans could actually see how much certain things cost, they might hold off on visiting their doctors for cases of the seasonal flu, thereby freeing up resources for those in more urgent need. We definitely don’t want somebody to go broke because they developed cancer – or some other serious chronic illness – but I think mandating insurance coverage for standard “oil changes” is going way overboard.

I guess what I’m trying to convey here is that PPACA is not the be-all and end-all of health care policy in America. There are other ideas out there — ideas that, in my opinion, are based on sound economics. Oppose them if you choose, but please don’t imply that they don’t exist.

And wasn’t it your side complaining about (made up) “death panels?”

And what of the Independent Payment Advisory Board? Isn’t that 15-member body empowered to cut payments to Medicare providers? Please explain how that will not result, ultimately, in health care rationing for seniors.

And your side that talks incessantly about a “culture of life?” And yet who is it that screams “Let him die!” at debates and wants to deny working Americans health care?

Ugh! This leftist urban legend again! I urge you to actually go back and watch the video of the debate in question. When the moderator asked Ron Paul if the uninsured American in his hypothetical should be left to die, only one or two assholes in the audience shouted “Yeah!” — and they were met with nervous titters here and there, not thunderous applause. Again, I ask that you stop spreading vicious falsehoods about your opposition. Try engaging us in good faith for a change.

I’m sorry, gang, but there’s just no way I can get behind that kind of approach to life. No way. No matter how you dress it up in anti-big-gubment rhetoric and complain about “socialized” this and that, it just isn’t gonna fly here. Take it elsewhere, because all the argument in the world will not change my mind or, more importantly, my heart.

And here, my Facebook friend finally reveals just how mired he is in emotional thinking. Obamacare is right in my heart! How dare anyone challenge it using inconvenient facts!   

Well, pardon me for bursting your bubble, but as your other friend’s comment reveals, there are legitimate reasons to doubt that Obama’s pet legislation will actually do anything to control health care costs or improve access. Stick your fingers in your ears and shout “La-la-la! Republicans are EVIL and want you to DIE!” all you want, but don’t be surprised if we conservatives then throw up our hands and drop you from our reading lists. Assuming ill motives where none exist is an excellent way to lose friends and antagonize people. Indeed, that attitude is likely to earn you a punch in the face.

Responding to Annoying Liberal Remarks on Facebook, XI: Drive-By Rejoinders

When it comes to the memes that are disseminated on Facebook, I think I’ve reached the final straw. Therefore, what follows is a series of brief – and cranky – replies to the oh-so-deep political thoughts my acquaintances have shared with me in the past week.

1.

Sayeth the first friend (with the help of Stephen King):

“Rich people should acknowledge that they wouldn’t have made it without America — that they should give back in proportion to what they’ve received.”

Wealth creation depends upon the rule of law, so yes — a rich man should thank America for his good fortune. The thing is, I don’t think there’s anyone on my side of the political aisle who doesn’t acknowledge the importance of infrastructure, police, fire, education, etc. — nor has any conservative ever proposed that being an American means being “on your own.” You – and Stephen King – are setting up a straw man instead of debating the real thing. Real conservatives agree that the government does and should have the power to tax the populace to arrange for the establishment of the aforementioned public goods. We merely insist that our money be fully accounted for.

Let me put it to you this way: Imagine your son fell into some financial difficulty and came to you for help paying his rent. Wouldn’t you resent it if he came back a few weeks later and asked for more because he was stupid and bought an X-Box instead of settling things with his landlord? That is how I feel about the government. It keeps asking me for more and more of my tax money without explaining where the last check went. Millions and millions of dollars are being pitched into circular files like Solyndra, and no apology is ever extended when these ventures are revealed to be colossal wastes. Personally, I think all Americans – rich and poor alike – should scream “Not one cent more!” until the entire federal government is audited and streamlined. It is frankly psychotic at this point to let out more rope when the nation is already hanging itself. What’s more, it’s immoral. We have a duty to ensure that our government spending is sustainable. To do otherwise is to countenance massive generational theft.

Oh, and by the way: The rich are already giving back in proportion to what they receive — and then some. According to the CBO, the top quintile makes 50.8% of the before-tax income generated in the United States and pays 67.9% of our federal income taxes. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

2.

 Sayeth another friend (this time with the help of Mark Ruffalo):

“Why is it that Americans question putting more money into health care but don’t question how much we spend on the military?”

