Fallacies, framing, false dichotomies and insults – the US abortion debate

There can be no better exemplification of the Fallacy of false dichotomy than the fallout from another report about an anti-abortion speech by pastor Matt Chandler.
The fans of the speech appear to start their analysis from the viewpoint that anybody who disagrees with them is “pro-abortion”. This therefore means (in their world) that their opponents are one or more of: monsters, immoral, murderers, Nazis, eugenicists….
This is lazy, intellectually risible claptrap.
I know of nobody that I have met in 60 years who has ever said to me “you know, I am in favour of abortion because I think it is a jolly good thing”. The idea that the world is full of evil people promoting abortion is a fabulist, dystopian invention.
What we are witnessing here is the end result of what George Lakoff terms Framing. The people and the organizations who oppose the use of abortion realized a long time ago that by describing themselves as “pro-life”, they could then claim that anybody arguing against them on any front or using any form of objection is “anti-life” and therefore their arguments, by inference, are unworthy. Ditto “anti-abortion” as a framing phrase.
Anybody who argues in favour of any abortions is therefore a person with unworthy arguments. Actually, it’s far worse than that. Not only are the arguments of opponents unworthy, the opponents are entirely unworthy as people. Hence the rapid or immediate jump to the use of emotive words like “monster” and “Nazi”.
I am pro-life and I am also (in some limited circumstances) pro-abortion. I reject the framing of the opponents of abortion, and I also reject their arguments, particularly their juvenile, intellectually risible attempts at ad hominem smears. I mostly refuse to engage with people who have that mindset. Their arguments are, in most cases, ridiculous, devoid of logical or intellectual depth, and therefore worthy of dismissal or ridicule.
As John Scalzi said, if you want me to respect your arguments, have a good one. Starting from a logical fallacy, then moving via framing to establish strawman caricatures of opponents in order to be able to insult them, doesn’t even begin to make those people into serious opponents or debaters. As far as I am concerned, until they start to show a good deal more maturity and pragmatism, they can go pound sand, and I will work to make sure that their censorious, crypto-fascist ideas do not prevail.

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UK Question #1 – Why do they serve warm beer?

10 Common questions from Americans about the UK
Over the last 30+ years, being a Brit now living in the USA (and, with effect from April 2010, a US Citizen), I have had to fend off lots of inquiring questions from Americans about why things are the way they are in the UK.
A quick observation before I begin. When comparing cultures, it is rather easy to get into the mindset that “my” culture is right, ergo, “their” culture must be defective and/or wrong. Sometimes this can be easily rationalized as true when looking at “big ticket” issues, and this is especially true when looking at past cultural behaviors and comparing them with behaviors in the same or similar societies today. However, quite often, at least for behaviors of less significance, there is a rational explanation for patterns of behavior in another culture. The behavior may not be entirely logical by the way, but it may be perfectly rational in the societal context in which it occurs.
So, let’s get started…

1. Why do you serve warm beer?
Let’s start with this one. An oldie but goodie.
What visitors refer to as “warm beer” is what is known in brewing parlance as “cask conditioned ale”. Cask conditioned ales are the original type of ales brewed since the start of the Middle Ages. Hops, barley mash and water are brewed in a vat, then allowed to cool and fermented for 6-10 days, then bottled or poured into wooden casks.
This type of beer is still “alive” in a bottle or a cask – it is still maturing slowly. Eventually, after a period of 10-15 days, it will over-mature and become undrinkable. Even a bottled variant has a relatively short shelf life.
For hundreds of years, this was the type of beer sold and consumed in the UK. This type of brewing works because of the moderate summer temperatures in the UK. It would never work (for example) in Texas. The beer would “run away” and over ferment in a day or two in the casks.
Pasteurised beers and lagers became more prevalent in the late 20th century. Those beers have a longer shelf life, since they are dead when bottled or poured into pressurized kegs. They are therefore easier to rack , distribute and store. Breweries transitioned to brewing those types of beers in the 1970’s in the UK, only to be forced to retreat in the 1980’s when consumers revolted and demanded older-style beers. The revival of craft brewing has also caused a return to the production of cask conditioned beers.
Now the answer: cask conditioned beers are served at room temperature for the same reason that most red wines are served at close to room temperature. They taste terrible when chilled. All of the subtle flavors vanish, to be replaced by..well, nothing. Chilled cask ales are insipid. As originally formulated, the entire life cycle of the beer’s fermentation distribution and consumption takes place at or close to room temperature, and the flavor of the resulting product is best appreciated at room temperature. Chilling cask ales flat out does not work.
If you want a cold beer, choose a lager-type pasteurized beer or one of the many cold-served craft beers.

