Friday, February 15, 2013


Assault Weapons



Government (and War) Explained

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Gun Control Graphics

The gun control graphics below all came from International Liberty, the blog of Cato Institute Senior Fellow Daniel J. Mitchell. Although, like much political rhetoric, they tend to exaggerate for effect, I think they all convey at least a grain of truth.

I will only comment on the first graphic. A common objection to such assertions is that Barack Obama and his family need armed security because they are very high-profile targets. Fair enough, but the fact is that hundreds or thousands of innocent victims of gun crimes in the US are not VIPs. They are ordinary folks and they're not asking for Secret Service and police/military security details, they just want the right to use guns to protect themselves and their families.

You may think this is misguided and there are good grounds for such an opinion but no one is forcing you to buy a gun. So, why not try to change the minds of the people who don't see things your way instead of trying to empower people with guns and badges to force your opinions about guns on otherwise law-abiding citizens?

Clicking on the images below will enlarge them.

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Saturday, February 09, 2013


Honesty and Depression

A curious thing happened as I was listening to the radio Friday night. Two different shows, separated by only an hour, featured segments touching on the same general subject--what cognitive science tells us about honesty and depression.

First at 7 PM was Radiolab, replaying an episode called "Lying to Ourselves". It first aired in 2008 and featured psychologist Joanna Starek and the team of psychiatrists Harold Sackeim and Ruben Gur.  Below is a partial transcript from the last two minutes or so of the episode. 
Co-host Robert Krulwich: ... denying certain facts about the real world ... according to any number of new studies produces people who ... are better at business and better at working with teams. And now here's the real kicker: They turn out to be happier people ...

Sackeim: ... people who were happiest were the ones lying to themselves more ...

Krulwich: Time and time again, researchers have found that depressed people lie less.

Sackeim: They see all the pain in the world, how horrible people are with each other. And they tell you everything about themselves, what their weaknesses are, what terrible things they've done to other people. And the problem is, they're right. And so, maybe it's, the way we help people is to help them to be wrong.

Krulwich: It might just be that hiding ideas we know to be true, hiding those ideas from ourselves, is what we need to get by.

Sackeim: We're so vulnerable to being hurt that we're given the capacity to distort, as a gift.
Then, at 9 PM, a 2012 episode of To The Best of Our Knowledge came on. Entitled "You & Your Brain," the segment featured an interview by Senior Producer Anne Strainchamps with neuroscientist Julian Paul Keenan. Below is a partial transcript from the last three minutes or so of the interview.
Strainchamps: I just keep thinking that what you're saying is that much of our experience of life and of the world and even of ourselves is a lie.

Keenan: Yeah. And you can either be depressed about it or just go for the ride. A lot of this remains still to be confirmed and, uh, replicated, but a lot of the indications are that we are living in a deceptive world, at best, perhaps a false world in its most extreme.

Strainchamps: ... I'm trying to figure out what the consequences are of everything you've laid out. We have no free will, we're basically lying ourselves through life. What do you do with those insights? Should you just sit back and enjoy the dream or should we all be meditating very hard and trying to lose our sense of self?

Keenan: I, you know, I'm going to go with the former. I think a lot of self-deception goes a long way, that giving yourself positive affirmations in the mirror, whether you believe them or not, would probably be the route I would suggest taking. You know, surrounding yourself with people who, even though you know they're lying to you, as long as they're saying good things, that's probably a healthy way to go. The alternative scares me. We used to think people with clinical depression didn't see the world realistically, you know, they saw it in an overly negative light. Well, it turns out, they're seeing it quite realistically and it's you and I who were seeing it in an overly rosy light, we're the ones not in reality. So, the suggestion is that reality is a somewhat scary place to be.

Strainchamps: So the purpose of therapy is to learn to be better at lying.

