Saturday, July 31, 2010

Judicial Activism

I don't get why Wednesday’s federal court ruling is such big news. I mean, it’s certainly going to have a major impact on a lot of people, but it’s not even remotely surprising, and neither are the reactions. Must we go through this charade every time?[1]

The process goes like this:
  1. A Republican legislature passes a constitutionally-dubious law, which is praised by conservatives as a bold re-affirmation of American values.
  2. The law is challenged. The lawsuit is immediately deemed frivolous and politically-motivated, and the challengers are decried as overly-litigious leftists who will stop at nothing to undermine everything this country stands for.
  3. The law is overturned on grounds that, while often debatable, are hardly ever patently flawed or ideologically-driven.
  4. Conservatives are shocked—Shocked!—and appalled—Appalled!—at once again being foiled by an “activist” judge employing flawed and/or ideologically-driven reasoning.
More often than not, conservatives jump straight from Step 2 to Step 4. They have no interest in dwelling on Step 3, because what if the ruling makes sense? Then there could be no Step 4, and we all know that’s the best part. And the reaction to the Arizona decision has been a truly inspired effort—a frenzy of mischaracterizations and misinformation. Here’s Rush Limbaugh, as soon as the news came out:
The PDF of this ruling is 36 pages and there's no way that I'm going to be able to go through all 36 pages prior to the program ending, but I know what went on here.
I don't know how you look at this with any sort of common sense and come to the ruling this woman came to. But, she didn't. She's a leftist and she made an activist decision, not a judicial decision.
So, based on one court order—the bulk of which Rush hadn't had the chance to read—Susan Bolton is a leftist, activist judge with a severe common sense deficiency.[2]

Of course, it doesn’t matter if he reads it—it wouldn’t change the rhetoric. The fact is, it’s a rational, well-supported ruling. It doesn’t say Arizona can’t do anything about immigration, it says they’ll have to do something that doesn’t flood the federal government with requests for verification of immigration status. It doesn’t say the police can’t attempt to verify immigration status when there is reasonable suspicion of unlawful presence, it simply says they can’t be required to.

I could go on, but I'll stop there. Let’s get over this judicial activism nonsense and start focusing on the real villains.

1. No, of course not—but let's go through it anyway.
2. A quick search of his site found no references to Judge Bolton before Wednesday, so I think it’s safe to assume Limbaugh hasn’t been closely following her career and crafting well-founded opinions about her ideology.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

So It's Come to This

A links post.  Actual content will be returning in August, but for now, here are a few things I've been paying attention to lately.

Back in June, Nate Silver released a remarkably comprehensive and thoroughly transparent set of pollster accuracy ratings. The ratings are interesting enough on their own, but the reactions—especially from polling organizations on the wrong end of the list—have been fascinating. Silver has been accused of using faulty and/or concealed methods, threatened with a lawsuit, sharply criticized by John Zogby, and confronted by another disgruntled pollster armed only with embarassingly flawed logic.

Around the time of my last article, another Language Log post further analyzed the pressing question of whether Obama disproportionately favors the passive voice, and, if so, what sort of unfounded inferences can be drawn. A few days later, a similar load of nonsense appeared. This time, the question is whether Obama disproportionately favors the first-person pronoun (i.e. "I"), and, if so, whether that proves he's a narcissist.

And to return briefly to our regularly-scheduled unfair and unprovoked attack on conservatives, I'm amazed by this Fox News online poll, titled "Is the New Black Panther Party Racist?" Aside from a short summary of the voter intimidation fiasco, the question pretty much stands alone, free of annoying hyperlinks promising cumbersome information. The current results, after more than 19,000 votes:
  • 0.6%  No, this case has been blown out of proportion.
  • 2.1%  Some members clearly are, but the group doesn't condone racism.
  • 96.8%  Yes, there's no doubting the racism after cases like this.
  • 0.6%  I don't know.
I suppose I'm most upset because there's so little support for "I don't know," which is really the closest any of the choices come to being undeniably true.

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    Pseudo-Intellectual Nonsense

    Conservatives can’t stand the way liberals seem to think they can prove anything merely by spouting pseudo-intellectual nonsense. And maybe they (conservatives) are right. We (liberals) do, on occasion, obfuscate our arguments through superfluous verbiage, which sometimes leads to ill-supported conclusions.

    The problem is, pseudo-intellectualism is difficult to criticize. There are basically two angles. Many conservatives take the classic “Hey, egghead! Yer not as smart as you think you are!” approach. Others, however, can’t seem to resist fighting fire with more of the same alluring, seductive fire. That is, armed only with an inability to understand irony and a dangerous lack of self-awareness, they attempt to expose and discredit liberal pseudo-intellectualism with equal and opposite pseudo-intellectual nonsense of their own.

    And that brings me to the specific nonsense that inspired this post. It seems a handful of concerned citizens have decided that, as seen in his recent speech about the oil spill, Barack Obama uses lengthy, “professorial” sentences that most Americans apparently have trouble following.
    Though the president used slightly less than four sentences per paragraph, his 19.8 words per sentence "added some difficulty for his target audience," [the Global Language Monitor's Paul J.J.] Payack said.
    I won’t get into the absurdity of equating sentence length with semantic density, because Mark Liberman of the Language Log already did an excellent job of it:
    I think we can all agree that those are shockingly long professor-style sentences for a president to be using, especially in addressing the nation after a disaster. Why, they were almost as long as the ones that President George W. Bush, that notorious pointy-headed intellectual, used in his 9/15/2005 speech to the nation about Hurricane Katrina, where I count 3283 words in 140 sentences, for an average of 23.45 words per sentence! And we all remember how upset the press corps got about the professorial character of that speech!
    But this sort of “Obama uses lots o’ words; he must think he’s smarter’n me” crap is only moderately insane. What this story really needs is for some imaginative commentator to use the whole thing as an excuse to question Obama’s masculinity. Take it away, Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post:
    Obama may prove to be our first male president who pays a political price for acting too much like a woman.
    Her basis for this? That 13% of Obama’s speech was passive-voiced. The many linguistically-dubious aspects of this are addressed, once again, by Mark Liberman, but my focus is on the political rhetoric.

    First of all, is this supposed to be an insult? I think it is—not so much because Parker has any objection to the idea of a female president, but because she sees something “wrong” with a male exhibiting (what she perceives to be) female characteristics. Conservatives become confused and defensive at any indication that gender is not as binary as they like to think it is.[1]

    Gender issues aside, I’m most alarmed by how eagerly conservatives embrace this kind of idiocy when it supports what they already believe. Liberals do the same thing, of course, but they’re the ones who make “unjustified claims of expertise, authority or knowledge” and “ignore any evidence that shows their position to be false.”[2] Conservatives are supposed to be better than that, right?[3]

    1. How’s that for a wild generalization! Not to worry, I’ll write more on the issue in the future.
    2. Have I mentioned how much I love Conservapedia as a source for hyperbolic and outlandish (and sometimes blatantly hypocritical) stereotypes?
    3. Wow, is this an unfocused article. Oh well, it should be useful as a springboard for follow-up posts on a number of tangentially-related topics. By the way, this article (not counting the indented quotes) averages 17.6 words per sentence. I'm not especially good at identifying passive constructions, but I see at least three or four. I don't know what that says about my masculinity.