Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mark Halperin, Obama and Racism

Here's a general view of mine: liberals often rather overestimate how much anti-Obama-ism is racism. The wingnuts went insane when Clinton was in office. They accused him of being a drug-runner, a traitor, a murderer. They'd hate any Democrat who'd won in 2008. Until they regain something like their senses--such as they are--they'll viciously attack any Democratic President, regardless of color. 


I have to say that the outright disrespect shown to Obama--as opposed to the hatred--makes me re-think the position above. There is absolutely no excuse for (the idiot) Mark Halperin saying that Obama "was kind of a d*ck yesterday." First, it simply isn't true. And second, we've had genuine d*cks in the vicinity of the presidency--Cheney, for example--and nobody called them that on a major network. The very fact that Halperin--idiot though he is--would even think of saying such a thing--such an entirely unwarranted thing--in such a venue has to make us wonder. It rather reminds me of Joe Wilson's outburst during the state of the union address. These things are so astonishingly disrespectful that I have to rethink my view in the first paragraph. It's just a bit hard for me to believe that people would be so openly disrespecting Obama if he were white. I don't make charges of racism lightly--and, of course, I'm explicitly noting that this is really a hypothesis rather than a charge. Perhaps these things are merely the consequence of the radicalization of the loony right, and the Wilsons and Halperins would be saying these things even if Obama were white...but frankly, I rather doubt it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

If George Will Is Praising a SCOTUS Ruling Protecting the Freedom of "Speech," You Know It's Really About Corporate Money

...which is, of course, not speech at all...

As soon as I saw the title of his piece this morning, I knew this must be what was up.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Does Living In a City Make One Crazy?

Maybe. (Via Sullivan)

Don't forget that "neuroscience" is really a branch of psychology, and that psychology is notoriously unreliable. We are, currently, flooded with big conclusions tenuously based on scanty, preliminary MRI data. (And, a friend of mine who studies such things, tells me that almost no one actually knows how to calibrate the MRI machines correctly...) I believe basically none of this stuff, and am likely to maintain that attitude for awhile--until techniques improve, the most outlandish of the claims get walked back, and metastudies start to come out.

However, this is one result that coheres with my own experience, FWIW. In fact, it's weird that anyone would need to use an MRI to get to this conclusion. I'm sure there's significant variation across people, but cities make me nuts. I don't understand how people can put up with the crowds, the noise, the concrete, the lack of trees and grass, the smell, the pollution, and the concentrated stupidity. It's a bad way to live. Don't get me wrong...big cities are fun to visit. But I'll never understand how people can live there, especially in the age of the interwebs, when the main problem of rural life--isolation--is significantly mitigated.

Sadly, the attitude on the left seems to be "stop trying to slow population growth...and if you don't live in a city you are an environmental criminal." My view, however, is: get on the overpopulation problem and we can live where we want. I don't intend to have kids, I try to minimize my carbon footprint, give to environmental causes, etc...but as soon as I can afford it, it's a fair amount of land in the country for me, and that is non-negotiable. I'm not going to spend my life living like a rat in a cage because other people won't stop having kids. Period.
Wingnuts' Anti-Gore Eugenics Fantasy

These people are not getting any smarter...

I don't know which is more amazing to me--the fact that they still hate Gore, after Bush wrecked the country, or the fact that they so viciously attack anyone who points out that we have to do something about the population problem.

When I reflect on how much better shape we'd be in if not for the Florida shenanigans, I want to burst into tears. If Gore had been president on 9/11, we'd have gone into Afghanistan full-force, gotten OBL ten years earlier, never gone into Iraq, never lost the good will of the world, never ended up with the Bush tax-cuts for the rich and Medicare part D, and never racked up a mind-blowing debt. Of course the GOP would have tried to impeach Gore after 9/11--though he'd never have been as irresponsible about the al Qaeda threat as Bush was. And they'd be blaming Gore for 9/11 to this day (whereas they somehow turn 9/11 into Bush having "kept us safe.") So winning would have been worse for Gore personally, but better for the nation.

