An example of the downfall of journalism

There was once a time when journalists did their research. They fact-checked themselves or, at the absolute least, had someone else fact-check their articles. My degree isn’t in journalism so I’m not sure if they covered that tidbit in the first or second class of Journalism 101, but I have no doubt it was covered. Well. I have no doubt it was covered prior to the 90’s and early 2000’s before our current crop of ‘journalists’ came about. I suppose I’m not really sure what they’re covering now; I’d ask a journalist, but I’m not really convinced that’s a legitimate source nowadays.

At any rate, I bring up this basic of journalism because I visited a blog by an alleged journalist, Michael Hartwell. As some of you may recall, I had him on my blogroll for some time, but I had to take him off. The simple fact was he didn’t fact-check his material. I don’t know as I expected any change after such a relatively short time, but I went back to his blog at least hoping for something interesting. Instead I found a post about that bigoted, racist Duck Dynasty guy. I’ve done a decent job of avoiding even talking about that garbage, but I admit I’ve been reading about the situation. First, for those who don’t know, a guy from a reality show said this:

Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson is making anti-gay comments in the January issue of GQ.

In statements that threaten the A&E reality hit’s wildly popular and uplifting brand of faith, family and hunting, the Robertson patriarch said: “Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong… Sin becomes fine. Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.” Robertson then paraphrased Corinthians from the Bible: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

And if that wasn’t explicit enough, the “Duck Commander” added: “It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

He also said he has never seen the mistreatment of any black people, but I guess we’re all ignoring his racism for this one. At any rate, Hartwell had this to say in his ‘coverage’:

During my workday today I heard three conservative talk radio show hosts defend Phil Robertson, the 60-plus conservative Christian who was fired from the show Duck Dynasty by A&E after he explained his opposition to the gay lifestyle in a magazine interview.

In all three cases, the radio hosts started off their defense of Robertson by saying this was not a free speech issue…

The hosts in question were Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Pat and Stu, co-hosts of Glenn Beck. Beck himself had retired early for the day.

So imagine my surprise when I got home and every left winger online had written about how Robertson’s defenders, and therefor (sic) all conservatives, are all claiming A&E violated his freedom of speech.

Hartwell, upset that “every left winger” is generalizing Robertson’s defenders – he said this without intentional irony – was able to find only a few conservatives who made ridiculous statements:

Truth be told, there were some real examples of folks who said that, including Sarah Palin and apparently, Glenn Beck. There were also some nobody-guests on Fox News at some point during the day and nobodies on Twitter and Facebook pages.

Worry not, everyone. It turns out those filthy liberals are wrong again. Yessirree, deys just be makin’ them things up.

It’d be a real shame if someone did some, ya know, research. Let me pick a few choice quotes from around the Interwebs:

But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views. In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment.

That one comes from Bobby Jindal, Republican creationist governor of Louisiana.

If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson. Phil expressed his personal views and his own religious faith; for that, he was suspended from his job. In a free society, anyone is free to disagree with him–but the mainstream media should not behave as the thought police censoring the views with which they disagree.

You knew one of these quotes would have to come from Ted Cruz. Well, that’s the one.

Free speech is an endangered species. Those “intolerants” hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.

Give Hartwell credit for this one because it comes from Sarah Palin.

Of course, there’s more. A Facebook page, for instance, has 60,000 people who are ‘standing for free speech’. I know Hartwell attempted to dismiss these “nobodies”, but he doesn’t get to have things both ways: If he’s going to say things like this – “There’s no evidence to suggest that a majority of conservatives made that too-common error. Some people certainly did, but please don’t tell me that an entire group did it. Even Rush Limbaugh dismissed the idea; that’s not trivial.” – then he has to own up when a large swath of right wingers come out of the wood work to support a stupid idea.

But let’s continue. Another Facebook page, which has a “not trivial” 1.5 million “Likes”, has a picture bragging that they got over a million likes for free speech in just 24 hours. And in case one is so inclined to chalk that up to whoever the random admin on the group happens to be, the picture currently has over 600,000 likes and nearly 75,000 shares. “That’s not trivial.”

Have I made my point yet? Journalism is in dire straights and this is a good case study of that fact. Yes, Hartwell’s blog is just that, a blog. However, he has made it clear in the past that he uses his blog as a sort of showpiece in addition to his regular articles for his career; his blog is there, in large part, so future employers can get an idea of how he covers a story. (That’s why the sentences are simple, usually short, bunched in two or three line paragraphs, and why he very strongly attempts to portray a certain objectivity.) I’m convinced he isn’t doing so hot. His fact-checking hasn’t matured since last year, nor, indeed, has it really changed from his college days when he wrote an article urging biologists to give intelligent design a chance. To his credit he has since figured out why he was so wrong, but that largely came by due to the response from his school’s biology department. Ya know, that department just down the hall, perhaps a building or two over. Ya know. That department he apparently didn’t bother to visit.

Let me end by addressing a detail of Hartwell’s very first sentence in the post in question:

During my workday today I heard three conservative talk radio show hosts defend Phil Robertson, the 60-plus conservative Christian who was fired from the show Duck Dynasty by A&E after he explained his opposition to the gay lifestyle in a magazine interview.

