Monthly Archive: October 2016

Bad attempts at rationalizing away bad behavior

When people are accused and/or determined to be guilty of bad behavior, their supporters always resort of all manner of attempts at rationalization for the bad behavior. Right now, supporters of Donald Trump are slowly cycling through the A to Z of Bad Rationalizations to try and minimize or exculpate him after a string of allegations that he engaged in sexually-based harrassment and assaults on women.
I find most of these attempts at rationalization to be amusing since they usually comprise a good introduction to the art and science of logical fallacies.
If the initial attempts at rationalization fail, the supporters eventually start to run out of plausible-sounding ideas, and then they turn to ever-more-implausible ones.
The latest one circulating is an interview with a beauty contestant from one of Donald Trump’s beauty pageants. The woman asserts that Donald Trump always behaved like a complete gentleman towards her.
Folks, please.
You’re killing me.
Reading this is like listening to a defense lawyer in a murder trial arguing for leniency for the defendant on the grounds that he once helped an old lady across the road.
Donald Trump, in my world, is supposed to behave like a total gentleman towards women. He doesn’t get any prize for behaving like a well-balanced member of society. That is a minimum expectation that every adult male should be able to meet.
Not only is the assertion that he behaved like a gentleman not at all praise-worthy, it doesn’t exculpate any of his other bad behavior. See the courtroom analogy.
If that is the best argument that Donald Trump’s supporters can find, they need to go engage their brains and work harder. This is laughable.


Friday Round-up

1. Interrupting and talking over people on-air
When I moved to the USA in 1994 for the first time, I tried briefly listening to talk radio and watching political programs on TV. Three things struck me about the medium immediately:
– the political views being espoused by the radio hosts and most of their callers would be regarded as a combination of completely barking mad and dangerous in the UK
– the radio hosts were not actually ever going to hold a dialogue with callers. They used callers’ questions or comments as a means of allowing them to repeat their messages, and basking in affirmation. Anybody who tried to call in to dispute the host’s viewpoint would be rapidly shuffled off the air, usually after the host had used the caller as a punchbag or punchline in some juvenile or intellectually risible volley of abuse.
– the hosts always talked over and interrupted guests. Hardly any question asked of a guest was permitted to be answered before the guest would interrupt. Sometimes the guest in turn would start interrupting. The nett effect was to feel that I was watching a re-creation of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from “Alice In Wonderland”

I have come to realize that, for authoritarian host broadcasters, interruption is a power play. They do it because they control the microphone. They also do it routinely to cut off views or responses that they don’t want to have to deal with. In other words, a classical approach to perceived dissent.
For TV, interruption in all directions is also a power play, and also a means of generating controversy in a medium that absolutely relies on it to, as they say in England, to put bums on seats. It also tends to elevate the questioner to the same level as the interviewee, since in an ideal interview the interviewee is doing most of the talking. Large-ego TV anchors don’t want that, unless they are temporarily playing the role of fawning sycophant, which some of them do from time to time.
I also noticed that your view on the rights and wrongs of interruptions almost entirely depends on whose side you are on. If an interviewer is interrupting somebody you disagree with, you are far more likely to rationalize the interruption as a good thing. The opposite viewpoint applies, of course, if the interviewee is on Your Team. So viewpoints about interruptions tend to align along partisan viewpoints and preferences.
I happen to have a different viewpoint, that interrupting is fundamentally discourteous, and not conducive to debate and discussion, and I would like to see a medium where people are, you know, allowed to finish something that they started saying. But there I go again, being all logical.

