Political parties beware: the 2016 presidential election could stimulate American fact-checking and critical thinking – or not. Why? Could It be, we are awake and paying attention? Could it be, we just want to be “right?” Could it be, “We’re as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this anymore.”?
In 2016, American information media reflect our mindsets.
- We have boundless channels of 24/7 content battling for “eyes,” and “market share.”
- We are so numb, it takes lurid, “mind bites” of “shocking facts” to get our attention.
- Our jaded, fickle brains are addicted to “breaking news and “editorial reporting.”
Then comes the election. How do we decide? The battle lines are drawn. The news media have abandoned objective balance in the fray.
It is natural for people with strong political bias to seek news sources that support their current views, and to ignore, avoid, or distain sources that reflect contrary, or impartial thinking.
Lord knows, we have enough choices (e.g. newspapers, magazines, radio, television, internet, social media). Which do we choose: “bread and circuses,” or brains? Do we swallow our favorite- flavored propaganda, or chew on the tough, tasteless truth?
Seven questions we can ask about what we call “news:”
- Which sources provide complete, unbiased information and analysis?
- Which sources provide incomplete, biased information and editorials?
- Can we discern where information stops and persuasion starts?
- Did we get all the information we need to understand?
- Do we know enough to understand the context and importance of the information?
- Do we have enough sources to verify or complete the information?
- Do we care?
Few of the major news organizations remain credibly neutral or balanced. Here are 10 news sources accepted as trustworthy by people across the political spectrum.
- The Wall Street Journal
- The Economist
- Google News
- The Guardian
- Associated Press
- USA Today
Here is an informative graphic from showing the political positions of the various major news outlets.
Good thinking everyone.
Are you being respectful or disrespectful? Other people, including authorities, are very sensitive to signs of possible danger. A disrespectful person puts anyone on edge, especially the police. A respectful attitude goes a long way to put everyone at ease, especially the police.
Older generations consistently trained their children how to show respect, be polite, be considerate, and follow the unspoken rules of being civil; they also led by example to demonstrate the good results a person can get by being mannerly and pleasant. Much of the training was interrupting disrespectful behavior. (e.g. Stop strangling your sister!)
Today, I see less respect and consideration everywhere I go. Traffic is the most common example; people just leave their shopping carts in the middle of the aisle; people text while eating dinner; people take their children with them shopping but do not control their actions or screaming.
There is little social cost for these egocentric practices; but there can be serious, even deadly consequences for being disrespectful and belligerent with the police. I believe that developing “manners” is valuable, and possibly life-saving.
Here is a table of behaviors that communicate respect and disrespect.
How do you appear to others? What practices could you and your family adopt to convey more respect, and improve safety in police encounters?
|Raise Your Voice|
|7||Ask Peaceful, Clarifying Questions||
|8||Answer Questions & Requests Clearly||
|9||Positive Facial Expression||
Angry Facial Expression
|10||Stand /Sit Still||
|11||Peaceful Hand & Body Gestures||
Wild, Angry Gestures
|12||“Sir,” “Ma’am,” “Officer”||
Expletives & Epithets
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:
- Wherever possible,there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
- Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- If there’s a chain of argument,every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.
- Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the dataequally well to choose the simpler.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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?)
- 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)
- 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.”)
- 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);
- 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);
- 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;
- 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)
- 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)
- 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”)
- 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?);
- 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);
- 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)
- 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)
- 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?)
- 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.”
Every time we think we have learned all the tricks politicians can use to magically “fix” problems with more government, we fall for another trick, or the same trick wearing a disguise.
If you pay good money to gain admission to a magic show, you purposely pay for illusions; you insist on being amazed by apparent suspension of the laws of nature; you yearn for certain universal truths to be suspended. But then, you leave the tent, make your way home, and find that physics and gravity persist. Listen to the pitch:
“Well step right up folks, a little closer there, sir, make room for the lovely lady behind you. The show is about to begin. You will be amazed at the wonders you will witness just inside this door. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, inside this tent, and this tent only, can you see the future manifest right before your eyes.”
