FIGHTING THE NOT-SO-FRESH FEELING

Posted in No Politics Friday on June 29th, 2007 by Ed

Things are being spruced up here at ginandtacos. I've updated the blogroll and links. If you are a blogger who reads ginandtacos regularly, please email me (my contact info has also been updated, above the blogroll) or post something in the comments to this entry. I'll be happy to add you.

As for the left side content, I'm working on re-organizing all of it into monthly archives and a single category for all the non-blogging stuff. Most of that stuff is quite old and has probably long since ceased to amuse any regular readers.

Next week I'll be participating in the Blog Against Theocracy blogswarm. Keep an eye peeled for that while you're enjoying your fireworks and tubular meat products.

And since I haven't done album reviews in ages, let me try to cram five of them into one No Politics Friday ™:

  • Shellac, Excellent Italian Greyhound - Surprisingly mediocre. The album is 50% throwaway, background music-type tracks. The other 50% is some of the best work they've ever done. Half amazing, half boring = a C+ album. But the good tracks ("Be Prepared", "Paco", "End of Radio") are amazing.
  • NIN, Year Zero - Surprisingly incredible. I've played this daily for about 6 weeks. I'm really at a loss to explain why it doesn't blow, but it's really Trent's version of The Argument - two inexplicable cases of a band putting out its finest album past age 40.
  • Battles, Mirrored - Surprisingly indescribable. This album is like reading a math textbook, if only math textbooks could be interesting. I'll still take B EP over this as the best Battles album, but this is nothing to sneeze at.
  • Marilyn Manson, Eat Me, Drink Me - Unsurprisingly good. I've come to expect good things and I am no longer surprised when he delivers.
  • Dinosaur Jr, Beyond - Surprisingly you've-gotta-be-kidding-me good. This album gets special mention because it had all the makings of a complete and utter train wreck. It's a bad idea executed by a bunch of people who have not aged well. At all. Had it been merely "decent" I would have been shocked, but it's legitimately good. I have no words to express my surprise.
  • Tomahawk, Anonymous - I've taken shits more interesting than this record. I've tried for years to force myself to like this band. People continually throw phrases like "ex-Jesus Lizard!" and "ex-Helmet!" at me, and then I feel like I should like them. They're boring. Mike Patton should maybe focus on one band rather than being in 11 and having most of what they do sound like cutting-room-floor material.
  • BJU

    Posted in Rants on June 28th, 2007 by Ed

    In a move that lands squarely between "pathetic" and "not fooling anyone," Rudy Giuliani made a stump speech and campaign appearance at Bob Jones University recently. Essentially the only thing I like about our electoral system is the chance it gives us to highlight and mock the shit out of Bob Jones University at regular intervals.

    For instance, take a quick look at BJU's Wikipedia entry. I know what you're thinking: isn't a bit suspicious that a college would explicitly mention that it is accredited in the first paragraph? Maybe it's something all schools do. Let's check Michigan. OK, maybe Stanford? Yale? Appalachian State? No, none of these schools feel compelled to inform you in the first paragraph that they are accredited. This is because the reader would never even question the accreditation of any of these institutions. But apparently the folks at Bob Jones University understand that a person's first reaction to the school is very likely to be "Is this fuckin' place accredited?"

    Rest assured, it is. It's accredited by something called the "Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools." This group accredits "universities" that teach young earth creationism in lieu of, you know, science. I can only liken getting accreditation from these people to getting a character reference from a child rapist who steals cable. Among the powerhouse institutions that have received the TACCS stamp of approval are:

  • Apex School of Theology (Look at the fucking picture! And this is on their own website, meaning that this is the best picture they have )
  • Bakke Graduate University of Ministry (A school so good, it doesn't need a functioning website)
  • Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College
  • Christian Life College ("We look forward to helping you prepare for your calling in the Lord's work")
  • Institute for Creation Research ('Institute'…..'research'…..sounds so legitimate!)
  • Word of Life Bible College (the mailing address is a P.O. Box)

    You can peruse a whole list here (note Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and noted repository of socially-maladjusted homeschooled kids Patrick Henry College). Suffice it to say that an alarming number of these "schools" are in the Carolinas or Tennessee. But you already knew that without looking.

