Science and the Fossilized Thinker

Over at the Nun’s Oath Ale pub, there’s a debate over dinosaurs. Last night a resurgent troll came into a thread about the bailout and started informing everyone that Sarah Palin believes dinosaurs walked with men, and did we want our country in the hands of such a nut? Or did we all believe the same thing?

Repeatedly. When no one bothered to engage him, he proclaimed that we ALL believed dinosaurs walked with men.

Of course, this is just typical ‘net trolling, and weak tea compared to the fire giants that walked Usenet lo those many eons ago.

But I got to thinking about science, as I often do.

Science, as practiced by people today, or rather as believed in by people today, fulfills most of the functions of religion. It isn’t really that you and I believe in science and thus society progresses, it’s that a few very rigorous thinkers apply science brutally in their specific areas and the resultant data can be used for engineering purposes.

I mean, the Greeks had a lot prettier science than we do. The music of the spheres, the four elements (and the fifth) and whatnot. It’s just tough to build an iPod with that.

Science and art actually have a lot in common in this way: Neither matters until someone does something as a result. (Sorry, “pure” scientists and “pure” artists.) Well, neither matters much: An artist can be considered a success for transferring a sort of experience to the viewer–and you could even look at pure science the same way, but with a much, much smaller audience.

But ultimately, the big changes come because science show us that we can create a moving vehicle by applying a force in the direction opposite to the one we want to go, or that communism is A-OK, because art shows us worked out so well for Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton.

However, science requires integrity and, as I mentioned earlier, a sort of brutal application. The aforementioned troll has turned a common belief into dogmatic law, and dogmatic law is the foe of science.

In other words, if tomorrow we discovered human bones alongside of velociraptor bones, with a saddle, and book called “How To Ride Your Velociprator For Dummies”, containing photographs of people riding velociraptors and dated 200 AD, well, science would demand we account for that in some fashion.

Now, you tell me, what archaeologist wants to be the one who says, “Oh, well, huh. It turns out dinosaurs and man may have lived together”? Who wants to be the who says, “Oh, yeah, there’s a city on the floor of the Mediterranean its inhabitants referred to as Atlantis.” The latter would just be a big deal, apparently, because Atlantis has been the subject of much wild speculation and so is now classed with Bigfoot.

You know, who wants to be the guy who says, “Yeah, Troy was a real place”? Or “washing your hands before surgery reduces the chance of post-op infection”?

Whoops.

There is such a thing as having a mind so open your brains fall out. But it’s no less a sin, from the standpoint of science, than having a mind so closed, you reject any conflicting data.

They destroyed Semmelweiss, who from here looks to have been right. They also destroyed Reich, who from here looks to have been wrong. Nowhere in the scientific method will you find a part that says, “Destroy those who disagree with us.”

It doesn’t always turn out this way, particularly as you move toward the harder sciences. A few prominent geologists, for example, rejected the plate theory well into the ’80s and ’90s. As far as I can tell, they weren’t completely ostracized.

But as you move away from the hard sciences and more into pop culture, “science” becomes “not religion” and “statism”, i.e., a way for a new collective to enforce its will on others.

This, of course, has nothing to do with science.

Stupid Sayings, Vol 2

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

This is another saying I hate. Power doesn’t corrupt. It can reveal corruption, of course.

Here’s the thing: If you have power–real, true, genuine power–you don’t need to cheat. I’ve seen the saying amended to “the fear of losing power corrupts”, and I think there’s a lot more truth to that.

The poor are not especially uncorrupted. A poor person–obviously, as a sheer matter of survival–is more likely to do something against his ethics system. A rich person has all his flaws, and he has the additional weakness of being subject to loss that a destitute person doesn’t, but the immediate, actual survival of his body is probably not a fruitful avenue for the universe to attack him.

How does this fit in with my previous post on honesty and the financial mess? Wasn’t it power that corrupted those people? No, not at all. They were corrupted long before they ever got into power. And a willingness to be corrupted was most likely how they got into power.

Honesty

Oh, honesty
Honesty
Ooh, it’s such a waste of energy
No, you don’t have to lie to me
Just give me some tenderness
Beneath your honesty
–Paul Simon, “Tenderness”

Lovely singer at that link, though I think the arrangement is not quite canonical.

