Thursday, May 21, 2020

No, they didn't (part 3)

It was about time for more bullshit sensationalist "science" headlines. This time people are geeking out over the possibility that a science experiment in Antarctica detected "evidence" of a parallel universe where time runs backward.

Of course they didn't.

The latest Internet frenzy comes to you via this article from with the headline, "We may have spotted a parallel universe going backwards in time". Other news outlets dropped the "may" from their headlines and simply reported it as "fact". You can thank sloppy headline writers for the hype... again. Which gives me the opportunity to pull out this graphic one more time, and award it to all the media outlets that have copied it from one another without the slightest effort toward critical analysis.

The source of the data is the Antarctic Impulsive
Transient Antenna (ANITA), a NASA-sponsored balloon experiment. You can read the report here [PDF]. The report details four anomalous particle detections over the years, the results of neutrino collisions. A problem with these detections is that they appear to have originated from the direction of the Earth, which would be unlikely given the way these are known to originate. Note, please, the word unlikely. Note that it does not mean "impossible". Rather, it hints at a possibility. It is possible, for example, that the readings were erroneous. It is possible that the current models are not accurate. It is possible that some other factors, as yet unknown, were involved. For instance, while the polarity is inconsistent with a reflection, multiple reflections, as unlikely as they may be, may account for it. It is possible that, as unlikely as it may be, the detected neutrinos made it through the Earth. It is also possible that a very unlikely hitherto unobserved event did in fact occur.

What is less likely than any of those possibilities is that the readings have revealed a hitherto-unknown entire universe, along with evidence of how the laws of nature operate in same. There is no evidence that there is a universe where left is right, up is down, and time is reversed. While in the right hands these may become hypotheses, as reported they are speculations and fantasies. Not evidence. At the moment what we have is four readings in need of explanation.

Let me be clear, though... the NASA report is not at fault. The authors are exceedingly clear about what they discovered. They don't say what it is; rather, they say what it's unlikely to be, and why they think that. And as they state in the report, "Current or future data may be able to confirm or falsify whether neutrino interactions are the origin of this event." These are scientists, not click-mongers and sensationalists.

In case you've forgotten previous hype, the following once-major headlines are also bullshit:
  • Scientists have discovered cold fusion
  • Study finds scientific reproducibility does not equate to scientific truth
  • Bristol academic cracks Voynich code
  • Satnavs ‘switch off’ part of the brain we use for navigation
However, one headline that is decidedly not bullshit is this:

Keep calm and carry on. Your life hasn't changed after all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Critical Thinking Skills are Harder to Find than Toilet Paper

This bit of faulty logic was seen on Twitter:

Yes, we all know that the President of the United States has had his eye on you for some time. His cup of hate runneth over for you and your family. The logical fallacy here really shouldn't have to be explained. If you can't see it, it's because you're not thinking very well. And unlike the President, I'm directing that comment directly at those who re-tweet this nonsense. If that's you, then I'm talking to you. The one who doesn't see the fallacy. It's certainly possible that at one time you exhibited a fine measure of intelligence, but you have chosen to set it aside. Your thinking skills have been quarantined with the rest of you, and you're not letting them loose on the world.

Let's see if some other examples of the same fallacy might make it clear.
  • 1.25 million people die in road crashes every year. When the government granted you a license to drive, it's because whoever was President at the time personally wanted you... yes, you... and everyone in the car with you to die. Not some abstract percentage. You.
  • 320,000 people die annually from accidental drowning. When your parents took you to the beach or lake, it's because they wanted you to die. Not some abstract percentage. You... their own child. Your parents want you to die.
  • All retirement plans are invested in the stock market. When clueless idiots like the one who posted that faulty tweet wish to trash the market, it's because they personally want you... yes, you... to spend your retirement in dependence and poverty. Not some abstract percentage. You. They mean your mom and your grandparents should suffer simply to lift their image as "social influencers". This poster wants you to starve.
I could go through a long list of these things, in each case citing WHO fact sheets and other objectively verifiable sources, but it should be unnecessary. Of course none of those people want these horrible consequences to fall on you personally any more (or less) than the President does, but they are the inevitable result of freedom of action. Some people hate this simple truth: then again, simple truth isn't very popular in this age of wishful thinking and magical ideals.

As noted above, all pension and retirement plans are kept solvent through investments. Sheer ignorance results in the mistaken impression that it's the "rich" and "one-percenters" who unfairly take advantage. There are people who do get rich off of the stock market. They're doing what the socialist mouthpieces are not, but could. But millions of blue collar people depend on that same stock market, and they're foolish desire to 'stick it' to the few rich adversely affects those millions proportionally more.

Just. Because. Of. Jealousy.

