Sunday, March 1, 2015

political correctness

One doesn't expect this kind of excellence from dailykos: "Liberal Racism: 25 Things I Learned After I Wrote About ISIS and White Racism at the Daily Kos"

"Right-wing racists are much more honest, and thus easier to deal with, than liberal racists."
That's true on the majority of issues. Liberals co-opt egalitarian language from systemic injustice sufferers/critics and use it to rebrand status quo power imbalances to suit their own well-positioned intellectual sensitivities. Liberals know there's kind of an issue there, while conservatives are left to say, "but c'mon, we all know (group X) is the scum of the earth." "No, they're not," say liberals, allies of the punished side of power imbalances who, at least symbolically, support egalitarianism. Conservatives, with little self-awareness or understanding of what systemic injustice might even mean, say "f%!k those guys." Liberals, thinking systemic injustice is mostly a relic of the past, and is on its way out the door if the good guys (them) win, in some impossible future, say "no, we should fight for our just, if flawed (it's not perfect!), system, protect it from those right-wingers who would do away with justice altogether." Liberals consider themselves allies of the downtrodden, a lie exposed when the objects of discussion open their whiny, unappreciative mouths and accurately point out that "no you're not" and the fake allies ask, in some way or another, "where's the appreciation?", and work to maintain the symbolic framework in which they're the good guys, living in those sweet ill-gotten houses, fighting to elect the next politician to run the war-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, etc. You can put them in jail all you want, but don't you dare use the "n" word. You can kill them in their sleep, but do it for democracy.

Friday, February 27, 2015


When you have a group hellbent on world conquest, the first thing yergunnawannado is ask: is it the "liberal West" or "some illiberals we need for the monster role in our efforts to control resources"? If the answer is liberal West, assume good intentions. Everywhere they go, they bring civilization and the bettering of everything, by definition. They burned down your village and killed your grandma? That's better than it was. Say thank you. If it's them heathens, use their bad intentions as a pretext to drum up support and do the green thing on this here map that you've been doing for centuries. Don't forget to blame it on their religion. Only religious people of the type Muslim are hellbent on world conquest. OK, sometimes atheists in Moscow and other places. If they're Christians though, that could get awkward. You need to create some separation. Just assume it's an intrinsically German, Italian thing, whatever. Blame it on a particular leader. Make stuff up, see what sticks. And then keep getting that green.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


I've passed by this sign so many times, finally had a camera on me.
"Clearly you're inadequate. No one loves you. Not even the plaid suit man has any use for you without our product. Give us your money and we'll give you the blue suit man, whose judgment alone can redeem you."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

how history shows that omar vizquel was a devout muslim

input X ➡️ system ➡️ outcome Y

eating salmon instead of lollipops ➡️ human body ➡️ longer lifespan

violence instead of non-violence ➡️ child's body ➡️ violent adult

video games ➡️ body ➡️ probably some bad things

reading Quran ➡️ body ➡️ probably some bad things

Depends what the control is. On a desert island, soda is better than nothing. White bread is better than lollipops. We've got a lot of moving parts, systemic complexity.

People eat a lot of white bread in Japan. Not so good. But people in Japan live relatively long. The outcome is the sum of all the moving parts. From a naturalistic, scientific perspective, there's absolutely nothing in the outcome that didn't come from all those moving parts.

Input #343 out of 10,000 ➡️ society A ➡️ violence?
Input #212 out of 10,000 ➡️ society B ➡️ violence?

#343 seems terrible. Can't prove it but it just has to be. #212 seems pretty rational to certain people.

The U.S., empirically, has been the most violent country in the world over the past 50 years, at least, and the pattern of constant expansion goes back to the very beginning of the European invasion and conquest of America. What's the explanation? The outcome of all those moving parts is off-the-charts violence levels. Where's the analysis of those moving parts, among which are new atheists, by new atheists?

I agree that #343 is bad, but what about #650 when society B deposes society A's democratically elected government, #5,610 when society B chokes society A's economy and so on? And why has the society that with the greater #343 input been less violent than the one with the greater #212 input? #343 is the Quran. #212 is new atheist political ideas. Unlike the case of the white bread above, whatever impact each of those inputs has is entirely unclear. Could be pretty close to nothing. Could be one is lollipops, the other candy canes, with both taken in such small quantities that it doesn't matter if one is slightly worse. That I have to explain basic methodology to professional scientists is [expression of exasperation]. 

