On Open-Mindedness

Good morning kiddies. Time for another steaming bowl of QualiaSoup.

Published in: on May 15, 2010 at 9:39 am  Leave a Comment  

Campaign Obama Comes Out To Play

I think the President’s critics who view Obama as ‘detached’ and ‘overly-cerebral’ tend to forget that he keeps Campaign Obama in his pocket and can pull him out anytime he wants. We’ll get to see him a lot more this year. Here’s a perfect example:

Published in: on May 14, 2010 at 9:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Logic-Policing Cole and Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan and John Cole are two of my favorite bloggers, but today both have fallen prey to the fallacy of Faulty Comparison. This fallacy is better known as “comparing apples to oranges.” It is a very common error, and spotting it can be extremely helpful in a debate.

Let’s start with Cole. He is upset with many of his commenters today, and is “floored” by what he calls the “staggering hypocrisy” of some of them defending the Obama administration’s approval of the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, while decrying the Bush administration’s torture programs.

It seems like a good number of you, who completely and totally lost your shit (and deservedly so) when the Bush administration waterboarded foreigners, now seem to either blithely look the other way or even endorse the concept of assassinating American citizens.

It was funny, and sad, watching many of you become shithouse lawyers, justifying the unjustifiable. Some of you are ok with the assassination if it is signed off by the courts- because then it would be A-OK! Sarah Palin- I just found your death panels.

Some of you say “I’m ok with it if it is done legally.” You know what else was deemed legal- the torture you screamed about for the last eight years. The law in Arizona that you all abhor is “legal.” Segregation was “legal.” The reason you all had a sad face because Dawn Johnsen was not confirmed was because what the OLC and the last administration did to sanitize the morally indefensible and call it “legal.” …

…This really is not a tough call at all. This is not because I am some crazy civil liberties absolutist. This is just basic common sense, and this kind of thing would set an absolutely horrible precedent. It is beyond me how anyone could get upset about Gitmo and Abu Gharaib and then think assassination of citizens is ok. Personally, I’ll take terrorized by guard dogs and waterboarded over a bullet to the brain pan.

But you know me. I’m just a wild-eyed crazy liberal.

Cole is flatly wrong that this is the same as waterboarding prisoners. Prisoners, by definition, are in prison. They are under the total control of their captors and are not a threat. Al-Awlaki, on the other hand, is in Yemen, presumably armed, surrounded by other armed men, and is plotting to kill American citizens. He is not in our control, and the only way to stop him may be “a bullet to the brain pan” or (more likely) a predator drone strike. So Cole is doubly wrong when he accuses those who see the difference between these two executive acts as hypocrites.

Sullivan’s error is a little less obvious and definitely less angry, but there nonetheless. Today he compared a quote of David Axelrod’s with part of Obama’s prepared remarks on the nomination of Elena Kagan:

Senior White House adviser David Axelrod told reporters earlier this week that he and President Obama agree. A nominee’s sexuality “has no place in this process,” he said. “It wasn’t an avenue of inquiry on our part and it shouldn’t be on anybody else’s’ part.”

and the president’s initial statement:

Elena has also spoken movingly about how her mother had grown up at a time when women had few opportunities to pursue their ambitions and took great joy in watching her daughter do so. Neither she, nor Elena’s father, lived to see this day. But I think her mother would relish this moment. I think she would relish — as I do — the prospect of three women taking their seat on the nation’s highest Court for the first time in history. A Court that would be more inclusive, more representative, more reflective of us as a people than ever before.

Sullivan responds:

But if gender is an active and legitimate category to consider, why is sexual orientation out of bounds of even inquiry?

Or let me put it this way. I find Axelrod’s casual bracketing of sexual orientation as somehow different – and lesser – than gender to be offensive. I don’t think it was meant to be, and I think it was said out of a legitimate concern to be fair to people’s privacy. But if identity matters in selecting a Justice, and if that identity is obviously a way in which nominees really do understand the impact of the law (and discrimination) on ordinary lives, and if all this has been explicitly stated by the president as integral to his vision of the Supreme Court, then why is sexual orientation off the list?

His most glaring error here is calling this “Axelrod’s casual bracketing of sexual orientation as somehow different – and lesser – than gender.” Axelrod didn’t bracket these two quotes from himself and Obama, Sullivan did. But even if Axelrod wrote Obama’s speech and personally stands behind every word of it, this is still an unlike comparison of two things. He sees sexuality and gender as equal-identity issues, and Axelrod’s statement as an unintended insult to homosexuality.

But his nod to privacy undermines his argument. You can be private about your sexuality. You cannot be private about your gender. Yes, gay people are a persecuted minority. No doubt. But other minorities do not have the refuge of the closet. Persons of good faith can devoutly wish that no homosexual ever has to live in the closet, while honoring the privacy of those that do. But at a job interview, your gender is apparent. Your sexuality is not. Acknowledging this is not insulting, and Sullivan should reconsider his position.

Published in: on May 14, 2010 at 2:38 pm  Comments (9)  
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Bursting Our Own Bubbles

In President Obama’s recent commencement address at the University of Michigan, he made a call for people across the political spectrum to expose themselves to opposing viewpoints:

[I]f we choose only to expose ourselves to opinions and viewpoints that are in line with our own, studies suggest that we become more polarized, more set in our ways. That will only reinforce and even deepen the political divides in this country.

But if we choose to actively seek out information that challenges our assumptions and our beliefs, perhaps we can begin to understand where the people who disagree with us are coming from…

…[I]f you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.

To that end, I plan on spending a little more time at National Review’s blog, The Corner. For those of you unfamiliar with National Review, it’s a magazine founded by conservative intellectual William F. Buckley during a time when it was possible to imagine an intellectual leading the conservative movement.
In Buckley’s later years, however, he garnered little respect while on a cruise hosted by his own magazine.

“Aren’t you embarrassed by the absence of these weapons?” Buckley snaps at Podhoretz. He has just explained that he supported the war reluctantly, because Dick Cheney convinced him Saddam Hussein had WMD primed to be fired. “No,” Podhoretz replies. “As I say, they were shipped to Syria. During Gulf War I, the entire Iraqi air force was hidden in the deserts in Iran.” He says he is “heartbroken” by this “rise of defeatism on the right.” He adds, apropos of nothing, “There was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld. This defeatist talk only contributes to the impression we are losing, when I think we’re winning.” The audience cheers Podhoretz. The nuanced doubts of Bill Buckley leave them confused. Doesn’t he sound like the liberal media? Later, over dinner, a tablemate from Denver calls Buckley “a coward”. His wife nods and says, “Buckley’s an old man,” tapping her head with her finger to suggest dementia.

It’s worth remembering that today’s apostates from the conservative movement are in good company.

Now I’m off to The Corner where I plan to try something I’m going to call “Speed-Fisking. ” I’ll explain later.

Published in: on May 4, 2010 at 10:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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Preaching to the Converted

QualiaSoup has created several fantastic videos on the subject of Atheism, Science, Religion and Logic. I plan on linking to many of them over time. This one seems like a good one to start with, as it jibes with my own opinions about blogging, politics and debate in general:

Published in: on May 1, 2010 at 4:13 am  Leave a Comment