Category Archives: Bloggers

Via Media

Cathy Young wonders,

Which is the more serious problem today: Islamic extremism or anti-Islamic bigotry?

In her even-handedness she admits that both are serious. But guess who doesn't? That's right. The Left. Young argues that Liberals have spent ample energy railing against anti-Islamic bigotry, but have failed to also take seriously the threat of Islamic extremism: 

Yet nowhere in The Nation will one find recognition that extremism in Islam is a particularly serious problem. 

Young has beef with the Muslim-lovers at The Nation for failing to call out the bad stuff Muslims believe and do. Unfortunately, her evidence is rather weak: 

One author dismisses the issue by stating that "every group has its loonies." Another writes that while misogyny and religious repression in some Muslim countries should be denounced, it can be done without generalizing about Islam.

These authors are apparently not serious enough! We need to generalize…

Evidence against her assertion, on the other hand, is rather strong (see here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and…you get the point). 

Instead of letting basic internet research get in the way of her argument, Young paints a picture of left-wing political discourse as biased in favor of protecting the good name of Islam while failing to face up to the very real threat of what she considers a particularly dangerous religion. Young contends that, "for complex historical and cultural reasons, radicalism in Islam is far closer to the mainstream than in other major religions right now." What evidence does she provide? 

There is no country today where a Christian government executes people for blasphemy, apostasy or illicit sex.

(Except for here. Also, while the few places that do have death penalties are Islamic, many other non-Islamic countries have severe penalties for homosexuality)


Freedom House, an esteemed human rights organization, reports that many U.S. mosques carry extremist literature. Supposedly moderate Muslim groups such as the Islamic Circle of North America have hosted speakers with extreme ideas.

So, there must be some truth to all this anti-Islamic sentiment (except from you, Pam Geller!). Get serious. It is entirely disingenuous for Young to write that, "Concerns about bigotry are justified. But they should not deter legitimate debate about problems in modern Islam." Legitimate debate about problems in modern Islam are not necessarily separate from concerns about anti-muslim bigotry. Indeed, one of the main causes of extremism in Islam is the West's callous abuse of Islamic peoples over the last century. Further, there is no evidence that the Left's anti-bigotry writings have come anywhere near the level of debate-killing as shouts of "anti-Semitism" have done in discussions of extremism in Israel. Young provides no real evidence that the Left has confused legitimate criticism of Islam with bigotry. Rather, Young has created a false narrative in the guise of being even-handed in order to both attack the Left and keep open the door for continued abuse of Muslims around the world. 

Michaeli placet!

I think it's safe to say that many don't get the distinction between a logical problem and a factual one.  A logical problem involves the strength, plausibility, or validity of an inference from one fact to another fact; a factual problem concerns whether a given fact is in fact a fact.  Here's an example (from Marc Ambinder's blog) apropos of yesterday's post:

The Logic Of George Will

His argument:

John McCain probably was eager to return to the Senate as an avatar of bipartisanship, a role he has enjoyed. It is, therefore, a measure of the recklessness of House Democrats that they caused the stimulus debate to revolve around a bill that McCain dismisses as "generational theft."

P1: John McCain enjoyed being bipartisan in the past.

P2: [All people who enjoy things in the past will want to continue doing them in the future.]

C1: Therefore John McCain wanted to continue being bipartisan.

P3: John McCain did not continue being bipartisan.

P4: [Only recklessness by House Democrats could cause John McCain not to be bipartisan.]

C2: Therefore House Democrats are reckless.


There is nothing wrong with Will's logic here (there is almost everywhere else in yesterday's piece–such as his comparing the quantity of money spent on the stimulus with the size of the federal budget twenty five years ago).  The problem with Will's argument is that P1, P2 and C1 are just false

The argument however is something of a topical inference.  A topical inference, on Boethius's definition (cf. De topicis differentiis), rests on an implied maximal proposition.  I'm at a loss for the moment to find in Boethius's text the exact one (there are many of these maximal propositions) which would apply here.  But it seems to me in the first place that this is not, as Ambinder suggests, an enthymeme with P2 as a supressed premise (besides, if it were it would still be valid).  The inference here rests on the notion that McCain is maximally conciliatory such that to scare him away really means something. Here, perhaps, is an appropriate analogy.  Imagine you have a brother who does not enjoy any kind of breakfast comestible, if he eats and enjoys the new one you offer him, it will really say something about that particular food.  That's basically what Will is arguing, but it turns out that your brother likes everything, so your inference, while a good one, fails.

