Sunday, August 31, 2014

Deep Tweets

Why I stopped reading the news.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I have seen the future

Or the selfie of the future, that is.

By Capt. Fogg

Selfie of the day, selfies of the week -- we can hardly breathe with the effort of working selfie into every page, every story, every moment of news.

6 uses of the word in a 15 second news spot and it's hardly unique. They're trending on Twitter and I effort to litter every page with SELFIES!

How did we ever get along without that word in those dull, crepuscular days without hashtags when only birds would tweet and that picture you took of yourself was a picture you took of yourself?  No,  selfie is here to stay and there is a future to come when old men in tattered backwards hats sit on park benches sharing shaky-handed selfies and  blowing farts through their boxers, belts around ankles and tweeting about efforting their bowel movements. Tattooed nonagenarians with Titanium hip replacements and gold-rimmed bifocal Google Glass, sharing selfies.

I have seen the future. Androgynous naked teens, covered in genetically engineered cat fur, brains wired together by the web, trending. They hide in the trees, laughing and taking selfies for their friends on the moon.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Conundrum of Memory

By Capt. Fogg

Sometimes I get to wondering, sometimes I get confused about what our conservative brethren are trying to tell us.  I was reminded recently that my former Republican congressman Tom Rooney (R-FL) amongst others,  vociferously  threatened to impeach the president for having provided air traffic control for the UN incursions into Libya; for having exceeded his constitutional authority by arming Syrian rebels.  Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) back in June of 2013 threatened to impeach President Obama if any U.S. troops are killed in Syria.  Is there a relationship between rhetorical amplitude and political passion and the shortness of it's half-life? 

I ask because currently the same party is chastising him for not having gone into Syria thus allowing ISIS a breeding ground. We need those airstrikes -- why didn't he make those airstrikes?  We need airstrikes, says John McCain, in his time-worn tradition of  damning Obama if he does or if he doesn't.  Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wants to commit ground troops. This is all

 "due to our total inaction. And it's going to be one of the more shameful chapters in American history," says John McCain

Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said the President's limited foreign policy is no longer acceptable. I have no idea whether that refers to the hundred airstrikes the Obama administration has unilaterally launched into Northern Iraq to help the hopelessly rickety and incompetent government Republicans bragged about setting up not long ago, but we can be assured of at least one thing: Republicans will damn him for doing it and damn him for not stepping in earlier back when they were trying to impeach him for it.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

What happened was. . .

By Capt. Fogg

It's been said so often we might as well attribute it to everyone: "we don't see things the way they are, we see them the way we are." So much in life hinges on tiny details. Things nearly identical can be seen in such enormously different fashion and we rarely seem to ask ourselves what the difference is. Sometimes the only difference is the way we are.

In a small Texas town yesterday, the Sheriff pulled 24-year-old Joshua Manuel Lopez's car over in a suburban neighborhood. Lopez had an outstanding warrant for graffiti. There was a scuffle, Sheriff Michael Pimentel was fatally shot.

What we think happened has so much to do with who we are. Much has to do with how the story is presented to us and this time, for some reason, CNN only gave us the bare bones facts, no a priori conclusions were jumped to. But there were so many ways of presenting this and as the metaphorical butterfly can set off a hurricane, it's the minute subtleties of our perception and the writer's perception that determine whether we sigh and go on to the next story, whether we feel bad for the officer, whether we see it as police brutality -- whether we talk about the way police treat minorities, write headlines about an innocent murdered for a misdemeanor or about those probably illegal Hispanics ruining America. There is far more than beauty in the eye of the beholder.

I doubt that the president will show up at the funeral or that the streets of Elmendorf, Texas will see loud and violent protest and I have to ask just how different is this case from other cases. Might it have been different if the ethnicity had been different, if the presumption of malice had been inserted in the coverage, if the trajectory of the bullet had varied by an inch or two? But my perception is meaningless, it's what the public thinks that matters. This is not an art museum and whether the painting is a Picasso or a Pissarro is not determined by the frame. It's determined by you and with whom you choose to side; by what causes you identify with, what party you belong to and what news you listen to. Perhaps the Buddhists are right and it's all an illusion, a great emptiness we fill with ourselves.

Will someone accuse me of racism here? of being unsympathetic? It doesn't matter and the "I" who wrote this is the you who are reading it. Nothing is true, all things are permitted.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rush to Judgement

By Capt. Fogg

Zeus has led us on to know, the Helmsman lays it down as law that we must suffer, suffer into truth. We cannot sleep, and drop by drop at the heart the pain of pain remembered comes again, and we resist, but ripeness comes as well. From the gods enthroned on the awesome rowing-bench there comes a violent love.

