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Purple Post: Real men (and women) pick their battles wisely.">My Purple Post: Real men (and women) pick their battles wisely.

(Be sure to visit our friends Purple State of Mind often… and whatever you do, don’t miss John Marks in his Tallahassee travels on August 16th. Details soon, sign up for our monthly newsletter to be sure you don’t miss it.)

First there was the War on Drugs.

Then there was the War on Poverty.

And finally there is the granddaddy of them all, the War on Terror.

All mere skirmishes when compared to the most successful war of our time… The War on Context.

At a time when we have breathtaking access to information relative to our parents before us, we have become a people who don’t really give a gosh darn about understanding the vast, rich and multi-dimensional context that surrounds nearly everything in this complicated world we occupy.

This lands us clueless in actually understanding any problem we seek to address.

Does anybody remember researching papers using the Readers’ Guide? The lucky youth at Purple State should know we had to look up our topic in an index with itty bitty print, hope we found it, get a volume and page number and pick up another book, flip through pages, either write down what we found or copy the pages… yes, we did have copiers (although don’t even get me started on mimeograph machines and the smell of the ink I remember like it was yesterday)…

All this work made you appreciate that little nugget of good information you managed to find after a whole day at the library (which we had to walk to in the snow even here in Florida, uphill both ways).

Relatively speaking, our information today comes at such a low effort cost to us. The whole world is at our fingertips while we sit on our couch with a beer in our hand. In this environment it’s probably inevitable that information becomes so easily is devalued. Supply is far outstripping demand.

Instead we’re all about pelting “them” with an info-blip, turned weapon du jour, that we think proves we’re right and they’re wrong. Partisans are so eager to find the next object to pelt the enemy with, sometimes they can’t even be bothered to read the whole sentence around the quote they’re using to invoke the damage. And there are fleets of people engaging in this twerp-ish behavior daily. (Please note this is not attractive. Plus, if Johnny jumped off a cliff would you follow him? And your face might just get stuck with that ugly scowl on it.)

Today’s motto seems to be who needs subtlety when we can die on that hill?

Maybe somewhere in this phenomena is a quaint yearning for simplicity as we are forced to navigate an insane amount of data, coming at us from all directions at all times at a million miles an hour. We can make it go away if we unilaterally proclaim what we believe to be true, is true, damn the pesky facts. Tah dah!

Unlike the other multi-generational wars, the outcome of the War on Context was a lock before the first spitwad launched: We lose.

We all lose. If you’re yearning for simplicity, there is it. Give that some thought next time you find yourself about to lob one.

If we can’t learn this the easy way, perhaps we’re going to have to start sending people to the principal’s office to turn the mimeograph machine drum over and over and over…

(Photo credit.)

Chris Timmons: Discourse or just noise?


The project The Village Square is working on, referred to in the article below, is finding more voices from both sides of the aisle for our blog, to engage in a real conversation (unlike the ranting on talk radio or TV opinion “news” shows). We’re particularly interested in auditioning blogging teams of friends from different political camps. If you’re interested, give us a yell at thecrier@tothevillagesquare.org. We tried this first offline in the “real world” in our invitation to have a lunch across the aisle. It’s our way, as historian Patricia Nelson Limerick writes, to “let friendship redeem the republic.”

Chris Timmons: Discourse or just noise?
From today’s Tallahassee Democrat.

Two weeks ago, I had coffee with Liz Joyner, executive director of the Village Square, about a project she’s working on, and I enjoyed her passion for politics and ideas.

Yet there was this tincture in the discussion. I noticed a small distress, a weariness about the close-mindedness, extremity and partisanship of politics these days.

She pinned it on Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Not in that liberal, nose-upheld NPR kind of way, but more earnestly and with profound regret. I felt her pain.

I’ve listened to Limbaugh only once or twice myself, much the same for Sean Hannity.

They have some function in this world, and for many people, I’d bet they have sparked an interest and, let’s hope, a passion enough to search out all views. Something in me is hoping but doubts it.

