The View from The Street

Whenever mass protests arise, I’m always indebted to the people and protestors who stand right in the thick of it. Hunter Walker, for instance, gave me quite a bit of insight into the Washington, DC. protests. For the Portland, Oregon protests, I got lucky and someone on this very network has been covering them.

1. yes, we’ve always had a few asshats in the crowd doing asshat-y things like throwing fireworks.

2. We actually didn’t have any of that last night, to the point where there was not even a single instance of coordinated banging on the fence to make noise (and not to damage the fence). Like, this shit was peaceful. 100% peaceful. No excuses peaceful. I was actually surprised we could get more than 1500 people down there for a protest like this, with real, legitimate grievances that would anger any caring heart, and have no one engaging in any of the behaviors that they’ve used to justify past attacks. No one at all. I was so fucking proud of us before the tear gas flew and chaos came down. This shit wasn’t even 1% on the protesters. This shit was all on the feds. All of it.

and,
3. Holy fuck, those assaults last night were BAD. Really bad. Mega bad. Even, if you’ll pardon the pun, MAGA BAD.

Crip Dyke has been on the case, which is amazing when you realize her ‘nym is quite literal.

And now we’re back where we started, with me telling you about the decision I had to make to stay and possibly be pushed away from the car, and because of my slower ability to flee inevitably coming into contact with cops that I **know** assault crutch users as if they were armed. If I fell, would I even be able to get up? Especially if the club was aimed at an arm or wrist?

I talk with BFF and she’s scared. We haven’t been together, but she has her own scary stories about how aggressive the cops have been tonight. She convinces me to get in the car. We’re sitting. We’re talking. We make the decision. We leave.

I felt bad retreating with others still facing the Feds’ rage, but it was the right decision.

Tonight was so bad.

If you’re listening to me, if you’ve been listening to me the past 11 days, I’m telling you, however bad the other nights have been, however much you thought those nights sounded scary, they weren’t tonight. Tonight was its own thing, a category to itself.

She has an extensive series on the protests, in fact. You can learn that expired tear gas was fired, watch as she ponders discomfort, cringe as she reveals the Feds were poisoning the air, enjoy a few flowers, witness a police-induced stampede, dream about glitter, observe people getting tear gassed without warning, sigh as people fall short, see the change that happens when Portland gets national press coverage or when the Mayor is nearby, listen to a detailed account of police violence, rewind back to when she was first tear-gassed as well as a first set of photos from the protests. It’s well worth your time.

I know it may not seem that way. Click on the first link to her blog, and you’ll see I’m only getting around to sharing these links a month after they were written. Why on Earth would I link to stale news, surely the protests stopped when the Feds pulled out?

The worst nights follow the same script: A large group takes to the streets calling for an end to police violence and systemic racism. A small fraction commits low-level crimes — often lighting small fires, graffiti-ing buildings and throwing fireworks or water bottles at officers. The police respond with force against the entire crowd.

Over the last month, demonstrators have been battered with batons as they left protests. Police have charged at crowds until they’re pushed deep into residential neighborhoods. Journalists have been shoved and arrested. Tear gas, while used more sparingly than in the early days of the protests, is threatened near nightly. And police regularly shut down protests by declaring them riots. That happened twice over the weekend, though police declined to intervene as far-right activists, some brandishing firearms, brawled with counter-protesters for hours on Saturday afternoon. […]

The mayor recognizes the problem with these scenes that play out on the streets of his city every night: non-violent protesters facing force as police respond to the misbehavior of a few. He just hasn’t found the answer.

“the weekend” referred to above is the weekend of August 22nd. The protests didn’t stop, we just stopped paying attention to them when the level of violence dropped to an “acceptable” level. As I type this, lawsuits are being launched against the US federal government over their behaviour in Portland. The events Crip Dyke documented continue to have resonance, and are due to be replicated elsewhere.