**edited for clarity.  

Association by guilt

Perhaps some of you might have heard that Barack Obama has been "pallin' around with terrorists," such as William Ayers of the Weather Underground, or that he listened while his minister criticized America, or that some guy from the same city as him is going to go to jail.  Such are the McCain campaign's charges.  You might also notice that these are attempts "guilt by association" (here we call it "bad company"). To many, such a tactic is wrong on its face.  Rather than discuss the substantive policy questions that ought to be driving the current Presidential race, we have to sit through endless stories about who met with whom when where and how.  It certainly is dumb, and it makes all of us dumber.  Here's a well known leftish blogger:

So Palin’s "palling around" accusation is no more true than her boast that she "told congress ‘Thanks, but no thanks’" on the Bridge to Nowhere, or that she had the Alaska Permanent Fund divest from Sudan. But it seems to me that pointing out factual errors gives this line of argument too much credit: guilt by association, even when the association happens to be real, is a silly charge.

It's not a silly charge, however.  Whether the charge is true is certainly important.  As important as that, however, is whether the charge is relevant.  Relevance, in fact, is what makes the difference between a fallacious guilt by association charge and a legitimate one.  It's not, in other words, simply a matter of the form of argument.  The content–who is the associate, how long? how important? etc.,–makes all of the difference.

It turns out, I think, that Palin's charges are false or at best misleading.  Ayers is, in fact, a rather prominent person in Chicago politics–he even pals around with such mainstream figures as Richard M. Daley, our longtime mayor.  Besides, Ayers isn't in jail, and he doesn't seem to be currently a terrorist.  Besides that, he, in his civic role in Chicago politics, "palled" around with Republicans as well.

All of this, of course, makes a huge difference as to the relevance of the charge.  If Sarah Palin, for instance, "palled around" with members of a treasonous secessionist political party, I think that would indeed be relevant.  The same would be true for John McCain.  If he palled around with people who advocated assassination as a policy, or who defrauded thousands of people of their life savings, we might have reason to question his judgment.

So, while whether such charges as these are true matters a good deal.  But it matters just as much whether they have any relevance to stuff that matters.  Sometimes they don't.  


La capacita' di imparare una lingua ha poco a che fare con l'intelligenza ed e' dunque difficile dire quant'e' stupido questo intervento (link grazie a Ladri e Bugiardi):

Obama's idiotic suggestion that all our kids should learn Spanish is, amongst other things (this is multi-dimensional stupidity) an illustration of educational romanticism run amok.

The cold fact is that absent exceptional circumstances — the most common of which is, total immersion at a receptive age — not many human beings can learn another language. Oh, you can learn enough to stumble along and get by on a trip abroad, but if you can attain fluency in a language not your own, without those exceptional circumstances, you are an unusually smart and gifted person. (For my own sad track record, see here.)

Since the generality of human beings do not like to do things they can't do well, not many of us care to persevere with foreign languages, and whatever was once hammered into our heads at school is lost. Unless you decide to go live abroad in a non-English-speaking country, this really doesn't matter.

The pointlessness of foreign-language learning is obscured for English-speakers by all those foreigners we meet who have good English. (Scandinavians are especially humiliating in this regard.) We should remember, though, that (a) the foreigners we meet are mostly smart upper-middle-class types who travel a lot (try finding an English-speaker on a Paris street), and (b) the whole world is bathed in English, so that if you are born in, say, Finland, and want to do anything with your life more ambitious than running an autobody shop in Ylikiiminki, you can't help but learn some English, and (c) for teenagers the world over, English is cool.

Obama suffers from the fallacy — extremely common among high-IQ lefties — that everyone else is just as smart as he is, or could easily be made so with a few educational reforms. In fact, below some cutoff point, which I'd guess at around minus one standard deviation in IQ (that would encompass sixteen percent of the population), education beyond the three R's is a waste of time, and foreign-language instruction a total waste of time.

Commenti?  If you know any other languages, feel free to comment in those.

Argumentum ad angelum

The following startling piece of reasoning may put us into new fallacy territory.  Glenn Reynolds, also known as Instapundit, writes:

RANK ANTISEMITISM in the Democratic congressional primary in Memphis:

"Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen and the JEWS HATE Jesus," blares the flier, which Cohen himself received in the mail — inducing gasps — last week.

Circulated by an African-American minister from Murfreesboro Tenn., which isn't even in Cohen's district, the literature encourages other black leaders in Memphis to "see to it that one and ONLY one black Christian faces this opponent of Christ and Christianity in the 2008 election."

