The end of logic

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Education, Ethics, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen is in a bit of trouble for making this statement in his Monday column:

People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

While there is some, surprisingly, the bulk of the criticism does not come from the Right for having been portrayed as knuckle-dragging dinosaurs whose acceptance of Justice Clarence Thomas’ biracial marriage and former VP Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter belie Cohen’s stereotype un-updated since the Archie Bunker era.

No, it’s actually the Left that has most criticized Cohen.  The Huffington Post said, “Dear Washington Post:  Please fire this man.”  Esquire put Cohen in the “Newspaper Stupid Top 40.”  Paul Farhi catalogues some of the others who voice umbrage at Cohen’s remarks, including Gawker, Slate, Salon, and MSNBC.  All this “venom-spewing” as Farhi said, from “people who should be [Cohen’s] allies.”

Sadly, this is normal for the Left.  Who could forget their outrage directed toward radio host Bill Bennett when he was asked about a statistic from the then recently-published Freakonomics that said that crime has gone down because of abortion:

BENNETT: All right, well, I mean, I just don’t know. I would not argue for the pro-life position based on this, because you don’t know. I mean, it cuts both — you know, one of the arguments in this book Freakonomics that they make is that the declining crime rate, you know, they deal with this hypothesis, that one of the reasons crime is down is that abortion is up. Well —

CALLER: Well, I don’t think that statistic is accurate.

BENNETT: Well, I don’t think it is either, I don’t think it is either, because first of all, there is just too much that you don’t know. But I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky.

The Leftists at Media Matters had a field day with Bennett’s comments even when their excerpts clearly exhonerated (highlighted above) him of the thought-crime of advocating the racial infanticide that they say Bennett advocated.

Bennett was engaging in the logical device known as reductio ad absurdum, whereby an argument is reduced to an absurdity so as to demonstrate the fallacy of the premise.  It just so happens that last night I mentioned to my seventh-grade son the classic reductio ad absurdum:  A Modest Proposal, wherein Jonathan Swift argues that to eliminate the surplus population of beggars, the Irish should be allowed to sell their unweaned children to be used as stew meat.

In 1729 Swift’s reader’s quickly recognized the essay as satire.  Sadly, I don’t think that American Leftists today would be able to understand the argument.  If their umbrage toward Cohen–who clearly was not advocating discrimination against biracial and gay couples—is any indicator, were Swift to write his classic today, MSNBC would surely charge him with cannibalism.

Prior to this week I could have dismissed Leftist outrage directed at Bennett as political fanaticism akin to the fanatic football fan who, even upon seeing the slow-motion replay, yells at the referee for blowing a call that he clearly called correctly.  Heretofore, I could have accepted that Bennett’s detractors understood his argument but purposefully misconstrued it so as to appeal to Low-Information Voters who might have heard only an edited version of the exchange.  Now as a result of the outrage that the Left directs against its own Richard Cohen, it is obvious that the Left isn’t trying to appeal to Low-Information Voters, but is instead made up of a large swath of Low-Intelligence Voters.

How else could one explain Obamacare?  Many of the people who are incapable of understanding Cohen’s argument are the same ones who are logically incapable of understanding that Obamacare could not work the way the President promised.  Unless you believed, as one commenter noted, that Obamacare was powered by “unicorn farts and pixie dust,” it was always completely illogical to believe that more people could get more health coverage without some people paying higher prices or being kicked off of their existing plans.

Another Cohen, Michael Cohen (I don’t know if he is a relation), buttresses that point (hat tip: David Henderson).

But, of course, this means that some Americans would not only lose their plans and access to their doctor, but in the case of particularly healthy individuals, reform could yield higher premiums. Beyond that, reforming such a huge chunk of the U.S. economy necessarily leads to often unanticipated changes for millions of Americans.

Acknowledging that reality would have been the honest thing to do. So would asking healthier and wealthier Americans to sacrifice for the greater good of ensuring every American have health-care coverage.

But doing so would have opened Obama and his democratic allies up to the charge that Obamacare would lead to widespread dislocations — and made the path to reform that much politically harder to traverse.

Indeed, this is precisely the argument that was made by Republicans  . . . 

In other words:  Everything Republicans told you about Obamacare was true, but–and these are Michael Cohen’s words–you “can’t handle the truth.”  What he didn’t say but is clearly implied and could have appended: “And we know that you are too stupid and too illogical to figure out the truth on your own.”  Logical fallacy abounds on the Left, and this Cohen actually celebrates it.

This is where the modern Left is today: at the head of an easily manipulable cadre of useful idiots.  To be sure, the Right has its share of blind adherents as well.  To some, the words “abortion” and “homosexual” are like red herrings to a dog:  they quickly distract.  But I’m hard-pressed to find so glaring an example as Obamacare to demonstrate how easy it was to dupe millions of people who should have been smart enough to know otherwise.

For years it has been fashionable in some segments of the Right to complain that America’s public schools are engaged in indoctrination instead of education.  But the Left’s slander of Richard Cohen might point at a reality far worse.  It’s not that millions of Americans have been taught the wrong things–bad lessons can be unlearned.  Much worse is the possibility that many millions of Americans have never been taught how to critically read and to logically think.  If this is true, it does not bode well for the nation’s future.

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Unable to serve

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Economy, Education, Military | Posted at: Monday, 29 July 2013

Conventional wisdom holds that military service disproportionately attracts minorities and men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many believe that troops enlist because they have few options, not because they want to serve their country. Others believe that the war in Iraq has forced the military to lower its recruiting standards.

. . . studies that examined the backgrounds of enlisted personnel refute this interpretation.

I have to admit that in 2001 I accepted the CW that the militarily disproportionately accepted poor minorities. And then I checked for myself. I did a very similar analysis to this Heritage Foundation study and discovered a very similar result: Americans from the poorest backgrounds are the least likely to join the Army.

A few notes about my study:

1. It was three computers ago and I’ve lost all the raw data, but the results are still clear in my mind. Take that for what it’s worth–yes I encourage skepticism–but to partially allay that, I posted the same thing back in 2005.

2. I looked at FY 2001 Active Army enlistments, USMA enrollees, and ROTC contracts. That was before September 11th for all but the last three weeks of the year. Additionally, it was only Army data. Sad for an Army man to admit: of the services, the Army has the worst record when it comes to marketing to high quality applicants. In other words: if the Army looked good, the other services (especially Marines and Air Force) are bound to look even better.

3. I didn’t break my data down into census tracts, but to zip codes, which is a less discrete variable. However, I did look at individual zip codes with which I was personally familiar, and I found that evidence from those areas matched the results of the overall study.

4. I looked at census data for 17-24 year olds, which is a the usual target market for Army recruiters. It’s unclear from the Heritage study how they accounted for age.

Bottom line results of my study: the least likely quintile of zip codes to send recruits into the active Army, was the economically lowest-ranked quintile. By far. In other words, the 20% of poorest neighborhoods were the least likely to send people into the Active Army (the easiest of the four services to enter). My going-in hypothesis was the opposite. I expected the poorest neighborhoods to provide the most recruits. I was wrong.

Instead, I suppose, that the poorest neighborhoods are those that are the most likely to produce 17-24 year olds who are ungraduated from high school, with a disqualifying criminal record, and/or unable to pass a drug test.

More to the point: One-fifth of our nation’s children are growing up in neighborhoods where they don’t even have the military as a realistic possible path to betterment. Ouch.


Paul Mirengoff


H/T: Insty

*Standard disclaimer to tell you that these are my opinions only and not those of DoD, and cetera.

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That’s nice; now what about jobs?

Byline: | Category: 2012, 2nd Amendment, Culture, Economy, Education, Environment, Government, Military, Race, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 10 May 2012

I suppose I ought to say something about President Obama’s flip-flop on gay marriage.  Instead, I’ll tell you what I wish Mitt Romney had said when he was asked about the President’s stance:

“That’s nice; now what about jobs?

In fact, that should be Mitt Romney’s response every time he is asked about gay marriage, immigration, guns, Trayvon Martin, global warming, eating dogs . . .  

Pretty much everything except the economy, taxes, and spending is a distraction from the issues that are really important.  Mitt Romney should drive the point home that everything else is secondary and frivolous and that he is not going to allow the debate to come off that point.

P.S.  If you’re really interested in what I think about gay marriage, here’s a couple recent posts that shed some light on that.  But rather than expect you to read them, here’s a two-word summation:  Don’t care.

MORE:  Roger Simon concurs and offers a warning:

“The issue is a sideshow intended to distract. If our country goes the way of Greece – and writing this from the City of Los Angeles, it’s not so hard to imagine – you can forget any issue, whatever your favorite one is.  You won’t be living in America anymore.”

