Thursday, February 28, 2013

sex and gender

I accept that female and male biology are not the same and that small genetic differences between the groups have small differentiating effects on behavior but from this it does not follow that women are better nurses or that men are better doctors, that girls are better at second language acquisition while boys are better at math and science. The nature of the differentiation is always being determined and will be determined differently in different places and times. The one constant is attempted domination.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Meaning is hijacked early on in life. You enter a mythical forest around age two, reeling as your pre-verbal infancy narrative falls apart, swarmed by comforting tales of mommy love or being cradled in the bigger, safer arms of God or society, and the path you're on goes to heaven or at least human betterment, you're told. You're going somewhere, to a better place and all sorts of horrors come to play a valuable role. The bad becomes good.

But the forest is a tightly bound ecosystem so when the first tree catches fire, the rest eventually burns down with it. You try to partition but can't. What you're left with is a charred, meaningless wasteland. Now you're watching the people you love talking to phantom trees.

What killed the forest doesn't discriminate between bad and good. What killed the forest evolved to destroy, not create. But it became who you are.

And yet, while you know the old meaning is dead, you know it's also not true that life is meaningless. Every action, every day, you are giving quite a shit. Despair is an extreme form of caring. Your life just doesn't have that meaning anymore, the one that had kept you cowering. Nihilism (I'm thinking Bright Eyes' "Waste of Paint") is an addiction to suffering, a failure to let go, a commitment to feeding the fire long after it's done its job.

waste of paint

As much as I can appreciate the efforts of Bob Dylan, it's hard to understand the relative lack of fanfare for a successor this obvious, as far as that narrative intrigues. Anyways, my favorite recorded live performance on the whole internet:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

multi-millionaire jeffrey loria would like your sympathy, please

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who has $500 million to his name, hired some well-connected suits a few years back and got himself $2.4 billion worth of brand new baseball stadium. The stolen ballyard opened last year with high hopes and a star-heavy roster only to flop badly, at which point Loria and company dumped the stars and their salaries without getting major talent in return. Naturally he's been getting slammed for it so he hired a PR firm. In other words he hired people to deceive on his behalf, to convince the little people whose money he stole that he's doing the best he can. This AP story mentions the PR firm, then allows the PR firm to give Loria's story without rebuttal or analysis or mockery. Well played, I guess. But this is the good part:   
Loria is widely viewed as the culprit.
Angry fans have complained they expected the new ballpark to mean competitive payrolls for more than just one season. Instead they endured the latest in a series of payroll purges, which made the franchise the butt of jokes around the country.
"It's a constant, sometimes personal pounding," Marlins president David Samson said after Loria had left the room. "It's hard for anyone. On top of that, you're writing checks. It's hard. But I understand every side."
Poor Jeffrey, trying so hard. He's writing checks! With stolen money! And at the same time he has to listen to haters hating. Have they tried to lead? Do they know how hard it is to run a franchise (into the ground)? No one appreciates Jeffrey, sniff, sniff.
The projected payroll for this year is less than $45 million, which would likely be the smallest in the majors. Loria said he expects it to begin rising again, but it may be a long time before the Marlins return to last year's $90 million level.
"We're never going to get to $100 million," Loria said. "We don't have the TV contract to do that."
Did I mention he's a $500 million dollar man? Seems like there were some options taken off the table there that maybe shouldn't have been.

Monday, February 25, 2013

body and mind

These categories of affective and cognitive are clearly repositories for what was previously, and still is, stored in the notions of mind and body, subject and object, etc., and so, first, yes that's some resilient shit (in its insistence on remaining a dichotomy in human brains), whatever it is, and second, a better description involves some recognition of the layered-ness of human bodies, some realization that the tension described when I speak of cognitive dissonance is the sister of the tension felt in my bladder and that the tendencies of our brains to divide phenomena like human bodies into neat categories is a response to a bodily tension, felt in the brain region of the body, and an attempt to find satisfaction in the release of this tension. Considering how varied are the origins of our genetic developments -- so many contexts, millenia and more apart, a mishmash that exposes dichotimization as artifact-- I wonder about missing links, how it's connected, how these minds came to separate themselves from their bodies in theory, but not in practice.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

true patriots

I once had a lengthy back-and-forth with a troop supporter who, after having defended every U.S. military action of the past century, took offense at my using the term "pro-war" to describe his position. Then this morning came a flashback when I saw this from an onliner who goes by the tag "Support our troops or get the f--k out": 
What do you do when your intellectual adversary has already self-reduced to absurdity, already brazenly claimed that A is not A?

