Category Archives: Science & Skepticism

Would you mind electrocuting this person real quick? Why People Support Overtaxation.

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

In July of 1961, Yale University psychiatrist Stanley Milgram began an experiment that ended with shocking results—literally! It is now simply known as the Milgram Experiment—his most famous work.

Stanley Milgram
Stanley Milgram

Milgram was troubled with the excuses provided by Nazis in the wake of World War II for the atrocities they had committed. Obviously, they engaged in overly heinous acts toward their fellow man, so horrid in nature it makes one wonder how Hitler got his followers to do them. Yet their responses to the question of why were often the same; they were just following orders.

Milgram was skeptical that people would do something at the direction of an authority figure that they would not in good conscience do on their own. He devised an experiment whereby he would instruct participants to shock other participants they would never meet who were located behind a wall. The shocker was real but was unaware that the shockee was an actor. This actor would fain pain by screaming in agony, and the intent was to see if the shocker would continue to shock the shockee solely because an authority figure told them to, regardless of how dangerous or painful it seemed to be for the person on the other side.

The video below shows what happened. If you’ve never heard of this experiment before, check it out. It is certainly a fascinating study into the human psyche with very surprising results. His experiment showed people were willing to do horrific things to one another if an authority figure told them it was OK to do so, confirming the idea that many Nazis were indeed telling the truth about their motives.

As I think about this experiment, I can’t help but draw what I believe is a very exact parallel to modern-day tax policies.

There were potentially a number of reasons Obama and many Democrats scored victories in the last election, but there can be no doubt that class envy was one of the common motivating factors. The “tax the rich” mantra was a winning campaign strategy, but let’s think about it deeper.

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

Imagine I put a random democrat-voter currently receiving or requesting government assistance in front of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett and asked them to perform one simple task: look Bill or Warren in the eye and explain fairly and logically why you think they owe you something. I suspect most of them would be speechless and embarrassed, I know I would. But then again, I have a conscience and I am a libertarian.

Some may be brazen enough to look Gates and Buffett in the eye and argue that they’re simply too rich and have no right to all that money, but most would know there’s no rational argument to present and would simply accept that any effort to make such an argument would show that they were the ones being greedy by demanding what someone else had worked for, Bill and Warren are merely wanting to control what they’ve earned after all.

I specify “control” versus “keep” because they often donate a lot of their earnings to charities. But, when they give their money away, they choose instead of government choosing for them, who gets what they worked so hard for, and risked so much to obtain.

However, if voters can hide behind the wall of government just like Milgram’s participants hid behind a wall, and an authority figure like a politician tells them it’s OK to harm the wealthiest among us, the Milgram Experiment mentality takes over and people who wouldn’t have the gumption to demand the earnings of someone else in person all of a sudden wave the “tax the rich” banner like it’s part of their religion. If Obama says it’s OK, it must be, right?

What’s the solution? I don’t rightly know. But the first step in fixing a problem is understanding it. I don’t know that too many people have applied Milgram’s findings to politics, but there is no doubt in my mind that this an “apples to apples” comparison. The answer to how we get people to begin to grasp the concept that they are cowardly asking government to do something they would likely never have the hubris to ask for themselves is elusive, and likely always will be.

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Internet Trolls Thrive On Attention—But Please Don’t Feed The Animals

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

Political and religious discourse are often anything but respectful. One sweep of social media feeds will reveal personal attacks that would lead you to believe evolution has spawned a human sub-species known as Homo-Internet-trollius—I raise my glass to them succumbing to natural selection. Sadly, professional writers and TV analysts aren’t often much better.

Internet Troll
Internet Troll

To support my blog, I have Twitter and Facebook pages where I invite people to engage in respectful debate—emphasis on respectful. Most people do exactly that, occasionally even swaying me from my original opinion in light of new information. But far too often, the personal insults fly in like birds on a newly seeded lawn.

I choose not to engage these people, I just block them—such debate is not worth my time and aggravation. People may say that this is not very libertarian of me; but I’m not asking for legislation to prevent them from spewing their hateful rhetoric, I’m just walking away so I’m not tempted to lower myself by responding to it. Proper debate involves exchange of opinions, ideas, and facts—nothing else.

A while back, I watched a panel of people debate the idea of a creator in-depth at Chapman University after seeing a similar debate on Stossel—Dinesh D’Souza, Deepak Chopra, and Michael Shermer among the participants. They were compelling discussions largely due to the nature of the discourse. The fact that reasonable human beings could speak about something as passionate as religion; yet be respectful towards each other despite their vehement disagreement was refreshing. It inspired me to strive for more respectful dialogue in my own debates going forward.

