Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Kelly Effect

Scientists Have Discovered Why You Can't Remember Being a Baby

This kind of headline nearly always gets my attention.  Perhaps it's strange, but one of my hobbies is to try to learn something new every day, so new discoveries are particularly interesting to me.  Besides, whenever anyone says that science has discovered anything at all, I can't help thinking science hasn't really ever discovered much of anything.  In fact, the only thing more entertaining than scientific discovery is scientific proof.

Unfortunately, this isn't a really new "discovery" at all.  It might be a new hypothesis, but it doesn't even really seem to be that.  I read through the abstract of the original paper, and while it was full of all kinds of really big words that made it sound all technical and stuff, here's what it said, in my kind of words:
New brain cells are continuously formed throughout life, and this action tends causes the normal pathways in our brains to change, making some of our memories fade.  We tested the effect of increasing brain cell generation in mice after they had a memory and found that mice forgot things faster when we did that.  Alternatively, we slowed the process down after the mice had a memory, and found they remembered stuff longer.
Yeah, I dunno... That doesn't sound so smart in plain English but I suppose it might make sense.  If memories are stored in groups of adjacent brain cells, and some new cells appear amongst those cells, then some of the connections that make the memory may be lost, resulting in a lost memory.  It might make sense, but then again, what seems to make sense is not always true.

At any rate, I'm somewhat skeptical of the results of this study, mostly because I'm not sure how the scientists determined that the mice had any memories to remember, nor am I sure how they determined that the mice forgot things faster or slower.  But I'm not really going to get that far into the actual study; I'm too cheap to pay to read the thing.  Besides, I think that true "scientific knowledge" belongs in the public domain, and not behind some pay wall.  I'm more interested in what the above-linked article had to say about it.  Here is the author's summation:
"So the reason you remember your best friend's wedding day but can't seem to recall the time you decorated your hair with mashed potatoes is because making new memories destroys the older snapshots."
Yeah, I'm not so sure how that interpretation even came about, but okay, we'll go with it.  Apparently, according to this interpretation of the study results, forgetting stuff comes about because we have limited space in our brains, and so new stuff we experience, or learn, crowds out the old stuff, something that I've chosen to dub "The Kelly Effect."

For those of you who haven't yet figured it out, Kelly was Christina Applegate's  character in the sitcom Married With Children.  In one particularly memorable episode, we find that Kelly is actually a kind of genius: she can remember things as if she has a photographic memory, but if she learns something new, she forgets something else, because of the limited space in her brain, being that it's a finite space and all.  I won't relate the whole thing, but the series is available from Amazon.com here:

Married... with Children: The Complete Series.

So, it turns out that this interpretation of the study isn't really new.  This phenomenon was "discovered" by some sitcom writers years ago.  Perhaps the person that once said to me that "It isn't really worth thinking too much about stuff, because pretty much everything has already been thought of" was right, well, if you want to put your faith in sitcom writers.  I won't divulge the source of that bit of brilliance.

What I really don't like about this particular interpretation is that it gives people an excuse to not learn more.  I mean, if I think I already know a lot of important stuff, then if I learn something new, I might forget some other important stuff that I already know.  That kind of thing.  To be a little trite here, I think we should never stop learning, and that somehow, even though the space in our brains is finite, we'll somehow find some space to put a little more stuff in.

I also have another problem with the Kelly Effect: why does it selectively choose only the older memories to destroy?  I mean, there's some pretty unimportant stuff from yesterday that I could easily just forget.  Of course, it may be a statistical thing.  The older memories have more time to be erased by new stuff, and thus are more likely just by virtue of repeated chance to be eliminated, but, no, I think there's something more to this, and here's my theory.

First: Even though we can't consciously remember things from our infancy, I think the memories are in there somewhere; we just can't figure out where they're hidden, at least not consciously.  Even if we could find them, they may seem nonsensical to us, since these are things that we experienced before we understood what we were experiencing.  When you're born, you don't magically know that these people are your parents, or who the doctors and nurses are.  You likely don't even know what they are.  I would say it's extremely likely you don't even know what you are.  You learn that stuff from experience, of which you have none at the time of birth, and don't really get a lot of since you can't really do much of anything.

