essentialsaltes: (pWNED!!! by Science)
 Remember when I suggested that scientismists would require Queen Elizabeth to pump out hundreds of eggs a day? That's pretty close to this guy.

given the great demands placed on the female body during homo sapiens’ lengthy gestation and lactation period, would it be wrong for me to suggest that encouraging males to select mates based on characteristics that enable the female to generate wealth independent of a mate rather than on their ability to bear children may have long term negative effects on the species. or is that just the crazy in me talking?

essentialsaltes: (eye)
Science journalist and umbraphile David Baron makes canny use of the upcoming solar eclipse to market this fine story of the 1878 eclipse, and the efforts of the nascent scientific power of the US to observe and record the event in what was then a pretty wild west as the path crossed from Montana Territory through Wyoming and Colorado to Texas.

Among the teams being assembled:

Simon Newcomb and Thomas Edison in Creston, Wyoming.
Samuel Pierpont Langley atop Pikes Peak. (Meteorologist Cleveland Abbe was so struck with altitude sickness, he was obliged to come down the mountain and make what sketches he could.)
Asteroid hunter James Craig Watson in Rawlins, Wyoming.
And a team of six from Vassar, including recent alumnae and astronomer Maria Mitchell, providing witting and unwitting fodder to the controversies surrounding the vote for women, and recent claims on the effects of education on women, epitomized by Clarke's ridiculous-yet-infuriating Sex in Education (1876):

 The delicate bloom, early but rapidly fading beauty, and singular pallor of American girls and women have almost passed into proverb. The first observation of a European that lands upon our shores is, that our women are a feeble race ; and, if he is a physiological observer, he is sure to add, They will give birth to a feeble race, not of women only, but of men as well. " I never saw before so many pretty girls together," said Lady Amberley to the writer, after a visit to the public schools of Boston ; and then added, "They all looked sick." Circumstances have repeatedly carried me to Europe, where I am always surprised by the red blood that fills and colors the faces of ladies and peasant girls, reminding one of the canvas of Rubens and Murillo ; and am always equally surprised on my return, by crowds of pale, bloodless female faces, that suggest consumption, scrofula, anemia, and neuralgia. To a large extent, our present system of educating girls is the cause of this palor and weakness.
...
Those grievous maladies which torture a woman's earthly existence, called leucorrhcea, amenorrhcea, dysmenorrhoea, chronic and acute ovaritis, prolapsus uteri, hysteria, neuralgia, and the like, are indirectly affected by food, clothing, and exercise ; they are directly and largely affected by the causes that will be presently pointed out, and which arise from a neglect of the peculiarities of a woman's organization. The regimen of our schools fosters this neglect.


The book does a great job setting the stage for who all the players are, and their preparations and difficulties in getting equipment (or failing to get equipment) to the middle of nowhere, with dangers ranging from Native Americans to feuds between competing railroads.

And then, of course, the event itself is all of three minutes long.

And there is what follows. The good (American science on the upswing, Mitchell drawing a crowd of more than a thousand to hear her lecture at the Woman's Congress in Providence), the bad (Edison's much-touted but not very useful tasimeter, although presaging IR astronomy), and the ugly (Watson's erroneous claim of the discovery of Vulcan, a planet within the orbit of Mercury -- his later misguided efforts to vindicate his view may have inadvertently led to his early death).


essentialsaltes: (eye)
 For Valentine's, Dr. Pookie gifted me (upon some future day) a trip to Mt. Wilson and lunch. Today was the day.

Driving up there is a lovely experience. Twisty mountain roads with great vistas. It was a bit hazy and wildfire-smoky today, but still lovely. I'm not sure it's as nice to be a passenger who does not like twisty mountain roads all alike, but so be it.

I was sorry that I did not see this sign at the Observatory. Maybe I should have asked a docent, but I expect it's long gone. I saw a number of stumps around the visitor area, and the Carnegie Institution no longer runs things...



That's Mom and Dad's Uncle Harold (Herrill?) sometime probably before me.

The astronomical museum was not all that big (Bah-DUM-bump-TISH). There's not a whole lot to do... the solar observatory was sadly closed. But it's still neat to see the 100 inch scope.

And the CHARA array is pretty cool. Light from 6 telescopes is funneled through vacuum filled pipes to be reintegrated in an interferometer. Its resolving power is such that it captured the first image of a star's surface (other than the Sun, ninny).

I'm pretty sure we got a special treat. While we were there, some sort of VIPs must have been in attendance, because they opened the observatory and rotated it a bit. (We overheard some astronomers later kvetching about it - whatever it was done for, they didn't think it was justified.)






