Category Archives: Unclassifiable

There’s an argument for that

Maybe someone can do a spoof of that Apple "there's an app for that" commercial replacing "argument" for "app."  Here are two possibilities. 

First, Newt Gingrich–the stupid man's idea of what a smart person sounds like–argues that Child Labor Laws ought to be repealed.  Seriously, this was practically what I had assigned to my Phil 210 course this year as a troll assignment: they had to argue that children ought to work–or ought not to be prohibited (with child labor laws, etc.) from working–in coal mines.  His argument

This is something that no liberal wants to deal with," Gingrich said. "Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy. It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid.

"You say to somebody, you shouldn't go to work before you're what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You're totally poor. You're in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I've tried for years to have a very simple model," he said. "Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising."

Interesting choice of words. The second is a variation on the argument that pizza is a vegetable.  Pepper spray is "a food product, essentially", one squirt and you're South of the Border.  Where would one find this?  Why Fox News of course.  Video here.

O'Reilly: "First of all, pepper spray, that just burns your eyes, right?"

Kelly: "Right, I mean it's like a derivative of actual pepper.  It's a food product, essentially.  But a lot of experts are looking at that and saying is that the real deal or has it been diluted because–"

O'Reilly: "They should have more of a reaction than that."

Kelly: "That's really besides the point, it was obviously something that was abrasive and intrusive.  Several went to the hospital."

Tastes like burning (someone–can't remember where–beat me to that one). 

Anyway, here's one more from the archives.  Do you do something that contradicts your stated principles?  Well, Ayn Rand has an argument for that.  It's not wrong for you, because you object to it.  Do you disagree with all forms of public welfare but collect it?  It's not wrong if and only if you think such things are wrong.

The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism. Those who advocate public scholarships, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.

And so on.  Much more in our archives. 

Just is

Yet again, in the can't tell if trolling category, we have Ross Douthat, New York Times Columnist, arguing for the death penalty.  It's the not fact of arguing for it (full and irrelevant disclosure: I think we're better off without it), it's the way he does.  His argument has all of the earmarks of a sophistry challenge:

This is a healthy fear for a society to have. But there’s a danger here for advocates of criminal justice reform. After all, in a world without the death penalty, Davis probably wouldn’t have been retried or exonerated. His appeals would still have been denied, he would have spent the rest of his life in prison, and far fewer people would have known or cared about his fate.

Instead, he received a level of legal assistance, media attention and activist support that few convicts can ever hope for. And his case became an example of how the very finality of the death penalty can focus the public’s attention on issues that many Americans prefer to ignore: the overzealousness of cops and prosecutors, the limits of the appeals process and the ugly conditions faced by many of the more than two million Americans currently behind bars.

Simply throwing up our hands and eliminating executions entirely, by contrast, could prove to be a form of moral evasion — a way to console ourselves with the knowledge that no innocents are ever executed, even as more pervasive abuses go unchecked. We should want a judicial system that we can trust with matters of life and death, and that can stand up to the kind of public scrutiny that Davis’s case received. And gradually reforming the death penalty — imposing it in fewer situations and with more safeguards, which other defendants could benefit from as well — might do more than outright abolition to address the larger problems with crime and punishment in America.   

That Troy Davis's likely unjust (and therefore actually unjust) execution inspired people to care about his fate is not an argument in favor of the death penalty anymore than the outpouring of blood donation and patriotism was an argument for 9/11.  Some in the public responded in the appropriate moral way to an atrocity.  Good for them.  But the atrocity is not the reason for their being moral.  Take away that atrocity and they can be moral about something else–like prison reform, about which many already care death penalty aside–Douthat's insinuation is a false dichotomy (it's either death penalty elimination or broader prison reform!). 

