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Dear Celebrities: Please Stop Dying…

By Brian | July 13, 2008 | Share on Facebook

Man…in the last three months alone:

Danny Federici Yves Saint-Laurent Cyd Charisse
Dick Martin Bo Diddley George Carlin
Sydney Pollack Jim McKay  
Harvey Korman Tim Russert  

And then today, we add two more: Bobby Murcer and Tony Snow.

For those who aren’t Yankee fans, all I can say is that Bobby Murcer was one of the good guys in baseball. As a player, and then later as an announcer, he was always a fan favorite, due to his class and demeanor both on the field and off. As the only man to play with both Mickey Mantle and Don Mattingly, he brought a sense of humor and a sense of history to Yankee Stadium and to Yankee television broadcasts, and he will be sorely missed. In one sense, it’s a crying shame that he missed seeing the last All-Star game to be played at Yankee Stadium by just four days. On the other hand, the game (and it’s location) now serve as a perfect opportunity for the entire baseball community to pay their lasting respects.

As for Tony Snow, the story that always jumps to mind when I hear his name is the one he told often about how several of the radical, left-wing television pundits cheered on his initial cancer diagnosis with statements like “Good – I hope that sonofabitch dies!” Now that he has, Powerline points out some of what the Associated Press calls an obituary:

With a quick-from-the-lip repartee, broadcaster’s good looks and a relentlessly bright outlook — if not always a command of the facts — he became a popular figure around the country to the delight of his White House bosses.

[...] As press secretary, Snow brought partisan zeal and the skills of a seasoned performer to the task of explaining and defending the president’s policies. During daily briefings, he challenged reporters, scolded them and questioned their motives as if he were starring in a TV show broadcast live from the West Wing.

Critics suggested that Snow was turning the traditionally informational daily briefing into a personality-driven media event short on facts and long on confrontation. He was the first press secretary, by his own accounting, to travel the country raising money for Republican candidates.

The article contains the requisite quotes from his friends and former employers (including the President, of course), but is stuff like the above really necessary when the man dies?  Can anyone read this as anything other than a petty, partisan, cheap shot?  For shame, AP.  You used to be one of the good ones…

 

Topics: News and/or Media, Political Rantings, Sports Talk | 10 Comments »

10 Responses to “Dear Celebrities: Please Stop Dying…”

  1. Jeff Porten says at July 13th, 2008 at 5:49 pm :
    Hmmm… I thought that obituaries were meant to be stories about what made the man newsworthy, not hagiographies. I fail to see what is partisan about the paragraphs you cite — provided, of course, that we agree that factually accurate statements are nonpartisan.

    I note that you make a joke about a presidential assassination a few posts later (about which I have no qualms), so perhaps we can also agree that there are perhaps boundaries in speaking of the dead which fall into a gray area?

    BTW, speaking of factually accurate, I’d love to see a citation of a single TV commentator saying “I hope that sonofabitch dies.” I suspect that such a citation does not exist. I further postulate that similar examples of Snow’s attitude that the truth is whatever he decided to say on a given is part of why, while no one should be celebrating his death, his passing is not particularly mourned by some.

  2. Brian says at July 14th, 2008 at 2:40 pm :
    I thought that obituaries were meant to be stories about what made the man newsworthy, not hagiographies

    Bobby Murcer struck out 841 times and made almost 100 errors in his 17-year major league career. Did you read about that in any of his obituaries? Why not? They are, after all, just as much a part of his baseball career as his four All-star appearances, his 252 home runs or his Gold Glove award. And if someone had mentioned it? It’s not that they aren’t true statements, it’s that they’re INAPPROPRIATE AT A TIME LIKE THIS.

    I fail to see what is partisan about the paragraphs you cite — provided, of course, that we agree that factually accurate statements are nonpartisan.

    Well, here we are again where you seem (to me) to define “opinions you agree with” as “factually accurate statements.” To wit: there is no way this statement is a fact: “During daily briefings, he challenged reporters, scolded them and questioned their motives as if he were starring in a TV show broadcast live from the West Wing.” That kid of writing belongs on an OpEd page, not an AP obituary.

    Then there’s this: “Critics suggested that Snow was turning the traditionally informational daily briefing into a personality-driven media event short on facts and long on confrontation.” “Critics suggested”??? That reads to me like a 3rd person way of saying “I believe…” A couple of quotes from some of those critics may have brought it closer to the line, although this still doesn’t strike me as the time or place.

