Sunday, July 31, 2016

Feelings vs Facts

Last week John Oliver did a hilarious take-down of speakers at the Republican Convention who expressed their "feelings" that things were awful in the country. If you haven't seen it, go there now, then come back.

I bring it up because of the segment with Newt Gingrich:

Gingrich says, "The current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics which theoretically may be right, but it's not where human beings are."

And despite our laughter and disdain, Gingrich is probably right.

The reason this is so is explained by cognitive scientist George Lakoff in his book, Don't Think of an Elephant! : Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, who speaks of "a set of myths believed by liberals and progressives:"
These myths come from a good source, but they end up hurting [progressives] badly.

The myths began with the Enlightenment, and the first one goes like this:

... If we just tell people the facts, since people are basically rational beings, they'll all reach the right conclusions.

But we know from cognitive science that people do not think like that. People think in frames. The strict father [conservative] and nurturant parent [progressive] frames each force a certain logic. To be accepted, the truth must fit people's frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off. Why?

Neuroscience tells us that each of the concepts we have – the long term concepts that structure how we think – is instantiated in the synapses of our brains. Concepts are not things that can be changed just by telling us a fact. We may be presented with facts, but for us to make sense of them, they have to fit what is already in the synapses of the brain. Otherwise facts go in and then they go right back out. They are not heard, or they are not accepted as facts, or they mystify us. Why would anyone have said that? Then we label the fact as irrational, crazy, or stupid. That's what happens when progressives "just confront conservatives with the facts." It has little or no effect, unless the conservatives have a frame that makes sense of the facts.

Similarly, a lot of progressives hear conservatives talk and do not understand them because they do not have the conservatives' frames. They assume that conservatives are stupid.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trump's Success Explained in Two Sentences

I spotted this as a "Noted" comment at the bottom of page 16 in the July 15 This Week magazine. It seemed so ridiculous I couldn't believe it, so I went looking for verification elsewhere. I found it at Bloomberg:
Of the 11.6 million jobs added since the rebound took hold in 2010,  about 99 percent — or 11.5 million jobs — were filled by people with either at least some college education, a bachelor's degree or better, according to a study by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. Only 80,000 spots went to workers with a high school diploma or less ....

That's amazing, and I'm still having trouble believing the numbers, if not the direction the statistics are pointing.

Although we saw plenty of articles claim that the median income of Trump supporters was as high as any of his primary opponents, that did not tell the whole story.

According to Politico in March:
[V]oters without a college education are Trump’s core base of support. More non-college-educated voters than ones with college degrees have supported Trump in every single primary and caucus so far, according to exit polls. In those states, voters without degrees were over 11 percentage points more likely to support Trump, on average.
Our failure to create a balanced economy – one in which there are employment opportunities for everyone – is the cause of this threat to the Republic named Trump. We've got work to do.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Republican Convention Odds and Ends

  • Am I the only one that thought Trump resembled Mussolini in the way he strutted, gestured, and preened during his speech? I went looking for some videos to capture what I mean, and discovered that it's been a YouTube subject for some time now, though I think they should all be updated after last night's performance.
  • I know it's not nice to say something mean about a 9-year-old kid, but I was fascinated with watching the face of Donald's son, Baron, as he regarded the great unwashed below his feet.

Baron's on the left
The picture above just captures the typical 9-year-old bored-with-it-all expression.
  • Continuing with my theme of making inappropriate attacks on candidates' children (although she's 21, at least), did you hear that Mike Pence's daughter, Charlotte, is suspected of being a vampire? You laugh? Then you explain why her reflection does not appear in this photo, shared by Governor Pence himself!

Maybe Trump was warning us about a Zombie Apocalypse!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


The British, though, did exactly that.

The issue of whether to allow Syrian refugees into the United States has been a political hot button for months now. In light of which it was interesting to read this, from American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 1933-1945, by Richard Breitman and Alan M. Kraut (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987). Describing the sentiments of some American officials in late 1940 (when the German borders had already been closed, and any Jew [with few exceptions] who hadn't gotten out was not going to get out):
Even George Messersmith (now the ambassador to Cuba), often praised by Jewish spokesmen for his fairness and sympathy toward Jewish refugees when he was consul general in Berlin, took seriously reports of Jewish loyalty to Germany and treated them as cues to recommend tighter restrictions. From his new post in Havana he cited rumors that some Jewish refugees allegedly celebrated the fall of Paris to the German army. The stories included a naval attaché's report that he had heard Ursula Einstein, the scientist's grandniece, herself a refugee in Port-au-Prince, express similar sentiments. Messersmith hoped that Congress would pass legislation permitting consular officials to assess whether the admission of each applicant to the U.S. would be "in the public interest." For national security reasons, Messersmith argued, "our government can no longer delay giving very specific instructions to consular officials with respect to the degree to which they must go into the character and opinions of aliens desiring immigration visas and visas for a temporary stay in the United States."

Several moths later William C. Bullitt, former ambassador to France, further fueled concern by telling a Philadelphia audience that "more than one half the spies captured doing actual military work against the French army were refugees from Germany." Though Bullitt's contention was unconfirmed and contradicted by others, it added to the general apprehension that had already reached as far as the White House.

The president did not hesitate to state publicly that he was haunted by the specter of a fifth column whose members included some of the refugees.
It's deja vu all over again.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Art of the Grifter

Via Andrew Tobias comes this link to a 2016 New Yorker article about Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal. In Trump's campaign announcement speech, the one after his famous ride down the escalator in Trump Tower, he said, “We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.’ ”

Excerpt from The Art of the Deal

"If that was so, Schwartz thought, then he, not Trump, should be running."

