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Post hoc fallacies

Dec 18th, 2002 | By

I used to be a bad boy, but since I got the number I’ve calmed down and
become more focused on my religion. I believe it is a sign from God, and that
the number was made for me. It has brought me so much luck it is unbelievable.
Sulayman Ahmed, Manchester Metro, 13 September 2002

Unbelievable indeed. What is this amazing power that has turned Mr Ahmed’s
life around? The answer is a lucky telephone number. Ahmed paid £5,000
(about $7,500) for a telephone number which contained a lucky sequence of figures
based around 786, which in Arabic numerology apparently represents the holy
prayer Bismallah al-Rahman al Rahim.

Since owning the number, friends and family have been "amazed … Read the rest

If I don’t do it somebody else will

Dec 12th, 2002 | By

"If we want to stop the defence industry operating in this country,
we can do so. The result incidentally would be that someone else supplies
the arms that we supply."
Tony Blair, 25 July 2002 (Source: The Mirror)

How many times have we heard people justifying ethically dubious actions using
this kind of argumentative move? The logic is clear enough. My action has consequence
X, which you find objectionable. But if I don’t undertake that action, someone
else will, and so consequence X will still come about. So there’s no point in
criticising me for undertaking this action, because that won’t prevent the consequence
you object to from coming to pass.

There is a respectable form of moral theory … Read the rest

Slippery slopes

Dec 4th, 2002 | By

Implanting tracking devices provides a very frightening vision for the future.
… This would be used initially for sex offenders, but we would soon find
that other marginalised groups, such as asylum seekers, would find they were
forced to have implants.
John Wadham, director of Liberty. (Source: Observer, 17/11/02)

The idea of implanting tracking devices under the skins of criminals is, with
good reason, a controversial one. No other punishment in Britain involves altering
a person’s body. Some may even see it as requiring a form of mutilation, in
the strict sense of the word, and that therefore it is an example of the kind
of "cruel and unusual punishment" that infringes upon a person’s basic
human rights. These … Read the rest

Beguiling wisebites

Nov 26th, 2002 | By

The poor sell drugs so they can buy Nikes and the rich sell Nikes so they
can buy drugs.
from £9.99 by Frédéric Beigbeder (Picador, 2002)

It is widely lamented in serious circles that we live in the age of the "soundbite".
Nuanced arguments have been replaced with rapid-fire rhetoric for a generation
with no attention spans. The short, sharp, memorable phrase is king.

"Soundbite" is however a term of abuse rather than a description
of a single phenomenon. If you approve of what is said pithily and memorably,
all of a sudden it is not a soundbite after all, but an aphorism or a "pearl
of wisdom". Quotations lifted from literature, film or theatre are often
dignified in this … Read the rest