Pour one for our surrogate homies

Last week Anderson Cooper made an interesting comment:

Jeffrey Lord (one of Trump’s Surrogates) was explaining why he doesn’t care that President Donald Trump called James Comey a “nut job,” and AC retorted back saying, “If he took a dump on his desk, you would defend it.”

It got me thinking about what it must be like to be a surrogate to a petulant child that changes his mind so much that it must be white noise inside that head. I really feel for them. It is like a 24/7 thankless “polish the turd” job that they have voluntarily accepted. Think about how the sequence typically plays out with the most recent news cycle example:

  • Trump fires Jim Comey, Director of the FBI and his surrogates are out defending the decision
  • Each one of them goes into the various news outlets stating that there is ZERO connection between Trump’s decision to fire Comey and the Russian Investigations. Some of them even get smug about it when they are pressed for information. To the point, they look at the anchors and go, “I really cannot believe that you are not believing this”
  • And then the next day…………..their boss comes on the air and completely contradicts everything. I mean literally everything (and says that he moves too fast for his staff).

Too fast? Too fast? having the attention span of a gnat; an ego that doesn’t fit the White House and a brain that is constantly changing is not the attributes of “moving too fast”. Our President is like the dog in the movie “Up”….Squirrel and he is gone. It is like trying to grab a wet bar of soap.

I really wonder how these surrogates feel. Do they go back home and sit in the shower in a fetal position and weep? Do they go home and take off their “optimism” mask and just let loose (a la Kate McKinnon in the SNL skit – LINK ).  At some basic level, I am assuming these are smart people who have “opted in” to get on board on the Crazy Train for some gains.

How does one become and get trained to be a surrogate? Is there is surrogate boot camp? Funny or Die speculated this in their hilarious bit here: http://FunnyOrDie.com/m/anen.

I realize most surrogates take these roles both on the Democratic and Republican sides so that they can get plum assignments after their candidate has won. Wonder if Chris Christie is thinking that he is always the bridesmaid and never the bride?  But this crop of Trump surrogates have their work cut out for them. Which makes me wonder whether it is really worth it? Day after day like mummified zombies to keep hitting the talking points even when (in real time) you boss is completely contradicting you. Who knows…maybe it is worth it.

Which brings me to the mother of all Surrogates for Trump…..Fox News and the Right Wing Media. They have had a “little bit” of difficulty in spinning all the crap that has hit the fan over the past few weeks. As AC noted it is “deny; deflect; downplay” on all things related to the Trump scandals. As Trevor Noah puts it – “They (FoxNews) are basically his Snapchat filter. Whatever the reality is they always make him look better than he is.”

So much for fair and balanced. Everything bad that has happened to the President is either:

  • Fake News
  • Liberal Media bias
  • Liberal Media witch hunt
  • Obama was worse than Trump
  • Trump won the elections – Dems are sore losers

Check this article – “Limbaugh on Comey Firing – “What An Epic Troll” Trump pulled on the Democrats”.  Wonder how it feels living inside a bubble 24/7:

Trump’s surrogates are thrown under the bus by him so frequently that they can start writing a new book called, “Memoirs from Under the Bus”. So on a somber note – Pour one for our surrogate homies!

GOPocracy

Wow! The past week has been one of the craziest weeks in recent history. The 24 hr news cycle; comedy shows and late night shows cannot keep up with the series of events that have transpired. What is happening is surreal. It is unprecedented, unbelievable and plain uncouth.

Fareed Zakaria said it best on his show – GPS: ” It seems all checks and balances have been removed by this President, we have two remaining  – The Judiciary and The Free Press”. 

I agree with him to a point i.e. till the midterms. We, the people still matter. We have a President who is pretty much stating what he has done,  out in the open, no tact, no backroom dealings….  he is throwing it open and literally daring everyone to say or do anything:

  • He admitted to the fact that he wanted Comey gone since he felt that Comey was not right in pursuing the investigation on his campaign ties to Russia
  • He asked Comey to swear a loyalty to him and warned him that he “may have” wiretapped conversations with him and Comey in the Oval Office
  • And he invites the Russian ambassador to the White House, bans our press from covering it and we get the photo ops from the Russian state media

You can’t make this shit up folks. As at least two shows referenced it this past week (GPS and Real Time) – we have fast becoming a banana republic –  Nicaragua or Americagua.

We are a country of checks and balances. We have three forms of Government and two parties for precisely this reason. However, what do you do when one party which has the majority is sitting and watching and is COMPLICIT to what is going on. I am reminded of a Seinfeld episode where George Costanza in the need to quickly come up with a return zinger goes, “The Jerkstore called and they are out of you”.

