SocraticGadfly: 12/21/14 - 12/28/14

December 26, 2014

Hasty lumbago to Rick Perry

Time to stop looking a bit less smug, Tricky Ricky.
Besides, at The Response, your prayer for rain
didn't work either. Patrick Michaels/Texas Observer
For those unfamiliar with my snark, that's my riff on "Hasta la vista."

Rick Perry is finally about to "Hit the road, Jack," and permanently, and about time.

Or, as I said this spring, quoting his own words when he announced he wasn't running for re-election?

"Adios, Mofo."

Tricky Ricky's got just days left in the governor's mansion in Austin, and it's time to move on from reality to reminisces.

What's next for the old Trickster?

Well, although he remains officially coy, and unlike Jeb Bush, isn't officially exploring anything yet, I think we know.

Per his 2012 back medication drugs-fueled math failure, it's surely not long before he hits the road on another quest to pass the Monty Python "count to three" test:

Among other things, in another quest for the presidency that will be more futile than Graham Chapman as Arthur's failed attempt to capture the Grail.

The reality is that, despite alleged diversification of Texas' economy, a lot of it still depends on oil, and a fair amount on gas. The only other reason for his alleged Texas miracle is that housing prices didn't get as "bubbly" in Texas 7 years ago as oil and gas did earlier this year.

So, the "Texas miracle" is crumbling just as Perry leaves office, with his successor, Gov. Strangeabbott, quite possibly facing a recession of some sort, along with the fact that transportation $$ ticketed as coming from the Rainy Day Fund maybe won't.

And as for people who say "don't worry so much," it's not just exploration jobs; it's Big Oil slashing management and more, as the Halliburton-Baker Hughes deal details. It is also refining jobs, petrochemical jobs and more.

And, that all said, Perry's leaving Abbott with a revamped governor's office, with its power at a height not seen since Reconstruction. Per the story, though, it's likely Abbott will fritter some of it away for various reasons.

Beyond that, the rest of the alleged Texas Miracle was due in fair part to something the likes of Dan Patrick, in particular, won't admit — immigration, including and especially illegal immigration.

I blogged in detail this spring about both issues — oil and gas, for one, and illegal immigration for the other, as the "Texas miracle."

Hasta la vista, indeed; Perry was halfway enlightened, at least for a Republican, on the immigration issue, before his last term in office. Abbott will likely be Neanderthal, and we know that Dan Patrick is a sub-human Australopithecine on the issue.

Otehr than that, Rick Perry's Texas Miracle included regressive taxes and fees, income segregation, ignored rural areas, and stiffed the state's public schools.

And, it was dying before this. The ongoing drought is a definite damper, and while 2015 isn't supposed to be drier than normal, it's not supposed to be above average, either.

But, don't cry for Rick Perry, Austin. He won't be spending all of his time gallivanting in Iowa and New Hampshire. If nothing else, he has some self-imposed courtroom dates. (Per a poll here which just closed, unscientifically, two-thirds of respondents think Perry will get nothing more than a fine should he plea guilty or be convicted.)

Christmastime birthdays, aging, and modern America

As a number of social media friends, including one of my fellow Texas bloggers, know, today is my birthday.

No biggie in general, I passed a sort of "milestone" birthday last year. More on that in a moment.

First, talking about Christmastime birthdays.

My parents got me separate gifts, and made sure I had a regular birthday.

That said, I had a dad who refused to open his Christmas gifts one year — and still hadn't opened them months later — because we kids were being too noisy at Christmas. And, two parents together who, when I was 10, or maybe 12, not only didn't get me the Scientific American gift subscription I wanted, but didn't inquire further about how they could bolster the education of a kid that age wanting a subscription to Scientific American back in the days when it was still a real science magazine.

Both parental units are now dead, and I can't overcome the past. I can only continue to work on how the past may affect me today. Anyway, that's a slice of my childhood family life.

Back to today.

As noted, I had a milestone birthday of sorts last year. Not the last decadal milestone before the bounty of Social Security is redeemable, but the one before that, and one that is commonly recognized as a milestone.

And I can report that not only is 50 the new 50, it's got other issues.

For example, as I blogged this summer, I believe I've been the victim of employment-related age discrimination, which is even harder to prove than sex or racial discrimination. And, I suspect something like "social media skills" is going to be an ongoing trick to try to weed out oldsters in the future. That's because I was in Dallas several years back when the Morning News dumped a bunch of older, better paid columnists and such, and justified it on the grounds that it was worried about their ability to improve their computer skills.