A right-wing relative (think Krauthammer, Rumsfeld) on fbook typed this:
Yes, the US killed thousands in War. It is an ugly business. But no one was killed by the US with intent of conquering lands, enslaving the conquered, and subjugating to a hateful, VIOLENT religion.
I'll wait till you're finished lolling. OK, the crying, the banging of your head on the desk. Get it all out. Whew!!!

(I responded:
So if members of a peaceful religion (for example, the Russians) were to invade the U.S. and non-violently, with love and democracy in their hearts, use chemical weapons, WMDs, fighter jets, etc. to kill millions of American citizens without intention to subjugate Americans to any religion, you'd be fine with that? We wouldn't have to include that on our Russian violence scorecard?)
Now try to find a difference between this and the new atheist position. In fact, that hilarious comment got a "like" from a new atheist (an otherwise lovely person, by the way) who'd, upthread, been defending Harris as a peace guy. When I mention that society B is the most violent society in the world today, in my experience, new atheists don't dispute it directly. They want to keep bringing it back to how violent the Quran says believers should be, or the violent God (Allah)-religious words that some violent Muslims use when they do violent things. They don't dispute that the U.S. is the most violent organization in the world today. It's hopeless. But when they talk about how violent Muslims are, with the implication that Muslims are relatively violent, i.e., more violent than Christians and atheists due to their Musliminess, they demonstrate that they aren't actually counting Iraq invasions, drone bombings and the like as acts of violence. They actually think Muslims are more violent, not just in the nasty religious text sense but in terms of real world actions. They think this in spite of mountains of evidence showing systems with input #212 to be more violent and in spite of not being able to make a semblance of a case. Their argument, generally unspoken, rests on the characterization of acts of military aggression that kill on a scale not of handfuls or dozens, but on a scale of hundreds of thousands as non-violent. Their case rests on mass organized killing not counting as violence. Imagine you wanted to compare the power-hitting skills of Barry Bonds and Omar Vizquel where slugging is an act of violence and Bonds HRs count as "whoops, didn't mean it!" ground balls, his triples count as bad apple pop-ups, his doubles count as freedom-providing strikeouts, and his singles count as "did that really happen? I don't think that happened" do-overs, stricken from the record. Meanwhile little Omar Vizquel is spraying death-seeking singles all over the field and, anecdotally, hitting freedom-denying opposite field bombs far more often than the old box scores suggest.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

no true atheist

Part of the appeal of new atheism is that it pumps meaning into otherwise deflated post-God-religious 21st century heads. Life seems meaningless? Here's a narrative to fill the semantic vacuum: The problem with humans is that they have all these silly God-beliefs. The wars, anti-vaxxism, and every other form of illiberal irrationality are relics of the past, when humans were not so far along on this progressive journey as we are today. The problem with the world, in other words, is them, and the answer is you, should you choose to join us. Boom, the meaning's back and you've got a new ingroup. Now you want to insulate your tribe from accusations of being just like them; after all, the God religions are mirror images of each other, all thinking that God is on their side even though God can't possibly be on all their sides; that's illogical! They say they're different but they're the same. You, on the other hand, really are different because you don't believe God is on your side. Atheism is non-God-belief, by definition. One other thing the God-religions have that atheists don't is an official holy book. This is very very important, because some people see words and reflexively do things suggested by them. Free of those God and God-text delusions, now you can go forth and be a good guy in the war against irrationality. You matter! Meaning is back. The struggle against evil is back. What a deal.

The God-religious thesis: Wrong belief and wrong texts and wrong God ==> people doing wrong things
The proof: other God-religionists believe X, Y, Z, which is wrong. We believe not-X, not-Y, and not-Z, which are right. They wear purple, we wear red.

The new atheist thesis: God-belief and irrational tribalist texts ==> violence, irrationality, etc.
The proof: They believe in God and follow violence-encouraging texts. We don't believe in God and don't follow God-texts. When they do violent things they talk about Allah. When we do violent things, we say Team America! well...we don't do violent things because atheism is non-violent and good, by definition.

