Here's a cartoon perhaps some can relate to.
Here's a cartoon perhaps some can relate to.
I heard this on the radio and thought it didn't make any sense. Even though it's a politician, I'll break with tradition (that's "tradition" by the way, not "rule") and put it up here. And if you're addicted to "balance," then go find some crazy equivalent howler by Obama so we can talk about that. It's John McCain criticizing Obama on the surge.
Oddly enough, my opponent advocates the deployment of two new combat brigades to Afghanistan — in other words, a surge. We're left to wonder how he can deny that the surge in Iraq has succeeded, while at the same time announcing that a surge is just what we need in Afghanistan. I'll leave all these questions for my opponent and his team of 300 foreign policy advisors to work out for themselves. With luck, they'll get their story straight by the time the Obama campaign returns to North America.
The only way this argument would work is if Obama had argued that "surges" (I'm weak on military strategy, but I don't think that's a kind of thing) do not work in principle–which, as far as I know, he didn't.
I guess I would call this a rather straightforward case of suppressed evidence. Afghanistan and Iraq are obviously different vis a vis military surging. Reasons for surging in one place are not reasons for surging in every place.
When I write–as I did here–that one just doesn't find many "liberals" on op-ed pages who behave as their conservative counterparts do, I was thinking not only of E.J.Dionne, who does basic reporting (polls show. . . ) not arguing (people ought. . . ), I was also thinking of intellectual giants like Richard Cohen. Last time we saw him, he was grousing about tattoos. Now he's got a crush on McCain. He admires that McCain branded maverickness that takes the opposite of everything (mostly). In yet another example of the premise which begins with a personal anecdote, Cohen writes:
"Just tell me one thing Barack Obama has done that you admire," I asked a prominent Democrat. He paused and then said that he admired Obama's speech to the Democratic convention in 2004. I agreed. It was a hell of a speech, but it was just a speech.
A prominent Democrat ought to be named in the first place, if his or her view is representative.
On the other hand, I continued, I could cite four or five actions — not speeches — that John McCain has taken that elicit my admiration, even my awe. First, of course, is his decision as a Vietnam prisoner of war to refuse freedom out of concern that he would be exploited for propaganda purposes. To paraphrase what Kipling said about Gunga Din, John McCain is a better man than most.
But I would not stop there. I would include campaign finance reform, which infuriated so many in his own party; opposition to earmarks, which won him no friends; his politically imprudent opposition to the Medicare prescription drug bill (Medicare has about $35 trillion in unfunded obligations); and, last but not least, his very early call for additional troops in Iraq. His was a lonely position — virtually suicidal for an all-but-certain presidential candidate and no help when his campaign nearly expired last summer. In all these cases, McCain stuck to his guns.
So Cohen asks some unnamed person what he or she admires about Obama, then by way of comparison, he asks himself what he admires about McCain. Why didn't he ask that same Democrat what he admires about McCain? Or why didn't he ask himself what he admires about Obama–who knows what his response might have been.
But the next morning, as I drove around the Washington suburbs, I saw not one but two cars — rather nice cars, as it happens — festooned with the Obama campaign bumper sticker “got hope?” And I relapsed into moroseness.
Got hope? Are my own neighbors’ lives so bleak that they place their hopes in Barack Obama? Are they impressed by the cleverness of a political slogan that plays off a rather cheesy (sorry!) campaign to get people to drink milk?
And what is it the bumper-sticker affixers are trying to say? Do they really believe their fellow citizens who happen to prefer McCain are hopeless? After all, just because you haven’t swooned like Herr Spörl doesn’t mean you don’t hope for a better world. Don’t McCain backers also have hope — for an America that wins its wars, protects its unborn children and allows its citizens to keep more of their hard-earned income?
But what if all those “got hope?” bumper stickers spur a backlash? It might occur to undecided or swing voters that talk of hope is not a substantive plan. They might be further put off by the haughtiness of Obama’s claim to the mantle of hope. This hope restored my spirits.
Before they fell again. Later that day, I read a report of a fund-raising letter from Obama on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, arguing that “We must have a deadlock-proof Democratic majority.”
