October 3, 2007

What I really think about the Clarence Thomas book.

I've now finished the Clarence Thomas memoir "My Grandfather's Son," which I've been sort of live-blogging. You can live-blog a book! I've picked out some things that struck me as interesting as I went along. Doing this, I've been accused both of fawning over him and of obsessively hating him, because, after all, that's what you're supposed to do with Clarence Thomas. One or the other must be true.

But, no, you're wrong. I neither love nor hate Clarence Thomas. I have some strong ideas about writing, especially memoir writing, and if I'm going to read a book, I'm going to impose my standards on the writing. I'm not about promoting or indicting the writer. I'm genuinely interested in writing as writing.

Here's a post I wrote back in January 2006 about the forthcoming Justice Thomas memoir:
Jeffrey Rosen writes about judicial memoirs, which are difficult to write, because they're either going to be bland -- like Justice O'Connor's, in his view, despite the incident with the testicles -- or embarrassingly revealing -- like Justice Douglas's....

And now Justice Thomas is working on a memoir. The man has fabulous material -- he grew up in poverty and his confirmation battle was a political and cultural event unlike any other. Does he dare to really use this material, to risk his slowly accumulating somber reputation by writing a real book for us to read? Rosen cautions him not to:
[L]ike Douglas, Thomas may inadvertently harm his judicial reputation among moderates (which is, at the moment, unfairly underrated) by revealing more than he intends.

"Judges wear black robes because it doesn't matter who they are as individuals," John Roberts said during his confirmation hearings. "That's not going to shape their decision." Few people today, of course, believe that judges' personal experiences have no influence on their judicial decisions. But taken as a warning, Roberts's statement was prudent and wise. Too much revelation may undermine the public's respect for judges as apolitical authorities. And judicial celebrity can backfire: as any celebrity knows, those who live by publicity have to avoid overexposure, which can lead to the worst fate of all - oblivion.
I say: either write a book or don't write a book, but don't write a fake book. Don't put your name on a book-shaped object just because you're a celebrity and you can get publishers to publish it and publicists to get you on talk shows and lure readers to give up their money and time. If you're going to write a book, you owe your allegiance to the reader above all. If you've got a conflict of interest, recuse yourself!

(Please read David Foster Wallace's essay on Tracy Austin's memoir in "Consider the Lobster." He faults her for her allegiance to friends, family, and everyone else, and lays down the rule that the writer's duty is to the reader.)

It's one thing to embarrass yourself by making things up, like Justice Douglas and James Frey, quite another to put yourself out there and let readers see who you really are. I think the memoirist who fails to do that is the one who has embarrassed himself.

I said something similar back when Bill Clinton's book came out:
I see Clinton is getting a lot of grief for writing a boring book. But what did people expect? If you want to read a great memoir, read a memoir by someone who is in a position to follow the number one rule for writing a great memoir: tell your story without a trace of personal vanity. You have to be willing to make the character that is you look foolish, mean-spirited, selfish, petty, and everything else. There is simply no way that Clinton or any other political figure can follow this rule. So if you want to read a good memoir, read Augusten Burroughs' "Running With Scissors" or Mary Carr's "Liars' Club." If you want to read about grand historical events, don't read the story told by one of the key figures. How could that possibly be good? It would make more sense to read this as a memoir of the Lewinsky-impeachment events.
I guess, according to that, I don't really think there's much chance at all that Clarence Thomas will meet my standard. But wouldn't it be incredibly cool if he did?
So did he? He revealed plenty of negative things — rage and gloom and a serious drinking problem. But these revelations do tend to work in favor of his credibility, when he gets to the part that really matters: whether he or Anita Hill told the truth at his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. And the negative material could be seen as self-indulgence: He wants — he demands — your sympathy. He has suffered terribly and his anger is righteous.

But to answer my question: Yes. It's a real memoir.

But what you really want to know isn't what I think of the book as a work of literature, right? You want to know if I think he lied — or Anita Hill lied — at his confirmation hearings. I really don't know. I want to believe him. It's hard for me to understand how Anita Hill could have manufactured the details of her story out of nothing and lied outright and under oath to the Senators and to the whole country. Thomas found himself in the middle of things, confronted with the accusations, and he determined not to give up. His memoir shows why he was the kind of person who would not give up under those circumstances.

