Friday, December 28, 2012

Documentary Night: Order And Disorder With Jim AI-Khalili

Yet another amazing documentary with Jim Al Khalili. Why don't these ever make it to the US? Come on Discovery!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why Does Religious Extremism Flourish?

There is a touching little article over at RH Reality Check, a reproductive rights website, about a Catholic man who also happens to be strongly pro-choice, and his interactions with others who outwardly are against reproductive rights, but inwardly feel the same as he. Why, the author asks, do these level-headed bishops and priests not attain the levels of power as the extremists so perfectly manifested in the Pope's recent blessing of a woman who is pushing for a Ugandan death penalty for homosexuals?

He recounts the unease with which his fellow-Catholic conversational partners circumlocute the issues — the tendancy to avoid the subject all together — to keep their head down, as it were. Why do these people not succeed?

They do not succeed for the same reason that people like Bishop John Shelby Spong have reached the point of almost rejecting divinity in Christianity. For the same reason the religious are terrified of gay marriage. For the same reason we have an absolute first amendment. The slippery slope.

Absolute knowledge is comforting. When we accept flexible interpretations, interpretations of religion as not having the absolute model of reality, we lose our foundation. We lose the comfort of knowledge, in a scary and indeterminate world, that religion gives. This sort of thinking was recently embodied very well by the Supreme Court justice you love to hate, Antonin Scalia, who likened homosexuality to murder.
“If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against these other things? Of course we can. I don’t apologize for the things I raised. I’m not comparing homosexuality to murder. I’m comparing the principle that a society may not adopt moral sanctions, moral views, against certain conduct. I’m comparing that with respect to murder and that with respect to homosexuality.”
He claimed this was a reduction to the absurd, which only reveals that he doesn't know what that term means, which is truly depressing for someone on the Supreme Court.1 Regardless, what he claims to be arguing against is the dreaded slippery slope. To wit, if we cannot hold beliefs about, and thus predicate laws on, moral intuition in the case of homosexuality, then we are not justified in holding moral beliefs against murder and any other number of heinous crimes.

Scalia arrogantly and condescendingly feigned surprise that his interlocutor was not persuaded by this argument. Perhaps he was not persuaded because it was apparent to everyone that what he had actually done was undermine the belief that murder is morally wrong, or was simply defining "moral" incorrectly.

The point remains though. Scalia put into explicit, logical parlance the belief that by accepting one level-headed proposition, we are forced to recognize that a large swath of other beliefs are undermined, which when applied to strongly-held dogmatic beliefs, is unacceptable.

We do not give time to these religious people precisely because of the nature of religious belief. Dogma must be affirmed absolutely, and no matter how kind-hearted that dogma may become in some circles, it will become ever more resolute in others. Religion is, at least in the Western Judeo-Christian formulation, doomed to forever be lead by the fanatics. I mentioned J.S. Spong earlier, and he is the perfect manifestation of where Christiantiy, and truly any religion must go to avoid this trap: away from deity worship and into a life philosophy. Christiantiy must, for all intents and purposes, become Buddhism.

Most people find this unacceptable. They do not want to give up what they have, even if what they have is of only the vaguest definition. They want their god to be God, their truth to be true, and their world to be the way the world truly is. Even if none of those propositions stand up under scrutiny, that only means that scrutiny should be avoided.

There are many who call for religion to neither become something else nor be extreme. The term no absolute model is taken from William Egginton, who argues for religious moderation by rejecting the belief that one has access to an absolute model of reality. One model of reality is no better or worse than another model of reality. Ignoring all of the issues that I have with this, it is a friendly and acceptable idea on its face. It is a way that we truly can all just get along, even if our dogmas don't mesh.

Again, I believe that the issue that prevents religious moderation, and always will, is that the very act of being moderate undermines the beliefs. Dogmas do not mesh not because people are at logical odds with one another about metaphysical particulars. Dogmas do not mesh because dogma invariably must access the "real" world.2 Dogma must be attached to behavior of some sort, and it is here where they clash, since metaphysical dogmas can never be truly attached to the real world in any significant way. Anyone could be correct, since truth is meaningless in the battlefield of dogmatic beliefs. And accepting that anyone could be correct about something that is so important is obviously something that will never fly. As a believer who is going to predicate a large amount of internal and external behavior around a belief, I want to be damn sure that the belief is true.

In search of this confidence, we look to those who are sure, and anyone who is sure is bound to be an extremist, especially vis-a-vis religion, since no one can ever be sure about it! No matter how much kind-hearted believers want to wish otherwise, religion needs strong dogma to survive. Religion needs extremism to be its assured guiding hand. Without it, it crumbles under the weight of its own inconsistencies and slides down the slippery slope of reason into an abyss of forgotten dreams.

Further reading:
The Problem with Religious Moderates (Excerpt from The End of Faith, by Sam Harris)


1: There are a number of permutations of the reductio argument, but two types that most frequently receive the label: negating an argument by deriving something contradictory from its underlying principles, or maintaining an argument by first negating it and then deriving the original argument from that negation. Scalia thinks he is doing the latter. What he is actually doing is calling into question the foundation of moral thought, even though he doesn't want to admit that.

2: I put "real" in quotes because I am in some dodgy linguistic waters in this part of the article. Egginton argues against the idea of an absolute model of reality, and by using the term "real" to describe the physical realm implies that there is an absolute reality to which dogmas refer. As you can imagine, following his line of thought to its absolute conclusion results in skeptical nihilism and an inability to reject or accept anything. We can freely kill one another because reality isn't anything in itself. For my part, I accept phenomenalism. All that "exists" for me is what I sense, and the model of a persistent physical realm in which other minds exist is a model that has proven useful for my mental continuity. Everything I write is predicated on the idea that there are other minds like me floating in this metaphysical realm. I do not seek the truth of an absolute model, I seek the truth of functional consistency.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Again, The Art Institutes Are A Scam

As if to further advertise that they are a money-sucking scam of epic proportions, the Art Institutes recently fired a professor for refusing to force expensive, electronic, single-use books upon his students. First, this isn't at all surprising. The Art Institutes are a gigantic vampire of a corporation, vacuuming up huge amounts of money from desperate people. Second, the Art Institutes actually have good professors?

Thankfully, this diamond in the rough is suing the schools for wrongful termination. I relish the opportunity to see these succubi of the educational world get screwed in any way possible.

I've complained on a number of occasions about not only the Art Institutes, but about all for-profit institutes of higher education in the country. The data are unequivocal; you will not get a job. Well, obviously, you might get a job, but it will not be easy. These schools do not help people.

I repeat, the only schools worth attending are those schools which reject people! If you do not go through a rigid acceptance process, there is no point in going to the school. The only schools worth attending that do not reject people are Community Colleges. Those are worth every penny.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When Values Collide

I like Bill Murray. At least, I liked Bill Murray. When I was in second grade, our teacher asked us to tell the class who our hero was. Most kids said one of their parents or a sports star. I said, much to the amusement of my teacher, Bill Murray. I was seven. Whadda'ya want?

So Bill Murray gives me a good perspective on people who apologize for rapists, attackers, murderers, and otherwise antisocial people. We don't want to believe that people are capable of these crimes. We have never experienced these crimes. Nothing in our experience tells us that a particular person is capable of these crimes. It's why men who have experienced sexual assault are much more likely to accept that it happened than men who haven't.

