The Friday Morning Listen: Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic (1974)

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I have books in my collection that go all the way back to about the 5th grade. There have been so many bookstore visits in between: used bookstores, local establishments, major & minor chains. Occasions have included everything from the obligatory first day of vacation “fill-up” to the much more common Saturday morning, post-breakfast visit. The result is exactly what you might think — an unwieldy, huge collection of volumes. How many? I don’t really know. I do know that they won’t all fit in a two-bedroom apartment, even with those beautiful 10-ft ceilings.

So TheGreatBookCulling™ has begun. I never thought it would come to this. I really thought the future would involve a big ‘ole barn that could be converted into a living/library space. The reality is turning out to be something smaller,focused, and more manageable. It’s a good thing…just as long as a half ton or so can be set aside and placed in the proper hands.

A couple of nights ago I came upon a couple of my college textbooks. Formal Logic was a favorite, both the book and the class. It was great fun flipping through the text, revisiting such concepts as valid inferences and existential import. Call it nerd nostalgia.

As luck would have it, this was also the night of the Republican debate. So a while later, after seeing a tweet about somebody saying something absurd (Ron Paul blaming 9/11 on “too much government”), curiosity got the better of me and I dialed up a live stream on the Internet (which, by the way, is a by-product of some “big government,” Dr. Paul). I didn’t last very long. After seeing a snippet of Jon Huntsman making the case that Republicans shouldn’t be running away from science if they’d like to attract independent voters (kind of makes sense to me), the next question went to Rick Perry. He pretty much refused to name names with regard to the scientists he claims are stating that the science is inconclusive on the issue of global warming. In fact, he refused to answer twice, after which the moderator let him off the hook. Sure, standard political debate tactics.

This intersection of books and politics got me to thinking that both politicians and the electorate could use some training in the basics of logic. The most common fallacy employed in political speech seems to be the confusion of correlation with causation (in Latin: cum hoc ergo propter hoc, which I think means “Does this tunic make my ass look fat?”). We see this all the time. A politician will lay out the grand results of a program, claiming that his beautiful ideas brought all of these wonderful things into being. This technique is used as a weapon against opponents too, where certainly policies are obviously the cause of so many woes.

Maybe if people knew more about some of these logical concepts (none of which are particularly difficult to understand) they would be less likely to fall for bogus claims. Or maybe we just believe what we want to believe? These are very complicated problems, and somehow we’re drawn to simple solutions, time and again.

Or maybe people just need to read more books. I’ve got a few.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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