A New Low From the Far-Right Lie Factory

Benghazi Stevens

Every day my Facebook wall is bombarded with right wing talking points like this. For the most part I let them go by because there aren’t enough hours in the day to address even a fraction of them. This one, however, crossed a line for me. It’s not that it was filled with lies and hate – that’s not unusual. It wasn’t that it attempted to demonize some political enemy – nothing new there. It was, I think, the crude, raw vulgarity of it. It seemed to reset the bar at what is acceptable from the right-wing lie factory.

Let me get the debunking part out of the way first. The circumstances surrounding Ambassador Stevens’ death are unclear, but the preponderance of the evidence – not right-wing speculation, spin and lies – but real evidence suggests that Stevens was found by American-friendly Libyans unconscious but alive and rushed to the hospital where he died of smoke inhalation. The picture in the post is most definitely not of Stevens since it existed in 2009, three years before the Benghazi attack.

Fact checking. So what! The people who create these things and, to a lesser degree, those who pass them around don’t care about facts. There is no amount of information, evidence or debunking that will keep them from posting and reposting this stuff. What they truly care about is demonizing their enemies whom they see, not as Al Qaeda or militant Muslims, but as ordinary Americans who happen to have a political philosophy different from theirs. The purpose of these posts is to create enough shock, horror and outrage so that their political agenda – whatever it may be – might show a shift in the polls a couple of percentage points.

Folks, please, we’ve got to stop this. It is destroying the country – more than anything Al Qaeda might try, more than entitlements, wars, Obamacare or anything else. By demonizing our political leaders we polarize the electorate to the point that no real discussion of the truly important issues can happen. How can you possibly have an honest, substantive conversation with someone who supports Satan? How can you support a politician who is willing to compromise with someone who gets up every morning thinking of ways to destroy the country?

Maybe I’m overstating this; maybe not. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of articles published in foreign newspapers, and I’m seeing a consistent theme. America is broken, they say. Americans can’t govern themselves. It’s time for a post American world. It’s time for a new reserve currency. Foreign countries, especially China, have been looking at the quagmire in America and are thinking that this may be the time to move their substantial financial muscle and toss America from the top of the world order. If America can’t keep their own government open, how can it respond to the kind of seismic shifts that are happening in the rest of the world?

We are facing some very real problems at home and abroad, and we need to address them in a proactive manner. Spreading lies and misinformation and manufacturing outrage is not helping.

Abortion and Runaway Trolley Cars

Do you believe that life begins at conception and that the one day old fetus is just as human as the rest of us? I know many of you do, and I know that you are sincere about trolley-problem-1that belief, but I wonder just how thoroughly you’ve thought that through. Let’s do a little thought experiment. Consider this scenario:

You work in a fertility clinic. On your way back from lunch one day you notice that the clinic is on fire. You run inside to see if there is anything you can do. To your right is a room where there are five frozen embryos awaiting transplant.  To your left you see a two year old girl trapped in a room and screaming for help. There is no time to save both the girl and the embryos. What do you do?

This is a variant of a set of thought experiments commonly known as the Runaway Trolley Car Experiments which were devised in the 1960s to explore ethical dilemmas and how people decide what is and isn’t an ethical action. The general idea was that the subject would be asked to imagine that they were in a difficult situation and had to make one of two actions each of which had negative consequences. They are often referred to as Runaway Trolley Car Experiments because the best known set deals with a runaway trolley car that is barreling down the tracks towards a group of unsuspecting people. The first of that series goes like this:

There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. Unfortunately, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options: (1) Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. (2) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person. Which is the correct choice? [1]

In the example above almost everyone agrees that diverting the trolley is the correct action even though it leads to the death of one person. The situations get more difficult from there. What if your only option is to push someone onto the tracks? What if the group of five were convicted murderers? Or just convicted robbers? You can see how it can get very interesting.

So, back to the fertility clinic. You’ve had some time to think about it. What did you decide? Was it a hard choice? This scenario is only a dilemma if you truly believe that an embryo is fully human, and in that case your choice would be as simple as in the trolley car example given above. You act to save the most lives and go for the embryos. However, I suspect that in a real life situation people would be horrified and outraged if someone abandoned the girl for the embryos.

