Category Archives: Red Herring

Do you like your herring red or blue?

Matt Purple’s got a great change of subject for Republicans concerned about election futures (HERE).  When there are laments about how shallow the Republican bench for 2016 is beyond Christie and Rubio, he’s got a new topic of conversation:

Let’s step onto the 2016 chessboard, no matter how premature it might seem. Republicans certainly have their problems. But focusing obsessively on them obscures the woeful state of affairs on the other side of the aisle.

Or better, focusing on the woeful state on the other side of the aisle obscures the Republican problems.

Well, if they didn’t have the guns…

Just as predictable as the question about whether we need stronger gun controls follows after a public shooting spree, there is the predictable response from conservatives that guns don't kill people, evil/crazy/bad people kill people, so stop with gun control. (See John's earlier link to the Onion article on this point).  Here's Thomas Sowell, over at National Review Online:

Do countries with strong gun-control laws have lower murder rates? Only if you cherry-pick the data…. Britain is a country with stronger gun-control laws and lower murder rates than the United States. But Mexico, Russia, and Brazil are also countries with stronger gun-control laws than the United States — and their murder rates are much higher than ours….

This is the old bait-and-switch, isn't it?  (Otherwise known as red herring)  The question about gun control laws, at least under these circumstances, is whether it's a good idea to have assault weapons available, as with them, public shooting sprees are very, very destructive.  It's not about whether the murder rate will go down.  If you want to murder someone, you'll likely do it with a gun or without.  But if you want to go on a spree of violence, you'll do that with a gun or without, too.  The point of the question is that with the latter, the with the gun option, the public spree of violence kills more people.  Sowell's point about homicide is just beside the point.  Well, at least he's not running the if there were more people with guns, this wouldn't happen line (see, John Lott for that one).

My views are underappreciated by those who disagree with my views

There is a natural tendency to iron man one's own arguments; that's why self-assessment is not an accurate measure of a position's cogency. It also often turns out that such self-ironmanning comes along with underestimating the strength of positions opposed to one's own. For, perhaps if one's arguments aren't so strong, the alternatives a super weak. Key to this strategy is keeping oneself from exposure to the alternatives. Ergo, Fox News. The arguments, whatever their merits, for the alternatives to whatever it is that Fox supports don't get heard there (at least now that Alan Colmes is gone). The other strategy is constantly to complain about how one's arguments don't get treated fairly. Thus, "liberal media." Thus again, Fox News. The diehard Fox News person knows in advance of the critique, so can't be swayed by it.

On this same theme, here is Paul Ryan via Paul Krugman:

“Just last week, the president told a crowd in North Carolina that Republicans are in favor of, quote, ‘dirtier air, dirtier water and less people with health insurance,’ ” Mr. Ryan said at a gathering at The Heritage Foundation on Oct. 26. “Can you think of a pettier way to describe sincere disagreements between the two parties on regulation and health care?”

He makes some good points.  But here is Paul Ryan himself:

Do you remember what he said? He said that what’s stopped us from meeting our nation’s greatest challenges is, quote, “the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.”

I couldn’t agree more.

And yet, nearly three years into his presidency, look at where we are now:

Petty and trivial? Just last week, the President told a crowd in North Carolina that Republicans are in favor of, quote, “dirtier air, dirtier water, and less people with health insurance.” Can you think of a pettier way to describe sincere disagreements between the two parties on regulation and health care? Chronic avoidance of tough decisions? The President still has not put forward a credible plan to tackle the threat of ever-rising spending and debt, and it’s been over 900 days since his party passed a budget in the Senate. A preference for scoring cheap political points instead of consensus-building? This is the same President who is currently campaigning against a do-nothing Congress, when in fact, the House of Representatives has passed over a dozen bills to help get the economy moving and deal with the debt, only to see the President’s party kill those bills in the do-nothing Senate.

"TL:DR: The President has harsh words for our positions on the problem of health insurance and the environment, but what about the problem of red herring?  (or why isn't he worklng on the economy?) " Ryan does not in fact challenge the accuracy of the accuracy of the statement about the environment and he barely addresses the health insurance question (other than to repeat that tax cuts will solve the problem). That has not proven to be a solution, except to those whose brains have been occupied by Wall Street.

