Saturday, September 2, 2017

Reagan Was Wrong

Well, if that isn't a title start a it of controversy, I don't know what is.

Actually, I could probably write two or three articles that could handle that title, from the withdrawal from Lebanon which emboldened Islamic terrorists, to his far too cozy ties with social conservatives*, to the escalation of the war on drugs, but today's topic is less about Reagan's actions, and instead about something he said. A quote which enjoys pretty widespread popularity among conservatives, but which I think is terribly wrong headed.

Today, I want to discuss the supposed "11th commandment", that one should not criticize a fellow Republican. It is in pretty widespread use today, thanks to those seeking to defend Trump arguing that, while they can "criticize specific actions", people should "not criticize Trump". In short, because he wears the GOP jersey, he should be placed off limits in the way a Democrat would not.

I have to say, for the "party of personal responsibility" that is a strange position to take. Should we not hold our own to the same standards we hold the other side?

I know, I know, it is not about morality, and instead about politics. The Republican party should not attack its own, as it gets in the way of winning. But I think even there it is wrong.

My father was a police officer all his life, and he was often critical of the tendency of police to cover for one another. As he put it "if one of us does something wrong, it reflects on all of us." And that is why I think giving GOP members a pass is dangerous. If we excuse the misdeeds of someone, or just fail to register an objection, then it appears the GOP, or even all conservatives, approve of that action.

And that is why I refuse to accept this theory, and will continue to be critical of Trump, and anyone else in the GOP. If I do otherwise, then I am in effect saying conservatives are fine with bad behavior, so long as it is "our guy", and that message is absolutely the wrong one to send.

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* I object here, not to social conservatives as such, but to those who want to use government to push a specific morality. The sort who object to "liberal social engineering", not because it is not the role of government, but only because they want their own social engineering instead.

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POSTSCRIPT

As I said elsewhere, I left the GOP before Trump was nominated, so it may seem strange to use the terms "we" and "us". However, since the public tends to see the GOP as representative of mainstream conservatism, I still have an interest in perceptions of the GOP, as it reflects on conservatism as a whole.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

An Interesting Essay

I recently ran across an essay which apparently has had currency for some time among those fighting food faddists. It is about the prevalence of false findings in the majority of studies. Or, as it puts it "Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias." This fits well with the rule I told my son when he was watch some food fad videos on YouTube. I told him to be careful whenever a video said "a study by..." as it is easy to find single studies proving almost anything. Single studies prove cold fusion works, cell phones cause cancer (and are completely safe), transfats are poisons (and safe), sugar causes hyperactivity (despite countless studies debunking this) and so on.

I do not have the time right now to write a full essay on this topic, but I thought I would bring it to the attention of any readers happening by, as it is interesting to consider in light of the claim 95% of scientists support AGW. If that is true, it still may be, as suggested here, that individual studies may not be so much accurate as reflections of the prevailing orthodoxy. I have suggested this before, though blamed it more on publication bias, funding bias and personal bias of those entering the field. This essay supports the fact study design and sampling may perform the same task. So, I will be revisiting this when time allows.

UPDATE: It is especially interesting to consider this essay in combination with another on the many societal reasons for orthodoxy predominating in the climate field.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Thank You!

I know I have very few readers. Since the last regular (CW) went away, I have been writing almost entirely for myself. Yet, on a lark, I set up AdSense, just to see how it would work. Well, thanks to an irregular smattering of readers, I can now say that, in over a year, I have earned enough money to buy... wait for it... a burger and fries! That's right, I have made $4.72! Considering it took no effort, and required very few hits, I am thinking I may set up 100,000 blogs, each with a copy of one of my posts that seems to get 1 hit per week or so. If each makes $4.62 a year, I will earn almost half a million dollars. Of course, Google may balk at me doing this, and the setup effort is pretty steep. But, once it is done, it is the internet version of a wind farm, with less maintenance. Ok, probably would not work. But it is an amusing thought.

A Note on Authorial Tone

I was reading my old posts and it struck me, the tone of my blog must seem rather inconsistent to readers. I can explain why, however. From 2007 through 2014 I had a blog on Townhall.com. When it was shut down, I saved each web page making up my blog, and have been slowly copying over those posts, and have copied about 1/3 of the 3000-4000 (really!) posts I wrote in those 7-8 years. However, my thinking, and my style, has changed a lot in the 10 years I have been writing. When I started, I was more of a traditional conservative writer, I was more hostile toward the left, less willing to see that disagreement did not require animosity, and much more blind to the flaws of the right. Since then, especially in recent years, I have left the GOP and have spent a lot more time thinking of the flaws of the right and left and noticing in how many cases they share the same problems. Thus, as the rest of the world is becoming more partisan, I am becoming more open, trying to persuade rather than spout polemics.

Nor is that the only change, though it is probably the most noticeable. I also started as something akin to a libertarian, seeking to reform the world into a minimal government paradise in one fell swoop. I may have been a bit more nuanced, but it does not come across in writing. Since then, I have come to realize top down imposition of freedom is a bad idea, and have moved to favor as my primary goal the shifting of power from a central government to as local a political entity as possible. Of course, doing so will not ensure small government, some localities may retain the current scope of government, or even add more, but I like to think, in general, local government will somewhat reduce government's scope in most regions, and over time we will see the state shrink.

Finally, I have lost faith in any quick fix. I wrote of a few changes needed to allow for small, local government, and I do stand by those reforms. But I have come to realize, even if we had the best laws (and we do in one sense, as the Constitution, as written, is pretty good), the minds of the voters matter more than anything. And so, rather than political action, I believe the hope for reducing government, and localizing it, rests not on any political victory, but on the slow, tedious, unglamorous activity of persuading our fellow citizens of the benefits of smaller and more local government. Until we do that, political actions will, at best, provide temporary relief.

Hopefully this will help explain the rather uneven tone of my blog. If you read something that seems terribly out of character, check if there is a note at the bottom giving an earlier publication date. Most likely you have run across a much earlier incarnation of my blog.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Plus ça Change...

I was looking through a number of old blog posts from 2008, and I was amazed by something. While my predictions about Obama proved wrong, it is interesting to read what I wrote, as, though I was describing the 2008 primary and election, I could have been writing about 2016. At the time I thought Obama was sui generis, a one-off one-trick candidate, who hoped to ride to victory on a platform-free campaign -- a strategy I expected to fail -- yet I now think I may have been simply spotting the coming trend, the new wave in politics, as it appears not only did Obama manage to succeed despite all the pitfalls I predicted, the strategy he used is almost the same strategy with which Trump would win in 2016.

For example, in "The Obama Hangover", I wrote the following:
As I have said before, Obama has managed to build up a strong base among left-leaning Demcorats on the basis of being a non-entity upon which they can project their hopes. In large part, this is fueled by their absolute loathing of the current administration. Just as bad situations can drive  people to seek any possible savior, I think the Democrats' almost pathological hatred of Bush and Cheney has left them open to embrace any slick salesman who seems to promise them a win
It was true of Obama, certainly, but is it not equally true, if not more so, of Trump? Trump was, if nothing else, the reaction of the right to eight years of Obama, the embodiment of the frustrations of those who kept predicting Obama declaring martial law, flooding the polls with immigrants and the like. (cf "Look Out It's the End Times!") Frustrated not only by what Obama did, but also that his actions were not a catalyst for the armed revolt they kept predicting, many cast about for a savior, a "fighter" who spoke the right words and would be the most unlike Obama possible.