Someone once claimed that all arguments are "ad hominem." By this he obviously didn't mean that all arguments commit the fallacy of the same name, but he meant rather that all arguments are directed at some particular person's beliefs. Regardless, the same principles of charity would apply.
Now this isn't the worst of Kristol's argument, as it is merely a set-up for an even sillier claim [continuing directly]:
But then it occurred to me that one man’s “deadlock-proof” Democratic majority is another’s unchecked Democratic majority. Given the unpopularity of the current Democratic Congress, given Americans’ tendency to prefer divided government, given the voters’ repudiations of the Republicans in 2006 and of the Democrats in 1994 — isn’t the prospect of across-the-board, one-party Democratic governance more likely to move votes to McCain than to Obama?
These are all certainly reasons related in the right kind of way to the conclusion (they won't elect Obama), but Kristol is guilty of two big mistakes. The first is a priorism–while the evidence he mentions relates to the conclusion (even though the claim about the dissatisfaction with the "democratic" congress is misleading), the availability of empirical data makes such recourse to a priori notions unnecessary. One can, in other words, track poll data now–poll data which paints a rather different picture (so he at least ought to argue against that). Second, the repudiation of majorities 12 years a part does not demonstrate much (it's only two instances) about American distrust of one-party rule–besides, in neither of those years were their Presidential elections.
**update: here's someone's suggestion for bumper sticker: adfixum in obice.
In light of the fact that this person is an academic and therefore ought to know better, this is a really abysmal premise:
WITH gestures that ranged from a wink to a sneer, most anyone you met here this week volunteered the view that Barack Obama’s visit to Europe caused unprecedented frenzy. But it’s been hard for me to find a European, aside from two Harvard-educated friends in Paris, who confessed to excitement — not just about the visit, but the prospect of an Obama presidency.
Try harder. It's been hard for me to find anyone who voted for Bush or who thinks he has done one single thing right.
We have a category here for politicians, but we rarely use it. Unless they're making specific claims about policy or about reality (which they really don't do in speeches), one can't really expect them to be subject to the minimal standards of coherent reasoning. They're not really reasoning, after all, when they make speeches–they're motivating, encouraging, etc. When they send out their surrogates to give rational grounds for their views, or if they themselves do so, that's another matter. But the speeches, especially speeches to very large crowds of people in foreign countries, really shouldn't be subject to the kind of scrutiny one would expect even of campaign stump speech. This is why, I think, today's David Brooks' column is so silly. He chastises Obama for saying not being hard-headed enough:
The odd thing is that Obama doesn’t really think this way. When he gets down to specific cases, he can be hard-headed. Last year, he spoke about his affinity for Reinhold Niebuhr, and their shared awareness that history is tragic and ironic and every political choice is tainted in some way.
But he has grown accustomed to putting on this sort of saccharine show for the rock concert masses, and in Berlin his act jumped the shark. His words drift far from reality, and not only when talking about the Senate Banking Committee. His Berlin Victory Column treacle would have made Niebuhr sick to his stomach.
Obama has benefited from a week of good images. But substantively, optimism without reality isn’t eloquence. It’s just Disney.
And he's no Jack Kennedy either. That would have been funnier. The really dumb thing about this is the Brooks even admits that Obama has more to offer than the speeches–while claiming at the same time that he doesn't. People, some people at least, can tell the difference between a speech in front of a crowd of 200,000 screaming Teutons and a health care proposal that has a chance of passing. David Brooks can't seem to make this basic distinction.
Maybe we could call this the "grandpa argument": to anyone complaining of a misfortune, you reply by recounting misfortunes much worse. So if someone says it's hot, tell him about when you forgot to turn on your air conditioning. When someone says school is hard, tell them about when you went to school and had to run both ways uphill in the snow with bricks.
Robert Samuelson offers us a nice example of this. He writes:
The specter of depression stalks America. You hear the word repeatedly. Are we in a depression? If not, are we headed for one? The answer to the first question is no; the answer to the second is "almost certainly not." The use of "depression" to describe the economy is a case of rhetorical overkill that speaks volumes about today's widespread pessimism and anxiety. A short history lesson shows why.
