Octonauts and the Other World

Right now my son is really into the Octonauts. If you don’t have children you might not be familiar with the show, but I’m comfortable in saying it might be one of the best cartoons ever made for kids.  In the episode a team of animals in their underwater vessel help various sea creatures in the ocean and tell you interest facts about the featured creature for each episode.

I’ve always been fond of documentaries on ocean especially the deep sea ones with bio-luminescence. But it struck me as I watching an episode with my son last night that the ocean really is like an alien world. It’s not that we don’t have an impact on it, but for the most part other than the occasional visit, it’s simply a world in which we can’t exist in. It is a world that has those at the top of the food chain, and those at the bottom. It has death, pain, peace, flourishing, competition, love, etc. It is extremely diverse, and there is much intelligence to be found. It is every bit as vivacious as surface based life. As I watch and think about that world, I couldn’t help but think how there is nothing to judge. It is, and while things live and die, there is no question about about morality, deities, or oppression. It just is, and it’s beautiful. While I do not believe any single creature intends to live sustainably, the world in the oceans is as sustainable as it can be.  Something we’ve yet to figure out. We as a species have flourished perhaps more than any other species, but at what cost?

When I think about how our actions have impacted this other world, how we’ve carelessly thrown trash into it and how climate change is influencing it, it seems more egregious than many of our other environmental crimes. In fact it seems that because we thought it was this other world with a massive amount of water we have reasoned that we could do anything we wanted to it, thinking that our activities could never have a great impact on anything so vast. This has of course turned out to be untrue. It is not our confession booth, a place to take all our sins away and absolve of us our hurt on the environment, but we have treated as such.

I’d like to believe the maker of the Octonauts just has such a passion for the ocean and just wanted to spread that appreciation to others. I think it does a great job of that. I get why people dedicate their lives to the study and preservation of these amazing ecosystems.  We may never get off this planet and meet alien civilizations. The Ocean might be the best “alien” world we can visit. I hope we can keep it that way. It was here before us, and I hope that it will also be here long after us.

Why Star Wars is Good

So why have we invested so much time and money into this movie series over the years? We can understand why kids love it and our nostalgia for it when we’re older. But let’s get down to the bare bones of it.  There are really only three reasons why we watch these movies.

Revenge Of The Sith Fighting GIF by Cheezburger - Find & Share on ...The first reason is light sabers.  Light sabers are the coolest things ever. The light saber toys they have now are so far superior to what they used to be that it’s hard to not be a little jealous, but even those toys aren’t where I’d like them to be. Look, I don’t know how light which radiates away from a source forever and ever could be contained like that to only extend several feet, but this technology has to be figured out.  I also don’t think it’s slicing through things that people like about light sabers. It is the humming sound they make whether in motion or not.  The way they sound when they clash together.  The fight choreography also improved vastly in the later movies. I am not certain if doing a big spin move is what you should be doing when someone else has a weapon aimed at you, but it all looked pretty awesome.  I could watch light saber fights all day. I mean I think most people agree that Rogue One is the best Star Wars movie of the franchise.  I think it was. But I haven’t watched it again.  Why? Not enough light sabers.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi - Speeder Bike Chase - HD ...This brings us to our next reason which is chase scenes. Lots of chase scenes in these movies.  Whether by ship, by pods, by speeder, or by foot there a lot of chase scenes often at speeds that defy human reflexes but are a lot of fun.  We all like chase scenes.

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By the way does anybody feel really bad that this guy was named Porkins? Fat shaming in a galaxy far far away.

The main reason why Star Wars appeals to people, I believe, is because it is full of underdog situations.  Almost every scene that isn’t a light saber battle is full of scenes in which the enemy vastly outnumbers the good guys.  There is no scrape they are trying to get out in which the odds aren’t against them by and often by fairly substantial margins. Humans love to see good guys beating the odds.  Hell, that’s even one of the more famous Han Solo lines when C3P0 is telling Han the odds and he says “Never tell me the odds!” This is sound advice throughout the 9 movies, where the odds would end up depressing people fairly substantially.  Whether it’s 1000s of droids, legions of star destroyers, inexhaustible armies of storm troopers, or apparently untold amounts of Sith disciples spending a lot of time in the dark on Exegon, the odds are never in the favor of the good guys.  But time and time again, the “let’s not hurt people” crowd comes out on top. Almost to the point of being kind of unrealistic.  Nevertheless we love these situations.

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But there are reasons that we should appreciate Star Wars even more for.  While I liked that they brought in more human races into the last movies, I’m not sure it was entirely necessary.  They had aliens and droids aplenty in the movies on both the good guys and bad guys side and race or language didn’t seem to play any sort of role. Whether a band in a bar, as co-pilot, as admiral (we love you Akbar and I can’t believe they killed you so unceremoniously!!), a helpful group of muppets, or an annoying sidekick, the fact that people look differently seems to be of no matter. All that matters is if they are good or bad.  And I think that was pretty awesome.

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The most important reason why we should love the movies is for what I think is some pretty positive feminism.  First you got Queen Amidala.  She’s smart, strong, and has genuine compassion and care for her people.  Though she lived a short life, her last task was to make sure that her children were hidden and protected from their father.  There are many strong women in the franchise, Jyn Erso, Rose Tico, Vice Admiral Hodo, and even Anakin’s mother seems like a very strong woman. And we can’t forget Rey, who I really enjoyed taking the lead in final 3 movies. What’s great is that they aren’t just there for love interests for male characters. They just kick ass.

Game Statistics - Star Wars Girls and Female Characters
Not sure why 2 droids are pictured here, but for now we’ll just assume they self-identified as female.

