I have always liked this analogy (from an op-ed on trolling in the New York Times):

Trolling, defined as the act of posting inflammatory, derogatory or provocative messages in public forums, is a problem as old as the Internet itself, although its roots go much farther back. Even in the fourth century B.C., Plato touched upon the subject of anonymity and morality in his parable of the ring of Gyges.

That mythical ring gave its owner the power of invisibility, and Plato observed that even a habitually just man who possessed such a ring would become a thief, knowing that he couldn’t be caught. Morality, Plato argues, comes from full disclosure; without accountability for our actions we would all behave unjustly.

Interesting piece.  But the real problem is the troll who doesn't know it.  I suppose that's why we're here.

The Thirty

Sometime soon we'll have a post up about the "Hack Thirty" at  We were surprised that some made the list (B-list hacks) and that some didn't (Charles Krauthammer?  Seriously).  For that reason we wondered about the methodology and the meaning, in the end, of the term "hack." 

One person who didn't make the list but should have place in the top 15 at least was Michael Gerson, former Bush  43 Speechwriter and promoter of unprovoked defensive war. 

Luckily, his most recent column reads as a damning indictment of that exclusion.  For the tl;dr crowd (how many of you is that?  would you have made it at least to here?) he argues that Obama demonstrates the failure of "liberalism" and that certain liberals–whom he stupidly mentions by name (not even George Will would do that)–refuse to admit that, resorting instead to "conspiracy theories" (example of a "conspiracy theory": all of my enemies are plotting against me, forming a three-point axis–I know–of EVIL).

He begins:

Following two years of poor economic performance and electoral repudiation, liberalism is casting around for narratives to explain its failure – narratives that don't involve the admission of inadequacies in liberalism itself.

In the first place, for serious, how could anyone claim that the Obama administration's (financial, oil, military, etc.) industry-friendly policies constitute "liberalism"?

Second, one cannot maintain that "liberalism" has failed because the Democrats lost one of the two representative bodies–they still hold the Senate, the Presidency (and the liberal media of course). 

Enough preliminaries.  Our point here is that Gerson attempts to make the Willian hollow man move–"liberalism" is the key word usually, or "progressivism" (hey look it up in today's Post!).  It basically goes like this.  Mention the word "liberalism," and do not mention the words of any particular liberal–you're not dialoguing with them (that's critical)–and set up a hollow man.  Then engage hollow man, showing hollow man argument to be foolish, liberals as a consequence to be lazy, dishonest thinkers, etc. 

That's how you do a hollow man.  But Gerson foolishly names his opponents  He writes:

So Matt Yglesias warns the White House to be prepared for "deliberate economic sabotage" from the GOP – as though Chamber of Commerce SWAT teams, no doubt funded by foreigners, are preparing attacks on the electrical grid. Paul Krugman contends that "Republicans want the economy to stay weak as long as there's a Democrat in the White House." Steve Benen explains, "We're talking about a major political party . . . possibly undermining the strength of the country – on purpose, in public, without apology or shame – for no other reason than to give themselves a campaign advantage in 2012." Benen's posting was titled "None Dare Call it Sabotage."

So what is the proof of this charge? It seems to have something to do with Republicans criticizing quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve. And opposing federal spending. And, according to Benen, creating "massive economic uncertainty by vowing to gut the national health care system."

These guys (Benen and Yglesias) have very popular blogs, appear on TV, etc., and can respond to Gerson's hollow man–which is now, on account of its first instance distortion, has become representational version of the straw man.  Benen has responded at length.  Here is a brief snippet:

What's more, I'm fascinated by the notion that I'm describing a "conspiracy" — a word Gerson uses four times in his column. I made no such argument. There's no need for secret meetings in smoke-filled rooms; there's no reason to imagine a powerful cabal pulling strings behind the scenes. The proposition need not be fanciful at all — a stronger economy would improve President Obama's re-election chances, so Republicans are resisting policies and ideas that would lead to this result.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasn't especially cagey about his intentions: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president…. Our single biggest political goal is to give [the Republican] nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful."

