Friday, November 15, 2002

Bad News:This should make Tom Paulin happy.

See why I don't like the guy?
Why I don't like "Art": I'm about to reveal myself as a philistine and an idiot: I don't like Art. I don't mind art--there's some good stuff out there--but Art drives me nuts. My biggest problem is with Protest Art, or any Political Art at all.

The difficulty is that great art tends to be evocative, suggestive, and multi-layered, evincing subtlty, imagination, and, if political or protest-oriented, a deep understanding of the issues. It is therefore difficult to produce and exceedingly rare. It is also difficult to fully appreciate and may require extensive study. Meanwhile, Great Art tends to be crude and fashion-driven, self-important and full of cliches, with none of the timeless power of great art. In particular, Great Artists are fond of creating bizzare but ultimately meaningless juxatopsitions, such as dunking a crucifix in a vat of urine for no apparent reason. The creators and patrons of Great Art smugly insist that because it is nonsensical and difficult to understand, it shares the depth and strength of great art which is similarly challenging.

Does that make sense? Let me put it another way: great art speaks to viewers. They may not understand all of the quiet allegory in its images, or agree with the artist's viewpoint, but they can probably understand what it means. In any case, an artist can probably explain his work, and his work will benefit from the explanation. Knowing Genesis enhances appreciation of the Sistine Chapel. Writing (gene)sis to advertise an exhibition of "artists considering biology and religion" makes me roll my eyes and doubt that these artists have anything remotely interesting to say about either. The purveyors of Great Art often refuse to explain their work, if indeed it even admits explanation, and insist that clarification will lessen, not increase, the power of the Great Artist's creation.

And, of course, the problem with Political Art is that it is amazingly difficult to reduce a complicated issue to a painting without obscuring the question entirely. That's why I generally don't much care for political cartoons--I don't find straw-man arguments amusing (come to think of it, that's why I don't enjoy Paul Krugman, either).

So we come to this painting:

In the words of the amazing James Lileks:
But the work is thematically incoherent. It means what, exactly? Asians should wear bomb-belts to kill Jews? Jackie Chan is morally obligated to pull the cord the next time he’s the room with Woody Allen? Interpretation #2: Asians in America, like the Palestinians, are an oppressed class; by using the symbols of revolution, the artist is Making a Statement about Solidarity with the Powerless. It’s an allegorical expression of oppression...

Lileks, as always, is worth reading in full. Here he expresses the problem with Great Art: rather than being filled with challenging imagery in the service of a point, this work lacks a point altogether. It makes no sense. And the volupuaries of Great Art take the confusion that such thematic incoherence generates as evidence of the profundity of this sort of junk: See? The knuckle-dragging philistine conservatives like Rob Lyman just don't get it, but we, the Correct-Thinking Sophisticates, know that this work has a power which is beyond words to express. We can't explain what the point is because the point is so profound that English is insufficient--if only you spoke the obscure dialect of the artist's family's home village--they have just the right expression, by virtue of being poor third-worlders untainted by capitalistic exploitation, which the artist is uniquely able to channel, despite not speaking the dialect, because of his racial heritage. You white men just don't get it.

No, I don't, at least not when you explain it like that. And I think you're all a bunch of posers.
More on Tom Paulin: Erin O'Connor, who is obviously WAY more on top of the Tom Paulin controversy than I am, sends me this link explaining exactly what it is that Paulin was invited to discuss.
Tom Paulin, a Northern Irish poet and lecturer at Hertford College, Oxford, was to deliver the annual Morris Gray Lecture tomorrow evening.

He had planned to read from and speak about his new book, “The Invasion Handbook,” the first installment of an epic poem about World War II.

World War II, especially from a European perspective, will necessarily include a discussion of Jewish persecution. It might well be interesting--and make for good post-lecture debate--to hear what Paulin has to say about the subject. But I'm assuming he isn't a Holocaust denier and doesn't think that Polish-born Jews in Germany deserve to be "gassed to death." It isn't crazy to wonder where he stands on Zyklon B, given his well-publicized views on AK-47s and their appropriate use, nor is it crazy to demand that persons honored by the university with named lectures not be apologists for murder and terrorism.

