Comment

Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The real Super Bowl lesson wasn’t about revenge - The Boston Globe



This article nicely captures my feelings about the New England Patriots' incredible come-from-behind win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. As a Pats fan it was sweet to have them win despite Brady's suspension for the first four games of the season due to allegations that the Pats lowered the pressure in their footballs.

But the satisfaction of getting this win (with properly inflated balls) pales to the spectacle of watching the Patriots methodically, relentlessly and calmly chip away at the Falcons' lead. Meanwhile the Atlanta team could have easily added a field goal to put the game even further out of reach but succumbed to some head-scratching decisionsThere easily were half a dozen or more plays that would have thwarted the Pats' comeback if any one of them had not worked in the Pats favor. 

It seems that everything is politicized these days. We know that Robert Kraft (the team owner), Bill Belichick (head coach) and Tom Brady (quarterback) are Trump supporters. We know that some of the players have said they will not attend the team meeting at the White House for political reasons. Yet it's great to see that both sides could set aside these differences (at least publicly) to work toward a common goal.

It was as if everything our parents, our teachers, our coaches had tried to teach us transpired in the last 18 minutes of this magnificent spectacle, this Super Bowl. In the end, it wasn’t about revenge. It was about not giving up, about perseverance, about not panicking, about having a backup plan if the original plan isn’t working, about believing in yourself and your ability and in one another.
... 
The roots of the comeback were embedded in another of our parents’ mantras: that you lay the groundwork for success in ways you often can’t see, simply by persevering. Even after they had fallen behind by so much, the Patriots were controlling possession and running the Falcons defense ragged. In the fourth quarter, and especially during the winning drive in overtime, the Atlanta defenders were gassed, exhausted. 
...
So many of us had assumed that Tom Brady wanted to win this game so he could rub it in Goodell’s face. But it turns out he really wanted to win the game to put a smile on his mother’s face. There’s something much stronger, sweeter, and more satisfying than revenge. It’s called love.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Seven Secrets of Feigning Objectivity

This article, NPR's Seven Secrets of Feigning Objectivity, by Bill Frezza in Forbes talks about NPR but the points made easily apply to any news outlet, whether it's Fox, MSNBC, Drudge Report or CNN. I've seen all of them using these "secrets." I know some of the selectivity in the stories they cover is driven by time constraints of their medium. However, Frezza also identifies other ways a news outlet can shape the news they're presenting to push their agenda. That's why I make it a point to get my information from more than one source. It is enlightening to switch, say, between CNN and Fox to see how they select different stories to headline or who they choose to comment on events.

I heartily agree with Frezza's last sentence: "Knowing these secrets will help you be a smarter consumer of the news and a better informed citizen."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Global Warming: Questions That Need Distinguishing – Maverick Philosopher

I like to share posts that give examples of what I think is objective thinking. Below are some extended quotes from Maverick Philosopher about global warming that provide an example.

I am a skeptic about global warming (GW). To be precise, I am skeptical about some, not all, of the claims made by the GW activists. See below for some necessary distinctions. Skepticism is good. Doubt is the engine of inquiry and a key partner in the pursuit of truth.

A skeptic is a doubter, not a denier. To doubt or inquire or question whether such-and-such is the case is not to deny that it is the case. It is a cheap rhetorical trick of GW alarmists when they speak of GW denial and posture as if it is in the ball park of Holocaust denial. People who misuse language in this way signal that they are not interested in a serious discussion. When GW activists speak in this way they give us even more reason to be skeptical.
I have not investigated the matter with any thoroughness, and I have no firm opinion. It is difficult to form an opinion because it is difficult to know whom to trust: reputable scientists have their ideological biases too, and if they work in universities, the leftish climate in these hotbeds of political correctness is some reason to be skeptical of anything they say. (Both puns intended.)

Off the top of my head I think we ought to distinguish among the following questions:

1. Is global warming (GW) occurring?
2. If yes to (1), is it naturally irreversible, or is it likely to reverse itself on its own?
3. If GW is occurring, and will not reverse itself on its own, to what extent is it anthropogenic, i.e., caused by human activity, and what are the human causes?

