Saturday, June 30, 2007

Inference to the best explanation

To this day, less than 50% of Americans believe we cause global warming. This is quite a strong indicator of the efficacy of judiciously spent corporate lobby money.

I remember a spoof on "Dr. Kildare" in Mad Magazine, decades ago, that taught me more about persuasion than all my years of schooling. Roughly, the older, mentoring doctor says to the young one: "Have a cigarette." "No, thanks, I don't smoke," replies the intern. "Never say that!" thunders his elder. "Our show is paid for by cigarette companies. One scene with an actor in a white lab coat, smoking, nullifies a hundred studies showing that smoking will kill you."

Use of bogus argument -- "Buy this kind of car and you will get girls because there is a girl standing by this car and she is smiling" is common in mercantile/political discourse. It relies upon an appearance of reason by substituting a proximity -- a thing seen with another thing -- for a leg of a three legged deductive argument.

We ought to be able to recognize such arguments and reject them out of hand, but it's difficult to do; they appeal to our lizard brains and it takes a lot of coffee, and some will power, to fend them off with our prefrontal lobes.

Anyone can accidentally introduce fallacy into argumentation -- I do it quite frequently. But when you follow the money, you find more and more instances of it being done deliberately, by corporate spokespeople, think tank seminarians, Administration mouthpieces, and assorted "mainstream" journalists.

[Ironic understatement warning]. In other words, where there is oil to be sold there are lies to be told.

Free speech? Certainly. But it is an abuse of the commons, which is the thing most liberals are talking about when they complain about "conservative" strategy. I submit that the strategies in question are not conservative at all, nor represent the views or intent of true conservatives, who respect reason, freedom, and equality in ways that would put a good many liberals to shame.

Wouldn't it be lovely if everyone on the left abandoned whining and everyone on the right abandoned bullying and we all came together to preserve the commons through civil discourse?

Beginning with a respect for replicable science done well?


Here is a comprehensive "How We Know Global Warming is Anthropogenic" slideshow (opens in Acrobat Reader) which can be used as the basis of an unusually intelligent discussion of the issue:

Explains, with great clarity, the meaning of scientific consensus and gives us a hint of what's at stake when the noise of bogus argumentation is used to "refute" good, clean, ordinary science.

Consensus-building in science, says Oreskes, is done by noting a convergence among findings arrived at through:

1. Methodological standards, or the use of procedures known to have produced reliable conclusions.
2. Evidential standards, or the consideration of kinds of evidence known to work well with established methods.
3. Performance standards, or the consideration of the meaning of "reliable."
4. Inference to the best explanation, or the awareness that the proposal of frivolous explanations is not to be regarded as equivalent to the proposal of testable hypotheses. Occam's razor, really: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. In other words, if you pull an ice core out of Greenland's (disappearing) ice cap with 150,000 annual strata in it, you may find conversation with people who regard the Earth as 7,000 years old -- well -- frustrating, especially when they want to write your laws.
5. Community standards, or the appeal to consensus as to best practice in 1. through 4. above.

Found at: Only In It for the Gold.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

How to Go Green: Back To Basics

Haven't done this before, but I'm interested in learning how to share what I regard as important news and information through this blog, and I'm experimenting with a feature in Digg that does this. I highly recommend the Treehugger Green Guides, so here ya go!

risa b

The future is green, and you just found it. These days you probably feel flooded by dire-sounding environmental news ("the Earth is set to deflate by 2011") and endless suggestions for greener living ("algae cold-fusion reactors for your shoes"). But fret not. We're here to help sort things out and get your eco show on the road. Here, we bring it back to basics and break it down into bite sized chunks of simple, everyday ways to live a greener, healthier, more ethical (and ultimately more fun) life. So read on. And remember, if you have a friend, relative, or colleague who needs a little help on the green front, send the...

read more | digg story

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Family values

Daughter and Beloved setting out a picnic
prepared by Daughter and her Young Man

I had dreaded coming out to our neighbors, as they are serious country church-goers, and so they were probably the last people to see the former me alive. Boy-mode becomes increasingly difficult to maintain for most transwomen and eventually impossible -- the hiding requires more effort, and feels like self-betrayal. Yet one is never sure where on the slippery slope to let go and slide.

The other side of this church-going thing, though, is that we knew that they put themselves where the Gospel lives. Retired for many years now, they're often not at home because they're off somewhere visiting the sick and helping the hungry, which is what Christians are supposed to do. So, a) I felt that maybe I had a chance of being tolerated by them and b) I felt that my mowing was a way of participating in their activities. Support for the right kind of missionaries, so to speak.

A couple of years ago, I took to mowing on Sunday mornings when they were gone; The Invisible Grass-Slayer Strikes Again. Hopelessly cowardly, and amazingly enough, sustainedly cowardly. A day came when they were home when I did not expect them, and I was mowing their back yard in my one-piece swimsuit in very hot weather, with my wide-brimmed straw hat, sweating like a piglet.

Mister came out with a glass of cold cranapple juice.

"She says thank you and would you like some juice."

"Yes sir, I would. Thank you."

Well! Cat's out of the bag. I could see the outline of Missis just inside the screen door; felt scrutiny, but saw no sign of what either of them thought.

He took the empty glass and went inside. I fired up the mower.

The next day he delivered a loaf of fresh bread to Beloved while I was at work. "This is some more thanks for the mowing she's done. It's been a big boost for us -- we've been feeling our mortality."


The next day we took over a basket of veggies.

While I was in Florida for my surgery, Mister mowed both places and kept an eye on things.


By dint of hard labor, Beloved has this year's garden pretty much in. Tomatoes, corn, beans, eggplant, celery, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, zinnias. The pie cherries are red, and there will be one kind of plums (the other tree is having a rest) and three kinds of apples (the other three are also having a rest); the pear tree, which has never really tried, is making a valiant effort.

I haven't participated much in all this very directly this year; my strength is not what it was and after a project or a meeting I seem to want to sleep for hours. I'm feeling my mortality, like Mister and Missis.

Daughter and her Young Man decided they would treat us to a picnic. They came over on a Saturday and brought cheese, veggies, strawberries and ale.

I get awfully antsy when I see people doing kitchen work that aren't me.

"Anything I can do?"

"Go sit down. You're the Mower Lady. You do plenty."

We sat along the edge of the shade from the fir trees and watched the swallows curvetting in the sunlight, picking off bugs for their babies, or cottonwood fluff from mid-air to line their nests.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A reading ...

We pose for our 15 seconds of fame.
Photo by Sabena

... took place at Mother Kali's under the auspices of Gertrude Press and Equity Foundation. The audience was about thirty people, including Beloved and Daughter. I followed a poet and a novelist and there were a poet and a novelist after me; I was the autobiographer and read from the opening pages of Homecomings. The readings were well received and a good time was had by all. If you haven't been to Mother K's, go have a look-see and do support them; it's the oldest continuously operated feminist bookstore in the United States, and a real treasure.