Monday, September 13, 2010

Trying Not to be Cynical

So this morning I was approached by a woman at the gas station claiming her car had broken down and her kids were sleeping in the car. Yeah I know, it’s a typical panhandler line, but I was feeling charitable so I tried to help her and her kids out. I’d had a really bad week and I was projecting a little bit. If her week was half as bad as mine she could use someone to trust her.
Well to make a long story short: I never saw the kids or the truck and I got cussed out when I wouldn’t pay for a hotel room. I told her she could get out of my truck here or I could drop her off at the police station a block away.
Yeah I know it had all the signs of a scam from the beginning, but don’t they all? So here’s my question. How do you give people the benefit of a doubt without setting yourself up for being scammed? I stuck to my rule of helping rather than just giving them a handout. And I’m glad I did. But how do I now prevent this experience from jading me for next time? What tools do you use to tell who really needs help?

Friday, September 10, 2010

This a beautiful song to start with. This arrangement is just amazing.

Delivering Cakes

A few weeks ago a friend of mine gave a great talk at church. He brought up an example of a empathy that I thought was both funny and very profound. Have you ever been behind somebody in traffic who seemed to drive far too cautiously? As my wife would say, “Come on, what do you need, an embossed invitation to make a right turn?” From the perspective of everybody around them it may seem that they are doing things wrong. And our criticism of them may seem justified. But what if we don’t’ quite know the whole story? What if there is something going on inside the car that we are not privy to? What if they are responding completely appropriately considering the facts that they have before them?
In his talk my friend gave the example of how his wife likes to bake and decorate cakes. Occasionally he is asked to deliver the cake. Doing so he tends to take it very easy on the road, giving a lot of space fro braking if needed, avoiding quick starts at lights, and even seeming to need an embossed invitation to make a right turn. I could relate to this analogy pretty easily. Victoria and I also decorate cakes every now and then and I know how frustrating it can be when something doesn’t make it to the destination intact.
Lately I’ve been going through some struggles in my life and I feel like people are shouting at me and giving me the bird because they disagree with how I’m driving through them. If they only knew that I had a cake in the car and I’m trying to get it to its destination in one piece…

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Earlier this year I blogged about the logical fallacy “begging the question”. Take a second to re-read that post.
I had another rather frustrating example of begging the question today. At work we frequently get sent email notifications telling us to take some online training. It’s a great way for us to get covered on company polices and procedures at our own pace and without having to get together for a group meeting. So normally I don’t have any complaint.
Today I got one such email. The training class was scheduled to take 45 minutes and there was a quiz at the end that I had to pass in order to get credit. This is about average for these classes. Well after I looked at the class description it was clear that it didn’t pertain to me at all. It was about using a specific company program that I don’t use to track my corporate travel that I don't do and expenses that I don’t have. So I fired off an email essentially asking, “Why do I have to take a 45 minute course that does not apply at all to my job?” Now comes the logical fallacy. The answer that came back, “This course in mandatory for all managers.”
How’s that for a non-sequitor? I asked why is this course mandatory and the response, because it is mandatory.
So rather than debate the concept of begging the question with them for 45 minutes I just took the course and then, of course, blogged about it on my lunch hour.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Common Nonsense

A few months ago I heard a great podcast interview with Alexander Zaitchik about his new book, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance. The interview was very eye opening and inspired me to read the book.
I’ve always felt that Glenn Beck was just a failed shock jock who couldn’t keep up with the likes of Howard Stern. So he switched to am radio and started using the same shock jock strategies and even some of the same skits to shock am listeners.
Zaitchik successfully illustrates that Beck is a brilliant marketer. He is always looking at how he can spin anything to promote himself. As a FM DJ he called and taunted the wife of a competing station on the air because she had recently had a miscarriage. When other people are genuinely distraught about a national tragedy, Beck is trying to figure out how he can make the event improve his brand. And for those of you who would like to claim that this was the “old Glenn” before he found Jesus and converted to Mormonism, I have seen no change at all in his strategies since. He switched sides on the Teri Schiavo case after he realized that siding with Michael Schiavo would be a death nail for his new am gig. He vilified liberals for opposing Bush’s polices “..while we have troops in harm’s way” yet didn’t think twice to compare Obama to Stalin and Satan while pretty much all of those troops are still “in harm’s way”.
I’ve always felt that’s Beck’s tears were just a tool to manipulate. Sure they may have been genuine at first, but they have grown to be a great marking strategy. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that his emotional outbursts started shortly after he converted to Mormonism. Anybody who has attended an LDS, first Sunday service will recognize the pattern. You go up and stand before everybody and the firmness with which you believe something replaces logic, facts and evidence. Tears are just the ace in the hole. There can be no further argument on that issue once somebody has cried. I am sure that most of what happens on Sunday is genuine. With Beck I’m not so sure. Zaitchik interview several of Beck’s co-workers who detail examples of him getting all choked up before a commercial break then ordering a pizza on the phone and then turning the tears back on when he’s back on air. I’m just not buying it.
Another little strategy of Beck’s that he has commandeered from the LDS is church is his persecution complex. If people picket him or criticize it only can mean one thing. He is doing the right thing. Beck capitalizes on protests and disagreement and he has no desire for them to go away. His books are literally covered with quotes from those who oppose him. He eats it up.
His claim that his 8-28 rally was just “coincidentally” scheduled for the anniversary of Dr. Kings speech is very hollow. In my mind there are two options: 1. He didn’t know it was the same date. In which case he’s a moron and should have known. Or option 2. He knew full well and was planning on capitalizing on the controversy. Considering his history of doing things that upset his opposition and using their protests as free advertising I have to accept the later. As a shock jock he worked up PETA supporters into a lather and then relished the free publicity they gave him.
The really disgustng part of Beck’s rally and his whole “reclaim the civil rights” rhetoric is that it’s just patently false. Had he been a contemporary of King's he’d have been standing right beside his John Birch Society role models W. Cleon Skousen and Ezra Taft Benson condemning King as a communist.
In the book Zaitchik was referring to a couple Cleon Skousen books and he called them, “…elaborately imagined, feverishly argued, and poorly researched.” I think the same could also be said for everything I’ve hear come out of Glenn Beck’s mouth. I think Beck is counting on the ignorance of his audience. He expects them to just connect the dots the same what his conspiracy theory mind connects them on that chalkboard without any further research.

