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You don’t believe facts. You understand them.

I keep seeing this stuff. So-and-so many people “believe” in evolution. Polls in the media ask whether “You believe in global warming.” Headlines mention people don’t believe in GMO food.

Fergawdsake.

Do you “believe” in carpentry? No. If someone builds a house that leans at a 45° angle, you stay out of it and the building inspector orders it torn down. You weigh the evidence and decide whether it works or not. You don’t believe in it.

Likewise with anything else based on tangible, measurable evidence, like all of science. Evolution is supported by a mountain of data with no, none, zero, conflicting evidence against it. There are people who may not understand that, but belief is irrelevant (as I’ve pointed out before).

Global warming is also, unfortunately, supported by a mountain of data. It’s not as solid a mountain as evolution’s; there are a few bits and pieces scientists don’t yet fully understand. But when over 99% of climate scientists agree the evidence supports that humans are changing the climate, you can bet your clocked socks that’s what the evidence shows. Ninety nine percent of scientists never agree on anything unless there’s no alternative.

As an example of that, I, for instance, don’t think the evidence on the safety of GMO foods is sufficient yet. Oh, sure, you won’t become a mutant green two-headed corporate executive if you eat it. But there isn’t enough evidence that it is environmentally and agriculturally beneficial or even that its long term effect on human health is acceptable. That’s not disbelieving GMO food. That’s arguing that the evidence is deficient. For instance, there are nowhere near enough independent, long term studies with large enough sample sizes to justify the soothing noises the industry makes about GMO effect on health.

So let’s get this straight. The right headlines would be: “Many Americans don’t understand evolution” “Politicians funded by Big Oil refuse to see global warming” “Lone biologist wants huge, expensive study of GMO foods.”

See? It’s not hard. Let’s do it.

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This is how our world ends

Not with a bang, but with brain-shattering neurotics who vote.

Via Suburban Guerrilla:

Conspiracy theorists think government planted ‘fake snow’

[W]eather across the south of the U.S. has raised a controversial question online: was it just a light snow, or a nefarious government conspiracy? … [T]he last few days have seen scores of videos like this from skeptics [Ed. note: "skeptics"] who claim the snowflakes aren’t the real deal.

“I have a sample of ‘snow’ … leaving the snow unmelted.” Via YouTube / sugar magnolia

The conspiracy reasoning goes like this: the snow is unusual in Georgia and other southeast areas and doesn’t melt when burned. Therefore, it must be fake snow, distributed by the government, as a diversion from big government tyranny. Via YouTube / Div9neImages

And no, much as I believe in citing sources, I’m not making live links to those youtube clips. I’m worried about teh stoopid cooties.

Basic chemistry/physics: a solid exposed to high enough heat does not become liquid. It goes straight to gas. So, duh, when you put a butane flame to snow you don’t get liquid water. And the butane is a hydrocarbon. If the flame cools fast enough — by the proximity of snow, for instance — the carbon will precipitate out as nice black soot instead of floating into the atmosphere. (Congratulations. You’ve reduced the amount you contributed to climate change by many molecules of carbon. Just like a liberal!)

I laugh so as not to cry.



Update, next morning. It’s worse than I thought. We’re not just talking about voters. The actual legislators in what passes for the actual government have less comprehension than your average sea cucumber. (Example of average sea cucumber below.) Sea cucumber at Sydney Aquarium. Photo: Erin Silversmith. From Wikimedia. Via Slashdot: “The bill, dubbed the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014 (HR 4012), would prohibit the EPA’s administrator from proposing or finalizing any rules unless he or she also discloses “all scientific and technical information” relied on by the agency in the regulations’ development.” Um, hello? It is all published. That’s part of what makes it science. Once the Honorable Congresscritter learns how to read, he’ll be able to discover all that wonderful data! Except the bits corporations want to keep confidential. Oh, and are we going to make sure science is equally respected at the DOD? The CIA? The NSA? I think that would be a good idea.

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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela voting in 1994
(Paul Weinberg : Wikimedia)

Usually, when some world leader dies, I don’t care. More often than not I even think, “Well, that’s one less lying mug I’m tired of seeing.”

But with Nelson Mandela I felt a stab of sadness, as if he was my friend.

One of our greats is gone. I wish he’d lived forever. Maybe if we live in ways that honor his work, he will in a way.

