Thursday, September 24, 2015

Good Old Days.

"You know, this usta be a hellova good country"  

Said George Hanson (Jack Nicholson) in the movie Easy Rider shortly before he was bludgeoned to death by the good old boys who didn't want no hippies with no respect for the good old ways and traditions in their county.  It's a very common thing to say in the USA of today. That's not to say we haven't done some good things, but I'm curious to know just when that golden age of America the Great and Magnificent was.  The witch hunts, religious restrictions, the deportations and slaughter of Indians, a horrific civil war --  the Slavery, the Race laws, the lynchings, the unjustified invasions and foreign wars based on lies, the support for inhuman monsters abroad, the abuses of freedom while fighting various enemies, real and imagined. Just when the hell were we so great?

I'd like to know because it seems to be the same voices lamenting the lost paradise that decry efforts to move away from or undo all those Hobbsonian horrors.   Advocates for a system of laws based on selected Christian literature, for enforcing selected taboos of selected Christian sects who advocate for the tyranny of clergymen and against the institutions of secular government:  I'd like to know what the hell they're talking about and so far not one of them has given me a cogent, a valid or even an honest explanation.

'Back to the Future' seems to have been a meme since the first versions of the Garden of Eden Story was cooked up and seeing that not only the name "eden" but the concept of an original pure garden of bliss is described in the earliest writings known ages before there was a Bible, it's puzzling to contemplate how the past could always have been better and the future should be a return.  All those horrors, the floods, the plagues, the genocides the divine retributions in the past -- that's because we weren't pleasing God or the gods and so we need to go back to when we did although obviously we never have?

Sounds demented, doesn't it and that's because it is, but it's also been the tool of tyrants and prophets and preachers and Sunday School Teachers, and it works.  Yep they're all going to restore the greatness, Reagan and Trump with their shining cities and high rises towers and every damn Republican chump with their ethnic bias and religious intolerance..  Bring back the Roman Empire, start a thousand year Reich. A New Jerusalem, a new Zion in Utah a new Eden in Woodstock.  Remember that the First Commandment is religious intolerance and we'll all be happy.

I got into it, earlier this week with some blowhard who insisted that the Pledge of Allegiance was fading away because the Liberals were making us embarrassed to say it.  It was the God part, of course, forced on school children since 1954 thanks to the knights of Columbus having bullied the Eisenhower administration.  The straw man Liberals are against "patriotism' and Patriotism means mandatory theological belief just like the old days when everything was wonderful and Christian Soldiers like Jefferson and Madison and Franklin and Washington fought the unbelievers to establish the Kingdom of Christ in the New World.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Something You Don't Like About Capitalism?

"Because we can get away with it."  is essentially the answer given by Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO to the question of why the company raised the price of  Darapram, a drug that's been around for 62 years  by 5000%.  That's not a typo.

Turing acquired the drug by purchasing the company that made it last month, and greed being good, decided to flaunt it.  One pill now costs 750 bucks, up from $13.50. No really, that's not a typo and it's not unique.  It's not, it seems,  that these things didn't make a profit, the development costs having been payed back long ago. It's just that Medical care in America is about making the rich richer, about Turing paying for the company they bought by screwing  the sick and screwing the Insurance companies who pass the cost  on to you and me - because they can and because the Republicans made a deal while calling objectors Communists.

The cost of  existing medications that some people need to stay alive has gone up by hundreds and hundreds of percentage points and not because they cost more to make. It's because they can get away with it and if you don't have insurance, your option is to decrease the surplus population.
And the idiots like Sarah Palin insist that Obamacare has death panels while "buy or die" has replaced free market competition.  Republicans are for free markets, right?

Now if you do have insurance that covers prescriptions, the cost is picked up by the premium payers: us, our employers or Medicare thanks to the Idiot Bush who worked out a deal with the drug companies that forbids any bargaining or competition.  It's one of the reasons they can sell drugs in the US at the highest prices in the world. Turing CEO Martin Shkreli said the price increase brings Daraprim more in line with other drugs for rare diseases, not that that stinks of collusion and price fixing, and is a polite way of saying it's OK for Turing to gouge the sick because everyone else is doing it and besides with all that money we could maybe develop some other drugs you might like -- or increase the size of the corporate jet or hand out bonuses, or whatever.  Hey, it's Capitalism. Something you don't like about Capitalism? You're some kind of Commie?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Quacks like a Duck - Affirming the Consequent

We're liberals, aren't we? So we're primed to believe stories that fit a certain mold without question and often with a good deal of desperate enthusiasm.  An "unarmed child" is shot in the back while kneeling and begging for his life,  a kid is arrested for taking a clock to school. We don't bother with the facts, because after all, there is a history of minorities being treated unfairly and therefore we assume that if B follows A, B implies A.  It doesn't and there's a name for the fallacy.

