Thursday 13th October 2005

pompous pseudointellectual mindwanking (for my wife's benefit)

i perceive that a certain wife of mine has trouble understanding a certain dichotomy in my life.

today on the way to work i was plugging a podcast i subscribe to. here's the skinny. it's called skepticality. it reports under-reported news, debunks myths/mysticism/pseudoscience, disseminates critical thought, and (in my opinion) generally promotes quality and discourages crap. it fits me because i try to maintain a skeptical worldview.

i mentioned to her one early episode in which they had discussed the religious philosophies of the framers of the united states government. the thrust of that episode was: most of them were deists, and contrary to popular opinion, did not espouse or endorse any sort of religion or theology. they certainly didn't form religion, much less one specific religion, as the foundation of the state.

there was a certain amount of excitement in my voice i'm sure, because the above is a common misconception (if not blatant untruth) and it was being clarified via a pretty popular channel. though i didn't go into so much depth with her, i gave her the overview. her response, and the last thing she said to me before getting out of the car, was 'sometimes i swear you're an atheist,' not spoken in a flattering tone. [aside]


i'd like to try to set the record straight here, partially for mrs matt, partially for personal clarification of thought, and partially so you can figure out who i am (because i honestly have no idea). so at the risk of losing friends but with the hope of enlightening them, here's what i believe. now with extra candor.

i am a scientist—not only by education but also by philosophy: i try very hard to form conclusions from evidence; it's very hard for me to give credence to claims or arguments for which i can't see any support. i'm certainly not perfect in this respect, as i'm sure you have seen in the past, but i do the best i can.

because the universe appears in so many ways to be 15 billion years old, i believe the universe to be 15 billion years old. because of the cosmic background radiation and because the universe appears to be expanding, i believe the big bang theory is accurate.

because individuals (not just human individuals; i'm talking about everything living) who are poorly adapted to their environs are less likely to survive and subsequently less likely to pass their genes along, the good genes of a species get distilled into individuals of successive generations. since mutations from various sources are occurring continuously, existing genes are not static. the process is recursive with continuously new genetic material. i believe the theory of evolution is accurate, though i believe it fails to explain the absolute origins of Life As We Know It™.

because i believe in cause and effect, and because the universe is a very large effect that demands a very large cause (ex nihilo, nihilo fit), i believe in big-g God, who created the universe.

yes, that's right. i believe in God, and i believe that God created the universe, but i do not think the theory of intelligent design (id) should be taught as a scientific cosmology, alternative or not:

firstly: i.d. by its construction is not scientific, in that it defines itself to be irrefutable and claims everything as supporting evidence. the body of science is based on the idea of falsifiability.

secondly: science curriculum is not equipped to deal with God, just as religion is not equipped to deal with meson interactions or the properties of neurotransmitters.

thirdly: the discussion of religiously charged topics is well within the jurisdiction of concerned parents. proponents of id hold that alternative theories of origins be given equal time in science classes; if every alternative theory of origins were to be explained in school, students wouldn't have time to learn anything else. i wholeheartedly believe that varying viewpoints should be offered in every field of knowledge, and kids should make up their own minds, but not everything is solely the job of teachers.

furthermore, choosing which religions' cosmologies are taught in governmentally funded schools is precisely equal to respecting a religion. [aside]


i'm a fan of the split-brain theory. the left hemisphere is pointy: it is good at solving linear problems, for understanding details and deducing. it balances your checkbook. it's algorithmic. the right hemisphere is round: it sees wholes, it intuits, abstracts, inducts. it hopes. it is heuristic. and connecting the two is the corpus callosum, the largest nerve in the human body. it's about as wide as three or four fingers lined up, though it's usually thicker in women than in men.

the point is this: the only way i can make some sense of the universe is by thinking of it with both hemispheres. i parse science with the left side and religion with the right side. between the two is a tenuous connection too thin to allow much cross-communication (in small amounts and only when needed). it's kept me alive and sane so far.


so. what does this make me? rhetorically speaking, of course.


