D*g thinks that the Moon is her ball

Normally I’d put this video up to make fun of d*gs, but I’m feeling charitable here in Ivy Land, so let’s just say this is a fun video in which a canid mistakes the moon for her ball—a ball that she thinks has been thrown upwards and has stuck in the sky:

Now hoop earrings have become cultural appropriation

Among the venues becoming Authoritarian Leftist (actually, it’s been largely like that for a while) is Vice News, which now cements its ideology with an article called “Hoop earrings are my culture, not your trend.” It’s written by “Anonymous author,” which shows both the cowardice of taking this risible stand, but also the willingness of a supposedly respectable news site to refuse to divulge who writes their pieces.  What kind of journalism is that? This is not a leak from an anonymous source like Deep Throat. (As we’ll see below, the author has been identified.)

Anonymous, however, makes this argument. She could have stopped after the first sentence.

In the grand scheme of things, hoop earrings may seem insignificant. But seeing white women wearing them is unnerving. White girls did not start the “trend” of over-sized hoop earrings and yet they’re the ones being praised for donning the “edgy” style. Meanwhile, women of colour who wear them face racial stereotypes or the assumption that they’re participating in a disposable trend. Last month,Vogue declared up-dos and gold hoops to be the ultimate summer pairing. They credited a bunch of mainly white models with starting the trend and even proclaimed that “bigger is better.” Never has that been the case when it comes to women of colour wearing over-sized gold hoops. A style that links so heavily with identity is not taken seriously until it is seen on a white woman.

I’m not sure what it means to “be taken seriously until it is seen on a white women”. Another interpretation would be “the fashion industry just noticed that hoop earrings look cool, and have declared it a ‘thing‘.” That has nothing to do with the marginalization of women of color, only that there has to be a time when some appealing aspect of culture gets noticed and touted if it’s to spread to other cultures. After all, there was a time, long ago, when Chinese restaurants didn’t really exist as places for Americans to eat. Did their new popularity reflect that fact that their growth meant that they were finally taken seriously by white people? That’s one way of looking at it, I suppose, but it has nothing to do with the denigration of Asians. It has to do with finally noticing that Chinese food happens to be good! (I am a creditable Szechuan cook; does that make me extra guilty?)

The anonymous author goes on:

Earlier this year in the US, three latina students painted a mural urging their white classmates to take off their hoops. White confusion ran rampant, prompting one of the creators to explain that “This is about how women of colour can’t wear their own style and culture because they are looked down upon when they do so… But on the other hand, white females are allowed to appropriate the fashion when it is beneficial to them or makes them look edgy.”

I do try to keep my ear to the ground, but I’m unaware of black women or Latinas have been denigrated a lot for wearing hoop earrings. In fact, I’ve never heard of a single instance. Was that some kind of bigotry that I missed?

Actually, as The Claremont Independent reports, what was  painted was not really a “mural” but graffiti created by three Latina students at Pitzer College in California. Here it is:

One of the “artists,” a student at Pitzker College, notes that these earrings, and other decorations, are “symbols of resistance” that cannot be appropriated:

“[T]he art was created by myself and a few other WOC [women of color] after being tired and annoyed with the reoccuring [sic] theme of white women appropriating styles … that belong to the black and brown folks who created the culture. The culture actually comes from a historical background of oppression and exclusion. The black and brown bodies who typically wear hooped earrings, (and other accessories like winged eyeliner, gold name plate necklaces, etc) are typically viewed as ghetto, and are not taken seriously by others in their daily lives. Because of this, I see our winged eyeliner, lined lips, and big hoop earrings serving as symbols [and] as an everyday act of resistance, especially here at the Claremont Colleges. Meanwhile we wonder, why should white girls be able to take part in this culture (wearing hoop earrings just being one case of it) and be seen as cute/aesthetic/ethnic. White people have actually exploited the culture and made it into fashion.”

This issue was also taken up by the Independent (is that place going downhill, too?) in the following article (click on screenshot to go there), which identifies the Vice writer as Ruby Pivet, a Latina writer. How did they find out?

The Independent basically regurgitates the Vice piece, so you don’t need to read it. But when did reporting at a place like the Independent consist on pointing at and regurgitating an article from another news source?

