Tag Archives: Kathleen Parker

David Brooks has taken it easy for all of us sinners

Our dystopian future

John Holbo at Crooked Timber reads David Brooks’ recent column on marijuana and has a request we’ve had for a long time:

Why is this interesting? I’ve said it before, and this column is a good example.In US politics, the conservative imagination is so loopily half-utopian. Prominent liberal pundits, by contrast, don’t go in for this sort of half-baked (no pun intended!) goofiness. (Maybe that’s why they don’t get invited onto the Sunday morning shows. They are less entertaining.) But maybe this is just my liberal bias. A challenge for our conservatives readers. Can you provide examples of liberal pundits who are as prominent as Brooks, who are as goofy as Brooks?That is, they defend some concrete policy proposal by sort of half-flying off to some vague Cloud Cuckooland, based on principles they would never seriously propose ratifying in the real world, because they obviously don’t even believe those principles?

As an empirical matter, I think Holbo is right on the money.  We have, on the one hand, a very vibrant argumentative culture in the United States; you don’t have to go very far to find vigorous dialectical exchanges on any number of topics (see, the Internet).  At the same time, however, this culture is dominated by the likes of Brooks (and Kathleen Parker).

Brooks, the particular case at hand, argues the following:

For a little while in my teenage years, my friends and I smoked marijuana. It was fun. I have some fond memories of us all being silly together. I think those moments of uninhibited frolic deepened our friendships.

Only to conclude:

The people who debate these policy changes usually cite the health risks users would face or the tax revenues the state might realize. Many people these days shy away from talk about the moral status of drug use because that would imply that one sort of life you might choose is better than another sort of life.

But, of course, these are the core questions: Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.

In legalizing weed, citizens of Colorado are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.

Skipping the obvious rejoinder of the legality of alchohol and workahol, smoking weed was good for Brooks, morally good actually (it deepened his friendships, didn’t it?), but it ought to be illegal for others (with, I imagine, all of the consequences of being illegal–jail, fines, war on drugs, etc.) because nature and the arts are better.  I think you’d have to be high to cite those two particular examples of alternatives to weed.  And so maybe we’re reading this all wrong.  Brooks is enacting his argument against  legal weed by getting high before writing it.

Common sense

Fig 1: “a uniform we all recognize”

I remember a while back, maybe three years ago, Juan Williams, now of Fox News but then of NPR, remarked that people in Muslim-looking garb on planes made him nervous.  That was a silly bit of profiling, of course.  Now in the wake of the Trayvon Martin not guilty verdict, racial profiling is all the rage, at least at the Washington Post.  Both Richard Cohen, who is allegedly a liberal columnist, and Kathleen Parker (a conservative) have penned columns justifying some sort of profiling.  Here is Parker:

This is not to justify what subsequently transpired between Zimmerman and Martin but to cast a dispassionate eye on reality. And no, just because a few black youths caused trouble doesn’t mean all black youths should be viewed suspiciously. This is so obvious a truth that it shouldn’t need saying and yet, if we are honest, we know that human nature includes the accumulation of evolved biases based on experience and survival. In the courtroom, it’s called profiling. In the real world, it’s called common sense.

Oddly, this “dispassionate eye on reality” seems to suggest that racial profilers, such as Zimmerman appears to have been, lack common sense.  For, after all, being suspicious of biases such as these is common sense, common decency, and basic intellectual skill.  Now to be fair, the rest of her piece, by the way, isn’t that bad–or at least not as bad as Richard Cohen’s horrible meditation on hoodies:

Where is the politician who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males? This does not mean that raw racism has disappeared, and some judgments are not the product of invidious stereotyping. It does mean, though, that the public knows young black males commit a disproportionate amount of crime. In New York City, blacks make up a quarter of the population, yet they represent78 percent of all shooting suspects — almost all of them young men. We know them from the nightly news.

Sounds like your uncle at Thanksgiving–for excellent analysis of Cohen’s unpardonably bad piece, see Jamelle Bouie.

TL;DR: this horrible crime (I think) ought at least to provide us an opportunity to reflect on the malfunctioning operation of common sense, or racism, as some call it.

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.