In fact it’ll probably happen this week. Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by the police of Kenosha, Wisconsin, as his three children watched on in horror. On day three of the protests against the incident, a gunman opened fire on peaceful protestors, killing two and wounding a third. By now, you shouldn’t be shocked at what happened next.

The apparent shooter, meanwhile, was seen on video walking away from the scene — his AR-style rifle clearly visible, his hands above his head. But Kenosha police who were responding to the reports of gunfire showed no interest in arresting or even questioning the man. Instead, they asked him for directions. “Is someone injured, straight ahead?” an officer asks him via loudspeaker. “Get out of the road,” said another.

He even approached an idling police car, going up close to the window, but then appeared to change his mind and walked away.

Brent Ford, 24, a photographer, witnessed the entire scene. “He had his hands up and they told him to get out of there, even though everyone was yelling that he was the shooter,” Ford told VICE News. “The police didn’t seem to hear or care what the crowd was saying.”

Yep, the police protected a murderer. After all, he was one of their own.

His connections to law enforcement, however, go beyond his vocal support of police on social media. In a statement to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday, the Grayslake Police Department confirmed that [the shooter] was a former member of the Lindenhurst, Grayslake, Hainesville Police Department’s Public Safety Cadet Program. According to a description that was recently removed from the department’s official website, the program “offers boys and girls the opportunity to explore a career in law enforcement” through “hands-on career activities,” such as riding along with officers on patrol and firearms training.

Along with the page describing the Public Safety Cadet Program, the organization’s official Facebook account was deleted after images from 2018 of a boy in a police uniform [resembling the shooter] began to circulate online.

Before he killed two people, he was apparently being thanked by the police for being there. Even as first-degree murder charges were announced against him, his actions were being obfuscated in order to make them easier to defend. And while I’m not aware of any Republican amounting an explicit defense, this is a party that celebrated two white people who brandished weapons against peaceful protesters, headed by a person who views all protestors as terrorists and fantasizes about torturing people he hates. They have innocent blood on their hands, and they’re likely to get a fresh coat of it.

We will NOT stand for looting, arson, violence, and lawlessness on American streets. My team just got off the phone with Governor Evers who agreed to accept federal assistance (Portland should do the same!) TODAY, I will be sending federal law enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha, WI to restore LAW and ORDER!

Portland could easily become the new normal in the US. This makes Crip Dyke’s series all the more vital to read.

Rationality Rules is a Violent Transphobe

I thought I knew how this post would play out. EssenceOfThought has gotten some flack for declaring Stephen Woodford to be a “violent transphobe,” which I didn’t think they deserved. They gave a good defense in one of their videos, starting off with a definition of violence.

You see, violence is defined as the following by the World Health Organization. Quote; “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in, or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.”

EoT points out that controlling someone’s behaviour or social networks by using their finances as leverage can be considered economic violence. They also point out that using legislation to control access to abortion can be considered legislative violence, as it deprives a person of their right to bodily autonomy. And thus, as EoT explains,

When you exclude trans women from women’s sports you’re not simply violating numerous human rights. You’re designating them as not real women, as an invasive force coming to take what doesn’t belong to them. You are cultivating future transphobic violence.

Note the air gap: “cultivating violence” and “violence” are not the same thing, and the definition EoT quoted above places intent front-and-centre. EoT bridges the gap by pointing out they gave Rationality Rules several months to demonstrate he promoted violent policies out of ignorance, rather than with intent. When “he [doubled] down on his violent transphobia,” EoT had sufficient evidence of intent to justify calling him a “violent transphobe.”

At this point I’d shore up their one citation with a few more. This decoupling of physical force and violence is not a new argument in the philosophy and social sciences literature.

Violence often involves physical force, and the association of force with violence is very close: in many contexts the words become synonyms. An obvious instance is the reference to a violent storm, a storm of great force. But in human affairs violence and force, cannot be equated. Force without violence is often used on a person’s body. If a person is in the throes of drowning, the standard Red Cross life-saving techniques specify force which is certainly not violence. To equate an act of rescue with an act of violence would be to lose sight entirely of the significance of the concept. Similarly, surgeons and dentists use force without doing violence.

