I just read a column by David Brooks of the New York Times lamenting the lack of thinking behind much of what passes for for political debate and opinion these days. he cites evidence of this mental laziness in other contexts as well, such as advertising. Here is his column which is syndicated in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

                 I very much agree with him but would dispute some of his examples. But those are not the subject of this debate. Coincidentally Reg Henry, a P-G columnist, covers similar ground in his regular Wednesday commentary, albeit tinged with humor as is his trademark.


               The overlapping conclusion from these two columns is that people adopt beliefs without thought, possibly in reaction to fear and surely because they expose themselves to extremely limited viewpoints, and are propagandized to utterly dismiss any reasoned argument, or even the truth, emanating from their demonized “enemies”

           I previously addressed comments made to blogs or other opinion pieces that largely expose a predisposition to one side or the other, ignoring any evidence to the contrary. And I also blogged on the Ground Zero Mosque controversy.

            You will find a letter to the editor of the P-G, from me, and a string of comments, some from me, in response to my letter. I thought my letter was clever and succinct, making my point in thousands fewer words than I usually utilize. the letter was called stupid and worse, in my opinion because the commentators did not understand the entire notion of a reductio ad absurdum. And to me also, those naysayers had predisposed beliefs and were unwilling to think through something different.

        I admit I got somewhat caught up in the less civilized aspects of commentary but was frustrated due to what I feel is the unthinking or non-thinking expressed by others. perhaps it is not a perfect example for this theme, but I believe certain aspects are apropos.

                      My Letter

Charles Krauthammer, in the great tradition of the pedantic and narrow-minded, offers his lame rationalization for applying our magnificent U.S. Constitution to only those rightfully claiming purity of heart “A Mosque Does Not Belong Near Ground Zero,” (Aug. 14).

His objection to the mosque to be built in lower Manhattan has no substance and would appall the Founding Fathers. His suggestion that a religion bow to an arbitrary determination that a location is hallowed or sacred ground would lead to the reductio ad absurdum of banning Catholic edifices near schools, Jewish worship centers near pork barbecue restaurants deemed holy by foodies and Mormon temples near the caffeine-addled’s sanctified premises of Starbucks.

Morgantown, W. Va.

Comments 16Add Comment


written by boldart, August 18, 2010 – 11:13 AM
Typical “bull in a china shop” conservative mentality.

We saw this same dumb conservative thinking at the outset of the Iraq war when Cheney and Rumsfeld ridiculed France and Germany for their opposition to the war.

As it turned out, the French and Germans were right, it was Cheney and Rumsfeld who were wrong.


Night Shift

written by Night Shift, August 18, 2010 – 10:56 PM
Krauthammer is a complete political hack. I try not say such things, but he is sharpened to such a painful point of ideology that I can not help myself. I apologize for calling him a hack, but man the shoe is really fitting on this one….

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Night Shift

written by Night Shift, August 18, 2010 – 11:00 PM
Oh and I loved the letter writer’s comment about banning pork barbeque shacks near synagogues. Good funny stuff.


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written by PghGirl412, August 19, 2010 – 11:02 AM
If there really is such a word as “wrongheaded” (as opposed to a ridiculously stupid & totally made up PC-ism), it would perfectly describe the guy who wrote this letter. Does he have ANY idea what an analogy actually is?

I don’t read Krauthammer & am not defending his column in any way but this letter is REALLY dumb. Most of America feels that Ground Zero is sacred land. Is this idiot actually comparing ground zero to BBQ joints & Starbucks? If so, it makes him an ignorant jerk but doesn’t make any other point.


written by PghGirl412, August 19, 2010 – 11:10 AM
FYI Mr. Hammond

When Catholic nuns built a convent near Auschwitz, Jews were offended so the Church moved closed the convent. Catholics were treated the same as Jews by the Nazi’s, including the persecution & millions murdered simply for being Catholic, thus had just as much right to be there as Jews or anyone else. Yet the Church respected the pain of others & did what was best for EVERYONE. They didn’t debate the issue by playing the victim card (even though they had a far more legit claim to it than the group building this mosque complex).

Now that you’ve been introduced to an actual analogy, are you going to make some kind of stupid joke about how maybe they can make that old convent into a BBQ joint if only the Jews would stop their whining & get a grip?

