Posts tagged ‘facts’

Noise, Total Noise, Smoke and Mirrors

What we are getting right now is noise, smoke and mirrors. Why did he do it? Who cares, because the next one will be a different why? We pretend we will get some kind of closure when we know why, I guess because we think if we know why we can protect ourselves. But the next nut job will have a different why. Take the last big shootings, Sandy Hook, the Virginia Tech Shooting, and the Pulse Club in Florida.

What is the common denominator, their type of craziness, or the assault weapons they used. Oh, and you will feel so much better because look, look, even the NRA is moving to “talk” about banning bump stocks. Note that sales are soaring just in case they do. Unless we do an Australia, we haven’t even moved the needle, yet we are so excited that the NRA and Republicans will let us talk about bumps. I am just giddy. It would appear that the more guns we have, the more we need to protect ourselves from others who have guns. Maybe if I was carrying a rocket launcher I could have taken out that nut job shooting from the 32nd floor.  I wonder when we will ever have a real debate.

I listened to one Republican dissembler tell us that we need to debate and study this issue of bump stocks. Responsible people don’t over react (like tax or healthcare reform).  How long have we been looking at this? More noise, smoke, and mirrors. Remember guns don’t kill people, people do, but guns makes it so much more efficient and effective. So why is it again that we keep handing them more and more dangerous and lethal ways to go postal?  See nukes are not the problem, people are.  See the irrational logic line here?

Almost everywhere I look it is smoke and mirrors, noise instead of real change. Tax reform is a joke. Real tax reform is hard. Everyone has a vested interest and we don’t start from the same place. What has to be paid for before we going giving away treasury? No agreement there so this is nothing but a tax slash for the wealthy which is the only economic policy position Republicans know.

Climate change is happening, and we have just had three of the most disastrous storms we have seen in hundreds of years, predicted by global warming, and who is the lead of the EPA (a climate change denier), and now the Dotard in Charge (DIC) is appointing a coal lobbyist as the second in command at EPA. His boys and girls (Cabinet/White House staff) are using their private emails (lock her up) and flying around the country on private jets at your and my expense, and he is draining the swamp? Oh did I mention he is meeting with the generals on North Korea (“Calm before the storm”), and wants to change the Iran agreement? Meanwhile the Republicans are stonewalling the Russia investigation. It’s noise, smoke, and mirrors while the country slides backwards into chaos.

Now that I have thoroughly depressed you unless you are a LD (Little Dotard, Trump base), let me try to show you how we got on this path of ignorance. Right after the shooting in Las Vegas I heard an interview with a woman who was spouting the conventional wisdom about bringing the country back together. “We just need to start listening to each other. We need to lower the rhetoric and listen and try to understand the other side. Then maybe we can find common solutions.” Sounds great doesn’t it? It is horse shit. Pabulum for those who have not been paying attention. It’s pabulum because we don’t operate on the same set of facts anymore.

Were you not paying attention during the Obama years?  Much to my chagrin, because I don’t think Republicans have workable solutions, President Obama tried to compromise with them.  How many Republican votes did he get on healthcare (0).  It got to be a standing joke that even if Barack proposed a Republican plan (which he did on numerous occasions), they were against it.  There goal was to destroy the his presidency (remember Mitch McConnell’s one term President comment?).

In order to take the positions Republicans have taken and support their policies, one had to create an alternate universe, and they did.  Climate change doesn’t exist, tax cuts pay for themselves, immigrants are the root of all our economic problems, all trade agreements are bad, the EPA just hurts business with regulations, regulations in general are bad, government is bad, guns are a natural right, and they were extremely effect at then explaining away failure to act as both sides do it.  Now they are in charge, and they still can’t do anything.

But the point here is that they created a public that does not agree on a set of facts.  Does it not floor you that much of America gets their news on Facebook trending junk?  We can’t have effective solutions if we cannot come together on root cause and effect.  Republicans believe that more guns makes us safer.  How has that worked out?  Republicans believe that climate change is worst a hoax, at best not man-caused, so we do nothing as the conditions for disastrous climate changes increase.  How can all regulations be bad when many of them came from very bad situations where protections are in order? Obamacare is a disaster, but their answer for a fix is trust us, the market place will solve all issues?  The facts do not support any of their beliefs.

So back the woman who wants me to listen.  But the other side has already ended listening because I must be confused about my facts.  Why should I listen to someone who wants to take away gay, lesbian, or transgender rights?  Why would I want to listen to someone who wants to destroy Obamacare with no viable solution?  Why would I want to listen to someone wants to destroy the EPA and deny climate change?  Until we can establish again the difference between political differences and facts, there is no debate.

