May. 3rd, 2017 09:37 pm
essentialsaltes: (mr. Gruff)
Content has been migrated to dreamwidth.

This is a test of crossposting to LJ.
essentialsaltes: (that's not funny!)
"The book is regularly listed as one of the best non-fiction books of the 20th century."

But I gave up. I couldn't take any more. (Speaking of giving up, I'm slowly figuring out what to do and where to go with the journal. I mean, just about everyone's gone already, and the new Russian TOS is not inspiring confidence.)

I really found the writing style(?) uncongenial. I think my main beef is that Arendt is primarily a political theorist and philosopher, and not a historian. So there are airy passages of theses and ideas, but I found it not tied enough to supporting factual detail. Often a reasonable story was being spun, but it all felt like a free-floating structure, moored only by tenuous lines to shore. And worse.

The book is organized in three main sections: Antisemitism, Imperialism, and Totalitarianism.

The most interesting idea I found in Antisemitism was that, in the feudal age, Jews could be categorized and understood as the Other. It was easy. Sure, there's an enclave of Jews in Paris. But we're Franks, and they are Jews. Or we are Teutons, and they are Jews. As the modern nation-state developed, suddenly everyone had to be categorized as citizens of some nation. What? We're all French? But they're Jews, they're not French! (I don't think Arendt mentions it, but it occurs to me that another state-less people that had maybe even more difficulty getting tied down to a world of 'nations' were the Romany.)
Many, many pages are devoted to the Dreyfus Affair, but I found it maddening that it mostly talks around the Dreyfus Affair, and not really about the Dreyfus Affair. I mean, it's a good thing I knew the basic details, because you will learn more about Zola than Dreyfus (the first foreshadowing of what ultimately made me throw the book across the... okay, okay, to snap my iPad shut quite forcefully).

The most interesting idea I found in the first 75% of Imperialism, was that one of the things that led to imperialism was there was excess capital in the major European countries, and there was nothing much to invest in. And there was some excess labor force in these countries with nothing to do. And imperialism is the outlet for this. Betraying some Marxist tendencies, Arendt sees this as an unnatural alliance of capital and mob-labor to go exploit the world.

There's a discussion of imperialism in Africa with a lot of focus on South Africa, but also long quoted passages from Joseph Conrad. As her attention turns to Asia, she delves a bit into The Great Game, and then inevitably to Kipling. And then it really started to bother me -- the discussion is light on facts, but heavy on allusions to works of fiction. However much they may reflect the zeitgeist of imperialism, I can't take this seriously any more.

Now it's time for the home game: what author is about to become inevitable? How long into the passage does it take you to identify him?

The Home Game! )
essentialsaltes: (facegouge)
My rhetorical question appears to have been answered.

If one cannot bring oneself to punch a lady Nazi in the face, you should pepperspray her in the face.

Now, it's almost too good to be true that she had just finished saying "I'm looking to make a statement by just being here and I think the protesters are doing the same. Props to the ones who are doing it non-violently, but I think that's a very rare thing indeed."

So, if you're of a conspiratorial bent, this is a false flag operation or something. But I think it's fair to say that there were plenty of anonymous violent troublemakers there. The police are of the opinion that they were 'outside agitators' (a phrase I knew we would see more and more of) and not Berkeley students. Which is probably the case, since I'm now hearing all about these experienced antifa activists. Who are these experts all of a sudden and where did they get their expertise? There hasn't been a fascist state to fight in some time, and never in the US, so I find myself suspecting that these are just people who like to have fistfights with skinheads. Whoever they are and whatever their movement is about, they know squat about working against the excesses of a Trump Administration.

Instead, of course, they are falling into the trap.

Now some have correctly pointed out that neo-Nazis can be experts at using 'the System' to quash opposition. "Oh, we're the victims, save us, save us, Law & Order!"

So then I ask: Why the fuck would you fall into their trap by punching people on the street? Are you stupid?

Berkeley was literally the origin of the Free Speech Movement and Sproul Plaza is Free Speech Central.

The university did the right thing in not preventing the speech, and they (or the UCPD who made the call) did the right thing in shutting it down for safety reasons.

Of course the Donald had to weigh in on Twitter:

"If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?"

This is literally one of the stupidest things I've ever read. Even among Trump tweets, this is a doozy.

But remember my warning "Fortunately, we on the left are waaaaay too smart to be manipulated by Russian propaganda. Right? Right? No one would be suckered in by the idea that democracy or free speech are inherently flawed concepts"

Don't be down on Free Speech, just because Trump says he likes it. This is exactly the kind of emotional response thing that Trump apparently uses to perfection. Of course, it only works on stupid people. So don't be a stupid person.

Anyway, I'm reiterating my distaste for Nazipunch and the flawed philosophy behind it.

And again I'm warning against falling into the trap.

Because if not, something terrible is going to happen, and years from now, some kid will be walking with his grandfather on the campus, and grandpa will point to the pocks of bullets in a wall and say something like, 'And over there in that field is where it happened. It was a terrible thing those kids died. But these outside agitators (communists or anarchists or some such) came in and caused a lot of trouble, and stirred things up. Setting fires and so forth. Had to restore Law & Order.'

Because no shit that's exactly what my grandpa told me 40 years ago as we visited Kent State.
essentialsaltes: (that's not funny!)
Many people have recently opined about the justifiability of punching a Nazi(*) in the face. A surprising (to me) number of people are for it.

(*)To clarify, unless we're talking about these six Nazis, at best there are 'neo-Nazis' these days, or 'jerks with hateful ideas who are dangerously close to the levers of power'.

I test the Nazi punch hypothesis out in my own mind, and I just find it hard to accept. I mean, what if it was a lady Nazi? In Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah wisely observes that "in America, if a girl is kicking your ass, you do not have to be a gentleman." Honestly, I'm egalitarian enough that if a boy or girl is kicking your ass, you do not have to be a gentleperson.

And yes, if a boy or girl is kicking that helpless person over there's ass, this probably requires some intervention.

