No one really knows where the term "red herring" came from, though some speculate it came from the idea that drawing a fish across your path would confuse the dogs tracking you. In epistemology, a red herring is an:
Argumentum ignoratio elenchi
Literally, an "argument of ignorance of the grab," or an argument of irrelevant conclusion that doesn't fit into the other categories. A person using a red herring will attempt to draw the argument away from anything relevant with a distraction.
For examples, I will point to our country's greatest source of fallacies of irrelevant conclusion:
"Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?" Blaming the media ("fake news") is a red herring. Invoking Nazi Germany is offensive—and also a red herring. Both attempted to turn discussion away from the contents of the "leaks" on to a discussion of the media, and who knows what else.
"All Republicans support people with pre-existing conditions, and if they don’t, they will after I speak to them. I am in total support. Also, Democrats will destroy your Medicare, and I will keep it healthy and well!" To deflect attention from the Republican Party's explicit opposition to mandating insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions, the third sentence drags an (equally false) red herring across your path. (Note that lies may take the form of fallacies of irrelevant conclusion, but they may also present a valid argument. We'll look deeper at the distinction between truth and validity later in this series.)
"Despite the negative press covfefe". Whatever this meant, it distracted people from an actual, substantive policy discussion policy for almost a week.
When someone uses a totally irrelevant statement to deflect from the argument you're actually having, call them on it, and don't get taken in.
Twenty-nine people died and 52 were injured in two mass shootings yesterday. Years of lying about the second amendment to encourage gun sales, and buying votes not only for legislation but also to confirm judges (including on the Supreme Court) have led to this.
I believe Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association since 1991, is the person most responsible for our current firearms laws. So far in 2019, he bears substantial responsibility for the 252 mass shootings that have taken 281 lives and ruined 1,025 others. (Today is the 216th day of the year. Do the math.) He shares responsibility with the Republican Party and its willful exploitation of fears of "others" that, when combined with easy access to deadly weapons, allows narcissistic and unstable young men to kill dozens of people at a time.
We are the only country in the world where this happens. We are the only country in the world where a substantial number of otherwise-literate people believe that a well-regulated militia requires everyone to carry an AR-15. We are the only country in the world where average people can walk down the street armed to the teeth legally. We are the only country in the world where it's easier to get a gun permit than a driving license.
We are the only country in the world where this happens.
Continuing The Daily Parker's occasional series on logical fallacies, let's look at two more fallacies of irrelevant conclusions.
Argumentum ad vericundiam
An "argument to awe" uses reputation rather than evidence to score a point. The most common example involves a testimonial, either positive or negative, as when someone argues for or against a premise by pointing to the president's endorsement of the premise.
A similar, implicit argument to awe occurs when an advertiser puts a famous actor in a commercial to endorse a product or service. Actors, like most people, tend to have expertise in their own field but not so much expertise outside of it. Not to mention, the advertiser pays for the endorsement, which may affect what the actor is willing to say on camera.
Argumentum ad baculum
An "argument to force" relies on fear of injury or expectation of an unrelated benefit to sway an audience. The famous "argument he couldn't refuse" is an argument to force in its clearest form. "Either your brains or your signature will be on this contract" does not show why the contract would be in the best interests of the counterparty.
Fear, too, is a force. When the president argues in favor of a border wall because "they're rapists" or because "precious lives are cut short by those who have violated our borders," he's arguing to unsubstantiated fears and prejudices, not to whether a wall will make us safer as a nation, whether relative to other immigration policies or even in the absolute.
A bribe is an opposite, but no less fallacious, example of force. Arguing that support of a premise will bring someone a financial reward unrelated to the benefits of the premise itself uses force rather than logic to persuade. Note that this differs from, say, arguing that a policy will benefit the listener. "I will contribute $10,000 to your campaign if you support this bill" is an argument to force; "this bill will lead to a net public benefit of $10,000 through these mechanisms" is an argument in favor of the bill.
Next time, I'll go over one more fallacy of irrelevant conclusions, because it's Friday.
First, New York Times film critic A.O. Scott takes a second look at the 1999 film Election:
The movie has been persistently and egregiously misunderstood, and I count myself among the many admirers who got it wrong. Because somehow I didn’t remember — or didn’t see— what has been right there onscreen the whole time.