-Aeschylus: Agamemnon- 

We hear on the TV that most arrests in Ferguson Missouri are of  African Americans but we don't ask if the percentage given relates to the percentage of African Americans living there.  I don't know the answer, but I'll bet few people bothered to ask themselves because it complicates things and we're looking for "proof" of something we know a priori. Most of us would be very disappointed at anything in the way of opinion or conjecture or documented proof that things aren't the way we thought and perhaps not the way we hoped.  We want that cop to be guilty and his whole department complicit. It's plausible after all and that's enough for most of us.  Thank god for the law and the courts or we'd become what we think we oppose.

It's well documented by many scientific studies that people will believe a simple, plausible story with few selected supporting facts, or even fallacies for that matter, before they will take the trouble to sort through all the verifiable facts and analyze how they relate to our chosen opinion. Occam's razor cuts both ways and after all, our brains have evolved as machines for jumping to conclusions, not as calculators or statistical tabulators.  Hell, I suspect most people simply latch on to the opinions of the mobs they belong to, or aspire to belong to.  Far more witches have been burned than have been burned by witches.

I think there's great wisdom that comes with self doubt -- the ability to ask oneself  "what if everything I believe is wrong or absurd, or not worth consideration." What if the case is far more complex and the certainties for less clear? If we're lucky we have one of those epiphanic moments when it becomes obvious that we were wrong and we learn from it. We find out someone we were sure was guilty is innocent or vice versa. We find out we're not who we thought we were, that something we believed without question is demonstrably false, that someone or something we had confidence in didn't merit it. We find we've misjudged someone and we're forced, to go out and rage in the storm like Lear.  We suffer into truth and the truth is that if justice is to be served, we wait for the evidence and we look at all of it without prejudice. It's not easy.

The simple plausible truth behind the acquittal of O.J. Simpson was that he was the victim of racism. He's black, the LAPD has a history of  brutality against minorities,  one of the investigators was once heard using the N word and so when his defense attorney told the jury they had to send a message to "the Man"  all the endlessly damning evidence was forgotten.

When Trayvon Martin was killed, so many of us, so well aware of  racism in small town police departments instantly assumed that a "child" was murdered by some racist intent upon hunting innocent black children and were appalled by the jury's decision, because after all it was impossible that the innocent child jumped out of hiding in the dark at a "creepy guy" 4 inches shorter than him. Teenaged boys never do impulsive things, do they?  Impossible because we don't want to consider anything but black and white both in a real and metaphorical sense. We wanted to tie it to our mistrust of guns and laws that had no part in the trial and so we did rightly or wrongly, guilty or innocent -- case closed, minds closed.

When we heard some "child" was shot in Missouri. We saw the inevitable graduation picture wearing a mortarboard hat.  It was just so obviously a racially motivated murder to consider otherwise and of course if we want to pause and wait for more than confused and conflicting eye-witness reports we display endless anecdotes about racism in Ferguson.  So just as we as good liberals shouted "rush to judgement" at the lengthy Simpson trial, we turned about and rushed to judgement even before any investigation in those other two affairs.  Who wants to suffer? Who wants to be seen as a racist?

For those of course, of a different political persuasion, quite the opposite is true and Timothy McVeigh is a hero but Dr. King is not.  But enough about Fox News.  Enough too about questioning the need for the National Guard to stem the violence -- it's necessary because we think the situation is obvious and we are sure that nothing will be done if we don't demonstrate and exhibit our credentials as racism fighters before we really know what happened.  We don't.  We've just assumed and just decided what's obvious.  We get angry because we assume a cop assumed and because we assumed that cops always assume and we make sure that everyone knows every thing that might be construed as evidence  of racism so that we don't pause to reflect that sometimes we're wrong when lives hinge on our being right.

No, it's absolutely certain that someone reading this will call me a racist or apologist for racism because I'm attempting to temper your crowd-sourced certainty.  If you do, you're not a liberal nor a defender of human rights or of justice but a prejudiced partisan a long way from wisdom.

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Monday, August 18, 2014


By Capt. Fogg

Browse around the web and you'd think the world was going crazy and no, I'm not talking about Ferguson, MO.  Perhaps it is and perhaps we're all crazy too, but within a couple of minutes looking for stories other than about Ferguson, I found out far more than I wanted to know about a morgue attendant indicted for having sex with a hundred corpses of crime victims. Good thing I skipped lunch today.  But on any particular day you'll get demented Christian leaders telling us that public nursing causes people to become gay. Maybe all those baby Jesus pictures in churches do the same thing or maybe they cause people to become psychotic like this guy, but who knows?  It's a mad, mad, mad world and it's all Obama's fault for playing favorites with his black cronies.  