    When I began writing this entry, I thought that the thrill of condescending and mocking places like Tennessee Temple University would get old quickly. I also thought I'd feel a little bad about being an elitist when I finished. I was very wrong on both counts.

  • STICKING UP FOR THE LITTLE GUY

    Posted in Rants on June 27th, 2007 by Ed

    I love how the media deems worthy of attention approximately one out of every fifty Supreme Court decisions. The others, about which we hear nothing, simply must not be important.

    On June 25, FEC v Wisconsin Right to Life was decided with little fanfare. And by little I mean none. Rest assured that the 5-4 Alito-led majority (and the Court is handing down an unsurprisingly large number of 5-4 decisions these days) struck a blow against those dastardly, overbearing campaign finance laws that have virtually eliminated money from our elections. Remember the 2004 elections, where both presidential candidates spent over a quarter of a billion dollars? I tell ya, you can barely sneak a red cent past our ironclad campaign finance laws.

    Interestingly, I agree with the specifics of the case in question. WRTL intended to run a series of "issue advocacy ads" (which do not advocate voting for or against any particular candidate) within 30 days of the 2004 election. McCain-Feingold (referred to in the decision by its formal name, BCRA) prohibits "electioneering communication" by corporations or private interests in the month prior to the election. Between 1976 (Buckley v Valeo) and the BCRA (2002), political action committees and other organized interests skirted most campaign finance laws by running carefully-worded "issue ads" that made a position quite clear but avoided using "magic words" (i.e. vote for, vote against) which would have qualified them as an electioneering communication. So, for example, the UAW would run an ad talking about how amazing Bill Clinton is, but it would avoid using the words "Vote for Clinton" and therefore skirt the laws.

    BCRA attempted to eliminate this loophole by forbidding ads that were the "functional equivalent" of electioneering. The WRTL ads in question, in my semi-qualified opinion, do not constitute a functional equivalent. The ads encourage voters to contact their Wisconsin Senators to oppose a filibuster of judicial nominees. One of the Senators (Kohl) was not even running, and Feingold had a token opponent whose name was not used in the ad. So WRTL, the lower courts decided, had a right to run the ads up to the date of the election and beyond. The SC affirmed that decision, and rightly so.

    But Anton Scalia has mastered the judicial equivalent of the President's "signing statement" theory of decision-making. It's never enough to affirm or reverse a decision – he has to go on a 20-page concurring opinion (read: rant) about how the case responsible for the relevant precedent at hand was "wrongly decided." Some enterprising researcher would find "wrongly decided" and "Scalia" about 100 times by searching every written opinion since 1986 (Scalia Year Zero).

    Here ol' Anton decides to stretch his legs and explain why McConnell v FEC (one of the few decisions to substantially limit, in any way, the right to piss money into elections) was such an abomination of justice. Anton is never content to stick to the merits or particulars of the case at hand. No, he can't pass up a chance to re-write or re-interpret past decisions and explain how stupid it is to treat precedent with any respect (unless it tells him what he wants to hear, in which case he cites it as a stamp of authenticity).

    Most reasonable people would argue, as we look back at a $1.2 billion dollar Presidential race and gaze hopefully forward at our first $2 billion-plus race in 2008, that unfettered corporate soft money expenditures outside of the obscene amounts they can legally spend as "hard" money have a deleterious effect on the democratic process. As the Court stated in Austin v Michigan CoC (1990), the state has a legitimate interest in limiting "corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of [corporate] wealth.

    THIS IS WHY I HATE POLITICS

    Posted in Rants on June 26th, 2007 by Ed

    Article II, Sec. 1, Paragraph 1 of the United States Constitution:

    The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows.

