Monday, June 26, 2006

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Framing the Argument

One trick often used in debate is "framing the argument." To frame the argument is to take a position that assumes certain facts, then building on those. The old trick question of "How long has it been since you quit beating your wife?" fits into this category.

Many times when I’m arguing a point with someone, they will use this tactic, and when I challenge the basic assumption, they act outraged, resorting to epithets, comments on my intelligence, etc. I’m a chessplayer, however; I understand that my position, whether in a game of chess or a debate with a political foe, must be as strong as possible if I am to win.

Which brings me to global warming - or more precisely, climate changes caused by mankind that carry negative consequences. (When I use the term "global warming" from here on out, this is the definition I mean.)

In his movie "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore says (or so it has been reported; I haven’t seen the movie, and don’t think I will.) that "the debate in the scientific community is over."

Not true. As former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

A key point to remember, regardless of what you hear or read: Global warming is a theory, not a fact, and it has been disputed by many, many qualified scientists. One example is a petition organized by Frederick Seitz (

Global warming alarmists want to start the debate just after the "no longer a debate" comment. I move the debate back one step - and make them admit that their whole stance is based on a disputed theory.

The proponents of "global warming" insist on tighter governmental controls on even more aspects of our lives. I oppose this. Contrary to what has been suggested, this does not mean that I’m for dirty air, dirty water, or that I want to kill the planet.

However, what is happening is that someone else’s eccentricities are being forced on me, in the name of an unproven theory. I reject this outright, and insist that those who would impose themselves into my life provide a more convincing argument.

The environmentalist whackos’ position is hypocritical. They insist on doing away with our use of fossil fuels in favor of so-called "clean" energy, while on the other hand they oppose nuclear energy, a proven clean energy source. How do they reconcile these two opposing stances? Could it be that their goal is not a clean environment after all, but is instead to force me to alter my lifestyle in favor of theirs?

I challenge their basic assumptions, and every point after; however, I’m open-minded, and willing to change my position.

But they better have a good argument.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

When You Hate Your Own Dog

In the political debates I engage in, I've chosen a side and stay pretty consistent with it. This side normally aligns with the Republican party. But I disagree with President Bush's immigration policy, and the Senate version of an immigration bill.

I just listened to Sean Hannity interview Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and caught myself screaming at the radio. Here's why:

There are basically three parts to the immigration debate.
1) Securing the borders.
2) Dealing with those illegal immigrants already in the United States.
3) Providing a streamlined way for citizens of other countries to come into the US to work.

There is almost no disagreement between the warring factions about #1 and #3. We all want secure borders, and we all would like to find a simple, legal way for non-citizens to come here. There is some disagreement about #2 -- the "amnesty" question.

Hannity believes, as do I, that each aspect of the question should be considered in separate legislation. Legislation (if needed; I'm not sure we need any more laws than we have already) could be passed tout de suite on those parts that are in agreement.

Attorney General Gonzales, on the other hand, defended the President's plan, which is similar to the Senate plan, saying that "it would be wrong to consider only one point while we let the other points fester." [Paraphrasing mine. - kw] Therefore, according to his argument, we must have the "comprehensive" immigration bill which would encompass all facets of the immigration issue.

So the "comprehensive" bill passed by the Senate collides with the more conservative bill from the House, and nothing gets done because no compromise is possible. I repeat, nothing gets done. (Sidebar: Why do we let Congress vote for their own pay increases?)

The solution is clear, at least to me: Introduce three separate bills simultaneously, each dealing with a single part of the immigration issue. The only delay then would be on the bill over which there might be an honest debate. Meanwhile, the other bills would pass quickly, and the immigration issue could be addressed properly.

I'm not so naive as to imagine that those folks have not thought of the idea. There are obviously other reasons that the politicians on my side of the aisle -- my dogs, so to speak -- don't really want anything to happen on immigration. I wish I knew what those reasons are.

And just like having a mean dog, you want him to win the fights against other mean dogs, but you want to make sure that he doesn't turn around and bite you.

Maybe all politicians should be put on a leash.

Making Fun of the A-J #1

From the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal:

"Helicopter called to duty on air conditioning units" In related news, a B-52 bomber was called in on an oven, and F16 fighter jets were contacted about installing cable.

