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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Fighting Fair

Something for which I am always grateful is that discussions here at treppenwitz tend to remain quite civil, even when potentially incendiary topics are discussed.  I have a bunch of theories as to why I've (we've) been so lucky, but I'm pretty sure it boils down to a few basic factors:

1.  First and foremost, I try to limit the number of overtly political topics I introduce here.   I don't enjoy constantly discussing politics any more than I enjoy the idea of constantly discussing hair loss.  Both topics are inexorably tied up with my life... but I don't have to allow them to dominate or define me.

2.  I try very hard not to speak/write in absolutes.  If I've learned nothing else in my 44 years of life, I've learned that there are very few black or white absolutes in the world.  Let's just say I've made my peace with shades of light and dark gray.

3.  I try very hard to write (and sometimes revise) my posts so as to leave open the possibility that there are other points of view worthy of consideration.  Even when I am quite sure of my position, I have found that I learn far more from (and about) others when I leave room for their opinions.  Simply put, if I leave the door open, someone is more likely to walk through it than try to break it down.

4.  I try to encourage those who comment on treppenwitz to address themselves to the opinions being discussed rather than the people expressing the opinions.  This is the most basic form of intellectual honesty and it feels good being on both the giving and receiving end of such honest treatment.

5.  While this isn't a debating society (by any stretch of the imagination), I do try to encourage (sometimes with a little behind the scenes arm-twisting) some semblance of fair tactics when arguments arise.  Chief among the tactics that I will not allow here is the introduction of deliberately flawed logic / 'straw man' arguments.

Nearly everyone instinctively recognizes fallacious logic when we encounter it, but many may not be familiar with the terminology.  For example there is a straw man argument which is "a rhetorical technique (also classified as a logical fallacy) based on misrepresenting an opponent's position". (i) 

A good example was offered in a comment on yesterday's post:

"If almost everyone in Israel serves in the military, and the military trains people to turn off their conscience and become mindless automatons, doesn't that create a fascist or totalitarisn [sic] society?"

Besides being a classic 'Are you still beating your wife?' type question intended to put the opponent (me) hopelessly on the defensive, what the commenter is really doing is taking a weak and unsubstantiated supposition that "... almost everyone in Israel serves in the military" (far from true), combining it with a weakened and deliberately distorted aspect of the topic we were discussing; "... the military trains people to turn off their conscience and become mindless automatons" (we were discussing the mental conditioning that is required of effective soldiers), and then presenting her bright-eyed conclusion; "... doesn't that create a fascist and totalitarian society?"


In a comment she left on an earlier post she used similar logical fallacies to present her 'facts' and again drew a fatally flawed and illogical conclusion:

Example 2:

"Correct me if I'm wrong--but didn't suicide bombings increase as Israeli presence in the West Bank increased? The settlements grew during the 90s, the by-pass roads grew, finally the second intifada erupted and then you had lots of suicide bombings..."

Let's leave aside for a moment that the comment had nothing whatsoever to do with the topic of the post.  Here she isn't so much attacking my position (since we weren't discussing suicide bombers) but rather she is setting up the case that suicide bombings were a direct result of Israeli settlement activity, and she bases this on unrelated factoids that are true, but only within very narrow context. 

She states that the settlements increased in the 90s (true, but it ignores the fact that settlement activity was fairly constant throughout the 80s, 70s and late 60s as well).  She points an accusatory finger at the bypass roads as if they were an attack on the Palestinians rather than a way to minimize the exposure of Israeli traffic to the nearly constant attacks they had encountered while traveling the existing roads through or near Palestinian towns.  Then she connect the dots by saying "... finally the second intifada erupted and then you had lots of suicide bombings...".

Ah yes... if only life were so simple.  The second intifada spontaneously "erupted"... and suddenly there were "lots of suicide bombings". Why not mention Sharon's visit to the Temple mount, Palestinian dissatisfaction with the terms of the Oslo accords, or even sun spot activity, all of which occurred around the same time and had equally little to do with "lots of suicide bombings"?

So, while the overwhelming majority of you play nice whenever you come here, I wanted to write a post to which I could link whenever someone decides to employ deliberately fallacious logic to grind an ax or further an agenda.  This is that post... and here is the logo/link I will be putting up on my site as a constant reminder to fight fair.

(feel free to lift it)

Update:  A sharp-eyed reader pointed out a similarly flawed tidbit from this same commenter's web site:

"A footnote to yesterday's post: I googled Elie Wiesel to find out if there is anyone besides myself who thinks this man is an ass. I discovered that not only am I not alone, but there is some evidence Wiesel may also be a fraud. Apparently, it's not clear that he was actually in the camps he claims he was in. Evidently honesty is not a criterion for choosing guest Op-Ed writers for the [New York] Times." (ii)

Oh my... I wish I had a time to parse that one.

