The “Other” Domestic Violence – False Accusations “Kill” the Accused

As bad as domestic violence can be, false accusations are ruinous, and non-recourse punishment by our injustice system.

The law did not address domestic violence seriously, until recent decades.  Then state legislatures passed current domestic abuse laws in fits of passion without thinking of potential abuse by false accusation.  Now, vengeful women use these laws as weapons in child custody, and divorce cases, as well as for just plain spite.  There is no defense.

The police are required to come and arrest the accused and take him to jail, even if the accuser recants on the spot.  Then, the D.A. charges the accused, even if the accuser continues to recant, (the mean women pile on other wild accusations and get restraining orders.).

Meanwhile, the meter is running on legal bills, and in custody situations, the father cannot see his kids.

If he is found not guilty, he is still out thousands of dollars, may have lost his job, and his reputation.  On top of that, he has zero chance of filing charges against the accuser; they will not prosecute for fear that such charges”might discourage real victims from coming forth.”

My son-in-law is going through this right now.  The accuser claimed he bent her finger, hurt her ribs, and hit her.  She had no signs of damage, did not go to a doctor, and waited 10 days, until he was in back surgery, to call the police.  He was arrested, charged, and subject to a 90-day restraining order, which kept him from seeing his 18-month-old son.  His employer suspended him pending the trial (next February).  Legal fees are over $5,000 so far.

Then, she added more far-fetched accusations:  he tore her clothes off, chased her around the apartment, pulled out and administered a rape kit to test if she had cheated on him, then produced a polygraph machine and tested her for lying.  (She never mentioned the baby at all.)  Since then, she has thought up even more charges; and the D.A. just keeps on adding one ridiculous item after another.  Oh, did I mention she is crazy?

He is not alone, by a long shot.  Look online for stories of false accusation.  Sure, most of the time the charges have substance.  But in this case, I am sure this woman used these accusations to punish him and keep him from his son.

The only way to change this travesty, is to encourage/threaten your elected officials.  If there is clearly no obvious harm to the woman, AND she recants, and admits she did it out of spite/anger, the allegation should be investigated, not ruining the man’s life.

The accused should be treated as innocent until proven otherwise.  Until balance and due process are restored, men can always be guilty until proven innocent, and even then they lose.

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The March? -Fog of Vague Purposes

Remember “Occupy Wall Street?” More currently, “Black Lives Matter?”  And the latest example, “Women’s March?”  They have this much in common:

  • Loose Organization
  • Diverse Membership
  • Aggregate Complaints
  • Unfocused Intentions
  • Non-Specific Proposals
  • Outdoor Meetings
  • Catchy Names

“Occupy Wall Street” was pretty much just news items about their encampment.  “Black Lives Matter” fails to note that Federal statistics show that 80-90% of murdered “black lives that matter” are victims of black killers.  Half of all murder victims, nationally, are black; blacks are less than 15% of the population.  Where is that protest and call to action?

In the context of this protest, do they mean “Black, Mexican, Muslim, LGBTQ, Women’s Lives Matter?”  Or do they mean “Black, Young, Men’s Lives Matter,” but this just happens to be a women’s march?  Just what do they mean?

It seems that the “Women’s March” was all about disappointment, fear, and frustration transformed into pink anger.  Disappointment that Hillary did not win, fear that women’s rights will be undermined, and frustration that women do not receive equal pay.

Trump became the effigy to blame for everything.

Misogyny:  How many participants, do you think, could cite specific instances when President Trump recently disrespected women who were not attacking him?  Where is the acknowledgement of the nonchalant treatment of wives and women by iconic presidents such as JFK, and Bill Clinton?

If the marchers are promoting equality for women, his business organizations reflect great respect for women by hiring them, promoting them into management and paying them well; sounds like equality to me.  Why not ask women who work for the Trump organization how they feel about their misogynist boss?

