Sunday, April 21, 2019

Some Light Reading

Do you think you spot the fake news better than the "other side"?
Liberals and Conservatives Are Both Susceptible to Fake News, but for Different Reasons

Do you think the "other side" is evil and wicked, but you got it right?
New studies suggest liberals are as blinkered and biased as conservatives
The “Other Side” Is Not Dumb

Do you think that just because you're liberal you "fucking love science"?
Liberals and low IQ believe in astrology more
Liberals Don’t Really F**king Love Science
Scientific literacy, optimism about science and conservatism
Why Everyone Believes in Magic (Even You) - Live Science
Who is More Anti-Science: Conservatives or Liberals?
(I myself have previously described the "cargo cult" understanding of science that I've observed among many of those who proclaim that they "fucking love science". They treat science as if it were magic; and worse: they treat science as if it were a person or set of conclusions instead of a process by which we evaluate data and make our own conclusions. As a result, "science" to them is no different, conceptually, to the sort of deference to authority that you'd get from any religion. You can't "fucking love science" if you don't fucking know what it fucking is.)

You don't believe those links?
The Real War on Science

Do you think your political and economic views are well reasoned?
Millennials' Political Views Don't Make Any Sense

Do you want to fix that? Subscribe to this site:

Do you think the "other side" is full of hypocrites, but you're ok?
Are Liberals Bigger Drug Users? 

Do you think that bias is always bad?
Editorial Bias

(Know your biases and control them. Treat them as tools. Do not be so "open minded" that your brain falls out.)

Monday, April 01, 2019

Peterson vs Hitchens. Some thoughts.

I don't usually take time to comment on a YouTube vid, but here we are:

First of all, this is NOT "Peterson vs Hitchens". For one thing, Hitchens is dead. This is a collection of clips from each of them, so as debates go, this doesn't. Neither is responding to the other. Rather, these are quotes on the same general topic, but more about that later.

The general topic is from what does an atheist derive morality? Or, can atheists be moral without God?

From here on, I'm going to assume you watched the video.

Viewing the video and reading the comments, I think it's safe to say that my impressions are quite different from many of the other commenters. When Peterson talks about morality, he's very careful to speak of archetypes and functional equivalents for religion. Hitchens' response to the base question is to state that he is offended by it. Sadly, this is a purely emotional argument, and not a rational one at all. This is deflection, not reason.

Meanwhile, Hitchens does not explain the source of his morality other than to say what it is not. He's quite sure that it's not God, but he's also quite clear that he doesn't know why he doesn't do terrible things. (at 8:36) (As an aside, it's perfectly fine to not know something and say so plainly. More people should do it.)

Peterson explains this psychologically through functional equivalence, and he takes a great deal of care in his choice of words. Regardless of what you choose to call it, there is some underlying acknowledgement that there is something of moral value that transcends purely rational choices based in self interest. Peterson is not hung up on calling it "God", preferring to set aside the cultural baggage of particular labels to focus on the psychological reality that there is something there. Hitchens does not deny that... he simply is adamant that it is not God. Hitchens addresses the psychology only briefly (at 6:00), focusing the entirety of his responses on the cultural baggage.

Both gentlemen refer to Dostoyevsky. Crime and Punishment is an exploration of the consequences of basing our actions on purely rational grounds... that is, using rationality itself as the only moral code. Hitchens is offended, as he contends that he isn't a rapist or a murderer despite having no religion. I do note in passing that being moral in some areas does not make one moral in general. Hitchens is quoted in A Letter to a Young Contrarian: "Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you," an inversion of the Golden Rule, which enjoins you to treat others as you would wish to be treated, not as you expect to be treated by others. The Golden rule advises you to treat others in the best possible way. Hitchens' Rule advises you to take the least beneficial action toward others consistent with what you expect to receive from them. Also among his arguments, Hitchens refers to his oft-cited "challenge" ("Name me an ethical action taken or a moral statement made by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer" (at 8:49)). This is far from unanswerable, and I have dealt with it at length elsewhere.

Meanwhile, to Peterson, those who don't act as Raskolnikov does in the novel are not truly atheists, as -- setting aside the question of what to call it -- they have some deep underlying functional equivalent for religion that provides moral grounding. This underlying function is not merely non-rational, but inexplicable using pure reason. Unfortunately, Peterson spoils it a bit by intimating there's possibly some cowardice in play that prevents atheists from using the word "religion" in reference to this inexplicable phenomenon.

