Sunday, February 26, 2017

Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy

We've all heard about Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy who were both presidents of the United States, right? Well, want to hear something crazy? Lincoln was elected into Congress 1846, Kennedy 1946. Lincoln was elected president 1860, Kennedy 1960. They both contain seven letters. Both wives lost their children while living in the White House. Both were shot in the head on a Friday. Both were assassinated by Southerners and succeeded by Southerners. Lincoln was shot by a man, John Wilkes Booth, who was born in 1839 and was known by his three names which contained 15 letter. Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald who was born in 1939 and known for his three names which also contained 15 letters. A month before Lincoln was assassinated he was in Monroe, Maryland and a month before Kennedy was assassinated he was in Marilyn Monroe.

This, my friends, is an example of the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy. The Texas Sharpshooter fallacy got its name from a Texas cowboy shooting at the side of a barn and then going over to the area he shot up and drawing a target to make it appear he shot a bulls-eye. Now to anyone who passes it makes the cowboy look like he’s dangerous with a gun.

This fallacy happens when someone jumps to the conclusion that a cluster in some kind of data must be the result of some crazy cause. Now there are many reasons this not always correct, take for instance sometimes things happen with no cause and a cluster in data will happen by chance with no real cause. Even if there was a cluster and it was not the result of chance it was probably basis and not for a causal conclusion. You seem to get stuck on random mutations of data without any further testing. We marvel at the similarities between Kennedy and Lincoln, but once you start to pick apart the differences, you notice the similarities seem minute. Take for instance a dating website, they match Jim and Jill together because they both like long walks on the beach, mustard on their hot dogs and want to be crazy cat people, but they don't take into consideration the 567 differences they have. It's never a good idea to ignore the differences and only focus on the similarities. For all, we know Jim could be gay, but that's not a similarity, so it doesn't show.

Here's a great link to check out:

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Three Men Make a Tiger

     In today’s society with constant news outlets and magazines always printing new information it is hard to distinguish what is true and what is a lie. This idea is similar to the three men make a tiger fallacy. This fallacy states that if someone hears ridiculous information by enough people they will believe it. This fallacy comes from a Chinese idiom when Pang Cong, a minister, asked a king if he would believe there was a tiger in the city if two people told him. He said he would not believe them but if three people told him there was a tiger he would believe them. Pang Cong applied this idea to people speaking ill of him while he was away. The king said he would not believe what people were saying about the minister but he was soon persuaded when he heard three people talking unpleasantly about the minister. This idiom is used to stress the power of this fallacy and what it can do to people's opinions of people/ ideas.
            We can see this idea today when we look at the media around us. When looking at magazines about celebrities we will believe anything we see on the magazine, television, and internet. For example, there was much speculation in 2016 that Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner) regretted her sex change. This gossip was spread on the internet, social media, television, and magazines. These sources served as people reinforcing that idea into people’s heads. Later reports concluded that this was not true and was all a complete lie made up by the tabloids. While this is not a completely absurd idea it still demonstrates how multiple sources can strengthen a claim that is not true.
            Looking at the Chinese idiom and the Caitlyn Jenner example we can see several flaws in this fallacy’s reasoning. The first flaw we see is the lack of evidence behind these lies. Just because people say something is true does not automatically make that idea true. While I would like to say I would be smart enough to catch this fallacy I believe I have fallen victim to it many times. With the media in our society, it is hard to not believe everything we heard. That is why it is important to always question everything we see and look at the rhetoric being used. As we have learned so far in the course you cannot believe everything you see or hear because often people are trying to get you to side with them. This is not always a bad thing but rhetoric can be used to trick you into believing something that is simply not true, similar to this fallacy. Rhetoric definitely has its strengths but similar to Socrates idea of rhetoric it can be used in hateful ways to turn people against a worthy cause and create division. For this reason, I believe it is very important to study rhetoric and learn how to analyze the media around us. The idea that someone can hear something three times and believe it to be true shows how much power we put into other people and their opinions. As citizens in this media age, we must be able to analyze the rhetoric being used around us and decide for ourselves what is right and wrong.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

"In Praise of Chairs"

On one of the first days of class, Dr. Carter used an interesting example to communicate how media conveys a message; he stood on the table to announce that the table itself was a medium, and that his message changed simply because he was on the table. Marshall McLuhan’s notion that “the medium is the message” shows us that the media or technology we use become extensions of our bodies; so when Dr. Carter stood on the table and his message changed, I was struck with another interesting example of furniture as a means of communication; chairs in film. 

