June 10, 2016

Bernie has more progressive ideas, but Hillary is too important an opportunity to miss

The Most Polite Debates on Record

The conversation I had a few weeks ago prompted me to pull out the soapbox. As I’ve made obvious in my many status updates on Facebook and the material I published in the Op Ed pages of various newspapers, I detest inequality and the suppression of humans based upon some mythological superiority system. It may make me sound socialistic, and of course I *am* socialistic on many fronts, but the truth is that I’m simply humanistic. Demographically, being an old, Caucasian male, I fall into the most common category of the oppressor. Life would be so much simpler if I was to just go with the flow and be just another echo chamber WASP… but I can’t do that.

We briefly discussed the role of women in society. The person with whom I was speaking felt sad that her friends, two long term progressive judges, lost their jobs to primary opponents. In a way it’s a shame, because they *were* quite progressive, but I still feel that raising the profile of their female and minority opponents should be a prime concern. The way to defeat Stone Age thought is to drive the Stone Age thinkers back into the caves from whence they emerged. The old, white, male, while progressive, were… well… they were old, white males. They lost to primary winners will have a larger effect on our society… if they manage to get elected… just because they are female and of minority origin. The day will come when that won’t be as important, but today… this election… is not that time.

It is very, very important to advance the historically oppressed into positions where they cannot be oppressed. Women and minorities in the background won’t get it done. We’ve got to get those demographics out front and center. Women, Hispanics, LGBT, the disabled, the non-dominant religions, and anything else that isn’t old, white male. The status quo has got to be busted down. If you don’t understand why, pull up any major newspaper’s web portal and read the comment to the articles and editorials.

In that conversation we also briefly talked about minorities in science and technology. Let me ask you, if you were forced to come up with the names of 10 female or minority scientists, could you do it? 10 white, usually European male scientists would be easy, but it seems the accomplishments of minorities are either kept quiet or usurped by a white male colleague. As an example I offer the Pythagorean Golden Ratio. This simple mathematical principle has been used by scientists, engineers, architects and artists for centuries and Pythagoras gets the credit for its discovery. But did he really discover it? Look up Theano, Pythagoras’ wife and see what the math historians say about it. Why do we not already know these things? Why are the accomplishments of women and minorities buried?

Other unheralded minorities have accomplished fantastic feats, developed vaccines, eliminated plant diseases, designed large buildings, made great advances in medicine, and generally contributed to our human society… all in relative anonymity. Had they been white males there would be books written about them. The list below was gleaned from Smithsonian websites. Each of these people made large contributions yet still suffered persecution for the crime of being different.

Sind ibn Ali – 7th century Muslim, developed the first known astronomical charts
Bertha Parker Pallan-Cody – Native American archeologist
Doris Cochran, herpetologist and Doris Blake, entomologist. Lesbian lovers married to men.
Janet Bashen – First black female software developer to receive a patent on a web-based application.
Harlean James – landscape architect and huge promoter of the National Park System
Valentina Tereshkova – Russian Cosmonaut.
George Edward Alcorn Jr. – Black male who gave us the Xray.
Libby Hyman – Textbook author and zoologist with the University of Chicago. She couldn’t get any other job because she was Jewish.
Keith Black – Black male who was doing neurosurgery before Ben Carson

And then there is Penelope Jo (Maddy) Parsons. She is my age and won the national Science Fair as a teenager with an amazing demonstration of mathematical aptitude. Four years later she was awarded some kind of recognition by a European group, and then she disappeared into the crowd never to be heard from again…because she is a woman… and women don’t do science.

I’ll summarize by saying that mankind has managed to shed many of the chains that have bound us to the past, but we still have a few we must address. The knuckle-draggers, perhaps fearing a loss of power or stature, have made an astounding resurgence over the last half-century (Taliban, Evangelical Christians, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Fox News viewers).

From my perspective those efforts are going to backfire and right now the time is ripe to push back. Minority children being born today should, by the time they reach my age, be enjoying equal stature with white men of the same age… with 100% equality… and no foolishness about some kind of supremacy based on stupid reasons. Society should be able to look back in shame at the way we treated our fellow humans over these previous decades, just as many of us do now with the genocide of Native Americans, slavery and civil rights.

President Obama shattered the myth that kept blacks held down… now is the time for Hillary to break the next barrier. In 30 or 40 years… who knows? Maybe a transgender, black, Muslim, woman will be judged on her merits as a leader and not considered inferior because she isn’t an old, white male.