There’s demagoguery, obtuseness and silliness in some of their views. I chuckled at Limbaugh’s bizarre plan to sabotage Obama’s primary campaign in Pennsylvania, dubbed with the military craft cliche: Operation Hillary. Yet Limbaugh and Hannity, in a circumscribed sense most certainly, are great entertainers working in a crowded field of political entertainment.

Anyone who listens to them with the intention of getting something intelligent out of it is simply lost. But they have little to do with what’s wrong in politics.

It’s those in the higher journalism attached to small magazines such as the New Republic, Atlantic Monthly, Nation, American Conservative, Weekly Standard, Reason, Commentary and the National Review that offer not a principled defense of ideas but the false exploitation of ideas and a misuse of language that have a stultifying effect on political discourse and disarm thoughtful people like Joyner and threaten to disengage them from the process.

At least, after reading some of Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism,” I have come to feel this way.

Its title is cheeky, a reverse insult to those liberals forever calling conservatives fascists, which historically we have not been.

I felt redeemed once I read the title, and because Goldberg writes crisply and with humor, I was looking for a quirky intellectual history. I didn’t get that, because Goldberg decided to go for something much smaller.

He wanted to rebut every New York Times columnist, New Yorker staff writer or Ivy League academic who ever uttered the words “fascism” and “conservatives” together. Really, he wanted to sock Gore Vidal in the mouth, in a literary sense.

So, we get liberalism is fascism. No, it’s a cousin of fascism. No, really, it has a resemblance to fascism. Hey, look at Hillary’s devious phrase “It takes a village to raise a child,” or Barack Obama’s equally menacing “We are the change we’ve been waiting for.”

It’s obvious: Fascism is back!

As Richard Posner wrote about a popularizer of academic ideas: No serious reader could be persuaded by his books.

When words have no meaning, ideas lose their substance, since both require honesty and mutual agreement about their definitions. In Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey,” the know-it-all Henry Tilney lectures the heroine on her careless use of words and the word, in particular, “nice.” “Every time (you say), this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh it’s a very nice word, indeed — it does for everything.”

It may seem a conservative cliche, a backward way of arguing for small government, but part of this distortion of ideas and words, the meanness and small-mindedness of our political arguments, comes from our having too many ideas on the table. Create a concept, somebody once said, and reality exits pretty fast.

The pundits and politicians have forgotten the serious stakes that all of the ideas on the table carry. We’ve seen cap-and-trade rushed through the U.S. House, the call for a new stimulus bill (somehow the other didn’t do the job), and now a renewed call by the president for an expedited health care bill by October.

A Republican senator says this is the president’s Waterloo. The president cynically says Republicans are playing politics. Speaker Nancy Pelosi causally dismisses citizen’s concerns about a real and unprecedented power grab by the federal government.

It should surprise no one that, once ideas and words are scrambled only for effect and no one thinks thoroughly and thoughtfully about them, it’s easy to have four different health care bills, major miscommunication or noncommunication, spin and political calculation, inflamed citizens — and all the rest.

At the president’s news conference, for example, his bill was defined as an extension of the free-market concept. It is anything but, yet the president indulges in this because he knows that explaining ideas honestly doesn’t work in this political season.

In a letter, Mrs. Humphrey Ward chastises Henry James about his boredom and cynicism about politics. For her, politics and ideas are the “salt and sauce” of life. I’m starting to reject her views and embrace James’s.

To me, this unreasoning, vulgar, groundless, deafening and sapping partisanship is the “very measure of insipidity” for those who love ideas, politics and the village square.

Whole quotes: Sonia Sotomayor


If you haven’t been under a rock the last few days, you’ve heard the quote where Supreme Court nominee Justice Sonia Sotomayor seems to suggest that Latina women are likely to make better judicial decisions than Caucasian men (and the soundbytes of a handful of conservatives calling her a racist).

Not so fast. Whole quotes… The Village Square always comes down on the side of whole quotes. So here’s the whole enchilada. The speech was given at a symposium entitled “Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation.” The offending out-of-context quote is on page five.

It you’re not down for reading the whole text, then at least read page five… If you read page five and still think she’s a racist, you should express that opinion (with civility, of course). If you can’t bother to read page five in its entirety, perhaps you should sit this one out?