Alablawg

Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Another Thing I Like About Blogging

Is that it forces you to at least try and be consistent. You're putting stuff in print, for people to read, so you ought to try to treat like things alike.

That said, I've struggled with two recent posts. I like the results of each, but I fear I may have embraced conflicting rationales to reach those results.

In one, I approvingly quote a story that probably is an ad hominem attack on Jeff Sessions. In the other post, I disapproved of a story largely because I thought it was an ad-hominem attack against atheists and Intelligent Design opponents; it did no more than state that noted holocaust denier Larry Darby is also an atheist and Intelligent Design opponent. So am I a hypocrite? One who hides petty personal choices behind high sounding principles?

Here is my theory. Ad hominem attacks are sometimes valid. Suppose, for example, the plaintiff calls a witness to the stand in a lawsuit over a car crash. The witness testifies that the defendant ran a red light when he hit the plaintiff. The defendant then wants to tell the jury that the witness frequently and savagely beats her dog.

That is an ad hominem attack on the witness, no doubt. Should it be allowed? No, because it tells us nothing about the facts at issue. It has no apparent relevance to the case.

What if the defendant wants to tell the jury that the witness has been convicted of perjury? Should it be allowed? Well, it's an ad hominem attack, but it also tells us quite a bit about the trustworthiness of the witness.

In my mind, the Darby story is like the first situation. That Darby denies the Holocaust has no apparent relevance to atheism or opposing ID in science classes. Putting the three together, with no argument what-so-ever, was a pure smear job against atheists and ID opponents.

The Sessions story is like the second situation. Sessions has an abysmal history on racial issues. So, when he stands up to 'testify' about the horrors of immigration -legal or illegal - my reaction is consider the source. Because he is who he is, I do not trust anything he says on racial matters. He has no credibility.

That's my justification, anyway.