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Evaluating Political Propositions

In the next 18 months, politicians will be proposing or promising all manner of stuff. Some of it will be sensible-sounding, some of it may sound utterly incomprehensible. In any political process, it helps a lot to adhere to two simple rules when trying to evaluate the logic and reasoning behind a proposed course of action.
1. Follow The Money
Many political proposals are not being floated to advance society. More correctly, they are usually being proposed because some person or group somewhere is going to make money from them, and that person or group has been lobbying to have the proposal appear in the political process. That lobbying process usually runs on cash. Lobbyists don’t do the job for all the fine wine they can drink…
Politicians who are at all interested in power (and most are) usually operate on the WIIFM principle when advancing ideas or legislation (What’s In It For Me?). That often involves the acquisition of cash as a quid pro quo for the advancement of proposals or legislation, because the US political process is expensive. There is always the next election to fund, especially if you are a member of the House of Representatives and always running for re-election.

2. Look Where The Votes Are
In peacetime, politicians usually try to appeal to groups who they think will deliver the maximum number of votes for their party. They may dress those appeals up in all forms of fine-sounding language, but ultimately, you cannot have any power unless you get elected and gain some form of majority. Politicians usually appeal to voting blocs by some form of pandering.
Sometimes the pandering takes the form of empathetic noises about the values of that voting bloc, accompanied by symbolic actions to show that empathy. Sometimes the actions become more substantive and blatant, even ensuring in some cases that the bloc will gain financially from the proposed actions. (In less polite company, we might call that bribery). By the way, don’t feel too virtuous while reading this – if you benefitted from any recent tax cuts, that was because somebody who was elected to political office was trying to bribe you.
While it would be nice to logically evaluate all political proposals without considering the motive, that is not possible most of the time. Most proposals will fall into one or both of the above primary categories, and therefore need to be reviewed via those two lenses. That will continue until We The People stop allowing ourselves to be pandered to, and start demanding logical, sustainable actions from politicians. I’m not holding my breath.

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Logical fallacies in election season #1 – The rhetorical strawman

Folks, during this election season, you are unlikely to find me using outmoded and not very useful terms like “liberal”, “conservative”, “left wing” or “right wing”. They have been so debased and distorted over decades as to be meaningless. Quite often they are used as fallacious strawmen, sloganeering abuse that forms part of a disconnected word salad of vituperation aimed by partisans at real and perceived opponents. Just this week I was hit with word salad here on FB by an authoritarian nitwit trying the political equivalent of the Gish Gallop on me. Google “Gish Gallop” for details on that rhetorical or debating technique, more commonly used by crackpot Christian creationists. (It’s not that I am lazy, but it’s not a concise explanation).
The only distinction I find particularly useful is between authoritarian and libertarian modes of thinking. I find some use in the distinction between progressive and regressive modes of thinking, but that, too, has been hijacked to some extent by the strawman fallacy manufacturers.
So, if the response to discussions about politics doesn’t go much further than “I hate liberals” or “I hate conservatives”, that is going to get one of two reactions from me. Most likely, especially if I am busy, I will ignore it. Some of the time I may ask for a detailed explanation to support this viewpoint. And if i find that people are engaging in strawman fallacies or other defective rhetorical techniques, I am going to say so. For example. proposing a tax increase on some segment of the population does not automatically make somebody a Marxist, no matter what some internet web sites may claim. People making that claim need to read and understand a lot more about world political history.

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Political Correctness – Short version

Politically Correct.
A loaded multi-meaning phrase.
I am writing a longer blog posting about this topic. However here is one observation in advance.
When I hear and read some people complaining that they hate political correctness, it is rather easy to see, based on what they say and write, that what they are really saying is:
“I am butthurt because I am not able to make assholish or stupid comments without somebody pointing it out in public”
When I was growing up in the UK, I used to meet people from Yorkshire a lot, since I went to college in Manchester. A lot of people from Yorkshire pride themselves on being “plain speaking”, “telling it like it is” etc. etc. Some of them are refreshingly direct. However, I soon discovered that some of them were, in fact, tactless or boorish assholes. Their rationalization for the pathology was “plain speaking”. It was just that, a lame rationalization.
So. when you hear somebody complaining about political correctness, take some time out to observe what they say and how they say it. They might be direct, and not interested in euphemism, indirect speech or other forms of verbal evasion. On the other hand, they might just be behaving like a jerk.

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Honda and F1 – remember the 1980s history

