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: (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: (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?

Zero.

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.

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: (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: (a)
Massimo Pigliucci has just about had it with the Skeptical & Atheist Movement. I think most of his targets are well-chosen. And I would join him in giving Dan Dennett a big hug.
essentialsaltes: (psychic)
Preston Bost's "Crazy Beliefs, Sane Believers: toward a cognitive psychology of conspiracy ideation"

"Perhaps the most consistent finding is that people are relatively consistent in their conspiracy ideation; if they believe one conspiracy theory, they tend to have other conspiratorial beliefs ... Interestingly, conspiracy ideation also can bridge contradictory theories; Wood and colleagues observed that participants who endorsed the belief that Princess Diana had been murdered also tended to endorse the claim that she had faked her death. Researchers have taken these findings to confirms one of the first clearly articulated theories of conspiracy ideation: Goertzel's (1994) concept of a monological belief system, in which conspiracy ideation is a worldview -- rather than a collection of discrete beliefs -- in which multiple conspiracy theories reinforce each other."
essentialsaltes: (Devilbones)
I got word that Professor Gerald Larue passed away recently at the enviable age of 98. There's a certain irony, I think, in the first president of the Hemlock Society living so long. I can't claim to have really met him, but I did bump into him at a debate on evolution/creationism between libertarian creep Mike Shermer and liar for Christ Duane Gish, 25 years ago at UCLA.

Larue was an interesting fellow. An early life of faith led him to study the bible and to profess biblical history and archaeology at USC for many years. But by that point, he had become decidedly skeptical.

One particular stunt stands out, and it's hard to untangle, since so many stories tell it out of order.

In 1985, a certain George Jammal wrote a letter to creationist Duane Gish, announcing that (after many travails) he had obtained a piece of Noah's Ark. Many, even in the creationist camp, had doubts, but...

In the early 90s, when Sun International Pictures wanted to make a documentary about the ark, Henry Morris of the Institute of Creation Research, gave them Jammal's name.

Sun's documentary, "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark," which included Jammal's claims, aired on CBS.

Larue declared the whole thing to be a hoax.

Sun International Pictures doubled down. Quoting Talk Origins:

The secondary defense consisted of four parts: (1) That Sun had examined Morris' interview with Jammal. (2) That Sun had conducted their own two-hour audio taped interview looking for inconsistencies in Jammal's story. (3) That Sun compared the two interviews and found them to be consistent with each other. (4) That Sun gave Jammal's interview tapes to psychiatrist Paul Meier, who pronounced Jammal credible. By late September, Sun added a fifth defense: (5) That Sun had Jammal's hand-drawn map of Ararat and his expedition routes examined by Ararat expeditioneers who "assured us that it could not have been drawn by anyone who did not have experience with the mountain."


Reaction from CBS and the ICR was similar: "CBS, Sun, and the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) set out to control the damage to their credibility by defending the program against the criticisms of Larue. Since Jammal was continuing to defend his story, at first the three organizations went on the offensive against Larue. CBS Entertainment President Jeff Sagansky stated that "There was clearly a hoax perpetrated ... we're not sure whether it was on Sun International and CBS or whether it was on Time magazine." A press release from Sun called it "sad and unfortunate that Dr. LaRue [sic], a distinguished USC professor, would victimize Mr. Jammal and his family to execute a third party hoax in which he was the primary benefactor." John Morris, the Administrative Vice President of the ICR, made much of Larue's "long association with humanistic and anti-Christian organizations" and concluded that "This is hardly the resume of an objective critic." All defended the overall quality of Sun's research."

In 1993, "the Long Beach Press-Telegram--Jammal's hometown newspaper--ran a story about the hoax. In the story, Jammal did not admit to a hoax, but stated in response to a question about his religious background that "If I told you that, you'd know the secret." The reporter noted in the article that a poem framed in glass on Jammal's piano begins, "Humanism is a philosophy for people who think for themselves ....""

