It’s A Mistake For Democrats To Oppose Everything On Principle


Flowchart for a rational debate
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With Democrats nearly fading to obscurity after the 2016 elections — Republicans gained control of all three branches of the federal government, control 34 of 50 governor’s mansions, and 66 of 99 state legislative bodies — I think Democrats are mistaken to oppose everything the new regime proposes.

And it’s even more true of partisan liberal organizations and liberal citizens than it is of the Democratic Party.

As a group, we seem to have forgotten that the biggest beneficiary of any debate is the audience.

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Thank You, Readers, For Keeping This Interesting

Categories: Personal
Comments: 2 Comments
Published on: 2017.02.01


Monthly statistics for this blog

As shown in the screenshot above, January 2017 is my top month for views on this blog, which I’ve been running for nearly 12 years. (My first entry was this one, back when this blog was hosted on Blogspot.)

More important to me, however, is the statistic at lower right: 70 comments. I think that’s the most comments in a one-month period (not counting spam; I sometimes get 50 spam comments per day). This is what I very much appreciate about the blogging experience — communicating with interested persons. Most of the comments in January were from people I’ve never met face-to-face, but I’ve known them online for years.

While I would love to think my stats are increasing because I’m getting better at this — polishing my prose, stepping up my citation game, being more careful to proofread and doublecheck, etc. — my suspicion is that it’s a simple accident of the internet. Likely the topics I’m covering lately happen to coincide with search terms people are using.

For the record, I do not have a goal of increasing readership. I don’t have any illusions about my level of prowess when it comes to discussing any of the topics here. In almost every case, my blog entries simply reflect what I’ve been thinking about, and as always, I think better when I see my thoughts visually. If blogs didn’t exist, I would be typing these words into files on my computer. If computers didn’t exist, I’d be writing these words in a paper journal. But computers and blogs do exist, so it’s an extra-special bonus that I get to put these thoughts online — for better or worse.

Every time one of you adds something to the conversation, it makes me a better person. Thank you.

What’s The Point Of Bringing Up George Soros?

Categories: Personal
Tags: No Tags
Comments: 8 Comments
Published on: 2017.01.30

Screenshot of George Soros’ Wikipedia page

I’m surprised I haven’t blogged about this before; I’ve seen this tactic for years now. Here’s how it works… In the midst of a political discussion, someone will bring up George Soros. Two things are always true about these instances: (1) it’s always a right-wing/conservative person, and (2) Soros is always irrelevant to the conversation at hand.

So why do they do it? What are they hoping to accomplish?

Some of them probably don’t even realize it, but it’s an argument tactic called deflection, diversion, or a red herring. Deflection is used in chess as an intentional strategy, and the red herring is an oft-employed literary device, especially in mystery novels. In those contexts, it’s cool and smart.

But in the context of a debate or a discussion, it’s underhanded. If you successfully deflect someone from the point of the conversation, it doesn’t mean you “won”; it just means the other person didn’t realize what you were doing.

Take this example from an online conversation I participated in yesterday:

(1) The OP (a guy who went to high school with me) posted about the recent protests, and the right-wingers who keep saying the protesters should just “get over it”. He compared the situation to historic protests, and concluded: “However, if the tables were turned and you were being marginalized in some way, would you just, ‘get over it’?”

(2) Someone commented: “Whats [sic] been proven in the latest few batches of uprisings is that they are paid and orchastrated efforts by George Soros and his minions…”

The commenter linked to an op-ed in the “Women In The World” section of the New York Times (here), titled: “Billionaire George Soros has ties to more than 50 ‘partners’ of the Women’s March on Washington”, as proof. Before getting to any meat, the author of that piece admits she “voted for Trump”, didn’t “feel welcome” at the Women’s March, and “rejects the liberal identity-politics”. The author said she “stayed up through the nights this week, studying” and linked to a poorly crafted spreadsheet on Google Docs as her smoking gun that “Soros has funded, or has close relationships with, at least 56 of the march’s ‘partners’…” And she piles on, revealing the startling fact that Soros is a Clinton supporter! Oh noes! (Stragically, the op-ed was published on inauguration day, a day before the Women’s March.)

