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