And there's the problem. I just can't get past the claim that we should approve of the terrorist murder of certain people. Kill Israeli soldiers all you want; that may be wrong, but it isn't evil in the same way as killing little children is. Side with the Palistinian cause, sure--but don't publically call for the outright murder of innocents. Paulin's eagerness to endorse the shooting of Brooklyn-born Jews is impossible for me to ignore or dismiss. This isn't some PC hang-up; shameless invocations of hatred and calls for killing have no place in civilized discourse. People who advocate terrorism deserve to be marginalized. We certainly wouldn't want a poet who called for the murder of blacks in Harlem to deliver the Morris Gray lecture; I don't see the difference. Until someone explains it (or, perhaps, Paulin apologizes and retracts his comments), I'll continue to think that Harvard did the right thing.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

"Suppression of Dissent": Erin O'Connor's excellent academic blog Critical Mass is the blogchild of Cant Watch, and has recently replaced the older, disused URL on the blogroll and on my daily reading list.

Erin's response (here and here and here) to Harvard's cancellation of a workshop by "poet" Tom Paulin, however, is a classic case of misconstruing the concept of "rights." Paulin has the legal right to think and say whatever he wants; O'Connor is correct to point out that "hate speech" is not, as some suggest, any different from free speech. The Constitution protects bigots just like everyone else.

The Constitution does not, however, require us to lavish honors on bigots, or pay honoraria to them. One of the duties of academic institutions is to stand for scholarship and free inquiry, and against ignorant hyperbole. Responsible institutions will avoid wasting their students' time and money on people who bring hate instead of thought to the debate. There is a substantial difference between retracting an invitation and punishing frat boys for a dumb joke.

It is undeniably true that many universities have abused this concept. Some administrations refuse to sponsor politically conservative speakers under the guise of combating "hate." This behavior has let one of O'Connor's readers into a dandy bit of moral equivalence. Referring to conservatives' approval of Harvards disinvitation, this reader writes, "They are stripping themselves of any reasonable grounds for complaint the next time David Horowitz gets the same treatment, and they are sure to be called to the mat for it at some point."

That, if you'll pardon my French, is complete bullshit. It's rather like saying that sentencing a convicted murderer to death strips Americans of any reasonable grounds for compaint next time Yasser Arafat orders one of his political opponents shot. David Horowitz is a controversial but legitimate conservative critic of, among other things, slavery reparations and affirmative action. As for Tom Paulin, I'll let him speak for himself:
"I can understand how suicide bombers feel," he answers. "It is an expression of deep injustice and tragedy. I think -- though -- that it is better to resort to conventional guerrilla warfare. I think attacks on civilians in fact boost morale. Hitler bombed London into submission but in fact it created a sense of national solidarity."

If there is one thing Paulin clearly abhors about Israel, it is the Brooklyn--born Jewish settlers.

"They should be shot dead," he says forcefully. "I think they are Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them."

I think I'll let his "poetry" speak for itself, too:
We are fed this inert
This lying phrase
Like comfort food
As another little Palestinian boy
In trainers jeans and a white teeshirt
Is gunned down by the Zionist SS
Whose initials we should
-- but we don't -- dumb goys
Clock in that weasel word

On of the crucial duties of academia is to be critical--to tell the difference between useful argument and bigoted crap. Paulin's arguments are the latter without question. I know full well that far too many academics don't have the first clue how to be dispasionately critical (as opposed to politically activist) but that doesn't mean we should abandon civilized standards of debate just because some people are too dumb to understand them. Tom Paulin has indeed crossed a line, and it isn't a hard one to avoid crossing. He has acknowledged his hatred of a particular group and expressed a desire that they be murdered. I am unaware of any similar comments by David Horowitz.