The reason for the respectful dialogue is pretty easy to explain however when you understand one simple concept; opinions versus facts. Facts are truths, opinions are interpretations of those truths based on one’s own environment and life experiences. The people involved understood the difference, and debated accordingly. While you are not entitled to your own facts, opinions will always vary from person to person.

For instance, if we look at opinions; conservatives believe higher taxes are wrong, liberals believe that the rich can hardly be taxed enough—neither is right or wrong. While it may be true that historically, lower taxes have proven to be greater economically, to someone who is uncomfortable with freedom or whom religion trumps economics, more government can often reduce their anxiety by eliminating personal responsibility. For those people, authoritarian rule is better, and they’re willing to trade opportunity and freedom for security and forced theology. You often see this in nations who move from an authoritarian system to a democratic one. Rebels act as if they are fighting for freedom, when they’re so often just fighting over which authority they wish to be ruled by.

As political opinion talking heads bring on guests, they frequently lose sight of the idea that opinions simply have no proper answer. You can watch liberals go on rants about evil corporations only to be countered by conservatives going off on the president in a polar opposite diatribe—neither citing facts; merely opinions, but both insisting the other is wrong.

The fact that Jerry Springer, Steve Wilkos, and Maury Povich make a living doing what they do has shown that we like to be entertained just as much as we like to be informed. If we’re lucky, they may actually kill each other on the air, right? People insulting each other is far more exciting than two adults respectfully agreeing to disagree. If any of you watched the Chapman University video above and didn’t finish it, you probably got bored; proving my point.

As long as the market desires violence, the art of proper debate will be left to the scientific community, and us political consumers and voters won’t be nearly as well-educated as we should be because we’re getting debating’s version of the WWE—rich on entertainment, low on substance.

Bill O'Reilly vs Barney Frank
Bill O’Reilly vs Barney Frank

So what are some signs of improper debate?

  • If anyone refers to you as a “So-called  _______”

When someone uses the term “so-called” in describing you,  there’s no point in going further. I see Republicans call other Republicans RINO’s (Republicans In Name Only) when they disagree. I’ve had people tell me I’m no Libertarian because I don’t believe in anarchy. I’ve seen liberals attack each other because they don’t agree on gun rights or the evilness of corporations. I’ve even seen religious groups attack their own for how they vary in worship.

No one person is the sole arbiter of what is a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Christian, Muslim, etc. If you feel you most closely identify with a particular group, that’s likely how you’ll identify yourself. These aren’t private clubs you can be kicked out of, they’re names attached to a basic set of ideals. Someone referring to you as a “so-called” anything is simply displaying contempt—an ultimate form of disrespect where they feel you are inferior to them.

  • Inability to distinguish facts from opinions

If someone lays out facts that are incorrect, they should rightfully be corrected. If you really want to do it right; cite reliable sources. But when arguing opinion, anyone who tells you that you are wrong, laughs at your opinion, or cites opinion columns from someone else, are not debating respectfully.

I see people citing Paul Krugman articles to prove their point on economics, when he’s not done any science, but merely advancing an opinion. I’ve had people cite Ron Paul and Ludwig von Mises op-eds to tell me I’m wrong on my idea of libertarianism. In doing so, they haven’t proven their point, they’ve only proven someone agrees with them or that my libertarian views are different from others.

  • Citations of the same person repeatedly

Science requires that all opinions be considered, respected, and evaluated in order to come to one truth. If a person constantly quotes a particular politician, economist, TV personality, or anything else, this person is not doing anything scientific, it’s the opposite of independent thought. While I personally prefer my opinion reporting come from organizations that are “libertarian-friendly,” I’m at least aware of my bias, and honest about reporting it. I do call my page the Logical Libertarian after all.  

On my RSS reader however, I follow 85 different websites of varying opinions and genres. I make the effort to research any opinion I put forth from several sources when possible, and I will reevaluate such opinions if anyone provides me with new information. Being part of a cult-like group-think crowd is the polar opposite of independent and intelligent thought.

  • All or nothing

Anyone who has agreed with you 95% of the time, but now this 1 in 20 instance where you don’t sends them into a tirade is exhibiting serious signs of bipolar disorder. It’s the underlying root of the word bipolar where there is only a positive and negative, nothing in between. They believe that if you aren’t 100% in agreement with them, you might as well be 0% in agreement with them.

