No Need To Be Kind, I Failed To Give Blood Today

As I mentioned in my last post, there was a blood drive at my office today.  I signed up with every intention of giving blood, but I failed.  The good news is that they didn’t even stick me this time.  The nurse who was taking my information rejected me.  It’s probably just as well because I was feeling really shaky and probably would have passed out when they stuck me.  But, I still feel like a failure.

I really feel like, and think, giving blood is something that every able bodied adult should do.  Not a day goes by without some kind of emergency where the hospitals can use it.  In theory, it is an easy way that anyone can help save a life.  I am now zero for four in my attempts, though.  I guess I’ll have to find some other way to make a difference.

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When Is It Good To Bleed?

I signed up to give blood.  They are having a blood drive at my office in a few days and I signed up to give.  I am utterly terrified.  This is the fourth time that I’ve signed up to give.  The first time, I turned a horrible ashen gray color and the nurse unhooked me.  The second time, I passed out.  The third time, I remained conscious, but couldn’t fill the bag.  I’m going to try again.  I don’t know if this is an act of courage or stupidity.  Not giving makes me feel like a coward, though.  I’m a relatively healthy adult.  Giving blood is one of the few things a person can do that will legitimately make a difference and possibly save someone’s life.  So, I guess it doesn’t make me courageous.  Simply not being a coward is not enough to make me courageous.  But, I don’t want to be a coward, so I’m going to try again.

Manager Interviews

If you follow baseball, you’ve probably heard about Bryan Price’s obscenity filled rant during his pregame interview yesterday.  I wouldn’t normally comment on this, but I’m bothered by the way it’s being covered.  It was absolutely fantastic.  Unfortunately, the press was on the receiving end of the tirade, so they don’t see it the same way.

I’m not a big fan of cursing, but I love everything about this.  Bryan Price is my new favorite manager.  I wish more players and managers would actually speak their minds to the press because the press is awful.  A lot of the commentary has been about the fact that the reporter who sparked it was just doing his job.  And then the comparisons go to, “Should a white house reporter go easy on the President?”  The thing is, this is baseball.  The only point to any of it is to entertain the fans and this was highly entertaining.  And Price was right.  Why should he have to sit there and take stupid questions about things that he obviously doesn’t want to talk about?  I’m not a Patriots’ fan, but Bill Belichick is my favorite football coach for the same reason.  He actually calls the press out or refuses to answer their stupid questions.

So, thank you Coach Price.  Keep it up.  I hope other players and managers learn from your example.

Patriots’ Day

As a New Englander, Patriots’ Day is a day I can’t help but notice.  The Sox play at 11:05 in the morning.  The Boston Marathon happens.  But as a Non-Mass and Non-Maine New Englander, it is not a day I celebrate.  I am fascinated by holidays like Patriots’ Day, though.  They add a lot of character.  As we become more and more homogenous, it’s nice to see real regional differences.

Mardi Gras has to be the most famous of these regional holidays.  I’d guess that Patriots’ Day is second because of the two major sporting events that are involved*.  But there are lots of these regional holidays.  For instance, there’s Casimir Pulaski Day in Illinois.  He was a revolutionary war hero.  I have no idea why Illinois lays claim to him.  Midsummer is celebrated in Minnesota.  That just goes to show that a lot of Scandinavians settled there.  Meck-Dec Day is celebrated in North Carolina.   This one’s kind of funny because they are celebrating the first declaration of independence, but historians can’t decide if it was really a declaration of independence or when it was written.  And there is Seward’s Day in Alaska, which is just wonderfully on the nose.

So, to all of my Massachusetts and Maine friends, enjoy your Patriots’ Day.  I hope the rain doesn’t ruin things for you.  And to everyone else, enjoy whatever special days you have that the rest of us don’t notice whenever they may happen.


*I haven’t forgotten about the bombing.  Patriots’ Day was a big deal before that, and I’m choosing to stay positive.

Jackie Robinson Day

April 15, 1947 was the day Jackie Robinson played his first Major League Baseball game.  For the past ten or so years, Major League Baseball has celebrated the date as Jackie Robinson Day.  It’s a nice day for baseball.  There are ceremonies before all the games.  All the players wear Jackie Robinson’s number, 42, as tribute and the jerseys are auctioned off to raise money for the Jackie Robinson Foundation.  The only problem I have with the day is that outside of baseball fans, I think most people are oblivious to it.

In popular culture and most history classes, Jackie Robinson is his own thing.  He is the man who broke baseball’s color barrier, but he isn’t mentioned along with Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King.  That’s really too bad.  This isn’t to take anything away from all of the other great civil rights leaders, but Jackie Robinson did something really special and really important.  He forced white America to deal with a black man as an equal in a way that no one had before.

