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April 2008
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June 2008

Powerful Comment from Volokh Conspiracy

Eugene Volokh posed an interesting hypothetical about gay marriage.  The comments are amazing.  Homosexuals are put on the same level as drug dealers.  "Randy R." just body slams the bigots.  His comment is a must-read.  Here is the intro:

Love this thread. Finally, the real feelings come out in the wash. As I've always suspected, people aren't upset about [same-sex marriage], they aren't upset about judicial tyranny, and they aren't upset about gays adopting kids.

The only thing that upset them -- very greatly -- is the notion of homosexuality. 

To these people, all gays are on par with drug addicts, abusers, and the lowest levels of society. All other issues pale by comparison, and nothing, I mean NOTHING, will disabuse them of this notion. You simply can't talk to them, because they're hearts and minds are closed. Just try to tell them that there are good people who happen to be gay, and they will say no gays can be good people.

You know what: My mind is now closed on an issue.  I used to give people who opposed same-sex marriage the benefit of the doubt.  Many of my friends oppose gay marriage on religious grounds.  But I've seen the light. 

If you oppose same-sex marriage, you are a bigot.  I grew up around racists, and I know bigotry when I see it.  You may as well throw around the n-word so far as I'm concerned.  You're not different from a hateful racist who burns crosses into the night.

Sure, your interpretation of the Bible might support bigotry.  But guess what: Two-hundred years ago the popular interpretation of the Bible supported slavery.  And one-hundred years ago, the popular interpretation of the Bible supported segregation.  The popular interpretation of the Bible was wrong then.  And it's wrong now.

It's time to reflect: Does the Bible truly support your views?  Does Christ ever speak on the issue?  Or do you simply harbor a disdain for those who are different, and thus feel inspired to read words that are not even there?

I'm reminded of Thomas Jefferon's remarks on slavery: "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice can not sleep forever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference!"

May God have mercy on your bigoted souls.

UPDATE: Steve Dillard disagrees

Don't Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking

Thinking is a skill.  But how often do we train our thinking?  Does reading the newspaper or even general-interest non-fiction improve our thinking?  Is sitting around just thinking sufficient?  Perhaps not, if you believe that your mind can play tricks on you.

The tricks our mind plays on us is explored in Don't Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking.  The author, Thomas Kida, explores in detail six of the major tricks our mind plays on us.

The narrative fallacy.  We're still primitive beasts more used to sitting around campfires than computers.  It's easier for us to understand the world through stories than through calculations.  Accordingly, we focus on "stories rather than statistics." 

What are the odds that your child will be molested by a stranger?  Less than 3-5%.  The odds are much higher that a relative will molest your child.  Yet stories involving kidnapped children predominate.  A story about a child being buried alive with her stuffed animal is compelling.  But it distracts us from the truth: If your child gets molested, it almost certainly won't be by a stranger.

Confirmation bias.  People hate being told they are wrong.  People love being told they are right.  Consequently, people only look for data proving themselves right.  Yet, in so doing, who knows what evidence we are missing proving ourselves wrong?

This can have devastating effects on public health.  It was recently revealed that the New England Journal of Medicine does not readily publish articles showing what treatments do not work for a given disease.  Yet how can we learn what works if we don't know what does not work?  As Sherlock Holmes taught us: "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."

Mistaking coincidence for causation.  This mistake we make is mind-blowing when applied to the markets.  You just invested some money in a mutual fund.  After all, the mutual fund has been up every year for the past five years.  The fund manager must know what he's doing, right?  Prepare to have your stomach turned into knots, because that's wrong.

What if, 5 years ago, there were 10,000 new mutual funds.  As a matter of chance, some funds would go up each year.  Some funds would go down.  Given enough mutual funds, it would have to be the case that some funds would be up at the end of five years. 

But this would all be because of chance!  Consider the implications!

Warren Buffett is considered a financial genius.  After all, he's made money for so many consecutive years.   But what is he just happens to have been the last man Chance left standing?

Memory sucks.  I've read so many books and articles about human memory, that I did not take away much new from this chapter.  But it was a horrifying reminder that much of what we remember experiencing is delusion.  We "remember" things that never happened and forget things that actually happened.  We are constantly reconstructing our memories, filling in gaps to create a more sensible narrative.  (Yep, the narrative fallacy creeps affects our memory's circuits, too.)

Do you really remember where you were when you found out that JFK was assassinated or when you found out about 9/11?  One-hundred percent of you will, with unshakable confidence, state that you remember.  And I should go to Hell for suggesting otherwise.  Over half of you will be wrong.

Think about that the next time an eyewitness takes the stand.  And count your blessings that, as of yet, you haven't been at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We are super simple Simons.  Why do stock markets rise and fall?  Why did your wife leave you?  We have one or two sentence explanations of very complex events.  In a sense, our need to oversimplify stems from the narrative fallacy and our inability to appreciate chance.   Give us a show story that makes the world seem logical, and we're sold.

Because of that, we prudently invest in mutual funds and worry about the child molester next door rather than the one in our own homes.

We are delusional.  Two men walk past you - one black, one white.  One of them quickly pulls a gun out.  Was it the white man or black man?  You guessed it.