People who take this all or nothing approach aren’t interested in the truth. They want to be the leader of a cult, and expect you to be part of it. That may seem like hyperbole, but think about every cult you know of—how many allowed for varying opinions? There is nothing proper about such behavior. The scientific method relies on varying ideas. Those who view any deviation from their ideology as an insult should be avoided.

  • Anyone using logical fallacies.

Brian Dunning at skeptoid.com has done an amazing job explaining logical fallacies here and here (It was a two-parter).

Skeptoid's Brian Dunning
Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning

 These include straw man arguments, ad hominem attacks, appeals to authority, special pleading, anecdotal evidence, observational selection, appeal to ignorance, non-sequiturs, post hoc, confusion of correlation and causation, slippery slope, excluded middle, small number statistics, weasel words, fallacy of the consequent, loaded question, red herring, proof by verbosity, poisoning the well, and bandwagon fallacies.

I implore you to either read at the links provided, or listen to the attached audio podcast version for explanations. Brian has done a phenomenal job comprising them; it’s worth your time; as are all Skeptoid podcasts.

The golden rule of debating should be this: Explain your position until your opponent understands you. Let them explain their position until you understand them. If at that point you still don’t agree, the debate is over, you must respectfully agree to disagree—emphasis on respectfully. But whatever you do, remember that internet trolls thrive on attention, please do not feed the animals.

We need science, not knee-jerk reactions

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

Previously, I showed that stats don’t add up when making the case that gun owners are dangerous. Conservative estimates show that for every one person who murders with a gun in a given year, there are approximately 100,000 that own guns without incident—1:100,000 does not a  pattern make, by any standard.Armalite AR-15

I do not subscribe to the, do-something-even-if-it’s-wrong mantra. If the desired outcome is a positive result, doing the wrong thing is fundamentally illogical, and will in all likelihood make matters worse—the infamous Washington DC Gun Ban is a prime example.

When children die, it’s always tragic. Being the intelligent beings we humans are, it’s in our nature to solve problems—that’s a basic part of our evolution. A tragedy such as Sandy Hook would push anyone to action, even if that action was contrary to their own long-held beliefs.

For instance, the famous skeptic Dr Michael Shermer, someone whom I greatly admire and partially credit for shaping my way of thinking, wrote this article  in January of 2012, only to reverse course a bit in the wake of this recent tragedy; he now compassionately asks for a restriction on guns.

I respect the passion with which people have decided to come out in favor of banning so-called “Assault” rifles (a made up term), their concern is understandable. The fact that someone famous for always putting logic over passion like Dr. Shermer can change his opinion shows this issue can move anyone.blog4

But, I believe removing guns from law-abiding and sane citizens will only save one potential victim while making a potential victim out of another. It seems more of a knee-jerk reaction than a logically deduced solution.

We know how many lives were ended by guns, however we can never know the lives saved because a killer was stopped by a good Samaritan with a gun.

For instance, if the Sandy Hook shooter had been shot by a teacher immediately after killing his first victim, there would have been no way to know he would have went on to kill 25 more. As such, you should be wary of anyone who says they have data proving that guns kill more lives than they save. Such numbers are purely theoretical and often swayed by the writer’s opinion.

One common attack levied at gun control dissenters is, “Yes, let’s do nothing.” Sadly, this is a straw man argument that does nothing to further intelligent discussion. Most rational people are not proposing we do nothing, certainly not me. So making that statement towards gun control skeptics as if we advocate doing nothing, then attacking us for being do-nothing people is insulting and wrong.

So in the wake of this awful tragedy, I am proposing we use good science to improve this issue.

In order to keep this story reasonably short, I’m going to focus on spree killers such as the Sandy Hook shooter (for the record, I am purposefully not mentioning the name). If we are to get serious about reducing all violent crime, repealing “vice” laws against certain drugs, gambling, prostitution, etc., is needed. We know this because repealing prohibition worked, yet for reasons of religious ideology, we continue to ban many other victimless crimes because zealots consider them to be immoral.

One of the traits that seems very common amongst spree killers of any type, whether they use a gun, bomb, arson, or any other deadly means of attack, is that they often had a documented history of mental illness and/or psychopathic behavior.

Based on this information, I believe there is usable data that is not being fully taken advantage of. What I am proposing is that the American Psychological Association (APA) have a convention where an open invitation is sent to any psychiatrist who has treated a patient who went on to commit these heinous acts. americanpsychoass[1]

Those doctors would confer and collect data about common traits that were exhibited amongst most or all of the attackers they worked with. This data would be published in medical journals for other mental health professionals to review and provide relevant feedback. The APA would then assemble a list of traits they feel are consistent among spree killers while ruling out those traits that were consistent among killers and non-killers alike. Once we have done this, we should have a reasonable collection of warning signs that can be shared with the public so that we can be aware of what to look for amongst society.