    A reasonable person might argue that this is pretty cut-and-dried. But no, we really have to sit here are refute an argument that the Vice President is somehow not part of the Executive branch. That's what we've come to. Someone makes a statement that is patently, indefensibly false (i.e. "The sun rises in the west") and we have to sit here and have a debate about it. Coming up next, our experts debate: does the sun rise in the east or in the west?

    Yes, the Vice President has legislative duties (as the Letters of Cato put it, a duty given "for want of other responsibilities"). Yeah? And? So? The CJ of the Supreme Court has legislative duties as well – presiding over impeachment trials in the Senate. Does anyone argue that John Roberts is in Congress?

    Speaking of impeachment…

    WE VOTED FOR HOLLYWOOD BEFORE WE VOTED AGAINST IT

    Posted in Rants on June 26th, 2007 by Ed

    The more I look at the facts about the 2008 presidential race, the more convinced I become that Fred Thompson has the best shot at the GOP nomination. I'll save that discussion for a later post (this is what savvy marketers would call a "teaser" and those of us with no marketability call a "handjob") but the swelling Thompson love-fest brings to light just one more example of conservative hypocrisy.

    Boy, how the right loves to slam Hollywood – the godless heathens and greedy big-city types (read: Jews) who purvey all manner of Anti-Family sex, gore, and violence in pursuit of the almighty dollar. They mortgage our national soul to make a cheap buck appealing to our basest instincts (note: The GOP would never stoop to appeal to a base instinct like fear). This is true of everyone in Hollywood…unless and until someone from Hollywood opens his or her mouth to let loose torrents of right-wing bullshit.

    For a party that gets so much mileage out of bashing Barbara Streisand, the Baldwins, and Martin Sheen, the GOP practically shatters its lower mandible and kneecaps in its haste to fellate its photogenic Tinseltown saviors. Whether we're talking about John Wayne's "man's man" eugenics, Ronald Reagan's enthusiasm for reading well anything that was put in front of him, Charlton Heston's shotgun-waving rants, Kirk Cameron's picking-peanuts-out-of-shit insane version of Christianity, or Amend for Arnold Because We So Love How He Calls Liberals Pussies, the right is one enormous hypocrite when it comes to Hollywood. Hollywood is awful – except for Chuck Norris, Charles Barkley, Bruce Willis, or whoever else is "brave" enough to buck their liberal environment and carry water for the PNAC.

    Enter Fred Thompson. It's so shameful and disgusting how the left caters to the Hollywood crowd and cashes in on Speilberg-hosted fund raisers. The GOP will stick to good ol' down-home Americana as its base of support – represented, of course, by a Hollywood actor. But he's an anomaly. So was Reagan. So is Arnold. So was Steve Largent. And Jim Bunning. And JC Watts. And Tom Osborne. And Jack Kemp. And Clint Eastwood. And Fred Grandy. And every other celebrity welcomed as a candidate by GOP.

    Whether the media and the GOP base are lauding Thompson's "photogenic" qualities (a welcome by-product of his screen time, they say), his odor, or his glamourous lifestyle (read: his wife is half his age and looks like a Botox billboard), average man Fred sure is getting a warm reception. I understand, of course, that this is largely a result of how horrid the GOP field is at the moment. Nevertheless I am pulling up a chair and getting some popcorn. Time to sit back, relax, and see how the right manages to use its tired but reliable Hollywood-bashing-to-please-Dobson shtick while handing its nomination to the star of a dozen really violent films.

    And, as usual, I'd like to thank our friends in the mainstream media for unquestioningly and uncritically buying every last drop of the Thompson Is So Magnetic spin. They do America proud by repeating, unfiltered, everything that paid publicists say about a person or issue.

    A MOAT AROUND THE BLOGROLL

    Posted in Rants on June 25th, 2007 by Ed

    I want to talk about blogging for a moment. I know it's dangerously "meta" to blog blogging, but I am willing to take the risk that this post will somehow become the Singularity.

