Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Can you follow the logic?

Another thing that really sticks in my craw is when someone with a voice- whether its a politician, a pundit, or a proll- posts, publishes or speaks something with gaping holes in logic. Conservatives are notorious for this, of course, and the less said of Rush Limbuagh, the better.

One reason this bugs me so much is that slipping mis- or disinformation into a discussion/news story/commentary is an insidious act. It not only shows a lack of respect for your audience, but demonstrates bad intentions. The disinformers are counting on listeners to be too stupid to notice the errors of logic. They NEED us to be stupid. Consider that, even now, nearly a decade later, there are STILL people who believe that Iraq had something to do with the 9/11 attack, and that was why we invaded Iraq. The continuous inplication (and outright lying) brainwashed millions of Americans, and some of the weak-minded still haven't figured it out.

But just today, one pundit posted a rather bizarre commentary on CNN. com that made me shout at my screen. Jack Cafferty is an outspoken and occasionally controversial commentator (I only know him from CNN, and loved all the coverage he gave to Sarah Palin).

I thought this might be a good time for a little game of "Spot the flaw in logic." If you can, then you might be ready to debunk some of the more conservative pundits, or "nutjobs," who use their positions of celebrity to influence the weak-minded.

Let's play!

In his blog posted on CNN today, Cafferty suggests that the war on drugs is not only failing, but actual insanity. He thinks "its time" we consider legalizing drugs. Now that's a valid opinion, and not without merit. Surely we can have a discussion about that. Lastly, lets not overlook the devils advocate option- that Cafferty is being deliberately provocative in his role as commentator and CNN contributor. Heck, if people don't go to CNN or watch the channel, he's out of a job, right?

We're not going to discuss the war on drugs here, we're looking at LOGIC or common sense.

Cafferty takes us through the following train of thought. You can read the whole text of course, and h makes a good case, but I'm providing bullet points here:

  1. "The United States is the largest illegal drug market in the world. And they're willing to pay big money to get it."
  2. "The drug suppliers are only too happy to oblige."
  3. They're everywhere: Anchorage, Alaska; Boston, Massachusetts; Atlanta, Georgia; and Billings, Montana. The Mexican drug cartels now have operations in 230 American cities.
  4. "They have been able to infiltrate those 230 cities because we have not bothered to secure our borders. "
Do you see the sudden left turn at the end there? You see how its not related to the above 3 statements? Even if there were NO MEXICO, there would still be people who want to buy drugs in Anchorage, Alaska and Boston, Massachusetts, and people willing to sell it to them.

The border doesn't have ANYTHING to do with the drug war; its just means the players are different.

Did drugs enter those 230 cities ONLY since the Mexican Cartels started peddling them there? Or has there been drugs there before. Have we not had books, movies, news and (god save us) commentary on "drugs in the big city" since... well since we've had cities? Does anyone remember Scarface? The French Connection? Does anyone think that if, by some miracle, the Mexican Cartels decided to close up shop, there wouldn't be some other player to step in the very next day?

Cafferty writes: "Someone described insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time." [Editors Note- it was Albert Einstein] One such example of insanity is blaming all our troubles on others, or, specifically, blaming all our troubles on "the border."

Close all the borders you want, Mr Cafferty. The people will still buy, the dealers will still deal, and someone will still find a way to get the stuff into the country. Mr Cafferty's argument has a lot of merit, but when I run into a stumbling block like that, my brain screeches to a halt as I try to reconcile an otherwise cogent argument with the infusions of insanity some pundits include.

Dear Pundits:
Every time you make a ludicrous argument, every time you try to pervert the truth, I'll be there to poke a hole in your little fantasy. I refuse to be stupid. I refuse to allow the people around me be stupid, and I plan on calling you out each and every time you try to slip something like this past us.

And stop peddling false solutions and preying on the fears of the weak-minded.

Who cares what YOU say?

Not every post is going to have the kind of polish on it I'd like. Sometimes I just shoot from the hip.

Dear Everyone:

Who cares what the stock market did today? I mean, as far as whether the stock market "likes" a policy or little bit of news. Obviously, the investors care, but for the vast majority of the rest of us, the stock market not liking something is not news.

Its all bull-pucky. It always has been. Of course the stock market is going to react badly to proposed investing reform... Does the stock market not liking the reforms mean that:

  • a) we shouldn't have reforms?
  • b) the reforms are a bad idea?
  • c) the stock market wants to keep making money and doesn't want people to see how much or... how it makes money?
For those of you who actually work in stocks and finance, the answer is "c." And this kind of crap happens with... everything. "Investors got skittish yesterday when the president suggested improving auto emission standards." "The Dow Jones tumbled this morning when the Sheriff of Nottingham said he'd like people to stop robbing widows on street corners." "The stock market tanked today when someone somewhere suggested we stop eating babies."

Who fucking cares? The stock market goes UP when the powers that be talk about any form or deregulation, war, and cutting taxes. It goes DOWN when they talk about ANYTHING that's actually good for us. (We can debate whether cutting taxes are good in a later discussion.) Where's the news?

If we all decided, today, that from now on all cars had to use a certain fuel... should we really give a crap if NASCAR drivers complained that the fuel didn't give them the same horsepower? No. We'd tell them to shut the heck up. They can still drive their engines and make their money, we're just asking them to do it in a way not as detrimental to the rest of us. (Note to financiers: this is a blatant metaphor for your stock market!)

The market, like every other business, or more specifically, like every other CORRUPT and evil business, only cares about itself; perpetuating and enriching itself at the expense of the rest of us. So when, five times a day, I hear that "the market reacted badly to..." or "investors are uncertain about" I want to shout at the radio, or the TV, or the internet "TOUGH SHIT- its NOT NEWS!!"

Having spent my entire life at the feeding end of capitalism (a phrase readers of this blog are going to have to get used to), I can tell you that I'm pretty sure the entire concept of a stock market ought to be rethought. Or abolished. But that will be a subject for another blog.

In short, please stop thinking that the stock market's opinion of anything should in any wat influence anything at all. Its all a bunch of bullshit.

Monday, March 30, 2009

"The End is Nigh"

... No, this isn't going to be an reference to the movie "The Watchmen," which featured a character carrying a sign bearing the words "The End is Nigh."

Its a reference to GM and Chrysler.

Today the Obama administration has effectively ousted the CEO of GM, Rick Wagoner, citing that the company's restructuring plans, presented by Wagoner, were not sufficient to make the company viable in the future. There are stories in all the usual places, but I read the Wall Street Journal here and found the story really... shocking. Perhaps I've been avoiding thinking about the broader realities of the economic downturn because like many, I've been affected by cutbacks. But after reading all the stories today (the WSJ, NYT , BBC, and CNN) I have to say... the end IS Nigh.

I feel terrible that these two companies have reached such a state, and am fully aware (or at least think I am) of some of what might follow if the companies are allowed to fail. But they have failed.

Don't forget, if you're reading this, its likely that you, too, have lived through the 70's gas shortage. And the introduction and proliferation of Toyota and other import cars- Subaru, Kia, and Hyundai. Maybe you've forgotten, but I haven't forgotten the days when a Toyota was a piece of plastic junk that my grandmother scoffed at as she drove her huge Pontiac to church, just down the street. I have personally witnessed the changes in in cars since the 1970's- the drive to smaller, more efficient, more economical cars fostered mainly by companies like Toyota.

I mean, Toyota changed their cars to better suit the American market, while still producing better, more economical cars. Thier cars got bigger, and more robust, while still being smaller and more efficient than thier US-made counterparts.

What has GM been doing in the last 40 years? I've watched as GM made token efforts to appeal to people who wanted more efficient, smaller cars, and churned out MORE and BIGGER cars each year; the Chevy Suburban, the Hummer, the Escalade? Who goes off-road in an Escalade. I know- people BOUGHT them, so GM kept making them. Some part of the blame rests on conumers like me, and not just GM and Chrysler. (As an aside, some of my friends might like to throw these statements back in my face, but I still prefer American cars, I still intend to buy American. We'll see.)

GM's answer to the Toyota Prius- a brilliant and great (50mpg) car that even I, the corpulent (to put it nicely) Vox Populi, can fit into- was the Chevy Tahoe, "Hybrid taken to its logical extreme" at 22mpg?! The bigger is always better attitude is still at GM 40 years later. To say nothing of the whole misuse of the phrase "logical extreme."

The last thing I want is for these companies to fold. But I'm afraid it might be better for all of us, in the long run, if they did. They didn't work. They failed as buisnesses, and they failed us as citizens by not changing with the times. If Dell today were, for example, still trying to sell 80386 machines with 64MB of RAM... well how well would they be doing right now? They wouldn't.

And no, I haven't forgotten that they can't exactly change the factories and tooling overnight. But its been 40 years. WE ALL SAW THIS COMING, and if they (as companies) didn't, well then they deserve to be closed. The comapny executives failed to change the direction of the company, the stockholders demanded too much profit, and not enough was reinvested in the company, the union workers failed to notice that if the company failed, they'd all be out of work... the whole thing failed.

I'm still sugar-coating my writing here, because I really feel for these companies, their workers, and all of us who will be affected by the results of all those people out of work...

But I think it's going to have to happen.

I grew up in GM cars. I've slept in the back seat of more Buicks and Pontiacs than... well, than I've slept in hotel rooms. I bought my current car (a Buick!) not because it was most efficient (go ahead and mock me) or was the best fit for my large size (though it was), but because after test driving 7 cars from all over the world, the Buick changed gears when I expected it to: it "felt right."

That has been enough for many of us to keep buying US cars. But no more. I'm just as likely to buy the wrong car for the wrong reasons as anyone, and so I'm just an ordinary consumer just like everyone else. But right now, the writing on the wall seems to suggest the time is up for GM and Chrysler, and as I read the words, my heart answers...