Second: Think about how your perception of time has changed over your life.  As you get older, time seems to go by faster even though it really is moving along at the same speed as always.  Now, I'm no expert, except for the fact that I've experienced this myself.  When I was young, say five or so, time crawled by.  Five minutes seemed like forever.  Now that I'm approaching sixty years old, it feels like the sum total of my spare time is five minutes in a day.  So, when I look back to when I was very young, memories seem to be like a movie that's running at a faster than normal pace.  And I imagine that looking back to the time when I was a baby, the effect is magnified to the point where it is mostly nonsensical.  I believe this effect comes about because a minute after you're born, that minute is your entire conscious life, and so at the time, seems like forever.

Third: Take a look at some babies sometime, and pay particular attention to what they do.  Not much.  So, there isn't really all that much to remember anyway.  I mean, out of all the dumps you've taken over the course of your life, how many do you remember the details of?  I going to guess not many.  But as a baby, those are pretty major happenings in your life.

Fourth:  I'm going to bet that while people may know that they've done some pretty embarrassing things in their lives they don't necessarily remember all those things.  Why?  Because it's normal to want to forget unpleasant things.  We have built-in biases.  We like to look in the mirror and believe that we are not foolish, and never were.  I think that those memories are still there, because we want to avoid making the same mistakes, but those memories are stuffed into our subconscious memory, where we're unlikely to relive the embarrassment of the past, and still use the lesson to avoid the same embarrassment in the future.

So again we see that the world is not anywhere nearly as factual as it appears.  Science doesn't "prove" much, nor does it really "discover" much.  Still, that isn't a reason to not pursue greater understanding of ourselves and the world we live in, even at the risk that we might find that what we once thought to be true is, in fact, not true at all.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Proof

So, here's an interesting comment:
Common knowledge doesn't need "proof".
Um, yes it does, at least when that "common knowledge" is anything but common knowledge.  Unfortunately, too many people think that the things they believe are common knowledge, and so, common knowledge does require proof.  Whomever made that comment probably had no business going to college.  I say this because in college, or even high school for that matter, one is not required to provide sources for common knowledge.  For example, I might say that according to Einstein, E=MC^2.  I don't need to provide a source for that, as it is considered common knowledge that this is Einstein's Theory of Relativity.  However, if I were to simply state that E=MC^2, it actually would be okay for someone to ask for proof.  And, no, in this case, saying that Einstein said so isn't sufficient proof.  It's not even a good argument.

And yes, I take this as at least additional evidence that some people don't belong in college, although I have to admit, it isn't proof.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Lies and Transparency

Obama weighs in on Gruber remarks: We didn't deceive anyone to pass Affordable …

Of course you didn't.  You couldn't help that the American people misunderstood when you said they could keep their insurance if they wanted.  You couldn't help that the American people misunderstood when you said they could keep their doctor.  You couldn't help that the American people misunderstood when you claimed that this law would make health care affordable to everyone.  As it turns out, you did deceive a lot of people, and you're just continuing with the deception in the hopes that people will just forget about the past deceptions.  For the record, Mr. Obama, I, and many others like me do not, and have never trusted you.  And nearly every word that comes out of your mouth just gives me more reason to distrust you.  I know you don't care.  I'm a nobody, and likely always will be.  I didn't vote for you, and even if I did, I'm absolutely convinced that my opinion means nothing to you.

So, what's this article all about, really?  It's about how Mr. Obama is distancing himself from Jonathan Gruber, a man who was paid $400,000 to act as an adviser to the White House concerning the Affordable Care Act.  I dunno, but it's kind of hard, after the fact, to distance yourself from someone whom you paid $400,000 to for their opinion, especially when you're attempting to distance yourself by saying that now you disagree with your adviser's opinion.  So, if Mr. Gruber's opinion is so worthless, then what was that $400,000 for?

Anyway, I'm not so sure that "stupidity" is the right word, although I suspect that the alternatives like "ignorance" would be equally frowned on, but the unfortunate reality is that the passage of Obamacare really was dependent on the ignorance of the masses.  Not many actually read the Act, and I doubt that many actually comprehended the implications of what they read.  And now, to make matters worse, the language that is used to discuss the issue has become so muddled that nobody really knows what anyone is saying any more.

An example of the muddled language that's tossed around is the term "affordable."  Affordable doesn't mean the same thing to everyone.  What's affordable to me isn't necessarily affordable to everyone, even if our incomes are the same.  Sometimes, even though I have 20 bucks, I don't feel like I can afford to go see a movie, even if I don't have something specific I need that $20 for.  In that case, some people would find the movie affordable, but I wouldn't.

