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August 26, 2009

The Giant "Ass" in Assume

Word of the Day: "smash-troturfing". The longer I spend on the Internet, the more I'm beginning to believe blogging is little more than an exercise in applied confirmation bias. The term actively close-minded comes to mind:

People who are less confident in their beliefs are more reluctant than others to seek out opposing perspectives, researchers said today.

The findings, which are based on a review of more than 90 studies, shed light on the debate over whether people intentionally steer clear of views conflicting with their own, or whether they are just exposed more often to ideas that conform to their own.

The former seems to be the case.

Case in point: check out the comments on this post. Or this one. What does it say about a person when just seeing comments they disagree with is intolerable?

Campesino says:

This comment has been voted down. Click to read.

Aieeee!!! Opinions... they burn! If only there were some way to "vote down" the Associated Press. Just think! We could all hunker down in our respective foxholes and never have to see a single idea we disagree with!

Here's an inconvenient thought: stupidity is stupidity. It knows no political party. Both sides have more than their fair share of blowhards, fools, and bullies.

To admit that there are idiots on both sides is not the same as drawing a moral equivalence between the philosophical underpinnings of the Left and the Right. But contrary to the absolute dreck too many bloggers these days are peddling, it's quite possible to be a responsible, intelligent, hard working and patriotic person and still vote for the other party. I know: about half my family vote Republican and the other half vote Democrat.

They are all good people. I love them all. I respect them all. They are all smart and all well-read. Their children are well mannered and kind.

And they are not The Enemy.

Here's a news flash: if the only way you can bolster confidence in the moral and intellectual superiority of your own side is to cherry pick outrageous examples from the other side and hold them up as typical behavior, you're part of the problem.

The proliferation of progressive leaning pundits who think they've proved America is about to be taken over by violent right leaning zealots on the strength of - count them! - TWO! data points makes me wonder if the national water supply has been checked for lead lately? Here's a galatic hint: if you draw a straight line through two data points, your R2 will be 1! A perfect correlation! (and we all know that in statistics, correlation proves causation, don't we?)

Of course if you have to completely ignore a third data point to "prove" your point, some wingnuts people may question your methodology, to say nothing of your objectivity. Fortunately, these Deniers can be dismissed. If they were decent folk, they'd agree with you unquestioningly. Don't they realize that whole "Question Authority" thing was only meant to operate when the other side is in power?

If you're one of those tolerant progressives who loves to spout inflammatory nonsense about right wing terrorists, or who calls fellow Americans who oppose health care reform "Birthers" or "tea baggers", you're part of the problem. Likewise, if you're comforted by the stunning insight that anyone who voted for Obama is either a moron or an amoral zealot out to destroy America, you're part of the problem. If you're one of those who avidly seizes on every Righty/Lefty misstep, every instance of incivility, every insult... but only to justify doing exactly the same things to those who have so offended you, you are the problem.

Because you're just like "them". You've willingly become what you hate.

I'm not one bit uncertain about my values. Admitting the other side occasionally has a point isn't weakness. Strong, confident people aren't afraid of a little opposition.

There was a time when we understood that. I wonder whether that time will ever come again?

Posted by Cassandra at August 26, 2009 12:11 PM

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Very timely post. And I agree totally. I also have many thoughts this provoked, but I can't seem to organize them well at the moment.

Posted by: airforcewife at August 26, 2009 02:42 PM

I have seen about a million things I want to write about lately (including that thing you emailed me about :).

Unfortunately, I'm having trouble being civil at the moment so I've waved off several posts. Sooner or later the sense of humor shows up again, but until it does I prefer to err on the side of STFU :p

Posted by: Cassandra at August 26, 2009 02:48 PM

As far as political inclinations go, I am a Conservative. As far as the chandelier goes, I might not be the brightest bulb, but there is still a glow. I have an undergraduate degree in history, and I continue to be a strong student of early United States politics (you think things are nasty now?). I have a graduate degree in Health Care Administration and have researched, for well over 10 years, how to improve the delivery of health care, but by way of argument, the most I get from my friends on the Left when discussing the subject is "something has to be done!" And, this is in the place were the "smartest people in the world" stroll the streets, Cambridge, MA. The comment directed at me when I leave the scene is "idiot!"

As a Conservative, I have seen my political point of view demonized for most..., no, make that all of my life. On the other hand, I have seen the John Kerry's and Nancy Pelosi's of this country lionized. If I disagree with our African-American President, I am a racist. If I disagree with what the Democrats want to push through as a health care program, I am un-American. If I ask, what, exactly, has President Obama ever done to actually even think of running for the highest office in the land, I am told he is very smart. If that is all you need to run this nation, they should have amended the Constitution and crowned Einstein.