At any rate, I seriously doubt that hoop earrings were originally worn as “symbols of resistance”: they are only declared so post facto to prevent others from wearing them.

And winged eyeliner? Amy Winehouse, clearly a cultural appropriator par excellence.

Gold nameplate necklaces? Fault Iggy Azalea, wearing her Twitter handle!

There are too many white women with lined lips to show, but, as the ultimate cultural appropriator of hoop earrings—who in fact has made them part of her image—I submit this for your disapproval:

Anita, take off your hoops!

Now here we have a real dilemma: which woman of color dares to call out Anita Sarkeeian for culturally appropriating their symbol-of-resistance jewelry? Or will Sarkeesian simply admit her ideological misstep and stop wearing her hoops?

Want more cognitive dissonance? Here’s feminist activist Emma Watson wearing the Earrings of Shame.

Emma, take off your hoops!

But—as with dreadlocks—hoop earrings, while they may have been adopted by Latinas, have also been adopted over the course of history by many groups. WUSA-9, a CBS station and site, says this:

So what is the origin of the hoop earring?

There is no pinpointing who was the first to rock [JAC: please excuse the preceding infelicity] a pair of hoop earrings, but the popular jewelry piece can be traced back to Ashurnasirpal II, King of Assyria (884-859 BCE), according to the Cultural Encyclopedia of the Body.

There is a depiction of the king wearing thick hoop earrings in a palace in the ancient city of Nimrud, which is modern day Iraq.

Hoop earrings were evident in the major cultures of the ancient world including with the Greeks and Romans.

Pirates and sailors also often wore gold hoop earrings. Seaman often wore the earrings as a mark of their travels, according to LiveScience.

Pirates also used hoop earrings for superstitious reasons since it was believed the metals in an earring contained magic healing powers. Others believed the earrings would keep them from drowning or sea sickness.

When a seaman died, the earring would pay for their funerals or to pay for their bodies to go back home. Pirates would even dangle wax from their earring to use as ear plugs for when firing cannons.

Even Wikipedia backs that up:

Ear piercing is one of the oldest known forms of body modification, with artistic and written references from cultures around the world dating back to early history. Gold, Silver and Bronze hoop earrings were prevalent in the Minoan Civilization (2000–1600 BCE) and examples can be seen on frescoes on the Aegean island of Santorini, Greece.

Here’s an example from a fresco on the Greek island of Santorini (Wikipedia caption)

A Fresco depicting an elegantly dressed woman with hoop earrings from Akrotiri, Thera (Cyclades) Greece, ca. 1650-1625 BCE.[2]

Did Latinas themselves culturally appropriate hoop earrings from ancient Greeks and Minoans? Who cares? As you know, I object to cultural appropriation only in the rare instances where it actually damages a group by degrading their image or reducing their livelihood without recompense. That’s not the case for hoop earrings, which are simply one more aspect of dress that has spread among groups because people like it. Cultural appropriation, a sign of flattery and admiration, has been turned into a grievous sin among Leftists.

But here nobody has been harmed. People have been offended, but that’s ginned-up offense, and I don’t take it seriously.

New Mexico, with input from science and public, doesn’t water down its science standards

UPDATE: I have an email from Glenn Branch, who works for the National Center for Science Education, correcting the news report (and therefore the post below). I quote with his permission, and with thanks:

The US News and World Report version of the AP story on New Mexico’s science standards leaves out a lot of details, and it’s not accurate to say that “the state department of education backed down” tout court et sans phrase.

The worst of the changes that undermined the scientific accuracy of the standards’ treatment of evolution, the age of the earth, and climate change have been removed, but even as amended the proposed standards are still distinctly weaker than the Next Generation Science Standards on evolution and climate change. The Public Education Department’s announcement failed to address the absence of a middle school standard about embryological evidence for evolution or the omission of “due to human activity” from a high school standard about Earth’s systems, for example. It remains to be seen whether the Public Education Department will revise the proposed standards further.

According to the Santa Fe Reporter (October 18, 2017), “Despite the statement issued late Tuesday night, [Secretary-Designate of Education Christopher] Ruszkowski has not released a formal version of what his department spokeswoman says is a new proposal on the way.”


In these dire times when American government is going down the tubes, we sometimes see a glimmer of rationality. We have one today from New Mexico.

