Month: December 2013
I love how my wife is ruthlessly honest. She may not always choose to tell me how she’s feeling or what she’s thinking, but when she does it’s the most honest thing in the world.
I love the way my wife cares about people, particularly the outgroups. Groups that don’t have the support or resources that others do. And these aren’t always the groups I would have thought of.
I love that my wife can’t not do something about these groups. Obviously she can’t solve world hunger, or childhood obesity single handedly, She’s not stupid. But what she can do, she does.
I love how my wife doesn’t care about people, particularly the utter bastards. Some people deserve to be smacked in the face. As a committed pacifist she would never actually do it, but she’ll gleefully watch as you face the consequences of your bad behavior. And, if you fall too low into one of the outgroups, she’ll help you get back on track. She’s that kind of woman.
I love my wife’s cooking. Most recently she’s been making a pot pie that, if I’m executed tomorrow, I want for my last meal.
I love my wife’s physical appearance. Enough said, full stop.
I love my wife’s sense of humor. She’s witty and sarcastic. All the overwhelming stupidity in the world becomes small and laughable when you’re with her. It’s also hard to take yourself too seriously for any length of time.
I love being there for her when she’s not feeling like taking on the world today, because there are days like that, and she’s always there for me when life gets me down. Sometimes she’s there for me with a swift kick in the rear, because sometimes I need that, other times she’s there with tea and encouragement. And how she knows when to go which direction I’ll never know but she’s usually right.
I love how my wife “gets me”. As a writer I hate that phrase. It’s vague and cliche. Unfortunately I have no other way to say it. She seems to understand how I think and feel about the world in a way that no one else has been able. I’m terrible at using my words to describe feelings, and states of being, but no matter how terrible I am she seems to get it. She “gets me”.
She hates math and science and that’s rough sometimes since that’s what I do. But she’s always there with some support and encouragement when I try to beat a little of it into the minds of my students. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get to trick her into learning a little as well. That’s always fun for me and I love that about her too.
I love how my wife’s problems and afflictions don’t pull her psyche apart. We all have our issues, but she’s always ready confront them.
I love how a good date is spending time in a book store. A great date is a used book store.
I love my wife. She can be fun, frustrating, and fantastic all at the same time. I know I’m still figuring out this husband thing, but it’s the most exciting thought I have is that I have my entire life to work on it. I look forward to spending every moment with her (well, aside from that all important man-time solitude). She’s a wonderful woman and I love her more than I can say.
By far, the most pervasive lie we tell generally falls into the category of mere social convention. “How are you?” / “I’m fine”. Person 1 isn’t genuinely soliciting information on Person 2’s health and Person 2 isn’t genuinely attempting to convey factual information either. Both are attempting to be polite. Provided each person is aware of the mere adherence to social convention, they can lie to each other with impunity and indefinitely. Why would we engage in such a meaningless exercise? Because that’s the rule and it is vigorously enforced. Your ability to excel in our society is predicated on your mastery of the social conventions. Flout too many for too long and you may find yourself ostracized. Is that fair, justified, or even utilitarian? I have no idea and it’s beside the point. These rules are. They exist independently of mine or anyone’s wishes.
Still in the area of lies pertaining to social conventions, equal to saying things is not saying things. “Grandma’s house smells funny”. We quickly hush Timmy if this little gem should tumble from his lips. But why? Why not say so? is it not the truth? As a matter of fact, it is the truth but we wish to convey the fantasy that there is nothing uncomfortable about fulfilling a guilt-ridden familial obligation. By the way, you’re not supposed to accurately call it that either. It’s all about obeying social conventions. And there’s nothing wrong with this. Social conventions form the foundation of human relationships. If you never get past the superficial interaction mandated by social conventions, you’ll never develop the more meaningful connections which is the whole point of going to Grandma’s house in the first place. <Grandma, if you should ever happen to find this post, keep in mind this is just a metaphor. I’m not sure if you can believe anything in a post called “the lies we tell” but I really do like visiting and I’m trying to come out to California as soon as I can>. Either way, by following a carefully scripted protocol for shallow and uninteresting interaction or by avoiding unpleasant truths, we are attempting to convey a version of reality we know to be false. That, in my opinion, is a lie. This isn’t a Nixon-lie, or a Clinton-lie, this is a social convention-lie.
