Aug 13, 2009

You said the T-word! Tee-hee-hee-hee!

On any normal day, Brendan Nyhan is worth reading. But this was silly. Yes, Pearlstein's word choice was sloppy, for reasons explained by Yglesias, but Nyhan is making a mountain out of a molehill. He is actually counter-productive, as he accuses a bunch of people of joining in the smear based on their endorsement of Pearlstein's article. But Pearlstein's article is indeed very good, with the exception of those two words. One shouldn't get so stuck on those two words to discard the rest of the article. And I wonder what Nyhan would have said if Pearlstein had characterized the Republicans correctly.

Aug 12, 2009

Preview of future Investors' Business Daily editorials

Stephen Hawking is a tough act to follow, but they may try some of the following:

Mikhail Gorbachev wouldn't have had a chance in the USSR; if he had tried his reforms there, he would have been sent to the Gulag.

If LBJ had ever been elected President in his own right, maybe he would have had some credibility for the policies he pushed.

The Beatles would never had become famous if they had tried to compose their own songs; they probably had no creative talent at all.

If New Yorkers ever experienced a terrorist attack, they wouldn't be such unpatriotic latte-sipping liberals.

If Mark Twain had ever traveled to the Mississippi river, he wouldn't have written such unrealistic nonsense about it and the people living around it.

If Martin Luther King, Jr. had grown up in the South, he'd never had gotten the education to become a minister.

If Charles Darwin had seen the Galapagos islands, he would have realized that only the Almighty God could have designed the beaks of all those finches.

(P.S. IBD has now "corrected" the editorial. That's futile; such idiocy is incorrigible and eternal.)

Why is the press like a sheep behind a wheel?

When a traffic lane is closed, there is always some asshole who doesn't merge in an orderly way, but keeps driving in the emptied lane until it really ends, and then butts in. When that happens, I am not mad at the asshole, but at the sheep that lets him in. Looks like Dean Baker shares my sentiment, with a slight modification: the assholes are politicians and the sheep are the journalists.

Aug 11, 2009

PolitiFact is full of shit (Krugman-bashing edition)

It looks like in this country you can't tell the truth without being called a liar by the so-called fact-checkers. Here PolitiFact blasts Paul Krugman. The quote they put in the title is
During the 2005 fight over Social Security, "there were noisy demonstrations — but they were outside the events,” and opponents were “not disruptive — crowds booed lines they didn’t like, but that was about it."

Paul Krugman on Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 in a blog posting.
This is already a bit of a straw man. It would appear, from that quote alone, that Krugman denied that Social Security reform protesters ever behaved in a disorderly manner. When they expand the quote in the main text of the article, it becomes considerably more nuanced:
In an Aug. 5 blog posting, liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote:

“Indeed, activists made trouble in 2005 by asking congressmen tough questions about policy. Activists are making trouble now by shouting congressmen down so they can’t be heard. It’s exactly the same thing, right?”

He continued, “Seriously, I’ve been searching through news reports on the Social Security town halls, and I can’t find any examples of the kind of behavior we’re seeing now. Yes, there were noisy demonstrations — but they were outside the events. That was even true during the first month or two, when Republicans actually tried having open town halls. Congressmen were very upset by the reception they received, but not, at least according to any of the reports I can find, because opponents were disruptive — crowds booed lines they didn’t like, but that was about it.

“After that, the events were open only to demonstrated loyalists; you may recall the people arrested at a Bush Social Security event in Denver for the crime of … not being Bush supporters.

“So please, no false equivalences. The campaign against Social Security privatization was energetic and no doubt rude, but did not involve intimidation and disruption.
(Emphasis mine.) So Krugman readily acknowledges that the 2005 campaign was "rude". His main point, though, is comparison between the 2005 and 2009 protests, and he claims they are not similar. He says he couldn't find, in 2005, "any examples of the kind of behavior we’re seeing now." And what kind of behavior is that? "Intimidation and disruption", Krugman says. For the examples of such behavior now, see here and here and here and here and here. (All of those are events that happened, and were reported, before Krugman wrote his blog post.)