A second example of language muddling is how the terms "health care" and "health insurance" have become interchangeable.  They aren't the same thing at all, but hardly anybody actually refers to insurance when talking about how the ACA will cut healthcare spending.  The idea behind the ACA is that forcing healthy people to carry insurance will drive the cost of health insurance down, because healthy people will make fewer claims, and in theory, premiums for insurance would drop.  That part of the law actually seems reasonable, but it's foolish to think that that effect will last for long.  It actually doesn't address the real problem of rising health care costs, just the insurance part.  In the end, the insurance cost will also need to rise as rising demand for health care pushes the cost of care ever higher.  And the last I read, the average premium is already expected to rise about 10 percent this year over last year, so that effect was relatively short-lived.  It appears the ACA didn't even accomplish the goal of lowering the cost of health insurance, except, perhaps, for some fortunate people, and even they will at some point start to feel the pinch as rising health CARE costs bring about sharply increasing INSURANCE premiums.

One other terminology issue I have with this whole discussion is the use of the term "preventive medicine."  This includes things like regular checkups and tests.  There is nothing preventive about these things at all.  If I go to the doctor once a year for a checkup, it doesn't prevent me from being sick, and I wish the "experts" would quit calling it preventive.  I either have cancer, or I don't.  Getting a checkup doesn't prevent it.  It does, perhaps, allow for the diagnosis and treatment before I am terminal, but it doesn't prevent anything.  So, I get to be diagnosed for free, but then, if I really am sick, I have a substantial deductible expense that comes out of my pocket before the insurance pays.  If the free services were genuinely preventive, it would be great, but I don't feel like there's much benefit to somebody telling me I have cancer for free, but then charging me to treat it, with no guarantees on the outcome.  It seems to make more sense for them to charge me to tell me I'm sick, and then treat the illness for free.  Then, I would be fine with the whole "no guarantees" thing.

So, here's the quote that got my ire in the linked article:

"The fact that some adviser who never worked on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with ... is no reflection on the actual process that was run."

So, that certainly clears things up.  "Some adviser who never worked on our staff."  He was paid $400,000 to NOT work on the staff, I guess.  At any rate, Mr. Obama basically said that he has a different opinion, although he never actually said what his opinion was.  And that two people having different opinions about the actual process that was run is somehow not a reflection on the actual process that was run.  And apparently, we're supposed to buy that line of reasoning because, well, he's the President of the United States of America, and don't you forget it.  His opinion matters.  It even appears that Mr. Obama is pretending to not know who Mr. Gruber is, by referring to him as "some adviser."

The short version of this is that I'm tired of hearing lies.  I'm tired of people talking about transparency while not really being transparent.  I'm tired of this administration.  Well, two more years.  That's what I know.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

It wasn't about penguins

Penguins offer U.S. a lesson in addressing climate change

You know, I'm always interested in learning more about science, so even though the title had climate change in it, I thought the story was going to be about penguins.  I was wrong mostly wrong.

Sure, there was a short blurb about penguins in the beginning, but I guess I don't get the point.  Specifically, the article says:
"On the western Antarctic Peninsula, climate change is wreaking havoc on stocks of krill, tiny crustaceans that penguins eat. Adelie penguins are in decline in the region because they have not changed their survival strategy and found something else to eat. Gentoo penguins have; they have been able to turn a threat into a comparative advantage."

Now, I'm not exactly sure what the author means by "comparative advantage."  That phrase is unnecessarily vague, and could mean lots of things.  For example, it could mean that the one group of penguins isn't doing as badly as the other, but they're both doing badly.  But, you know, using a phrase like that certainly sounds like you know what you're talking about. It sounds technical.

So, given that my curiosity about penguins has been piqued, I decided to do a little research into how these species are truly faring in the world of climate change, and here's what I found.
"But it's not all bad news for the Adélies, said Fraser of the Polar Oceans Research Group. As the Antarctic Peninsula heats up, southern parts of Antarctica have become more hospitable homes for the species. Adélie populations in the far southern peninsula have tripled in previous decades, Fraser said."
And as for the Gentoo penguins?
"Since 1974 gentoos have increased in number by 7,500 percent and chinstraps by 2,700 percent."
So, yeah, it appears the Gentoo penguins are doing better than the Adelies.  Unfortunately, the headline for that second article is as misleading as the headline for the article that is the subject of this post: "Adelie Penguins Extinct in a Decade in Some Areas?"  The key words are "in some areas."  That's kind of like saying humans are extinct in my backyard because no one is out there.