"Lubbock residents get one-on-one with mayor" But they get to bring a friend to see the Chief of Police.

"Florida medical examiner may take post in Lubbock" There's apparently a post shortage in Florida.

"Texas Tech plans crackdown on unauthorized use of school logo" The fad of branding donkeys with the logo is causing confusion among those who use the common phrase "Texas Tech jackass".

"Simple scheme put perpetrators through college" They claimed they were All-American running backs and illegal immigrants.

A Reversal of Fortune in the NBA

While I'm not an NBA fan, I will occasionally look at the headlines during the playoffs to see who won. This year, with the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals, I was a little more interested. I even watched part of a game...the last five minutes of Game 3, where Dallas blew a 13-point lead.

So I went back to just reading the headlines.

Last night Miami won Game 6, giving them the title. There have already been accusations that the Finals were "fixed" by NBA officials (both on and off the court), with proper counter arguments. The conspiracists say that certain larger markets, say Los Angeles, New York (or Miami,) are preferable over smaller markets to be the NBA Champions. This is either for ratings, advertising revenue, merchandise sales, or similar notions, depending on which crackpot theory you want to believe. In this particular case, I think it's reasonable to say that NBA executives really, really don't like Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who is wealthy enough to say exactly what he thinks -- and he does -- and absorb a $250,000 fine.

I personally believe that there is something to the theory that the NBA chooses a team to win, and officiating plays a huge part in it. In the late 90's the Lakers received a huge number of favorable calls. (I'm not even a fan, but I grit my teeth remembering a Game Six against Portland....the Trailblazers were robbed.)

While I'm not saying this series was fixed, an interesting statistic came up. Look here:

Miami 207, Dallas 155.

Okay, nothing really unusual about that. Miami's Dwayne Wade drives to the basket a lot and draws more fouls, Dallas is a physical team, etc., etc., so Miami's going to get more chances at the free throw line.

But let's look at how it broke down:

Game 1 Dallas 26, Miami 19
Game 2 Dallas 28, Miami 32
Game 3 Dallas 26, Miami 34
Game 4 Dallas 27, Miami 36
Game 5 Dallas 25, Miami 49
Game 6 Dallas 23, Miami 37

While starting out slow in the first couple of games, Dallas "learned" how to foul in the last four. In the first two games, Miami shot 49% of the free throws. In the last four games, after Dallas took a 2-0 lead in the series, Miami shot 61% of the free throws.

While not excusing the Mavericks's horrendous choke in Game 3, I find it at least curious that there was a reversal of 24% in the allocation of free throws comparing the first two games to the last four. Note that it's not the fact that Dallas might foul more that's curious (see above), but the reversal in such an important statistic.

A suspicious person might say NBA officials panicked after Game 2 and instructed the refs to do something about it. ("Anything to keep Cuban from winning a championship")

I don't think it would be the first time such a thing has happened. But I'm not really a fan, so what do I know?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Chicks with Shovels

Either they are profiting from the most fantastic marketing campaign* since the introduction of New Coke, or the Dixie Chicks continue to dig a hole for themselves that is almost to Shanghai.

An excerpt of an article on the Dixie Chicks from the UK Telegraph:

The Chicks can't hide their disgust at the lack of support they received from other country performers. "A lot of artists cashed in on being against what we said or what we stood for because that was promoting their career, which was a horrible thing to do," says [Emily] Robison.

"A lot of pandering started going on, and you'd see soldiers and the American flag in every video.
It became a sickening display of ultra-patriotism."

"The entire country may disagree with me, but I don't understand the necessity for patriotism," [Natalie] Maines resumes, through gritted teeth. "Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and like your life, but as for loving the whole country…
I don't see why people care about patriotism."


In other news, astronomers and astrophysicists have discovered that the entire universe revolves around the Dixie Chicks.

* (It should not be forgotten that the Chicks have a new album out, and they apparently are now trying to appeal to a different audience. Hence, their outrageousness may be a conscious maneuver to be more "punk" -- in which case Sid Vicious is spinning in his grave as much as George Washington.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Really Inconvenient Truth for Al Gore

The Canadian Free Press posted an article online, "Scientists Respond to Gore's Warnings" It details the arguments against the global warning theories that Gore espouses.