Back down off the mountain, and we stopped off at Din Tai Fung for some excellent dumplings (soupy xiaolongbao) noodles, broccoli, and a much needed strawberry mango slushy (though the chili dog at the Observatory wasn't half bad).

All the photos. Including a video of the big observatory in motion.
essentialsaltes: (mr. Gruff)
It came from the Christian Forums...

Moron: "a single volcanic eruption releases more polution than all of mankind has throughout our history combined"

me: False (provides evidence)

Moron: The problem is that a lot of the data surrounding human CO2 output has been based on lies and misinformation over the years, so there's really no way to affirm they are using reliable and factual data. They may be right. No way for either side to know for sure.



It must be very curious to live in a world of nebulous clouds where nothing can be known.

Luckily we are not in that position. Just as a for instance, "In 2016, about 143.37 billion gallons (or about 3.41 billion barrels1) of finished motor gasoline were consumed2 in the United States"

Very few people are using it to fill their swimming pools, so if it is combusted in motor vehicles, each gallon of fuel produces "About 19.6 pounds of CO2"

(140 billion gallons) times (20 pounds of CO2/gallon) = 2800 billion pounds = more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

From my first link, "A 2013 review attempted to estimate the annual contribution of CO2 emitted from all volcanoes (active and passive) and other tectonic sources on Earth per year, coming up with a figure of 540 megatons per year" i.e. 0.54 billion tons

So the US consumption of motor fuel alone produces more CO2 than the output of all the world's volcanoes.

This is how we can know that your original statement is just false, and there is a way to know for sure.
essentialsaltes: (devilbones)
Creationist: Take a look at all you present, anything you think a 5 year old won't understand, explain it. Act like a teacher, Teach it first.

Endogenous Retroviruses

When mommies and daddies love each other very much, they make a recipe for a baby. They mix a copy of half of daddy’s recipe with a copy of half of mommy’s recipe to make a baby recipe. The recipe is so long that it takes nine months to make a baby!

And by looking at your recipe later, you can see that you are related to your mommy and daddy because you can see bits of their recipes in you! (Or you’re adopted, but your mommy and daddy still love you!)

And this can go back through the generations. If half of grandpa’s recipe goes into your mom, and half of mom’s recipe goes in you, then one quarter of your recipe comes from grandpa!

Now, if you have first cousins, that means one of your parents was the brother or sister of one of theirs. And those siblings had the same parents… your grandparents. By comparing your recipe to the recipe of your first cousin, you can see that you share a common grandparent. This is called common ancestry. Since recipes get shared in an unbroken chain from ancestor to descendant (that means a baby!), if you have enough information, you can determine whether two recipes have a common ancestor. Fortunately, those recipes are really long, so there is a lot of information.

But sometimes little accidents happen to the recipes. This is really important, but we’ll save that for when you are six. But one particular kind of accident is when you get sick. Sometimes a germ will leave its cooties in your recipe. Ew!

Before, maybe your grandpa had a recipe with a line that said:

Step 146734 Make five itty-bitty toes on the end of each foot.

And afterwards, it might read

Step 146734 Make five itty-bitty toeGERM COOTIESs on the end of each foot.


And now that might be part of your recipe! Because he is your ancestor.

Your friend on the playground might have this in her recipe:

Step 146734 Make five itGERM COOTIESty-bitty toes on the end of each foot.

Do you have a common ancestor with her?

Did you say no? Because the cooties are in the wrong place? Haha, the joke’s on you. The answer is actually yes. All human beings are related. But looking at this one tiny piece of the recipe, we don’t have any evidence that your friend descended from your grandpa. (Don’t ask him about it in front of your grandmother.)

Since grandpa got the cooties in his lifetime, it can only show up in that exact spot in his descendants, or in someone else who coincidentally got the cooties in the same exact place in the recipe. But the recipe is so long this is very unlikely.

But if we look at the whole recipe, you and your friend actually have a lot of recipe cooties in common. Ew! I know. But it’s pretty harmless. Everyone has them. Thousands of them. And because a lot of them are in the same place, we know you share common ancestors. But since a few of them are different (like the one from your grandpa) we know that your common ancestor was further back in generations than your grandpa.

So by comparing the number of shared cooties to the number of unshared cooties, you can see how closely related you are.

And when we compare your cooties to those of a chimpanzee, we find a lot of cooties in different places, but a lot of cooties in the same place! We also have common ancestors, but it wasn’t in your grandpappy’s day or your great great great grandmammy’s day. It was 5 million years ago.