Judgement at Nuremberg

Kathleen Parker cluelessly asks:

When did we start punishing lawyers for producing opinions with which we disagree? And where does that road lead?

The answer: Nuremberg

And that's not the dumbest part of her argument.  This inexplicably moronic assertion (seen by now all over the place, e.g., here) shows up as well:

Moreover, the same technique is used to train our own military personnel, who do not suffer severe physical pain or prolonged mental harm. 

The logic of this claim is completely baffling.  If we use the technique known as waterboarding in order to prepare our military personnel for the kinds of torture that the enemy might use against them, then on that account it's not torture if we use it against the enemy.  But if it's not torture, then we are either tormenting our soldiers for no good reason or we are giving the enemy a pass in virtue of our using it as training.  

Diminished mental capacity

Kathleen Parker concern trolls on behalf of homophobic Christian ministers:

When whites lynched blacks with the tacit approval of the state, the entire African American community was terrorized. No one can pretend otherwise. It is this immeasurable horror that hate-crimes laws attempt to address by adding another layer of punishment to the primary crime.

What fair-minded person could object? On the other hand, how do we read the minds of our worst actors? Is it possible to say conclusively that these killers were motivated by hate to the exclusion of other potentially confounding factors?

These are legitimate questions that deserve rational debate without the dueling rants of hyperbole and outrage. Ultimately, that debate leads to free-speech issues — especially religious speech — and the real crux of the opposition.

Some conservative groups worry that hate-crimes laws might lead to restrictions on churches or other religious organizations' freedom to quote Scripture that might be deemed hateful toward gays. Might a passionate preacher's invocation of, say, Leviticus 20:13, which condemns homosexual behavior, be interpreted as conspiracy to commit a hate crime?

In fact, the legislation applies when a physical assault or attempted murder takes place. And, so far, the First Amendment still protects the rights of even the Rev. Fred Phelps to take his "God Hates Fags" show on the road.

But in a country where eating Twinkies can be a defense for murder — and a Miss USA contestant can be publicly denounced as a "dumb bitch" for saying that marriage should be between a man and a woman — stranger things are sure to happen.

As an operating principle, meanwhile, it seems wiser to hear and see the haters rather than criminalize their thoughts and banish them to the underground where their demons can fester and where no law can breach their purpose

There's a neat collection of straightforward fallacies here.  In the first place, there is the oft-repeated objection that bias crimes involve an impossible form of "mind reading."  That is just dumb.  "Intentional murder" involves mind reading.  

Second, that the existence of hate crimes laws will ultimately (that's the word that indicates the bottom of the slippery slope–here a fallacious one) inhibit religious speech is just crazy.  Hate crimes laws, as the very name makes clear, involve crimes.  Click here for the FBI page on hate crimes.

That–the alleged slope–completes the red herring–the bait and switch.  For the initial point of the piece regarded including crimes against homosexuals (and others) in hate crimes laws.  Including them seems perfectly reasonable.  It has nothing to do, as Parker even seems to admit without realizing it, with people's "thoughts" (taken by themselves).  Non-existent restrictions on free speech, in other words, are not the issue at all.  On account of that obvious fact, we don't need to worry about "criminalizing" anyone's thoughts.  

Finally, it's ludicrous (and just plain baffling) to group the (not actually real) "Twinkie defense" (supposedly used to justify the murder of Harvey Milk and George Moscone in San Francisco) and the completely reasonable negative public reaction to a beauty contest's lame and ignorant defense of opposite marriage.  She made a contentious point about what rights certain people should have–many have objected to her reasoning.  She's a public figure and ought to expect that.  

One more thing, however, about the murderer of Harvey Milk.  The jury, reading the defendents mind, found him unable to have engaged in premeditated murder on account of diminished mental capacity. 

Tormenta corpori mentive inflicta

This is perhaps an odd time for a former Bush appointee to take a moral stand.  But Bush's former ambassador to the Holy See–that's the Vatican, see–has declined an award (the Laetare medal) from Notre Dame on account of their offering Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States of America, an honorary degree.  In favor of this (to me childish) decision writes Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post:

Here on planet "What About Me," principled people are so rare as to be oddities. Thus, it was a head-swiveling moment Monday when Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, quietly declined Notre Dame's Laetare Medal.

