Wednesday, July 22, 2015

10 pieces of advice for American lawmakers

The last time an Italian wrote a political treatise, he wrote some deliberately bad advice for Princes that was intended as parody. Sadly, it was taken literally by numerous sociopaths with bad intent. So, unlike Machiavelli, I'll make my advice VERY good and, rest assured, this is NOT intended as parody. Also, much of this advice could also easily apply to government officials in any other part of the world besides the United States.

1.) The first duty of any public official is to the truth, regardless of whether it is scientific truth, legal truth or historical truth. If you can't bring it upon yourself to admit the truth and act on it, then you have NO PLACE in that office.

2.) Issues should not be decided by what came from the Right or the Left. They should be decided by what is Right and Wrong.

Yes, Right and Wrong will always be a subject of intense debate. If there is ever a time when you are 100% certain that you know the difference between right and wrong then, you're wrong. A man's philosophy is something that should be under the kind of scrutiny that is as eternal as it is intense.

3.) You're sole purpose in life as a public servant is to actually be a public servant.
Special interest groups should not decide policy for you. Also, no one elected you to simply vote the way some party boss/whip told you to vote. Think and Read the Bill for yourself.

4.) When writing a bill, keep it short, direct and to the point.

No one wants to read a bill that's longer than Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. Don't try to sneak in unrelated items or paperclip anything, either. That's despicable and low. It's also the reason why politicians are usually more despised by the public than pimps, murders and child molesters.

5.) When you are in the Majority, be gracious to those in the Minority. Sooner or later, you WILL switch places with them.

You're job is to serve the American people. You can't do that very well when every day at work is just a pissing match with the people on the other side of the political divide. Like President Kennedy said 'Ask not what your country can do for you but, what you can do for your country.'

6.) Be gracious enough to listen to people that don't see things from your point of view. If broken clocks are right at least twice a day then, so can the co-worker that you think is an idiot.

Thomas Jefferson once said that America's foreign policy should be 'a friend to all, an enemy to none and no entangling alliances with other nations.' Not only is that good foreign policy advice, it's also good advice for dealing with other elected officials. It helps to foster a reputation as a man that believes in and practices fairness in all his decisions. That is the reputation you want to have.

7.) I'm sure you've all heard the old refrain about 'what's popular isn't always right and what's right is not always popular' before. That is just as accurate in politics as it is in ANY other area of life.

Don't be afraid to stand up to your fellow legislators or even your constituents. If you know they are wrong on a certain issue, politely tell them and explain why. Remember, what's popular isn't always right and what's right is not always popular.

8.) Don't rely solely on religion or clergy for advice on morality.

Their views on that subject are going to be VERY myopic and thus, potentially flawed. That, and it is a sad fact of life that those who consider themselves to be Saints are often the most egregious of sinners. In fact, you're probably better off not talking to them at all. Otherwise, you might give the impression that religion has a place in making law, which people will never accept. That would violate the establishment clause in the 1st Amendment.

9.) Have an issue with some proposed legislation that's on a topic that you don't understand? Consult a subject matter expert. (Especially if the legislation is about Science, Medicine and/or Economics.)

10.) The Constitution means EXACTLY WHAT IT SAYS.

Being a 'living document' does not mean it can be interpreted in different ways by different activist judges on the SCOTUS or shrewd lawmakers. It means you can make necessary changes via the amendment process. Yes, that process is hard and that is a good thing too. It keeps people from making frivolous changes that will ultimately hurt the Republic rather than help.

For those on the Federal Level, I have a VERY special piece of advice: The 10th Amendment is your best friend and proverbial 'get out of work free' card.

So, when a constituent asks you to do something that is NOT a responsibility of the Federal government, tell them so and cite the 10th Amendment. Then, refer them to their state and local government officials instead. Trust me, the Feds will have more than enough work to do just by sticking to its assigned roles in the Constitution. Foreign Policy, the military and promoting commerce are never ending challenges in even the best of times.