But Anita Hill came forward and caused all the anguish. Thomas depicts her as a left-wing ideologue who was in league with other left-wing ideologues who would do anything to destroy him — as he puts it more than once: to kill him. Could individuals with that much professional status be that evil? Clarence Thomas knows the answer to that question. His book blazes with his righteous indignation. Could he be evil enough to write this if he knew he was lying?

I'm entertaining the notion that it is possible that neither one was lying — that is, neither blatantly said what he or she knew was not true. Maybe Thomas said a few little things that Hill remembered and inflated through a process of solitary brooding followed by vigorous prompting from anti-Thomas zealots. And maybe he forgot those little things. On page 221, he says that he couldn't remember whether he'd ever used illegal drugs. How can you not remember that? "I'd been a heavy drinker in college and had often been around people who smoked marijuana and hashish... I might possibly have tried them once or twice when I was drunk..." He was also drinking heavily in the period when Anita Hill worked for him. Maybe he had some alcoholic amnesia.

But he's Clarence Thomas. You've got to love him or hate him, don't you?

59 comments:

lurker2209 said...

Yes. It's a real memoir.

Why? Because of the negativity you mention? Because it tells an interesting story of a childhood in poverty struggling towards a life of success? I'm not sure I really understand from your comments what in particular distinguishes from the examples of bad political memoirs you mention. Maybe I'd get it if I read the book, but given all that I've spent on chem textbooks this quarter, I'm not likely to anytime soon.

Revenant said...

Thomas is the only current Justice who is demonstrably serious about limiting the power of the Commerce Clause. I respect him for that.

Aside from that, I mostly just like him for his enemies.

blogging cockroach said...

yes, all right-thinking insects hate him.

Darkbloom said...

You want to know if I think he lied — or Anita Hill lied — at his confirmation hearings. I really don't know. I want to believe him.

I'm curious -- why do you "want to believe him"? As opposed, say, to wanting to believe her? Or being neutral on the question?

Trooper York said...

Batman: I've just perfected an Electronic Hair Bat-Analyzer which may hold the key to this baffling question.
(Batman TV Show)

Methadras said...

Revenant,

Not to mention that he and Scallia are also demonstrably serious about overturning Buckley vs. Valeo and I respect both of them for even trying and hope they succeed. I like him because he takes the underdog position without proclaiming that he was a victim outside of wanting to break free from the chrysalis of black, leftist dogma. And in doing so reaped a whirlwind of intolerance and hatred, predictably from those that followed that dogma.

SMGalbraith said...

It's interesting to contrast Thomas's life and pain against that endured by Thurgood Marshall. Juan Williams, in his biography of the late Justice, wrote that earlier in his life he (Marshall) enjoyed having fun, playing cards and telling jokes.

But that:
[L]ater in life he wore an even thicker emotional mask [than the one he wore in court] to disguise the pain he felt from public life in Washington: Thurgood Marshall felt unappreciated.

Marshall masked his hurt with a cantankerous demeanor that kept most people at a distance. People who talk about Marshall as a gruff character are inevitably describing a man they met after 1961.

Marshall's hurt emanated from being overlooked by RFK and JFK for a better court seat because they were afraid of challenging Southern senators.

So Marshall, unlike Thomas, endured the pain later in life. Thomas seemingly has left his behind.

My God, the racism and injustice done against these good people makes one weep.

Life is difficult enough as it is; to add the weight of this evil on people literally makes me physically sick.

SMG

rhhardin said...

Hill was deluding herself, at best.

I listened to the hearings, and suddenly some judge from California, who changed all her vowels into long e's, testifying in support of Hill, told how she had talked to Hill on the phone about all of these horrible things that Hill said that Thomas did that she was feeling bad about, and so bad was Hill's suffering that _her sympathy offered to Hill didn't help_.

But sympathy always helps. The only way it can fail to reach the problem is if the problem is made up.

So Hill knew it was made up, either consciously or unconsciously ; and that disabled the grammar of sympathy.

