The best thing about having a humanities degree is that it trained me in how to argue, and especially how to spot weak arguments. (The ability to see through stupid arguments explains the hostility some politicians and pundits have toward the humanities. If more people could do this, those guys would have to get a real job.) One particularly bad one I've seen often is the assertion that some person or another is "connected" with some bad thing or another. Syrian refugees are "connected" to Daesh or al Qaeda. Obama is "connected" to the Weathermen. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was "connected" to the Nazis. The evidence supporting the connection varies, but the writer asserts a connection between Random Terrible Thing and whatever person the writer wants to discredit. The writer isn't required to provide her evidence or state any arguments against any particular policy because the connection to random terrible thing is enough to spoil anything the person with Random Terrible Connection advocates.
Let's walk through a case study: I am connected to Charles Whitman, the guy who held the title for death toll in a school shooting for many years. I graduated from UT Austin; Whitman attended UT Austin. I used to work with a guy who was actually on campus during the shooting and won a bet that he couldn't run across the street and make a call from a phone booth -- for those under 40, use Google -- and run back to the dorm without getting shot. Even more persuasive, my husband's uncle was a Justice of the Peace for that precinct in 1966 and signed the death certificates for the victims and for Whitman himself. Thus, I am 'connected' to Charles Whitman.
Of course, these connections don't prove anything. I had turned three years old about a month before Whitman's rampage. I had nothing whatsoever to do with this particular tragedy other than be born before it happened. It is possible, however, to type "Karen Cox has connections to Charles Whitman" and not be a complete filthy liar. Thus, assertions of connections is a common rhetorical technique in mendacious and tenacious arguments.
Let's follow a real-world example, that of Benedict XVI. Now, I have zero use for pretty much any Pope. I'm a proud and committed Protestant and will happily explain why a belief in transubstantiation is wrong and idolatrous, should any of you be foolish enough to ask. That said, I know that Nazi Pope assertions were, to use the technical term, bullshit. Joseph Ratzinger joined the Hitler Youth when he was a teenager in Germany. So far, okay. Supporting the conclusion that Ratzinger was a Nazi and therefore all of his opinions were terrible, however, requires ignoring the other facts about being a teenager in Nazi Germany, such as refusing to join meant at the very least causing his family a great deal of pain, up to and including imprisonment. It also meant getting sent to the Eastern Front for little Josephchen. Expecting a teenager to risk his and his family's lives just to make a point many years later is absurd. Yes, Ratzinger was a member of a Nazi youth organization. He probably heard many antisemitic speeches and read a lot of propaganda. Those facts are in no way relevant to whether or not the Catholic Church should recognize second marriages or punish dissident theologians.
To use an example from Team Red, many people claim President Obama is somehow a protege of the Weather Underground -- the radicals, not the weather website -- because he and Bill Ayers both lived in the same neighborhood in Chicago. Bill Ayers was actually involved a couple of unsuccessful bomb plots, and wrote an autobiography making, in my opinion, an unsuccessful effort to justify his actions. He's a genuine radical, with at best a checkered legacy. All of his violent acts, however, occurred before 1970. He's been a boringly conventional rich guy with leftist opinions since then. President Obama was nine years old in 1970, and living in, I think, Indonesia. He was not at the '68 Democratic convention. Obama may agree with Ayers on some things -- or not -- but their connection doesn't prove anything.
My point is not to defend Obamacare or the exclusion of divorced and remarried people from Catholic Communion. If I wanted to do that, I would, for example, discuss the cost of medication and the effect on poor people of delayed or denied care, or discuss the doctrine of the sacraments and the effect of changing that doctrine. My point is to demonstrate a particularly terrible rhetorical device, and to encourage everyone to check the evidence before repeating that Facebook or Tumblr post or forwarding that Tweet or email. During the next election year, there will be as many opinions about candidates or policies presented as their are people with an Internet connection. Those opinions stand or fall on the evidence presented to support them, not on what clubs the people on either side joined when they were kids or whether one person recognized another at cocktail parties. Be careful!