Second, I of course hope that some partnership of welfare-hating Republicans and neobliberal Democrats doesn't further increase the Social Security eligibility age, further undercut benefits or make other changes. That's especially true because of the age discrimination issue, and also because of America's continued fraying of the "safety net" otherwise.

There are plenty of near-seniors who have saved nothing for retirement. There's plenty of others who haven't saved a lot.

In many of their, or our, cases, it's not due to frivolity. It's due to some mix of stagnant wages, troubled career fields, job loss and more.

Finally, as I get older, without being lower-c cynical in any greater degree, I do fully hope and intend to become more and more philosophically Cynical. Here's why.

December 24, 2014

How to offend with Christmas baking

I'm not talking about trying to foist glutenous baking products on those going gluten-free, whether for faddish or actual medical reasons. That's one thing, in and of itself.

Rather, I'm talking about pouring booze into Christmas baked goods, then foisting them off on others unannounced. Whether for recovering alcoholics or people who abstain for religious or other reasons, this is a no-no ... and an insult, especially if you have some vague idea you shouldn't do this, and yet you do it anyway.

(That said, the problem can go beyond Christmas, and beyond baked goods; see below.)

What's prompted this outrage is the Washington Post posting a recipe for a vodka-laced pie crust. I originally just shared this on Facebook, but decided I wanted to do more.

I want this specific recipe first, then go to the larger issue.

Other non-water substances, like lemon juice, will do the same trick, based on the acid in the lemon juice. Plus, it will taste better. I believe this is the same type of physical chemistry as that used in curdling milk for cooking, and I know that lemon juice is the normal "tool" for that.

And, because of that fact, I have further issue with a professional science writer passing this around on Facebook (her FB page is set to "public" on normal comments, therefore not violating any confidences, per my social media ethics) without noting that, too. (I've Tweeted her, and the WaPost writer, who writes the Post's science blog, on what follows in this blog post; we'll see if either one responds.)

It's so "sciency," but, it's not good science if there are better alternatives.

Meanwhile, to the recovering alcoholics and religious, and holiday baking in general.

Baking, unlike sauteeing, does not cook out all the alcohol in a recipe. Not even close.

Estimates vary, and there's also variation based on the type of baked good, cooking time, etc. But, generally, around one-quarter to one-half of the alcohol will remain in rum balls, a vodka-laced pie crust, etc. I mean, the article itself mentions that, according to, only to then dismiss it as a trivial concern.
Don't worry about serving your boozy pie to young or abstaining holiday guests: The heat of the oven will burn off most of the alcohol.

Picture saying, instead:
I'm putting some gluten in what's otherwise gluten-free. Don't worry, the baking process will spread most of it around.
Or this:
Or, I know that you're down to a no-nicotine vapor juice for your e-cigarettes, but I put some nicotine in this one flavor just to "enhance" it. Don't worry, it's really not that much.
Can you now see what an insult this is? 

So, depending on the amount of booze used, and how much of the baked good a person eats, this could be a serious issue. From here on, I'm focusing on recovering alcoholics, not religious abstainers.

And, in that "most of the alcohol" will burn off issue, we've just addressed ethyl alcohol, not the flavor of alcoholic beverages.

While vodka is more neutral, most spirits — as in the rum of those rum balls — have some sort of flavor. Flavors can themselves be a trigger for people early in sobriety recovery. (I have spit out [politely] or otherwise refused to eat, alcohol-laced foods, that I didn't know in advance were "laced.") And, on flavors, sauteeing doesn't cook out all the rum flavor, or all the wine flavor. And, simple sub-boiling parboiling certainly doesn't do that. Wine-infused spaghetti sauces are a big issue, and, per that link, retain a fair amount of alcohol as well as flavor.

Simple suggestion?

1. Don't do this in cases where it's unnecessary, like the pie crust.
2. Where it is necessary, like rum balls, which have their name for a reason, carefully identify them as such to guests, office co-workers, friends, etc.
3. Don't think recovering alcoholic friends are being "picky" if they ask about unlabeled foods; if you're a real friend, that thought shouldn't cross your mind in the first place.
4. If these recipes, like the myth of the value of resveratrol, are "excuses" for you to do a lot of alcohol-based holiday cooking ... maybe you should take a closer self-examination. I would include under this rubric claiming some alcohol-related baking is more "sciency" than it actually is.

And, if you can't do this, I can write a second post called "How to offend with insisting you're right with Christmas baking ideas."

