Tag Archives: Red Herring

Scumbag Teacher Meme

The scumbag teacher meme is one of the classic tu quoque memes on the internet.  It’s regularly: won’t accept late work, but takes forever to return papers; berates students for wasting time, but chats with students about stuff through class; has a Ph.D., but uses ‘irregardless’.  There are other non-tu quoque versions, too, like requires that you learn cursive, cancels class just 5 minutes before or with a note on the door, requires an expensive but never used textbook.  Most of the instances are misunderstandings about how education works and why teachers need more support (and more pay), but they are stand-ins for some frustration folks have with the current educational climate.

In a new instance of the scumbag teacher meme move, Jim Geraghty at NRO has an objection to how the Day without a Woman Protest is affecting schools.  You see, because so many women are teachers in the Alexandria schools, they ‘ve had to cancel school for a ‘teacher work day’.  Geraghty then identifies the troubles facing the schools:

Alexandria’s public schools underperform the statewide average in subject after subject. In the 2015–16 school year, 80 percent of Virginia students passed English proficiency exams; 73 percent of students in Alexandria did. In math, 80 percent statewide passed; 68 percent of Alexandria students did. Statewide, 77 percent of students passed a test of writing proficiency; 69 percent of Alexandria students did. In history, 86 percent of students passed statewide; 77 percent of Alexandria students did. In science, 83 percent of students statewide passed; 69 percent of Alexandria students did.. . .
[T]he ills that plague Alexandria schools and, indeed, schools around the country… [are] unlikely to be solved by “A Day Without a Woman.”

Here it is in a meme:

Here’s Geragthy’s final analysis:

Apparently, they’ve decided that standing up to the sexist menace across the river in Washington and nationwide is more important to them than doing their actual jobs. It’s a shame they aren’t more concerned with the tangible problems those jobs present every day.
But the trouble is that people can walk and chew gum at the same time.  Teachers can be worried about X and it can be at the top of their priority list, but they can also be worried about Y and Z, too.  And that means that they can even make some room to do Y and Z, too.  John had a nice observation about this a few weeks back with the ‘think of the children‘ trope.  In  this case, however, it’s a case of a red herring of assessing the importance of X with the greater importance of Y.
Another way to see this would be as an instance of a perfectionist’s false dilemma, or as John termed it a few years back, argumentum ad imperfectionem.  That it would be preferable for teachers to be in class for every day of scheduled school is correct, but this is not a perfect world.  And teachers are at liberty to use their personal days as they see fit.  That they all use them on the same day for a political purpose, well, is in an important way, exactly the point they were trying to make.

I very strongly assert

Sean Spicer’s first press conference was pretty firey.  The most eye-catching part of it was his argument that Trump’s inauguration had the highest attendance ever.

That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period.

His was a pretty complex argument.  There were two lines of reasoning. The first, to rebut the claims that the photographic evidence shows attendance to be significantly lower than Obama’s ’09.  The second, to make the case for a very large number.  The largest number, period.

The rebutting argument was that the photo doesn’t accurately represent attendance, because the mall wasn’t the place where all the people were (because of fencing, metal detectors, etc.) and because the materials on the ground make the open spaces look larger.

This pair of photos shows a view of the crowd on the National Mall at the inaugurations of President Barack Obama, above, on Jan. 20, 2009, and President Donald Trump, below, on Jan. 20, 2017. The photo above and the screengrab from video below were both shot shortly before noon from the top of the Washington Monument. (AP Photo) NYAJ501

The positive argument was that the spaces filled during the inauguration added up to a very large number.

We do know a few things. So let’s go through the facts. We know that from the platform from where the President was sworn in to 4th Street holds about 250,000 people. From 4th Street to the media tent is about another 220,000. And from the media tent to the Washington Monument another 250,000 people. All of this space was full when the President took the oath of office.

So that’s about 720K.  (Trump claimed it was 1.5 million, when he was at the CIA office, later.)

But here’s the thing.  Estimated attendance at Obama’s ’09 was 1.8 million.  So, even were Spicer’s rebutting argument accurate and his positive argument correct, that’s not even half of Obama’s ’09 number.  It’s not even the 1 million estimated for Obama’s ’13.