(i) Source

(ii) Source

More info on straw man arguments and other logical fallacies.


Posted by David Bogner on November 30, 2005 | Permalink


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Hi David,

Nicely said - but I don't think that the person to whom you refer is capable (or perhaps "willing" is the better word) of understanding your point.

Posted by: Lisa | Nov 30, 2005 1:46:48 PM

I think the word you're looking for is "troll" not "straw-man". (And you have experience with the former!)

Check out this post of Chayyei Sarah's:


And the comments:


Posted by: Dave | Nov 30, 2005 1:56:42 PM

Lisa... She isn't the intended audience for the lesson... only the object of it. This topic was as much for myself as anyone else. I don't always conduct myself the way I'd like and having a reminder like this will (hopefully) be helpful. I will be putting the 'no straw man' logo in my side-bar later today and will link it to this post. Whenever things get out of hand or anyone tries to argue dishonestly, I am hoping a quick reference to this post will be all that is necessary to get things back on track.

Dave... True, I've had some trolls (and this lady might even qualify for that title), but putting up one of those catchy 'no-trolls' logos is not really going to address the issues of not fighting fair. If you call someone a troll you are simultaneously making a subjective judgement about them and excluding them from the discussion. In most cases I am not ready to do that. Pointing out to someone that they are using flawed logic is not subjective, and if done correctly does not need to exclude them from the rest of the discussion. I may not like this woman's politics (I mean really... she thinks the NY Times is a Zionist rag!), but it doesn't mean I can't learn anything from her.

Posted by: David | Nov 30, 2005 2:06:41 PM

Well, I stick with my troll call - posting such inflammatory material in Israeli blogs seems like a good fit.

But I think a better term for her may be "sock puppet" - someone who posts from different names. Since many trolls do that regularly, I sort of included lumped that aspect into the general definition of troll.

Posted by: Dave | Nov 30, 2005 3:02:05 PM

No Straw Man logo looks a lot like a no fighting teddy bear.

Posted by: lisoosh | Nov 30, 2005 3:23:05 PM

Trep, I love you, Man!!
You are the best.

I have been sick for a couple of days and have not read your blog since last week. I log on today to find these gems of posts!

You are the best!!

Posted by: NN | Nov 30, 2005 3:45:40 PM

Trolls always remind me of this story:

Three Billy Goats Gruff

Nice graphic, I like it.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 30, 2005 4:19:46 PM

I tried to lift it but it was too heavy Dave. It's good to know that baldness does not te your life...have you been using Rogain? Just checking...

Posted by: Jewish Blogmeister | Nov 30, 2005 4:22:43 PM

About a year ago you mentioned me as one of a few folk that could probably kick your butt in a political discussion (or something close to that). Yesterday I sat on the sidelines and was in total awe of your ability to pick apart folks reasoning (or non-reasoning, as the case may be). I wanted to stand up and cheer, by the way, but my family was already looking at me oddly after hearing me exclaim several times, "I can't believe he/she said that!" and "Way to go, D-man!"

I'm not in your class, David, not even in your league! You're batting a thousand in the Majors while I'm still in Little League. :)

Posted by: jennifer | Nov 30, 2005 5:42:35 PM

She seems to insist on confusing correlation with causation. But even the correlations she comes up with seem weak.

Posted by: Joanne | Nov 30, 2005 9:03:01 PM

UUGGHH! I finally understand why so many people have their heads in the sand and prefer to chat about shallow and superficial topics like hair and shoes. I can’t absorb any more of these character assassinations, the mud slinging and the spinning of the wheels. Calgon, take me away! Please.

And btw, David, thanks for laying it all out and keeping it fair.

Posted by: jaime | Nov 30, 2005 9:04:41 PM

At first I thought that the commenter you mentioned wasn't necessarily creating strawmen, but just honestly believed the conditions she was setting up for her arguments.

But puttin' tha hate on Elie Wiesel??? Why not crucify Mother Theresa and then go kick some puppies?

Posted by: Ralphie | Nov 30, 2005 10:18:22 PM

Dave... I've read through a good bit of her blog and she is quite clearly not even pretending to be impartial. But I think nomenclature is moot in in her case. She clearly followed a link my site... spilled her bile and got back on her broomstick. I doubt she will be back so I'm going to simply give her a mental thank-you for offering such a clear-cut example for future readers.

