Posts tagged ‘critical thinking’

So the Problem is Social Media?

I had an interesting discussion last night about what has driven our fact free world or more specifically alternate realities depending on how you pick your facts. The gist of my protagonist’s argument was that being awash in media, and especially social media is driving the spread of false narratives and fake news, and once it is out there it spreads so fast that you can’t put it back in the bottle with real facts and data. Now that is certainly true, but I think it is an effect, not a cause, multiplied by technology. I have all kinds of technology, I get news 24/7, yet I seemed to be able to navigate the junk just fine.

I think in some ways this is generational. I was raised in a time when science and accepted research were respected. There were, certainly, a lot fewer narratives to choose from, and I did not think my teachers, whether they taught science, history, or English were just given their opinion on things. Now everything can be questioned and good grammar apparently is in the eye of the beholder? Questioning things is good, but I think we have unleashed a monster in those that neither understand the psychology of the self, or true critical thinking.

Let’s start with the psychology of the self as I like to call it. That is our tendency to decide things from the gut, and pick and choose facts/stories based upon what we want to believe. When I was a young boy, I learned the scientific method. It was based upon removing those biases from the analysis through a systematic application of rules. As I became a young man, I learned what it meant to really know something, not just a feeling or a wish, but to know it. The second part of this and probably closely related is critical thinking. I hear something I want to believe, that supports some wacky idea I have, but is it true? What is the source? What are other interpretations of events.

Let’s take my insistence that President DFF colluded with the Russians, tried to suppress the investigation, and is an ignorant racist. Start with racist. Define what that means because if you are going to have an argument about whether he is, both of you better have the same definition. My definition is simple, he stereotypes various groups, and he favors white people (or discriminates in policy and actions against people of color). I believe based upon his own word and actions, it is quite clear he is a racist. But the argument you might have with someone who disagreed would be around do we have facts or data so support that definition. And we have tons of it.

Ignorant is easy to prove once you understand it means lack of knowledge. He is clueless as he has demonstrated with his myriad of false statements about any number of things, including immigrants, white racists, guns, etc. His interpretation of history boggles historical fact. Next up, has he tried to obstruct the investigation into the Russia incursion? Again the data is overwhelming and the argument that this is just what he was used to in his real estate world falls apart a year later and he is still at it. Did he collude? On that one we simply don’t know yet. Somebody did. One can make a reasonable assumption based upon his actions that he is covering up something, but right now that is just an opinion. See the difference? I cannot connect the dots on the last one, except the number of dots left to connect are getting fewer. Mueller will do that one and probably find that the hold on President DFF is his money laundering of Russian money that his whole family was involved in. Again I am simply connecting dots we have, but I don’t know it yet.

So in this world of massive information, how do you pick out fact and fantasy and how do you avoid labeling things you don’t want to believe fake news? In the end, I don’t think anything has changed really other than if you want to create an echo chamber of your beliefs it is certainly easy to do these days because you can pick a million sources of information and close out those that are not convenient. But man used to believe amazing nonsense about gods and magic and when it turned out not be an effective way to survive in the world, we got science, so too will this happen now. More on that in a minute.

Certainly we need to do a better job of teaching critical thinking in schools. That is an up hill battle because it challenges a lot of local religious beliefs (if you apply it to religion which schools scrupulously avoid, but spill over is unavoidable, you start questioning faith, Heresy!). Religious thinking in and of itself lends to the whole psychology of believing something you want to believe without critical examination. It is called faith. In the modern world we tried to separate religious thinking from secular rationalism (The Enlightenment), but as you can see in today’s Republicans, faith-based ideology (markets are always best, flow down works, tax cuts are always good, to solve gun violence we need more guns, and big government is always bad) has taken over rational analysis. Certainly we need to teach what it is to really know something (models, testing, and examining conflicting data) and that we are programmed to self-select what we want to believe. If we had that knowledge and tools, social media would be ineffective in swaying our opinion.

