Radically Inept
Saturday, November 13, 2004
  More points I'm pondering, and a little admin

I guess the first point I want to raise is not all that philosophical, but rather a political question. I heard it raised on a radio program broadcast on WREK Radio, I think it might have been a RadioNation program, though I'm not positive since I can not find a transcript of the show I was listening to at their web site. Anyway, it might have been Gore Vidal: Beyond the Voting.

Regardless, somewhere during the second half of the program I was listening to, one of the commentators raised a very interesting point - Why didn't Kerry raise The Abu Ghraib Prison controversy during the debates?

Well as soon as it was stated, I found myself thinking, "Hey, yeah. Why didn't he raise the torture scandal? Why didn't he say, perhaps in one of his ads, without stating it as a 'fact', that 'during my administration we will not torture, and we will most certainly never torture children in front of their mothers'.

But then I found myself wondering how it would have played. If 51% of Americans think waging a holy war in the Middle East is a good thing, they might well think torture is acceptable. Hell, christianity has a long history of torture, so maybe raising the scandal would not have helped. That thought saddened me. Going to war based on the choice of someone who hears voices and think god speaks to him directly is bad enough, but that god would support this stuff...Well, I have always thought that the christian god is bipolar, anyway. Or there are two of them - one from the old testament and one that appears in the new testament. If it is the same god, he bears a remarkable similarity to Saddam. I mean the old testament god ordered entire tribes slaughtered for his chosen people. The new testament god loves and forgives everybody and everything. So, if it is all one god, maybe he's off his medication and midst of a major depressive episode.

Anyway, that's one of the points I'm pondering: Do my fellow citizens support torture and sexual abuse in the prosecution of this war?

The next point that I'm pondering is 'point spreads' - Can the methodology, and especially the information communication system, be used in risk communication?

I mean, when you look at it, the odds makers add gambling houses are extremely accurate. When you look at a football (American) parley card, the point spreads and the over/unders are usually about dead on. And point spreads are easy to read. You know, "Florida + 8 against NC State", or "Georgia + 4 against Auburn", or the over/under is 45 points in the Pittsburgh vs Green Bay game. That is a very simple way to sum up risk. Why can't the FDA, NHTSA or whoever, provide us with such a simple way to communicate risk. For instance, if you are obese your over/under on life expectancy is, say, 50 years old, or whatever. Or maybe this SUV has a + 5 rollover.

Side Note: I can find a lot of sites commenting on Parley Cards, but I can't find a simple definition or example of one on the web. Of course, I only did a quick search, but maybe one of you readers would be interested in putting together a section for Wikipedia on Parley Cards?

I know part of the reasons for the NHTSA risk communication dilemma, and it involves politics and money. The car manufacturers don't want you to have an easy way of understanding their vehicles dangers (unless their vehicles are the best of the bunch) for fear of the informed consumer making knowledgeable choices. The politicians are scared to screw with the auto manufacturers, but their is also a serious amount of politics in play amongst the statisticians and other academics, and professionals. Everyone wants their pet system to be used.

At school, one of my professors was involved in the NHTSA rollover study, and she had us read their initial report and write a memo on the contents [An old school memo on vehicle rollover ratings posted at Rogue Analyst]. In the end, my answer was just to provide the consumer a simple ratio based on the historical data: Of the so many vehicles of this make, model and year on the road, this many had rollovers PERIOD. It is simple.

Regardless, can we get the bookies involved in the 'at-large' risk communication game? They do a phenomenal job of assessing and communicating the financial risks of a lot of wagers, and I bet their expertise could make a valuable contribution.

The last two points which I'm currently pondering are intertwined - What is the purpose of government, and why to people go to war when their government calls upon them?

I think they fall in with my usual ponderings on info/value (See All information is free). Nation states and national armies are a relatively recent development. It was Napoleon Bonaparte who truly started the ball rolling on national militaries, and I think the same period can roughly be cited as the rise of the nation state. Prior to this period, monarchies and city states were the 'norm'. Hell, it wasn't until Otto von Bismarck that Germany became a nation (empire).

None the less, what intrigues me now is the purpose on the nation state/government? While we can trace government back to city states, tribes and clans, what roles does the US government retain in relation to what might be argued as having started as a form of organization based on survival? Do we really need a 'national' government to survive? I know there is debate on the subject, but as usual, I find my mind wandering amongst the various arguments of which I am aware, and not really finding a good answer. Certainly there exists a huge gulf between what libertarians, socialists, anarchists and the 'average' American thinks about what should be governments role, especially as it relates to the individual.

So, the related question I am pondering is - Why would individuals go to war at the direction of their government?