It’s tempting to attack the op-ed or to defend Soros, but doing either means the deflection has been successful.

But here’s the thing: none of that is relevant to the topic at hand. The topic was whether or not protestors should “get over it”, not who was funding it. The topic was also raised in the context of the #NoMuslimBan protests, a week after the Women’s March.

It’s tempting to attack the op-ed itself (which would be easy, since it never actually showed that Soros funded the protests, only that he regularly donates to the worthwhile organizations, some of which partnered with the Women’s March), but that’s exactly how deflections and red herrings work. Once you’re attacking the op-ed’s silliness, then you’re no longer discussing whether people should protest or “get over it”.

It would also be tempting to defend Soros. After all, he apparently donates to a wide variety of great causes. Even according to the right-winger’s “source”, Soros helps fund Planned Parenthood, National Resource Defense Council, MoveOn.org, the National Action Network, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. Wow. I wish I was rich enough to donate to all of these! According to his Wikipedia page (which is full of source citations), he’s been funding good causes since the 1970s, including dissident movements behind the Iron Curtain, anti-apartheid activities in South Africa, eradicating poverty in Africa, building universities in Russia, and much more. He’s given away billions to good causes over the decades.

But again, this plays into the deflection. You’re now talking about Soros the man instead of whether people should protest (which was the original topic, remember?)

My response in that instance was simple, though it slightly played into the deflection (because I didn’t recognize the deflection in time):

“If I was a billionaire, I’d be funding pro-rights organizations too. Heck, I’m currently a ‘thousandaire’ and I’m funding them. I know “but Soros is funding them” is a common trope, but it’s actually a good thing to fund helpful causes.”

And this is why right-wingers keep bringing up George Soros.

Those Pesky Facts: The #MuslimBan Edition (UPDATED)

While President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order on immigration isn’t technically a “Muslim Ban”, it does bar entry into the U.S. for citizens of Muslim-majority nations. Specifically: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The ban is 90 days, except for “indefinitely” in the case of Syria.

Trump’s stated purpose in this order — titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” — is “to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States”. He specifically mentions the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, saying they could have been prevented if only those folks had been properly vetted. He adds: “Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001.”

Which makes it odd indeed that the countries we’re now banning entry from are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Because none of those nations are where any of our terrorists have come from.

The 9/11 hijackers were largely from Saudia Arabia, while a handful were from Egypt, Lebanon, and United Arab Emirates.

In 2002, the D.C. sniper attacks (misnamed because the killers took 17 or so lives in at least seven states) were carried out by men born in Jamaica and Louisiana, who had also lived in Antigua, Florida, and Washington.

Michael Julius Ford, the 20-year-old who killed one and injured five in a 2006 attack in Colorado, was born and raised in the U.S..

The suspect in a 2006 incident in Seattle was from Pakistan, but had lived much of his life in the U.S.

Major Nadal Hissan, who killed 13 and wounded more than 30 others in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting — the third-deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, was a U.S. Army officer born in Virginia. He served eight years as an enlisted U.S. Army soldier before graduating from Virginia Tech, doing an internship and residency at Walter Reed, and earning a medical degree.

The 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, which killed three people, was carried out by two Chechen brothers from Kyrgyzstan and who had also lived in Russia. One was a Russian citizen; the other was a naturalized U.S. citizen.

The 2014 beheading in Oklahoma was done by a longtime Oklahoma resident who was raised as a “nondenominational” Christian.

The suspect in the 2015 Chattanooga killings was born in Kuwait but had been in the U.S. since age six and was a longtime naturalized U.S. citizen.

The second-deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 was in San Bernardino, California, in 2015, where 14 people were killed and 22 injured. One of the perpetrators was born in Chicago, a lifelong U.S. citizen. The other was born in Pakistan, but lived most of her life in Saudi Arabia.

The death toll in Orlando in 2016 surpassed even that of San Bernardino, with 49 dead and 53 others wounded. The shooter, Omar Mateen, was born in New York to parents from Afghanistan. He had lived much of his life in Florida. When he finally did visit the Middle East as an adult, he never set foot in any of the nations mentioned in Trump’s order, only going to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

Are you seeing the pattern here? None of them were from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen. Not one.

