Current Affairs

Thoughts about the defeat of HERO

Some thoughts about the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) that was voted down by a clear majority on Tuesday night. My comments are less about the vote itself and more about the bigger picture issues.
1. The ballot for HERO was ordered by the Texas Supreme Court. IMHO, this is a second example in recent months of what I consider to be a dangerous trend – the negation of local decision-making processes by elected representatives or electors by state agents and courts. The current GOP, which dominates Texas politics, is always banging on about devolving powers down to local level, often ranting and complaining about the Federal Government, yet twice in the last year (once for HERO, once for the Denton fracking ban) we have seen state courts step in and completely override decisions taken at a local level. The cynic in me believes that right now, the GOP leadership in Texas is in favour of local democracy and decisions, but only as long as those local districts and cities make decisions that they agree with. Once they refuse to do that, they will invoke higher powers to countermand the decision.
2. The whole premise behind HERO, that the scope of equal protection and rights for people can be determined by a popular vote, is, from my perspective, unconstitutionally nonsensical. The Fourteenth Amendment (containing the Equal Protection Clause) was invoked recently by SCOTUS in its ruling on same-sex marriage, where a majority of the justices held that marriage was a protected right, equally available for all. That ruling applied country-wide (despite what some religious crackpots try to claim) and HERO, being a piece of legislation designed primarily to extend equal protection under various laws to gay and transgender people, falls into the same logical category as same sex marriage. I expect that even if no further changes are made in the laws in the city of Houston, sooner or later, a gay or transgender person or persons will be discriminated against or penalized, and eventually SCOTUS will become involved. I would then expect them to hand down a fairly simple decision along the lines of “you cannot discriminate – fix it”. If you adhere to the conceot of the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as defined in the Declaration of Independence, then putting other people’s rights up for a popular vote is a ludicrous negation of that concept, a narrow-minded penalistic approach rooted in the fallacy that rights are a zero-sum game, that by giving people equal rights it diminishes the rights of others.
3. There may yet be an economic downside to the defeat of HERO. Houston has a lot of conference business, and businesses do not, as a rule, like to host conferences in cities with discriminatory and controversial local legislation. Arizona lost a lot of conference business after the passage of SB1070 (I personally know of 2 IT conferences that left Phoenix shortly after the passage of that bill).
4. The turnout for the election cycle was, by any standards of the health of democracy, appalling. 30% of the electorate voted, so nearly 70% of the electors sat on their posteriors. This speaks to a fundamental malaise in democracy at local level in the USA. Low turnout results in a progressively smaller number of voters being able to determine the result of elections. Elderly and retired electors tend to vote more than younger and working electors, for obvious logistical reasons, so it is likely that

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube

A quick word about “gotcha” questions

Every election cycle, one or more political candidates will be heard whining and pissing and moaning about “gotcha questions”. We are hearing it right now from several GOP candidates following the most recent debate.
Be careful about taking that whining at anything like face value. If you define a “gotcha” question as a question to which there is no answer that makes the answerer look good, there are very few true “gotcha” questions. (Questions like “when did you stop beating your wife” or “does this dress make me look fat?” while amusing, are not exactly common in the political arena).
Most of the time, when a politician is whining about a “gotcha” question what they really mean is:
Question that if I answer it, either makes me look like an ill-informed doofus, or which makes my political party look like it is dominated by squabbling children.
If a question is genuinely defective, it should be possible for a political candidate to explain to the questioner why the question is defective. Whenever I hear somebody dismissing a question as a “gotcha” question, I know I am hearing somebody who is trying to shut down the conversation instead of providing any useful answer.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube

Dysfunctionality in school boards – Perryville MO

Although at the highest level the US political system is driven by money, and lots of it, this is not true of many local political races. If you want to get elected to a City council or a School board, you do not need much money at all, just a reasonably good platform and the ability to get your supporters out to vote.
The low barriers to entry, however, create their own set of issues. In my home city of Duncanville, two aquabbling factions have been negatively impacting the functioning of the City council for years. All over Texas, school districts end up periodically mired in scandal (or, in the case of Dallas, a continuing string of dysfunctional events and scandals) because the school board members are either single-issue wackaloons (most usually Christian creationists) or just plain incompetent.
Or, maybe, in the case of Perryville MO, the elected member turns out to be a raging misogynist who thinks that it is a smart thing to make comments about women needing to be on their back with their legs spread.
What is more frightening. as one commenter in the article points out, is that the vote to censure this doofus was not unanimous. Clearly there are three members of the school board to failed to think that his verbal snark was significant enough. The people of Perryville probably need to be thinking about whether this how they want their town to continue to appear on Google search results.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube

The phony Wars on anything and everything

Every time I look around the internets. It seems that a person or a group has declared that a series of events constitutes a “War on (insert noun here)”.
When I further look into the series of events, I find that in some cases it is not even a series of connected events, and in some cases it is a production of fevered imagination rather than analysis.
When the word “war” starts to be used in a conversation, I get worried, unless there is really a war. War involves an existential struggle for survival by nations or allies against a common enemy. The choice is usually fairly binary – win or be eliminated.
None of the current “wars” meet that criterion. Some of them do not even belong in the same continent as that criterion. War On Poverty? Yes, poverty is a pervasive issue, and the less poverty the better. However, the existence of the USA is not contingent on winning a war on poverty. (If it was, we would probably not be hearing people pissing and moaning about the money that the USA disburses in foreign aid every year).
War On Drugs? We know how that is panning out. Billions of dollars spent every year, drugs still available at all levels of society, and entire nations under the control of narco-terrorists whose existence is fuelled by drug revenues. One would think that the USA had learned the lessons of Prohibition, but it seems not.
War on Religion in the US? Nope. Pointing out to a segment of the population that they are not uniquely privileged, and that they do not get to direct how others should live their lives, is not persecution, as people claim. The United States is the most-religion friendly country I have ever been in. Anybody can start a religion or a cult here (see Hubbard, L. Ron). The tax advantages alone make it a worthwhile endeavor.
One thing I learned a long time ago is that privileged groups in societies do not like (a) being reminded of their privilege, they think it is normal, and (b) they react to any attempt to reduce or eliminate their privilege as if it is an existential threat. Hence the massive amount of light heat and sound being generated as obvious events like the granting of marriage rights to people of all sexual orientations are allowed by the legal system. None of this rises to the level of a war on either side.
Now we have the War On Coal. Apparently, the existence of whole areas of the USA is threatened by this evil phenomenon.
The War On Coal is a classic example of a strawman. It implies the existence of groups plotting to eliminate the use of coal from the world, by any means possible, including violence. This is nonsense. Yes, there are a whole collection of groups who would like to see coal usage dramatically reduced. This is because coal is an environment pollutant. Coal mines leave spoil heaps, pollute streams and rivers, and disfigure the landscape. Burning coal also releases pollution into the atmosphere. However, campaigning in favor of reduced coal usage is not a war. It’s being conducted peacefully without recourse to weapons of destruction. To people living in areas where coal extraction is an employer, it might feel and look like a war, since there are communities that may exist in their current form only because of coal extraction. However, that by itself does not justify the “war” label. The move away from coal is occurring mostly because other sources of power such as natural gas are cheaper and easier to use, and create less pollution. Renewable energy sources are also becoming more important.
There is an inherent romanticism in man working on, in and under the land and sea. It is what permits many governments to disburse billions every year in farming and other agricultural and industrial subsidies. There is also a sound electoral imperative driving the subsidies. These industries are labor-intensive, so perpetuating them keeps people employed, expanding them always creates employment, and politicians are always sensitive to the idea that they should create jobs, even if those jobs are economically non-viable. In the UK, governments subsidized losses from extractive and smoke-stack industries for decades (principally the coal and steel industries), until the truth dawned that those activities were never going to be economic in the modern economic climate in the UK, and the coal mines and steel plants were closed. It was a disruptive series of events, with significant ongoing social consequences, but it was not a war.
War tends to result in all manner of destructive activities. Most importantly, it leads to a mindset that the end justifies the means. When the end is pure survival, that makes sense. In a kill-or-be-killed scenario, legal niceties disappear. However, if the end is merely some societal evolution or improvement, any extra-judicial (or illegal) measures adopted to assure a favorable outcome by the government or authorities soon cease to look justified, and start to look like state-sponsored abuse of the legal process, which is what has been happening in the War On Drugs. It has also happened in the War On Terrorism (which, as the grammar experts have pointed out, is an even sillier construct, since it is waging war on an abstract noun). The PATRIOT Act, nodded into existence in the dark days following 9/11, drove a coach and horses through all manner of protections in the Constitution against government overreach. We The People allowed this to happen, because we failed to learn the first rule of responding to Terrorism – Do Not Allow Yourself To Be Terrorised. We also, in our fear and loathing, made the fundamental mistake of treating all dissent as disloyalty, a monumentally stupid trap that ensured that any dissenters could be dismissed using almost exactly the same language that Hermann Goering divulged in his post-war Nuremberg interrogation. In that context, describing attempts to eliminate ISIS as a “war on ISIS” is yet more extravagantly useless framing. There is no publicly available evidence that ISIS currently poses an existential threat to the USA. As an organization built on the principles of asymmetrical warfare, classical military responses are not the answer in any case, unless the USA wants to enter the genocide business.
Re-framing every campaign for improvement in the world as a “War on XXX” is a dangerous and juvenile approach to problem-solving. It trivializes real war, which is a horrible and messy event, and it allows all manner of actors to justify actions and tactics which are not only ineffective, but in many cases, illegal and damaging to the perceptions of fairness expected of authorities and legal frameworks. In short, these phony wars bring both governments and the law into disrepute.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube

The mess at the University of Illinois over the dismissal of Prof. Steven Salaita

Brief summary; in 2014 the University of Illinois hired Professor Steven Salaita. Then he made a number of pointed and acerbic public comments on social media about the plight of Palestinians in the Middle East that angered large-money University donors, who, behind the scenes, threatened to withdraw their support. The university then fired Salaita, whose position was a tenured one. Salaita eventually sued for unfair dismissal. The university then tried to get his lawsuit dismissed. They failed, the judge excoriating the university in his ruling against the University’s attempt, although some of Salaita’s other claims were dismissed. The University’s Chancellor then tried to resign, but the University suddenly claimed they had dismissed her pre-emptively, supposedly because it became public knowledge that she had started to use a private email account in discussions about the University’s response to Salaita’s public comments.
Sounds like a mess, and it is. Here is Juan Cole’s more detailed exposition of the events. There are several takeaways from this article:

1. When universities are not properly funded by the state, private donors can step in and cover funding shortfalls. However, some of them will require things from the university in return. Like the ability to influence university hiring…and firing. As one of the commenters at Cole’s article points out, it is as if some donors have eliminated the distinction between a gift and a bribe.
2. Firing a professor after you have hired him, given him an email address and office space, and then claiming that he had not yet been hired, is likely to result in ridicule from a Federal judge
3. When a Federal judge declines to dismiss a plaintiff’s lawsuit against you, and ridicules your arguments in doing so, he is doing a lot more than suggesting that the plaintiff has a case. He is signalling that barring a miracle, you are going to lose when the case comes to court.

UPDATEThe University appears to have decided to accept Chancellor Wise’s resignation after all. The cynic in me believes that they did so after realization that if she sued the University, then all of the correspondence involving Prof. Salaita’s firing could become the subject of discovery, which might dig the University into an even deeper hole over its firing of Professor Salaita.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube

Anti-abortion memes, fallacies and uncharitable arguments

Folks, this is my Friday pulpit time. Those of you who want pictures of the cats might want to click through.
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.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube

Self-aggrandisement

Folks, you are going to hear a lot of self-aggrandisement in the next 18 months.
Discount any person who uses it…heavily.
One thing I have discovered over the years is that truly successful people are often modest and unwilling to claim much credit for their successes. They prefer to keep their heads down, and, you know, devote energy to continuing to be successful.
The other thing I noticed (and studies have consistently confirmed this) is that leaders in all walks of life, with very few exceptions, are a lot less important than they claim to be.
So…people who start their bios with definitive phrases about their wonderfuiness always trip my BS detector. Ditto any politician or business leader who rattles off claimed successes like confetti.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube

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.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube

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.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Healthprose pharmacy reviews