Hmm. Could it be the fact that the federal government would still run at a deficit even if we zeroed out the entire defense budget tomorrow?  Or that providing for the nation’s defense is actually a Constitutionally-enumerated power of the federal government while providing for cradle-to-grave comprehensive health insurance is not? Or that the Affordable Care Act – popularly known as Obamacare – doesn’t actually fix the true problems with the health care delivery system in America?

Once again, I don’t know of any conservative who is satisfied with our health care status quo. What we object to is Obama’s top-down, bureaucratic nightmare of a solution. Health care costs are spiraling out of control in part because, in the health care market, the usual price signals have been completely obscured by our reliance on third-party payments. Then there are the trial lawyers, whose activities guarantee that doctors will overuse expensive tests and procedures to cover their own asses. Does Obamacare address either of these issues? And by the way, it also doesn’t help that this disaster of a law apparently empowers the HHS to infringe upon my conscience rights as a Catholic. To this, I say hell to the no.

3.
And finally, from the same friend who quoted Mark Ruffalo above:
“GOP: Choose between Ayn Rand or Jesus Christ. Otherwise, you’re doing it wrong.”

Okay — how can you possibly be a professor of political science and not know how our two-party system works? Because our political infrastructure is not kind to third-party bids, both the GOP and the Democratic Party are forced to behave as coalitions in order to absorb as much of the electorate as possible. So yes — our tent houses both the Objectivists and the Christians, but that doesn’t mean we don’t recognize how such groups differ on the issues of the day. As a matter of fact, we argue quite fiercely amongst ourselves.

As for me, I choose Jesus Christ because I believe he is God. However, I don’t assume that living out the Gospel requires big government. I am called to care for the poor and vulnerable, yes — but the way I see it, that means I must support what truly works and not what makes us all feel good. The Great Society? Sorry, liberals, but multi-generational welfare dependency does not fit my definition of “working.” We need jobs, not an expansion of the dole.
*****
So yeah — every time I visit Facebook these days, I’m always all:
 

Responding to Annoying Liberal Remarks on Facebook, X – The "Santorum Is Right" Edition

Actually, it’s not just the liberals who are being idiots this time; some of my conservative friends, sadly, are also jumping on Santorum for his recent negative remarks regarding the all-encompassing push to get everyone into college. An example:

Hey Santorum, I’m a Republican, and I went to college, a great one, and I got my degree, and got a job. Just like you did. Stop being a moron and just quit the race already.

I went to college, too – a public Ivy, actually – and I graduated summa cum laude with highest honors. Indeed, I enjoyed college so much that I eventually want to go back to study mathematics and theology — and to get teaching certificates in both math and science. But what’s your point here? Why are you behaving as if Santorum attacked you personally? He’s not saying that your college experience was completely worthless. He’s challenging the prevalent belief that college should be universal — and by the way, he’s absolutely right.

My day job involves a fair amount of college admissions counseling, so I know at a very intimate level how damaging all this pro-college propaganda can be. Repeatedly, I have seen C-students with below-average SAT scores collapse under the pressure and check out. Repeatedly, I have seen B-students with average SAT scores flame out in AP (or IB) courses that were forced upon them by over-zealous guidance counselors trying to burnish their students’ college resumes. If it weren’t for the college rat race, I wouldn’t have my current job, but I’d gladly give it up if it meant these students could actually be happy for once in their young lives.

A few weeks ago, a new client at work – a fifteen-year-old sophomore getting middling grades – confided in me that he really wanted to take a class on welding. The admission was furtive and ashamed — almost as if he thought himself a loser for even entertaining such a notion. When I responded enthusiastically — when I validated his desire and delivered a Mike Rowe-style speech on how the skilled trades are awesome and how we need to open more schools to train mechanics, construction workers, and – yes – welders — a weight was immediately lifted from his shoulders. At the end of our session, he remarked, “I was afraid you’d be mean, but you’re actually really nice. I’m going to enjoy coming here.”

Not everyone has the motivation or the aptitude to make it through college — but because everyone from Obama on down is beating the college drum, there are a lot of teens out there who believe they must go or else face social stigmatization and an uncertain employment future. This is sad, unfair, and exactly as “snobbish” as Santorum makes it out to be. Kids desperately need to have access to alternatives. They need to be told that going to trade school is okay. They need to be told that apprenticeships are perfectly respectable. They need to be told that enlisting in the military is a great idea. And they also need to have a K-12 education that goes beyond mere babysitting so that when they graduate, they won’t necessarily need to go to college to become “educated”. In my ideal world, kids would be equipped to educate themselves by the time they earn their high school diploma.

