Thursday, June 28, 2007

Spotted By Mike's Eyes June

I've been unable to visit my favorite sites lately so in getting caught up I've put together this roundup. Some of these may be a few days old but worth it if you haven't already seen them.

Could this spread? Iowa State University wants to have a chaplain for their football team. Trouble is, the faculty don't care for the name chaplain. So a new position with a new title is about to be born: "volunteer life skills assistent".

The philosophy dept. snubbed again.
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Nicholas Provenzo at Rule of Reason has a good post on "Save Net Radio" or Save the Free Market"

Every so often I write letters to my political representatives. I'll be doing so this week and this subject-intellectual property rights-is one of the things I'll be harping on.
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Andy Clarkson at The Charlotte Capitalist is blogging again with a post on enviromentalism and its mysanthropic nature. Andy says in part:
The environmentalist's case thus rests on the proposition that they don't like the fact that existence exists, that it has a certain identity and thus causality. All of their proposals are thus focused on fighting the nature of existence -- and nothing else.
So very true.
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Lubos Motl at The Reference Frame posts on more record lows in Chile with links.

Was Al Gore giving speeches there?

Lubos also has a good post on CO2 saturation for those laymen like me who would like to know more about the science of GW. He is largely responding to attacks on him over at RealClimate.com.
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The Objective Standard summer edition is now available online for subscribers. For non-subscribers the letters and replies, and Lisa VanDamme's excellent essay on classical education, are available to all.

If you don't have a subscription, I urge you to get one. It is well worth it.
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If you like flowers, especially orchids, Amit Ghate at Thrutch has some nice photos of same. Beneath the photo is the word orchids. Click on it for more beautiful photos.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Corruption of Journalism and Science

In keeping with my efforts to help readers defend themselves against mis and dis-information, I recommend another great article at JunkfoodScience.com on the relationship between journalism and science. In it, host Sandy Szwarc examines an article by Jon Franklin written in 1994 titled "Poisons of the Mind". She says in part:
In his classic article entitled, “Poisons of the Mind,” professor Franklin cautioned against relying upon media for sound information:

[']Journalism brings you skewed statistics and decontextualized quotes ... half truths, mendacity, prevarication and deceit and spin and buncombe and humbug and distortion and bosh, cant, nihilism, cynicism, hypocrisy....[']


While he found that low level of understanding of science, medicine and technology play a key role in the unreliable reporting of the news by media, he also described the power of groupthink throughout the industry which chooses to look the other way in the face of facts.
She links to his speech which I highly recommend reading entirely. While I may disagree with a few of his interpretations of history, the story he tells is a true horrer story of the corruption of journalism and science.

Regarding science, Mr. Franklin's speech provides concretizations of Ayn Rand's principle that "Governmental encouragement does not require men to believe that the false is true, it merely makes them indifferent to the issue of truth or falsehood." (Ayn Rand, from her essay "The Establishing of an Establishment" now in the book "Philosophy Who Needs It" which can be had in most book stores or here.)

Regarding journalism and its seeming complicity in such indifference, the article also concretizes the principle that: "It is a conspiracy, not of men, but of basic premises--and the power directing it is logic: if, at the desperate stage of a losing battle, some men point to a road logically necessitated by their basic premises, those who share the premises will rush to follow." (Ayn Rand, from the essay "An Untitled Letter" in the same book linked to above.) As Immanuel Kant's subjectivism spreads into science and journalism, it should be no surprise that the subjectivism of one will endorse the subjectivism of the other.

As I read the article I hoped Mr. Franklin would make some identification of Kant's influence on journalism but none was found. Mr. Franklin did however make a correct epistimological identification when he said:
We are in fact sinking deeper and deeper into a generalized acceptance of, as they say, "other ways of knowing." Witchcraft, reincarnation, devil possession, spiritualism . . . these things are widely accepted by a large proportion, perhaps a solid majority, of the voting population of the United States.
Yes, a return of the primative.

