Category Archives: Contradictions

How the Rich Saved Democracy

Did Ross Douthat just jump the shark? Yes:

With the Republican primary season winding down, it’s time to celebrate two heroes of participatory democracy, two champions of the ordinary voter, two men who did everything in their power to make the ballot box matter as much as the fundraising circuit.

I speak, of course, of Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess.

Adelson is the casino billionaire whose super PAC donations enabled Newt Gingrich to upset Mitt Romney in South Carolina and give him a scare in Florida. Friess is the investment manager whose super PAC donations enabled Rick Santorum to prolong the race through February and March. Both men are controversial; both have been cited as prime examples of the corrupting influence of great wealth on our politics. But both did more than anyone else to prevent the Republican primary from turning into a straightforward “money talks” affair.

Adelson and Friess, in a paradoxical judo move, have somehow preserved popular democracy and prevented the Republican primary from turning into a "money talks" affair by giving sh*tloads of money to two candidates who, unlike Romney and his "sturdy donor base," can't raise money via popular methods. 

Anomalous regularity

There are a couple of people I now consider it completely safe to ignore: George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Gerson, and of course, David Brooks.  These are the guys who inspired this whole project.  Every now and then, however, it's fun to go back and see what's up with them.  Via Alex Parene at Salon, here's a gem from David Brooks:

Jeremy Lin is anomalous in all sorts of ways. He’s a Harvard grad in the N.B.A., an Asian-American man in professional sports. But we shouldn’t neglect the biggest anomaly. He’s a religious person in professional sports.

We’ve become accustomed to the faith-driven athlete and coach, from Billy Sunday to Tim Tebow. But we shouldn’t forget how problematic this is. The moral ethos of sport is in tension with the moral ethos of faith, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim.

We have grown accustomed to this anamoly.  You'd think an editor would have gotten that. 

Made me think of this headline from the Onion: NFL Star Thanks Jesus after Successful Double Homicide.

Another squirmish* in the culture wars

In the category of self-refuting worries (by now noticed by all of the web), here is disgraced former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich:

"I have two grandchildren: Maggie is 11; Robert is 9," Gingrich said at Cornerstone Church here. "I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."

A secular atheist country dominated by religious fundamentalists.  


There’s no modern Socrates, so you must be…

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist of some standing.  But he, unfortunately, isn't much for logic. Or, perhaps, simple consistency.  His recent article, "The New Sophists," over at National Review Online, exemplifies these two traits in spades.

Hanson's thesis is that there's just so much double-talk and empty rhetoric, especially from the left, and more especially regarding global warming.  Al Gore "convinced the governments of the Western world that they were facing a global-warming Armageddon, and then hired out his services to address the hysteria that he had helped create."  And the recent record snowfalls in the Northeast are clear evidence that global warming is a sham.  When climate scientists explained that events like this are not only consistent with global warming, but to be expected, Hanson retorts:

The New York Times just published an op-ed assuring the public that the current record cold and snow is proof of global warming. In theory, they could be, but one wonders: What, then, would record winter heat and drought prove?

It's not just climate science that has the double-talk, though.  Hanson sees it with discussions of the Constitution:

One, the Washington Post’s 26-year-old Ezra Klein, recently scoffed on MSNBC that a bothersome U.S. Constitution was “written more than 100 years ago” and has “no binding power on anything.”

To all of this, Hanson makes his analogy with classical Athens and the problem of the sophists:

One constant here is equating wisdom with a certificate of graduation from a prestigious school. If, in the fashion of the sophist Protagoras, someone writes that record cold proves record heat, . . . or that a 223-year-old Constitution is 100 years old and largely irrelevant, then credibility can be claimed only in the title or the credentials — but not the logic — of the writer.

OK. That's a nice point, at least if it were true about the cases he was discussing. (Did Hanson not read the reasons in the NYT article he never cites as to why we'd get crazy snowfalls because of global warming?  If he's going to talk about the article, talk about its argument, too.  Sheesh.  And Klein said it was over 100 years old, and that it's not binding, … but that doesn't matter to Hanson, I guess).  But it's on this point about sophists run amok that Hanson bemoans our fate:

We are living in a new age of sophism — but without a modern Socrates to remind the public just how silly our highly credentialed and privileged new rhetoricians can be.

So we don't have a modern Socrates.  So what's Hanson doing, then?  By that statement, he can't think he's Socrates or doing the job of criticizing the new rhetoricians, can he?  So what is he?  I think I know:  He's another sophist.

Government-dictated cultural doctrine

I'm not sure what the policy is at my school (I'll check unless anyone beats me to it), but I think every club has to be in principle open to everybody.  So for instance, Amish people are free to join the electronics club (they're not going to, but anyway). 