2. What will the losing side supporters say after an election?

The question came up today in this discussion on Lawyers Guns and Money.
What I have seen happen in the past is that many supporters of the loser spend time ranting and raving about how the result was fixed. Most of them go quiet after a while, but some suffer from a permanent inability to accept the reality. The condition was dubbed “derangement syndrome” many years ago, and the name does seem appropriate.
My worry is that derangement syndrome, if Donald Trump loses, will not be limited to whining and moaning. There are a lot of people out there right now who are not only emotionally invested in Donald Trump, they are angrily invested in Donald Trump. They see him as the Last Hope for America. Trump has been cunningly hinting that the system is being rigged against him for quite some time, and my fear is that some of his more volatile supporters may start acting out, either on election day, as they try to make sure that The Right Sort of People vote (and only The Right Sort of People), or after the election, as they decide to go on the rampage. I know how many people have guns and ammunition stockpiled ready for the Second American Revolution. There are some crazy people out there who live in echo chambers that peddle a toxic mix of conspiracy theorizing, dystopian “the end is nigh” predictions, and the idea that all government is bad, but the Federal government is even worse.
When formerly fervent supporters of a person or party decide that their support was a mistake, one thing you will almost never find them doing is uttering a mea culpa. “I made a mistake and voted for The Wrong Guys”, said nobody publicly, ever. (If you don’t believe me, try to think of all of the elected representatives or media figures that have apologized for the sleep-walk of the USA into Iraq in 2003. The list will be a short one).
When one of my ex brothers in law decided that George W Bush was screwing up the country around 2007, he suddenly completely forgot that he had been all gung-ho about voting for him in 2004. I ended up triggering a silence at a family gathering by reminding him of his enthusiastic support for Bush and the GOP in 2004. This cut across his sudden attack of amnesia. As a species, we are at all good at publicly admitting to making bad decisions. We end up hoping that people will not notice. It is such a powerful source of angst that I can think of at least one politician and one fringe SovCit grifter, both of whom changed their names to try and prevent people from finding out about Bad Stuff they did previously in their lives. No, that doesn’t work in the internet era.


Spot the authoritarian nitwit

One easy way to identify people with authoritarian tendencies is to watch and listen to how they react to being challenged on their worldviews and opinions.
One would think that a person who once tried to run for the job of POTUS would have learned a while ago that it is not a good idea to try and bully questioners on-air.
Not Ben Carson.
On a TV show, when his BBC interviewer reminded him that he was not answering a question, his response was to cry “cut her mic”.
A rather revealing response I believe. Rather than answer a question, he decided to try and blow past it. When that was pointed out, his instinctive reaction was to demand that she effectively be prevented from asking him any more questions.
Folks, I should not have to spell this out. This is not a simple dispute over facts and style. This is a man attempting to bully and bluster his way past awkward questions from a woman on-air. He was being reminded that he was not answering the question, so his reaction was to try to get his own way by cutting off further questions.
Fortunately, Katty Kay is employed by the BBC, where for a long while the standard bearer for awkward question persistence was Jeremy Paxman, who actually helped to destroy the career of a leader of the Conservative Party when, like Katty Kay, he refused to let him off the hook for failing to answer a question. While the BBC has become horribly supine and non-inquisitive of late, failing to ask enough awkward questions over both the Jimmy Savile scandal and Brexit, Ms. Kay does seem to have some Jeremy Paxman DNA, and as a rule, UK television interviewers are a lot less deferential than their US counterparts.

POSTSCRIPTIf you want to sample the sheer juvenile bloviating fuckwittery of many of the newly-arrived supporters of Donald Trump , you can sample the comments on Twitter (WARNING – Place cushion on desk in front of you to reduce chance of concussion).


