Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Worldwide Application

I'm guessing that in order to speak with the majority of the people on Earth easily enough that there would be no practical need for an interpreter, it would suffice to be fluent in 4 languages, in roughly this order of importance: English, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic. If they were listed by the number of native speakers, then of course Chinese would be way out in front, but of course English is the second language of a huge number of people. Each one of those 4 languages is spoken by a significant number of people other than native speakers. The number of people one could reach with English, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic might actually be much more than a simple majority of the Earth's inhabitants. It's hard to tell exactly about these sorts of things, keep in mind that I'm guessing and beware of people who claim to know the figures involved in these sorts of questions with anything close to actual accuracy.

What are the 5th- and 6th-most important languages for our hypothetical polyglot, the ones which would most effectively, in terms of sheer numbers, further shrink the parts of the human population with whom he could not speak without help? I'm guessing Swahili and French. Then maybe Russian -- lots and lots of people with Russian as a second language -- and then Portugese: less people with Portugese as a second language, but so very many native speakers there in Brazil. But maybe the speakers of Japanese, native and not, outnumber the speakers of either Russian or Portugese. I don't know. (And neither do you.)

We're up to 9 languages now. Not very many people are actually fluent in 9 or more languages, not using my standard for fluency of making an interpreter superfluous. Bear in mind, whenever people talk about how fluent they are, that there is no universally-understood standard for how fluent you have to be to legitimately call yourself fluent. My standard of not needing an interpreter is more exact than the usual standard, which is: no standard at all, but it too is a subjective call.

So what's number 10? Maybe Hindi. Or maybe Hindi is 9th, or 8th, or even 7th. Especially if one considers Hindi and Urdu to be one spoken language. That's another subjective call. There are many subjective calls when one talks about language, I can't imagine how it would be avoidable.

And then there are Indonesian and Punjabi and German and Italian. Don't ask me whether I got them in the right order, or if I've got the right top 14. For example, there's Dutch: Holland used to have vast colonies, and I don't know what sort of linguistic footprint they left behind around the world. Add that to the former huge colonies of Belgium, and the completely subjective question of whether Dutch and Flemish are 1 language or 2.

And my goodness, let's not forget Turkish. Or Amharic. But if you can become fluent in English, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Swahili, French, Russian, Portugese, Japanese, Hindi (including Urdu), Indonesian, Punjabi, German, Italian, Dutch (including Flemish), Turkish, Amharic -- and my goodness I completely forgot Bengali, didn't I? It should probably be in the top 10 or close to it. So if you can master those 19, or 20, or 21 languages, depending on how we're counting, plus a couple more spoken by huge populations which I undoubtedly have also forgotten -- if you're fluent in those 25 or so languages then maybe you might be justified in claiming that you, as an individual, have something like a global reach in your mind. Until then you're basically stumbling around in the dark and at the mercy of strangers like the rest of us.

This has been today's It's a big world out there kid-lecture. Thank you for your kind attention.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Things I Still Haven't Done

1. Ski down Mt Everest --in my sleep.

2. Cover the entire surface of Michelangelo's Pietà with peanut butter.

3. Be Pope.

4. Go to court and force Koch Industries to provide $300 billion for the creation of wind farms, including Jim Gordon's project for an offshore wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod. In addition to this $300 billion in start-up capital, Koch industries would be required to pay all of the operating expenses for the wind farms for the first 10 years after they began generating power, with all of the revenue from that electricity going to the Democratic Party for the same 10-year period. After that, all of the wind farms would become Federally-owned and operated public utilities, with the exception of that Cape Cod facility, which would become the property of Jim Gordon.

5. Produce a remake of David Mamet's House of Gameswhich would follow the original word-for-word with one exception: the word "thing" would always be replaced by "vagina." This also would apply to "something," "anything" and "everything." Just think about it: "There are a lot of vaginas in this world." "Some vagina is wrong. I can feel it." "Let me know if there's any vagina I can do." "Hold on! I'm doing every vagina I can!" You know this one is brilliant.

6. Ride across China on one of Charlie Sheen's motorcycles. (After first having had it thoroughly sterilized, of course. The motorcycle, I mean.)

7. Restore Latin to its prominence among the languages of academia and diplomacy. (The Papacy would be a great help with this one. See, this all fits together logically.)