The varieties of free will – and determinism – not worth discussing

To riff on Dan Dennett, in part, with that title, that's my take on two paired essays by the same person, Gregg D. Caruso, a professor of philosophy at Corning Community College.

Somewhat in the first, and even more in the second, essay, he insists that free will — or certain types of free will — are connected with what he calls retributive justice.

(In all of this, I'm trying to practice the principle of charity to suss out the argument that I think Caruso actually is trying to make, which is discussed near the end. That said, I've only gotten there through repeated comments by him, and others. And, if I'm coming to a wrong conclusion by that principle of charity, then we have a bigger issue.)

That right there, the retributive justice, sounds like we're in John Rawls territory, but with the addition of explicitly connecting this to free will.

In response to the second essay, specifically, and in connection with the issue of "retributive justice," I set out a laundry list of both logical and empirical or epistemological objections.

The logical one is that there is no logically necessary connection between the two. And, I wasn't alone on this, either. I said:
There may (or may not) be empirical connections, based on psychology; hence my references to neuroscience. But, that’s a different matter. 
It’s like reading Rawls as if Rawls trying to justify his ideas by appeal to certain versions of free will. And, what Rawls says about issues of ethics and justice has no logically necessary connection with free will. 
I can be a hardcore determinist, yet still believe in the value of retributive justice.
I can be a compatibilist, and believe in retributive justice. I can be a libertarian free willer and believe in… I can be some sort of free will optimist-skeptic and believe … I can be like I actually am, thinking the whole free will “versus” determinism issue wrongly framed ….
and believe in retributive justice. 
Or, I can be any of the above, and reject that idea. 
Or, I can be any of the above, and reject the idea of objective morality in general.

His response?

Essentially to offer a stipulative definition of free will. 

Well, if someone wants to put forth a stipulative definition of free will that insists it contains free-will actions for which one can be held morally accountable, then I guess ethics and free will are logically connected, especially if one insists that that's a two-way if-and-only-if connection.

The two-way direction of an if-and-only-if is part of the key here.

Let's take the three main schools of normative ethics — consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics.

The details of how to be ethical in consequentialism and deontological ethics are compatible with any school of thought on volition from the hardest of classical determinists to the most libertarian of free willers. Virtue ethics, in that it lays stress on the individual more, and the psychological stance of the individual, is seemingly incompatible with full-on determinism.

But, two of three major schools of normative ethics say that claims that ethical actions in general must be linked to free will are simply wrong.

And, given that justice is a subset of ethics, two of three major schools of normative ethics say that claims that ethical actions in general must be linked to free will are simply wrong.

Some people may think that a hard determinism dehumanizes people.

Actually not, or at least not necessarily. As long as determinism is applied to theories of ethics in a non-Randian way, it should treat all people as equally human. What that means for all people may be different than in a free will system, but, still, it's not proposing to treat all people like livestock or something.

That said, back to Caruso.

There seems to be further deck-stacking. And, rather than try to shoehorn comments into a 500-word limit, there's my blog post, right here!

First, Caruso goes on to sometimes talk about "harsh retributive justice" or "just deserts." It's almost like he's at a pipe organ that has stops and ranks that are all conservative dogwhistles of some sort.

And, to boot, I think he knows that.

He talks about conservatives who believe in free will having harsher views on “just desserts” than those who don’t.

But, he doesn’t talk about political liberals and their stances on justice being influenced, or not, by their thoughts on free will

I doubt that most liberals reject free will. Rather, it’s either that they think it’s more attenuated by circumstances than conservatives do — but NOT obliterated by circumstance.

Related? An old chicken or egg argument — for conservatives, does insistence on free will come first, or a just world? To be honest, I don’t most conservatives even consider that.

The fact that Caruso only posts analysis of conservatives' relationship to free will and certain theories of justice makes me think he's pulling a Chris Mooney by implying that only conservatives, and not liberals, engage in motivated reasoning.

He also ignores that political conservatives in the rest of the developed world don't necessarily have a lot in common with US conservatives. (This, too, is a mistake Mooney also makes.) I do agree that religious overtones often influence discussions of free will, and theories of justice. But, again, religiosity, or lack thereof, is precisely where conservatives in the rest of the developed world most differ from their American compadres.

So, outside of America? False move, Prof. Caruso.

Back to the arguments against linking free will and theories of justice.

Walter Kaufmann’s book “Without Guilt and Justice” critiques Rawlsian theories of justice and ethics in general, and Rawls himself in particular. It rejects both “retributive” AND “distributive” justice alike, on other grounds. People are individuals, and we cannot treat them like data points in population genetics, therefore there is no way of being “fair.”

