URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • So Dave Barry displays a product pic, and headlines it "BECAUSE YOU NEED TO KEEP YOUR BEER ACCESSIBLE AT *ALL TIMES*". That sent me to Amazon, and … you know, searching for "Shower Beer Holder" returns a lot of shower beer holders. Also shower wineglass holders, for the classier drunkard.

    I almost put a shower beer holder on the Amazon wishlist I share with people who give me Christmas presents, but…

    What if someone bought me one? I'd feel obligated to install it.

    And then I'd feel obligated to use it.

    And you know what? That's a really bad idea. Falling (according to USNews) is the leading cause of unintentional home injury deaths. And those falls happen most often in bathtubs. I don't need to make that accident even more likely, do I? No.

    Here are words I don't want Mrs. Salad to say: "Well, he was drinking beer in the shower, and…"

    On the other hand, LFOD. Our Amazon product du Jour is only a click away.

  • Steven Landsburg comments on The State of the Union. A couple of paragraphs from the middle:

    3) Prosperity — along with almost everything else that makes human lives worth living — rests on the three mutually reinforcing pillars of liberalism, capitalism and science. Until recently, all three of these forces were generally thought to be well worth preserving. Now they are all under attack in ways that I once dared to think were impossible. For the first time in my life, I fear that the brief age of liberalism might be over.

    4) I blame Donald Trump of course, but Trump did not create the people who voted for him, or those across the aisle who voted for his doppelganger Bernie Sanders. In 2016, about 40% of each party voted for candidates with little to offer other than the message that everything wrong in your life is someone else’s fault, that it’s important to hate those people, and that it’s perfectly okay to invent whatever facts are necessary to justify that narrative. If the horror were confined to a single party, it would be easier to envision it burning itself out. The fact that it’s so evenly distributed is a big part of why it’s so scary.

    Steven also provides a Whittaker Chambers quote

    It is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within. That is why we can hope to do little more now than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury them secretly in a flowerpot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.

    Bummer. Sorry, kids.

  • But we're not done with depressing you! At AIER Jeffrey A. Tucker tells us about The New Feudalism.

    On February 28, the idea of locking down and smashing economies and human rights the world over was unthinkable to most of us but lustily imagined by intellectuals hoping to conduct a new social/political experiment. On that day, New York Times reporter Donald McNeil released a shocking article: To Take On the Coronavirus, Go Medieval on It

    He was serious. Most all governments – with few exceptions like Sweden and the Dakotas in the US – did exactly that. The result has been shocking. I’ve previously called it the new totalitarianism

    Another way to look at this, however, is that the lockdowns have created a new feudalism. The workers/peasants toil in the field, struggling for their own survival, unable to escape their plight, while privileged lords and ladies live off the labors of others and issue proclamations from the estate on the hill above it all. 

    I'm nor usually one for class-warfare rhetoric, but Jeffrey makes a compelling argument that (as stated in the Great Barrington Declaration FAQ): the net effect of the pandemic response has been "to 'successfully' shift infection risk from the professional class to the working class."

    Hey, that shower beer holder doesn't look quite so bad anymore, amirite?

  • I like reading Jerry Coyne's blog "Why Evolution is True", even though I disagree with him a lot. He's pretty funny when he goes all Strident Atheist against what he calls the "goddies". Example: The Discovery Institute goddies go after determinism again.

    Those who claim that hardly anybody believes in “contracausal” free will, in which the human mind alone can affect the body, giving one the ability to make any of several decisions at a single instant of time, forget how deeply embedded contracausal free will is in the Abrahamic religions. After all, if you can’t “freely” choose your religion or your savior, but are at the mercy of the laws of physics, of what use is Heaven or Hell? The whole Christian myth involves your ability to freely choose what to believe.

    And if you believe in contracausal free will, then you must reject physical determinism, for physics is the “cause” to which your decision is “contra”. That’s why so many fundamentalist believers reject determinism, and why the creationist Discovery Institute (DI), peopled with true believers, is lately on an anti-determinism kick, going after determinists like me who attribute all behavior and decisions to the laws of physics rather than some immaterial “will” that interacts with matter. (I’m assuming that virtually all the readers here who espouse compatibilism are also determinists.) Since the DI has failed to overturn the teaching of evolution, they’re turning their attention to free will. But their arguments against determinism are no better than their arguments against evolution.

