Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Brian Cox

Brian Cox, the host of Wonders of the Solar System, keeps pronouncing "geysers" as "geezers." Such as "this geezer erupts once every twenty four hours," or "this geezer is volatile." If I was high, right now, I'd have peed myself laughing.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Islam Is As Bad As We Think

Nicholas D. Kristof opens an article with great snark, saying that if we request Muslim moderates to reject the extremism in their religion, us moderates should also not be bigoted against Muslims. I'm not sure if I've ever read anything by Mr. Kristof before, but if I have, I'm sure I thought he was an idiot then, too.

Mr. Kristof's simpering, simplistic, "can't we all just get along" piece of fluff made me a little bit angry. First, he asks me to be tolerant of a group who has shown no tolerance of its own, and as a great Robot Chicken sketch shows, turning the other cheek to those who don't care just gets you two bruised cheeks.

I refuse to tolerate people who have never shown toleration themselves. No leaders, or politicians, or even people in the Muslim world have rejected actions and violence taken against the Western world. There are moderates, to be sure, there have to be, but we don't hear about them. They never say anything, and silence is damnation with this. These extremists fly the same flag as you and you must explain yourselves. Because as it stands, Islam on the whole, not simply the extremists, seems as atrocious as we think. Some people blow themselves up, others simply approve. Both are bad places to be.

Mr. Kristof then pays due attention to the reasons behind our hatred of Islam. He also compares our hatred of Muslims to hatred directed at Jews, Catholics, Asians, and Mormons. Someone provided a rejoinder, saying that “Catholics and Jews did not come here and kill thousands of people.” His response to this is so intellectual corrupt that it boggles the mind.

"That’s true, but Japanese did attack Pearl Harbor and in the end killed far more Americans than Al Qaeda ever did. Consumed by our fears, we lumped together anyone of Japanese ancestry and rounded them up in internment camps. The threat was real, but so were the hysteria and the overreaction."

First off, comparing a religion to a race is ridiculous. Our hysteria with Japanese-Americans was stupid because they were simply people who looked alike. Looking alike is not a unifying characteristic of behavior, which is what we are fearful of. If being Japanese was highly correlated with a particular type of behavior, our fear would have been warranted. But it doesn't, so it wasn't. Believing certain things IS highly correlated with behavior. So our fear of Muslims is entirely, completely, 100% warranted. As Sam Harris put it so eloquently in his book The End of Faith, "belief is a fount of action in potentia."

Kristof continues with a line that seems ripped straight from a peace-loving flower child's notebook, "Radicals tend to empower radicals, creating a gulf of mutual misunderstanding and anger." There is no misunderstanding, here. I am completely aware of my bigotry and hatred. The difference here is that I do not think it the slightest bit unfounded.

He continues, again comparing this sort of fear with racism,

Many Americans honestly believe that Muslims are prone to violence, but humans are too complicated and diverse to lump into groups that we form invidious conclusions about. We’ve mostly learned that about blacks, Jews and other groups that suffered historic discrimination, but it’s still O.K. to make sweeping statements about “Muslims” as an undifferentiated mass.

I said it before and feel that it bears saying again, this is a ridiculous comparison. The two examples he chooses were both of racist origin. I don't care about race. White, black, Asian, green, Plutonian, it doesn't matter. What matters is their beliefs. His argument up to this point could be equally applied to white supremacists. We are talking about beliefs, not race!

Kristoff continues to smear on the simpering, liberal, P-C platitudes. He expresses how bad he feels that those good Muslims who help rape victims in Pakistan, or feed children in Afghanistan, are having the faith that they hold oh-so-sacred excoriated in public. Well, first off, what is he not telling us about these so-called good Muslims. What backwater, racist, sexist beliefs do these peaceful men of Allah hold? I'd wager quite a lot.

And if they don't hold these beliefs, the question I pose to them is, why be a member of a religion that embodies the opposite of all you do? Islam is a terrible religion, and all of the terrible actions enacted by those who follow it is entirely defensible by scripture. If you are not terrible, you are not Muslim. Perhaps you should try Buddhism. It seems pretty cool.

Message to Muslims: I’m Sorry
(New York Times)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Faith in Schools

This is a documentary by Richard Dawkins. It's primarily concerned with British schools, but the arguments apply equally well to our own system.

Dawkins' first argument is undeniable. If the government is spending taxpayer money, faith should not be a component in the schooling. If schools want to maintain religious aspects to their school, and thus discriminate based on religion, government funding must drop to zero.