Well, the contradiction isn't clear if you've been properly patriotized. All the terms have different meanings to a patriot. "Guns" refers to inanimate guns in a gun case, "people that don't value human life" means bad guys (aka, them), and "kill people" refers to killing good guys (aka, us). Translated, we have:
Guns in gun cases don't kill people. Bad guys kill good guys.
True, yes? So just as it's too simple to say that Obama lacks empathy when he clearly has it for wife and kids and pro athletes and fellow rulers, it's inaccurate to say that true patriots lack cognitive dissonance. Instead, I'd say that all the parts of the puzzle have been rearranged and marked up (or however distorted) and the true patriot has neither the intellectual skills to work through it nor the emotional makeup to find sufficient reward in accurate puzzle solving to outweigh the pain of rejection by internalized authority figures.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

rational actors are delusional, Crispy conflates, and cognitive dissonance is an anchor

Steve Nash is a career 91% free throw shooter, which puts him in the running for best free throw rate in NBA history. I assume that he's very good at convincing himself that the ball will go in. He's surely aware that he has around a 91% chance and yet every time he goes through his motions, he's convincing himself (most likely he doesn't have to try very hard) that he has a 100% chance. This is of course the best way to proceed. Confidence in action has a very loose relationship with truth. Truth is not the object. The object is to rise above the truth or to deny a place in the future to those truths you don't like. Steve Nash at the foul line is a rational actor by the usual standard but he's delusional at the most important moment. Maybe "wise actor" is a better term.
Crispin Sartwell isn't entirely wrong in saying that women are best off "taking responsibility" for what they wear and the state of women's fashion, and that they should try to change it if it's oppressive. Steve Nash's mentality is the right one. But Sartwell is conflating reality with intentionality. I used to teach high school in Baltimore and I'd frequently tell the prisoners how the odds were stacked against them but how irrelevant this should be going forward. It's true that people in rough situations sometimes find relief in self-pity and that this can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy problem but acknowledging the reality of the situation is not the same thing as using it as a crutch. Again, reality is not intentionality.

Another problem is that, in Sartwell's view, there's a fixed quantity of responsibility and to say "patriarchy" is to say that women are helpless and without agency and therefore deserve neither blame nor praise. At the risk of oversimplifying, it seems that certain people find themselves in 3-0 counts (baseball analogy time!) due to circumstances outside their control while others find themselves in 0-2 counts, where the odds of success are lower and level of skill required to come through with a hit greater so that if a person in an 0-2 count gets a hit, it's more impressive whereas if they don't, it's less unimpressive.
"Reason" and "emotion" are set against each other like the categories "human" and "animal." There are differences worth mentioning between each pair but just as humans are animals, reason is an emotion. Reason is rooted in desire. Curiosity describes something felt, as does cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is one of the best guides we have, though we'd perhaps be wise not to let it mess too much with our free-throw shooting or politics. 

There are limits to how much one can control it. I can't convince myself I'm a bird, I couldn't make myself believe that Jesus was my Lord and Saviour, etc. The downside is that if you miss enough free throws, your ability to fight reality with intentionality might suffer, making you less likely to make the next one. Also, you might be unable to forget all the terrible things you've learned about being human. The upside is that it grounds and orders arguments, including those against unnecessary suffering. It's hard-wired so everyone feels it, though cultural violence amplifies other feelings. You can't compel someone to agree with you but your words can apply emotional pressure, hopefully to cognitive dissonance, until they can't help but see fatal flaws in their arguments.

"2+2=4" is not arbitrary. Every term in the equation is a product of human imagination but that's the imagination I have so I can't help but be impressed by the truth of it, even as I question it or reframe it, philosophically. The only chance geocentrism and creationism ever had was to somehow rope in superior ideas with widespread co-self-deception (I believe it, do you believe it? Oh yeah, I believe it, everyone believes it. My parents believed it and God believes it and the Bible is the most widely read book and the preacher has an inside connection to God...) Obviously it didn't work in the first case and isn't working very well in the second (one last sports analogy -- the creationists are down 35-0 in the fourth quarter). People resisted the new paradigms, tried to believe the scary new ideas were lies, but couldn't.


"I always think I'm on fire. Like the old school game, 'NBA Jam,' you make a couple and the rim's on fire and when you shoot the ball, the ball's on fire. I feel like that at times. Well, all the time. When I'm in the game, I play with a lot of confidence and you kind of got to lie to yourself that you can't miss."
-- Bulls guard Nate Robinson, on his sizzling run that helped deliver a 3-1 series lead over the Nets.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

belief precedes epistemology, choice precedes discussions of determinism

People had beliefs long before they started talking about epistemology and when the zombies come after the last human, long after the last philosopher has been killed, his last thought will be the highly accurate belief that he's about to become a zombie. There is no knowledge. There are only beliefs. (This does not mean that belief is arbitrary.)