A kid brings an apparatus in a briefcase to school, made out of clock parts and looks to me very much like the bomb timer you see in so many movies that counts down the minutes to the explosion.  If I were a teacher or Principal, I would have called an expert too and I have a background in electronic engineering. It looks very much like something the movies have conditioned us to see as a countdown timer for a bomb. Did he "invent" a clock and put it in a "pencil case" that looks like it came out of a
James Bond movie or did he take apart a clock and stuff it in something chosen to look suspicious?   Your assumptions here mean a lot. The way it's framed means everything.  As many on both sides of the political divide seem to agree:  "It looks like a f*cking bomb!"

But because police have a history of  abusing minorities, any arrest is abuse and because the kid is a Muslim, we, as dependably bigoted and privileged white people are to be presumed to be acting from bigotry.  It must be an act of racism, for are we not white? It must be racism for is he not Muslim?

The thoughts of Liberals seem to be steered by the same sloppy, emotional and instinctive pseudo-reasoning as those of Conservatives, Libertarians, Socialists and for all I know, professors of mathematics.  Go ahead, you blue eyed, blond Norwegian  Lutheran - put some clock parts, a battery and a mess of wires in a briefcase and try to get on a plane so you can claim the TSA is profiling Scandinavians.

Hands up!  Don't Shoot!  It was just a clock! The knife was Military Style!   Devious uses of the Framing Effect litter the ground and every thing we read, see and hear are attempts to manipulate opinion, but  even the huge, gilded Rococo monstrosity of this frame seems to escape our notice. Even our experienced knees jerk when tapped by the professionally wielded little hammer.

Are we, as liberals combing the news for examples and when the supply is low, are we so relieved to find yet another juicy one that we suspend disbelief, squint our eyes a little bit and react a little too passionately?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Studies Show

We think we're rational, but we're not.  It's too easy to be optimistically or pessimistically  irrational. It's too much fun and we have plenty of help, particularly if we watch or read or listen to the news, if we watch television or read magazines. If we look at cartoons, if we read editorials. If we are immersed in advertising -- and we are.  If we answer our phones when they ring, if we read blogs like this one, someone is always trying to sell you an opinion, an attitude, a bias.  We're so used to it, they're so good at it that we rarely pay attention.  We enjoy having a credible group of like minded people, we hardly bother to apply what analytical ability we've managed to hold onto after years, after a lifetime of being subjected to advertising, preaching and the endless, relentless and largely dishonest manipulations that our ears are heir to.

We've been trained from birth not to question and trained to accept with a fierce tenacity anything someone dressed to inspire credulity tells us. It makes us feel smart, hip, a cut above others.  Perhaps herd animals, schools of fish and flocks of birds feel wonderful giving in to the same biological imperatives we follow in the same mindless way. I don't know.  Maybe there's a study.

Open the Sunday paper, click on a news website: you'll read about the 7 foods you should never eat, the foods, the beans and berries that will melt away belly fat and exercise programs that will make you live forever and we take it to be science; the result of valid research done to rigorous standards.  It's rarely the case.  It's nearly always the case that someone is selling something.  Tell someone that milk doesn't produce phlegm, Gluten is not bad for you, that vaccinations don't cause Autism and Autism isn't on the increase and they will turn ugly before they will bother to look at real rigorously tested and peer reviewed evidence beyond what the diet doctor or politician or propagandist of choice is saying.  I have a friend whose cousin is autistic.  That's enough.  A follows B and therefore  A causes B. Sole cause, partial cause, a vague non-causal link or irrelevant -- it doesn't matter to someone who doesn't know science or statistics and probability, and that's pretty much everyone.

Do they teach critical thinking in school?  Do they show people the difference between anecdotes, conjecture, Gerrymandered evidence and large, scale, randomized, double blind and repeatable studies?  If they do, does anyone listen?  Does it make anyone suspicious when the research, the study, are published in Sunday Supplements or pose as real in paid advertising on  You know the answer. 1 in a million may be enough to prove causation.  One in a million may prove unacceptable danger or a high degree of safety depending on the motivation of the salesman and the pet phobias of the believing public.

