Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Two Great Things Even Better Together

I have long held that Outkast's "Hey Ya" is the best written song in the past 15 years (I might even go to 20 if you push me on it). Combine that with Peanuts - Gold, I tell you Gold!

Don't worry we'll get back to writing about bleepin Bagojevich and throwin bleepin shoes soon.

The Rational Moderate

Friday, December 12, 2008

K&B Toys is Closing

There is so much to write about right now that it is getting hard to whittle it down to one topic per post. But between the failure of the auto bailout, Bush's gutting of the endangered species act, Scientists being able to take an image from someone's mind and display it on a monitor, and the MPAA asking Obama to filter the internet and adopt a three strikes and your out policy to those caught (or just accused, or just winked at by the MPAA) of downloading or sharing illegal copyrighted material and force other foreign governments to do the same. But instead, Let's chat about K&B Toys closing their doors for good. I'm not really surprised by this, as the economy is terrible and K&B have always been overpriced by the very nature of having to pay mall rent for most of their locations. But still, K&B was my reason for going to the mall with my Mom when I was a kid. In fact the one I went to had two of them at either end with slightly different merchandise. I would travel from one to the other to see what was the best deal I could get for my 4 dollar a week allowance. And I got some cool deals, not the least of which is an original Scott Bernard and his cyclone from when Robotech was a staple of afternoon cartoon blocs. But today, the trend in toys is towards video games and K&B has never been able to compete in that area despite most video game and console prices being set by the industry so you don't ever really get new games cheeper at Walmart, Target or Gamestop, but it always seemed that K&B marked their prices up from that and were always slow to reduce when the item didn't sell. And so, rather than embracing a model of aggressively going after video game market, just like Chrysler and possibly GM not really going after modern car markets, K&B is done. 

So long K&B, the 12 year-old me will miss you.

The Rational Moderate

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Supreme Court Accepts "Enemy Combatant" Case

There is a lot of interesting things happening right now, which I suppose is to be expected given the abuse of powers that has infected the country for the past eight years will soon be if not cured than at least we've made it to the waiting room.

The Supreme Court, despite Bush and Co.'s objections, will hear the case of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who was designated an "enemy combatant" by the Bush administration and held in a military brig for the past five years. He was originally arrested for credit card fraud, but some where along the lines this was changed by executive order essentially ejecting him from the American legal system. 

The question the Supreme Court will examine is whether the President has the authority to arrest and imprison a person/civilian indefinitely without and part of the judicial branch of the government getting involved. In other words, no trial, no reading of charges, no defense, no appeal... All of this because Bush labeled him an "enemy combatant."

It's surprising that the Supreme Court will hear this for a couple of reasons. First, there is a new administration coming in which will, it seems likely, change this stance. If it seems like the issue will go away, the SC is likely to let it happen. They could have postponed ruling on viewing the case until the new administration. Second, I expected Bush to change the status of this person so he would be tried in a criminal court to avoid having this case come before the SC and therefore establishing some amount of precedent for it. Since the SC would have then had no reason to review this case, they would have chosen to not and the US Court of Appeals in Virginia's ruling in favor of Bush would have stood. 

However, it is really good news that they will hear this case since it seems really, really unlikely that the SC will rule in favor of Bush and this needs to be nipped in the bud. Since the case won't be herd until March it will fall under Obama's presidency. Here is what he should do: keep al-Marri labeled as an enemy combatant and get this thing to a ruling. The only way to squash this as a precedent is not through executive order but through the courts. If Obama changes this notion, it will only apply for his administration and if another lunatic with no regards for the constitution comes into power, the precedent will be there for the President to make this decision. If Obama is against this, he needs to fight to keep that power in the courts. Some of you might be thinking, "But what if he wins and this becomes a recognized legal practice?" The problem is, if it doesn't go to court now, this will be a recognized legal practice. The only way to tank it is to take it all the way.

The Rational Moderate

Friday, December 5, 2008

An Octopus and CNN

Here are two seemingly unrelated stories, but in fact have a lot to do with each other. The first story is of a little mischievous octopus named Otto. It seems that in the winter months, when the aquarium in Germany is closed to the public, little Otto gets bored and takes it upon himself to fix that problem. One of he things he discovered he could do was stand on the rim of his tank and shoot a stream of water to short out a spotlight. He's also been known to juggle hermit crabs, throw rocks against the tank's glass, and rearrange the decor of the tank to suit his own tastes nevermind the other creatures living there (see dizzy hermit crabs.) 

What isn't stated in this article is that Octopuses are very, very intelligent creatures who will get into all sorts of trouble unless given enough stimulation such as toys to play with. There is no background on our scientific understanding of the behavior of these creatures nor any indication that this is anything other than an anomaly in the undersea world. 

The Second story is the aftermath of a dumbing down of the science reporting that has been going on for years. CNN is cutting its entire science, technology, and environment news staff. Now, they're reply to what seems like an outrageously stupid idea is that they want to integrate these areas into the general news structure rather than have a standalone unit. Sounds reasonable? It's not. Mainly because they are letting all of their science writers go, so instead of getting people who actually understand science and tech and can also actually write so that others can understand it correctly (something most scientists are themselves terrible at) are going to have the stories they should be writing written up by people who are more interested in covering Sarah Palin's wardrobe. 

