Now I just have to wait...

June 30th, 2008

In short order, I fulfilled my two-concerts-a-year quota: Ditty Bops

and

My Bloody Valentine

It was the second that caused some amount of internal debate. On the one hand...well, it's My Bloody Valentine, isn't it? That's a pretty strong argument. On the other, I don't know the venue, the images and maps that I've seen of it don't inspire a lot of hope (big, long, flat room? Meh.), and the ticket wasn't exactly cheap. But, even if I won't be able to hear for the next day or so, it's one of those concerts that I'd regret not going to.

(Yes, I know, those are painfully silly shots, but I was taking the opportunity to see how well the camera's macro mode worked with the flash, and what sort of depth of field effects I could generate.)

Compare and contrast

June 19th, 2008

One:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2003 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed as "utter nonsense" the notion that the United States is after Iraqi oil.
...
In his Al Jazeera interview, Rumsfeld directly addressed a number of misperceptions spreading on Arab streets. He told the interviewer the United States has no intention to act as a colonial power in the Middle East.

"We don't take our forces and go around the world and try to take other people's real estate or other people's resources, their oil. That's just not what the United States does," he said. "We never have, and we never will. That's not how democracies behave."

Two (alternate link):

Deals With Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
Published: June 19, 2008

BAGHDAD — Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.

Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India.

Our new galaxy

June 19th, 2008

Our galaxy has lost two of its arms. At least, it has according to the latest map of the Milky Way.

And although we're not way, way out on the edge of the galaxy, we're not in one of the arms. Of which there are only two, apparently. No, we're off in a "minor arm," in an island of stars between the two big, galaxy-defining, and highly impressive-looking arms. (Well, ok, we're assuming that they look impressive, but we won't really know until something from Andromeda visits with pictures).

I don't like to think of it as a "minor arm," though, or as a "spur." No, I'm going to think of it as the galactic suburbs: Away from the densely-packed urban areas of the galactic core and the sprawl of the major arms. Secluded and peaceful. Oh, sure, "Orion Spur" doesn't have quite the marketability of a name like "Vineyard Hills" or "Oak Tree Estates," but trust me: This is place where the beings packed around the Core stars like sardines wish they could move to.

I'm not sure what this means for our future interstellar empire, though. Once humanity conquers the Orion Spur (sometime in the 4800s is my guess), then what? Sure, we're a bit closer to the Sagittarius Arm, but it's a minor arm. Probably good to start with, but eventually, we'll need to tackle the Big Boys.

Do we move outwards, and start with the Perseus Arm because it's closer to us? Or do we go for the bigger leap, right for the Scutum-Centaurus Arm, and then towards the Core?

Sure, maybe this slightly premature, but we're talking about conquering an entire galaxy here. You don't do that sort of thing without spending some time coming up with a plan.

Book reviews

June 12th, 2008

One problem with being an avid collector of books, but not a particularly fast reader, is that more and more often I'm finding that my interest in a book declines noticeably between the time I purchase the book and when I actually find time to read it. And if I buy another book (or books) in the meantime, I'm more likely to read those books than the ones that have been waiting patiently on the shelves.

Full story »

Let's learn about fallacies

June 8th, 2008

The Senate recently released a report that concluded that President Bush "exaggerat[ed] available intelligence" in order to lead us into war. I know: It only took them five years to spot the obvious.

Predictably, the Republicans involved launched into the usual attacks:

In a detailed minority report, four of those Republicans accused Democrats of hypocrisy and of cherry picking, namely by refusing to include misleading public statements by top Democrats like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Rockefeller.

Let me quote from Informal Logic (second edition):

Whenever the person to whom an argument is directed...finds fault with the arguer and concludes that the argument is defective, he or she commits the ad hominem fallacy (also known as the "genetic fallacy," for it attacks the source or genesis of the opposing position rather than the position itself).

When you make a fallacious argument, you are, essentially, ceding the point: Instead of attacking the argument, you're saying that the person making the argument (the arguer) is in no position to point fingers, and should just shut the hell up.

There are different versions of ad hominem fallacies. The Republicans leaping to Bush's defense are arguing:

  1. The Democrats said the same things.
  2. This makes them no better than Bush.
  3. Plus, they're playing politics.

The first part is a charge of hypocrisy: "You can't argue that attacking Iraq was wrong, because you were for it, too!" From Informal Logic:

If I respond by claiming that [the arguer] is hypocritical, even if the charge is true, I have done nothing to undermine [their] argument. The fact is, even hypocrites can make true statements and good arguments.

Just so.

Number two is an example of the tu quoque version of the ad hominem fallacy. Again, from Informal Logic (all of the following quotes are from that book):

The implication is not that the arguer is bad, but that the arguer is worse (or no better) than the person to whom the argument is addressed.

One could argue (ha ha) that the Republicans are relying on tu quoque more than hypocrisy, but I think that both are being used. The implication of hypocrisy is very strong, and they're blatantly claiming that at least some Democrats made similar statements, and, of course, voted to give Bush authorization to attack Iraq. Again, though, this is a fallacy because it's an attack on the people making the argument, and they're making no attempt to refute the argument itself.

Still failing to address the argument that Bush "exaggerated," the accusation that the Democrats are "playing politics" is a version of ad hominem known as poisoning the well:

...instead of challenging the truth of what is asserted or the validity of what is argued, the respondent accuses the arguer of being improperly motivated...

"The Democrats are doing this because of base politics!" Now, of course this is silly for many reasons. Obviously, they are politicians, and their job (which they've only recently started to remember) is to advance the interests of their own political party and constituents. The Republicans argument that you can never point out that the president made mistakes (or, you know, lied) is...well, it's the height of hypocrisy, isn't it?

This fallacy also occurs when people are charged with being so prejudiced that their alleged reasons are mere rationalizations of conclusions dictated by self-interest.

I think we can figure out what the Democrats' self-interest might be. But, again: Even if the Democrats wrote this report (and deviously conned two Republicans into agreeing with them) with the intention of helping win the election in November (by making the Republicans look bad...well, worse than they already do, anyway), it doesn't make the report's conclusions any less valid.

Of course, this raises a question: If the arguments are fallacious, then why use them? Because no matter how wrong the arguments might be, they're effective:

It is customary in the study of logic to reserve the term "fallacy" for arguments that are psychologically persuasive, although incorrect.

The Republicans aren't arguing that President Bush didn't lie, either because they don't think that they can make a convincing counter-argument, or because they realize that attacking the people making the argument is every bit as effective at convincing their audience. The Republicans might not be able to counter, or disprove, the argument that Bush lied, but if they can turn people against the Democrats (and Republicans) making the argument, that will shift public opinion against the argument itself.

To the Republicans supporting Bush, winning the argument is not as important as making it seem like the other side isn't winning the argument. This is a basic rule followed by anyone "playing politics."