I haven't heard the word "depression" at all (and my quick and informal Google search did not produce anything serious). I've certainly heard the word "recession," which is a much different thing. So who is Samuelson talking about? He doesn't really say. And this isn't just a lead in. He's serious. He concludes:
We are relearning an old lesson: The business cycle isn't dead. Prosperity's pleasures breed complacency and inspire mistakes that, in time, boomerang on financial markets, job creation and production. Just as expansions ultimately tend to self-destruct, so downswings tend to generate self-correcting forces. People pay down debts; pent-up demand develops; surviving companies expand. The Great Depression was an exception. The present economy would have to get much, much, much worse before it warranted the same appraisal.
So there you have it. Samuelson has conjured up a non-existent opponent, and soundly defeated him. Now the funny thing is this. Normally one makes such arguments in order to defeat much stronger ones–or so goes the strategy of the straw man. Samuelson, however, doesn't seem to suggest that much. So, while today may be no Great Depression, it doesn't mean that it's not a "recession" (which is another, more interesting question Samuelson might have spent more time addressing).
One can certainly trust the Post to select op-eds on the important issues of the day. Richard Cohen edifies his readers with this gem:
Tattoos are the emblems of our age. They bristle from the biceps of men in summer shirts, from the lower backs of women as they ascend stairs, from the shoulders of basketball players as they drive toward the basket, and from every inch of certain celebrities. The tattoo is the battle flag of today in its war with tomorrow. It is carried by sure losers.
Losers: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, etc.
It gets better:
I asked a college professor what she thought of tattoos, and she said that for young people, they represent permanence in an ever-changing world. But how is that possible? Anyone old enough and smart enough to get into college knows that only impermanence is permanent. Everything changes — including, sweetie, that tight tummy with its "look at me!" tattoo. Time will turn it into false advertising.
It gets better still, for the grumpy old man tattoo diatribe was merely a set-up:
The permanence of the moment — the conviction that now is forever — explains what has happened to the American economy. We are, as a people, deeply in debt. We are, as a nation, deeply in debt. The average American household owes more than its yearly income. We save almost nothing (0.4 percent of disposable income) and spend almost everything (99.6 percent of disposable income) in the hope that tomorrow will be a lot like today. We bought homes we could not afford and took out mortgages we could not pay and whipped out the plastic on everything else. Debts would be due in the future, but, with any luck, the future would remain in the future.
I would say that getting a tattoo may be something remotely like what happened to certain people in debt, but I think it strains credulity to say that it "explains" the economy. (For more on that topic, there's the almost–almost I say–equally shallow economic/social/political analysis of David Brooks in today's Times). Back to tattoos:
But the tattoos of today are not minor affairs or miniatures placed on the body where only an intimate or an internist would see them. Today's are gargantuan, inevitably tacky, gauche and ugly. They bear little relationship to the skin that they're on. They don't represent an indelible experience or membership in some sort of group but an assertion that today's whim will be tomorrow's joy. After all, a tattoo cannot be easily removed. It takes a laser — and some cash.
I have decades' worth of photos of me wearing clothes that now look like costumes. My hair has been long and then longer and then short. My lapels have been wide, then wider, then narrow. I have written awful columns I once thought were brilliant and embraced ideas I now think are foolish. Nothing is forever.
Seize the day — laser tomorrow.
What about your columns, Richard? You can't undo those.
*Teneo vestri vox doesn't mean anything, but it appears as a tattoo on Angelina Jolie in a recent movie. See here for more. But in the meantime, since so many have asked, here's why it means nothing. Latin words get their grammatical significance from their endings (not, as is often the case, from their position in the sentence). So teneo means "I hold," vestri (a possessive adjective without an antecedant) means "of yours [all])," and "vox" means "voice" or "the voice" (in the nominative case). Put them together this way and you have nonsense: there's no grammatical object for the transitive verb, vox is nominative but is not the subject, and the possessive adjective doesn't modify anything. You might as well string any three words together–dog yours telephone–and tattoo that on your body, that's about how much sense it makes.