But there is one woman, who I’ve saved until last. She deserves her own paragraph. As great as Amidala was, she is nothing compared to her daughter. Princess ”fucking” Leia.  This woman is out there leading the rebels while in her early 20s while Obi Wan and Yoda are still in hiding. She is already infamous enough at that point to have got the Empire’s attention…and they have a whole galaxy to pay attention to. She gets captured by Vader herself and put in jail. She doesn’t take any shit from womanizer Han Solo, and basically forces him to become a better man if he wants any piece of her. She’s good with a blaster and becomes even stronger in the force than Luke. Now one could argue that compared to Luke she grew up with much more privilege and education.  That may be a factor, but they take that away pretty quickly by blowing up the entire fucking planet she grew up on, included her parents. She just shakes it off and keeps fighting. And where is she at the beginning of Return of the Jedi?  She’s a sex slave mole in the service of Jabba the Hut. Getting out of her conservative attire to suddenly wear a bikini and have a chain around her neck.  She suffers grave humiliation for the cause. At this point you might be thinking, “oh this is just another movie degrading women”, but she ain’t no floosy. A whole bunch of fans might have found it sexy as hell, but she didn’t do it for cat calls, she did it to save someone she cares about and someone who is a leader to the rebel cause. It doesn’t take long before she’s got that chain around Jabba’s neck and is choking the life out of that fat, disgusting, keeping women in chains motherfucker. This is no delicate flower. She’s a leader, a fighter, a mother, and an inspiration to the entire rebel movement. Carrie Fisher really is the marvel of the Star Wars franchise in my opinion, and arguably the star of it over Mark Hamill.

If you can’t find any good reasons from all this to watch the movies, but want to feel knowledgeable about the movies, I’ll give you a quick rundown so you can still be part of Star Wars conversations:

Episode I: The Phantom Menace – Two overconfident Jedi pick up an annoying CGI physical comedy expert and then get stranded on Tatooine where they believe too strongly in destiny and end up bringing back a child who will eventually cause great death and destruction to many by insisting he be trained to use his off the charts skills. Dance party and award ceremony complete the movie.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones – Here we see why Yoda is a Jedi Master and get an explanation for why there is an endless supply of Storm Troopers. (Hint: unethical cloning). Amidala starts falling for Anakin now that his voice has deepened.  Dialogue and acting are extra terrible in this movie.

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Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – We are never told what the revenge is for here. To my knowledge the Jedi never tried to hunt down every last Sith and kill children in Sith kindergartens.  Anyway Amidala misses her period and Anakin falls to the dark side. Gets his ass kicked by Obi Wan, but is saved by the Emperor sans arms and legs, and is made it to a mechanical juggernaut and transforming his voice into James Earl Jones.

Episode IV: A New Hope – The new hope is a whiny brat who complains about never having anything to do, and ends up going on a space adventure. In the end he rejects the technology that got him there to use the force to blow up a rather poorly designed planet destroying station. Award ceremony at the end.

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Definitely the best of the 9 movies. The rebels are forced to abandon Antarctica. The first black guy is introduced to the films. Luke experiences the tutelage of a grammar impaired Jedi master on a swamp planet. At the end of the movie he gets a robot hand and develops daddy issues.

Episode VI: Return of the Jedi – It should be noted that Jedi is very singular here, despite the fact that Jedi can also mean multiple Jedi. It should have been called Return of A Jedi. Despite all the Imperial technology, they still get outwitted by a band of fuzzy muppets with rocks and sticks, and the better designed death star is still compromised by ineptitude. Luke believes in the good of his father and as he’s writing in electric shock therapy, dad throws the emperor down a long long way which leads to his demise. Dance party and celebratory ceremonies ensue.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi - Ending - HD 1080p on ...

Episode VII: The Force Awakens – Mysterious girl is mysteriously connected to brooding son of Han and Leia.  Some Sith dude called Snokes comes from nowhere. Rebels are still in the same position they were at the end of Return of the Jedi. Everything from Episode IV pretty much happens again. Kylo Ren kills his dad just for believing in him and wanting him to be a better person. Award ceremony of course.

Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – Kylo Ren defeats Snokes to become the new head bad guy. Connection between Kylo and Rey grows. The out of nowhere Jedi power of astral projection saves the Rebels from being completely destroyed as there numbers unnecessarily dwindle from 200 to about 50.

Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker – Skywalker doesn’t really rise up here. Perhaps spiritually since they all die. We all had every reason to believe the Emperor was dead, but apparently they couldn’t think of a real new bad guy and the Emperor is still alive and has to be defeated once and for all. This also makes the celebrations in Return of the Jedi less meaningful. 😦 He has become even more decrepit and evil. Of course his penchant for trying to corrupt Skywalkers ends up being his downfall. The movie does have a dance party, but award ceremonies were not included in this one. I imagine they would have been impressive.

Star Wars Rise Of Skywalker GIF - StarWars RiseOfSkywalker ...

Look, these aren’t great movies.  But they have their moments and there are very real reasons to get attached to them. You can still have fondness and feel a nostalgia for it while watching and enjoy them even while knowing they also kind of suck. May the midichlorians be with you!

Why Star Wars is Bad

Well the 9 part franchise has finally come to an end.  There is probably no franchise so beloved that is actually fairly bad (on any criteria that defines a movie), with perhaps the exception of Arby’s.  That’s right, I’m saying it. Star Wars are B movies. Now I’m not saying I don’t feel a certain degree of joy watching it, and there is nothing wrong with watching B movies, but from a storytelling and movie making perspective, it’s got a lot of problems.

 

star wars GIFs - Primo GIF - Latest Animated GIFsStar Wars is the classic good vs. evil tale, but there is no complexity to it at all.  Either you like freedom or you don’t. Either you want to hurt people and are evil, or you don’t want to hurt people and you’re good. If a planet isn’t a criminal run planet in chaos, your only other choice seems to be monarchical rule.  A system of governance that opens itself up to despots and authoritarianism and thus we shouldn’t be surprised that good can turn to evil.  Or you have totalitarian, theocratic, dictatorship. We are first led to believe that there is a senate that is representative of different worlds. This governing body seems to be totally without any governing powers.  Nobody seems to have any political position.  There is an argument over a trade blockade.  Allowing commerce to proceed is fine, but it’s hardly a political ideology. I mean even as one planet we have far more competing ideologies than this entire galaxy seems to have.  Once Palpatine takes over, he has no real manifesto. He’s just a bad dude who wants to hurt people.  He wants to make people live in fear of the might and power he controls.  This is cartoonish villainy which is why these movies are largely for children from about 8-14. The mildly comical antics definitely solidify the movies into that age range as well.

