Sunday, September 30, 2012

I saw this posted on Facebook today:

More jobs lost! Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, maker of the military Black Hawk helicopter, became the latest defense contractor to announce that they will be cutting 570 jobs in Connecticut due to the defense budget cuts imposed by the Obama administration. "It’s a real blow to the community because they were a major employer," Chemung County, CT Executive Tom Santulli said. Are you concerned that defense spending cuts are cutting jobs and affecting the military as other countries are increasing their militaries?

A quick Google search showed the plant is actually in New York state, but the rest of the details line up.

The fallacy we're seeing here is the old ruse that because spending cuts always costs someone their job we should never issue then. It's the same bogus logic if the supposed victims are soliders or firefighters.

It's bogus to criticize President Barack Obama's policies for the destruction of obsolete or low-priority positions. However, President Obama only has himself to blame for pushing a mythical economic model where the economy is helped by using taxpayers money to keep people busy with worthless chores and creating jobs is a goal unto itself. His foolish critics are just spooning his own idiot porridge back to him.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Brilliant joke website

I have nothing to add that wouldn't spoil the joke. Just click the link and enjoy.

Hat tip to Nate for sharing the link.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

GMO phobia is pseudoscience

Slate published an excellent piece by Keith Kloor today comparing the American left's fear of genetically modified foods to the right's denial of climate change science. He does not pull any punches.

I’ve found that fears are stoked by prominent environmental groups, supposed food-safety watchdogs, and influential food columnists; that dodgy science is laundered by well-respected scholars and propaganda is treated credulously by legendary journalists; and that progressive media outlets, which often decry the scurrilous rhetoric that warps the climate debate, serve up a comparable agitprop when it comes to GMOs.

In short, I’ve learned that the emotionally charged, politicized discourse on GMOs is mired in the kind of fever swamps that have polluted climate science beyond recognition.

This GMO denial makes little sense if you believe that the Democratic party is the party of science. It makes perfect sense if you believe that people in general tend to ignore science the moment is threatens their world view.

Evolution science is troublesome if you're a Bible literalist. If you want to fight the creation of new taxes, it's an awful sock in the jaw to hear that climate change is a negative externality of civilization and government interference may be needed. Conservatives who deny science are resisting new ideas, but that doesn't mean liberals deserve credit for accepting science that compliments their world view. In the case of climate change, the science supports the position liberals naturally hold.

The anti-vaccine movement is perceived as a left-wing anti-science movement. It's not as neat a divide as climate change, but it is closer to evolution denial, while 60 percent of Republicans reject it, a full 29 percent of Democrats deny evolution as well. The anti-vaccine activists includes people on the left who hate pharmaceutical companies with people on the right who fear government control of their children.

What we are seeing with this movement against using science to improve food is members of the left are the ones having their views challenged by science, and instead of listening they are responding like zealots. It doesn't matter what the experts say, they already have their minds made up.

The way this anti-GMO narrative perpetuates falls neatly in line with the life cycle of social activists. People in these political circles are turning to each other to learn about science on the subject, which includes big-name organizationspseudointellectual documentaries, and fellow activists.

As I've said before, science-denial on the left does not excuse conservatives for their science denial and talking about the issue does not give the right a pass. Scientific findings should guide our politics, but we should never let our politics determine scientific findings.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Michael Hastings had it coming

I don't write vulgarities in my blog posts, and using words with missing letters is a weak alternative so I'm just going to link to the original text here. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's deputy assistant Philippe Reines got into a heated email exchange with Buzzfeed writer Michael Hastings and Buzzfeed pounced on him for telling Hastings off in a vulgar manner.

But the expose on this exchange came from that very same Buzzfeed article. All one has to do is read the email exchange.

Hastings wrote to Reines asking why slain Ambassador J. Christopher Steven's diary was left behind in the embassy and wanted to know if other sensitive information was left behind. Reines shifted the focus to CNN, how the news network had nicked the diary, asked the family for permission to use it, when denied they said they wouldn't but went ahead and ran it anyways but didn't come out and say where they were getting the information from.

Hastings was rude and accusatory from the start, peppering his question with person opinions like "I found your statement to CNN offensive." He is also the one who brought vulgarities into the exchange, not Reines, which contradicts the Buzzfeed introduction for the same article.

Megan McArdle makes a good point that Hastings had some legitimate questions, such as how the diary contradicts official reports, but was obnoxious about it. While I agree with her that Reines shouldn't have behaved unprofessionally, why is Hastings allowed to behave like a child?