People who sell "Paleo" diets, or low "carb" diets love to tell you that they are based on research, because after all, people like the Inuit eat blubber and fish and raw meat and little else and don't get heart disease or diabetes. Your uncle Ralph went on Atkins and lost weight eating cheeseburgers.  If you noticed that the assumption that this would be true of anyone eating the same diet of course is called "confirming the consequent" which assumes that if B follows A, then B is evidence of A.  It's not. It's a fallacy you'll learn in Logic 101, but you didn't take that course did you?

 Convincing evidence that eating the calorie equivalent in lard or Twinkies or donuts produces similar results,  means nothing to the public and won't get published as an advertising campaign and something that has a tiny correlation can be called a "cause"  or a "link" by someone in a rented lab coat and you'll believe the fraud every time because it gives false hope and hope sells.

The peer reviewed journal Science published a study Thursday. Conducted by the University of California, Berkley. It examined genetic differences between Inuit, Europeans, and ethnic Chinese. and yes, pace hipster science, there are genetic differences, easily observed.  The Inuit and some Chinese have a mutation, perhaps cultivated over the millennia, that enable them to tolerate a diet that would make my cardiologist cry,  Some people lose weight on the Atkins diet.  I'm not one of them.  I don't have the genes for it and that's been confirmed by  testing my DNA.  

Should we by a sales pitch because "studies show" when there are no studies but a few anecdotes or biased conjectures?  Of course not, nor should we accept news reports that insist this or that is worse than before or is rising or falling in significant fashion and is not a brief anomaly soon to revert to the mean.  Is this scary incident really the result of this or that or is it a crafted scenario based on a fear, a phobia, a bias. Do we still believe cutting the upper tax bracket will end a recession?   You know the answer. Facts don't matter and studies always show what they're designed to show and we always believe what we want to believe.

For most of us, facts don't matter, And chances are we don't bother to think critically or verify, but chances are also great that proven wrong, belief persists, hardens and becomes militant.  Is that innocent child really a child or innocent?  Was he shot in the back?  No matter, grab the matchces because all cops are bad.  Did some kid's diagnosis illustrate a trend, was it caused by a vaccine or by his genes.  Is proof that there is no increase, the identification of the genetic component, the statistical analysis showing no increase enough to make anyone admit error or accept proof -- hell no.  

When Donald Trump insisted he had damning evidence about Barack Obama and was proved to be a lying asswipe, did that change any minds about Obama?  When some smoker lives to be 110, do we insist that smoking isn't safe?  No.  Studies always show what isn't true is true  and science nor truth really matter to the human ape.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Every Way You Look at This

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon.
Going to the candidates' debate.
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you've got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose.

I'm fond of reading books on logic and rhetoric, but it's frustrating and annoying in the extreme to recognize the dishonest and deceptive methods of persuasion that make up nearly all American political discussion.  Some 15 years ago I began writing about such things on Usenet, and Compuserve and I've been blogging on the Web for the last ten.  I've lost any belief or hope in  the idea that clear speech and valid reasoning could compete with the self serving belief, the love of snarky zingers and the tribal chanting.  I really don't know why I do it any more and the ritual political exercises the public takes to be debate,  illustrate the futility of hope.

Candidates lie.  They distort, they embellish, they deny.  They make up statistics, quote dubious authority, they make simplistic generalizations, they manipulate a large deck of fallacy with as much dexterity as any Las Vegas illusionist.  It doesn't matter.  We're not looking for facts, we're looking for confirmation of prejudice, and what's overlooked in our candidate is seen as catastrophic, as egregious, as unforgivable in another.  There's simply no other reason for conducting a campaign or listening to it but to delude or protect our delusion. When I see the same tricks used by proponents I was once sympathetic toward and tricks quite as slippery as the other side uses, I have to question my motivations for continuing.

You simply can't trust the propaganda put out by either side of any serious issue.  Is the problem worse or better or unchanged?  Does the incident or scandal du jour represent anything other than an isolated case?  Is something we are urged to panic about, be angry about, to go out and riot about or even vote in response to only a thing chosen or invented by pressure groups as an example?   We can't trust the statistics or the people who quote them.  "Studies show" too often means there was no study and cited "linkages" have nothing to do with causation, because all that matters in political salesmanship is the Framing Effect.