I don't mean 'national defense', which is based on reacting to an aggressor, but rather why do individuals decide to support the aggression by their nation of another nation. Why are people willing to put their lives on the line? What is patriotism?

First, let me say that I am aware that many serve and are willing to serve in the military and in war zones for reasons unrelated to patriotism i.e. personal gain, adventure, etc. But it is those that serve in the aggressive capacity out of patriotism that I wondering about. For instance, why did so many Germans voluntarily fight for Hitler, and here the key term is voluntary? What is the connection between patriotism and the government? Is it similar to being a Vikings or Falcons fan? Is there much difference between the two? Is it really just a matter of group identification?

Anyway, I haven't really worked very far on these questions, hence the pondering as opposed to researching, literature reviews, and an attempt at comprehensive analyses, and though I do have several books on the subject, I've been distracted on other topics as I have alluded to in previous posts. Between quantum theory, the Mayan prophecies, the definition of truth, the value of credibility, the definition of value and the value of information...Well, there is only so much I can try to get my head around at one time.

That, and I still need an 'f'n job. On this topic, I had an interesting conversation this week on the topic of me going back into the Army. According to the individual with whom I was speaking, the fact that I am combat arms qualified, and that the army is hurtin' for qualified officers, it might be possible for me to go back in and on active duty. That really intrigues me, especially since at the start of the war, I volunteered to continue to serve, and was informed that that would not be necessary. But I guess at the time, the politicos in charge were operating under the assumptions that many of us recognized as false at the time, and now most Americans realize, that war in Iraq was going to be a cake walk.

Oh, if you are wondering about my motivation for going to war in the face of all I have previously said about this fiasco, rest assured it is not based on patriotism. I was patriotic about Afghanistan, and going after Al Queda, but this war of choice...Well, I guess I want to go for no reason that most of you will understand. I'd just like to go...

Enough for now. Expect sporadic postings for a while, but please to check back if so inclined. 
Monday, November 08, 2004
  In the end, I don't think it's about 'values'

Sort of continues the thinking in the as yet untitled thread, but well posted on topic with its link base currently aggregated here - All information is free

It took a few days to get past the election results. When I did, I had an angle I was going to post, but time escaped me. So, think of this post as started Thursday evening (and mentally it was), re-edited Friday morning (and mentally it was), and then upon a weekend's drinking, thinking and talking, re-edited yet again (and mentally it was).

I caught something on TV last night. At least I think it was on TV, and I think it was last night. It was someone discussing a book on 'Truth'. Since this sounds like something I would normally have caught on C-Span or C-Span 2, I checked their listings, but nothing struck a cord.

But, it was on topic. I remember last week when I saw some talking head speaking on the election, and why Baby Bush was re-elected. Whoever the commentator was (and since this same thread was picked up across the media, who he was - is totally irrelevant)made the point of America being divided by 'values' and culture. That those in the heartland, and hence the majority of the popular vote, voted based on 'values' or the concept of shared 'values'. And to a point, I think this case can be made, but it is totally irrelevant to the truth. The truth is not that America is divided by 'values', the truth is that America is divided by 'truth' - we cannot agree on what the truth is. It isn't a question of values - I don't expect that liberals or conservatives (to name but a few divisions) differ that much on basic values. I suspect the majority of individuals in both of these camps would come out against or for (as appropriate) murder, rape, theft, child molestation, clean drinking water, safe schools, strong economy and the worthlessness of most of what's on television (they might not agree on programming, but I think both groups would argue that the majority of TV programming sucks), etc.

No. The real divide is the 'truth'. If you can watch Anne Cunter or listen to Rush Limpbowell, and believe that they are speaking the truth, than you and I have a severe case of cultural dissonance. If you think every word that Kerry said on the campaign trail was a lie (you'd be mostly right), and if you think every word that Baby Bush said was the truth (you'd be mostly wrong), you'd would form a world view very different from the one I hold. And, that is the 'truth'.

The truth starts early on. If you are taught that the bible is the word of god, and that every word is literally the 'truth', well, we have a serious case of dissonance. I think it very similar to Cognitive dissonance, but on a cultural level. Our society recognizes diverse truths, and we are not able to assimilate these dissonant views (by definition) into a coherent whole.

And that, I believe, is the biggest problem facing us as a species today. We can't agree on the truth.

Lest I come across as part of another popular camp - please realize that I also do not accept the religion of science. Science too, appears to require a certain amount of 'faith' (Faith - the ability to accept something as the truth). I seem to lack the that particular ability.

