December 31, 2009 archive

Dec 31

Happy New Year

Judgmental language is a subset of Style over substance fallacy and Red herring fallacies. It employs insultive, compromising or pejorative language to influence the recipient’s judgement.

Examples

   Surgeon general says smoking is harmful to your health. Nowhere in the Bible is said you shouldn’t smoke. So who are you gonna listen to, some quack or Lord God Almighty?

This argument combines judgmental language also with Non sequitur and appeal to authority.

   Conscription is the only working way to have a reliable and efficient army. We are far safer when we are defended by our very own sons than by some mercenaries, who will just fight for pay.

Here the judgmental words are “our very own sons” (suppose you are childless or have only daughters?) and “mercenaries”, which imply not only professional soldiers but rather soldiers of fortune. This argument is also a false dilemma: nothing implies that coercion and fear of punishment produces better soldiers than voluntarily, and that a professional army could not be assembled from the nation’s own citizens.

Style over substance is a logical fallacy which occurs when one emphasizes the way in which the argument is presented, while marginalizing (or outright ignoring) the content of the argument. In some cases, the fallacy is employed as a form of ad hominem attack.

Examples of the fallacy

Example One

   * Person 1: Who needs a smoke detector? No one ever has a fire in their house, smoke detectors are a waste of money!

   * Person 2: What?! You’d rather save a bit of money than ensure your family’s safety? Don’t you care whether they burn to death, you idiot?

   * Person 1: I don’t have to take your insults! Go away!

The fact that Person 2 insulted Person 1 does not alter the validity of Person 2’s argument, nor does it excuse the hasty generalization fallacy that Person 1 has employed. Person 1 is also using a thought-terminating clich├ę in telling Person 2 to “Go away!”.

Example Two

The Style over substance fallacy is very common in the corporate world

   * Person 1: So therefore, you can see by this detailed logic state diagram that our inventory flow can be optimized with this minor software change to the inventory control and tracking modules.

   * Person 2: I don’t like the color of the font you are using. Can you make that corn flower blue?

   * Person 3: Yes, if the font was corn flower blue on a grey background then the inventory reports would be more readable.

In this case we see Person 1 has performed a detailed logical flow analysis and determined a correct modification to achieve a desired, and correct result. Person 2 and 3 then dismiss the basis of the work entirely because they can only see superficial fonts and colors and thus avoid the business benefits of the analysis.

Example Three

Sometimes, outright non-responses or “stonewalls” are used as a part of style over substance. For example:

   * Person 1: Communism by definition and practice is in direct conflict with the principles of Anarchy. How can you consider yourself to be an Anarchistic Communist?

   * Person 2: “So Person 3, we should disband the government and make institutions that give money to the poor!”

   * Person 3: “Yeah, no government is the best government, let’s have those institutions control everything!”

Example Four

The baseless denial/unreasonable doubt is often an argumentative tool that accompanies circular reasoning, ad hominem or the no true Scotsman fallacy.

   * Person 1: Candidate X has been skimming funds from the city! , I have receipts of his transactions and even photos taken of him drilling holes in the town safe!

   * Person 2: Your receipts are faked! And for all what you know, he could have been cleaning the safe or that could have been a picture of his twin brother!

   * Person 1: But Candidate X is the only boy in his family, and these were printed with the city’s official seal!

   * Person 2: That could have been planted there by Candidate X’s opponents! They’re known to be sneaky, because no true member of our party could do something like that!

Example Five

Stonewalling and mocking an unfamiliar concept, usually a form of equivocation.

   * Person 1: Person 2, you claim the end is coming because it’s mentioned in your book “Diuretics”, isn’t that a bit of circular reasoning?

   * Person 2: (In a confused manner) You know what’s circular reasoning? When the end comes, you’ll be walking in circles trying to reason how you missed out on knowing the end came!

This may also be considered as a variety of a red herring fallacy.

A simpler rendition often given follows:

       Teacher: All Scotsmen enjoy haggis.