In the end what really changes people is when their ideas fail and they personally suffer for those beliefs. I would argue that conservatives have just about everything wrong, with a small element of truth buried in there somewhere (like self-discipline is good and we do need to hold people accountable, but only if it is a level playing field). The people in the rust belt who are all gung-ho right now on tariffs think they will get their jobs back. They won’t (See Trade, Tariffs, and North Korea). The tax cut won’t bring rising wages or a fair share in profits earned because of their increase in productivity. Building a wall and making America unfriendly to immigrants will stifle our economy. Cutting regulations will stimulate some business, but we may find that the world we then inhabit is uninhabitable (think about the Lesser Depression in 2008). Believing global warming is a hoax will leave us unprepared for the future. There is a ton of data out there to show these are all fool’s errands.

I think this is starting play out. While Democrats (myself included) salivate for Mueller to save us, what will really save us is to examine the world we live in, the changes that are happening, and come up with a plan based upon a rational analysis of the best way forward. So far, except for Bernie and Elizabeth Warren, Democrats are floundering. But there is hope all around the country as new young people challenge the status quo that Republicans represent, and Democrats fail to challenge. The old ways are failing, we all know it, and that was the impetus to the last election. It will also be the impetus to the next one and maybe this time we have learned our lesson about an ignorant, racist, nativist approach to our future. Maybe those basic values that established the Constitution and what made us exceptional (diversity and an equal chance to succeed) will rise again. Maybe.

Old Man Grousing (You Kids Get Off My Lawn!)

I tried to watch the Grammys last night, looking for new young talent and beautiful music, but failed to get through the hip-hop, rap, or whatever they call it these days. Yeah, I know, old man move on with the times. But it is not like I am pining for Glenn Miller, but I am looking for haunting melodies that lift me or take me to another place, and what I got was chanting with bad grammar. Do we really think street smarts and fake gangster persona is wisdom on any level? The free spirit/nonconforming soul is really just a carbon copy of the last one.

Watching the spectacle itself was disturbing. Everyone out there trying to be look at me, look at me, look at me. Oh, of course there were exceptions, but I think we have gone over the cliff. Do we need a piano covered by feathers for Lady GaGa to make her point? Sometimes the music itself, not the spectacle is what it should be about. But back to the rap, where was the music? Oh sure, some of the chants have social or political messages. But really? On a 8th grade level maybe. Try reading Robert Frost. Oh wait, that would take some intellectual discipline which seems to no longer exist.

I think maybe it is a sign of our times. Reading Facebook is like a me, me, me experience where self promotion is the name of the game. All right, I do post these blogs there and that is a form of self promotion, but it is not my self I am promoting, but my ideas. That is a whole other ball game where having ideas is like bad manners. Don’t disrupt my need for continuous stimulation, glitz, or cute pictures of a cat with wanting me to slow down and think something through. That takes work and I would rather be distracted by the next shiny object instead of thinking deeply about where we are going or who we have become.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a writer for the Miami Herald and put this idea forward, how much shit would we be in if President DFF were actually smart? President DFF is doing immense damage to our democracy, but with no real end game. What if he had one and was crafty? Then he points out how or ability for critical thinking has been pretty much co-opted by social media which allows a nut job like our President to reign and get nonsense out there, unexamined by the me generation. His solution I found interesting besides purging Facebook and Twitter of false junk and hate speech:

Now would also be an excellent time for schools to beef up their teaching of philosophy, history, civics and social studies. Teach those things as a means of helping people to think critically, value truth and internalize the ideals that are supposed to make America America.

Ha! I wish. Philosophy, history, civics, and social studies requires us to think deeply beyond the words and into what is it we want, what is life about, what are the deep implications of a society whose measure of success is told in their portfolios. And the other part of it is that for most of us, it is hard work. I read very slowly, sadly. Getting through some books with profound ideas about who we are and where we are going is a long slog for me most times. But it is worth it as you start to see the road ahead more clearly, and understand what is going on around us. Marvel comic books is no substitute. I would suggest along with all that philosophy, history, civics and social studies, we throw in some of the great literature that brings these ideas alive. If you don’t think Animal Farm is about the Trump administration your are denser than a rock. Actually George Orwell had a lot to say about the times we live in.

