Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cavuto's Paranoid Census Rant

I just caught the tail-end of a short segment about the U.S. census on Nutjob Cavuto's show. Being the fair-minded soul that he is, the entire segment consisted of Cavuto asking Meghan Clyne "why do they need to know this stuff (things like the estimated worth of homes, number of cars per household, time people leave for work, etc)?" Given that Ms. Clyne's Census credentials seem to be limited to carping on about how awful it is in the NY Post, it's not surprising that most of her responses were along the lines of "Who knows?" Except, of course, when she went on a rant about how "The data will probably be used to justify leftist causes and big government programs." Like what, the bus?

What I loved is that instead of ACTUALLY trying to find out why the census was asking so many questions, say, maybe, by asking someone from the CENSUS bureau (it's a whole bureau, I'm sure they've got someone in P.R.) Cavuto just took potshots for five minutes. There was not a single "question" that wasn't phrased negatively: "Now, the census... it didn't used to be this invasive, did it?"

Apparently Fox has been beating the Census-is-evil drum for a little while now. I can potentially understand people's argument about too much government invasiveness, but this weird combination of half-hearted annoyed shrug and crazed paranoid "What are you going to do with my data?" Cavuto speculated -- with zero evidence, of course--that the Census Bureau was going to start sending filed to the IRS to trap people who seemed like they might be cheating on their taxes. Cavuto said this was totally likely, since "they're both under the Treasury Department." First of all, I'm pretty sure that's super-illegal, not to mention against the self-imposed privacy guidelines the Census promises to follow when it collects your data. Second, of course, if Neil had bothered to do a simple Google search (or say, read a news article-- you guys can read NEWS at Fox News, right Neil? Or is there a filter on over there?), he'd know that the Census Bureau is under the Commerce Department. Whoops. Oh well. Continue the crazy strawman!

The best part of Cavuto's rant against the super-intrusive Census was that he wasn't actually talking about the real Census-- which is only 10 questions this year, a significant decrease from previous ones-- he was talking about a supplemental survey that is sent to every 40th American household, or about 3 million Americans. Not insignificant, but hardly Big Brother beating down your door. Also, I'm assuming these surveys, unlike the actual Census, are probably optional? Funny thing, though, most of the time, Neil kept raging about the actual Census, not bothering to differentiate the two, even though Clyne, to her (limited) credit, actually mentioned a few times, "Well at least they didn't put these on the real Census." Hmm... Nothing like keeping your viewers informed, right?

Personally, I have a far different take on the Census- as a genealogist, I love the census, because it's a treasure-trove of information about ancestors and other relatives. Cavuto might claim that asking "How many times have you been married?" But in my experience, sometimes those random questions are how you find really remarkable tidbits of family history. It doesn't alleviate the concern about privacy rights, but it does go a little further as far as justifying "Why do they need to know this stuff?"

Oh yeah, another thing, Neil. If people don't want to give real answers... they'll just lie. Trust me, my relatives did it for decades. Somehow everytime the census-taker came around, my great-grandmother would still stay the same age. Either she had a Fountain of Youth in the back of her tenement, or there was some "creative math" going on.

Hat-tip for help finding Clyne's entertaining background and essay:

The Schmucks on the Left go "Quack, Quack, Quack."

In an attempt to be slightly less biased, good readers, I present something that nearly made me punch out my computer monitor. Here's Michael Moore, shame-shame-shaming people for being unfairly (or dishonestly?) upset about Bernie Madoff's fleecing thousands of clients.
We're clearly in one of those historic, game changing years: up is down, red is blue and black is president. Aside from Obama himself, no person will provide a more iconic face of this end-of-capitalism-as-we-know-it year than Bernard Lawrence Madoff.
Which is too bad. Yes, he stole $65 billion from some already quite wealthy people. I know that's upsetting to them because rich guys like Bernie are not supposed to be stealing from their own kind. Crime, thievery, looting -- that's what happens on the other side of town. The rules of the money game on Park Avenue and Wall Street are comprised of things like charging the public 29% credit card interest, tricking people into taking out a second mortgage they can't afford, and concocting a student loan system that has graduates in hock for the next 20 years. Now that's smart business! And it's legal. That's where Bernie went wrong -- his scheming, his trickery was an outrage both because it was illegal and because he preyed on his side of the tracks.
What Moore is conveniently omitting here is that while Madoff had plenty of high-profile celebrity clients, many of Madoff's victims also entrusted him with the finances of charitable organizations-- meaning, that, actually, Mike, thanks to trickle-down financial rape-onomics, once again the people that wound up getting screwed actually were the little guys who benefited from services provided by those organizations. Way to stick it to the man.

Had Mr. Madoff just followed the example of his fellow top one-percenters, there were many ways he could have legally multiplied his wealth many times over. Here's how it's done. First, threaten your workers that you'll move their jobs offshore if they don't agree to reduce their pay and benefits. Then move those jobs offshore. Then place that income on the shores of the Cayman Islands and pay no taxes. Don't put the money back into your company. Put it into your pocket and the pockets of your shareholders. There! Done! Legal!
What does any of this actually have to do with the Madoff scandal? He wasn't an employer. He didn't have "jobs" that he could move offshore. He didn't even have a company! I think Mike's mind is retrograding back to his first film and replaying 20-year-old rants about GM shutting down its factory in Flint. News flash, Mike: not everything is about you and your ever-so-precious pet causes.

Next Mike turns, as all good bullies do, to blaming the victims.
And what of Madoff's clients themselves? What did they think was going on to guarantee them incredible returns on their investments every single year -- when no one else on planet Earth was getting anything like that? Some have admitted they did have an inkling "something was up," but no one really wanted to ask what it was that was making their money grow on trees. They were afraid they might find out it had nothing to do with gardening. Many of Madoff's victims have told investigators that, over the years, they have made much more than the original investment they gave Bernie. If I buy a stolen car from the guy down the street, the police will take that car from me regardless of whether I knew it was stolen. If I knew it was stolen, then I go to jail for receiving stolen property.
Perhaps a fair point, but it seems really easy to kick these people now that they're down and bankrupt. (Incidentally, given that all involved lost money, I'm not sure how you would even start figuring out who owes who "reparations".) Also, while they should have perhaps been slightly suspicious of just how much they were making, by all accounts, Madoff's reputation for years had been that of a financial wizard. There did not seem to be any apparent reason to doubt him.
This rant is particularly odious because Moore is totally discounting that many of Madoff's targets were part of the Jewish philanthropic community for decades, people trying to do the right thing and help others, who went with Madoff because he exploited that communal trust placed in him. For Moore, there are no real victims here. He would rather chatter on about how everone had it coming in an attempt to make some unclear, angry point about how rotten capitalism-- and, by association, anyone that has anything to do with it-- is.

