Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category

RE: “Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?”

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 17, 2013

According to this article, quinoa is harmful and vegans are making the world worse for eating it. (Lots of non-vegans eat quinoa, but whatever.)

[T]here is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.

The article asserts that increased demand in quinoa is responsible for perpetuating the impoverishment of people in Bolivia and Peru, but it fails to show to what extent the rising prices of quinoa is due to increased demand in the United States, and to what extent this harms the poorer people. It just takes it for granted that it must be Americans’ fault and it must be bad.

I’m not saying that Americans are not harming poor Bolivians, but that the leap of inference is dubious. Here are some possible reasons why it might fail:

  •  Prices increased due to some factor other than increased demand in America.
  •   The increased prices help provide income for poor quinoa farmers.
  •   Bolivians and Peruvians have access to a variety of foods other than quinoa.

Again, these things are not necessarily true, but they could be and the article does not address them.

Then the author goes on a bit of a tangent about soybeans:

Soya, a foodstuff beloved of the vegan lobby as an alternative to dairy products, is another problematic import, one that drives environmental destruction [see footnote]. Embarrassingly, for those who portray [soy] as a progressive alternative to planet-destroying meat, soya production is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in South America[.]

Embarrassingly, meat-eaters are responsible for much more soybean consumption than vegans. Farmed animals eat a lot of soybeans; a pound of beef requires about five pounds of soybeans to produce. You’d have a much smaller impact (by a factor of five) if you just ate the soybeans.

The best part about this, though, is that the author admits it:

This footnote was appended on 17 January 2013. To clarify: while soya is found in a variety of health products, the majority of production – 97% according to the UN report of 2006 – is used for animal feed.

So this footnote essentially says, “Well, actually that entire paragraph was incorrect, but I’m going to go ahead and leave it there anyway.”

[A] rummage through the shopping baskets of vegetarians and vegans swiftly clocks up the food miles, a consequence of their higher dependency on products imported from faraway places[.]

I suppose the implication here is that veg*nism is not environmentally friendly, which is completely bogus. Eating meat accounts for a majority of most people’s greenhouse gas emissions and is responsible for a disproportionately large amount of land and water use (see here for more information). Similarly, the article sets up quinoa as a replacement for meat, but misses the fact that meat has a much more strongly negative political and environmental impact than quinoa.

This article smells distinctly of “I love meat so I’m going to try to make up reasons why being vegan is worse than being an omnivore.”

I frequently see articles about how some particular food or product is harmful in some way. Lots of such products exist, and lots more don’t even have articles written about them. But how can we know which products are the most important to avoid? I would like to see some sort of scientific review that rigorously examines the impacts of hundreds of the most popular products and compares them along a number of dimensions (effect on local economies, labor conditions for the workers, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.). But it the absence of any such review, it does not make sense to avoid every product that some article says is bad. Instead, we have to focus on the most important choices. The choice to eat or not to eat animal products is by far the most important choice we can make as consumers. For more on why this is so important, please read “Animal Suffering”.

Edit: This article addresses some of the points raised here. In particular, it offers some anecdotal evidence that poor Bolivians have no difficulty affording food (although the evidence is difficult to verify).

This article specifically responds to the Guardian piece.

Posted in Rant | Leave a Comment »

Three Kinds of People

Posted by Michael Dickens on November 20, 2012

Note: Today’s post is shorter than usual and formatted more roughly. If you particularly like or dislike this format, let me know in the comments.

When it comes to charity, there are three kinds of people:

  • People who think every charity is good and give to whatever charity they want.
  • People who think a lot of charities are bad, and therefore don’t give money to charity.
  • People who think a lot of charities are bad, and therefore put some effort into finding the good ones.

Unfortunately, not too many people seem to fall into the third category. If only more people cared about being effective.

Category one is forgivable, because it often seems intuitively true that charity must do good, and it is considered taboo to criticize charities. But I don’t get category two.

Okay, that’s not true. I do get category two. It’s a fake justification. People do not arrive at this position by thinking, “I want to do as much good as possible, but I don’t know which charities are effective. I suppose I should just not give any money to charity and not look into it any further.” Instead, they usually think, “I don’t want to give to charity. And, you know, they’re probably not that effective anyway.”