There were three arguments Spicer needed to make here, and he only made two of them.  The comparative argument for the superlative (period) needed to be made, too.  And no fudging with gates and ground covering would have fixed that one.

 

Do you think this is a game?

Outsourcing most of the work to another blog here, so apologies.  Here is George Will on the Republican Party’s alleged war on women (from Digby’s blog):

One of the wonders of this political moment is feminist contentment about the infantilization of women in the name of progressive politics. Government, encouraging academic administrations to micromanage campus sexual interactions, now assumes that, absent a script, women cannot cope. And the Democrats’ trope about the Republicans’ “war on women” clearly assumes that women are civic illiterates.

Access to contraception has been a constitutional right for 49 years (Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965). The judiciary has controlled abortion policy for 41 years (Roe v. Wade, 1973). Yet the Democratic Party thinks women can be panicked into voting about mythical menaces to these things.

Digby then cites the usual litany of Republican types inveighing against abortion rights, access to birth control, and so forth.   To this extent (the extent which matters most I suppose), what Will says is patently ludicrous.  Will himself frequently complains about the “judicial activism” which recognized these rights.

In any case, this is a nice example of the red herring tactic: the complaint isn’t that these things are not currently rights in some narrow legal sense, it’s that they’re under threat of elimination as rights from all sorts of key Republican officeholders and opinion types.

This is sadly very uninteresting.  What is interesting is that Will fails to see the obvious objections to his claim:

Actually, Gardner favors over-the-counter sales of oral contraceptives. In addition to being common sense, Gardner’s proposal is his way of making amends for formerly advocating a state constitutional “personhood” amendment (it is again on the ballot this year and will be decisively rejected for a third time) and for endorsing similar federal legislation that has zero chance of passage. By defining personhood as beginning at conception, these measures might preclude birth control technologies that prevent implantation in the uterus of a fertilized egg. On this slender reed, Udall leans his overheated accusations that Gardner is bent on “trampling on women’s rights,” is on a “crusade” for “eliminating” reproductive freedoms and would “outlaw birth control.”

Indeed, the fact that such an amendment exists (and has the consequence of making certain kinds of birth control illegal) is the whole point of fearing attacks on reproductive rights.   I imagine that Will doesn’t think we should take such things seriously.   Good to know, I guess.

When people on your team, then, advocate crazy stuff that makes you look stupid, blame the people who believe they’re serious.

Do you like your herring red or blue?

Matt Purple’s got a great change of subject for Republicans concerned about election futures (HERE).  When there are laments about how shallow the Republican bench for 2016 is beyond Christie and Rubio, he’s got a new topic of conversation:

Let’s step onto the 2016 chessboard, no matter how premature it might seem. Republicans certainly have their problems. But focusing obsessively on them obscures the woeful state of affairs on the other side of the aisle.

Or better, focusing on the woeful state on the other side of the aisle obscures the Republican problems.

My views are underappreciated by those who disagree with my views

There is a natural tendency to iron man one's own arguments; that's why self-assessment is not an accurate measure of a position's cogency. It also often turns out that such self-ironmanning comes along with underestimating the strength of positions opposed to one's own. For, perhaps if one's arguments aren't so strong, the alternatives a super weak. Key to this strategy is keeping oneself from exposure to the alternatives. Ergo, Fox News. The arguments, whatever their merits, for the alternatives to whatever it is that Fox supports don't get heard there (at least now that Alan Colmes is gone). The other strategy is constantly to complain about how one's arguments don't get treated fairly. Thus, "liberal media." Thus again, Fox News. The diehard Fox News person knows in advance of the critique, so can't be swayed by it.

On this same theme, here is Paul Ryan via Paul Krugman:

“Just last week, the president told a crowd in North Carolina that Republicans are in favor of, quote, ‘dirtier air, dirtier water and less people with health insurance,’ ” Mr. Ryan said at a gathering at The Heritage Foundation on Oct. 26. “Can you think of a pettier way to describe sincere disagreements between the two parties on regulation and health care?”

He makes some good points.  But here is Paul Ryan himself:

Do you remember what he said? He said that what’s stopped us from meeting our nation’s greatest challenges is, quote, “the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.”

I couldn’t agree more.

