Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fox News: self-righteous and oblivious

Finding examples of flagrant hypocrisy and rank idiocy on the eminently self-righteous Fox "News" is like shooting fish in a barrel.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
24 Hour Nazi Party People
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

But I'm not sure the critics really understand. Fox has never been concerned with truth, and that's not its fault; it came into existence because its product was in demand, and it continues to exist because its product still is in demand. If you want to place fundamental fault somewhere, blame the people who tune in to lap it all up. Just as with our politicians, we have exactly the media we deserve.

Update, 28 January 2011: Part Two:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Bill O'Reilly Defends His Nazi Analogies
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Yes, that's how it is: "But I was late!"

(Careful if you try to repost the video using the Daily Show's embed code: right now, it has several HTML errors that need repair. You can copy the source code from this page, of course.)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Tiger

Every once in a while, I read something completely different than my standard fare. This time, it was John Vaillant's The Tiger. I don't think I have ever read anything like this before, and I mean that as a compliment. Vaillant's style is simple and competent—nothing extraordinary, but it gets the job done; his true gift, however, is his choice of subject matter: to read The Tiger is to step into a completely alien world. The central narrative of the story—the hunting of a man-eating Siberian tiger—could be told in ten pages; Vaillant stretches it into a 352-page book, with a steady stream of tangential sections giving context and background. Normally, I would find this irritating, but each of the tangents is fascinating. In fact, Vaillant could just as easily have switched the central narrative with nearly any of the tangents, and generated as interesting a book.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shelly Kagan: PHIL 176: Death

Yale has video of a number of old, good classes online and also available through iTunes (as audio or video). I have already recommended Donald Kagan's course on ancient Greek history. I want to make another recommendation: a philosophy course on death, by a different Kagan: Shelly Kagan, who left the University of Illinois at Chicago for Yale right before I arrived at the former for graduate school. Kagan's course covers a lot of ground; if you never have had a philosophy course before, you will learn much about personal identity and philosophy of mind before getting to more attitudinal questions about death. The lectures are crystal-clear.

There was, incidentally, a curious coincidence when I listened to the course. In one lecture, Kagan started unsympathetically to dissect Heidegger's claim to the effect that everyone dies alone. As I listened, it seemed to me that his critique sounded surprisingly like Paul Edwards' critique in the savage Heidegger's Confusions, which I was just in the process of reading for unrelated reasons. Lo and behold, Kagan suddenly refers to an article by Edwards, which turns out to be in the course packet—his analysis does come from Edwards. Small world.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

As though it needed more refutation

Astrology has always seemed inherently absurd to me; the failure of of astrological predictions in double-blind tests comes as no surprise.

But people are more impressed by anecdotal data, so I have often had to listen to proponents gush about how uncannily they think everyone's personalities correspond to their sun signs. They even tell me, after (of course) discovering I am a Libra, that I behave exactly like a Libra.

Well, now all of the confirmations have become falsifications. I'm not even a Libra: turns out I'm a Virgo.

My guess: we'll be treated to a torrent of denialism and blatantly ad hoc rationales.

More detail from Neurologica.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hell is other people

Sartre famously said that "Hell is other people." Here is what he meant:
…"hell is other people" has always been misunderstood. It has been thought that what I meant by that was that our relations with other people are always poisoned, that they are invariably hellish relations. But what I really mean is something totally different. I mean that if relations with someone else are twisted, vitiated, then that other person can only be hell. Why? Because…when we think about ourselves, when we try to know ourselves, … we use the knowledge of us which other people already have. We judge ourselves with the means other people have and have given us for judging ourselves. Into whatever I say about myself someone else’s judgment always enters. Into whatever I feel within myself someone else’s judgment enters. … But that does not at all mean that one cannot have relations with other people. It simply brings out the capital importance of all other people for each one of us.1
Yet another instance in which what a philosopher said is better than what he meant.

1 As quoted at http://rickontheater.blogspot.com/2010/07/most-famous-thing-jean-paul-sartre.html

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A few good books

Here are a few of the good books I read while on vacation:

Matt Taibbi's Griftopia. Seldom have I seen someone do such a thorough job of documenting the conglomeration of stupidity and corruption of which the US financial world consists.

Leonard Susskind's The Black Hole War. Describes Susskind's long dispute with Stephen Hawking and others about whether black holes destroy information.

Gordy Slack's The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything. Nice account of the Dover intelligent design trial.

It was nice to have time to study, for a change. Fortunately, this semester looks like it will not be nearly as intense as the previous one, so I should be able to cram a lot more study time into it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Net privacy add-ons

If you use Firefox, there are two privacy/security add-ons that I would recommend, with the natural proviso that I am no techie:

NoScript blocks all executable content (like Java and JavaScript) and allows you, click-by-click, to activate only what you want on each page you visit. Naturally, this will slow down your web-surfing experience, and you will have to be extra careful about activating the right scripts when you fill out online forms, but it is worth the added security—you might be surprised just how much surreptitious executable content exists in most web pages. The developer, by the way, updates this add-on like crazy.

finds and deletes local shared objects placed on your computer by Flash (i.e. flash cookies). These are not deleted by Firefox even with the maximum privacy setting activated, and they appear to be able to track everything a normal cookie can. BetterPrivacy takes a few seconds to get rid of them every time you close Firefox. Again, you have to be careful with these if you like to store things like passwords or Flash game information, but it's worth the gain in privacy.