Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Tiresome Liberal Fallacy

I am worn out by a way of reasoning that some liberals cannot seem to avoid. A week or so ago, there was an article in the Columbus Dispatch concerning the fact that the Ohio State University Athletic Department is bringing in over a hundred million dollars a year. This was claimed to be a terrible misallocation of our financial resources given how much poverty, homelessness, etc. there is. Let's suppose that the Ohio State Athletic Department were to shut down in 2008 and therefore would sell no tickets to games, accept no donations, and sell no clothing or other things that contain OSU logos. How much of the something like $107,000,000 saved by Buckeye fans do you think would be given to charities that help out the poor and homeless people in Ohio and elsewhere. I suggest that very little of this money would find its way to a hungry or homeless person.

My first encounter with this sort of fuzzy headed liberal thinking (I am a liberal but try not to be fuzzy headed) was in connection with military spending. The idea was that if we reduced military spending, our government would be able to help those in poverty who needed it. Not surprisingly, this sort of reasoning can be found today. One J.R. Mooneyham writes
The less money nations spend on their militaries [sic] and intelligence and security measures, the more they have for education, medicine, and other social needs-- or alternatively, the lower the tax burden on average citizens can be; thus is nourished greater peace and prosperity for a people, while making war is discouraged.
The part of this passage that interests me (the rest is incoherent) is the bit that occurs before the dashes where we have the argument in pristine form -- the less we spend on the military the more we have for social purposes. This is certainly true but the moment we cut back on military expenditures conservatives will instantly call for tax reductions.

If the country elects a liberal Democratic President and a Democratic Congress then there is a chance that money spent on the Iraq War may be diverted to help with social measures. However, that would take better judgment by the public than it has shown in the last two elections.

Ironically, money contributed by the public to the OSU Athletic Department and tax money that supports the military serves social ends. Ohio State's Athletic Department supports 20 women's sports teams. That, in itself, is a worthy consequence of the public's buying tickets to Ohio State's football and basketball games. Another is that it brings children of families that cannot afford to support their children's college educations to campuses. In many cases the kids aren't all that interested in school, as opposed to playing their sports, but any learning that does go on is a good thing for the society. One valuable aspect of university sports programs is that they are meritocracies -- it is how well you play, not how much money your family has or what your race or ethnicity is, that determines whether or not you can participate in sports.

The military is another meritocracy. We should not be spending a cent on the Iraq war but money spent on the military in general does lead to minorities, including women, getting opportunities for meaningful careers that they otherwise might not have given the level of prejudice against minorities we have in the private sector. Moreover, a great deal of our military spending on equipment goes to American businesses (I would assume) which hire American workers. I haven't "fact-checked" this last claim but if it is not true, we would be at the mercy of other countries who might decide not to make us any more weapons. The French disapprove of the Iraq War (as do I) and might decide to stop selling us any more Dassault Rafale fighter aircraft were we to be using that airplane. That would put the Bush administration in a mell of a hess.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The "I smoked pot but I didn't inhale" Excuse

When people in the public eye are suspected of doing something wrong and are questioned about it, some opt for a variation of Bill Clinton's account of his use of illegal drugs. He said he had smoked pot but hadn't inhaled it. He is fortunate that not many people cared about his pot usage but the credibility of his account of his drug use was zero on a scale of zero to 10.

Clinton could have made his lie/true account much more credible if he had said, "Yes, like many young people of the time, I smoked pot a few times but stopped because it wasn't doing anything for me. A few years later, I discovered why it didn't do anything for me -- you have to inhale the smoke and I didn't."

The key difference between these two accounts of Clinton's pot smoking is my account provides a reason for his stopping that is credible -- he didn't get high. People might have made fun of him for not inhaling but wouldn't see him as lying even if he was. It is very important when giving a mea culpa to actually say one is guilty but give account that minimizes the extent of the illegal or immoral action that is believable.

Recently, Andy Pettite, a pitcher for the New York Yankees was outed for his use of illegal performance enhancing drugs by a man who claimed he had injected Pettite with HGH (human growth hormone) some 2 to 4 times. The claim by the trainer was published in the Mitchell report. I understand that when Pettite was asked about having used performance enhancing drugs (henceforth PEDs) before he was outed in the Mitchell report. he denied it. This is a serious mistake. The odds that someone will out you is much too great to reasonably believe one will be able to get away with a total denial.

After being "formally" outed, Pettite did a Clintonian mea culpa. He admitted to using HGH twice, the lower figure used by the trainer who injected him, and he explained that he had been injured at the time. He goes on to say
I felt an obligation to get back to my team as soon as possible. For this reason, and only this reason, for two days I tried human growth hormone.
His actual "apology" was
If what I did was an error in judgment on my part, I apologize.
There are several problems with Pettite's account of his use of HGH.

The first problem is that he didn't actually give a mea culpa. Saying "if what I did was an error in judgment, I apologize" is too ridiculous for words. It is obvious to all that what he did was make an error of judgment. If he hadn't made an error of judgment he wouldn't have been outed. Rule one of an admission of guilt -- don't make it conditional. Say what you did was a mistake or error in judgment. The second problem is that his account is totally self-serving in that he represents his use of HGH as altruistic -- he wanted to get back pitching regularly as soon as possible to help his team. This plays into a basic sports mantra, namely that athletes must focus their efforts entirely on helping their team. If they are ever seen as acting to further their own interests rather than the interests of the team, they will be in deep trouble with the press and fans. The third problem is that his claim that he only used it twice is itself not credible since the trainer said it was 2-4 times. Admitting one did it "several times" would have been much better. A fourth problem is that he gives no explanation for quitting. If it wasn't an error in judgment, then why quit? My version of Clinton's mea culpa admitted his use and explained why he quit. You have to do both things in an apology or explanation.

