Archive for the Doom Category

Ignorance

Posted in Doom, Science! on December, 2013 by melendwyr

Steve Sailer links to the following video:  A Private Universe .

Alas, it seems that the smarter, more educated people aren’t any better at understanding things.  But they are slightly more fluent at spontaneously producing nonsensical scientific statements.  What a hope for our civilization!

Certainly there may have been selection to find only the most absurd and ignorant responses.  But I have to wonder, given that students learn about the cause of the seasons by third grade of elementary school, what those Harvard grads majored in, what their fields of study were.

I also can’t help but wonder what would happen if you sat one of our political leaders down, presented them with three basic science questions and told they had to correctly answer at least one of them… then held guns to their heads and threatened to pull the trigger if they didn’t get it right.

How many complaints does it take to ban Neil Gaiman?

Posted in Doom, Favorite Words, Fiction, Politics and Society with tags , on October, 2013 by melendwyr

Just one, according to Leah Schnelbach at Tor.com.

The text of Neverwhere had been accepted as part of the reading list for nine years… and, as a result of a single complaint from a single individual who never even met with the teachers involved, it was removed.

Leaving aside the issue of whether the scene in question is sufficiently objectionable to justify removal:  if they were willing to remove it after a single complaint, why did they approve it in the first place?  Did they find it offensive but decided it wouldn’t matter until someone complained?  That’s disturbing in one way.  Did they not find it offensive but were willing to remove it at the slightest hint of parental discomfort?  That’s disturbing in another.

What’s truly tragic is that everyone else, even the student body, seems to have enjoyed the book.  It’s been many years since my horrific journey through the American educational system, but as I recall dimly through the mists of time, enjoying the act of reading was uncommon, and enjoying reading assignments was even rarer.  Removing something that the students liked is a serious loss, both to the kids and to the people whose responsibility it is to educate them.

And why?  A few F-bombs and some light petting.

The Government has your phone records

Posted in Doom, Politics and Society with tags , , , on June, 2013 by melendwyr

No, really, they do.  It’s  not a paranoid fantasy.  And they’ve probably been doing it for years.

Since many of the sites reporting on this will not even be looked at by the sort of person I’ll be having to force this information on, I’ll just link to the BBC‘s version.

Let’s review:  without a warrant, the NSA has given a court order for Verizon to turn over the phone metadata – that is, all of the information about a phone call with none of its content – of millions of people.  And forbade anyone involved to say anything about it to anyone.

Under the banner of fighting terrorism, the records of millions of people – who cannot be considered to be suspects or even suspected of assisting terrorism – are being examined by the US government.  And as it’s suspected this is a regular event stretching back years – all the way to the passing of the PATRIOT Act.

So who’s this Ron Ace guy anyway?

Posted in Doom, GIGO, Politics and Society with tags , , on May, 2013 by melendwyr

I’ve suddenly been bombarded with emails about inventor Ron Ace and his announcement that he’s come up with some revolutionary way to utilize solar power.  Despite not having a prototype, or anything other than calculations, newspaper articles are being published and republished all over the place – and it seems like lots of them are being forwarded to me.

See here.  It’s pretty typical of the stuff I’m getting.

Does no one remember cold fusion?  And that involved actual experimental error – as in an actual experiment, being performed.  There’s no such thing here,  no prototype, no testing.  Just a filing of a patent claim.

I’ve been told that the Patent Office regularly gets applications to patent systems of lights to indicate which way vehicles intend to turn.  And then, of course, there are all the perpetual motion machines, which they don’t even bother to look at any more.

I fail to see how this is different.  Why would anyone write a report about this, much less copy it and republish it over and over?  Are the people running our newspapers and news organizations less capable of figuring out what’s actually newsworthy than the people who forward ridiculous email rumors?

We’re being ‘informed’ by morons.

Don’t Vote

Posted in Doom, Politics and Society with tags on November, 2012 by melendwyr

I was just listening to an episode of This American Life, as I am known to do when in need of a good Three Minute’s Dislike.  This episode discussed the increase in incivility within New Hampshire politics – a change attributed to the current right wing of the Republican Party and the Tea Party.

Now, in all fairness to the producers of TAL, the relatively vicious politics of the recent day are undeniably connected to the shift from Democratic to Republican control – a point which the program stressed.  I rather doubt that they would be telling stories of political bullying if the shift had been from Republican to Democrat – but as I don’t have a horse in that race, that is neither here nor there.

What struck me was the tale told of retribution within the party ranks – the punishment meted out to those who did not act as the Speaker wished them to.  There were various acts of pettiness, but the one that caught my attention took place in the election cycle:  they were the targets of negative media campaigns.  And, it was implied, this was the crucial factor that cost the bullying victims their political positions.
Because, of course, it obviously couldn’t be because the people of New Hampshire actually approved of the takeover tactics…
Whatever the reason for their ejection, the fact that they attributed such power to mass mailings rang a gong in my mind.  It’s the sort of explanation of events – what is now fashionably referred to as a ‘narrative’ – that is increasingly common, accepted as the conventional wisdom.  Supposedly, the more advertizing a political campaign carries out, the more votes it will get, all else being equal – and therefore the more money a campaign can wield, the greater its chances of victory.