As I reported about a month ago, New Mexico was set to water down its science curriculum about the usual issues: evolution, global warming, and even the age of the Earth. As I wrote then:

Mother Jones has an article by Andy Kroll about how the state of New Mexico has watered down a widespread and excellent secondary school science curriculum (grades kindergarden through 12): the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) developed in conjunction with National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  The state’s public education department released a document (here) that proposes changes to its existing standards that have changed some of the NGSS guidelines.

Here are two of those proposed changes.

Danger! Mushbrains and believers at work! But in the end, reason prevailed. According to several sources, including US News and World Report, after a public meeting in which the public vociferously opposed these changes, and after scientists (and entire departments in state universities) wrote in, the state department of education backed down.

New Mexico‘s proposed school science standards are being revised after a public outcry against the deletion or omission of references to global warming, evolution and the age of the Earth.

Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski announced Tuesday several changes to the final version of the state standards that incorporate suggestions from the public.

The Public Education Department says final standards will restore references to the 4.6 billion-year age of the Earth, the rise in global temperatures over the past century and the process of evolution due to genetic variation. A complete version of the final standards was not released.

Public comments at a packed public hearing Monday were overwhelmingly critical of state revisions to a set of standards developed by a consortium of states and the National Academy of Sciences.

There was also a letter (made into an ad) signed by 61 scientists, most of them physicists and many from Los Alamos, which you can see here.  Curiously, few biologists signed, though they may have weighed in through group letters from universities (I know of at least one).

The changes shown above, and others, were so blatantly creationist and anti-science that it would have been a huge embarrassment to New Mexico, and to its rational inhabitants, to have this stuff publicized. In the end reason triumphed, but it may have occurred only to avoid public shaming. But I’ll take what I can get.

h/t: Avis, Woody


Sell your poop for $40 a shot and save lives!

You can change “shot” to another word in the title, but this is a family friendly website.

On the subway to Cambridge yesterday, I saw this ad inside the car:

Now what do you suppose this is all about? Although it’s properly multicultural, how could you earn money to donate your stool, and save lives at the same time?

When I photographed the sign with my iPhone, a professor-type (this was at Harvard Square) told me he found it amusing as well, and suspected that “givepoop.org” was trying to isolate gut bacteria from different people as a way to cure those with intestinal problems.

He was right. The site, givepoop.org, leads to a Stool Donation Project run by Boston University. If you’re between 18 and 50 (I don’t qualify), take some tests, and agree to bring in stool samples regularly, you can get $40 a pop (or should I say “poop”) for your efforts.

It turns out that the microbiota in your stool might help cure those having colon inflammation due to the bacterium Clostridium difficile, which can be serious and even fatal. But transplants of bacteria from other people’s stools, as described below by the Mayo Clinic, seem efficacious:

Fecal microbiota transplant (FMT). Also known as a stool transplant, FMT is emerging as an alternative strategy for treating recurrent C. difficile infections. Though not yet approved by the FDA, clinical studies of FMT are currently underway.

FMT restores healthy intestinal bacteria by placing another person’s (donor’s) stool in your colon, using a colonoscope or nasogastric tube. Donors are screened for medical conditions, their blood is tested for infections, and stools are carefully screened for parasites, viruses and other infectious bacteria before being used for FMT.

Research has shown FMT has a success rate higher than 90 percent for treating C. difficile infections.

Now that is a useful treatment!

This study will undoubtedly involve finding out which combination of bacteria, or which strains, can be used as therapy to replace the flora in infected people.

Doing this several days a week for 60 days, at $40 a shot (pun can be made again), can earn you substantial money, and of course is less intrusive than blood donation. Here’s a video from the poop.com site explaining how fecal transplants work. While the idea of absorbing someone else’s feces might be distasteful, if it could save your life it’s well worth it.


Thursday: Hili dialogue

Good morning from lovely Cambridge, Massachusetts, where yesterday was a beautiful golden fall day, and it promises to be the same today. The Cubs beat the Dodgers 3-2 last night, so they’re still in contention to win the National League Championship (they’ll need three victories in a row, however). As I’m in Cambridge to have fun, and will be out a lot, posting will be light, so bear with me.