    As for the first graf, “if not always a command of the facts” could be defensible (although, again, the writer offers no defense). However, the same could be said of just about any press secretary, which really just makes it kind of mean…

    I’d love to see a citation of a single TV commentator saying “I hope that sonofabitch dies.” I suspect that such a citation does not exist

    That’s why I said ” the story he told often.”

    Googling around, though, I found this from Charles Karel Bouley, who is the #1 talk show in his timeslot in San Francisco. The actual Huffington Post entry that’s quoted here is missing the offending grafs and says, “Due to objectionable content, this post was edited by the author after its original version.”

    Also, I found this, which quotes some lefty bloggers and commenters at HuffPo who were particularly obnoxious when he was first diagnosed. I realize these folks are a long way from TV commentators, but that probably didn’t matter to Snow or his family.

    Finally, while I wouldn’t dream of lumping you in with the nutcases above, I do feel the need to point out that we’re talking about a guy who was 53-years old, was diagnosed with cancer three times, and left behind a wife of >20 years and three children, and you can understand why “his passing is not particularly mourned by some.”

    I would suggest that the “some” you refer to need to put politics down for a while and think about how they’d feel if their husband or father died at the age of 53. You need not celebrate a man’s life to mourn his death…

  3. Jeff Porten says at July 15th, 2008 at 3:40 am :
    Can’t comment on the Murcer obits because I haven’t read any of them, and prior to the man’s death I had never heard his name. I doubt this surprises you.

    I think what’s “appropriate” in obituaries is probably the core of our debate here. My opinion is that it’s a truism is that an obituary doesn’t matter at all to the subject of the article, who is likely beyond caring. (Exceptions are notable, such as Alfred Nobel and Mark Twain.) So an obituary should balance between two audiences: friends and family of the deceased (small population, high receptivity), and the general public (vastly larger population, low receptivity). The general public should be seen as the primary audience, because in the absence of a general public interest, no obituary is written.

    As for the factual content of the obit, I can personally attest that I’ve seen the following: “During daily briefings, he challenged reporters, scolded them and questioned their motives”. As for the conclusion of the sentence, “as if he were starring in a TV show broadcast live from the West Wing”, I think that logically follows from his skills as a broadcaster; if it’s opinion, it’s one that can be easily inferred.

    I agree with you on the issue of “‘Critics suggested’??? That reads to me like a 3rd person way of saying ‘I believe…’” (Amusingly, until I copied and pasted this comment, I thought you wrote “3rd grader”, which makes your point even more strongly.) I also think that this phrasing is perhaps a way to sidestep what might be “inappropriate at a time like this”, or at the very least a method of achieving brevity and not emphasizing the negative.

    But really, the key here is that “the story he told often” is one that is likely to be untrue. We have perhaps gotten used to the idea that presidents may lie whenever it’s convenient — which I wish were not the case — but here’s someone whose job was journalism and whose highest public position was one of dispensing facts to journalists. The idea of a journalist who doesn’t much care whether the stories he tells are true is repellent, IMO, and is indicative of why I feel no need to manufacture a phony air of respect for the man on the occasion of his death.

    while I wouldn’t dream of lumping you in with the nutcases above, I do feel the need to point out that we’re talking about a guy who was 53-years old, was diagnosed with cancer three times, and left behind a wife of >20 years and three children, and you can understand why “his passing is not particularly mourned by some.” I would suggest that the “some” you refer to need to put politics down for a while and think about how they’d feel if their husband or father died at the age of 53. You need not celebrate a man’s life to mourn his death…”

    Oh, feel free to lump me in with the nutcases when the situation warrants. Some of the public positions I’m most proud of are the ones in which I’m on the side of the nutcases.

    The bit about my opinion here that you seem to be missing: the sole reason we’re discussing this man at all is because of his public role in the administration. So far as I know, I’ve never bumped into Tony on the street in Washington, so I have no personal recollections to intrude on my considerations of him; likewise, the news that he has a wife and three children is equally abstract.

    So I infer that when you use the word “mourn”, you mean it in an abstract sense — that is, we in the general public are not expected to mourn a death the way we would if it were a friend or a family member. And in exactly that sense, I believe that as Snow bore a share of responsibility for the needless deaths of thousands, I don’t particularly feel any need to mourn his passing, even in the abstract.

