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From the Notebook

Rod Serling's Night Gallery is referenced in t...

Rod Serling’s Night Gallery is referenced in the episode (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

March is going to be “Get the Novel Done” month for me. It will be done before April. If I’m not done, strike me down in a hail of burning sulfur.

Books Read:

1 Maccabees; this book provides the history of restoring the Judean nation after it was conquered by Alexander the Great.

The Essential Confucius, trans. Thomas Cleary. This book contains much of Confucius’ Analects as well as the 64 I Ching hexagrams, the translator pairs Confucius’ teachings with the appropriate parts of I Ching (The Book of Change). This book is a very good introduction to Confucius.

– The Last Man by Vince Flynn. I’ve given the last two or three Flynn novels poor reviews. Well, Vince Flynn is back. This book gets everything back on track with the right amount of action. I still cringe whenever Flynn has to write scenes with bad guys plotting with other bad guys, but otherwise this is a very good book.

Walking Distance, a graphic novel of the Twilight Zone episode of the same name, adapted by Mark Kneece. This graphic novel includes adaptations of deleted scenes from Rod Serling’s original scripts. Walking Distance tells the tale of a man who runs into his hometown on a lonely drive back to New York City. To reveal anymore of the plot would be to spoil what is a very good episode (if you haven’t seen it). This adaptation (and I’ll be reading others) is fine, I like the idea of turning some TZ episodes into graphic novels, as long as the plots are expanded.


Of Course it’s a Straw Man Argument…

“Did you notice the straw man argument?”

As someone who reads a lot online, I see the above statement and its many variants a lot. My first rule of websurfing is to never read the comments section of an article or blog post. This is as much about saving myself time as it is about saving myself the mental grief of experiencing someone else’s tenuous hold on reason. But every now and then I slip up and accidentally read someone’s response to an article or blog post I’m reading and I’ll see this little gem of narcissistic conceit.

What’s my problem with someone saying something is a straw man argument? There are two, actually. The first problem I have is the fact I normally see this statement used incorrectly. A “straw man” argument is an intentional logical fallacy used to circumvent and misrepresent some other argument. Someone needs to make an argument, or there needs to be some commonly understood argument already pre-existing for the fallacy to apply. The straw man argument does not apply if someone is making a genuine attempt represent an argument, to the best of their ability. This is a bit nuanced, but straw man arguments need to be intentional. If someone doesn’t understand the position they’re attacking, that’s one thing. If they’re intentionally trying to persuade people through what are in essence lies, that’s propaganda. And if it is propaganda we’re concerned with, we should label it as such, and not worry about calling straw man reasoning. It’s not reasoning at all.

The second problem, and by far the most common problem, I see whenever someone responds “straw man” to someone’s column or blog post is the fact they really mean someone makes an incomplete argument. Writers, columnists especially, are limited in the amount of space they can use to make an argument, or the amount of time they can spend on one issue before moving on to the next. Thus, columnists often present an idea as simply and briefly as possible, with the expectation that the reader is already familiar with the subject at hand. It’s about saving space and time. Then the writer must present a counter-argument that will similarly need to be as brief and simply stated. Because people naturally favor their own views, most column space is going to be spent of presenting the author’s ideas, not in providing a definitive treatise on the entire subject. Just because this process naturally leaves gaps does not mean the author is committing the “straw man” fallacy. It only means they’re a columnist or writer trying to present an idea or ideas in a way that’s entertaining and somewhat informative. They can’t be definitive, since to be definitive requires years of research and hundreds of hours spent writing hundreds of pages of stuff, and who has time for that?

The “straw man” reply is one way of avoiding talking about the issue at hand at all, and instead getting embroiled in a discussion about that nature of informal logical fallacies. Thus, I suggest never saying “straw man” in response to any opinion piece, even one where the authors purposefully commit that fallacy. The better response is to say “you simply get xyz position wrong, which is why your conclusions are wrong.”

And if you’re reading an article where someone obviously commits the straw man fallacy, stop reading. You’re not reading an opinion piece, you’re reading crap.

Remember when…

Bush was President and the world was coming to an end?

peak oil

Thankfully, there’s no such thing as peak oil anymore.

