Archive for February, 2012


February 25, 2012 Leave a comment

A lot of the dialog in the culture war lately has been about consequences. The idea of consequences was front and center in the recent debate about contraception. The idea is that people who make, shall we say, less than (small-c) conservative decisions should be forced to take their medicine, whether they like or not.

Jamelle Bouie flags a Washington Post blogger, Alexandra Petri, discussing a fatal episode of domestic violence  at the University of Virginia. She’s obviously disturbed by the incident, but doesn’t seem to be able to come up with a narrative that can explain what happen.

She argues that the system is to blame. It was too lenient. It let these kids think they could get away with murder.

This is a story of growing up in a world where people sand off life’s edges on your behalf. Where parents and institutions exist not to protect you from mistakes, but from their consequences.

The setting is a character on its own: the college campus, where hook-up culture runs rampant and you are expected to drink four times a week, where you can sleep with someone and he can come to the stand and say that you were just friends, and it can be true. It’s a no-man’s land in which everyone wants to have fun without consequence. Where people are just mature enough to act immaturely.

[Accused killer] Huguely sent Yeardley Love, his girlfriend, a hand-written note saying that alcohol was ruining his life. He choked her. He threatened her.

Huguely’s friends said that at one point, they thought of staging an intervention because of his drinking. They didn’t. Why would they? They were college students.

It seems to me that the fact that this guy’s friends even considered an intervention means that they understood consequences. They realized that things were spiraling out of control. I’m sure they wanted to help but didn’t know how. After all, they were college students.

But I wanted to talk more broadly about how some people think of consequences. The idea is that every action has a predictable consequence that should not be mitigated. If you fuck, someone’s going to get pregnant and you should shut up and have the kid. If you drink, I guess someone will end up beating you to death? I’m not really sure where the Right is going with this.

My point is that of course we try to lessen the consequences of various dangerous activities. Negative consequences are bad and I don’t think we’re spoiling ourselves by looking for work arounds.

Think about the result of a car crash. It can be pretty catastrophic. That’s why we’ve built seat belts and air bags and the like. We want drivers to be safe, but ensuring the worst possible consequences for any failure is not the way to do it. We do not have a moral imperative to make cars unsafe.

The world is a complicated place. There are too many factors involved in any action to always be able to determine what the consequences should be. Of course, we need to consider the possibilities before we move. We need to think not just of ourselves but of those around us. But too many are still stuck in the puritan mindset that says the only way to keep people in line is through fear of fire and brimstone.

People make mistakes. Sure, society should try to prevent mistakes where we can, but there’s always going to be some asshole. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, and a lot of people get hurt. But that doesn’t me we shouldn’t be standing by to help pick up the pieces.

Categories: Politics, Religion

The X Chromosome Is Safe (For Now)

February 22, 2012 Leave a comment

My questions here:

A) Wouldn’t this be a problem for all sexually reproductive species?

B) If so, why don’t sexually reproductive species seem to be struggling?

C) Isn’t this exactly the type of thing Natural Selection is supposed to solve?

D) If so, why were people worried?

Categories: Science! Tags:

What You Hear

February 22, 2012 1 comment

Interesting, and moderately technical, explanation of the difficulties inherent in making music sound good in the age of compressed audio.

Most of the music we buy and listen to nowadays comes in what is known as lossy formats. Meaning that in order to make the file size more manageable, a lot of information is tossed out of the songs. All major online music stores sell music this way (there are a few web sites with limited selection of hi def audio tracks). The compression algorithm tries to only get rid of frequencies most people won’t miss, but there’s no way around the fact that compressing these recordings is going to change the sound at least a little. Add in the fact that we spend a lot more time listening on terrible, speakers (earbuds, laptop speakers, etc) and this is a major change from how people listened to music 15-20 years ago.

I’m shocked it’s taken the music industry this long to start mastering songs specifically for people who buy their songs on iTunes and listen on their iPhones, never so much as getting near a Bose sound system.

Categories: Music Tags: ,

You Should Only Believe True Things

February 18, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking a lot about religion lately. I’ve actually been trying to put down some thoughts about specifics. But a conversation with a friend last night got me thinking about it more generally. My problem with any sort of dogma is pretty fundamental and likely irreconcilable.

Different denominations have different teachings, and while conversions happen, generally you are expected to stick with the group you were born into. Once you decide which group you belong with, you must at least pay lip service to your sect’s teachings. The Catholics in particular are explicit about this. They have a whole speech you need to memorize called the Profession Of Faith that lays out the minimum believes required of a member in good standing.  Still, all religions have similar expectations. The problem is that this goes against what I believe to be a very common sense idea. In fact, if I told you this idea, you likely wouldn’t hesitate to agree. The idea is simple: You should only believe true things.

At first glance, this seems obvious. The idea of knowingly believing false things seems almost contradictory. But being a card carrying Theist requires you to believe all sorts of things that are pretty questionable. If you’re an Evangelical, for instance, you’re required to take the Christian Bible as the literal truth. Including the contradictory parts, I assume. Not sure how you pull that off, but the real question is why would you even try?