Larry Klayman, who is not a racist, is surprised that Obama isn't calling it the black House yet, but no, he's not a racist and Florida Governor Rick Scott whose company stole hundreds of millions from Medicare and who  takes personal credit for the economic recovery he had nothing to do with blames his opponent, former governor Charlie Christ for the recession. You know, the one that ended under Obama.

Think he's embarrassed by a campaign endorsement from a convicted slave trader or taking money from a contractor Florida employs to run prisons?  Nah and nobody else cares because Obama is on vacation while there are so many crises going on!  Really, and even though Obama had cut it short to be in Washington the other night, I broke off a long friendship with someone who didn't think it was fair mentioning the all time presidential vacation record holders, Reagan and Bush.  Bush took 879 Vs. Obama's 150 of course and I seem to recall a few crises during the Bush years. 2 1/2 years of vacation time but never mind -- Obama is just Obama and facts don't matter.

Of course there are crises galore in Ukraine and Africa and Iraq and Obama is being blamed for all of them by people who essentially don't give a damn about any problem but the one that suits their agenda and so it's hard to feel too much sympathy for anyone, crazy or sane.  Yes, it's a crazy world, a self obsessed and heartless and insane world with enough pain and suffering and grief  to fill a hundred worlds for a million years, but to most of us, it's our problem and it's who we can blame it on that matters. It's how much we can hide behind the smoke screen of bogus outrage that matters, because if blame were assigned fairly -- well we can't have that, can we?

You'd think we'd find a way to do something about it, but really, how many sane people are there other than you and I and besides, that damned Obama is on vacation.
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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Studies Show

By CApt. Fogg

Studies show.  How many fraudulent arguments and political pieties begin with that statement?  Milk produces phlegm, Gluten causes inflammation, calories don't count, Obama caused the recession, money trickles down from the "job creators"  human activities don't affect the climate.  No matter how many large, double-blind studies are published in peer-reviewed journals, these flawed "Studies" many of which are speculations and fabrications or selected anecdotes persist.

Nobel laureate psychologist and Economist  Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking Fast and Slow posits that we have two ways of making decisions: fast and slow as you might suspect from the title, or as he calls them: system 1 and system 2.  Reading it might just cause you to reevaluate a lot of  things you've been led to believe because people who want to enlist your support, sell you their products, receive your donations and secure your votes make skillful  use of this knowledge.

We have statistics thrown at us every day and we make decisions based on our statistical illiteracy, our intellectual laziness and the tendency to make decisions based on limited facts and wishful thinking.  So much of Kahneman's work applies to how we choose investments, but it applies to virtually everything we prefer to approach with the unreliable "system 1" rather than to wade rigorously through volumes of data until our heads hurt. In a large part, "studies show" is enough for most of us.  there's always a study, an authority, a  book and it's usually enough. We prefer to judge, to evaluate on limited evidence and we prefer intuition over analysis and when we believe something to be true, whether it's because we identify with a party or an organized faith or an ethnic group, we are

"very likely to believe arguments that appear to support it, even when these arguments are unsound.  If system 1 is involved, the conclusion comes first and the arguments follow."

That doesn't sound very profound or startling and yet we virtually always fail to detect such tendencies in ourselves, perhaps more so when we think we are highly intelligent.  As Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory says "If I were wrong, don't you think I'd know it?

We tend to disallow legitimate science and valid statistical conclusions out of hand if we are engaged in politics that argue to the contrary and apparently intelligence has less than enough to do with it. The difference between that quoted statement of the obvious and the body of work summarized in the book is an enormous amount of documented science.  ( I'll mention the Nobel prize once again.)

But this is not a book review and what I'm getting at is not another Lefty attempt to show the shoddy thinking and fallacy filled folly of the Right Wing. I'm making a case for divorce.  I'm just not getting the kind of liberal thinking out of the Democratic party I need.  I feel neglected and betrayed, ignored and saddened at the endlessly tainted logic, the misused statistics and conclusions supported by faith and gerrymandered facts. I want a divorce. Let me explain.

I got an appeal yesterday, to rethink my position on the legal modifications to prior self defense laws the press likes to call "stand your ground."  Places that have such laws have more murders, states the pleading, and not just more murders but more murders of  African Americans because non-African Americans tend to see dark skinned people as hostile and dangerous and likely to be carrying weapons. But don't take their word for it and you guessed it: studies show.