Violence in human affairs is much more closely connected with the idea of violation than with the idea of force. What is fundamental about violence is that a person is violated. And if one immediately senses the truth of that statement, it must be because a person has certain rights which are undeniably, indissolubly, connected with being a person. One of these is a right to one’s body, to determine what one’s body does and what is done to one’s body — inalienable because without one’s body one would cease to be a person. Apart from a body, what is essential to one’s being a person is dignity. The real dignity of a person does not consist in remaining “dignified”, but rather in the ability to make decisions.

Garver, Newton. “What violence is.” The Nation 209.24 (1968): 819-822.

As a point of departure, let us say that violence is present when human beings are being influenced so that their actual somatic and mental realizations are below their potential realizations. […]

The first distinction to be made is between physical and psychological violence. The distinction is trite but important mainly because the narrow concept of violence mentioned above concentrates on physical violence only. […] It is useful to distinguish further between ’biological violence’, […] and ’physical violence as such’, which increases the constraint on human movements – as when a person is imprisoned or put in chains, but also when access to transportation is very unevenly distributed, keeping large segments of a population at the same place with mobility a monopoly of the selected few. But that distinction is less important than the basic distinction between violence that works on the body, and violence that works on the soul; where the latter would include lies, brainwashing, indoctrination of various kinds, threats, etc. that serve to decrease mental potentialities. […]

We shall refer to the type of violence where there is an actor that commits the violence as personal or direct, and to violence where there is no such actor as structural or indirect. In both cases individuals maybe killed or mutilated, hit or hurt in both senses of these words, and manipulated by means of stick or carrot strategies. But whereas in the first case these consequences can be traced back to concrete persons as actors, in the second case this is no longer meaningful. There may not be any person who directly harms another person in the structure. The violence is built into the structure and shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances.

Galtung, Johan. “Violence, peace, and peace research.” Journal of peace research 6.3 (1969): 167-191.

This expansive definition of “violence” has been influential, Galtung’s fifty-year-old paper from above has been cited from over 6,000 times according to Google Scholar. “Influential” is not a synonym for “consensus,” however.

Nearly all inquiries concerning the phenomenon of violence demonstrate that violence not only takes on many forms and possesses very different characteristics, but also that the current range of definitions is considerable and creates ample controversies concerning the question what violence is and how it ought to be defined (…). Since there are so many different kinds of violence (…) and since violence is studied from different actor perspectives (i.e. perpetrator, victim, third party, neutral observer), existing literature displays a wide variety of definitions based on different theoretical and, sometimes even incommensurable domain assumptions (e.g. about human nature, social order and history). In short, the concept of ‘violence’ is notoriously difficult to define because as a phenomenon it is multifaceted, socially constructed and highly ambivalent. […]

Violence is socially constructed because who and what is considered as violent varies according to specific socio-cultural and historical conditions. While legal scholars may require narrow definitions for punishable acts, the phenomenon of violence is invariably more complex in social reality. Not only do views about violence differ, but feelings regarding physical violence also change under the influence of social and cultural developments. The meanings that participants in a violent episode give to their own and other’s actions and experiences vary and can be crucial for deciding what is and what is not considered as violence since there is no simple relationship between the apparent severity of an attack and the impact that it has upon the victim. For example, in some cases, verbal aggression may prove to be more debilitating than physical attack.

De Haan, Willem. “Violence as an essentially contested concept.” Violence in Europe. Springer, New York, NY, 2008. 27-40.

A major objection to this inclusive definition of violence is that it makes everything violence, creating confusion instead of clarity. One example:

If violence is violating a person or a person’s rights, then every social wrong is a violent one, every crime against another a violent crime, every sin against one’s neighbor an act of violence. If violence is whatever violates a person and his rights of body, dignity, or autonomy, then lying to or about another, embezzling, locking one out of his house, insulting, and gossiping are all violent acts.

