While reading Aquinas on War for a history of medieval philosophy class, I stopped over this gem:

Secondly, a man may be deceived by what we say or do, because we do not declare our purpose or meaning to him. Now we are not always bound to do this, since even in the Sacred Doctrine many things have to be concealed, especially from unbelievers, lest they deride it, according to Matthew 7:6: “Give not that which is holy, to dogs.” Wherefore much more ought the plan of campaign to be hidden from the enemy. For this reason among other things that a soldier has to learn is the art of concealing his purpose lest it come to the enemy’s knowledge, as stated in the Book on Strategy [Stratagematum i, 1 by Frontinus. Such like concealment is what is meant by an ambush which may be lawfully employed in a just war.

I suppose the idea of an ambush is not particularly inapt in argument–one might argue for a more palatable proposition only to reveal that the argument applies to something the listener finds less palatable.  So you thought I was arguing for vegetarianism but I was really arguing against abortion!

I’m not sure, however, whether this is the same thing.  One the one hand, the context of the ambush would suggest as much–an ambush is no good unless you attack.  On the other, hiding your view from scrutiny is the very opposite of engagement, that is, the very opposite of argument.

Bring out the big guns

Perhaps some of you have heard of the Harvard Business Professor, Ben Edelman, who went to war over a four dollar overcharge.  If not, here’s the story (from

Last week, Edelman ordered what he thought was $53.35 worth of Chinese food from Sichuan Garden’s Brookline Village location.

Edelman soon came to the horrifying realization that he had been overcharged. By a total of $4.

If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a Harvard Business School professor thinks a family-run Chinese restaurant screwed him out of $4, you’re about to find out.

(Hint: It involves invocation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute and multiple threats of legal action.)

Read the rest, it’s hilarious (and not the first time this guy did this).

This raises a lot of questions, one of which is whether he needed all of that argument to make that point.  Let’s presume, for the sake of our own  argument, that he’s not wrong.  It’s clearly not worth his time to complain.  But maybe a word or two to point out the restaurant’s error.

Nonetheless, even granted the correctness of his claim, the over sized argument (again, however correct) makes me wonder what the nature of the injustice of argumentative disproportionality is.  He just doesn’t need that much argument to make his case.

This reminds me of a talk I once saw where the speaker brought out the theoretical big guns in order to explain (and reject I guess) the garden variety racism of some local politician.  Yes, you can use Foucault to do that, but do you really need that much?

Tortured logic

We’ve been out of commission for a while with our day jobs.  Now that vacation is almost here, let’s try to get back in the swing of things.

First, an assignment: let’s everyone think about torture–namely, the tortured arguments for it.  My favorite is the one that it’s not torture if we practice it on our own personnel.  So, for instance, if we demonstrate water torture boarding to someone, as an example of torture, it’s ipso fatso not torture, because we did it.  For, after all, anything we do cannot be torture, duh.

Here it is:

KRAUTHAMMER: You know, I’m in the midst of writing a column for this week, which is exactly on that point. Some people on the right have faulted me because in that column that you cite I conceded that waterboarding is torture. Actually, I personally don’t think it is cause it’s an absurdity to have to say the United States of America has tortured over 10,000 of its own soldiers because its, you know, it’s had them waterboarded as a part of their training. That’s an absurd sentence. So, I personally don’t think it is but I was willing to concede it in the column without argument exactly as you say to get away from the semantic argument, which is a waste of time and to simply say call it whatever you want. We know what it is. We know what actually happened. Should it have been done and did it work? Those are the only important questions.

I reread this a bunch of times (then and again now), thinking I had to have misinterpreted Krauthammer.  I don’t think I have.  Water torture isn’t torture because we use it on our own soldiers to demonstrate torture.

In case one thinks that this is a one-off argument uttered in haste, here’s former CIA chief Michael Hayden yesterday:

“It prompts the anti-drowning reflex in an individual. I’m sure it’s horrible, but it was also horrible for tens of thousands of American airmen whom we used it against for their training.”

So, assignment time, what’s your favorite WTF argument for torture?  There should be some kind of chart–oh, there is!

Here’s the torture report for reference.