Thursday, February 29, 2024

Do you believe anything that is not falsifiable?

When our kid was in 8th grade, after a full unit on comparative religions, a very subversive teacher asked the kids why they believed their specific religion*. The teacher led them through a discussion until the kids realized that they held their beliefs because their parents had taught them. 

One student, though, said (paraphrasing): "I think EK would be an atheist regardless of what their parents taught them. They question everything."

This hits on what I consider to be the most important question: 

Why do we believe what we believe? 

If we had been born in a different place (e.g., Central African Republic, Indonesia) and/or different time (e.g., 400 BCE, 536 CE), would we have believed anything close to what we believe now? 

There is, of course, no way to free ourselves entirely from the biases of our upbringing (or our human nature). But I think the best way to minimize our limitations is to regularly ask: 

Do we believe anything that is not falsifiable? 

This reminds me of when Bill Nye and creationist Ken Hamm shared a stage and were asked, "Is there anything that would change your mind?" Hamm answered, "No." Nye answered, "Evidence."

* The title chapter of TBTSNBN

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Universe of Uncertainty

Researchers took a data set regarding public opinion on immigration and public services. They sent this exact same data set to 161 researchers in 73 teams from around the world.

Those teams got the above "results," pretty much showing any result you wanted. 

Using the exact same data.

Consider that whenever you hear the results of a study. Let alone some projection about the future

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Monday, February 26, 2024

“Your Kids Are Not Doomed”

Wilco - Pittsburgh

I read a novel recently where a couple said they weren't going to have kids because the cherry trees were blooming earlier. 



[T]wo weeks after I put this chapter together, Ezra Klein published “Your Kids Are Not Doomed.” In it, he cites just how bad it was for the average human for nearly all of human history, concluding, “No mainstream climate models suggest a return to a world as bad as the one we had in 1950, to say nothing of 1150.” More from Ezra’s column:

As my colleague David Wallace-Wells … wrote to me, “What looks like apocalypse in prospect often feels more like grim normality when it arrives in the present.” Oof. 

This is no mere abstraction or prediction. The evidence that we ignore mass suffering is all around us. We are ignoring it right now, just as we did yesterday, and just as we will tomorrow. “An estimated 20 million people died of Covid, and now we’re over it. What do we make of that?” Wallace-Wells wrote to me. “Ten million people a year are dying of air pollution. What does it tell us about climate change, which is quite unlikely to ever kill as many as now die from particulates?”

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Please share with anyone sane

Pet Shop Boys - It's a Sin

is their goal. (More.) (They are not only creating a world with more unwanted children, but fewer wanted children.) 

Vote and campaign for every Democrat, or else you are helping these monstrous Christo-Facists take over. 

Full stop.

PS: It must be so awful to be so repressed and frustrated that you want to keep other people from enjoying life. They do loads of damage to the world, but I really feel sorry for these "conservatives." 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Unweaving the Rainbow, or Reality Is Better


Whatever the explanation for consciousness is, it might always seem like a miracle. And for what it’s worth, I think it always will seem like a miracle. 
-Sam Harris, quoted in "Day 4 Concluded"


I want to make one* point about this excellent Sentientism podcast with Opis' Jonathan Leighton:

The host claims if we take a "scientistic" (reductionist / evolutionary biology) view of the world, we "crush the meaning and the fun and the value and the joy" from life (at 11 minutes).

Um ... no.

In short, I am as reductionist a person as you'll meet. All that exists is matter and energy. Everything is just bosons and fermions following the laws of physics (unless I'm a simulation). 

But if you know me or have read TBTSNBN**, you know my life has fun and value and joy. I greatly enjoy food and drink and sunshine and NSFW, even though I know why I crave it. I have less suffering the more I internalize reality

In short, we don't need illusions to have joy or value our lives. My experience argues just the opposite.

If interested in this topic, please check out Dawkins' Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder. Existence is truly filled with wonder; the more we understand, the more we (well-off humans reading this) can appreciate and be grateful for our limited time of consciousness. 

*OK, I have many points I want to make, but this is the most relevant one, IMO.

**The Book That Shall Not Be Named

Friday, February 23, 2024

Weekend Reading: A Failure of Cost/Benefit Analysis

PEPFAR and the Costs of Cost-Benefit Analysis

Excellent and worth reading. 

One note: These were calculations based on an issue that was going on right then and had data. Yet the Expected Value crowd got it very wrong. If they had gotten their way, there would have been much more human misery.