No one is suggesting that Tom Paulin be arrested. No one is suggesting that those who circulate divestment petitions aimed at Israel be subject to disciplinary action. No one is attempting to shut down criticism of Israel or "the Jews" by students, faculty, or the public at large. On the contrary--the university decided that there were better ways to spend its funds than to pay the airfare of a terrorist-supporting jerk who has nothing meaningful to say. That is a perfectly legitimate--and, indeed, the most responsible--course of action.

Just because universities sometimes abuse their discretion (see: David Horowitz) doesn't mean that every discretionary decision is an abuse. And, although we must tolerate even the most offensive and bigoted speech as the price of freedom, we have no obligation to subsidize it. Punish frat boys--no. Disinvite bigot--yes. (Tolerate bigotry from tenured faculty--yes. Hire more bigots--no.)

I'll close with two questions: Is the issue here the retraction of an invitation, or is it equally morally wrong to fail to invite someone in the first place even if that failure is driven by the offensiveness of the speaker's expression?

Suppose that Paulin hated women with PhDs, and thought they should be "shot dead" (Not denied work and sent back to the kitchen, but shot dead). Does he belong on campus, getting an honorarium from the tuition of female grad students?

UPDATE: Erin O'Connor emails to correct me: she didn't actually claim that Paulin had a "right" to speak at Harvard, just that the language of his principal opponent, Prof. Rita Goldberg, erroneously appeared to claim that he had no rights at all. Fair enough--you'll notice I didn't attempt to defend Goldberg, whose comments are indefensible. O'Connor also responds to one of my questions--the issue is, indeed, the disinvitation.

I'm not a big poetry fan; maybe Paulin has lots to offer when he is off the subject of Israel. If he was invited to read some unrelated works, then this cancellation is indeed more problematic, since it amounts to politically correct enforcement (although this, too, is open to debate; declaring your hatred of a group--any group--and calling for them to be murdered is not mere "political incorrectness," and could easily be taken as sufficiently offensive that it justifies disinvitation regardless). If, on the other hand, he was expected to discuss the Middle East (and, given his notoriety, it seems unlikely to have gone unmentioned), he cannot be taken seriously as a scholar and doesn't deserve to be given a podium at Harvard. Its a tough call without knowing exactly what was expected of him, but I'm still coming down on the disinvitation side. Would you really feel right listening to a physics lecture from someone who advocated sending American blacks "back" to Africa? It's got nothing to do with quarks, right?

O'Connor also mentions a John Rosenberg post that claims that Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot would be disqualified from reading at Harvard by these standards. I can't get his site to work, so I can't comment at the moment. But even if this is true, it doesn't automatically make Harvard 2002 wrong. By present standards, George Washington would be serving a life term for enslaving human beings. The best a country (or college) can be is just in its own time, and it is fair to wonder if Pound and Eliot, were they alive today, would be making the kinds of statements which they apparently made at one time (further update when I get to actually read the post).

It takes more than "gut feeling" to properly distinguish between controversy and hate, and there's bound to be some disagreement in the gray areas. This case is in the gray, but not very far into it.

I still think the comparison to David Horowitz (made by a reader, not O'Connor) is nonsense.
A Modest Proposal: There has been some substantial controversy over a 1997 article by Martha Burk (currently attacking the Augusta National golf club over their men-only policy), which (satirically) calls for government restriction of men's fertilty. Instapundit, Porphyrogenitus, and K-Lo are less than amused. Armed Liberal is unamused by the above trio's lack of amusement.

Now, Glenn has already made the obvious point that this article could only have been written by a woman for a feminist magazine. A man writing a similar proposal would probably be fired by his editor after a public outcry, if indeed such an article ever saw the light of day. That in itself is annoying and enough to limit any amusment value this piece might have had.

