de Malo

NPR's Scott Simon, host of Weekend Edition Saturday, reflected in his weekly essay about the nature of evil and the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.  He writes:

I get increasingly uncomfortable with the convention of journalism that requires us to say that so far, we don't know the motives of the people who carried out this week's attacks in Mumbai.

A word like "motive" seems to imply there was reason or purpose. It suggests that, however profane their actions, the terrorists had the incentive of some goal in mind.

But after covering too many killings, as a reporter or host, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Oklahoma City or Somalia, I've come to the conclusion that the perpetrators of such crimes might just be … evil.

Evil is a word that many people of my generation shrink from using. It seems so imprecise and uneducated — biblical, rather than cerebral and informed.

But there are times and crimes that remind me how often the Bible gets it right.

I wonder in the first place which part of the Bible he's talking about here.  Is it this part?

“When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. 11 “If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. 12 “However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13 “When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. 14 “Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you. 15 “Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations nearby. 16 “Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 “But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you, 18 so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God.

Beyond the mysterious reference to the Bible, Simon urges that we adopt that very Nine-Twelve understanding of the world.  Don't bother understanding someone's motives and purposes, call them evil and be done with it.  In my book, one is evil on account of one's motives and purposes (as well as of course one's actions).  If one, for instance, lies, cheats, steals, or kills to glorify the purposes of the Lord, then that person is not evil, because his motives are pure.  That's an important difference.    

Never been kissed

Here's a couple that makes a Jane Austin novel look like an adult film.  

The "no-kissing" rule came up as a way to prevent things from getting out of hand.

You see, Fabien and LaLuz both teach abstinence courses to Chicago Public Schools teens. And they say they practice what they preach.

To avoid temptation while dating, they made sure they were never alone with each other in a house. When they watched movies on the couch, they snuggled sitting straight up, never lying down.

"It really tested us and encouraged us to grow closer in our hearts and our minds, just expressing things verbally," Fabien said.

He found other ways to show LaLuz his passion—like by cleaning her car. And washing the dishes.

Despite abstaining, they have no anxieties about their upcoming Bahamas honeymoon.

Yes, they've heard "test drive the car before you buy," but LaLuz has her own analogy.

"You can't take the car out of the parking lot until you pay for it," she said.

You can't really test drive the car in the parking lot however.  But maybe women (or men) aren't like property in the first place. 

Anyway–here's an interesting article about the success or (rather the failure) of abstinence-only education programs.  

Fight for your right to party

Here's a fun assignment.  Think of all of things you can do with yourself, then ask, do I have a constitutional right to do this? If it's not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution in unambiguous language, like the second amendment's unequivocal guarantee of your individual and unrestricted right to pack heat, then no, you don't have a right to it.  The second part was kind of a joke.  The first part not–you'll find that you have no explicit constitutional right to do most of the things you do.  So the fact that something you do or can do is not explicitly mentioned in the constitution does not ipso facto mean it's not a guaranteed right.  Or so I would think.  Not so much George Will.

In Roe, the court said that the 14th Amendment guarantee of "due process" implies a general right of privacy, within which lurks a hitherto unnoticed abortion right that, although it is "fundamental," the Framers never mentioned. And this right somehow contains the trimester scheme of abortion regulations.

Since 1973 the court has been entangled in the legislative function of adumbrating an abortion code the details of which are, Wilkinson says, "not even remotely suggested by the text or history of the 14th Amendment." Parental consent? Spousal consent? Spousal notification? Parental notification? Waiting periods? Lack of funding for nontherapeutic abortions? Partial-birth abortion procedures? Zoning ordinances that exclude abortion facilities? The court has tried to tickle answers for these and other policy questions from the Constitution.

Last thing first.  According to the Constitution, it's the judiciary's job to interpret the law.  The Supreme Court interprets all laws in virtue of their consistency with the U.S. Constitution.  That's its job.  Second,  did you think of any of the things  you do which aren't explicitly mentioned as rights?  

Job Market

Anyone who has gone through the relentless misery known as the academic job market knows that one's political affiliations are the farthest thing from one's mind (and the least likely subject of conversation at any of one's many interviews).  One worries rather about the really long CV of one's competitors.  Having gone through that myself, I can say that George Will's whining about ideological imbalance in the humanities is uninformed and silly.  Speaking of a recent and most likely annoying book by Stanley Fish, he suggests that one ought to study the causes and consequences of there being so many lefties in academia.  Laying out his case for affirmative action for conservatives, Will writes: 

Fish does not dispute the fact that large majorities of humanities and social science professors are on the left. But about the causes and consequences of this, he airily says: It is all "too complicated" to tell in his book, other than to say that the G.I. Bill began the inclusion of "hitherto underrepresented and therefore politically active" groups.

