Archive for the category “politics”

Man made deltas and concrete rivers. The south drinks what the north delivers.

Happy Earth Day everyone. To celebrate, let’s have a discussion about the least popular animal in California since the infamous spotted owl. I present to you the delta smelt.

delta smelt
Cute little guy, isn’t he?

So, what did the delta smelt do to deserve the hatred? The same thing the spotted owl did — lived its life. People chose to utilize the law to protect these species and their habitats. This in turn inconvenienced some narrow-minded people. These narrow-minded people advance one of the stupidest arguments ever to attack the protection of these species. It goes something like, “California cares more about a fish than they do humans.”

So let’s unpack that argument. It falls apart rather quickly with some analysis and an understanding of one concept. The delta smelt is an indicator species. Generally an indicator species is any biological species that defines a trait of the environment. Zooming in on resource, species and habitat management, an indicator species is one that is sensitive to and therefore to serve as an early warning indicator of environmental changes. Typically an indicator species is in the middle of the food chain. They eat critters/plants in the habitat. They are eaten by other critters. So the rationale behind monitoring an indicator species is that if it’s healthy and doing well it is likely the interconnected system that constitutes its habitat is also thriving.

Here’s a quick example about how people intuitively understand the concept. When the settlers were emigrating from the east coast out to the plains and the west access to fresh water was at a premium. Sometimes they ran out and had to source drinking water. How would one go about doing that? The settlers looked for frogs. The presence of frogs indicated a (relatively) healthy source. No frogs equaled trouble. So that is the gist of indicator species.

It is patently absurd to state that regulators and advocates “care” more about the health of the delta smelt than the humans. The fallacy here is that regulating only in the interest of humans would always benefit humans. Remember, we are (still) completely dependent on the Earth and its systems. We know relatively little about how these systems interconnect. I believe we should err on the side of caution because the effects can be wide reaching from operating solely for the benefit of people. What about people that enjoy recreational uses of water (fishing, kayaking, etc.)? What about increased costs of treating water to drinking standards as the system degrades? Lots o’ questions here.

So, why do I think that people push this argument? One reason is that it appeals to “common sense”. I’ve written about previously. The baked in presumption that the simplest approach will bring the best results is off base. The next reason is just plain tribalism. Hippie-punching is a treasured hobby for a segment of people. California is a shining beacon of everything that is wrong in the world to that same segment. So it’s no big deal to twist logic to get some cheap shots in. The last one I’m going to advance is the complete self-absorption of our culture. We demand that everything be done so it benefits us directly. The concept of indirect benefits is becoming un-American, apparently.

So on Earth Day, try to think in a utilitarian manner. Let’s try to do things that benefit the greatest number of people because we are dealing with shared resources, health and safety issues, and a future for our children. We can all go back to being petty tribalists tomorrow (or not!). Give the delta smelt a break. It’s only trying to survive and ensure a future for its family and specie. The people who are trying to assist it by protecting flow rate, habitat, food sources, etc., are doing so for your benefit.

ETA: If anyone is curious as to how the delta smelt is doing, sampling at 40 previously friendly to smelt sites found one delta smelt. h/t Trollhattan. Thx buddy!

Shuffle up and deal

NOFX — We Called it America

Love it when a punk song comes up on the shuffle and this song is appropriate for the dark and dreary times we’re struggling through. Saw some great NOFX shows back in the 90’s. Good times. Accordingly I’m more of a fan of their 90’s stuff but this song is a good piece of their later work (2009).

The song opens with a quote from Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross.

The leads are weak? Fucking leads are weak? YOU’RE weak.

The vinyl version of the song uses a different quote by Jack Lemmon instead of the Baldwin one. I’m not really an Alec Baldwin fan (I find him to be quite insufferable), but his work in Glengarry Glen Ross is his best.

The song has the usual strong guitar interplay and lightning fast tempo from Fat Mike and the boys. The lyrics paint a bleak (but accurate) portrait of where America has been and where we’re going. Some lyrics:

Remember when America had a middle class
And an upper class, that was way before the exodus
That was the America that we thought was number one,
Thought would overcome, thought would never die
That was just our pride and faith, two shitty deadly sins
I know faith isn’t one of ’em but it should have been
Cuz when things were crumbling, we had no camaraderie
Just a faith someone would save us from despondence

Seems like they’re onto something, no?

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

I remember in high school riding in my girlfriend Kristen’s old Chrysler with a boom box in the center console. Her radio had long quit working and we would blare this song.  We had to keep stopping to buy batteries because the boom box at max volume was a real energy drain. It was so risque and fun and even though I had no idea what Salt n Peppa were actually talking about I happily sung the words.