I didn't make this leap immediately and on my own; my spare time sees a lot of video essays played on YouTube, particularly ones dedicated to film. There is one essay titled “In Praise of Chairs” which brilliantly (if unexpectedly) captures what I believe to be the essence of what McLuhan meant when he said “the medium is the message”. If you’re interested, the essay can be found here. If you’re not interested, I’ll simply summarize the key points.

The author first asserts that “In film, a chair is not just a chair; it’s piece of production design. The type of chair you use can say everything about the person and the world they inhabit.” How? The author sees three different uses for chairs in film. The first is as an extension of the world, which is the most common. Is the world clean, cool, and futuristic? Perhaps its chairs would look something like this. 
Is the world run down? Are the characters wealthy, or scraping by? This means of communication can also serve to illustrate power and hierarchy. Such as…


The second use is as an extension of a particular character, or as a representation for the psychology of a character. “If they’re vain, if they lack inhibition, or if they really like joysticks…”, then these things are subtly communicated to an audience.

Or, perhaps not so subtly.
The essayist describes the final use as being the most practical, and it is to use the chair as an extension of the situation. This is seen when a person is forced into acting a certain way because of the chair they’re sitting in. Chairs change the posture and the theatrics of actors, and this is an influences the message that audiences receive later. 

So, what’s the point of this? In analyzing the chairs present in the films and shows we watch, we’re having a very particular set of messages communicated to us. Each chair we see was a deliberate choice made to further the overall story, and we don’t even notice, because they’re just chairs. 

Confessions of a Fake News Producer

Alan Montgomery (who uses the pen name Jestin Coler) is the creator of over a dozen fake news websites that focus on appealing to right winged Americas. How do I know all of his produced articles are fake news? He said that was his goal. In an interview, Alan was recorded saying: "The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction." The fake articles were supposedly only meant to fool republican’s in order to discredit them later for believing something that was a fake story in the first place, but it has gone beyond this main goal. In the same interview comments were read that were posted on an article he wrote titled “City in Michigan first to fully implement Sharia Law.” It was said this article (as well as most of the other fake articles he has produced) connected mostly with Trump supports, as well as other republicans, who posted comments on said article saying extremely violent things toward Muslims and the Islamic religion because they truly thought what the article they read was true. These kinds of provoking articles lead to violence and discrimination even though the article was fake, and even though it wasn’t the original goal of the creator. People today don’t know how to distinguish fake news from reality, so when they see things like the article mentioned above they cling onto it and won’t believe it’s fake even when the creator himself says it is.
The idea of “fake news” has become a huge topic and a serious problem over the course of the past couple years, and many people are finding it hard to distinguish what is fake news and what isn’t. Many Americas get their news from social media such as Facebook, blogs, or Twitter. Social media is where articles produced by people like Alan Montgomery are most likely to show up because it has the biggest chance of gaining a large audience. On social media, content creators are also allowed to use a more lax and informal rhetoric in order to appeal to the masses. They don’t have to include fact, statistics, or proof for people to believe it, and that’s what they bank on. People see these types of articles on the pages of either far left or far right organizations and connect to them immediately based off of the wording and the titles. Often people who see these articles believe them without any backing because the article follows their personal or political beliefs about a situation or topic. This has eliminated the need for people to be factual in their writing, as well as eliminated the need to produce long and detailed articles about a topic. When these types of articles are consumed by the public a type of thinking arises that leads people to believe that the true facts are only what connects to their personal beliefs and anything else is “fake news.”
So how does the type of rhetoric seen in these types of articles directly effect the people who read them? An example of the effects can be seen in a recent news story about a man who open fired in a pizza shop because he read an article that claimed Hillary Clinton and her chief of staff ran a child sex slave operation in that very pizza shop. The idea that Hillary Clinton and her Chief of staff were doing this was given the title “Pizzagate” (I can't believe that's the title either) and was widely believed by many people. This ridiculous story was even brought up by the national security advisor’s son, and chief of staff, Micheal G. Flynn in a tweet:
Some may think (I know I do) “how can such a blatant and crazy lie be spread and promoted as fact by someone in such a high position?” Many would say this can be connected with the idea that the extreme left or extreme right will do anything to spread lies about the other side to their audience, and I agree. The popularity of fake new is so great that people in power are starting to agree with and spread these types of blatant lies without any backing whatsoever because their supporters believe it so completely. Even Trump adds to the fire by being one of the biggest instigators of the idea that “most news is fake news and the media is only composed of liars.” This type of ridiculous thinking, and the spreading of false information, is what’s killing the media and real news, and is part of what is driving a divide in this country. 

