Friday, July 31, 2009

If health care reform is socialism, then why isn't this socialism?

Why isn't the huge income tax deduction on mortgage interest socialism? Why isn't the gas for clunkers program socialism? Why isn't public schools socialism, why aren't energy tax credits socialism? Why isn't ant tax deduction or rebate or any thing like that socialism?

Wouldn't ant market transfer that doesn't/generate (or have the possibility to generate) a profit be socialism?

Monday, July 27, 2009

I smell a fart, thus I am disgusted by immorality.

I don't normally copy an entire article and past it here, but I found this fascinating. Now, I think as provocative as this is, the graphs it seem to me are not starkly different, and I wonder if there is not something else going on here. for instance, there a are multiple dimensions to morality, "disgust" being only one of them, and different people "load" on different dimensions in different ways. Perhaps those who load heavily on disgust are affected by manipulation of the disgust or cleanliness factor more than others. Nevertheless.....this is interesting given the debate between whether morality is a "god-thing" or something that emanates from our brains.

How wrong is it to use a kitten for personal sexual pleasure? Depends on whether you've washed your hands
Category: Emotion • Reasoning • Research • Social
Posted on: April 23, 2009 3:55 PM, by Dave Munger

Imagine the following scenario:

Matthew is playing with his new kitten late one night. He is wearing only his boxer shorts, and the kitten sometimes walks over his genitals. Eventually, this arouses him, and he begins to rub his bare genitals along the kitten's body. The kitten purrs, and seems to enjoy the contact. How wrong is it for Matthew to be rubbing himself against the kitten?
Or how about this one:

You find a wallet with several hundred dollars in cash, along with credit cards including an American Express Gold Card and ID locating the owner's home in the richest neighborhood in town. You're barely making ends meet. How wrong is it for you to keep the cash and anonymously mail the wallet back to the owner?
These are questions of morality, which many people believe we can answer based on reason alone. But a couple of recent studies suggest that seemingly unrelated local circumstances can affect how we perceive the morality of scenarios such as this. A team led by Simone Schnall asked students walking outside on a college campus to answer questions about scenarios like this, rating them on a scale of 1 (extremely immoral) to 7 (perfectly okay). The catch was that they had rigged a trash can near the experimenters' desk with fart spray. Some respondents read and rated the stories in the presence of a mild stink (four sprays of fart scent), some had a strong scent (eight sprays), and a lucky third group completed the experiment with no scent at all. Here are the results:

This graph shows the combined average ratings of several different scenarios, like marrying or having sex with a cousin, falsifying a résumé, or filming a documentary without permission of those being interviewed. The combined ratings were significantly lower -- more immoral -- when the survey was conducted in the presence of fart smell. Schnall's team says that this demonstrates that our moral judgment is affected by disgust: we're harsher in our moral judgments when we're disgusted (a post-test confirmed that those who smelled the fart spray were significantly more disgusted than the others). Interestingly, the quantity of fart spray didn't matter: despite the fact that everyone agreed that more fart spray smelled worse, the moral judgments weren't different depending on how much spray was used.

In three additional experiments, the researchers confirmed that disgusting smells weren't solely to blame. They had students rate scenarios in a disgusting office (with a sticky desk and old pizza boxes overflowing the trash can), after watching a disgusting movie, and after recalling a time when they were disgusted. The results were similar: People who are more disgusted express stronger moral outrage at questionable scenarios such as eating your dog after it's killed in a car crash, or flipping a railyard switch to save five people from a crash but causing the death of another person.

But if manipulating people to feel disgusted causes stricter moral judgments, might it be possible to manipulate emotion in a different way to cause moral laxity? Working with a new team, Schnall gave a new group a students similar tests of morality, but instead of evoking disgust, the experimenters primed students to think about cleanliness and purity. In one of their experiments, the students washed their hands before completing the survey (the experimenters explained that the office they'd be working in was kept extremely tidy by the professor who occupied it). Here are the results:

This time the rating scale was reversed (9 = Completely Wrong; 0 = Perfectly Okay). The students who washed their hands said that the scenarios were significantly less immoral than those who didn't wash their hands. In another experiment, thoughts about purity were induced by a word-scrambling task; and the students who unscrambled words like "pure," "washed," and "immaculate" again rated the scenarios as less immoral than those who unscrambled neutral words.

