Archive for October, 2008

Another straw man votes for creationism

Dale Franks wonders about the Great Designer at Q&O. He thinks he has something in a conflict between Louis Pasteur’s argument against spontaneous generation and Darwin’s evolution. This is a straw man based on ignorance as is quickly pointed out in the comments.

Confusing abiogenesis with evolution does nothing to advance the debate. In fact, it suppresses it. It’s the trick of the creationist. It’s either a deliberate attempt to derail the debate, or a lack of understanding of the theory of evolution.

Compare it with theories about gravity: physicists don’t fully understand where gravity comes from either. The “why” is not fully understood, but the “how” has an amazing level of depth.[Joe R]

As usually seems the case, the discussion devolves into defense and critique that do little to further understanding. As in Dale Frank’s straw man, there are people who are trying to find rationalization for their feelings by creating dissonance that doesn’t exist or by dismissing nuance that does exist or by delving into inane parsing of definition in total disregard of meaning.

That would be true if they referred to the same thing. As it is, they don’t. [Peter]

It is one thing to try to find out what an argument or thesis means, its limitations, and its context. It is another to attempt to misuse those things to dismiss it.

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Matters of motivation

It appears that the socialist charge in this campaign is rather sensitive. It was prompted by a candidate’s statement that it was necessary to “spread the wealth around.” The socialism assertion has been called racist and ridiculed. It has been refuted as simply another label for progressive taxation like is already being done.

The issue is a matter of motivation.

Taxation of any sort, progressive or otherwise, is supposedly for the purpose of meeting governmental budget needs. The socialist trends of government programs is separated from the collection of funds from them as a separate decision.

When the collection of taxes becomes directly for the purposes of social justice and spreading the wealth, it crosses the line, removes a step in the process, and declares a motivation for collecting funds that is not just to be budgetary obligations but rather to meet the goals of what is known as socialism.

This particular issue is one of many the revolve around visions of the proper role of government and its structure. Does the public seek a US government in its traditional limited role or in its more modern social interventionist role?

An example of this struggle was picked up by the IBT from the American Thinker in Why The Mortgage Crisis Happened. This is a story going back to the 1930’s of attempts to use the government to force social ‘fairness’ and its current results.

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Negative advertising and the rubber band effect

Some seem to have rationalized their political choice by asserting that they think the other side is using repugnant campaign ads. There is a meme about awful negative and attack ads that is often used to impugn a candidate or a political party. The Nevada Independent Voters use this idea to pretend they are above the fray.

It is one the commonly accepted lies used as a basis for propaganda.

The issue should not be about negative ads or attack ads but rather the intellectual integrity and honesty of the ads. You can tell that this is the proper basis by the popularity of the “fact check” efforts.

The problem is that sometimes the line is not clear and there is a nuance or context that complicates perception and truthful understanding of position, value, or behavior. This is why a candidate or anyone else is using a rubber band when trying to describe someone else. The question for observers is how much this rubber band has been stretched and whether it has stretched so much that is broke.

Many times fact checking, if not honest, is noting the stretch of the rubber band and not whether or not it broke. The fact checking focuses on hyperbole or some other stretching and ignores the fundamental truth. When it does this, it illustrates both an ignorance and a bias.

There must be some allowance for flexibility in the rubber band. We must realize it exists in our own perceptions and we must recognize that it exists in the messages that come to us. What we must also be able to recognize is when it stretches too far and when it is being used as a weapon to find fault.

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All safeties off

It appears that campaign fundraising this year has an example of ‘all safeties off’ meaning that the usual protections to prevent fraud and misuse of financial information have been bypassed in order to facilitate fund raising.

Bill Dyer notes (at that

But for [candidate’s] undisputed and indisputable violation of his solemn oath to accept public campaign financing, there’s no way he could have spent hundreds of millions of dollars, including this hugely expensive cross-network TV buy.

But “paid for with broken promises” is the most charitable characterization.

The public campaign financing is from the checkbox you have on every year’s income tax return. It was a part of many post Nixon campaign finance laws intended to put transparency in campaign funding. These laws and regulations were one corner of the post sixties cynicism and paranoia about the evil influence of money and ‘bought politicians.’

Patterico had figured that reneging on promises to stick with public financing would create funding problems.

contributions over the summer did not seem high enough to reach a level at which it would have been worth the time and effort it would take to raise sufficient funds to have made it worth opting out of the public financing system.