Emphasis mine. Fact-checking also mine:

The network issued the following statement to [Entertainment Weekly]: “We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”

An A&E spokesperson confirmed this statement means exactly what it says: Robertson is off the show for an as-yet-undetermined period of time. The rest of his family will continue on the reality series.

Emphasis mine.

In other words, he wasn’t fired. He was suspended. Perhaps he’ll never come back. Perhaps he’ll be ready to go next season. Who knows? All we can say is that he was suspended, not fired.

People become Republicans because of religion

At least for the vast majority, that is. See here:

With no debate, Republicans at the party’s spring meeting here on Friday unanimously approved a number of resolutions, including one that reaffirmed the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

“The Republican National Committee affirms its support for marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and as the optimum environment in which to raise healthy children for the future of America,” the resolution read. The 157 RNC members present approved it in a voice vote.

I’ve made the claim in the past that the reason people turn to the GOP is out of their conservative Christianity. To me, this is a very tiny, very obvious claim. Basically dishonest people who aren’t interested in critical thinking (or doing any research, but I digress), such as the odious Michael Hartwell, have tried to spin my statement in a way where in order to prove it I would have to explicitly know the minds of every single Republican. Under his requirements, we could never surmise why anyone becomes anything if the group we’re discussing is sufficiently large. (This is interesting, too, since he has gone the racist route of claiming that blacks vote for Democrats because they benefit from and like handouts.)

At any rate, I think this is all quite obvious: Most people who become Republican are first fundamentally religious, soon recognizing that there is a political party which reflects their religiosity. The re-affirmation of the GOP’s opposite to marriage equality is a perfect example of this because there are no good (or even honest) secular arguments against allowing same-sex couples their constitutionally guaranteed right to marriage. That is, it is the base Christianity that underlies the Republican party that has caused this vote and view; we don’t live in some backwards world where people became bigoted Republicans all on their own, later noticing that a particular cultural religion happens to exactly reflect their positions.

To censor or not to censor

There are two major arenas where censorship happens: publicly and privately. When it occurs publicly, it is generally illegal (in fact, by “publicly”, I only mean in instances where the question is a legal one). That is, a person who is prevented from engaging in public speech is a person who has had his First Amendment rights trampled. Of course there are all the caveats – threatening speech and gag orders and yelling fire in a crowded theater and things like that – but I’m not talking about those and they aren’t important for this post. What’s important here is when censorship occurs privately. Specifically, I want to talk about online censorship as wrought by people in administration positions, whether it be on a message board or a Facebook page or, especially, a blog.

Ken of Popehat (and that other little thing) recently wrote about his displeasure at the fact that one of his fellow bloggers had to close a thread due to the lack of civility in the comments. In response, a reader wrote to that other blogger, Patrick, and asked him how he felt about an individual’s role in moderating privately run forums and the like. Here is part of Patrick’s response:

I view Popehat as property: my property, held in common with three friends. For me, the inquiry stops there.

I choose to invest my time into Popehat for one reason, and one reason alone. I enjoy what results from it. I believe that Popehat is a great website, and I gain personal satisfaction from knowing that I have done my part to make it so…

But if I were forced, by compulsion or out of assumed moral obligation, to allow others to use Popehat for purposes I find repellent, the joy that I gain from this site would turn to ashes in my mouth. I would no longer be the master of this house: I would become a slave, working for no reward…

I wouldn’t work on a website that makes me angry, unless I am being paid obscene amounts of money. Since that will never happen, I will not allow Popehat to make me angry.

If it’s a choice between you and me, you will go. So that I can stay.

I’ve pasted his response together in pieces, but I think I’ve captured the gist of it.

I feel entirely different about censorship of this nature. Sure, if someone wants to censor what others write in a privately run space, I’m going to deem it stupid if the censored individual runs to a judge and jury, but I have no issue with the criticism that the censorious individual gets. In fact, I would like to join in: I generally view censorship as cowardly regardless of any legal questions that may exist.

I also find people who are willing to censor to be very untrustworthy. When I visit a new blog and leave a comment, I often have my first comment kept in moderation. That’s fine if the person is looking to filter out all the spam possible (or just too lazy to fix his settings), but if I leave a second comment and that is also kept in moderation, I am unlikely to continue with my posting. I do not spam and I do not troll, thus there is no reason to prevent my (or most other people’s) comments from immediately posting – except for the purpose of making a censor-based decision.

I want to mention another blogger for whom I lost nearly all respect when he not only proved himself inept at his profession, in my opinion, but also a FOX News-like liar regarding a particular issue. After we had a falling out – we aren’t even Facebook pals anymore :( – I continued to comment on a few of his posts, despite the reasonable risk that he might censor my comments. I don’t mean that as a personal jab but rather an acknowledgement of the fact that we are two individuals who do not like each other and I wasn’t allowing his comment sections to go as swimmingly as he might like. As it turns out, though, he has not censored me in the least. He hasn’t even threatened to do so. That I respect. That is how a blog administrator should behave. That is how I run my site.