Now, if you're paying close attention here, each is not addressing the other's argument. That's to be expected, as this is a collection of clips. Quite frankly, I believe that if they were in the same room, then Hitchens' offense would be waved aside by Peterson, and that Hitchens would actually not disagree with Peterson's argument re: an underlying functional equivalent. Hitchens himself states that he doesn't know why he acts in accordance with morality, even when acting immorally would be in his self interest, even when he wouldn't get caught. This is evident when he argues that he acts without fear of retribution and without expectation of reward.

Here's where Hitchens spoils it a bit, though, by mis-characterizing Judeo-Christian belief on that matter, implying that fear and reward are the guiding forces there. In fact, most Christians are adamant that works buy you nothing. To a devout Christian, there's nothing you can do to earn your way into Heaven. Rather, that is a gift of grace: works are the sign of belief, not a cover charge for entry. Devout Jews act out of a deep-seated sense of obligation. To do a mitzvah because you are obliged to do it is more noble to Jewish sensibilities than to do the exact same deed because you want to.

By the way, when Hitchens speaks of his Jewish ancestors making it all the way to Sinai without knowing that rape and pillage are wrong, this is a mis-statement of morality as depicted in near-Eastern religious tradition, which -- fairly presented -- depicts Noahide laws existent prior to the covenant on Sinai. These are simply the things that we would expect of all decent human beings, regardless of religion. Among them are the establishment of courts of justice. Since those among the audience who are religious know their own beliefs and can recognize the straw man, the statement undermines his case.

Generally, I don't think that Hitchens makes a particularly strong case unless you walk into the argument predisposed to believing that. That could be an artifact of the editor having picked those particular quotes rather than more cogent arguments Hitchens could have -- and probably would have -- made. I'm fairly certain that were these gentlemen actually talking in the same room at the same time, Hitchens' "offense" wouldn't last a minute. With that in mind, I'm a bit disappointed with the editing. I'm sure that Hitchens had much better arguments that the editor could have used. I'm dismayed that the editor didn't ferret them out and use them instead. Hitchens was no idiot. He would never have repeated invitations to speak if his core rebuttal was to whine about how offended he was. Nevertheless, that's the impression that the editor gives us here. This is a shame, as finding something offensive is the weakest possible argument in any rational discourse. Being offended by someone else's logic doesn't invalidate the logic. It's a non-response. It's also a non-response that I don't think Hitchens himself would use in direct discourse with Peterson. As Peterson is arguing as a psychologist rather than a Christian, Hitchens would find that Peterson's arguments are very different from those of the Christians that Hitchens is used to debating, and would necessarily respond with better, more rational arguments. It would be a very different conversation than what we see here.

I also suspect that those YouTube commenters who think Peterson is waffling just aren't listening very closely to what he's actually saying. They think he's talking about "God" when in fact he's talking about something (for which, to him, the label is not important) that is not consistent with pure rationally derived self-interest. Giving it another label doesn't make it go away. Being offended by someone else's label doesn't make the thing being labeled go away, either. In short, this video presents an "debate" over language that mostly ignores the key concept.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

The Sculptor

Imagine that you're a sculptor. You're working in marble, and it's your desire to create a beautiful statue made of marble. To that end, you have a large, unformed block of the stone in front of you.

Some of the stone is fractured. There are faults. But much of it is solid and sound. As an experienced sculptor, you recognize the flaws, plan your work, and begin on a project that is as much about destruction as it is creation.

Consider this: with each tap of your hammer, with each mark of your chisel you destroy, you remove, you damage some of the stone. It lies there on the floor to be swept away. As the project continues, you soon have excised more stone than remain in the sculpture itself. Even stone that is good and sound may not be part of the final design, and is chipped away.

At the end of this process you have the beautiful statue that you envisioned. But the entirety of the process aside from its conception... every bit of it... consisted of a systematic and planned destruction of portions of the stone before you.

Clearly, in this case, destruction isn't bad. It's a necessary part of achieving something very good.

Keep in mind, too, that at any time you could have raised your hammer in anger and frustration. You could have smashed the entire work with a sledgehammer. You could even have refrained from touching any of the sound stone, chipping away only the flawed portions. You could have sculpted it in a different way. No one denies your power to do it.

Yet, despite your power to act in that way, if you did you would not in the end have the beautiful statue of which you conceived. The fact that you did not destroy the statue does not in any way reflect on your power to do so.