But that $150 million raised in September was doing the ‘impossible’ by this analysis. How did that happen?

Two thirds of that September total were raised via the I’net and that means credit card transactions. In doing that, the campaign had turned all safeties off. These safeties are used by credit card companies and merchants to minimize the risk of fraud, identity theft, and misuse. But in this case, the:

campaign chose to disconnect all available anti-fraud mechanisms commonly used by merchants receiving credit card payments over the Internet — things like requiring the name and address of the person using the credit card to match the data base information for that credit card as verified through the company that issued the card.

Because there was no proper check for the name and address of the donor, adherence to campaign finance laws regarding transparency and donation limits became difficult.

In addition there is no mechanism — besides after-the-fact analysis by the campaign staff — to determine whether a contributor has given previously and whether the current contribution is in excess of campaign contribution limits

What all that comes down to is that not only are campaign finance laws are behind bypassed but there is also a possibility that money laundering is taking place. That means a financial transaction supporting unlawful activity that conceals the nature of the known unlawful transaction.

if he wins, will have done so largely as a result of employing a weapon against [his opponent] that he had by virtue of his willingness to disregard all pretense of ethics and good government

Meanwhile, in contrast to this kind of behavior on one side of the campaign, there is an assault on the other trying to make scandal of near any smear that comes along such as the firing of an at-will employee or the accommodation of family on state business. This is the worrisome nature of things, a defense and an offense in the campaign to win that both suffer morally and ethically. – anything to win, all safeties off, take no prisoners, the means justify the end, …

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Slickness with words

Dr. Sowell gets to the fundamental issue in US elections:

Representative government exists, in the first place, because we the voters cannot possibly have all the information necessary to make rational decisions on all the things the government does. We cannot rule through polls or referendums. We must trust someone to represent us, especially as president of the United States.

Once we recognize this basic fact of representative government, the question of how trustworthy a candidate is becomes a more urgent question than any of the so-called “real issues.”

Much of the ‘negative attack adds’ in election have been to note this problem of trust and integrity. It has been to highlight that

A candidate who spends two decades promoting polarization and then runs as a healer and uniter, rather than a divider, forfeits all trust by that fact alone.

The response to taking note of these things has been a “slickness of words” and a parsing of meaning to suit the needs of the moment. Sowell notes that many wonder how slick words can prevail and offers this:

what con men have long known: Their job is not to convince skeptics but to enable the gullible to continue to believe what they want to believe

Slick words comfort – ‘oh, that’s when I was only 8 years old’ – ‘spread the wealth is just progressive taxation’ – ‘real issues’ – and this comfort is only skin deep. Trust, integrity, and dependability require the electorate to go a bit deeper if they do not want to be conned.

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A recklessness and abandonment of rationality

Mark Levin is worried about what he sees in the Obama Temptation

I sense what’s occurring in this election is a recklessness and abandonment of rationality that has preceded the voluntary surrender of liberty and security in other places

There is a cult-like atmosphere … Young school children singing songs praising … Teenagers wearing camouflage outfits and marching in military order chanting … I dare say, this is ominous stuff.

it is obvious that this election is different. The media are open and brazen in their attempts to influence the outcome of this election

my greatest concern is whether this election will show a majority of the voters susceptible to the appeal of a charismatic demagogue

There appear to be many who do not see Levin’s concern or who see things the way he does. Or they do not see it as a concern. How can you tell if Levin see it correctly or if it should be a concern? To answer that question requires work and an inspection of one’s own values and their implications in an honest and thorough way. The evidence is that there is little progress on that work as most of what can be seen is yet only in the early phases of basic awareness.

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The options do not look good

LGF notes a Pew Research Center study that concludes that just 14% of stories about McCain recently have been positive while 60% have been negative.

What this indicates is that the options for the outcome of the Presidential race are likely not good as far as the air blast going by our head. Either we will have another bout of President bashing, perhaps rising to the level of Bush Derangement Syndrome, or we may suffer a Clintonesque period of scandals with the attendant rationalizations, minimizing, and cover ups and overs.

Either way, it is not something to look forward to.

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Summarizing the options

Patrick Stephens discussed the Smart & Principled meme that arose from the ‘experience’ rationale some used to support their discomforts. Kim du Toit selected a quote of the day from the discussion that is worth thinking about.

When foundering in ignorance, Obama reverts to platitudes, Biden makes stuff up, McCain suspends his campaign, and Palin asks for clarification.

