Archive for March, 2010

NES does Dark Side of the Moon

March 31, 2010
  1. Speak to Me / Breathe / On the Run
  2. Time / Breathe Reprise
  3. The Great Gig in the Sky
  4. Money
  5. Us and Them
  6. Any Colour You Like / Brain Damage / Eclipse

Books that influenced me the most

March 30, 2010

Ed Brayton at Dispatches From the Culture Wars is where I picked up this blog meme, and so I’m gonna go ahead and join in as well. Here are some books I’d call influential in no particular order.

Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson

Even though I was young still when I got to this, reading it made me suddenly realize that my whole idea of literature, journalism, and what they could be had become pretty uptight. My parents encouraged me to read and I enjoyed it a lot. But most of the stuff I went through before Fear and Loathing seemed almost bland and tedious when I was re-reading it after Fear and Loathing. It gave me this way of being critical of the stuffiness in language which I barely even notice beforehand.

Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs

I read the shit out of this book. I even took it to a photocopier to copy the whole damn thing and then do that cut-up thing he described in other works, except of course it wasn’t completely random like he claimed. Burroughs was definitely into some weird shit, but it was usually in the context of fiction so there’s no real problem with that seeping out into the real world (aside from his personal life). He always had this reckless approach to writing I admired and the result was that he could create these alternate realities which were both terrible and beautiful, nightmarish and utopian, and disgusting and amazing all at the same time. All of that is best conveyed in Naked Lunch. The film adaptation though, eh, it probably should never have even been attempted in the first place.

Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman

This one is a little dated in some ways. It’s from the 80s, so this is all way before the internet made it easy to spread unpopular ideas and opinions. In order to hear those, you had to know who to look for and where to go to buy their books or magazines or whatever else. So to the extent that this was more all-encompassing this book is less relevant than it used to be. But where it’s still relevant is in how we can self-censor, and how much easier it is to err on the side of conservatism. I also loved how the approach to the study of the media is more scientific than rhetorical, which was refreshing. Of course it can’t be completely 100% scientific since you can’t really have a control group with historical events. For now at least, that would be considered “unethical.”

The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan

This is probably the best current book advocating science and skepticism out there. There are many layers here. So for instance you might open it at random and get to a page detailing an account of an alien abduction. If you keep reading, you’ll get to a larger context of the infallibility of eyewitness testimonies. An even larger context would be revealed if you keep reading and see how this connects to mistakes people made in the past about “witches” and “demons” – as well as the social problems caused by those mistakes. And in the context of the book as a whole you get back to the straightforward advocacy of science as the best tool we have in order to make sense of the world around us.

Pic of the day

March 29, 2010


March 29, 2010

Kaki King

March 29, 2010

This is good music for people who might be feeling sick and feeble like me.

I cannot find a torrent or download site of her newest album, Junior. You will need to seek it out on your own. Try soulseek.

And here is a video of her playing a short set at TED:

Michael Steele makes it rain at bondage club with teabaggers’ money

March 29, 2010

The animated gif and RNC chairman Michael Steele continues to be awesome, according to a report from the website of repressed bowtie enthusiast Tucker Carlson.

According to this report, Steele spent just under 2 grand at a Los Angeles bondage themed nightclub called  Voyeur West Hollywood during an RNC trip last February. The Daily Caller is citing Federal Election Commission filings from the RNC for their numbers, which include lots of other shady dealings with voters’ money but none of them are as hilarious as Michael Steele gettin’ his freak on with lesbian strippers in bondage.

For their part, the RNC is insisting that it wasn’t Steele himself at this club, which if true would ruin everyone’s fun. But they’re not saying who exactly was responsible for the costs. Even so, they’re probably right because it’s not like Steele’s fellow Republicans have any problem at all with throwing him under the bus.

UPDATE: It was apparently someone called Erik Brown who done did it. Still Steele is in charge of the RNC, he was in LA with the guy and he apparently didn’t properly babysit Mr Brown. So it’s not entirely inaccurate to say that it was Steele who “made it rain.” And “not entirely inaccurate” is the kind of standard that works well for me.

Criminals of the week

March 29, 2010

  • 3 year old smokes weed (w/ video). (link)
  • Swedish prisoner tries to fart his way to freedom. (link)
  • Please try not to get directions from the cop who is looking for you. (link)
  • A bakery received around 600 lbs of marijuana and then called the police over it. (link)
  • Police beat up victim who wanted to report to them that he had been beaten. (video)
  • Awesome British guy who attached a flamethrower to his scooter now being hassled by The Man. (link)
  • Attorney: Dog-busting cops caused woman’s miscarriage. (link)
  • DC police involved in hundreds of vehicular collisions last year that could have been avoided had the drivers adhered to traffic laws and basic roadway etiquette. (link)

Scientology’s secret sweatshops

March 28, 2010

At first I was all like, “Yeah, I heard about that before.”