NOTE: the Youtube link is a satirical video created by a well known left leaning show, but includes an interview with Alan Montgomery. 

Human traffic

A topic that is often times looked over is Human Trafficking. Most people do not look too much into this topic until they soon realize all of the connections that may come with it. A kidnapping of a young five year old can never know her true identity. A rape that happened to a young girl in high school causes her to run away and be forced into the streets. As well as a grown woman out at the bars date raped with a drug slipped into her drink. Unfortunately these are not made up stories, nor are they situations that occur in only the movies. These movies are real, and it is called reality.
                Human trafficking is also a “modern aged” slavery route. People who are dominate, or have the power force, labor activities and trade services for money. Matter of fact it is such a great business some states are using jurisdiction to allow for some legal prostitution. I’m not saying it is right, but the argument states “If they are providing a service you should get paid for it”. Therefore this means more people would take this into consideration. Your mother, sister, girlfriend, or even brother could be using their body to make money. Sadly there are even worst connections with this type of “career”, drug abuse, violence, and health issues are all problems that can occur.
                Technology also makes human trafficking a bit easier. With the easy connect, and fast location finding and tons of cites. Back page has descriptions of females, and code words with what activity can be performed. As if you were searching for a car on Craig’s list. “A fast, red bone, speedy car”. Matter of fact Craigs list has even broaden its list of services and products. As well as watching on television the half-naked women, or massive sexual pleasure scenes that makes a viewer wonder. “Sex Sales” is a very used strategy in advertising. It is no shock that what is displayed in the media can change a person’s view on things.
                Human trafficking is alive and well. Even though it is a crime, the illegal benefits continue to make people risk their everyday freedom. Slavery, kidnapping, rape, drugs, violence, all play a role in this crime that is said to be considered to be “legal”.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Straw-Manning of The Left And The Right

After this past election, it seems like the left and the right have become even more divided than it already was. Not only in the house and the senate, but among non-politicians who hold any kind of political opinion. It is an unfortunate circumstance, but if you take an objective look at things, it is quite easy to see why it occurs.

One of the main reason, especially among millennials, why we are so divided is that much of what we see from either side is straw-manning. Straw-manning is a phenomenon I've been noticing quite a bit over the last few years, especially on social media. Unfortunately, social media is having a growing impact of people's political beliefs, and is really having an affect of people's ability to think critically. It seems to be far to easy for people to let clever yet misleading meme or a viral video of someone spewing non-sense change their viewpoint on an issue.

Lets start with the right. I see straw-manning coming from the right more-so than from the left. If you have conservative-leaning friends on Facebook, you have likely seen posted and shared content about how cowardly and entitled they think all "liberals" are. It is getting away from valid arguments for legitimate political issues and concerns up for discussion, and attacking the liberal straw-man, who are a bunch of whiney hipster college students who need their safe space and are completely naive about many of the serious issues we face. Although this may be true for a small segment of young liberals, many people who lean left on issues simply see the blatant error in some of the ways of the right, and feel that the more liberal stance on some issues are far more rational.

It is not just the right that does it, I have observed it from the left as well. One big example of this is how many liberals feel about people who voted for Donald Trump in the presidential election. Instead of genuinely trying to understand why someone would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, they are straw-manned as a racist xenophobic bigoted whatever. There seems to be absolutely no understanding of the notion that people saw Hillary Clinton's record as a corrupt corporatist shill bought out by wall-street with very little policy substance on her campaign trail and felt more compelled to lean towards a non-career politician. As much as I don't agree with most of Trump's platform, and acknowledge how hypocritical his actions have been during his time in office so far, I can see the appeal from the view point of his voters during the election. The American middle classed blue collar worker saw him as someone who would represent them, as opposed to a candidate who was sure to represent the corporations and wall street above all else.