The ethics don’t change even if you swap out the two year old girl for some nameless guy that was just there to fix the plumbing or if you increase the number of embryos from five to fifteen or fifty. I think that almost everyone would agree that the right thing to do is to save the actual human.

For me, this thought experiment indicates that there is something fundamentally different between an embryo and a real, sentient human being. If you are one of those who believes that an embryo is fully human, I would like to hear your thoughts on this experiment.

 


Oh, my! Bill Nye, the Science Guy, booed?

I just posted a status update to my Facebook page that said, “Bill Nye (‘The Science Guy’) was booed offstage recently while delivering a lecture in Waco, Texas for contradicting the Bible by saying that the moon does not have a light of its own but reflects light from the sun.“

It was a bit of a dirty trick I’m afraid because I basically just wanted to see the reactions that it generated. Before I go into any detail about this, I’m going to let it cook for a while on my Facebook page.

 [Update]

Well, hell. As experiments go, this one was pretty much a bust. Before the ink had dried on my Facebook screen (or however it works) some of my liberal friends had jumped all over it with their high-brow, smarty-pants fact checking and ruined it.

So why did this catch my attention to begin with? Because it has all the elements of the kind of manufactured outrage stories the far right puts out all the time, but this time it had a liberal slant. Here’s how these stories work:

  1. Start with a kernel of truth.  Bill Nye did give a lecture in Waco. He did say that the moon has no light of its own but merely reflects light from the sun. Some people were offended and walked out.
  2. Appeal to the worst kind of stereotypes, e.g., liberals are just socialists wanting government handouts or gun control advocates want to take away all our guns. This story appealed to the image of Waco as a hotbed of Christian, fundamentalist, knuckle-draggers.
  3. Edit out any nuance. There is nothing in the Internet versions of the story that give any context leading up to the incident. I know that Bill Nye is passionate about the importance of science in today’s world and can be dismissive of religious ideology that hinders scientific advancement. My guess is that those who were offended enough by the seemingly trivial moon comment were pretty well primed by his previous comments by that point.
  4.  Exaggerate the negative elements. Was Nye actually booed for his comment? Tim Woods, who reported the original story, described the reaction as more of a “low murmur” among a few in the audience.
  5. Add in a conspiracy. Think Atheist claimed that the Waco Tribune “mysteriously pulled its story from the online version, presumably to avoid further embarrassment.” There is nothing mysterious about it. Almost all online newspapers archive their stories once they reach a certain age, and this one dates back to 2006, so it was “pulled” just like every other story from that period.
  6.  Throw in a lie or two just to gin up the outrage. As long as you are going to make the story juicier by describing some grumbling as booing, go ahead and make it delicious by saying that he was booed offstage.

This is typical of the kind of stories I see every day coming from the far right. This one is only noteworthy because it slants left. My hope in all this was that some of my conservative friends who regularly repost right wing versions of this story would see what they looked like from the other side.

Maybe – just maybe – having guns in schools will help

The other day an old friend asked me to drive him to the airport, and I agreed but said he had to do something in return. I told him that in my next blog post I was going to make the case for allowing guns in schools and his job was to talk me out of it. He’s an attorney, a liberal and no friend of the 2nd Amendment, so he was eager to oblige. So on the way to the airport he threw out all the arguments he could muster on why guns in schools was a bad idea, and each one was perfectly valid, but even so he was unable to convince me – or even himself as it turned out – that there was no merit to the idea. So here I am.

Let me state up front that I’m no friend of the 2nd Amendment either. I believe that it was a mistake for the founding fathers to have included it, at least as written, and that the country would be better off if it had been left out. At the same time I am a realist, and I recognize that it’s there and it’s not going away, so we need to deal with it.

Ever since the Sandy Hook shooting I, along with many others have pleaded for an adult conversation about guns in America. I even laid out some rules that I felt were critical to having such a discussion. In particular I said that we must acknowledge legitimate arguments that come from the other side and that we must recognize that there is no perfect solution.