Of course, the problem is Trump is not the opposite of Obama, but rather his mirror image, or, to be more accurate, his doppelganger with some policies reversed. Trump is hardly a paragon of small government or individual liberties, not is he a tremendous opponent of government overreach. And he certainly is not opposite Obama in terms of adopting a strong and clear policy. No, he is almost identical to Obama in his adoption of a content-free platform, and running on an image devoid of content. (cf "The Candidate as Inkblot", "And He Stands For?", "So, What is 'Change'?", "What is Obama's Foreign Policy?") Where he does differ it is purely superficial, such as his crude and "politically incorrect" manner, or his use of Republican (and often Reform Party) talking points rather than Democratic ones. What differences he has are driven mainly by the fact he is playing to a different audience.

The only significant difference is the manner in which Trump ran his content-free campaign, as opposed to Obama's. Obama, as I said in "The Candidate as Inkblot", ran on vague platitudes. Only rarely did he adopt a concrete position, and only in one case -- gun control -- did he try to speak out of both sides of his mouth. (cf "The Obama Hangover") Trump, on the other hand, ran almost entirely on taking every position on every issue. Depending on the audience, the reception of past trial balloons and the current political feelings in general, he would shift from one position to another without breaking stride, ignoring any claims of inconsistency or contradiction*. And, just as with Obama's cult like following, Trump's followers had no problem with it.

And that is what is even more troubling about Trump than Obama. I said of Obama that his followers read into his vague words their own beliefs, so each could imagine he agreed with everything they held true. That at least is understandable, a bit foolish, but still comprehensible human behavior. Trump followers went farther. They imagined they each had some sort of special understanding of Trump, and assumed he only "really" meant the words with which they agreed, the rest were forced upon him by his staff, or were just Trump "playing politics" or even dismissed as jokes. Thus, no matter what Trump said, no matter how much his statements conflicted with what each supporter believed, no matter how contradictory his positions, they could still support him with unwavering loyalty.

Admittedly, Trump deviated from the Obama formula in some other ways. Dipping into his past experience with populism as a Reform Party candidate, he spiced up his campaign with scapegoating and the finding of enemies, using whatever opponents he could find -- from the media to Mexican judges to fire marshals to taco trucks -- to provide an excuse for any missteps he made, as well as giving his followers the all important "Them" upon whom to blame their own present misfortunes. But that sort of addition does not change the underlying fact that, objectively, there is very little difference between the presidential campaign as run by Obama and that run by Trump. They are  two sides of the same coin.

Which is precisely what worries me. In the last 3 presidential election, we have had a victor who won, not on policy, not by presenting a better platform, but by being the best at avoiding anything resembling a platform.

At one time, I worried that both parties were drifting together**, that each side differed little in their core positions, and, because each wanted to run a "moderate" to get the maximum number of independent votes, as well as maintain the "big tent" upon which each party relied, the elections would soon become a lot of "me too" or, at best, "me too, but less" or "me too, but more".

I also feared a drift in the opposite direction, though it is a more recent worry. Given the frequency with which it seems those on each side assume anyone not in total agreement is not just mistaken, but hostile, an outright enemy, or believe anyone on the opposite side of the aisle is motivated not by incorrect beliefs but actual malice, the intent to "destroy America", I worried the two parties would devolve into the Blues and Greens of Byzantium, factions irreconcilably hostile to one another, unwilling to see any compromise, unable to work together, and becoming ever more prone to not only verbal abuse of one another, but outright physical conflict.

Both of these worries come together in this phenomenon.

Trump and Obama both played to the divisive tendencies, though in quite different ways. Obama tried a mostly upbeat message (though not always, as shown by his comments on Iraq in 2008).  Still, despite his message being "hope and change", the implication was "we are going to fix what those evil Republicans ruined", and thus there was an undercurrent of extreme partisanship that was red meat to his base. Trump was less circumspect -- a necessity to win over his particular audience -- and he said outright what his followers all thought, that Democrats were intentionally demolishing America, that they were criminals deserving to be "locked up". Both won, in part, by giving voice to the hyper-partisan hatred that has become part of modern politics.

Oddly, they also won because, despite that hatred, the two parties have grown closer together. Despite appearances, Trump's platform and that of the Democrats are not all that different. Yes, they differ on nationalism versus internationalism, the GOP sometimes panders to social conservatives and the Democrats to left wing activists, and they still retain a handful of hot button issues they cannot abandon, but on big issues -- say whether government should be intimately involved in health care, or whether government stimulus spending is good -- there is little difference***.

Yet that lack of a real difference works in favor of the strategy described. If there were a real ideological platform on either side, it would prevent the candidate from running solely on platitudes, or adopting multiple positions. A real political philosophy would involve campaigning not just on a fixed platform, but on a set of ideas which could be evaluated by the voter. However, once those pesky ideologies and principles are eliminated, the candidates can simply repeat the words most appealing to their followers, untroubled by fears they might have to argue against a set of beliefs, or explain the virtues of their own positions. Since the parties are now just letters, R versus D, as the Byzantines had Greens versus Blues, they can now fight it out in terms of team identity and little else.

Ironically, the less and less difference there is between the parties, the more the loyalists cling to those identities, and, stranger still, the more acrimonious becomes the struggle. And this style of idea-free campaigning is an aspect of that reality, an aspect which, unfortunately, I think we will see more and more in the years to come.


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* The first example that comes to mind is health care, where Trump was for the free market, yet would cover everyone, wanted the government out of medicine, but thought single payer was a good idea, wanted to reduce spending, yet increase coverage, and would do it all through a big government program which would reduce the size of government. Sadly, I think I may have missed a few positions in that summary.

** I have said recently that we are left with nothing but a choice between national socialism and international socialism. This may be a bit of an overstatement, but the parties currently do seem to have few true differences. Even such usually divisive issues as abortion and defense seem to have vanished, with Republicans continuing their rhetorical opposition to Planned Parenthood while quietly continuing to fund it, and Trump joining the Democrats in the "blood for oil", "no WMDs" and "Bush created ISIS" claims. (See "Food for Thought", "Musings on the Failures in Iraq" and  "Perceptions of Iraq" for some older thoughts I had on the war in Iraq. "What About the Crusades?" is interesting as well, and, I hope, presents an alternate argument o the "Islam is inherently barbarous" position so many take at present, though recent events in Turkey show my optimism may have been somewhat premature in that case.)

*** This can be best seen in the fact that, while both parties were busy debating which sort of government run medicine to implement, and Trump was talking of a trillion dollar stimulus, the issue most covered for a time, which seemed to both parties to be the most crucial matter with which to concern themselves, was whether laws should restrict bathroom use by the sex of one's birth.

