Tag Archives: Mark Steyn

OMG. What if?

Mark Steyn’s recent contribution to NRO’s page is an exercise in (a) guilt by association, by way of (b) rampant speculation.  The ultimate payoff is to criticize the food stamp program.  Here’s how the line of argument goes:

[The House Audit and Oversight Committee] are now trying to discover whether the Tsarnaev brothers used [Food Stamp EBT cards] to pay for the Boston Marathon bombing

OK.  So where it stands is: we don’t know if they did.  But there’s an investigation into the funding.  Ah, so we might have, in providing a safety net for millions, provided the means for a lunatic fringe to build a bomb from household and cooking supplies. (Pressure cookers.) Maybe.

Ah, but all the ‘maybes’ in the world won’t hold Steyn back.

Paying Islamic terrorists to blow you up is more like assisted suicide.

And… Scene.

Earlier in the post, Steyn complained about the fact that the EBT cards had been used to buy porn, piercings, and manicures.  Add funding terrorist attacks to the list.  (Maybe.) Well, that’s enough to be up in arms about the welfare state — we, as Steyn sees it, not only encourage dependence, but irresponsibility and wantonness with welfare.  And terrorism.  (Maybe.)

Oh, and Steyn’s analogy is flawed: in providing the minimal means to live to the Tsarnaevs, we weren’t paying for them to blow us up. We were paying for them to survive and eventually prosper.  That they used that generosity against us is simply more testament to the fact that their minds were infected with hate — they were aggressive toward a society and state that had showed them some consideration.  We didn’t deserve that.  Would Steyn’s alternative be that because we don’t want that, we’ll cut off all those other people welfare helps?  I’m pretty sure that’s the plan.



False dilemma, inclusive disjunction

Mark Steyn’s lead post at NRO today was an argumentative (and organizational) trainwreck.  Here’s just one of the fallacious lovelies.  Steyn observes that lefties have in the past been against marriage, as a kind of anti-bourgeois bit of posing.  And now the lefties want marriage for homosexuals, now as a kind of ennobling and civilizinginstitution.  He  poses the dilemma for them:

Which of these alternative scenarios — the demolition of marriage or the taming of the gay — will come to pass? Most likely, both.

I like the fact that you can have an inclusive ‘or’ in ordinary English, but this one seems wrong.  First, it seems that the two features are at least prima facie inconsistent — if marriage is demolished, then it won’t play the taming function it’s supposed to play.  Right?  Second, are those the only two options or consequences? How about gay unions going on as they have for years and years, but now with legal protection from the state?


Ad rockstarium

I think it's worthwhile to keep track of the ways the sides in a debate try to paint the character of the other.  Sometimes, it is simple observations about what kind of person would hold such and such a view, other times, it's about what kind of person would be blind to evidence of such and such degrees of obviousness.  Often, it's mere rhetorical window-dressing, and often enough, it's direct ad hominem.  I've been keen on the recent presidential character-painting.  Romney's a robot (a very funny meme) or vulture-capitalist, Obama's either a socialist-totalitarian or a decent but unqualified doofus.  These all seem fine to me, at least in the sense that they're at least capable of being put in the service of evaluating the character of the person who's to be the President of the United States and the Commander in Chief.  Who occupies the office matters, so character evaluation is relevant. 

One line of argument that I don't see the point of, though, is what I've come to call the ad rockstarium argument against Barack Obama.  Mark Steyn at National Review Online runs it in his recent "Our Celebrity President."  Here's the basics from Steyn:

Last week, the republic’s citizen-president passed among his fellow Americans. Where? Cleveland? Dubuque? Presque Isle, Maine? No, Beverly Hills. These days, it’s pretty much always Beverly Hills or Manhattan, because that’s where the money is. That’s the Green Zone, and you losers are outside it.

As I can gather, here's how the argument runs:

1) The President goes to fundraisers in California and New York, not Middle America.

2) You live in Middle America

So: The president isn't interest in you or your money. Well… maybe your money.  How much you got?

Steyn goes on:

It’s true that moneyed celebrities in, say, Pocatello or Tuscaloosa have not been able to tempt the president to hold a lavish fundraiser in Idaho or Alabama, but he does fly over them once in a while.

That's right!  He went to the 'fly-over' line.  OK, so if I'm right that some evaluations of character are relevant, does this one count as one?  I don't think so, as the issue isn't whether Obama is popular and adored but whether he's the kind of person who can be trusted with policy decisions.  I think the best that this line of evaluation can do is say that Obama is a rockstar, and rockstars do things differently from you…  I'll be trying to keep up with more of the rockstarium argument as the campaign goes on.  Any help on seeing how the line is relevant?  Is it a form of upside down ad populum: he's not like us, so he's wrong?

Ei quoque

One of the lamest journalistic tropes is the ei quoque (Scott's idea): well, they do it too!  It's not the tu quoque, because that means "you do it too!."  This captures the gist of Politifact's defense of its sorry fact-checking:

At a Republican campaign rally a few years ago, I asked one of the attendees how he got his news.

"I listen to Rush and read NewsMax," he said. "And to make sure I'm getting a balanced view, I watch Fox."

My liberal friends get their information from distinctly different sources — Huffington Post, Daily Kos and Rachel Maddow. To make sure they get a balanced view, they click Facebook links — from their liberal friends.

This is life in our echo chamber nation. We protect ourselves from opinions we don't like and seek reinforcement from like-minded allies.

The paradox of the Internet age is that never before have we had access to more ideas and different thoughts. And yet, many of us retreat into comfy parlors where everyone agrees and the other side is always wrong. Each side can manufacture its truths and get the chorus to sing along.

Both sides do it!  Like the tu quoque, the is or ei quoque has conditions of relevance.  In this case, it is not relevant that "both sides do x" because the question concerns whether some fact f is true.  We can take it for granted, in any case, that all facts find homes in someone's advocacy.

At this point I was going to quote a section from Paul Krugman's column yesterday, but for some reason, every time I paste the passage into the piece, it deletes my entire post.  Can anyone explain this?  New York Times time bomb?  Here's the link.  The passage, despite the Times' paywall, is worth reading in this regard.  Or tl:dr: ei quoque is an empirical question.  In its usual employment, he argues, it's just not the case.  Here is a better example anyway.  Two sit-ins on the Hannity Show do the usual everyone is biased against conservatives segment.  And they come up with the following thought experiment:

BOZELL: How long do you think Sean Hannity's show would last if four times in one sentence, he made a comment about, say, the President of the United States, and said that he looked like a skinny, ghetto crackhead? Which, by the way, you might want to say that Barack Obama does. Everybody on the left would come forward and demand he be fired within five minutes for being so insulting towards a leader of the United States.

And so it goes.  Chris Matthews called Newt Gingrich a car bomber, therefore I'll call the President a skinny, ghetto crackhead.  Ei quoque; ei quoque.  There's always an ei quoque. 

 BTW, anyone a Latinist who prefers ille quoque to is quoque (mutatis mutandis)?