I have seen, in my lifetime, two men who should have resigned from the Presidential office. One did, and the other thinks he is owed an apology for being impeached.

The list could go on, but a couple of idiots breaking windows in Denver is not going to get me all that upset. What gets me upset is that I am a highly qualified disabled vet who spent over 20 years in the military, and I do not seem to be qualified for any job I apply for. Maybe I should have run for President!

Posted by: RIslander at August 26, 2009 04:17 PM

I think, RIslander, that a couple of things are going on here.

1. As far as conservatives being demonized: sure that happens. A lot.

But it happens to liberals too. I read the comments sections of many conservative sites and see the same kind of intemperate, insulting rhetoric I see on sites like Think Progressive.

What bugs me here is that both parties seem to be reacting (and allowing their responses to be dictated by) the lowest common denominator on the other side. That's just not smart.

Sorry, but there it is. Is it OK to make jokes about the other side? Sure. We all do it. It's a great way of defusing tension or making light of a painful reality.

But I do see both sides being "actively close minded" (IOW, not just screening out anything that doesn't confirm their position, but actively *searching* for reasons to take offense and then pretending their side has never done anything similar).

FWIW, I happen to believe that in general the right has been a bit more restrained. But no longer - the most popular pundits and bloggers on the Right AND Left these days are the ones who actively TRY to gin up outrage with very little sense of proportion.

Part of that's b/c we're out of power. But that's an explanation, not an excuse.

2. You can't seriously mean that Nancy Pelosi has never been harshly criticized by the Right. She has. John Kerry, too.

3. You are - and always have been - one of my favorite commenters. I love your dry wit and am totally confident that things will turn around for you.

Here is something to make you smile:


Who knew the solutions to life's more pressing problems was so simple? :)

Posted by: Cassandra at August 26, 2009 04:31 PM

There would probably be less problems, Cass, if Republicans remembered who brung them to the dance.

That said, still luv ya.

Posted by: RIslander at August 26, 2009 04:44 PM

Well, I remember who 'brung me to the dance'.

It was Ronald Reagan. Reagan hit hard with ideological arguments but he NEVER engaged in personal attacks.

I wish I could say the same of my party today.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 26, 2009 04:50 PM

Well, I can guarandamnteeya that if you want to drive your traffic down... be civil. I know from experience.

People flock to the rants.

Me, while I do enjoy a good rant ala P.J. O'Rourke, most of it is just spittle-flecked bile that makes my stomach hurt.

Which cost me some otherwise pretty good readers/commenters, but they have no truck with my squishiness.

C'est la blog.

Posted by: NRA-ILA card carrying Neanderthal at August 26, 2009 05:16 PM

Can you please introduce me to "a responsible, intelligent, hard working and patriotic person" who voted for Obama?? Unless, you count doing so in order to 'close the chasm' for good (an affirmative action, really) as intelligence... Also, can you please introduce me to a "responsible, intelligent, hard working and patriotic person" who supports these banking, cap&trade, healthcare, etc disasters?? I've lived in NYC for 15 years and in NoVA for almost 4 years now, and by virtue of my profession I am surrounded by people of Dems/Libs affiliation and I am yet to meet the person you described.
Well, my mom is a registered Democrat but she always votes Republican...

Posted by: olga at August 26, 2009 05:20 PM

this is not to say that I am happy with the current state of affairs in the Republican party or that I do not think Libertarians are a little bit too off on certain issues...

Posted by: olga at August 26, 2009 05:22 PM

Olga - my sister and her husband fit the bill. I love 'em anyway.

Sounds like you're gonna want to quibble on the definition of intelligent, eh?

Posted by: NRA-ILA card carrying Neanderthal at August 26, 2009 05:28 PM

Well just to name a few off the top of my head, there's:

My mother in law.
My daughter in law.
My brother in law.
Sister in law.
Not sure about my brother. We don't talk about politics. But I suspect he may have voted for Obama this time.
Best friend from high school (we're still friends 30 years later).
My childhood best friend and her husband.
My husband's best friend since 1st grade (they're still friends, too).

Do I agree with any of these people politically? No.

But every single one loves this country, has worked hard all their life and never taken a dime from anyone else. And they are plenty smart (scientists, economists, philosophers, military wives, government analysts, software engineer/project mgr, art dealer).

Posted by: Cassandra at August 26, 2009 05:42 PM

I'll add Dear Sovay to the list; her honor and virtue I'd defend against anyone who cared to challenge it. I don't agree with her political sense at all, but she's as good a person as ever walked; smart; hard-working, and uncomplaining even when hard economic times have made things difficult for her; and certainly patriotic.

