Saturday, June 29, 2013

How to build a straw man

File:Antonin Scalia official SCOTUS portrait crop.jpg
AJ Antonin Scalia official portrait.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
If you want to see a very good example of a straw man argument, I suggest you read Daniel Fisher's attempt to take down AJ Antonin Scalia's dissent in United States v. Windsor, posted in Forbes. It's witty, light reading and betrays very little grasp of Scalia's argument or his judicial philosophy. In fact, it demonstrates just about everything that's wrong with the media and political discourse today.

Here is my best attempt to reconstruct the steps Fisher took to write his article:

  1. Skim through Scalia's dissent, pulling out of it some juicy quotes on the fly. This isn't hard to do, because Scalia's writing is eminently readable, remarkably free of legal jargon and obscure polysyllabic words.
  2. Go back to Scalia's dissent in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius and do the same thing. This is a longer process, because it actually involves three separate cases that were combined, and covers four different aspects of a very long Act.
  3. Convert judicial restraint from a general approach to an absolute principle.
  4. Write your post, making sure you keep it within Forbes' word limit.

Step 3 is where the shape of the scarecrow is put together. The transformation is something like the conversion of William of Ockham's "law of parsimony" into "Ockham's razor": A principle that merely admonishes one not to introduce unnecessary elements into an explanation somehow became a reductive, misleading idea that true explanations are always — or at least usually — simpler than untrue explanations.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Thank God for the First Amendment!

While you're getting prepared for the annual 4th of July festivities, you might spend a little time on your knees praying the Litany for Liberty, one of the prayer resources being offered by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for The Fortnight for Freedom. They also offer another prayer that's being printed on the back of prayer cards, the front of which will have a picture of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States. The same prayer is also offered on the back of cards bearing Our Lady of Guadalupe (Patroness of the Americas and of the unborn) and St. Thomas More (Patron of Religious Freedom).

As I've written before, the point of the First Amendment is to protect the right of the people to have a voice in their governance. That's why we find the "establishment clause" paired with the "free exercise clause", and why we find them included with the rights of speech, the press, peacable assembly and petition. Just now, though, we find the freedom of religion threatened both directly and indirectly — directly through enforcement of the HHS mandate, indirectly by a possible declaration by SCOTUS that neither Congress nor the several states may defend marriage as an essentially heterosexual institution.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Setting a new low in the pro-abortion fight

The Media Research Center's Brad Wilmouth brings us this desperate attempt to pass off anti-white bigotry as political analysis:

On Saturday's Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC, substitute anchor Ari Melber hosted a panel of liberals fretting over Republican efforts to restrict abortion, with one guest even theorizing that Republicans are motivated by a racist desire to prevent white women from having abortions as a way of "reproducing whiteness, white supremacy, white privilege."
Melber seemed quite accepting of University of Pennsylvania Assistant Professor Salamisha Tillet's preposterous idea of pro-lifers being motivated by racism as he responded:
And you're talking not only then about a potentially religious view about life, [How unreasonable! How crass! To think that someone might let religion influence their view about life!] you're talking about social control. [What's the difference between a lawful, well-ordered society and social control? I guess it's who's writing the laws.] I mean, that goes to some of these programs that are different than just necessarily a position that people disagree with. They also say, no, we need to go into the doctor's room, we need to tell women under threat of, as I mentioned, criminalization of their doctor's conduct [Scandal! Who could reasonably consider a doctor to be a criminal?] or as a prerequisite to doing anything, how they should analyze their medical care, whether to have an ultrasound. Do you think that is a piece of it, too, the social control, Raul?
Without noting that a disproportionately large percentage of women who have abortions are minorities, Assistant Professor Tillet theorized that Republicans are in a "panic" because of the growing number of minorities and characterized "women of color" as being "caught in the fray" when Republicans try to restrict abortion. Tillet:
Well, I think, the Census just released data, so part of it is the changing racial demographics in the United States. For the first time in American history, children born under the age of five are racial, the majority of them are racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S.
So I think that there's a kind of moral panic, a fear of the end of whiteness that we've been seeing a long time in that I think, you know, Obama's ascension as President kind of symbolizes to a certain degree. And so I think this is one response to that sense that there's a decreasing white majority in the country and that women's bodies and white women's bodies in particular are obviously a crucial way of reproducing whiteness, white supremacy, white privilege. And so I think it's just a kind of clamping down on women's bodies, in particular white women's bodies, even though women of color are really caught in the fray.

In other words, it's all about forcing white women to breed so we can make up for the immigration of black and brown people. Not the most efficient way to maintain supremacy, is it? This isn't the most idiotic theory I've ever heard.

On second thought, yes it is.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day!

SSgt. Franklin E. Layne, USAF(Ret.) (1928-2002)
Not "Happy Sperm Donor Day". Not "Happy Mom's Boyfriend/Girlfriend Day". Happy Father's Day. And a great big "thank you" to all the men who step up, show up and participate in bringing up their children rather than just writing a check every so often — you guys rock!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The right to keep and bear children

In 1968, an ecologist named Garrett Hardin wrote an article for Science magazine titled “The Tragedy of the Commons”. A utilitarian and Malthusian, Hardin argued that the modern welfare state made it possible for people to gain the advantages of large families while socializing their costs. Therefore, the solution to overpopulation must be based in part on “relinquishing the freedom to breed”.

Forty-five years later, Peter Singer — also a utilitarian and Malthusian — essentially repeated the “tragedy of the commons” argument at the Women Deliver Conference in Kuala Lumpur. Ironically, given his hero status among progressives and the venue at which he was speaking, Singer began to speak of “reproductive rights” as though they would very soon be a thing of the past and that the nations would soon need to force contraception and abortion upon the unwilling.

It’s possible of course, that we give women reproductive choices, that we meet the unmet need for contraception but that we find that the number of children that women choose to have is still such that population continues to rise in a way that causes environmental problems. … [We] need to consider whether we can talk about trying to reduce population growth and whether that’s compatible with the very reasonable concerns people have about women’s right to control their life decisions and their reproduction.

 If it weren’t for his invocation of climate change, Singer’s faith in the population bomb would make him look like the last man on earth still concerned about the Y2K demon. In fact, to certain of the attendees, Singer appeared to embody the old colonial fear of brown people. Said Kavita Ramdas of the Ford Foundation in New Delhi, “We have been there before. ... We have seen forced sterilizations. We have seen the fears that the West has of brown people overrunning the world. We are tired of being slaves to colonial masters.”

Read the rest at Catholic Stand!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

In Memoriam: Rev. Andrew M. Greeley, Ph.D. (1928-2013)

I might have drifted completely away from religion between my 21st and 41st birthdays except for two writers. C. S. Lewis kept me a Christian. Father Andrew M. Greeley kept me a Catholic.

I was twenty-five when I read How to Save the Catholic Church, which Fr. Greeley co-wrote with his sister, theologian Mary Greeley Durkin. Over the next fifteen years, I read quite a few of his books, at first only his non-fiction, then his fiction. Two books in particular I recommend for Catholic apologists: The Catholic Myth, an exploration of the Church through Fr. Greeley's model of the analogical imagination, and Faithful Attraction, a study of marriage and the factors that help make it work. Although as I reverted back to full communion with the Church I came to disagree with certain of Fr. Greeley's positions, I also knew that, in many respects, he and Dr. George Weigel had more points in common than many people would think (including them).