Here’s yesterday’s vote on whether I’d get groped leaving Midway Airport on my flight to Boston. Probably based on my previous reports, most readers guessed I’d get groped.

But, mirabile dictu, I wasn’t!

It’s National Seafood Bisque Day in America (meh), and Mother Teresa Day in Albania, which makes no sense as she was neither born nor died on this day. [Update: see below.]

On this day in 1386, Heidelberg University held its first lecture, making it German’s oldest university. It’s not the oldest university in the world, though; do you know which one is? (Answer here.) On this day in 1469, Ferdinand II of Aragon married Isabella I of Castile, uniting the two countries into—Spain. (We all know them from the story of C*l*mb*s’s voyage.) In 1781, representatives of Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington and Count Rochambeau, marking the end of battle in the American Revolution (Yanks won!). On this day in 1812, Napoleon began his famous (and deadly) retreat from Moscow. On this day in 1900, Max Planck discovered black-body radiation: this marked the beginning of quantum mechanics. On October 19, 1950, Tibet was invaded by the Chinese. October 19, 1987 was “Black Monday,” when the stock market fell 508 points, or 22%. I lost a substantial part of my retirement savings that day, but nevertheless I persisted, continuing to put money into the market in a long-term strategy, and of course I more than recouped my losses. Oh, and on this day in 2003, Mother Teresa was beatified by John Paul II, accounting for why it’s “Mother Teresa Day.”

Notables born on this day include my ex-colleague Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910), a Nobel-winning physicist who lived only a few doors away from me. Yet I saw him only once before he died in 1995. He’s honored today by a Google Doodle with a gif (below); Time Magazine explains it:

Google’s animated Doodle, published on what would have been Chandrasekhar’s 107th birthday, is a simple illustration of one of his most important contributions to how we understand the universe — the eponymous Chandrasekhar Limit.

As the animation suggests, the key number is 1.4 times the mass of the Sun. Any star lighter than that will eventually collapse and become a denser body known as white dwarf. When a white dwarf’s mass exceeds 1.4 times that of the Sun, it will continue to collapse and condense, eventually becoming either a supernova explosion or a black hole.

It’s actually 1.44, explaining the number on the weight. It is a cute Doodle:

Also born on October 19 were Dave Guard of the Kingston Trio (1934), Peter Max (1937), Peter Tosh (1944), Deborah Blum (1954), and Cara Santa Maria (1983). Those who died on this day include Jonathan Swift (1745), Ernest Rutherford (1937), Edna St. Vincent Millay (1950), and Son House (1988).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is discomfited.

Hili: We have to focus our attention on facts.
A: That means …?
Hili: It’s a fact that there is something that worries me a bit.
In Polish:
Hili: Musimy koncentrować uwagę na faktach.
Ja: Czyli?
Hili: Faktem jest, że tam jest coś, co mnie trochę niepokoi.
Out in Winnipeg yesterday, Gus had a nap on his Katzenbaum. Isn’t he cute?
Here’s a tw**t from Canadian science presenter Ziya Tong, showing baby orchid mantises (be sure to play the video):

Here’s another tweet from Tong that’s a real picture but, but one that Matthew turned it into a joke when retweeting it (I wonder how many people who saw this got the humor—and the real explanation):

The friends I’m staying with in Cambridge recently returned from Scotland, where they showed me photos of two signs. I contend that the first one is simultaneously ableist, ageist, and sexist:

Update: Reader Elizabeth offers an alternative, non-ableist sign:

Do not let your dogs foul! (Is “foul” a verb in the British Isles?)

Three and a half irritating phrases

Here’s where you can unload your pedantic language gripes. We’ll have no people here saying “this is a trivial issue”. Of course it is, but so what? I have three today, and perhaps I’ve mentioned one of these before:

1.) The duplicated “is”. It goes like this: “The thing is, is that. . . . ”

2.) “Drop” meaning “was released”. For example, “Demi Lovato’s new single dropped yesterday.”

3.) “Gifted” meaning “gave.” Example: “I gifted her a hand-knit sweater for Christmas.”

I won’t even mention “medal” used as a verb in the Olympics. . . .

Of course I importune you to add your own language beefs below.

Is there an atheist “movement”, and is it afflicted with toxic misogyny?