Shifty gears slightly, one common theme to issues like this is for people to compare their blog or forum to their living room. “Why,” they say, “I would never allow someone to speak rudely to me or my other guests from my couch, so why should I allow it here?” I think that analogy fails. It only works insofar as one’s living room and one’s blog are both private. But my front yard is private property, just as my bedroom is. Does that mean it would be okay to walk about naked whenever I pleased? Of course not. Having one characteristic in common does not make two things equal (Nate‘s mother and bovine specimens excepted). The difference in this cases lies in the fact that a blog is essentially an open-invite to the public. Whenever I make a post, including this one, I am asking anyone and everyone to come into ‘my living room’ and tell me what they think. I would never do that with my real living room.

I want to be sure, though, that I’m not polarizing this issue. Like with most things, it isn’t all black and white. I have banned one non-bot person from FTSOS. He was spamming and trolling and had no interest in any sort of discussion. He was clogging up my Recent Comments widget to the point where he killed at least two discussions that were happening elsewhere. (People had no idea their comments had received a response and the posts only existed several pages deep, so the ability to see recent comments – the only lifeline for the comment sections – was severed.) His comments were also stupid, but that isn’t why I banned him. I banned him because he made my website logistically incoherent.

And there are other instances where I can understand someone censoring a post. If someone posts a link to (consider context to be your warning), I would probably edit it. Not always, but probably. Or, let’s say, a blogger loses his spouse to cancer. If a person starts talking about the deceased as some evil person and other personalized vulgarities, I don’t think I would consider the blogger a coward for utilizing his “Move to Trash” feature.

All that said, I am against censorship on private forums – forums that are inherently designed as open-invites to the public. That means I have no respect for the closing of threads or banning of commenters at places like FTSOS or Popehat or any blog in 99% of the non-bot instances. “I don’t like what you’re saying” and “I don’t like how you’re saying that” are the two things administrators are telling everyone when they close things and ban people. That impresses me less than Brad Pitt impressed Shania Twain in 1998*. It’s a way to insulate one’s self from the so-called marketplace of ideas. Obviously no one wants to run a shitty market, but allowing others to meet a bad apple at one or two of your corners is a good thing. That’s reality. And if those bad corners turn into bad streets and then bad areas and then a bad market, that probably isn’t a reflection of a lax censor policy. In that case, there is likely something wrong with the sort of posts being made or the sort of people making the posts. Anything on the Internet can attract awful people, but awful things will attract them in clusters. (That is in no way a comment on Patrick or Popehat. I think Popehat is a fantastic site, and I would think that even if Ken had never helped me so much with a tough problem.)

Now, feel free to say whatever you want in my comment section.

*I’m on a 90’s reference kick lately.

Liars. Liars everywhere.

To my count, I have come across four major liars in my blogging career. First up is Jack Hudson. He has the be the worst, but he also may be the dumbest. I’m not sure which part of his personality I dislike more. The next is Christopher Maloney. His lies were in the details of his writings and, to his credit, I suspect some of them were just a result of his lack of understanding of how the Internet works. Then we have Michael Hartwell. He’s a recent addition and generally isn’t guilty of being dishonest, but that doesn’t mean he’s really any better. And finally, we have braggart Roxeanne. She has mostly confined herself to misunderstanding and misrepresenting science, (did you know that because condom usage needs to improve even more in order to better combat infection rates, that means condoms are ineffective and we should advocate abstinence-only programs? Crazy, I know), but now she has ventured into plainly liar territory:

There is a reason why children are nine times as likely to be abused by their mother’s boyfriends or new husbands than by their own fathers, and why biological fathers are an impediment to abuse of children. Predators seek out the vulnerable.

Yet California, land of moonbats, decided to make it easier for non-biological “fathers” to access children. The Golden State is considering letting more than two adults have “parent” rights to a child. Now, any normal person knows that this is going to result in a lot of litigation and some serious trauma for the kid (at best) and sexual abuse (at worst), but the Left is more concerned with eliminating traditional family structures than with advancing the well-being of children. What this state has just told paedophiles is that it’s open season on little kids, and if the mother gets creeped out, said paedophile can sue to have visitation with her child. After all, the former boyfriend/ex-stepdad had a “bond” with that lovely young teen, and such a “bond” should be respected by our legal system.

Well. Isn’t that interesting. It’s like she isn’t even trying to spin her lies in a way that is even remotely plausible. Here is the actual purpose of the law:

[Representative Mark] Leno told that he recognized a “problem” in the legal system in 2011 when an appellate court placed a girl in foster care when her legally married parents — two lesbians — could not care for her.

The child was taken into state custody when one of her mothers was jailed and the nonbiological mother was hospitalized.

The court did not have the authority to appoint the girl’s biological father, with whom she had a relationship, as a legal parent. That third parent could have “benefitted the well-being of the child,” said Leno.

In other words, two people can have a child, marry separate people at some point, and all four individuals can be given custodial rights. And unlike Roxeanne suggests/lies, all the parents would have to agree before anything could move forward. There is no way some ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend couldn’t sue for custody as a result of this law.