The funny thing, I think, about the tendency to make one's case entirely in the form of a complaint that one doesn't get to make one's case–which is effectively what Ryan does here–is that one never makes one's case.  Whatever its merits, the Democrats did something about the health insurance problem, somethinng like what Mitt Romney advocated as governor of Massachussets.

The natural response here of course will be that pointing this out is itself unfair, etc.  I don't believe that tax cuts will solve all problems because I'm opposed to it and I underestimate the strength of the arguments for it.  I do this probably because I am petty. 

Don’t pay the ferryman

As a young boy, I watched the car ferries depart Michigan for Wisconsin, so there is a certain amount of nostalgia for them and their giant plumes of coal smoke.  As one might imagine, however, the coal ash creates a problem for the delicate ecosystem of Lake Michigan and so is sensibly regulated by the EPA.  The owners of the last coal-burning vessel on the Lake, however, won't go quietly.  They have recourse to a creature threatened by their business activitiy, the Red Herring.  The Chicago Tribune reports:

In documents obtained by the Tribune, the car ferry's owners plead for the National Park Service to grant the Badger special protection from the EPA, which in 2008 gave them four years to find a solution to the ship's pollution problems.

"This designation could play a critical role in the survival of this one-of-a-kind historical asset," Bob Manglitz, president and chief executive of the Lake Michigan Car Ferry Service, the Badger's owner, wrote in a letter to the Park Service. Landmark status, Manglitz wrote, would be "invaluable" during negotiations with the EPA about a new Clean Water Act permit for the ship.

In their application for landmark status, the Badger's owners say the ship's "historic propulsion system" is "under threat" by the EPA.

It describes the Badger as "the final stage of development of the Great Lakes rail and auto passenger ferry," making it worthy for protection as an example of once-innovative technology to move goods across the nation. Its massive coal-fired boilers were the last of their kind built for U.S. ships, according to documents filed with the Park Service.

Converting the ship from coal to oil "would destroy part of the historic coal-delivery system and significantly increase operating costs," the application states. Adding diesel engines would leave "the historic machinery intact but unused."

Now as an old man, or rather someone who feels like an old man, I get my drinking water from the very same lake.  So what's the problem with coal ash?

Coal ash contains arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxic metals. The pollutant drew national attention in 2008 after a coal ash holding pond ruptured at a Kingston, Tenn., power plant and fouled an Ohio River tributary. On Oct. 31, a bluff collapsed next to another power plant south of Milwaukee and sent a torrent of mud and coal ash into Lake Michigan.

It would be more honest if the disingenuous owners argued that these historic pollutants–arsenic, lead, and mercury–are under assault by the EPA.

A Missing the Point and Red Herring Sandwich

Cleaning out my drafts folder I came across this from a few months ago. I've always been baffled by those who argue against someone's concern for animal {suffering, lives, rights, etc.} by asking why they aren't concerned with some other form of injustice or suffering. Most of the time it isn't so wonderfully clear a case of missing the point.

Came across a nice case of "missing the point." In the aftermath of the release of an undercover video revealing animal abuse at an Ohio farm, Farm and Dairy editor Susan Crowall wrote a column in favor of the truth about the animal abuse, much of which raises skeptical questions about whether abuse was perhaps sponsored by the undercover agent, etc.. But, at the end of her column she shares the reflections of her husband on this incident.

There is no way to talk about the alleged incidents of animal abuse at the Ohio dairy farm without becoming emotional. When I went home from work last week and shared the emerging story to my husband, however, he found a way to put it in perspective in a new way.

Where are the undercover videos, where are all these well-funded activists, he asked, when it comes to children instead of animals?

. . ..

I’m not trying to downplay the incident. I watched the video once and I will not watch it again. Wanton animal abuse or neglect is inexcusable.