If so, it would be just as insensitive as your letter but at least be relevant to the discussion.


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written by Sparky, August 19, 2010 – 07:15 PM
Muslims died on 9 11 in the towers too, American citizens, working there. And if this is a “holy site”, what would be more correct than a church, or a mosque? It’s two blocks away!!!!

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written by wayfarer74, August 20, 2010 – 10:35 AM
PghGirl – It is worth reading…87555.html about how we are all victims of 9-11. That is, while we remain angered, upset, and torn-apart, opposing the building a mosque is a misplaced gut reaction, fearing that some have forgotten the tragedy of that day. We have not.

Ostroy writes “the fear-mongering that goes along with all the incendiary political rhetoric being tossed around, conjures up memories of Japanese internment camps, McCarthyism, the KKK and other ugly chapters in U.S. history. Terrorists attacked us on 9/11, not the Muslim faith.”

As for Auschwitz it is not a good analogy. The convent was inside the former concentration camp and through negotiation on both sides, it was moved so that the entire Auschwitz camp would become a memorial site. The NYC mosque is being built in a commercial district with bars, restaurants, shops, and, even, strip clubs – which is hardly sacred ground.

While I sometimes think all religious institutions are a waste of space, I also recognize the in America the freedom of religion is only a right if it is afforded to all. The proposed mosque is just a mosque — no more, no less.


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written by PghGirl412, August 20, 2010 – 11:38 AM
Wayfarer, I understand what you’re saying but still disagree for a couple of reasons.

The Auschwitz analogy is actually a great one. That convent was a symbol of the Catholic martyrs & a testament to the unwavering faith of the Catholics, thus very emotionally important to Catholics in the area. Yet it was forced out by other victims’ groups. Despite the time, expense & emotional investment, the Church selflessly abandoned their work in the area in order to be part of a memorial that made everyone happy.

Everyone should be capable of mutual respect & compromise for the greater good, not just Christians. Why is that too much to ask of Muslims? It’s not, especially since this is a religious group that claims to want to embrace & welcome the community.

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written by PghGirl412, August 20, 2010 – 12:00 PM
Whoops, stopped too soon. The other reasons:

1. Many American Muslims oppose it for the same reasons as the non-Muslim opponents. Look into it. The media isn’t parading Muslim opponents around like they are supporters but many prominent American Muslim leaders, scholars and respected Muslim organizations (national & international) totally oppose it. Their criticism of the project is far harsher than anything said by Palin, Gingrich, et al. but the media isn’t giving us that story. They view this as a slap in the face to the country, the victims & their families. They say it’s pouring salt in an open wound. They insist that it goes against the Quran which expressly forbids mischief-making as it is an intentional act of disrespect (they call it Fitna).

2. Much of the opposition comes from the shady background of the project leader & the questionable funding. The specifics would leave this supposedly moderate Imam with egg on his face, so the media instead focuses on all the “xenophobic bigots”. Otherwise, they’d have to investigate & probably wouldn’t like what they find. There are legitimate concerns about ties to terrorism & funding but nobody’s investigating that. Why should they when it’s likely to support many of the opposition claims & cost the project support?

3. There was only 1 house of worship destroyed on 9/11, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. It wasn’t “on” ground zero but was crushed by one of the falling towers. They aren’t allowed to rebuild so how can we justify a mosque when a church isn’t welcome? The church has community rooms & other things for the neighborhood & isn’t just a church for masses so they are the same thing.

4. The project doesn’t even have all the land they need to build in that spot, so why not find another spot anyway, one with sufficient space for the whole project?

I’ve posted many facts about this project under other letters but in this particular letter, my response was that even if I supported the project, this letter is so idiotic I’d still have to pan it.

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written by wayfarer74, August 20, 2010 – 05:21 PM
This is the first I had heard of the Greek Church, but a quick Google search turned up a 2009 story in the NYT (…hurch.html) detailing a complex mess of promises and deals. Basically, the site the church wanted had already been chosen for a massive underground bomb-screening center for cars, buses and trucks, which complicated the construction. If they had chosen to build in an old Burlington Coat Factory, 2 blocks north of the site, the Church would most likely be there today. The fact that there is no memorial on the Ground Zero site tells me that NYC politics is convoluted and byzantine, but not that there some kind of hidden agenda. The same Google search came up with a bunch of recent Fox News stories that left all the details of what is a very complex issue.

