Sorry, Brett

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2018 by drmiller1960

In light of Donald Trump’s apology to Brett Kavanaugh (the likes of which you’ve never heard before, believe me), I, too, decided to join the National Day of Self-Flagellation.  Here are my apologies to the newest member of the Supreme Court:

First of all, I am sorry that from the start of the confirmation process, your sponsors acted to cast doubt on your candor and honesty. Take, for example, the small matter of your emails and other correspondence from your stint in George W. Bush’s White House.  Now, granted, some of those documents might very well be privileged information; indeed, given your role in the White House counsel’s office, it would strain credulity to think that all of your documents could be disclosed.  However, it is a source of remorse that the process for determining which documents could be released certainly raised a few eyebrows.  First of all, I beg your pardon that Senator Grassley’s decision not to ask for any documents related to your job as Bush’s Staff secretary was a tad unusual.  The gentleman from Iowa thought they would be irrelevant because the role of Staff secretary was equivalent to being a human inbox, but I regret that I must disagree–after all, according to Bob Woodward’s reporting on how Rob Porter allegedly saved the world, that role can be pivotal.  I’m therefore sorry that I bet, buried amongst the usual secretarial emails about coffee funds and cleaning out the staff fridge, there might have been some tidbits about your views on waterboarding detainees or so-called “partial birth abortions.”

As for the papers that were requested, I apologize that unorthodox breaches with practice have become the norm. Rather than having experts from the National Archives vet the papers, as is the usual practice, I regret that your buddy and former White House co-worker, William Burck was tasked with the job of overseeing the review process.  While it must have seemed comforting to have such a simpatico guy taking part in your confirmation process, I imagine that you probably regret some of the fall out of that decision.  First of all, it is a source of immeasurable sorrow to me that we don’t know what standards Mr. Burck employed before deciding whether a document were privileged or not.  It’s pitiable that we have only his word that he stringently applied the rules relating to executive privilege. I apologize that the Judiciary Committee was denied access to hundreds of thousands of documents, and that only a relatively few documents were released under the most stringent of time constraints. (I suppose I’m also sorry that I agree with Senator Klobuchar’s observation that no one could review 42,000 pages overnight “no matter how much coffee you drink”).  I therefore mourn that your allies did everything they could to give the impression that you were a man with something to hide.

I also regret that your behavior during the confirmation process did not reflect the standup kind of guy you undoubtedly are. I’m sorry that your steadfast refusal to answer any question with a direct answer stumped even Senator Harris. Given her status as a former U.S Attorney and lead prosecutor, this was quite a trick, but it didn’t make you look good.  Ditto for your refusal to discuss whether a president could be subject to a criminal law investigation—despite your 2009 law review article.  Other regrettable areas for concern include your previous statements about your role in the Pryor and Pickering judicial nominations process, your truthfulness about whether you knew that documents forwarded to you by your pal Manual Miranda were stolen from Senator Leahy’s office, and your role in White House discussions on waterboarding.  I’m extremely sorry that these issues will cast a permanent pall upon your reputation for  honesty and evenhandedness.

I further lament your opening statement in response to Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations. I understand that you wrote it yourself, with no outside comments. I guess I’m sorry about that, too.  I apologize that it is so hard to determine what was the most appalling aspect of your deeply partisan and more-than-just-a-touch-paranoid response:  the screaming, the crying, or the chilling warning that “what goes around comes around.”  It is regrettable that not only did you maintain a sneering and evasive course in response to legitimate questions from the Democratic senators, but that the Republican senators decided to join in the fray. My heart is heavy that every decision in which your partisan biases could be called into question will inevitably be marked with an asterisk.

I mourn that so many of your responses to questions about Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations were misleading. I am sorry that, contrary to your assertions, Dr. Blasey Ford dated one of your buds (how could you forget Squi???) and your 1982 calendar indicates that on 1 July you attended a party similar to the one described by Dr. Blasey Ford. I regret that you confuse “refuting” with “not recalling.” If, as you state, “boofing” refers to farting, and you boofed for the first time when you were 16, then I also regret your gastrointestinal track’s sorry state of affairs.  I further regret that Renate Schroeder Dolphin found your “Renate Alumnus” club a hurtful betrayal of the friendship she thought she had with you.  Additionally, I am sorry that you like beer so much—and I’m certain that Dr. Blasey Ford shares that regret.

I apologize for the fact that the FBI “investigation” into Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations was limited in scope and time. I am stricken with unfathomable sorrow that, by failing to question you or Dr. Blasey Ford, interview people with knowledge of your drinking habits in high school and university, or delve into the other allegations about your behavior raised by Deborah Ramirez, the report would inevitably be incomplete and its findings of dubious worth.  It is regrettable that you will always have to live not under a cloud, but a Category 5 hurricane of suspicion, simply because the White House acted as if it were desperately trying to prevent the discovery of something truly reprehensible about you.  Ancillary to this apology, I am sorry that Susan Collins does not know the difference between a criminal trial and a job interview and that Lisa Murkowski is the only GOP Senator with a spine.  I also regret that Joe Manchin decided that political expediency trumps personal integrity.

Finally, and most importantly, I deeply regret what your confirmation has revealed about the state of our country. I mourn how powerful men refuse to listen to victims of sexual assault.  I deplore that the current occupant of the White House has mocked Dr. Blasey Ford in order to launch his flying monkeys into action against her.  I’m extremely sorry that Orrin Hatch has dismissed justifiable and utterly constitutional protests with a wave of a hand and an admonition to “grow up.” I repent how the discredited “mistaken identity” canard has been so gleefully spread to disparage the stories of Dr. Blasey Ford and other victims.  And I beg your pardon that your installation onto the Supreme Court has called into question the probity, honesty, and evenhandedness of the highest court in the land.