In fact, orthologous cooties fall into a nested hierarchy among primates.

essentialsaltes: (muslin)
Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

This is an updated (2014) version of the 2004 original by Lakoff, a cognitive scientist at Berkeley.

Basic idea: conservative leaders have been better at framing issues than liberal counterparts.

Frames are embedded deeply enough in people that rational argumentation and facts are useless.

Voters have had these frames imposed upon them so that their kneejerk reactions are predictable.

e.g. describing a bill to lower taxes as 'tax relief' builds up the concept that taxes are (always) a burden. And inherently bad.

If liberals fight against these frames by mentioning them, this only reinforces the frame. Liberals may talk about tax relief for the middle class, but this leans on the idea that taxes are inherently bad.

Liberals need to find their own frames to use. 'Taxes contribute to the many valuable services we all make use of. They are investments in our future happiness and the happiness of our children. They are the 'membership fees' of citizenship.'

And then I start to get an itchy feeling.

"These are accurate views of taxes, but they are not yet enshrined in our brains. They need to be repeated over and over again, and refined until they take their rightful place in our synapses. But that takes time. It does not happen overnight. Start now."

Lakoff would like us to please brainwash ourselves.

This is not an exaggeration of his position. One of the strange things about the book is his frequent discussion that these frames are physical 'structures' in our brains. I mean, I too believe that mental states supervene on physical states in the brain, and there is no soul making 'free' decisions. But, unlike Lakoff, I don't think that makes rational argument useless.

“You might think that the world exists independently of how we understand it. You would be mistaken. Our understanding of the world is part of the world--a physical part of the world. Our conceptual framings exist in physical neural circuitry in our brains, largely below the level of conscious awareness, and they define and limit how we understand the world, and so they affect our actions in the world."

Inasmuch as he promotes frames as a weapon, he literally wants us to circumvent thought and react unconsciously to stimuli. [We will set aside his apparent disregard for the existence of an external world independent of ourselves.]

In discussing climate change, he notes that scientists are terrible at framing:

"The crucial words here are high degree of confidence, anomalies, consequence, likelihood, absence, and exceedingly small. Scientific weasel words! The power of the bald truth, namely causation..."

Those are not weasel words. Those are the correct ways to phrase these scientific results. If some treehugging granola-eater wants to wave a sign saying "Climate change caused Hurricane Sandy," that's fine, but it is not a scientific fact. Nor is it "the bald truth". It is irresponsible to ask scientists to say anything other than something like "it's unlikely for an event like Hurricane Sandy to have occurred without the influence of anthropogenic climate change." I know, it doesn't fit well on a placard. It's complicated. But it's what the science shows.

"The issue of "immigration" is about a new generation of such refugees. President Obama, in a speech ... beautifully states his moral understanding of the issue. His words showed that the current wave of refugees, referred to as 'undocumented immigrants' are in many ways already citizens --they contribute enormously to American society."

This has a couple things I want to mention. First, undocumented immigrants are not (in general) refugees. So Obama was right to so characterize them. Lakoff is indulging in spin, to put it most favorably. Second, Lakoff was hoping that by describing them as refugees, it would arouse feelings of compassion that would make us more likely to help rather than harm these people. Of course, Lakoff wrote his book in 2014. Right now, Americans are probably more afraid of 'refugees' than of 'illegal aliens'. I mean, that is perhaps a demonstration of the whole point of his book -- that there are different ways of framing the issue to cause kneejerk responses. But he has once again caused me some pause, since he starts his own framing exercise by lying, to put it less favorably.

In a FAQ at the end, he tries to distinguish between frames and euphemisms, spin, or propaganda. I wasn't really satisfied by his answer. Frames are not very different from euphemism, spin, or propaganda. These certainly have their place in politics.

His vision seems to be of two large masses of primates mindlessly shouting slogans at a small band of undecided primates in the middle, each hoping to inculcate the middle group with its slogan. While this is not an unfair description of American elections, I think we can do better. The way to fight propaganda is not (only) with propaganda of our own, but by exposing propaganda for what it is.

But possibly I'm wrong and brainwashing ourselves and others is the only route forward to victory.