       Student: My uncle is a Scotsman, and he doesn’t like haggis!

       Teacher: Well, all true Scotsmen like haggis.

This is an ad hoc attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion. When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim, rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original universal claim, this fallacy is employed to shift the definition of the original class to tautologically exclude the specific case or others like it.

A universal claim is of the form “All x are y” or “No x are y.” In the example above, the universal claim is “No Scotsmen are brutal maniacal rapists.” The counterexample is given by the Aberdonian, who, it is implied, is a brutal maniacal rapist. The response relies on a continued insistence that No Scots are brutal maniacal rapists, and to thus conclude that the brutal maniacal and rapacious Aberdonian is no true Scot. Such a conclusion requires shifting the presumed definition of “Scotsman” to exclude all brutal maniacal rapists.

In situations where the subject’s status is previously determined by specific behaviors, the fallacy does not apply. For example, it is perfectly justified to say, “No true vegetarian eats meat,” because not eating meat is the single thing that precisely defines a person as a vegetarian.

Exceptions

Some cases where style appears to precede substance exist. One of the few such instances is the Sokal Affair, where physicist Alan Sokal wrote a postmodern-style essay in the journal Social Text without really saying anything; the title of the article itself (“Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”) was nonsense. However, on closer examination, the style that Sokal uses is satirical, and therefore his logical argument is implicit; the style does not precede substance, it instead is the substance.

Dec 31

Washington prepares for another round of Wall Street bailouts

   When you know you are about to do something unpopular you try to hide it. For instance, the public would never know that over 140 banks (not counting credit unions) have gone under this year because their announced failures only happen on Friday evenings.

  Another extremely unpopular event would be another round of bailouts for Wall Street banks. That’s why the provisions are hidden deep within the financial reform bill.

 For all its heft, the bill doesn’t once mention the words “too-big-to-fail,” the main issue confronting the financial system.

  Instead, it supports the biggest banks. It authorizes Federal Reserve banks to provide as much as $4 trillion in emergency funding the next time Wall Street crashes. So much for “no-more-bailouts” talk. That is more than twice what the Fed pumped into markets this time around. The size of the fund makes the bribes in the Senate’s health-care bill look minuscule.

 Believe it or not, this is not the most outrageous thing Washington has done in the last week.

Dec 31

Liberalism Died in 1980 and was buried in 1988 so Let’s Move On

This is just a ramble — some reflections on the arguments going on within the progressive movement. I think we need to move on and think things out carefully rather than moving from news item to news item. What we see is a whole, a system. This system is very robust and we shouldn’t pretend it is not.

The Liberal age was from 1933 to 1980. The Reagan Era signaled a radical shift in U.S. politics. Reagan and his operatives were able to leverage the latent chauvinism, racism anti-intellectualism and class-hatred of the white working-class into a new (old) vision of America and American Exceptionalism. To be called a “liberal” was nearly as bad as being called a homosexual. Liberals were seen as people who deliberately set out to destroy families and all traditional values and thus were existential threats. This was hard for most liberals to understand since they, in the best American tradition, just wanted to make sure we lived in a decent society were people were treated fairly and civilized behavior was encouraged. Interestingly liberals also favored traditional Christian virtues like charity, gentleness towards the sick, poor, disabled, as well as people in classes that were traditionally excluded from mainstream America like African-americans, Native peoples, women and so on. Liberals tended not to get this visceral hatred and what was behind it and what was the ultimate goal of the neo-Conservative movement (it was not a Conservative movement at all but a radical neo-fascist movement).  

Dec 31

Open House

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Dec 31

nice

Nice people are wonderful. I like nice people. I like being nice. When I can. In my everyday life or when casually chatting on the Interwebtube, I think I am a nice guy. My cat thinks I am a nice guy, and so does my girlfriend. I have nothing specifically against being nice.

You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar is a nice saying. If you are trying to catch flies.

The idea of a whole bunch of nice people getting together and all being nice to each other in support of their nice President is a nice idea. So, one might think…let’s try that!