You're a shmuck, Mike. Madoff was a vulture who screwed over thousands of well-meaning clients. If you want to chuckle at the misfortune of the rich, I guess that's your perrogative. But don't act like the only ones to suffer are banking executives or rich celebrities who can afford it. The Elise Wiesel Foundation is obliterated. Spielberg's Wunderkinder Foundation is probably dead in the water. These are just two examples of private charities whose primary goal was to help people, and now because of a mistake in judgment and a greedy, predatory, immoral scumbag, they can't. If you want to laugh at that, then I feel sorry for you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Redneck Enthusiast Doug Giles Tortures Torah to Prove God Loves Rednecks

Doug Giles really likes guns. No, like, a lot. He claims he likes them and God equally, but given the fact that he can't decide whether to refer to God as "the trinity", "Jesus," or "Yahweh," it might be a fair assumption that he ultimately puts his stock in something a little more tangible.

At present the PC punks, the libtards, the socialists, the atheists (yawn), and the wanks that make up Hollywood don’t like it if you like Christ and take a stand on His word. Especially Sean Penn. He gets real pissy if you truly believe and will furrow his brow and lecture you about how biblical values are hurting your grandchildren. I know, scary, eh?

Doug, I could care less if you declared your personal savior to be a cheese danish. My issues with you would be far diminished if you would put a fraction of the time researching the things you purportedly believe in instead of reflexively defending them. For instance- what Biblical values are you talking about? Which books? Which translation? Do you know? Do you care?

Anyway, I know it’s not cool to like God and His word, but I still like Him. This is good for me, seeing that He can arrange my death and where my soul will take its eternal siesta. Not only is it good for me seeing that God sorts out the affairs of the afterlife, but unlike the deists’ deity I believe He’s busy jacking with us mortals, and presently He’s shaking everything that can be shaken. Therefore, I wanna be on His team. Call me goofy.

I love this. Doug is Mr. Rambo when it comes to tough things like calling liberals "libtards" from the comfort of his desk, but when it comes to tangling with someone that could actually (theoretically) whup him, he rolls over and plays suck-up. Brilliant, this tough-guy persona is really convincing, Doug. At least try and say you want to take a turn playing the bad boy like David or Job.

But really, Doug wants to spread the word-- the Gun Gospel, as it were--that God and guns are actually interconnected. Quote the Book of Doug:

Unless I’m reading my Bible wrong, I keep getting the message that if I fully follow God (as much as a goofy sinner can) then He will send wicked favor my way that He doesn’t afford to the pagan cattle. This favor entails not only security but provision. If God exists, and if the Bible isn’t an insane stack of slush and superstition, I can rest assured that as God met Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s needs He will handle my affairs if I’m busy with His business—regardless of the crappy circumstances.

Um... ok, Doug. But doesn't a lot of this depend on defining exactly what "God's business" entails? Are we sure it's shilling for

Luckily, Doug has since devoted an entire column to the Gun Gospel:

seeing that a sizable chunk of the Church is getting goofy and are buying into the Disney-fueled misinformation machine and that PETA pariahs are now parsing biblical passages for propagandistic purposes, I figure it is high time to check out the holy Bible and lay out exactly what it does say about hunting and hunters. Being the capitalist pig that I am, I will do it in a new book that I am pitching for 2009 titled: A Theology of Hunting: Why God Loves Hunting & Hunters. For now here’s a little hors d'oeuvre about the Holy One and hunting.

Yes, truly, the only way to decide whether hunting, an entirely personal decision and activity, is "morally justified," is to strip-mine and cherry-pick from the Bible. This should be great.

First off, much to my chagrin, I must admit that the Bible contains just trace amounts of direct references to hunters and hunting. What it does contain about hunting, though, is overwhelmingly positive with only one condemnation leveled at a hunter who does not “roast his prey” (Proverbs 12:27a). That’s one. Not a bazillion. Only one.

So... the Bible has only a few references to hunting, therefore God thinks it is the greatest thing ever? I see. Try using this argument on something else- say, that the Declaration of Independence is pro-Wet T-shirt contests. See how far you get.

Even though there are few direct references regarding hunting and hunters, there’s an abundance of analogies and imagery taken from hunting used in Scripture. Just a cursory glance at the Psalms and the Prophets provides hunting similes aplenty. This is interesting.

Let’s see . . . rare literal references and massive amounts of hunting imagery used to communicate divine truth. Hmmm. What could this mean? Could it be that the ubiquitous use of hunting metaphors equates that God’s mind was quite taken with the topic?

I don't know, I figure we'd have to actually see some of these metaphors instead of talking about them as if they were invisible leprechauns, wouldn't we? Oh, hang on... Are they mostly really far-reaching, verging on desparate, hunting metaphors?

In addition, should one conclude that because hunting metaphors are so profuse that the biblical crowd this book was originally penned for would have had to be a hunting community or the references would have flown straight over their heads like Kafka’s symbolism eclipses Britney Spears’ brain? The answer to those questions would be yes and yes.

Possibly in the early Israelite period, but aren't there halachic issues that have to do with whether an animal that was hunted and killed can be considered kosher? Besides, by the time we get to Abraham and Isaac, the Jews are largely cast as shepherds and farmers, not hunters.

Oh good, now we get to some quotes.

1. You don’t have to read too far in the Bible, like . . . uh . . . the first chapter, until you’re hit with the fact that man is to exert dominion over animals, birds and fish. That’s conservation and game management, folks.

Which only comes in the form of a gun? Couldn't "dominion" and conservation also apply to creating game preserves, fish hatcheries, etc. I'm not sure dominion means "shoot until extinct."

2. When our primal parents blew it in the garden by blowing off God’s command in Genesis chapter three, God took it upon himself to clothe their naked rebel butts with leather and fur. It wasn’t faux fur or pleather.

Not exactly. The verse says "skins." No way to know if it's leather or fur. And incidentally, most rabbinic authorities believe that originally Adam, Eve, etc were vegetarians, even after their got their snazzy duds.

3. In Genesis chapter four, Abel killed a lamb to sacrifice and found favor with God. If Yahweh wasn’t happy about that He would have zapped him on the spot. It was the vegan Cain who got canned.

Cain got in trouble because he murdered his brother, not because he gave God veggies! If God was so pleased with Abel's mighty-meat sacrifice, why didn't he protect him from the homicidal gardener?

4. In Genesis chapter six God drowned not only a lot of wicked men, women and children in the great flood, but also a lot of animals, too. Like in the 99.9 percentile range. That was the largest game depredation ever seen. Only two critters of each species were afforded a space on the ark. Game management to the extreme, God style.

Doug, by this logic, all natural disasters are "proof" that God has decided that the human race is overpopulated and feels the need to thin the herd, except of course for people that have the dumb luck or good forture to be in the right place at the wrong time or live in a high rise or have a root cellar.

5. In Genesis chapter nine, after the waters of the flood receded and Noah and his tribe had docked their boat, God told them that they could eat the animals they had just sailed with for the last forty days and nights. I wonder which one they chowed down on first? I would have eaten one of the zebras. If you remove their fat they make great steaks, plus Noah could have decorated his house with the zebra rug.

Two things, Doug. First, the text gives no temporal references, in other words, there is nothing to suggest that God is telling Noah & Co. to start eating all the animals on their boat, right now. Instead, it seems to be that God is establishing the terms of a future contract for humankind.