The proliferation of global warming deniers occupying the highest echelons of the Republican political and intellectual structure (need they be listed here?) notwithstanding, Al Gore is really partisan–and on top of that, some environmentalists seem not to value people more than plants. So if anyone is responsible for the failure of environmentalism, Michael Gerson argues, it's them. While we're at it, if anyone is responsible for the failure of women's rights, it's those annoying feminists:
Some Republicans and conservatives are prone to an ideologically motivated skepticism. On AM talk radio, where scientific standards are not particularly high, the attitude seems to be: "If Al Gore is upset about carbon, we must need more of it." Gore's partisan, conspiratorial anger is annoying, yet not particularly relevant to the science of this issue.
This points, however, to a broader problem. Any legislation ambitious enough to cut carbon emissions significantly and encourage new energy technologies will require a broad political and social consensus. Nothing this complex and expensive gets done on a party-line vote. Yet many environmental leaders seem unpracticed at coalition-building. They tend to be conventionally, if not radically, liberal. They sometimes express a deep distrust for capitalism and hostility to the extractive industries. Their political strategy consists mainly of the election of Democrats. Most Republican environmental efforts are quickly pronounced "too little, too late."
Even worse, a disturbing minority of the environmental movement seems to view an excess of human beings, not an excess of carbon emissions, as the world's main problem. In two recent settings, I have heard China's one-child policy praised as an answer to the environmental crisis — a kind of totalitarianism involving coerced birth control or abortion. I have no objection to responsible family planning. But no movement will succeed with this argument: Because we in the West have emitted so much carbon, there needs to be fewer people who don't look like us.
Human beings are not the enemy of sound environmental policy; they are the primary reason sound environmental policy is necessary.
If the movement to confront climate change is perceived as partisan, anti-capitalist and hostile to human life, it is likely to fail, causing suffering for many, including the ice bears. And so the question arises: Will the environment survive the environmentalists?
Now in some respect this might be sound practical advice. But really, I think Gerson has blamed the unreasonable excesses of the Conservative movement on their perception (which is in reality a caricature) of the environmental movement. That caricature, of course, exists primarily in their minds. Sure, you can find some pretty jerky environmentalists, but you need not consider them the key representatives of the movement.
Dark deeds have been conducted in the name of the United States government in recent years: the gruesome, late-night circus at Abu Ghraib, the beating to death of captives in Afghanistan, and the officially sanctioned waterboarding and brutalization of high-value Qaeda prisoners. Now demands are growing for senior administration officials to be held accountable and punished. Congressional liberals, human-rights groups and other activists are urging a criminal investigation into high-level "war crimes," including the Bush administration's approval of interrogation methods considered by many to be torture.
I would think: we are a nation of laws. The accused will no doubt have better legal representation than their alleged victims (someone said something like that once–who was it?), but they'll still have to answer for their deeds. That's what I would say. Here's what the author said:
It's a bad idea. In fact, President George W. Bush ought to pardon any official from cabinet secretary on down who might plausibly face prosecution for interrogation methods approved by administration lawyers. (It would be unseemly for Bush to pardon Vice President Dick Cheney or himself, but the next president wouldn't allow them to be prosecuted anyway—galling as that may be to critics.) The reason for pardons is simple: what this country needs most is a full and true accounting of what took place. The incoming president should convene a truth commission, with subpoena power, to explore every possible misdeed and derive lessons from it. But this should not be a criminal investigation, which would only force officials to hire lawyers and batten down the hatches.
Couldn't this be said about any criminal act? What the family needs is a full accounting of what happened–outside of the Rashomon-like perspectivism of a criminal trial–so let's grant the accused immunity and just hear about how he went about his crimes.
Of course that's nonsense not worthy of the most motivated high school debate student. People will continue to lie to protect their reputations–even when nothing is at stake. Criminal trials don't really produce truth anyway, they produce, maybe sometimes, justice.