29 October 2015

Reflections on the 3rd Republican primary debate in CO

My reflections on the debate...

Kasich had a great night and in my opinion can be said to have won the debate. His pre-debate comments about the entire field being wacky as all hell seems to have bought him some attention.

Huckabee had one good idea about making a huge effort to cure the diseases (diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and heart disease) that run up healthcare costs. I don’t know how this fits into the conservative meme that all government is evil and that the private sector solves all problems. He dodged a particularly idiotic question about whether Trump was morally suited to govern the country. Good for him.

Christie had a good night rhetorically, coming up with some good quips—at one point, jabbing at the moderator with the line that such behavior is even considered rude in New Jersey.

Both Cruz and Rubio sound a bit studied to me, like “A” students on the high school debate team. They often cited inspiring personal stories, but had little of substance to offer. One website says that Google searches for them spiked, so maybe this just shows that I have no idea what makes Republican primary voters tick.

Fiorina had a good night, pitching a very good case for the evils of government (an idea that I don’t buy but one that will resonate well with Republicans).

Carson didn’t have much of interest to say and what he did say was uniformly unrealistic and unimaginative. I can’t believe that he won any new converts.

Trump didn’t get many of his one-liners in. He was often unfairly targeted by the moderators (probably helping to reinforce viewers’ perception of him as the non-establishment outsider.) His line that all things will be solved by increases in the size of the American economy under his leadership was infantile, as were his comments that having guns everywhere will prevent shootings. But then again, much of the Republican electorate who respond to polls appears to be infantile, so he may be saying what his supporters want to hear.

Bush did okay but his body language doesn’t work. He appears defensive and unsure of himself.

Paul, as usual, came across as the scowling adult in the room, bringing up solutions that required hard choices. I don't think the Republican voters want to elect an adult this time around.

The CNBC moderators did a poor job in questioning, trying to stir up personal attacks (which I suppose are good for ratings). The initial question (a a favorite in job interviews) asking candidates to describe a personal weakness was silly and was rightly ignored by the entire field. The candidates, for their part, focused more on the Democrats. Their caricatures of the Democratic field were shallow, bombastic, and annoying, but I guess that goes with the territory—they’re all preaching to the choir at this point.

28 October 2015

Waiting for the clowns

If Reich were moderating Republican debate...

... he'd ask the following questions:

Jeb Bush, you’ve proposed a tax plan that would give the biggest share of tax cuts (11.6 percent) to the top 1 percent, and only 2.9 percent to those in the middle. Do you think widening inequality is a problem, and how does your tax plan reverse it? 

Marco Rubio, you say you don’t want to raise the minimum wage. The minimum wage is near its historic low, adjusted for inflation. Do you believe in having a minimum wage at all? If not, do you believe in minimum safety standards, minimum health standards, and a 40-hour workweek? By the way, if you’re elected president will you work 40 hours a week or do it as a part-time job, as you’ve done the Senate?

 Donald Trump, your tax plan is even more generous to the top 1 percent than Jeb Bush’s plan, giving them 21.6 percent of the tax cuts. Do you think all young people, on reaching the age of 22, should be given a $1 million loan from their parents? 

Carly Fiorina, you have lashed out against ‘crony capitalism.’ Does the fact that Hewlett-Packard under your tenure increased its spending on lobbying and political campaigns, and that your own campaign is underwritten by some of the biggest corporations and banks in America, make you a crony capitalist? 

Chris Christie, as governor of New Jersey you’ve presided over a state economy that has recovered only 62% of the jobs lost in the recession while the rest of the country has regained 132%. New Jersey is also 46th out of 50 states in growth. Will you be as bad for the U.S. economy as you’ve been for New Jersey? 

Rand Paul, you’ve proposed a “flat” tax, which would lower the tax rates paid by the wealthy and increase the tax rates paid by lower-income Americans. The one deduction you’d keep is the home mortgage interest deduction, three-quarters of whose benefits go to those earning over $100,000. How exactly will your plan reverse inequality? 