While I think Mr. Franklin is a mixed bag philosophically, he seems to be more rational than most journalists in my experience and that's why I recommend reading the entire post and speech.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ban on Second Hand Smoke

The June 18th Detroit Free Press had an op-ed under the Local Comment section titled "Smoke-Free or die" presumably a play on the state Motto of New Hampshire, "Live Free or die." It's a shame too because the meaning of "live free" is to live free of initiatory coercion by other men including the government--the very thing "smoke-free or die" advocates.

The subtitle of this attack on second hand smoke is "Smoking ban will save lives" by a Kenneth E. Warner who is "the dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan and an internationally known expert on tobacco-related health and policy issues" according to the paper's accreditation. The justification for the ban is:
Our lawmakers will not fulfill their constitutional obligation to protect the health and welfare of Michigan citizens until they vote to pass such smoke-free legislation.
Once again we see the non-objective constitutional claim general welfare being invoked to justify government initiation of force against citizens. This time it's to ban smoking on the grounds of saving lives.

Doesn't matter. The proper function of government is the protection of individual rights. A look at the writings of our founders would reveal that a nanny state is not what they had in mind by the phrase general welfare. To call for the government to start the use of force against citizens to achieve some social good is precisely what our constitution was written to prevent. (It must be remembered that there is no such thing as a "social good." There are only individual goods and individual rights is the only rational, peaceful, civilized way of protecting them.)

But let's look at his claims. The statistics given by Mr. Warner are highly debatable because they are taken from statistical studies which can't prove anything. He doesn't indicate which studies he is referencing but some of the more popular ones were taken when nobody was writing down smoking as a cause of death on any death certificates, so how could they know smoking was a cause of death? They don't. It's just an extrapolation from the data of other studies.

The numbers he cites in this quote
Adults who don't smoke but are exposed to secondhand smoke have a 25%-30% greater chance of developing heart disease, and a 20%-30% greater chance of developing lung cancer.
are usually what statisticians call relative risks (rr) and do not indicate actual risk. Most scientists consider any rr below 100% (some use 200%) as statistically insignificant because such numbers can be caused by confounding factors, hidden biases or even chance. Mr. Warner's numbers are well below the significance level. It is also noteworthy that since he felt no need to tell his readers whether he was using relative risk or actual risk or odds ratios, (all three are different) many untrained readers will wrongly assume those numbers represent actual risk to themselves.

His contention that
Every year that our lawmakers fail to act on this issue, hundreds if not thousands of Michigan citizens will die from completely preventable, premature deaths because of secondhand smoke.
is nothing more than conjecture and an out of context meaning of premature. He also neglects to tell his readers that the average life expectancy of smokers is about 72 years according to studies quoted at this site. Also, how can they be premature if living to 72 and beyond? Premature to what? Clearly Mr. Warner is using 'premature' out of context. To him any death is a premature one if that person could have lived longer.

His assertion that there is "no safe level of exposure to second hand smoke" is another flagrant example of context dropping. In the context of a guaranteed safety, there is no such thing as a perfectly safe level of exposure to anything. But in the context of the principle of toxicology, 'the poison is in the dose', there are relatively safe levels of almost everything. For example, two aspirins can cure a headache but 200 can kill a person. The threat to health is relative to the size of the dose, not unconditional like Mr. Warner suggests.

Many of the 4000 chemicals he says are in second hand smoke are naturally occurring substances already in our bodies. There are trace amounts of mercury, dioxin, arsenic and many more in most of our bodies. In fact, the polonium 210 he mentions is also in every one's bodies in trace amounts according to this NRC website. So why aren't we all dead?

Some common sense needs to be applied here. Humans have been evolving for thousands of years and have developed defenses against trace amounts of some deadly stuff. What this means is that in fact and in reality there can be safe levels relative to the size of the dose.

As for the recent poisoning of former spy Alexander Litvinenko by polonium 210, another thing Mr. Warner didn't tell his readers was that Mr. Litvinenko was fed five times the lethal dose which itself is many times higher than a person would encounter naturally.

His claim that second hand smoke is the "deadliest environmental exposure the average person confronts" is more nonsense. If people who expose themselves to first hand smoke are living to an average of 72, people exposed to second hand smoke cannot be dying sooner. The implication would be that second hand smoke is more deadly than first hand smoke. I don't think so.