If the other networks like MSNBC and FOX were smart, they would grab these folks and make a damn big deal out of having the premier science and technology news team. 

The Rational Moderate

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Kind of Big News That's Not Getting Around

The Supreme Court has decided not to review a case where the California courts ruled that the state laws on medical marijuana could not be ignored by local law enforcement in favor of the federal laws. In other words - state law trumps federal law for local cops. 

This is pretty big news. This sets as a precedent the notion that state law has a higher authority than federal law in certain circumstances. This is the closest we've ever come to taking a step back towards the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. Typically, federal law always trumps local and state law, and practically that hasn't really changed here. What has changed is that local and state law enforcement agents (in California- though the precedent could be used in other states) are not allowed to spend there time pursuing, arresting, and prosecuting cases where the state law has the act as legal and federal law has it as illegal. This still would allow federal law enforcement (CIA, FBI, NSA, DHS, ABC, EFG, HIJ...) the ability to go after these individuals under federal law, but draws a line in the sand for the local cops. 

This, despite of what I'm sure is a resounding protest from social conservatives, is what you get with a fairly Republican Supreme Court from the Reganish years. State's rights matter and should be encouraged while trying to shrink the federal government. The problem for them is that a lot of states are then going to do things that they don't like. Hence the current Republican federal government's confused position of not liking the federal government and yet expanding it uncontrollably because the state's didn't line up the way they thought they would. 

I think this stems from a current talking point that has been percolating since the Gringrich Republican revolution in 1996: the country is center right. And to listen to any news or any pundit on either side of the aisle you'll hear this phrase pop up. When you hear a phrase uttered enough you start to believe it, especially if you already want to believe that to be true as many Republicans do. (See my post on Confirmation Bias) And you may even be able to take polls that ask the American publics where they see themselves and since they have also heard this trumpeted around they will check off the box "center right." Do you see the problem yet?

Just because you might call yourself "center right" or check off that box in a poll, does not mean you actually are center right when you look at the specific issues. As an example, several years ago I helped run an experiment of which one part was to ask students where they felt they fell on a political spectrum and then asked them to fill out a questionnaire on specific issues that would the give a placement of their political views along the same axis they labeled themselves on. I'm sure you can see where this is going. Sure enough the majority of students rated themselves as slightly conservative, or center right, but as soon as where they actually stood on the issues was scored, the majority was center left. 

If anything even close to this holds true throughout the nation, and it probably does though a better chosen population for such a study would make for a better study, then we can see the Republican's dilemma. They think the country is at least leaning towards their side, and yet when specific issues arise, such as the legalization of wacky tobaccy, they are confused by where the public opinion, and so certain laws, goes. The results are that the very things they supposedly want to accomplish, such as a smaller federal government and more state's rights, end up thwarting the realization of many of their key social conservative issues.  

The Rational Moderate

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Confirmation Bias

There is a nice Op-Ed piece by Michael Shermer in the Los Angeles Times on the connection between confirmation bias and cult like behavior. Last month was the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre which gave us our only Congressperson killed in the line of duty as well as the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid."

For those who don't know or remember, the Jonestown massacre was the mass suicide of 918 cult members in the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project led by Jim Jones in Guyana, though the group were mostly Americans who moved the organization there from California. After Congressman Leo Ryan visited the compound to investigate its activities, he along with several aids and journalists were shot at a while on the airstrip to leave. Ryan and four others were killed. After that incident, Jones urged his followers to take cyanide and end their lives rather than have their way of life taken from them. Most complied, though some were shot and others forced to drink. Why do we know this? Because the event was recorded on audio tape. The irony of it all is that apparently Ryan's report was going to be a favorable one. 

But what has this to do with confirmation bias? Confirmation bias is one of the biggest psychological impediments we have to understanding what is really the case compared to what we think is the case. For example, on days it might rain I may say to myself, "If I take an umbrella, I'll be prepared and therefore it won't rain." Sure enough, I take my umbrella and it doesn't rain. From this I think about all of the times this has happened and I confirm my original belief: that if I take an umbrella it won't rain, or even that the universe has a mean sense of humor. Of course this is nonsense, but this is how confirmation bias works. We are psychological prone to seek out examples, data, and facts that support our beliefs and ignore, forget, or discount and examples, data, or facts that disprove our beliefs. 

The connection between cults such as Jonestown or Heaven's Gate and confirmation bias is illustrated in the Congressman Ryan's visit and the cult members reaction to it. Jim Jones has been preaching for awhile that the government would try to stop them. This was probably not as hard to do as in other cults since Jonestown was based on communist ideals and so could use much of the anti-communist propaganda to promote the idea that the american government was against them. So despite Ryan's visit seeming to be favorable, the cult members (along with Jones) took the visit alone as evidence to back up their belief that the government was plotting against them. Any evidence to the contrary didn't match their beliefs and so was ignored or dismissed. 