Even when the white man is the one pulling out the gun, a majority of white viewers will report the black man as having pulled the gun.  That's because we don't objectively perceive what we see.  We perceive things through our own biases.  We literally see what we want to see

Couple our inability to accurately perceive, and our ability to remember what we actually didn't see, and, well, you can see why so many of us are concerned with wrongful convictions.  Life is scary.

Overall, the book is excellent.  It's a breezy read, even though it deals with a complex subject.  But it's not perfect. 

The author lists six thinking errors we make.  But the book has 12 chapters that aren't organized around the six errors.  Some of the chapters jump around. 

But the book still rocks.  Get your own copy here.

UPDATE: More thoughts here.

Nude Maid Cleans House

This story seems suspicious:

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office says the maid stole more than $40,000 from a Cheval home despite not wearing any clothes.

The 50-year-old man hired the maid from the Internet on Friday to clean his suburban Tampa home.

Authorities say the woman arrived at the home in a one-piece, light colored dress. She took off the dress and cleaned the house for $100-per-hour.

Sheriff's office spokeswoman Debbie Carter says the man told deputies he left the maid alone in the bedroom to clean.

When the man's wife came home from vacation, she discovered $40,000 in jewelry missing from their bedroom.

So he paid a woman to perform naked for him, but then he didn't watch her performance?

I suspect that he got all hot and bothered, gave her a bunch of jewelry, and then came up with this story once his wife returned home. Even if that is not what happened, there is reasonable doubt all over this case.

"Journalist Bites Reality!"

The latest edition of Skeptic Magazine has an incredible article proving the author's case that "broadcast journalism is flawed in such a fundamental way that its utility as a tool for informing viewers is almost nil."

Here's a preview:

  We think we know Big Journalism’s faults by its much ballyhooed lapses — its scandals, gaffes, and breakdowns — as well as by a recent spate of insider tell-alls. When Dan Rather goes public with a sensational expose based on bogus documents; when the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrongly labels Richard Jewell the Olympic Park bomber; when Dateline resorts to rigging explosive charges to the gas tanks of "unsafe" trucks that, in Dateline’s prior tests, stubbornly refused to explode on their own; when the New York Times' Jayson Blair scoops other reporters working the same story by quoting sources who don't exist … We see these incidents as atypical, the exceptions that prove the rule.

Sadly, we’re mistaken. To argue that a decided sloppiness has crept into journalism or that the media have been “hijacked by [insert least favorite political agenda]” badly misses the real point; it suggests that all we need to do to fix things is filter out the gratuitous political spin or rig the ship to run a bit tighter. In truth, today’s system of news delivery is an enterprise whose procedures, protocols, and underlying assumptions all but guarantee that it cannot succeed at its self described mission. Broadcast journalism in particular is flawed in such a fundamental way that its utility as a tool for illuminating life, let alone interpreting it, is almost nil.

Check it out.

Biblical Interpretation and Judicial Activism

I left this as a comment at another blog.  But it's amusing, so I'll repeat it here:

People read the Bible literally when it allows them to confirm their bigotries and they ignore it when it prevents them from doing something fun.

You all do know the Bible says it's a sin to loan money for interest, right? It's also a sin to be a glutton. Gluttons are viewed as drunks.

Yet churches welcome obese bankers while either a) not allowing gays or b) saying, "We love the sinner [that's you, gays], but hate the sin [that's you, again, gays]."

What's up with that?

I could go on, listing all of the things the Bible says are sins but that people just ignore.  But I've proven my case. No need to prove it a dozen times more.

When churches start telling obese bankers to stop loaning money for interest and to stop eating so much cheesecake, we can have a serious debate about biblical interpretation. Until then, well, there's nothing to debate. "Christians" pick and choose what's a sin based on their cultural values.

In that sense, their methods are much mirror images of "judicial activists."  Reach a conclusion, and then find something in the Bible/Constitution/Ether to support it. When text compels a contrary conclusion, ignore the text.

(Except sex.  Christians - even "Christians" - all agree that sex before marriage is a sin - even though everyone wants to have sex.  So this is against their self-interest.  Of course, it doesn't stop 'em from having it.  And once you're married, all of that pre-martial sex becomes a mulligan.  "Hey, I'm married now.  So lots of sex for me.  And for all of that sex before marriage?  Well, it's forgiven, right?"  Where as the homosexual is always a sinner, because sex with someone of the same sex is always a sin.  So the gays don't get that mulligan.)

P.S.  As this is a post about a biblical theme, if you're a women, you are not allowed to comment.  Sorry, but rules are rules:  "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." (I Tim 2:11:12) (emphasis added).

Life Insurance

Who has it?  What insurance company do you use?

It occurred to me the other day that if I died, it would likely depress my wife.  Although she has a great job, what if she got so depressed that working was hard for her?  She'd have to suffer through not only my death, but also financial disaster and ruined credit.  It seems irresponsible to not have life insurance.

Any suggestions?  I sent an e-mail to MetLife asking for a quote.  But that's because it's the only insurance company I know of.

I don't need anything special - something like $100,000 - $300,000 of coverage.  Enough that my wife wouldn't have to stress about money if I died young.  She could take take leave from work to grieve and still be able to meet her financial obligations (and then some).

Please leave a comment.  Comments take a while to approve, so don't stress if your comment doesn't post immediately.

Thanks in advance.