Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why do so many US Political arguments involve attacking the extremist positions of each side?

Its a version of the Strawman argument. Define your opponent’s position in the worst possible light, frame it as such and then attack the frame. The frame will crack creating the false illusion that you have discredited the opposing side. Its a cheap trick and is extremely dishonest (not to mention illogical). Why is it used? Because in the eyes of a partisan audience it appears as though you have pulled one over on your opponent.

Was the GOP the popular choice for African-Americans before 1960?

African-Americans, who could only join the Democratic Party from 1924 onward, started leaving the Republican Party as early as 1936 not 1960 as is often believed. In fact in the election that year 71% of the Black vote went to FDR. This appears to be largely a consequence of the New Deal although the tireless campaigning of Eleanor Roosevelt may have played a role.

The voting trend held firm over the next three elections with African-Americans voting  by a margin of over 3 to 1 in favour of Harry Truman over Thomas Dewey in the 1948 election. Truman of course was a key figure in ending racial discrimination in federal hiring often running afoul of key segments of his own party on this issue.

Even Eisenhower who would fully integrate the army (a process started by Truman but rejected by FDR) and opened up the schools to Black students was regularly outvoted at the polls by a margin of 76% to 24% in 1952 and 61% to 39% in 1956, with respect to the black voting demographic. However his appeal among African-American voters was a lot better than the last four Republican Party candidates (Alf Landon, Wendell Wilkie and Thomas Dewey- twice)

In short the shift had been ongoing for at least two decades before the Civil Rights debates of the late 1950s and 1960s. Economic rather than racial issues, a reflection to a  larger degree of the difficulties of  urban migration, appeared to be the key driver as the entrenchment of a racist core within the Democratic Party was still very much a truism.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

What irritates me about Quora?

I generally like Quora but I do find that it has a number of irritations
Here are a few
  1. Many Writers are condescending and rude when there is no reason to be so. I suspect that a great deal of those asking questions are kids who may be ignorant of certain facts. Responding politely with a well thought out answer is a far better option.
  2. Top Writers dominate key questions despite supplying answers that very often don’t live up to the hype associated with these writers.
  3. Obvious liberal bias. While Quora itself has no bias as an organization (as far as I can tell) the Quora community appears to be somewhat of a liberal echo chamber. Even conservative related topics are routinely dominated by liberals who regularly skew Conservative opinions to the applause of a Hurrah chorus.
  4. Too many questions are answered with anecdotal evidence only. While these are often great to read they don’t do justice to the broader question being asked.
  5. Questions on more nebulous topics are regularly answered with the language of certainty indicating that the author is reluctant to reflect on the strength of their argument.
  6. The Trump obsession - enough is enough…let’s move on here.

Are neoconservatism and neoliberalism the same thing?

Neoliberalism is more of an economic philosophy driven by laissez-faire economics, deregulation, free trade and a reduction in government spending.
Neoconservativism often include neoliberal principles in its worldview but is more focused on an foreign relations, promotion of democratic ideals and necessary action to spread such ideals. Some of the basic ideas of Neoconservatism are outlined in this list of statement from the Henry Jackson society.
The Society Believes that modern liberal democracies set an example to which the rest of the world should aspire.
  1. Supports a ‘forward strategy’ – involving diplomatic, economic, cultural, and/or political means—to assist those countries that are not yet liberal and democratic to become so.
  2. Supports the maintenance of a strong military, by the United States, the countries of the European Union and other democratic powers, armed with expeditionary capabilities with a global reach, that can protect our homelands from strategic threats, forestall terrorist attacks, and prevent genocide or massive ethnic cleansing.
  3. Supports the necessary furtherance of European military modernization and integration under British leadership, preferably within NATO
  4. Stresses the importance of unity between the world’s great democracies, represented by institutions such as NATO, the European Union and the OECD, among many others.
  5. Believes that only modern liberal democratic states are truly legitimate, and that the political or human rights pronouncements of any international or regional organisation which admits undemocratic states lack the legitimacy to which they would be entitled if all their members were democracies.
  6. Gives two cheers for capitalism. There are limits to the market, which needs to serve the Democratic Community and should be reconciled to the environment.
  7. Accepts that we have to set priorities and that sometimes we have to compromise, but insists that we should never lose sight of our fundamental values. This means that alliances with repressive regimes can only be temporary. It also means a strong commitment to individual and civil liberties in democratic states, even and especially when we are under attack.