Recently, I’ve been reading Daniel J. Flynn’s Blue Collar Intellectuals (a book I highly recommend, by the way), and what I find most striking about the individuals Flynn profiles is the fact that they managed to pen brilliant, incisive works despite, in many cases, their failure to follow the “college track.” (See also: Eric Hoffer’s life as a hobo and longshoreman.) At mid-century, people with high school – or sometimes even grade school – educations were entirely capable of commenting intelligently upon the issues of the day. In fact, as Flynn reveals, in the post-WWII era, there was an explosion of interest in the “great books” that reached far down into the working classes. But how could this be if many of these people didn’t even go to college? The answer is simple: Back then, the lower education system was better. Robert Heinlein had to learn the times tables to 15 X 15 when he was a boy. Sub Spike, our father, was expected to memorize poetry and calculate square roots by hand. The traditional model still reigned supreme despite Dewey’s best efforts.

But I’m digressing a bit. Suffice it to say that I don’t believe you need to go to college to be educated. Indeed, many people go to college, get their credential, and emerge just as ignorant as they were when they went in. And no — Santorum is not “anti-smart folks,” and he’s not proposing that we allow people to languish in dead-end jobs at McDonald’s. Please get a grip and realize that there are – and should be – many tracks to middle class success.

Responding to Annoying Liberal Remarks on Facebook, VIII

When you drive up to a red light, you’re supposed to stop until the light turns green. That’s the general law of the land. Yet on a daily basis, I run red lights without getting ticketed. Why? Because there is an exception to the rule: you can run a red light if you are turning right.

The fact that there is an exception to the red light rule does not invalidate the rule in general. The fact that I can turn right on red doesn’t mean I should feel free to run red lights in all circumstances. Similarly, the fact that there are couples out there who are infertile does not automatically invalidate the Catholic Church’s conservative position on contraception. But try explaining that to a Facebook acquaintance of mine who is all too ready to accuse us Catholics (and our allies) of believing things we don’t actually believe. As he states:

“It’s about controlling women, about the Puritanical urge to make sure no one has sex except to make babies, even if you don’t want any.”

To which one of his friends replies:

“IF they get their way, they’ll eventually try to outlaw ANY sex that’s not for making babies–which means people who can’t have babies will have to live like monks.”

As I stated above, these two statements are so patently false that I don’t even know where to begin. But let’s start by explaining what the Church actually teaches about sex. You see, I have read a fair amount of the late (and Blessed) John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” and no where do I see it stated that sex has just a procreative function. Actually, the Holy Father acknowledges two vital functions of sex – the procreative and the unitive – and states that both must work in concert. It is just as much a sin, in other words, to have sex for the sole purpose of creating an heir, say, as it is to have contracepted intercourse. The first case ignores the unitive; the second case ignores the procreative.

Obedient Catholics can have sex without having babies, but it involves cooperating with God’s plan instead of imposing your own will upon it. Consider the infertile married couple. The fact that their sex results in no issue does not in fact make their sex a sin because it is not their fault that they are infertile. That is what God has decreed for them. Similarly, an elderly couple is still allowed to have sex despite the wife’s menopause because, again, menopause is a part of God’s plan for female human beings. And then there is Natural Family Planning. God has designed the female human body in such a way that each woman has both fertile and infertile periods, and NFP allows a Catholic couple to follow this cycle to either prevent or enable pregnancy. In each of these three cases, the couples are still open to God and His desires for us. That’s the true key. This idea that the Church simply wants us to pump out rugrats is a monumental distortion of her teachings.

(And by the way, to head off the usual objection, NFP is effective provided you receive training from a licensed specialist and are motivated to follow God’s program. Science has pushed NFP far beyond the oft ridiculed “rhythm method.”)

In my estimation, it is highly, highly unlikely that the Catholic Church and her allies will go so far as to “outlaw sex that’s not for making babies” even if they do gain the power to do so. In addition to all the exceptions to the rules noted above, the Church explicitly teaches that we Catholics must work within the larger civil society, and if that means making compromises, we must make compromises. I think the Church understands the extent to which the sexual revolution has taken hold in our culture, and I think she understands that we will never be able to put the genie entirely back in the bottle. Will the Church do everything she can to mitigate the effects of that revolution? Yes. But that is not the same as demanding that we outlaw non-procreative sex, and all honest people know it.