If this seems too easy, too strawmanny, allow me to mention that there is no reasonable, empirically-based argument that Islam correlates with higher levels of violence than atheism. Meanwhile, any new atheist who voted for Obama voted for a Christian/atheist (does it matter? of course not!) who has a fucking kill list. The reason new atheists emphasize God-belief and religious texts is that these are what distinguish their tribe from God-religionists. Thousands of humans committing acts of violence around the globe, a tiny fraction of whom are Muslims, the main perpetrators of which are acting for governments new atheists support and what the new atheist wants to talk about, time and again, is: "were they saying something about God when they did it?," which, as far as geopolitical analysis is concerned, is like asking what color underpants they were wearing.

Here's reliably easy target Sam Harris:
there are teachings within Islam that explicitly recommend, in fact demand, violence under certain circumstances, circumstances which we in the 21st century, if we are decent human beings, will recognize as being morally insane.” 
But, he said, “there is no such link between atheism or secularism, and violence of any kind.
To paraphrase: there are no teachings within atheism that recommend violence under certain circumstances. Therefore, atheism doesn't cause violence in the way that Islam causes violence. By implication, Islam causes violence by way of texts (and possibly other ways).

He's trying to explain why Islam causes relatively high levels of violence by virtue of some conveniently unexplained semantic mechanism and he never bothers to show that Islam is even correlated with relatively high levels of violence! Because for the goddamn Nth time, there's no such case!

Monkeys swim better than dolphins because...

No, stop! Don't tell me the reason. You've gotta show the first thing first.
It could be that when Hicks starts talking, he’ll tell us how much he hates Muslims and he just wanted to kill a few; and he might even say he read The God Delusion, and The End of Faith, and God is Not Great, and took from these books some kind of rationale to victimize Muslims at random. I think it’s incredibly unlikely that that’s the case. I will be flabbergasted if Hicks says that his atheism drove him to commit these murders.
If we're going by what Islamic terrorists report as their motivations, what they tend to say is that they're responding to U.S. and Israeli F-16s, drones, etc., that is, violence carried out by Christians, atheists, and Jews.

But on Harris logic, when Russell Wilson thanks God after a TD, his Christianity causes his football playing. When a Christian American prays before his mission and blows up a wedding, his Christianity is responsible. When an atheist does the same actions but without praying to the atheist gods, literally anything that's not atheism is responsible. That's how you insulate your religion from criticism.

Now what if the data shows that atheists are relatively more violent than Muslims? To Harris, it doesn't matter at all. Atheism doesn't cause violence, by definition. That's the no true scotsman defense.

I don't mean to make the Quran or God-belief acausal though. It does something, and I imagine the thing it does is something I wouldn't like. There's a weak claim that, in a vacuum, I don't have a problem with that goes like this: angry person with some violence-encouraging external influence is likely more dangerous than same person without that. The U.S. spends millions on propaganda for a reason. That's the correct comparison. Environmental factors that impact violence. The only reason you'd make the comparison hinge on specific God-related verbiage is if you have a tribalist angle to work.

Harris, Dawkins and friends don't make the weak claim. They want to say Islam is relatively violent, that there's something intrinsically violent about it. That's a strong claim and there's simply no empirical basis for it. The U.S. has been far and away the most violent organization in the world in the past century. Half the world's military spending, world's #1 arms dealer, only country to have intentionally used nukes on humans, world's aggressive invasion leader by a mile, etc. Again, it doesn't matter if Obama is really a Christian or if he's faking it. It doesn't matter if the drone operator said a prayer or not. And when some Stalin or whoever kills millions, atheists can just say "we don't have a holy book so that's not on us." The new atheist Islam hater, on the other hand, can pick and choose when to pin it on religion.

Given the discrepancy in actual violence between Muslim countries and Christian/atheist ones, shouldn't we be asking why the west is so violent? I'd never think to answer that question with the kind of unfalsifiable equivocating stories Harris spins. The answer goes like this. The U.S. (and its allies, including atheist Scandinavia and atheist Japan) behaves the way an empire behaves. Geopolitics tells the whole story. ISIS would not exist without U.S. involvement. Islamic bad guys rise and fall (covary) with U.S. foreign policy. The U.S., as a matter of long-standing policy, works to oust uncooperative regimes and replace them with cooperative ones. The latter tend to be dictators, for reasons not hard to understand. It's a classic screw-the-third-party triangle along the lines of European slave trader/African bosses/enslaved Africans. The U.S. is violent as a means of arranging and distributing resources. Humans were killing each other long before the U.S. and ISIS. The names change, the rationalizations can be pretty similar (along ingroup/outgroup lines), the violence is mostly the same.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

machines like them

So sciencey, this.