And yet, nearly three years into his presidency, look at where we are now:

Petty and trivial? Just last week, the President told a crowd in North Carolina that Republicans are in favor of, quote, “dirtier air, dirtier water, and less people with health insurance.” Can you think of a pettier way to describe sincere disagreements between the two parties on regulation and health care? Chronic avoidance of tough decisions? The President still has not put forward a credible plan to tackle the threat of ever-rising spending and debt, and it’s been over 900 days since his party passed a budget in the Senate. A preference for scoring cheap political points instead of consensus-building? This is the same President who is currently campaigning against a do-nothing Congress, when in fact, the House of Representatives has passed over a dozen bills to help get the economy moving and deal with the debt, only to see the President’s party kill those bills in the do-nothing Senate.

"TL:DR: The President has harsh words for our positions on the problem of health insurance and the environment, but what about the problem of red herring?  (or why isn't he worklng on the economy?) " Ryan does not in fact challenge the accuracy of the accuracy of the statement about the environment and he barely addresses the health insurance question (other than to repeat that tax cuts will solve the problem). That has not proven to be a solution, except to those whose brains have been occupied by Wall Street.

The funny thing, I think, about the tendency to make one's case entirely in the form of a complaint that one doesn't get to make one's case–which is effectively what Ryan does here–is that one never makes one's case.  Whatever its merits, the Democrats did something about the health insurance problem, somethinng like what Mitt Romney advocated as governor of Massachussets.

The natural response here of course will be that pointing this out is itself unfair, etc.  I don't believe that tax cuts will solve all problems because I'm opposed to it and I underestimate the strength of the arguments for it.  I do this probably because I am petty. 

Don’t pay the ferryman

As a young boy, I watched the car ferries depart Michigan for Wisconsin, so there is a certain amount of nostalgia for them and their giant plumes of coal smoke.  As one might imagine, however, the coal ash creates a problem for the delicate ecosystem of Lake Michigan and so is sensibly regulated by the EPA.  The owners of the last coal-burning vessel on the Lake, however, won't go quietly.  They have recourse to a creature threatened by their business activitiy, the Red Herring.  The Chicago Tribune reports:

In documents obtained by the Tribune, the car ferry's owners plead for the National Park Service to grant the Badger special protection from the EPA, which in 2008 gave them four years to find a solution to the ship's pollution problems.

"This designation could play a critical role in the survival of this one-of-a-kind historical asset," Bob Manglitz, president and chief executive of the Lake Michigan Car Ferry Service, the Badger's owner, wrote in a letter to the Park Service. Landmark status, Manglitz wrote, would be "invaluable" during negotiations with the EPA about a new Clean Water Act permit for the ship.

In their application for landmark status, the Badger's owners say the ship's "historic propulsion system" is "under threat" by the EPA.

It describes the Badger as "the final stage of development of the Great Lakes rail and auto passenger ferry," making it worthy for protection as an example of once-innovative technology to move goods across the nation. Its massive coal-fired boilers were the last of their kind built for U.S. ships, according to documents filed with the Park Service.

Converting the ship from coal to oil "would destroy part of the historic coal-delivery system and significantly increase operating costs," the application states. Adding diesel engines would leave "the historic machinery intact but unused."

Now as an old man, or rather someone who feels like an old man, I get my drinking water from the very same lake.  So what's the problem with coal ash?

Coal ash contains arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxic metals. The pollutant drew national attention in 2008 after a coal ash holding pond ruptured at a Kingston, Tenn., power plant and fouled an Ohio River tributary. On Oct. 31, a bluff collapsed next to another power plant south of Milwaukee and sent a torrent of mud and coal ash into Lake Michigan.

It would be more honest if the disingenuous owners argued that these historic pollutants–arsenic, lead, and mercury–are under assault by the EPA.

No, not a red herring

Whatever else you might call it, abortion is a form of birth control.  Not however, according to Americans United for Life President Charmain Yoest.  Here she is (via Think Progress):

HOST: Is your organization in favor of helping women have more access to birth control and helping women have their birth control paid for by insurance?

YOEST: That’s actually not an issue that we address. We on life issues, on biotheics, on abortion, on end of life, on rights of conscience, but we do not address that issue because there are differences of opinion on that. […]

HOST: But I’m just curios, why not approach birth control as an issue if the goal is to reduce abortions, to make abortion unnecessary, birth control does that. Wouldn’t that be an interesting addition to your legal pallet?