Fortunately, it appears I'm not alone in being leery of Lakoff. I found a great point/counterpoint between Stephen Pinker and Lakoff. Skip to Pinker's Salvo to see his review of Lakoff's ideas from a different (but similar) book and a really good yo mama joke. This is apparently an outburst in a decades long intellectual war between the two, and I'm not qualified to judge the more technical aspects of their discussion of linguistics and cognitive science, but when it gets down to the political applications, I think Pinker is in the right:

But Lakoff’s advice doesn’t pass the giggle test. One can just imagine the howls of ridicule if a politician took Lakoff’s Orwellian advice tried to rebrand “taxes” as “membership fees.” Surely no one has to hear the metaphor tax relief to think of taxes as an affliction; that sentiment has been around for as long as taxes have been around. ... And even if taxes were like membership fees, aren’t lower membership fees better than higher ones, all else being equal? ... In defending his voters-are-idiots theory, Lakoff has written that people don’t realize that they are really better off with higher taxes, because any savings from a federal tax cut would be offset by increases in local taxes and private services. But if that is a fact, it would have to be demonstrated to a bureaucracy-jaded populace the old-fashioned way, as an argument backed with numbers–-the kind of wonkish analysis that Lakoff dismisses.
...
The problem with this burlesque is not that its targets don’t deserve criticism. It’s that it will backfire with all of its potential audiences. Any of Lakoff’s allies on the left who think that their opponents are such imbeciles will have their clocks cleaned in their first debate with a Young Republican. The book will be red meat for his foes on the right, who can hold up his distortions as proof of liberals’ insularity and incomprehension.


Overall:

B+ for showing how conservatives have used framing successfully.
F for suggesting that the liberal's only hope is to fight fire with fire, brainwash ourselves, and lay off the facts and rational thought.
F for not really exploring the liberal frames that already exist. The shortcuts to careful reasoning. Diagnosing police brutality, racism, sexism, without the full facts. Nazipunching. Reading the book, you get the impression that only wicked conservatives have frames to manipulate people, while the benevolent, wise, but prone-to-losing liberals are stuck with only useless tools like facts and rationality.
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.

HuffPo:

"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:

WE'RE ALL A BUNCH OF APES WHO ONLY RELATIVELY RECENTLY LEARNED TO WEAR CLOTHES AND NOT KILL EACH OTHER SO MUCH.
essentialsaltes: (diversity)
Some of the same researchers involved in the 2003 American Mosaic Survey have released results of the 2014 study.

There a really glaring result relating to when people were asked to agree/disagree with the following statement across a variety of demographics:

This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society

Atheists 39.6% 41.9%
Muslims 26.3% 45.5%
Homosexuals 22.6% 29.4%
Conservative Christians 13.5% 26.6%
Recent immigrants 12.5% 25.6%
Hispanics 7.6% 17.1%
Jews 7.4% 17.6%
Asian Americans 7.0% 16.4%
African Americans 4.6% 16.9%
Spiritual, but not religious — 12.0%
Whites 2.2% 10.2%


First number is from 2003.

All of the numbers have increased. Some by quite a lot. Even white people, who are totally awesome and chill, went from 2.2% to 10.2%. Disagreement with conservative Christians nearly doubled to 26.6%. The previous study was not long after 9/11, but disagreement with Muslims jumped from 26.3% to 45.5%. Immigrants doubled. Hispanics, Jews, Asians, African Americans... all jump from single digits to double digits.

This is what polarization and demonization look like.
essentialsaltes: (dorian Gray)
Deep context: my conviction that Sam Harris is an idiot, and his idea of finding an objective measure of wellbeing is misguided from the outset. Making morality objective is like trying to make aesthetics objective -- it's just a fake way of baking in your own subjective opinions and declaring them objective.

Pull-quote:

The simplest explanation for biased algorithms is that the humans who create them have their own deeply entrenched biases. That means that despite perceptions that algorithms are somehow neutral and uniquely objective, they can often reproduce and amplify existing prejudices.

Headline: A beauty contest was judged by AI and the robots didn't like dark skin

Article also has a relevant link to a related story:

"To take just one example, judges, police forces and parole officers across the US are now using a computer program to decide whether a criminal defendant is likely to reoffend or not. ... If you’re black, the chances of being judged a potential reoffender are significantly higher than if you’re white. And yet those algorithmic predictions are not borne out by evidence.
...
The big puzzle is how the bias creeps into the algorithm. We might be able to understand how if we could examine it. But most of these algorithms are proprietary and secret, so they are effectively “black boxes” – virtual machines whose workings are opaque. Yet the software inside them was written by human beings, most of whom were probably unaware that their work now has an important moral dimension."
essentialsaltes: (devilbones)
This book traces the history of the idea of the origin of life from the Greeks to modern ideas of the Miller-Urey experiments and RNA-world and so on.