Fast forward to present day and now I know all about those lyrics and have two little girls as a constant reminder of what happens when the lyrics are put into action.

Today Mike sent me an article about Colorado’s experimental contraception program. The article claims large decreases in teen pregnancies and abortion due to readily available, affordable contraception.  My first thought was, “Wow, way to go CO!” When I told Mike how pleased I was that Colorado was taking aggressive action he reminded me not everyone was as excited.  He reiterated the annoying claim I have often heard naysayers scream which is:

Available contraception leads to an increase in sexual activity in youth. It makes perfectly nice girls into SLUTS!! Ugh.

Really?? Think about it… what teenage girl says, “I didn’t want to have sex and had no plans to but now I can get birth control pills so I am going to roll in the hay with any guy who looks at me!”  None to very very few.

News flash, girls have sex because of emotion based reasons. Girls have sex because they want to fit in. Girls have sex because they want a boy to like them. They want to feel grown up and accepted. Girls want to feel pretty and to feel loved. They do not decide to have sex because they can get a low cost diaphragm or free condom. Girls wait to have sex because they are confident in themselves. They choose to wait because they feel loved and cherished by someone other than a boyfriend. Girls pick a different way to display affection when they are shown praise and encouragement and have a strong sense of self worth.

Before you roll your eyes and click close thinking I am another clueless thirty-something who doesn’t know what I am talking about… I am proof. A few of my friends were also.

My girlfriends and I were all able to get birth control and were not in private schools. We were of varying faiths, popularity and socioeconomic backgrounds. None of us were considered shy or dorky or prudish (quite the opposite actually). On the surface one would not see any correlation between our decisions. Dig deeper and you would have seen ONE major similarity. Every girlfriend I had (and women I continue to meet) who chose to wait until they were ready had a strong adult mentor.

In a perfect world a child is blessed with strong parental figures.  Unfortunately this is not something we can pick. My parents were awesome (still are). They taught me how important it was to be strong in mind and independent. They rewarded and encouraged my achievements without pushing me into areas I was no longer interested. My parents never considered I wouldn’t be successful. It was annoying. They praised my scholastic endeavors and celebrated every tiny accomplishment regardless of how trivial it may be.  They reminded me I was important.  I was and still am extremely lucky to have the support of my parents.

Not everyone wins the parent lottery and has support in the home.  So then what?  It takes a village friends!!   If you know a young person, why not take them to lunch? Why not offer to help with homework? Perhaps your neighbor/niece/friend’s child is struggling.  Make yourself the adult who takes accountability for our precious youth.  I work to encourage and uplift the young women I meet.  It doesn’t matter if they are my own children.  Bonus? You will feel like SUCH a badass when you know you contributed in some little way to a child’s future.

As a mother I am fearful of the challenges our daughters will face. I know they will be pressured to drink, do drugs and have sex. They will meet people who will teach them how to cuss(never from us of course-ha!) and bully and treat people poorly. They will also meet people who are better looking than them. Smarter. Wealthier. Cooler. I know my girls will feel insecure and want to fit in. The day they come home with their first crush will be exhilarating for them and nerve wracking for me.

What can we do? I don’t have the answer (If you thought I was going to bust out the perfect plan you were mistaken).

You know what I am going to do? I am going to love them fiercely.  I am going to remind them how smart they are and about life and traveling and the big world  waiting for them to conquer. I am going to encourage their goals and remind them how much they have to offer.  I am going to attempt to explain that they are at the very beginning of a long adventure and will have many more crushes(they will not believe me).  I am going to encourage them to value their bodies and discuss our faith.  Then, I am going to tell them about contraception.  I am going to tell them where to get it and be cool but firm, explaining one wrong move could give you a child or a disease.  Finally, I am going to have a panic attack in the privacy of our bedroom while telling Mike to load the gun.

When I think they haven’t listened and they come to me because their heart is broken I am going to hold them.  When I am rocking my little girl and hating the piece of crap that hurt her feelings I am going to support her and tell her how special she is.  She won’t believe me and I will certainly think it is falling on deaf ears.  But down deep I know she will hear me.  Maybe it will remind her how amazing she is.  Maybe it will make her stronger. Just maybe it will remind her how loved she is and give her the confidence she needs to choose differently.

And he is not one of us. He has never been one of us.