But these rules are not just about kicks and asses. They should be good for punches and faces. "Hey you! Anonymous coward punching an unsuspecting guy in the face! What's wrong with you?"

Anyway, some dudes may have some archaic patriarchal misgivings about punching a lady Nazi. Perhaps they could do something else generally considered illegal or antisocial? Maybe they could throw rocks at them or grab their pussies? This new moral hypothesis opens up so many interesting questions!

But it's fraught with so many logistical difficulties. I mean, not every neo-Nazi will go to the trouble of tattooing 88 on his forehead. They might look like anybody! If only we could form an organization that could identify them based on objective criteria and make them wear distinctive clothing or something, so we'd know who to punch.

But there seem to be deeper flaws that worry me. A lot.

If we decide that, for a certain class of people, we no longer have to treat them with the usual rules of civility and humanity, it would seem (to avoid being hypocrites) that other people could use this same hypothesis to justify treating other classes of people as sub-human.

Wait a moment! Have I fallen into Bizarro world? Nazis treating certain classes of people as sub-human is one of the justifications for treating them as subhuman. I have it all backward! It's not that we would be hypocrites to NOT allow other people to think this way in the future. It's that other people thinking that way in the past made US start to think like them.

You can't fight an ideology by implicitly accepting its tenets. You are strengthening it by making it the only way of looking at the world.

Now some have correctly pointed out that neo-Nazis can be experts at using 'the System' to quash opposition. "Oh, we're the victims, save us, save us, Law & Order!"

So then I ask: Why the fuck would you fall into their trap by punching people on the street? Are you stupid?

The good guys also have some experts at using 'the System', from politicians to judges to civil rights lawyers. I'm neither, but I expect they would advise you to refrain from punching people in the face.

Because it does play into their trap. Punch a few Nazis, set fire to a building, and the system might restrict the rights to "habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right of free association and public assembly, the secrecy of the post and telephone". In the name of security. To protect the crybabies.

And what is the goal of Nazipunch? What positive result is achieved?

When Obama was elected, the racists were gnashing their teeth, and afraid, and the left held out its hand and said:

And the dummies on the right were afraid Obama was going to grab their guns and put them in FEMA camps.

And so they hid in their bunkers, clutching their guns and bibles, despising the left, falling into their own groupthink, biding their time until... well, until their savior appeared. And they voted for him, to the astonishment of all those who thought they were safely and silently encapsulated in gun-lined bunkers where their unchallenged ideologies couldn't possibly hurt anybody.

And you know what? As dumb as they are, they played by the rules. In the state houses, the governor's mansions, the House and Senate, and now the White House. It's true that "democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time".

Now the shoe is on the other foot.

And the other side is afraid Trump is going to grab their pussies and put them in death camps.

It's all very familiar. Not all that different.

Now this is not to say that everything is fine. Trump's actions have real effects on pussies and Syrians and so on. But do you know how many pussies get contraception coverage on their insurance when you punch a Nazi?


If anything, it plays into the hands of crybaby Nazis.

If you are conspiracy minded, well... probably you have already written me off as a closet Nazi, but consider this.

We know the Russians want to create chaos in our country.

We know the Russians have worked hard to get the dumb-dumb right to distrust the government, distrust the mainstream media, and listen only to RT.com and Breitbart.

Fortunately, we on the left are waaaaay too smart to be manipulated by Russian propaganda. Right? Right? No one would be suckered in by the idea that democracy or free speech are inherently flawed concepts, and are better replaced by punches in the face. Angry moron Trump voters wanted to blow up the system. Only idiots would want to blow it up bigger.
essentialsaltes: (beokay)
Why Violence Has Declined takes a long, long, too-long look at rates of violence over the past umpty-thousand years from our hunter-gatherer forebears to today. Pinker has marshalled a shitload of facts and statistics, and though there may be some niggling details here and there, on the whole, he's pretty convincing that rates of murder, war, and violence have declined per capita. This does require an explanation, and I think Pinker certainly outlines many ideas that contribute, but he doesn't seem to present a very strong thesis for an explanation. Rather he takes us on a plodding journey through the museum of ideas that every political philosopher has considered. The book plods so much that I found much of it a chore to get through. Reading through the outline in Wikipedia is good enough -- just feel certain that each point is held up by a few hundred footnotes each.

One of the ideas that did stick with me was that many violent acts are considered acts of justice by their perpetrators. They are not doing wrong, they are taking justice into their own hands. That bitch stole my man -- smack. That driver cut me off -- blam. Obviously, these solutions are not terribly rational, and generally frowned upon by Leviathan. I think it could extend to larger actions -- riots in Watts and LA. It doesn't make any fucking sense, but there was some ache for a justice that was not going to come from traditional channels.

Now, I have plodded so slowly through the book that that idea lodged some time ago. And then as I mulled it over in my mind, I considered the Trump voters in the lead-up to the election. Can a vote be an act of violence? A stupid plea for justice when you're aching for a justice that was not going to come from traditional channels? Mmmmm... no, I can't quite bring myself to consider a vote for Trump to be an act of violence. And then the vote actually happened, and Trump won. I still can't quite elevate it to an act of violence. But I think a lot of my friends may consider it to have been an act of violence. And certainly we have seen (even given some level of pernicious fakes) that some Trump supporters have been emboldened to enact actual violence. And we've also seen protests of Trump that have also risen to the level of violence.

Now I have to tread carefully here, because I think there are significant differences between the two sides. It is not just that I am trapped in my bubble and not their bubble (and I'll get to the bubble later, especially since almost everyone who will read this is in my liberal bubble). At the same time, the people (considered as people) in the two camps. Are not all that different.

Now apparently the worst thing I could possibly do is to suggest that we should reach out and hug the other side and unite. Which is fine, because I'm not suggesting that. When Trump has rotten plans, they should be fought. And many of his plans are rotten.

But possibly I'm saying something even worse. That people are people. And people on both sides are not all that different. And to realize that, it definitely helps to spend time outside your bubble.