Signed:

An old, white male who refuses to hate someone simply because they are different than me. 

March 13, 2016

Short Memories and the Ignorance of History




A couple years ago I found that an old friend had become dyed in the wool Republican. I guess it took me back a little, considering we’ve been pretty close since meeting in 1969. We were both street freaks in those early days… if you know what that means you get a gold star. The “man” called us hippies, and the man hated the way we lived. So yeah… it kinda shook me to learn that he’d gone GOPer. There were gaps in there, and I just don’t know what happened to turn him this way. Then just a few days ago I found that he was not only Republican, but also in Trump’s corner. I don’t think a poke in the eye with a hot iron would have hurt me as bad as learning that. All the old memories keep dancing in my head. And all the history of the man makes it all the more difficult. I didn’t react too well.

JFK was murdered when I was a freshman in high school. The world seemed so full of hate right about then. Reminds me so much of this election season. Living in Texas I knew well the effects of hate and racism, but I couldn’t figure out why JFK had to die. Even though I’d gotten started politicking at the ripe old age of 10, I didn’t know much about Kennedy other than what I could read in our little paper and the speechifying I heard on radio and TV. I liked him… impressionable I guess… didn’t like Tricky Dick, so I picked up some flyers and bumper stickers and went around offering them to folks. LBJ needed help too, so I did it again.

What I didn’t know was that Kennedy or Johnson had a hand in what would eventually happen at Kent State. Every president from Woodrow Wilson to Obama has had a part in it, but the deed that changed me happened on Nixon’s watch. But we can’t pin it him any more than we can LBJ or JFK before him. No, this got started in 1919 with a group called the GID, some very controversial operations identified as the Palmer Raids, and a man called Marcus Garvey. This snip from the Biography website identifies the roots of the surveillance culture with which we still suffer today.

“… In 1919, [J. Edgar] Hoover targeted Pan-African leader Marcus Garvey, naming him a "notorious negro agitator," and began searching for any evidence that would allow Garvey to be charged with a crime. In December of 1919, afraid of Garvey's growing influence, Hoover hired the first black agent in the Bureau's history: James Wormley Jones. Jones was sent to gather intelligence on Garvey, and the resulting information led Hoover and his group to sabotage Garvey's Black Star Line, a series of ships meant to transport goods between the black communities of North America, the Caribbean and Africa. Hoover [ … ] spent much of his career gathering intelligence on radical groups and individuals and "subversives," Martin Luther King Jr. being one of his favorite targets. Hoover's methods included infiltration, burglaries, illegal wiretaps and planted evidence, and his legacy is tainted because of it. He died in Washington, D.C., on May 2, 1972…”