Given this, is it really that extraordinary to wonder if this might include rejecting proposals that would make President Obama look more successful on economic policy — especially given the fact that McConnell's approach to the economy appears to be carefully crafted to do the opposite of what's needed? After Gerson's West Wing colleagues effectively accused Democrats of treason in 2005, is it beyond the pale to have a conversation about Republicans' inexplicable motivations?

Read the whole thing here.  In addition to his dishonest representation of the facts, short memory, and general hackishness, Gerson's mistake is naming opponents who can respond (or whose words can be checked).  George Will almost never does that.  It tends to backfire. 

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Two quick things:

First, in honor of the holiday, please enjoy Scott and Bob's article over at 3 Quarks Daily: "Waging War on Christmas to Save Thanksgiving."  It's well worth the read.

Second, Salon's "Hack Thirty" is finished: the winner, Richard Cohen!  Shocker: no Charles Krauthammer.  I'd have a different list (adjusted for exposure and importance), but notic how many of our favorites made it on the list (and why).

Happy Thanksgiving again. I will watch the Lions win a glorious victory.  I'm certain.   

Hypocrites that aren’t

This isn't quite the tu quoque some might believe (from Politico):

A cadre of Democratic House members – all fierce defenders of President Obama’s health care reforms — are asking Republicans who want to repeal the law to forgo their taxpayer-subsidized health insurance out of principle.

 The group, led by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) and three other progressives – responding to a POLITICO report that repeal proponent Rep.-elect Andy Harris (R-Md.) complained about a lag in his federal coverage – is circulating a letter among Democrats that would call upon Republicans to ditch their insurance, paid in part by taxpayer funds, if they are committed to rolling back Democratic reforms.

The missive is expected to pick up a lot of support among liberals, who now make up a much larger proportion of House Democrats following the party’s 61-plus-seat loss earlier this month. Spearheading the effort: Crowley, Donna Edwards of Maryland, Tim Ryan of Ohio and Linda Sanchez of California.  “If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable health care, your members should walk that walk,” Crowley writes in a letter to House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

You cannot enroll in the very kind of coverage that you want for yourselves, and then turn around and deny it to Americans who don't happen to be Members of Congress. We also want to note that in 2011, the Federal government will pay $10,503.48 of the premiums for each member of Congress with a family policy under the commonly selected Blue Cross standard plan.”

I think they're obviously going to reply that they get insurance from their employer–in this case is the federal government–which (I'm guessing here) is the view they have endorsed all along.  And lo:

Boehner and McConnell spokesmen declined comment. And Harris defenders argue that he’s simply availing himself of the same insurance enjoyed by private employees, coverage administered by many of the nation’s private health care companies.

This story has gotten a surprising amount of attention for how thin this argument is.  Seems like Boehner and McConnell could have pointed that out, however.

Something else to worry about

Let's call this a follow up on the Rush Limbaugh post from a few days ago:

In Britain, experts estimated that fixing the country's bad eating habits might prevent nearly 70,000 people from prematurely dying of diet-related health problems like heart disease and cancer. It would also theoretically save the health system 20 billion pounds ($32 billion) every year.

In Brazil, however, the rates of illnesses linked to a poor diet are not as high as in the U.K. So Brazilians would get relatively few health benefits while their economy might lose millions.

The study was paid for by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and was published online Thursday in the medical journal, Lancet.

"We are not suggesting people not eat a healthy diet," said Richard Smith, a professor of health system economics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "We're just trying to point out that healthier eating can have unintended consequences."

Smith and colleagues said decisions in Brazil and in Western countries to adopt more vegetarian diets could cost the meat-dependent Brazilian economy 1,388 million reais ($815 million).

All is not lost, however.

"In an ideal world, we would all have a perfect diet," Smith said. "But it's also desirable that everybody has a job."

Smith said officials should consider nutritional guidelines more carefully. For countries like Brazil, which rely heavily on meat imports to the West and to Japan, global nutritional advice could potentially be devastating.

Others weren't so sure.

"There are things happening in the rest of the world that this model didn't account for," said Julian Morris, executive director of International Policy Network, a London-based think tank. "The increasing demand for meat in Asia is substantial, ongoing, and might counteract any reduced demand in developed countries." Morris also disputed the assumption that healthy eating recommendations would change what people actually do have for dinner.

