Tuesday, September 02, 2014

All Opinions Are Not Created Equal

If you waste much time watching talking heads on television or listening to them on the arid wasteland of talk radio, you know that there's truth in the old adage that opinions are like navels - everybody's got one.

The problem is that nowadays we seem to be forced to treat every opinion as equally valid and worthy of consideration, no matter how stupid and disconnected from reality it is.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled on this brilliant article by Patrick Stokes, a lecturer in Philosophy from Deakin University in Australia who tells his students that in his class they are not entitled to their opinions, only to that which they can defend.

Dr Stokes argues that the statement “I’m entitled to my opinion” is frequently used to give alleged credence to beliefs that are not supported by evidence, and should be abandoned.  “I’m entitled to my opinion,” he maintains, has come to mean “I can say or think whatever I like, and if you argue with me you are violating my right to free speech." He goes on to suggest that this attitude leads to today's tendency to draw a false equivalence between experts arguing from knowledge and experience and non-experts arguing from passionate beliefs that they cannot support other than by force of volume and repetition.

Here is a brief excerpt that sums up the entire article:

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."

I encourage you to read the entire article, particularly before you listen to any of the shouting heads on Faux News. Remember that freedom of speech does not mean that all speech is worth listening to (even mine!). You are welcome to believe what you want ... but if you want to argue for changes in public policy based on those beliefs, you'd better be able to support them with evidence.

Remember Bilbo's First Law: Never let anyone else do your thinking for you. And to that I would add, especially when their thinking is not informed by weight of evidence.

There are a lot of abysmally stupid people out there. Don't let yourself become one of them.

Have a good day. Demand evidence rather than blind faith. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, September 01, 2014

Labor Day

Today is the first Monday in September, which here in the US of A is celebrated as the national holiday of Labor Day - the day on which we flock to stores for special sales dignify labor and celebrate the working men and women who built America. Politicians give speeches extolling the dignity of the common worker, while passing laws that gut unions, opposing affordable health care, and voting to eliminate unemployment insurance.

Businesses, for their part, celebrate by laying off workers, shipping their jobs overseas, and slashing wages and benefits.

Happy Labor Day, indeed.

Have a good day. If you have a job, congratulations. If not, good luck.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Poetry Sunday

This poem reminds me of the great Bruce Springsteen song, "My Hometown" ...

Beans and Franks
by Donald Hall

            When Newberry's closed
in Franklin, New Hampshire—homely lime front
            on Main Street, among the closed
storefronts of this mill town depressed
            since nineteen twenty-nine;
with its lunch counter for beans and franks
            and coleslaw; with its
bins of peanuts, counters of acrylic,
            hair nets, underwear, workshirts,
marbled notebooks, Bic pens, plastic
            toys, and cheap sneakers;
where Marjorie worked ten years at the iron
            cash register, Alcibide
Monbouquet pushed a broom at night.
            and Mr. Smith managed—
we learned that a man from Beverly
            Hills owned it, who never saw
the streets of Franklin, New Hampshire,
            and drew with a well-groomed hand
a line through "Franklin, New Hampshire."

Times change.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cartoon Saturday

Welcome to the last edition of Cartoon Saturday for August, 2014. Because I'm on the road and don't have the time to do the usual news summary, let's just cut to the chase and get on with the cartoons.

Our collection of theme cartoons this week deals with that old, classic magician's trick - sawing the lady in half. Perhaps John can get some new ideas ...

Everybody's got to start somewhere ...

You need to ask some questions sooner rather than later ...

Sometimes, lost luggage is more trouble than usual ...

And do the medical benefits cover bisection? ...

Proof positive that you should know your partner before getting too deeply involved ...

Moving on to other topics, the old adage says that you can't take it with you ... but modern technology provides alternatives ...

 Libertarian bedtime stories ...

Agnes really didn't care for my attempts at changing our landscaping ...

We saw a lot of this at Disney World, where the costumed characters were almost always accompanied by handlers ...