This approach is similar to what was asked of us after 9/11 where the public was given warning signs to look out for to prevent terrorism. If a family member, friend, or acquaintance is behaving in a manner consistent with the behavioral patterns of these killers, we can be more prepared to act.

Gun owners like me for instance, might lock up our guns in a secure safe or remove them from the house altogether. We could call a local medical health facility about what we’ve seen to determine if the person in question may need evaluated. If the person has already been diagnosed and prescribed medication for their issues, we must be diligent about reporting if they go off their meds, which may result in violence.

One look at the Giffords shooter’s (Also not mentioning his name) YouTube videos was rather convincing that the man needed help. I feel that if mental health professionals worked harder at getting info to the public about what to look for and when to report it, the caring among us would do exactly that, and unlike gun bans, lives could be saved with few deadly unintended consequences.

Murder rate statistics of the United States show we are well below average among the rest of the world, so being an alarmist is hyperbole at best—we are not experiencing an epidemic, and immediate action isn’t needed. Other studies have shown that violent crime is simply in steady decline around the world. As we evolve as a species, we become more intelligent, and less violent.

But politicians use hyperbole to advance a political agenda like Gordon Ramsay uses swear words to make a point. There is no epidemic, spike in violence, or reason for panic. What is needed are clear thinking medical scientists applying the scientific method towards mental health issues, then educating the public on how best to deal with them.

As a libertarian, I cringe at the notion of government locking someone up on the premise they might be a threat before they’ve actually done anything wrong. So I believe incarceration should only be done at the behest of licensed medical professionals, and there should be appeals in place to help these people get a second opinion if they feel they are being unfairly detained.

While I’m advocating for advancements in mental health science, and using those advancements to identify threats and potentially get them out of society until they are no longer deemed a threat, it is imperative that like our prison system, we take every step to not detain someone who is of little threat to society.519x361[1]

Logical Americans must demand we use science, not knee-jerk reactions and politically motivated legislation to solve our problems. There’s a reason we have cures for thousands of diseases, rovers on Mars, and mobile phones the size of a playing card—it’s called the scientific method. Unlike politicians and hyperbole, it leads to truths and it actually works—let’s stick with it.

 

Should I Buy a Hybrid?

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

Let me start off by saying that I love the sound of a glorious V8 bellowing out its sonnet of horsepower as it kicks tire dust at the econo-boxes on the road of life. Conversely, there is nothing awesome about the silence with which a vehicle, not running on thousands of awesome explosions per second, goes about its business. If I were a spy or a serial killer, I could see the advantage of the silence an electric vehicle affords, but there is just something about the sound of suck, squeeze, bang, and blow that pulls at every emotional cord I have attached to me that a quiet whoosh will never fill.Corvette ZR1

Corvette ZR1

However, the other thing that I am passionate about is science and technology. So much so, that this whole electric vs. combustion thing has me in serious turmoil. So with that in mind, let me try to put any rhetoric aside and talk about this new-fangled technology objectively, from a scientific point of view, but at the same time, dispel some of the nonsense along the way.

I hate to do it to you, but let’s talk about physics. In order for something to move from point A to point B, Sir Isaac Newton says that a force must act upon it. The greater the mass, the greater the force required. So a Toyota Prius, if it dumped its batteries, electric motor, and all their relevant components, would lose several hundred pounds of weight, which would lead to a significant decrease in energy needed to move it. So why add the electric motor at all?

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

Well, the hybrid does something that appeals to my inner scientist, and should appeal to everyone—it uses something all other cars waste. Normally when you hit the brakes, what happens is you are turning kinetic energy from your moving car, and converting it to heat by clamping the brake caliper’s pads onto the brake rotors. That is what we will call “wasted energy” as that heat does nothing useful.

Some brilliant folks long ago came up with an ingenious idea to put generators on the drivetrain, so that when you apply the brakes, instead of pads clamping down on rotors, a generator is activated. That generator then creates added resistance making it more difficult for the wheels to roll, which slows the car down, but in doing so, it generates electricity at the same time. So the kinetic energy that was once wasted, now gets put into batteries for later use. No scientific minded person can argue with the beauty of turning waste into wattage.

Now that we’ve explained how hybrids generate electricity, who are they good for? If you drive 30 miles to work each day, and it’s mostly highway driving with little to no braking, yet you decided to buy the Prius in order to save the planet, you’ve not done your homework.

Hybrids are only beneficial for people who do most of their driving in stop and go situations where they can take advantage of the energy that regenerative braking creates. If you’re not using your brakes, you’re just carrying around a large mass for the gas engine to transport and burning more fuel doing it. You should have bought a Volkswagen diesel, or something of that nature, instead.

I won’t go into the studies that have shown that hybrids have a larger carbon footprint than a SUV because of all the extra carbon created in shipping the materials for that battery, their assembly before ownership, and disposal thereafter. For now, I’ll just discuss the merits of owning one to the user, not its impact on the planet as a whole.

Unfortunately, the best merit is that hybrid consumers are simply helping to subsidize the advancement of technology in this area. In theory, if the vehicle were purely electric, it would be a much better car. But the technology simply isn’t there to achieve this for one simple reason; batteries.

As we discussed, weight is the enemy of efficiency, yet all hybrid-electric cars have a gas engine attached either as a generator, or a 2nd drivetrain, which of course, is quite heavy also. So why not dump the gas engine? Because battery technology quite frankly is lacking.

Without the gas engine, the range in a hybrid is going to be severely less than a gas-burner, even if you didn’t turn on the radio, A/C, and lights. If you need to use such accessories and suffer from leadfootitis, you’ll be lucky to get 50 miles before you need more juice.

But the problem with the batteries isn’t just their limited range. The other problem is that batteries simply don’t recharge fast enough. The plug-in electric vehicles must generally be plugged in for approximately 12 hours to achieve a full charge.

So to recap; if you were to buy an electric car using today’s technology, without a gas motor attached, you would be able to drive around 70 miles or so, then instead of pulling into a gas station for 10 minutes and refueling, you park it, plug it in, grab dinner, go to sleep, get up, eat breakfast, and it should be just about done refueling and ready to go—another 70 miles.

However, technology and free market capitalism continue to drive technology at an amazing pace, and when battery technology catches up to the rest of the technology, we’ll have an amazing product on our hands.

Nuclear Power FacilityBeing a huge proponent of nuclear power, I believe nuclear powered electrical plants providing power to practical electric vehicles is likely the way of the future, leaving gas combustion engines for weekends and racetracks. The two can certainly coexist on this planet. But for now, I’ll keep my Corvette, and you can subsidize the electric vehicle technology as it strives to attain practicality. I don’t like being a guinea pig, and don’t like rolling up in stealth mode.

So my honest analysis. If you’re purely an in town driver, logging 20-30 miles a day, and doing plenty of braking throughout; then a hybrid or electric will be a decent car for you. Especially since Uncle Sam has seen fit to rob us in order to provide you with a juicy tax credit instead of letting free markets advance the technology at its natural rate.

But if you’re logging 100 miles a day, mostly highway driving, and need longer range; I promise you will hate yourself more than that time you woke up after a drunken bender next to a goat and an empty bottle of Jack Daniels.

Psy and a lesson in skepticism

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

Now that Psy is making news again for singing lyrics that advocate killing US soldiers many years ago, I’ve decided this might be a good lesson in proper skepticism. People are often quick to jump to conclusions about someone based on one tidbit of information, but that’s just not a good way to be. Too often you end up jumping to wrong conclusions, or leaving yourself vulnerable to attack because you ignored other important evidence. psy

For instance, if I told you there was a man long ago who was upset by the fact that cars were only available to the rich, and commissioned a car company to build affordable cars that the average person could buy, you’d think that sounds like a good person.

If you read my post called The Beetle is dead, and government killed it, you’d know that person was Adolf Hitler. So hopefully you understand the importance of gathering all of the facts before judgement is passed.

I don’t presume to know what’s in anyone’s heart, and neither should you. But one of the first things that concerned me on this is something that happens often when people judge musicians. They assume that the lyrics have meaning to the artist. When Andrew Kevin Walker wrote the movie Se7en, no one asserted he was advocating killing all sinners in brutal fashion. Why? Because it was a fictional movie. Phil Collins’ famous song “In the air tonight” is often mistakenly assumed to be written because Phil witnessed someone committing a violent act. In reality, he has repeatedly stated that it was pure fiction.In the Air Tonight

So when judging a musician based on some lyrics they wrote, first you must stop and ask was this just a work of fiction or were they truly advocating this sentiment. Based on Psy’s own statements, he was upset about American soldiers who killed two Korean nationals, and were acquitted of any wrong doing. He was highly upset, and as a result, spewed some pretty hateful things. So this was not a work of fiction, he actually meant it.

