Stupid McCain Wife Beating Controversy

June 28, 2008

John McCain is currently in a bit of hot water for… potentially maybe getting in hot water for a quip he recently made about how he “stopped beating my wife just a couple of weeks ago.”

Simply put, the controversy is nonsense. It’s the unnamed people who “found the subject of McCain’s joke — wife-beating — inappropriate” who deserve a smackdown here.

McCain was simply responding to a loaded question from a reporter with the classic logic-school response. As the example goes, a reporter asks someone if they’ve stopped beating their wife. The point of the fallacy is that whether the person answer yes or no to the question, they are still implicitly admitting to wife beating. It’s a trick question, and McCain was simply calling the reporter out on it.

For the life of me, I can’t imagine how anyone could justify getting upset about this. Yes, wife beating is terrible. But that’s exactly the point of the phrase: it’s extremely dishonest to use a question to backhandedly accuse someone of doing something horrible. Sometimes we use certain terrible things as examples of… terrible things. Get it?

The embarrasment here is not that McCain used the phrase. The embarrasment would be if any educated American citizen was so foreign to basic concepts of logic and argument that they had never encountered this classic example of a logical fallacy before.

And stop me before I start sounding too much like Bob Somerby, but this is just another example of how our dysfunctional “Press Corps” covers politics. In this case, journalists are basically exploiting the possibility of a remark being wrongly interpreted (or the fact that some are wrongly interpreting it) to justify spreading and insinuating what they know to be the wrong interpretation.

It gets even more ridiculous when Jake Tapper, the journalist linked above, tries to tie the remark into a supposedly “unfortunate” political context. It’s not even close: the Governor of the state McCain was in at the time was divorcing his wife after apparently cheating on her. But that’s not even close to the same thing as beating her. If anything, making that thin connection is what trivializes physical abuse. Likewise, the allegation of a cocktail waitress that the Governor grabbed and propositioned her in a parking lot isn’t wife beating either: closer, but still not enough to make a connection appropriate or justified (McCain didn’t do any of those things, and his remark wouldn’t make him even the least bit more responsible for them or relevant to them even if it was a tasteless joke).

Next time anyone laments the way our political discourse is dominated by incoherent wars over the meaning of soundbytes and gaffes, you know who to blame.


Obama Seal Gone: Nation’s Sanity Still in Question

June 24, 2008

The Obama campaign has rather wisely dropped the use of their latest logo, after much mockery.

Me, I’m left saddened and embarrassed for the media commentators who couldn’t resist piling on this story, and the many many people who took this non-issue seriously.

Political commentator Larry Sabato gets it right on the first try:

“The press corps adopts a subtext for each candidate,” Sabato told The Examiner. “Daddy Bush was ‘a nice guy but out of touch.’ Bill Clinton was ‘smart but randy.’ Bob Dole was ‘heroic but too old.’ Gore was ‘brilliant but a fibber and a bore.’ Dubya was ‘pleasant but dumb.’”

He added: “Obama’s subtext is rapidly becoming ‘charismatic but arrogant.’”

None of these characterizations of any of these politicians was built on honest, accurate, or comprehensive appraisal of any of these men. Few of the claimed traits (except maybe for Clinton being “randy” and Dole being “old”) actually seem more characteristic of the men in question than they are for the others. Instead, they’re built out of an accretion of heavily interpreted, and often factually challenged, fluff pieces. Of which this seal case was the perfect, almost paradigmatic, example.

This is one more reason I’m far more cynical about voters (more in the aggregate than any individual) than I am about politicians, or even the media. It’s ultimately voter behavior that drives how politicians act, react, and how they present themselves. It’s voter demand that favors schoolyard psychoanalyzing for their election coverage instead of actual policy debates.

Voters get legitimately frustrated and cynical about our political system. But the political system has just as much cause to be frustrated with voters right back.


Rolling Stone Sloppily Slams John McCain’s Love of Evangelical Joel Osteen

June 18, 2008

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone journalist and special reporter on Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” isn’t happy with John McCain. Not at all. And he’s got a long list of complaints, the most valid and snicker-worthy one being that John McCain may be one of the few Presidential candidates in history who now opposes not one, but “two different bills bearing his own name.”