But I also agree with Keith. There are no multimillion dollar-backed undercover investigators, no news conferences, no outraged blog posts or online comments, no protests around homes, in 99% of the child abuse cases. There are just underpaid, overstressed social workers, and a society that cares too little, too late.

As nice a case of missing the point on Keith's part as you can find in a textbook. It may well be true that we should have more undercover investigators exposing child abuse, but, Keith is really just missing the point, and Crowall seems willing to use his non sequitur as part of her red herring strategy to change the subject in whatever way possible.

But, that's not all we find of logical interest in her column. Earlier, we find a nice attempt to impugn the motives of the organization that released the video:

“Animal agriculture is incapable of self-regulation,” condemns Mercy For Animals on its blog. MFA was the group behind the undercover footage and its packaging and release on the Web.

But readers need to be aware of the group’s ulterior motive, and that is promoting a vegan diet (vegans try to eliminate the use of animals for food, clothing or any other purposes). Nothing excuses the actions of the dairy farm employee, but you need to know where this group is coming from.

Not exactly an ad hominem, but certainly seems ad hominish.

And then we get a nice red herring rhetorical move in the form of a series of questions all of which are meant to suggest that there are big unanswered questions that might shed light on the incident.

Who was the undercover “investigator” from Mercy For Animals? When was he hired, if he was posing as an employee? Did he know Gregg before he arrived on the farm? When was Gregg hired? What is the farm’s process for checking references? Who were these guys’ references?

After these sorts of videos come out, it is now standard practice for the industry to attack the undercover investigator (or is that "investigator"?) for complicity in the animal abuse, and now, the industry and its lobbyists are attempting to make such investigations illegal, though several state legislatures have not passed the proposed legislature (Minnesota and Florida).

Because why not

I wrote yesterday about the Wisconsin GOP's response to UW Madison Professor William Cronon's criticism of them: they requested his emails in an open records request.  One naturally wonders why anyone would be interested in his emails when he has been very upfront about his criticism.  Thankfully, the Wisconsin GOP has provided a reason:

"Like anyone else who makes an open records request in Wisconsin, the Republican Party of Wisconsin does not have to give a reason for doing so.

"I have never seen such a concerted effort to intimidate someone from lawfully seeking information about their government.

"Further, it is chilling to see that so many members of the media would take up the cause of a professor who seeks to quash a lawful open records request. Taxpayers have a right to accountable government and a right to know if public officials are conducting themselves in an ethical manner. The Left is far more aggressive in this state than the Right in its use of open records requests, yet these rights do extend beyond the liberal left and members of the media.

"Finally, I find it appalling that Professor Cronin seems to have plenty of time to round up reporters from around the nation to push the Republican Party of Wisconsin into explaining its motives behind a lawful open records request, but has apparently not found time to provide any of the requested information.

"We look forward to the University's prompt response to our request and hope those who seek to intimidate us from making such requests will reconsider their actions."

The only explanation I can think of for requesting Professor Cronon's (yes, they misspelled his name) emails is to make him and others think twice before criticizing the GOP in Wisconsin.  Intimidation, in other words.  I think this first because Cronon is not exactly a "public official" in any ordinary sense.  He's a public employee doing his job as a historian.  Second, even though the GOP isn't (so far as I know) legally required to offer a justification, given Cronon's status as a critic of GOP ideas, one naturally thinks that the GOP has a moral obligation to offer a justification for changing the subject from ideas to persons.  Finally, the GOP spokesperson here, in responding to obvious and justified queries about their behavior, goes for the full red herring in wondering why we aren't talking about the very intimidating and non-compliant Cronon.  That's the tell.    

Ever tried red herring?