Funny Star Wars GIF - Funny StarWars Comedy - Discover & Share GIFsAnd what are the good guys really about? What do they really believe in? In their off time, most of the good guys seem to enjoy either informal dance parties, or award ceremonies.  I would agree that societies should be free to have such things, but it’s hardly a meaningful ideological position.  I imagine if the Empire wanted to have dance parties and award ceremonies that could do so as well, just about different things. What are they doing to ensure any kind of lasting peace? If there is one thing we’ve learned is that the dark side of the force is easier to fall into that a blindfolded man at the edge of the Grand Canyon.

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Jake Lloyd Confusion GIF by Star Wars - Find & Share on GIPHYOne of biggest problems with the movies is how easily Anakin Skywalker falls to the dark side.  Let’s review. We have this little kid, who initially Yoda doesn’t want to train. Why? Because he misses his mother. I mean he loves his mom and was taken away from her forever by these adults who can appear to do magic but still need to rely on this mechanical genius kid who helps them from being stranded on one of the myriad of desert planets that people for some reason live on.  It seems pretty standard for a child to miss his mother.  So Yoda’s powers of deduction here is hardly impressive. Then Yoda says he’s too old, we can’t indoctrinate him properly. Eventually he reluctantly agrees, the boy gets trained. Next we meet him as a 16 year old who is impatient and headstrong. Just like every other fucking teenager.  Maybe it’s because we know what’s going to happen to Anakin that we feel dread, but he’s really just an obnoxious teenager played by a terrible actor. You almost can’t wait for the mask and James Earl Jones’ voice so you can be rid of Hayden Christiansen. But you get through episode II, still hoping that an epic struggle to remain good and loyal to the Jedi Order will happen.

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But in Revenge of the Sith what happens?  Despite the fact that he understands the Jedi governance structure from almost his entire young life he gets all upset that he isn’t asked to be on the Council.  Even though the council head is fucking 700+ years old, somehow Anakin, in his early twenties gets a branch up his butt about not being voted in on the council.  Meanwhile he’s making out with his former babysitter and Queen and has amazing powers to be a force of good.  But it’s not enough.  So what is the start of his descent into liking the feeling of his power? Well he goes to Tatooine to find his mother.  He naturally is upset at her death, and when a powerful person gets upset, people die. But who dies? A bunch of slavers.  This is the beginning of evil?  I mean look, I think violence is a last resort, but how is killing a bunch of slavers really the lure of the dark side. And then who does he kill next? Count fucking Saruman.  One of the evilest dudes in two movie franchises, but apparently that wasn’t good for his psyche. Even though Yoda or Obiwan would have done the same thing in combat.

501st Legion | Tamewater CWRP Wiki | FandomNow he’s apparently evil, turns on the Jedi after this, and what’s his first target? A whole bunch of fucking kindergartners at the Jedi Academy. The poor kids don’t expect a thing. And why should they? He became evil faster than a bored worker at The Gap outlet store asking if you need help. All because in this universe despite the fact that they got lasers, can travel faster than light speed, sophisticated AI and massive language translation programs, but apparently forgot to research medicine to help pregnant women (fucking patriarchy!) and needs Palpatine’s tutelage to learn how to heal. Who knows why the good Jedi Order isn’t trying to learn this healing technique? I mean it seems like a pretty basic good guy Jedi power to have. And despite seemingly knowing nothing about obstetrics (did I say ‘fucking patriarchy!’ yet) they do have cloning technology.  What Anakin, a cloned version of Queen Amydala isn’t good enough for you? You just had to kill a bunch of kids, because you thought this good person (who’s pro not hurting people) would be glad you killed a bunch of kids so you could learn the power to save her life.  That’s a serious misunderstanding of what appears to be a fairly simple concept of goodness. So when Darth Vader chooses to turn on the emperor and save his son he remembers back to the good man he once was, he’s apparently about 7 years old. Because after that he’s pretty much a whiny dick.

But what I realized when watching Return of the Jedi recently that as flimsy as Anakin’s fall to the dark side is, the reasons for the main characters being good are equally flimsy.  Luke gets the hots for the hologram of his sister and decides to find old Ben Kenobe. Han has the hots for Leia and decides to help the rebels and give up the rogue life.  All the Jedi simply rely on religious dogma to carry them through to the next day as good guys. Obi Wan is just waiting for 20 or so years to turn into Alec Guiness before doing anything good at all. And Yoda spent the last two decades in a swamp licking his wounds. The fact that Luke is this rare 1 out of several billion people in the galaxy who thinks it would be a good idea to fight a fascist, authoritarian regime is astounding. Because let’s face it, the rebel alliance, despite having the whole galaxy to choose from can never seem to muster more than a couple hundred people to attack the empire. And that’s when they aren’t just letting a chunk of themselves get blown up so that Laura Dern can come out of nowhere and have some stoic music play before she rams her ship into the star destroyer.  I mean here on Earth I could easily get a couple hundred people through Facebook to take up arms against some of the most ridiculous causes.  But government tyranny? There are millions of gun owners in the U.S. itching for an excuse to fight against a tyrannical government.  This whole galaxy far, far away seems to be completely hopeless unless about 200 people are in the middle of a fight first and then go “Hey look they’re doing it so I guess I’ll get off my ass an help.” So how those rebels have any hope at all is beyond me if they can only find a couple hundred people to join the cause.