Because in fact it was sympathy for the wrong thing. It would have to be sympathy for susceptibility to delusion, to have helped Hill.

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm curious -- why do you "want to believe him"? As opposed, say, to wanting to believe her? Or being neutral on the question?"

In some ways, I want to believe her too. I certainly wanted to believe her at the time of the confirmation. I hate to think that either of them is lying. It's so ugly and so bizarre.

Reading his book, following his story, I feel empathy. I maintain my distance and my skepticism, too though.

Trooper York said...

[answering a riddle]
Batman: Why is a woman in love like a welder? Because they both carry a torch!
(Batman TV Show)

rcocean said...

Excellent post.

Opinion based on actual, independent thought, as opposed to some tiresome, predetermined political template.

I read your blog for just these kind of posts.

Well that and the pretty pictures. And the stuff about sex and breasts.

XWL said...

Sounds like he authored a book that can be greedily and happily consumed by the lovers and haters equally.

That's a pretty impressive accomplishment.

Windbag said...

I'll reserve final judgement until after I actually read the book. I honestly was becoming less and less excited about reading it, based on the excerpts posted here. I've come around, though, and again look forward to reading it sometime soon.

From the sounds of it, Justice Thomas wrote a successful book. He gets the hat trick for offering insight for those interested in discovering the man within, and enough evidence to drive the conspiracy theorists from both sides of the aisle concerning his confirmation.

Memoirs shouldn't be read for those seeking the truth of events from the past; they're for the author to justify or explain their behavior. We learn who they are by the excuses and reasons they offer for their actions, and by their treatment of discernible facts.

Thomas's confirmation battle boiled down to he said/she said. There are three sides to every story. The first party's, the second party's, and the truth.

Ann Althouse said...

"Thomas's confirmation battle boiled down to he said/she said. There are three sides to every story. The first party's, the second party's, and the truth."

I do think it's fair to say that her story lacked enough corroboration to have been brought forward into the hearing. The only reason it came out and put him in the position to have to deny it and to be forever tarnished by it is that someone leaked the report.

rcocean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ricpic said...

The simple truth is: yes, a left wing ideologue is born to murder his/her enemies. That's what Hill & Co. set out to do and that's what Thomas wouldn't roll over for. And that's what the-too-clever-by-half Althouse sees but won't allow herself to see. Too crude, donchyano.

mcg said...

Actually, it really wasn't a he said/she said. There were witnesses.

mcg said...

(of the character variety at the very least.)

mcg said...

OK, brain fart. If they're only character witnesses then it is a he said/she said :) I'm going to crawl back in my hole for the evening :)

Gary Carson said...

If Thomas says Hill was a left-wing ideologue then he's a liar. Left-wind ideologues don't teach at Oral Roberts.

rcocean said...

Since this may be the last Althouse post on Hill and Thomas let me write about this about Anita Hill.

I don't care if she was telling the "truth" as she saw it. To me she is one of the biggest, backstabbing b*t*hes ever.

The fact is Thomas gave her a job when no one else would. He wrote a good recommendation that got her a job at Oral Roberts. He lectured at the University as a favor to her.

She smiled and called him to congratulate him on his marriage.
She said nothing to him about the "harassment" and followed him to the EEOC. She said nothing for 10 years.

Then when Thomas was nominated to the SCOTUS, to be the most powerful black man in America, she saw her chance. So, she stabbed him in the back.

It was payback for all the slights she suffered from a fellow Yale Law School Grad. And a chance for fame and fortune.

So she ruined what should have been the his greatest experience and highpoint of his life. She tried to "kill" him. She gave the white liberals the rope to do their "High-tech" lynching. She smeared his reputation for ever.
She is Judas personified.

I don't care whether he asked her out on a date or talked "dirty" to her or not in 1981. She should have settled the matter then, and not ten years later -if she cared so much.

Windbag said...

Those don't count as witnesses to the fact. Like MCG said, they were character witnesses. One of the witnesses cited in your link testified that Thomas could not have done such a thing. Based on what??!! Her opinion of him. How many parents, when confronted by the police concerning their kid's participation in a crime, have made the same claim? He said/she said.

reader_iam said...