At least, that's the way it is among the rank and file. Socialist leadership is another story. Their attempt to keep you distracted with misinformation and feed your envy is calculated to gain power. To make socialism look good, they have to make capitalism look bad, and that requires that they frighten you into acting against society's best interest, and your own.

Stargirl: I LIKE IT

With the vast array of on-screen superheroes, you'd think we were in the middle of a renaissance. Sadly, I haven't felt that way until recently, with the screen debut of Ant-Man and the Wasp in 2018.

Here's the thing: since Tim Burton's Batman in 1989, live-action comic adaptations have tried to be "grounded in reality", with varying levels of success. But for me the successes have been "nice try" at best. At worst, they've been horrible failures.What they fail to do is capture the sense of excitement that you feel when actually reading a really good comic book. And to find a really good comic book, you're going to have to go back a couple of decades, as this live-action miasma has wended its way back into the parent medium in recent years.

DC's Stargirl Reveals Justice Society of America and Villains ...Historically, Marvel has been better about their live action adaptations than DC, which is a shame since I think DC has the better characters. DC, on the other hand, has been producing superior quality animated series and movies for some time now. When watching a DC animated movie I've often found myself asking "why don't they do this in live action?" Instead, for the most part what they've done is bury mediocre material under layers of leather, armor, and bad CGI. The best comic book heroes are not encumbered with such things. They are larger than life.

What I like about Stargirl -- and I'm having to judge it by the first episode alone, not being a privileged critic -- is that it is unashamedly comic book material, with no excuses. It gets in there, gives you an origin story, a backstory, and jumps right into the action. One episode. Why? Because nobody reads comics for the origin story. You have to have it, yeah; but you just get it out of the way, usually in a few panels or at the most one issue. What Geoff Johns has done is take something that he knows very well -- comics -- and scripted it into television format.

Stargirl vs Vector & X-Ray - Battles - Comic VineIn this one pilot episode you know who the Justice Society of America (JSA) were and what happened to them. You know who the bad guys are. You know who the new heroine (Courtney Whitmore, played by Brec Bassinger) is going to be, and you how perfectly ordinary her "known world" is. You know that she has some skills already (she's an aspiring gymnast, and the boxing gloves in her room hint at at least some training in pugilism). You're introduced to the mentor (Pat Dugan, played by Luke Wilson) and to the magical item (Starman's Cosmic Staff). And you take your first step outside of the known world. Time to get this Hero's Journey underway.

I have no doubt that paid critics are going to blast the series for the speed at which this happens. Pay no attention to them. This is how comics are done. Pay no attention to their subtly racist prattling about Courtney being a "generic blonde girl". Physically, the casting of the lead is perfect (go ahead and compare). The casting of secondary characters likewise. Casting comedic actor Luke Wilson as Stripesy was inspired. He brings just the right touch of innocent acceptance to the role, leading to a moment of gravitas that somehow manages to be poignant and genuinely funny at the same time. And though I really don't want to go into spoilers here, I adore the fact that the Cosmic Staff is not just an artifact, but a character in its own right.

This is pretty hard to spoil anyway. There are some things you're able to glean from the poster alone. You know that there will be a new Justice Society. You know that they will be young and multi-ethnic, and you know on first meeting who they're going to be. But knowing that stuff in advance doesn't ruin the story for me. I'm just jazzed somebody finally decided to bring actual high-quality comic book fare to the small screen without miring it down with an entire season of origin story and angst. Do you hear me, Doom Patrol? Titans? In my opinion, this pilot does for superheroes what The Orville did for Space Opera. It's a great start. Let's hope they don't screw it up.

Stargirl can be seen on The CW and on DC Universe. Give it a shot.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Listening to the Professor

Alright, this one's been making the rounds:

It's far too easy to point out that the fictional castaways were stuck on that island for 15 years. If you really want to point to someone who can get you out of a mess, perhaps you should choose a better example.

Thursday, March 05, 2020


A Facebook friend recently posted a request that people share their experiences being bullied. And, having been horribly bullied as a child, I thought about responding there until I saw some responses that made me think, and respond here instead.

The responses that I saw had very little to do with the actual bullying (which appeared to be in the form of ridicule) and quite a lot to do with the reasons for being bullied.

Now, I was made fun of, sure. I was called Gomer, Shrimp, a great many experimental racial epithets that didn't really work (my schools were overwhelmingly Black and I was a minority White), and quite a few other things. The names never made much of an impression on me. But I was also stuffed in more than one locker, given a "swirly" (held head-down over a toilet while it was flushed), given an "atomic wedgie" (if you don't know, you don't want to), and physically pushed around quite a bit. Until my Junior year I was among the (if not the) smallest guy in my class, and at graduation I still weighed under 120 pounds (that's 8-1/2 stone). But my retrospection also yielded this interesting fact:

No bully ever lied to me.