It so happens that I took part in the cited study which consisted of  pressing a key with either the right or left hand  to show whether the small black and white images of human eyes belonged to white or black people. Small images were also displayed which included items like crossbows and maces.  Delays in pushing either key determined whether or not I was a racist and wouldn't you know it -- am a racist.  The study shows  and never mind the various possible reasons for time delays. Never mind any other study.

The problem from my standpoint is that it was impossible for me to determine the 'race' of well more than half of the eyes much less analyze the emotion  and there was a greater delay in pushing the key when I had that problem.  The delay is said to be proof that I associated black people with weapons and hostility, albeit mostly medieval weapons.  Seriously, but none the less, studies show. 

Now from this study, taken to be conclusive and irrefutably so, comes the leap of fallacy that I cannot be trusted to determine whether or not someone is a threat to my life because I'm a racist and by extension, no other whit person can be trusted because white people are racists. I would expect Liberals to gasp and perhaps to gag, but Democrats don't.  Democrats cling to this conclusion because studies show it's safer for to require me to run away from the attacker with a gun, white or black, and because they're Democrats after all. The conclusion comes first and the arguments follow.

Back when the Feds finally killed the 55mph speed limit, there were impassioned arguments from self-styled liberals like Alan Dershowitz telling us that there would be a bloodbath and indeed for a very short time there was a slight increase of highway fatalities. It was a statistical blip and those fatalities have continued to decline. Dershowitz made the mistake of taking statistically irrelevant data as proof of a trend -- of ignoring, as most of us do, regression to the mean and of choosing facts to fit the prior conclusion .

So my first reaction to the "states with SYG laws have more. . ." statement was the question: did they have more beforehand? and has the alleged increase been long enough to have statistical significance?  Will Regression to the Mean make this increase go away?  Without answering that question I'm supposed to hear Studies Show and jump on the bandwagon.  Sorry, I can't and because it's nearly universal in political advertising to play games with statistics, I have to side with Dr. Kahneman again when he explains that a few facts and a plausible story tend to trump informed and rational conclusion. WYSIATI he calls the gambit: "what you see is all there is" and we're all prone, in our laziness and longing to belong, to fall for it. If we fear guns we won't ask questions.  If we are invested in guns and gun rights, the opposite is true. First comes the conclusion.

The problem with interpreting statistics isn't just the pervasive ignorance of statistical method, the confusion between context and causality, but the laziness we're encouraged to cultivate in our consumer society. The vast majority of educated people will read the syllogism:

All roses are flowersSome flowers fade quicklyTherefore some roses fade quickly.

says Kahneman and agree, but of course it's not true, because it's possible that there are no roses among the some flowers that fade quickly, but my head hurts when doing the work needed to analyze it. It looks plausible,  the statements before "therefore" are true even if they are not the only facts that need to be considered and therefore we settle for "it's true" and will defend any argument based on it's truth. What with our liberal backgrounds, it's easier to agree that all white people are racists and defend policies based on it than to question Liberal authority. Easier to explain gender differences on society than on science and therefore it's fine to suppress data and prevent studies which might show. the studies that agree with us are always right.

Because it gets cold outside and insulation is necessary to sustain life, no one should interfere with our right to own warm clothing.

Does that mean that we're not allowed to own a coat in Key West but only where it gets cold? You know what I'm getting at here. Context means more than what's actually said. We see what we want to see, believe what we're disposed to believe.  We're not afraid of mittens, but still we think we're rational. We think we're guided by science and are objective, independent thinkers.  If I am actually to be all that, can I still be a Democrat?  Can I still be a Democrat if than now means I can't trust anyone in any way, that heresy is everywhere and the job of Democrats is to root it all out and punish it  even if we have to cut a swath through truth, science and  humanist values to bring the unbelievers to the stake?  No, I think I need a divorce.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014


By Capt. Fogg

People get killed in almost any kind of racing and everyone knows it. It's a rough sport, like the sports Americans love the most.  People get hurt playing football.  People get killed on ski slopes and while surfing and  skateboarding.  People go out during hurricanes to kite surf and board surf and when they get killed in the process the responsibility is usually clear. People run out into highways, people walk around on railroad bridges and they get hurt and nobody blames anyone but the fools who do it, but that's in the real world, not the strange world of journalism where it becomes necessary to ask whether there will be criminal charges against Tony Stewart who ran over and killed a teen age driver who deliberately ran out on a race track fired up with childish egotism and deliberately stepped in front of his race car, finger held high. "Will he face criminal charges?" asks CNN?  Do you ever feel shame?  I have to ask.

