Daily Howler logo
LOGIC FOR DUMMIES! Maureen Dowd teaches a valuable lesson. But why is this sad lesson needed? // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2005

LOGIC FOR DUMMIES: Amazing, isn’t it? It’s amazing to think that you live in a world where Maureen Dowd actually has to explain the thing she explains in this morning’s column. Dowd discusses right-wing crackpot Charlie Jarvis. In Jarvis’ latest ad campaign, he has claimed that the AARP loves gay marriage but just hates the troops:
DOWD (2/24/05): The oleaginous Mr. Jarvis explained that the soldier was X-ed out on the ad because AARP does not ''take a position on veterans and combat veterans' health and support an expansion of their assets. And we do.'' That is so lame. Just because AARP doesn't endorse a USA Next plan for veterans' health, that doesn't mean it hates American soldiers.
How sad. Yes, it’s good that Dowd teaches this Logic Lesson. But how sad—that idiots like Jarvis have been enabled so long that Dowd knows she has to walk her readers through this obvious QED. Hmmm—let’s see if we have this one straight! Just because you oppose a particular conservative program, that doesn’t mean you hate the troops? She might as well “explain” that the earth isn’t flat, or that two plus two really does equal four. But that’s the state to which we’ve all been reduced by events of the last several decades. It’s the state to which we’ve been reduced by the mainstream press corps’ long-standing tolerance of crackpot dissemblers like Jarvis.

After all, Jarvis doesn’t work in a vacuum. For years—by now, one can almost say “for decades”—the Outrage Machine of the kooky-con right has made a joke of American discourse, and Dowd’s “media elite” has stared into air, too polite to confront this spreading cancer. One good example: What happened at the magisterial Times when Ann Coulter presented her laughable pseudo-book, Slander? Easy! In her review, Janet Maslin counted up the book’s footnotes—most of which were baldly deceptive—and praised brilliant Coulter for her vast scholarship! (If you couldn’t see it, you wouldn’t believe it. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/22/02.) This morning, Dowd notes that Jarvis’ organization, USA Next, is “hiring some of the same consultants who helped the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who dynamited John Kerry, a war hero, by sliming him as a war criminal.” But when the sliming of Kerry was being enacted, the Times did little to examine the process. Here come those book review problems again! The magisterial paper was too afraid to examine the endless crackpot claims made in O’Neill/Corsi’s Unfit for Command—and American discourse slipped one notch further. (Instead of debunking the contradictory, inaccurate claims in the book, the Times explained who had financed it.) Result? Today, Dowd has to school an unlettered audience on the crackpot ways these half-wits proceed. Say it again? Just because you oppose a program, that doesn’t mean you hate all the troops? This is Public Logic For Complete, Total Dummies. And why are Times readers in need of such help? Because, for the past several decades, Dowd and her colleagues have stared into air as Charlie Jarvis and his crackpot cohort have made a complete, total joke of your discourse. Dowd treats her readers like school-kids today—like the school-kids our press corps has made them.

Of course, the pseudo-conservative Outrage Machine never stops whirring, and there’s nothing so stupid that its agents won’t say it. In the immediate aftermath of September 11, so little dissent could be found in the land that crackpot pseudo-con screamer Michelle Malkin had to search high and low for an enemy; she was finally able to kill the pig when she found a lowly high school sophomore saying something she didn’t like in a little-read local newspaper (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/25/01). At some point, mainstream pundits who cared about this country would stand up and loudly denounce such cracked pottery. But it’s safer and easier to count Coulter’s footnotes, which leads us to this week’s loud complaining—complaining about sixth-graders. Make no mistake, though—it’s a “Top Story.” Here’s the way pseudo-con harlequin co-host Sean Hannity began Monday’s Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY (2/21/05): First, our Top Story tonight! An American soldier serving overseas was stunned by some letters that he received from a sixth grade class in Brooklyn!
The sixth graders had wanted to write to a soldier to thank him for the service he was providing. But uh-oh! In some of the letters, intolerable 11-year-olds dared to say that they hadn’t agreed with the decision to go to war in Iraq. (The solider in question is in South Korea.) “This is completely unacceptable. It's outrageous,” said the soldier’s Outraged Father, Ron Jacobs, outragedly guesting on Hannity’s show. And of course, Hannity ramped up the Language of Outrage; he said the sixth-graders’ conduct was “a moral equivalent of spitting in the soldiers' faces.” The Outrage Machine was whirring nicely. But then, uh oh! It had to happen! Finally, Alan Colmes got his chance to review the Outrageous Letters with the Outraged Parent:
COLMES: I've gone through these letters, and I guess I don't see that these are anything but supportive of your son. Some of them may disagree with the policy. But there isn't one letter that doesn't applaud him on his bravery, on his courage. On and—“I'm proud of you”—I can go on. Each one seems to have something positive to say personally to your son.