I'm sure that you have figured out without my saying that Bill Murray is a thundering asshole. He's abusive and mean. And while no one escapes his wrath, he is especially mean to women. There are dozens of people in entertainment that have managed to get something of a free pass for their abuse because they are good at being entertainers. As this article at Cracked, a website that produces articles far too good for its name, points out regarding Sean Connery,
It's always interesting to see the double standard we have for different categories of celebrity. If Sean Connery had been, say, a pro athlete or a politician, he'd get tarred with this reputation until the day he died. But he's so fucking suave. His accent wears a tuxedo. It's so impossible to connect that voice with the image of a drunken man slapping around a woman that we wouldn't believe it even if we had it on video.
Precisely. We wouldn't believe it because we don't want to believe it. It so clashes with the rest of our programming that we simply reject it.

For someone like me, it's a slightly different problem. I've more or less managed to push my social biases into the background. They are still operating, and likely will for the rest of my life, but I've overpowered them. This isn't a brag. It's not something worth bragging about. It's something we should all do, and as such, bragging for doing something any decent human would do seems rather counterproductive. It's like demanding recognition for not being an asshole.

My problem is that there are certain characteristics that, for lack of a better phrase, make a person dead to me. Being an asshole is fine, but being aggressively abusive to other people is not. It's the primary reason for not finding out too much about your favorite artists or actors: they are frequently such mind-blowing jerks that it negates one's ability to enjoy their work. Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, and Mel Gibson all come to mind.

It doesn't necessarly even need to be artists or actors. It can be anything. And so it is with The Salvation Army. In these contentious times, there are many things that can make an entity dead to me. Misogyny, racism, global warming denial. Homophobia is another. It indicates both ignorance, fear, and hatred, but also blind religious dogma. And boy howdy, has The Salvation Army dropped the mother of all homophobic bombs.

They have literally said that homosexuals deserve to die. An organization built on feel-good concepts of caring and helping has said that homosexuals are not just second-class citizens, but they actively need to be killed. Obviously, the organization on the whole has distanced itself from these statements, but it would be foolish to think that this kind of behavior coming from one regional director isn't representative of wider views held within the Army. Those at the top realize that what they say must be more measured, and it becomes a minor catastrophe when someone actually says what everyone thinks.

This is a difficult thing for me to digest. About a decade ago, when my family was in seriously bad shape and had been evicted from our house, the Salvation Army paid our medical bills, which were not insubstantial. I like the Salvation Army. Even though I'm an outspoken atheist and they are an explicitly religious organization didn't much matter to me. They helped me, and I tear up even now thinking about it.

This is causing serious cognitive dissonance. There is basically no way for me to reconcile the problem. With artists and actors, I can at least say that their work is distinct from them. There are many artists who created great art while also being psycho-arsonist-sheep-rapists. But for people and organizations where their actions are so tightly intertwined with their views, I cannot ignore it. I want to!

I know how it feels to want to apologize for the behavior of someone or something you like. You don't want that conflict in your mind. It doesn't matter. Bigotry is bigotry. Violence is violence. Nothing in the past changes that.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

There Is No Discussion

Andrew O'Hehir is one of my more well liked writers. He reviews movies, writes on a variety of subjects, and has a well-measured attitude on most things. As such, it's not surprising to find him as the most recent addition to the pantheon of writers and thinkers who ask "can't we all just get along?"
If we think we can understand this division better by using cute demographic shorthand or by trying to claim that it’s fundamentally about religion or abortion or sexual morality or the role of government or whatever other hobby horse we choose to ride, we’re kidding ourselves.

Defining it as libertarian vs. communitarian, for instance, or as a religious view of society set against a more secular one always simplifies or overlooks some aspect of the problem. It involves values or mores that people hold on a primordial or unconscious level, which are not easily expressed in language and not readily subjected to rational inquiry. Translated into the political realm, these fundamental cultural mores become entrenched ideological positions, modes of expressing the unshakable conviction that my side is right and yours is wrong.

We just had an election that was a de facto contest between America’s competing cultural factions, and one side won a narrow but decisive victory to the intense amazement and anger of the other. More name-calling isn’t going to help. If there were ever a moment to talk about this stuff dispassionately, this would be it.

If we can’t find a way to address the American cultural divide, beyond insults and quadrennial beauty contests, it is sure to destroy us.
And so is O'Hehir's point. While he blunts the false equivalency attack at a point early in the article, he misses another point: the uselessness of the discussion. I don't mean to say that understanding the conservative movement is useless, I mean to say that a discussion about dealing with them as humans is useless.

Even though both sides have abdicated logic and reason, at least to a degree, it is the conservative side that has abdicated it, and any hope for cogent language, to the extreme. They are relying entirely on nebulous, emotional concepts, and if we attempt to address these issues rationally, contradictions and problems are sure to arise. The instant that happens, and stress is thus caused, we have lost the people with whom we are trying to argue.

It is unfortunate, because I appreciate his feelings regarding the referenced video very well. I do feel bad for those who have been duped by the cynical patriotism of the modern Republican party. But at the same time, while I do not judge them, I will cast them aside without worry. They must be defeated in whatever way possible, because they represent the claws of the past, terrified by a brave new world, desperately trying to impede the future.

Moreover, I do not look at this battle in apocalyptic terms like O'Hehir does. I do not think that it is sure to destroy us. If the Civil War didn't, neither will this. Change comes, bit by bit, with every funeral. No matter how angry or contentious our current issues may become, and even if we accept that there is no way to resolve these issues, we will continue our march into the future as each generation rejects elements of the value system of those that came before.

We do not need to reason with the bigots, since they will die soon enough. And with few great works, with few marks in the sands of time, their sound and fury will be remembered as little more than a tale, told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Climate Change: A Debate Between Correct And Stupid

I love how they wait to show the conversational bomb dropped by Mr. Buggy Eyes at the conference. When someone calls science the result of a Marxist conspiracy and that "green is the new red," they are so blatantly out in left field as to make watching the rest of the show almost unnecessary.

Watch Climate of Doubt on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

From Whence Misogyny In Geek Culture?

There's a good article up over at Shameless Magazine that explores misogyny in geek culture. The basic thesis is that geeks feel that women and pop culture are taking away geek culture. It's summed up in a later adumbration.
1. Straight White Dudes, we are not here to steal geek culture away from you - we’re here to help make it MORE AWESOME. 
2. Excluding people just because they’re not geeky enough, or bullying them because they’re female is just as bad as the isolation and bullying you may have experienced while growing up. If, as a geeky teenager, you hated and resented the kids who picked on you, why the hell would you turn around and do it to someone else?
I think that the author is missing the wellspring of the behavior and the reason why her arguments will fall upon deaf ears. Namely, geek culture has never been about acceptance, and it is not surprising that geeks have turned around and behaved identically to ways in which they themselves were treated. It's like the Pilgrims coming to America to escape religious persecution, when in fact they were coming to America so they could be free to be the ones doing the persecuting.

While geek culture has many elements, one of its unifiers was exclusion from popular culture. They were rejected, so they created a culture that was purposely separate. It was not a culture that was defined internally, but also externally. Geek culture requires something separate from it for it to be geek culture. If it becomes integrated into the wider culture, it loses one of its original bricks and is thus no longer geeky. This connotation is built into the very history of the word.

Similarly, geek culture was defined by rejection by women. The point of it was to happily accept that rejection and create a society where part of its very make-up was a lack of women. Geeks have been resistant to accepting pop culture and women because part of geek culture is not having these things.

Let's face it. Many of the people in geek culture are not attractive and have few social graces. It hurts to be that way. It hurts to be rejected sexually. When one's life is heavily influenced by sexual rejection, a safe haven will be sought. And once found, that safe haven only remains safe when the object of rejection, be it pop culture or sexuality, is specifically left out.

It doesn't matter if women entering geek culture are as "geeky" as the men already there. Their not being there is the point. They could never make the culture "more awesome." And when one considers the perspective of those within the sub-culture, this makes sense.