Post-Brexit – Charlie Stross and the situation today

Back in 1995, when I first got onto the Internet, in an era where the graphical richness of the current internet UIs did not exist, there were few actual websites, UseNet was still…well, useful, and BBS’s were still common.
One new facility that was becoming known was the weblog. The first one I came across was a site named It turned out to be a commentary from a Scotsman named Charlie Stross. Charlie, in true Different Person mode, lived with a Pagan lady and several cats outside Edinburgh, and was an emerging sci-fi writer.
20+ years have passed, and Charlie still writes his blog, albeit with a snazzier UI. He tends to not opine much on political matters these days, since his writing career is advancing yearly. However, once in a while, he does write articles about great political issues. Like most sci-fi writers, Charlie is of a libertarian mindset, with an ability to call out nonsense in a way that converts fools, knaves and incompetents to the role of punchline victims in his articles.
In June, after the initial vote for Brexit, Charlie wrote this analysis of the state of play for the UK. It is worth reading, partly because, like most of his writing, it is very good, but partly because most of his predictions are coming true.
This more recent article by the Independent confirms that if the Scottish National Party has its way, the UK is going to break up within the next 3 years. The blame can be directly apportioned to all of the little Englanders who collectively voted to leave the EU without a frigging clue about what was going to happen next. Like the dream of Texas secession, Brexit is soon going to devolve into a train-wreck that may end with a bankrupt UK losing a significant percentage of its population, as younger mobile professional people bail to Ireland, Scotland and Europe, leaving an ageing population and a country generating insufficient revenues to pay its way in the modern world.
All of this is being enabled by a Conservative government that is more concerned about pandering to the base of support for the UK Independence Party than it is concerned about making sensible collaborative decisions about the country’s economic future. They seem to still be living somewhere adjacent to cloud-cuckooland when it comes to negotiating the UK out of the EU. They clearly did not process the messages implicit in the outcome of Greece’s attempt to renegotiate its debt burdens a year ago, where after initially declaring it would resist concessions, Greece ended up having to take a deal no better than the one it originally rejected, having suffered a near-total collapse of its economy. Right on cue, a senior EU official has warned that Britain is unlikely to get a half-inn, half-out arrangement on any key trading terms.
The continuing fall of the Pound against the Euro and the Dollar is also starting to have an impact on the UK. Suppliers are having to pay significantly more for imported food raw materials. The recent standoff between Unilever and supermarket chains over wholesale prices for food items is the tip of a larger iceberg, as this article explains. People in the UK will soon be paying a lot more for food items.
This will not end well.


Denial is not a river in Egypt aka failing to engage in self-examination

One of the standard tropes that political insurgents and frightened people use in troubled countries at election time is that “outside forces” or “subversives” are negatively influencing the country. Those forces can be other countries with malevolent intent, or shadowy groups or cabals. How the outside forces are actually negatively influencing the country is usually never specified in detail.
What you are hearing is standard conspiracy theories, nothing more, nothing less.
Like the early James Bond books and movies, the “outside forces” comprise a series of stock villians.
The list of stock villians outside the USA usually comprises one or more of the following:

1. The Illuminati
2. Jewish financiers (often those are alleged to be the same people as 1)
3. The United Nations
4. Muslims

Inside the USA, the list of subversives expands to include just about any part of the Federal government (although the military, being on a high pedestal, is usually pretty close to exempt, as is law enforcement). Any group perceived to be ideologically different is also listed as “subversives”. So if you are a GOP partisan, socialists, communists and marxists are all subversives, as are atheists if you are an adherent to most of the standard Western single-deity religions.
Many partisans also add the mass media to the list, who they suspect of being “in the tank” for subversives or the outside villians or The Establishment.

All of these obsessions with outside forces and subversives, of course, come at the expense of self-examination.
You don’t have to be an expert in psychology to know that when societal groups (families, corporations, countries, communities) run into problems, their first instinct is to blame outside forces or events. You may also know that behavior pathology as denial. Denial is very powerful emotionally, since it is a defense mechanism against self-examination that might require fundamental changes in behavior.
The difficulty in processing conflicting messages is also known as cognitive dissonance. Humans hate cognitive dissonance, and want no part of it until the pain of continuing with existing behaviors becomes too great.
So, any time that you read somebody here or elsewhere ranting about any of the villians listed above in an attempt to explain why things are going to hell in a handbasket and We Are All Doomed unless we give My Guy the keys so he/she can take charge and Save Us All From A Fate Worse Than Death, grab hold of that bullshit detector, since you are going to need it real quick. It is almost certain that the people doing the whining are in denial about events that they do not like, and rather than analyze how they or their group arrived in the mess, they have to blame outsiders, because, good lord, there is no way that they and their buddies could have made mistakes and ended up causing their own predicament. No sir.