Well, PolitiFact's verdict is that Krugman's statements are FALSE:
We conclude that while some of the recent conservative protests — such as ones at town halls in Tampa, Little Rock, Ark., Houston, Philadelphia, and Green Bay, Wis.— may have been angrier and more widespread than the ones in 2005, it would be incorrect to suggest, as Krugman does, that the noisy demonstrations against Bush's policies were only taking place outside the events or that disruptions were limited to the occasional boo.
Is this even arguably grounds for the "False" verdict? PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter" has a total of six readings: True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True, False, and Pants On Fire. The last one is reserved for stuff like this, but even some quite nutty claims are merely deemed False. So "False" is supposed to mean really, you know, false.

For Krugman's post to be False by those same standards, it would seem necessary to find that the protesters' behavior in 2005 was indeed similar to what we see now - that the Social Security protesters also intimidated speakers and disrupted meetings. But look what PolitiFact says:
It is true that there’s nothing in the clips from 2005 about burning members of Congress in effigy or the use of devils’ horns. But Woodhouse’s group employed 28-foot gorillas, duck suits, plates of hot waffles and sheet cakes as props, according to an Aug. 13, 2005, report in the Albuquerque Tribune.
They "forgot" to mention Nazi symbols, but they appear to agree with Krugman about intimidation - unless duck suits are considered equivalent to imagery of lynching and Nazis.

And let's see what evidence PolitiFact cites in support of the verdict. Among their examples, I could find only one journalistic report that amounts to out-of-control unruly behavior and disruption of a meeting, and it is not clear that it was solely the protesters' responsibility:
— A session sponsored by Rep. Chris Chocola, R-Ind., in South Bend, at the downtown branch of the St. Joseph County Public Library “was a raucous affair, with many of the 100 or so people who attended shouting questions and insults, talking over each other and still bubbling with questions when it was all over.

“One gentleman was so angry when Chocola indicated the hour-long session was coming to an end and wouldn't be extended that he walked out.”

(South Bend Tribune , Feb. 27, 2005)
But even here, the disruption was far from complete. People were "bubbling with questions" and the gentleman was angry because he didn't get his turn to ask a question. That indicates that, while the meeting was raucous, there was active conversation to the end. It's quite a stretch to compare that report with current demonstrations.

Other examples border on ridiculous. Someone was being smartalecky to Rick Santorum:
“Santorum asked the audience what would happen in 2008. The response he wanted was that the oldest baby boomers would turn 62 and be eligible for early retirement.

“What he got instead, shouted out by an unfriendly voice, was: ‘George Bush will leave office!’
Well, that surely made Baby Jesus cry. In other examples, John Shadegg "encountered scattered heckling, boos and hisses" (emphasis mine; I assume the folks at PolitiFact know the meaning of "scattered"), some guy wrote a letter to Enterprise-Record of Chico, Calif., complaining that he witnessed "rude, disrespectful behavior" (Wait! Isn't that what Krugman acknowledged anyway?), and, in PolitiFact's words, "some stories noted the meetings were civil." Wow. After reading all that, I'll have nightmares of people in duck suits chasing me down and killing me with waffles.

But, of course, in case you aren't convinced that Krugman is a liar,
in all likelihood, there were many, many events that did not result in news coverage we could find. So we can't say whether there were protests or shouting matches.
And, since we can't say, Krugman should shut up, too. Even if what he says is true, how dare he hurt the feelings of those frail little Republican politicians?
Still, the protests inside and outside town halls, even if they were not universal, clearly rattled Republican leaders. On March 17, 2005, USA Today reported:

“Shaken by raucous protests at open ‘town hall’-style meetings last month, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce of Ohio and other GOP leaders are urging lawmakers to hold lower-profile events this time.
Poor, unfortunate souls. And bad, bad Paul Krugman!

Aug 10, 2009

Double-dog-dare you to define my -ism

Arnold Kling wrote a silly little post about progressivism, or rather an idiot's misconception of progressivism. It makes no sense at all: What are "unfettered free markets"? Who are the "technocrats"? What is "optimal"? Such lazy indulgence in empty words deserves no attention.

But then Tyler Cowen took it a step further. He claims he tried to "cast progressivism in the best possible light". He probably did honestly try; he seems like an honest and often lucid thinker. Certainly one of the most lucid thinker of the "right" blogosphere these days. But is he lucid enough for this task? His points seem lame and inaccurate. For example:
1. There exists a better way and that is shown by the very successful polities of northwestern Europe and near-Europe. We know that way can work, even if it is sometimes hard to implement.