Patrick notes this in support of his view that the campaign is a choice between random and wrong rather than the often cited “change” or “experience” or relationships. Along the way he touches on the bedrock provided by principle and value system and that threads back to the success of Reagan.

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Manufactured Outrage

‘Tis the season, it appears, for manufactured outrage. One episode is noted by Jack M.

Here’s the CNN story that started the left’s latest tantrum: “Palin takes heat for saying VP in charge of the Senate.”

This manufactured outrage is just an extension of the “Palin doesn’t know what a VP does” meme that started a few weeks ago

There are many other examples such as the complaints about how nasty McCain’s campaign tactics are or the Palin wardrobe expense or the accusations of racism as a response to criticism.

There are two keys to note about these manufactured outrages. One is that they are ‘found’ to support a predefined viewpoint. The other is that they are placed out of context of any reference that will illustrate just how extensive the manufacturing of outrage really is.

It is one thing to have these manufactured outrages visible. That is Dr. Sanity’s realm. It is yet another that much of the public accepts them as is without any skepticism or inspection. That should be worry.

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Palin Rx: a case study

Ben Voth examines Palin’s People Power and it provides a case study for several concepts in understanding knowing. Here is an observation about the difference between knowing things and understanding things:

The public rightly suspects that to be “educated” in this country is becoming less about the central tasks of critical thinking and more about fluency in the insidious lingo of political correctness.

Another factor in this campaign involves the meme of ugly and negative tactics which often seems to be more a matter of projection rather than description.

Terms such as racism and sexism are exclusively reserved to the Democratic Party in scolding its opponents when substantive debate is failing.

That this meme heard so often in news and the elite punditry is seen to be flawed by the masses is also noted.

The establishment may be ‘misunderestimating’ public frustration with this long reliable rhetorical arrangement. It is a sad day for argumentation, debate and civic practice when such accusations substitute for good public discourse. It can hardly be a positive indication of a potential world judged on the content of character rather than the color of someone’s skin.

Palin has brought these issues to the surface and may have prepared the field for others like Joe the Plumber. The reaction and response to these ‘common folk’ says more than the message of the words.

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Pay for service or for outcome?

The WSJ Health Blog notes a phenomena that highlights a concern of both doctors and teachers. The issue is how to determine how they should be paid and for what.

The prospect of linking doctor pay to patient outcomes makes lots of doctors nervous. Many doubt that a payment system can accurately account for important differences between patients. And they worry that any changes will only mean more paperwork and administrative hassles.

You can take this same paragraph and substitute ‘teacher’ and ‘student’ for doctor and patient and it will still be accurate.

The issues of differences in clientelle and paperwork are only visible parts of a much more complex phenomena. These service based occupations depend very much upon relationships and that means that success will depend upon not only objective factors but also subjective factors. An answer is not clear and cleanly defined. There will be no simple solution and trying to find one can be fraught with potential for damage.

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Who should decide?

Who should decide? When it comes to things measurable, but not necessarily with great accuracy, who should decide? Should the scientist who is supposed to qualify the precision of his measures with the accuracy of the process determine the basis for decision? Or should the legal system – juries and judges – make the decision based on a particular case set before them?

Today, it is even easier to supplant science and replace it with a state of fear. Fake blogs, journalists working closely with trial attorneys, and doctors and scientists on tort-lawyer payrolls create and spread specious theories and crank out statistical associations without any real evidence of cause and effect. Panic spreads and is reinforced in court-proceedings. As one theory is knocked down, such as the measles vaccine causing autism, another one – thimerosal – springs up. [The FDA and junk science Washington Times Editorial]

One of the most fearful phenomena about conflict these days seems to be persistence. People do not learn. Once an idea takes hold and overcomes them, they seek any method for its expression and will not stop. The legal system accommodates such behavior as, for instance, in the recent attempt to sue God. There is an acceptance of ideas not based on proper evidence and reason that keeps them alive and pressuring civil systems.

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The three monkeys

Tony Blankley notes one potential problem in current politics:

Moreover, the public’s lack of interest in the facts is facilitated by the major American media’s refusal to report them.

It’s like those three famous monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, and say no evil.

What is really astounding is that critical listening and reading have also gone by the board. A recent advertisement minimized a politician’s association with his past, associated his opponent’s efforts with that past, and then claimed that the campaign needed to not do those sorts of things. In one short ad there was an illustration of ‘do as I say but not as I do’. The blatant display of such contradictions illustrated just how little the campaign thought of the the ad viewers. It would only work if those viewing the ad took everything at face value even if one sentence contradicted the next.