Let me leave you with this.  There will be no hand holding and coming together.  We have to re-establish facts before we have political debates about what to do about them.  Climate exists and is man caused.  Tax cuts in this economy do not simulate growth.  All government is not bad.  Immigrants help, not hurt our economy.  More guns are killing more people.  We live in a global economy and we need trade agreements.  If we could just start from those established facts (google them!).  Then maybe the listening could start.  But Republicans have made clear they have an alternate set of facts and no further discussion is necessary.

The only fix is that if we survive this four years, we need to hose out the White House and Congress after we throw all of the Republicans and “moderate Democrats” out, and get about the business of governing again.  We deal with facts, data, and science, develop policies based upon them, and if they need fixing, we do not have an ideological agenda or wanting to believe something that prevents us from doing just that.  It is just amazing to me that the real ideologues are not progressives who can change, but Republicans who cannot, and yet somehow we all just need to hold hands.  Bull shit.

Opinion Panels and Tribalism

One of the things you hear and is becoming conventional wisdom is the idea we just need to listen to each other, and that tribalism is how we verify our ideas. To me they are both bull shit. First better listening and polite dialogue, I think, is really a good idea if we had people with open minds and a definition of what a fact is. I was watching Oprah on 60 Minutes last night try to get people to understand each others concerns. And they were talking their feelings. One woman was expressing her fear of what the Republicans might do to Obamacare and its promise to protect those with pre-existing conditions (annihilate it), and clearly a Republican who says we can agree at least on Obamacare needs to be fixed. So what is the problem?

Well it has to do with facts. Feelings are nice, but they can sadly badly mislead you. The woman above has a right to be scared because the Republican Plan while it keeps existing conditions in theory, allows the states to wave coverage and says nothing about limiting cost, so sure they cover existing conditions at only $100K. Now the guy was wanting what we all want, lower costs and better care. Okay, me too. So how do you get that? Well, you got to know the facts, not opinions or feelings, but facts.  Fact, all other nations have universal care, most do not use the market place, and when they do it is highly regulated, and their costs are half our’s with better outcomes.  So why can’t we get there and why if they can afford it, can’t we?

So the obvious answer is to look at all those other systems, take what works, be inventive, and change Obamacare accordingly.  So why don’t we do that?  Because many Americans feel Obamacare must be repealed forgetting the nightmare of serious illness the previous system was.  And when you examine the things we need to do to get cost under control, and provide affordable care to everyone, these are the things that mostly move the system away from marketplace which is heresy to the Party in charge.  But, I don’t care what you feel, I only care about facts and neither should you.  You don’t want to do what it takes because you feel the market place provides the best solutions.  If I give you a 100 places where market place has failed us, well, those facts don’t matter.

And the reason for that is tribalism.  The Red tribe hates government (except their Medicare and Social Security) so government solutions cannot be considered.  The tribe reinforces the belief in our feelings.  The tribe even develops think tanks to cull facts to prove their case.  But culling does not give us truth, just facts to support our feelings (See Cheney on WMD).  So when you mix tribes in the opinion discussions, you certainly expose each side to the other sides “facts”, but most of them have it wrong to begin with.  Now we are back to the issue of what is true.  Who moderates the facts?

Now, I don’t think this is hard.  Climate change exists because the preponderance of science verifies it.  Because you can cull some minor disputes and say it is in question is nonsense.  But in tribal thinking that is where we are.  I am an engineer and I believe in the scientific method.  I love the quote, “Science does not give a shit what you think” (I have a tee-shirt to prove it).  The point is that science and its use of data allows us to arrive at the best version of truth we can no matter how we feel about that truth.  Politics and ideology simply try to skew the data to trick us into following one path or another that meets the parties emotional needs.

We need to get back to finding solutions based upon science and data, and if those solutions don’t work, we modify our approach.  Here again is where the Republicans went off the deep end with ideology.  We all agree Obamacare could be better (especially if the present administration wasn’t trying to sabotage it).  So what are the fixes?  Well one side says we just need to destroy it without any ideas about that. That is ideology at work.  Their tribe has been chanting Obamacare sucks and it has become the conventional wisdom until they figure what they are losing when it goes away. Feelings and tribal beliefs out of control.