Glendon — a Harvard University law professor and a respected author on bioethics and human rights — rejected the honor in part because Barack Obama was invited to be commencement speaker and to receive an honorary degree.

In a letter to Notre Dame's president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, Glendon wrote of her dismay that Obama was to receive the degree in disregard of the U.S. bishops' position that Catholic institutions "should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles."

She means "Catholic" principles.  Like these (in Latin because of the profound moral thinking of the Ambassador can only be transmitted in Latin):

Vehementer iam deflevit Concilium Vaticanum II, suo quodam in scripto tristius etiam nostra ad tempora pertinente, complura contra vitam humanam scelera et conata. Easdem sententias in Nostram nunc suscipientes partem, triginta post annis, simili vi rursus universae Ecclesiae nomine, una cum illo conciliari congressu ista lamentamur crimina, nihil profecto dubitantes quin omnis rectae conscientiae veros interpretemur sensus: “Quaecumque insuper ipsi vitae adversantur, ut cuiusvis generis homicidia, genocidia, abortus, euthanasia et ipsum voluntarium suicidium; quaecumque humanae personae integritatem violant, ut mutilationes, tormenta corpori mentive inflicta, conatus ipsos animos coërcendi; quaecumque humanam dignitatem offendunt, ut infrahumanae vivendi condiciones, arbitrariae incarcerationes, deportationes, servitus, prostitutio, mercatus mulierum et iuvenum; condiciones quoque laboris ignominiosae, quibus operarii ut mera quaestus instrumenta, non ut liberae et responsabiles personae tractantur: haec omnia et alia huiusmodi probra quidem sunt, ac dum civilizationem humanam inficiunt, magis eos inquinant qui sic se gerunt, quam eos qui iniuriam patiuntur et Creatoris honori maxime contradicunt” (Gaudium et Spes, 27).[Evangelium Vitae, 3]. [Translation of this passage here]

I would point out in any case that Barack Obama does not act "in defiance" of "our" fundamental moral principles in that he does not share them–he's not Catholic.  Besides, as the above cited passage demonstrates, standing against of the moral principles of Catholicism involves a lot more than not being "pro choice."  I can't say, whether the Ambassador herself has been selective, but I have to wonder:


A pro-choice Catholic and a Rabbi walk into a bar

Two columns in the Post.  One from the newly reborn Kathleen Parker, who argues, not that fallaciously, that perhaps lifting the stem cell ban was otiose, as researchers had already found a way around the central moral problem (for some), i.e., the creation of embryonic stem cells from embryos.  Or is it the destruction?  I'm not sure, because she unfortunately characterizes the moral problem in these two distinct ways.  This seems important because some people object to using (therefore destroying) stem cells, others object to creating embryos solely for the purposes of research, which seems, in some sense, much worse.  Nonetheless, other cells, she alleges, work just as well, so lifting the ban on whatever it was that was happening doesn't amount to much.  I have a feeling something in there is false or confused, but this doesn't strike me as a fallacious argument.  So good for Parker, at least we stayed on topic.

Same topic, different writer.  Michael Gerson makes the following very puzzling assertion:

It is probably not a coincidence that Obama has chosen a Roman Catholic — Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius — to implement many of these policies as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Obama has every right to a pro-choice Cabinet. But this appointment seems designed to provide religious cover. It also smacks of religious humiliation — like asking a rabbi to serve the pork roast or an atheist to bless the meal.

Sebelius, though strongly pro-choice, was capable of occasional compromise. But she consistently fought against the serious enforcement of Kansas's late-term abortion restrictions. Kansas became a magnet for late-term abortions.

Still, Sebelius insists that "my Catholic faith teaches me that all life is sacred." This puts her in the same category as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Biden — Catholics who assert the sanctity of life while defending legal abortion. It has also earned Sebelius a firm rebuke from her archbishop.

