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October 5, 2001

Punctuated Equilibrium
Posted by Teresa at 10:00 AM *

The New Republic has started running an Idiocy Watch, collecting stupid things said in the wake of the WTC disaster:

We ask you, our readers, to send us the dumbest and most outrageous comments made about America’s war on terrorism by politicians, pundits, movie stars, athletes, etc. Also keep an eye out for people who try to excuse their dumb and outrageous behavior with comments that are themselves dumb and outrageous…
I wish to nominate John Keegan, whom I have hitherto viewed as a perceptive military historian and analyst. He’s the author of The Face of Battle, and the defense columnist for the Daily Telegraph; and on the 14th of September he went completely spla:
There are other current movements of which to take note, as yet insubstantial but certain to gather concrete form. One is the retreat of human rights lawyers from the forefront of public life. America in a war mood will have no truck with tender concern for constitutional safeguards of the liberty of its enemies. The other, which ordinary Americans will have to learn to bear, is interference with their liberty of instant electronic access to friends and services.

The World Trade Centre outrage was co-ordinated on the internet, without question. If Washington is serious in its determination to eliminate terrorism, it will have to forbid internet providers to allow the transmission of encrypted messages - now encoded by public key ciphers that are unbreakable even by the National Security Agency’s computers - and close down any provider that refuses to comply.

Uncompliant providers on foreign territory should expect their buildings to be destroyed by cruise missiles. Once the internet is implicated in the killing of Americans, its high-rolling days may be reckoned to be over.

Using cruise missiles to take out ISPs in foreign countries! Whoo! I could never have made that up.

The example The New Republic uses in their explanation of the Idiocy Watch project is the recent behavior of Attack Bimbo Ann Coulter. If you’ve so far managed to miss her, she’s a whiny blonde airhead who wears very short skirts and will say anything — most usually about the Clintons and other heavily fictionalized liberals. For a while she was getting a lot of airtime on Geraldo and the like. She’s been a creature of passing circumstance, a disposable pseudo-journalist kept around because she makes colorfully actionable remarks that the real pros can thereafter quote without endangering their own careers. If she weren’t useful in that way, not to mention a utility-grade blonde babe, she’d be lucky to have a gig reporting local stories in some venue where the biggest news is the weather.

You can get a sense of the woman herself from some of the remarks she lets drop in her “No Shadow of a Doubt: Liberal Women Are Worthless” column, written the white heat of her outrage at finding out that a Lifetime Television poll of women voters — all kinds, not just from one party — revealed that more than half of them thought the government’s “insufficient efforts to cure breast cancer” were a major concern, and nearly three-fourths thought shoring up Social Security was more important than cutting taxes. Coulter was disgusted:

These could only be the poll results of people who have nothing to do with the creation of wealth. They sit at home waiting for their husbands to bring home the money, or toil away at little jobs dreamed up to assuage the egos of bourgeois women living in the suburbs. (I eagerly await such a station in life. But when I’m there, I won’t forget how horrible — horrible — it was to wake up to an alarm clock, respond to bosses, and be responsible for my own rent.)

…As a class, women have never borne collective responsibility for work, they have never had to store food for the winter, and they have not generated economic growth. (At least not by dint of hard work — more by inspiration.)

You could get the impression that she thinks women who work because they have to, and women who do real work, don’t exist now and never have in the past. That would be a barely forgivable level of ignorance if she were a wealthy dimbulb who lives to shop. But she doesn’t have that excuse. She’s a dimbulb lawyer and demi-journalist, and she knows better. The truth is, for Ann Coulter those women simply don’t matter. They’re not citizens of the country to which she gives her true allegiance, and their experience has no place in her native political discourse.

(This is what I kept trying to explain about Bush before the election, back when I was getting into arguments with a lot of young conservatives and small-town Republicans: Just because you’re on their side, doesn’t mean they’re on your side. There’s one club they’ll say you all belong to when they’re trying to get your vote, but the rest of the time there’s a different club, and you’re never going to belong to it. Give your heart to your country and to democracy itself, not people and parties, and only honor those who honor what it stands for. Otherwise you’ll spend your whole political life being seduced and abandoned, over and over again.)