Thus, I can — and do — reject ideas of retributive justice in general based on anything that smacks of Rawls’ version of ….

Let’s call it liberal moral redistribution, with a deliberate riff on socialism, even communism, in that “redistribution.” And, that's quite deliberate, and yet another reason I call myself a skeptical left-liberal.

So, with Caruso, I reject (for now) retributive justice, but with a reason that is 180 degrees opposite of the reason that Caruso wants to reject retributive justice.

And, I do so without throwing out babies with the bathwater.

Then, we have what I’m going to call “folk philosophy,” paralleling “folk psychology,” on the issue of free will. And, frankly, I think some professional philosophers engage in it, too.

Caruso, while referencing Libet, doesn’t really appear to wrestle with the idea that neuroscience is still in the Early Bronze Age, if that. We’re going to need science to tell us more about consciousness in general, and volition in particular — without going down the road of scientism — before we can talk about free will in general with any great degree of clarity.

In addition to wrongly linking a cart and horse that doesn’t necessarily go together, Caruso is putting an ill-defined cart ahead of that horse.

And, again, it’s unnecessary. To riff on Gilbert Ryle's "category mistake," I am inventing the term "conjunctive mistake."

As I mentioned in my first comment to him on his first essay, I covered a lot of this — the uncertainties of talking about free will in all its glory — in the essay I did at Scientia Salon about saying “mu” to the idea of “free will vs. determinism.”

In that issue, like Caruso in his two essays and in other writings, wrestled not only with Libet, but also Daniel Wegner and others. Do we have a conscious free will in the classical sense? I think Wegner has, at a minimum, raised some good questions.
Update: Wegner's "The Illusion of Conscious Will" is reviewed by me here.

That said, if he's right, or to the degree that he's right, that doesn't leave some sort of determinism as a  default. And, that, in turn, gets me back to Caruso's thinking.

I think Caruso’s still stuck to a degree (but not necessarily a huge degree) of viewing this issue in terms of polarities.

Finally, as I also noted, consciousness is not a “hard” problem in the sense of David Chalmers. But it is, and will continue to be, a difficult problem, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

As for that "conjunctive mistake"? Theories of ethics are complicated enough, even if we stay on the side of moral realism, without committing philosophical entanglement of mixing them with free will.

That said, to parse out Caruso.

You want to talk about more humanistic justice? Let's set aside free will. Here's my thoughts.

Can we adopt a less all-encompassing pragmatic utilitarianism toward justice? Yes. And we should.

If, without dehumanizing people, retributive justice has at least some value for the person upon whom it’s administered, as well as larger society, to the best our limited, non-Rawlsian point of view can tell, then retributive justice is what we need. (Note that this largely does not describe the current American retributive criminal justice system.)

If retributive justice doesn’t have such value, then we need to do something else.

Simple pragmatism. No particular stance on free will involved.

Does this treat people as “automatons”? I think not. It treats them as persons with some degree of freedom. On a free-will oriented stance, it can also lead to them being more conscious about “drivers” of their behavior. On a less free-will stance, it can simply work on those unconscious drivers, while offering the possibility of more, including possible enlightenment of their consciousness.

And that's not all. Caruso could have — and should have — brought in Daniel Kahnemann's "fast" vs. "slow" thinking into the issue. Even without tying it directly to free will, it would directly tie to issues of degrees of consciousness. But, it didn't.

Back to the logical disjunction. It's possible that some varieties of free will might be MUCH more averse to retributive justice than might a quasi-determinism. Any sort of theory of free will that sees free will as something evolving would likely favor a theory of justice that aided that evolution, even with cases like criminal behavior. Per my "dehumanizing" notes above, that's that type of free will.

And, as for Caruso's case for free will being an illusion, in essence for committing to some broad variety of determinism, beyond my issue-by-issue, action-by-action partial psychological determinism? Per a good review of his book on the subject, I think I'm far from alone in finding him wanting, even if it's for other grounds, and beyond those, of the review.

So, Caruso can claim until the cows come home that retributive justice, and a desire for it, are based on free-will stances on volition. He'll still be wrong.

And, yes, he writes a lot about free will. So, I'm not sure if he thinks attacking retributive justice — his claims aside — is a winning "move" because it will appeal more to liberals, whom secularists are more likely to be, or what.  But, it seems he also has legitimate concerns about retributive justice.

Fine. Write a separate essay about that. And, I would likely love to discuss it with you.

As for engaging with, or not, the idea that belief in free will could be harmful to society?

