The New Terrapin Gazette

Number 280
27 November, 2012

…according to the Copenhagen interpretation, the ultimate constituents of the material world would have definite properties (as waves or particles and possessing a definite location or velocity) only in the presence of measurement — that is to say an observer. In other words, quantum phenomena require consciousness and so cannot generate it.

Genius, Stupidity, Guile, And Error

When Susan Rice made some false statements regarding the Benghazi murders, she either lied or she repeated incorrect information; her critics jumped on the nonsense she claimed was accurate, and the response from Obamoid partisans was to claim she was being demonized by racists. That’s so difficult to prove that it might as well be classified as a meaningless charge. Worse yet, it does suggest that some folks in positions of authority and responsibility must, by virtue of their genetic endowment, be considered inerrant and above all reproach.

Anyone can make a mistake. The most ethical person can stoop to lies or deceit, perhaps rationalizing as he does that in an imperfect world, circumstances may require resort to expedient means in order to achieve the greater good.

And of course that’s the problem, isn’t it? That’s how good people became Nazis, and looked the other way rather than sacrifice themselves protesting enormities they could not possibly prevent or halt. That’s how decent parents sent their boys off to the Hitler Jugend, and that’s how parents in North Korea today send their four- and five-year-old girls off to inhumane camps where the helpless tots are trained to perform in homage to the glory of the nation’s nauseating leadership. That’s how Obamites enlist their children in creepy songfests celebrating the grandeur of The One. That’s how all of us, union members, educators, civil servants, cops, auto mechanics and chambermaids, learn to go along rather than fuss when we function as part of a partially corrupt system.

Susan Rice has a brilliant educational background. So…what? Well, not much, actually. Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse did, too. B. F. Skinner did, and so did Sigmund Freud and Margaret Mead. Benjamin Rush was (and still is, unfortunately) hugely respected. And all those folks did incalculable harm. Ignaz Semmelweis was, at the end of his life, insane, and he was completely wrong about the why of his attempts to improve surgery, but if his reforms had been introduced, an incredible amount of misery and many needless deaths could have been prevented.

Perhaps the only thing one can deduce from all this is that it is never a good idea to elevate anyone above all possible criticism and/or above all possible punishment.

If Susan Rice deserves to go because of what she did in service to her leader, she deserves to go. If she was lied to and she repeated those lies, perhaps she knew better — and perhaps she needs to go. Perhaps. It’s impossible to say, for bureaucrats and politicians are seldom candid. They can’t afford it.

Finally, do take an aggressively skeptical attitude toward anyone who responds to attacks on what a person did as if they were “coded” attacks on the person for having the wrong DNA. That’s never a provable charge — you can’t know what’s in the mind of anyone else, and many times you are not fully aware of your own motives — and it cannot make a contribution to rational debate over facts and policies. It’s often a dishonest attempt to distract, mislead, stall, and derail objective examination of the facts.

Susan Rice was wrong; start with that. People in her position are supposed to be right, so one can reasonably ask what happened. Go from there, and remain rational.

Sales

Blame it on W

Science and Certainty

The arrival of a new book (reviewed here) prompts the observation that the dispute between “Creationism” (which includes “Intelligent Design”) and the standard biological concept of evolution as a matter of mutation and natural selection is based in how people respond to uncertainty. The book makes clear that all facts are conditional; that’s one of the assumptions of science. Literally anything thought to be true can be considered contingent, in other words — the only possible exception being the truths-by-definition of arithmetic and mathematics.

Russell and Whitehead labored mightily to prove that one plus one really is two, and by all accounts, they succeeded. (Google them and “Principia Mathematica” if you care.) Everything else, meaning all of science, is open to revision. Yes, that includes the atomic weight of hydrogen as well as the speed of light and the explanations for incest regulations in human society.

In basing itself on proof rather than faith, science demonstrates its wisdom. Unfortunately not all persons are satisfied with that foundation. Many people require the utter surety of knowing that this or that fact is true. The idea that anything can be challenged and some things might be proved wrong is downright scary for these poor souls.

The brawl that developed years ago between “Creationists” and “Evolutionists” can never be settled to the satisfaction of both sides. It’s fundamentally a struggle over the importance of certainty.

