Author Archive

“and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God”

In memoriam:

Francis R. Scobee
Michael J. Smith
Ronald McNair
Ellison Onizuka
Judith Resnik
Greg Jarvis
Christa McAuliffe

“And a bad boy lahdy-dee lahdy-dah”

More evidence of my burgeoning MØ obsession: the dozens of times I’ve watched the video for “Don’t Wanna Dance” since discovering it last night.

Know Your Fallacy: Denying the Antecedent

All grass is green.
This emerald is not grass.
Therefore this emerald is not green.

Most people will immediately recognize that the above syllogism is flawed. Clearly, there are other qualities besides “being grass” that might cause an object to be green. The syllogism is incorrect because it commits the formal logical fallacy of “Denying the Antecedent.” More formally, this fallacy looks like:

If A, then B
Not A
Therefore not B

Denying the Antecedent occurs when, given a syllogism, one attempts to prove the inverse by negating the initial premise (the antecedent). The problem with this approach is that most categorical syllogisms only define sufficient conditions, and not necessary conditions. In other words, such syllogisms show that if A is true, then B follows. It doesn’t show that A is the only way that B could possibly be true. So a thing being grass is enough to show that it is green, but it doesn’t exclude other categories or qualities that might also prove “greenness”.

Like all fallacies, Denying the Antecedent is easy to see in formal examples, but much trickier to spot in the real world. One place where it this fallacy is employed quite a bit is as an attempt to take one common condition as the only possible reason for a particular outcome. For instance, a common response to increased police powers or broad government surveillance is something along the lines of: “if you’re not a criminal, then why are you worried? You have nothing to hide.”

Put slightly more formally, the (flawed) argument goes something like this:

All criminals should fear surveillance.
But you’re not a criminal.
Therefore you shouldn’t fear surveillance.

Where this argument breaks down is that there are plenty of other reasons why one might reasonably fear increased surveillance or police powers. Being a criminal is a sufficient condition to fear government surveillance, but it is not necessary. That is to say, being a criminal is enough to cause a fear of surveillance, but there might be other reasons not admitted by the original syllogism.

I should note that there are instances in which denying the antecedent will result in a valid logical argument. This is only true in the case where the condition stated is both necessary and sufficient. This is condition is usually described in syllogisms using the phrase “if and only if”, often shortened to “iff”. For example:

Iff you are Ada Lovelace, then you invented computer programming.
You are not Ada Lovelace
Therefore you didn’t invent computer programming.

This syllogism works, because there is exactly one condition under which you could have invented computer programming: you have to be Ada Lovelace. Since you’re not, you can’t possibly be the inventor of computer programming.

A trick for spotting this fallacy in the wild is to look for instances in which people portray some quality or condition as the only way a certain outcome can occur. When you notice someone making such an argument, take a moment to think of other conditions that might lead to that consequence or to carefully write out the argument their making in a more formal way. Odds are, you’ll find that they’ve relied on a denied antecedent somewhere in their reasoning.

“But if I can’t change your mind, then no one will”

Sugar, “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”

Groove on This

The Boredoms, “7 (Eye Remix)”

Jerry Springer: The Opera: The Review

I caught Balagan Theatre’s production of Jerry Springer: The Opera this evening at the Moore. It was an impressive production with a hugely talented cast. I was particularly impressed by the vocal and dramatic performance of Megan Chenovick in the role of Baby Jane. The character could easily lend itself to cheap laughs and flat, expository plot development, but Ms. Chenovick turned it into a well-rounded characters, full of pathos and personality, all while delivering a stunning vocal performance, to boot.

Sean Nelson’s roles of Jonathan Weiruss and Satan were also quite noticeable. Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of Nelson’s music, but this is the first time I’ve seen him in a dramatic production. His portrayal of a sycophantic warm-up man was believable and strangely charming in its eager cynicism. His Satan was appropriately flamboyant and commanding, effortlessly owning the stage and toying with Brandon Felker’s Jerry Springer. Nelson was flawless in the role of antogonist, playing a perfect foil to both the self-interested Springer and the self-pitying God.

In the end, the production was stunning, and my only real complaints are with the writing. The vernacular of the Ensemble got a little too camp at times (e.g. announcing Satan’s entrance with “Him am the Devil”). Many of the musical sections had no noticeable transitions, just sort of slamming into one another. The opening scene of the second act was heavy-handed with its cliche denigrations of the sort of blue collar Americans that are presumed to be fans of Jerry Springer.

I was also disappointed that there was no overture, but that’s really more a matter of taste.

Still, for its minor flaws, it was a hell of a show. Funny, fast-paced, brilliantly sung and acted, and with pleasingly anti-Manichean twist to it, it was well worth the price of admission. The show runs through this weekend, so if you’re in Seattle and can get tickets, I strongly suggest you do so.

Minerva blesses the gadflies

This evening, the role of Diogenes of Sinope will be played by Professor Benjamin Bratton.

“And I feel like some bird of paradise / my bad fortune slipping away”

PJ Harvey, “Good Fortune”

“Twenty twenty twenty four hours to go”

Allo, Darlin’, “I Want to be Sedated”. I love this Ramones cover. Equal parts charming, adorable, and apropos. From Allo, Darlin’s excellent Covers EP

In Memoriam

To the Lost and the Damned. May you find your way home.

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.