To my fellow GOPers we need to modify this to,” The Spine store called and they are out of you”. You people are the worst hypocrites ever. Period end of story. Can you imagine of Hilary Clinton did even one of the 10,000 things that Trump has done since January? The nutjobs on the far right would be moving their chants from ‘Lock her up’ to ” Impeach her” to just plain “Get rid of her”.  The current GOP has the moral fortitude of pond scum. You folks sit there like little juveniles waiting for your little special interest handouts

  • Maybe if I look the other way I will get my tax package
  • Maybe if I look bury my head in the sand I will get my Supreme Court nominee
  • Maybe if I cover my head with a sandwich bag I will get my infrastructure package

Meanwhile, the foundations of our democracy is being shaken so hard that it feels that we are sitting on an old washer during spin cycle. What happened to you GOP? You were supposed to be the party of Reagan; the party of principles and conservative family values; the party that stood for the “Real America”…what happened? Do you even see your reflection in the mirror these days? do you have a friggin soul left or have you all collectively sold it to the Orange Crush?

Where are the GOP leaders that went up against Trump in the primaries? When they interviewed Ryan and Rubio after Comey’s firing they both said it was justified by the President. Again, I would love to hear them say this if the shoe was on the other foot and it was Hilary firing Comey for investigating her on her email scandal. This is what hypocrisy looks like today. A bunch of toadies, psychophants and yes men who have consciously and unconsciously given cover to what is the worst attack on our democratic values.

You guys are Giant Old Pussies. Your party symbol should be a picture of a human spine with a line across it. Or this:

\

You have the majority in both houses and yet he is playing you like a fiddle. You have had disagreements and dissension with the Democrats and even taken turns to screw each other. But come on, everyone knew there were lines that would not be crossed – cause country came first. It was country, then party and then the platform. But now you have let the mental patient take over and you are doing zilch to control anything. You are choosing impotence!

In his book – RatF**ed: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, David Daley, The Editor-in-Chief of Salon reveals activities by Republicans—including Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie and Chris Jankowki—who organized the REDMAP to provide unofficial state-race funding to reshape districts and legislatures in favor of Republican interests. This was done via partisan gerrymandering.

David Daley, in his Salon Article (LINK) goes to say that “the Republicans have almost guaranteed the house till 2021 but it came with a price – Donald Trump and an empowered” base. This is the state of our GOP today!

We need to remind ourselves that while there are tumultuous events like the President firing the head of the FBI and cozying up to the Russians in the Oval office there are other events such as the President’s son in law’s sister literally selling American citizenship in China (yes! I realize it is legal but Trump actually rejected the bill to close this program and ended up extending it till August 2017). We cannot get complacent as this has now become a 24/7 vigil of this administration. They are counting on the fact that if there are 20 scandals, people will get sensitized to them

So yes Fareed Zakaria is right that only two checks are left – Free Press and the Judicial system. Both of whom have been attacked constantly and consistently by our President.

But don’t forget us. We can still make this matter in 2018, we need to flip one or both houses. We need to continue to resist and do our part to keep all these shenanigans front and center so that the next election matters.

Else we will be all be wearing babushkas and eating borscht!

100 days & the Dunning Kruger Effect

I had learned about the Dunning-Kruger Effect back in school strictly from an academic perspective. Time to time I would meet people or notice some behaviors and invoke this cognitive bias to see if I can actually spot it (fully aware of my own intellectual limitations). So let’s break this down. The basic definition of this cognitive bias, based on the work done by David Dunning and Justin Kruger at Cornell is as follows (LINK):

This effect occurs where people fail to adequately assess their level of competence — or specifically, their incompetence — at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. This lack of awareness is attributed to their lower level of competence robbing them of the ability to critically analyze their performance, leading to a significant overestimation of themselves. 

In simple words, it’s “people who are too stupid to know how stupid they are”.

As Charles Darwin said, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”.

I started to reflect more about the DK Effect over the past couple of days, especially since our newly minted Leader passed the important 100 days milestone.

Now having watched him in the primaries and seen him govern over the past 100 days I am convinced we have the first Dunning Kruger President elected by a mass of voters who gravitate to this bias and hence also suffer from it. Let’s look at a few examples:

During the Primaries: 

Example-1:“So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is — it is a huge problem. I have a son. He’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable.”

Example-2:

“That makes me smart”…wow! It is as if he is supremely confident that he is smarter than everyone else.

Quotes from the first 100 days (Reuters, Washington Examiner & AP Sources)

” The administration is running like a fine-tuned machine. Despite the fact that I can’t get my cabinet approved. And they’re outstanding people.

“I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.”

“I would say communication would be a little bit less than an A because I don’t think we’ve gotten the word out what we’ve done because I think we’re so busy getting it done that we’re not talking about it.”

“I think we’ve done more than perhaps any president in the first 100 days.”

“I’d give us an A.”

“I thought it would be easier.”

So what do you think? Classic case of Dunning-Kruger Effect right?. And by the way, this is not just the President but it extends to the people who STILL thinks he is doing a great job. He has an overwhelming majority of support amongst Republicans. He has given his audience every reason that he is supremely clueless – not knowing what is the nuclear triad; utterly confused about foreign policy; not understanding how the bond market works; consistently saying things that are misogynistic utterly clueless…..but for his supporters, the most important thing is – HE APPEARS CONFIDENT!.

