The life and death importance of calling things by their proper names

1947 Currer and Ives print of Adam naming the animalsMost people, when they think of Genesis, remember that God created everything, told Adam and Eve to leave the tree of knowledge and, when they didn’t, kicked them out of Eden.  What few remember is Genesis’s insistent focus on the importance of naming things.  In the first chapter, God no sooner creates something, than he gives it its rightful name (emphasis mine):

  1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
  2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
  3. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
  4. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
  5. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
  6. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
  7. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
  8. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
  9. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
  10. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

And so it goes, with God systematically creating the world and naming it as he went.

In the second chapter of Genesis, God designates to Adam the primary task of assigning the proper name to each of God’s creations (emphasis mine):

  1. And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
  2. And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
  3. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
  4. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
  5. And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
  6. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

What Genesis establishes is that identifying things is essential to understanding their function.  Only when Adam had named the animals, properly classifying them as any modern-day scientist would, did he and God determine that Adam had no mate.  And once God created that mate for Adam, Adam again had to give her species a name, one that he chose in relationship to his own species:  “she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Leftists are fully alive to the importance of naming things.  For example, when Obama came into office, “terrorism” was out; “man-caused disaster” was in.  Man-caused or not, “disaster” has such a such a pleasantly accidental connotation.  You have your earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes on the one hand, and on the other hand you have your men who cause disasters.  That these men happen to be devotees of a cult committed to spreading violence and death wherever it goes is as incidental as the precise wind speed during a hurricane or the decimal valuations on the Richter scale separating one big quake from another.

And yes, Bush created the abstract “War on Terror” designation rather than the more accurate War on Radical Islamists, but at least he was acknowledging that those pesky man-causers were actually trying to instill terror.  It was the Obama administration that found even that definition too raw and real.

Obama on Wheel of fortune

ISIS’s rise has given Obama plenty of opportunities to try to define away problems.  Having unsuccessfully described the nascent ISIS army as a “JV team,” Obama decided to define ISIS right out of Islam.  ISIS he opined, is un-Islamic, because a good God wouldn’t countenance its appalling violence.

Well, maybe a good God wouldn’t countenance appalling violence, but it’s a historical reality that a certain prophet would.  Mohamed was very clear when it came to demanding that each good Muslim wage war to spread Islam, behead non-believers, and enslave those who were not beheaded (with sex-slavery being the chosen outcome for surviving women).

Intriguingly, the Qur’an, which is normally a very straightforward book when it comes to describing a binary world of peace under Islam and war as a precursor to Islam, also does a little fudging with labels itself.  For years I’ve seen Muslim-apologists claim that the Qur’an, at 5:32, explicitly disavows violence.  For example, this poster crops up periodically:

Mohammad on killing innocent human beings

It doesn’t seem to occur to any of the apologists that other chapters and verses in the Qur’an, with their litany of punitive acts that must be committed against Mohamed’s many enemies, make it plain that non-believers, especially Jews, are not innocents.  Likewise, apostate Muslims aren’t innocents.  And of course, Christians and Hindus aren’t innocents.  Oh, and devout Muslims who practice the “correct” form of Islam, but somehow run afoul of Mohamed’s dictates, even if they do so unintentionally or through ignorance, are also not innocents.

Indeed, once one gets down to it, it’s clear that the only “innocents” among us are those who practice the “correct” version of Islam, and who do so without ever committing an error — and really, there’s just no reason to kill them in the first place according to the Qur’an.  Let’s just say that, if I were the lawyer advising Mohamed regarding all the many acts of violence, rapine, and murder that he demands of his followers, I would recommend that he insert just such a meaningless paragraph as an “out” should he ever be called upon to defend this blood-thirstiness.

But getting back to things here in America….