Immigration:  First, Trump got trapped in the “Newspeak” of the way we use “immigrant.”  Many foreign nationals, from many countries, apply for visas, “green cards,” and citizenship every year.  Those who gain permanent residence or citizenship can rightly be called immigrants.  A great number of Americans are immigrants or children of immigrants.

The proponents of unlimited immigration and aligned journalists fought to not use the legal term “alien.”  They insisted on substituting “______-immigrant” until it became commonplace.  The problem is that non-hyphenated, legal immigrants heard these “_______-immigrants” being criticized and threatened, and felt included in that group; they took personally the anger, fear, and distain.

By verbally lumping the “_______-immigrants” together with immigrant citizens, they built support for their open-borders philosophy.  If we had stuck with “aliens,” and “foreign nationals,” the citizens would not have felt combined with them.

Exactly, what did he say about Mexicans?  Not just the clips, the whole statements. He said that among the illegal migrants were, drug smugglers, human traffickers, fugitive criminals, including murders, and rapists.  Is that true?  Yes.  Trump’s opponents extracted this description and implied that he meant ALL Mexicans fit these profiles.

Muslims:  Trump wants to limit and vet prospective refugees entering the US from Islamist countries tied to terrorism.  He wants Muslim communities to help identify and thwart jihadist terrorists.

Women who live in Muslim countries might not be sympathetic with the complaints of the marchers; certainly, they would or could not march on their capitals protesting.  Why not ask Muslim-American women what they would face if they went home to Arabia and Africa?  What would you face going there as a Christian?  Count your blessings that you live here in America.

There are no government proposals or actions right now that threaten women; he just took office Friday.  All the rhetoric is about what could happen; what rights they fear might be lost; what affronts they fear they may face.  Fear is a factor, but not fact

The one thing that stands out to me is concern about reversing Roe v. Wade.  I understand opposition to abortion challenges.  I support safe, informed, reasoned choice for every woman.  So, focus on defending that right or you risk people writing you off as generally disappointed with the election results, and righteously irritated at the challenges of being a woman.

The last point is this:  What do you propose, aside from replacing Donald Trump?  Many commentators have shrugged their shoulders about the purposes of the march because the marchers are not clear about what they are championing.  It was a shame that all the time, money, effort, and commitment it took to get people on the streets ended in a fog of vague purposes.

This Blog Is Fake News

Not really, but language is our primary way to communicate.  “This statement is false,” is a classic example of recursive writing.  Sometimes I enjoy annoying, contradictory statements; these conundrums are good exercise for our understanding of language, our value judgements and our unchallenged intellectual sides.  Fake news is fiction dressed up in the trappings of fact.  Those who are fooled operate on faulty assumptions.  Snopes may not be enough to save us.

How important is what we believe?  We make choices every day based on information from others. For long stretches of our history, Americans expected, and demanded professional journalism; we challenged the news with research of our own; we relied on professional information gatherers and presenters; we cherished objectivity.  Walter Cronkite is the example that comes to mind.  He and his news team did not editorialize; they presented the facts they could verify plainly; even when the news was painful, such as the Kennedy assassination, he held his emotions in check, almost.

As the era of journalism fades in our collective awareness, we stumble into an epoch of opinion; the 24-hour news age Ted Turner invented is voracious; anything to fill the hours.  The demand grew for titillating, shocking, insidious, intentional, or just stupid, public lying; I guess there was not enough honest scandal, hyperbole, deception, libel, and defamation.

Now we find completely fabricated articles, meant to harm specific people or raise undue alarm among us. Free speech, or libel?  First Amendment rights, or vicious cowardice?  It seems we are reaping what we have sown.   We have become victims of our society’s lax attitude towards rigor and honor.  We have grown lazy and unwilling to check the things presented to us.

Frankly, I am glad.  Not for the bad things that follow such propaganda, but for the possible reawakening of doubt, curiosity, and inquiry.  Of all the innovations of the 20th century, the internet connection of millions of individuals is the most important, because it reveals and magnifies our human nature and limits. Our naivete allowed us to be fooled by sources we trusted. At last, we know we must check the sources and validity of our vast ocean of daily information.

