Archive for May, 2010

About that denial thing

Young America’s Foundation did a survey of commencement speakers. Hillary May reports at the Washington Times.

The invitations to administration figures is “only the tip of the iceberg,” according to the survey. “This year’s research found that a myriad of speakers were not only White House officials, but also liberal ideologues, newsmakers, authors and entrenched Washington insiders, while conservative best-selling authors, business leaders and free-market Nobel laureates were once again absent from our list.”

The bias measured is in line with other indications. What is interesting is the rationales given. It appears that the universities surveyed either deny that they have any proclivities for commencement speakers of a particular ideological slant or that they use “the speaker’s accomplishments” as the criterion for selection.

“All of the honorees are chosen because they are people who have achieved a great deal in their lives and can stand as examples for men and women graduating that day,” Mr. Beckman said. “The politics of the honorary recipients are basically unknown to us and that is not why they are being honored.”

Of course, this begs the question about what achievements are being used as a reference. That is why the “Young America’s Foundation is encouraging students to carry voice recorders and video cameras to their ceremonies to capture speakers attempting to use their speeches as a way to “indoctrinate” young audiences.” Exposure is one of the better ways to actually see the standards in action and to educate those who send students to these universities about just what education they are buying.

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Gaining control through the back door

Daniel Greenfield asks “What is Behind Liberalism’s Obesity Obsession?” and ponders the idea that it is about control.

So much of the current Nanny Statism has been focused on the “threat” of obesity. A movement that will only get worse with its prime movers having consolidated control over national health care with ObamaCare. Now that government can claim that everyone’s individual health is no longer just an issue for them, but a public cost, they have a mandate to exercise complete control over what everyone eats.

a War on Obesity justifies all sorts of micromanagement of the agricultural and food production sectors. Blaming America’s food production sector for a public health problem allows them to play the same game with every company from Kraft to Heinz to General Mills to PepsiCo that they previously have with tobacco companies. To understand why the left would want to do this, you only need to look at the USSR in the past or Venezuela in the present, both of which imposed price controls over food products and tight control over farming.

He also touches on an idea that is quite evident in the Global Warming fracas.

a staple of the left’s exercise of power is to “shame” the public for their abuse of resources. This is common in every Communist countries that run on the illusion of collective economies and constantly berate some group for taking more than “their fair share”.

The left has always thrived on this kind of “Divide and Conquer”, on convincing people to resent and inform on each other, so that they view the government as their protector and their neighbor as their enemy. Furthermore by constantly making people feel insecure and unworthy, they are likely to not only blame their neighbors, but themselves for the system not working the way it should.

A deficiency, a flaw, or something that appears to be a problem is named and described as something for government to fix. That then generates legislative action to fix it and that action is usually towards imposing controls. Those controls may have only superficial relation to the stimulating problem. This keeps up in the pursuit of perfection and the controls ‘expose’ more problems that need more controls that create more problems.

Traffic, finance, education, health, .., it is a target rich environment for those seeking things government should fix.

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The manner of debate: Texas and Arizona

In Texas, it’s the school curriculum and in Arizona it is a matter of making federal law local. Both have broad popular support but both have stimulated outrage and some very interesting headlines and accusations. On the Texas controversy, William Muchison asks How Dare You Teach Conservatism!

When did I know the board had done essentially the right thing? The moment I picked up the Dallas Morning News and drank in the musings of a columnist who was, well, let’s just say beside herself.

The degree of outrage to the actions of both Arizona and Texas seems out of perspective and that is an indicator that something deep has been tickled. The Arizona immigration law was condemned before it was even read, labeled “racist,” and even the Mexican President condemned it despite his own country’s immigration law being much more severe and much more harshly enforced.

This is the manner of the debate. There is a difference. Can you see it?

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The money pool and housing push meant trouble

Up until about 2000, a family house cost about three times annual earnings. Since then it has gone up to near five times. There were two pillars behind this. One was the massive money pool looking for a return on value and the other was a social imperative for home ownership. The combination was ugly. E. James Welsh describes how the result in It’s not rocket science, his investment letter for April 20.

The decline in lending standards however exposed a fatal flaw in the securitization of mortgages. If there are no negative financial consequences when a prospective home buyer can purchase a home with no money down, a mortgage broker can help a prospective homebuyer directly or indirectly falsify data, and a lending institution doesn’t have to maintain lending standards if they know they’re going to bundle the ‘bad’ loans and sell them to be securitized, an open season for fraud and abuse is created. Everyone involved got to make a lot of money, as they shoveled the bad loans to unsuspecting buyers of mortgage backed securities. This type of fraud was allowed to develop over a period of years, while the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Office of Thrift Supervision did nothing.