We should consider this when we hear someone claim to have an Expected Value about something in the future, especially the far future, especially especially when they want their particular personal pet project to have priority over the present.

Snow above the desert

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Equality of Opportunity

Mary Chapin Carpenter: The Age Of Miracles 

The mountains above us.

Paraphrasing Ezra Klein*: Right-wingers and libertarians often complain that liberals want equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity. But equality of outcome is far more possible than equality of opportunity. 

Anne and I were born to white parents, each of whom had a college degree. Our offspring was born to a healthy and brilliant Professor at Carnegie Mellon ... and me. (Can't win 'em all.) 

How can anyone, say, born in poverty to a single mother ever have equality of opportunity? 

Questions of free will aside, it simply isn't possible to think there ever could be equality of opportunity. 

None of us deserve anything, especially not credit for our achievements. It isn't us - it is all luck, starting with the ovarian lottery.

The best we can do is to set up the society we would want under the veil of ignorance

If you want more re: meritocracy, check out this 2019 summary of The Meritocracy Trap.

* Not recommending his recent Green-Party-esque badness.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Off the hedonic treadmill (self-indulgent but maybe helpful links?)

Being pelted by snow and birdseed.
Ben Folds - Luckiest

A key point of TBTSNBN* is that natural selection has "designed" us to be unsatisfied. (Video explanation; article about escaping. That's the end of the useful links.)

[Insert funny transition here.]

On this day in 1993, we legally formalized our wedding commitment from four months earlier. 

We didn't "get the piece of paper" back in 1993, as it cost $.
Ordered this one last December to register our marriage in Ireland so I'm allowed to be with Irish citizen Anne.

Winning the billions-to-one lottery of meeting my soulmate (and that a soulmate even existed for someone as messed-up me) was, as I emphasize over and over, incredibly unlikely

Yet given human nature, it would seem inevitable that I would revert to my baseline happiness (i.e., more un- than happy). 

And if you didn't take my suggestion to stop reading TBTSNBN with the chapter "A Personal Request from Me to You," you know things haven't been all rainbows and unicorns in the decades since.

But for some reason – including many modern medicines, especially Effexor following the events of 2021 – I have spent most of the past 31+ years vastly happier than my 24 years Before Anne. And despite health problems, the time since April 2022 (when I started TBTSNBN) has been shockingly good.  

(This is the main thing I'm unhappy about with the book - the last half of it reads as net suffering. I should do a digest version of just the fun parts [although I do try to inject humor into the "bad" chapters when possible].) 

I'm not going to claim some mystical insight or enlightenment. I will simply offer the fact that for the vast, vast majority of days since Oct. 23, 1992 - and every single day lately - I have had many moments of immense gratitude for my overwhelming, unlikely, and unreasonable good fortune.

*“Every one of your ancestors was good enough to beat out all the competition for that particular mate at just the right time. And then the offspring was strong and resourceful enough to be able to repeat the cycle. Everything – and I mean everything – about your ancestors had to be increasingly refined and relentlessly optimized for reproductive success. Otherwise, that less-than-optimized individual would have been tossed from the gene pool. If just one of your ancestors had taken their eye off the ball for even a second, someone more single-minded would have gotten in on the action. And then, sadly, someone else would be enjoying this entertaining and insightful book. (But they wouldn’t be nearly as smart or good looking as you.)


“Natural selection has, of course, programmed us to want to accumulate. In the evolutionary past, those with the most reproduced the most. But the happiness you get from “things” fades – we acclimate to everything new. Then we want more. Then the cycle repeats – the hedonic treadmill. Get off the treadmill, get rid of stuff, and look to buy memories instead.”

Monday, February 19, 2024

President's Day: Please Choose Pizza, not Shit.

Complaining about Biden is like whining that you wanted tacos instead of pizza when the alternative isn't tacos

The alternative to the pizza is being force-fed a shit sandwich infected with Mad Cow disease.

All the "concern Democrats" are the new Green Party - supposed "liberals" who put W in power in 2000 and TFG in 2016. Over and over and over. (Please read that and share.) 

We could have a decent country if people recognized Obama's truism: "Better is good." But so many people would rather pontificate and be "right" - and force everyone to eat shit - than live in the real world and work for better.

From 2020:

I keep hearing people say, "I've never met anyone enthusiastic for Joe Biden."