The anger from the far right seems not unlike the other fearmongers that put Japanese-Americans in camps in WWII. To assume that Mosque is an obvious affront to American ideals, I think is mistaken. Does it worry you that Muslims pray every day in a Pentagon itself, just 80 feet from the DC attack site?

Like Mr. Hammond, I think the Founding Fathers were very clear about religious liberty. In fact, just today, a large swath of religious leaders in Southern California signed a joint statement supporting the Mosque in that location. Time magazine found the same inter-faith support. I can’t find the Muslim opposition that you mentioned beyond maybe Miss America.

But, perhaps the one point we can agree upon is that an interfaith dialog might be useful to resolve this issue. However, one must keep in mind that minority rights should never be open to a vote. To move the Mosque at this point, given the real hysteria from the right, would send a message that religious freedom has to be earned, which is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

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written by UMOC, August 21, 2010 – 09:44 AM
Mygirl may know what an analogy is, but she obviously does not understand a reductio ad absurdum that Hammond cites. It is a device to disprove a proposition by extending it so far to an extreme logical conclusion as to make it absurd.
Of course the “analogies” re: pork bbq and Starbucks are ridiculous. That, apparently is exactly the point.
As the proposed mosque is not purely a mosque nor is not at ground zero and there has been Muslim prayer going on at the site for quite some time, how is the establishment of a community center with accommodations for prayer from all faiths (which, incidentally, almost all airports and hospitals provide) an affront to the memory of those who died on 9/11? Those dead numbered, Christians, Jews and Muslims among them and probably followers of other faiths, too.
But any rationale for opposition is irrelevant once the constitutional question is answered.
And speaking of poor analogies, the one about the nuns at Auschwitz is no analogy at all. That case does not involve the U.S. Constitution. And it was the Catholic Church which decided to move the convent, not any government action.
And that whole thing took place in Europe. We wouldn’t want to be like the Europeans, god forbid!!!! (Another constant complaint of the far right about Obama’s intentions)
This entire issue is a contrivance of the far right and their FoxNews mouthpieces. Its timing can mean nothing more than trying to influence voters through fear tactics. They and all others who oppose this edifice for all the idiotic resaons given are reprehensible and should be ashamed of themselves.
What is also interesting is the loud Tea Party voices against the mosque, when one of their primary complaints about Obamsa has been that he has taken away their freedoms, thier constitutional rights. Well, what’s good for the goose is good for th gander.

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written by PghGirl412, August 23, 2010 – 08:55 AM
UMOC “Mygirl may know what an analogy is, but she obviously does not understand a reductio ad absurdum that Hammond cites. It is a device to disprove a proposition by extending it so far to an extreme logical conclusion as to make it absurd.

Of course the “analogies” re: pork bbq and Starbucks are ridiculous. That, apparently is exactly the point.”

Sorry, UMOC, but your logic is way off. The simple fact that Hammond’s analogies are absurd doesn’t make a rational point. If that were the case, any irrationality would be a perfect rebuttal to any logical point & we both know that’s not so. By your “logic”, we could disprove anything in any argument simply by making any old completely irrelevant comparison.

For reduction ad absurdum, the only possible choices are true & false. Any other possibilities make it a logical fallacy — which would be the case here IF the proof had been properly utilized, but it’s been misused so that doesn’t apply. He doesn’t use the proof correctly because no BBQ restaurant is revered so much to be equal to ground zero in our culture.

It’s a juvenile & condescending comparison meant to insult people who feel a certain way about the site of the attack, nothing more. It is also meaningless because it’s totally irrelevant.

Sorry, but you can’t rationalize away “stupid” by pretending it’s some sophisticated argument that the critics just can’t grasp.


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written by UMOC, August 23, 2010 – 09:13 PM
Well, your characterization as a reductio ad absurdum as strictly a choice between true and false is not so. I’ve long been a fan of that type argument and since the subject letter used it, I checked some references. Here are the links to Wikipedia and The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The latter article, coincidentally, was authored by a Pitt professor.