JACOBS: Yes, they do. And I've read them, obviously. They're in my possession now.

What was actually in the letters? You know how The Outrage Machine works; in matters like this, you never find out. But the following exchange did occur when Colmes quoted another of the Outrageous Letters:
COLMES: "The main thing is, Mr. Veteran, I'm proud of you as a line of defense."

JACOBS: Exactly.

COLMES: Right.

JACOBS: Each letter has something like that in there—

COLMES: Right.

JACOBS: Which tells me they were told to say that. I don't believe that this was spontaneous, that every child said, "Oh, by the way, you're killing innocent people and you're bombing mosques. You are doing this and the other things. Oh, and by the way, thank you for being brave."

COLMES: I didn't see “killing innocent people.” I mean, one of them alluded to killing civilians.

JACOBS: True.

COLMES: That also was very laudatory, though, in almost everything else that letter said towards your son.

Jacobs did not disagree. No, there’s no way to know what the letters said. But the Outrage Machine was up and running, this time attacking a group of sixth-graders who had written a soldier some laudatory letters—letters which simply weren’t laudatory enough. And last night, the Outrage Machine whirred on, as the Outraged Parent appeared with another Outraged Host—Joe Scarborough, of Scarborough Country. “Zip it,” the boo-hooing parent said to the kids, as he’d repeatedly said one night before.

This morning, Dowd has to teach a sad Logic Lesson: Just because you oppose a program, that doesn’t mean you hate the troops. She has to do so because mainstream pundits have allowed this Outrage Machine to keep running—and because the liberal web has allowed these pundits to tremble, quake, hide, refuse to speak. The liberal web simply has to insist that mainstream pundits speak up loud and long—and if they’re going to shame these pundits into action, they’re going to have to call them by name. They’re going to have to name E. J. Dionne. They’re going to have to name Richard Cohen—and Mark Shields, Al Hunt, Chris Matthews, Eugene Robinson. But uh-oh! These are powerful figures at powerful papers—papers your heroes may hope to write. Is that one reason why years have gone past with only THE HOWLER calling these names? Is that the reason why this obvious theme has failed to spread far from this site?

Talking-point? They’re making a joke of America’s discourse. We’ve been stating this obvious point for years—and it must be yelled again and again, until mainstream Americans have actually heard it. But Big Mainstream Pundits have been too uncaring to stand up and state this obvious fact, and the liberal web has failed to insist that our Big Major Famous Pundits do so. If you want to see the sad result, read Maureen Dowd’s Logic Lesson this morning. Readers, two plus two is equal to four! That’s the sad state our discourse is in because the web keeps refusing to fight.

P.S. Rick Kaplan puts Scarborough’s clowning on the air every night, clowning which makes such a joke of our discourse. Go ahead—we dare our web colleagues to say the name of the man who might one day call them.

SMILE-A-WHILE—LAWRENCE OF ACADEMIA: College grads, did you ever get the nagging sense that your professors perhaps didn’t reeson reel guudd? The recent fight involving “Lawrence of Academia” might help you see you were right all along! For example, consider a comment to the New York Times after Summers’ now-famous speech about women in higher math. Reporter Sam Dillon summarized one of the great man’s points. Then he quoted a semi-odd reaction:

DILLON (1/19/05): [Summers] discussed several factors that could help explain the underrepresentation of women. The first factor...was that top positions on university math and engineering faculties require extraordinary commitments of time and energy, with many professors working 80-hour weeks in the same punishing schedules pursued by top lawyers, bankers and business executives. Few married women with children are willing to accept such sacrifices, he said.

Dr. [Nancy] Hopkins said, ''I didn't disagree, but didn't like the way he presented that point because I like to work 80 hours a week, and I know a lot of women who work that hard.''

