Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Biased vs. Balanced

   Bias seems to be something some people just don't understand. First, the definition (as found using a Google search with Mozilla Firefox browser):
Prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

   The mistake I have seen a couple people clearly make is that if you have two sides of an issue and each side is not treated 50/50, then there is bias. The first time I saw this was in a review for the book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) where the reviewer was claiming the book to be biased because it was critical of more conservatives than liberals. It may have been from this review (I thought I had left a comment on the review at the time...but maybe a mistake is being made by me!):
Interesting but has a definite liberal bias,

The book is interesting. The subject of the book is our "blind spots." Unfortunately, the authors seem to have a few blind spots of their own, which is not surprising. Unfortunately, it makes the book annoying to those of us who don't buy into the liberal political view. Specifically, almost every time the authors pick a public figure as an example of bad behavior, they almost invariably pick a conservative or republican. Dick Cheney, George W Bush, Antonin Scalia, etc etc. Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton get mentioned, but in a much softer light. It seems that liberals just don't make as many mistakes as us conservatives. I expected better, especially since the authors spend a lot of time talking about the importance of unbiased psychological experiments.

   The latest example is from a blog post on Dispatches I saw today:
And they have “definitive proof” that Politifact is biased, which is going to crack you up. Their proof is that they added up all the times Politifact had called a political claim a “pants on fire” lie and — shock and horror — conservatives were more likely to receive that designation than liberals. They don’t dispute a single one of those “pants on fire” calls; in fact, they don’t even discuss any of them. All that matters to them are the numbers.
To have any semblance of fairness, PolitiFact should play it 50/50 and present an equal number of lies from both sides. They clearly are not concerned with any pretense.
Ed asks what should be the obvious question: "Well that might be true, if both sides lied equally often. Do they?"

   The possible confusion* in both of these cases is thinking that treatment needs to be 50/50 in order to be unbiased. But this is not the case. Seeing that I had not left a comment to that review above, I added one in which I said the following:
Let's say for the sake of argument that liberals make twice as many mistakes as conservatives. For a book to be unbiased, then it better have twice as many liberal examples as conservative examples, because that would reflect reality. But if a book were balanced with examples (same number of liberal examples as conservative examples, or 50/50), then that book would actually contain a liberal bias since it under-represents liberal mistakes in regards to reality.
   To restate the above, reporting incidents at a 50/50 rate is only unbiased if such incidents occur at that 50/50 rate. If the rate is actually 60/40, for example, then reporting must also be 60/40 to be unbiased. This is not to say that the book or Politifact are not biased, but before such a claim of bias can be made, the person making the claim needs to know the real-life rates of the reported incidents.

* Or it could be the case that these people do understand the difference between bias and balance, but rather they are incorrectly making the assumption that reality is going to be 50/50.

   As an aside, here's an interesting tidbit from the second example as to why Michelle Bachmann has been treated unfairly:
They also unfairly tarnish Michele Bachmann as a liar, when anybody who follows her already understands that many of her statements aren’t meant to be truthful in the first place — she simply says what she feels.
So...if what she says is a lie, we are not to call her out on her lie because she is speaking from the heart...or something? OhhhhhhhhhhhhK.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Election Post-Mortum

   Well, it's mostly good news coming out of the election. Let's see what I can all remember.


    Good news!

  • Obama wins!!!
  • Voter suppression efforts in Ohio fail. I had some concerns that Obama supporters would get frustrated with the long lines, no thanks to early voting having been cut. I was confident that a majority of Ohioans supported Obama; it was just a matter of securing those votes. I was quite sure Romney shot any chance he may have had with his "Jeep moves manufacturing to China" ads. (It is important to note that those were his ads and not those of a supportive Super PAC.)
  • Elizabeth Warren will be in the Senate! This is good as she should be a voice for the 99% and should be supportive of policies that reign in big banks. The problem will be getting such policies to the floor.
  • Alan Grayson is back in da House! He's another good voice for the 99%.
  • Some Tea Partiers have been (or likely will be) sent home or were asked to stay home: Allen West, Joe Walsh, Richard Mourdock, and Todd Akin who was served up a double-whammy as he had to surrender his House seat to run for the Senate.
  • Bad news :(

  • Wingnuttia High School prom king and queen (Steve King and Michelle Bachmann) held on to their seats.
  • Democrats really didn't make any gains in the House like I would have hoped. There are 13 toss-ups yet, but the Republicans have the majority. From 2010, they outnumbered Dems 242-193. Dems only have 191 right now, but are expected to have 198 based on current results from those toss-ups. That's a whopping gain of 5. (Or it can be looked at as a 10 point swing when counting the seats Republicans lost...which are not necessarily the same seats. Redistricting — some seats went away, such as IA-5, while new seats have been added, such as AZ-9.)