8. Prove definitively either that Jesus existed or that he didn't, so that we can all move on.

I'm counting on your support, my readers, to help me accomplish all of these things. Together we can do great things. (Together, but with me in charge, of course. I'm the alpha ape in this shrewdness.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

They Should Elect ME Pope

If they're serious about sending the world a bold statement about change, that is. Electing a non-Catholic openly avowed atheist would be bold.

I'm not saying there's much chance that the Cardinals are actually going to elect me Pope. But it would be pretty cool. And I know some Latin, I can legere and dicere me a bit of lingua latina. I must say, there is exactly one thing I can think of which I really like about Benedict XVI, and that is his enthusiasm for the Latin language. When he gets going on that topic, you can pretty much safely assume that I agree with what he's saying. And I know some other languages as well. The Church seems to like its Popes to be multiligual, to be able to speak to folks in their own languages when they tour the world and whatnot.

Clearly, I would be a controversial choice. Even more controversial than, say, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi. Do I really want to live amid strong controversy?

...Well, maybe I do. Intense worldwide controversy would drive more traffic to my blog, for one thing. And there wouldn't be anything wrong with that.

And the thing is, the Vatican is... just really nice. So much beautiful art and architecture. I mean that. Zero sarcasm right now. I deeply appreciate that art and architecture. And the location is great too. And since my elderly cat passed away recently, travel has become less complicated for me.

So. If any of my readers has any pull with the College of Cardinals, let 'em know. Throw my hat into that ring. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When Are "Angry Atheists" Actually Angry, And Why?

In this Wrong Monkey blog post, I took Max Tegmark to task for this Huffington post article in which he insists that there is no inherent conflict between science and religion. A week after that article, Tegmark followed up with this brief piece in which he professes to be amazed by all the negative responses to the first piece by "angry atheists," whom he proceeds to condescendingly lecture, and blame for religious fundamentalism.

Several stages of this process so far have been very familiar to any regular reader of Huffington Post's Religion section: a scientist with some credentials appears on the Huffington Post, says that there is no reason why science and religion should be in conflict, gets a strong negative response, calls his critics "angry atheists," and proceeds to blame allegedly angry atheists for religious fundamentalism.

A bizarre accusation of atheists, you say? Well of course it is. A bizarre description of the history and present relationship of science and religion? You don't have to tell me. But that's the sort of hooey they're selling these days on HP Religion. It's also what the Templeton Foundation is selling. If you examine the bios of the contributors to the Religion section and note the number of recipients of grants from Templeton, you must surely agree that to call the relationship between HP Religion and Templeton "cozy" would be a great understatement, and that to call it "cordial" would be a bigger understatement still.

What makes Tegmark's case stand out as particularly strange is the combination of his professed amazement at the negative response he gets when he posts the standard Templeton nonsense, and the fact that from 2006 to 2009, he awarded grants on behalf of Templeton. He's not merely one of the usual suspects -- he funded many of the usual suspects.

I suppose that it's somehow possible that Teagmark was completely insulated, until a week ago, from the public response the sort of "moderate and enlightened religious" propaganda which he pushes, and which is funded by neocons like Templeton, tends to get. It reminds me more than a little of Renault being "shocked, shocked!" to discover that gambling was going on at Rick's, but I suppose that it's possible that Tegmark's intellectual cocoon was that solid until last week. And I suppose that it's possible that many of the responses he's gotten are angry. I have to guess, Tegmark doesn't quote a one of them. I would guess that the typical atheist response he's gotten is similar to the typical reader's comment on these two pieces on HP. I wouldn't call them "angry" as much as "very, very unimpressed." Tegmark complains about "ad hominem" attacks. Well jeepers, Professor, I don't know what to say to that except that if you're going to discuss science and religion in public, you really ought to be wearing your big boy pants and shrug it off if some responses get personal.

But can we believe Tegmark when he says he's shocked by the response to his nonsense? Or is he worse than clueless: pretending to be clueless and deliberately stirring shit? Arianna must love the huge volume of clicks he's generating.

But if he really is sincere, and if "angry" really is a better description of the response he's getting than "unimpressed," still I think that he and purveyors of similar simplistic malarkey should ask themselves: is it more precise to call these people "angry atheists," or atheists who are angry when they're around, atheists who are angry at them? And perhaps with perfectly good cause?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hollyvood Crepp?

In The Bourne Supremacy,(the movie), (2004), the killers, Bourne and the others, in Europe and India, carry around huge piles of dollars. Not Euros. In Russia, the Russian cab driver at the airport asks Bourne, in Russian, "Dollars or rubles?" Bourne sez dollars and off they go. It's not clear whether the cabbie would bother to move for rubles.