Two years and a day before his death, the culture this man begat killed four kids for nothing more than exercising that which is guaranteed to every citizen and is enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution… and now I find that someone I believed to understand the reasons why we cannot go back to that history… is actively working to perpetuate it. I wonder if he can even conceive of the pain this causes.

~~~


December 28, 2015

No, you're not entitled to your opinion

No, you're not entitled to your opinion

Patrick Stokes, Deakin University
Every year, I try to do at least two things with my students at least once. First, I make a point of addressing them as “philosophers” – a bit cheesy, but hopefully it encourages active learning.
Secondly, I say something like this: “I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion.’ Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, maybe to head off an argument or bring one to a close. Well, as soon as you walk into this room, it’s no longer true. You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.”
A bit harsh? Perhaps, but philosophy teachers owe it to our students to teach them how to construct and defend an argument – and to recognize when a belief has become indefensible.
The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.
Firstly, what’s an opinion?
Plato distinguished between opinion or common belief (doxa) and certain knowledge, and that’s still a workable distinction today: unlike “1+1=2” or “there are no square circles,” an opinion has a degree of subjectivity and uncertainty to it. But “opinion” ranges from tastes or preferences, through views about questions that concern most people such as prudence or politics, to views grounded in technical expertise, such as legal or scientific opinions.
You can’t really argue about the first kind of opinion. I’d be silly to insist that you’re wrong to think strawberry ice cream is better than chocolate. The problem is that sometimes we implicitly seem to take opinions of the second and even the third sort to be unarguable in the way questions of taste are. Perhaps that’s one reason (no doubt there are others) why enthusiastic amateurs think they’re entitled to disagree with climate scientists and immunologists and have their views “respected.”
Meryl Dorey is the leader of the Australian Vaccination Network, which despite the name is vehemently anti-vaccine. Ms. Dorey has no medical qualifications, but argues that if Bob Brown is allowed to comment on nuclear power despite not being a scientist, she should be allowed to comment on vaccines. But no-one assumes Dr. Brown is an authority on the physics of nuclear fission; his job is to comment on the policy responses to the science, not the science itself.
So what does it mean to be “entitled” to an opinion?
If “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion” just means no-one has the right to stop people thinking and saying whatever they want, then the statement is true, but fairly trivial. No one can stop you saying that vaccines cause autism, no matter how many times that claim has been disproven.
But if ‘entitled to an opinion’ means ‘entitled to have your views treated as serious candidates for the truth’ then it’s pretty clearly false. And this too is a distinction that tends to get blurred.
On Monday, the ABC’s Mediawatch program took WIN-TV Wollongong to task for running a story on a measles outbreak which included comment from – you guessed it – Meryl Dorey. In a response to a viewer complaint, WIN said that the story was “accurate, fair and balanced and presented the views of the medical practitioners and of the choice groups.” But this implies an equal right to be heard on a matter in which only one of the two parties has the relevant expertise. Again, if this was about policy responses to science, this would be reasonable. But the so-called “debate” here is about the science itself, and the “choice groups” simply don’t have a claim on air time if that’s where the disagreement is supposed to lie.
Mediawatch host Jonathan Holmes was considerably more blunt: “there’s evidence, and there’s bulldust,” and it’s not part of a reporter’s job to give bulldust equal time with serious expertise.
The response from anti-vaccination voices was predictable. On the Mediawatch site, Ms. Dorey accused the ABC of “openly calling for censorship of a scientific debate.” This response confuses not having your views taken seriously with not being allowed to hold or express those views at all – or to borrow a phrase from Andrew Brown, it “confuses losing an argument with losing the right to argue.” Again, two senses of “entitlement” to an opinion are being conflated here.
So next time you hear someone declare they’re entitled to their opinion, ask them why they think that. Chances are, if nothing else, you’ll end up having a more enjoyable conversation that way.
Read more from Patrick Stokes: The ethics of bravery
The Conversation
Patrick Stokes, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Deakin University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

October 18, 2015

Laurel & Hardy dance to Santana

Laurel & Hardy dance to Santana

Posted by Lynda John Sudia on Wednesday, September 22, 2010

July 2, 2015

Might I live long enough?

Our Independence Day holiday is almost upon us and the “conservatives” are in full feather. Xenophobia is oozing out of every crack and crevasse of the Internet; almost all of it baseless and more than a fair share of it bald-faced, cable news, hate radio lies. Immigrants and “teh gaze” are the conservative Republican hateed du jour, but that is today. Seems that they've always got some new target lined up for their hate and bigotry once they lose their current attempt as spreading discontent. 

I suppose it's due to the season, but the big argument has turned to what it takes to be an authentic American, and to be that one must have been born here, look like the gallery at the Masters, and be a genuine, evangelical xian. If you ain’t from here, and you ain’t like me… you fail the test.

This is highlighted by the recent Public Religion Research Institute poll that asks questions about what it takes to be a real American. Number one qualifier is that one should be capable speaking English. 89 percent of those polled said this was the deal maker/breaker, born here or not. I don't disagree that if you're going to live here you should speak the predominant language, but we have no official language so barring citizenship based on this is nothing short of bigotry.

