Archive for Ignorance of refutation

Critical Thinking Today’s Q and A About the Mueller Indictments

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2017 by deborah1960

Well!  You can’t say that Robert Mueller doesn’t know how to throw a curve ball.  Everyone knew about one indictment, and some savvy money was on Manafort, but two? And an admission of guilt?  Who says Christmas comes only in December?

In case you’ve been under a rock, here’s the low down:  Bobby Mueller has convinced a federal grand jury that Paul Manafort and his minion Jack Gates have committed a vast array of federal felonies, including conspiracy, tax evasion, money laundering, and failure to register as foreign agents.

Additionally, there’s the admission of guilt by George Papadopoulos.  In it, Georgie admits that he’s been a very bad boy indeed, having lied to the FBI about the timing and nature of interactions that he had with various Russian nationals on such sundry matters as emails and dirt on Hillary.  Of course, President Trump is saying “George who?”, but it wasn’t so long ago that Candidate Trump glowingly referred to Mr. Papadopoulos as “an excellent guy” who was one of his campaign’s five foreign policy advisors.

So those are the facts.  Now, some questions from the audience.

  1. What’s the big deal? It’s not like Jack and Paul are convicted or anything.

I can see your point.  In a sense,  this ain’t much—at this point in the game, all Mueller has to do is convince the grand jury that it’s more likely than not that a crime was committed in order to get the indictment.  It’s no guarantee of an ultimate conviction. True enough, but here’s a little piece of fat to chew over:  under the DOJ’s Principles of Federal Prosecution, in an indictment, a US Attorney should not recommend charges that he or she does not believe can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  And there’s something about the cut of Bobby’s jib that makes me think he takes those principles very seriously indeed.

  1. Why did Mueller release the indictments at the same time as the admission of guilt?

Other than wanting to give his legions of admirers an extra treat, there’s an excellent tactical reason for Mueller’s decision to release  the Papadopoulos admission at the same time as the Gates/Manafort indictments:  nothing says “you might want to reconsider your decision not to cooperate with the prosecutor” like an act of mercy juxtaposed with a napalm attack.  I wouldn’t be surprised if George ends up with probation, while Gates and Manafort, if found guilty of all charges, could be in for a very, very, very long sentence indeed.  The message should be clear to all possible actors in this sordid attack on our government:  speak up, and I’ll be merciful; be a dick, and you’ll rue the day you were born.  Even Jack and Paul should be able to read the tea leaves; if they showed up at Mueller’s office with a contrite heart and a willing set of jaws, I bet they’d be pleasantly surprised at how smoothly all this could go for them.

  1. Papadopoulos was arrested on July 27, but no one knew about it until his guilty plea was released on October 30. All that time, he was a “cooperating witness,” which must have been quite a mean feat to pull off. But when I read George’s admission of guilt, I got the distinct impression that he was a suit short of a full deck of cards. How in the world did he manage to keep his yap shut for such an extended period of time without letting on to any of his co-workers?

Well, yes, I think you’re right:  it was an amazing trick.  However, you might have misplaced the credit.  I think that Mr. Mueller, and not Mr. Papadopoulos, managed to pull off that particular caper.  I don’t have first-hand knowledge, but I suspect Mr. Mueller employed an old prosecutorial trick called the Ninja nut-twist.  It takes years of experience to know how to achieve that Platonic balance of employing enough rigor to get the witness to do what you want without making him squeal like a stuck pig.  I imagine that Robert is a Zen master by this point.

  1. By the way, what does a “cooperating witness” do?

The short answer is, whatever the prosecutor wants him to do.  As for the particulars, I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess—but I bet George’s former colleagues are doing just that as I type these words!

  1. Robert Mueller is saying one thing, and the President is saying another. Whom should I believe?

Seriously?  This is a question?  Tell you what.  As your Critical Thinking Teacher, I’m going to give you some homework.  Check out this brilliantly written masterpiece on how to judge the credibility of a witness by using RAVEN (Reputation for honesty, Ability to see, Vested interest, Expertise, and Neutrality), and then get back to me with your answer. Here’s a hint:  focus on “R.”

