Texas GOP platform on Critical Thinking

The Texas GOP has some curious things to say about education (via TPM):

Controversial Theories – We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.

Early Childhood Development – We believe that parents are best suited to train their children in their early development and oppose mandatory pre-school and Kindergarten. We urge Congress to repeal government-sponsored programs that deal with early childhood development.

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

On the one hand, evolution and global warming are to be critically assessed, on the other, they don't want to challenge the student's fixed beliefs.  Let's hope they don't believe in evolution or anthropogenic climate change.

A belief also not to be challenged, apparently:

We affirm that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable “alternative” lifestyle, in public policy, nor should “family” be redefined to include homosexual “couples.” We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction or belief in traditional values.

Ah, "objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories."

Via Media

Cathy Young wonders,

Which is the more serious problem today: Islamic extremism or anti-Islamic bigotry?

In her even-handedness she admits that both are serious. But guess who doesn't? That's right. The Left. Young argues that Liberals have spent ample energy railing against anti-Islamic bigotry, but have failed to also take seriously the threat of Islamic extremism: 

Yet nowhere in The Nation will one find recognition that extremism in Islam is a particularly serious problem. 

Young has beef with the Muslim-lovers at The Nation for failing to call out the bad stuff Muslims believe and do. Unfortunately, her evidence is rather weak: 

One author dismisses the issue by stating that "every group has its loonies." Another writes that while misogyny and religious repression in some Muslim countries should be denounced, it can be done without generalizing about Islam.

These authors are apparently not serious enough! We need to generalize…

Evidence against her assertion, on the other hand, is rather strong (see here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and…you get the point). 

Instead of letting basic internet research get in the way of her argument, Young paints a picture of left-wing political discourse as biased in favor of protecting the good name of Islam while failing to face up to the very real threat of what she considers a particularly dangerous religion. Young contends that, "for complex historical and cultural reasons, radicalism in Islam is far closer to the mainstream than in other major religions right now." What evidence does she provide? 

There is no country today where a Christian government executes people for blasphemy, apostasy or illicit sex.

(Except for here. Also, while the few places that do have death penalties are Islamic, many other non-Islamic countries have severe penalties for homosexuality)

And,

Freedom House, an esteemed human rights organization, reports that many U.S. mosques carry extremist literature. Supposedly moderate Muslim groups such as the Islamic Circle of North America have hosted speakers with extreme ideas.

So, there must be some truth to all this anti-Islamic sentiment (except from you, Pam Geller!). Get serious. It is entirely disingenuous for Young to write that, "Concerns about bigotry are justified. But they should not deter legitimate debate about problems in modern Islam." Legitimate debate about problems in modern Islam are not necessarily separate from concerns about anti-muslim bigotry. Indeed, one of the main causes of extremism in Islam is the West's callous abuse of Islamic peoples over the last century. Further, there is no evidence that the Left's anti-bigotry writings have come anywhere near the level of debate-killing as shouts of "anti-Semitism" have done in discussions of extremism in Israel. Young provides no real evidence that the Left has confused legitimate criticism of Islam with bigotry. Rather, Young has created a false narrative in the guise of being even-handed in order to both attack the Left and keep open the door for continued abuse of Muslims around the world. 

Shallow generalities

This discussion between Skip Bayless and Mark Cuban is worth watching for two main reasons.  In the first place, they have a disagreement over the significance of Bayless's Sports Punditry.  Without a lot of argument vocabulary, Cuban accuses Bayless of talking in "generalities."  This is not exactly the right term, as Bayless tends, at least according to Cuban, psychologize.  Second, no one yellls, each takes a turn without interupting the other person. 

More like this please.  Would that one of Tom Friedman or David Brooks' many critics had the time to make her or his points in this manner. 

Sad, however, that such long-form arguments take place on a sports show.

Not really hypocrisy of the day

Think Progress is accusing Ron Paul of hypocrisy for criticizing social security but taking it (they also suggest that he compared social security to slavery, which he did and didn't:  He did in the "immoral" sense, but not in the "social security is a type of slavery sense):

Paul is, of course, not the only conservative to benefit from government programs that he or she opposes. But his crankish view of the Constitution has brought him to the conclusion that Social Security is altogether unconstitutional, which also hasn’t stopped him from collecting benefits.

Any critic A's criticism of policy x naturally leads critic B of critic A to see whether A is consistent with regard to x.  Since x is government policy, or law, it's very easy to spot alleged inconsistencies.  I'm against, at least I think I am, various tax breaks for people who make over a certain amount of money.  These tax breaks might benefit me.  I'm not a hypocrite for not writing a check to the federal reserve.  I'm a hypocrite if the policy I advocate goes into effect, and I do not abide by it.

People might remember that this is, in essence, the Buffett criticism (we talked about it here and here and here and here): if you like taxes so much, pay voluntarily.  Such criticism was bad then, and it's bad now.

It's bad in part because it would make it practically very difficult to criticize laws and policies without engaging in civil disobedience of one form or another.