When “Creationists” deride evolution, they usually attack the concept as promoted by Darwin. That’s a huge mistake, because few if any up-to-date biologists believe Darwin was correct on all issues or explained everything sufficiently. So kicking holes in Darwinism is not terribly difficult. In fact this newsletter has done exactly that.

As more is learned and the theories are improved, Darwin’s naive optimism that he had found a viable theory fades, and discoveries replace speculation. In theoretical biology, Ludwig von Bertalanffy was perhaps the leading light of the twentieth century; his insights remain invaluable, especially his theory of general systems and his statement that there is a teleological aspect to evolution that needs to be explored. Recently, epigenetics has begun to display great promise, and for the first time the irrational concept of evolution proceeding strictly out of a confluence of random mutation and natural selection bids fair to be dethroned. Nonsense is eroding as the study of evolution continues.

Darwin, you see, offered a grand vision — the familial relationship of all organisms — and a hobbyist’s guess of how an existing species could give rise to a new one. That’s only partly a scientific view, for it glosses over the mechanics of evolution in favor of an argument that evolution must have happened, and probably is still going on. As this newsletter will insist in months to come, that viewpoint has been accepted with entirely too much enthusiasm, resulting in simple-minded notions that science has everything figured out and that the human animal is a fascinatingly transparent mechanism. But let that go for now; it will be explored in a coming discussion of “Darwinism”, an aberration that takes science off the rails and into erroneous dogma. The topic for now is the monumental distinction between those who demand certainty and those who seek demonstrable answers without fear of overthrowing existing understandings.

Change, the discovery of new phenomena and the creation of new ways of observing the world, are of great benefit to science. But to a person who demands certitude and inerrancy, change is anathema. It is at this very fundamental point that religion and science part company, never again to communicate genially.

As the scientists work, they uncover past errors and hoaxes. Eoanthropus dawsonii, the risible fake known as Piltdown Man, is a prime example. While paleoanthropologists celebrate the fraud as proof that science corrects itself, “Creationists” damn science for having made a mistake in the first place. One error, one bad guess, one incomplete or impartial theory, and the faith-based critics of Darwin feel they have discredited science, and can rationally dismiss it as irresponsible, harebrained and bigoted — now and forever.

What “Creationists” do not understand is that the number of mistakes science uncovers is not a shameful statistic; in fact, the higher it is, the better the science. All first efforts need refinement and are laced with errors. Clearing them up is how bright people move closer to the truth.

As new fossil evidence of hominids is discovered, various extinct species and genera undergo revision (taxonomy is the attribution of order to nature, and it’s a high-risk undertaking). That gradual improvement is bitterly mocked by “Creationists” as just more fumbling and dissembling and confused speculation. For the faith-based critics of Darwin, the alteration of theories proves not that science has improved its accuracy, but that the entire discipline is a comedic series of pratfalls, madcap claims, wild guesswork and humbug. The geological and physical evidence of the age of the earth are simply disputed; one learns that “not all geologists agree”, and that “the physics is not solid”. Any alteration in the present theories “proves” the invalid nature of the scientific method, which is portrayed as guesswork motivated by a desire to promote opinion over fact and heresy over faith.

(A brief digression to define the term “theory” may be in order. For scientists, a theory is a body of information derived from observation, experimentation and reason that offers an explanation for a phenomenon. It is the best current answer to questions of what, how and why something exists and/or happens. It is current and consonant with what is known. To a “Creationist”, a theory is a guess, a speculation, a conclusion that is presented as something people might want to think about. Theories are not correct — they are opinions. They always include errors, which demonstrates their unreliability and fundamental logical flaw: they can be ignored as unconvincing because they change with the winds, and never provide an inerrant basis in which a rational person can trust. The fact that they can and do change disqualifies them as sources of knowledge, for the very terms “mistaken knowledge” and “false knowledge” are oxymorons. Science is unreliable.)

Interestingly enough, the next step in this bogus debate will be for “Creationists” to insist that genuine science proves their contentions. One can hardly assume that the proofs will go smoothly. When the desired answer guides the research and analysis, the result is similar to the infamous hockey stick graph produced by Mike Mann at Penn State; his rigging of the data and manipulation of principal component analysis produced the graph, which in no sense depicts climatic temperatures of the past and today. One can only expect parallel efforts from faith-inspired “Creationists”.

