Thursday, February 25, 2010

repetition is not the same as an argument

I do not eat organic food.

It's not that I categorically oppose spending $2 for red peppers. I already spend a significant amount of money on food, and it's not that I would stop buying or eating produce if I suddenly had to pay the organic price.

It's also not that I think organic food is any worse than normal produce. Actually, I can't tell the difference between organic and non-organic produce; I'd be willing to bet that none of you could tell the difference either.

My problem with organic food is that it's a political distinction which masquerades as a health distinction.

Let me be clear: organic food is not healthier than non-organic food. Scientific studies have confirmed this fact. If any of you doubt this, or have evidence to the contrary, please let me know and we can discuss it further.

What I have found, however, is that all sorts of people--journalists, hippies, and even scientists--will acknowledge that organic produce is no healthier than regular produce when pressed with the facts, yet continue to use the use the word as an equivalent for "fresh" or "raw" produce.

In a documentary I just watched, the film makers were trying to offer solutions to America's unhealthy lifestyles. One of their solutions is that schools should stop selling cheese fries and coke for lunches, and start offering real food alternatives, including lower-fat, higher-nutrition meals made with fruits and vegetables. I am personally a HUGE fan of such proposals.

The crime that this documentary film made, however, is one that I see being made increasingly more by careless people: the program's chef stressed the fact that he only feeds the kids organic foods, yet he ignored the more salient facts of his diet. While I do not take issue with this chef's political passion for sustainable farming methods, local foods, or a pesticide-free world, why did he have to muddy the waters of the argument by bringing in something completely tangential to the point? The kids in his program are not healthier or happier because they are eating organic produce instead of conventionally-grown produce, they are healthier because they are eating low-fat, low-cholesterol diets with sufficient vitamins and fiber instead of Twinkies.

I'm not sure whether this mistake is being made on purpose, a calculated effort to instill an unproven fact into the minds of uncritical listeners, or whether it's simply well-meaning, yet ultimately negligent act.

Whatever the answer to that question, the fact remains that the filmmakers are doing more harm than good to their stated goal. Some schools will be dissuaded from implementing healthier school lunches because they're unable to afford the jacked-up organic prices, and don't realize that conventional produce is JUST AS GOOD. Someday Little Debby will come out with organic Creme Pies. Some poor sod will eat even more of them because he thinks that they're healthier for being made with organic sugar.

Mostly I'm just annoyed that the repetition of a lie somehow replaces arguments or proof for something.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Today is my 28th birthday.

For those of you who know both me and my brother well, you know that of the two of us, he is the more nostalgic of the two of us by far. He journals diligently, puts together beautiful compilation books of his images and sentimental items, and makes wonderful lists which summarize his activities or favorite things.

I'm generally suspicious of sentimentality. It leads otherwise intelligent people to accept the flagrant lie that things used to be better, to see the past as a golden age where everything was simpler or somehow more moral. Observe. Furthermore, the high-schoolish mentality to divide into warring factions based on musical preference, fashion sense, or even age (or school year) has always seemed pretty dumb to me. Sentimentality needs to be kept in a safe box, defining us and giving us our own signature set of preferences and ideas, yet not unnecessarily balkanizing us into hateful clans.

Every once in a great while, I indulge in uncharacteristic sentimentality. I made myself deviled eggs this morning because I wanted something that I had fond memories of, but which I hadn't eaten in a long time. I wanted to post something today about health care reform, Glenn Beck's offensive CPAC speech, my annoyance with the organic foods movement, or give a book report on some books I've read lately (Wingnuts by John Avlon is fabulous, by the way). After making a list of documentary films for my friend Lina, however, I've been in a list-making mood. I think I'll keep things friendly for my birthday, following a tradition my sister often follows on her blog, I'll include a list of things that I love, rather than only things that are wrong with the world. Today seems as good a day as ever.

Here's a list of my favorite movies from the last decade:
20. The Village
19. Volver
18. Amélie
17. Snatch
16. X2: X-Men united
15. Children of Men
14. Unbreakable
13. Bourne Identity
12. Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
11. Spy Game
10. The Hours
9. Once
8. Goodbye Lenin!
7. Wall-E
6. Brick
5. Royal Tenenbaums
4. Spirited Away
3. Mean Girls
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
1. Fountain

Other favorite movies that weren't mentioned above (sorry Lina, this isn't as artistic of a list as the one you provided):
The Man Who Planted Trees
Run Lola Run
The Seventh Continent (warning: Haneke films are prone to bruising your soul)
The Incredibles (The best family movie ever)
Meet Joe Black (no snide comments, please. I realize that you probably think this movie is boring, but I still think it's one of the most beautiful films ever. So there.)
You've Got Mail (best romantic comedy that doesn't have Audry Hepburn in it, in my opinion)
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
The Trial (Franz Kafka + Orson Welles = delicious)