Nobody mentions Euros. Is this strictly realistic? In Russia in 2004? Even in 2013, after 4 years of Obama restoring the dollar and several years of the Euro going ka-plooey, and even though I live in the middle of the US, if someone asked me if I wanted Euros or dollars, I'm not sure I wouldn't say Euros.

(Some Russian cabbies may have turned down rubles in the early 1990's, but in 2004? Really?)

In The Bourne Identitya freshly-amnesiac Bourne opens a safe-deposit box, and for the length of a tantalizing brief shot we see, under the pistol and among all the fake passports, piles of dollars and of other currency. I had assumed Euros were in there, but The Bourne Identity was released in the summer of 2002, when Euros had only been in circulation since January, and this scene was in winter, and who knows how long Jason had been out of touch with reality while the contents of that box waited there, so hmm. It was a Swiss bank, maybe we were meant to think Swiss francs. Bourne offers Franke Potente dollars to help him evade apparently every police force on Earth, plus rogue mutant assassins like himself, on his way from Switzerland to France. No mention of francs, Swiss or French, or Deutschmarks, although she's German.


Maybe I'm wrong, maybe dollars still go perfectly well with big stacks of fake passports of many countries. Or maybe right at this moment a German, a French person and an Italian are watching The Bourne Supremacy together, and the German just can't take it anymore and is beginning to yell at the TV screen: "Vat ze fuck?! Dollars, dollars, dollars -- you're in fuckink Europe! Not even gonna mention Euros? Zis iss supposed to be some great realistic Euro-thriller?! Hollyvood shit in Europe iss vat it iss! Franke, how could you go along viss ziss?! Mebbe she didn't go along viss it, end zett's vy she's not in ze sird vun. Hollyvood crepp!"

Monday, February 18, 2013

Conflict?! Ha! What Conflict! (Shut Up! I Said There's No Conflict!)

Once again, the Huffington Post has dug up a prominent scientist to laughingly poo-poo the notion of a conflict between science and religion. Max Tegmark, in this case, an astrophysicist at MIT. Dixit Tegmark:

"So is there a conflict between science and religion? The religious organizations representing most Americans clearly don't think so. Interestingly, the science organizations representing most American scientists don't think so either"

Kudos, Professor Tegmark, a lot of people agree with you. However, the soundness of a proposition is not a matter of popular vote. If you had always settled questions about physics by popular vote, your career as a legitimate physicist never would've gotten very far. (Although who knows how far you might have gone as a Christian clergyman and apologist.) If you'd asked the same question 500 years ago, the agreement would have been unanimous or nearly so. At least publicly. But then, you might have gotten killed just for posing such a question publicly, depending on how you phrased it and how clear it was that you were not going to accept any answer except "No, there is no conflict." The fact that such questions could be fatal could conceivably have meant that people's private opinions about them were much different than their public statements. We may never know how great such differences between public and private were. And never mind 500 years ago, 321 years ago Puritans killed some witches in Salem. And I think it was about 263 years ago that Hume was denied a chair in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh because of his positions on religion. (And Hume never publicly admitted to being an atheist.) And the Spanish Inquisition wasn't shut down until 177 years ago. And never mind all of that -- go to Texas or Mississippi or Pakistan today and talk to some scientists there -- off the record, for their sake -- and ask them what they think of the relationship between religion and science right now.

I have a feeling that Tegmark either doesn't want to hear any of that, or that he would laugh in an infuriating way and tell me that I have a twisted and inaccurate conception of history, somehow. But wait a minute, is Tegmark's assertion about organizations representing most Americans and most scientists even correct to begin with? It's not impressively presented. He continues:

"For example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science states that science and religion 'live together quite comfortably, including in the minds of many scientists.'"

Presumably some person affiliated with the Association said that. Which person? Where, when? What reason have we to believe that this statement reflects some sort of popular vote conducted within the Association, or its leadership, or sumpin? If Tegmark knows, he doesn't seem to care. And that's the only example he gives of scientists seeing a conflict-free relationship between religion and science. And as far as the the religious organizations representing "most Americans" are concerned, he provides more unsourced quotes. For a physicist? Not so much with the details!

But he continues, and this is why his article is in the Huffington Post, because this is the Huffington Post party line:

"This shows that the main divide in the U.S. origins debate isn't between science and religion, but between a small fundamentalist minority and mainstream religious communities who embrace science."