Well, that just makes everybody look good. Jeez. I like Steve Cohen a lot, and not just because he once gave me some absolutely amazing John Fogerty tickets (to the Mud Island show that was his first appearance after a decade of not touring). But even if I didn't, this would be absolutely disgraceful. Perhaps Barack Obama should make a point of condemning this.

UPDATE: Why should Obama weigh in? Because he promises an uplifting new kind of politics and this is an ugly old kind. Because Steve Cohen is one of Obama's supporters, and political loyalty is supposed to run both ways — unless you're Hillary, anyway, and Obama's supposed to be the anti-Hillary. Because otherwise Obama's big appeal — I'm a black candidate who's not like Al Sharpton! — will be a fraud. And, of course, because it's the right thing to do.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Okay, the "fraud" bit was a bit strong. But it is the right thing to do, and it's the kind of thing that a guy promising a new uplifting kind of politics ought to do. Trust me, if the racial angle were pointing the other way, this would be getting a lot of attention, especially if it could be tied to a Republican. And I say this, remember, as a guy who went after Trent Lott for a lot less.

Let me get this straight.  First, an African-American minister having no relation to the Obama campaign sent around an antisemitic flier about a supporter of Barack Obama–and this not because he is a supporter of Obama; Reynolds therefore adduces that Obama needs to condemn this specific instance of antisemitism.  Why?

1.  Obama promises uplifting politics, and this is not uplifting;

2.  Cohen supports Obama;

3.  Otherwise Obama will be no different from Al Sharpton;  

4.  It's the right thing to do. 

How to understand this?  The second update merely softens the "fraud" allegation but it doesn't retreat on the basic argument.

 1.  The first reason is a curious kind of ad hominemad angelum–against the angel.  Because Obama claims to be against such politics, he will be held responsible for every instance of them, regardless of their relation to him.  His failure to act will be a sign of hypocrisy. 

2.  The second one suggests that Obama is rather not an angel, but some kind of horrible friend for not coming to the defense of his supporter. 

3.  The third resembles the first in that it holds Obama responsible for the dastardly deeds of others.  But this is more specific in that it stresses only the actions of other African-American people.  That's a very odd position to take, for no one expects Glenn Reynolds to denounce every instance of white people behaving badly.   

4.  The fourth only works on the theory that it's always right always and everywhere to do what is right.  Everyone knows that.  But why is it the right thing in this particular case?  I think the first three reasons were meant to establish this.  But they didn't.  

We saw this sort of argument a few weeks ago.  Richard Cohen had demanded Obama disagree more with someone's daughter's friend.  That failure, in Cohen's mind, results in Obama's embracing the ideas of someone who supports him.  We might have termed that argument an argumentum ad amici amicum–argument against the friend of a friend.

These arguments share the strained relevance of the ad hominem argument, but they carry one step further by replacing the attack the character of the arguer with an attack on the views of people in some (very distant) way associated with the initial arguer.  This loose association serves then as justification for the demand that the initial arguer vociferously condemn the actions or words of the loosely associated persons or risk confirming the initial suspicions.  When the pool of possibly associated individuals as large as Reynolds makes it, this becomes a rather difficult task.

via Crooked Timber and Sadly, No

How not to respond to criticism

Here is a journalist with 20 years experience illustrating how not to respond to criticism.  The email is so bad that one might think he was either drunk or it was written by an impostor.  Here's the story.  Greenwald wrote a post on his blog, Unclaimed Territory, about the fawning tone of CNN correspondent John King's interview of John McCain.  You can read that here (it's short), but here's a sample question:

* KING: As you know, one of the issues you have had here in South Carolina in the past is either people don't understand your social conservative record or they're not willing to concede your social conservative record. There's a mailing that hit South Carolina homes yesterday. It's a picture of you and Cindy on the front. It says "Always pro-life, 24-year record." Why do you think you still, after all this time, have to convince these people, "I have been with you from the beginning"?

I'm sure you get the idea.  Not exactly critical journalism (follow Greenwald's links for more).  Here below is John King's response.  For the sake of clarity, I'll insert comments in brackets (courtesy of Glenn Greenwald)

From: King, John C


Sent: Tuesday, January 15, 2008 5:40 PM

Subject: excuse me? [a more neutral subject heading–e.g., response to your blogpost]

I don't read biased uninformed drivel so I'm a little late to the game. [this is somewhat self-contradictory: either the post was not "biased uninformed drivel" (and so not worthy of the charge) or he does read bias uniformed drivel.  In either case, that's a pretty serious compound charge–biased and uninformed.  One is sufficient for dismissal.