Now here is an example.  If you accept finally the truth and consequences of global warming, then the question is what is the best way to control carbon rmiddiond into the environment.  We can have a legitimate argument about whether cap and trade or a carbon tax would be the best way to do that.  But now we are arguing about means, not ignoring the problem.  And data can inform us.  If we select one and it is not as effective or has other deleterious effects, we can change.  That is impossible today. The Red tribe can’t even admit to the problem.

Now the Red Tribe has sold government is bad (big government), taxes are too high, regulations kill innovation, and the market place unregulated is the best way to solve problems. Let’s not forget state’s rights*.  Now I can find instances where all of this is true.  I can also find instances where the opposite is true.  But what the Red Tribe has done is then build a false strawman.  If they believe the above, Democrats, the Blue tribe, must believe the opposite.

And nothing could be further from the truth.  The Blue tribe is much more science and data driven.  When big government works (Medicare anyone? How about FEMA? How about Obamacare?) they are all for it.  If it issues regulations that stymie growth and turn out to be counter productive, they are against it.  Taxes are a mixed bag and sometimes we have to poney up for the things we need. Most of our issues today are ideology driven from the Red side, whether it is tax reform, spending, immigrants, Iran nuke deal, climate change,

The blue tribe has its blind spots, but science, fact, and data are more likely to hold sway.  That’s why the preponderance of scientists are Democrats.  The Red tribe has shown their inability to see gray.  So I want to end this tribal/opinion way of thinking.  Accepting tribal thinking is counter to the ideals of democracy.  Opinion panels without a moderation of facts, are a waste of time.  Ind of like our current approach to our newsmedia.  It is bullshit.  It is destroying America.  Try to remember that the Red tribe’s icon, Ronald Reagan, warned us in 1961 that Medicare will bring a socialist dictatorship.  How many lives has it saved and allowed those of us over 65 to actually afford healthcare, yet the Red tribe is still trying to kill it.  It works and they want to kill it, not improve it, kill it.  It is ideology run amok. I rest my case.

*Right now they are selling state control of healthcare.  Didn’t that work out so well for voting rights, segregation, pollution control, to name just a few giant failures?  Remember the Constitution and where it came from?  It came from the states running amok.  So make no mistake, the Red tribe is trying to hand off the costs to the states so they are out of the game and then the states can be blammed for the cutbacks.  I don’t mind giving local control to better decide how to deal with local conditions, but with lots and lots of strings to ensure affordable healthcare to all.  Right now that is exactly what you are not getting.

 

Partisanship

I am not sure what it means anymore.  There is an MSNBC promo for Greta Van Susteren where she says something to the effect of just two people sitting in a dinner discussing politics.  I don’t think that happens any more unless there are guns involved.  All this comes to mind because of a story I heard from a family gathering where one of a mostly very liberal group basically said something to the effect of, “I can’t believe you don’t understand that Trump is going to save us.

Now in my progressive little mind, I wonder how with all that is going on, you don’t finally understand that Trump has no plan and he is so misinformed about so many things.  Add to that a narcisstic stunted child, and you wonder, save us?  So in Greta’s world is there going to be a quiet political discussion at the coffee table.  Absolutely not, nor is there going to be a noisy one.  There is not going to be a discussion at all. There is no point

Here the really troubling thing.  Facts and data don’t matter. Each side has their own.  In fact what we have lost is understanding that there really are objective facts and only one set.  If you want to understand how bad this has gotten, just follow the Russia stories that are now piling up.  Is this some partisan witch hunt, or is this really a very troubling and possibly dangerous reality?  Depends on what you need to believe. How did we get to a point where facts, data, and science could be carefully sorted to pick only those that support what you want to believe?

In the family example I used above, you could attack with the facts and show the misguided family member where their assumptions were just flat wrong based upon objective facts.  But the next day they would be back among those who reinforce those misguided beliefs, have a whole set of alternate facts, and who make them feel comfortable again in the world where facts are what I want believe*.  How did we get so lazy?

My answer here, as you might expect, is from Republicans.  But I would bolster that argument by pointing out that Democrats still have a fairly diverse (in terms of beliefs and race) Party, from the “moderate” Democrats who are really 1980’s Republicans, to the new Progressives.  In the Republican Party moderates (and people of diverse backgrounds) are an endangered species and getting outside the ideological bounds could result in you being banished.