My answer to both questions above would be “no”. Although there are atheist conventions, groups, and websites (this isn’t one: I am a nonbeliever and write about it, but deal with many things other than godlessness), I don’t think of myself as part of an atheist “movement”, and I doubt that many readers do, too. And if there isn’t an atheist movement, then we don’t have to worry that it’s been “destroyed” by misogyny.

But if there is such a movement, has it been wrecked by “haters”: misogynists and harassers who have driven women, humanists, and all reasonable people away from atheism?

Salon has repeatedly dealt with both of these questions, bringing up the same tropes again and again to give an answer of “yes” to both questions. They’re particularly fixated on Sam Harris, but will take a shot at any prominent atheist if they can. This is also happening at some atheist blogs that I don’t need to name.

Now it’s surely true that many nonbelievers are sexists and misogynists. It has to be that way, because there’s no logical link between not believing in gods and seeing women as moral and social equals. A certain proportion of men will be sexists no matter who they are. I also happen to believe that the general increase in secularism and well being, documented in Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature, will eventually displace religion, for we know that a higher societal well being produces less need for religion. In that way there is a connection between atheism and humanism, but it’s one based on historical inertia, not definitions.

Still, I’ve been to a fair number of atheist meetings, and know a lot of nonbelievers, and I don’t see them as raving misogynists, or that the incidence of sexism among them is higher than among the general populace. In fact, I’d say it was lower. That’s just my impression, but mine is at least as good as Alex Nichols, author of the piece under consideration (see below).

But the argument for the Death of Atheism by Sexism doesn’t proceed by statistics: it proceeds by anecdotes. All you have to do is find some nonbelievers who are jerks (and there are plenty), or take quotes out of context (who among us can’t be mischaracterized by that method?), and voilà: the Atheist Movement is riddled with toxic sexism.

That, at least, is the argument of Alex Nichols in his new Baffler piece “New Atheism’s idiot heirs.” The heyday of Good Atheism (supposedly the first decade of this century) has, says Nichols, been replaced by the Bad Guys (they’re all guys, of course): ThunderfOOt, James Damore, Stefan Molyneux (never heard of him—have most atheists?), and, god help us, Ben Shapiro, who isn’t an atheist at all but an orthodox Jew. That doesn’t matter, though, as Ben is guilty by association because atheists are said to use his tactics.  Nichols says this:

Ben Shapiro, formerly of Breitbart and now editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, has made a project of adapting the pedantic rhetorical style of New Atheism to conservatism, an ideology that persists in constant tension with rational thought. His speeches and television appearances are a mainstay of “Feminist DESTROYED by Facts” YouTube, and they often accumulate millions of views. His orthodox Republican political positions are nearly identical to those of the nutjob theocrats New Atheists gleefully tore down during the Bush years—including that homosexuality is a choice, transgenderism is a mental illness, pornography should be illegal, and G-rated TV shows are corrupting our children. Even so, he frequently professes to love “science,” which is all his credulous fans require. Comically, given his religion-derived worldview, Shapiro’s current catchphrase is “facts don’t care about your feelings.”

Since Shapiro is said to use the rhetorical style of New Atheism (I don’t see any commonality of “style” among diverse atheists who write), and Shapiro and his followers are odious, then New Atheism must be odious too. QED. How lame can you get?

Nichols even recycles the tired old “Elevatorgate” anecdote, which is always mischaracterized as male overreaction to a woman’s reasonable complaint about being hit on. But it was far, far more complicated than that, as the protagonist proceeded to engage in public shaming of her critics and mockery of men. Nichols brings up GamerGate, too—something I haven’t closely followed, but its connection with atheism seems tenuous at best.

But never mind. Four or five jerks who identify themselves as atheists (and one conservative who’s an observant Jew but supposedly acts like an atheist) do not a movement make, or make that movement toxic.

A curious thing about Nichols’s argument is that he mocks atheists for touting their reliance on reason and logic, and yet uses reason and logic to try to prove his point:

The heirs to New Atheism may have a new target and a remodeled ethos, but their rhetorical crutches remain the same. They announce at every opportunity that they revere logic, evidence, and science, even if the opposite is plainly true. We saw this play out with James Damore. . .

