Idiot wind

As a general rule, this blog applies the same level of rigor to A-level (nationally syndicated) pundits as its author applies to first year college students in Philosophy 101.  I'm not complaining because someone failed to distinguish between analytical and synthetic a priori judgments.  An introductory course in logic–the ones that often get called "critical thinking" or better "critical reasoning"–ought to be sufficient for both understanding my critiques and avoiding being the subject of them.  

I just felt like saying that.  Anyway.  It appears Kathleen Parker has definitely moved up to the A-level for her criticism of the Palin choice.  This same kind of pundit promotion has happened to a number of former conservatives as well as former supporters of the Iraq war.  Being wrong about some major thing for a long time, it turns out, increases one's credibility in the media world.  I just wanted to say that too.

Back to Parker.  Speaking of Larry Summers, former President of Harvard University and possible pick for Treasury Secretary in the Obama administration, she writes:

Fresh ire aimed at former Harvard University President Larry Summers prompts the question: Shouldn't there be a statute of limitations on dumb things expressed in public?

(Please say yes.)

Forever accursed is the economist and Clinton-era treasury secretary for having raised — more than three years ago — the eensy-weensy possibility that innate differences between men and women might explain in part why more men than women reach the top echelons in math and science.

His comments, though not completely without scientific basis, unleashed a millennium worth of female scorn, making Hell a suddenly attractive destination for the discriminating traveler in search of cooler climes.

Research pointing to male-female differences that could partly explain different career outcomes is available to anyone in search of clues to the gender universe. But let's not go there. The social construct versus hard-wiring debate will continue unabated until the last woman utters: "No, honey, you stay in bed. I'll go see what that noise was."

For these purposes, let's stipulate that Summers said a dumb thing. He didn't, really. Provocative, yes, but it was a question about theory, not an assertion of belief. Impolitic? Without question. Still, we'll call it dumb.

Should said offense forevermore disqualify Summers from public service? Or even public appearances?

President of Harvard or not, Summers had wandered far out of his natural intellectual element in order to speculate on matters without any scientific basis.  He was justly criticized for being lazy and for casting about for genetic explanations for sexual differences in employment and achievement.  Turn back the clock twenty or thirty years, Summers could have made the same remark about female medical doctors.  Turn back the clock maybe five years, and perhaps he could have said the same thing about African American quarterbacks in the NFL.  Why are there so few? He and Rush Limbaugh might wonder.

So it was a dumb thing to say.  Should he be forgiven for it as Parker suggests?  I don't know.  Probably.  But does Parker's assertion of sexual difference in home security measures excuse Summer's thinking that there are signficant and innate differences in mathematical ability?  Nope.

Pile on

There's misspeaking and there's incoherence.  Here's incoherence:

BLITZER: Another question. What are your new ideas on how to take the Republican Party out of this rut that it’s in right now? Give me one or two new ideas that you’re going to propose to these governors who have gathered here in this hotel.

PALIN: Well, a lot of Republican governors have really good ideas for our nation because we’re the ones there on the front lines being held accountable every single day in service to the people whom have hired us in our own states and the planks in our platform are strong and they are good for America. It’s all about free enterprise and respecting the …

BLITZER: Does that mean you want to come up with a new Sarah Palin initiative that you want to release right now.

PALIN: Gah! Nothing specific right now. Sitting here in these chairs that I’m going to be proposing but in working with these governors who again on the front lines are forced to and it’s our privileged obligation to find solutions to the challenges facing our own states every day being held accountable, not being just one of many just casting votes or voting present every once in a while, we don’t get away with that. We have to balance budgets and we’re dealing with multibillion dollar budgets and tens of thousands of employees in our organizations.

Dumbfounding.  Anyone have an interpretation?  Sounds like a literal translation some kind of syntax-challenged computer.

(via Kevin Drum,via The Confabulum, via Hilzoy at Political Animal).


Everyone is familiar with the argument trope which has it that the strongest and most plausible voice of criticism is someone on the side of the one criticized.  This is why people are now listening to the likes of Kathleen Parker, George Will and David Brooks.  Everyone likes a conservative defector (or a liberal defector, as the case may be).  No one likes the ones who were right all along–There must be something wrong with them.  They were just being critical and mean.  Among the heretics of the right is Kathleen Parker, who has graduated from C and B level syndication to the Washington Post on account of her abandoning the blood and soil argument against Barack Obama (does he feel patriotism in his bones, like John McCain?) to the completely justified shock and horror at the possibility that someone as laughably ignorant as Sarah Palin could be seen by her colleagues as a possible President of the United States.  This brings us back to a recurrent theme here at The Non Sequitur.

