Annus horribilis

The Washington Post listed their 10 most viewed opinions of the year.  A couple were by Dan Froomkin.  The winner was, however, an article by Liz, daughter of the VP, Cheney (in the original op-ed, she was not identified as his daughter–which, if you follow the link, led to rather silly slippery slope arguments by the perpetually permalosa Post Ombudsman, Deborah Howell.  To its rare credit, the Post doesn't make any claims about the quality of the top ten.  Nor should they.  Here's just a sample of Cheney's razor sharp mind:

· We are at war. America faces an existential threat. This is not, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has claimed, a "situation to be solved." It would be nice if we could wake up tomorrow and say, as Sen. Barack Obama suggested at a Jan. 11 hearing, "Enough is enough." Wishing doesn't make it so. We will have to fight these terrorists to the death somewhere, sometime. We can't negotiate with them or "solve" their jihad. If we quit in Iraq now, we must get ready for a harder, longer, more deadly struggle later.

As one of my grad profs (rightly) said (to me): italicizing doesn't make it any clearer.  The rest of the paragraph just runs together any number of basic logical fallacies–straw man, equivocation, false dichotomy, false cause, and so on.  For a good year end laugh at Cheney's expense–read the rest.

Happy New Year to all.

**After writing this, I realized I had mentioned this article before, but this is all I had to say about it:

It’s hard to have a conversation about the foolishness of ever having started the war in Iraq without running into people who accuse you of not wanting to win. I suppose they (probably purposely) confuse you’re believing you’re right about an unwinnable war with your wishing reality would conform to your beliefs. You–the opposer of the Iraq war–think rather that your belief corresponds in some philosophically uninteresting way with reality–not t’other way round. Such a basic confusion is the only explanation behind Liz Cheney’s guest op-ed in the Washington Post.

I'd say the same thing again today.  

Happy New Year again to everyone.

Suppressed Will

Today George Will goes after the Democratic congress for failing to avoid his misleading sarcasm.  The first charge, earmarks:

Hellbent on driving its approval rating into single digits, Congress adjourned after passing an omnibus spending bill larded with at least 8,993 earmarks costing at least $7.4 billion — the precise number and amount will be unclear until implications of some obscure provisions are deciphered. The gusher of earmarks was a triumph of bipartisanship, which often is a synonym for kleptocracy.

That first clause has a kind of causal ring to it I think, as if the cause of The Congress' low approval ratings were earmarks, lots of them.  On that presumption, the approval ratings of Congress ought to be higher than before.  Earmarks, under the Democrats, are down:

Democrats in Congress with the encouragement of President Bush vowed this year to seek a 50% reduction in federal budget "earmarks" — projects and programs inserted into spending bills by members of Congress to benefit their states or districts.

As it turns out, they didn't quite get there. How far they got depends on whose accounting method is used.

Democrats say they cut earmarks by 43%, to $9.2 billion, but they don't count water and military construction projects in their calculations. Those are mostly merit-based and less controversial than others.

Watchdog groups such as Taxpayers for Common Sense say the reduction is closer to 25%, once all earmarks are counted. They count 11,144, for $15.3 billion.

The White House puts the reduction at a meager 13%. Its Office of Management and Budget said Tuesday that the final spending bill, which was passed by the House on Monday and won Senate approval Tuesday night, would bring the total spent on earmarks to $16.4 billion. That's 87% of the 2005 peak, according to OMB's figures.

And the rest of this mendacious (that's a word Will would use) piece continues along the same lines: (a) misrepresent (by leaving out crucial facts) some Democratic achievement, (b) make sarcastic remark about how it either (i) fails some kind of consistency test or (ii) fails some kind of test of basic rationality.