This bill would obviously help in same-sex situations, but I think it would more commonly be applied in cases of heterosexual divorce. That’s just basic statistics. (And even if that wasn’t the case, who cares? Gay couples form families, too.) Furthermore, this would do nothing to benefit pedophiles. That argument is patently absurd and hardly deserves a response. Roxeanne isn’t the shiniest penny in the fountain, but I think she’s just barely smart enough to know she was lying.

This is a good law. Plenty of children are in situations where there are three or four parents involved. At certain times, this can cause undue problems as a result of legal restrictions. That is, a clear authority figure with the child’s interest at heart – a biological parent’s spouse, for example – may be denied from caring for the child, such as we see from the article. That isn’t fair to anyone involved and is more a snafu in the law than anything. The only reason to oppose this is stubborn denial of reality.

Michael Hartwell of Sentinel & Enterprise is a liar

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a liar.

I’ve written about Michael Hartwell in the past. My initial criticism of him was largely confined to the fact that he uses a poor writing style to avoid answering tough questions. That might be fine for a regular journalist, but Hartwell acts as little more than a common pundit who feigns a neutral position. As such, he has put himself in a place where the onus is on him to defend his writings. (Armchair Psychology Alert: I think he enjoys the respect that comes from making people think he’s fair-minded. He isn’t particularly interested in uncovering respect for actual ideas, in part, because doing so would expose the fact that he’s just another ideologue.) In short, he is not a reputable source for objective information, but I can see how he could appeal to a Republican audience – people like to have their biases confirmed.

Unfortunately, Michael Hartwell of Sentinel & Enterprise isn’t merely a bad journalist. He is also a liar. In a post about the Nazi-run economy of 1930’s and ’40’s Germany, Hartwell says this:

Over and over again I find myself clarifying that fascism and Nazism were sister movements to socialism and communism. This runs counter to the cheap political trick where modern capitalist-loving right wing movements are likened to Hitler and his followers.

Hartwell then spends more than the next 10 paragraphs describing how socialism was the mindset behind Nazism and the Nazi economy. Once done, he says this:

If younger generations fundamentally misunderstand the driving force behind evil mindsets like Nazism, then they will be completely vulnerable if it comes back again, striking not with mere hate but with false promises of prosperity.

In other words, he just hates those “cheap political tricks” where people try to tarnish something by associating it with Hitler and Nazis. But, oh yeah. Socialism is nothing but associated with Hitler and Nazis. Hell, it drove Nazism. (Sorry, racism and nationalism! Maybe next time!)

Of course, none of this is particularly notable as far as lies go. After all, in the words of Hartwell, it’s not much more than a cheap political trick. Perhaps we can just file this one under “Ironic rhetoric”? Except it gets better:

Fascism was indeed a form of socialism on a national scale instead of as an international movement…

Fascism economic policies that were put into place include the strict control of all businesses, such as telling them what to produce, and setting of prices. Those that violated these rules were nationalized. The execution of German invalids was defended as saving resources for the fit Germans. The amount of control over individuals daily lives was staggering.

Emphasis mine.

Either no one ever taught Hartwell about the importance of topic sentences or he was just overtly implying that socialism led to the murder of retarded individuals. Let’s just link his words together in way which perfectly and honestly reflects what he said: Fascism is a form of socialism that led to Germans executing “invalids”. (He even gets cute and uses the politically correct language for the 1930’s.)

But now here’s the question: Will Hartwell own up to his claim? Take a wild guess:

No. I was demonstrating fascisms belief in central planning.

And of course the best way to do that is to point to the fact that 1) fascism is a form of socialism and 2) fascism led to the murder of “invalids”. What!? How is that dishonest!?

Give me a break.

If Michael Hartwell wants to blog up a storm of right-leaning tripe, that’s fine. It doesn’t bother me that he thinks a series a declarations and a handful of links makes an argument. However, it all becomes an issue when he runs away from points and even resorts to (overt) lying. Moreover, I think it’s an issue when his goal is to present his blog as a good source of journalism, something to which potential employers can look as a piece of his resume. That is why his (publicly listed) place of employment has been included in the title of this post. I think journalism in the United States is already quite awful. I’d rather not see it get any worse.

One more time: Correcting the ignorant on utilitarianism

I wrote some time ago about Michael Hartwell’s poor grasp of philosophy. Specifically, I went into detail about why he has no idea what utilitarianism even is. However, one thing has been bothering me for quite some time and I want to address it now. Here is what I want to address from Hartwell:

Utilitarianism, in its most basic sense, is committing an evil act to counter a greater evil.

I’ve touched on my issue with this asinine statement, but I want to make sure it is out there in the open as much as possible. It just gets under my skin when someone is this monumentally wrong about something.

Utilitarianism defines what is good as that which maximizes pleasure and reduces pain. Generally, more weight is given to reducing pain, but that is getting into the details and isn’t important here. What is important is that we’re talking about an ethical theory which is in and of itself defining what is good. This cannot be anymore clear. And all the other ethical theories do the same thing. In fact, holy texts do it, too. That’s why it is often futile to argue with certain fundamentalists. Sure, by normal standards we would say it was evil of God to say rape victims had to marry their rapists, but the fundamentalist is going by the assumption that good and evil are defined by the Bible and, more specifically, God. Since God, by definition, can do no wrong, then his rape command cannot be evil. Or so the story goes. The difference, however, with Enlightenment period ethical theories is that they are based and built upon reason.

