Category Archives: Red Herring

The group of non group members

The other day we were treated to the poorly reasoned opinions of culture warrior and disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Christian Legal Society versus Martinez.  Today there is a much more thoughtful discussion (by law professor Jonathan Turley), though one which reaches the same basic conclusion as Gingrich.  A reminder again of the main issue:

The case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, has the potential to resolve a long-standing conflict between two of the most cherished American traditions: equality and nondiscrimination on one hand and the free exercise of religion on the other. The United States has taken great strides in recent years to protect people from discrimination — including hate speech, unfair hiring practices and unequal treatment under the law. But to some, such gains in equality have come at a price. Religious groups that discriminate — confining their membership to the faithful and those who share their views — say they are being penalized.

This specific controversy began at Hastings, part of the University of California, when CLS members asked to become a registered student organization. With that designation, the group could apply for certain funding, send mass e-mails to the student body and participate in an activities fair, among other perks. Hastings said no. The school concluded that because the CLS bylaws barred non-Christians, gays and non-celibate students from serving as officers or voting members, the group violated the school's ban on discrimination "on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation." The CLS could still meet on campus but could not be a registered club unless it opened its membership to all, even those who didn't subscribe to its beliefs. The group challenged the school, and lower courts supported the Hastings policy as a neutral rule applying equally to all groups.

Members of the American Philosophical Association recently debated whether it ought to post job announcements without comment for schools (usually conservative Christian ones) that violate the APA's policies on discrimination against homosexuals (and others) in hiring.  As the debate was among philosophers, hilarity ensued.  See that discussion here.

Turley's argument is ultimately a pragmatic one–the state's interest in fostering association ought to override its concerns about discrimination in particular cases of associating.  This is not an unreasonable position, but I still think it's weak.  He writes:

CLS v. Martinez is a close and difficult case. The court has to weigh fostering diversity of views vs. combating discrimination. The nation benefits when citizens form groups and advance their ideas. Tax-exempt status is even given to groups to encourage association and free speech — important pillars of our society. We cannot pick and choose between groups if we are to allow for pluralism.

The same is true with college groups. A campus offers a cradle of free speech where students can form organizations that foster the exchange of ideas and values. Supporting such groups should not be viewed as endorsing their beliefs but rather as encouraging associations. And as the court stated in Roberts v. United States Jaycees in 1984, "Freedom of association . . . plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate."

While there are strong arguments for upholding the Hastings policy, the CLS was effectively denied recognition because of its religious views — a troubling practice that could easily extend to other groups. For example, some Muslims following Wahabi principles insist that women must be covered and sit separately from men. Likewise, some Orthodox groups such as Hasidic Jews mandate areas divided by gender and require strict dress codes. To insist that Wahabi or Hasidic groups allow anyone to join, including gay and non-conforming members, would create an obvious problem.

Schools can still adopt a nondiscriminatory policy by funding either all or no student groups. That was the choice the Supreme Court gave the University of Virginia in its Rosenberger decision in 1995, after the school refused to pay for publications for religious organizations on campus: Fund all or none.

The question in the current case is where to draw the line. Schools such as Hastings are legitimately barred from discrimination in hiring and promotions. However, barring student organizations based on their religious views puts the state in the position of bestowing favored and unfavored status on groups.

We need to accept that certain forms of government support are meant to foster associations generally and should not turn on the insular views of any particular group. For example, tax exemption should aim to encourage citizens to participate in our society through groups that deepen public debate. These associations not only help individuals define their own values, they also protect the pluralism that defines our nation.

Such neutrality does not mean discrimination is a protected religious right, allowing the faith-based Ku Klux Klan, for example, to engage in public acts of racial hatred. Groups can still be punished for criminal threats, and laws still prohibit discrimination based on race, gender and national origin.

I think we end with a red herring here: no one has suggested CLS has criminal intentions, and we can suppose that the usual criminal laws apply.

The question is another one: does the university have to fund religious groups that discriminate on the basis of sex, race, sexual orientation, gender and so forth?  That's what CLS wants to do.  And therefore an affirmative response for CLS means that discrimination is a protected religious right.