And now an analogy from a classicist

Victor Davis Hanson is an accomplished classicist, and he regularly makes analogies between today's politics and that reported in Herodotus and Thucydides.  It's cool, but he's often wrong.  Here's he new analogy: recent college graduates are an indentured underclass in American society, just like the Helots of Spartan society. 

Ancient Sparta turned its conquered neighbors into indentured serfs — half free, half slave. The resulting Helot underclass produced the food of the Spartan state, freeing Sparta’s elite males to train for war and the duties of citizenship.

Over the last few decades, we’ve created our modern version of these Helots — millions of indebted young Americans with little prospect of finding permanent well-paying work, servicing their enormous college debts, or reaping commensurate financial returns on their costly educations.

Analogies are fine, so long as they are clear about where the analogues are, well, analogues and where they aren't.  And where there might be better analogues.  Here's where Hanson's analogy starts to fall apart.  First, how are recent college grads NOT like Helots?  Well, Helots were forced into that life.  They can't ever get out.  And the exploitation that comes their way is entirely determined by what state you were born into.  Not so for any of the American college grads.  Second, are there better analogues in America to the Helots than folks going to college?  Yes.  The poor — they bear huge burdens of debt, and it's not debt incurred for improving their lives, but just for living them within the standard of living.  Being poor isn't what you choose, it's what happens to you.  And you rarely escape.  The class of people upon whom the American economy and the rich make their lives isn't the recent college grad, but the poor sap working two jobs at minimum wage.  Those are today's Helots.  Or, at least, better candidates for it.  Here's Hanson selling the view:

Strip away the fancy degrees, the trendy fluff classes, the internships with prestigious employers, and the personal gadgets, and a new generation of indebted and jobless students has about as much opportunity as the ancient indentured Helots.

Yeah, take away their phones and their education, and, sure, you can make them seem a lot closer to slaves… but couldn't that be said of anyone?  If I take away Hanson's degree, his connection to NRO, and all his gagetry, but leave him with debt, he'd look a lot like a Helot, too.

That’s discrimination?

Phyllis Schlafly is against big-government subsidies for education.  Especially in providing subsidized guaranteed student loans.  For one, she says it's like the housing bubble — lots of debt, a product of decreasing value, and the taxpayer on the hook.  That may be right, but is she asking the government to step in and regulate a market? Regardless of what she thinks needs to happen on that front, Shlafly follows  with the argument that college loans are discriminatory:

The entire structure of college loans is discriminatory. It forces people who don't want or are not able to go to college or who work to pay their own way, to contribute taxes to support those who go to college at other people's expense, often at pricey elite colleges.

I, for the life of me, can't make sense of this claim.  First, the taxes don't support these people. The tax money just guarantees their loan — if they can't pay it back, then the taxes are used.  But that's not discrimination, that's just taxes for services.  I pay taxes for services others use, but that's not unfair… that's civilization.  Second, the argument seems to go that because these taxpayers either don't want to or can't go to college, paying taxes so others can discriminates against them.  Not clear why.  If they don't want to, then they're not being discriminated against, and if they can't, it likely is because of some desideratum of selection (e.g., scores, grades, aptitude).  That's not discrimination in the sense that's necessary for this to be a moral claim.  NS readers, any ideas?

Oh, and don't miss the populism shot with "pricey elite colleges"! 

Ad rockstarium

I think it's worthwhile to keep track of the ways the sides in a debate try to paint the character of the other.  Sometimes, it is simple observations about what kind of person would hold such and such a view, other times, it's about what kind of person would be blind to evidence of such and such degrees of obviousness.  Often, it's mere rhetorical window-dressing, and often enough, it's direct ad hominem.  I've been keen on the recent presidential character-painting.  Romney's a robot (a very funny meme) or vulture-capitalist, Obama's either a socialist-totalitarian or a decent but unqualified doofus.  These all seem fine to me, at least in the sense that they're at least capable of being put in the service of evaluating the character of the person who's to be the President of the United States and the Commander in Chief.  Who occupies the office matters, so character evaluation is relevant. 

One line of argument that I don't see the point of, though, is what I've come to call the ad rockstarium argument against Barack Obama.  Mark Steyn at National Review Online runs it in his recent "Our Celebrity President."  Here's the basics from Steyn:

Last week, the republic’s citizen-president passed among his fellow Americans. Where? Cleveland? Dubuque? Presque Isle, Maine? No, Beverly Hills. These days, it’s pretty much always Beverly Hills or Manhattan, because that’s where the money is. That’s the Green Zone, and you losers are outside it.

As I can gather, here's how the argument runs:

1) The President goes to fundraisers in California and New York, not Middle America.

2) You live in Middle America

So: The president isn't interest in you or your money. Well… maybe your money.  How much you got?

Steyn goes on:

It’s true that moneyed celebrities in, say, Pocatello or Tuscaloosa have not been able to tempt the president to hold a lavish fundraiser in Idaho or Alabama, but he does fly over them once in a while.