- Lord Publius

Thursday, July 16, 2015

How to deal with Overly Religious People

I came up with this when I was feeling particularly pissed with Organized Religion years ago, sometime in 2008. It was meant to be offensive (and I'm sure it still is) but, it also contains good advice learned from a lifetime of experience. So, enjoy!

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HOW TO DEAL WITH OVERLY RELIGIOUS PEOPLE...
By Lord Publius
Written on May 21st, 2008
Updated on July 19th, 2008 & September 18th, 2010
Republished here on July 16th, 2015

Various events in my life have left me thinking about overly-religious people. Just how do you deal with them? Well, fortunately, (or unfortunately, depending on how you want to look at it) I have had more than my fair share of dealings with them. Some are very good people who only want to help you save your soul. I have no issues with them. Others are either charlatans looking for money or zealots who are trying to push a point of view. Those are the people that inspired this document. So, without further ado, I present to you the following tips...

1.) Don't discuss matters of faith with them. EVER.

Don't bring it up, don't criticize their faith (or any others) and don't express your opinion on the subject. Most religious people are usually nice; until you start talking about how to properly worship God. Why? Because everyone thinks their way is the only way. That's why this rule exists. It doesn't matter which way you think getting into Heaven is best. It doesn't matter what they think, either. No one will be willing to listen to reason on this one and chances are good that EVERYONE is completely wrong anyway.

Don’t bring up the topic... EVER!

2.) If they bring up the topic with you, change the subject. Quick!

It doesn’t matter what the subject is, just talk about something else. Don’t let them eventually steer the conversation back to Religion. If they get really preachy, tell them something like this:

“I do have faith and various beliefs that accompany that faith. However, part of my belief system is that said faith shouldn’t be discussed with other people. It causes too many unnecessary arguments.”

That should end the discussion before it starts getting uncomfortable. If not, turn the conversation to something that would be uncomfortable to them. For example,

"So, I was fucking my wife in the ass last night... and she was lovin' it! She wanted to finish me off with her mouth but, I wouldn't let her. That was just too nasty to consider."

That ought to make them run for the hills...

3.) If you don’t have to associate with them, then don’t associate with them.

Honestly, why hang out with someone that annoys you when you don’t have to, folks? The only place where you should even consider tolerating an overly-religious person is in church. Even under those circumstances, it may not be in your best interest to associate with them. Just because they’re spiritual enough to go to church doesn’t mean they’re sane and rational.  Avoid these ‘Kool-Aid drinkers’ if you can.

4.) Smile and Nod…

If it works on your wife or girlfriend while she prattles on about whatever, it will work here too. Especially if the overly-religious person in question is female. I’m not being sexist when I give this piece of advice. I am being quite serious. I know this from personal experience. I’ve actually used this tactic when dealing with an overly religious girl way back around New Year’s Eve of 2000. It worked like a charm. I was actually shocked that it worked! What’s even more shocking is that her boyfriend told me to use that trick. I can’t say it’s a surprise that the relationship didn’t last...

5.) If you must discuss matters of faith with them, don’t insult their beliefs.

It doesn’t matter how illogical, fallacious and/or ridiculous their beliefs may be to you. Just politely agree to disagree. Stay as cordial, polite and professional as possible.

6.) If the conversation does devolve to a theological debate, use debating tricks against them.

The best ones to use would be the Socratic Method of Debate through Questioning and Occam’s Razor. The long list of logical fallacies (not all of which may apply to religious discussions) could also be of help. The list of fallacies includes (but is not limited to):
  • Accent
  • Ad Hominem
  • Amphiboly
  • Appeal to inappropriate authority
  • Appeal to Pity
  • Argumentum ad Baculum
  • Argument from Ignorance
  • Bandwagon
  • Begging the Question
  • Complex Question
  • Contradiction
  • Equivocation
  • False Alternatives
  • False Cause
  • Hasty Generalization
  • Non Sequitur
  • Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (aka the ‘Apples and Oranges’ fallacy)
  • Red Herring
  • Slippery Slope
  • Stacking the Deck
  • Straw Man
  • Subjectivist Fallacy
7.) Don’t do anything stupid like telling them you worship the Devil just to scare them off.