 If CLS wins, then they can engage in "public acts of discrimination" on the basis of sexual orientation (would that be "public acts of sexual orientation hatred"?): imagine the group email on the law school listserve: "come and join CLS as we pray away the gay–no gays or fornicators allowed."

The ____r is now the ____d

Richard Cohen watches too many movies.  For the basis of his op-ed on torture is the ticking time bomb scenario:

Call him Ishmael.

Call him a terrorist or a suicide bomber or anything else you want, but understand that he is willing — no, anxious — to give his life for his cause. Call him also a captive, and know that he works with others as part of a team, like the Sept. 11 hijackers, all of whom died, willingly. Ishmael is someone I invented, but he is not a far-fetched creation. You and I know he exists, has existed and will exist again. He is the enemy.

Now he is in American custody. What will happen? How do we get him to reveal his group's plans and the names of his colleagues? It will be hard. It will, in fact, be harder than it used to be. He can no longer be waterboarded. He knows this. He cannot be deprived of more than a set amount of sleep. He cannot be beaten or thrown up against even a soft wall. He cannot be threatened with shooting or even frightened by the prospect of an electric drill. Nothing really can be threatened against his relatives — that they will be killed or sexually abused.

He knows the new restrictions. He knows the new limits. He may even suggest to his interrogators that their jobs are on the line — that the Justice Department is looking over their shoulders. The tape is running. Everything is being recorded. He is willing to give up his life. Are his interrogators willing to give up their careers? He laughs.

This is really beginning to sound like a joke: the uber terrorist (played, believably, by Maori actor, Cliff Curtis), who knows our legal system and its "rights" so that his sneering makes Cohen's blood run cold.  What about that guy, he wonders, what about that guy?  

Well, I'll tell you what about that guy.  He is the basis of Cohen's "hard case" moral lesson.  A "hard case" should you wonder is a notion used by philosophers of law to think about the limits of general rules and such.  But it also sounds like the title of a legal-themed adult movie, which is closer to Cohen's point anyway.  Here's the moral lesson:

This business of what constitutes torture is a complicated matter. It is further complicated by questions about its efficacy: Does it sometimes work? Does it never work? Is it always immoral? What about torture that saves lives? What if it saves many lives? What if one of those lives is your child's?

Deep thinking.  What if blowing up a planet deep in space with creatures uniquely able to suffer pain infinitely saved your child?  Would you do it?  Well, would you?

In case you weren't shocked by your own willingness to torture people to save "many lives" or "your baby," maybe you'll be impressed by a little bit of absurd moral equivalence:

Attorney General Eric Holder has named a special prosecutor to see whether any of the CIA's interrogators broke the law. Special prosecutors are often themselves like interrogators — they don't know when to stop. They go on and on because, well, they can go on and on. One of them managed to put Judith Miller of The New York Times in jail — a wee bit of torture right there. No CIA interrogator can feel safe. The interrogators are about to be interrogated. 

No seriously, I didn't alter that at all.  He really wrote that.  We have reached new levels of badness here.  Skipping to the end:

The questions of what constitutes torture and what to do with those who, maybe innocently, applied what we now define as torture have to be removed from the political sphere. They cannot be the subject of an ideological tug of war, both sides taking extreme and illogical positions — torture never works, torture always works, torture is always immoral, torture is moral if it saves lives. Torture always is ugly. So, though, is the hole in the ground where the World Trade Center once stood.  

First you get a little bit of the "who's to say. . . in this complex modern world of ours" argument–call it the self-serving pseudo skeptical argument.  Then Cohen converts it into a full-tilt "both sides" are wrong, there must be some middle ground.  Top this off with an almost full tilt ever since 9/11 I've been enraged by Chappaquiddick