With that in mind let me make a case for having some kind of approach that allows school personnel access to weapons at school. Let me begin by walking through the events of that sad day in Connecticut, at least as I understand them to be at this time.  Early in the morning after classes had started and the building locked down, Adam Lanza walked up to the school building and simply shot his way through the locked front doors. The principal, hearing the gun shots, the breaking glass, and the security alarms, got up from a meeting she was having, walked into the hallway to investigate, confronted the shooter and was quickly shot dead.

Now let’s imagine a slightly different scenario. The principal, upon hearing the gun shots, breaking glass and alarms, grabs the keys to her desk, unlocks the drawer where a gun is kept, walks into the hallway, and confronts the shooter just as before as before, but she is now armed with a handgun. What happens in the next one or two seconds is anybody’s guess but it is critical to the outcome. If we had the ability to set up some kind of virtual reality in which we ran through that scenario a dozen or more times, we would probably see many different outcomes. In some cases the shooter would kill the principal before she had time to react and would go about his grisly task just as it happened in reality. In some cases the principal would get off a couple of wild shots perhaps killing or injuring even more students before being killed herself. But in some cases the principal would be able to kill or injure the shooter or otherwise stop or limit the carnage.

No matter what side of the debate you are on you have to acknowledge that each of those outcomes will occur some percent of the time. Just what those percentages are is unknown. Even if you could calculate the odds in that limited scenario you still have to consider the broader issues. If we run our virtual reality experiment not just for those few critical minutes but for many years, how often will the principal become unstable and become the shooter herself? That will happen. How often will a student break into the desk drawer, pull out the gun and start shooting? That will happen, also. Any scenario that can happen will happen over enough trials, and the very real likelihood of all of these possible outcomes has to be taken into consideration.

Taken one at a time, none of the objections that my friend made to my “more guns at school” argument was convincing. It was only when taken at the aggregate that his opposition gained traction. This is how adult conversations work. You listen to the other side, acknowledge those point that are valid, challenge those that aren’t, and in the end at least you’ll both understand the issue better.

Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting that we arm all of our principals, neither am I suggesting that we don’t. I’m hardly suggesting anything other than we need to be open minded about how we address the problem of mass shootings in America. Really, you’d think that that wouldn’t be important enough to spend this much time on, but apparently it needs to be said. Take a look at this video in which Piers Morgan interviews Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners of America. Before it’s all over each man has become intransigent in his own position, and Morgan, normally a reasonable guy, ends the interview by calling Pratt an idiot. This is not the kind of conversation I was hoping for.

Still, I understand Morgan’s frustration. The NRA and Larry Pratts of the world have for decades refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of any opposition to their cause. But really, after decades of trying to have an adult conversation with these people, what do you expect?

Update:

Between the time of the ride out to the airport and the first draft of this post, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre made his press conference to address the Sandy Hook shootings. This was one of the most catastrophic public relations events in memory, and has been universally panned.  The New York Post headline read, “Gun nut! NRA loon in bizarre rant over Newtown” and the New York Daily News simply called him the “Craziest Man on Earth”. Ouch!  This is not the kind of reaction you want from your friends.

In the aftermath of that disaster, I was a bit reluctant to even post this in fear of being associated with this kind of mindset, but ultimately it seemed to be to make my own views even more important. So here it is.

As always, I want to know what you think. Comments are welcome.

Can We PLEASE Have an Adult Conversation About Guns

Father's griefEven before the grieving families of the twenty children killed in yesterdays shooting had been officially notified that their child had been one of the victims, the Internet lit up with people of all political stripes proclaiming the rightness and the righteousness of their personal agenda regarding guns. To be honest I was one of them. This was probably the saddest day for our country since 9-11, and people expressed their grief in many different ways. Sometimes it was pretty ugly, but I hope we can cut everybody some slack given the wrenching emotions of the moment.

I really don’t know what to do at this point. I’ve spent most of the day with this tragedy on my mind, and the only consistent thought is that we have got to have an honest discussion about guns in our society. I’m not the only one calling for this. As the shock of the day wears off, this seems to be a dominant theme.