And while we’re on the subject, what are we to make of the effects of the sexual revolution? My Facebook acquaintance clearly considers it axiomatic that sex is more fun when it has no limits. But is that actually the case? No. As the social science reveals, married couples have more fun, perhaps because they feel more secure in their relationships. It is also quite clear that “free love” has been disastrous for our children. Children both desire and need stable families, and they are less likely to have them so long as we adults ignore our responsibilities to selfishly pursue our own transient pleasures.

And as for the issue of control, my rejoinder is this: Who’s controlling whom? As far as I’m concerned, you leftists are the most controlling people on the planet when it comes to sex. If you are an unborn human being? Sorry, but we only care about your mother’s freedom to have sex without consequences. Your rights don’t matter. If you are an OB/GYN who doesn’t approve of abortion? Sorry, but we don’t care about your personal beliefs. We will force you to perform a procedure with which you don’t agree. If you are a Catholic pharmacist who doesn’t wish to sell the birth control pill? Too bad. We leftists have decreed that women have an absolute right to get birth control at every pharmacy in the U.S. regardless of what individual pharmacists think about the matter. If you are a pastor who doesn’t believe in gay marriage? You are a bigot, and you have no right to decide which marriages your church will and will not endorse. If you are a Catholic adoption agency who places children only with heterosexual married couples? We leftists will use the power of the state to compel you to place children with gay couples. Who exactly is anti-liberty here when all is said and done? If these leftists were actually frank with themselves, they would realize that they are just as eager to impose their peculiar sexual morality on everyone else as they accuse us Christians of being. Their talk of “rights” and “freedom” is pure bunk.

Responding to Annoying Liberal Remarks on Facebook, VII

I’ve got a few doozies to slam today.

First of all, remember the professor who continued to insist that Wisconsin’s education system is one of the best in the nation because of its powerful unions despite my pointing out that the statistics he was citing were deeply, deeply flawed? Well, here’s what he has to say about the 2012 presidential race:

“Who in their right mind would want to be the GOP nominee in 2012? They should wait until they have an open field in 2016.”

I See What You Did ThereTM. You believe Obama – your Messiah – should be granted a second term without a fight, so you’re doing your best now to demoralize his opponents.

Yes, why would anyone seek to run against Obama? Could it be because of the high gas prices which are a direct result of Obama’s energy policies? Could it be because of the “economic recovery” which is, as far as most people can see, anemic at best? Could it be that people finally – finally – want the chance to elect a president who won’t run up the balance on our national credit card?

V., I love your taste in science fiction and superhero pulp, but you can be an unaccountably arrogant ass when it comes to politics. Sure, the current GOP field hasn’t impressed me so far. Personally, I think somebody should kidnap Chris Christie’s kids and set “running for president” as the ransom. (I kid! I kid!) But it is still too early to declare Obama’s victory a foregone conclusion.

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Next up, I have another Facebook friend who’s been doing an excellent job revealing his total ignorance in re: Christianity.

In one recent post, for example, he mocked Harold Camping (who deserves to be mocked, truth be told) and in the process called him a priest. When one of his other friends tried to politely correct his blunder, he replied:

“Priest, preacher. It’s all pretty much the same thing.”

No, it isn’t. Stop being an asshat. There is a world of doctrinal difference between the Harold Campings of the world and the Catholic Church. We Catholics don’t believe in a secret Rapture, for one. While I was going through RCIA a few years ago, my spiritual advisor, Father D., was pretty clear about this fact. He stated unequivocally that “when Jesus comes again, the whole world is going to know it.” He also noted that Jesus Himself discouraged guessing when it came to the date and time of His coming. As Jesus teaches in Matthew 24:

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Unfortunately for my blood pressure, my friend didn’t stop at blurring the lines between crack-pot fringe Christians and the rest of us. He also posted a link to a HuffPo article which declares that Christians – evangelical Christians in particular – actually hate Jesus. Well, I’m going to go to bat for my evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ and take apart the claims said article makes one by one:

Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture.