What is worth discussing is methodology because some ways of forming beliefs are better than others. The ultimate goal, as with every human activity, should be happiness, or the avoidance of displeasure, or, however you put it, getting the most out of this life. Ideally, we'd all believe what we wanted to believe without regard to external realities, but self-deception tends to have costs even for oneself, and certainly for others. Intentional deception of others also has costs of course, and co-self-deception is an essential element of organized religion, nationalism, your various tribalisms. But by a broad definition, all social activity involves some degree of deception and an extreme commitment to truth will lead you to the nuttery, in part because there is no truth. In any case, some forms of deception are beneficial to society while others are not. 

It's been said that corporations aim to externalize costs and internalize profits. All institutions and selves rely on this same process as a matter of self-preservation. Good methods expose cost-externalizing deception, leading, in theory, to more people getting more out of life. 

Similarly, people were living by choosing because living is choosing, constantly, long before the question of freedom v. determinism arose and the above last human's last choice before he dies will not rest on the performance of the products of a philosopher's brain. 

How we think about the freedom v. determinism question can affect how we live, though, and this alone is what should matter. Think you're an alcoholic and you'll remain one. Think you can stop drinking and you can stop. Think the current human predicament is the best we can do and it probably will be. Think we can do better and increase our chances of doing better. All beliefs have effects because all beliefs are world, our beliefs about freedom v. determinism included.   

some lightning seeds in death cab?

I was listening to Death Cab for Cutie and heard something and tried to place it and came up with Lightning Seeds. It's the vocals, mostly. Maybe it's just me. 


easy lucky free

Did it all get real? I guess it's real enough
They got refrigerators full of blood
Another century spent pointing guns 
At anything that moves
Sometimes I worry that I've lost the plot
My twitching muscles tease my flippant thoughts
I never really dreamed of heaven much 
Until we put him in the ground
But it's all I'm doing now
Listening for patterns in the sound 
Of an endless static sea
But once the satellite's deceased
It blows like garbage through the streets 
Of the night sky to infinity

But don't you weep
(Don't you weep for them) 
Don't you weep
(Don't you weep) 
There is nothing as lucky
Honey, don't you weep
(Don't you weep for them) 
Don't you weep
(Don't you weep) 
There is nothing as lucky
As easy
Or free

Don't be a criminal in this police state
You'd better shop and eat and procreate
You've got vacation days, then you might escape 
To a condo on the coast
I set my watch to the atomic clock
I hear the crowd count down until the bomb gets dropped
I always figured there'd be time enough
I never let it get me down
But I can't help it now
Looking for faces in the clouds
I've got some friends I barely see
But we're all planning to meet
We'll lay in bags as dead as leaves 
All together for eternity

But don't you weep
(Don't you weep for us) 
Don't you weep
(Don't you weep) 
There is no one as lucky
Honey, don't you weep
(Don't you weep for us) 
Don't you weep
(Don't you weep) 
There is nothing as lucky
As easy
Or free

Saturday, February 16, 2013

the sports guy's sports narratives

Arguably the most prominent writer at America's most prominent sports site, ESPN's Bill Simmons frequently promotes an idea he calls the Ewing Theory:
Q: What's the Ewing Theory? Where did it come from? 
The theory was created in the mid-'90s by Dave Cirilli, a friend of mine who was convinced that Patrick Ewing's teams (both at Georgetown and with New York) inexplicably played better when Ewing was either injured or missing extended stretches because of foul trouble.
First of all, let me point out that this is not a theory but an observation. It might be the seed for a theory and maybe some more investigating would be warranted, if one cares about such things, but it's not a theory and it doesn't become one later in the article either. Furthermore, he's been promoting this idea since 1999 and is currently the editor of ESPN's Grantland, which he fathered into existence (with sex!) and which currently  includes as staff a guy named Bill Barnwell who is actually good at this stuff and who repeatedly points out the problems with Simmons' bread and butter -- the post-hoc narrative, of which this is a perfect example. Simmons is using Alex Jones' methodology and getting handsomely rewarded for it!

Instead of getting Barnwell on the case, Simmons discusses a bunch of arbitrarily chosen candidates -- Barry Sanders, Nomar Garciaparra, Drew Bledsoe -- and tests his "theory" against them using arbitrary, shifting standards. How far did they go in the playoffs? How good were they (based good Simmons thinks they were)?