Yeah, you can keep the focus narrow.

You can put the whole thing in a western frame.

You can say Russia is illiberal, where "liberal" by implication signifies some identifiable, isolable something whereas, perhaps unbeknownst, it means nothing more than an ever-shifting, definition-of-bias "us".

You can allude to western liberalism as your inside/good without showing that it does the common good good.

You can assume a difference in kind where there's a difference in style.

You can ignore piles of research or just the NYT every day.

Holyfuck, American media as free, adversarial, whatever.

You can say, hey, studies show the by-definition bad guys are bad, which they are, as weighed against the common good. Good point!

But only so you can use this bad to prove us good, cuz the bad of the other is what makes any us good, reflexively.

You can recommend that Hillary do such and such, act like she acts for the common good when, in fact, she acts for some imagined you/us.

You can call it science and get it published by machines like us.

Friday, February 13, 2015

let's just hope they run out of gas

A lot of people who know things about artificial intelligence are concerned about where the whole thing is going. Will future Dick Cheneys get brain modifications so as to keep the baby koala soul cupboard better stocked? Will AIs treat humans the way humans treat cockroaches (kill them when you see them), lab rats (experiment on them), birds (mostly ignore them), pets (feel condescending affection for them), or some other way? Nobody knows what's coming (and they don't seem to have given much thought to where the energy will come from, post fossil fuels, either). Here's a summary of AI fears by Kevin Maney that covers important ground, makes some great points, and entertains a critical stance only so he can dismiss it.
It’s time to have a serious conversation about artificial intelligence. AI has crossed a threshold similar to the earliest triumphs in genetic engineering and the unleashing of nuclear fission. We nudged those discoveries toward the common good and away from disaster. We need to make sure the same happens with AI.
"We nudged those discoveries...away from disaster"? Disaster here must mean something like "human extinction," as opposed to, say, Nagasaki. It would be easy to breeze right past that sentence, processing it as "yeah, fission could have gone really badly (but it didn't)." It would be understandable if someone failed to notice how misleading this dichotomy is. We're to choose between disaster and the common good where "disaster" doesn't include Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the risks of future nuclear weapon use, including the possibility of human extinction; nuclear meltdowns that have already happened (Chernobyl, Fukushima, etc.), the risks of future nuclear meltdowns, the fact that nuclear waste has to be dealt with and is vulnerable to infrastructure failures perhaps unavoidable over the lengthy time frame involved; the broader implications of what more power for humans means generally in terms of "the common good." Maney's argument is, roughly, this -- the Cuban Missile crisis didn't end in human extinction (or death for important people -- more on that later) and power is good, therefore nuclear fission serves the common good.

The benefits of nuclear fission must be pretty spectacular to outweigh all those downsides. Rather than explore the "pro" arguments in detail (Maney doesn't mention them), I'll just use a handy shortcut and assure you that all those arguments presuppose what they'd need to prove. Arguments like "nuclear power is cleaner and more sustainable (on some theoretical level) than fossil fuels." "A is better than B" arguments. Better at what? At C. But we're talking about D. C is power. D is the common good. They're entirely different things. Talking about C sends D to the background, by design. This is an article that pretends to talk about the common good while making the case for power. Politicians, scientists, and mainstream journalists work for power.

Admittedly, while "common bad" is relatively simple, "common good" is somewhere between complex and impossible. Maybe nuclear fission, or AI, can work for the common good. But Maney isn't making that case. He's taking the status quo, these increasingly infotech-dependent societies, as his definition of the common good. He thinks nuclear fission has worked for the common good, and his (implied) evidence is "not dead yet." Power justifies itself.
Yet at the same time, we can’t not develop AI. The modern world is already completely dependent on it. AI lands jetliners, manages the electric grid and improves Google searches. Shutting down AI would be like shutting off water to Las Vegas—we just can’t, even if we’d like to. And the technology is pretty much our only hope for managing the challenges we’ve created on this planet, from congested cities to deadly flu outbreaks to unstable financial markets.
Maney insightfully describes the risks brought about by increasing socio-economic complexification by way of infotech, then advocates using the same technology that got "us" into this risky situation to get "us" out of it. Sounds more like an antihero story than a progressive redemption story. Think Walter White compounding previous errors, doubling down on bad bets, and bringing himself closer and closer to death.