Jackie Robinson was an undeniably great baseball player.  Of course there had been other blacks who were undeniably great in their fields before Robinson, but, this bears repeating, he was undeniably great at baseball.  Charlie Parker was an undeniably great musician and saxophone player.  Zora Neale Hurston was an undeniably great writer.  But these other fields were easy for white Americans to dismiss or marginalize.  Baseball, on the other hand, was America’s pastime.  And that is saying so much more than that baseball was the most popular sport in America.  Football is currently the most popular sport in America, but it doesn’t even come close to claiming America’s heart and soul like baseball did.  For a black man to play with white players in Major League Baseball, and be better than the white players, could not be marginalized or dismissed.  It had to be processed.

Naturally, that processing didn’t always go smoothly (I’m trying for understatement of the century there).  By being better than white people at something so central to America threatened many people.  The fact that Robinson handled everything that was thrown at him with dignity, pride and grace enhanced the importance of his achievement.  He literally converted hard core racists.  He didn’t just make white people feel guilty, he forced white people to recognize the humanity in black people.  That is an amazing achievement.

On this, and future, Jackie Robinson Days, I hope people outside of baseball remember Jackie Robinson’s legacy.  He used his incredible athleticism to become a true hero.  He is as responsible as anyone for the progress we have made.  I hope people can look to his example to continue that progress in the future.

Logic 101 – Politics

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these Logic 101 posts.  Just as a refresher, I like to look at a topic from the point of view of logic 101.  That is, I try to see where the basic errors in reasoning occur.  My theory is that if everyone took an intro to logic course, these arguments would be more productive and far less annoying.  I could write something longer than the Mahabharata, Ramayana and War & Peace combined when it comes to the errors in reasoning you’ll find in politics.  Some of the obvious ones are ad hominems, slippery slopes, appeals to tradition, appeals to authority, the naturalistic fallacy, appeals to nature, and straw men.  Oh, and hasty generalizations, the genetic fallacy and begging the question.  Like I said, I could write a very, very, very long book on the topic.  So, today I’ll just focus on one that I find particularly troubling, the false dilemma. A false dilemma is when an argument is presented as if it only has two possible solutions when, in fact, it has at least three.  There are two basic causes of a false dilemma.  One is honest, where the speaker simply cannot see the other possibilities.  The other is a dishonest rhetorical device where the speaker wants to strengthen one position by juxtaposing it against a silly or abhorrent position.

The false dilemma is, I think, a big part of the reason that so many people feel like there is no place for them in politics.  The abortion debate is a perfect example.  The way things are presented, you are either pro life or pro choice.  If you are pro life, you believe that life begins at conception and it is wrong to kill, therefore it is wrong to have an abortion.  If you are pro choice, you believe that a woman is free to do with her own person as she sees fit.  The problem is that many, if not most, people don’t fit happily into either of those descriptions.  It is entirely possible to believe that life starts at conception and still be pro choice.  A standard utilitarian approach does not fall into either camp.  A strict utilitarian calculus would show that some women who want an abortion should not get one, but other women would be justified.  And it might even show that some people who want to have the baby should have an abortion.  My point here is not to settle the issue.  But, until we start having realistic discussions that address the possibility that there are more than two positions, we will never make any progress.

Foreign relations is another area where the false dilemma is constantly used.  The only possibilities presented in any conflict are with us or against us.  It creates all kinds of problems when the whole world is divided into allies and enemies.  It forces us to care about things that have nothing to do with us and that can lead to unnecessary and illegal interventions.  It can makes us support horrible leaders like Netanyahu just because Israel is an ally and Iran is an enemy.   Realistically, other countries must do some things without even considering the US.  We should let those countries be neutral.  We should also understand that even friends can do bad things, like Israel’s illegal expansion, and adversaries can do nice things, like the Russians providing shuttle service to space for American astronauts.  I’d like to think that the state department realizes that it is not a black and white world, but until the electorate is clued in, how can they make informed decisions?

Surprisingly, I don’t really blame the politicians for the rampant use of false dilemmas.  Of course, I would prefer that they be up front and honest, but even though it is an informal fallacy, the false dilemma is a powerful rhetorical tool.  Given how cutthroat politics is, it is only natural that the politicians use it.  I put the blame on the press.  When you get right down to it, there is no profession as consistently bad at its job as the news media.  One of the key parts of the media’s job is to report the lies and misinformation that politicians spew.  This should include false dilemmas.  Progress is impossible when only two of many possibilities are considered.

