Patterico's Pontifications

3/19/2009

Points of Agreement on Interpretation

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:32 pm

I’m going to reproduce part of a comment I left at Jeff Goldstein’s site, because I think it’s important to note our points of agreement on issues of interpretation:

1) Interpreters should try to divine the speaker’s true intent.

2) Intent is whatever the speaker meant.

3) The speaker is not necessarily the most reliable interpreter of his own words.

4) It is perfectly justifiable to tailor one’s presentation to suit the audience.

5) If you fail to communicate your position to the audience because you failed to signal your intent properly, you should clarify.

6) Speakers have no responsibility to self-censor to prevent unreasonable and bad faith misinterpretations of their words.

Jeff and I agree on all of this.

The differences, I think, lie in 1) debates over matters of degree in situations where there are no absolutes, and 2) differing interpretations of specific fact patterns.

This hardly seems like earth-shattering stuff, in terms of the applicable principles.

The debate, I think, starts when people try to apply these principles. You can mock hypotheticals, as Jeff repeatedly does, but I happen to think they are valuable for crystallizing the differences between people in an abstract way.

Not everyone agrees; such is life. Don’t want to answer the hypotheticals or consider them? You can move on to the next post. That’s fine with me. Offended by them so much that you hate the blog? That seems like a bizarre reaction, but if it’s yours, you can move on to the next blog.

I have enjoyed the discussions here occasioned by my hypotheticals, joined by people who wish to talk with me in good faith. Those are the people with whom I will continue to speak. I am going to stop talking to others; life is too short to speak with people whom you know are not going to debate you in good faith.

POSTSCRIPT DESIGNED TO DRIVE LAWYER-HATERS ABSOLUTELY INSANE: There is indeed a parallel to be drawn between analyzing intent in language and analyzing intent in criminal law.

Consider the defendant charged with attempted murder, where intent to kill is the issue. The prosecution must prove the defendant’s intent was to kill. The defendant will attempt to raise a reasonable doubt about his intent, by pointing to evidence that his intent was not an intent to kill (or gaps in the prosecution’s evidence on that issue).

Regardless of what the arguments are, his intent was his intent. Either he meant to kill or he didn’t. This intent was fixed at the moment of the act. It cannot be changed by subsequent interpretations. This is like intentionalism: the speaker meant what he meant.

In a courtroom, nobody can know the defendant’s intent with 100% certainty. All the jury can do is strive to learn his intent based on his actions. Often they can reach an interpretation that they are confident is right — and it may be one different from that offered by the actor. The jury might also agree with the defendant’s interpretation, if it appears reasonable in light of the totality of the evidence. And under the law, the actor gets the benefit of any reasonable doubt. If two interpretations are both reasonable, you choose the one that favors the defendant.

This is all true in the realm of interpreting words as well. You can’t ALWAYS trust the speaker’s interpretation. You make the best possible judgment you can based on the information available to you. And you should take the speaker’s intent into account — and if two interpretations are both reasonable, and one is offered by the speaker, you choose the one that favors the speaker’s stated interpretation. This is the principle of charity.

In either process, it’s critical to understand that any interpretation must strive to learn the actor/speaker’s intent. You can’t begin the analysis unless you understand that.

But once you understand that basic point, the real interest lies elsewhere — in how to use the available evidence to interpret intent.

That’s where the rubber meets the road. And that’s what I want to discuss with those of you who are operating in good faith.

There are lots of interesting nooks and crannies there to explore. And as long as I’m interested enough to write about them, and you’re interested enough to read and comment, we’ll explore them. Maybe not for “the rest of our [bleep]ing lives” — but for as long as the discussion remains interesting to the parties in this conversation.

And if it’s not interesting, there’s always going to be a post where I blast Obama and/or the L.A. Times. That’s the bread and butter of this site and I’m not giving it up.