Humans are suspicious by nature; evolution has left this trait engraved in our genes.  But we can be lulled into gullibility, and we have been.  The opinions of writers and editors may vary all along the spectrum of belief; perspectives may open many windows of human experience; but some grounded facts must be present to sort and distort.  Fake news is just written lies and gossip without honest attribution.

Whining the Election – Trumpled Aspirations

Over the 52 years and 13 presidential elections I have been eligible to vote, I have never seen such sore losers, and humble winners.

I am disappointed with the disparate responses to the results of the 2016 presidential election.  Smug expectations from pollsters and pundits seem to have set a trap for Hillary’s disciples, and set a stage for impetuous, righteous indignation.  Rejection, disputation, refutation, spoilsport language, protests, and denial among disgruntled Clinton supporters is “over-the-top,” and “unpresidented.”  “He is not my president,” spake Gloria Steinem, Wednesday morning.  (Ironically, in the past, she also said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”) 

Why have Mrs. Clinton’s avid proponents gone off the rails into the deep waters of denial and despair?

I believe the presumption that Hillary Clinton had a commanding lead over Donald Trump was their downfall.  Belief in optimistic statistics led to haughty attitudes and supercilious sneers on the faces of Hillary’s fans.  The extreme vanity of the oracles’ predictions led to nasty, braggadocios, arrogance.  When pride met gravity, the indignity of the pratfall magnified the embarrassment of hubris. The expectations of overwhelming victory were shredded, by the unexpected appearance at the polls of hordes of angry, underserved workers.  The ambush of the uncounted, disenfranchised citizens prevailed.

The carefully crafted deception of optimistic unemployment statistics did not fool the people who took discounted wages and lesser jobs over the last eight years.  These voters had no voice among Democrats who applauded the “champion of hope” for his rescue of the economy, and restoration of the American Dream.  They were not deceived by or grateful for their thinly disguised demotions and the smiling, dismissive, carefully worded denigrations spun by an accommodating media on behalf of the Obama administration.

The scales did not fall from their eyes, because no scales formed as they lost their jobs, houses, cars, and pride.  The Affordable Care Act did not replace the healthcare insurance they lost when their employer dropped their health coverage; when they lost their jobs, their hopes were dashed by the failure of the “marketplace” to make personal health insurance and their out-of-pocket costs affordable.  Instead, they found themselves ravaged by astronomical premiums, deductibles, copays, and incredible prescription prices.  Hospitals and pharmacies raised their nominal, private pay prices to offset the discounts demanded by insurance providers.  The uninsured were left with impossible choices.

Promise after promise lay fallow by the roadside.  Example after example of the USA borrowing trillions of dollars to pay for the rest of the world’s problems and defense festered, while Americans suffered from the Great Recession.  Pact after pact, treaty after treaty left us at disadvantage.  Military efforts left us looking weak, as we shrank from conflicts under cover of spin.  Former allies spat disparaging invectives on our leaders.

Did Hillary’s followers believe she could pull us out of the ditch of weakness and doubt created these past eight years?  Did her apostles think her baggage and prevarications would evaporate by inauguration?  No wonder they were blindsided when Trump won.

Ignorance is Blitz – Hillary Slams Donald

Let’s see now, a former US senator who knows how Congress passes tax laws, shouts unnecessarily (microphones notwithstanding), counting on the ignorance of her audience.

“Duplicitous” is the apt description of this fiery rhetoric she delivers, as if Trump has done something wrong, sinister, diabolic, & deplorable with his taxes, when she knows better.  But she knows it just works; why not stir up angry emotions?