The national newsfeed has also treated us to such gems as her screed on Title IX athletic funding rules, which she pretended to believe are “an insane feminist dream … to make women’s sports equal to men’s.” As any fule kno, Title IX mandates equal resources for female athletic programs, not equal results. But Coulter’s view is that a university reshuffling its sports budgets “…actually violates the law’s own language (to say nothing of the Constitution), which forbids gender discrimination in college programs. Cutting men’s teams in the name of gender parity is gender discrimination.”

Which is astounding logic, if you can call it that; but hey, anything for a column. Commercial-grade blonde babes have a short shelf life. They have to do what they can. I do think, though, that people who call themselves conservatives, ditto constitutional lawyers, should know what is and isn’t in the Constitution. It mentions sex exactly once, in the 19th Amendment, and gender not at all.

In another piece Coulter displayed a comparable knowledge of American history — i.e., about as much as you can learn by reading Gone with the Wind — when she dismissed objections to displaying the Confederate flag with “If the Confederate battle flag can be tagged as a tribute to slavery, how is it that the American flag has gotten a pass so far? Slavery existed far longer under Old Glory than under the Stars and Bars.”

Remove glasses, pinch bridge of nose, shake head. If she can base her argument on simple duration, ignoring the circumstances under which the Stars and Bars were devised and flown, she can ignore anything.

Thus Ann Coulter in her salad days.

The day after the Big Awful, she came out with a new column titled This Is War. About two-third of the way into it she hit her stride:

This is no time to be precious about locating the exact individuals directly involved in this particular terrorist attack. Those responsible include anyone anywhere in the world who smiled in response to the annihilation of patriots like Barbara Olson.

We don’t need long investigations of the forensic evidence to determine with scientific accuracy the person or persons who ordered this specific attack. We don’t need an “international coalition.” We don’t need a study on “terrorism.” We certainly didn’t need a congressional resolution condemning the attack this week. …

The airport kabuki theater of magnetometers, asinine questions about whether passengers “packed their own bags,” and the hostile, lumpen mesomorphs ripping open our luggage somehow allowed over a dozen armed hijackers to board four American planes almost simultaneously on Bloody Tuesday. (Did those fabulous security procedures stop a single hijacker anyplace in America that day?)

Airports scrupulously apply the same laughably ineffective airport harassment to Suzy Chapstick as to Muslim hijackers. It is preposterous to assume every passenger is a potential crazed homicidal maniac. We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now.

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.

“That’s something you don’t see every day, Chauncey.”

“What’s that, Edgar?”

“The Jewish World Review publishing a call for the forced conversion of infidels.”

This was followed a week later by Where’s Janet Reno When We Need Her?, in which Coulter repeated her objections to “incredibly burdensome” security measures like being asked whether she packed her own bags or is carrying a package for someone else:

The genius security procedures laboriously implemented by the government over the past decade certainly served this country well on Bloody Tuesday. The real puzzler is how the hijackers managed to evade the “Did you pack your own bags?” trap. Only further investigation will solve that mystery.

Last week a CNN anchor raised the “Did you pack your own bags?” dragnet and somberly remarked — this is a quote — “No one will answer those questions so cavalierly again.” We certainly won’t. We will all remember: If those asinine questions hadn’t been asked of millions of travelers day in day out year after year, enragingly stupid every time, it might have been possible for 19 murderous hijackers to board four separate commercial jets in America almost simultaneously one Tuesday morning.

Oh — no, wait. The hijackers weren’t foiled. But somehow the manifest irrelevance of the “Did you pack your own bags?” question has become its principal selling point.

If she’d looked into the matter — and if I were writing a weekly column, I’d have found the time — she’d have discovered that both those questions were added to the airport catechism in response to specific ploys used by real terrorists: Nezar Hindawi, for example, who persuaded his pregnant and unsuspecting Irish girlfriend to carry three pounds of explosives onto an El Al jumbo jet at Heathrow.