Posted by: Grim at August 26, 2009 06:01 PM

It looks like more on a definition of "intelligence" and "responsible" :o)
Cassandra, not discussing any of your relatives and friends, here is the question:
if a person never took a dime from anyone else and has worked hard all his/her life, how can this person support the current re-distribution scheme (all these disasters billed as laws) being peddled by the Congress and the WH?? That includes the 'stimulus' pushed by the previous administration.
Or does my background make me too sensitive to the miasms of socialism, unlike the American-born citizenry??

Posted by: olga at August 26, 2009 06:03 PM

if a person never took a dime from anyone else and has worked hard all his/her life, how can this person support the current re-distribution scheme (all these disasters billed as laws) being peddled by the Congress and the WH??

The argument I've most consistently heard advanced is fairly simple:

1. Congress has the power to tax and spend for the general welfare of the nation.

2. We are a wealthy nation. We can easily afford to provide health care for everyone instead of making it tied to employment. Sometimes people lose their jobs through no fault of their own and aren't able to get a job that offers a health care plan.

But there's no magic that ensures you won't get sick just b/c you don't have health care.

3. Since we can easily afford to do provide health care (and since many other prosperous nations do it) then we should too. Some people will have to give up part of their income, but the marginal utility of that extra income is less than the utility of being able to provide health care.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 26, 2009 06:12 PM

I'm not sure that "easily afford" is part of the argument. There is a lot of reason to believe we can't "easily" afford it -- and may not be able to afford it at all. I've never found an argument from expense to be persuasive, though.

Rather, they seem to feel that we simply have a moral duty to care for the sick. At any cost, and regardless of any other factors: citizenship v. illegal immigration, for example. It's right to care for the sick, and therefore we should.

That "it's right to care for the sick," and even for the transient sick, is a moral principle I'd be happy to share. Certainly, I believe in hospitality, and in helping the weak, whether they are weak from sickness or for other causes.

It's just that I suspect that accepting such a duty would be ruinous, given the numbers involved. I would like some surety that I would still have adequate resources to protect the people I love, first.

I would like to provide charity in the usual way, out of the extra I have after I have cared for my family. The liberal position is to have the charity seized from me first, and I shall have to take care of those I love out of whatever they feel fit to leave me. That seems backwards to me, really.

Posted by: Grim at August 26, 2009 06:35 PM

Actually, "easily afford" IS part of the argument, Grim. I've seen it over and over and over again in the past few months.

Interesting moral question:

If we could provide universal health care by deducting exactly $1 from the pay of every single American, would you still oppose it?

I suspect the answers to that question would be very illustrative of the gulf in our values.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 26, 2009 06:46 PM

"Our" not being yours and mine, but rather the gulf between liberals and conservatives.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 26, 2009 06:47 PM

people who are poor and "working poor" are eligible for medicaid - we already provide 'free' care for them.
people who are students/graduate students can have cheap health insurance (catastrophic coverage which what they really need at this age/health) through their schools
people who are transient (ie illegal immigrants) are already use our emergency rooms for 'free' care when they get sick - our laws do not allow withholding of emergency treatment due to lack of coverage
people who are 65 yo are eligible for medicare - semi-free coverage provided by the "us"
people whose employer provides medical insurance have it while they are employed and then can use COBRA benefits
there are many cheap health plans available that offer the minimal catastrophic coverage
that leaves people who can buy health insurance but make a decision not to.
So, how is it our moral obligation to provide the latter with 'free' health insurance, regardless of whether or not we can 'easily afford' such??

Posted by: olga at August 26, 2009 06:54 PM

Don't ask me to defend an argument I don't believe. I've already stated I don't think we have a moral obligation to provide health care to anyone.

You asked me what they argue, and I answered. The fact of the matter is that I will be heavily taxed if health care passes.

The fact, too, is that I won't go broke because of it. I can, indeed, "easily afford" it. I may not CHOOSE to spend my money that way, but being able to afford it isn't the question for me or really for most folks in the top income brackets. It just isn't.

And arguing that just taxing folks in the top brackets won't pay for all of it? Well, you're preaching to the choir. The problem is that THEY don't believe it.

Anyway, what do you think of my question? :p

Posted by: Cassandra at August 26, 2009 07:07 PM

I agree that it's often initially phrased as, "We can easily afford it." I just mean that, if you point out the difficulty of "easily" affording it, that never seems to impact their desire to do it. Perhaps they simply believe that our math is wrong; or that the fact that every other nation that has done it has found it to be their #1 expense is irrelevant to the discussion.