Most interesting to me, perhaps, was the fact that the concept of spontaneous generation was taken as a given for such a long time... and like so many things taken for granted in the West (geocentrism, say) support for it in the Bible was attested to. Everyone know that if you leave a pile of grain around, mice are just going to spring out of it. It was a sign of God's ongoing generative influence. And so Pasteur's work caused a sea-change in apologetics. Lots of good details, but since most of this was read on international flights, I'm in no position to go into much detail. Pretty good book, though.
essentialsaltes: (devilbones)
Islands of Space by John W. Campbell is the kind of gee-whiz space opera that makes Buck Rogers look nuanced. A passel of superscientist men effortlessly invent multiple impossible inventions and generally behave like 12-year-old boys with their new godlike powers.

"The Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women..." FAIL

"Islands of Space is generally credited with introducing the concepts of hyperspace and the warp drive to science fiction." So that's something, anyway.

It's also interesting that the book interpolates the plot from his story "Dead Knowledge," which I liked quite a bit. Here, apart from the bare bones of the plot, all of the atmosphere and emotion has been drained away, probably because it would not have meshed with the whizbang mood of the novel.

I'm glad even the people of long ago smelled this one as a stinker. Ted Sturgeon thought it was crap (and he, of all people, would know). "This is a real lousy book."



Rachel Held Evans is probably best known for A Year Of Biblical Womanhood, chronicling her attempt to live according to the Bible's rules for women. But recently she was quoted in an article in (I think) Smithsonian about her hometown of Dayton, famous as the site of the Scopes Trial in 1925. She intimated that the attitudes in Dayton haven't changed much, and her story of asking too many questions in a community that has all the answers (and doesn't like pesky questions) was published as Evolving in Monkey Town. I couldn't pass up a title like that.

Sadly(?), the creationism/evolutionism angle is not really a major part of the story, just useful as a title that would get me to buy it (it worked!) [I gather that the title was originally the title of her blog]. It's actually a little maddening that what little she says about it seems to indicate that the question is still an open one in her mind. The book has since been retitled "Faith Unravelled", though that's a bit of a misnomer as well. It's more a story of her journey of faith. She starts as a model member of the local community, multiple winner of her school's Best Christian Attitude award, and a graduate of [William Jennings] Bryan College, a place literally founded in the wake of the Monkey Trial to defend a Biblical worldview. More recently than the book, Bryan College changed its statement of faith to include the belief in a literal, specially created, Adam and Eve, resulting in the departure of some faculty members.

As a thoughtful, reflective, skeptical, millennial, she navigates her theology to come to a place where she can recognize that (although no one wants to admit it, and some may be too unreflective to even be aware of it) every Christian 'picks and chooses' verses and interpretations of the bible based on their own particular biases and experience. I generally like her picks and choices, and it must be tough to swim against the stream. Asking questions no one wants to hear, and then coming up with unpopular answers. "I was called a socialist and a baby killer. People questioned my commitment to my faith, and my country, some suggesting that I may face eternal consequences for my decision [to vote for Barack Obama]."

At the same time, it's clear that her questioning has its limits. "Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter a virtue."

My answer to that is a quote from the Great Beast. Crowley may have been an extravagant old fraud, but he sometimes had a piquant way with words:

"I slept with faith and found a corpse in my arms on awakening;
I drank and danced all night with doubt and found her a virgin in the morning."
essentialsaltes: (agent)
Ancillary Mercy is the third of the trilogy. It ties off a lot of loose ends, but with not quite as grand an ending as I had anticipated. Some iffy motivation here and there, I thought, and some references to stuff earlllly on in the trilogy that might have paid off better for me if my memory were better. Certainly, there are some great scenes and some snappy dialogue. If this had been the first book, I might not have gone on, but still a good read.

Science, Religion, & Reality is an anthology of essays on these topics. My edition is from 1950, but the original was 1925, the same year as the Scopes Trial. On the whole, the essays are long and dull. Perhaps the most interesting 'controversy' is the one between vitalism and mechanism. The essay gives both a fair hearing, but clearly (and correctly) shows mechanism in the ascendance. The other interesting thing is, being just at the time of the Scopes Trial, the thinkers in the book generally regard religion as having ceded the territory to science. In the main, true, but from Scopes on, the anti-scientific crowd in religion has gotten stronger.

"It is amusing to reflect that the theologians were so adequately punished whenever they were indiscreet enough to interfere (in scientific judgments); they always backed the wrong horses. ... There can be no conflict as long as theology does not tamper with scientific controversies which are irrelevant to religion itself. Theologians have finally realized it; the best of them know that they have nothing to gain and everything to lose in such conflicts, and they will not stick their necks out any more. ... Whom must we trust in a scientific controversy, the competent people or the untrained and the irresponsible?"