And finally, as a pretty good amateur chef, I can relate to this one ...

And that rounds out our last Cartoon Saturday for this month. I hope you enjoyed it, and it helped you recover from the rigors of the past week.

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for Poetry Sunday.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Editing, Anyone?

Well, last week we dishonored a new Ass Clown of the Month, and this week - given that I've decided to alternate Ass Clown awards with Great Moments in Editing, it's time once again for the latter. They're funnier, anyway.

There's some fine police work been done here ... 

I wonder if this house salad comes with a mortgage ...

This isn't an editorial faux pas, strictly speaking, but it just seems really wrong somehow ...

A little diversification in a business can help get it through difficult economic times ...

And as I was saying ...

 I'm not sure that the person who organized this year's entertainment will be invited back next year ...

Nor will this caterer ...

I've heard the term "cargo pants" before, but this is ridiculous ...

I hear she liked him because he was hung like a ... uh ... never mind ...

I'm not sure if this is an error of editing or of geography ... but it's pretty egregious, regardless ...

And there you have it, Dear Readers, yet another edition of Great Moments in Editing. Don't thank me ... I had plenty of help.

Have a good day. Double check before pushing the "post," "print," or "send" button ... you'll thank me later.

More thoughts coming.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Black Bra

Yesterday's post was a bit of a downer, so why don't we cheer things up a little, eh?

Angel and Heidi have told their own bra stories. Here's another one ...

Three women met for lunch one afternoon. One had been married for more than 20 years, the second was engaged, and the third was the mistress of a wealthy industrialist.

They were chatting about ways to spice up their relationships, and decided to surprise their men by greeting them wearing nothing but a black bra, stiletto heels, and a mask to cover their eyes. They agreed to meet the following week to exchange notes.

The week went by and the three ladies again met for lunch and to trade notes on their experiences.

The engaged woman said,

“The other night when my boyfriend came over I met him at the door wearing a black leather bra, stilettos and a mask. He saw me and said, 'You are the woman of my dreams...I love you!' Then we made passionate love all night long.”

The mistress reported,

“Me too! The other night I met my lover at his office.  I was wearing a raincoat, and when I whipped it off, I was only wearing the black bra, heels, and the black mask over my eyes. He didn't say a word, but he started to tremble and we had wild sex for hours, right on his desk!”

The married woman said,

“When my husband came home I was wearing the black bra, black stockings, stilettos and the black mask over my eyes. I threw open the door and he looked at me and said, “What's for dinner, Zorro?"

Have a good day. Dress for success. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sorry, Wrong Nationality

Rant alert ...

The huge, screaming headline on CNN as I write this is

Well, I hate to burst the bubble of those officials, whoever they are, but anyone fighting for ISIS is not an American. This ass clown made a conscious decision to turn his back on his family and his country and head overseas to fight for a bunch of genocidal religious fanatics who want nothing better than to turn the clock back to an imaginary seventh century paradise. He decided it was more important to be a homicidal religious bigot than a citizen of the greatest nation on earth.

If you think jihad in the service of murderous lunatics like ISIS is your destiny, there are lots of garden spots in the world (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, to name a few) where you'll be happier than here in the country you spurned. Good riddance.

If it were my decision to make, every one of these fools who leaves the country and fights for some quasi-religious band of thugs should have his passport cancelled immediately. No right of return, no consular protection, no more of the benefits of living in a country that gives him rights no rigidly theocratic regime would ever allow. Enjoy your jihad, but enjoy it somewhere else. You're not coming back.

Mr McCain can hold hell's door open for the rest of his friends. There's plenty of room left for their kind.

Have a good day. Do not refer to these morons as Americans in my hearing.

More thoughts tomorrow, when I calm down.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An Absorbing Discussion

The relative merits of traditional ink-on-paper books as opposed to e-readers is a topic about which people tend to have very definite ideas. I, for one, prefer the traditional hard-copy book over the e-reader for many reasons … here are just a few:

- You can easily page back and forth to specific locations without difficulty. This is especially helpful when you're reading a history book in which all the maps are clustered together in a few pages at the front or the back of the book.