The feedback in his rallies is always the same – he knows what he is doing and he is confident and he speaks for us. Even though facts directly contradict this AND he is directly saying things that are in direct contradiction with reality. How do you take him seriously when he proclaims to know more about our generals on ISIS?

So yes  – it is possible to be too clueless to realize that you ARE actually in fact clueless.

David Dunning penned an article in Politico (LINK): But why now? If voters can be so misinformed that they don’t know that they are misinformed, why only now has a candidate like Trump arisen? My take is that the conditions for the Trump phenomenon have been in place for a long time. At least as long as quantitative survey data have been collected, citizens have shown themselves to be relatively ill-informed and incoherent on political and historical matters. As way back as 1943, a survey revealed that only 25 percent of college freshmen knew that Abraham Lincoln was president during the Civil War.

All it took was a candidate to come along too inexperienced to avoid making policy gaffes, at least gaffes that violate received wisdom, with voters too uninformed to see the violations. Usually, those candidates make their mistakes off in some youthful election to their state legislature, or in small-town mayoral race or contest for class president. It’s not a surprise that someone trying out a brand new career at the presidential level would make gaffes that voters, in a rebellious mood, would forgive but more likely not even see.

We are now living in a DK Effect presidency spawned by hyper-partisanship, low information, and alternate facts. Buckle up folks…..going to be a fun ride and ….

and……………………………………………………………….thanks for nothing Fox News!

 

The Science of False Equivalency

The last couple of days has personally given me tremendous hope. #MarchforScience and collective mobilization of people marching for Science (LINK) is so encouraging to see. In addition to the usual slogans, I especially loved the ones that people held up impromptu, such as:

  • Fund Science because Science funds us
  • Hate Global Warming, at least Mar-a-Lago will be gone
  • The oceans are rising and so are we

and my personal favorite……………

I said it before and I will say it again, Trump has been really really good for Science. There has been a grass roots rejuvenation of protests for Science awareness in the recent past and we have to thank our resident Orange Crush for this. Let us do a quick summary of what he has accomplished in his nearly 100 days:

  • His Appointees – Not sure if these were meant to be ironic or just obtuse but his appointments to head the Department of Energy; EPA and Secretary of State are nothing short of incredulous. Pruitt went up against the EPA as Oklahoma Attorney General and has been said to view the agency with contempt and now he runs it. Perry wasn’t event aware that the DoE managed our country’s nuclear arsenal and Tillerson continues to deny that climate change research was not objectively presented to Exxon’s shareholders during his watch.
  • His Budget – his budget proposals are set to:
    • eliminate DoE’s cutting edge and high potential, ARPA-E research program
    • Double-digit cuts to the National Institute of Health (NIH) which needs the funds to study infectious diseases, cancers, and public health issues.
    • Chemical Safety Board – eliminated
    • Sea Grant Program – that supports study of ecology; coastal ecosystems and communities – eliminated
  • His Executive Orders (LINK):
    • An order initiating a review of the Clean Power Plan, which restricted greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants.
    • Two orders reviving the Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access pipelines.

And the list goes on and on. Also, add the fact that there are so many science-related positions in the Government that has not been staffed (or may never be). He is the most anti-scientific President period! case closed!

While it is easy to blame our Leader we must also look at the vast swath of our populace that actually shares a lot of these principles including the other branches of our government. Here are two examples to illustrate this:

Example – 1: In the 2012 primaries, Governer Rick Perry of Texas said this when asked whether climate change was man-made – (Link) “The science is not settled on this.  The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet to me is just nonsense,” Perry said.  “Just because you have a group of scientists who stood up and said here is the fact. Galileo got outvoted for a spell,” he said.

Example – 2: Science journalism is being replaced by science blogs. This is an excerpt from the book The War on Science – From 1989 to 2005 the number of major newspapers with weekly science sections fell from 95 to 34. By 2005, just 7% of the approximately 2400 members of the US National Association of Science Writers had full-time positions at media outlets that reached the general public.

And as mentioned earlier, Perry is now in a position to make significant impacts to our Science and Technology policy.

Let us come to the crux of the issue – False Equivalency.

In my opinion that is what has dumbed down our country over the past 35-40 years. What do I mean by that? It is the ability to present a fact and an alternate fact together as SIMILAR VIEWS and let the consumer of the information consider both these with EQUAL merit.

Suppose I had an opinion news show and told the viewers – ‘yes folks gravity works as we can see outside but we must also keep in mind that there could be a possibility that gravity doesn’t work and hence it is still called ” the theory of gravity”……see the problem of false equivalency? -Creationism cannot be compared as an alternative to Evolution. What happens is you have people now thinking hmm….evolution is just a theory right????? And this extends to:

  • Climate Science
  • Reproductive Rights
  • Vaccinations
  • Stem cell research

400+ years ago Galileo had to fight against the Catholic Church (a point that was completely missed by Rick Perry in the above quote) and the reasons were that he had the evidence and facts to disprove truths that were held sacred for centuries.  Compare that today where evidence and facts are presented BUT any two-bit idiot with a “Reverend” title can simply say that the evidence merits more study and our media presents these two views as equal, to the consumer, for consideration.