“Are you mad about your lower-paying jobs, over-the-top costs of education, or the hard-to-notice economic recovery? Are increasingly unaffordable health insurance premiums getting you down, while your out-of-pocket medical costs are skyrocketing? Then this is the show for you. Relax, come on in; see and enjoy the amazing magical solutions to these and many other problems; witness and wonder at the incredible, the one, the only Mystical Mogov Mandate.”
“And how much will it cost to witness these miracles? A hundred dollars? A thousand dollars? No, tonight, because you have taken your valuable time to be here, this event is 100% free. That’s right, not even one penny will leave your pocket. In fact, many of our patrons report that they actually leave our tent and are shocked to find more money in their pockets, just for accepting our ticket.”
“This year we have completely revamped every amazing feat of magic. You will be astounded at how different the same act can look if you just believe it will work this time.”
“I know some of you may have attended our shows in years past. But that was so long ago, it does not matter. After all, we need to live in the here and now, and not dwell on ancient memories.”
“Oh, and to ensure your safety, we do ask you to please leave your guns at the door. After the show, it will be clear that you don’t need them anyway.”
I get uncomfortable when politicians insist we need to “hold the course” that has not worked, while they fix the problems caused by the “course” we held.
It is clearer and clearer to me why Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have risen to smite the “Pharisees” of both political sects: Americans are exhausted by a river of blatant lies.
We are fed up with smiles that promise relief, but portend more pain. We cheered and voted for “you can keep your doctor” now we are sobbing at no choice of doctors, higher premium and out of pocket costs, and insurance companies denying treatment for much needed treatments.
We are livid at fairy tales that we can borrow a king’s ransom to redeem our children from poverty through college; then we find them still living in our basement, working part-time, no future jobs. We are incensed at proclamations of higher employment when our diets grow meager, and our prospects grow dimmer.
The old guard’s patrician grasp for power may well be their undoing. Their elite pretense of empathy may lead the plebeians to throw off the chains of their indentures. The power mongers’ smugness, avarice, and sense of entitlement can breach the comity of our unique American social contract. America’s promises to promote equity of opportunity, and its commitment to liberty have been a bold experiment. Our failure to honor these promises could show the rest of the world that there is no foundation of truth beneath our declaration of “unalienable rights” and “pursuit of happiness.”
Most Americans take safety for granted. We walk around unaware of our surroundings; we even text while driving. Once in a while, the real world shouts a painful “wake up!” We pay attention for a while; then we drift back into a kind of entertained stupor, absorbed in virtual attractions. Even intense vigilance and gun laws would not have saved the patrons of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando from the insane security officer who attacked them. I cannot say what family, community, religious, or mental health resources might have identified, diverted, and redirected Omar Mateen’s mindset to health and tolerance.
News of unpredictable, random madness creates justifiable hysteria, especially if it is threatening to people like you. Since the massacre, many LGBT people are buying guns, and seeking concealed hand gun licenses. This is a completely understandable reflection of the community’s generalized fear of attack by “misogaynists,” and religious extremists; naturally, they feel the pressing need for self-defense against such deadly assault. Many have joined millions of Americans who have chosen to be armed citizens. I support their decisions and encourage them to seek professional training, and practice diligently until they can respond to danger effectively. Just owning a gun will not protect you. (See my recent blogs for more ideas.)
Alcohol, sex, and early hours are a dangerous combination under any circumstances; add lethal weapons and really bad things happen.
Licensed gun owners are prohibited from carrying weapons into bars and clubs that get 51% or more of their revenue from alcohol. Usually signs are posted with a watermark “51%” and tiny text to explain the prohibitions. Also, in Texas, the police have zero tolerance for drinking alcohol while carrying a weapon.
In other words, the club in Orlando was off limits to legal guns, and most or all of the patrons were disqualified to carry after they left the club. So,licenses, weapons, and expertise with guns would not have thwarted the tragedy in Orlando.