The right way to proceed is to choose parameters and then run through the data. The parameters will necessarily have somewhat arbitrary endpoints but it'll still tell you what it tells you, according to those parameters. For example, with basketball, you could say that any player with a PER (player efficiency rating) higher than 22 over the 150 games prior to injury qualifies and for baseball, anyone with a WAR (wins above replacement) over 3.5...and so on. Then check the before/after win-loss records or some other team results-based criteria and make your data set as large as possible, and so on. So you'll know if, generally, losing a great player has a positive impact on a team (I won't ruin the surprise for you). You might discover some common features in those cases where a team performed better after losing a star. If so, you can come up with a new theory and run the data again.

Now Simmons knows he has Barnwell, and is at least somewhat aware that he himself doesn't know what he's talking about but doesn't let that stop him. He even mentions Barnwell in the piece:
[Dan] Marino's career postseason stats: 18 games, 10 losses, 4,510 passing yards, 32 TDs, 24 picks, 77.1 QB rating. I'd keep going, but I don't want to provoke Bill Barnwell into writing a 6,500-word piece about how it's stupid to judge QBs by their playoff stats. 
Again, this is one of Simmons' pet ideas, and a typical one at that, and he's the most prominent writer at the most prominent American sports site on the internet and has no concern for using sound methodology even when it's readily available to him. And his readers don't care much either. Check Barnwell's facebook recommends against Simmons'. It's safe to assume that Grantland readers are, at best, OK with choosing to be entertained by nonsense and at worst, choosing to be fooled by it. Even when there's no political agenda directly involved. I'm not even criticizing them here, just describing what I see. And, mea culpa, I like reading Bill Simmons articles! He regularly has me slamming my head into my desk but, like Alex Jones, he's entertaining, though I'd much rather read Barnwell.

(This post feels like it doesn't quite get to a point but hopefully I'll get around to a follow-up comparing political media, sports media, and fantasy sports media; the first is the worst, the last is the best, and there are reasons.)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

propaganda is the enemy of the obvious

I was almost finished with a post the other day and couldn't come up with a title so I called it "North Korea" (boo!) and hit publish and went to bed, having also mistakenly strongly implied at one point that all America's deployed nukes are located outside the U.S. (since corrected, though I actually have no idea where they're deployed) and forgetting to make one of the main points I'd had in mind when starting that post, specifically, that while there's nothing difficult about understanding what America is ("the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" in MLK's words and the greatest threat to human life in the short-term), it is quite difficult for an American to understand what America is, for reasons that are well understood on the left (Hermann/Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent" and Adam Curtis's "Century of the Self" come to mind). In other words, absent the complex web of institution-perpetuating messages (i.e., propaganda) that we grow up with (and continue to be bombarded by in adulthood), the basic picture would be perfectly clear to everyone by age 10 or so. It's the propaganda that complicates the picture. Deconstructing it takes training and a reorientation of one's intellectual life. Once you figure it out, though, you look around and wonder how everyone else could be so stupid because the most important parts of the story really are simple -- Big monkey beats up little monkey and takes his stuff, then lies about it to avoid getting in trouble with the other monkeys. The end. What 10 year-old can't understand that?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

north korea

North Korea [sic] has been acting like a petulant child* again:
[North Korea's third nuclear] test drew a crescendo of international condemnation Tuesday, with President Obama calling it a “highly provocative act” that demands “swift and credible action by the international community” against North Korea. 
But it appeared less powerful than the first bomb the United States dropped on Japan, in Hiroshima in 1945, which had an explosive yield of 15 kilotons... 
The nuclear test, [sic] came the same day President Obama is to use his State of the Union address to call for drastically reducing nuclear arms around the world, potentially bringing the number of deployed American weapons to roughly 1,000 from the current 1,700...** 
While the country has only enough plutonium for a half-dozen or so bombs, it can produce enriched uranium well into the future. 
To summarize what's contained in these quotes:
  • North Korea does not have as much destructive power as the U.S. did when, in 1945, it became the first and only country to use the bomb on civilians, killing hundreds of thousands in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 
  • The U.S. has 1700 nuclear weapons. 
  • North Korea has "only enough plutonium for a half-dozen or so bombs." 
  • Obama is very concerned about North Korea's "provocative" test. Yes, provocative.