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And what about all the ghost Jedi sitting on their asses? Luke Skywalker can apparently raise an X-Wing out of the ocean as a ghost.  Why wasn’t he just over on Exegon flinging heavy objects at the Sith instead of getting the people who could actually die do all the work? Obi Wan claimed he would become more powerful when he’s struck down. But apparently more powerful just means “voice in Luke’s head” and reminding Luke to “use the force” at the right time, and “Go to Dagobah”.  Pretty sure you could have done that while alive Obi Wan.  I have no idea why Darth Vader says in “Obi Wan” has taught you well. Obi Wan hasn’t done shit.  As far as I can tell, other than a few words of advice as far as he got in the Jedi training with Obi Wan is to deflect a few lasers from a floating ball while blindfolded. That doesn’t make you ready to face Vader.

I Shall Become More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine Episode ...Finally, why is it that despite having droid technology the Empire has all the droids that would actually be useful against a military force, and the rebels seem to only have droids that access computer systems and can speak a lot of languages while moving very slowly from place to place. Literally there were so many jams that they could have gotten out of way faster had they had droids who weren’t slowly ambling over to them.  Meanwhile when it comes to fighting droids the empire has legions of them.  Does the state control the means of production? Are we talking about some Soviet Union-like Empire?  Perhaps so.  My point is some angry fighting droids could have been a real help for a cause that can only scrounge up a couple hundred people from an entire galaxy.

Awesome Animated R2D2 C3PO Gifs - Best AnimationsThere are many common complaints I haven’t dealt with here. For instance many people say the writing is terrible in later movies. This is wrong. It’s all pretty bad. If you don’t think the writing in the original movies was bad it’s because you’re looking through it with a nostalgic lens. This isn’t rich writing with complex characters with a complex history, or complex relationships with each other.

Boring conversation anyway. | funny gifsNow if you’re a big Star Wars fan you are probably full of counterarguments, and I’m here to tell you they are all wrong, and if you want to tell me that if I really want to appreciate it all, I need to read some nerdy set of books, that is also wrong. Star Wars is a movie experience.  Also you should really just read my next part about why Star Wars is good.

Where is the Liberal Support for Feminism in Islam?

I listened to a podcast a couple weeks ago where Sam Harris was interviewing Yasmine Mohammed.  It was a wonderful interview and even emotional.  For those of you who don’t know Yasmine she is an ex-Muslim who immigrated to Canada as a child, and ended up being raised by a very strict Islamist (who incidentally had multiple wives) and was forced to marry a guy who turned out to be a Muslim extremist.  She experienced a lot of abuse from her biological father, adoptive father, and her husband.  Her husband was actually part of ISIS and now supposedly resides in a prison in Egypt although she has been unable to confirm it.  The long and the short of it is, that she has had the full experience of what many women go through in Islamic society as second class citizens.  I would argue that citizens are humans and I am not sure that many women qualify even as human in traditional Islamic communities.  What they go through is absolutely dehumanizing.

But I am not here to talk about the problems with Islam.  What I found really interesting about the interview was the discussion about how in the west, the left rarely criticizes Islam for how it treats women.  We can criticize Christianity’s patriarchal values, have TV shows like Handmaid’s Tale which show just how oppressive Christianity can be, but the rules are different for Islam and how they treat women.  Yasmine finds it despicable that they even try to use the hijab as some sort of symbol of female empowerment in Islam, when that is really not what it is at all.  She says that Muslim women are “othered” in western society, like they are not equally human as white women, that they don’t want the same freedoms that white women have.  And I have to say, that I agree.  I think any practices, whether they be in the context of a religion, culture, or society at large that demean and/or oppress women should be open to criticism.  And women in the west, who enjoy a great deal more freedom than many Muslim women, should be joining Yasmine’s fight again a very patriarchal religion.

However…

So I wanted to support Yasmine and followed her on Twitter where she is fairly active. In many ways it doesn’t make a lot of sense why feminism in the west would be on opposite sides of this battle.  And if I consider myself a feminist, then Yasmine is absolutely correct, she’s just human and humanist values should apply to her.  I see feminism as fitting into the larger umbrella of humanism.  But when I started making comments in support and in defense of her points I noticed something quite interesting.  When I would look at the profiles of many of the people who liked my comments, I was surprised to find that many of them were Trump supporters, conservative white males who consider themselves libertarians, and a lot of people who I would consider to be politically alt-right.  It made me feel uncomfortable.  It made me wonder, what type of person am I supporting here if all these people who I would disagree with on almost about everything else are seeming to be on the same side as me?  So while it doesn’t change my stance that we should be just as critical of patriarchal ideas embedded in any religion, I started to see what the left might be rejecting here.  If supporting an ex-Muslim fighting religious patriarchal values is putting you on the same side as conservative, alt-right racist types, what is the answer to effectively supporting people like Yasmine?

So then the question for me became, okay so what is going on?

  • Is it simply that these people aren’t as racist as they are Christian xenophobes who fear other religions, races, and cultures invading their space? Is it basically just the enemy of the enemy is our friend?
  • Did, as Sam Harris has argued, that the space the left has vacated has simply allowed the right to elevate people like Yasmin in status and use her to spread their more hateful message? We see this phenomena not only in the case of religion here.  But we see women who support men’s issues get support from misogynist members of MRA or incels. Even Sam Harris, who I would argue is at heart liberal, often gets his words used by alt-right people when they want to reinforce Muslim stereotypes.
  • Many white liberal women are of the liberal Christian kind.  They want religious Muslim women to be seen as strong as empowered because they then don’t have to acknowledge the oppressive practices in their own faith?  Would this mean that it’s Yasmine’s atheism that many liberal women are reacting to?
  • Do we have more in common with people who are alt-right than we think?

I don’t really think the last one is true, but I think it’s important to consider the question.  Where do we go from here?  Now I’m not sure whether Yasmine is politically conservative or not.  Certainly I think it’s possible to want equality for women while still supporting fiscally conservative issues, but I would say certainly Yasmine is socially liberal based on what she has said.  Perhaps if more people on the left spoke up in support of Yasmine, all those alt-right followers would flee from her side, not wanting to be allied with us because they would have the same uncomfortable feeling I had!