Random Link


Novel Update

Met with some of my draft readers the other day, and after lots of discussion, I decided it was about time to invoke the 90-90-10-50 Rule. Basically, the 90-90-10-50 rules states that on any writing project, 90% of your goals are achieved in about 90% of the time you’ve allocated for the project; but to achieve the other 10% of your goals will require 50% more time above what you’ve already put into it. Vince Flynn uses this rule as a stopping point, once he achieves 90% of his goals, he stops all creative work on a project and focuses on getting it published as fast as possible. I agree with Flynn in this regard, and also try to stop tinkering with a project at the 90-90 mark and move on to the next project. It’s simple pragmatism, I’d rather publish more novels than get stuck trying to make one novel absolutely perfect. I’m now at the 90-90 mark with my current novel, so I’m going to focus on getting it published as quickly as possible. Thanks to all my proofreaders for their feedback.

Go to a state college? not yet, just wait ten years.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of the current higher-ed model. For the most part, any college degrees outside of medicine or STEM fields are a scam. However, there’s a new revolution in higher education brewing that will affect even STEM degrees: online, on-demand college courses for credit.

Straighterline.com is the first of what is going to be a number of businesses devoted to turning MOOCs, work history, self-study and cottage-industry online courses (taught by real college profs, on the side) into real college credit at the fraction of the brick&mortar school price. Straighterline is currently offering several 3-credit courses for fifty bucks. Extrapolate that out to a 120 credit BA degree, and you get a total credit cost of about $2000, And there’s no fees. Textbook costs will be lower, and you’ll be able to work more while doing the degree.

This new business model is in its infancy, but in ten years the available coursework is going to explode. Completing a four-year degree while never once stepping onto a college campus will soon be the norm. The savings are going to be huge, there will be no reason to go into debt to get a Bachelor’s degree, and most Masters degrees. Basically, only people who need to prove some mechanical skill, like doctors and surgeons (or welders and plumbers) will need to physically attend classes on a campus.

And people who start going to college right now, and who will go into tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt for the trouble, are going to feel like complete fools in a few years when they find out their $200 per credit college degree can be had for the price of a decent laptop and $10 per credit with no textbook costs (as Wikipedia and other online sources will provide whatever you need, short of very specialized coursework).

So, don’t go to college now, unless you’re doing it through straighterline.com. The price of college will be diving to the marginal cost of delivering it, and that cost is going to get really close to zero.



The rules have changed.

The Death of Loyalty

Some of us are still trying to recover our senses from the last five years of recession. Ten years ago, the economy was in slow transition that most of us didn’t really understand; now the economy has experienced a radical paradigm shift that forces us to abandon all the old rules of employment.

Something all of us must accept is the new nature of employment. There are no careers anymore (for most of us), nor can there be any loyalty to anybody or any company. No matter how secure you think your situation is, there’s always the possibility you’ll be tossed out of your comfort zone (i.e. released from your job). The odds of it happening are much higher than you think. So, for the sake of your sanity, you must return the favor. At any time, and at every opportunity, you should be prepared to leave your current company and position for something that’s better, even if it’s only marginally better than your current position. In an L-shaped recession with no recovery and slow growth and no safety net, “at the margin” makes a big difference.

You should always be looking for something new and something better. Even the features of company employment that might produce some loyalty, such as stock or pensions or a 401k, are not guaranteed. The 401k could be imploded by inflation or taxation because of an indebted government desperate for funds, and any stock options could become worthless thanks to unscrupulous CEOs manipulating the price or hedge funds dumping the stock to pay expenses or just from the common vagaries of the stock market.

And health insurance is going to be a joke. Either it’s going to eat a giant chunk of your paycheck, or you’re going to pay the tax for not having it, or the government is going to give you a plan nothing short of worthless. You’re just going to have to accept the fact you’re going to live with any condition you have for a long time, and be stuck using emergency rooms for anything that won’t go away after resting a few days. Or you can become rich and be able to afford your own care, but it’s going to take a while before you get there, if you’re lucky.