Whatever you think of Damore or his arguments—and I happen to think that possible biological differences between male and female behaviors and preferences, and their effects career choices, is a subject that isn’t taboo—surely there’s nothing wrong with revering logic, evidence, and science, for that’s the only way to get at the truth.

Finally, Nichols resorts to mockery and name-calling, even using “neckbeards” and fedoras as the signature look of atheists (I thought those were associated more with hipsters than nonbelievers); and implies that atheists, by and large, became Republicans as New Atheism disintegrated:

IN THE HEYDAY OF THE INTERNET MESSAGE BOARD, let’s say in the 1990s, a certain species of idiot materialized. He was male, aggressively pedantic, self-professedly logical, committed to the hard sciences, prone to starting sentences with “actually,” and almost always devoted to the notion that his disbelief in God imbued him with intellectual superiority. This archetype’s golden years were the 2000s, a decade that saw George W. Bush’s politicized creationism and the use of web forums peak in unison. Once that decade ended, the internet tired of his antics and made him central to a series of in-jokes —“neckbeard” described his less-than-stellar grooming habits; and his hat of choice, the fedora, became the butt of innumerable jokes during Obama’s first term. No longer needed or tolerated, this misunderstood paragon of Enlightenment-core values began a journey that brought him to the worst possible destination: the Republican Party.

Yet the data show, as you probably know, that the percentage of Democrats who are atheists is nearly three times higher than Republicans (13% vs 5%), and religiosity is correspondingly lower among Democrats. But there are no data in Nichols’s argument, just vituperative.

Finally, Nichols raises the old trope that atheists should all be humanists, and to the extent that they aren’t, they’re toxic. In fact, he asserts, they’re no more humanist than are Republicans:

The only surprising thing about this marriage of convenience between the most irritating rhetorical style and the dumbest possible ideology is that it took so long to come about. Whatever merits anti-theism may have with regard to social issues, humanism was never the prime mover for New Atheism’s most devout adherents. They were after the burst of dopamine that comes from feeling smarter than other people, from exercising some pathetic simulacrum of masculine power, from seeing someone else feel bad and knowing they were responsible. Strangely enough, this is also the goal of modern right-wing politics. Just as conservatives discovered they could skip straight to the “angry liberal” portion of the argument by electing Donald Trump, the worst New Atheists discovered they didn’t need atheism at all. They could just be as insufferable alone, on Youtube, spitting nonsense into the vacuum. The Greeks, those purported inventors of Western logic, had a name for such a man divorced from the public good. They called him “idiot.”

This is nonsense. Where are the data here? I have none except for that cited above, but I suspect that you’d find a much larger proportion of atheists than believers holding “humanistic” values: equality for women, gays, and ethnic minorities, socialized medicine, a tax code fairer to the poor, and so on. In the absence of data, what we have here is a man doing a hit job on atheism based on anecdotes: he simply doesn’t like New Atheism and trots out the same Salon similes that have been put in the ring for years.

Well, I could write exactly the same article but going after believers rather than atheists, simply by singling out the machinations of religious people. (And I have the advantage here because in many religions sexism is an explicit part of the dogma. That’s not isn’t true of atheism, which has no dogma beyond “no evidence for gods”).

I won’t go on, but I will say that before this fellow Nichols calls us “idiots”, he should check the beam in his own eye.

Dawkins and Krauss on free will

One thing that’s distressed me a bit is the unwillingness of my Big Name Atheist Friends to speak frankly about free will. When asked, as Richard Dawkins was below, what they think of it, they often mumble or deflect the question. Richard’s answer here is the same one he gave when I asked him the identical question about two months ago in Washington, D. C.  He’s right in quoting Hitchens’s witticism that “I have no choice” to make the point that we feel as if we have free will, but while that may describe our illusions, a flat “no” would be more to the point. And I’m dubious about Richard’s assertion that he “doesn’t have a very well thought-out view about it”, even though he finally admits that yes, our behaviors are determined.  (I wish he’d talked a bit about why we feel we have agency when we really don’t, again something he admits. It’s a fascinating evolutionary question.)

In the end Richard recommends reading Dan Dennett, who of course thinks that we do have free will: but a kind that’s different from what we think it is (many compatibilists are fuzzy, and certainly contradict each other, about “the kind of free will we do have”).