Let’s all get together and be nice to each other and nice to our nice President and then surely, as the logic string plays out….all the mean and bad people will all see how nice it is to be nice.

And then they will all be nice too!

After all, underneath all the greed, killing, torturing, terror, starvation and hatred….ALL people are basically nice, right? Everyone of them?

Photobucket

Dec 31

First Blight

I had my fun last night.  A full moon lit black glassy ice.  We built a fire in the pit.  Hot chocolate in the thermos.  I was on the ice spinning my three year old grandson around in circles while he squealed in delight.  My daughter was throwing ice cubes for the dogs to chase laughing at a gangly german shepard puppy loosing her footing on the ice.  Simple pleasures cause we are perhaps a simple family.  Crowds of city oriented people celebrating yet another start of the same shit.  Well that just don’ impress.  No this, no that, stand in security lines of this post 911 world.  I don’t think so.

The year in pictures.

Dec 31

Pulling out all the stops: These go to eleven.

Plan A

When it was discovered that certain investment bankers had shot themselves in the chest using a shotgun of exotic financial products, and that these same bankers were parabiotically connected to the entire financial system of the Earth, i.e., their blood-funnels were permanently attached to the face of humanity, massive cash infusions were said to be necessary to prevent the expiration of all due to the carelessness of a few.   We were all going to die, so it was said, even though the medical report remains unavailable to this day, and the patient is said to have been stabilized and resting comfortably in ICU.

Dec 31

Pulling out all the stops: These go to eleven.

Plan A

When it was discovered that certain investment bankers had shot themselves in the chest using a shotgun of exotic financial products, and that these same bankers were parabiotically connected to the entire financial system of the Earth, i.e., their blood-funnels were permanently attached to the face of humanity, massive cash infusions were said to be necessary to prevent the expiration of all due to the carelessness of a few.   We were all going to die, so it was said, even though the medical report remains unavailable to this day, and the patient is said to have been stabilized and resting comfortably in ICU.

Dec 31

At the Beginning of a New Decade, Lessons from the Start of Another

On this day where we seek to remember the legacy of the nine years that came before the one very shortly to conclude, I recall the beginning of another decade ninety years in the past.  The Presidential election of 1920 returned Republicans to control of the Executive Branch, and epitomized the weariness the American people had with foreign wars and towering idealism.  When, a year or so before, Woodrow Wilson proposed the League of Nations to a skeptical American public, itself an altruistic enterprise promising world peace, the proposal was transformed by smears and lies to imply that somehow the United States would sacrifice its autonomy and be governed by foreign powers.  By the time a new decade rolled around, isolationism was the word of the hour and with it came a reliance on business and a pursuit of big money.  So it was that the Republican nomination for President of the United States was sold to the highest bidder, and with it came the office itself.

Lanton McCarthy’s fascinating recent book, The Teapot Dome Scandal:  How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country deflates the notion that the past promised some degree of ethical conduct in its elected representatives and stewards of the people’s trust.  It would be difficult to imagine a festering cesspool of corruption, dirty deals, and hushed up scandals in more copious quantity than in the form of the gang of thieves who effectively ran the country for three years.  Those who believe that the past promises some kind of respite from the sordid, the unethical, and the immoral would do well to think again.  One wonders as well if the passage of time will slaughter other sacred cows and lay bear the reality of the situation in question.    

A few years back, during the waning years of George W. Bush’s second term, many made a comparison of the gross incompetence present in that Administration to the Harding years, which though it had some parallels, was not a wholly satisfying one.  For starters, had there been no Woodrow Wilson and World War I, there would have been no established precedent to reverse, and with it no Warren G. Harding.  George W. Bush won in part by tapping into a public desire to return some degree of morality to the Oval Office after the embarrassment of the Clinton Impeachment.  Harding won by promising a return to good times and unregulated business wheeling and dealing.  Indeed, his very election owed itself to a multitude of deep pockets who provided their support with some serious strings attached, namely high ranking cabinet positions and control of then untapped oil reserves in the Southwest and West in return for high dollar contributions and the votes of the very convention delegates by which Harding was chosen as leader of the GOP.  Those who screamed “Drill, Baby, Drill!” in 2008 were merely echoing their predecessors of nearly a century before.    