I guess I should not despair. Some of the movies nominated for an Academy Award this year do in fact take us deep into our soul. While you may have loved Francis McDormand’s toughness in Three Billboards, there was something much deeper going on about life, chaos, cruelty, justice, and moving on. Darkest Hour’s best line was when Winston had rallied the government to fight the Nazis, one of his opponents (Halifax) commented, “He just mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” The Post gave us a lesson in free speech and about women and how we have treated them in our culture. Dunkirk made me think about life, death, and forgiveness. Note I did not find Shape of Water to be anything but a comic book, but maybe I missed something. So I should take heart that thinking is going on or at least we are getting a respite from car chase scenes and spectacular special effects going nowhere, with dialogue aimed at the 4th grader.

But I do worry. In the 60’s people came out into the streets, but then the men at least had skin in the game (draft). Today we can look away and distract ourselves, and except for the Women’s Movement (they really do have skin in the game), I see intellectual and political laziness. I guess I knew we were doomed when NASCAR moved in to the mainstream along with country music. Now it is just a slow slide into oblivion.

Democracy as an End State

It would seem that many of us thought that once you secured the blessing of freedom* and democracy, they would be self-sustaining.  That has proven to be untrue and democracy is always a work in progress.  It takes hard work to maintain it, There are small examples like the religious right in America wanting to use their religious beliefs about life and contraception to control your lives.  There are big examples like Turkey recently voting to turn their leader into a dictator. Once the perect example of a secular Muslim nation, religion has again risen its ugly head to quash democratic thought.  Some other grand examples, although not so obvious are Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.  

Brexit was a vote to limit the movement of people and restrict their choices.  Oh, they thought it was to gain back their freedom.  The freedom they were gaining back was to be a small little nation again without all those “others”.  In other words to deny cultural evolution.  Electing Cheeto-Head was a vote against democracy and freedom.  Cheeto-Head ran on so many undemocratic ideas and the base loved it.  “Lock her up” and his Muslim ban are just the more obvious ones.  He decides not to release his taxes, attacking the free press, and now shields the White House visitor log. These are just more transgretion against democracy and the transparency necessary to make a free and informed choice.

Remember the cry of the Tea Party to “take back their country”?  Who took it?  What democratic processes were destroyed so it could be taken away from them?  None.  They lost in a fair election.  The three branches of government survived and worked.  They just did not like the outcome, so democracy must be under attack, their democracy.  Their solutions to save democracy are those that destroy it.  It is called intolerance, the very opposite of democracy.  Think about voter suppression and gerrymandering.  These are all anti-democratic moves to take the right to vote and choose away from people you disagree with.  It is massive these days.

So it would seem that democracy is just fine as long as it gives us the answers we want, but when we don’t get our way, we have little use for democracy any more.  Sadly in the case of Brexit, democracy was used to stifle democracy, but as with the election of Cheeto-Head, it was by creating false scenarios and enemies.  In Cheeto-Head’s case, he actually lost the election, but won because of our very undemocratic electoral college. The famous quote of Ben Franklin comes to mind as he was interviewed after the Continental Convention and asked whether we had a republic or a monarchy?  “A republic if you can keep it.

But I think what is the largest example of how hard it is to maintain democracy and its institutions is how effective Republicans were when the Democrats won both the Congress and the Presidency in 2008, and through the filibuster, stopped government.  They won big in 2010 because people did not vote, another sign of how hard democracy is to maintain, and that allow them to massively gerrymander voting districts.  Then they blocked all progress for eight years including the right of the President to choose a Supreme Court Justice.  But see, that was all okay because Democrats and the popular things they wanted to do were wrong and we just can’t have that.

Democracy is supposed to be about a battle of ideas.  At its core is the belief that when in an open debate the facts are exposed, we will make the best choice.  And if we don’t, we get a do-over next election cycle.  This requires few things really, critical thinking, an informed electorate (that implies outing fake news), transparency in government, and to accept the implicit contract that democracy makes with us, to accept the will of the majority within our Constitutional system.  Today we see the undermining of all of those critical components.  How could a misogynist ignorant liar be elected President?  Because all those critical elements have been undermined. Intolerance is raising its ugly head and that is the death of democracy.