For some people in other, far-off places, such openness is not enough freedom.  They want to be free to have a club free of people who don't take their pledge.  Luckily, patriots such as these have Big Idea Man and Disgraced Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to watch out for them:

At the outset of the dispute and well into the initial stages of litigation, Hastings said that CLS had violated the university's bans on religious and "sexual orientation" discrimination. After CLS noted that the law school allowed other groups to organize around nonreligious ideas, Hastings suddenly asserted that no group could exclude anybody for any reason. So the Young Democrats, for example, are apparently required to accept Republicans as members and allow them to be elected to leadership positions in their club. That's simply absurd.

Moreover, it's a ploy contorted to camouflage the double standard being applied to CLS simply because it is a Christian organization. Hastings officials hope to hide the fact that on their campus, as at countless other colleges and universities nationwide, people of faith are being deliberately marginalized and excluded not for any real misdemeanors but for having the temerity to suggest that there's an authority higher than school administrators, a truth more compelling than the latest government-dictated cultural doctrine, and a God more worthy of worship than the idols of the left.

A lot of leftists — in the offices of government and in the halls of academia — seem to find those ideas laughable. And yet, watch their faces in the courtrooms and classrooms. They're not laughing. When it comes to eroding freedom to shore up their own politically correct agenda, they are deadly serious.

Being subject to the same rules as everyone else is not usually grounds for marginalization–but what do I know?  My "equal protection" intuition is likely just the "latest government-dictated cultural doctrine."

You have a right to be wrong

True story.  A few years back one of my students had confused some minor matter about a text of Plato.  When I pointed that out, another student commented: "He has a right to be wrong."  That odd justification comes out in a George Will op-ed where he, unlike his usual, argues for new rights not enumerated in the constitution.  Now of course he probably thinks he can get there with a series of individually valid inferences.  Fine, but you have to understand that any other time one maintains a right not specifically enumerated in the Constitution, Will will shout "judicial activism" or some other synonym.  Don't get me wrong, I believe in the concept of inferential rights, I just think it's funny that Will doesn't, until he does.

This is not to say, however, that Will does not have a point.  He may, but I think, as is perhaps no surprise, that his argument for it sucks.  He maintains as a kind of premise one that liberals want to coerce others to believe like they do–this is their MO, which is a word the very pretentious Will would likely spell out: Modus operandi.  It's a little ironic, since the specific topic in question concerns the desire of some (not the liberals) to limit the rights of others to engage in private, self-regarding behavior.  Some people, not happy with the structure of our democracy (where fundamental rights get interpreted out of the Constitution sometimes), gather signatures to put such matters on the ballot.  This raises an important question: are signatures on referendums like voting and therefore private? 

I think it's fair to say that such a question admits of no easy answer.  But just because it doesn't admit of an easy answer, does not mean any answer, such as the following one offered by Will, will suffice:

The Supreme Court has held that disclosure requirements serve three government interests: They provide information about the flow of political money, they deter corruption and avoid the appearance thereof by revealing large contributions, and they facilitate enforcement of contribution limits. These pertain only to financial information in candidate elections. These cannot justify compelled disclosures regarding referendums because referendums raise no issues of officials' future performance in office — being corruptly responsive to financial contributors. The only relevant information about referendums is in the text of the propositions.

In 1973, Washington's secretary of state ruled that signing an initiative or referendum petition is "a form of voting" and that violating voters' privacy could have adverse "political ramifications" for those signing. In 2009, some advocates of disclosure plan to put signers' names on the Internet in order to force "uncomfortable" conversations.

In the interest of fairness, something I'm always interested in by the way, the above two paragraphs make some attempt at arguing for the position that referendum signatures ought to be private.  I think their attempt fails: The first is irrelevant to the particular issue and the second cites the irrelevant precedent of the secretary of state.  A referendum petition by any standard is not a vote: you sign your name and put your address on it for the purposes of public inspection of its authenticity.  You do not sign your vote. 

In any case, the following arguments for the above proposition really blow:

Larry Stickney, a social conservative and president of the Washington Values Alliance, says that disclosure of the identities of petitioners will enable "ideological background checks" that will have a chilling effect on political participation. He frequently encounters people who flinch from involvement with the referendum when they learn that disclosure of their involvement is possible. He has received abusive e-mails and late-night telephone calls and has seen a stranger on his front lawn taking pictures of his house.

The Wall Street Journal's John Fund reports that some Californians who gave financial support to last year's successful campaign for Proposition 8 — it declared marriage to be only between a man and a woman — subsequently suffered significant harm. For example, the director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, who contributed $1,500, was forced to resign. So was the manager of a fashionable Los Angeles restaurant who contributed just $100.