Another recent report described how thousands of houses in Las Vegas were vacant and more undergoing foreclosure while builders were busy trying to meet the demand from folks who could not compete in the market to buy the vacant houses. This sounds odd but it is an illustration of the money pool desperately seeking something better than the extremely low cash instrument rates of return or the highly volatile stock market. That money pool is the retirement fund for both private investors and public pension plans and they want both security and a high rate of growth. Those goals are at odds with the idea of using capital for business growth. That puts it in competition with the basic needs of families as illustrated in the Las Vegas housing market. It will take a while to figure out how that is going to work, especially if the failed paradigms of socialist efforts from the past are to be taken to heart.

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A pox on all their houses?

The article title, Climate scientists decry ‘political assaults’, describes the response. That alone should be enough to raise a bit of skepticism. What follows in the text highlights key points. First is that of the ‘vox populi’ where a bunch of scientists sign a letter proclaiming something as if having a bunch of them get together on the issue makes them right. Second is the army of straw men typified by the use of the word “denier” and the letter’s analogies to issues such as creationism as if those who question AGW are in the same camp and of the same ilk.

Sen. James M. Inhofe is picked out for the political allegations. The Virginia DA inquiry into professor Mann could be used as an example of an assault. Then the loaded phrase “McCarthy-like tactics” is put forth.

“The debate has become polarized,” warned the editorial, and as a result “the scientific enterprise and the whole of society are in danger of losing their crucial rational relationship.”

Perhaps a look in the mirror might help reduce the polarization. There is little disagreement in between the fringes that recent years have seen temperature changes on the order of about one degree over a person’s lifetime. Those questioning the impact or significance of this measure and those questioning the quality of the measure are engaging in proper science, not denying established fact. But those engaging in appropriate scientific skepticism are being plastered with labels, accused of behavior they did not commit, and being shoved out of the public debate.

It is the scientists who signed on to the letter that are illustrating a loss in the “crucial rational relationship,” not those they complain about. That relationship requires a different response than letters with more pages of signatures than pages of rhetoric. What is required of a scientist to foment a “crucial rational relationship” is to undertake the role of teacher. Instead of complaining in letters, the need to step forward to answer questions with solid data, clear explanation of the process used to arrive at conclusions, and sound logic in explaining the steps between those conclusions and the implications they see.

When those who complain about skeptics in such a way as in this letter start to undertake their role to teach and educate rather than complain and defend, then science will be evident.

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Compare and contrast: the other side is stupid

The Volokh Conspiracy has a pair of posts that provide good examples and illustrations of methods of argument and debate. The first is of the “the other side is stupid” type but it cites ignorance rather than stupidity and defines several specific items. The second is a “no I’m not” rebuttal that uses ‘everybody does it’ logic creating obfuscation and straw men in the process, not to mention the ad hominmen that shows especially in the comments.

Todd Zywicki starts off with a report on a survey that finds that The Further Left You Are the Less You Know About Economics:. The survey questions were basic economic implications of supply restriction processes.

Note that the questions here are not whether the benefits of these policies might outweigh the costs, but the basic economic effects of these policies.

Those identifying as “libertarian” and “very conservative” were the most knowledgeable about basic economics. Those identifying as “Progressive” and “Liberal” were the worst.

It would be hard to find a set of propositions that would meet with such a degree of consensus among economists to rival these propositions–which boils down to supply restrictions raise prices and price controls create shortages. These are issues on which economic theory is exceedingly clear, well-confirmed over decades of empirical support, and with a degree of unarguable consensus among trained scholars in the field.

Ilya Somin picks up the point with claims about Ideology and Economic Ignorance.

These findings are very valuable. But they are subject to several caveats.

I expect that many more conservatives than liberals deny that the War on Drugs creates black markets and violence, believe that immigration is a zero-sum competition for jobs between immigrants and natives, and deny that laws banning prostitution and gambling have various negative economic side-effects
Second, the authors don’t really address the issue of whether being on the left causes people to be more ignorant about the economics of the issues addressed by the Zogby poll or vice versa.