Yes this is an op-ed and Mr. Warner is entitled to his views. That this is an agenda driven advocacy piece is beyond doubt when he tries to convince his readers that there is no difference between the force of nature and man's force against man. He also conflates free choice with force. For example,talking about arsenic and hydrogen cyanide he says:
Michigan law not only permits but effectively requires us to inhale those chemicals.
Requires? He ends with
When a former Russian spy is poisoned with polonium 210, it's front-page news. Yet when a child in Michigan is forced to inhale that same polonium 210 in a restaurant, no one seems to notice. It's time for Michigan's voters to notice. Tell your state lawmakers that you will no longer tolerate the daily poisoning of our citizens.
"forced to inhale?" Being ignored here is the fact that the responsibility for a Michigan child rests on the shoulders of that child's parents, not his (Warner's). That he believes the population belongs to the state (and its spokesmen), is supported by his reference to 'citizens' in the possessive (our).

I am not saying that smoking is healthy or that it's not unhealthy. If Mr. Warner were to say that smoke, first or second hand, may contribute to some cancer and heart disease, I would support that. But that's not what he's saying. He wants to end the debate once and for all with the power of government force. To end debate with force is to deflect attention away from the real causes of lung cancer and other ailments. Why should private enterprise or for that matter, government granting agencies, pour money into a non-problem, one that has already been solved with a ban? I fear that is exactly what is happening and here is why.

I have heard of two plausible causes of lung cancer from smoke, 1) smoking causes mucus in the lungs to become toxic and this toxic solution somehow causes cancer, and 2) the polonium 210 in the smoke emits alpha particles which can disrupt the DNA genes in the cells of the lungs causing them to become cancerous.

There is only one thing wrong with these two causes (and any others I may not have heard of): They do not explain why there are millions of smokers who have both the toxic mucus and the radioactive Polonium 210 in their lungs and do not get lung cancer. There are reasons for this and as I wrote in another post:
But to declare that smoking has been proven to be the definite cause of lung cancer is for scientists to fail to be honest with the public and with themselves because it refuses to explain why millions of people smoke and don't get lung cancer. There is a reason, perhaps several, why they don't get lung cancer and these reasons need to be discovered. There could be scientific discoveries waiting to happen which won't because the establishment has already decided it knows the cause, smoking.
Mr. Warner's op-ed is not so much intended to educate people on the possible evils of smoking, but to recruit them over to the statist principle that it is OK to start the use of force against citizens to achieve a 'social goal.'

The bottom line is that the health threat from second hand smoke while real to some extent, is nowhere near the danger it's cracked up to be by the statists, but even if it were, there's no way rational people would then partake in an activity that deadly. By that deadly I mean knowing that one will not make it into old age.

It may seem like a good idea to use just a little force to save some lives in the here and now but it will always result in the loss of more lives later when that principle is expanded, as it must be, to envelope ever more aspects of human behavior. A ban on smoking will just increase the chances people will not live free.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

On The Lighter Side June 16th

As most of my readers know I sometimes deviate from the serious and post on that which is almost serious. Today is one of those times.

As some of my readers may also know, I'm a grampa and like many other grampas, have been pulling babysitting tasks in recent months. My granddaughter will be 2 on July 4th and grandson 1 on Aug. 4th and I enjoy babysitting them both. To me it's a real pleasure watching a new rational being becoming acclimated to existence. But I have percieved a problem. It isn't with anything above but rather the concept, or to be more precise, its name, babysitting. It is not just a misnomer, it's a miseverything.

I have become convinced that the person who first attached the word "sitting" to "baby" needs to feel some pain. If this individual is no longer alive, then perhaps some historical shame is in order. I don't know exactly what would serve justice here but surely some kind of corrective action needs to be taken.

Looking back to the days when I was young and raising my own 3 sons, I can now see that I was oblivious to the fraud I was foisting on my family and friends when I asked "Can you babysit little Robbie on X day?" After all, "babysitting" has a nice laid-back, piece-of-cake connotation to it doesn't it. The only thing that was missing was me going "hee hee" after leaving the sitter in charge, and that was because there was no awareness on my part of any con being perpetrated.