If I had been advising Pettite, I would have said that I had used HGH a few times because I had been told that it would facilitate a quicker recovery from my injury and I was afraid that if I didn't heal quickly enough I might not get my spot back on the Yankees' starting rotation. But I knew that this was a prescription drug and I was therefore taking it illegally. Since I am not by nature a law breaker, I decided I had to stop even if there was some risk that I might not heal as quickly. The virtue of this account is that Pettite would have pled "guilty" but given a very credible explanation of both why he took HGH and why he stopped and in the process painted a picture of himself as being basically law abiding. Sports fans would have found it easy to forgive him. Everyone understands the pressure of trying to keep one's job.

Andy Pettite's sidekick, the 40-something medical marvel, Roger Clemens, who despite his advanced age remained a first rate pitcher with one of the lowest earned run averages in baseball, was also outed. He could still throw the ball hard and managed to win something like 3 Cy Young awards during the "steroids" era we have recently gone through and are probably still going through. A real problem with Roger is that like Barry Bonds, the first major star to be outed, Roger was a much bigger and stronger at 40-something than he had been as a 30-something pitcher. Since he had always worked out hard this didn't make much sense but his taking steroids would make sense out of it. Steroids allow one to recover more quickly from work outs and therefore allows one to work out hard much more frequently.

Roger Clemens, unlike Andy Pettite, flatly denied using PED's after the Mitchell report came out. This denial puts him in the awkward position that for him to go on and confess he must first admit that he lied about his use of PED's and then admit that he took the illegal drugs. Pettite too had lied but not after a "formal" charge had been leveled at him.

Barry Bonds is no longer the sole poster child for use of PED's. He has been joined by Roger Clemons and a legion of others. Barry himself gave a Clintonian style defense of his use of PED's. He claimed that he didn't know that what he was getting (the cream and the clear) was illegal. No one believes that either.

Another group that is in denial is baseball writers. They are poking holes at the report on a variety of grounds. Some have claimed, for instance, that it is based on hearsay. In fact, the report, insofar as it concerns Pettite and Clemens, is based on confessions by the person who administered the drugs, which makes the claims stronger than eye-witness testimony, and where it does involve hearsay evidence (i. e., Roger or Barry or Andy tells the report's source that he used PED's), the evidence would be admissible in court under the exception that it was an "admission against interest." The fact that baseball reporters are so angered by the report is interesting. They have been shown to be lousy reporters since they didn't dig up this information themselves, unlike the reporters who outed Bonds several years ago. And, if they pile onto those who had been outed, they are unlikely ever to get an exclusive interview with the athlete they have criticized. Furthermore, their jobs are seen by themselves and many others as important because they cover the actions and thoughts of people others deem important.

I have no useful advice to Clemens as to how he can get out from under the allegations against him. As Pete Rose, who continues to be denied entrance into the Hall of Fame, can tell Roger, it doesn't help to admit one lied about one's actions (Rose's actions were betting on his own team when he was a manager) if one waits too long.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Are Mormons Christian Enough for the Right Wing Chistians?

Yesterday morning's paper tells me that Mitch Romney is going to give a speech in which he tells the Christian Right (aka the Christian wrong) why his Mormonism will not pose any problems for them or the country should he be President. He then will try to do what JFK did when he tried to explain to Southern Baptists why his being Catholic would pose no problems for them or the country. JFK was successful.

I was actually present when JFK submitted himself for questioning by a battery of Baptist preachers thanks to my being friends with someone who had access to passes. It was amazing to see him deal deftly with their concerns. I felt some sympathy with them since I was raised as a Baptist and Catholicism was our main nemesis. My father was a prejudice-free man except for his strong anti-Catholics views. I got over my early indoctrination. In fact, I am not sure I ever bought into it since one of my friends was Catholic and I spent time in their house and knew his family.

I think Romney is making a mistake by giving a speech rather than by doing what JFK did. JFK approached the Baptist ministers at a personal level by allowing them to question him. Indeed the setting was almost intimate since very few people were in attendance. As far as I can tell, Romney will use the Orientation Theater of the Bush Library at Texas A & M for his address. It holds around 148 people. In using a theater, Romney will be putting distance between himself and his audience. If I were him, I would give a brief address and then sit on the edge of the stage and answer any questions members of the audience might have for as long as necessary. That way he makes himself completely vulnerable to them. If he survives, he wins.

There is a nasty irony to the problem Romney faces. It seems he will be trying to say that though the Mormon religion is hierarchical in nature, he believes fully in the separation of church and state and will not be influenced by the views of the leaders of his religion. Interestingly, Kennedy said
"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote ... "
The nasty irony is that the Religious Right does not believe in the separation of church and state and its ministers try to influence how members vote. They want the state to pass laws that dictate that there will be no abortions, that homosexuals should not be afforded normal human rights, and other nefarious views. I believe that Romney may once have believed that some abortions were acceptable and that gays should be given the same rights as everyone else. However, he seems to have caved to the Religious Wrong.

I don't really care who the Republicans put up but I am beginning to care about the Democratic choice. Hillary has dug deeply into Obama's past to reveal that Obama has, contrary to his claims, always wanted to be President by citing a paper he wrote in kindergarten claiming that he wanted to be President. This is the sort of mean-spirited, double-dumb mistake that costs people elections. She also allied herself with Bush's hawkish views on Iran and its putative nuclear weapons program. She swallowed Bush's rhetoric whole. Two bad Bush was lying about what Iran was up to. This makes her look like a triple-dumb person.

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