You've got to love him or hate him, don't you?

No. But I can be sufficiently turned off by excerpts and coverage (not just yours, but more broadly) to deliberately decide to skip reading a book previously placed on the pending list.

Shocking, I know, but sometimes--not often, mind you, historically speaking--reader_iam morphs into reader_iwont.

Ralph said...

Any indication there was a ghostwriter?

former law student said...

rcocean said...
Since this may be the last Althouse post on Hill and Thomas let me write about this about Anita Hill.

this was awesome. applause

Any indication there was a ghostwriter?
There must be, right? Lawyers can't write -- it's well known.

dick said...

rcocean,

I find that I agree with you almost totally. Anita Hill could give pointers to Machiavelli. If he really did what she claimed and she waited all that time to exact her revenge, then I would have to wonder what kind of person can actually be so two-faced as to practically become a member of the Thomas family with the congratulations and the gifts and attending the private parties and family occasions and at the same time do what she did. If she lied, then what value can one put on her word based on what she was willing to do to someone who went so far out of his way to help her in her career. If she went along with releasing the testimony that was released, she is pondscum. If she did not and said nothing then she is still pondscum.

I really don't see how she can come out of this other than as a user and a beeyotch, whether she told the truth or not. I also do not see how you can see how she interacted with him and at the same time think he was supposedly doing all these harassments to her and have her do nothing. She was not a shrinking violet who could get no job without him after all. Black women, especially black women with advanced degrees from Ivy League universities could almost name their price at the time. We obviously know what her price was.

Trumpit said...

Anita Hill took and passed a polygraph test, while Clarence Thomas refused to take one. Even O.J. Simpson took a polygraph test at the time of the murders. He failed it, of course.

I personally don't put a lot of faith in those tests, because the person who administers such a test can be quite biased. I'm sure there are other problems with the test as well, so for good reasons they aren't admissible in court. But still, it's one more nail in Clarence Thomas' coffin. History won't be kind to him or his partisan and terrible work product on the court.

blogging cockroach said...

perhaps justice thomas' book should be autopsied instead of critiqued.

jeff said...

"I personally don't put a lot of faith in those tests" "....so for good reasons they aren't admissible in court."

"But still, it's one more nail in Clarence Thomas' coffin."

What in the world are you talking about. You state you dont put much faith in the test, you acknowledge the test is inadmissible in court, yet you consider not taking one a nail in his coffin? That makes zero sense. I wouldn't have taken it either. If you pass your opponents point out what you just did, and if you fail everyone considers you guilty. I have taken a number of them. I have "failed" them when I was telling the truth. They mean nothing.

"History won't be kind to him or his partisan and terrible work product on the court."
You have no idea what you are talking about. Why don't you give some examples of this, and explain to us why the constitution says he was wrong.

B said...

Professor Ann wrote:

Could individuals with that much professional status be that evil?

That is THE question of our current aqe, isn't it?

The belief that education and the nurture of the intellect will create a better moral person is the most damning of our current culture's philosophies. Clearly - and sadly - it more often exposes a self-righteousness that longs to create politically amoral systems such as Marxism and utopianism.

2000 years ago, St Paul:

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of "the brightest and the best" among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"?"
I Corinthians 1:26 (the Message)

reader_iam said...

Interesting choice of Bible version to use, B. Your standard choice, or just in this context?

Caroline said...

"I'm entertaining the notion that it is possible that neither one was lying — that is, neither blatantly said was [sic] he or she knew was not true."

I suppose it's possible they both told the truth as they saw it.

Think about how much of what we call reality can be affected by differences in perception, or even changed based on new information revealed.

For example, what one guy sees in reality as good-natured, but off-color joking, or harmless flirting, can in reality, be extremely insulting or intimidating to some women.

Another example: the truth is your wife is a saint. Then you find out she's been cheating on you all along. Now the truth is she's a conniving bitch.


"The only reason it came out and put him in the position to have to deny it and to be forever tarnished by it is that someone leaked the report."

I didn't know that. If Ms. Hill was not the leaker, and did not choose this venue to air her grievances, but was forced to by this leak, then in my eyes they were both being used as pawns in an ugly political battle. Sad.