You've got to be kidding me. This is the first point of an ideology you are "trying to cast in the best possible light"? A better way for what? "There's a better way" is not basis for an ideology; depending on how you are disposed to interpret those generic words, it is either a truism (of course there is a better way for everything - we humans are imperfect) or mere nagging. And the rest of the two sentences suggests that progressivism is all about imitating "northwestern Europe" (a geographically-challenged characterization?), so why is it then not called "northwesterneuropeism"? Or how about:
4. The needs of the neediest ought to be our top priority, as variations in the well-being of other individuals are usually small by comparison, at least in the United States.

Um, "the needs of the neediest ought to be our top priority" is utilitarianism, which is compatible with progressivism, but by no means synonymous with it. That's something Tyler ought to know (and does know, but he is either too lazy or unable to come up with more precise wording). Or how about:
9. State and local governments are fundamentally to be mistrusted (recall segregation) and thus we should transfer more power to the federal government, which tends to be bluntly and grossly egalitarian, when it manages to be egalitarian at all. That is OK.

Oh, so progressivism is anti-federalism! ("Anti-federalism" is what the "founding fathers" called "federalism", but never mind.) Except it isn't - it's just that, for as long as the US has existed, anti-progressives have touted their fictional concept of "states' rights" whenever it has suited them, which is whenever the federal government happened to be more progressive than the states, which is probably roughly half the time. Whenever it doesn't suit them, those same people conveniently forget "states' rights". By the fallacy that there have to be two equal sides to each issue, progressives, who have no analogous fictional concept, are perceived as "anti-states' rights", whatever the hell that would mean.

Tristero says this is complete bullshit. That may be a bit too harsh, but, obviously, I agree it is not an intellectual exercise Cowen should be proud of. Tristero is also miffed that Yglesias took the bait, and it does seem that Yglesias bent over backwards to "cast libertarianism in the best possible light":
I think libertarianism is best understood as a kind of esoteric doctrine. There’s strong evidence to believe that people who overestimate their own efficacy in life wind up doing better than those with more accurate perceptions. It follows that it’s strongly desirable for society to be organized so as to bolster myths of meritocracy.

I understand that Yglesias is not necessarily endorsing any of this, but merely ascribing it to libertarianism, but the second sentence is written as a statement of fact, so either Matt agrees that it is true, or he is saying that the foundation of libertarianism is simply false. Now I hope he means the latter, but then, if that is the best possible light in which to cast libertarianism, why even bother? He could have said it more concisely as "garbage in, garbage out". Maybe libertarianism should be called GIGOism? But in case Matt actually believes the factual claim to be true, he may be demonstrating poor deductive reasoning.

As far as I know, there is evidence that the most successful people are more likely than average people to be prone to overestimating their own efficacy. However, that does not mean that the converse holds. People who overestimate their abilities may, in effect, be gambling in life, ending up disproportionately at both ends of the outcomes distribution. They will then tend to be overrepresented among the winners as well as among the losers. By observing that most winners are cocky, we learn nothing about the average effect of cockiness. Concluding that cockiness is useful on average is the same fallacy that critics of Larry Summers use to falsely accuse him of stating that men are smarter than women.

But there is an advantage of Yglesias' writing on any topic: he has smart readers, and some of them contribute sensible comments. Thus Keith M Ellis:
A more accurate version of libertarian theory is that it is based upon an idiosyncratic view of inherent (and arguably metaphysical) individual human rights that is strongly oriented to property rights and is extremely American in historical origin and flavor. Sitting atop this view of individual rights—which itself is sufficient and requires no utilitarian elaboration—is a whole bunch of utilitarian justification for a libertarian sociopolitical organization built around the notions that said organization results in the greatest overall material and psychological benefit.

This theoretical basis has three great weaknesses: first, the notion of inherent individual rights is eminently contestable. Second, the almost exclusive emphasis on individual property rights is idiosyncratic and myopic. Third, the utilitarian arguments for the benefits of the resulting sociopolitical organization are extraordinarily simplistic and are as often as not disproved by empirical fact.