Coulter then went into more detail about airport scanners, those people she’d described a week before as “hostile, lumpen mesomorphs”:

We are also grateful for the magnetometers. The McDonald’s rejects who man the machines are so efficient and courteous, you hardly notice them anymore. That’s sarcasm. Despite addled TV commentators claiming that, heretofore, travelers had breezed right through the metal detectors, these are obviously people who haven’t flown since the ’50s.

Back on Earth, the sullen, dictatorial security personnel invariably stop all passengers who are not likely to punch them (girls), rifle through their belongings, slowly wipe some wand over their computers (a procedure that takes just long enough to almost miss your plane), carefully examine their persons — down to the tiny metallic bra-strap hook — and then methodically break any crystal vases the passenger is carrying. So don’t tell me they’re lazy.

Dang. Just can’t get good help these days.

I’m glad I’ve never had to work in airport security. There’s a reason scanners have a turnover rate between one hundred and four hundred percent annually. Working conditions are miserable. The pay is bone-scrapingly low, with no benefits and derisory raises.

The effect on airport security is a well-known problem. The GAO and the FAA have been issuing warnings about it for years. As one FAA security administrator put it, “At 400 percent turnover it’s hard to train people to sharpen pencils.” He added that the higher standards the FAA was considering might or might not help boost pay, since many airlines simply went for the security company that was the lowest bidder. Which is in fact true. Moreover, for years now many airlines have been lobbying against security upgrades, which cost more and create airport delays.

Let us pause here to reflect that the invisible hand of the marketplace has no brain attached to it.

The airport security industry is dominated by two companies, Argenbright and Huntleigh. They’re experts at lowball bids. Neither pays a living wage or provides benefits. Employee training is minimal, and they place no particular value on experience. The only activity they pursue with any degree of enthusiasm is employee intimidation. Both companies have been repeatedly cited for labor violations. Huntleigh’s management has come in for other criticism as well.

So, when it comes to actually providing security services, neither company is what you’d call results-oriented. This is because they’re not really in the security business. What they do is satisfy the letter of the law at the lowest possible cost. And those minimum-wage scanners are the ones upon whom the weight of the whole godawful system comes to rest.

I could go on. There’s a huge amount of information available. If you want a job lot of recent stories, go here. If you want older stuff, Google’s a firehose. The thing is, you can’t begin to look at this subject without running into all that info. I can only think that Ann Coulter never even tried.

She went on in this vein. Basically, she wants much tighter security, but she doesn’t want any system that’s going to inconvenience or delay her personally. Which is not an unusual viewpoint, except for the part where she gets paid for writing it and it’s reproduced in lots of publications. Pilots locked into heavily armored cockpit, check. Two undercover agents per flight, hollow point bullets, check. But then:

(3) We should require passports to fly domestically. Passports can be forged, but they can also be checked with the home country in case of any suspicious-looking swarthy males. It will be a minor hassle, but it’s better than national ID cards. It’s also far less annoying than the seat belt instructions.

(4) All 19 hijackers in last week’s attack appear to have been aliens. As far as the Constitution is concerned, visitors to this country are here at the nation’s pleasure. Congress could pass a law tomorrow requiring that all aliens from Arabic countries leave. (More on that next week.) Congress could certainly pass a law requiring all aliens to get approval from the INS before boarding an airplane in the United States.

Swarthy males. Internal passports. Deport all Arabs who aren’t citizens. Keep resident aliens off flights originating in the US. What comes after that? Are we to the part yet where we smash all their shop windows and require them to wear star-and-crescent patches on their clothing?

(This may not be the moment for sarcasm. If anyone living in the United States who is of Middle Eastern descent is reading this, please understand that if it became necessary I would support US citizens taking up arms in defense of your safety, legal rights, and peace of mind; and that if anyone in this discourse is being un-American, it’s Ann Coulter. Thank you. Peace. Be of good cheer.)