The billion-dollar loss on Trump’s 1995 tax return is a real loss of money, & perfectly legal.  Using past business losses to offset future profits is a given & it makes perfect sense.  This law has been in effect, with periodic modifications, since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

Every tax law must come from Congress & be signed by the president.  Every one of Donald Trump’s tax returns has been scrupulously audited & accepted by the IRS.  Anything they may have found that does not comply with the law, they adjusted to conform.  Nothing was allowed that was not legal; no law was broken.

Few people know the complexity of the tax laws congress passed.  But, most people know that they can deduct mortgage interest, medical expenses, and certain  other personal expenses.  No one I know forgoes those deductions, or refuses to accept tax credits.  I believe it is pernicious, irresponsible & wildly ignorant to brand approved behavior as evil & elitist

Business Losses

Businesses are not always profitable, (i.e. Sales – Costs = Profit/Loss).  Even if some years are bad, others must be good; otherwise the business fails.  The government allows business to look at their profits & losses over several years.  For example:

Joe & Mary Remodeling Co experiences a loss in 2008 during the financial & real estate crash.

2008Income was $ 150,000 and employees, suppliers, equipment, outgo was $250,000, a loss of $100,000. This included the business share of payroll taxes, (employers match the Social Security & Medicare taxes withheld from paychecks). Joe & Mary had to borrow $100,000 to keep their doors open.  They also had to borrow money for living expenses that year.

  • The $100,000 loss is “carried forward.”
  • Joe & Mary owe $100,000 +.

Things get worse in 2009; they cut expenses to $100,000, but income was only $75,000, a loss of $25,000, which they borrow.  They also borrow enough for personal living expense.

  • The $25,000 loss is added to the previous year’s $100,000 and $125,000 is “carried forward.”
  • Joe & Mary owe $125,000++

Things brighten in 2010; income is $125,000 with expenses of $75,000, a profit of $50,000.

The tax law allows them to use $50,000 of the “carried forward” losses from 2008 ($100,000) and 2009 ($25,000) to offset the 2010 profit.

  • $50,000 is subtracted for the $125,000 loss “carried forward.”
  • The remaining $75,000 of their losses is “carried forward.”

You can read the IRS instructions & explanations here:  https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p536.pdf

Bankruptcy & Unpaid Debts

Joe & Mary still owe the money they borrowed ($125,000 plus living expenses)

If Joe & Mary could not repay the debts, &  claimed bankruptcy, the amount of debt not paid is deducted from the amount of loss they could “carry forward.”  https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc431.html

Donald Trump’ s Billion-Dollar Loss in 1995

The amount of loss in the real estate business can include deductions for both cash expenses & “depreciation” of the buildings.  The tax law has strict rules on how much a person can “depreciate” all kinds of business assets.  If depreciation is part of the loss, & the building is later sold or repossessed, the depreciation is “recaptured,” which means added back into income & subtracted from the loss “carried forward.”

All in all, without more information, no one can tell what happened to that billion-dollar loss.  If Trump’s properties went into bankruptcy, those losses could have been cancelled by the rules for “recapture,” and debt reduction.

You can bet that the IRS audits every tax return Donald Trump files.  Someone should audit Hillary Clinton’s knowledge of tax law, & ethical portrayal.

 

Hillary’s “Health Issues” Might Have Been Better Managed

At the time of Hillary Clinton’s departure from the 9/11 ceremony, the temperature in Manhattan was 79 degrees with 54% humidity, & wind 6-8mph.  The Government Heat Index for those conditions is 80 degrees.  90 minutes would not cause dehydration, though it might aggravate existing dehydration.

Mrs. Clinton’s complaints of overheating, and the subsequent difficulties with walking could be from a combination of medicines and dehydration.

Mr. Clinton takes medicine such as Synthroid for hypothyroidism, takes Coumadin as a blood thinner, is under great emotional stress, and has pneumonia.  She may also be dehydrated.

According to Barbara S Lougheed, author of Tired Thyroid book and website, “When someone is VERY hypothyroid, noradrenaline will kick in to compensate for the lack of thyroid hormone, which makes the person feel hot and sweaty with an elevated heart rate.“ Medicine to treat hypothyroidism such as Synthroid may have similar symptoms.