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POSTSCRIPT

Since I did make such a hash of my predictions about Obama, I feel I should explain why. I tried to explain in notes I appended to a number of Obama posts, but I feel I never got it quite right, and after writing this I now know why. The fact is, Obama won on "binary choice" before that term existed. I saw polls predicting supporters of one or the other Democratic primary candidate would cross over rather than vote for the other candidate, and took them seriously. Some may have done so, but I have a feeling, thanks to the gulf separating D from R at that time, most democrats simply bit the bullet and voted for Obama, as they could not bring themselves to go over to "the other team". Thus, despite the hostility once existing between the Clinton and Obama camps, the Democrats largely closed ranks and voted in Obama. (It does not hurt the GOP ran McCain, who does not have a tremendous amount of charisma, and yet is also not terribly adept at explaining the principles behind a conservative position, and thus was, if not the worst of both worlds, at least disappointing in every aspect.)

POSTSCRIPT II

For those who are curious, my comments on Obama's 2008 campaign (and notes explaining my current thoughts on my old arguments) can be found at the following locations: "And He Stands For?", "So, What is 'Change'?", "What is Obama's Foreign Policy?", "I Almost Feel Sorry for Them", "Sycophantic Media and Lost Elections", "No 'Hussein' Allowed", "Meaningless Polls", "Why Rezko Matters", "How to Lose the Independents", "Are the Democrats Worried About Obama?", "The Obama Hangover", "Obama Begins to Collapse" and "The Candidate as Inkblot".

POSTSCRIPT III

Relevant, but slightly off topic, while finding all the links for this essay, I found an essay from 2014 on why there will never be a true "outsider" candidate. Given Trump's claims to be an outsider, despite a history of using politicians to advance his own ambitions, as well as associating with the Clintons and others, I thought it might be of interest. So I present "The Problem of Professional Politicians, or, The Impossibility of a True 'Outsider' Candidate".  It may also be interesting to compare with my more recent "Trump and the Myth of the Outsider".


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Lack of Self-Awareness Award

I have found the most amazing article. The Guardian, usually reliable on news and good, if liberal, in commentary, has an absolutely astonishing article on climate change and those opposing the belief in AGW.

Before I begin, let me say, I do not subscribe to the idea of an AGW promoting conspiracy. I believe science is probably somewhat driven by funding, consensus and especially political patronage (see this article for one description), and perhaps some groups use it to push an alternate agenda, but in general I believe most promoting it believe in AGW.

Let me also say I believe in climate change, though I am not certain about the degree of man's involvement, nor what the current direction indicates, and I am very skeptical of the most catastrophic models, if only because they do not reverse well. Finally, I agree CO2 and water vapor do retard the re-radiation of IR radiation, but the total effect is still not entirely clear, or, rather the theoretical effect is well known, what is not known are the other confounding factors, the feedbacks of modern climate models.

Having said all that, this article is amazing.

The topic in question is a valid one, how skepticism of AGW on the right has turned into skepticism about motives and belief in a conspiratorial climate agenda. I had no problem with the topic, but I kept saying in my head "Isn't this what the believers say about JunkScience.com and other skeptics? Do they not impugn their motives and funding? Is this not the same on both sides?"

But the article did not need my commentary. In a remarkable fit of lack of self awareness, it immediately launched into a discussion of the petrochemical industry and the Kochs and began impugning the motives of those pushing the anti-AGW line.

Not that it is surprising. For all the right's recent embrace of conspiratorial thinking may be criticized by the left, they have long had a number of mainstream conspiracy theories. Just think of how they view "big business" or "Wall Street". It is entertaining to hear someone on the left criticize "conspiracy theories" on the right, only to talk about how it is all being pushed by Big Business.

But this article definitely takes the cake, and thus, for its complete lack of self awareness in exhibiting the very behaviors it is criticizing, I have to give it the day's Lack of Self-Awareness Award.

PS: I am missing the link for the article on how funding can drive consensus. Once I find it I will add the link. [2017/07/30 - I finally found the article I wanted to cite and updated the link.]

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

It Has Been A Long Time

I am surprised every time I return to this site and realize how long it has been since I wrote anything. Then again, I suppose real life just caught up with me and I did not find the time to write. Though, perhaps that is an excuse. I was about to write "between family and work and home and medical problems and other hobbies", but realized all of those really don't take up all of my time, I could easily have written, but I didn't. Perhaps it is just as simple as, recognizing I have few, if any, readers, and realizing this amounts to writing for myself, I just did not feel all that motivated to write political commentary only I would read. I honestly do not know. Whatever the reason, I suppose I should stop posting empty promises of regular posts in the future and admit, for the immediate future, posts will be irregular, at best.

If you stop by and feel inspired to comment, please do so; I will check from time to time. And as the mood strikes I may write something new. Then again, I have said so much, there is not a lot of new ground to cover, unless I want to delve into the peculiarities and problems of the new president, and that is a rather depressing subject, not one likely to inspire a lot of enthusiasm. Then again, you never know, perhaps the foolishness about "health care reform" or minimum wage or some other topic will motivate me. We shall see.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Sorry for the Silence, Again

I just realized how long it has been since I posted anything. I think it is the longest I have gone since I started this blog, and I do apologize to any readers I may still have. (If any exist.) I usually try to put some thoughts on line at least once a week, but in the past two months I have become rather busy working on some personal projects, as well as simply dealing with work and have not found time to write. Perhaps I am also a bit discouraged by the current political climate, as, though it does seem the Trump administration may be collapsing, I still find it depressing that the GOP has gone from a flawed, but nominally small government, free trade, federalist party, to a national socialist party whose only connection to the past is an inconsistent social conservative agenda. But I still feel a bit bad about not writing at all, so I will try in the coming weeks to get back on a regular schedule so whatever readers may remain, or may arrive in the future, will find something new to read.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Problem with Trump

Some time ago I decided I would limit this blog to general principles and avoid contemporary issues. However, in this case, as a few other times, I have felt the need to mention a contemporary event, simply because it was too important not to discuss. In this case, I feel the need to point out what has recently struck me as the biggest threat of the Trump administration.

I have complained about a number of aspects of the Trump administration. How he has changed the GOP from a (at least nominally) small government, free market, federalist party into a national socialist, nativist, protectionist party. How his actions have restored the old association of racism, nationalism and nativism with conservatism, after that myth had been at least partly destroyed*. How he continually feels the need to threaten, berate and bully anyone he sees as a foe, domestically and internationally, without thought of the proper role of his office or the consequences. How he will likely destroy the economy with protectionist measures and crony capitalism. And so on. But above all, I have come to see one aspect of Trump as a greater threat than any other.

And that is Trump's habit of speaking without thought or reflection.

Actually, I must clarify, Trump's problem is a mixture of simple thoughtless comments, combined with a desire to appease too many conflicting positions, resulting in frequent trial balloons which he needs to "clarify" or "walk back", as well as espousing multiple contradictory positions simultaneously. Though these represent a variety of different activities, and a number of different motives, in the end, they produce the same outcome, a president whose words cannot be relied upon, and whose statements give no indication of what he plans to do.

Which is what worries me most about Trump.

Many of his defenders say they are "just words", but a president's words are never "just words". That is why presidents have traditionally spoken only in formal settings, after their words have been carefully reviewed, and answer questions with, as much as possible, prepared answers, or at least very restrained responses. The words of a president move markets, they start and stop armies, they drive business plans, they make friends and enemies around the world. In short, the words of a president are seen as guidance about the future direction of the nation.

