Thursday, May 23, 2013

highly recommended: Daniel Dennett's seven tools for thinking

Daniel Dennett's seven tools for thinking:
1. Use Your MistakesDennett’s first tool recommends rigorous intellectual honesty, self-scrutiny, and trial and error. In typical fashion, he puts it this way: “when you make a mistake, you should learn to take a deep breath, grit your teeth and then examine your own recollections of the mistake as ruthlessly and as dispassionately as you can manage.” This tool is a close relative of the scientific method, in which every error offers an opportunity to learn, rather than a chance to mope and grumble.
2. Respect Your Opponent Often known as reading in “good faith” or “being charitable,” this second point is as much a rhetorical as a logical tool, since the essence of persuasion involves getting people to actually listen to you. And they won’t if you’re overly nitpicky, pedantic, mean-spirited, hasty, or unfair. As Dennett puts it, “your targets will be a receptive audience for your criticism: you have already shown that you understand their positions as well as they do, and have demonstrated good judgment.”
3. The “Surely” KlaxonA “Klaxon” is a loud, electric horn—such as a car horn—an urgent warning. In this point, Dennett asks us to treat the word “surely” as a rhetorical warning sign that an author of an argumentative essay has stated an “ill-examined ‘truism’” without offering sufficient reason or evidence, hoping the reader will quickly agree and move on. While this is not always the case, writes Dennett, such verbiage often signals a weak point in an argument, since these words would not be necessary if the author, and reader, really could be “sure.”
4. Answer Rhetorical QuestionsLike the use of “surely,” a rhetorical question can be a substitute for thinking. While rhetorical questions depend on the sense that “the answer is so obvious that you’d be embarrassed to answer it,” Dennett recommends doing so anyway. He illustrates the point with a Peanuts cartoon: “Charlie Brown had just asked, rhetorically: ‘Who’s to say what is right and wrong here?’ and Lucy responded, in the next panel: ‘I will.’” Lucy’s answer “surely” caught Charlie Brown off-guard. And if he were engaged in genuine philosophical debate, it would force him to re-examine his assumptions.
 5. Employ Occam’s Razor The 14th-century English philosopher William of Occam lent his name to this principle, which previously went by the name of lex parsimonious, or the law of parsimony. Dennett summarizes it this way: “The idea is straightforward: don’t concoct a complicated, extravagant theory if you’ve got a simpler one (containing fewer ingredients, fewer entities) that handles the phenomenon just as well.”
6. Don’t Waste Your Time on RubbishDisplaying characteristic gruffness in his summary, Dennett’s sixth point expounds “Sturgeon’s law,” which states that roughly “90% of everything is crap.” While he concedes this may be an exaggeration, the point is that there’s no point in wasting your time on arguments that simply aren’t any good, even, or especially, for the sake of ideological axe-grinding.
7. Beware of DeepitiesDennett saves for last one of his favorite boogeymen, the “deepity,” a term he takes from computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum. A deepity is “a proposition that seems both important and true—and profound—but that achieves this effect by being ambiguous.” Here is where Dennett’s devotion to clarity at all costs tends to split his readers into two camps. Some think his drive for precision is an admirable analytic ethic; some think he manifests an unfair bias against the language of metaphysicians, mystics, theologians, continental and post-modern philosophers, and maybe even poets. Who am I to decide? (Don’t answer that).
I must note that #6 is at odds with #2, #3, and #4, and #7 is clever, but subjective beings can easily assume somethings a deepity that isn't. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

unpacking my previous Star Trek post, plus a Khan observation

1. Both villains were insufficiently established. Using Pike instead of Marcus would've deepened the part of the bad Star Fleet captain, and it would've allowed a little more time in the film to develop Khan.

2. Women fared badly. Uhura's attempt to bluff the Klingons should've worked, and any new woman added to the cast should've been memorable for more than her underwear. I was not a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation (I rarely had access to a TV when it was being broadcast), but I thought Tasha Yar, the female security officer, was a smart response to the limited women's roles in the original show.

3. While I had summer-movie fun watching Star Trek Into Darkness, I wanted more clever solutions and fewer "hulk smash" moments.