I am capable of operating based on previous experience, and letting previous experience guide my actions to the degree that I believe previous experience has some validity, but I am also perfectly willing to accept the notion that "Past performance is no guarantee of future performance" (or whatever the standard disclaimer is). How the hell would I know? The fact that the sun has risen in the East, or that the globe has rotated in a westerly direction to reveal our nearby solar mass, does not necessarily mean it will happen tomorrow.

For those that did not recognize it - that was the sound of the needle on a vinyl recording (yes, recordings used to be on a vinyl medium) being dragged across the rest of the record(ing), and then getting stuck in the grooves at the center.

I have a lot to write. Everytime I consider the subject, I find a new way to present it. In some respects, I wish blogging could reflect a stream of consciousness, but that might not be all that good for the reader.

I did want to state that when I refer to Rush Limpbowell as a liar I do mean it in a very particular sense. Unlike many other cases, Rush is a true liar in my mind. It happened when he started to cite the numbers of a government report that I had recently read (this happened a few years ago vis-a-vis accepted chronological dating). It is possible, that in his drug addled mind, that he interpreted 16% to be 60%, or 7.5% to be 75%, but I don't think so. Surely, someone on his staff could feed him correct numbers. If he is so impaired as to not to be able to cite a report, which is presumably sitting in front of him (at least he said it was), certainly his staff could correct him if so directed. So, Rush for me, falls into the special 'got-cha' case of liars. It wasn't that he disputed the findings of the report, he flat out said the report contained information it did not have.

The point here, is 'credibility'. I have no idea whether the report that I had read and that he was citing, had any inherent credibility (presumably it did, but...). But the point is, he lied about what it said.

In this instance, I like Rush. He provides, especially this particular incident provides, a clear example of lying. There was no hedging here. There was no intimating, or mis-whatever. This was a case of lying. It was a clear case of lying. So, thank you Rush.

So unlike the Baby Bush administration, which lies, but does so in veils. And when you pull back the veils, there is nothing there. There is no clear, concise reference to go back and check. A great, and early example of the Baby Bush administration's manipulation of the truth, may be best summed up in the National Energy Policy (Complete), headed by Dick Cheney. There is a lot of controversy around the report, but no one seems to mention the single best point ever presented on the subject. It was my buddy, Mohan (I really do promise to provide him a better citation should he request it), who pointed out that none of the information presented in the report was cited. Now, that is really 'good' lying. No one can dispute what you've argued (well, at least they can't argue the facts), if you provide no sources for the information. "There are 600 trillion barrels of oil lying off the coast of Florida." Well, how the fuck would I know?

One way would be for me to be able to go back to the source document; the original research. But if no citation is provided...

Point (and I'm missing The Daily Show as I write) is that this is the problem. Or at least part of the problem. If you read that report and accept its findings, but I read it and look for some sort of verification, we will come to two separate conclusions. You will believe that we can gain our independence on foreign oil, and become a self-sufficient energy consuming nation if we follow the guidance presented, and I think it's all smoke and mirrors. Based on just that, we might wind up voting differently.


I read a book, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life by SISSELA BOK, which I found to be two/several hundred pages of rationalization for lying. I was unimpressed. The fact that lying has worked to good effect in keeping politicians in power, or allowed these leaders to lead us into wars of dubious distinction, or were the foundation of selling worthless products, does not make lying 'good'. In fairness, I read it a few years ago, and she may not have specifically cited the economic portion of it, but in the end, Immanuel Kant would not be happy with her conclusions.

How does this relate to what I've been writing? Well, if 51% of America believes that what Baby Bush utters is true, well founded, representative of their values, etc. Well, than I either don't live in that same universe, or one of us believes a lie. Certainly, we can't both be correct.

So, I think of this past election as not one of values, culture, a vision of where the majority of Americans think the country should go, but as an election of credible sources for information. We have decided as a country that Pat Robertson speaks the truth; that Rush Limpbowell speaks the truth; that Ann Cuntall speaks the truth, that...Well, it's just not the same universe I live in.

But, that leaves me trying to explain, or justify the truth.

I'm going to cop-out for now. It's getting late.

But, I did want to leave you with something of value, so, Chocolate Morphine gave me this to read over the weekend: Cogprints - Subjective Perception of Time and a Progressive Present Moment: The Neurobiological Key to Unlocking Consciousness.

Some of you will find it a worthwhile read. And I'll wonder about the rest of you.

Anyway, I have two new products I'm trying to market: Redneck Campfire Art and Petrified Beer Bottle Droppings; as well as having (with pleasure) to edit a couple of stories for friends, and trying to edit Rick Eddy's pieces into some sort of co-herent whole. Oh. And trying to find gainful employment.

And, I know, I owe some science posts.

Oh, yeah...In the end, the election was about truths...How could you all be so wrong? How could you believe THEM? 
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