Friday, September 07, 2007


Two events have occured this year which have frankly shocked me at the capacity of a repeated lie to become accepted, even by reasonably intelligent people, as the truth.

First: In Administrative Law, a class taught by the ignorant ideologue Cynthia Drew, the subject of I. Lewis Libby's trial arose (how this relates to the law of executive agencies is quite beyond my ability to understand), and an irritating little overachiever was called upon to describe the elements of the entire issue. Well, according to this student, who, you must understand, has had to have done fairly well in undergraduate study, and on a test of logic, to have even reached law school, Mr. Libby was on trial for, among other things, outing covert agent Valerie Plame. Breathtaking; not, of course, because it assumes that Ms. Plame was covert, and thus that her name could be outed, though even that is doubtful, but because it is a matter of common knowledge that a man named Richard Armitage was the one who revealed Plame's status to the media. Whatever evil intentions the Bush administration may have had against Joe Wilson and his inglorious and shabby wife, they did not extend to having Mr. Libby out Ms. Plame, as Mr. Armitage took care of that himself.

A quick and bright reader might wonder why Mr. Libby was on trial at all, if he didn't even leak the identity of someone who was only arguably a covert agent. Why indeed!

Second: In Telecommunications Law and Policy (what an awful mouthful of a name; really!), a case, the details of which would be utterly boring, involved in some way the construction of nuclear plants. Well, the company considering such construction was dissuaded from pursuing that plan as a result of, among other things, the Three Mile Island incident (I refrain from calling it a disaster). A classmate, explaining this, referred to the "explosion at Three Mile Island." Explosion. There are a number of bad things that can happen at a nuclear power plant. A meltdown. A chemical explosion. And, of course, a full-on, get-under-the-desk nuclear explosion, where the thing goes supercritical.

TMI was not an explosion of any sort.

The common source of these gross misconceptions is a sort of blindness, an acceptance of the received account without any critical eye. Many thought Scooter Libby was "the guy" who outed Valerie Plame. All of us know that something bad happened at TMI. Well, it turns out Libby wasn't the guy, and TMI, while bad, was not Hiroshima. What it takes to understand the truth of these things is not so much skepticism, as simply a confession of ignorance. Few people know what can go wrong with a nuclear power plant. Those who do not know generally prefer simply to imagine that TMI must have been a nuclear explosion, because that is the only "bad thing" that nuclear power can do, in their minds. They are entirely unaware of what really happened, and if called upon to give a true account of the accident, I am quite sure this student would be unable to give any explanation. Saying that "a bad thing" happened would be much preferable to saying "an explosion," but then, the ideal thing is for a person who knows nothing to inform himself. The second-best thing is for him simply to shut up when he is ignorant. Much worse is it to speak when knowledge fails.

So, do shut up.


At 11:53 PM, September 07, 2007 , Blogger Nick Milne said...

I often make a practice of speaking when knowledge fails. I can generally keep things going long enough for knowledge to pull himself together, have a stiff drink, and get back on the line. No, I don't care if the shelling has shot his nerves to hell; I don't care that he's engaged to Mabel back home and she's expecting a baby and he promised he'd be there to raise it; I don't care how many screaming Huns are due to come pouring over the rise at any minute. He can get in there and do his fucking duty, unto death if necessary. I can't hold out here forever. I can't keep bearing his burden.

At 10:21 PM, September 10, 2007 , Anonymous S. said...

Can you imagine the silence that would befall law schools if people only spoke when they knew what they were talking about? Professors, staff, and students all struck mute! Tirades silenced, rants cut off, non-communicative babble ceased mid-word, and verbal preening smothered!



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