Current Affairs

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Gun-waving citizens and their idea of “charm”

It seems that citizens have been disagreeing in public about a Confederate soldier statue in Denton. It involved open carry adherents, but this paragraph leaped out of the article at me:

“We’re out here to protest the sickening behavior of yesterday,” said Ian McDougal, Lake Dallas resident openly carrying a loaded AR-15, concealed revolver and “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. “It’s ruining the charm of this town.”

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I do not regard people walking around with loaded AR-15 guns, other concealed firearms and “Don’t Tread On Me” flags as “charming”. I regard them as contributing to a level of scariness that will most likely cause me to avoid Denton on my travels.



A brief comment about polygamy.
I have read lots of people (some more intellectually honest than others) arguing that if SCOTUS has legalized same-sex marriages, then why not polygamous marriages?
The reality is that polygamy is already legal. You can live with as many partners of the same or opposite sex as you like, under the same roof or different roofs. What you are not allowed to do is register more than one of those concurrent relationships as a marriage. This is what the Fundamentalist LDS does today. The men have one legal wife, and many other women who function as subservient wives, and who appear to the welfare system to be single mothers. I will leave it to the readers to join the dots as to which entity is paying most of the bills for those “not allowed to call it that” wives and their children (HINT – it is not the FLDS, and it might begin with G). .
The real debate is not whether polygamy should be allowed, but under what conditions people should be allowed to register multiple concurrent marriages. The main objection, which I understand, is that polygamous arrangements like those of the FLDS are not exactly equitable or reflective of equality of partnership. I am not sure what the right solution is, but logically, nope, we cannot ban polygamy, we already have it, so we need to sit down and work out how to manage it for the good of society.


Todays round up – 19th July 2015

1. Southern Heritage
I keep hearing rationalizations for the waving of the Confederate battle flag all of the time right now, as variations on “it celebrates my/our Southern heritage”. Was it this sort of heritage the rationalizers had in mind?
2. The suddenly awkward Donald Trump
Donald Trump appears to have said Awkward Things in the past week or so. He began with some fairly obviously racially prejudicial comments about Mexicans, which nobody in the GOP wanted to talk about. Then he jumped the shark by complaining that Sen. John McCain was not a real war hero because he got captured. At this point, a number of prospective GOP candidates felt obliged to condemn his comments. This would be OK, until you remember that some of these gentlemen were quite cheerfully supporting the 2004 SwiftBoat smearing of John Kerry. Like a certain John Ellis Bush. Quite why somebody in the media doesn’t publicly ridicule and mock him for his hypocrisy I cannot fathom. Sometimes ridiculous comments deserve only ridicule. While we are at it, we could also laugh at him for his ludicrously non self-aware comments about people needing to work harder.

3. Gene Simmons, the 1%, and millionaire conceit
Gene Simmons (yes, that Gene Simmons, he of Kiss), like many wealthy people, suffers from the conceit that the world would be a much better place if everybody thought and acted just like him. He also appears to think that the 99% should be nice to the 1% because..well, apparently, according to him, they fund just about everything.
Gene appears to have forgotten some fundamental truisms. Gene, you non-self-aware twit, let me try to educate you.
1. Nobody is indispensible
If the 1% were to disappear tonight, the next 1% would move up to take their place. Yes, Kiss would be replaced by…eegads, do I have to imagine this?
2. Respect is given, not earned
If the 1% want to be respected, they should try behaving like normal people and less like conceited, entitled, whiny jackasses.
3. It is better to keep your mouth shut…
..and be thought a fool, than you open your mouth and remove all doubt. (COUGH).
Anyway, it appears that this journalist has already pointed out a few of the flaws in Gene’s bloviations.

4. The Greece Crisis
This one will run and run. The proposed third bailout of Greece is not going to be any more succcessful than the first two bailouts. The main reason is that Greece is utterly bankrupt and has no positive creditworthiness. It therefore cannot borrow to pay its debts. The IMF knows this and has stated this publicly. That now gives the ECB a major problem, since its rules, if interpreted literally, prevent it from writing off countries’ debts.
The problem is that without a significant debt write-off, it is difficult to see how Greece can ever become solvent. In the meantime, the country will continue to exist on drip-feed loans from the ECB. This will result in further contraction of the economy, which will ultimately result in social unrest.My fear is that fascist, nativist parties will then gain control, at which point…it will only be a matter of time before Greece leaves the EU.


End of Week Review – 17th July 2015

  1. Iran Deal

Juan Cole asks the interesting question of why the US media ignores the real allies of the USA in its recent negotiation with Iran in favor of reporting on opponents and armchair complainers.

  1. Jade Helm

I have yet to see a single armored vehicle in my neighborhood, but we are taking precautions. We gathered the cats together yesterday and told them to beware male cats with bow ties offering them cat treats.

