Commentary Magazine


Topic: Roger Simon

Is Loughner Insane or Evil?

Over at Politico, Roger Simon has written a thought-provoking column about the descriptions of Jared Loughner in the media. News outlets have rushed to label Loughner as “insane” — but whatever happened to “evil”?

From Politico:

We know that anybody who guns down innocent people or sticks dead bodies under his house or eats them has got to be crazy, for pity’s sake.

And we believe that because we do not want to believe, as our ancestors believed, in evil. Evil is even more frightening than madness. Madness can be treated. All we need is early intervention and clinics and more resources devoted to the problem.

Simon argues that evil has “been medicalized into insanity. But only up to a certain point. There seems to be a correlation between the number of people you kill and whether you are called insane or evil.”

Loughner allegedly kills six and is insane.

Adolf Hitler kills more than 6 million, and he is evil. The same is true for Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. We don’t say they needed the intervention of community health clinics; we say they were the ultimate examples of evil on Earth because they murdered tens of millions of people.

Is the difference just numbers, however? You kill a certain number of people and you are nuts, but you cross the line and kill more and you are evil? Is that how it really works?

Or, in our modern times, are we embarrassed by the term “evil”? To some, it seems too primitive or too religious or both.

And we would much rather believe that all sick people can be cured by medical intervention.

Because that is a lot less scary than believing that evil walks among us.

I agree that there is a cultural squeamishness about using the term “evil.” Society has become infused with a notion of moral relativity, and “evil” is a moralistic word with religious connotations that seem archaic.

The concept of evil is most distasteful to the political left. President George W. Bush was excoriated for using the phrase “axis of evil” and framing the global war on terror as a fight between good and evil. President Obama has notably shied away from using that type of rhetoric to describe our enemies.

Obviously there are people whose minds are so deranged that they commit heinous acts without realizing they are doing something wrong (think Norman Bates’s character in the movie Psycho). But there is a difference between Bates and a murderer like Ted Bundy, who understood that his actions were unconscionable and tried to cover them up. Bundy may have been crazy, but he was also evil — it’s definitely possible to be both, and the two are often found together.

The question of whether Loughner is insane or evil will be decided in a court of law. But, as Simon notes, it’s interesting that many media outlets have already made up their mind.

Over at Politico, Roger Simon has written a thought-provoking column about the descriptions of Jared Loughner in the media. News outlets have rushed to label Loughner as “insane” — but whatever happened to “evil”?

From Politico:

We know that anybody who guns down innocent people or sticks dead bodies under his house or eats them has got to be crazy, for pity’s sake.

And we believe that because we do not want to believe, as our ancestors believed, in evil. Evil is even more frightening than madness. Madness can be treated. All we need is early intervention and clinics and more resources devoted to the problem.

Simon argues that evil has “been medicalized into insanity. But only up to a certain point. There seems to be a correlation between the number of people you kill and whether you are called insane or evil.”

Loughner allegedly kills six and is insane.

Adolf Hitler kills more than 6 million, and he is evil. The same is true for Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. We don’t say they needed the intervention of community health clinics; we say they were the ultimate examples of evil on Earth because they murdered tens of millions of people.

Is the difference just numbers, however? You kill a certain number of people and you are nuts, but you cross the line and kill more and you are evil? Is that how it really works?

Or, in our modern times, are we embarrassed by the term “evil”? To some, it seems too primitive or too religious or both.

And we would much rather believe that all sick people can be cured by medical intervention.

Because that is a lot less scary than believing that evil walks among us.

I agree that there is a cultural squeamishness about using the term “evil.” Society has become infused with a notion of moral relativity, and “evil” is a moralistic word with religious connotations that seem archaic.

The concept of evil is most distasteful to the political left. President George W. Bush was excoriated for using the phrase “axis of evil” and framing the global war on terror as a fight between good and evil. President Obama has notably shied away from using that type of rhetoric to describe our enemies.

Obviously there are people whose minds are so deranged that they commit heinous acts without realizing they are doing something wrong (think Norman Bates’s character in the movie Psycho). But there is a difference between Bates and a murderer like Ted Bundy, who understood that his actions were unconscionable and tried to cover them up. Bundy may have been crazy, but he was also evil — it’s definitely possible to be both, and the two are often found together.