At any rate, eventually this story turned into a rant about how climate change is to blame for nearly every possible bad thing that is expected to happen in the next little while.

"The lesson, however, is not about penguins. It's about us — humans — and how climate change could destabilize nations, spark wars and fuel terrorism — unless we change our strategy."

The author really went out on a limb with that statement.  First, every one of those things is already happening.  The only really surprising part of that statement is that it actually mentions humans, and almost puts part of the blame for those bad things on them, er, us.  Not quite though.

Later on, the author actually gives Congress more credit for intelligence than they deserve:
"Sometimes, members of Congress mimic penguin levels of intelligence when it comes to climate change."
Either that's a compliment to Congress, or a slam against penguins.  Either way, whether or not human contribution to climate change is the issue that some folks would like us to believe it is, I really wish people would stop with the whole idea that government has to do something about it.  To all those people that are whining that government isn't doing enough, I just have a couple of questions.  First, what exactly do you think government should do?  And second, what exactly are YOU doing?  All the government can do is tell us what we have to do and spend our money.  I would prefer they did neither.



Sunday, October 05, 2014

Disproving the disproof

Weird – Your Baby Could Have DNA From Past Lovers

It would be nice if "journalists" would quit writing about stuff they don't understand.  The study in this article doesn't say anything about babies having DNA from previous lovers.  It does say that a baby may inherit certain non-genetic traits from previous mates.  Okay, actually it says that this phenomenon happens in fruit flies, not necessarily in other types of animals.  I'm not even sure it proves that.

But, let's assume for a moment that it does prove that traits are passed from previous mates.  The thing that I find most interesting about this is pretty typical of a lot of science.  Specifically in this case, I'm talking about how science has "disproved" telegony, only to turn around and disprove its own disproof later.  This type of proving and disproving makes me wonder just how it is that there are so many people who have a kind of blind faith in science.  They like to say things like "Science is real."  And it is real, at least until it isn't any more.  And then science is hailed as having found yet another absolute truth, at least until it disproves it.  Forget about whether this new finding flies in the face of what was thought by scientists to be true in the past.  Scientists know stuff.

Now I'm not saying that the original idea of telegony was necessarily true.  I haven't read enough about it to have any idea how it is that folks like Aristotle thought it happened.  It's just that they thought it did happen, only to be "proved" wrong by science, and subsequently science itself proved that what it once disproved is at least a possibility in the "real" world of science.

The point of this all is that a lot of people who claim to be skeptical are anything but skeptical when it comes to science, apparently because science is "real."  And if anything, stories like this should point people toward the idea that science is deserving of skepticism at least at the same level as other things, such as religion.  In fact, I would argue that there is little, if any, real difference between science and religion, and in the future, as time permits, I intend to show not only how there is no significant difference between religion and science, but that the two are not mutually exclusive.  Unfortunately, in order to see the relationship between the two, one must have an open mind, something that is a truly rare commodity in today's world.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Weekly review September 14, 2014

It's time again for my (almost) weekly take on stuff I've heard lately.

Kids!

"I don't see why being overweight is such a big deal."  And, "I think they should just keep selling soda in the school vending machines.  We need it."  Thanks to a high school senior for those.  Then, to make it even better, when I tried to explain why soda is bad for you, and why being overweight should be a concern, this individual says, "You might as well just shut up.  I don't care.  I have an opinion, and facts are not going to change it."

Guns!

One of the advantages to working at a job that doesn't require a lot of thought is that I get to listen to a lot of podcasts.  At least, I keep telling myself that's an advantage, otherwise I wouldn't be able to tolerate my job.  One of the podcasts I currently listen to is "Common Sense with Dan Carlin."

As it happens, I agree with some of Mr. Carlin's philosophies.  In particular, I like that he thinks it's okay to change your mind when the information changes, something that some of his listeners don't particularly like.  But the other night, I listened him talking about how we should change laws in order to stem the apparent tide of mass shootings that have been occurring over the last few years.  It was an older podcast, and I don't think it's available for download any more.  At least, I don't see it on the list.

First, let me say that I agree with Mr. Carlin's basic idea: that changing our culture is the way to reduce the frequency of this sort of tragedy.  I just don't agree with Mr. Carlin's proposed method.  He suggests that rather than pass gun control legislation, we should instead pass laws with heavier punishment for using weapons in the commission of crimes.  It seems to me that we already do that, but he says punishments should be much harsher.