We must STOP this false equivalency, else we are doomed:

  • No! Dinosaurs did not live together with early humans and they sure did not get to ride them like horses
  • No! Evolution is not a theory. It is a fact has been proved. There is scientific disagreement on some of the finer details but not Evolution in general
  • No! Climate change is not a hoax – the scientific evidence and consensus are overwhelming.
  • And Yes! as new evidence is presented Science has the humility to actually revise prior positions – We now know that there are 8 planets and we are all originally from Africa

http://themetapicture.com/the-creation-vs-evolution-debate/

And as I had stated in a previous post we must NOT have our eminent scientists debate religious nutjobs (I am referencing the Bill Nye vs Ken Hamm debate) cause that really is FALSE EQUIVALENCY. We are encouraging batshit ideas based on bronze age books, as having an equal standing to concepts and hypothesis that have been tested via the Scientific Method and that is simply not right!

http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/science-deniers-false-equivalency-pretend-debate/

 

 

 

#MASA? – Make America Smart Again?

Or I should really say #MADA – Make America Dumbassless Again. Cause I really want to know who these people are? The silent dumbority……….

Exhibit-1: Bill O’ Rielly’s new book “Old School” has become an instant bestseller selling almost 70,000 copies in the first week alone. The book is supposed to be a defense of traditional values with advice on how to respectfully treat women and not as sex objects.

Seriously? Who are these people buying these book? 

Exhibit-2: I never listen to right wing radio, but a friend of my pointed me to this doozy. According to Limbaugh most of the country does not understand Donald Trump. Apparently, Trump does not adhere to typical conservative or liberal norms. So when he changes a position (or completely lies) it is because he never created a “baseline”. Here is the link to the Limbaugh Show transcript – LINK

Direct Quote from the show – So the idea that one day he can be anti-NATO and then after certain things happen become pro-NATO, it doesn’t wash with people. “That doesn’t make sense. He is not being true to his principles.” Yes, he is, you just don’t know what they are. He lives and operates in a political world, but he’s not political. This is what people still don’t get”

Huh? Who are these people listening to this?

Exhibit-3: The number of Flip Flops our illustrious President has made over the past 3 weeks. Take this article from Huffington Post – LINK

6 Issues in 2 days!!! Now it is perfectly fine for him to change his mind as new facts are presented. However, he is changing his stance on a lot of key campaign promises. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary expectations in behavior. So, now a lot of Trump voters are having buyers remorse on their choice.

Everything, in the world of Trump, is a negotiation — up to and including facts. This quote, from “Art of the Deal,” is deeply revealing about that Trump philosophy:

“I never get too attached to one deal or one approach. For starters, I keep a lot of balls in the air, because most deals fall out, no matter how promising they seem at first.” (LINK)

Really? Who are these people? He was literally telling you who he was and still…….

I always viewed this video (below) in the past…saying to myself  – “You know what! this is a small sampling of people” and there is no way it explains all the innovation, products and creativity that has come out of our country…but now maybe there is more to it:

Journalist Charles Pierce, author of Idiot America, wrote, “the rise of Idiot America today represents–for profit mainly, but also and more cynically, for political advantage in the pursuit of power–the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they are talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a preacher, or a scientist, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.” (Link)

Here is some Data Samples to ponder (from the same link above):

  • The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs commissioned a civic education poll among public school students. A surprising 77% didn’t know that George Washington was the first President; couldn’t name Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence, and only 2.8% of the students actually passed the citizenship test. Along similar lines, the Goldwater Institute of Phoenix did the same survey and only 3.5% of students passed the civics test.
  • Fox News, the most-watched news program in the U.S., has on numerous occasions recommended that school science classes be “fair and balanced,” meaning by the teaching of biblically-inspired creationism alongside Darwin’s’ scientific theory of evolution.
  • In a Newsweek poll, of U.S. citizens, 29% couldn’t identify Joe Biden as the Vice President, and 44% couldn’t describe the Bill of Rights.
  • According to another poll, the average American voter believes that U.S. foreign aid consumes 24% of the Federal budget when it is only 1%.
  • 18% of Americans still believe that the sun revolves around the earth, according to a Gallup poll.

These are people that are voting and electing leaders that are making policy changes that impact the rest of us.

 I did not sign up for teaching “creationism” as an alternative in schools or the revival of the coal industry.

And yes I get it! democracy won, the people have spoken and this is what they want. But seriously? if these are the people voting on squishy facts, low information and are easily manipulated, are we not having a DUMBOCRACY?

OR

Maybe George Carlin was astute in saying – ” Selfish ignorant voters give rise to selfish ignorant leaders – garbage in, garbage out” this is the best we can do”

 

Eve Teasing

During the campaign cycle, there was example after example of our President’s peccadillos and perverted actions. As I had stated in a previous blog post, most of his voter base chose to ignore or “normalize” this behavior for other attributes or issues they felt were more pertinent. For example, women chose to ignore his misogyny stating that he speaks his mind; will drain the D.C. swamp and has done a great job at raising a family. Cognitive dissonance aside, now we are seeing an all-out attack on women’s issues and these people who voted for this President are COMPLICIT!