- You never have to worry about running out of battery power at a critical point.

- If you drop your hard-copy book on the floor, it won’t break, and if you drop it into the bath while you're reading you can dry it out and continue to read.

E-readers have their place, of course. I find it a lot easier to carry my iPad with the Kindle app on the bus while I’m commuting to and from work, and when I’m traveling and need to worry about weight and bulk. But generally speaking, I prefer the traditional hard-copy book.

And as it turns out, there’s yet another reason to read traditional books: a recent study indicates that people who read them retain more of what they read than people who use e-readers. Researchers who conducted the study at Norway’s Stavanger University had this to say about the results: "the haptic* and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.” In another study conducted last year, 72 Norwegian 10th-graders were given texts to read in print, or in PDF form on a computer screen, and were then administered comprehension tests. The researchers found that "students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally.”

You can read more about the subject in this article by Alison Flood in The Guardian.

I found this to be very interesting, and to be borne out by personal experience. I have all five of the currently-released volumes of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series (on which the TV miniseries Game of Thrones is based) as digital books on my iPad, and am re-reading them to compare the action of the stories to the plot of the TV series. In this second reading, I’ve found that there's quite a bit I missed the first time through.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that it’s much easier to turn a page when all you need to do is tap the edge of the e-reader screen; this seems to encourage reading at a faster pace, or at least speeding through parts which might seem to move more slowly than others. The act of turning the page of a physical book, on the other hand, requires more coordinated actions to complete, and tends to slow down the progress … perhaps providing more time for thought and concentration.

So, Dear Readers, what's your opinion? When we've talked about this topic before, your general preference seemed to be for printed books rather than e-readers, but is that still true? If you've read the same book in both formats (as I have with several), do you notice a difference in your comprehension and retention? Leave a comment and let me know.

Have a good day. Read more. More thoughts tomorrow.


* "Of or relating to the sense of touch, in particular relating to the perception and manipulation of objects using the senses of touch and proprioception." So, is the combination of "haptic" and "tactile" in this sentence redundant?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Deep in the Heart of Taxes. Sorry.

There are lots of silly things that show up on the Internet. This blog, for instance. But I like to think that I, at least, bring some thought and analysis to the things I write, unlike many of the things that are driven by brainless passion for a specific political position or religious belief.

I call your attention, Dear Readers, to an item that's been going around on Facebook, designed to drive every red-blooded American crazy: A List Of 97 Taxes Americans Pay Every Year.

I have written many times in this space on the subject of taxes, which I dislike paying as much as anyone else. I understand, however, that taxes are a sad but necessary part of citizenship ... the burden we share in paying for a government that provides the services we have come to expect. If it weren’t for taxes, after all, how would the government function? If you believe that Americans would be lining up to volunteer their time and money to build roads and bridges, teach school, and make sure public utilities are available, then I have some prime swamp land in Florida and a bridge in New York to sell you.

Want to get someone really mad? Come up with something like "a list of 97 taxes Americans pay every year." And then trust that no one will really read the list and think about it.

I read the list. And I thought about it. And I got really mad. But not for the reasons you might think.

It is perfectly clear that we pay lots of different fees and taxes which are imposed at every level from the Federal government on down. Governments need the money to pay for the things they do just like we need money to buy food, clothing, shelter, health care, pornography, etc. I get that. But the “list of 97 taxes” implies that it’s a list of 97 separate taxes that burden every single American.

The trouble is, it ain’t so.

A quick look at the list suggests a few observations:

- First of all, you can significantly reduce the list by combining things that are the same, but have different names (Garbage Tax and Waste Management Tax; and Highway Access Fees, Toll Booth Taxes, and Tolls come to mind).

