Doctor Science Knows

Friday, October 26, 2007

Truth and Certainty

There's a long, fascinating discussion going on at Slacktivist's that I don't have time to sum up right now, but I wanted to put up a comment at Gay-hatin' Gospel Theory No. 4: The Exegetical Panic Defense:

I don't know if Exegetical Panic explains why homosexuality gets so much *more* panic than most of the many other things that contradict a simplistic reading of the Bible. But I do think that the risk for a fundamentalist of Exegetical Panic is going up all the time, so it becomes a constant source of stress.

A lot of this is due IMO to the greatest philosophical achievement of 20th-century science: realizing that the quest for capital-T Truth means you have to give up capital-C Certainty. It took a while, but I'd say most scientists are now content with the idea that there are things that are in principle uncertain, that one way to learn is to get proved wrong, and that your ideas about the world are going to change. That's why scientists can face situations like oops, we seem to have misplaced 80% of the universe -- AGAIN without getting terribly bent out of shape about it -- not that it wouldn't be nice to have some answers we all agree about, but it's not a horrible ontological trauma.

But I think I think living in a world like this *is* an trauma for a lot of people. Perhaps 20 years ago I remember reading an article in Biblical Archaeology Review, in which the author was expressing irritation at historical-critical analysis of the Bible, because "what kind of real knowledge changes every generation?" Well, that would be scientific knowledge, actually, where even if new knowledge doesn't sweep the old away, it changes it so it becomes gradually unrecognizable.

For a lot of people the result will be Future Shock. I think this is what a lot of the "culture wars" are about: people who've been trained not to expect the shock of the new, being hit with it wave by wave.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Are high-income voters Democrats or Republicans?

Paul Krugman now has a blog, in which he makes brief but frequent posts. Many, of course, are related to his new book, The Conscience of a Liberal.

Recently he's made several posts about income and voting, and how the media's Conventional Wisdom is that "rich people vote democratic". He's also talked about What's the Matter With Kansas, the thesis of which is that low-income voters (e.g. Kansas) have been voting Republican, against their economic best interests, for the sake of social issues. Krugman presents evidence from Larry Bartels that lower-class voters continue to vote Democratic, the real shift is that upper-class voters are more consistently Republican. The other big shift is that white males in the South have moved to the Republicans, in backlash against the Civil Rights Act.

In comments, I've noted that the CW is not without foundation: high-income *states* definitely do vote Democratic in presidential elections. This seems to directly contradict the data Krugman presents showing that high-income *voters* vote Republican.

Is it something to do with income inequality? Or maybe regional differences in turnout?

You can tell I'm not an economist because thinking about this makes my brain hurt. Any economists/poli sci peeps out there who can lead me through the maze?

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Friday, October 19, 2007

The Japanese-Americans in my family during WWII

A post at Orcinus reminded me of some family history I want to make notes about.

My mother recently told me that her Japanese-American brother-in-law and his brother were living in the LA area in 1942 (they were in their late teens-early 20s; the rest of the family was still in Hawaii). In other words, they were taken up in the effort to relocate Japanese-Americans from the West Coast. Japanese-Americans in Hawaii were *not* relocated or interned, despite Hawaii's strategic position, because they were just too much of the population. (I believe my uncle's father was killed in the tsunami of 1946.)

Apparently my uncle & his brother were offered the choice between internment and basically internal exile to a city away from the West Coast. They moved to Chicago, which is where my uncle met my aunt. I'm sure the fact that they were both able-bodied young men with no dependents (and no real estate to worry about) made it much easier for them to move to Chicago instead of going to a camp.

The official American euphemism for "internal exile" was "relocation". Internal exile in the Soviet Union during this period meant that the exiled couldn't go into large cities, while the Japanese-American internal exiles could *only* go to certain large cities -- or, of course, to camps.

I don't know if my uncle & his brother ever considered enlisting, or if they were draftable -- I'll have to ask my mother for more details.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dear Senator Christopher Dodd:

The President of the United States must take an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

So far, you appear to be the candidate most likely to keep that oath.

You are currently the front-runner for me. Keep it up.



Dear friends:

If you appreciate what Senator Dodd has done, let him know.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Evolutionary Psych & so on Book club?