Reines was right on the mark when he said "Why do you bother to ask questions you've already decided you know the answers to?" to Hastings. A real journalist doesn't get emotionally involved in the story, he looks for information where he can find it. Hastings wasn't there for that, he was more concerned with lashing out at someone like a cable opinion show host.

Hastings behavior was unacceptable and Reines' reaction was understandable. Hastings went in like a bully and when Reines didn't cower he went whining to the Internet.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Looking back on Occupy Wall Street

This week marks the one year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street and I wanted to share some brief reflections on the movement.

I knew that this was a polarizing issue and wanted to judge things for myself so last year I visited three different protest camps within the movement to talk to people about why they participated. As expected, what I saw was different from the way others painted the movement. The American left naively portrayed the protests as noble, courageous and reasonable while the right skewed what the protesters stood for.

As can be expected, I came out in opposition to the protests. The version portrayed by the political right was closer to my perception, but still inaccurate. Conservative commentators said the protesters just wanted free services and money from the government. There were those types, but there were plenty of people that felt they were being screwed over by corporate influence on the government and just wanted it to stop. Right or wrong, that's not the same as wanting a handout. None of the camps I went to were love-fests for the Democrats either.

There were some legitimate complaints raised by the protesters at the beginning. The bank bailouts were an early central issue and I was on the same side as the protesters. The calls to end the Federal Reserve or burden it with more government oversight were dead on too.

There were also a lot of young people with college tuition debt and my heart goes out to them. They followed the path recommended to them by the public education system, that if they graduate from college with any degree that they will find a good paying job and be better off. Now we have a slew of young people with worthless degrees and crushing debt while the available job openings require specific skills no one has. That's a legitimate complaint and I hope it taught them to question the wisdom of government authorities.

Despite those reasonable complaints, the movement was started by anti-capitalist lawbreakers and that element proved to be a liability. The whole premise was to trespass by camping out in public parks until the police pull them out. The Marxists always spoke up and declared the group wanted to end capitalism, harvest the rich and end the concept of property rights.

The lack of property rights did a lot of damage to the movement. Thieves, rapists and parasites infiltrated their camps and caused lots of internal damage, but without a formal ability to restrict access the serious protesters had few options to deal with them.

Wikipedia gives the protests a body count of 32 deaths. Vandalism and violence were common, but these elements were usually excused by moderate liberal supporters who projected their own values on the movement to the point of being naive and blind. Actions like shutting down West Coast ports only make sense if your goal is to destroy. The alliance between progressives, anarchists and socialists always forces moderates to defend bomb-throwers or break away.

They failed to back up one of their central claims with evidence, that the top 1 percent of income earners have shaped policies to suit their own needs at the expense of everyone else. Their popular claim that the top 1 percent pays a lower federal income tax rate than the middle class is completely false, even when capital gains and dividends are included as income.

Physically, the Occupy protests were reckless frat parties with obnoxious drumming as a heartbeat. When the weather started getting cold I saw them take on the mood of the Donner Party, but it's hard to deny that some of the original appeal was to have fun with free-spirited people.

Towards the end the focus of the protests seemed to be on itself. Occupy protests were suddenly about the right to camp overnight in public parks without permits. This was mischaracterized as a free speech issue and the villains turned from rich bankers and Wall Street executives to middle class unionized police officers.

Ultimately, The Occupy protests were a magic mirror that allowed people to see what they wanted. Conservatives saw lazy, selfish leeches; Anarchists and socialists saw a popular uprising that they hoped would crush capitalism as predicted by Marx; and progressives saw an enthusiastic movement that could rival the Tea Party and advance the cause of the Democratic Party. None of these were completely true, but they all had true elements.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Growing sugar cane with astroturf

Our current generation of food "experts" is ill with pseudo-intellectual phobias over things like non-organic crops, internationally-grown produce, genetically-modified crops, BPA, lean beef trimmings and high-fructose corn syrup.

As I wrote last year, high-fructose isn't a healthy product simply because it's sugar. There are no health benefits to replacing it with cane sugar or honey, despite what most people believe.