With Heaven's Gate, the biggest piece of evidence that confirmed their belief that there was an alien space ship on it's way to take their spirits to paradise was the appearance of the Hale-Bopp comet. 

Now granted these groups go out of their way to limit the contact and information with the outside to stop the picking up of facts, thoughts, or opinions that may counter the cult's core beliefs, yet the same principles apply (though likely to varying degrees) to every person. Some think that the remedy for this is to make sure you get your information from various sources. If you listen to Fox News for all of your news, then you should likely tune into MSNBC to counter Fox's conservative bias. I disagree. I think the best remedy is to be aware of confirmation bias and that we are all susceptible to it, and then use logic and reason to work our way through it. Listening to both sides will most likely leave one in the middle or cynical of any perspective, but as I've said before, "Truth is Biased." 

Hey, think I'll make that my new slogan!

The Rational Moderate

Monday, December 1, 2008

American Auto Bailout

The question of the day: Should we bailout the American Auto industry, or let it go?

1) Sends American tax payers into more debt. Sure, the big three say that this is a loan that they will pay back when they start making money again - but will they start making money again?
2) Free Markets. If a business isn't doing well or is getting trounced by the competition it should change or go away. If it does try to change it needs to do so in a way that doesn't make things worse in the long run even if it looks like it could make a short term increase. The American Auto industry is getting trounced and has shown little change, and what they have shown in the last few years, more SUVs and lower mpgs, has  stunk. 
3) Their products stink. The reliability and quality of American autos has been terrible for most of my life. Given the economic recession we are in now and will probably be in for many years to come, which car would you buy to last - Honda/Toyota or Ford/GM? 
4) There is an American auto industry for workers building foreign cars. If the big three go away, many, though certainly not all, of their workers and factories will likely be picked up by foreign automakers wanting to cut down on shipping costs by building the cars in the US rather than ship them in from overseas. 

For the bailout:
1) The price of the bailout will be far less than the loss of the jobs to our economy. Less jobs = less money in the economy + more unemployment = taxpayer still getting screwed.
2) Auto manufacturers actually make something. Unlike all of the banks that are getting bailed out right now, the car industry has an end product that actually has some value. Rachel Maddow (an unabashed lefty) made an interesting observation that there seems to be a class warfare happening where white collar jobs are deemed to big to fail, while blue collar jobs are not important. The problem with this view is that it flies in the face of the above against positions where the blue collar jobs may be important, but their products are not selling. Still, the auto industry accounts for something like 4% of our GPD, and so it would be a pretty big thing to fail.
3) This one has a caveat  - the bailout must have a caveat or two or three. I would have thought that this was a no brainer, but then I heard Maddow's interview  on 11/24 (you can get it on itunes) with the head of the United Auto Workers Union who claimed that the American auto industry was innovative and green and forward thinking and I thought to myself, "If we rely on these bozos to decided what constitutes all of the necessary provisions such as alternative fuel, better mpg, and greener tech, we are going to get the same crap that put them in this hole and they're going to think they are wonderful and that it is the customers who are off their rocker." So what we need is a set standard that individuals who are not in that industry but are knowledgeable about the technology to set the provisions and not the industry itself. 

In the end, I think it should happen, and I'm someone who has never owned an American made car. The #1 reason on the pro side weighs heavier than the rest. But if someone doesn't get in there and kick those morons in the head until they start to get it, I'm going to stick with my Yaris.

The Rational Moderate

Monday, November 24, 2008

Down with DST!!!

If I'd have known that Obama was against Daylight Savings Time, I might have been persuaded to donate to his campaign when he was running. I've always hated DST as the reasons for it - save energy and makes it safer for kids at school, just didn't seem right when looking at waking up in the dark and getting home from work in the dark. 

Now it's unclear from various blogs reporting this if Obama is actually considering this, or if he should be considering it, but if the former is true his approval rating in this household would go way up.

The Rational Moderate

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Good Thing/Bad Thing...Obama's Transition and Appointment Rumors

1. Let's start with the big one. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. 
Good Thing: During her time in the white house she met with many foreign leaders in a diplomatic setting. 
Bad Thing: She pretty thoroughly bashed Obama's ideas on foreign relations during the primaries. Is he to trust that she'll follow his lead now?
Good Thing: Team of Rivals. It's probably a good thing to have people who disagree with you in your cabinet.
Bad Thing: Obama is making the same mistake that cost McCain the election. We don't want a return to the Bush/Clinton years. Bringing a CLinton in really undermines that notion.
Verdict: Bad Thing. There are better people out there than Clinton who can keep doing the things she likes as Senator in New York. I would think a better choice would be Bill Richardson who was our UN ambassador for a time as well as Secretary of Energy.