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Tuesday, April 01, 2014
Friday, August 16, 2013
This was a bus tour in the morning with a visit to "Checkpoint Charlie" in the afternoon. We saw what's left of the Berlin Wall, which the city has turned into an outdoor art exhibit. Artists take a section of wall and paint a mural. My favorite was a picture of Leonid Breshnev and Erich Honnecker locked in an intense smooch. The end of the morning part was at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, officially known as "The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe." It's across the street from the new American Embassy, and I recall the guide saying that the site was the location of the Gestapo headquarters, but I can't find anything confirming that statement. Standing on the edge of the park all of the stone blocks look about the same height. Inside, however, the floor slopes so that in the middle observers are about six feet below street level and all the blocks tower over their heads. It's designed to be disorienting and confusing, a goal at which it succeeds remarkably well. I found it very effective and appropriate. We skipped the Checkpoint Charlie museum and walked around old East Berlin. We saw a parade of Trabants, the East German horrible car, which now has quite a lot of nostalgia. They were made with a two-stroke engine, which was used in the West for things like lawn mowers and chain saws. Not very powerful. Their exhaust smells like a lawn mower and they don't go very fast, but since that was the pinnacle of consumer goods in the DDR, they were something of a status symbol. The cars in the parade had all been customized, including my favorite one, pink with Gucci stripes. We also went to a chocolate shop that has been in business since the middle of the 19th Century, although they haven't been in the same place that long. They had scale model chocolate sculptures of the Brandenburg Gate, the TV Tower, the Titanic, the Reichstag, and other Berlin sites, as well as a Berlin mascot bear wearing a gold marzipan crown.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Arrived in Berlin. I couldn't sleep at all well on the plane -- the seats never reclined and the movies played constantly -- so I've been awake 38 hours. It's already Wednesday. We have a walking tour of the city, from our hotel in the old East Berlin, S - Bahn (surface train) to Alexanderplatz, then walk to Museum Island and the Reichstag. The one really serious regret I've got is that the tour never allowed us to go into any of the museums there. The Heinrich Schliemann Treasures of Priam, the first Neanderthal skeleton, and tons of things from Sumeria and Babylon are in those Museums, especially the Pergamon Museum and Neues (New) Museum. The Neues was founded in, I think, 1860, so "new" is relative. I wish I could say something profound about the Reichstag building, but mainly it was a really lovely place, which is no longer used for much serious business. The Bundestag does some ceremonial things in there, but mainly it's a nice backdrop to a lovely park. Berlin has lots of trees. None of them date before 1947, but they made up for lost time and planted THOUSANDS of linden and chestnuts, which now make Berlin Europe's greenest city. Since it was about 85 degrees while we were there. I really appreciated the trees. We walked about 8 miles that first day, so I really got to love the trees. There is a farmer named Karl who has set up stands all over the city to sell his strawberries. Karl's strawberries are the platonic ideal of strawberries -- huge, ripe all the way to the top, and sweet. We bought two liters and ate most of them in one night. Karl's berries are to Berlin what Cheetos in vending machines are to the US, which explains why there are no very fat Germans. There are plump, even heavy-set, but nothing like the typical Walmart shopper. Walking ten miles a day, seven miles of which are stairs, plus little junk food, keeps the citizens of Berlin fit. I made my first discovery of pay toilets today. It costs 75-Euro-cents to use the bathroom here. Charging people who have the audacity to leave home to pee cancels all the benefits from the walking, lack of junk food, and excellent public transport. Really, Europe, this is one thing that is so completely superior in the US. Have you ever thought what happens to someone who doesn't have the right change? Overall, toilets aside, I have to say Berlin is lovely. There's still a lot of Worker's Paradise grey block buildings, but in the 20 years since the Wall fell the residents have cheered the place up. Most of the grey blocks have been modified and painted, so they don't look quite so much like the set for a movie of "1984." It's still easy to see the difference between East and West, though, in that the old West Berlin has nicer mid-20th Century buildings and better restoration of the old stuff.