While I sympathize deeply with what Yasmine Mohammed went through, I do think it’s also a reality in the west that minority races and religion can experience a lot of prejudice and racism, and so in some ways I understand perhaps not wanting to critique a religion that is largely followed by darker skinned people so as to not feed stereotypes that can be used by people that would oppress them.  I also think that if we are concerned with things like freedom of speech, gender equality, LGBQT rights, we have to be constantly fighting against bad ideas, and Islam, just like Christianity has a bunch of bad ones.  Islam is a huge religion and I can only imagine that the amount of women and girls is in the 100s of millions who need liberal voices fighting for their rights in the same way we fight against Christian patriarchal values.  I believe it is possible to fight against both prejudice against Muslims, and also still criticize the oppressive practices that Islam advocates and are practiced daily around the world.

Does Capitalism always Give us More from Less?

Recently I listened to a podcast interview with Andrew McAfee who has written a book called More from Less.  The message of this book is meant to be positive along the line of Steven Pinker’s more recent books.  Illustrating that things aren’t maybe as bad as they seem, or at the very least we have reason to hope.  While I am reticent to make critiques of a thesis without having actually read the book, what I want to say is more about the foundational premises he builds his book on, and I think the 90 minute interview gives me a good basis for discussion here.

For those of you who don’t want to listen, I will give a brief summary here.  I will say at the outset that he is very pro capitalism, but I’ll be honest, out of anybody in favor of capitalism that I’ve listened to, he makes the most compelling arguments.  I should also point out that he is not anti-regulation, nor is he libertarian and thinks that capitalism can solve every human concern.  Anyway, the basic thesis of his book is that we currently live in an age where human prosperity shows signs of decoupling from the nearly one to one correlation we had since the industrial revolution of natural resource use.  With quite a lot of data he shows since the 1970s we’ve been continue to grow economically, while using resources at a continually slower rate.  The reason he attributes to this transition is because of our improved technology along with the fundamental ways in which capitalism works.  I’ll go into details in a moment.  I want to preface the discussion also by saying that he is not anti-climate change or anti-EPA.  He admits the dark past of capitalism, but feels that the coupling with technological advances has helped capitalism be a more positive force.  Like many of us I guess, he sees the good parts, and doesn’t want to throw the baby out in the bathwater.  I always resonate with this mentality, and for those who know me, know I am not completely anti-capitalism.  I do also see some good parts, but there are also parts that are deeply troubling to me and so a mixed economy seems the most reasonable to me.

Image result for turing computerThe technological save for mankind her argues is the computer.  This is not a new idea, and in fact I wrote about this a little before on my blog when I talked about Douglas Adams’ ages of sand.  After the lens for the telescope and the microscope opened up the macro and micro universe, the silicon chip came along and revealed to us the process.  We could do enormous amounts of calculations so quickly that this allowed people to solve problems in a tiny fraction of the time it would have taken them before.   McAfee gives several examples of how computers helped businesses and corporations reduce waste.  Their motivation to reduce waste is of course motivated by profit, but as a result less resources were used.  One example was the aluminum can.  If you are my age or older you know how thick cans of soda used to be compared to now.  Cans today still function perfectly but use less material.  Being able to model pressurized liquids in cans and tweak thicknesses and model the impact of that thickness allowed for vast savings in resources used by beer and soda companies.  Since companies need profit for growth they have no incentive to be wasteful when it comes to materials.  Now I’m sure class action law suits also convinced companies to stop raping the Earth, but I take his point and I don’t deny that it’s true.

His pro-capitalism stance is largely based on the fact that so many private companies and innovative production methods and the advent of fossil fuels raised a large amount of people out of poverty.  Life expectancy when up dramatically as infant mortality dropped significantly due to indoor plumbing and parts could be made more quickly and in massively higher amounts to give a large population of people access.  Being able to unleash the energy stored in fossil fuels powered companies of all kinds to bring lifesaving and life altering technologies to more and more people.  Populations exploded as a result of the increase in prosperity.

Image result for world population by year

For McAfee the future, if we are going to have a better one, he argues that we must have more of the same.  We must have continue to have capitalism working to develop technologies that will use less and less resources for creating growth, and this can be guided by smart government policy.  He is in favor for instance of a revenue neutral carbon tax that gives money to people at the bottom end, and encourages corporations and businesses to work to cut fossil fuel usage.  What he doesn’t advocate is that we are all going to return to some idyllic pre-industrial state and he argues, I think quite convincingly that we weren’t this idyllic sustainable group of people prior to the industrial revolution, and that now with the world population as it is, we need energy and only the development of better energy sources is going to help us deal with something like pollution and climate change.

So fundamentally I think my disagreements come from the fact that first even if we are using less resources, those resources are still finite, and if we aren’t concerned about the continuing growth of people we will simply run out of important resources we need.  Is there always a technological solution out there waiting for us?  Maybe, but we don’t know that for sure.

The second thing I question is whether or not it is good that the population exploded as it did in the last 100 or so years.  Is this prosperity?  Is this a good way to measure prosperity?  The fact that we might have the ability to effectively support human beings, doesn’t mean that we necessarily should.  It seems to me that the technological advances of the industrial revolution were so powerful that human population grew unrestrained, requiring the continuing need to use and extract more resources.   Is it true that we might not have invented the computer if we grew human populations at a rate that lead to a more sustainable society?  Are these technological advances only an answer to some threshold in the amount of suffering on the planet?  Was the computer something that could not just as easily been invented with half the world population at the time or was there a drive to invent something that could solve innumerable problems that were occurring because the world population was as high as it was?  It’s not obvious to me that this is the case.  It’s not obvious to me that prosperity for a creature with such a high level of consciousness should simply be defined by our growth in population.  If we continue to grow in population this just seems to put us in an endless cycle of trying to have to develop new technologies to alleviate the suffering of the increased population.  And even if we are getting more out of less, eventually something will run out, and technology simply won’t save us.

