Tag Archives: Logic

Sentences that fill me with dread, part 2

“Oh! You work with computers?” or “You know about computers, right?”

In many ways this has gotten worse as computers become more ubiquitous.

The person most likely to ask this question is someone for whom computers are little more than magic totems. They don’t understand them. To the extent they use them, it is like a ritual. The only way they know how to do anything is to try to repeat the exact steps they have done before. If the machine reacts in a different way than it did before, they don’t stop to try to figure out what they did wrong, they just try to find a way to perform the next step in the ritual.

So they will click Okay or Continue or “that little X in the corner that makes things go away” without reading the message, and keep clicking hoping to see the thing they were expecting to see. And thus install all sorts of malware and bloatware and other things that eventually make their computer unusable.

That’s if they have a computer and programs that they have been using.

Worse are the ones (such as the last person who spoke the dreaded sentence to me) who have bought a computer “because they found a good deal” or took a hand-me-down from a friend of a friend, and now they want just a “little” help to set it up.

The particular person who most recently did this is a musician who is a new neighbor. She stopped me as I was walking past her place and asked the dreaded question. She explained that she had become very intrigued at things that another musician she met was doing in GarageBand on his iPad. He had explained that he had “the same program” on his computer, where he could do a lot more.

So she had bought a computer at a yard sale, and wanted me to show her how to put Garage Band on it so she could do the things he did.

As you have probably guessed, if you know anything about computers yourself, the machine she’d picked up at the yard sale was a really, really old PC. Probably not even one capable of running Windows. This thing was a brand I haven’t seen in decades. It probably was manufactured in 1989 or 1990, I don’t know if it would actually turn on (I didn’t let her get me past the stage where she was pointing to it through the window where it was piled up on a table).

I told her that any computer that old was either dead, or nearly so. That it would be nearly impossible to find software that would run on it. That GarageBand runs on Macs and iPads, only. It doesn’t run on Windows, and it certainly won’t run on DOS.

“But he told me I didn’t need a fancy computer…”

I tried to explain that she could pick up inexpensive used iMacs at several places that would run GarageBand. “But it needs to be a computer no more than five or six years old.”

She didn’t understand why I wouldn’t go into her house to look at the computer she had “just to be sure.” It didn’t have to be GarageBand, she could probably find some other music software, she said.

I tried to explain again that electronics that old fail, and because they’re so old, no one makes the parts any more. Also, none of the inputs will match any modern microphones or other accessories she would need for recording her music. And most importantly, the only software it could run (if all its parts were still working) was very old stuff that would have been sold, back in the day, on floppy disks. “Twenty-five year old floppy disks don’t work. The magnetic particles flake off. The plastic disk part loses its flexibility and even cracks and breaks.”

“I don’t mind a few cracks…”

I thought I was going to scream.

And it’s not just people buying really old (ancient) computers.

My husband works at a place that refurbishes and resells oldish computers. He frequently tells stories of people that buy a computer, then bring it back (sometimes months after the warranty period) complaining about problems that are always user error. Or trying to install something that it isn’t intended to run.

My friend, Mark, told the story of a co-worker who kept complaining about her iPod, that it wouldn’t take music from the Apple store, it couldn’t sync with iTunes, and it wouldn’t work with any iPod accessories she picked up. When he got tired of hearing her complain and offered to take a look, the first thing he said was, “That’s not an iPod.”

It was some very cheap, no-name music player. And no matter how he tried to explain it, she didn’t understand how he could claim it wasn’t an iPod. And when she was willing to admit that maybe it wasn’t an actual Apple-manufactured iPod, she still didn’t understand why it wouldn’t work with iPod things.

I suggested he should have told her that it was like this: a horse and buggy can get you from place to place on public roads not unlike a car, but if you try to pour gasoline down the horse’s throat, you’re going to regret it.

I don’t know if he ever got to use that analogy.

Damage control

A few years back a church bought a recently vacated big box retail building about 8 or 9 blocks from my house and converted it to a worship center. The church was a regional megachurch, not affiliated with an existing denomination. I had heard a little bit about it, but wasn’t terribly familiar at the time. I’ve since learned a bit more.