In practice, libertarianism is a political philosophy which emphasizes the notion of virtue in selfishness and has as its historical genesis the exceptional American experience. As such, it appeals mostly to white American males who are moderately above-average in intelligence, economically secure, independently-minded, and prefer simplistic theoretical constructs for making political and moral decisions. It validates their own affluence/privilege not by group affiliation, but by inherent individual merit; and it likewise superficially validates the poverty and lack of privilege of others not on the basis of group affiliation, but inherent fault. In this it mimics a meritocratic view, which allows the libertarian to congratulate himself on his lack of bigotry; but, in fact, it is a facade behind which his true bigotry hides.

Or Duncan Kinder:
The problem with libertarianism is that they tend to conflate liberty with possession of property.

This made sense 200 years ago, when owning a small farm or business meant that you were secure in the means of your livelihood. (...) However, due to economic shifts since then, owning property does not mean you therefore are secure in the means to your livelihood. Indeed, large property holders such as medical insurers are very much in the business of interfering with others’ means to their livelihood.

This means that libertarianism now is, in practice, a misguided and often cranky ideal.

Keith M Ellis also says something that especially resonates with me:
I write as someone who thought of himself as a libertarian in my late teens (a self-identification which quickly ended once I met actual, active libertarians)

I'll give Keith the final word:
American libertarianism could have foregone all its academic intellectuals and it would still be largely what it has become with them. Libertarianism is not an intellectual movement, it is a cultural movement. Libertarianism is essentially: individualism, good; property, good; commerce, good; government, bad. It’s a historically/sociologically related set of sentiments.

Aug 6, 2009

Paul Campos is a big fat idiot

Actually, that's not true. Unlike the title character of Al Franken's book, he doesn't seem to be particularly corpulent. But his "obesity myth" crusade is not just dumb, it is drugged-up-radio-talk-show-host dumb.

The prevalence of obesity among US adults has more than doubled in 25 years. Among US adolescents, it has more than tripled. If a change like that had been observed in prevalence of homosexuality, the scientific consensus would be very different regarding its origins (innate vs. acquired) and probably also regarding whether it is a normal variation or a health problem. But, as an empirical matter, there is no evidence that the prevalence of homosexuality has changed over time. Therefore, reality-based people, who value empirical evidence, do not pretend that obesity is analogous to homosexuality.

Jul 29, 2009

O'Reilly turns the stupidity knob up to 11

This is making satire and parody impossible. Satire requires taking something stupid and exaggerating it, caricaturing it to make it patently absurd. But it just doesn't get more stupid than this. Like loudness in This Is Spinal Tap, the stupidity of some right-wing talking heads now goes to eleven.

Jul 24, 2009

Farmers and steelers live twice as dangerously as police officers

There it is - America's most dangerous jobs in 2007:

Also note that police officers' most common cause of death on the job are car accidents, not confrontation with criminals. Police officers' rate of death by homicide - about 8 per 100,000 - is just slightly above the rate for the general population (6.2 per 100,000), and is lower than the rate for general male population (10.0 per 100,000) or male population ages 20-59 (about 11 per 100,000).

Jul 18, 2009

Abort, Retry, Fail?

Tempest in a teapot about an "abortion party" (a fundraiser, actually). Really silly arguments.

Feminists and progressives want abortion to be legal, taken out of the political sphere. Fine. But these goal do not require that abortion be rendered morally unproblematic.
It is true that the pro-choice political position does not require it, but early abortion should be morally unproblematic.
But once again, abortion is not, and will never be, a matter of moral indifference.
And why not?

The woman in the story was having an early abortion. She had just discovered she was pregnant, and was taking steps to abort as soon as possible. (And, don't forget, if abortion were free, as it should be, she wouldn't need to waste time on fundraising and could have the abortion even earlier.) No issues of whether the fetus is conscious or feels pain are even remotely at play. The only reason to make this into a moral issue is religious woo - and that's no reason at all. Such early abortions should indeed become a matter of moral indifference - and that is necessary for the society to have a rational debate about abortion. Forcing early abortion to be a moral issue is the source of all current abortion-related hysteria.