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Finally, I am left with the old moral philosophy question:  Does the end justify the means?  Let’s say capitalism was best equipped to increase human prosperity and not destroy the Earth at the same time.  If we are using less and less resources because some CEO is trying to make more money does it matter that we are doing the right thing for the wrong reasons?  Capitalism is not a moral philosophy it is just an economic system.  And while I enjoy listening to this well-educated author, his optimism, and his well laid out arguments, he is in the minority it seems when it comes to those who celebrate capitalism.  For many the mindset of growth trumps other human concerns, even if that mindset sometimes producing good ends, it often leads to many downstream problems.  There has to be room for human rights, happiness, respect, empathy, etc.  If it is possible to practice a brand of ethical capitalism it must look different than what we have had in the past and even what we have now.  I see very few capitalists adopting McAfee’s views, and I find myself very concerned about a society that puts profit in front of all other values.  If capitalism does have any intrinsic value in it, then it needs a better marketer than Wall Street, and banks, and mega-rich billionaire CEOs.

McAfee does admit that income inequality is an important issue, although in the interview offered very little solutions to that.  I suspect he feels like there policy solutions that don’t involve a high redistribution of wealth, but he didn’t go into a lot of details.  There are a myriad of other issues he didn’t address in the interview such as education, and health care which I think don’t lend themselves well to the capitalist economic model yet are important in a society.

He did also address the problem of growing economies in other parts of the world.  He doesn’t worry as much that they will do things as “dirty” and irresponsible as we did, simply because new technologies are available to them at a cheaper price than what the U.S. had when our economy started growing rapidly.  It’s a fair point.  But even if we can use less of resource A to produce a 1 KW of energy, or 1 mile of fiber optic cable, with a lot more people wanting those resources it still seems like an issue.  And if we are expecting technology to get us out of our biggest problems while also devaluing education, as seems to be the case in this country, I don’t see things as getting better quickly enough before we hit the wall.

Overall it was a thought provoking interview.  I don’t know if I feel more optimistic, but I at least can acknowledge that the conversation about what we can do is broader than the conversation we are having now.  On the topic of climate change I feel this is largely because our conservative, pro-capitalist party can’t even admit that we have a problem and this leads to a very narrow range of solutions.

Has Justice Been Served?

For those of you that have been following the story, Amber Guyger was just found guilty of murder in her trial.  You can read about the incident here.  I’ve been trying to find out some hidden facts about this case, but unable to find anything that convinces me that the jury came to the wrong conclusion.  I guess witnesses get to speak today before the actual sentencing, but Ms. Guyger faces up to life in prison for the killing of Botham Jean.

If you didn’t read the article, the basics of the incident is that Ms. Guyger, for whatever reason went into what she thought was her apartment, but it belonged to Mr. Jean.  She thought there was an intruder, and feared for her life and ended up shooting Mr. Jean dead.  The prosecution rightly proved that Ms. Guyger had other choices available to her that she could have taken, including backing out and taking cover while she called for back up.  The prosecution also showed that she didn’t do enough in medical aid after the incident in trying to save the victim’s life.  She clearly wasn’t thinking very clearly when she walked into the wrong apartment or in the immediate aftermath of the incident.  All this I grant and she made a horrible mistake that cost an innocent person their life.

But is it murder?  There was no motive, and it’s clear that Ms. Guyger is feeling great remorse for what happened.  To the point where she wishes she had been the one killed and not the other way around.  I guess I’m just wondering how putting her away for life in prison is going to make any of this tragedy better?  From the evidence presented from the 911 call, she clearly believed that she was in her apartment, and while she didn’t act like a well-trained cop in the moment, as we’ve seen there are very few cops who might have been cool in that situation.  Ms. Guyger clearly feels a great deal of remorse and pain for the what she has done, is she a danger to society?  I don’t think so. Is she a racist?  Well there was evidence that she definitely saw black people differently.  If she didn’t have this implicit bias would things have gone differently?  Perhaps.  I don’t think she is the poster child for an exemplary police officer, but I also don’t see her as being so racist that she was simply looking for an opportunity to gun down a black person.  I don’t see how this terrible incident is made less terrible by putting her in jail for murder.  It seems clear that many people are only excited by the verdict because a cop is finally being sentenced to murder for killing an unarmed black person.  There have been many of those cases where I’ve been outraged at the police being acquitted by a grand jury.  I don’t think this is case to make up for all those other cases that should have been ruled differently?  I don’t think the law should work like that.  I feel like we aren’t setting a precedent for cops being charged with crimes for killing unarmed people, I feel like we are saying that the verdict for one person’s crime should make up for past injustices.

Ms. Guyger made some bad decisions, but I don’t feel she’s a murderer.  I hope that testimony today will convince the judge that she doesn’t deserve life in prison.  In the end and innocent man was killed, and that is the greater tragedy, I’m just not convinced that the verdict render changes anything other than adding more tragedy.  Maybe Ms. Guyger could do more good to make up for what she’s done instead of just sitting in a cell.

I am also willing to be talked out of this position with some good arguments.  Perhaps my thinking is narrow here.  I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

Don’t Do Anything Nice if You’ve Done Something Bad

I read a story this morning that really made me shake my head about how misdirected we’ve become as a society.  I think it’s especially worrying, because we live in times where liberal thinking is necessary to push back against greed, against religion, against white nationalism, etc, and it is those people we need to get angry about the right things.  CNN reported that a young man who was raising money through beer sales for a local hospital had raised a million dollars, but than a Des Moines news paper dug up some 7 year old tweets that were racist (he was 16 at the time) and published them in an article they wrote about him.  The paper claimed that it was standard to do a social media check on people that they write stories about, and that they felt it was important for the sake of transparency to publish these 7 year old tweets so people knew who they were giving their money to.

I’ll tell you who they were giving money to.  A children’s hospital.  The guy was raising money for a FUCKING CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL!

What he wasn’t doing:

  • made any racist tweets since then
  • wasn’t raising money for a white’s only hospital
  • beating black people in the streets
  • remaining a 16 year old

Carson King, who was raising the money, apologized publicly and tried to make the point that he is not that person anymore and that he’s become kind and generous.  Which given what he is trying to do, seems fairly straightforward.  The apology of course cared little wait with Anhauser-Busch who have now distanced themselves from King.