Betz, Joseph. “Violence: Garver’s definition and a Deweyan correction.” Ethics 87.4 (1977): 339-351.

The problem with this objection is that it assumes violence is binary: things are either violent, or they are not. Almost nothing in life falls in a binary, sex included, so a much more plausible model for violence is a continuum. I’m convinced that even the people who buy into a violence binary also accept that violence falls on a continuum, as I have yet to hear anyone argue that murder and wet willies are equally bad. Thus eliminating the binary and declaring all violence to fall on a continuum is a simpler theory, and by Occam’s razor should be favoured until contrary evidence comes along.

The other major objection is that while not every human society agrees on what constitutes violence, all of them agree that physical violence is violence. Sometimes this objection can be quite subtle:

Albeit rare, there are cases of violence occurring without rights being violated. This point has been made by Audi (1971, p. 59): ‘[while] in the most usual cases violence involves the violation of some moral right …there are also cases, like wrestling and boxing, in which even paradigmatic violence can occur without the violation of any moral right’.

Bufacchi, Vittorio. “Two concepts of violence.” Political Studies Review 3.2 (2005): 193-204.

That quote only works if you think wrestling is paradigmatic, something everyone agrees counts as violence. Wrestling fans would disagree, and either point to the hardcore training and co-operation involved or the efforts made to prevent injury, depending on which fandom you were querying. Societies definitely disagree on what physical acts count as violence, and even within a single country physical acts that are considered horrifically immoral to many today were perfectly acceptable to many a century ago. This pragmatic argument can also be turned on its head, by pointing out that if violence is binary then we wouldn’t expect a correlation between (for example) hostile views of women and violence towards women. If a violence continuum exists, however, such a correlation must exist.

Studies using Glick and Fiske’s (1996) Ambivalent Sexism Inventory, which contains different subscales for benevolent and hostile sexism, support this idea. Studies have found that greater endorsement of hostile sexism predicted more positive attitudes toward violence against a female partner (Forbes, Jobe, White, Bloesch, & Adams-Curtis, 2005; Sakalli, 2001). Other studies of IPV among college samples have found that men with more hostile sexist attitudes were more likely to have committed verbal aggression (Forbes et. al., 2004) and sexual coercion (Forbes & Adams-Curtis, 2001; Forbes et al., 2004).

Allen, Christopher T., Suzanne C. Swan, and Chitra Raghavan. “Gender symmetry, sexism, and intimate partner violence.” Journal of interpersonal violence 24.11 (2009): 1816-1834.

At this point in the post, though, I was supposed to pump the breaks a little. People have certain ideas in mind when you say “violence,” I’d say, and would likely equivocate between physical and non-physical violence. This would poison the well. Of course you can’t change language or create awareness by sitting on your hands, so EssenceOfThought were 100% in the right in arguing Rationality Rules was a violent transphobe, but at the same time I wasn’t willing to join in. I needed more time to think about it. After finishing that paragraph, I’d title this post “Rationality Rules is a ‘Violent’ Transphobe” and punch the Publish button.

But now that I’ve finished gathering my sources and writing this post, I have had time to think about it. I cannot find a good reason to reject the violence-as-intentional-rights-violation definition, in particular I cannot come up with a superior alternative. Rationality Rules argues that the rights of some transgender people should be restricted, via special pleading. As I point out at that link, Stephen Woodford is aware of the argument from human rights, so he cannot claim his restriction is being done out of ignorance. That gives us proof of intent.

So no quote marks are necessary: I too believe Rationality Rules is a violent transphobe, for the definitions and reasons above.

Equal Rights

The two strongest arguments for allowing transgender athletes to compete as the gender they identify are the argument from biological diversity and the argument from human rights. When I was outlining the latter case, I settled for merely establishing the right to self-identify existed and just assumed everyone would agree to indivisibility.