To back up this idea, Mr. Carlin points to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), and the apparent success that has come about with harsher penalties for drunk driving.  Indeed, on the surface, it actually appears to have had a positive affect given the statistics cited on the MADD website.

At least one of these statistics is questionable, so I decided to take a closer look.  Here's the stat:
"In the United States, the number of drunk driving deaths has been cut in half since MADD was founded in 1980."
Well that sounds good, but implies that the cut is somehow related to the founding of MADD.  But, according to statistics on Wikipedia, the total number of highway fatalities over the same time decreased to 60 percent of the 1980 total.  At the same time, the number of vehicle miles traveled actually increased, with the result that fatalities per vehicle mile traveled is only a third of the 1980 figure.  Sounds more like vehicles are safer than they were in 1980 than anything else.

Of course, I may be biased on this point.  Working nights, I typically leave work shortly after closing time at the bars, and with relative regularity I see a driver that I would pull over on suspicion of impaired driving if I were a police officer.

This is not to say that everything MADD does is worthless, or anything like that.  And I'm not making the claim that drunk driving is okay.  I'm just saying that I don't really believe that there's been any kind of cultural change that has reduced how often people drive drunk as a result of stiffer penalties.

So, why am I against stiffer penalties for much of anything?  It's simple, really.  I don't think the difference between a 5 year prison sentence and a 10 year sentence is really much of a deterrent.  I actually believe that most crimes are committed without consideration of what the punishment will be.  I actually believe that most criminals are fairly certain they won't get caught, which makes the punishment moot when it comes to committing the crime, and locking people up costs too much.

On the other hand, stiffer penalties will lead to increased resistance, at least that's the way it seems, and in the case of stiffer penalties for illegal gun use, that increased resistance could make things worse.  Of course, that's merely speculation on my part.

This whole subject originally came to mind for me with this headline.  It's actually two headlines, because the original story wasn't quite right:

Utah teacher shoots herself in leg with concealed weapon
Teacher Hurt When Gun Accidentally Shatters Toilet

So here we are, a month into the school year, and a gun has accidentally been fired.  I don't really like the school's attitude, that "This just appears at this point in time to be an accident."  Seems to me to be a pretty big "just an accident," and one that was completely avoidable.  At any rate, perhaps we need to pass a law about carrying weapons in restrooms because I also happened on this:

Accidental shooting in Target bathroom never made public by HPD

Granted, this second shooting happened about a month ago, but somehow I'm just not feeling all that safe around the supposed "experts" carrying loaded weapons.  As if I needed yet another reason to not want to use a public restroom.

But, it gets worse than that.  Here are a few more accidental shootings from the past week.

Two injured in accidental shooting at Casselberry gun store
This shooting occurred because one of the people just had to show off their gun expertise.

Possibly accidental shooting wounds Oakland toddler
I can only guess what was going on here.

Teen injured in accidental shooting
Cuz, you know, guns are fun and awesome and stuff.

Woman charged with accidental shooting
And finally, the ultimate mix: guns and liquor.  Each of them fun and awesome on their own, but twice the fun together.

My point here is that more "responsible" gun carriers doesn't really equate with greater safety, like some folks would like us to believe.  And so, it does appear that Mr. Carlin from the podcast is right, that what we need is a cultural change.  In my opinion, though, that cultural change won't come from passing more laws and throwing more people in prison.  Instead, I believe the "cure" for this problem needs to come from education.  I don't mean gun safety education, because that won't work as is shown by the accidental shootings involving people who have been educated.  And I don't think that education in itself is the answer to everything.  I do, however, think that education could handle a lot of the societal problems we're experiencing.  And here's an educational idea that might be a pretty quick fix to so many people thinking they need to carry a gun.  Part of the training could involve actually being shot.  That way, at least people would truly understand the power, and responsibility, of wielding the weapon.  Then again, maybe not.

The Value of a Human Life

"ANY thief with a gun who steals my money deserves to die."
Yep, it sure sounds like we're really close to being enlightened.  Reminds me of the time that Ford did a cost-benefit analysis over recalling some cars that exploded on impact from behind, and decided that you really could put a value on human life.  And people were outraged over it.  I wonder if there's a minimum amount of that individual's money that would warrant death, or if (s)he is taking the ethical approach and not actually valuing human life at all.