A Very Long Plane Ride. We left at a little before 9 from Austin and arrived in New York at a little after noon their time. I had dreaded this part, mainly because I have had almost no good experiences with airlines, and those few were with Pan Am. We flew Delta, which has automated its ticket counters so that we got boarding passes from a computer. I put three pieces of paper into my passport, gave one to the gate clerk, and never read the others. While we were in flight to New York, I noticed that I hadn't gotten a boarding pass for the Amsterdam - Berlin leg of the trip. I would get to Europe, but that's as far as it went. I spoke to the gate clerk at Kennedy, and got the correct papers in ten minutes. So, Delta Airlines, you have my respect and admiration. United would have told me to hitchhike from Holland to Germany. We had an uneventful flight the rest of the way, including the pleasant and amazingly clean Amsterdam Airport.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
One of my personal crusades is the need for more language instruction in our schools. Languages are usually cut first, right up there with music and art, as "unnecessary." The chair of the University of Virginia governing board recently proposed to eliminate that school's highly-praised German department, because Germany is now a completely unimportant country with no international influence at all, like, oh, Greece. An evil combination of corporate Philistines, misguided school reformers, and legislative skin-flints work together to deprive as many students as possible of the chance to learn a second language. The foolishness of this idea is evident right now, with the US facing attacks by possibly-coordinated mobs on many of our embassies in western Asia and North Africa. We don't know about this because we have so very few Arabic - speakers who are not imported from that troubled area. We don't teach Arabic in our schools, so we don't have citizens who read Al Jazeera's website and comments. During the era of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," we fired Arabic speakers for being gay, like we had dozens of extras stored somewhere in the State Department supply cabinet. We don't do that any more, but we aren't doing anything to increase the supply, either. Arabic is a very hard language to learn, and the colloquial form spoken on the street isn't much like the formal version spoken by the upper classes. I understand from the two people I know who speak the language that there isn't anything like standard business English that most fluent speakers use. This is not an insurmountable problem, because there are a bunch of jihadi websites published in European languages, especially German and French. The 9/11 hijackers lived in Germany before moving over here, and presumably talked to other people while in Germany. More Americans speaking German might have made a difference there. This is very personal to me right now. I am learning both French and Spanish via Rosetta Stone, and my Spanish has gotten good enough for me to read CNN en español and Univision for news. Venezuela detained the captain of an American ship. American officials were attacked in Mexico. I learned of these two events from Spanish websites. I learned a lot about Latin American opinions of us from reading the comments. I am a better and more informed person from knowing this. How much more would we know about the real sources of the current rioting if more of us could read Arabic or Farsi or one of the European languages spoken by the leaders? I undertand that East Toenail, Idaho can't hire a full-time Arabic or German instructor. With the Internet, however, they can buy Rosetta Stone and allow their students one class period to complete the program. They can administer on-line tests for credit. So what if only six students are interested? The subscription is about a hundred dollars per year for an ordinary consumer; I'm sure the company would be willing to give a price break to school districts, especially if the state leg bought enough for all of its students. Bogota and Powderly, Texas -- the Prairiland Consolidated School District and a real place -- has a couple hundred students. Texas has almost seven million. Giving every student in the state the chance to learn any one of a dozen languages costs very little anymore, but has a tremendous benefit. We should do this, for all of us.
I found this post this morning. The writer wants adult women to express legitimate anger in a "childlike" manner. I am entirely too angry at that to respond rationally, but I did want to note how manipulative this is. The idea is to defuse unreasonable and unfair criticism by acting like a baby, which will somehow inspire Bastard Hubby to be protective. It doesn't work, it's insulting to both people, and it keeps the adult woman in a state of complete helplessness.