Category Archives: Suppressed Evidence

Do you want firm, weasely abs?

Weaseling is a form of informational misdirection.  You get your audience to agree to a very weak version of a commitment, then proceed as if they’ve agreed to a stronger version.  The greatest weasel ever was in Dumb and Dumber when unattainable romantic interest in the film says that one of the dumb guys only has a one-in-a-million chance of ever having something with her, and he giddily replies “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!” (See the clip HERE)

Beachbody, the giant exercise company that has brought you the Sunday morning infomercials about P90X and Insanity!, has a product called HipHopAbs (don’t click the link if you hate frenetic pop music).  They have all the perfunctory before and after photos, but this awesome weasel caught my eye:

Jump-start your weight loss with this easy-to-follow plan that will help you lose up to 3 inches off your waist in your first week!

Up to 3 inches.  Now, that means:  no more than 3 inches.  But you hear: 3 inches.  Now you own HipHopAbs.  So you’re sayin’ there’s a chance!

Inner Witlessness

David Brooks has a problem with all you people and your outrage over the rape of young boys.  So take a break from feverishly trying assuage your liberal guilt with innumerable OMG SANDUSKEEZ A PERV OMG #librulzrule tweets and witness the real root of your outrage: your own vain refusal to acknowledge the capacity of human beings to deceive themselves about their willingness to act.

I know. A shocking thesis. Let's hear it again.

People are outraged over the rape of young boys because they are trying to mask their own guilt at knowing they would probably also do nothing.  Quoth Brooks:

First came the atrocity, then came the vanity. The atrocity is what Jerry Sandusky has been accused of doing at Penn State. The vanity is the outraged reaction of a zillion commentators over the past week, whose indignation is based on the assumption that if they had been in Joe Paterno’s shoes, or assistant coach Mike McQueary’s shoes, they would have behaved better. They would have taken action and stopped any sexual assaults.

Unfortunately, none of us can safely make that assumption. Over the course of history — during the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide or the street beatings that happen in American neighborhoods — the same pattern has emerged. Many people do not intervene. Very often they see but they don’t see.

So, if people can't stop a genocide, they can't stop a rape.  That seems off to me, but who am I to say? After all, Dave has SCIENCE!

Even in cases where people consciously register some offense, they still often don’t intervene. In research done at Penn State [ed. note: site where study occurred chosen, like, totally at random] and published in 1999, students were asked if they would make a stink if someone made a sexist remark in their presence. Half said yes. When researchers arranged for that to happen, only 16 percent protested.

In another experiment at a different school, 68 percent of students insisted they would refuse to answer if they were asked offensive questions during a job interview. But none actually objected when asked questions like, “Do you think it is appropriate for women to wear bras to work?”

First, we're given no indication of (1) the source of these studies, (2) the size of the samples, or (3) whether or not they were published, and therefore subject to the rigors of peer review.  For all we know, this was some odd balding guy with wire-rimmed glasses and a bow tie and a New York Times press pass, wandering around Happy Valley and Different School University creeping out students with odd questions.  Second, of course self deception could be only explanation for the responses to these studies.  It couldn't be that college age individuals are often poorly educated as to what constitutes sexual harassment or inappropriate sexual behavior, or that the studies appear, at least on their face, engineered to elicit a specific response.  Nope. The only explanation is that people deceive themselves as to the extent they would act to stop another human being from being harmed. Why, you might ask? Dave has answers, bros:

In centuries past, people built moral systems that acknowledged this weakness. These systems emphasized our sinfulness. They reminded people of the evil within themselves. Life was seen as an inner struggle against the selfish forces inside. These vocabularies made people aware of how their weaknesses manifested themselves and how to exercise discipline over them. These systems gave people categories with which to process savagery and scripts to follow when they confronted it. They helped people make moral judgments and hold people responsible amidst our frailties.

But we’re not Puritans anymore. We live in a society oriented around our inner wonderfulness. So when something atrocious happens, people look for some artificial, outside force that must have caused it — like the culture of college football, or some other favorite bogey. People look for laws that can be changed so it never happens again.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that the tendencies noted in the second paragraph stem from an adherence to the codified moral systems whose absence from present day society is implied by the same paragraph! But perhaps I'm simply deceiving myself. After all, as someone who considers himself a vehement opponent of old men raping children, I'm obviously just pontificating from my perch high atop the moral high ground. Right, Dave?

Commentators ruthlessly vilify all involved from the island of their own innocence. Everyone gets to proudly ask: “How could they have let this happen?”

The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive. That was the proper question after Abu Ghraib, Madoff, the Wall Street follies and a thousand other scandals. But it’s a question this society has a hard time asking because the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature.