Lawrence Krauss adds that because we act as if we have free will—and here both men are construing “free will” as “libertarian I-could-have-chosen-otherwise free will”—then it doesn’t make any difference whether we do or not. (He also seems to confuse predictability of behavior with determinism of behavior, a common conflation.) He concludes that it’s a question for philosophers rather than scientists.

But it isn’t, and it really does make a difference whether we only think we can choose freely or whether we really do choose freely. It’s an enormously important issue, for if all our behaviors are determined, then we can’t hold people like Jeffrey Dahmer or Harvey Weinstein responsible for having “made the wrong choice”, and vilifying them for not having chosen otherwise. The fact is that these predators—and ourselves—are, as Richard admits, determined by antecedent causes that we don’t fully understand. (I hasten to add that there are good determinist reasons to punish people like Dahmer and Weinstein, and I’ve discussed those at length.)

If you don’t believe in libertarian free will, then the concept of moral responsibility becomes problematic, though the problem of responsibility itself is not problematic. What changes is how we reward and, especially, punish people. Think about it: if people really couldn’t have chosen otherwise, and had to behave as they did, then doesn’t that have any implications for how we deal with bad behavior? After all, the law already takes this into account, somewhat exculpating people if they’re deemed mentally incapacitated or unable to tell the difference between right and wrong.  But all of us are like that, and even if we do know the difference between “right” and “wrong”, we can still act in only one way at a given moment, so that knowledge is irrelevant when determining punishment.

I’ve already discussed what reforms should be made to the penal system under determinism (see here, for instance), and that is not just “something to be discussed by philosophers”. It involves real effects on the lives of men and women, and on society at large. And it leads to more humane treatment of prisoners, treatment that can be based on science (e.g., “What forms of ‘punishment’ are best for deterring others, keeping people away from others until they’re reformed, and how can we best reform them?”)

Further, it can make a difference in your own behavior. In my case, I no longer beat myself up over decisions in my past that, I once felt, I could have made differently.  I couldn’t. Such recriminations are not only mentally sapping, but scientifically untenable.

I don’t know why people like Richard and Lawrence seem loath to discuss the moral and penal implications of determinism, but rather fob people off on philosophers like Dan. As I’ve said repeatedly, working out and putting into effect the implications of determinism—which happens to be true—is far, far more important than trying to find a form of free will that simultaneously admits of determinism (that part is usually buried) but still reassures people that they have some form of free will. That endeavor is fine as far as it goes, but in the end it’s a purely semantic and academic exercise, and beyond the interests of the public. (Be aware that surveys show most people construe free will as being “I-could-have-done otherwise” form.)

Fixing the horrible prison systems around the world in which people are tortured or mistreated because it’s thought they made the wrong choice is a far more important problem than confecting semantic compatibilism. Why don’t atheists deal with something that is, in the end, a scientific question, and one that’s palpably true (read Sean Carroll if you doubt its scientific truth)? And of course philosophers can play an important role in that discussion. It’s just that most of them don’t.

It could be, as Dan has said, that it’s dangerous for society to embrace pure determinism without being given a semantic alternative to the term “free will”. But I don’t believe that, for determinists like me haven’t wrecked our world, and won’t. Moreover, such a statement is a condescending “little people” argument like the one used for God: “we can’t tell people that there is no God without giving them a substitute God (a ‘ground of being’?), for society cannot live without religion.” We all know that’s bogus, and I’m sure neither Richard nor Lawrence accepts that. So why do atheists act like theologians when it comes to free will? (It goes without saying that libertarian free will—the free ability to choose Jesus as a saviour, or do good rather than ill—is a bedrock for many religions.)

I challenge my atheist colleagues like Richard and Lawrence to go beyond the statements they make below, and come to grips with what accepting determinism really means for how we treat others. That’s not a philosophical question but a psychological and societal one. To me, getting people to accept determinism and then act on that acceptance is at least as important as getting them to accept that there’s no evidence for gods.

h/t: Julian

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ apologetics

Today’s Jesus and Mo strip, called “why”?, is based on an article I discussed a few days ago, and the author sent a link in his/her email message:

It’s hard to know whether the author of this article from the Independent is being cynically deceptive, or honestly self-deceptive.