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The roots of war

I was reading an article about Syria’s civil war, and sentences kept jumping out at me.

The white Horseman of war

For three men in northern Syria, the second civil war started shortly after the first staggered into a quagmire of sectarian violence. …

Like many others, the three men are bewildered at what has become of their war. Their alliances – and their goals – are shifting. …

They are a businessman, a smuggler and an army defector who became respectively the political officer, treasurer and military commander of a once-formidable battalion in northern Syria. …

“Maybe in 10 years we will all be bored with fighting and learn how to coexist.” He paused, then added: “In 10 years maybe, not now.” …

He opened Google Earth on his phone, zooming in closer and closer until the screen showed a small grey square: the house where his family used to live. “Before, all my family was in Syria, and I worried about them. Now, they’ve got out but I have lost my land. I have reached a point of despair,” he said. …

“I was in the revolution at the beginning, and I used to think that was going to be progress – but now we have lost everything. We don’t talk about military plans and hitting the regime – now the plotting is against each other.”

“I can’t defeat them [the jihadis] and the army. I am about to collapse. I can hold out for a month or two at most. Isis [jihadis] are expanding in a fearful way.” …

When they reached the base, the lieutenant sank down in a corner. He seemed weary. “I have been fighting for two years and a half. Tell me: what have I achieved? All I think about is attacking this checkpoint, getting that tank – maybe using the tank to attack another checkpoint.

“In all this time did I ever think of establishing governance? Did I consider working with the civilians in the areas under my control to get electricity or provide anything? …

He sighed. “… I want to get away from here and forget the absurdity of war. The liberated areas are in chaos: there is more purity on the frontlines.” …

“For three days I’ve been attacking this checkpoint,” said the lieutenant “I ask myself why, but I don’t know. Maybe because I can. Maybe because I need to keep my men busy. But honestly, I don’t know the purpose of all this. In Syria, everyone has lost. No one is winning.” …

The next day, the lieutenant decided he needed a break from war. A few days later, the smuggler, the lieutenant and another rebel officer were walking in an Istanbul shopping centre packed with Arab tourists. After two and a half years, the two men said they had finally decided to leave Syria and the war for good. …

Later, in the food court upstairs, the smuggler and the lieutenant ate lunch with another man, a people-smuggler, who told them how they could be spirited across the border into Greece and from there into Italy, where they could start a new life with their families. …

By now, the excitement of being in Istanbul had waned: the three men walked the streets aimlessly and sat for hours in cafes. … One evening, he admitted that he had tried to leave once before: he had stayed away for 25 days, but found he could not live in the world of peace: he missed the excitement, the combat, the camaraderie. …

The lieutenant left the cafe, and there was no news of him for weeks. Nobody knew if he was still in Turkey, or if he had gone with the people-smuggler and made his way to Italy.

When he finally called, he sounded relieved and almost cheerful. “I just couldn’t do it,” he said. “I couldn’t leave, I went back to Syria, to fight.”

People who go to war always say they do it to serve — their country, an ideal, their way of life, always something outside themselves. But then when the fighting is destroying what they care about they would stop, wouldn’t they?

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Those unnecessary Golgafrinchans? They settled here.

It’s obvious, after reading this article giving a platform to Tyler Cowen. (If you want a bit of background on the Golgafrinchans, the quotation is below.)

I make vague flailing motions to defend against Teh Stoopid out there, so I don’t actually know who Tyler Cowen is. But nothing lasts forever. So now I know which are the jobs of the future.

[M]achines are [getting] smarter than you, … [so] The good jobs will be about branding. They’re all about figuring out how to get other people’s attention[.] …

[Expanding on the smartness of machines:] [R]oads will change so driverless cars can use them, and we’re not ready for this mostly. I think it’s a big, big plus, but in some ways, the world will look uglier and feel stupider. It’s a bit like those help menus. You can do everything right by pressing all the buttons.[Ed. note: Yes, I've noticed that. The help menus always have all the options you need. There's never any missing information. You never wind up going in circles around the phone tree.] It pisses people off. [Really?] It still gives you overall better service and a cheaper product than the old system of hiring operators. [Hahahahaha. Come on. Now you're just being silly.] …

[Interviewer notes] In the book you also discuss a future artificial intelligence app that might recommend things in the social or romantic realm, like the optimal time to kiss someone on a date.

