Category Archives: Anne Applebaum

Unnecessarily fallacious

Whether a non-deductive argument is strong, weak, or fallacious oftentimes if not always depends heavily on who the arguer is, what the context of the argument is, what the state of play of the debate is, and so forth.  All of these factors render the identification of good and bad reasoning an at times frustrating enterprise.  One common cause of debatable fallacy accusation is a failure to take seriously the careful identification of the arguer, context, and state of play.

Here's an example of an unnecessarily weak argument from Anne Applebaum:

Only two presidents in recent memory have not had vacation homes of their own: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Not coincidentally, it is their vacation choices that have been most heavily criticized. When he was down in Crawford, George W. Bush surrounded himself with like-minded friends and admirers. Away from the cameras, he had a break from constant public surveillance and the Washington rat race. But when Clinton went to Martha's Vineyard to surround himself with likeminded friends and admirers (and to enjoy a break from constant public surveillance and the Washington rat race), he was damned as an elitist. So was Obama, who went there last summer for exactly the same reasons.

Why, exactly, is borrowing or renting someone's house more elitist than owning one? Why is Martha's Vineyard snobbier than Kennebunkport, Hyannis Port or even a private Texas ranch? I don't know, but that's what everyone said, and thus were the Clintons forced to take a pretend "vacation" in Jackson Hole, Wyo. During this "vacation," they had to provide photo opportunities to the press to prove that they really were normal Americans — which, of course, they were not. Once elected, no president is ever a normal American again.

The same fate has now befallen Obama, whose lack of a permanent country residence has also made him inexplicably appear more elitist. Having done the Martha's Vineyard thing last year, and been duly criticized, he has made up for it with visits to Maine, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and North Carolina, all places where "average" Americans like to go.  

Anyone can tell that Applebaum is in the critical mode here, she's evaluating someone else's reasons.  The question, of course, is: Who argues this?  She doesn't say who exactly (save for "the American people"). 

Applebaum is engaging in the completely useless but time-honored practice of weak-kneed newspaper pundits by not naming the object of her criticism.  This leaves it to the reader to fill in for herself.  I remember Cokie Roberts inexplicably arguing that Obama ought not to vacation in Hawaii, as it is  "exotic."   But in fact, if you check your map, it is a state in the United States, and, by coincidence, it is also the place where Obama was born (sorry birthers).  Now her point, however absolutely outrageously and unforgiveably dumb, is that Hawaii is "unAmerican" and "exotic" so Obama shouldn't go there, it only highlights the oddity of his name and er, ethnicity.  So she's not talking about Roberts–though she ought to be.  

I can't think of anyone in particular (in part because I just got back from vacation–three days and renting–myself).  So Applebaum would do be a great favor is she just said who thinks such stuff.

But maybe this is Applebaum doesn't in fact know, and this is her general sense of the buzz about Obama's (and Clinton's) vacations.  So her crticism is a composite sketch of several distinct possible suspects.  If so, I find this particularly unhelpful.  There are real people making specifically dumb arguments and raising ridiculous questions about Obama's vacation.  We can all learn from their dumbness.  Turning an opportunity for dumbness identification into an occasion for hollow-manning is a waste.

When criticism is not specific, like punishment, it's useless.  It always leaves open the door for the person with the weak argument to escape. 

They’re just nihilists

The Washington Post has given tenured spots on its page to a serial climate change denier (George Will), a conspiracy theorist (Charles Krauthammer), and they have offered up guest spots to the likes of Sarah Palin and other alleged global warming skeptics.  Today, finally, a little bit of balance.  Eugene Robinson goes after Palin's latest op-ed, and Anne Applebaum reaffirms the obvious and well-known facts about global warming. However, as if a part of some weird conspiracy to exacerbate the problem of the doubters, their arguments blow. 

Robinson's entire piece is directed at the alleged change in Palin's position.  As governor of Alaska, Robinson points out, Palin seemed to affirm the reality of climate change, but now she denies it.  But that's not what Robinson says:

In her administrative order, Palin instructed the sub-Cabinet group to develop recommendations on "the opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Alaska sources, including the expanded use of alternative fuels, energy conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy, land use management, and transportation planning." She also instructed the group to look into "carbon-trading markets."

