Was Finkelstein’s Mother a Kapo? Dershowitz Says ‘Yes’
Douglas Carpenter, a forum member at Democratic Underground, yesterday pointed me to one of the most odious, scurrilous pieces of garbage I’ve read on the web since…well, since a Jewish Task Force poster wished cancer of the rectum on me. And who do you think we have to thank for this swinish filth? Why, none other than that very model of rectitude, Alan Dershowitz.
A little background. Norman Finkelstein’s parents both were survivors: his father of Auschwitz and his mother of Maidanek. After the war, she testified in war crimes trials against the officers of her camp.
Naturally, Finkelstein wanted to ask his mother a thousand questions about her experience. But he felt he couldn’t. When you feel you can’t discuss a subject with someone you love and respect, it allows your mind to fester obssessively on matters you simply can’t know. As a child deeply sensitive to injustice and moral issues, Finkelstein wondered about why the good died and why those who lived, survived. Were the good saintly and the survivors less so? Did one have to betray one’s moral code in order to survive? Did his mother do so?
This is how Finkelstein movingly portrays the issue:
Except for allusions to relentless pangs of hunger, my mother never spoke about her personal torments during the war, which was just as well, since I couldn’t have borne them. Like Primo Levi, she often said that, being “too delicate and refined, the best didn’t survive.” Was this an indirect admission of guilt? Much later in life I finally summoned the nerve to ask whether she had done anything of which she was ashamed. Calmly replying no, she recalled having refused the privileged position of “block head” in the camp. She especially resented the “dirty” question “How did you survive?” with the insinuation that, to emerge alive from the camps, survivors must have morally compromised themselves. Given how ferociously she cursed the Jewish councils, ghetto police and kapos, I assume my mother answered me truthfully. Although acknowledging that Jews initially joined the councils from mixed motives, she said that “only scum,” reaping the rewards of doing the devil’s work, still cooperated after it became clear that they were merely cogs in the Nazi killing machine. When queried why she hadn’t settled in Israel after the war, my mother used to reply, only half in jest, that “I had enough of Jewish leaders!” The Jewish ghetto police always had the option, she said, of “throwing off their uniforms and joining the rest of us” — a point that Yitzak Zuckerman, a leader of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, made in his memoir. (It was always gratifying to find my mother’s seemingly erratic or harsh judgments seconded in the reliable testimonial literature.) Still shaking her head in disbelief, she would often recall how, after Jews in the ghetto used the most primitive implements or even bare hands to dig bunkers deep in the earth and conceal themselves, the Jewish police would reveal these hideouts to the Germans, sending their flesh-and-blood to the crematoria in order to save their own skins. One of the first acts of the ghetto resistance was to kill an officer in the Jewish police. On a sign posted next to his corpse — my mother would recall with vengeful glee — read the epitaph: “Those who live like a dog die like a dog.” Still, if she didn’t cross fundamental moral boundaries, I glimpsed from her manner of pushing and shoving in order to get to the head of a queue, which mortified me, how my mother must have fought Hobbes’s war of all against all many a time in the camps. Really, how else would she have survived?
Here we have a morally nuanced discussion of a very complex issue. But Dershowitz blows nuance and truth to smithereens in his twisted recapitulations:
“[Finkelstein] suspects his mother of having been a kapo (‘really, how else would she have survived?’ he asks rhetorically)…”
He suspects his own mother of being a kapo and cooperating with the Nazis during the Holocaust”
–Dershowitz’s official Harvard University Law School website profile
Finkelstein even doubted his own mother’s denial that she was a kapo, asking whether her frequent statements that “the best didn’t survive” constituted “an indirect admission of guilt?” The most he was willing to do was “assume” that his mother answered him “truthfully.” But he questioned even that assumption: “Still, if she didn’t cross fundamental moral boundaries, I glimpsed from her manner of pushing and shoving in order to get to the head of a queue, which mortified me. . . . Really, how else would she have survived?” (p. 174)
—The Case for Peace
And of course, wherever Dershowitz has taken a dump, his litter mate, Steven Plaut, isn’t far behind to add to the stench:
…Apparently relying on information supplied to him by Dershowitz, Professor Steven Plaut of Haifa University has recently stated:
While Finkelstein likes to defend his own anti-Semitic ravings by claiming his parents are themselves Holocaust survivors, Dershowitz recently revealed that Finkelstein’s mother was in fact a collaborator with German Nazis during the war. (“DePaul U Confronts Amerikan ‘Empire,'” FrontPageMag.com (3 January 2006); posted on this web site under “The New Year Begins”)
So let’s sketch out the rhetorical argument here. Dershowitz lies his way into a claim that Finkelstein believes his mother was a kapo. Then, for the coup de grace, Plaut multiplies the offense by claiming that Finkelstein himself claims that Finkelstein’s mother was a kapo.