    For that matter, I firmly believe that our ability to excessively abstract ourselves from mourning the death of others is precisely why we are able to engage in politically expedient wars and continue to think of ourselves as good, decent people. This is not a good thing, in my view. That said, I find it extremely interesting that we are collectively supposed to abstract the deaths of the famous less than we abstract the deaths of others.

    You know, you’re reminding me of this excellent article by David Brin, who points out that the sins of Darth Vader — whom, I remind you, executed the population of an entire planet in the first movie — are set up to be forgiven in Jedi due to his sacrifice for Luke. Perhaps a stretch to bring this into the current debate, but no, the abstraction that there were people who loved Tony Snow as a person comes as neither a surprise nor a change in my perceptions. Maybe if I knew them, I’d feel differently. Maybe if Tony had done any traveling in the Middle East, he would have too.

  4. The Vast Jeff Wing Conspiracy » On presidential spokesperson fatalities says at July 15th, 2008 at 4:01 am :
    [...] on I Should Be Sleeping, Brian and I are having an interesting discussion on what’s appropriate following the death of a perhaps-controversial celebrity. By all means, [...]

  5. Brian says at July 15th, 2008 at 5:18 pm :
    I firmly believe that our ability to excessively abstract ourselves from mourning the death of others is precisely why we are able to engage in politically expedient wars and continue to think of ourselves as good, decent people. This is not a good thing, in my view.

    And in my view, you seem to be explicitly commiting the sins that you’re accusing Tony Snow (and the generic “us”) of committing. If we wrongly gloss over the death of the faceless masses that die in war, why is it less wrong to gloss over the death of someone whose face we are familiar with?

    You seem to have spun a web of logic that makes a convincing argument that we shouldn’t mourn Tony Snow’s death as a form of political protest against the policies he supported. Without attempting to untangle that web, I’ll just say I think it’s the wrong conclusion. It’s perfectly logical and normal to feel more for the death of someone you know (or know of) than someone you’ve never met or heard of. It doesn’t make their death more significant or their life more important; it’s just a difference in your perception of the two events based on the facts you have at your disposal. To wit, I wouldn’t expect a woman in Iraq who has lost her son to mourn for Tony Snow more than her son, and for the very same reasons.

    Oh, and as for travelling to the Middle East, I don’t know if he did or not. I do know that he spoke to many, many service men & women returning from Iraq, and would often get disbelieving stares (and boos) when he would talk of their pride in being a part of something as noble as the Iraqi war. No one wants to hear or believe that these days, despite the fact that 90+% of the quotes you read from military personnel (in blogs, editorials, etc.) offer the same sentiment.

    So the irony is this: Tony Snow likely knew more about what it’s like in Iraq than either of us ever will. How he relayed that story to the public while doing his job is certainly open for criticism, but it doesn’t affect my feeling that the guy died way too soon.

  6. Jeff Porten says at July 16th, 2008 at 3:29 am :
    If we wrongly gloss over the death of the faceless masses that die in war, why is it less wrong to gloss over the death of someone whose face we are familiar with?

    Two answers and a commentary:

    1) The operative word is “masses”. At the moment, I’m looking at 4,120 dead US troops, and a guesstimate of 89,872 dead Iraqi civilians. These numbers exclude non-US allied casualties, and excludes the count of those that we deemed needed killing. (Does a website provide a body count of those that needed killing? Realizing for the first time that I don’t know of one.)

    2) Tony Snow died from an act of God, to use the oldstyle phrasing. The numbers I quote above are acts of human [insert word here]. I’d use “choice”, “malfeasance”, and “reckless stupidity”, but you can use others as you like.

    Commentary: I’m using factual answers above, but essentially my thinking here is emotional. Yes, I think we collectively don’t give two shits about misery and suffering of people Not Like Us — in some cases, we’ll give a single shit and do just enough to make ourselves feel better about being Caring, Decent People. Tony Snow is sufficiently Not Like Me, in my view, that yes, I think I’m not immune to what I’m talking about. I think what might be upsetting or provocative about what I’m writing is that I’m failing to go through the culturally expected motions of giving that single shit.

    You seem to have spun a web of logic that makes a convincing argument that we shouldn’t mourn Tony Snow’s death as a form of political protest against the policies he supported.

