Archive for September, 2012

Kloor, Frauenfelder, and Hiltzik on Attitudes Toward and the Politics of GMO Foods

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Keith Kloor has an excellent article at Slate on how scientific denialism is not the exclusive province of the Right: GMO Opponents Are the Climate Skeptics of the Left.

This hit home for me, because I’ve been following this issue for a while. People like Dan Kahan (whom Kloor quotes in his article) have been (gently) taking people like Chris Mooney to task for their willingness to paint science denialism as a conservative-specific thing.

It also was kind of depressing for me to see how Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing, a site I like a lot (obviously, since I repost stuff from there all the time) was willing to run a really propagandistic piece attacking the No on 37 campaign (the campaign to defeat California’s Proposition 37, which would require labeling of [some] genetically modified food). It especially saddened me to have a couple of comments (including my own) that I think were quite civil and reasonable, but criticized Fraunfelder for doing that, quietly deleted from the comments there.

Anyway, links for that stuff:

The thing that bugged me about Frauenfelder’s original piece, even after he updated it to acknowledge that the “GMO corn gives rats tumors” study was problematic, was the glib way he seemed to assume that by simply looking at the budgets and list of donors on either side of the Proposition 37 campaign, he could determine which side was the Good Guys and which were the Bad Guys. Here’s what he said:

When I visited the site I was impressed by processed food conglomerates’ desperation to defeat this bill. Monsanto is one of the corporations spending money to defeat 37 (According to Yes on 37, Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer, Dow, BASF and Syngenta have donated $19 million to No on 37).

Big food companies are indeed pushing to defeat Prop 37. And somewhat smaller organic food companies are pushing to pass it. In each case, the financial incentive of the people trying to influence the outcome is clear. But the reality of whether GMO foods are, in fact, dangerous, and whether the public interest will be served by mandatory labeling, has nothing to do with how you feel about the companies that stand to profit if the measure passes or fails. It’s a scientific question, and it’s true or not based on how the universe actually works.

Michael Hiltzik had a good piece about this in the LA Times last week: Prop. 37: Another example of the perils of the initiative process.

Roberts on Discount Rates and Cute Otters

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

This was a quite-enjoyable article from David Roberts on how economic models factor into discussions about appropriate policies re: climate change: Discount rates: A boring thing you should know about (with otters!)

It’s true that there are many assumptions involved in determining a social cost of carbon. What’s also true is that many of those assumptions are based, in part, on moral judgments.

As cultures, as polities, how should we make those kind of judgments? Frank Partnoy, a professor of law and finance at the University of San Diego, makes the right point:

“Ultimately, we can’t rely on only numbers – we have to make really hard value judgments,” Dr. Partnoy said. “We should stop pretending this is a science and admit it is an art and talk about this in terms of ethics and fairness, not what we can observe in the markets.”

That, to me, is the key take-home message about discount rates: They are social and ethical disputes being waged under cover of math, as though they are nothing but technical matters to be determined by “experts.” But social and ethical judgments should be made in an open, transparent way, not buried in models as inscrutable parameters.

I mean, we’re talking about how much we value our children and grandchildren. Surely that’s a matter for democratic discussion and debate!

Singing About Science

Monday, September 17th, 2012

You’ve probably seen it already (since I’ve seen it about 5 times from various sources in my newsfeed), but the Symphony of Science guy (John Boswell, aka melodysheep) has a new auto-tuned song out about climate change:

Also, Phil Plait called my attention to this moving (and scientifically accurate!) song and video about lunar libration:

That in turn led me to this video, from the same people as Libration (Matt Schickele, composition and visuals; Hai-Ting Chinn, voice; and Erika Switzer, piano), though this time with a different skeptic (Steven Novella) providing the lyrics. Also very moving (at least for me), while being simultaneously profound:

Chris Jones on Teller’s Latest Trick

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Long, but good, article from Chris Jones in Esquire about Teller (of “Penn and…”), and his attempt to sue a mysterious Dutch magician for stealing Teller’s copyrighted magic trick, Shadows: The honor system.