My right-wing friends here don’t like my calling Dershowitz an “academic brownshirt.” Well, give me a better phrase to describe this evil human being. In Jewish tradition, we believe that words not only hurt, they can figuratively kill. That is why, I believe, so many Jews have been great writers. We are sensitive to the power of words. If we are a people of words, a people of the Book, how can we not be deeply wounded as a people by odious Jews such as Dershowitz?
This guy is a Jewish Matt Drudge (Drudge may be Jewish for all I know but you get my point). In fact, he seems worse than Drudge since unlike Drudge he can get on CNN, Huffington Post and other media outlets seemingly at will. What will it take before the MSM acknowledges that Dershowitz has long ago crossed a moral red line and doesn’t deserve to be given a public forum for his odiousness?
Dershowitz’s ally, Plaut, as well as other far-rightist wingnuts accuse me regularly of being a ‘kapo.’ But of course it is much more heinous to accuse Mrs. Finkelstein of this since she actually was a survivor. No one in their right mind credits anything Plaut and the other nutjobs would say about me and so I don’t worry that anyone could mistake their lies for truth. But still the battle against these odious lunatics must be fought.
29 thoughts on “Was Finkelstein’s Mother a Kapo? Dershowitz Says ‘Yes’ – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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I came across this posting of yours on MJ Rosenberg’s web site at TPM Coffeehouse:
Norman Podhoretz: what an old fool, still spewing idiotic notions after all these yrs. We didn’t get enough of him when he was running Commentary. Now we have to read his ridiculous notions once more in the ‘august’ pgs. of WSJ.
Wouldn’t it be a pity if, when they decided to drop the big one on Iran, one of those cruise missiles mixed up its coordinates & landed on Norman’s townhouse??
Certainly not nice to wish death on someone, but since he’s wishing death on millions of others I think it’s warranted.
I suspect that Mr Podhorotz would react the same way you did when someone wished ill health on you.
Norman Podhoretz is in favor of a military campaign not just to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability (which we likely can’t do anyway), but of toppling the Iranian gov’t., a project which would cause the loss of tens of thousands of Iranian & U.S. lives. I jokingly said that an old fool who’s prepared to sacrifice the lives of so many innocent souls shouldn’t be spared the same fate himself.
Unlike Podhoretz, I don’t advocate that any nation go to war against another. So if you don’t see the diff. bet. what I said about Podhoretz & what another stupid Kahanist fool said in wishing cancer on me, then I couldn’t begin to try to explain it to you.
This is a highly interesting topic. Unfortunately its so easy to judge. No one of us experienced the camp situation. I can absolutely accept that people had to do things, they would have never done given a chance to decide. … I have a vague memory about a Kapo’s story. I think he used his position to do something, but I don’t get at the memory traces now. Vaguely there is something he and another did in the Nazi’s bureau at the camp. And I remember the torments, the mental meanderings … What would be best, tell the people what was going to happen and make things worse? He was with them in the room leading to the gas chambers? And he was often close to join them. If in fact felt better …
A German association, I have only understood very, very late in my life.
I found out by accident, in some cases only when people were dieing, that they had helped during the war. E.g. my history teacher helped people over the Rhine into Swiss, that had not enough money to cross the Swiss borders regularly. I heavily attacked him, when it was all too obvious that we would never approach to Nazi period. The next lesson he entered with a pile of books under his arm and put them on my desk. If you like, he said, you can prepare a lecture on Hitler. For students to prepare a lecture was something simply not done then.