Big Brother Never Forgets

I heard the story of a person who was picked up over 50 years ago because the person they were with was shoplifting.  This person was released, but FBI records still show the arrest, and apparently, some employers don't go any further than to see that an individual's record is "flagged."  Well, like the sign says at the NSA Utah Data Center, "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."  Of course, one might assume that being arrested on suspicion but released without being charged actually isn't anything to fear, which is, apparently, not true.  At least there's a limit to how much data can actually be stored there… oh wait.  Originally the center was expected to house a yottabyte  of info, although some think it's more than that.  The actual storage capacity is classified, but the facility was built with future expansion in mind, as if a yottabyte isn't enough.  Our only hope may be that nobody will actually be able to figure out how to find anything in all that space.  But, it's more likely that they'll be able to find whatever they want… the problem will likely be in the interpretation.

Reality is better than fiction… Oh wait.

The New York Times Just Issued the Best Correction You'll Read All Week

So, I thought this was a bit funny, that the Times had misstated that Dick Cheney was the former president.  Then, I happened on this:

Cheney Says Iraq Would Be Stable If He Were Still President

And thought to myself that the news was turning out to be better than anything anyone could ever make up.  Of course, I was wrong.  Someone did make it up.

If it Looks Like War...

John Kerry: ISIS Action Is Not a War, It’s Counter-Terrorism

Yeah, it's not a war, just like Viet Nam and Korea weren't, well, until after the fact.  I'm not saying those were the same, other than this shows that the word games that politicians use haven't changed much at all.  Viet Nam and Korea were police actions.  But these days, politicians don't want to use that term because the term police is an unfriendly term for a lot of people so they had to come up with a different name, something more, well, "user friendly."

You know, I'm no expert on the subject, but I do try to stay on top of what's happening in the world, and this whole thing with ISIS is, well, troubling.  I really started thinking about it when ISIS began posting videos and pictures of executions and other atrocities they've committed.  The story that came down through the media and from the government claimed that these things were apparently recruitment tools.  Or, in some cases, meant to spread terror in the western world.  Only, the more I thought about that, the less sense it seemed to make.  To me, it seemed as if ISIS was egging us on, goading us into to doing exactly what we're going to do.

So now, it looks as if this is a win-win situation for ISIS and our own government, because just a month ago, I was reading about how "war-weary" Americans were becoming, only to turn around and see that now, a majority of Americans actually favor military action against ISIS, just in time for Obama to announce increased military action against ISIS.  It's almost enough to make me start to believe the video about how the ISIS videos were faked.  Well, not really.  It's probably just a stroke of great luck on the part of our government.  I don't believe they're actually smart enough to pull a coup like this off intentionally.  Assuming, then, that these videos were produced by ISIS, I don't think ISIS is so stupid as to think we wouldn't respond in the precise way in which we are, hence a win-win for our government and ISIS.  Not so much for the rest of us bag holders.

Book Review

Flash Boys, by Michael Lewis

This book should be required reading for anyone considering a career in finance.  It may contain some inaccuracies, it may be biased, I don't really know, although I didn't think it was any of those things.  There were some comments to the contrary in the book reviews.  Certain details about the financial markets were, perhaps, simplified, but the differences between what I've observed versus the book's description are not material.  What this book does show is that having a good ethical grounding, and understanding the big picture in finance wasn't, and likely still isn't, the way to get hired by Wall Street.  It's a good read, doesn't require a background in finance to understand, and may provide some food for thought that would be useful before choosing a major in finance.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Weekly review August 23, 2014

Some stuff I've found around the internet this week.

Comments 
"Skepticism is never a good thing."
No, it's always a good thing.  By this, I don't mean people should not believe anything, I mean people should withhold judgment, which rarely happens anymore.  There is a significant difference between withholding judgment and disbelief.  Disbelief is on the same level as belief.  An example is atheism versus Christianity, or some other religion.  While this may not be the case with all atheists, many atheists believe there is no God simply because there isn't proof of God, and therefore, God does not exist.  Lack of evidence is proof of nothing.
"Politics is who gets what, when, and how."
Perhaps that is true these days, but why?  It is because that is what we, the people, have voted for it to become.  Sadly, though, this is the definition of a command economy, which I'm sure most people will agree is not what we want, which unfortunately demonstrates many people's lack of knowledge.  Of course, if it happens that you will be the recipient of the most, then a command economy is exactly what you want.  And that is what many people base their voting choices on.  Who will give me the most?
"The witnesses have said that he got hit while running away or his body jerked as if he was hit and then he turned around. This is consistent with the shot in his lower arm which could have easily caused his body to jerk."
Yet another example of internet sleuthing.  We watch altogether too many crime shows.  And what's wrong with that?  Too many people will decide that this is exactly what happened, all based on some nobody's speculation.