Take these quotes for example (link):

  • “You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”
  • “I would never buy her any decent jewels or pictures. Why give her negotiable assets?”
  • “Beauty and elegance, whether in a woman, a building, or a work of art, is not just superficial or something pretty to see.”
  • 26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?
  • all women hate prenups because they are gold diggers.

These are all from our current ‘Leader of the Free World”.

Just so that we do not fall into the confirmation bias hole, it is important to note that Bill Clinton was no picnic either. A helluva lot of his behavior was extremely egregious and should not be condoned. But he did not bring this behavior into policy. Yes, he was a hound dog and not a shining example of what the moral compass a President should have ..but come on..the equivalency is not even close!

For example, take a look at the above photo….I keep staring really hard at the photo above for some semblance of logic. This is the photo of Trump signing the anti-abortion bill called the Mexico Rule. Which  It prohibits giving U.S. funding to international nongovernmental organizations that offer or advise on a wide range of family planning and reproductive health options if they include abortion ― even if U.S. dollars are not specifically used for abortion-related services (Link). An issue that is so profoundly impacting women ..but not one in sight!

Then there was this cringeworthy headline from HuffPo – “Donald Trump Kicks off sexual assault awareness month by defending Bill O’Rieilly

And there was the story that Mike Pence does not dine alone with any woman unless his wife was present.

Finally, there was this – An executive order from President Trump, signed on the eve of Equal Pay Day, has canceled an Obama policy that directed companies with federal contracts to afford equal treatment to women in the workplace (link)

Not to paint with a broad brushstroke…what is the issue with Republican representatives and this insane war on women’s issues?

Let’s take the Pro-Life issue. Republicans would love to abolish Roe vs Wade and dance on its grave. They may actually get their wish if they continue to stack up activist right wing Supreme Court judges. How would these righteous men of the Congress and Senate react if a committee of women decided that all men over 30 must have mandatory vasectomies or mandatory removals of prostates?

My thought is should this not be a woman’s issue? I view this as …we all should be Pro Life for the woman which means should this not be her choice? See here is where the logic falls apart for me – for every issue (taxes; health care; guns etc.) the drumbeat from the right is – “Government cannot litigate my choice, I will decide what is good for me”. How come this is not applicable to abortion? For some reason, government intervention is OK on this issue. And yes the irony is not lost on me when progressives who support choice say they want a “single payer” health insurance system.

Another hot button issue is Planned Parenthood that has riled up the right ever since the (now debunked video) came out stating that they were selling baby parts for research.

Here are five myths that have been proven false (Link):

  • Abortion comprises most of Planned Parenthood’s services
  • The Planned Parenthood videos show a fetus being harvested for its brain
  • Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue for profit
  • Defunding Planned Parenthood is a guaranteed way to save taxpayer money
  • Planned Parenthood doesn’t really help advance women’s health

All proven wrong with clear data and facts to support. However, did it stop the mother of all overreactions? Nope!…this resulted in the aforementioned executive order on the Mexico Rule.

What is with Republicans and women’s issues? every election there is some new crap that comes up that makes you wonder what motivates these people? Personally,  I think it comes down to when you were brought up. They idealize a time in the past where the man went to work and the woman stayed at home and had dinner and a drink ready at the end of the day. It was a time the woman knew here place and her role in society. Your neighborhood had the “right” amount of ethnic representation. It was a glorious time for men. They controlled everything – media, wall street, businesses.

Bill Maher had a very interesting line in his recent show –And then the 60s came and screwed it all up! Bill Maher had a very interesting line in his recent show – If you loved the 60s there is a good chance you are progressive and if you hated the 60s there is a good chance you are a conservative. 

Obviously, we cannot paint everyone with a broad brush, but if you consider that these are no longer beliefs but are now getting made into policy it makes you wonder.

There is one bright spark  – Trump has single handedly done what NO Democratic President has done before…….piss off the entire women’s voting demographic. The silver lining is now we have more and more women actively engaged in the political process and a significant increase in candidates running for elected office. As Maher, puts it lets hope that this President is the LAST of the 50s Man!

Moralithinking

A little while ago I was reflecting on the Karl Marx quote, “religion is the opiate of the masses”. It got me to thinking about cognitive biases in religion and faith and specifically – Conjunction Fallacy: The conjunction fallacy is a formal fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that specific conditions are more probable than a single general one (Link)

In 1983 researchers Kahneman and Tversky asked a question that is now called as the “Linda Problem”. A variation of the original question goes like this:

At a dinner party this weekend, a friend introduces you to a woman named Genevieve.  He tells you that Genevieve recently graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a B.A. in Philosophy, where she was active in the Occupy movement and edited a literary magazine.

You’re interested in talking to Genevieve about Hegel, the subject of her senior thesis, but your friend jumps in and asks you to rank the following statements about Genevieve in order of their probability:

(1)Genevieve is a feminist.

