Dumb News Day

I don't know what it is, but yesterday was a bad day for intelligence in the news.

Case one: The Plain English Campaign's award of a "Foot in Mouth" award to Donald Rumsfeld for saying

Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns � the ones we don't know we don't know.

The only problem: it's a perfectly comprehensible statement in clear and simple language that makes a quite straightforward point about the limits of knowledge. Even the Guardian, normally not a bastion of Rumsfeld boosters, has come out in his corner on this one.

Case two: Nicholas Kristof's column on the biology of homosexuality, which contains the following howler:

The arguments get far more complex, of course, but I hope that religious conservatives will ponder this question: If homosexuality is utterly contrary to God's law, why is it so embedded in human biology and in the rest of the animal kingdom? (Serious journal articles have described supposedly lesbian seagulls.)

Only the ignorantly irreligious would think that this question is such a toughie as he seems to. Start with the animals. To a religious conservative, homosexuality in the animal world is morally irrelevant, since animals lack souls and human volition. That some seagulls are lesbian is of no more moral importance than the shape of clouds.

And as for people, in the words of Steven Wu, "The content of God's laws is not defined by who complies with them." God made it all, the great and the small, the good and the sinful. The normal religious argument -- homosexual desire is a form of temptation, and goodness consists in resisting that temptation -- is utterly unaffected by any empirical data on the prevalence of homosexuality. God's commands take precedence; indeed, the moral point of His commands is that we have the free choice to accept or reject them. Homosexuality is just another sin, like murder or blasphemy, that humanity must struggle to overcome.

There are winning arguments for sexual tolerance. There are winning arguments for sexual tolerance that might have some impact with religious conservatives. But Kristof's is not one of them.

Case three: The following quotation from a Republican strategist, on the decision to abandon the floating party ship idea for the GOP convention next year:

A lot of disingenuous people made a mountain out of a molehill, and DeLay just decided to let the moles win.

Me, I always figured that if I were a mole, I'd rather have a molehill than a mountain. But maybe that's just me.

Case four: The headline on this article on professional ethics actions against one of George Harrison's doctors:

George Harrison doctor fined for talking

I'm glad I'm not a doctor.