Although they try to wrap their message in language that sounds hip and liberal, and they clearly aim their marketing at a younger demographic, it is anti-gay, anti-women’s rights, and anti-all-the-other-usuals. The head pastor drives a couple of Mercedes-Benzes. His sermons each week are broadcast on giant screens in the neighborhood worship centers. Dissenters in the congregation are kicked out and all church members who wish to remain in good standing (included the kicked-out person’s spouse, if applicable) are instructed to shun the person.

There is a beautiful historic church building in downtown Seattle, with a gorgeous doomed main building. The building is on the eastern edge of downtown, close to Capitol Hill, which has long been known as the city’s gay neighborhood. Years ago the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Chorus (of which I was a member) was one of about a dozen community musical groups that rented space in the church for weekly rehearsals. Every year they asked all the groups that rehearsed to participate in a Christmas concert. It was wonderful to sing under that big beautiful dome. But also sad to see how small the audience was. The congregation had been shrinking for decades, finding it increasingly difficult to even keep the lights on, let alone maintain the structure. The big beautiful building is on a prime piece of downtown property, and it seemed inevitable that the building would be torn down.

A few months ago, the megachurch announced that it would be leasing the property, moving its downtown neighborhood worship center from a converted warehouse space to the building. Their announcement included the statement, “being closer to Capitol Hill is a blessing as we are serving and ministering to those who are infected with AIDS on the hill.”

There were so many things wrong with that sentence. I’m not sure where to begin.

First, it is literally not possible to be infected with AIDS; you can be infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but not AIDS itself. AIDS is a specific constellation of symptoms which are a late-term manifestation of an HIV-infection. It is a common misperception, but no one who was actively involved in any serious program to serve or care for HIV-positive people would not be aware of the distinction.

Second, it isn’t the 1980s. AIDS has not been cured, but thanks to the various new drugs, most people in the U.S. who are infected with the HIV virus do not have AIDS. Further, thanks to the drugs, a person can live thirty or more years without experiencing any symptoms. People do still die from the disease, and being on the drugs for decades is no picnic, but there are no longer thousands of people in every gay neighborhood living in near-hospice-care situations counting down the days (and T-cells) until they move into an actual hospice. Some studies, in fact, are beginning to indicate that a person infected with the virus living in a first world country, who begins treatment early, doesn’t even have a statistically significantly shortened lifespan because of it.

Third, while a higher proportion of white people infected with HIV are gay or bisexual than are straight, it is by no means a majority of gay people who are infected. Most gay people, like most straight people, don’t have the virus. In many places in the U.S., one’s ethnicity is a better predictor of HIV infection than whether one is gay and out of the closet.

Fourth, this specific church is anti-gay. Gay members are not allowed. Anyone is welcome to attend, but gay people are not allowed to become members until they become ex-Gay. No one wants to be “ministered to” by someone who thinks you are an abomination. And in the year 2013 if you are the kind of person who thinks that a gay neighborhood is filled with AIDS patients, you are the kind of person who thinks gay people are an abomination. You may not say it aloud, and you may deny it if confronted, but that level of ignorance is only achieved by assiduous avoidance.

Fifth, the statement is in the present tense. In other words, the church claimed to already be involved in some sort of service ministry to people with the disease. The fact that they are obviously unaware of my first, second, and third points shows the statement was a lie. Furthermore, not one single news article or press release in which the church had touted its various charity activities which mentioned anything about AIDS or HIV service could be found before this one statement. Not one.

Sixth, while that building is located close to one part of Capitol Hill, to the extent that the hill remains a gay neighborhood (more on that in a bit), most of the gayborhood is centered on the Broadway business corridor, about a mile walk (most of it uphill), from the church’s location. The church is not really conveniently located close to most of the homos on the Hill. And the Hill isn’t quite the great gay village it once was. The majority of queer people living in the Seattle metropolitan area live outside the Hill. The Hill is still very queer, don’t get me wrong, but one of the reasons the Pride Parade had to move off the Hill is because the neighborhood literally can’t hold all the gay people who want to attend the parade. I don’t live on the Hill, and I almost never go there, for instance.