I couple of years later, I hitchhiked up to the Black Forest to my parents place. The guy that picked me, grew up in the place were my history teacher came from. He told me his story when we passed the city were my high school was. It was an accident I mentioned the school, and its authoritarian headmaster and it was an accident he knew my history teacher, and his story.
Why didn’t he talk about it when I attacked him? I have been asking myself for years and years. He had no choice, he was restricted by the federal rules of the curriculum/course of instruction/syllabus.Till I learned more about some of these silent heroes.
Imagine: After the war over here, many, many Nazis had some kind of “alibi Jew”, someone they helped out to get their “Persil Scheine (Persil=German detergent; Scheine=papers telling you were “clean”) For any of the silent heroes, to talk about their story, would have meant to move closely into this camp, if they weren’t called Vaterlandsverraeter = enemies of the fatherland.
There are times in life, when there is not much space for free decisions. The helpers, did what had to be done in difficult times. Why talk about it and confront all the suspicion and sick thought after?
the uberzionist crowd tries to destroy the credibility of anyone who dares speak truth about israels zionist regime, one has to look far and wide to discover a more despicable cabal with as strong a network of power brokers and with a following as oblivious and obedient as the zionist in america.
i pray that the harvard proff who attacked proff finkelsteins mothers memory and holocaust suffering get the retribution he derserves from the almighty here on earth for all to see.
Even if Prof Finkelstein’s mother was a Kapo – so what. That has nothing to do with Prof. Finkelstein. There is good reason to believe the Governor of California’s father was a Nazi – but whether you agree with much of his politics – or even the way he treated women in his pre-politics days – there is no indication in any of his politics, or his life in general that he held ANY Nazi views.
Needless to say, this is a big issue in Chicago (at least if you are a regular listener to our NPR stations WBEZ). Just last week when I was driving home from a meeting at schul I heard an interview of Prof Finkelstein. He said much I disagreed with – strongly, and much I agreed with, and much I had no opinion one way or another.
But even the most objectionable of his comments – raised some very intriguing issues – and opened my mind for serious analysis.
Isn’t that what a professor’s job is? Excepting perhaps at institutions like Regency College, isn’t the point of a University to teach students to think for themselves?
Well said Mr. Sniderman.
You write that “In Jewish tradition, we believe that words not only hurt, they can figuratively kill. That is why, I believe, so many Jews have been great writers. We are sensitive to the power of words. If we are a people of words, a people of the Book, how can we not be deeply wounded as a people by odious Jews such as Dershowitz?”
Do you honestly not see the hypocrisy? You defend Finkelstein, a man whose words belong in the pantheon of shrill, offensive remarks.
And more disturbingly, you yourself — despite apparently placing yourself among the “we” who are sensitive — don’t seem to have that much sensitivity when it comes to words, judging by the way you react to those who disagree with your blog posts.
ps Is this “playing nice” enough to publish? I notice you’ve refrained from publishing my response to your attack against my earlier comment.
You’re simply amazing. Dershowitz calls Finkelstein’s mother a kapo & all you can think about is what a mean, mean man Finkelstein is. Do you not have a shred of derech eretz in you? You can’t mount even a feeble mouthing of sympathy for Finkelstein (or at least his mother for God’s sake who should never have been brought into this argument) or tut-tut toward Dershowitz for his baseness? Please, I can’t take anything further you say seriously. You should go home and take out yr Pirke Avot & study about menschlichkeit.
Now, as to Finkelstein being a bad, bad man. YOu mean to tell me that we Jews have always been such nice people? Do you think that the prophets were universally loved by their fellow Jews? Was Spinoza bosom buddies w. the Amsterdam fellow Jews? Was Moses always pleasant in his dealing w. his fellow Israelites & even God Himself?? Of course not. We speak our minds. We argue. We sometimes offend. But we do this because the ideas we argue about are so important. Does Finkelstein offend you? Too bad. He has something important to say. If you don’t want to listen, then go elsewhere.
And I’ll tell you one thing Finkelstein will never do: he will never call Dershowitz’s mother a kapo. Some Jews have standards & others are base louts.
I don’t agree w. some of what Finkelstein says & believes. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let scum like Dershowitz set the agenda for permissible discourse in the Jewish community.