Lisoosh... OK, so now you're an art critic? I pulled that logo together in about 10 minutes (my wife is rolling her eyes behind me), so give me a break! :-)

NN... Sorry to hear you've been under the weather. It's a good thing you're back... my head was just about down to a size that was able to fit through the doorway! :-)

Jack... thanks (are you paying attention Lisoosh? some people like my artwork!!!)

Jewish Blogmiester... All those comedians out of work and you're telling jokes? It doesn't seem right! :-)

Jennifer... I'm surprised you remember that remark! :-) Actually, I had a lot of help in arguing this particular point... especially from an unlikely ally. But not to worry, Lisoosh has assured me that I shouldn't get used to her unwavering support. :-)

Jaime... It does wear a person out, doesn't it? That's the hardest part for me. When someone wants to take a different position it doesn't bother me that much. But when someone starts out in attack mode, it pushes me down into a deep hole that is so tiring to dig my way out of. The frustrating part is these attack artists rarely stick around to read or listen to the well reasoned reply... they are off spreading the love elsewhere.

Ralphie... Just as there are few absolutes in the world, there are few, if any, saints. We tend to put Ellie Wiesel up on the kind of pedestal you described... but that is what makes such icons so ripe for attack. I'd rather the world thought of him as human and fallible so that he wouldn't be such an easy target.

Posted by: David | Nov 30, 2005 10:29:59 PM

And here I was hoping that that link she followed would actually attract some *positive* feedback. Quel fool am I...

Posted by: Lisa | Dec 1, 2005 1:11:48 AM

So much for "debate." I asked two questions in my comments, neither of which were answered, much less argued with using facts and evidence, by any of you above. Instead you just flung a lot of insults at me. Evidently this blog is just a party where people sit around agreeing with each other. Why are you afraid of a discussion in which different points of view are discussed?

Posted by: Elizabeth | Dec 1, 2005 2:15:12 AM


Even if I give you the benefit of the doubt and accept that you asked genuine questions the manner and method were questionable.

So I went to your blog to see what was there and I found a ton of propaganda and claims that anything that disagreed with your POV was propaganda.

Furthermore the comments about Elie Wiesel are just foolish and the kind of thing that usually comes from people who wear jackboots or wish that they could.

Now it is possible that I have completely misjudged you and my response may be out of line. But in this posthere David correctly questioned what your comment had to do with the post.

When you look at that, your other comment and the meat of your blog it is hard not to believe that you have an axe to grind and an agenda that you want served.

If you really want to engage in dialogue then you might want to reconsider your approach.

Anyway, this isn't my show to run so there may well be some very different opinions.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 1, 2005 9:15:49 AM

Elizabeth- David seemed to deal fairly with both your points. What sort of answers were you looking for, exactly?

Further, calling Elie Wiesel a "fraud" isn't going to get you many Israeli or Jewish sparring partners for serious debate from the right or the left (many of whom read this blog) So, should we conclude that you are not seeking debate at all?

Posted by: PP | Dec 1, 2005 9:25:58 AM

Lisa... I don't need to tell you that without at least a small shred of common ground there is no room for a meeting of the minds. This woman sees all Israelis/Jews as monsters (much the way some Jews view all Arabs) and so she views the world from that vantage point. You and I know that Israel has a right to exist, but that doesn't mean I have to be the one to wear myself out trying to convince 'Elizabeth' of that fact.

Elizabeth... Placing a question mark at the end of a rude accusation does not make it a question.

I can't tell you how to conduct yourself in your travels around the web, but here at treppenwitz I would ask that you try to pretend that you are at a cocktail party among a diverse group of strangers. Such a setting is not appropriate for the overly familiar tone and content of the 'ice breaker' you tossed out, the result of which was that everyone at the party simply took an embarrassed moment to stare into their drinks and pretend they hadn't heard you.

You are mistaken about a great many things, first among them that everyone agrees with one another here. I would say that the only thing we all agree on is that each of us has something worthwhile to add to the discussion. By tossing out accusations (not questions) the way you did, you placed yourself apart from the group... not the other way around.

I have read through a bit of your archives and am fairly certain I understand your agenda. You call yourself 'a former journalist' but you do not provide any of the internal documentation or source referencing that is essential to journalistic integrity. You have built a blog around the admirable goal of fisking the NY times, yet you do so by constantly making unsubstantiated and slanderous statements about Israelis/Jews - both as individuals and as a group.

You dance around the edges of holocaust denial by impugning Ellie Weisel's personal history and you use words like "refreshing' to describe your impressions of the film 'Paradise Now'. In fact, the single thing you seem to have been bothered by in this thought-provoking film is that a reviewer made it seem as though the Palestinian Taxi driver's reference to Israelis poisoning Palestinian wells was simply an urban legend.