All is well! Pay no attention to those fanatical atheists trying to tell you that science and religion are in conflict! (How can you tell which ones are fanatical? They're the ones saying that there is such a conflict!) There is no typhus in Moscow! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

For a conflict which doesn't exist, and which furthermore only a small fringe group of wild-eyed fanatics believe exist, some people spend an extraordinary amount of time and energy insisting that it doesn't exist. For a handful of people at the Huffington Post, and some of their favorite contributors, and the Templeton Foundation, for example, it seems to be their full-time job.

PS, February 19: ThinkCreeps, an HP reader, informs me that Tegmark ran a grants program for Templeton for several years. So strictly speaking it was perhaps not that Tegmark reminded me of Templeton so much as that Templeton has closely resembled Tegmark for a while. Thanks for the tip, ThinkCreeps!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Here's What I Think About Bottlegate --

-- nothing. I think it's not worth thinking about. I think anybody who's discussing it is a huge douchebag. I think anyone who's not embarrassed for anyone they care about who's discussing it, is a huge douchebag. Bottlegate has nothing to do with what's wrong with Marco Rubio as a Presidential candidate, or as any other kind of politician. Rubio is trotting out the same lies and plutocratic policies as Romney and Ryan did, and the GOP has its fingers crossed and is hoping nobody will notice because Rubio is Latino. That's insulting to every US voter, but I think it's more insulting to Latinos than to others. I can't speak for them, but that's how it looks from here. The problems with Rubioo don't have a thing to do with water, they have to do with Tea.

And I think this will be one of the rare days when I don't watch any TV news. I think it's safe to assume that the TV news today will just be too silly for me to stomach.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Burst Your Bubbles

Many Leftists seem to do nothing -- or at least nothing publicly -- but dispute teeny-tiny points of theory with other Leftists, points which hardly add up to a flea-fart. They've been living in Leftist bubbles. As opposed to, oh, say, observing capitalists and conservatives, their ostensible opponents, for years they've hardly ever heard or read a word which wasn't spoken or written by other Leftists, many of whom have been living in similar bubbles. The reason I can't find the connection between what they say and McConnell or Merkel is because there is no connection. They'd say: Mitch who? Angela who? and snarl at me for interrupting their tirade against what they assert is a laughably inconsistent description of the deconstructionist challenge to synoptic analysis brought forth by another inhabitant of their bubble. What smart grid? What demonstrations? What brown coal? Fracking, what's that? What minimum wage? Where was I? Now, as LaCapra has asserted...

There's a Leftist blog whose only theme seems to be that a certain Leftist publishing house is corrupt and capitalist. The accusation is contained in the name of the blog. I wonder whether the publisher did anything to anger the blogger besides refuse to publish his or her work.

It's not just Leftists who inhabit bubbles, of course, although it was a look around the Leftist blogosphere which got me thinking about bubbles over the course of the past few days. And of course not all Leftists are bubble-dwellers: some observe non-Leftists, and get out of doors now and then and look around and what have you -- which of course makes them targets of hasty and horrified dismissal by the bubble-dwellers, who have no idea what they're talking about. (What agrarian uprising?) I lived in New York City for a few years, and was struck by the number of people I found who very rarely went more than two or three blocks away from their homes -- with the exception in some cases of a subway ride to and from work, but in other cases their jobs were within the three-block-square bubble as well. I rarely left the city, which you might think of as bubble-dwelling as well, but I roamed all over that city, finding fascinating things all over and being appalled at the thought of living there and never wanting to roam more than three blocks from home.

And of course there are all sorts of Internet bubbles: people who log time on one social-network site or among the comments of one news outlet or on a forum or discussion group as if it were a full-time job. I've done a little bit of that -- and fled a few such sites when I saw what I was doing.

A news-and-analysis TV show on which the host will every day ask several questions of the "Don't you agree that [long involved assertion] ?" format, asked of a small group of regular guests chosen because they will reliably almost always, in fact, agree -- that's a bubble. And it's one-half to three-quarters or more of a lot of news-and-analysis shows, even some of the better ones. And it's boring, even if I agree. An hour's worth of that with six people all agreeing could be done much more efficiently and usefully, in my opinion, by the host by him- or herself in about 5 minutes -- 5 minutes, I could agree or disagree, or even -- imagine such a thing! -- be uncertain and induced to ponder, while I get on with whatever's next.

