Thursday, September 30, 2004

Well, gentle readers, my favorite mining spot, workingforchange, proves yet again that as long as howling liberals exist there will be errors in thinking to examine. Today we will be looking at an article by Joe Conason. Mr. Conason is a writer for the New York Observer and is, well, an offensive sort.

In this article, ‘A Gay Old Time for the GOP’, Mr. Conason talks about the politics of homosexuality. It isn’t his discussion of various Republican party members who are tolerant of homosexuals that is offensive. No is it his discussion of ‘closeted’ homosexuals within the Republican Party. No, it is his characterization of the majority of Americans.

Poll after poll indicates that the majority of Americans do not think that homosexual unions should be equivalent, equal to, whatever, of marriage. So how does Mr. Conason refer to such people? Well, he calls us “rubes”. See, he is certain that the ‘act’ put on by Republican leaders opposing homosexuals ‘basic rights’ is a con job to snow us ignoramuses in fly-over country. Now, I assumed that perhaps an elected official would subsume his own opinions to represent the desires of those who elected him, but what do I know? After all, I have been manipulated by my fear of homosexuals to the point that I am incapable of thinking for myself.

Will Durst (who can actually be funny) betrays a central conceit of liberals; that those who disagree with them are stupid. His article, a satire as subtle as a hammer, states flatly that stupid people like Bush, smart people like Kerry. Of course, smart people listen to classical music and stupid people listen to country music in this realm, so we get to combine a number of stereotypes favored by liberals.

Yes, I understand Mr. Durst is writing satire. But its only a satire if you agree with the basic concept. If you disagree, its just hateful and offensive. And Mr. Durst makes a big mistake – he equates I.Q. with education level. The two are not related; Albert Einstein never completed grammar school and George W. Bush (who Durst derodes as ‘sim’ elsewhere) has an Ivy League education, for example. Which just points out that Mr. Durst is probably not a Mensa keynote speaker, himself.

Let’s move on to Kiersten Stewart at Gadflyer. In her article, Ms. Stewart performs a trick I like to call ‘statistics equal truth’’; this is where someone hopes that a slew of statistics will make you accept dubious claims. Not likely. And in this case, Ms. Stewarts statistics are waaaaay off. She claims that “Homicide, usually at the hand of an intimate partner, is in fact the leading cause of death for pregnant and recently pregnant women.”

Hmmm. Sounds serious, doesn’t it? Actually, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health released a report that is often listed under the headline ‘Homicide Leading Cause of Death for Pregnant Women’, or some such, but it A) isn’t statistically significant, B) is limited geographically, and C) actually says that women who are currently pregnant or have given birth within the last six weeks are less likely to be victims of homicide. Only when the period of ‘pregnant’ is extended to a period of one year after giving birth do those numbers show homicide as a leading cause of death. By about 1% over medical complications. Amongst a primarily young urban poor demographic. Oh, and this only works at all if you discount ‘death by accident’ (i.e., car crashes, slip/fall injuries, etc.). So the NOW articles touting these same things coyly slip in ‘after accidents’, limit the ages to very specific ages, and keep on going.

Don’t get me wrong; women shouldn’t have to worry about homicide at all. And it is a tragedy that so many murders against them are by husbands or boyfriends. But here’s another exercise – go look up the leading cause of death for young men. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Surprised? You see, homicide is a plague on everyone in this country. The honeymoon period discovered in Massachusetts means young women are marginally safer if they are pregnant. See how I can make statistics say all young girls should get pregnant?

Ms. Stewart also uses statistics on the number of women on public assistance who cite domestic violence as a cause of divorce; the numbers are quite high. But those numbers include all women of all age groups. Why is this relevant? Well, Ms. Stewart argues that government incentives for marriage would ‘force’ women to stay in abusive relationships. In making her argument with these particular domestic violence statistics she neglects to mention that the ‘target audience’ would be young couples, both unmarried and newly-married, who have a domestic violence incidence of about 2% - quite low. The goal is to keep these relationships from fragmenting. Other statistics show that an unwed or divorced mother is more likely to be abused in relationships entered into after the termination of the relationship with the father.

In other words, women who marry and stay married to the father of their child are much less likely to ever be abused.