So I have two problems with saying utilitarianism is committing an evil act to counter a greater evil. First, that could just as easily be phrased, ‘Utilitarianism is committing an act of greater good in order to counter an act of lesser good.’ Talking about evil is nothing more than dishonest spin. Second and more to the point, it makes zero sense to analyze an ethical theory from within if one already has an assumption of what is good and evil. It’s possible to do that analysis looking in from the outside – we do that all the time – but one cannot simultaneously assume the perspective of a given ethical theory and an outside perspective. It would be like criticizing a hockey official because he didn’t call a touchdown when someone scored a goal.

Responding to Michael Hartwell: bad journalist, bad writer

I recently took Michael Hartwell’s blog Young, Hip and Conservative off my blogroll. The reason was very simple: I no longer trust his content. Now he has responded via Nate:

I wasn’t sure if I should respond to a critical post (1) Michael Hawkins wrote at Forthesakeofscience about me. I loathe having online discussions with him because of his tone, long-windedness and unwillingness to consider counter evidence. I didn’t want to leave a reply in his realm of control (I doubt he’d edit a reply in the comments, but I didn’t want to take a chance) and I avoid writing about personal issues on my blog. That’s what this is. Nate is a mutual friend of both of us and was kind enough to host a reply here. This post is mostly written for my friends, and I hope to hear from them.

I’m going to be doing a lot of interpreting through this whole thing – and he’s right, I am long-winded – so let’s get started.

What Hartwell means is that he’s upset that I don’t find most of his arguments convincing one way or the other. I imagine this is especially upsetting for him since he has set up a blog of faux objectivity and professionalism. Having people slap down terrible posts can be distressing enough, but when the goal is to advertise one’s self as a fair-minded journalist, it can dampen job prospects.

Hawkins made three major accusations: I make an unacceptable number of typos, I am a poor writer and I don’t research the subjects I blog about thoroughly.

Here is an excellent example of why I no longer trust his content: his poor reading leads to wildly erroneous conclusions. My accusation that he made an unacceptable number of typos was nothing more than a simple clause in part of a wider sentence:

You’re a bad-to-average writer, Michael [Hartwell]. Aside from never proofreading for typos (what are “rick people”?), you write in a journalistic style even though your blog is not a newspaper. In case you haven’t noticed, newspaper articles are written at a junior high reading level.

My point is clear: his writing is of a low quality, in part, because it is written in a way which is meant to appeal to the laziness of the masses. Of course, that point had absolutely nothing to do with why I erased him from my blogroll. Hell, I recently told Nate that his writing isn’t particularly good, much like his mother. That doesn’t mean he’s off the blogroll, though. Hartwell, as usual, has lost track of the discussion. This is a serious, repeating issue for him.

I have been mentioning Hartwell’s journalistic writing style lately, though. I’ve told him the reason, but I don’t think he gets it. Let me try to spell it out: By writing in short paragraphs that are 2 to 4 sentences each, he is able to hide from giving in-depth responses when challenged. It isn’t that people who write in his style are hiding. It’s that the style allows for such hiding – and he takes full advantage.

A lot of this spilled out on Facebook, where he proceeded to troll me by asking if I have a reading disability over and over. I do not, of course, and he asked it in a manner that would make it degrading to answer him directly.

This is simply more confirmation why Hartwell’s blog doesn’t deserve my reference. I did ask him if he had a reading disability, but he has blatantly attempted to portray the issue as if that’s all I did. What actually happened was he accused me of giving a grave insult to the President over the gay marriage issue. I then responded with a number of points. I will summarize them, but don’t just take my word. I put my Facebook posts on his blog:

  • He made an inept analogy to between the President and George Wallace – whereas Wallace actively sought to deny rights to people, the President took a meaningless position on something.
  • I think it is naive of Hartwell to assume that there is any politician out there who hasn’t been dishonest in an effort to get votes.
  • I criticized his laziness to fact-check.
  • I criticized his FOX Noise-like analysis that said the President would gain votes in important electoral states this November as a result of his position.
  • I criticized Hartwell for insulting the President just as harshly as he claimed I did.
  • I summarized that the President’s position changed as he considered running for higher office, thereby telling me that he changed so dramatically on such a big issue for the sake of appealing to the center.
  • I compared the President to the Christians out there who think homosexuality is wrong yet still vote for gay rights; the President’s former position did not result in any actual bigotry.
  • I then made a case for why President Obama’s positions have been good for gays anyway.

Here is the response Hartwell gave:

Cut your summary down to two chapters and I’ll read it, Obama basher

Right. I’m the troll.

Let’s continue:

As for his first point about typos, I absolutely agree with him…

That’s great, but it wasn’t my first point.

His second point about my writing style I flat out deny. Writing style can not be quantified, but I think this comes from different preferences. Of course, I find my stance to be superior and consider myself a good writer.

I take my writing philosophy from Orwell, Strunk and White (3) and believe in using sharp, simple sentences that are easy to comprehend. This gives my writing more power, in my opinion, and I reject cumbersome academic writing that makes the reader slow down to interpret obscure words. Curbing ones vocabulary takes a lot of effort, but that is my preference.