Turns out that "global warming" is not universally believed by scientists at all. Don't trade in your SUV yet.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Frying Fish

A local newspaper editor, who will remain nameless, sang the praises of Pete Laney, longtime Speaker of the House from Hale County. "Bipartisan," "representing West Texas," etc. The editor then went on to take a shot at those politicians who receive political contributions from "downstate."

Being the troublemaker that I am, I used the internet to do some research on political contributions in Texas, specifically those to Pete Laney.

From the website I found the following information on the political contributions that Pete Laney received in 2000, 2002, 2004:

ZIP Codes for Top contributions to Pete Laney in 2000:

Code (Location) Amount
78701 (Austin, TX) $326,601
77002 (Houston, TX) $55,000
78767 (Austin, TX) $51,900
78768 (Austin, TX) $32,200
75201 (Dallas, TX) $31,000
76102 (Ft Worth, TX) $29,000
78704 (Austin, TX) $28,000
75202 (Dallas, TX) $20,525
78761 (Austin, TX) $20,250
77046 (Houston, TX) $20,000
78204 (San Antonio, TX) $20,000
20005 (Washington, TX) $16,000
75219 (Dallas, TX) $15,525
77010 (Houston, TX) $15,000
75221 (Dallas, TX) $14,500

You'll notice an absence of West Texas zip codes there. Let's look at 2002:

78701 (Austin, TX) $204,350
78767 (Austin, TX) $70,000
75201 (Dallas, TX) $32,700
78333 (Alice, TX) $25,000
78768 (Austin, TX) $21,550
77002 (Houston, TX) $21,500
76102 (Fort Worth, TX) $16,551
78704 (Austin, TX) $15,500
79762 (Odessa, TX) $15,150
75202 (Dallas, TX) $15,000
20005 (Washington, TX) $14,000
78761 (Austin, TX) $12,000
78757 (Austin, TX) $12,000
77478 (Sugar Land, TX) $11,200
78204 (San Antonio, TX) $10,000

Finally, a West Texas zip code shows up, way down the list. Let's look at 2004:

78701 (Austin, TX) $22,650
75201 (Dallas, TX) $4,750
77010 (Houston, TX) $3,500
77701 (Beaumont, TX) $2,500
76101 (Fort Worth, TX) $2,500
78704 (Austin, TX) $2,100
78723 (Austin, TX) $2,000
88210 (Artesia, NM) $2,000
78768 (Austin, TX) $2,000
75505 (Texarkana, TX) $2,000
78731 (Austin, TX) $1,750
78703 (Austin, TX) $1,600
79170 (Amarillo, TX) $1,500
79106 (Amarillo, TX) $1,500
76102 (Fort Worth, TX) $1,500

A couple of "west Texas" contributions show up, near the bottom of the list.

I want to emphasize that this is not an indictment of any kind of Pete Laney, the job he did for our area, or the type of man he is. But let's face it, his major contributors were nearly all from "downstate." This is an observation that the local media -- in this case, a smalltown newspaper -- have their own fish to fry, just as much as the New York Times or CBS. An editor's biases show up in his arguments, just like anyone else's. In an editor's case, however, it carries the weight of being distributed to hundreds or thousands of people, who believe that they're hearing the "truth."

If we all take the time and effort to do a little investigation, a little fact-checking, and take what the media say with a huge grain of salt, we can be better informed as to what's really going on.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

An Inconvenient Rumor

The Fire and Ice Report from the Business and Media Institute shows how so-called experts have been predicting dire climate changes for over 100 years. The problem is that they haven't been able to decide if it's getting hotter or colder. According to the report, in the 1890's the world was getting colder. In the 1970's there was another Ice Age coming, and we were all doomed. In the 1980's there was a major comeback for global warming, and it's been the undisputed champion of climate change theories since.

There is a lot of junk science out there, and it seems that every "expert" has a dog in the hunt -- grant money, political power, prestige -- so that it's impossible to trust anyone's opinion completely. Al Gore has based almost his entire political career on environmental issues, most recently in his documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth." is a website that goes into detail about some of the fallacies regarding science, global warming theories in particular. For a skeptic like myself, it's a great source of information on various aspect of the popular media's coverage of scientific issues.