Let’s state the obvious. The fact that Hopkins knows women who work long hours doesn’t contradict Summers’ claim; Summers hadn’t said that no women will work long hours, only that fewer women agree to do so. (Our aside: Perhaps because they have better “emotional intelligence.”) So Hopkins offered an odd assessment; she said she “didn’t disagree” with what Summers said, she just “didn’t like the way he presented it.” It’s not clear what that semi-odd comment meant. But that same day, in the Washington Post, another scholar raised a similar point, if reporter Michael Dobbs can be trusted:
DOBBS (1/19/05): One of the women sharply critical of Summers at the meeting was Denice D. Denton, chancellor-designate of the University of California at Santa Cruz. She took issue with his suggestion that women are less likely to achieve top professional positions than men because they are encumbered by child-rearing and family commitments. "Four of the 10 campuses at the University of California are run by women, who are all highly respected in their field," said Denton, an electrical engineer by training. "These are all clear examples of women reaching the top of their profession.”
Say what? Again, let’s state the obvious: The fact that four women are working at the top of the food chain doesn’t speak to Summers’ claim, a claim which dealt with the tendencies of men and women in general. Did Denton really voice this wildly irrelevant point, or did Dobbs somehow misrepresent her? There’s no way to know from the text. But one thing is certain. When you read about Summers’ speech, you’ll often confront groaning logical howlers, often served up by our leading professors! If you want to see what can happen When Professors Attack, this episode provides a rich lesson.

Hopkins and Denton were early responders, but the groaning illogic of high academics continues right up to the present. This Monday, for example, a family of scholars held court on this matter in a Washington Post op-ed column. But when Gerald Goldin, Rebecca Goldin and Andrea Foulkes opined, illogic wouldn’t be far behind:

GOLDIN/GOLDIN/FOULKES (1/21/05): Academic freedom does not protect any professor from having his or her ideas scrutinized. And in this case Summers's comments, while provocative, sorely misrepresented the research. Girls' scores on standardized tests have consistently improved with strides against discrimination and social bias. This fact alone counters the notion that the differences are "innate."
Good grief! The fact that girls’ scores “have consistently improved with strides against discrimination” doesn’t mean that there can’t be any “innate differences.” It could be that some of the previous problem was caused by discrimination, while remaining problems have other sources (including continuing discrimination). And no, you’re absolutely right—that obvious point isn’t complex at all. But so what? If Times scribe Kenneth Chang can be believed, Dr. Rachel Ivie committed a similar howler:
CHANG (2/22/05): Dr. Ivie also said that in suggesting that men and women might have different intrinsic aptitude in science, Dr. Summers did not take into account the continuing progress of women in fields like physics. While women earned only 18 percent of the Ph.D.'s in the United States in 2003, that is far higher than 1970, when the percentage was 2.4.

''If it's differences in innate ability, I don't know what innate abilities would have changed so quickly,'' Dr. Ivie said.

Yikes! Presumably, this change in performance reflects a lessening of social conditioning and overt discrimination. But to state the obvious, that doesn’t mean there are no differences in “innate ability.” By the way, it’s always possible that, if such “innate differences” do exist, that the differences tilt in womens’ favor, disguised by remaining social factors. It’s possible that women are “innately” better skilled, with that built-in advantage wiped away by conditioning and discrimination.

But for sheer world-class, dumb-ass, best-in-show show-boating, you’d have to go a good long way to top the three preening college presidents who wrote a piece in the Boston Globe—a piece designed to showcase their pleasing moral superiority to Summers. The preening prexies deserve to be honored by name: John Hennessey (Stanford), Susan Hockfield (MIT) and Shirley Tilghman (Princeton). You’d really have to go a long way to top this utter nonsense:

HENNESSEY/HOCKFIELD/TILGHMAN (2/12/05): Harvard president Lawrence Summers's recent comments about possible causes of the under-representation of women in science and engineering have generated extensive debate and discussion much of which has had the untoward effect of shifting the focus of the debate to history rather than to the future

The question we must ask as a society is not "can women excel in math, science, and engineering?" Marie Curie exploded that myth a century ago but "how can we encourage more women with exceptional abilities to pursue careers in these fields?”

Good grief—Madame Curie! Yes, she was quite good in science; why, there’s even a Hollywood movie about it! But who was “asking” if individual women could “excel in math and science?” Summers speculated at the possibility that fewer women might be equipped to excel. No—no one asked the question the presidents raised. But so what? They answered it anyway!

So go ahead and enjoy a smile as we follow Lawrence of Academia. Many writers, most of them women, have written highly intelligent critiques of issues raised by Summers speech. (For example, see Professor Meg Urry’s instructive review of discrimination she experienced in her science career.) But if you occasionally found yourself thinking that your perfessers might not reely reeson two guuudd, don’t miss the chance to feel confirmed now. When Academics Attack, their logic can fail. Take your revenge—and amusement.