(2)Genevieve is looking for a job as a sanitation worker.

(3)Genevieve is a feminist who is looking for a job as a sanitation worker.

Given what you know about Genevieve, rank the statements from most likely to least likely.  

The Answer (Taken from this Link):

This tests how well individuals reason using probability theory. In Kahneman and Tversky’s 1983 study, 85 percent of subjects got it wrong. Your answer was incorrect, too, if you ranked statement (3) in the first or second position. Logic dictates that (3) is the least likely scenario: two conditions being true (Genevieve is an ardent feminist + Genevieve is looking for a job as a sanitation worker) is always less probable than only one of these being true.

If you got this one right — it doesn’t matter whether you put (1) or (2) first, just that you ranked (3) last — congratulations. If not, you’re in good company: only 15 percent of Stanford business school students who had received training in probability theory got it right.  

Basically, people make conjunction fallacies when more information provided confirms their prior biases. So how does this relate to matters of faith, religion and specifically morality. 

Take this example below extracted from theconversation.com:

When Jack was young, he began inflicting harm on animals. It started with just pulling the wings off flies, but eventually progressed to torturing squirrels and stray cats in his neighbourhood.

As an adult, Jack found that he did not get much thrill from harming animals, so he began hurting people instead. He has killed 5 homeless people that he abducted from poor neighbourhoods in his home city. Their dismembered bodies are currently buried in his basement.

Now, knowing what I have just told you about Jack, is it more probable that Jack is: A) A teacher. Or B) A teacher who does not believe in God?

If you answered “B”, you would not be alone. An average of 50 percent of people in a recent suite of experiments gave the same answer. The wrong answer.

Wrong not because Jack believes in God – we have no way of knowing what Jack believes. B is necessarily incorrect because the entirety of group “B” the teachers who don’t believe in God, are also members of group “A”, the teachers. It is impossible for B to be more likely than A, but it is likely that a great many people in group A do not belong to B.

The article goes on to eloquently describe how people are able to use the conjunction fallacy to correlate lack of faith (or belief in God) to lack in morality. Even in the political landscape, this extrapolates to the fact that there is little or no chance for for an atheist to become the President of this country. Even though this country is built on “Separation of Church and State” there is always an overt suspicion that having no faith means lacking moral values.

While I personally have no skin on what faith (or lack thereof) a person needs to be, to be a good and moral person, I am more interested in the thought process behind the conclusion – “lack of faith equates to lack of morality”. 

Cause that is simply not true and here are the reasons why:

  • Most religious people and people of faith are already “arbitering” their morality. There are references of ” homosexuality being evil, how to treat slaves and how to control women” in most of our good books. But we sidestep those and choose the passages and verses that talk about love, charity, and kindness to organize our lives i.e. we are already cherry picking our morality from the religious texts.
  • There are material differences in what constitutes as morality between the major faiths.
  • There has not been a knock-down philosophical argument to counter Plato’s Euthypro’s Dilemma – Is a “good deed” good because the deed itself is good or because God deemed it was good. This creates two “horns” that question either  Omnipotence or Omnibenevolence. I realize that there have been multiple apologist counter arguments including the proposing of a “third option” (from William Lane Criag) i.e. God simply is good and it is God’s nature to be the ultimate good. However, these arguments have been repeatedly refuted from a philosophical standpoint.
  • We have so many examples of BOTH, institutions and individuals who do not conform to any faith, who are doing yeoman’s work in helping the world to be a better place – Oxfam, Doctor’s without Borders, Gates Foundation, Amnesty International to name a few i.e. leading a moral life of love, charity and kindness.

Hitchens Morality Challenge – name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge, think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not?

  • Finally, it plain doesn’t make sense.
    • If religion is the ONLY thing that is keeping you from being a horrible immoral person then could it be you are a horrible immoral person?

 

  • If you lead an amoral life of crime and debauchery, it seems a bit arbitrary that all you need to do is repent and ask for forgiveness prior to dying and you are at the same level as someone that lead a pious and moral life (in terms of reaping the afterlife benefits of religion).

If religion were the only durable foundation for morality you would suspect atheists to be really badly behaved. You would go to a group like the National Academy of Sciences. These are the most elite scientists, 93 percent of whom reject the idea of God. You would expect these guys to be raping and killing and stealing with abandon.- Sam Harris

Then there is the other often cited atheist fallacy argument. It goes something like this – In the 20th century, heinous atrocities were committed (by the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot) because these societies gave up faith and religion. This has been debunked by multiple folks including Hitchens and Sam Harris. As Harris puts it, most of these were cargo cults which ended up looking like a perverted version of a religion with a figurehead being worshiped as a God.

Morality is doing what is right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right. H. L. Mencken

We have a pretty good sense regarding how morality within social norms have evolved over the past 2000 years. Significant progress made in civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights have been not because of adherence to religious morality but rather secular thought that began from the age of enlightenment, with philosophers such as Kant, Hobbes etc. More recently science is starting to make significant forays into this field.