Republicans have a conservative ideology that simplistically boiled down is small government, small taxes, and little to no regulation.  This in action actually means tax cuts for the wealthy, and the market place without government interference is the best way to create wealth for all of us**.  The trouble with this ideology that has become a religion (that is part of the problem) is that there are too many instances where it does not work.  So what to do?  And that is what the Republican Party has been about for the last 50 years, creating an alternate reality with alternate facts.

Think about the tobacco companies back in the 60s reinventing the facts about cancer, and you got the playbook for the Republicans.  Again you might want to say, oh you elite West Coast Liberal, but who attacked the intelligence agencies in an attempt to delegitimize their intelligence, attacked the free press as fake news as they pushed real fake news stories, and now is banning cameras and recording equipment from White House briefings?

Sure there are some ideologue Democrats, but they are few.  The rest of us just want stuff that works for all of us and are willing to see where facts, data, and science take us.  The Republicans cannot afford that because it would then put their religion in doubt.  The world is a gray place and flexibility is the way to deal with that.  Seeing the world in black and white may simplify your life and choices, and make you feel comfortable, but then you have to invent a whole new reality to support that black and white world where blame and fear are the motivators  And reality has a way of striking back.

So to my wayward family member, he is truly a nice person who we all love.  It is just better if we don’t challenge him as he will always withdraw into his bubble of alternate reality.  But when it comes to voting, we who pay attention better get all liberals out to the polls.  That is the only way we are going to turn this madness around.

*I have spent years in this blog trying to take what Republicans have said, whether it is flow down, immigration, Muslims, you name it, and put facts to test their suppositions.  It does no good and the fact checking of the VicLic during the election also fell on deaf ears.

**It is really a little more complex than that.  The market place operates on a set of rules held firm by government.  Those rules happen to favor the wealthy, and Republicans are dead set against changing those rules.  So they are not really against big government, low taxes, or few regulations.  They are really for government that has rules that benefit them, low taxes on the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, and few regulations unless of course, they benefit themselves.

Living in Reality

Most of us don’t.  We have all kinds of tricks to fool ourselves.  Most of the time the only person we are fooling is ourselves.  I like to pretend I am young and fun, but I nod off after 9pm.  Oh, and I have cancer, but I like to pretend I don’t and life will go on forever.  My point is simply that if we are going to make good decisions about our future, we have to live in reality.  Brexit and the election of Donald Trump was a classic example of not only not recognizing reality, but living in a fantasy world where up is down and down is up.

Staying in the real world takes hard work.  For me, and recognizing my age and cancer, it involves staying in the moment.  Buddhism focus on that very thing.  It is called mindfulness.  The fact that it takes mental discipline tells you something about how our mind works.  It spends most of its time reinventing reality so that we see the world as we want to see it, not as it is.  This can be harmless to deadly for the individual.  For our politics, it is just deadly and that is where we are right now.  Donald Trump, a.k.a. Chetto-Head, and his party has a dim grasp on reality.  Watch Sean Spicer reinvent reality on the fly.  That this goes on in the White House tells you how far we have fallen. There were some things in the news today that really brought that home.

Let’s look at jobs.  The Washington Post pointed out that there are less coal jobs than there are jobs at Arby’s:

Looking at the level of individual businesses, the coal industry in 2014 (76,572) employed about as many as Whole Foods (72,650), and fewer workers than Arby’s (close to 80,000), Dollar General (105,000) or J.C. Penney (114,000). The country’s largest private employer, Walmart (2.2 million employees) provides roughly 28 times as many jobs as coal.


And note that solar energy employees more people than coal, oil, or gas combined, so why in fantasy land are we destroying the environment, hurting those other jobs to try to bring back jobs that are not coming back?  Or as Paul Krugman poses the question, why do people in West Virgina vote against their own best interests?

Why does an industry that is no longer a major employer even in West Virginia retain such a hold on the region’s imagination, and lead its residents to vote overwhelmingly against their own interests?

…Coal country” residents weren’t voting to preserve what they have, or had until recently; they were voting on behalf of a story their region tells about itself, a story that hasn’t been true for a generation or more.

Their Trump votes weren’t even about the region’s interests; they were about cultural symbolism.

Now, regional cultures that invoke a long-gone past are hardly unique to Appalachia; think of Texans wearing 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots as they stroll through air-conditioned malls. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

But when it comes to energy and environmental policy, we’re not talking about mere cultural affectations. Going backward on the environment will sicken and kill thousands in the near future; over the longer term, failing to act on climate change could, all too plausibly, lead to civilizational collapse.