No one says that it’s the only deciding factor, or even the overriding one.  Candidates can still sink their campaigns with particularly stupid or unpopular actions, and some positions will never gain the favor of the electorate no matter how many commercials they’re shown.  But all else being the same, the money spent will determine who wins.  This seems to be a major reason why placing limits on the funding a candidate can receive is so popular – there is a perception that by purchasing advertizing, candidates can ‘buy the election’.

The obvious thought is that candidates that are more popular can raise more money – and therefore candidates which can raise lots of funds are more likely to be already likely to have a great deal of support.  But the narrative suggests that contributions from outside sources are just as powerful.  SuperPACs are unpopular among certain segments of the politically active because of this perception.

Is any of this actually true?  I have no idea, and no good ideas on how to determine so.  Merely looking at how candidates spent their money and whether they won wouldn’t be sufficient to establish a meaningful correlation, because many hotly-contested campaigns have ads purchased by special interest groups.  But everyone seems to believe it to be true and accepts it without curiosity or concern.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s say that it’s true:  election results are often directly linked to the amount of advertizing conducted on behalf of a candidate; the more ads people are exposed to, the more support the candidate will receive.

Is anyone thinking about the implications of this?

The merits of a politician’s positions, their voting histories, the quality of their arguments, the validity of their beliefs – none of these things are particularly important.  At least, not in the elections that we actually have.  Perhaps those with especially irksome beliefs are screened out as not even potential politicians and thus never attract our attention.  But, in the contests that we have, the candidates might as well be identical, because voters don’t make distinctions on those bases.

Careful thought and analysis of problems doesn’t matter.  Careful thought and analysis of proposed solutions doesn’t matter.  Or, at the very least, candidates do not differ in the degree to which they possess those qualifications.
Here’s the situation:  we’re dealing with a system where either the candidates are commonly equally qualified (or unqualified), or the majority of voters do not make decisions rationally and can be trivially manipulated to support or oppose whatever the influential wish them to.

Your vote is just as powerful as that of someone who couldn’t make up their minds, undecided until the associations within the mind were set by environmental cues.

If you believe that such a system can meaningfully provide good government – no matter what your other political beliefs are, ideology or party affiliation or specific positions don’t really matter – if you think it’s even possible for good results to come out of it, you should vote.
Because it’s not, as it is often represented, a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils.  That only matters if both candidates are distasteful but suitable.  If you believe, as I do, that no candidate offered can do the job acceptably, that even when good people manage to pass the hurdle of elections and make it into the depths of the system they can’t manage to accomplish worthwhile things…

Well, a vote is a sign of compliance and acceptance.  Not to mention an investment of time and effort.  Why make it?  Don’t vote in the federal elections.  Don’t vote in the state elections.  Don’t vote, period.  If nothing of value can arise from the system as it is, if even the possibility of reforming the system from within is gone, there is no benefit to be derived from participating in it.
In-between some of my local radio programs, there were promotional spaces with local celebrities urging people to vote.  One such person – I believe a coach from the university football program – said that it was important to vote because politicians would govern without our consent if we did not.

I found this sentiment puzzling, and ambiguous.  I presume that he meant to convey the idea that our voting could somehow determine how the politicians who made it into office would act.  But his statement was just as compatible, just as expressive, of the idea that we needed to give our consent and approval to whatever it was that the politicians wished to do, that it would someone be a disaster if we didn’t grant them license to exercise the power they already possessed.  And this latter concept fits the realities of politics as we know it far better than the former.

Don’t vote.

 

Out of Season

Posted in Doom, Gardening with tags on April, 2012 by melendwyr

It’s been sunny and warm – even a bit hot, when the winds aren’t blowing.  And everywhere I go, people keep telling me to enjoy the beautiful weather.

These are the same sorts of people who think that southern California has the perfect climate – lots of sun and it ‘never rains’.  Of course, that’s because much southern California is scrubland desert naturally and is lush only because we drain several major rivers to irrigate it.

But such unseasonable conditions are a nightmare for people who care about plants.  Many home garden crops that are appropriate for this time of year can be set back, or even injured, by warm temperatures.  The adaptations that make them cold-hardy also make them vulnerable to heat.  Even worse, because we’ve had occasional frosty periods at night, the buds and blooms that confused plants are putting out too early can be blighted by unexpected cold.  And while I’ve seen some bees and other pollinating insects taking advantage, many of them just aren’t ready yet, so the pollination that is the whole purpose of flowering often isn’t taking place.

I’m told that the Washington D.C. cherry blossom festival took place on schedule this year, despite the fact that the flowering cherries blossomed early and had mostly fallen by the traditional date.

One swallow does not a summer make, and I know perfectly well that we can’t detect global climate change in one year’s unusual weather, or even an observed tendency to peculiarity over several years.  But I can’t help but wonder if this weirdness is the new, horrible normal.

The Beginning of the End

Posted in Doom, Politics and Society, Things You Should Read with tags on March, 2012 by melendwyr

Newspapers and magazines have closed down.  Sales of Kindles have eclipsed sales of paperbacks.  Printers have gone out of business.

But I think the watershed moment came yesterday, as the owners of the Encyclopedia Britannica announced that they would not publish any further print editions due to the majority of their revenue coming from online sources.

It’s now conceivable to me that we could see the end of books before the end of my lifetime.  Will print-on-demand pick up the slack, or will books become a tiny and obsolete niche the way vacuum tubes are for music?