UPDATE:  Thanks to Ed at Insty’s Place for the links.  While you’re here, this is a story that’s not directly about jobs, but I bring it around to that point:  She deserves pity, not a punch in the throat.  (There’s a bonus Blazing Saddles clip at the end.)

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Lower Education Bubble Update

Byline: | Category: Culture, Education | Posted at: Tuesday, 8 November 2011


More than 30 parents pitched tents over the weekend at Fairview-Clifton German Language School on Clifton Avenue, more than a week ahead of the Nov. 16 application date. This is the earliest parents have ever started camping out for the so-called “magnet schools” – schools that are sought after for their specialty programs like foreign language or arts or teaching styles like Montessori. The number of campers had swelled to 48 by noon.

Among the campers is my brother, a public school teacher himself, who hopes to enroll his daughter in a highly sought after magnet school.

What an indictment of the Cincinnati Public School system. No matter what the product is, a queue 200 hours long is evidence of a serious mismatch between the demand for a desired service and the available supply. Were education operating in a more free market system, this mismatch would spur expansion of those charter and magnet programs as well as prompt new ones to begin to meet obviously unmet needs. Instead CPS is blind to the problem that has apparently been around for years. They focus only on the symptom of people camping out for days on end who “deny” to non-campers an enrollment opportunity, without ever considering that the root cause of the campouts is that the product they currently deliver has no value to a large segment of the market. That in itself is ample proof that a magnet or charter education, operating outside the CPS mainstream, is a much better product than whatever regular education Cincinnati Public Schools can deliver.

There is no greater evidence than this campout, that my brother and his wife are deserving of our best wishes in their quest to save my niece from CPS.

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Hawkeyes lay waste to Badgers . . . and badgering malcontents

Byline: | Category: Education | Posted at: Thursday, 3 March 2011

As devastating as David Burge is in the role of Iowahawk, when he plays himself, he’s insurmountable.  Paul Krugman may have a Ph.D. and a Nobel Prize, but those shields are no protection from Burge’s bite. 

Read the whole thing.

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News You Can’t Really Use…”Cause You Already Knew It

Byline: | Category: Education | Posted at: Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The news-o-sphere is all abuzz about a report that high school graduation rates in urban areas stink, especially when compared to suburban areas. Really? I had no idea. Somehow, I’m sure, this is George Bush’s fault.

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If there’s something the matter, he’s not saying what

Byline: | Category: Education, Government, Media, TN Politics, Uncategorized | Posted at: Friday, 10 August 2007

Certain elements of the Nashville political blogosphere have been embroiled in one of those MSM v Bloggers dustups that emerges from time to time.  As in most such imbroglios, there is an element of truth to both sides: As Alan Coverstone states, journalistic coverage of local government and politics is not as informative as we wish it would be, and in Clint Brewer’s defense, he is right that too many bloggers are sloppy fact-checkers, and are reluctant to make corrections when they err.

Mr. Coverstone’s latest missive in this online fight caught my interest for one other reason.  In it he laments the lack of local responsible journalism (my interpretation of his meaning), and that it has become as uninformative as he apparently believes journalism is at the national level:

. . . just because all CNN and FOX News give us on the national level is prognostication, that does not mean I have to be grateful when I get it on the local level.

Being that he is a government teacher at a prestigious college preparatory institution, I thought it would be interesting to see what resources Mr. Coverstone provides to his students to make up for the perceived shortfall of quality local coverage.

On Coverstone’s page on the school’s website there are links to CNN, MSNBC, CSPAN, the Washington Post and the New York Times (no Fox News, btw). There are also links to the Republican NATIONAL Committee and the Democratic NATIONAL Committee, as well as the White House, and some documents of national historic significance.

Glaringly absent, however, from the website of a government and politics teacher bemoaning the lack of quality local journalism is ANY local information at all*.

If there is something the “Matter With Tennessee” (part of the name of Mr. Coverstone’s personal blog), oddly, there is nothing on his professional website that would seem to suggest to his students what it is, much less to recommend a remedy.

*Wait, there actually is a Tennessee-centric resource on his site.  It’s about the Scopes-Monkey Trial of 1925.  Not exactly timely information.