Which is why Trump is such a threat. When he has  3 AM twittertantrums, or speaks off the cuff, when he floats a trial balloon as if the decision were already made, or when he makes any of his off the cuff comments, people around the world expect those words to be sincere, expect that he is presenting an honest picture of where the country is headed. So, when he reverses course an hour or a day or a week later, he shatters all the plans made based upon those initial comments, making people around the world suddenly change course.

Worse still, after a while, as people come to believe Trump's words are unreliable guides, they will stop listening, and Trump will have no means to interact with the world. People will not trust him, and he will be unable to indicate what he hopes to accomplish. In short, eventually he is going to neuter himself, leaving him unable to drive action by words, and at the same time turn the US into an enigma, with both citizens and foreign powers unable to determine what course it shall adopt. And that is a recipe for chaos.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

I Am Puzzled

My son was watching some scientific videos on YouTube when he came across a story on climate change. As a skeptic, I told him why I believe the theory is flawed, though I did tell him it is probably best not to argue the point with teachers, since skeptics tend to get labelled as "anti-science deniers", and I also urged him to look at the science and decide for himself, though I would be happy to help him evaluate various arguments.

However, this particular video, though adopting a (mostly) objective tone -- excepting a few claims about the current cabinet being filled with "anti-science deniers" and oil executives* -- puzzled me with one claim. Among various figures -- invariably the most extreme examples possible -- there was a claim that CO2 levels had risen 450 ppm in the last century. Now, as far as I know, CO2 generally hovers around the 350-450 ppm level more or less (I may be going too far one either end, actually, but it usually falls in that range). So, if this claim is correct, at the start of the First World War there was no atmospheric CO2?

This is a bit baffling, as I seem to recall trees existing in the period, not to mention that without CO2, the temperature of Earth would likely be slightly below freezing, which I think they would have noticed. I know there was a very cold period in the 19th century, but I did not think it was quite that cold, not to mention that I think someone might have noticed the lack of vegetation.

Obviously, the person making this video simply has no idea of what he speaks, and picked up a number either from someone equally ignorant, or copied a number incorrectly. But that points out a problem not just with YouTube, but with popular science reporting as well. They simply parrot numbers and claims without any evaluation. 97% of scientists, 7 inches of sea rise, x degrees in the past century and so on... They do not bother checking if the numbers even make sense. They have such faith in their beliefs they simply parrot them. And, sadly, many readers and listeners just accept them. No mention of all the skeptics who had argued against these theories, the many petitions signed by equally large numbers of scientists, and the many problems trying to make these models match reality. No discussion of the secretiveness about how the "hockey stick" was generated, or that it omits the Medieval Warm Period or Little Ice Age. No mention of the earlier panic over global cooling. Or the many who pretend that panic never happened.

Until we get some better reporting, I am afraid real debate over AGW will not exist and we will simply have this foolish close minded situation where any skeptic is dismissed as anti-science.

POSTSCRIPT

One thing I never quite figured out. Historically, CO2 drops during ice ages, and rises afterward, however, overall, each ice age seems to generally deplete CO2 somewhat. That is why some few scientists argue we need to increase CO2, as the next ice age could drop levels below that needed for vegetation. But, ignoring that, what I cannot figure out is that, historically, CO2 has been very much higher, as high as 2200 ppm in the Ordovician. Yet the globe did not boil over as many AGW models predict at MUCH lower concentrations. How do AGW proponents explain the lack of global meltdown in thee past eras?


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Risk and Freedom

I just heard my governor is thinking of passing a law limiting prescriptions of opiate drugs to only one week of medicine. Since I suffer from chronic nerve damage and depend on opiates to be able to work and raise my son, this harms me directly. Even now I need to go to my doctor every two months, since the feds are not fond of longer prescriptions, but if this law passes, I will likely be unable to work, since my job is not letting me take off part of a day every week to see my doctor. In short, a nominally Republican governor, in the name of "stopping drugs"1 is forcing me to become "disabled" when I could lead a normal life if only I had normal access to medication. Nor is it even achieving what it sets out to do, as I could take $10 or $20 and find opiates in Baltimore, or even Annapolis, within an hour or less. So all it does is inconvenience the ill, while doing nothing to stop drug use2.

I have often discussed the drug laws under which doctors operate with friends, and find it a terrible policy. Until I found my current doctor, I often found myself in pain because stopping my pain would take "too much medicine", or forced to go through withdrawal when a doctor decided he had prescribed too much and cut off my medication. (In two years I underwent withdrawal three times.) All this because the federal government does not trust doctors' judgment and worries some people may either get "too many" drugs or get drugs they "do not need". Well, let us think about this. We have two choices. We can allow people in pain to get medication that alleviates that suffering, or maybe even allow people to function who are currently called disabled, but would have to accept that maybe some people would get drugs that are not strictly necessary, and maybe even a few people who have no pain might get pain killers. The alternative is to try to stop people from getting drugs they don't "need" (by whatever definition3), but as a consequence, people in pain will be inconvenienced by frequent doctor visits, and many will either get too little pain relief or maybe get none4.

This argument points out one troublesome aspect of true liberty, akin to the one I discussed in "The Right to Be Wrong -- An Uncomfortable Argument". Freedom often mean accepting things that you may not like. And just as freedom means accepting people may say things you don't like, run businesses in discriminatory ways, and so on, freedom also means accepting risk. And that goes contrary to our modern philosophy. Just look at the argument about drugs. We would rather make sick people suffer with too little relief than run the risk that people may get drugs we find unacceptable. We cannot live with the risk people may behave in unacceptable ways.

But it is not just behavior. Risk is very real as well. Our current government is, at its heart, risk averse. We pass law after law based upon the worry that some problem may occur. All our laws are intended to change the world to make life "safe", to make it "fair" to ensure none suffer any hardships. Why do so many call it a "nanny state"? Simple, because it seems more and more our state is willing to curtail our freedoms out of fear that we might suffer some hardship, physical, financial or emotional. And not just content to protect us, the law goes even farther, trying to channel our behavior into "proper" behavior out of fear that we might make a "wrong" choice, or be led into "improper" behavior.

We need to eliminate this belief. Government cannot prevent all hardship, nor can it make life free of risk. All it can do is eliminate opportunities and reduce overall happiness. Freedom, true freedom, means accepting that life may bring hardships, and others may suffer as well. If you worry about risk, in a truly free state, you will prepare for it yourself, you will not force others to live by your level of risk aversion, and cut off their choices to match the fear you feel. Freedom means allowing others to run risks, and preparing personally for the threats you might face. Freedom means risk, and others acting in ways we may not like, but it also means opportunities, and the ability to behave as we wish, whether others like it or not.

And that is what we need to understand. When we strive for elimination of risk, "fairness" and "right" behavior, it means we lose our liberty, we eliminate our ability to choose and little by little allow ourselves to be enslaved, and we still do not gain the supposed benefits. It is a process of selling off our freedom to gain nothing but illusory benefits.

