Friday, February 5, 2016

New Attacks on Bernie Sanders Part of Status Quo Defense


Story: Sanders under fire from Senate Democrats

People tend to support the status quo even if it's awful, especially people in power. It's a similar mindset at work when people who are enemies within a group (i.e., familes, religions, countries) come together to fight an enemy from outside that group, sometimes saying "it's none of your business" or something similar.

This human failing has a name: Status quo bias. It is just one of quite a few biases that stop us from being rational and move away from what we're doing, even when it would be overwhelmingly positive to make changes.

I think this fear is also tied to a tendency we have to keep connected to the past in some fashion. We find meaning and support from linking where we are today with what we think happened in the past. We do this with religious texts, people & families, constitutions & laws, social traditions, etc. This impulse also leads us astray by giving too much weight to expired circumstances. What we did before were decisions not only misinformed by our many biases, but falsely point to what we should do now because we're not taking into account that conditions have changed, as they always do.

In order to improve how we and our descendants live, we must embrace rational changes based on the best information we have about our current conditions and minimize as much as possible the power of our biases to give us comforting false answers.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

GMO Attention Misdirection

Story: The Debate About GMO Safety Is Over, Thanks To A New Trillion-Meal Study

 I've never had a problem with the safety of GMOs and I think that issue is distracting from the patent-based issues that are more important. It's complicated and I don't understand it all, but there is something really creepy about being able to patent life, something that is routine for GMOs.

I understand the need for a limited level of protections for patents and copyrights, but I am weary of laws continually being changed to keep GMO foods from becoming part of the public domain. As has happened with copyrights being extended to ridiculous lengths of time, patents will no doubt come under the same pressures and I suspect lawmakers will give in to the patent holders.

The world's food supply shouldn't be subject to the possibility of being held hostage by private companies who are run by design for the maximization of profit for a small number of people. It's more than a bit scary.

(A posting with some more details on legal issues here.)

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Pirate Democracies And The Second Amendment

I am currently reading my way through Under The Black Flag, The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly and I wanted to share some things I found interesting from chapter 5 having to do with the typical way pirates organized themselves.

First, they were democracies. Unlike the crews of other ships, with each person having a vote, pirates elected their captain and the others who held positions of authority. They could also be voted out at any time. The entire crew voted anytime a new destination needed to be chosen. Pirate crews were also typically much larger than what was used on merchant and military ships. Finally, each ship had a set of articles they all had to sign, also agreed to by voting. The document outlined how each person was to be compensated, what payments were made for serious injuries, along with other rules to govern behavior.

In one of the examples of a set of articles that survives, I found it interesting that it included a section that appears to be very close to the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment: "To keep their piece, pistols, and cutlass clean and fit for service." The book doesn't mention it, but it seems to me to be highly likely that a similar provision was common among articles created by all pirate crews.

For me, this helped give some related context to the acknowledgment of the need for the Second Amendment in a country that didn't have a large standing army. A "well-regulated militia" was the bulk of any potential army of the day when called to fight, and for that to be an option the people had to be able to "bear arms" in order to fight when called upon. The thinking is very closely related to the highly regulated pirate ships so they would be equipped to fight when called upon to do so. 

While I think I have always known that the Second Amendment was never meant to give people the right to "bear arms" universally under any circumstances, this pirate reference gives me a better picture of the mindset of the day when it comes to hand-held weapons and getting organized in some "well-regulated" manner when the need to fight arises.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Past Is Not Qualified To Rule The Present

Story: Texas governor calls for constitutional convention

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called for a constitutional convention of states to offer nine amendments in order to “restore the Rule of Law and return the Constitution to its intended purpose.”