Keenan: Absolutely. It clearly puts into question this idea of deception is morality, "Thou shalt not lie." Well, then thou shalt be depressed.
So, here's what I found striking, even disturbing, about both of these programs. No one--not the researchers, not the interviewers/hosts--ever raised the idea that the solution to the depression that realism and honesty bring to some people is not to train or encourage people to "distort" or "just go for the ride"--to engage in deception--but to work to figure out how make the world a less painful, a less  depressing place. Yes, of course, there will always be the pain of loss and death but to suggest that deception is the only desirable or viable solution for coping with "all the pain in the world" seems to me to evince a defeatism of the worst, saddest, and, ultimately, the most ethically bankrupt sort.

12 Feb 2013 Addendum: It is has been suggested to me by a friend and reader of this post that religion is a form of deception or dishonesty that people employ in order to avoid reality. I have two responses to this: First, yes, religion can be and has been used for deceptive and dishonest purposes but that is not inherent in religion; science, too, can be so used.

Second, the idea that religion is an invalid or false way of knowing about the world and that only a scientific approach can tell us anything meaningful or true about reality is itself a deception and logically invalid. The supposed conflict between science and religion is a subject I have blogged about on several occasions and my comments on it here will be brief. This viewpoint that rejects religion is known as scientism and even the National Academy of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have published statements rejecting it.

I'll close with the thoughts on the subject of two noted physicists. According to Freeman Dyson:

"Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but they look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect.

"Trouble arises when either science or religion claims universal jurisdiction, when either religious dogma or scientific dogma claims to be infallible. Religious creationists and scientific materialists are equally dogmatic and insensitive. By their arrogance they bring both science and religion into disrepute."

Ian Barbour writes:

"I suggest that the concept of God is not a hypothesis formulated to explain the relation between particular events in the world in competition with scientific hypotheses. Belief in God is primarily a commitment to a way of life in response to distinctive kinds of religious experience in communities formed by historic traditions; it is not a substitute for scientific research. Religious belief offers a wider framework of meaning in which particular events can be contextualized."

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Tuesday, February 05, 2013


Are You a Patriot Movement Sympathizer?

The one basic attitude which all of these people [i.e. "self-identified patriots"] have in common is a deep distrust of government. After much inquiry, I have formulated the following statements which, I believe, accurately reflect the beliefs and concerns shared by most Americans who consider themselves "patriots":
  1. Both the federal and state governments are violating their constitutions in numerous major and dangerous ways, particularly regarding the individual rights guaranteed to all Americans in the Bill of Rights.
  2. These documents are contracts between government and its citizens with the primary purpose of limiting government power, scope, and functions. As a result of these violations of the rights of the people, we no longer have the same government; government will do whatever it can get away with; government can be manipulated to the advantage of those wielding the reins of power and their cohorts, associates, and financiers.
  3. This type of government and social order is contrary to everything the founders of our country tried to create.
  4. The average American worker now pays over 50 percent of his or her earnings in taxes--income tax, excise tax, sales tax, property tax, and so forth, and the huge hidden tax of government. Given the size of the federal budget and our rapidly decreasing standard of living, many Americans wonder where their hard-earned dollars are going. 
  5. People within the U.S. government and power elites are trying to subsume our country under a United Nations-controlled one-world government, endangering the sovereignty of the United States and the validity of its constitution. 
  6. Beneath all the rhetoric, the New World Order is simply the concentration of power into a few hands and a global monopoly over the sources of wealth.
  7. The mainstream media, both print and electronic, is controlled by the same big-money monopolies working hand-in-glove with the government, resulting in a public overwhelmed by trivia and dangerously uninformed about the issues that affect them most.
  8. America's founders warned that, somewhere down the road, citizens might have to defend their free form of government from usurpers--whether within or without the country's borders--and such a time may be close at hand.
If you sympathize to any extent with these statements, you share some of the grievances of the patriot movement. Perhaps you even find yourself, as I do, in strong agreement with many of them. Clark McCauley, professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College, states: "If you think these people are crazy, you have to ask [if] there [is] anything the federal government could do that would make you willing to take up arms against it. If you can answer no, then you're entitled to think these people are crazy. But if you say yes, then you'd better hazard a thought that [militia members] are human beings just like you."