But it is significant that Mr Rashid cites chapter and verse numbers from the Koran while avoiding actually quoting what they say. If you look them up, you’ll see why. 4:2, 4:20, 4:35. (Be aware that the author of the Independent piece got some of the verse numbers wrong.)

You can find an easily searchable Qur’an here, and I’ve added the links to the verses for your convenience. The strip, I’m pleased to say, makes the same point I did, but of course any rational person would arrive at that conclusion!

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

It’s Hump Day: Wednesday, October 18, 2017, and by the time you’ll read this I’ll be off to Cambridge, Massachusetts for a some R&R. Sadly, last night the Cubs lost to the Dodgers—in Chicago—and if they lose tonight their season will be over, with no chance of a berth in the World Series. But two Series victories in a row was too much to hope for anyway.

As I’m flying today, I must negotiate the dreaded Transportation Security Agency screening, even though I have TSA “Pre-Check,” which allows me to skip the long lines and get other perks like not removing my liquids and computer from my carryon. But first, a vote:

I will report later on today if I have time. It’s National Chocolate Cupcake Day, as well as World Menopause Day.

On this day in 1851, Herman Melville’s great novel Moby-Dick was first published—in London, and under the title The Whale. On October 18, 1867, the United States formally took possession of Alaska after buying it from Russia for only $7.2 million—a bargain. It’s celebrated in that state as “Alaska Day.” Also on October 18, but in 1898, the U.S. took possession of Puerto Rico from Spain—an island yet to achieve statehood. On this day in 1922, the BBC (with the “C” then standing for “Company”) was founded as a group of radio transmitters that would constitute the national broadcasting service. On this day in 1945, Juan Perón married the actress Eva Duarte. He would later become President of Argentina, and his wife, “Evita,” would be immensely popular until her death in 1952 (aged only 33) from cervical cancer. I must admit I have a soft spot for Evita, who, despite fiercely supporting her husband, really did try to do good for the poor:


On this day in 1954, Texas Instruments produced the first transistor radio. If you’re of a certain age, like me, you’ll have had one, and walked around with it glued to your ear, or listened to it under the covers at night—one of my favorite surreptitious habits as a kid.

Finally, on October 18, 1963, Félicette, a black and white female stray cat from Paris, became the first cat launched into space. She came back alive, but her subsequent fate is unknown. Here she is (can someone read and translate the inscription, as I can’t make it out?):


And a description from Wikipedia:

The French had around fourteen cats in training (in equipment such as high-G centrifuges and compression chambers) in 1963. The animals were being trained by the Centre d’Enseignement et de Recherches de Médecine Aéronautique (CERMA).

On 18 October 1963 at 8:09am, on the French sounding rocket (for research) Véronique AGI 47 (made in Vernon, Eure, Upper Normandy or Haute-Normandie), Félicette, a black and white female cat found on the streets of Paris, was sent into space.  Véronique came from the German World War II Aggregate (rocket family) (A8), and also led to the French Diamant satellite launcher.

The Veronique AGI was developed for the International Geophysical Year (Année géophysique internationale) in 1957 for biological research. Seven, out of the fifteen made, would carry live animals.

It was a non-orbital flight, and lasted fifteen minutes, reaching a height of 156 kilometres. The cat was recovered safely after the capsule parachuted to Earth.

Here’s a movie about Félicette and her fellow astrocats, though I don’t think they were treated very well:

Notables born on this day include Henri Bergson (1859), A. J. Liebling (1904), Anita O’Day and Pierre Trudeau (both 1919), Chuck Berry (1926), Mike “The Coach” Ditka (1939), Laura Nyro (1947), Martina Navratilova (1956), Wynton Marsalis (1961), and Freida Pinto (1984). Those who died on October 18 include Charles Babbage (1871), Alfred Binet (1911), Thomas Edison (1931), Walt Kelly (1973) and Sylvia Kristel (2012).

Today’s Hili dialogue is a bit enigmatic, but Andrzej has supplied this link to explain it.

Hili: Socrates was right.
A: Yes, I’m afraid so.
In Polish:
Hili: Sokrates miał rację.
Ja: Też się tego obawiam.
Finally, a few t**ts shameless cribbed from Heather Hastie:
Look at that budgie balance!

And a fledgling kakapo. It’s a good year in New Zealand for these heavily endangered and flightless parrots: