Sunday punditry

When I was a boy, Saturday morning cartoons were a thing. There were no cartoon channels, no every day any day any time access to cartoons, but instead they were all packed into the early morning hours one day a week, on Saturday, when our parents were sleeping in and grateful for distractions that would give them an extra hour or two of rest. So we’d scamper out of bed, fetch ourselves a bowl of sugar-frosted chocolate sugar bombs, and lounge about glassy-eyed watching cats and ducks explode. We weren’t totally vapid, though, we contemplated important questions. Like, why is this ancient Bugs Bunny cartoon so much better animated and funnier than this more recent dreck? Or, this cartoon about a toy seems to have segued into a commercial for the toy in the cartoon…what are boundaries? How do we define the edges of meaning in our existence?

But those days are no more. Now the cartoons have moved to Sunday morning as we get a parade of political pundits, rich old white guys, who sit around and babble about polls and suck up to other rich white guys who have polls done about them. The questions are still the same. I thought the old Hanna-Barbera crap was cheap, badly written, and tiresome, but these guys make them look like Tex Avery. I still wonder where the boundaries are: if rich white guys argue about whether a candidates polls will go up or down if they adopt policy X, is that the same as actually discussing policy X? Is declaring a candidate electable or unelectable identical to discussing the viability of their ideas?

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Saturday is a work day

No more disruptions. I’m going to go sit in solitary and finish this article I’m supposed to write (hey, Simon, it’ll be done by this afternoon!) and then I have to get the answer keys for all the homework I assigned in genetics done and posted.

So go away, internet, and stop bothering me.

I’m gonna call this “Nyesplaining”

Bill Nye apparently thinks that philosophy is that meandering babble you do when you’re stoned out of your mind. It’s rather impressive, actually, that he can sit there giving advice about philosophy to a philosophy student and get everything about philosophy completely wrong.

Transcript – Mike: Hey Bill. Mike here. I’m a philosophy major in college right now and I’m looking for your opinion on a subject. Some of the scientists like Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson have brushed it off as a meaningless topic. I’m just wondering about your thoughts on the subject.

Bill Nye: Mike, Mike. This is a great question. I’m not sure that Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins, two guys I’m very well acquainted with have declared philosophy as irrelevant and blowing it off in you term. I think that they’re just concerned that it doesn’t always give an answer that’s surprising. It doesn’t always lead you someplace that is inconsistent with common sense. And it gets back – it often, often gets back to this question. What is the nature of consciousness? Can we know that we know? Are we aware that we are aware? Are we not aware that we are aware? Is reality real or is reality not real and we are all living on a ping pong ball as part of a giant interplanetary ping pong game and we cannot sense it. These are interesting questions. But the idea that reality is not real or what you sense and feel is not authentic is something I’m very skeptical of. I mean I think that your senses, the reality that you interact with with light, heat, sense of touch, taste, smell, hearing, absolutely hearing. These are real things.

And to make a philosophical argument that they may not be real because you can’t prove – like for example you can’t prove that the sun will come up tomorrow. Not really, right. You can’t prove it until it happens. But I’m pretty confident it will happen. That’s part of my reality. The sun will come up tomorrow. And so philosophy is important for a while but it’s also I get were Neil and Richard might be coming from but where you start arguing in a circle where I think therefore I am. What if you don’t think about it? Do you not exist anymore? You probably still exist even if you’re not thinking about existence. And so, you know, this gets into the old thing if you drop a hammer on your foot is it real or is it just your imagination? You can run that test, you know, a couple of times and I hope you come to agree that it’s probably real. It’s a cool question. It’s important I think for a lot of people to be aware of philosophy but just keep in mind if you’re spending all this money on college this also may be where Neil and Richard are coming from. A philosophy degree may not lead you to on a career path. It might but it may not. And keep in mind humans made up philosophy too. Humans discovered or invented the process of science. Humans invented language. Humans invented philosophy. So keep that in mind that when you go to seek an absolute truth you’re a human seeking the truth. So there’s going to be limits. But there’s also going to be things beyond which it doesn’t matter. Drop a hammer on your foot and see if you don’t notice it.

