Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Telegenic Dead

Look, I usually add a graphic to my blog posts,
but this:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hamas of cynically exploiting Palestinian deaths to create striking televised images that will garner international sympathy. 
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Sunday, Netanyahu said Palestinian members of Hamas “don’t care” about the casualties they have inflicted on their own people. 
“These people are the worst terrorists — genocidal terrorists,” he said. “They call for the destruction of Israel and they call for the killing of every Jew, wherever they can find them.” 
“They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can,” Netanyahu added. “They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead, the better.”

They aren't telegenic--they've been on my Twitter feed for the past more than a week. They aren't telegenic after what happened. Yes, Hamas raises money over these dead bodies.  But hey--how's about this? Why be willing to send a missile through a bedroom with children on the 3rd floor to hit Hamas in the basement?

No doubt Hamas raises money on dead kids. No doubt they gin up sympathy and stuff--but the real way to shut it down?

Don't add to their martyrs. Shut them down by proving them wrong. For once just say--ain't Hamas some shit?  Fuck them, and then don't actually fuck over Palestinians in Gaza. I dunno. I think it could work.

Summer Reading: A Pair of Books on Paradox

You may have noticed light posting of late around here, but this is just a thing I do--it seems like there's usually some handful of weeks in the summer when I just want to lay about and read. A lot of it just pure fantasy fun reading (I finally got around to reading some of Hamilton's Anita Blake series--so, that's a thing I did) and some of it is better than others (yay--there was another Laundry novel! and I think I have become a new Tim Powers fan).

But sometimes I try to chew over something with a little more weight, and this summer, I picked up two books that had pretty intriguing titles to me and which also seemed to fit my current state of mind: Brad Warner's There is No God and He is Always With You and Frank Schaeffer's Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God. Both titles have an internal paradox about the nature of the divine and the relation of the individual to it: How is a non-existent being always with one? Isn't believing in God kind of not the point of atheism?

Well, in keeping with the spirit of my reading--yes and no, to both.

This is the first book I've read from Warner--I will probably pick up a couple of his other titles based on this one. He tackles the question of God from the point of view of a Zen practitioner, in a tradition that really isn't concerned with God, as such. It's a book in part about the looking for transcendence (he describes books that describe transcendent experiences as "enlightenment porn", which I think is kind of spot-on) but also admitting the limitations of our ability to grasp or articulate what that exactly is. He explains that from an eastern perspective, the Hindu or Yogic tradition describes Brahman or the ultimate reality as "neti neti" or "not that, not that"--in other words, to drop one's preconceptions about what reality or the divine is.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Roko's Basilisk & Pascal's Wager

Slate Magazine gave me some Food for Thought with a "Downworthy"-ish title:

The Most Terrifying Thought Experiment of All Time.

Dare I click?  (Duh, of course I did.)

Was it terrifying? (Well, no, it's a cybernetic version of Pascal's Wager, which should occur to most well-read people.)

Here at Strangely Blogged, I try to be pretty cool about spooky thought-experiments. (Right now I'm reading a really chill book by Brad Warner titled There Is No God and He Is Always With You which is helping reambiguate my relationship with That in Which I do Not Believe, Whether it Exists or Not.) But when my reading makes me wonder if there is good cause for a full-on freaking-out, well--I don't. I'm not sure how I missed this discussion at Stross' blog, but I get the basic idea of why this might provoke a crisis of consciousness for the cyber-inclined: living with the idea for so long that an information Omega Point might create an equivalent of the Christian Heaven, long after liberal theology has dispensed with the concept of a literal Hell, getting back to the idea of a material Hell (or material-enough for a simulated You, which you don't have a choice about) created by a potential superintelligence , one might be shocked to think that consequences for Thought Crimes might be inescapable.

The best system of living, whether one is subject to a computer simulation, the whims of a deity outside of time and space, or nothing at all, seems to be to just do your best. You can't know yourself for sure if you're really pissing off some God, or some evil computer, because most people aren't even aware that they piss off customer service reps, retail clerks, their co-workers. Start with friends, family, and your waitstaff, if you want to know how to be "good". Do them right. Work your way out. Be aware.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Climate Thursday: Drilling for Lava? And "The End of the World"!

People are stubborn, which is I think one of the main arguments going for climate science denialism--people prefer not to be told what to do, even if what they are planning to do is probably dumb. Example--Smokey the Bear should not have to tell people to be careful not to set forests on fire. But people go halfway peeing out campfires and flicking cigars around during wildfire season anyway.