This, I think, is the major reason I had no problem with the names.
  • They made fun of me for being small. I was small.
  • They made fun of me for being weak. I was weak.
  • They made fun of me for being smart. I was smart.
  • They made fun of me for liking Star Trek. I liked Star Trek, long before it was fashionable.
  • They made fun of me for being weird. I was weird. I made puppets, and did magic, and drew pictures, and read fat books from the adult section with no pictures, and wore boring clothes and Pro-Keds, and kept to myself.
No bully ever told me that I was something I wasn't. And my take-home message was never to not-be the things I was. I couldn't help being small or weak or smart, for instance; and I wasn't about to give up liking Star Trek. Rather, my response was to recognize that these were the attributes I had to work with. I got jobs where being small and weak didn't much matter, and I grew up a bit physically over time. I used my intelligence to stake out work in areas where I could in some small way advance technology and get us just a little bit closer to the Star Trek universe I loved. And I realized that my weirdness just makes me distinctive and memorable. Kids make fun of weird, but adults are intrigued by it.

I was helped along by the fact that my parents were neither blind nor foolish. They knew I was small and weird. They never told me I was something I wasn't, or that I wasn't something I was. They acknowledged me, very matter-of-factly. In my house it wasn't weird to be weird. Nor was it weird to be not-weird (like my brothers). My parents were a lot more honest with me than guidance counselors, who lied incessantly, with facility and transparency, and were easily ignored because of it.

But as for the bullies, not one ever lied to me.

The physical abuse I received was embarrassing and uncomfortable, but I was fortunate in that it was non-destructive. I was never physically injured, so I rarely think about it, and never with dread. The name-calling...? That was the most negligible, easy-to-dismiss of abuses. Because every word of it was true. And it taught me to see myself as others see me, but more importantly it taught me not to lie to myself. Today I can look in a mirror and see someone who's still weird, and still smart, but old and grey and fat, and own it. Being overweight reminds me of the years when I couldn't afford to eat... I don't mind it a bit. Old doesn't mean decrepit and fossilized. What it does mean is someone with a shit-ton of hard-won life experience. I'm not about to whip out the Botox and Grecian formula to cover that up. It's mine. I own it. And I use it.

So... your mileage may vary. Your experiences may differ. They're yours, not mine. For my part, I'm not going to look back and name names and dish out micro-retribution on social media. My bullies know who they were, and that they're not my bullies anymore. They were kids being kids and they don't have to feel bad about it for the rest of their lives anymore than I have to carry around silly names for the rest of mine. But they do deserve a shout out for being honest with me. The least I can do is be honest about that.

Sunday, January 05, 2020


Seen on Facebook, posted by "Reimagining Recovery":

Image may contain: text
Maybe... Maybe not.

On the surface this seems very nice and affirming, doesn't it? It ain't your fault, you're just a victim, and oh, look! There's a heart to make you feel good. Just lovely.

Except that it's not terribly useful, nor is it necessarily true. Yes, we can face burnout; and no, it's not always our fault. But 'fault' isn't the issue to be addressed. The issue is what we can do about it. Because if you're facing burnout and you think you're just fine and swept up in issues beyond your control, there IS something wrong with you. Namely, you think issues are beyond your control. And most of the time, that's fixable. "Something wrong" doesn't mean your a bad person. Sometimes it means that you just need a change.

I have a serious problem with memes that disavow individual agency. I've written about such things before, in the post entitled "Doing Unto Others". In that post, I respond to Internet advice that is well-meaning, but just bad. And as with that post, I think there's much better advice to be had.

I have been told that "the influence of a global civilization several billion people strong is orders of magnitude beyond the influence of our own individual agency within that culture." Yet the individual does have agency, even against those orders of magnitude. Otherwise, there is no hope for change. Is this very meme a surrender to those forces? Think it through logically... if society is broken and we are inextricably part of society, then there IS something wrong with us. Something that can be fixed.

When there is wrong we can act. And when we do act, we show others that it is possible for them to do so, too, and by so doing correct the "messed up priorities" of the culture around us. I will not give in to defeatist arguments that tell me otherwise.

Don't just accept that 'society' or 'culture' is so much greater than you that you can't change your circumstances. You may feel that you are a victim, but you don't have to stay one.