Second, Doug, and I know it's hard, but try using your brain. If Noah had eaten the zebra first, there would be no zebras since they wouldn't have been able to reproduce. Assuming there's any historical element to the story at all, it actually suggests that Noah and his family had to exert a great deal of patience-- and presumably, vegetarianism-- while waiting for the first few birthing cycles to get jumpstarted again.

6. In Genesis chapter ten, Nimrod floats to the literary surface as a mighty hunter before the Lord. What does that mean? I don’t know, but I’d like to be one.

Really, you don't know? Wow, I never would have guessed. Here Doug, let me help you out: Nimrod is a BAD GUY, just like Esau, the only other famous hunter in the Old Testament. He is considered to be a Babylonian pagan and a tyrant. Wow, you sure can pick your Biblical posterboys! Hey, remember what I said at the start about research?

7. In Genesis chapter twenty-two when Abraham was going to offer up his only son unto God, Jehovah gave him an out by providing for Abraham a ram instead of Isaac. It’s not a hunting reference, but it is a nice little sneak peek into God’s mind that He prefers people to animals.

You are correct, Doug. Faced with the admittedly inane choice, God would much prefer you sacrifice a ram than your own son, or presumably anyone's son. High five. Keep in mind, however, that the Torah also has quite a bit of commandments regulating the ethical treatment of animals. Putting people above animals does not mean animals have zero rights.

8. And lastly for now (‘til my book gets brokered), in Genesis chapter twenty-seven Isaac, one of Jehovah’s main covenant kids, gets to feeling a bit peckish one day, and you know what he asks for to satisfy his hunger? Was it tofu? No. Lentils? Wrong again. A wheat grass smoothie? Strike three, Chicken Little. It was venison, a Ted Nugent back strap fever feast, that’s what! Yep, Isaac commanded his son to pick up his bow and collect him a buck for some down home barbeque.

Yes, Doug, Genesis 25-27 does talk about Isaac's family eating venison. Of course, there's also another famous meal made in their kitchen, not that you've probably heard of it...


Dennis Says: Secularism Causes Cultural Oblivion

Every so often, an idea comes along, so brilliant in its simple stupidity, so magnificently bone-headed, and so condescendingly snide that it must stand and be recognized. Around here, I like to think of these moments as "WTHAYTADs", or "What the Hell are you talking about, Dennis?" moments. A few weeks ago, Dennis regaled us by comparing wanting to right America's flaws (and these days, I can't think of a single person, from any party, that doesn't think there are at least a few we could stand to look at) to making your wife feel like crap, you insensitive jerk. Previously he's topped himself by excreting such sage wisdom as, "Everyone in Congress should swear on the King James Bible, because that's what America (who? which? when?) decided should be the book of choice. Yes, even Jews."

Last week, thankfully, Dennis did not disappoint. While his title purports to address how socialism and secularism are equally responsible for ruining society, most of his column actually focuses on secularism, so we'll stick with that.

To start, the "investigative premise" is hilarious. Let us begin with the first sentence:

Outside of politics, sports and popular entertainment, how many living Germans, or French, or Austrians, or even Brits can you name?

First of all, I don't know that I can name any Austrians, period. But the phrasing here is already making me suspicious. I can name a lot of Israelis that most people ever heard of. That's because I have a personal emotional connection with the culture and people in Israel and stay abreast of developments there (mostly political). Presumably most people with a cultural connection to Germany, France, Austria or England could do the same. Also, most of the Israelis I could list are political or military. Is this going to come back to bite the People of the Book in the butt later on in your argument?

Even well-informed people who love art and literature and who follow developments in science and medicine would be hard pressed to come up with many, more often any, names. In terms of greatness in literature, art, music, the sciences, philosophy and medical breakthroughs, Europe has virtually fallen off the radar screen.

So, the argument is that after decades of Americans giving Europe the cold shoulder (particularly over the past eight years), the fact that we are ignorant of noteworthy personalities in Europe is supposed to be proof that there's no one doing anything important there?

This is particularly meaningful given how different the answer would have been had you asked anyone the same question between just 80 and 120 years ago – and certainly before that. A plethora of world-renowned names would have flowed.

Obvious examples would include (in alphabetical order): Brecht, Buber, Cezanne, Chekhov, Curie, Debussy, Eiffel, Einstein, Freud, Hesse, Kafka, Mahler, Mann, Marconi, Pasteur, Porsche, Proust, Somerset Maugham, Strauss, Stravinsky, Tolstoy, Zeppelin, Zola.

Not to mention the European immortals who lived within the century before them: Mozart, Beethoven, Dostoevsky, Darwin, Kierkegaard, Manet, Monet, Hugo and Van Gogh, to name only a few.

What has happened?

The Industrial revolution? Several World Wars? The Internet? The decline of the publishing industry, print media, and the replacement of the culture of intellectual literature and art with Wii and Twitter?

What has happened is that Europe, with a few exceptions, has lost its creativity, intellectual excitement, industrial innovation and risk taking. Europe's creative energy has been sapped. There are many lovely Europeans; but there aren't many creative, dynamic, or entrepreneurial ones.

Oh. Ohhhhhhh. It's going to be one of THOSE columns.

Question, Dennis. I can accept that there are measurable ways of determining thinks like business or entrepreneurial accomplishment or decline, but exactly how are you going to prove whether a country has lost or gained intangible qualities like creativity or intellectual excitement? You know, particularly given your generally dry and dour perspective.

The issues that preoccupy most Europeans are overwhelmingly material ones: How many hours per week will I have to work? How much annual vacation time will I have? How many social benefits can I preserve (or increase)? How can my country avoid fighting against anyone or for anyone?

A, how can you prove this?

B, how is this substantially different from people in the US? I'm betting that most people lucky enough to still be employed are far from unconcerned with material issues these days, and before the economic downturn we were far from an unmaterialistic society.

Why has this happened?

There are two reasons: secularism and socialism (aka the welfare state).

Either one alone sucks much of the life out of society. Together they are likely to be lethal.

Hey, I guess that does explain why I can't rattle off a list of famous Israeli scientists at random will! Curse those godless Labor Zionists!

Even if one holds that religion is false, only a dogmatic and irrational secularist can deny that it was religion in the Western world that provided the impetus or backdrop for nearly all the uniquely great art, literature, economic and even scientific advances of the West. Even the irreligious were forced to deal with religious themes – if only in expressing rebellion against them.

Um, Dennis, if religion saturated all elements of public life in the West (and most of the East, for that matter), then the fact that it was an immutable part of the backdrop for thousands of years is, necessarily, a truism. However that does not actually PROVE a causal connection between religion and creativity, only that religion was omnipresent. This is like arguing that humanity owes all of its accomplishments to oxygen.