    Not at all. I’m not saying that “we shouldn’t”, I’m saying that “I don’t.” I’m not saying that “I don’t” because it’s politically necessary to do so; I”m saying that “I don’t” without feeling any particular reason why I don’t, or any particular need to defend it. Tony Snow’s politics are the reason why I don’t much care, and certainly the reason why I don’t pretend to care (I wouldn’t spend 1,000 words on the topic of my feelings about Bobby Murcer), but I’m not taking the ludicrous position that antiwar activists should pretend not to care if they actually do. If anything, I’m guessing that most people who opposed Snow’s politics (as well as everyone else) pretend to care because it’s culturally accepted and politically expedient to do so.

    I do know that he spoke to many, many service men & women returning from Iraq, and would often get disbelieving stares (and boos) when he would talk of their pride in being a part of something as noble as the Iraqi war.

    Brian, this strikes me as a real emotional and logical hole in what you’ve been saying about the war for years.

    You seem to be saying here that, regardless of what the political objectives are of the war, or whether the war can be judged a success on various terms, that there is a value imbued to the effort by the sacrifices made and pride taken by the participants. You call this nobility.

    You might be surprised to hear that I agree. I think it is noble to risk dying for one’s country or one’s beliefs. Ideally, an American soldier going into combat would feel the moral force of both behind him or her. What I find exceptionally noble is that, for many soldiers — and I expect the true numbers here are impossible to quantify — they no longer believe that the war was for country or American values, but they continue to fight for their comrades in arms. To have only that remaining, to have lost the notion that there’s a greater meaning behind the sacrifices they’re asked to make, makes what is going on all the more poignant.

    Put another way: you and I both know that the way we shape our military, it really doesn’t matter how badly clusterfucked a military operation becomes. Our forces will fight for each other when nothing else remains. I think this makes it exceptionally important that our leadership and our citizens should be exceedingly stringent and miserly before we decide that it’s time to open up the can of American whoop-ass.

    I expect you to reply now that for most of our troops, perhaps the majority, perhaps the overwhelming majority, this is not what they are fighting for — that they remain convinced that this effort is for country and American values, and that this justifies their continued sacrifice.

    And this brings us to the million-casualty question, Brian. If it is inherently noble to die for your country or your beliefs, then are the Iraqi insurgents imbued with nobility? Were the 9/11 hijackers? Palestinian suicide bombers? Timothy McVeigh?

    If your answer is no — and I’m sure it is — then you cannot argue that such actions are inherently noble. You have to argue that the specifics of your country or your values are what imbue that nobility to dying for your cause. Which leads to only two possible conclusions regarding the assumption of nobility for American forces dying overseas:

    1) The death of American soldiers is inherently noble because America is the Great Exception; alone among all nations, causes, and beliefs in the world, we are touched by God, or have some other similarly irrevocable status by dint of being American.

    2) The death of American soldiers is causally noble because Americans fight for what we deem to be decent, honorable, and right, and because America has acted for over two centuries as a beacon disseminating our notions of these values to the world, much to the betterment of humankind.

    Personally, I’m a fervent believer in the second formulation, and I equally believe that, in this time and in this case, we have eschewed too much of our own morality to continue to believe this of ourselves. We have invaded nations which did us no harms to justify war, in the manner of our worst historical enemies. We have killed, tortured, and imprisoned the innocent, and we have continually lied to ourselves and to the world about the worst of our excesses and the worst of our actions.

    Then, to justify ourselves, we wrap ourselves in the undeserved nobility that we ascribe to the poor bastards we ship overseas to fight and die, in that remaining scrap of the best of ourselves. The more we believe in the indomitable nobility of the American soldier, the more we can believe in the indomitable nobility of America, regardless of how much we shit upon our cherished beliefs.

    Yes, the American soldier does maintain this nobility, because they continue to die for their country, or their beliefs, or their friends. But we do not deserve to bask in any dim reflection of their sacrifice.

    Which leads me to the last of what you said, which I see as the dying gasp of American triumphalism to which we cling, that Tony Snow and by extension America’s leadership “likely knew more about what it’s like in Iraq than either of us ever will”. Because we desperately want to believe that our leaders are wise, and informed, and will act in the best interests of the nation.

    And here, Brian, there is ample evidence and history that this simply has not been true. Our leaders have ignored what they could have known, rejected what they did not want to hear, lied continuously, and have broken faith consistently with both the American people and the American soldier. They could have chosen otherwise; they had the resources and the tools to be informed and act wisely, and they chose instead to act on gut instinct and a near-messianic belief in their own rightness and closeness to God.