While we are right to be skeptical of charities’ claims, I think it’s unfortunate that most skeptics are driven not by the desire to find the truth (i.e. which organizations are most effective) but by the need to justify their actions [1]. To put it another way, most people who are thinking in the right direction are doing so for the wrong reasons, and therefore will never reach the proper conclusion of their skepticism—i.e., that we should put care into finding which charities do the most good instead of simply picking our personal favorite cause.


[1] I don’t know for sure that most skeptics are motivated in this way, but anecdotally, it appears to be true.

Posted in Applied Ethics, Ethics, Rant | 2 Comments »

RE: Is It Just Us, Or Are Kids Getting Really Stupid?

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 13, 2010

Yes, this is going to be one of those posts.

So some parent named Sandy Hingston has written yet another article about how kids these days are so stupid and education just isn’t like the good old days anymore. And, as you might expect, her arguments are contrived, silly, and just plain ridiculous. It must be just another crazy blogger, right? Oh, wait, she’s a columnist for Philadelphia magazine.

She starts out with an anecdote about how her son’s AP English class doesn’t actually read any books, they just watch the movie versions. (This supposedly proves that kids are dumb and don’t ever read anymore.) I’d be interested to know how well those kids do on the AP test. Oh wait, I wouldn’t because I already know they’re all going to fail it. Any legitimate English class will involve the reading of books, and I don’t know why in heck this English class is spending all its time on watching movies.

And then Hingston criticizes schools for not teaching the same pointless facts that she learned when she was in school:

They may be taking every AP and Honors course their schools offer, but they can’t tell you who invented pasteurization. (They do know who invented Facebook, because they saw the movie The Social Network.)

I for one would much rather know who invented Facebook than who invented pasteurization. Knowing about pasteurization may be useful but knowing who invented it certainly isn’t, and the name Mark Zuckerburg comes up in real life a hell of a lot more than Louis Pasteur. It’s a more interesting name to know and definitely more useful in the modern world.

They spend an average of eight and a half hours a day in front of screens — computer screens, TV screens, iPhone screens.

[citation needed] Oh wait I forgot, journalists don’t have to cite their sources because everyone is supposed to believe them anyway.

Technology was supposed to set us free, to liberate us from mundane, time-consuming tasks so we could do great things, think great thoughts, solve humanity’s most pressing problems.

And it has, even for school-age people. I personally have used the web to read philosophy, improve my computer programming ability, and learn about Milton Friedman’s economics, among myriad other things. Yes, technology has its Facebooks and Myspaces which arguably do not offer any profound sense of happiness, but to focus on that is to ignore the Wikipedias and the Project Gutenbergs.

But Western civilization is built on literacy. . .

Therefore Facebook is bad and our kids are wasting their time and not learning anything? Let’s read on and see if Hingston has a serious point here.

Reading is highly unnatural in that it requires us to filter out distractions and focus our attention on a single task.

I actually have to give Hingston some credit here — not that her point is valid, but that she is pointing out reading as unnatural without saying that it’s a bad thing. In fact, she is talking about how reading is a good thing. Unnatural doesn’t necessarily mean bad. (This point is irrelevant to the main subject but I think it’s worth saying.)

Her next point seems to boil down to this: modern technology is distracting which reduces attention spans and makes it harder for kids to absorb information more deeply. This is true. But it is not nearly as bad as Hingston seems to think it is. Focusing is more difficult now than it was back when everything was boring, but it’s far from impossible. The problem of distractions is far outweighed by the benefit of all the resources at our fingertips.

And that explains why my son doesn’t know the days of the week.

If your son doesn’t know the days of the week then any reasonable person would have to assume that you are to blame, not the internet.

There are certain things my kid — any kid — should know by the time he’s a high-school grad — that Wednesday follows Tuesday, and his nine-times tables, say. That Jake can use his cell phone to retrieve this information — can use it, for that matter, to learn how to refine weapons-grade plutonium — is beside the point.

Explain exactly why it is more useful to know your nine-times tables (which you use maybe once every few days) than it is to know how to use your cell phone (which you use several — even dozens — of times every day).