But it wouldn't satisfy the craving for the bubble, the neighborhood, the cadre, the party within the party, the tribe.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Inside My Head

Like many other autistics, I can do an unusual amount of math in my head. My abilities here are nowhere near those of Rain Man or Albert Einstein, and they might not even be above those of the average neurologically-typical PhD in math or physics, but they're above the average of the entire human population. Unlike some other autistics, I was never able to cultivate much of an interest in math. After the 10th grade and geometry, I was not required to take any more math, and it was a great relief to be allowed to concentrate more fully on subjects I liked -- literature, history: verbal subjects. (Including philosophy. Imagine my horror upon learning that some of Western civilization's leading philosophers have also been some of its leading mathematicians. Yaaargh! No escape!) My life up until now might have been very different if I had been able to become really fascinated by numbers in the way that mathematicians and physicists often are. Just recently I experienced an exception, an encounter with a five-digit number which I find interesting. The encounter, not the number per se, and so perhaps it's not really an exception. And actually, perhaps I am finally beginning, at age 51, to feel some of the fascination that mathematicians feel for numbers, specifically for factoring. Except that I'm not actually interested in factoring for its own sake, as someone who loves numbers would be, but I've begun to wonder whether there are practical applications to physical shapes which can be arrived at by factoring.

The five-digit number is 17,153. Several days ago someone I know saw this number this number on her odometer and immediately thought of someone else we both know, who is both a mechanical engineer with some knowledge of advanced math and a fundamentalist Christian with an interest in numerology.

Don't worry, this post has nothing to do with numerology.

So anyway, the lady who saw 17,153 on her odometer asked some others of us whether we saw anything remarkable in that number. Right away I could see that it was 17x1009. Then I thought about 1009 for a minute and began to wonder whether it, like 17, was prime. I could easily see that it couldn't be divided even by any prime up through 11. If 1009 wasn't evenly divisible by any prime up through 31 then it itself was prime, because the square of the next prime past 31, 37, was larger than 1009. After dividing 1009 in my head by 17, it started to become a little tedious, and I was going to fetch a calculator, but then it occurred to me that it might actually be easier to find a list of primes which went past 1009. It was very easy to find, as it turned out, and 1009 was in fact on the list, it is in fact prime. Maybe it would've been even easier to simply look up 1009. This is an an example of the kind of thing I would know -- where to look up prime numbers -- if I had been fascinated by math as a child and gotten a Bachelor's and a Master's and maybe a Doctorate or three in math or physics or engineering. If I'd taken that route I might be much more employable, but then again I might not know who Steven Runciman or Alfred Doeblin are. Je ne regrette rien.

Also, this morning it occurred to me that 1+7+1+5+3=17. Ta-daaa!

To be completely honest, what I actually find the most remarkable about all of this is that a group of people were discussing the number 17,153, and that the person who had seen that number asked what we saw in that number which was remarkable, and I got back to them right away with the info that 17,153 is the product of two primes, and no-one else seemed to find that remarkable! But maybe that's just my own ignorance showing again, like not knowing that I could just look up 1009, or where to look it up. The lady who saw 17,153 on her odometer has a PhD in math, and maybe she has a great amount of experience with five-digit numbers, and maybe stumbling upon a five-digit number which is the product of two primes -- or even a five-digit prime, for that matter -- is not as remarkable as I imagine. I wouldn't know, because I very rarely deal with math which involves five-digit numbers.

Anyway. Back to my accustomed, much-more-purely-verbal approach to stuff (except for the posts on chess) in my next post, much more likely than not. Excelsior!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Against Utilitarianism

It seems obvious to me that morality is always completely subjective. In fact, I think that "morality," as most people still use the term, is not as accurate a term as "moralities."

I think that utilitarianism -- the attempt to provide a rationally-devisible basis for good behavior -- functions primarily, as does religion, as a comforting illusion. A solid guide to correct behavior is posited, referred to as God's will in the one case, and -- what? a utilitarian optimum, in the other? In either case, it is just a matter of discovering what is right.

I, on the other hand, believe that we are all just muddling through, ethically as in so many other ways, and that ethics can never be solved like a mathematical equation. The terms of which the equation is composed are always subjective. Even worse, for utiliatarianism at least, things are always changing. The moral ground under our feet never ceases to shift.

Lest you become too alarmed by my moral relativism, let me say that I believe that I, and the average ultilitarian, and the average believer in God as well, would tend to be very much in agreement most of the time, when judging what we thought was good or bad behavior in given situations, and I think we would also all three tend to agree much of the time that a given situation presents a very difficult choice about what we think should be done. In short, I think that our three distinct individual moralities are probably very similar, although we have arrived at them in three very different ways. Some people hear the phrase "moral relativism" and immediately think of things like the characters in Dostoyevsky who murder people because they are no longer decent Christians, but have become appalling moral relativists with no sense of right and wrong -- and, well, I think Dostoyevsky is overrated.