Penn began his patter. He told the audience that they were about to be given a choice. Teller was going to make good his escape – there was no doubt about that, Penn said. Penn was going to start playing a song on his bass, and Teller was going to finish it on his vibraphone, done deal. The choice for the audience was whether it wanted to be mystified or informed. Keep your eyes open if you want to know the secret, Penn said. Keep your eyes closed if you want to be amazed.

Penn began to finger the strings, and on most nights, most of the people in the crowd kept their eyes open…

[Spoilerific description of the trick deleted.]

But for those members of the audience who kept their eyes closed, Honor System was confounding. One moment Teller was locked inside a pair of boxes, and the next he was playing music beside his partner, Penn. There were people who went to see that show seven or eight times, and they never opened their eyes. It became a test of their personal resolve. Given a choice, they chose mystery. For them, Penn & Teller had turned magic into something more than entertainment. “Magic gives you the gift of a stone in your shoe,” their magician friend Mike Close once said. In that short time between Penn’s first hit on his bass and Teller’s opening note on his vibraphone, magic was also an act of will.

Lewis’ ‘Obama’s Way’

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Here’s my favorite paragraph from the shockingly good Obama portrait by Michael Lewis in the upcoming Vanity Fair, Obama’s way. It’s March 2011, and Obama is meeting with his top advisors to decide what, if anything, to do about Qaddafi, who is advancing toward Benghazi with the stated intention of going house to house to cleanse the rebel city in what will surely be a bloodbath. In the meeting, the advisors focus on two choices: do nothing, or impose a no-fly zone. But Obama doesn’t like either option. The generals from the Pentagon admit that the no-fly zone would not stop Qaddafi; it would basically be a butt-covering move. Unusually, Obama opens up the meeting, soliciting opinions from the people who normally don’t speak, the staffers and speechwriters and whatnot who don’t have a seat at the table.

Public opinion at the fringes of the room, as it turned out, was different. Several people sitting there had been deeply affected by the genocide in Rwanda. (“The ghosts of 800,000 Tutsis were in that room,” as one puts it.) Several of these people had been with Obama since before he was president—people who, had it not been for him, would have been unlikely ever to have found themselves in such a meeting. They aren’t political people so much as Obama people. One was Samantha Power, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her book A Problem from Hell, about the moral and political costs the U.S. has paid for largely ignoring modern genocides. Another was Ben Rhodes, who had been a struggling novelist when he went to work as a speechwriter back in 2007 on the first Obama campaign. Whatever Obama decided, Rhodes would have to write the speech explaining the decision, and he said in the meeting that he preferred to explain why the United States had prevented a massacre over why it hadn’t. An N.S.C. staffer named Denis McDonough came out for intervention, as did Antony Blinken, who had been on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council during the Rwandan genocide, but now, awkwardly, worked for Joe Biden. “I have to disagree with my boss on this one,” said Blinken. As a group, the junior staff made the case for saving the Ben­gha­zis. But how?

The whole thing is very compelling. Like an Aaron Sorkin version of the Obama presidency, with hyper-articulate and self-aware people making pithy observations about their roles as they stride purposefully through the corridors of the West Wing.

Does that mean it’s necessarily fictional schmaltz, like a Sorkin teleplay? I don’t know. Maybe?

Metaphors and stories convey meaning in an otherwise random, chaotic world. They’re how we think. To a significant degree, they’re what thinking is. That’s how our evolutionary investment in our ridiculously big, expensive brains pays off. Reading this story paid off for me. If you hate Obama, you might think you see the scaffolding. The story’s fake! It’s tugging on your heartstrings because it’s designed to tug on your heartstrings. Jesus; wake up, sheeple!

Not me. I choose to believe it’s true. At least to the limit of what this writer, with this access and this deadline and this editor, was able to pull off.