Many of you know of the long years I've spent in the mission fields of Christian websites, spreading the good news of rationality and fact-based argument. It is not easy work, because they are beset by demons that deceive them. And again, it's not about compromise -- I think the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and they think it's 6,000 years old. I'm not looking to compromise at 2,250,003,000 years old. Wait, I'm rambling a little too much, but maybe we'll come back to this.

Another bit of bubble escape was listening to the infuriating drive-time talk show on a Christian radio station, though I haven't in many years. Until election night. As I drove home, feeling pretty confident that it was going to be close (my prediction: Hillary 278 EV) but would go blue, I turned that station on hoping for election news and... delicious Christian tears. Because that's a thing now. Enjoying people's tears. And because I'm a bad person.

And I got those tears. But I did not find them enjoyable. pout

A young Latina called in to the show. Her voice shook with raw emotion, clearly crying. Hillary was going to win, and as everyone in the conservative Christian bubble knew (as did I since I'd been visiting), Hillary believed that "deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs have to be changed". And as it was being spun in the bubble, this young woman knew that President Hillary was going to forcibly change religious beliefs in America. She was genuinely, fearfully afraid that hers was the last generation that was going to hear the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

All bullshit, of course. But the tears and pain in that bubble were real. Just like they were real when Obama was elected in 2008 and was going to take everyone's guns.

Anyway, fast-forward a few hours, and suddenly the tears were on the other foot. (Shut up.) There were organized cry-ins. And, and... the other side mocked it. They were enjoying those tears! How could they be so cruel?

Not all that different.

But they're all racists!

Yes, half of Trump voters hold implicit bias against POC. And only a third of Hillary voters do.

Not all that different.

But Trump's spouting ugly racism!

Well, yeah. Again, I don't want to rest on any false equivalencies. But if you want to characterize the GOP as full of racists, then you should step inside the other bubble and look at yourself.

You support murdering babies. You literally want doctors to crush the skulls of infants with forceps.
You want perverts to molest our delicate American girlhood in the bathroom at Target.
You want religious expression to be locked inside the walls of churches.
You let the biased(*) lame-stream media do your thinking for you.

[* I'm too tired, but to its credit, the media finally decided that he said/she said journalistic equivalency was no longer valid. Trump was lying. They called him on it. They endorsed Hillary. But... it does feed the narrative that the media is biased against Trump.]

You want them to stop being racist and join the correct party? Well, maybe you should stop killing babies, and join the correct party.

You scoff when people say they aren't racist, but voted for Trump? Well, what do you think of Tim Kaine, who personally opposes abortion, but stood for VP of the Democrat Party? And he's by no means alone. There are Democrats who think abortion is murder. If you can be against baby-murdering, and vote for a baby-murdering candidate, then surely you can be a non-racist and vote for a racist candidate. Sure, it must be a terrible internal conflict. Sucks to be them. But they got their racism/baby-killing just like the people-of-yesteryear got Skinemax with the package.

Not all that different.

But they are so very fact-challenged!

Well yes. That's what I combat the most. You give them a snopes link, and they don't believe snopes. You provide the links on the snopes page to the NYT, and they don't believe the NYT. There are some people there whose solitary (it appears) information source is infowars(*). They were primed and ready to believe crap like a Kenyan born Obama, or a Jade Helm takeover of Texas. Because it fits their narrative.

(* I'm too tired, but if you're getting info from occupydemocrats or Huffpo... Not all that different.)

In our bubble, the narrative is that Trump is a sexual predator. And I'm morally certain that Trump has grabbed more unwilling pussies than trans people have assaulted anybody in a bathroom. So the woman who accused Trump of raping her when she was a teenager fits the narrative. But when the press conference was announced, my baloney detector started beeping. Because (for better or worse) before I am a Democrat or a liberal, I am a skeptic. A court of law is where these things are decided, not at press conferences or FBI memos. And when the press conference was cancelled due to 'threats', my suspicion grew. It was not impossible that threats had deterred some poor woman, but I was not buying it at this point. But a lot of other people were. They railed against the Trumpeters who had cowed this woman. Maybe Trump had bought her off. How many millions did it take him? And then two days later, she dropped the suit. No cause given. Bought off? Full of shit? We may never know. But a retracted anonymous accusation is not much to hang something on, unless the narrative is more important than evidence.

And if you point to snopes articles showing that some cases of 'postelection Trump supporter racism' are imaginary... some people don't want to hear that shit. It doesn't fit the narrative.

I've showed dozens of snopes articles to conservatives, and know what it feels like to be ignored. So when it comes from the other side, it just shows that...

Not all that different.

We all laughed (I did, I'm a bad person) at that stupid bint who cut a backwards B on her face.

But we were also mad. She perpetrated a pernicious lie to denigrate a particular political candidate.

We were furious. She lied to say a black man did this. I hate her.

And now Trump supporters tore the hijab off a woman. Stole her wallet. That feeds the narrative.
But it's bullshit. All a lie.

C'mon now, everyone. Let's laugh at her. And hate her. C'mon. She made a pernicious lie to denigrate a particular political candidate. She lied to say white men did this to her. I hate her. I really do. But more importantly...

Not all that different.

As promised, this book review has devolved. Let me pull it back, at least briefly.

"According to Hofstede's data, countries differ along six dimensions. One of them is Long-Term versus Short-Term Orientation: 'Long-term oriented societies foster pragmatic virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular saving, persistence, and adapting to changing circumstances. Short-term oriented societies foster virtues related to the past and present such as national pride, respect for tradition, preservation of 'face' and fulfilling social obligations.'"

Those are not bad descriptors of the two societies living in their bubbles that exist within America. The liberal and the conservative.

One of my regrets about the election is that so much was about the personalities and less about the issues. I have read that the Clinton campaign gamely released insightful policy statements to the media, but they never reached me. Since the Donald sucked all the oxygen in the primary fight, one would have thought that the Clinton team would strive harder in the general to make sure its message got out, but it didn't. Honestly, perhaps I'm giving them credit for having a message, because from my standpoint, most of what I heard from the Hillary campaign was...