"Yeah, I think it is."

Friday, March 20, 2009

No lack of consequences this time!

Most of us have been affected by the current economy in various ways, and I'll spare you the expected sob stories or diatribes. However, one thing that's always bothered me was a lack of consequences for a lot of white collar or political... crimes. CEO's (or political hacks) run a company (or our country) into the ground, lose billions in investor money, cost hundreds of people jobs (both directly and indirectly)... and then walk away rich and do it all over again at some other company or government agency. Who hires people who do that? Who works with them, or the companies they go on to represent?

I think its great that disgraced Attorney General Alberto Gonzales can't get a job, but SHOCKED that Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft, who went into business for themselves, have found people willing to pay for their services... That's just wrong. (As an aside, if you're reading this, I think all references to disgraced former Attourney General Alberto Gonzales should ALWAYS be written "Disgraced Atourney General Alberto Gonzales," so that his name will forever be associated with disgrace. Are you with me?)

Well, maybe their days of ease are over. The New York Times is reporting that people known to be associated with, among other companies, AIG, are being publicly scorned and in some cases even threatened, due to the behaviors of the company they work for.

Here are some quotes from that story:
>The Connecticut Working Families party, which has support from organized labor, is planning a bus tour of A.I.G. executives’ homes on Saturday, with a stop at the company’s Wilton office.

>“We’re going to be peaceful and lawful in everything we do,” said Jon Green, the director of Connecticut Working Families. “I know there’s a lot of anger and a lot of rage about what’s happened. We’re not looking to foment that unnecessarily, but what we want to do is give folks in Bridgeport and Hartford and other parts of Connecticut who are struggling and losing their homes and their jobs and their health insurance an opportunity to see what kinds of lifestyle billions of dollars in credit-default swaps can buy.”

I think its GREAT that there's enough public outcry that we can finally bring a sense of shame to the very people who have been ripping us all off for so long. We should bring back Ostracism!

To quote from the above link:
Ostracism (Greek: οστρακισμός ostrakismos) was a procedure under the Athenian democracy in which a prominent citizen could be expelled from the city-state of Athens for ten years. While some instances clearly expressed popular anger at the victim, ostracism was often used pre-emptively. It was used as a way of defusing major confrontations between rival politicians (by removing one of them from the scene), neutralizing someone thought to be a threat to the state, or exiling a potential tyrant. Crucially, ostracism had no relation to the processes of justice. There was no charge or defence, and the exile was not in fact a penalty; it was simply a command from the Athenian people that one of their number be gone for ten years.

They don't have to commit a "crime." They don't have to be "in power." And there doesn't have to be any trial. Enough of us have to agree that some people ought not to be allowed to live among us. How beautiful is that? I have a potsherd here with Alberto Gonzales' name already scratched on it...

More from the NYT Story:
>Others in A.I.G.’s neighborhood were clearly angry. Tamara King, an immigration specialist at a health care company whose office is adjacent to the A.I.G. quarters, said she feels disgust each time she walks past it.

"You don’t want to associate with them because it’s not a reflection on the state, it’s not a reflection on us," she said. But she added, “You have so many people out of a job, and these people think they can take the money and run." [Italics mine]

I don't think any of us should want to associate with people like that, Ms. King.

It is unfortunate that some people working for these companies who are innocent of any real wrongdoing are being ostracized, and I certainly don't condone threats to a person or (can you believe it?) their children, but I can surely get behind a group of people standing in front of the house of an AIG exec with sign protesting their actions, policies, and arrogance. How is that exec going to explain a peaceful protest to his/her daughter? Night after night? Sure, they'll probably lie to her too, but the idea is making bad people feel ashamed of having done bad. Its one of the few motivators we as a society have left to dissuade people from committing certain crimes?

After all, if they get thier kicks from driving out of thier long driveway in thier long white limo, how much satisfaction will there be if, instead of envy, they are greeted with jeers and tomatoes? And the important bit is that they know they've done something wrong. They can't hide behind anonymity (like drug dealers), or ambiguity, because these are prominent people who aspire to status. I think a lot fewer of these scumbags will behave this way if they fear they'll be stripped of thier right to strut if we all know how they got thier money...

I'll be the first to say that this kind of... direct personal protest is problematic. Throughout history, this kind of protest was what we now call persecution- think Witch trials or pogroms- but I also think that our society is sorely missing a much-needed sense of responsibility for...well, everybody.

I want a national database of where disgraced former Bush Administration officials are working today, so we can all avoid doing business with those companies, and the companies that still do. I want to know who thinks its a great idea to hire a CEO who's made billions while effectively burning down the house we live in. And I want enough of us to vote with our pocketbooks, and stop giving our money to companies who support people whom they ought to be ashamed to associate with. If they're not... we won't give them our business.

Let's bring back some form of ostracim. Our first nominees can be anyone from AIG who took, and kept, a ludicuos "bonus" after we taxpayers bailed out the company they ran into the ground, to the detriment of us all.