There's too much that's just awful here to comment on.  Here, however, is the worst of the worst:

Abolishing capital punishment in a kind of despair over its fallibility would send a very different message. It would tell the public that our laws and courts and juries are fundamentally incapable of delivering what most Americans consider genuine justice. It could encourage a more cynical and utilitarian view of why police forces and prisons exist, and what moral standards we should hold them to. And while it would put an end to wrongful executions, it might well lead to more overall injustice.

And thus the sophistry challenge.  Eliminating the big injustices would merely (albeit justifiably) undermine confidence in the unjust system.  That would be unjust. 

Let’s pretend you don’t know who I am

Cal Thomas has made the astute observation that Washington suffers from political logjam with budget issues.  What's worse is that partisan bickering has made it so that no one in one party trusts what the other party would propose to solve the problem.

The problem with so much of Washington today is that no Democrat will accept a good idea if it comes from a Republican and, conversely, Republicans will reject any good idea that comes from Democrats.

Okay. That sounds about accurate, but it's usually because they for the most part know what sorts of things the other side will propose.  But let's give him that.  So what's Thomas's plan?  To propose the following exercise:  report about a bold new plan to fix the budget crisis, but keep the author anonymous until we think hard about the plan.

So here's a plan whose author shall remain anonymous until the end of this column in hopes you will read on.

Excellent!  I love party games.  This time around, I'll listen to the plan and then weigh its worth based on the merits of what is contained in the plan.  Not on the basis of who proposes it.  That's, like, unique.  Okay. Let's hear the plan.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, this author contends, "consumes 43 percent of today's federal spending." Most people might agree there is ample evidence the federal government is bloated, overextended and not living within its constitutional bounds, which has caused its dysfunction.

Elevators have weight limits. Put too many people on one and it might not run. The federal government has no "weight limits." Increasing numbers of us worry America may be overweight and in decline. We are mired in debt and government seems incapable of telling anyone "no" or "do for yourself" for fear of a backlash from entitlement addicts.

Oh my goodness.  Not knowing beforehand that the author of this plan is a rich, well-fed Republican makes me ever so much more sick to hear it.  And so, before I got to the bottom of Thomas's column, I tried to make a few guesses about who the author was.  Who'd slash 'entitlement spending,'  not have anything about tax revenue beyond proposing the flat tax, encourage self-sufficiency and not mention anything about safety nets for those who need help, and propose reducing the size of government?   Okay… here were my first three:

Cato Institute

Hoover Foundation


Cal Thomas himself

Make your predictions in the comments.  A hint:  I was wrong.

I strongly assert

I was recently at a conference.  I attended one paper where the presenter kept using the expression, "I strongly assert…" as a means of premise-introduction.  Once, it was used in the context of disagreement.  And so:  "Some say not-p, but I strongly assert p."  I found this locution and its use jarring.  It seems exceedingly dogmatic, and moreover, what exactly does 'strongly' mean, anyhow?  Confidently, loudly, as though in ALLCAPS? 

A question for the NS readership: What is the most charitable reading of this locution?

Here's my shot.  In the event of a conference paper, you can't give an argument for every premise or every case where there's a disagreement.  Conference papers require tight focus, and so the point is to argue where it is most important, and everything else is left to either bald assertion or apologetic bracketing.  That's the art of academic essays.  And so 'I strongly assert' stands as a proof-surrogate in these contexts.  Now, I think it's a pretty awkward proof surrogate (as one can just as well, and less contentiously, say 'let's assume p, here'), but it at least isn't a major breach of argumentative practice.

That reading is my most charitable, but it still doesn't sit well with me.  Any help from those more familiar with this phrase?

To every beast of the earth

American Family Association style:

One human being is worth more than an infinite number of grizzly bears. Another way to put it is that there is no number of live grizzlies worth one dead human being. If it’s a choice between grizzlies and humans, the grizzlies have to go. And it’s time.

And another interesting moral calculation (same guy):

When President Bush sent our troops into Iraq in 2003, I remember telling my pastoral colleagues that there was one criterion and one criterion only for determining whether our invasion and attempt at nation-building would be a success: whether we left behind a nation with genuine religious liberty for Christians and Jews.