Sources of feeling overheated are discussed at http://www.healthline.com/health/menopause/hot-flash-causes#Overview1

They include:

  • Side effects of Coumadin, which Hillary takes to combat deep vein thrombosis
  • Side effects of Synthroid or similar drugs, which Hillary takes for hypothyroidism
  • Alcohol, which can also aggravate dehydration
  • Emotional Stress
  • Infections, such as flu or pneumonia

Dehydration symptoms include:

So the question is, why is Hillary suffering from these symptoms and side effects while under constant care of her physician?  The testing and regulation of Hillary’s drugs and dosages, as well as the monitoring of her hydration is her doctor’s responsibility.  The treatment of infections, including pneumonia is also her responsibility.  Vaccinations are available for the most common causes of pneumonia, including the flu; has Mrs. Clinton had those vaccinations?  There are news reports of several campaign staffers going to the emergency room for illnesses like pneumonia or flu last week.  http://www.people.com/article/hillary-clinton-staff-sick-pneumonia

I guess what I am getting at is, could these problems have been avoided by proper medical attention?  The management of the disclosures is a separate matter.

Warnings in the News

Warnings in the News

The Great Recession has lasted so long that people do not remember inflation.  But, three recent statements, one from the meeting of the world’s central bankers, and two from the G20 Summit in China, ring the alarm bells warning us that inflation is on the way:

August 28, 2016 – JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. (Reuters) – Central bankers in charge of the vast bulk of the world’s economy delved deep into the weeds of money markets and interest rates over a three-day conference here, and emerged with a common plea to their colleagues in the rest of government: please help.

 In a lunch address by Princeton University economist Christopher Sims, policymakers were told that it may take a massive program, large enough even to shock taxpayers into a different, inflationary view of the future.

“Fiscal expansion can replace ineffective monetary policy at the zero lower bound,” Sims said. “It requires deficits aimed at, and conditioned on, generating inflation. The deficits must be seen as financed by future inflation, not future taxes or spending cuts.”

Translation:  We are going to spend our way to prosperity with inflation.

 September 4, 2016: U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed that both countries would “refrain from competitive devaluations and not target exchange rates for competitive purposes. at the G20 Summit held at the Hangzhou International Expo Center.

Translation:  We are going to lower the value of our currencies through inflation.

September 6, 2016: Leaders of the Group of 20 economies meeting at the Hangzhou International Expo Center pledged to use spending to improve infrastructure and the global economy.

Translation:  We are going to spend our way to prosperity with inflation.

In plain language, global economies are weak and weakening.  Governments can no longer stimulate their economies with lower interest rates, because they at or near zero.  They cannot afford to raise interest rates for fear of pushing us back into recession.  What can they do?

Inflation.  They are going to make money out of thin air and spend it to mollify their people.  At the same time, we will wiggle out of our mounting debts & Social Security obligations because inflation will let us pay in cheaper and cheaper dollars.

How will they do that?  Borrow money from themselves and spend it under the guise of “rebuilding infrastructure,” “investing in our future,” and “making America great again.”  So what if prices go up a year from now, and the year after that, etc.

Tax Reform will be like Robin Hood; tax the rich, give to the poor; “equality” and redistribution.  But it will not tax enough, or cut spending enough to balance the budget, or reduce the national debt.

Globally, it will be about which countries can inflate their currency faster to gain trade advantages, and reduce any debts they have from other nations.

Domestic inflation example:  You earn $100,000 per year and a house costs $250,000.  You borrow $200,000 to buy the house, and pay 25% of your income ($25,000) per year for your mortgage.

Suppose inflation doubles prices and wages.  Your salary might have to increase to $200,000 just to buy the same amount of food, gasoline, clothes etc. because prices have doubled.  You would be no better off in lifestyle, but your $250,000 house would be valued at $500,000.