I would argue that kids read more now than they did at any other point in history. Sure, a lot of what they’re reading is shorter and probably less meaningful. But a lot of it is good old literature. Teenagers definitely read books — just ask J. K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer. Sure, these books are no Crime and Punishment; but just try telling me that Crime and Punishment is what kids were reading for fun back in your day.

Isn’t it self-evident that my son would be a better student, better future employee, better human being, if he spent six hours a day reading Tolstoy and listening to Bach instead of playing [World of Warcraft]?

No. Tolstoy may have merits but it just won’t equip you with the sort of interpersonal problem-solving skills you’ll get from World of Warcraft. And I don’t see how listening to music — even Bach — is even remotely comparable to actually developing useful skills.

And let’s not forget one important thing. War and Peace is infamously dry. World of Warcraft provides a rich and fun experience. Even assuming that Tolstoy is more beneficial in the long run than playing World of Warcraft for a comparable length of time, is it really worth it if every moment of it you find yourself completely bored out of your mind? There is certainly something to be said for enjoying yourself.

Maybe I’m just crotchety because I had to read dead white men’s books instead of playing games. Maybe kids aren’t stupider at all; maybe the new ways of learning really are just different, not inherently worse. Maybe — oh, God — I should be on Facebook.

I need to talk to more kids Jake’s age before I can decide.

Not that that’s going to help anything. Most high schoolers don’t come across as very intelligent. But what do you expect? They’re in high school. They have limited knowledge and experiences. Go back in time and talk to your high school self and see if you don’t start wondering how anyone could live with you.

And then she goes to a football game to talk to some real life high schoolers.

“What kinds of Skittles do you have?” a customer asks Danielle.

While we’re talking about journalism in general, I rather dislike journalists’ tendency to make everything into a story. Yes it makes it more interesting, but if you’re writing an editorial then it just detracts from your point. It seems at least a teensy bit ironic that you’re talking about how kids don’t have any attention span these days while writing an article that includes completely irrelevant and distracting details. You want to see a short attention span? Look at all the tangential comments in this article.

I see it in myself. I’m trying to write this article, but at the foot of my computer screen, the AOL icon is bouncing up and down. I know — I can be 99 percent sure — that whatever has popped into my inbox is useless spam. (Hey, I’m still on AOL.) And I’m trying my damnedest to ignore the bouncing symbol, to get my important work done … and I. Just. Can’t. I have to click. I have to see. I have to bite the apple.

Wait, I thought it was just our kids who were getting stupider. This paragraph has thrown the purpose of the entire article into question.

If kids would tune out the white noise of the virtual world, they could plow through Moby-Dick in no time.

So you turn off the internet and you can magically do boring things? Sorry, that’s not how it works. I wish it were because I would get a lot more reading done, but it’s not. Boring things are boring with or without the internet. If you try to do something boring and you have absolutely no distractions, you end up lying on the floor doing nothing because that’s more interesting than the boring activity. (Well, at least that’s what I do. That’s normal, right?)

Here’s the thing, though, as we fret about our kids’ online lives: It’s already their world, not ours. Young people have always rebelled against their elders, whether they were wearing zoot suits or listening to grunge. But a hallmark of civilization was that eventually, the kids gave up their rebel ways and folded, more or less quietly, into the adult world. That’s not going to happen with our kids, because their superior technical skills mean they’re already in charge. We’re being forced to adapt. We’re the followers; they’re the leaders. And it’s hard to imagine where they’re leading us, because they’re unlike us on such a fundamental level:

Their brains are different from ours.

What is there to say about this? It’s just unsubstantiated absurdity. It’s an attempt to draw intense emotions out of the reader and create a division between generations: notice the repeated usage of “us versus them” language. This is possibly the most aggressive paragraph in the article and also the most wrong. It serves to give fire to the feelings of people of the older generation who feel unable to keep up with modern technology. I find this paragraph difficult to even talk about because it’s so outrageous.