People often ask why bad things happen to good people, and why an omnipotent God allows evil to exist. God doesn't allow it... as Isaiah said, "I am the LORD, and there is none else.  I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil.  I am the LORD, that does all these things" (Isaiah 45,6-7).

The statue of David by Michaelangelo.
Follow this link to Britannica
to read how this exquisite work of art was extracted
from stone that expert opinion has judged 'mediocre quality'

Saturday, February 16, 2019

AOC, Amazon, and Tax Breaks

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has made it clear that she has a massive misunderstanding of how tax breaks work. As quoted on camera for CBS News:
"If we were willing to give away away $3 billion for this deal, we could invest $3 billion in our district ourselves if we want to. We could hire more teachers, we can fix our subways, we can put a lot of people to work for that money if we wanted to," Ocasio-Cortez told reporters. "There was no guarantee those jobs for the New Yorkers that were here. We were looking at a deal that was not primarily putting the community first."
Notice this: she thinks the city was going to spend $3 billion, and now they can spend that money on other things. That's not remotely true. In reality, it's $3 billion that they wouldn't have collected as an incentive to gain 25,000 jobs. Tax revenues would have still increased somewhat in the local economy as Amazon's presence increased the revenues of surrounding businesses. Now NY won't get the $3B AND they won't get all those jobs. To be clear, it's future money that they did not save and will never collect.

Note that my main point here is that Ocasio-Cortez isn't familiar with economics... not that I'd expect her to be. As a self-described socialist, she has scant interest in learning the subject. Unfortunately, it's a subject that any politician should have at least a passing familiarity with.

Fortunately, my Facebook friends are somewhat more thoughtful than Ocasio-Cortez. One responded to me as follows, and I reprint it here because it makes more sense than anything Ocasio-Cortez has said:
FYI, Long Island City and the areas around it on the Queens/Brooklyn side are mostly commercial and residential. An increase in local business revenue is likely to result in an increase in rent, which is already pretty high. 
Additionally, the trains that run through there are also pretty trash and have always been. It would have been a nightmare for anyone passing through, which would likely result in ridiculous MTA fare increases, affecting all of NYC. 
Many NYCers already struggle with rent and fare increases on the regular. Amazon would have blown that up beyond belief.
Now, this is good information, and though none of those points were listed by Ocasio-Cortez, I can imagine that they were part of the discussion. However, they're far from convincing, in no small part because these concerns belie what both psychologists and businessmen call "fear of success". Success necessitates change, and change itself is exciting and scary; therefore we imagine the worst possible outcomes at the cost of the far more usual and likely beneficial outcomes.

In the following, keep in mind that NYC and Long Island are very different from my local rural/smaller city environs. Nevertheless, I have some observations based on our experiences here.

I live in an area to which businesses have been locating; including BMW, Michelin, Belk and Dollar General, etc. Some of these are manufacturers, some are distribution centers. They've located in the area as a result of a combination of lower cost of living (therefore lower cost of labor) as well as significant tax breaks.

The results have been dramatic. Tax breaks incentivized the companies to build not only their facilities, but to help shore up the infrastructure that they need. Employees have bought or built new housing. Other businesses that supply these larger companies have moved to the area. Local vendors -- retailers, restaurants, etc. -- sell to employees who have more disposable income. Our roads have improved and continue to do so. Major construction is underway in Greenville to improve the interchange at I-85/I-385 and I-26... something long past overdue. Workers displaced from the sagging textile industry have found new employment.

Keep in mind that tax incentives are neither an expense, nor a subsidy, nor an 'investment'. An investment indicates that you've put some capital in the pot. That's not what happens here. With tax incentives, the monies talked about are those that you don't have, and that you will not collect anyway if the businesses don't build in your area. Rather, tax incentives are a limited promise to temporarily stay out of the way so that the relocating businesses can make investments in your area... investments from which you will benefit.

And from what we've seen, tax incentives work.

What would Amazon have done with that money? To hear their detractors, you would imagine that they'd have pocketed it and gone sailing. But what would have happened is this: Amazon would have used the money that would otherwise have gone to taxes for that limited time ($270M/year, or $2.7B total) to actually construct their facilities and shore up the surrounding infrastructure to support their operations. In order to do this they would have hired local construction firms to do the bulk of the work. These firms would have seen their revenues increase, and the tax revenues for the city would have increased overall. Surrounding businesses would cater to the operation; and once construction was complete, 25,000 workers would have taken their places in new employment, earning money, paying rent, buying products, and paying income tax. At the end of the 10 year period, the city would begin collecting taxes on the revenues generated from Amazon's facility.