Michelle Cottle makes an utterly irrelevant point about the original story:
in calling the piece "highly dubious," I'm not suggesting the party didn't happen as broadly outlined, merely that (a) this is the kind of piece that smacks of literary embellishment--or at the very least features a situation prone to heavy personal interpretation--in service of a point; and (b) even assuming events unfolded precisely as recounted, the experience is so outside the mainstream that it tells us virtually nothing about sexual relations, much less abortion politics, more broadly.
I don't know if the piece was "literary embellished", and neither does Michelle. But why does it matter whether the experience is typical? The author certainly didn't imply that it was. Interesting observation usually come from unusual experiences. Cottle seems to be concerned that the story will make pro-choice people look bad to "the mainstream", which reminds me of the unprincipled and short-sighted position of the "Neville Chamberlain atheists".

Conor Friedersdorf's question is more relevant, but I think it misses the point somewhat:
But I suspect that the same norm inevitably leads some men to ask -- wrongly in my view, but understandably -- if you think that abortion is ethically unproblematic, and whether to have one or not is your choice, why should I have to pay child support for 18 years if you decide against having one?"
The proper analogy is not with abortion, but with carrying a pregnancy to term and giving the baby up for adoption. That is the situation that challenges the consistency of the current legal rules - the mother can relinquish all legal and financial responsibility for the child in a way the father cannot.

It doesn't make much sense to compare compelling a man to pay child support and compelling a woman to carry a pregnancy to term. The latter is an involvement at a much deeper level, affecting the woman's body and potentially health. But once the pregnancy is over, that distinction is lost. Sure, after a "typical" birth (especially a wanted one), the mother feels a connection to the baby and would be devastated if she had to give the baby away; but we are not talking about "typical" situations, but specifically those where the mother truly does not want to keep the baby (but was not forced to carry it to term). A man would not be forced to raise the child (have custody), and neither should a woman. But a man - even if poor - would legally have some financial responsibility for the child. This is the area where legitimate questions of equal treatment do arise.

May 12, 2009

Absurdly Strained Neutral POV

Brendan Nyhan wrote a ridiculous post, and it's ridiculous right from the title:
Liberals go soft on Sykes's Limbaugh "jokes"

Putting "jokes" in quotes implies that they aren't really jokes, and the rest of the title implies that they deserved being gone hard on, whatever that means. Such a title is not a good sign that the body of the post will be well thought out.
there's no avoiding the fact that what comedian Wanda Sykes said about Rush Limbaugh at the White House Correspondents Association dinner was loathsome

Fact? Loathsome?? Give me a break! Humor can only be loathsome when it mocks or humiliates the weak and powerless. The way Brendan describes it, one would think that Rush Limbaugh is a rape victim or a mentally retarded person - those would be likely targets of loathsome jokes - and not the man whose words make the most powerful Republican politicians soil their pants if they let slip a less-than-flattering opinion of him.
Adopting the language of GOP attacks on dissent since 9/11, Sykes equates Limbaugh's political speech with treason and compares him to a terrorist.

Um, no, Brendan, she satirizes him, making him the target of words paraphrasing his own. I don't think you'd get a good grade in an English class if you didn't recognize what was going on. That she is a comedian and was speaking as one at an event that was supposed to be comedic might be a hint, too.
Like many conservative talk show hosts, she also uses aggressive language expressing a desire for a political opponent to be physically harmed -- specifically for Limbaugh's kidneys to fail and for him to be waterboarded. This echoes the practice of many conservative hosts who make "jokes" about waterboarding liberals.

That's a patently fallacious comparison: those conservative talk show hosts were not joking when they said it, or at least I am not aware of any theory of humor that encompasses their statements. They were trash-talking or bullying, which a lot of people evidently confuse with joking, but I would hope that a PhD in political science wouldn't be among them. There is no discernible intent of irony, surprising incongruence, absurd, or exposing the target's hypocrisy in waterbording "threats" that come out of mouths of babes like Limbaughs and O'Reillys. They are just expressing aggression. By contrast, Sykes was obviously applying standard satirical forms. She "echoed" her targets' words, all right, but that's a standard tool of her trade. But Brendan is implying that the echoed words are morally equivalent to the originals. That is just absurd.
What's striking is how liberals -- who were frequently outraged about accusations of treason during the Bush years -- have sought to downplay Sykes's comments.