It's her fucking turn. She cashed in her chips to keep the competition away. Only that asshole Sanders and McWhatever didn't get the memo. "Trump is awful. I'm not Trump."

Though true, this is not compelling. She could've done better with "I will be the third Obama term."

Anyway, one of the few policy things that did come out (because I watch closely) is for the coal miners of America.


"Hillary Clinton has a $30 billion, 4,300-word plan to retrain coal workers that covers everything from education and infrastructure to tax credits and school funding.

Donald Trump’s coal plan is a duckface thumbs-up in a miner’s hard hat and a rant about hair spray, President Barack Obama and China."

Retrain coal workers? That's "adapting to changing circumstances". That's a Long-Term society strategy. And it's right.

A duckface thumbs-up? Well, if you can see through the HuffPo bias, that's a strategy oriented on today. Short-term. For the white working class families that are struggling.

And now, for you in my liberal well-informed bubble. Surely you are cognizant of the current spot price for coal.

No? Well, there are lots of reasons for it, but coal prices have tripled recently. And although US miners have not (yet) seen much of a boon, due to the horrible EPA, and Obama rules about coal-fueled power plants, a Trump presidency is clearly going to change that. Yes, there are certainly problems with burning coal like there is no tomorrow, but... if you are a part of an unemployed coal-mining family in Pennsylvania or Ohio focused on today... then you are part of the Short-Term Society, and I can see reasons other than racism to vote for Trump. And they did. And they are legitimately mad when we say their votes were racist.

In conclusion:

essentialsaltes: (quantum Mechanic)
For decades, workers have been worried that automation and robotics would steal their jobs, and although it hasn't happened wholesale, we seem to be edging closer to realizing that future.

And it still remains an open question what the result is:

NF: In a thought experiment, you imagine an android that can do any job a human can. What would the implications be for society?
AM: One far-future scenario is something like a digital Athens, where the citizens are free to pursue their enlightened lives supported not by an army of human slaves but by automated technologies.

But the other scenario is something like dystopian science fiction, where a fairly small core of elites own the capital and the androids, and are walled off from the rest of society where people live without a lot of opportunity.

Recent history seems to be showing the gap between the haves and have-nots widening, which suggests we're headed for the dystopic version.

But while most of the focus has been on, say, robots taking over manufacturing jobs -- and soon, maybe, robots taking over burger-flipping, and other service jobs -- SciAm published an interesting Forum essay that makes me think about the more data economy in the same terms.

Interestingly, the online title is "How to Prevent the End of Economic Growth" while the print version is "The End of Economic Growth?"

Last September e-commerce giant Amazon acquired Twitch, a live-streaming video company, for $970 million. Not long ago a new billion-dollar company would have been a boon to job creation. Yet Twitch employs just 170 workers.


Whereas in 2013 IBM and Dell employed 431,212 and 108,800 workers, respectively, Facebook employed only 8,348 as of last September.

The reason these businesses spin off so few jobs is that they require so little capital to get started. According to a recent survey of 96 mobile app developers, for example, the average cost to develop an app was $6,453. Instant-messaging software firm WhatsApp started with a relatively meager $250,000; it employed just 55 workers at the time Facebook announced it was buying the company for $19 billion.

Just ponder the mismatch in those two numbers.

Again, the trope of yesteryear is that robots and automation increase efficiency, so that a handful of robots and a human overseer can do the job of 20 factory workers, making 19 employees superfluous.

But computer science and the internet have also made the information economy efficient. A few dozen employees can generate a billion dollars of value.

It would be nice to think that this tremendous value was just sort of being created, even better than pulling diamonds out of the ground through mining. To some extent this is probably true, and the pie is getting higher.

But I think there's a limit to that, and these grotesque deals are random lightning strikes that are creating -illionaire haves, and leaving behind relative have-nots. And as the spread continues, how do we navigate the course towards utopia?

Finally, while digital technologies may create fewer jobs than previous innovations, they also substantially reduce the amount of money it takes to start a new digital business—and that will make it possible for more people to become entrepreneurs. Indeed, self-employment might become the new normal. The challenge for economic policy is to create an environment that rewards and encourages more entrepreneurial risk taking. A basic guaranteed income, for instance, would help by capping the downside to entrepreneurial failure while boosting spending and combating inequality.

It might well be the answer, but don't hold your breath.
essentialsaltes: (Mr. Gruff)
This post has been a long time coming. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it's particularly good, informative, or insightful.

[livejournal.com profile] jimhines' cartoon has been flying around recently:

While this was about science fiction cons, it applies perfectly well to atheist/skeptic/secular cons. That community has had some recent high-profile incidents, and some longer simmering arguments. I've been mostly watching from the sidelines; not because I don't care, but because I haven't been directly involved. I haven't been to any of these conventions. I don't really know the people involved, and certainly have no knowledge of the actual incidents. So I didn't think I had much to add other than a huge chance of foot-in-mouth disease.

essentialsaltes more than likely puts his foot in his mouth somewhere in here )
essentialsaltes: (Grinch)
Dad complains about his 18-year-old son's 4.0 cumulative GPA.

Why? Because the son has the mental capacity of a 6 month old.

I ask you, is school the right place for this child?

Don't get me wrong. I don't want mentally disabled children rounded up and placed in a pit with all the gruel and fingerpaint they can eat. But, despite the legal right to a public education, what is the point of allegedly teaching algebra and world history to a child who cannot read, write or speak?

Is the father a trailblazing leader of mainstreaming? Not really. What he wants is actually very reasonable and touching:

"My goal isn't for him to do algebra. My goal is to have him walk. I would love to hear him say 'mom' or 'dad.' But I know that's probably never going to happen."

Maybe there are therapists/special ed teachers who could actually help with those things. Maybe that's actually what the student is getting in 'school', which would be a good thing. But this fictitious mastery of Algebra and World History is a grotesque lie.