I was pleased to have been wrong about the extent to which some right wing pundits would be capable of saying almost anything to suport their guy.  This might have been true of them once, and it's certainly true of the people Parker discusses in today's column, but it's no longer true of Parker, Will, or even Brooks.  This doesn't make any of them more deserving of their vaunted posts, but it at least saves them for universal and completely merited ridicule.  

While I was wrong about them, I think the point still stands that the left punditariat (I can't remember who coined that term) does not behave like them.  Here's Parker:

The most common complaint I've heard lately is that when people on the right criticize each other, the left uses that to its advantage. (The right would never do such a thing.) Also, I'm told, the left doesn't eat its own the way the right does.

The alternative to criticizing, several friends have mentioned with perfectly straight faces, is to say nothing at all. Alas, I've always been partial to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who said, "If you haven't got anything good to say about anyone, come and sit by me." Not only is the conversation likely to be livelier, it is also likely to be truer.

Whether assertions about the left's sturdier loyalties are accurate, I can't say. But one could argue that eating one's own — that is, being willing to say what's true even when doing so is not in one's immediate self-interest — is not a defect but rather an imperative that conservatives might wish to claim as their own.

They're obviously not accurate–cheers to Parker for not being sure, jeers to Parker not being sure.  Doesn't she read the opposition?  Seems like a basic requirement.  But then again I've been wrong in the past.

That’s what she said

David Brooks, Sunday, on the state of the conservative movement:

"World of pain," Brooks said. "A generation of pain. 1964, it was so much better than now. In '64, they had a coherent belief system. They lost, they didn't persuade the American people about it, but they understood where they wanted to take the country.

"Now it's just a circular firing squad, with everybody attacking each other, and no coherent belief system, no leaders. You've got half the party waiting for Sarah Palin to come and rescue them. The other half is waiting for Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana governor, to come rescue them. But no set of beliefs. Really a decayed conservative infrastructure. It's just a world of pain.


He added, "[F]undamentally, the conservative movement failed — and I've been in it my entire life — because it hasn't addressed the problems of today."

Maybe the conservative movement needs new advocates

h/t Political Animal.

Teenage Wasteland

Media bias resists simple quantification.  First, it's not clear what "bias" means.  In the case of a contest between two political candidates, it may mean (1) a tendency to measure people by differing standards; or (2) uncritically adopting or repeating the brand identity (Maverick!) of one candidate over another; (3) deliberately ignoring negative things about one candidate; (4) accentuating negative things about one candidate; (5) purposely going negative on one candidate in order to give the appearance of balance (click that link–it's astounding); (6) uncritically assuming background realities (American is a center right nation!) which favor one candidate over another.  I suppose we could go on and on if we wanted to. But you probably get the idea.  Second, bias necessarily implies some kind of content analysis, so counting articles as "negative" or "positive" or op-ed pieces as "laudatory" or "negative" just doesn't do anything to enlighten us about media bias. 

So Debbie Howell, the bumbling Ombudsman (Oh Noes! I called her a name!), sums up the Post's "favoring" Obama in purely quantitative terms.  One simply breaks articles into two groups: negative and positive.  Then count.  She writes:

The Post provided a lot of good campaign coverage, but readers have been consistently critical of the lack of probing issues coverage and what they saw as a tilt toward Democrat Barack Obama. My surveys, which ended on Election Day, show that they are right on both counts.

Ever notice that in discussions of media bias, the accuser catches the bias, but assumes others are not so acute?  Anyway.  Now the numbers:

My assistant, Jean Hwang, and I have been examining Post coverage since Nov. 11 last year on issues, voters, fundraising, the candidates' backgrounds and horse-race stories on tactics, strategy and consultants. We also have looked at photos and Page 1 stories since Obama captured the nomination June 4. Numbers don't tell you everything, but they give you a sense of The Post's priorities.  

I would say they don't tell you anything.  Not to belabor the point, here is an example of Howell's numerological analysis:

The op-ed page ran far more laudatory opinion pieces on Obama, 32, than on Sen. John McCain, 13. There were far more negative pieces (58) about McCain than there were about Obama (32), and Obama got the editorial board's endorsement. The Post has several conservative columnists, but not all were gung-ho about McCain.

