Saturday, June 10, 2023

Joel Stein and AAH (weekend reading)

George Winston (RIP) - Summer (full album)

Way, way back in the day, my family subscribed to Time magazine, which is how I first read Joel Stein. Recently, I came across him again with his funny and fascinating podcast, Story of the Week

That, in turn, led me to his latest book, In Defense of Elitism: Why I’m Better Than You and You Are Better than Someone Who Didn’t Buy This Book

After the book came in at the library, I figured it would be slapstick and goofy. But he talks insightfully about very important topics. In a slapstick and goofy way. 

Seriously - Joel is very talented. I don't know who else can write a book as serious as Ezra Klein's Why We're Polarized but have you laugh out loud on every page. (Although this person would look down their nose at it.)

I've also been trying to read a new book by an NPR reporter. I've heard this person on a podcast, and they were funny and engaging. But the book is dry. And often depressing in a non-constructive way.

By the way: We still have some copies of my first book, The Animal Activists Handbook. These are not doing the world any good sitting in our garage. If you'd like copies, please contact me (matt (at) OneStepForAnimals (dot) org). Thanks!

PS: I've occasionally wondered if I'd have gotten more traction if my third book was another collection of essays. But I had hoped that writing something with a story and "puerile college humour" would reach more readers and allow those who did read it to enjoy it. (And make more readers want to kindly review it. Hint hint, NV.)

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Carl Sagan on TFG, Malcolm Gladwell on Fanatics, Plus XKCD

Lyle Lovett - Good Intentions 
"It makes for a good day for some serious reflection And massive rationalization."

"You knew I was a snake"

From Losing My Religions. Even though he died long before Tangerine Palpatine was in the White House, Uncle Carl saw him coming:

One of the saddest lessons of history is this:

If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.

Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.

–Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

Also, I bet you have known someone like this:

The more you invest in a set of beliefs – the greater the sacrifice you make in the service of that conviction – the more resistant you will be to evidence that suggests that you are mistaken. You don’t give up. You double down.

—Malcolm Gladwell, The Bomber Mafia

A reference to the end of the "Money" chapter in Losing.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The Philosophical Bullet Bites (1/2)

Edie Brickell & New Bohemians - “What I Am

This chicken is ethically irrelevant.

A fair number of people have written to me about "Biting the Philosophical Bullet" in Losing My Religions. (You will have to read that chapter for this post to make sense.)

Someone in Greece asked if I wouldn't choose one individual suffering level 10 vs two individuals suffering level 10, everything else being equal.

Well, sure, but that's just my intuition. It is only because I am experiencing more suffering at the thought of two vs one.

If this is the Chicken World example, there is nothing worse about FL (two suffering) than RR (one). As Robert Daoust of the Organization to Prevent Intense Suffering noted, there is more badness in FL, but no worseness

The real problem becomes apparent once you choose one over two based on your intuition. The next question is: Wouldn't you choose one person suffering level 10 than X people suffering level 9.9? (Where X can be any number from 2 on up.) 

Again, that makes intuitive sense, but it is wrong. 

This becomes clear once you follow the logic that flows from choosing one suffering level 10 vs X suffering level 9.9. That choice leads inexorably to choosing 1 suffering level 10 vs Y suffering level 0.0001. 

The error comes from thinking about "the amount of suffering in the universe." The "universe" doesn't suffer. Only individual conscious minds suffer. 

Each individual conscious mind is an entire universe unto itself.

The only relevant units for ethical calculations are individual conscious minds. In the case of X people suffering level 9.9, there is no universe (i.e., mind) worse than the universe (mind) suffering level 10.

Robert also sent me this CS Lewis quote, which I wish I had read way back in the day:

We must never make the problem of pain worse than it is by vague talk about the "unimaginable sum of human misery. . ." Search all time and space and you will not find that composite pain in anyone's consciousness. There is no such thing as a sum of suffering, for no one suffers it. When you have reached the maximum that a single person can suffer, we have, no doubt, reached something very horrible, but we have reached all the suffering there ever can be in the universe. The addition of a million fellow-sufferers adds no more pain.

-CS Lewis in The Problem of Pain 

For a Xtian apologist, he was pretty smart in this area.

The Wrong Side of History (2/2)

Adele - He Won't Go

If you are more concerned with:

A. The "fairness" [sic] of girls' and women's sports


B. Trans individuals being vilified, persecuted, bullied, beaten, murdered, and driven to suicide, 

then you are part of the problem.

You would have been part of the mob opposing equality for lesbians & gays, women, and minority races. 

You would have yammered on about the "sanctity of marriage," women's "natural place," the "superiority of Western man."

