Fish tales

**Updates for clarity thanks to Brandon

Stanley Fish is still not worth reading.  He's the guy at the party who iron-mans the holocaust denier by straw manning the holocaust historian. 

On another matter–his fondness for false equivalence–he writes:

Dawkins and Pinker replied that you ask them to show you their evidence — the basis of their claim to be taken seriously — and then you show them yours, and you contrast the precious few facts they have with the enormous body of data collected and vetted by credentialed scholars and published in the discipline’s leading journals. Point, game, match.

Not quite. Pushed by Hayes, who had observed that when we accept the conclusions of scientific investigation we necessarily do so on trust (how many of us have done or could replicate the experiments?) and are thus not so different from religious believers, Dawkins and Pinker asserted that the trust we place in scientific researchers, as opposed to religious pronouncements, has been earned by their record of achievement and by the public rigor of their procedures. In short, our trust is justified, theirs is blind.

It was at this point that Dawkins said something amazing, although neither he nor anyone else picked up on it. He said: in the arena of science you can invoke Professor So-and-So’s study published in 2008, “you can actually cite chapter and verse.”

With this proverbial phrase, Dawkins unwittingly (I assume) attached himself to the centuries-old practice of citing biblical verses in support of a position on any number of matters, including, but not limited to, diet, animal husbandry, agricultural policy, family governance, political governance, commercial activities and the conduct of war. Intellectual responsibility for such matters has passed in the modern era from the Bible to academic departments bearing the names of my enumerated topics. We still cite chapter and verse — we still operate on trust — but the scripture has changed (at least in this country) and is now identified with the most up-to-date research conducted by credentialed and secular investigators.

Really slowly: the list of items Fish mentions here (in bold) are prescriptions based on divine commands.  The chapter and verse Dawkins refers to are descriptions based on arguments.  They're just reported second hand. 

Those things are hugely different.  

Romney won’t say anything to get elected

Mitt Romney has learned a thing or two about electoral politics.  He's learned, for instance, that if you say anything specific about anything, people will challenge it.  What he takes away from this is that if you make an argument, people will distort it.  He says:

One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” Romney recalled. “So I think it’s important for me to point out that I anticipate that there will be departments and agencies that will either be eliminated or combined with other agencies. So for instance, I anticipate that housing vouchers will be turned over to the states rather than be administered at the federal level, and so at this point I think of the programs to be eliminated or to be returned to the states, and we’ll see what consolidation opportunities exist as a result of those program eliminations. So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now.

Sadly, this has been reported this way by the "liberal" media (in this case, Jonathan Chait): "Mitt: I Won’t Detail Plans, Because Then I’d Lose".  This is not really what it says, but it kind of makes his point.  His point is that if he says anything, people will attack a distorted version of it.  And this is exactly what Jonathan Chait has done with this one. 

Ironically, Romney is clueless as to how the "liberal" media works.  You see, when Republican Paul Ryan outlined a plan undoing the single-payer health system called "medicare," replacing it with a voucher-based Obama/Romney model called by the same name, Democrats rightly pointed out that such a move amounted to eliminating medicare.  This correct observation earned the Democrats, not the Republicans, the "lie of the year" award from politifact.

Doubly ironically, Romney's failure to offer any kind of plan at all for fear of having is plan misrepresented forces everyone to do what he fears: make them up.

Today in nutpicking

It is good, every now and then, to take a look at the kind hateful bile that spews forth from internet commenters.  Charles Johnson, former right wing blogger, takes a look at Fox News commenters on Obama and the Trayvon Martin case.

Still nutpicking, sadly, but here was Newt Gingrich's reaction to Obama.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich harshly criticized President Obama for commenting on Trayvon Martin’s race as he extended condolences to the 17-year-old shooting victim’s parents on Friday. Obama said, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon,” a remark that Gingrich said he found “disgraceful” and “appalling.”

“What the president said, in a sense, is disgraceful,” Gingrich said on Sean Hannity’s radio show. “It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background.

Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be OK because it didn’t look like him? That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot. It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban, or if he had been white, or if he had been Asian-American, or if he’d been a Native American. At some point, we ought to talk about being Americans. When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”

In a normal argument, Gingrich's hypothetical would not be followed by very conclusive assertions using the hypothetical as evidence.  Because, after all, this is cleary not what the President was suggesting.

Blame it on the rain

The murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida could have been avoided, had he just not conducted himself like a criminal, so Geraldo Rivera of Fox News comments (via ThinkProgress).

BRIAN KILMEADE KILMEADE (co-host): Let’s talk about the Trayvon Martin case and what’s going on in Florida right now.