(3) is the crucial empirical question. It is obviously distinct from (1) and (2). If there is naturally irreversible global warming, this is not to say that it is caused by human activity. It may or may not be. One has to be aware of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Suppose there is a close correlation between global warming and man-made carbon emissions. It doesn't straightaway follow that the human activity causes the warming. But again, this is not a question that can be settled a priori; it is a question for climatologists.

4. If anthropogenic, is global warming caused by humans to a degree that warrants action, assuming that action can be taken to stop it?
5. If GW is caused by humans to an extent that it warrants action, what sorts of action would be needed to stop the warming process?
6. How much curtailment of economic growth would we be willing to accept to stop global warming? And what other effects on human beings could the anti-global warming policies be expected to have?
The first three of these six questions are empirical and are reserved for climatologists. They are very difficult questions to answer.


Our first three questions are empirical. But the last three are not, being questions of public policy. So although the core issues are empirical, philosophers have some role to play: they can help in the formulation and clarification of the various questions; they can help with the normative questions that arise in conjunction with (4)-(5), and they can examine the cogency of the arguments given on either side. Last but not least, they can drive home the importance of being clear about the distinction between empirical and conceptual questions.


Just for the record I too am a skeptic or, to be more specific and accurate, a “luke-warmer” which means I think we humans have some impact on the global climate but nowhere near what global warming alarmists claim. It would take many pages to explain why I believe this.

Monday, January 9, 2017

5 Reasons Meryl Streep's Golden Globes Speech Was A Dud

5 Reasons Meryl Streep's Golden Globes Speech Was A Dud 

Last night as my wife and I channel surfed we stopped at the Golden Globe awards just in time to see Meryl Streep receive the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award. She lost no time to launch into an anti-Trump tirade. I like this commentary on The Federalist by Mollie Hemingway.

Here is a sampling of her commentary.

Streep said, “Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room, really, belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it. Hollywood, foreigners, and the press.”
How do I put this? UM, NO. Just no. The press and Hollywood are some of the most privileged segments of society. Whether you measure it in terms of cash money, prestige, fame, or an ability to fail year after year and get promoted, Hollywood and media elite do not get to cast themselves as victims. 
To be fair, Streep is right that the press and Hollywood are indeed vilified among certain parts of the population which includes some but not necessarily all of Trump's supporters. Streep's comment therefore is partially true: some of the people who voted for Trump did so because they vilify Hollywood and the press ... maybe because these voters feel vilified by Hollywood and the press! So it's mutual vilification!

Read the rest of it. Hemmingway is not a Trump supporter; I agree with her criticisms of some of Trump's verbal shenanigans during the campaign that consisted of mocking insults. 

I also agree with her closing paragraph.
As individuals, however, we can and should always redouble our efforts to speak well of each other and treat each other well. We shouldn’t take our guidance from politicians or movie stars, and if we focus our efforts on improving our own virtue, perhaps future generations will have better statesmen and artists.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Presidential Election: Summarized in Three Lines

Over this interminably long election process when asked what I think about the candidates I've come up with three lines that summarize how I view Trump and Clinton.

He's crass. She's corrupt.

He lies because he likes to. She lies because she has to.

He is temperamentally unfit to be president. She is ethically unfit to be president.

Great choices!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Matt Ridley: Global Warming Versus Global Greening


Matt Ridley, a well-known science journalist and author, gave a speech recently on his views about the global warming (or should I use the term “climate change”?). It’s a long essay containing many references and charts. Ridley claims there is another possibility between the two well-known sides on this issue.

What keeps science honest, what stops it from succumbing entirely to confirmation bias, is that it is decentralized, allowing one lab to challenge another.

That’s how truth is arrived at in science, not by scientists challenging their own theories (that’s a myth), but by scientists disputing each other’s theories.

These days there is a legion of well paid climate spin doctors. Their job is to keep the debate binary: either you believe climate change is real and dangerous or you’re a denier who thinks it’s a hoax.

But there’s a third possibility they refuse to acknowledge: that it’s real but not dangerous. That’s what I mean by lukewarming, and I think it is by far the most likely prognosis.

I am not claiming that carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas; it is.

I am not saying that its concentration in the atmosphere is not increasing; it is.

I am not saying the main cause of that increase is not the burning of fossil fuels; it is.