However, your mortgage would still be $200,000.  You used to pay 25% of your $100,000 salary to cover the mortgage ($25,000 per year).  Now, $25,000 is only 12.5% of your $200,000 salary.  Inflation has cut your debt in half, as a percentage of your income.  And just look at the $300,000 of equity you have in your house!

Inflation would also lighten the government’s $1 trillion annual deficit s and $19 trillion national debt load and allow government to continue to borrow even more.

Think it cannot happen?  When I came to Texas in 1977, house prices were going up so fast that people were “flipping” homes like pancakes.  Of course, mortgage interest rates were double digit, and CD’s rates were too.  And federal debt jumped 17% that year.

Just look at the inflation we have experienced in the past.

The chart below shows 100 years of history.  The Consumer Price index (CPI-U) for January 1913 was 9.8.  The CPI-U for September 2013 was 234.149.  This means that something that cost $9.80 in January of 1913 would cost $234.15 today!

http://inflationdata.com/Inflation/Inflation/Cumulative_Inflation_by_Decade.asp

The average annual inflation rate in the 1940’s was 4.86% in the 1970’s it was 6.5% and the 1980’s was 13.5%. Each of those decades were especially hard economically for people trying to make ends meet while prices increased and wages didn’t keep up.

Perspective on Inflation

Inflation Unemployment Average Income Average House Multiple of Income 4yr College Multiple of Income
1960 1.4% 5.50% 5,200 16,500 3.17 8,000 1.5
1970 6.5% 3.50% 7,700 23,400 3.04 16,000 2.08
1980 13.5% 6.00% 16,700 64,600 3.87 30,000 1.80
1990 5.4% 5.60% 28,700 122,900 4.28 38,000 1.32
2000 3.4% 4.00% 41,500 169,000 4.07 47,000 1.13
2010 1.6% 9.60% 48,700 221,800 4.55 69,000 1.42
2015 0.5% 5.30% 53,700 296,200 5.52 78,000 1.45

 

This time, it looks like inflation could really hurt most people because wage increases and inflation adjustments for fixed income Social Security retirees probably will not keep up with rising prices.  That will make buying a home even more difficult, in that prices are already a bigger multiple of income than they have ever been.

Populists Remodel, Instead of Making New Parties

“Americans are not only strongly dissatisfied with the state of the economy and the direction in which the country is headed, but with government efforts to improve them. As the Pew Research Center’s analysis of exit poll data (2010) concluded, “the outcome of this year’s election represented a repudiation of the political status quo…. Fully 74% said they were either angry or dissatisfied with the federal government, and 73% disapproved of the job Congress is doing.”

http://www.pewresearch.org/2010/12/14/how-a-different-america-responded-to-the-great-depression/

Like the two poles of a magnet, anger and dissatisfaction manifested in favor of a clearly popular Bernie Sanders movement on the left, and more clearly in the ascendancy of Donald Trump on the right.

The Democrats

Bernie Sanders attracted a large plurality of younger citizens to socialist ideas for solving perceived failures of government.  The Obama administration did nothing to ameliorate the impact of staggering loan burdens on college students; the Affordable Care Act not only failed to manage healthcare needs, it aggravated the problems of access and affordability.

Super delegates, and the strident support of the DNC establishment saved Hillary Clinton’s primary candidacy from an embarrassing drubbing by the populists.  Nonetheless, the Democrats had to shift their platform to the left to avoid losing the new voters Bernie Sanders attracted.  The party apparatchiks felt their grip on power slipping, and quickly adjusted to retain control.  Witness the remodeled Democratic Party

The Republicans

The Republican powers-that-be were not so lucky; by denying, resisting and eschewing, they lost control of the party to a populist candidate beyond their influence.  Donald Trump, by design or blind luck, tapped into the anger and frustration of a tsunami of new and dormant voters on the right. Instead of building a new third party, ala Ross Perot, Trump remodeled the Republican Party.  This massive wave of constituents was so strong that sixteen traditional candidates succumbed to mild taunting and criticism in televised debates, and strong turnouts in the primaries.