    I don't really know who, if anyone, reads this site. Maybe a lot of people do, maybe 3 people do. Irrespective of that, I feel like I am a half-decent writer who occasionally has something interesting, useful, or novel to say. I don't have a lot going for me, but at sizeable intervals I say something amusing. We failed graduate students have to take our victories where we can get'em.

    I have, on numerous occasions, attempted to get more people to read this thing. The way blogs increase traffic is almost entirely via links from other widely-read blogs. So getting those widely-read blogs to pay any attention is not unlike the remora trying to get an appreciative gesture out of the shark. I usually don't take their snobbish disregard of me too seriously, but after a very recent (and very bad) experience with a "big name" liberal blog, I feel the need to say something (which, as the moral of this story implies, no one will read).

    Ever notice how the "BlogRoll" on all the big liberal/progressive/critical blogs seems to be exactly the same? DailyKos links AmericaBlog, AmericaBlog links DailyKos, Crooks and Liars links both referencing each other (inbetween its 5-per-week FireDogLake and MyDD links) and it generally resembles a big orgy of winking. Now, I have nothing against those blogs. I read them all (and the other "usual suspects" on the lib blogroll) regularly. They are indispensible. But to read them would give you the impression that there are all of about 15 blogs on the internets that have anything interesting to say.

    Undeterred, I recently sent an email to a big name blog, an admitted piece of shameless self-promotion about a recent entry here that I felt was potentially interesting. While I expect (and receive) no response from those sorts of things, this time I was told that if I wanted a hat tip, I should buy an ad (starting at $500).

    OK. So let me get this straight. There's a list of Old Boys' Club blogs that get free traffic-generating links every day, and the rest of us commoners have to pay out the nose for the privilege of getting noticed. Wow. How "progressive."

    Several responses are probably coming to mind at this point. I will refute them in order.

  • 1. "Blame the product. If you had anything interesting to say, people would read this site." – This is so patently ridiculous that I think it disproves itself. There is obviously much more to being widely read than quality. Much of what is popular is total shit, and much of what is brilliant is obscure. The idea that the Marketplace of Popularity is an arbiter of quality is 12 steps beyond asinine.
  • 2. "Big sites like Crooks and Liars can't give attention to every jackass with an internet connection." – True but irrelevant. I'm not claiming that some sort of Fairness Doctrine applies, but only that there is a biased mindset that leads a lot of bloggers to believe that only a small, elite circle of blogs are worth reading or mentioning. I doubt that Atrios and Digby are really 30,000 times better writers than I or any other Non-Entity blogger are, but, thanks to the thrice-daily links on C&L and AmericaBlog they get 30,000 times the traffic.
  • 3. "Nice persecution complex. Stop crying about the big kids refusing to pay attention to you." – This isn't about me or this blog, it's about a Progressive Blogosphere that is already succumbing to the same tendencies that have made the mass media so useless. The mindset of It Isn't Important Unless or Until Atrios Says It (or, even more perniciously, Once Atrios Says It, It Becomes Important) is my complaint. It's not a very far cry from the Idiot Mantra of "If it's important, it would be on the news." That mantra is the entire reason that blogs have become an important news source – they jump on the fumbles and scoop up the loose change that never makes it onto CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc. Perhaps no theme is more rampant in progressive blogging than "We're talking about this because the MSM won't." Unfortunately, we're quickly sliding back into the bad habits of that same media – a small handful of sources of information dominate and, intentionally or not, exclude.
  • 4. "You're just bitter." – And you're ugly. Tomorrow I shall still be bitter, and you'll still be ugly.

    I'd like to stress one last time that all of the blogs I have mentioned here by name are favorite reads of mine. I have nothing against them and (where applicable) their success and broad base of regular readers. I don't really think I'm interesting enough to be that successful (or successful at all) but I draw a mental line at being told I should fork over $500 for what people in the Old Boys' Club receive gratis every day.

