Dear Winston, fourth edition

Dear Winston,

I keep reading stuff about how narcissistic we have become, especially young people. Things like Myspace, Facebook and YouTube (and commentators at blogs) are always cited as examples of this dangerous phenomenon that threatens the very foundations of society. It seems to me that these things are symptomatic of the opposite - a craving for connection, commonality and community. What do you think?


Curious in New Mexico — where the chilies are hot and the women are hotter
(This is a reader submitted letter taken from the comments.)

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Dear Curious,

What I find to be particularly absurd is how often these expressions of grief about the Internet’s alleged adverse impact on the purity of America’s soul come from major media pundits — you know, the folks who so love to look down their often very long (in the Pinocchio sense) noses at bloggers and other “new media” commentators for their alleged narcissism: Seriously, do these folks not own mirrors? 

Take a look at this definition:  Narcissism: Excessive love or admiration of oneself.

Now, ask yourself to whom this applies more: A teenage girl who likes to post links to her favorite musicians and actors on her personal webpage or, say, Christopher Hitchens, Chris Matthews or Howard Kurtz?

Not a particularly tough call is it?

Let’s just take the case of Hitch the Snitch, the former “liberal” columnist for The Nation turned neoconservative-warmonger: Here’s a man who literally perspires arrogance (or is it Johnnie Walker Black?), this despite having been wrong just about every time he’s opened his mouth in recent years, especially on the subject of Iraq.  The same can be said (except maybe for the Johnnie Walker Black part), of course, for pretty much the entire editorial staff of the Washington Post and most of the rest of the DC punditry.

I must confess to harboring a secret wish that one day the density of the combined narcissism of these professional gasbags will become so great that it will curve in upon itself producing a singularity — a black hole whose gravitational pull will be so strong that not even Bill O’Reilly’s ego can escape.

Besides, if blogging and otherwise posting on the Internet is narcissistic, doesn’t the same conclusion naturally follow for all other forms of writing?

In terms of the human motivation at play — which, of course, is what we’re concerned with in discussing narcissism — there’s really no difference between John Updike penning a Pulitzer Prize winner and Jake the used car salesman down the street pecking away at his PC preparing a post for his sports blog that’s been visited a grand total of 17 times (it was his mother, but even she lost interest eventually).  Both are writers.  Both are spewing their souls into the great meat grinder of public judgment — even if the most common judgment returned for the Jake’s of the world is simply that of being ignored.

Actually, the way young people tend to use the Internet in their personal lives today is the complete antithesis of narcissism.  Try spending an evening at the home of a teenager — let’s make it a boy: There he’ll be sitting, staring at the computer screen, with message after message popping up as he carries on real-time electronic conversations with at least a half a dozen friends simultaneously: More often than not, he’ll also be talking on the phone, maybe on two phones — one cell and one hard-line. 

It can certainly be argued whether all of this sensory overload is really the best way for kids to seek out companionship.  But it sure as hell isn’t narcissism.

Now, I don’t doubt that computer use can sometimes become a harmful addiction, with virtual chatting taking the place of direct human contact (remember, virtual sex is never going to get your parents those grandchildren they want).  And by the same token, one spouse spending too much time at the computer is a very common complaint at marriage counseling.  But in many other situations, Internet relationships provide people with an important sense of community they may otherwise lack.  Spend a little time rummaging around the Democratic Underground website, especially in its largely nonpolitical lounge forum, and you will see this very clearly.

I’ve largely stopped posting at DU (I never did much), although I find it, along with BuzzFlash, to be among the best sources for breaking news.  I think, to some extent, DU has become a victim to its own success.  With so many thousands of people posting, it can be almost impossible for anyone other than one of the very regular participants to get noticed enough to actually become part of the conversation.   

Still, I’ve been amazed by how often, during my occasional visits to the site, I’ll find meaningful acts of community support — one might even say humanity — among DUers: People are encouraged in illness and comforted in death.  Birthdays, graduations and other milestones are celebrated (along with the somewhat more, yes, narcissistic celebration of rising post totals).  It’s also obvious that DU provides an important source of human contact for politically minded people who, because of advancing age, physical disability or for whatever other reason, find themselves limited in there ability to “get out there” among other people.