Taibbi, however, is particularly peeved by McCain’s choice of inspiring evangelical authors:

McCain’s transformation is so complete that at a recent town-hall meeting in Nashville, when asked to name an author who inspired him, the candidate — who once described televangelists of the Jerry Falwell genus as “agents of intolerance” — put none other than Joel Osteen at the top of his list. “He’s inspirational,” McCain said.

Standing at the meeting, I didn’t write Osteen’s name down in my notebook — apparently because my brain refused on some level to accept that McCain had actually said it. Of all the vile, fake, lying-ass, money-grubbing shyster scumbags on the face of this planet, there is perhaps none more loathsome than Osteen, a human haircut with plastic baseball-size teeth who has made a fortune selling the appalling only-in-America idea that terrestrial greed is actually a form of Christian devotion. “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us,” Osteen once wrote. This is the revolting, snake-oil-selling dickhead that John McCain actually chose to pimp as number one on his list of inspirational authors. So much for “go, sell everything you have and give to the poor,” and all that other hippie crap from the New Testament.

Taibbi, who’s famous for penning the poorly received “52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope” while “coming out of a Vicodin haze,” has quite a talent for outraged posturing. But no matter how many fulminating expletives he tosses out, I just don’t buy it.

He’s got this thing exactly backwards.

God Chairs About Each and Every One of YouSee, the thing is: Osteen is actually one of the least offensive of televangelists I can think of. The primary complaint most people have about Osteen is that is not that he’s a fire-breathing hatemonger, but rather that he’s milquetoast. He preaches happiness and self-improvement, at times with only the barest hints of scripture or doctrine. Some conservative critics have even hinted (hyperbolically, certainly) that his ministry is “atheistic” in character, or even that it represents the last gasp before Christianity collapses into materialism and embrace of popular culture. When Larry King grilled him on his theological views, “I don’t know” was Osteen’s most common answer. And he took considerable heat for being unwilling to clearly state that Christ was the only way to heaven.

Osteen does toe the general conservative evangelical party line when called on it. But the point is that he rarely goes out of his way to emphasize traditional religious right stalking horses. He’s even famous for his “no politics from the pulpit” principle, which, if you know anything about politics, is nigh unthinkable in some quarters (Democratic politicians who regularly run whirlwind tours of African American churches, I’m looking at you).

Like most evangelicals, Osteen’s views on homosexuality are hardly laudable… but they’re also about as tame as one could possibly expect, given his chosen religion:

“We don’t think it is God’s best and we have personally seen many homosexuals changed through the power of God. But we aren’t going to judge or turn people away because they are gay. We all have sins in our lives and it is no worse than any other issue.”

Translation: ‘yeah, homosexuality bad, yadda yadda, let’s move on to another subject.’ And don’t think that this ambivalence has gone unnoticed by the more traditional neighborhood gaywatch patrol.

What’s especially silly about the sudden Osteen-hate is that Taibbi had just finished launching a salvo of preemptive accusations about McCain being an inevitable race-baiter (“watermelon-waving” is one particularly polite phrase he uses). But Osteen’s mega-church empire is characterized by a degree of racial integration that few progressive churches can match. I’m willing to get that there’s a far higher percentage of African Americans and Hispanics in Osteen’s congregation and leadership than there are African American and Hispanic writers at Rolling Stone.

I’m also willing to bet that Osteen’s church has given far more money in charity, both percentage-wise, per parishioner, and of course in total, than Taibbi ever has, despite Taibbi’s whining about Osteen’s supposed obliviousness to Jesus/”hippie crap.”

In short, while there’s certainly plenty one can criticize about Osteen, he’s by far least threatening of any of the crowd-pleasing evangelical names McCain could have tossed out to his audience. I’m not exactly in tune with what Osteen believes, but then I’m not in tune with either Obama or McCain when it comes to religion, and I doubt I’d find Obama’s religious inspirations all that compelling either. That doesn’t mean I think they’re all vile: I just don’t agree with how they see the world.

Taibbi, on the other hand, clearly just hates Osteen’s guts. But at least for this atheist, I think that tells me more about Taibbi’s than it does about Osteen. Or McCain.


McCain Doesn’t Understand His Own Cap and Trade Policy?

June 17, 2008

This is truly baffling. In a recent press conference, Presidential Candidate John McCain had this to say about how he plans to regulate air pollution:

MCCAIN: I believe in the cap-and-trade system, as you know. I would not at this time make those — impose a mandatory cap at this time. But I do believe that we have to establish targets for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions over time, and I think those can be met.