Some people think gun control is a good idea.  But "gun control" could mean any number of things.  It might mean, for instance, a complete ban on guns.  Some people want that.  It might also mean a ban on military-style weapons.  Seems more sensible to me.  This might make it more difficult for some solitary crazy person to kill a lot of people at once.  You would have thought that, of course, until you consulted history:

(1) THE (NON) EFFECT ON PUBLIC SAFETY: Set aside the fact that criminals don’t obey any law. Set aside too the fact that even if all firearms could be magically disintegrated by appropriate legislation, the murderous would simply use other more time-tested methods of killing. It should not be forgotten that some 7000 were killed in a single day at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 using the available hand weapons, which did not include firearms. At the Civil War battle of Gettysburg in 1863, both sides suffered approximately 51,000 casualties in three days of fighting using primarily single shot, breech loading rifles and muzzle loading cannon quite crude by contemporary standards. Some 5000 horses were also killed. The problem, in 1066, 1863 and today is human nature, not the tools employed.

The little number there will tell you the author of this argument is presenting a convergent case.  The unique ridiculousness of this claim, therefore, may not be representative of the whole argument.  If I were to engage in a bit of weak-manning, I might argue that a person who would advance such a claim doesn't need to be listened to any longer.  But that's not fair play.  You can read the rest of the argument for yourself. 

This one is just uniquely hilarious, as it seems completely to miss the point that high-capacity magazines (assault weapons, etc.) make it easier for lone nutcases to kill a lot of people in a very short amount of time.  It doesn't, of course, end our inhumanity to each other in the form of war.  To invoke this, I think, is a textbook worthy instance of the red herring technique.  In case you're not familiar with that technique, here's another example:

It's not the case that the oil spill caused tons of environmental damage in the Gulf, have you ever tried red herring?  They're excellent and they're on the menu at your local Swedish restaurant. 

link courtesy of balloon juice.

Take this job and shove it

Sitting now on Capitol Hill is a bill, The Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims "to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide more effective remedies to victims of discrimination in the payment of wages on the basis of sex, and for other purposes."  Put another way, equal work ought by law to equal equal pay.

Enter AEI Scholar Christina Hoff Sommers, writing in the New York Times op-ed page.  She points out, let's say correctly because this isn't the point, that some women earn more than men:

When these factors are taken into account the gap narrows considerably — in some studies, to the point of vanishing. A recent survey found that young, childless, single urban women earn 8 percent more than their male counterparts, mostly because more of them earn college degrees.

Sounds like great news.  Those women won't need the legal recourse proposed in the bill.  For that reason, I don't see the relevance of this point at all.  So let's call it a red herring.  I also don't see the relevance in some of her other apples-to-oranges points:

Moreover, a 2009 analysis of wage-gap studies commissioned by the Labor Department evaluated more than 50 peer-reviewed papers and concluded that the aggregate wage gap “may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.”

In addition to differences in education and training, the review found that women are more likely than men to leave the workforce to take care of children or older parents. They also tend to value family-friendly workplace policies more than men, and will often accept lower salaries in exchange for more benefits. In fact, there were so many differences in pay-related choices that the researchers were unable to specify a residual effect due to discrimination.

Hurray again for these men and women, but the issue is equal pay for equal work, so this would seem likely not to apply–another red herring.  No one, I think, could honestly say she ought to get paid the same as someone else even though she's not doing equal work. 

Her argument gets worse.  In addition to instances where women make more than men (again, that's great so long as everyone is equally and fairly compensated), the passage of a bill meant to remedy inequality will put an end to debate on the matter:

Some of the bill’s supporters admit that the pay gap is largely explained by women’s choices, but they argue that those choices are skewed by sexist stereotypes and social pressures. Those are interesting and important points, worthy of continued public debate.

The problem is that while the debate proceeds, the bill assumes the answer: it would hold employers liable for the “lingering effects of past discrimination” — “pay disparities” that have been “spread and perpetuated through commerce.” Under the bill, it’s not enough for an employer to guard against intentional discrimination; it also has to police potentially discriminatory assumptions behind market-driven wage disparities that have nothing to do with sexism.

I think the bill assumes the answer to the question of equal pay for equal work.  On those other questions, I'm sure the good folks at the AEI will keep us busy. 

As I conclude here notice one thing–the use of quotes to suggest some kind of ominous future.  Those quotes from from the "findings" portion of the bill.  They're like the hopes and dreams of the bill, in other words.  They hope that making employers actually pay people equally for equal work will have this effect.  They're not alleging that employers must remedy historical wrongs.  They mean they can't continue to do wrong.  To suggest they do is to invent an entirely new and silly argument–a hollow man.   

