Archive for October, 2012

Can we think straight?

“Once you’ve mastered the basic rules of logic, most arguments should be about whether the premises are likely to be true.”

Professor Moran asks What Is Critical Thinking? and provides a reference to an evolving thoughts blog entry.

The problem with most of the arguments of current import is that “rules of logic” are not yet in play and any premises for an argument are often not based in reality. There is a long ways to go before critical thinking and rational thinking are evident.

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Exemplars? California, New York, and Illinois

“Three states form the base of Democratic political power in the United States: California, New York and Illinois. All three states are locked in an accelerating economic, demographic and social decline; all three hope that they can stave off looming disaster at home by exporting the policies that have ruined them to the rest of the country.”

Mead reports on News From Obama’s Home State about good intentions and bad governance.

“Illinois politicians, including the present President of the United States, have wrecked one of the country’s potentially most prosperous and dynamic states, condemned millions of poor children to substandard education, failed to maintain vital infrastructure, choked business development and growth through unsustainable tax and regulatory policies”

“We have “peace movements” incapable of advancing the cause of peace; environmentalists whose political ineptitude damages the causes they most hope to serve; and we have a form of blue state liberalism that blights the lives of exactly the people it wants to help most.”

“where liberals in America have the freest hand—in states like New York, California and Illinois—we see incontrovertible evidence that the policies they choose don’t have the consequences they predict.”

There is a taint in the essay based on the straw man – “Doubts about his opponents (and many of these are well justified) and the lingering nostalgia many Americans still feel for the values and institutions of the liberal past.” There is a call for all sides to get together to find solutions but the proclivity towards the idea that only one side has ‘proper’ motives. Despite these three examples where “Cynical and short sighted interests wrap themselves in the increasingly tattered mantles of sacred ideas,” there is no indication that maybe those ideas need to be examined and that there are better paths to desired outcomes.

Some can see the failure of their approach yet they only take that as a need to dig in and try harder. Who was it that said something about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

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All’s well, just need more time?

Ed puts up the charts as the base for a New Obama ad: Dude, I found my second-term agenda!.

“The one thing they [Obama administration] didn’t have is a reason for anyone to vote for Barack Obama — a second-term agenda.  Mark Halperin became the loudest voice in the media to point this out after the second debate came and went without it, and even some Democrats began to wonder whether Obama himself knew what he wanted to do with a second term.  Hours after the third debate passed without an agenda, guess what Team Obama discovered?

You will see ads that claim that all is well and things are improving and the administration’s efforts in the first term have been successful. Rick Klein says “President Obama came into the debate with a record to boast of” [Mitt Romney Keeps Command Amid Attacks – and Looks to Future]. Yet on foreign policy, there is the Benghazi situation, Obama: The Dictator’s Choice For U.S. President or the apology tour idea – that last gets the fact checkers in a tizzy but Drudge had a collection of pictures of the bowing to other country leaders and another group has put together a set of clips of the apologies.

The charts that Ed uses to answer the question about whether or not real progress has been made include change in US Employment during recessions that show the current situation is way behind other such events, the declining labor force participation, and the budget deficit by year since 2000. These charts show a laggard economy where a smaller portion of the population is engaged in productive labor and a government accumulating debt at an unprecedented rate. What is odd is that those phenomena don’t seem to worry a whole lot of folks, some of whome go so far as to deny their existence.

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Alarmism only, jail for citing the odds

“The judge ignored a petition signed by 5,000 scientists that demanded the witch hunt to be stopped. The media are silent. When genuine scientists *really* want to protect human lives by offering their expertise as weapons against pseudoscientific misconceptions, they are no longer heroes among the journalists. The dirty journalists only celebrate crackpots who actually spread hysteria that helps to sell the newspapers, for example the global warming crackpots.”

Luboš Motl notes the verdict in the Italy earthquake witch trial: 6 years in prison.

“What these people did was totally fine: they shared their prediction about the earthquake based on their best knowledge of seismology in which they’re among the top Italian experts. A large, magnitude 6.3 earthquake did take place and killed 309 people but it’s not these people’s fault and earthquakes can always arrive unpredictably.

It’s not possible to reliably or semi-reliably predict earthquakes and strong arguments exist that it will always be impossible.

“f someone is made responsible for deaths of casualties of a natural catastrophe that can’t be predicted according to any protocol that actually exists, it’s just nothing else than a condemnation of a witch. I often thought that the witch trials were insane and we live in a very different world than Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. But we’re not living in such a different world. We are still controlled by evil loons such as the Italian judge who don’t want to hear anything about the actual abilities and limitations of the current science.”

Scared yet?

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A polypragmôn?

Professor Hanson gives us a word from ancient Greece as a means to describe what he sees.