But a friend who understands how my business works and knows a little something about my 20 plus years in it sent me the link to your ramblings. [Now they're "ramblings"–biased uninformed drivel ramblings–that's four insults]

Since the site suggests you have law training, maybe you forgot that good lawyers to a little research before they spit out words. [The site says Greenwald is a lawyer]

Did you think to ask me or anyone who works with me whether that was the entire interview? No. (It was not; just a portion used by one of the many CNN programs.) [Notice how King responds to his own rhetorical question.  Aside from that, it's irrelevant to the criticism.  Besides, it suggests that King agrees with Greenwald about the fawning tone of the questions and suggests that CNN edited it to appear that way].

Did you reach out to ask the purpose of that specific interview? No. [More extra-textual irrelevance].

Or how it might have fit in with other questions being asked of other candidates that day? No. [He now seems to be conceding the point.  Besides, fawning questions to the other candidates would only reinforce the point that they're not real questions.  Asking fake questions to other candidates doesn't make them any less fake].

Or anything that might have put facts or context or fairness into your critique. No. [So he definitely agrees, but thinks Greenwald has been unfair–there's a context that explains it].

McCain, for better or worse, is a very accessible candidate. If you did a little research (there he goes with that word again) you would find I have had my share of contentious moments with him over the years. [So these are not contentious questions.  But King, an ad hominizer, sees others as he sees himself–attacking the person.  His having asked "contentious" questions in the past doesn't make, however, the questions of the other day any less silly].

But because of that accessibility, you don't have to go into every interview asking him about the time he cheated on his sixth grade math test. [Now he really misunderstands the nature of the criticism.  And again it's ad hominem: He suggests Greenwald wants him to ask mean, irrelevant questions about McCain's childhood.  If that is King's sense of a real journalistic question, then it's worse than Greenwald suggests].

The interview was mainly to get a couple of questions to him on his thoughts on the role of government when the economy is teetering on the edge of recession, in conjunction with similar questions being put to several of the other candidates. [Like in comedy, it's not funny if you have to explain it–unless you make the explanation funny–which this isn't.  I think.].

The portion you cited was aired by one of our programs — so by all means it is fair game for whatever "analysis" you care to apply to it using your right of free speech and your lack of any journalistic standards or fact checking or just plain basic curiosity. [It's always nice to have someone point out your rights.  I find it difficult, however, to follow King's point.  He agrees (or seems to agree) that questions he asked were soft balls, and that they were made a public document, but he charges that because Greenwald did not examine the non-public aspects of the interview (including the journalist's personal history of skepticism regarding McCain), that the analysis is wrong.  That seems really messed up, to put it bluntly.  CNN hires journalists, pays them to ask questions, and then airs the segment.  But we the viewing public are supposed to consider all of the things in the interview that were not aired before we draw any conclusions.  That just seems to undermine the whole point of airing the interview in the first place.] 

You clearly know very little about journalism. But credibility matters. It is what allows you to cover six presidential campaigns and be viewed as fair and respectful, while perhaps a little cranky, but Democrats and Republicans alike. When I am writing something that calls someone's credibility into question, I pick up the phone and give them a chance to give their side, or perspective. [Another irrelevant ad hominem coupled with an auto-pro-homine: an "I'm awesome and you're jerk."]

That way, even on days that I don't consider my best, or anywhere close, I can look myself in the mirror and know I tried to be fair and didn't call into question someone's credibility just for sport, or because I like seeing my name on a website or my face on TV. [Ah yes.  You're just saying that because–the ad hominem circumstantial.  You don't have reasons for what you say, you just say that to get noticed!]

The truly silly thing about this response is that King never challenges any one of Greenwald's points.  He concedes them in fact,  repeatedly, and from several different angles, but he alleges that Greenwald is a jerk for not knowing that no one is supposed to take King's work seriously.  This reminds me of something Krusty the Clown said when he was running for Congress: when you react like that (to his racist jokes) it means he was kidding.


May only

As I have nothing to say, I’m going to borrow wholesale from Sadly, No! an entertaining blog.

First, some set up. Glenn Reynolds, a kind of conservative law professor and well known blogger, cites with approval the following passage:

>LEE HARRIS ON UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: “It is simply a myth to believe that only interventionism yields unintended consequence, since doing nothing at all may produce the same unexpected results. If American foreign policy had followed a course of strict non-interventionism, the world would certainly be different from what it is today; but there is no obvious reason to think that it would have been better.” posted at 02:21 PM by Glenn Reynolds.

This remark produces the following hilarious retort from Gavin M. of Sadly, No!:

>Well, that’s certainly one way to look at things.