I don't think it's possible to have favorite books, since they are so contingent on when you read them, what state you were in, and what they've done for you. Even still, here's a list of books which either are, or have been influential on me, and that I still have a love for:
Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander
The Beach by Alex Garland
Anthem by Ayn Rand
Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut
Welcome to the Monkey House by Vonnegut
Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky
Blood Meridian by McCarthy
Atonement by McEwan
A Clean Well Lighted Place (short story by Hemmingway)

Other random things I love, and which may or may not shine light on who I am as a person:
Rodin's The Gates of Hell
Giving food for people I like
Talking politics
Grocery shopping
Editing (it's convenient for me that Amanda's getting a PhD in English)
Cooking, esp. crepes, Indian food, and desserts
Angel food cake (if I knew what to do with all of my extra egg yolks, I'd probably cook myself one twice a week)
Mocking stupid movies
Public speaking
I like both Chicago- and New York-style pizzas. In my view, they're totally different foods which should not be compared.

Random things I don't particularly like (you knew I wasn't going to be able to keep it positive the whole way through, didn't you?):
Pictures of myself
Spiders (The Burrow had brown recluses, which did not a happy Daine make)
Plain pickles. I can eat relish on hot dogs, tuna, or in deviled eggs, but I never eat pickles plain. It's one of the very few foods I don't enjoy.

All of this is probably far too much information to post publicly. I've got to go change all of my security questions, lest someone try and use this information against me. In the meanwhile, however, I've got an angel food birthday cake to bake. . .

Friday, February 19, 2010


One of my friends and I recently chatted about our love of documentaries. As she recommended a number of documentaries to me, I realized that I haven't been keeping track of which ones I liked, and which ones aren't really worth recommending. This is a list of documentaries I've watched in the last year according to my netflix account. This post is specifically addressed to Lina, but any of you are welcome to either take these recommendations for yourself, or take issue with my taste in documentary film. By the way, this doesn't count against my 500-word limit I've set.

Best documentaries I've seen in the last year:

Deliver us From Evil
Jesus Camp
The King of Kong
The Education of Shelby Knox
The Conscientious Objector
Ken Burns' America: The Shakers
Born Into Brothels
Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Manufacturing Dissent
Street Fight
The Order of Myths
Lewis and Clark: The Journey

Echelon 2 documentaries, somewhat sorted from top to bottom, best to worst:

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Girl 27
Cocaine Cowboys
Ken Burns' America: The Congress
Ralph Nader: An Unreasonable Man
Speaking Freely: (multiple volumes)
Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?
Ken Burns' America: The Statue of Liberty
Plan Colombia
The Weather Underground
The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg
Waco: The Rules of Engagement
In Search of History: Salem Witch Trials
The Dark Ages
Ken Burns' America: Empire of the Air
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price
Maxed Out
Life and Debt
The Devil Came on Horseback
Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains
The Goebbels Experiment
Escape from Suburbia
King Corn

Documentaries on war, most of which aren't really all that mind-blowing or persuasive:

No End in Sight
Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers
Frontline: Bush's War: Part 2
Frontline: Bush's War: Part 1
Taxi to the Dark Side
Body of War

Documentaries not worth watching:

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Sideshow: Alive on the Inside
Strange Culture
Constantine's Sword

Saturday, February 13, 2010


During my first year at college, BYU had a pretty good basketball team. Although I've never really been a big sports fan, I was exposed to quite a bit of BYU basketball that season, attending a few games live, and watching a few on the TV in the Morris Center.

Basketball, for those of you who don't know, is a surprisingly violent game. Each player is allowed 5 fouls (in college) before they are ejected, and the strategic use of fouls is an integral part of team play. Unlike penalties in football, for example, breaking the rules in basketball is often advantageous; players who "foul-out" are not met with scorn by fans, but with gratitude for having used their fouls to benefit their team.

The importance of fouling elevates the referees to an important position in any basketball game. They set the tone for how much physical contact is allowed, how assertive the coaches and players can be (before they are given technical fouls), and how much of the game is spent shooting free-throws.

I quickly noticed some disturbing habits of my fellow watchers. Whenever BYU was called for a foul, people would scream and curse the referee for his "bad call." Whenever the other team was credited with the foul, however, these same fans would clap, looking as if justice had been restored to an otherwise chaotic and cruel world. At first, I credited this phenomenon to my relative inexperience with basketball and its rules. Perhaps I just wasn’t seeing what really made some of the calls good and others bad.

I'm sure you already know the conclusion to this post. It only took me a few minutes of watching to realize what these fans were doing. They were very purposely conflating calls that they didn't like with calls that were patently unfair. When a pretty obvious call was missed in the MWC championship game against New Mexico, the BYU students cheered, claiming that it "made up for previous missed calls which hurt BYU."

There are bad referees. There are bad calls. I'll be there right with you calling a spade a spade when bad calls are made or when the system is actually unfair. Decrying everything which doesn’t go your way, however, puts the system in very real danger. NCAA basketball would not last more than one season if my fellow freshmen from BYU had the power to perfectly control referees.