“You suck” vs “your performance so far has failed to meet specific policy objectives”. This is the tactful-lie. The example is inspired from an HR departmental meeting; however, the tactful-lie is more generally broad. It’s any truth designed to be concealed with an abundance of prettier verbiage. The upside to this sort of deception is it tends to work well if its legally mandated. “No no no…” supervisors everywhere are saying. “We need to be specific. ‘You suck’ is too vague”. I can appreciate that there times when telling someone exactly and specifically why they suck is important. But what your really doing, especially outside a professional setting, is trying to cover an unpalatable truth. No matter how much potpourri you bring, you’ll never cover up the stench of a fresh turd. With a tactful-lie, the liar might say at some point, “I don’t want to hurt his feelings”. Why would someone’s feelings be hurt? Because confronting an ugly truth is typically what is motivating the tactful lie. We think if we try to place the truth in some kind of context, that it won’t hurt. But you know, and I know, that it will anyway. We know this to the core of our being but we tell this lie anyway. It’s not surprising. At the heart of all lies is self-deception. (Now there’s a difficult truth for you.) And I promise, if you are the employee getting yelled at, pretty versus brusk won’t change the underlying emotional value of the communication.
Then there’s “I’m fine”. This is not your “I’m fine” social convention-lie (because “I’m fine” really covers so very much territory), this is the “I’m mad at you, you loathsome scum and if I have to really tell you how I feel, your best case scenario has you dying quickly and painlessly and this is not likely.” To be honest, I’m pretty comfortable with this lie. Intense emotion has an extraordinarily deleterious effect on the intellect. Being sane, I’m not about to pressure someone to talk to me if they’re “fine”. Whether it’s your boss, your spouse, children, friends, whatever, what people really need is emotional space. Call it the emotional space lie. Sometimes lying is the best way to accomplish this. This is healthy.
“I will help you”. This lie is my least favorite. I sincerely believe that you may put forth a modicum of effort if I badger you to do so (maybe), but I don’t for a second really believe you mean it. I believe you’re saying this as part of the friendship-lie. You know, it’s ok if we’re not really friends. We can hang out occasionally, trade facebook memes, and work together without being friends. I know it’s hard to imagine not being friends with someone but aside from (max) 4-5 people in your life, you just won’t have that many friends. I understand this. I do. We don’t have to pretend otherwise.
The “good/bad person lie.” The good person lie goes to one’s self-image. I see this a lot. We define ourselves and others through a dichotomous lens. I fault christianity for this one for its imposition of a false dichotomy on the world. Truth: You are not a good person. Nor are others bad people (or vice versa if you’re really screwed up). You are just a person. Good in some ways, needs improvement in others. I’m sorry let me be honest. You’re tolerable some ways and in other you suck. This even applies to real jackasses. It is a defining narrative that colors so much of our interaction with the world and we know, we KNOW, that it’s not true. We know that the guy who just cut us off on the freeway is probably a nice guy most of the time, that his rudeness does not define his existence. That it may not even have been intentional and in fact, probably wasn’t. Doesn’t keep us from hating him until we find new umbrage in our lives. Our heroes are not saints and our antagonists are not villains. However, if it makes the day go a little better than, by all means, indulge in the good person lie.
On this very merry Christmas I’m thinking about all the problems we have and the United States has a LOT of problems. Our rankings in health and education are abysmal and falling; our economic growth is anemic; our income inequality is skyrocketing; our political processes are bought out by “Special interest groups” (whatever that means); our congress is the worst congress in the history of this country by any objective measure #teaparty; Our infrastructure is crumbling, and our debt is rising (though the deficit is shrinking so that’s good). In short, people are stupid and getting stupider.