Lest anyone think I want dirty water and air pollution, I am against both of those. I also think that it's prudent to conserve resources whenever and wherever possible. In fact, my "dream home" will -- if all goes according to plan -- be almost entirely off the grid. I have a few years before I actually have to pull the trigger on it, but I'm already looking at solar alternatives, and other ways to be more self-sufficient. We are stewards of our world, and need to do what we can when we can.

That does not mean the government needs to do anything. It's each person's individual choice, and as an individual I want to be a good steward.

But it's not because of Al Gore.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Ghost Hunters

I don't watch a lot of television, but I've certainly got hooked on Ghost Hunters on the Sci-Fi network. TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) investigates claims of paranormal activity in private homes and public buildings. Roto-Rooter plumbers by day, ghosthunters by night, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson are two of the best personalities on TV.

By the way, this is a reality show, not a sitcom. TAPS actually exists, and Jason and Grant are real guys. And they come across as two of the nicest guys you'd ever hope to meet. Have you ever had to comfort someone when they found out that their house wasn't haunted?

While not a big believer in the paranormal, I still find it fascinating to see some of the things these guys capture on video. Watch their show or visit the TAPS website.

Recent Reading List

I've been busy with both research and reading for pleasure. Here are some of the books I've been into lately.

Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History by William Safire. Amazing how many situations that we're dealing with now have been discussed in the past.

The Big Book of Noir edited by Ed Gorman, Lee Server and Martin H. Greenberg. Part of the research for my novel. A collection of articles on noir films, stories, radio and television. One of the best noir writers, Charles Williams, was from San Angelo, Texas. Go figure.

How To Talk To a Liberal (If You Must) by Ann Coulter. A humorous, sharp-tongued collection of her columns.

The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. Not what my 13-year-old daughter thought it was. Bierce was H.L Mencken before Mencken was.

The Abs Diet by David Zinczenko. Because I recently turned 48 years old, and hope springs eternal.

Life Matters by Roger and Rebecca Merrill. Trying to get a handle on life. I mainly bought this because The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey rocked my world, and I thought this would add to that.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. An odd choice maybe, but my reading habits have gotten sloppier as I get older, and this book is a big help in being a better reader. A key passage: "It is true enough that many people read some things too slowly, and that they ought to read them faster. But many people also read some things too fast, and they ought to read those things more slowly. A good speed reading course should therefore teach you to read at many different speeds, not just one speed that is faster than anything you can manage now. It should enable you to vary your rate of reading in accordance with the nature and complexity of the material." True dat, as my kids say.

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. Because of the type of story I'm writing, I googled the term "Texas noir" and this book came up. This story set in west Texas by an award-winning author will break your heart. Read it at your own risk.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I first read this book a couple of years ago, and didn't think much of it. It's as though a puzzle geek put all these different puzzles and codes into a sub-par short story. Now that it's sold a zillion copies and been made into a bad movie, I read it again, and my opinion hasn't changed. A travelogue through Christian symbolism and conspiracy theories.

The Western Guide to Feng Shui by Terah Kathryn Collins. If you don't know a bagua map from a cheese log, then this book is for you. Forget any mumbo-jumbo you might have heard about feng shui; this book gives practical guidelines like: 1) Live with what you love. 2) Put safety and comfort first. 3) Simplify and organize. I read this book while working on the design for the dream home Kathy and I hope to build when we turn 60.

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. Because I'm a compulsive buyer and reader of books on writing. This book has a lot of good stuff, but one page is marked because of this passage: "When I ask a group of professional writers to state the essential difference between nonfictionand fiction, most are unable to do so.... Let us state the difference in the simplest way. Nonfiction conveys information. Fiction evokes emotion." Strunk and White couldn't have said it better.

Speaker's Sourcebook II by Glenn Van Ekeren. Because I had a presentation to do, and needed a quick quote about risk. (The quote I chose: "You've got to go out on a limb sometimes, because that's where the fruit is." - Will Rogers)