The Founders gave us this amazing form of government.  The Constitution and its fundamental flaw**, the lack of a Bill of Rights, was corrected with open and fair debate to ratify it.  The judicial is now saving our baccon as Cheeto-Head attempts to undercut even those basic rights.  But we have seen how the Republicans in their thirst for power and the arrogance of their ideology are even undermining our highest court.  Winning has become more important than democracy itself.  

There is a lot of blame for this.  News as entertainment and ratings has been a big part of dumbing down the voters.  It still is.  Somewhere along the way critical thinking got demoted to elitest thinking.  Facts got to be things you could pick and choose from or voting on.  Science, if it was inconvenient to ideology, got demoted to politics.  Religion and religious thinking creeped back into our political life.  And it is not just here, it is everywhere.  My point is simply this:  Democracy is not self-sustaining.  It is a work in progress, and it is time we took a hard look at those things I listed above that are critical to them and examined what happened.  It is time to maybe renew our vows to the institution before we go too far.  At the very base of the foundation of democracy is tolerance of different ideas.  Oh, how we have lost our way. Tolerance has been redefined to be you should tolerate my right to be intolerant.  Maybe it is time of a time out before we crash and burn.

*Democracy is not freedom, it is selecting the freedoms and restrictions that benefit the most people, the common good, in a democratic fashion within our Bill of Rights. The obvious example is that you should not have the right to discriminate, and argument still be made by those clammering for “religious freedom”.

**Okay, maybe the orginal sin was to tell everyone that all people were created equal with inalienable rights, and then disenfranchise blacks.  It has cost this country dearly to try to correct that sin and we are still at it.  But the Constitution, without the Bill of Rights would be a hollow document that allowed majority intolerance to become tryanny.  The framers of the Constitution did not think these were necessary, that they were obvious. As we see today, nothing is obvious.
Other Threats and Other Thoughts:  Is Democracy Sustainable?

Breaking News!

Well,  we still don’t know anything about what cased the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804 but that has not stopped endless speculation, not to mention a toughness test for Presidential Candidates (Hillary and Donald).  But the reality is we know nothing.  In light of everything they have gotten wrong so far gave a link to a handy tool for evaluating “Braking News” since our news media doesn’t care about getting it right only first.  Here is the gist that you can cut out and put in your pocket.  It is kind of a handy guide to critical thinking and I am thinking about modifying it for political statements:


How We Get So Many Things Wrong

Sometimes you wonder how we get so many things wrong.  The classic example is Donald Trump who is just about wrong on everything.  But think about Republicans and their misguided view of poor people as lazy and loving their “hammock”.  Then they push policies that don’t just not work, but make things worse.  It is because they have not walked in their shoes. Their world view is shaped by what they want to believe, not what is.  They find anecdotal examples and it is proof.  It is that lack of empathy thing.  It is not the conservatives can’t learn, but with low empathy they have to personally experience it, then they might get it.  See the conservative with a gay son.

Well I was reading about the retirement of Judge Shira Scheindlin, the federal judge who ruled against stop and frisk policy in New York and here is a prime example:

Judge Shira A. Scheindlin had been excoriated by New York City’s highest public officials for her ruling in 2013 that the Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy had violated the rights of minorities. At the time, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said, in essence, that he hoped the ruling would not take effect while he was still in office, because he did not want to be “responsible for a lot of people dying.”

“They (Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelley) seemed out of touch with the issues that the communities cared about,” Judge Scheindlin said. “They didn’t seem to understand the impact of these policies on real people and real neighborhoods and real communities and the detrimental impact it was having, even on policing. And that’s the point. They didn’t seem to get it. It was all about fear — New York would blow up.”