The first paragraph offers evidence that vociferous advocates may suffer the paranoia that comes along with taking an unpopular position on a matter of public interest.  It does not establish that a private citizen whose only action was signing a petition may suffer these things.  The second paragraph shows that people who have given financial support, something about which disclosure has been determined to be legitimate (and admitted to by Will himself only a three paragraphs before) have suffered harm.  I don't think one can be fired for one's political affiliations–there are laws against that I believe.

Charles Bouley, a gay columnist, has honorably protested such bullying. He says that people "have the right to be wrong," and reminds gay activists: "Even Barack Obama said marriage was between a man and a woman at a time when we needed his voice on our side on equality. He let us down, too, remember, and many of you still gave him a job."

Indeed, people do have a right to be wrong, and others have a duty to point that out.

All Cretans are liars

A former Bush speechwriter attempts to put our minds at ease about torture.  He tells us that tortured prisoners do not lie, because the lying deceitful terrorists (whom we should never believe) have told us under torture that they don't:

Critics claim that enhanced techniques do not produce good intelligence because people will say anything to get the techniques to stop. But the memos note that, "as Abu Zubaydah himself explained with respect to enhanced techniques, 'brothers who are captured and interrogated are permitted by Allah to provide information when they believe they have reached the limit of their ability to withhold it in the face of psychological and physical hardship." In other words, the terrorists are called by their faith to resist as far as they can — and once they have done so, they are free to tell everything they know. This is because of their belief that "Islam will ultimately dominate the world and that this victory is inevitable." The job of the interrogator is to safely help the terrorist do his duty to Allah, so he then feels liberated to speak freely. 

Besides, it's their religious duty not to lie under torture–and we ought to take that at face value.


Paying a stranger to write a paper for you when you're a college student is called plagiarism.  The other day NPR's On the Media did a story on someone who ghost wrote what he called "model papers."  When pressed about what would justify his actions, he produced a blizzard of sophistry:

BOB GARFIELD: Let me just quote from you here. Quote, “Writing model term papers is above-board and perfectly legal. Thanks to the First Amendment it’s protected speech, right up there with neo-Nazi rallies, tobacco company press releases and those ‘9/11 was an inside job’ bumper stickers.”

So, I mean, I don't want to be putting words in your mouth, but I think what you’re saying is legal but repulsive, sleazy.


BOB GARFIELD: Unethical, morally disgraceful. Am I leaving anything out?

NICK MAMATAS: No, that pretty much sums it up, yeah.

BOB GARFIELD: So Nick, how do you rationalize your behavior? I mean, it sounds kind of whorish to me.

NICK MAMATAS: Mm, well again, I also think that prostitution should be legal, and I've written several term papers about that over the years.

As far as my own work in term papers, basically I felt my other writing was more important. You know, everyone makes these decisions. What about people who work in munitions factories, or who work for defense contractors?

So we all make these decisions. It’s just a cost benefit analysis. In the end, I felt I benefited from writing these papers ‘cause it allowed me to work at home and write novels and short stories and articles. And the people who were buying the papers, well, they – that was their decision. They could take that as a model paper, and many of them did. They could hand it in and roll the dice, ‘cause I was always happy, always thrilled, actually, to hand in a paper to a professor. If the client, you know, was trying to pull one over on me, or was even nasty to me sometimes, I'd just sort of like secretly fax it.

So Mr. Mamatas seems to think that ghost writing term papers is morally disgraceful, yet despite not being morally justified, it's morally justified.  What follows are his justifications and in parentheses what I think is their appropriate interpretation.

(1) He was able to do his other writing with the income from writing "model papers" (I only lied and cheated because it benefited me!something is morally justified if you benefit in some way from it).

(2) Everyone makes cost/benefit decisions (a general and irrelevant rule which doesn't apply to my circumstance in particular applies to it).

(3) Other people work for munitions factories and defense contractors (other people have jobs I have improperly characterized as morally questionable so that makes it ok for me to have a self-evidently morally unjustifiable job).

(4) Whether the paper which was produced for the sole purposes of cheating–otherwise there would be no income, as professors provide model papers all of the time–was used for its stated purpose depended on the person who turned it in, not on the person who profited from that person's attempted deceit (I produced papers for entertainment purposes only, should anyone actually use it for its intended purpose, the purpose for which I produced it and the reason I was paid for it, well, I can't be held responsible for that).

(5) There is no honor among thieves, if you're mean to Mr.Mamatas, he'll turn you in (I'm not only a dishonest person in regards to honest people, I'm a dishonest person in regards to dishonest people–so it's ok).


In the blind squirrels and nuts category, here's Michael Gerson today:

In the past few weeks, Barack Obama has learned the political perils of condescension.

His Philadelphia speech on race was filled with it. People who don't share Obama's views were not refuted, they were explained.