A finding that crinkles my brow, considering our history, is that 58 percent believe that being born in the United States is prerequisite. Even more disturbing is that 69% percent said that a belief in God is required, and fully 53% percent believe that must be the Christian god. Hindus and Buddhists need not apply. 

The only bright spot is that the number of those polled claiming no belief in any god, commonly called the "nones," has gone from 15% just three years ago to 23% today. This is attributed to the number of Millennials who are getting quickly fed up with the regressive attitudes of the Christian Right (who are seen as neither Christian nor right) and a Tea Party overflowing with southern bigots.

Looking at it with that perspective, and considering the disarray within the old establishment of the national WASP Party (Republicans), I’m beginning to think it may only be a matter of time before we hit critical mass and throw off the shackles of nationalism once and for all. 

Other countries (Finland, Norway) have reached that point already. Why not us?

### 

May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

As a student of American history it has become my opinion that since the Big War, only a very few of our brave women and men in uniform have lost their lives for our freedom. Many have died or returned crippled, but not for our freedom as the pundits and politicians would have us believe.

Every conflict since September 2nd, 1945 has been a war of our own making. We have allowed a wicked and selfish class of humans to flourish and to profit from spilled blood. I'll not live long enough to see it, nor will most of the people whom I call friend... but I long for the day when Americans finally wake up and see how we have been pawned by feckless politicians and soulless panderers of yellow journalism. If that day ever comes, perhaps we will witness the interment of greed, the dethronement of the ruling class... and see the last of the mangled bodies of our children.

Today I shall sadly view well manicured fields dotted with the white marble of gravestones with somber or crying men, women and children clutching tiny flags... and I will wonder just how many of the dead lost their lives so that some plutocrat could sketch in another zero on a balance sheet tally and grease the palm of another politician. These children did their duty as they are sworn to do... and they sacrificed their lives on orders from above... orders soaked in greed.

I'll see the photos on Facebook and the blogs of the young spouses, the children, parents, best buddies, brothers and sisters, clutching handkerchiefs and consoling one another. My heart will break a little every time I see the images. Too many people believe the lies. Even those who died believed the lies. There is nothing in my lifetime that I can do to change that.

Other than that I'll go about my day as usual. Friends are having a get together and as usual I'm bringing some food. So for an old man with a heavy heart, life just goes on. What other choice do I have?

February 21, 2015

Getting the Cart before the Horse

Modus Ponens versus

Likely the most commonly witnessed failure of logic when debating the intransigent political fanatic or the fundamentalist religious extremist is known as affirming the consequent. Unless put into perspective this fallacy is a bit difficult to comprehend, but once defined the logical failure becomes evident.

Affirming the consequent is categorical in nature and essentially relies on reversing the argument to make available evidence fit or confirm a bias. A recent example is the contorted ballyhoo that followed the Department of Defense announcement that vintage chemical weapons had been unearthed in Iraq. The right wing machine went into full tilt boogie proclaiming that the Bush/Cheney justifications for invading that country had been vindicated. This in spite of the DoD stating in the very same report that the shells were completely useless and had been for decades.



The premise in such an argument is actually valid, yet there is a glaring error between the premise and conclusion. The motive of the right-wingers is to foment the false assumption that the premise (Saddam had WMDs) is actually the conclusion. In truth, the premise is only one of several conditions required to prove the conclusion. Let’s look at it from a child’s eyes so that even the most biased, bigoted extremist might be able to understand.

To state that ducks are birds and that ducks swim in the water is the primary premise. The secondary premise would be to state that chickens are birds. The false conclusion would come by stating that since both ducks and chickens are birds, and ducks swim in the water, that chickens also swim in the water. Of course we know this to be incorrect because experience tells us that swimming is neither necessary nor a sufficient condition to define a bird.

We call this “getting the cart before the horse”, and it seems to be the ultimate in confirmation bias… a last port in the storm for the bigoted.

Let’s take this to politics.

Obama nationalized health care by passing the Affordable Care Act. The Nazis had nationalized health care. Therefore Obama is just like Hitler. It is difficult to understand how so many Americans cannot understand that nationalized health care is insufficient evidence to define Nazism. This is especially true since every country that fought against the Nazis now has nationalized health care, with the exception of the U.S.

Now let’s consider religion, specifically creationism.

Because of the backlash by rational, scientific thinkers, the fundamentalists prefer to call it Intelligent Design. In what has become known as the watchmaker analogy, the creationist tries to prove that just as a watch could not accidentally come to exist, so neither could a human being. Every creationist argument will find roots in the watchmaker argument.

Probably the best known of these arguments comes from Michael Behe, who calls it “Irreducible Complexity.” In his book, Darwin’s Black Box, Behe posits that certain systems are so complex that they cannot be explained by the accidental nature of evolution. He uses a mousetrap as his example. Ken Ham is fond of using a banana. Bill O'Reilly rather bizarrely uses the tides.

The premise is that a mousetrap (banana, the tides) was created… that it is the product of intelligent design… that it is an irreducibly complex object composed of several parts, all of which contribute to the function. The universe, and particularly humans, are also composed of several parts and almost unimaginably complex… therefore an intelligent designer must be involved.

By now you have figured out how to decipher attempts to affirm the consequent, so I suspect you can finish the story.


~~~