Source: Barbara Dority. "Is the extremist right entirely wrong?" The Humanist. 21 Nov. 1995.

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Monday, February 04, 2013


Traficantes de Sueños

Traficantes de Sueños (English title Sleep Dealer) is a fascinating low-budget, high-quality 2008 sci-fi film. The movie was made in the US and Mexico in Spanish with English subtitles. Set in the dystopian near-future, the film follows a young man named Memo from his home on a milpa in Oaxaca state to Tijuana. In Memo's world, corporations have locked up water resources and protect them with lethal force; drone attacks are regular television entertainment fare à la Cops; and the only part of immigrant labor that immigrates is the labor, which is technologically alienated and expatriated leaving the workers, cybraceros, in their home country.

See also:

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Quotable: Anger

Anger is more useful than despair.

Source: Character of The Terminator in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003).

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Sunday, February 03, 2013


Polls: Consent of the Governed, Guns, & Tyranny

Recently, while reading about the post-Newtown national discussion on guns, I came across some interesting poll results from Rasmussen Reports. The first finding is based upon a survey of 1,000 likely American voters and was conducted on October 21-22, 2012. The reported margin of error is ±3% with a 95% level of confidence.

The question asked of the likely voters is: "The Declaration of Independence says that governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed. Does the federal government today have the consent of the governed?" The Rasmussen firm reports: "just 25% of Likely U.S. Voters think the federal government today has that consent. Sixty percent (60%) believe the federal government does not have the consent of the governed. Fifteen percent (15%) are not sure."

Last month, Rasmussen Reports polled 1,000 American adults asking them: "The Second Amendment to the Constitution provides Americans with the right to own a gun. Is the purpose of the Second Amendment to ensure that people are able to protect themselves from tyranny?" The reported margin of error and confidence level are the same as the October poll. Here's what the poll revealed:
Two-out-of-three Americans recognize that their constitutional right to own a gun was intended to ensure their freedom.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 65% of American Adults think the purpose of the Second Amendment is to make sure that people are able to protect themselves from tyranny. Only 17% disagree, while another 18% are not sure. ...

Not surprisingly, 72% of those with a gun in their family regard the Second Amendment as a protection against tyranny. However, even a majority (57%) of those without a gun in their home hold that view.

Many gun control advocates talk of the right to gun ownership as relating to hunting and recreational uses only.

While there are often wide partisan differences of opinion on gun-related issues, even 54% of Democrats agree with 75% of Republicans and 68% of those not affiliated with either major party that the right to own a gun is to ensure such freedom. ...

Seventy-four percent (74%) of all Americans continue to believe that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of an average citizen to own a gun. Just 17% disagree. These views haven't changed in nearly four years of surveying.
There are at least two problems with the poll question. First, by prefacing the question with the affirmative statement "The Second Amendment to the Constitution provides Americans with the right to own a gun" Rasmussen may have introduced some bias into the results.

Whereas the prefatory sentence in the consent question accurately quotes from the Declaration of Independence, the gun-tyranny question does not; it takes some interpretive license. While it is an interpretation with which I happen to agree, American citizens and courts have long debated what the Second Amendment means--it is not exactly a picture of clarity. It was not until 2008, for instance, that the US Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the amendment addresses an individual, rather than a collective, right.

Bias is further suggested in how Rasmussen reports their results. "Two-out-of-three Americans recognize ..." does not indicate a neutral understanding of the meaning of the Second Amendment on the part of the pollster. Constrast "think" and "believe" in the reporting on the consent question with "recognize" in the gun-tyranny results and you should see the difference. Generally speaking, professional, scientific polling organizations strive to refrain from interjecting their own views into poll questions and results.

The second, less serious, problem with the question is that, as many gun rights advocates and political scientists and Constitutional scholars, in general, will tell you, the "Bill of Rights" does not provide any rights whatsoever. In the classical Lockean liberal tradition of the main authors of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment merely recognizes, affirms, or guarantees a right already conferred by God or nature.

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