That myth is perpetuated on some level by hapless rubes, but there's also a sinister element behind the popularity of the misconception. As Timothy P. Carney wrote in the Washington Examiner this week:

Citizens for Health, a "natural health" nonprofit, has joined in the anti-corn-syrup fight. CFH has lobbied the FDA to require clearer labeling and enforce restrictions on fructose content. The group has also launched an anti-corn-syrup PR campaign. 
But, as always, follow the money. The Sugar Association has funded CFH's anti-corn-syrup campaign. Adam Fox, attorney for the Sugar Association, told me Friday that the Sugar Association is not directing CFH's campaign, but it is bankrolling it for "six figures" because of the two groups' "shared opposition" to corn syrup. 
This echoes a similar campaign CFH launched against artificial sweeteners last decade. The Sugar Association also funded that campaign, as Andy Briscoe, CEO of the Sugar Association, testified in a court deposition in 2007.

It's ironic that the rank and file anti-corn syrup food elitists, many of whom are Earthy-crunchy power-to-the-people types, have become pawns in a corporate propaganda campaign.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Obama's views on Chinese trade make no sense

The week President Barack Obama complained that China is subsidizing some of its automobile exports, and this government funding breaks competition.

Keep in mind is the same president who bragged about bailing out the incompetent General Motors automobile company during the State of the Union address and put a $7,500 tax credit on the American-made Chevy Volt. He even toyed with the idea of raising that amount to $10,000.

Previously, President Obama howled that China was being unfair when it subsidized solar panels and slapped tariffs on the imports, even though he had made subsidizing and tax breaks to American "green" energy companies a central plank in his campaign. He also supported Quantitative Easing 2 after accusing China of manipulating the trade value of the yuan.

President Obama's views on international trade with China make as much sense as chocolate-covered dog treats. All three foot-stomping episodes were example of Chinese taxpayers subsidizing the purchases of American consumers, but he treated them as acts of war.

Granted, I'm used to ignorance of international trade being part of public policy, but did the O-man really have to go the extra mile and mix hypocrisy in too?

About 15 years ago liberal economists like Larry Summers and Paul Krugman would be ridiculing these oafish episodes. Today, they sit quietly on the sidelines out of fear of harming the progressive movement even while the president trips over his own clown shoes.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Is this new "racism" even worth being ashamed of?

By now, most people have heard about Portland, Ore. school principal Verenice Gutierrez's comments about the racially divisive nature of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Here they are in the original newspaper article:

Verenice Gutierrez picks up on the subtle language of racism every day.

Take the peanut butter sandwich, a seemingly innocent example a teacher used in a lesson last school year.

“What about Somali or Hispanic students, who might not eat sandwiches?” says Gutierrez, principal at Harvey Scott K-8 School, a diverse school of 500 students in Northeast Portland’s Cully neighborhood.

“Another way would be to say: ‘Americans eat peanut butter and jelly, do you have anything like that?’ Let them tell you. Maybe they eat torta. Or pita.”

This expanded version of racism is watered-down to the point of being meaningless. Instead of malice and assumptions about a person based on their race, this new "racism" is a virtually-harmless array of minor faux pas based on unfamiliarity with cultural nuances.

I can remember a few years ago racism was being redefined as "power plus privilege," which was a heavy-handed way to excuse non-white racists. It was as if there was no English word for racial hatred from minority members. Now we're seeing more diversity in high-profile racists, such as the actions of Latinos openly called racist.

Victim-mongers are twisting the concept of privilege to say that merely not knowing every minor differences they have with every obscure cultural on earth is "racist."

I'm sure Gutierrez gets a pass on this because of her Mexican heritage, but if you're going to look for nano-racism at that threshold, you don't get to say "Hispanic." The preferred term is "Latino" and her choice of words is a lot closer to being offensive than mentioning a sandwich.

Sandwiches are known all over the world, including in Southern and Central America, and shielding immigrant students from knowledge of basic American culture does them a disservice.

The worst part is that Gutierrez wasn't born this ignorant; she had to train for it. Her school district spent more than $500,000 paying a bogus consulting firm called Pacific Education Group to teach school officials ways to invent problems in the search for racism.

I figured was being disingenuous when it said these consultants claim that white privilege in the school system is the primary cause of the black achievement gap, and not poverty, violence, broken families or lousy schools, but it was right there as the motto on the front of the web site.

At Pacific Educational Group we believe Systemic Racism is the most devastating factor contributing to the diminished capacity of all children, especially black children, to achieve at the highest levels, and contributes to the fracturing of the communities that nurture and support them.

They also seem to be a two-trick pony operation, as their seminar page only lists Latinos and Somalis - the two groups from Gutierrez's example - as their area of focus.