Jonah Goldberg is so disturbed by the “naming” problem that’s infected the early 21st century that he’s penning an entire book on the degradation of names for very important things under Obama’s watch.  Taking a page out of Confucius, Goldberg is working on the “rectification of names.”  According to him, “society goes ass-over-teakettle (to borrow a phrase from the academic literature) when names no longer describe the things they are assigned to.”  Exactly.

And now I’ll explain to you what got me all heated up about this “naming” thing.  It may surprise what did not excite my ire today.  Today, I’m not upset that our political class, from the White House down to the police department in Oklahoma City, refuses to admit that, even if a killer is acting alone, when that killer shouts “Allahu Akbar” or beheads people or openly dedicates his life to jihad, while his violence may occur in the workplace, we are not seeing “workplace violence.”  We are, instead, seeing a pernicious type of Islamic violence that needs to be named, shamed, and destroyed.

Nope, what worked me up was something entirely different.  Yesterday I spoke with a physician who was saying that his health care group is running into very specific problems when treating people who have had sex change operations.  It all goes back to the computer systems that Obamacare insists all doctors and hospitals have.

At least for this doctor’s health care group, when it comes to assigning a person’s sex in the health center’s computer system, the health center’s policy, after a sex change operation (whether or not the health center performed that operation), is to assign to the person that person’s “preferred” sex.  What this means is that, if Jane Smith comes to the hospital, has her breasts sliced off, has excess flesh shaped into a simulacrum of a penis and testicle sac, and begins taking hormones to coarsen skin, create facial hair, and develop male-pattern baldness, the fact that Jane now identifies herself as John Smith means that the health center must change her sex in the computer system from “female” to “male.”

The problem is that, for all the superficial changes Jane went through to become John, the biological reality is that she’s still Jane — she has a uterus and ovaries (unless she joined a hysterectomy with the rest of her surgery).  That biological reality explains how you can end up with flesh-and-blood oxymorons such as a “pregnant man”:

Pregnant man

At the hospital level, the political correctness of letting patients identify with their cosmetic sex, as opposed to their birth sex, means that they don’t get treated for diseases unique to the sex embedded in their DNA (XX or XY).  This problem is different from things such as the male-to-female transgender who, once he takes female hormones, becomes prone to breast cancer. Instead, this problem lies with core matters of self-identification versus real identification — people aren’t getting the health care their DNA demands.

Our hypothetical “John Smith,” for example, isn’t going to get annual notices that “he” needs to get a pap smear. If John doesn’t go to an OB/GYN, because John is a “man,” John’s at higher risk of uterine and ovarian cancer — both of which are treatable if caught early, and both of which are expensive and, sadly, fatal if caught late.  Likewise, if John has a friend who once was Paul, but is now Paulina, when Paulina goes to the doctor, there’s a good chance “she” won’t be getting her prostate checked nor will she be getting appropriate checks for heart disease. Both John and Pauline are at greater risk of entirely preventable problems because they have demanded that the hospital ignore what’s going on beneath their cosmetically- and hormonally-altered appearance.

Here’s where I stand on the matter should I ever meet John Smith:  In all social settings, I will be completely willing to acknowledge his chosen identification as a male. That will probably be true too in most work situations. But I will not ever allow myself to believe that he’s actually male. He is pretending. If it makes him happy, I’m good with it. But I won’t delude myself that it means that I should enlist him in the military and pretend that he is, in all respects, a male. Likewise, when I meet Paulina, I’ll call her “Ms” if she likes, but I won’t allow her to get into a Mixed Martial Artist cage with me in the women’s class.

Moreover, at home, I’m not going to tell my children that a transgender person has magically been transformed into the sex of his or her choice. What I will do, though, is tell them that, whenever possiblethey should accord that person respect, they should never bully that person or discriminate against that person, and they should use the pronouns and honorifics that the person prefers to have applied to himself or herself. And that’s it. Naming things matters and, until we acknowledge what something really is, rather than what we want it to be, we will be, as Goldberg says, a society that is “ass-over-teakettle.”

All gender bathroom

What’s in a name — or yet another reason Sandra Fluke bothers me

A fluke is a one time thing, a bizarre coming together of circumstances that cannot be relied upon to occur on a regular basis.  We’ll hope that Sandra Fluke falls into this category, because she’s been a headache.  (Although, I suspect, for many outside of New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, her arguments, and the defenses the MSM offers on her behalf, have been enlightening to say the least.)

I realized this morning that Fluke’s name is even more apt than being a reminder that she represents a peculiar moment in history.  This gal is advancing a form of parasitism — she wants to live off of insurance companies.  She doesn’t just want insurance for the actual flukes in her life — the unexpected moments that are impossible to plan — but, instead, wants permanent lifestyle maintenance from a third party.

Sandra Fluke, may I introduce you to the Liver Fluke, another parasite?

Are these names a coincidence?  I think not.

By the way, you might have noticed that I don’t often link to Mark Steyn anymore.  It’s not because he is less brilliant than he used to be.  He’s just as brilliant as ever.  It’s just that his articles really depress me.  Today, however, his article was so brilliant on the flukiness of American politics that I got past my depression, and really have to share it with you:

As I said, I’m on the other side of the planet, so maybe I’m not getting this. But I’d say the core issue here is not religious liberty — which in these Godless times the careless swing voter now understands as a code phrase meaning that uptight Republicans who can’t get any action want to stop you getting any, too.

Nor is the core issue liberty in its more basic sense — although it would certainly surprise America’s founders that their republic of limited government is now the first nation in the developed world to compel private employers to fully fund the sex lives of their employees.

Nor is it even the distinctively American wrinkle the Republic of Paperwork has given to governmentalized health care, under which the “right to privacy” the Supreme Court claimed to have discovered in Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade will now lead to thousands and thousands of self-insuring employers keeping computer records of the morning-after pills and herpes medication racked up by Miss Jones on reception.

Read the rest here.

Oily memes repeat, repeat, repeat!

One lesson of advertising is that, no matter whether true or false, to make a message stick, one must repeat, repeat, repeat. This is how false messages become enshrined into the ideological orthodoxy of the Left and ripple out to the collective consciousness of the masses.

Now, there are many ways to deliberately distort a message. One commonly used tactic is to deliberate omit information that provides necessary context. Thus, the message may be true as it stands, but it misleads by what it does not say.

Here is an article that simultaneously illustrates how the Left establishes talking points for wide dissemination based on distorted information, while demolishing one particular such talking point that was found to reverberate repeatedly on this blog: the claim that the United States uses 25% of all world oil production but contains only 2% of the world’s oil reserves.

Yes, the U.S. has only 2% of the world’s “proven reserves”. However, as defined, “proven reserves” represents only a very small fraction to total reserves. When total reserves are factored in, U.S. petroleum holdings are likely to rival Saudi Arabia’s. Read it all – it really is very clearly presented

http://spectator.org/archives/2011/05/27/energy-myths-of-the-left

The article then goes on to demolish the argument that the U.S. uses a disproportionate amount of the world’s oil production.

Observe, however: the usual response of the Left when confronted with information that proves anathema to developed orthodoxy is to personally attack the source (shades of Galileo!) rather than distort the information (a classic Alinsky tactic). Orthodoxy  must be protected at all costs!

And, rightly so. For once these tactics are exposed for what they are, the credibility of the Left is forever put into question and people go elsewhere for their information.

Whenever any information emanates from the Left, it should be viewed with great caution. Left-wing memes are like highly damaging computer viruses: easy to create and very laborious to detect and remove. Caveat emptor.

Department of bad writing

I am not writing this to pick on Mrs. Edwards, who is suffering from a recurrence of her breast cancer. As to that, she has only my best wishes that her cancer is, in fact, curable or, if not, that its progress is slow and mild. I cannot resist, however, making you all privy to this remarkably awkward bit of writing in the BBC report about Mrs. Edwards’ cancer:

Mr Edwards said the disease was incurable, but treatable, and that Mrs Edwards would live with the disease for as long as she was alive. (Emphasis mine.)