2. Jim Ramstad as head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Good Thing: Ramstad is a Republican. See Team of Rivals.
Bad Thing: Opposes medical marijuana.
Good Thing: Recovering addict, so is not completely unaware when making claims about drug addicts.
Bad Thing: Worked for 27 years on anti-drug efforts by the government. You know, that "War" on drugs that has helped to put 1% of our population in jail. 
Verdict: Bad, but could be worse. Look, we already have drug czar creator Biden, so I don't think we need another person in this administration who is coo-coo for locking up hippies. This also is a point against Obama's campaign talk when he discussed decriminalizing marijuana. 
Disclosure: For those who read this and don't really know me, I have a similar view to Penn Jillette in that I have never taken any illegal drug including marijuana and have never had any desire to, but still find the war on drugs to be a ridiculous waste of time, money, and law enforcement resources to the detriment of our individual freedom. 

3. Susan Crawford and Kevin Werbach for the FCC transition team.
Good Thing: Big proponents of net-neutrality. For those who don't know, net-neutrality is the notion that the internet should remain a level playing field for anyone who wold enter it. Without it in place, certain companies, such as your internet provider, could charge websites a fee to direct traffic to their site faster and easier than other sites among other internet roadblocks. Nothing would hamper the innovation of the web more than such a policy, which is why net-neutrality is so important.
Bad Thing: FCC is still a nightmare so it's not clear to me how much they can really accomplish.
Verdict: Looks good to me. 

The Rational Moderate

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sigh of Relief

I have been really, really worried about Bush lately. Since the election took up so much of everyone's attention, Bush has been squirreled away making all kinds of ridiculous executive orders along the lines of deregulating power plant pollution and loosening restrictions on the safety of drinking water. The timing and reason behind these is because of the Clinton administration. When Billy-boy was getting ready to leave office he spent some time issuing executive orders that the Republicans found offensive, but since he waited until the last month to issue them and there is a 60 day waiting period before they go into effect (because they are so very, very much like guns - it's not the executive orders that hurt people, it's the president behind the executive orders that hurt people) as soon as Bush took office he simply canceled them all. 

Bush and his team of course remembered all this and so started all of their executive orders earlier than the 60 day waiting period ensuring that it would be difficult for Obama to come in and cancel them. This had me very, very concerned. 

Thankfully there is a law I was unaware of - and I realize that may be the first time in my life I have made that claim. The Congressional Review Act of 1996 contains a clause that any changes made within 60 days of the end of that years Congress will be known to be legally finalized on the 15th day of the new Congress. That would make these orders take effect probably sometime in February. Plenty of time for them to be examined and abolished. This is probably my favorite law ever. 

However, the idea that there even is such a thing as executive orders which essentially means that the executive branch is legislating!!! makes me sick to my stomach.

The Rational Moderate

Monday, November 10, 2008

Why The Rational Moderate?

Part two of the origins of this blog continues with where the Rational Moderate moniker comes from. 

I've been an independent since first grade. We had one of those elementary school fake election deals where you would register and then vote for a certain candidate who was running in the real election. I saw my choices and went with independent. When I was finally able to register for real, sure enough, independent. It was a real thrill when I moved to New York and instead of independent I joined what I called "The Decline Party"  as in I decline to join a party. I've never been a fan of party politics because it ends up being a pennant waving sort of mess where you end up supporting people you don't like and don't agree with simply because they are in your party. 

Take Joe Lieberman for example. There are a lot of calls by Democrats for his being punished for supporting McCain, knocking Obama, and supporting down ticket Republicans. I find this off putting. Why can't an individual politician, especially one who is in the Senate as an Independent, go with what he thinks is right? Now I can't stand Lieberman, but I find this kind of talk disturbing. 

The moderate comes in because of an attempt to show that I won't be adopting the ideals of any particular party, but rather examine the issues and positions and the solutions offered by both parties and see if there isn't something that captures what is right from both. However, I do not necessarily think that compromise or meeting in the middle is correct. This is the fallacy of the mean. Just because something is a middle position between two extremes does not make that middle position correct, or even more likely to be correct. A moderate position may be a good starting point, but it is not necessarily the end point. If the two extremes are a monarchy or a democracy, I will not be swayed into a middle position where we all vote for our monarch who can then do whatever they want. Truth, unlike what Fox News"fair and balanced" believes, is biased. It leans one way or another and rarely does it rest like a pendulum in the middle. The trick is to recognize that simply because one side of a divide is correct on one issue does not make them correct on every other issue. Or worse, if they are correct on 99% of the issues this still does not make them right for the last 1%. 

And this is where the Rational moniker comes in. It is the reminder against the sway of the fallacy of the mean. Google reactions to Paris Hilton's hilarious video of her running for President. Her final solution to the energy crisis to drill in the US now as a stop gap while investing in alternative fuels was seen by many as the best solution and a compromise/middle ground between Obama and McCain. But it would be wrong. Expanding our drilling would have zero effect on our current situation as we don't pull up our cars to the drill and fill it up. It takes years to refine this stuff, and even then it won't be a drop in the bucket compared to what we use. So we need to be clear headed and rational enough to recognize when one side is wrong enough that even a middle position is still a faulty one. 