While this is a sympathetic viewpoint, it does not absolve them. Perhaps my own experience with the sting of rejection makes me appreciate their views more than some others. I have never been an object of desire and that sucks. Losing myself in a fantasy world always felt great.

Moreover, this doesn't absolve the community of its racism and homophobia, although I think that these elements are something much more easily expunged. I think that it has more to do with the fact that middle-to-upper class culture in America is dominated by white, cis-gendered people. the biases of that socio-economic group will obviously rub off on any fantasy worlds created by it. Since geek culture was not created by people who had previously been rejected by homosexuals and people of other races, accepting these people will be something that will happen quickly. Accepting them will not undermine a tenet of geekdom.

Does that mean that traditional geekdom will not transform? Of course not. Traditional geek areas like science fiction, fantasy, and games will expand into the general culture, and the language is what will fade. Just as art and filmmaking are no longer the domain of those who lived on the outskirts of polite society, we will stop calling fantasy, science, and games "geeky." The label will die.

Perhaps that's the ultimate point that people should be making: geek culture as it was once known is dying. Science fiction, Dungeons & Dragons, comic books, video games, and fantasy are in the mainstream. I don't begrudge these men for wanting to have something into which they can escape, and specifically something that is theirs, separate from the broader culture. But they must realize that the world of traditional sci-fi, fantasy, and games is no longer that world.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Our Drug Laws Are Stupid (A Documentary)

Hooked: Illegal Drugs And How They Got That Way was a documentary that aired on the History Channel some years back--around the same time that the History Channel was still primarily the World War II Channel.

One thing that can be said of The History Channel, now simply called History, is that they are an incredibly timid, conservative channel. They want to insult no one, and worse still, have recently started catering to the lower common denominator in their show selection. While the LCD programming is a relatively new characteristic, they have always been conservative. That said, the fact that they were willing to air a series of shows that all but directly call our drug laws stupid is amazing. It should tell you how truly idiotic the laws actually are.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I Still Support Lance Armstrong

I assume that I am not the only person out there who still supports Lance Armstrong, but I'm going to say this anyhow. For one thing, I accept that the procedure by which the case against him was developed is one-sided. Cases that would never in a million years pass successfully through a court trial are held up as fact. The USADA is a sham organization.

That said, even if the USADA was as pure as the driven snow and Lance Armstrong was a creature of pure pitch straight from the pit of Sheol, my opinion wouldn't change. I may not like Armstrong as I now do, but I would still stand in support of his activity.

Likewise, I stand in support of every single major cyclist who was nailed for doping. I stand with any athlete who uses performance enhancing drugs. I see nothing wrong with it because there is nothing wrong with it. People get up in arms about it, but when forced to try to explain why they are up in arms, the explanations all  fail to pass even the most rudimentary analysis.

Not only do I support the principle of using drugs, but I also support Armstrong's wins as legitimate. The only way we can assume that they are not legitimate is if we likewise assume that no one else was using this special mojo that Armstrong was using. We now know that this is not true. All of the major players were using drugs, and in all likelihood, most of them are currently using drugs. If everyone was using drugs, and Armstrong still won, in my book that makes his wins legitimate.

But I feel that is beside the point. Armstrong (to say nothing of Ulrich, Basso, and others) did nothing wrong by taking the drugs. For me, a better case cannot be made than the documentary Bigger Stronger Faster: The Side Effects of Being American, the entirety of which is available on YouTube.

And if you don't choose to watch it, I'll leave you with a couple of questions. Why are hypobaric chambers and chemically engineered nutrient bars legal, but drugs not? Why were Oscar Pistorius' artificial limbs legal, but drugs not?

Conservatives Losing the Fight on Same-Sex Marriage

From Free Thought Blogs.
The notable silence by the Republicans on the issue of same-sex marriage during the current election campaign is a sign, if one needed one, of how rapidly sentiment has shifted on this issue. In 2004 opposition to this was very potent and was used to galvanize voters to go to the polls and vote for George W. Bush. Daniel McCarthy argues in The American Conservative that it is one more sign of the retreat of religion in the face of modernity... 
Even conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly thinks that they are losing this battle and blames (of course) public education.

No. You are losing the fight because you are a bunch of backward, bigoted, troglodytes and people don't want to be associated with you.

There is an extensive quote from an article in The American Conservative, and the author tries his best to frame the loss of a fundamental tenet of conservatism as something that is totally cool. I guess he is tired of being automatically classified as a bete noire at dinner parties when everyone there finds out he writes for a magazine called The American-freaking-Conservative.

My recommendation: stop being conservative. Then you won't simply be the most recent iteration of a grand tradition of being left behind by the progress of society.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Whither The Male Feminist

Earlier this year, there was something of a blow-up involving Hugo Schwyzer, a well known male feminist writer and professor. Essentially, he did a lot of really nasty stuff in his past. He directly covered up some of it and chose to cast other parts of it in edifying terms. This information was revealed late in 2011.

Apparently, many a writer and thinker in the feminist and gender community have had mixed feelings on Schwyzer for some time, and for them, this was the straw that broke the feminist's back. Websites that had previously been running his work pulled it, and he was largely cut out from the larger feminist conversation.

I don't want to talk too much about Schwyzer here. In fact, while I've felt that his voice wasn't necessarily a bad voice, his strong religiousness hinted at deeper personality layers that I suspected I would find distasteful if found out. Indeed, I have no idea how someone can call themselves a feminist and a Christian.

Instead, the point that came out of this that I found most interesting, and the one that I want to discuss, was the question of how men can be involved with feminism. There is a boat-load of complex variables hidden in this question, each one of which would take an entire book to adumbrate, and all of them have bearing. Obviously, I could never do them all justice in a blog post.

I shall thus put it in its coarsest formulation: can the person who is the beneficiary of an unequal society be a voice for those oppressed within that society? Can a straight, white, well-bred male talk with any meaningfulness about feminism (or any 'ism for that matter)? There were many women, and some men, who said "no." For them, the ideal scenario is a feminist movement essentially devoid of men. Most of them didn't frame this in misandristic terminology. They basically said that the purpose of feminism is to give a voice to the oppressed, not to give yet another stage for those who are not oppressed. This is the more extreme of the arguments.

The milder, and I think better, argument in favor of "excluding" men was to say that men should not be wholly excluded, but instead just not be given the spotlight. Men should never be the focus of feminism, and the superstars should always be women, since only women can fully understand other women.1

I think that both of these arguments are incorrect. That doesn't mean that I cannot appreciate the perspective, though. I am a straight, tall, white, man living in America. I live a life of, sometimes, invisible privilege. I truly have little idea of what it is like to be oppressed and victimized by prejudice and bigotry. But I can grow to understand it, and it is important to recognize this ability and not denigrate the human potential to understand a great deal without needing direct experience. As a man, I can grow to understand things by reading accounts of women and the sexism they must endure. I can learn to identify it. I can experience it empathetically. That is real, profound, and useful.

Moreover, even if we were more limited in this regard, even if I didn't have mirror neurons churning away to help me feel other people's pain, it would be important to have men in the discussion (sympathetic, well-meaning men, of course. Not trolls.). I have never been oppressed, but I have fallen victim2 to gender normative behavior and felt the drive of bias and sexism. I've been in groups of men expressing all kinds of sexist ideas and been made to feel profoundly uncomfortable about my behavior and thoughts. If I and others like me are not given the stage now and then, these valuable experiences will go unspoken. That would be a terrible thing.

The argument for male exclusion may have held more water if we were talking exclusively about sexism against women, but it's much more than that. The problem is not just female oppression, it's sexism and gender norms in general. All men are not the beneficiary of an unfair society. The patriarchy sucks for everyone except those on top. Being a white male may be easier than a black female, but that doesn't mean that my life can't suck in unique ways, and these are issues that need discussing.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a large complex of psychosocial variables hidden in this noise. If we focus on one thing, we miss the various ways these other variables can manifest. For example, homophobia is essentially misogyny in a different guise. Men are never penetrated. Men are the penetrator.  To be penetrated is to be a woman, which as we all know is the worst thing ever. And any man who is willing to be penetrated is not only broken and corrupt, but also dangerous since he may, like some kind of zombie, try to turn others into women.

The whitest, straightest, most cis-gendered man in the world can fall victim to this prejudice. He can be suddenly declared a persona non grata by his peers and ostracized. Or if the man is gay, and is afraid of this reprisal, he must remain hidden and fearful. Or a family that is "shamed" by the "abnormal" behavior of a child or parent that feels trapped in their neighborhood. All of this has its root in sexism and misogyny. All of this needs to be analyzed within the larger discussion.

To try and categorize that as gender studies and not feminism is to, I think, understate the breadth of feminism. We discuss racism through the lens of minority groups. We should discuss sexism through the lens of those most oppressed and analyze all of the ways that this prejudice infects other areas of life. I don't think we should look at this as a zero-sum game of superstars and celebrities. We should look at it as a network of people, all of whom have had different experiences, colored and affected by the same thing. These people all deserve an equal voice. To say that feminism is only about women is to deny this complexity.

I am a feminist. I seek no stage. My voice is only one of many, and many have suffered far worse than myself. But I am still a feminist, and I want to be a part of the discussion.


1: That latter assertion may seem a bit sweeping of a statement, but I completely agree. When the lives of men and women are so demonstrably different, unless a man pretends to be a woman for a couple of years, or is transgender, he will never be able to fully understand the gestalt of being female. It requires a woman. Although even then, not every woman gets it. We only need look at Michelle Bachman or other such wackados for examples.

2: I don't think that victim is too strong a word. I feel like a victim because I feel that society essentially poisoned me with deeply emotional programming that has taken years to untangle. It undoubtedly colored my interactions with people from a very young age, and lord knows what kind of damage it caused in friendships and family relationships. That said, I don't mean to take away from the significance that the word implies in many areas of sexism. I do not feel victimized in the same way that someone who has ever been assaulted, raped, or vilified would feel victimized.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The End of Twitter? (UPDATED)

I use Twitter. I have two accounts. I still rely primarily on my blogs for publication and communication, but Twitter sees some pretty significant activity. And this is, of course, why I'm a bit concerned with the way that Twitter is evolving.

Most of the people to which I've talked think that Twitter is making a pretty huge mistake. I tend to agree. They are taking away value from users instead of figuring out how to earn money with their current value set. That's never the way to grow a business. Truly, it may be the way to actually earn money, but that money will come at the expense of growth and customer engagement. That's why real business savvy is difficult. The perfect businessperson could make money while giving everything away for free.

In olden times, this wouldn't necessarily be a problem. A company could make a mistake, correct it, and move on. But in the tech world, as we have seen, the speed with which a company can fail is blinding. Myspace fell off the map in less than a year. A year! Even being in hardware provides no protection, with Nokia going from the #1 cell phone juggernaut to losing money and on life support in less than two years.

I think that companies can make small mistakes. Importantly, as long as value grows, even a major mistake can be forgiven. But with online-only companies, a major slipup can trigger the landslide of users to something else. Not necessarily a traditional "competitor," but perhaps something different. Did Blogger and Wordpress see Twitter as a competitor? Likely not, but they both took huge hits to their active user bases because of it.

What will rise to challenge Twitter? Who knows. All I know is that something is coming, and if Twitter acts like this, they weaken themselves such that they will fall and fall quickly when it happens. This isn't a doomsday scenario, but the world of Internet software has lit a fire under the ass of every company operating within the industry because the speed with which they can fail has accelerated so much. Every company must remain humble, and this behavior on Twitter's part indicates that they are not doing that.

UPDATE: I just now thought of the best example of this threat: Digg. Digg went from being a golden boy to dead in two years. And now, Digg, under new ownership, is trying to become a "startup" again. The problem is that once you're not new, you're not new. That most recent drop that you see on the chart down there was the release of this new version.

I think that this happened to Digg but not to Facebook during its frequent clashes with users because, firstly, Facebook really only had a single competitor, Myspace. Myspace was failing far worse than Facebook ever did. Digg had an immediate and direct competitor in the form of Reddit. Secondly, Facebook only ever added features. Sometimes, users thought the features overreached or were useless, but it was still an addition. Facebook was adding value. Digg took a bunch of stuff away. What's Twitter doing?

Twitter's 'revolution': becoming an old media company (Via The Verge)

Monday, September 10, 2012

How Small Is The Universe?

BBC Horizon has rather hit the skids recently. The quality of the show is abysmal. So it's a pleasant surprise when an episode manages to be both entertaining and informative, while not having the pandering crap evinced in episodes like "The Truth About Looking Young," which was unwatchable.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Russia Devolves Into Anarchy And Cannibalism Because of Music

The tabloid Life News, known for its sources within the Russian police and security services, published images of the graffiti, showing the words "Free! Pussy Riot" written in English on flowered wallpaper. The tabloid's owner, Ashot Gabrelyanov, tweeted: "If you still think that breaking the norms of behaviour in a church doesn't change anything, then I recommend you read the latest news."
Oh yes, because people were never horribly murdered when the church held sway.

'Free Pussy Riot' scrawled 'in blood' above murdered Russian women (Via The Guardian)

Thursday, August 02, 2012

On Junk Food for the Soul

Whenever you read some fuddy duddy complaining about how the moral fabric of our youth is being corrupted by this or that, read this fantastic article about the book The Closing Of The American Mind by the inimitable Frank Zappa.

It is interesting how the Internet has eliminated so many of the worries that both Zappa and Bloom had.

On Junk Food For The Soul: Frank Zappa's article from New Perspective's Quarterly on America's cultural decay. 1987.

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were one of the strongest influences on early rock n' roll. In recent years, Zappa has publicly defended rock from cultural conservatives like Tipper Gore and her group, the Parents' Music Resource Center, which seeks greater parental control over what they consider the inordinate influence of sex and violence in rock music.

We asked Frank Zappa to respond to selected passages from The Closing of the American Mind, in which Allan Bloom laments "Parents' loss of control over their children's moral education,' and provocatively labels rock music "junk food for the soul."

The Nature of Music

"Music is the soul's primitive and primary speech... without articulate speech or reason. It is not only not reasonable, it is hostile to reason...Civilization... is the taming or domestication of the soul's raw passions... Rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire- not love, not eros, but sexual desire undeveloped and untutored." — A. Bloom

This is a puff pastry version of the belief that music is the work of the Devil: that the nasty ol' Devil plays his fiddle and people dance around and we don't want to see them twitching like that. In fact, if one wants to be a real artist in the United States today and comment on our culture, one would be very far off the track if one did something delicate or sublime. This is not a noble, delicate, sublime country. This is a mess run by criminals. Performers who are doing the crude, vulgar, repulsive things Bloom doesn't enjoy are only commenting on that fact.

In general, anti-rock propositions began when rock n' roll began, and most of these were racially motivated. In the 50s, petitions were circulated which said, "Don't allow your children to buy Negro records." The petitions referred to the "raw unbridled passion" of screaming people with dark skin who were going to drive our children wild. Some things never go out of fashion in certain ideological camps. They are like tenets of the faith.

Music's real effect on people is a new field of science called psychoacoustics- the way an organism deals with wiggling air molecules. Our ears decode the wiggling air molecules, and that gives us the information of a particular musical sound. Our brain says, "This is music, this is a structure," and we deal with it based on certain tools we have acquired.

I personally make music because I want to ask a question, and I want to get an answer. If that question and answer amuse me, then statistically, there are a certain number of other people out there who have the same amusement factor. If I present my work to them, they will be amused by it, and we will all have a good time.

I need to be amused because I get bored easily and being amused entertains me. If I could be easily amused, like many people who like beer and football, I would never do anything because everything that would be beautiful for my life would already be provided by American television.

But beer and television bore me, so what am I going to do? I am going to be alive for X number of years. I have to do something with my time besides sleep and eat. So, I devise little things to amuse myself. If I can amuse somebody else, great. And if I can amuse somebody else and earn a living while doing it, that is a true miracle in the 20th Century!

Music and the Dark Forces of the Soul

"To Plato and Nietzsche, the history of music is a series of attempts to give form and beauty to the dark, chaotic, premonitory forces in the soul- to make them serve a higher purpose, and ideal, to give man's duties a fullness."  — A. Bloom

This is a man who has fallen for rock's fabricated image of itself. This is the worst kind of ivory tower intellectualism. Anybody who talks about dark forces is right on the fringe of mumbo jumbo. Dark forces? What is this, another product from Lucasfilm? The passions! When was the last time you saw an American exhibit any form of passion other than the desire to shoot a guy on the freeway? Those are the forces of evil as far as I'm concerned.

If there are dark forces hovering in the vicinity of the music business, they are mercantile forces. We meet the darkness when we meet the orchestra committees, when we get in touch with funding organizations, when we deal with people who give grants and when we get into the world of commerce that greets us when we arrive with our piece of art. Whether it's a rock n' roll record or a symphony, it's the same machinery lurking out there.

The reason a person writes a piece of music has got nothing to do with dark forces. I certainly don't have dark forces lurking around me when I'm writing. If someone is going to write a piece of music, in fact they are preoccupied with the boring labor and very hard work involved. That's what's really going on.


"Rock music... has risen to its current heights in the education of the young on the ashes of classical music, and in an atmosphere in which there is no intellectual resistance to attempts to tap the rawest passions... Cultivation of the soul uses the passions and satisfies them while sublimating them and giving them an artistic unity. Bach's religious intentions and Beethoven's revolutionary and humane ones are clear enough examples." — A. Bloom

This is such nonsense. All the people recognized as great classical composers are recognized at this point for two reasons:

One, during the time these composers were alive and writing they had patrons who liked what they did and who therefore paid them money or gave them a place to live so that the composers could stay alive by writing dots on pieces of paper. If any of the compositions these men wrote had not been pleasing to a church, a duke, or a king, they would have been out of work and their music would not have survived.

There is a book called Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, with thousands of names in it. You have never heard of most of the people in that book, nor have you heard their music. That doesn't mean they wrote awful music, it means they didn't have hits.

So basically, the people who are recognized as the geniuses of classical music had hits. And the person who determined whether or not it was a hit was a king, a duke, or the church or whoever paid the bill. The desire to get a sandwich or something to drink had a lot to do with it. And the content of what they wrote was to a degree determined by the musical predilections of the guy who was paying the bill.

Today, we have a similar situation in rock n' roll. We have kings, dukes, and popes: the A&R guy who spots a group or screens the tape when it comes in; the business affairs guy who writes the contract; the radio station programmers who choose what records get air play.

The other reason the classical greats survived is their works are played over and over again by orchestras. The reasons they are played over and over again are: 1) all the musicians in the orchestra know how to play them because they learned them in the conservatory; 2) the orchestra management programs these pieces because the musicians already know them and therefore it costs less to rehearse them; 3) the composers are dead so the orchestras pay no royalties for the use of the music.

Today, survivability is based on the number of specimens in the market place- the sheer numbers of plastic objects. Many other compositions from this era will vanish, but Michael Jackson's Thriller album will survive because there are 30 million odd pieces of plastic out there. No matter what we may think of the content, a future generation may pick up that piece of plastic and say, "Oh, they were like this."

I suppose somewhere in the future there will be other men like Bloom certifying that the very narrow spectrum of rock n' roll which survives composes the great works of the later half of the 20th Century.


"Rock music provides premature ecstasy and, in this respect, is like the drugs with which it is allied... These are the three great lyrical themes: sex, hate and a smarmy, hypocritical version of brotherly love... Nothing noble, sublime, profound, delicate, tasteful or even decent can find a place in such tableaux."  — A. Bloom

Again, Bloom is not looking at what is really going on here. The ugliness in this society is not a product of unrefined art, but of unrefined commerce, wild superstition, and religious fanaticism.

The real difference between the classics and rock n' roll is mostly a matter of form. In order to say we have written a symphony, the design we put on a piece of paper has to conform to certain specifications. We have an exposition that lasts a certain amount of time, then modulation, development and recapitulation. It's like a box, like an egg carton. We must fill all the little spaces in the egg carton with the right forms. If we do, we can call it a symphony because it conforms to the spaces in that box.

Compare that creative process to rock n' roll. If we want to have an AM hit record, we have another egg carton to fill. We have an intro, a couple of verses, a bridge, another verse, and then a fade out. All of which requires a "hook." That's a very rigid form. If we wander away from that form, our song's not going to go on the radio because it doesn't sound like it fits in their format.

Now, whether the person writing the song graduated from a conservatory or whether they came out of a garage, they know that in order to finish a piece they have to do certain things to make it fit into a certain form. In the classical period the sonata or a concerto or symphony had to be that certain size and shape or else the king was not going to like it. One could die. These were literally matters of life and death, but not in the way Bloom defines them.


"The family spiritual void has left the field open to rock music... The result is nothing less than parents' loss of control over their children's moral education at a time when no one else is seriously concerned with it. This has been achieved by an alliance of strange young males who have the gift of divining the mob's emergent wishes- our versions of Thrasymachus, Socrates' rhetorical adversary- and the record-company executives, the new robber barons, who mine gold out of rock."  —  A. Bloom

There is some truth to that, but how did we get to this point and what do we do about it?

We got here because teenagers are the most sought after consumers. The whole idea of merchandising the pre-pubescent masturbational fantasy is not necessarily the work of the songwriter or the singer, but the work of the merchandiser who has elevated rock n' roll to the commercial enterprise it is.

In the beginning, rock n' roll was young kids singing to other kids about their girlfriends. That's all there was. The guys who made those records came from Manual Arts High School. They went into a recording studio, were given some wine, $25 and a bunch of records when their song came out as a single- which made them heroes at school. That was their career, not, "Well, we're not going to sing until we get a $125 thousand advance."

Today, rock n' roll is about getting a contract with a major company, and pretty much doing what the company tells you to do. The company promotes the image of rock n' roll as being wild and fun when in fact it's just a dismal business.

Record companies have people who claim to be experts on what the public really wants to hear. And they inflict their taste on the people who actually make the music. To be a big success, you need a really big company behind you because really big companies can make really big distribution deals.

Even people who are waiting to go into the business know it's a business. They spend a great deal of time planning what they will look like and getting a good publicity photo before they walk in the door with their tape. And the record companies tend to take the attitude that it doesn't make too much difference what the tape sounds like as long as the artists look right, because they can always hire a producer who will fix up the sound and make it the way they want it- so long as the people wear the right clothes and have the right hair.


"Classical music is dead among the young... Rock music is as unquestioned and unproblematic as the air the students breath, and very few have any acquaintance at all with classical music... Classical music is now a special taste, like Greek language or pre-Columbian archeology, not a common culture of reciprocal communication and psychological shorthand."  — A. Bloom

On this point, Bloom and I can agree, but how can a child be blamed for consuming only that which is presented to him? Most kids have never been in contact with anything other than this highly merchandised stuff.

When I testified in front of the Senate, I pointed out that if they don't like the idea of young people buying certain kinds of music, why don't they stick a few dollars back into the school system to have music appreciation? There are kids today who have never heard a string quartet; they have never heard a symphony orchestra. I argued that the money for music appreciation courses, in terms of social good and other benefits such as improved behavior or uplifting the spirit, is far less than the cost of another set of uniforms for the football team. But I frankly don't see people waving banners in the streets saying more music appreciation in the schools.

When I was in school, we could go into a room and they had records there. I could hear anything I wanted by going in there and putting on a record. I won't say I enjoyed everything that was played for me, but I was curious, and if I had never heard any of that music I wouldn't know about it.

Once we're out of school, the time we can spend doing that type of research is limited because most of us are out looking for a job flipping hamburgers in the great tradition of the Reagan economic miracle. When all is said and done, that's the real source of America's barren and arid lives.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Why I Don't Care About The Olympics

It's not just the Olympics; it's all sports. I'm growing tired of every major sporting event and am even becoming contemptuous of many. The problem, in the main, is commercialism. The avarice, greed, and outright money-blinded stupidity of major sporting events is becoming impossible to ignore.

Haters of big sports have been attacking this element of them for some time. With a simple Google search, I was able to find multiple articles about the overt commercialization of NASCAR going back to the late 1980's. Every football season brings out another article decrying the loss of value in sports, with tickets costing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars; the major regulatory agencies push copyright to the breaking point in a desperate attempt to control each and every possible manifestation of a game in the public; and to be associated with the game at all requires paying out in a huge way. It. Is. Disgusting.

The Olympic Committee is a grand example of the corruption brought about by financial motivations. The committee is supposed to be non-profit, but how does that jibe with this quote from the Wikipedia page of the IOC:
Until 1992, both Summer and Winter Olympics were held in the same year. After that year, however, the IOC shifted the Winter Olympics to the even years between Summer Games, to help space the planning of the two events two years apart from one another, and improve the financial balance of the IOC, which receives greater income on Olympic years.
Short answer: it doesn't.

Or take this sampling of headlines showing that the stupidity doesn't just end at the IOC, but extends to the dumb-as-rugs media companies and countries that are willing to spend buckets of money in this farce.

Add to this the suffering that the athletes must go through, dealing with absurd rules that no sane person would accept or put up with. Do this, penalty! Do that, disqualified!

The functional problem is the sheer amount of money at stake. Whenever there is a lot of money to be made, the number of cooks in the kitchen increases by an order of magnitude, and it ruins things. Sports, and the Olympics specifically, are no different.

The aspect of this mechanism that is driving me away is that, in the fight for all of the money, they are fucking everyone else, and seemingly doing it with glee. The viewers, the cities, the athletes, the fans, everyone is getting fucked. And when the IOC, London, the NFL, and any other organization does something that is a bald-faced money grab, they are literally saying to everyone "we are going to fuck you, and you are going to take it because... you are going to take it."

No. I'm not going to take it. Not anymore. When you are visibly and undeniably disdainful of your audience, and your willingness to bully, blast, and otherwise be belligerent knows no bounds, I have no interest in even recognizing that your events are taking place.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Psychology Is Science

I remember taking the various statistical classes when working through my psych degree, and one of the few points that was echoed from professor to professor was the need to be almost anally exacting with research, measurements, and data. They all explained that this was because there was something of a negative perspective of psychology as something less than true science.

I assumed that this was something of the paranoid ramblings of professors who cut their teeth in the psych world of the 1970's, back when psychology was finally shaking off the last bits of spiritual, metaphysical junk  left behind by Freud and Jung. It was very much a problem. In my collection, I have some psychology books from the 1920's, and the work of Freud and Jung was taken as true! People actually believed this stuff!

It was comical to me, comical to every single one of my classmates, and comical to my professors. I appreciated that this baggage was once there, but could see plainly that it no longer was. Psychology was a science trying desperate to prove something everyone already believed.

In retrospect, perhaps I was naive. I only ever went to psychological conferences. I only ever worked with other psychologists and psychiatrists. And whenever I was involved with those from other fields, it was neurologists, with whom there was so much cross-pollination with psychology that it almost gelled into a single field.

As I have since learned, there is still a great deal of prejudice against psychology, being as it is a "soft" science. The major point against it is that "soft" sciences do not produce predictions.

I find this criticism absurd. Of course psychology produces predictions. Those predictions may be probabilistic, but they are predictions nonetheless. The limitation that we have is that our ability to measure humans is limited by our interaction with the machine that is a human: behavior. It is an imperfect measurement, but no less imperfect than measurements in the work of very early scientists. And as research continues, our ability to read behavior will get increasingly better — our ability to understand the workings of the machine will advance.

Stop bullying the 'soft' sciences (Via L.A. Times)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jolla And MeeGo Have Me Excited

I like Google. I really do. I think that there have been moments in their history where they could have done better —censorship issues in China being one of them— but overall, they are a vastly superior company to other tech heavyweights like Apple, Microsoft, and Intel. That said, I still yearn for an OS that isn't Android.

Android is something of a mess. Many geeks don't understand the actual problem of fragmentation in the OS because they've never experienced it. Many of them are usually at the cutting edge, sporting a cell phone that is either cutting edge or at least current-gen. For those who don't have the money, time on their contract, or like me, simply prefer to buy unlocked cell phones, fragmentation is a major problem.

For example, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10/X10 Mini/X8, Pro, and other phones were pretty big successes for Sony. They are technically Android phones, but they barely run the OS. Getting them to run at all smoothly requires rooting and a custom ROM using the newest version of Android.

Making matters worse is the immense amount of noise being generated by the manufacturers and carriers. Carriers mandate locks on the phone and un-deletable software, while manufacturers muddy the waters with custom versions of Android that frequently are inferior to the stock Android interface. Google's answer to this problem is the Nexus line of "pure" Android devices, and I think that it's a pretty good answer.

But, what if I don't want the Nexus? What if I want the HTC One X. If I get it unlocked, it's either the super-expensive international version that doesn't run on AT&T's high-speed network, or it's simply an AT&T phone with all of the same junk that's on the locked AT&T phone... it just costs more. In this regard, both Windows Phone and iPhone are superior, since locked or unlocked, it doesn't matter. It's the same phone.

I yearn for an OS and phone that isn't victim to all of the noise, noise, noise, noise from the carriers and manufacturers. Similarly, I yearn for a well-made platform that isn't reliant on a major corporation. That's a difficult thing. Linux has been around for well over a decade and still isn't a significant replacement for Windows or MacOS. Open source can work, but it's always easier to have a major presence behind any initiative.

Jolla and MeeGo have all of the work done by Nokia, and MeeGo specifically still has support from large numbers of hardware companies who are keen to avoid an OS duopoly of iOS and Android. MeeGo also has the support of geeks who would like an OS over which they have more control. Because while Android is open and tweakable, it is still Google's baby, and they raise it as they see fit.

I hope that MeeGo catches on. I'll totally make an app or two for it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Women Smarter Than Men? That's Unpossible!

A recent study by James Flynn, a researcher who focuses on intelligence, has shown that for the first time in, well, ever, woman are smarter than men according to IQ tests. This doesn't surprise me at all.

He says that women are being forced to stretch their brains more as they attempt to juggle all of the things that society expects of them: home, children, work, etc. He also speculates that women may simply be intellectually better than men on some biological level. Even though he admits that more research is obviously needed, I think that he's missing the most obvious answer: society asks very little of men.

While extreme societal demands on women undoubtedly have a part to play in all of this, I think that the primary reason for the failing of men is that they are not asked to work. Recently, colleges were caught letting in men who performed only slightly better than average, because if they let in those who truly excelled, they would be letting in almost nothing but women. They tried to explain this by saying that any smart university doesn't accept all qualified people since some set percentage of them will invariably choose to go to another school, but this was a nonsensical excuse for a number of reasons.

Their reasons were, almost humorously, more practical than that. Basically, schools don't want a student body that is overrun with women, because that may drive students away. Top-performing female students don't want to go a school that's filled with other women. They want a mixed crowd. If they don't want a mixed crowd, that's what the Seven Sisters are for.

Think about that. Men are performing so far below women of the same age that men who even slightly stand out are being given acceptance. It's not that society's expectations on women are too high, it's that their expectations on men are too low.

Think about all of the nearly pre-verbal people that you have met in your life. How many of them are men? I'd wager over 90%. That's my number, certainly. There is no reason why 90% of pre-verbal human chimps should be men. But it makes perfect sense when you think about the system of entitlement and absolution provided to men. Boys will be boys is heard when boys do almost anything undesirable. This is ridiculous and is a massive disservice to every male that we raise in this society.

If males fail in school, it's funny. If males act up, it's just what they do. If males reject the system, they're seen as rebels. When we give boys a pass for this sort of behavior, we fail them. In decades past, this worked fine. In decades past, the system was geared toward men, so even if a boy was an idiot, the system would simply grab him and place him somewhere. It was the very root of the factory job. Drop out of high school? No worries! Get a job at the local plants. None of these opportunities existed for women, and were, in fact, actively taken away from women after World War II to be given back to men.

Unfortunately, those systems are starting to fail under the immense weight of increasingly equal women — women who were forced to work so hard to overcome systemic sexism that they now wildly exceed the men that are being raised. My alma mater, Rhode Island College, is nearly 70% female. That is an untenable system. It cannot be maintained. It also completely explains why women exceed men on IQ tests. Because we're raising them to.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Viacom Blocks All Online Streams

In a case study of how to be clueless and alienate customers, Viacom has blocked online streams of The Daily Show, Jersey Shore, Colbert Report, and a number of other properties where full episodes were available for free. Why would Viacom so wildly shoot themselves in the foot? Duh! Because they're in a pissing match with another giant company, of course!

DirecTV has refused to pay a significant rate hike to carry Viacom channels, resulting in the loss of twenty-six channels including Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and MTV. DirecTV responded to hardball tactics by posting on their home page places where users could get Viacom shows directly from Viacom!

Yes. All that DTV did was tell people what Viacom was already producing. So to really drive home that the entire company is a gigantic child, Viacom screamed "no!" and took those streams away from everyone, regardless of whether they are involved with this issue or not. Viacom hurt 100% of its customers. That's a bang-up way to generate business, no?

The Death Of A Conservative

As I stated in an earlier post, I've experienced a wholesale shift in my perspective from a single realization: I cannot know another person's world. I mentioned how it has affected all areas of my thought, with one area affected most practically of all: politics.

Politics, at its root, exists on a spectrum between no government and absolute government. No government has only a single formulation, anarchy, and absolute government has as many different formulations as totalitarian states throughout history have managed to conjure.

Underlying those two extremes are two metaphysical extremes vis-a-vis the person. The first extreme is found in absolute government, where the Grand Machine is seen as the defining element of life. The second is found in anarchy, where the soul of the individual is seen as the defining element of life. I now consider the latter viewpoint to be entirely untenable. I once considered myself a libertarian. I no longer do.

It requires me to believe that my internal world, my soul, is identical to someone else's soul. It rejects the importance of outside variables and thus ascribes power and responsibility to the soul contained within a human. It's no surprise that "personal responsibility" is practically a mantra of the conservative right.

My viewpoint also rejects extreme government because any rigid formulation of government makes the exact same assumption as rigid conservativism. There can be no "one size fits all" approach. It is in this way that my view is fundamentally behavioristic. We cannot know someone else's world, and as such, our governmental formulation cannot take into account any assumptions about their world. It must work only with quantifiable variables of behavior and society and stated goals.

If we have high crime, we cannot simply say "Criminals are bad! we must punish them!" because we have a great deal of evidence to show that this viewpoint doesn't do anything. We must draw upon history, psychology, neurology, economics, and sociology to figure out what the best answer to a finely stated problem is. Whatever that solution turns out to be, we should enact it. The argument should take place during the goal-defining phase.

I think that this viewpoint has inherent limits. It could never result in anarchy or despotism since both extremes are historically and philosophically untenable. There is no argument that can be made in their favor.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Obama Delivers A Body Blow

I'm not a fan of Obama. I think that he's failed in most respects as President. I'm even less of a fan of Romney, though, and would hate to see him become president. This is a truly punishing attack ad against Romney. Granted, Romney's a pretty easy guy to attack. It makes you wonder why he thought it was a good idea to run for President in the first place.

Changing Perspectives

I have undergone a massive shift in my world perspective. I won't go into details. The point that I want to cover is the stunning effect that a single shift in one's outlook can have on every other element of a world view. The real success of an internal dialectic is the emotional acceptance of the conclusion. It's very easy to have an intellectual awareness, but humans are not purely intellectual. For example, everyone knows that they should not be eating unhealthy food, and yet most of us do. We are an increasingly fat country, even though we know how to not be.

I, for one, was well aware of what made a good diet. Still, I was nearly 260 pounds at my peak. If you had asked me ten years ago whether my diet was good or not, I likely would have answered correctly. It was not. But I was still eating crap! I was a cheese fry connoisseur. I had not been emotionally aware of the reality and because of that continued to, almost mindlessly, eat garbage. Only now, after a deeply emotional epiphany that I didn't enjoy eating crap did I stop and start eating better.

I had a similar emotional revelation when I became deeply aware that I do not know what the world of another person is like. I am fundamentally and metaphysically disconnected from everyone else. There is no way that I can ever know another person's world. Everything from the way that they look, their physical abilities, their upbringing: all of it has a substantive effect on the very nature of their reality. It is a reality that is as different from mine as it is similar.

How can I judge? How can I talk about other people? How can I even talk to other people?! Realizing that someone else's world is different from one's own threatens a nearly fatal blow to the very foundation of my social reality. I am me. What are others? They are something about which I care. I want friends and lovers. I want to be a good person. I want to be a good in society. But when society is comprised of millions of people, all of whom are ignorant of everyone else, how can we ever hope to make progress? How can we be shocked by racism, violence, and war, when the very ignorance of which I speak all but guarantees this sort of behavior?

It is, in many ways, a startling form of skepticism. It's not so easily rejected as true skepticism precisely because it is not so extreme in its rejection of knowledge. We know what the world is. It is what it is. And if we assume that other people are in fact thinking, feeling entities, we are left with a sense that what they think and feel is important, with no way to quantify it or make sense of it. We are socially incapable of any knowledge. That is a crippling realization, and one that has left me with a profound reassessment of my world.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Clovis Is Dead

I meant to post about this a few days ago, but here it is. Clovis is dead! And by Clovis, I mean the "Clovis First" theory. In a nutshell, the theory states that the prehistoric American culture seenin an find in Clovis, New Mexico represents the first humans to come to the New World over the Bering Straight land bridge before it was closed up with ice during the last Ice Age.

I was studying this seven years ago, and even then, the general opinion in the academic world was that Clovis first was almost undoubtedly wrong. Only later did I find out that there were many who were not only arguing as Devil's Advocate, but actually believed that "Clovis First" was true.

This blew my mind. One of the tenets of archaeology is that whatever is found, chances are, it was around long before the date of the artifacts. That makes perfect sense. Think about it. The chances that a find is the very first example of some given thing is essentially zero. It must always be assumed that what is found is older than the find. I'm disappointed because this study only shows Clovis to be pre-dated by one thousand years. Only a thousand? That's a "duh" statement! I wanted five thousand. Ten thousand.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Detroit And America's Intransigence

I'm watching Dan Rather Reports special two-hour investigation of Detroit's public schools. Long story short: they're screwed and they are emblematic of our nation's educational system on the whole.

Rather early on, they showed some videos from Detroit's past in the 1950's and 60's, when the city was rumbling with vibrant industry and manufacturing, and the ridiculously effusive language being used to describe the city and, indeed, all of America just stuck in my craw.

My craw got all stuck full of it because it reminded me of the same garbage in that innane "Halftime in America" ad for Chrysler that aired during the Super Bowl. It's the same shit, different generation, and it is absolutely infuriating.

We have problems. Detroit is hosed. Wanna' fix Detroit? Spend lots of money, build a lot of stuff, and let the child run. We are not doing that, though. We are not doing any of that. Instead, we dumped trillions of dollars into the banks — thus saving the all-important rich people — and the public debate is between those who want to fix things, and borderline-crazy nincompoops like Ron Paul who think that the world will magically fix itself.

No, what videos like the Chrysler ad show is that we don't need to actually fix problems, we just need to feel great about being American! Fix problems? Pah! We're American! Poor people can't afford food? Pah! We're American! Middle class collapsing? Pah! We're American! Unemployment at double-digits? Pah! WE ARE FUCKING AMERICAN!

This feel-good garbage, so strongly rooted in American exceptionalism, makes me want to puke. We are not "Americans". We are a group of people, nothing more, and our system is broken. We need to fix it. Not doing anything and feeling proud about that hasn't worked up to this point, so why should we expect it to magically start?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Our Dental System Sucks. Let's Fix It.

Our dental system sucks. Frankly, though, I think the bigger issue is the whole of the medical system in this country being hosed. It is an interesting point, and one that is expandable to the whole of the medical industry, that dentists are doing very well for themselves and are actively averse to any changes that may make dental care cheaper and more accessible. I think that this sense of entitlement is something that we will have to address before we go forward with broader changes.

Watch Dollars and Dentists on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Internet In 1969 Was Amazing!

This video shows a demo of what they thought the Internet would be like in the future. Considering that they were still looking at things from a primarily analog perspective, this isn't a terribly bad piece of futurizing.

I love the healthy dose of sexism that was thrown in for... the hell of it?

Predicting the future is the kind of endeavor into which there will always be prejudices injected. Predictions from the hyper-conservative post-war era always have technology being used almost exclusively to support extant social norms. For all intents and purposes, life is exactly the same, just with some weird gizmo doing things that people were already doing perfectly fine. Just imagine how funny it would be if their predictions were completely accurate.

"After dinner and homework are all done, the family sits down together to watch hours and hours of videos about cats. Because in the future, cats have become the predominant form of entertainment."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Karen Klein And The Village

Karen Klein is the bus monitor who recently became a viral video sensation after video of her being horrifically berated by some kids on a bus became national news. Her fund-raiser (which had a target of $5,000) has broken $600,000 at the time of this writing. Many people are saying that this has as much to do with hatred of kids as it does support for Karen. I think that it's not simply child-hatred or a perception that children today are worse than children of yesterday. I think that it is merely a visible element of a complex social mix.

Even though conservatives responded very negatively to Hillary Clinton's book It Takes A Village, they actually agree with what it says. The only difference is that in the conservative formulation, they are allowed to be judgmental assholes since they blame the family for the failure of a child as opposed to the society in which the family lives.

What do I mean by them agreeing? Go out and talk to anyone who was of childbearing age fifty years ago, sixty years ago, and ask about the social pressure to have children. Those who didn't have kids were seen as selfish and strange — judgments that the religio-conservative right still fling around today. These ideals were still strongly felt in all social segments as little as twenty years ago. Understandably, this created a feeling of contempt among those who had no interest in having children, and the lingering judgments create further contempt now.

No, it's not as explicitly stated as it once was, but the act of marriage and children is still seen as the badge of adulthood by a large hunk of the population. And for the young people of today, this pressure comes from those who were raised in decades past where these expectations were explicitly stated: their parents, grandparents, and extended family. My own family (and the family of my partner) are not-so-quietly hoping that we will reproduce.

That is, I think, at least one of the primary roots of this amazing outpouring of support for this woman. Many of us hate children not just because children are pricks, which they sometimes are, but because we are seeing children as a symbol of social pressure that is stressful.

Oddly, I also argue that the wellspring of the behavior on the children's part is also of the same sort. We have the aforementioned renouncers of parenthood, but on the other end of the spectrum, we have those who happily engage in child-bearing. They are doing so in a society that today has two large, conflicting pressures: the pressure to be an individual and reject social expectations, and the pressure to be a "good person." This gives an opening for those to inject an enormous amount of self-importance and self-rigteousness into the act of having children. They still see themselves as part of the individualists, but enjoy a sensation of being traditional as well. They try to raise themselves above the individualist din by appealing to conservative values. This sort of activity was hilariously lampooned in the song Pregnant Women Are Smug.

In this rejection/acceptance of parenthood, we run the risk of highly entitled children being produced. People have injected such an enormous amount of importance into the child, because they are living vicariously through that child, that any assaults on the child are seen as unjust, even if the child is a complete jerk. This is because assaults on the child are interpreted as assaults on the parent.

This is not new behavior, obviously. Parents have lived vicariously through their kids for generations. I suspect that the problem is growing because of the loss of reverence of authority.

I think here we are seeing a pendulum swing. Sixty years ago, authority was automatically assumed to be correct in any conflict with a child. Look at the unprecedented child abuse cases from decades past that are only being revealed now. How many of these cases could have been uncovered if children had been listened to. For further evidence, look the trope in television and movies of the child who knows the truth, but is ignored as a liar, fabricator, or storyteller. Sixty years ago, teachers were allowed to hit children, today, teachers can't even hug children.

Compounding the problem is Internet access. Kids today can more easily learn than ever before that adults are just as stupid, immature, and dickish as other kids are. The separation of "child" and "adult" is becoming harder to maintain. And even if kids aren't thinking too deeply about the concept, they can use the Internet to simply enact experimental actions against authority. The AP covered this in only slightly-alarmist tones here.
In Maryland, students posed as their vice principal's twin 9-year-old daughters on pedophile websites, saying they had been having sex with their father and were looking for a new partner. Elsewhere, students have logged on to neo-Nazi and white supremacist sites claiming to be a Jewish or minority teacher and inciting the groups' anger. Others have stolen photographs from teachers' cellphones and posted them online.
These are the kinds of behaviors that we should be regulating. Instead, we try to take cell phones away, expel kids for legitimate criticism of teachers, and have inane zero-tolerance policies that causes kids to be expelled for bringing plastic flatware into school. The pendulum has not only swung too far, it is downright broken.

Obviously, in any discussion like this, alarmism must be carefully avoided. Kids today are not fundamentally worse than kids from a generation ago. I think that observable behavior is increasing because the environment is both allowing or amplifying the behavior. Likewise, since the generation isn't fundamentally worse, they will likely turn out just the same as previous generations — afflicted by the same problems and resulting in the same demographic groups.

This is a long way from my original subject, Karen Klein. I think that the support shown her is a historical fluke. The event of her exposure happened at the right place, in the right time, to the right population. The remnants of an old social order are in their death throes, and are mixing with the emerging social order to create specific psychosocial anxieties and issues. Once the old way dies, so goes our contemporary specific problems with children; so goes the wellspring of our reaction to this event; and so goes the wellspring of the event itself. In another time, no element of this series of events would have ever happened.

But for now, for all of the incidental elements of the process, it did happen. So send the women a couple bucks. Because, man, kids suck.