Someone said–maybe Digby–that we continue to believe that our political discourse has to be this way, as if this were the logical consequence of our democratic system.  I fail to see how it is the case that we need people like Will, who in addition to the habitual abuse of logic, simply misrepresent facts.  Can't the Post put a fact-checker between his column and print?  The same for everyone.  Opinion pieces, as we all know here, are composed of factual assertions.  Those have to be correct in order for the opinions to be worth reading.  It would be extra special if they had a logic checker–one thing at a time.

One final, unrelated point.  With so many silly posts on this website, would anyone mind telling me what their favorite one of the past year was?  Jon Swift seems to be having a kind of contest.

Miracles of belief

This has to be one of the funnier book reviews I've read in a while:

Now retired from the University of Reading in Berkshire (he has also taught at Oxford and in Scotland, Canada and the United States), he is the author of several cogent and elegant works of philosophy, including accomplished critiques of religion. In many public debates he has vigorously made the case for unbelief. But I doubt thoughtful believers will welcome this volume. Far from strengthening the case for the existence of God, it rather weakens the case for the existence of Antony Flew.

The rest is even better.

Miracles of physics

Michael Gerson almost forces me to pull the "Don't know much about " title.  He writes:

I have little knowledge of, or interest in, the science behind this debate. Can gradual evolutionary changes account for the complex structures of cells and the eye? Why is the fossil record so weak when it comes to major mutations? I have no idea. There are unsolved mysteries in Darwinian evolution. There is also no credible scientific alternative.

But whatever the scientific objections, it is the theological objections to evolution that are weakest. Critics seem to argue that the laws of nature are somehow less miraculous than their divine suspension. But the elegant formulas of physics, and the complex mechanisms of evolution, strike me as an equal tribute to the Creator.

But you don't know much about them, so why bother?  The silly thing is that he's trying to be conciliatory.

Don’t ask me, I’m not a scientist

The New York Times reports that you can now get a master's degree in creationism from Texas:

HOUSTON — A Texas higher education panel has recommended allowing a Bible-based group called the Institute for Creation Research to offer online master’s degrees in science education.

The action comes weeks after the Texas Education Agency’s director of science, Christine Castillo Comer, lost her job after superiors accused her of displaying bias against creationism and failing to be “neutral” over the teaching of evolution.

The state’s commissioner of higher education, Raymund A. Paredes, said late Monday that he was aware of the institute’s opposition to evolution but was withholding judgment until the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board meets Jan. 24 to rule on the recommendation, made last Friday, by the board’s certification advisory council.

Henry Morris III, the chief executive of the Institute for Creation Research, said Tuesday that the proposed curriculum, taught in California, used faculty and textbooks “from all the top schools” along with, he said, the “value added” of challenges to standard teachings of evolution.

“Where the difference is, we provide both sides of the story,” Mr. Morris said. On its Web site, the institute declares, “All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the creation week” and says it “equips believers with evidences of the Bible’s accuracy and authority through scientific research, educational programs, and media presentations, all conducted within a thoroughly biblical framework.”

It also says “the harmful consequences of evolutionary thinking on families and society (abortion, promiscuity, drug abuse, homosexuality and many others) are evident all around us.”

You may wonder what bright stars the state of Texas has to consider such accreditation questions: 

Asked how the institute could educate students to teach science, Dr. Paredes, who holds a doctorate in American civilization from the University of Texas and served 10 years as vice chancellor for academic development at the University of California, said, “I don’t know. I’m not a scientist.”





La femminista

Anne Applebaum gripes about how "feminism" cares not about issues that matter to real women.  She writes:

By contrast, the women of contemporary Saudi Arabia need a much more fundamental revolution than the one that took place among American women in the 1960s, and it's one we have trouble understanding. Unlike American blacks, American women have not had to grapple with issues as basic as the right to study or vote for a long time. Instead, we have (fortunately) fought for less fundamental rights in recent decades, and our women's groups have of late (unfortunately) had the luxury of focusing on the marginal. The National Council of Women's Organizations' most famous recent campaign was against the Augusta National Golf Club. The Web site of the National Organization for Women (I hate to pick on that group, but it's so easy) has space for issues of "non-sexist car insurance" and "network neutrality," but not the Saudi rape victim or the girl murdered last week in Canada for refusing to wear a hijab.