Then, promiscuously skewering straw men, he says, "these were not planned events" and universities do not "resolve" to hire liberals and there is no "vast left-wing conspiracy" and inquiring into a job applicant's politics is not "allowed" and "the fact of a predominantly liberal faculty says nothing necessarily about what the faculty teaches." Note Fish's obfuscating "necessarily."

The question is not whether the fact "necessarily" says something about teaching but whether the fact really does have pedagogic consequences. About the proliferation of race and gender courses, programs and even departments, Fish says there are two relevant questions: Are there programs "with those names that are more political than academic?" And do such programs "have to be more political than academic?" He says the answer to the first is yes, to the second, no.

The "consequences," however, of this phenomenon have been studied.  Turns out, say some, students are unlikely to be indoctrinated.  I know I say this a lot, but I'm tired of being called an indoctrinator: I can't even indoctrinate my students to underline or italicize the title of that leftist handbook, The Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics.  When they get that, perhaps will move on to my views about race and gender. 

White Christmas

Daniel Henninger of the L'Osservatore Romano Wall Street Journal opines on the true cause of our current economic crisis.  He writes:

Notwithstanding the cardboard Santas who seem to have arrived in stores this year near Halloween, the holiday season starts in seven days with Thanksgiving. And so it will come to pass once again that many people will spend four weeks biting on tongues lest they say "Merry Christmas" and perchance, give offense. Christmas, the holiday that dare not speak its name.

This year we celebrate the desacralized "holidays" amid what is for many unprecedented economic ruin — fortunes halved, jobs lost, homes foreclosed. People wonder, What happened? One man's theory: A nation whose people can't say "Merry Christmas" is a nation capable of ruining its own economy.

One had better explain that.

Yes indeed.  One had better explain how a newspaper with "Wall Street" in the title has published an op-ed linking the simple courtesy of not wishing non Christians a happy-holiday-they-don't-celebrate and the various and nefarious causes of the current economic meltdown.  Someone had better explain that.

Via commenter Gary and the rest of the baffled blogosphere.

One can only dream

If you haven't seen the Yes Men in action, then I recommend you do.  Since explaining what they do would ruin it, here's an example of their latest work.

Go read it here.  Enjoy the op-eds especially.  Here's an excerpt from "Tom Friedman's":

In any case, I have made a decision: as of today, I will no longer write in this or any other newspaper. I will immediately desist from writing any more books about how it’s time for everyone to climb on board the globalization high-speed monorail to the future. I will keep my opinions to myself. (My wife suggested that I try not to even form opinions, but I think she might have another agenda.)

Baffled? I don’t blame you. So I’ll cite some facts to support my decision — a practice, I must admit, I have too seldom followed.

Let’s start with the invasion itself. I was pretty much all for it. Mind you, I was not one of the pundits, reporters, or public figures who said that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States. I knew better — but I said it didn’t matter!

Back in February of 2003, I wrote in this space: “Saddam does not threaten us today. He can be deterred. Taking him out is a war of choice — but it’s a legitimate choice.” In other words, we should invade a sovereign state and replace its government in order to remake the world more to our liking.

Now the simple fact is, an unprovoked attack on a sovereign state is a war crime, even when linked to grand ideas of the future of mankind. In fact, that’s exactly what Hitler did, for exactly the same reasons. The Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunal called it the “the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

What was I thinking? And more importantly, why didn’t anyone stop me?

One can only dream.

Slipsliding away

Slippery slope style arguments tend to be fallacious.  In one sense, they suggest non-existent causal chains as reasons not to engage in some or other activity.  An example: If we allow gay marriage in California, then we will have to allow polyandry, polyzoology, poly-whatever-you-wish, because the door will have been opened, the foot will be in it, and the slope will be greased and increasing its degree of descent.  Downward, indeed, we will go if we allow gay marriage.  That of course is not so much an argument against gay marriage as it is an argument against the things that would follow gay marriage.  Perhaps it's an implicit admission that one has no argument at all against gay marriage.  This causal chain, of course, starts at straight marriage.  Seems like if we allow that, then we will have to allow marriage between to "straight" Christians, and then therefore etc., as they used to say.  This of course points to the other variety of slippery slope fallacy–the relevance variety.  Man-turtle marriage really isn't what one was talking about when one advocated gay marriage.  Man-turtle marriage is irrelevant.  It's not like man-man or woman-woman marriage at all.  In the first place, turtles can't contract.  So there's that.

Sometimes however slippery slopes are not fallacious.  No, these are not the slippery slope arguments that I use–because, as we all know, I can never be guilty of a fallacy.  Rather, these are slippery slopes that aren't causal, but rather analogical.  If we make a law, for instance, which benefits company A, call it, I don't know, GM, then, by analogy, we must also make a law which benefits company B, which finds itself in the same circumstances.  That's not really a slippery slope in the fallacious sense, as it's more of an argument by analogy anyway.