©2018 D.R. Miller


Twenty Questions (Kavanaugh Rules)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2018 by drmiller1960

These are urgent times.  In order to keep the Blue Wave rolling, we need to get as many votes as possible—or at least neutralize the energy Trump is whipping up at the expense of Dr. Blasey Ford.  We need to think seriously about how to convince people that voting Republican is not in their best interest.  Even if they would never, in a million years, vote for a Democrat, perhaps we can get them not to vote at all.  In an earlier blog, I noted that merely spouting off facts will not change anyone’s political opinion.  Indeed, the more contrary facts we’re exposed to, the more entrenched our political beliefs become.  We reason with our brains when it comes to everyday matters, but our politics, which form part of the basis for our identity, reside in our guts.  Political opinion is truly visceral.

Indeed, so deeply ingrained are our political views that some have questioned whether we should expend any energy at all on trying to persuade Trump’s supporters to change their minds.  Instead, we should focus on the independent or undecided voters, who have not yet drunk the Kool-Aid.  I have some sympathy for this position.  For one thing, it seems that the average Trumpanista simply does not want to participate in a robust debate on the merits.  Let me give you an example from my personal experience.  My local rag recently published my little op/ed piece on Kennedy’s retirement (you might recall it: it was a jauntily prescient piece called “Dear Justice Kennedy:  Why Now?”).  While I got many nice emails in response (thanks, kids!), I did, predictably, get a few nastygrams.  While most were the kinds of garbled mixtures of venom and sweat that one would expect, there was one that was actually coherent.  The gist of my correspondent’s criticism was that I had a liberal perspective.  Well, duh.  But since this particular person had bothered to respond to my essay without resorting to personal insults, I wrote back.  The fact that I was a liberal really had nothing to do with the legitimacy of my argument, any more than him being a conservative would have to do with his.  Instead, I asked him, what about the substance of my argument?  Where did he see the weakness?

His response:  I was a stupid libtard snowflake.

So, yes, I see where people are coming from when they say, “Fuck reasoning with MAGA-hat hounds.”

But I am a teacher, and almost by definition, teachers have an optimistic view of human nature.  Why else would we spend so much time working with other people’s children if we didn’t believe that reason can overcome passion?

Therefore, I think we should continue trying to engage with them. For no other reason, if we want to rebuild civil society, we need to talk to each other.  But, instead of telling them what we think, I believe that the more effective stratagem would be to ask them what they think.  As any teacher can tell you, there’s nothing like a carefully worded question to kickstart those rusty cognitive belts and gears.  Additionally, as outlined in the truly profound “How to Win Hearts and Minds in the Age of Trump,” those questions should be related to the three techniques that are likely to change minds:  use paradoxical thinking, keep it personal, and make it relevant.

Now, I realize that sometimes it’s hard to remember which questions to ask when what you really want to do is throttle your blow-hard cousin until he can no longer say “lock her up.”  Never fear, kind reader.  I, your diligent correspondent, have composed a list of twenty questions regarding a variety of topics, entirely suitable for use between now and the midterms.  You’re welcome.

Kavanaugh Questions[1] and Other Relevant Queries

  1. If your house were burgled, wouldn’t you want the cops to interview you and the suspect?
  2. If you were accused of a crime, wouldn’t you want a thorough investigation to clear your name? [This question is especially adaptable: you can use it for Kavanaugh, Mueller, Trump Foundation, and Stormy Daniels questions, too!]
  3. Sure, we’ve all had too much to drink at one time or another—but when was the last time you lied about it under oath?
  4. How are you going to get coverage for your [fill in the blank] if Kavanaugh overturns the pre-existing coverage provisions of the ACA?
  5. If the news is fake, why doesn’t Trump sue for defamation? Wouldn’t you, if you were as rich as he is?
  6. Can I call it fake news the next time you catch me eating the last brownie?
  7. A deep state conspiracy? With thousands in on it? And no one letting on?  I don’t know, man– we couldn’t even get the six of us to keep quiet about Grandma’s surprise party.
  8. Doesn’t it piss you off when he says one thing the one day, and then the opposite the next? I mean, does he think you’re stupid?
  9. When you tell the truth, do you keep changing your story?
  10. How many vacation homes will you buy with your tax cut?
  11. How are you going to pay off your farm loan if you can’t find a market for your soybeans? (Or: How will you manufacture those widgets if your company can’t afford the steel to make them?)
  12. So, let’s assume Kavanaugh is right and a president shouldn’t be subject to criminal laws. Does that mean he actually could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it?
  13. So, if little Suzie goes to university and gets raped, don’t you think the university should do something about it?
  14. You don’t believe in science? Can I have your iPhone, then?
  15. Hey! Too bad your house is built [at the bottom of the hill] [on the riverbank] [next to the slag heap] [less than a mile inland] [beside a hog shit pond]—the floods from global warming will do a real number on it!
  16. Every time I read about those kids locked up on the border, I can’t help but think about your little [fill in the blank].  What if he/she/they were locked in a metal cage and not allowed to play? [Be as Dickensian as you want—your imagination will never match the horrors these kids face.]
  17. Speaking about the tax cut, you did talk to your HR about how many exemptions you should take to avoid a huge tax bill after January, right?   You didn’t?  Really?  Ouch!
  18. Which is more likely to affect your retirement plans: a tax cut of $1316 until 2027 (for a household income of $ 75-100K) or cuts to Medicare and Social Security to fund permanent tax benefits to the rich?  Or do you have $2 million socked away to self-fund?
  19. Let’s assume that you’re right, and global warming is a hoax. Wouldn’t you still want your kids and grandkids to drink clean water and breathe clean air instead of dealing with pollution from fossil fuels?
  20. How do you talk to your kids about bullying and sexual assault these days?