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Saturday 24th September 2005

on the media

in this exciting episode, thanks to a special request by ted, i'll be beating a dead horse.


television is crap in general. television news is crap specifically. and i'll tell you why.

television news has a way of egregiously hyping asinine topics, taking screen time away from actual news. while local news stations can probably be forgiven on account of there being not much happening locally, the national/world news cannot, because there is a lot going on in the world that really really matters. a prime example is the airplane whose landing gear recently failed to act properly after takeoff, which then circled the runway for a few hours to burn excess fuel before landing in a cascade of sparks. that's the entire story and the full extent of the drama. yet last wednesday when this was happening, a majority of the stations we receive through our rabbit-ear antenna had looping moving pictures of the plane figure-eighting around the airport split-framed with a still image of the offending landing gear. turn off the volume and remove the station logos and the viewer wouldn't have been able to tell the stations apart—and it was like that for the better part of three hours.

some commentary: this incident had no bearing on my life in any way whatever, nor, i would argue, yours. it will impact the passengers and their families; the company itself, certainly; the rest of the industry and all involved. but all of these would have found out eventually and by means much more direct, targeted, and meaningful than the 5 o'clock news. to you or me or the man on the street this isn't news. it's happening, it's current, but it's insignificant. it qualified for 'special report' status because it was dramatic and people would watch it, because deep down, people are voyeurs for things going wrong. we want to see disasters and smoke and things breaking and we want to see it now, dammit, and we want to see talking heads saying how this will impact the global blah blah blah. oh of course we don't want anyone to be hurt or much less have anyone die, but a little disaster fix every now and again calms the monsters deep down within us all demanding some excitement, demanding a little live-action drama that we can turn off when it's time for bed—because in the end, we want them all to live happily ever after.

actual news flashes! iran is pursuing its nuclear program in spite of the eu's opposition. north korea has on the surface given up its own nuclear ambitions in exchange for economic aid and gestures of peace, though there exist serious doubts. germany's election remains in the air. any of these affects us infinitely more than the event above, but you'll never see breaking news, nor indeed any more than skeletal information, about any of them. i claim this is because television is a visual medium, and there are no dramatic images of any of these stories.

as a population, we are becoming more inclined to act emotionally rather than thoughtfully, and more inclined to be entertained than to be informed. one can see it in the prevalence of entertainment news—shows that keep you up-to-date on all the latest celebrity gossip, fashion, and marital status. it doesn't matter that renée zellweger and kenny chesney got a divorce (annulment?). it doesn't matter that angelina jolie broke up brad pitt and jennifer aniston and now wants to adopt a child. refer to my above comments about insignificance. it seems to me that this type of show is so pervasive because the viewer develops a kind of emotional attachment to his/her favorite celebrity/ies. it can happen as easily as by watching, say, a good film, and in the viewing, the viewer associates the screen personality with the emotions brought about by that film. the viewer feels that s/he has been through something with, say, tom cruise, and afterwards feels the need to keep up the relationship. it's worthless, needless heavy petting of the right hemisphere. the same emotion-strokers don't want to be enlightened; they want to be entertained. these are the ones who want to see the dramatic images rather than learn something, however disturbing or unpleasant.

related to this is the tendency to have ludicrously in-depth reporting for a week or so, followed possibly by an update report or two, depending on the importance of the original story, and then absolutely nothing. i've heard it called the cnn effect, and the evidence is anecdotal: when is the last time you heard about the tsunami rebuilding efforts? they've been going on at a feverish pace for nearly nine months. 150,000 people lost their lives and tens of millions were displaced, requiring the biggest reconstruction of my lifetime, but those stories don't make headlines anymore because it's old news. karl rove/valerie plame? same situation. somalia, the results of the g8 summit, the ongoing clear and present genocide in sudan, or indeed anything about africa? ibid. the selectivity of the news has grown staggering; i submit for your further consideration the horribly depressing missing white woman syndrome. the mainstream television news programs would do well to have some sort of checks and balances system (other than themselves) to catch things like this. letters to the editor and other types of viewer/listener/reader feedback are well and good, but it is hard to imagine a letter to the editor changing the reporting policy of the news source. everything is so driven by ratings and the bottom line that the entire idea of informing and educating the public has been relegated to the bottom half of section c, page 2, next to the used car ads and the obituaries.


the point of all this? watch / listen to / read a news program that is informative rather than sensational. do not watch jerry springer, nor any of the other horrible drivel on the daytime telly. be selective in what you believe: take everything through the filter of skepticism—not just news, but everything you hear, from advertising to the word on the street to what your parents told you as a child. perhaps even get the news from a source that differs ideologically from your own views. truth will stand up to reason. so please, reason. be cautious when jumping to conclusions. and most importantly, make the talking heads shut up.