(Dad is also probably right about what's actually going on... this helps the school's average GPA.)
essentialsaltes: (narrow)
You just can't make this stuff up. Representative Roddenbery of Georgia spoke out on the issue of 'traditional' marriage:

"No brutality, no infamy, no degradation [of the past] ... possessed such villainious character and such atrocious qualities as the provision of the laws of ... Massachusetts, and other states which allow the marriage of [same-sex couples].

[It] is repulsive and averse to every sentiment of pure American spirit. It is abhorrent and repugnant to the very principles of ... government. It is subversive of social peace. It is destructive of moral supremacy, and ultimately this ... will bring this nation a conflict as fatal as ever reddened the soil of Virginia or crimsoned the mountain paths of Pennsylvania.
... Let us uproot and exterminate now this debasing, ultra-demoralizing, un-American and inhuman leprosy."

Disgusting. Of course, you're all suspicious of all those freaking ellipses. And rightly so, since I have been lying to you. This did come from Representative Roddenbery. And it was in the House of Congress. And it was December 11th, '12. But it was 1912. But 100 years ago today, Roddenbery (D-GA) was speaking in favor of his Constitutional Amendment to ban interracial marriage. (Do have a look at what I elided, if you can bear it.)

One of the things I find most interesting is his prediction for the future, which was comically wrong. While interracial couples certainly faced legal opposition and stigma (and worse) for many more decades -- and that stigma hasn't entirely disappeared in some quarters, even 100 years later -- I think we can safely say that interracial marriage did not result in civil unrest equivalent to the Civil War. And the same is true of the sky-is-falling predictions of those who disapprove of same-sex marriage.
essentialsaltes: (Secular)
Everyone else seems to be talking about the future of the Republican party, so I might as well.

Some people on the right have complained that Romney didn't talk about abortion and gay marriage enough... that he wasn't socially conservative enough (or presenting himself that way). That seems like twaddle to me. Just look to the senate races where Republicans lost from self-inflicted wounds by being too strongly antiabortion. Even in a fairly red state like Missouri, where Obama lost by 10%, Todd Akin lost by 15%. And where are you going to make your gains from going more conservative? All those red states in the middle of the country are as red as anyone could hope for; making the biblethumpers there happier doesn't get you any more electoral votes. And if you can't gain anything in Missouri by going more antiabortion, I don't see how it's going to help in the battleground states. Nevada? Don't make me laugh. And I don't think it would have helped turnout, either.

Although there were early signs that the hardcore Christian conservatives wouldn't vote for a Mormon, period, that didn't turn out to be the case. As much as they dislike Mormons, they dislike Antichrists more. And when you get a few high-profile religious leaders to massage their theology to be more politically correct [actual sincere religious people should see this as the abomination it is, but unfortunately most of these people like their government and religion mingled.] many will follow. Evangelicals split 78/21 for Romney. And they didn't stay home, either. White evangelicals increased as a percentage of the electorate from 23% in 2008 to 24% in 2012.

On an important tangent, the 'nones' have increased from 9% of the electorate in 2000 to 12% in 2012. Comparing 2008 to 2012, the nones voting for Obama dropped from 75% to 70%. A pretty steep drop. The only larger drops were among Jews (9% drop), white catholics (-7%) and white evangelicals (-6%). You wonder if more of these people would have defected from Obama if the Republican Party hadn't snuggled up so cozily with the Christian right.

Women went for Obama. Gay people went for Obama. Due in no small part to the fact that people generally don't vote for parties that threaten to beat them with a stick. Maybe the Republican Party should stop doing that.

So yes, I'm calling for the Republicans to start dropping the theological planks out of their political platform. You don't have to disavow or disparage anybody, but hewing to a narrow Christian evangelical vision on abortion, gay marriage, sex education, regular old education, and a host of other issues, is starting to cost you. What's that? You're worried about losing that Christian vote? Wake up. Romney didn't win, but one of the Republican successes of this campaign was that you got millions of evangelical Christians to vote for a fucking heretic. They didn't run away and form their own Christian Party. And you have successfully demonized the Democratic Party as a pack of baby-murdering sodomites selling our posterity into Chinese debt-slavery. If you can get the biblethumpers to vote for a heretic, surely you can get them to vote for a nice clean-cut Presbyterian with no skeletons in her closet. Feel free to make 'character' the codeword for religious, but 'being a dick to people who are different from me' has become a character flaw (on the national stage, at least).

I know there are plenty of Republicans who are not dicks. When Keith Ellison was sworn in on a Koran, there were a couple different Republican responses.

#1 - Virgil Goode (R-VA) - "When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. ...I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped."

#2 - Tom Tancredo (R-CO) - "He wants to take his oath on the Quran, that's fine. I think whatever you believe is necessary for you to uphold your obligations to the Constitution, that is fine with me."

I'm not gonna stick up for everything Tancredo has ever said, but that statement in its casual secularism is pretty ideal, in my extremely biased opinion.

Anyway, now's your chance to direct the future of the Republican Party. When Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) takes her oath on the Bhagavad Gita, you can freak out, or smile and give a big thumbs up.
essentialsaltes: (Larpies)

(awesome 3D photo by Mark Spieckerman)

Zipped down, parked, and then walked under the blazing sun to the brunch. Enjoyed the effort that went into the benediction. I shot some video of our High Priest doing his own riff on "Imagine", but it didn't turn out so hot, alas. Hello, the Future occurred. Next were the author readings. I drew the short straw and went first. I think it went reasonably well, but nerves are an issue. My idea of performance is to peck away at a keyboard in the safety of my own home, with no one around. But I got a couple nice comments about the reading, so I'll say it went well enough. Denise Dumars and Bryan Thao Worra are much better at working a crowd. I think my favorite reading was Denise's poem "EVP".

Then we had our panel, and the above were joined by Cody, Skipp and artist Mike Dubisch. We bandied 'cosmic horror' about, and I think it was really a high point of the brunch. At least for me. People who know their shit had some complementary and contradictory discourse about Lovecraft in the modern age. I said some things that charitable people would consider profound.