Where I have conflicting priorities, I rank them. I decide what's important, and let go of the rest. When you do so, remember a few things:
  1. You are the boss of you. You're not a slave.
  2. Ultimately you work for your well being. That's not limited to money.
  3. When you work, you bring something that's valuable to the employer... your labor, talents, ideas. You are exchanging them for money in a free market. That makes you a partner in that exchange. It may sound like a small thing, but it's huge to remember that you're not begging for work from some overlord; you are selling something of value to another human being.
  4. If one employer doesn't value what you bring, find another.
  5. If no employer values what you bring, bring something else.
  6. Nothing that leads to burnout is sustainable. Let it go.
And I don't speak here from ignorance or some privileged position immune from burnout. This past year, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. That immediately became my #1 priority. I worked a reduced schedule. If my employer had fired or demoted me for that, I wouldn't care. I am the one who decided what was important. As it happens, they were fine with that; although I'd have readily moved on if that was unacceptable. Since I walk into job interviews prepared to evaluate the employer and turn down the job if the work environment is toxic, I have had mostly exemplary employers. However, I have quit a job where the management insisted on victimizing workers. This wasn't due to my failure: it was theirs. It's not giving up: it's taking action.

This isn't limited to employment situations, either. I manage a songwriting contest. It's a lot of work, and I've had multiple pressures over the past year... a new position to learn at my job, family health issues, family deaths, etc. I don't get paid to give people song prompts, and when I prioritized, I had to let that go. This leads to another "thing to remember",
  • Don't feel guilt about dropping something that you think is important to others, but can't be included in your priorities. If it is important to them, they will continue without you. If not, it wasn't actually important to them.
Our songwriters have had experience with this before. Song Fu was discontinued. It was important to us, so it was continued as SpinTunes under another leader. He had to leave, and I picked it up. If I had continued, I would have faced burnout, so I offered it to someone else. As it so happens, he couldn't fit it into his priorities, and after a year of getting my affairs in order, I'm about to announce its resurrection. But during that year when we had no contest, no one was upset. No one got mad. No one bitched online. People realize that personal priorities take precedence.

Whether it's work or play, the 'culture' doesn't depend on you harming yourself. I'm reminded of a reddit post talking about abusive employers in which the poster related, "...then I realized I could just quit. And he'd have to do the same work without my help." What a denouement! Everyone should have that wisdom.

The bottom line is, that the blanket assumption that you're a victim just because you're burned out is just not useful, and often not true. First look at your options, knowing that there are options you've never been taught to consider. Find out whether you're exercising them. If not, maybe there is something wrong with you... something you can change.


Addendum: Someone has responded to me regarding the stress they feel about such things as climate change and tensions in the Middle East. Personally, I wouldn't equate these with 'burnout'. However, we should remember that bad things happen and will continue to happen despite our best efforts. What we need to realize is that our best efforts are just that... best efforts. No amount of stress will make the things outside our control controllable. For those things, we have have the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Thanks, Global Warming?

Here's a very cogent lecture from Dan Britt:

In it, he points out a few interesting things (actually, the whole lecture is interesting), including:
  • There's nothing "normal" about today's global climate. The Earth is usually much warmer than it is today. Today we occupy a relatively warm period in an Ice Age. Glaciation is a relatively rare event on geological timescales.
  • The big climate factors on a geological scale are the eccentricity of the Earth's orbit, the Earth's axial tilt, and the precession (wobble) of the poles. (the Milankovitch Cycles). Simplistically put, the major climate drivers are whether the pole is pointed at or away from the Sun when the Earth is closest to or farthest from the Sun. Other factors are basically "noise" within these trends.
  • Anthropogenic warming is certainly a real thing. Were it not for anthropogenic warming over the last 8,000 years, we would be well on our way to the next Ice Age.
I recommend you watch. However, Britt does ask a question that doesn't pop into my mind at all. He asks, "Do you like the coastlines where they are?" He asks it after having recently explained that where they are is highly unusual in Earth's history. That being the case, I would never expect them to stay there.

Given the Milankovitch cycles, we would be well on our way to another glacial Ice Age were not for anthropogenic global warming. We've experienced a cooling trend over 6,000 years, and we could expect it to continue for another 23,000 years. This begs the question of whether this major factor (orbital cycles) would not level off the carbon cycle (previously characterized as "noise"). And some models do predict that we would avoid an Ice Age entirely thanks to anthropogenic global warming.

On the scales we're talking about, whether human or geological, the coastlines have never been stable. It may be quixotic hubris to try to make something stable that has never been so in the history of History. So the question that does pop into my mind is, "Would I rather see Chicago buried under a half mile of glacial ice?" Because, frankly, it might be a clearly better long-term strategy for those on the coast to rent some U-Hauls knowing that they've got someplace warm to move to.

It's never as simplistic as "OMG! Things are going to change!" Things are going to change. But if you're pushing for zero-carbon emissions, they might not be likely to change in a way that makes you comfortable in the long term. Obviously, some more thought is called for.