Arthur Eddington has one of the better essays, with an interesting take on the objective/subjective. "The motive for the conception of an external world -- a world that will remain significant when my consciousness ceases to be--lies in the existence of other conscious beings. We compare notes and we find that our experiences are not independent of each other. Much that is in my consciousness is individual, but there is an element common to other conscious beings. That common element we desire to study, to describe as fully and accurately as possible, and to discover the laws by which it is modified as it appears now in one consciousness, now in another. That common element cannot be placed in one man's consciousness rather than another's; it must be placed in neutral ground -- an external world."

On writing physics problems: "The examiner, exercising his ingenuity, begins ... as follows: "An elephant slides down a grassy hillside..." The experienced examinee knows that he need not pay heed to this; it is only a picturesque adornment to give an air of verisimilitude to the bald essentials of the problem."

Haldane was pretty much on the nose, decades before the discovery of DNA: "The cell-nucleus must carry within it," he says, "a mechanism by which reaction with the environment not only produces the millions of complex and delicately balanced mechanisms which constitute the adult organism, but provides for their orderly arrangement into tissues and organs."

This discussion reminds me of Dan Dennett in Breaking the Spell, where he tries to allay the fears of those of faith that studying religion might 'break the spell' of religion: "Some religious people, it is true, have too frequently given cause for thinking that interest in religion is mere prepossession. They fail to realise that truth is the supreme religious interest, and they even seem at times to treat religion as a sort of germ which would die in the sunlight."
essentialsaltes: (laika)
This is the follow-up to The Three-Body Problem. I thought the translation wasn't as good/clear -- if nothing else it was done by a different person.

The plot wanders, as I suppose it must in a multicentury story of preparing for alien contact, settling into various distinct eras in human history. A lot of ideas get run up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes, but many of them are pretty dubious... I can't work up even a half-hearted salute for some of them. I'm not sure I still care enough to finish the trilogy -- at the moment the decision is made for me, as the last volume has not yet been translated into English.
essentialsaltes: (pKD)
A history and critique of SF, originally written in Swedish in 1969 and translated to English in 1971. Picked it up at an estate sale for 50 cents. Thought it would be interesting #1 as a time capsule, and #2 for more insight on European SF, and #3 more insight on what Europeans think of English language SF. Pretty useful on all three counts. Bonus, the dude is super-opinionated. Generally speaking, he derides American SF as a product of violent, puritanical morons. And don't get him started on film. And seriously, do not bring up TV with this guy. Comics? Do you even have to ask? It's fun when he shares your right-thinking bias, not-so-fun when he's totally wrong. Some notes...

Oxygen och Aromasia, some early (1878!) Swedish science fiction of the year 2378.

"In our time, the Utopian novel has found a worthy successor in works like those of Mickey Spillane, with their almost erotic dreams of fulfilled sadism."

"There are, of course, writers who don't give a fig for logic, being content with presenting the idea all by itself. The grand example of this is Ray Bradbury, who is scared to death of anything remotely connected with science and obviously doesn't have the faintest inkling of elementary scientific facts. ...which literally drips with sentimentality..."

He spends some time correctly lambasting early-ish American-ish SF for its disinterest in women as anything other than the professor's beautiful daughter (at best). A Startling letter to the editor from a 1939 issue of Startling Stories is illustrative:

FEMININE-LESS ISSUE

There Is a great deal of significance, I think, in the fact that the four stories of the September issue of Startling Stories did not contain a single female character. Of course. I would be the last to claim that ail females be abolished. Women, when handled in moderation and with extreme decency, fit nicely in scientifiction at times. However, the September Issue goes to prove that good stories can be written even with the total absence of the weaker sex.

There are some fans that claim "human Interest" a necessity in stf. since otherwise stories degenerate into uninteresting scientific or semi-scientific recitals. That Is a very correct stand, or would be if it were not that these one-track-minded fans know no other form of human interest than the love interest.

Well, let them read "Bridge to Earth" and tell me what it loses in not possessing a heroine. Where would the story have been improved In having a heroine get caught by the microscopic creatures and having the hero rescue her, getting her caught again, having the hero rescue her again, then the hero getting caught and the heroine rescuing him... [The author may want to think a bit more about the plot elements that go into an icky 'love interest' story]


Signed... )
essentialsaltes: (devilbones)
An estate sale find; I couldn't resist the title, which derives from a quote from Disraeli:

What is the question now placed before society with the glib assurance which to me is most astonishing? That question is this: Is man an ape or an angel? I, my lord, I am on the side of the angels. I repudiate with indignation and abhorrence those new fangled theories.

