Saturday, August 21, 2010

To All WHo Think the Free Market is Self-Regulating.

OK, if all the bad medicine being sold, all the products being recalled, including cars, eggs, baby cribs -- all with potential to injure or kill were not enough to justify government intervention to protect people from greedy or careless capitalists, here is another reason why laissez faire capitalism is dangerous.

The fact that so many medical instruments used in hospitals look alike and are interchangeable leads to errors that can and has killed patients or made them much sicker. Efforts to force manufacturers to design tubes, e. g., for a distinctive purpose -- feeding or introducing fluids in veins, etc. are being resisted because it might affect their profit margins.
Advocates in California got legislation passed in 2008 that would have mandated that feeding tubes no longer be compatible with tubes that go into the skin or veins by 2011. But in 2009, AdvaMed, the manufacturers’ trade association, successfully pushed legislation to delay the bill’s effects until 2013 and 2014 or until the international standards group reaches a decision. 

Three cheers for an interventionist government to protect life, health, and to promote the common good. 

Phooey on you, Milton Friedman, and all your kind.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Is Obama a Muslim? Cultural Idiocy Running Wild

That perhaps one in five Americans believes that Obama is a Muslim  boggles the mind. It ia monument to prejudice, unscrupulous political opportunism, willing ignorance of the invincible sort,  downright lying, and deliberate deceit.

Have the professors and perpetrators of this nefarious falsehood forgotten that  two summers ago Obama was being excoriated for belonging to the Christian church pastored by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright?

He is not a Muslim, but what if he were? The Constitution forbids a religious test for office. Thank goodness the Constitution was written when it was. Such a marvelous document would never be accepted today.

Prudence might suggest that the President join a church, not that that would quell the idiocy abroad, but it might help a little. As Mark Shields said tonight on the PBS News Hour, Americans want their president to belong to a church but to wear their religion lightly.

Senseless Furor over Building a House of Worship

Even more exasperating than the media frenzy every summer about what Bret Favre will do  (I don't give a %$@!) is the near hysteria in some quarters over the building of a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attack. The objections have no basis whatsoever unless one assumes the identity of the Muslims who attacked with Islam as a whole. Many critics who protest that they do no such thing end up doing it anyway de facto,  or else their objections are groundless and silly.

A compromise is that they they have a right to build, but it is unwise and insensitive to do so. Why? There are mosques all over New York City that nobody objects to them. Yet some, including the governor of the state, seem to think that just placing the house of worship a little further away would honor both the First Amendment and the sensitivities of those who are offended. Perhaps in sheer pragmatic terms that is the best way to resolve the issue, but it ignores principle in favor of feelings and misguided conceptions.

Some of the analogies are just plain dumb as well as committing at least one logical fallacy. The notion, e. g., that it would be like building a memorial to the Nazis next to Treblinka or Auschwitz is paraded by politicians more interested in political effect that rational soundness. But Nazis were evil as a whole, while Islam as a whole is not identical with a few radical extremists whose interpretation of the Koran is generally regarded by scholars as an insult to a great religion. Would we accept the identity of the Ku Klux Klan, whose symbol was a cross, with Christianity?

President George W. Bush took a sensible view and called Islam  a religion of peace that could not be identified with a terrorism. I wish the former president would emerge and say a strong and healing word to the  protesters, among whom are many Republicans.

By the way have we forgotten that the US has been killing Muslims on a regular basis in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003, amounting to hundreds of thousands of combat troops and civilians. Leaving aside Afghanistan for the moment, every person killed in Iraq by Americans is a horrible and unnecessary tragedy completely unjustified by either moral principle or national self-interest.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Opinion Research and "the Fallacy of Misplaced Concretion"

Twice in recent days I have been called and asked to participate in an opinion survey. The first time I agreed, and soon I was being asked things like "Do you think the country is going in the right direction?" At first I protested that my opinion was more complicated than that but soon learned that the caller would accept only the answers on the survey. We proceeded a while until I finally asked how many more questions there were. She answered that she would read faster! In exasperation I said I did not intend to answer any more question. What is wrong here?

By insisting that all answers be of the yes or no type or at best a multiple choice option, the fullness of the whole is distorted. Reality  (or at least my opinion about it) does not conform to these categories. The assumption behind them  commits what  A. N. Whitehead called "the fallacy of misplaced concretion (FMC), to wit, an abstraction is made from a totality and the abstraction is identified  with the whole concrete reality in all its complexity and with all its ambiguities, paradoxes, and contradictions (a paradox is a contradiction when used by a theologian).

My refusal to answer in the simplistic terms offered annoyed me and frustrated the questioner, who was only doing what she was told.

The second time I just said no and ended the matter.

Is the country going in the right direction? Yes, in my opinion, in some respects, e. g., the changing attitudes toward gays and lesbians. In other respects, in my view, we are going in the wrong direction, e. g., toward a more dysfunctional politics and  a meaner  less civil society. A mere yes or no will not suffice, unless we are willing to commit the dreaded fallacy. In letters to the editor, radio talk shows, TV punditry, sermons, and daily conversations, the FMC is committed a lot!

The best these surveys can do is to assess a general mood regarding what the respondents feel is the most important factor to them at the moment, a sort of  universalized gut feeling about things.
The next time I am called, I think I will say just say no and refer them to my blog site.