When you sat at a school desk and recited your times tables over and over, when you wrote out the periodic table of elements, when you practiced cursive penmanship, you were reinforcing memories, creating familiar paths for synapses, literally rewiring your brain for top-down attention. Your children’s neural networks are very different. Thanks to their Internet exposure, in place of steady repetition, they’re confronted, daily, by a barrage of novelty. There’s no pattern, no order, in either the input or the pathways it carves. “You have kids today who start on computers at three, four, five,” says Penn’s Chatterjee. “The younger you’re exposed, the more influence that has on the final configuration of the brain.”

Once again, Hingston is guilty of failing to provide any evidence at all. Since when is there no pattern or order to the internet? Video games are the very opposite: they provide virtually the best learning environment possible by creating a series of similar but progressively more difficult challenges. Patterns in video games are abundantly clear. Elsewhere on the internet patterns are less obvious but they’re still there.

Hingston seems to be arguing that the only thing worth doing is memorizing. You could read War and Peace a single time, and Hingston would say that you’d learn something from it. Knowledge does not have to be repeated to be learned.

LAST JANUARY, a young Florida mother was trying to play FarmVille on Facebook, but her three-month-old son kept crying. So she shook him to death.

Show me a single instance of someone doing something harmful and I’ll show you an outlier. A single instance is no better than anecdotal evidence (in fact, it is anecdotal evidence). There’s a reason why scientists disregard anecdotal evidence.

Jake can look at his cell phone to see what day it is, but where can he go online to find out what being human means?

The internet. He can read articles, stories, philosophy, even novels. He can talk to friends and make new friends who he would never be able to meet otherwise. As Hingston has emphasized, much of the internet is based on social networking. If you can’t learn what being human means from social networking, and you can’t learn it from the vast resources that the internet provides, then where exactly can you learn it? “Real life”? And where exactly do you draw the line between “real life” and life over technology?

The hours he spends on his computer result in less time studying with friends, or playing pickup basketball, or hanging at the football game.

Facebook is with people. World of Warcraft is with people. What’s the difference? Both have real-time interaction with one person or a group of people. The only real difference is that with Facebook and World of Warcraft you can’t see the person’s face, and Skype solves that problem.

Kids today are less and less able to inscribe ownership boundaries; they hand in papers that are pastiches of plagiarism, steal artwork, words, ideas.

So . . . the internet causes short attention spans which cause plagiarism? That seems like a bit of a stretch.

With Facebook, their cell phones, their laptops, our kids don’t ever have to be alone … and yet they’re always alone. The more they use the Internet to connect, research has shown, the more vulnerable they are to depression, whose incidence has doubled in the past decade.

Okay, now we’re talking about serious problems. Except — wait a minute! Did you just jump from “people use the internet more” and “people suffer from depression more” to “internet causes depression”? That material is covered in Logical Fallacies 101 (a class I took, by the way, over the internet).

A quarter of all Americans report not having even one person they can confide in.

I said this already but I’m going to say it again, because it’s important: CITATION NEEDED.

Some people have short attention spans, yes. But this can hardly be blamed on the internet. Distractions are omnipresent with or without modern technology. What modern technology (especially the internet) does give us is a connection to our peers across multiple media; a greater access to society’s knowledge; more efficient ways to do what we all want to do; in short, any problems it may cause are far outweighed by how it compounds so many of life’s greatest things.

So, to answer your question: Yes. It’s just you.

Posted in Education, Rant | 4 Comments »

Make-A-Wish Foundation Makes the World a Worse Place

Posted by Michael Dickens on October 10, 2010

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is an organization that grants wishes to critically ill children. These wishes are often heartwarming and even entertaining. And that’s a problem.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is one of the more glorified charities. Children are granted extravagant wishes in order to make them happy. And yes, these wishes do make the children happy. But for how long? A kid gets a gift and becomes very happy, but will soon become bored with it. A kid gets an experience, which he will hold in his memory, but that first burst of happiness will never be reclaimed and the memory will slowly fade. What the Make-A-Wish Foundation is really doing is providing short-term pleasure.

But this short-term pleasure for the child often also means a big publicity stunt for the Foundation. It’s quite an entertaining charity, really. But the problem is, the purpose of a charity isn’t to be entertaining. It’s to help people.