So then I think about what motivated him to say it and how would I feel if the roles were reversed. If Koreans soldiers killed two Americans and were acquitted, would I be mad? Probably. Would I say hateful things? Well, I’m a proper skeptic, so I’d do the research and not jump to conclusions, but if I were an impulsive, young, dumb, musician prone to spouting off through my music, maybe I would.

So then I ask myself; is he someone who has never really come to know America? People in other countries are often anti-American, and spread a lot of lies, hyperbole, misinformation, and half-truths about the good things we actually do around the world. Musicians sometimes live in a pro-anarchy bubble of friends who love to demonize any government as well. However, Psy spent 4 years here in America prior to writing these hateful lyrics, so he has certainly had an opportunity to come to know America, and should have known better.

So then I ask myself, does he still believe this? Well, he did issue an apology. So as not to leave out any context, here it is in its entirety:

As a proud South Korean who was educated in the United States and lived there for a very significant part of my life, I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world. The song I was featured in — from eight years ago — was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two innocent Korean civilians that was part of the overall antiwar sentiment shared by others around the world at that time… While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one’s self I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused anyone by those words.

I have been honored to perform in front of American soldiers in recent months — including an appearance on the Jay Leno show specifically for them — and I hope they and all Americans can accept my apology… While it’s important we express our opinions, I deeply regret the inflammatory and inappropriate language I used to do so. In my music I try to give people a release, a reason to smile. I have learned that though music, our universal language we can all come together as a culture of humanity and I hope that you will accept my apology.

So after reading this, do I believe his apology? As I look at it, I have a couple of problems with it. A proper apology doesn’t try to justify the behavior in any way, it just says, “I’m sorry.” But here, he does seem to make excuses for why he acted the way he did. He also says, “…how these lyrics could be interpreted.” Here are some excerpts:

Kill those fucking Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives and those who ordered them to torture.

 And

Kill [the Yankees’] daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers / Kill them all slowly and painfully.

I don’t know about you, but to me there was little ambiguity there in what he said. I do believe I read they were lyrics from a song by someone else that he was just repeating. But, I don’t see how it was open to interpretation, either way. So again, it seems like he was trying to downplay the severity of the things he said instead of just properly apologizing for them.

So then the last thing I would ask, is if his apology is motivated by anything other than remorse? Well, he is trying to sell CD’s after all. Being universally hated by the most powerful economy in the world isn’t exactly a brilliant business strategy for a musician looking to achieve international fame. So he has a motive other than regret for his apology that cannot be ignored.

So what is my skeptical analysis?

  • I’d say he probably doesn’t feel the anti-American hate he did back then these days based on his words and actions as of late, but I doubt he’s truly sorry he said those things either. He’s probably just embarrassed. I suspect he has hate for those soldiers that killed his countrymen, but understands that America is the only reason there even is a free South Korea in the first place.
  • Can a person change? Well, I used to say I was Republican who thought Libertarians were crazy, and now I’m a Libertarian. I used to be a Christian but now I’m agnostic/atheist. So yes, people can change.
  • Is it possible Psy went from being an America hater to an America lover? Of course!
  • Does he a really want to kill Americans? I doubt it.
  • Was he prone to make emotional, hateful, and idiotic statements back then? Probably.

So I would accept his apology at face value, but I wouldn’t assume him to be pro-America either. America has been pretty good to his career as of late, so that may have changed in light of his new success here.

I do know this, I listened to Gangnam Style once just to see what all of the fuss was about, and after doing so, I realize that I cannot unhear it, I’m eternally scarred, and I want my 5 minutes back. Only a monster could write something so hideous.

More guns equals more crime? If You Don’t Have The Science, Bite Your Tongue

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

 

Blog1
Bob Costas

A recent study in Virginia suggests that an increase in gun sales may result in lower crime rates, not more. How could this be? Bob Costas and others insist it’s the other way around. So who should I trust? Science or a sportscaster?

Of course I’m being facetious, and no doubt Costas means well—but Bob is severely lacking in his scientific acumen on the subject. Instead of speaking from a skeptical point of view, he decided to bloviate from the heart and off the cuff.

I don’t want to begrudge anyone’s opinion of not wanting guns around; it’s a personal choice. But what I have a problem with is people making false or ignorant claims on national TV as if they’re an authority (which he is not), proposing to take away a freedom I enjoy because they don’t enjoy it, exploiting a tragedy to push a political agenda, and quite frankly, advancing that agenda during a venue where it’s inappropriate.