Our politics are fundamentally dishonest because certain groups take advantage of the technology and the science of dishonesty to manipulate us in ways familiar to Aristotle but invisible to us.  We make no effort to verify despite the technology and instant access to information and we will simply deny facts and elevate fiction as suits our vanity, our pride, our delusion and our affiliation.  Truth doesn't matter, faith does and if we fear vaccinations it doesn't matter that claims and fears are proven utterly false.  We can always come up with a conspiracy, we can always deny, we can always throw dung at the truth and anyone who tells it.

Will this fundamental instability of human nature, our tendency toward hysteria and panic bring down our Republic, or is the question really about how soon?  Will we even notice  with all the howling of all the players?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Mike Huckabee thinks Black People Can't be Citizens.

Is everyone too busy hunting for racists under the bed and accusing every dust bunny they find of racism to ignore someone who would make Satan blush and George Wallace take exception at a candidate telling us Black Americans are, by law, not human nor eligible for citizenship?  The Dred Scott decision, says  the excremental Mr. Huckabee,  a man with no knowledge of history, logic or law, is still  "the law of the land."   Is there no shame any more?

No it isn't the law and hasn't been since the constitution was amended to outlaw slavery and to make everyone born here a citizen.  A lot of people died to make that happen and a lot of people died to prevent that.  Any child knows this.  Any naturalized immigrant and probably most of the undocumented immigrants know that our government denies any origin in Biblical law or ecclesiastical authority and again many people died to make that happen.

Frankly there are no Republican candidates that are not delusional, that are not offering their delusions as a reason to vote for them,  nor do any seem to have any grasp of reality or history.  Whether it's the myth of  "Anchor Babies" or Mexican rapists or any of the other lies, distortions or frauds that constitute the Republican platform, not one of them is honest, trustworthy or smarter than a garden slug. Pretending otherwise, giving them support by pretending to be fair and respectful borders on treason, borders on collaborating with an enemy that seeks the destruction of our institutions and the rule of law.  Is this what they mean by "making America great again?

It's embarrassing, it's humiliating and it's terrifying to see this going on and to listen to people who don't react when hearing that Obama is like Hitler, That universal access to health care is Communism or like the Nazis - take your pick: people who think Jesus is or government, that the law applies differently to "believers."  The world laughs at us, and as screwed up as the world is, I don't blame them.  I mean, you can laugh or you can hide under the bed or you can try to find some remote corner of the planet to drink yourself to death in, but  the Zombie apocalypse is upon us: a brainless evil running wild in the streets, waving crosses and pounding on bibles and hunting witches like it's 1499.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The Voice from the Bunker

In the last election, GOP presidential candidates promised $2.50/gallon gas and an unemployment rate below 6% -- but only if Obama loses,"

says Rachel Maddow.  Yesterday's local newspaper had a cartoon of  Obama standing next to a garbage pile labelled DEBT and saying he'll give it the title of  Prosperity.

Is there any more solid proof that the GOP lives in a world of their own?  A hermetic world, where truth never penetrates, a crumbling tenement of the mind with no fire escapes and no exit.

"Care to guess what happened anyway?"

Deficit spending is way down from the last Republican administration, the corner gas station is selling the cheap stuff at $2.44, unemployment is at 5.1%. She's right, it's hard to guess what they're complaining about, but my guess is that they're talking to a crowd who's cognitive functions and base of knowledge is sclerotic with misdirected anger.  It's sad how big that crowd is. Things have been getting steadily better for 6 years and the 8 years of soaring debt and zero job growth, a credit crunch and market collapse only surpassed by the Great Depression - - all those things have been forgotten while the DJ continues to rap about smaller government and less spending and lower taxes.

Is it a bubble or is it a sealed lead sarcophagus where the corpse of  legitimacy, decency, truth and justice lies rotting in it's own stink?

