The NSA knows about your analogy and slippery slope

In response to challenges to the legality and morality of the NSA’s surveillance program, President Obama said we should have a healthy debate about it (video HERE).  This occasions George Neumayr at the American Spectator to make this comparison:

He is open to a “healthy” debate about it. Holder and Obama are like drunk drivers who cause a pile-up and then stroll back innocently to see if they can “help.”

And when President Obama makes it clear that the content of the calls is not monitored, Neumayr sees a slope looming:

In a few years, the line will move to: yes, we are listening to your calls, but we are not recording them; yes, we are forcing you to pay for abortion but we are not requiring you undergo one.

The trouble is that in both the analogy and in the slippery slope, we have Neumayr assuming that the harm is already in the surveillance as it is.  Notice that both of the Obama replies to criticism has been to challenge that thought — the harm of surveillance would be on content.


Fun with Derrida

Jacques Derrida

Adrian Blau has an entertaining discussion of whether Derrida’s analysis of why we refer to 9/11 in the way we do is bullshit or simply crap.  A taste:

I’ll focus solely on Leiter’s 2003 blog entry, ‘Derrida and Bullshit’, which attacks the ‘ridiculousness’ of Derrida’s comments on 9/11. This came from an interview with Derrida in October 2001. Here is an abbreviated version; you can see the full thing on p. 85 onwards of this book.

… this act of naming: a date and nothing more. … [T]he index pointing toward this date, the bare act, the minimal deictic, the minimalist aim of this dating, also marks something else. Namely, the fact that we perhaps have no concept and no meaning available to us to name in any other way this ‘thing’ that has just happened … But this very thing … remains ineffable, like an intuition without concept, like a unicity with no generality on the horizon or with no horizon at all, out of range for a language that admits its powerlessness and so is reduced to pronouncing mechanically a date, repeating it endlessly, as a kind of ritual incantation, a conjuring poem, a journalistic litany or rhetorical refrain that admits to not knowing what it’s talking about.

9/11 turned the world upside down. Or at least 45 degrees to the side.

So, is this bullshit, on the Frankfurt and/or the Cohen notions of bullshit? I would say no. I take Derrida to be saying the following.

We often repeat the name ‘9/11’ without thinking much about it. But the words we use can be very revealing. Why do we try to reduce this complex event to such a simple term? Because the event is so complex we cannot capture it properly. Precisely by talking about it in such a simple way, we admit that we don’t really understand it.

If I have understood Derrida – tell me if I haven’t – this explanation is surely wrong.

Read the whole thing and the discussion to follow.  Reminds me of the game some of us played in graduate school: interpret the work of Derrida using a simple phrase.  My favorite: “Aporias or ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales.'”

Via Leiter.

Vatican standoff

A Vatican Standoff

At a recent conference on Tolerance, Vatican representative Bishop Mario Toso makes the following obviously problematic assertion:

Intolerance in the name of “tolerance” must be named for what it is and publically condemned. To deny religiously informed moral argument a place in the public square is intolerant and anti-democratic. Or to put it another way, where there might be a clash of rights, religious freedom must never be regarded as inferior. On the other hand, the issue of religious freedom cannot and should not be incorporated into that of tolerance. If, in fact, this was the supreme human and civilian value, then any authentically truthful conviction, that excludes the other, would be tantamount to intolerance. Moreover, if every conviction was as good as another, you could end up being accommodating even towards aberrations.

Seems like the last sentence contradicts the first bolded one.  If every religion is as good as another, you could end up being accommodating even towards aberrations.

But I think it is obvious what we’re talking about here.  Where a Christian’s right to hate upon a homosexual conflicts with that homosexual’s right not to lose job, house, etc., the Christian’s right absolutely prevails, or is at least equal.  It’s not obvious that this ought to be the case.  It’s also not obvious why the Bishop thinks this ought to be the case, other than to invoke the tolerance regress argument:  If you criticize my intolerance, you’re intolerant.

Via Reddit.


Please enjoy the unhinged commentary of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz on New York City’s New Bike Share Program:

I’d feel bad for the person who interviews her, except she seems to revel in Rabinowitz’s insights.


This guy does a blow by blow (warning: appropriately mean) of Ms. Rabinowitz and her associate’s sorry reasoning.