I am not saying the climate does not change; it does.

I am not saying that the atmosphere is not warmer today than it was 50 or 100 years ago; it is.

And I am not saying that carbon dioxide emissions are not likely to have caused some (probably more than half) of the warming since 1950.

I agree with the consensus on all these points.

I am not in any sense a “denier”, that unpleasant, modern term of abuse for blasphemers against the climate dogma, though the Guardian and New Scientist never let the facts get in the way of their prejudices on such matters. I am a lukewarmer.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing. I lean towards Ridley’s lukewarm stance. I think we humans have some impact on climate but from what I’ve read we’re still recovering from the last glacial period (and don’t know when we could re-enter it) and there are a number of natural cycles that intersect to cause periods of warming and cooling.
I recently took an Alaskan cruise where we visited several glaciers and toured areas where the guides noted that that the glaciers from the last Ice Age had ground down the formerly sharp mountainous features into smooth valleys. (One guide even noted that one of the glaciers actually is advancing.) I also know that in the previous Ice Age the Boston area (where I live) was buried under a thick layer of ice. This layer retreated long before the Industrial Age when humans started to generate large amounts of carbon dioxide. This pre-human glacial retreat never comes up when I discuss global warming with people who point to the currently retreating glaciers as their evidence for our impact.

So I guess that makes me a lukewarm Lukewarmer!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Book Recommendations to Change Minds (on both sides)

Arnold Kling links to a post by Cass Sunstein titled Five Books to Change Liberals' Minds. Sunstein, a legal scholar and professor at Harvard Law School is also known for his book (co-authored with Richard Thaler), Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Nudge discusses how public and private organizations can help people make better choices in their daily lives. The authors argue that “People often make poor choices – and look back at them with bafflement! We do this because as human beings, we all are susceptible to a wide array of routine biases that can lead to an equally wide array of embarrassing blunders in education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, happiness, and even the planet itself.”

While I agree with Sunstein that achieving objectivity is much, much harder than most people realize, I have philosophical issues with the government trying to steer me into making choices that officials deem are better for me. I'd rather that private institutions apply these ideas for a number of reasons that I won't go into here.

Having said that, I like Sunstein's intro to his post.

It can be easy and tempting, especially during a presidential campaign, to listen only to opinions that mirror and fortify one's own. That’s not ideal, because it eliminates learning and makes it impossible for people to understand what they dismiss as “the other side.”

I see examples of this insular thinking all to often. We all gravitate to news sources that reflect our conclusions. Liberals prefer PBS or MSNBC while conservatives glom onto Fox or the Drudge Report. Personally, I occasionally visit “enemy territory” not just to see if there is a valid alternate view or explanation but also to understand how the opposing side thinks so that maybe I can communicate my ideas better or (horrors) maybe modify my position!

The books he recommends are:

Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Conditions Have Failed,” by James Scott

A Matter of Interpretation,” by Antonin Scalia

Side Effects and Complications: The Economic Consequences of Health-Care Reform,” by Casey Mulligan

The Righteous Mind,” by Jonathan Haidt

Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes,” by Robert Ellickson

Of these five I've read one and a half. Read all of The Righteous Mind and started Side Effects and Complications but haven't finished it yet. Other books have barged into my queue! Haidt's book instantly lodged itself onto my short list of favorites. Highly recommended!

Kling in turn offers a list of books.

On education: Goldin and Katz, “The Race Between Education and Technology” and Elizabeth Green, “Building a Better Teacher.”

Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow”. [I've read most of it and agree with Kling's recommendation. It has a lot of information on the subconscious influences on our objectivity and decision making.]

Joseph Henrich’s “The Secret of Our Success” - “a good reminder that there are other social norms in the background that are important. Another book on the importance of culture is Peter Turchin’s 'War, Peace, and War.'”

On economics: L. Randall Wray’s “Why Minsky Matters” and George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, “Animal Spirits”. Scott Sumner’s history of the Great Depression, “The Midas Paradox” [Another one on the towering pile of books to be read.]

On family life: “Our Kids,” Robert Putnam who “coined the phrase 'bifurcated family patterns.' Isabel Sawhill’s “Generation Unbound”