But that's not the worst part. The worst part is that Ms. Burk is deliberatly comparing abortion to contraception, and implying that restricting abortion is tantamount to forcing woment to be pregnant. This is yet another bad pro-choice argument. Women who wish to "control their fertility" have lots of effective, affordable choices--the Pill, condoms, IUDs, Norplant, etc. As I said before, I don't want to have a detailed discussion of my sexual history, but I've never gotten anyone pregnant, and I don't think it's nearly as difficult as quantum mechanics. The blindess of pro-abortion types who seem to believe that abortion is just another form of contraception--or worse, who seem to think it's the only form of contraception extant--is a source of constant irritation. Maybe these folks are worried about a slippery slope--first abortion, then RU-486, then the Pill, then condoms...and maybe they have a point. But Burk and others don't bother to frame it this way. They just act like condoms don't exist.
The U.N.: Regular readers know I don't think much of the U.N. I don't have time to expand on this subject at the moment, but thankfully Johan Goldberg has come through with yet another excellent column on the subject:
People from all across the political spectrum often make the argument that members of our own Congress are inclined to make back-room deals that serve the narrow interests of their parties and themselves...

Oddly, we don't often hear the same analysis applied to the U.N. — even though the same dynamic is in effect there, only much more intensely. The representatives of the Arab nations — not one of them a democracy with a free press — do not represent the interests of their people. They represent the interests of the corrupt governments who sent them there. So in this sense, the U.N. is not an arena for democratic debate. It is a souk where merchants trade the blood and treasure of their nations.

It would sure be nice if U.N. lovers responded to these arguments--but I (and Goldberg) have been making them for months, with no meaningful response.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Light Posting: I want to finish my Master's degree work by next Friday. This doesn't mean I will stop posting--check back every once in a while--but things will be pretty quiet unless I see something that annoys me. I suppose its natural that things should lighten up after the election anyway--fewer issues, less urgency, etc.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Political Indoctrination in Public Schools: A few days ago, Clayton Cramer objected to the politically correct indoctrination of his local public school.

Well, let me add my objection to my tax money being spent this way. It seems a group of students from a humanities class at a local public school spent the semester studying the budget crisis in our local governments--a fine topic in and of itself--and recently attented a Seattle City Council meeting to urge the government not to cut human services.

This article writes a glowing review of the whole thing, and never questions this use of taxpayer funds to teach students that homelessness is the government's responsibility. Did the kids volunteer? Did they give money to charity? I don't know--but I do know they spent lots of time "attending rallies" and scouring government budges, and culminated by urging the city to spend their parents' money on the homeless. Did they hear from a single conservative or libertarian? I don't know--but they definitly heard from lots of liberals and leftists.

Now, as a purely philosopical and practical matter, I have much less objection to a city-level welfare program than to a Federal-level program. Indeed, it may well be the case that such a program is the most efficient and effective way to deal with the problem of urban poverty. But the quotes and comments from these kids don't show any indication that they have grasped the difference between volutary charity and coercive taxes. My favorite quote is "Potholes can wait; people can't." True enough on its face, but no private charity can go around filling potholes, whereas the Union Gospel Mission feeds people with charitable gifts.

It really annoyed me to imagine this teacher pushing his big-government message without a hint of opposition, and it annoyed me to see the students demanding that someone help the homeless--how about you, kids?
Why the Democrats are like Islamic Terrorists: There. If that doesn't pull in some Google hits, I don't know what will. But seriously...

One mark of intelligence is staying out of fights in which you don't belong. For instance, I, as a conservative who mostly votes Republican, should stay out of the current fight to redefine the Democratic party. But I'm not terribly intelligent, so I'm going to jump right in.

Armed Liberal kicks it off with a Veteran's Day post excoriating anti-American "liberals."

Jeff Cooper replies that such people aren't really "liberals,", and calls upon A.L. to avoid giving in to conservative/Republican rhetorical tactics which seek to equate all liberals with Barbara Lee et al.

A.L. then further confuses the issue by talking about his experience with Democrats (not necessarily the same thing as liberals).

The reason I'm comparing "liberals" to terrorists here isn't just a cheap attempt to get hits (though it is that, too). The reason is that Jeff and Armed have the same problem that peaceful Muslim shopkeepers in the United States have, namely, lunatics who share a label.

Clearly, for most American Muslims, Islam really does mean peace. But for a small minority, true Islam means killing as many Americans as possible. If we bring an Islamic terrorist and a halal grocer into a room, and ask them their religion, they will both say, "Islam." If we ask them, "Are you truly devout followers of the Prophet?" they will both reply, "Yes, of course." Yet their conception of God's will is radically different.