And so, eventually, Jammal revealed the deliberate hoax, and that Larue had been in on it with him from the beginning. They offered up a chunk of railroad tie marinated in teriyaki sauce, and creationists either bought it, or were happy to let other 'liars for Christ' perpetrate a fake on the public.
essentialsaltes: (wingedlionbook)
I got the latest Heritage book auction catalog yesterday, and was a bit sad to see that Krown & Spellman will be liquidating their collections over the next few book auctions. There's a nice encomium of the store and its owners, but apparently health reasons are driving the decision. Founded by UCLA grads, the store was originally in Westwood in the 70s. I remember their location at the 3rd Street Promenade, although just about everything they had was out of my range (and still mostly is!). Lovely old moldy books in Latin and Greek, but maybe even something in English, like Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, or Reginald Scot's skeptical look at the witchcraft craze: The Discoverie of Witchcraft. Oh sure, that's only a Third Edition from 1665, but still.

The catalog also noted, tantalizingly for me anyway, that Franklin Spellman has amassed a huge Lord Dunsany collection, which will appear in a later sale.
essentialsaltes: (atheist teacher)
Great article on the history of Elevatorgate and other episodes of misogyny and the war about misogyny in the atheism/skepticism movement - on Buzzfeed of all places. [See also my earlier journal entry]

In related news, I'd also like to point out, for the local Southern Californians, that there is an art exhibit opening up at the Center for Inquiry Hollywood tomorrow night (Sep 13).

A Woman's Room Online:

"A Woman’s Room Online is an installation art exhibit created by Amy Davis Roth in conjunction with The Los Angeles Women’s Atheist and Agnostic Group (LAWAAG) and hosted at CFI-Los Angeles.

This installation consists of thousands of real sexist and threatening messages sent to only a handful of women who work in online arenas. The viewer enters a small freestanding room, an office space that has been completely transformed and plastered with messages, a paper-trail of hate, sent electronically to the contributors starting in July of 2011 until today."
essentialsaltes: (sad)
Very sad to hear the news that Victor Stenger passed away. I came to know Vic from Taner Edis' Skeptic email list way back when, so though not a close friend, he was certainly an e-friend, and with his background in physics and skepticism, we had a lot in common.

Jury duty

Feb. 22nd, 2014 04:08 pm
essentialsaltes: (City Hall)
My crossed fingers may have worked. Although, being skeptical, I never actually crossed any digits.

Monday was a holiday, and I went TWT unscathed, but naturally they called be in on Friday. Once again, it was DTLA.

They called a couple panels in the morning, but I was unscathed. Almost, anyway. The exciting moment of the morning was when the chippy next to me pulled an apple from her purse and started munching away. One wide jawed crunch sent a spray of apple juice onto my leg and my Kindle screen. She was appropriately apologetic.

At lunch, I semirandomly chose Lazy Ox for lunch. It was good, but the price/performance ratio was not that good. Also, though I asked for fries, I wound up with salad on the side. Considering how long it took, I didn't kick, but I think someone else got my fries. It was good, but the best part of it was the whole grain mustard. The sangria was exemplary.

Back in the afternoon, and you are ultrasensitive to any further calls. A roomful of Roderick Ushers, we were demoralized when at 3 pm there was another call. And this was no usual call, but the judge had issued some stipulations to be read to us.

90 days. NINETY DAYS. We were told this trial would last 90 days. We were offered the unusual liberty of answering "No" when our names were called, if we met the stipulations for excuse the judge set forth. I felt sure they would call all our names to get a solid number, but it was not so. And my name was not called at all. Another hour, and they set us free. Buoyed, I placed a take-out order to Cole's. It may not have been as warm as one would've liked, after I fought the 10 and La Brea home, but it was still purty good.
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: (Psychic)
Subtitled 'Scientific Discoveries and Explorations in the Psychic World', this is the kind of book that makes me sigh with pain every few pages. But I was curious, since Dr. Moss carried out her quasi-unofficial parapsychological studies at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. And some of us met her quondam star psychic, Barry Taff, when he came to Enigma to see if there was interest in his ghost hunting exploits.