Here's is the quote of your single reservation about the film:

"Holden describes the taxi driver's remarks as being on the level of an old wives' tale or urban legend...I don't speak Arabic fluently and I speak almost no Hebrew, but if I remember the scene correctly the driver was a Palestinian, and of course, there have been attempts by the Jewish settlers to poison Palestinian livestock and perhaps the drinking water as well...it makes one wonder how closely Holden was watching the film, and how naive he must be to think that a determined enemy would never actually poison drinking water."

Let's forget the fact that you provided no documentation... no citation of tests done on poisoned drinking water... no links to news stories of Palestinian villages whose populations or livestock had been poisoned. You missed the point (at least as I understand it) that the mention of poisoned wells by an 'everymen' character like a taxi driver is supposed to demonstrate how widespread the distrust of Israelis is among the Palestinians. What you have done, Elizabeth (or Anne, or whatever name you are hiding behind today) is called spreading a blood libel. The only possible defense you can make for such a statement is that your readership is so small that you might reasonably make the claim that you didn't expect anyone to read it.

Getting back to your confusion as to why nobody responded to your 'questions'. You are not entitled to a reasoned defense of Israel's right to exist within the family of nations... yet, your two brief 'questions' seem to demand exactly that.

Ask me "are you still beating your wife' ( a question for which both a 'yes' and 'no' answer would be equally damning), and I will simply stare at you and wonder where you got the idea that I abuse my wife. Ask me about my realtionship with my wife and I might be more inclined to share.

If you want to run your racist little site and provide 'a former journalist's critique' of the New York Times, at least pretend to bring a bit of the window dressing of the journalist's trade to the task. A little documentation... an occasional attribution... perhaps even a link to a reliable source supporting your libels and slanders. That's not asking so much, is it?

Posted by: David | Dec 1, 2005 9:36:28 AM

i saw the original posting and about 5 comments two days ago. i just opened now and i guess i missed a lot.
i don't comment that often - but it is no secret that i am moderately left.
elizabeth you really are either
a. a bit underinformed
b. tremendously biased (as some of the others have pointed out)

scratch the surface here in israel and despite secrecy - you could not possibly keep things totally secret. (the name of the soldier last week that killed 4 hizbollah infiltrators for example would not have been a secret even if the papers did not reveal it)
israel is one of the farthest from a totalitarian society.
what irks me is that many from the right make assumptions about the zionist left without any basis. i don't have much time to elaborate but this has been my personal experience as well as my children's.
many (most?) in the religious community (i am part of that too) makes automatic assumptions about the entire religious zionist community regarding their politics. as if the entire religious community had no difference of opinions. (at times you would think that the only disagreement is - who was better kahan or goldstein - there you go a straw man).
so just blowing off some steam.
of course the left can be its own worst enemy in rejecting centrist and even moderate left people too.
on halacha and the army, my son was involved in something on shabbat(no details). at the time he questioned wether it was appropriate - was not given a good answer, went along with the chillul shabbat and then asked his roshei yeshiva what he should have done (what the army should have done).
the matter was taken very seriously and he received some phone calls from some very high officers to clarify the situation.
but basically that is the way to go - question if the action is necessary and then go along with it. and then question outside authorities afterwards.
in the end it was considered to be a judgment call by the officers on the scene - but surely next time something similar comes up these officers will at least think again regarding shabbat.

Posted by: kobi | Dec 1, 2005 5:58:41 PM

Well, I'm glad that some of you took the time to look at my blog, but actually I don't think some of you read it very carefully. My blog isn't about Israel, the holocaust, or even foreign policy. It's about the New York Times' claim that it is "All the News That's Fit to Print" and the "newspaper of record," when in fact the Times has a very definite point of view and publishes some stories and not others. My "agenda" is to point that out.

David, I guess we just have different ideas about what a blog is. I like debate with people who disagree with me. A cocktail party, on the other hand, is where I invite my friends to my house. Some of the people who've commented on my blog I would like to meet; others I would only feel comfortable talking to on the internet...but that doesn't mean I don't like talking to them.

Posted by: Elizabeth | Dec 1, 2005 7:49:31 PM

I'll probably regret this as I think Lisa is right but here goes anyway.