Stories and photos about Obama in the news pages outnumbered those devoted to McCain. Post reporters, photographers and editors — like most of the national news media — found the candidacy of Obama, the first African American major-party nominee, more newsworthy and historic. Journalists love the new; McCain, 25 years older than Obama, was already well known and had more scars from his longer career in politics.

The number of Obama stories since Nov. 11 was 946, compared with McCain's 786. Both had hard-fought primary campaigns, but Obama's battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton was longer, and the numbers reflect that.

McCain clinched the GOP nomination on March 4, and Obama won his on June 4. From then to Election Day, the tally was Obama, 626 stories, and McCain, 584. Obama was on the front page 176 times, McCain, 144 times; 41 stories featured both.

Our survey results are comparable to figures for the national news media from a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. It found that from June 9, when Clinton dropped out of the race, until Nov. 2, 66 percent of the campaign stories were about Obama compared with 53 percent for McCain; some stories featured both. The project also calculated that in that time, 57 percent of the stories were about the horse race and 13 percent were about issues.

Counting from June 4, Obama was in 311 Post photos and McCain in 282. Obama led in most categories. Obama led 133 to 121 in pictures more than three columns wide, 178 to 161 in smaller pictures, and 164 to 133 in color photos. In black and white photos, the nominees were about even, with McCain at 149 and Obama at 147. On Page 1, they were even at 26 each. Post photo and news editors were surprised by my first count on Aug. 3, which showed a much wider disparity, and made a more conscious effort at balance afterward.

Some readers complain that coverage is too poll-driven. They're right, but it's not going to change. The Post's polling was on the mark, and in some cases ahead of the curve, in focusing on independent voters, racial attitudes, low-wage voters, the shift of African Americans' support from Clinton to Obama and the rising importance of economic issues. The Post and its polling partner ABC News include 50 to 60 issues questions in every survey instead of just horse-race questions, so public attitudes were plumbed as well.

Ok, that was long and rather silly.  We don't know what those articles said and Powell doesn't seem to care much.  But how would one remedy such evident bias in favor of Obama?  Powell has an idea:

But Obama deserved tougher scrutiny than he got, especially of his undergraduate years, his start in Chicago and his relationship with Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who was convicted this year of influence-peddling in Chicago. The Post did nothing on Obama's acknowledged drug use as a teenager. 

There's always next time. 

They make dessert and call it peas

Today Michael Gerson writes of the "Decency of George W. Bush."  The other day, in a similar vein, some jackass argued that George Bush's approval rating of the nation ought to be taken into account–the nation, the American people, have failed Bush.  It wasn't Bush after all who lost an election in the popular vote and declared and acted as if he had a mandate, who stocked his cabinet with incompetent cronies, who ignored intelligence that could have prevented 9/11, who squandered the good will of the world on belligerent unilateralism, who invaded a country that had not attacked us with no plan for managing the war's inevitable aftermath, who ate cake with John McCain while New Orleans filled with water.  No–all of that must have been the fault of the American people.  Worse than that, all of these things must be the fault of Democrats:

Earlier this year, 12,000 people in San Francisco signed a petition in support of a proposition on a local ballot to rename an Oceanside sewage plant after George W. Bush. The proposition is only one example of the classless disrespect many Americans have shown the president.

[Commentary] AP

According to recent Gallup polls, the president's average approval rating is below 30% — down from his 90% approval in the wake of 9/11. Mr. Bush has endured relentless attacks from the left while facing abandonment from the right.

This is the price Mr. Bush is paying for trying to work with both Democrats and Republicans. During his 2004 victory speech, the president reached out to voters who supported his opponent, John Kerry, and said, "Today, I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust."

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but I can't get over how dumb that is.  That is, I couldn't get over it until I read something even dumber.  Here's Gerson:

Election Day 2008 must have been filled with rueful paradoxes for the sitting president. Iraq — the issue that dominated George W. Bush's presidency for 5 1/2 bitter, controversial years — is on the verge of a miraculous peace. And yet this accomplishment did little to revive Bush's political standing — or to prevent his party from relegating him to a silent role.

The achievement is historic. In 2006, Iraq had descended into a sectarian killing spree that seemed likely to stop only when the supply of victims was exhausted. Showing Truman-like stubbornness, Bush pushed to escalate a war that most Americans — and some at the Pentagon — had already mentally abandoned.

Perhaps Gerson has forgotten–after all, he was just the speechwriter for Bush before and during the Iraq war–that Bush waged the unnecessary (in the sense that all of the justifications offered have turned out not to have been legitimate) war of choice which thrust Iraq into the situation it is now.  It's Bush's mess.  One he will leave to his successor, President Barack Obama.