I can only assume, after reading that above, that once Mrs. Edwards dies (and I hope that event occurs many decades from now), she will cease living with the disease.

If you’re like me, you think it’s rather remarkable that the person who wrote that silly sentence is actually paid by the British taxpayers to write for the BBC news.

UPDATE:  By the way, I’m assuming that the above semantic silliness is from the BBC writer, and not Edwards himself.  I also assume it’s an awkward way of saying that, because the cancer is treatable, it will not significantly shorten her life, but will simply become a chronic problem.  To the extent the news report said the cancer is in her bone, however, that prognosis, sadly, sounds like a very optimistic one.  Of the many people I’ve known with cancer, none have long survived its infiltration into their bones.  As I said before, I sincerely hope for the best for Mrs. Edwards who, despite lots of material wealth, has taken some of life’s hardest hits.  And, while I dislike Edwards the politician, I feel nothing but compassion for Edwards the man.

The triumph of the mundane

The more I learn about Obama, the less — much less — that I like him. Over at Cheat-Seeking Missiles, Laer brings up the fact that Obama’s moderate posturing for his presidential candidacy is just that: posturing. In fact, he’s about as liberal as liberal can be, which is fine if you like that kind of stuff, but not fine if you’re trying to gull the American public into believing you’re just Mr. Middle-of-the-Road.

The other thing that really irks me about the guy, aside from his duplicity, is the fawning over his stellar rhetoric. It shows how cheapened that commodity is in this day and age that Obama is held up as an example of quality speech making. Fortunately, I’m not the only one who sees the emperor parading down the street with people singing hosannas to his invisible speech making skills. Patrick, my favorite Paragraph Farmer, is wise to Obama too, and has written a wonderful, and extremely funny, article exposing Obama’s verbal nakedness.

After reading Patrick’s article, which will leave you both laughing and feeling depressed about the level of political debate in this country, you may want to visit this website for a good dose of quality political speeches.

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A cultural divide

When I hear of a long-term relationship, I think in terms of decades — multiples of them. So when I read the headline that “Uma Thurman and long-time beau split up,” I assumed that we were talking about one of those bizarre Hollywood relationships whose years can actually be counted in the double digits. Silly me. Turns out that Thurman and beau were together for three years, and even during that time, they kept drifting in and out of the relationship. I’m not even really into middle-age yet and I’m already an out-of-it old coot (coot-ess, ’cause I’m a girl?).

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Analyzing liberal speak

I’m one of those people who never, never has a good comeback in conversation. Hurl an insult or a fallacy at me and I’m the one with my mouth agape. (Typically, the French have a phrase for it: “Esprit de l’escalier.”) I can tell that something is wrong with what I just heard, but I simply need more time to process the flaws before I can respond. This is why I’m a much better legal writer than I am a courtroom attorney. In the courtroom, I just flap my mouth like a fish, whereas in the world of paper, I can carefully break down my opponent’s argument, analyze its failures, and rebut it at my leisure. This characteristic also explains why I like to confine my political arguments to the blog world — a written world — and avoid face-to-face confrontations with people.

Fortunately, there is help out there for people like me. Richard Mgrdechian, frustrated by liberal rhetorical tactics, decided to analyze them and break them down into their component parts. The result of these efforts is his book How The Left Was Won : An In-Depth Analysis of the Tools and Methodologies Used by Liberals to Undermine Society and Disrupt the Social Order. This book is not a political tract that analyzes Democratic/Lefist/Liberal politics and policies. Instead, it is what it promises to be — a book analyzing the rhetorical patterns that emanate from the Left to advance Leftist positions.