And there is the bit of wisdom that we could all learn from.  Most of our leaders and polticians, even our news media are “out of touch with the issues that the communities cared about.”  How long did it take anyone to wake up to Flint Michigan?  We keep trying to design policies and programs to help people or fix a problem and we really don’t understand the problem.  We isolate ourselves into self-reinforcing bubbles the ensure our ideas are not challenged.

There are two ways to fix this.  First we have to get out of our bubble.  Saturday night when Larry Whitmore made some pointed jokes about the end of real jounalism, that crowd was in total denial.  They could turn to their fellow talking head and reinforce the idea that 24/7 coverage without fact checking of Donald Trump is real news.  It’s what the people wanted.  Look at the ratings. They have created a bubble of total denial about their responsibility in the dumbing down of America.  Second, we can start using data and science again to inform us about what does and does not work.  The problem with data and science is that it starts giving us answers we don’t like, so it is back in the bubble to protect our preconceptions.

Now this affects all of us.  We like to generate metal constructs to oganize the world around us to make it make sense.  And we protect ourselves from the complexity and chaos of reality by ignoring inconvenient facts.  But sooner or later we have to deal with failed policies.  Or do we?  While Democrats certainly are susceptable to this kind of thinking, who has created the largest alternate reality?  Who denies science, is cutting funding to social science studies, and legislates against using scientific findings, like say in rising sea levels?  Who sees problems where they don’t exist or creates bogy men so they don’t have to face the real threat (voter fraud, barbarians at the gates, debt)? That would be conservatives.  And as a measure of how desperate they are to hold on to things that don’t work anymore, who is getting crazier and crazier?

We have a problem Huston and it is centered in one Party.  I wonder when the media’s bubble will finally burst and they do their job to point it out?  Of course some could say Bernie Sanders has been pointing out a very large problem on the Democratic side and Democrats have hurled invectives like idealistic and impractical to retreat into their own shell.  We have a problem Huston.


I watch that show and I love it.  The plot is that there is a drug called NZT that expands your brain capacity exponentially using the underperform parts of your brain.  You can remember everything, process data much more effectively, and your senses are super enhanced.  So what’s the problem?  The downside is that it is addicting (Duh) and the side effects can be horrific with prolonged us, up to and including death.  Okay, in the plot, there is an antidote, but it is only for a few that makes  them immune from the side effects.

As the story line progresses, NZT is not being flooded into the drug market and is on the streets of NYC and the FBI and police are in a giant campaign to find the source and stop it.  Some people are dying from the effects of prolonged use.  So let’s just stop here and ask the question, why are we running around trying to stop people from using it?  It makes them super smart, sometimes for the first time in their lives so that is the good side, and they all know the side effects and they are chosing to do it.  So why should government be limiting its use?

I think when you shove all the subplots and personalities aside, that is the real question.  In fact, in the real world why do we prevent people from drugs in general?  Okay I get kids, but adults?  It certainly hasn’t worked yet we keep on doing it.  Fareed Zakaria on Sunday pointed out where we have made drug use legal or facilitated access to clean needles and unadulterated drugs themselves, we lose fewer lives and more people choose to go into rehabilitation programs.  That is the data, but we oppose it because of our Daddy complex.

So I will continue to watch and enjoy Limitless, but if I had access to a drug like that, even with side effects, would I not be tempted.  More importantly would it be my choice and not the governments.  Yes drugs ruin lives.  But they do anyway and what we are doing does not work.  Why are we so afraid to try a new approach?  Maybe now that heroin is a drug of choice not just of the poor, but middle class and wealthy maybe we will rethink that.  It is not just that poor scum we can ignore, right?

Intellectual Curiosity

I have now reached the crusty old age of 70 so I can do cranky old man stuff and maybe it is understandable or at least tolerable.  So here is my cranky old man observation:  Most people lack a healthy intellectual curiosity.  They don’t ask a lot of questions or have varied interests.  And I have to laugh.  We live in the golden age of knowledge.  It is mostly at your finger tips on the internet.  Pick your site wisely is my only caution, or think critically for sure, both of which are skills lacking in the general population.