    (And, to bring the "meta" full-circle, suggest Ginandtacos to your favorite big-name blog. Sit back and watch how they ignore your suggestion to read the post about how they ignore your suggestions. Then we really will be at the singularity.)

  • ED VS. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 2: Ignoratio elenchi

    Posted in Ed vs. Logical Fallacies on June 21st, 2007 by Ed

    I didn't intend to do two of these in such rapid succession, but I just happened to find a stunningly perfect example of ignoratio elenchi. Or, as it is better known colloquially, a "red herring" or "the Chewbacca defense."

    The Greek phrase literally translates as "ignorance of refutation." It simply means that the person using the argument is completely ignorant in the art of rhetoric and does not know how to properly refute his opponent. In practice, it need not be a case of ignorance. In fact most red herrings are offered quite deliberately to distract, confuse, or divert the discussion of a given topic.

    Like all fallacies of irrelevance, ignoratio elenchi are particularly dangerous because they are internally consistent. The point offered as a red herring, for example, is often true and logically consistent. The fallacy is that it is, irrespective of its validity, irrelevant to the argument.

    Some red herrings are blatantly obvious attempts to change the subject or re-define a discussion. More often, and usually cloaked in a reassuring pile of Science, Facts, and Numbers, they are much more subtle. The more subtle they are, the more harm they have the potential to do. Less-than-astute readers and viewers are easily fooled by such tactics.

    Mr. R. Timothy Patterson offers a veritable orgy of logical fallacies for our consumption in his recent Financial Post (Canada) piece "Read the Sunspots." He's got everything in this lengthy article: ad hominem, appeals to science, appeals to consensus, appeals to authority, false dilemma, biased sampling, hasty generalization…..a student of formal logic could write a dissertation on this thing. But rather than discuss those individually, I'd rather focus on the fact that the entirety of his discussion is a big, stinking, red herring.

    His argument is clear: the argument that human activity is responsible for climate change is a politically-loaded sham. He believes – and his single-case research supports – that "the sun appears to drive climate change." In other words, any observed changes are natural; "Climate stability has never been a feature of planet Earth." After setting up his barrage of numbers with some Goldberg-esque mockery of some liberal politicians, he gets to the point:

    The only constant about climate is change; it changes continually and, at times, quite rapidly. Many times in the past, temperatures were far higher than today, and occasionally, temperatures were colder. As recently as 6,000 years ago, it was about 3C warmer than now. Ten thousand years ago, while the world was coming out of the thousand-year-long "Younger Dryas" cold episode, temperatures rose as much as 6C in a decade — 100 times faster than the past century's 0.6C warming that has so upset environmentalists.

    He then goes on to describe in detail existing research that shows how solar variation can be causally linked to climate change on Earth. His argument is internally consistent; he cites research appropriately and is careful not to misinterpret its conclusions. It would be a very convincing exercise in persuasive journalism if not for the inconvenient fact that his whole discussion is entirely irrelevant to the argument.

    He starts by mocking the (liberal) political efforts to limit or alter human activity on the grounds that man has contributed to (or even caused) global climate change. He then moves on to spend 15 paragraphs proving that some change in climate is part of nature. He does not, at any point, realize that those two things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, proving the latter is wholly irrelevant to any discussion of the former.

    Scientists have many thousands of years of historical climate data which they can use to show that natural variations are….well, natural. They happen. We know this. The planet's temperature is not stable over time. Comparatively, the human activities which allegedly contribute to climate change (mass atmospheric pollution as a product of hydrocarbon combustion) are largely confined to the last 70 to 100 years. Leaving aside the dramatic imbalance in sample sizes (6000 years of data from ice cores vs. a few decades since we started burning coal and oil at truly alarming rates) his argument still fails to "disprove", as he no doubt feels he has done, the idea that human behavior is affecting climate.