Update: David Atkins and digby at Hullabaloo disagree with each other about the piece. According to Atkins, it’s a very personal, nuanced view of an imperfect but thoughtful man in the crucible of some very difficult decisions. digby, on the other hand, thinks it’s bullshit.

John Scalzi on the Romney Implosion

Friday, September 14th, 2012

One more item on the embassy attack aftermath, this time from sci fi writer John Scalzi: You never go full McCain.

Here’s the thing about Mitt Romney: He’s a Republican candidate for president in the unenviable bind of not being able to run on any sort of record at all.

Scalzi goes on to describe the pernicious circumstances that prevent Romney from running on his record as a businessman, or as governor of Massachusetts, or on his economic plan. All true.

Constrained as he is, he’s got nothing he can actually use to make a case for himself but himself – Mitt Romney, with that genial smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes, that head of hair strategically left to gray at the temples, and that paternal aura of competence that says, hey, trust me, put me in the job and we’ll deal with all those silly fiddly details later. And you know what? With the economy still farting about and Obama still being as cuddly as a prickly pear, and Romney having a bunch of SuperPACs willing to shovel money until there’s not a swing state that’s not carpetbombed with ads, this had a reasonably good chance of working. But ultimately it only works if you actually trust Romney – or alternately, have no reason to distrust Romney – to make sane, responsible and intelligent decisions.

Which is why Romney blew up his chance to be president this week: He showed, manifestly, that he’s indeed capable of making horrible, awful, very bad, no good, terrible choices. First, by deciding that a foreign crisis, generally considered to be off-limits for bald, obvious politicking, would be an excellent time to engage in some bald, obvious politicking. Second, by making a statement slamming the president while the crisis was still in the process of developing and getting worse. Third, by blaming the president for an action he had no hand in (the press release from the under siege embassy) and which his administration had disavowed. Fourth, when after the facts of the events became clear, and it became clear that Romney’s statement had some serious factual holes in it, for doubling down at a press conference on assertions everyone knew by that time weren’t correct.

Scalzi goes on to talk about the tie-in to McCain’s goofy attempt to “suspend” the campaign in 2008 so he could duck the debates and return to Washington to solve the financial crisis. And for all that they’re completely different scenarios, the two events really do feel to me like they vibrate at the same frequency in terms of domestic politics.

Maybe I’m jumping too hard on the “this is the end for Romney” thing. We’ll see. And coming out of the conventions it was going badly for him already, so even if he does crash and burn from this point forward, it will be impossible to tie it to this incident alone. But sometimes something really does look so obvious that a collective, shared response emerges. And the collective, shared response I’m expecting to come from this is, “gah. This man has no business at all being President.”

More on Romney and the Embassy Attack

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

I liked this summary from digby: There’s a good reason why the country is polarized. Most of the major US daily papers, and an assortment of lesser ones, ran editorials today condemning Romney in the strongest terms. The thirteen different pullquotes really are amazingly harsh; taken in aggregate they’re kind of breath-taking. Meanwhile, in “Bizarroworld”, as digby puts it, an assortment of strained defenses were offered up by people like Rumsfeld and Rush and the various make-believe journalists at Fox.

I’m sure it makes a certain kind of sense for the more extreme elements in the right-wing media and punditry to make the best case they can; their audience is, after all, substantial, and I’m sure they’ll be able to sell lots of gold coins and adjustable beds or whatever else it is those poor suckers have coming to them. But the rest of the country is under no obligation to view it with anything but disgust and disdain, and I expect the polls coming out in the next week will show that they’ve done exactly that.

Swing voters may be unhappy about the economy, but that doesn’t mean they’re suicidal. Romney isn’t fit to lead, and his actions over the last 48 hours have made that starkly clear.

A couple of longer items I liked:

A recurring theme of some of the best commentary I’ve seen is this: In trying to muddy the facts and gin up tribal animosity aimed at Muslims (allegedly) and Obama (particularly), Romney is allying himself with the same sorts of religious extremists on both sides who want nothing so much as to provoke more violence, since their cynical analysis tells them that in a more violent world their own message will win more converts.