Let me give you an example of my ever “hows that work” brain in action.  Did you see the movie The Martian?  Remember the rotating wheel on their space ship that gave them artificial gravity?  Did you see the space landing of Scott Kelly?  He and his companions could not walk after a year in zero gravity.  So the slowing turning wheel may be critical to long-term space flight if we are going to walk out of our space vehicle and explore.

Okay, now my engineering brain takes over and I am wondering how fast a wheel like that has to turn to establish normal gravity (9.8 m/s/s).  Well, spending some time on the internet you will find that centripetal acceleration is v^2/r where r is the radius of the wheel.  Just set 9.8=v^2/r, pick your r (radius of the wheel) and you get the velocity.  From there RPM or revolutions per minute can be calculated from the circumference of the wheel.  Sample:  Assume a 100 m radius.  9.8=v^2/100, v=31m/s.  The circumference (distance around the wheel) of the wheel is πd=200×3.1416=628.31m.  Divide that by the velocity and you get 1 revolution every 20 seconds or the wheel would have to revolve at about 3 RPM for 1 g.

Maybe you don’t need a full g and only a half g will work to counter the effects of zero g.  I don’t know.  Oh, and is centripetal force the same as gravity in its effects on the body.  One is about inertia and one is about waves.  Do they have the same effect on the body?  I don’t know.  Oh, and think about this.  If, like on the Hermes in the Martian, the ship is designed as a basic rocket with a spinning wheel around its axis, how do make that happen, seal the ship from leaks, and make all the electrical and hydraulic connections from a stationary body to a spinning one?

Yeah, maybe having unbridled intellectual curiosity is a curse, but I never get bored.  I wish others would not get so set in their beliefs that they cannot ask questions that just might upset their whole apple cart.  It is what makes life exciting.  It is what makes us human and when we let ideology or faith define things for us, we deny our humanity.  It is an exciting world out there, don’t be afraid of it.


News as Propaganda

Now I admit that I have a lot of progressive knee jerk reactions when I hear some things and I have to think them through because sometimes there is a gain of truth in conservative babbling.  But thinking them through is not what our news does and it is insidious.  One of my local channels for Sacramento News is Channel 3 (KCRA) and when the 24/7 cable news has saturated my brain with 24/7 reporting of the primaries, I turn to this channel to get a respite and some local reporting.  But they have this conservative slant on the news that is imbedded in their reporting.  If you know a story well, you know what they are leaving out that would have given the story a more balanced airing.

Well one of their reporters is a guy named Kelly Brothers.  He used to be a regular talking head, but he moved over into the financial sector, became the stereotype of a Wall Street type (complete with wire rimmed glasses) and reports financial news when he is not trading.  Now for him, the stock market is the only indicator of the health of our economy so what is good for the stock market is good for America.  Main Street America might have some objections here, but that is never brought up.  

Anyway he was reporting the movements of the market this week and he made a comment that instead of the government looking to do something about “inverting” they should do something about the corporate tax rate to keep companies from “inverting”.  I will explain in a minute, but the rest of the reporting team, instead of raising any issue with this uninformed comment just went along with it.  There was not an informed opinion questioning whether companies really ever pay the statutory  corporate tax rate and asking what was their effective rate, the one the average corporation actually pays with all the tax breaks.  But I get ahead of myself.  

Companies maximize profits by reducing costs and inverting is a way to maximize profits by lowering their tax bill.  If they could, they would pay no taxes and many do not.  Fifteen large corporations paid an effective tax of zero last year.  While the United States has one of the highest statutory rates of corporate tax rates in the world (35% federal, almost 40% when you consider state taxes), the effective rate after all tax dodges is much lower, around 13% in 2013, much lower than you or I pay.  

Inverting is an expression for an American company to avoid paying even more taxes on money earned outside the United States by merging with a smaller company in a low-tax nation.  Nothing really changes, just that the company’s address in now in a lower tax nation and any earnings outside the United States gets paid to that nation at the lower tax rate of that nation. In most cases nothing actually moved. As the NYT tells us:

Inverted companies keep the benefits of being American, but have a much lower tax bill. They remain majority-owned by shareholders of the American company. They normally keep their headquarters and top executives in the United States. They also keep the protections on securities and patents provided by American laws, as well as their contracts and connections with the federal government and its research agencies.

