This is how nothing gets done

OK…finally, I’m going to write; I don’t even know what’s been so important for the past week that I couldn’t find time to write, or even to start to write.  But today is different: as soon as I let the dogs out I’ll be nailed to the keyboard—about time I wrote about this amazing revolution in Egypt and linked to those articles backgrounding the Muslim Brotherhood before Mubarak flees and a new government is already in power.

That was weird: a broken fence slat.  Looks like something on the other side of the fence, where they’re building the new road, slammed into the middle of that fence slat and broke it in two; hell, the big piece was knocked out into the garden.  I’ll just get a hammer from the garage and nail it back in, and then hit the blog—maybe something about the deafening cognitive dissonance of all the talk about “high taxes” while today’s news reports that our tax burden is lower than it’s been since 1950!

You’d think a grown man would be smart enough to, first, change out of his dress shoes before stepping into the garden, and second, be careful enough to avoid the dog poop obstacle course between the back door and the back fence.  After I clean off my shoes and walk around to check out the other side of the fence, I’m back at the blog—gotta check on the reaction to the story that new government spending under Obama has been less than the tax cuts under Obama!

Wow; I learned more about the neighbors in the last 20 minutes than I have in the whole nine years we’ve lived here.  Dude just kept talking, changing from one subject to another, with no apparent destination in mind.  I like the guy, but it was too cold for just standing there for a chat.  Now, just let me get this mess on the desk cleared off and I’ll get to work…I should riff on David Frum’s post about how the crazy talk on the talk shows is getting even crazier as the ratings start to slide.

I had a nagging feeling I’d forgotten something: well, now’s a good time to get that stack of papers off of the kitchen counter.  Some think getting a  new job is a pain in the neck, but I have a much lower opinion of it.  Forms for new health insurance, and receipts, and registration info for the new 401(k).  At least I can do that quickly on line, and then start writing…what’d I do with that article about the brain being wired to resist new science?  That can mesh with the story about the people who insisted on believing—despite the absence of any evidence—that a terrorist attack was being plotted in a Port Arthur Ramada Inn conference room…15 years ago!

OK then, I’m going to start with—was that the dryer?

“We are better than this; we must do better”

I knew it:  I knew right away that whether or not there was any evidence that the person who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was motivated by the loudmouths on radio and TV, that some of those loudmouths would be blaming the others for inciting political violence.  And I was right…I also predicted the sun would rise in the east this morning.

405992-giffordsMore than two days after the fact and there is no evidence (of which I’m aware) that the man who shot Giffords and 19 [1/12, authorities have revised the figure to] 18 others was persuaded to lethal levels of violence by radio and TV stars; short of his declaration that “so-and-so said it was the right thing to do,” I don’t see that there ever will be.  So let’s leave that alone.

Starting with Sheriff Clarence Dupnik at Saturday’s news conference, there has been a lot of ink spilled calling for restraint, for throttling back the vitriol that fuels so much of the political discussion in our halls of government and our radio and television studios.  It is worth considering to what extent the personal viciousness—and the attendant self-satisfied smugness—of the professional politicians and the paid-to-be-controversial “opinion hosts” has created an environment where consideration of physical violence becomes less theoretical.

I’ve written about the tone of modern political discussion, which is clearly not intended to appeal to the intellect but to rouse the emotions and appeal to paranoia.  And I’m troubled by how successful those messengers and their messages are.

Sure, I’d like to see more restraint and less accusation in political speech, but I know that real world politics isn’t an academic debate.  And I agree with Jack Shafer’s insistence that there be no government-imposed restriction on political speech—the First Amendment makes clear that is not allowed.  (Check my We the People page for a collection of quotations on free expression.)

But I wish there was more self-control when it comes to speech intended to demonize political opponents: to say not just that someone’s position or opinion is wrong, but that those people are evil, or hostile to American ideals and virtues, because of what they believe.  Disagree with me?  Fine; argue my conclusion, dispute my facts, prove me wrong, ridicule my reasoning, do so with vigor; but to respond that my disagreement with your point of view is evidence of imbecility or treason is not a rebuttal.  It’s a sign of the weakness of your position; it’s a sign that you have nothing to say.

One of the more touching observances of a moment of silence for the victims of the shootings in Tucson came this morning from Giffords’ brother-in-law: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, the current commander of the International Space Station.  (Full disclosure—I work at NASA Johnson Space Center and am acquainted with both Scott Kelly and his brother Mark Kelly, Giffords’ husband.)  The good stuff starts 1:27 into the clip–

We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station.  As I look out the window I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful; unfortunately, it is not.  These days we are constantly reminded of the unspeakable acts of violence and damage we can inflict upon one another, not just with our actions but also with our irresponsible words.  We are better than this; we must do better.  The crew of ISS Expedition 26 and the flight control centers around the world would like to observe a moment of silence in honor of all the victims, which include my sister-in-law Gabrielle Giffords, a caring and dedicated public servant.  Please join me and the rest of the Expedition 26 crew in a moment of silence.