    Now I do think contracausal free will exists, but if you'd like to get a feel for the debate click on over. My experience is that the anti-freewillers can be pretty abusive, especially the atheist ones. So I haven't participated in the commenting at Jerry's blog. But if I did, I'd make a couple of points:

    1. The arguments against free will would also seem to apply to consciousness (and, for that matter, life). After all, there's no consciousness present in a collection of atoms bumping against each other. So is consciousness as much of an illusion as free will? Anti-freewillers deny that they have free will, but I've never noticed one denying that he or she is conscious.

    2. I'm often struck at how certain people are about denying free will. Because (at least according to their own arguments) they had no choice but to think that way. How trustworthy is an opinion that you didn't freely choose to hold?

    That's it. Not a proof, of course. Just arguments. The mere fact that this free will-vs-determinism debate has gone on so long means there's no proof one way or the other.

  • Boy the stupid articles just keep coming at Wired. Here's one from Martin Skladany: On the Week of the Election, Social Media Must Go Dark.

    AMERICA HAS GIVEN social media giants ample time to figure out how to stop their platforms from being used to sow political discord. Yet we find ourselves stuck in an even more precarious situation than 2016—not only is the possibility of a stolen election real, democracy itself is vulnerable to a potential heist. No meaningful laws have improved the landscape. Instead, it is up to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others to show a rare sense of self-awareness and take a few days off—not as an admission of failure, but to reduce the odds of enabling harm. Social media outlets should voluntarily go silent for a few days before and after the election.

    A few days of silence would prevent many online attempts at election interference and would hinder President Trump’s effort to build a preemptive narrative—for example, portraying a potential blue shift (as mail-in ballots are counted) as fraudulent.

    Of course the only threat is the Trumpian Menace.

Last Modified 2022-09-30 3:25 PM EDT

The Dream Universe

How Fundamental Physics Lost Its Way

[Amazon Link]

This book by David Lindley is a criticism of one of the glamorous fields of physics: "Fundamental" physics, the effort to "explain everything" in one grand, hopefully nice-looking, equation. (No, that's simplifying slightly. But not much.) The topic is very similar to Sabine Hossenfelder's Lost in Math, which I read last year. (Lindley credits Hossenfelder at a number of places.)

Lindley's approach is historical, first looking at Galileo. The standard story is that Galileo was persecuted by Church authorities because he ran afoul of religious dogma. That's not quite accurate, Lindley claims. The problem was that the Church had bought into the worldview of the old Greek philosophers: Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras. Who were all taken with the idea that the world's grand design could be revealed by thinking. Backed up, of course, with a modicum of observation, but certainly no careful experimental observation was required. And that's where Galileo's heresy resided.

So experiment-free conjecture sometimes leads us astray. Does it always? No. Lindley relates the speculations of Paul Dirac, who noted that his equation for the quantum behavior of electrons also held the possibility of a positive electron. Check it out, he urged the experimenters. And sure enough, my undergrad advisor Carl D. Anderson discovered the positron in his cloud chamber a few years later.

But (Lindley points out), Dirac also speculated about magnetic monopoles, carriers of "magnetic charge". Those, as near as anyone can tell, don't exist. So the theorize-first-experiment-later process can lead you to a dead end.

Today, Lindley contends, theoretical physicists have gone too far down the rabbit hole in their empty speculative theorizing. They're not really doing "science", they're doing philosophy, albeit philosophy with very advanced mathematics.

Along the way, he makes an interesting point about the multiverse. Our universe is (obviously) congenial to life, with just the right balances between electromagnetism, gravity, and the nuclear forces to allow atoms, molecules, stars, planets, and geckos to exist. You dink with those numbers much and you get a universe that's a large grey mass of nothing. In fact, absent evidence to the contrary, that's the way to bet.

So, they say: we're biased because we live here. There are an unimaginably large number of universes where the story is different, and ours is just one of them that occurred by microscopically small chance. (Amusingly, Lindley wonders about the spacetime setups: our universe settled out macroscopically wth three spacelike dimensions and one timelike. But—whoa!—that one over there has forty-three spacelike dimensions and seventeen timelike! What's their deal?)

Which gives us a dilemma when we're trying to explain the nature of this universe. How much detail are you going to push off to the multiverse? It's a damned convenient escape hatch.

Last Modified 2022-09-30 3:25 PM EDT