Howard Kaminsky, the head Random House when the company published the book, confirmed, "Trump didn't write a post card for us."

Yet Trump insisted in a recent phone call, "I wrote the book. I wrote the book. It was my book. And it was a No. 1 best-seller, and one of the best-selling business books of all time. Some say it was the best-selling business book ever.”

And I think he believes all that.

This may shed a little light on Melania Trump's speech at the Republican Convention last night.

A longer extract from the Esquire article:
... Schwartz believes that Trump’s short attention span has left him with “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance.” He said, “That’s why he so prefers TV as his first news source—information comes in easily digestible sound bites.” He added, “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.” During the eighteen months that he observed Trump, Schwartz said, he never saw a book on Trump’s desk, or elsewhere in his office, or in his apartment.
Other journalists have noticed Trump’s apparent lack of interest in reading. In May, Megyn Kelly, of Fox News, asked him to name his favorite book, other than the Bible or “The Art of the Deal.” Trump picked the 1929 novel “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Evidently suspecting that many years had elapsed since he’d read it, Kelly asked Trump to talk about the most recent book he’d read. “I read passages, I read areas, I’ll read chapters—I don’t have the time,” Trump said. As The New Republic noted recently, this attitude is not shared by most U.S. Presidents, including Barack Obama, a habitual consumer of current books, and George W. Bush, who reportedly engaged in a fiercely competitive book-reading contest with his political adviser Karl Rove.
Trump’s first wife, Ivana, famously claimed that Trump kept a copy of Adolf Hitler’s collected speeches, “My New Order,” in a cabinet beside his bed. In 1990, Trump’s friend Marty Davis, who was then an executive at Paramount, added credence to this story, telling Marie Brenner, of Vanity Fair, that he had given Trump the book. “I thought he would find it interesting,” Davis told her. When Brenner asked Trump about it, however, he mistakenly identified the volume as a different work by Hitler: “Mein Kampf.” Apparently, he had not so much as read the title. “If I had these speeches, and I am not saying that I do, I would never read them,” Trump told Brenner.
The article is by Jane Mayer, author of the excellent book, Dark Money,  the best recounting I have seen of how a couple of dozen billionaires have corrupted American politics.

Monday, July 18, 2016

This Isn't Funny Anymore

Charles P. Pierce writes in Esquire:
CLEVELAND, OHIO—A while back, we here at the shebeen decided that Donald J. Trump's act was no longer funny. That he no longer was a goofy guy with three wives and a ferret on his head, a freak candidate who devoured an incredible passel of unpopular lightweights on his way to a freak nomination. That he was more than just a vessel for the barely camouflaged rage and fear of an aging white American majority terrified of so many barbarians at so many gates. But not until Wednesday did we realize the true magnitude of the threat that this reckless clown poses to American democracy. Not until Wednesday did we hear clearly the echoes of shiny black boots on German cobblestones.
On Wednesday, in several venues, He, Trump accused "some people"—he never said who they were, nor will he, ever—of calling for a moment of silence for Micah Johnson, the mass murderer of police in Dallas, Texas. We have had some experience with this. Back when he was still considered something of a sideshow attraction, He, Trump said that he's "seen" Muslim-Americans in New Jersey celebrating as the World Trade Center towers burned on September 11, 2001. He never said who they were, nor will he, ever. But at least there was a level of detail to the lie. There is in fact a state called New Jersey. There are in fact Muslim-Americans living there. And the attacks of 9/11 did in fact happen.
Emboldened because this and other whopping untruths did not immediately sink his campaign, He, Trump now has taken his truthless palaver to another level entirely. This is what he said on the stump in Indiana on Wednesday, when he was taking auditions for the men who care so little for their country that they are desperate to be on a ticket with a serial arsonist.
"The other night you had 11 cities potentially in a blow-up stage. Marches all over the United States—and tough marches. Anger. Hatred. Hatred! Started by a maniac! And some people ask for a moment of silence for him. For the killer!"
To be blunt, this didn't happen.
There is no evidence from any news source that this happened. By anyone. Anywhere. Nobody can find anyone who "called for a moment of silence" for the mass killer of policemen. Nobody has counted "11 cities" that are potentially on the verge of a racial holy war. RaHoWa, cry the white-supremacists. And now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has joined the chorus. That's where his rhetoric has led him, and far too many people have followed along.
Yeah, but it was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who "crossed the line." Jesus, these people.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

The Best the Tea Party Has to Offer

Joe Walsh is a one-term, former Congressman from Illinois. He's now a talk radio blatherer on one of those stations for right wing deep thinkers.

Here's his comment on the shooting in Dallas:

Impressive, no?

In today's Chicago Tribune he clarifies, "Of course I didn't mean, 'Let's go kill Obama and Black Lives Matter.' I was not trying to incite violence against Obama and Black Lives Matter. That's crazy and stupid and wrong."

Sure am glad he clarified that. I might have gotten the wrong idea.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Two Unrelated Notes

The Battle of the Somme

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. On the first day of the 5-month battle, the British incurred 60,000 casualties. An example of "attrition warfare," when the battle was over, combined casualties exceeded 1 million men, and the battle line had advanced 6 or 7 miles.

The French and British generals should have been court martialed for their incompetence, but it was considered unpatriotic to point that out.

My Amazon Profile has Changed

I am working on a book about Emily's mother's escape from Nazi Germany at the age of 10. In the course of my research, I came across the name of a man who was Hitler's "idea man" when it came to anti-Semitic conspiracies and theories. I made one Amazon search to see if his opus magnus (said with a sneer) is available at a reasonable price.

Since then, Amazon has been offering to sell all sorts of anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying books to me, "based on your interest" in Holocaust denial. But, hey – it's just an algorithm, right?