Keep yr. shirt on. When people universally disagree w. me in every comment they publish here, I moderate their comments & publish them when I’m ready to publish my reply. If this doesn’t suit you you’re welcome to deplane at any time. And if it does, you’re welcome to continue visiting & commenting.
It sounds as if Dershowitz has no concrete evidence, only a perverse interpretation of Finkelstein’s rather moving memoir.
Many of my students here must wonder from time to time what their parents (or teachers) did during the Cultural Revolution. There were quite a few memoirs written in the ’80’s, when it became possible. But by now, people want to get on with their lives. “Everyone has the same story” one friend told me.
What exactly of importance does Finkelstein have to say? Fight fiercely, Hezbollah!!
Richard, i must say that i applaud you for your stance regards the proff from depaul.
check this out….
i hope they dont let this dean and the dershowitz cabal that got their way get away without being denounced loudly for all to see…noone will ever really believes that depaul wasnt under some serious financial theats to have been swayed in the direction that they ultimately leaned with regards to denying proffs finkelstein and larudee their tenure.
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DePaul Faculty considering taking votes of no confidence in the school president
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HIGHER EDUCATION | Tenure denials of two profs upset many
06.13.2007 | Chicago Sun-Times
BY DAVE NEWBART Staff Reporter email@example.com
Faculty at DePaul University are considering taking votes of no confidence in the school president and other officials in the wake of tenure denials issued to two faculty members. Separate faculty councils are meeting today and Thursday to discuss the rejections of assistant professors Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee despite strong support from their academic departments and a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences committee.
The tenure bid of Finkelstein, son of Holocaust survivors, had drawn widespread attention because of his suggestions that some Jews had exploited their suffering. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz criticized Finkelstein’s scholarship.
melvin if the proff from depaul didnt have anything important to say he would have gotten his tenure, rest assured that his voice and credentials were the reason for the attacks…much like the proff from harvard stephen walt who lost his post at the kennedy school of government due to financial pressure he was demoted as head…..when someone speaks truth to power…power exerts itself and shows its hand…if these men had nothing of value to say they would have been left alone.
Protesting attack on academic freedom
A Grave Injustice at DePaul University
Why I Plan to Boycott the Catholic Church
06.14.2007 | Counter Punch
By BILL CHRISTISON
Former CIA analyst
I plan to demonstrate publicly but without violence this coming Sunday (June 17, 2007) against the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Rome for condoning the actions of one of its subordinate units De Paul University in Chicago, Illinois, USA in denying tenure for Dr. Norman Finkelstein because of the latter,s criticism of the policies of the government of Israel and the government of the United States in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
My strong belief is that Dr. Finkelstein is an honest and highly competent scholar who seeks justice for and an end to oppression of the Palestinian people, who live in the West Bank, in the Gaza Strip, in Israel itself, and in many other parts of the world in refugee camps and as exiles. My belief also is that he was denied tenure because of these views and because a massive campaign was launched against him by the Israel lobby in the United States a campaign that those Catholic officials who presently dominate the management of De Paul University were unwilling to stand up against.
Samuel: I can’t tell you how happy I am to see this happening. I wouldn’t have believed it possible only a few days ago. People like the president & dean & other academic leaders need to know that there may be consequences for them refusing to defend their faculty fr. this sort of unseemly political (as opposed to academic) onslaught.
Now the DePaul leaders will find themselves in awfully uncomfortable position of having Dershowitz & Plaut rushing to their defense, not what any reputable college president would want in the way of allies.
If holding anti-Israel views is sufficient to stop one from getting tenure, how does one explain the fact that Noam Chomsky has tenure at MIT, or Joel Beinin at Stanford, or Earl Butz ( a Holocaust denier) at Northwestern U, all more prestigious than Depaul? While expressing anti-Israel views can expose you to a lot of controversy, it doesnt automatically confer 1st Amendement protection if the scholarship isnt there. Unfortunately, it is difficult to distinguish where Finkelstein’s “scholarship” ends and venom begins. Perhaps Depaul didnt want to share a bed with Finkelstein’s fellow travelers-see this quote from the zundelsite, a Holocaust revisionist website
[website removed–no linking to anti-Semitic websites permitted]
@ Melvin Schnell
And Juan Cole is still a full professor at University of Michigan. That didn’t stop Dershowitz and his flying monkeys from torpedoeing his appointment to Yale. This phenomenon seems to be recent, and will only grow with the further emboldenment of these scumbags.