Wow! It is striking that people understand the difference between earnest accusations and jokes! Or between bullying and satire! How remarkable! Oh, wait... isn't it more striking that a professional analyst of political communication cannot tell the difference?
Of course, as Media Matters and Tapped's Adam Serwer pointed out, Limbaugh makes similarly offensive "jokes" on his show attacking dissent and comparing liberals to terrorists. And yes, he is far more powerful and influential than Sykes. But if it's wrong when Limbaugh does it, then it's wrong when Sykes does it too.

It would be if they were doing the same thing, but Brendan's pox on both their houses is logically similar to stating that if it is wrong to kill for material gain, then it's wrong to kill in self-defense. The fallacy is in asserting (without support and contrary to evidence) that two superficially similar acts are the same.
The hypocrisy here is staggering (especially in the Media Matters case).

The idiocy of Brendan's post is the only staggering phenomenon here. But it gets worse:
Imagine that a conservative comedian had accused Keith Olbermann of treason at the WHCA dinner back in 2004 and said he should be waterboarded. Would liberals have minimized the comments as "jokes" and catalogued all the offensive things Olbermann has said on his show? I don't think so.

That is extremely stupid, and Matt Yglesias aptly calls Brendan's bullshit:
But these aren’t symmetrical cases. Jokes advocating that conservative proponents of waterboarding should be subjected to waterboarding make a real political point, namely that this practice the right dismisses as “dunking” is, in fact, horrifying torture. The point of the joke is that this would be clear enough to Limbaugh if it was done to him. A comparable case, I guess, is if a conservative comedian were to say “if Keith Olbermann likes higher taxes on the wealthy so much, then he should have to pay higher income taxes, too!” But I don’t think Olbermann or his fans would find that particularly stinging since I take it he already understands the basic implications of Obama’s tax policies.

Brendan noted and quoted that, and had a chance to graciously say "Touché!" - but instead he just dug himself deeper:
First of all, it's not clear that Sykes was making a point about Limbaugh's support for waterboarding -- if that was her intent, she didn't make it especially obvious. The more general point was calling for physical harm to Limbaugh, which was quite clear

I can't believe this was written by the same guy whom I put on my blogroll. Last time I checked his blog, he had a brain. Where and when did he lose it?

Oh, by the way, Brendan didn't criticize the artistic value of Sykes' jokes anywhere in his post, so that issue is irrelevant to the discussion. But to prevent attacks on straw men, l'll say that I found the quoted jokes lame; however, my arguments do not depend on the artistic value of the jokes at all.

Infallibly Awkward

For a change, the Pope is right on substance...
Soothing tensions with Jews was clearly at the top of Benedict's agenda. But a noteworthy comment upon his arrival at the airport calling for an independent Palestinian homeland alongside Israel had the potential to put him at odds with Israel's new hardline government.
Benedict said both Israelis and Palestinians should "live in peace in a homeland of their own within secure and internationally recognized borders."

...but has he considered that a German who heads the church that until recently blamed the Jews for killing its God may not be the most effective and persuasive spokesman for the idea of a Palestinian state?

May 6, 2009


This is why I don't normally watch TV. I don't need to be constantly reminded of the idiocy of powerful people.

Mike Pence, Chairman of the House Republican Council, refuses to answer Chris Matthews' simple question whether he believes in evolution. Instead, he keeps talking complete gibberish.

It is the Retarded Party. How can anyone respect it?

Can You Say That Again?

Did you say "Jefferson Davis Beauregard Secession the Turd"?

May 4, 2009

The Constitution Commandeth: Thou Shalt Not Call Creationism "Superstitious Nonsense"!

I woke up from blogging hibernation because another Bush-appointed judge decided that we've always been at war with Eastasia.

As Orwell said, freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If a teacher is not allowed to say that creationism is "religious, superstitious nonsense", then we are in deep trouble. And, as of last Friday, a teacher is not allowed to say that, at least not in the Central District of California.

Briefly, James Corbett, a high school history teacher and adviser for the student newspaper, was found liable for Establishment Clause violation because of the comment he made in reference to John Peloza, a biology teacher who has been fighting (and suing) the school district for his "right" to teach creationism in his science class.