Oh, there are scads more questions you can ask–I barely scratched the surface.  For example, you might have noticed that I omitted the classic “I don’t think Gramps/Uncle Bob/Cousin Billy Joe died in France/Germany/the South Pacific just so Stephen Miller can strut around and pretend to be Heinrich Himmler, do you?” But now you know what to do, and I have every faith in your ability.  So, what are you waiting for?  Go!

©2018 D.R. Miller

[1] By the way, by “Kavanaugh Questions” I do not mean yelling at the other side,  accusing them of plotting against you, staring blankly until their time is up, or turning any of their questions against them.  Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley might think that’s appropriate behavior, but I think it’s clear by now that we have higher standards than that.

How to Win Hearts and Minds in the Age of Trump

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 3, 2018 by drmiller1960

Faithful readers of this blog will probably be not at all surprised when I state that I am not exactly a fan of our 45th president.  And, frankly, that’s kind of the point of the blog in its current form. My pre-Trump blog is quite a different animal from its present incarnation, containing travel commentary, parental advice, and that light-hearted classic, “An Observed Humanity: Structure and Form in Cannery Row But sometime in December of 2016, my beloved suggested that perhaps I should snap out of my post-election stupor and actually do something constructive about Trump instead of moping around the house like a fifties housewife who just found out that she had popped her last valium.

About that time, some Trump dupe had walked into Comet Ping-Pong pizza restaurant, brandishing a gun and threatening to shoot someone unless the Podesta-molested children were released from their basement dungeon.  Happily, it was fairly easy to convince him that there were no kids in the basement, simply because there was no basement in which to manacle them (I’ve been there—there really is no basement).  The whole thing got me to thinking:  if only this poor schlemiel had known how to consider his source by using the mnemonic RAVEN, he could have avoided a four-year sentence for being a gun-toting jackass.  I had been a Critical Thinking teacher back in the UK, and I thought I would gift you all with a bit of my wisdom, and thus “Pizzagate:  How to Consider the Source” was born.  Since then, I’ve written my blog on a fairly regularly basis.  For the most part, with the exception of “The Noblest Roman” (about John McCain) and “Why We Need Mourning Bands” (about the death of my sister), I’ve heaped scorn and sarcasm galore on Trump’s metaphorical head while also, I hope, teaching a little bit of critical thinking along the way.  I’ve had fun, my readers have been tolerant, and my blood pressure has returned to its normal low levels (at least most of the time).

But, frankly, I doubt if I’ve managed to change a single mind about Trump.  For the most part, that has suited me just fine.  I’ve constructed a very nice silo, thank you, and if you don’t feel comfortable in it, well that’s too damned bad.  However, it occurs to me that, at this particular point of time, my attitude is a luxury that we (and by we, I mean anti-Trumpists of every stripe) can ill afford.  If we had a normal president, Brett Kavanaugh’s outrageously perjurious and partisan tantrum in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee would be immediate grounds for rescinding his nomination.  However, as we all know, this president is far, far, far from normal.  Not only is he not upset with Kavanaugh, I think Trump is delighted with his performance.  As he sees it, either McConnell will shove Kavanaugh down the Senate’s throat, or he won’t.  And if Kavanaugh is not confirmed, then Trump can claim it’s part of a plot against him, and use it to whip up his masses. He’s already been doing this, and support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation has gone up amongst Republican men.

The GOP has a long history of getting its voters interested in Supreme Court decisions.  That’s why they’re so keen on anti-abortion judges—it’s a red flag to all those evangelical and pro-life Republicans who will overlook any amount of chicanery to vote in Republican Senators who promise to overthrow Roe v. Wade.  Trump is ignorant, crude, and shallow—but he is not stupid.  He’s actually a pretty astute observer of human nature—he hasn’t spent all these years being a sociopathic narcissist for nothing, after all.  So, we, too, must be crafty.  We need to convince these men that it’s a good thing if Kavanaugh is not confirmed.  I doubt that this would make them vote Democratic, but perhaps it will convince them that maybe they’ll just sit this election out.

Now, it has been scientifically demonstrated that spouting off facts will not get someone to change his or her political opinion.  It seems that those pesky facts have the opposite effect, and make people even more entrenched in their position.  Indeed, it’s been suggested that it is such a hopeless task to change someone’s mind that we should instead concentrate on undecided voters who have not yet solidified their opinions.  But I’m a bit of an optimist, and I think we might be able to win a few hearts.

So, in the spirit of my original intention for this blog, here is some gratuitous expert advice on three different ways to convince a Trump supporter that Kavanaugh sucks.