The issue raised by Zywicki has nothing to do with one’s perceptions of one ideologic group or another and did not delve into cause but only correlation. The fact that the response does not take up on an observation but rather creates an extrapolation and then engages in facilitating a constructed equality of both ideologic follower groups is what should be noted here. The implication of these tactics is that Somin’s response is a rationalization or a defensive denial. Compare and contrast. Carefully. That means examining what is provided and not constructing something that was not in order to make one’s point.

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Boycott embargo and citizen vs government

A boycott is when individuals each make a common decision regarding their own behavior. An embargo is when a government makes such a decision for its citizens. Bruce Walker notes this difference in describing San Francisco’s Unconstitutional Arizona ‘Boycott’.

If state and city governments begin to exercise an extra-constitutional power to obstruct interstate commerce by imposing political filters, then there is no logical ending point to a feud between politicians from one part of the country and those in another part of the country. State and local governments throughout the nation have duties to each other. Apolitical and open trade is one of those duties.

The danger of substituting brute state force for persuaded consumer opinion is that there is no end to the cycle of action and reaction — and no resolution to any of the underlying problems.

In other words when some California community board gets together to parade its indignation about some political views it does not like, it us putting on a face that is symbolism without substance. Rather than trust those it represents to take the proper action, it tells them what action should be taken. These are the sort of folks who talk about Limbaugh’s “mind numbed robots.”

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Modern warfare: social ideologies

The Washington Times carries two commentaries from the front. Robert Knight describes how the Court puts Boy Scouts in a moral quandary and Dave Berg take on the Salute to atheism on National Day of Prayer

The Scouts are caught between a rock and a hard place. Either they drop their moral standard and put boys and their own legal survival at risk, or they face endless harassment designed to bankrupt them.

Then there’s the ruling that the National Day of Prayer is a violation of the First Amendment.

Yet the numerically insignificant FFRF (14,000 members) has effectively put Christianity and all other religions in America on the defensive.

Berg’s advice?

The atheist group is on a “holy” mission, which I respect. I understand what faith the size of a mustard seed can do. This isn’t about turning the other cheek. Jesus never said lie down and play dead when the other side gets out of hand. Ask the money changers.

Meanwhile there are the American flag wearing school kids who shouldn’t tease others on a foreign national holiday; a terrorist bombing attempt by a man with a close fit to groups and a profile whose name shall not be uttered; the Pope’s sex scandal, the Greeks and other “where’s the cash… gimme my (your) money” riots, and on.

It almost seems as if some like the fight just so they have something to do.

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The cause never dies

The ongoing pressure for government control never ceases. The recent court setback for the FCC’s I’net takeover was only something to figure out how to bypass, end run, or run over. That shows in the ideas put on the table by the FCC to define the I’net as a different kind of thing so it can have authority over it. Techdirt has a good rundown on the issues: The FCC Shakes Things Up (Somewhat) On The Net Neutrality Front

I think that maintaining a “neutral” internet, or one where end-to-end principles are maintained, is important. I just think that it can be done without the FCC stepping in, and that having the FCC make this move now could very well open the door to problematic decisions down the road. … the one thing that is certain is that this will be tied up in court for many years, and I stand by my assertion that for the next few years this is going to be pretty meaningless for consumers. … I agree with Richard that the internet tends to “regulate itself” to prevent anything really egregious from happening, he’s being a bit disingenuous in suggesting that it’s consumer advocates who came up with the idea that telcos would slow down or block certain websites

As Broadband Reports notes, this is all way too ambiguous. What everyone is saying is that this will apply to internet access, but not to internet providers — whatever that means. Ambiguity in this situation is not good, because (yet again) it introduces all sorts of wiggle room for lobbyists to move things around.

On the other hand, Fast Company has an example to illustrate the TechDirt commentary points. National Broadband? There’s One Already–With No Taxpayer Funding!

It’s a coast-to-coast fiber network with 12,000 miles of cable which has been quietly under construction since 2003. It’s so tightly managed and efficient that in November 2009 it had not one single second of downtime–a shocking stat to both sysadmins and any home broadband user fed up of repeated slow-downs or service dropouts.

That is the debate in the nutshell. One side wants more government and the other side is pointing to where the goals are achieved without it. Same thing with medical care. Same thing with climate change. and on. For those pushing government, facts don’t seem to matter and reality is a minor influence. Perhaps if this wasn’t so, a better solution could be found.

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Understanding bias

The Cognitive Bias Song has a good rundown on the types of bias that have become so prevalent in discussions about many issues. The song was a teaching effort for an advanced placement high school class in psychology on the topic of cognitive bias.