Yes, I know, she's a lesbian, MSNBC has a scarlet LIBERAL painted on it and Obama is a DISASTER says the voice from the bunker.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Fear, Fear Everywhere and Never a Stop to Think

Waiting my turn at the barber shop, looking at the magazines: Field and Stream, Coastal Angler and things like that. Hot Rod, American Iron: all manly things that live in barber shops.   Like half the customers, I'm wearing shorts and a fishing shirt with my boat's name on it -- Sperry Topsiders that have been around the deck a few times.  It's that sort of a town, a small town very close to rural Florida which here is more cattle than citrus -- and fish, of course, whether it's west in Lake Okeechobee, in the middle in the St. Lucie River  or East in the Atlantic and the Intra-coastal waterway -- whether it's off the many bridges or from a boat, people fish and people hunt. People gig frogs in the wetlands.  Wild hog, it's what's for dinner.

Bob's Barber Shop is festooned with Western memorabilia and some very old guns.  You don't see Bob much any more.,  Like me he's mostly retired and I don't see the signs for his homemade Venison jerky on the wall, but time seems to move slowly at Bob's and I like it that way.  It's a country for old men.

I have a wait and so I pick up a copy of American Rifleman  with it's mailing cover still on it, proclaiming the dire need for the reader to buy an NRA raffle ticket to win a variety of guns and so to "protect our freedom in Obama's last desperate years."

Obama and his "rogue agenda to destroy our unique American freedoms."  It may be evocative of old times, but it's not. Those faces, those people I used to think I got along with so well in my love of the outdoors, the land and waters, fields and streams: there's something behind the mask that feels like a door I shouldn't open. Something new in degree if not in content.  " And that Hillary!" I read in another article.  Indeed it is.

Should I be grateful to be informed of this mad desperation, this frenzied and howling  lust to "take our ammo" Hillary represents?  Strange that I never noticed it because ammo is available everywhere, including WalMart and the gun store just across the street from Bob's. Have I been kept in the dark?
"Buy all you can, bury it in the back yard -- the Obamocalypse is upon us and if it's not, there's the Hillary Horror and blood in the streets."

Everyone who reads the NRA publications: American Rifleman, American Hunter, Amrica's First Freedom, Shooting Illustrated, Shooting Sports USA, American Family Insights, Armed Citizen, Standing Guard and others knows it's a desperate struggle, a fight every day to keep the government away from our freedom and yes, freedom means guns. Yes these are Obama's last desperate days and yes that sounds rather ominous, rather threatening coming from people who are promoting imminent and necessary rebellion. There is desperation of course and it's at the NRA and they do a stupendous job of promoting that fear of losing our Freedom (guns) even when there seems to be little, if any motivation on the part of  the Executive branch.  Mass confiscation, like the Second Coming is always imminent and contributions to the NRA always necessary and it sells well to the "south will rise again" crowd and the closet anarchists and paranoids and revolutionaries.  Obama,s gonna lock you up, he's gonna take your guns just like Clinton did and ohmagawd, here comes another Clinton!

Of course it's not just Bobs or at the fish camp bar out on the lake I'm fond of.  It's not just at those parties at the Harley dealer or the biker bars.  You hear it at the Yacht Club. You hear how "Obama has been just a disaster" from people who still have those "2012, the end of an error" stickers on their Bentlys.  If I dare to break the club rules and ask why that is, the answer is always a shrug or something that isn't true.

But things are changing rather quickly today, what with changing demographics and age and the spread of civil rights,  although one side will tell you it's too much and the other denies any change but for the worse.  Maybe we're in may respects at another George Wallace turning point.  No matter how firm he acted, no matter how much rabid support, Segregation was over.  The old ways are on the defensive.

"There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’"

Let's hope.

But will it be for the better?  Will we have to fight the civil war all over again?  I'm seeing Confederate flags everywhere now and people are taking idiotic pride in pretending to be rebels, renegades and sovereign citizens and their symbol is a rifle.  Nothing matters in the new Utopia  as much or more than guns, more guns, unlimited guns so we'll never have to worry about being rounded up by 'librals' and sold as slaves and the South shall rise again. So says Fox, so say the NRA.

Are the many people outside the paranoid, conspiracy theorist, anarchist, White Christian Nation circle helping it die?  Hell no, of course the anti-NRA fear-of-guns crowd doesn't help spread truth and objectivity by all the ill-informed and equally obsessive hyperbole.  Nobody seems to speak for the middle, for the people who are not afraid of Swiss Army knives and Gluten, Cell Phones and mysterious toxins and can't understand why a Montana rancher or resident of Alakanuk, Alaska needs guns.  If this is to be a turning point rather than a breaking point we're going to have to hear from and to listen to these people, normal people, rational and informed people.  They are out there aren't they?