Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kentucky: Neither straights or gays can marry the same sex so ban is not discriminatory

It's been reported that the administration of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has filed a brief with the US Supreme Court defending it's ban on gay marriage. In it they argue
"Kentucky’s marriage laws treat homosexuals and heterosexuals the same and are facially neutral. Men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are free to marry persons of the opposite sex under Kentucky law, and men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, cannot marry persons of the same sex under Kentucky law,"
I'll be a bit more generous than some of the news outlets that reported on this by noting that the brief is  42 pages so there may or may not be other more rational arguments presented (I didn't take the time to read it). Regardless, it is hard to believe that the argument above could possibly be presented as a serious justification for upholding it's ban on gay marriage.

Imagine a law which states that it is now illegal to practice Christianity and then arguing that it doesn't discriminate against those who are Christian because it also applies to Muslims, Buddhist, and atheist. This sort of specious legal reasoning really drives me crazy. I can't imagine that the Supreme Court will give it any credence.

HuffPo: Kentucky: Our Same-Sex Marriage Ban Isn't Anti-Gay Because It Applies To Straight People, Too

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dragon Ball Z: Light of Hope

A very impressive fan film adaptation of "The History of Trunks" TV-Special that is part of the Dragon Ball Z cartoon series. You can read more about it here. Looking forward to the next installment.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Did a Texas city fire It's police department and hire a private security firm?

Occasionally I like to take the time to look into stories that I find a little bit fishy. I do it as a sort of exercise which usually lends credence to the old saying "Don't believe everything you read."

I got into this one after reading a post a friend made on Facebook which linked to a story on The Free Thought Project titled Texas Town Experiences 61% Drop in Crime After Firing Their Police Department. The article essentially says that in 2012, the city of Sharpstown "fired their cops" and "hired S.E.A.L. Security Solutions, a private firm, to patrol their streets." A representative of the security firm is quoted saying "Since we've been in there, an independent crime study that they've had done [indicates] we've reduced the crime by 61%” in just 20 months.

After looking into it a bit I found similar stories had been released within the last couple of days such as Texas City Gets Rid of Police Dept., Hires ‘SEAL Security’ — Guess What Reportedly Happened to Crime from the Blaze, Texas Town Fires Entire Police Department, Crime Drops by 61%, from Infowars and Texas town sees crime drop by almost two thirds after firing police, hiring private security from Rare. As the titles suggest, these stories all either directly state or indirectly imply that the city of Sharpstown fired their police department and hired a private security firm to take its place. But is this actually what happened? In a word, no.

According to Wikipedia, Sharpstown is a master-planned community in Greater Sharpstown, Southwest Houston, Texas which is served by two Houston Police Department patrol divisions. For many years, the Sharpstown Civic Association had contracted with Harris County Constables for additional patrols but due to budgetary issues ended the relationship in 2012. It is this arrangement for additional patrols that the above articles are referring to when they state that the city fired their police department.

I'm not sure if this is a matter of shoddy journalism or a deliberate act to fabricate a story which would be more appealing to their readers? As it took very little effort for me to discover the truth, I'm inclined to think it's the latter. The sad thing is, there was a perfectly good story here which didn't need to be based on the false claim that the town fired their police department. It could have been titled something like, City of Sharpstown turns to private security to help patrol its streets. The article could then talk about how the constables used to be contracted to patrol the area but that the security firm does the job at half the cost and with better results. See, no need for the lies and false implications.


Popular Constables On Patrol Program (COPS) Discontinued

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Waw An-Namus: Libya

Waw An-Namus is an extinct volcano located in the Sahara desert of south-central Libya. It's caldera is 4 km wide and 100 m deep with a central cone surrounded by three small salt lakes. Surrounding the caldera is 20 km of dark-black deposits of ash which causes Waw An-Namus to starkly standout against the light yellow sand of the Sahara.

Image of Waw an Namus taken from the International Space Station
A somewhat common phenomenon in the Sahara is the occurrence of reasonably potable (drinkable) water close to, and at nearly the same elevation as salt lakes. Due to the presence of this scarce source of water, Waw An-Namus was historically an important watering point for caravans travelling through South Libya.

Over the past couple of decades, Waw An-Namus has become a somewhat popular tourist attraction for travelers visiting this part of the Sahara. Unfortunately, this has led to negative impacts on the landscape as well as the rare plant and animal life. Tour guides often drive there vehicles down the caldera so the tourist can picnic by the lakes. A few years ago, some careless visitors caused a fire burning a large area of reeds and date palms.

Libya Herald: Waw An-Namus: A prehistoric volcano and natural heritage attraction

Viralnova: There's Something Very Different About This Crater In The Desert. When You Go Inside... WOW.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Thinking Skills

Thinking Skills (Average Joe Addition)

The following is an attempt to organize my posts related to clear thinking, problem solving and decision making into a coherent, easy to use format. As the title suggests, I'm just an average guy trying to get a better understanding of these topics and as such, have no doubt oversimplified or misunderstood some of these concepts. Perhaps they may be of some benefit to someone out there but please do your own research.

