Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Courting Controversy at the Sun-Times

Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me? Let me tell U, some people wanna die so they can be free. I said life is just a game, we're all just the same. Don't U wanna play? -- P. Rogers Nelson

If you're like me you are still a little pissed-off from Sunday.

But not from the Bears' loss or Prince's half-time show -- from reading the "Controversy" section of your Chicago Sun-Times.

If you unfamiliar with the Controversy section, don't worry you haven't missed much. Controversy purports to be the home of heated opinion writing but it functions primarily as the used content section of the Sunday Sun-Times.

Apparently strong opinions are in short supply in Chicago, because, other than Carol Marin, nearly everything in the Controversy section is reprinted from an online source -- TruthDig, Salon, Babble, HuffingtonPost, Slate -- or originates from outside the area -- Bob Novak in D.C. and Mark Steyn in Canada.

But enough of its origins, let's address the content.

"The truth about poverty," Steven Malanga tells us, is "bad choices, not a bad economy, are to blame."

Hmmm... To evaluate that, it would be helpful to know "The truth about Steven Malanga."

The Sun-Times tells us that the piece is "adapted from an essay in the winter edition of City Journal." A Google search later and we find know that Mr. Malanga is Contributing Editor of City Journal. And that the City Journal is the house organ of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, who's mission is to "develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility."

"To develop and disseminate new ideas?"

Sorry, Mr. Malanga. "The poor are to blame for poverty" is hardly a "new idea."

But at least we now know who's paying Mr. Malanga's bills.

Back to his piece in the S-T:
Poverty in America results increasingly from the choices that people make, not our economic system's supposed shortcomings.
Okay smarty, why are Americans poor?
It's not that the adults who head families in poverty don't earn enough; they don't work enough.
Wait a minute, who doesn't work enough?
Among single-women-headed households just 14 percent work full-time in New York and 11 percent in Chicago.
But how is a single mother supposed to work full time and care for a child?
True, it may be hard to work full-time as a single mother unless you can afford child care.
Wait a minute, what the hell do you mean "may be hard?"

It is hard to work full-time as a single mother. Period. Full stop.

And where do you get off qualifying your statement with "unless you can afford child care." We are talking about women who live in poverty -- of course they can't afford child care. They're poor.

Your statement is the equivalent of saying, "It's hard being poor unless you can afford it."
[I]n both New York and Chicago, ever more women -- especially poor women -- are choosing to have kids without a husband. *** [M]ore than half of women having children out of wedlock in New York and 60 percent in Chicago are already in poverty or wind up there within a year of giving birth.
"Or wind up there within in a year."

They weren't all in poverty before they had the kids? So how many were actually impoverished when they got pregnant? How many women became poor due to the cost of having a child? Is there a legitimate reason that you don't separate those numbers?

Or are you simply suggesting that single women should have abortions unless they can be absolutely certain that they won't wind up poor?
Those births to poor, unmarried women partly explain why both cities have a higher than average overall poverty rate; since their illegitimacy rate is above the nation's, a greater percentage of children are born directly into poverty in both New York and Chicago than nationwide.
Well, I guess that raises a question doesn't it, "What better choices should those children born directly into poverty have made?"
[M]ost people can stay out of poverty in America by doing just a few simple things -- most important, graduating from high school and not having kids without a spouse on hand.
No. Hold on a minute.

Your thesis is that the poor are responsible for their poverty -- that their bad choices caused them to be poor -- But THIRTEEN MILLION American children are living in poverty.

Other than choosing the wrong parents, how exactly are those 13 million poor Americans responsible for their poverty?

Perhaps I'm too demanding, but an explanation doesn't account for 13 MILLION counter-examples seems a bit lacking.

But who can argue with Malanga's prescription to finish high school and not have any out-of-wedlock children? Not me.

But lets re-examine the promise he offers to those who stay in school and avoid the pit-fall of pregnancy: "Most can stay out of poverty in America."

Yes, The American Dream: Possible Poverty Avoidance.

Even Mr. Malanga, a champion of free-market capitalism, can not extract a rosier promise than Possible Poverty Avoidance from our current economic system.

How did anyone ever think that our economic system had shortcomings?


Mark Steyn is still collecting check from the Sun-Times?

Apparently his trumpeting of the far-right's "young Obama was brainwashed in a madrassa" lies in the pages of the Sun-Times was insufficient to embarrass either Steyn or his S-T editor. Thus, he returns to the Sun-Times to yet make another unsubstantiated claim -- that the science on global climate change is "not solid."

As proof, Steyn tells us that scientists' global climate models have changed since the 1970's.

Of course, scientific climate models have changed due improved technology and new data -- 19 of the 20 hottest years on record have occurred since 1980. That does not change the fact that there is no peer reviewed science questioning the fact of global climate change.

Steyn's call for eternal consistency doesn't challenge the validity of the scientists' conclusions so much as it challenges the validity of science.

Steyn's transparently flimsy argument calls into question the Canadian educational system. Not because Steyn doesn't understand the science -- I'm sure he does and is simply being dishonest -- but because his argument presumes that his readers don't even grasp the basics of the scientific method.

One hopes that Steyn's readers, in Canada and in Chicago, are too smart for such hucksterism.


But despite the presence of Malanga and Steyn, the Controversy reached it's loathsome nadir on its very first page -- in an excerpt from Dinesh D'Souza's instant classic: "The Enemy at Home, The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11."