It's not true that no one responded with facts, I did. In fact I responded with more facts than you chose to recognize, such as the fact that not all Israelis serve in the army or that not soldiers are in combat units.
When I pointed out that Israel is not a totalitarian state because it does not fulfill the requirement of being a dictatorship (not to mention having a free press and plenty of opposition to the government - making it the first time someone claimed that Israel lacks opposition) your response was that totalitarian states (such as Nazi Germany) started out as democracies. If I follow that line of reasoning, a country is a totalitarian state because it may some time in the unforseable future become one, I might as well proclaim that all countries are totalitarian states right now and give up thinking.
It is the same fallacious logic, defining a group by its lowest common denominator that both the extreme right and left use to encourage the dehumanization of the other that continues the conflict, encourages violence and prevents a resolution.
"X is a terrorist and a Palestinian and therefore all Palestinians are terrorists."
"Baruch Goldstein was a murderer and Right Wing Settler and therefore all right wing settlers are murderers. Plus, all Right Wing Settlers are Israelis and so all Israelis are murderers."
And lets not forget the Grandaddy of them all:
"Golden Delicious is an apple and a fruit and therefore all fruit are apples."

I'm not sure quite what you wanted to achieve by each of your postings. Do you see yourself as "educating" people who have a different viewpoint and maybe change their minds or do you just want to provoke a response among people you essentially view as the enemy?
If you wanted to add a provocative new idea to a discussion and maybe change some minds or at least get people to rethink their positions, it seems you failed. Maybe you should try a different approach.
If you wanted to provoke an angry response from people you believe to have opposing views to you, then that is perfectly valid, but you can't complain if they then respond angrily, or contemptuously.

Finally, if you really do want to invite open debate and also want to decide the topic and dictate the tone, then I suggest you set up a website or blog and do just that. Post an idea or hypothesis and then invite people from the right and the left to discuss it.

Posted by: lisoosh | Dec 1, 2005 7:50:10 PM

The above was to Elizabeth - who posted just as I did so probably missed it.

Posted by: lisoosh | Dec 1, 2005 8:01:18 PM

Elizabeth... Your statement "My blog isn't about Israel, the holocaust, or even foreign policy. It's about the New York Times' claim that it is "All the News That's Fit to Print" and the "newspaper of record," when in fact the Times has a very definite point of view and publishes some stories and not others.", seems at odds with the statistical weight of the posts on your site. You state that the entire raison d'être of your site is to take the Times to task for advancing a secret agenda by picking and chosing what it prints? Well, hello kettle... pot calling... YOU'RE BLACK! The overwhelming percentage of the posts on you blog deal directly or indirectly with the middle east conflict - specifically how Israel is to blame for everything wrong over here. What's cute is how you even manage to work anti-Israel and anti-Semitic stuff into the posts that aren't even about the middle east! Considering the incredible range of topics the Times covers on a typical day, it's interesting that you always manage to pick and chose the stories that will further your own agenda. I'd love to discuss this further but a bunch of us settlers are going out now to poison the well in the village next door.

Posted by: David | Dec 1, 2005 10:43:45 PM


I don't believe you. I just don't. Your blog, your approach and your manner make your words sound disingenuous.

Now I allow for the chance that I am wrong and maybe we'll learn that this is the case but there is plenty of empirical evidence to suggest otherwise.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 1, 2005 11:14:35 PM

Accuse someone of blood libel and they respond with a quibble about the definition of cocktail party. Definite disconnect.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Dec 2, 2005 2:16:26 AM

If I thought anyone of any substance read this blog on a regular basis, I'd probably be suing some of you for libel--I think it's outrageous that you accuse someone who has different views from you on politics and journalism of believing in a "blood libel" or denying the holocaust. I don't know if any of you are out poisoning Palestinians, but some of you are definitely poisonous people...
Don't worry, I won't be back at this blog. I don't have time to read endless, self-important conversations about nothing or libelous attacks on individuals.

Posted by: Elizabeth | Dec 4, 2005 12:09:54 AM

Lisoosh... Disconnect implies that there was once a connection. :-)

Elizabeth... I actually wish you would reconsider. I'd love to see who a judge and jury think is guilty of libel here... you or me. Not only has nobody libeled or slandered you (as compared with the treatment you regularly give Jews/Israelis on your hatchet job of a blog), but you have been afforded far kinder treatment here than you could expect anywhere else in the Jewish blogosphere after tossing out such inflammatory accusations. BTW, I have taken the liberty of saving all of your archives to disk... y'know, just in case... so lace up your jackboots and send in the lawyers.

Posted by: David | Dec 4, 2005 12:42:51 AM


There is nothing like someone who has nothing to say demonstrating their lack of substance by threatening a lawsuit.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 5, 2005 5:16:03 PM

Decided to randomly peruse some J-blogs I normally don't see... and I loved the fight fair picture (and points), so I'm 'feeling free' to lift it for my own blog (SerandEz). Excellent post, excellent image. Thanks!

Posted by: Ezzie | Dec 9, 2005 11:48:04 AM

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