This idea of making sure we try to align ourselves at any point in time to some point in the past (assuming we could even figure that out) is just nuts. We do not live in the 18th century. We live in a completely different society and we have much better information now on which to make decisions on how to solve our problems. Just like we would never be arrogant enough to come up with a set of rules today that we demand be used by our descendants, we shouldn't impose that burden on our ancestors.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Danger Of Stories As A Mechanism To Deliver Facts

Story: How Stories Deceive

"When a fact is plausible, we still need to test it. When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true."

This article made me think of a recent commercial for "60 Minutes" I saw where instead of pushing the program as news, they were touting it as a story-telling TV show. I was put off by it when I saw it because telling a story requires no facts to be told and is, IMO, a step down from real news.

But we now live in a time where our long history of telling stories to one another is gaining ground on fact-based news as a means of learning something, even though what we "learn" this way is much more likely to be fraudulent.

A good story is something that we easily remember, which is one of the reasons it works. We remember it largely because we can relate to the emotional hooks in a good story which make it easy to recall when we encounter those emotions again. A set of facts is something we have a much harder time to recall and fit into our everyday lives because the emotion has been largely stripped away; we don't readily see the relevance to ourselves. This is why overblown stories about terrorists resonate, but facts about climate change do not motivate people. In addition, being entertained is something we wish to recall, whereas being bored isn't.

It would do us a world of good to be skeptical of any claimed facts when we feel too emotionally attached to the story within which they were delivered.  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Defending Steve Harvey's Miss Universe Blunder

Believe it or not, I'm going to come to the defense of Steve Harvey, and it's based on the format of the card he was given from which to read the names.

One of the things that is known (but often forgotten) in marketing when it comes to image ads is that a certain amount of consistency matters. It is a misnomer that the biggest, brightest, boldest thing in an image will draw the eye. We tend to keep focused on the things that are close to the first thing that draws our attention and subconsciously see things that are too different as distractions to be avoided.

As examples, two outfits who know this and make a fortune from this knowledge are Google and Facebook. Their ads look pretty much just like everything else on the page and they make incredible amount of money from people who click on their ads. If flashy images that look different from everything else worked, they would be doing that. But they don't because what they do works.

This is an issue in play with display ads in general, including billboards, newspapers, and other online display ads. If the ads themselves are too variable in colors, images, and font sizes--or too close in proximity to other ads that are too different from it--then the ads become less effective. Whatever catches the eye first tends to be the template on which we continue to pay attention. There are always exceptions, but in general this is what we do.

Now, looking at the card with the winners' names, the first two runners up were the first things on the top of the card with the winner being noted in much larger type and on the other side of the card. Given the enormous number of other distractions going on, plus the term "1st" being used for the first runner up, it's not surprising that Steve Harvey thought that name was the last name to worry about and was the winner. His eye was not drawn to the larger type, a feature that backfired.

If he was more aware of the general format of the event (maybe even had some sort of dress rehearsal for it), it would not have been an issue.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

(Satire) Drug Dealer Warns Customers To Not Share Spoilers About Continued Heroin Use

Given all the attention given to Star Wars spoilers right now, I thought I would try a short satire article attempting to be in the style of The Onion.


Drug Dealer Warns Customers To Not Share Spoilers About Continued Heroin Use

(Seattle,  WA)--Saying new heroin users "deserve to experience the surprise that continued use delivers," local drug dealer Howard "Powder King" Jones has formally asked his current customers to not spoil what's ahead for his new customers.

"This is something I know is very difficult to keep to oneself," Jones said, "but it's a shame when customers are not allowed to experience without warning a future of bad teeth, constipation, the inability to achieve orgasm, and facial pustules, among other effects."

When asked, Jones said it was okay for his customers who use marijuana to give away a future of uncontrollable munchies, giggling at little dogs, and driving at well below the speed limit because those things are less believable so the surprise will still be substantial. "People might actually believe what heroin use does, so that future needs to be kept secret so the surprise factor isn't spoiled."

"The honeymoon period for a new heroin user is short, so the initial period of joy shouldn't be spoiled by what's just around the corner," Jones declared. "In addition, experiencing the quick transition from good to bad has its own rewards when it's a surprise."