That's right!  He went to the 'fly-over' line.  OK, so if I'm right that some evaluations of character are relevant, does this one count as one?  I don't think so, as the issue isn't whether Obama is popular and adored but whether he's the kind of person who can be trusted with policy decisions.  I think the best that this line of evaluation can do is say that Obama is a rockstar, and rockstars do things differently from you…  I'll be trying to keep up with more of the rockstarium argument as the campaign goes on.  Any help on seeing how the line is relevant?  Is it a form of upside down ad populum: he's not like us, so he's wrong?

Troll feeding

The injunction against feeding trolls is one part logical and one part rhetorical. 

The logical part consists in the implication that feeding the troll misrepresents the troll's contributions.  In addressing a troll's view one implies that it strongly represents the dialetical situation, when, in fact, it doesn't (largely because the troll doesn't himself believe his on view)–Iron manning, in other words (making the troll appear stronger than he is). This is a variation on the injunction against weak manning: picking on trolls is nut picking,

Rhetorically, addressing trollish criticism puts one on the defensive.  One isn't making one's argument so much as defending oneself against criticism.  The public mind can only listen for so long, so chances are your responding to trolls diminishes your ability to make your own arguments.

Advantage trolls.  The advantage is especially acute nowadays, because the intellectual side of one of the two parties in our lovely two-party system consists almost entirely in trolls.  Someone ought to explain this to this guy:

Of course, not all right-wing pundits spew hate. But the ones who do are the ones we liberals dependably aggrandize. Consider the recent debate over whether employers must cover contraception in their health plans. The underlying question — should American women receive help in protecting themselves from unwanted pregnancies? — is part of a serious and necessary national conversation.

Any hope of that conversation happening was dashed the moment Rush Limbaugh began his attacks on Sandra Fluke, the young contraceptive advocate. The left took enormous pleasure in seeing Limbaugh pilloried. To what end, though? Industry experts noted that his ratings actually went up during the flap. In effect, the firestorm helped Limbaugh do his job, at least in the short term.

But the real problem isn’t Limbaugh. He’s just a businessman who is paid to reduce complex cultural issues to ad hominem assaults. The real problem is that liberals, both on an institutional and a personal level, have chosen to treat for-profit propaganda as news. In so doing, we have helped redefine liberalism as an essentially reactionary movement. Rather than initiating discussion, or advocating for more humane policy, we react to the most vile and nihilistic voices on the right.

He's right on the rhetorical points, but on the logical point, Limbaugh and his ilk represent current Republican thinking in both style and substance.  Being high-minded about them, I think, just leaves their arguments unanswered.  Answering their arguments cedes rhetorical ground. 

It's a trap.  Anyone know a way out?

Big Boss Man

Michael Bloomberg is the Republican mayor of New York.  He has advocated a ban a gigantic sodas in New York.  This provoked the following reaction from George Will on ABC's "This Week."

STEPHANOPOULOS: And it's not easy. I want to get to one more issue before we go. Michael Bloomberg this week banning the sale of 16 — anything over 16 ounces of soda in movie theaters, restaurants (inaudible) got that ad right there in the New York Times. It says he's the nanny. And, George, I got to — I got to confess, the minute I heard about this plan from — from Michael Bloomberg, the first person I thought about was you…

(CROSSTALK)

WILL: Let me read you what Michael Bloomberg said, because in one sentence, he's got the essence of contemporary liberalism, that is something preposterous and something sinister. Listen to this. We're not taking away anyone's right to do things. Could have fooled me. We're simply forcing you to understand. Now, that's modern liberalism, the delight in bossing people around, the kind of irritable gesture that'll have no public…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it is a massive problem, George. Obesity is a problem across the country.

WILL: Of course it is. And regulating the size of these drinks at some outlets will do nothing about it. By the way, the sale of sugary, carbonated sodas has fallen 24 percent since 1990. The American people are getting the word on this. But what this really says is — what Bloomberg is saying, the government helps with your health care, the government's implicated in your health, therefore, we own you, therefore, the government can fine-tune all the decisions you make pertinent to your health.

Bloomberg, again, is a Republican.  How his behavior expresses the "essence of liberalism" is a mystery.  What it does express is the fact that many laws entail "bossing people around."  As a matter of very obvious fact, the law is a kind of big boss person, who tells you how fast to drive, to wear a seatbelt, or a helmet, or to have a child safety seat, or not to drive drunk, or to pull over for emergency vehicles, or any other of the hundreds of very bossy rules about driving, walking, and riding.  Some people, Republicans, also try to use it to tell you which person you can marry, or which words you can use on TV (could go on, but why bother?)

Will then finds that the Republican soda plan is just like climate change:

WILL: But this is one of the reasons liberals are so enamored of the issue of climate change. They say all our behavior in some way affects the climate. Therefore, the government — meaning, we, liberals, the party of government — can fine-tune all your behavior right down to the light bulb