[Mr. TC responds]: My guess is that will be half the people. The people who listen to the machines, they’re going to do better. They’ll have a better chance of being happily married. They’ll choose better dates. They’ll kiss at the right time or whatever it is the machine tells you. They’ll have better portfolios. They’ll have better diets. … So you don’t have to necessarily be great at reading the tea leaves once you’re attuned to the machine.

And yet, a few paragraphs earlier, he said psychology was the only talent where people still excelled. Now, barely minutes further into the future by the end of the article, people are too stupid to know when to kiss without an app to tell them.

They pay him for this sort of flapdoodle, apparently. At the top of the article it says “Foreign Policy Magazine named Tyler Cowen #72 in their list of the ‘Top 100 Global Thinkers.’”

Imagine if FP Mag is right. May God have mercy on our globe.


Golgafrinchan history, from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:
The two space travellers show up on a ship, and the Captain explains what it’s all for.

“I mean, I couldn’t help noticing,” said Ford, also taking a sip, “the bodies. In the hold.”

“Bodies?” said the Captain in surprise. …

Ford licked his lips.

“Yes,” he said, “all those dead telephone sanitizers and account executives, you know, down in the hold.”

The Captain stared at him. Suddenly he threw back his head and laughed.

“Oh, they’re not dead,” he said. “Good Lord, no, no they’re frozen. They’re going to be revived.”

Ford did something he very rarely did. He blinked.

Arthur seemed to come out of a trance.

“You mean you’ve got a hold full of frozen hairdressers?” he said.

“Oh yes,” said the Captain. “Millions of them. Hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, public relations executives, management consultants, you name it. We’re going to colonize another planet.”

The Hitch­hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say about the planet of Gol­gafrin­cham: it is a planet with an an­cient and mys­te­ri­ous his­tory, rich in leg­end….

[A] de­scen­dant of one of these ec­cen­tric poets … in­vented the spu­ri­ous tales of im­pend­ing doom which en­abled the peo­ple of Gol­gafrin­cham to rid them­selves of an en­tire use­less third of their pop­u­la­tion. The other two-thirds stayed firmly at home and lived full, rich and happy lives until they were all sud­denly wiped out by a vir­u­lent dis­ease con­tracted from a dirty tele­phone.

 

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Today in Racist News

First the Russian fans shouting garbage at the black captain for Manchester City. (Once his team was winning, I gather. Bad losers, too.) Yes, Russians can be dreadful racists. That’s not the surprise. For me, the surprise is that even in this day and age the authorities, in this case the people who run the football club whose fans were so horrible, are fine with it. And they’re so tone deaf they say, out loud, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad. Oh, you’re exaggerating.” In other words, shut up and go away. (After a couple of days of pressure, they changed their tune.)

Racism backed by authorities, even authorities who think better of it after the damage is done, needs the strongest possible response. Boycott ‘em. Close the stadium. Stop it now. Go Yaya Touré.

Then there’s the blonde Roma child found in a Greek gypsy camp among the more average darker inhabitants. The immediate reaction was that she must have been kidnapped. Then some DNA evidence showed that the mother is another impoverished Roma from Bulgaria. The talk of kidnapping stopped. The talk about trafficking started. The girl must have been sold.

Yes. Poor people sometimes do appalling things to survive. But poor people also sometimes commit acts of astronomical generosity, inconceivable to those more comfortably situated. One image branded on my mind from history books is starving peasants around the time of the Russian Revolution giving their swaddled infants to strangers on passing trains in the desperate hope the babies might then survive. I don’t know if they lived or not. I don’t know the statistics on how that worked out. But in the moments when it happened, on both sides, there had to be a stunning ability to give everything away.

If it had turned out that some equally blonde people from, say, Iceland were the parents, how quickly would the police assume they’d sold the child?

Never, I expect.

But since she has a Roma mother, well, it’s obvious isn’t it, there’s been a criminally sordid transaction. It’s the first conclusion they come to, not the last. Evidence not needed.

Whatever the evidence does finally show, it doesn’t change the willingness of the (white?) world to jump to racist conclusions without any.

The big difference between them and the Russian fans is that football hooligans yell crap out loud in a stadium.

A nice redskin potato

And then, of course, close to home, the flap in the USA about the Washington Redskins. The name is insulting to American Indians. So change it. It’s a name, fergawdsake. Or, as a commenter pointed out, don’t change it but change the logo to a potato. What an idiotic thing to have to expend energy on. We could be putting all that money and effort and emotion toward mitigating the real damage of racism. Instead it’s going toward arguing over labels with a bunch of neanderthals running one of our autumnal concussion teams.