Some peaceful American Muslims resent the term "Islamic terrorist," since in their minds, terrorist are not Muslims. But they miss the point--the terrorists see themselves as Muslims, and will live in Muslim communities, attend ordinary mosques, and have Muslim friends. When the police seek a terrorist, they will probably do better to talk to Muslims than to Lutherans. Trying to change labels is a waste of time, as is getting huffy about "increased scrutiny" of the Muslim community. If the peaceful Muslim community wants to be left alone, it would do well to find and expel its violent members rather than filing civil-rights lawsuits.

That's the situation liberals find themselves in. Lots of people who call themselves "liberal" are, as A.L. points out, frankly and openly anti-American. If liberalism wants to move forward, it needs to marginalize these people as quickly as possible. I don't care if Jeff thinks they are "really liberals" or not--they call themselves liberals, and they have considerable influence within liberal activist groups. If you want "liberal" to cease being a dirty word, you need to put the hurt on these idiots in a big hurry. Start by not electing them to Congress (Say goodbye, Maxine).

I've been saying a lot lately that the Left needs to reinvent itself, to deal with a reality which has changed dramatically since the last update in 1969. Conservatives expelled the bigots who once formed the core of the conservative base; no Klansman could hope to get a Republican nomination (OK, David Duke got it a while back. But even Republicans voted against him). Only partisan jerks today associate Republicans with open racism. But this wasn't achieved by rhetorical magic, by denying that racists were conservatives; it was achieved by confronting them head on and telling them exactly where to go.

Its time for liberals to do the same to their bigots.

Monday, November 11, 2002

Women and Augusta National: Some of you may have heard that Augusta National Golf Club, a men-only institution, is under pressure to admit women. Some women's group is trying to get sponsors of the Master's golf tournament to pull their ads to put pressure on the club. Today in OpinionJournal, the Chairman of August National, Hootie Johnson responds:
If we wish to open all private organizations to men and women, as Ms. Burk and NCWO wish to do with Augusta National, the end is near for many uncontroversial and longstanding private groups. Women's colleges like Smith and Wellesley, historically black colleges like Spelman, the Girl Scouts of America, the Junior League, fraternities and sororities would all have to be dissolved or radically changed from the single-sex profile that has become an essential part of their character and, indeed, the reason they are sought after. Do they, too, "discriminate"?

So far, I'd say he's on solid ground. Of course private organizations have a right to choose their members, and people like me have a right to avoid clubs that our wives can't join. I don't have a problem with women's groups, and it annoys me when men's groups are singled out for special treatment. But then he goes and says this:
Perhaps this kind of coercion is simply the way by which some political groups try to increase their own membership. It is for others to decide, from where they stand, whether threat-based tactics are appropriate.

Threats? Coersion? Is this feminist group patrolling with shotguns on the ninth green? Maybe Ms. Burk threatened to sue, though its difficult to see what grounds she could have. But I doubt it. And now I'm annoyed at Hootie Johnson.

It seems that we always need to play the victim, and pretend that our rights have been violated. We see this in the anti-war protesters who talk about being "silenced," though surely a more effective form of censorship would prevent them from talking about it. We see it in the huffy anger of politicians who can't stand the slightest criticism. And we always end up having circular discussions about who has the right to say what about whom when, and who's really being silenced, or discriminated against, or having his rights violated. I HATE those kinds of discussions.

Let us say clearly: As a legal matter, Augusta National may discriminate against women, men, blacks, whites, gays, straights, and one-legged Latina lesbians if it wants. As a moral matter, I see not great injustice in a group of men wanting to avoid the company of women once in a while, just as women sometimes seek out female companionship, and I think that such a policy is fundamentally different from, say, a race-based one. As a legal matter, Ms. Burk and her supporters can write all the letters they want, put up all the websites they want, and place phone calls to media organizatiosn they want. As a moral matter, she seems to be missing the point, but she certainly has every moral right to fight against what she believes to be wrong. As a practical matter, one wonders why she couldn't find a more significant example of injustice on which to expend her energy.