At any rate, they sure do hate the guy--as they hate any prominent Democrat. The story on the other end of the link, about how an innocent cell phone video sent the fever swamps into yet another frenzy, is basically par for the course.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fox News Headlines vs. Actual News Headlines


(via Reddit)
More On Warm-Blooded Dinosaurs

Something new.

(via Reddit)
Woman Arrested for Taping Cops From Her Property
 Cops Then Ticket Her Supporters For "Crimes" Like Parking 1/2" Too Far From Curb

Everyone involved in this needs to be fired forever from government and the police force. What is this, some kind of two-bit, low-rent police state? For the love of God...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Obama Is Magic

LOL...he may actually have some kind of magical powers. Magical, baby-quieting powers...

Seriously, though, this is the kind of little incident that spins off tales of supernatural abilities. Not anymore so much, perhaps, but once upon a time...

One way or the other, dude is wicked cool, funny, charismatic and a good human being. No wonder the wingnuts hate him...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Computer Can Eat Your Computer
See You In Hell, Windows XP

Big shout outs to the Mystic and Captain Quantum for guiding me through my first computer build. The Mystic, early in this process, had helpfully noted that none of the components I was considering were even remotely acceptable, and made constructive suggestions like "shut up and buy this list of components I have written down for you, you ignorant Luddite technopeasant." Of course I paraphrase...

The result is a micro-ATX machine built around a 3.1 GHz quad-core Sandy Bridge, with a EVGA GTS450 graphics card, built for well under $600 (excluding monitor) (!!). All this is in a super-sweet PGS Qx-2000 case (a completely gratuitous present from said Mystic, who tried to characterize it as a birthday present...which would have to be either about five months late or about seven months early...thanks again, dude!)

I've been limping along on my antique Babbage Engine + Windows XP ferever fer chrissake. So it is with great pleasure that I move into the 21st century with an awesome new machine...+ Windows 7.

Thanks also to JQ for good-naturedly making several runs for needed supplies.

Now I will be lord god king of the online zombie-killers...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Canadians Riot Over Boring Sport

Apparently a bunch of pathetic douchebags were upset that the millionaires in the local sports franchise lost a contest to the millionaires in the sports franchise in a different city, so they destroyed tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars worth of property and perpetrated some petty violence...when, y'know, they were sure they could get away with it...

Jeez, Canada. I am disappoint.

There goes my Theory of Canada, which went like this: Canadians are like sane Americans. (Except for that bear suit guy. He's obviously deeply bugshit.)

What I find most interesting about stuff like this is how deeply and intensely stupid it is. I mean, to riot like this--especially over anything sports-related--you really have to be off-the-scale stupid. Society is set up in such a way that even the deeply, pathetically stupid among us are generally able to get by so long as they can manage to walk upright. Events like this make us remember that a fairly large percentage of the (especially male) population is just waiting for an opportunity to perpetrate some violence ( long as they are fairly sure they'll be able to get away with it).

I always think about the environmental impact of stupidity like this. Perfectly good cars destroyed...that's massive resources wasted...more wealth in one car than many people in the developing world will ever see. Massive amounts of smoke gratuitously pumped into the atmosphere. Windows broken. Etc. Paying an environmental cost for doing something worthwhile is one thing. Just f*cking breaking shit for no reason...insane.
Poop Burgers
Soylent Brown*

See, if we eat nothing but poop and soy milk,and cover most of the globe with high-rise communes in which we live five to a room, we can cram, oh, hell, 20 billion people or so onto this planet. Surely that is not too high a price to pay for continued economic growth and...uh...whatever else it is that unbridled population growth is supposed to get us...  We were going to eat dirt, but all the topsoil washed away...  So poop it is!

