Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The State of the Union is... Wicked!

OK, I swear this won't always be a political blog, but on SoU night, it's hard to resist.

A while back, I posted an entry about Wicked, the musical. Since then, I've been reading the novel that inspired the show, and I'll no doubt have something about that when I'm done... but tonight, after listening to the president's State of the Union Address, the word "strawman" means something to me other than a denizen of Oz.

Throughout the first, foreign "policy" related, section of the speech, the president consistently contrasted his administration's policies to "isolationism," as if his political critics were isolationists. (I was hoping to quote directly from the speech, but the text is apparently not online yet. It's "coming soon" here.) Really? The opposition that urged him to pay more heed to the United Nations is isolationist? The folks who begged him to give Hans Blix, Mohammad al-Barradei, et al., more time (and credence) are isolationists? Those of us who were ridiculed by our own leaders because we refused to expunge from our junk food's names those "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," the French... we're isolationists? It is to laugh!

This is a classic strawman argument. The president wants us to understand that his policies are infinitely superior to isolationism... never mind that none of us is actually advocating isolationism. Among those of us who oppose Mr. Bush's adventure into Iraq, there's a wide range of diverse opinions about what we should do instead... but even those pushing for immediate withdrawal of our troops there are not, as the president would have it, advocating "retreat to within our borders." The president's liberal and Democratic opponents are generally more internationalist than the president has ever even dreamed of being (not for nothing does the classic bumpersticker begin "Think Globally..."). We want to engage the global community; we just would prefer to engage it in a somewhat less brutal and useless way than we currently are in Iraq. I think we can all agree to oppose "isolationism"; I just wish we could get the president to agree that the opposite of isolationism needn't necessarily be imperialism.

Later in the speech, the president invoked the examples of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and (IIRC) FDR, praising them for persevering... for not giving up. Well and good, as far as that goes, but these icons' greatness lay not merely in their perseverance, but in the nobility of the causes in which they persevered. For not giving up to be a virtue, it is a necessary precondition that what you are not giving up not be evil. A lesson, sadly, our leaders don't seem to have learned.

PS: On the subject of strawman arguments, at one point the president called for strong legal prohibitions against the horrors of human cloning and its related technologies, including "the creation of human-animal hybrids." As if anyone outside a Jules Verne novel were even contemplating the creation of human-animal hybrids! Those of you brewing up centaurs and mermaids in your basements... well you just go straight to bed without your supper! Shame on you! ;^)

Belated "Hello" and Housekeeping

Well, the holidays have come and gone (long gone, actually... I started this entry in early January, but got sidetracked by the predictable post-holiday cold), and it's about time I got back to this. I realize I sort of backed into this blogging business, so I suppose I should take a moment to introduce myself, and define (to the extent I can) just what in the heck this is going to be.

My name is Bill Dauphin; I'm 45 years old; I live in Vernon, Connecticut (in the Hartford area, more or less); and I work as a technical writer (proposals and reports, not manuals) for a major aerospace company. My wife teaches English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) at the University of Connecticut American English Language Institute.

The son of a NASA engineer, I was born in Florida and raised in the Houston, Texas, area. I graduated from Friendswood High School, received a BA in English from University of Houston in 1981, completed an MA in English/Creative Writing from Binghamton University in 1984 (we called it "SUNY-Binghamton" in those days), and finally, just for the fun of it (really!), picked up an MS in Space Studies from University of North Dakota's Space Studies Distance Learning program in 2003.

So why blog? Well, at first, it was because my 15 year-old daughter was blogging, and I figured I'd better get with the program. Then too, a favorite online haunt of mine, the Space Arena BBS, stopped taking new postings (you can still read the archives, if you're brave ), and I ended up reading some of the regulars' individual blogs to try to keep up. One day I wanted to post a comment at Jon Goff's Selenian Boondocks blog, and somehow managed to convince myself I had to have a Blogger account to do so. I was wrong, of course, but by the time I figured that out, I had the account, and it just seemed natural to use it.

When I told Andy, my best buddy and model rocketry teammate, that I'd started a blog, his response was succinct: "I detest blogs!" If y'all buy some rocket kits from him, he'll probably forgive me, but the comment did start me thinking about what the devil I'm up to here. This is not any sort of attempt at "citizen journalism" like the pro bloggers (my current favorite of whom is Eric Alterman at MSNBC.com): I don't have the facts, skill, or authority to do that well, and I'd really hate to do it badly. It's also not intended to be a public diary like my daughter and her LiveJournal friends have: High-school students really do care about the minutiae of each other's days, but can't imagine anyone cares about mine. And I'm certainly not interested in the kind of bottom-feeding stuff that must have prompted this cartoon.

So why waste the electrons, eh? Well, it turns out -- and this'll hardly be any surprise to folks who know me -- that I do have an opinion or two. I don't pretend that they're necessarily any better than anyone else's, but they're there, rattling around inside my head. I find that putting my thoughts into words helps me understand more clearly what I actually think... and this is a way to wring out those words without inflicting them (or at least, not all of them) on my poor family. Call it letters to the editor, without the pesky editor. Better yet, call it a cheap alternative to therapy.

If you stop by here and find me yelling, be of good cheer: I'm not yelling at you (well, probably not... depends on whether your name is Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld... but I digress ). And if perchance some bits of my self-therapy happen to enlighten or entertain (or just bemuse) you, great!