What I'm trying to say here is that people need to take more of an objective look at given situations. Not all liberals are whiney entitled hippies, and not all Trump voters are racist bigots. Take a second to understand people's thought process, try to understand, and engage in civil dialogue. If we do not do these thing, further division is inevitable.

Civic Life: Do we sacrifice integrity for political ends?

So if you haven’t heard, Bill Kintner, a Nebraska State Senator of District 2, resigned after using his state owned computer for cybersex, and for saying a bunch of really nasty things on Twitter, and for just generally being kind of a jerk.

Yeah, he’s not too happy. I wouldn’t be either, not when our license plates look like this. Credit: Brendan Sullivan, The World-Herald

So, without wishing ill upon him, it’s undoubtedly a good thing he resigned. But it’s not just because there are much better people up for the job. Bill Kintner’s resignation, if we look more closely, can be a window into understanding the broader state of civic life in America, and the moral decisions which are leading to its disintegration.

Though some are heralding the news as a victory for the Women’s March, fundamentally, Kintner's resignation isn't about the issues or partisanship, but something nobler: Our elected officials coming together and deeming some behavior so repulsive, it demands resignation. No one except Kintner is denying that; because everyone else -- Pete Ricketts, staunch Republicans, security guards -- cheered his resignation. And in this era where politicians are seen as untrustworthy, unethical characters, where partisan lines rule -- that is proof there exists some standard of conduct to which we hold ourselves in this country. And this, as we shall see, is far more wholesome and good for the integrity of our system of government than taking his resignation as a symbol for political gain.

It's not that we don’t have standards of ethical behavior for politicians in America, it’s just that Kintner didn’t say enough terrible things for those rules to no longer apply.

But let us now ask, why? Why is the integrity of the political system more valuable than the ends of the movement? Even if people were to claim Kintner's resignation as a victory for [insert ideology or party here], why would that be such a bad thing? Certainly, in these partisan times, we've seen many in power demonstrate an attitude like this and behave in this way.

The fact is, our system of government, and the standards of conduct within it and surrounding it, which enables such powers of speech and activism and freedom, is wholly an entity more sacred than nearly any movement within it. This does not diminish the importance of the movement, but merely recognizes its place as being a byproduct of a functional democracy. Movements, parties, or organizations which attempt to hijack acts or symbols of common decency and unity for their own political gain do so at the expense of our common good. We must always place our integrity of government above our political ends; and we may think to this fact as we wonder how our country has ended up with politicians of questionable character and temperament in power.

When voting in 2018, try to remember that whoever you vote for will have the duty of upholding the values represented by this picture. May your candidate also be entirely a creation of bad Photoshopping.

But as different entities continue to undermine their integrity, and the integrity of our government, in pursuit of their ends, they fundamentally undermine Americans’ trust in them. What proof of this fact do we have? Gallup released a report just last year, showing that Americans’ trust in the media has fallen 20 points in 20 years, to a low of just 32% saying that they have a “great deal/fair amount” of trust in the media. Trust in the government, the Supreme Court, public schools, banks, and the medical system isn’t much better. In fact, the two most trusted institutions are, interestingly enough, small businesses and the military. How about fellow Americans? Certainly, in this era of populism, we trust each other more than the ruling elite? Not quite so, it seems; only 31 percent of people say that “most people can be trusted,” according to another recent poll.

I’ve been frustrated by this for a long time. And I’ve wondered, quite foolishly and egotistically, how I alone could change this trend towards disunity. But here’s the truth: Democracy is a social institution, made possible only because a lot of people are willing to place trust, and taxes, into this abstract concept of country. Without trust in our system, that framework crumbles. And as long as we are going to, on an institutional level, make decisions that maximize benefits to our own ideology, coming at the cost of our integrity, and the integrity of our political process, we will see our society continue to fade into divisiveness.

And figuring that out, knowing that’s what it means for the “media to be biased” or for Americans to be “polarized” – knowing that’s the reason why, is why Bill Kintner’s resignation was really, really exciting.