Which is that Mr. M is a monster — a distillation of human moral squalor with few equals in modern American cinema — and that Tracy Flick is the heroine who bravely, if imperfectly, resists his efforts to destroy her. She’s not Moby-Dick to his Ahab so much as Jean Valjean to his Inspector Javert.
Second, with Lake Michigan at record-high water levels for the second month in a row, several of Chicago's beaches have disappeared:
This year, the buoyant water has swallowed at least two Chicago beaches entirely and periodically closed others. It has swiped fishermen from piers, swimmers from beaches and submerged jetties, creating hazards for boaters. It has flooded heavily trafficked parts of lakefront bicycle and pedestrian pathways, leaving some stretches underwater and others crumbling.
But perhaps the most worrisome aspect of this summer is that these perils have occurred while the lake has remained mostly calm.
“Fall is the time of the year when wave conditions are historically the most severe on the Great Lakes,” said David Bucaro, outreach manager at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District. “We’re at a calmer period right now. There’s been some summer storms. But that October, November time period is when we really experience historically the most powerful coastal storms. That’s the conditions that we’re monitoring and are most concerned with.”
Should be fun this fall.
Next, writing for the LA Times, Rebecca Wexler points out that data-privacy laws giving law enforcement the power to snoop on electronic devices is deeply unfair to defendants for an unexpected reason:
Social media messages, photo metadata, Amazon Echo recordings, smart water meter data, and Fitbit readings have all been used in criminal cases. The new laws would limit how defendants can access this key evidence, making it difficult or impossible for defendants to show they acted in self-defense, or a witness is lying, or someone else is guilty of the crime.
The California Consumer Privacy Act, which was approved in 2018, allows law enforcement officers to obtain data from technology companies and prohibit those companies from immediately notifying the person they are investigating. Such delayed notice may be necessary to investigate someone who is dangerous or likely to destroy evidence or flee. But the law does not give defense investigators the same right to delay notification to witnesses or others — who might well pose a threat to the defendant — when they subpoena data from tech companies as part of the defense’s case.
I will now rejoin a long-running data analysis project, already in progress.
These movements crop up from time to time, and it's not going to happen in my lifetime. But the Tribune did a lengthy report on the latest effort to separate Chicago and the rest of Illinois into two states:
Over the past two years, the movement to divide the state of Illinois into two states — Cook County in one, the other 101 counties in the other — has been gaining support. In February, as Gov. J.B. Pritzker was pursuing an agenda for Illinois that included new tax and abortion policies, Halbrook refiled a resolution in the state legislature, HR 101, in which he and six co-sponsors asked the U.S. Congress to recognize Chicago as the 51st state. “I hear it a lot from my constituents, that we need to be separate from Chicago,” Halbrook says. “I thought yep, this is what we need to do.”
G.H. Merritt, a Lake County woman who founded New Illinois, the group hosting the Mount Vernon event, starts her presentation after the prayer and Pledge of Allegiance. She points out to the crowd — now using New Illinois brochures to fan themselves as the overwhelmed air conditioning loses its grip — that the idea of a state split isn’t new. In fact, groups from either downstate or Chicago have tried to secede from Illinois several times since 1840, when a group of northern counties asked to be given to Wisconsin. (The state line was set above the tip of Lake Michigan in 1818.) In the 1970s, a group of western counties dubbed themselves the Republic of Forgottonia. And in 1981, a Chicago legislator pushed a secession bill through the state Senate, as a public poke at downstate counties for complaining about CTA funding. The bill was tabled by then Speaker of the House George Ryan. Most recently, downstate legislators proposed a split in 2011, after election data showed that in 2010 Gov. Pat Quinn won only three downstate counties — and gained the governorship by carrying Cook County.
I mean, honestly. Why would anyone in Chicago want a "Southern Illinois" on our border with two Republican senators? Our current polarization is exactly the reason some sensible rejiggering of borders in the US won't happen. You want South Illinois? Great; admit Puerto Rico and DC at the same time.