As a personal matter, I won't be joining August National until it admits women. But I won't be harassing them, either. I'll be doing what I do with all similar private organizations--ignoring it.

UPDATE: One more thing. I was really irritated when somebody asked Tiger Woods what he thought, and he essentially said "Who cares?" Not that I minded Tiger's answer--but it unleashed a torrent of idiotic criticism. The gist of it was that because Tiger is/looks black, he has to support the feminists. He simply MUST understand oppression, because of his skin, and he simply MUST take the left-wing view of each and every issue for that reason. I found the criticism shockingly racist--you'd never see anyone say that about a white guy (he's white--he should be a conservative!). It was another example of how minorities are expected to toe a certain political line.
Culture and Politics: I've been struggling all day to write an op-ed about the role of the cultural divide in politics. (I'm applying for a job as a freelance columnist--another blogger goes mainstream!) Despite my obvious brilliance and wonderful writing skill, I'm having trouble. Here's what I want to say, in polished and persuasive political prose:

Much--perhaps most--of the Left-Right split in politics is cultural, not economic. The average mainstream politician is mildly pro-free market, pro-free trade, and pro-entitlement. Both sides are strongly pro-status quo. No one who wants to be anyone in politics is going to call for a 90% top marginal tax rate or abolish Social Security. There are differences between the parties on economic and other issues, but they are pretty small--differences within the party are likely to be at least as big.

The real division comes at a cultural level--abortion, guns, gays, sex education, capital punishment, affirmative action. For these issues, facts have little to do with beliefs. You can argue that lowering the capital gains tax will promote economic growth, and with the right data, you might change some minds. But for the above issues, facts are either wholly irrelevant or virtually so. Advocates on each side are motivated by ideology and, in many cases, strong animus towards the opposition.

So far none of this is original or shocking--see Armed Liberal, who has several posts which were responsible for starting me down this path.

But here's my observation: much of this grows out of the insistence that "the personal is political." If the personal is political, that means that personal decisions are subject to majority vote. If our personal decisions are subject to the approval of others, we'd better fight like hell to keep the right to make them. And while we're at it, we might as well start attacking others' rights, since the best defense is a good offense, right? The "strong animus" which I mentioned is natural if you think that others are trying to force their lifestyle on you, or that others' lifestyle is so repugnant that it must be forbidden by statute.

And, of course, if the personal is political, the political will soon become personal. Soon being a Republican won't be just another political stance--it will be a personal affront to black people everywhere. Being a Democrat isn't an expression of one's governmental philosophy--it's an attack on each and every hunter, personally.

That's where we've arrived today. In some circles--especially some circles here at the University of Washington--calling oneself a "conservative" is roughly equivalent to dressing in white sheets and burning crosses. And, of course, there are parts of the country where holding hands with someone of the same sex is viewed as just two steps up from forcible sodomy with little boys.

The reality is that someone is trying to force his lifestyle on you, or at least trying to legislate against your personal decisions, regardless of your habits or beliefs. Lots of people really do want to punish you for having the "wrong" opinions or the "wrong" hobbies. And a further reality is that, since politics have become so personal, minor differences of opinion have balloned out of proportion into passionate hatreds.

SOOOO...I'm calling for tolerance. I'm calling on both sides to stop hating each other. But it isn't so simple as that. The reason they hate each other is the busybody mentality which leads them to micromange each others' lives. So here's an idea: stop butting into things that aren't your business. Don't like gay people? Don't hang out at gay bars! Don't approve of hunting? Don't go hunting. Want your kids to learn how to use a condom? Teach them--but don't demand that the schools force condoms on all children.

There is still plenty of room for debate here. Capital punishment and abortion are areas where the personal intersects so closely with the political that we'll always be fighting over them. So be it. But let's step back for a moment and decide how much of our supposedly righteous political beliefs are nothing more than badly concealed bigotry. Do you really believe that gun control will lower crime, or do you just hate rednecks and want to annoy them? Is it really possible that gay marriage will destroy civilization, or are you just squemish about the thought of men enjoying each other's bodies? (Lord knows I'm squemish, but it isn't me involved, so I don't get a say.)