Ms. Stewart also glosses over other, very important, numbers. One-third of all single mothers and their children live in poverty. Here’s the scary part – that number is from 2001. That’s before the recession we’re currently in. If the gain in poverty among single mothers just went back to 1996 levels, its actually 40+% of single mothers and their children living in poverty today. Young couples (and their children) are less likely to be living in poverty.

Ms. Stewart, herself a mother and child of a single mother, admits that having two parents makes it easier. And she skips over the many studies that show that children of single mothers are more likely to fail school, use drugs, commit crimes, etc., etc. (and this is true of children of divorce and of women who never married, making domestic violence moot). This makes Ms. Stewart cross the line into offensive or stupid; either her resistance to marriage is borne out of a dislike of marriage itself or ignorance of the effects of single parent families on kids.

Let us now go on to Ellen Goodman and her article ‘Religious Malpractice’. With the tag line “Catholic Health Plans Augur Frightening Declines in Care” I think the tenor of her article should be clear. She sees the introduction of ‘Catholic health plans’ as a dangerous trend where soon no one will be able to get health care unless the Pope signs off. No, really, the article is about that reactionary. She ignores that the appeal of these plans is that devout Catholics can rest assured that their health care premiums will not help fund an elective procedure they find morally repugnant. She does concede that health care professionals can opt out of providing options that they find morally repulsive, but denies that an institution such as a hospital can. She warns that religious practice will become medical malpractice since a bishop or some-such might determine what can and can’t be done.

Ms. Goodman ignores a few points; first of all, condoms and abortions are available, often free, from Planned Parenthood and government clinics virtually everywhere in this country. Despite her conceit that women won’t have access to these options if Catholic hospitals don’t provide them, she’s wrong. It might be a little inconvenient, but they can be had. And while admitting that Catholic-run hospitals are more than 10% of all hospitals in America, she almost certainly doesn’t know that one of the reasons they want to avoid offering abortions and such is not just the moral objections, but the fact that funding those procedures drains money away from such things as, oh, performing free work that is not optional, such as free surgery for the poor, or much less optional, like plastic surgery for poor kids with cleft palates.

And the final nail in Ms. Goodman’s coffin is her use of quotes from a lawyer who conjectures about Jewish hospitals that ‘circumcise every baby’. Puh-leeze. This is disingenuous to the extreme. As if there is a comparison between not offering abortions and forcing a religious practice on every child that passes through. And I’ll only mention in passing the use of quotes by cough ‘Catholics for a Free Choice’, i.e, Frances Kissling and her fund-raising intern.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Errors in Thinking

Today I was, as usual, perusing a number of news and political views web sites and it brought something into focus for me. Time for some wandering into Deep Thought.

People who know me are often puzzled as to my political views. While I support a number of ideas thought of as ‘liberal’ (support for the poor, involvement in international aid, etc.) I also support many ‘conservative’ ideas (pro-life, minimal government, etc.) I self-describe myself as a conservative. I tried using the term ‘progressive’, but it was (in my opinion) hijacked by the ultra-left. And I hoped the term neo-conservative would be available, but its now used for a certain flavor of militaristic right-wing thought.

The reason I choose ‘conservative’ over ‘liberal’ is this; while both sides make errors in thinking, I believe the liberal side to be guilty of more serious crimes against logic. Oh, don’t get me wrong, conservatives make serious errors (especially of the ‘capitalism good, therefore libertarian economics better’ variety). But where conservatives often make errors as they reach conclusions, liberals more often make errors in their premises.

The example for today is Geov Parrish in his article The Obsession at (article here). Mr. Parrish is arguing that the use of 9/11 to generate fear is being used by the unscrupulous in politics for their own ends and we need to ‘come to grips’ with 9/11. OK concept within a flawed framework. By that I mean that Mr. Parrish states some things in his article that erode his credibility as a clear thinker.

The first is the following statement;

“The sensible course [to combat terrorism] would be to create fewer enemies, but our rulers in both parties show no inclination to do that, and our wealth and outsized resource consumption will always guarantee a certain level of conflict with the less fortunate. Terrorism is the 21st Century price we will pay for our affluence, our influence, and our meddling.”