Picture this: A grade school teacher gives the class a word problem about how many sandwiches someone will have left over if they start with five and eat two but the conversation quickly turns to what exactly counts as a sandwich and students share their experiences with tortas and pites. Everyone spends the afternoon learning about the evils of cultural assumptions and the math lesson is abandoned in search of curing society's ills.

Maybe that's why Gutierrez's school performs in the bottom 15 percent of the state.


Friday, September 14, 2012

That's not enough for you?

As I've been watching coverage of the teachers union strike in Chicago I haven't been able to get out of my head is why the reporters covering the issue are inadequately bitter.

I prefer neutral reporting, don't get me wrong, but when a group of people who make $71,000 a year on average, collect a generous heap of benefits and enjoy a crazy amount of time off take to the streets to say they want more I don't understand why the impoverished ink knights writing about the issue aren't disgusted with the situation.

Maybe it's because too many times I've driven to schools with a car older than the students inside and had to park between gleaming modern wheels and the occasional Toyota Prius. Maybe it's because they get 12 weeks off every year and I've had at least two days of work each week since I started my current job in May 2011. Maybe it's because everyone in the nation swoons over the idea of a teacher layoff while I silently watch my industry implode. Maybe it's because it's easier to break out of prison than it is to fire one of them while I have no such protection. Maybe it's because about a third of the teachers I've interviewed over the years are simpletons. Whatever it is, I don't pity them.

Nationally, the average elementary school teacher makes $51,380 and the average high school teacher makes $53,230. That should sound like untold riches to the average reporter who makes $36,000 and only a trickle of the non-monetary forms of compensation like time off, gold-plated health care plans and other benefits.

I realize teachers are not as wealthy as the bank executives, investment brokers or business owners that journalists normally seethe over, but they certainly aren't middle class. If two average teachers marry, their incomes will be in the top 15 percent of household incomes, while a two-journalist household will fall a little short of breaking into the top third. Again, this does not include benefits.

So tell me fellow reporters, why don't you see these union protesters for what they are: a greedy, privileged cabal? I realize president Barack Obama is uncharacteristically prevented from taking sides on this issue because he has ties to both sides, but you don't share that problem. As much as we love the good work teachers do, how can we let them go on about how it's in the children's interest to pay them even more when they already have it so much better better than we do?


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Libya attacks were not a game changer

I have to disagree with something Hillary Clinton said in response to the violent attacks on the U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt this week that killed an ambassador, among others.

It wasn't this statement:

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.

Some conservatives, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, are falsely trying to paint President Barack Obama's administration as apologizing for the Internet video an obscure American citizen posted that inspired the attacks. chopped off the final sentence, which completely changed the statement. That's bogus and I agree with the general idea of what she really said.

No, her statement I disagree with is that these events "Should shock the conscience of people of all faiths around the world.”

Who is shocked here?

I'm going to pull a CJ Cregg here and say the obvious: If some minor private citizens publicly does something insulting to Islam, we must expect crazed mobs to murder people. It's a simple cause-and-effect routine we all know very well.

As always, I have to clarify that it's the Islamic extremists who are behind all the killings, not the majority of peaceful Muslims, otherwise I will be assumed to condemn the entire religion and we all know how dangerous that is. However, it's still true that the bad ones are worse than the bad ones of any other religion.

I've been hearing for months on the BBC about the war crimes and human rights violations caused by rebel groups empowered by the Arab Spring uprising. Now some of those same protesters still wearing Guy Fawkes masks have turned their attention on U.S. embassies.

So no, I'm not shocked people were murdered because of some lame Internet video no one here ever heard of. Anyone surprised by this just wasn't paying attention.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Libertarianism is amoral, not immoral

The new episode of point of inquiry with Chris Mooney centers on the moral reasoning of libertarianism and gets interesting after about 15 minutes.

Guest Peter Ditto discusses how emotion plays a lesser role in the way libertarians make their political decisions as compared to other political ideological. It's an interesting episode and Mooney doesn't cross the level of obnoxiousness he usually does.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Which one is not in the spirit of free speech?

An interesting story concerning free speech from public figures came out this week that reminded me of my posts on platform yanking, the idea of combating speech one disagrees with by removing the speakers platform, instead of by using more speech.

This is not outright censorship and any systematic manner of blocking platform yanking would violate free speech rights. Instead, I argue platform yanking is not in the spirit of free speech, just as voting to switch to a dictatorship is not in the spirit of democracy.