>For that matter, if I hadn’t accidentally flushed my wallet down the toilet, who’s to say that some maniac wouldn’t have come along and flushed it down a toilet anyway? It would almost certainly have been a different toilet, but there is no obvious reason to think that the result would have been better.

>It is simply a myth to believe that only self-wallet-flushing yields unintended consequences, for doing nothing at all may produce the same unexpected results. Say, can I see your wallet for a second?

I suppose the unfunny thing I would have said was that this is what you call the argumentum ad ignorantiam–i.e., when one turns the lack of evidence for a belief into evidence for it. If that sounds too dumb to be true, just reread Reynolds’ original post.

Golden Wingnut winner

This post from the Power Line (a major, mainstream conservative blog–not a fringe yahoo) was voted winner of the Golden Wingnut Award, a prize given to the most ludicrous post from the conservative side of the web. It might be fun, I thought, to see if anyone can identify why it is so bad.

Here it is:

>It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.

>Hyperbolic? Well, maybe. But consider Bush’s latest master stroke: the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. The pact includes the U.S., Japan, Australia, China, India and South Korea; these six countries account for most of the world’s carbon emissions. The treaty is, in essence, a technology transfer agreement. The U.S., Japan and Australia will share advanced pollution control technology, and the pact’s members will contribute to a fund that will help implement the technologies. The details are still sketchy and more countries may be admitted to the group later on. The pact’s stated goal is to cut production of “greenhouse gases” in half by the end of the century.

>What distinguishes this plan from the Kyoto protocol is that it will actually lead to a major reduction in carbon emissions! This substitution of practical impact for well-crafted verbiage stunned and infuriated European observers.

>I doubt that the pact will make any difference to the earth’s climate, which will be determined, as always, by variations in the energy emitted by the sun. But when the real cause of a phenomenon is inaccessible, it makes people feel better to tinker with something that they can control. Unlike Kyoto, this agreement won’t devastate the U.S. economy, and, also unlike Kyoto, the agreement will reduce carbon emissions in the countries where they are now rising most rapidly, India and China. Brilliant.

>But I don’t suppose President Bush is holding his breath, waiting for the crowd to start applauding.

I have my theory. What’s yours?

True Americans

William Arkin, who writes a blog for the Washington Post, recently incurred the wrath of the blogosphera when he lamented some soldiers’ inability to distinguish between supporting the troops and supporting the mission the soldiers have been ordered to do. He wrote:

>Friday’s NBC Nightly News included a story from my colleague and friend Richard Engel, who was embedded with an active duty Army infantry battalion from Fort Lewis, Washington.

>Engel relayed how “troops here say they are increasingly frustrated by American criticism of the war. Many take it personally, believing it is also criticism of what they’ve been fighting for.”

>First up was 21 year old junior enlisted man Tyler Johnson, whom Engel said was frustrated about war skepticism and thinks that critics “should come over and see what it’s like firsthand before criticizing.”

>”You may support or say we support the troops, but, so you’re not supporting what they do, what they’re here sweating for, what we bleed for, what we die for. It just don’t make sense to me,” Johnson said.

>Next up was Staff Sergeant Manuel Sahagun, who is on his second tour in Iraq. He complained that “one thing I don’t like is when people back home say they support the troops, but they don’t support the war. If they’re going to support us, support us all the way.”

>Next was Specialist Peter Manna: “If they don’t think we’re doing a good job, everything that we’ve done here is all in vain,” he said.

>These soldiers should be grateful that the American public, which by all polls overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war and the President’s handling of it, do still offer their support to them, and their respect.

>Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order.

>Sure, it is the junior enlisted men who go to jail. But even at anti-war protests, the focus is firmly on the White House and the policy. We don’t see very many “baby killer” epithets being thrown around these days, no one in uniform is being spit upon.

>So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?

I know some of the readers here are “troops” (as William Safire would not say), so it would be interesting to have your feedback on this. The interesting thing about Arkin’s post is the vitriol it produced. For instance:

>You know I’m sick and tired of liberals deciding domestic policy, simply because they control all of the airwaves.It’s hi time that we true Americans (Stop the Liberal presses).We do need to boycott their networks and Put major pressure on their sponsers.We need to shut the liberals up.let’s give them a new assignment to report first hand accounts of unemployed and worthless. Let’s do it on behalf of any soldier that you know.Because My two nephews in Iraq do not deserve to die on behalf of people who hate them.

That’s nutpicking–combing comments to find a nutjob’s comment and then concluding that everyone in the comment section (and the blog) is a nutjob. No one’s doing that here. But I couldn’t find anyone who seriously addressed the distinction between supporting that troops and supporting the war effort.