I. Fundamentals of Informal Logic
  A. Informal Logic in a Nutshell: Argument & Argument Analysis
  B. Deductive Arguments
      1) Categorical Logic
      2) Propositional Logic
  C. Inductive Arguments
  D. Logical Fallacies
     -Ad Hominem
     -Appeal to Popularity
     -Argument from Ignorance
     -Begging the Question/Circular Reasoning
     -False Analogy
     -False Dichotomy
     -Guilt by Association
     -Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
     -Red Herring
     -Tu Quoque
     -Straw Man

  II. Cognitive Psychology
  A. Dual Process Model of Thinking
  B. Cognitive Bias
     -Confirmation Bias and Positive Test Strategy
     -Dunning-Kruger Effect
     -Framing Effect
     -Gambler's Fallacy
     -Outcome Bias

III. Problem Solving
  A. Problem Solving Process

IV. Information Architecture

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Name a Star... and lose $54 bucks

Over the last few weeks, during my drive to work, I've been hearing those commercials on the radio where, for $54 dollars you can name a star after someone. Yep, that's right. For the low price of $54 dollars, the very official sounding International Star Registry will provide you with a beautiful, full color parchment certificate personalized with the star's name, date and coordinates along with a detailed star chart showing your star circled in red.

The commercial goes on to say that since 1979 the International Star Registry has named countless stars for celebrities, dignitaries, royalty and Joe Schmoes just like you. The star name is recorded in the Astronomical Catalog which will be registered with the U.S. copyright office.

With Christmas right around the corner, you might be thinking this would be the perfect gift. In this ephemeral world that we live, who wouldn't want something which would provide a sense of permanency. A star in our name, something that would be there long after we are gone. A small reference to our existence, immortalized for future generations to see.

Yes, it would indeed be the perfect gift, if it wasn't largely a scam.

Though the International Star Registry sounds very official, in reality they are not recognized or used by any scientific institutions. They are a private, for profit company which is simply finding a star, labeling it with the purchased name and recording it in their catalog. That's it. The catalog is simply a company database. It is not used by the scientific community. In reality, it seems the International Astronomical Union (IAU) "is the internationally recognized authority for naming celestial bodies and surface features on them. And names are not sold, but assigned according to internationally accepted rules."

It should be noted that there is nothing illegal with what International Star Registry is doing. When I said earlier that it was a scam, I didn't mean that the company was breaking the law, only that what they are doing is deceptive. And while it may seem like a largely harmless deception, there are people that experience a heavy emotional disappointment when learning the truth. As Stuart Atkinson wrote on his blog Cumbrian Sky "I feel very strongly about, I don’t mind admitting. Why? Because I am tired of having to disappoint and upset people who come to me as star parties and astronomy meetings, asking me if I can help find the star they “named” after their deceased mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, fiance, wife, husband, grandmother, grandfather or pet. These people “buy” stars in good faith, thinking, genuinely, that a way out of – or to at least ease – their grief is to buy a star for their dead loved one, thus immortalising them and preserving their memory. They are led to believe by the advertising blurb that “their star ” will be on view in the sky for all to see… so they come up to me at a star party, ask me to point out the star they bought, or, if it’s cloudy, point it out to them on a star chart or in an atlas. And I feel sick to my stomach when I have to tell them that the star they “bought” and “named” only bears that name in that company’s star registry database, and that you need a telescope to see it."

So save yourself $54 dollars and get a present your loved one will really enjoy. Or, if you are still not dissuaded, send me the money and I'll provide a star for you to name. I'll write it down in a book and keep it safe for you. After all, it isn't much less than what the star naming companies do.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Categorical Syllogisms

Term Logic / Syllogistic Logic / Aristotelian Logic

Originating with Aristotle, term logic was the dominant form of logic used till the the late nineteenth century.  It reasons on the basis of the relationships between categories (referred to as terms).

I. Categorical Terms
The basic unit in categorical syllogistic logic is the categorical term. Categorical terms are simply the placing of things or concepts into distinct classes based on some specified characteristics.

II. Categorical Propositions
With categorical terms we can build categorical propositions. A Categorical propositions is a statement with two categorical terms which asserts some relationship between them.

There are four parts to a categorical proposition. In standard form, the first term in the statement is referred to as the subject term (the term which we are saying something about) and the second as the predicate term. The relationship between the subject and predicate terms is described through the use of a copula and quantifier. The copula (also referred to as quality) denotes either an affirmative (inclusive) or negative (exclusive) relationship. The quantifier provides how much of the subject term relates to the predicate term by use of universal quantifiers (all, none), and particular quantifiers (some).

A model categorical proposition can be represented as:
Quantifier [subject term] copula [predicate term]

So with the example All men are mortal; the word All is the quantifier, men is the subject term, are is the copula and mortal is the predicate term.

There are four types of categorical propositions:

A: Universal Affirmative
All S are P

E: Universal Negative
No S are P

I: Particular Affirmative
Some S are P

O: Particular Negative
Some S are not P

Here are the four categorical propositions illustrated with Venn Diagrams:

III. Categorical Syllogisms
Combining categorical propositions, we create categorical syllogisms. A categorical syllogism is a syllogistic argument consisting of three categorical propositions (two premises and a conclusion) and three categorical terms, each of which is used twice.

There are a total of 256 possible varieties of categorical syllogisms but only 15 are valid (per Boolean logic). Two important valid categorical syllogisms are:

1. All M are P
2. All S are M
3. Therefore all S are P

1. All M are P
2. Some S are M
3. Therefore some S are P

Here is a link to a page which lists all 15 valid categorical syllogisms along with their corresponding Venn diagrams.

The validity of a categorical syllogism can be determined by either applying a set of rules or through the use of Venn diagrams. Here are two links which expand on the subject"
-The six necessary conditions for valid categorical syllogisms
-Testing validity using Venn diagrams

Santa Barbara City College: Philosophy-111 Critical Thinking And Writing: The 15 Valid Syllogistic Forms

Society for Positive Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Studies (SPPIS): A Classroom Introduction to Logic: Nature of Proposition

Philosophy.Lander.Edu: Philosophy 103: Introduction to Logic Quantity, Quality, and Distribution of Standard Form Categorical Propositions