Monday, June 22, 2015

Can We Just...?

Advancing the Ball

It was a gloomy Monday morning here, as threatening clouds and wind seemed to suggest we were in for more rain. It didn't help my mood any when I began my morning news reading and learned that we're still bogged down in yet another fairly pointless wrangle about what a highly-publicized violent criminal outburst "means." I'm pretty much fed up with the folks trying to sell the lie that people on my end of the political spectrum (i.e., conservatives) don't think the shooting in Charleston was motivated by the shooter's racism. Of course it was. He has said it was. And no prominent conservative pundit, politician, or publication has argued otherwise. Claims to the contrary are as wrong as they are malicious.

That said, I fail to see what the shooter's motives have to do with anything. If it were up to me, he'd be executed for his crime, and quickly. Killing nine innocent people is an unconscionable act, and its perpetrator deserves the harshest punishment we can levy. How does the fact that the shooter was an ignorant racist make it worse, though? And even if you think that it does, does that mean we should execute him twice, or something? I just haven't seen a single argument that persuades me his motives should enter into the proceedings against him. But then, I have never been comfortable with the whole notion of thought crime, so...

The other major kerfuffle which shows no signs of abating soon is the issue of gun control legislation. As always happens, the pinheads who favor restricting (or even abolishing) a citizen's gun rights in this country have seized on a horrific crime and tried to capitalize on our national grief and outrage. That in itself is shameful. But what makes it worse is that these knuckleheads haven't even come up with any new reasons. It's just the same old stuff, being put out there again as if this most recent incident suddenly validates all of those crappy arguments.

Personally, I think if you want to advance the ball for your side of this or any other public policy question, you must at a minimum acknowledge that some arguments for your side have been considered in the past, and found wanting. For a believer in the power of rhetoric and argumentation like me, few things are as tedious as seeing people trot out old, long-ago-refuted positions as if they were not only correct, but self-evidently so (i.e., anyone who disagrees is an ignoramus).

For instance, if your argument in favor of more restrictive gun laws mentions the word "militia," you really ought to just stop talking (or typing). Seriously. You're just embarrassing yourself. That "argument" has been tried before, by better advocates than you, and decisively rejected. Repeatedly.

In a way, seeing the word "militia" in someone's advocacy is a convenient shortcut. If they're that ignorant of the legal issues involved (to say nothing of how the English language works), no reason to waste time reading any further. But they do add to the signal-to-noise problem in public controversies, and that isn't helpful in any way.

And if you say, as President Obama did recently, that "if only" we had passed the last major gun control legislation that faced a vote in Congress, the shooting in Charleston "might have" been prevented, well...

An argument based on a mistaken claim doesn't get stronger just because prominent voices repeat it. As Anatole France put it: "If a million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing." Like when President Obama repeated the falsehood that incidents like Charleston don't happen in other countries (because those countries have much more restrictive gun laws). That's a foolish thing to say, too, but people repeat it constantly in these debates.

All that should matter in any rhetorical engagement is the cogency of the arguments, nothing more.

"Don't hold your breath waiting for THAT world to come to pass."
I won't, Ari. I'm a cynic, remember?

Wild Kingdom Bed & Breakfast Update

After a day or so of wary glances, the customers at the B&B have embraced the new amenity, which pleases me. When I first put it together, I was concerned that the smaller birds wouldn't be able to stand safely on the edge and drink, but as it turns out the folks who designed the thing (and the birds) know more about it than I do. The sparrows and finches are able to drink without any difficulty. As for the larger birds...

"Nice touch, Shu! This really hits the spot on a hot day."
Glad you enjoy it. And thanks for not pooping on my patio, by the way...

A Special Feast Day

For us Catholics every day is a feast day, but some feast days stand out a bit more on the calendar than others. Today is one such day, as we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas More. More's life was rather more complicated than it was made out to be in Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons, or in the subsequent film based on that play. Still, the film did with the Best Picture Oscar in 1966, and Paul Scofield's performance as More won him a Best Actor Oscar (as it had won him a Tony Award for a 1961 Broadway production of the play). Here is a brief sample of Scofield's St. Thomas:

As for the real-life More, we can still learn much from studying his life, and his philosophy...

Summer Solstice 2015

Yesterday was the Summer Solstice. Didn't notice anything particularly interesting going on around my neighborhood as a result. Maybe if I had been here instead...

"The ants didn't taste any different, either."


Until Next Time...

As I've mentioned before, I'm a fan of motion picture soundtracks, and James Horner is one of the most popular and celebrated composers of film scores. He made his first significant splash in 1986 with the scores for Aliens and An American Tail, both of which were nominated for an Academy Award. I've very fond of his scores for Field of Dreams (which also received an Oscar nomination) and Braveheart (ditto), but my all-time favorite score of his did not receive an Oscar nod. In 1989 (the same year as Field of Dreams), Horner worked with the Boys Choir of Harlem to produce one of the most moving motion picture scores I have ever heard. It was for Edward Zwick's marvelous film Glory, one of my all-time favorite movies.

Today's send-off is a suite of themes and motifs from that score. Enjoy...

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