Points of Agreement on Interpretation

Filed under: Crime,General,Humor — Patterico @ 10:32 pm

I’m going to reproduce part of a comment I left at Jeff Goldstein’s site, because I think it’s important to note our points of agreement on issues of interpretation:

1) Interpreters should try to divine the speaker’s true intent.

2) Intent is whatever the speaker meant.

3) The speaker is not necessarily the most reliable interpreter of his own words.

4) It is perfectly justifiable to tailor one’s presentation to suit the audience.

5) If you fail to communicate your position to the audience because you failed to signal your intent properly, you should clarify.

6) Speakers have no responsibility to self-censor to prevent unreasonable and bad faith misinterpretations of their words.

Jeff and I agree on all of this.

The differences, I think, lie in 1) debates over matters of degree in situations where there are no absolutes, and 2) differing interpretations of specific fact patterns.

This hardly seems like earth-shattering stuff, in terms of the applicable principles.

The debate, I think, starts when people try to apply these principles. You can mock hypotheticals, as Jeff repeatedly does, but I happen to think they are valuable for crystallizing the differences between people in an abstract way.

Not everyone agrees; such is life. Don’t want to answer the hypotheticals or consider them? You can move on to the next post. That’s fine with me. Offended by them so much that you hate the blog? That seems like a bizarre reaction, but if it’s yours, you can move on to the next blog.

I have enjoyed the discussions here occasioned by my hypotheticals, joined by people who wish to talk with me in good faith. Those are the people with whom I will continue to speak. I am going to stop talking to others; life is too short to speak with people whom you know are not going to debate you in good faith.

POSTSCRIPT DESIGNED TO DRIVE LAWYER-HATERS ABSOLUTELY INSANE: There is indeed a parallel to be drawn between analyzing intent in language and analyzing intent in criminal law.

Consider the defendant charged with attempted murder, where intent to kill is the issue. The prosecution must prove the defendant’s intent was to kill. The defendant will attempt to raise a reasonable doubt about his intent, by pointing to evidence that his intent was not an intent to kill (or gaps in the prosecution’s evidence on that issue).

Regardless of what the arguments are, his intent was his intent. Either he meant to kill or he didn’t. This intent was fixed at the moment of the act. It cannot be changed by subsequent interpretations. This is like intentionalism: the speaker meant what he meant.

In a courtroom, nobody can know the defendant’s intent with 100% certainty. All the jury can do is strive to learn his intent based on his actions. Often they can reach an interpretation that they are confident is right — and it may be one different from that offered by the actor. The jury might also agree with the defendant’s interpretation, if it appears reasonable in light of the totality of the evidence. And under the law, the actor gets the benefit of any reasonable doubt. If two interpretations are both reasonable, you choose the one that favors the defendant.

This is all true in the realm of interpreting words as well. You can’t ALWAYS trust the speaker’s interpretation. You make the best possible judgment you can based on the information available to you. And you should take the speaker’s intent into account — and if two interpretations are both reasonable, and one is offered by the speaker, you choose the one that favors the speaker’s stated interpretation. This is the principle of charity.

In either process, it’s critical to understand that any interpretation must strive to learn the actor/speaker’s intent. You can’t begin the analysis unless you understand that.

But once you understand that basic point, the real interest lies elsewhere — in how to use the available evidence to interpret intent.

That’s where the rubber meets the road. And that’s what I want to discuss with those of you who are operating in good faith.

There are lots of interesting nooks and crannies there to explore. And as long as I’m interested enough to write about them, and you’re interested enough to read and comment, we’ll explore them. Maybe not for “the rest of our [bleep]ing lives” — but for as long as the discussion remains interesting to the parties in this conversation.

And if it’s not interesting, there’s always going to be a post where I blast Obama and/or the L.A. Times. That’s the bread and butter of this site and I’m not giving it up.

Our Famously Articulate President in Action

Filed under: Obama — Patterico @ 6:07 pm

Tapper has the story:

The first appearance by a sitting president on “The Tonight Show” may well end up being the last.