It’s fallacy exploration time again and today we’re going to tackle the No True Scotsman (“NTS”) fallacy. Generally, it occurs when a member of a group attempts to disassociate herself from the actions of a fellow group member by claiming that the other group member wasn’t ever really a part of the group. Basically it means that a person re-defines the group to exclude the “undesirable” actor leaving themselves and their precious narrative free from consequences.

The most common usage of the NTS fallacy is a Republican deeming a fellow republican to be a “RINO”, Republican in name only. Another common usage is the saying, “Conservatism can’t fail, it can only be failed.” Here are some quotes from a serial abuser of the fallacy:

“Republicans lost last night but conservatism did not, and that is, to me, one of the fundamental elements of last night’s results. Conservatism did not lose; Republicans lost last night.” – Rush Limbaugh, 11/8/2006

“Conservatism did not lose last night. Conservative was not on the ballot.” – Rush Limbaugh, 11/5/2008

“Conservatism, in my humble opinion, did not lose last night. It’s just very difficult to beat Santa Claus.” – Rush Limbaugh, 11/7/2012

I use El Rushbo as an example because it is my belief that the epistemic closure of conservatives in general as enabled by their preferred media does not allow conservatives to honestly and objectively analyze or understand why conservative ideas sometimes fail. I understand the incentive for the conservative media to abuse this fallacy. They are invested in a narrative and gain financially by doing so. They do not have a duty to accurately inform you contra their narrative. The rank and file conservative has a different incentive. They just don’t want to believe what their lying eyes and ears are telling them. I get this as well. It’s not enjoyable to be wrong. However, the lazy NTS fallacy severely diminishes your ability to be “right” going forward (if that’s something you care about). Would you run your business or family this way? In my business if there is a mistake or outcome that we don’t like, we perform a root-cause analysis. We don’t make up plausible excuses that conform to our narrative and then quit investigating.

There is no ideology or belief that is correct or “right” every single time. People that have that sort of expectation or belief have to delude themselves to maintain their narrative. When you see people use the NTS fallacy, you should be (rightly) skeptical of their motives. They have crafted what they think is an unassailable position. They are just aping their media sources/heroes by painting themselves in a corner and lashing out/playing defense. That demonstrates someone arguing in bad faith and they should be roundly mocked. Why? Because it is very likely that they would have cheered the actions that they are decrying if they produced results that furthered their narrative.

One thing leads to another


I hate the slippery slope fallacy. It is greatly overused and can be effective even though it is an informal logical fallacy. Many times I find myself itching to advance a slippery slope argument and it is difficult to stop myself. Recently I was discussing this issue online when a commenter that obviously went to a better school than I did said, “My law school professor said that a slippery slope argument is the type of argument one uses to divert attention while thinking of a legitimate argument”. I think that is spot on and remembering that piece of wisdom helps me to avoid using the slippery slope (for the most part–sometimes I have nothing else).

One source of consternation for me regarding the slippery slope is how the definition of the argument has changed over time. A slippery slope argument states that a relatively small first step leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant effect, much like an object given a small push over the edge of a slope sliding all the way to the bottom. Traditionally, there had to be some sort of causal effect between the first step and the subsequent events. In modern usage, there does not need to be a causal effect. The first step and the subsequent events just have to be related somehow. Let’s look at an example of modern usage using some statements from perhaps the dumbest person ever to be a member of the United States House of Representatives, Louie Gohmert, on restricting ammunition capacities and same-sex marriage/polygamy/bestiality:

In fact, I had this discussion with some wonderful, caring Democrats earlier this week on the issue of, well, they said “surely you could agree to limit the number of rounds in a magazine, couldn’t you? How would that be problematic?”
And I pointed out, well, once you make it ten, then why would you draw the line at ten? What’s wrong with nine? Or eleven? And the problem is once you draw that limit; it’s kind of like marriage when you say it’s not a man and a woman any more, then why not have three men and one woman, or four women and one man, or why not somebody has a love for an animal?
There is no clear place to draw the line once you eliminate the traditional marriage and it’s the same once you start putting limits on what guns can be used, then it’s just really easy to have laws that make them all illegal.