Screw that.

Pielke, Jr.: Someone Is WRONG at the IPCC!

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Roger Pielke, Jr. posts his email correspondence with the IPCC concerning parts of the body’s 2007 assessment (AR4) on extreme weather events. Pielke argues, as he has for some time, that the AR4 contains significant errors in that area, and should be corrected: The IPCC sinks to a new low.

It’s an interesting exchange, and granted, we’re only getting Pielke’s version of the evidence, but the IPCC doesn’t seem to be covering itself in glory. It reads very much like a bureaucratic organization going out of its way to construe the evidence raised by Pielke in whatever light makes it easiest for the organization to avoid altering its findings. Which seems perfectly consistent with a political entity. But not so much with a scientific one.

So, does that mean the IPCC is corrupt, global warming is bunk, and the whole thing is just a huge warmist conspiracy aimed at imposing socialism on us all?

Sigh. If only it were so. No, it doesn’t mean that.

But it does look to me like decent evidence that the IPCC is willing to lean on the scales when summarizing scientific findings in order to advance a particular policy agenda. Which is… unfortunate.

Convincing the Other Half

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Mitt Romney had already convinced half the country he was unfit to lead. In the last 24 hours, he’s making a strong run at convincing the other half. Kind of nauseating, but also impressive on a certain level.

When I previously observed that he was not going to let an unwillingness to Go There prevent him from having his shot at being president (not an original thought, I realize), I assumed it was going to get uglier. But there’s a difference between believing something is coming and actually experiencing it firsthand.


Denial of Climate Change About to Get a Lot Harder

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Behold the death spiral of Artic sea ice:

Have you ever seen a frozen lake thaw? There’s a gradual thinning, a few open patches and a lot of mushiness, and then bam! Ice-free lake. The transition seems sudden when it comes.

I think a similar transition is coming for those who don’t believe in climate change. Instead of mushy ice giving way to dark, open water, it’s going to be mushy thinking giving way to dark, horrified clarity: Oh, shit.

Climate change is real. It’s here. This is our generation’s Pearl Harbor, and the bombs are falling.

Update: I neglected to link to it originally, but this piece by Dan Farber was actually what got me thinking about the metaphorical similarity between a thawing lake and Republican denial of climate change: Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water: Crossing the Partisan Divide on Environmental Issues.

Changing One’s Mind

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Keith Kloor posts today with some examples of people who were sailing along with one belief and then, despite the headwind created by motivated reasoning and confirmation bias, managed to tack and sail off in a completely different direction: The Conversion.

Among the examples:

  • Confessions of a Climate Change Convert – D.R. Tucker, a Republican who went from skeptical to alarmed about global warming after he read the latest IPCC report.
  • Prominent atheist blogger converts to Catholicism – Leah Libresco, who went from having a loudly outspoken belief that there is no God at all to believing that in fact there is one, and Catholicism is the faith that brings her closest to Him.
  • Mutation Butts and Schooled! – Dan Piraro of the “Bizarro” comic, who posted a strongly worded warning on his blog about the dangers of genetically modified food last Saturday. Some commenters on his blog expressed disappointment and encouraged him to educate himself more about the GMO issue, and two days later (yesterday), Piraro posted an item in which he retracted his earlier comments.

From Piraro’s mea culpa (which I guess is the wrong phrase, since he didn’t actually apologize):

I’m not embarrassed that I was wrong and had to change my story. That’s the best thing about being an open-minded, reason-based person instead of, say, a politician; you don’t stick to erroneous beliefs in the face of new evidence for fear that people will think you are fallible. If everyone lived this way, the world would be much less ignorant, as I am today thanks to information given to me by some of my Jazz Pickles. Thanks!

“Jazz Pickles” is Piraro’s term for his regular blog commenters. Go Jazz Pickles! :-)

How to Talk About Climate Change

Monday, September 10th, 2012

A couple of interesting how-to type things I can recommend for people (like me) who sometimes want to try to talk persuasively, in particular about climate change (though I think the advice is good for pretty much anything one wants to communicate).