Hi - nice to meet you.

I am enthusiastic about Joe Biden for several reasons:

1. Biden has experienced great tragedy in his life.

For a lot of people, politics is a game [or just a way to make money / stay out of jail]. Joe has suffered such that he has great empathy and really, deeply cares about other people.

I wish he hadn't gone through those horrible things. But I can say from personal experience that great suffering can make a person more compassionate, realistic, and practical. That's what we need in a President.

2. A candidate's positions and promises are irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what you get done. [I sure called that right.]

Joe [has] put excellent people in place. He has extensive relationships and knowledge that will help him get done as much as possible (which isn't to say he'll get much done [he has], but anything is better than asking for a full basket and getting your pockets picked instead).

3. Candidates in purple and red districts and states wanted him at the top of the ticket. Down-ticket elections matter far more than most on the left care to admit. I want AZ to have two D senators! [And we did!]

Loads of people are dead today who would have still been alive if Hillary was President. Lots of lives have been ruined. [More] I could not be more enthusiastic about [not going back to that] hellscape.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Sunday Funnies: The Difference between Humans and (other) Animals


Also: “Voters are just gonna have to choose between ‘a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory’ or a contemptible, malicious, elderly rapist with a poor memory.”

Saturday, February 17, 2024

“I know how numb we’ve become, but it’s not normal.”

Please watch and share the entire thing. It is embedded in the web version of this post. Thank you.

NYTimes partial transcript
(and other late-night hosts)

“...also facing the Jan. 6 trial in Washington D.C., the classified documents case in Florida, Colorado trying to throw him off the ballot for insurrection, and his appeal of the verdict of the E. Jean Carroll defamation case, in which a jury has already found that Trump committed sexual assault.

“And yet, despite all this, people want to hire this maniac to be president.

“I know how numb we’ve become, but it’s not normal. No other candidate for the presidency has ever had to pause his campaign to defend himself in multiple courts. And I’d like to point out that in all seven of his cases, no one — no one — doubts that he did these things. We’re just sitting around patiently waiting to find out if the wheels of justice will grind fast enough for there to be any consequences.” 

“And the media is covering it like it’s any other political story, like it’s all horse race. But in this horse race, one of the horses is old, while one of the horses is old, has hoof-in-mouth disease, and keeps quoting horse Hitler.” 

-Stephen Colbert

Also, Pod Save America's Jon Lovett:

“Our grandpa loves us. Your grandpa would watch your murder on television if he could.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Outsourced: Eff Jon Stewart

A follow-up to previous post "Challenge," I note that Jon Stewart is back to his "both-sides" / "funny" snark

We may laugh, but anything that equates Joe Biden and Tangerine Palpatine makes the world worse. That isn't funny.

This comment, on Kevin Drum's post "Voters need to be more scared of Donald Trump," really says it all:

For the past few days lots of folks on the D side have watched with shock while Biden got pilloried in the press for calling Egypt Mexico by mistake and for his careless handling of "classified" information in a hatchet job report by the special counsel.

Meanwhile, Trump invited Putin to invade our allies in Europe.

What got more attention in the media? The Biden stories, by a wide margin. There's a complete panic about Biden's ability to function as president.

No wonder the public seems to be worried more about Biden.

Perhaps the key weakness of Democrats is expecting the media to report the dangers to the country with some sort of common sense and dedication to the truth. That's folly. For one thing, media is overwhelmingly slanted toward Republicans. I don't mean just Fox. I mean the NY Times and NPR. The Times hasn't gone after a GOP president since Nixon. It's a Republican paper when it comes to politics, and that's been clear since the early days of Bill Clinton.

Waiting for the media to tell your story is how Democrats lose. Democrats need to attack. Media loves conflict. Give them real conflict. They'll cover it. Why haven't Democrats gone after Trump for his remarks with the focus and intensity they deserve? That goes for Biden and every D in Congress.

"I may forget a name or two but I'll never forget who are friends are. Donald Trump wants Putin to invade Europe. I want the free world to stand together and put thugs like Putin back in his place."

Things like that, and more. Make Trump's radical and anti-democratic ramblings a topic of attention. Don't let anyone forget it. Don't joke about it. Get serious.

Also, Rob Reiner:

Biden is old. But he is a decent moral person who is incredibly effective at governing. Trump is old. But he’s a pathologically lying criminal who is incapable of governing and will destroy American Democracy.

And me.