Human rights are indivisible. Whether they relate to civil, cultural, economic, political or social issues, human rights are inherent to the dignity of every human person. Consequently, all human rights have equal status, and cannot be positioned in a hierarchical order. Denial of one right invariably impedes enjoyment of other rights. Thus, the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living cannot be compromised at the expense of other rights, such as the right to health or the right to education.

Now that I’m some distance from the argument, I can better picture someone rejecting indivisibility. I mean yes, as I pointed out back then, rejecting indivisibility also rejects decades of legal precedent, but leaning entirely on the letter of the law makes for an iffy argument. I should have propped up the argument by pointing out how devaluing one right harms the ability to enjoy every other right.

Trans people routinely face challenges to their basic humanity every day. Their very existence is being contested. How much rights they should be allowed to have is considered a topic for debate. When some group of people are seen as equal in dignity and rights, the rest of the society doesn’t argue about whether they should have the same rights that everybody else takes for granted. […]

Trans people are routinely discriminated by landlords and potential employers. For example, one of Freethoughblogs bloggers is a trans woman who is forced to dress as male at work, because nobody will hire her as a woman. Cis people aren’t forced to present themselves as a gender they are uncomfortable with in order to find a job. […]

I personally have been refused access to healthcare, because several transpobic doctors felt like kicking me out of their offices. Here you can read the full story about that. I am a European Union citizen, The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that trans people have a right to obtain various medical procedures that would change their gender. Nonetheless, transphobic doctors and bureaucrats still figured out a loophole how to de facto deny me the surgery I requested.

Fortunately, Andreas Avester has my back. As one of his debut blog posts, he’s done an excellent job of pointing out all the consequences of rejecting indivisibility. It’s well worth a read, all on its own.

Special Pleading

Dang, I need to correct something I wrote.

Every human right applies to every person, equally. When rights conflict, one is temporarily granted precedent. It’s why the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is ordered the way it is; rights listed earlier in the document are more important than those listed after, greatly simplifying the analysis of any rights conflict.

I’d gotten that impression because Section 1, which allows any right to have restrictions placed on it to preserve a safe and free democracy, was placed up front while later sections deal with things like elections and criminal trials. In reality, they’re all “indivisible.”

Human rights are indivisible. Whether they relate to civil, cultural, economic, political or social issues, human rights are inherent to the dignity of every human person. Consequently, all human rights have equal status, and cannot be positioned in a hierarchical order. Denial of one right invariably impedes enjoyment of other rights. Thus, the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living cannot be compromised at the expense of other rights, such as the right to health or the right to education.

=====

All human rights are indivisible, whether they are civil and political rights, such as the right to life, equality before the law and freedom of expression; economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to work, social security and education , or collective rights, such as the rights to development and self-determination, are indivisible, interrelated and interdependent. The improvement of one right facilitates advancement of the others. Likewise, the deprivation of one right adversely affects the others.

=====

All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis.

This, of course, makes dealing with conflicting rights much more complicated. Usually, you have to demonstrate significant harm to place limits on a right; for instance, in Canada we allow restrictions on free speech only because they can cause physical harm and a loss of security, while even prisoners and foreign nationals are granted “full access to Canada’s human rights protections.”

Note also that these restrictions come from the state, not private individuals. Google cannot throw you in prison or seize your home, and even when they vacuum up your private info that’s only because they claim you agreed to give up a few specific types of personal information when dealing with them or authorized third parties, and because they can point you to tools that allow you to delete any data they have on you. Liability waiver forms shield some of the parties to the contract from being sued in connection to what happens in a specific time and place, they don’t prevent you from launching all lawsuits and they don’t prevent lawsuits in the case of extreme gross negligence. In no case can a private individual or corporation unilaterally take away a right, and any action that could place limitations on a right must be done by mutual consent.