Being a gun owner who loves the stress-relief target shooting can often bring, I was quite annoyed. Had I been NBC’s CEO, Bob would have been shown the door. It was irresponsible and unprofessional to say the least. I’m not calling for him to be fired, that’s for NBC to decide; but I would like to think Bob should have known better and NBC would expect and demand better from its talent.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers
Javon Belcher

So let’s start to think logically about what Bob said. He insinuated that but not for the purchase of a hand gun, that Javon Belcher and his wife would be alive today. In theory, Bob is saying that this couple was otherwise happy and harbored no ill will towards each other. But then Belcher bought a gun, and for reasons solely motivated by Belcher owning that gun, he committed murder, then suicide.

Does that seem as ridiculous to you as it does to me? I hope so, because it is. What evidence does Costas have to demonstrate that if Belcher didn’t have a gun, he would not have used a knife? What would have prevented him from bludgeoning her to death with any other random household item?

They had marital issues coupled with what appears to be mental issues with Belcher. He had spent the evening with another woman the night before, after all, yet seemed to have a problem with his wife going out to a concert without him. Then of course he settled the argument by murdering her, then himself. Perfectly stable minds don’t do that. So let’s lay the blame where it belongs, a decline in someone’s state of mind.

The fact is Bob Costas had an opportunity to offer condolences to a grieving family, which to some extent he did. But then he ruined that moment by advancing an agenda and exploiting a tragedy.

Let me give you an example that might explain why this is so irksome. Imagine a wife losing a husband to heart failure. Let’s assume that he wasn’t exactly a health and fitness nut, but instead he just enjoyed life the best he knew how, ate what he wanted, did what he wanted, and lived with the consequences. Then imagine someone coming up to his wife and said, “I’m very sorry for your loss. But you know, if your husband had eaten better and exercised more, he’d still be alive.”

I’d be furious, and I’m sure any one of  you would be equally upset as well. That’s in essence what Bob did. When a tragedy occurs, you just offer condolences, not advice, and you definitely don’t proselytize.

But back to guns. blog3I own guns for two reasons. While I do not hunt, I do love target shooting. But more importantly, if someone enters my house with ill intent, I’m not calling 911 to help me, I’m calling 911 to come pick up the body. Maybe they were there just to steal my TV, but I’m not interested in risking my life by blowing my cover and asking their intent—they’re simply going down.  That’s why we have things like the Castle Doctrine and Stand-Your-Ground legislation. If we are to be a free nation, we can never be expected to cede our life, liberty, and property to anyone who wishes to take it unlawfully.

If we are serious about reducing crime, we need to discuss the reduction of laws that incite violent crime. Here’s a hint: every law that the vice squad enforces is part and parcel for most violent crime. Get rid of those laws, and much like the repeal of prohibition, violent crime goes down. It should come as no surprise that people get violent when you take away their freedom.

blog4
Dr. Michael Shermer

Believe it or not however, as Dr. Michael Shermer suggests, studies show that as mankind evolves, violence continues to decrease all around the world anyway. So while the news leads you to believe things are getting worse, studies show they just aren’t. I believe that this decrease in violence is proportionate to the continued downfalls around the world of tyrannies, theocracies, and any other form of government that doesn’t have freedom at its core.

Let me ask you a theoretical question. You are feeling kind of frisky and you decide you want to pick a fight with someone, so you pick any random guy standing around. Now imagine that guy had a holster with a gun in it, are you feeling just as frisky now? Assuming you’re not suicidal, I imagine not. Therefore, we know that guns often thwart violence, because people rarely mess with someone carrying one—even if they carry one themselves. It’s just the theory of mutually assured destruction on a smaller scale.

The fact is, we will never have all the facts because there are no studies to show all of the crimes that didn’t happen because a would-be-attacker got spooked by the would-be-victim being armed.

Our forefathers were immensely thoughtful when writing the Constitution and there is nothing there by accident. The right to bear arms was very important to them because while “We the people” hire police to protect us, that doesn’t mean that we assign them the authority to be the only ones who can protect us. Our own protection starts with us.US Constitution

So forgive me Mr. Costas, but if you’re not going to think your statements through, do the scientific study, or at least research other science; you might want to learn to bite your tongue before you voice support for infringing upon our Constitutional rights. A majority of us don’t appreciate it.

