Film criticism

Those crazy Hollywood liberals are at it again, argues Victor Davis Hanson, historian and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution (one of National Public Radio’s many underrepresented conservative institutions). For in Hollywood, Hanson argues, “the politically correct impulse now overrides all else.” Such a conclusion is as hyperbolic as it is unsupported by evidence–in this case, three recent and fairly successful films involving discussion of terrorism of the fictional or historical kind (*Flightplan*, *Syriana*, and *Munich*). Hanson obviously neglects the existence of a whole subgenre of television shows and movies featuring cartoonish Islamic super-villains as well as ideologically pure American super heroes.

The spectacular boneheadedness of his argument doesn’t consist only in his willful neglect of countervailing evidence, but in his implicit claim that, one, the three films may be read as a consistent policy statement of a single group (“Hollywood producers”), and more dumbly, terrorism exists in only one form (so *Munich* and *Syriana* and *Flightplan* are about the same thing). Only in light of these two assumptions would it make any sense for Hanson to counter what he takes to be the argument of, for instance, *Syrianna* with an argument of his own:

>”Syriana” also perverts historical reality. Everything connected with the oil industry is portrayed as corrupt and exploitive, with no hint that petroleum fuels civilization. Hollywood producers might not see many oil rigs off the Malibu coast, but someone finds and delivers them gas each morning for their luxury cars.

Hanson should be reminded that *Syriana* is a fictional film, the product of one director and a handful of producers (not “Hollywood producers” in general). He should also be told that some Hollywood producer’s Malibu home and luxury car does not invalidate the argument of another Hollywood producer (even if he has a luxury car and a Malibu home). That’s what you call *ad hominem*.

The fine fellows at the Hoover institution should do as we do: look in the op-ed pages of our nations major national publications for silly arguments and leave the movies to Roger Ebert.

It’s not pristine

Speaking of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Former Senator from Alaska (and present day Governor) Frank Murkowski, on the floor of Congress, said that ANWR is

>”flat, it’s unattractive, it’s not pristine — this is what it looks like. Don’t be misinformed.”

In a similar vein, George Will writes:

>Few opponents of energy development in what they call “pristine” ANWR have visited it. Those who have and who think it is “pristine” must have visited during the 56 days a year when it is without sunlight. They missed the roads, stores, houses, military installations, airstrip and school. They did not miss seeing the trees in area 1002. There are no trees.

A marked improvement over the former Senator. But not visiting ANWR doesn’t disqualify one from speaking of it; the absence of trees in an *arctic* area (and the presence of a small number of humans) doesn’t disqualify it from being “pristine.” By the way, *Post* editors and Mr.Will, “pristine” means “in original condition” (whatever that condition might be–cold, boring or even treeless). Determining what might deserve this designation will perhaps be a matter of reasonable disagreement. But there seems to be little doubt that ANWR qualifies.

More inane than the pristine confusion, however, is Will’s claim that

>But for many opponents of drilling in the refuge, the debate is only secondarily about energy and the environment. Rather, it is a disguised debate about elemental political matters.

No evidence (not even the usual straw man kind of evidence) is offered for this claim. He continues:

>For some people, environmentalism is collectivism in drag. Such people use environmental causes and rhetoric not to change the political climate for the purpose of environmental improvement. Rather, for them, changing the society’s politics is the end, and environmental policies are mere means to that end.

In addition to the lack of evidence, no actual people are named. Will can usually muster up a few badly misinterpretated arguers or arguments to make his outlandish claims. But here no one.

>The unending argument in political philosophy concerns constantly adjusting society’s balance between freedom and equality. The primary goal of collectivism — of socialism in Europe and contemporary liberalism in America — is to enlarge governmental supervision of individuals’ lives. This is done in the name of equality.