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was prompted to study the Teapot Dome Scandal and the Harding White House due to the fact that I am related to one of the active participants.  My late Grandmother, as is true with so many, desperately wanted to prove a direct connection to someone either rich or powerful on a grand scale.  This is why she took an active interest in genealogy, and in so doing unearthed the name of a close relative.  The relative in question was named Jess Smith, who took the role of yes man, bribe collector, unofficial attorney general, and kick back accountant for Harding’s Ohio Gang.  The structure of the Harding Administration resembled an organized crime syndicate more than a government entity, and had Grandmother known this, I doubt she would have taken pride at having de facto mob ties.

Nor would she have found much to crow about had she discovered this,


According to some accounts, Smith’s primary role was to quiet women, including Carrie Fulton Phillips, who claimed that Harding had affairs with them.  Smith and Daugherty were members of the Ohio Gang, and they actually were both from Ohio. While Daugherty served as attorney general, Smith held no formal position in the federal government. He simply served as an unofficial assistant to Daugherty. Smith lived with Daugherty at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC, and it was rumored, at the time, that the two men were engaged in a homosexual relationship. Smith was single, while Daugherty was married.

As rumors spread about corrupt officials in Harding’s administration, eventually Attorney General Daugherty launched various investigations. Critics, especially in the United States Congress, claimed that Daugherty did not vigorously pursue the investigations. Eventually, it was suggested that Daugherty was also working with bootleggers. Bootlegging was a direct violation of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment established Prohibition in the United States. Smith also was supposedly involved in Daugherty’s illegal activities. Rather than face legal charges and a possible prison sentence, Smith committed suicide.

Smith’s actions, along with those of several other of Harding’s cabinet officials, caused a great deal of distrust of government officials among the American people and also solidified Harding’s reputation as a poor president.    

Source:  Ohio Historical Society, “Jess Smith”.

Harding’s incautious and highly impulsive womanizing make both Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy seem tame by comparison.  What complicated matters further is that Harding was a bit of a bizarre romantic, who was not inclined merely to keep to one night stands.  Instead he heavily courted each of the numerous women with whom he had affairs and in so doing wrote scores of love letters to each of his paramours, providing undeniable documented proof and paper trails a mile long.  The RNC, by way of slight-of-hand and creative accounting managed to find untraceable ways to pay off most of these women in exchange for their silence, though two or three did come forward, sometimes goaded on by jealous husbands or boyfriends, threatening to tell all if they were not handsomely compensated for it.  This proved to be an additional headache for Harding’s handlers, as they had their hands full putting out fires all over the place.  The vast scope of Harding’s adulterous dalliances make Tiger Woods look like a mere novice by comparison and the David Letterman matter a relatively modest affair.

This was, of course, purely the tip of the iceberg.  Harding’s own failings were bad enough.  It would be difficult to imagine a more disturbing group of unapologetic slimeballs setting up shop in Washington, DC.  Their own marital infidelity often rivaled Harding’s, and they quite eagerly engaged in money laundering, bootlegging, obstruction of justice, solicitation of prostitution, covering up the death of at least one accidental homicide, and other crimes.  Smith ran a love nest for Harding and his inner circle on H Street that was mere blocks from the White House and could be accessed by way of an underground tunnel. He made sure it was well-stocked with alcohol recently confiscated from rum runners and bootleggers, scantily clad chorus girls shipped down from New York City, and any number of Harding cronies who were always in the mood to play a few hands of a never-ending poker game.  It was a $50,000 a year enterprise and came complete with a full time cook and full time butler.  Harding’s wife was well-aware of her husband’s behavior, but refused to besmirch the reputation of the office by allowing such conduct in the White House, necessitating the procurement of the secret residence.  This didn’t, however, prevent Harding from sneaking his favorite mistress into the official home of the President and having sex on the floor of the Oval Office, to boot, confirming at two the number of Chief Executives who have engaged in sexual conduct in that room.  I would not be surprised if the exact count was much higher than that.  