===========================================

1. He also has an emotional appeal, as he lost a family member to drug overdose. However, that is a poor guide for policy. I thought conservatives were led by reason, not emotion. Yes, it is sad that people suffer tragedies, but that does not mean government is the tool to prevent those incidents. Trying to make life perfect via government is a prescription for misery and totalitarianism. ("Life Is Not Fair - And Trying To Make It So Makes Things Worse", "For Your Own Good -- The Problem with Subjective Rights", "The Road to Violence", "The War of All Against All", "In Loco Parentis", Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "The Sexual Revolution and Prostitution", "Selfishness as Reason - 'Wants', 'Needs', 'Fairness' and Other Guises for Arbitrary Decisions" and "Arbitrary Choices")

2. I admit up from, I believe in decriminalizing drugs. For that matter I believe in eliminating the prescription drug system, and allowing free purchase of medicine. (See "Drug Legalization", "The Danger Inherent in Banning "Bad Ideas"", "Guns and Drugs", "Missionary Zeal and Human Discord", "Smoking Versus Sex -- Want and Need Take Two", "Common Sense,Philosopher Kings, Arbitrary Law and Dictatorship", "Guns and Drugs", "The Problem of Established Perspectives", "De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est", "Guns and Drugs", "Nonsensical Regulation", "The Free Market Solution", Medical Regulations" and "Medical Regulation II")

3. I am not sure exactly what "need" means, as it is a meaningless word. If a stressed person gets valium from a psychiatrist it is valid and "needed", if he does it himself, or uses an illegal depressant,  he does not "need" it. And exactly how much pain relief is "needed"? Can the government tell how much pain I have or how well a drug suppresses it? Even doctors admit they cannot, but a bureaucrat making a singular rule for all can? For that matter, if an individual gets benefit from recreational drugs, who is to say he does not "need" them? By that definition, your books, your television, your church and anything beyond bread and water could be made illegal, as you don't "need" it. People decide what is or is not beneficial for them, "value" is subjective, just because one says drugs have no benefit does not mean some do not find benefit in them. ("Rationality, Drug Use and Laws", "Luxury and Necessity", "Putting My Cards on the Table", "Arbitrary Choices", "Addicts?", "Standing By My Principles", "Who Does it Harm?", "It Doesn't Matter to ME...")

4. Once, when forced to go through withdrawal while suffering horrific pain, I tried to change doctors. The doctor I saw, being a pillar of compassion told me I was a "drug seeker", and scolded me for "going through withdrawal" (which I told him was the case). The fact that I had discolored hands and feet, medical history of nerve damage and other documentation (though at the time no diagnosis, as it took doctors six years to figure it out -- cf "Morbus non Gratus"). That is the sort of behavior the current system favors, judgmental doctors denying treatment (and often insulting -- it happened more than once) to those in pain for fear of being prosecuted.

===========================

UPDATE (Later the Same Day): I am not sure if the initial description I heard of the law is entirely accurate or not. I am getting multiple, conflicting descriptions. On the other hand, since people who require pain killers are routinely treated as potential criminals and "guilty until proven innocent" of moral turpitude, I am inclined to always expect the worst when it comes to drug laws. You would not think to call a diabetic who came in to ask for insulin a "drug seeker", but those of us who need pain killers cannot actually ask for them or risk being called the same. We have to routinely pretend we do not want drugs we need, try over and over to substitute other drugs that often fail to work (I have had to try over a dozen drugs that had horrible side effects, did not relieve my pain, and sometimes had to do it more than once for the same drug), and accept doses far below what we need, waiting two or three visits before hinting obliquely that our continued excruciating pain might demand a tiny increase. If we treated, say, heart medications the way we treat painkillers, we would have people dying left and right of coronaries as they waited to suggest to the doctor that maybe that erratic heartbeat might suggest they need a little more medicine. But since pain does not kill, only disables, and our prohibitionism history and war on drugs demand over the top hostility to any opiate, those suffering from pain must continue to suffer lest someone,somewhere may receive some illicit pleasure from opiates.





Saturday, January 21, 2017

Grammar Nazi Comment of the Day (Cliche Nazi?)

I am surprised to realize that I failed to cover one of my favorite malformed cliches. I have covered a number  in past posts ("I could care less", "it takes two to tangle", "mix and mash") but I failed to cover what is likely the most common mistake, "free reign".

I suppose, superficially, this almost makes sense. After all, "reign" involves rulership and control, and thus "free reign" would seem to suggest unlimited power, but on a deeper level it really does not. After all, reign already incorporates the concept of power and rulership, and thus "free" is an unnecessary modifier.

No, the cliche does not come from the concept of rulership, but rather from horse riding.To give a horse "free rein" is to stop directing its motions, and allow it its own head, let it lead where it will. And that is the analogy being made here. To give someone "free rein" is akin to allowing a horse to direct itself, and thus it is properly spelled "rein" not "reign".

Sorry, not as amusing as most of my rants about cliches and misused words, but one I felt I had to mention.

POSTSCRIPT

My past grammar and spelling nazi posts can be read at "Off-Topic: How Many Dimensions Should a Character Have?","I Don't Know What to Say", "Sex and Gender","The Most Unnecessary Neologism", "Biggest Spelling Nazi Laugh of the Day", "Quick Grammar Nazi Note", "Return of the Grammar Nazi: Faux Latin Plurals", "Always Something Worse", "Crimes Against Language and Logic", "Try and Listen to the Grammar Nazi", "A Brief Visit From the Grammar Nazi", "Beyond Grammar and Spelling", "The Grammar Nazi Versus George Lucas", "Ye Olde Grammar Nazi", "Grammar Nazi Comment on Greco-Latin Words", "Why Spelling Matters, One More Time", "The Irony of Lax Internet Standards", "Short Grammar Nazi Post" and "The Spelling Nazi Begs to Differ".

POSTSCRIPT II

It is hardly worthy of a post of its own, but I have noticed another spelling mistake that has appeared a few times. It is a silly misspelling, but it differs enough from the pronunciation, I wonder how it ever came into use. This is the spelling "luckluster" for "lackluster"/"lacklustre". It is hardly as common as "rediculous", but it is one to watch, as I have seen it appear a few times.


Monday, January 16, 2017

The Difference Between Biased and Lying

Though it hurts to say this, I am afraid conservatives, even those deeply opposed to Trump and all he stands for (whatever that might be at the moment), had a hand in providing Trump with one of his favorite all purpose excuses, and the one most popular among his followers*. It is an excuse which, logically, should only work in a few select circumstances, and yet I have seen it used to deny factual reports from neutral parties, court records, decades old newspaper accounts and even Trump's own words. And that excuse, the all powerful mantra which insulates him against all blame is "biased media". And, sadly, it seems to me that many conservatives helped to create this multipurpose excuse for him.

It is not unusual when visiting conservative sites to see any number of comments critical of "the MSM", calling it "biased"** and dismissing it entirely, even going so far as to refuse to credit factual reports if they appeared on CNN or NBC or one of the other "mainstream media" sources, and this attitude, common as it is, feeds into Trump's narrative and helps him and his more cultish followers to dismiss almost any allegations about him.

There are many problems with this behavior. It may arise from a legitimate complaint, but it takes that complaint, and from a pair of mistaken ideas, distorts it terribly, creating Trump's all purpose excuse.

The truth is, yes there is media bias -- I would even argue some amount of bias is unavoidable*** -- and for many media outlets that bias does tend to the left. There are a handful that have a right leaning bias, but by and large, the interpretation given to events for most events, at least that seen by much of the public at large, tends to be left leaning. However, that simple fact is a far, far different one than the claims made by Trump.