I think you know where I’m going with this, especially since EssenceOfThought got there first, but humour me. The UN Declaration of Human Rights wasn’t considered legally binding on all countries that signed it at the time, but it’s evolved into precisely that while also expanding to encompass new rights.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, said Advisory Opinion OC-24 issued by the Court on 9 January 2018 was a significant step toward upholding the dignity and human rights of persons with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity.

Pathologizing persons with diverse gender identities, including trans women and men, is one of the root causes behind the grave human rights violations against them. Madrigal-Borloz underlined that the Court concluded that requiring medical or psychological certifications or other unreasonable requirements for gender recognition was not in line with the American Convention.

“I am very pleased with the Court’s reasoning, which is permeated in equal measure by legal rigour and human understanding. Advisory Opinion OC-24 is a veritable blueprint for States to fulfil their obligation to provide quick, transparent and accessible legal gender recognition without abusive conditions, respectful of free/informed choice and bodily autonomy, as was also exhorted last May by a group of United Nations and international human rights experts,” he said.

Gender identity is a fundamental right, at the highest level. But because it took the UN a while to get there, other countries have already granted that right themselves. At the federal level, Canada made it official in 2017.

For all purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.

I’m proud to say we even allow non-binary sex designations on our passports. Even my home province of Alberta, one of the most conservative in the nation, considered gender identity a fundamental human right as of 2015.

WHEREAS it is recognized in Alberta as a fundamental principle and as a matter of public policy that all persons are equal in: dignity, rights and responsibilities without regard to race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation.

If gender identity is a human right, then private organizations cannot prevent individuals from being treated according to how they identify, unless both parties mutually consent. If one person says “no,” then any such differential treatment is a human rights violation. Only the state can say otherwise, and even then only if the alternative does significant harm.

So when Rationality Rules says this …

[19:00] And my answer to the more controversial question, “do trans women who have experienced male puberty have an unfair athletic advantage?” is: it depends on the sport. […]

… he’s arguing that private organizations should have the ability to suspend human rights, and that rights are divisible, contrary to decades of legal precedent across multiple countries. And when he says this …

[20:02] I am not opposed to trans women who have experienced male puberty competing in the female category of SOME events because they’re trans. I am opposed because the attributes which are granted from male puberty that play a vital role in some events have not been shown to be sufficiently mitigated by HRT. It’s not about whether or not they’re women, it’s about whether or not “fair play” has been maintained. Do I make myself clear?

… he is making himself abundantly clear. He considers the maintenance of “fair play” in sports vital to the operation of a free and fair democracy, so vital that it justifies removing human rights from some transgender people. In the process, they’ll have fewer rights than convicted criminals.

There’s two ways to rescue Rationality Rules from this absurdity. One is simply that he’s ignorant; in the two months he spent researching the topic and consulting with biologists, physiologists, and/or statisticians [17:50-17:59], he never ran across the human rights argument. The other way is that he doesn’t agree with the concept of human rights. The second path is kind of awkward, as it has him rubbing shoulders with the religious figures he likes to critique. At any rate, he’s closed off both means of escape.

This video can be considered the remake, and I’ve done my utmost best to illustrate that this is not about people’s rights, it’s about *what constitutes fairness in sport*. You, me and everyone else have the right to compete in sports, but that doesn’t mean that we have the right to compete in any division we want.

So there’s no dodging it, Rationality Rules is engaging in special pleading. He wants an exception to an existing rule without justification, even if he has to throw out over fifty years of human rights law in the process.

Now, to be fair, everyone makes mistakes. Rationality Rules isn’t the first atheist/skeptic to be guilty of special pleading, and he won’t be the last. In most cases, this just due to ignorance: they don’t know their logical fallacies, and thus don’t realize they’re engaging in them. If he wants to brush up, I’d recommend he play “Debunked.”

