The New Terrapin Gazette
23 July, 2012
Revealingly, the only three countries with a substantial body of opinion that suspects and hates its own government — Great Britain, the United States, Israel — are precisely the three most targeted by conspiracism. … Prominent figures of the adversary culture such as Alexander Cockburn from Britain, Noam Chomsky in the United States, and Israel Shahak in Israel find that behind almost any evil lies their own government, engaged in a conspiracy.
Journalistic Ethics And Common Sense
A TV news presenter set off a firestorm of protest with his report of the horrible tragedy in the US state of Colorado:
The Colorado Tea Party website mentioned having a member named Jim Holmes, which happens to be the same name as the man who has been arrested in connection with the crime. But there are lots of people who go by that name in the state and, as Pollack notes, the Tea Party member appears to be someone in their 50s while the gunman has been said to be 24. One would think elementary ethics, let alone the ethics of journalism, would have required Ross to verify the identity of the Tea Party Holmes before telling millions on national TV that this might be the Aurora terrorist. (Source)
Well, no. Sure, this appears to be yet another example of media bias against the “racist” and “dangerous” Tea Party. It’s not surprising that the Tea Partiers — very decent folks whose feelings have been hurt by abusive “reporting” and commentary in the recent past — made understandable connections to ABC’s well-known mindset. Yet this latest offense was very probably just another smug jerk doing something amazingly stupid. That is not unusual, as this incident recounted by an NTG editor indicates:
When I was teaching school, my father lived and worked in another city. One morning the car radio informed him that a man with my name, living in my city and of my age, had died in an accident. My father managed to get back home and tried to call me; I was en route, and in those days, mobile “phones” did not exist. Dad called a local newspaper and asked why the news had been broadcast before next of kin had been notified; he was told flatly, “You are next of kin.” A while later he managed to learn from the school that I had arrived and signed in, and in another hour, we talked on the telephone. You can surely understand why I shall never forget the sound of his voice.
For this newsletter’s editor, how the callus trespass could possibly happen remains an instructive mystery. He insists that only this thought withstands the shock of the event: total trust is the surrender of control and power.
For everyone else, the ABC employee’s harebrained remark is yet another reminder that news can be just nonsense repeated by idiots and rascals.
Everybody Wants A Safe World. Who Can Guarantee It?
Here are two questions and their answers. The first appeared in this newsletter many years ago, before the current HTML format was adopted; it was republished in Number 19 (August, 2008) of what was then called The Penguin Post:
What do you get when you take the scions of the arrogant upper classes of a bunch of jerkwater, incompetent, undemocratic, genuinely backward nations and toss these over-privileged, worthless, bigoted drones into a glamorous environment where they find themselves obsequiously catered to and presumed to be possessed of great wisdom?
You get the United Nations.
Which is to say, you get a mess. A mess run by people who live and breathe corruption, because that is the way things are done where they come from.
Now for question number two, and its answer:
How do you ban an activity without forbidding it? You swamp it in bureaucratic nonsense, making it extremely difficult for anyone to accomplish it. It’s the authoritarian’s way of gratifying his dictatorial instincts while misrepresenting himself as neutral and harmless.
The UN is not at all what it was originally intended to be, but let that go for the moment and consider what a reasonable person can expect from it today. The pooh-bahs and kleptocrats assembled in Turtle Bay are distinguished by many repulsive traits, not the least of which is their lust to destroy Israel and bend the USA to the will of the “Third World”. One of the most effective ways of accomplishing the latter objective is by gulling the US Senate into accepting treaties that corrode the nation’s sovereignty. For years, the conspiracist right in the USA has been howling about this (remember The John Birch Society?), and the current popular wisdom dismisses as antique paranoia all alarms regarding threats to US sovereignty.
The old-time concerns may still be genuine, though. For example, there was a time when the greatest threats to human safety included bears. Today, automobile accidents are more likely to kill you. But…every so often, somebody gets killed by a bear. If you see a bear and her cubs in your neighborhood, don’t assume Ma Brown got the news that she’s not a problem for humans.
And note well: if you think the degenerates in the UN General Assembly have your best interests at heart and have no designs on your Liberty, you are simply unaware of the facts.
Consider the UN apparatchiki who are currently drafting a treaty on weapons. They want to impose peace everywhere, which sounds like a virtuous goal, unless you remember that there are bears — and murderers and robbers and kidnappers and assassins and lunatics and carjackers and rapists and religious fanatics and criminally insane people and…and….
…none of whom will read or obey treaties, laws, rules, decent ethics, or even common sense.
Legalistic idealism counts for nothing when somebody walks into a movie theatre and starts shooting people. At such a time, perhaps somebody should pull out his pistol and shoot back.
No, there are no guarantees. Innocent people may be hit by someone who is shooting at the villain.
That possibility must be weighed against the fact that if nobody shoots back…the villain has it all his way.
So there is some concern to be expressed when it is discovered that the UN, of all organizations, proposes to limit access to weapons. This is the bigoted outfit that consistently supports the obscene “Palestinian” dream of murdering all Israelis — if not all Jews — and destroying Israel.