So it’s incredible, and terrifying, to think that we may really be about to do all of that because Donald Trump successfully pandered to cultural nostalgia, to a longing for a vanished past when men were men and miners dug deep.

Want some more?  Well you are going to get it.  Cheeto-Head is all about jobs, jobs, jobs, or so he said. And he spent his time pitching lies about bring back middle American jobs.  How do I know it is a lie and this cannot be fixed attacking trade agreements (although they could be a lot better from an economic inequality point of view)?  Here is the Washington Post again:

Industrial robots alone have eliminated up to 670,000 American jobs between 1990 and 2007, according to new research from MIT’s Daron Acemoglu and Boston University’s Pascual Restrepo.

…The latest study reveals that for manufacturing workers, the process of adjusting to technological change has been much slower and more painful than most experts thought. “We were looking at a span of 20 years, so in that timeframe, you would expect that manufacturing workers would be able to find other employment,” Restrepo said. Instead, not only did the factory jobs vanish, but other local jobs disappeared too. Acemoglu and Restrepo say that every industrial robot eliminated about three manufacturing positions, plus three more jobs from around town.

…How do we even know that automation is a big part of the story at all? A key bit of evidence is that, despite the massive layoffs, American manufacturers are making more stuff than ever. Factories have become vastly more productive. Many factors contributed to these changes and Acemoglu and Restrepo focused on one in particular — the rise of the industrial robot.


What’s my point?  That to understand how to fix a problem, you have to understand what the problem is.  You have to be in reality.  Cheeto-Head is cutting regulation and destroying the environment to save jobs that can’t be saved.  People vote for Cheeto-Head because they are oblivious to the reality of the world we are living in. And most importantly, the fix is to realize that reality and then do something about it.

The automation article in the Washington Post made clear that the transition from manufacturing to other jobs did not happen as quickly as we thought as automation continues to take over.  So someone has to step in and help with that transition.  You think that is going to be the market place? It is called government, the very thing that Republicans want to gut.  Now you see why they live in a fantasy land.  Reality is a bitch.  But if we are really going to help middle America and coal miners, it is not through false hope and fantasy, it will be through managed programs to increase our manufacturing efficiency while supporting displaced workers.

So back to that mindful thing.  In order to be mindful you can’t just stop and smell the roses.  You have to have an understanding and respect for the reality all around you.  For too long we have been living in La La land.  Nothing will change as long as we stay there, and will only get worse.  It is time to ignore what we want to believe and see what really is.  That would mean dumping Cheeto-Head and the Republicans, and we would be so much better for it.  Happy Saturday.

Are The Major News Networks Losing Viewership, Justifiably So?

img_1037

Miss Kitty this morning helping me with this post before it is off to the vineyard before it gets too hot.


They should, they have lost mine. Insipid is the word.  Watching both conventions was much better served on CSPAN where you actually saw the convention and the speakers instead of talking heads talking over the convention.  And I guess I wouldn’t mind the talking heads if they had anything to really say, but they didn’t.  There is a real conversation out there about policies and our way forward and that got left out.  It was style over substance in almost every case.  Yes, Barack Obama is a powerful speaker and his style is to be admired, Hillary less so and she does like to raise her voice when she does not need to, but, uh, what did they say?  What was the meat of their speech?  What were they proposing and what do we know about how it would work?  Was the reality they were describing true?

Why did it take Hillary to point out that the Donald in his convention proposed no policies?  You can’t say that about Hillary as she laid out what she was going to do.  And if you were listening closely she stayed away from her fights with Bernie, only promising to make the minimum wage a living wage, not $15/hour.  She promised to end trade agreements that hurt working people, not vote against the TPP. And it goes on.  I actually think these are smart policies because just taking the living wage, $15/hour in San Francisco or New York may not be enough, and $15/hour in anywhere in Mississippi is over the top.  I have already weighed in on the TPP.

I mostly watch MSNBC or CNN when MSNBC is backsliding (talking head spinning facts), but their coverage of both conventions was miserable.  Maybe it is their idea to be more “fair and balanced” but the he said/she said is growing instead of insightful examination of what someone said.  Just my opinion, but Brian Williams brings nothing to the party except to stifle real insight, while Rachel Maddow seemed like a mute kitten instead of the liberal digging she usually does.  The one bright spot was Chuck Todd who seemed to immediately grasp what was going on.