What are the Voting trends of American Jews?

Still looking for better stats but the American Jewish Party Identification study undertaken by Gallup in 2014 may be a start. Here are some of the findings.
Key findings
  • 29% of American Jews are Republican, up from 22% in 2008
  • 61% of Jews are Democrats, down from 71% seven years ago
  • Highly religious and male Jews are most likely to be Republican
Let R = Republican/leaners D = Democrat/leaners
Highly religious R - 42% D-46%
Moderately Religious R -32% D - 59%
Not Religious R -24% D -67%
These results are based on 2014 Gallup Daily tracking interviews with 4,116 Americans who identified their religion as Jewish.

Why is Physics so badly taught?

This is an excellent question and one that teachers have been wrestling with for some time. In fact I will be giving a presentation along these lines to a group of teachers in February of this year. Here is a list of key factors that have been identified
  1. There is all too often not enough time spent making sure that the students understand the key concepts (Big Ideas) before moving on to the problem solving;
  2. Overuse of poor analogies in explaining concepts that lead to further problems down the road when application situation become more complex;
  3. Many physics teachers are transplanted math teachers who teach the subject as a type of Applied Math - Physics of course is much more than that;
  4. Lack of Laboratory work and Demonstrations that allow students to consolidate big ideas on a visual/hands-on level;
  5. North American courses are often too focused on breadth and not on depth with respect to curriculum content - in a rush to cover many teacher’s often sacrifice the deeper analysis to check off all the topic boxes;
  6. Instruction methodology often lacks diversity - Various Combinations of teacher and student orientated approaches should be intermixed as is necessary to target the broader student mosaic (and variety of learning styles);
  7. Too much focus on formula memorization - Formulas are important but students need to understand where they come from, how they apply and what are the limitations of each formula based on the Assumptions inherent in their derivation

Liverpool can win 2016/17 but its not going to be easy

Liverpool can win the title but they have to keep their focus and momentum. They have arguably the finest striking force in the English game as is evident by their lead in the goals ‘for’ category but have an Achilles heel in defense that continues to be problematic. Jurgen Klopp may address this in the January transfer window.
In addition the Reds will be without the very influential Sadio Mane for several weeks and will need some time to reintegrate Philippe Countinho back into the side following his injury.
Their greatest strength this season though is that they have proved to be tremendously capable in distributing the scoring load which makes them less vulnerable ultimately to a single injury . Lallana, Henderson, Milner and Firmino have all been wonderful.However problems could arise if injuries and suspensions pile up.
Fortunately for Liverpool have only Domestic fixtures to concern themselves with and while this is true of Chelsea as well it make work in Liverpool’s favour who after the Old Trafford match up this coming Sunday (Jan 15) will have a schedule that is even more biased towards home games for the Reds.
We will have to wait and see. Still predicting good times ahead for the Reds. YNWA.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