I don't care to compare the moral character of the parties in question, the assnipples who run North Korea and the ones who run the U.S. I don't take the fact that North Korea's destructive power is significantly less than the U.S.'s as a testament to their "restraint" or some such nonsense. I'd be shocked if Mr. Kim didn't "want" to "take over the world," if he wouldn't jump at the chance to make Korea the next great world empire and himself the next great emperor, to become what the U.S. already is by using the means the U.S. has already employed -- the piling up of millions of corpses. We're talking about two groups of people that have shown repeatedly through their actions that they are committed to levels of violence that would get non-state actors diagnosed, rightly, as sociopaths. So it is not an ethical claim but a very basic observation requiring less cognitive ability than is necessary to understand a baseball box score that the U.S. is currently a greater threat, by orders of ridiculous magnitude, to human life than is North Korea.  This is hidden in plain sight right in the article and yet very few boxscore understanding NYT readers will notice. Instead, they'll talk about the North Korean threat, and they'll talk about it some more, and some more and maybe someone will mention that "we" should think about scaling back our well-intentioned capacity to murder everyone on the planet 1000 times over because, hey guys, isn't 700 times enough?, and then no one will even do that much, and yes, (in addition to killing them with sanctions) what are we gunna do about the North Korean threat?

*e.g., the tone of the entire piece, naturally, but more obviously, "Pyongyang has often lashed out when it felt ignored." OK, maybe North Korea is a petulant tiger.
**The U.S.'s massive arsenal is depicted as shrinking. Now that's how you do propaganda. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

politics isn't personal

When a community moves beyond a certain level of complexity, the personal and the political split off. Most members are then affected by human decisions without being able to make symmetrical decisions. Political power in modern states is never purely top-down, but neither is it ever close to being balanced. Both sides of the relation operate differently than they would in personal relationships. Whereas, if a tribe of 20 discusses moving camp, there may well be hierarchy -- and let's say there's a big boss man who threatens death to dissenters -- but it's still both personal and political. Resistance is possible. Acquiescence matters. The dissenter is noticed.

I don't think talking politics is useless or hopeless. I might influence the people around me and vice versa so that fewer people will be likely to consent to oppressive systems than otherwise would. Small, unobservable effects. Throwing pebbles at a distant tank and not seeing the results through the haze.

I just think it's a bit nutty, or maybe endearing, that we keep talking politics as if we're not impotent when we very much are. We can point it out and laugh at ourselves, but then we'll go right back to the same self-important discussion. Anger, for example, is an incredibly awkward emotion for something we have so little connection to. Why am I angry at Obama supporters when their support had no real world effect? How they raise their kids is far more important and they may well be doing a spectacular job at it. 

they're saying the same thing in china

The overwhelming consensus here in Japan is that Chinese people are bad. Now, it can't be that the problem with the Chinese is genetic because that would be racist. Well, it would be clearly racist, and we can't have anything being clearly racist. And afterall, the Chinese were once a decent group of people, more or less but not really, when they followed the teachings of the inestimably authoritarian fascist wise Confucius. But then the Communists took over and started to brainwash the people. Confucius, who said that people should always bow down to authority, and whose message was used to persuade the underside of every power relation that it was in their best interests to abandon their sovereignty, did not want to brainwash anyone or convince them to act against their own best interests. Anyway, the Communists used mandatory state schooling with a curriculum drawn up by establishment hacks to trick young kids into thinking that Japan is bad, and they still do. They also employ a media apparatus that systematically filters out perspectives that run counter to the official narrative. So these poor brainwashed Chinese people, who otherwise might be our friends, hate us, poor us!, and so we should probably be ready for a fight and/or also take the fight to them. Because they hate us. Because their government told them to. Because their government, we learned from ours, wants to trick its citizens into hating people they independently know nothing about and would have no reason to hate if not for the tightly controlled message filtered through their schooling and media systems.

Monday, February 4, 2013

this is not a form of brainwashing

h/t George W. Obama

Saturday, February 2, 2013

they sent out a pawn and i slashed its throat and gouged out its eyes but when i looked around for the king i couldn't find him

The fundamentalist Christian caller in the video below gets it bad, though in the broader scheme, he's on the dominant side. A nasty, abusive dominant side. A soldier for hate and oppression. But first he was abused by his parents and his community. That's how you become a soldier. Ask the Spartans. So he calls into this show, something he understands is evil, to set things right, to please someone somewhere, and he's abused again, and it's the least bad option, and the guy on the right is amazingly gentle about it, but...the poor bastard. And now I give him my pity, and in doing so, abuse him yet again, when he really should be treated like that broken-winged bird that looked up at me fearfully as I smashed its head. 

happy things

A billion suns rose and set, a billion reptiles shat, a billion trees fought to the top. And then there was...

Delicious black oil. Coal. Things that burn to make machines turn.

Well, the keg is almost tapped and there are still people showing up. Look, they're not going to stop until it's gone. They're not about to restrain themselves. They're humans.

Have you seen what the humans do with power? I'd like them to have less of it. The fast-approaching end of the easy energy age is cause for celebration.

And so, a happy song.