President Obama, in his taping with Jay Leno Thursday afternoon, attempted to yuk it up with the funnyman, and ended up insulting the disabled.

Towards the end of his approximately 40-minute appearance, the president talked about how he’s gotten better at bowling and has been practicing in the White House bowling alley.

He bowled a 129, the president said.

“That’s very good, Mr. President,” Leno said sarcastically.

It’s “like the Special Olympics or something,” the president said.

Wow. He really has a way with words, doesn’t he?

UPDATE: Is it possible he’s not really that great a communicator after all? Shocking — except to those of us who have been saying that for a while.

UPDATE x2: So how do you categorize Obama’s statement? Poor judgment? Thoughtlessness? Or TELLING IT LIKE IT IS?!?!

Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t really countenance the disabled flying into an outrage over this. But I do think — like the “putting lipstick on a pig” comment — that it shows Obama has a tin ear sometimes. And that he’s often a poor communicator, despite all we’ve heard to the contrary.

And maybe I’m alone in this, but I don’t think a tin ear is a good thing.

UPDATE x3: Commenter JD observes: “Just imagine if Bush had said that. Oh, the outrage!!!”

UPDATE x4: Allahpundit notes the truly outrageous thing Obama said to Leno: saying Geithner is doing an “outstanding” job.

UPDATE x5: Dave Weigel:

Obama should clarify: he meant to say that Special Olympians were doing an awesome job, and that Geithner is retarded.

Good one.

Barney Frank cannot hide his Fannie role

Filed under: General — Karl @ 9:23 am

[Posted by Karl]

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has a piece at the HuffPo, attempting to place all of the blame for the current economic downturn on Republicans and pretend he had nothing to do with it, including the implosion of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Frank writes, “we have tools to aid memory — pencil and paper, word processing, transcripts, newspapers, and the Congressional record.”  Indeed we do, but Frank fails to specifically cite to or quote any of them.  There are reasons for that.

In the real world, Frank opposed increased oversight of Fannie and Freddie as far back as 1992.

Frank then skips over most of the Clinton Administration, particularly the series of decisions by HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo between 1997 and 2001 that helped plunge Fannie and Freddie into the subprime markets without meaningful oversight.  Perhaps Frank is hoping everyone will forget that Frank’s boyfriend at the time was Fannie’s assistant director for product initiatives.  Some might question whether that was a conflict of interest, though Frank — who once fixed tickets for another boyfriend on probation for drug possession and for possession of child pornography — apparently saw no potential conflict.

Frank is proud that he voted against the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, “which overturned a Depression-era law preventing commercial banks from acting like investment banks.” Frank again omits that this law had broad bipartisan support in Congress, as well as the Clinton Administration (with help from Larry Summers, now one of Pres. Obama’s top economic advisors).  Frank may also be hoping  readers do not know that economists from Tyler Cowen to Brad DeLong agree that the diversification did considerably more good than harm, as it allowed sounder commercial banks to help bail out the troubled investment banks.

In 2003, when the Bush administration proposed creating a new agency to assume supervise Fannie and Freddie, Frank’s response was that Fannie and Freddie “are not facing any kind of financial crisis… The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.”

Frank nevertheless touts his efforts during this period with Rep. Mike Oxley (R-OH) on a bill to increase regulation of Fannie and Freddie, blaming House Republicans and the Bush Administration for its demise.  Sam Dealey dealt with this bill — and its fate — last year:

A month after warmly receiving [Bush Treasury Secretary] Snow’s proposal, House Finance Chairman Mike Oxley unveiled a bill. It lacked two key components, however. First, the new regulator of the sibs would not be Treasury itself but a newly created “independent unit” within Treasury. That’s the same arrangement that already existed—the sibs were presently under an “independent unit” that time and again proved incapable of detecting Fannie and Freddie shenanigans. Second, the bill would grant the Housing department oversight—largely toothless because it lacked the authority to contain the investment risks the sibs were taking. Faced with stiff opposition from the White House, the Ohio Republican pulled his bill the night before the committee’s final vote.

