About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Michael’s Picks

by Michael De Dora
* Cognitive linguist and political writer George Lakoff observes that Republicans are not picking things to cut from the budget at random. Rather, their selections stems from their moral worldviews. 
* Matt Taibbi asks in The Rolling Stone why the crooks who brought down the economy are not facing punishment.  
* Why do females make up only about 17 percent of the current Congress? A new study suggests the gender gap has more to do with female self-perception than the society they live in.
* A couple weeks ago, a male wrestler refused to face a female wrestler for religious reasons. His decision drew much praise. ESPN columnist Rick Reilly explains why that does not make sense.
* Jeffrey Toobin breaks down Obama’s decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. 
* Two people who were based in Baghdad as officials of the U.S. Defense Department criticize former defense secretary Donald Rumseld’s revisionism on Iraq
* Can science be used as a diplomatic tool? Ira Flatow discusses that question with biologist and former science adviser Nina Fedoroff on NPR’s Science Friday
* And lastly, a Web site that uses the Bible to support the notion that Jesus said some people are born gay and should be accepted that way.


  1. >Web site that uses the Bible to support the notion that Jesus said some people are born gay and should be accepted that way.

    I find this argument really tiresome. The relevant question is not etiology of sexual orientation, it is whether homosexuality is plausibly immoral (it ain't). Once we've answered that question, we don't have to wait with bated breath for scientists (or Jesus) to prove that being gay has a zero or nonzero component of choice.

    "Born that way" reduces to "it isn't their fault;" we should be arguing "there is no fault."

  2. I normally ignore sports reporting, but that ESPN column gave one hell of a story (partly because it commented on larger social issues, like gender relations and morality). Thanks for that.

    The Lakoff piece was also spot on.

  3. >Web site that uses the Bible to support the notion that Jesus said some people are born gay and should be accepted that way.

    Two hot button issues (religion and homosexuality) combined. I'm more interested in why certain topics (i.e. religion, same sex marriage) spawn vehement anger. Is it a natural consequence of the need for justification?

    (Example: Person A [religious zealot] perceives person B [homosexual] to be irrational; therefore person B must justify his/her rational to person A and person A must justify his/her perception.)

  4. ianpollock,

    Yeah, the obsession with whether or not homosexuals are "born that way" implies, ridiculously, that homosexuality wouldn't be permissible if it weren't inborn. It's gotten so bad that even some members of the GLBT community will reject people if they claim that they have changed orientation within their lifetime. What would it matter if someone determined their orientation according to daily coin flips?

  5. @Ian, I agree with you. Just found the link interesting.

  6. @James:
    >What would it matter if someone determined their orientation according to daily coin flips?

    As any curmudgeon will tell you, the trouble is having to learn all the new terms. Those durn stochosexuals.

  7. It really bugs me that some of the top people who were OK with unsavory real estate lending, especially the commercial stuff, did not do jail time. I would only say to the RS interviewee that just because today's climate is anti-prosecutorial, who is to say the when the economy gets even better and jobs are also looking better, this thing might not be revisited.

    Three things to consider here (1) Republicans are back in and they are traditionally pro-business (2) The derivatives people did not know anything about real estate or loans. People who did real estate or loans for a living knew even less about derivatives, upshot being that the two siblings born into this marriage - Collateralized debt obligations and collateralized mortgage obligations were capable of more damage than either parent imagined possible. (3) There is so much blame to go around that if you put, say the top ten offenders in jail, the appetite for more blood might be whetted to the point that a jobs recovery is endangered.

    I deal with some of the people with 'blood on their hands' on a sometimes daily sometimes weekly basis, and I can say from first-hand experience that many of them are scared and feel exposed.

  8. @DaveS

    NINJA |ˈninjə| - noun - No Income, No Job, No Assets

    Who do we throw in jail? The legislators which asserted borrowing laws needed to be relaxed to the term of NINJA. The lobbyists that pushed for borrowing reform to the term of NINJA. The president which signed the NINJA enabling bills into law. The small loan companies and banks which originated the NINJA loans and then sold them to the 'big' mortgage firms. The executives at the 'big' mortgage firms which decided it would be a good idea to buy and bundle NINJA loans. The derivatives traders (speculators) which gambled and made money on both sides of the NINJA parabola. Or, the borrowers who did not have any income, did not have any assets, did not have any savings, and yet were somehow able to rationalize borrowing thousands to 'hundreds of thousands' of dollars.