Trumpit said...

You are a rude little twit, Jeff. And YOU don't have the foggiest idea what YOU are taking about, twit.

He was presented with damning evidence by a law professor, Anita Hill. In a sane world with sane Senators, he wouldn't stand a chance of confirmation after her damning testimony unless he took the test, like she did, and passed. But he did do everything she testified to, so obviously he couldn't take the lie detector test. And I read the Supreme Court case in which he was admiring corporal punishment, in grammar schools, at the turn of the century or earlier as if that had any bearing on the case he was deciding. Clarence Thomas is a fool and intellectual lightweight. And you're more than a twit, you're a dumb ass as well.

Trumpit said...

I should also add that I believe C. Thomas is dangerous man because he's an angry man who holds grudges against a lot of people and it affects what little judgment he has. I think, though, that he would have ruled against Gore in Gore v. Bush no matter if Gore had voted to confirm him. That's because he another Scalito, i.e. extreme right-wing ideologue, on the court.

Revenant said...

Anita Hill took and passed a polygraph test, while Clarence Thomas refused to take one.

Let me guess -- you believe in astrology, too.

Polygraphs are pseudoscientific crap, which is why they aren't admissible in criminal court in the United States, Canada, or Europe and are rejected as a lie-detection tool by the National Academy of Sciences. You might as well use a ouija board.

And just in case the opinions of the worlds' scientific experts aren't enough to convince you, I'll close by pointing out that everyone from Soviet spies to serial killers has beaten the polygraph. It doesn't work reliably on anyone, and it doesn't work at ALL on people who aren't bothered by their own lies.

Trumpit said...

Even OJ had the hubris to think he could "outsmart" the machine; he couldn't. I suppose OJ had a guilty conscious that the machine "detected." I guess OJ doesn't fit the amoral, anti-social, guiltless, typical serial killer type who can dissemble and not sweat or flinch one iota while prevaricating when hooked up to the lie detector. Clarence Thomas probably fits into the same category as OJ without the hubris or the capacity to stab two people to death. At least I don't think he's that big of a monster.

Most of what you said Revenant are red herrings that have little bearing on the points that I made. In a sane world, his only chance to be confirmed would have been to take the same test, under the same conditions, as Anita Hill did and pass the "meaningless," "worthless" test. Now, jump back in your fish tank.

E. Cliff said...

I remember Hill being questioned by one Senator, if I recall correctly, a Senator supportive of her and not Thomas (but it was a long time ago and who has time to revisit the transcripts), and the Senator asked something like, "There is nothing in this for you, why would you put yourself in this position etc...etc," and the question developed into "whether she was going to write a book or not. Cash in." Hill took to the end of the question and categorically promised she would never write a book about this. Never. Never! A small detail at the time and now, and not knowing who to believe then I thought to myself whether she keeps this promise or not will mean something. At the very least to me and to how I think about her. And thus him. 1998: Speaking Truth to Power by Anita Hill.

rishigajria said...

"Heavy Drinker in College"

Ms.Althouse, tell me more. what did you during your youth. All the wild stuff. Ive long been envious of the folks here in the states who got to see the 60's and the 70's.

Revenant said...

Even OJ had the hubris to think he could "outsmart" the machine; he couldn't.

Polygraph machines do nothing. It is the polygraph administrator who "detects" the "lies" -- that's why you need a human being to work it. If the machine was actually detecting lies you wouldn't need a human there to interpret the readouts. So small wonder that OJ "failed" the polygraph "test", since there were approximately twelve people on the entire planet who didn't know he was lying.

Anyway, like I noted above, polygraphs don't work. You're welcome to think they do. It would hardly be the first ignorant belief you were stupid enough to hold.

Trumpit said...

Polygraph machines do nothing. - Revenant.

That is a truly ignorant statement. But I expect that from an ignoramus like you.

Blake said...

OK, I'm with those who think Trumpit is a right-winger's sock-puppet.

Personally, I don't think lie-detector tests are reliable but failure to take one absolutely proves Thomas' guilt.

And they're not that hard to beat; you don't have to be a sociopath.