First, we need to realize there is a tremendous difference between biased interpretation,or even bias in which events one chooses to report, and actual lies. The media may sometimes fail to report certain events, or may slant the interpretation they give events, but that is nothing like fabricating a story. The bias displayed by media is of the former form, while Trump -- and sadly many current conservatives -- tend to claim it is of the latter.

The second mistake explains why. While the right loves to speak of "the MSM", there is no single "media", there are a host of competing media outlets, without any single controller or singular goal. Thus, were a media outlet to fabricate a story -- such as happened during the Texas National Guard story and others -- as soon as the fabrication became evident, other outlets would report it as such to gain advantage. There is no single media, no single source of "biased news", and thus, thanks to competition there is no way for "the media" to push lies. It is conspiracy theory type thinking to imagine some single monolithic "media" is making up stories.

And yet, unfortunately, many conservatives have adopted such an attitude. Thanks to the "us vs them"perspective fostered by the idea of a "biased media" out to "get" conservatives, they have managed to jump from individual outlets with predominantly liberal editorial staffs imparting a liberal spin to stories to the idea that some single "MSM" is putting out outright lies in some conspiracy to destroy conservatives. And that distortion of the truth has allowed Trump to claim that everything from his bankruptcies to his actual recorded statements are just "biased reporting" and can be safely ignored.

Thus, much as it pains me to say it, I am afraid we conservatives, by pushing this tale of "biased media" and allowing others to exaggerate it into the idea of "lying media" have set the stage for Trump's victory.

============================================

* Perhaps second favorite, as they still seem inordinately fond of excusing any action by Trump using the excuse "But imagine what Hillary would have done."

** I admit at times I have said the media is biased as well, but I like to think I never completely dismissed media reports and kept in mind the limits I am about to list.

*** Newspapers tend to be a little more open about this than broadcast media, but both tend to keep up the myth of unbiased reporting. This is relatively new, and limited to the US (and perhaps beginning to appear in a few other lands). At one time we were quite comfortable accepting that editorial policy biased reporting, even of straight news, but in recent times the myth of unbiased reporting has taken hold, and so we have the pretense that editorial policy is limited exclusively to the opinion pages and has no effect on what is reported elsewhere or how it is reports. See "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", "The Best Remedy to Media Bias", "Some Thoughts on the Media", "The Press Versus the Nation", "The Death of Impartial Media", "The Impossibility of Unbiased Reporting", "The Failure of Peer Review", "Intellect and Politics", "The Path of Least Resistance" and "The Rebirth of Skepticism".

Welcome to National Socialism

I know all about Godwin's law ("Sick of Godwin's Law") and the like, but I cannot help saying it, as it is true, Trump is inaugurating national socialism, and the GOP is following along. Of course, this is not precisely a surprise. Within the GOP "big tent" there has always been a nationalist element ("The Problem With the Big Tent", "Why We Have RINOs"), and even mainstream conservative have some nationalist elements in their immigration polices and some in their anti-Islam rhetoric ("No More Double Standards") Nor is the GOP uniformly opposed to big government and socialism. Social conservatives have often promoted big government solutions to social problems, and the mainstream GOP has often followed along as the Democrats pushed big government, so maybe it was inevitable the GOP would eventually become the party of national socialism, but it is still disappointing.

Of course, for some, this seems natural. Those who believe in the absurd political spectrum we were taught in school ("The Political Spectrum") see conservatism as a step on the way to national socialism, and so see this move as natural, just like the Democrats becoming close to communism. But the truth is, socialism, or big government authoritarianism of any sort, is not unavoidable, and certainly is not the anchor at either end of some political spectrum. There are other positions, and at one time the GOP was (in name, at least) endorsing one of them, being for free trade, small government and federalism.

But that is now done.

And thus, for those of us who believe in small government, individual liberty, free trade and localized power, there remains no party. Even the third parties supposedly calling for freedom have their issues (cf "Why I am not a Libertarian"). I keep hoping one day a new party will arise which will represent my beliefs, but for now we are left with a two party system where national socialism vies with international socialism.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Were We Too Loyal?

Today, while discussing an unrelated topic, I think I may have discovered at least part of the reason the GOP was willing to essentially ignore the conservatives in this recent election.

I was discussing racial politics on a news and commentary site,  and returned to an old, familiar theme. Discussing black voters, I argued that they did themselves terrible political harm. By voting reliably as a block, with relatively immutable and uniform beliefs, they allowed Democrats to ignore them, to treat them as "safe votes", and only periodically need to throw them a bone to convince them they were important. In short, by being such loyal voters, they reduce their political influence.

At which point it struck me, conservatives were doing the same thing prior to this election.

When the Trump campaign said it did not need conservative votes, and the GOP squelched any dissent at the convention, I argued they had turned their backs on the most reliable voters, most consistent small donors and most frequent volunteers, and predicted it would harm the GOP in the long run.

But, perhaps the GOP saw things a little differently. In any number of recent elections they had rejected candidates favored by the conservatives in favor of more "electable"moderates. Similarly, their platform, though offering a few concessions to specific factions (such a pro-life voters) who were notorious for sitting out elections, did not provide a lot for consistently small government, federalist voters. And yet, again and again conservatives returned to the GOP, trying to "reform from within", arguing there was no other alternative*.

And perhaps that led to the GOP to see conservatives the way the Democrats see minorities. They had mistreated us before, largely ignored us, and we came back time and again. So perhaps they imagined that we would come back no matter what, that we had nowhere else to go, and so they could ignore us in favor of Trump voters and still get our support.

Sadly, it may even work. I know a number of small government, free trade, federalist voters are looking for new parties, but many are not. Some still hope to regain the GOP, some think no third party can win, or it will take too long, some hope for a Cruz presidency, and so on.Yet, in so doing, they may actually be defeating themselves. By being so loyal, they may be turning us into the GOP equivalent of the minority voting block. And thus, in the end, are making it less likely the GOP will listen to us.

So, we are left with two options. I favor a third party ("Why We Have RINOs"). Even if it takes a long time,it means we can start fresh, eliminate the "big tent"problems of the GOP ("The Problem With the Big Tent") and establish a true small government party. But, if you fear how long it may take, or worry it will fail, then I suggest a second option. If you must stay in the GOP, take a lesson from the pro-life segment of the party. Do not be afraid to let the party lose, do not fear sitting out an election. Make sure they do not count you as a safe vote. If they can rely on you, they can ignore you. Be unreliable, ironically it is the only way to make sure the party listens to you.

Off-Topic: How Many Dimensions Should a Character Have?

It is a small annoyance of mine, but I wish as a society we could agree exactly how many dimensions characters in fiction should possess. When I was younger, I generally heard "two dimensional" as a compliment, while possessing only one dimension meant a character was flat and stereotypical. However, in more recent times, I am starting to to hear "two dimensional" as an insult, with a character needing a full three dimensions to seem realistic. It would not be a problem, normally, but since the dimension counts overlap, with two being good or bad depending upon the speaker, that it can leave one confused whether something having two dimensions is being praised or insulted.

I can see arguments for both sides.

The original version seems pretty self-explanatory. It is not so much based on the real world measurements, but rather uses "dimensions" as a description of aspects of a character. A character with but a single attribute, having but one dimension, is a flat, lifeless character, while possessing additional attributes, that is having two or more dimensions, makes them more lifelike.

