Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Archive by Date: March 11th, 2017

Lies vs. Falsehoods

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 11, 2017 @ 11:03 am PDT

The words we use are vitally important; I often say that 90% of everything is how we say things, not what we actually mean. I remember learning this ages ago when looking at the papers with respect to Israel and Vietnam: different impressions come from the use of “freedom-fighter” vs. “insurgent” vs. “guerilla”.

A recent article related to President Trump brought this back to mind. In a musing yesterday, Mark Evanier wrote:

I think though we sometimes devalue the word “lie” by applying it to anything your opponent says that you can possibly spin as untrue. Years ago, a gent who worked for the National Weather Service told me, “We’ll predict a 60% chance of rain for Los Angeles…and then even if it rains in the valley but not in the basin, we hear from people in the basin who accuse us of lying. Not even of being wrong, which we weren’t. They say we lied.”

As a staunch believer in the maxim, “Never attribute to deviousness, that which can be explained by incompetence,” I often think the “L” word is inapplicable. People — even people I don’t like — do make mistakes. They misspeak. Or they make logical assumptions which turn out to be wrong. A lot of people have jumped on Trump for spelling the word “tap” with two P’s in a recent, infamous tweet. These are apparently people who never made a typo themselves.

I, too, believe in the maxim (which I call an adage) of never ascribing to malice what one can ascribe to stupidity. There are kerfuffles I see every day that people jump on as malace — Spicer’s flag pin being upside down, Kellyanne Conway sitting on a sofa in the Oval Office informally. Folks — that stuff doesn’t manner. They are errors of stupidity, not intentional malice, signals, or disrespect.  They aren’t worth the time to discuss.

Mark’s article was triggered by an opinion piece in the Jewish Journal wondering whether Trump was worse than a liar. Here’s a quote from that article:

Midway through the annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA last week on “Maintaining Intellectual Integrity in the Age of Trump,” Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Bret Stephens tried to summarize his in-depth analysis of President Trump’s dicey relationship with the truth.

“If I had to sum it up in a single sentence,” he said, “this would be it: Truth is what you can get away with.”

When I heard that, a light bulb went off. I thought of a book I read years ago, “On Bullshit,” by former Princeton professor and moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt.

One of the key insights in the book is that bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are. “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth,” Frankfurt writes. “Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.”

When we use the word “lie”, there is an implicit assumption of intent: the speaker knows the truth, and is intentionally telling you something other than the truth. But if one is truly incompetent, truly stupid, truly ignorant, truly lazy enough not to know, then is that false statement a lie or just evidence of stupidity. Do we believe that Trump knows the truth? Or is he just making it up as he goes, bullshitting us because that works in business, and most people are too stupid to do the research to find him wrong. In business, you pull values for things out of thin air, and if your buyer believes you, you win.

Believing the lie and getting wrapped around the wheel of bullshit brings me to my other point: When have we (and by “we”, I mean us liberals) fallen into the same tropes that other side used against Obama? I look at my news feed on Facebook, and I see people believing all sort of bullshit about Trump, and getting all worried about truly minor things. I see folks being Chicken Little running around. I’m not saying it may not be justified. However, to an observer, it looks like the same scare tactics that the Conservatives used against Obama. Calling him names. Thinking everything is a sign of dictatorship on the way (the latest is worrying about the administration firing 45 US attorneys at DOJ, when this happens with every change of adminsitration and party).

There are plenty of things this administration is doing that are highly problematic. Gutting science. Gutting health care. Gutting programs designed to protect the American people from all forms of fraud and abuse. Gutting social programs. Dr. Martin Luthur King Jr. once said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”. Have we forgotten that?  But worrying about a flag pin? Feet on a sofa? The first lady’s tits? C’mon.

The change we need isn’t found in the sofa cushions. The change we need is found in fighting for the things that really matter.

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Survey Sez….

