Monday, September 1, 2014

Syria: It's the Thought That Counts (or Should)

Headline: "The Unbearable Emptiness of a New York Times Op-Ed"
John McCain and Lindsey Graham want Obama to confront ISIS now. They don't specify how.

"You can either demand that Obama not bomb Syria until he's ensured he has a plan likely to win international and congressional support, or you can demand that he bomb as soon as possible. You can't demand both."
Excellent point. There have been extensive valid criticisms when past actions were taken without things like an exit strategy or a definition of success, but when some people want to go to war, nothing as trivial as thinking about these things matters much.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ugly Artifacts?

Every time an anthropologist digs up an ancient pot, figurine, weapon, jewelry, etc. it's almost always called beautiful. Just once I would love to hear a scientist pull something out of the dirt and honestly declare it to be ugly. ;)

Political Fear Factor

A component of politics that no one seems to do without is the creation of an enemy and then assigning it the blame for something. But a main difference between right- and left-wing politics in this regard is who or what is in danger from the type of enemy that gets named. For conservatives, the enemy that gets created can more easily be seen as a presenting a danger to someone personally, whereas for liberals the danger is more likely to be presented as something that can harm society as a whole, or large swaths of it. This often falsely generated personal fear versus general fear is an indicator of a fundamental difference in what motivates people and shows why those taking one stance or the other are overwhelmingly likely to ignore what is presented by others.

Conservative versus liberal religions are like this too, one emphasizing to individuals what bad things will happen to them if they don't behave as demanded--the other not so much.

Headline: "Laura Ingraham Tells Radio Listeners That Obama Considers Them, Not Islamic State, The 'True Enemy'"

Headline: "Africa and U.S.: Invest in human rights"

Friday, August 29, 2014

The End of Rape Strategy Debate

There is a current protest going on that pushes the idea that says "instead of teaching women not to be raped we should teach men not to rape.” This simple idea seems workable, but it's too simplistic—and dangerous—to be useful if taken literally.

There are several similar examples that can help shed light on why this idea is problematic, but perhaps the one that's most timely is the race issue that's come up again in the wake of the Ferguson, MO shooting of a black teenager by a white cop. If the thinking behind the anti-rape strategy was strong, then we should also consider its value in a race-based framework. But it would be difficult to find people who would be in favor of telling people who are victims of violent racism to not pay attention to steps they can take that will mitigate their chances of being victimized. While we need to keep focused on stopping the actions of rapists and racists, the need remains for their potential victims to take defensive steps.

Other examples that help to drive home the point include things that range from terrorist activities to motorcycle riders. Would it be reasonable to teach motorcycle riders to pay less attention to defensive tactics and, instead, teach other drivers on the road to stop running into them? For reasons of simple safety, teaching motorcyclists to take actions that reduce their risk of being hit by a car or truck is simply smart and necessary. It's not fair that motorcyclists are disproportionate victims of the actions of other drivers, but what purpose is served to argue against precautions? Similarly, for people who travel to countries where terrorist beheadings take place, I doubt anyone would advise people to not take precautions against being targeted by terrorists who do this.

We should accept that humans do awful things to one another and efforts to improve our behaviors need long-term and short-term strategies. To try and label one of them as detrimental doesn't seem prudent. It would be similar to not taking steps to mitigate the current condition of those suffering from a debilitating illness until a cure is found.

When it comes to rape, some may argue that it's ridiculous to think that all men can't be educated in a way that none of them will rape someone. Unfortunately, I'm not sure this is ever going to be true. While I don't have proof of this notion, it is a gut feeling that comes from my life as a man. For those who are not men, let me try and explain.

Just as a woman will notice things about other women that men will overlook or miss, it is also true that men notice things about other men that women don't notice. This ability/disability is not only true for genders, but for other groups that include professions (i.e. police, airline pilots, musicians, teachers, truck drivers, clergy, etc.) and cultures (people from Papua New Guinea will not  know why people from New York behave the way they do). Being a [fill in the blank] gives each of us the ability to know things about others who are also [fill in the blank] that others won't know. 

Because of this, and history itself, I think it's reasonable to claim that it is an unfortunate truth that some men have within them the very real potential to commit rape. Men are much more likely to “understand” this truth and notice its potential danger. But because the vast majority of us also tend to be protective of women by default, we find it hard to agree with the argument that reduces the importance for women to reduce their risk. This is why so many fathers are more protective of their daughters than their sons and do cringe when they see women express attitudes that seem to ignore the danger we know exists. 

Yes, it's totally unfair, but until we live in a much different world (which may never happen), the practical steps of reducing the risk of getting raped are just smart.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Language Not Up to the Job

Headline: "Pew Poll: Libertarians Don’t Know What ‘Libertarian’ Means"

Another example of how language, the tool we invented to communicate, is at least as often a tool to mis-communicate. Not sure how to fix or improve it, but we first need to recognize its failed status.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Slavery's Repitition

Instead of seeing it as outright slavery, today's society is accomplishing nearly the same thing with debt. An increasing amount of wealth being concentrated in the hands of a miniscule minority--added to a dismantling of the government services that are supposed to support everyone without direct individual cos--continue to move us in the direction of debt as a basic condition of existence. People who have little (or nothing) are increasingly unable to get any support with no strings. They will only be able to get what they need to survive by going into debt to those at the top who have accumulated the nation's wealth, allowing them to accumulate even more wealth--and power. This concentration of power has gone by many names in humanity's past, but each is a situation where a small minority controls the majority, enslaving one group to another. Unfortunately, this seems to be our default configuration.