I didn’t expect my post-apocalyptic stuff to be prophetic, but as we sit here on what some say is the brink of ruin THE LIKES OF WHICH HAVE NEVER BEEN SEEN, a little honesty might be in order.

The short form is this: Two things got us into this current financial predicament. Stupidity and evil. You can say “greed”, but greed is one or the other and usually both.

There was nothing unpredictable about it. I called it years ago, when my little hovel here doubled, then tripled, then quadrupled in value. (I “underbought” at the time. I was making in a year what my house went for! Underbuying has served me well.) Salaries stayed flat over most of that time period, so it seemed impossible to me that this state of affairs could continue.

As long as we concentrate all our power into the hands of a few people, we are subject to their failings.

Honesty in the current crisis–and by the way, this goes for 9/11, the ‘29 crash, and the New Deal–would be this, “We don’t know what we’re doing. We screwed this up without meaning to. At least most of us didn’t mean to. If we’re lucky, we’re smart enough to fix this. But in any event, we shouldn’t be trusted with this incredible amount of power in the future.”

You’ll see that there are many whose response to this highly regulated market failing is, “No! The problem is that not enough power is concnetrated in the hands of the people who screwed things up in the first place!” They won’t phrase it like that, of course. They’ll blame The Other Guys™ and insist that their own team was on the right side all along.

“As long as we get rid of The Other Guys–O! if only we’d gotten rid of The Other Guys sooner!–it’s not only okay for Our Guys to run everything, it’s the best way to go.”

Personally, I don’t know what the answer is for the immediate problem, nor even if there is an immediate problem that should be addressed. But I do know, with complete confidence, that going forward it would be best if we resisted the urge to allow any Guys (“Ours” or “Theirs”) to have that much power.

I don’t expect to be heard on this, mind you. But as our friend Paul Simon once wrote, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and blogway halls.”

Manic Monday Apocalypso: Woops!

I can’t recall whether it was “Network” or some other later satire on TV Networks that had some dimwitted character suggest a sitcom based on the aftermath of a nuclear war, but I do recall laughing hysterically–in that slightly maniacal way I have–when the fledgling Fox network put out “Woops!” which was, essentially, “Gilligan’s Island” post-Apocalyptic style.

Or so I’m told. I didn’t watch it at the time; I had some idea that that would be encouraging poor taste, if only in the abstract. (Not that the world has ever needed my encouragement.)

The lead in that short-lived series, Evan Handler, has gone on to have quite a career, as the narcissistic co-star in the almost equally short-lived “It’s Like, You Know”, appearances on “Law & Order” (he did it!), “The West Wing”, and as the gross slob who wins over the overly-prim Charlotte in “Sex and the City”. He’s currently a regular on David Duchovny’s Showtime series, “Californication”.

This show should not be confused with the just-has-to-be-better Brit series and movie, “Whoops Apocalypse”.

Dexter’s Crime Laboratory

Dexter is back for Season 3! (Showtime.)

This charming little series is about a serial killer working in a Miami police department, passing himself off as normal and getting by with the help of his adoptive father’s ethical code. That’s the twist: His father, recognizing him for what he is, inculcates a sense of who should and shouldn’t be killed both as a way of keeping him safe and keeping him controlled.

They cheat more than a little bit: Dexter is way too likable. They tend to take him to the brink of discovery and pull back at the last second. Very exciting but (I would think) limited in terms of how long they can drag it out. I thought both the first and second seasons could’ve been the last.

We’ll see. Jimmy Smits is making an appearance this season.

“Sex! Sex! Sex! Is that all you ever think about?”

Brian: Have I got a big nose, Mum?
Brian’s mother: Stop thinking about sex!
Brian: I wasn’t!
Brians mother: You’re always on about it. “Will the girls like this? Will the girls like that? Is it too big? Is it too small? ”

Just wanted you guys to pat yourself on the back: “barbarian sex” and “cowboy sex” are becoming increasingly popular search terms for this blog.

Knott Political: The Hanging.

So, Thursday was the first day of the Halloween Haunt. And as always, it’s the best day to go. Although, I guess if you could know the traffic beforehand, a later day might be better, especially if you were willing to spring the extra $200/person for the VIP access to the mazes. You skip right to the front of the line. And if there’s anything better than no lines, it’s taking cuts in front of everyone else. Heh.