Then again, maybe that’s easier than dealing with racism.

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Thatcher is in the past


I’ve figured out what bothers me about leftists gloating over Thatcher’s death.

There’s the unseemliness of expressing it much too fast. Everybody, even your bitterest enemy, has the right to bury their dead in peace. But I knew I had a problem with that and it didn’t feel like the whole problem.

The rest of it is that she’s gone. Over and done with. It’s useless to dance on her grave. If you want to support a humane world, do it here and now. Jeer at the so-called progressives who can’t say they’ll stand against Obama’s Republican budget. (Via the essential fatster.) Jeer at Obama for producing a budget that would have done the Iron Lady herself proud.

Feel-good jeering to get an ego boost is repulsive.

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Now is the time for your tears


Women have no voice. Their songs aren’t famous, so the only words I can think of adequate to Steubenville belong to Bob Dylan. And he, of course, is talking about murder, not that stuff which, when it happens to women, is something to joke about.

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ringed finger …
And the cops were called in …
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

William Zanzinger who had twenty-four years …
[And] rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him …
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering …
And in a matter of minutes on bail was out walking

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

Hattie Carroll … Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane …
And she never done nothin’ to William Zanzinger

And you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level …
And that even the nobles get properly handled …
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month one-year sentence.

Ah, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears.

One year. One. For the premeditated, prolonged, published, endless soul-destroying torture of a human being.

One damn year.

(The complete lyrics are here.)

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Some rights are more important than others

The European Court of Human Rights has been reading my blog! Or, perhaps, it’s an obvious idea if you think about it for even a minute, but that’s a much less fun hypothesis. I’ve been saying forever that some rights have to take precedence. (Most recently here, also here, etc., etc.)

[C]opyright monopoly as such – which is ordinary law in European states – was just defined as taking a back seat to the constitutional right to share and seek culture and knowledge, as defined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

It’s about time. We’re getting too damn close to that scenario I saw on Vimeo.


About that Iranian nuclear threat


AP has a big, exclusive story based on a graph of a simulation leaked by they’re-not-saying-who from they’re-not-saying-where. This is Proof the Iranians are working on a big bad nuke.

 
(graphic from AP)

 

Glenn Greenwald seems to be getting exasperated at the silliness of such setups:

even if one assumes that this graph is something other than a fraud, the very idea that computer simulations constitute “evidence” that Iran is working toward a nuclear weapon is self-evidently inane.

Well, yes, there is that.

But there’s one even bigger piece of evidence suggesting that the Iranians aren’t doing much, and for some reason that’s not being mentioned. They have a border with a huge and powerful country. (Well, a mere 200 or so miles away across Azerbaijan.) Russia has zero reason to want powerful Islamic fundamentalists right on its southern border who might encourage friction in other Central Asian majority-Islamic countries.

If the Iranians were really that close to useful nukes, you can bet your Sunday bonnet the Russians would be making noise about it and/or doing something about it.

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Syria

I can’t write about this.

Wael, said he had seen a six-year-old die after being tortured and starved.The 16 year-old told the report’s authors: “I watched him die. He only survived for three days and then he simply died.”

BBC News – Syria child trauma ‘appalling’ – Save the Children

What kind of monster can do that? What kind of people are we that such things happen?

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Real Men Grow Vegetables


GIANT vegetables.

This is weightlifter Jonathan Walker hoisting the winning 119lb, 54kg, marrow grown by Peter Glazebrook. That’s a zucchini to Yanks, although arguably the diminutive “-ini” ending is not appropriate here. As with most critical news, this report from the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show came from the BBC.



I hate MarketSpeak

I am so fed up with marketers, I can’t tell you. What brought on this particular fit was some nonsense quoted on the BBC.

The article is discussing a rule that’s gone into effect in the UK, requiring web sites to let users know about all the cookies they plan on storing and asking users’ permission to do it.

In other words, it’s opt-in, not opt-out. Needless to say, practically nobody opts in. Cue the moaning of the marketers in 3 …, 2 …, 1 …

“Plain and simple – this will kill online sales.”

Oh, really? Seems to me online sales grew from nothing to huge before all this tracking crap got under way.

