Safire as Red Flag
I've finally decided that the New York Times just keeps this guy
(William Safire) around as a red flag to tease people like me, to get
us all excited and keep reading (and writing).
After all, if you only have liberals writing columns you could be
accused of not having a balanced view. That's the journalistic way,
show all sides of the issue. Of course, Safire here doesn't bother with
all sides, but simply represents an effort, apparently, to balance out
the general drift of the other people on staff.
His latest (today) "Sarin, what Sarin" is pretty lame, but somehow
refreshing in that he is so obviously grasping at straws that it's hard
to imagine any able bodied intellect being pulled into his argument.
For Billy here, the appearance of a single canister of Sarin is an
indication of an iceberg of below the surface WMD that has been
shuttled off to the far corners of the world.
There are actual names for the logical fallacies paraded about by this,
the latest Safire Spectacular... Most predominantly "begging the
question" where the truth of the conclusion is assumed by the premises,
but he also gives us:
Accident: a generalization is applied when circumstances suggest that
there should be an exception
Unrepresentative Sample: the sample is unrepresentative of the sample
as a whole
Slippery Slope: a series of increasingly unacceptable consequences is
Fallacy of Exclusion: evidence which would change the outcome of an
inductive argument is excluded from consideration
Check out http://www.datanation.com/fallacies/index.htm to see the full
list of possibilities from which William has only managed to exemplify
Let's look in detail at Safire's list, and not simply wave his argument
away (as it probably deserves):
1. WMD. A single canister is not a trend. We have killed thousands upon
thousands of people and have spent and will spend billions of dollars
doing so because of this WMD claim. It's almost total absence is
extremely damning. Get a grip.
2. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi went from Afghanistan to Iraq to get treated
and stayed. One guy. Is that worth a war? Hello?
3. Because Saddam killed people we can do whatever we want with our
prisoners. In other words, his larger flaws excuse our "little" ones.
Since when was evil a relative term?
4. His assertion that questions about arab nations' readiness for
democracy are racist. Actually, the implication that democracy is some sort of touchstone for higher intellectual functioning is in itself ethnocentric.
Safire predicts that it will all work out and that "Iraqis will gain
the power, with our help, to put down the terrorists and find their own
brand of political equilibrium."
Not likely, unless their own brand means some form of democracy
(limited) that they may be ready for, or some kind of fundamentalist
government (which they probably are ready for, sad to say). In
the first case, Safire lets himself out of his own bag, because "their
own brand" is so general as to include almost any form of government,
and in the second case, if the mullahs win, will Safire ever admit he
Doubtful. But by that time, society will have moved on, and if you'll excuse my own illogic (argumentum ad hominem), Safire will be sitting on a leather couch somewhere, smoking a cigar, a distinguished journalist emeritus, his logical fallacies and extreme stretches of partisan argument forgotten, and he'll be laureled, as usual, in a cloud of his own smoke.