So, to prevent future sitters from being thusly mislead, I have decided that we need to come up with a new word which refers to what is really subsumed under the concept of babysitting. I have put together the following list of actual events as starting points.

>babyhawking (constantly)
>babychanging (diapers, clothes, bibs, etc.)
>babyfeeding (and burping)
>babysoothing (when something scares them)
>babyconsoling (when they clunk themselves on the head with their own toys)
>babyhumering (actually playing with the little tykes)
>babychasing (all around the house) and finally,
>babysitting (at naptime)

So, if we add all these up, what kind of concept can be induced? I have come up with the following possibilities:

1.baby maintenance?
2.baby nursing?
3.baby policing?
4.baby guarding?
5.baby intensive caring?

While I'm open to more suggestions, for now #5 gets my vote.

Perhaps there was a time when babysitting only took place at night and involved no more than an occasional changing and feeding. But such is no longer the case. Today, watching a baby all day long is a full time effort and I can assure you that the least performed activity is 'sitting'.

Thus it is incumbent on us to formulate a new name that's a little more realistic and relegate babysitting to the long list of logical fallacies.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

G8 Performs the Ritual Again

In my post of January 2nd 2006 I wrote about how the morality of altruism is a morality of ritual performance in which actually helping others is optional. I used the examples of tobacco money not being used as promised and how the 2005 G8 meeting's intentions of helping Africans but actually failing to do so, demonstrated this fact. I wrote in part:
After the Africans have eaten the fish handed to them they will still be there with the same needs next year so the next G8 can perform the same ritual. And the media will shower them with praise for their noble and virtuous efforts. More billions will be spent. The corrupt governments will still be in power and ripping off most of this aid. And the Africans will still need.

Actually helping the Africans is irrelevant. Performing the ritual is absolutely essential.
Well, Not much has changed in 2 years. The G8 nations are at it again. This website has a long list of links and examples of how little good all the billions in G8 aid to Africa really does. The site author has mixed premises on things like free markets and capitalism but it has a wealth of articles and sites to link to that demonstrate the fact that actually helping Africans is not happening. And yet the ritual continues.

In fact, if anyone were to propose that since the ritual is ineffective, let's stop performing it, all hell would break lose. "How dare you be so heartless and cruel to the African peoples" the media would shout. "How could you condemn the Africans to perpetual, hopeless poverty and millions of deaths by disease every year?" would scream college professors and politicians. The fact that their G8 rituals do nothing to alleviate this human disaster that is Africa, means nothing to these altruists. But this uproar would prove that performing the ritual is absolutely essential.

If you doubt this consider that the G8 pledges began in 1970. The G8 nations were supposed to begin with pledges that would eventually reach 7 tenths of one percent of GDP for each G8 nation by the year 2015. Now I don't know about anyone else's interpretation of this but to me an international welfare plan lasting 45 years reveals no desire to lift Africa out of poverty. Just the opposite. Africa is not a developed or developing nation. It is a not-to-be-developed nation. Why else the prolonged state of international welfare recipient?

The G8 nations, and the rest of the world for that matter, represented by the UN, are saying to the Africans in effect "We are not concerned with the root cause of your poverty and strife. Being loyal to our value of pragmatism, we are only concerned with the reality immediately before our eyes, and that would be your physical suffering. So, that is the problem we intend to address and we will do so by making a sacrifice. We will sacrifice the pleasure we would have received by spending this $ 60 billion on ourselves and give it to you to temporarily alleviate your misery. We expect no physical values in return. Our reward is the absolutely essential feeling we must have of thinking we are noble and virtuous people. Your continued destitution makes that possible. Thank you and see you in a year."