The long argument

There seem to me to be a number of good arguments for a health care system not unlike one that works.  Ours it not one that works at its primary job–delivering health care.  It seems rather its primary job is restricting it and rationing it on the basis of employment, wealth, or oddly, extreme (and undesirable) poverty.  That leaves people in a bind, of sorts.  If they're extremely wealthy (against all misfortune), it doesn't matter; if they're extremely poor or above the age of 65, they're covered (partially);  If they get a job that pays enough, they go off medicaid, and so become poor in a different way again; if they aren't rich and old, they will still live with severely restrictive costs; for everyone else, the wheel of fortune (employment) turns round and round: don't even think about starting your own business (you'll lose your benefits!), getting fired, working for an innovative start-up company with no benefits, living in an area with no access to quality health care (it's true folks), or, worst of all, don't even think of getting sick, for you may still go bankrupt anyway.  So those are reasons–sufficient I think–to change our system.  Every other industrialized nation in the world has (1) better health care outcomes; (2) pays not nearly what we already pay per person; (3) covers everyone.  Those are fairly straightforward facts.  The level of direct government involvement in each of these systems varies: a lot in the case of Britain; little in the case of Germany and Switzerland.  It has been established by crushing, boring, Al Gore-style reality, that such systems exist, work, and few of the citizens in those countries would dream of switching them for what we have.  What does this mean?  It means that when folks like Tom Coburn, Senator of Oklahoma, say that it's false that government is the solution, it is right to wonder what the evidence for that view is.  The government has been the solution for everyone else.

Normally here we don't make arguments.  We criticism them.  That of course opens us to the (immature) objection: if you're so smart, etc.  This is not an answer to that criticism–which is too silly to be answered.  Rather, in light of the enormous weight of the evidence in favor of a health care system not unlike one that works (and there many examples of them), we in America have to have a conversation about things like the following:

Obamacare Version 1.0 is dead. The 1,000-page monstrosity that emerged in various editions from Congress was done in by widespread national revulsion not just at its expense and intrusiveness but also at the mendacity with which it is being sold. You don't need a PhD to see that the promise to expand coverage and reduce costs is a crude deception, or that cutting $500 billion from Medicare without affecting care is a fiction.  

Yes, a red herring.  Back in 1993–I remember it well–a criticism of the Clinton plan was that it involved "very long" and "complicated" legislation.  Here is James Fallows' comment (in 1995!) on this argument:

To say that the resulting package of proposals was "too complex" is like saying that an airplane's blueprint is too complicated. The Medicare system is complex. So is every competing health-care-reform plan. Most of the 1,342 pages of Clinton's Health Security Act (which I have read) are either pure legal boilerplate or amendments to existing law. Conventional wisdom now holds that the sheer bulk of the bill guaranteed its failure. The Nafta bill was just as long, and so was the crime bill that passed last summer. If the health bill had been shorter and had not passed, everyone would know that any proposal so sketchy and incomplete never had a chance.

As for the "long" argument:

So I did some number crunching. I threw all my old Technician newspaper columns into Word, removed all paragraph breaks and titles, 12pt. Times New Roman double-spaced and came out to be 342 words/page. I took some representative samples of reports with natural paragraph breaks and section titles, also 12pt. Times New Roman double-spaced, and got between 270 and 300 words/page. Online you’ll find that an average book has between 200 and 250 words/page. I even went and compiled some quick and dirty statistics on the Harry Potter books, which average 255 words/page [no, I didn't control for publishing format, just wanted some quick numbers].

For H.R. 3200, I went and found the number of words per page for 20 random pages throughout the bill. The numbers ranged from 104 word/page to 215 words/page, for an average of about 159 words/page for the 1,036 page health care bill.

If we take these figures for more commonly found page formatting (342, 300, 270, 255, 250 words/page) and translate that to the health care bill, we’d have a bill that is between 485 pages to 663 pages, for an average length of 592 pages.

The last five books in the Harry Potter series have page lengths of roughly 448, 752, 870, 652, and 784. Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel hardcover clocks in at 512 pages. War and Peace is over 1200. Atlas Shrugged is about 1200 pages too.

Take that Randians–Atlas Shrugged is longer than the health care bill!  Who could possibly be expected to read it?

In the end, I think it would be nice to have a conversation about reality, but perhaps in the meantime, we can avoid debating about whether a bill is "complicated" (of course it is to some degree, but geez), or "long".  Those are just silly red herrings.

Insured by Smith and Wesson

I think bringing guns to a town hall meeting about health care makes no sense at all (unless you're on your way to Afghanistan or Iraq, or police duty, or something like that, and have no where to put your gun(s).).  The people bringing the guns, however, seem to do so to make a point about freedom–freedom for guns, I suppose.  But we were talking about health care, so I don't get it.  Despite the ravings of several enumerated lunatics, a system of universal health care derived from obligatory taxes is (1) clearly not unconstitutional and (2) it has nothing to do with guns (other than fixing the wounds caused by them).  Finally, few people want to argue with the guy with an assault rifle.  Maybe that's the point.  If it is, poo-poo on the gun toters for trying to intimidate people.    