First, the shorter answer, as I Tweeted Caruso: How would one even begin to try to scientifically prove such a claim? Surveys would offer correlation evidence, of course, and might point to causation. But that's not guaranteed.

Second, you cite what you do note as "a few studies," while noting that they're limited in what they indicated, but not noting whether they wrestle with either of the two issues noted above:
1. Distinguishing US conservatives from those elsewhere and
2. Looking at how belief in free will may affect liberals' thoughts.

Third, a belief in the existence of free will is about as much like the actual existence of free will as belief in Santa or Jesus is the same as actual existence of Jesus or Santa. If Caruso can't differentiate between the two, or ...

If THAT is his premise for claiming a logical connection between free will and theories of justice, that it's actually some connection between a BELIEF in free will and theories of justice, then I don't want to go further down a rabbit hole about making assumptions to clarify his thinking, assumptions which he might reject even though they seem true.

That said, per that principle of charity, I think that's what Caruso is trying to argue. He may have a point.

Let's assume that we can do research, and ignoring liberal/conservative issues to start, we just confirm that, for society in general, in the US and elsewhere, that a belief in free will leads to a belief in the efficacy of retributive justice.

Let us say that criminology studies show retributive justice in general is not efficacious, and generally becomes less efficacious the more harsh it is.

We can then discuss this in terms of ethics, and relatedly, in terms of political philosophy.

Perhaps Caruso will actually wend his way to that in final comments, or maybe will be given an opportunity by Massimo Pigliucci to write a third essay that comports with my charitable interpretation of his first and second ones.

As for the rest of what's actually in his two essays?

I would say, or write an essay on issues in volition, but ...

On my "mu," not just with Caruso but in general, I'm at the point where I think we should just stop talking about free will for, oh, about another century or so.


Cognitive neuroscience in particular, and science of mind in general, isn't going to move from the Early Bronze Age into the Iron Age for at least that long, and it's ridiculous, ultimately, to talk about issues of volition, and theories of them, before then.

December 22, 2014

Insurance reform MUST have cost controls — whether Obamacare or single-payer Vermont

Whether it's Obamacare, one of whose biggest failings is the lack of cost control outside of the mythical savings from the highly overhyped electronic patient records, or a single-payer system, such as the one that Gov. Peter Shumlin had proposed for Vermont and has now pulled off the boards, successful insurance reform in the United States MUST, MUST, MUST have effective cost controls as part of it.

Period and end of story.

Now, on single-payer, that's probably harder to do within a single state than nationwide, especially a small state like Vermont. But, impossible? No.

Sadly, it appears Shumlin didn't tackle that part of the issue early enough, or head-on enough.

Obama? Hell, we all know that O-care is neoliberal "trust the market" tinkering on one end and a candy cane on the other. It doesn't even require standardized insurance forms, which would be a simple, and effective, cost-saver right there.

Any insurance company that says "you have to use our forms" will change its tune soon enough if you totally cut it off from the hog trough. Period and end of story.

But, the issue of funding it through taxes? Especially since taxes are theoretically more "progressive" than the current private care system? Yeah, that might make rich folks upset. Well, that's where you sell them on effective cost control — assuming you have effective cost control.

The whole bulk of our current health care system, taken en masse, is a piece of shit, all in all. And everybody's afraid to call it that, then flush it as it needs to be flushed.

Bud Selig is Commissioner Emeritus Man!

So, former baseball commissioner Bud "Bud" Selig is now "commissioner emeritus" with an additional $6 million a year in retirement slush funds to do whatever he's supposed to do.

Well, he needs a costume, does he not?

I mean, it takes a superhero to hound Alex Rodriguez, while at the same time ignoring Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and others who also reportedly used steroids.

And to simultaneously ignore that your open-roids policy has also led to innuendo against Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza and others, innuendo seemingly unfounded.

But, don't cry for Bud-gentina.

He'll not be crying for any part of the mess he left behind.

Maybe he'll earn his $6 million by helping lobby Congress to let minor leaguers be treated like serfs, if he's not too busy still trying to selectively crack down on alleged roiders.

Speaking of minor-league serfs, Rany Jazayerli noted on Twitter:
For the $6M annual pension owners are giving Bud Selig, they could have given every minor leaguer in baseball a raise of about $300 a month.

Or maybe he's going to be trying to apple-polish his "legacy" and become the first commish since Bowie Kuhn to be elected to Cooperstown. After all, rescuing not damsels, but HOF legacies in distress? That's a job for Commissioner Emeritus Man™!