This argument is particularly moronic dicey given that there are plenty of examples where religious dogma in the West actually hampered the growth of art, literature, economics and science- just look at the Church's history of banning and persecuting people that dared to loan at interest (hint, hint, Jews), the countless book-- and people-- burnings that took place across Europe under both Catholics and Protestants, to say nothing of the legendary feuds with Galilleo and Copernicus. Anyone that wants to argue for Christendom being the primary mover and shaker of scientific advancement in the last thousand years need only look at how Christian science (the non-ironic kind) was viewed by Muslim healers, often light-years ahead of them:

They brought before me a knight in whose leg an abscess had grown; and a woman afflicted with imbecility. To the knight I applied a small poultice until the abscess opened and became well; and the woman I put on diet and made her humor wet. Then a Frankish physician came to them and said, "This man knows nothing about treating them." He then said to the knight, "Which wouldst thou prefer, living with one leg or dying with two?" The latter replied, "Living with one leg." The physician said, "Bring me a strong knight and a sharp ax." A knight came with the ax. And I was standing by. Then the physician laid the leg of the patient on a block of wood and bade the knight strike his leg with the ax and chop it off at one blow. Accordingly he struck it-while I was looking on-one blow, but the leg was not severed. He dealt another blow, upon which the marrow of the leg flowed out and the patient died on the spot. He then examined the woman and said, "This is a woman in whose head there is a devil which has possessed her. Shave off her hair." Accordingly they shaved it off and the woman began once more to cat their ordinary diet-garlic and mustard. Her imbecility took a turn for the worse. The physician then said, "The devil has penetrated through her head." He therefore took a razor, made a deep cruciform incision on it, peeled off the skin at the middle of the incision until the bone of the skull was exposed and rubbed it with salt. The woman also expired instantly. Thereupon I asked them whether my services were needed any longer, and when they replied in the negative I returned home, having learned of their medicine what I knew not before.

Or, you know, you could also take a look at the whole witch trials thing.

Religion in the West raised all the great questions of life: Why are we here? Is there purpose to existence? Were we deliberately made? Is there something after death? Are morals objective or only a matter of personal preference? Do rights come from the state or from the Creator?

Yes, without religion, no one ever asks these questions. That's why the only philosophers to ever exist were all religious, right?

And religion gave positive responses: We are here because a benevolent God made us. There is, therefore, ultimate purpose to life. Good and evil are real. Death is not the end. Human rights are inherent since they come from God. And so on.

Notice how there's no question of whether these questions were true or even testable. Apparently for Dennis having an answer is better than having the right answer, or, worst of all, no answer. I think I've seen the same logic applied in his columns- better to make a moral judgment or take some kind of stand on something, no matter how half-baked or poorly thought through, than to be seen as showing ambivalence. Someone might confuse him for a moral relativist or something.

Secularism drains all this out of life. No one made us. Death is the end. We are no more significant than any other creatures. We are all the results of mere coincidence. Make up your own meaning (existentialism) because life has none. Good and evil are merely euphemisms for "I like" and "I dislike."

Dennis has been peddling this superficially devastating argument since the late 80s. Essentially, it comes down to, "Well there must be a god because otherwise Hitler didn't really do anything wrong, you just personally disagree with him." (This is an actual paraphrase from Dennis' book.)

Dennis must have thought this was a slam dunk when he first dreamed it up. After all, no one wants to be told they like Hitler. Only problem is that one does not need religion to recognize that humans, even if only animals, are highly evolved, sentient creatures with amazing potential and therefore, ethical obligations to themselves and others. Good and evil do not have to be universally ineffable and provable (how?) concepts in order to be important.

Furthermore, creating individual meaning for one's life and existence (which, IMO, many people do on an ongoing basis) does not have to be a choice between vapidity or empty loneliness in the universe. Yes, Dennis, perceptions of good and evil are, at least partially, created by social and cultural factors. This doesn't mean they aren't important or have no weight, but it does mean that people that believe in them need to be vigilant and thoughtful when determining what is and isn't moral and what practical consequences derive from that. For thousands of years slavery was considered to be moral, or at least non-objectionable, by oodles of world cultures, including, at one point, the Jews. Eventually, for a number of reasons, this acceptability waned. But part of the reason for slavery's decline in Western eyes was the willingness of people to take a hard look at some concepts that they had been raised to believe were rock-solid in their moral compasses.

Rather than honestly examine how questioning stock answers or wisdom has helped revolutionize thought and society throughout history, Dennis would rather pretend that the battle is between those of bedrock faith (and static "progress") and those who practice a vapid, valueless, existential twisting in the wind. As always, he overstates his case to the point of absurdity: the entire reason that we have modern nation-states, constitutions, or any notion of civil rights, comes from people being willing to challenge the status-quo. The answer is not to abandon all values, but to apply important ones to new and ever-changing situations.

Through his name calling of various secular countries of the present, Dennis shows that what he really believes in is a totally idealized past, ignoring or sanitizing the fact that Europe in particular suffered countless tragedies motivated, in part, by religious and superstitious reasoning. Perhaps by studying their history (and ours) the Europeans have come to appreciate the value that comes with keeping religion a private matter, rather than a public one that permeates all matter of government, science, and cultural life. Dennis, sitting in the relatively benign shadow of America's short (and, officially at least, secular) history, can afford to romanticize the Europe of yesteryear, religion and all. For my part, I think it's noteworthy that the Europeans of today, in full knowledge of their past, have no interest in repeating it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Tribute: My Family

To the fallen:

Ze'ev ben Noach N., WWII- d. 1943, South Pacific, age 19.

To the righteous:

Mordechai ben Gavriel G., WWI (Jewish Legion)

Leib ben Hershel haKohen G., WWII.

Shlomo ben Mordechai haKohen G., WWII.

Hershel ben Leib HaKohen G., WWII.

Reuven ben Binyamin B., WWII.

Reuven ben Hershel B., WWII.

Hirsh ben David F., WWII.

Binyamin ben Mordechai K., WWII.

Fishel ben Mordechai K., WWII.

Leib ben Mordechai K., WWII.

Chaim ben Mordechai K., WWII.

Natan ben Mordechai K., WWII.

Shlomo ben Mordechai S., WWII- flew 22 bombing raids over Europe and North Africa, shot down in Lithuania, spent 2 1/2 months in a POW camp, then 21 months convalescing stateside.

Shlomo ben Shimon haKohen C., Korean War.

To the forgotten:

Nussen ben Gavriel G., Cuban Occupation (post-WWI).

I will always remember you , and try to honor your lives and service.

Rest In Peace.

Lazer's Advice Is Great... If you don't actually want to solve your problems

It's time once again for "Lazer Chat!" I've culled the best of Lazer's archives for some of his... let's be nice and call them quirkiest, blogging moments. Since many of them involve women, I've invited Shiksa Girlfriend along for the ride.

SG: Glad to be here. Well, not really.

First up, Lazer gives some advice to a woman that doesn't like loaning things to a neighbor-- though, in this case, the neighbor mostly seems to be sponging food, which I don't count as "borrowing" per se, given that she can't really return them in the way that you can, say, return a book.

Fear not, gentle readers. Lazer always knows the right thing to say:

The next time your neighbor shows up, invite her for a cup of coffee, sit her down, and explain that according to religious law, one who fails to return a loan is called a wicked person. All the crying and chest-beating in synagogue on Yom Kippur can't rectify the crime of one unreturned potato.