Here, the writers of my friend’s cited article make the classic liberal/leftist mistake of confusing “mercy and forgiveness” with “leniency.” Allow me to explain the difference this way: I know someone – someone very close to me – who was sexually abused by her father. This person was raised a Christian, has taken Jesus’ teachings to heart, and has therefore forgiven both of her parents. She still maintains contact with her mother and sends her father birthday and Christmas gifts — and when her father fell seriously ill a few years ago, she spent several weeks in her hometown taking care of him and serving as a knowledgeable intermediary between her mother and her father’s doctors. And yet – and yet – there is still no way in hell that she would ever let a young woman like me spend time alone with her father because she knows that’s not prudent.

Yes — Jesus teaches that the victim of a crime should forgive her victimizer. But Jesus absolutely does not say that the state should therefore refrain from protecting the public from further victimization. That cannot be what Jesus meant because the real-world consequences of lax law enforcement are manifestly disastrous. Some people do need to be put away for a long, long time for their own good as well as ours.

And by the way, did you notice that these anti-Christian writers don’t bother to define what they mean by “draconian sentencing,” “punitive punishment,” or “torture”? Did you notice too that they don’t provide any real evidence that evangelicals support these three things? The Pew survey they cite certainly doesn’t indicate anything of the kind.

Moving on:

Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world.

The fact that a person owns a gun does not make that person more violent, you idiots. Guns are simply tools. While they can be used in a criminal and violent manner, they can just as easily be used for one’s daily subsistence or self defense. The first American colonists would not have survived in the New World without their weapons; the same goes for the pioneers who headed west in the nineteenth century. And I think it’s arguable that in many contexts today, owning a gun is still an eminently wise choice. In a failing urban neighborhood where the police may be hesitant to intervene, a gun can mean the difference between being brutally murdered and staying alive.

As for the activities of the American military, again, I think it is stupid in the extreme to declare categorically that war is in violation of Jesus’ teachings. Peace should always be our first choice — and if a conflict should commence despite our best efforts, we should make war justly. But if a state holds to an ideological brand of pacifism, it is in essence failing to discharge its primary responsibility: the protection of its citizens. Jesus surely did not mean that we should leave ourselves and our children vulnerable to the predators and monsters who populate our fallen world in relative abundance. Individuals can martyr themselves for “peace” if they choose, but they have absolutely no right to make that decision for everyone else. Crimeny! I thought you guys were against forcing one’s religious beliefs on others.

Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one’s money to the poor.

Typical leftwing pseudo-Christian drivel. Jesus did not teach that the rich should be condemned. He did note that personal wealth can be a stumbling block when it comes to one’s salvation, but that is not because wealth itself is evil. Rather, wealth can often lead a person to forget that his or her good fortune ultimately comes from God — and consequently, such a person may neglect to give God His due. Idolatry is the issue here, not mere affluence.

And as for giving one’s money to the poor, where is the proof that evangelicals don’t do this? Because when I look around, I see a lot of evidence to the contrary. When evangelical Christians head out on their various missions, they don’t just spread the Gospel; they also try to help the people they encounter. They bring clothes and food with them; they help build houses and dig wells; they set up schools; etc., etc., etc.

And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation’s poor — especially poor children.

They hate anything that smacks of “socialism,” even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training — anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do.

For the 1,549,163rd time: Jesus did urge us to care for the vulnerable among us. But nowhere in the Bible does Jesus say, “Amen, amen, I say to you, if you do not support a large welfare state, you will not enter the Kingdom of God.” Indeed, He offers no policy prescriptions of any kind; He leaves the specifics entirely to us because He respects our free will. It is one of the lowest forms of political bullying to declare that because conservative evangelical Christians don’t unreservedly embrace federal poverty programs, that means they are ignoring Jesus’ preferential option for the poor. That is such bull****, and every honest American knows it.

See, what the left is trying to do here is shut down any sincere disagreement over which poverty programs work and which don’t — whether a large federal bureaucracy can competently handle all the needs of the disadvantaged among us or whether smaller, more local entities would be better suited to the task. And even though many leftists don’t even believe that Jesus is the Son of God and despise those who do, they are perfectly willing to stoop to the despicable tactic of using Jesus as a bludgeon to cow the Christian Right.

Sigh. I think I’m going to have to deploy my blurred out middle finger once again:


If you spend your life bloviating about a religion you clearly don’t understand, you are an ass.
Sit on this and rotate.