But my point is not to trash MSNBC, they are all milk toast these days, captured by access.  Let’s have some Donald or Hillary surrogate to spin what is happening and not take him or her apart challenging them with reality.  Oh, I get it.  They are afraid of losing access to high party officials if they get challenged too much. Watch them all run to Fox news.  So we are all dumbed down.  Of course there were a few exceptions like when the Bernie supporter was challenged on “trusting Bernie” but not trusting him on getting behind Hillary.  But they were few and far between.  You know they are failing when you watch an interview and you have a hundred questions you would have asked and they did not.

Yes they are out there reporting what people are saying, but most people are full of shit.  And to be polite there is no pushback.  Some people are just spouting nonsense as the Bernie supporter who tells us they will vote Libertarian and fails to be challenged on the fact that it will damage everything they are fighting for.  There has to be some underlying gate keeping of reality and facts and the news media has relegated that to he said/she said, with one exception, Fox News.  The problem with Fox is they actually do have a political agenda so between carefully sifting out facts that don’t support their beliefs to outright lying, they have become a propaganda machine for the Right Wing.  But facts, data, and science are not partisan, but in this day and age they seem so as they badly hurt Republicans.  I guess that is the problem.  Can’t offend or you lose access.

But the biggest problem is that the TV news media has developed their own bubble.  It is called a narrative. It is a logical construct, or story line if you will, that allows us to organize ideas and events into an understandable flow of events.  But once it is established, reality has a hard time shaking it loose.  News pundits have become “celebrities” and they travel in their own circles and the narratives reinforce themselves in the echo chamber of that bubble.  Then when they “talk to the people” they are getting the reinforcing feedback of a narrative that they have created and propagated.

Let’s name a few:  The equivalency of both sides do it.  According to Politico the Donald is wrong 76% of the time and Hillary only 26%.  At the conventions, the Donald mostly lied while Hillary did not.  So both sides lie?  Remember the one about things would just get done in Washington if Barack had a few more drinks with guys from the other side?  How about the one where people can have honest differences of opinion and you have to respect both sides when the facts overwhelming favor only one side?  Global Warming and the press’s disgraceful treatment of it as a difference of opinion for years comes to mind.  If you really think about it, Bernie Sanders’ whole presidential run was based on attacking those conventional wisdoms that no longer are wise.

The big one right now is about the caricature of Hillary Clinton.  The whole Democratic convention was about trying to change that narrative.  Propaganda or facts?  That is what the press is supposed to do, clarify.  But they aren’t.  They are focused on form over substance, conflict over real news.  Why a white pants suit?  Did the convention give her a bounce?  Was she shrill?  Was there backstage fighting?  Were there too many balloons.  Who gives a fuck?

Did she offer an America that was achievable?  If she could pass what she proposed, would it help?  Is it even relevant that given politics today, most won’t pass?  Are they the right policies based upon data and research?  Wouldn’t that inform us who we need to vote for next time? Are the small percentage of Bernie supporters who are diddle heads relevant at all in this election?  Was there way too much coverage of them considering their small numbers?  If you asked the same questions at the Donald convention, they would have appeared partisan because there were no policies except a wall which is not buildable.  That’s a fact they are afraid to say because they then appear partisan.  Well the facts are partisan when one party is firmly settled in fantasy land.  But facts tell us who is shoveling shit and living in that fantasy land.

The American News Media has failed us miserably and they appear to have learned nothing.  They have dumbed us down and rushed around to find conflict which sells as entertainment increasing viewer share instead of providing  us with the information to think critically.  They have developed narratives that misinforms us about what is really going on.  Real news would report what is happening and be a gate-keeper on facts, data, and science so the Donald Trumps of the world would never be running for President.  Ask yourself why we would need Politicofact.com if they were doing their jobs?  When the dust settles after this election, maybe we ought to step back and ask ourselves if in a robust democracy is our news media providing us with the facts to make good decisions or just a bullhorn for he said/she said?  And maybe we ought to do something about that.

I will leave you with this, another false narrative.  The profit motive is the best motivator of innovation and progress.  It could be, but all we have to do is look at our news media, think of what its proper function is in a democracy, to have real questions about that narrative.  Then there is healthcare…  Have a good weekend.  Oh, and for those trying to improve your golf game, the Women’s PGA is on.  Women golfers in general are much more technically refined than men and watching their game can improve yours.  I think it is once again that dancing backward in high heel thing.

Lies and Damn Lies

If we know the facts could we agree?  Ah, as my buddy Will used to say, there is the rub.  Whose facts?  Sad isn’t it?  Facts are objective reality, yet in today’s world in order for many political beliefs and positions to hold sway, we have to create alternate realities.  The NYT this morning…WAIT, WAIT, WAIT. That liberal rag just pushes out progressive propaganda, right?  See the problem?