No, it's not like the Rabbi thing at all: Sebelius is strongly pro-choice, one might presume the rabbi in the joke or the atheist is not "pro pork" or "pro God."  There is much else about this column that would warrant criticism, such as the claim that pro life people's rights are being trampled upon when they lose arguments:

There is a common thread running through President Obama's pro-choice agenda: the coercion of those who disagree with it.

Indeed, laws are coercive.  Elections, someone said, have consequences.  Pointing that out doesn't mean those consequences (i.e., laws which are "coercive"!) are wrong.

Idiot wind

As a general rule, this blog applies the same level of rigor to A-level (nationally syndicated) pundits as its author applies to first year college students in Philosophy 101.  I'm not complaining because someone failed to distinguish between analytical and synthetic a priori judgments.  An introductory course in logic–the ones that often get called "critical thinking" or better "critical reasoning"–ought to be sufficient for both understanding my critiques and avoiding being the subject of them.  

I just felt like saying that.  Anyway.  It appears Kathleen Parker has definitely moved up to the A-level for her criticism of the Palin choice.  This same kind of pundit promotion has happened to a number of former conservatives as well as former supporters of the Iraq war.  Being wrong about some major thing for a long time, it turns out, increases one's credibility in the media world.  I just wanted to say that too.

Back to Parker.  Speaking of Larry Summers, former President of Harvard University and possible pick for Treasury Secretary in the Obama administration, she writes:

Fresh ire aimed at former Harvard University President Larry Summers prompts the question: Shouldn't there be a statute of limitations on dumb things expressed in public?

(Please say yes.)

Forever accursed is the economist and Clinton-era treasury secretary for having raised — more than three years ago — the eensy-weensy possibility that innate differences between men and women might explain in part why more men than women reach the top echelons in math and science.

His comments, though not completely without scientific basis, unleashed a millennium worth of female scorn, making Hell a suddenly attractive destination for the discriminating traveler in search of cooler climes.

Research pointing to male-female differences that could partly explain different career outcomes is available to anyone in search of clues to the gender universe. But let's not go there. The social construct versus hard-wiring debate will continue unabated until the last woman utters: "No, honey, you stay in bed. I'll go see what that noise was."

For these purposes, let's stipulate that Summers said a dumb thing. He didn't, really. Provocative, yes, but it was a question about theory, not an assertion of belief. Impolitic? Without question. Still, we'll call it dumb.

Should said offense forevermore disqualify Summers from public service? Or even public appearances?

President of Harvard or not, Summers had wandered far out of his natural intellectual element in order to speculate on matters without any scientific basis.  He was justly criticized for being lazy and for casting about for genetic explanations for sexual differences in employment and achievement.  Turn back the clock twenty or thirty years, Summers could have made the same remark about female medical doctors.  Turn back the clock maybe five years, and perhaps he could have said the same thing about African American quarterbacks in the NFL.  Why are there so few? He and Rush Limbaugh might wonder.

So it was a dumb thing to say.  Should he be forgiven for it as Parker suggests?  I don't know.  Probably.  But does Parker's assertion of sexual difference in home security measures excuse Summer's thinking that there are signficant and innate differences in mathematical ability?  Nope.

Pretty woman

Practically by his own admission, Charles Krauthammer's thin case isn't worth making fun of–"he's going down with the ship" out of fears that Obama would not frighten the Beejeebus out of our terrorist enemies, like Bush does now.  Which he doesn't.  More interesting is Kathleen Parker's continued presence on the Washington Post op-ed page.  Sure she has had the stones to say that Sarah Palin doesn't belong in national office (I would add municipal to that as well), but she hasn't somehow regained rational powers.  

Today, for instance, wondering what drove John McCain to pick Sarah Palin for VP, she offers the dirty old man or viagra thesis:

But there can be no denying that McCain's selection of her over others far more qualified — and his mind-boggling lack of attention to details that matter — suggests other factors at work. His judgment may have been clouded by . . . what?

What could it be?

Science provides clues. A study in Canada, published by a British journal in 2003, found that pretty women foil men's ability to assess the future. "Discounting the future," as the condition is called, means preferring immediate, lesser rewards to greater rewards in the future. 