And speaking of shame, can we write it off to early stages of dementia that John McCain can get away with blaming the raging barbarians now running loose in Iraq on President Obama's having pulled troops out on a schedule agreed to by George Bush and at the demand of the incompetent, ill-prepared Iraqi Government set up by George Bush that alienated a large portion of  the population? It's time for the public to ask, but it's time for the Media to start asking out loud since unlike the rest of  us, they remember all the details about a war sold on a false pretext with the full cooperation of  armchair heroes and war profiteers and in which so many people died.

 It's time to ask how much the American public would have supported keeping thousands of stoops there for another decade or longer since it's unlikely that the schisms going on in Muslim countries are going end or stop taking advantage of the kind of power vacuums provided by people like George Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, inter alia for no other reason than the love of  conquest. I'm sorry, Mr. McCain, but you backed the destruction if Iraq and you asked for the destruction of Iran from the comfort of your own safety.

You've blamed Obama for the results of the laws of supply and demand in a free world market.  You've been offering predictions of all kinds of disasters, military and economic and have been proven wrong -- and indeed nothing you've been warning against has happened. The "everything is Obama's fault" has disgraced you and any sympathy you may have earned for having been a prisoner of war and if I do not call you unscrupulous, dishonest and dangerous to America, it's because I think you're demented and to be pitied.  It's time for him to retire from public life, but it's time to ask why the media gives such credit and support to a man who has stepped in front of truth in a fit of childish egotism and does it without a hint of shame.

And speaking of shame, can we direct further disgust toward the media for the shamelessness of asking why a tiny supply of a highly risky and experimental serum was given to two Americans instead of selecting two Africans somewhere?  How disgusting to talk about racism when we know full well they'd have been asking whether there should be criminal charges had the serum, never tested on humans or monkeys, proved fatal.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Obama's Policies

Obama's 'policies,'  we hear so much about Obama's policies and so little about what those might be that it puzzles me. If we're talking about any policy he might have been able to persuade congress to implement, we have only the Affordable Care Act which was supported by a majority of Americans and still is when you ask them but isn't when you ask them if they support "Obamacare."

Of course "Obama's Policies" is a metonym -- a stand-in word for a Black man in the White house -- and not as a servant.  Very often the dung flung at him is recycled from accusations fairly made against his Republican predecessors and just as the amorphous Whitewater investigation was an attempt to pay back the Democrats for Watergate and successful attempt to handcuff Clinton -- just as Bush was called the worst president ever for bankrupting the economy, destroying the job market, lying to get us into the longest and most expensive war in our history that ran up unprecedented debt, they try to retaliate and pin the tail on the Negro.  Obama is the worst president ever, Obama started the Recession, Obama, despite 6 years of steady recovery is all to blame for the lack of recovery. It isn't true and it can't be argued for, so Obama's Polices usually go unnamed or falsely attributed. "Obama's Policies" used without specifics identifies the user as a coward, a scoundrel and a liar.


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Monday, August 04, 2014

Stay inside, hide under the bed and play video games

Because life is just too dangerous to live!

By Capt. Fogg

Really, this is the safest time to live in the United states there has ever been and I'm guessing that's true of  the civilized, "first-world" in general. Your kids are more likely to grow up big and strong and to live longer than you do just as you're likely to live twice as long as folks did a hundred or so years ago, but you'd never know it to listen and to read and to feel the mood of America.

Have you seen the recent car commercials where the distracted young mother with child in the back seat ( kids can't ride in the front seat any more) nearly rear-ends another car but saved by automatic braking?  Last night I saw another one where Young Mother gets into oncoming traffic on a bridge but the car saves her at the last moment.  Self-driving cars are being tested now and self parking cars are a reality. Cars warn you of other cars in your "blind" spot you would have seen anyway if you were looking and we're supposed to be as giddy and elated about it as an American who just worked "selfie" into a sentence for the first time, about cars that drive themselves without participation from you. Driver training?  What?

 Oh, brave new world that has such cowards in it!  What a wonderful world where no risk of any kind is permitted or tolerated outside the world of video games, where a woman can be arrested for letting a 7 year old walk to the park, the same park he passes riding to school on his bicycle. Yes, arrested, not scolded or cautioned and she faces 5 years in the slam.

No, the joy of driving an open car, a sleek powerful masterpiece of engineering down a country lane, the joy of riding a bicycle unsupervised when you're 7, of walking to the park on a Summer day -- there are parents who won't let their kids play in their own suburban yards unsupervised, whose every moment is scrutinized, analyzed and proscribed lest there be any danger at all of any kind.

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't.

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