In 2005, Oxley (with Frank) tried again. The legislation was stronger than before, but again failed to provide a regulator with the authority to curtail the kinds of assets Fannie and Freddie could hold. Indeed, the bill even expanded Fannie and Freddie’s abilities to purchase mortgages. Financially responsible people saw the writing on the wall and threw their support behind a tougher Senate bill [which died in the face of opposition from Senate Democrats --K].

Regardless, Oxley’s bill passed the House and Frank now leaves the impression that he supported it…

In fact, praises for bipartisanship notwithstanding, Frank voted against the 2005 bill. As the chairman tells it, this is because “the Republican majority inserted language at the last moment that would prohibit religious organizations from participating” in providing low-income housing financing. “It is only because of this ridiculous action by archconservative Republicans that I cast my vote ‘no.’ ”

That’s a pretty loosey-goosey rendering of what went down. The provision Frank references was his pet project, which would designate 5 percent of the sibs’ after-tax profits for grants to outside organizations to promote low-income housing. As Frank says, the grants could have gone to religious groups like the Catholic and Lutheran churches (it’s good to see Frank now fully supports Bush’s faith-based initiative, by the way) but also to decidedly secular and politically active organizations like the Child Welfare League of America and Volunteers of America.

Many in Congress opposed Frank’s baby because it was a step backward in reform.

Supporting toothless alternatives is one of the oldest tricks in the Congressional book.  Frank’s true attitude during this period was shown in 2004, when Fannie’s regulator leveled serious charges amounting to fraud against Fannie and its executives.  Frank commented, “I don’t see anything in this report that raises safety and soundness problems.”

Frank blasts former Pres. Bush for demanding that Fannie and Freddie increase the percentage of subprime loans they purchased, “supposedly because of his belief in an ‘ownership society.’” He ignores that — however ill-advised — this was a continuation of the aforementioned Clinton Administration policies and that Bush at least pushed the independent oversight of Fannie and Freddie that Frank opposed.

Frank also blames the Fed – and cheap money both here and abroad helped cause the housing bubble.  However, Frank ignores that the Boston Fed (yes, in Frank’s virtual backyard) was among those pushing lower lending standards across the board in order to make more minority loans — which Frank has championed for years.  Moreover, former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan repeatedly warned Frank and his friends that Fannie and Freddie carried systemic risks requiring legislative action, above and beyond tighter regulation of these government sponsored enterprises. Frank turned a deaf ear to these alarms.

Frank ultimately concedes “that the present financial crisis has many fathers.”  Frank can dance, but he cannot hide from the fact that he was one of them.  Is Frank being intentionally dishonest, or is he merely as clueless as he claimed to be about the prostitution ring run out of his apartment?  Neither possibility seems very comforting, particularly as Frank’s plan to “fix” Fannie and Freddie is mostly to give them more capital.

–Karl

Obama: The Impotent President?

Filed under: Obama — Patterico @ 6:52 am

Tom Maguire on AIG bonuses: “Obama is heading in an odd direction with his pose as the angry yet impotent President.”

UPDATE: Maybe this is the explanation. Obama doesn’t see the banks and AIG as entities he has any control over, but rather as something akin to . . . suicide bombers:

“Here’s the problem,” Mr. Obama said, “It’s almost like they’ve got — they’ve got a bomb strapped to them and they’ve got their hand on the trigger. You don’t want them to blow up. But you’ve got to kind of talk them, ease that finger off the trigger.”

I don’t even know where to start with that. As you read that statement, and pull out large tufts of hair, which bothers you more? The comparison of banks and AIG to suicide bombers? Or the notion that the way to deal with a suicide bomber is to talk to him and ease his finger off the trigger?


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