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.