The most important reason this ruling is appalling is that it prohibits telling the truth. PZ Myers nails it:
First of all, he told the truth: creationism is religious, it is a product of superstition, and it is nonsense — it doesn't fit any of the evidence we have about the history of the world or life on it. We have to have the right to tell students not only that something is wrong, but that it is stupidly wrong.
And the judge's reasoning is mind-boggling (emphasis mine):
The Court cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context. The statement therefore constitutes improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.
Hello? The context, as described by the judge himself, was Corbett's opposition to Peloza's attempts to teach creationism. Not only is creationism false, but teaching it in public schools - especially in a science class - is illegal. Pointing this out obviously has a secular purpose.

So much for one prong of the Lemon test; the judge sours the next one just as badly:
The Court finds that Corbett’s statement primarily sends a message of disapproval of religion or creationism. As discussed above, Corbett states an unequivocal belief that creationism is “superstitious nonsense.” Corbett could have criticized Peloza for teaching religious views in class without disparaging those views.
This is wrong on several levels. First, it is beyond dispute that, in the context of science, which is what Peloza was supposed to teach, creationism is superstitious nonsense. If it weren't, the fact that it is illegal to teach it would be hugely problematic. If those views did not deserve disparaging, Peloza would be a victim of persecution by the Capistrano Unified School District, the US District Court for the Central District of California (the same one that decided this case) and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. There is a reason creationism is not allowed in the science curriculum.

(And, to preempt the argument that it has nothing to do with truth or falsehood, but only with favoring religion, let me ask if teaching some claim that came from a religion - and, to make the case harder, was denied by another religion - would still be prohibited if the claim turned out to be true. Let's say science discovered that it really was turtles all the way down; would it make any sense to proclaim that teaching that violates the Establishment Clause?)

Furthermore, if so many non-fundamentalist believers and conciliatory non-believers have been trying to convince the public that religion is compatible with evolution, how come disparaging creationism is equated with disparaging religion? Again, I'll outsource this to PZ:
[W]e are being told over and over again that Christianity is not equivalent to creationism. This teacher has specifically said that creationism is nonsense, and this judge has equated a dismissal of a weird anti-scientific belief with making a rude remark about Christianity. So…where are all the Christians rising in outrage at the slander of their faith?
Finally, this suit was not brought by Peloza, but by a student, Chad Farnan. It is a mystery why Farnan should have standing to sue over a disparaging statement one teacher made about another teacher.

Ed Brayton wrote about the decision as well, but he seems terribly confused for a normally staunch free speech proponent. While Ed seems to tepidly agree that the creationism comment did not violate the EC, he also seems to think that some of Corbett's other comments, which the judge found not to have violated the EC, were more problematic:
Again, this is really strained reasoning. If he really wanted to make the nuanced point that the court thinks he was making, he could certainly have done it in a much more scholarly and serious way. Instead, the statement he made was inflammatory and insulting. There just isn't any place for that kind of hostility in a public school classroom.
The way I read it, Ed would have found Corbett liable at least for the "Jesus glasses" comment. That is very disappointing, even more so because he stops at hand-waving and makes no attempt to argue with the Court's actual reasoning. Not surprisingly, a lot of Ed's commenters agree with him, many of them flaunting their ignorance of the facts (e.g., implying that Corbett was a science teacher). I will reproduce my comment here:
Why would the "Jesus glasses" comment be inappropriate? Jesus (if he existed, or other people in his name) promoted a certain set of moral rules that are demonstrably impossible to follow without acting against one's best interest, as the vast majority of Americans understand "one's best interest". It should be a history teacher's duty to explain why a certain group acted against its own interests - at least as it would appear to us. Unless there is evidence that "they were blinded/manipulated by religion" is not a fair explanation, i.e., not one widely accepted by historians, the teacher should be free to teach it.

As for the Mark Twain quote, as long as it is a true quote, it ought to be fair game for a teacher to use it. After all, Twain is arguably the greatest American writer ever (certainly the most acclaimed word-wide), and is (hopefully) well-represented on the syllabus of some required courses. Shouldn't students learn that the greatest American writer was an atheist?
But don't take my word for it, go to the source and read the decision.

UPDATE (5/5/09): As usual, Digby gets it.