Me: Presumably, this is the point where your neighbor starts crying and asks to borrow your headscarf to blow her nose.

SG: The compasionate thing to do would be to tell her you recognize she has money troubles, not accuse her of stealing from you. Even better, this woman could take a page from Passover and only buy what she absolutely needs before Shabbos, then sign over whatever's left to the youngest daughter (preferably one that can't talk) over Shabbos, then truthfully tell the neighbor that she can't give her those eggs because SHE doesn't have any. Or maybe she should buy uglier clothes and sheitels to let her neighbor know they're poor.

Me: You're a wicked genius, sweetie. Back to Lazer:

Also, the Zohar says that a person cannot achieve his or her rightful place in heaven unless they've repayed all outstanding debts. A person must suffer an entire reincarnation for a debt of a few pennies or more, and who says that your next go-round on this earth isn't going to be twenty times worse that this go-round?

Me: So... repay your debts or the Zohar says you'll come back as, what, misbegotten eggs that people will borrow and then forget to repay?

SG: Even worse, eggs with blood spots that are useless for cooking!

Me: No brocha there. Seriously, Lazer, pulling out the reincarnation card? Over some eggs? Don't you want to save that one up for something a little more serious? Also, crap like this is why people think that the Kabbalah Centre is real Kabbalah, because nutjobs like you are always rambling on about the "real" crazy shit in the Zohar that sounds just as bizarre as anything the Bergs can pull out of their butts. I guess what I'm trying to say is that whole Madonna thing is your fault. So thanks.

Wait, there's more!

I am a 20-year-old college sophomore in the US, and lately I have been worrying about whether or not I am on the right path in life. I know I'm still young, but I feel I am ready to be married and start a family, and I live somewhere with very few Jewish males, none of whom are particularly religious. While I've always pictured myself as finishing college, lately I am not sure if this is the right thing to do. I was always an excellent student but lately I have been having a very difficult time finishing assignments because my mind is elsewhere, and even so, the liberal arts program I'm in is not likely to lead to many career opportunities.

Me: What will the great therapist-rabbi suggest? Should she see a counselor? Have a long heart-to-heart with her parents? Take a semester off? Re-evaluate her major?

SG: I don't think so...

Also, so unbelievably many random things keep going wrong, making it more difficult to continue in school, and I don't know whether to take this as a sign from Hashem that maybe I should head in a different direction, or just as another challenge in life to overcome. I don't want to waste any more time if this is not what I should be doing with my life, and end up unmarried, having wasted what should be an exciting time in life on unfruitful studes. Should I spend at least the next two and a half years finishing my BA degree, or is it time to change directions? I would greatly appreciate any advice you might offer. Thank you so much for your time.

Me: If she's sending out emails complaining about her unfruitful studes, I think the answer is to stay in school, or at least use Spell-Check.

Lazer says:

Good girl - you've done a good job of understanding the messages that Hashem has sent you. It's definitely time for you to seriously search for the right person and to raise a family.

Me: Based on what? She's only given you the most basic sketch of her problems? Maybe she needs to get together with a study group, or start volunteering somewhere that she gets satisfaction from.

SG: Also, the second year of any liberal-arts program at most colleges involves slogging through boring core classes to get to the good stuff. Don't email a stranger on the internet, meet with your advisor and blast through it so you can take classes you actually enjoy.

The restlessness in your soul is straight from Hashem. A liberal arts program in a university is a waste of your valuable time and money. As far as a livelihood goes, you can take one of many inexpensive aptitude tests available on the web, determine a skill you like, and then pursue a six-month occupational course, such as computers, graphic design, dental tech, or whatever.

Me: And lucky you, I just happen to have one available for you via my website. New "Laz-y Tests" will get your career jump-started in no time! Incidentally, if feeling conflicted about following a path is a "message" from Hashem and indicates that he wants you to quit what you're doing, then I guess Lazer can't be pissy about the millions of frum Jews that have gone off the derech over the past few thousand years-- they were just following their souls.

I recommend that you check out of university, move to an area where there are Jewish studies for women your age, and then simultaneously strengthen your Judaism and acquire an occupational skill.

Me: Well, I like the fact that he's at least encouraging her to work.

SG: That's so her husband won't have to.

On the other hand, my blue-chip advice for you would be to come to Israel, enroll in a women's seminar for Jewish Studies such as Midreshet Beerot Bat Ayin which I'm sure you'll love, or EYHAT (Aish Hatora women's seminary) or Neve Yerushalayim as possible alternatives. That way you'll be able to strengthen your Judaism and find the exact guy you want.

Me: Sorry, at what point did she indicate she wanted a yeshiva bochur, much less someone from the very impressive niche culture known as Chavakuk?

SG: I'm just imaging the look on her parents' face when she drops out of school to take a six-week course in the exciting world of dental hygiene. Nothing like giving yourself some options.

Up next, a female executive can't sleep at night.

I can't sleep at night, thinking about whether I've made the right decisions for my clients and the best for my company. I'm afraid of sleeping pills, but I'm so tired and edgy lately. My boyfriend terminated our relationship, complaining that my career monopolizes my time and strength.

Me: Whatever will Lazer say? She could... see a doctor, take some time off, try finding a psychologist, have some quality conversation time with a close friend, or any number of other stress-relieving techniques.

Oh, wow. That's surprising. Lazer mostly suggests that she exercise, drink tea, and listen to soft music before bed time. That's not bad at all, actually.

As bedtime approaches, curl up in bed with a glass of chamomile tea and your favorite book. I suggest you read The Garden of Emuna and The Trail to Tranquility. Soon, your eyelids will feel like barbells.

Me: Two things: A- keep on plugging that book; B- I like how even Lazer recognizes that his books are more effective than sleeping pills.

Lazer adds that the note-writer shouldn't feel too bummed out about the departed boyfriend.

You've been spending the bulk of your time in the fast lane of a highly competitive, demanding, and dry men's world with little compassion, so you need to return some femininity to yourself.

Me: Oh yes, Lazer, please do tell us how women can restore their femininity!

SG: Highly skeptical minds want to know.

Commit to the mitzvah of lighting Shabbat candles every week, and immediate after lighting the candles, ask Hashem for whatever you want. Also, learn how to bake challas. If your apartment had the smell of fresh-baked challas on Friday afternoon, no man in his right mind will ever let you go. By the way, I've never seen a divorce in a family that eats home-baked challas.

Me: Wow. Just... wow. So apparently if you can make bread, all your relationship problems will be solved. That's some pretty brilliant advice there, Lazer. You should have an infomercial or something.

SG: Actually, I think he's on to something. I learned how to bake challahs after our first month of dating, and you're still here.

Me: Ah, good point. Apparently the real problem is Gentile girls stealing our baked goods recipies, and thereby, our men.