  1. Worst Case Scenario

This might sound odd, and it’s even called “paradoxical thinking” because it’s so freaking unexpected, but it seems that one effective way  to convince someone that her opinion is a tad lacking in logic is to present her with an extreme version of what life would be like if things went her way. Seriously. A 2013 Israeli study indicated that repeated exposure to pro-right videos caused a sizeable number of rightists to change their minds.  Perhaps it’s because seeing their side made them less defensive and more likely to consider different opinions.  Who knows?  But it’s worth a try.  So, the next time you’re talking to your Fox-consuming uncle about Kavanaugh, try asking him one of these:

“Do you want to live in a world where a woman is forced to give birth to a baby, even if she discovers that he has a birth defect that will cause him terrible pain and kill him within a week after he’s born?”

“What would you do if your granddaughter died from a back-street abortion?”

“Are you looking forward to having the Koch brothers write clean air regulations?”

If these don’t work for you, then raise your favorite Brett Kavanaugh nightmare—goodness knows there are plenty of them.  The bonus of this approach is that, even if you don’t change their minds, at least you got them to think for a minute, about the consequences of their position.

  1. Make it Personal

Here’s a riddle:  What did it take for Jeff Flake to find a pair of balls?

Answer:  Two pairs of ovaries.

We all saw Jeff express his grave concerns regarding Kavanaugh.  His pain was etched on his face, and it was apparent that voting for Kavanaugh would result in deep moral qualms for the Senator from Arizona.  And then he announced that, hey, ho, what the hell, he’s going to vote for Kavanaugh.

I wish I could say that I was surprised, but I wasn’t.  Flake hates Trump and lets everyone know that he hates Trump.  But he always votes along with Trump.  Why?  Because he’s gutless.

Yet it was Flake who, gasp, strong-armed Gramps Grassley into agreeing to an FBI investigation.  Who’da thunk it?

What worked the magic?  Well, the proper question is who worked the magic.  Two forthright women, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, buttonholed Flake in an elevator.  They demanded that he look at them and listen to them as they told him the devastating effect that confirming Kavanaugh would have on them. By voting for Kavanaugh, Flake was essentially telling them and other victims of sexual assault that they might as well shut up because no one would listen. And Flake knew it—he had the same ashamed look that my dog gets when he craps on the rug.

These women forced Flake to look at the issue from the point of view of an individual.  Painful decisions are easy to make when you think about them abstractly—just ask Stephen Miller about his immigration policy, and you’ll see what I mean.  However, it is an entirely different matter when you are confronted with a living human being whose life will be unalterably damaged by your decision. Empathy is a powerful tool for changing minds.  Not only that, but sharing a story about yourself shows that you have skin in the game.  It’s not an abstraction—it’s a matter of consequence, maybe even life or death.  I think that people tend to respect people who fight for themselves, and that new-found respect might be the wedge you need to get Aunt Donalda to see that Kavanaugh would be a walking disaster on the Supreme Court.

  1. Make it Relevant

Let’s face it:  everyone’s favorite topic of conversation is themselves.  Therefore, you can expect a more sympathetic reception if you make your pitch all about your brother-in-law.  Put your argument in terms that he can relate to.  For example, while very few of us have testified before the Senate, just about everyone has had a job interview.  So, try this:  “Geez, Louise, buddy.  Can you imagine screaming like that at HR?  You’d have been escorted off site in a New York minute.”  Or, if your friend spent a lot of his high school career nursing a grudge against the varsity squad, you might say something along these lines:  “Yeah, right.  Cuz jocks are known for their sobriety and chivalry.”  You get the point, I’m sure.

Now, it’s possible that none of these techniques will work, but you never know.  At the very least, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried your best and entered the fray.  And who knows?  You might be the straw the breaks the orange beast’s back!

© 2018 D.R. Miller

Three Takeaways from the Kavanaugh Hearing

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2018 by drmiller1960

There are, of course, many, many lessons to be gleaned from Thursday’s hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  For one thing, we learned that the GOP members need a “female assistant” to communicate with the victim of a sexual assault, but were perfectly at ease with apologizing to her [alleged] assailant.  We also found out that there is a scientific basis for gaps in a victim’s memory, and that we tend to remember the things that are seared into our hippocampus by the biochemical reactions known as “fight or flight”—such as the callous, cruel laughter of two drunken, arrogant teenage members of the gentry.  However, the details that are not associated with the actual act of repelling one’s would-be rapist, such as the exact date on which it occurred, or how you managed to make your shaky way home that night, might not be so indelibly tattooed upon your soul.  So, yeah, it takes a bit of self-discipline to confine myself to only three takeaways, but I think that they demonstrate so thoroughly Kavanaugh’s utter unsuitability for the position he so obviously thinks he deserves, that all other observations are merely the greasy frosting on a rancid cake of instability and misogyny.  But that’s just my opinion.

  1. Bret Kavanaugh Cannot Abide Uppity Women

Kavanaugh’s utter contempt for the woman who raised these allegations about him—and the other women and men who demanded that they be examined—was obvious from the moment he began his opening statement.  In a statement he proudly proclaimed “I wrote myself” –as if Dr. Ford had not similarly written her opening address—he asserts that her allegations were at the heart of “a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.” Now, the obvious inability of the Democratic Party to organize anything as complicated as a pizza party at Comet Ping Pong makes it apparent that Kavanaugh is engaging in partisan hyperbole.   However, it is also clear that Kavanaugh regards Dr. Ford in a less than favorable light.  At best, she is a dupe.  A pawn.  A shill.  A misguided creature whose addled brains have been manipulated by a leftist cabal out to destroy an innocent man.  But what if, despite what he told Senator Harris, he did watch Dr. Ford, as earlier reported, and saw a brave, articulate, and fiercely intelligent woman whose forthright testimony very well might scuttle his nomination.  Would that have accounted for the screechy tones and unmasked fury he displayed from the start of his testimony?