During the subsequent schmoozing, I got to make the acquaintance of about-to-be-honored Michael Reaves, who I have just now learned shares my birthday. I started off on the wrong foot, since I was unaware that he suffers from Parkinson's. Production of speech is difficult for him, but through the good graces of his daughter Mallory (whom I know tangentially via Wyrd Con, of all things) we had a good conversation. He was a bit miffed, I think, that we on the panel had not mentioned his script for The Real Ghostbusters. I fell back on the very true statement that it hadn't yet screened at the fest.
Welcome to the beginning of the films )
essentialsaltes: (atheist teacher)
Awright, Romney's already taken his lumps, but there's always room for more, especially since he seems to be doubling down on his sentiment. For reference:
There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…[M]y job is is not to worry about those people.

Now it does seem to be true that the nation is divided roughly 50/50, and each party can count on 47% of the nation to go their way no matter what, and then the fight is for the share of the remaining six percent.

But regardless of Romney's error in tone, and regardless of the subtleties about what kind of people are likely to be moochers, his logical error [assuming it was not a carefully crafted lie to appeal to his millionaire donors] is to identify the 47% of hard Obama support with the 47% who pay no federal income tax. The numbers may coincidentally be about the same, but these just aren't the same people. George Clooney and I are not moochers. Your average octogenarian Tea Partier mooching off social security and Medicare is not going to vote for Obama.

Democrats certainly do better among voters who depend on various government services, but it's by no means monolithic. If 63% of welfare recipients vote Democratic, it means something like 37% vote Republican.

Now, let's not make the same mistake Mitt did. The existence of Republican-voting moochers should not be a strange and humorous anomaly. We should be happy that people aren't making political decisions based solely on personal gain. They may be voting Republican for perfectly rational reasons, like the fact that that party's platform uses the word "God" more frequently.

One of the hot topics in the teaching world is the idea of merit pay. Personally, I support the idea that better teachers should receive better pay. But the devil is really in the details. The modern fad for more and more tests to keep evaluating the childern has resulted in the idea of using the test score results to evaluate the teachers as well. Better teachers would presumably help their students improve more than the students of worse teachers, and testing should uncover this fact, allowing merit to be calculated in an objective fashion.

But the Annals of Improbable Research pointed to a blog that pointed to a paper on the topic.

The researcher tried to validate certain assumptions about the value-added model by testing whether teachers had an observable effect on the previous year's scores of their students: "In data from North Carolina, each of the VAMs’ exclusion restrictions are dramatically violated. In particular, these models indicate large “effects” of 5th grade teachers on 4th grade test score gains."

One conclusion is that these teachers are educating faster than light. A more likely conclusion is that students are not being randomly assigned to classrooms.

One way to fix that would be, obviously, to assign students randomly, but this would mean that getting an accurate measurement of teacher evaluation is more important than actually teaching students. There are valid educational reasons for nonrandom assigment. If you know that Susan is good at teaching unruly boys, or Bob does well with students weak in reading, or that students A and B really need to be separated. (And of course there are invalid, but common, reasons for nonrandom assignement... principals playing favorites.)

The statistics in the paper are pretty hairy. I gave up trying to understand it when the word heteroskedasticity appeared. But I assume the results are valid. And thus it is important to not get hoodwinked into thinking that 'numbers can't lie' and that these value-added methods provide an objective measure of teacher merit. So if we want merit pay, maybe we can just dispense with using the testing and just go with old-fashioned subjective evaluations. Sure, principals can still play favorites, but this is different from how most of us get raises how?
essentialsaltes: (Robot in Orbit)
Subtitled The Question of Alien Minds, this book purports to investigate that question. Unfortunately, I wasn't too impressed. The author is an expert in animal behavior, who's gone on to work in robotics. Perhaps the best part of the book is the discussion of various interesting results in animal behavior, and some related results in human behavior.
Read more... )
essentialsaltes: (atheist teacher)
Atheism Statistics Show Young People Losing Faith, But Data Does Not Tell Whole Story

The story outlines the results of the General Social Survey, showing that 26% of millennials claim "no religion". [nitpick #1 - this is not the same as atheism or agnosticism (in fact, I wonder how much of this effect can be blamed on the idiotic assertion that Christianity is not a religion, which has come into vogue [I presume as a means of distancing Christianity from criticisms of religion in general, or to take the sting out of the use of analogies between Christianity and other religions. ["Oh yes, what you say about those frog-faced heathens and their religion is true, but since Christianity is not a religion, it doesn't affect me and my special personal relationship with Jesus."]]] Regardless of my nitpick, that's by far the highest value recorded on that question for different generational cohorts.

But if that is not the whole story, what is the rest of the story?

"Some millennials are just graduating from high school, and traditional wisdom (and statistics) show that people grow more religious as they age."

When you see "traditional wisdom" quoted as a source, that should sound the alarm bells. And that sad little "and statistics" clothed in parentheses like camouflage does not increase my confidence, especially since no source is provided. [The linked page for 'The numbers may be deceiving.' is not relevant to belief as people age.]

But if you look at that graph, I think the thing that leaps out to you is that the lines are flat, i.e. people's self-reported affiliation to a particular religion is quite constant (at least in the aggregate).

The graph even helpfully puts a fat dot on the graph to show when each cohort was the same age as the "just graduating from high school" millennials. Gen X hasn't aged much, but it starts at 20% and ends at... 20%. But the Baby Boomers over 40 years have showed a dramatic change from 13% to 13%.

The data doesn't go back far enough to show the older generations at high school age, but as far as we can judge the trend, it shows that as people age from adulthood to senior citizenhood, the proportion claiming no religion actually increases a couple percent in both cases.

(Possibly other studies show something different, or gauge intensity of belief in some way that maybe increases over time, but just looking at the presented data on the topic at issue, I just don't see any "rest of the story" there.)
essentialsaltes: (Wrong)
All Costa Cruises did was kill a few passengers and pretty soon people looking for a luxurious vacation are giving them the cold shoulder. OTOH, you can get ridiculous deals on their cruises.

