Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Thursday, September 11, 2003
What's next, the Apple Pie Act?
I haven't taken the time yet to parse through the various provisions of the Patriot Act to figure out how bad or justified I think they really are. But the more I think about it, the more that name pisses me off. If you're going to introduce legislation, give it a substantive title that conveys some minimal description of what the law is intended to do. Or would that pin you down too much? I suppose the problem with calling it the "Defense Against Terrorism Act" is that it invites the question whether the contents are really narrowly tailored to serve that purpose. Calling something the Patriot Act, on the other hand, tells us nothing. Except that you want opposition to it to sound presumptively unpatriotic. As though the patriots who founded this country thought love of it enjoined any duty higher than safeguarding liberty by scrutinizing the use of power. And then you wonder why so many people are suspicious of the whole idea of patriotism. It's shit like this that gives patriotism a bad name, turns it from a noble sentiment into a form of cynical propaganda. Someone who really held the word in reverence would never profane it that way.

Update: The Argentine writes to tell me I'm underinformed. Apparently it's an acronym: USA PATRIOT = Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. So I have to retract at least partially. Not on my main point, though. I still object to the use of the term "patriot" to denominate a piece of legislation, unless it has something to do with commemorating or compensating the families of fallen soldiers or other people worthy of the honorific. Contrary to my outburst above, however, the fully extended title does tell us what the ostensible purpose of the Act is. Indeed, it does so with more detail than usual in such a title, precisely because they needed more words to contrive the cute acronym. I wonder how many people, though, have forgotten like me that there is an extended title? Now that I focus on it, I see that some media reports concerning the Act capitalize the acronym and others don't.

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