I’ll put up more of a review later, but I wanted to get this down: Every year, the Halloween Haunt turns its stunt show in to “The Hanging”. Basically, it’s the regular stunt show without the western motif, and with lots more fake blood. Also, instead of cowboys, the prime players are dressed up as cultural icons. It’s usually tasteless, borderline amateurish–fake punches really look fake–and it’s more than a little crude. And I don’t mean that, necessarily, in a good way.

The idea is that they hang the most offensive person in society. Since it’s meant to be funny, this is usually a pop-culture icon. I consider myself lucky if I’m aware of who the person is. I do get the movie references, or most of them (it took me a while to process the “Zohan” reference, so quickly had I forgotten that movie even came out–was it Sacha Cohen or Adam Sandler?).

I don’t really get the music references. I’m sort of, like, “Is that Amy Winehouse?”, “No, wait, that’s Amy Winehouse!”, “Well, who was that person five minutes ago?” Since I seldom go with anyone who’s more up on pop-stuff than I am, I can’t ask. The Boy seems to shun that sort of thing and The Flower is still too young. I did recognize Hannah Montana, I think. (The other thing is that it’s the same dozen stunt-folk changing in-and-out of costumes, and some of the impressions are very weak. Has anyone else noticed that there’s this recycling of Clinton wigs for McCain? What hell? McCain’s hair is a wispy combover!)

The whole thing is like a gross-out comedy movie, where some of the jokes land and some don’t, but the next one’s along pretty soon so you aren’t bored.

This year, expectedly, was political themed. And, actually, given the recent market meltdown, it was almost quaint. They had Javier Bardem fighting alongside of Santa Ana Smith (Indy), which felt odd because No Country For Old Men feels like it was a lifetime ago. (And I just re-watched it on cable a couple of times.)

But they hung…oil company executives. These were represented by people wearing the logos of Chevron, Texaco, etc. This was accompanied by the (admittedly funny) line “You really wanted to go to Universal Studios, but you couldn’t afford to fill up the gas tank!” (Of course, we drove past Universal Studios to get to Knott’s.)

Meh. I’m usually underwhelmed by the ultimate victim. And I guess people really believe that it’s all those mean old oil company guys are to blame for it all. The ultimate oil guy, by the way, was represented during the actual hanging part by Daniel Plainview. That was both odd and old. (But I kept wondering if that’s what I missed about the movie: Maybe you have to assume from the get-go that Plainview is pure evil, and that his actions are evil, and the very process of drilling for oil is evil.)

The political figure who got the most stage time was none other than John McCain. He did a lot of fighting, mostly with Hillary Clinton (who was the butt of most of the jokes in the first 5-10 minutes of the 30 minutes show). At one point, they had McCain and Clinton fighting, with Iron Man taking McCain’s side. (Hillary kept turning Iron Man off, though.)

Sarah Palin got a walk on. This actually underscores one of the weaknesses of the hanging. Right next to “clap humor” at the bottom of the humor scale is “referential humor”. Where they cross is right at the bottom when some late-night hack refers to a partisan talking point. Referential can be funny, of course, either through scale (think Tom Cruise being Austin Powers, or Orson Welles in The Muppet Movie), through accuracy (this involes the joker saying just exactly what you’re thinking, which can overlap into “clap humor”), or through sheer randomity. (During an episode of MST3K, Catalina Caper, a typical ‘60s beach dance scene ends with the camera panning up into a starless night sky, and Crow says, “Meanwhile, deep in the impenetrable void, John Paul Sartre is a-movin’ and a-groovin’.”)

Bush and Cheney also got a walk-on. No sign of Biden.

Anyway, McCain couldn’t kill Hillary; Obama showed up to finally do her in. Then McCain and Obama duked it out for a while. Neither was shown as a clear winner, and neither was killed.

Which I suppose is a sort of cruel neutrality.

Make Blake Write A Book III: The Reckoning

The story continues to ferment. Thematic elements to be included:

1. Barbarians
2. Sex
3. Western-type setting
4. Yogurt
5. Unicorns
6. Spaceships

Looking at my calendar, it seems that November 1st falls on a Saturday. Now, the NaNoWriMo rules state that the length of the novel is at least 50,000 words, which some would call a novella (though wiki lists the upper end of a novella as 40,000). But it seems to be that 50K words is between 200-250 printed pages, so while my initial thought was to make it longer, that range is just about perfect for what I have in mind. Though, honestly, the way I’m thinking about it, it could turn out to be quite a sprawl.