Having said that, Now here's a crappy argument from E.J.Dionne against the bringing of guns:

The Obama White House purports to be open to the idea of guns outside the president's appearances. "There are laws that govern firearms that are done state or locally," Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said on Tuesday. "Those laws don't change when the president comes to your state or locality."

Gibbs made you think of the old line about the liberal who is so open-minded he can't even take his own side in an argument.

What needs to be addressed is not the legal question but the message that the gun-toters are sending.

[For the record, I can't find the transcript of this remark, so I can't tell what question was asked]  Dionne mocks Gibbs' (political) answer in one paragraph, and then affirms it in the second one.  It's not a legal question, obviously; the people with the guns were not violating the law (it's up to local law enforcement to maintain order, etc.).  As another political matter, by the way, Gibbs knows (I guess) that had he said, "shame on the gun people," we would be talking about that, and not, for instance, health care.  I can think of an example of where someone said something about a white guy with a gun and our liberal media changed the subject from health care (any subject but that) to the white guy with a gun–care to guess what I'm talking about anyone?

Along those lines, Dionne wants to do the same thing:

On the contrary, violence and the threat of violence have always been used by those who wanted to bypass democratic procedures and the rule of law. Lynching was the act of those who refused to let the legal system do its work. Guns were used on election days in the Deep South during and after Reconstruction to intimidate black voters and take control of state governments.

Yes, I have raised the racial issue, and it is profoundly troubling that firearms should begin to appear with some frequency at a president's public events only now, when the president is black. Race is not the only thing at stake here, and I have no knowledge of the personal motivations of those carrying the weapons. But our country has a tortured history on these questions, and we need to be honest about it. Those with the guns should know what memories they are stirring.

I remember seeing a black guy with an AR-15 (that's an assault rifle of sorts).  Besides, I wouldn't expect someone inclined to bring a gun to a debate about health care had in mind the vaguely relevant question of civil rights.  As in the other case, this is not what it seems.

The gun guys and gals, I imagine, want to change the subject from the content of the debate inside of the hall, to the fact that someone had a gun outside of it.  They're as silly as the ravings of the "Obama wants to ration toilet paper set."  Let's ignore them.

Dubious is as dubious does

Apparently, John's latest foray into the entangling brambles of Will's global warming denial struck a chord.  In particular, his questioning the expertise of Will and Mark Steyn to one, deny global warming, and two, to properly adjudicate what qualifies as adequate evidence for their denials seemed to have aroused the ire of none less than Steyn himself. To wit:

In a column about "the environment" the other day, George Will quoted yours truly, and has received a lot of grief ever since for relying on a notorious know-nothing.

As he should.  Part of constructing a refutation of a given position is making sure the expertise of the sources one cites in said refutation is commensurate to level of expertise one is seeking to refute.  In short, you don't go ask a carpenter to cut you a porterhouse.  But rather than acknowledge the dubious nature of his source, Steyn lapses into some dubious rhetorical trickery of his own, quoting Thomas Friedman's (neatly deprived of context) admonition to further reduce carbon footprints, then providing a picture of Friedman's ample estate. The conclusion we're meant to draw?

Well, obviously, being a renowned expert, Thomas Friedman, like Al Gore and the Prince of Wales, needs a supersized carbon footprint.

Ah, yes.  They're all hypocrites.  We've touched on this favorite hobby horse of the global warming deniers before (here and here).  What we said then bears repeating now.  Al Gore, Thomas Friedman and a whole host of pocket-mulching hippies could be the biggest hypocrites that ever walked the face of the earth: they drive the biggest trucks, own the biggest houses, fly to conferences in jets fueled with Ozone Penentrator 2.0 while tossing styrofoam plates out of the plane and it would not matter one whit, in so far as the facts of global warming are concerned.  But you see, it's always easier to attack the arguer than the argument. Moreover, Steyn's not done reasoning like a lazy freshman:

But you don't [need a huge carbon footprint]- you can get by beating your laundry on the rocks down by the river with the native women all day long.