The barrage of criticism from both parties, the withdrawal of political support by RNC powerhouses, and the withholding of financial support by big-time contributors could not stop a political neophyte from becoming the Republican candidate on a tiny fraction of the money spent against him.  The Republican Party has been transformed into a conservative, populist majority; sour grapes, snubs, and disownment remain ineffective on the new dynamics of the party.

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore,” is our new national creed.

Tools from Carl Sagan’s BS Detection Kit

We are in an age of hyper-information/persuasion/spin about all aspects of our lives, from what we eat, to what we buy, to what we attend, to whom we choose as leaders.  Now, as always, we can benefit from screening the inputs to our lives, and weighing our beliefs on a scale of clarity, and verity.  Carl Sagan gave us some sage tools to evaluate and detect fallacies of arguments, and false claims.  After the quote, I will try to translate, without bias, his precise language, and references, into reasonably understandable terms.

A. Evaluate Ideas to Approach the Truth:

  1. Wherever possible,there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
  2. Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  3. Arguments from authority carry little weight — “authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science, there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
  4. Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
  5. Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
  6. Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
  7. If there’s a chain of argument,every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
  8. Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the dataequally well to choose the simpler.
  9. Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle — an electron, say — in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.
  1. Avoid Common Pitfalls of Common Sense

Just as important as learning these helpful tools, however, is unlearning and avoiding the most common pitfalls of common sense. Reminding us of where society is most vulnerable to those, Sagan writes:

In addition to teaching us what to do when evaluating a claim to knowledge, any good baloney detection kit must also teach us what not to do. It helps us recognize the most common and perilous fallacies of logic and rhetoric. Many good examples can be found in religion and politics, because their practitioners are so often obliged to justify two contradictory propositions.

He admonishes against the twenty most common and perilous ones — many rooted in our chronic discomfort with ambiguity — with examples of each in action:

