It often happens–every day actually–that people say things I wanted to, only better:

>An annoyance: any discussion of any complex issue in terms of abstract taxonomy at the expense of a careful account of specific people, places, times, motivations, and events. This gives me hives when it pops up in, say, literary criticism, but it really pisses me off in discussions of foreign policy, where the consequences of f***ing up are a lot of dead people.

I would add, of course, specific arguments.

Friday afternoon fun

Slashdot linked to this article by the President of the Czech Republic (corrected 6-16). It’s a treat for the connoisseur of bad argument. First a nice straw man argument.

We are living in strange times. One exceptionally warm winter is enough – irrespective of the fact that in the course of the 20th century the global temperature increased only by 0.6 per cent – for the environmentalists and their followers to suggest radical measures to do something about the weather, and to do it right now.

Not sure what to make of this paragraph. The last sentence seems to hang on a sort of ambiguity–in one sense environmentalists want a sort of “central planning.” But not, it seems, to me in the same sense as communism. Whatever it is, it’s a pretty cheap trick, I think.

As someone who lived under communism for most of his life, I feel obliged to say that I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning.

This paragraph is interesting.

The environmentalists ask for immediate political action because they do not believe in the long-term positive impact of economic growth and ignore both the technological progress that future generations will undoubtedly enjoy, and the proven fact that the higher the wealth of society, the higher is the quality of the environment. They are Malthusian pessimists.

Not sure I see the relevance of the “proven fact,” which, nonetheless, seems plausible to me as a simple generalization, for the problem of global warming. Does this imply that we can simply assume that global warming is not a threat, if it is caused by higher standard of living?

How about this? Perhaps an ignoratio elenchi?

The scientists should help us and take into consideration the political effects of their scientific opinions. They have an obligation to declare their political and value assumptions and how much they have affected their selection and interpretation of scientific evidence.

Should scientists qua scientists really take into consideration the political effects of their scientific opinions (qua scientific opinions)? Even if that’s so, the last sentence is just nutty. But since it has no obvious logical connection to the first sentence (does it follow from the previous one? explain? is it a case of “loosely connected statements?”), we have either, if we take it as an argument, a sort of ignoratio elenchi or red herring, perhaps.

He closes with a series of suggestions that. . .well, my description can’t do them justice. (My favorites are 4 and 5).

  • Small climate changes do not demand far-reaching restrictive measures
  • Any suppression of freedom and democracy should be avoidedc
  • Instead of organising people from above, let us allow everyone to live as he wants
  • Let us resist the politicisation of science and oppose the term “scientific consensus”, which is always achieved only by a loud minority, never by a silent majority
  • Instead of speaking about “the environment”, let us be attentive to it in our personal behaviour
  • Let us be humble but confident in the spontaneous evolution of human society. Let us trust its rationality and not try to slow it down or divert it in any direction
  • Let us not scare ourselves with catastrophic forecasts, or use them to defend and promote irrational interventions
    in human lives.

Let’s get cynical

V.D.Hanson sees right through your pro-immigration stance, university perseffers:

>Most cynical of all, however, are the moralistic pundits, academics and journalists who deplore the “nativism” of Americans they consider to be less-educated yokels. Yet their own jobs of writing, commenting, reporting and teaching are rarely threatened by cheaper illegal workers.

>Few of these well-paid and highly educated people live in communities altered by huge influxes of illegal aliens. In general, such elites don’t use emergency rooms in the inner cities and rural counties overcrowded by illegal aliens. They don’t drive on country roads frequented by those without licenses, registration and insurance. And their children don’t struggle with school curricula altered to the needs of students who speak only Spanish.

Teaching. Cynical.

But perhaps Hanson is on to something, not eve the jobs of the California Republican Party are safe from foreigners.

Fun with logic

Whoever thought logic could be so informative:

>The anatomic and physiologic facts of alimentation and reproduction simply do not change based on any cultural setting. In fact, the logical complementarity of the human sexes has been so recognized in our culture that it has entered our vocabulary in the form of naming various pipe fittings either the male fitting or the female fitting depending upon which one interlocks within the other.

>When the complementarity of the sexes is breached, injuries and diseases may occur as noted above. Therefore, based on the simplest known anatomy and physiology, when dealing with the complementarity of the human sexes, one can simply say, Res ipsa loquitur – the thing speaks for itself!

Les Mis

From Editor and Publisher:

>SECRETARY RICE: Look, let me tell you what I think about Scooter Libby. I think he’s served the country really well. I think he did it to the best of his ability. I think that he is going through an extremely difficult time with his family and for him. And you know, I’m just desperately sorry that it’s happening to him and I — you know, the legal system has spoken, but I tell you, this is a really good guy who is a good public servant and ought to be treated in accordance with that.

