1/29/11

Laura Meckler's sloppy thinking

The latest News Roundup contained some extraordinarily sloppy
thinking and false equivalences from WSJ's Laura Meckler. On the
show, Diane read a quotation from Professor Stephen Gillers that
Justice Thomas's recent tax problems did not constitute a
miscalculation but were, in fact ommissions about his wife's earnings
from 6 tax returns, and that it could not have been an oversight.
Gillers claimed that it could not have been an oversight. We don't
know why he said this, but presumably he has some evidence (perhaps
the tax forms require you to intentionally check a box to state you
have nothing else to declare). Gillers, presumably, has some
expertise--he holds a chair in Legal Ethics at NYU. Nevertheless,
Laura Meckler felt comfortable simply waving off his comment, as if
it was merely something said by a politician running for office or a
media pundit. This strikes me as fairly irresponsible of Meckler, who
should have at least acknowledged that she didn't know why Professor
Gillers made his claim.

Nevertheless, though she did not possess actual facts to the
contrary, Meckler felt free to speculate that this was an issue we
could *never* know the answer to because we cannot know what was in
Justice Thomas's head. She then brought up Treasury Secretary
Geithner as an example of "both sides do it" as if Geithner's
survival of scrutiny somehow exonerates Thomas.

Meckler is operating in a typical journalist mode here, namely the
"both sides do it" mode. But this implies a false equivalence between
Thomas and Geithner and it implies that two overlooked wrongs make a
right. These are both mistakes. First, there's a huge difference
between Thomas and Geithner, which Meckler glides over. Thomas is a
justice in the highest court in the land, and must be held to the
highest possible legal and ethical standards. He is qualitatively
different than Geithner in that respect. Also, many people are
prosecuted for such omissions by the IRS. Just because it's
politically not feasible to prosecute some people doesn't make what
they did legal. Yet time and time again, the public sees Washington
officials walk away from significant wrongdoing with either no
penalty or a slap on the wrist. Or a pardon. Meckler's comments play
an enabling role for such a lawless environment.

1/19/11

On the absurdity of the "guns don't kill people" argument

Regarding the debate about ammunition clip limits on guns, the following argument (of those against limits) seems to apply: Nuclear weapons don't kill people, people kill people. Therefore, we should oppose anyone attempting to limit the rights of individual Americans who wish to arm themselves with a nuclear weapon.

Why does this argument fail? Because there are no qualifications on the initial argument. In other words, of course people kill people--that's too simple. The logic behind limitations has to do whether the technologies available to killers too easily accelerate, magnify and multiply their intentions. Of course they do.

The NRA style argument which rests on the overly simple "people kill people" premise neglects these complicating factors. If the NRA style argument is willing to rest its case on a too-simple premise, then they must also be willing to accept the implication that a nuclear weapon, too, should be acceptable.

So, in the end, the NRA logic implies the acceptability of nuclear weapons--a clearly unacceptable conclusion. Thus, their premise must be flawed, and so there's good reason to suppose that some limits on clips is acceptable.

1/12/11