ChildrenSo where do we start? Well, first off, just like with many of our own personal issues, we must admit that we have a problem and take ownership of it. It’s hard to imagine anyone looking at the gun death statistics in America and not acknowledging that there is a problem. I know that many of you want to just deny the numbers, but you have got to come to terms with the reality of it. The numbers are real, and they are grim.

According to the FBI, nearly 48,000 people were killed in America over the years 2006-2010. That’s about 9,000 or 10,000 a year. That’s over twice as many as were killed by all other weapons combined. America’s gun related death rate per 100,000 in 2011 was 9.00. That puts us in 12th place behind unstable countries like Columbia, Swaziland and Guatemala. By comparison Canada’s rate is 4.78 and Japan’s is 0.07!

But that’s just individual killings. Where we do even better – or worse – is in mass shootings. Look at this map of the worst mass shootings of the past 50 years courtesy of Rachel Maddow and Ezra Klein. Here we dominate the rest of the world with eleven. Coming up a distant second is Finland with two.Worst Mass Shootings of the Past 50 Years

Something is very, very wrong here. These numbers are off the charts. There is no other first world country that even comes close to the carnage we generate. Our statistics are not just double or triple that of our peers, but often at orders of magnitude that we don’t even have names for.

This kind of excess can’t happen because of a single glitch in the system. It can’t just be blamed on the gun laws or the culture of violence. It requires a kind of perfect-storm scenario in which our laws, our politics and our culture all come together to create this havoc.

This is a huge and complex problem for our country. I don’t know what the best solution might be, but there are some things that I do know for certain. First and foremost, we have got to have an adult conversation about guns and gun violence in America. What we have had in the past and most of what we are having now is not what I would consider an adult conversation. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Everybody has to acknowledge the legitimacy of the other side’s position at least in its broadest sense. Liberals have to acknowledge that most people have and should have the right to bear certain types of firearms. Conservatives have to acknowledge that these rights have and should have certain limits.
  2. No strawmen. A strawman argument is a rhetorical device in which you present an opposing position in a trivial manner that is easy to put down. Saying that liberals think that if we ban all guns, nobody would have them is a strawman. No reasonable person thinks that, but it sure is an easy argument to shoot down. In an adult conversation you need to address the real positions of your opponents, not something you manufactured for your own convenience.
  3. Understand that there is no single solution. This problem is systemic and it’s not going to be solved with gun laws alone or with just trying to change the culture.
  4. Understand that there is no perfect solution. No matter how strict our gun laws become or how placid or culture becomes, there will still be gun violence. Limiting the damage done by guns is the goal, not the complete elimination of it. It would be nice to completely eliminate it, but that is a fantasy world and has no place in an adult conversation.

I don’t know where we go from here, but I do know that the status quo is not acceptable. We need to try something different. Anything. For those of you who feel that there is nothing that can be done or needs to be done, please do me this one favor. Take a hard look at the images I have included here. Look at the faces of the parents who have just learned that their child was one of the victims and try to imagine their anguish. Look at the faces of the children and try to imagine their horror. Think for a moment about the Christmas presents already under the tree that will forever remain unopened. Try to envision the empty place setting at the Christmas dinner. Do this for me and then come back and tell me if you think the status quo is acceptable to you.

Please let me know what you think. I welcome all comments.

Final Thoughts Before the Election

I‘m writing this on Saturday, November 3, just three days before the election, and right now I have no idea who is going to win. The polls are tilting strongly towards Obama, and normally that would indicate a clear victory for him, but that assumes that the polls are getting it right. The polls have been inconsistent and contradictory, so I’m not putting much faith in them.

The only thing I’m sure of is that when Tuesday evening rolls around, regardless of who wins, about half of the country will be disappointed and about half delighted. If you happen to be on the losing side, take heart. It’s really not as bad as it’s been made out to be. Despite the hyperbole, histrionics, misinformation, disinformation and outright lies, there’s really not that much difference between the two men. They each have a great respect for the country and want to do what is best for it, and they are each steeped in traditional American values and unlikely to steer from that. You have to drill down pretty deep before you start finding real differences between the two.