    To use an analogy (and I love nothing more), suppose I suspected my neighbor of dumping his old, used motor oil in my yard and killing my trees. I gather data (photographs, samples of oil-laden dirt and roots, etc) and confront him. In response, he gives me a 20-page discussion of all of the natural factors that can lead to arboreal genocide – insects, frost, air pollutants, drought, and so on. His argument would be correct, of course, but it would be nothing more than a distraction. Proving that locusts can kill trees does not prove that you're not killing them with motor oil.

    Mr. Patterson is obviously proud of his research. Indeed it is an interesting line of argument and I'd like to see him or his colleagues follow up with a larger sample from a variety of locations around the globe. In fact, he's so obviously proud of his work that I find it hard to believe that he'd use it as little more than a distraction in an unrelated debate.

    ED VS. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 1: FALSE EQUIVALENCY

    Posted in Ed vs. Logical Fallacies on June 20th, 2007 by Ed

    I often tell my undergraduates (and by often I mean just about daily) that if I could have the power to change one thing about the educational system it would be to require every single college student to take and pass a class in formal logic. There's nothing that drives me up a wall quite like soon-to-be adults making "arguments" that make no sense and citing "evidence" that does not prove what they think it proves. To wit, let me give you an actual quote from a senior's research paper:

    Since 1980 the rate of abortions per 100,000 adult women in the United States has fallen annually, indicating that more women are choosing abstinence and rejecting behaviors that contribute to unplanned pregnancies.

    Right. Or it might indicate that people are using birth control more regularly. Or that the ratio of older women to younger women is increasing thanks to the aging baby-boomers and the Let's Wait on Having Kids attitude of Generation X. Or it could mean absolutely nothing at all – correlation does not imply causation.

    My point is not to pick on this student. In fact, his/her writing was easy on my eyes and the argument was generally well-formed. But this is a glaring example of why it's so goddamn difficult to have a conversation in our society these days: so many people simply don't understand what (if anything) their facts "prove", and as a result they are apt to wildly overestimate it. They take a fact that, in their mind, proves their point and just keep repeating it to you, the big dummy who doesn't seem to understand how thoroughly they're supporting their position.

    So here's what I'm going to do. Ginandtacos will be the forum for a semi-regular (meaning intermittent and/or whenever a particularly good example in the news presents itself) discussion of fallacies of formal logic. I can't watch or read the news for 10 minutes without some idiotic piece of reasoning that an 18 year-old philosophy student could refute, so I'll draw heavily on our friends in the mass media for assistance.

    Today I'm starting with False Equivalency (with a hat tip to Vagabond Scholar). I start with it because it has quickly risen from obscurity to be among the most pervasive of the fallacies in little more than a decade (coincidentally enough, since Fox News went on the air 24-7). False Equivalency is, in plain language, the idea that two (or more) opposing viewpoints/alternatives are undeservedly treated as equally important or valid. FE has become such an enormous problem in contemporary discourse for two simple reasons:

  • 1. The media, supposedly in pursuit of "objectivity", give equal credence (and airtime) to pairs of "opposing" events when they are in fact decidedly unequal. The best example is the Fox News standby: if we gave 2 minutes of airtime to the Anti-War Rally (attendance: 200,000) then in the interest of Fairness and Balance we have to give 2 minutes of airtime to Charlie Daniels and the 35 hillbillies who staged a Support the Troops rally on the other side of town.

  • 2. Because the media are so addicted to the Left vs. Right Pundit Battle format, they regularly present opposing sides without noting the imbalance of evidence between them. The result is that supremely idiotic positions are given equal time with fact-based ones. See, isn't it "fair" and "objective" how we gave equal airtime to this scientist with mountains of evidence and this wingnut just making shit up off the top of his head? Imagine, for example, if they decided to debate the shape of the Earth. There are some people (1 in a few hundred million) who believe that the Earth is flat – and no tangible evidence supports that claim. It would therefore be a False Equivalency to devote 5 minutes of airtime to a Flat-Earther debating a scientist about Earth's roundness. As the late, great Molly Ivins said:

    The American press has always had a tendency to assume the truth must lie exactly halfway between any two opposing points of view. Thus, if the press present the man who says Hitler is an ogre and the man who says Hitler is a prince, it believes it has done the full measure of its duty.