Here's the basics of the story, see if you can see which person used his free speech to assault the idea of free speech:

1) Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo donated two tickets to the season opener to a raffle to raise money for gay marriage legalization and made his support public.

2) Democratic elected official Emmett C. Burns, Jr. didn't like what Ayanbadejo had to say and wrote a letter to the owner of the Ravens requesting he thwart Ayanbadejo from using his celebrity status to promote gay marriage legalization.

3)Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe didn't like what Burns had to say and wrote a critical letter that was printed online.

People, one of these things is not like the others.

I don't think I could craft a better example to defend my hard-sell idea of platform yanking. Look at the cast of characters: Ayanbadejo was just another guy standing up for what he believes in. Kluwe was too and it makes no difference that his letter was vulgar.

Burns, on the other hand, sweet lord. With free speech, if he thinks a player is saying something wrong he has every right to ask a third party to take away the target's ability to communicate his ideas. However, in doing so he reveals contempt for the free exchange of ideas. His request was not in the spirit of free speech, even if it's not a technical violation.

Such requests are no different than threatening a boycott on a talk show host's sponsors, as was the original example of platform yanking. To argue otherwise is like saying Ayanbadejo, Kluwe and Burns are all equal in free speech purity.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Say hello to Mr. University

Tyler Cowen and his partner in crime Alex Tabarrok just announced they are offering zero-tuition online courses this fall. The first Marginal Revolution University class will be on development economics and launch Oct. 1.

I encourage both of my readers to sign up. Mostly so we can compare scores, but also for the shared cultural experience. The MRU lessons are going to be compact and make extensive use of videos. Please sign up here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Insurance companies in desperate search for a victim

I heard a story that absolutely disgusted me about a businessman who exploited a loophole in life insurance products to make a profit by filing claims on strangers before they died.

The disgust comes from people who opposed the loophole.

Here's how the scheme worked: Life insurance companies got careless with the rates for their products while competing with each other on variable annuity rates. The requirements were so sloppy that many of the insurance companies didn't check on the health of the annuitant, which is a fancy word for the target of the insurance. Businessman Joseph Caramadre discovered that the person who collects the insurance money does not have to be related to the person who dies, but does have to have their permission to file a policy.

Caramadre's plan was simple. He paid people who were close to death for their blessing to take out an insurance policy on them. They got money right away while they were still alive. Caramadre got the insurance money when they died. Everyone won, except the insurance companies.

Critics, however, are saying Caramadre profited from death.

I say, so what?

That mere aesthetic is being used to smear a clever man who didn't take a dime from the people who died. In fact, he gave them money. They were already going to die, the only difference was that they made a buck along the way.

Of course, no one is going to shed a tear for the reckless insurance companies who ended up footing the bill for Caramadre's scheme. They only have themselves to blame, of course. So with no sympathetic victim, how does one spin the story? It turns out, with weird statements from the families of Caramadre's partners.

"I lose my mom, who is my best friend, my world, and in me, losing my mother forever at the age of 64, you, in turn, profit and get X amount of dollars," says Stephanie Porter, whose mother received $2,000 from Caramadre before she died of cancer. "It's slimy what the man did."

What does "slimy" mean in this context? Her mother didn't lose a single day on this earth and still profited. Caramadre provided a service that aided families at the expense of companies too irresponsible and too greedy to design their insurance products properly. If Caramadre is slimy, why isn't Porter's mother as well?

Critics even tried to play up that Caramadre gained access to the Social Security numbers of his partners when he filed the insurance claims. So what? They sold that information to him and he never used it to harm them.

Caramadre didn't give money to those families out of the kindness of his heart. He did it to make a buck. But really, what difference does it make? Those families profited by participating in his scheme, and in a rational world he would he held up as a modern Robin Hood instead of some sort of ghoul.

It is the people who have no stake in this issue that oppose Caramadre and his partners that are slimy and ghoulish. They value their aesthetic so much that they would rather see the families of the dying deprived of a chance at help paying their bills in a way that does them no harm then witness someone else profit in a way related to an inevitable death. This is a selfish notion that masquerades as concern for others and should be viewed with contempt.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Does this make me a Rebecca Watson supporter?

I absolutely hate online petitions. I think they are on par with signing your name on a used cocktail napkin and then throwing it away.

It turns out the one thing that will get me to sign one is spite for an even worse online petition.

Someone created a petition to ask the creators of the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe to boot Rebecca Watson from the show for being "divisive, hostile and authoritarian."