( *Link and witty phraseology via Metafilter.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Weiner Pulls Out


Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Of course IOKIYAR...and the double standard galls (John Edwards: possibly headed to prison; Newt Gingrich: possibly headed to the Oval Office). But what this moron did was so idiotic (not to mention gross, even by my slack standards) that I'd rather be shed of him.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Against An Original Intent Interpretation of the Constitution

At Democracy (via Kleiman)

I've always been drawn to an original intent view of Constitutional interpretation, and skeptical of the alternatives. Here Stone and Marshall make some interesting points, including one hard-hitting roundhouse: the Founders' intentions were too indeterminate to settle many (most?) of the relevant questions. And, furthermore, that means that interpreters often project their own views onto the Founders.

The second point is interesting, but the first one is devastating. That's going to set me thinking on this for quite awhile...
Congress Gets Tough With Obama Over Libya
In Which I Finally Agree With The GOP About Somthing


Of course the group is bipartisan, and the Republicans are undoubtedly doing this for the wrong reasons. They loved the surreal invasion of Iraq, with its patently fictitious trappings of a humanitarian intervention...but that was Bush, and this is Obama. And every one of Obama's decisions must be opposed at every turn. Hell, at least Bush did get Congressional authorization...even if he twisted and abused it. Oh, and: this is genuinely a humanitarian mission...and Republicans typically will not stand for something like that (see their opposition to Clinton's humanitarian action in the Balkans).

So, this is being done for all the wrong reasons, and it's largely just another expression of GOP insanity...but even a stopped clock--and even a very stupid, very destructive, very partisan stopped clock--is right twice a day. IMHO, Congress needs to get serious about the War Powers Resolution. This is a dumb time to get serious about it, but I think we've got to take the long view here.
Tea Party Summer Camp


I don't understand the bubble/socialism analogy at all.  But if they're going to go with that candy-as-money thing, they do need to randomly determine how much candy each kid gets. Some should start out with more than anyone could ever eat, and some should get virtually none. Then they should let the kids pay candy to influence the writing of rules so that the kids who already have a lot of candy can get more. Unlike that bubble business, this activity would actually teach them something.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

David Gelernter: Liberals, Obama are Nihilists Who Hate America and Love Nothing

I am not making this up.

Via Drum and Chait, the former of whom notes that this should be preserved as a paradigm of early-21st-century conservative derangement.

Hard to believe, but the fever swamps may be getting even more fetid...
Did Reason Evolve In Order To Win Arguments?

Not likely, but there's this.

I don't pay much attention to this sort of thing, because it is so fashionable to promote the line that humans are irrational. There is, of course, interesting stuff in the mix, but the current pop-psych inclination seems to be to breathlessly promote every study that seems to impugn human reason.

Then, of course, there's the fact that you can't trust newspaper science writing at all. So until I dig up the relevant issue of BBS, I doubt that I have a very good idea what Mercier and company are really arguing.

Some obvious points, however:

1. Confirmation bias doesn't seem to play much of a role in winning arguments. Note that confirmation bias does not merely affect us when we have some stake in the outcome, nor merely with regard to propositions we advocate. Rather, we are plagued by confirmation bias even when we have no stake in the proposition at issue. It also makes us more apt to believe the propositions advanced by other people. So the hypothesis in question seems to have no advantage with regard to explaining one of our most significant cognitive flaws.

2. Intelligence is expensive (in evolutionary terms); it is also a kind of general-purpose ability. It seems prima facie unlikely that evolution would spend so profligately on an ability with such a narrow goal, when there are so many other things that intelligence is good for. The more reasonable hypothesis is the more ordinary one: intelligence is good for solving problems generally, and persuading others is just one type of problem among many others.

3. The worst thing about hypotheses like this is that evolutionary psychologists seem incapable of resisting illegitimately drawing normative conclusions. Witness the claim that we can't improve people's reasoning because it is doing "exactly what it is supposed to do." No. At best, it is doing what it evolved to do; that's quite different. Furthermore, intelligence has almost certainly been selected for largely because it allows for problem-solving generally, and that means that, if such things have functions, then its function is likely to be problem-solving.

This is all off the top of my head, and that's a dumb place for things to come take it all with a grain of salt. But the non-stop parade of this kind of stuff in the NYT and elsewhere is rather annoying me. After more thought, I might retract some of the above.

Whoops...there I go trying to figure out the truth, rather than persuade people...

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Craziest Thing You Will Read This Week:
Charles Hurt: "Sarah of Alaska" as Joan of Arc


This is entirely out of touch with reality.

Except, of course, in that Palin is about as out of touch with actual reality as Joan of Arc apparently was... So there is some kind of back-door, out-of-touch-with-reality way in which this is not as out of touch with reality as it might be.

But in all the front-door ways: off the bugshit scale.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

More Bad PHIL 101 From Sam Harris

Jebus, why does Sullivan keep linking to this guy?

What this Harris fellow gives us is a very skewed version of the discussion, conducted at an extremely elementary level--not quite the level at which the issue would be discussed in, say, PHIL 101. If you want to understand the issues, you certainly don't want to rely on Mr. Harris's blog posts. Even an introductory textbook would give you a more advanced understanding of the debate. You might, for example, check out Four Views on Free Will, just to get started.

Harris doesn't seem to have a terribly good grip on the issues, and he doesn't seem to be interested in objectively assessing the arguments. Rather, he seems to be cut from the same cloth as Dawkins--he's got a preferred philosophical view (that he seems to think is science-rific!), and he's selling it. He's an ad man, marketing a position that he wants you to believe. It is, of course, a position with certain theoretical virtues, and it might turn out, in the end, to be true. But the information and reasoning currently available to us do not support the claim that it is. Again, it's good that guys like this are trying to get some philosophy out to the public, but it's too bad that what they're getting out there isn't very good. This sort of thing will just help convince people that philosophy is BS, which is too bad.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Ross Douthat on Euthanasia


Douthat's not right, so far as I can tell. But maybe there's a point in there that the leftosphere is missing.

Perhaps Douthat's thinking something along the following lines: liberals who don't think a lot about philosophy have a tendency to say--and, at least to some extent, believe--that if an individual has a desire to to x, and x does not harm any other individual, then the first individual should be allowed to do x. But that's not true. Here's the easiest case: Smith wants to kill himself on Monday for stupid--and, let's say, fleeting--reasons. We shouldn't let him do that, and the state shouldn't let him do that. Furthermore, if someone wants to, say, cut off his legs for stupid--and, let's say, relatively non-fleeting--reasons, we probably shouldn't let him do that, either. Suppose, for example, he believes that he'll grow better legs as replacements. Bad reason. No go on that, Sparky.

The liberal idea is that there is a large private sphere, and individuals should be given either total freedom within that sphere, or nearly so. But it's not an entirely unproblematic position. Desire per se is not sacred, and not in and of itself always a good reason to do something.

The case of self-initiated euthanasia is different, of course, because the reasons that motivate it are (generally) neither stupid nor fleeting. They may be sub-optimal or subtly confused--but not likely in all cases. One thing that motivates the liberal view is that individuals are often in a better position to make judgments about their own particular case than are other individuals--or than is the state. And that's likely to be the case in euthanasia cases as well. Ross Douthat doesn't know what it's like to be in unendurable pain with no hope of recovery (and neither do I). One might worry that individuals in such pain are not in a position to make fully rational judgments...but that worry is more than outweighed by the fact that the rest of us are in an even less-favorable epistemic position on account of not having acquaintance with the relevant evidence--that is, not knowing what the pain is like. Furthermore, if Smith is in such pain that he is no longer fully rational, that's yet another plausible reason for thinking that euthanasia is a permissible option; it is reasonable to think that degenerating into a less-than-human state is worse than death. And that view is not grounded in some mistaken liberal over-valuing of desire.

So, in short, the smart euthanasia-is-sometimes-permissible position goes like this: it is wrong to end life for bad reasons; however, not all reasons for which people perform euthanasia are bad.

The case is slightly complicated by the fact that Kevorkian was a lunatic. But it's often the case that the person who ends up leading a worthy campaign is a kook. Kevorkian's lunacy is not entirely irrelevant, but it's only marginally relevant.

Douthat simple ignores all the weighty considerations on the other side of the discussion. When they're added in, the Douthat/Catholic position is hard to maintain.
I Definitely Didn't Post It, But Can't Say For Sure Whether It's Mine

So, I can tell you for sure that I did not post this to Blogger. Now, I have lots of essays and blurbs on my hard drive, you know, and saved on Blogger...I mean, I can't say for sure that it's not my writing...  I can tell you that I'm looking into it.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Anthony Weiner, Dumbass Liar and Dumbass

Who the hell is stupid enough to do something like this?

I've done some stupid things, and I've done some stupid things for sex...but Jesus. This jackass makes me look like a cross between Albert Einstein and the Pope.

Who is this stupid? This lacking in good judgment and self-control? To tell you the truth, I kinda wish he'd just GTFO, the lackwit.

The country is in a virtual tailspin, the GOP is in power in the House and trying its damndest to make things even worse...and this asshat can't keep it in his pants and off of Twitter. Just the kind of press the poor, stupid, beleaguered Dems need.

Oh and: don't forget to lie about it when you're busted! That's the cherry on...ew...  Just forget it.

Wait, one more thing, you moron: I can virtually guarantee you that NOBODY WANTS TO SEE YOUR DAMN JUNK.
Alamo Drafthouse Rules

I've never even been to an Alamo Drafthouse, but it's my new favorite movie theater. Behold: they kick out assholes who insist on using their phones during the movie.

Is the Magnited States of America a great country or what?

(via Reddit)

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Theodore Dalrymple on a Psychopathic Murderer and Flaws in the Liberal World-View

Jebus, it's downright distressing how little I agree with what I read from conservatives anymore. This, however, I am sympathetic with, FWIW.

In the piece, "Theodore Dalrymple" discusses a psychopathic murderer/cannibal who committed his crimes while writing a dissertation in "homicide studies." Said psychopath had already given innumerable people irrefutable evidence that he needed a bullet in the brain, but, alas, this evidence was ignored. Oh and: he's lived his whole life at taxpayer expense, to boot...

But Dalrymple's real point is about weaknesses in--as I'd put it--a certain interpretation of the liberal world-view. (He thinks it's liberalism per se; I think not.) (Relevant.) The liberal tendencies to (a) excuse everyone from blame and (b) medicalize every problem lead, as Dalrymple points out, to (though he does not put it this way) the abolition of man. Liberals need not go down that path, of course. One can recognize that some problems are medical without medicalizing everything, and one can recognize that conservatives are too free with blame without doing away with the concept entirely. We can acknowledge the role that biology, history, culture and circumstance play in people's lives without (contra Sam Harris) pretending that they explain everything.

I have to say, ultimately I'm not positive what Dalrymple's point about the pscychopath is supposed to be...but the post is, according to me, worth a glance, at any rate.
More Bad Philosophy From Sam Harris
Free Will and Morality This Time


I wish I had known that one could get rich by packaging breezy summaries of middle-brow philosophy for the internet. Good work, in a way, if you can get it...

I mean, I hate to harsh on people who are genuinely interested in philosophical problems, and who are popularizing them. But when you present only one side of complex discussions and try to make the answers seem not only easy, but obvious...that's not so good. Added demerits if you get it wrong...though at this point, we enter more controversial territory.

Harris here sketches a sketch of a very sketchy case for hard determinism plus a view that hard determinism is not incompatible with morality. The basic determinist argument is not original with Harris, of course. Harris's arguments appear in better forms in Schopenhauer's Essay on the Freedom of the Will. The bit about morality and punishment is the sort of thing that's also appeared in B. F. Skinners horrifyingly awful Beyond Freedom and Dignity.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this. I'm not an expert on the freedom debate, for one thing. But one thing to note here is that people like Harris want to pretend that the implications of hard determinism can be easily contained. Harris's basic commitment--like that of Dawkins and company--is to a breezy scientism. His M.O. is to take difficult issues, make them sound easy, and make the solutions sound obvious and painless and quasi-scientific.  The point is not that Harris is obviously wrong, of course. The point is that it is an egregious mistake to pretend, as he does, that he is obviously right. He either doesn't understand or doesn't care to think about the implications of the conclusion that we are all just squishy robots.

The objection is not, of course, that determinism is unpleasant. Rather, the problem is that we cannot simply accept determinism without radically revising our view of human beings and human life and its (apparent) value. The view that we have at least some measure of freedom is so central to our view of humans and their value that abandoning that view is not going to be possible with just a few teaks here and there. Rather, it requires a large-scale revision of our thinking. It's not just a matter of a wee revision to our view of moral criminals; rather, we would, it seems, have to abandon the idea (for example) that anyone ever deserved anything, good or bad. And certainly it would, in this brave new world, make more sense to imprison someone prone to past and future dangerous accidents than it would to imprison someone who had committed horrible, premeditated crimes in the past, but who would not do so again in the future.

We ought also note that metaphysical determinism--the view that every event has a(n efficient) cause--is simply false. It is not, or so the physicists tell us, even true of macroscopic objects like you and me. Harris asserts that no view of causation is consistent with freedom, but that is false. Although mechanistic, efficient causation seems inconsistent with freedom (and: so does randomness), it is in no way clear that final causation is incompatible with freedom. But breezy scientism has no place for hard thinking about final causes.

And, finally, it's important to stress again that the problem isn't that hard determinism makes us sad. The problem is that it is an unproven view built on presuppositions that are largely at odds with current physics, as well as a view which is inconsistent with much of what we're convinced of about ourselves, our lives and our capacities. Hard determinism may be true, though currently I'd bet against it. And if it is true, it's going to force us to radically rethink our place in the world. 

Though, of course, one problem with determinism is that it has head-spinning implications even for thinking about its implications. It's very difficult to make any room for any types of obligations if determinism is true--and that includes logical obligations. So, suppose that I come to believe that determinism is true, and I recognize that I am obligated to come to believe the implications of the view. But then I realize that, if determinism is true, I simply either will or will not recognize those implications, and there is nothing that I can do about it. It has been determined since the Big Bang that, for any implication, M, of determinism, I either will or won't believe it. In fact, I can't do otherwise. And since--despite Harris's drive-by of the subject--'ought' does imply 'can', if I don't come to believe M, then I can't, so it is not true that I ought to. The determinist might point out that determinism does not entail that my actions are ineffectual--it may very well be true that if I thought about it harder, I'd accept M. True, but irrelevant. The fact is that, if determinism is true, then I can't think harder than I do; it has been determined since the big bang that I will think this hard about it and no harder...  And so on.

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Last Mountain

Massey Energy is in the process of blowing up Coal River Mountain, the highest remaining mountain in West Virginia. Here is the story of those who fought the destruction.

Big coal has destroyed the 500 biggest mountains in West Virginia. They set off enough explosives every week to equal a Hiroshima-sized bomb. They're destroying mountains that have been here since the creation of Pangea, all to remove a substance that, when burned, is one of the main drivers of global warming.

I'm no Luddite, nor some hippie-dippy Utopian who thinks we don't need much energy. But this, my friends, is insane.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Krugman: The Austerity Delusion
Jobs Now, Deficits Later

Can't believe I missed this.  I'm ignorant of economics, so what do I know? But for years I've obsessed about the debt and the deficit, and, even in the face of that obsession, "jobs now, deficit later" has seemed to me to be the only rational position. How is it that the GOP seems to latch onto exactly the wrong position over and over again? It's genuinely baffling.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Asian Hitler Restaurants ????

[slightly NSFW b/c of the ads.]