Category Archives: Politics

If I suggested you read this, it is because you used “ad hominem” wrong

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The term “ad hominem” means directed against a person.

If you are a racist, and I say you are a racist, then my statement is ad hominem. Note that the statement may be technically correct. I’m saying something about you, and you really are a racist, so my statement is correct. On the other hand, if you are not a racist, and I say you are a racist, that is an incorrect ad hominem statement. My statement is incorrect. Either way, I have not committed an “ad hominem fallacy.” I’ve simply made a statement about you, that may or may not have been correct.

So, what the heck is the meaning of the term “ad hominem fallacy” you may ask? (Note that the term “ad hominem” itself, or “ad hom” for short, has come to imply “ad hominem fallacy.”) In the above example, you might think that if I call you a racist and you are, that I have not committed a fallacy, but if you are a racist, I’ve not. In neither of the above examples, have I committed the ad hominem fallacy.

If I sent you to this post to read it, it is more likely because I think you’ve committed the fallacy of the ad hominem fallacy. This is a meta-fallacy. You have claimed that an ad hominem fallacy has occurred because someone has called someone a racist (or some other nasty thing, I’m using “racist” as an example here, obviously) whether the accusation is right or wrong. But your reference to the ad hominem fallacy is in fact a fallacy because none of that relates to what an ad hominem fallacy actually is.

An ad hominem fallacy is when you are arguing over an issue, like are cats better than dogs, and you go after the person you are arguing with and attack them as a person as part of your argument. That is not the same as the question of whether the person is in fact worthy of this attack.

Let me give you an example.

Me: Cats are better than dogs.

Hitler: No, dogs are better than cats.

Me: No. You are, in fact, Hitler, and Hitler is a total jerk, so therefore, cats are better than dogs.

Here, I am wrong in two ways. First, you can’t say that cats are better than dogs. Or visa versa. Second, I’m arguing that the other guy in this argument is wrong because he is a jerk. I was committing an ad hominem fallacy.

However, I am right about one thing. Hitler is a jerk. So, let’s play it out again from a slightly different angle.

Me: Cats are better than dogs.

Hitler: No, dogs are better than cats.

Me: Hitler, you are a complete jerk, did you know that?

Hitler: So I’ve been told.

Me: In any event, you are wrong. Cats are better than dogs.

Hitler: Really, you can’t say one is better than the other.

Me: You know, you are right about that. You are still a jerk.

Hitler: So I’ve been told.

Hitler is still bad.
Here, our discussion about cats vs. dogs actually came to a reasonable conclusion and, indeed, a consensus. Who knew both Hitler and I could be so reasonable? Also, I made an ad hominem attack on Hitler. I called him a jerk. In so doing, I did not commit an ad hominem fallacy. I made a statement of belief about Hitler’s jerkiness, and very likely, I was right. I did not use Hitler’s jerkiness as part of my argument about cats vs. dogs. Even if I was wrong, and Hitler is a nice guy with a bad reputation, my statement was still not an ad hominem fallacy. It might have been wrong, but it was not an ad hominem fallacy. It was about him, so technically, it was “ad hominem” but not a fallacy.

An ad hominem fallacy is when you use a personal attack on a person in order to devalue or dismiss an argument they are making. It is NOT when you make a statement about the person, which may or may not be a personal attack, in and of itself. I maintain Hitler is a jerk, and I don’t care about cats vs dogs. Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong, but while that is an attack on the man, it is not a logical fallacy. If I say his opinion about dogs vs cats is wrong because he is a jerk, THAT is an ad hominem fallacy.

I sent you here because I think you got that wrong, and I wrote this post because I’m weary of that common fallacy, about a fallacy, being toted out in the middle of arguments.


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Ancient Chinese Historians and the White House Press Corps

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This is a story that I learned from a well respected scholar of Chinese history and archaeology, K.C. Chang. He was, briefly, my graduate advisor. I am not a scholar of Chinese anything, and I can’t remember if this story had a textual source, but I have a vague feeling it was in a book introduction or review article written by Chang, and the subject matter was Chinese historiography. Historiography is the study of historical writing, in other words, the study of methods in history. When one studies Chinese historiography, one is often looking at very ancient texts, written by ancient Chinese historians. Apparently, “historian” was a job, not necessarily that different from “scribe” in some other ancient contexts, and during some times and in some places, the Chinese historian sat in the court of the Emperor.

Every now and then, I look for the original story, or some version of it, but I can never find it. It is a story with a lesson so important that it should be retold many times. I do not attest to its veracity, but I will stand by its meaning. Lacking a source to refer to, I hereby make up, er, reconstruct, a version of it so I can put it here in this blog post and refer to it later.

The story goes like this.

An Emperor was sitting court, and attended to by one historian and the historian’s assistants, and others. A man had been accused of a crime, and the Emperor was to decide his fate. Those arguing on behalf of the man clearly demonstrated that he had not committed the crime, and should be let go, but the Emperor had taken a dislike to this man, and ordered his immediate beheading. And so, he was beheaded.

The historian recorded this event, and included in the record, made right then and there, a phrase such as “The Emperor had the man wrongly beheaded.”

Made aware of this, the Emperor insisted that the historian, right then and there, “correct” the record to indicate that the Emperor was just in his decision. The historian pointed out that this was wrong, and he could not change the record.

The Emperor ordered the historian beheaded, and so he was, right then and there.

The first assistant historian then took over the job of historian, and recorded, “The Emperor had the man wrongly beheaded. Then, on seeing that the Historian recorded this accurately had that Historian beheaded.”

Becoming aware of this entry to the historical record, the Emperor insisted that the new historian “correct” the record to show that the Emperor was just. That historian refused, and under the order of the Emperor, was promptly beheaded.