It won’t work, even if they do run away. In this way, they’re literally just like the Sand People in Star Wars. They frighten easily but, they’ll be back ...and in greater numbers. There are MUCH better ways to scare them off for good. (See talking point #2.)

Also, when they come back, they may start to ‘witness’ to you. That means they are going to do their best to try to convert you to their religion of choice. Trying to tell them it was all a joke won’t work at this point. Some equate witnessing to the love-bombing tactics of a fanatical cult. I’ve been informed by various people of faith that this is not the case. Whatever the truth may be, I’m sure this is still an experience you’d rather do without.

I’m sure you must think I’m some kind of atheist or Son of Belial by now. You couldn’t be more wrong. I'm not going to tell anyone what my views either because they don't need to know. (See talking point #2.) However, many people who claim to be Christian get over-enthusiastic and either annoy everyone or scare people away from the faith. That’s not good. That kind of cult-like behavior needs to be stopped. If someone really wants to save their soul, they’ll go to the church. The Church won’t have to go to them.

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And the litany of complaints starts in 5... 4... 3... 2... 1...



- Lord Publius

Thursday, July 9, 2015

How to be a Living Bullshit Detector


It’s true, I’m pretty damned smart. However, sheer brainpower and the grace of God are not enough to be so incredibly intelligent. You have to use that brainpower by becoming a ‘living Bullshit detector’, for lack of better term. Essentially, one must learn to use logic and reason so that emotions do not make all the decisions. There are some decisions in life that are qualitative in nature and require emotional input. However, even those can (and should) be examined through logic and reason. So, how do you go about that process? There are five tricks that I use to ‘sniff and point out the Bullshit.’ They are as follows…

I.) The Socratic Method of Debate through Questioning...

You may remember this technique as the trick teachers used to get you to think in class discussions. Essentially, you continually probe into the subject with questions until there are just no more answers to be had. Either the problem is solved or you discover there isn’t a solution yet and further research is needed. It can also be used to frame any kind of debate, whether it be political, academic or something else altogether. This method is extremely effective when used by a professional.

In practice, the Socratic Method works like this:

1.) A question will be posed. That question might be from me or it might be the result of a class/group discussion.

2.) Someone will determine who will lead the discussion, acting as a moderator of sorts.

3.) The dialogue commences with the question being answered by one participant.

4.) Participants will then discuss this answer looking for shortcomings.

5.) There will probably be several iterations. Eventually, participants will have to admit they really don't know what the answer is, assuming there was no final solution derived in the discussion.

6.) If no effective solution is devised, participants will then start looking for the answer together.

Sources:



II.) The Toulmin Method of Argument Analysis...

This method is designed to assist you in analyzing or constructing the logic of an argument, whether it is spoken or written. This is what I use to sniff out the Bullshit in news stories and editorials.

Using Toulmin Method, you first identify the written/verbal argument’s claim. (For example, an editorial on tax policy claiming a bill in Congress would raise taxes too much.)

Second, you identify three (or more) reasons made by either a written piece or a verbal argument.

After that, you determine the Warrant/Principle: the connection between the reason and the claim.

Then, you list three (if you can) pieces of evidence supporting each reason.

After you’ve dissected the argument that way, you start developing your objections to each claim identified in the original argument. You can argue against the reason, the warrant, the backing, and/or the evidence. Be prepared to support your claims with solid evidence of your own.

Sources:

Some of the links below are from the OWL Institute at Purdue University. They are among the best explanations of the Method I've ever read. I strongly recommend that you use the OWL Institute for writing anything at all. It's a great resource.