Mr. Parrish presents as fact his assumptions. No crime in and of itself, but his assumptions (his premises) are wrong. Yes, wealth can generate envy, but not necessarily conflict. After all, America was arguably the wealthiest nation in the world in 1920 yet we faced no external terrorist or military threats. As he himself pointed out, foreign terrorism was almost non-existent in America until 9/11and the foreign wars we engaged in between 1950 until today have all been wars of our own choosing. During this time world-wide terrorism was born and engulfed a number of countries, something he points out in this very article. So his statement that being a wealthy nation generates conflict is obviously false. And we haven’t even discussed nations such as Japan, or Sweden.

And the off-hand comment about ‘outsized resource consumption’ is disingenuous. Americans do consume a great deal per-capita, and this is disproportionate to our population. It is not, however, quite so disproportionate to our productivity. In other words, while Americans use more power, wood, etc. per person than any other group of people, they also produce more goods, services, etc. per person. While it still doesn’t offset the disparity in consumption, it makes the cause-effect relationship between making and having much more clear.

More importantly, the only terrorists I know of that commit acts with the goal of ‘fighting America’s over-consumption’ are groups like Earth Now!, i.e., mainly American kids who wore Tommy Hilfiger while attending state college with federal student loans as they realized that Americans consume too much. [It should be obvious that I have little more than contempt for those who destroy the lives and livelihoods of others in the name of ‘trees’ or ‘anti-consumerism’. While environmental causes are important and protests, etc. are warranted, vandalism and terror are never warranted.]. So Mr. Parrish’s second little gem there is as hollow as his first.

Next is his contention that our ‘affluence, influence, and meddling’ must result in our being the target of terrorism. I’ve already discussed the mistaken idea that being affluent must result in being attacked. Let’s talk about influence.

First of all, ‘influence’ is a broad term. Let’s assume he means international political influence. Again, like ‘wealth’, above, I don’t think this holds water. Even during the Cold War, when America’s political influence was matched against the Soviet Union, Mr. Parrish states we had no terrorist attacks in America (other than domestic). We supported Israel more fully then, we influenced and ‘meddled’ in world affairs more often, more aggressively, and with more drastic results.

Don’t mistake me; I do believe that America was and will continue to be attacked because of her influence, politics, and actions in international politics. I just don’t think that it is the fact of being influential that makes America a target. It is the fact that America is opposed to Islamo-fascism.

An Islamic commentator recently stated (I paraphrase) ‘almost all Muslims are not terrorists. But almost all terrorists are Muslims’. I will state this clearly as my own opinion – Islamic culture stands in opposition to Western culture in general and American culture in particular. This is stated most explicitly by al-Qaeda, who use the work In the Shade of the Qu’ran as the basis for their ideology. In this work the Islamic theologian Sayed Qatb argues that the separation of church and state leads inexorably toward an immoral government/state that actively corrupts those that live within it. Therefore, those within this ungodly state are corrupt, as well. Qatb’s works (especially his Milestones) have been the ideological sources of terrorist groups almost since he wrote them in the ‘50’s.

Let me be more clear. Qatb regarded Western Civilization with revulsion. Our religions are seen as Ignorance, our customs as corrupt, and our political ideals as evil. Groups such as Islamic Jihad, al-Qaeda, etc., also view us the same way. If we were become completely isolationist and self-sufficient we would still be viewed as inherently corrupt, inherently evil, and by our very nature a threat to be destroyed. This is forgotten at great peril. We are not in a situation where if we just do the right thing, pass the right law, and appease the right people it ‘goes away’. To these groups this can only end with the destruction or serious decline of Western democracy.

So it isn’t that fact that we are influential or that we use that influence. It’s the fact that we are what we are that is causing terrorism to affect us.

Moving along, Mr. Parrish later says;

“The invasion of Iraq, and the Bush endorsement of Ariel Sharon's ongoing war on Palestinians, have done more between them than anything Al-Qaeda or its brethren could have done themselves to ensure a steady flow of new recruits for the jihad.”

I want to focus on the phrase “…Sharon’s ongoing war on Palestinians…”. I don’t know what rock Mr. Parrish has been living under since 1948, but he has a lot of company. There is an entire school of thought, more and more common on university campuses, that Israel is this terrible aggressor that is trying to eradicate the defenseless Palestinians. They speak of Israel’s ‘illegal occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank”, and the ‘atrocities’ Israeli military personnel commit.

