Friday, July 25, 2003

Stillwater: Why We Must Burn Down the Public Library

Regular readers of the Gazette have been following the ongoing debate in these pages over whether we ought to continue to fund our Public Library.

Mr. John Rheinberger, the Ward 2 Representative on the Stillwater City Council, was accused of backing a ‘library-closing’ scheme.

Mr. Rheinberger wrote in to make his position clear: he says that he does not want to close the Stillwater Public Library. Instead, what he proposes is to transfer ownership of the Stillwater Library to the Washington County library system. This would relieve Stillwater taxpayers of their obligation to support the library; the County would bear the costs of operation.

A Mr. Joe Reading of Bayport weighed in on the issue. Mr. Reading is a Bayport Public Library Board trustee and chairman of the Bayport Public Library Foundation. He seems to feel that Mr. Rheinberger’s plan has little merit--because if the city decides to relieve us of the burden of taxation by transferring the library to the county, the county must then levy taxes on us to keep the library open. In any case, in light of the County’s current financial constraints, Mr. Reading seriously doubts that it will assume responsibility for our city’s library.

Mr. Reading says that he wrote (in part) because he felt that Mr. Rheinberger had not apprised Gazette readers of all the relevant facts regarding library funding. I am not so sure I agree. Perhaps the omissions were strategic. If Stillwater Library ownership is transferred to the County, and the County refuses to fund it because of budget constraints, and the state refuses to help out due to Governor Pawlenty’s cutbacks--the Stillwater Library will inevitably close. Under this scenario, the County, not Mr. Rheinberger, closes the library and takes the heat. Mr. Rheinberger and his supporters would escape censure, with no biblio-blood on their hands.

Subtle, but perhaps too subtle. I propose a more direct resolution of this knotty problem: burn the Stillwater Public Library to the ground. I assume that the library and its contents are insured; the resulting windfall could then be passed on to the taxpayers in the form of a municipal tax reduction. Problem solved, and the library shows a profit for a change.

Mr. Rheinberger, quite rightly, does not include the library in his list of essential core services that Stillwater taxpayers must fund. Visit the Stillwater Library on any given day, and what do you see? A bunch of kids and retirees, sitting around, reading. Why are we compelled to support this arrant indolence? If I want to read a book, I pull one off the shelf of my private library and read it at home—and I don’t expect the state to send me a check to subsidize this! It is high time that the parasites reading at the public trough receive a wake-up call, in the form of an act of arson in the public interest.

A faint-hearted elected official may quail at the thought of putting such a bold plan into action. But there is at least one historical precedent that indicates that a statesman can set fire to a library without doing any damage to his reputation. Julius Caesar set fire to the Library of Alexandria and went on to enjoy a notable political career for many years afterwards. When was the last time you heard anyone say how much he or she missed the Library of Alexandria?

All that is required is that Mr. Rheinberger engage the services of two or three public-spirited young men, and provide them with some gasoline, old newspapers, and a book of matches. The Stillwater Public Library is practically stuffed with paper; it would go up like a Roman candle. I suggest that the event be scheduled for the early evening, so that local schoolchildren will be free to enjoy the blaze from a safe distance.

I will go further, and make my own opinion a matter of public record. It is probably also the opinion of every thoughtful conservative in Minnesota: I don’t care if Governor Pawlenty and Mr. Rheinberger burn down every public library in the state, so long as my property taxes don’t go up.

William Prendergast is a Stillwater resident and the author of the crime thriller “Forbidden Hollywood”, now available at the Stillwater Public Library.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

GOP Morality: 16 Words=Bush Not Lying About WMD

In recent weeks, the fallout from the ‘Iraq attempted nuclear weapons purchase thingie’ has hurt the President’s popularity. In an attempt to limit the damage, our people have been pointing out that the President’s charge was against Saddam was one itty-bitty statement made in one State of the Union speech, which hardly anyone probably saw (and was probably beaten in the ratings that night by re-runs of Alf, anyway).

And it is argued that the false nuclear weapons charge against Iraq, made in order to move our nation one step closer to war with that nation, consisted of only sixteen words. ‘So what’s the big deal,’ the argument goes, ‘Sixteen words out of a whole speech, he makes one mistake, you want to make a federal case out of it? Duh!’

This particular defense of the President seems to have been the one that has been adopted by the Republican media. It has been successfully disseminated among our core audience--who, as we know, will greedily absorb any facts and arguments we present to them just as if their brains were made out of sponges. Thus wherever you hear the matter discussed you are likely to hear one of our party parrots defending the White House, and squawking about a mere ‘sixteen words.’