Wait, I can’t call Dershowitz a scumbag. He more like the slime that feeds the scum.
Noam Chomsky received tenure decades ago & Beinin some time ago. They also received tenure at schools or in depts. which apparently have more respect for academic freedom & the freedom to think & teach about unpopular ideas than DePaul does.
Read the president’s ltr. to Finkelstein & the dean’s memo denying him tenure. There is no hint of criticism of his scholarship. The main criticism is of his supposed lack of collegiality, a non-scholarly standard. BTW, the DePaul faculty is preparing no confidence motions in the president & dean, so they may eventually get their comeuppance.
Melvin Schnell: This is the 2nd time you have linked to a anti-Semitic website. Don’t do it again. I don’t provide links to such websites nor do I provide links to Islamophobic websites here.
I am not sorry about Finkelstein being denied tenure. Accusing others of plagiarism is a serious character defect in many universitites can preclude tenure. In Hilbergs interview on the topic, he skillfully dodges the issue, and doesnt make the usual statement that “in my institution, he would be given tenure”. Universities are sensitive to whom they are associated with, and Depaul didnt appreciate sharing billing with the Insitute of Historical Review, Zundelsite, Aryan Nations, and Hezbollah, among others
All I can say (as a political science professor myself) is that if DePaul didn’t have solid academic reasons for denying tenure to Professor Finkelstein, then it has very low academic standards.
If they had to go to justifications like “lack of collegiality,” their case will be pretty easy to challenge.
Yr entire comment is bogus. Accusing others of plagiarism is certainly no defect if you can prove it as Finkelstein has. In fact, it is a service to the academic community in order to weed out those like Dershowitz who manipulate the system for their political-intellectual benefit.
Finkelstein has absolutely nothing to do with any of these groups. Yr feeble attempt to link him to them is a calumny. Do something like this again here & yr comment will be deleted & you possibly banned fr. future commenting. Base yr arguments on fact & not on cheap, false slogans.
YOu can get away w. that crap at LGF or Jewlicious, but NOT here.
Did Finkelstein indeed prove that Dershowitz had committed plagiarism? Establishment of plagiarism usually requires evidence of a work that was plagiarized and when confronted with that evidence, a confession usually results. If Dershowitz was found guilty of this, I missed it and hope that you will provide me a link. Even in the less controversial case of Joan Peters, I havent seen this. You have stated that you disagree with Norman Finkelstein. On the subject of Israel, is Finkelstein or Dershowitz closer to your point of view?
Finkelstein wrote an entire book documenting his plagiarism charge, Beyond Chutzpah. It involves the claim that Dershowitz, in his book Chutzpah, lifted large portions of Joan Peters book & that the latter itself was based on fraudulent material & sources.
As for a confession, if Dershowitz were caught red handed murdering his mama he wouldn’t confess. So expecting a confession fr. Dershowitz is a hopeless proposition. Let’s just say that many who read Finkelstein’s book find his claims entirely credible.
On the subject of Israel, neither Finkelstein nor Dershowitz are close to my views. But let me say that the human rights lawyer of the 1970s also oddly going by the name Alan Dershowitz, who championed Israeli Arab human rights & wrote articles in Israeli human rights journals, would have very similar views of the Israeli-Arab conflict to mine. In other words, there was a time when Alan Dershowitz once shared views similar to mine on the issues. But that Dershowitz has long since evaporated into a wild-eyed parody of a stark raving demagogic buffoon.
-Let’s just say that many who read Finkelstein’s book find his claims entirely credible.
If I had tried to palm that off on you, you would have gone ballistic. Safe to say, many who hate Israel find Finkelstein’s claims entirely credible. What disturbs me more is that while Finkelstein may claim that he cannot control the distribution of his books by Holocaust revisionist websites (Institute of Historical Review, Noontide Press, Aryan nations), he has never explicitly condemned these organizations.