I wonder if such feelings of pity are proper for fallen soldiers.

Sanitation technician

Today David Brooks tries to erase any subtlety from the immigration question. The real conflict is between educated globe-trotting elites and local Nascar types. In case you thought that’s the usual silly dichotomy, you’d be right. This time, however, he finds a way to contradict himself and patronize both groups of the dichotomy.

>The conventional view is that an angry band of conservative activists driven by nativism and economic insecurity is killing immigration reform. But this view is wrong in almost every respect.

Three paragraphs of general assertions lead to the following conclusion:

>What’s shaping the immigration debate is something altogether deeper and more interesting. And if you want to understand what it is, start with education. Between 1960 and 1980, the share of Americans enrolled in higher education exploded. The U.S. became the first nation in history with a mass educated class. The members of this class differed from each other in a thousand ways, but they tended to share a cosmopolitan approach to the world. They celebrated cultural diversity and saw ethnocentrism as a sign of backwardness.

No attempt is made to support that claim with any research. Broad, unsupported generalizations–even in the context of a 750 word column–don’t deserve anyone’s serious consideration. If you can’t even point to the right kind of source for that evidence, you probably shouldn’t write it in a newspaper.

Here’s the dichotomy. First, the smart, elite types:

>Liberal members of the educated class celebrated the cultural individualism of the 1960s. Conservative members celebrated the economic individualism of the 1980s. But they all celebrated individualism. They all valued diversity and embraced a sense of national identity that rested on openness and global integration.

Now the yokels:

>This cultural offensive created a silent backlash among people who were not so enamored of rampant individualism, and who were worried that all this diversity would destroy the ancient ties of community and social solidarity. Members of this class came to feel that America’s identity and culture were under threat from people who didn’t understand what made America united and distinct.

But they’re not driven by nativism–they only feel that the ancient ties of solidarity and community of their native culture is under threat from outsiders.


Paul Krugman:

>Here’s a suggestion: Why not evaluate candidates’ policy proposals, rather than their authenticity? And if there are reasons to doubt a candidate’s sincerity, spell them out.


. . . . [C]onsider the case of Fred Thompson. He spent 18 years working as a highly paid lobbyist, wore well-tailored suits and drove a black Lincoln Continental. When he ran for the Senate, however, his campaign reinvented him as a good old boy: it leased a used red pickup truck for him to drive, dressed up in jeans and a work shirt, with a can of Red Man chewing tobacco on the front seat.

>But Mr. Thompson’s strength, says Lanny Davis in The Hill, is that he’s “authentic.”

And also:

>Oh, and as a candidate George W. Bush was praised as being more authentic than Al Gore. As late as November 2005, MSNBC’s chief political correspondent declared that Mr. Bush’s authenticity was his remaining source of strength. But now The A.P. says that Mr. Bush’s lack of credibility is the reason his would-be successors need to seem, yes, authentic.

Even more ridiculous than the politics of “authenticity” (which only applies to Republicans by the way), is the politics of head and shoulders:

Speaking of Mitt Romney’s performance at the debate the other night, the Politico (that’s some kind of blog) writes:

>FIRST PLACE: Mitt Romney

>Analysis: Strong, clear, gives good soundbite and has shoulders you could land a 737 on. Not only knows how to answer a question, but how to duck one. Asked why he was so late in deciding to oppose abortion, Romney smoothly replied: “I’m not going to apologize for the fact that I became pro-life.”

Before the praise for this man’s shoulders, his hair:

>Romney has chiseled-out-of-granite features, a full, dark head of hair going a distinguished gray at the temples, and a barrel chest. On the morning that he announced for president, I bumped into him in the lounge of the Marriott and up close he is almost overpowering. He radiates vigor.

Now the kicker:

>And he can’t wait to stand next to John McCain on a stage and invite comparison. (McCain, who looks less hearty than Romney, was severely injured while fighting for his country as a Naval aviator. Romney never served in the military, though the band at his announcement played both “Anchors Aweigh” and “The Marines’ Hymn.”)

Post tax cuts ergo propter tax cuts

It has become tiresome again to point out the numbskullery of George Will’s arguments. As he often does, today he misrepresents the positions of Bush’s tax cut objectors and asserts that the tax cuts in precisely the way Bush (and Reagan, of course) envision them have made the economy grow.