So the context in which we make moral decisions matters quite a lot. Moving from disgusted to neutral thoughts leads to a significant change in moral attitude, and moving from neutral to pure thoughts causes yet another change. We don't appear to make moral decisions with cold rationality or consistency -- even when we're assessing the how wrong it is to masturbate with a kitten.

Schnall, S., Benton, J., & Harvey, S. (2008). With a Clean Conscience: Cleanliness Reduces the Severity of Moral Judgments Psychological Science, 19 (12), 1219-1222 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02227.x
Schnall, S., Haidt, J., Clore, G., & Jordan, A. (2008). Disgust as Embodied Moral

The Police, the Professor, and the President

EGads. This has really turned into a big story out of stuff that happens too much in the US. President Obama should have stayed mum on it. He may think he is the philosopher king and this was a teachable moment, then he needs to do more than to remark on a case, where he couldn't have known the facts. His remark was inflammatory to be boot.

I just finished reading the police report, which Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC said proves false arrest on the lead in to Keith Olberman....yeah. Well, I guess I don't see it.

I'm not taking sides here. I think this stuff happens too often in the US and white America doesn't want to deal with it. Gates, if the police report is true, wasn't making his case very well. As eloquent and influential as Professor GAtes is, he should have just complied and then called a press conference. This is assuming he was making a scence (at his house, but come on, I'm white, such a thing is not likely to happen to me, but if it did, I'd comply, then complain like hell.

This is an issue for the City of Cambridge, not to waste time when we have so many serious things to wrestle with, like whether President Obama is a US citizen or not (another too silly non-issue).

We are invovled in two wars, we are in the worst economic downturn in a generation, we are on the brink of major health care reform, we have an energy problem, and we are expending immense energy on an arrest, correct or not, of a Harvard professor and a President who can't resist pontificating on every item that can be found in Google Reader.

If President Obama apologizes, he should apologize for sticking his nose in some place that his nose didn't belong. If this was false arrest, I have no doubt that Professor Gates will pursue his case in the courts.

President Obama opened this up, and now that Congress is going to debate a resolution that President Obama should apologize to Sgt Crowley, he can be blamed for this political crap that makes so many citizens, like me, take a dim view of our leaders.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cheney's secret CIA program

So, VP Cheney had his own secret counterterrorism program that he ordered the CIA to keep from Congress...for 8 years. It must be uncontroversial because current CIA Director Panetta ordered it closed upon hearing of it. No controversy on the closing of it. The leading Republicans trying to defend that lawless administration. I predict Republicans soon will turn so hard against the Bush Administration, because it will be the only way to distance themselves from the nasty stuff that is going to leak out. President Obama may want to put it all behind us, but that is not goingto happen.

According to the NYT, Senator Kyl, said:

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., argued against any investigation
just yet. "I don't think we should be jumping to any conclusions," Kyl said.
"The Republican leader on the intelligence committee in the House described this
certainly not as some kind of massive program but something that was on again
off again … never got off the ground."

Kyl said he understands the concept that national security concerns may
preclude the executive branch from sharing some information with Congress.

Don't jump to conclusions is what he is saying. But he is not saying to not stop the program. If he trusts the previous administration so much, why isn't he arguing that Panetta shouldn't jump to conclusions, to stop an 8 year program that must, MUST, have been crucial to keeping US safe. yeah.

Senator McCain';s remarks are just as nervous:

Arizona Sen. John McCain, Obama's Republican opponent in the election, said
on "Meet the Press" this morning that such an investigation would not be in the
country's best interests. "For us to continue this and harm our image
throughout the world. … I agree with the president of the United States. It's
time to move forward," McCain said.

Harm? No bellicose remarks about the Democrat Panetta endangering the country by summarily ending the counterterrorism program? Come on.

The Republicans are going to eat themselves on this one, just watch.
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