The very point of the argument is that the absurd conclusions reached will put the lie to the original proposition itself. And the example does not claim there is such a revered barbecue joint, just that an arbitrary reverence can be attached to anything by an individual or group. And those practicing that reverence could object to placing an edifice near their “sacred site” that would violate that reverence. Very simple, not stupid, though possibly absurd as an example, but that is the essence of the……..
Oh, what the heck. You don’t listen to logic. You don’t, apparently have reverence for our constitution nor understand our laws. You irrationally hate an entity you allege preaches hate, and you completely ignore the facts of the matter, including the realtor’s mantra of location, location, location. Nothing is being built at “Ground Zero” by any Islamic group. Get over it. You may not be stupid but narrow-mindedness is voluntary.

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written by PghGirl412, August 24, 2010 – 09:25 AM
wayfarer74 – While the link you posted to that NYT article offered some insight, it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story & your comments allude that the article gives all the innocent facts while recent Fox News stories twist them to blow this out of proportion. I can’t speak to the Fox coverage, not having seen it but the links below from reliable sources tell the story of this church getting shafted, without a doubt.

The church (and everything else in the area) would be constructed over an underground bomb-screening center. As such, the NY/NJ Port Authority is responsible for blast-proof foundation & flooring for all those structures. The additional $40-$60 M the PA offered to the church, as reported by various media organizations, is a total fallacy. That money will be spent to protect MULTIPLE buildings atop the bomb screening area, not just the church.

Building the church will cost $30 M. The PA pledged $10 M in return for the church ceding their original land to the ground zero memorial. Seems pretty fair.

Another $10M was supposed to come from JP Morgan Chase, who planned to build offices next door to the church & the church itself was raising the final $10 M.

The owners of the WTC site even stepped in to help simplify the deal between the PA & the church by offering a flat $20M for the original site.

The diocese & the Port Authority reached a deal in 2008.

But shortly before work began on the church, JP Morgan Chase took over Bear Sterns nearby offices, cancelling their plans for the tower. Suddenly, the PA was on the hook for Chase’s $10 M, for a total of $20M, as part of the original agreement. Also, the PA now has this juicy piece of land to sell & the value would decrease considerably with the church on it. That’s when PA began ignoring the church & eventually reported to the media that the deal was cancelled, much to the surprise & disappointment of the diocese.

This is a very simple case of the little guy getting shafted by big government but it’s just that much worse because it’s a house of worship. To characterize this story as innocent or the church’s fault or twisted by conservatives is a total misrepresentation of the facts.

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written by PghGirl412, August 24, 2010 – 09:34 AM
UMOC – The very first paragraph of the Wikipedia definition states that if there are other possible choices besides true & false, use of this proof is a logical fallacy. The letter isn’t using that form of argument, it’s just a poorly written letter with bad analogies. Or, if the writer was using that form of argument, he didn’t do it properly.

I don’t normally count Wikipedia as a reliable source but since you supplied it, please take note that your source agrees with my point & disagrees with yours.

I’ve studied logic & know enough to hold my own. We’ll have to agree to disagree here because I’m certainly not going to debate such a black & white issue – especially when my opponent’s own evidence supports me.

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written by UMOC, August 25, 2010 – 04:51 PM
pghgirl, in reading Wikipedia, you totally ignored the first paragraph which describes precisely the method used to refute Krauthammer in the subject letter.
Reductio ad absurdum (Latin: “reduction to the absurd”) is a form of argument in which a proposition is disproven by following its implications logically to an absurd consequence.[1]

The bbq joint example is absurd, but it does follow logically, if to an extreme, Krauthammer’s contention that if people are offended by the placement of an edifice in proximity to a site held sacred by those people, the edifice should not be built. That is the very nature of a reductio ad absurdum, at least for our purposes. That device has a number of variations, particularly in mathematics, but also in philosophy.
I, too have studied philosophy, including logic. Your claim that an example meant to be extreme and an absurdity is too stupid and thus not absurd is illogical and an absurdity itself.
And you have totally ignored the threshhold question as to whether constitutional issues control, no matter what people may “feel”
By the way, FoxNews folks use as one of their arguments against the mosque that some of its funding comes from a nefarious figure allegedly involved in financing terrorism. They neglect to add that this figure, Alwaleed bin Talal, also happens to be the largest minority shareholder in News Corp, the parent of FoxNews. Ah, so they are correct that he funds terrorists.

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