Some advice to engineers: when you’re asked about something totally outside your field, in a discipline you’ve never studied and have only misconceptions about, the correct answer is to say “I don’t know.”

Actually, that’s pretty good advice for all of us.


I knew it wouldn’t take long. A philosopher responds.

I play a little Minecraft now and then

minecraft

It’s perfect for me: got a little downtime, sure, I’ll go dig a tunnel for 20 minutes, or build a fort, or whatever, and playing on a public server is even better, because if I don’t have the time or skill to assault an end fortress, someone else does and I can trade for the useful loot. Fun and casual and creative are exactly what I want in a game.

I am mentioning this because Mojang is releasing their special, long-in-the-coming 1.9 update on Monday, and the server I play on, Sitosis, is going to spawn a brand new, empty, untouched world shortly thereafter, and they’re asking all their former users to check back in (new users are also welcome). There’ll be a rush to stake out new territories in exotic biomes next week!

One hint: you probably don’t want to settle anywhere near me. Apparently, I have a reputation for defending my territory by breeding so many cows and chickens and pigs — for my genetics experiments, don’t you know — that only the best computers can cope with their owners approaching the milling mobs in my base. I also tend to be a bit lax about lighting things up to thwart evil spawn, so my place might be crawling with undead and creepers and giant spiders. The way I like it.

You missed nothing in last night’s Republican debate

Here’s a sample. It’s unintelligible madness as these guys yell at each other, and meanwhile, off in his own private world Ben Carson talks about the fruit salad of life.

You know, I also hear a lot of nonsense on the Democratic side, about how this candidate or that candidate can’t win against one or the other of these bozos. I don’t care. You can’t say that yet. The serious discussions can’t even begin until the Republican clowns stop with the slapstick and settle down, and then the Democrats can get serious about how to defeat them, and in a pragmatic sense, either of the two Democratic contenders ought to be able to clobber the Republican circus.

“Ought to” does not mean “will.” Democrats have a grand history of screwing up, and Republicans have their catalog of dirty tricks — gerrymandering and voter suppression, to name a few — to claw their way to the top. But we can’t begin to address these problems until the field has been winnowed.

Pernicious excuses for the supernatural

The Understanding Science website at Berkeley is generally a good resource, but unfortunately, they also promote a dishonest approach to religion and the supernatural, presumably out of a desire to avoid offending anyone. Being nice is not a good excuse for compromising on the principles of science, however.

I refer specifically to their section on the limits of science. Science certainly does have limits, but this isn’t one of them.

Science doesn’t draw conclusions about supernatural explanations
Do gods exist? Do supernatural entities intervene in human affairs? These questions may be important, but science won’t help you answer them. Questions that deal with supernatural explanations are, by definition, beyond the realm of nature — and hence, also beyond the realm of what can be studied by science. For many, such questions are matters of personal faith and spirituality.

Baloney. If the question involves only personal faith and spirituality, if it’s just a dialog going on in your head with no material consequences that might affect the world or other people, than sure, science doesn’t deal with that, and can’t deal with that. But the instant you claim that your supernatural beliefs impinge on the natural world, boom, science is on it.

Prayer can heal your cancer… boom. Cancer is something we study.

God’s love will end war… boom. The interactions between societies is not simply a matter of personal faith and spirituality.

God told me the earth is only 6,000 years old… boom. The earth is under our purview, and the rocks say differently.

Worship makes me feel good… boo…oh, wait. No. That one’s OK. Of course your subjective experiences can have subjective effects, and your mind even has some control over your physical body.

But the principle of that argument at the website is wrong. Supernatural explanations of natural phenomena are no longer outside the realm of nature, and are therefore subject to scientific inquiry. Just saying that your explanation for something is supernatural is not a get-out-of-science-free card.