First up, Joe Romm’s new book really is quite good. I already mentioned it briefly in a previous item, but here it is again (repetition!) with a picture:

Second, several people in my newsfeed (most recently David Roberts) have mentioned the new pamphlet from Betsy Taylor of Breakthrough Strategies, Climate Solutions for a Stronger America: A Guide for Engaging and Winning on Climate Change & Clean Energy (PDF).

At first I thought it was from the Breakthrough Institute, and as a result I passed on actually reading it. It’s not that I have any strong feelings against the Breakthrough Institute, but I have gotten the feeling that there’s a particular set of solutions they’re pushing, and the knowledge that I’d need to be on guard against being oversold by someone with a vested interest in selling me served as a disincentive. But knowing that David Roberts liked it caused me to look closer, and I realized that no, Breakthrough Strategies and the Breakthrough Institute appear to be completely different people.

Anyway, both items get my personal stamp of approval.

Update: Another interesting item on communicating about climate change. From Matthew Nisbett of the Age of Engagement blog: NPR News on Framing Global Warming as a Public Health Threat.

Nisbet also warns that messaging around climate change can become “deactivating” for people, not just if it evokes anger, but if it leaves people without a sense of hope for a solution, or if the problem seems too complex to address. He says that respondents in the “alarmed,” “concerned” and “cautious” categories react with hope to all three frames, but that people in the “disengaged” category react much more positively to the public health frame than the national security or environmental frame. “They see it as something within their realm of control, something that can make their lives better.”

For that reason, in communicating about climate change, Nisbet says, advocates need to be careful not to “present the danger as being so threatening that it feels overwhelming to people. Whenever you give people information about the risk of climate change, if you don’t provide specific things they can do about it, they can become fatalistic, or just deny the threat. That’s been a problem with some of the environmental messaging around climate change.” Those specific action items, the research suggests, could include policies to make energy sources cleaner, to make cars and buildings more energy-efficient, to make public transportation more accessible and affordable, to improve the quality and safety of food, and to make cities and towns friendlier to cyclists and pedestrians.

Craig Newmark on Fact Checking

Monday, September 10th, 2012

I enjoyed this item that Craig Newmark (the Craigslist guy) posted to his site recently: Fact-checkers are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. I particularly liked it because it called my attention to the full version of Chris Wallace’s interview of Jon Stewart that happened a while back. Making this version particularly interesting is that it’s the full interview, with a dimming/brightening effect used to show which parts were edited out or included when the interview aired on Fox. (Not trying to suggest that there was anything particularly nefarious or dishonest in the editing process. I just think it’s an interesting layer on top of the already-interesting discussion.)

Anyway, here’s part one:

And here’s part two:

McIntyre on Gleick (a little) and the ‘Lewandowsky Scam’

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

It’s been a while since I indulged my Peter Gleick obsession, but the propensity to geek out whenever I see his name remains. Case in point: this mention by Steve McIntyre, who was blogging about a different issue (itself an interesting salvo in the climate wars), in the course of which he gave a thumbnail recap of the Gleick affair: Anatomy of the Lewandowsky Scam.

Before considering the Lewandowsky scam, let’s first review the Peter Gleick scam and, in particular, how it’s been sanitized in warmist legend, a legend to which Lewandowsky himself has been a notable contributor.

As is well known, Gleick impersonated a Heartland director, tricking a secretary into sending him board documents. But having got the board documents, Gleick did not simply announce his coup and distribute the documents under his own name. Instead Gleick forged a grotesque memo and distributed it, along with the other documents, pretending to be a “Heartland Insider”.  It was this forged document that generated the most lurid commentary by the Guardian and other sympathizers.  Gleick’s tendentious forgery was characterized by Megan McArdle of the Atlantic as reading “like it was written from the secret villain lair in a Batman comic. By an intern.”