Responding to Annoying Liberal Remarks on Facebook, VI

One of my repeat offenders has struck again. This time, he is claiming that Virginia and the four other states who have disallowed collective bargaining for teachers also hover at the bottom of the pack when it comes to SAT scores. But the College Board’s position on state-by-state comparisons is pretty damned clear:

“The SAT is a strong indicator of trends in the college-bound population, but it should never be used alone for such comparisons because demographics and other nonschool factors can have a strong effect on scores.”

And indeed, when you look at each state’s report, you see significant differences in the testing population from state to state. Let’s look at the 2010 data for Wisconsin first:

Mean score: 1778 (R/W/M)
Number of test takers: 3,002
Ethnicity: 87% White or Asian
ESOL percentage: 8%
Percent with family income below $40 K: 11%
Percent who have a parent with a bachelor’s or higher: 83%

Now let’s look at the 2010 data for Virginia:

Mean score: 1521 (R/W/M)
Number of test takers: 59,031
Ethnicity: 67% White or Asian
ESOL percentage: 6% (Here in NOVA, I’m sure that percent is much higher.)
Percent with family income below $40 K: 19%
Percent who have a parent with a bachelor’s or higher: 61%

Virginia’s sample is 1866% larger than Wisconsin’s — and it is a documented fact that average SAT scores are inversely proportional to the number of students who are taking the test. Virginia’s students are also poorer, and their parents are less educated. And let’s not shrink from the reality that the achievement gap between white students and African-American students is going to have more of an impact on Virginia’s average score. Comparing Virginia’s test population to Wisconsin’s is not even comparing apples to oranges — it’s comparing apples to pianos. The College Board is right to declare such comparisons invalid.

Wisconsin: Three Leftist Myths vs. Reality

Yeah, I know – you’re probably sick of hearing about the protests in Wisconsin by now. But I can’t help myself — leftists on Live Journal and Facebook are driving me absolutely batty. Thus, I give you my responses to three pernicious memes I’ve seen floating around the ‘net:

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Myth #1: Walker manufactured the budget crisis by awarding tax cuts to his cronies!

Debunked by Politifact (which calls both Democrats and Republicans on their misleading statements, exaggerations, etc.):

We re-read the fiscal bureau memo, talked to Lang, consulted reporter Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel’s Madison Bureau, read various news accounts and examined the issue in detail.

Our conclusion: Maddow and the others are wrong.

There is, indeed, a projected deficit that required attention, and Walker and GOP lawmakers did not create it.

More on that second point in a bit.

The confusion, it appears, stems from a section in Lang’s memo that — read on its own — does project a $121 million surplus in the state’s general fund as of June 30, 2011.

But the remainder of the routine memo — consider it the fine print — outlines $258 million in unpaid bills or expected shortfalls in programs such as Medicaid services for the needy ($174 million alone), the public defender’s office and corrections. Additionally, the state owes Minnesota $58.7 million under a discontinued tax reciprocity deal.

The result, by our math and Lang’s, is the $137 million shortfall.

Meanwhile, what about Maddow’s claim — also repeated across the liberal blogosphere — that Walker’s tax-cut bills approved in January are responsible for the $137 million deficit?

Lang’s fiscal bureau report and news accounts addressed that issue as well.

The tax cuts will cost the state a projected $140 million in tax revenue — but not until the next two-year budget, from July 2011 to June 2013. The cuts are not even in effect yet, so they cannot be part of the current problem.

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Myth #2: Walker threatened to sic the Wisconsin National Guard on the protestors!

Also debunked at Politifact:

When he spoke later that day to Journal Sentinel reporters and editors, Walker used the example of the National Guard helping run state prisons in the event of a strike by corrections workers.

In an email to PolitiFact Wisconsin, Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie wrote: “In the unlikely event that core government services are disrupted the Guard would be used just to continue those services. That’s what the National Guard does.”

Indeed, demonstrations over Walker’s proposals were held in Madison and elsewhere in Wisconsin on Feb. 14 and 15, with thousands of people showing up, but the National Guard was not summoned.

And on Feb. 15, the Guard issued a news release saying it “has not been mobilized for state active duty” and “we remain in our normal state of readiness.”

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Myth #3: The Wisconsin protesters are exercising their rights just like the Tea Partiers did!

At best, this is a half-truth. The pro-union protesters in Wisconsin are largely peaceful, as were the Tea Partiers in 2009-2010. And yes, both the Wisconsin protesters and the Tea Partiers have the right to stage political demonstrations to ensure that their voices are heard. But there are significant differences between the two groups.