I think my viewpoint is the most optimistic, the one which allows for the most improvement in behavior. (Although I still insist that said improvement can only be measured subjectively. You may well ask: then how can it really be measured at all? Same way as in the previous paragraph: we would tend to agree or disagree about such things, and we would be kidding ourselves if we thought that there was a more exact way -- or that someone else couldn't define good and bad behavior completely differently and provide his definitions in a utilitarianism with logical frameworks as sound as those in another person's utilitarianism.) I wonder, have you seen the recent film version of Moby Dick,with William Hurt as Ahab, Charlie Cox as Ishmael and Ethan Hawke as Starbuck? It's very good. The scenes of whales being attacked, injured and killed are very disturbing to the contemporary viewer. We are made to sense the animals' suffering quite intensely. And the scenes are even more disturbing in that the whalers' joy at a job well done is communicated just as intimately. So does this make the viewer think that the whalers are bad men? In the case of this viewer, not at all. They remained the very serious men grappling with ethical issues which they had been before the hunts and were again afterwards. The hunting scenes merely reminded me of a great change in moralities which has occurred since the mid-19th century as a result of our knowing much more about whales. Those whalers are muddling through as best they can, just as we today are muddling through, and doing things, probably, without a second thought which would very likely appall our great-great-great-grandchildren, who in turn are doing things which (etc etc etc). Excelsior.

When Republicans Are In Power They're Scary. But These Days They're Kinda Hilarious

After a fairly disastrous attempt for the Republican nomination for President and a close re-election to the House of Representatives in 2012, it's rumored that Michelle Bachmann is planning to run against Al Franken for US Senator from Minnesota in 2014. If that's true, it's funny. She'd get creamed. She'd be headed for the celebrity-wrestling circuit along with Sarah Palin and Dick Morris.

Karl Rove admits that the main component of the effort of what is left of his political machine to stop Ashley Judd's budding political career will be to continue to make fun of her. He said exactly that, on Fox News. This is great news for Judd. Look at Bill and Hillary Clinton, both of whom Rove's flying monkeys relentlessly and substancelessly attacked for decades, until they are now perhaps the two most beloved politicians in the US. The Clintons didn't do that all by themselves, Karl: you helped by being such an icky troll with no actual arguments against them. Thanks.

Mitch McConnel, against whom Judd may run in 2014 -- hey, I don't even have to tell you all the ways Mitch is helping out the Democrats.

From the big big big-time to the teensy small-time, Republicans just keep on shooting themselves in the foot: for example, some of you may have noticed a lot of right-wing ads on my blog. Different readers will get different ads to look at, but when I look at my own blog on my own computer at home, it seems that very often, perhaps as often as not, I see a lot of ridiculous fear-mongering ads here with headlines like "What Is Obama Not Telling Us?" and "Why Is China Hoarding Gold?" The real question is, "Why Are These Reactionary Doofuses Advertising On My Blog?" I don't get to pick the ads which appear here; there's a feature where I can supposedly block certain categories of ads; I tried that for a while but it didn't seem to work and so I just gave up. Google is a big dumb lumbering beast, and conservatives -- well, you know. Maybe if I keep working hard on this blog, and I'm fortunate enough that it grows to a certain level of popularity, the people who put the ads on it will begin to realize that my audience mostly doesn't belong to the John Birch Society.

There are a lot of different terms I could use to describe the political Right in the US these days. One thing I honestly cannot say about them at the moment is that they look like winners to me. The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, is more what they look like.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

This Man Is Right, Native Americans Got To Arizona First

Now the question is, who got there last: Mexicans or US-Americans?

The name of the state should give you a big clue. And the names of California, Texas, Florida, Nevada, Colorado: all Spanish names. The Mexicans were there before the gringos. Mexicans founded Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, San Diego, Sacramento and the bazillion other cities in the US with Spanish names. The US stole about one-third of Mexico, and that's about all there is to that. But if you want some additional detail, Imperialby William T Vollmann is a great place to start. The book focuses on the US-Mexico border in Imperial County, California, but also contains a lot of information about the history of the relationship between the US and Mexico generally.