Written in 1974, the book offers a breathless glimpse at the state-of-the-art of academic parapsychology at that moment. Moss travelled to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to look at psychic happenings behind the Iron Curtain, and a conference in Prague seems to have given her the idea to write the book. Here's a taste of the conference:

Professor Alexander Dubrov, Soviet academician ... discussed his research into "biogravity," which he defined as "the ability of living organisms to generate and detect gravitational waves."
...
With wonder in his voice, he told us that in mitosis of a cell one can observe "an energetic radiation of photons," visible as a weak luminescence. At the same time, there is present a radiation of ultrasonic waves at a high frequency ... And, during the process of mitosis, the liquid of the cell converts to a crystalline structure. "Imagine," he repeated with excitement, "the liquid of the cell turns into crystal!" For those of us whose juices might not be stirred by this fact, he pointed out that these characteristics tend to confirm his hypothesis that "biogravitational waves" emanate from cells, which in turn could account for such phenomena as telepathy, the movement of objects at a distance, and perhaps even levitation.


Give me a moment for my eyes to roll back into place.

You may think I'm attacking low-hanging fruit, but like with Science and the Paranormal, one of the interesting things about the book is how much time it devotes to things that even the true believers (but not the true true believers) have discarded long ago: Uri Geller, Samuel Soal, Kirlian photography, Ted Serios...

More alarming still is the very favorable treatment all of these things get. I mean, believers and skeptics will argue about whether Ted Serios' 'gizmo' was evidence that his 'thoughtographs' were fraudulent, or merely a perfectly innocent plastic tube that he liked to press against the lens of the camera. But Moss does not mention the gizmo at all.

This and other things I know about made me mistrust the things I didn't know about.
essentialsaltes: (Psychic)
So before I dig into the boring stuff about me, first check out this neat article on "How to Humble a Wingnut":
First, people were asked to state their positions on a series of political issues ... They were asked to describe their position on a seven-point scale whose endpoints were “strongly in favor” and “strongly opposed.”

Second, people were asked to rate their degree of understanding of each issue on a seven-point scale. The third step was the crucial one; they were asked to “describe all the details you know about ... going from the first step to the last, and providing the causal connection between the steps.” Fourth, people were asked to rerate their understanding on the seven-point scale and to restate their position on the relevant issue.

The results were stunning. On every issue, the result of requesting an explanation was to persuade people to give a lower rating of their own understanding -- and to offer a more moderate view on each issue.


Okay, now look back at me. Some of you in Facebooklandia saw snippets (or more) of my participation in an evolution/creationism thread on Tony's page. I know Tony only through the internet, as one of the more reasonable people on one of those many Christian forums I've been kicked off of. Anyway, he's in Alabama, and his friendslist has a somewhat different composition than mine. So it was interesting foray deep into Redstatia.

And curiously it came on the heels of another mini-kerfuffle on a Christian forum that I haven't been kicked off. But this time, it wasn't religion or evolution, but parapsychology. It started with Dean Radin, but quickly moved over to Rupert Sheldrake, and the he-said/she-said war between Sheldrake and Randi. And then, one of the posters says, "Rupert Sheldrake kindly agreed to weigh in on this controversy."
While I have no way to confirm that (skeptic that I am) I can at least say I was having a discussion with pseudo-Sheldrake.

And now most recently back on FB, my best friend from high school(*) approvingly posted Sheldrake's 'banned' TEDx talk. Mainly to annoy Prime, I make it a point of principle to never watch TED talks, so I don't have any opinion on the matter. But it did make me look at my friend's profile page, and what did I find, but that a few months back, he made a half dozen creationist YouTube videos. I don't have the heart to watch them.
essentialsaltes: (Psychic)
Amanda Berry goes missing in 2003.

In 2004, on the Montel Williams show, Sylvia Browne tells Amanda's mom "She’s not alive, honey."

In 2006, Amanda's mom dies of heart failure:

The ordeal had taken a toll as her health steadily deteriorated in recent months, family and friends said.

...

Activist Art McKoy befriended Louwana Miller during her ordeal. He said he could tell that the stress and heartache were wearing her down. The visit with the psychic was the breaking point, he said.

“From that point, Ms. Miller was never the same,” McKoy said. “I think she had given up.”


Today, Amanda Berry went home.

(See also this and this)
essentialsaltes: (Agent)
Remember when I put together a little syndicate to try to win HPL's long-thought-lost essay on astrology commissioned by Houdini that might have once formed part of the never completed Cancer of Superstition? Naturally, I've always wondered what happened, and though there were vague rumors, now we know...

The MS is being sold off page by page on ebay.

ASSHOLE! FUCK YOU RIGHT IN THE NUTS!

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