In my area, we've also seen what happens when you take the other path... that of obstructionism. Keep in mind that this isn't a perfect parallel, but it's close enough to illustrate the point. Originally, I-26 was intended to go from Columbia to Spartanburg through my home county, Union. In the late '60s, local leaders were afraid that the increased traffic would result in many of those things my Facebook friend warns about: increased cost of housing and a general increase in the cost of living. Business leaders warned against the increased cost of labor, and felt that it would make them less competitive. Exhibiting fear of success, they blocked the proposal, and instead of taking the straight shot through Union, the highway was routed around the county borders through neighboring Newberry County.

The result was decades of economic stagnation for Union. The status quo was not maintained. Rather, traffic and business were diverted to the West. When the textile mills inevitably fell to competition from China, the prospects for our future were bleak; and that was the situation for the next 20 years. Shortly after I moved here, in the early '90s, US176 was widened to help alleviate the situation, but the economic damage was severe. Tax incentives have helped to turn some of that around, and we are still recovering. Learning from past mistakes, county planners are dusting off decades-old plans to beef up the route from Newberry and Union to Charlotte; a route that's currently woefully inadequate. These are expensive government projects are now required to lure businesses that the earlier planners had previously pushed away. That's the cost of fear of success.

Conversely, tax incentives cost the taxpayers nothing. It's money that you don't have. You're simply saying to the company, "We're not going to take it from you right now." What you're bargaining with isn't cash, it's a promise of limited interference, and it's free. And companies like Amazon are right to seek such agreements. Without them, the company is faced with moving to a location that is unsuitable to their operations, and will never be made suitable by the government. Look at what Ocasio-Cortez wants to spend the fictional 'subsidy' money on instead; none of them will provide the facilities or infrastructure required to make the location profitable and thus generate the projected tax revenue. Not a single one. The local tax revenue depends on profitability. Not the profitability of Amazon, but that of that location. By waiting, the government stands to gain far more than they would have otherwise. And if your local government doesn't see that... fine: others will.


These agreements aren't simple, and they're not suicidal. You bargain the details, so that if the company needs a railroad spur (for example), they pay for it. You condition the deal on certain kinds of income and/or property taxes, and you limit the deal to a specific time duration, etc. In Amazon's case, it would have been 10 years. This gives a company time to build their facilities, move in, and put them to work before you start banging on their door demanding rent like Joe Pesci in The Super. It's a reasonable, don't-be-a-dick way to start a working relationship.

But in it's basics, that's it. You're simply letting them alone to build facilities and put people to work, and the local government doesn't foot the lion's share of the up-front bill as they would if a large number of smaller companies occupied the same space. And when that happens and people are employed, all of the other surrounding businesses benefit from doing businesses with them... not to mention the investments in parks etc. that result because these large companies love seeing their names on things... as well as liking having those facilities for their employees to use.

That 'working relationship' I wrote of above is what Amazon is seeking. It was extremely clear that they weren't going to get it in New York. As reported in the New York Times:
While small protests greeted the company after its initial announcement in November, the first inkling that opposition had taken hold among the city’s Democratic politicians came during a hostile City Council hearing the next month. Protesters filled the seats, unfurled banners and chanted against the company. Not a single council member spoke up in defense of the deal or the company.

Amazon did not need to relocate to the NYC area, as they had options, and plenty of other locales are aching to accommodate them, among them, Chicago. The frictions that you feel before you've even cohabitated are only amplified when you get married. And if you can't even get through the speed-dating... move on. So Amazon decided to terminate their plans. Here's a link to their full statement; and it's a well-crafted, highly professional, respectful document. It reads, in part:
We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion—we love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture—and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents. There are currently over 5,000 Amazon employees in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and we plan to continue growing these teams.
They're not abandoning New York, nor are they walking away from it. They're simply not moving forward with this particular deal.

Contrast that with the sour grapes tweet by Bill de Blasio, with its passive-aggressive insults (implying that Amazon is neither 'tough' nor a 'good neighbor'). This only underscores the wisdom of Amazon's decision. As a general rule, you shouldn't do business with petty people who are more committed to ideology than facts. Those opposed have made the claim, for instance, that Amazon hired no spokespersons from the NY area, although the record shows they did. And they claim that Amazon gave no indication that they would pull out until it happened. However, Amazon was not alone in these negotiations. When a company says "we won't agree to such terms", and you're not willing to bend either, then you should reasonably expect the predictable result. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo seems to have understood the situation more clearly, as reported by Matt Binder. This isn't a Democrat/Republican tribal battle. Cuomo, Blasio, and Ocasio-Cortez are all Democrats. This is a divide between those who are economically savvy and those who aren't.