Much of this, of course, never became public knowledge until decades after the fact.  Harding died unexpectedly, towards the end of what would be his only term in office, at which point the entire organization began to unravel.  Criminal investigations followed, at which point the rats began to scurry from the ship, and a shocked public recognized just how indebted its federal government had been to the whims of big business, particularly the oil industry.  The American oil powers had recognized just how lucrative exporting crude could be and how it could be profitably marketed and sold to a Europe that was still rebuilding from World War I.  It is for that reason that they wanted complete control over land that was under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Government, in particular designated to the Department of the Navy.  Granted, this land had been wrested from Native Americans a few decades before, but these men were not particularly sympathetic to the plight of indigenous peoples or to the conservation movement, which is the immediate precursor to the  environmentalism of today.  That has not changed much in nearly a century.

A wealthy Oklahoma oilman named Jake Hamon contributed over a million dollars to Harding’s campaign immediately prior to the convention, buying off enough delegates in the process to win him the right to name the position he wanted within the presumptive Cabinet.  Hamon coveted the Secretary of the Interior slot, since it promised full control of government-owned oilfields, of which Teapot Dome was one.  Once formerly installed, Hamon reckoned he’d rake in enough revenue to make him the richest man in the country, if not the world, by directing the oil profits into his own pocket, rather than that of the government coffers where it rightly belonged.  He would have been richer than Rockefeller and openly bragged about it to anyone who would listen.

His plans were rather abruptly short-circuited, however, when his much younger and long-term mistress shot him, whereupon he died from his wounds five days later. It seems that Mrs. Harding would not stand for Hamon to bring his mistress to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue–only his neglected wife and their children.  Hamon was then forced to inform the other woman, Clara Hamon (no relation, despite the same last name) that she could not come with him.  The mistress, however, had other ideas.  After mortally wounding Jake, she found a letter in his papers addressed to him from Harding, specifically spelling out the precise quid pro quo of the cabinet position.  The letter was signed in the President-Elect’s own hand, and Clara knew that as long as the letter was in her possession, she held a powerful trump card that would prevent her from being convicted for murder and put to death.

This kind of brazen, Wild West kind of attitude is what eventually led to the complete dissolution of the Ohio Gang.  The Bush Administration, by contrast, kept a code of silence and with it a very secretive attitude that deliberately locked out all but those with the President’s primary ear.  It was no less incompetent and no less arrogant, but it was ultimately undone not by a kind of unrestrained permissiveness but rather by its dogged determination to stifle dissent and label those who disagreed with its narrow interpretation of pressing concerns and ideological stances as anti-American and borderline traitorous.  The lessons, then, to be learned from Harding and the beginning of another decade are not so much in our rear-view mirror, but in the future that lies before us.

Another erudite, well-polished, academic Democratic President has promised major reforms based on idealistic notions of unity and cooperation.  This same President won the Nobel Peace Prize based not so much on actual achievement as by the expansive goals he has set forth, goals that may or may not find enactment on a broad scale.  Now, as then, he is far more popular in the rest of the world than he is at home. Now, as then, he was elected on the premise to, if not keep us out of war altogether, certainly minimize our commitment to it.  Later both men reversed course and Obama has since taken full ownership of a foreign entanglement.  Assuming he wins a second full term, the question on the glossy cover of soberly contemplative print magazines (assuming they exist then) will be, “Life after Obama?”