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 11, 2017 @ 10:34 am PDT

When you read the news for fun, you run across a lot of surveys. Some are good science and good statistics, some are good science and blow the statistics, some get the stats right and blow the science, and some, well, just blow. Here are some articles about surveys I’ve seen of late — let’s figure out what blows, what sucks, and what is the truth:

  • Gluten-Free and Diabetes. The Telegraph in the UK is reporting on a Harvard study that appears to suggests that ingesting only small amounts of gluten, or avoiding it altogether, increases the danger of diabetes by as much as 13 per cent. The study seems to be aimed at the growing number of people who have gone on gluten-free diets because they believe it is better for their health, as opposed to the small percentage that have Celiac (or as they spell it in the UK, Coeliac) Disease or a true sensitivity.  The study was observational, and examined 30 years of medical data from nearly 200,000 patients. They found that most participants had a gluten intake of below 12g a day, which is roughly the equivalent to two or three slices of wholemeal bread. Within this range, those eating the highest 20 per cent of gluten had a 13 per cent lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared with those eating up to 4g a day. So what’s the problem? First it is observational, not rigorous. Secondly, they didn’t tightly control the factors, for the study also showed that those who eat less gluten also tended to eat less cereal fibre, a substance known to protect against diabetes. So is the finding really that if you go on a gluten-free diet, you need to eat more fibre?
  • Exercise and Weight Loss. We’ve all been through the drill: you want to lose weight, you need to eat less and exercise. But is that true. Vox undertook a review of over 60 studies on the subject, and discovered that exercise isn’t  a significant factor. What you eat is important, how much you eat is important, when you eat is important, and even the biome that digests your food is important. But if you think you can eat loads of junk and then burn it off exercising, you’re wrong. This doesn’t mean that exercise doesn’t have health benefits — it does; however, it isn’t a significant factor in weight loss. The article is long and goes through 10 key points, and is difficult to summarize here. But it is an interesting read.
  • Chemtrails and Vaccines. I linked to this yesterday, but I like it so much I’ll include it in again (until my sister-in-law believes it 😉). In a new study coming out of Brown University, researchers concluded that being sprayed with chemtrails actually has a positive effect when it comes to vaccine injuries. While not all the data are available from the study just yet, it appears as though only 20% of the children who were severely sprayed with chemtrails ended up developing autism after their vaccines; a much lower rate than the 80% who normally get autism from vaccines. Correlation? Causation? Or just a fake study?
  • Depression and Food. You are what you eat — or to be more precise, you are what the bacteria in your gut eat. We are increasingly finding out that our antibacterial environment and our fear of germs is a bad thing. Some bacteria are good for us — they manipulate our metabolism in a myriad of ways, from determining how we put on weight and influencing our moods. The latter is the topic of this Mental Floss link.  A study published this week in Nature Scientific Reports finds that beneficial bacteria commonly found in yogurt can help relieve depression-like symptoms in mice. The scientists began by collecting a group of unlucky mice and subjecting them to a variety of intense stressors. Some were kept in crowded cages; others had to sit under strobe lights or listen to loud noises. Predictably, the stressful situations took a toll, and the mice began exhibiting what the researchers called “despair behavior.” The researchers collected poop samples from the mice before and after the stress sessions, then ran genetic analyses to determine the species and quantities of bacteria living in each mouse’s gut. The results showed that the stress resulted in a pretty significant drop in a microbe called Lactobacillus—the same type of so-called “good” bacteria found in yogurt. But the rodents’ despair would not prove permanent. The researchers began giving the mice small doses of Lactobacillus with their meals, and, over time, their symptoms resolved.
  • Napping and Mental Awareness. We all like to doze off at work, but our bosses tend not to like to see us doing it. Perhaps this study will change their mind.  Studies have shown that short naps can improve awareness and productivity. You don’t need much; just 15 to 20 minutes can make a world of difference. According to a study from the University of Colorado Boulder, children who didn’t take their afternoon nap didn’t display much joy and interest, had a higher level of anxiety, and lower problem solving skills compared to other children who napped regularly. The same goes for adults as well. Researchers with Berkeley found that adults who regularly take advantage of an afternoon nap have a better learning ability and improved memory function.

 

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