A former coworker put it best, and I’m going to hijack his statement. His philosophy is that whatever job he’s working is just a job. It’s no longer part of his identity. “It’s not what I do, it’s just what I’m doing now.” And so you should follow.

With any job, “It’s not what you do, it’s what you’re doing now.”

It’s not the diagnosis, it’s the prescription

Something liberals are great at is pointing out problems. Inequality, potholes, global warming, murder, pain, suffering, illiteracy, debt (when their guy isn’t the one causing it), etc. The world is never quite good enough, there’s always something that could be better. And this is fine, there’s nothing wrong with this, and if you’re a reader of the current evolutionary chic, you can see this is a necessary component of natural selection. (Liberalism and conservatism both provide evolutionary advantages and disadvantages, which is why both forms of survival persist.)

It’s not the liberal penchant for diagnosis that frustrates me, it is the predictable liberal prescription. “Let me guess, the problem you noticed needs to be answered with more taxation, a regulatory body and obedience. I’m so surprised.” There’s no creativity, just linear thinking using the two or three tools available to the leviathan state.

Take global warming. There’s scientific consensus that temperatures have gone up and that there’s some human component to this process. There are consequences to this process, both good and bad. The real concern is the process might continue indefinitely, and this might result in some catastrophic result. But there’s little consensus on if or whether or when any of this will happen. Therefore, the liberal mind suggests a worldwide carbon tax at a cost of ten trillion dollars (or more) to the world economy, effectively shutting down all economic growth across the world and spreading the ills of poverty into places where it hasn’t existed in many years. And we need CFL bulbs, that will save us too.

It’s downright stupid. (If you’re interested in some real solutions on global warming, read the final chapter of Superfreakonomics (discussed here) or the book Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg).

Conversely, what frustrates me most about conservative commentators is the absolute denial of the diagnosis. Over the last four years, I have seen conservative pundits consistently deny the ills of poverty or the problems with our healthcare system in this country. This lack of engagement is very unhealthy, since conservatives have, because of our skepticism of the state and our knowledge of the dangers of unintended consequences, the inventive solutions that can make the world a better place.

(If you don’t believe that statement,at the very least you can probably believe that a conservative is much more likely to say “has anyone done a cost-benefit analysis on this?”)

I believe, as a reader of the current evolutionary social-psychological chic, that conservatism and liberalism are complementary systems that need each other.  I’m just foolish that way. Liberals are at their best when they’re not treating their ideology as a religion, and conservatives are at their best when they engage in a meaningful way.

There is no future, apparently II

First, read this article in its entirety: Can Republicans be saved from Obsolescence?

So, can the GOP be saved?

The short answer is, of course. Nature abhors a vacuum, and a political system dominated by a single party will soon collapse. Something will happen to create a balance; it might be a resurgence of the old GOP, or the creation of a third-party, or a thousand years of darkness. Whatever. Most likely there will be some rebranding as the GOP learns to deal with the rising Latino population and popular antipathy toward social conservatism.

There is a broader issue in the article, and that is the fact the conservative movement, particularly in the Republican Party, does not take care of its own. There is no effort being made to create new leaders in the GOP. If anything, the effort is to keep fresh blood out of important posts. The people under 40 who understand the new electoral paradigm are being sacrificed to the old guard that destroyed everything the Reagan movement created.

It’s something I’ve experienced personally. I was an “activist” (I word I now hate) at college and shortly thereafter. Among the people I knew on the right, very few have progressed professionally in the political world. But among my counterparts on the left, almost all of them were able to find regular employment in left-wing political movements. The progressives are serious about expanding the talent base and letting new people into leadership positions. Republicans are not. And that needs to change.

It was clear to me that in 2012 the only candidate in the Republican Party that attracted young people at rates higher than “token” levels was Ron Paul. And this makes sense, the form of conservatism most attractive to young people is more libertarian and economic based. Ron Paul’s attitudes on war are also more attractive than the “when in doubt, go to war” attitude of the hawkish neocons. Many of the leaders in the Ron Paul campaign were younger, and there were many opportunities to move “up” and take on more responsibilities.

I’m not suggesting a personality cult will be the future of the GOP, but there are other lessons to be learned here moving forward. If we so choose to learn them.