This may lead some to label you as "in the tank" for one side or another. How can you be sure your doing it right? I have a simple test: People I know who are far-right pennant waving Republicans call me a lefty-hippy-marxist and those on the far-left pennant waving Democrats call me a fascist-capitalist-pig. Usually this occurs when I am questioning their position which they automatically take to be my agreeing with the opposing view as opposed to critiquing their position before I adopt or reject it. 

The Rational Moderate

Friday, November 7, 2008

Skeptics and Politics

I'm not going to spend this post writing on where McCain went wrong and Obama got it right. There will be plenty of time for that later. But since so much of this blog has been dedicated to the 2008 presidential election, now that it is over I thought I'd spend a couple of posts describing what I envision this blog to be about and why it's called Skeptics and Politics as well as why I sign off as the Rational Moderate. Today is on the Skeptics and Politics portion. 

Skepticism comes in a few different categories. There is the simple doubt that we experience when we hear a tale of something extraordinary such as a coin landing on it's side. It's not impossible, but we are likely to wonder if the person telling the tale isn't making it up. This type of skepticism doesn't actually happen that often as we are prone to believe what others say because we generally are truthful. If someone tells us it's raining we usually just grab our umbrellas and don't bother looking out the window. But as the claims ratchet up to being more uncommon we start to doubt the believability of the claims. 

But Skepticism as a movement, rather than just a particular state of mind, comes in two forms which I'll call Ontological Skepticism and Scientific Skepticism.
1) Ontological Skepticism is where one doubts, well, everything. Ontology is the study of reality or being, and so a skeptic of this sort doubts any and all propositions that she might hear. This is an extremely hard position to take as you would have to doubt your ability to do it as well as doubt its correctness and so usually this is found in some esoteric religion. 
2) Scientific Skepticism is more about epistemology (the study of knowledge) than ontology in that it questions claims about reality along the lines of "how can we know?" It can give negative claims about questions of ontology, but it cannot truly make any positive ones, but only probabilistic ones. The skeptics in this camp answer that the best method we have for knowledge is the scientific method which works in such a way as to remove many of the biases we might have. For example, many people believe in a phenomenon call "hot hands" were a particular athlete goes on a streak of making  incredible shots in row that wouldn't ordinarily happen. Sadly for those sports fans, there actually is no such thing. What constitutes "hot hands" falls within the statistical probability for that particular athlete. For example, when flipping a coin there is a 50/50 chance of it landing heads or tails, but given enough flips it is extremely probable that you will hit a streak of many heads or tails in a row. Does the coin have "hot hands?" 
This is also the area where logical fallacies come into play. These are mistakes in reasoning. I've talked about a couple in the past, such as the Hypocrite Fallacy and the Argument from Authority Fallacy, but there are plenty of others. 

Skeptics and Politics
The Skeptics part of this blog is in the latter camp. What I hope I have done and will continue to do is point out the errors in reasoning that occur in politics as well as in other areas of our lives. It seems to me that many of the arguments that happen around politics are founded on either faulty premises or mistakes of reasoning from sound premises. I've heard skeptics argue that they try to stay out of political arguments because they are ultimately value based and so cannot be looked at using the same methods that one uses to evaluate fact based claims. I disagree. This assumes several things 1) that the values are equal in that they have the same objective amount or are purely subjective and so have an objective value of zero, and 2) that values are evaluated in a completely different way than facts. The first is, I think, an open question. It's not enough to just claim that values are subjective rather than objective because they feel that way, one must argue for that position and it could be the case that there really is an objectively right and wrong thing to do. The second is wrong because we can and should evaluate values in a similar way to how we evaluate facts, namely negatively. Just as a skeptic takes a claim such as the existence of Leprechauns and asks questions about what would it take for this creature to exists, we can evaluate value claims based on what it would take to make them exist. 

David Hume wrote about the gap that exists between factual claims and normative claims ("is" claims and "ought"claims) and that just because something is a certain way does not mean that it should be that way. This is what leads many skeptics to abandon discussing politics under the same scrutiny as the Loch Ness Monster. But the flip side of the coin is that "ought implies can." To make the claim that someone should perform some action or value some outcome requires the possibility that they factually can. If I say to you, "You should fly out the window and rescue that cat from the tree," my statement holds no weight because you cannot fly out the window. So, if certain values or ends are raised in politics there is a way we can skeptically analyze them and hopefully come up with a better way.

The Rational Moderate

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Welcome to the Future

Obama wins.

My problems with him and Biden aside, how great is it that given that my parents were alive during segregation and civil rights eras that they and their children could see this day. 


The Rational Moderate

Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama's Ad

So while I said I was going to watch Obama's ad on the night it ran, I instead tuned into Pushing Daisies instead as it is on the chopping block and is one of my wife's (and mine) favorite show. So I watched the informercial a few days later on the internet.