Revenant said...

That is a truly ignorant statement.

Then I guess the scientific community is collectively ignorant, because the science is on my side.

Like I said, you're welcome to believe what you want -- although for a person who "doesn't put a lot of faith" in polygraphs and admits that "there are good reasons they aren't admissible in court", you sure are desperate to believe in them when they support your agenda.

Carl said...

Could individuals with that much professional status be that evil?

You've lived through the last seven years of Bush and you can question that? When Ann Coulter can threaten a Supreme Court justice with poisoning AFTER 9/11, and not be arrested for it?

Ann, I know Madison ain't Noo Yawk, but c'MON! Don't be an ostrich!

peter hoh said...

What is your role in this - as a reader?

Thanks for taking that approach, Ann.

Henry said...

Maybe Thomas said a few little things that Hill remembered and inflated through a process of solitary brooding followed by vigorous prompting from anti-Thomas zealots. And maybe he forgot those little things.

That's always been my belief.

Something else that strikes me, based on your excerpts from the book, Thomas's interviews, Hill's editorial, and my memory of the hearing, is how easy it would be for these two to totally irritate each other.

Just their attitude toward law school is revealing. For Thomas, Yale law school was a sham - he did well and still couldn't get a job. For Hill, Yale law school was a badge of entitlement. Years later, it's still her fallback.

For Thomas, any opportunity was a test that required that he prove himself again. For Hill, there's that sense of entitlement, and the odd passivity in the way she explains herself.

As for memories, it is astonishingly easy for people to self-justify their actions and edit their inner stories to fit.

I can well imagine that Hill, in simmering resentment over various affronts, unconsciously exagerated and believed her own exagerations under the pressure put on her to come up with real dirt. You can't go on national television and say something lame like "he didn't give me a promotion and once he told a dirty joke." Television demands more -- as did Hill's Democratic handlers.

Likewise I can imagine Thomas, in his pride and shock, turning so defensive as to reject all of Hill's accusations, even the most trifling. If one accusation was a lie, all of them were lies.

I have no idea if this is the case, but people are far more subjective in their memories than we like to admit.

knoxwhirled said...

Personally, I don't think lie-detector tests are reliable but failure to take one absolutely proves Thomas' guilt.

This is too pat. If I were innocent and accused of a crime, I would probably refuse to take a lie-detector. They are unreliable and I don't understand how they work; I wouldn't want the cops thinking they had me just because I had too many cups of coffee that day or something.

And there are plausible circumstances that could make someone register "guilty" responses to questions even if they didn't commit a crime. What if you'd been cheating on your wife, for example, but didn't kill her. You might have guilty responses to all sorts of questions even if you didn't do the crime.

knoxwhirled said...

Ive long been envious of the folks here in the states who got to see the 60's and the 70's.

ugh, be glad you didn't. I'm still scarred from having to watch "Free To Be You and Me" in grade school.

Don't be deceived. Partying in the 60's and the 70's was still just partying. It's just that so many from that time want you to think they invented it.

former law student said...

Calling a polygraph machine a lie detector begs the question, doesn't it? Are certain physiologic responses a sure sign of lying, and is the absence of such responses a sure sign of truthfulness?

God I've always wanted to use that phrase.

The Exalted said...

uh revenant, "inadmissible in court" doesn't mean that they are good for nothing.

one reason they can't be used in court is because jurors can't be counted on to discount them by their error rate, and will accept their results as dna-like proof.

if they were "good for nothing" as you so cavalierly state, why would the CIA, the defense department, and multitudes of corporations use them?

that being said, of course he didn't take one. in his position, if he was telling the truth, any error rate was too great.

David Walser said...

if they were "good for nothing"..., why would the CIA, the defense department, and multitudes of corporations use them?

They use them for two reasons:

(1) For CYA. If someone in the CIA turns out to be a bad apple, the agency's leaders can, in effect, shrug their shoulders and ask, "How were we supposed to know? He passed a lie detector test."

(2) As a deterrent. Knowing the tests are given tends alter behavior. Yes, you might "beat the test", but it might also come up with a false positive. If the test -- rightly or wrongly -- indicates you might be a security risk, you're going to be investigated. The knowledge an investigation might be triggered -- no matter how good you are at fudging the truth -- tends to keep people from straying too far from the path.