I make this point because I encountered this surprising instance of a non-fallacious argument in Michael Gerson's piece today.  Speaking of a government bailout of General Motors, he writes:

But wouldn't government intervention be a slippery slope? Why bail out GM and not Circuit City? Well, perhaps because the closing of Circuit City leaves an empty place at the mall, while the collapse of the American auto industry would leave entire regions of the country in crisis. It is the job of a president — on issues from military intervention to economic policy — to keep his footing on unavoidably slippery slopes.

Maybe there is also a kind of implicit false dichotomy here as well–one can either help everyone or no one.  There is no middle ground.  We cannot afford to help everyone.  So we must therefore help no one.  Or maybe perhaps there's a kind of fallacy of accident–the misapplied general rule: if the rule states we help companies who are in dire straits, then we must help all companies regardless, etc.  That's what the rule states, after all.

So Gerson is of course right that is not a slippery slope.  But he's wrong as to why.  The reason why it isn't is because not all slippery slopes are fallacious.  One sometimes hears complaints in the fallacy literature to the effect that some alleged fallacies are not fallacies at all.  My answer to that is a resounding "maybe" or "sometimes."  Sometimes they're not.  Sometimes they are.  When they are, they're fallacious.   

The number of the beast

In addition to being a communist, a socialist, a professional politician who won a Presidential election on a center-right platform, Barack Obama might also be the Antichrist.  Indeed, it's a serious question, Newsweek, after all, ran a story about it.  This story included such gems as the following:

No wonder, then, that Obama triggers such fear in the hearts of America's millennialist Christians. Mat Staver, dean of Liberty University's law school, says he does not believe Obama is the Antichrist, but he can see how others might. Obama's own use of religious rhetoric belies his liberal positions on abortion and traditional marriage, Staver says, positions that "religious conservatives believe will threaten their freedom." The people who believe Obama is the Antichrist are perhaps jumping to conclusions, but they're not nuts: "They are expressing a concern and a fear that is widely shared," Staver says.

No.  They're nuts.  Completely nuts.

Via Digby and Political Animal.

Balancing act

I saw this absurd piece by Deborah Howell, the Washington Post ombudsperson, on Saturday, but I had other things to do so no time to write anything.  Having established by quantitative means that the Post had a crush on Obama the previous week, she now attempts to make a more substantive case with a recommendation for how to avoid it.  Here's more substance:

Tom Rosenstiel, a former political reporter who directs the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said, "The perception of liberal bias is a problem by itself for the news media. It's not okay to dismiss it. Conservatives who think the press is deliberately trying to help Democrats are wrong. But conservatives are right that journalism has too many liberals and not enough conservatives. It's inconceivable that that is irrelevant."

Journalism, like academia, seems full of crazed liberals such as myself.  A neighbor of mine, a journalist for a major newspaper, has confirmed this (so it must be true).  The liberal dominance of journalism–the fact that many reporters are liberals in other words–ought to raise at least two more questions: (1) why's that? and (2) does it affect their readers (not their reporting–you can't tell that, after all, because only academic liberals would be able to study whether it has)?  I can't answer (1) with anything but the speculative–because liberals live in a reality-based world, reporters who report on the world, come to share those views.  Or perhaps one could say reporters are cynical nihilists, like many godless liberals, so therefore, etc.  Anyway, the answer to (2) seems more important.  Since Howell discounts liberal bias going out in the form of reporting, there out to be evidence of a "liberal tilt" in the reading of that reporting.  I don't really know what that would be, short of something like this: "I have an unjustified feeling of good will toward Obama and Nancy Pelosi."

Anyway, here's the funny part.  Howell suggests that this perception of bias on the part of people who don't believe the stories anyway–that is, people already immune to bias–is for newsrooms to hire more conservative journalists:

Are there ways to tackle this? More conservatives in newsrooms and rigorous editing would be two. The first is not easy: Editors hire not on the basis of beliefs but on talent in reporting, photography and editing, and hiring is at a standstill because of the economy. But newspapers have hired more minorities and women, so it can be done.

Rosenstiel said, "There should be more intellectual diversity among journalists. More conservatives in newsrooms will bring about better journalism. We need to be more vigilant and conscious in looking for bias. Our aims are pure, but our execution sometimes is not. Staff members should feel in their bones that unfairness will never be tolerated."

Perhaps the new affirmative action hires of conservative journalists could write for the irony page, where they can report on the failure of affirmative action programs and the like.

Update.  Just saw this on Political Animal–it's a better post on the same topic with some good links.