Does the Make-A-Wish Foundation help people? Well, strictly speaking, yes. But they’re doing a pretty bad job of it. They claim that they “grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.” How about you enrich the human experience with medical research, or by helping to treat children who have preventable diseases? It seems to me that that would be far better than what the Foundation is currently doing.

By campaigning for their own cause, MAW draws funding away from causes that do much more good for the world. In this sense, it makes the world worse in a very concrete way. Donors have a limited amount of money that they are willing to give to charity, and by giving it to MAW, they fail to give it to another, more beneficial cause.

According to their website, they spend on average $7362 per wish. In 2009, they spent $135 million on granting wishes. While these wishes did provide temporary happiness for suffering children, that’s just about all they did. They didn’t solve any real problems or alleviate any long-term suffering. [1]

What could have been done with that money? The money spent on one wish could pay for the educations of dozens of children in India. It could provide mosquito nets for 1400 people and prevent approximately seven deaths. That means with their annual budget, the Foundation could save the lives of over 100,000 children who endure just as much suffering as—if not more than—the kids who get wishes from MAW. But all that is thrown away, because the people at Make-A-Wish Foundation decided that granting fleeting wishes to a few select children is worth more than all that.


[1] A number of commenters have corrected me on this statement. While I may have underestimated the amount of good that MAW does, it is inconceivable that they do anywhere close to as much good as an organization such as the Against Malaria Foundation (linked in the previous paragraph); and MAW directs funds away from other charities that do a great deal more good.

[2] Many commenters have expressed that the children who work with MAW experience a great deal of joy. I understand this. It somewhat saddens me when they fail to see that an organization such as the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) produces comparable or greater effects many times over, and they willingly give preference to the option that leaves so much unnecessary suffering in the world. For every one American child with leukemia AMF fails to serve, MAW misses thousands of children who are likely to die from malaria.

Posted in Applied Ethics, Ethics, Rant | 95 Comments »

Why The Grapes of Wrath Fails

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 1, 2010

WARNING: This post was written far too late at night. I cannot be held responsible for its contents.

The Grapes of Wrath is considered to be a great American novel. Perhaps someone can explain why I’m mistaken here, because I really don’t see what’s so great about it.

A typical story — in fact, virtually any story at all — has a problem and a solution. The quality of the story is directly related to both the quality of the problem and the quality of the solution. The characters of the book have some sort of problem, or perhaps a goal, which they work to achieve. Near the end of the book, they solve their problem or achieve their goal. This is how a story works.

That’s the problem with The Grapes of Wrath. Near the beginning of the book, a big problem arises: the Joad family are kicked off of their farm. As the novel progresses, the problem continues to proliferate. Their situation gets worse and worse.

Now, any story worth its salt would end with a solution. For the last hundred pages or so, I kept expecting something good — something really big, something phenomenal — to happen. Even if the Joads weren’t magically lifted out of poverty, I at least expected them to gain some new outlook on life, or to learn an important lesson, or something like that. I kept expecting this right up until I reached the second-to-last page in the book, and I realized that nothing had happened yet. In any other book, something big would have happened. But in The Grapes of Wrath, the problem just kept going and going, kept getting worse and worse, right up through the end of the novel. There was no climax. There was no resolution. There was no conclusion. From page 150 all the way until the end at page 581, the problem continued to compound but no resolution was ever reached. Those 431 pages, while fun to read, showed very little variation in tone or direction. The book could just as well have ended a hundred pages sooner, or two hundred, or three hundred. When the problem continues to compound and no solution is ever found, there’s not much point in even making the novel be any longer. It may as well have ended at page 200, because you as a reader would have gotten the same amount out of those first 50 pages of conflict as you would have out of the full 431. The Grapes of Wrath works very well as the beginning of a story, or as the beginning and middle, but it’s missing an ending. No matter how well-written, poignant, or “American” a novel might be, it cannot be considered very good IF IT’S MISSING THE DAMN ENDING. It works very well as a book that helps the reader understand the plight of the poor farmer in Depression-era America, but as a story, it’s an utter failure. A book that’s missing an ending is like a chair that’s missing a leg. Sure, it looks nice, but try sitting on it.