There’s a reason you want to believe in true things. The search for truth is the engine of human progress. Folk tales give us a very approximate model of how the world works. We’ve been able to refine our view of nature and have ended up cutting out a lot of cruft. We no longer need divine intervention to understand things like disease and weather.

True things can be elusive. You’ve never going to be able to weed out all the wrong ideas in the world. But if you agree, even in theory, that true things are more desirable than false things, I don’t see how you have any choice but to leave religion behind. Truth is an entirely separate path from dogma.

Categories: Religion

The Valentines Present

February 15, 2012 Leave a comment


Marriage is a horseshit institution. You may be reading this beside your loving spouse and wonder what I’m talking about. After all, you’ve got it pretty good. You’re living the American Dream. How can it be horseshit? Just look at the map above.

This is the an image of a coherent system. The problem is that any institution built on apartheid is broken. The system that doesn’t even intend to work for everyone is built on shaky ground. Today marriage is being used as a weapon against a whole class of people. It’s not the first time in history that this has happened, and I’m afraid it won’t be the last.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the ideal of marriage. Letting consenting adults partner up the way they choose seems to work for a lot of people, so it’s no surprise that those who have been so long disenfranchised fight so hard for equal footing.

And it was nice to see the New Jersey Senate make a symbolic gesture in this direction the day before Valentines Day by voting 24-16 in favor of equality.

Don’t start hiring florists just yet, NJ queer community. Governor Christie has promised to veto this. He’s terrified of being “The Republican Governor Who Gave Gays Some Rights” the way that Mitt Romney is “The Republican Governor Who Gave People Health Care”. That would mean losing a lot of supports in that part.

Let’s think about that for a moment. These are the people we’re dealing with. Those whose knee jerk inclinations are against equality and health care. They apparently also hate puppies and rainbows.

Here’s Christie’s thinking. A hot button referendum like this is going to unearth tons of voters who get off on voting against gay folk. While they’re out, they’re likely going to vote for the Republican guy running for President. If that guy wins, he owes Christie big.

If that guy looses, Christie gets to run in 4 years, and doesn’t have to worry about facing the mouth breathers who vote in Republican primaries as a guy who signed a Marriage Equality bill, which in that race is akin to carrying an autographed picture of Stalin.

So who knows where this is going to end up. You need 27 votes to overturn a veto. Either way, a bunch of politicians took a vote on what seemed like a hopeless issue and made a statement. Good for them. It was still the nicest Valentines Day present they could give, even to us who aren’t gay (or planning on getting married).

Update: The NJ Assembly has now voted for Equality, 44-33. Still not enough to override a veto.

Categories: Politics Tags:

Maybe Tony Bennett Was Right

February 14, 2012 3 comments

Ten years ago Portugal decriminalized all drugs. Everything. That’s junk. Goof balls. Nose Candy. Molly. Tops. Dust. All of it.

This was pretty much unprecedented in the modern Western world. It was a grand experiment, and it’s starting to look like maybe it worked.

Drug abuse is down by half since this policy went into effect.

Criminalization is not the answer. Drugs are not an aggressor that you can wage a “war” on. Addiction comes from within, and trying to fight it with brute force is like performing self surgery. You only end up doing a lot more damage.

Categories: Science! Tags:

Pussy Riot

February 8, 2012 1 comment

Love this story from about punk-feminist-performance-artists in Russia. Pretty sure NPR just aired it to see if they could get away with using the word “pussy”, but either way, it warms my heart to see pissed off punk rockers taking to the streets (or Red Square, in this case), turning their guitars all the way up and making a statement. Music will always be the best medium to get your voice heard over over the establishment. They may have the guns but we have the amplifiers.

Categories: Music, Politics Tags: , , ,

Sex… In Space

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

If you’ve thought about sex in space as much as I have, or even if you haven’t (which is probable) you should really read this post on the Orbiting Frog blog.

I’ll tell you, I am excited to learn that, contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that any humans have actually banged in space, leaving the world’s greatest pick up line (“You want to boldly go where no one has gone before?”) up for grabs.

Categories: Adventure Tags: ,

Our Broken Patent System Part XLXXII

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Technology is changing even our most mundane items. For instance, I’m pretty sure my stapler has Bluetooth now.

As people build on the available state of the art to give us ever newer and cooler things, we see time and again innovation being thwarted by patents. Our broken Intellectual Property system is effecting our lives more and more every day. Today it’s thermostats. Tomorrow it’ll be coffee pots with timers or cars that use a certain joint in their axle. New products are either being made more expensive due to outrageous licensing, or they’re being kept off the market to begin with because small companies don’t have the resources to navigate reams of patent law. The end result is we have to put up with crappier products.

Tell me again how patents incentivise innovation.


Never Apologize

February 7, 2012 1 comment

Sasha Frere-Jones on why MIA shouldn’t have apologized for flicking off America.

If you’re gonna make a statement like that, you better be up to standing by it. Don’t let the media focus on the finger. Make them talk about why you want middle America to sit on it and spin.

Categories: Music, Pop Culture