The next assistant historian then took over, and recorded that the Emperor had wrongly ordered the beheading of a citizen, then, wrongly ordered the beheading of the historian that recorded that fact, then ordered the beheading of the historian that recorded that fact. This historian fully understood that he would now be beheaded as well.

But he was not. The Emperor saw that his own reputation was becoming more and more severely damaged, and he understood that a line of historians would form at his court to record this, because this was the role of historians at this time and place. The Emperor relented, went on with other business, and the third historian lived.

And this is why we know today of what that Emperor did.


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E. Jean Carroll vs Donald Trump: He said she said?

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My close personal friend E. Jean Carroll is not going to go away. Trump lawyers tried to deflect her law suit, but they were rebuffed by a judge in a ruling Thursday.

Carroll says she is “filing this lawsuit for every woman who’s been pinched, prodded, cornered, felt-up, pushed against a wall, grabbed, groped, assaulted, and has spoken up only to be shamed, demeaned, disgraced, passed over for promotions, fired, and forgotten. While I can no longer hold Donald Trump accountable for assaulting me more than twenty years ago, I can hold him accountable for lying about it and I fully intend to do so.”

Trump says, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. “You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy.”

I guess it is just another he-said, she-said.

More


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Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump

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I am recommending this new title by Neal Katyal and Sam Koppelman. Katyal is a former Acting Solicitor General for the US, and law professors at Georgetown, and you know him as a frequent contributor on various MSNBC shows.


Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump
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Why President Trump has left us with no choice but to remove him from office, as explained by celebrated Supreme Court lawyer and former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal.

No one is above the law. This belief is as American as freedom of speech and turkey on Thanksgiving—held sacred by Democrats and Republicans alike. But as celebrated Supreme Court lawyer and former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal argues in Impeach, if President Trump is not held accountable for repeatedly asking foreign powers to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, this could very well mark the end of our democracy. To quote President George Washington’s Farewell Address: “Foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.” Impeachment should always be our last resort, explains Katyal, but our founders, our principles, and our Constitution leave us with no choice but to impeach President Trump—before it’s too late.


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A big tent need not include the outhouse

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Democrats need to understand that we are a big tent party. In fact, we are THE big tent party.

So, when Colin Peterson, representing Congressional District 7 in Minnesota votes in favor of environmentally irresponsible mining, or against health care reform, or against sensible gun control, or against a woman’s right to choose, he looks like a Republican, acts like a Republican, and smells like a Republican, but we accept that because we are a big tent party and he represents a very conservative district. Continue reading A big tent need not include the outhouse


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Trump Betrays Kurds, World Must Act to Prevent Human Rights Crisis

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I’ve long been a supporter of Kurdistan, and I think the Kurds should get their country back.

So, it is my pleasure, though a sad pleasure, to print this OpEd by Kenneth F. McCallion. Kenneth F. McCallion is an accomplished human rights attorney, former federal prosecutor, and author of “Treason & Betrayal, The Rise and Fall of Individual -1Continue reading Trump Betrays Kurds, World Must Act to Prevent Human Rights Crisis


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Dear Republicans: What is taking you so long?

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I know the answer to that question. You are bad people, every one of you. You are morally, ethnically, and intellectually incapable of doing the right thing. Every single one of you who considers yourselves still a Republican is not worthy to breathe the same air our children are being poisoned by as we speak. Continue reading Dear Republicans: What is taking you so long?


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The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg

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The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg is a podcast hosted by, you guessed it, former prosecutor and Justice Department administrator Chuck Rosenberg. You will know of Mr. Rosenberg as a regular justice expert guest on various MSNBC shows, especially the Rachel Maddow Show. Rosenberg was appointed as US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia in 2006, and was previously a US Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, and later, Chief of Staff to Jame Comey at the FBI. He was administrator of the DEA from May 2015 to October 1, 2017. Appointed under Obama, departed under Trump. Continue reading The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg


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Do Not Miss Rachel Maddow’s New Book: Blowout

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Rachel Maddow is the Charles Darwin of Cable News.

Darwin’s most important unsung contribution to science (even more important than his monograph on earthworms) was to figure out how to most effectively put together multiple sources into a single argument — combining description, explanation, and theory — of a complex phenomenon in nature. His first major work, on coral reefs, brought together historical and anecdotal information, prior observation and theory from earlier researchers, his own direct observations of many kinds of reefs, quasi experimental work in the field, and a good measure of deductive thinking. It took a while for this standard to emerge, but eventually it did, and this approach was to become the normal way to write a PhD thesis or major monograph in science.

Take any major modern news theme. Deutsche Bank. Trump-Nato-Putin. Election tampering. Go to the standard news sources and you’ll find Chuck Todd following the path of “both sides have a point.” Fox News will be mixing conspiracy theory and right wing talking points. The most respected mainstream news anchors, Lester Holt, Christiane Amanpour, or Brian Williams perhaps, will be giving a fair airing of the facts but moving quickly from story to story. Dig deeper, and find Chris Hayes with sharp analysis, Joy Reid contextualizing stories with social justice, and Lawrence O’Donnell applying his well earned in the trenches biker wisdom.

But if you really want to Darwin the news, and sink your natural teeth and claws into a story, go to Maddow. Continue reading Do Not Miss Rachel Maddow’s New Book: Blowout


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Politics 101: Knowing When To Hold ‘Em, When To Fold ‘Em

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Press your preference, hold back your hate. Don’t damage the duck until you know which duck is yours. We all do better when we all do better, even those you disagree with. There is an endless list of rhetorically clever utterances to make the same point: express your passion inside the Party, but then, get in line and vote blue. (Or red if you are for some strange reason a Republican interested in my advice, which is highly unlikely). Continue reading Politics 101: Knowing When To Hold ‘Em, When To Fold ‘Em


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