What, one must ask, is the UN up to now?
In New York this week, the U.N. Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty continued trying to draft a treaty to impose worldwide controls on small arms, including civilian-owned firearms.
U.N. conferees are working to regulate not only civilian small arms, but also ammunition and firearm parts.
Anti-gun treaty proponents continue to mislead the public, claiming the treaty would have no impact on American gun owners. That’s a bald-faced lie.
For example, the most recent draft treaty includes import/export controls that would require officials in an importing country to collect information on the “end user” of a firearm, keep the information for 20 years, and provide the information to the country from which the gun was exported. In other words, if you bought a Beretta shotgun, you would be an “end user” and the U.S. government would have to keep a record of you and notify the Italian government about your purchase. That is gun registration. If the U.S. refuses to implement this data collection on law-abiding American gun owners, other nations might be required to ban the export of firearms to the U.S.
And even if the U.S. never ratifies–or even signs–the treaty, many other nations will. The cost of complying with the treaty would drive up the price of imported firearms and probably force some companies to take their products off the U.S. market.
That’s not all. This week, the delegates focused on an endless series of drafts that would either ban exportation or require states to consider the risk of exporting, if the arms could be used to commit crime, or could “be diverted to unauthorized end users” or “the illicit market.” Exports could also be blocked if they would “support” or “encourage” terrorist acts or “provoke, prolong or aggravate acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace,” or could be used in “gender-based violence” or to inflict “human suffering.” …any of these provisions could be abused by foreign governments to shut off exports to law-abiding Americans. (Source )
Note that a “signed” treaty does not obligate the USA to live by its requirements. A “ratified” treaty becomes part of the law of the land, however — and that by an act of the US Senate, which is the only body/instrumentality of the US government permitted to make international treaties legally effective and binding on the nation’s government and its citizens/residents.
Oh…you say the proposed treaty won’t be used improperly, or as its opponents say it could be used? Your claim is not credible. Recall how the commerce clause of the US federal constitution was distorted and exploited until the recent decision by the supreme court indicated there may be an end to the abuse.
When considering the future, it’s never a good idea to assume that politicians and other rascals will abide by what you expect the rules will mean.
Now of course on the larger issue of firearms control, there is unlikely to be a single changed mind in the world, no matter how eloquent and rational the logic of the various arguments might be.
In a sense, firearms prohibition is a topic like that of abortion on demand: everyone knows what is right, but there are two basic opinions that are exact opposites. They cannot possibly be reconciled. They don’t agree on the facts, the statistics, or the methodologies used in the studies thereof; they don’t agree on the ethics involved; they don’t have compatible understandings of human rights, the value of human life, and the responsibilities of the individual or of society. Disagreement is total, making compromise impossible. Each side considers the other stupid and dangerous.
So be it. The world will simply have to find a way to carry on.
This newsletter has said several times that people who write for a living can hone their craft to the point where they shift from producing cogent advocacy to spewing deceitful propaganda. Truly clever essayists and editors can make points without seeming to, often by disguising absurdities as trivial truths. The hapless reader who plunges into the maze constructed by a master of prose will accept unstated assumptions, come to irrational conclusions, and abandon straight thinking — all without realizing he has been tricked.
Eric Blair (whose pen name, as you know because you read this newsletter, was George Orwell) tried to expose the abuse of writing. He made plain the gross outlines of the subject, and his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” is frequently cited. Blair was primarily concerned with the prostitution of definition and the inversions of meaning. The totalitarianism he hated did not need subtlety, sophisticated artifice, and elegance; it was brutally repetitive, hammering its citizens into mush-brained compliance. Accordingly Blair merits a quick mention as your attention is directed to the next level of propaganda: the virtually unseen, tacitly defined and elusive elements that create mood, impose vague but still dominant impressions, and eventually culminate in an almost reason-free mindset. This is where True Believers, in Hoffer’s sense of the term, are created.
This, Pilgrims, is the dark art of the sophist whose effortless skill is surpassed only by his cynical, mercenary deceit. This is where mountebanks and confidence men, seducers and the puppet-masters of politics practice their fell arts; it creates a Hades so comfortable that the prisoner thanks his captor for having blinded him to the truth. In this realm, arcane compositional skills are used in order to forge emotional alliances strong enough to permit all manner of irrelevant and irrational comment to pass as wisdom.
For now, a single example of this lexical legerdemain is available for exegesis. You will note that it is simple, not particularly advanced, and that it is not even argumentative. It is “soft”. It establishes a mood, replacing logic with instinctive understanding that places target ideas in a congenial context. Do not be deceived by its seeming insignificance; in fact, that is one of its greatest strengths.
The quote comes from a brief essay which can be found on the internet. “…mass shootings can be as much about mental illness and the lack of a community as they are about unrestricted access to weapons.” Now if the two are equivalent in all the ways that matter most, then you can say, “…mass shootings can be as much about unrestricted access to weapons as they are about mental illness and the lack of a community.” All right; does that change the meaning of the sentence? Does it change the impression the sentence makes, or somehow alter its flavor just a bit?