I label myself a Watson critic because of her attempts to steer secularism and skepticism into a generic left-wing movement. It's not that she merely supports third-wave feminism, but that she wants it to be a litmus test. However, I am able to separate those actions from her role on the podcast. Last year I wrote:

I generally like Rebecca Watson. It's true. While she's a far-leftist and a third-wave feminist, I don't fault her for these things and she genuinely makes me laugh with her wit and humor. I think she's put a lot of work into organizing various skeptic groups and events and I'm glad she's on the panel of one of my favorite podcasts.

It's true Watson occasionally gets a little preachy on things like abortion on the show, but host Steve Novella does a great job of keeping the program apolitical. It's not perfect, but it approaches it.

Someone else created a counter-petition in support of keeping her on the show, and I gladly signed it. Online petitions are stupid, but when there are two contrasting ones I don't mind helping skew the numbers in the proper direction.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

What privilege could be

I had two immediate reactions in college when another student brought up and explained the essay "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" By Peggy McIntosh.

The first was that no one could come up with a subtitle that awful without a lot of effort. The second was that it was a complete surprise that the article actually made some really good points.

White privilege is a series of things I don't have to think about but a person of another race does. Privilege examples are always compiled in lists. I don't find some of the examples compelling, but others are undeniable. Here are some of the better ones:

*I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race. 
*I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race. 
*If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race. 
*I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race. 
*I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of race. 
*If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.

This really opened my eyes to the idea that a black person has no choice but to "be black" all the time, whether they like it or not. There are situations that can be troublesome for other people that I am completely oblivious to. The essay title is still awful, but there is real wisdom here and privilege is an entirely legitimate concept.

Unfortunately, that valid point has nothing to do with the way privilege is typically used in modern discussions.

Claims of white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege or some other variety has become a way of silencing dissent on discussions about identify politics not by refuting arguments, but by attempting to disqualify the speakers based on accidents of birth.

Say I were to criticize a policy supported by some feminists that would give money to mothers who leave their husbands, saying it creates a financial incentive that would break families up. A supporter could respond by defending the policy and attempting to show it will help more families than it hurts. That's the old-fashioned, legitimate way to discuss an issue.

Using the "vulgar privilege" tactic, the supporter would simply say that I have male privilege I am unaware of and declare the discussion over. What's worse, in that person's mind, that's a compelling argument. They would walk away believing that was a perfectly reasonable way to defend their view.

Only a person who can't fathom that their beliefs could be wrong can use this tactic. What's more, they are suggesting that personal experience is more important than logic, reason or research.

The type of privilege being invoked is often completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. Brandon K. Thorpe wrote a great essay about the politicization of the Trayvon Martin shooting within the gay community, calling out writer Akiba Solomon on her wandering criticism of Kevin Naff. Naff said gay groups were jumping on the Trayvon bandwagon and Solomon wrote:

Essentially what Naff has done is cast the struggle for LGBT human rights and equality as window dressing for his own demands for white male privilege... 
I don’t know Kevin Naff so I’m not going to accuse him of pandering to angry white males. But I know this much is true: LGBT organizations belong in the conversation about racial profiling. No amount of his seething white male privilege masquerading as gun control advocacy can change that fact.

Thorpe didn't miss those wild shots about "male privilege" in the Trayvon Martin case. He wrote:

Note the last line, with its telling use of the word “masquerade” and the out-of-nowhere use of the word “male.” Unless Solomon mis-typed, she is accusing Kevin Naff of masquerading as a citizen concerned about firearm proliferation and the stand-your-ground law so that he may surreptitiously go about his real work — venting anger toward black people and women.

Yes, women. Otherwise, the word “male” in Solomon’s paragraph is meaningless. Note that Naff never mentioned sex or gender in his article. The presence of the word “male” in Solomon’s says less about Naff’s opinions than it does about a common pitfall of identity politics: Get too far in, and you start piling cant atop cant until the accumulated weight crushes whatever good point you began with.

I talked to Thorpe shortly after he published this piece and he said that people sometimes get on a roll when they start talking about privileges, which is why you see Solomon swinging so wild.

The legitimate point about the concept of privilege is being unfairly tainted by the simpletons mucking up the word. The unfortunate association between these two different uses harms the reputation of the valid version. Cries of "privilege" has become the thoughtless bleating of sheep, an automated reply for people too lazy or too slow to draft a serious argument.