Debunked is a highly strategic card game of logic, reason and nonsense! There are two decks, one full of fallacious arguments, and the other full of everything else – which includes logic to debunk the arguments, ways to improve your hand (such as resurrecting a card from the discard pile), and, most importantly, ways to mess with your opponent (such as making them skip their go). It’s very simple to learn, but hard to master… like logic itself. …

I know it’ll help him in this particular case, because it contains a “special pleading” card.

A playing card titled "Special Pleading," which it helpfully describes as "When someone asserts that something is an exception to a rule without justification."

The card game is currently a Kickstarter project, so the only way he can get a copy is to contact…. oh. Oh dear.

… Hey, I’m Stephen Woodford, the man behind the YouTube channel Rationality Rules, and this game is my attempt to combine my two loves – reason and gaming. Debunked is first and foremost a thoroughly enjoyable and repeatable game, saturated with varying strategies and hilarious themes, but it’s also a fantastic tool for learning logic; the arguments are real, and so too are the fallacies they commit – hence, the logic cards genuinely can teach people a thing or two about valid argumentation (or at the very least remind them).

If you thought I was exaggerating when I said “he’s lost his grip on reality,” bear in mind that I had this card up my sleeve at the time. It had plenty of company, too.

[HJH 2019-07-14: Finally got around to adding the “fair play” link.]

TERFs Harm Women

I hate loose threads. There was something I had to brush past in my last post, because I didn’t know much about it and I was already over the 2,000 word mark. It kept bugging me, though, enough to prompt me to do my homework. Now I realize why this was the first bullet point in that TERF apologetics post:

Associating our intellectual position with a far right-wing one, because some far right-wing thinkers would agree with us in some of our conclusions, and insinuating that our position is all the worse because of it, is an ad hominem. Ad hominems are widely recognised as inappropriate in philosophy. […]

Equally: the fact that person shares a conclusion with a far right-wing person could never show, on its own, that the conclusion was false. It is likely that every single person on the planet shares several hundred (true) beliefs with any given far right-wing person. In brief: this strategy, and any which are structurally like it, is rhetorical guilt-by-association. It has no place in responsible argument.

If we’re playing fallacy cards, then I pull out the Fallacy Fallacy. If it’s a coincidence that TERFs and the religious far-Right agree on several positions, that is indeed an ad hominem. If instead they agree on the same positions because they’ve directly convinced one another of the truthhood of those positions, then it is fair to link the two. This wouldn’t be a bad thing if their positions were true, but if they’re instead an incoherent mess used to harm others then we have an entirely different story. If I can establish such a link then I can lay the harm caused by one group at the feet of the other.

[Read more…]

Two Opposing Camps

[CONTENT WARNING: Transphobia, TERFs]

Alas, we hit another depressing milestone a few days ago: “A new Pentagon policy that effectively bans transgender people from joining the US military and serving in their preferred gender has come into effect.” If you’re wondering what happened to all those court cases, they’re still ongoing; lower courts had issued injunctions preventing the Pentagon from putting the policy into place until the legality was settled, the Department of Justice appealed those injunctions, lost, and kept appealing right to the Supreme Court. The DoJ wanted the Supremes to short-circuit judicial process and immediately take over the case, which they sensibly refused, but the conservative judges voted to stay the injunction. The Pentagon was thus free to effectively ban transgender soldiers while the courts figured out if they legally could.

Yeah, I don’t understand that last bit either.

The ban has revealed two different camps on the issue. The American Medical Association has repeatedly said transgender soldiers should be allowed to serve, but they’re merely the medical experts. What about people with direct military experience? Let’s see what a Republican with a record of military service had to say at a hearing on the ban. [Read more…]

The “Summary” That Wasn’t

Remember that letter from eight days ago? Emphasis mine:

On Friday, the Special Counsel submitted to me a “confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions” he has reached, as required by 28 C.F.R. $ 600.8(c). This report is entitled “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Although my review is ongoing, I believe that it is in the public interest to describe the report and to summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.