Friday, December 18, 2015

Coming Out Confirms & Counters Perceptions

There is always a wing of any advocacy movement for marginalized groups pushing the idea that members of the group should "come out" publicly, even if doing so could be detrimental to them, their jobs, or their relationships. It is argued that although it would be tough at first, if enough people quit hiding the eventual benefits will be worth the initial pain. It is argued that exposure diminishes discrimination because the falsehoods on which prejudices are based begin to be erased with more individuals countering the inaccurate impressions people hold.

When thinking about this, I can't help but also think of what's happening to people who support Donald Trump and other Republican presidential contenders. The racist and paranoid people who support him are now publicly out like never before, having found support for a coming out of their own. There is an identical downside for some members of this group too, but they are not countering misperceptions of their positions, they are confirming them.

A "coming out" strategy seems able to produce the opposite results of correcting or confirming perceptions. Not sure what to make of it.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Giving Attention To The Get-Better-Anyway Effect

Story: Placebo effects are weak: regression to the mean is the main reason ineffective treatments appear to work

In other words, this story talks about what they call the get-better-anyway effect, the tendency for all of us to recover from illness without any direct I intervention. It's something doctors know and are trained to incorporate into their treatment choices ("take two aspirin and call me in the morning"), yet not nearly as many patients know about it.

While reading this, however, I couldn't help but think of another placebo-based finding from another study that claims placebos work even when the patient knows they are getting one. What I think is likely the case in this study is also largely the get-better-anyway effect.
Along with the illusion of homeopathy being effective, I think this also points to a problem with "effective" drugs being approved that only show minimal positive results in trials.

We nee to give much more weight to this effect in order to not fool ourselves while wasting money and resources chasing illusions.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Needed: An Inoculator For What Trump Represents

Story: The Trump Effect, and How It Spreads

I hope that we have smart and educated people paying very close attention to what's happening in this latest convergence of humanity's worst ideas and behavior so that we can come up with viable corrective and inoculative strategies for the future. Maybe the phrases "Never Again" and "Never Forget" can also be re-purposed to remind us what awful people we can become when the next Trump comes along to hoax terrible human traits into virtues.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Vote For Benefits

If we want to require people on public assistance to do something for their benefits, it shouldn't be a drug test, it should be a requirement to vote.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On Refugees: Being The Worst We Can Be

This entire sentiment about barring Syrian refugees is disgusting.

It is no secret that the circumstances that resulted in the formation of ISIS are largely due to the policies and actions of the U.S. and other Western nations. The Syrian civil war is just one awful result. For people to freak out over promising to accept a mere 10,000 people fleeing that war over the next year is perverse. We already accept over 1 million immigrants per year. Ten thousand more is nothing. If we really wanted to do the right thing, we'd be taking a lot more and apologizing to the world for having be such a major cause of what's going on.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Violent Justification

If there is a philosophy of humanity it would certainly include the sentiment that there is no justification for violence unless you are the one perpetrating it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Death And Democracy

Story: 400,000 People Could Lose Their Health Care Because No One Turned Out To Vote Yesterday

We actually invade other countries, kill people and destroy countless lives on the claimed premise that it's worth it to impose democracy, yet we fail to take part in our own, voluntarily letting it die. This bizarre reality always makes me cringe.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Presidental Test We The People Deserve (But Won't Get)

With the attention being paid to Republican claims the CNBC debate was too tough for them to handle, I have developed a short list of questions anyone who wants to occupy the White House should be able to easily answer during a future debate. I hope a future moderator will offer these, but I doubt it as the answers would be more telling about each person's qualifications than anything else being asked.

1. Name as many federal agencies as possible represented in the president's cabinet.
2. Summarize the 12th Amendment (or any other generally unknown amendment) to the U.S. Constitution.
3. What is contained within Article VI of the U.S. Constitution?
4. Name as many differences as you can between a president and a prime minister.
5. Name countries with nuclear weapons.
6. How many countries does the U.S. maintain a military presence?
7. There are how many federal district courts; explain how they are connected to individual Supreme Court justices.
8. Explain the importance of the Gideon v. Wainwright Supreme Court decision.
9. What was the structure of the U.S. Government under the Articles of Confederation?
10. Talk about the president's foreign policy powers as outlined in the Constitution.

The questions could be a little different and could be expanded, but a civics-based test is something the public should demand. I doubt it will happen, but We The People deserve it.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Fear of Seven-Headed Dragons

Story: Ben Carson's Church Believes the U.S. Government Will Team Up With the Antichrist

This entire topic always makes me want to put humanity in therapy.

The beginning of Revelation, the book where all of this comes from, tells the reader that everything in there is to happen "soon" and "the time is near." I think time ran out not long after the ink dried on the papyrus. At most, the lifetimes of the people who were live at the time would be the end of "soon" and "near."

To still be talking about this as valid literally makes me look at people like they are dragons with seven heads.

Dictatorship Template New GOP Playbook

Story: 'Daily Show' denied credentials to Iowa GOP event

This, along with the cancelling of an NBC event, shows the GOP continues to move away from the very idea of a democracy of We The People. Instead, they are becoming a paranoid and closed group motivated by fear of anything or anyone challenging their claims. This is the model of a dictatorship.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Soup Kitchen Defense For Bad Behavior

Since the proliferation of online videos making the worst of police brutality available for all to see, defenders of police like to tout the "good cops" in an effort to rehabilitate the image of police. One recent example is the participation of a police officer in a street dance-off in Washington, DC. There are other stories out there attempting to instill this image that bad cops are mitigated by others.

But when I come across these stories I can't help but put them in the same category as the impression created by a soup kitchen run by Al Capone. This help for Chicago's unemployed during the Great Depression gave many people a reason to ignore the gangster's violent criminal empire. In Japan, something similar occurred when Yakuza, known as the Japanese Mafia, was joined by other criminal outfits in offering earthquake assistance.

In these and other cases the awful behavior should not be seen as being mitigated by separate good behavior. We should not be picturing a scenario where the good things done by a group allows for any amount of bad behavior in what I'll call the soup kitchen defense. Being a decent person on occasion should never be seen as a justification for otherwise being awful, especially when it comes to those who have the power to take away your freedoms or your life.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Conservative Christians Deny The God They Claim To Trust

Story: When police embrace 'In God We Trust': Column

When I see these ludicrous claims that using these kinds of phrases aren't religious, I can't help but wonder if they consider verses like Matthew 10:33: "But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven." It seems pretty clear to be a denial if they claim this phrase is secular and isn't about their god.

As most who know me are aware, I'm not religious, but I would have way more respect for those who are if they weren't so openly hypocritical so often. I try, but it's so hard to see people in a positive light when these kinds of things happen.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Fail: Letting The Past Trump The Present

Story: Ben Carson: Pledge of Allegiance and other ‘founding documents’ prove America is a Christian nation

One of the many things I don't understand about how the bulk of humanity thinks is the idea that the past trumps the present--and the future. Like no other time in history, we are privy to better information every single day. What we know tomorrow will be better than what we know today, something that will be true everyday. Yet, so many of us still tell ourselves that the past is better.

Leaving alone the claim that the Christian religion (or any religion) was anything close to a key factor in the "founding documents," (having religion as part of government was actually something feared--Article VI, First Amendment), all laws we write for ourselves are always going to become outdated because we are not anywhere near smart enough to predict the future conditions under which we live, including the ever-increasing quality of the information at our disposal.

If we want to be a nation of something valuable and laudable, it should be the ability to modify the rules we set for ourselves based on the latest and greatest information we have. We should not want to live in a world where past decisions and actions are seen as applicable in the present without consideration of what's changed. That's just nuts.