"Environmentalism" is a government restraint on economic advance and, therefore, social mobility. In other words, it's a way to ensure you'll never live like Tom Friedman.

Maybe it's just the fact that I've misplaced my tinfoil hat, but a more bizarre and unwarranted conclusion, I cannot imagine.  Especially in light of the fact that governments the world over have long been among the most vehement opponents of environmental movement.  Of particular note, our own.

Rational allocation

George Will has seen why health care in the US costs so much, and it is (the) US (government).  He writes:

The president says that the health-care market "has not worked perfectly." Indeed. Only God, supposedly, and Wrigley Field, actually, are perfect. Anyway, given the heavy presence of government dollars (46 percent of health-care dollars) and regulations, the market, such as it is, is hardly free to work.

As market enthusiasts, conservatives should stop warning that the president's reforms will result in health-care "rationing." Every product, from a jelly doughnut to a jumbo jet, is rationed — by price or by politics. The conservative's task is to explain why price is preferable. The answer is that prices produce a rational allocation of scarce resources.

Blaming the government for the high cost of health care comes out of left field (that's a baseball metaphor) in this piece.  Will has in other words done nothing to establish that claim.  He has argued that Americans spend more on health care–the only reason he has given is this:

Today the portion of income consumed by those four has barely changed — 55 percent. But the health-care component has increased while the other three combined have decreased. This is partly because as societies become richer, they spend more on health care — and symphonies, universities, museums, etc.  

He hasn't addressed two very obvious objections to this: (1) just about every other advanced society pays less for health care and gets more (every citizen covered, better overall outcomes) and (2) paying more for health care does not entail getting more: A "free market" for health care services, in other words, may not produce the most rational outcomes.  That "truism" may not be so true.  And besides, very few people would really view their needs for basic health care as they would Cubs' tickets. 

All of this amounts to a subtle change of subject: let's not talk about (1) the uninsured, (2) the under-insured, (3) the insured but not for long, (4) the limitations of employer-based insurance on the lives of people, (5) the devastating effects of health care related bankruptcy (for people with and without insurance), (6) the empirically verifiable existence of vastly superior systems, (7) the rationing of health care to people who pay tons for it in a "free market," and (7) much more.  Let's instead talk about the glory of choices in the free market–shiny things, in other words:

Your next car can cost less if you forgo GPS, satellite radio, antilock brakes, power steering, power windows and air conditioning. You can shop for such a car at your local Studebaker, Hudson, Nash, Packard and DeSoto dealers.

Keep that in mind, folks, next time you're "free market shopping" for health care.

Morally hazardrous

Health care is the topic of the day.  People seem to agree that 46 million people don't have any at all.  People also tend to forget that having health insurance is not necessarily protection against going into bankruptcy.  For that matter, having health insurance for many does not entail they will get better care than those without, or any care at all.  It is generally agreed, however, that Americans spend more and get less per dollar than their counterparts in other developed nations.  That doesn't worry Robert Samuelson, however.  Nor does he bother to mention that astounding fact.  He writes:

How much healthier today's uninsured would be with that coverage is unclear. They already receive health care — $116 billion worth in 2008, estimates Families USA, an advocacy group. Some is paid by the uninsured themselves (37 percent), some by government and charities (26 percent). The remaining "uncompensated care" is either absorbed by doctors and hospitals or shifted to higher private insurance premiums. Some uninsured would benefit from coverage, but others wouldn't. Either they're healthy (40 percent are between ages 18 and 34) or would get ineffective care

The claim–how much healthier would the uninsured be–is quickly replaced by financial observations on how much care they do receive and who pays (and, oddly, whether this care would be any good).  That, I think, is misleading.  Certainly, uninsured teenagers who never have accidents and don't get sick wouldn't benefit at all from health care, but we're not talking about health care, we're talking about health insurance.  Not having health insurance is different from not having access to health care.  Most Americans, as John Stossel once pointed out (see "Is America Still Number One?"–the answer, would you believe it, was "yes"), have access to the best health care in the world (!!!).  Too bad, however, the question regarded whether they or anyone could pay for it.  To that, the answer is "obviously not."   