One final point, as a general rule, dear authors, "picking out quotes" with "dick fingers" is just "wrong." 

Bear with me

My colleagues have challenged me to look deeper into the abyss.  I did.  This is what I found (courtesy of Sadly, No!):

In February of 2010, ABC News published an article regarding the 2009 enacted right to carry law in National Parks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the article struck a tone straight out of a Brady campaign spot. A mosaic of Chicken Little ’sky is falling’ was painted in broad strokes and platitudes. All in response to a common sense measured signed into law by president Obama allowing citizens to carry a concealed firearm in the nation’s National Parks.

It’s a song and dance that we on the right have grown to be accustomed with concerning second amendment rights and the press. Virulent anti-gun groups and mainstream press outlets essentially spout the same talking points. We expect this, we accept this.

But with the recent grizzly bear attack near Yellowstone National Park that killed one and left two injured, one may wonder if the typical progressive, anti-gun canard still holds water?

I for one appreciate his patience.  But in any case, one has to wonder how the extremely rare (but nontheless terrifying) prospect of bear attacks on national forest property undermines the "typical" progressive case against gun rights.  One wonders this, in the first place, because the attack in question occured in a place (Gallatin National Forest) where you can carry unconcealed firearms.  From the National Forest FAQ:

Can I carry a firearm on the national forest? back to top

Possession of firearms. The possession and unconcealed carry of a firearm on the national forest is not restricted by federal law or Forest Service regulations with the exception of “prohibited possessors,” such as convicted felons (see 18 USC 922g (http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=browse_usc&docid=Cite:+18USC922) and ARS 13-3101 (http://www.azleg.gov/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/ars/13/03101.htm&Title=13&DocType=ARS). State laws regarding the concealed carry of firearms and the carrying of weapons within or on a motor vehicle apply to all National Forest System lands.

Discharge of firearms. National Forest regulations prohibit the discharge of a firearm within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site, or any other occupied area; across a road or any body of water adjacent to a road; into or within a cave; or in any negligent manner that could endanger life or property (see 36 CFR 261.10d) (http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2007/julqtr/pdf/36cfr261.10.pdf). The Tonto National Forest also has areas that are closed to recreational shooting year-round due to proximity to local communities (see Forest Closure Orders). During periods of high fire danger, additional restrictions on the use of firearms may be imposed. None of the temporary or year-round restrictions prohibit the use of a firearm in the lawful taking of game.

So a very rare bear attack on an unnarmed person (who could legally have been armed) somehow undermines the "typical" progressive anti-gun canard (not sure what that is).  Anyway.  It gets more entertaining:

Moments like this are teachable. Liberals love to go down the subjunctive mood route and justify positions within theoretical conditions. But those theoretical positions always fit the progressive mold and worldview. And as any student of history and logic knows there are always two sides to the hypothetical reasoning coin.

Therefore, I can add that if even one of the victims of Yellowstone/Soda Creek Campground grizzly attack had a concealed permit, and had been armed, the outcome early Wednesday morning may have been quite different.

And the anti-second amendment crowd will never admit that.

A teachable moment indeed, but I don't know what I am supposed to have learned.  Few could dispute that the second amendment (like the first, second, third, etc.) admits of some obvious restrictions as to nature and place (among other things).  Everyone knows what those are.  So it's not opposition to the 2nd amendment that's at issue.  It's opposition to the carrying of concealed firearms in certain situations.  But we've already established that this isn't one of them, so the hypothetical doesn't work in the first place.

Besides, how does having a concealed weapon help you in the bear attack scenario? 