1. I think Pete was right, it was pretty cheesy. But, I learned long ago that most Americans like cheese- thick, gooey, cheese. The music in the background had me checking to make sure I was watching Obama and not Home Makeover. 
2. I think mike to the D is also somewhat right, I think, in that some of Obama's economic plans are misleading or make no sense given the current market crisis and national debt. 
3. I wasn't persuaded on the basis of the ad to vote for Obama. I don't think it really conveyed what I think he actually is trying to do economically in response to the concerns mike to the D raised. 
4. Having said all that, I am actually more impressed with Obama economically now, then I was a few days ago. Here's why:

I live in Bethlehem PA which is literally connected to Allentown PA. When the steel plants shut down a few years back and many of the jobs left the area, the cities experienced an economic crisis that put both into heavy financial losses. The two separate mayors of the two cities had different approaches to solving the problem. The mayor of Allentown froze spending and tightened the purse strings hoping to ride out the problem. The mayor of Bethlehem opted instead to invest, despite being in a deficit, in the town's infrastructure in the hopes of keeping the jobs and the people in place. The consequences of these two approaches are apparent to anyone who spends time in both cities. Bethlehem was able to pull itself out of the hole and become a great place to work and live while Allentown still struggles to this day. In a nut shell, Obama is the mayor of Bethlehem and McCain is the mayor of Allentown - assuming what they say they are planning on doing actually happens. 

The Republicans for years have been arguing for an Adam Smith/invisible hand approach to this countries economy. Hence the tax break for the wealthiest that would inevitably trickle down into the pockets of those in the middle which would in turn trickle down to the poorest. Deregulation was supposed to lead to the market regulating itself, that is, by looking out for each individual's own interest positive outcomes are inevitable. As Greenspan has just said, "I have found a flaw in this model." The flaw isn't actually what Greenspan noted but rather a misunderstanding of what is required for the trickle down effect to occur. There needs to be more wealthy people than 1% of the population. With that few in control of spreading the wealth (which is exactly what trickle down economics is, just with voodoo rather than choice) there simply is a stop to how far it goes. As with a bottle of water that has just been emptied eventually the drops stop even if you can still see water collected in the container. 

What is nice about Obama's economic plan, and yes even the spending he proposes, is that it lowers the level at which Adam Smith's description plays out so that rather than counting on the wealthiest to spread the wealth, the middle and upper middle class are at the top and their wealth, in the form of small businesses, trickle down to those with less. Obama's spending proposals help with this by elevating many of the burdens on the small business owner, such as health care for it's workers. 

Will this cost money we don't have? Yes. But what it will likely lead to is more people working and owning their own business and therefore more people able to pay taxes leading to a lessening of the national debt. Short term loses for long term gains, rather than freezing everything so that no progress can be made.

With one day to go, I've inched closer to Obama. 

The Rational Moderate

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Obama's 30 min Infomercial

I'm going to be watching this very closely tonight mainly because I'm not convinced that I want to vote for him. I am... (hushed silence)... an undecided voter. Yes, that's right the same undecided voter who the Daily Show referred to as "The Stupids," or as David Sedaris referred to as not being able to automatically pick between chicken or poopy-glass for dinner (immediately alienating vegetarians.) Still I am undecided.

But not between Obama and McCain. No, the political romance I once had with McCain when I was young and naive was lost when he hired Rove's underlings to run his campaign. And I knew it was gone for good when he picked Sarah "I-don't-actually-know-what-socialism-is" Palin for his running mate. The choice for me now is between Obama and someone else, and in that I am undecided. 

You see, I am a fan of the write in vote. I believe that our votes should not be for a candidate because we hate the other person, but because we truly want the person we vote for to have the job. For that reason, I will often pick people I know and admire and write their names in, such as myself for sheriff. (Although it's true I do that mostly out of an Andy Griffith fantasy.) What I am not convinced of yet, is that Obama is worthy of my vote. I've posted in the past about some of the problems I have with him and Biden, and I am not convinced that those issues have changed. What I really want from him is a declaration that he will role back many of the unprecedented executive powers that Bush took, but I suppose that would be too good to be true. 

So tonight is his night to sway me, convince me that he is not just the lesser of two evils, but rather someone I would actually want to lead the country of which I am a citizen. 

Otherwise, I may be writing in your name. 

The Rational Moderate

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ted Stevens found Guilty

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Seriously, how did Alaska turn into this election's Florida? The best part of the article is the quote from Palin on how big oil has this corrupting influence on the government and that is why she was elected to root it out. Nevermind that under her the oil companies got even more in bed with Alaska when she negotiated an increase in their payouts to the local citizens. 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thoughts on the Constitution (Part 1)

I’m starting this series of my examination of the Constitution of the United States for a couple of reasons. 1) This has been on my mind since I started this blog. The Constitution was written as a way to legitimize a country and a government in a way that hadn’t been done before. We talk of the President of being the leader of the USA, but he/she isn’t. The Constitution is the authority of this country. 2) The first thing I said when I heard that Obama was running for president was, “Well, I can finally feel confident that at least one person running has actually read the constitution.” I still feel that way. Palin’s continual responses to describing the job of the Vice President shows me that she doesn’t have a clue what’s in the constitution. And that is frustrating considering that section directly matters to her possible future. It might be excused if I don’t know specifically what the constitution says about the VP, but she is running for VP... 3) There is an ideology behind the Constitution that deserves to be explored. There is sometimes a divide between idealists and pragmatists, but the Constitution is really the best of both. An ideal of a government that is run by the rule of law and not the whims of power hungry maniacs that is tempered by pragmatic compromises and steps to make that ideal a reality. So, I’ll start at the beginning, giving the passage and then my thoughts and I would encourage anyone who has any comments to please add it to the comments section below. Think of it as like Oprah’s book club, only, you know, important. (At the very least let me know if you think I'm wasting my time.)