No Free Lunch for Putin

Posted to Quora and a few other sites
The problem with partisan politics – and we have seen on more than our fair share of it in this particular election cycle – is that we often herald the virtues of our supporters and downplay the concerns of our opponents.
Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his support for Donald Trump. He detested the Clinton-Obama Axis and openly championed the Trump campaign. Whether he went so far as to order an e-mail hack remains very much in doubt. Official evidence is lacking and ratcheting up the rhetoric on a bunch of hearsays and supposed ‘secret’ investigations by the CIA, as have the Washington Post, is irresponsible at best.
However our alarm bells should be ringing. Putin is no friend of the West and with the Trump victory two big questions emerge – What does he stand to gain? and How will this impact the US/Western World in the long term?
The first question is the easier of the two to answer. Putin needs the US to sit back while he continues spreading his footprint in the Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe (from all accounts the Baltics). As the latest in a line of Russian strongmen he understands the importance of power through territory but can’t afford the resistance that will likely occur in the face of such an approach. NATO has to be weakened and he is hoping that Trump’s appeal to this once buried isolationist tradition in American foreign politics will resurrect itself.
However as we have seen in Aleppo and elsewhere it is not just Eastern Europe that Putin sees as falling under his sphere of influence. Indeed he has offered feelers to the current Libyan hierarchy and is certainly giving the Iranian mullahs - in what can only be described as a deal with the devil - the muscle to make their presence felt in the face of the Sunni/Shi’ite pan-regional conflict.
While I would not rush ahead to see Putin as a modern day political Svengali. I wouldn’t for one moment underestimate his shrewdness. He is extremely calculating and although he appears to transcend ideological conformity he does see himself as the embodiment of a Russian nationalism. We should all be concerned.
It remains to be seen how the Trump administration will respond. Mike Pence appears to be a product of the Cold War Reaganite school and has on more than one occasion expressed his displeasure with the Russians.
James Mattis has made no secret that he favours a more forceful approach when dealing with the Iranians which could extend to their Russian backers. Rex Tillerson looks, at least from his oil industry pedigree as a player not eager to jeopardize the US-Saudi relationship. The three look set to dominate foreign affairs in the Trump White House.
If Trump’s election rhetoric is to believed then it appears that he wishes to distance himself from the neo-conservative nation building of George W. Bush and its variant under Barack Obama. He is correct on this issue. The US cannot afford more ill—conceived ground troop interventionism in regions of the world based on the export of some nebulous transfer of Wilsonian democracy. Pragmatism has to rule. However on the other hand it should not be subjected to the spirit of a nativist isolationism. The global economy of 2017 is a far cry from what it was in 1927.
The free world cannot afford to see the US sit back while Russia and indeed China, not to mention unsavouries in Iran and the various Jihadist alliances run amuck. This can only lead to more bloodshed, an exporting of anti-Enlightenment tropes and the likely jeopardizing of valuable resource flow lines. The world will worsen under strict isolationism and it will undoubtedly come back to haunt the US.
What is necessary then is a process of involvement through informed backing – a checking of oppositional ambitions by a support of local regional elements that stand in the face of this greater belligerency. The US ought to re-evaluate its NATO commitments, but to drop the Alliance at this point would be a catastrophe.
This should be Trump’s message and if it conflicts with the ambitions of Russia, Tehran, the Saudis or any other party so be it. The US is still the principal superpower. Putin may have cheered for Trump but this does not give him a free hand in anything. Its critical that the White House make this clear from the get go. Failure to do so will not only embolden Putin but other opportunists as well.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

More Tales from Teaching Physics

As a Physics teacher I never feel truly comfortable that I have figured it all out and that (for want of better words) is a good thing. If I did I would be tempted to sit back and relax which may have its benefits in the short run but from a growth perspective offers dubious value in the long term.
Over the course of the last week I have been working with my Grade Twelves on Special Relativity - a notorious pitfall for conceptual errors. I have taught (not to mention learned and re-learned) the sub-unit over twenty times in my career and I still find oddities that compel me to rethink my understanding of what is arguably one of the most counter-intuitive areas in all of Physics (notwithstanding Quantum Mechanics of course).
You see Special Relativity takes so much of what we formalize in classical physics and turns it on its head. Absolute space - gone, Absolute time - dead, Absolute momentum - see you later, KInetic Energy - we need a rethink. To top this off we teach the topic in a week (due to time constraints - I will avoid the pun) and tantalize the students with such notions as the Twin Paradox and the notion that events that are simultaneous in one frame of reference need not be in another.
Serious stuff - but the kids love it and boy do they challenge me with a series of 'What happens ifs..?' .This in turn makes me hit the books/internet for solutions which in turn improves my own understanding. A wonderful positive feedback loop if ever there was one and for this I am thankful

Liberal Privilege

Definition time
Liberal Privilege - The gift of being able to fully express your liberal viewpoint in virtually any urban bubble city setting in the Western World knowing full well that:
a) everyone agrees with you because you are 'correct' and 
b) if they don't they can be easily dismissed with the appropriate
-ism that need not carry any intellectual water.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Quora Questions #2

Can Democrats overcome Electoral College outcomes by a policy of relocating liberals to non-liberal states?