I got a lot out of reading this book. It helps the reader to understand what a farmer during the Great Depression was going through, and the suffering that he had to endure. It certainly works very well in that respect. I suppose it’s arguable that the anticlimactic ending — the never-ending struggle of the Joad family — was meant to represent the fact that, for farmers, there was no happy ending. Sure. Maybe that’s true. But this isn’t supposed to be a historical account of exactly what happened. It’s supposed to be a story. Stories are supposed to have beginnings, middles, and . . . what was that other part . . . oh yeah, I remember. ENDINGS. Without an ending, without a solution, it’s not a story. It’s a list of grievances. Bad thing #1 happens, bad thing #2 happens, bad thing #3 happens. Nothing is ever resolved. As far as I have been informed, that’s not a story. And I’ve read my fair share of stories.

It has been said that great writers are allowed to break rules. Shakespeare, for example, made up about a zillion words, and people are generally okay with that. So is it okay for John Steinbeck to write a book without an ending? Many people seem to think so. As you may have figured out by now, I disagree. I strongly disagree. It is not only unusual or wrong to write a book with no ending, but I would go so far as to say that it is immoral. What kind of impression are we giving our children? We can’t have them start writing like Steinbeck. First our children will start writing books with no endings, and before you know it they’ll all have become Communists. We cannot let this story fall into the wrong hands.

Posted in Book Review, Rant | 6 Comments »

Lowering the Voting Age: You’re Missing the Point

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 23, 2010

One of the most prominent arguments against lowering the voting age is that young people will vote irrationally. They might vote for radicals. Or Muslims. Or even *gasp* atheists. Proponents of a lowered voting age respond that most youth are unlikely to vote irrationally; most will simply follow the ideologies of their parents, and anyway, people who don’t know anything about voting probably won’t vote anyway. And these proponents are completely missing the point.

It does not matter whether young people are likely to vote for radicals, Muslims, atheists, or whichever group of supposedly crazy people you want. They live in this country and many of them pay taxes, so they get the right to vote. And this means that they have the right to vote for anyone. Would you make it illegal for adults to vote for radicals, or for Muslims, or for atheists? Or if you found that, for instance, women were more likely to vote for radicals, would that justify making it illegal for women to vote? Absolutely not! The right to vote means that you have the right to vote for whoever you want, even if it is not a rational choice. If you want, you can flip a coin to decide who to vote for. That’s your right as a taxpaying citizen. The fact that you can make intelligent decisions is not what gives you the right to vote. What give you the right to vote is that you must live in this society, under this government, and so you get a say in this government’s decisions.

Anyone who says that youth should not vote because they will vote a certain way, or anyone who responds by saying that youth will just vote for whomever their parents vote for, has the mind of a tyrant. It seems perhaps more than merely curious that Joe Citizen wants to prohibit youth from voting because of their potential tendency to vote for radical candidates — the candidates that he personally does not like. Joe would hardly say that youth should not be allowed to vote because there is a chance that they will vote for his candidate. No, it’s always the other candidate that is the “irrational” choice. Why not just make it illegal to vote for anyone besides the candidate that you personally like best? One man’s irrationality is the next man’s reason. No matter what a person’s reasoning is, they still have a right to vote as long as it is out of their own free will. “They will vote irrationally” really means “they will vote with different reasoning than mine.”

Perhaps I am exaggerating. After all, Joe Citizen has no problem with letting other people his age cast their votes into the ballot. But Joe is holding a double standard. If someone votes for a particular option or candidate, there must be a reason. Maybe adults are united in disagreeing with young people’s reasoning, but that does not make their reasoning wrong. In a democracy, any sort of reasoning is correct.

It is arguable that these youth’s potentially foolish voting decisions will affect the whole country. That’s true, but so will YOUR decisions. They have just as much a right to invoke folly on the nation as you do to invoke reason on it.

Posted in Politics, Rant | 3 Comments »

A Very Confused National Geographic Article

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 5, 2010

Whoever wrote this article apparently wants to feel smart, and wants the readership to feel smart, but is doing some serious muddling of ideas.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Article of the Day, Rant, Science | 3 Comments »

Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 3, 2010

Yes. That movie.