I emphasized one part of this to simply point out the bad-faith argumentation that is common of Hartwell. When did anyone ever endorse academic writing?

I am also a journalist (outside of my blog) and have to write in that style a lot, which makes it habitual. Hawkins repeats the cliche that journalism is written for a junior high reading level. This is nonsense.

The average American reads at about an 8th or 9th grade level, so says Google. This source says USA Today is written at a 5th grade level. A number of websites reference a source (Research for Practice by Elizabeth H. Winslow and Ann F. Jacobson, The American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 98, No. 7 (Jul., 1998), pp. 55+57) which says the New York Times, New Yorker, and USA Today are each written at a 10th grade level. I presumed this was common knowledge, if not from simply hearing it from a variety of sources, then at least from actually reading newspapers.

What seems to be the crux of his post was an accusation that I use false facts. This is a big accusation which I completely deny. I use the scientific worldview as a mindset for writing about issues, including political issues. That is what makes my blog stand out.

Here is a post from Hartwell where he outright makes up a position for Stephen King.

Continuing on:

One column I wrote in college, however, was factually wrong and I still regret it. I was sympathetic to intelligent design and said it should be dismissed with studies, not written off. I had spent hours and hours reading about it, but I missed some key facts. I even wrote about it on my blog years later to show that people can learn, and we should be willing to say we were wrong.

This is what people who love science do, but for some reason, Hawkins used that to criticize me. What a bunch of hogwash. He wrote:

“He’s almost proud of the learning experience, in fact. It was certainly needed, but I’m not so sure touting one’s former ignorance is the way to go – at least not for a journalist.”

I am certainly proud of myself for letting evidence switch a position, even one I had stated publicly. I do not think we should blindly grip the positions we have, but constantly question and evaluate them, and if needed, change them. That’s the kind of reputation I want to have; not one of pretending to be born wise and unmoved by experience.

Again, this is continued confirmation of my distrust of Hartwell as a news source. He has overtly performed a quote-mine job here. He takes a small selection of what I said and then spins it as if I criticized him for changing his mind. Let’s just go to the tape. Here is what I actually said:

He’s almost proud of the learning experience, in fact. It was certainly needed, but I’m not so sure touting one’s former ignorance is the way to go – at least not for a journalist. He may not have been stupid in 2006 by virtue of his awful editorial, but he was a bad journalist for not doing his homework.

In other words, my criticism is most certainly not premised in Hartwell’s change of heart. I’m glad he figured things out. My issue is with him touting his lack of research as a point of pride. Yes, it’s nice that he corrected for an error, but correction does not excuse all mistakes. He failed to properly research a hot button topic before taking it on. He even had an entire biology department available to him. It all reminds me of a debate Christopher Hitchens had when he was in better shape (ya know…alive). Rabbi Boteach, after uttering a number of falsehoods out of ignorance, went on to declare that Stephen Jay Gould did not believe in evolution. It was embarrassing to watch.

Hawkins often comes off as an angry Internet forum poster who intends to derail discussions, even when he has a point to make. He also sees everything in black and white.

More interpretation: When Hartwell says I see things in black and white, what he means is that I don’t agree with him enough. And, really, I would be willing to find myself on his side of issues much more often, but I just think it would be a shame for us to both be wrong.

“Bigot” is a word he throws around casually. There is no distinction between a young person who violently attacks gays, or an old woman who votes against gay marriage out of ignorance simply because she was born in unenlightened times.(9) Everything must be one extreme or the other.

None of this is true. First, I’ve defined “bigot” a number of times here. I always use the word in accordance with that definition. Hartwell once even gave my definition a positive reference. Second, of course there is a distinction between the violent offender and the old woman: 1) The violent offender is, um, violent. He also discriminates against gays out of ignorance. 2) The old lady is presumably kindly and always has a hard candy to offer. Oh, and she discriminates against gays out of ignorance.

He also had a habit of writing sprawling replies in the comment section. I will admit that I spend more time on posts then I do writing a comment, but I honestly don’t enjoy any exchanges I’ve had with him. He makes it a point to be vulgar and rude.

It’s not so much a point of being vulgar but rather the fact that I’m not a sheltered child who can’t get over the word “fuck”. Furthermore, Hartwell knows the story here. I’m thorough and sometimes I swear. If he doesn’t like that then he shouldn’t reference my posts on his blog or tag me on Facebook when he posts his writings there. It isn’t my fault if he doesn’t know that by now.

(And here I thought libertarians weren’t in the game of blaming others for their own mistakes. But maybe that’s my mistake. I’ll take responsibility.)

He also gets upset if you don’t respond to each and every point sprinkled among his replies. I don’t believe he’s willing to reverse any of his positions in a comment section. With the combination of these elements, I don’t respond to a lot of his comments. They are a chore to deal with.

Interpretation: I won’t agree with him enough. Again, if I do that then nobody would get to be right. And it isn’t that I want a response to every single point I make. It’s that I would like a response to any point I make. Hartwell has a tendency to lose track of the discussion and make up positions for his opponents. For awhile not too long ago I would make it a point to ask him to quote where I said whatever it was he was claiming I said. Sometimes he would take up the challenge, but he would usually run away. When he did give a response, he would quote something which either had no relevance or was clearly read incorrectly by him. But hey, what do I know? They’re just my positions.