As people continue to chortle and poke at Honda’s poor track record on its return to F1, supplying hybrid powerplants to McLaren, it is worth remembering the history of Honda’s involvement in the last turbo era.
Honda returned to F1 in the Summer of 1983 with a V6 twin turbo engine that was initially supplied to Spirit Racing, who had been the lead Honda team in F2. The engine was an all in house effort, with all ancillaries farmed out to Honda sister companies. The engine was powerful, but that was about the only thing it had going for it. Williams, needing a turbo engine desperately, soon signed on to become the lead Honda team in F1, leaving Spirit out in the cold for 1984. (The 1983 Honda engine installation for the interim Williams car was designed totally by Williams, Honda having no idea about heat rejection or ancillary positioning in a car).
In 1984, the Honda engine was powerful, but overweight, with bad throttle lag, and a poor power curve that made Honda-powered cars difficult to drive. There were also questions about engine and chassis rigidity. Keke Rosberg won in a Williams-Honda at Dallas, but that was a fluke win, with all of the faster rivals retiring their cars due to collision damage. The extreme heat of the race caught out a number of drivers, but Rosberg, equipped with a cooling system in his helmet, kept his car on the circuit.
Elsewhere, the cars would qualify well but usually go backwards or retire in races, as the engine’s inconsistently high fuel consumption made it difficult to even get to the end of some races. Rosberg ran out of fuel in one race, coasting to a halt in the pit lane in front of none other than Nobuhiko Kawamoto of Honda, who was visiting for the weekend.
Honda ended 1984 with one lucky win, a couple of podiums, and little else. The engine was regarded by most observers as crude, and uncompetitive compared to rival engines from TAG, Renault and BMW.
For the first half of 1985, nothing much changed. Williams had a new all-carbon car, but the drivers still found the car difficult to drive because of the engine’s bad throttle lag and power delivery. The breakthrough came at Detroit in the early Summer, when Honda debuted a completely new engine design, with a seriously stiffer block, all new internals, and re-designed control systems. The drivers found an engine in the back instead of an on-off switch, and results soon came. Rosberg set a new record by qualifying faster than 160mph at Silverstone, and Williams began winning races. The engine was now more powerful than the Renault and TAG engines, with only BMW beating it on peak power.
In 1986, Honda raised the bar further with the new engine now boasting lower fuel consumption than rivals, which allowed higher race boost and horsepower. By now, Honda was leading the engine supply field, and would do so through the turbo and normally aspirated eras until 1992, when it retired after its V12 normally aspirated design proved overweight and insufficiently competitive.
Highlights included the famous “steamroller” season of 1988, when Honda produced an incredibly frugal engine that allowed McLaren to build a dominating turbo car, winning 15 out of the 16 races.
So…when people write off Honda today in F1, we have to remember that it took 2 years from their debut in F1 in the 1980s before they produced a competitive engine. However, within 12 months they were in the lead, and stayed there for a long time.

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Twitter tossers

I have determined that there are some terribly low-wattage individuals on Twitter.
A guy shows up on my timeline today claiming that Barack Obama is behaving like a King. So I asked him for evidence to back up that assertion.
He did the usual blustering blather on me, telling me I could Google it (which is the hallmark of laziness, if you have evidence you should have it to hand and be able to cite it), but then in the same Tweet said “look at his attempt to get Amnesty which he is still pushing”.
Well…I had to point out that he just tried a self-refuting argument. The Executive Order that he refers to is held up in the court system because a Federal District court ruled that it was an impermissible use of Executive power. (It may or may not survive further judicial scrutiny). I replied that if Obama was really a King, he would have already enacted the change and that would be that.
He responded by blocking me.
There is a technical term for people like this from the UK. A stupid tosser. The sad thing is that this tosser had 4,300 followers. I guess this is proof that you can spout utter nonsense and people will follow you.

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Questions about the religious affiliations of candidates

The right answer by any candidate for POTUS as to whether they are Christian, or whether any of their opponents are Christian, should be to refer the questioner to Article VI paragraph 3 of the Constitution which states
“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
If they give any other answer that involves guessing or hinting about somebody’s religious affiliation, they are engaging in one or more of dog-whistling or pandering, and they either don’t know the Constitution, or they don’t care enough about it.

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A quick word about drones

The word “drone” is being used in a debatably incorrect way when people talk about quadcopter RC devices. Those devices are merely, for operational purposes, updated versions of RC aircraft that have been flown by hobbyists for decades. Hobbyists have flown RC helicopters with hovering ability for a long time. They are nowhere near as sophisticated or lightweight as the current generation of quadcopter devices, but they perform the same function.
The paranoia (and yes it is mostly paranoia) about the new generation of RC air devices is fuelled by the use of the word “drone” to describe them. That word has acquired a very sinister meaning because of its use to describe larger, long-loiter military devices used elsewhere in the world to engage in surveillance and targeted assassination.
A quadcopter RC device is not a “drone” in any military or malevolent sense. They cannot carry any military payload. They have extremely limited personal surveillance capability, since they mostly contain GoPro or other cameras that have next to no zoom ability. They also have a flight time of 20 minutes at best, and require line of sight to the operator for reliable flight control.
Do quadcopters have the ability to cause problems? Well yes. RC aircraft and helicopters have the same ability, but there are regulations applicable to all of these devices under FAA rules. If a quadcopter strays into controlled airspace, that will be a safety issue, and the FAA has the ability to sanction the operator and possibly have him charged with serious offenses.
Quadcopters are regarded at this time by the FAA as aicraft, subject to many of the same rules and protections as aircraft. Hence people are being arrested and hit with charges for trying to shoot quadcopters down. The airspace above your property does not belong to you. It never has. If you don’t like that you need to campaign for a change in the Constitution. (BTW, there is no right to individual privacy defined in the Constitution, so if somebody threatening quadcopter vandalism says “It’s my constitutional right”, you can dismiss that claim. It’s horsepuckey).
The paranoia and unconstitutional attempts at restraint by local districts and counties in the USA are making the US into a laughing stock worldwide, and the results are going to be a lack of aerial device development in the USA, and loss of commercial opportunities.

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