Lewandowsky saw nothing wrong with any aspect of Gleick’s conduct – not even the forgery. In an editorial last February,  Lewandowsky compared Gleick’s deception to Winston Churchill misdirecting the Germans on invasion plans, concluding that “it is a matter of personal moral judgment whether that public good justifies Gleick’s sting operation to obtain those revelations”.

Update: McIntyre’s discussion of Gleick was just a digression from the main point of his post, which concerned a survey that apparently was conducted by Stephan Lewandowsky, an Australian psychology professor, who used the survey results as part of a paper on ideologically-based rejection of science. See here for more from Lewandowsky on that: Bloggers’ Hall of Amnesia, and here for an interesting datapoint from McIntyre on how the operators of the blog hosting Lewandowsky’s postings are now censoring McIntyre, apparently for raising questions about Lewandowsky’s handling of fake submissions as part of his survey design: Lewandowsky Censors Discussion of Fake Data.

The whole thing is kind of interesting, in a petty, sucks-the-will-to-live-out-of-me way. Not unlike the Gleick affair. It turns out that when people get into pissing contests with each other, a certain amount of pee splashes around. This is true even when the people involved have advanced degrees. Which I guess should not be a surprise at this point.

Anyway, onward.

David Roberts Shames the Outliers

Friday, September 7th, 2012

If I could take just two bloggers with me to read on a desert island, David Roberts would be one of them. Here he is talking about Obama’s Democratic Convention speech last night: The part of Obama’s speech that was about climate without saying so.

Here’s how I see it: The modern U.S. conservative movement has opted out of that sense of citizenship and civic responsibility. It has become a tribal, revanchist force for the preservation of demographic privilege. It does not acknowledge the legitimacy of the president. It rejects the social-democratic consensus in place in every other wealthy democracy (“Europe!”). It rejects the consensus standards of science and journalism. It does not recognize many of the people and groups with which it shares a country as “real Americans.” I know I overuse this quote from Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, but nobody has described better what the GOP has become: “a resurgent outlier: ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; un-persuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

It’s not that Obama or anyone else thinks Republicans must become Democrats or liberals to be citizens. It is simply that they must regain their sense of citizenship, their sense that adherence to a shared set of norms and willingness to compromise are what make a society function. They must come in from the cold.

It’s not just the right, of course. To coordinate, to accept risks, to share costs and benefits, to move together into the unknown with resolve, we all need to recapture that sense of civic spirit and common purpose. But in U.S. politics today, there is a distinct outlier. Bringing the American community back together must begin with identifying that outlier and subjecting it to social disapprobation. In his speech, Obama rather deftly attempted to do both.

A Wacky Idea

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

So, I’ve been thinking lately about the way we all like to beat each other up in the comments. And for my job, I’ve lately been doing a lot of remote meetings via Google+ “hangouts” (video conferences via computer, basically). They work pretty well.

And I had this wacky idea: What if we had a Google+ hangout for the commenters on to have a video chat with each other? I was thinking of something pretty quick, maybe 10 minutes or so. No particular agenda; just a chance to put some faces and voices to the personalities I’ve come to know (a little) from the site. We could chat a bit about whatever seemed worth chatting about, see how it went, and if it seemed interesting, maybe set up a time to do it again.

I think that might be fun. But if it isn’t, there’s nothing much lost, really.

So, how’d you like to hang out?

You’d need the following:

  • A computer with a camera and a microphone
  • A decent(ish) Internet connection
  • A Google+ account
  • A willingness to expose yourself, at least briefly and remotely, to the people you’ve been beating up in the comments

If you think you might be willing to do that, please comment on this post, and indicate, for each of the dates and times listed below, your availability/preference on a 1-5 scale, where the numbers mean:

1 – I definitely will not be able to participate at that time
2 – I probably won’t be able to participate at that time
3 – I might or might not be able to participate at that time
4 – I probably will be able to participate at that time
5 – I definitely will be able to participate at that time

I’ll pick the date and time that maximizes the chances of participation, and will send out an email with the invitation link you can follow to the actual hangout. (Also, if the email currently associated with your account isn’t working any more, you’ll need to send a working email to me, so I can invite you to the hangout. You can send that to

If you can post your availability soon (say by Friday night — that is, tomorrow night) that would be ideal.