And yes it is complicated.  But the real question is what is a reasonable corporate tax rate so that companies pay their fair share of what the United States provides for them, getting rid of all the dodges, and is enforceable worldwide. Kelly Brother’s comment was in the light of government gouging corporations, not in establishing a fair tax system, which is a complicated discussion about the whole tax code edifice. It is the dodge use by many to complain about the statutory rate, get it lowered, without fixing all the other problems, and allowing corporations to dodge their responsibilites to the United States.  

So why did I go into all this detail about an offhanded remark?  Because our news has become an offhanded remark without the necessary details and complexity to understand the real issues.  It is why we as Americans make such bad choices about our leaders and policies.  The latest Republican debates are a prime example.  These guys mention some outrageous over simplified policy choices and nobody asks how you would do that, or what would be the blow back (unintended consequences).  And as pointed out in my long and drawn out example above, it creeps into our everyday local news.  It is called the death of critical thinking and it disturbs me greatly.  Have a nice weekend.

Look Away, This is a Downer

I am coming to the conclusion that the American people are not very bright. Now granted, this is a view I get through our media (print and screen), but it is shocking how really, oh shall I say it, stupid we are.  We seem to hate everything that could make us great.  We seem to have become alienated from the very basic principles that made this country great.  Donald Trump is running on a campaign of hate, meanness, intolerance, bullying,  anti-intellectualism, irrationality, and fear.  And evangelicals love him.  Isn’t he the opposite of what their Christian God, Jesus, tells them about how we should treat our fellow-man?  How does that compute.

Norm Ornstein in the Atlantic Monthy has written an interesting piece about how we got here.  It isn’t just Trump.  There are many other bad actors.  But watching the news is disheartening.  Take President Obama’s press conference yesterday.  The press was much more interested in his tears than in the thoroughly rational and convincing argument he made about how we need to take action on guns.  He laid bare the essential fact that our access to guns is the problem.  Yet facts don’t matter.  Conservatives get up and say things that are easily proven false, and they don’t care, and apparently neither do we.

We have this wonderful tool, the Internet.  We can, if we chose, really know something.  Now certainly as Norm pointed out, we can also check our critical brain at the door and only go to sites that feed us what we want to hear.  But we were given a critical brain and I wonder why so many have chosen not to use it.  I continually see nonsense on Facebook about how, say we should be drug testing welfare recipients, except the data to tells us it is neither cost-effective nor prudent.  So we choose to be stupid.  The gun data we do have (note Republicans in Congress restricts the collection of data on gun violence) is clear.  We have a problem and it is directly related to easy access to guns.  So what do we do? Make them more accessible.

I too get very angry when I think about Sandy Hook.  How could we not have done anything?  I think at that point you knew we were doomed.  We no longer operated on reason, logic, or even compassion.  We operated on greed, selfishness, intolerance, and meanness.  Enter Donald Trump. And the most damning evidence of our downfall are that facts, science, and data don’t matter anymore.  To me the problems we face are not complicated. The answers are in the data we collect. But when rational argument no longer has any impact, when idiots can stand up in the face of truth and blurt out lies, and they are seen as another point of view, well, we are doomed.

And what is most frustrating is this is so easily changed.  If people just voted.  It really is that simple.  So back to my original point, we really are that stupid.  Maybe as a species it is time we die out.

From Thomas Friedman this morning:  From its very inception, Donald Trump’s campaign for president has been life imitating Twitter. His candidacy is built on Twitter bursts and insults that touch hot buttons, momentarily salve anxieties and put a fist through the face of political correctness, but without any credible programs for implementation.  We truly have become the Twitter nation with a Twitter brain than can only handle 146 characters.