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Intelligent Design: is it an intelligent idea?

Michael Ruse says Intelligent design is an oxymoron and makes a good case.

ID is theology – very bad theology. As soon as you bring God into the world on a daily creative basis, then the theodicy problem – the problem of evil – rears its ugly head.

The basis of science is to find a means to understand how things work. There is a fundamental dissonance between this search and the ascribing of the effort at some arbitrary point to deus ex machina (wikipedia). That technique is sometimes useful in fiction and, perhaps, religion, but not in science. Evolution is science, creationism, a.k.a. intelligent design, is not.

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Show me your papers

That is the question the ruckus about Arizona making federal law on immigration a state matter as well brings to the fore. Stewart Baker says Dick Durbin is right at the Volokh Conspiracy (Words I never expected to write).

Sen. Durbin is defending the decision. “People understand that in this vulnerable world, we have to be able to present identification,” Durbin said to The Hill. “We want it to be reliable, and I think that’s going to help us in this debate on immigration.”

There is a lot of misunderstanding goin’ on here and you can see it in the comments.

First is that there is an error free method of determining identification and second, what the process really is.

Establishing an identity is a matter of three parties. The first party is the person who is making a claim about his identity. The second is the party, the ‘gatekeeper,’ that needs assurance about the identity of the first person. The third party is someone the second can trust who knows the first and can qualify the claims about identity. The issue is all about this third party and the communications required between that authority and the gatekeeper.

In the past, this communication has been a problem. That is why passports were invented. These are special letters designed to be difficult to counterfeit that help to establish identity requirements. The authority depends upon possession of the document as well as correlation between data in the document and the individual carrying it. Driver’s licenses took on the role in the past as a secondary, and less authoritative identity mechanism in the past. Current law seeks to elevate the authority of such documents.

It should be noted that these identity establishment documents do not address the actual question a gatekeeper needs answered. This question might be things such as ‘are you qualified to work here?’ or ‘are you a citizen of this country?’ or ‘how old are you?’ or ‘is there any reason we should not allow you on this airplane?’ An identity document such as a passport or drivers license just passes the question to some issuing authority that is burdened with answering the common questions. Special questions then require linking that document with some other authority.

Modern communications and other technologies open up other possibilities with implications on the historical procedures. Instead of having to determine if a document is counterfeit or not and interpreting the quality and worthiness of the information in it, he could communicate directly with the authoritative source. He could communicate what he sees and measures about the claimant and the knowledge of that claimant that he can determine via questions and ask the authority to verify the claim based on this assessment. Instead of a birth certificate, just ask the hospital or, more likely, the county of birth, if a person with this name was born at this place on this date with these parents and who matched other criteria. Or ask a college if this person graduated with this degree at this time and had this GPA. Or ask a government if a person meeting the characteristics of this person is known to it as a criminal.

There is still a lot more trust in a gatekeeper evaluating document credibility and correlating its information to a claim than there is in direct query with automatically collected measures. That shows in all of the concern about ‘identity theft’ as well. There are also concerns about data accumulation and sharing by governmental entities. Other concerns involve communications security and quality assurance of data that is maintained. Solutions to these concerns are being found but it appears it will be a long road towards acceptance. In the meantime ‘show me your papers’ is going to be an ongoing hassle in any interaction with society where who you are is a concern.

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Evolution of the straw man

Don Boys illustrates the problem in his assertion that Almost a Thousand Major Scientists Dissent from Darwin!. He builds a straw man, calls it evolution, then burns it at the stake. It is a typical example of how some folks solve dissonance between reality and their personal views.

The key in this one is to note that Boys’ argument is about random mutation, not evolution. That is the straw man. The “Thousand Major Scientists” is an example of trying to use the ‘vox populi’ fallacy for comfort and authority. Then there is the ad hominem: “We creationists will continue to remind evolutionists that their lie about “change” has been exposed.” The assertions about “lies” and the claims that a certain group is for “the advancement of atheism” due to their views on this topic are also keys that should be used to qualify the screed. Evolution is science. Creationism is religion. The two do not mix well.

When you want to refute a theory or an hypothesis, you really need to make sure you understand it and that you respond to what it is, not what you want it to be. You cannot select out some particular aspect to isolate it and build your straw man to tear down as it proves your point.

What the anti-evolutionists need to do is to show how everything from the breeding of animals to the creation of genetically modified crops to drug resistant diseases can be explained in a measurable and useful way without evolutionary theory. Then they might have something.

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