On the pier

Some military types together penned an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing against gays in the military.  Some of their arguments are manifestly absurd–like this one:

And the damage would not stop there. Legislation introduced to repeal Section 654 (H.R. 1283) would impose on commanders a radical policy that mandates "nondiscrimination" against "homosexuality, or bisexuality, whether the orientation is real or perceived." Mandatory training classes and judicial proceedings would consume valuable time defining that language. Team cohesion and concentration on missions would suffer if our troops had to live in close quarters with others who could be sexually attracted to them.

We don't need a study commission to know that tensions are inevitable in conditions offering little or no privacy, increasing the stress of daily military life. "Zero tolerance" of dissent would become official intolerance of anyone who disagrees with this policy, forcing additional thousands to leave the service by denying them promotions or punishing them in other ways. Many more will be dissuaded from ever enlisting. There is no compelling national security reason for running these risks to our armed forces. Discharges for homosexual conduct have been few compared with separations for other reasons, such as pregnancy/family hardship or weight-standard violations. There are better ways to remedy shortages in some military specialties than imposing social policies that would escalate losses of experienced personnel who are not easily replaced.

"Nondiscrimation" (in quotes!) sounds odd, to say the least, in the context of an argument arguing for systematic and legalized discrimination against homosexuals.  Aside from its grade C sophistry, this argument repeats the claim uttered by many that their civil rights would be infringed upon if homosexual marriages are legally recognized–a claim made in a recent commercial against gay marriage.  See here for entertaining commentary on that particular advertisement.

On the other merits of the piece, the authors argue many–too many–would leave the military (in a time when we need them all).  The primary cause would seem to be the "forced intimacy" required by military life: 

Section 654 recognizes that the military is a "specialized society" that is "fundamentally different from civilian life." It requires a unique code of personal conduct and demands "extraordinary sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice, in order to provide for the common defense." The law appreciates military personnel who, unlike civilians who go home after work, must accept living conditions that are often "characterized by forced intimacy with little or no privacy." 

Not having been in the military, I can't really attest to that (anyone?).  But one can easily imagine it.  What might be a counter example to this–perhaps the only comprehensible worry on behalf of those afraid of homosexuals, at least the only one the authors mention–might be some other military which allows gays to serve openly.  And indeed there is one, or two or more.  The authors write:

Some suggest that the United States must emulate Denmark, the Netherlands and Canada, which have incorporated homosexuals into their forces. But none of these countries has the institutional culture or worldwide responsibilities of our military. America's armed forces are models for our allies' militaries and the envy of our adversaries — not the other way around. 

They might have just added: those countries, however, serve red herring, a nutritionally deficient form of sustenance, in their MREs.  The question is whether allowing gays in the military–especially in Canada, a country very much like ours, with troops committed overseas in various operations–has affected military service in Canada.  Did mass amounts of people leave the military?  The fact that our military might be the envy of our adversaries is immaterial and irrelevant–unless, of course, they "envy" it's not gayness. 

Bill of fair

Here's Clarence Thomas, deep legal thinker, on civil rights:

“Today there is much focus on our rights,” Justice Thomas said. “Indeed, I think there is a proliferation of rights.”

“I am often surprised by the virtual nobility that seems to be accorded those with grievances,” he said. “Shouldn’t there at least be equal time for our Bill of Obligations and our Bill of Responsibilities?”

He gave examples: “It seems that many have come to think that each of us is owed prosperity and a certain standard of living. They’re owed air-conditioning, cars, telephones, televisions.”

Oh I bet you can find someone who thinks that they have a right to party as well–which, actually, they do.  But it's depressing to think a Supreme Court Justice has so little regard for the kinds of legal grievances he's supposed to be thinking about.  

via Steve Benen.

Evangelium vitae

It's Easter, so let's marvel at the ever so subtle Scholastic reasoning of some Catholic, former Republican public servant and Notre Dame alumnus regarding whether Barack O'Bama should be given an honorary degree by Our Lady of the Lake.  Writing on the op-ed page of the New York Times, he says:

What’s more, it’s important to remember that Notre Dame is a Catholic institution. The school openly flouts the guidelines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops when it bestows an honorary degree upon a president who supports something anathema to the faith: abortion. Catholic doctrine holds that life begins at conception; as a candidate, Mr. Obama said that determining when life begins “is above my pay grade,” not an answer at all. There is every sign that his administration has a pro-abortion orientation.

The moral conflict could not be clearer. But here’s a solution: Notre Dame should welcome President Obama as its principal commencement speaker but should not give him an honorary degree. You see, policy positions do matter when it comes to honorary degrees, because the degrees honor something.

Now just for fun, and because the Vatican has a neat internet site, here's a Papal Encyclical (Evangelium Vitae 1995):

The Second Vatican Council, in a passage which retains all its relevance today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacks against human life. Thirty years later, taking up the words of the Council and with the same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience: "Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator".5

That's a lot of condemned things.  The inclusion of "arbitrary imprisonment" and "torments inflicted on the body or mind" are particulary interesting, given the cheeks puffed out moral posturing a lot (but obviously not all) of conservative Catholics.  Here's the more specific point:

56. This is the context in which to place the problem of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God's plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is "to redress the disorder caused by the offence".46 Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring people's safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated. 47

It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person".48

With all of this (who could have known about the torments at this point?) in 2001 Notre Dame gave an honorary degree to this guy, who personally presided over 155 executions as Governor of Texas.  Not even then, thankfully, was everyone pleased with the degree conferral.