I am still trying to sort out how people can vote Republican when we know much of what they stand for doesn’t work except for the 1%.  And I say I know.  Knowing is an interesting concept in American thought that has been badly bastardized.  “I just know it is going to rain.”  “I feel in my heart that this is right”.  No, those are not ways of knowing, they are ways of feeling.  Knowing something, really knowing something does not come from you gut.  It comes from well design experiments and verification.  Boring, he is going to launch on some science crap.  Well sort of.

Today in the NYT was an article about the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters in its 14th and final season.  MythBusters would take common beliefs, design an experiment to test it, and then, well, test it.  As the article pointed out they discovered a penny thrown of the Empire State Building will not kill you and poppy seeds will have you test positive for heroin use.  It taught a generation of people to think critically. As the article noted:

Obviously, experiments staged for television can’t have the rigor of peer-reviewed lab work. But “MythBusters” captures the underlying mind-set of science. At a time when “skepticism” too often means rejecting any ideas one finds politically unpalatable, “MythBusters” provides a compelling example of real scientific skepticism, the notion that nothing can be held true until it is confirmed by experimentation.

I guess that is my real frustration with politics today.  So much is knowable and we throw that knowledge away for what we find “unplatatable”.  Global warming for starters.  We know it exists.  We know and are seeing the results, and yet we have a whole segment of our population that looks the other way.  It is some government plot to steal and waste our tax dollars.  And even if you can’t stop it, you can plan for and mitigate the effects.  Nope, does not exist.  The whole Republican Party is science challenged.

And let’s not forget the War on Drugs which we have continued for 60 years and why?  It has totally failed and yet many find legalizing even marijuana “unpalatable”.  How about our Cuba policy?  How much longer are we going to continue that failed policy and not lift trade restrictions?  Why do we do this stuff when the data is there to say it has failed?  Deep in Kansas, Governor Brownback is sticking by his “conservative experiment” of cutting taxes although the state’s economy is crashing and burning?

People, according the latest political narrative, are angry* with Washington and just want to throw the whole bunch out.  They want outsiders is the way they are explaining the Ben Carson, Donald Trump phenomenon. Neither one of these guys is making any sense.  But why doesn’t Washington work?  Because we elected people, mostly Republicans, who know things in their gut, reject what science knows, and refuse to compromise.  We elected people who reject critical thinking.  Oh, you can point out here or there to a Republican who sounds logical, Paul Ryan is one of them, but a real examination of what they propose, like MythBusters does, exposes the tricks or in Paul Ryan’s case, the magic astericks.  But he used PowerPoint, it must be true!

When you step back and look at Republican economic religion (yes, it is based upon faith, not fact), it is worse than what snake oil salesmen used to promise.  “I will slash everyone’s taxes and remove government from our lives, and nirvana will be back again.  You need do nothing but be selfish and worry about no one else but yourself and the truly deserving will be rewarded.”  That’s it in a nutshell and there is tons of data in the real world about how this doesn’t work (See Kansas) and yet half the country still buys into it.

So maybe we need a Mythbusters for political myths.  But there has to be a real understanding of critical thinking because it is easy to trick gullible people with pseudo science.  The Conservative think tanks are full of people who are experts at doing it.  We actually have truth tellers and myth busters, but they are pushed off to the side and we try to compromise with nonsense.  If we could just apply rational thought and real data to problems, well the answers are fairly straight forward.  But as MythBusters points out, if that answer is unpalatable to the way we want to believe, we reject them.  That is what the Republican Party is all about today.  Stimulating your emotions so you reasoning becomes clouded with what you want to believe.

So I will be sorry to see MythBusters go.  But with up to 20 million viewers a year, maybe, just maybe, we have a lot more critical thinkers than we use to.  That is a very good thing.

*Footnote:  George Bush Senior is writing a new book and he has criticized (finally) Cheney and Rumsfield.  But he also said something that those folks mad as hell need to consider:

“I do worry about some of the rhetoric that was out there — some of it his, maybe, and some of it the people around him,” Mr. Bush told Mr. Meacham. “Hot rhetoric is pretty easy to get headlines, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the diplomatic problem.”