Twitter
"The DOJ might possibly consider studying whether #Ferguson cops are racist, but the FBI is definitely investigating #Anonymous."
This came from Twitter.  One of the problems with Twitter is the limit on the length of tweets, which lead to a lot of ambiguous statements being made, and this tweet is not an exception.  However, this tweet appears to imply that the tweeter thinks that there is some relationship between the DOJ studying the possibility of racism in Ferguson and the FBI investigating Anonymous.  Now, I'm not saying that racism isn't a problem in Ferguson; I honestly don't know whether it is or isn't.  Anonymous, on the other hand, has openly claimed to break the law, and attempted to effect change through intimidation.  It would be easy enough to construct an argument that Anonymous is a terrorist group, but I'll refrain from that here.

So, the big question here is whether the DOJ should investigate the possibility of racism in Ferguson, whether or not the FBI investigates Anonymous.

So, let's see what the results could possibly be.  First, I think we can agree that either racism is a problem in Ferguson, or it isn't.  So, let's begin by assuming that racism isn't a problem.  If the DOJ investigates and finds that racism isn't a problem, then some people will say that the DOJ itself is racist, fanning the flames of racism, producing a problem where no problem currently exists, because some people will set out to prove the DOJ wrong, and that the DOJ is racist.  If the DOJ finds that racism is a problem, even though it isn't, again, the finding will fan the flames of racism, with some demanding changes be made thus creating a problem where none currently exists.

Now if we assume that there is a problem with racism in Ferguson, then a DOJ investigation that concludes there is no problem with racism will certainly fan the flames of racism, driving some who believe it is a problem to make the problem more clear to the investigators.  And if the DOJ finds that there is a problem with racism, then some people who don't believe racism to be an issue will now become outraged that there is, in fact, a problem thus fanning the flames of racism again.

Still, there's that other possibility: that the DOJ chooses to not investigate racism in Ferguson.  That decision would, again, result in a similar effect to investigating and not finding racism to be a problem.  So, what the DOJ has to consider is whether the negative outcomes from conducting an investigation outweigh the negative outcomes from not conducting an investigation, and has nothing at all to do with whether they think racism is or isn't a problem in Ferguson.

It's entirely possible that I'm wrong on the outcomes.  But, it's also possible I'm right, and I think that people have demonstrated that, in a situation like this one, if the outcome isn't what a particular group wants, then it serves as the fuel for further unrest.  If I'm right, then the only possible outcome of a DOJ investigation is a bad one, no matter what the DOJ findings are, which makes this not a decision based on the likelihood of racism being a problem, but more of a political choice.  What would be the good of conducting this investigation?  I can't think of one.  Having said that, I have a sinking feeling the DOJ will conduct an investigation, and no matter what the findings, the outcome will be bad.
"QUESTION: What's the difference between a cop being suspended and a PAID vacation?...Seriously? #Ferguson #Anonymous #MikeBrown #OpFerguson"
This is, again, from Twitter.  I have to assume that this person is asking what the difference is between a paid suspension and paid vacation.  There are likely many bad assumptions that went into the crafting of this tweet.  Presumption of guilt comes to mind.  I say this because the tweet implies that police officers should be put on unpaid suspension, otherwise it's the same as a vacation.  Of course, that would be punishing the officer before guilt or innocence was established, but of course, that's okay if it's only police officers.  But really, for the most part, I doubt the officers that have been put on paid suspension feel much like they're on vacation.

News
‘Order’ from Mayor McAdams calls for closing all exits out of Salt Lake City
So, I read this article and thought "At least our local government has a decent sense of humor."  Then I read the lone comment:
"Not funny man, that could have set off a panic and in panic chaos and luteing happen, bad news dude. I wouldnt do that kind of “joke” ever again."
Sadly, it appears that in Salt Lake City, the government has a better sense of humor than the public.
UPDATE: As I was writing this, I checked the article again and thankfully a few more commenters have expressed similar sentiments to mine.