“The Greeks called such a busybody, non-stop talker a “polypragmôn,” someone who jumps from here to there, always talking, persuading, speechifying, but never really accomplishing anything. The more Obama promised, the more I thought I had amnesia: did he not have two years of a Democratic Senate and House, and in the beginning with a supermajority that was filibuster-proof?”

Do We Believe Anymore? A list of examples is provided from recent events that is enough to make one wonder. He relates that list to his experience.

“Each time you encounter such a Starbuck the Rainmaker or The Music Man, the experience still is discomforting, given the vast abyss between the eloquent grandstanding rhetoric and actual achievement — and the deliberate way in which you, the instructor, were to be conned. And if such students are athletic, dapper, charismatic, and sharply dressed (and for some reason they so often are), the disconnect becomes ever more arresting. Sometimes the debacle even worsens when they come to office hours after the first bad grade, “shocked” that the professor might underappreciate their rhetorical gymnastics. Similar is the gulf between Obama’s teleprompted verbiage and his actual performance of governing since 2009.”

What this, and other episodes of observation in the punditry, seem to illustrate is that the professor is suffering cognitive dissonance. That is why the belief is strained: “Again, I accept the welfare state, but not the lies about it. Perhaps that is why I quit believing.” There seems to be a wide gap between what can be directly observed and what one is being told. The fact that so many seem to rely on what they are told rather than what they can see for themselves is indeed scary.

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Finding solutions: loopholes and lobbyists

One demand from many pundits is for specifics. The Tax Prof notes this regarding Romney’s tax deduction cap which he thinks is good tax policy and better politics. The source is a Wall Street Journal editorial. “The Obama campaign and the press corps keep demanding that Mitt Romney specify which tax deductions he’d eliminate, but the Republican has already proposed more tax-reform specificity than any candidate in memory.

The problem for any politician is that closing any specific named loophole tends to fire up lobbyists that harass the politicians to open it back up again.

“The idea may be even better politically. The historic challenge for tax reformers is defeating the most powerful lobbies in Washington that exist to preserve their special tax privileges. … This is one reason President Obama wants Mr. Romney to be more specific: The minute he proposed to limit the mortgage-interest deduction, the housing lobby would do the Obama campaign’s bidding by running ads against Mr. Romney’s plan. Mr. Romney is right not to fall for this sucker play. By limiting the amount of deductions that any individual tax filer can take, Mr. Romney is avoiding this lobby-by-lobby warfare. …

WSJ ChartThe political left should have a hard time opposing this because reducing deductions would hit high-income taxpayers the hardest.” …

“Mr. Obama has also called for limiting tax deductions for high-income filers. His budgets have endorsed allowing them to take writeoffs at a rate of 28% instead of 35%. The big difference is that Mr. Romney wants to dedicate the revenue gain from capping deductions to cutting tax rates. Mr. Obama wants to use the money to pay for more spending.

The larger point is that Mr. Romney is serious about reform and has put on the table a serious idea for how to finance and achieve it. That’s far more than Mr. Obama has proposed about anything in a second term.”

Those pundits bashing Romney for not explaining advanced economic theory in a sound bite might do better to follow the Tax Prof’s example and report on what actually is rather than on some fantasy about what they think should be.

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Act of equivocation: in the face of terror

“The timing of Mr. Obama’s address, coming on the heels of an earlier statement the same day, was slow by historical standards. The question of why Mr. Obama waited to speak or issue a statement about the Benghazi attacks until the next day may lie in the significance of the anniversary for which he failed to prepare. Perhaps the administration simply didn’t want to talk about the Libya attacks until the date passed, in denial that another terrorist attack occurred on his watch. …

“As Peter Suderman detailed in Reason magazine, Mr. Obama’s memoir ‘Dreams from My Father’ repeatedly proves the president is prone to revising history to fit his vision of how events should have transpired. Claiming to have admitted early that the Benghazi attacks were an act of terrorism is his latest embellishment. It’s a shame Mr. Romney had to battle debate moderator Candy Crowley in addition to the president in his effort to get Mr. Obama to stick to the facts.”

Anneke Green explains about Obama’s incorrect ‘acts of terror’ assertions in the last debate that have been subject to much discussion. The nature of the discussion, the equivocation (“not optimal”) and the denial and the rationalizing are subjects for consideration in themselves. Then there’s the media problem: many of the President’s supporters are not even aware of a 9/11 al Quaida attack on embassy and consulate that resulted in 4 Americans dead including the first ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979.

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Paradigms: rich people

Larry Moran describes the problem as Another Evolutionary Paradox? It seems that some anti-evolution folks discovered that wealth is inversely related to number of offspring. They conclude that this means the wealthy are less fit in evolutionary terms which, to them, is a paradox. That paradox can then be used to dismiss evolution as a valid theory.

“The only “puzzle” might be the naive presumption that rich people should have more reproductive success than poor people but we’ve known that this isn’t true for over one hundred years.”