    Good news!

  • My soon-to-be Congressmanperson, Bruce Braley, was reelected. And it wasn't very close like it was in 2010 (same opponent then, too).
  • My soon-to-be former Congressmanperson, Dave Loebsack, handily defeated his opponent, opponent who reeked of Tea.
  • Justice Wiggins was retained!
    Extra thoughts: As I said earlier, I think 2010 was a wake-up call. Another factor that I had not fully considered is that it has been two more years...two more years for people to realize that gay marriage is no big deal and that the apocalypse is not coming as a result. Also, the other judges were retained by about 40 points more than Wiggins. So it would seem many of the "No" voters indeed knew who they were targeting.
  • Democrats look to make a reasonable gain in the Iowa House, including in my district. It may not be enough to take over the House, but the Republicans won't have as large of a majority.
  • Bad news :(

  • As previously mentioned, Steve King getting reelected.
  • In the "merged" district that had a Republican incumbent vs. a Democratic incumbent, the Republican prevailed. So now Iowa is split 50/50 on representation, for both House and Senate, between Democrats and Republican, whereas the split used to be 57/43 (4 to 3) in favor of the Democrats.

Other (mostly good news here):

  • Gay marriage wins support in Maryland and Maine. Washington (the state), which apparently has only mail-in voting, still has a lot of counting to do, but the results thus far look promising. Minnesota, which had an amendment to define marriage between a man and a woman, has lost. (My understanding is that this will not make gay marriage legal in Minnesota, but a win for the amendment could have added a hurdle.) The issue of gay marriage was 4/4 last night. Awesome!
  • Marijuana for recreational use wins support in Colorado and Washington (the state). This is good because the so-called "War on Drugs" has been quite costly and ineffective. This could put pressure on the Obama administration to ease federal restrictions. Some other states failed to approve marijuana for either recreational or medicinal purposes, so we may not be quite there yet this election. This is an issue to watch the next 4 years.
  • I have learned today that Florida had some awful measures on its ballot, including one that would give government funds to religious organizations (I hear it would repeal a ban on such funding...either way you look at it, it was a bad idea). The three bad ones I heard about have all been defeated.
  • OK, this one is mixed. I learned yesterday that California had a measure to end the death penalty. Sadly, this was defeated. But they also had a measure to revise the three-strikes law. This, I hear, passed!

UPDATE: Also, Puerto Rico wants to be a State. I cannot see this desire happening with the current state of Congress, though. (Too many raciest Republicans.) END UPDATE

UPDATE 2: Also worth noting — more female representatives. It's where near 50%, though. Interestingly, the article I linked points out that all of New Hampshire's representatives (both Senators and their 2 Congresspersons (hmmmm...I feel like I need to make some corrections up above)) are women. Looks like they elected a female Governor, too! END UPDATE 2

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Revisited: Should You Be Forced to Vote?

   Last night was my atheist social group's First Friday, a monthly social gathering held at someone's house — this time, mine! One of the many discussions involved a topic I just blogged about yesterday! (No, I was not the one to start the discussion.) That topic was about forcing people to vote.

   One of the points that was brought up is one I had considered while watching that video, but forgot about by the time I started writing the post. This point is that Australians, who are forced to vote (or face a penalty), at least have the option of "None of the Above." This is certainly an option that would need to be given if you were required to vote. It could also help reduce the impact of those uninformed voters if they were to choose that option in recognition of their own lack of knowledge. (But I would not expect all uninformed voters to do so.)

   Perhaps the best point made was one that I had not considered and that is the idea that if you force people to participate, it may make some of them want to become more informed. And that would be a good thing! It would certainly be better than the current state of things where we have Republicans trying to mislead voters to prevent them from voting.

   As for another thought that came to me yesterday, I have to point out that more education does not actually work. I don't have my sources handy at the moment, but I seem to recall that, when it comes to those who deny human-made global warming, educated Republicans tend to deny it more and more passionately than less educated Republicans. There is a psychological concept — I don't know if it has a name — that I know some atheists have pointed out, often in regards to religious people who are smart. The concept is that, as one becomes smarter, they just come up with more clever ways to fool themselves. When you look at some global warming denialists, you can get suggestions such it the sun is in a cycle where it is burning hotter. My guess is that such suggestions are coming from the more educated folk. (Oh, and the political group that is biggest on denying global warming? Libertarians!)