A virtual hug can’t compare to a real one, but it’s a hell of a lot better than no hug at all.

Every new technology brings with it at least a few unwanted side effects.  This has certainly been true in the case of modern Internet communication: But surely no one can doubt that the good has massively outweighed the bad.   



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Dear Winston,

What’s your take on Justice Department official Monica Goodling taking the Fifth Amendment in the US attorney purge investigation?  I know she’s entitled to the presumption of innocence, but it’s pretty hard not thinking that she has something to hide.

What do you think, Winston?  Is it wrong for me to feel that way?


Suspicious in St. Louis

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Dear Suspicious,

Thanks for the letter.  You’ve given me the opportunity to address a common misconception about the Fifth Amendment.  Contrary to what many people assume, the right against self-incrimination applies (with some exceptions) only to potential criminal prosecutions.  So while it’s true that taking the Fifth can’t be used against a person in a criminal trial, in many other facets of life it can and often is used against people, sometimes with devastating consequences to the person in question.  For example, under federal law if a defendant in a civil lawsuit (as opposed to a criminal prosecution) refuses to answer relevant questions because doing so might tend to incriminate him in a separate criminal prosecution, this refusal to answer can be introduced into evidence at the civil trial and the court and jury are free to draw adverse inferences from it.

In the specific case of Ms. Goodling, some interesting issues have been raised as to the validity of her invocation of the privilege.  For example, her lawyer’s explanation for why the Fifth Amendment supposedly applies seems to have more to do with fear she will be treated “unfairly” by the Committee, than with any actual concern over possible prosecution for past law-breaking.  This doesn’t even come close to stating a proper basis for refusing to testify.

Likewise, as many others have noted, Goodling may not legally refuse to testify simply because she’s afraid she may say something in her testimony that will get her charged with perjury (another basis at least implied in her lawyer’s letter).  The way to avoid a perjury rap isn’t to take the Fifth — it’s to tell the truth.

Still, whatever the validity of Goodling’s claim from a technical legal standpoint (and I personally doubt Congress will try to force her to testify over her Fifth Amendment claim), the fact remains that a highly placed official in the Department of Justice has now refused to give truthful testimony before Congress regarding her official duties based upon the claim that doing so may tend to incriminate her. 

There is no Fifth Amendment privilege applicable to the courtroom of public opinion.  We as citizens have every right, if we deem it proper, to assume the very worst — and not just about her, but about the entire den of thieves we euphemistically call the leadership of the executive branch of the United States Government. 



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Dear Winston,

Here’s something for you pathetic liberals to think about. George W. Bush will leave office on Jan. 20, 2009.  So, have you given any thought to how you crybabies will fill your time come the morning of Jan. 21, 2009 when you no longer have Bush to kick around?


Pissed Off in Peoria

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Dear Pissed Off,

Actually, I expect to be so hung over then that I won’t have much chance to worry about it.



More updates of Dear Winston will be coming. Feel free to post questions to Winston in the comments.

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Check out the last edition of Dear Winston here.

Check out the episodes archive here.

21 Responses to “Dear Winston, fourth edition”

  1. iowametal76 Says:

    “Actually, I expect to be so hung over then that I won’t have much chance to worry about it.”

    I still have the bottle of champagne I bought on the morning of November 4, 2004… I think 1/21/09 might be a good day to finally open it.