    This is why I think we all should have been terrified when we heard administration officials refer to their opponents as the “reality-based community.” Those who supported the Bush administration, the neoconservatives, and the warmongers collectively made our horror into a national joke. The price we’re paying now is precisely because that if America deserves the mantle of righteousness, it is because we have had for two centuries a partial track record of being right. Of being correct. Of seeing the world for what it is and speaking of what it could be.

    You can’t be right if you don’t know of whence you speak. And that is why I can’t mourn the death of the spokesman for those who have been so catastrophically, blindly, blisteringly, painfully wrong, and who spoke in America’s name as they were doing so.

  7. The Vast Jeff Wing Conspiracy » On American nobility says at July 16th, 2008 at 3:57 am :
    [...] crossposting a comment I made in the ongoing thread over at Brian Greenberg’s ISBS, mainly because I think it’s a fine bit of writing that [...]

  8. Brian says at July 16th, 2008 at 5:06 pm :
    As to Tony Snow, I think we need to agree to disagree here. Your answer boils down to this: deaths are more/less mournful based on how they happen, in what quantities they happen, and how you feel about the person(s) they happened to.

    This is completely antithetical to how I view the topic. Maybe this example will help: two men were killed in the World Trade Center. Both left behind a wife and two small children. One was a greenpeace volunteer, a 20-year veteran of the ACLU, and loved coffee, cigarettes and any product made by Apple. The other was an Ivy League-bred executive at a large investment bank that made a six figure income and profited from investments in, among other things, big oil companies. Which widow sufferred the bigger loss? Which kids will miss their father more at their first graduation? Which family’s lives were torn apart more?

    Do your answers change if the second guy was me?

    You seem to be saying here that, regardless of what the political objectives are of the war, or whether the war can be judged a success on various terms, that there is a value imbued to the effort by the sacrifices made and pride taken by the participants. You call this nobility.

    I agree with what you said on your blog – this commentary is very well written. And so it pains me to poke a hole in it’s very premise, but I didn’t call it nobility. Tony Snow said that the troops called it nobility. Big difference.

    And this brings us to the million-casualty question, Brian. If it is inherently noble to die for your country or your beliefs, then are the Iraqi insurgents imbued with nobility? Were the 9/11 hijackers? Palestinian suicide bombers? Timothy McVeigh?

    This strikes me as a deceptively simple question. Nobility is in the eye of the beholder. So, here in America, the American troops are noble, and the hijackers, suicide bombers, and domestic mass murderers are not. It would be foolhardy to suggest that the suicide bombers don’t consider themselves noble. After all, we know for a fact that that’s exactly why they commit these acts. Because they believe they are acting nobly.

    I think the difference between your opinion and mine is that I’m not afraid to declare nobility a subjective thing, and then favor my culture’s definition of it over all others. This means I don’t have to rely on past actions to imbue current Americans with nobility. I can, instead, judge them on the information I have and the situation that they are in.

    Which provides a good segue to my last point: whether he chose to ignore information or act on it, it is undeniably true that George W. Bush knows more about what’s going on in Iraq than you (or I) do. I say “undeniably true” because he is briefed daily by the world’s most advanced intelligence community and surrounded by hundreds of people who study the situation full time and with primary sources. You and I have never even been there.

    This, I’m sure, is disconcerting to hear, beacuse you deeply want to believe that if George W. Bush knew what you knew, it is an absolute certainty that he’d react the way you’d react. There is no room for the possibility that either a) he knows more than you know and if you had the same knowledge, you would react the way he did, or (more likely) b) he knows more detail about the same things you know, and has a strong belief that his reaction is better for the country than yours.

    It’s amazing to me that when the President, with the knowledge at his disposal is convinced he’s right about something, he’s acting on “gut instinct and a near-messianic belief in their own rightness and closeness to God,” but when you are convinced you’re right about something, armed with second, third, or fourth hand knowledge of the same events, you’re a well-read intellectual.

    You can’t be right if you don’t know of whence you speak. And that is why I can’t mourn the death of the spokesman for those who have been so catastrophically, blindly, blisteringly, painfully wrong, and who spoke in America’s name as they were doing so.

    And yet, you don’t know of whence you speak. At a minimum, enough time has not yet passed to make such extreme judgements. Remember – Kennedy was wrong. Truman was wrong. Reagan was wrong. Now they’re our heroes.