But then I was like, “Wait, no I didn’t. That just sounds exactly like something they would do and I just kind of assumed it was old news when I read it.”

More former members of the Scientology cult have been making pretty damning allegations about how the church has been treating its “workers,” and by workers I mean brainwashed slaves. The allegations include working long hours for 39 cents an hour on only a few hours sleep, separating defectors from their loyal (loyal to Scientology, that is) parents, and even a forced abortion.

But see, all this is OK because these people aren’t really workers. They are “religious devotees akin to monks,” which makes treating them like shit totally cool in the eyes of the law, for some reason.

The response from the church wasn’t the typical “NUH UH!” we normally hear from them. Well, OK, it wasn’t just that. From the Times (emphasis mine):

The church has responded to the bad publicity by denying the accusations and calling attention to a worldwide building campaign that showcases its wealth and industriousness. Last year, it built or renovated opulent Scientology churches, which it calls Ideal Orgs, in Rome; Malmo, Sweden; Dallas; Nashville; and Washington. And at its base here on the Gulf Coast of Florida, it continued buying hotels and office buildings (54 in all) and constructing a 380,000-square-foot mecca that looks like a convention center.

Can you believe that? They’re being accused of running sweatshops – sweatshops which were, as it turns out, in the business of producing the church’s highly profitable but practically useless books and DVDs – and their response to this? “Hey, how could we have done that? We just finished a building a convention center. Look, it’s all shiny!”

It’s a lot like how when Walter Sobchak tried to get Larry Sellers to crack and they all saw that Corvette out front, except in this case the car really IS Larry’s and he’s showing it off to the press.

Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Just in case you’re new to the idea of Scientology and what it’s all about and think maybe I’m unfairly assuming these allegations are true (and if this is the case you should take some time to read up on them), the AP has another report about another couple making the same allegations. It’s pretty much what you’d expect: constant surveillance, blocked escape routes, censored mail, and anyone who corroborates these things is a lying heretic who must be silenced – for interfering with the church’s freedom, you see. Their ability to project their own worst qualities onto their critics doesn’t seem to have any limit at all.

Paley’s Watchmaker

March 27, 2010

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. (…) There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. (…) Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.
–William Paley, Natural Theology (1802)

That’s how this teleological argument for the existence of God was most famously articulated. It’s also known as the argument from design. Like Pascal’s Wager, it’s one of those bits of theology that’s often repeated ad nauseum by laypersons, and usually ones who’ve never read the original citation above. And also like Pascal’s Wager, there are so many problems with it that it’s difficult to know where exactly to begin.

Paley wants to equate the natural world with the hypothetical watch left in the forest. He doesn’t draw the connection between the two. He just asserts that the two are similar in that they were both clearly designed. But whether or not they’re similar and therefore designed is exactly the question Paley’s trying to answer. So just claiming that they are is circular reasoning.

Furthermore, if the watch and the natural world were so similar then we wouldn’t even notice the watch in the first place. It wouldn’t stick out amongst the backdrop of the rest of the landscape which “might as well have been there forever.” If Paley’s assertion held water, we’d just be walking along and take no more notice of the watch than we do of a blade of grass or a bird because they would both have “every manifestation of design.”

But we do notice the watch. We can look at something which is obviously designed and know that it’s designed because we have at least some prior knowledge of watch design. Frankly, I know next to nothing about that subject, but I can at least look at a watch and recognize it as something we humans have made for a very long time. Even just going by the blog post so far we can know they’ve been manufactured for at least a few hundred years already.

You don’t even need Darwin and evolution to refute the watchmaker argument on these grounds. All that needs to be pointed out is something like this:

“A tree bestows order and organisation on that tree which springs from it, without knowing the order; an animal in the same manner on its offspring; a bird on its nest; and instances of this kind are even more frequent in the world than those of order, which arise from reason and contrivance. To say, that all this order in animals and vegetables proceeds ultimately from design, is begging the question; nor can that great point be ascertained otherwise than by proving, a priori, both that order is, from its nature, inseparably attached to thought; and that it can never of itself, or from original unknown principles, belong to matter.”
-David Hume, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1776)

So in crasser terms, there’s really no reason to even accept Paley’s assertion that every manifestation of design we rightfully notice in the watch also exists in the natural world. And even putting aside the self-refuting nature of his argument, the hypothetical watch he’s talking about didn’t really have a single watchmaker.

Sure, maybe a few centuries ago watches were designed and made one by one by a single individual in their workshop. But if the analogy to the Universe as a whole is to hold, that watchmaker would have had to have made their watch de novo. And this clearly could not be what happened.