Assholes Also Don't Care

There is a commonly shared idea that it is always a good thing to not care what other people think of oneself. But this notion ignores a downside, namely that this attitude is also contained within the creed of an asshole.

Exceptional Search

I wonder what percentage of those who most vehemently declare that rules be applied identically to all search just as powerfully for an exception that applies to them.

Power to Heal is Darren Wilson's to Unleash‏

It may not be obvious, but Darren Wilson has the power to begin a process of healing in Ferguson because he is the metaphorical keystone holding both sides in place. He can bring down the structure on which the conflict is built, but it will take a great deal of courage on his part to do it because it requires a true apology from him. If he comes forward and honestly declares that what he did was a mistake—even if for some reason it was legal—the framework on which the current battle hangs will be gone. 

If, however, he comes forward and declares that he did nothing wrong, it will only serve to strengthen his keystone role supporting what's currently happening. Even worse, if he ends up being charged and found innocent, I predict the riots of the '60s will be seen as quaint. If it is declared at some point that he won't be charged at all, the result won't be much different, I'm afraid. Along with an honest apology, he needs to accept a plea of some sort that delivers some kind of punishment to send a message that his actions aren't being seen as unconditionally valid. 

Darren Wilson has in his hands the power to begin a process of recovery or remain the keystone that supports an ongoing battle that will continue to rage. Fair or not, the future is now in his control.

Dangerously Sized "People"

Headline: Fox News guest: Was Michael Brown too large to be an ‘unarmed teen’?

Corporations are people, large people are weapons, so large corporations must be weapons too. I guess they can also be killed just for being big.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Evil Comparison

Potential college debate topic: Compare the suffering inflicted by U.S. slavery and Nazi Germany, including the period following the U.S. Civil War and World War II.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Devotion to People More Powerful Than Ideas

Article: "Republicans Are Devoted to Protecting the Reagan Myth, No Matter What"

The above article by Paul Krugman ends with the idea that many people use "faith" when they make claims about Ronald Reagan, implying that there is a religious-style attitude in play. I do think that is the case with a whole host of those who have been at the head of political organizations ranging from countries to small activist groups. For some reason many of us need ideas to be attached to a person, and that person then becomes a point of protection for those "living in the faith." There is a difference in the way we perceive an idea when we contemplate it in an abstract sense versus the same idea when it can be attached to a person, and seem to prefer the later.

It would be hard to catalog every religion ever created by humanity, but it's a pretty good bet that the vast majority of them contain people at their center. The most obvious include Buddha, Mohammad, Jesus, Joseph Smith, Lao Tzu, to name just a few. (Even ancient multi-god belief systems and animism personify their spirits and deities.) Defense of these individuals is at the top of the to-do list for dogmatic followers because, as the assigned source of what they espouse, faith in them must be maintained at all costs or the whole faith system falls apart.

This is an unfortunate aspect of our existence. Hopefully, some day, we can see the evaluation of ideas and events themselves as an ideal rather than protecting the persona of someone who's been attached to them.

Murderous Attitudes

It's hard to find a substantial difference in the attitudes of people who support the killings of James Foley and Michael Brown.

There is Money in Filth-Protection

We have system in place that actually includes incentives for people to promote living in filth as a good thing...

Experts: Pro-Smog Pollution Report Is "Unmoored From Reality"

Why Media Shouldn't Take Industry-Funded Report On EPA Ozone Regulations At Face Value

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Avoding the Easy Proof

It would so easy for people who make supernatural claims to prove them, yet...

In Search of Divine Support

So many people are always on the lookout for a divine excuse to be an asshole.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Expert Blindness

In the book Wait by Frank Partnoy, there is a description of an experiment where chess experts were shown a chess board with checkmate for one of the players achievable in three moves, but the moves are non-standard and counter-intuitive to typical play by experts at the game. After less than a minute the chess experts tended to see the solution. Then, the experimenters did a similar test that contained the same three-move checkmate possibility, but also contained a five-move possibility that was familiar to expert players. In this scenario, the players noticed the five-move option immediately, but only half of the best players saw the three-move option, even fewer of lower level experts. These subjects were then shown the board as it was set up in the original experiment (with no familiar five-move solution available) and they still tended to not be able to see the three-move solution.

What this seems to show is that experts also have biases just like everyone else. To be able to adopt to accept new information and then change a previous determination that incorporates that new information is not only difficult, but for some people it's literally impossible.

I think this is one major reason why relying on "experts" to make sense of new information is always going to be problematic. Not only is there a self-protection bias, but there is a good chance they literally can't see it. It's probably even worse for those who assign themselves the "expert" label when it's undeserved.

"The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been...into every corner of our minds." -John Maynard Keynes

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Boo on Taboos

By making something taboo we stop our ability to learn, resulting detrimental consequences. The largest example might be the ancient taboo against touching dead bodies, which stopped the proper study of human anatomy until very recent history. A current example is sex. Talking about it is taboo to many people, but for those who do bother to question and learn, their sex-related problems drop dramatically. 

Imagine where we would be if we would only realize that seeking knowledge works.

A Present to the Futre

Just like the present followed our past, our future will follow our present. Do things today as if you are giving a present to our future. Try and remember that what you do today doesn't go away.

Fox News = Infomercial

Fox News experts are in the same category as doctors paid to pitch products on infomercials and be in cahoots with shady lawyers to give a desired diagnoses for a lawsuit. In short, Fox News is a continuous infomercial for making money, and doing so by making a paranoid and undereducated audience feel like their inadequacies are assets.