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Right from the start we see the ultimate authority for this document: the people. Not, as past monarchies and such had, divine right or genetic lineage, but rather the people who will be ruled by this document allow themselves to be ruled by it. I recognize in this the ideals of the social contract theory most well known by Thomas Hobbes. The idea of a social contract theory works like this: Imagine a state of no government and no authority (so no family members in charge either). In this state of nature, as Hobbes refers to it, we would all ultimately be in a constant state of war against each other because we would all have wants and desires that would be limited by either resources or other’s wanting the exact same things. In this state we simply cannot trust one another to make deals or keep pacts. It is every person for themselves. What happens in this state of nature however is while we are free to pursue whatever end we need or want, we are simply never going to be able to get anywhere near all of the things we could possibly need or want. This is because no matter how strong or intelligent one person may be over others, they are never so far ahead that any other person can’t find a big enough rock to bash their brains out. Lucky for us we are capable of reason and recognizing that it is in our best interest to try and make peace with others to be able to have any chance of achieving our own ends. To achieve this peace requires us to give up some of our freedoms (at least as much as we expect everyone else to give up) to an authority whose sole purpose is to help ensure peace. The people, because it is rational and the only way to ensure we can achieve any of our ends, give their authority over themselves to a governing body.

Many politicians remark that their real boss is the American people, but that is only true to a certain degree. In one way it is true because we can vote, even a step removed, on offices of government and in another way it is true because we are the one who ultimately give up our authority to the Constitution. But once we give up that authority, as we did when the Constitution was ratified, we are no longer the main entity in charge. The Constitution itself becomes the sole authority of the government. 

And the reasons why we would ratify the Constitution are given in a very social contract ideal way: to establish justice, to insure domestic peace, for common defense, for the promotion of general well being, and to keep ourselves as free as we can understanding that perfect freedom leads to us pragmatically having little to no freedom. 

The Rational Moderate

Monday, October 20, 2008

And this is why McCain got his party's nomination...

... because there really are great people who are conservatives and/or Republicans who aren't like the idiots that made these bumper stickers or scream the obnoxious things from the earlier videos I posted. Let's face it, the people who are behaving the most obnoxiously are not the people who voted for McCain in the primaries but rather those who voted for Huckabee or Romney. McCain, just like Obama over Hillary, got his parties nod because the majority of members were sick and tired of the same old crap that we've had from the Bushes and Clintons and were ready for a more moderate fresh start. 

And while both candidates are championing there ticket as the one of true change, McCain's actions, from his hiring the same bozos who trashed his campaign in 2000 to get W. in the white house, to his picking Palin who is simply not qualified and not intelligent enough to pick it up, to his campaign stunts such as suspending his campaign to help fix the economy, to his abandoning the economy as an issue to focus on Bill Ayers a domestic terrorist who has tenuous ties to Obama at best and that even McCain claims to not care about yet constantly bring up, to his using the same company and tacit of robo/auto calling that again smeared him so disgustingly in 2000, these actions do not point to the McCain that the Republican primary voters wanted nor voted for. McCain has let those people down and he should be ashamed of himself. 

As I wrote in an earlier comment, some argue that he is ashamed and that is why he has come across so angry in that he really is an honorable person. All that says to me is if that is true, he is a terrible leader since he is the one who supposed to be in charge of his campaign. If he can't do that right, what hope do we have that he'll lead the nation right?

The people in this video deserve better from him. They're standing behind him, but I don't buy that he's standing behind them.

The Rational Moderate

Sunday, October 19, 2008


The Rational Moderate

Thursday, October 16, 2008

3rd Debate Wrap-up

CBS - Obama 53% to McCain’s 22% with undecided voters

CNN - Obama 58% to McCain’s 31%

MSNBC - Obama

Fox News - Obama

Media Curves - Obama 60% to McCain’s 30%

BBC - Their review of “expert” verdicts was 4 for Obama and 3 for McCain with no tie. Their analysts Kevin Connolly gave the win to the American Voters which is not only lame but proof that he hasn’t been paying attention.

I can’t believe I didn’t include ABC news before now - Oh, that’s because their web site stinks and I can’t find it despite a huge link to “Polls” and “Click Here For More Polls” - stupid disney network

My Take - First, Schieffer should moderate every debate. I’m a fan now. I’m getting the podcasts for Face the Nation right now. 

