A Conversation with Dr. Moron

Words, Rudyard Kipling said, are the most powerful drug used by mankind.

Given the widespread addiction of so many Americans who swallow whole the words and phrases uttered by the powerful and privileged, I have once again turned to the world-renowned sage Dr. Oxy Moron for a bit of paradoxical wisdom on news in the headlines.

SG:Speaking from his experience as a POW, Sen. John McCain has been very critical of the White House attempt to exempt CIA agents from a proposed ban on torture. It seems the only argument for torture is based on what I think is a demonstrably false notion - that you can get truthful information by applying physical and psychological pain in conjunction with promises that it will stop, if the person cooperates? Morality aside, is torture practical? Does it work?

DM: Of course torture 'works,' as W.H. Auden recognized. Give me a no-nonsense, down-to-earth behaviorist, a few drugs, and simple electrical appliances, and in six months I will have him reciting the Athanasian Creed in public.

SG: What I really don't understand is how the White House argues that the CIA should be exempt from a ban on torture while the president says ''we do not condone torture.'' Isn't that just legal doublespeak?

DM: If the laws could speak for themselves, they would complain of lawyers in the first place. That's how Montagu put it.

SG: How ironic then that Vice President Cheney has been trying to convince Senate Republicans to oppose McCain's torture ban amendment while at the same time being at the center of the CIA leak investigation. White House spokesman Scott McClellan defended Cheney, telling reporters that the vice president is doing a ''great job.'' What's your take?

DM: It's a clash between the political will and the administrative won't, in the words of Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay.

SG: What are you're thoughts on the Senate Intelligence Committee being forced by Democrats to investigate whether or not intelligence was manipulated by the White House in order to support the president's decision to invade Iraq?

DM: Committee -- a group of men who individually can do nothing but as a group decide that nothing can be done, to quote Fred Allen.

SG: So you don't think they'll investigate a single memorandum?

DM: A memorandum is written not to inform the reader but to protect the writer, Dean Acheson reminds us.

SG: Did you hear about the British Royal Air Force officer Malcolm Kendall-Smith? After two tours in Iraq, he was tried before a military court because he refused to return to the battlefield, arguing that he was morally and legally obligated not to take part in a war that contravenes the U.N. Charter?

DM: I agree with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. Any soldier worth his salt should be antiwar.

SG: Really? So you're a dove?

DM: Again, I'm with Schwarzkopf on this. I don't consider myself dovish and I certainly don't consider myself hawkish. Maybe I would describe myself as owlish -- that is, wise enough to understand that you want to do everything possible to avoid war.

SG: Switching gears here. In the ongoing 'Culture Wars,' there's been two recent assaults on the hip hop front -- the new NBA dress code and the criticism of movie billboards depicting rapper 50 Cent holding a gun in one hand and microphone in the other. Is the so-called hip hop generation keepin' it too real?

DM: Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of art, as Oscar Wilde said. Or, in the words of Picasso, we all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.

SG: But what about the children?

DM: The proper time to influence the character of a child is about a hundred years before he is born, as W.R. Inge observed.

SG: Any parting advice?

DM: Never speak ill of yourself. You can count on your friends for that. Or as Pascal said, if you want people to think well of you, do not speak well of yourself.


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