The book is primarily a joint biography of both Charles Darwin & Thomas Henry Huxley. It focuses somewhat less on the actual science, and more on the collegial (sometimes less than collegial) network of thinkers in science, letters, and politics that existed as a community at the time.

It maybe wore out its welcome before I slogged my way to the end, but there were definitely interesting details scattered throughout. Samuel Butler apparently got into what is invariably called a "one-sided feud" with Darwin. He developed a sort of neo-Lamarckian theory of his own, and promoted it, taking potshots at Darwin here and there. Darwin rightly ignored the theory (which vanished into the dustbin of history, apart from leaving a vermiform appendix of sorts in Erewhon), and forbore to get in a literary battle with Butler.

In 1865, there was a political brouhaha precipitated by a riot in Jamaica. The local black population had been free for decades, but living in rather terrible conditions. A protest, led by a black Baptist minister, escalated into a bit of a riot, and then the hammer came down. Martial law was declared, and the governor sent out the troops. Hundreds of people were killed, the minister was hanged, as was a politician who was frogmarched from Kingston to the location where martial law was in place. The legal irregularities caused a bit of furore back in Blighty, and political lines were drawn between those who thought the governor acted swiftly and decisively, and those who though he acted illegally and murderously. Anyway... Jamaica committees were formed on both sides. Darwin, Huxley, Spencer, & Mill were for trying the governor for murder, while the supporters of the governor included assholes like Tennyson and Dickens.


Huxley writing to Darwin on the publication of On the Origin of Species: "I trust you will not allow yourself to be in any way disgusted or annoyed by the considerable abuse and misrepresentation which, unless I greatly mistaken, is in store for you. ... I am sharpening up my claws and beak in readiness."

#1: I thought it was particularly apt, since Darwin is still be misrepresented and abused by modern-day creationists.
#2: Huxley was clearly spoiling for a fight. And of course, he finally got his most famous licks in at the Oxford Debate against Soapy Sam Wilberforce.

In a later debate on more theological topics, between the agnostic Huxley and Catholic WG Ward, the organizers "suggested that moral disapprobation should be avoided in debate."

Ward: "While acquiescing in this condition as a general rule, I think it cannot be expected that Christian thinkers shall give no sign of the horror with which they would view the spread of such extreme opinions as those advocated by Mr. Huxley."

Huxley: "As Dr. Ward has spoken, I must in fairness say that it will be very difficult for me to conceal my feeling as to the intellectual degradation which would come of the general acceptance of such views as Dr. Ward holds."

BOOM!



I was interested to hear of Mary Augusta Ward's novel Robert Elsmere, in which an Oxford cleric gets led astray by a sinister squire, reads Hume, loses his faith, and devotes himself to a new life of agnostic philanthropy. It sold a million copies and, to quote Wiki: "Robert Elsmere generated enormous interest from intellectuals and agnostics who saw it as a liberating tool for liberating times and from those of faith who saw it as another step in the advancement of apostasy or heathenism."



Huxley's grave bears a few lines of a poem written by his wife Etty (originally to eulogize Browning). Though she seems to have been conventionally religious, it's clear that spending a life with Huxley had its effect.

And if there be no meeting past the grave,
If all is darkness, silence, yet 'tis rest.
Be not afraid, ye waiting hearts that weep,
For God still giveth his belovèd sleep,
And if an endless sleep he wills, - so best.
essentialsaltes: (shoot)
A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science

The book interleaves the career of serial killer/mutilator/rapist Joseph Vacher with the development of modern (or at least modern-like (or at least not too pseudoscientific)) forensic techniques through Lombroso, Bertillon, and most relevant to these cases, Lacassagne (Lombroso's rival).