  1. ad hominem— Latin for “to the man,” attacking the arguer and not the argument (e.g., The Reverend Dr. Smith is a known Biblical fundamentalist, so her objections to evolution need not be taken seriously)
  2. argument from authority(e.g., President Richard Nixon should be re-elected because he has a secret plan to end the war in Southeast Asia — but because it was secret, there was no way for the electorate to evaluate it on its merits; the argument amounted to trusting him because he was President: a mistake, as it turned out)
  3. argument from adverse consequences(e.g., A God meting out punishment and reward must exist, because if He didn’t, society would be much more lawless and dangerous — perhaps even ungovernable. Or: The defendant in a widely publicized murder trial must be found guilty; otherwise, it will be an encouragement for other men to murder their wives)
  4. appeal to ignorance— the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore, UFOs exist — and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we’re still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
  5. special pleading, often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble(e.g.,How can a merciful God condemn future generations to torment because, against orders, one woman induced one man to eat an apple? Special plead: you don’t understand the subtle Doctrine of Free Will. Or: How can there be an equally godlike Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the same Person? Special plead: You don’t understand the Divine Mystery of the Trinity. Or: How could God permit the followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — each in their own way enjoined to heroic measures of loving kindness and compassion — to have perpetrated so much cruelty for so long? Special plead: You don’t understand Free Will again. And anyway, God moves in mysterious ways.)
  6. begging the question, also called assuming the answer (e.g., We must institute the death penalty to discourage violent crime. But does the violent crime rate in fact fall when the death penalty is imposed? Or: The stock market fell yesterday because of a technical adjustment and profit-taking by investors — but is there any independent evidence for the causal role of “adjustment” and profit-taking; have we learned anything at all from this purported explanation?)
  7. observational selection, also calledthe enumeration of favorable circumstances, or as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it, counting the hits and forgetting the misses (e.g., A state boasts of the Presidents it has produced, but is silent on its serial killers)
  8. statistics of small numbers— a close relative of observational selection(e.g., “They say 1 out of every 5 people is Chinese. How is this possible? I know hundreds of people, and none of them is Chinese. Yours truly.” Or: “I’ve thrown three sevens in a row. Tonight I can’t lose.”)
  9. misunderstanding of the nature of statistics(e.g., President Dwight Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence);
  10. inconsistency(e.g., Prudently plan for the worst of which a potential military adversary is capable, but thriftily ignore scientific projections on environmental dangers because they’re not “proved.” Or: Attribute the declining life expectancy in the former Soviet Union to the failures of communism many years ago, but never attribute the high infant mortality rate in the United States (now highest of the major industrial nations) to the failures of capitalism. Or: Consider it reasonable for the Universe to continue to exist forever into the future, but judge absurd the possibility that it has infinite duration into the past);
  11. non sequitur— Latin for “It doesn’t follow” (e.g., Our nation will prevail because God is great. But nearly every nation pretends this to be true; the German formulation was “Gott mit uns”). Often those falling into the non sequitur fallacy have simply failed to recognize alternative possibilities;
  12. post hoc, ergo propter hoc— Latin for “It happened after, so it was caused by” (e.g., Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila: “I know of … a 26-year-old who looks 60 because she takes [contraceptive] pills.” Or: Before women got the vote, there were no nuclear weapons)
  13. meaningless question(e.g., What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? But if there is such a thing as an irresistible force there can be no immovable objects, and vice versa)
  14. excluded middle, or false dichotomy — considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities (e.g., “Sure, take his side; my husband’s perfect; I’m always wrong.” Or: “Either you love your country or you hate it.” Or: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”)
  15. short-term vs. long-term— a subset of the excluded middle, but so important I’ve pulled it out for special attention (e.g., We can’t afford programs to feed malnourished children and educate pre-school kids. We need to urgently deal with crime on the streets.  Or: Why explore space or pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?);
  16. slippery slope, related to excluded middle (e.g.,If we allow abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, it will be impossible to prevent the killing of a full-term infant. Or, conversely: If the state prohibits abortion even in the ninth month, it will soon be telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception);
  17. confusion of correlation and causation(e.g., A survey shows that more college graduates are homosexual than those with lesser education; therefore, education makes people gay. Or: Andean earthquakes are correlated with closest approaches of the planet Uranus; therefore — despite the absence of any such correlation for the nearer, more massive planet Jupiter — the latter causes the former)
  18. straw man— caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack (e.g., Scientists suppose that living things simply fell together by chance — a formulation that willfully ignores the central Darwinian insight, that Nature ratchets up by saving what works and discarding what doesn’t. Or — this is also a short-term/long-term fallacy — environmentalists care more for snail darters and spotted owls than they do for people)
  19. suppressed evidence, or half-truths (e.g., An amazingly accurate and widely quoted “prophecy” of the assassination attempt on President Reagan is shown on television; but — an important detail — was it recorded before or after the event? Or:  These government abuses demand revolution, even if you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Yes, but is this likely to be a revolution in which far more people are killed than under the previous regime? What does the experience of other revolutions suggest? Are all revolutions against oppressive regimes desirable and in the interests of the people?)
  20. weasel words(e.g., The separation of powers of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct a war without a declaration by Congress. On the other hand, Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars, which are potentially powerful tools for getting themselves re-elected. Presidents of either political party may therefore be tempted to arrange wars while waving the flag and calling the wars something else — “police actions,” “armed incursions,” “protective reaction strikes,” “pacification,” “safeguarding American interests,” and a wide variety of “operations,” such as “Operation Just Cause.” Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of reinventions of language for political purposes. Talleyrand said, “An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public”)

Like all tools, the baloney detection kit can be misused, applied out of context, or even employed as a rote alternative to thinking. But applied judiciously, it can make all the difference in the world — not least in evaluating our own arguments before we present them to others.”