For those unfamiliar with D'Souza, he made his bones with the conservative establishment by authoring bellicose tomes attacking liberal policies and programs. But in this post-9/11 world, shouting about the evils of
political correctness and affirmative action no longer excite the blood of right-wingers. No, in a world with Ann Coulter, you gots to get bug-house nuts to draw any attention from the right.

How nuts?

The excerpt in the S-T gives us a peek:
[T]he main source of Muslim rage is not American foreign policy but American popular culture as it is projected around the world. *** These concerns prompt a startling thought: are radical Muslims right? *** If the garbage heap of American excess leaves many Americans feeling dirty and defiled at home, what gives America a right to dump it on the rest of the world?
Oh, where to begin?

D'Souza asserts that "
the main source of Muslim rage is not American foreign policy but American popular culture as it is projected around the world."

His evidence? A survey from the Pew Research Center that indicates that a majority of people of Asia, Africa and the Middle East want "to protect their values from foreign assault." If, however, "their values" includes the nearly-universal value of self-determination, it is hard to see how anyone could disentangle resentment of US pop culture from resentment of US foreign policy.

D'Souza doesn't even attempt to do so.

D'Souza also tosses out some anecdotes. In addition, to a pair of quotes from Benazir Bhutto and Bernard Lewis -- quotes that fail to support his assertion of the primacy of pop culture in Muslim resentment towards the U.S. -- D'Souza also quotes "an Iranian from Neishapour."

Let's take a deep breath and ponder this...

Carl Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." While Dr. Sagan's maxim referred to the scientific claims, it is certainly applicable in this case

Initially, let us consider D'Souza claim: Muslims hate America not due to the dark side of American foreign policy -- i.e., the toppling of governments, American troops on Muslim soil, tens of thousands of dead -- but, rather, due to the dark side of American pop culture -- i.e., "movies, television and music."

Although D'Souza names Jerry Springer and Howard Stern as paragons of loathsome Us popular culture, I do not recall ever -- EVER -- seeing effigies of Springer or Stern burned in the streets of a Muslim capitol. By contrast, I've seen Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice represented in such displays. Perhaps the Muslim world has mistaken the Bush administration for shock jocks or Viacom executives, but I doubt it.

I propose that D'Souza's claim -- that Muslims hate us due to American Idol not American foreign policy -- is extraordinary.

And what does D'Souza provide as extraordinary evidence?

A quote from an "Iranian from Neishapour."

Well, that must be one hell of a quote!

Here it is:
People say "we want freedom." You know what these foreign-inspired people want? They want the freedom to gamble and drink and bring vice to our Muslim land. This is the kind of freedom they want.
Will you pardon me, dear reader, if I once again indulge my pedantic nature with a little exegesis?

Many thanks.

D'Souza's Iranian tells us, "People say 'we want freedom.'" So, my friend, we must ask some questions -- Which people say this?" Who is the "we" calling for freedom?

Our answer is revealed in the next sentence: "foreign-inspired people."

So we have "foreign-inspired people" who want "freedom" What kind of freedom? "[T]he freedom to gamble and drink and bring vice to our Muslim land."

Where is American popular culture -- much less the "cultural left" -- in this?

At most, the anonymous Iranian is claiming that US culture may have inspired some Iranians to seek the right to chose their own personal morality for themselves. And even then, he does not claim that such post-enlightenment thinking is the basis for any hatred for the US.

To my mind, this does not even approach the extraordinary proof that D'Souza's extraordinary claim demands.

But, for the sake of argument, let us consider the possibility that D'Souza's baseless claim is, somehow, correct. Let's assume that the choices offered to Muslims via US pop culture -- post-enlightenment choices regarding personal morality -- are the reason that al-Qaeda attacked American on 9/11.

What, then, is D'Souza's response to this?

Nothing less than unconditional surrender. The surrender of Americans' personal freedoms to Islam's most traditional, i.e. conservative, elements:
[W]hat should America do about this? First, we should show Muslims and traditional people around the world the face of America that they don't see. The Bush administration should do more to highlight the presence and values of conservative and religious America. *** By proclaiming our allegiance to the traditional values of Judeo-Christian society, we can reduce the currents of anti-Americanism among the Muslims, and thus undercut the appeal of radical Islam to traditional Muslims around the world.
That's right.

Dinesh D'Souza would have us adopt the traditional social values of Iran's mullahs and the Taliban so that there will be no need for violent, radical jihadists feel threatened by our American freedom.

Of course there are those reading this who will wonder if I have merely cherry picked D'Souza's work to make him look crazed. I don't think so.

In fact, I would suggest that the Sun-Times excerpt D'Souza appear far more reasonable than his book.

D'Souza on al-Qaeda founder, Osama bin Laden
: "[A] quiet, well-mannered, thoughtful, eloquent and deeply religious person."

D'Souza on Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran: "[H]ighly regarded for his modest demeanor, frugal lifestyle and soft-spoken manner."

D'Souza on Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim that Holocaust denial is off-limits in the West: "undoubtedly accurate."

D'Souza on the conflict between Iran and Israel: The US "should openly ally [with] governments that reflect Mulsim interests, not *** Israeli interests."

The Sun-Time's section labeled "Controversy" may have reprinted the least controversial portion of D'Souza's loathsome book.

Oh, the irony.


Anonymous said...

President Ahmadinejad's real views are summarized on this website:

Greg said...

You read it so we don't have to.

I only buy the Sun-Times now on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for the NY Times crossword puzzle. What a waste of trees...


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