These aren’t all the “mass shootings” or “mass killings” that happened in the U.S., but they’re the ones I could find that were connected to “radical Islam” in any way.

How the hell is it protecting Americans from terrorism if we’re only blocking entry for people from countries that haven’t terrorized us?

__________

Related, in Forbes: Why Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ Will Make Defeat Of ISIS Harder

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Edit, 2017.02.10: Added paragraph on the 2016 Orlando shooting.

Edit, 2017.02.12: A friend posted (and then deleted) a link to this blog entry by the “Center for Immigration Studies”, which claims 72 “individuals convicted in terror cases since 9/11” are from the seven nations in Trump’s travel ban. It used as its source a Fox New story from 2016. Notably, none of these individuals (as far as I can tell) were implicated in actual terrorist attacks, but were “convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related charges between 9/11 and the end of 2014”. The blog entry named only one man — Abdul Razak Ali Artan, the dead suspect in a 2016 attack in Ohio. Notably, as of this writing, Artan hasn’t been definitively linked to terrorism, nor was anyone killed in his attack (other than himself) which involved a knife and a vehicle. Artan was shot to death by a responding law enforcement officer, who also accidentally shot another person during the response. Artan was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, according to his own story, though investigating officials claimed he was born in Somalia. IF it turns out that Artan’s attack is linked to Islamic terrorism, and IF it can be shown he was actually from Somalia, then that is one exception to my statements above, not “72”.

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What Is The ‘Most Important Problem’ In The U.S.?


Government spying on its own citizens is seen by some as an important issue
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry.)

Americans disagree with each other on almost everything, it seems. We can’t even agree on which issues are most important. A Gallup survey just before the inauguration revealed that there is no stand-out issue on which Americans agree “this is the most important”.

Gallup has done the same survey at the beginning of each president’s first term for decades, and almost every time there was a huge looming issue that many of us agreed on — Vietnam in 1968, but in all other years it was the economy, inflation, and cost-of-living (except for 2001, in which there was no agreement). The biggest agreement of my lifetime was in 1974, when Gerald Ford took office, and 77% of respondents said “inflation/cost of living” was the most important issue.

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‘Why Did They March?’ — A Question From Privilege


Screenshot from Oxford Dictionary app

I’ll admit my bubble has grown thicker over the years, so I was flummoxed when I saw multiple posts over the past two days wondering why women marched — in at least 600 cities worldwide — on Jan. 21. Twenty years ago, I probably would have been asking the same questions — without irony — but today I feel disconnected from that former self. Today, the answers are obvious.

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The Most Important Freedom, At Least For Now

I would someday be interested in an informed discussion on whether some of our constitutionally-protected rights are more important than others, or should be. For example, if you had to give up one enumerated freedom, which would you choose? (If we’re going with the original Constitution and Bill of Rights, I would give up the right to own slaves, but fortunately, that one’s already been excised.)

There are people who think certain rights are more important. For example, this editorial piece claims freedom of religion is the most important (because it was “listed as the first freedom”), though the author attempts to redefine “religion” as “dictates of conscience”. For another example, this Cleveland.com piece asks readers which right is more important, and quite a few respondents said: “the right to bear arms”.

I’m typically in the “they’re all equally important” camp — if you start removing any of them, the rest can unravel quickly. But just at this moment, I’m leaning toward the freedom of the press as the most important.

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Inauguration: Just The High Notes

Instead of dissecting the new President’s inauguration speech for undertones of fascism and demagoguery — as some have been wont to do — I will point out a few positives that I took away from the event. First note that I didn’t intend to watch, but changed my mind at the last minute when I realized that the only channel I could watch it on was Univision (a Spanish-language channel) and saw a bit of humor in that situation — given Donald Trump’s anti-Mexican-American campaign rhetoric.

So I watched parts of the inauguration event (I skipped the theocratic prayer showcase), including Trump’s first speech as President. I was able to make out most of the English words underneath the Spanish translator’s voice, and then later read the transcript that Trump posted to Facebook.

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That Reading Statistics Meme Is Just Wrong

Categories: Personal
Comments: 6 Comments
Published on: 2017.01.07

The meme in question.