And this, I fear, is where we are going wrong. Do we really want to propose a new moral standard for lying, based on length alone? Should we really be suggesting that if a person used only sixteen words to tell a lie, he is not (technically) lying?

I think not. While I remain a fervent supporter of the President and his policies, I cannot support the adoption of this new method for differentiating between truth and lies. For one thing, it would let too many liberals off the hook. Clinton, for one. His famous ‘finger-wagging’ denial: “I did not have sex with that woman!” That’s only eight words; under the new Bush standard, it would be well within the margin for truth.

It must be admitted that the ‘sixteen words or less, and it’s not a lie’ standard would be of some use to some conservatives. Dr. Laura’s original defense--that’s not me in those pictures!—would be excused under the new lying test, if she had limited her attempted deceit to just those six words.

But William Bennett is a notoriously prolix individual, and his statements about his whereabouts during his out-of-town jaunts over the past eight years would probably run into volumes, if collected. Any false explanation he provided in the past, about his ‘wild winner’ casino weekends and about the loosest slots in town and how he almost always wins and gets lots of comps, could probably not be limited to sixteen words. It would be a shame to lose Bennett under the new ‘sixteen word’ standard, since he is our chief moralist.

Just about the only person who would be held accountable under the new standard would be former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, who seems to have turned in volumes of phony stories over the years.

So adopting the President’s new ‘sixteen words or less’ standard for acceptable lying would be just another case of the white man keeping the black man down. And that I cannot support.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

True Lies: Bush's Philosophy of Truth and WMDs

Truths or Lies? Iraq Didn’t Shop for Nukes

The Bush Administration admitted last week its claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger was based on forged documents.

The timing was unfortunate, because British Prime Minister Tony Blair has consistently refused to withdraw Britain’s charge that Saddam sought uranium for nuclear weapons in Africa. If the President and his men decided that they were going to give up trying to defend their phony nuclear weapons buying claim against Saddam, common courtesy dictated that the President should have called London and given the Prime Minister a ‘heads-up’ first.

For months the embattled Blair has been staving off accusations of incompetence or dishonesty in order to secure British participation in the war against Iraq. Now, thanks to the unilateral White House disclaimer, he looks like an even bigger ass than he did last week. The White House’s behavior was inexcusably rude; the very least the President should do is send some nice flowers and a “Gee, we’re sorry” card to 10 Downing Street.

But let’s get to the heart of the matter: how does any of this affect Stillwater? Here is how: the President may have been lying to you, the reader of this column, when he said that Iraq was seeking nuclear weapons. Weapons which could have been used here, against us. As unlikely as it may seem, Stillwater and its attractive, historic bridge would make a particularly inviting target to a madman like Saddam. Those of you who doubt this seem to have forgotten the lessons of September 11th.

But now it turns out that there were no weapons, and that the President may have lied about the degree of the threat to our community in order to get us to go to war. Clearly, the administration is worried about the damage done to its reputation for veracity. Though the White House now admits that the charge against Iraq was false, national security adviser Condoleeza Rice went on television to defend the use of this false statement by the President to justify our war against Iraq. She explained at length that this false charge was not inaccurate, just unproven by the United States.

But how is this possible? How could the President’s statements be both true and false, at the same time?

It is a simple matter for those of us who have studied philosophy. But I fear that most of you have not; the vast majority of Americans spend more time eating Cheetos and watching the Vikings blow it in the playoffs than they do perusing the works of Wittgenstein and Lord Russell.

And it is your loss; because when the President makes a bunch of conflicting statements all in a row, you won’t understand him and will think that he is ‘lying’. And this is not fair: for philosophers tell us that words (and the meanings individuals attribute to words) form our ideas and thus form our minds. This is why it is perfectly consistent for the President to assert that his statement about Iraq trying to buy materials for a nuclear bomb was accurate, and later acknowledge that it was at the same time false.

For example, I may make a statement: “Your wife is fat.” The statement may be true or false, that is, either accurate or inaccurate. There are several unknown factors that affect the truth or accuracy of the statement (e.g. is she from Wisconsin?). But it is also possible that the statement “your wife is fat” was accurate when it was made, but later proves to be false. Or the other way around. And this is why the President left that particular statement out of his speech.

He was not so fortunate with his ‘accurate but false’ statement about Iraq trying to buy material for nuclear weapons. But we must remember that when the President was once asked to name his favorite philosopher, he did not answer “Bertrand Russell” or “Jacques Derrida”, but “Jesus Christ”.

And He alone knows what the President is talking about when he tries to explain this.