I want to give Shannon Thrasher, The Tactical List Contributor credit for these ideas. https://www.policeone.com/police-products/firearms/training/articles/7391346-10-common-mistakes-in-self-defense-firearms-training/
A gun owner can be ignorant, inexperienced, misguided, or naïve & still pass the requirements for a concealed carry license. Another scary thought. Mistakes & misunderstanding interfere with responsible carrying of guns.
The last thing we want is a bumbling gun owner in a deadly, public encounter. Those who choose to carry a gun should avoid the most common training errors that professional instructors point out.
Not Pre-Qualifying Instructors
You do not want to master any bad habits, or make serious mistakes about firearms. Find competent, knowledgeable instructors. Check instructor’s references. Talk with people who have taken the class you’re thinking of attending. Training others is a separate, special skill beyond owning guns or being a police officer.
High Student-Teacher Ratio
Individual training & coaching is ideal but expensive. Taking group courses is the most cost effective path. They can be valuable if there are enough assistants to provide a safe, effective learning environment. If there are 20 or 30 students in the class should have 5 or 6 assistant instructors or range safety officers present.
Soldiers & police train for specific deadly environments. Being an armed citizen is different. Civilians need tactical training for the types of situations they might encounter in an otherwise safe, peaceful life; they need to know exactly what constitutes a threat that warrants lethal force, & how to responsibly employ that force when needed. This is not marksmanship training; it is situational combat training.
Wrong Gun or Caliber
Determining the right gun requires assessment of factors including body size, hand size, experience, & most importantly, your intentions. Expert advisors will go through all the variables & arrive at a range of choices to try out before you choose.
Save money & learn safely, without the distraction of extremely loud noises & recoil you experience at the range. “Dry-Firing,” uses dummy bullets with no potential harm to let you practice your techniques at home. Live firing is aversive because of the unconscious anticipation of an explosion about to happen in your hand. Strictly range shooting can cause you to develop flinches, jerks, & eye clinches that diminish accuracy. Dry-firing lets you learn how to hold & fire a gun correctly & smoothly without the trauma. It also saves numerous outings that could cost $20 – 40 of ammunition plus range fees, each time. Most expert instructors recommend 85% dry-fire & only 15% live fire.
Stuck with Narrow Training
One class with one instructor may leave you with just a few things to practice. It is good to put those things in “muscle memory” with rigorous practice. But what about the other things you do not know that you need to know to progress as a gun-carrying citizen? Do not get stuck in the first grade. Shop around for other qualified trainers who can teach you something new.
Target Shooting vs. Lethal Force Encounter
Shooting at stationary targets at the range cannot prepare you for adrenaline charged situations where the threat will be trying to hurt or kill you; you may never get the chance to learn & practice your response, if you’re not prepared beforehand. Continue learning & practice the skills you would need in the real world, like running away, moving laterally, taking cover, concealment, drawing fully clothed, multiple targets, reloading, tactical shooting, weak-hand shooting, & using life-like targets.
No Force-on-Force Training
You should never see anything in a gunfight you have never seen before. “Force-on-force” training is kind of like paintball fighting, using non-lethal Airsoft guns & gear. This way you can experience shooting at bad guys who shoot back. Force-on-force training will teach you to move, take cover, deal with different distances; it will also show you how important it is to avoid being shot & what to do if you do get shot.
Carrying only a Gun & a Holster
Think for a minute what else you would need in a gunfight:
- At least one spare magazine.
- A cell phone to call the police & your lawyer.
- At least one less lethal weapon such a knife, pepper spray, or a TASER. You probably would not use them in a life-threatening situation, but prosecutors might claim you needlessly shot the criminal who attacked you because you had no other options.
- A good flashlight will help with positive target identification. Most shootings occur in low light.
Not Carrying Your Weapon as Much as Allowed
Unless you are psychic, you cannot predict when you will face criminal violence. Once you are properly trained, wearing your gun should be “normal.” You chose to be armed for self-defense of yourself, your family, & anyone who is threatened with deadly injuries. You do not want to find yourself in an “oops,” situation without your weapon.
Proper training & rigorous practice is a must for gun owners.