That may sound preposterous, but that’s only a testament to the effectiveness of their propaganda, aka political ads. It is central to the strategy of any political campaign to exaggerate the differences and focus on the negatives of the opponent.

If you happen to be a Democrat and Obama loses, just remember that you survived eight years of George W. Bush. If you happen to be a Republican and Romney loses, remember that you have survived four years of Obama, and will survive another four years. At the same time, if your guy wins, be careful about getting smug and thinking in terms of mandates and sea changes or using phrases like “America has spoken”. After all, about half of the country voted against your guy, and in four years we’ll be doing this all over again.

Update:

To really put things into perspective take a moment to watch this video:

If a Lie Makes You Laugh Is it Still a Lie?

Well, yes it is.

This video recently came to my attention:

It’s funny and well delivered, but it’s so full of lies and disinformation that I couldn’t just let it go. Let’s take them one at a time.

We will be forced to purchase health insurance: Actually this is true; it’s the implication that I have a problem with. It’s true that everyone will be expected to have some kind of health insurance under Obamacare. Some people may see this as being “forced to buy” insurance, but for me, personally, I see it as “getting the opportunity to buy” health insurance, and this isn’t some sort of Frank Luntz rewording phrase. My wife and I have so many preexisting conditions that, for all practical matters, health insurance is unavailable to us, so “forcing” us to buy insurance is like “forcing” a kid to eat dessert.

It covers at least 10 million more people: She says this like it’s a bad thing. The uninsured cost all of us. As long as the medical bills of the uninsured don’t exceed their ability to pay, all is well, but once that limit is met it’s the rest of us that end up paying for their care. My wife and I are reasonably well off, but if either one of us were seriously injured or became seriously ill, we could very likely burn through all of our assets while the bills were still coming in. At that point, one way or another, it’s you, the taxpayer, that will be paying the bills.

Most of the uninsured are poor and can’t afford regular visits to the doctor, so they end up using the emergency rooms as their primary care physicians. This is the most expensive and inefficient kind of medical care there is, and you end up paying for it. Hospitals are obligated to provide care to everyone regardless of their ability to pay, and these costs are passed along to you through higher charges and higher insurance.

…without adding a single new doctor: Why should it? Why should Obamacare concern itself with the pool of doctors? I assume that Barbara Bellar (the woman in the video) believes in capitalism and a market driven economy. If for some reason people start going to their doctors more often, that would be a good thing for them and for their doctors. If the current number of doctors is unable to handle any extra load, it’s a safe bet that in short order there would be more doctors. It’s supply and demand at its most basic.

16,000 new IRS agents: This claim has been debunked by Factcheck.com and others, so you can read about that part of the lie there.

Congress exempted themselves from Obamacare: This is one of the more pervasive lies, and we’ve even talked about it here on Liars and Fools. There is no language in the bill that exempts Congress, the President or anyone else from the bill. Furthermore it wouldn’t even make sense for there to be any such language. It has been made abundantly clear (one would think) that under Obamacare if you already have an insurance plan and you like it, then you can keep it. So what could Congress possibly exempt themselves from? Congress already has several sweet insurance plans to choose from, so the only thing they could “exempt” themselves from would be the option to choose one of the plans provided by Obamacare instead of one of those that they already have available to them. The claim is so nonsensical that those making it are exposing themselves as being clueless about what’s in the bill.

There is, however one group that is exempted from Obamacare. Do you want to guess what group that is? No, really, guess. I’ll wait… The only group exempted from Obamacare is illegal aliens. This was one thing that the Republicans insisted on. So illegal aliens, who are generally among the most poor, will continue to receive free emergency room medical care. Way to go, guys.

We’ll be taxed for four years before any benefits take effect: Some provision of Obamacare went into effect right away, others are being phased in, but the entire law won’t be in effect until 2014. The “four years” number indicates that this statement was originally drafted in 2010. In fact this statement has been circulating around the Internet for years. I can’t tell from the video if Dr. Bellar claims it as her own, but if she does you can add that to the list of lies.