So from here, it looks like New York has tossed aside a golden opportunity to have someone else spend their coin to lift Long Island City's economy; instead choosing a proven downward spiral where poor people don't get better jobs because they can't afford the current shitty housing and transportation; even though they would be able to afford the better housing and transportation that they would gain given increased employment. My perspective is that the opposition to this deal was based on a combination of economic ignorance, ideological intransigence, and fear of the change that accompanies success. Well, if it's success that New York is afraid of, good news: the way they're going, I see a lot less of it in the future.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


I'm going to take this time to talk about automobile tires... or more accurately, mounting the wheels. It's an important conversation. Recently I took my car in for a set of tires. The end result was horrific, and getting action was tedious and mind-numbingly frustrating.

Before I air dirty laundry, let's get a few facts out of the way:
  1. The lug nuts that hold your wheels on the car are intended to be tightened to a very specific value. Too loose and they're insecure. But too tight, and they'll over-stretch, weaken, break and/or damage the bolts; damage your brake rotors (resulting in a pulsating sensation when you brake the car); or even potentially damage the wheel itself. Losing a wheel or locking a brake is dangerous. But being stuck on the side of the road with a flat, unable to change it is dangerous as well. A properly fitted wheel is designed to be removed in less-than-ideal circumstances on the side of the road by an average person using hand tools.
  2. A torque wrench, improperly used, is worse than useless. It makes you believe things are correctly adjusted when they're not. And it's VERY easy to improperly use one. Many mechanics are at fault here. The most common failure is to use an pneumatic wrench to over tighten, then "check" with a torque wrench. MAJOR FAIL.
This second point is vital. Unfortunately, many of the resources that claim to teach you how to use a torque wrench don't do it properly. Even Popular Mechanics is at fault here. What they say in the linked article is correct: but they leave out the single most important point, which is...

Image result for overtightened lug nuts
This is what overtightening can do
to a wheel.

You can NOT use a torque wrench to validate the tightness of a nut that has already been tightened to its maximum extent. In an extreme example, consider this: if I were to solidly weld a nut to a metal tabletop, and you use a torque wrench to check it for a torque of 70ft/lbs, is it "properly tightened"? The tool will say "yes", every time. Every. Single. Time. In fact, it doesn't even matter what value you're looking for. It will read whatever you want. And you can't use the tool to untighten the nut to verify this. That's not what the tool is for, and not how it works. To make sure it's right, you have to loosen the nut and do it again properly.

So how does it work? How do you use it correctly? It's a three-part process:
  1. First lightly fasten all of the nuts. "Half-torque" is the usual phrasing for "snug, but not tight". The important point is that when you go to finish it up and apply the wrench again, the nut must move. Otherwise, you don't know if it stopped moving at the specified torque. It's common sense, really.
  2. Then go back and tighten to spec. The spec is found in the owner's manual of the car, but references are available and accessible to any qualified mechanic. To tighten to spec, simply use the torque wrench to tighten the nut until the bending bar needle reads the proper value or the torque wrench clicks (depending on the type of wrench you're using).
  3. Go back and tighten them all to spec again. This is important because the wheel may shift a bit as all the lug nuts are tightened, and some that you thought were tight initially may wind up a bit looser the first time 'round.
This WikiHow describes how to do it (almost) properly. I say "almost" because the pictures don't exactly match the text. They show improper gripping of the tool, and the discussion of using a bending bar isn't illustrated with a bending bar. But the text is correct. Many "professional" resources gloss over step 1, presumably because it is common sense. You use a wrench to tighten, not to check.

What Happened To Me

I took my car into a professional tire center in December and got two tires. These were placed on the back wheels, and those wheels were moved to the front steering axles. This is normal procedure which prevents fishtailing on wet roads. My intent was to come back the next month and get the other tires replaced.

The tires had other ideas. Although my tread was good, in January the valve stem gave way on my driver's side front tire. When I tried to change the flat, I found the nuts over-tightened an extraordinary amount, to the point where the nuts wouldn't come loose. Keep in mind here that the recommended torque for these nuts is 77ft/lbs.  I then sprayed them down with penetrating oil and waited 12 hours before trying again. I applied well over 300ft/lbs using body weight and a lever before my lug wrench shattered. After buying a new, larger carbon steel wrench, I tried again. To remove each nut I had to apply full body weight with greater leverage using the larger tool, and another person using a lever. Well over 300ft/lbs torque and several minutes labor were required to remove each nut.