Now we move on to a high school student with a swearing problem. Lazer opines:

The soul is surrounded by three garments - thoughts, speech, and deeds. When you use foul language, you surround your soul in stench, kind of like walking around with completely dirty underwear. Sounds gross? Foul words make your soul feel gross, and they chase away Hashem's Divine Presence, which means that a person who uses filthy language loses Divine guidance and protection. That's when real trouble in your life starts.

So, cursing is like wearing stinky drawers. All right, I guess I can understand that... but don't you think you could elevate the tone here a little, Lazer?

Remember also, a person with a cheap tongue is a cheap person. You certainly don't want people calling you "cheap" behind your back, especially since you're a quality young lady.

Yeah, you don't want people applying this random aphorism I just made up to you, do you?

People who use foul language are basically no better than pigs. Even if you dress them in in fancy clothes, pigs remain pigs. A person's speech is the showcase of a person's soul.

So, what about people that curse up a storm but do incredibly important and selfless things, like firefighters, police officers, etc.? Are they bad people? Pigs? I don't know about you, Lazer, but that sounds like some bull to me.

Here we have a Baalas Teshuvah (female "returnee" to Ortho Judaism) used to sleep around, then she had masectomies and became religious. She's totally happy and satisfied with her life now, except... well...

Ever since I did teshuva, I've been doing everything possible to cleanse myself of the old sins, including saying Tikkun Klali every day, being super meticulous in the modesty of my appearance and head covering, exacting about every detail of kedusha (holiness - LB) above and beyond the basic laws of family purity, even guarding my eyes from looking at other men. Yet recently, I've been getting nasty flashbacks of the past during my most intimate time with my husband. You can't imagine my anguish and sorrow. I've been begging to Hashem every day to wipe the images of other men and my old sinning self off of my heart.

Me: Hmm, I can't imagine why you'd be associating sexy time with your husband with past sexual expereiences! It's not like there's any emotional or mental connection between sex you used to have and sex you're having right now!

...nothing has helped. Am I so far from Hashem and teshuva that these flashbacks have returned to torment me? Why all of a sudden after a full two or three years that I didn't think about them?

Me: Having orgy flashbacks while having sex with your husband is not a sign that you are "far from God," lady, it's a sign that you haven't had a total memory wipe. Maybe you should spend your time trying to spice up your marital bed instead of endlessly fretting about your flashbacks.

I am really touched by your letter. Don't fret, everything is for the very best as you'll soon see. Not only does Hashem love you, but I guarantee you that you are one of His favorite daughters.

Me: Nice unsubstantiated pablum there.

SG: Yeah, I don't know you, but trust me, God likes you.

First, you ask about the nasty flashbacks, "Why all of a sudden after a full two or three years that I didn't think about them?" Rebbe Nachman of Breslev explains this clearly in Likutei Moharan (Part 1, Torah 25), namely, that when a person ascends to a higher spiritual level, he is bombarded with lusts and/or fantasies that he thought he had already overcome.

Me: How convenient!

SG: And... nonsensical?

True, at your previous spiritual level, you had overcome the old garbage and had properly done teshuva. But, at your new spiritual level, you have to do more hard work to further cleanse the tiny blemishes that are still on your soul. In simple terms, you're now playing in a higher, more demanding league. You think you have digressed, but the opposite is true. You have made and are making fabulous spiritual progress.

Me: This "God Tests you because He Loves you" stuff really rubs me the wrong way. Isn't this sort of like saying, "You worked hard your whole life to overcome the adversity you faced by being born with only one foot. Now you're middle-aged and have cancer. Wow, we sure can tell God loves you!"

SG: Theodicy isn't supposed to make sense. You know that.

Second, you anguish in seeing these nasty flashbacks is in itself a lofty form of teshuva. When they actually happened, you wantonly enjoyed every minute of what was going on. Now, when you see the same images, you are deeply disgusted and embarrassed. Rest assured that your anguish and embarrassment are better than a beautiful sin offering in the altar of our Holy Temple, may it be rebuilt soon, amen.

Me: Um, yeah... High five?

SG: Better than a Temple offering? Really? Based on what? That seems like a really obscure comparison to make.

Me: Last one. Here we have Lazer speaking to a new mother-in-law about minding her own business. I like the general spirit of the response, but somehow Lazer always manages to throw some random commentary in there that makes no sense:

From my experience, the only emotional ordeal more difficult than one's first year in the army is one's first year in marriage. Marriage demands that two totally opposite beings - a man and a woman - mesh together in harmony. That's not an easy task, and every single couple on earth has problems.

Me: Uh, Lazer, this just in: men and women are not totally opposite. In fact they share a lot of things in common, both in terms of biology (let's hear it for being able to perpetuate the species, unlike say, a monkey and a duck) and psychology or personality. In fact, many people have told SG and I that we are so alike it's creepy.

SG: Yeah Lazer, you're making it sound like every relationship is an Odd Couple rip-off involving Nessie and Sasquatch.

Me: How do they make it work?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fun email

Received today:

Subject: Please add to "Morons" list


I wanted to drop you a line and see if we might be able to obtain a link on your links area to our website called Rapture Forums?

We noticed you had listed on your links area ministries that are similar to ours and we thought we'd be a good addition to your list.

Thank you and God bless.


Rapture Forums

Dear Chris:

Wow, just how desperate do you guys have to be for readers to email someone like me, with a loyal fanbase that is seriously three former classmates from college, my girlfriend, and occasionally a trained monkey from the zoo? I mean, asking to be put under the "Morons" section? I guess I have to admire your ability to bend over and spread the other cheeks like a champ. I bet they made you guys take a course in e-hazing over at Internet Missionary Prep School, didn't they?

Still, since you asked nicely, I suppose I'll be happy to add you to the list-- though I have to say, Chris, unless you're asking the Holy Spirit to beam chocolate through people's screens to influence their decisions to accept Hay-Zeus as their savior and all, that any traffic you get through me is going to be, shall we say, less than disposed towards your perspective. I don't suppose you'd be interested in placing a link to my blog, would you?

Yours in Antichrist,

The Friar

Sunday, May 10, 2009

More from Dennis

I know, it's a lot, but don't worry, we're in the home stretch! Dennis' latest turd bomb has arrived, and it makes very little sense. In the not-at-all provocatively titled, "Do leftists really love America?" Dennis asks, as only he can, in the smuggest of "innocent" questions, "Aren't you all really just a bunch of Commie scum? What, I'm just asking." Let's take a look.

If you met a man who said he would like to "transform" or "remake" his wife, would you conclude that he: a) thought very highly of his wife and loved her, or b) held his wife in rather low esteem and therefore found living with her rather difficult?

The answer is obvious: Those who wish to remake anything (or anyone) do not think highly of the person or thing they wish to remake.

Except, of course, that using this (idiotic) argument you would never paint your house, wash your car, or politely suggest to your wife or kids that they might need haircuts, new clothes, or, say, a bath. Basic upkeep does not mean you hate yourself, your property, or your family.

Little is as revealing of Barack Obama's and the left's view of America than their use of the words "transform" and "remake" when applied to what they most want to do to America.

I among others pointed this out during the presidential campaign when Obama frequently promised he would "transform America." That is why those of us attuned to the importance of words and who hold America in high esteem were so worried about an Obama election.