Now how would it look if the G8 approached Africa from a moral position of rational self-interest instead of altruism? While there are probably several different forms this could take, I think a rationally self-interested G8 would say something like this: "Because we love life, we value those things that sustain and enhance life. A free and prosperous Africa accomplishes those values. To achieve this end, we want to make not a sacrifice, but a trade, a very selfish trade. We will offer you a chance to end the present massive suffering once and for all. We propose to come into your country and revamp the government. In a nutshell, we'll provide your country with the same political, social and philosophical framework that made us so healthy, wealthy and powerful. Our reward will be two fold: first the selfish satisfaction of knowing we have been loyal to our values and second, we hope that when you are free enough, there will be trade between us."

Of course, a G8 like that can't exist until the morality of rational self-interest gains much more traction in the western populaces.

One final note: This isn't just an issue of G8 incompetence as some people think. The practical and moral issues are what the unearned increment does to an entire society. Gus Van Horn has a good post on how aid hurts Africa in his Quick roundup 203 here.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Slanting Self-Defense

In my post of May 14th/07, I identified a form of news slanting by package dealing which I ended with "Let the Reader Beware." Thinking about this further, I wondered just how is John Q Public going to do that. How can a Joe lunch box or a Wanda waitress defend themselves against all the bias, slanting, half-truths, distortions and outright falsehoods published in the media as news reports? Towards the goal of alleviating this problem I offer a few suggestions.

Unfortunately, there is no fool-proof way of making oneself well, fool proof, but there are steps one can take to defend against many forms of slanting and deceit. The first step I would recommend is to learn some of the logical fallacies. This site has eight of the most common ones used today. There are many more but it's not necessary to know them all. Knowing a few will help a lot. I will touch briefly on a couple.

One of the most common is the ad hominem, or attack the man and not his argument. This usually takes the form of calling him names like fool or idiot or attacking some aspect of him like his past or his source of income. This one is real popular today. "He has received money from Exxon Mobil therefore his argument is irrelevant." Another is the argument from numbers or consensus which holds that an idea is true (or false) because a majority of people agree (or disagree) with it. One hears this one a lot in the climate change debate. Once one has learned a few of these, it is time to look at some other tactics used to slant news reports.

In my first post of Dec. 2005 I showed how a reporter used violent, negative action words when referring to President Bush and peaceful, positive, domicile words when referring to Democrats. For example, Democrats "expressed worries" while Bush "hurled back" those criticisms. That article was a blatant example. Now and then a reporter will go so far as to tell you how to think: "Unbelievably, the president denied any wrong doing today." The word unbelievably properly belongs in an editorial, not a news report.

Sometimes the use of slanting adjectives can be very subtle. I call them nudge words. For example, when referring to scientists, I've seen such words as "top","leading", "authoritative" and my favorite, "reputable" used often. Such adjectives would be fine if the reporter were talking about a scientist's credentials, experience, awards, etc. But to plop that adjective down in front of "scientist" outside of any context of credentials or experience is to nudge the reader into agreeing with that particular scientist's findings. Why?

I don't think any reporter concerned about his future is going to refer to the scientist issuing him a press release, as a disreputable scientist. (unless of course he's reporting on a case of scientific fraud) It is assumed by me and hopefully most others, that whomever the reporter is quoting, he is at least reputable to some extent. So why bother adding such qualifiers as reputable to the word scientist? Obviously, being reputable means having a reputation which means that a number of people think he is an ok scientist--and here comes the nudge--ergo, you should too. In other words, don't bother to challenge, question or even doubt this scientist's findings because others think he's right so you should go along, or, who are you to question all of these?

When I see such words as "top", "leading" and "reputable" being used out of context like this, I know I'm being nudged by reporters who have bought into the scientist's findings and can't resist a chance to nudge his readers into acceptance of those findings.

The word authoritative has only one valid meaning as far as I'm concerned and that would refer to a scientist who has authored a lot of published papers. Other than that, scientific findings are either true or false, right or wrong or perhaps some of each, but never authoritative. What would it mean for scientific findings to be authoritative? Do they get to boss around other findings? Do the scientists have the authority to say "I'm right and you're wrong"? But Mike you say, you're getting irrational here. Well, not any more irrational than using a political concept like authoritative in a scientific context as a nudge word.