Seems to me the proper question is how we can stop 55 year old football coaches from using the facilities of one of the most illustrious athletic programs in the nation to rape boys.  Seems to me the proper question is how we might rebuild the power structure at Penn State to ensure that the full powers of that institution of higher learning are never put in service of the protection of a child rapist.  Seems to me the proper question is why a judge that worked for the foundation this man used as his child rape pool, was allowed to hear this man's case and then set him free on unconditional bond.  If my thinking that these are the proper questions make me someone who is simply trying to assuage liberal guilt, then I prefer the deception to the alternative.

Which, on the basis of Brooks' claims, seems to be nothing.

Sabotage or Enforcing Equal Protection?

Maggie Gallagher has been doing some reading, and she's found that Richard Epstein, a libertarian legal theorist, opposes the way the Department of Justice and the lower courts have been chipping away at the Defense of Marriage Act.  She approvingly quotes Epstein:

I … think that the DOJ's faint-hearted advocacy is no way to run a legal system…. Nor is it wise for courts to use the equal protection clause as a club against conventional morality, deeply felt.

In the title of her posting, Gallagher calls these decisions that merely allow same-sex partners of federal employees access to federally mandated family benefits (such as health and dental coverage, at issue in the Gill vs Office of Personal Management) sabotage of electoral politics and morality.

Strange, but the question of equal protection isn't about reflecting the moral judgment of the majority.  It's about ensuring minority rights and protections.    And saying it is a question of "deeply felt" moral conviction is to betray the expressed intent and justification of the law, that of "responsible procreation."  Turns out the DOMA was really just majoritarian moralizing all along, only dressed up as a public health initiative.  Thanks, Maggie Gallagher, for pulling the curtain back.

A time to gloat

Today's Washington Post features two articles about how bad Health Care reform is for us all from guest columnists, an article about awesome natural gas, and two of the regulars (Krauthammer and Gerson) gloating about the recent victories in the historically momentous off-off year governor elections in Virginia and New Jersey.  For Krauthammer, these victories show how Obama has not eliminated the need for elections:

In the aftermath of last year's Obama sweep, we heard endlessly about its fundamental, revolutionary, transformational nature. How it was ushering in an FDR-like realignment for the 21st century in which new demographics — most prominently, rising minorities and the young — would bury the GOP far into the future. One book proclaimed "The Death of Conservatism," while the more modest merely predicted the terminal decline of the Republican Party into a regional party of the Deep South or a rump party of marginalized angry white men.  

A straw man or a hollow man?  I can't think that anyone seriously would have predicted no republican would ever win any race ever again.  Many in fact won on that election night in 2008, it's just that Democrats secured large majorities in both houses of congress and won the presidency.  I'll go with hollow man here: no one held the view Krauthammer is attacking.

He should be allowed to have his fun about the great myth of Obama.  He continues:

The irony of 2009 is that the anti-Democratic tide overshot the norm — deeply blue New Jersey, for example, elected a Republican governor for the first time in 12 years — because Democrats so thoroughly misread 2008 and the mandate they assumed it bestowed. Obama saw himself as anointed by a watershed victory to remake American life. Not letting the cup pass from his lips, he declared to Congress only five weeks after his swearing-in his "New Foundation" for America — from remaking the one-sixth of the American economy that is health care to massive government regulation of the economic lifeblood that is energy.

Moreover, the same conventional wisdom that proclaimed the dawning of a new age last November dismissed the inevitable popular reaction to Obama's hubristic expansion of government, taxation, spending and debt — the tea party demonstrators, the town hall protesters — as a raging rabble of resentful reactionaries, AstroTurf-phony and Fox News-deranged.

Some rump. Just last month Gallup found that conservatives outnumber liberals by 2 to 1 (40 percent to 20 percent) and even outnumber moderates (at 36 percent). So on Tuesday, the "rump" rebelled. It's the natural reaction of a center-right country to a governing party seeking to rush through a left-wing agenda using temporary majorities created by the one-shot election of 2008. The misreading of that election — and of the mandate it allegedly bestowed — is the fundamental cause of the Democratic debacle of 2009.

Before Charles gets too heated about the death of the Obama mandate, he–and everyone else by the way Democrats included–should consider the following result from Tuesday's election:

House Democrats are adding two new members to their team Thursday and Friday, just hours before a crucial floor vote on health care reform.

One of those guys–Bill Owens–did defeat an authentic Fox-News-deranged guy.  To put this another way, Tuesday's election put Obama two votes closer to enacting his Maoist agenda; it's not the time for gloating. 