This cute little chart popped up on social media recently. I saw it from at least three different people, on at least three different platforms (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook). It makes the following claims, without citing a source:

• 33% of high school graduates never read another book the rest of their lives
• 42% of college grads never read another book after college
• 57% of new books are not read to completion
• 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years
• 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year
• The more a child reads, the likelier they are to understand the emotions of others

The arrows on the image seem to indicate that one fact leads to another, or perhaps that each statistic builds upon the previous one. Or maybe they just mean: “read it in this order”. Regardless, my “bullshit meter” was alerted quickly here. The first two statistics seem reasonable enough, if somewhat worrisome. The third one was vague and pointless (does it matter what percentage of new books are “read to completion”?) But the last three blocks of text each set off alarms in my brain.

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The Public Favors Police Bodycams — Overwhelmingly

A recent YouGov survey had only two questions about police bodycams, and the 2,229 respondents overwhelmingly agreed on both of them.

• Do you favor or oppose police departments equipping their officers with body cameras to record their interactions with the public?

• If you were reporting a crime to the police, would you want the officer’s body camera to be turned on or turned off?


Responses to the first question, sorted by political identification

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The Impact Of Celebrity And Celebrity Deaths

I will leave to the social psychologists the matter of why so many people fawn over celebrities, and why so many of us experience more sadness over the death of a single celebrity figure than we do over the deaths of millions of other people (4.7 million every month). It’s a fact that many people feel that way, but today I want to address a few related points.

So many people have dubbed 2016 the “worst year ever” that even the vaunted New York Times asks with millennialesque punctuation: 2016: Worst. Year. Ever? That op-ed isn’t only about celebrity deaths, though it was celebrity deaths that seemed to prompt all the “worst year ever” claims on social media.

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A Poor Start To My War On Misinformation


Note the “I don’t care” response after I pointed out the quote was fake.

As I said in my previous entry: If someone else posts fake news, I’ll let them know. This hasn’t won me many friends, but I’m not in life to have a bunch of friends who share fake news.

It just so happened that the quotation in question (see screenshot) is one that I’ve already debunked, and one that Snopes has dealt with too. If that’s not enough, George Carlin himself said it wasn’t him.

For most people, that would be enough. I know if I had quoted a famous person, and you linked to proof that they never said it, I would apologize immediately, and attempt to either correct the attribution or remove the quotation entirely. But this guy responded Trumpishly with: “I don’t care about who said it.” If he had clicked the link I provided, he would have learned that the quotation itself is inaccurate (based loosely on a work by Dr. Bob Moorehead).

I blurred the person’s name because this isn’t about one person; it’s about a larger trend in our online society: the spreading of misinformation without double-checking it, and then blatantly not caring when politely called out. In this case, it was someone who recently added me as a “friend” on Facebook, due to us sharing a mutual friend (I don’t know either of them offline).

It didn’t help matters that the next commenter completely ignored the correction, and accepted the attribution and quotation as correct.

At the time of this writing, there were 11 likes listed for that post, while the original post (by “WorldTruth.TV”) has 80,761 likes, more than 3,000 comments, and has been shared 986,000 times. To their credit, about half of those 3,000 comments are people pointing out that Carlin never said such a thing, but the other half are people saying it doesn’t matter. And who knows whether any of the nearly a million shares were corrected.

This is what we’re up against: an online world full of people who think facts are opinions and therefore subjective.

I’m going to point it out when I see it, though I don’t know what good it’s going to do.

If you post or share something that is verifiably untrue, I’m going to say so. If you respond that you don’t care, like this guy did, then we’re probably done as friends.

The Fake News Epidemic


(Click to see it full size)
Someone — I wish I knew who, so I could attribute — made this helpful chart showing where various news agencies fall on the left/right political spectrum, as well as on the worth-reading spectrum. Note that this chart doesn’t actually include “fake news” sites — sites that invent stories out of whole cloth.

Facebook recently rolled out a new way to report “fake news”. Both Google and Facebook have said they’ll try to keep advertising dollars from going to fake news sites.

This spawned a gush of stories trying to tell you about fake news and “how to tell”. “We’re here to help” said one.