The question of whether Loughner is insane or evil will be decided in a court of law. But, as Simon notes, it’s interesting that many media outlets have already made up their mind.

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Joe Klein Joins the Chorus

You can add Joe Klein to those who, like Roger Simon, seem to have airbrushed President Obama’s comments on Saturday out of existence. Klein writes [read more], “I’m proud the President said what he did [his speech at the iftar dinner on Friday],” Klein wrote on Monday, “but he couldn’t legally do otherwise: if he hadn’t supported the mosque, he would not have been upholding the Constitution of the United States.”

Yet on Saturday, Obama said, “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.”

What part of this sentence can’t Klein and Simon understand?

By Klein’s own logic — I use the word loosely — the president is not now upholding the Constitution. He is, in fact, breaking the law. But like Simon, Klein does not seem able to process Obama’s act of cowardice. It simply does not play into his perception of Obama’s greatness.

Fortunately, there are a few liberal voices who see things for what they were, from the Washington Post, which writes that Obama “muddled his stance and appeared to backtrack in the face of criticism,” to Jon Stewart, who mocks Obama’s campaign slogan (“Yes We Can” is now “Yes We Can. But Should We?”).

You can add Joe Klein to those who, like Roger Simon, seem to have airbrushed President Obama’s comments on Saturday out of existence. Klein writes [read more], “I’m proud the President said what he did [his speech at the iftar dinner on Friday],” Klein wrote on Monday, “but he couldn’t legally do otherwise: if he hadn’t supported the mosque, he would not have been upholding the Constitution of the United States.”

Yet on Saturday, Obama said, “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.”

What part of this sentence can’t Klein and Simon understand?

By Klein’s own logic — I use the word loosely — the president is not now upholding the Constitution. He is, in fact, breaking the law. But like Simon, Klein does not seem able to process Obama’s act of cowardice. It simply does not play into his perception of Obama’s greatness.

Fortunately, there are a few liberal voices who see things for what they were, from the Washington Post, which writes that Obama “muddled his stance and appeared to backtrack in the face of criticism,” to Jon Stewart, who mocks Obama’s campaign slogan (“Yes We Can” is now “Yes We Can. But Should We?”).

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The Media Disinfectant

In his column in Politico today, Roger Simon writes this:

Chuck Todd, political director and chief White House correspondent for NBC News, who was not part of Journolist, told me this:

“I am sure Ezra [Klein] had good intentions when he created it, but I am offended the right is using this as a sledgehammer against those of us who don’t practice activist journalism.

“Journolist was pretty offensive. Those of us who are mainstream journalists got mixed in with journalists with an agenda. Those folks who thought they were improving journalism are destroying the credibility of journalism.

“This has kept me up nights. I try to be fair. It’s very depressing.”

Agreed. It is very depressing. But it is still a good thing that this story broke; after all, now, when it comes to key segments of the journalistic world, all of us better understand just what it is we’re dealing with. For some, what has been uncovered was a revelation. For others, it was simply a confirmation. Either way, it is useful information to have out and about. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as Justice Brandeis once said.

In his column in Politico today, Roger Simon writes this:

Chuck Todd, political director and chief White House correspondent for NBC News, who was not part of Journolist, told me this:

“I am sure Ezra [Klein] had good intentions when he created it, but I am offended the right is using this as a sledgehammer against those of us who don’t practice activist journalism.

“Journolist was pretty offensive. Those of us who are mainstream journalists got mixed in with journalists with an agenda. Those folks who thought they were improving journalism are destroying the credibility of journalism.

“This has kept me up nights. I try to be fair. It’s very depressing.”

Agreed. It is very depressing. But it is still a good thing that this story broke; after all, now, when it comes to key segments of the journalistic world, all of us better understand just what it is we’re dealing with. For some, what has been uncovered was a revelation. For others, it was simply a confirmation. Either way, it is useful information to have out and about. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as Justice Brandeis once said.

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Obama Grasps at Straws

Barack Obama is learning the hard way about the limits of the power of the presidency.