This quote from Ingid Rimland appears on Finkelstein’s website
Finkelstein “The Jewish David Irving” — a reference to the notorious Holocaust denier and Jew-hater who recently lost a defamation suit in England
Not that I don’t believe you but…you’ll have to provide me links before I believe any of those sites promote his book. Second, I simply don’t believe Finkelstein has never condemned Holocaust revisionists. That’s simply not a credible statement. I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time trying to find such a condemnation since I don’t know Finkelstein’s work well enough to find this easily. But I simply do not accept this statement.
Finkelstein does not claim that the Holocaust did not happen nor does he minimize the enormity of the loss or the suffering. His work on the Holocaust is in an entirely diff. vein than that of Revisionists.
If you dont mind me posting links to explicitly anti-semitic websites, the urls below demonstrate that anti-semitic organizations are marketing Finkelstein’s books. Without an explicit denunciation from Finkelstein himself, one could argue that Finkelstein benefits from these sales thru royalties. I cannot state for certain whether Finkelstein has denounced these groups, but I have been unable to find it
[URL links deleted]
I take yr pt. that Finkelstein’s books are being marketed by anti-Semites. But the fact is that Finkelstein is by no means a Holocaust Revisionist. If one of these sites links to my blog (& they have, believe me), I’m no more responsible for that than if a demented person read my blog & decided that I’d directed them in code to harm someone (not a great analogy, but I’ve had a bug for the past day or so & am not at my best). In other words, the Revisionists are responsible for their own actions. We are not responsible for those actions nor need we defend or explain ourselves.
You’re playing a game that David Horowitz likes to play. Because someone is favorably linked or mentioned by a supposedly anti-Israel or anti-Semitic website, this person automatically BECOMES anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. This is preposterous. Revionists have their own agenda which causes them to latch onto Jews who they view, for their own twisted reasons, as advancing that agenda.
In my case, I have tried to prevent anti-Semitic sites fr. accessing my blog & told them that their attention was unwelcome. But I don’t believe Finkelstein has to do what I’ve done. And in fact we don’t know that he hasn’t, as you yourself say.
I did not make the claim that Finkelstein is a revisionist. I am making the claim that Finkelstein is benefitting financially from royalties generated by Holocaust revisionist organizations marketing his books. If I were in this position, I would be uncomfortable, and take great measures to dissociate myself from these groups. I challenge you and the contributors to your blog to find explicit denunciations of these groups by Finkelstein and more to the point, a refusal to benefit from royalties generated by Holocaust denial groups. If you can do so, I will shut up
No, but you said the next best thing:
He isn’t a “fellow traveler” of Revisionists either.
He can no more control who sells his books than he can control who takes his classes (at least while he still has a job that is).
If I were in Finkelstein’s position, I might feel the same way. But the pt. is neither of us is in this position. He is. It’s his choice, not yrs or mine. If it bothers you so much why don’t you try writing him a nice, polite ltr. inquiring what his view is on this matter. I’ve written him. He takes responding to e mails pretty seriously. He should reply. Maybe he’s even spoken about Revisionism in his work & can pt. you to a reference. But be careful, you may have to buy one of his books to read it!
Well, at least Dershowitz didn’t say that Finkelstein’s mother resembled a stereotype straight out of Der Sturmer. Oh, wait, that was Finkelstien who said that aboujt “Jewish leaders” in Beyond Chutaph!
“Yet if Jews act out a Jewish stereotype, it plainly doesn’t follow that they can’t be committing the stereotypical act. Can’t they commit a vile act even if it conforms to a Jewish stereotype? It is perhaps politically incorrect to recall but nonetheless a commonplace that potent stereotypes, like good propaganda, acquire their force from containing a kernel—and sometimes even more than a kernel—of truth. Should people like Abraham Foxman, Edgar Bronfman, and Rabbi Israel Singer get a free ride because [Finkelstein’s italics] they resemble stereotypes straight out of Der Sturmer.”
Plaut is way over the line, but if anyone deserves to get what they give, it’s Finkelstein. If words figuratively kill, Finkelstein is a figurative murderer, many times over.
Gimme a break. Finkelstein’s rhetoric is overblown but at least he doesn’t lie as Plaut & Dershowitz do with abandon. I have no idea what “figurative murderer” means. It means nothing & is a stupid rhetorical device on yr part.