Middle East vs America: Why They Fight Where We Coexist

Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)
Gary Nolan (and THE Scrappy Doo)

As I continue to read about fighting factions, suicide bombers, and other coordinated violence in the Middle East, I couldn’t help but notice that here in the melting pot, we have different religions, races, sexual orientations, political parties, and any other separating qualifier one might think of, yet we don’t habitually have these problems.

The KKK and Black Panthers have not blown each other up. The Westboro Baptists haven’t open fired on a gay club. To my knowledge, a physical altercation hasn’t even broke out in Congress. There’s little doubt that many of these people are vehemently opposed to one another, yet they somehow find a way to coexist and get on with their lives instead of declaring jihad and strapping a bottle rocket to their petoot in a crowded square.

Black Panthers
Black Panthers

I am fascinated with human behavior and love analyzing people’s actions, and I think there are obvious reasons for the difference.

Our Constitution is a unique governing document in that it derives its power from the people. Most others grant power to the people. This philosophy has been taught in every American history class since America has had history.

There are instinctual behaviors, such as eating, procreating, avoiding pain; these do not need to be taught. I believe freedom is instinctual too. While many countries try to quash that instinct, in America, the instinct that we are free, with “inalienable rights” has been reinforced in all of us, and, for that reason, we expect a non-tyrannical lifestyle. If someone tries to deny you your instincts, you fight back. We know if you try to take your own life while holding your breath, the instinct of self-preservation won’t even let you harm yourself. Your instincts literally fight off your conscious decisions. So it’s little wonder why the oppressed are always fighting with each other.

If we don’t like our leaders, we just “vote the bums out.” Revolutions are not necessary. We tried it once and learned our lesson. As much as many of us don’t care for Obama, I doubt any sane detractor has considered throwing Molotov cocktails at the White House or taking up arms against our military. Tyranny is something our leaders dip their toes into on occasion but know well and good not to take a few laps around the pool. Such behavior has never been tolerated here.

Molotov Cocktail Thrower
Molotov Cocktail Thrower

People in the Middle East however, generally have no concept of what it is like to be free. As a result of this constant beating into submission, they eventually have to strike back with force or nothing changes.

When people are free, it is common sense to understand that such freedoms extend to all of us, including overtly ignorant and hateful people such as the Westboro Baptists, KKK, Black Panthers, Neo-Nazis, etc. While I think these organizations are deplorable, if I meet one, I generally just give them that “You really are an idiot” look and move on. Unconcealing my carry conceal has never entered my mind. We both just walk away realizing the other “will never understand.”

Science and skepticism play a huge role in our understanding culture as well. While America is largely religious, even those who are devout in their faith still often embrace science. For instance, many believers place their trust in doctors using proven science when they or their children are ill. The idea that maybe God has simply bestowed scientific understanding upon them allows science and religion to peacefully coexist for most of the faithful masses.

Skepticism is important too. If someone came up to you and told you that God wants you to kill your neighbor, most people would likely call 911 and ask them to send the white-coated tailors who always make the sleeves too long.

Straightjacket
Straightjacket

Religion may be important, but in America, we put a premium on human life, and since the Salem witch trials, we rarely kill in the name of any God. But in the Middle East, many are taught that killing for their God is honorable and justified; and they buy into it wholeheartedly.

The fact is that constitutionally-provided freedoms have gone well beyond just their written words. These paradigms allow us to have freedom of the mind, scientific research, and as mentioned earlier, the choice to be a moron. No one among us wants to be a hypocrite, and most of us know that if I allow you to be a Christian, you must allow me to be an atheist.

Freedom of the mind allows one to think whatever they want, no matter how stupid it is. A good example is the 9/11 truthers. Several college science programs, a myriad of science publications, and the majority of the science community, even many who REALLY detested President Bush, have come out and said that this conspiracy is the work of small minds with big imaginations; they’ve done the research to prove it. While those of us with intelligence know better, the fact is, sometimes you have to let an idiot alone with their beliefs, and Americans are largely OK with that. In the Middle East, you’d be executed for making such accusations about your government, but in America, you get an interview with Rosie O’Donnell.

Click Here for a great article about 9/11 conspiracy skepticism

Freedom of scientific research, while not in the Constitution, is still a product of our overall paradigm, and it’s the main reason human life expectancy has nearly doubled in just a few centuries. Radical faiths often prohibit scientific research because it brings the concept of their god into question. But now it’s a conversation intelligent minds on both sides of the fence discuss daily without incident. While some believers complain about specific research, it is more often settled at the voting booth than at the end of the sword.

So why do we get along when they don’t? Short answer—Freedom…that’s why.