End of stupid questions

After eight years of grunting and chanting instead of reasoning and discussing, this excerpt from a tape of Obama discussing a May 2007 debate performance is refreshing.

Obama continues: "When you have to be cheerful all the time and try to perform and act like [the tape is unclear; Obama appears to be poking fun at his opponents], I'm sure that some of it has to do with nerves or anxiety and not having done this before, I'm sure. And in my own head, you know, there's—I don't consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. When you're going into something thinking, 'This is not my best …' I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, 'You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.' Instead of being appropriately [the tape is garbled]. So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, 'Well, I planted a bunch of trees.' And he says, 'I'm talking about personal.' What I'm thinking in my head is, 'Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I f–––ing changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective'."

While this may not be the end of stupid media questions–boxers or briefs Brian?  How much do you pay for your haircut?–it is at least an end one particularly awful instantiation of stupidity (see the video at the link as well):

However, perhaps one of the most astounding and previously unknown tidbits about Sarah Palin has to do with her already dubious grasp of geography. According to Fox News Chief Political Correspondent Carl Cameron, there was great concern within the McCain campaign that Palin lacked "a degree of knowledgeability necessary to be a running mate, a vice president, a heartbeat away from the presidency," in part because she didn't know which countries were in NAFTA, and she "didn't understand that Africa was a continent, rather than a series, a country just in itself."

Now give those third graders–wink wink wink–some extra credit!


Other than tremendous personal satisfaction at the results of yesterday's election, what to say?  Here's hoping for a change in the nature of our political discourse.  Paul Krugman:

Last night wasn’t just a victory for tolerance; it wasn’t just a mandate for progressive change; it was also, I hope, the end of the monster years.

What I mean by that is that for the past 14 years America’s political life has been largely dominated by, well, monsters. Monsters like Tom DeLay, who suggested that the shootings at Columbine happened because schools teach students the theory of evolution. Monsters like Karl Rove, who declared that liberals wanted to offer “therapy and understanding” to terrorists. Monsters like Dick Cheney, who saw 9/11 as an opportunity to start torturing people.

And in our national discourse, we pretended that these monsters were reasonable, respectable people. To point out that the monsters were, in fact, monsters, was “shrill.”

Four years ago it seemed as if the monsters would dominate American politics for a long time to come. But for now, at least, they’ve been banished to the wilderness.

Let's hope so.


I spoke too soon.  Blowhard Bill Bennett on the real meaning of Obama's election:

Bennett: Well, I'll tell you one thing it means, as a former Secretary of Education: You don't take any excuses anymore from anybody who says, 'The deck is stacked, I can't do anything, there's so much in-built this and that.' There are always problems in a big society. But we have just — if this turns out to be the case, President Obama — we have just achieved an incredible milestone. For which the rest of the world needs to have more respect for the United States than it sometimes does. 

Crap.  Especially when you think of what Obama had to answer for.  Mrs. Nonsequitur, dedicated Voter Protection Lawyer for HIM, got the distinct sense that McCain's concession speech made a similarly racially tinged point.  I can't say I entirely disagree.

Add your own selections of monstrosity if you have them.

Erections have consequences

Many interesting things in the newspaper for the study of argument today.  One item insists the media is biased because 80 percent of the press will vote for Obama and Howard Kurtz, darling of the conservatives, says the media is baised.  That unfortunately doesn't shed any light on the question of bias.  Bias, after all, has to do with their coverage of the election and the candidates (who was it who said that conservative blogger and scandalmonger Matt Drudge rules their [the media's] world?), not the personal views of the media. 

Another item in the NYT discusses three studies that challenge the notion that universities indoctrinate their students in some kind of liberal agenda (I'm still working on mine, but I can tell you now it includes (1) a bias against lying; (2) a bias against non-science in place of actual science; (3) a bias for learning about later Hellenism in an Ancient Philosophy course).  People of that age group shift left generally, one study points out, among other things. 

I've always been struck by the more simple point about indocrinatation: I spend all of my time attempting to "indoctrinate" my students into the following liberal views (1) arguments ought to have a premise and a conclusion, (2) students ought to read the text and do the homework, and (3) they ought to proofread their papers before turning them in.  Oh the liberalism!

Anyhoo.  Deep thought for the day.  Erections have consequences.  Discuss.

Your argument is invalid