    This tendency has been aggravated in recent years by a noticeable trend to substitute people who speak from a right-wing ideological perspective for those who know something about a given subject. Thus we see…people who don't know jack-shit about Iran or Nicarauga or arms control, but who are ready to tear up the peapatch in defense of the proposition that Ronald Reagan is a Great Leader beset by com-symps. They have nothing to offer in the way of facts or insight; they are presented as a way of keeping the networks from being charged with bias.

    Here's an excellent example of FE in action, courtesy of Bush Family Friend and Fox News host Brit Hume as he debates Mort Kondracke about climate change:

    KONDRACKE: Just a second! The head of the National Academy of Science– today, I talked to him– pointed me in the direction of testimony that he's delivered before Congress, which says that there is an overwhelming consensus among his colleagues, and he is an earth scientist, that global warming is a fact, that man is responsible for it and that the sun is not responsible. There's been a lot of study–

    HUME: But Mort, is– doesn't– isn't what, isn't scientific consensus what you turn to when you don't have scientific fact?

    KONDRACKE: No.

    HUME: In other words, you haven't established it?

    KONDRACKE: No. No, the–

    HUME: Well, is this scientific fact?

    KONDRACKE: Look, how are we supposed to determine what scientific fact is–

    HUME: Mort, that's what the scientific method is for. Let me move on to Nina, just to get her–

    KONDRACKE: You get thousands of scientists and if they all agree– if 90 percent–

    HUME: That's not science, Mort, that's a vote. That's an election.

    Note how Hume implicitly treats the opposing viewpoints on global warming as equals. He disregards the fact that an overwhelming mountain of evidence supports one viewpoint, and nothing but Exxon-funded AEI papers from paycheck-hungry scientists long disregarded as cranks by their colleagues support the other. Would Hume, as an appropriate analogy would suggest, say it is merely an "election" or opinion poll that 99.9% of astronomers argue that the Sun is made of hydrogen? Sure, they have assloads of physical evidence, but doggone it none of them have really been to the sun. So aren't they just guessing? Isn't that little more than an opinion poll? In fact, let's welcome our next guest: Joe Blow, a scientist (and failed tenure case) who argues that the sun was actually made by Jews and consists mostly of marshmallows.

    I sincerely doubt that Brit Hume intended to use the exact same logic as Holocaust Denialists routinely use (just because 99.99999% of historians agree that it happened doesn't mean it happened, regardless of their miles of records and evidence) but, sadly, that's exactly what Brit Hume did. That's the moral of the Fox News story, kids – if right-wingers can find one person who disagrees, then the issue is completely open for debate and all options are on the table. Doesn't matter if the scientists who believe global warming exists outnumber those who don't by about 10,000:1. The right-wing media machine will Nobly defend Free Speech and champion oppressed minority viewpoints by giving that single skeptic as much attention as his 10,000 opponents.

    Keep today's post in mind the next time you watch cable news. I think you'll be shocked at just how little you'll need to watch before you identify clear examples of this fallacy in action. (PS: Any logicians or philosophers want to guest-post about a favorite fallacy, just let me know in comments)

  • AND NOW WE PLAY THE WAITING GAME…

    Posted in Rants on June 19th, 2007 by Ed

    Something struck me whilst typing up yesterday's post, re: bouncing ball logic and moving goalposts in Iraq. There was some sort of malaise coming over me, as if I had to force a little bile out of the ducts. While I initially attributed this to the mononucleosis/bronchitis tag-team, reality struck me quite suddenly: I have Iraq Fatigue. Not only do I have Iraq Fatigue, but the Bill Kristols and Dick Perles of the world have been waiting for me to get it.

    Now, by "me" I of course mean "us." Call me cynical, but….does it strike you as entirely possible that the AEI-types who spent the better part of the 1990s planning this war assumed that they can simply outlast their opposition? And are they right?