In other words, yes, people sometimes do need to be told. For example, we do need to have boundaries on where oil and gas drilling takes place. And I don't just mean being careful about draining aquifers from fracking or running the risk of contaminating wells--although those are pretty dumb things people are already doing. I mean things like deciding we need to drill for oil in Yellowstone Park.

There's a supervolcano under Yellowstone that hasn't gone off for some hundreds of thousands of years, but given that the area is geologically volatile, I'd say there's a good argument about avoiding making the land angry. Drilling for oil is bad enough without drilling for lava. (Although the gentleman from Wyoming isn't the first mook to suggest drilling in Yellowstone was perfectly viable, and I guess he won't be the last.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Climate Monday: Let's Go To Mars, Dude!

I know, I know, I'm a day late and this is a light post, but I genuinely think this comment from a KY lawmaker last week short-circuited my ability to get past denialism--because wow. Here's the definitive "shut your mouth" from State Senator Brandon Smith, who owns a coal plant:

“I won’t get into the debate about climate change,” Smith said. “But I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.”
It's a thing of unsurpassable beauty in all the wrong it has in it. He's not debating, but he's making a point. The point he's making isn't only not true, but very not true--Mars is farther away from the Sun and a lot colder. He isn't in academia, but there is no consensus in academia anyway that would even try to support his one, very wrong, point.  Which leads me to wonder if he is, in fact, hopelessly stupid and has lived as long as he has believing that Mars is like one of those planets from Star Trek that is just like Earth, but the people are just a slightly different hue with a ridge thingy on their foreheads or something. Or he kind of thought it might not be true, but he double-dog dares anyone to look that the hell up! Or, he genuinely believes that the people he is speaking to, the real folks, the ones who like his coal mines and jobs and stuff, really don't care what he says, so he will lie to them and treat them like idiots because they deserve it.

So, this is the extreme example, but most denialist arguments sound kind of like this to me--sort of dumb to begin with, but with an arrogance that no one will critique the stupid bits and the certainty no one who matters would really care.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Oh, Peggy, You've Spoiled my Illusions.

In one phrase:

This is how I think normal people are experiencing what is happening:
Nay, how speak thee for the norms, now, Peg O My Heart, when "normal" never encompassed the like of such a Stupor Mundane as this?

It's like you live in a house that's falling apart. The roof needs to be patched and there are squirrels in the attic, a hornet's nest in the eaves. The basement's wet. The walkway to the front door is cracked with grass growing through it. The old boiler is making funny sounds. On top of that it's always on your mind that you could lose your job tomorrow and must live within strict confines so you can meet the mortgage and pay the electric bill. You can't keep the place up and you're equal parts anxious, ashamed and angry. And then one morning you look outside and see . . . all these people standing on your property, looking at you, making some mute demand.
Little children looking lost—no one's taking care of them. Older ones settling in the garage, or working a window to the cellar. You call the cops. At first they don't come. Then they come and shout through a bull horn and take some of the kids and put them in a shelter a few blocks away. But more kids keep coming! You call your alderman and he says there's nothing he can do. Then he says wait, we're going to pass a bill and get more money to handle the crisis. You ask, "Does that mean the kids will go home?" He says no, but it may make things feel more orderly. You call the local TV station and they come do a report on your stoop and then they're gone, because really, what can they do, and after a few days it's getting to be an old story.

There's squirrels, there's hornets, and then there are traumatized migrant children. Just waves of infestations happening to normal people and the kinds of neighborhoods they live in--will an exterminator do something to get them off your lawn? No, not at any conceivable price. Vexing, I'm sure.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

This right here is our current Immigration Crisis.

This kid is talking with a border agent because he knows US authorities aren't mean.

He doesn't know about our congresspeople who are a little mean. Like Rep. Louie Gohmert, who still probably thinks "terror babies" are a thing.   Gohmert is scared that  these kids will become citizens and vote democrat, even though Obama is deporting them as fast as he can .

There are exactly zero reasons why any migrant kid would vote for the party of Louie Gohmert, providing one ever got to be a citizen. Making Louie Gohmert the self-fulfilling prophecy of his party's demise?

Or something. I'm not pretending this is actually sensible. I'm just saying some Republicans seem to think this.