Of course, this makes me feel like a prophet, because I warned about this more than four years ago. What I didn’t know then is that it would get substantially worse on the way to the 2016 election, that a new flock of “news” websites would debut around the world, purposefully publishing made-up stories, that people would just believe those stories without checking. I didn’t know how many inaccurate memes were going around social media (I wasn’t on Facebook then, so perhaps it was already happening and I just didn’t see it).

I complained again in 2014.

There is more nuance here than most people are discussing, however. It’s not just “fake news” on one side and “real news” on the other. There’s a wide band of less-than-helpful information, and I’m going to attempt to put it on a moral scale.

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Science Survey Results

Categories: Personal, Science, Technology
Comments: 12 Comments
Published on: 2016.12.10

Again, thank you to everyone who participated in my short “Science Survey”. This time I got 22 responses, one more than my previous survey on religion. These results didn’t surprise me as much as the previous ones, perhaps because I went into it with fewer expectations (and therefore fewer incorrect assumptions).

Before I reveal the results, I want to point out that one respondent contacted me with criticisms about two of the questions (#4 and #5). This respondent, an attorney by profession, alleged that these two questions were “ambiguous” and “unclear”, respectively. Having re-read the questions, I see it’s possible to have misunderstood both of them. So, for future surveys (if I make any), I will make an attempt to have someone proofread the questions/answers for clarity before I go public with it.

Now, on to the results.

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Vague, Tautological Meme Is Vague And Tautological


This week’s silly meme

I bring up this meme only because I’ve seen it so often on social media. Apparently, about a third of the people in my online circles think this is true. For searchability reasons, I include the text (correcting for the ALL-CAPS issue):

“Am I the only one around here who thinks the media is responsible for promoting the racial divide in this country?”

There are multiple problems here, which I will address individually.

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We Need To Stop Disagreeing On Facts And Start Arguing Solutions

Oddly, too many arguments between the left and right in our country have shifted into arguments about whether facts are true.

Evolution is real! — No it’s not!
Climate change is real! — No it’s not!
Racial bias in policing! — Doesn’t exist!
Guns are dangerous! — Second Amendment!
Tax the wealthy! — Taxation is theft!

The history of politics shows that through much of our nation’s history, the various sides of each argument were almost never in disagreement about objective facts, only about policies.

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A Missed Crossroads In 1992

“I sense an important cross road quickly approaching, and I know of what choices it consists… My decisions here will seemingly determine my course hereafter… When I pace my floor, and call His name, speaking to Him, I don’t feel as if I’m being heard. And even if I am I don’t feel like I’m being spoken to.”

— late November 1992

While I can look back to many general time periods in my own past and wish I had done something differently, it’s a strange feeling to pinpoint an exact moment that would have caused a paradigm shift if only I had acted.

The quotation above is from my journal, written during my second year of college. It was followed eight days later (24 years ago today) by the poem “Dead Leaves” (just 20 lines, worth your time), the most “atheistic” expression I was able to come up with in those days.

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New Science Survey [Closed]

Categories: Personal
Comments: No Comments
Published on: 2016.12.03

After the relative success of my previous survey, I’ve made another one. This one looks at your views on science and its effects on our lives. It’s only six questions, so it shouldn’t take more than a minute of your time. I will leave the form open for a full week (through Dec. 9), since a few people said my previous poll wasn’t open long enough for them to see it.

Click here to take the survey

As with my last one, I’ll write up a full report on the results after it’s over.

[Edit, 2016.12.10: the survey is now closed. Results will be posted soon.]

All Politicians Lie. But Why?


Donald J. Trump, 2015

“All politicians lie”, it is said. It’s a political extension of “everyone lies”. While it might not be entirely true, the cliché exists because the behavior is common. And most of the time, it’s easy to see why they lie.

Not so with Donald Trump.

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Why I Prefer Online Conversations

This N.Y. Times opinion piece is just the most recent example of grumpy people complaining that texting or online conversation is hurting the way we interact with others. “What happened to good old fashioned face-to-face conversations?” they all seem to ask, in whiny little voices.

Grumbling about the quality of online conversations is as old as the internet. Acting superior to people who use text-messaging to communicate is just as old as text-messaging. I won’t list all the complaints here; we know them. But, like all of you, I’ve tried just about every method of conversing with people, except perhaps sending messages in bottles.

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