Libertarianism

I first became aware of libertarianism more than twenty years ago when I was in high school.  A few years later, at college, I met my first libertarians.  Rand Paul’s announcement that he will be seeking the Presidency of the United States got me thinking about it again.  I’m not going to talk about Rand Paul.  He’s a joke of a politician who stands no chance of being elected president.  But, he is a senator who self-identifies as libertarian which, I think, makes him the most prominent libertarian presidential candidate we’ve ever had.  I find that to be a relief and troubling.  It is both because libertarianism strikes me as one of the dumbest philosophies out there.  So, it’s a relief that we’ve never had a libertarian that was a real contender for the highest office.  But, it is troubling that libertarians seem to be getting more prominent.

I should clarify that I’m talking about political and economic libertarianism, not metaphysical libertarianism.  Metaphysical libertarianism seems silly to me, too, but for completely different reasons.  When it comes to political and economic libertarianism, there are so many obvious things wrong with it and no good arguments in favor of it that I often wonder if its supporters are stupid or cynical, hypocritical liars.  I know that could be a false dilemma, but in the past twenty years, I have yet to find another realistic possibility.

If any libertarians are reading this, they are probably thinking, “Rand Paul isn’t a libertarian.  This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”  That’s a big issue with libertarianism.  The whole philosophy is a classic example of the No True Scotsman fallacy.  Every time someone tries to show what is wrong with a libertarian position, the response is, “Well, that’s not what a true libertarian believes.”  The result is an ever changing vacuousness.  That being said, I’ll do my best to talk about what their belief system seems to be.

At the heart of libertarian philosophy is freedom.  Anything that promotes freedom is good and anything that restricts freedom is bad.  That’s such a weird thing to have as a basis of a philosophy.  Other philosophies have happiness, flourishing, justice and reason as their basis.  While none of them are perfect, they are all a lot better than freedom.  All of those other things can be considered primary goods, but freedom cannot.  At best, it is a contingent good and at worst it is nothing.  What I mean by that is that freedom is only good in that it leads to happiness or flourishing or justice or reason.  If we were all free, but didn’t get anything out of that freedom, why would any of us care?  And if freedom does lead to something else, it is no longer primary.  Once something else becomes primary, it is justifiable to limit freedom to improve the new base.  But, then it is no longer libertarian.

Another thing that libertarians are obsessed with is individualism.  This is another weird one.  I know there is the whole myth of rugged individualism that Americans are so proud of.  And I know that collectivism was the enemy throughout the second half of the 20th century.  But when you look at human nature, one thing we definitely are not is individualistic.  There has never been a group of people who failed to form some kind of society.  Cutting people off from society has always been one of the worst punishments.  Some even consider it a kind of torture.  And there has never been a society where people are just expected to fend for themselves.  People help each other.  Sympathy and empathy are built in.  I know that natural does not equal good, but why would we want to shake off our natural inclinations in this case?  What’s the benefit?  We are happier and healthier when we help others and get help from others, so we should just go with it.

Property is another big thing for libertarians.  This one is a bit more understandable, but they just don’t know when to stop.  The typical libertarian view of property really comes from John Locke.  He said that in the state of nature, all goods were in common.  But, once a person mixes their work with a good, it becomes their property and they have exclusive rights to it.  In the libertarian view, this means that all taxes are equivalent to stealing.  If I worked to earn my money, no one, not even the government, has any right to take it from me.  The real problem here is that it relies on a complete misunderstanding of what money is and how money works.  In a modern economy, the government makes the money.  They put it into circulation and allow people and businesses to use it.  It wasn’t magically created by a person’s hard work.  And it wasn’t made by a bunch of people getting together and agreeing to use shiny coins and green paper as money (money could be made this way, but not for a society as large and complex as we have now).  Given that governments make and distribute the money, they are perfectly justified in taking taxes.

Finally, libertarians hate government and any kind of regulation.  Half of what they say is flat out absurd and the other half is completely divorced from reality.  We don’t need regulation.  If someone makes a bad product and that product hurts people, the market will correct things and put that person out of business.  Aside from the shocking callousness of essentially saying that it’s OK if an unsanitary farmer kills a bunch of people because the market will take care of him, they are ignoring reality.  Companies make bad and dangerous things all the time and the market does nothing.  Look at Exxon, HSBC and RJ Reynolds for a few examples.  And then libertarians ignore the fact that markets are only possible with a government and regulations that ensure an equal playing field.

Believe it or not, I’m not just writing this to bash libertarians.  People as smart as Robert Nozick have espoused libertarian views.  Milton Friedman won a Nobel Prize.  But every time I look at it, I see nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, of value.  I want to know either what I am missing or how such a bad philosophy gets any supporters at all.