Nobody knows what to believe anymore, which is sad because it either indicates nobody knows how to critically think, or they are so prejudiced by what they want to believe that they don’t care and pick and choose their “facts”.  We see that one all the time when someone tells you Obamacare has ruined their life and raised their rates.  Maybe, maybe not as I indicated the other day.  But it is what they want to believe and there is a simple fix (which of course will fail which is why it is never implemented).

Of course our media has aided and abetted this.  They call election time the silly season.  They laugh when the candidates outright lie.  We see that more on the Republican side than the Democrat, since they really have created an alternate reality where Obamacare has cost jobs (no it hasn’t), flow down (tax cuts for the wealthly) stimulate the economy (no it doesn’t), global warming does not exist (yes it does), immigrants caused our stagnant economy (not even close and has the opposite effect), and Obama has wrecked the economy (not by any normal economic metrics).  The fact that they are not challenged directly on these claims and not laughed out of studios is why lying and alternate realities persists.

Democrats are not immune from this, but they usually stay around the margins of truth.  The latest claim by the Sanders campaign that the DNC and Hillary have an illegal money operation sounds more like election talk than truth and this kind of thing hurts us all.  David Brooks raised, for once, an interesting point in his op-ed this morning about how two different stories or narratives that we like to tell ourselves about how the world works could be true.  He used the $15/hr minimum wage as an example.  Yes it will give many people a living wage.  Yes it might, in depressed parts of the country, cause a loss of jobs.  But as one reader pointed out, it is a balance about what will benefit the most people, not which story is right.

If this nation is going to prosper and move forward, then facts and truth have to become important again.  Opinions are not facts and anecdotal experiences do not make universal truths.  Robert De Niro tells us there is a link between immunizations and autism because he is clueless about opinion, coincidence, and real objective studies that rule all that out.  He has no idea what truth is except what feels right to him in his parochial experience.  There is nothing wrong with a gut feeling as long as it is then objectively tested against reality.  Most of us don’t know how to do that apparently.  Instead we go shopping for stories that reinforce it, not question it.

In other words, the world is a complicated place.  Simple naratives will never explain the complexities, but they make us feel like we are in control.  They trick us and when the data or the outcomes are not what we predict (seen any large inflation lately?), we hang onto that narrative by inventing alternate realities that must deny more facts.  We are building sand castles.  But in a world where those sand castles could ruin many lives, maybe it is time to start holding people accountable for their facts.  Maybe it is time to get in their face because our future is at stake.

Knowing What We Know

As I survey our communications, how we talk to each other, how we inform each other, argue, report the news, or explain our beliefs, I come to the conclusion that our ability to think logically and critically is badly degrading. Said another way, and highlighted by the Malaysia Flight 370 reporting, very few of us know what it means to know something as a fact. Maybe that is why it is also so easy to reject global warming. We don’t understand scientific thinking any more and are so easily bamboozled by pseudo science. “I know in my heart, and that is good enough for me …” Oy Vey.

Take the example of the woman in Michigan who has leukemia and did a political ad for the Republicans on how Obamacare had cancelled her policy, raised her rates, and put her life at risk. When it was pointed out to her that she could have the same coverage only better (couldn’t be cancelled for existing conditions, capped out-of-pocket expenditures, uncapped lifetime expenditures, etc.), keep her doctor, and it was cheaper, she just chose not to believe it. She simply had set her mind to disliking Obamacare and facts did not matter. Welcome to 21st century fuzzy thinking.

Almost all political ads are focused not on the facts, but obscuring the facts. So it goes with most advertising. I love to listen to commercials and pick apart what they did not say. She who must never be mentioned here tells me to shut up and fast forward back to the actual program we are watching. Then I start logic checking the plots and dialogue and wonder if it was written for 12-year olds.  She who must never be mentioned here leaves the room.  But the point is that we are not paying attention to the meaning of words, the flow of logic, or what is implied as opposed to what is known or actually shown.   We don’t seem to be able to sort out anecdotal from the norm because we are in the habit of picking and choosing only those facts that we want to believe.

I am presently reading Rebecca Goldstein’s Plato at the Googleplex (and am understanding about 20%, these are really smart people and I have to look up a lot of words), and she makes some observations (if I understand them correctly) about knowing something. She starts the book by discussing whether philosophy is really just mental masturbation. No those are not her words, but mine.