    The more I think about Iraq these days, the less I have to say about it. What more can I, or anyone else for that matter, possibly do except state the bleedlingly obvious – and do so for the upteenth time? It is a cluster-fuck. It is a failure. Nothing that was initially predicted has materialized. All of the legitimate concerns that were initially voiced have manifested themselves with a vengance. The violence isn't abating. The president is an utter moron. The pre-war "intelligence" failures are either a case of malicious manipulation or inexcusable, criminal idiocy.

    All of the war cheerleading dead-enders are immune to these and any other facts. And the essential facts don't change. Another day, another 100 corpses in Baghdad, another car-bombing, another couple of dead American soldiers, another idiotic series of pronouncements from the Liebermccain crowd about how we're just starting to make progress and need A Few More Months. We wake up, pound away at the keyboards with a slightly-altered version of yesterday's (or last week's, or last summer's, or 2003's) elucidation of these same points, the words bounce off our mentally-challenged wingnut bretheren, and then we wake up tomorrow and do it all over again. I lose my enthusiasm for it at some point.

    Was that the goal all along? This is how wingnuts, cranks, and denialists argue. And this is how they win. We here in the Reality-Based Community are constrained by logic and facts. They are limited only by the expansiveness of their imaginations and the breadth of the asses from which they pull their facts. They say something retarded, we carefully refute it. They say something else retarded, we put effort into refuting that too. We grow tired of the childishness of the repartee. They, having the intellect of children, never tire of it. All the while we subconsciously dignify their idiotic viewpoints by responding and thus validating them as Fodder for Public Discourse. And the usual conclusion (see: Global Warming skeptics) is to wait until respectable people stop dignifying the stupidity with responses – and then declare victory. We Won, because the Ivory Tower intellectuals can't (read: won't/are sick of) debate us!

    But what if the strategy here was to stupidly, stubbornly, and naively repeat the same things over and over until everyone – pundits, politicians, and public alike – got so sick of pointing out the obvious responses that they stopped caring altogether? What if the strategy was simply to say Six More Months every six months until the words lacked all credibility? In fact, until the words became so prima facie ridiculous and false that people paid no attention whatsoever?

    The president has, in essence, taken hostages. He's standing there with the gun pressed to the temples or the innocent Iraqi civilians caught up in this disaster, and he doesn't give a flying shit whether or not they live or die. We do. Neocons don't. The hostage-taker's demands are simple: let me do what I want or the girl gets it. If we leave now, the price will be paid almost entirely by the civilians who will be caught in the crossfire of the sectarian slaughter. He knows it. So do we. And thereby, one could argue (in fact, I think I just did), has the entirety of America become anesthetized to Iraq as an issue. No more front-page stories, no more opinion columns (we have to devote them to more important things like a stillborn, milquetoasty immigration bill), and no more bile. We know the facts, and we've come to realize that no amount of repetition of said facts is going to affect the War Cheerleaders.

    In real-life hostage situations, the police always have the inherent advantage because they can simply wait. Everyone needs to sleep eventually. In this situation, unfortunately, the exact opposite has proven true.

    FOLLOW THE BOUNCING BALL!

    Posted in Rants on June 18th, 2007 by Ed

    This article is about a year old, but its shits-and-giggles value is sufficient to justify re-heating it now after seeing Thomas Friedman go on one of his Dadaist rants on Fox News Sunday.

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    It's fitting to draw our collective attention to the fantastic hit piece that Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting did on Friedman last summer, cataloguing the fourteen separate occasions over a 30-month period in which he wrote or stated that "the next six months" would either A) bring significant progress to Iraq or B) be some sort of "crucial" or "gut-check" time for Iraq's leaders. Ladies and gentlemen, the Friedman Unit might just be the finest of all possible examples of what's wrong with the flat-earthers who just can't let go……just look at Our Leader's 4-year love affair with the idea that we're just beginning to make progress in Iraq!