Obama told Louisiana residents, who are confronting the worst environmental disaster in history because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that he couldn’t “suck it up with a straw.” “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama told residents from Grand Isle as they sat around a table together. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

When a major American city was 80 percent under water due to a breached levee caused by one of the worst hurricanes in our history, then-Senator Obama was silent about the limits on the power of the president. In fact, he excoriated his predecessor for his “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina, despite the fact that George W. Bush had to deal with local and state leaders far more incompetent than the ones facing Obama. “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe,” Obama said in 2008.

There was no mention of straws.

Obama’s comments to Louisiana residents come on top of what Obama told Politco’s Roger Simon in an interview. “The overwhelming majority of the American people” have reasonable expectations, Obama said. “What they hope and expect is for the president to do everything that’s within his power. They don’t expect us to be magicians.”

I think most American do have reasonable expectations of what a president can and cannot do. But if their expectations are reasonable, it is not because of anything Barack Obama has ever said before. In fact, you can review his speeches during the campaign, and you will find a lot about what a magical, transformational, hopeful, and historical moment his election would be. Even when offering a perfunctory acknowledgement of his own limitations, what Obama promised America was, even by campaign standards, extraordinary (see here and here.)

Yet almost 17 months into his presidency, the man who was going to remake this nation, who was going to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, who was going to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, who was going to open doors of opportunities to our kids and replace cynicism with hope and stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet — this man has come up short. None of this has come to pass. It turns out he cannot even, in his own words, “plug the damn hole.” He has not issued waivers that he should, nor has he provided Gulf Coast governors with the requests they need, nor coordinated the clean-up effort that the people of the Louisiana are begging for. He can do nothing, it seems, except blame others. The man whom, we were told, was the next Lincoln and FDR is coming to grips with his own impotence and ineptitude. From Iran to the Gulf of Mexico, from Middle East peace to job creation, from uniting our country to cleansing our politics, Barack Obama is being brought to his knees.

This doesn’t mean the Obama presidency is broken or beyond repair. And Obama’s admission of the limits to the power of the presidency is justified. The problem for the president is that his comments now were preceded by so much hubris. Obama and his aides set mythic expectations. Those expectations now lie in ruin. What we’re seeing was, therefore, inevitable and predictable. Barack Obama is reaping what he has sown. Let’s hope for the sake of the country that he learns from the punishing blows reality has dealt him.

Barack Obama is learning the hard way about the limits of the power of the presidency.

Obama told Louisiana residents, who are confronting the worst environmental disaster in history because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that he couldn’t “suck it up with a straw.” “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless,” Obama told residents from Grand Isle as they sat around a table together. “So I can’t dive down there and plug the hole. I can’t suck it up with a straw.”

When a major American city was 80 percent under water due to a breached levee caused by one of the worst hurricanes in our history, then-Senator Obama was silent about the limits on the power of the president. In fact, he excoriated his predecessor for his “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina, despite the fact that George W. Bush had to deal with local and state leaders far more incompetent than the ones facing Obama. “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe,” Obama said in 2008.

There was no mention of straws.

Obama’s comments to Louisiana residents come on top of what Obama told Politco’s Roger Simon in an interview. “The overwhelming majority of the American people” have reasonable expectations, Obama said. “What they hope and expect is for the president to do everything that’s within his power. They don’t expect us to be magicians.”

I think most American do have reasonable expectations of what a president can and cannot do. But if their expectations are reasonable, it is not because of anything Barack Obama has ever said before. In fact, you can review his speeches during the campaign, and you will find a lot about what a magical, transformational, hopeful, and historical moment his election would be. Even when offering a perfunctory acknowledgement of his own limitations, what Obama promised America was, even by campaign standards, extraordinary (see here and here.)

Yet almost 17 months into his presidency, the man who was going to remake this nation, who was going to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, who was going to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, who was going to open doors of opportunities to our kids and replace cynicism with hope and stop the rise of the oceans and heal the planet — this man has come up short. None of this has come to pass. It turns out he cannot even, in his own words, “plug the damn hole.” He has not issued waivers that he should, nor has he provided Gulf Coast governors with the requests they need, nor coordinated the clean-up effort that the people of the Louisiana are begging for. He can do nothing, it seems, except blame others. The man whom, we were told, was the next Lincoln and FDR is coming to grips with his own impotence and ineptitude. From Iran to the Gulf of Mexico, from Middle East peace to job creation, from uniting our country to cleansing our politics, Barack Obama is being brought to his knees.