The journalist believes we need to get our act together:
The main point I would make is this: even if you accept the fact that the candidates are currently trying to stake out pluralities among Democratic primary voters and not yet seeking to woo the greater public, they are not doing a very good job of it. And that really worries me.
I'm not so worried. We've typically had this sort of circus in the early stages of an election season, and with the actual event more than 15 months way, we've got time.
Everything I'm learning about John Ratcliffe, the president's likely nominee for Director of National Intelligence, suggests he's orders of magnitude worse than the guy he's replacing:
The intelligence community will fight hard against a threat to its culture of avoiding open partisanship, former senior CIA operations officer John Sipher told NBC News. "It's all about professionalism and taking the world as it is. There is no such thing as Democratic or Republican intelligence. It is what it is, no matter how inconvenient."
Dan Coats, the former Indiana senator whose departure as DNI paved the way for Trump to pick Ratcliffe, appeared to live by that code. He discussed intelligence assessments in public that were at odds with Trump's worldview, and he focused on the issue of Russian election interference, an issue Trump appears to view as a threat to his legitimacy. As NBC News has previously reported, that candor contributed to a strain between Coats and Trump that led to the former's departure.
Ratcliffe, by contrast, has focused on what he believes was misconduct at the heart of the Russia investigation and has spent little time talking about Russia's interference in the American political system.
Ratcliffe, 53, has little experience in national security or intelligence. He was elected in 2014 with the support of the Tea Party, ousting 91-year-old incumbent Republican Ralph Hall. Ratcliffe had been the mayor of Heath, Texas — population 7,000 — from 2004 to 2012.
Reactions from Republicans to Trump's selection of Ratcliffe were tepid. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, which will hold Ratcliffe's confirmation hearing, waited a day before congratulating Ratcliffe in a statement that did not quite endorse him.
The basic point I made Sunday stands: both Coats and Ratcliffe are party hacks, but Coats at least has experience and a surprising pattern of not just telling the president what he wants to hear. Ratcliffe doesn't seem to have that temperament. So in one more department, all we can do is hope that the career professionals will do their jobs well, and resist the partisan hackery from their political bosses.
The Show-Me State recently passed a law creating the specifications for Missouri Bourbon:
According to House Bill 266, signed on Thursday, July 11, any whiskey labeled as Missouri bourbon must not only meet the federal standards for bourbon, but also be mashed, fermented, distilled, aged and bottled in the state; aged in oak barrels manufactured in the state; and—beginning January 1, 2020—made with corn exclusively grown in the state. The law goes into effect on August 28.
The Missouri Craft Distillers Guild, which formed in 2018 and now has 35 members, pushed the measure heavily. “The whole point of the bill was to tie agriculture and tourism together in Missouri,” says Don Gosen, owner of Copper Mule Distillery and a member of the Guild. “Being able to make a high-class bourbon and make it truly a Missouri product—not just made in Missouri, but made from Missouri raw materials.” The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Porter of Montgomery City and signed by Gov. Mike Parson, was originally authored by Gosen with later modifications and input provided by the Craft Distillers Guild and other stakeholders.
Well, OK, when the first examples come out in a couple of years, I'll try it.
I want Wayne LaPierre to apologize, in person, to Alberto Romero:
The shooting left three people dead — including a 6-year-old boy — and 12 injured, local officials said. Authorities initially reported that 15 people had been hurt but amended the count early Monday morning. One gunman was killed by officers at the scene, Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said.
In an interview with NBC Bay Area, Alberto Romero confirmed that his 6-year-old son, Stephen, had died. The boy’s mother and grandmother were also shot and injured, the news station reported.
“I lost my son,” Alberto Romero told the news station. “There’s nothing I really can do besides try to be with him until I can put him in his resting spot.”
Romero later added: “My son had his whole life to live and he was only 6.”
Decades of the National Rifle Association trying to sell as many guns as possible have led to this. And to every other mass shooting in the last 30 years. There have been 196 mass shootings in 2019 so far, or about one every day. And the fact that the United States is the only OECD country where this happens means that we can stop them from happening simply by adopting gun controls similar to every other country in the world.
Wayne LaPierre and his entire septic organization should be held liable for each and every one of these murders until he and the NRA are insolvent. And then they should be held liable some more.