That is, of course, conjecture.  Happily, we have more concrete and observable examples of Kavanaugh getting very pissed off at a couple of powerful women.  The first is his incredibly rude response to Diane Feinstein.  While she is trying to find out if he would agree to an FBI investigation, he interrupts her, avoids answering her questions, and mansplains how such an investigation would work.  His body language is even more telling:  he leans back and looks at the ceiling during her questions, and then leans in to her when “answering” them.  For all the world, he looks like a stroppy teenager caught out after curfew, having to listen to mom yammering at him.  How Senator Feinstein had the fortitude not to slap the smirk off his face, I’ll never know, but will always admire.

But the truly egregious behavior was reserved for Senator Klobuchar.  When she asked him whether he ever drank to the point of forgetfulness, he flipped the question back on her—not once, but twice.  By playing this game of “I know you are, but what am I?”, Kavanaugh has clearly forgotten his place.  Instead of treating this entire enterprise as the glorified job interview that it is, he retreated to the type of frat boy antics that I’m sure he was very familiar with back in the hallowed halls of Yale’s DKE house. If, as he earlier professed, he were eager for the truth to get out, he would have answered the questions posed to him forthrightly.  If, as he also professed, he were a qualified candidate for a position that requires probity and equanimity, he would have been polite.  Instead, he lashed out at the woman who is posing an obstacle to his goal. As Senator Klobuchar later pointed out, had she acted that way in his court, Kavanaugh would have thrown her out.  Given this display of outright hostility, how can we possibly believe his protestations that he will respect the rights of over half the US population?

  1. Hell Hath No Fury Like a Privileged White Male Scorned

I have already noted Kavanaugh’s emotional and hostile behavior.  Ping-ponging between howls of indignation and tears of frustration, peppered with the occasional snarl and snide joke, his performance was highly reminiscent of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? I was a little surprised, frankly, when he didn’t serve Senator Feinstein a plate of dead parakeet for her lunch.  He was a portrait of thwarted privilege.  Every shrug, every smirk, every rolled eye ball screamed, “This Supreme Court seat is mine! How dare you keep it from me?”  Frankly, while Trump might find this performance admirable, I think it makes Dr. Ford’s testimony more plausible.  His behavior revealed him to be the type of man who, despite an outwardly friendly exterior, thinks he needs to knock the smart girl down a peg or two.  I don’t know what the young Christine Blasey said to Bart O’Kavanaugh, but I think there must have been something about her—her intelligence, perhaps, or maybe that same streak of independence that gave her the courage to testify—that threatened him.

Sadly, this display was not confined to Kavanaugh.  There was enough simian chest thumping going on to keep Jane Goodall busy for three life times.  Once Lindsey Graham had his tantrum, the rest of the pack practically fell over each other in their race to heap their scorn on the Democrats.  The nerve of the Democrats, demanding an investigation by the FBI!  How dare they expect the committee to take these allegations seriously?  How outrageous to keep putting up roadblocks to Kavanaugh’s rightful ascension to the Supreme Court—as if the name “Merrick Garland” were utterly alien to them.

Orrin Hatch, in particular, was terribly affronted by the notion that Kavanaugh be held accountable for something that allegedly took place thirty-six years ago.  He pointed out, in an increasingly high-pitched squeak that soon would be heard only by the bats in his belfry, that Kavanaugh had been a “teenager” and an “immature high schooler” at the time.  It struck me that his outrage was not that the accusations were so old, but that they were not so serious.  Boys will be boys, after all, Hatch was implying. Hey! Who hasn’t tried to rip a girl’s clothes off while grinding your genitals into her groin?  I’m surprised that the old codger didn’t say that she should have just relaxed and enjoyed it.

While a certain amount of this anger might have been staged for the benefit of Faux News, I honestly believe that on the whole it was sincere.  Indeed, it might have been the only sincere part of the Republican response to Dr. Ford’s allegations.  And Kavanaugh was right there with them:  his anger fueled by a sense of a privilege denied and a right thwarted.  Now, it is hardly shocking to say that wealthy white men have been well-represented on the Supreme Court since its inception.  What is shocking is the virulence that any encroachment on that privilege engenders. Like any spoiled brat whose toys are taken away, the Senate Republicans are kicking their legs and holding their breath until their faces turn blue, hoping we’ll give in.  Well, fuck that.  I say that we should give them a time out and elect adults in their stead.

  1. The GOP Has NO Interest in Finding the Truth

So this whole hearing, dragging Dr. Ford in, was intended to give her an opportunity to “tell her story.”  What the Committee would do with that story was pretty vague.  I mean, they didn’t outright say that they would ignore it, but on the other hand, they allowed as how it wouldn’t keep them from “plowing through” with Kavanaugh’s confirmation.  The one thing that was clear, however, was that it would not provoke a heroic quest for the truth on the part of the Committee.