This doesn’t mean the Obama presidency is broken or beyond repair. And Obama’s admission of the limits to the power of the presidency is justified. The problem for the president is that his comments now were preceded by so much hubris. Obama and his aides set mythic expectations. Those expectations now lie in ruin. What we’re seeing was, therefore, inevitable and predictable. Barack Obama is reaping what he has sown. Let’s hope for the sake of the country that he learns from the punishing blows reality has dealt him.

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Tivoli Gardens, Anyone?

That whooshing sound you hear in the distance is the air coming out of the balloon called Anthropogenic Global Warming.

It began with the hacking of a computer network at the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit, one of the premier climate-research centers in the world, on November 17. The hacking (or perhaps it was a whistleblower leak — as far as I know, it is not yet clear which) resulted in the posting of more than a 1,000 e-mail messages among scientists at the very center of the AGW alarm. They were, to put it mildly, embarrassing, revealing narrow-mindedness, the deliberate attempt to suppress the publication in the peer-reviewed literature of articles that did not fit the AGW agenda, and attempts to keep dissenting scientists from seeing the basis of their conclusions. A good summary of events up to now can be found here.

But these e-mails , however damaging, were not a smoking gun, just evidence of bad behavior. Scientists, of course, can be careless with word choice, nasty, vindictive, and driven to win the argument at all costs, just like the rest of us.

But today the Times of London has published a revelation that, if not a smoking gun, is pretty close. The University of East Anglia scientists had refused numerous attempts by other scientists they regarded as unfriendly to see the raw data. But when confronted with a freedom-of-information-act request (Britain now has a FOIA, too), they were forced to admit that they had thrown away much of the raw data upon which their conclusions regarding global warming over the past 150 years had been based.

In order to make such data consistent, it needs to be adjusted in various ways, and there is nothing nefarious about that. (The adjustment might be as simple as converting Fahrenheit to Celsius. Or say a weather station that had been located out in a potato field when it was installed in 1927 now finds itself behind a strip mall in a densely populated suburb. The data over the past 82 years would obviously need to be adjusted to take into account the fact that a suburban strip mall is inherently more heat-producing than a potato field.)

But without the raw data, it is impossible to check the work, and checking each other’s work lies at the very heart of the scientific method. Without the raw data, the adjusted data is useless. So if the destruction of the raw data was accidental, it was inexcusable. If it was deliberate, it was a scientific felony. If the data is now irretrievably lost, it is a tragedy.

Roger Simon suggests calling off the meeting  in Copenhagen scheduled for December 7, as the delegates really have nothing to discuss. That would be a blow to Copenhagen, to be sure, as the delegations from 192 countries will be spending a lot of money. But, as Roger points out, Copenhagen is a city with many charms, and Tivoli Gardens is well worth a visit on its own. Better they enjoy those charms at our expense than cost the world trillions in foregone economic growth for no good reason.

That whooshing sound you hear in the distance is the air coming out of the balloon called Anthropogenic Global Warming.

It began with the hacking of a computer network at the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit, one of the premier climate-research centers in the world, on November 17. The hacking (or perhaps it was a whistleblower leak — as far as I know, it is not yet clear which) resulted in the posting of more than a 1,000 e-mail messages among scientists at the very center of the AGW alarm. They were, to put it mildly, embarrassing, revealing narrow-mindedness, the deliberate attempt to suppress the publication in the peer-reviewed literature of articles that did not fit the AGW agenda, and attempts to keep dissenting scientists from seeing the basis of their conclusions. A good summary of events up to now can be found here.

But these e-mails , however damaging, were not a smoking gun, just evidence of bad behavior. Scientists, of course, can be careless with word choice, nasty, vindictive, and driven to win the argument at all costs, just like the rest of us.