III.) Occam's Razor...

This is a philosophy from a 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar named William of Occam. You may be more familiar with this principle under its more common name, 'the KISS Method.' (KISS = 'Keep It Simple, Stupid!') It is also known as ‘The Law of Parsimony’ among Scientists. I don't like the term 'KISS Method' because it's a gross over-simplification of Occam's work in Logic. He always advocated keeping things as simple as possible without oversimplifying the problem.

The Razor simply states ‘When two or more solutions exist for a given problem, the simpler or simplest solution tends to be the correct one.’ In other words, doing it the easy way is (almost) always the right way. There’s no need to turn lots of dials and flip lots of switches when you can just simply push the button.

Sources:






IV.) Common Fallacies in Reasoning...

There are going to be a lot of these. All of them will be divided into sections and I'll give examples in italicized text too. This list of fallacies is by no means complete. It never could be since Humans excel at creating ever more alarming amounts of total non-sense. However, these are the most common ones.

Fallacies of Relevance

Appeal to an inappropriate authority

M says X. (M is not an authority on X.) Therefore, X is true.

Channeling is real because this author talks about it a lot in her new book.

Oh, Yeah? What makes her an authority on the subject? Where’s the evidence that supports her claim? (This rebuttal is how I'd begin using Socratic Method to point out the fallacy.)

Appeal to Pity

We should feel sorry for M. Therefore, what M says is true.

We should feel sorry for Hitler because he was a frustrated artist in his youth. We all know how terrible that can be.

I feel obligated to offer a strong rebuttal to that example. I couldn't care less about the Fuhrer's days as an artist or the struggles that came with them. That happens to anyone pursuing an art career. NOTHING can ever excuse taking over a country, starting a world war and/or murdering millions of innocent people. Also, not everyone knows what it's like to be a starving artist.

Argumentum ad Baculum

M has power over you. Therefore, what M says is true.

I'm the boss, my will is law! You will sleep with me or I'll see to it you never get promoted at this company!

If that ever happens, I'll just quit. I'll also file a lawsuit and take the company for everything its worth.

Bandwagon

Most people believe X. Therefore, X is true.

Car company A must make good cars. You see so many on the road!

God, I freaking HATE this one! It's so obvious but, people keep falling sucker for it all the time! Seeing a lot of vehicles from a particular manufacturer doesn’t mean they’re actually any good. It means they had an effective-enough advertising campaign, financing and dealership network.

Fallacies of Acceptability

Subjectivist Fallacy

I want to believe X. Therefore X is true.

That might be true for you but, not for me.

I was just brought up to believe that...

Both of these are unacceptable and both are used by religious people as explanations for their devotion to their church. That’s as lazy as it is intellectually/philosophically wrong. While there's nothing wrong with having faith, there’s also nothing wrong with asking questions and thinking critically about the faith too.

Contradiction

X is true and not true. Therefore, Y.

Let's not go to that Club and/or Restaurant. No one is going there anymore, it's too crowded.

If no one goes there anymore, why is it so crowded? Yet another fallacy that is so extremely common...

Begging the Question (aka Complex Question)

A is true because B is true. B is true because A is true.

Have you stopped beating your wife?

I'd have to be married first, Jackass.

False Alternatives

Your only options are A, B and C. (There are actually more) A and B are very disagreeable. Therefore, C.

Either you support Affirmative Action or you're a racist.

Really? A racist you say? I thought I disapproved of Affirmative Action because it allowed the Government to unnecessarily interfere in the marketplace. Silly me… That program hasn’t really made much of a difference. The folks who get hired under Affirmative Action often get fired pretty quickly for gross incompetence.

Complex Question

A is true if B is true (B is an assumed answer to an unstated question.) B is true. Therefore, A is true.

Abortion is murder, since killing a baby is an act of murder.