White whine

White men can't catch a break these days.  First, the white guy lost the Presidential election, now the winner gets to appoint someone to the Supreme Court.  Though Obama has so far said nothing, this hasn't stopped speculation of the weirdest variety:


That's a stock image of an average white guy in a tie (from, not, as one might have imagined, some shunned potential Supreme Court nominee.  Now Richard Cohen–liberal columnist in the Washington Post–expresses his deep concern over the fate of white men under the impossible burden of affirmative action.  He writes:

As the time approaches for President Obama to choose a successor to Justice David Souter, the term "litmus test" will be heard throughout the land. The White House will deny applying any such thing, but the nominee will undoubtedly be chosen according to where she stands on abortion, unions and other issues beloved by liberals. This is fine with me, but what I want to know is where she stands on Frank Ricci. He's a firefighter.  

What follows is a detailed description of Ricci's case (recently argued before the Supreme Court)–how he's been discriminated against on account of his being white, and so forth.  That may be, and by Cohen's very sorry description of the case, it looks absurd.  But as a general rule absurd arguments do not make it all the way to the Supreme Court, so one might wonder.  But that's not the point anyway.  Cohen seems to take this particularly absurd case as representative for how affirmative action needs to end, since, of course, racism is over and so forth (because "For most Americans, race has become supremely irrelevant. Everyone knows this. Every poll shows this.").

It's worse than this, however, because affirmative action (as demonstrated by Cohen's extreme example) is profoundly unfair in principle (like trying to "square a circle."):

Liberalism, a movement in which I hold a conditional membership, would be wise to get wise to what has happened. Blatant affirmative action always entailed a disturbing and ex post facto changing of the rules — oops, you're white. Sorry, not what we wanted. As a consequence, it was not racists who were punished but all whites. There is no need to cling to such a remedy anymore. There is, though, every need to retain and strengthen anti-discrimination laws, especially in areas such as fire departments, where racial discrimination was once endemic. Sufficient progress has been made to revert to treating individuals as individuals. After all, it is not some amorphous entity called "whites" who will suffer: It is un-lieutenant Ricci.

Bill Clinton tried to square the circle of affirmative action in his "Mend It, Don't End It" speech of 1995. It was a moving and eloquent address in which he recounted his region's history, reminding us of the depth and ferocity of racism in the South and elsewhere. Trouble is, the New Haven case proves that affirmative action was not mended at all. It remains noble in its ends and atrocious in its means, and it now provides Obama the chance to use his own family's history — indeed his own history — to show why it ought to conclude.

Affirmative action was never meant to "punish" racists by excluding them from employment.  This underscores Cohen's failure to grasp both the concept of affirmative and the facts of the case he discusses (his only reference is an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by two conservative think-tankers).  One can found more background on the relevant legal questions here.  Without the necessary and obvious context, Cohen's ranting sounds a bit like this.

Viginti quattuor

Michael Gerson confuses sophistical pseudo-skeptical hand wringing with actual moral deliberation.    

The Justice Department memos raise a question: Can coercive interrogation ever be justified? Few Americans would object to the slapping of a terrorist during questioning, for example, if this yielded important intelligence. The coercion would be minimal; the goal of saving lives, overriding. Few Americans, on the other hand, would support pressuring a terrorist by torturing his child. Such a heinous act could not be justified in pursuit of an inherently uncertain outcome — securing information that may or may not prevent greater loss of life.

So the use of coercion in interrogations lies on a continuum of ethics and risk. Lines must somehow be drawn on the slippery slope — the difficult task that Justice Department lawyers were given. On which side of the line should waterboarding lie? It is the hardest case. The practice remains deeply troubling to me, and it was discontinued by the CIA in 2003 after being used on three terrorists. But some members of Congress, it is now apparent, knew of the technique and funded it. The decision was not easy or obvious for them. It was just as difficult for intelligence and Justice Department officials in the months of uncertainty following Sept. 11.

And, skipping a paragraph:

Some have dismissed this argument as "moral relativism" or the assertion that the ends justify the means. But this betrays a misunderstanding of ethics itself. The most difficult moral decisions in government are required when two moral goods come into conflict. Most of us believe in the dignity of the human person, a principle that covers even those who commit grave evils. Most of us believe in the responsibility of government to protect the innocent from death and harm. Government officials pursue both moral goods in a complicated world. In retrospect, they may sometimes get the balance wrong. But national security decisions are not made in retrospect.

I suspect that most Americans, in considering these matters, would come to certain conclusions: There should be a broad presumption against harsh interrogations by our government. An atmosphere of permission can result in discrediting crimes such as Abu Ghraib. But perhaps in the most extreme cases — when the threat of a terrorist attack is clear and serious — American officials may need to employ harsh questioning, while protecting terrorists from permanent injury. In broad outlines, this approach is consistent with the Justice Department memos.

Moral deliberation would seem at least to involve knowing what is minimally acceptable conduct.  Luckily, sometimes what is acceptable is just obvious, there is, for instance, no right time and right place and right woman and right way to commit adultery, so says the Stagirite at least (Nicomachean Ethics II.6, 1107a8-12).  On that analogy, water boarding, and various other techniques considered torture by the US military and the FBI (to name a few relevant organizations) is torture.  Redefining the words (now it's "harsh interrogation") and feigning skepticism (on which side should water torture, ahem, waterboarding lie?) about their meaning and application because of worries about a TV show scenario shocks the conscience.