So, the question to really ask is – Why would you base your morality on religious frameworks that are at most subjective; inconsistent and in many cases lack logic. Why not be good because it is the right thing to do, rather for an eternal reward?

Media Bias? – that’s news to me

Is there a liberal media bias? Of course there is a liberal media bias. You are thinking, “Wait,  have those nut job talk show hosts been right all along?”.  Well…kinda yes. The reason there is a liberal media bias is cause diversity of political views amongst journalists is very low with  only 7% of media journalists state that they vote Republican.

However, our problems are much deeper that just a liberal media bias. It is really how we consume our news. In a prior article, I argued that our country is one giant block of confirmation bias. How we consume absorb and assimilate information has fundamentally changed over the past twenty five years. We used to “trust” our newsmen and newswomen. There was a sense of comfort and stability that the news was the news and not opinion.

But thanks to the internet and social media all that has changed. With multiple inputs fighting for our eyeballs and our decreasing attention span to really understand issues, we are left with news feeds that tailor to our needs. I am left leaning so I listen to MSNBC, get my alerts from DailyKos, Huff Post and follow progressive voices and leaders on FB and twitter. Or I am right leaning I listen to Fox News; get my alerts from conservative outlets and follow conservative voices online. And so we end up creating one giant confirmation bias. Now, in my past posts I have specifically called out the republican bubble and I stand by that. It is one thing to have biased news and views of the world and a totally different matter if you live a fact free life.

This confirmation bias has polarized our country and it can be seen in our election cycle. Twenty years ago there was a bigger swath of independent/undecided voters. Now, once you are past the primaries the wonks can pretty much tell you which 3-4 states are the battleground states. The left and the right had a small loyal base and the middle was always up for grabs in each election. Now that middle has shrunk to the point that people vote based on ideology and NOT what the candidate stands for on key issues. 

Here is an example of how our Facebook/Social Media feeds are fundamentally impacting our objectivity. The quote from candidate Trump made it’s rounds on all the social media sites and it was proved to be Fake News. He never said the quote below. And, similarly there was a ton of fake news on Hilary Clinton.

Fivethirtyeight.com had a postmortem article on liberal media bias and a few key points of note are as follows:

The political diversity of journalists is not very strong, either. As of 2013, only 7 percent of them identified as Republicans (although only 28 percent called themselves Democrats with the majority saying they were independents)

Diversity of opinion? For starters, American newsrooms are not very diverse along racial or gender lines, and it’s not clear the situation is improving much.

Decentralization? Surowiecki writes about the benefit of local knowledge, but the political news industry has become increasingly consolidated in Washington and New York as local newspapers have suffered from a decade-long contraction.

Pew did a research of the most trusted and least trusted news outlets in the US and the results ….well it comes down to how you look at the data:

There is definitely something to be said about objectivity in the media but the bigger point is,  we the consumers are also accountable. We need to play a bigger part as consumers in seeking and demanding information with minimal bias. While we may never get a truly unbiased media and journalists we can definitely try to do our part:

  • no feeds from bat shit crazy left or right wing sites
  • left wing and right wing talk radio are NOT objective news sources. They are opinions and points of view.
  • You can glance at your Facebook feed but it would do you a world of good to read a proper newspaper or magazine (either print or online)
  • If you do want to seek editorial or opinions find voices that are both center left and center right
  • Facts matter! Remember the only way to break confirmation bias is to look via a different point of view to see if the conclusions still hold up.

We as consumers need to take more accountability, else the polarization will continue to increase. Between information bias and “alternate facts”, the very foundation of what we use to make and shape our decisions is being compromised. And we are now ending up like this…………

Life in bigly Pieces

I asked a friend of mine why he voted for Trump and he had two answers. First, he hated the other candidate and second he wanted an “outsider” that will clean up Washington and make the country great again. I thought to myself, all noble reasons to vote for the candidate but wait a minute, what if the candidate was a walking bag of contradictions, with all the red flags laid out in plain sight that even a moron could figure it out.

Nothing about the last election cycle was subtle. While both candidates were seriously flawed, as demonstrated by their likeability polls, there was clearly one that was just plain wrong.

There is an old Hindu saying from the Bhagawad Gita – “Everyone gets what they deserve and not what they desire”. This is one time I disagree with that saying! we really don’t deserve this and certainly did not desire this.

For the past few years, I have been lamenting that our collective intelligence as a country has been dropping at an alarming rate. I am specifically referencing to our ability to confront, absorb and act on facts that are presented to us. Topics that the rest of the civilized world takes for granted as facts  – evolution; climate change etc. are still hotly debated in our country as if they are still opinions. We are starting to live in a fact free world.

Typically there are two telltale signs to this dumbing down:

  • the rush to “normalize” shocking and egregious behavior
  • the complete and utter refusal to acknowledge facts and evidence

I realize that our current President did not win the popular vote but he still was quite close and my point is this should not have even been a contest. If any candidate said/did 25% of the things he did, there is no way he/she is getting elected. 