First of all, no Tea Party group full-on occupied the Capital for days on end before the Obamacare vote. Tea Partiers raised loud objections to Obamacare at many townhall meetings, and there were several spirited Tea Party protests held in DC and elsewhere, but once the Tea Partiers had said their piece, they went home. They didn’t shirk their jobs to stick around — and they didn’t encourage Congressional Republicans to run away from their duties either.

(Again, don’t believe it when Wisconsin’s protesting teachers claim that they are doing it “for the children.” In staging their sick-out, they have denied thousands of children their right to an education. “For the children” my ass.)

Secondly, to my knowledge, no official RNC organ had a hand in organizing any Tea Party events. Indeed, the relationship between the GOP and the Tea Party is lukewarm at best. On the other hand, Organizing for America, the wing of the DNC that helped to get Barack Obama elected in 2008, has definitely played an active role in keeping the protests alive in Wisconsin.

Third, the Tea Partiers always picked up their trash. The Wisconsin protesters have sometimes failed to do this. This may seem like such a little thing to harp on, but I think the trash issue speaks volumes about the very different attitudes of the two groups. One group believes in personal responsibility. The other group believes in government. The fact that I prefer groups which champion the former does not make me a hypocrite.


The National Mall after the 9/12 rally.

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Hope this post helps in your arguments with left-leaning friends and relatives!

Responding to Annoying Liberal Remarks on Facebook, V – Steph’s Rules for Net Debates

  • When I ask a question, answer it. Don’t change the subject. Don’t fling yet more unsupported accusations. Don’t behave as if your position is self-evident to everyone who has a brain. It’s not.
  • Cite your sources. When I was a kid, Sub Spike taught me not to take people’s claims at face value. If you refuse to provide links, I’m going to assume you can’t back up your assertions.
  • No personal attacks. My biggest pet peeve is when people insinuate that I lack intelligence. I graduated summa cum laude with highest honors from a top 50 university. And by the way, I was a science major. I didn’t choose a course of study in which verbal virtuosity is valued over hard facts.
  • Don’t take your personal issues out on me. If somebody has hurt you at some point in your life, I’m sorry. Still, it’s not my job to be your therapist or your personal punching bag.

Now let’s explore how LM – the individual featured in my previous post – violated my rules:

  • I confronted LM and asked her to back up her assertion that the Tea Party is Racist/Sexist/Homophobic. She returned with a smart ass question that implied that I didn’t know what I was talking about. This violates the first three of my four rules. She didn’t answer my question, didn’t cite her sources, and attacked my intelligence through insinuation. I should’ve terminated the discussion here, but I simply couldn’t resist continuing. What can I say? I’m not a perfect human being.
  • I then tried to inject some facts about the Tea Party movement into the discussion. I should’ve provided some links, true, but I was writing in the heat of the moment. If LM were interested in having a good faith discussion, she could’ve asked for my sources, and I would’ve gladly provided them. Instead, she continues to call Tea Partiers nutjobs and states that I support the violation of her “bodily integrity.” Whatever, LM. I personally think the right to shoot one’s “almighty gun” will do more for the preservation of a woman’s bodily integrity than either legal gay marriage or unrestricted legal abortion. The right to kill my unborn children for my own convenience certainly won’t help me if a rapist should come looming towards me in a dark alley. A gun might.

    But anyway, I’m rambling. Suffice it to say that LM violated my fourth rule by ranting at me instead of genuinely responding to what I said. Thus, at this point, I decided it was time to bow out. I’ve been in internet debates often enough to tell the difference between an open-minded individual and a hardcore partisan. I can have a fruitful discussion with the former; a productive debate is impossible with the latter.

  • Unfortunately, LM came back with her whopper about the supposed intelligence deficit among conservatives. Because, as I said, that is my biggest pet peeve, I once again couldn’t stop myself from going back for another round. In response, I asked her to provide her sources. She refused to do so, thereby violating rule number two as well as rule number three. I was completely done at that point. She did demand later that I try to “convince” her that the Tea Party is not racist or sexist. I told her again that I didn’t believe she was ready to listen. Because really, what do you suppose would’ve happened if I had produced pro-right statements written by “brown” and/or gay Tea Partiers? Do you honestly think that would’ve persuaded her? I for one highly doubt it.

Failure to follow my rules for debate will ultimately result in termination of the discussion. I don’t have the time or the energy to waste on screeching harpies who refuse to argue in good faith.