The group of non group members

The other day we were treated to the poorly reasoned opinions of culture warrior and disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Christian Legal Society versus Martinez.  Today there is a much more thoughtful discussion (by law professor Jonathan Turley), though one which reaches the same basic conclusion as Gingrich.  A reminder again of the main issue:

The case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, has the potential to resolve a long-standing conflict between two of the most cherished American traditions: equality and nondiscrimination on one hand and the free exercise of religion on the other. The United States has taken great strides in recent years to protect people from discrimination — including hate speech, unfair hiring practices and unequal treatment under the law. But to some, such gains in equality have come at a price. Religious groups that discriminate — confining their membership to the faithful and those who share their views — say they are being penalized.

This specific controversy began at Hastings, part of the University of California, when CLS members asked to become a registered student organization. With that designation, the group could apply for certain funding, send mass e-mails to the student body and participate in an activities fair, among other perks. Hastings said no. The school concluded that because the CLS bylaws barred non-Christians, gays and non-celibate students from serving as officers or voting members, the group violated the school's ban on discrimination "on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation." The CLS could still meet on campus but could not be a registered club unless it opened its membership to all, even those who didn't subscribe to its beliefs. The group challenged the school, and lower courts supported the Hastings policy as a neutral rule applying equally to all groups.

Members of the American Philosophical Association recently debated whether it ought to post job announcements without comment for schools (usually conservative Christian ones) that violate the APA's policies on discrimination against homosexuals (and others) in hiring.  As the debate was among philosophers, hilarity ensued.  See that discussion here.

Turley's argument is ultimately a pragmatic one–the state's interest in fostering association ought to override its concerns about discrimination in particular cases of associating.  This is not an unreasonable position, but I still think it's weak.  He writes:

CLS v. Martinez is a close and difficult case. The court has to weigh fostering diversity of views vs. combating discrimination. The nation benefits when citizens form groups and advance their ideas. Tax-exempt status is even given to groups to encourage association and free speech — important pillars of our society. We cannot pick and choose between groups if we are to allow for pluralism.

The same is true with college groups. A campus offers a cradle of free speech where students can form organizations that foster the exchange of ideas and values. Supporting such groups should not be viewed as endorsing their beliefs but rather as encouraging associations. And as the court stated in Roberts v. United States Jaycees in 1984, "Freedom of association . . . plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate."

While there are strong arguments for upholding the Hastings policy, the CLS was effectively denied recognition because of its religious views – a troubling practice that could easily extend to other groups. For example, some Muslims following Wahabi principles insist that women must be covered and sit separately from men. Likewise, some Orthodox groups such as Hasidic Jews mandate areas divided by gender and require strict dress codes. To insist that Wahabi or Hasidic groups allow anyone to join, including gay and non-conforming members, would create an obvious problem.

Schools can still adopt a nondiscriminatory policy by funding either all or no student groups. That was the choice the Supreme Court gave the University of Virginia in its Rosenberger decision in 1995, after the school refused to pay for publications for religious organizations on campus: Fund all or none.

The question in the current case is where to draw the line. Schools such as Hastings are legitimately barred from discrimination in hiring and promotions. However, barring student organizations based on their religious views puts the state in the position of bestowing favored and unfavored status on groups.

We need to accept that certain forms of government support are meant to foster associations generally and should not turn on the insular views of any particular group. For example, tax exemption should aim to encourage citizens to participate in our society through groups that deepen public debate. These associations not only help individuals define their own values, they also protect the pluralism that defines our nation.

Such neutrality does not mean discrimination is a protected religious right, allowing the faith-based Ku Klux Klan, for example, to engage in public acts of racial hatred. Groups can still be punished for criminal threats, and laws still prohibit discrimination based on race, gender and national origin.

I think we end with a red herring here: no one has suggested CLS has criminal intentions, and we can suppose that the usual criminal laws apply.

The question is another one: does the university have to fund religious groups that discriminate on the basis of sex, race, sexual orientation, gender and so forth?  That's what CLS wants to do.  And therefore an affirmative response for CLS means that discrimination is a protected religious right.

 If CLS wins, then they can engage in "public acts of discrimination" on the basis of sexual orientation (would that be "public acts of sexual orientation hatred"?): imagine the group email on the law school listserve: "come and join CLS as we pray away the gay–no gays or fornicators allowed."