  2. alwayshope Says:

    This pathetic liberal is laughing and thinking……………oh yeah,…that’s right…..they quit kicking Bill Clinton around in January 2001……..
    You know what? I say we kick ol’ Bushie around until …hell, we’ll never stop kicking him around.
    ” The evil that men that men do lives after them, the good is oft intered with their bones.”
    -marc antony

  3. alwayshope Says:

    About the blogs and narcissism. I agree, this is more a reaching out than an ego trip. We crave connection as much as we crave truth. Of course, there will be those who use and abuse, but the message is clear. We reach out, we seek kindred spirits. I don’t post much any place else, though I used to post on Huff and Buzzflash once in a while. I’ve sent a poem or two here and there but until this cafe, I mainly ranted to my senators and congressmen.
    We have shared some personal info as well as opinion, which is what human beings do. I would never have known you Democracy Cafe characters if not for reaching out, not to see myself type (Which is pathetic {for you, pissed off in Peoria}) but to make a connection with intelligent, free thinking people who make me think, make me laugh, make me cry and make me happy to be a part of this dangerous phenonmenon.

  4. alwayshope Says:

    I may as well comment on the Fifth Amendment thing, since I’ve lipped off about every other topic today.

    No wait. I forgot, on my other post to say that I loved what you said about Hiitchens, Winston! That guy annoys me with his his freaking holier than thou, “I’m Christopher Hitchens and you’re not” crap.
    His kind of snobbery is so out it’s comical.

    The Fifth? Yes, I believe miss Goodling should take it, jack daniels or Jose Cuervo, whatever…she’s gonna need it.

  5. Larry the Red Says:

    I laughed my ass off when I read the letter from Goodling’s lawyer. I’ve never read anything quite like it. His client is a lawyer in the JUSTICE Department, for chrissake! I didn’t even know at the time that she went to a holy roller law school founded by Pat Robertson. Her only qualification is blind loyalty to the cult of Shrub. That’s all anyone needs, of course, to rise to the top in this administration. I never thought the term “Justice Department’ would become an oxymoron and a sick joke. As for hangovers on January 21, 2009, hell - I’m taking off the rest of that week. I might not even wake up until the 22nd.

  6. Chuck Says:

    Let’s go back to that 5th thing. 1st, I didn’t know it could be used only in criminal cases, 2d, I remember listening to the McCarthy anti-communist hearings when there was a lot of people taking the 5th. (I must have seen them on tape or something. My God! I couldn’t possibly be old enough to actually watched them on television could I?!) Anyhow, the idea of people taking the 5th was considered tantamount to being guilty. If you had nothing to hide, the argument went, then you would talk. If you wouldn’t talk, ergo, you had something to hide, ergo you were guilty. Sort of a guilty till proven innocent view. (I think that comes from the Napoleonic code, but as I remember it, the code also inferred that whoever brought false charges would have to serve the sentence that would have been given the accused had he not proven innocence. I’m not a law student so I could have some of this mixed up.)

    To me, taking the 5th is a constitutional right, and though not always satisfying, is nonetheless a right that should be maintained.

    On the other hand, if it only applies to criminal activity, it seems there would 1st have to be a showing of law-breaking, and perjury is law-breaking.

    Quite complicated to this old man.

    From Steve: Chuck, remember that a witness can claim the Fifth Amendment privilege in congressional hearings or even in civil trials.  But it has to be claimed on the basis of criminal jeopardy.  If you do claim it in a civil trial, the fact you did so can never be used against you in any later criminal case, but it may be used against you in the civil case.  Clear as mud?

  7. Larry the Red Says:

    As a criminal defense lawyer myself, I certainly agree with Chuck that “To me, taking the 5th is a constitutional right, and though not always satisfying, is nonetheless a right that should be maintained.” I wish more of my clients had exercised that right. Anybody who thinks (s)he can talk his/her way out of an arrest or prosecution is almost always wrong and usually just made his/her situation drastically worse.

  8. Chuck Says:

    Mud more clear.

  9. Chuck Says:


    Thanks for the support. It brought back a memory of a raft trip I took on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon more years ago than I want to consider. One of the people on the raft was a criminal defense lawyer & I mentionined that it must be tough defending somebody that he knew or thought was guilty. He shot back, “what am I supposed to?, go before the judge and say ‘I think he’s guilty as Hell?’” It made me re-think a lot about the justice system. Not always as either/or as we sometimes think.