There is good news here.  Although Anhauser-Busch rescinded their offer to give this guy a year’s supply of beer with his face on their can, they did agree to add to the donation to the hospital with what would have been that beer cost.   So the hospital will still get what they were promised.  More importantly the readers of the newspaper turned against them and complained about this ridiculous reporting.  They went further and decided to dig up old tweets on the reporter, Aaron King, who reported the story, forcing him to then apologize for his past tweets.

It seems to me that what’s really going on is that journalism is simply a competition to get clicks, and to do so they use racism as a tool to stir moral outrage among liberals.  And far too many liberals are falling for it hook, line, and sinker.  The way the attention economy has co-opted people with good intention is troubling and of course it happens on both sides of the political aisle.  In this case we can see the ridiculousness of it all, especially since so many products we buy and use are from companies that do far more harm than this man’s two tweets as a 16 year old high school student who thought he was trying to be funny.  It’s further concerning because this mentality of ‘cancel culture’ seems only interested in the condemnation of people, no matter how far in the past they held a certain view or acted in a certain way, and no matter what they have done since then.  No thought has been put into whether there is any apology good enough, or any actions that a person can take to restore public opinion about them.  I think this is important.  If we want to hold people accountable for their actions, we need to be able to also decide what is acceptable to make up for those mistakes.  I realize this is the hard part, there is going to be a lot of disagreement, but that doesn’t make it any less important.  Without that part, all we are doing is punishing and we move farther from creating the society we claim we want to create by supporting great liberal causes like better training for police, justice system reform, and decriminalization of illegal drugs.  These are great causes that indicates a desire for restorative justice over retributive justice.

I’m glad that readers of the newspaper fought back as I think many people also felt that we’re going off the deep end here.  Overall we have to do better.

*quote in feature image is from Quentin Thomas of the Brown Daily Herald

Salvation Army sneaks Creationist Literature to Children at Science Fair

Yesterday I took my son to a science fair here in our small city of Washington, PA called STEMfest.  It was the first time that such an event has occurred in the city, and after talking with one of the organizers I was pretty excited that this was something I could take my 5 year old. It was your typical science fair for the most part with local tech companies, universities and private high schools doing science demos and activities for kids.  For some reason the Salvation Army was there, but they seemed to be just there out of the goodness of their hearts.  They had little plastic cups where they helped the kids make slime.  Kids love making slime and then put it in a little ziploc bag.  I noticed that they also had slightly bigger Salvation Army plastic bags which I thought was just an extra safeguard in case the slime leaked out and didn’t get the other take home stuff from the event wet with slime.  However, something else was lurking in the bag.

Fast forward to this morning and my son is taking out stickers in this:

 

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Notice the cover indicates is meant to lure kids into believing this contains scientific information.  A bible resides on the science lab desk and somehow a cross appears in the atom symbol.

The pages inside don’t get any better by making their religious nonsense appear to be part of things for which we have scientific evidence.

 

At least they are promoting women in science right?  You can see the attempt to legitimize bible verses and religious rhetoric as scientific.  They have the gall to call this a Time Traveler Guide, but Day 1-5 is Creation, Old Testament, Visitation, Preparation, and Celebration. Inside is also a plastic transparency like thing where you are supposed to use a flashlight to find various scientific items, bible verses and symbols in a science lab.  A page of stickers, and then finally this exercise which asks the kid to “Complete the timeline with correct daily drawing sticker”

 

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My son was playing with stickers in the book before I saw what this was.  Fortunately he can’t read yet and constructed this according to his own logic, which I think you’ll like.  He says to me that “fire creates trees and then new leaves, leaves cause clouds and then rain, rain causes evil kings, and evil kinds lead to death.” We watch a lot of nature shows so he know forest fires lead to new growth and he knows trees give off a lot of moisture and creates clouds and rain in rain forests.  The evil king thing though remains a mystery.  🙂  Anyway, I told his explanation makes more sense than what this is actually trying to tell you.  This booklet is made by “Answers in Genesis”.  Which, as many know, is a particular dishonest Christian fundamentalist organization trying to push the Bible as being literally true (except for the parts that make no sense).

I am definitely going to complain to the organizers.  Despite this being a conservative county, I don’t expect they knew this was going on.  Given the one organizer I had talked to prior to the event, I don’t think the organizers intended for any booth to hand out religious literature.  The fact that such anti-science creationist nonsense was being snuck to kids, I’m sure (I hope) will come as a surprise.

My dad always had a soft spot for the Salvation Army as when my parents were starting out life together and didn’t have much money.  Salvation Army was helpful to them and was willing to marry them, as many other Christian pastors wouldn’t as they rejected a mixed marriage.  As a result I will still thrown in some money when they are asking for donations around Christmas time.  No longer.  The disturbing part here is how deviously the Salvation Army hid what they were handed out while sucking kids in with a fun activity, and how the booklet itself misrepresents religious claims as scientific with images meant to trick and indoctrinate children.  It’s simply appalling.  So be aware parents when taking your kids to a science event, you may find a wolf in a scientist’s clothing.

Discussion: Understanding Patriotism

Yesterday, one of my fellow bloggers made a post about how he doesn’t get all the drama surrounding national anthems, whether you stand, sing along, put your hand over your heart etc.  I share his sentiment.  I’m not much for forced rituals that are supposed to have meaning, but seem so common place, overdone, and generally practiced by so many people who don’t even seem to share those values that it just feels superficial.

I’d like to go a step further and say, I just really don’t understand the sentiment that people of your country are somehow more important than people from any other country.  This has been on my mind with the migrant crisis at the border.  You see so many comments from people who at best demonstrate indifference for refugees, to what essentially boils down to disgust.  I can’t for the life of me how the first reaction can’t be one of compassion.  These people are literally dying to get here, being made to suffer in intolerable detention centers because of the conditions that they are fleeing.  Instead of accepting that an entire political party simply uses any excuse to see them as people who need help.  Forget about accepting the fact that we made this problem through our fruitless war on drugs and that we should bear at least some responsibility for helping them now.