I dunno if you can see this deal I got through email, but it's much the same Western Med cruise we took with them (and on which they killed a few people a few years later). Was $1840, now just $399. That's a 78% savings, and you even get to wave at the wreck of the Concordia (which should be there until it's salvaged in January 2013).

[Of course, [livejournal.com profile] popepat can probably get you a pretty good deal with an outfit that hardly ever kills its customers.]

Wasn't so long ago in this country that black people and Mormons got lynched by angry mobs. [Black people still aren't doing so hot, but authentic lynchings are mercifully rare these days.]
And now we have one of each at the heads of our major parties heading for an election showdown. What a country!

At long last, my missionary work among the Christians has come to an end. I've been booted from the forum for some reason or other. It would appear to be Chick-Fil-A that did me in somehow, though I'm pretty sure I never mentioned gay marriage at all.
essentialsaltes: (Cocktail)
I jetted down for the 3rd Wyrd Con. Well, jetted is a misnomer, since I faced rush hour traffic, but I timed it well to be fashionably late for the Opening Cocktail Party. I suffered some drink ticket envy, and when I asked whether I maybe ought to have had one, I'm afraid I must have sounded whiny enough that Joslyn took pity on me and gave me one. So at least I contributed to the financial insolvency of the con, and that's something.

I met people I know well, made a stronger connection with people I know vaguely, met a few people I knew by reputation, and met a few people for the first time. Makes me sound like a social butterfly, which was hardly the case, but the friend network is strong in making introductions. I think the only people that I just leapt out and did my damn-glad-to-meet-you routine cold were the people from the LA Ghost Patrol. They are genuine ghost hunters -- er, not that they hunt genuine ghosts, but you know what I mean. But they were at the con to LARP it up a little and present a ghost hunt in the hotel. I only had about enough time to say hello and ensure that there were spaces available in the hunt later in the night before I was happily dragged to dinner with [livejournal.com profile] aaronjv, [livejournal.com profile] hagdirt, Lizzie Stark & Sarah Lynne Bowman. We solved most of the world's problems and then caught the tail end of the cocktail party, where I bumped into [livejournal.com profile] ladyeuthanasia, with whom I went on a ghost hunt. We thought it hilarious that we were straight out of 'we fight crime' the ghost hunting version:

She's a psychic sensitive who has had numerous experiences with ghosts.

He's literally a card-carrying skeptic with a background in physics.

They hunt ghosts.

The LAGP folks showed us some of the tools of the trade. I chose a magnetometer with a sticker plastered on it that said 'ghost finder' or something like that. Maria got the copper dowsing rods. Others in our crew got the vidcam and flashlight.

Perhaps predictably, the ghost hunt was a little lame. Sort of a haunted house, or haunted hotel... we got led around from location to location to do various things. I tried to play it straight, or at least not be a dick. But a couple of the others were enjoying being 'ironic' or 'sarcastic'. It's true, though, I couldn't resist when we were going through the service passage behind the ballrooms past all of the hotel's conference stuff: "You're right. No human would stack chairs like that."

The best moment was when we were doing some EVP, with a recorder running as we asked questions of the ether. Since I was expecting some chicanery with the recorder, I was not expecting communication through seance-style rapping. [Tupac joke goes here.]

It was also interesting to see how ghost hunters put on a LARP, and then play the compare/contrast game with how LARPers put on a ghost hunt. And I believe Aaron has another one in the works.
essentialsaltes: (atheist teacher)
Mayor Bloomberg's move to criminalize the Big Gulp is just D-U-M dumb. Not only would it be ineffective, but it falls afoul of the Edgar Friendly Theory of Freedom:
"I'm into freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I'm the kind of guy who likes to sit in a greasy spoon and wonder, "Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the jumbo rack of barbecued ribs with the side order of gravy fries?" I WANT high cholesterol. I wanna eat bacon and butter and BUCKETS of cheese, okay? I want to smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in the non-smoking section. I want to run through the streets naked with green Jell-o all over my body reading Playboy magazine. Why? Because I suddenly might feel the need to, okay, pal?"

It's sad that the government standard on nutrition are observed even less religiously than freeway speed limits, but I really don't see using the power of law to (allegedly) prevent people from making poor decisions.

[Of course, the flip-side of nannyism is, 'to what extent are we the people responsible for treating or insuring the diabetics and lung cancer patients, who are choosing themselves to an early grave?']

The challenger in this corner is the state of Louisiana, which has moved forward to privatize education with a voucher system. Now many of the public schools in Louisiana suck, but I'm not too confident about the quality of the private schools that have been approved for the vouchers:
The school willing to accept the most voucher students -- 314 -- is New Living Word in Ruston, which has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition.
At Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, pastor-turned-principal Marie Carrier hopes to secure extra space to enroll 135 voucher students, though she now has room for just a few dozen. Her first- through eighth-grade students sit in cubicles for much of the day and move at their own pace through Christian workbooks, such as a beginning science text that explains "what God made" on each of the six days of creation. They are not exposed to the theory of evolution.

"We try to stay away from all those things that might confuse our children," Carrier said.

Now I'm not so much a nanny-statist that I want to prevent parents from sending their kids to private religious schools on their own dime, but I think the low bar for accreditation in the great state of Louisiana may need some beefing up. Our children are supposed to be introduced to knowledge, not protected from it. And I do get itchy when the government proposes to use tax moneys to support these institutions. The state has a legitimate interest in having an educated electorate, not an electorate that has been protected from 'confusion'. Here's an authentic example of confusion:

essentialsaltes: (Wogga Zazula!)
Once again I announce: "All hail [livejournal.com profile] popepat!" And Mrs. Pope and Minipope. They once again opened up their house for (can it be?) the 12th Maxicon (which is still ongoing, but I moderated my participation to Saturday only... stretching into Sunday).