Let’s take this a little more seriously and really think about this watchmaker who made the watch Paley discovered in the forest. At some point in his life, he decided to make watches for a living. Maybe his father taught him how, or maybe he took on an apprenticeship. But either way he learned from earlier watch designs and from others who had also made watches. A deity like the one Paley describes could not have any counterpoint to this passing on of skills unless it were watching other gods making other Universes and learning tricks of the Universe-making trade from them.

This watch which is made by a watchmaker is just one part of a long history of people who worked on devices meant to keep track of time. In earlier times, there was no second hand on a typical clock. Earlier than that, there was no minute hand. And even earlier still, no mechanics at all were used because all we had were sticks in the mud which then cast a shadow.

Watches, in other words, are the result of a gradual process where efficient parts are selected for and clumsy, inaccurate, and wasteful parts are selected against. And if you go back far enough in time, you get a point of origin which is perfectly explained by natural phenomenon.

So even if you give Paley a pass on the self-refuting part of his argument, it still fails again when it points directly to an unguided evolutionary explanation of the natural world and all its complexities and directly away from supernatural design.


March 26, 2010

Pissed off dog totally messes up a cop car

March 26, 2010

There’s not much else to say about this. Enjoy.

What *really* happened on United 93

March 25, 2010

One of the many, many problems 9/11 “truthers” have besides hilarious infighting over money and a lack of critical thinking skills is in what happened to the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93. According to the “official story” (aka reality), some passengers overpowered the highjackers and forced the plane to crash in Shanksville, PA rather than allow themselves to be used in a suicide attack on either the White House or the US Capitol building. But since the conspiracy theorists insist that there either were no planes at all or that they were controlled by remote or something to that effect, they need to fit the fourth hijacked plane and its passengers into their conspiracy theory by some other means.

Usually most of these people have at least the presence of mind to not get into speculation about this issue because it leaves them open to the kind of ridicule they deserve. Sometimes even crazy people have some form of quality control. Even some creationists do, too. But like any fringe group, there are always some people who have no filter to strain out the really obviously deranged from the mere mildly disturbing.

For example you have this guy. According to him, the plane’s captain was put on a fake plane which was then followed by two other planes. This worked really well for the conspiracy because you always want to make sure you have as many people involved as possible. This especially so when it’s only to kill one guy (the pilot) after he’s said the necessary lines for the Voice Splicing Modules (it’s apparently illegal to mention these magical devices without bold print).

So if things are too normal for you, try reading this guy’s crackpot theories. Maybe stock up on asprin or alcohol first, though.

Criminals of the week

March 25, 2010

  • Burglar tries to sell stuff he was stealing from the store’s computer during his own robbery. (link)
  • Robbers call bank ahead to make sure they have their money ready for them. (link)
  • North Carolina Taco Bell: “One of the people inside the vehicle pointed a handgun at the clerk and demanded food.” (link)
  • Oklahoma woman texts narc about her drug stash. (link)
  • California will vote on legalizing pot. (link)
  • Ex-drug lords’ property used by Haitian government. (link)
  • Owners of armored truck which dropped thousands of dollars in traffic would like their money back, please. (link)

Pic of the day

March 23, 2010

Let the death panels commence

March 23, 2010

While the Senate was voting on the bill to kill all old people, I went to see Shutter Island. It had been spoiled for me, so I’m going to go ahead and spoil it for those of you who hadn’t seen it yet.

The main character (Andrew) is portrayed throughout the movie as a federal marshal investigating an escaped patient on a mental institution on some island off the coast of Massachusetts. But as it turns out, he’s really an inmate and the entire staff is role-playing this “investigation” in order to snap the “marshal” out of his delusion.

A part of Andrew’s delusion is that he chose to investigate this particular escaped prisoner because he had been looking into the mental institution for unethical practices. He thought they were performing some kind of Nazi mind control experiments in order to fight the communists. HUAC was supposed to be funding it, even.

At the end of the movie, he’s confronted by his psychiatrists with the truth about his situation. At first he accepts it, but the next morning he’s gone right back into his delusion and it’s implied that the staff will be forced to lobotomize him since their last-ditch effort to snap him out of it had clearly failed.

So here’s where it’s kind of appropriate inre: health care reform. Now that Generalissimo Nancy Pelosi has banged her magical Medicare gavel of death and the bill has been passed, the inbred morons who’ve been screaming about death panels and government takeovers will have to somehow reconcile the reality of the legislation with their delusions about it. How are they going to deal with there not being any death panels? Are they just going to insist that they exist even though they don’t? Or will they refocus their crazy on something else?

Reasonable people, normal people, would just admit to being wrong on the facts. But we’re obviously not talking about reasonable, normal people here. They’re more like the main character in Scorcese’s new movie. So it will be interesting to see if they interact with reality in some way.