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About that Kool Aid

Its enough to make you wonder whether they have been drinking the Kool-Aid.

Having “drunk the Kool-Aid” also refers to being a strong or fervent believer in a particular philosophy or mission — wholeheartedly or blindly believing in its virtues.

Michelle Malkin describes the delusions in Crush the Obamedia narrative: Look who’s “gripped by insane rage” where the narrative is the “McCain Mob” and the reality is easily seen elsewhere. John has more in Insane Rage? Look in the Mirror. Then there is the Disgusting hit piece on McCain.

Then there are the blatant distortions in campaign adds such as described in Obama’s Health Care Ads

But the most striking (though not surprising) element of it all is the profound and shameless dishonesty of these ads. Factually and substantively speaking, they are all utter nonsense.

Then there’s Obama Lies About Falling Family Incomes which is just another part of the FUD mongering trying to paint the current economy as a recession and déjà vu 1930’s all over again. It gotten so bad that people are going to the mall expecting to be able to shop in peace and alone but finding out when they get there that a whole lot of others had the same idea and the place is not suffering any signs of economic strain as far as shoppers goes.

Of course, you do see a lot of moral equivalencing that asserts that both sides are equally guilty. That is from the milder denialists. Until that changes and reality overcomes the denial behaviors we will continue to be subject to an acceptance of a lack of intellectual integrity as a matter of course. And that does not bode well.

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Steven Horwitz at the Department of Economics at
St. Lawrence University has An Open Letter to my Friends on the Left (September 28, 2008) about the proper role of government in the financial markets. It is worth a careful reading.

I know, my friends, that you are concerned about corporate power. So am I. So are many of my free-market economist colleagues. We simply believe, and we think history is on our side, that the best check against corporate power is the competitve marketplace and the power of the consumer dollar (framed, of course, by legal prohibitions on force and fraud).

He provides a bit of history that has lead to the current market situation and worries about the over simplifications being espoused to ‘fix it.’

The real problem here is the marriage of corporate and state power. That is the corporatism we both oppose.

Blaming the stock panic as a result of free markets or talking about greed or thinking some savior is going to be able to make it all good are not helpful. Listen to his explanations and hear his opinions. They will both help you better understand your own.

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The Anchoress describes it in ACORN, Media & the Angry Right.

The GOP base is watching the left declare, “free speech for me, but not for thee,” and now, they are getting pissed off.

The latest MSM effort is to use the outbursts of a few individuals at McCain and Palin rallies to paint the candidates and the entire GOP. This is to support and rationalize a view that Republicans are racists, bigots, and, in general, downright evil. Such efforts are beginning to cause a reaction that is rising to the same level as the effort. The deceit is becoming worthy of direct confrontation.

The confrontation is perhaps only a part of it. The other is frustration about why the public seems to buy into it despite it being in such obvious contradiction to reality. We hear about stock market investment for retirement being a ten year or longer issue yet Obama is using the current brouhaha to bash privatization of social security. And this is despite the current dire straights of many government pension obligations.

There is an interesting confluence of Obama with ACORN, Ayers, Chicago politics, voter fraud, improper campaign donation and the attempts to suppress opposing voices. That is almost as ‘interesting’ as how it is covered (or not) by the major media outlets. If people are going to vote for this, shouldn’t they at least be aware of what they are voting for and accept it for what it really is?

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Searching for a way to describe the current stock market meltdown? Call it the “Panic of 2008.”

In the past century, the world has seen countless financial crises, economic downturns, and market crashes. But the last major event to be called a ‘panic’ was the Panic of 1907.

If ever it were appropriate to revive the term “panic,” this is the time. (Steverman, Businessweek)

The incessant multi-year propaganda campaign about recession and ‘total failure’ is taking its pound of flesh. The ‘feel good’ efforts to make housing a right has been the primary stimulant.

Subrahmanyam is more convinced the markets are behaving irrationally. It’s not as if we’ve had a nuclear war and “real” assets were destroyed, he says. Rather, problems are in the financial sector, not the “real” activity in the rest of the economy. “The real, nonfinancial base of the economy is still fairly strong,” he says—far stronger than during, for example, the Great Depression.

It is like watching the Red River stampede caused by a sugar loving cowboy – when conditions are right the stampede is easy to start and difficult to stop. It takes a long time to recover and get things back to normal.