That's right, I almost forgot about Dennis' honorary doctorate in linguistics from BS-U. (Or was that Bullcrap State?) BTW, Dennis, if you love words so much, why do you spend so much time savaging the English language through absurd strawmen arguments and inane blanket statements?

Americans on the left frequently attack critics for labeling them "unpatriotic" and/or accusing them of not loving America. The first charge is false to the best of my knowledge. I have searched in vain for an instance of a normative conservative or Republican spokesman calling Democrats or liberals "unpatriotic."

Right, accusing someone of treason or suggesting that they "love" terrorists or America-hating dictators isn't the same thing as calling them unpatriotic. Not at all.

It is not an attack on the left to say that their own rhetoric suggests that they love a vision of America considerably more than they love the reality of America; that they love what America could be rather than what it is. Otherwise, how would one explain this liberal vocabulary of "remaking" and "transforming" America? You don't yearn to transform or remake that which you love.

Wrong, dipshit. If you really care about something or someone, you want to help make it, or them, as good as they can be. Ever seen this show? These people are there because they see their loved ones making terrible mistakes and want to help them become better. What happened to self-improvement? I would think a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of guy like you would be encouraging us all to be all that we can be, and bugging our families and friends to follow suit. The mark of a good teacher is someone that cares about their students but also encourages and helps them grow into their potential. Only a whiny child would claim that a teacher that pushes you to do better hates you.

Many years ago, the prominent Jewish writer, my friend since childhood, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, helped to clarify – in a nonpartisan way – a major difference between liberals and conservatives. "Conservatives," he said, "romanticize the past; liberals romanticize the future."

A decent assessment. I wonder what Dennis will do with this.

The romanticizing of the future has been a distinguishing characteristic of the left since Karl Marx. Leftist ideologies have secular eschatologies.

Funny, wasn't it Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld who said the Iraqis would be greeting us as liberators and that by toppling Saddam we would be ushering in a new age of global democracy? Doesn't get much more secular pipe-dream than that, Dennis.

The further left one goes the greater the belief in revolution, the need to overthrow the contemporary order.

Really, so the Founding Fathers were what, Commie Anarchists?

The problem is that compared with such a future utopia, no actual society could possibly compete. Certainly not racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, unequal America.

There's utopianism on both sides of the aisle, Dennis. See abolishing the IRS, building a wall to keep all immigrants out, and Reganomics.

In light of those frequently made criticisms of America, I have often asked representatives of the left why they criticize America so much if they love it so much. "Precisely because we love America, we criticize it. You criticize that which you love," is the nearly universal response.

But, of course, it isn't true. If you constantly criticize your spouse, for example, it is difficult to imagine that you really do love him or her. And perhaps more important, it is very unlikely that your spouse feels loved. That is why after being routinely described as racist, sexist, imperialist, etc., it is difficult to be able to tell that America is loved by the left.

So the claim is that because the left sees so many things wrong with America, we are hurting the country's feelings? Really? That's the best you can come up with? You're suggesting that if you really love someone you should let them be as mediocre, flawed or unhealthy as they want to be. If my girlfriend likes drinking and then going joyriding through school zones, I shouldn't tell her maybe that's a bad idea? If I see my grandmother throwing away her heart medication because she thinks its quack medecine, I should give her a high five rather than some good advice? Should I let my obese friend eat himself to death? I should go buy cigarettes for a cancer patient, just to prove how much I love them?

Get real, Dennis. The "your country is like a wife and you wouldn't ask your wife to change at all if you really loved her" is a horrible argument, especially coming from someone twice divorced. Ask any Israeli if they think their country is perfect, and then just try suggesting that if they really liked it they'd sit back complacently and ignore the problems they see. The reality is that you have to care about your country to want to change it. It's far easier to not care, make excuses, and watch as things go to hell.

You don't have to agree with the left's assessment of America or its goals, but most people living here today, from all parties, think that we have a lot of problems and need to start working on fixing them. Pointing out flaws in your country is no sin, and if it is, the left is far from alone in making it. The real question you should be asking is what's wrong with the people that think everything's going FINE the way it is.

Dennis Prager, Master of a Thousand Strawmans

Due to my long absence, it has come to my attention that there have been many stupid things said on the Internet that I have been unable to comment on. Hopefully I will be able to whip up a smorgasbord of stupidity soon. In the meantime, please enjoy this "What the Hell are you talking about, Dennis?" crap-stravaganza.

First up in the innanely titled "Is God just a a Big Toe Giant Air Conditioner?"Dennis wanks on about how awesome the English-speaking world is, thanks to a single, magical word:

One of the reasons for the ascendance of the English-speaking world has been that the English language is almost alone among major languages in having the word "earn."

Those of us whose native language is English assume that the phrase "to earn a living" is universal. It isn't. It is almost unique to English. Few languages have the ability to say this.

We're also the only people who say "don't hold your breath." Linguistic anthropology is a fascinating area of study, Dennis, but I think you're overdoing it here.

In the Romance languages, for example – a list that includes such major languages as Spanish, French and Italian – the word used when saying someone "earns" money, is "ganar" in Spanish, "gagner" in French. The word literally means "to win." In Hebrew the word "marveach" means "profits." In German, the word "verdient" means "deserves."

Obviously, it is very different to "win" or to "deserve" or to "profit" than to "earn."

True, but in many of those same languages the idea of earning money or making a living is closely related to the idea of "work," terms and concepts which certainly exist in those linguistic cultures. By narrowing your scope to a single phrase, you're majorly skewing your data. Not that I'm surprised.

Another increasingly widespread concept that undermines the notion of earning is "unconditional love." The term, which was barely used prior to the 1960s, is now ubiquitous. It is a prominent goal, a human ideal to strive for. The idea of having to earn love is more than unheard of today; it would strike most moderns as morally suspect.

Not necessarily; it's an issue of context. I would think that many people would say whether or not they apply or believe in unconditional love is dependent on the situation-- and the fact that one can simultaneously love someone for their closeness to you (say, a mother's love for her son) while also holding them responsible for their actions (crashing the car, stealing money, eating a baby). The concept of unconditional love seems to be connected with the question of how do you juggle issues of close emotional bonds that may then be tested by different behavior, such as an adult man struggling over whether to "love" his formerly abusive father. He has been told that he should honor and love his parents, yet feels that he was wronged, even betrayed by his father. The result is a big emotional, guilty mess, not at all a clean-cut scenario of "unconditional love or earned love" like Dennis would portray it. Then again, Dennis is the king of superficial blanket statements.

We expect God to show unconditional love to all people, again no matter how they act. According to the doctrine of divine unconditional love, God loves sadists as much as He loves the kindest individuals. No one earns God's love; we receive it, like sports trophies, for breathing. Many fine people believe this about God, but I think it is religio-cultural-specific, and non-biblical. In 15 years of study in a yeshiva I had never heard the phrase, and it would have struck me, as it still does, as quite odd. It depicts God as a love machine who, like an air-conditioner that emits the same amount of cold air no matter how the inhabitants of a house act, emits the same amount of love no matter how we act. It means that we in no way influence God's love for us. I don't find that comforting. And it is certainly no more likely to induce decent behavior in human beings than a God who does show conditional love based on human decency.