Asia.  There to bail us out.


The weekender

In a lot ways the pseudo-reasonable ramblings of David Brooks inspired our work here.  It's a pleasure, then, to see our analysis echoed by others:

There is no pleasure for the pundit quite like the neat, clear-edged dichotomy. I have felt these pleasures myself. But few columnists fall for it quite as regularly as The New York Times' David Brooks, for which it seems to provide a sense of order and clarity in a messy world always hurtling toward chaos. Today Brooks tackles a fascinating theme in economics: the notion of mechanical policies or solutions to what ails us. The irony here is that Brooks' dichotomy, which the Times headlines "Two Cultures" in a glib reference to C.P. Snow's now ancient (and glib) dichotomy between science and the humanities, is as clankingly mechanical as the mechanistic tendencies he claims as the province of dreaded liberal technocrats.

Here's David Brooks from 2004 (see here):

There are two sorts of people in the information-age elite, spreadsheet people and paragraph people. Spreadsheet people work with numbers, wear loafers and support Republicans. Paragraph people work with prose, don’t shine their shoes as often as they should and back Democrats.

New York Times–the breadth of reporting, the insight.  I think I might order up the Weekender (click this link–hilarious).  Now in case one is inclined to object that it's hard to write a 750 word op-ed twice a week, I'll agree with you.  It probably is hard to come up with something engaging, refreshing, and enlightening.  But if this is what you come up with, then, maybe, paraphrasing Kant here, "metaphysics punditry isn't for you." 



Where is George Will when you need him?

I think we need to call noted Cubs fan George Will: someone wants to turn baseball into a government-run death panel.  You see, the Cubs, our local team a few stops down the Red Line, would like the government to borrow some money for them.  I don't really get public financing for sports teams, but I don't know much about it either.  I do get, however, the whining of the rich about handouts (to others) is hypocritical when those handouts are fine when given to them.  Having said that, please enjoy the following selection from a local blog, Windy City Watch on the Rickett's scheme.

Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts dislikes government spending so much that he spent over a half a million dollars of his own money to fight against it. According to the Huffington Post (HuffPo) Ricketts was the “sole financier of the Ending Spending Fund” which invested nearly $600,000 into the Nevada US Senate race against Majority Leader Harry Reid.

HuffPo also points out that the fund is the political arm of a new nonprofit called Taxpayers Against Earmarks, which is "dedicated to educating and engaging American taxpayers about wasteful government spending and the misguided practice of earmarks."

In a video on the group’s website and YouTube page Joe Rickets says, “I think its a crime for our elected officials to borrow money today, to spend money today and push the repayment of that loan out into the future on people who are not even born yet.”

Its funny that Joe Ricketts is so passionate against “wasteful government spending” when his family, led by son, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, has just asked the people of Illinois to borrow $300 million in a bond offering so that it can rehab Wrigley Field. This request follows a vote in Mesa, AZ which guaranteed the Cubs $84 million in public funds to build a new spring training stadium and facility.

Does Joe Ricketts think its a crime that the family business will collect $84 million from one government body, while asking for $300 million from another?

When he talks about borrowing money today and forcing that debt on the unborn he is literally talking about the very scheme that the Cubs are pushing. That plan calls for the bonds to be paid off over 35 years through amusement taxes. Many of the individuals paying those amusement taxes haven’t been conceived yet, hell some of their parents are still in elementary school.

Sometimes, folks, tu quoques–briefly: you're a hypocrite, you're argument is invalid–are not fallacious.  This is one of those times. 

Thanks Carin. 

Can’t make this stuff up

What have I told you about diet and exercise?  Exercise is irrelevant…. "How do you know all this?"  One of the reasons I know what I know is that I know liberals, and I know liberals lie, and if Michelle Obama’s gonna be out there ripping into "food desserts" and saying, "This is why people are fat," I know it’s not true.  "Rush, do you really believe that? It’s that simple to you, liberals lie?"  Yes, it is, folks.  Once you learn that, once you come to grips with that, once you accept that, the rest is easy.  Very, very simple.  Now, my doctor has never told me to restrict any intake of salt, but if he did, I wouldn’t.  I’d just spend more time in the steam or the sauna sweating it out.