But today the Times of London has published a revelation that, if not a smoking gun, is pretty close. The University of East Anglia scientists had refused numerous attempts by other scientists they regarded as unfriendly to see the raw data. But when confronted with a freedom-of-information-act request (Britain now has a FOIA, too), they were forced to admit that they had thrown away much of the raw data upon which their conclusions regarding global warming over the past 150 years had been based.

In order to make such data consistent, it needs to be adjusted in various ways, and there is nothing nefarious about that. (The adjustment might be as simple as converting Fahrenheit to Celsius. Or say a weather station that had been located out in a potato field when it was installed in 1927 now finds itself behind a strip mall in a densely populated suburb. The data over the past 82 years would obviously need to be adjusted to take into account the fact that a suburban strip mall is inherently more heat-producing than a potato field.)

But without the raw data, it is impossible to check the work, and checking each other’s work lies at the very heart of the scientific method. Without the raw data, the adjusted data is useless. So if the destruction of the raw data was accidental, it was inexcusable. If it was deliberate, it was a scientific felony. If the data is now irretrievably lost, it is a tragedy.

Roger Simon suggests calling off the meeting  in Copenhagen scheduled for December 7, as the delegates really have nothing to discuss. That would be a blow to Copenhagen, to be sure, as the delegations from 192 countries will be spending a lot of money. But, as Roger points out, Copenhagen is a city with many charms, and Tivoli Gardens is well worth a visit on its own. Better they enjoy those charms at our expense than cost the world trillions in foregone economic growth for no good reason.

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Words Matter

Roger Simon of Politico observes:

You know a candidate is really feeling the heat when he starts complaining about the kitchen. You know a candidate is having problems when he starts complaining about the process. Wednesday night, in a debate here, Barack Obama complained a number of times about the presidential campaign process and how some people spend way too much time “obsessing” about some of the things that he and others have actually said.

Sure enough, Obama’s campaign manager came out right after the debate with a defensive-sounding statement:

Tonight we saw a real choice between the old politics of point-scoring and distraction and a politics that focuses on bringing us together to actually solve the challenges we talk about every single election.

So we have now come full circle. The candidate who cribbed the line “Words matter” and bragged that his rhetoric lifts all comers has been reduced to complaining that words–his words–don’t matter. The man who was to lead a movement, whose judgment and virtue were cause (finally) for pride in America, now says that the particulars of his past and his associations with friends and mentors are a “distraction.”

What happened? It appears that Obama believed he could skate through an entire primary (and maybe a general election) without having to answer hard questions. Last night, the ABC moderators finally put those long-avoided questions to him. The results weren’t pretty. This raises more fundamental concerns. Can he answer hard questions, regardless of the setting? Or is he only able to give the same canned “we are the change” stump speech over and over again? Judging from his track record of hiding from the media–and his debate performance–it seems the only words that matter from his perspective are the ones drafted, memorized, and rehearsed among admiring advisers and friends.

Roger Simon of Politico observes:

You know a candidate is really feeling the heat when he starts complaining about the kitchen. You know a candidate is having problems when he starts complaining about the process. Wednesday night, in a debate here, Barack Obama complained a number of times about the presidential campaign process and how some people spend way too much time “obsessing” about some of the things that he and others have actually said.

Sure enough, Obama’s campaign manager came out right after the debate with a defensive-sounding statement:

Tonight we saw a real choice between the old politics of point-scoring and distraction and a politics that focuses on bringing us together to actually solve the challenges we talk about every single election.

So we have now come full circle. The candidate who cribbed the line “Words matter” and bragged that his rhetoric lifts all comers has been reduced to complaining that words–his words–don’t matter. The man who was to lead a movement, whose judgment and virtue were cause (finally) for pride in America, now says that the particulars of his past and his associations with friends and mentors are a “distraction.”

What happened? It appears that Obama believed he could skate through an entire primary (and maybe a general election) without having to answer hard questions. Last night, the ABC moderators finally put those long-avoided questions to him. The results weren’t pretty. This raises more fundamental concerns. Can he answer hard questions, regardless of the setting? Or is he only able to give the same canned “we are the change” stump speech over and over again? Judging from his track record of hiding from the media–and his debate performance–it seems the only words that matter from his perspective are the ones drafted, memorized, and rehearsed among admiring advisers and friends.

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