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An army of dunces

Byline: | Category: Blogging, Culture, Education | Posted at: Thursday, 24 May 2007

It’s interesting how different people can read the same thing very differently.  When that occurs over a blog post, it sometimes says more about the commenters than it does about what is being read.  Blogs as a virtual Rorschach, so to speak.

Earlier this week I posted about my experience at a recent high school graduation where I saw that women vastly outperformed men academically.  My post was strictly an observation.  There was no blame, no rant, no recommendations.

That’s not what some people read, however.  (Coincidentally, in fitting with the original subject matter at hand, at least if screen names are indicative of gender, we can also add reading comprehension to the list of subjects where men fall short–as the misinterpreters were predominantly male.)

I was struck by how much projection of one’s own worldview was misinterpreted into my view.  I did not call for “affirmative action” to remedy the inequality of outcome, nor did I view the inequality as an indication of some innately prejudicial system.

I did lament the lack of advocates for boys out there, but I did not call for boys to receive their advocacy at the expense of women, nor did I call for governmental programs to “fix” the problem.

Most of all what I was struck by was the zero-sum-game nature of many of the comments both on this site and at others discussing what I wrote (check the Technorati bug at the original post).  “Roy,” for example, read into my writing that “success is actually finite, and the more women get of it the less is left for the guys.”  His comment was echoed by others who betrayed a zeitgeist that the advancement of one can only come at the expense of another.

Success in just about everything but sports doesn’t have to be a zero sum game.  However, the culture of victimhood has apparently inculcated within a number of people a reflexive response to want to push the successful down, when what is needed is to lift up the failing.  (Aside:  If you haven’t read Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron since grade school . . . or if you’re male, and you haven’t read it at all . . . it’s really worth a re-read, as it carries this phenomenon to a horrible extreme.)

Penalizing success is absolutely the wrong response since it does nothing to solve the underlying disadvantage.  It simply masks the problem by lessening the statistical distinction.  Yet, I was struck again and again how by simply bringing up the difference in academic achievement between sexes, it was automatically assumed that I was suggesting a remedial quota that would punish today’s achievers.

To be fair, it works both ways, as a number of commenters  argued that following rules, studying, and testing puts boys at a recent disadvantage–as if those haven’t always been a part of the American school system–even long before women began to outperform men.

If boys aren’t doing as well in school as girls, it is not because of what the girls are doing.  Nor is it the fault of what the system is doing for girls.  As the son of a mother, the husband of a wife, and the father of a daughter, I’m proud of the recent academic gains women have made, and wish not to see those reversed.  However, as the father of two sons, I want the system to work as well for my sons as it does for my daughter.

One other thing troubled me about some of the responses, not so much here, but on some other websites.  There was a definite air of gleeful schadenfreude in some comments.  They saw it as a “good thing” that boys were finally getting their comeuppance. 

It’s hard to know who anonymous internet commenters are, but I’d like to think that those writers don’t yet have children of their own.  Because it would be really sad if there was a group of parents out there who think that it’s alright to punish their sons for the sins of their fathers.

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The smallest minority

Byline: | Category: Culture, Education | Posted at: Monday, 21 May 2007

I was concerned that in the sea of humanity this evening, I wouldn’t be able to locate “my” graduate. My friend was one of dozens of young adults with freshly minted diplomas from our local public high school. Luckily, the color-coding made it easier to locate my friend. There were yellow sashes for International Baccalaureate program graduates, blue and gold cords for members of the National Honor Society, and green cords for those graduating with academic honors. My friend was a member of the small minority of graduates with all three awards.

But my friend was a member of a still smaller color-coded minority. Instead of wearing the white graduation gowns the women graduates wore, he wore green, making him one of only two male graduates with awards in all three areas. (more…)

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That’s an endorsement against

Byline: | Category: Education, Media | Posted at: Thursday, 17 May 2007

The Nashville City Paper asks, “Will the teacher’s union endorsement influence your vote in the mayor’s race?”

I answered “Yes”, but I’m guessing that my reasoning wasn’t what the question’s writer was thinking when he wrote the survey. The endorsement of the Metro Nashville Education Association absolutely will influence me to vote in another direction. While that alone won’t be the sole determinor in who I support, whoever has the local NEA affiliate’s support starts with a significant strike against him–especially given their recent dysfunctional past.

So there are two lessons here:

Endorsements work both ways, and writing survey questions/interpreting survey results isn’t always obvious.

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