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A ten minute issue rundown

Dr. Sanity says Just watch – you’ll be glad you did. It’s a ten minute YouTube rap BTW I’m voting for McCain/Pailin that summarizes the issues and concerns in this election.

Rather rough editing but rather potent in message presentation. Invigorated but not angry. It provides a good summary of what is behind the current political campaigns.

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Jumping to conclusions

Maggie illustrates why one must be careful when jumping to conclusions in examining the Is Healthcare a “Right” or a “Moral Obligation”? question.

The numbers are irrefutable: low-income people are far more likely than other Americans to become obese, smoke, drink to excess and abuse drugs, in part because a healthy lifestyle is expensive, and in part because the stress of being poor—and “having little control over your life”—leads many to self-medicate. (For evidence and the full argument, see this recent post). This is a major reason why the poor are sicker than the rest of us, and die prematurely of treatable conditions.

The conclusion is that these bad health behaviors are a result of being poor. That may or may not be. All that is readily evident is that there is a correlation. Causation in the direction given has not been demonstrated and a good case can be made for it going in a direction opposite to that presumed here. This confusion between correlation and causation is a well known source of error in many conclusions.

One source of a bias that promotes this sort of error is seen in the assertion that:

Those conservatives and libertarians who put such emphasis on “individual responsibility” are saying, in effect, that low-income families should learn to take care of themselves.

Which commits the error of hyperbole in defining the position of an ideologic opponent.

The dissonance here is ‘resolved’ by noting that the question came up in the context of a narrow definition of rights. That context put rights in terms of “limitations of government power” rather than the obligations of others towards us. This leads to the conflation of rights with entitlements.

That then gets a bit into the binary falsity about health care being either total or nonexistent; health care via the medical profession as being an absolute requirement for a healthy life. Issues of cost vs benefit are seen only as a lump that was swept under the rug and best ignored.

In the end, the idea of a moral obligation – one shared with the ideologic opponents even if such sharing is not acknowledged – is deemed attractive.

What I like about calling healthcare a “moral obligation” is that it presents healthcare, not as a right that “the demanding poor” extort from an adversarial society—or even as an obligation that the poor impose upon us. Rather, Shadowfax is talking about members of a civilized society recognizing that all humans are vulnerable to disease—this is something we have in common—and so willingly pooling their resources to protect each of us against the hazards of fate.

It often seems that one form of political argument is demonizing the other side because they do not advocate some program or other that will save humanity. They are labeled as totally uncaring or evil, not as being caring human beings who just have a different opinion about how they think the problem should be solved.

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more on the meme

Dr. Sowell wonders how the Dems avoid blame for crisis and whether the facts matter. This is puzzling over the meme that has been built by a propaganda effort over the years, a propaganda effort that was not conceived as such nor planned and very much in the vein of well meaning.

Unfortunately, the future of this country, as well as the fate of the Western world, depends on how many people can be fooled on Election Day, just a few weeks from now. Right now, the polls indicate that a whole lot of the people are being fooled a whole lot of the time.

Much of the financial side of things – the stock market and banking and financial management – are based on perception and emotional factors. When folks fear a bank will collapse they’ll try to get their deposits out of the bank before that happens and, if very many follow the same path, there will be a run on the bank that will indeed create a self fulfilling prophecy.

There have been many demands of the money managers in recent years to abandon their capitalist greed motivations and instead serve socialistic causes. These are feel good things that redistribute wealth and provide such things as housing and retirement security at levels some might not otherwise be able to achieve.

These demands meant a much broader market trying to buy houses and investments and that demand meant the prices went up. House values and stock indexes bubbled. But then the fear mongering about the economy coupled with a bit of over-reach has punctured the bubble. A few folks could not meet their obligations (a couple of percent of mortgages). That started a run on the investment instruments holding these mortgages. Like a run on the bank, you had a whole lot of people trying to turn an intangible asset into something they could stash under the mattress. That meant the value of the mortgage based investments crashed.

The last time we saw this sort of behavior it was on banks and one result was FDIC insurance. Economists figure that the other governmental responses attempting to fix that major economic problem added about seven years to the effort to regain stability.

The question Dr. Sowell ponders is whether we will learn from history, whether we will bypass the propaganda and obtain an accurate picture of the source of the current mess, and whether we will make choices and drive policies that are informed by an accurate foundation. What is problematic is that it does not appear that we will.

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