Furthermore, I had less respect for these student’s opinions in other matters because of how they acted as basketball fans. If literally every call which went against them was necessarily “unfair,” I come to the conclusion that their unfairness meter is broken. I think that we should just stipulate that extremists are die-hard fans of their philosophies, that their opinions are hopelessly biased, and that we should ignore them, trying to build the fairest system possible without them.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Annoying pattern III, split advocacy

I see this one all the time, and it makes me really angry. In essence, this tactic is a slash-and-burn operation. Argumentative techniques are employed, not to reflect what the person actually believes, but rather as a weapon against what they don't. You throw everything including the kitchen sink at your opponent, trusting that at least one of the mean, snarky, nasty things you've pointed out will cause a bystander to learn to hate what you yourself hate. For example:

Opponent: I hate D.
Me: why?
O: Well for one thing he/she is extremely E.
me: really? I don't see D as being that extreme.
O: Also, D is not nearly E enough.
me: Wait, what? How is it possible to be E and not E at the same time?
O: Whatever, you've just drunk the D kool-aid. You wouldn't understand.


Opponent: Hey look at this, I've found evidence from source F that D is horrible.
Me: Do you really trust source F?
O: Not at all. I think that F is an absurd source, actually.
me: So you don't even think that people who read source F should trust them?
O: No. Source F is normally full of lies.
me: Then the only reason you're citing them is that they agree with you in this case?
O: Is that bad?

In short, this style of argumentation is not only dishonest, it's the root cause of the general malaise of jadedness that exists in our society today. There IS room for debating from the other side ("even if you start from a position of G, you should still dislike D"), but such a tactic requires that you take apart the black box of the other argument. There is an internal logic to other points of view. Posting or citing mean, hateful, and often inaccurate sources of journalism, however, is not the answer.

Annoying pattern II

This next pattern is just as wide-spread as the first pattern I pointed out, but even more intellectually dishonest and damaging, in my opinion. It takes many forms, so I've got a few examples to illustrate it.

Example One

Me: X is true.
Opponent: That's what person A says, and person A is a jerk/idiot/ideologue for the opposite party as me, so it must be false.
me: I don't agree with person A, and I agree that they have many shortcomings, but I still stand by X.
O: Person A is pure evil. If you believe in X, then you agree with person A and thus you're dead to me.

Example Two

Me: X is true.
Opponent: You just say that because you're a/an B (note: this is a variable for a slur, not a shortening of a particular swear that begins with B).
me: I'm not a B, actually. But even if I were a B, does that mean that X is not true?
O: All Bs believe in Y as well, which is wrong/offensive/against my moral code.
me: Please stop changing the subject. We're not talking about Y, I'm not a B, and you're ignoring the fact that X is still true.
O: Whatever, B. That's what they teach you in your B literature. You've drunk the B kool-aid, you B-kool-aid drinker.

Example Three

Me: X is true
Opponent: Person C disagrees with you, and I trust person C implicitly.
me: I can show you both why person C believes what he/she does, but also why he/she is wrong.
O: Person C is never wrong/is a good person/is way smarted than you.
me: What about in this case D, in which person C has been proven to be wrong/admitted to being wrong? Is it not then possible that person C is also wrong in this situation? Can we at least talk about the warrants for X?
O: You're just a C-hater. You cannot be trusted, since you think that person C could be wrong.

These examples are often mixed and matched. Is there any defense against them? I'd like to know your thoughts on how to combat these tendencies, if they're actually justified, or if you've ever seen me use any of these tactics.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Annoying pattern I

I write, on average, 6 blog posts for each one I type out and post. I engage people in debates almost constantly, either on message boards, on blogs, or in face-to-face conversations. I also surround myself almost constantly with podcasts, audiobooks, or TV shows like the Daily Show which feed my desire to comment publicly or at least write my thoughts and opinions down for later use.

As a result of a number of failed conversations I've had lately, I wanted to write down some generalizable patterns I have been running into. Perhaps some of you can help me to understand why this is happening, what I'm doing wrong in trying to argue my cases, or if this pattern is an inextricable part of being human, and I should get used to it rather than be annoyed by it.

The conversation goes something like this:
Opponent: Y is true.
me: I don't believe in Y, can you explain to me why you do?
O: Y is true because of X.
me: Now there's our problem. X is undeniably false. You yourself have admitted to me in the past/earlier in this conversation that X is [figurative and not literal/a patent falsification/extremely unlikely].
O: You're right. I don't stand behind X.
me: So do you still believe in Y?
O: Most definitely.
me: What is your reason for believing Y, now that we've established that X is not true?
O: Since Y is true, then X must have led to it, so X must be true as well.

Are people just appeasing me when they admit that X is false, or is it just innate to stick to our favorite lies, even in the face of overwhelming evidence against them?

Most importantly, please let me know if you've ever seen me pull the type of garbage that I'd like to critique in the next few posts.