The other thing I want to point out is that these are all entirely first world problems. Consider the deficit/debt issue. We’ve had high debt/deficit for years. However, it’s a tribute to our wealth and power that we can get away with it for as long as we have, and, in fact, we can get away with it for a long time to come before we destabilize the global economy. That’s just how awesome we are. No other country could get away with this kind of generational fiscal mismanagement for as long as the US #Greece. And to a lesser degree this is generally true for other western nations as well. The more wealth and power you have, the longer you can maintain your incompetence. So long story short, it sucks to be a developing nation whose fragile economy crashes on the whims of foreign investors and huge international banking consortia. Ok, so I might be exaggerating. A little. Their economic systems usually crash for very good reasons. The point is they don’t have the generational reserves that richer countries do. It’s one thing to look down your nose at a people for incompetence when you don’t face the same consequences for the same mistakes and another to try and build from the wreckage of the last attempt at fixing the economy. And speaking of generational mismanagement. Our economic problems aren’t that difficult to fix. We need a relatively simple overhaul of the tax code and increased infrastructure spending. It’s politically challenging perhaps, but not technically challenging.
The same is true of our educational system. We spend about 5% of our GDP on education. Raise that to %8 or %10 and you would revolutionize the educational system. Again, this isn’t technically challenging. We’d have to recruit more teachers. Easy enough. Build a few more schools. Again. Easy enough. Better fund research into best practices, (which we’re already doing, in part, through common core). Better education isn’t terribly challenging for the US. It’s a matter of political will. Our population isn’t starting from a point of severe illiteracy. We aren’t running a critical ongoing shortage of teachers. We don’t lack for colleges and universities to train more. Even our worst schools are better than a mere cement slab and a tin roof because that’s the best some nations can do. What’s worse, our students won’t get shot for just trying to go to that lousy school in the first place. #Malala We certainly have the money if we wanted to spend it on Education. We might have to pull resources through increased taxation or from the military but it’s there if we had the will.
You can even look at the so called corruption in this country. Yeah, I’m not happy about dark money funding think tanks that advocate anti-democratic ideals like funding climate change denier groups or the revolving door between regulators and the industries they’re supposed to be regulating. For any political battle you’ll find hidden anonymous financing and that’s bad. That’s corruption, but that kind of corruption is a first world problem. The best that these groups can do is sway public opinion, that’s not the best that political groups can do in other countries. In other countries they can shoot you. Running attack ads and conflicts of interest among public officials is a far cry from the persistent, pervasive, destructive corruption around the world. I’m not saying there’s no corruption in America or the corruption we do have isn’t a problem; I’m saying that we don’t have a NarcoState like in parts of Central and South America, or an Oligarchy in parts of Asia, or a MafiaState in Russia and the former Soviet Union. You don’t like you’re gay hating congressman and the anonymous financing he gets from where ever? Don’t vote for him. This is a choice you have. All the money in the world can’t change that, as Republicans found out in the last election.
We may have divided congresspeople with entrenched positions refusing compromise with each other, but this country isn’t divided along racial and ethnic tensions to the point of civil war and genetic cleansing from rampant uncontrollable militias. I’m not being dismissive of racism and prejudice in this country, I’m saying that our problems aren’t like the problems in other countries. For example, our black president didn’t just fire our white vice president for threatening a white coup putting our country on the bleeding edge of a civil war. Because that did just happen in the South Sudan. They’re already uncovering mass graves. It’s not white/black but Dinka and Nuer and they’re already killing each other over oil fields and a real or perceived lack of inclusion in the new government. Yeah we’ve got first world problems.