    And even if Bush was blindly, blisteringly, painfully wrong about everything, I can still mourn the death of his spokesman because the spokesman was a man. And he died at the age of 53. And his kids have no father and his wife has no husband. And that’s, well….., mournful.

  9. Jeff Porten says at July 17th, 2008 at 12:31 am :
    Your answer boils down to this: deaths are more/less mournful based on how they happen, in what quantities they happen, and how you feel about the person(s) they happened to.

    Well, yeah. And I’m guessing you do too. When five kids aged six through thirteen are gunned down in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania for the sin of being female, we mourn that more than most deaths we read about in the newspaper.

    But, in my case at least, not mourned well enough that I didn’t have to go looking that up in Wikipedia before I wrote that paragraph.

    What bothers me — and I can’t say I’ve been particularly coherent on this point — is how we treat the deaths of those with some notoriety, versus the deaths of the anonymous. And we treat anonymous deaths differently — my RSS feed today reported 28 dead police trainees in Iraq. I doubt I’ll be looking up this event in Wikipedia two years after the fact. I’ll be surprised if it has its own entry.

    I freely admit that much of my argument is based on an inchoate, emotional, and thoroughly helpless sense that the world should not be as it is, and that those of us with any power to make a difference are miserable failures in doing so. This is not rational, arguable, or particularly sane, so I’m not really stating this as a debating point. Just pointing out the known weaknesses in my own argument.

    This is completely antithetical to how I view the topic. Maybe this example will help: two men were killed in the World Trade Center.[...]

    Last time I checked, I’ve got close friends who are investment bankers, employees for Big Oil, credit card processors, even a few conservative Republicans in that mix. I’m fairly certain that if any of these people happen to stop consuming oxygen in the next three decades or so, and presuming that I still am at the time, that I won’t mourn their loss any less.

    On the other hand, for people I don’t know, I don’t have much to go on. You seem to make the argument that I should mourn their death by dint of their being human — which baffles me, honestly. This is a noble belief which is demonstrably untrue of all of us. Death is all around us. Avoidable death is all around us. It seems to me that if we truly mourned their deaths or suffering, we’d be spurred to action of some kind. Instead, we add a tablespoon of bathos to our daily lives and go about our business.

    As an alternative example: I liked Heath Ledger’s performances. It’s rather pathetic that he dropped dead at an age that’s ten years off of how long I’ve had so far. But I wouldn’t call these sensations “mourning”, and fundamentally I think that he deserves a Darwin Award for the way he took himself out. No one said so, of course, because we were too busy talking about the “tragedy”. Seeing as how Tony Snow never made any movies I enjoyed watching, this might clarify my lack of feeling.

    Finally, keep in mind that you’re corresponding with a guy who can feel like his dog died for no reason whatsoever. I’ve noticed that I don’t mourn the death of loved ones the way other people seem to. Wouldn’t be a bit surprised if this is having a large impact on our conversation.

    I didn’t call it nobility. Tony Snow said that the troops called it nobility. Big difference.

    Nice to know that the troops and I have something in common, then.

    I think the difference between your opinion and mine is that I’m not afraid to declare nobility a subjective thing, and then favor my culture’s definition of it over all others.

    I think that there’s zero difference between your opinion and mine on this topic, and furthermore, there cannot be. Any Introduction to Anthropology class will tell you that you and I, from similar religious backgrounds and growing up in generally homogenous environments, are going to be inculcated with similar mores on what it means to act nobly. Nobility is inherently subjective, and — while not universal — most cultures include the self-sustaining belief that theirs is superior to all others. Ours is certainly no exception.

    Where our opinions seem to be diverging is my observation that, by our shared definitions of nobility, we have collectively acted ignobly. I think this matters least to those who are now fighting because of those actions, because they have more pressing concerns, and alternate definitions of nobility to rely upon. What bothers me deeply is that, by and large, I get the impression that most of America cared more about the death of Heath Ledger than about these actions.

    It is undeniably true that George W. Bush knows more about what’s going on in Iraq than you (or I) do. I say “undeniably true” because he is briefed daily by the world’s most advanced intelligence community and surrounded by hundreds of people who study the situation full time and with primary sources.