Seventh, during my years of observation of their worship center in my neighborhood, the attendees drive in from somewhere else, attend the events on their property, and then leave. They aren’t part of the local community. They don’t seem to make the slightest effort to even get to know the local community. This last point may not be entirely fair. I’m a flaming homo, after all, and I don’t really want to get into any meaningful conversation with them. But from what I’ve read on other neighborhood blogs, it seems to be the case there, too. So I don’t see how moving the downtown meeting place a few blocks closer to Homo Hill is going to foster much in the way of interaction, constructive or otherwise, with the locals.

When the news broke, a lot of neighborhood blogs and the snarky, ultra-liberal alternate weekly newspaper raised similar points.

When contacted to explain at least in what way the church was “serving and ministering to those infected with AIDS” the church spokesperson became flustered and said someone would have to get back to the news people. They then issued a statement that claimed they were in “beginning stages of volunteering with the Lifelong AIDS Alliance.” Except the Lifelong AIDS Alliance has policies against proselytizing, which the church stated explicitly as its intention in its answer. Also, the Lifelong AIDS Alliance had received only one phone call from the church months before with no follow-up, and a second one less than an hour after the newspeople started asking questions. Volunteer applications had never been submitted from anyone identifying themselves as a church member.

When this was pointed out, the church backtracked. They made excuses. They bobbed and weaved, saying that they intend to help and repeating that bit about being in the beginning stages.

It’s not nice to laugh, but really, the sheer transparency of the lies, let alone the ludicrous depth of ignorance, demands it. I know, they don’t think they were lying. Someone had made a phone call, right? They planned to do something, right? I bet some of their members have even donated money to the charity. Or, at least went out to dinner at one of the restaurants participating in the annual Dining Out for Life fundraiser. That’s the same thing as serving and ministering to those poor AIDS victims, right?

It has been months, now, and there has been no further talk of any such ministry by the church. I’m not sure whether they were embarrassed about the whole thing, or just realized that there was nothing to gain from any effort. I know that people will say that at least some of them had their hearts in the right place. Jesus said to take care of the sick, right? But see, when the first thing that springs to mind when you find out your church is moving closer to a gay neighborhood is AIDS, that right there says all that needs to be said about how ignorant, bigoted, and self-deluded you are. If you feel god calling you to minister to people suffering and dying from AIDS, don’t move around an affluent city on the west coast, go to Africa, or south/southeast Asia.

This megachurch isn’t the only institution having a hard time grappling with its own ignorance and bigotry, as Stephen Colbert explained in this clip (click on Stephen’s name to watch):

Oh, lord, the leaping!

Within minutes of the news of the horrific shooting at an elementary school, the voices of inaction started spreading across the social networks:

  • “Even if you ban all the guns, people can still be killed with other things!”
  • “Why do people start talking about mental health care whenever there’s a violent event?”
  • “Now is not the time to talk about political action. People are just starting to mourn this senseless tragedy.”
  • “Why does the media put so much attention to these things? It only encourages other people to do this so they’ll become famous!”
  • “If only there were more armed citizens, this could be prevented.”

…and so on.

An internet meme is one of the least nuanced ways to discuss anything, but I have to admit that sometimes they raise a good point. Thanks to one failed clownish attempt to take out a jet with a shoe bomb, millions of us are forced to take off our shoes when we go through security at airports. Meanwhile, over 30,000 people are killed by gun violence every year in the U.S., but we can’t even talk about changing any gun regulations?

The air travel security processes that have been imposed on us are a horrific overreaction, don’t reduce the odds of a disaster by a significant amount, and are therefore a colossal waste of time and money. So we shouldn’t duplicate the thinking over there.

But doing nothing after decades of these mass shootings is an even more colossal waste.

The good news is, there are options between the extremes of overreacting and doing nothing.

Will banning assault weapons end violence? Of course not. But think about this: last week, a man went on a rampage and stabbed 22 school children in China, but no one died. Yes, it was a horribly traumatic event. Yes, it is certainly possible to kill someone with a knife, but it is much harder for a single person to inflict deadly wounds on a whole bunch of people in a short time with knives than with an assault rifle. So regulating the sale of certain types of weapons, offering gun buy-back programs, and so forth might save a few thousand lives a year.