Let's also step back and stop pretending the other side is eeeeeeevil. Maybe they want some stupid things, but surely that doesn't make them the equivalent of Stalin or Hitler, as the breathless advocates would have it. (Hitler's police wore badges. Seattle police wear badges. Greg Nickels (mayor of Seattle) is just like Hitler! Hello, thanks for calling Dial-A-Clue...) It annoys the hell out of me--and lessens my desire to compromise--when someone portrays me as some kind of idiot, jerk, tyrant, or criminal because I didn't vote for the same guy for President. If the other side's that dumb or that dishonest, can I trust them?

You want less acrimony in politics? Stop telling others how to live. Stop taking their disagreement personally, or extracting personal prices for earnest debate. Confront your own internalized bigotry and refuse to make it a part of your politics. And demand the same of the other side.

Well, that what I want to say...can I do it? We'll see...
Pet Peeve: If a newspaper screws up when reporting something you know a lot about, it undermines your faith in that paper's ability to explain something you don't know anything about. After all, if they can't get one thing right, they probably are making mistakes in other areas, too.

Here's the Seattle PI on the D.C. sniper's gun:
According to the theft report, the .223-caliber, semiautomatic Bushmaster XM15 had been fitted with grips, a bipod, a hollow sight and a red visible laser sight, among other accessories.

Now, that sentence doesn't mean much of anything to someone who doesn't know guns; that fact alone ought to have made the editor consider cutting it. More useful would have been, say, an account of the total value of the accessories. But here's the problem: that sentence doesn't mean much even to someone who knows guns. What does it mean for a gun to be fitted with "grips"? The lower receiver of an AR-15 has a pistol grip--was this gun somehow, in violation of the "Assault Weapons Ban," fitted with additional pistol grips? Or did it simply have some fancy aftermarket rubber?

And--here's the good one--what the hell is a "hollow sight"??? Does the writer mean a Bushnell HoloSight? (I Googled it, and that is what it seems to be--the appropriate non-branded term would be a "reflex sight.") Is the "red visible laser sight" a laser pointer (an odd choice for a rifle, but not impossible) or is it merely a way for the gun shop to describe a red-dot sight? Who uses invisible laser sights anyway? If this stuff appears on the theft reports in exactly these words, fine, but then I would have expected quotation marks. It looks like the helpful reporter garbled this stuff in an attempt to make clear to the general public. I've seen his work before; he always mangles gun info this way, and I've sent him emails to no avail.

Well, maybe we'll do better with a story about al-Queda:
The Sunday Times said Osama Bin Laden's lieutenant, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, planned on killing the pope with a pipe bomb planted in a park where John Paul was to speak, or if that failed, with high-velocity rifles equipped with laser scopes.

What is a "laser scope"? Are we talking about a red-dot recticle scope? Or is the reporter under the impression that the Hollywood practice of projecting a red dot on the target so that the good guys get a chance to thwart the assasination is used in the real world? Or is this an accurate report of some bone-headed terrorists who can't use a simple hunting rifle (entirely possible)?

Mark Steyn wrote: "America's diversity-conscious pantywaist newsrooms must have some of the lowest rates of gun ownership in the country, and when something like this comes along it shows" and he was exactly right.

I'm nitpicking, I know. Worse yet, I'm nitpicking in territory where I have a big advantage over most reporters. But really, do these folks know any more about tax policy than about guns? Yet I make my voting decisions in part based on what they write about taxes. How can I make those decisions with confidence, when I see the kind of chickenshit mistakes they make? How can I trust them on enormously complicated national-security issues when they won't bother to call up ONE of the millons of gun owners to set them straight, or take five seconds to Google something they aren't clear on? If the can't tell the difference between a brand name and a corruption therof, how can they tell the difference between a deduction and an exemption, or between tactical and strategic weapons?

How on Earth can I make up my mind if I'm spoon-fed garbage by ignoramuses?