- A Cigarette Tax doesn’t affect you if you don’t smoke, and a Liquor Tax doesn’t affect you if you don’t drink. And to the extent that they encourage people to smoke or drink less*, it might be argued that they are actually beneficial by reducing the cost of health care for everyone else.

- Garbage Taxes, Waste Management Taxes, and Hazardous Material Disposal Fees. Onerous? Perhaps. But how else do you propose to pay for the facilities to safely dispose of your trash and your hazardous waste? And if you live in an area where the Big Bad Government isn’t taxing you to do this … does the company that picks up your garbage do it for free out of the goodness of their community-minded hearts?

- Sewer and Water Taxes. I suppose you don’t need to pay these if you don’t need or want clean water, or if you’re willing to dig a latrine or build an outhouse in your back yard, or manage your own septic tank. And why is it wrong to ask industries that pollute the water you drink to pay for helping to clean it up?

- Highway Access Fees, Tolls, Gasoline Taxes, and Interstate User Diesel Fuel Taxes. A pain, to be sure. But how else do you propose to raise the money to build and maintain roads and bridges? Perhaps the "Adopt a Highway" program could be made mandatory and include the responsibility for paving and pothole repair along with picking up trash.

And …

- Passport Fees. The last time I looked, nobody was forcing anyone to travel abroad. If you don’t leave the country, you don’t need a passport and don’t need to pay the fee. If you do need to travel abroad, why should I pay the cost of issuing you a passport? What’s your problem?

Now, to be fair about it, there are some fees and taxes on the list that tend to piss me off:

- Sports Stadium Taxes. If a major league sports team wants a new stadium, they should fund it themselves. I don’t see it as my job to sweeten the deal for a team whose owners are multi-millionaires and whose members probably make more than I do. And don’t forget that on top of those taxes that were levied or bonds that were issued to build the stadium, you’ll also pay a gazillion dollars for tickets to see the games played there, and about $8.00 for a hot dog.

- Air Transportation Taxes. These are way out of control. I wrote in this blog some time back about the difference between the airfare the airlines quote you - which is often not “cheap,” but “reasonable” – and the final price that goes on your credit card, in which the accumulated taxes and fees often double the cost of your trip. This is insane. And combine that with ...

- Hotel Taxes. These are also way out of control, and usually consist of three or four separate taxes on the same room charge: a sales tax, a hotel tax, an occupancy tax, and a tourism tax, to name a few. They can easily add hundreds of dollars to a vacation hotel bill.

So what’s my point?

The article that railed about the “97 Taxes Americans Pay” is stupid. People who read it without thinking, get spun up, and post it on Facebook or elsewhere and rail about robbery by the Big Bad Government are stupid, too. Nobody likes taxes. But before you scream about them, consider the things they pay for, and how you propose to pay for those things without them. Just what services and activities we want to pay for with those taxes, and how high the level of taxation ought to be to pay for them, is a matter for calm and rational discussion … but just screaming bloody murder about evil taxes does nothing except make you look like an idiot.

Okay, end of screed.

Have a good day. Don’t overtax yourself. More thoughts tomorrow.


* And don't whine about the Nanny State. If your bad habits impose costs on me, I have no problem with taxing you to bear the cost of your bad choices.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Poetry Sunday

I spend a lot of time in very lengthy meetings, and I approve this poem ...

At the Very Lengthy Meeting
by Kevin McCaffrey

At the very lengthy meeting
I actually felt my soul leave my body
and rush toward the ceiling—
and fly around the walls and flare
toward daylight, toward the windows—
to throw silently its impetuous emptiness
against the glass in vain.
It could not go anywhere, the clear moth.

Then it lay on the rug, not exhausted
but bored and so inert that it almost—
though nothing—
took on a hue, stained with all the breaths
and words and thoughts that filled the room:
the yellow-green color of old teeth.

If you, too, have to spend much time in very lengthy meetings, you have my sympathy. And if you're stuck in a miserable conference call, there are things you can do to make the experience less miserable. Check out this article from the Harvard Business Review for some helpful hints.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.