Improving news: introducing complexity


Secular Talk: Burden of Proof and fundamentalists

He makes a great point in this video about burden of proof: the default assumption when you read something is that you’re supposed to take it literally. When someone tries to read the bible in a more complicated way, they are required to meet the burden of proof and not just wash their hands and say that “no one really knows so let’s move on.”

Elon Musk’s kid submarine

I am cracking up at the idea of him leaving his unwanted useless present behind in a cave, “Just in case it might be useful in the future.” While I don’t share the hate many socialists and liberals have for him (because it’s almost as though they want him to fail), I do think he is a technocrat who often jumps into areas where he knows nothing. Areas where the problem isn’t an engineering one. In effect he’s a clown.


And his eye-catching tunnel project appears worse and worse the more I put aside my novelty seeking emotional desire for a new fast mode of transport and realize that what most of LA needs is just plain old metros rather than new underground taxis for the rich.



Trump Never Wrote the Art of the Deal

Trump never wrote the book Art of the deal, but claimed credit. His Boomer ghost writer regrets writhing it for him and thinks Trump plans to resign to save face soon. Boomers have poor values and no spine.

Continue reading Trump Never Wrote the Art of the Deal

It is the willingness of scientists to say “I don’t know”-to really integrate doubt into their view of the world-that constitutes their privileged position with respect to truth

I just read part of an email exchange Sam Harris had a a few years ago with Andrew Sullivan, a ‘moderate’ conservative gay Catholic who worked for the Atlantic (how much cognitive dissonance he must live with!) It was a fruitless exchange and shows the limits of rational discourse when religious people simply refuse to answer Socratic questions or have their premises challenged. So I just wanted to share a well written paragraph by Sam Harris:

It is the willingness of scientists to say “I don’t know”-to really integrate doubt into their view of the world-that constitutes their privileged position with respect to truth. As you know, there are an uncountable number of questions upon which religion once offered a faith-based answer, which have now been ceded to the care of science. Indeed, the process of scientific conquest and religious forfeiture is relentless, unidirectional, and highly predictable. Some smart person begins to doubt received opinion-about the causes of illness, the movement of celestial bodies, the nature of sensory perception, etc.-he or she then observes the world more closely (often making shrewd use of technology and/or mathematics) and makes predictions that can be verified by others. What we see, time and again, is a general unwillingness for religious people to seriously interact with this discourse (and even an eagerness to subjugate or murder its perpetrators) whenever it challenges doctrines to which they are emotionally attached. Eventually, however, the power that comes with actually understanding the world becomes too seductive to ignore, and even the clerics give in. In this way, real knowledge, being truly universal, erodes the basis for religious discord. Muslims and Christians cannot disagree about the causes of cholera, for instance, because whatever their holy books might say about infectious disease, a genuine understanding of cholera has arrived from another quarter. Epidemiology trumps religion (or it should), especially when people are watching their children die. This is where our hope for a truly nonsectarian future lies: when things matter, people tend to want to understand what is actually going on in the world. Science (and rational discourse generally) delivers this understanding and offers a very frank appraisal of its current limitations; Religion fails on both counts.

Pew: over half of America believes in the biblical god


Over half of America believes in the God as depicted in the bible,  another 30 percent believe in a higher power. Only ten percent believe in neither which is sad.
More interesting is that Democrats are almost twice as likely to not believe in the biblical God, although they’re twice as likely to believe in some other higher power. Moreover there are racial differences and only 32% of white Democrats believe in the biblical God–perhaps I should talk to more white Democrats!

(I just have to avoid the Democrats who believe in some other woo-woo. Even then, talking about Yahweh and conservatism can get boring, so I guess I’d rather talk to a polygamous Pagan.)
Moreover, eight-in-ten of those ages 18 to 29 say they believe in at least some kind of spiritual force. This means even now only 1 out of 5 people people under 30 has common ground with me. Even then, the number is smaller of those who embrace the enlightenment values on open discourse, without turning to SJWism or the equivalent intolerance of debate you can find in the far right.

Americans who criticized Islam centuries ago

The great Scottish skeptic David Hume observed caustically that the Koran “bestows praise on such instances of treachery, inhumanity, cruelty, revenge, bigotry, as are utterly incompatible with civilized society.”

Quotes like this from the people we most respect would be considered hate speech today, and they would be deplatformed at Berkley.


Kyle Kulinski’s Secular Talk podcasts

I have mixed feelings about Kyle Kulinski’s Secular Talk. He sometimes leans in directions I’m often not comfortable with, and as Sam Harris pointed out, he sometimes invites people onto his show who are dishonest and doesn’t push-back enough. Maybe he’ll get better when he’s older.

Anyway, between Kyle Kulinski and Joe Rogan, I think the people who call themselves anti-establishment social libertarians tend to believe in a lot of ungrounded conspiratorial speculation which make me uncomfortable. I don’t like how Kyle Kulinski downplays Russia’s interference in our elections, and the attacks on our intelligence agencies. I also think he’ll waste 9 minutes rambling because he wants to have it both ways, and on a lot of issues he hedges his bets, perhaps to avoid criticism.