    Actually, I think that this is undeniably false, and for evidence I point to the man’s own statements. Just because I own an encyclopedia doesn’t mean that I’ve read it. Likewise, there is ample demonstration that no matter how skilled or dedicated the intelligence-gathering community is in this country, the only information that has reached the president’s ears has been the information that he asked to receive — and in those few cases where he heard what he didn’t want to hear, he simply disregarded it.

    So, yes, I’m willing to say that given two weeks to prepare — seeing as how national security is not my full-time job, as it is the president’s — I’d fully expect to demolish George W. Bush in public debate on national security policy. But I’d never expect to see him engage in such a spectacle with anyone, precisely because his mindset obviates the need to debate his views. He’s the decider; the rest of us merely need to get in line.

    You deeply want to believe that if George W. Bush knew what you knew, it is an absolute certainty that he’d react the way you’d react.

    Absolutely not. This is the way I feel about you, perhaps some of the time, but I’m also well aware that my frustration is entirely illusory. I don’t expect W to ever act the way I’d want him to, because I don’t see in him either the intellectual curiosity or simply the goodness of character to act differently. I’m still of the belief that his body language indicates a strongly sociopathic attitude. If I felt that he had the capacity to act more like me, then I’d start seriously wondering what was wrong with me.

    There is no room for the possibility that either a) he knows more than you know and if you had the same knowledge, you would react the way he did…. It’s amazing to me that… when you are convinced you’re right about something, armed with second, third, or fourth hand knowledge of the same events, you’re a well-read intellectual.

    I’ll gladly take umbrage at point one — there are a vast number of things that I do not know, and when I come to know them, I have been known to change my opinion.

    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: on September 11, 2001, most of America looked at the Oval Office and saw the man they wanted to see, regardless of whether that man was actually there. My own reaction was different: prior to WTC, I disliked Bush in general as I opposed both his policies and his means to election. But on the day, I looked to the Oval Office and found it empty, as he was flying around the country, fearfully spouting threats of divine retribution.

    It is for this reason that I believe that you see a smart and well-informed man leading the country. Honestly, I don’t think that there is any combination of events that could disabuse you of this notion.

    As for myself, I consider myself to be an intellectual, but these days I’m not particularly well-read — more truthful to say that I’m coasting on my old books, as it were. I’m sure that, as I just attributed to you, I have beliefs that are equally unshakable and based on as little evidence — the difference is, to the best of my knowledge, that my beliefs have never required me to slip into pretzel-like contortions to support ignoble acts. If you recall differently, feel free to point out such to me and let’s see how I reconcile it. You might actually find me changing my mind.

    I’ve actually had at least three major changes in my worldview in the last ten years. I’m sure I could think of others with some effort.

    Which leads to a final thought: you accuse me of a blind certainty in your comment, and ascribe my blindness to my own belief that they’re all simply logical conclusions. The latter phrase might be accurate, but I don’t believe the former is. Truth is, I’m frequently uncertain of many of my deeply-held beliefs — and I believe that the only valid response to that is to either discard them, or buttress them with more information.

    This is what scares me about religious faith when it’s applied to politics, and about W in particular. I don’t know what it means to be so damned certain. I imagine it must come as a blessed relief. I can’t say that I share that feeling.

    And yet, you don’t know of whence you speak. At a minimum, enough time has not yet passed to make such extreme judgements.

    A better argument for passive, nonjudgmental treatment of our government, I’ve never heard. I’m fairly sure I recall reading that Jefferson felt that such a democracy would be doomed to eventual failure. Perhaps it was Madison.

    The truth of it is, Brian, that if the day ever comes in the next few decades where I can turn to you and say. “Yes, Bush was uncontroversially a failure,” you should rightly turn to me and say, “That was 20 years ago. What are you doing about it now?”

    Kennedy was wrong. Truman was wrong. Reagan was wrong. Now they’re our heroes.

    Your heroes, perhaps. Kennedy was a Cold Warrior who led us to 50,000 dead in Vietnam. Truman used nuclear weapons on civilians, twice. Reagan… well, let’s just not get into Reagan.

    Granted, all three of these men did have some admirable qualities, which is a statement I cannot extend to the current occupant. But heroes? No. I haven’t lowered my bar that far.

  10. Bo Diddley says at August 15th, 2008 at 3:19 pm :
    I was sad to hear that Bo Diddley died. That guy had an amazing career and life. And I just loved his guitar, the Twang Machine. It looked so cool and unusual for a guitar! He sure could make is sing.

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