That is assuming the fetus is actually alive, which under certain circumstances is still a matter of much debate. I personally do not consider the fetus to be alive until heart and brain functions begin. Even before that time, I still do not like abortions.

Amphiboly

Any syntactical ambiguity in which phrasing can allow a sentence to be understood in more than one way.

HEADLINE: Court upholds Man's Right to Die in California

Well, we're all going to go sometime...

Equivocation

A semantic ambiguity in which term A is used in sense #1 in a premise, then used again, in a premise or conclusion, but in sense #2. An Equivocation is a shift in the relevant word-meanings in the middle of an argument.

What's wrong with using LSD? It's just a chemical, and the body is full of chemicals anyway.

The chemicals in your body are not likely to cause great harm like LSD and other controlled substances.

Accent

A pragmatic ambiguity for which the linguistic performance can shift the interpretation intended.

Mom says to neighbor: 'Susie cleaned her room.' versus 'SUSIE cleaned her room.' while glaring at Susie's younger brother.

I'm sure we've all been there before...

Fallacies of Sufficiency

Slippery Slope

If A is allowed, then B will occur. B will lead to C, which will cause D, which will cause..., which will cause Z. Since we don't want Z to happen, we cannot allow A.

We can't legalize drugs. If we do that, everyone will start using them. With everyone stoned all the time, no one would work and the economy would grind to a halt. Civilization as we know it would crumble and we don't want that to happen!

First of all, I don't believe Government has an ethical right to tell me what I can and can't put into my own body. Second, I'm not interested in using a narcotic for any reason whatsoever.

False Cause

A occurs followed by B. Therefore, A caused B.

I took my lucky rabbit's foot to the ball game and my team won. Therefore, the lucky rabbit's foot caused us to win.

Unless that rabbit’s foot was used to knock the ball out of the park for a Grand Slam, I doubt it had anything to do with the home team’s victory.

Hasty Generalization

A few X's have quality Q. Therefore, all X's have quality Q.

I dated 4 blondes and all of them were airheads. Therefore, all blondes are airheads.

Well, I’ve known quite a few Blondes who were either average or somewhat above average in intelligence. Also, there are quite a few seemingly brain-dead Brunettes and Redheads too.

Argument from Ignorance

X has never been proven to be false. Therefore, X is true.

Of course there's life after death! Do you know of any proof that there isn't?

No, and there's no evidence to support or refute the idea, either. No one knows for sure. This is nothing more than a belief built on an assumption.

Fallacies of Rebuttal

Ad Hominem

There's something objectionable about M. Therefore, reject what M says.

Don't criticize me for being late; you're always late too!

I wasn't late today...

Fallacies of Diversion

Red Herring

Dismissing an opponent's claim without giving it fair evaluation, or sidetracking the argument from the issue under consideration.

Son: 'I got cold walking to school today. I really need a new coat.'

Grandpa: 'Why when I was a kid I had to walk 20 miles to school everyday in 6 feet of snow, and we were too poor to even buy me shoes!

Well, I guess it was a lot rougher for you than it will be for me, Grandpa. My parents can afford to buy me clothing items once in a while.

Straw Man

Misrepresenting the opponent's position (e.g. oversimplifying, or enlarging), then refuting the caricature and claiming to have refuted the argument.

Judy says she doubts UFO's come from space. But, I don't understand how she can close her mind to the possibility of intelligent life in other parts of the universe.

Judy didn't say anything about intelligent life in the universe. Also, take a good look at the term 'UFO.' It’s an acronym for 'Unidentified Flying Object.' That rather nebulous description could be used for anything in the sky that a person can't readily identify, not just flying saucers.

Other fallacies

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

Latin for 'After this, therefore because of this.' An argument based on this fallacy establishes a questionable cause-and-effect relationship between events.

Just 3 weeks after the speed limit was raised, we had a 4% increase in traffic fatalities on the local highways.

Speed may not have been a factor in the accidents. Maybe some of the drivers were drunk or distracted by fiddling with the radio controls.