There is always an excuse to support the prejudices of the day. It is harder to be on the right side of history.

(Written for a transphobe I came across online.)

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Sunday Funnies

Lyle Lovett - That's Right, You're Not from Texas

(Thank goodness; but fun song)

I've already promoted Joel Stein's podcast (especially if you want informative, funny, and not-depressing podcasts). Let me also recommend his latest book, In Defense of Elitism. I wish my book was half that funny. 

Maybe not funny, but maybe: The credit-card points flowchart.   😬

Finally, from Losing My Religions, p. 327

Being out in the exurbs meant Anne had to commute about a half hour each way, on windy roads and highway. (People who know her might find that unlikely, given that she doesn’t like to drive and generally only gets behind the wheel for medical emergencies.) But Anne had no issues driving. (While I had several, including a time when the Altima was slipping backwards on an icy hill toward a line of stopped cars: “Fuck!” EK, then two and in the back seat, happily warbled, “Fuck! Fuck!” Yup.)

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Weekend Reading

The Fireman (Paul McCartney) - Universal Here, Everlasting Now 

Guess where this is and win a free book.

As a follow-up to “Is the West saying Africa should remain undeveloped?

LNG, arugula, and righteous climate justice

The entire article is worth a skim, including the bit about vertical farming (although that is a minor aside.

Also, from American Economic Review:

National and Global Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops

We estimate the impact of genetically modified (GM) crops on countrywide yields, harvested area, and trade using a triple-differences rollout design that exploits variation in the availability of GM seeds across crops, countries, and time. We find positive impacts on yields, especially in poor countries. Our estimates imply that without GM crops, the world would have needed 3.4 percent additional cropland to keep global agricultural output at its 2019 level. We also find that bans on GM cultivation have limited the global gain from GM adoption to one-third of its potential. Poor countries would benefit most from lifting such bans.

tl;dr - It would be best to work to address the tremendous tragedy that is poverty (and preventable disease) today.

PS: Is the West lacking water, or are we wasting it? Take a guess.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Gender (excerpt from Losing My Religions) (2/2)

Over The Rhine - Within Without

God fails to smite me. (p. 258)

Gender led to an awkward situation that Christmas [1993]. While we were trimming the tree in Tiffin, my dad said, “Let’s hope [the baby is] a boy to carry on the Ball name.” (This was really a big thing with him, one that would ultimately disappoint him, with EK being his only grandchild.) Anne, whom I had failed to brief on this topic, replied, “Oh, we’ve decided the baby will have my name.” I mean, c’mon, this is obvious – Green is vastly superior to Ball. Why would anyone saddle a kid with “Ball” when “Green” is right there?! 

The surname was continually a big deal. In yet another example of how men are considered owners, women would ask, “How will people know who the father is?” That one caught me by surprise. Women’s willingness to allow themselves to be “given away” from father to husband, with the surname changing to reflect the change in ownership, is utterly repulsive. Everyone who thinks that women have it easy should imagine being so indoctrinated that you go along with it.

p. 258

PS: I'm going to start posting on fewer days, so subscribers will receive fewer emails (but the same number of posts; i.e., multiple per email). 

Misinformation on the Left (1/2)

I understand some of the shots against Matt Yglesias; e.g., that he'll be more provocative / contrarian than necessary to drive clicks / attention. But you have to admit, he's been very successful at building a mini-media empire around himself and getting ideas to important people. And, as I've noted before in this blog and in Losing, he often has very important insights. 

A recent example is "'Misinformation' isn't just on the right." [OTOH: "Conservatives actively want to believe only lies."]

This graph from Yglesias' essay is key:

This is an excellent graphical representation that life has, in general and on average, been getting safer with regard to disasters (and disease, etc., as documented at Our World In Data). This is why development is the single most important tool we have in dealing with climate change - and for improving more lives as much as possible.

I recently heard from someone who read Losing My Religions over the course of a weekend. They thanked me for the dose of realism, given that they are in a social group that has bought into climate catastrophism / end-of-the-world doom.

You are more than welcome!

Thursday, June 1, 2023

What we talk about when we talk about politics

As I've written about here and in Losing, the United States' current Supreme Court has created a country where a raped 10-year-old would be forced to stay pregnant and give birth. A raped 10-year-old!

This is so horrific, so cruel, that many Republicans tried to convince the public that this particular case was a lie. But of course, they were the ones lying. ("Every Conservative Who Called Story of 10-Year-Old Who Got Abortion a Lie;" Republicans claimed rape of girl, 10, was made-up - now they're eating their words)

Now they're going after the doctor because they don't want people to know.