Now the argument heats up. If one must, simply must, begin with absolute, permanent, certain, inerrant and eternal truths, one can hardly resort to — of all possible sources — The Old and New Testaments. Which version of creation do you favor (there are two in Genesis)? Which version of the Ten Commandments do you choose (there are two)? Are you comfortable with those Heavenly commandments that impose the death penalty for “taking the Lord’s name in vain”, for working on the Sabbath, for cursing one’s parent, and for committing adultery? Which of the two irreconcilable genealogies of Jesus do you accept? Where, exactly, do you find a link between the writings of Paul and the synoptic gospels? There is nothing convincing. Paul, who did not write all the epistles attributed to him, was unconcerned with the biography of Jesus, though he wrote the earliest known Christian manuscripts. In fact Paul’s theological concepts are consistent with a view that a historical Jesus never existed, though Paul makes no such claim.

The confusions and contradictions and horrors found in the Bible (such as the Old Testament rule on precisely how brutally violent a master may be when beating his slave!) have very reasonably given rise to many sects’ assertions that the book must be understood as literature that inspires spiritual contemplation, while contemporary study of it should be guided by theologians and professional keepers of the faith. Jewish sects approach the Old Testament from differing starting points, and advise their congregations differently. The Roman Catholic church has long insisted that the Bible must be understood properly, namely with the wisdom of the doctors of the church directing interpretation and practice. Many religious groups venerate the Bible without insisting that it is all one needs in order to incorporate the significance of theistic insight into one’s life.

Those are not bad ideas. If one craves solid, incontrovertible facts that are known to be perfect, immutable and absolute, one can hardly depend on the Bible. Times have changed, and the book has not; does that mean the laws it mandates must be followed to the letter today, or do humans have a say in shaping change?

The Bible is not absolutely, eternally and in all matters reliable. Nor is science, which is proudly conditional: it welcomes new evidence — at least it’s supposed to, though sometimes it resists mightily, and very improperly (Fleming; Marshall and Warren). After all, today’s miracle drug may turn out to be harmful (Interferon and EnteroVioform). What’s wrong here?

Well, the demand that knowledge be perfect is wildly irrational. It cripples inquiry, stifles improvement, mires scholarship in dogma, and crushes the freedom of the individual. If medicine adopted the ethos of “Creationism”, treatment of illness would be reduced to blood-letting and the prescription of emetics and purgatives, if not to shamanism. If all science and technology proceeded according to the “Creationist” principles of knowledge, even eighteenth century technology would not exist. Every new device would be rejected because it might be flawed, could not last forever, or had come from a company that had improved the design of its products in the past.

The quest for information and knowledge and understanding seems likely to be eternal. It is a process that never concludes with perfect, total knowledge. If you are uncomfortable with that, then perhaps you need to understand a bit better just how little of the universe you need to understand. Mankind did reasonably well without quantum mechanics for a considerable period of time, and if that bizarre, fairy-tale science is someday disproved, mankind will carry on. Whether Pluto is a planet, whether there ever was life on Mars — those questions may be interesting, but really, who cares? The astronomers will find what they find, and the anthropologists may discover that their current understanding of the mechanics of evolution needs serious repair. Again, so what? If things like that disturb you to the point that you reject reason, science and discovery, you need help. Faith can be a serious, even fatal, problem (as many followers of Islam demonstrate).

So: read Karl Popper, or this new book mentioned at the beginning of this rant, or maybe Stuart Kauffman’s At Home in the Universe. Understand that an improved understanding is not to be feared, but welcomed. Do not make the idiotic mistake of thinking that because you have erred in the past, all your future efforts must necessarily be futile and irrelevant — and do not apply that silly reasoning to the works of others. Note that there is more to life than what you know, and you could be wrong about a bunch of stuff, some of it stuff you have cherished for a long time. Finally, have a couple of bottles of Guinness and ask yourself why in the world you have to be right, utterly inerrant, all the damn time!

Links

Professional stage magicians Penn and Teller deal seriously with patriotism, Liberty, and foundational values. If you are sensitive to cusswords, Penn’s commentary will have you cringing. Still, this video gets NTG’s highest recommendation.

JFK assassination hobbyists can shut up now. Please.