Mgrdechian, after reading my blog, thought that I might be someone who would appreciate his book, and was kind enough to send me a copy. As I explained to him later, I was terribly worried that I would read it and hate it. Since I had gotten a free copy, I would be tremendously bothered by the conflict between my obligations to him — to be polite and grateful — and my obligations to my blog — to be honest and reliable. Fortunately, there is no conflict. I read his book in one day, and thought it was just great. I can write about it with a clear conscience, which I’m happy to do, because it comes out of a small publisher and has almost no advertising. So, here’s the review for those of you plagued by chronic esprit de l’escalier.
Mgrdechian has straight-forward writing that’s easy to read and follow. You’re not going to get lost in a morass of scholarly terminology. Instead, in 15 chapters, he examines common rhetorical tools one sees coming from the liberal side of the political spectrum. (And I think that, whether you agree with the agenda or not, you’re going to have to acknowledge that Mgrdechian is correct in identifying the various tactics for imposing that agenda.) The multi-chapter book includes the following concepts:

Promote and Exploit Divisiveness — This chapter focuses on the habit, which the Democrats are working on hard lately, to make everyone feel like a victim. The Balkanization of our society into special interest groups isn’t only an on-the-ground fact but, as Mgredechian points out, a useful rhetorical devise to make constituent members of society angry and hostile. This rhetorical tactic doesn’t provide solutions or hope, but it does advance an anger agenda.

Bad Competition — This short chapter was one of my favorites, since it examines what I call the “race to the bottom.” Mgredechian opens by defining his terms, with good competition having people optimize their product to compete in the marketplace, and bad competition which focuses on impairing others, rather than improving oneself. This latter concept underlies so much government interference that’s predicated on impairing, rather than rewarding, success. I was aware of the phenomenon, but never actually stopped to realize that it’s a formalized tool in the liberal arsenal.

Relevancy and Proportion — Because I come by my analytical skills the hard way — they’re not innate, they’re the product of mental sweat — I loved the chapter on relevancy and proportion. Mgrdechian explains that,

[I]n any meaningful discussion or analysis, there are only two things that actually matter — relevancy and proportion. Relevancy is the concept of applicability — to what extent does a particular point or statement matter to the issue being discussed? Proportion, on the other hand, is how much an issue matters in comparison to the others that need to be considered. [p. 35.]

This is huge, because I tend to follow red-herrings like crazy. Unlike DQ, who is innately talented at spotting core issues in any argument, and ignoring irrelevancies, they’re all the same to me. In a carefully reasoned chapter, however, Mgrdechian gives examples of common arguments and then explains how to separate wheat from chaff. For example:

In the 2004 Presidential election, much was made of the military service records of both Bush and Kerry. But how much did they really matter? At the time of the election, Bush had been President (and therefore Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces) for nearly four years. He had never made a big deal about his National Guard service, and never used it to sell himself to the American people in terms of why he should be President. Since it was not an issue for him, its relevancy in the campaign was pretty close to zero.

On the other hand, most of John Kerry’s campaign — and indeed his entire persona — were built on his military record and all the medals he was somehow awarded in just six months of service. That being the case, the relevancy of his military records was pretty close to being a ten. However, despite this, liberals smeared Bush’s record every chance they could, while simultaneously attacking every effort to look into the details of Kerry’s record. They made every effort to focus on sabotaging something with a relevancy (and importance) of zero, and every effort to avoid any understanding of the details of something with a relevancy (and importance) of ten. [pp. 38-39.]

Anyway, I’m going to be away tomorrow and won’t blog, so I’ll be posting a few excerpts from the book so you can get a better feel for what it’s all about.