Indeed, it might not be such a bad thing for us to contemplate what the Democratic party, the American people, and the demands facing us will be when this soon-to-arrive decade is well over half-finished.  All we need do is look back ninety years to see what happens when a supposed return to normalcy produces little more than an Restoration of the Good Old Boy network.  One would hope that our role as bloggers and citizen journalist would continue to be that of the gatekeepers, since investigative journalism seems to have been utterly abandoned by the mainstream outlets.  Removing coats of whitewash and pursuing subjects too sensitive to find voice otherwise is how I envision my role.  Though some criticize the blogs for being too reactive, too amateurish, and too beholden to echo chamber, there are many worthy and substantial voices out there and these we must continue to lift up and to dig to discover.  Everyone must take a role if we are to ensure that someone is watching the store, because history provides a multitude of tragic examples which reveal what happens when it is not being closely monitored.  Though my own brush with the past is not an especially inspiring one, I can redeem the sins and the mistakes of prior generations by vowing to never forget and in so doing never neglect a greater purpose beyond myself and my own blood.

Dec 31

The Murder of Gonzago

or Berserkergang

Did you ever think of yourself as actually dead, lying in a box with a lid on it?

No.

Nor do I really.  It’s silly to be depressed by it.  I mean, one thinks of it like being alive in a box.  One keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead, which should make all the difference, shouldn’t it?  I mean, you’d never know you were in a box, would you?  It would be just like you were asleep in a box.  Not that I’d like to sleep in a box, mind you.  Not without any air.  You’d wake up dead for a start, and then where would you be?  In a box.  That’s the bit I don’t like, frankly.  That’s why I don’t think of it.  Because you’d be helpless, wouldn’t you?  Stuffed in a box like that.  I mean, you’d be in there forever, even taking into account the fact that you’re dead.  It isn’t a pleasant thought.  Especially if you’re dead really.  Ask yourself, if I asked you straight off, “I’m going to stuff you in this box.  Now, would you rather be alive or dead?”  naturally, you’d prefer to be alive.  Life in a box is better than no life at all, I expect.  You’d have a chance, at least.  You could lie there thinking, “Well, at least I’m not dead.  In a minute somebody is going to bang on the lid, and tell me to come out.”

“Hey you! What’s your name? Come out of there!”

I think I’m going to kill you.

I am but mad north-northwest.

Dec 31

Lets Just See What Tomorrow Brings…

I’ve met 47 new years. Yeah I’m 46, but born in February I saw one before my first birthday. I’ve met them a lot of different ways too. Some with the wide-eyed hope of a child, some with the wantonness of youth, some with regret, some with a sense of a recent loss, a few even with resolutions.

These past two or three years, it has been increasingly important to me to be better. Not that I ever thought I sucked inside. I have survived far better than any of my siblings, and have lifelong been criticized for being too nice, too generous, too naive, too giving, too, too, too. That’s a huge part, people say, of why I have nothing now. I have worked hard and long to kill my demons, but its more than that. I need to be a better person every day, be more thoughtful in my words and deed, touch the World more gently. I see people who live in ways I have never experienced, and want to rise to that level. I guess I want to be a saint, like when I was little and believed in all that shit.

And yet, here I sit, after making dinner for my men, drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette and staring off into space between keystrokes like some feminine demented version of Hunter S Thompson and we all know where that got him. This year, not a resolution, but fact. I quit smoking or it will kill me in the end.

But that’s not where my concerns really lie.

This is the only year I’ve met with fear.

Dec 31

Docudharma Times Thursday December 31




Thursday’s Headlines:

Taliban responsible for deaths of 8 ‘CIA agents’ in Afghanistan

How contagious is H1N1? New study finds out

In aftermath of Fort Hood, community haunted by clues that went unheeded

Marine’s success in Afghanistan has a history

Revealed: hand of Iran behind Britons’ Baghdad kidnapping

Iran Government stages rallies as Mousavi’s nephew is quietly buried

Nurse who inspired Geldof to launch Live Aid is made a dame

The wine-lover’s dream – in the suburbs of Paris

The Big Moment: Officials were overwhelmed. Monks fed the frantic crowds as best they could

Abdurrahman Wahid: Former Indonesia president was a key democratic voice

Somali held last month with chemicals, syringe

In Cuba, Hopeful Tenor Toward Obama Is Ebbing

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