Aside from the red-herring like shift in topics, Samuelson abuses the quantifier "some."  Indeed, some–those who don't get hurt–would not benefit from coverage.  For the past three years I was one who benefited not from coverage.  Yet about a week ago, fate had it that I would begin to need to benefit.  You never really know when that will be.  A friend of mine in graduate school was young, healthy and uninsured.  A headache one day cost him 25,000 dollars.  

Just saying

Today, I think we have a pretty straightforward case of "red herring."  This fallacy is classically described as occurring when one changes the subject of argument in order to derail criticism.  The red herring is another instance of the "no-inference-being-explicitly-drawn" kind of fallacy.  I think that's the trick that works on the mind of the red herring monger and the red herring.  The red herring monger isn't drawing any kind of illegitimate inference, "he's just saying." Let's take a look:

It began with the release of the Justice Department memos — a move opposed by CIA Director Leon Panetta along with four previous directors. Then, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. did not rule out Justice Department cooperation with foreign lawsuits against American intelligence operatives. Then, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the CIA of lying to her in 2002 about waterboarding, which she admitted learning about five months later anyway but did nothing to oppose because her real job was to "change the leadership in Congress and in the White House."

To stanch the CIA's bleeding morale, Democrats have tried reassurance. President Obama, speaking at CIA headquarters, took the Fred Rogers approach: "Don't be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we've made some mistakes. That's how we learn." Yes, children, hypocritical congressional investigations and foreign kangaroo courts are really our friends. House intelligence committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes sent a sympathy note to Langley: "In recent days, as the public debate regarding CIA's interrogation practices has raged, you have been very much in my thoughts." There should be a section at Hallmark for intelligence operatives unfairly accused of war crimes.

That's the very Christian Michael Gerson, former Bush Speechwriter, who is beginning to sound like the very spiteful Charles Krauthammer.  Some Democrats (and some Republicans–no mention of them here) have leveled criticism of CIA methods and practices.  That's democracy, I think.  The question now is whether that criticism is deserved or not.  Did the CIA participate in war crimes?  I would like to know the answer to that question.  Did the CIA mislead the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United States of America?  That would be good to know.  But alas.  No such luck.  Michael Gerson is not interested in those questions at all, actually.

For he's worried about the effect on CIA morale that such criticism might have.  He is also concerned as to why Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, didn't say anything (she couldn't) about the secret briefing at the time. 

Those are all great concerns, I think, but they aren't really what we're talking about.  Did the CIA, under orders from someone, commit war crimes?  No amount of what-did-Nancy Pelosi-know-and-when-did-she-know-it ought to distract us from that very simple question. 

Diminished mental capacity

Kathleen Parker concern trolls on behalf of homophobic Christian ministers:

When whites lynched blacks with the tacit approval of the state, the entire African American community was terrorized. No one can pretend otherwise. It is this immeasurable horror that hate-crimes laws attempt to address by adding another layer of punishment to the primary crime.

What fair-minded person could object? On the other hand, how do we read the minds of our worst actors? Is it possible to say conclusively that these killers were motivated by hate to the exclusion of other potentially confounding factors?

These are legitimate questions that deserve rational debate without the dueling rants of hyperbole and outrage. Ultimately, that debate leads to free-speech issues — especially religious speech — and the real crux of the opposition.

Some conservative groups worry that hate-crimes laws might lead to restrictions on churches or other religious organizations' freedom to quote Scripture that might be deemed hateful toward gays. Might a passionate preacher's invocation of, say, Leviticus 20:13, which condemns homosexual behavior, be interpreted as conspiracy to commit a hate crime?

In fact, the legislation applies when a physical assault or attempted murder takes place. And, so far, the First Amendment still protects the rights of even the Rev. Fred Phelps to take his "God Hates Fags" show on the road.

But in a country where eating Twinkies can be a defense for murder — and a Miss USA contestant can be publicly denounced as a "dumb bitch" for saying that marriage should be between a man and a woman — stranger things are sure to happen.

As an operating principle, meanwhile, it seems wiser to hear and see the haters rather than criminalize their thoughts and banish them to the underground where their demons can fester and where no law can breach their purpose

There's a neat collection of straightforward fallacies here.  In the first place, there is the oft-repeated objection that bias crimes involve an impossible form of "mind reading."  That is just dumb.  "Intentional murder" involves mind reading.  