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Victoria asked me to stop by the credit union to get a few buck to pay Eve’s piano teacher. There is only one teller open since they are trying to close. The guy at the teller is on his cell phone talking asking about his accounts and trying to figure out what he needs to do at the teller. The teller politely asks him to step aside so she can assist other customers while he gets what he needs form the call. So, I step up and give my account information to the teller. At this point the guy has finished his call and is standing only a few inches from me. He looks at my uniform shirt, sizes me up and says, “AT&T huh? I just wanna say that your phone service SUCKS!!” I was a little irritated from some other events of the day already but I forced some restraint. I simply turned to him, put my hands on my hips and stared. At this point he said, “No offense.” and took a step back. I turned back to the teller shaking my head and finished my transaction.
Then on the way home this kid in a little sports car is treating Hwy-78 like it’s Talladega and he’s Richard Petty. He gets so close behind my truck that I completely lost him in all of my mirrors. He passed me and began drafting this minivan next to me with less than a foot to spare. I honk to signal my displeasure at his driving and he returns by giving me a universal hand gesture and telling me to “go vacuum”. At least that’s what I think he said. My hearing isn’t what it used to be. I see him again about two miles down the road and he’s still only about 100 feet in front of me. Apparently all his NASCAR driving strategy gets him about 50 feet per mile.
This morning Aaron and I are headed to seminary. We stop at the light a the front of the subdivision. It turns green. I pause for a second and then start to make my left turn. Then out of nowhere going about 70 MPH a little 2-door comes in from the left and has to swerve all the way into the other lane to avoid us. We clearly had the light but, I lock the brakes and hit the horn. Again with the hand gesture.
I could go on and on. I actually have several more not-so-uplifting stories about society. But the common theme that I believe ties all of them together is selfishness. All of these people were soley focused on their own needs. I wish I could say that I saw changes in the future, but I don't. Increasingly our social and political world is dominatite by selfishness. Now, I full admit that there are some valiant exceptions to the rule. The last 24 hours have jsut seemed to have been dominated by the selfish.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Proceeding from a False Premise

One of my favorite lines from all of the Star Trek movies was in Star Trek 4. Spock was technically the Capitan. Kirk, then an Admiral, wanted to take command of the ship. He was tip-toeing around Spock’s feelings in even bringing up the subject. Spock responded,
“You proceed from a false assumption. I have no ego to bruise.”
I’ve always remembered that lesson from the fictional master of logic and tried to apply it in my life. Before I make something more difficult than it has to be or before I take something for granted I should make sure that all the information that I’ve used to make my decision is correct.

Suppose I was always losing my keys. If I had already accepted the premise that leprechauns exist then it would be easy for me to conclude that leprechauns were to blame every time I misplaced my keys. Accepting this solution would likely prevent me from identifying and correcting the real problem. Obviously the existence of leprechauns is a pretty far-fetched example. However, less silly examples happen all the time. People make assumptions that are based on no more proof than the evidence for existence of our little green Irish friends.

The other day I was listening to a speaker give a presentation about a new program that was available for those fighting various forms of addiction. He lost me early in his presentation because he proceeded from a false premise. He proudly announced that the program was “based on the proven effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous”. His false premise? That Alcoholics Anonymous has been proven effective. It’s very hard to objectively measure such results. It’s even more difficult when AA is very tightlipped about their effectiveness and resistant to outside studies to evaluate it. Some studies show that 95% of those who start AA end up drinking again. This makes me wonder what the rate is for those who just try to quite without AA. A recent study determined that,
“No experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or TSF approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems.”

Now all this AA business aside; I have no idea how effective the program that was presented really is. I have no evidence either way. The point of this post was not to discredit that program at all. I only wished to point out the logical fallacy in the reasoning used to promote it.