But in her op-ed last week, Palin — while acknowledging "natural, cyclical environmental trends" and the possibility that human activity might be contributing to warming — states flatly that "any potential benefits of proposed emissions reduction policies are far outweighed by their economic costs." What she once called "carbon-trading markets" she now denounces as "the Democrats' cap-and-tax proposal."

Is there nobody at the Post who can point out that this is not a contradiction.  She instructed a group to "look into" not to "endorse" carbon trade proposals.  She's clearly unhappy with the ones offered.  Robinson is so gleeful in the discovery of his alleged contradiction that he doesn't realize he hasn't found it.  Besides, what does it matter?  She can change her mind if she wants.  Further, who cares what she thinks?  She is neither a scientist nor an elected official of any consequence. 

By contrast, Anne Applebaum has found the real culprit in the whole climate change debate: scattered crazy enivronmentalists.  And she goes in the for the full weak man.  She begins, ominously enough:

There is no nihilism like the nihilism of a 9-year-old. "Why should I bother," one of them recently demanded of me, when he was presented with the usual arguments in favor of doing homework: "By the time I'm grown up, the polar ice caps will have melted and everyone will have drowned."

When I was a kid it was nuclear war.  Anyway, what lesson does she draw from this.  No, not that for many kids this will be a reality.  Rather, people who point this out are a big bringdown:

Watching the news from Copenhagen last weekend, it wasn't hard to understand where he got that idea. Among the tens of thousands demonstrating outside the climate change summit, some were carrying giant clocks set at 10 minutes to midnight, indicating the imminent end of the world. Elsewhere, others staged a "resuscitation" of planet Earth, symbolically represented by a large collapsing balloon. Near the conference center, an installation of skeletons standing knee-deep in water made a similar point, as did numerous melting ice sculptures and a melodramatic "die-in" staged by protesters wearing white, ghost-like jumpsuits.

Danish police arrested about a thousand people on Saturday for smashing windows and burning cars, and on Sunday arrested 200 more (they were carrying gas masks and seem to have been planning to shut down the city harbor). Nevertheless, in the long run it is those peaceful demonstrators, the ones who say the end is nigh, who have the capacity to do the most psychological damage.

The second group of people have nothing to do with negative messaging.  She goes on and on with examples of nutty environmentalists who just make you feel bad with all of their blaming and hyperbole (the veracity of which she doesn't question).  All of this, however, is a silly distraction.  The law of probability has it that global warming will attract no small number of people who say crazy things (if in fact they're guilty of that).  Can you really blame them, however, when you have well-paid people on the staff of the Post–not sign-carrying nutters in the streets–who deny well-established facts. 

Who is the real nihilist?  The one who says we're doomed if we do nothing?  Or the one who alleges it's all a big communist lie?  


Those Hollywood Liberals

Eugene Robinson, columnist for the Washington Post, complains today that maybe the conservative culture warrior types have a point about those Hollywood liberals.  Some them, so it seems, seems to have come to the defense of Roman Polanski, the Polish director (of the Pianist, among other films) whose his wife (Sharon Tate) was murdered by the Manson gang and who some years later pleaded guilty to sex with a drugged and drunken 13-year old.  Prior to sentencing, Polanski fled the country, and has since been living in Europe (pretty well, by all accounts).  Unfortunately for him, this week he was picked up by the Swiss Police.

Robinson, I think, ought to look closer to home for people with lax morals.  Here is his own colleague Richard Cohen, on the Polanski case:

It ought not to matter that Polanski is a Holocaust survivor. (His mother died at Auschwitz.) After all, countless others survived the Holocaust without committing crimes of any sort, especially ones involving moral depravity.

It ought not to matter, either, that in 1969 Polanski’s wife, the actress Sharon Tate, was horrifically murdered by the Manson family when she was eight months pregnant. This, too, does not excuse moral depravity, although it gives one pause. It ought to give one pause. (Polanski underwent a 42-day psychiatric examination following his 1977 arrest.)

And it ought not to matter that Polanski is a gifted artist. In fact, it ought to be held against him. He seduced — if that can possibly be the word — the 13-year-old Samantha Geimer with all the power and authority of a 44-year-old movie director who could make her famous. If this did not impress the girl, it must have impressed her mother. She permitted what was supposed to be a photo shoot.