. . . .

Bottom line: God blesses nations who are kind to Christians and Jews, the descendants of Abraham, and curses those nations who are not. If we had an enlightened policy with regard to Iraq, the one thing we would have insisted on is complete freedom of religion for Christians and Jews. We did nothing of the sort, and consequently have spent seven years only to leave behind a nation that officially rests under the curse of God. What a waste.

God loves religious liberty (for some); but not bears.  God hates bears.


Respect means always having to say you’re sorry

Karen Hughes, a former Bush 43 advisor, makes the following very strange claim. 

First, the people who want to build the Park51 project (try calling it that from now on) are not extremists or terrorists, they don't hate America and its freedoms, etc.

The proposed site of Park51, an Islamic cultural center that will include a mosque, is especially contentious because it goes to the heart of who is to blame for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. I stood in the Oval Office just two days after those horrific attacks as President George W. Bush spoke by telephone with New York Gov. George Pataki and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He highlighted the importance of distinguishing between those who committed the acts of terror and the broader Muslim community. "Our nation must be mindful that there are thousands of Arab Americans who live in New York City, who love their flag just as much as the three of us do, and we must be mindful that as we seek to win the war that we treat Arab Americans and Muslims with the respect they deserve," the president said.

Hurray for Bush 43.  But, second, many ignorant people, driven by incomprehension and contradiction (ok, she doesn't put it that way), wrongly associate them with the extremists who perpetrated 9/11. 

At the same time, we cannot ignore the facts. As a Muslim American friend told me recently, "As much as I hate it, those hijackers called themselves Muslim."

This is what makes the location of the mosque such gritty salt in the still-open wound of Sept. 11, especially for those who lost loved ones that day. That same friend told me she could understand the feelings of those who believe that putting a mosque near the site where murderers calling themselves Muslims killed thousands of people is too much. That's what we need in this debate — more understanding and respect for other points of view.

Unfortunately, the conversation has become overheated, politicized and counterproductive. I believe that most Americans who oppose locating a mosque near Ground Zero are neither anti-freedom nor anti-Muslim; they just don't believe it's respectful, given what happened there. I say that as someone who strongly believes that the Sept. 11 attackers and other members of al-Qaeda do not represent any faith, but instead taint all faith with their acts of murder. I met many Muslims around the world who feel that, along with airplanes, the terrorists hijacked their religion. 

Out of respect for these misguided people, they should move the park51 project somewheres else:

A mosque at the edge of Ground Zero would be much more than a house of worship; it would be a symbol, interpreted differently by different audiences. For some it would be the ultimate expression of the freedom of religion we enjoy in America; for others, a searing reminder of terrible deaths at the hands of murderers calling themselves Muslims. I suspect that the terrorists might celebrate its presence as a twisted victory over our society's freedoms. Rauf and his congregation are certainly free to locate their mosque near Ground Zero. But I hope and pray that they will show uncommon courtesy and decide not to.

As someone on the internet put it (don't remember where at the moment), "to be fair, we've been building ground zeros near mosques since 2003."

Because it has a dormitive power

Throughout the internets there has been headsratching and headshaking over this op-ed by NYT's David Brooks-in-training, Ross Douthat

He begins by admitting that the arguments of gay marriage opponents have so far failed:

Here are some commonplace arguments against gay marriage: Marriage is an ancient institution that has always been defined as the union of one man and one woman, and we meddle with that definition at our peril. Lifelong heterosexual monogamy is natural; gay relationships are not. The nuclear family is the universal, time-tested path to forming families and raising children.

These have been losing arguments for decades now, as the cause of gay marriage has moved from an eccentric- seeming notion to an idea that roughly half the country supports. And they were losing arguments again last week, when California’s Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that laws defining marriage as a heterosexual union are unconstitutional, irrational and unjust.