The reigning feminist ideology doesn't help: The philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers has written, among other things, that some American feminists, self-focused and reluctant to criticize non-Western cultures, have convinced themselves that "sexual terror" in America (a phrase from a real women's studies textbook) is more dangerous than actual terrorism. But the deeper problem is the gradual marginalization of "women's issues" in domestic politics, which has made them subordinate to security issues, or racial issues, in foreign policy as well.

American delegates to international and U.N. women's organizations are mostly identified with arguments about reproductive rights (for or against, depending on the administration), not arguments about the fundamental rights of women in Saudi Arabia or the Muslim world.

Until this changes, it will be hard to mount a campaign, in the manner of the anti-apartheid movement, to enforce sanctions or codes of conduct for people doing business there. What we need as a model, in other words, is not the 1960s feminism we all remember but a globalized version of the 19th-century feminism we've nearly forgotten. Candidates for the role of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, anyone?

In the first place, no one ought to be surprised that the National Organization for Women take issue with national issues, as they are are national organization.  Pointing out the "small" or "quaint" injustices with which they occupy themselves does not mean their members are not concerned or involved as women of international organizations with the plight of women in Saudi Arabia, or better, Afghanistan.  Those, however, are international issues.  

At the heart of Applebaum's astoundingly silly analysis, is the view that somehow concern for gender issues in America precludes one from being concerned about them in Canada or elsewhere.  Even dumber than that is the idea that one get a total picture of "reigning feminist ideology" from skimming the works of one "feminist" philosopher and clicking to the web pages of two different organizations.  Before she makes those claims, she should try a little harder, perhaps use the search function.

Liberal Fascism

This book refutes itself. But, while we’re at it:


Image courtesy of Sadly, No! as well.  Anyway, that’s something like the fallacy of the excluded middle–a formal fallacy, a rare thing, by the way, for the Non Sequitur.  It goes like this:

1.  Some Nazis were vegetarians

2.  Some liberals are vegetarians

3.  Ergo, etc.  

Now, purely for the sake of repeating another funny Sadly, No! item (in case that strikes you as utterly incomprehensible, this site will explain it): 




This is a masterwork of numbskullery:

>I want our side to win. Or maybe more accurately, I don’t want our side to lose….As with any other form of violence, motivation is everything. A cop shooting a murderer is not the same as a murderer shooting an innocent victim, although both use guns, and at the end, someone is bleeding and dying.

>You’d be amazed at how many people find these things nearly equivalent. A leftist I know sees no difference between a Palestinian child dying from a stray Israeli bullet during a firefight, and an Israeli child dying when a Palestinian terrorist puts the barrel of a gun to the kid’s forehead and blows his brains across the back wall of the child’s bedroom. In his two-dimensional perception, the only important factor is that both resulted in a dead child. Avoiding true moral analysis and motivations allows him to skirt the concept of “evil,” a term which makes many liberals intensely uncomfortable.

>John Kiriakou said that waterboarding a terrorist stopped dozens of attacks. Dozens. Not attacks on military targets, but attacks on innocent non-combatants.

>That was the motivation.

>The terrorists who torture and kill our prisoners (never something as benign as waterboarding) don’t do it because they need information to save innocent people. They do it because they like it, because they want to hurt or kill someone.

>At some point you have to decide if a known terrorist having a very bad day (after which he goes back to a hot meal and a cot) is more of a moral problem than allowing a terrorist to blow up a building full of people.

>Yes, it’s good if we do it, when it’s for the right reasons. So far, it’s been for the right reasons. And no, it isn’t good when it’s done to us, for the reasons it has been done to us. Get back to me when some enemy tortures one of our soldiers in order to save innocent lives.

>Got it?

No, I don’t get it.

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.