I understand people wishing Hollywood would give more breaks to Bollywood stars, but the logic of capitalism doesn't work that way, and the notion that Cumberbatch looked "too white" strikes me as either ignorant or racist. Here's a Bollywood star who is actually named Khan:


Here's Cumberbatch:


That said, if I could've cast the part, I would've gone with Alexander Siddig, whose post-DS9 work has been great:


I haven't read many reviews of the movie, so these shouldn't be considered "best of" suggestions, but I recommend them:

Star Trek Movie: SPOILERZZZZ | Felicia's Melange

Star Trek into Darkness Hostile to Star Trek, Intelligence | Sequart


Friday, May 17, 2013

if Abrams hired me to do a pass on Star Trek Into Darkness

If you just want the quick advice about whether to see the movie: if you liked the first, you'll like the second, but don't think too much about the plot.

Here be spoilers.

If I was revising the script, but had to keep to the basic outline:

1. I would've made Pike the bad Federation officer so Kirk would've had to defeat his father-surrogate.

2. I would've made the new woman a Security officer because she was too blatantly redundant, especially for a character who may be returning.

3. I would've ended the movie with Spock outsmarting Khan rather than beating him up. Emma suggested moving the bit with the torpedoes to the end, because it did a nice job of showing how Spock can be honest and tricky.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Are poor people invisible to science fiction fandom?

Convention fandom isn't cheap—two adults who want to go to a major US convention that's not local should plan to drop a thousand dollars or more on transportation, hotel, and meals. Travelling to distant cons simply isn't possible for many Americans. Even local cons are unaffordable for many—remember that in addition to the US's millions of unemployed folks, the working poor, who earn less than the poverty line, number 46.2 million.

I know of three fannish organizations that cover convention costs:

1. TAFF helps popular fans make trans-Atlantic visits.

2. DUFF is the equivalent for trans-Pacific visits.

3. Con or Bust takes a race-based approach to aid.

But if there's financially-based aid in fandom, I haven't found it. TAFF and DUFF focus on established fans, and at Con or Bust, poor fans of color appear to compete with richer ones—one of Con or Bust's first beneficiaries was an Indian who described herself as upper-class—and poor fans of no color are ineligible, even though Martin Luther King's 1967 observation is still true: there are twice as many poor whites as poor blacks in the USA.

Is there a group that I don't know about? Or in this profit-focused nation, is the idea of helping poor people go to conventions as silly as helping poor people go to Disneyland?

identitarian rhetoric, a case study: Stevie, Tibet, and slavery

At Free Speech, Blacklisting, and Tactics, J Thomas said:
Gandhi’s tools did not work for Tibetans who did not want the Chinese Empire to take their food from them. Nothing worked, and half of them died.
Being a longtime sufferer of SIWOTI, I noted:
J Thomas, this is a digression, but you should do a little more reading about the claims of the Dalai Lama’s faction, especially regarding the numbers of people who died. They’ve generally been discredited. Keep in mind that the Tibetans who fled tended to be the slaveowners; they’ve got a bit of an agenda. 
Highly recommended: http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html And to people who claim Parenti’s an apologist, note that he says scathing things about China.
The conversation soon returned to the main subject. Then Stevie entered.  Here's our interchange:

Stevie:
Arriving somewhat belatedly to the Tibet thing, courtesy of rather a lot of fascinating medical technology attached to various bits of me, I should point out that to scholars in England the notion of ascribing European social structures such as feudalism to wholly different non-european cultures is recognised fairly and squarely for what is is: imperialism. 
It never ceases to amaze me, and depress me, that people like Parenti are so ignorant that they don’t even know they are imperialists…
Me:
Stevie, yes, the same argument can be made that the Union was being imperialist when it freed the slaves in the states of the South. You may think that slavery should be respected in the cultures that practice it. I’m on the side of Tibetans like Wangchuk, who said, “I may not be free under Chinese Communism, but I am better off than when I was a slave.”
Do you also oppose “imperialist” attempts to end sexism, racism, and homophobia?
Incidentally, the imperialists interfering in Tibet were the British, not the Chinese. Tibet has been recognized as part of China for centuries by every major nation in the world.
Stevie:
Will
Nothing that I have ever written here or elsewhere could be construed as a statement that I believe that slavery should be respected in the cultures that practise it; quite the reverse.
I have written here and elsewhere that my father was a slave on the Death Railway, that he survived when vast numbers did not, and that he carried the scars both mental and physical for the rest of his life.
The fact that you resort to such an offensive straw man argument suggests that you are simply incapable of mustering anything better…
Me:
Stevie, it indicates that I am appalled by your attempt to defend slavery as it was practiced by the Tibetans up until 1959. Nothing more, and nothing less. I hadn’t thought there was anything to argue about in opposing slavery in the 21st century. Then I met apologists for the Dalai Lama. Slavery is an abomination in its Eastern and Western forms, and while I have no love for any non-democratic country, whether it calls itself communist or capitalist, it takes a cold-hearted person not to admit that freeing Tibet’s slaves was a good thing.
At that point, SKZB entered:
Stevie: Will is drawing conclusions from your positions; the conclusions may or may not be justified.
Will: Stevie does not consider herself as defending slavery, and you ought not to say she is before proving your case.
Both of you: This conversation needs to take place somewhere else.
Me:
“This conversation needs to take place somewhere else.”
Actually, it does not, but if Stevie wants to, it can happen on any of my Tibet posts at my blog. Though if she really thinks criticizing Tibet’s serf system is “imperialism”, I doubt there’s any point to it.
Stevie:
Skzb
You are right to conclude that this particular child of a slave is revolted by the way in which the people who suffered the brutal reality of torture, starvation and forced labour are being used as fodder for mere rhetorical device.
Thank you for your kindness. I’m folding.
Now, I'm sorry I wasn't kinder to Stevie, who was dealing with medical issues. I have nothing against her.
But her approach to rhetoric in general and metaphor in particular is fascinating. Social Justice Warriors often object to metaphors—see Sparkymonster on Amanda Palmer's reference to the Ku Klux Klan and K. Tempest Bradford on Elizabeth Bear using "death march". Yet they love violent metaphors like "Die cis scum", "Die in a fire", "stab somone" and, a favorite of Tempest's, "cut a bitch".

Stevie claims characterizing Tibetans before 1959 as slaves or serfs is imperialist. But the alternative is to use the Tibetan categories of mi-bo, mi-ser, or nangzen. Each is different, but then, slavery in New England in the 1600s and slavery in Louisiana in the 1800s were different, too. We expect English words to carry different meanings depending on context. Quibbling about "slave" or "serf" when describing Tibet's hereditary hierarchy is to argue that English words should never be used to describe anything from another language. When I'm eating noodles, must I say "tagliatelle" if the meal is Italian and "mì" if it's Vietnamese? Slavery was subtly different in every country—must we use the local word in every case, or can we simply say "slave" when we're talking about a class of people born into servitude who could be bought and sold?
Stevie calls her father a slave and herself the daughter of a slave. Referring to prisoners of war as slaves because they're forced to work is a valid metaphor for me, but I'm surprised it is for her. After all, POWs expect to be freed if they survive the war, and they don't expect their children to be born into slavery as happened in the US and Tibet.
And Stevie's use of "imperialist" is fascinating. Parenti's a communist who criticizes both China and the Dalai Lama's faction—is calling for democratic socialism "imperialism"?
The answer is that in the rhetoric of the social justice warrior, "imperialism" only means referring to something in an improper way. The modern warrior is as obsessed with proper terms for things as the 19th century genteel sorts who spoke of "limbs" instead of "legs". To warriors who fetishize the Dalai Lama in ways they would call Orientalizing if done by their opponents, it matters that the approved words are used to describe someone like Wangchuk; the life he was forced to live is irrelevant.

Possibly of interest: Tibet, the Dalai Lama, feudalism, slavery, and the Great Game.

Monday, May 13, 2013

another difference between SJWs and people who work for justice

Complaint Free World Bracelets, Benefits of Optimism, Key to Happiness – AARP: "As an example, he cites one of his heroes: “Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t stand before thousands in Washington, D.C., and shout, ‘Isn’t it awful how we’re being treated?’ No. He shared his dream of a day when all children of all races would play and live together in peace and harmony,” Bowen writes.

the problem with "problematic", and an apology

I was reading someone's post recently, and when I got to the word "problematic", I clicked away without finishing the sentence.

"Problematic" usually means "I can't identify the problem, but I suspect there is one, and if I'm right, someone will rant at me unless I stick in a pre-emptive 'problematic'." It's the first word I would put on a list of empty words loved by people who want to sound smarter than they are. If you know the problem, say so. If you don't, be brave enough to say you don't. Don't shilly-shally with space-fillers like "problematic".