I think Sarah Silverman tried to do this with a tongue-in-cheek invitation to Jewish grandparents to head to Florida. Could it work on as broader level? Unlikely. The amount of organization needed would be daunting and Republicans could counter with a population transfer move of their own. However what concerns me is that you appear to be looking at human beings as cattle - various dictators have tried such approaches - but would you really want to live in a country governed by a Party who sees such a hideous approach as a way of maintaining and winning power?

Changing positions

I often wonder about people who hold the identical political beliefs at fifty as they did at seventeen.Did they figure it all out at the young age or are they simply immune from self-reflection? There are other explanations but it seems as though the flow of history would necessitate shifts from certain positions (even if they are somewhat ossified). The shifts need not be major. Then again I may be underestimating the strength of inertia

Religion v Cults

Its still not easy to draw the fine line between some religious denominations and cults other than numbers, historical acceptance and longevity. However there seems as though there should be more than this - How about an obsession with converts, the intimidation of those who have left the cult/religion and the irrationality of the worldview? While all three adjuncts need not be met it does appear that if all the boxes are easily ticked off one ought to be concerned.

Chomsky...vote for Hillary...Whatever dude?

Chomsky is a serial liar so I wouldn't take what he says with much credence. However for a man who has made a career of knocking US interventionism you would think that he would least admit that on this key issue that the more isolationist Trump is closer to his worldview than the globalist philosophy of Clinton. I have heard Chomsky speak favorably about both Messrs. Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders for their less interventionist policies as well. Show a bit of consistency...not everyone is part of the groupie audience.

Trump Nazi Comparisons...More Nonsense

There are many reasons to attack Trump politically (as the case of any politician) but calling him a Nazi/Neo-Nazi or a future Adolf Hitler is ridiculous....No better then the Obama is a secret Muslim nonsense that we heard in 2008. If you don't know what a Nazi is then read a history book. Not only is such rhetoric beyond stupidity but it does nothing to advance our understanding of the real forces in action. Also enough with the screams of racism at every turn...all it shows is that you have run out of rational criticism and have completely defaulted to emotion.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Quora Questions #1

Is it possible that there are physics that we will never discover because our limited biological senses?

Answer - Not so much biological senses as we can build better equipment to increase the range but there are likely order of magnitude restrictions as we approach the extremes of the micro and macro world - Planck Time and Planck Length for example. We are already aware of the various innate limitations associated with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

Why did earlier scientists not guess about the gravitational force?

Many of them knew about it they just talked about it in different terms - such as a natural attractor. Newton’s greatest breakthrough in this area was not so much gravity itself but the universal notion of gravity, or his realization that the same force responsible for the terrestrial phenomena acts as well in the celestial sphere and is key to our understanding of planetary/lunar motion.

If the Philosophers' Football Match from Monty Python actually took place, would the Greeks beat the Germans?

No because the Germans cheated and included Beckenbauer in their line up.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Alt Right

The banter around the political grouping Alt-Right seems to be trending lately largely as a result of its association with Trumpism and more recently Hillary Clinton’s reference to this linkage. But what exactly is the Alt-Right?
I first became aware of the phrase Alt-Right about a year and a half ago and have since learnt much about the streams of ideas that surface in the political sphere that it dominates. What follows is a combination of my observations, realizations and opinions regarding this movement.