The Fighting Irish

I caught the following discussion between two Irish Catholics–Pat Buchanan and Lawrence O'Donnell–about whether Notre Dame should grant an honorary degree to Barack Hussein O'Bama, 44th President of the United States of America.  Buchanan says no, on account of O'Bama's position on the only two issues right wing Catholics seem to care enough about to make any kind of political stand: abortion and stem cell research.  Ok, I'm probably wrong about that.  I think they also care about gay marriage.  You can watch the exchange at this link (I cannot figure out how to embed video–anyone?).

Passive objectors

Vermont's legislature–a kind of democratic body–has passed a law legalizing gay marriage.  Good for them I say.  Here is the puzzling reaction of Mathew D. Staver, the Dean of the Liberty University School of Law:

“It is a sad day in America when elected officials are clueless about the definition of marriage. If they cannot understand this basic human relationship between a man and a woman, then they are not competent for public office. Marriage laws regulate a social institution upon which society has been built and the future of society rests. By redefining marriage, the Vermont legislature removed the cornerstone of society and the foundation of government. “The consequences will rest on their shoulders and upon those passive objectors who know what to do but who lack the political courage to do what is right for the common good of the people.”

I thought the foundation of government was the consent of the people, but I've been wrong before.  I wonder then if Staver means to suggest that Vermont no longer has a legitimate government.

A couple of items

In case one is interested in how philosophers have reacted to David Brooks' piece (mentioned here yesterday), then they can go over to the Leiter Reports and comment.

In case one is interested in bad arguments in general–as we are–then one can go badarguments.org to practice identifying them.  Have fun.

Finally, if one has been following George F. Will's scientific escapades (discussed by us here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here), one might be interested in the following article published in yesterday's Washington Post.  Here's a critical passage:

The new evidence — including satellite data showing that the average multiyear wintertime sea ice cover in the Arctic in 2005 and 2006 was nine feet thick, a significant decline from the 1980s — contradicts data cited in widely circulated reports by Washington Post columnist George F. Will that sea ice in the Arctic has not significantly declined since 1979.

If only the article were distributed as widely as Will's various factually and logically challenged op-eds.  Here's Tom Toles (of the Washington Post!) on George Will:



General philosophical post today.  It doesn't seem David Brooks has read Aristotle.  Had he read Aristotle, he would have not written this:

Socrates talked. The assumption behind his approach to philosophy, and the approaches of millions of people since, is that moral thinking is mostly a matter of reason and deliberation: Think through moral problems. Find a just principle. Apply it.


UPDATE.  Ok, on the strength of a conversation with one of the commentators here, I will add the following two paragraphs (directly from above) to make the Aristotle point clearer.

One problem with this kind of approach to morality, as Michael Gazzaniga writes in his 2008 book, “Human,” is that “it has been hard to find any correlation between moral reasoning and proactive moral behavior, such as helping other people. In fact, in most studies, none has been found.”

Today, many psychologists, cognitive scientists and even philosophers embrace a different view of morality. In this view, moral thinking is more like aesthetics. As we look around the world, we are constantly evaluating what we see. Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous.

Now discuss (again).

Supposedly, allegedly, naturally

Now this is really baffling.  The Washington Post publishes another George Will column containing global warming denial.  Ok, to be fair, the article only contains that charge as the set up to the claim that flourescent bulbs won't stop global warming anyway.  No one believes George Will about the former, and no one believes the later.  Anywhere, here's the denial:

Reducing carbon emissions supposedly will reverse warming, which is allegedly occurring even though, according to statistics published by the World Meteorological Organization, there has not been a warmer year on record than 1998. Regarding the reversing, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change has many ambitions, as outlined in a working group's 16-page "information note" to "facilitate discussions."

For those keeping score at home, there seems to be a critical inference there in that paragraph from the data of the WMO to the claim that the earth's climate is cooling.  As we have noticed before, the Washington Post and many other very dim people consider such inferences to be completely a matter of "opinion" and not "fact" (a distinction we find meaningless in this circumstance).  For what it's worth–which in this circumstance is pretty much everything–here is the WMO in a letter to the Post (published last week):

It is a misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge to point to one year as the warmest on record — as was done in a recent Post column ["Dark Green Doomsayers," George F. Will, op-ed, Feb. 15] — and then to extrapolate that cooler subsequent years invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects.

So that's that.  Now as for the claim of "reversing" the effects of global warming with light bulbs.  No one, I'd venture to guess, could seriously maintain that view (so perhaps George Will is attacking yet another of his many liberal communist totalitarian straw men–er, I mean straw persons.  Ok, if no one seriously holds the view, then this is technically a "holllow man.").  The undeniably negative effects of burning coal (damning rivers, etc.) as well as the undeniably scarce nature of fossilized resources are sufficient to mandate efficient light bulbs.  If they don't work as well as advertised (as he later goes on to point out), then perhaps someone enterprising capitalist can build a better one–there seems oddly enough to be a market for energy efficient products these days.