Will better mental health options end all violence? No. And the usual argument people make on this point is that most mass shooters have fallen through the cracks of the mental health system. The problem with that argument is that currently, the mental health care system has cracks the size of the Grand Canyon. Nearly everyone falls through the cracks. Let’s get a functioning system together, first, shall we?

The variant on the mental health argument I was quite amused with recently is that, since so few of these shooters survive to be diagnosed, we can’t assume they are mentally ill. One person making this argument insisted that mentally ill people are no more likely than the non-ill to be violent. And as proof said, “Of the 61 mass shooters of the last five years, only 38 exhibited signs of mental illness before the crime, but none had been diagnosed.” Thirty-eight out of sixty-one is 62%. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, only 26% of the population suffer from a diagnosable mental or mood disorder at any time. So 62% seems at least a bit disproportionate.

The “now is not the time” argument is beyond infuriating. If anything, talking about it after a tragedy is too late, certainly not too soon. And silencing the discussion by saying we’re trying to politicize a tragedy? That is politicizing a tragedy. So, stop being a hippocrit, man up, and debate the issue.

The “media creates these events” argument is very tempting. And in more than a few of the cases there is evidence that the person was trying to make a statement, having left behind videos or notes. But you know who else does that sort of thing? Terrorists. And no sane person believes that the guys who flew those planes into the World Trade Center thinks that if only the news hadn’t revealed their names, that they would have never done it.

The “more guns argument” overlooks a few facts. First, there are already more privately owned guns in this country than there are people. We have no shortage of guns available for citizens to defend themselves. Second, one need look only at incidents such as the Lakewood shoot a couple years ago in my state: four armed cops, all experienced, all having been in shooting situations before hand, were at a cafe when an armed guy walked in and started shooting. He wasn’t even armed with an assault rifle, but none of the officers was able to draw and fire back in time to stop him from killing all four. There are dozens of similar cases, and statistics galore that indicate that just having responsible, trained, armed people there doesn’t put a stop to these crimes. In the majority of the cases, even after a large force of armed police arrive, it’s the shooter killing himself that ends the massacre, not the police killing him.

And all of these leaps to unsupportable conclusions are keeping us from tackling any of the sources of the problems that lead these guys (and they are almost all men, usually young men) to do these things. We aren’t willing to talk about our society’s toxic expectations of what masculinity means. We aren’t willing to discuss the correlations between the economic and romantic frustration that many of these mass murderers express before these things happen, and how many of them form alliances with gun-stockpiling, paranoid communities.

We have to stop leaping to conclusions, stop following our gut reactions, and look at the facts. We have to be willing to start seriously implementing multiple changes. We have to be willing to get past the bumper sticker/internet meme rhetoric and talk about the difficult problems.

Otherwise, the senseless deaths are going to just keep happening.

Can’t prove a negative…

An oft repeated truism is,”You can’t prove a negative” by which people usually mean that it’s impossible to prove that something does not exist. This is a retooling of another old saying: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Many people believe it is a law of logic.

It’s not. And it isn’t true outside of logic, either.

In most legal systems a form of this principle exists, though it’s usually expressed as a burden of proof argument: the defense doesn’t have to prove that their client didn’t do it, they just have to show that the prosecution hasn’t conclusively proven that the client did do it. However, that doesn’t mean that the defense isn’t allowed to go the extra mile. If the defense can prove that another person actually committed the crime, for instance, or if they prove that it was physically impossible for their client to have done it, they have proven a negative.

In mathematics we have proof by impossibility, which is another form of proving the negative. And in logic you can use a rule of inference called “denying the consequent” to prove other kinds of negatives.

So the next time someone accuses someone of something horrid with little evidence, and replies to any arguments by saying, “you can’t prove it didn’t happen!” Point out that they have the burden of proof wrong: the accuser is the one who has something to prove. The rest of us just have to raise reasonable doubts…