This comment makes very little sense, though it might not be immediately apparent why.

The issue for air pollution, in economic terms, is that there is no market to ensure an efficient use of the atmosphere. No one “owns” the air, and so no one can change “rent” on firms that use it as a dumping ground for industrial waste. The result is that firms treat the disposal of their airborne wastes as if it were a free resource, and pollute far more than they actually would if the environmental costs of pollution were actually factored into the market.

The whole point of a cap-and-trade system is that you artificially create scarcity in the market for “polluting” by issuing a limited amount of shares, each of which represents a certain amount of pollution you are allowed to create. This scarcity then forces companies to seriously consider how much their relative need to pollute is worth to them. Some companies can afford to pollute less at certain times, and so they can sell their shares to companies that can’t afford to cut pollution as much. If situations change later, they can buy them back as needed.

The end result is restores a great deal of the economic efficiency and flexibility that you’d get with a normal market, but that you’d lose with traditional, static regulations (in which a set cap impacts all companies equally, despite their very different underlying incentives and needs). And the beauty is that the government can still set an overall level of allowed pollution just by changing the value of the shares. It’s one of the biggest no-brainer improvements to government regulation in a long time: you lose none of the overall control over total pollution, but you gain a self-adjusting system that increases overall efficiency.

McCain, on the other hand, isn’t making any sense. How can cap-and-trade work if the system isn’t “mandatory?” Our atmosphere isn’t actually owned by anyone, and there isn’t actually a limited amount to which all industries can use it. The market only exists insofar as the government requires everyone to pretend that it does.

Confusing the issue even more, McCain talks about how he intends to establish “targets” for less pollution. Again, this makes no sense in the context of cap-and-trade unless the “cap” part is a mandatory and enforced total limit. No capped total limit on pollution, no scarcity of pollution shares, no market, no reason to buy and sell pollution permits, no cap-and-trade system at all. McCain is talking as if by “target” he meant “wishful thinking” and that he expects that the pollution levels will simply, by happy chance, meet his hopes.

So what the heck is he talking about? Another, older, interview gives us a clue:

It’s not quote mandatory caps. It’s cap-and-trade, OK. It’s not mandatory caps to start with. It’s cap-and-trade. That’s very different. OK, because that’s a gradual reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions. So please portray it as cap-and-trade. That’s the way I call it.

It appears that McCain has been spending far too much time with his PR spin team, but doesn’t quite understand what they are telling him to say. What they want to do is have him avoid using the term mandatory caps, and use the term “cap-and-trade” instead. The latter sounds better, the former scares industry.

But somehow, along the way from this interview to yesterday’s press conference, it seems as if McCain got it into his head that this is more than a difference in political language. That he really is against mandatory caps, and supports cap-and-trade… instead of just being instructed to avoid the former terminology in favor of the latter.

HT: Gristmill.


McCain Panders to the Left, Bitter Hillary Supporters Pander to the Right…

June 16, 2008

…could it be destiny?

Anyway, it’s often dizzying for me to flit between two different political universes.

On one hand, we have unrepentant Hillary Clinton bloggers who have decided to extend their primary efforts to elect Hillary into the general election.

Now, I can’t help but have some sympathy for these folks. Political campaigns are an addictive, disorienting rush: it’s like falling down the Alice in Wonderand’s rabbit hole and staying there for months. These bloggers bought lock stock and barrel into every negative thing ever said or thought about Obama. They posted novels worth of breathless declarations and outrage, retyping daily campaign emails and talking points, pouring on lifetimes worth of analysis, all of which self-confirmed, a little more each day, the conclusion that Hillary was the one true Democrat, and Obama the champion of everything phony and vile.

I’m not playing favorites here: in this sort of delusion, they are, of course, the precise mirror image of Obama’s own #1 fans. It’s just that for Obama’s boosters, there’s simple continuity, and the rush now continues apace without any wakeup call. For Hillary’s hacks, however, it means they have to let go of the drama and the obsession. To cool off, and realize that maybe, just maybe, campaign rhetoric is a teensy bit overblown for dramatic effect. But it’s not an easy thing to admit.

Still, I can’t remember quite this sort of viciousness when Howard Dean lost, and back in the 2004 primaries, I thought I’d never met people more fired up for someone than they were for Dean. Even so, all those folks seemed to get over it pretty darn fast.