Also, of course, learning a little Spanish, if you don't know any yet, would help. If you really want to know about US-Mexican politics and history.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"McBain To Base: Under Attack From Commie Nazis!"

The Huffington Post showed this photograph of a billboard in Iowa as an example of right-wing nutjobs comparong Obama to Hitler:

The Huffington Post clearly takes issue with such comparisons. It's not at all clear, however, whether they mind a bit when someone compares Lenin to Hitler. Well, I object to it. And I think Stalin was much, much worse than Lenin, but I also object when someone compares Stalin, or Mao, to Hitler. (Comparisons of Pol Pot and Hitler are valid. If you can find a Marxist or a Leninist who thinks Pol Pot was just great, please let me know. If you know of any Stalinists still living, that also would be news to me.) If you think Stalin was as bad, or worse, than Hitler, I've said it before, I'll very likely say it again: get Stalin: A Political Biography by Isaac Deutscher, the 2nd edition from 1966, read pages 566 through 569and then get back to us, and if you haven't changed your mind, tell us where you think Deutscher is wrong. (Go ahead and read the whole book while you're at it, and other things by Deutscher, it will do you no harm.) If you think either I or Deutscher is praising Stalin as a glorious hero and role-model, well, you just haven't been paying attention, and I'm mostly likely going to shift my attention to people who are paying attention.

And if you're one of those people who believe that Communist regimes have murdered 100 million people -- or if you believed it a decade ago and have revised that round number upward since then -- read this.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Arizona Lawmaker: "Our Schoolchildren Aren't Dumb Enough Yet"

That's not an actual quote from an Arizona legislator. It's an attempt on my part to fathom what State Senator Judy Burges is thinking. Here's the story in the Arizona Daily Star: AZ bill would let teachers dismiss global warming

Here are some more fake headlines attempting to capture the real spirit of what's going on these days in the great Grand Canyon State:

Arizona Legislature Weighs Changing Name Of State To "Bizarro World"

A Clever Plan to Distract Children From 130-Degree Summer Highs In Phoenix

Drill, Baby, Drill!

The Bill Has All The Markings Of Model Legislation Written By The American Legislative Exchange Council, A Conservative Business-Backed Organization, To Suppress Certain Issues Like Global Warming (Actually, that one's not fake, it's a quote from the Daily Star story, reporting the opinion of Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association. Hang in there, guys!)

Global Warming Is A Hoax Invented By Al Gore And Barack Obama To Take Away All Our Guns And Turn America Into A Commie Intellectual Jewish New England-Elitist Islamist State

Is It Hot In Here Or Is It Just Me? (Buh-DUM-Bum)

Sealing Our Borders And Fracking Will Reverse Global Warming, AZ St Sen Explains


I'd like to be optimistic about the prospects for the future of the human race. (I think believing that the human race has a future of more than a hundred years or so, that we will not kill ourselves off by then nor will we be obliterated by, say, a comet, or an unexpected plague or something completely unforeseen, is optimistic.) I don't think that people can predict the future as accurately as many people have claimed that they could. A good meteorologist can predict the weather for a given location a few days ahead with 80% accuracy or so. Farther out than that, things become decidedly murky, except for the long-term probability that the weather will get much, much, much worse unless people change their behavior very radically. And the latter: how radically people's behavior will change, and how soon -- that I don't think anyone can predict. The factors involved are far too complex. I choose optimism because it's more fun, and also because it gives me more energy than pessimism, energy which I can expend on constructive behavior which makes my optimism a self-fulfilling prophecy to a certain extent. And I think optimism just feels better. Any statement about what any creature other than oneself, human or otherwise, actually thinks or feels, is ultimately guesswork, but let me engage in some guessing: let's look at the case of that arch-pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer.He had so many advantages: he grew up wealthy in Weimar. As a young man had Goethe,for crying out loud, as a mentor, but he broke off that relationship for no good reason at all, and told himself that he had good reason, that the break was inevitable, that it was his only honorable choice; he sabotaged what might have been a brilliant career as a professor, putting who knows how big a dent in the nonsense spread by his bête noire Hegel --a self-sabotage plain to see to anyone today, with our advantage of Freudhaving pointed out to the world in the meantime a few elementary things about how the human mind works; he never married, he had no known grand passionate flings, he always expected the worst of people and was seldom disappointed; he wrote many very wise things (and some stupid things), he's very much worth reading, but the thought of being someone remotely like him must send great chills of No-thank-you-PLEASE! down the spine of anyone paying attention.