   This leads me back to the update I added in that last post, where I talked about people having a skewed view of their "neighbor." Such as thinking homosexuality results from a mental disorder. Or that poor people are moochers. If people don't have an accurate model of the world, all the policy knowledge in the world ain't going to be worth squat.

   Oh, and one last thing...there was a part in that video where the presenter was saying we don't need to protect the disadvantaged from the advantaged because the advantaged aren't out to exploit their neighbor. If you haven't figured it out, let me be clear that this is bullshit; they do need protecting.

Friday, November 2, 2012

And now, a pro-Wiggins ad

   So, I saw a pro-Wiggins ad today, and it caused a WTF?!? reaction.


   The issue? It's a picture of a white, heterosexual couple. Yeah...they are really in need of equal protection, aren't they? (sarcasm)

   I actually do get it, though. While their demographic isn't that which needs to worry about equal protection, the ad is aimed at undecideds and showing a picture of a group that is fighting for equal protection (in this case, homosexual couples) could ignite the inner bigot of such voters. Showing them a picture of people who belong to their group, however, could have a reverse-psychology effect. The picture speaks "White heterosexuals, like you, need protecting." The goal, then, is for those viewing the ad to agree to this hidden message.

   And just a quick tromp through the website...
The Iowa Supreme Court provides equal protection under the law.

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled government cannot discriminate against a person based on race, gender, how much money they make or their sexual orientation. Retaining justices on the Iowa Supreme Court helps protect Iowans from discrimination.
The only thing I would say differently is that we should retain justices on the Iowa Supreme Court that have upheld the idea of equal protection. That is what Wiggins did. Judges who don't should get the boot. As for the other three judges, I don't know anything about how they have handled such matters; about all I know is that they are relatively new to the court. I voted to retain them, though, as I have not heard any reason as for why I should not do so.

   I also have one more thing to add to my post on the anti-Wiggins site: It is with the idea that "if activist judges can redefine marriage, then all our freedoms and rights are at stake." I have a better idea where this is coming from thanks to the awesome political blogger Ed Brayton. He has a post on penumbral reasoning, which amounts to judges determining that certain rights are implied by the constitution, though not implicitly stated. (In the case of Ed's post, that would be the US Constitution specifically, but the same concept should be able to be applied to any state constitution.) When such conclusions go against conservative wishes, these conservatives tend to accuse the judges of "creating a right out of thin air." In this case, the right is for homosexual couples to get married. More to the point, if they can create rights out of thin air, can they likewise take rights away in the same manner? That is the threat the conservative scare people with. The reality, of course, is that these rights were not created out of thin air, so such fears are unfounded.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Learn Liberty - Should You Be Forced to Vote?

   So for some time I have subscribed to this Libertarian YouTube channel called Learn Liberty. I guess I like to torture myself once in a while... No, really, it's more that I want to "know my enemy" as there are a lot of atheists who hold Libertarian views. I've intended to comment on these every now and then, but I guess I've gotten lazy. Or there were more pertinent things on my mine. And maybe I'll go through the older videos to chip in my two cents...or maybe not. Anyway, for a quick "About" on the videos, they typically have some college professor from some various college talk about some specific topic for the entire video.

   Anyway, the latest video is about forcing people to vote. I guess I may be taking an interest in this one because I heard some coworkers talking about this very topic a few weeks ago. So, here's the video, with Prof. Jason Brennan from the University of Arizona, with my comments following below:

Bigots hiding their bigotry make the worst arguments

   First, a brief history...

   In April of 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on a case on the topic of gay marriage (Varnum v. Brien). This is the ruling that effectively (more on this in a bit) made gay marriage legal here in Iowa.

   The next point of interest involves the fact that Iowa votes to retain justices on our state Supreme Court (as well as other courts). In 2010, three of the justices that ruled on that case were up for this retention vote. All three were voted out. Big time. And the reason many people had for voting them out was over the ruling in that gay marriage case. (I myself voted out two of them...more because I thought they had served on the court long enough as I am a believer in term limits. I now regret that decision.)

   The reason basically amounts to their religious beliefs that gay marriage = evil. But of course, they can't exactly be honest about their reasons so they instead try to give non-religious arguments instead. As these non-religious arguments aren't their real arguments, they end up being quite flawed, as we are about to see.

   Now, to the present, there seems to be one judge up for retention that was involved in that ruling (I assume this because he is the only one I have seen attack ads against). This would be David Wiggins. And now I'd like to go over the non-religious arguments that are on the main attack website, since an ad for it showed up in one of the blogs I read.