Sunday, September 13, 2009

Norman Borlaug 1914-2009

Whenever I give a lecture on great individuals, or people who my students think of as a hero, the usual response is family members or sports personalities. Then I give mine.
I ask the class, "If someone saved the life of one person, that's a good thing right? That person would be a hero, yes?" Nods of agreement.
"And if you managed to save, say three or four that would be better, yes? Not to diminish saving only one, but more is better, right?" Nods of agreement.

"My hero, Norman Borlaug, is not credited with saving one or two, or even a thousand. He is credited with saving over 200 million lives."

"Who's your hero now?"

At 95 he was still in the fields of war torn and impoverished countries trying to get the people reliable and high yield crops to feed them.

The Rational Moderate.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Birthers and Health Care

There seems to be a connection between the Birther movement and the anti-health care reform town hall crazy movement. For those who don't know, the birther movement is for those who do not believe that Barack Obama is president of the US because either a) he was not born in the US but some other country possibly Kenya or b) he was born in Hawaii but is not actually a "natural born citizen" as the Constitution requires. Those in camp b) have a somewhat firmer grasp on reality than those in a) who would need to insist that the certificate of live birth, the birth certificate, the announcements in two Hawaiian newspapers at that time, and the current Hawaiian health officials who keep saying over and over again that yes we are staring right at his birth certificate could you please stop bothering us we have real work to do are lying. Those in camp b) are simply trying to make the case that the constitution has some explicit definition of natural born citizen beyond simply being born in the US and thus having citizenship that must be written with some sort of lemon juice and can only be seen if held up to flickering flame.

On either side of this movement are those who think themselves moderate who proclaim, "If only he would produce his birth certificate all of this would go away," while closing their eyes and putting their fingers in their ears whenever someone does just that (Lou Dobbs and Chuck Norris I'm looking at you).

It takes a real knack for not caring what facts are to be able to hold this viewpoint. And that leads us to the connection with the health care reform town hall crazies. One of the biggest claims to take hold for those who are against any health care reform or public option is that you will have to stand, especially the elderly, and defend your worth to a death panel so that you can continue to live. That this reform is really a smokescreen to kill off the elderly. Sarah Palin said, "The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

Of course there is no such thing as a 'death panel' being proposed or even considered because Palin is right, it would be evil. Nothing like this is being offered and the closest thing to it is a provision that would encourage people to make living wills by offering to compensate doctors for having that discussion with you. But, since we are dealing with the same people that think Obama is not a citizen and therefore not president it is easy to see why such a fact free position can take hold. It is almost as if (and I don't believe this to actually be true) the anti-health care folks were testing the water with the Birther movement to see what they could actually get away with that people would start to believe and repeat. "If they were gullible enough to buy the Obama was born in Kenya, then they will certainly believe that Obama is going to set up death panel's where you have to defend your right to live, hehehe."

Yet, even if there is no such conspiracy (and again I don't believe there is one or anything more than throwing everything at the wall and seeing what will stick) there still is a connection in the utter disregard for facts in both cases and that is unacceptable.

On a side note, I think "death panel" would make an awesome name for a band.

The Rational Moderate

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ubiquitous photography and the police

There is an interesting list of cops who were caught behaving illegally in NYC by the prevalence of cameras on Carlos Miller's very well named blog Photography is Not A Crime It is a First Amendment Right. What is interesting is the list is that all of the acts involve cops setting up citizens to take some sort of legal fall rather than just the cops doing something illegal off duty. 

At the same time, there is a large fight in Britain to get rid of the surveillance state that has appeared with a CCTV camera on every corner of London ( I exaggerate by only smidge). Those who are against the ubiquitousness of the camera surveillance also seem to be the ones who are all for the ubiquitousness of cameras busting cops who go bad. Is there a contradiction here?

It may be that as long as the surveillance is in the hands of the people, it cannot be abused in the same way it would be by those in power. But, I'm not sure that is the case, especially given the move of technology. Would you trust a photograph as evidence the same way you would have 30 years ago? How long before that same level of skepticism is brought to video, as it likely should?

The Rational Moderate

Friday, March 6, 2009

Chase Frantzen

Welcome to the (sometimes and mostly) wonderful world Chase. I can't wait to read your first comment (I'm betting on woot!) and your first online flame war.

Congratulations to The Frantzens and here's hoping you keep posting up to and beyond the point that it completely embarrasses him in front of his friends.

The Rational Moderate

Monday, February 9, 2009

Just Brilliant

Not Skeptical. Not Politics. Just Brilliant.

The Rational Moderate

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The War on Drugs is Stupid Reason number #368

Let me get this straight, Michael Phelps won the most olympic gold medals of anyone ever, and he did so while being a pot head. He does a drug that makes you lazy, slow, and want to eat every unhealthy thing you can get your grubby little hands on, and he STILL WON MORE GOLD MEDALS THAN ANYONE. ELSE. EVER. 

This little bit of news does give us an opportunity to examine a logical fallacy: The Slippery Slope. 

Ever heard arguments like these? If you do drugs like pot, then your life will be ruined because you will only care about getting high and nothing else.
If you smoke pot, then when that kick wears off you will go out and try worse drugs that will eventually ruin your life.
If we legalize pot, then everyone will be smoking it and we could end up being operated on by a doctor who is high.
If we legalize gay marriage, then that will open the doors for incest and pedophilia and before you know it someone will be marrying a goat.

The slippery slope is basically where one step leads directly to worse and worse outcomes, ad so the conclusion is you should never take the first step. Some actually try to use slippery slope as a valid logical argument by stating that you shouldn't take the first step because it is a slippery slope. It's not. It is a logical fallacy.

The problem with the slippery slope argument is that the next steps never necessarily follow from the first. Either the person making the argument has missed some crucial difference between the situations to make it unlikely (for example, with gay marriage the difference is in consent - adults can, children and animals cannot) or that the first step isn't really what will lead to the others happening (for example, with pot being illegal a) it doesn't mean I will - never have, never will - and b) this hasn't stopped people from smoking it and so it is already likely that a doctor has performed an operation while high.) 

So we need to avoid slippery slope arguments or we will end up believing all kinds of fallacious arguments and before you know it civilization will collapse as a whole.

The Rational Moderate

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reason Why Alternative Medicine is Bad #2753

I'm not a fan of alternative medicine in the sense that I don't think there is any such thing. If it works, it's medicine. If it doesn't work, it's nonsense. But you sometimes get this argument from proponents: "If it seems like it is helping the person taking it, and it isn't harming them, why not let them take it?" Well, one of the main reasons stems from their taking some type of alternative medicine to begin with. The average partaker of alternative medicine never looks at a plant and says to themselves, I should ingest this to help with my shin splints. No, they get testimonials from others- word of mouth leads them to believe that x will help with y. But once you start believing in testimonials as a good reason for trying a certain *cough* treatment *cough* then you are more likely to rely on this in other cases than your shin splints.

This leads to problems such as believing that the bones, skin, hair... of albinos will help cure what ails you because others claim it does. Yes, in Tanzania, witch-doctors are kidnapping and killing and/or mutilating albino people to use their body parts for medicine. The government of Tanzania has banned the practice, but when your dealing with people who (not completely at their own fault) believe this alternative medicine works you should not be surprised when the witch-doctors ignore the ban. If you have the testimonial of your neighbors and from those who are supposed to be an authority on the matter (witch-doctors) and you are in the habit of not critically thinking about the problems of blindingly believing such things, or of the errors of reasoning that people are prone to about their own experiences, then you shouldn't be suprised when you end up with this kind of horror show. 

The Rational Moderate