First up for me was Garrett's Dead Space RPG. I had played the demo, which made me the most knowledgeable about the source material I think. Which is not a problem, since the whole point is to scare the pants off you with the unexpected. It went well: fast-paced, high tension, limited resources, stressful timing deadlines. If there was any problem, it was that the gods of luck smiled on us too much in the final showdown. Good scary fun.

Next up, [livejournal.com profile] aaronjv ran The Tribunal, an award-winning LARP created by [livejournal.com profile] jiituomas. The 12 players play soldiers in a totalitarian state, faced with a difficult decision: whether to value honesty over expediency. I'm torn about how much I should or shouldn't reveal. One part of me says it doesn't matter since whatever happens is almost entirely the product of the players; the other part says that hearing the rationalizations or bullshit produced by one set of players might affect future players who read about it, and thus color whatever they would ultimately produce. I'll err on the side of caution and step back a bit.
I enjoyed the experience. This is perhaps controversial. Some people (named Aaron) have denigrated the idea that LARP is merely (?) an enjoyable pastime. It is Art with a capital A. I don't have a problem with that, except that in its extreme form Art becomes Pollock and Rothko. You're a rube if you expect to enjoy it, it's Art fer crissakes. Art!
I had my doubts about whether I would enjoy being an ant in a totalitarian army. But I came in to the game with not only an open mind, but a willingness and readiness to do it right. And the other participants probably saw me red-faced and shouting more in those couple hours than in the rest of their experience of me. Anyway, my awesome role-playing (relatively speaking) is beside the point; the point is that I enjoyed the experience. But am I supposed to enjoy my Brussels Sprouts?
My answer is that I don't care. LARP for me is an enjoyable pastime, and as long as I enjoy it I will continue to participate. It may also be Art; it may also be therapy; it may also be escapism; I don't care: Philistine that I am, I'm only interested in doing it if I enjoy it.
Anyway, stepping back in. I liked the way that character names instantly invoked associations that helped to establish character, and aided others in remembering same. I liked the way that the game was essentially entirely created by the players rather than directed from outside. The game relies on the players being willing to play, and I'm glad we had a group up to the challenge.

Following that was an impromptu meeting of the Live Game Labs & other interested parties, wherein we plotted the future of American LARP while simultaneously solving the problem of monetizing LARP and trading juicy gossip.
essentialsaltes: (burns)

Upside-down bottles have not given me the improvement in performance that I was promised. I have so far attempted both ketchup and shampoo (different products).

#1: portion control is difficult. The bottles make you want to hold them perfectly vertically, but then the gravity assisted squirt may be larger than desired, or depending on the product consistency -- I'm looking at you shampoo -- you may come out in an unending thin stream, as I helplessly watch. If the bottle is oriented more horizontally, greater control is effected; however, this comes at the cost of product being smeared all along the dispensing end. Which leads me to

#2: mess. I can deal with a tiny crust of dried ketchip in the dispensing end of the standard upright ketchup bottle. However, being greeted by a crusty landscape in the upside-down bottle makes me despair. And woe betide the showerer who does not tightly snap the shampoo lid back in place, for the contents will ooze imperceptibly, until the lid is now wetly glued together with product.

#3: ineluctible ketchup water. Yes, ketchup is a tricky and non-Newtonian fluid. We've all known the anguish of that first squirt of what we hope is a tasty condiment, only to find that our hamburger bun has become sodden by as much as two or three cubic centimeters of thin, ketchup water. With practice, one can shake up an upright bottle of ketchup, and at least partially obviate this tomato-y catastrophe. I had hopes that the upside-down ketchup bottle would completely eliminate ketchup water, but alas! The truth is that some thixotropic gremlin sees to it that ketchup water is invariably waiting for you in the first squirt. And there is nothing that can be done about it! It's locked in place, waiting to torment you, immune to reconstitution through shaking.

#4: the endgame. We all know the trials and tribulations of getting the last shampoo or ketchup out of an upright bottle. Often we will use gravity as our friend and store the bottle in an inverted position, so that the product is closer to the dispensing end -- simultaneously providing the upside-down bottle with its raison d'être. And this inversion is often annoying, inasmuch as upright bottles are thinner at the top than at the bottom, making them impossible to balance upside-down. And yet this narrowing offers a profound boon than had not yet impressed itself upon my ratiocinative faculties. It usefully channels the product toward the nozzle. In the case of the upside-down bottle, however, its structural stability requires that it be wide on the bottom. Hence, when nearing the end of its utility, the interior of the bottle's business end is covered in a thin, but wide, layer of product. Upon squishing, it farts out a measly, diarrhœtic splatter, while the majority of the remaining product rests, quite provokingly, in an unmoving annulus centered on the now entirely unobstructed airway connecting outside and inside of the bottle. Angry shaking of the contents to again obstruct the airway produces ever diminishing, but ever more flatulent, returns.
essentialsaltes: (Devilbones)
Q: When does life begin?

A: Three and a half billion years ago.

In the abortion debate, there's a lot of talk (on one side, anyway) about 'when life begins'. But life is continuous. You're alive, your fetal self was alive, your zygote-y self was alive, your parents' gametes were alive, your parents were alive, and so on, back a few billion years. At no point in this history is everything dead, with life beginning anew.

The same goes for 'human', which is sometimes substituted with pseudoscientific authority. The fetus is human. Well, so are the egg and the sperm. They're not gibbon sperm, or lizard eggs. That only goes back a million years or so, of course, but the point is that humanness does not spring de novo from something non-human every time someone is conceived.

The question is about legal personhood. And this is not some sort of debating shuck and jive. The debate is about legal issues, and the Constitution refers to the rights of the people (aka persons).

And what makes a legal person is not immediately obvious. Since a corporation is a legal person, we can say that personhood begins (I suppose) at the ratification of the articles of incorporation. It is difficult to see how to apply this to people-persons, er... human-persons, er... biological-persons.

Here endeth the blogging.


essentialsaltes: (Default)

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