I also disagree with Kyle’s views on foreign policy, since he calls Hitchens his least favorite author among the atheist writers, and then says, “He lost his mind and went full neocon.” He also thought Galloway won his debates versus Hitchens, while I ended up agreeing with Hitchens after I watched that debate. Galloway is an Anti-American apologist for Muslims and dictators. I really wish Kyle will someday grow up and embrace Hitchens views about bringing democracy to the world–this is something the establishment is often right about, and something Steven Pinker would be more likely to support. You can believe that the Iraqi war was justified while wanting more social democracy.

Kyle’s podcast isn’t useless, can have insights, and his pantomiming can be entertaining, but I wish he would stop harping about our need to pull out of the all foreign wars in every single episode. He’s actually too nativist for me, and I care about what happens beyond our borders. You might disagree with how the Iraq or Afghanistan wars were conducted, but attacking those autocratic countries was infinitely better than doing nothing and letting them stay regressive shit-holes. Afghanistan launched terrorist attacks, and Iraq murdered its own people, but Kyle just wanted to sit back and watch. He has an insane level of moral blindness.


Incidentally,  I can understand why someone like Dave Rubin would leave TYT once he realized they had gone SJW, but it’s insanely illiberal to support Trump and Rubin had she would support him over Sanders in 2020. He just went from one extreme to the other and has created another stupid conservative talk radio agenda of putting on conservatives,  and not pushing back against them. Why is he considered part of this intellectual dark web, and why are they are left hating centrists and crazy conservatives who forgive Trump? I think Rubin is taking advantage of Harris to gain credibility for putting on a few center lefts, and to expand his base.

Joe Rogan impressions

Lots of atheists are now doing podcasts like Sam Harris. I was watching a Secular Talk episode where Kyle Kulinski talks to Joe Rogan. It was kind of an interesting episode as they talked about the problems of grandstanding and Joe Rogan’s experiences as a comic. I got the impression he was a skeptic, and Youtube linked me to to Joe Rogan talking with Steven Pinker and Neil deGrasse Tyson. I sort of brushed a few troubling signs, but now I’ve discovered Joe Rogan pretends to be agnostic on way too many topics while presenting radically conspiratorial views as possible, such as that the Moon landings are a hoax, or that 9/11 really looks like a controlled demolition, and or that the pharmaceutical industry is holding back stem cells.

I prefer Sam Harris’s podcast because there’s less bullshit. I do find it interesting though how he has an assistant who will look up things on Google to put on the screen whenever you ask for a visual aid, or want to quickly fact check something. Of course, you cannot be certain that you have found the answers after 15-20 seconds on Google, and we must be wary of shortcuts, and it can easily lead to the false belief we’re now an expert in something, (or the Dunning-Kruger effect.)

Even so, it is still something I do all the time with my friends when I want to explain a concept by showing them something on the web. It lends a kind of informal casual air to the show and I expect new media geared at millennials to incorporate increasingly more visual aids from the internet. Society is going in that direction, and I do wish more shows would have assistants who do that, so we don’t have to look at talking heads. I do kind of like hearing a couple of celebrities talk, bullshit and chill-out on his show once in a while. So even though it’s not the same caliber of rigor or skepticism you’d expect of a Sam Harris podcast, his show is relaxing and not worthless.

Just don’t expect a Sam Harris podcast–Sam finds his guests by reading an article or a book by someone and then invites them onto his program, where he tends to try and find higher levels where he can disagree and push-back. I have the impression Joe Rogan probably runs a quick search on the internet and spends more time getting high rather than reading the books of anyone he invites onto his show.


Today’s news from social media (6/25/2018)

On social media Glenn Beck just walked off CNN interview, and then did a turn and “kind of” apologized to Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz on twitter today. Though a preliminary check of Rational Wiki revealed that he spent many years going crazy with conspiracy theories and partisan bullshit, when he had a program on Fox news, and as the owner of “the Blaze,” (a conservative news aggregator.) He was also a rodeo clown and is still a Mormon. So I’m not sure if it’s an act as he tries to associate himself with the “intellectual dark web,” or if he has seen some error in his needlessly incendiary ways in the era of Trump, and has decided he wants to moderate himself a little better. Judging by his one-sided incendiary Twitter attacks on liberals,  I think he’s lying again like a sociopath trying to save his popularity and his failing company.

Anyway it’s strange to read his twitter and see the right is demanding civility even though they voted for a guy who used so many nicknames you can’t even screen cap it:

Meanwhile on Fox news, Trump’s campaign manager told a black man “You’re out of your cotton picking mind!” If that isn’t a racist dog whistle then I don’t know what is, but somehow the Trumpers will defend this even though so many of the people he employs are low class bigots. (And in defending it, they’ll show they’re comfortable with racism and racist epithets, which is fortunate as it makes it easy for liberals to identify our worst enemies.)

More importantly, Sam Harris had an influential debate with Jordan Peterson, on an important panel that I look forward to seeing. His term, “The intellectual dark web” is catchy and promises to reverberate for years. Perhaps it’ll be even more significant than the new atheism label has been, as a term that encourages rationality, openminededness and debate.