Ted Cruz, you want to abolish the IRS. How would you collect taxes? 

Ben Carson, you have said ‘we live in a Gestapo age,’ that the United States has become ‘very much like Nazi Germany,’ that Hitler couldn’t have accomplish his goals ‘if the people had been armed,’ and that Planned Parenthood is ‘like Nazi Germany.’ What does Nazi Germany have to do with how you’d fix the U.S. economy?

27 October 2015

Stuck in Love

I just saw this movie. The premise (that there's an entire family of highly successful writers) is a bit of a stretch, but the acting is good and the film's watchable. Mike Smith's comment at Rotten Tomatoes reflects the consensus of most viewers:

"A little heavy-handed at times, “Stuck in Love” is saved from the maudlin pile by its stellar cast."

18 October 2015

Innate tendencies toward irrational religious beliefs and the U.S. cultural wars

Paul Bloom, in his lecture titled There's Nothing Special About Religion, makes some interesting points about belief. He talks about studies showing that both children and adults are influenced by pre-programmed systems of understanding related to animism, creationism and dualism. He also talks about how people employ a strategy of "double deference"--which is say that most of us rely on experts regarding both the content of our beliefs and the details. In abstract form, this argument could be interpreted as confirmation of the popular notion that science and religion aren't different--they're just a set of beliefs ("choices", as if were). Bloom doesn't actually agree with this, noting that science involves a very different process that isn't found in religion.

The talk is interesting in the way it illuminates some of the dark corner of America's current cultural wars. I just rewatched the documentary The Revisionaries about the right-wing attempt (mostly successful) to rewrite Texan textbooks so that they're anti-evolution and pro-right in terms of their political slant. One canard used by the right-wingers on the committee was to say that the K-12 students should be encouraged to question the theory of evolution. As one scientist at the hearings pointed out, students at this level would have absolutely no way to carry out a scientific line of inquiry to question the theory. The insistence on this language calling for skepticism was simply a Trojan horse. (One wonders how the pro-Christian right would feel if the standards had instead explicitly said, "Students will be taught to question their religious beliefs.")

If I had a hand in creating the standards, I'd add something along the lines of the following: "By going through some examples, students will gain an appreciation of the rigor of scientific inquiry and will appreciate the importance of considering the current scientific consensus as the default position (which is always open to revision) in rational discussions." To take just one example, our consideration of political policies regarding the environment should assume that the consensus regarding global warming is (until proven otherwise) correct. As for the sensitivities of religious people, I really feel that the tension is inevitable. Religions do make statements about the world that can be shown, using scientific methods, to be false. Ultimately, we're left with a choice: to do, as the Taliban and ISIS have done, and simply ban science, or to allow our children to learn about science, aware (at some level) that this education may have the effect of eroding religious superstitions.


I just finished reading Holes by Louis Sachar. The language in the book is surprisingly simple, a very unadorned style that's perhaps designed to channel the personality of  the main character--a young poorly-educated teen.

14 October 2015

Democratic debate

Listening to the Democratic debate, I'm struck by how little pandering to petty issues and populist ignorance there was, relative to the Republican debates. Watching Bernie Sanders and Lincoln Chafee, one's struck immediately by a sense of dignity. A lot of Anderson Cooper's questions were asinine. To the candidates' credit, they often refused to go along with some of the silly lines of questioning he put forth. All of the candidates were clearly very knowledgeable--capable of talking about issues in considerable detail. Watching McCarthy unravel in the last few weeks (I honestly had no idea what he was talking about each time he opened his mouth), it's a breath of fresh to hear people actually debate and discuss real issues.

13 October 2015

Talking about the mind

Some great psychology talks...

Daniel Kahneman talks about how our reasons tend to follow (rather than support) our beliefs.

Dan Gilbert talks about happiness, saying that marriage (happy marriage) and divorce (in the case of bad marriages) makes us happier, how money buys happiness (but decreasingly so after around 40 to 70 grand), and how having kids makes us less happy.

Though not nearly as good, I also watched a BBC documentary on narcissism.