Category Archives: hollow man

Opposite marriage

Many are no doubt familiar with the saga of Miss California, an employee of serial net-worth exaggerator Donald Trump.  In case you're not, during a recent Miss America or Miss USA competition, she took a stand against gay marriage.  Here's what she said:

CARRIE: I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage and, you know what, in my country and my family I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anyone out there but that's how I was raised and that's how I think it should be between a man and a woman.  

One interpretation suggests the first line there is disingenuous: she does not think it's great you can choose and doesn't think you ought to be able to choose.  Another interpretation suggests she personally favors opposite marriage for herself, but thinks it's great that others can choose.  Either way, she answered the question.

Not surprisingly, she seems to have drawn some fire by her remarks, especially from those who don't favor the sole choice of opposite marriage.  That's free speech, some of you liberals will say.  That's why we have it.

Enter professional contrarian Michael Kinsley.  He says:

SEATTLE — I want the next Supreme Court justice to share my views on the Constitution. I don't care how she looks in a bathing suit, or halfway out of one. Miss California is a different story. Her qualifications, as a general rule, should be up to the people of California. Here in the state of Washington, we expect our beauty-contest winners to be able to split a log and appreciate good coffee. But Miss California's views on gay marriage have nothing to do with her qualifications for the job and shouldn't disqualify her for it.

This is really Liberalism 101, and it's amazing that so many liberals don't get it. Yes, yes, the Bill of Rights protects individuals against oppression by the government, not by other private individuals or organizations. But the values and logic behind our constitutional rights don't disappear when the oppressor is in the private sector. They may not have the force of law in that situation, but they ought to have the force of understanding and of habit. The logic behind freedom of speech is that "bad" speech does not need to be suppressed as long as "good" speech is free to counter it. Or at least that letting the good and bad do battle is more likely to allow the good speech to triumph than giving anyone the power to choose between them. Congratulations to Donald Trump for making the right decision in this case. But we can't count on every employer to be as sensitive and understanding as The Donald.

The "disqualification" issue regards unrelated violations of the rules of the pageant.  As for the "liberals who do not get it," notice that Kinsley does not mention anyone by name.  Nor could he.  No one is arguing that Miss California's freedom of speech ought to be restricted.  The most extreme scenario suggests Miss California ought to have given a more coherent answer to a question.  But the Q&A, after all, is part of the contest, so the answer does in some sense matter (in what sense I don't know).  That the answer in some sense matters, or that Miss California has drawn criticism, doesn't amount to restricting her freedom of speech.

I think that's really just Critical Thinking 101.

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. 

Supposedly, allegedly, naturally

Now this is really baffling.  The Washington Post publishes another George Will column containing global warming denial.  Ok, to be fair, the article only contains that charge as the set up to the claim that flourescent bulbs won't stop global warming anyway.  No one believes George Will about the former, and no one believes the later.  Anywhere, here's the denial:

Reducing carbon emissions supposedly will reverse warming, which is allegedly occurring even though, according to statistics published by the World Meteorological Organization, there has not been a warmer year on record than 1998. Regarding the reversing, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change has many ambitions, as outlined in a working group's 16-page "information note" to "facilitate discussions."

For those keeping score at home, there seems to be a critical inference there in that paragraph from the data of the WMO to the claim that the earth's climate is cooling.  As we have noticed before, the Washington Post and many other very dim people consider such inferences to be completely a matter of "opinion" and not "fact" (a distinction we find meaningless in this circumstance).  For what it's worth–which in this circumstance is pretty much everything–here is the WMO in a letter to the Post (published last week):

It is a misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge to point to one year as the warmest on record — as was done in a recent Post column ["Dark Green Doomsayers," George F. Will, op-ed, Feb. 15] — and then to extrapolate that cooler subsequent years invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects.

So that's that.  Now as for the claim of "reversing" the effects of global warming with light bulbs.  No one, I'd venture to guess, could seriously maintain that view (so perhaps George Will is attacking yet another of his many liberal communist totalitarian straw men–er, I mean straw persons.  Ok, if no one seriously holds the view, then this is technically a "holllow man.").  The undeniably negative effects of burning coal (damning rivers, etc.) as well as the undeniably scarce nature of fossilized resources are sufficient to mandate efficient light bulbs.  If they don't work as well as advertised (as he later goes on to point out), then perhaps someone enterprising capitalist can build a better one–there seems oddly enough to be a market for energy efficient products these days.  


That's actually a word, but it's not particularly related to what I will say here.  

Last week George Will wrote a column sufficiently full of outright falsehoods–non facts as it were–such that people all over were demanding retractions, corrections, etc.  Rightly so, as the falsehoods were fairly egregious (it wasn't just forgetting who argued that philosophy is preparation for dying).  He completely misrepresented research on global warming in order to claim that it wasn't happening.  Strangely enough, the Washington Post has issued nothing by way of a retraction, and they have claimed that the column made it through their multi-layered editing and fact-checking process.  So much the worse for them.  Click here for a discussion of the factual errors, and here for our original post.

There is something slightly odd about the whole matter, however.  He got some facts wrong.  So did Bill Kristol (formerly of the New York Times now–get this–of the Washington Post).  People screamed about that as the height of sloppiness.  Which it is.  But op-ed columnists do not really deal primarily in facts anyway.  They deal primarily in arguments–the argumentative ones at least (which is mostly the conservative ones by the way–don't know why that is, it just is). 

Arguments are one part fact, one part inference.  As a matter of fact, they're mostly inference.  Getting facts wrong is bad, but I think it is a comparably less egregious problem than repeatedly authoring crappy, to use a technical term, arguments.  For the sake of clarity, a crappy argument is one whose conclusion likely wouldn't follow even if they premises were true.  Seems to me that if one repeatedly makes these sorts of arguments, then one's getting the occasional fact wrong is a comparatively minor problem–easily correctable by a (competent) fact checker.

Correcting crappy arguments is rather more difficult, as many lay people don't seem to have a good idea what a crappy argument is.  Many lay people think that pointing out an argument's crappiness, in fact, is a kind of crappy argument.  I think someone–maybe me, maybe our Australian friends–suggested a name for this–the fallacy fallacy fallacy (the fallacy of thinking pointing out fallacies is a fallacy of some sort).  It takes some amount of training to point out sophistries.  But it's at least as important if not more than the pointing out errors of fact.  So I'd like to propose that the Post, in addition to hiring a new fact-checker (not one paid by George Will–seriously, he's got like two of them), hire a kind of sophistry checker.

That way we wouldn't be subjected to things like this (from Will's column yesterday):

Although liberals give lip service to "diversity," they often treat federalism as an annoying impediment to their drive for uniformity. Feingold, who is proud that Wisconsin is one of only four states that clearly require special elections of replacement senators in all circumstances, wants to impose Wisconsin's preference on the other 46. Yes, he acknowledges, they could each choose to pass laws like Wisconsin's, but doing this "state by state would be a long and difficult process." Pluralism is so tediously time-consuming. 

The sophistry detector might say the following: Mr.Will, you're going to have be a lot more specific here.  In the first place, who are "liberals"?  Second, you're equivocating on "diversity."  "Liberals"–whoever the hell they are–can consistently be for one kind of diversity but not another.  Aside from this, "impose" seems to have a different meaning for you.  Feingold seems to be advocating a change in electoral procedure by democratic means–amending the Constitution.  Such an activity requires signifcant electoral participation and agreement.  One can hardly call that "imposing."

These, I think, are serious and egregious problems with just this one paragraph, yet none of them are factual problems in any direct sense. They do, however, make the argument here rather sucky.