The newer version, like most modern misunderstandings of cliches (eg replacing "rein" with "reign" in "free rein") is the result of failure to understand a word. Seeing "dimension" purely in terms of physical measurements, in terms of length, breadth and depth, it imagines a character must have "three dimensions" to seem lifelike. This is probably reinforced by the tendency to use terms like "flat" to describe characters that are not compelling. And so, it is assumed "two dimensions" would mean unrealistic, while three dimensions would be good.

Personally, I favor the original, as its use of dimensions seems more relevant, but in the long run I don't really care. I just hope we eventually decide as a society to settle on one or the other, as the present mixture of cliches can be quite puzzling. (Given the tendency toward adopting the more stupid version -- eg "I could care less" -- I assume three dimensions will eventually win.)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Concept of Genius

I have written before (in "Revival of an Old Romantic Folly") that there is one idea, still current despite being centuries old, that troubles me more than many others, that being the fallacy -- popularized by the Romantics, though it predates them by many many centuries -- that genius is in some, uncertain way connected to madness. That is, that there is some sense in which genius is but another form of madness, or that one touched by genius is especially prone to insanity. We see this concept repeated constantly, from the "mad scientists" of the 50s who "tampered in God's domain", to the recent films showing troubled geniuses and their descent into madness. Even the stereotype of the socially inept, awkward and uncommunicative geek owes something to this concept, the idea being that genius, in whatever form, be it artistic or scientific, somehow separates one from other men, and leads to eventual collapse.

I was reminded of this concept recently while watching a YouTube video demonstrating a turbine developed by Nikola Tesla*.

Before moving on, I suppose I should comment on Tesla, as such a massive body of nonsense has accumulated about the man. I imagine the average Tesla web site has slightly less nonsense than your average truther site, but just barely. And what nonsense it does have is much more varied and far fetched. From tales of death rays confiscated by the FBI to absurd theories about his misbegotten Wycliffe monstrosity, it seems people want to believe just about anything about Tesla, when in truth, he was not a brilliant theoretician, rather a clever, but somewhat inconsistent, engineer.

I guess a statement like that needs qualification. And, since it will lead into my discussion of genius, it is a good place to start. Thus, allow me to start by explaining my, likely controversial, position that Tesla was neither a scientist nor a genius.

The first is probably the less controversial. "Scientist" is a term used pretty loosely, describing everything from theoretical physicists to amateur inventors, and now with "social sciences" entering the fray, it can even be loosely used to describe the doing quit smoking sessions in the local mall. However, I tend to use "scientist" in a relatively narrow sense, keeping it for those who either extend or clarify our understanding of the laws governing the natural world**. Thus, I do not include engineers in the category of scientists, unless they do some theoretical work outside of their engineering discipline. The reason is simple. Engineers, though they can quite brilliant in devising solutions, do not extend our knowledge of the universe, nor do they apply the scientific method. They do not develop and test hypotheses, they do not establish or refute general laws, they simply apply those laws to problems, and thus, though working in a scientific field, they are not scientists.

And this is why I do not consider Tesla a scientist. I grant, he did do some theoretical work, but, not much, and most of what he did do was later proved wrong. (Eg His belief radio wave transmission had to move in a straight line and could not go beyond the horizon. Or the theory of transmission underlying his Wardenclyffe fiasco.) On the other hand, he was quite a clever inventor and engineer, and developed a number of ingenious devices utilizing known principles***. He was undoubtedly a very intelligent man, and quite an innovator, and he was also willing to take chances -- which is why he was so often wrong -- an attribute many do not have, which limits their ability to innovate. But whatever he was, it is hard to say his work did anything to advance our understanding of natural laws.

Now, on to the second term, and one even more broadly defined than "scientist", that being "genius". Genius is used to describe everything from someone with an IQ of 101 or greater to people who truly change the scientific or artistic paradigms. That last also points out another problem, since genius is used in so many diverse areas, from science to arts to everyday life, it is often used in different ways in different contexts, leading to even more confusion.

For my purposes, I tend to view genius in a very narrow sense, but I believe it is probably the closest we can come to a universally acceptable definition, since it  is part of every other definition I have seen, and, for the most part, I know of few who would truly object to narrowing the definition, but many who would hesitate to make it broader. Thus, for our purposes, let us say a genius is one who introduces a true innovation, a new discovery, a new paradigm, a new approach totally different from those that were in use before, which proves to provide valuable new means of working within his discipline. Einstein, for example, created new theoretical approaches with his work.

On the other hand, many men who are both famous, and credited as geniuses, probably do not fit this definition, even if they were extremely intelligent and produced incredible work. Shakespeare, for example, though producing beautiful works, was not truly a break with past approaches, the work he produced was not that different from Jonson and Marlowe and other contemporaries.

Of course, there are also some cases where it is hard to decide. For example, Leibniz and Newton both developed their theories of physics and systems of calculus nearly simultaneously, which suggests they were ideas "in the air" at the time. But those two seem to actually be the only ones working in precisely those areas. Which makes it arguable whether they were both simply creatures of their time, or two geniuses who happened through chance to work on similar fields at the same time.

Obviously, any decision whether or not one is a genius will be somewhat subjective, as no one builds a truly independent theory, every idea builds upon existing knowledge, so even the most innovative discovery is still rooted in the ideas of its time to some degree****. Thus, in every case, we are asked to make a judgment call, is the innovation enough of a break from contemporary thought that it qualifies as a true stroke of genius? Or is ti simply a very clever development of existing concepts? However, with those limitations in mind, I still think it is safest if we limit the term "genius" to describe those who truly developed a new way to approach their discipline, whatever it might be.

And in that respect, Tesla was not a genius. As I said above, he was an engineer rather than a theoretician, for the most part, and even if we look at engineering, what he created was brilliant at times, but was not a tremendous deviation from the work of his most intelligent contemporaries. It is easiest to see in the case of his mistakes. For example, his belief radio waves were limited to line of sight, was a common belief among engineers of the time, and thus led many to seek solutions akin to those Tesla worked on. Likewise, his ideas about wireless transmission were clearly not innovative, as Marconi and others did much work on exactly the same problems, even producing many similar solutions. No, Tesla was very intelligent, a brilliant engineer in some cases, but he was neither a scientist nor a genius.

Which brings me to the point I wanted to make, and that is a slight correction to my earlier essay.

In "Revival of an Old Romantic Folly", and even the introduction to this essay, I argued I thought the Romantic association of madness and genius was entirely wrong, without foundation and led to misleading ideas. I still believe that last point, that associating the two often leads to wrong-headed beliefs, but I must slightly modify the other two, as I have had a slight change of heart.

Having spent a lot of time thinking about genius, especially about the working definition above, it struck me that a true genius has one very specific attribute. When considering problems, a genius tends to make connections other cannot see, at least not until someone points them out. That is what makes a genius a true genius, the capacity to find novel connections total unrelated to the previous ways of thinking about a topic. The genius finds truly novel approaches through associating concepts not previously seen a related, at leas tin a given context.

And, in that, I suppose one could argue, though it is a bit misleading, that genius and madness are related.