  10. iowametal76 Says:

    I wonder what all these Justice (hahahahahaha!!!) Department officials would say if it were a Democrat pleading the Fifth? Something tells me it wouldn’t go over too well. Just a hunch…

  11. alwayshope Says:

    Sometimes I can’t believe the level of hypocrisy these republicans can achieve. When i think back on the investigations into Clinton’s Christmas card list and that old whitewater deal and then think about the real crimes Bush has been free to commit, it just boggles the mind. How do they even keep a straight face these days as they defend their murderous liar in our white house and attack democrats as partisan witch-hunters?

  12. iowametal76 Says:

    Even more mind-boggling is that they’re allowed to get away with it. The media and most of the public are complicit.

  13. RJHall Says:

    Apologies for the following downer, but joking aside, who says Prexy (and more importantly Palpatine) will quietly and meekly step down on January 20, 2009? With one simple date change, who knows this passage from Karl Marx’s “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” about how political opponents of a tyrannical president were expecting him to step down when his term of office expired and were taken unprepared by his suddenly calling himself Emperor Napoleon III and staying on will not apply to the U.S.?

    “For the rest, every fair observer, even if he had not followed the course of French developments step by step, must have had a presentiment of the imminence of an unheard-of disgrace for the revolution. It was enough to hear the complacent yelps of victory with which the democrats congratulated each other on the expectedly gracious consequences of the second Sunday in May, 1852. [day of elections – Louis Bonaparte’s term was expired] In their minds that second Sunday of May had become a certain idea, a dogma, like the day of Christ’s reappearance and the beginning of the millennium in the minds of the Chiliasts. As always, weakness had taken refuge in a belief in miracles, believed the enemy to be overcome when he was only conjured away in imagination, and lost all understanding of the present in an inactive glorification of the future that was in store for it and the deeds it had in mind but did not want to carry out yet. Those heroes who seek to disprove their demonstrated incapacity – by offering each other their sympathy and getting together in a crowd – had tied up their bundles, collected their laurel wreaths in advance, and occupied themselves with discounting on the exchange market the republics in partibus [in partibus infidelium – in the lands of the infidels] for which they had already providently organized the government personnel with all the calm of their unassuming disposition. December 2 struck them like a thunderbolt from a clear sky, and those who in periods of petty depression gladly let their inner fears be drowned by the loudest renters will perhaps have convinced themselves that the times are past when the cackle of geese could save the Capitol.

    The constitution, the National Assembly, the dynastic parties, the blue and red republicans, the heroes of Africa, the thunder from the platform, the sheet lightning of the daily press, the entire literature, the political names and the intellectual reputations, the civil law and the penal code, liberté, egalité, fraternité, and the second Sunday in May, 1852 – all have vanished like a phantasmagoria before the spell of a man whom even his enemies do not make out to be a sorcerer.”

  14. Again Says:


    The media and most of the public are complicit.

    but not only the american media and public…

    some days ago i read an article in the german “Spiegel”, mocking about the “typical german mendacity” because at the moment the opionion polls there show that America is “far ahead” Iran in warmongering. So the article explained at length how dangerous Iran is to show how ridiculous this idea is, without even once asking, how often Iran really attacked other nations - and the word “Iraq”, the keyword for the said America-bashing, was used just once - in something like a joke together with Vietnam and a context, Freud would have been happy about: Nazi-Germany

    seems as if nukes don’t equal nukes or wars don’t equal wars - only when “bad boys” do wars, wars are bad, otherwise they are just “an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will.” (von Clausewitz), just an appropriate tool of politics, nothing to worry about

    who cares who has to die, whose children are killed or maimed? People thinking about such meaningless deaths are just wasting time, when there are so much more important things to discuss than wars - the next car, the next TV, the next this and that…


    then think about the real crimes Bush has been free to commit, it just boggles the mind

    problem i see in the spoiled western nations - as long as they are wealthy, healthy and have fun, they don’t want to be annoyed by news about problems or sufferings. They don’t really care about justice and therefore, about democracy

    the saddest thing is, that they probably would - if they would be able to understand, that their own wealth and strength isn’t worth a dime when democracy is dead…

    and democracy passes away, faster and faster - look at Putin, no longer “playing nice”, think of all the “anti-terrorist-laws” everywhere, think of the ease with which politicians all over the globe hurry to kill their own citizens - just in case they sit in a plane of which a politician wonders if it might be a danger…

    seems to be a global cancer which kills democracies - and it always starts with the loss of justice…

  15. Chuck Says:

    I haven’t read that piece by Marx before, but it has always been on my mind that G.W.B. would/might, as commander in chief, just declare Martial Law and suspend elections until “The War On Terror” is over. Or some such scenario.