I mounted the half-spare and took it back to the shop. I showed it to the shop manager, who told me that they always use a torque wrench to prevent such problems and, "Here's your problem. This wrench is made of cheap metal". Well, NO. That's NOT the problem. But it did tell me that they don't know how to use the torque wrench. The problem was over-tightened nuts which made it necessary to apply enough force to far exceed the operational limits of the wrench and shatter it. I bought the two remaining tires and told him to loosen every nut on every wheel and re-tighten them properly.

When the job was done, the mechanic came to see me, re-iterated that they always use a torque wrench to prevent such problems, and again pointed out the metal of the wrench. AGAIN, NO. The wrench gave its life to a task made futile by unconscionable maladjustment.

That would have been the end of it had I not received a message from them asking how I enjoyed my visit. I responded that I now feel the vibrations of a warped brake rotor and will not return, but thanking them for the follow-up. They responded yet again that they use "torque sticks" to prevent these problems, and that they'd be happy to correct the problem. Sigh.

This led me to write an email to the owner detailing the above, including a screenshot of the texts. I concluded the email as follows:

As you can see, I'm assured once again that your techs use torque sticks. This lead me to write this letter, because the implications are astonishing. It's undeniable that my lug nuts were tightened with excessive force. The amount of force is inexcusable. And yet, I'm told for the third time that the torque sticks are in use. Well, I don't deny that they are. But there is no way, no how, that they could have possibly been used properly. The laws of Physics forbid it.

So one of two things is happening here, neither of them good:
1. You're attempting to limit liability. No problem there, as I have no intent of suing you. I call this a "lesson learned", and will go elsewhere. If you can't admit that there's a problem, then we can't have a serious conversation about fixing it.
2. You honestly don't know that there's a problem. If so, you've got a far bigger problem, because there are other people who use your services, and they're the ones in danger.

This situation could have been avoided by simply saying, "Ooh, that's a problem. We'll administer refresher training on the torque sticks." But not once did I hear that there even was a problem. I've been assured several times (in person and in text) that you're using the tools to "prevent the problems" I had. Obviously, I still had the problems, so how can that be believed?

Please imagine this: You eat at a restaurant, and get food poisoning. You tell the manager about your nausea and fever, and you've also got good evidence-based reason to conclude that they're not storing food properly. The manager and the cook assure you that, despite any evidence you may see, they're doing everything properly, and the problem must have been with your fork. The manager then offers a free meal to make it right.

Would you eat that meal? Me, neither. PLEASE train your folks. They need it badly.

AFTER TWO WEEKS, I received an email 'survey', and simply cut and replied the entire email into it. The following day I received this text:
David, Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention. I appreciate your comments and the time you took to let us know. Rest assured additional training will be done.

That's all I ask.


I have 12 years experience working for a major automotive manufacturer. The company described in the above is a local tire retailer with two locations in the Spartanburg, SC area. Because of their promise to retrain, I'm not naming them here; however, I won't be using them again. However, I can strongly recommend Firestone, Midas, or NTB, all of which have done excellent work for me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

My Wife's Dog

My wife has a little dog. He is a Mountain Feist named Murry (sic). Now, for those who don't know what a Mountain Feist is, it's a small terrier. If you took a Jack Russell and painted it with red oak stain, you would have a close approximation of my wife's dog.

I am tempted to say my wife treats that dog as she would a child. That is not accurate. She treats him better. Murry sleeps with her, he eats with her. Where she goes, he goes. However, Murry doesn't listen to a word she says. She asks. She wheedles. She cajoles. She begs. And the dog does what the dog wants to do.

Me, on the other hand... He hangs on my every word. If I say "come here", he comes. If I say, "Go to your room," he goes to his room. If I tell him to dance, he dances. He does everything I say, the first time. I never have to repeat myself. If he hesitates, I simply stare him down until he complies. I haven't trained him, and I never punish or reward him. He just does it. That damn dog would do my taxes if I told him to.

My wife once noted, "You don't praise him; you don't reward him; you don't pay him any attention; you don't pet him. You don't even call him a good dog! Why is it that he listens to you and not me?"