UPDATE: If this post has you thinking about rhetoric, check out Catherine Seipp’s funny, on point, article about hypocrisy, an article that opens with her describing some of the usual attack tactics emanating from the Left. (And yes, I know the Right does it too, but that’s no what I’m talking about. Also, as a long time Leftie and a fairly new Rightie, I can tell you from personal experience that, whether or not you agree with the underlying position, the Right uses more fact and logic to argue its points.)
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Religious war

My posting was light yesterday, in part because I had a lot of work and childcare obligations, and in part because I’d sort of run myself out of energy working on a contribution to the American Thinker‘s series of articles about religious wars. For the American Thinker, I ended up with this idea [hyperlinks omitted]:

Five days after 9/11, George Bush stated

“This crusade, this war on terrorism is gonna take awhile. And the American people must be patient. I’m gonna be patient.”

America has been running from that speech ever since.

It doesn’t matter that George Bush used the word “crusade,” not in a religious sense, but in a more literary, erudite sense, to mean “a vigorous concerted movement for a cause or against an abuse.” Because the President is known to be a religious man, his detractors and our enemies abroad have latched onto that single word to characterize all of America’s subsequent actions in the Middle East as a Christian crusade. (See, for example, this The Nation article, in which the author crows about President Bush’s ineptitude in allying himself with the medieval Crusaders, something that had “Bush already reading from [Osama Bin Laden’s] script.”)

These attacks against Bush’s (in retrospect) poor choice of words mean that America has vigorously and repeatedly denied that this war has anything to do with religion. Thus, while our opponents “coincidentally” belong to the same faith – Islam – we’re told repeatedly that Islam is a “religion of peace” (all present, historical and doctrinal evidence to the contrary). The obvious implication is that, to the extent that Islam is peaceful, religion can have nothing to do with events around us.

This blind obeisance to maintaining parity – because we’re not engaged in a religious war, they’re not engaged in a religious war – is both nonsensical and harmful. It’s nonsensical, of course, because it’s so obvious that our opponents – whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Canada, England, or wherever – make no secret about the impetus behind their animus towards us. While the Marxists may be spouting off about economic imperialism, those who array themselves against us talk generally about seeing Sharia enforced through the world. At a more specific level, they demand a Muslim takeover of America, the imposition of Sharia in Britain, and urge a holocaust to wipe out the Jewish nation (a nation Islam has long held to be an intractable enemy that must be destroyed). Under these circumstances, our denial that there is a religious component to the instant World War merely makes us look foolish.

If you think this is an interesting premise, you can read the rest here.

Giving words meaning

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’

Through the Looking Glass.

I was reminded of Humpty Dumpty’s immortal words when I read Prof. James R. Russell’s lengthy celebration of David Horowitz’s book, The Professors. That book is about the rabid Leftism that characterizes so many American professors. It turns out that Prof. Russell has experienced much of that insanity firsthand. Near the end of a lengthy article about the professorial insanity that would offend anyone normal person, whether that person claims the title “liberal” or “conservative,” Russell talks about what words mean in the context of the professors’ bizarre, anti-Democratic conduct:

A problem we face is that of terminology. Words like “liberal” and “Left” actually mean today the opposite of what they once did; while “conservatives” on American campuses are a dissenting, often disenfranchised minority who believe in freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, fair hiring practices, and so on. They tend to oppose the murder of Jews, the practice of slavery, female circumcision, and, of course, destroying office buildings full of working people with airplanes full of more working people. (Among the “little Eichmanns” working at the WTC when “the chickens came home to roost” were men and women from my old neighborhood, Washington Heights: Dominican immigrants who worked as janitors, as cooks at Windows on the World.) Let’s start by calling things by their right names: Horowitz’s 101 professors are bigots, racists, apologists for murder, fascists, traitors to this country.

Unsurprisingly, Prof. Russell’s thoughts about labeling tie in neatly with my earlier post about the Berkeley prof. who concluded that bad children grow up to be evil conservatives, while good children grow up to be good liberals. Even if one concedes the developmental trajectory, no one should allow professors to control the labels.

UPDATE:  For a wonderful post about words and their meanings, this time regarding the maybe yes/maybe no “civil war” in Iraq, be sure to check out this post at Callimachus’s Done With Mirrors.
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