    Of course if we’re lucky, Cheney will die before it happens.

  16. iowametal76 Says:

    That’s been my fear too. All we’d need is some “terrorist” attack, or some big riot maybe, any big chaotic catastrophe, really, in any major city - let’s say the Democratic National Convention gets blown up with all the candidates and nominees inside. BOOM - marshall law, bring in troops (are there any?) or better still just a hired private army. Swift, brutal. Arrest everyone, make a few “examples”… It’d only be for a short while they’d say. Maybe 30 days, maybe 90. Just long enough to restore order. But then storms keep coming, and 90 days turns into six months. Then a year. Then people start getting sick. Resources are getting stretched a little thin… the sick are dying, and people are hungry. People are getting sick in other cities too. There’s another big riot. Only in Baltimore this time. A little boy is shot. Baltimore burns.
    With travel restricted commerce comes to a near-halt. The hottest and dryest year on record scorches crops from the earth. Chicago reeks of the dead in the summer sun.
    The President makes fewer and fewer public appearances… security is very, very tight. Vice President Cheney’s National Police make sure of that.
    FoxNews1 televises the Wartime Deserters Act Trials live. The subsequent executions are watched live by millions.
    Rumors of special camps in the West begin to surface. More and more people are being arrested. Winter is coming.
    It will be cold. Very cold.

    *shakes head* Whoa. Jeez, sorry. This is what happens in my brain when I watch Florida win. Ugh.

  17. Again Says:

    wow - you should write novels…

    reminds me of Steven’s I Can Still Remember Freedom

  18. iowametal76 Says:

    Thanks! But in order to do so Florida would have to win a lot more. Frankly, I’d almost rather there be no more literature ever than to have that happen. Ick. :)

  19. Larry the Red Says:

    The “it could happen here” meme used to be the stuff of dystopian fantasy. That it has become something that we actually take seriously now is absolutely mindboggling. Blow up the convention center in Denver during the Democratic convention? I wouldn’t put ANYTHING past Cheney and Rove, with Jerry Boykin ready to move in with Jesus’s own army.

  20. alwayshope Says:

    “it always starts with the loss of justice”

    I think we have a sense of fainess/justice built in and when that sense is asaulted, we react in primitive/cellular ways. We cry out, we concede or we deny. Denial is probably the easiest route and many take that path, merrily.
    Concession is the next easiest, they simply give over their free will to another power and with it, responsibility and actionablility.
    The tough path is to speak out, and sustain that speaking out, to be assailed for your words and actions and keep acting.
    Many of us, since the injustice of 2000, have not only been moved to speak out, but are unable NOT to speak out. Our sense of justice will not allow us to accept the alternative and our character will not allow us to concede to inevitablility or deny reality. May the road rise up to meet us and the wind be at our backs.


    I’m a Notre Dame fan so my enemy is Miami U. That doesn’t stop me from rooting against every school in Florida, however.


    I wouldn’t put anything past these guys either but the level of incompetence at which they operate would suggest that they would shoot each other in the face while hiding in their bunker. Bush couldn’t even throw the out first pitch for the start of Baseball season! He’s not going to be king of anything.

  21. Again Says:


    Many of us, since the injustice of 2000, have not only been moved to speak out, but are unable NOT to speak out.

    those people are what i love on the Last Chance Democracy Cafe ;-

    Bush couldn’t even throw the out first pitch for the start of Baseball season! He’s not going to be king of anything.

    he wouldn’t be the first imbecile King George on the throne, but hopefully he will lose America as the first one did ;-)

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