There are two extenuating circumstances in Polanski’s case. The first is time. It has, after all, been over 30 years and Polanski, now 76, has been clean all that time — no crimes alleged, no crimes convicted. More importantly, his victim pleads his case. Geimer says, more or less, enough is enough. She does not excuse what Polanski did and does not forgive what he has done, but it is time for us all to move on. “He made a terrible mistake, but he’s paid for it,” she said some years back.

Time does not minimize the crime, which in its details is creepy, but jail would no longer serve a purpose. The victim and the victimizer are united — they both want clemency. The girl is now a woman, and the man is old, spending his dotage making fools of his champions, who cannot distinguish between sexual freedom and sexual assault. Let Polanski go — but first let me at him.

He forgot to mention the "booze" and the "drugs."  And here's another Post columnist Anne Applebaum:

Here are some of the facts: Polanski's crime — statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl — was committed in 1977. The girl, now 45, has said more than once that she forgives him, that she can live with the memory, that she does not want him to be put back in court or in jail, and that a new trial will hurt her husband and children. There is evidence of judicial misconduct in the original trial. There is evidence that Polanski did not know her real age. Polanski, who panicked and fled the U.S. during that trial, has been pursued by this case for 30 years, during which time he has never returned to America, has never returned to the United Kingdom., has avoided many other countries, and has never been convicted of anything else. He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers' fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film.

"Professional stigma" is but a few short words away from "Oscar."  My question at this point is whether there is some kind of prohibition keeping one Post writer from criticizing another.  One would expect, after all, that friends and colleagues (Hollywood liberals!) would rally around Polanski; they run in the same circles, have worked with him and known him.  Their defense of him ought to be seen through that lens.  Justifying such behavior, however, as a newspaper columnist seems rather more worthy of condemnation.

Nazi Analogies

Anyone who has taken an ethics class is familiar with the Nazi analogy: "but on your view, a Nazi could be authentically happy. . ." therefore, etc.  In philosophy classes, as in real life, Nazi is short for every kind of evil person, activity or thing.  While this has a lot to do with history (Nazis were very bad indeed), it has probably less to do with actual Nazis (there were lots of different kinds of Nazis–none probably embodying every vice–thus the very justified criticism of liberal fascism).  Similar to the ethics class Nazi is the internet Nazi.  Godwin's law, or rather a corollary of Godwin's law, holds that invoking a Nazi analogy ends the discussion in a loss for the invoker.  There probably ought to a similar heuristic for politics, but there isn't.

Recently there's been a lot of incompetent talk about "appeasement."  Such talk, however, has little to do with actual appeasement–which involves, if I'm not mistaken, giving in to an aggressor in order to avoid conflict.  It's been used, however, to characterize any diplomatic interaction, which is obviously false.  Or maybe such is the fear of words and arguments–or so evil is our enemy–that his words will lull us into a kind of stupor, forcing us to agree to his demands.  But probably not.  I think such appeasement talk is just a handy way to keep the Nazis ever present in our national narrative.  

Yesterday Anne Applebaum, writing for the Post, complained about this.  She writes:

True, it seems that Nazi analogies can be used with almost infinite flexibility. Bush — in what was widely interpreted as an attack on Barack Obama last week — was making a point about politicians who talk to "terrorists and radicals," comparing them to those who appeased Hitler in the 1930s. Putin, in what was widely interpreted as an attack on the Bush administration last year, was comparing the Nazis to contemporary regimes with "contempt for human life" and "claims of exceptionality and diktat in the world" — in other words, the United States.

But the Nazis have been invoked in arguments over many other causes, too. In a speech explaining what "this Kosovo thing is all about," Bill Clinton once justified his decision to bomb Serbia by asking,"What if someone had listened to Winston Churchill and stood up to Adolf Hitler earlier?" His secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, was also fond of telling reporters that "Munich is my mindset," referring to Europe's decision to appease Hitler at Munich in 1938. In 2006, a British group opposed to national identity cards designed an advertisement showing Tony Blair as Hitler, except with a bar code in place of a moustache. Last spring, American feminist Naomi Wolf compared Hitler's brownshirts, the thugs who smashed Jewish shops and murdered old men, with the "groups of angry young Republican men, dressed in identical shirts and trousers," who "menaced poll workers counting the votes in Florida in 2000." On Sunday, Al Gore told college seniors that fighting global warming was comparable to fighting fascism. And, of course, Saddam Hussein has been compared to Hitler many times, by many people of many different political views.