The first:

>Last Sunday, eight Democratic presidential candidates debated for two hours, saying about the economy . . . next to nothing. You must slog to Page 43 in the 51-page transcript before Barack Obama laments that “the burdens and benefits of this new global economy are not being spread evenly across the board” and promises to “institute some fairness in the system.”

>Well. When in the long human story have economic burdens and benefits been “spread evenly”? Does Obama think they should be, even though talents never are? What relationship of “fairness” does he envision between the value received by individuals and the value added by them? Does he disagree — if so, on what evidence? — with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that “the influence of globalization on inequality has been moderate and almost surely less important than the effects of skill-biased technological change”?

Someone with madder internet skillz than me ought to do a Nexis search for how many times Will writes “Well period” after quoting someone ought of context. I suppose Obama has only those sound bites to offer–no explanation behind them or anything. Just for the record, the complaint about the tax cuts consisted in their uneven distribution. Critics argued that they would have been more effective had people who could spend the money gotten more, and people who don’t spend or don’t need gotten less. That’s the argument–I’m not having it now, so don’t comment on it–so Will ought to deal with that claim. Instead he makes it sound like the Democrats were against any tax cuts or endorsed only the most Robin Hood of tax schemes. Aside from that, he makes it sound like the avoided the topic of the economy at the debate. Well. At the debate, they’re not the ones asking the questions. Besides, the one who did most of the talking was Wolf Blitzer.

The second:

>In the 102 quarters since Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts went into effect more than 25 years ago, there have been 96 quarters of growth. Since the Bush tax cuts and the current expansion began, the economy’s growth has averaged 3 percent per quarter, and more than 8 million jobs have been created. The deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product is below the post-World War II average.

Post tax cuts ergo propter tax cuts.

Philosophy Majors

A former philosophy major writes:

>It’s quite true that would Eli Lake says here is nonsense. That said, BarbinMD at DailyKos takes things too far when she writes: “By the way, did I mention that Lake majored in philosophy in college? Currently writing for the New York Sun, he apparently couldn’t find a job in his chosen field.”

>I majored in philosophy, damnit (so did Spencer Ackerman and Julian Sanchez), and it’s a perfectly good thing for journalists to study. In some ways, I think it’s actually the best thing to study. The job, by its nature, involves trying to quickly learn and write a lot about a wide range of subjects. Under the circumstances, spending your student years trying to master a skill-set that’s completely divorced from knowledge of particular facts is pretty useful. If you’re good at spotting flaws in the arguments constructed by others irrespective of what the topic is, you’ll never lack for things to write about.

Huzzah for the “flaws in arguments” part; whiskey, tango, foxtrot question mark for the “divorced from knowledge of particular facts” part: logic is only one tiny part of philosophy.


So you want to refute–i.e., prove to be false–someone else’s generalization. There’s only one way that I can think of: show that the generalization is false. That means your evidence of its falsity must be as general as the claim itself. Pointing out exceptions to a generalization only demonstrates your inability to grasp one foundational notion of informal reasoning. Two examples of this from our dear friend, George F. Will:

>Once America’s most industrialized city, Newark attracted the attentions of New York mobsters (the movie “On the Waterfront” was filmed on New Jersey docks) whose depredations contributed to the flight of industry just as blacks were arriving from the South. Partly because of the cost that organized crime added to many city contracts, Newark spent twice as much per citizen as did other midsize cities. And the riots came, (redundant) evidence of the problematic nature of attempts to spend one’s way to domestic tranquility.

The first part of this paragraph shows how the spending in Newark was uniquely corrupt. How that then can be evidence for the claim that spending does not equal domestic tranquility baffles: it wasn’t effective spending. Unless, of course, Mr.Will means to refute the view of the person who says: “all social spending–including the corrupt cosa nostra kind–ensures tranquility–and if you find one counterexample, I will be wrong.”

Here’s the second:

>Today, per-pupil spending tops $17,000, which is 75 percent above the national average and a (redundant) refutation of the public education lobby’s not disinterested judgment that in primary and secondary education, cognitive outputs correlate with financial inputs. Seventy percent of Newark’s 11th-graders flunk the state’s math test. Booker says that under the previous mayor’s administration, every elected official sent his or her children to private schools.

Again. That’s hardly a “refutation” of that rule. It’s a counter-example. And perhaps a reminder that not just any money counts. Money well spent counts. I think that’s probably what the rule means.

But in both cases, in order to show the falsity of the generalization being refuted, Mr.Will will have to come up with a more representative counter-example than the city awash in mob corruption (on account, in part, because of its place in global trade–the port of Newark). If he wants actually to say something true, then perhaps he ought to try to do a little non-Heritage foundation research.