Second, that the existence of hate crimes laws will ultimately (that's the word that indicates the bottom of the slippery slope–here a fallacious one) inhibit religious speech is just crazy.  Hate crimes laws, as the very name makes clear, involve crimes.  Click here for the FBI page on hate crimes.

That–the alleged slope–completes the red herring–the bait and switch.  For the initial point of the piece regarded including crimes against homosexuals (and others) in hate crimes laws.  Including them seems perfectly reasonable.  It has nothing to do, as Parker even seems to admit without realizing it, with people's "thoughts" (taken by themselves).  Non-existent restrictions on free speech, in other words, are not the issue at all.  On account of that obvious fact, we don't need to worry about "criminalizing" anyone's thoughts.  

Finally, it's ludicrous (and just plain baffling) to group the (not actually real) "Twinkie defense" (supposedly used to justify the murder of Harvey Milk and George Moscone in San Francisco) and the completely reasonable negative public reaction to a beauty contest's lame and ignorant defense of opposite marriage.  She made a contentious point about what rights certain people should have–many have objected to her reasoning.  She's a public figure and ought to expect that.  

One more thing, however, about the murderer of Harvey Milk.  The jury, reading the defendents mind, found him unable to have engaged in premeditated murder on account of diminished mental capacity. 

On the pier

Some military types together penned an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing against gays in the military.  Some of their arguments are manifestly absurd–like this one:

And the damage would not stop there. Legislation introduced to repeal Section 654 (H.R. 1283) would impose on commanders a radical policy that mandates "nondiscrimination" against "homosexuality, or bisexuality, whether the orientation is real or perceived." Mandatory training classes and judicial proceedings would consume valuable time defining that language. Team cohesion and concentration on missions would suffer if our troops had to live in close quarters with others who could be sexually attracted to them.

We don't need a study commission to know that tensions are inevitable in conditions offering little or no privacy, increasing the stress of daily military life. "Zero tolerance" of dissent would become official intolerance of anyone who disagrees with this policy, forcing additional thousands to leave the service by denying them promotions or punishing them in other ways. Many more will be dissuaded from ever enlisting. There is no compelling national security reason for running these risks to our armed forces. Discharges for homosexual conduct have been few compared with separations for other reasons, such as pregnancy/family hardship or weight-standard violations. There are better ways to remedy shortages in some military specialties than imposing social policies that would escalate losses of experienced personnel who are not easily replaced.

"Nondiscrimation" (in quotes!) sounds odd, to say the least, in the context of an argument arguing for systematic and legalized discrimination against homosexuals.  Aside from its grade C sophistry, this argument repeats the claim uttered by many that their civil rights would be infringed upon if homosexual marriages are legally recognized–a claim made in a recent commercial against gay marriage.  See here for entertaining commentary on that particular advertisement.

On the other merits of the piece, the authors argue many–too many–would leave the military (in a time when we need them all).  The primary cause would seem to be the "forced intimacy" required by military life: 

Section 654 recognizes that the military is a "specialized society" that is "fundamentally different from civilian life." It requires a unique code of personal conduct and demands "extraordinary sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice, in order to provide for the common defense." The law appreciates military personnel who, unlike civilians who go home after work, must accept living conditions that are often "characterized by forced intimacy with little or no privacy." 

Not having been in the military, I can't really attest to that (anyone?).  But one can easily imagine it.  What might be a counter example to this–perhaps the only comprehensible worry on behalf of those afraid of homosexuals, at least the only one the authors mention–might be some other military which allows gays to serve openly.  And indeed there is one, or two or more.  The authors write:

Some suggest that the United States must emulate Denmark, the Netherlands and Canada, which have incorporated homosexuals into their forces. But none of these countries has the institutional culture or worldwide responsibilities of our military. America's armed forces are models for our allies' militaries and the envy of our adversaries — not the other way around. 

They might have just added: those countries, however, serve red herring, a nutritionally deficient form of sustenance, in their MREs.  The question is whether allowing gays in the military–especially in Canada, a country very much like ours, with troops committed overseas in various operations–has affected military service in Canada.  Did mass amounts of people leave the military?  The fact that our military might be the envy of our adversaries is immaterial and irrelevant–unless, of course, they "envy" it's not gayness.