More blanket statements: who is this "we?" And isn't part of the problem of figuring out who God loves the issue of many of us not feeling like we can know WHAT God loves or approves of? (Particularly the modern and post-modern among us.) I certainly feel this as a non-Orthodox and unaffiliated Jew. The Orthodox claim that God's approval is entirely dependent on mitzvot observance; I'd like to think that he also takes less tangible elements into account as well. So there's a debate, an ultimately unsolvable one. Does God love everybody? That would depend on your starting definition of God's attributes, for instance, how you define the "Is God Good?" guestion? Some people might say that a God that is perfectly good cannot hate, though he does judge. Again, we have the question of whether love negates judgment or punishment. Also, it seems that Dennis is mixing up the idea of love and approval; perhaps the concept is that because we are all children of God we are all unconditionally loved by God, however it is possible to do things that please and displease him. By the way, this whole question seems rather moot anyway, given the old traditional argument that we are so small and God is so big that we have no way of knowing what the hell he thinks about anything anyway.

Dennis blathers on a little longer, concluding by saying the lack of earning also means we think we should all get automatic forgiveness without earning them, and lastly leads to a mass welfare state. What country does Dennis use as his poster-child of "A world without Earning?" Read on if you dare...

America became a great civilization thanks to a culture based on the value of having to earn almost everything an American got in life.

Especially people that inherited their wealth or got it from being slave-owners, right?

As it abandons this value, it will become a mediocre civilization. And eventually it will not be America. It will be a large Sweden, and just as influential as the smaller one.

Sweden? Oh God, the humanity! Better to be hit by a giant meteor and incinerated!

Moving on, Dennis has presented us with "9 Questions on Torture the Left Needs to Answer," another list column, which is what he does when he can't be bothered to think of an actual narrative to connect his thoughts together.

1. Given how much you rightly hate torture, why did you oppose the removal of Saddam Hussein, whose prisons engaged in far more hideous tortures, on thousands of times more people, than America did – all of whom, moreover, were individuals and families who either did nothing or simply opposed tyranny? One assumes, furthermore, that all those Iraqi innocents Saddam had put into shredding machines or whose tongues were cut out and other hideous tortures would have begged to be waterboarded.

Strawman. The left did not oppose removing Saddam because they liked torture, and I'd love to see any quotes to that effect. The issue was the administration fluffing up their case and misleading us into a war by scaring the pants off of us with skewed information. Also, I don't recall "Saddam's a torturing bastard" being high on the administration's list of reasons for us going in. Finally, Dennis, the fact that one act of torture is more painful or horrible than another does not make the first one ok. That would be like suggesting that we should start branding the faces of thieves again because, after all, it's a lot better than chopping off their hands.

2. Are all forms of painful pressure equally morally objectionable? In other words, are you willing to acknowledge that there are gradations of torture as, for example, there are gradations of burns, with a third-degree burn considerably more injurious and painful than a first-degree burn? Or is all painful treatment to be considered torture? Just as you, correctly, ask proponents of waterboarding where they draw their line, you, too, must explain where you draw your line.

I acknowledge gradations in most things, so sure. But again, the fact that some torture is more painful than others does not mean that less-painful torture is ok or NOT morally objectionable. To use your example, a first degree burn might be preferable to a third-degree one, but I'm pretty sure you don't want me applying either to your face.

3. Is any maltreatment of anyone at any time – even a high-level terrorist with knowledge that would likely save innocents' lives – wrong? If there is no question about the identity of a terror suspect, and he can provide information on al-Qaida – for the sake of clarity, let us imagine that Osama bin Laden himself were captured – could America do any form of enhanced interrogation involving pain and/or deprivation to him that you would consider moral and therefore support?

I might even support behavior that I would normally consider morally questionable depending on the circumstances and the likelihood that it would actually be effective. However, one of the more irritating things about the entire torture debate has been that it has radicalized the left and the right to the point that neither is willing to realize and concede that A-limited torture under very specific conditions (while still morally ambiguous) can have useful effects, but also B- other interrogation techniques, like actually TALKING to the suspects, can sometimes get even better information! Do what works but use it as a last resort, not a first crack, and understand that as soon as we start permitting torture in the open, we are exposing ourselves to a very tricky and very ugly moral dilemma. We cannot be the nation of torture, and if the right is getting pissy about the left crying foul over every mistreatment of terror suspects, let me tell you, I'm getting pretty disgusted with the right trying to sidestep the entire issue by claiming that nothing we've done qualifies as torture. (Best idiot moment courtesy of Karl Rove.)

5. Presumably you would acknowledge that the release of the classified reports on the handling of high-level, post-Sept. 11 terror suspects would inflame passions in many parts of the Muslim world. If innocents were murdered because nonviolent cartoons of Muhammad were published in a Danish newspaper, presumably far more innocents will be tortured and murdered with the release of these reports and photos. Do you accept any moral responsibility for any ensuing violence against American and other civilians?

Who's "you?" Last I checked I wasn't the President. However, let's think about this, Dennis. You're saying that torture is fine but releasing reports admitting we tortured is irresponsible. News flash, shmuckles: if acknowledging doing something morally questionable and highly controversible is bad, then the original act must be a lot worse! And everyone already knew we were torturing, except that the administration wanted to keep up their 1984-speak and call it "coerced interrogation," as opposed to the other, voluntary kind that apparently involves hookers and cotton candy. At least by owning up to it and committing to changing it and having a national discussion about it, we're undermining our enemies who claim that we all love torture and do it in secret.

6. Many members of the intelligence community now feel betrayed and believe that the intelligence community will be weakened in their ability to fight the most vicious organized groups in the world. As reported in the Washington Post, former intelligence officer (Mark) Lowenthal said that fear has paralyzed agents on the ground... If, then, the intelligence community has been adversely affected, do you believe it can still do the work necessary to protect tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people from death and maiming?

The intelligence community has a job to do and if they have a problem doing it for the new administration they should step down. Maybe now that we have a President that doesn't care if our translators are gay we can even get some new recruits in.

9. You say that America's treatment of terror suspects will cause terrorists to treat their captives, especially Americans, more cruelly. On what grounds do you assert this? Did America's far more moral treatment of Japanese prisoners than Japan's treatment of American prisoners in World War II have any impact on how the Japanese treated American and other prisoners of war? Do you think that evil people care how morally pure America is?

America can help itself internationally by improving its image and standing in the world as much as possible. Our moral treatment of prisoners can help us win over moderates or people doubting the terrorists' promise to our side (ex: Sunni Awakening in Iraq), and it can also potentially help us, as it did with Abu Zubaydah, in actual interrogations when suspects that have been told how horrible we are see that we are actually treating them like human beings, despite having the tactical upper hand.

Nice try, Dennis. But you're still wrong. Even worse, you're still stupid.