And nevermind the fact that when Syrian refugee crisis existed, the most moderate of Republicans well still like…”I won’t take them here, but we can help them over there.”  Meanwhile, I’ve heard when it was suggested that we provide aid to the central American countries as a way of keeping people there, people now say why should we give money to other countries?  Conservatives will talk about all the help American’s need here at home, but they won’t support welfare programs, they don’t put homelessness at the top of their political platforms, they won’t support first responders from 9/11.

I find the disregard for humans in need just insufferable.  Like being American was something most of us tried to do.  It wasn’t a choice, most of us were just born here.  If there is anybody who actually wants to be American it’s the people coming to our borders in need of help.  Accidents of geography are no basis to deny people who are suffering help.  Yet this patriotism banner is being waved like it actually means something.  Just maybe if such people were interested in helping Americans I might just believe it, but it’s all talk.  There are the people who can help, and those that need help.  That’s all.  Nationalism is meaningless to me, unless through that structure you can use that power to make lives better for other people on the planet that sustains us all.

Honestly I just don’t understand.  Anybody else that can help me to understand, I’m all ears.

The Unwise and the Immoral

The title of this post is related to another incident of victim blaming that was in the news not too long ago.  The incident involved model Bella Thorne having her computer hacked and the hacker making off with a number of private nude photos.  Bella Thorne, to sort of give a big “fuck you” to the hacker, released the photos herself on Twitter.  On The View, Whoopi Goldberg criticized Thorne saying essentially that one has to know in this day and age that storing such photos on a device connected to the internet (and you are a famous beautiful celebrity) is setting yourself up for this type of theft.  Goldberg then received a ton of backlash including some strong words from Thorne herself for being criticized when it was of course the hacker who was the person who did something wrong and that Goldberg “should know better”.  I suspect Goldberg does know better.  There is nothing about her that makes me think she isn’t a good feminist.  She has always had a no nonsense, blunt style and her comment here I don’t think is meant to give the hacker a pass.  I’ll go so far as to say that I think she makes a good point.  A point we should be able to talk about if framed correctly.  Before I get accused of victim blaming, let me go into more detail about what I mean.

Hacking is a reality of this day and age, and Thorne isn’t the first victim of this type of attack.  This has to be part of our consciousness.  There are laws against hacking, which is invading someone’s privacy and stealing personal property, and their should be.  It is theft and violation, plain and simple.  We can say that the hacker is immoral in his actions.  I think we can say that we all wish we lived in a world in which there were no hackers, and in which a woman’s body wasn’t a commodity that someone could profit on, such that this hacker could ostensibly get leverage over Thorne or other victims of this crime.  As a society we must continue to strive to fix this bigger problem.  Since we don’t live in that kind of society yet, we must also act wisely.  To do so requires us to be able to have conversations about wise and unwise actions to keep people and property from harm.  I am sort of reminded of that old joke where a guy meets a doctor at a social gathering and tries to get some free medical advice and says “Hey doc, my arm hurts whenever I do this. (Imagine whatever arm motion you like).  What should I do?”  And the doctor responds “Don’t move your arm like that.”  Clearly there is a bigger issue to solve Image result for moving arm gifwith that person’s arm, but in the short term, not doing a motion that causes you pain might be wise.  We should be able to simultaneously talk about short term solutions to protect ourselves, while also addressing bigger issues that increase equality and safety for all people rendering this short term acts of caution more irrelevant over time.

If there is a neighborhood where you have an increased chance of being mugged or harmed, all sorts of people will tell you to avoid walking through that neighborhood.  It is not meant to say that they condone violence or theft upon you or anybody else, it is simply meant as advice to keep you out of harms way.  We don’t get all bent out of shape by such advice, but the conversation goes south when women are blamed for their decisions in these types of incidents, or worse crimes like sexual violence.  And I think for good reason.  There have been some criticisms of social media for the fighting that erupted between two women who are likely on the same side of the fight against the patriarchy, but I’m actually not too upset about social media here, because maybe this is a conversation that needs to be had more often.

We have an older and wiser Goldberg, criticizing the wisdom of a younger Thorne.  Perhaps Goldberg feels like she was helping young girls everywhere be wary of putting compromising pictures of themselves in less than secure places based on what can happen to them.  Goldberg’s mistake however was that she also lacked some wisdom here.  As much as I’d like to live in a society where we could have honest conversations about what is a wise or unwise decision when crimes happen, when it comes to crimes against women there is just a long history of the “unwise” decision of a woman being used as an excuse for a man’s immorality and criminal behavior.  If a person is beaten and robbed in that unsafe neighborhood, the police will still arrest and charge the perpetrators, but too many men have gotten off Scot free because of what was deemed a woman’s unwise decision.  Furthermore the basis of what was considered unwise for a woman, does not apply to a man.  In fact very often their unwise decisions are used to further excuse them from wrongdoing.  A woman drinks too much at a party?  Well then of course she kind of Image result for victim blamingdeserves to be raped.  A guy drinks too much at a party? Well clearly he didn’t really mean to rape her, he just had too many beers and didn’t know what he was doing.  Let’s just sentence him to talk about the dangers of drinking.  It’s a huge problem and women have a right to absolutely tired of it.  Goldberg could have said what she said in a much better way that made it clear who the bad actor was in this situation.

Let me also add that the best people in our society are ones who could take advantage but don’t and instead help people be more safe.  Thorne was already punished and probably knows by now what she should have done and doesn’t need Goldberg’s advice after the fact.  So the timing of the comment is also unhelpful.  Like Fareed Zakaria’s advice to Sam Harris after another rant about Islam being the mother lode of bad ideas “Yeah, you’re right, but you’re not helping.”  Being right, and being helpful are often two different things.