As I understand the argument, many of the early philosophical questions have been solved by science (e.g. nature of matter). In other words, science has moved forward solving many of these ideas through empirical methods, using instruments to measure precise outcomes, and test them against reality. So as she calls them, the philosophy-jeerers, would say:

...that the activity of posing scientific questions prematurely is the most useful thing of which philosophy can be accused.  But once the appropriate scientific theory develops, which most essentially includes the means for testing itself, then philosophy’s usefulness is over, and questions that have been subject to philosophy’s futile gnawing and naggings and nigglings for unconscionable amounts of time, without any progress being made on them, are suddenly propelling us forward into knowledge, the Real Thing at last.   … As scientific disciplines emerge, the number of philosophical questions – the left-behinds – shrinks.  If cold storage is all that philosophy can provide, then the natural course of scientific progress will eventually empty out the cold storage room until all that is left are those permanent non-starters of the soundless-or-not-falling-trees-in-the-forest ilk.

Now she responds in part that some of the critical issues of philosophy cannot be solved by science, and describes Socrates explaining at his trial that those are concerned with determining what kind of life is worth living and those have objective and discoverable answers also.  But then she says something that really applies to our discussion here about the supposed lack of progress in philosophy on those topics:

If philosophy makes progress, then why doesn’t Plato at long last just go away …Progress in philosophy consists, at least in part, in constantly bringing to light the covert presumptions that burrow their way deep  into our thinking, too deep down for us to even be aware of them…[and] must be brought to light and subject to questioning.

This I think is the critical insight here on knowing what we know.  We see the objective approach of the scientific method, testing against reality, that is lost on many of our citizens who carefully choose the reality they test it against.  Then there is the question of whether all our implicit assumptions are in fact aligned or we even understand what they are.  Example:  The transponder and ACARS system were turned off.  That implies human intervention and we don’t know that, only that they stopped working, but by describing it this way, the discussion is already prejudiced with something we don’t know.

The scientific method can be corrupted if you forget (conveniently) to consider data you don’t like. That is pseudo science at its basic level.  It is what many so called think tanks are all about. Philosophical thought is tested by counter arguments and counter examples (and Plato’s famous questions). It can also be corrupted if you ignore those counter arguments, or base your arguments on assumptions that are not known and examined. That is what we see going on all around us these days and it is worrying.  I think the Malaysia Flight 370 reporting kind of focused how speculation and belief get ahead of what we know, but if you look at our media today, it is the primary mode of thinking and presenting information. It is why we can’t arrive at solutions to problems when the answers are obvious. You can guess which party I think is the more fuzzy. They have to be because almost everything they believe in does not stand the test of reality.

Reflection on Honest Debate

Okay, I don’t always get everything right, and in a perfect world, well even a normal world, there would be useful back and forth to arrive at the truth. But not in this world. The Republicans have gone so far off the map of rationality that honest debate no longer happens. They can’t afford to let it happen. They need for nothing to change and nothing to improve. So in this day and age, honest dialogue is an oxymoron.

What brings this to my mind is reading an attack on what Paul Krugman said the other day that a writer from Bloomberg, Clive Cook, felt it necessary to critique. And his critique was that Paul is too shrill and even though he may be right, he is preaching to the choir and unless he changes his tactics, he will get no new converts. Here is the gist:

Krugman says his opponents are motivated by politics. “Am I (and others on my side of the issue) that much smarter than everyone else? No. The key to understanding this is that the anti-Keynesian position is, in essence, political. It’s driven by hostility to active government policy and, in many cases, hostility to any intellectual approach that might make room for government policy.”

Talk about lack of self-awareness. Does Krugman imagine that he isn’t motivated by politics? His own views are equally driven by support for active government policy; in many cases, they are also driven by support for any intellectual approach that might make room for such government policy. Like any politician, he expresses certainty where he knows there is doubt. He’s more than happy to simplify and exaggerate as the cause demands.

I think Clive is not only wrong, but fails like so many to understand how closed the other side is. I think he misses Krugman’s point. When you lay out data, it is a waste of time. Austerity and how it hangs with us is the case in point. It is everywhere and it is failing. So like President Obama needs to have a drink with Mitch McConnell, Paul needs to accept failed ideas and show the proper respect for discredited data. No I don’t think so. What this does is point the finger at the wrong problem.

Continue reading ‘Reflection on Honest Debate’ »