Taking pride in being ignorant

In response to distortions of story, Obama said it seems like certain people "take pride in being ignorant."  Enter Newt Gingrich and Sean Hannity:

GINGRICH: Well, I got a very funny e-mail from a retired military officer in Tampa who pointed out that most tire inflation is done at service stations and you pay for it. And it’s actually a higher profit margin than selling gasoline. So Sen. Obama was urging you to go out and enrich Big Oil by inflating your tires instead of buying gas.

Video here.  The tire inflation advice was not only a strategy to deprive BIG OIL of vast profits, but one to save you money on gas.  So the amount invested on tire pumping (50 cents) will save you much more in fuel efficiency (with all of the accompanying benefits, such as depriving Big Oil of its profits, not filling the atmosphere with that much more carbon, etc.).  In case you're keeping score at home, this would amount to, I think, a fairly textbook case of suppressed evidence.

Surge protector

I heard this on the radio and thought it didn't make any sense.  Even though it's a politician, I'll break with tradition (that's "tradition" by the way, not "rule") and put it up here.  And if you're addicted to "balance," then go find some crazy equivalent howler by Obama so we can talk about that.  It's John McCain criticizing Obama on the surge. 

Oddly enough, my opponent advocates the deployment of two new combat brigades to Afghanistan — in other words, a surge. We're left to wonder how he can deny that the surge in Iraq has succeeded, while at the same time announcing that a surge is just what we need in Afghanistan. I'll leave all these questions for my opponent and his team of 300 foreign policy advisors to work out for themselves. With luck, they'll get their story straight by the time the Obama campaign returns to North America.

The only way this argument would work is if Obama had argued that "surges" (I'm weak on military strategy, but I don't think that's a kind of thing) do not work in principle–which, as far as I know, he didn't. 

I guess I would call this a rather straightforward case of suppressed evidence.  Afghanistan and Iraq are obviously different vis a vis military surging.  Reasons for surging in one place are not reasons for surging in every place.  

On the merits

We’re back from Spring Break.  Opening up today’s Washington Post, we noticed that George Will holding forth on the judiciary.  For those who don’t know, George Will has one thing to say about the judiciary: it shouldn’t be in the business of making social policy.  Of course that’s a silly view, because it purposely ignores the questions the courts must resolve: what is the law?  What does it mean to "bear arms"?  What does "free speech" mean?  What is "equal protection"?  These are unavoidable social policy questions.

Today he animates his usual complaint with the following statistic:

The denial of annual increases, Roberts wrote, "has left federal trial
judges — the backbone of our system of justice — earning about the
same as (and in some cases less than) first-year lawyers
at firms in major cities, where many of the judges are located." The
cost of rectifying this would be less than .004 percent of the federal
budget. The cost of not doing so will be a decrease in the quality of
an increasingly important judiciary — and a change in its perspective.
Fifty years ago, about 65 percent of the federal judiciary came from
the private sector — from the practicing bar — and 35 percent from
the public sector. Today 60 percent come from government jobs, less
than 40 percent from private practice. This tends to produce a
judiciary that is not only more important than ever but also is more of
an extension of the bureaucracy than a check on it.

I wonder what "government job" means in this instance.  Could it mean they were judges?  That’s a government job.  And I’d hardly call that particular government job "an extension of the bureaucracy" (since, after all, the judiciary is a branch of the government).  

But what silly conclusion does Will draw from this?

Upon what meat hath our judiciary fed in growing so great? The meat of
modern liberalism
, the animating doctrine of the regulatory and
redistributionist state. Courts have been pulled where politics,
emancipated from constitutional constraints, has taken the law — into
every facet of life.

Even though the "government job" set-up is silly, this is even sillier.  But it’s the typical Will complaint about the courts.  Courts, Will complains, have been pulled around by politics, etc. etc.  That’s a silly objection.  Here’s why: the courts decide political issues.   They have to.  It’s their job.  When they decide these questions, they give arguments, called "opinions."  These contain what they consider the legal rationale for the position they take.  If Will doesn’t like this legal rationale, then he owes the courts an argument, as they say in legal circles, "on the merits."  To ignore this obvious fact, as Will does, is what one might call "begging the question." 

For the one or maybe two conservatives who may stumble upon this, I’m not arguing that the opposite of Will’s view (whatever that might be) is correct.  I’m merely suggesting that his complaint about the judiciary is hollow.  There probably are some pretty good conservative positions on the judiciary.  It’s a shame that shallow whining of the Will variety has achieved such prominence.