This fact might come as a surprise to anyone taking Kavanaugh’s opening statement at face value.  After all, he asserts that he wanted to have a hearing right away to clear this nonsense right up.  But, as was painfully clear, neither Kavanaugh nor the GOP committee members had any intention of turning this hearing into anything like a fact-finding tribunal.  Every step of the way, Gramps Grassley squelched all of Dr. Ford’s requests for an FBI investigation.  Essential witnesses were not called, and subsequent allegations were shunted off to the side.  Indeed, active measures seemed to be taken to avoid any additional evidence from coming in.  And for a man so concerned with clearing his name, Kavanaugh seemed curiously lax about pursuing the avenues that might exonerate him. For example, Mark Judge, the named witness to the assault (and blotto drinking companion of the youthful Kavanaugh) was not only not subpoenaed to testify, but he was conveniently holed up in a DelMarVa beach house, nowhere near the hearing room. Strange behavior, indeed, from a man whose testimony could entirely absolve his old chum. Similarly, Kavanaugh opined that an FBI investigation would be a worthless waste of time because the investigators would render no conclusions—all the time harping on the fact that he had had multiple FBI background checks in the past, as if those investigations, unlike the one requested by Dr. Ford, were somehow magically probative. Nor did he offer himself up to a polygraph.  Hmmm.

Indeed, it is very telling that Lindsey Graham decided to snap his tether when he did.  At one point, Rachel Mitchell, the GOP’s official Female Assistant, had asked Kavanaugh some interesting questions about the calendar entries for July 1, 1982.  There seems to have been a party that evening, attended by the very people that Dr. Ford said were at the house that fateful evening.  For some reason (maybe she remembered who was paying her fee), she backed away from this tantalizing line of questioning, but apparently not soon enough for Graham.  Instead of ceding his time to her, South Carolina’s finest questioned Kavanaugh himself, and worked himself into a state of high dudgeon about the Democrats’ behavior.  Ms. Mitchell was then sent to Republican purdah, never to be heard of again. Ditto for the calendar. Curiouser and curiouser.

Of course, hiding the truth is nothing new to this confirmation process.  There are lots of examples of a distressing lack of candor on the part of Kavanaugh’s Senatorial champions: The hundreds of thousands of documents withheld.  The decision to allow another buddy of Kavanaugh to vet which documents may and may not be released, instead of the National Archives.  The deliberately non-responsive non-answers to the most basic of questions.  All of these add up to a man who seems to have something to hide.  That alone should be disqualifying.  A Supreme Court Justice must be willing to have his or her history open to inspection.  Elena Kagan, when she was confirmed, willingly handed over piles upon piles of documents.  Kavanaugh’s reluctance to do likewise must be taken as evidence that he has an underlying conflict—be it financial, ideological, or even criminal—that precludes him from faithfully carrying out his duties. After all, despite Kavanaugh’s assumptions to the contrary, no one has a right to sit on the Supreme Court.  You have to earn that particular privilege.

©2018 D.R. Miller

Begging His Pardon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 13, 2018 by drmiller1960

As you are doubtlessly aware by now, I am planning to write a Critical Thinking textbook, using Trump’s rhetoric as examples of how not to conduct reasoned debate.  However, thanks to the recent hearing on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, I will have to broaden the parameters of my textbook.  Watching Kavanaugh’s testify, I must admit that I was impressed with his linguistic legerdemain.  When asked a direct question, Brett was able to parse it into oblivion.  Look at this example, when Senator Kamela Harris of California asked Kavanaugh a question that, to my ears at least, demanded a “yes” or “no” answer: did Kavanaugh discuss the Mueller investigation with anyone at Marc Kasowitz’s law firm?  Watch Kavanaugh prove me wrong.  Don’t worry—I’ll wait for you while you watch.

Impressive, huh?  Not only does he avoid the question (“Kasowitz? Kasowitz?  Do I know a Kasowitz?”), but he also sparks a parliamentary debate that gives him enough time to add a new doodle to his collection.  Harris, a former US attorney who is so scarily serious that she makes Robert Mueller look positively whimsical, has to admit defeat:  this particular greased piggy simply will not be caught.

Watching this performance, the following thought entered my Critical Thinking Teacher’s mind:  I bet that some one is going to say Kavanaugh’s performance “begged the question.”  And they would be wrong.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that a question is begged when it goes unanswered.  Unlike most logical mistakes, confusing the act of begging a question with avoiding a question is very easy to understand and even forgive.  When a question is asked, but is then ignored, one can imagine that it is shocked and humiliated not to have been answered.  “What’s wrong with me?” the question asks.  “I’m begging you to answer me!”  So, I don’t blame the person making the mistake:  I blame the idiot who gave the fallacy such a stupid, misleading name.  Sheesh.

If “begging the question” isn’t the same as avoiding it, then what the hell is it, you might ask.  Well, aren’t you lucky I’m here to explain it to you?

“Begging the question” occurs when the conclusion you want to make is included in the premise you state in support of your conclusion.  It’s a form of circular reasoning, and it ain’t good.  And, for the record, I have no idea why it’s called “begging the question.”  It is, however, abundant.  Here.  Let me give you an example:

Premise:  I believe that God wrote the Bible

Conclusion:  Everything in the Bible is true because God wrote it.

The conclusion (that everything in the Bible is true) depends upon the truth of the premise that God wrote the Bible.  However, the gruesome violence, blatant contradictions, and obvious multiple biases present in the Good Book make it highly debatable that a divinity worthy of the name wrote it.  Nope.  It is far more likely that it was penned by generations of flawed, frequently mad, doubtlessly inspired human beings.

Here’s an example that’s more up-to-date:

Premise:  The President of the United States is far too busy to deal with minutiae such as subpoenas from special prosecutors.

Conclusion:  The President of the United States should not be subject to subpoenas from special prosecutors because he is too busy to deal with them.