So, yeah, it’s a funny video, and as entertainment goes it’s great, but as a legitimate argument against Obamacare, it’s just one long sentence packed with lies. It’s a pretty well established rule of thumb that when people start just making stuff up to support their argument, they don’t have much of a case to be made.

Benghazi: Fox Asks Questions and Demands Answers

Yeah? Well, so do I.

On September 12, an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked and four Americans died including the Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. In most civilized places there would have been a moment of somber reflection and sadness, but not here. Not when there’s an election to be won. Before the smoke had cleared – literally – the Republicans and Fox News were milking it for whatever political advantage they could get. Fox News was out front “asking questions and demanding answers”, and their legions of apparatchiks have been repeating their talking points ever since sometimes word for word.

So I started asking some questions about the questions Fox and their followers were asking, and just like Fox, I haven’t been getting very many answers.

Fox asks: Why did the Obama administration lie about who was behind the attack? I ask: Why does it matter? Why should they lie? You only tell a lie if the lie is more advantageous to you than the truth, so what would be the political advantage of claiming that the attack was the result of a protest over a movie instead of a planned terrorist attack? Certainly the victims aren’t any less dead. Is it supposed to be some sort of reflection on our intelligence gathering and preparedness? Keep in mind that the movie trailer had already sparked protests and riots worldwide, and in Egypt the American embassy had already been attacked. It seems to me that it would be far more embarrassing to have been caught off guard by an easily foreseeable movie protest than by a well planned attack from a terror cell. If you are going to choose between two story lines to explain why one of your consulates was breeched and an ambassador was killed, pick the one about the secretive, nefarious, well-organized terror cell, not the one about a bunch of religious nuts that got carried away.

Fox asks: Why was there such a failure of intelligence? I ask: Where have you been? Gathering good intelligence in that part of the world is tricky business. Just ask George W. Bush, Colin Powell, et al. They got us into a full blown war over faulty intelligence.

Fox asks: Why didn’t the administration use the words terror, terrorist or terrorism in describing the incident? I ask: What the hell is wrong with you? Why the obsession over whether or not a particular word was used? Even if it was an act of a spontaneous mob of protesters, isn’t an attack of an American consulate and the murder of an ambassador an act of terror itself? To politicize the killing of four brave and decent Americans is bad enough, but to reduce it to such a petty, juvenile complaint is vulgar.

Fox asks: Why did the administration do nothing to help these poor people? I ask: What could they have done? More importantly, why wouldn’t they have done everything possible to help? I don’t claim to know what assets we had available to send into the situation, but it’s a safe bet that neither do you. Did we have drones or manned fighter jets that we could have sent in? Were there other military personnel that we could have sent in? I don’t know, but that’s why the second part of my question matters. What possible reason would the administration have had for not doing all they could? What could they possibly have gained by doing nothing?

I’ve asked these questions several times, but I have yet to get an answer that even made sense or wasn’t wildly speculative and conspiratorial. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. In the meantime, here’s a lighter take on all of this:


 

Boats and Horses and Bayonets, Oh My!

In the third and final Presidential debate Romney criticized Obama for not maintaining our military power and pointed out that the U.S. Navy now has fewer ships than it did in 1917. Apparently that was something he had been saying on the campaign trail a lot, so Obama was prepared, and he responded with the most memorable quote of the night: “You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed.”

That threw the Republican talking heads into a tizzy, because they knew it was a great line, so they immediately went about trying to smack it down somehow. That night and the following morning the approach was to point out that the military does, in fact, still use both horses and bayonets, but after being reminded over and over that the claim was that we use FEWER – not NONE but FEWER – of these things, they went into another direction and picked up on the 1917 date to use as a benchmark. (1917 would have been toward the end of WW I.) The idea was to show that we, in fact, do use more bayonets today than in 1917 since bayonets are issued along with rifles, at least for Marines.