Everyone who hasn't advocated vigorously and vociferously for every Democrat has to accept some of the blame for what is happening to untold girls and women around the country. 

  • Everyone who said there was no difference between Bush and Gore.
  • Everyone who has ever had a kind word to say for the "Green" party.
  • Everyone who ever slagged on Hillary.
  • Everyone who helped "No Labels" get on the ballot.
  • And everyone who said or is saying anything against Biden.

You may be safe in your wealthy liberal bubble (but maybe not once Tangerine Palpatine signs the nationwide abortion ban) but your selfishness and self-centeredness have caused real harm to real people - suffering that didn't have to happen.

Please don't be a part of the further destruction of our society, and please don't support others who are trying to do so.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

If you care about green energy

AI Beatles - Watching Rainbows

"Watching Rainbows was an unfinished fragment of the song that materialized during The Beatles’ Get Back sessions in 1968. A song that we can now enjoy in a fully polished and finalized form, imagining how it might have sounded on a modern Beatles album while also never forgetting the group’s reminder that all you need is love (plus, as we now know, the power of AI)."

Thrives in hot hot hot.

For everyone who thinks about wind and solar, you might find this Planet Money podcast an eye-opener. 

(And not to repeat myself, but Nuclear power is too safe. "If you don’t pursue safety in a cost-effective manner, you are killing people.")

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Tuesday Tip: Short Cycle (1/2)

George Winston - At Midnight

I had never heard this song until putting this blog together

It is saguaro flower season!

Try running your dishwasher and/or washing machine on a short cycle (quick wash, etc.). Even if you have to run slightly more frequently (i.e., not crammed full), you'll save time, water, and energy.

PS: If you need a dishwasher, get a Bosch. No question.

Not Only White Men (2/2)

A reader notes that I spend an inordinate amount of time going after white men (Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Bryan Caplan*) while specifically noting that they are white men. 

Obviously, not every white man is terrible; some of us are just egomaniacs. And not every terrible person is a white man, e.g., Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Sarah Palin, Ben Carson, MTG, Boebert, Jill Stein, Amy Coney Handmaid's Tale, etc. etc. 

I don't know if a larger percentage of white men are terrible. Even though it seems like it, that could just be availability bias. But because of the patriarchy and centuries of institutional racism, the people who have a malicious impact on the course of human history are overwhelmingly white men.

Do I think my little rants will have any impact? I doubt it. But I do hope that readers will recognize that there is a large and impactful "white male victimhood" complex that is profitable and also normalizes hate and violence and murder

The party of law and order.

* More for Caplan's band of victims, via Tyler Cowen: Women around the world aren’t paid nearly enough

Monday, May 29, 2023

Unpopular Opinion: Opposition to physician-assisted suicide is immoral

Tears for Fears - I Love You But I'm Lost

If you've heard that song before, bravo. I thought I knew all TFF songs, but I heard it for the first time last week! 

From Losing My Religions:

Why oh why do we think we can tell anyone that they can’t end their life in as painless a way possible? Who do we think we are? We let “any butt-reaming asshole” bring any number of new lives into existence, regardless of circumstance, regardless of how much the child will suffer. Yet we deny those same people the right to end their own life? Crazy.

Not that there aren’t issues. But we should deal with how we treat the elderly rather than denying individuals the ability to control their own life.

Let’s hope Switzerland’s death pods become a thing.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Sunday Meme Funnies (+ bonus)

Dan Bern - New American Language

One of those you really need to listen to closely. 

Actually, I was never with it.

Don't know how many readers actually watched MASH.

This is pretty great. Saw it on a pal's FB feed shortly after I saw a related thread. The OP said they were depressed by the insight that free will doesn't exist. Most commenters rightly pointed out that it is freeing and liberating to realize that free will is an illusion. 


That fall of 1992, I was very nervous about the first meeting of Students for Animal Rights. I wrote out the speech, ran it by Phil for edits, read it over the phone to Judas, and practiced it in the room ahead of time. We had a full house that evening, and in a testimony to my ability to win friends and influence people, almost none of them would still be there in a few months.
[p. 159]

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Super Quick re: Taste (Not important)

The Mountain Goats, “Heretic Pride

Today (May 27) is a special day.

As we are all one day older today, a note that your tastes will change as you get older. Your tastebuds stop firing as well, so you need more spices to have the same level of stimulation. 

Neither Anne nor I really liked red wine when we met; 31+ years later, we prefer red wine to white. (And I prefer expensive whiskey that I steal from my cousin.)

Finally - Anne's tastes changed significantly after pregnancy. 

My taste in partner, though, has only deepened.