(Don’t worry, I’m getting near the end.)

Hartwell next quotes a recent instance where I swore and admonished him for not reading carefully. He then says:

In this case, the facts are that candidate Obama was distancing himself from what his office wrote in a GLBT-focused local newspaper two years later when he ran for the same office. During the exchange with Hawkins, I interpreted a news story as saying his aides denied his support for gay marriage in 1996, and I quoted it as such. In fact, the quote was unclear and Hawkins (correctly) interpreted it as saying his aides in later years denied the position.

A couple of things. First, I was swearing at him because he repeated a few facts I had already put forth as a premise for an argument. He didn’t add anything to the discussion. Had he read what I wrote, he would have seen that I already established what he randomly decided to re-write. That is, the reason I swore at him was because he didn’t bother to read what had already been said. This is in contrast to his claim that I swore at him because we had a disagreement over what the President’s aides had said and when they said it. I realize this may not seem like a big deal, but it goes to the broader picture I’ve been trying to paint: Hartwell loses track of discussions constantly.

Second, I think the disagreement above speaks for itself. Hartwell wishes to paint me as a black and white thinker, but the fact is I was correct when I did his homework for him. That is, he had made the claim that the President’s aides had disavowed a 1996 statement. I pointed out that that disavowing was subsequently disavowed itself by the White House. There’s more to the overall issue, but this was about a specific point. Hartwell has confused my steadfastness about one detail for a refusal to listen to his broader points. It’s his own conflation.

When you factor in that he believes the president is also a secret atheist, its easy to see that emotionally, Hawkins HAS to believe the president agrees with him. He’s emotionally invested and sees this as a sacred fact that can never be questioned. Otherwise, with his black and white worldview, he would have to believe the president has been a bigot.

I’m not sure Hartwell has read much of my blog. It does not matter to me what any specific atheist thinks insofar as that person’s lack of belief is concerned. Atheism is 100% descriptive. It does not lead one to bigotry. It does not lead one away from bigotry. In fact, it has nothing at all to say about bigotry. It isn’t normative, so even if the President was an honest-to-goodness bigot, I couldn’t possibly be disappointed in him from the perspective of an atheist. It’s a lot like when Christians claim atheists hate God. That isn’t a part of an atheist’s perspective since, by definition, an atheist does not accept the existence of any god. Thus, it is nonsensical to say an atheist hates God. Just the same, it is not a part of my view that any two atheists should inherently agree with each other by virtue of their atheism. Thus, it is nonsensical to say I have an investment in the President’s views because he may be an atheist.

And there you have it.

YH&C is off the blogroll

I’ve allowed a few conservative blogs to be featured on my blogroll. They get put under a special section, however, so as to distance myself from them. For instance, there are things The Right Atheist will say that don’t jibe with my views, so he gets put under that section, even if I do thoroughly enjoy his posts about language. Nate’s blog is under the same constrictions here. I’m not much for anecdotal sexism, but he does say a few things that make sense. The same has long been my view on Michael Hartwell’s blog, Young, Hip & Conservative. He has very anti-labor views that serve to help the rich at the expense of the poor, but he manages to put forth an intelligent argument from time to time. Unfortunately, YH&C no longer represents anything with which I wish to be associated.

I’ve been able to excuse Hartwell’s tendency to construct his sentences poorly. He’s a journalist, after all (even if he lies and says he’s somehow in the industry of science). There isn’t anything wrong with that profession, and I actually really hate it when people disparage those in the related major of English – to understand literature well is to understand the world well – but let’s be honest: 21st century journalism is written at a junior high level. It isn’t supposed to be quality prose. So while Hartwell’s writing ability is a little less than what I expect, I still don’t really expect much. However, I do think it is reasonable for me to expect a certain level of professionalism. Specifically, any good journalist ought to do his homework. You know, delve into the details of an issue, get his facts straight, etc. Hartwell has a history of not doing this. Just take a look at this:

I sometimes stop myself from accidentally calling people stupid when they express stupid ideas. This isn’t just out of respect – it’s entirely self-serving. In 2006 I wrote an editorial in my college newspaper defending Intelligent Design as an alternative explanation to evolution, and calling on biologists to give it a fair shot instead of dismissing it out of hand.

I got a few replies from the biology department which said that yes, these claims have indeed been addressed – back in the 19th century. By 2007 I was no longer an Intelligent Design proponent and rejoined the evolution camp.

Did my complete reversal on that subject mean I went from being stupid to smart within a year? I certainly hope not. Most of my other positions went unchanged, and I retained a lot of knowledge in other subjects.

Hartwell uses a personal example of a mistake he made which, of course, does not in and of itself make him stupid. He’s almost proud of the learning experience, in fact. It was certainly needed, but I’m not so sure touting one’s former ignorance is the way to go – at least not for a journalist. He may not have been stupid in 2006 by virtue of his awful editorial, but he was a bad journalist for not doing his homework.