Still, what I've taken away from these debates is that they don't really care about the money. It's not a question of whether we can easily afford it, or whether it would completely absorb the Federal budget. They just think it's the right thing to do, and we should therefore do it.

Posted by: Grim at August 26, 2009 08:34 PM

"We can easily afford it."
Sure we can. Only being 12 trillion dollars in debt is no biggie.

Sure we can easily afford it, if the plan is to default on the debt or to seize everything from everyone up to and including their income and 100% of their holdings.

Get you railroad crossties, tar, and feathers now, avoid the rush.

Posted by: bthun at August 26, 2009 09:28 PM

What is being discussed is a total revamping of our health care system for 15-18 million people. If you have a government sponsored health insurance plan, most people will end up on it - private insurance companies would not be able to compete with it. To stay in business, they would have to raise their prices to levels the average person could never afford. Additionally, in the plan being hawked by Congress, the government will set the guidelines for the private companies, also.

Regarding illegal immigrants, there are two points to make. One is that the policing of Medicaid is so intentionally porous, God only knows how many are already covered. The other is the amnesty being shuttled through Congress. Once it gets through, voila, how many millions more will be covered - at your expense, thank you.

The American Medical Association, which speaks for less than thirty per cent of the doctors in this country is for it. The Canadian Medical Association, at least its President, with experience with the matter, says that their system is about to implode. Which, by the way, is not a ringing endorsement for jumping into the pool before you see if there is any water in it.

One person's moral obligation, after all, is often another person's sin.

Posted by: RIslander at August 26, 2009 09:37 PM

Hey! I agree with you :p

And the "we" in "we can afford it" is me and my husband. That says nothing about whether it's a good idea, or whether there might be other unintended consequences.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 26, 2009 09:54 PM

But it happens to liberals too. I read the comments sections of many conservative sites and see the same kind of intemperate, insulting rhetoric I see on sites like Think Progressive.

Yes, but look higher than that. Look at Pelosi and Reid and even our President, who has demonized those who disagree with him. Where are the SENIOR elected Republican leaders who have done the equivalent?

Posted by: FbL at August 26, 2009 10:03 PM

And the "we" in "we can afford it" is me and my husband.

Roger that! If I could have my taxes back for this year, with a little frugality I could take the rest of the year off.

Posted by: Grim at August 26, 2009 10:09 PM

Hun, I am cracking up.

Posted by: Mark at August 26, 2009 10:18 PM

Heh... let's just lay claim to Obama's taxes for the year, Grim :p

He shouldn't mind. That would be selfish.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 26, 2009 10:25 PM

Comments: (you may use HTML tags for style) - I just paid attention to that for the first time in I don't know how many years. Cute! Really cute! I'm lucky if I can just post a comment as is. Gotta love it.

Posted by: RIslander at August 26, 2009 10:32 PM

My answer is still "no" :o) I lived in the system with the universal health care that was funded by deducting $1 (equivalent) from every single citizen and it does not work: if you wanted good health care, you still ended up paying for it as in bribes and gifts to the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and as in paying the black market price for a medicine/drug that otherwise is being rationed.

Posted by: olga at August 26, 2009 11:06 PM

Well, that is my theory: you can't escape market forces by nationalizing an industry b/c market forces are only the aggregated behaviors of self-interested individuals :)

So I agree with you. I wouldn't either.

That's why it doesn't particularly bother me that I oppose being taxed to pay for health care. Even if they took from everyone equally (and even if my "share" was proportionally far less of my income than it was for less well off folks) I'd still oppose it.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 26, 2009 11:09 PM

"You asked me what they argue, and I answered"
Have you ever gotten an answer to my question from any of them??
And will they agree to the scheme if THEIR taxes go up??
According to their reasoning, your $1 scheme won't work because the poor and the dirty rich will pay the same $1 and that simply cannot be allowed.

Posted by: olga at August 26, 2009 11:18 PM


The purpose of that question was to remove the "selfishness" argument and the "they just don't want anyone else to have health care" arguments from the table :p

What I've heard from liberals is that they don't believe the things we say will happen, will happen.

And we don't believe the things they say will happen will happen.

It's all a matter of the assumptions you make going in. If you accept all their assumptions (and I don't) you have no real reason to oppose health care. And that's why they think we're unreasonable.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 26, 2009 11:24 PM

What I've heard from liberals is that they don't believe the things we say will happen, will happen.

That's because the Reality-Based Communards refuse to believe in any reality that is not congruent with their particular view of what reality should really be.

For example, in *their* reality, all veterans receive needed health care when they need it. Period.