The cover-up of the cover-up: Team Obama, with tons of help from its obsequious friends in the news media, is now lying about its lies. You doubtless recall the obsessive ferocity of the press in the Watergate scandal, and you know that nobody was killed in that ridiculous misadventure; nothing was even stolen. Yet covering it up cost a president his office. And how about Fast and Furious? The Obamites got away with that bloody obscenity, didn’t they? They pulled it off because the overwhelming majority of the populace still has no clear idea of what happened — and how Holder fended off rational questions about the lethal insanity of the crackpot scheme (a precursor of which the W administration had wisely scuttled before it could cause any harm). If you don’t see the point, ask yourself two questions: do you think Nixon could have survived Fast and Furious? How is it that Obama did?

At last! Sanity, and it works.

The hyenas are back, slinking in the shadows, snuffling and slavering…do you recall when, years ago, this newsletter complained bitterly that some sickeningly evil autocrats had managed to get the UN to try to wrest control of the internet from the USA? Well, the villains are trying again. This newsletter’s favorite reporter, Claudia Rosett (she who was virtually alone in the world, reporting the many ugly aspects of Kofi’s Oil for Food racket, which was the biggest scam in human history), will tell you what the elite of the globe’s crooks, murderers, liars and tyrants is up to. Of course the dictators want the internet. As Claudia says, “…with the UN on the job, what could possibly go wrong?” Perhaps a better question is, with Obama in the White House, do the biggest rascals on earth know their chances are now infinitely better than they were the first time around? The horror is deftly reported here, and with a touch of sarcastic humor. Fine, but don’t brush this news off as inconsequential: it has seismic implications for the future of Liberty and the survival of corruption, dictatorship, and monumental levels of human misery. Of all the organizations in the world, the UN is the worst choice to oversee the internet. The Mafia would be better.

Blasphemy, or just imprudent words? More likely a simple statement with which many agree (free stuff buys a lot of friends). And the consequences? One can be forgiven for suspecting that the old Chinese curse has been invoked: “May you live in interesting times.”

Economic policy, journalists and the fundamentals of finance/investment/taxation: some ruminations for those of you who care whether Paul Krugman is…well, sane.

This is just for fun. Oh, go ahead.

How utterly disillusioning. It’s actually a betrayal of principle. However…before you agree, see what a principal in the mess has to say.

Bigmouth

Consistency

Preparing for war: One, Two, Three. Easy as pie. Pulling back may not be such a snap.

The claim: “…black voters turned out as enthusiastically as they did in 2008, even though Obama’s economy has been responsible for unemployment skyrocketing in black communities.” Now it’s time to reap the rewards of such loyalty. Some would say that a US president should not be deeply indebted to anyone for his power, but should make decisions based on a finely-tuned sense of ethics. Payoffs, in other words, are inimical to the principles of a genuine democratic republic as Western Civilization defines that form of government. Try telling that to a Chicago community organizer turned politician….

In an interesting article on the reality of Obamacare, the author comes to two depressing conclusions: “…In the view of Obama and his minions companies are in business to provide free stuff to their employees….” And: “Now the demographic Obamacare sought to help is finding itself not only without health coverage, it is also required to work two jobs to make ends meet.”

Once again, the subject is freedom of speech and the people who hate it. Why worry? Consider the first few moments of this video. That’s an official of the Department of Justice of the United States of America repeating, repeating weasel words. Then consider the implications of the words uttered by his boss. These men neither understand nor support the first amendment to the US constitution; in fact, they remind one of Kofi Anan.

As if you did not have enough to worry about…! Well, collectivist regimes do like to impose themselves into the private lives of the ruled class. It’s a prime target for fascists. (Tip: don’t be put off by that huge blue blob; scroll down. The text really is there.)

No more time to tell how
This is the season of what
Now is the time of returning
With thought jewels polished and gleaming

Now is the time past believing
The child has relinquished the reign
Now is the test of the boomerang
Tossed in the night of redeeming

The masthead includes a quote from the works of Raymond Tallis.

The staff of The New Terrapin Gazette expresses its sincere gratitude to the many people who have gifted the world with Fedora Linux, Emacs, and Firefox.

Publisher: The Eagle Wing Palace of The Queen Chinee.