I'm partway through reading The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory, and I want as many of you as possible read it so we can discuss it in a book group of some time. This is indeed the droid I've been looking for: not "the evolution of woman", but how to look at the evolution of both human sexes in a single, evolving organism, and how they have developed into human genders. Ev-psycho free so far, just science.

The writers' expertise is in paleoarchaeology & anthropology, especially of perishable technology: wood, string, textiles. So far their tale is a little week in primatology & biology; I can't speak to their physical anthropology. I'd love to be able to talk about it when I'm done, though, so I'm giving you-all a heads up that Talk might happen in a couple weeks.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Michael Medved on Slavery

David Neiwert of Orcinus interviewed Michael Medved, who recently got Keith Olberman's "Worst Person in the World" Award for his column on slavery in America. One of the things Medved said in the column was:
Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of these voyages involves the fact that no slave traders wanted to see this level of deadly suffering: they benefited only from delivering (and selling) live slaves, not from tossing corpses into the ocean.

When Neiwert brought this up In the interview, Medved replied:
I’ll want to reword that. What I’m saying is that it is horrifying that they had the level of death that they did in the Middle Passage given the fact that they had every interest in keeping people alive. In other words, when you talk about estimates, and I acknowledge, in my piece, that up to one third of slaves in the Middle Passage perished – when you’re dealing with that kind of death when it is clearly not deliberate, then it is even more horrifying than it would have been if it had been deliberate. Because what it suggests is that the conditions were so abysmal and that the risks of oceangoing transport were so huge at that time, that even with every motivation in the world to keep people alive they were unable to do it.

In the comments at the Orcinus, I wrote:
Even if by "every motivation in the world" he means "a very narrow economic motivation", this statement is the most horrific nonsense.

The slave-shippers' ideal was to have all the slaves be about half alive during the middle passage, because strong, healthy people are very dangerous. Their worst nightmare was not that all the slaves would die, but that they'd successfully revolt in mid-ocean.

So the conditions on the slave ships were intended to be almost, but not quite, fatal for the average slave -- which inevitably means that they would kill off a certain proportion. But those were acceptable losses.

Michael Medved is in fact a holocaust (note lower case) denier.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Principles of Proctology

Ideas and phrases I've been using (at least in my head) for a while, now committed to electrons in Pandagon comments:

1. The Principle of Proctouniversality: there’s a little asshole in all of us.

2. The Principle of Non-Autoproctology, or, No Man His Own Proctologist: you’re not the best person to tell how much of an asshole you are.

2. The Law of Procto-Nonconservation: there’s no limit to how much of an asshole a person can be, nor is there a limit to the number of assholes.

All started, I believe, by a New Yorker cartoon, "The Proctologist's Nightmare". Couple in bed, he's sitting up and clutching the covers, terrified; she's saying soothingly, "don't worry dear, there'll always be assholes."

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Right to Mock

In comments at a Pandagon post on Zombie Feminism, someone wrote:
It’s not as though mocking Islam is any less important than mocking Christianity, which is an extensively developed art form.
and I said:

It is for *us*. Mockery *must* begin at home, otherwise it’s bigotry.

You get to mock your own culture. You *must* mock — or at least acknowledge the bad, silly, arbitrary, or stupid aspects — your own culture. Once you’ve got a track record for mocking your own culture, you *might* — maybe — get a pass to mock someone else’s culture. But the chances are you won’t be very good at it, because only those really inside the culture know the most mockable bits.

Salman Rushdie gets to mock Islam. Madonna gets to mock Christianity. Rushdie may be cross-cultural enough to get a Christianity-mocking license, but Madonna doesn’t get to mock Islam because it’s not part of her psyche.

Here’s another way to put it: humor that is directed at the Other is an ingroup/outgroup marker, it gets us in the habit of being divisive and cruel. Humor that is directed at the *self*, at the ingroup, can be a road to self-understanding, to becoming *less* cruel.

Another other way to put it: Islamic culture helped shape Rushdie, and that means a small part of it belongs to him. Catholicism helped shape Madonna, and so part of it belongs to her. The culture in your head is *yours*, and you get to do whatever you want with it — including mock it.

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