**
further reading (while the soapbox is hot):
top 10 ignored news stories. hot.


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Monday 12th September 2005

epiphany

(with respect to the preceding entry)

if they mess with us
if we think they might mess with us
if we say they might mess with us
if we think we need a war
we need a war

(fischerspooner)


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Sunday 11th September 2005

the sound you hear is a million liberal bloggers' heads exploding

does this worry anyone else?

"[The revised Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations] was drafted by the Pentagon in March and posted on the internet, but did not attract widespread attention until a report on it in The Washington Post yesterday. It has since been removed from the Department of Defence website."

lucky you; i have the full story.

deskjob general: lackey geek! make this nominally available to the public but in a place where no one will ever read it! also mention peace is our profession! and also obfuscation
DoD webmaster: i have just the place! the inter-thing!
deskjob general: the inter-thing! i read about that yesterday on the web! that is an excellent idea for a location

[time passes]

washington post reporter: this is a veritable goldmine! pulitzer prize you are mine! I MUST WARN ONE MILLION LIBERAL BLOGGERS

[time passes / heads explode]

obfuscated DoD server: my ram! too many hits! i'm melting! oh what a world
DoD webmaster: BOSS the terrorist hackers have googled for 'doomsday warmongering wmd doublethink policy changes' and decrypted our so-phisticated multilevel jargon ciphers!
deskjob general: LACKEY GEEK fall back to DELETION CIPHER



the neutrality of this article is disputed.


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Tuesday 6th September 2005

let me get this straight

what follows is emotional resonance with the hbot3000.


the united states government is the largest, wealthiest entity in the world, and yet it doesn't have the resources to provide food/water/sanitation/evacuation to a drowned city, even when we knew it was coming and the governor had declared a state of emergency days in advance, even when we knew we knew that the city of new orleans is below sea level and the poorly funded levees wouldn't withstand anything above category 3 (katrina was 4 upon landfall and had been 5), even when fema listed a major hurricane hitting new orleans as one of the three most serious threats to the nation (in early 2001, about the time their funding was cut)?

'i don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees.' ahem.

'now is not the time to be partisan or to cast blame; we've got lives to save.' whereas they might have been saved already, had the government acted with proper speed and authority in the first place. it's easy to say 'don't cast blame' when the blame is being cast upon you.

'we're doing the best we can. it's hard work.' well, perhaps. or perhaps you need to evaluate the effectiveness of your 'best.'

what i've been hearing recently i'd expect from the ministry of truth. accountability has been replaced by excuses, spin, ignorance, empty rhetoric, bloated bureaucracy, lethal inefficiency, and borderline criminal incompetence.


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Sunday 28th August 2005

argument:

woot; wedding over. more later.

my problem with the intelligent design argument is this: those who believe in it see everything (everything) as evidence for it; therefore, to the proponents of intelligent design, the theory cannot be disputed. once you take something on faith and use your faith as evidence of its truth, everything can become true. this is not science.

my related soapbox is using beliefs (popular beliefs to be sure, but nonetheless merely beliefs) of one religion on which to impose legislation for everyone. sadly, it's members of my religion who are doing the imposing. certain outspoken religious conservatives are forgetting that freedom of religion means, to some people, freedom from religion.

as for me, i take the flying spaghetti monster cosmology on faith. AND THEREFORE TRUTH IT BECOMES!


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Wednesday 6th July 2005

hey baby come back

honestly, I wasn't blowing you off. I just … kind of … well, never got around to it.

life has been full lately. goings-on include anniversaries, fireworks, job searches, dark towers, high-stake bluffs, hits and near-hits. all of which, one would think, would provide me with a plethora of material from which to draw. one would think.

the kids outside are enjoying summer very loudly. there is a single muscle fiber in my arm that won't stop twitching. I stay awake too late and wish too much to sleep in. all is to say that nothing has changed.


more around the bend.


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