Now, one can only wonder what James Madison and Alexander Hamilton would make of that.  I suppose that they would be worried that a deceitful, underhanded grifter of a demagogue would take that logic and think he was above the law. Whew!  Thank goodness that’s only a hypothetical!

See how begging the question works?  It’s really quite simple, once you get past the difficulties arising from its misleading name.  A better label is “circular reasoning,” and I think that Critical Thinking Teachers the world over should universally adopt it in favor of “begging the question.”  I’ll suggest it at our next meeting.

And as for my hunch that some poor devil would mistakenly label something as “begging the question”? Well, sure enough, the next day, while sipping coffee and eavesdropping on the more interesting conversations of the other people at my local café, I heard the hipster at the table next to me cry out, “He’s just begging the question! We still don’t know if he talked to anyone about Mueller!”

I think you really should be proud at me at this point, because I’ll have you know that I did not turn around and correct the young man.  All I did was register a barely audible “tsk.”  I know.  I am a Christian martyr.

©2018 D. R. Miller

Jeff Sessions: Cruelly Stupid, or Stupidly Cruel? Discuss.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2018 by drmiller1960

Pop quiz time!

Oh, stop complaining. I know it’s summertime, and that school isn’t in.  But we at the New York Military Academy for Troubled Scions are made of sterner stuff.  So quit moaning.

Besides, class, how often does life hand your teacher the opportunity to test you on knowledge so recently imparted?  That’s right.  Hot on the heels of my discovery of two new logical fallacies (“screwing the pooch” and “lacking a moral compass”), fate has dropped into my lap the perfect opportunity to assess your ability to understand and distinguish between the two.  And besides that, we’ll get to help out a worthy member of the federal judiciary, too!  Neato, huh?

You might want to re-read “Fantastic Fallacies and Where to Find Them” before taking the test to ensure total comprehension.  However, for the lazy amongst you (and you know who you are), here’s a brief rundown.  “Screwing the pooch” occurs when the argument shows that the person making it (or on whose behalf the argument is made) reveals a depth of stupidity matched only by the Marianas Trench—and that stupidity results in disastrous consequences for a third party.  “Lacking a moral compass,” on the other hand, occurs when the argument reveals a total disregard for the blindingly obvious difference between right and wrong—also with disastrous consequences for a third party.  The crucial difference between them is not intelligence—stupidity often goes hand in hand with immorality.  Just ask David Duke.  The distinction relies upon intent.  Did the perpetrator mean to cause havoc by being an evil piece of work? Or was she so moronic that she couldn’t possibly foresee the shit storm her actions or words would engender, despite all the arrows, flashing red lights, and sirens surrounding the decision?  In other words, are you looking at a Stephen Miller or a Don Jr.?

Clear?  Good. Now here are the facts you need for your test. Be warned:  what you are about to read is not a hypothetical.

The ACLU is currently representing a group of twelve people who are contesting the Trump regime’s new asylum pronouncements, including a mother and child who are fighting deportation.  The judge in the case granted the plaintiffs’ motion to delay deportation until he could reach a decision in the case. So, today, while the lawyers from the ACLU and the DOJ were arguing before D.C. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan about whether this particular mother and child should be deported, they (oh God, you won’t believe this) were at that moment on a plane being deported to El Salvador.

Yep.  On a plane.  To El Salvador.  Being Deported.  After the Court had granted a stay of deportation.

Judge Sullivan took the news in his stride, and displayed full equanimity and bonhomie when ACLU attorney Jennifer Chang Newell told His Honor about the email she received during the hearing informing her that her client (and her child) were flying the unfriendly skies of ICE Airlines to the lethal situation confronting them back home.

Nah.  I’m just messing with you.  This Reagan-appointed judge was pissed.  As well he should be.

Now, “This is outrageous,” and “I’m not happy about this at all,” might sound fairly mild to you.  But as an erstwhile lawyer, I can assure you that the collective DOJ sphincter was tightening so much that its motions were picked up by the U.S. Geologic Survey’s seismographs on the other side of the country.  In fact, Judge Sullivan was so incensed by this flagrant violation of his order that he is actually considering holding Attorney General J. Beauregard Sessions in contempt of court. Now that is a sentence I never dreamt I would be writing, not because I hold Sessions in high esteem, but because you wouldn’t expect an official who is the chief federal law enforcement officer to have so little regard for the law as to be held in contempt.  I mean, my goodness, it was Jeff’s Christian love of the law that forced him to rip little babies from their mothers’ arms in the first place, right?  How could such a statute-hugger disregard a legally issued and fully enforceable judicial order?

Now, we all know that intent is not necessary to hold Sessions in contempt of court.  The judge does not need to determine whether that impish little devil meant to ignore the court order, or if he is just such an incompetent boob that it accidentally happened.  However, as I warned in “Fantastic Fallacies,” such a determination just might be relevant to the degree and kind of punishment that a tribunal might assess against someone like Sessions.  “Screwing the pooch” might result in a slap on the wrist and a de minimis fine.  “Lacking a moral compass,” however, might warrant being slathered with honey and being staked out on top of an ant hill.  Decisions, decisions.  It’s tough, going through the small and very narrow channels of Jeff’s mind to determine his motivation, and I’m sure Judge Sullivan would appreciate any help he might get along the way.

So, without further ado, here’s your essay question:  Was Sessions merely screwing the pooch, or was he acting without a moral compass?