On the other hand, over on the actual conservative side, we find that many folks aren’t too happy with what McCain’s been whispering into the ears of disgruntled Hillary devotees.

McCain, apparently, favors liberal judges and has the same position on gay marriage as John Kerry. Who knew? (I’ve just gotten over finding out that Tim Russert was somehow both a dogged liberal apologist and a Big Media Bush-lover who rolled over for the Iraq War, so maybe I’m just not ready for this new oxymoronic shocker.) Of course, I have a feeling that the “PUMA’s” (Party Unity My Ass) in question here might be taking wishful thinking a bit too far.

Amongst McCain’s former Hillary-supporting visitors, however, there was a rather uncomfortable note sounded when it came to light that a certain Paula Abeles was involved in organizing them.

As Ben Smith explains it:

… Abeles first made the news in 2003, when she and her husband, then-Monticello Association President Nat Abeles, led the fight to keep members of the Hemmings family — descendants of Jefferson slave and, some historians believe, mistress Sally Hemmings — out of a gathering of the Monticello Association, which is made up of lineal descendants of the third president.

She even went as far as to pose as a 67-year old African American woman named Cassandra Mays-Lewis in chat rooms to help in her husband’s efforts to lobby against the inclusion of Jefferson’s “blacker” descendants at “family” reunion gatherings.

For a group whose chief complaint against Obama was how dirty he was for supposedly “race-baiting” the Clintons, they probably could have chosen their own company a little more wisely.


Michelle Malkin’s Lazy “Baby Momma” Excuses

June 12, 2008

I’m not fan of Michelle Malkin, but she’s perfectly justified in complaining when her critics employ sexist and racist stereotypes to dismiss her arguments and positions out of hand. And you’d think that’d make her more self-aware and sympathetic when other people receive the same the same lazy treatment. Isn’t it better to stand on unmoving principle about what’s acceptable and honest in public discourse, rather than pretending that any tit justifies any tat?

Apparently not. When FoxNews recently ran a graphic calling Michelle Obama “Obama’s baby momma,” Malkin was quick to both (legitimately) deny any responsibility and then simply belittle the idea that it was objectionable.

For Malkin, instead of a chance to unabashedly exercise a principle, it was just another chance to play into her usual game of interpretive innuendo.

Read the rest of this entry »


Possible McCain Veep Pick Struggled With Daemons: Literally

June 11, 2008

We’re talking here about Bobby Jindal, the young Republican governor of Louisiana… and apparently once an amateur exorcist and faith healer. He even, according to an essay he once wrote, may have cured cancer!

In any case, Talking Points Memo has the whole story, complete with Jindal’s bizarre narrative.

Whenever I concentrated long enough to begin prayer, I felt some type of physical force distracting me. It was as if something was pushing down on my chest, making it very hard for me to breathe. . . Though I could find no cause for my chest pains, I was very scared of what was happening to me and Susan. I began to think that the demon would only attack me if I tried to pray or fight back; thus, I resigned myself to leaving it alone in an attempt to find peace for myself.

Hmmm.. not exactly the sort of heroic character we might expect from a future Vice President: quietly hiding in a corner, hoping the demon would concentrate on consuming his friend instead of noticing him.

At least he managed to cure cancer while he was at it:

“When the operation occurred, the surgeons found no traces of cancerous cells. Susan claimed she had felt healed after the group prayer and can remember the sensation of being ‘purified.'”

Anyway, do read the whole thing (or, at least, all the excerpts that TPM supplies).

I very much hope for Jindal’s sake that there’s more, in the complete context of the essay, that moderates some of this extremely silly stuff, or that Jindal has a more adult and lighthearted take on things today. But this is a pretty powerful reminder of the fact that many people sincerely believe that human problems can be due to the influence of invisible spirits who are, for some reason, allergic to the Bible.

Now, you’d think that if anyone would be open to demonic possession and thus allergic to the Bible, it’d be us atheists. And yet, suspiciously, it only seems to be people brought up in vivid and violently obsessive religious traditions that are ever inclined to act out these sorts of exorcism events. Meanwhile, I can touch and read the Bible just fine without breaking out into sweats, hives, or obscenities. Maybe I’m just possessed by an exceptionally polite demon?

Or maybe we non-believers are just so gosh darn bad that demons don’t even waste the effort.