There is also the underlying idea that being wealthy is a matter of genetics. The rich are a special class of people whose attributes are not of their doing but rather of their ancestry. This is the insidious lack of integrity in the anti-evolution thesis in the example.

Class envy is an ancient phenomena. It is the ‘American Dream’ that makes lie to it. But even the success of so many in achieving that dream in parts from small to large don’t make a dent in the envy. That envy is so cancerous that it blinds people to the link between the immigration problem and people who can see wealth as something other than an inherent attribute of a selected class of people.

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Think about it: fact checking illustrated

Patterico provides one — Fact Check: Romney earns four pairs of Pinnocchio’s pants on fire. Two egregious lies were pulled from the recent debate to support this thesis.

One is Romney’s claim that he has balanced budgets all his life. BUT! “His “entire life” includes his years of infancy. Clearly, no matter how quickly he became a businessman, he could not have been balancing budgets at the age of 6 months.

The second is about how economic policies “puts us on a road to Greece.” But everyone knows there is an ocean between the U.S. and Greece so there can’t be any road between these two countries.

Satire often gets taken as serious, which is an indicator of the sad state of discussion in a heated political environment. Integrity gets tossed aside in the effort to seek support and comfort in one’s dissonance.

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It’s one generation away and these teenagers can’t vote. Yet

Dr. Sanity uncovered a video Voices Without a Vote and Reagan saying “Freedom is never more than one generation away.

If you think the upcoming generation is illiterate scumbags or whatnot, this video might be a tonic.

Well worth a careful listen. Both videos.

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Fact checking: case study in why it is more politics than reality

“If you let me pick the time frame, I can show almost anything said by anybody to be imprecise.

As a professional engineer with 34 years of industry experience, I found Mitt Romney’s executive-level command of the relevant facts with respect to the oil and gas industry and energy policy to be impressive.

CNN, not so much. Their fact-checkers seem so intent on “exposing” Romney that they bypassed the part about understanding the issues before they cry foul.”

After the first debate of candidates for POTUS, there was an effort on one side to cry ‘foul’ on the other. The usual means was to assert that the other side lied through his teeth on just about every point. Steve Maley takes on one of these efforts by Fact Checking CNN’s Fact Checkers. He provides a good case study illustrating the techniques used in trying to play gotcha’ with ‘fact checking’ rather than trying to understand points made in a debate.

Checking facts seems like such a good idea. There are many cases regarding current issues where it is more a laboratory for illustrating bias and logical fallacy.

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Properly identifying the problem would be a good first step

“Part of the difference may be historical. Post WWII, employers were not allowed to raise wages, so to attract better employees, they began to offer health insurance as a fringe benefit of employment. Soon unions used employer-sponsored health insurance as a bargaining chip in labor negotiations, and we all know the rest of the story. Health insurance is unique in this regard.”

“Free market and competitive solutions would help, but with the injection of the ACA as the law of the land now, I fear this will never happen, no matter who wins in November. As long as we view health insurance, rather than access to healthcare, as a right in this country, the problem will only get worse. “

A cardiologist describes why he thinks health insurance is the problem and not the solution. Compare to auto insurance, he says. Compare to medical care that is not in the insurance realm. Look at what has happened when the focus is on insurance and not on health care, where it is government decisions that rule and not personal decisions.

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Item 8: fact check propaganda

Who was it? Ann Richards, governor of Texas, who said something about “he can’t help it”? In this case it is the media. See the previous post for the psychologists view about why.

“The first new tactic is cited in an unprecedented and badly needed letter that MRC head Brent Bozell and over 20 other conservative leaders, commentators, and media personalities sent to ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC — the four Obama-worshipping alphabet networks — on September 25. The signers accurately accused the recipients of “rigging this election and taking sides in order to pre-determine the outcome.”

Those who dismiss the letter signers’ complaints could not be more wrong.”

Tom Blumer describes the Fraudulent ‘Fact Checks’ and Preemptive Narratives and suggests that “Today’s press would make the Soviet-era Pravda and Izvestia proud.”

The letter describes many well known propaganda tactics but number eight in the list is new. “The abuse of “fact checks” has become so rampant that it’s reasonable to believe that their creations are coordinated with Democrats in key campaigns to, well, rig the game.” Examples are provided and some of them are obstinate denials of reality.

Limbaugh this morning notes that many depend only upon the surface media for their information about events. That is why this issue is gaining pushback well beyond the nominal market forces. It scares people who do dig deeper than the surface.

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This thing about truth and reality: Santy on Denial

“The truth is indeed vindictive–but in a horribly passionless way. Likewise, reality, the space where truth resides, has a calm persistence and patience that is unmatched by even the most desperate attempts by the human species to avoid it.

Nevertheless, human ingenuity has discovered many ways of temporarily hiding from the truth; obscuring the truth; and when necessary, lying about the truth in order to avoid reality and its consequences.”

