Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fool's Gold: Inside the Glenn Beck Goldline Scheme

A nicely-done chart/diagram.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Glenn Beck's 451 Project?

Looks like Glenn Beck's "9/12" organization is now aiming to get books banned.

Reminder: this guy is a fecking shock jock. He was on one of those "morning zoo"-type shows with (as one of my friends always refers to them) a bunch of laughing assh*les. He probably had some sidekick named Joe-Bob or Billy or somesuch. Or he was the sidekick. This is a guy who made crank phone calls for a living--and not, like, as a summer job one time. That's the kind of mind the guy has. That's who he is.

Seriously. This is the kind of person, and the kind of intellect, that appeals to a very large chunk of contemporary American conservatives. Once you've hit sludge like Beck and Palin, there's not much barrel left beneath you.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Some BS from Newt


There is, of course, no reason to believe that Obama is blind--willingly or otherwise--to the threat of extreme Islam. Wonder whether Newt will note the fact that Obama--in virtue of failing to start any disastrous and irrelevant wars alone--has been many of orders of magnitude more effective than Bush in combating such extremism.

But my favorite bit has to be that he'll discuss Camus. Imagine the reaction on the right if Obama got up and started talking about Camus...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Congratulations to the Mystic and Mrs. Mystic!

JQ and I attended the Mystic's excellent wedding over the weekend, and I just wanted to offer blog-congratulations to him and the new Mrs. Mystic. We got to hang out on Sandbridge beach and meet some of the Mystic's partners in crime, including our own teh r0x0r. Good times.

Now it's back to the house renovation debacle...after which, I might actually start posting again... We're about 80% through refinishing the floors, which is the last of the major tasks. Jebus we sure did get in over our heads on this one...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Politics, Error-Correction and Cognitive Backfire

Here's a report on some of that research that seems to show that, if you correct people's political misconceptions, it often strengthens their false beliefs.

I haven't read the actual paper yet, and there are reasons to be skeptical. As another researcher points out, if you really hit people between the eyes with the facts, you can eliminate the backfire effect. (That's something we already knew, actually, from our ordinary experience.) I'd also note that, in Nyhan's research, what was tested was one story and one retraction. The effect will almost certainly decrease if you look at several encounters with disconfirming reports.

Interestingly, apparently people who feel better about themselves are more open to evidence that disconfirms their beliefs. This is an effect I've seen in myself. If I'm feeling good, getting lots of stuff right, on my game, and in a situation where my status is high, I'm much happier about admitting ignorance and error. In situations in which my status is lower, it's tougher.

Anyway, one solution to some of these problems comes to us from C. S. Peirce--don't lean so heavily on belief. Often--in science and in policy debates--hypotheses and tentative, working positions are superior to belief. The less ardently we're attached to a proposition, the lower the cognitive cost of abandoning it. Belief, Peirce says, is out of place in science.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Intellectual Dishonesty In The Gun Control Debate
NYT Editorial Edition

Intellectual dishonesty in this debate is hardly even worth pointing out anymore. (Especially after the Mona Lisa of intellectual dishonesty, Diane Sawyer's nauseating/laughable/astonishing piece on 20/20, "If You Only Had A Gun")

But the NYT just can't resist.

The topic is Chicago's new handgun law, which prohibits more than one handgun in any house. Opponents of the law point out that this isn't a great law, noting that if, say, Smith's grandmother lives in a dangerous neighborhood and owns a gun to protect herself, then, if, say, granny receives some harassing phone calls, Smith can't take his own legal handgun and stay over at his grandma's house for a few nights to make sure things are o.k. The NYT editorial responds like so:

"Putting granny in the middle of a neighborhood firefight is preferable to having her simply call the police?"

This is a fairly good microcosm of the debate about guns.

The initial imagined scenario is a bit far-fetched, but not terribly so. The NYT's response is just plain stupid, and typical of anti-gun arguments (e.g. some of those repeated in the godawful 20/20 episode aforementioned).

Now hear this:

Owning a firearm does not mean you cannot call the police.

(Similar point re: the 20/20 episode: carrying a gun does not mean that you cannot also carry a cell phone, nor that you cannot run away from trouble if you so choose.)

The two strategies are not mutually exclusive. But take it from me, writing on the heels of our own dust-up with some local junior drug-dealers: the police won't do anything until criminal activity has already been initiated. Basically no matter how clear it is that trouble is brewing, the police won't act until it's happening. Having a firearm is a way to take care of yourself, your property, and other innocent people in the time between the onset of hostilities and the arrival of the police. This is not a complicated point, and my guess is that the only way to miss it is to be so committed to the anti-firearm side of the debate that you simply aren't thinking clearly nor honestly about the matter. The point is simply not complex enough to evade ten seconds of serious thought.

Here's my standard disclaimer: I'm not a gun nut. I think we need different--and in at least some ways stricter--gun laws in this country. I don't belong to the NRA, and am not arguing that firearms are an unmitigated good.

But legal firearm ownership really isn't the problem. And aggressively irrational arguments never help.