So, my personal belief is that this we are living in one giant CONFIRMATION BIAS bubble. The right says there is fake news from the left and the left says there is fake news from the right. However, there are facts and facts don’t care what opinion you have. The atmosphere doesn’t give a flying crap if you don’t believe in climate change and that carbon levels have been increasing.

Take this election, everyone saw their version of the facts and cast their vote for this President. This was an election of ‘vote for the pieces‘ but not for the WHOLE!

  • The Evangelical groups wanted their Supreme Court appointee. So three marriages and dodgy morals – not a problem.
  • The old guard wanted their personal and corporate tax cuts and someone that can run the country as a successful business.  So three bankruptcies and multiple businesses that hoodwinked and swindled people – not a problem
  • The hawks wanted their defense spending – So cozy relationship with Russia –not a problem
  • The Alt-Right that wanted their ‘white America’ and no minorities and other religions – So someone who has a Jewish son in law, has deep real estate and financial interests in Muslim countries – not a problem
  • The ” suburban women” wanted a man who could speak his mind and who wasn’t a Washington insider – So someone who is a documented misogynist and (still) wears the badge with honor – not a problem
  • The “forgotten blue-collar voters” wanted someone that could change the status quo, bring  jobs back and drain the swamp – So someone who has no idea of the nuances of policy and government, can rattle countries and relationships with inane early morning tweets and has deep ties to the traditional Washington lobbies –not a problem
  • And finally, the folks that went – ” I can’t vote for her so I will vote for him” – how is that working out?

Everybody look at a piece and ignored the whole! And now we have the ass-whole. Two months into this administration and we are longing for the blundering days of Dubya. Even he is on the talk circuit saying, “Y’all need to give me a break”.

Let me state this, the other candidate was no picnic either. I am sure a similar list can be put together. But the critical point as P.J. O’Rourke (LINK) points out:

“I’m votin’ for Hillary.

“I am endorsing Hillary. And all her lies and all her empty promises. I am endorsing Hillary. The second worst thing that could happen to this country. But she’s way behind in second place, you know? She’s wrong about absolutely everything – – but she’s wrong within normal parameters.”

Alternate Facts – Is this the ‘new normal’. I sincerely hope not as I fear for my children and the next generation. I really don’t want our country to follow the plot of the movie – Idiocracy.

Cause remember the following gem from our new Secretary of Education –  “I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies.”

I shudder in fear for our next generation. At this point, our only choices are – get active, resist and execute the indivisible.com playbook and pray pray that there is minimum collateral damage.

That is my hope….BIGLY!

 

 

Faux News

What is happening to the Fourth Estate? I thought our founding fathers were astute in putting checks and balances and ensuring that a free press actually challenged the other branches of the government. There was no way to foresee this huckster that is now the leader of the free world. Take the most recent sequence of events:

  • A judge provides an opinion in Fox News stating that a British Secret Service Agency colluded with the previous President to “wire tap(p)” the existing President when he was a candidate
  • The White House picks up this story and provides it was a “tongue in cheek” evidence that their allegations had momentum
  • When confronted by the press the President very glibly deflected the whole matter stating that we should check with Fox News, as they were culpable for generating this in the first place. 
  • Both Fox News and the British Intelligence vehemently stated that this entire narrative had no grounds in reality and was simply false
  • Finally, in the Congressional hearing, both heads of the NSA and FBI also stated that there was no proof that there was any hacking by the former President

There have been a lot of articles and reviews in the recent past that (rightfully) call the Press to question on how much free publicity they provided the current President during the election cycle. The President, in turn, loves to chastise the press as ‘Fake News” at every opportunity.

However, there are a few problems with this:

  1. The President and his team are very selective. Any outlet that questions or challenges his policies or statements is deemed as “Fake News”. Alt-Right websites, news outlets that have a sycophantic relationship with the administration are “Real News”. The evidence is clear based on how many interviews have been granted to Fox News and Breitbart in comparison to the other news outlets
  2. The word Fake News itself seems so vague. The President uses this as a suitcase term to rally the base. The right wing media obviously has embraced this term as a convenient passive aggressive response to anyone or any organization that directs any criticism at this administration.
  3. Finally, where is the indignation? where is the anger? for years we have heard the right say that the media has a liberal bias and then that turned into “fake news” but now when fake news is turning into “news that is fake” where are all the people of conscience, from the right? Remember the birther arguments, does that sound familiar,or is that “real news”?

Which brings me to my main point. We all now know where the fake news is coming from. It is not the main networks or any outlet that is rightfully questioning the accountability of this administration, it is coming from the White House.

THE FAKE NEWS GENISIS (Source – myself):

(I realize I missed the Facebook channel in the steps above)

I remember a quote from one of the reporters, “in the absence of facts, both our opinions are accurate”. Even though we are now living in a fact free country, I am encouraged in the fact that the press has been hitting back and calling for accountability and we are hopeful that this will reduce the level of egregiousness.

At the end of the day, the blame lies squarely on us, the people. We allowed ourselves to get hoodwinked, sucker punched and bamboozled into this.

My faith in the intelligence of our plebiscite is at an all time low. Maybe common sense is not so common after all!