GERALDO RIVERA: I believe that George Zimmerman, the overzealous neighborhood watch captain should be investigated to the fullest extent of the law and if he is criminally liable, he should be prosecuted. But I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.

JULIET HUDDY (guest-host): What do you mean?

RIVERA: When you, when you see a kid walking — Juliet — when you see a kid walking down the street, particularly a dark skinned kid like my son Cruz, who I constantly yelled at when he was going out wearing a damn hoodie or those pants around his ankles. Take that hood off, people look at you and they — what do they think? What’s the instant identification, what’s the instant association?

STEVE DOOCY (co-host): Uh-oh.

RIVERA: It’s those crime scene surveillance tapes. Every time you see someone sticking up a 7-11, the kid is wearing a hoodie. […] When you see a black or Latino youngster, particularly on the street, you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid that confrontation.

The hoodie was responsible?  Comment unnecessary.

Bill Maher’s Ham Jihad

Bill Maher thinks there's too much manufactured outrage in our national discourse. When Bobby De Niro recently made a white people joke at an Obama fundraiser dinner, noted defender of the rights of minority groups Newt Gingrich leapt to our TV screens and demanded an apology from the President himself. It is of course absurd to think that Newt is legitimately outraged by this joke when he has famously argued that "one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don't encourage you to be nasty."

So, Gingrich's laughable fake outrage on this issue leads Maher to rhetorically conclude, "[w]hen did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like?" When, indeed? Unfortunately, Maher takes this hollow man and proceeds to cast every recent instance of public outrage as an assertion of our right to not hear things we don't like. From the Limbaugh-Fluke uproar, to the Jeremy Lin-ESPN gaffe, Maher casts his net wide and far.

When did we become such whiny cry-babies? With all this thin-skinned outrage tearing our nation apart, Maher advances a solution:

"Let’s have an amnesty — from the left and the right — on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront. Let’s make this Sunday the National Day of No Outrage. One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone did or said and pretend you can barely continue functioning until they apologize.

If that doesn’t work, what about this: If you see or hear something you don’t like in the media, just go on with your life. Turn the page or flip the dial or pick up your roll of quarters and leave the booth."

See, all you have to do is plug your ears.

Now, there's something to be said about ignoring things that are worth ignoring. Do we need to jump down Limbaugh's throat every time he has says something offensive? There might not be enough time in one day to do that job and we shouldn't feed the king troll. And politicians like Gingrich will feign outrage whenever it is politically expedient, and that crap gets annoying. But Maher treats all instances of outrage as analagous to the following scenario:

"When the lady at Costco gives you a free sample of its new ham pudding and you don’t like it, you spit it into a napkin and keep shopping. You don’t declare a holy war on ham."

Clearly not. That would be insane. But if an extremely popular and influential pundit makes aggressive misogynistic attacks against a person in an effort to deny what many feel are basic human rights, should we just smh and change the channel, or be fake outraged?

How I know when to stop reading Peggy Noonan

Here is a Peggy Noonan column about how liberals are the real enemies of women.  I knew to stop reading it when I read this line, the first line:

There is a war against women. It is something comparatively new in our national life, and we have to start noticing it.

Recall that women attained the right to vote in 1920.  Before that I guess there was no war against women, because you can only war against a person.  Please fill in your own examples. 

I did read the rest.  TL;DR: the left is especially guilty of sexist attacks in place of argument, Rush Limbaugh was merely trying to protect religious liberty from the language police.  It also includes the following very awesome hollow man:

Why would the left be worse? Let me be harsh. Some left-wing men think they can talk like this because they're on the correct side on social issues such as abortion. Their attitude: "I backed you on the abortions you want so much, I opposed a ban on partial birth. Hell, I'll let you kill kids at any point until they're 15, I'm cool. And that means I can call women in public life t – – – s, right? Because, you know, I think of them that way."

That's almost text book. 

Thought flatulence

Sentence of the day, Jason Linkins of the Huffington Post:

And The New York Times' Thomas Friedman has aided this delusion by blundering around in a fog of his own thought-flatulence, wondering where the "grand bargain" was. (The "grand bargain" was always available via download.)

I have read no more descriptive phrase of the Brooks-Friedman genre than this.  This really should become some kind of meme.

Slut shaming CNN style

That Rush Limbaugh makes horrible, fallacious ad hominem arguments against people (especially women) who disagree with whatever his view is does not surprise me, nor, sadly does the fact some people–who probably ought to know better–jump to his defense.

The issue lately is of course the congressional testimony of Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student and reproductive rights activist.  Limbaugh thought her advocacy made her a slut or a prostitute.  To be fair, Limbaugh apologized (twice, I think) for using those two terms.  He did not apologize, however, for demanding that she provide the paying public access to her non reproductive sexual activity in the form of internet videos.  Nor did he apologize for the 45 or so other vile things he said or implied about her.

