The content on this blog is my personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the US Navy in any way.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Silent Evidence

On one hand, I'm happy to see some debate partners that previously would have just kept throwing anecdotes at me actually try to use data to support their points.

On the other hand, they still haven't quite grasped that proving a point can be a bit more complicated than lining up all the evidence they need to support it.

Don't get me wrong; failing to have enough evidence to prove that something can be true is still more likely to sink a given argument than almost anything else, and I certainly don't want anyone to think it's not worth their time to try. My goal in mentioning the above point is to remind people that a good argument has to account for all of the available evidence; using specific examples to prove a point only works if we have a good reason to believe those specific examples properly represent the entire body of evidence available. If there's silent evidence out there - something that's not being spotted because of poor sampling or confirmation bias - even a point that seems quite well supported can turn out to be quite wrong.

Some of the skeptic blogs I follow call this problem the toupee fallacy, after the specific example of trying to prove all toupees look fake by pointing out all the fake toupees one sees. It's fairly obvious that more realistic toupees will be excluded from those examples by default, since they won't be easily spotted, which creates the false impression that most toupees are fake. 

The best way I know to avoid this problem is to carefully think about what counter arguments can be made against your argument, and actively look for evidence that might disprove your argument as well as evidence that can be used to prove it correct.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Other People's Troubles

It's good to be reminded every once in a while that it's difficult for us to know what the other people around us are going through, or why they're going through it, or what will best help them get through it.

One of the best ways to avoid falling victim to any assumptions, particularly when one would prefer to believe that the people around them are just idiots, is to ask myself whether I've done anything similar, and if so to ask myself why I did that something similar and what reasons I had. Even if I haven't done anything similar, trying to think of reasons why I might do something similar can have the same effect. Doing this often enough will make it a more natural pattern of thought - I'm not quite there yet, myself, but I'd like to be.

I think that sort of empathy is an important habit to get into. There are situations where it still needs to be tempered with pragmatism, certainly. But when the only consequence it's going to have is whether you are viewing the others around you in a positive light or a negative light, I think the former is a much better way to be.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Welfare Problems, Free Market Problems

Anyone care to guess what sort of tax rate you'll be paying to live in a welfare state with a lot of benefits?

I ask because I happened across an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that helpfully informed me that Sweden's personal income tax rate is over 61% - rather high compared to what most of us Americans deal with, but then it pays for a lot of nice benefits.

Of course, the editorial in question goes on to talk about the various problems that are created as a result. It focuses quite heavily on how both men and women end up in the work force in order to make a useful amount of take-home pay and how benefits such as subsidized day care create a situation in which women who might want to spend more time with their children can't - because taking themselves out of the work force to spend time with their kids is a significant penalty to their income that can't be made up in other ways (unless you're rich enough to eat the cost).

What surprises me about it is the implication that a free market system or lower tax rates wouldn't create this problem. There are plenty of working class families in the US that don't get to spend time with their children because both parents are working two or three jobs just to survive - and those families have no option other than to leave the kids on their own or find jobs that don't mind having children along, since they don't have day care options they can afford.

In the end, the whole question is a matter of which disadvantage one thinks is more likely or more severe. Unfortunately, most debate I see on the issue tends to focus on one side's disadvantages and ignores any effort to determine which problem is actually worse.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Moderate Politics

While I don't think the Democrats' slide further towards the left has been as rapid or has become as extreme as the rightward drift we've seen out of the Republicans in the last decade, I'm still not exactly happy to see it. In fact, I think some of the lessons we supposedly learned from the 2016 election about what left wing ideas get people fired up and about the value (or lack thereof) of compromise aren't actually going to serve us very well in the long run.

That means I'm very happy to see stories like this one from NPR. I don't necessarily think it's important for some of the more strident progressives to lose, because I think the Democrats are going to need a lot of that energy in order to win elections. But the fact that we're also nominating and selecting more moderate candidates, particularly for the closer races, is a good sign of our ability to balance the enthusiasm of the left wing with the ability to compromise the moderates bring.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether the Democrats will continue to slide to the left, or what a Democratic government that promised single payer healthcare and fully funded college will actually be able to do along those lines. I certainly could see Democratic populism disappointing me in the future... but for now, I'm satisfied with our current direction.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Cause and Effect: Violent Games

Normally the American Humanist Association's magazine is smarter than this, but I suppose everyone makes mistakes sometimes. The current edition put out an article connecting some of our recent mass shootings to violent video games and the military's use of such things as recruiting and training tools.

As I understand the article's point, it points to the military's use of such things for training and recruitment to underscore how realistic the games are and how they can be used to train people how to kill. It stops short of calling for bans, but does fairly clearly argue that the US should pay more attention to obsessions with gaming and treat it as an illness to be corrected.

I don't think this is correctly understanding the cause and effect relationship here, though.

A large part of the reason why is that the two mass shooters the article cites are far from the only obsessive gamers in the world; there are many others that are avid fans of realistic first person shooters. And yet out of all those people, only this tiny number have a serious problem. I think that says there's more here than just the video games.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Nominations and Deals

I've been eagerly awaiting the word on who President Trump will nominate to the Supreme Court - not necessarily because I'm expecting to like the person in question, of course. Honestly, I'm not quite sure why I'm paying as much attention to the topic as I am. 

Given the current list of finalists, I'm guessing most of them would get confirmed, with or without any Democratic support. So there's not much chance that paying attention to the issue or being active will have much effect on the outcome, unless one happens to be someone who the president or critical senators trust enough to listen to. But it is interesting to look at how both the right and left are reacting to the impending nomination; the Wall Street Journal is calling for someone with an impeccable conservative record, whereas the New York Times is arguing that the stronger candidates are the ones that the WSJ likes the least.

It will be interesting to see which way the president goes - potentially easier to nominate, but less of a concrete record (e.g. Hardiman), or best possible record but more chance of unhappiness from Democrats (e.g. Kavanaugh)? Given the lack of any filibuster and the Republican majority, it's hard to see why he wouldn't go for the latter and avoid any risk of a nominee turning out like former justice Souter. Then again, I certainly wouldn't complain if he didn't, nor would I be particularly surprised.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Offensive Behavior

I have generally been lucky with the various groups of friends I hang out with. I've never really been in a situation where someone was acting like a complete asshole to my other friends, and certainly not to the point where I felt compelled to intervene.

Of course, that doesn't mean it never happens, as stories like this one demonstrate. For that matter, it's certainly possible I simply failed to notice such things going on around me in the past.

That particular blog post is quite long, and it links to other pieces (the five Geek Social Fallacies and the Missing Stair post) which are a good idea to read first, but all of it is worth a read. It's got a lot of great points about how to react to people who are being offensive or creepy - or how to avoid being at the same events as them in the first place (arranging your own events if necessary) and how to explain that decision to others.

I particularly like how it covers several different ways in which people try to defend offensive behavior or avoid calling it out, and why those justifications are wrong.

There are plenty of people who will happily argue that they hate this sort of behavior and don't want it to continue... but the instant calling people out causes any discomfort or awkwardness, they'd rather shut down the discussion, even if that means the person who originally spoke out can't do anything about their discomfort.

There are even more people who will refuse to believe anything bad about their friends - who refuse to believe there's even the slight possibility of a problem - until they see it themselves... no matter how many trustworthy people attest to the existence of those problems.

In the end, we all need to be willing to hold the people around us to a proper standard, and be willing to address the situation if that standard isn't met.