Right, "science."  Add other decisive clues (Parker's husband's unfortunate candor among them) and you arrive at the following mind-blowing conclusion:

It is entirely possible that no one could have beaten the political force known as Barack Obama — under any circumstances. And though it isn't over yet, it seems clear that McCain made a tragic, if familiar, error under that sycamore tree. Will he join the pantheon of men who, intoxicated by a woman's power, made the wrong call?

He probably made the wrong call–especially if he wins.  But this gets worse:

Had Antony not fallen for Cleopatra, Octavian might not have captured the Roman Empire. Had Bill resisted Monica, Al Gore may have become president, and Hillary might be today's Democratic nominee.

If McCain, rightful heir to the presidency, loses to Obama, history undoubtedly will note that he was defeated at least in part by his own besotted impulse to discount the future. If he wins, he must be credited with having correctly calculated nature's power to befuddle.

My sense was that, pretty or not, he just miscalculated the amount of BS even the American media was willing to tolerate.  And no one can blame him for that.

Elections have consequences

Here's something odd I've noticed.  Kathleen Parker's column used to appear regularly in the Chicago Tribune, but it almost never appeared in the Washington Post, despite her being syndicated by the Washington Post Writer's Group.  Now it appears regularly in the Post (whose op-ed page I read every day (though I am not really sure why–perhaps someone can suggest some other papers for me to read).  The difference between now and then of course is her arguing that Sarah Palin isn't qualified to be VP.  (No argument here on that score).  Perhaps she figured that if she continued to insist on what she has long been insisting on in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary, she would continue to appear in the Tribune and on Fox, but not in the Washington Post and on CNN.  Whatever her personal motivation, it doesn't really matter.  Despite dumping McCain/Palin, she still reasons badly.  

Today she writes about a possible "reverse Bradley effect" in favor of Obama.  For those of you who don't know:

Among the hidden factors is the so-called Bradley Effect, meaning that whites lie to pollsters about their support for a black candidate. It is cited as the reason Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley lost to George Deukmejian in the 1982 California governor's race, despite polls showing him up to seven points ahead.

And what is the evidence for the soothing belief in an even bigger margin than the one Obama currently enjoys?

I've received too many e-mails and had too many conversations that began, "Just between you and me," and ended with, "I wouldn't want anyone at work to know," to believe that this is an insignificant trend.

Right.  And no one I know voted for Richard Nixon.  Among Zogby, Gallup, and so on, one does not see Kathleen Parker's email inbox.  Without any data, she continues to fantasize:

Sitting quietly at their desks are an unknown number of discreet conservatives who surprise themselves as they mull their options. Appalled by McCain's erratic behavior, both in dealing with the financial crisis and his selection of an unsuitable running mate, they will quietly (and with considerable trepidation) vote for Obama.

Are they are worried about higher taxes, a premature withdrawal from Iraq, and Obama's inexperience in matters executive? You betcha. But they do not want to vote for a divisive, anti-intellectual ticket headed by a man who, though they admire him, lately has made them embarrassed to be Republicans.

Should Obama win, it will be in part because some number of quiet, mostly white-collar men and women who speak Republican in public voted Democratic in private.

Notice that she has moved from the rather weak claim that there may be some of these reverse Bradley voters out there (something which may be true in some small way), to the rather more significant claim that they would be significantly responsible for an Obama victory, despite the fact that Obama is leading all over the place by significant margins.  This would mean that a vast number of people have consistently misrepresented their preference in the upcoming election, and that, get this, an even greater number of people are lying the other way.  So more people are lying that they won't vote for Obama than people are lying that they will.  That's some messed up reasoning. 

But this gets even more twisted.  She concludes,

Whatever the final tally, Obama should not interpret his victory as a mandate. Many of the Reverse-Bradley ballots won't have been votes cast for Obama, but against a campaign turned ugly. They also will have been delivered with solemn prayers that Obama will govern as the centrist, pragmatic leader he is capable of being.

Let me get this straight.  Because there could be a better opponent than McCain/Palin for Obama, people are voting for Obama because of that, and so any Obama victory is rather a defeat for McCain/Palin–but by no means an endorsement of Obama.  All this because of Parker's email poll.

Kathleen Parker, against McCain/Palin, but still loopy.