Dawkin's second argument is not nearly as definite, though. He argues that faith schools in general are bad for children. While I agree, allowing the argument of "doing it for the children" opens the door to all of the abject stupidity we see with grandstanding politicians day-in and day-out. If you can't figure out how to argue your position rationally, pull out the "children" card. I think that it's dangerous to allow the "for the kids" argument at all.

From a more libertarian perspective, I also think that it's the right of the parents to raise their children however they see fit, even if that leads irrevocably to the child's death. Again, doing otherwise introduces to the concept of "for the children." While I think that the argument is valid, and we can, in fact, come up with objective variables by which to measure the "good" for the child, the subject is far too easily hijacked by grandstanding politicrits looking for easy hay. We need to avoid areas of discourse that are easily perverted.

So, in a sense, I'm not actually against Dawkins in the meat of his argument. He says that we can determine if something is good or bad, children are their own people and not property of their parents, and as such the government must enforce a standard on parents. I just think that it's a terrible idea in practice.

Part 2 is my favorite part. An Islamic faith school allows them to film the lessons, apparently the only school that did, and the students and teachers are then interviewed. It's almost uncomfortable to watch the students and teachers squirm in their seats as they try to explain the disconnect between the government science curriculum and their faith vis-à-vis evolution. Everyone in the room reiterated that everyone gets to make their own choice. It's convenient how everyone made the same choice. I find it interesting because of the societal difference between Britain and the US. In Britain, the school seems almost aware of how stupid what they're doing is, while US schools will proudly declare that evolution is wrong and the scientists who advocate for it are all imbeciles.

American Prudishness

There's an article over at The Register asking whether American prudishness is ruining the internet. The author's thesis is, essentially, that most of the internet is dominated by American companies, American companies are beholden to American advertisers, and American advertisers are beholden to the American people, who are morons who hate naughty words and naked bodies.

I do not take a pessimistic perspective on this. In fact, my perspective is downright Pollyanna. Even though major corporations rule the web and, in many ways, force American cultural norms onto their users, this sort of restriction is almost always fleeting. The internet has shown that it is repulsed by censorship and restriction, and while a system or company that advocates and/or uses those two tools may succeed in the short term, in the long term it crumbles. I can think of no better example than AOL.

In comparison to AOL's sleek interface, the internet of the late 1990's and early 2000's was a no-man's-land, but it won out. Not only did it win out, but by the end of the conflict, one of the world's biggest corporations had been reduced to a website. Apple is a good example that is playing out right now. Apple won over users and got them to buy into Apple's ecosystem of products with sleek design, wonderful user interfaces, and great advertising.

This had s snowball effect, where users bought one or two Apple products, but eventually bought more and more, until a god chunk of their digital life revolved around Apple products and services. But see what is happening, now. The flagship of the closed Apple system, the iPhone, is seeing its market share and dominance give way to the inherently open Android OS. Whether Android is actually open or not is open for debate, but it's certainly far more open than Apple. Once people buy one or two products outside of the ecosystem, they're far less likely to buy back in (I actually have data to back that statement up... just wish I could find it).

We can also look at cultural movements over the course of the past ten years. Remember when the Paris Hilton sex tape came out? Remember the controversy? The news coverage? We now have sex tapes released almost every month... and no one cares anymore. Or for examples more quantifiable, look at acceptance of homosexuality in America. Five years ago, a majority of Americans did not support gay marriage. Now, less than half a decade later, even in the face of ceaseless attacks from the religious right, a majority do. Staggeringly, men also now outnumber women in their support of gay marriage. Cultural shifts of this speed and magnitude have never happened before. Why did it happen? The only variable I can see that didn't exist before is the internet.

It is perhaps the "wild west" nature of the web that has made the major companies act the way that they do. The internet at large is free and uninhibited. To differentiate themselves, they hew closely to the tactful ideal, with no naughty words, nudity, or raunchiness. While I understand this strategy, I think that it's dangerous. They risk damaging their brand when cultural norms begin to accept the very activities that the big companies now censor. When that shift happens, people won't want to be associated with the companies that now represent the censorship they are escaping. Why do you think that CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and every other old-world news service have demographics with an average age in their 60's?

So while I think that major American companies are stupid to try and censor, because of the damage it can do to their brand, I don't think that it's a problem for the rest of the world. The internet is free and freedom is better than no freedom --people like the ability to do things-- so any shift towards censorship will be isolated both in time and digital space. It is this seemingly inherent mechanism to the internet, perhaps because it's as direct an extension of the human psyche as is technologically possible, that will keep it free and will continue to have an increasingly large effect on society at large. I think that the greatest decades of cultural change are in front of us.