Perhaps you spotted it: the balance of the two things mass shootings are “about” can be altered by altering the sequence of the words. In arithmetic, the meaning of the expression 2 + 3 = 5 is exactly the same as 3 + 2 = 5, but arithmetic is not an accurate metaphor for rhetoric. Language creates/expresses meaning on many levels and in many ways, and the order in which things are mentioned is one way of communicating meaning, especially as regards relative significance.
Note that the first thing mentioned is not always the most important; context, the words and phrases that frame the list of things being considered, is often definitive. That can mean — as it does in this case — that there is an increase in tension as the sentence moves toward its climax, where the most important, most influential, element is named. This is evidence of the distant kinship of language and music; both are discursive, and both create the environments which the observer must enter and accept. (See the work of Suzanne Langer for meditations on discursive and presentational expressions in language, music, art and mentation.)
Because of the context in which the two elements (access and insanity) are presented, the first sentence makes “unrestricted access to weapons” the major concern — the one on which pretty much everybody who matters agrees. Note that at this point, the author has not asked you what matters, but has supplied the important element (access) in the tragedy; your agreement with his simple, natural-sounding contention is easily achieved. There are two and only two things involved, right? Of course. Sure. And with that, something vital has slithered past the reader.
Now look at the variation on the sentence that uses exactly the same words, and that should therefore mean exactly the same thing. Swapping the halves of the sentence makes mental illness, etc., the chief factor in mass shootings. Give it a moment, repeat the two sentences once or twice, and get the feel of the difference.
As you repeat the two distinct versions, it will become increasingly obvious to you that the author of the first sentence composed it as he did because he wanted to make a point: the reader can see (that is to say, naturally understands and therefore knows) that it’s access that really matters, while the insanity of the shooter, about which one can do next to nothing, is secondary. (Do you consider it practical to round up all the people whom psychiatrists call “crazy” and lock them up forever because they might kill someone some day?)
Very well. Now, in order to restore a rational apprehension of reality, ask yourself whether you would rather live in a community where there are lots of weapons and very few nutcases, or in a community with lots of nutcases and a few weapons.
Think it through. Would you say the risks are quantitatively the same in both communities? Assuming you were confronted by a nut with a weapon in each of the two communities, in which one would you be in greater danger, all other things being equal?
The implications of this close look at some lexical sleight of hand may seem trivial. In truth, they are central to the argument the author is trying to make. Give that a moment’s thought before you read on: ask yourself what, exactly, he has told you.
Hasn’t he asserted that access to firearms is what matters most, and that sanity and the civilized/socialized status of your neighbors are less consequential? Didn’t he slip that by you without bothering to present evidence that it is true? (Is it true?)
Indeed, the author also wants you to understand that there is a single easy solution to a soluble problem, and he wants you not to think of other possibilities. He’s got a quick fix for a huge problem.
Well, whether he is correct, whether there are other ways of comprehending the total circumstances, whether there are data that may clarify the situation, whether there may be nasty surprises in store for people who make choices after having been propagandized — all of those questions are irrelevant here. What matters now is whether you can detect and appreciate the skill and the power of a good propagandist.
Once you look, you will see; having seen, you will consider; consideration may introduce doubt, and reason will then be free to enter.
Press on, Pilgrims!
Humor Depends On How You Stand And Where You Sit
Now this really is fun: readers of this newsletter may recall mention of The Atlantic in Nr. 255, where it was noted that this favorite magazine of the Bicoastal Elite first admitted it was unlikely that its readership would know anything about Fast & Furious (due to the virtual blackout imposed by Obama’s media lapdogs, a fact the magazine did not mention), and then badly underinformed everyone even as it proclaimed it would explain what happened. Well, a recent issue of The Atlantic is promoted on the internet by the tantalizing sentence, “Ten things Romney might be hiding in his taxes”. (Inspired by the clairvoyant journalism, NTG plans an item titled, “Four sex crimes Obama and Hillary might have committed in the last month, maybe”.) Another (genuine) Atlantic ad touts a report with a line that reads like a takeoff on the title of a biographical article about Obama: “Mitt Romney: the man without a past”. Doubtless “progressives” would not see the teasers as dimwitted, unintentional self-parody.
Dark matter is not looking like a solid concept, according to some people. Perhaps in a few years the astronomers and cosmologists will be able to prove whether it exists. For now, don’t take bets one way or the other.
The number of people murdered in the Colorado massacre is less than half the number of people murdered so far this month in Chicago. Says a weblogger: “Well, since Chicago already has very strict gun control, those deaths can’t be turned to political use.” (Sources: Here and here.)
The wheel is turning
And you can’t slow down
You can’t let go
And you can’t hold on
You can’t go back
And you can’t stand still
If the thunder don’t get you
Then the lightning will
The masthead includes a quote from the works of Daniel Pipes.
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