An important read

This paper, which is the results of a research project into the behaviors of the members of a 1950’s “end of days” cult, is a seminal piece of documentation of the mindset of cult followers, and how they react to events and information that shows that their leaders are promulgating bullshit.
The tendency, known as “doubling down”, when authoritarian leaders are informed that they are talking nonsense is a very familiar one in today’s political landscape. Once people become emotionally invested in a worldview that they believe forms part of their core identity, any information that contradicts that worldview is likely to be discarded or rationalized away as unimportant or irrelevant.
The current behavior of many Donald Trump supporters fits this behavior pattern. Many of them regard Trump as a savior, the man who will Sort The Mess Out, turn the political world upside down and restore America to greatness (whether or not America is still great is not up for discussion). When people see self-proclaimed leaders as a savior, whether they realize it or not, they just became cult followers.
Cult followers, like conspiracy theory adherents, are pretty much immune to reason or logical arguments. I decline the opportunity for interaction with them for those reasons. It strains my patience way too much.


Donald Trump is now non-Onionable

Over the last 15 years, the difference between events in the real world and events as satirized in The Onion has progressively narrowed. Onion stories can (and sometimes are) mistaken for reality by the desperate or gullible.
However, Donald Trump has now moved to a unique new level in the pantheon of public figures.
As of today, after perusing news and emerging events on the candidacy of Donald Trump, I have concluded that Donald Trump is the first public figure who is, for want of a better phrase, non-Onionable. No matter what the Onion might invent as a satirical or parodic fiction of events in Donald Trump’s life, they will never be able to come close to the sheer horrifying train-wreck of his revealed life and candidacy.


Errors, falsehoods and bad faith arguments

Right now we are deep into election season, and many people have already developed a very firm position on a number of issues, including who they intend to vote for in the election, and they are engaging in all manner of arguments, distribution and (in some cases) dissemination of propaganda as they seek to validate their choices, seek affirmation from others, and maybe persuade other people of their great wisdom. (Although I concluded a long time ago that the number of people who change their opinion on a significant issue because of some revelation via social media is so small as to be un-measurable).
One easy way in which I can distinguish people who argue and discuss their positions in good faith from those who are unable or unwilling to do so is their reaction when somebody shows them that an assertion or argument is incorrect.
When challenged on aspects of their worldview and opinions, many people are not exactly honest in their responses if (for example) somebody informs them that some aspect of that worldview is defective or incorrect. People who have read any books by George Lakoff will know all about this behavior pathology.
I have seen a whole pile of sneaky, deceptive and deceitful claims rolling across my wall this election cycle already. I know that the people publishing these claims are fundamentally intelligent, so I have to either extend the principle of charity and conclude that they keep making mistakes, or conclude that their worldview has nudged them in the direction of arguments and communications that are not totally open and honest good-faith arguments, as they seek to defend their choices and thinking.
One thing that I found out a long time ago however, is that people who argue in good faith are far more likely to accept their error and move on if somebody attempts to correct them. They may put up a rearguard action, but usually they accept it.
Those incapable or unwilling to argue and discuss in good faith tend to react in a number of predictable ways:

1. Not responding at all
2. Changing the subject or moving the goalposts
3. Pretending to have not read or understood the correction
4. Denying that they ever made the initial claim or argument, or claiming that it was misunderstood
5. Admitting to the error but then claiming in the same response that it does not matter because (insert new claim here)
6. Dismissing the correction with “I don’t care because I’m right anyway”
7. Engaging in ad hominems or insults

I find (1) indicative of embarrassment – 5 brownie points
(2) is weaselling – 10
(3) is being obtuse – 10
(4) is deceit – 50
(5) is a variant of 2 – 10
(6) is doubling down or diverting – 30
(7) is being a jerk – 50

No. I am joking, I am not really running a scorecard. However, since (4) and (7) tend to piss me off, anybody trying those this election season may well end up on my Hide list for the duration. Most of time, these defective and deficient rhetorical devices, like the use of numerous logical fallacies, tend to mostly amuse me.


Election season – a target-rich environment

There is so much material out there…

1. Irony meter blowout

2. Bullshit detector
Whenever I see a politician blathering with a graphic saying “The Truth” on the screen, I get very very ready to activate my Bullshit detector. In the case of Pat McCrory, I would activate it immediately, given his track record of spouting total twaddle since his party decided that it would be a Really Good Idea to enact a wackadoodle piece of legislation against those weirdo trans bathroom invaders. McCrory and the GOP are in severe danger of losing the governorship of North Carolina. Shucks Pat, paybacks are bad aren’t they?

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