I didn’t write this blog to say that our problems aren’t real or that we don’t have them. I wrote them to put our issues in context within the larger community. Duck Dynasty Phil #IstandwithPhil may be racist and homophobic but we’re not #Uganda. Political and economic inequality is bad, but it can be fixed with relatively simple changes as opposed to the revolution that is going to be necessary in other places like Russia or Saudi Arabia. The desperate struggle for mere survival in huge parts of the world can teach us something going forward. Let’s think better of ourselves and others, forgive the bigots and the jerks, work together, compromise frequently and often, and in the immortal words of Wil Wheaton, “don’t be a dick”. Merry Christmas everyone.
My goals for the holiday are a little different this year than years past. In years past the goal has always been survival. I want to get through the holiday with a minimum of fuss, demonstrate some sort of familial feeling, and try to do so on the cheap. Family hasn’t always been a priority for me. During my undergrad years, I saved up every penny I could during the summers in order to fund a little traveling over the holiday vacation. I can only imagine how my family must have felt. Equal parts jealousy and loneliness I suppose. Don’t regret it for a second. In fact, this is a policy I intend to institute the second my standard of living improves enough to allow it. But as I just said this year is a little different than years past. This year I got married. Not only did I get married but the vast majority of my family were not invited. Also something I don’t regret. (I really loved the very small, very intimate wedding). But having excluded most of the family this year I do feel the need to include them in my life this holiday season. This means the Christmas cards, little pictures and notes, and gifts to far flung relatives.
Another thing that happened this year is, after getting married, I moved. Through sheer happenstance my sister also moved not far. It brings a little stability to my life that has been chaotic. So it’s a little more important than the norm to spend time with family. My wife also has family issues that need to be addressed. Her needs must always come first and this is not always easy. Before Kat can host her family we’ve got some chores that need to be done. Tomorrow morning I’m going to do some laundry. Tonight I’m going to clean the bathroom.
I love conservative ideology. I really do. The states rights, the small government, the low taxes, the active military, all of it. I just can’t stand conservatives. I hate them more than any other member of a political ideology. Mostly because they are intent on being deliberately stupid and spreading this stupidity like a plague. Eventually they’ll run their course but not before making life difficult for everyone else. This Duck Dynasty Phil is a wonderful case in point.
Conservatives are rallying to this banner in the name of free speech and family values. #IstandwithPhil. Phil screwed up. He said something gross (really gross) and stupid and offensive. I honest don’t know if he knew how offensive he was being. Maybe these attitudes are just so common among backwards rednecks that no one thinks anything of it, but conservatives, you’re smarter than this. You know in your heart of hearts he’s being gross, stupid, and offensive and he doesn’t deserve your support. You’re going to give it to him anyway aren’t you. You’re outraged that his right to free speech has been suppressed in some way. Except, it hasn’t. The government hasn’t swept through with federal agents to jail him for his speech crimes. The government doesn’t care and that’s the limit to your right of free speech. It doesn’t protect you from getting fired from your job. It doesn’t protect your employer from outraged citizens boycotting businesses and expressing their outrage. It just keeps the government off your back. You know this, but you’re going to vent about your free speech issues anyway no matter how willfully, intentionally, stupid it might be.
Many of you claim to be Christians. Can you imagine Jesus saying anything like this? If Jesus ever expressed an opinion on homosexuality it isn’t recorded in the Bible. But if he did I imagine he’d have given the same treatment to gays that he gave to the woman caught in adultery. I don’t think he’d go on a rant about the wonders of the vagina and it’s superiority to the male anus. Or suggest that gay people are inherently propelled into bestiality. Whatever Jesus was, he was never foul; he was never crude; and he’d be ashamed of the way you treat people. I’m all for family values. Private family values. Going back to the Jesus thing, he told people that public prayers were worthless. So much so that when I was a kid, I thought I was supposed to literally pray in my closet. Jesus intentionally separated secular/political spending and religious spending. He drove the bankers out of the temple. There is simply no mechanism that Jesus would support for mixing public and religious life. Yet we see the constant insertion of religiosity into the public and political sphere. My family values are different than your family values. They’re unique to me. I live in a country that values that individuality. What this means is in an increasingly crowded society you need to pull in your elbows a bit to make room for others. Specifically this means your public display of religiosity needs to be carefully orchestrated so it doesn’t crowd out my religiosity or lack thereof. Where’s the line? Easy. Ask yourself, is it appropriate for a muslim, pagan, hindu, or any other religious leader to be involved in a religious display? Then it’s appropriate for you. If you don’t want an imam to lead a Fajr prayer service in a public school, or have a witch cast a blessing spell then you can’t lead your own prayer service. It’s either that or be confined to closets when praying (which I’m ok with).