These arguments have lost because they’re wrong. What we think of as “traditional marriage” is not universal. The default family arrangement in many cultures, modern as well as ancient, has been polygamy, not monogamy. The default mode of child-rearing is often communal, rather than two parents nurturing their biological children.

Nor is lifelong heterosexual monogamy obviously natural in the way that most Americans understand the term. If “natural” is defined to mean “congruent with our biological instincts,” it’s arguably one of the more unnatural arrangements imaginable. In crudely Darwinian terms, it cuts against both the male impulse toward promiscuity and the female interest in mating with the highest-status male available. Hence the historic prevalence of polygamy. And hence many societies’ tolerance for more flexible alternatives, from concubinage and prostitution to temporary arrangements like the “traveler’s marriages” sanctioned in some parts of the Islamic world.

Good for him, those arguments are bad.  Not to be outdone by them, however, he's going to offer one of his own, which, as you'll see, is worse than the ones he's just rejected, because, well, it's the same!  Continuing directly:

So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It’s a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.

Get that–marrigage is uniquely admirable because it's distinctive, particular, difficult, and uniquely admirable.  But this is really just the tradition argument again–straight non-divorcing marriage is admirable because that's what we admire it, it's our ideal of something admirable.  Nothing else is unique like it (although one would have to admit that gay marriages are pretty darn unique). 

The question begged here, of course, what makes it admirable in the first place.  This is especially interesting because he's just knocked down all of the reasons for thinking it's admirable.  Being unique, or difficult, of course, are not reasons for admiring something.  Nor is something being admirable a reason for admiring it.

Skipping a few bewildering paragraphs, he warns us about what is to come if we fail to beg the question with him:

If this newer order completely vanquishes the older marital ideal, then gay marriage will become not only acceptable but morally necessary. The lifelong commitment of a gay couple is more impressive than the serial monogamy of straights. And a culture in which weddings are optional celebrations of romantic love, only tangentially connected to procreation, has no business discriminating against the love of homosexuals.

But if we just accept this shift, we’re giving up on one of the great ideas of Western civilization: the celebration of lifelong heterosexual monogamy as a unique and indispensable estate. That ideal is still worth honoring, and still worth striving to preserve. And preserving it ultimately requires some public acknowledgment that heterosexual unions and gay relationships are different: similar in emotional commitment, but distinct both in their challenges and their potential fruit.

But based on Judge Walker’s logic — which suggests that any such distinction is bigoted and un-American — I don’t think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea.

Allowing homosexuals to get married will only bolster the case that they're more awesome at marriage than straights are.  Once people begin to realize that, then gay marriage will be a moral necessity–even for straight people.  At least that's what I think he's saying, because I fail to see the context of "morally necessary." 

More absurd, however, is the idea that marriage's being (as Douthat conceives it) a great idea of Western Civilization justifies discrmination against gay marriage.  Well, in the first place, it's not really an idea of Western Civilization (traditional Western-Civ marriage isn't anything like this alleged ideal).  Second, he's just told us that argument sucks (and it does). 

Third, and most importantly, legally recognizing homosexual marriage doesn't mean straight marriage is not a great idea, even if it were.

Non-Argument to the Worst Explanation. Just. Wow.

Wrote about this Kathleen Parker op-ed before I went on vacation for a week. Thought I'd post it anyway, just because it's still impressively awful.

Here goes the argument:

1. Obama delivered a speech that contained 13% passive voice constructions.

2. Men and women communicate differently.

3. Obama talks like a girl.

4. Obama's rhetoric hinders his leadership.

She writes:

Generally speaking, men and women communicate differently. Women tend to be coalition builders rather than mavericks (with the occasional rogue exception). While men seek ways to measure themselves against others, for reasons requiring no elaboration, women form circles and talk it out.

Obama is a chatterbox who makes Alan Alda look like Genghis Khan.