I replied, "He obeys me because I don't praise him; I don't reward him; I don't pay him any attention; I don't pet him. That little dog is desperate to get any of those things from me; and he is sure, in the depths of his little doggy brain, that if only he does what I say... If only he is good enough... Then someday, somehow, he will get what he craves from me."

To some extent, he is probably right. In a few years, when he is near the end of his little dog life, I will probably lay a hand on him and say, "Murry, you were a good dog." At that point, he will collapse into spasms of orgasmic pleasure and breathe his last. In the meantime, I'm not too concerned about Murry's emotional well-being: he gets all the love and attention he can stand from my wife.

Now, I don't believe that any of this is conjecture. I firmly believe that this is what's going on in his head. And it begs the question, how do I know? I'm not a dog whisperer. I don't read little dog minds. Hell, I don't even like dogs. So how can I be so sure about what is going on inside this dog's head?

It's because my stepfather was a U.S. Marine.

And I was that little dog.


I'm tempted to stop here, but I'm going to take a moment to "talk past the close" because some of you will probably read this and think, "Oh that's so sad! He wasn't really talking about the dog." Well, yeah; I am. I'm just not talking about only the dog.

Some people carry on about the attention and/or validation that they never received from their [parent/mentor/role model]. And in some cases, it's a truly sad story. In some cases, it's simply because they themselves have missed the boat. Take my stepfather for instance. When it came to his children, he wasn't really aloof... he just didn't know where to set the bar. So he didn't. For us, it wasn't a matter of dealing with constant disapproval. Rather, much like my wife's dog, it was a constant quest for approval. And it was always so close.

And that's just good parenting advice. One of the best lectures I have ever seen in my life was by Randy Pausch. It's entitled "The Last Lecture". It's also available in book form, and I strongly advise you to get it and read it. Randy faced this exact problem when he first started teaching about the creation of virtual worlds using computers. The class far exceeded his expectations, and he didn't know where to set the bar. He didn't tell them that they were amazing and wonderful and he had nothing to teach them. On the advice of a mentor, he went back to the class, looked them in the eyes, and said, "That was pretty good. But I know you can do better."

The quest for approval can drive you to improve yourself in ways that praise will never, ever help you to attain. In the grand scheme of things, we parents have one job, and that's to make sure that our kids can get along without us when we inevitably die. And yeah, as with anything, it can be done wrong. But that doesn't change the fact that it can be done right, too. Done right, parents establish a direction, and let their kids discover their own goals. This is in contrast with negligent parents, who give their children neither. I think that parents should be careful not to be so concerned with providing their kids with what they want that they fail to provide them what they need in order to excel.

On the other side... well, maybe you didn't get the constant praise you felt you deserved. But, you got to be a better person because you tried harder than you otherwise would have. When you look at it that way, it's not that hard to live with.

And yeah... Murry's a pretty good dog. But don't tell my wife I said that.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Google is Not a Doctor

Yes, I recognize the irony that you probably found your way to this post by way of Google. Nevertheless, I'm not dispensing medical advice; merely logic.

I see more and more signs in doctors' offices that remind us that Google is not a doctor. Variations include "Do not confuse your Google search with my medical degree." While Google can be useful as a search tool, the doctors have a serious point, because most searchers not only do not limit themselves to reputable sources of information; they have no skill in determining what actually comprises a "reputable source".

Let's look at some examples to see how Google can fail you:

One case is the efficacy of vaccines. Although scientific studies have found no causal link between vaccines and autism, thousands of people avoid vaccines through fear-mongering induced by celebrity endorsements bolstered by flawed and debunked studies that have gained a sort of zombie life through constant repetition. And because of this, some diseases that had been eradicated in the United States have made a comeback due to the vaccine avoidance combined with the re-introduction of these diseases via immigration from less developed nations where the disease still exists. Had more people been properly vaccinated, the disease would not resurge. It doesn't help that humans aren't very good at assessing risk. Despite all evidence, fearmongering has lead many people to conclude that they'd rather face the risk of death than that of autism. And this is despite the "left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing" situation of others declaring that "autism is a difference, not a disability" Comparing risks, anti-vaxxers would prefer a known cause of death to an unproven cause of "difference". This is simply not rational.

Rather than listening to others within their limited "bubble", the anti-vaxxers should defer to medical opinion. But in Google searches, the anti-vaxxer will find plenty of confirmation for their bias. Disinformation is in the top responses because, generally speaking, on social platforms the people who seek out such topics are searching using terms that skew the results and return an inordinate amount of social media rather than professional opinions. On those social media platforms, through confirmation bias, they upvote the responses that makes them feel better about their own opinions.