But British Telecom has the solution. Revert to opt-out with this clever little bit of marketspeak:

The cookie settings on this website are set to ‘allow all cookies’ to give you the very best experience. If you continue without changing these settings, you consent to this – but if you want, you can change your settings at any time at the bottom of this page.

“To give you the very best experience”? “To give you the very best experience”?!

Is the feel of all those cookies tracking me supposed to make me all warm and fuzzy and less alone in the world?

Idiots.

They’re not talking about me, and they know it. The “you” having the “very best” experience is the advertiser paying the web site’s bills.

So, here’s the PlainSpeak change that’s needed: “The cookie settings on this website are set to ‘allow all cookies’ to provide us with the most revenue.”

There. Fixed that for ya.

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Everything wrong summarized in one picture

tractor using fuel to vacuum grass clippings on a sod farm

Vacuuming grass clippings at a sod farm

 

A sod farm grows lawns for people who can’t be bothered with the whole grass-seed-and-careful-watering effort. It takes tons of fossil fuel. It takes huge quantities of water. You see farmworkers carefully moving the irrigation pipes every few days so that none of the sod gets marred by having a pipe on it too long.

You also see farmworkers walking the fields in formation, plastic bags on their belts, gently using a screwdriver-like tool to remove any weed trying to invade the living astroturf.

And, of course, the new grass has to be cut regularly for the sod to form a nice even carpet. More fossil fuel. Also, grass clippings. The clippings can’t be allowed to matt down. So they are vacuumed up.

We’re living in a world where it’s worth building huge wells drilling thousands of meters down to bring up ancient decomposed bacteria that are refined in enormous factories and then trucked everywhere while releasing their carbon to cook the planet so that fuel can be put into tractors to vacuum grass clippings.

Insanity.

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Why is Romney the Almost-Human?


Everybody — well, me, and Charles Pierce, and bostonboomer, and well, everybody — sees him as a stiff awkward robot with less charm than a Roomba.

picture of Roomba

Yes, that’s at least partly because he’s a rich guy who has to mix with the rubes on nothing stronger than caffeine-free Coke. And it’s partly because he’s been lying for votes for so long, it takes more and more time to get the right lies out of storage. A Roomba doesn’t have to do either of those things.

But, really, are those issues unusual for a politician? They all have to campaign among the manyheaded and sanitize their hands every few minutes. They all lie like tombstones, and we know it. So what is it with Romney? Why are the other politicians just doing what politicians do, but Romney gets called a robot?

I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s because he’s so bad at lying. It’s written all over his face that he doesn’t believe any of the drivel himself, that he’s reading his speeches to the proletariat because that’s what you have to do, that he’s going through the motions.

He’s such a bad liar, we can see him doing it. But truth-telling is so far off the table it’s in the Marianas Trench somewhere. That means we have to examine the only alternative. Good liars.

In the RE (Rove Era), elections are about piling on the most stimulating lies. For three and a half years we’ve had someone doing pretty much the diametric opposite of everything he campaigned on, and when he goes out campaigning now … people still believe him when he says the next four years will be different. He’s one of the best liars in all history.

It’s like a choice between being swindled out of your money or your house. Both alternatives are repulsive, but with a bad liar, we might be on our guard and actually get ripped off less. With a sweet-talking bamboozler, in Vastleft’s inimitable words, half the country accepts it while the other half demands even worse.

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Charles Murray and the Moral Collapse of the Working Class

A long time ago an anthropologist named Ruth Benedict pointed out that the people recognized as criminals in a given society cause a tiny fraction of the damage inflicted by the powerful members. This was whether it was measured by financial loss or physical injury. (Think about wars, if it’s hard to picture tycoons beating people up.) Think about the crash of 2008, if it’s hard to see the rich picking people’s pockets. In general, the statement squares with my intuition of what goes on, and it probably squares with yours, too.

So why does Murray spend a whole book worrying about the moral collapse of the working class? If he’s that worried about the end of Civilization as we know it, shouldn’t he be agonizing over the morals of politicians and hedge fund managers instead of worrying about the wake of a rowboat when it’s in the wake of the Queen Mary?


Addendum: And, what’s more, by “moral collapse” he doesn’t seem to mean beggaring others or getting them killed, he seems to disapprove of their increasing inability to be married. (I say seems because I can’t read his ramblings. I get my information secondhand from Krugman who’s made of sterner stuff than I.)

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