Revenant said...

if they were "good for nothing" as you so cavalierly state, why would the CIA, the defense department, and multitudes of corporations use them?

David pretty much summed up the two main reasons, but I'd like to add a couple points:

First of all, the use of polygraphs by corporations has been almost completely illegal for the last 19 years.

Secondly, most people believe polygraphs work. This is the main driving force behind the deterrent effect David mentions -- if you tell a bunch of people you're going to give them a "lie detector test", a lot of the people who otherwise WOULD have done things they'd have to lie about will refrain from doing so. The fact that the polygraph doesn't actually work doesn't matter, because most people don't KNOW it doesn't work.

The Exalted said...

your "don't work" statement is, again, extremely cavalier

i think they may have unacceptably high error rates given their "standing" in the eyes of the public, but that does not mean they "don't work"

if they work at 75% accuracy, it doesn't mean that they "don't work," it means that they work at 75% accuracy

as to the corporations comment, i stand corrected. could've sworn i've read recent stories involving companies and polygraphs. maybe it was companies exempted for one reason or another, like defense contractors.

SGT Ted said...

I love the alleged lefty civil libertarians who are so quick to throw someone under the bus and deny them a job based on one persons word of wrongdoing. But when that someone is a "winger" anything is justified as long as the "correct" result is reached.

The Big Unspoken here is that the Thomas confirmation fight was about abortion and nothing else.

Abortion supporters have bet the farm on the SCOTUS remaining firmly in their camp as a sort of mini-legislature that they can pack with as many political cronies as possible in order to maintain Roe v Wade as the law of the land, as well as decide that all sort of things not written into the Constitution that have emanated from those invisible penumbras that have sprouted since FDR packed the court with his guys.

former law student said...

as well as decide that all sort of things not written into the Constitution that have emanated from those invisible penumbras that have sprouted since FDR packed the court with his guys.
Sgt. Ted is soooooooo right. How dare married women buy birth control. Of course, I suspect Sgt. Ted bought condoms once or twice NOT for the prevention of disease only.

America is much better off with the FBI in our bedrooms.

Revenant said...

How dare married women buy birth control.

You can be glad that women can buy birth control and still recognize that the notion that they have a Constitutionally guaranteed right to do so is complete nonsense.

I'm glad abortion is legal. I'm annoyed that it is legal because the Supreme Court ignores the text of the Constitution in favor of shit they made up on their own. Once the courts start ignoring the written law, where does it all end? What's to stop them from waking up tomorrow and discovering a "right to unlimited government-financed medical care" that needs to be paid for out of my pocket, for example?

Revenant said...

Exalted, the NAS found that, under laboratory conditions, when the subject was not actively attempting to deceive the polygraph through one of the numerous available techniques, a polygraph was slightly better than random chance (note that humans are, ourselves, better than random chance at spotting lies). When used for screening questions -- i.e., like the CIA does -- the NAS found that the polygraph is no better than random chance. Finally, the NAS found that there is no evidence that the polygraph has better-than-chance accuracy when used against an uncooperative subject who wishes to deceive it.

That's what I mean by "it doesn't work". You would, quite literally, get the same level of accuracy out of a deck of tarot cards. For a polygraph to "work" there would have to be some scenario in which using one would increase your chances of detecting a lie. There is not.

John D said...

What a fabulous post.

The Exalted said...

see, its interesting, i just googled "polygraph" and "national academy of sciences" and i came up with NAS results that completely contradict what you just wrote.

CONCLUSION: Notwithstanding the limitations of the quality of the empirical
research and the limited ability to generalize to real-world settings, we conclude that
in populations of examinees such as those represented in the polygraph research
literature, untrained in countermeasures, specific-incident polygraph tests can
discriminate lying from truth telling at rates well above chance, though well below
perfection.

former law student said...

I'm annoyed that it is legal because the Supreme Court ignores the text of the Constitution in favor of shit they made up on their own.
For the one millionth time: the Constitution limits the power of government, it does not limit the rights of the people.