The BP oil crisis has offered a textbook case of how Obama's rhetorical style has impeded his effectiveness. The president may not have had the ability to "plug the damn hole," as he put it in one of his manlier outbursts. No one expected him to don his wetsuit and dive into the gulf, but he did have the authority to intervene immediately and he didn't. Instead, he deferred to BP, weighing, considering, even delivering jokes to the White House Correspondents' Association dinner when he should have been on Air Force One to the Louisiana coast.

His lack of immediate, commanding action was perceived as a lack of leadership because, well, it was. When he finally addressed the nation on day 56 (!) of the crisis, Obama's speech featured 13 percent passive-voice constructions, the highest level measured in any major presidential address this century, according to the Global Language Monitor, which tracks and analyzes language.

We might be able to fill in a few more premises here.

2a. Women tend to use passive constructions more than men. (Is this true? Is there any evidence for it?).

3a. Talking like a girl prevents one from taking action. (Again, any evidence to believe this? There might be some relationship between the two. E.g "Time and again, the path forward has been blocked, not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor." Does such a sentence make action less likely that an active construction?)

Interesting that the qualifier is "any major presidential address this century" which would include just two of our 44 presidents (Are there data for the last 50 years?). Also, interestingly the link to the communicative differences between men and women is a story about differences in navigational abilities and says nothing about linguistic differences. But, that I presume doesn't matter to Parker who is convinced that Obama is not a good leader and this makes her think, it seems, that he is womanly.

I understand that the Washington Post is concerned about bias among their bloggers these days, maybe soon they'll get equally concerned about basic competence in advancing an argument for an opinion.

Political fights

I'm trying to find a charitable interpretation of this comment by George Will on This Week with David Brinkley (via Crooks and Liars):

MORAN: Let's — let's go across the street from the Congress for a moment. There was a historic decision this week out of the Supreme Court of the United States on the First Amendment, the court holding that the campaign finance reform prohibition on corporations and unions using the money from their general funds to support or oppose candidates, that's a violation of free speech. So is this a vindication of the First Amendment, or is this a surrender to the plutocracy?

WILL: Vindication, because the court recognized the obvious, which is that you cannot disseminate political speech without money. And, therefore, to restrict money is to restrict the dissemination of speech. To that end, they have freed up the amount of money that will be spent.

Now, some people are saying, oh, corporations, that means Microsoft will be buying ads. Microsoft's trying to sell software. They're not interested in getting into political fights.

What this really emancipates are nonprofit advocacy corporations such as the Sierra Club. I pick that not at random because the Sierra Club was fined $28,000 in Florida last year for falling afoul of the incomprehensible, that-thick set of regulations on our political speech.

I'd reject the first biconditional.  But I think there's something obviously wrong about the claim that "Microsoft is not interested in getting into political fights."  Well, ok, they're not interested in that as their primary mode of business.  But Microsoft, and oh, I don't know, the Banking Industry or the Oil Industry or the Defense industry are interested in conditions which are politically favorable to them.  That's their business.  Am I missing something?

Vengeance is Richard Cohen’s

Few places lend themselves to blood lust like the pages of our nations op-ed pages.  Want to know why so many have been thrust asunder in Iraq?  Go back to the winter of 2003, and read the op-ed pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post.  You'll find Thomas Friedman, noted Middle East expert, advancing the notion that the Middle East needs to be slapped around a bit with a war or that they need to see the mocking genitalia of American servicemen and women

Richard Cohen, on the other hand, is a kind of poor-man's Tom Friedman:

And yet revenge also suggests a proper concern for the dead. The people who died on Sept. 11, 2001, cannot simply be dismissed, erased — as if they had not been killed in a huge crime. It's not just that bin Laden is still at large. So are the Taliban members who sheltered him and stayed with him after Sept. 11. This should not be complicated: The killers of Americans ought to pay for what they've done. It is good foreign policy.

Perhaps I could rephrase a bit: the killers of Americans, and people near the killers of Americans, and future Americans who die in future revenge attacks for our very general notion of revenge, ought to pay for what they've done.