Bush's Nazi analogy was just wrong–it wasn't an analogy to anything.  Even Bush's surrogates were ignorant of the origin of the "appeasement" line.  In the second paragraph above, however, the analogies are at least of the right type.  The comparisons may be (may be) extreme, but at most that's hyperbole–politics is full of it.  One can challenge the hyperbole for its exaggeration–which is a question not of factual basis (like the first) but of degree.  

I'm not endorsing the use of the analogies in the second instances, but if we're going to engage in ambidomal poxism (a pox on both your houses–anyone have a better name?) then we ought to make sure it's the same strain of pox.


La femminista

Anne Applebaum gripes about how "feminism" cares not about issues that matter to real women.  She writes:

By contrast, the women of contemporary Saudi Arabia need a much more fundamental revolution than the one that took place among American women in the 1960s, and it's one we have trouble understanding. Unlike American blacks, American women have not had to grapple with issues as basic as the right to study or vote for a long time. Instead, we have (fortunately) fought for less fundamental rights in recent decades, and our women's groups have of late (unfortunately) had the luxury of focusing on the marginal. The National Council of Women's Organizations' most famous recent campaign was against the Augusta National Golf Club. The Web site of the National Organization for Women (I hate to pick on that group, but it's so easy) has space for issues of "non-sexist car insurance" and "network neutrality," but not the Saudi rape victim or the girl murdered last week in Canada for refusing to wear a hijab.

The reigning feminist ideology doesn't help: The philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers has written, among other things, that some American feminists, self-focused and reluctant to criticize non-Western cultures, have convinced themselves that "sexual terror" in America (a phrase from a real women's studies textbook) is more dangerous than actual terrorism. But the deeper problem is the gradual marginalization of "women's issues" in domestic politics, which has made them subordinate to security issues, or racial issues, in foreign policy as well.

American delegates to international and U.N. women's organizations are mostly identified with arguments about reproductive rights (for or against, depending on the administration), not arguments about the fundamental rights of women in Saudi Arabia or the Muslim world.

Until this changes, it will be hard to mount a campaign, in the manner of the anti-apartheid movement, to enforce sanctions or codes of conduct for people doing business there. What we need as a model, in other words, is not the 1960s feminism we all remember but a globalized version of the 19th-century feminism we've nearly forgotten. Candidates for the role of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, anyone?

In the first place, no one ought to be surprised that the National Organization for Women take issue with national issues, as they are are national organization.  Pointing out the "small" or "quaint" injustices with which they occupy themselves does not mean their members are not concerned or involved as women of international organizations with the plight of women in Saudi Arabia, or better, Afghanistan.  Those, however, are international issues.  

At the heart of Applebaum's astoundingly silly analysis, is the view that somehow concern for gender issues in America precludes one from being concerned about them in Canada or elsewhere.  Even dumber than that is the idea that one get a total picture of "reigning feminist ideology" from skimming the works of one "feminist" philosopher and clicking to the web pages of two different organizations.  Before she makes those claims, she should try a little harder, perhaps use the search function.

To the Catwalks!

Anne Applebaum has got Hollywood’s number:

>In fact, for the malcontents of Hollywood, academia and the catwalks, Chávez is an ideal ally. Just as the sympathetic foreigners whom Lenin called “useful idiots” once supported Russia abroad, their modern equivalents provide the Venezuelan president with legitimacy, attention and good photographs. He, in turn, helps them overcome the frustration Reed once felt — the frustration of living in an annoyingly unrevolutionary country where people have to change things by law. For all of his brilliance, Reed could not bring socialism to America. For all of his wealth, fame, media access and Hollywood power, Penn cannot oust George W. Bush. But by showing up in the company of Chávez, he can at least get a lot more attention for his opinions.

Take that Sean Penn and Naomi Campbell–the only malcontents of Hollywood and the catwalks (first time I’ve heard that as well) Applebaum bothers to mention.