Another kind of slanting is using deceit in the form of package deals, an example of which is linked to at the beginning of this post. It was a study in which a false idea was packaged with one or more true ones. It is impossible to defend oneself from this kind of deception in advance. Most people don't have the time to fact-check studies or even know what to look for. So, I recommend doing what I do: go to the sites of scientists who do read studies and report on them. I recommend the sites listed in this post. I hope this has aided in some small way your slanting self-defense.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Health Care For All?

Sandy Szwarc at JunkfoodScience.com takes a long look at the issue of "Healthcare for all". I highly recommend reading the whole thing. She looks at the Universal plan about to go into effect in Massachusetts, examines the proposed plans of Minnesota and California, comments on Canada's system and reviews the latest version of Hillary care.

Ms Szwarc does a good job of presenting the practical case against such socialized health care; such as how it leads to rationed medicine, how it invites the government into your house to monitor your personal lifestyle and many other undesirable consequences. Looking at the broader picture she writes:
One misconception among consumers is that the free market system hasn’t worked, so the government must step in. But we don’t have a free market system with health insurance. A free market system only works if it’s allowed to exist unfettered from government mandates that limit competition and allow certain companies to monopolize markets. The government has catered to special interests and created an insurer managed care system, which has resulted in higher premium costs and more people uninsured. Those who want affordable insurance alone, without a third-party managed care bureaucracy standing between them and their doctor, find it unavailable. Under the current managed care environment, it’s impossible to obtain insurance that stays out of your private life and doesn’t penalize you for a lifestyle or if you’re unlucky enough to have genes that make your health indices (BMI, cholesterol, etc.) targets for intervention.
Aside from being wrong on practical grounds, such 'healthcare for all' plans are immoral. They coax people into surrendering their mind, physical health and political freedom to a body empowered with a legal monopoly on the use of force. This is Intellectual, physical, moral and political suicide.

She did quote a RN, Twila Brase as saying that such a system would "violate individual rights" among other things. This is true. It is a violation of everyone's rights to be forced to pay for everyone else's healthcare and as such, immoral. Only a totally private healthcare system can be economically fair and morally just.

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(Noodle Food reports that their own Paul Hsieh, a doctor, had his LTE on Colorado's attempt to bring "universal coverage" to that state printed in the Rocky Mountain News. He makes the following good point among others:
Socialized medicine is not the cure for Colorado's health care problems. Forcing everyone into a government-run medical program because some people are uninsured would be just as wrong as forcing everyone to live in a government-run housing project because some people are homeless.
I urge reading the whole letter.)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Why I Side With the Critics Pt 4

Lubos Motl at the reference frame posts on a reasonable statement by NASA director Michael Griffin. He said nothing about James Hansen, who works for him at GISS, Goddard Institute for Space Studies, or Hansen's work.

One of the commenters links to an ABC story in which Mr. Hansen called his boss's comments:
"It's an incredibly arrogant and ignorant statement," Hansen told ABC News. "It indicates a complete ignorance of understanding the implications of climate change."
Notice the attack language used by Hansen, the lack of professionalism, the disrespect for authority. This man must think he is a god not to be questioned.

I just got through posting on a quotation by ED CLine about how the outrage pours forth from the climate change alarmists at the slightest hint of dissent. Well, Hansen's remarks are another example.

I thought Mr. Griffins's words were civilized and reasonable. I would think that a proper response by a civilized subordinate would go something like "I disagree with Mr. Griffin on the need for urgency of action and other things but he is of course entitled to his opinion." This would have been a civilized, adult, mature response. But notice Mr. Hansen did not do any such thing. Instead, he started out with the ad homonyms of arrogant and ignorant. A very emotional instead of intellectual, response.

When I first started investigating global warming in my spare time about five years ago, I had some respect for Mr. Hansen and a few other pro-global warmers. He seemed to be devoted to the facts. Especially when I read this post at Patrick Michael's World Climate Report. I got the impression Hansen was rededicating himself to the facts of reality. But since then in my opinion, Hansen has become a flat out advocate of AGW=catastrophe. And now he is predicting a 20-meter rise in sea level that isn't even close to the IPCC? No sir. No more respect from me. Another reason this non-scientist sides with the critics.