Answers should be submitted to Judge Sullivan, care of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, or in the comments section below.  Extra research should not be necessary to answer the question.  However, extra credit will be given if you decide to delve deeper into the story.  And, as always, your argument must be factually supported and rooted in reality. I’m not Alex Jones, after all.

©2018 D.R. Miller

Fantastic Fallacies And Where To Find Them!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2018 by drmiller1960

As a Critical Thinking Teacher, it has been my mission to teach my readers about various, well- established logical flaws that are fatal to any reasoned argument.  I follow in the foot steps of giants, starting with Aristotle, who first categorized thirteen logical fallacies in his light-hearted classic, Sophistical Refutations.  Since then, a long and noble line of Critical Thinking Teachers have identified and catalogued at least twenty-four logical fallacies, as well as twenty-four cognitive biases.  (If you’re curious about learning more about these fallacies and biases, I strongly urge you to go hereafter you’ve finished reading this blog, that is.)  I imagine my intrepid forebears, sifting through the linguistic equivalent of hot messes to seek and destroy these barriers to logical thought, and I shiver in admiration, never daring to believe that I might join their illustrious company.

Until today.

Yes, that is right, dear reader.  Like a zoologist announcing the discovery of a particularly slimy species of mud slug, I am thrilled to reveal that I have found not one, but two new categories of logical fallacy.

And I owe it all to Donald Trump.

The first logical fallacy occurs when the statement is so nonsensical that it belies an incompetence so deeply rooted in and inextricable from the speaker’s intellect that it is damned near geologic in its depth and breadth.  I call this flaw “screwing the pooch.”

The best (and brightest?) example of “screwing the pooch” comes in the Department of Justice’s most recent filings concerning the reunification of immigrant children with their parents. As a bit of background, you need to understand that when the ICE was enforcing Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, it was far too busy deporting the parents whom they coerced into signing away their rights to their children to take down the information needed to eventually reunite them.  As a result, ICE is unable to find the parents of around five hundred children.  They sought them here, they sought them there, but they could not find them anywhere—mostly because they didn’t know where to look in the first place.

In a Joint Status Report filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, lawyers for ICE helpfully suggested (presumably with a straight face) that the ACLU, who is representing the children and parents separated at the border, be responsible for looking for the deported parents.  I mean, God knows that the might of the United States government, including the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security, couldn’t possibly match the financial and human resources of the ACLU.  What makes this such a perfect example of “screwing the pooch” is that the government’s lawyers are basically admitting that their clients are so inept that they couldn’t—and shouldn’t—be trusted to match column A to column B.

Happily, the Honorable Dana M. Sabraw didn’t need a Critical Thinking Teacher to tell him how to refute an argument infected by “screwing the pooch.”  After rubbing his eyes in disbelief at what he had just read, Judge Sabraw issued an order that was the judicial equivalent of, “Are you fucking nuts!?!”  Additionally, George W. Bush’s appointee to the federal judiciary solemnly reminded the DOJ’s finest that, “for every parent who is not located there will be a permanently orphaned child and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration.”

Hurray for our independent judiciary—let’s just hope we still have one next year.

Now, the second fallacy I’ve discovered is one I’ve decided to call “lacking a moral compass.”  The result of “lacking a moral compass” is frequently similar to “screwing the pooch”—they both can result in a condition known to my engineering friends as “FUBAR”—fucked up beyond all recognition.  However, there is a vital distinction between the two: “screwing the pooch” is the result of idiocy, while “lacking a moral compass” requires you to know the difference between right and wrong, but not giving a toss about it.  In order to discern which fault is at play, therefore, the listener needs to determine the intention of the person making the fallacious statement before categorizing it as either “screwing the pooch” or “lacking a moral compass.”  As the astute amongst you probably noticed, this is very similar to the kind of determination you need to make before distinguishing ignoratio elenchi from a red herring. (And for the not-quite-as-astute-as-one-might-wish amongst you, you might want to refresh your memory of the difference between the two by re-reading the delightfully written Ignoramus Rex. And, yes, there will be a quiz.)

So, for example, the failure to take down the name and address of a hysterically crying woman who desperately wants to be reunited with her child might be down to the fact that ICE has decided to hire an army of morons.  If that were the case, then the bright spark at ICE making this error in judgment would be guilty of “screwing the pooch.”  On the other hand, if there were a deliberate effort to rip families apart as a deterrent to lawful immigration despite being warned of the permanent damage that could be done to a child as a result of losing her parent, then the person perpetuating this action would definitely be “lacking a moral compass.”  And this is especially true if a senior administration official is actually delighted by the scenes of sorrow taking place at the borders because he thinks it will help his party in the mid-term elections.

Of course, the amount of harm done to the victim of either “screwing the pooch” or “lacking a moral compass” will probably be the same.  After all, losing one’s child or parent permanently will be a source of inexorable pain, quite probably scarring the victim’s psyche irreparably, whether it is the result of cruel stupidity or stupid cruelty.  However, being able to determine whether one merely “screwed the pooch” rather than “lacked a moral compass” might be useful to tribunals that might review the actions of the Trump administration and its cronies—either in this world, or the next.

Finally, while researching the mountains of money that Trump’s corporate backers have been making as a result of his immigration scandal, I might have stumbled upon a third logical fallacy.  I’m tentatively labelling it “who ate the all pies?”  However, I’m not sure if it’s actually a separate fallacy or merely a subset of “lacking a moral compass.” I therefore require further research to ensure that I’m not mistaken—I definitely want to keep my dog’s honor intact, after all!

©2018 D. R. Miller