Instead of making "The Case Against Artificial Intelligence" (the artice's title), Maney makes the case for it by taking the strongest and most obvious set of solutions (anything prioritizing cutting back) off the table. Imagine someone writing an article titled "The Case Against Smoking," quoting a couple medical professionals who say it's somewhat risky, then ruling out the possibility of quitting smoking as unthinkable. "Given that we have to smoke, we may as well be smart about it..."

"We can't not develop AI." Predictively, many humans this century will try to develop AI (or brain upgrades) to the point where it's no longer dependent on, or even influenceable by, human decisions. Whether they get there depends on peak oil, climate change, and a whole bunch of other complex variables, including humans themselves. But in this phrase, Maney isn't making predictions. He uses the term "we." Pardon the cheese, but where there's a we there's a way. He's suggesting agency and control over the situation, then, for all intents and purposes, denying that there is any. If humans, collectively, stopped building it, they could "not develop AI." If the humans in the science labs stopped building it, they could "not develop AI." If he'd like to stop it, but just can't, he could say "we have to stop it, but it's probably unrealistic to think we can." But if he thinks AI is something we (hint: he's not talking about people living below the poverty line) should go along with because getting off this techno ride would be unbearably painful (for him!) and he'd rather risk death and godknowswhat than give up his smartphone and his position in line, he could say that. But that wouldn't sound very good.
So we have time. But Musk, in particular, is saying that we shouldn’t waste it. There’s no question powerful AI is coming. Technologies are never inherently good or bad—it’s what we do with them. Musk wants us to start talking about what we do with AI. To that end, he’s donated $10 million to the Future of Life Institute to study ways to make sure AI is beneficial to humanity. Google, too, has set up an ethics board to keep an eye on its AI work. Futurist Ray Kurzweil writes that “we have a moral imperative to realize [AI’s] promise while controlling the peril.”
It's what we do with them? The fear is that "we" -- he means the very few in the vicinity of the steering wheel -- won't be able to drive the car at some point. He said it's already too late to turn back. If you imagine that history is working out pretty well so far thanks to good people in positions of power acting heroically -- the progressive faith -- I guess you can hope for more of the same. The suggestion that history is working out well so far depends if you're talking about the ghost of a Nagasaki victim or the CEO of a heavily subsidized nuclear power company, the vast majority of humans who live in poverty or the small minority with vacation homes.

It's possible the powerful could act somewhat more cautiously with AI than most new power sources. The usual pattern is to push costs, up to and including death, off on the rest of humanity. For the common good, of course. But in this case, powerful humans may be more cautious for the same reason they haven't nuked the planet yet -- self-preservation. To the extent they can, they'll try to externalize costs and set up a barrier to protect themselves. What extent that might be, they don't know.
It’s worth getting out ahead of these things, setting some standards, agreeing on some global rules for scientists. Imagine if, when cars were first invented in the early 1900s, someone had told us that if we continued down this path, these things would kill a million people a year and heat up the planet. We might’ve done a few things differently.
Nah, there was a Kevin Maney around back then saying everything will work out alright, somehow, raising the possibility that it wouldn't only to dismiss it. There were others who made forceful objections only to be ignored, or punished. And again with the "we." We the good guys. We the non-members of the set "humans living in poverty." We who are so committed to our carbon-fueled lives that we won't even consider giving them up. We can see here, again, what Maney means by disaster, where Nagasaki doesn't count. He's talking about disaster for people like him. That hasn't happened yet.

So, to summarize:

infotechpower: We're nuttier than a scientologist on meth and we're going for a joy ride. Woohoo!!

Kevin Maney: Whoahh, that sounds dangerous. I'm hesitant but...wait up! Let me come too. I'll be in charge of making sure everyone wears seatbelts.

ITP: Sure, whatever. *car speeds off* Woohoo, human heads!

KM: No disaster there. Guys, put on your seatbelts!

ITM: *laughing*

KM: I'm serious!...Please?