In *actual* reality, a veteran must submit a request for an appointment to see a physician forty-five days in advance, then wait for up to two weeks for the telephone call advising him of the date and time of his appointment -- and if the veteran *himself* doesn't answer the phone, the appointment is automatically flushed.

Posted by: BillT at August 27, 2009 05:50 AM

And I mean "if the veteran *himself* doesn't answer the phone" to include the veteran standing next to his wife when *she* answers the phone.

BTW, you only get *one* phone call...

Posted by: BillT at August 27, 2009 05:55 AM

On debating and other political persuasions: I can often be guilty of passionately, even heatedly debating the point. I love a good argument.

That said, I try to stick to facts and logic, be honest about keeping goalposts rooted, concede points and factor them into my replies. I have had my mind changed at times. I also, despte my tone, try not to make it personal - attacking the messenger per se.

My worst personal offence in that regard was after recently seeing "The Cove" (Pretty good documentary about dolphin slaughters in Japan - I don't agree with dolphins==food) introduced by Phillipe Cousteau. In retrospect I should have expected his 20-minute harangue on how we are "raping the planet" and our disregard, and greedy, irresponsible use, lack of recycling, lack of public transport, etc are at fault. How we were responsible for Japan's whaling industry, and the worst carbon offenders for the last 200 years. (I took notes, so yes, he used "rape," etc., and 200 years).

I'll admit that after leaving, I referred to him as a f*ing ignorant on the subjects of logistics, power systems and distribution, and the population distribution of the US.

I would also argue that it was mitigated by being told (and the rest of the audience, and by extension humanity, but he was explicitly adressing us and exhorting us to "do something") that I am killing the planet based on arguments who's base assumptions I refute on personal experience and expertise in the related fields, how it keeps coming back to be america's fault even when other countries are the actors, and swallowing it for the sake of not starting a fight.

Am I proud of myself for dropping the f-bomb?


OTOH, after being polite to a crowd of people who are convinced that all the smart people agree with them (with "stupid conservatives" and the implication in several conversations that those that don't aren't), and not starting a public argument over logistics, economics, human nature, and game theory with them or with the presenter (it was his forum - I respect that), I think that mentally holding the opinion he's ignorant on several topics instead of stupid in general - even if I quite vehemently disagree based on my experience, is the most that can honestly asked for until I learn more.

Side note - we also invited him to speak to the marine biology class at our daughter's school.... and this was AFTER the presentation.

And I also know intelligent, decent people who voted for Obama, mostly because they liked him and how he presented himself as a person. Like my wife, and many people we know in the entertainment biz.

Posted by: Darius at August 27, 2009 12:21 PM

PS.. I love the point you make about:

If you accept all their assumptions (and I don't) you have no real reason to oppose health care

But argue the base assumptions, that the system has to be built to ACCEPT imperfection instead of a utopian ideal, that systems work best when authority and action are pushed as far down and out from the center as possible because the people on the spot can best see and address the problem, that the inevitable failures are minimised in scope and allow the non-failures to take over, that centralized systems inevitably stagnate and suffer from single point failure when even the smartest make mistakes, that handing over power to say yes or no to the government is handing away freedom... and people then ask "what have you done to help the sick/save the planet". They tell you "You don't care."

Posted by: Darius at August 27, 2009 12:28 PM

...I think that mentally holding the opinion he's ignorant on several topics instead of stupid in general - even if I quite vehemently disagree based on my experience, is the most that can honestly asked for until I learn more.

Agreed! :)

We all have our thoughts on those who disagree with us. My issue is more with outward behavior, because no one can read your mind.

I like to use the example of the movie, "Arthur" - there is usually a running snarky commentary going on in my mind when as I go through the day. I'm really quite uncharitable in my private thoughts, just as I passionately vilify other drivers on 270 even as I'm yielding the right of way to these graduates of the School of Random Driving :p

They walk (and often drive) amongst us.

Heh :)

Posted by: Cassandra at August 27, 2009 12:28 PM

We all have our thoughts on those who disagree with us. My issue is more with outward behavior, because no one can read your mind.


Yup - which is why I try - and all too often fail - to not be dismissive in tone.

Oddly, sometimes the only thing that works is mockery. Eric Raymond - computer programmer - had a blog post on the subject of when it can sometimes be useful - in situations where the person is arguing because of his emotions and the logic be damned....


That, and his essay on the ethics of firearms ( Ethics from teh Barrel of a Gun: http://catb.org/~esr/guns/gun-ethics.html ) are both well worth reading as they apply a LOT more broadly than gun rights.

Posted by: Darius at August 27, 2009 10:37 PM