Brief plot summary: Elle Woods (blonde Harvard Law graduate) is getting married and wants her dog Bruiser’s mother to be there but Bruiser’s mother is in a cosmetics testing facility to Elle goes to DC to pass a law banning cosmetic testing on animals.

Rant: This movie completely ridicules the best system of law that the world has ever known. (Okay, I’m exaggerating.) Elle makes a big speech about how dogs shouldn’t be tested on. For cosmetics, I generally agree. Sometimes testing on animals saves lives or helps to legitimately improve lives, in which case it is acceptable. But I don’t see cosmetics as worth it for the potential suffering of sentient animals such as dogs.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Ethics, Politics, Rant | Leave a Comment »

Exercise in Readability

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 23, 2009

The following text is from a previous post of mine, with many of the words removed. See how well you can still understand what is being said. For bonus points, fill in the missing words and see how close you can get.

I watching Bones, about Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan, leader forensics. brilliant, lacks social skills. think she objective. show based real life, but must loosely based since so wrong.

Brennan think objective. But if she brilliant as seems, must realize is not humanly to be objective.

She talks terms few understand, says “normally” directly after. example, “He has cortoscopic endicular psychosis. . . a brain tumor.” understands people not know what she is talking when says first term. But, why saying term at all? The possible answer she wants to sound smart. is not as socially as would like think, but instead has some problems ego. But that might not be it; she talks to baby in baby-talk-voice, “you like spacial disorientation, don’t you?” while spinning baby. no reason to try to impress baby. why bother talking that? It’s not necessarily more than “normal” baby talk, but it no more descriptive “you like being dizzy” and longer more complicated. Occam’s Razor, she should “you like being dizzy” and if as smart as thinks she is, have realized that.

avoid emotions, illogical or something. not. frequently logical, just different perspective than think. Emotion evolutionary tool to accomplish certain, works rather well. So why deny it? Sure, emotion perfect; sometimes gets way. But why deny it all time? no real logical reason avoid all.

So in this episode, Brennan she wants a baby. She it will “fulfilling”. How is fulfilling? A baby a huge amount of time effort, not to mention personal sacrifice. not I call fulfilling. No, sense in baby is fulfilling is emotional sense. And example of case where emotions are evolutionarily useful: by logic alone, child is not a rational decision individual standpoint. maybe Brennan understands. But, why try to emotion in all other? children not only scenario in emotion is more rational individualistic logic.

conclusion, Brennon not only illogical and subjective but highly fallible, even with “objective” analyses. going to be a writer on every show like this ever written so they get right. You know what show gets it right? Numb3rs. They know what doing.

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What Does Your Handwriting Say About You?

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 14, 2009

Did you know that you can tell a person’s personality by their handwriting?

If Your Writing Slants…

This sounds fascinating. . . .

To the left: You generally like to work alone or behind the scenes. If you are right-handed and your handwriting slants to the left, you may be expressing rebellion.

. . . or not.

To the right: You are open to the world around you and like to socialize with other people.

Or maybe it means you’re RIGHT HANDED.

Not at all: You tend to be logical and practical. You are guarded with your emotions.

Or maybe you just HAVE STRAIGHT WRITING. Sometimes things only mean what they mean.

If the Size of Your Letters Is…

Mmm, more delicious little pseudoscience.

Large: You have a big personality. Many celebrities have large handwriting. It may suggest that you are outgoing and like the limelight.

Or maybe you have unsteady hands, so you are unable to write very small and have it still be legible. Or maybe you’re a young child. Or something like that.

Small: You are focused and can concentrate easily. You tend to be introspective and shy.

I used to have average-sized handwriting. But then my handwriting got smaller. Why? Did I suddenly become “introspective and shy”? I think not. I simply decided that it would be fun to have small handwriting, and that it would save paper. And now people are all the time commenting on how oh so very small my handwriting is. How’s that for “liking the limelight”?

See, at this point you might be saying something like, “oh, these are only generalizations, they don’t apply to everyone.” Well, you’re right. They don’t apply to everyone. If I were to guess, I’d say they apply to, oh, 50% of people. (Can you possibly guess why I came up with that number?)

Pseudoscience is delicious.

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