Non-Sequitur

Latin for 'Does not follow.' A Non-Sequitur draws a conclusion that does not follow logically from the premise.

Sue is very pretty, therefore she must be an airhead.

Not only is that likely to be nonsense, it's also insulting and potentially sexist.

Stacking the Deck

Offering evidence that only supports your premise while withholding evidence to the contrary.

Global Warming is all man's fault. Our industries have released so much Carbon Dioxide in the air that it's caused global temperatures to raise by 1 degree in the last 100 years. That will cause sea levels to go up. We're all going to die!

Global Warming is not necessarily the fault of man. CO2 doesn't trap in much of the sun's heat. Water Vapor is the primary cause of the Greenhouse effect, which is also what makes Earth habitable. Also, I have been hearing a few things about the Sun burning hotter than usual in recent years. Perhaps that might be partially responsible for global temperature increases. It's seemed to cause temperature increases on Mars, Titan and Pluto...

Sources:





V.) The Scientific Method of Investigation

Yes, it’s the same Scientific Method we were taught in our grade school science classes.
What does the Scientific Method have to do with Debates?’ you might ask. Well, nowadays it has a lot to do with debates since so many scientific issues have become highly politicized. I’m going to use Global Warming again as an example for this particular method.

The steps involved in the Scientific Method are as follows:

1.) Ask a Question

‘What is it that we’re curious about here? Why does this phenomenon behave that way?’

2.) Do Background Research

Gather any information that is currently available on the subject.

What do we know about it already? Do we know anything about it at all?

3.) Construct a Hypothesis

This is your best educated guess, based on your previous background research.

‘I think this phenomenon behaves this way because of (insert your idea here).’

4.) Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment

In this step, you establish a procedural way of testing your hypothesis. Every testing procedure is written down and methodically followed. The experimentation does not necessarily have to take place in a laboratory of some kind. Few of us have access to that kind of resource.

Speaking of experiments, this step should automatically prove that most (if not all) of what we’ve heard about Global Warming is fallacious. How do you run a test to prove that an increased level of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing global temperatures? Also, we don’t have any spare Earth-like planets we can potentially ruin in the testing process or use for the control group in the experiment. So, how do any of Global Warming’s proponents know we’re being barbecued alive?

Most Global Warming proponents use the meteorological records we have for the past 100+ years to demonstrate that there has been a global temperature increase. Well, how do we know these records are accurate? What instruments/methods were used to collect the data? Where were the temperature readings recorded? Who recorded them?

You may have just noticed that I used the Socratic Method to challenge that particular assertion, namely using the meteorological records as supporting evidence. As you can see, my use of the Socratic Method there just punched a lot of holes in the Global Warming argument. I didn’t even need time to think of those questions either. They almost instantaneously came to mind when I first started reading about this Global Warming issue years ago. Using meteorological data isn’t proof that a hypothesis is true. It’s nothing more than statistics. I never put much stock into any kind of statistics that I see. They can be manipulated to say virtually anything you want them to say. So, in my observation, there are far too many unanswered questions to come to any conclusion on the Global Warming issue as of yet. We need much more research.

5.) Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion

After the experiment is done, look over the results (which will be in the form of your recorded data and observations of what happened in the experiment) and come to a conclusion.

A good example of a conclusion would read something like this...

The test subject behaved this way when subjected to the provided stimuli 87% of the time. Therefore, we conclude that our original hypothesis is at least partially accurate. It is recommended that the original hypothesis be modified and that further research be done.

6.) Communicate Your Results

This step involves publishing your research and the results of your experiments. That means either some kind of scientific journal or the internet. This way, other people can run their own experiments and test your results. If enough people get the same results, your findings will become accepted fact. If not, further research will be needed.

Sources:




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Congratulations, you are now able to ensure that no one ever pulls the proverbial wool over your eyes ever again.

- Lord Publius