I get tired of the selfish, unending hatred of anyone who doesn’t see your point of view. This is America, the home of political pluralism, or so we like to think. Embrace your intellect, fight for your values. But make the fight mean something. Don’t throw your energy defending some gross ignorant redneck from the wilds of Louisiana. Fight the battles that matter. Seek out real injustice, true corruption and genuine abuse of power. Root out waste, fraud, and inefficiency. Build a nation that respects a plurality of beliefs and rigorously defend, not the beliefs, but the plurality. Create a government that is nimbler, more efficient, and more honest so that it can better respond to the needs of the people. It won’t solve every problem, but it’ll lay the groundwork for the compromises that will. And don’t be stupid. That’s all I’m saying. Don’t be stupid.
Evolution is not a theory
The fossil record is “just bizzare”
Evolution is not a testable theory
We can’t do computer simulations
We don’t see evolution in a lab.
When most people hear and use the the word theory they imagine something flimsy. “My theory is the cat secretly hates me but loves my cat food”. This sort of flimsy definition is true in science as well. “My theory is that a virus stimulates immune activating chemicals in order to produce a large, but disordered immune response to infection.” The second example might be more sophisticated but it still amounts to an educated guess on the part of the scientist. Depending on how technical you want to get, this second example could also be considered a hypothesis. Theory though has a second larger meaning. It’s closer to what other people consider a paradigm. For example the Theory of Gravity, the Cell Theory, the Atomic Theory, and so on. A paradigm for which there is such overwhelming evidence that it represents the foundation for any scientific discourse. To describe the Theory of Evolution as a collection of anecdotes or a series of hunches is exceedingly disingenuous. The Theory of Evolution is nothing less than the foundation of biology. Everything in biology in some way relates to and supports the Theory of Evolution.
His assertion that the fossil record is “just bizarre” speaks to nothing except his own ignorance. I’m mystified that he would claim that it has no order, or no predictive value when there are libraries and textbooks on the subject. There are numerous well known examples in the fossil revealing detailed evolutionary processes. The horse is a well known example, whales are another. Plants are a third. Not only does the fossil record have descriptive value but it has predictive value as well. We can use the fossil record to line up important geological or biological events against other known historical markers such as coding in the DNA, changes in climate, radiological dating, sedimentary information, ice cores and more. When you have multiple independent lines of research in agreement then you typically say that they hypothesis is supported. The theory is valid. Are we discovering new things in the fossil record? absolutely. There’s no one that said that the process of discovery is finished. But here’s the rub. Every time we discover a new fossil it solidifies our understanding of the fossil record and evolutionary history. If it was mere chaos as Mr. Berlinski claim then it would generate more chaos. For example, the evolution of flight. It was a mystery for a long time. We knew roughly when and how flight might have developed but it wasn’t until the last few years that we discovered the fossils of early flying creatures and feathers that we got to see a picture of what early flight evolution looked like. It was consistent with what we knew before and it added to our understanding of evolution. Subsequent discoveries have also been consistent. Instead of random data points or anecdotes it points to a clear consistent picture.