Fast forward 6 years and it seems little has changed. I’m not going to go about quoting excerpts from that link for the simple reason that there is too much to quote, but the gist is this: Michael Hartwell continuously makes claims which are erroneous and/or not fact-checked; he consistently loses track of discussions; he refuses to address the primary points being made by others in response to the issues he raises; he is a tone troll; he refuses to make any novel arguments, instead relying on red herrings and irrelevant quotes. In short, he fails at everything that is necessary to being a good journalist with an opinion-based blog. Had I known he was this wildly irresponsible with how he approaches his career, I never would have asked him to write for my publication. It is here that I am disavowing anything and everything I have ever cited by Michael Hartwell which has relied on outside sources for factual information. (Things which are quintessentially opinion remain acknowledged if and where cited.)

Young, Hip, & Conservative is off the blogroll at For the Sake of Science.

The importance of thought experiments

Thought experiments are crucial to the field of philosophy. They seek to reveal the principle(s) underlying the reasoning for a position so that such a principle(s) can either be applied ubiquitously in one’s life or thrown out all together. Or, if the thought experiment is really good and/or really precise, so that such principle(s) can be augmented for a given context. This process is so important I have a hard time imagining too many philosophers disagreeing with the usefulness of thought experiments (though many will reject the validity of various ones on varying grounds).

The reason I bring this up is because of Michael Hartwell’s post about utilitarianism from a couple of months ago. I have already responded to the bulk of what he had to say, so that can stand for itself where it is. However, I only briefly touched on one aspect of what he said and I want to address that now. Here is the relevant portion:

Of course, it’s never that simple in real life. These fables (thought experiments) assume godlike knowledge of the situation. What if the cave was only going to flood knee-deep levels and there were small holes to breath from? What if the five people on the train tracks weren’t oblivious to the train or were planting a bomb?

They also assume a dichotomy of actions. Do nothing, or kill. There’s no option to swim out of the cave, wait for rescuers or warn the people on the tracks.

There are two major issues with this. First, Michael is attempting to apply the idea of thought experiments specifically to utilitarianism. I have little doubt that he knows that there are plenty of other thought experiments which are used for other ethical theories, but none-the-less, he is applying certain ones solely to utilitarianism. That is, in his post he references the Trolley Problem as if it is a utilitarianism center-piece, a bit of logical exploration which is unique or primary to that ethical framework. He is wholly wrong to do this.

The Trolley Example is used by a number of ethical theories in order to arrive at particular moral answers. Libertarian Judith Jarvis Thomson famously extended the problem and concluded, as she often does, that there is a right to not be unjustly harmed. That had little to nothing to do with utilitarianism. There are dozens of other uber-famous thought experiments people of all ethical persuasions use. People may design their scenarios with a particular framework in mind, but nothing stops any other philosopher from applying entirely different ideas to them.

Second, the whole point of a thought experiment is to present a scenario with controlled parameters. The goal is to unveil a principle behind the reasoning for a position. (This is especially important when a given position is intuitive but has no good underlying principle from the viewpoint of the thinker.) It may be of interest to ask something like, Is it moral to take a risk when the negative consequence is significant? Does the positive consequence need to be equal? Bigger? But that is still searching for underlying principles – and it is still doing so with controlled parameters. That is, even if there is a factor of randomness thrown into a scenario in an effort to better mimic real life – “There is a 5% chance everything will be fine if you do X instead of Y” – it is still controlled.

A good thought experiment gives enough information to illicit a certain type of response. In the traditional trolley example, it’s you, a lever, and a few people scattered across a couple of tracks whilst unable to communicate with you and certain to die or live given your choices. That gets at particular principles of right and wrong. If we were to change the experiment to say that there was a small chance that the people on one track turn around in time and survive whereas there was no chance the person on the other track would turn around in time, we would shift the focus from principles to risk/reward analysis, getting into a much more subjective area of human psychology. That could help us in real life, but only insofar as we find ourselves in similar enough situations – which is unlikely. That’s fine if that’s the type of response one wants, but it doesn’t do much to illustrate principles – at least not in the way the original Trolley Problem does.

I’ve written a few times about thought experiments in philosophy. I’ve never been that extensive on their importance because I just sort of assumed people recognized how useful they are. But I guess I know what happens when I assume:

And if it was all true…

Cee-Lo Green, an artist who I think has a pretty good voice, took a big poop all over John Lennon’s “Imagine” during one of those awful New Year’s Eve shows. Instead of saying, “Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too”, he opted to say, “Nothing to kill or die for, and all religion’s true”. So let’s imagine what that means:

You’ve got Muhammad and Quetzalcoatl fighting the Titans in Valhalla while Vishnu commands the Taurus bull. The Galatic Overlord Xenu is dodging djinns and Anubis to tempt Jesus in the desert before he breeds with giant Aryan women to bring them down to size. Who’s in charge here, Ra, Jehovah, Zeus or Taiyang Shen? Can the light side of the force prevent Cthulhu from bringing Ragnarök to the world, which is made from the dead dragon Tiamat, or will the ancestral spirits and great mother turtle have to create a new one. Do faeries have chakras?

It’s going to take an eternity to sort all of this out.