Nietzsche,on the other hand, had such horrible health problems that few could have blamed him for being very gloomy, but instead he chose to think and write like a Superman bursting with every kind of health, and showed his readers a way toward greater passion and greater joy. Seems to me like it was fun to be him.

And so I choose to believe that we have a chance to change our behavior so radically that the weather will once again become less extreme, and there will no longer be wars started by shortages of drinkable water, and that high finance will change to something more humane and constructive than deliberate thievery and fraud -- that in general we have a chance to become smarter, and nicer to one another, and to thrive.

Monday, February 4, 2013


The other day I was reading some things by André Gorz --his political-economic, or ecological writings, as he sometimes referred to them. Not Letter to D: A Love Story,which might be really great for all I know, but I'm not interested in it right now -- and not for the first time I was exhilarated by Gorz' great good sense, and at the same time deeply discouraged by what seems to me to be the great distance between such good sense and most people's even allowing themselves to consider such topics, let alone agree with Gorz. I'm a very enthusiastic reader of Gorz, and I would encourage everyone to take a look at such books as Ecology as Politicsand Farewell to the Working Class,although I am not a Gorzist in the sense that many people have been Marxists, inasmuch as they have treated Marx's writing as holy texts, claiming that All The Answers Are In There. (Marx himself said that he was not such a Marxist, but the Marxists have overlooked that passage in Marx just as other believers overlook whatever they have to so as not to have to actually think for themselves.) You don't have to agree with Gorz about everything, but I think it would be very helpful if more people began to think about the topics he raises.

Among these is setting limits to economic growth. This is already quite a familiar topic to ecologists (and meteorologists), but it does not compute for many economists, because much of economic theory still is predicated on constant growth. Well, we're beginning to burn the Earth to a crisp, and so we need to start thinking about this. Soon. Now. Ecologists have been thinking and talking about it for decades, but they haven't been getting through to most economists and leaders of politics and industry. Al Gore is one of the exceptions, and for his trouble he got the Nobel Peace Prize and became a laughingstock among most economists and politicians, even as the effects of global warming he and other ecologists have warned about have been coming to pass. The problem is that there is such a separation between ecological and economic thought. Gorz, unlike most ecologists, including Gore, unfortunately, has a profound grasp of the economic theories which have been put in place by the world's leaders, he understands their jargon, he understands their concerns, and he responds to them in ways they can readily comprehend. It's not very often you see an ecologist who is also an economist.

What Gorz writes about -- along with some other New Leftists -- is a paradigm shift in economics, away from the obsession solely with quantity and toward the deeper concept of quality. To this day economics is dominated by the concern with quantity and with growth and ever more growth. We've come to realize that we are endangering ourselves by burning too many petrochemicals and clearing away too many forests and wetlands and paving too much of the Earth -- but we keep on doing it. The economic markets continue to behave as if no-one had ever heard of air pollution or global warming or extreme weather, because they continue to be based on the criterium of quantity, that more is always better. This mentality is not merely absurd: it also often rewards people who frankly are just not bright enough to realize that it is absurd. William Gaddis' novel JRunderscores this point by making its title character and odious protagonist an 11-year-old boy -- and not even a remarkably bright 11-year-old -- who becomes a financial titan by observing other Wall Street titans and doing what they do. (He's surrounded by highly-cultured and sensitive adults, and when they occasionally notice and are appalled by what JR is up to, he replies, "That's what you do!")

A paradigm shift in economic thinking, from quantity as the goal to quality, would make this a much better and more satisfying world. Oliver Stone's second Wall Streetmovie, with Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan and Josh Brolin, makes this point in Stone's typically un-subtle way. The original Wall Streetfrom 1987, in which Charlie Sheen dueled with Michael Douglas, had more subtle hints of this conflict between a paradigm of quantity and one of quality -- more subtle perhaps because at the time Stone was only subconsciously aware of it. I don't mind Stone not being subtle: he's trying to make people think, and in such an effort subtlety is not always called for. The examples of the Soviet bloc have shown us that it's extremely difficult to force entire nations to behave in their own self-interest. I don't believe that broad-scale paradigm shifts can be brought about in such a top-down forced manner. I think that education has to be improved, that that's the only way that the human race can be saved from itself.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

I Just Heard a Joke in German. It Was Pretty Good

I'll translate it in case you don't read German:

They say Berliners don't get along. That's absolutely untrue. Why, just earlier today I saw two Berliners share a taxi: one of them took the radio and the cashbox and the other one took the tires and the motor.