Limbaugh ought also to apologize to the legions of people who think he has offered views worthy of defense.  This is, after all, the worst crime.  He makes, by all accounts, millions of dollars and has legions of loyal fans, among them Steven Landsburg, a professor of economics at the University of Rochester.  He makes one realize what academic freedom and tenure is all about.  Read about his intervention in this discussion here.  And here

Now comes CNN's Dana Loesch, displaying all of the acumen of a barely plausible introduction to logic text book example:

Maybe Fluke's boyfriend, the son of entrenched Democrat William Mutterperl, can pay for her contraception. His father donates heavily to Democrat candidates. The couple is currently enjoying spring break in California, which poses the question of how Fluke can afford a trip across the country when she can't afford birth control pills.

This, posted on the late Andrew Bretibart's site, is just plain creepy.  How does this person know who Fluke's boyfriend is, where she is going on spring break, and whether she can afford a certain pharmaceutical?  Besides, Fluke (see at the link above) never argued that she couldn't afford her contraception.

But, tragically, this debate has never been about facts.  It's always been about how much women must pay for sex.  A lot.  Loesch's interest in Fluke's personal life just enacts the very demand Limbaugh made of Fluke.  

 

The same basic respect, i.e., none.

It’s been well over a week since a conservative radio host launched into a not-uncommon series of misogynisitic ad feminam attacks against a women speaking on an issue of concern to women.  The woman, Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University Law student, was invited by Congress to speak on the issue of mandated contraception coverage for women.  The relevant part of her remarks can be read here.

Rush Limbaugh has such a long history of dishonesty and abuse that his views no longer deserve rational analysis.  I’m sorry for the millions of listeners who listen to him.  I’m especially sorry for those who listen only because they find his brand of humor funny.  It’s best, I think, not to develop a taste for certain things.

Some people defending Limbaugh, on the other hand, do warrant discussion.  Here is fairly well known professor of economics at the University of Rochester, Steve Landsburg.

Rush Limbaugh is under fire for responding in trademark fashion to the congressional testimony of Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, who wants you to pay for her contraception. If the rest of us are to share in the costs of Ms. Fluke’s sex life, says Rush, we should also share in the benefits, via the magic of online video. For this, Rush is accused of denying Ms. Fluke her due respect.

But while Ms. Fluke herself deserves the same basic respect we owe to any human being, her position — which is what’s at issue here — deserves none whatsoever. It deserves only to be ridiculed, mocked and jeered. To treat it with respect would be a travesty. I expect there are respectable arguments for subsidizing contraception (though I am skeptical that there are arguments sufficiently respectable to win me over), but Ms. Fluke made no such argument. All she said, in effect, was that she and others want contraception and they don’t want to pay for it.

To his credit, Rush stepped in to provide the requisite mockery. To his far greater credit, he did so with a spot-on analogy: If I can reasonably be required to pay for someone else’s sex life (absent any argument about externalities or other market failures), then I can reasonably demand to share in the benefits. His dense and humorless critics notwithstanding, I am 99% sure that Rush doesn’t actually advocate mandatory on-line sex videos. What he advocates is logical consistency and an appreciation for ethical symmetry. So do I. Color me jealous for not having thought of this analogy myself.

It is funny how so many of our debates concern the rules of our debates.  Many claim–correctly in my view–that Limbaugh broke basic argument rules, distorting a person’s words to malign her (fallacious ad hominem attacks, straw men, etc.).  This fellow, Steven Landsburg, inexplicably, thinks Limbaugh has not in fact done this, but has rather zeroed in on the critical issue–whether you and I should pay for this woman to have sex.

That, however, wasn’t nearly the point of Limbaugh’s 46 or so tirades.  Here’s one:

She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.

And Landsburg thinks only the word “slut” was out of order.

There’s one place where I part company with Rush, though: He wants to brand Ms. Fluke a “slut” because, he says, she’s demanding to be paid for sex. There are two things wrong here. First, the word “slut” connotes (to me at least) precisely the sort of joyous enthusiasm that would render payment superfluous. A far better word might have been “prostitute” (or a five-letter synonym therefor), but that’s still wrong because Ms. Fluke is not in fact demanding to be paid for sex. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) She will, as I understand it, be having sex whether she gets paid or not. Her demand is to be paid. The right word for that is something much closer to “extortionist”. Or better yet, “extortionist with an overweening sense of entitlement”. Is there a single word for that?

I’m sad for this guy’s students, his department, and his university.