This prompted a lot of discussion of Barr’s memo; follow that New York Times link, and the headline declares it a summary. CNN called it a summary too, as did the Washington Post, Vox, The Atlantic, Business Insider, the CBC, and so on. Three days ago, or five days after he released his first memo, Barr released a second.

Also, I am aware of some media reports and other public statements mischaracterizing my March 24, 2019 supplemental notification as a “summary” of the Special Counsel’s investigation and report. For example, Chairman Nadler’s March 25 letter refers to my supplemental notification as a “four-page summary of the Special Counsel’s review.” My March 24 letter was not, and did not purport to be, an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report. I do not believe it would be in the public’s interest for me to attempt to summarize the full report or to release it in serial or piecemeal fashion.

Wait, so that original memo wasn’t a summary? Then what was it?

… an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report. As my letter made clear, my notification to Congress and the public provided, pending release of the report, a summary of its “principal conclusions”—that is, its bottom line.

Any reasonable person would treat “summary” and “summarize its principle conclusions” as synonymous, and conclude Barr was releasing a summary. Barr is trying to pull a Bill Clinton and push a specific interpretation of specific words that’s at odds with their general understanding. As a lawyer, he almost certainly chose those words deliberately and with that intent.

That’s barely the start of what was wrong with Barr’s original memo.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti observes that “he is likely pushing back because calling it a ‘summary’ suggests that the letter accurately summarizes the entire report, and it does not do so.” Moreover, by hiding even the length of the report in the first letter, Barr helped President Trump perpetuate the assertion that Mueller hadn’t found much of anything. If it took almost 400 pages to lay out his findings, we can bet there’s plenty of interest to the American people.

Other Justice Department veterans agree that Barr is playing defense. “I think he’s clearly a bit stung by the criticism he’s gotten this week, and this letter was his attempt to look like he is committed to transparency without actually making any new commitments,” says former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller.

Note the timing as well: Barr’s first memo was released two days after he announced he had the SCO report, when the media was desperate for any scraps and would eagerly blast them to the public. His second memo was released on a Friday night, when the media was less likely to notice and report on it, and long after everyone had already called the first memo a summary.

Then there’s the issue of redactions: Barr identified two types of information he’d like to redact in his first memo, info related to ongoing investigations and “matters occurring before a grand jury.” In the second memo two more categories pop up, “material … potentially compromising sensitive sources and methods” plus “information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”

All but the first of these four categories are problematic. […]

“This is not how things are meant to happen,” said Professor Neil Katyal, Professor of National Security Law at Georgetown University Law Center and former Acting Solicitor General of the United States, who drafted the special counsel regulations, on MSNBC on March 29.

In connection with Barr’s unwillingness to release the unredacted report to Congress, Katyal said: “The fact that he won’t do that is really suspicious and tells me that there is information in the Mueller Report that Barr doesn’t want to come out. I don’t think it’s for up-and-up reasons. I think it’s because it’s embarrassing to the president.”

As that Forbes editorial points out, this wasn’t a problem with past Special Council reports. Ken Starr finished his report on a Wednesday, and Congress was given a full, unredacted version of it the same day. It too contained grand jury material, but Starr merely had to consult with a judge to get that released to Congress. The public themselves got restricted access two days later via the internet. The turnaround was so rapid because, as Special Council, Starr knew his report had to be delivered to Congress and the public. He’d done the hard work of working out the redactions while drafting the report, so the publication would proceed as rapidly as possible.

Yet Barr is implying Mueller had no idea he’d be submitting his report to Congress or the public, and offloaded that work to Barr. Tack on the fact that Barr’s job application included an unsolicited memo which claimed the President was immune from prosecution, and his past work was stopping the Iran-Contra investigation by pardoning the key players, and this stinks of a deliberate cover-up. No wonder the House Judiciary committee is preparing the subpoena cannon.