Believe it or not, there’s more.

Coulter’s next column, a week after that, was Future Widows of America: Write Your Congressman, and it actually managed to top her previous efforts:

Congress has authority to pass a law tomorrow requiring aliens from suspect countries to leave. As far as the Constitution is concerned, aliens, which is to say non-citizens, are here at this country’s pleasure. They have no constitutional right to be here.

Congress has it within its power to prevent the next attack, but it won’t. When the Sears Tower is attacked, the president is assassinated, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is vaporized, anthrax is released in the subway systems or Disneyland is nuked, remember: Congress could have stopped it, but didn’t.

Pious invocations of the Japanese internment are absurd. For one thing, those were U.S. citizens. Citizens can’t be deported. So far — thank God — almost all the mass murderers of Americans have been aliens. …

As the entire country has been repeatedly lectured, most Muslims are amazingly peaceful, deeply religious, wouldn’t hurt a fly. Indeed, endless invocations of the pacific nature of most Muslims is the only free speech it is safe to engage in these days.

This is a preposterous irrelevancy. Fine, we get it. The New York Times can rest assured that every last American has now heard the news that not all Muslims are terrorists. That’s not the point. Not all Muslims may be terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims — at least all terrorists capable of assembling a murderous plot against America that leaves 7,000 people dead in under two hours. …

It is impossible to stop Islamic fundamentalists who believe that slaughtering thousands of innocent Americans will send them straight to Allah. All we can do is politely ask aliens from suspect nations to leave — with the full expectation of readmittance — while we sort the peace-loving immigrants from the murderous fanatics.

More benefits of the plan next week, but the beauty part of the Terrorist Deportation Plan can’t wait. There will be two fail-safes: (1) Muslim immigrants who agree to spy on the millions of Muslim citizens unaffected by the deportation order can stay; and (2) any Muslim immigrant who gets a U.S. senator to waive his deportation — by name — gets to stay.

This is brutally unfair to the Muslim immigrants who do not want to kill us. But it’s not our fault.

Yes, she really did say that. There’s a parody of her here, under the title “It’s Time to Empty the Arsenal”; but frankly, I think it’s a mere shadow of the original. The Onion couldn’t parody this woman.

There’ve been assorted fusses kicked up over those columns. If you’re interested, there’s an account of it in the Washington Post. Coulter even managed to get booted out of her contributing editor gig at the National Review. When they refused to run her column with the “swarthy males” remark, she had no more sense than to go running around badmouthing them to the rest of the national media. She called them “girly-boys”, complained that they were censoring her (which they weren’t—did someone say this woman was an attorney?), and claimed that “Every once in awhile they’ll throw one of their people to the wolves to get good press in left-wing publications.”

Wooden bridge. Can of gasoline. Matches. Whoosh.

In their account of the dust-up, the National Review was careful to specify that they were reacting to her behavior and her writing, rather than her content. You may take that as another marker showing us that world is forever altered. Ann Coulter didn’t suddenly run mad in the wake of the WTC bombing. She’s always been a sloppy thinker, and an execrable researcher. Her career was based on the simple fact that many kinds of malicious invective go over better, and are harder to challenge, if you’re a pretty girl in a tight skirt. But she was never a writer.

So she was useful. But times are changing, and other games are being played. Coulter’s irresponsibility, cluelessness, and small, mean mind had their uses when she played at inventing new folktales about liberals. Now that the national subjects have been changed for us so forcibly, a columnist who can’t see the problem with remarks about swarthy males and forced conversions is a liability to be jettisoned.

Did she know she was never anything more than a dancing bear? Who can tell? I can’t find it in my heart to feel sorry for her. In the meantime, she’s been resurrected as a columnist in the drearily furious Frontpage, a magazine in which every third article seems to be about Dauntless David Horowitz, and a one-button clickthrough on the opening screen headed “Outrages” accommodates those who want their fix of cheap moral glow to be quick and uncomplicated.

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