I was also amused at his next example of Newton’s Theory of Gravity as a quintessential moment in science. Newton was famously wrong. Sure his theory was close. His theory works on a very superficial level but it’s been superseded by the theory of relativity for almost 100 years, and even that one is insufficient. It’s a good demonstration at how our understanding of the universe evolves. Even the theory of evolution is not a static thing but undergoes constant revision as we acquire and assimilate new data. But more importantly biologists do have equations to describe evolution. The simplest one is the Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium. We teach that one in freshman bio. It describes the allelic frequency of a population. Further statistical analysis is done with varying degrees of complexity the further along you get. We’ve even got supercomputers running some of them. I can’t tell you how many in silico experiments have been done using computers. Numerous experiments and observations about how complexity arises have been published. He’s right in one small area. Complexity isn’t generated from Natural Selection. The theory only states that the organism that can best adapt to it’s environment will replicate the most. Complexity doesn’t come into it. If a simpler organism can replicate the best then that set of genes will propagate the most. Complexity arises independent of natural selection and there are numerous ways that this can happen. His confusion on this fact indicates that he is probably not qualified to discuss evolution in a meaningful fashion.
His next two issues are gobbledygook. I’m not even sure how to interpret the question he’s asking. If I cared about being more polite I would say that this was an ill-formed question. How come we can’t model evolution on the computer? We can. Google “genetic algorithms”. There are many any number of algorithms and they can all model fairly simple genetic processes pretty easily. However, biology is unimaginably complex, programing “evolution” into a computer (whatever that means) will also be unimaginably complex. It’s not something that either our programing languages or our computers can realistically handle at the moment. But I’m still not clear what his primary objection is to evolution based on this line of reasoning. Is he asking us to take a primordial string of DNA and turn it into all the DNA we see around us? That’s not possible given our current understanding of biology and technological development. Is he asking how we can derive different phenotypes based on changes to the genetic code. Well we do that all the time. He keeps saying things are very simple. What things? simple how? I’m flummoxed by this notion that we can “program general relativity and quantum mechanics into a computer and see the consequences”. We can? since when? The initial experimental and theoretical parameters are only now just being developed. I’m not saying that he’s wrong here, only that he’s so vague that piecing together what he means is impossible for me. I believe him when he says that he can’t program anything on his own, but given his level of understanding of biology this doesn’t surprise me.
It is also very unclear about what he’s talking about when he talks about an inability to replicate evolution in a laboratory. “Dogs have always been dogs no matter how far back you look” And how far back are you looking? Because even a cursory glance into this reveals that Dogs go back about 500,000 years before they turn into wolves, and wolves go back further and further, until you get to the earliest mammals. Part of his problem may be that he’s ignoring the part of the “bizarre” fossil record that conveys this information. Is suggesting we try to turn dogs into something else? Same with bacteria. “And when we look at bacteria no matter what we do they stay bugs”. What are you imagining them to be? Dogs? Bacteria go through some pretty intense evolution in the lab. They can generate radically new metabolic pathways, sensory apparatuses, resistance genes, environmental adaptations, they’ve even evolved bacteria from single celled to a multicellular organism. Recently came out that they discovered some fungi that uses a common pigment to eat radiation. Deinococcus radiodurans is famous for living inside nuclear reactors. So it’s unclear exactly what his objection is. It’s very vaguely worded and hard to refute or acknowledge.
I guess that’s in it a nutshell. How to we evaluate people like Berlinski? Well do they have clear testable objections? No. “We should have far more plasticity far more flexibility in the lab and in nature”. How much more? what constitutes “plasticity” in a laboratory situation? and how would you measure it? Are they ignoring data? yes. “Small, cyclical, highly banded variation. Like Finch beaks in the Galapagos islands”. Really? This is the only example of variation that you can imagine? Not the trillions upon trillions of birds, and fish, and animals, and insects, that display huge variations? His statement is absolutely correct if you have a sufficiently narrow view to only those few birds in the Galapagos Islands. Are they appealing to their own ignorance? absolutely. “The fossil record is just bizarre”. Just because he can’t understand it doesn’t mean that no one can understand it, and truth be told, I’m not sure he’s trying very hard. Are they alleging conspiracy? you bet. “These are evidentiary points that need to be stressed openly and honestly but they never are, of course.” These are points that were openly and honestly discussed in the 1850s. The conversation has moved on.