Of course, your supernatural explanations for supernatural events are not subject to scientific constraints. Go ahead and tell stories about deities zapping other deities with magic bolts of ectoplasm that nobody has seen and that did not affect anyone. No one can argue with you — it’s like debating who would win in a contest between the DC and Marvel comic book universes. Evidence and reason won’t come into it, but also, it’s irrelevant to how the world works.

Seven is heaven

Some priests in the Catholic church think that saying 7 is the “age of reason” is synonymous with declaring open season on boys above that age.

Bishop Robert Cunningham of the diocese of Syracuse, NY doesn’t think priests should take all of the blame for decades, if not centuries, of sexual abuse against young boys. According to Cunningham, the “age of reason” in the Catholic church is seven, so those boys are culpable for their actions.

We can at least get the ones who rape 6 year olds then, right?

But this argument doesn’t even make sense. We don’t say that adult women are culpable for their rapes, so being mature and rational doesn’t even come into it. They are victims. These children are victims. They didn’t choose to be abused, it was forced on them.

The only way you can legitimately use this “age of reason” excuse is to suggest that any priests who were under 7 years old were not fully responsible for their actions.

You say you’re a fan of social justice?

idiocracy

Then stop praising the accuracy of Idiocracy. I loathe that movie, and right now I’m seeing a lot of smug Democrats talking about how it’s coming true.

No. Idiocracy is a movie that assumes all the premises of social Darwinism and eugenics are true. Try watching it and noticing how it thinks evolution works. Poor people are biologically inferior and inherently stupid, and since they’re breeding madly, they’ll overwhelm the superior, intelligent, responsible people who restrain themselves. It assumes that the poor are stupid, and the stupid are poor.

It is especially ironic that people are praising its veracity now because of Trump and the Republican presidential slate. Do I need to point out that these terrible people are the products of good schools and are loaded with cash? Donald Trump is a billionaire and the others are millionaires backed by other obscenely rich billionaires…yet somehow, ignorant, pampered, selfish lower class people are going to poison the gene pool with their substandard genetics, swamping out the potential of the human species?

Others have noted the fallacious premise driving the movie.

The origin story for Idiocracy’s future world of half-wits is that uneducated people in the early 2000s are having kids and smart people don’t reproduce enough. It’s clear from the film that the intelligent people are wealthy, while the uneducated people are poor. So we’re starting from a position of believing that wealthy people are inherently more intelligent and, by extension, deserve their wealth. This link between intelligence and wealth is perhaps the most dangerous idea of the film and pretty quickly slips into advocating for some form of soft eugenics to build a better world.

If only we could get rid of the uneducated Americans (read: redneck poors) and we’ll have the opportunity to live in a utopian world filled with smart and civilized people. Of course, everyone here in 2014 making a reference to Idiocracy as a pseudo-documentary identifies with the soon-to-be-extinct intelligent class. They believe it’s the “others” — the dumb, impoverished people — that are ruining America with their binging on crap TV and crap internet and crap food.

This is pure, unadulterated social darwinism. It’s a movie that reassures its viewers that because you’re smart enough to see how stupid rednecks are, you are one of the good, worthy people who ought to be rewarded and encouraged to have more children. It is your responsibility to reproduce, lest those feeble-minded nitwits have more children than you.

It’s also a message that resonates with certain atheists.

It’s also a message at the heart of many racists: we must protect the pure Whites before they are outbred by all the Mud People!

I’ve complained about this belief before. It’s shameful to see so-called progressives in the 21st century praising a movie that promotes the ideas of eugenics, and that Nazis would have found perfectly copacetic.

Family name origins

“Myers” is an odd name; not only can nobody spell it, but its origin is a little murky. My own family is no help at all, because apparently my father’s side emigrated to the US sometime in the 17th century and then spent the next few hundred years wandering around and completely forgetting where they came from. I had a vague notion that they came out of the UK somewhere, with some Scots/Irish admixture, but the name itself…who knows?

So I plugged “Myers” into this database of name frequencies in the UK, and it spat back a map of where that name has an above-average likelihood of occurring.

myersorigins

Yorkshire and the Northwest? Really? I’m going to have to work on my accent.