A quick google and a little arithmetic on my part indicate the size of the military during WW-I topped out at about 2.5 million. The most recent numbers put us at about 1.5 million. So even if everyone in today’s military is issued a bayonet, it’s unlikely that we have MORE bayonets today than in 1917 simply because there are fewer troops. So there.

But really, who gives a flying f___. This is what drives me nuts about the current state of political discourse. We focus on the trivial – a mispronounced word, a catchy phrase, too much smiling – and completely miss the big picture. The larger point that Obama was making was that the basic nature of our military, our enemies, and the way we fight wars today has changed and we need to be smart about it. The tools, tactics, materials and personnel that were used successfully in 1917 and even in Vietnam don’t necessarily work in modern wars. For the moment, at least, we don’t have national enemies; our enemies are terror cells, and that’s a very different kind of war. We should be talking about the direction the military needs to go in the face of our current enemies, but what are we talking about? Horses and bayonets! Horses and bayonets! The entire Internet is ablaze with horses and bayonets. It’s hard to avoid. Look at me! I just spent the better part of an hour writing about horses and bayonets while trying to make the point that we shouldn’t be talking so much about horses and bayonets. Arrgh.

The Godwin Rule – Nazis are Everywhere!

One thing that I hope to accomplish with this blog is to raise the level of debate that we see in this country. Well, maybe the country as a whole is a little ambitious, but at least among my readers – both of them. If we can rid the discussion of flat out lies, perhaps we can eventually get around to discussing the substance of the issues. To that end I want to make sure everyone is aware of a little known but important rule – the Godwin Rule.

Godwin’s Rule evolved from an observation made by Mike Godwin during the days of Usenet, a precursor of the Internet forums that are so common today. Godwin noticed that as a Usenet discussion got longer and longer someone would inevitably get upset about something and eventually someone would call someone else a Nazi. This became known as Godwin’s Law. Godwin, a quintessential geek, stated the law in formal logic terms, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”

Godwin’s Law begot Godwin’s Rule, which basically states that as soon as a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis is made the debate is over, the thread closed, and the person making the comparison is deemed to have lost it. (By “it” I mean both the debate and, you know, “it”.) It’s sort of a death penalty for debates. It’s a good rule because once the Nazi card is played, there’s no real discussion left. It’s all name calling and histrionics after that.

Of course there are the rare occasions when such a comparison is legitimate, but let’s be clear about what it means to be a Nazi. The Nazis weren’t THE NAZIS because they took over Germany’s automobile industry.The Nazis were THE NAZIS because they murdered 6 million Jews along with millions of others. The Nazis weren’t THE NAZIS because they were socialists. They were THE NAZIS because they attempted to create a master race by exterminating those deemed unworthy. The Nazis weren’t THE NAZIS because of anything having to do with any health care program they had or didn’t have.They were THE NAZIS because they performed gruesome, sadistic experiments on children.

So don’t start calling Obama or George W. Bush or any of the other namby-pamby politicians we have today Nazis. That’s an insult to real Nazis everywhere, and you will be flagged for a Godwin violation.

The Godwin Rule is specific to Hitler and Nazi comparisons only, but I think it should be extended to other over the top statements. Recently my nephew posted on his Facebook page a collage of protesters burning and otherwise desecrating the American flag. Now I understand that flag burning is protected speech and I’m fine with that. In fact I was strongly against the flag burning amendment (RIP) when it was being kicked around. However my support for flag burners only extends to their legal right to do so. They can’t expect much compassion from me when they get their asses kicked by some yahoo who took umbrage with their actions.* They’re not adding anything of substance to the argument; they’re just taunting the other side. They’ve got nothing left to say, and nobody’s listening anyway; everybody is just getting pissed. It’s all theatrics at that point, and it’s time to invoke Godwin’s rule and send everyone home.

I think we should have an official Godwin flag that can be pulled out whenever the rule is violated. I’d love to see that happen on O’Reilly’s show. He’s a frequent violator of the Godwin Rule, and I think it would make great TV for someone to pull  out the Godwin Flag, blow a whistle, and declare the debate over.

*For the record, the ass-kicking yahoo can’t expect much compassion from me when he gets thrown in jail for assault.