  1. The Term ‘Alternative Right’ was first coined by the Paleo-Conservative thinker Paul Gottfried about a decade ago. However the derivative Alt-Right is more commonly used on the net. The term Dark Enlightenment is often employed synonymously with the Alt Right (read the work of Nick Land) but many Alt-Righters are not fond of the sinister implications of this designation.
  2. Alt-Righters tend to be unified in their opposition to both illegal and in many cases legal immigration (which sets them apart from most conservatives). Many are hostile to liberal democracy in its current form, champion isolationism, oppose free trade and as a whole are guided by a philosophy of a rigidly defined Race Realism that is opposed to miscegenation.
  3. Many Alt-Righters are White Nationalists and believe in a shared European identity that needs to be cultivated through education, political activism and ultimately the physical separation of race groups. Ingroup preference, it is argued, is followed by all ‘races’ therefore it should not be wrong if whites act accordingly.
  4. The movement is very much driven by the philosophy of decline (as are some Conservatives) but their race based ‘solution’ to this realization sets them apart from mainstream conservative support. For Alt-Righters the rot has set in and Western Civilization as it stands is heading toward an abyss driven by incompetent politicians, feminist shrills (SJWs), political correctness and toxic liberalism.
  5. Alt-Righters largely detest mainstream conservatives who they see as sell outs to a liberal establishment and thereby worthy of the crude epitaph cuckservative (a derivative of cuckold and conservative).
  6. Leading voices in the Alt-Right include Jared Taylor (of American Renaissance and Richard Spencer (a promoter of the Identitarian Movement) however Alt-Righters are largely decentralized and exert most of their footprint through the internet which has proved to be fertile ground for many of its ‘techsavy’ ground troops.
  7. It is incorrect to label Alt-Righters as Neo-Nazis, while some certainly align with this mindset the framework is broad enough that it includes Libertarians, traditionalists, paleo-conservatives and a host of other peripheral positions. It is not a Christian specific grouping and seems from what I have observed to contain many atheists, agnostic theists and European pagans. The commonality being an affection for European Civilization rather than a metaphysical belief system. Oddly enough many Alt-Righters are fairly liberal on social issues such as gay rights and abortion.
  8. Alt Righters are very much opposed to Islam however many are not fans of Judaism and in particular the Jewish impact on Western Civilization either. In the mind of many Alt Righters the Jewish elites have supported a policy of liberalism in order to water down establishment based anti-Semitism (a thesis advanced by the controversial academic Kevin MacDonald). The Jew is seen as the internationalist whose ultimate impact on European Civilization is negative (borrowing from Henry Ford). This opinion however is not shared by all Alt-Righters.
  9. Since it exists on the periphery the Alt-Right (just like the leftist radicalisms) has attracted more than its fair share of wackos, conspiracy nuts, hatemongers and marginal voices however it has several reflective thinkers who are well versed in philosophy, critical thinking and reasoned argument. Taylor comes across as such an individual as does the rising blogger star Millennial Woes.
  10. Alt-Righters tend to support Trump although some have probably come to their positions from various source backgrounds (not necessarily Republican). Most are Millennials or Gen Xers but don’t necessarily hold to the same positions of nostalgia that defines Paleo-Conservatives such as Pat Buchanan.
  11. While News Outlet Breitbart does at times articulate the Alt-Right position on some issues - particularly illegal immigration and Islamism - it is not seen as an Alt-Right publication by adherents to the movement.
  12. Genetics plays a key role in Alt Right philosophy which views almost all issues through the prism of race as a hereditary construct.
  13. While some Alt-Righters are white supremacists many are not preferring to couch their white Nationalism in the same veneer as any other type of nationalism viz. Asian, Black, Italian, Thai etc - That is the focus should be more about the in-group than the other.
  14. Many Alt-Righters are anti-capitalist and most are opposed to free trade. In this respect they again differ from Conservatives. In fact on economic issues some of the anti-capitalism drivers are not too distinct from that of the Radical Left.
  15. The Alt-Right is not (yet) a significant force in and of itself and would probably vanish into the political ether if it were not for the pro-Dem media and indeed the Clinton’s campaign to exaggerate their association with Trump.

As a Classic Liberal (Modern Day Conservative) I myself take issue with the Alt Right. Their fascination with race is wrong-headed, destructive and ultimately corrosive to Western Civilization. In a sense they are advocating a modern version of Fascism that is utopic in structure and at odds with the fundamental tenets of Burkean Conservatism. I am not convinced that the Alt-Right is even a philosophy of the right but more a mutation of identity politics, pseudo-science and a national socialism. However they do raise some valid points about the collapse of traditional structure within the nation state, top down social engineering and the challenges to our value system brought about by ill-conceived government policy. While I wouldn’t give the movement more credit than they deserve a free and open discussion of some of these ideas (however harsh they are) should be part of our own self-reflection, not necessarily for acceptance but to increase our propensity for informed decision.