    Every person in that equation is at fault. The legislators get a pass, because as always, we are supposed to judge them based on their intentions rather than their results. The lobbyists get a pass, because they are under the protection of legislators to whom they contribute every election cycle. The small loans companies, banks, and 'big' Mortgage companies get a pass because they were simply obeying the law. The speculators get a pass, because they had nothing to do with the actual crime of loaning money to someone who obviously will be incapable of paying it back. That only leaves the borrower, but the borrower gets a pass as well, having lost their home, they've suffered enough.

  9. @Justin - with you 98%, but those obeying the law behaved badly. The same people who approved unleashed toxic instruments into the marketplace also bought AAA public ratings agency coverage for them too. This tells me that there was a suspicion of toxicity, and a desire to protect oneself by being able to point a finger at a public rating agency that essentially took on the role of the media in our society. By that I mean most people think if CNN, FOX and MSNBC say that something is OK, or do not say that something is not OK, then everyone from the president to his surviving grandmother thinks its OK. That AAA rating meant something. It meant that the instrument was best in its class, and that is all. I don't blame those agencies as much as I used to, because the instruments were designed to fail only if the economy was also going down as well. Well, that is what happened.

    Everyone is a speculator, from homeowner to legislator. No one was placing bets on one side of a near-Depression. (Well actually a few did).

    I simply don't believe that a money-center bank or an investment firm thought to themselves "Well yeah if S&P or Moodys thinks this thing is OK to unleash, then it must be OK. There is no way that the opinion of quants at S&P/Moodys et. al. was considered more valuable than the combined "Duhhhhh" opinion coming from methodology teams within the investment bank community.

    As Madoff said just a couple weeks (?) ago, "They knew..."

    How's that for revisionist history, heh heh?

  10. @DaveS

    I agree, pretty much everybody involved knew that NINJA loans were a bad idea, and yet still participated. The AAA credit rating was used as a means to mitigate liability.

    Speaking of AAA credit ratings and perceiving you to be much closer to the financial sector than I, how much longer do you see the US maintaining its AAA rating with US debt exceeding far beyond sustainable levels without any perceivable effort being successfully asserted to reign in spending or increase revenue. Does this seem like the obvious source of the next economic collapse? and if so... How is the liability of this being mitigated?

  11. Hm, considering this discussion, perhaps I *will* finally pen that essay I'd considered writing about who should be held responsible for the economic collapse ...

  12. @Justin - don't know, guess it depends on how the China - US relationship plays out, and whether a jobs engine is built or selected. Rail transportation projects? I sort of like the idea of a second internet, one with physical infrastructure, every 25 square miles or so, everywhere. But it would not fly as long as the U.N. did not run it.

  13. Ah money - the promissory note (or number) that some corporation somewhere will destroy a bit of the environment for you. A promise to mine, burn, drill and kill. Well delivered on to be sure. You just have to love it because everybody does and if you stopped believing then the magic would stop working and you would just be holding a linen rectangle with a picture of an old dead white guy or a sheet with some numbers on it. That would be bad. Very bad. Even worse than the crash.

    Wouldn't - No Income, No Job, No Assets - be NINJNA? Where did that last 'N' go? Downsized?

  14. @Michael: UGH on Federoff. Her first appearance on SciFri, she came off as an apologist for Monsanto on GMOs, and in a repeat appearance a week later, refused to admit that "leakage" of GMO crops is actually leakage.

    @Ian: Agreed. I hope we as a society get past the point where gays have to believe that sexual orientation is 100 percent genetically caused, with the idea that gives them better "cover" for something that doesn't need to be viewed that way.

    Sidebar on gays in the military - the ancient Celts actually fostered situational homosexuality, with the idea that the man who liked your backside would probably do a better job of covering it in battle, too.

  15. @Michael again: Jonathan Turley (rightfully, IMO) disagrees strongly with Toobin, saying the Obama/Holder decision is primarily political. I agree with him, if you look at how carefully Holder nuanced what he said. That said, Turley is more outspoken on civil liberties issues in general, and Turley's more an inside-the-Beltway guy.

  16. @ James

    "What is "stocho" derived from?"

    I'm guessing it's an ad-hoc prefix meant to allude to a stochastic, or random, element. Ianpollock used the example of someone deciding their sexuality on the basis of daily coin tosses, and suggested "stochosexual" as an appropriate term. Personally, I think "stochastosexual" would be a better term, though I'm no expert in terminology :-)

  17. @Thameron
    You are correct. Ns are underrepresented in the preceding acronyms. It's not prejudice, NINJNA just doesn't sound quite right.

    How about NINJ'A instead?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.