6. But what about Killary’s uranium? And Benghazi?  

 I. Can’t. Even. Here. Read this.  And this. Life is just too short.

  1. Ha, ha! Just messing with you! My real question is, since the first leaks about the indictments surfaced, Faux News, Rush Limbaugh, and others of their ilk have come out with guns a blazing, saying that the real scandal is anything remotely to do with Hillary.  I know that this is a false equivalency designed to distract me from the matter at hand, which is whether the Trump campaign gave a tiny but helpful hand to Putin’s plan to wreck our election.  But I can’t decide:  is this a red herring, or is it ignoratio elenchi?

Excellent question, Hermione, and a succinct description of both of these logical flaws.  The distinction can be difficult to make however, because it depends upon the intent of the person throwing rhetorical sand in his opponent’s eyes.  As you might recall from the delightful article “Ignoramus Rex,” a red herring requires intent, while ignoratio elenchi occurs when the opponent blurts out an irrelevant refutation without intending to do so.  Now, to absolutely prove intent, you would have to enter Rush’s mind—a sad and lonely place, to be sure, and I really don’t recommend it.  However, judging from the highly coordinated nature of their verbal blitzkrieg upon logic, I think it’s safe to conclude that they actually meant to fling their balderdash.  Hence, I would characterize their flaw as a red herring.

Well, that was fun.  I’d love to answer some more questions, but there really is the most marvelous World Series going on.  Gotta go!

©2017 D. R. Miller

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Ignoramus Rex

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on January 15, 2017 by deborah1960

I was waiting in line at my local hardware store, chatting with my friend about the jolly japes I would have as I made my voice heard during the upcoming post-inauguration marches, when a boorish bellow invaded my pink and shell-like ear:

“Oh, why don’t you libtards get over yourselves?  Trump won the election, so sit down and shut up.”

Naturally, I whipped around and, before he could chortle too heartily at his witty bon mot, impaled him with my gimlet eye.

“You do realize that you have just committed an ignoratio elenchi fallacy, don’t you?”

“Huh?” was his penetrating response.

“An ignoratio elenchi fallacy.  Or ‘ignorance of refutation.’ Derived from the apparent fact that you don’t quite understand what a refutation is.  A refutation of a claim needs to be relevant to the claim being made.  So, when you rudely interjected your unsolicited irrelevant remark into my private conversation, you’ve committed the fallacy of ignoratio elenchi.”

“Irrelevant?”

“Unrelated. Immaterial. Beside the point,” the lady operating the cash register said.

“Ker-ching!” went the cash register.

“Yeah,” said the nice young man who had helped me decide which brand of indelible magic markers I would use to write my protest signs.  “The Critical Thinking Teacher was talking about the joys of exercising one’s First Amendments rights, and you barged in, saying that Trump won the election.  As if that had anything to do with the price of beans in Boston.”

“That’s right,” my friend piped up.  “The mere fact that Trump somehow managed to scrape together a sufficient number of Electoral College votes has absolutely no logical relationship to my friend’s observation that it would be jolly spiffing to remind the world that the majority of  Americans reject his vicious agenda. You are raising an entirely different and unconnected issue.”

“But, but, isn’t that a red herring? Aren’t they the same thing?” Irksome Inter-meddler spluttered in dismay.

“Of course a red herring isn’t the same as ignoratio elenchi, you dolt.”  An awed hush fell upon us.  It was Ben, the store cat, known throughout the neighborhood for his disdain of poorly reasoned argument.  “While they both have the effect of distracting the listener from the matter at hand, the red herring requires an intent to distract.  Ignoratio elenchi, however, is usually the result of mindless blurting.  Judging from your gormless expression, anyone with half an ounce of brain matter would easily discern that you are no more capable of forming an intent than I am capable of caring what you think.”

With that, Ben turned his back to us, curled himself into a ginger ball of fluffy cuteness, and slept the dreamless slumber of the purely contemptuous.

By this time, the rude oaf was transformed into a smoldering pile of ash, leaving me to contemplate the awesome and beautiful power of communal critical thinking. Nice!