Second, I thought McCain started well and then went into lala land with some ridiculous statements including talking about the “health” of women as code for “give me an abortion so I can go back to whoring around,” his incessant muttering that he knows how to do everything to fix every problem we face without ever telling anyone else despite his being in a position of authority already by being a senator, his stating that he’ll freeze every spending program except for three and then describing how he’ll spend money on these same problems, and, one more for abortion that made me feel like I had my own Life on Mars experience, how he wouldn’t use Roe v. Wade as a litmus test for the Supreme Court but thought that anyone who agrees with Roe v. Wade would not be qualified. (In fairness this isn’t a direct contradiction but rather he thinks there is a correlation between agreeing with Roe v. Wade and being wrong on a  host of other issues that would not make one qualified. I still found it jarring.) 

Third, Obama was fine. Not spectacular, not making any mistakes that contradicted or confused his position. He seemed exactly the same as the last two debates so I guess I didn’t think he did too well, but the polls again disagree with me. It’s likely because of the reasons I gave about McCain. He does seem erratic. I know Schieffer was hammering them both of the negative comments, specifically Obama’s erratic comment, but that’s the way he looked to me. You can make a partisan comment and still be right. Obama, on the other hand, never had that nervous energy that McCain kept showing up in his odd quips, sarcastic lines, and laughing at his own jokes. As I said last time, I think this is done and Obama will be the next president. But there is one last chance for a turnaround for McCain - he finally appears on Letterman tonight. After canceling with Dave by saying he was suspending his campaign and flying immediately back to Washington to try and fix the problem, Dave got a feed into Katie Couric’s anchor booth to see McCain sitting there waiting to do an interview. Needless to say, Dave spent the better part of the episode and the weeks to follow calling out McCain about it, describing the move as “fishy.” 

The Rational Moderate

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Argument From Authority Fallacy

I always love a reason to bring up and discuss a logical fallacy. Recently a letter has been signed by every winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in science that endorses Barack Obama for president. At the face of it this looks like an example of the argument from authority fallacy which basically states that just because someone is in a position of authority does not mean that the views the express are correct.  So while it shouldn't be argued that these are individuals who excel in their chosen fields, it does not follow that their political arguments are sound. 

There are some exceptions to this rule. One is if the individuals are describing something that is in their field of expertise. This letter specifically addresses the scientific issues that have been hurt by the Bush administration and which look to be better understood and appreciated under an Obama administration. In this sense, the fallacy is still true, we shouldn't just accept their conclusions because of their authority, but since it is their field of expertise we can give their opinion more weight than we would if it wasn't their field of expertise. In this case, the weight of their authority and the weight of the evidence of their position leads to accepting their position.

Now it is important to understand that their endorsement is really only about science and technology with a passing nod to the notion that these are the tools we must use to fix the other mounting problems we face. So, if the economy and national defense are more important to you, then you would have to decide if science and tech are more important than other factors such as diplomacy, military strategy, and invisible hands then you might agree with these Nobel Laureates. But their being Nobel Laureates isn't sufficient by itself to make the conclusion true.

The Rational Moderate

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Calling Someone a Terrorist is a Form of Terrorism

Falsely invoking terrorism is a form of terrorism. If the idea behind terrorism is to terrorize (use tactics to make others instantly and incredibly afraid) some group into doing either a) what the terrorist wants and/or b) something other than what the group would normally do, then the outcome of calling someone a terrorist is to get others to be afraid of being around or associating with that individual. Since 9/11, the US has been in the thrall of the word terrorism. It has been used over and over to make us afraid of “others” in the world who would do us harm. For some, such as myself, this can become numbing. I don’t tend to think much about anyone labeled a terrorist anymore since it is used so often and incorrectly. 

Now the definition I am using to describe terrorism may be objected to as being too broad, as it may include such tactics as using fear to get someone to stop smoking, or brush their teeth, or be good or receive a lump of coal at Christmas, or worship one specific God or spend eternity listening to New Kids on the Block. I added the qualifiers instantly and incredibly to offset the difference between simple fear and the full blown terror that terrorism is attempting to invoke. The fear involved in terrorism arises from sudden and unexpected actions that is of a much grander scale than the examples of fear I gave earlier. And this leads to my conclusion that given the climate of our country and the rhetoric of its leaders since 9/11, calling someone a terrorist who has not done the actions of a terrorist is an act of terrorism. It is an attempt to make someone so suddenly afraid of that individual that they will abandon their previous way of living and thinking and adopt one more in line with the invoker or will at least stop what they were doing. 

Lately, McCain/Palin supporters have gone in public and proclaimed Obama a terrorist (see last post.) Now I’m not saying this is representative of all of his supporters, nor am I disagreeing with my earlier post that most of these individuals are mostly saying these things to rile those they see on the other side of the ticket. But to use the term terrorist to describe a Senator who is running for President is to try and scare someone into either a) voting for the other party or b) getting them to not vote for someone else, or not at all.

I’m calling them out as terrorists. 

The Rational Moderate