Vacher's early career is the most interesting part. After being spurned by a woman, he bought a gun. Unbeknownst to him, it had been loaded with half powder charges. So he managed to shoot the woman four times, and himself twice in the head, and both survived. He was placed in a mental institution, but released 'fully cured' a year later. Of course that's when he went on to murder, disembowel and rape a dozen or more teenage girls and boys over the next few years. This part of the story gets rather tedious, as he settles on a successful MO, and the murders are depressingly alike, so it's good to have it interleaved with the developments of forensics, and then the trail of evidence (and hard work) that leads to his capture and trial, his failed insanity defense, and ultimate execution.
essentialsaltes: (devilbones)
This book traces the history of the discovery of various human and hominid fossils, and gives us Tattersall's boldly biased opinions about everything. I don't know enough to say whether he's right or wrong, but he clearly has an axe to grind (or flake from rock cores, I suppose). The rickety Cossack of the title refers to a mid 19th century opinion about a Neanderthal fossil -- a quickly discarded idea now only remembered and promulgated by creationists.
The story of all the early finds is interesting and well-told. As we get further into the 20th century, Tattersall starts to name names and call people idiots. Unfortunately, the level of detail is sometimes too much for a dabbler like myself. But what I take from it is that his beef is largely with the lumpers, while he is more of a splitter. And that early thinking locked later thinking too much into the idea that we are the unique descendants of a single line of descent from an early hominid ancestor. When it's become clear that our genus has been fairly bushy, even in relatively recent times, as H. floresiensis shows.
While reading the book, I also happened upon an essay on the controversy about the evenmorerecent discovery of H. naledi. The brief exchanges quoted there give something of the flavor of Tattersall's view:

Echoes of that type of extreme lumping can be found in Tim White’s criticism of H. naledi, who similarly criticized the discovery of Australopithecus deyiremeda earlier this year, insisting that it was no more than a variant of A. afarensis, the species of Lucy.

I spoke with Ian Tattersall and asked his opinion of the controversy. While he was loathe to criticize colleagues whom he greatly respects, he did admit that “Tim’s definition of erectus is so broad so as to make that sort of thing inevitable.” When I asked for his opinion, he said “I don’t think there’s any chance this is erectus. It had a very small brain, but some surprisingly modern features to accompany that tiny brain.”
...
Tattersall bemoaned this as well. “Because they found a brow ridge in some of the crania [of naledi] and you don’t see brow ridges in Australopithecus, it had to be Homo. That’s pretty much how it works. If something is not Australopithecus, it’s Homo. If it’s not Homo, it’s Australopithecus. Maybe it’s time for us to stop stuffing new morphologies into the old pigeonholes we’ve had for a hundred years.”


Just because he's a bit argumentative doesn't mean that Tattersall is wrong; indeed, I rather think he's on the right side of things. Or at least more right than the lumpers.
essentialsaltes: (laika)
This collection of Campbell stories, like Who Goes There? is from Shasta Press.

While there's still a lot of man-scientists using their man-science to be manly, this collection is a lot more pessimistic/dystopian. "The Escape" is particularly bleak. It ends on a "Wesley died" moment and there is no next chapter with Miracle Max. I most liked the connected stories of "The Machine"/"The Invaders"/"Rebellion". Eugenics saves the day! I didn't much care for the titular story, or its prequel "Out of Night". That's not fair -- it isn't me, it's them. They stink.
essentialsaltes: (devilbones)
The Discovery Institute "is a non-profit public policy think tank based in Seattle, Washington, best known for its advocacy of the pseudoscience intelligent design."

Although the DI has tried to hold the party line that Intelligent Design (ID) is just about the science (although it may have 'philosophical implications'), it is a poorly kept secret that the goals of the organization (as outlined in the Wedge Document, for instance) show it to be a religious organization devoted to affirm "God's reality".

This is all prelude to say that the NCSE now reports that the the DI is merging with the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, which was founded for the purpose of "proclaiming, publishing, preaching, teaching, promoting, broadcasting, disseminating, and otherwise making known the Christian gospel and understanding of the Bible and the light it sheds on the academic and social issues of our day."

FTE is also notable as being the publisher of creation science textbooks, including Of Pandas And People, the famous missing link between creation science and intelligent design literature ("cdesign proponentsists"). The book featured prominently in the Kitzmiller trial and decision, which coincidentally celebrated its 10th anniversary a few days ago. Merry Kitzmas!
essentialsaltes: (cognitive Hazard)
Despite overwhelming scientific consensus, popular opinions regarding evolution are starkly divided. In the USA, for example, nearly one in three adults espouse a literal and recent divine creation account of human origins. Plausibly, resistance to scientific conclusions regarding the origins of species—like much resistance to other scientific conclusions (Bloom & Weisberg, 2007)—gains support from reliably developing intuitions. Intuitions about essentialism, teleology, agency, and order may combine to make creationism potentially more cognitively attractive than evolutionary concepts. However, dual process approaches to cognition recognize that people can often analytically override their intuitions. Two large studies (total N = 1324) found consistent evidence that a tendency to engage analytic thinking predicted endorsement of evolution, even controlling for relevant demographic, attitudinal, and religious variables. Meanwhile, exposure to religion predicted reduced endorsement of evolution. Cognitive style is one factor among many affecting opinions on the origin of species.

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