The Palestinian councils, groups, and other leaders all admit that their goal is the destruction of Israel as a nation. The neighboring Arab states all hold that they desire or actively work for the destruction of Israel. Arab politicians have admitted for at least 40 years that the Palestinian refugees have been denied citizenship in their countries so that they may be used as a tool to destroy Israel. Arab nations push the UN resolution for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their original homes despite the fact that so such right has ever been granted to any other group of refugees in history, including under UN mandates – and Arab leaders speak openly that this right of return is to be used to destroy Israel.(By the way, when Israel tried to resettle refugees in Gaza (in other words, give them land and homes in Israel) they were forbidden to do so by the UN!). The UN defines a Palestinian refugee as anyone who lived in the region between 1946-1948 and left during the war, losing a place of residence, even if they had an apartment while the worked for the British government or Jewish businesses while a temporary worker. Even more amazingly, any descendent of a refugee is also a refugee. So the initial 914,000 refugees in 1950 is now more than 4 million people. And Arab nations will grant none of them citizenship because it would remove a weapon from their anti-Israel arsenal.*

The charter of the PLO calls specifically for the destruction of Israel. It also states that armed struggle is not a ‘tactical phase’, but the overall strategy of the destruction of Israel and that they plan to organize all education and business toward the destruction of Israel by ‘commando’ activities. Although it has been ‘amended’ to remove such language, PLO Headquarters and their official offices still proudly display the original document. All other Islamic terrorist organizations have similar charters or claims that their goal is the destruction of Israel (including al-Qaeda).
These groups, especially the Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades, continue to conduct serious terror attacks on Israel. Their favored attacks are ambushes of soldiers and the use of suicide bombers to kill civilians. Suicide bombs have been detonated on buses, in markets, at hotels, and other places where civilians gather. Several Arab and Islamic organizations gift the mothers of suicide bombers with money and gifts. More than 200 Israeli civilians were killed by suicide bombers between July 2000 and May 2002 alone. Terror groups are eager to claim responsibility and speak openly of recruiting more suicide bombers (Al-Aqsa even sponsors a “Martyr’s Summer Camp” for children).

Pardon my long exposition, but doesn’t it sound like war had been declared on Israel long before Sharon was Prime Minister? Don’t get me wrong – Israel has screwed some things up and over-reacted. Palestinian civilians have been killed, including children. But the big difference is that the vast majority of Palestinian deaths caused by Israeli forces are of Palestinian combatants (about 90%) while Israelis killed by Palestinians are mainly civilians (over 80%)**. I think that the statement about “Sharon’s war on Palestinians” is disingenuous. Sharon is trying to prevent terrorists from setting off bombs in pizzerias, not carpet-bombing refugee camps. This is emotional rhetoric, not a serious attempt to explain why terrorists are killing civilians.

This leads me back to where I started; the differences in the sorts of errors made by conservatives and liberals. I think this is pretty stark in Mr. Parrish’s article. The solution to terror, it seems, lies not with terrorists, but with us. We ‘meddle’, we ‘consume too many resources’, we are ‘wealthy’. Israel’s attempts to protect itself from terrorist groups bent on destroying it is a ‘war on Palestinians’. This is pointing the finger at those being attacked by terrorists and saying ‘you are to blame’. This is akin to telling an abused woman ‘if you didn’t antagonize him, he wouldn’t hit you’.

Another telling phrase is way back in that first quote. Mr. Parrish says “The sensible course is to create fewer enemies…”. See, we created them – its our fault. There isn’t anything to do about the enemies we have, so we should try to make fewer of them in the future. Its all passive – don’t upset them, don’t have influence, don’t participate.

The bully beats you because he’s jealous. The rapist attacked you because you wore a tight sweater. Al-Qaeda killed all those Americans because we aren’t devout Muslims. Its all the same argument.

* Another interesting fact about the refugees; the total Arab population in Palestine in 1948 was about 1.2 million people. After the 1948 War of Independence about 180,000 stayed in Israel (and became Israeli citizens after the war, by the way) and about 600,000 were in areas not part of Israel. So either the refugees were composed of 200,000 couples who each had 2.5 children in 2 years, or the UN granted refugee status to a lot of non-refugees. More interestingly yet, the refugee population in 1990 was 2.4 million people. In 1995 it was listed as 3.2 million, an increase of about 6%. The birthrate at that time was only 3.2% growth. So even if we assume that no one died, left the camps, or otherwise moved beyond the status of Palestinian Refugee (meaning, living in a refugee camp), where the heck did the extra refugees come from?

** Per