Either way, thanks for your ongoing contribution to the site.

John (aka jbc)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

12:00 noon PDT (3:00 p.m. EDT):

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

12:00 noon PDT (3:00 p.m. EDT):

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Hoffman on Ending the Climate Science Culture War

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Andrew J. Hoffman (joint PhD in Management and Civil and Environmental Engineering from M.I.T.) writes interestingly about the climate change debate: Climate Science as Culture War. The piece is long, but definitely worthwhile, with lots of good references to people like Dan Kahan and Roger Pielke, Jr.

Drum on Political Lies vs. Deception

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

No time to obsess, but I loved this piece from Kevin Drum the other day: We Should Focus on Deception, Not Lying.

There are two big problems with getting obsessed about “lies.” The first is that it’s usually too hard to prove. You have to show not only that something is unquestionably factually wrong, but that the speaker knew it was wrong. That’s seldom possible. The second problem is that it’s too narrow. Politicians try to mislead voters all the time, and only occasionally do they do this with flat-out lies. Bottom line: if you focus only on actual lies, you miss too much. But if you try to turn everything into a lie, you sound like a hack.

A better approach is to focus instead on attempts to mislead. But how do you judge that? A few years ago I developed a three-part test that I use to check my immediate emotional reaction to things politicians say. I’ve found it pretty useful in practice, though it’s not perfect and it doesn’t apply to every kind of slippery statement.

Did I mention that I love this piece? I do.

Sigur Rós Is Austin Chapman’s Favorite Band

Saturday, September 1st, 2012

Top 5 lists are fun. But not all top 5 lists are created equal. Austin Chapman’s list of his top five favorite pieces of music (as of his August 7, 2012 blog post) is kind of special. It’s special because Chapman was born profoundly deaf, and up until a few days before that post, “all music sounded like trash.” Then he upgraded to a new hearing aid, and, well, just read it: Being able to hear music for the first time ever.

I sat in the doctor’s office frozen as a cacophony of sounds attacked me. The whir of the computer, the hum of the AC, the clacking of the keyboard, and when my best friend walked in I couldn’t believe that he had a slight rasp to his voice. He joked that it was time to cut back on the cigarettes.

That night, a group of close friends jump-started my musical education by playing Mozart, Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Elvis, and several other popular legends of music.

Being able to hear the music for the first time ever was unreal.

I realized that my old hearing aids were giving me a distorted version of music. they were not capable of distributing higher frequencies with clarity, instead it was just garbled gibberish.

When Mozart’s Lacrimosa came on, I was blown away by the beauty of it. At one point of the song, it sounded like angels singing and I suddenly realized that this was the first time I was able to appreciate music. Tears rolled down my face and I tried to hide it. But when I looked over I saw that there wasn’t a dry eye in the car.

I finally understood the power of music.

Naturally, as a fan, I was interested in which Sigur Rós song his friends turned him onto, and what he thought of it. Fortunately, it made it into his top 5, so I know: “3. Sig Ros’s Staralfur… The first song I had to listen to again, over and over.”

Amen, brother.

Here’s a YouTube video with the studio recording Chapman listened to:

For bonus fun, here’s a live performance from Heima:

Chapman went on to ask for suggestions on reddit, and is now following the most upvoted advice by going back and listening chronologically to great music from the past, so he can appreciate the development of music over time.

Rebecca Rosen was intrigued by Chapman’s story, and wrote a piece in The Atlantic about him: What It’s Like for a Deaf Person to Hear Music for the First Time. It included this detail that made me happy:

In general, his preferences tends toward what he terms as “melodic or soothing.” In particular, the Icelandic band Sigur Rós has become his favorite. “Every song [of theirs] haunts me and I’m not even 20 percent done listening to everything by them.”