Let’s unpack this statement to get at the fallacy. He almost gets to the fallacy on ammunition capacity but pivots to a popular argument on same-sex marriage to demonstrate a slippery slope. His argument is that allowing same-sex marriage will “make it easy” to allow bestiality and bigamy. He doesn’t demonstrate how this would happen, however. There is no causal connection between allowing same-sex marriage and bestiality/polygamy. These issues are just related in his mind. The slippery slope glosses over the fact that the justifications for allowing same-sex marriage are completely different from the justifications of allowing bestiality/polygamy. It also completely avoids the fact that there is very little support for bestiality/polygamy compared to SSM. In Gohmert’s world, a proponent for bestiality/polygamy would only have to argue, “But but we allow same-sex marriage, why not polygamy/bestiality????!” Do you really believe that the proponent’s argument would carry the day? We criminalize both polygamy and bestiality. We do not criminalize (with some exceptions) homosexual behavior. We treat these issues differentially. By using the fallacy, Gohmert gets to appeal to nihilism by changing the debate framing from same-sex marriage to the other two categories that are completely different. The merits of the arguments about SSM become immaterial. An SSM supporter would ostensibly have to support polygamy and bestiality in Gohmert’s world. That is ridiculous. Each of these issues should be taken individually.

So, what would be a proper use of the slippery slope? An argument where one can demonstrate the causality between the discreet steps. A leads to B which leads to C and so on to the end point of X. Gohmert’s example is that A leads to X but he doesn’t demonstrate how each step will do it (because he knows it won’t but wants to pivot to something that would scare people). The intervening events between A to X have to be factually based, not just alleged.

Keep an eye out for someone who uses the slippery slope in a fallacious manner. They’re deliberately and in bad faith misleading the argument. Ask them how the initial step leads to the end result. Make them get granular on exactly how the chain of events works. You’ll see that they have to make some sort of assumption or leap to tie it together.

January has April showers and two and two always makes a five.

I’m planning on doing a series of posts on logical fallacies. Let me get this out of the way first. I am just as guilty as anyone for using fallacies. That does not mean I am unqualified to opine on them (this is an example of a fallacy to be covered later, the tu quoque). The more interesting angle to me is why I or others use them.

In the broadest sense, a fallacy is an error in reasoning. Fallacies are not factual errors. Zooming in just a bit, a fallacy is when the premise or premises of an argument don’t support the conclusion to the necessary degree.

The Straw Man

The straw man fallacy is ubiquitous in today’s discourse. It occurs when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. Some common ways to do this are: quoting an opponent’s words out of context — i.e. choosing quotations that misrepresent the opponent’s actual intentions; inventing a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs which are then criticized, implying that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical; and oversimplifying an opponent’s argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.

Let’s look at an example. “Senator Jones says that we should not fund the attack submarine program. I disagree entirely. I can’t understand why he wants to leave us defenseless like that.” See the game there?

So, why do people attack straw men instead of their opponents’ actual positions? First off, it is much much much easier to argue against the extreme of a potential position than it is to argue against a nuanced position. I see it as a preference for contempt over understanding. It is more fun to thunder against an opponent and dismiss them entirely than to listen and maybe learn something from your opponent. The flip side to this is that your opponent has zero incentive to accept or listen to your viewpoint when you are showing bad faith by (deliberately?) misstating their position.

Second, it is much easier to maintain an ideological viewpoint and/or internal narrative by assuming your opponent is as ideological as you are. We live in a period of hardened beliefs. Instead of highlighting where we agree, we choose to highlight how we differ. If a proponent of the straw man is forced to consider that his opponent may not be as crazy as he believed, he may have to acknowledge that his position could be crazy. It is quite easy to avoid this. Just assume that all “reasonable” opponents do not exist or are lying.

Third, our failed media experiment conditions us to believe the stereotypes about our opponents. The sad thing is that the media has an incentive to foment hate and misunderstanding. Those things create clicks/views/book purchases/etc. I believe that adopting this focus is completely wrongheaded. Those sorts of “arguments” are for entertainment purposes. We have to live with each other and are trying to exchange ideas about governing, which has very real effects.

The use of the straw man is one of the principal reasons that we talk past each other. As I said above, it is a bad faith starting point. It is extremely difficult to achieve any sort of result when we are locked in tribalistic combat. By definition, the only acceptable results would be the eradication of the opponents’ position in this ideological game. We should all take a step back. I promise to try not to assume the worst about my opponent’s position and to listen and understand that position to try to make headway that benefits us both.

If you see a straw man argument (and it may be you that uses it), take a second to acknowledge it. Ask yourself, why is this tactic being used here? Bad faith? Easier argument? Is this person so enraptured with tribalism that it is fruitless to engage? What do I want to achieve in this interaction? We don’t necessarily have to shout at each other from ideological poles.


Us. Sometimes we will battle, sometimes we won’t. Hopefully, you will find us mildly entertaining.

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