  1. Michael Grimm

The former US Representative, who thought that threatening to throw a reporter off a balcony was an acceptable answer to a question, may be looking behind him rather a lot for a while, after he was sentenced to 8 months in jail for tax evasion. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

  1. Is Donald Trump politics or entertainment?

A mini firestorm has erupted over the decision of Huffington Post to move articles about Donald Trump from the politics section to the entertainment section on their website. Lots of people are complaining that HuffPo does not have the right to decide. Er, no. They can allocate Trump to whatever category they choose. People don’t search a lot by categories anyway, so I doubt that it will make much difference to the number of page views for the articles. But the cynic in me feels compelled to ask:  why isn’t all news about candidates for POTUS in the entertainment section?

  1. Forgetting that Facebook is a public forum

It seems that a mayor in WA has not yet learned all about this public forum thingy…he decided that it was OK to go on a rant about the POTUS and the FLOTUS on Facebook. Now that his rantings have been pointed out for their, er, lack of charity, he is doubling down and refusing to resign. He has issued a classic Notpology of course. He claims that resigning would be tantamount to admitting that he is a racist. Apart from the massive high-decibel “duh!” that would elicit, he should be resigning, if only for showing shockingly defective judgment in ranting on any topic on Facebook.



I remain both amazed and amused that there are so many self-proclaimed rebels in the modern USA. Everywhere I look there are individuals and groups muttering, fulminating and threatening to overthrow this that or the other.

On one level, it is kind of logical that one would find a rebel mindset in a country that is only 230 or so years old in its modern form, a country founded by rebellion against colonial subjugation.  On another level, there is no current credible existential threat to the physical survival of the USA. (As one humorist sad in Harvard Business Review many years ago, “we may be the world’s biggest debtor nation, but let’s just see them try to collect!”). There are plenty of supposed threats, but they seem in many cases to be the kind of threats that people were making dire predictions about 40+ years ago, and those fears have yet to be converted to reality.

Here are my condensed thoughts on what I term “The Rebellion Thing”. Standard disclaimers apply.

  1. It is 230+ years since the USA was created. This makes it, when compared to many countries, an adolescent. However, adolescents eventually (mostly) mature and move into a new phase in their lives. The ones that do not eventually wear out their welcome. Being a rebel is cute at 16, tired at 26, tedious at 36, puzzling at 46 and a real turn off at 56. Holden Caulfield and James Dean were only attractive because they were young and you could think “they don’t know any better”. The people that cannot quit being adolescents usually end up as figures of eye-rolling fun. You might think they are cute in small doses, but you wouldn’t want to spend much time with them. They always seem to be looking for something to rebel against.
  2. Famous rebels who obtained success via the overthrow of their opponents, in many cases, made a poor job of actually governing. The founders of the modern USA are one of the shining exceptions. Notice that they actually took time out from rebelling to think long and hard about what they wanted as an end result. The end of British rule was simply a stopping point on the journey. It was a tactic, not the whole strategy.
  3. Vague unspecified “I’m a rebel <insert bellicose snarling words>” statements don’t answer the question “what are you rebelling against”. Fine-sounding statements like “I want my country back” or “don’t tread on me” are also merely vague statements of discontent.
  4. Being a rebel doesn’t automatically make you a poster child for freedom. It is a feature of history that many rebels, when placed in positions of power, ended up rapidly becoming authoritarian despots. Behind many self-proclaimed charismatic rebels lies a dangerous mix of narcissism and conceit.
  5. Rebelling against fundamental items of reality like the federal government, taxes etc. doesn’t make you look principled and valiant. It tends to make you look like the second coming of Don Quixote. If you want to rebel against those entities or ideas, have at it, but bear in mind that everybody who tried that prior to you has, to varying degrees, failed. This probably suggests that the odds are not in your favour. Have you considered, you know, voting for different candidates? Like, candidates not belonging to the mainstream political parties that you always whine about. Just thinking out loud here…
  6. If you want to appear to be a credible rebel, it probably isn’t a great idea to use the battle flag of a defeated secessionist movement as an emblem. Defeated losers in wars generally don’t get a do-over. Who are you? The Black Knight from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”?
  7. You need to either back talk up with action or risk being seen as a keyboard warrior, a member of the 101st Chairborne. Threatening to “march on Washington” because of some perceived slight or injustice tends to make you look like the small child throwing toys out of the pram because they couldn’t get their way.
  8. Martyrdom is always a good last resort if you really want to take dramatic action. However, you have to be really ready to go through with it. See (6) above. Talking tough like Ted Nugent and then hoping that people forget about it might work for some less thoughtful individuals, but it probably won’t lead most people to take you at all seriously. It’s this little thing called credibility. Even martyrs get mixed reviews in the annals of history.
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