Dr. Sanity takes on the Vindictive Truth and lists some of the more negative consequences of psychological denial. These include “continued compromises with reality” and how that is done. From that, it appears that some have gone beyond an unintentional denial to something more evil.

“The traditional definition of sociopathy is a personality disorder characterized by a lack of social responsibility and failure to adapt to ethical and social standards of the community.

If we think about that definition for a moment, we can perhaps begin to understand what is going on in our world today; and the reason that a huge number of people have embraced a sociopathic lifestyle.”

Think about what Pat Caddell is said about media bias recently!

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The pay problem: CEO, quarterback, actor

“Whenever the topic of CEO pay comes up in public debate, it quickly devolves into a battle between free market capitalism and pseudo-socialist morality. This is a mistake. If we are to address this issue meaningfully, we need to move away from ideological extremes and consider the causes of the wide discrepancy between the pay-scale of CEOs and average workers (which currently stands at 379 times).”

What does the ratio between average workers and CEOs have to do with it?

S Sanghoee thinks We’re having the wrong debate on CEO pay. He thinks the issue is about conflicts of interest.

Why does the ‘issue’ of CEO pay come up as a concern so much more often than the pay of quarterbacks in the NFL or star actors? Why does a business star get such negative attention while stars in sports or entertainment appear to get a pass?

All three fields pay based on a gamble. The actor on the success of the movie in which he stars, the quarterback on the ability to win trophies, and the CEO on the value of the company stock. One of the clues to the problems with arguments about CEO pay is that they often just concentrate on the failures in this gamble. That is an argument based on misdirection and a lack of appropriate context. Such lack of integrity implies that it is indeed a more deep seated anti-capitalist bent based on personal feelings of envy that may be behind the point of view. This implication gains emphasis when assertions are made about conspiracies or power centers

“The other big weakness in our system is the propensity of companies and shareholders to accept the “divine right” of CEOs, which elevates them to monarch status and enables them to run their companies like private kingdoms rather than as trusts run for the sake of the owners.”

Companies fail if they don’t address problems and poor leadership can be one of those problems. Much like the coach who takes the star quarterback out of the line-up if he doesn’t perform, a successful business will toss the CEO if performance is lacking. Consider the recent history at HP, for example.

The presumption that one person’s pay should be related to another’s is the one to question. That denies the impact of the individual on his own personal choices about what he does as well as that person’s individual capabilities and talents. The assault on CEO pay is indeed a reflection of pseudo-socialist morality as it denies the role of an individual in favor of the commons. Been there, done that, why don’t people learn?

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Afghan woes – and a bright spot

“This is all bad news and very disturbing, but there is a crumb of comfort to be had. Because these failures happened on President Obama’s watch, the mainstream press isn’t particularly interested in relentless, non-stop scrutiny of the unpleasant news.”

W.M. Mead says Thank God W Isn’t President Anymore because we aren’t getting an onslaught of America bashing, administration lambasting, and victim sympathizing we’d see otherwise.

“As it is, however, we just get the bare bones of what’s happening in Afghanistan, with no long, rolling wallows in the failure, no painstaking, step by step analysis of just how a credulous and inexperienced president ordered the military to execute a strategy which it didn’t recommend and couldn’t make work. There will be no analysis of how someone like Vice President Biden has been wrong at every twist and turn of the wars of the last ten years — though if he were Vice President Cheney every single error he had ever made would be hurled in our faces night after night.”

Nonetheless, Mead falls into the pit himself in judgements and rose colored glasses regarding 9/11 and Iraq as well hoping that maybe the journalists will change their stripes.

In many respects it is a matter of accountability. The surface media journalists are seeing the results of their bias in a shrinking market share. The politicians in the difficulty of getting votes to win office. As with the debate about welfare and medical care and other social issues, sometimes it takes a hard encounter with reality to shake one out of a comfort zone and into a realization about what one must do.

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Pick your villain

“I tell folks all the time – I don’t trust private actors any more than the people in government. What I trust more are their incentives and the tools I have for enforcing accountability on them.”

There is an Obama ad excoriating Romney because he wasn’t behind forcing insurance companies to cover heart rending health conditions. That presumes that the insurance companies must be subject to governmental control of a broad nature and the quality of that presumption is one of the critical ideology differences for the voter to consider. It is related to the False Assumption of Statists described at the Coyote Blog.

“People often propose a statist solution because they distrust some private actor (e.g. large corporations) and want someone with power over the top of them. However, to create such a regulatory structure, one has to give even more power to the state’s regulator than the corporation has. At least one has the choice of whether or not to deal with a private entity (unless of course it is a government-enforced monopoly, but that just takes us back to statism). We give private actors power only to the extent that we choose to transact with them. When we give government power, there is no longer this sort of opt-out.”

Pick your villain.

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