This bothered me, because I don't normally get into arguments that nasty. Before it was all over, I had been called unpatriotic, a weakling, and a budding Nazi. But it what really got my dander up was being called irrational. I may not always be rational, but I try hard to be, and spend a downright unhealthy amount of time thinking about what rationality is...and what it isn't. That's what the argument made me think about, and what I want to think about in my next few posts. But first, a little more about the Rumble on Sesame Street. I won't get too detailed, because there's nothing more boring than hearing someone tell you, “So then I just said to him, I said....blah, blah, blah...” But I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about civility and rationality, and this argument was a spectacular breakdown of both, so it's worth looking at what went wrong. (Just to be clear, I'm not saying everyone who doesn't support government subsidies for PBS is like the guy I'm describing here. Some of them are very smart and nice, and I can disagree with them without getting into a fight).
Here's how it started. I'm one of the PBS lovers, so as soon as the debate was over, I started thinking up ways to show people that federal spending on PBS is actually quite minuscule compared to the entire federal budget. I had soon worked out that if you imagined federal spending this year in terms of height—the height of the Empire State Building, which is 1445 feet tall—then federal spending on PBS would amount to a little more than a tenth of an inch. I was rather proud of this image, so, when I saw a comment thread about PBS, I threw it in there.