You see, one of the attributes of many types of madness, perhaps of most, is the tendency to make incorrect connections, to read extra meaning into events, or the statements of others, to imagine a given action implies motives it does not and so on. In a very distorted way, this mirrors the thought process of a genius, in that both make connections other are not prone to making.

However, that realization, while true, also tends to lead one to incorrect conclusions. Just because both have some superficial commonality, it does not mean they are in any way related. Where a lunatic makes unusual connections in a random, unfounded fashion, a genius builds upon an existing understanding and make novel, but true, connections. The two are not related in any substantive way, there is still no real relationship between genius and madness, nor does possessing one attribute imply one is more prone to the other. Both auto races and arsonists by petroleum, but that does not imply any other similarities. Likewise, professional swimmers and shark both enjoy the water and eat fish, but that does not mean you should fear swimmers or cheer on sharks. No, this sort of superficial similarity, though likely part of the reason the Romantics believed their idea correct*****, still tells us nothing. But, as it did occur to me that, while it is truly a trivial resemblance, that such a connection exists, I felt I had to point it out, if only to dismiss it.


====================================================

* I actually started the day by looking up essays on the daVinci "tank", as I had noticed the design had a number of potential flaws (lack of view ports, the cranks seemed terribly inadequate to move the great mass, the cannon placement seemed prone to flip the relatively top heavy structure, and so on). I found a number of critics who pointed out even more flaws I missed (the impossibility of mass production, the narrow wheels tendency to bog down, and one I am shocked I missed, that as drawn the gears would rotate one of each wheel pair the wrong way!). But, in the course of searching for commentary, I happened upon a number of Tesla fan sites, and happened to be drawn in by the turbine, as I was curious how it was supposed to be an improvement on other designs. (It really was not much of one, as it was efficient only in a relatively small range of rpms, below that it was relatively unstable and wasteful, which makes it seem less useful than more flexible designs.)

** I allow that some social sciences may fall under this rubric, but only a more loose sense, as human behavior will never be as fully quantifiable or mechanistic as the laws of the inanimate elements of the universe.

*** Much of the belief in his scientific genius rests upon theories that his fans attribute to him, without much evidence, such as the supposed superscience behind his death ray and various supposed perpetual motion machines some attribute to him.

**** Stanislaw Lem made light of this realization by writing of a character who sought out truly innovative geniuses by looking for those who were considered madmen and cranks, since an idea truly ahead of its time would appear insane to contemporaries. In a way, he may be right, but then again, if an idea were truly divorced from all contemporary ideas, it would be impossible to tell it from simple insanity, at least until new ideas were developed which provided the foundation it is missing. (I suppose, if it had a practical application, it MIGHT be possible to distinguish true genius from madness, but if the idea is that far divorced from all current knowledge, implementing it using current technology might prove difficult or impossible as well.)

***** Of course the original concept did not come from this similarity of approach, but rather from the Romantic notions of inspiration, and their ideas about the primacy of emotions and passions. If they did notice the similarity in working habits (for lack of a better term) between the madman and the genius, the doubtless saw it as little more than confirmation of a preexisting idea. (See "Catastrophic Thinking, The Political, Economic and Social Impact of Seeing History in the Superlative", "All Life in a Day, or, How Our Mistaken View of History Distorts Our Understanding of Events" , "Chasing a Receding Goal", "Juvenile Intellectuals", "Pushing the Envelope", "Hoist By Your Own Petard", "Faux "Realism"", "Faux "Maturity"", "Disturbing Entertainment, Ethnic Quotas and Distorted Views of Pop Culture - A Potpourri of Post Topics", "Reflexive Medium Goes Mainstream", "Cranky Old Man?", "Self-Serving Cynicism and Our Cultural Immaturity", "Chasing a Receding Goal", "Mapping the Changes in Hollywood", and "Inversion of Traditional Values".)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Follow Up to "Intellect and Politics"

I have made the point before, most fully in "Intellect and Politics", but it is one that is worth repeating, as I hear it restated so often in so many different ways. Most recently, on IMDB I saw a variation in a dispute about why so many successful cartoonists were atheists. One response struck me in particular. Here are the relevant parts:
-Reaching the highest level in your craft (getting a show on a national TV network means that you're at the top) means that you're very talented and intelligent. Those people tend to not be that religious.
-Artsy people in general tend to not be very religious and lean towards liberalism.
[...]
-Religious people start with a fixed idea in their head and look for convenient arguments to justify it. To be a satirist you need to be open minded and not see one set of ideas as sacred.
[...]
Since it is IMDB, I am not sure it was worth crafting a thorough response, but I can't help myself. I responded as follows:
You show a very contemporary bias. Until fairly recently educated people tended to be more religious. I think a more true statement would be "educated people tend to follow whatever beliefs are current in educated circles". German professors in the late 19th century tend toward authoritarianism, in the early 19th century much less so. neither says one or the other is more correct, just that you tend to follow those beliefs other educated people hold In short, educated people follow the pack just like the less educated.

In addition, satirists are not inherently atheist or even given to lack of belief. In times when skepticism is the popular belief they tend to be (say today, or the age of reason), when it is not, satirists often make fun of those lacking belief. Again, it is a fallacy to assume atheism is inherently more amenable to parody. The USSR was officially atheist, yet not known for either free thinkers or satirists.

It is akin to the sometimes heard argument "educated people are liberal" or "creative people are liberal" offered as evidence for the superiority of liberal views. It may be true today, but in other eras and places educated people were often quite conservative, even reactionary. And creators have been all over the place. Dostoyevsky went from 19th century liberal (think Jeffersonain type, not modern liberal) to royalist, but produced his best known works while holding the most traditional beliefs. Knut Hamsun also comes to mind, or Jack London.

In short, it is a mistake to assume a given belief is conducive to a certain practice, or a sign of intelligence, just from contemporary patterns.
I could probably leave it at that, and simply end the post, but as that would go against my compulsion to be as verbose as possible, let's take one more moment, to look at this argument in its most general terms, and recognize the most important piece of what I wrote above.

The main point, at least as far as I am concerned, is made in the very first paragraph, and it can be used to dismiss not just the arguments that intelligent people are liberal, or atheist, but almost any argument that involves proving some particular viewpoint is superior by the number of "educated" or "intelligent" or "creative" people hold that view. The fact is, educated people, intelligent people, and creative people, like their mundane counterparts, are herd animals, and tend to hold the views of those they consider peers. Thus, when academia is liberal, they are liberal, when royalist, they are royalist, and so on. Yes, there are those who buck the trend, but, for the most part, intelligence, creativity and all the rest is no cure to conformity. In general, whatever idea is held to be true by the majority of those around them will also be held by artists, or the educated, or whatever group you selected.

And thus, not to put too fine a point upon it, polling a given group is no way to establish truth, no matter how erudite or educated they may be. Recall all those funny beliefs held by educated men in the past? Well, they were not true, were they? Yet they were the consensus of the educated and intelligent. So why should today be any different? Ideas are proven true by evidence and testing that evidence, not by consensus. (Cf "Inquisition to Galileo - 97% of Scientists Support Geocentric Theory of the Universe", "A Bit of Support from Skeptics", "My Irritation with Supposed Skeptics", "Dismissive Skeptics", "To Be Fair") And thus, even if 100% of educated men agree something is true, it can still be wrong. Polls are not a substitute for proof.