Lower-income whites, he argued, "feel their dreams slipping away," and so they turn to resentment against busing and affirmative action, "anger over welfare" and "fears of crime." And Obama not only understands these angry and manipulated souls, he defends them. They should not, after all, be labeled as "misguided" or "racist."

This is the same argument, expressed more bluntly at a San Francisco fundraiser, that Obama made about bitter, small-town Americans who cling to guns and religion. He does not even admit the possibility that these folks might have actual convictions on issues such as affirmative action, welfare, crime, gun ownership or the meaning of the universe. The only thing more insulting than being attacked is being explained.

He's right about this (and we've complained about this a bunch).  And he would have been even more right had he said that his page at the Post is fully of explanations rather than arguments (rather than take a few words out of context from Obama).  But then Gerson inexplicably (hee hee) writes:

But black liberation theology takes this argument a large step further — or perhaps backward. The Rev. Wright's intellectual mentor, professor James Cone of Union Theological Seminary, retreats from the universality of Christianity. "Black theology," says Cone, "refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him." And again: "Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy." And again: "In the New Testament, Jesus is not for all, but for the oppressed, the poor and unwanted of society, and against oppressors."

This emphasis on the structural evil of white America has natural political consequences — encouraging a belief that American politics is defined by its crimes, a tendency to accept anti-government conspiracy theories about AIDS and drugs, a disturbing openness to anti-American dictators such as Castro and Gaddafi. It explains Wright's description of the Sept. 11 attacks as a "wake-up call" to "white America."

What would explain Gerson's condescending explanation of Reverend Wright?  Maybe the impulse to condescension is irresistible. 

Sheep and goats


God's ways are a mystery, unless you're gay:

HAGEE: Well, I’m not saying it’s a result of sin, I’m saying it’s a result of God’s permissible will. You cannot say that everything on the Earth that happens is sin. It was carried in a newspaper that there was going to be a massive homosexual rally there the following Monday. Ah, but and I believe that homosexual marriage is sin and I believe that it’s an abomination because Moses said it was. But it is wrong to say that every natural disaster is the result of sin. It is a result of God’s permissive will, but who no man on Earth knows the mind of God…

PRAGER: Right, but in the case, did NPR get, is this quote correct though that in the case of New Orleans you do feel it was sin?

HAGEE: In the case of New Orleans, their plan to have that homosexual rally was sin. But it never happened. The rally never happened.

PRAGER: No, I understand.

HAGEE: It was scheduled that Monday.

PRAGER: No, I’m only trying to understand that in the case of New Orleans, you do feel that God’s hand was in it because of a sinful city?

HAGEE: That it was a city that was planning a sinful conduct, yes.

PRAGER: Ok, so that is the only I think, frankly, it’s the only one they can get you on because people don’t like to hear that sort of thing. But even so, I think that, I’ve always given religious people leeway, religious leaders on saying that we ourselves have sinned, and God has his own judgments. I mean the prophets used to do that, so that’s you know, that’s up to anybody to interpret the way they want. I mean, when the left says that we sin against the environment and we end up getting x or y, nobody says that that’s illegitimate.

HAGEE: Well, I know that in our society, that is what I call politically correct, no one likes to hear that there is a God who has the power to correct man for his behavior that does not fall within the parameters of the word of God. That’s why secular humanists hate the bible because it gives a definite standard of right and wrong. There’s light and darkness, there’s wheat and pears, there’s sheep and goats. You can’t be all things to all people. You either do live by the word of God or you don’t live by the word of God. And there’s nothing in between. And…and our secular permissive society, that’s just a hateful idea.

PRAGER: Alright, I’m going to let you go, but…and I’m going to take calls that are coming in on this.

So, everything is a result of God's permissive will (God knowingly lets it happen), yet no man on earth knows the mind of God.  Seems every man on earth knows plenty: what happens is what God meant to happen.  It seems if you're going to claim you can't know the mind of God, you're going to have to claim that you can't know the mind of God–and when it comes to claims about the mind of God, you'll sit respectfully silent.  There's sheep, after all, and there's goats.  To some secular humanists this logically permissive rhetoric is just hateful.

**UPDATE (7PM)**

No doubt reeling from The Non Sequitur's penetrating analysis, Pastor Hagee has retracted his comments about Hurricane Katrina.  Good for him.  But it certainly took him a while.

“As a believing Christian, I see the hand of God in everything that happens here on earth, both the blessings and the curses,” Hagee said in a statement issued through his public relations firm. “But ultimately neither I nor any other person can know the mind of God concerning Hurricane Katrina. I should not have suggested otherwise. No matter what the cause of the storm, my heart goes out to all who suffered in this terrible tragedy. There but for the grace of God go any one of us.

We'll be looking to see if he retracts his other mind of God comments.