And so what started as an argument about the proper disposition of *federal* property, has ended with the claim that objections to its privatization are motivated by a desire to control individual choices and expand government supervision over individuals’ lives. We’ll not bother with the grand conspiracy claim that concludes the argument–liberals are trying to create energy scarcity (fuel efficiency anyone?)–we’ve already wasted too much time on this psuedo-intellectual pablam.

Just Opposition

Among Aristotle’s many innovations in logic, the square of opposition illustrates logical opposites–contradictories to be exact; these relationships obtain of all general categorical statements. As introductory logic students often learn, most phrases outside of logic textbooks do not behave so logically and some–at times significant–translation is required. Take for instance the following contrast:

>Federal assistance to institutions of higher education was about $35 billion last year, so the schools flinch from the price tag on their gay rights principles, which in this case dovetail neatly with their anti-military prejudices. *The schools cite the principle that government cannot condition receipt of a government benefit on the loss of a constitutional right. The government replies that Congress frequently makes the receipt of federal funds conditional on the recipient’s doing certain things to further a legitimate government interest, such as recruiting.*

The italicized part is the alleged opposition. Before we get to that, I should note that it will come as no surprise to readers of George Will that the entire weight of his column falls on the government’s side and that his portrayal of what he takes to be the “academic” position is an obvious distortion (he doesn’t even bother to cite–let alone quote out of context–one of their arguments). It’s also not surprising that the column is peppered with the usual (and groundless) conservative attack line on the privilege of academia (my students–especially the many veterans of recent foreign entanglements will express surprise at his claims). My colleagues urge me not to bother with such arguments, and my friends tell me I expect too much of people. In deference to them I’ll not bother with these and other logical outrages.

The opposition, however, merits some brief attention. The school’s position rests on the claim that Miltary’s distinctions among types of people in recruiting is unconstitutional (some law students would not be welcome at their table simply in virtue of who they are). The government’s position as presented by Will hardly opposes this. Just because congress can make people do things for federal funds doesn’t mean that it can make people do anything or restrict their constitutional rights. The question–for the schools–is one of civil rights. Violations of civil rights by the government do not constitute a “legitimate” interest–such violations can never be legitimate as they violate the constitution. To insist they do simply begs the question (presumes what you’re trying to show) against the schools.

In the end, the government might have a good argument. But for their sake I hope that this isn’t it.

Dura Lex

Some arguments are just tiresome; it’s getting so boring pointing out the childishness of the following that in future perhaps we’ll simply link and refer as *res iudicata*. So, maybe for the last time, here’s a classic fallacious argument. Citing the deceased Henry J.Friendly’s unpublished opinion on abortion, George Will writes,

>The assertion of such a privacy right would, he said, invalidate “a great variety” of statutes that existed when the 14th Amendment was adopted — e.g., those against attempted suicide, bestiality, even drug use.

And the child screams: you said I have a right to privacy, so anything I do privately, including crimes, is protected by the constitution. Nope. An assertion of a right to privacy is merely an invitation to the clueless to raise such objections.

More to the point, in the same article, we see yet another variation on the “subverting the democratic process argument” against *Roe*:

>The day after Roe was decided, the New York Times called it a “resolution” of the abortion issue. Not really. Roe short-circuited a democratic process of accommodating abortion differences — a process that had produced a larger increase in the number of legal abortions in the three years before the Roe decision than were to occur in the three years after.

First, for good or for ill, *Roe* answered a constitutional question; as a branch of a democratic government, duly appointed according to procedures outlined in the *Constitution of the United States of America* the Supreme Court of the United States embodied a democratic process as it always does. Second, a vigorous debate has taken place ever since (as well as a terrorist campaign of violent extremists). Third, democratic processes have played around the edges of the issue ever since (primarily restrictions and limitations on funding and so forth). Finally, the very democratic process of a constitutional amendment has always remained.

To assert then, as Will and Friendly do, that the occurrence of all of the vigorous democracy was the product of an unwise decision makes one wonder what they have in mind by “democratic process.”