Anyway, my target will be about 10 pages a day (2-2.5K words) which works out to anywhere from 60-75K through November 30th. That’s pretty fast.

What I’m having the most trouble with at the moment is deciding on a character name. Everything I’ve come up with sounds either lame or parodic.

And I am going to try to be earnest, here. I’d rather go out Ed Wood than Joe Esterhaz.

Manic Monday Apocalypso: The Last Woman On Earth

One of Roger Corman’s favorite budget-saving tricks was to film two movies while on location instead of one. The second film was done on a shoestring-budget–an even stringer-shoestring budget than the first, shot quickly and sometimes without a full script. And sometimes, they were better than the higher-budgeted flick.

Such is the case with Creature from the Haunted Sea, and its twin The Last Woman on Earth. TLWOE is a perfect example of what makes a post-apocalyptic movie attractive to the Z-movie director: It has a cast of three and one of the three is the screenwriter.

Said screenwriter is no less than Robert Towne, best known for having written Chinatown and Bonny and Clyde. And while this isn’t his finest work–and as you might imagine this is a pretty talky flick for a post-apocalyptic thriller–it acquits itself fairly well.

Two men. One woman. The woman is the last woman on earth. Gosh, it practically writes itself.

The worst–and best–part of this movie is the fetching image of Betsy Jones-Moreland on the poster. As lovely as she is, she never quite finds herself in this state of dishabille.

Another cool thing about the movie is that it’s Public Domain. Watch it for free or download it from the Internet Archive.

Until next Monday, mutants, stay radiated!

The Philosophy of Political Parties

Jonathan Haidt has an interesting article here called “What Makes People Vote Republican?”

It’s interesting because Haidt clearly identifies with the Left, but he makes a game, good-faith attempt to comprehend the Right. This is rare supply on the Internet, though even more in the meida. In the media, Republicans (and Scientologists!) are either evil or stupid. It’s safe to say that members of either group don’t recognize themselves from the descriptions of them by their antagonists.

Ace talked about this a bit a while ago: It may be that we all understand the logic of Left, because we’re presented it on a daily basis in newspapers, television shows, movies, music–the arts in genera–and schools. Goldstein might say the Left deals in identity politics, but it’s ultimately its own identity.

If you’re one of them, you get to also claim authenticity on your other demographics: woman, minority, or even working man or intellectual. If you’re not–if you reject the Left’s embrace–there are many, many categories for you to be in, but one of the little used ones is “Guy who’s okay even if he disagrees with me about something”.

Haidt correctly identifies at least part of the problem with seeing the world in that manner: One becomes self-righteous and ultimately lazy. In the current election, many of the attacks on Sarah Palin are aimed at the parodic strawman the Left thinks the Right is, hence the howling about the pregnant teen. (I have no doubt that the Right would use this against a Left candidate if the situation were reversed, at least in the past. From what I’ve seen, though, the Right is quick to censure it’s own for bad behavior.)

Of course, the whole point of traditional morality, in the larger sense, is to prevent such lapses in behavior from occurring, and jeopardizing the group. So Bristol and Levi are committed to the socially prescribed remedy of getting married. The Left spits gouts of flame about hypocrisy when, of course, the point of morality is not that you never make a mistake, but that you take the correct action when you do, inevitably, fail.

Haidt, quite to his credit, gets that, at least well enough to write a serviceable explanation.

One could reduce all social arguments down to that balance between the individual, his family, and society in all its facets. It would be sensible to do so as far as the government was concerned, of course: The first question the government should ask when facing any social issue from drug use to teen pregnancy is whether or not the government should get involved with trying to fix said issue.

He completely misses the statist/non-statist view of things, but it has to be admitted, the socially conservative Right is an entirely different beast from the fiscally conservative Right. He also misses, I think, the point that the Left has its own group morality that is far harsher than the morality on the Right–and also completely self-destructive.

Think about that for a moment: Much like the USSR couldn’t exist without the USA to feed it, the Left would rapidly dwindle if it didn’t constantly recruit from the right. (This is why the Soviets infiltrated our government, media and education in the first place. Believe it or not, the USA used to be a place where advocating its violent overthrow would’ve been considered in poor taste.)

In truth, it’s not the social axis that’s important, it’s the financial one. And social cons and libs alike can embrace Big Government, as the current President–and crisis–shows.