However, after paying for the Sharpies (and while the nice young man was literally consigning the Trump supporter to the dust bin of history), I was struck by the implications of what Ben had said.  It had been quite a busy week for our Twitter-in-Chief-Elect.  First, he responded to Meryl Streep’s eloquent call-out of his general nastiness by posting a generally nasty tweet in which he called Streep “over-rated” (https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/818419002548568064). [1] Similarly, after Representative John Lewis[2] stated that he didn’t think Trump was a legitimate president,[3] Trump blasted out this charming riposte:

Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad! (https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/820255947956383744).[4]

                Aside from the utterly fact-free nature of these tweets,[5] it’s clear that these attacks are not related to the matter at hand.  Even if Streep were such a has-been that she would deign to appear on Celebrity Apprentice, it has nothing to do with the fact that Trump’s “attraction” has a great deal to do with his xenophobic, misogynist, racist, and just generally vile rhetoric.  Similarly, attacking John Lewis’s record in no way addresses the legion of issues that would give any thinking person pause before accepting the legitimacy of Trump’s occupancy of the Oval Office. Clearly, both tweets were a distraction.[6]

But were they intended as distractions, or are they merely the incontinent expressions of a chronically unsound reasoner? I have in a previous blog characterized the Streep tweet as a red herring,[7] but I’m beginning to have my doubts.  The sheer volume of his tweets makes me think that he might be sincere in his beliefs, and his inability to make a single relevant refutation to any claim makes him a veritable ignoratio elenchi factory.  On the other hand, I find it somehow more reassuring to think that he’s being deliberate.  That would, at the very least, indicate that some thought is going into his actions.[8]  At this point, I am leaning both ways—mostly because I don’t want to make that cold and lonely voyage into Trump’s mind that would be necessary to come to a definitive conclusion.  And at the end of the day, regardless of Ben the cat’s opinion, it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that we, as warriors in the Critical Thinking Army, must be ever on the lookout for the irrelevant refutation—whether intended or not—and, when we find it, guide our readers and listeners to the real issue that it seeks to obscure.

Constant vigilance!

[1] As if.

[2] John Lewis, the hero of the Civil Rights Movement, distinguished statesman, and conscious of the Congress—that  John Lewis, not the posh British department store.

[3] And really, can you blame him?

[4] The dreadful irony of lashing out at John Lewis on the Saturday before Martin Luther King’s birthday holiday is apparently lost on Trump.  Similarly, it’s fun to note that Lewis has accomplished more for humanity with his “talk, talk, talk” than all of Trump’s actions ever would, even if you lumped them all together in one unattractive heap.

[5] Lewis didn’t have to lift a finger to defend himself from Trump—instead, an army of his admirers, supporters, and constituents happily took on that task (http://usuncut.com/politics/twitter-just-demolished-donald-trump-attacking-john-lewis/).  NBC News further pointed out Lewis’s “metropolitan Atlanta district covers predominantly black communities and historically black colleges, including Morehouse and Spelman. The FBI’s latest crime report ranks Atlanta as No. 14 for violent crime in the nation, although overall crime in the city has been down, according to city police statistics (www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/dems-defend-rep-lewis-hero-after-trump-slams-civil-rights-n706921).” As far as calling Streep “over-rated”! Well!  I just want to point out that the Golden Globe award she accepted that night was for lifetime achievement—hardly what you’d expect the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to bestow on a hack.  Jackass.

[6] There were, of course, many, many other irrelevancies in this week’s outpourings from Trump’s twitter account, but I’ve been advised by my editorial board to keep these blogs short and sweet.  But if you want a handy-dandy compilation of Trump’s oeuvre, then you really gotta check out The Atlantic’s “Trump Tweet Tracker” (https://www.theatlantic.com/liveblogs/2016/12/donald-trump-twitter/511619/). It’s a hoot.

[7] https://essayettes.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/kellyanne-and-the-sea-of-red-herrings/.  It’s really good—share it with your friends!

[8] I have no problem with maintaining that Kellyanne is deliberately using red herrings.  As a professional flunky, she would be expected to have the skillset necessary to deliberately throw sand in her opponents’ eyes.

Copyright 2017 D R Miller