Google will almost always tell us what we want to hear, because SOMEWHERE in the noise and babble of seven billion voices, you will find others who will tell you exactly what you want to hear. Whether it's about climate change, the reality of the Moon landing, or the roundness of the Earth, you will find loud and aggressively worded defenses of all sides of any topic. Some of them are objectively correct, some aren't; and much of the time you are not qualified to determine which is which.


Here's a hypothetical example:

Suppose you're looking at a case study: a 32 year old Caucasian cis-gendered male, with no physical diseases or abnormalities. Nonetheless, this person declares that he is "a paraplegic trapped in a healthy body". He refuses to walk on his healthy legs, though they cause him no physical pain. He uses a wheelchair, and insists on living the lifestyle of a paraplegic. He has gone so far as to modify his automobile with hand controls. In every respect, he seems quite sincere. He then visits a surgeon to have his healthy limbs removed so that his outward appearance will validate his self-image. This is a strong hypothetical, as it's not hard to confirm that such persons do, in fact, exist.

It would be difficult to find a surgeon who would not conclude that the patient has a form of somatic dissociation or somatic delusion and refer him for psychological treatment.

Now, suppose you did a Google search on such a condition, which resulted in many results from reputable medical sources that confirm (in rather dense technical jargon) that this is likely a psychological condition. But due to the nature of search engine rankings and the actual phrasing of the search, the top responses come from social platforms (such as where all of the opinions are from the patients themselves, rather than from medical professionals. A typical top response might include the following:
"Doctors know there’s no such thing as genetic anatomy or any number of other made up terms like 'normal limb development'. A person’s Hox genes code for the development of the fetus, and account for variations of limb development.
"During fetal development these genes determine the production of retinoic acid and FGF hormones and those determine what happens next.
"The phenotype, the actual expression of the genetic code into a real body happens in the influence of those chemicals. The result depends on not only which chemicals are being produced but whether the receptors are properly formed. At the end you end up with a baby with fully formed or truncated limbs. The rest of the body of an infant doesn’t much care.
"Further when we artificially remove the limbs of a person we really are changing the way their entire body is interacting as if they had been born without limbs.
"Doctors know that when the two things, the phenotype and identity, don’t agree that they have a surgical candidate. What did you think the answer would be? That’s the answer for nearly every doctor, and the professional organizations like the AMA, APA and AAFP. It is what is taught in medical school. It is well supported by research and it is well documented by the presence of real life people like me."
However, "Saying it don't make it so."

Again, the disinformation is a top response because, generally speaking, on social platforms the people who seek out such topics are those that have the disorder, and through confirmation bias, upvote the response that makes them feel better about themselves. The response may look legit, because the responder has included enough jargon to sound scientific without being obscure. Of course, there are logical fallacies in the response, but these are easily missed by those who aren't looking for them. Other people may therefore take it at face value, concluding erroneously both that the person who is best qualified to opine on a condition is always the person who has it; and that the person responding is doing so truthfully, without bias.

Of course, the response is hogwash. Doctors know that normal limb development is not a "made up term" and that there are distinct differences between people who are born without limbs and those whose bodies are artificially altered. They know that someone with a somatic delusion is delusional. They treat the statements of the patient skeptically, as data rather than as knowledge, because they know that the response of the patient is likely to be biased in favor of "normality". Few people want to be "abnormal"... not even Napoleon Bonaparte in a roomful of Bonapartes. And many patients are simply incapable of accurate self-assessment.

Yet, while professional ethics should demand that the surgeon assess the patient scientifically and objectively, you will still find surgeons willing to amputate the patient's perfectly normal limbs. Rather than looking at the bulk of the literature, the Google searcher may cherry-pick these outliers as "proof" that the "medical establishment" sees this somatic dissociation as a normal condition best addressed by body modification. The patient will dismiss science and preferentially select opinions from others within their own "bubble".


But you don't have to go to extreme case studies to recognize that laypersons are often simply wrong. They haven't studied (hence "laypersons") and repeat what they have heard or what they suppose as fact. And unlike in this blog, where I insist that everything is an expressed opinion that you should verify, they fail to label their statements as opinion. Hence, it's important that you learn the difference between reputable and non-reputable sources.

The effective practice of medicine is not done through public consensus, but through science. Google is NOT a doctor.