I've used "problematic" in the past. I am truly sorry. It will not happen again.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

economic elitism at Wiscon may be related to economic elitism at UW-Madison

UW-Madison faculty call for student body to be more socioeconomically representatve | Inside Higher Ed: "UW-Madison, like most selective public universities, sees fewer applicants and fewer enrolled students from certain demographics, particularly low-income students, urban students and rural students, relative to their share of high school graduates in Wisconsin. Suburban students tend to make up a larger share of university applicants and students than their high school graduation numbers would suggest. Median family income of students enrolled at Madison is about 20 percent higher than the state’s median, the committee report states."

See also the commentary at Wisconsin Ideals.

the wisdom of Terre Roche

The Hitless Songwriter - NYTimes.com: "I’ve given up on the idea of writing a commercial song. And when I did that, I entered into a deeper, more fulfilling relationship with songwriting, unencumbered by the demands of the marketplace."

Some people will think this sounds like sour grapes. But it's only a hard truth that's good to learn.

Friday, May 10, 2013

a comment to Sady Doyle about rape jokes

I left this comment at Not So Funny: Sam Morril’s Rape Jokes and Female Comedy Fans:
My guess is he didn’t respond because you opened with claims of statistics that are astonishingly suspect. As Christine Hoff Sommers wrote, regarding the CDC claims, “…where did the CDC find 13.7 million victims of sexual crimes that the professional criminologists had overlooked? It found them by defining sexual violence in impossibly elastic ways and then letting the surveyors, rather than subjects, determine what counted as an assault.” 
Do you think rape jokes cause rape? If so, superhero jokes should make me fly. And to make this more specific, “Kill all men” jokes should increase homicide. But they don’t. Black humor comes from the recognition of cultural taboos–there’s no evidence that black humor weakens those taboos. Do dead baby jokes cause abortions?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Americans should stop squeezing ourselves into the old racial census boxes

Americans should stop squeezing ourselves into the old racial census boxes - Chicago Tribune: "income gaps have been growing since 1960 between Americans of all races who have schooling beyond a high school diploma and those who don't. Yet, our focus on racial differences too often gets in the way of what we should be learning about class barriers."

Longest-lasting marriages: white men and black women?

Interracial marriage in the United States - Wikipedia: "White wife/Black husband marriages show twice the divorce rate of White wife/White husband couples by the 10th year of marriage, whereas Black wife/White husband marriages are 44% less likely to end in divorce than White wife/White husband couples over the same period."

That's based on ’’But Will It Last?’’: Marital Instability Among Interracial and Same-Race Couples (PDF).

h/t Cowboy Don, in comments at interracial romance in comic books.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Understanding SJWS and cult members

6 Bullshit Facts About Psychology That Everyone Believes | Cracked.com: #4. "Cult Members are Stupid, Gullible Sheep!" accurately points out that cultists are intelligent. They're just, like the rest of us, not rational.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Lies, Damn Lies, and Rape Statistics

Lies, Damn Lies, and Rape Statistics: "Thanks to the Clery Act, universities in America make public all reported campus crimes. This allows anyone to look at every instance of reported crimes on the campus and, in particular, all incidents of sexual violence. I decided to take a look at the reported violent sexual crimes for Brown, and fortunately for women but perhaps disappointing for feminists, the result came nowhere near Koss’s figures. For the past three years, the average number of reported forcible sex offenses (which range from groping of private parts to penetration) was 8.66. The number varied from as low as seven to as high as 10. With an estimated 3,141 female undergraduates, 0.28 percent are victims of reported sexual violence each year. This is inconsistent with the one in four statistic, but on par with the national average."

Woman fined for 'racist' English insult

Woman fined for 'racist' English insult - Telegraph: "Elen Humphreys, 25, of Garndolbenmaen, near Porthmadog, pleaded guilty to racially aggravated harassment, after she branded Angela Payne, who had an affair with her father, an “English cow.” "

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

conspiracy theories can be fundamental attribution error: more on the rationalizing animal

Moon Landing Faked!!!—Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories: Scientific American: "The great philosopher Karl Popper argued that the fallacy of conspiracy theories lies in their tendency to describe every event as 'intentional' and 'planned' thereby seriously underestimating the random nature and unintended consequences of many political and social actions. In fact, Popper was describing a cognitive bias that psychologists now commonly refer to as the “fundamental attribution error”: the tendency to overestimate the actions of others as being intentional rather than the product of (random) situational circumstances."