February 1, 2012

great reads: to my old master

Seldom in life does one come across such a elegant "go fuck yourself." I can only envy the skill.

Enjoy this letter from a former slave to his old master.

posted by john at 8:02 AM  â€¢  permalink

March 18, 2011

uncle tom 2011

To many a white folk, what Michael Wilbon refers to as "Black World" isn't so much a mystery as something of which we're completely unaware. It might as well be a deep-sea ecosystem, so alien and unseen it is.

In the context of the Grant Hill/Fab Five dustup, Wilbon does a good job of lowering a bathysphere into Black World—explaining some critical, even self-destructive, Black World dynamics.

You can tell his audience is primarily white people because he speaks of black socioeconomic strata in terms we're sure to understand: sitcom characters. I winced, but more at that choice's probable necessity than at the choice itself.

posted by john at 8:28 AM  â€¢  permalink

February 22, 2011

great reads: the day the movies died

Most critics blame Star Wars for inventing the brainless, soulless summer blockbuster. I do not. They draw a straight line from The Empire Strikes Back to Transformers 3. I cannot. Star Wars wasn't Easy Rider or the Godfather by any means, but to suggest it is the artless forbear of Pirates of the Caribbean V is equally indefensible.

In this article, writer Mark Harris puts the blame squarely where it belongs.

posted by john at 6:42 AM  â€¢  permalink

November 8, 2010

great reads: bad science

I know I shouldn't look. It never ends well. But when I got to the end of an article about W's new memoirs, I did it anyway. I read the user comments.

"Librals [sic] just can't stand the thought of a smart Republican like Bush being President," said one.

"Bush says its okay for Americans to get waterboarded," said another.

"What is wrong with me that I'm reading these again?" said John. "I mean, seriously?"

greatreads.jpgLibrals, of course, said nothing of the kind, nor did Bush. It was more poor argumentation from a society that seems increasingly unable to separate fact from fallacy, evidence from assertion. And yes, for me it all ties into the validation theory. We assert whatever set of "facts," real and imaginary, validates us. This is why people so zealously believe that which is demonstrably untrue, like, say, Obama being a Muslim Nazi non-citizen. Hell, pick one.

Which brings us to this week's Great Read. On the surface, it actually has little to do with the sort of argumentation I'm discussing. In her Newsweek editorial, "What Kids Should Be Learning in Science Class," Sharon Begley argues that instead of making science students memorize the minutiae of Ohm's law, which most of them will never need to know, we should teach them how to spot bullshit masquerading as science. To make them better thinkers.

"Hallelujah!" I thought as I read this, fresh off the heels of Bush waterboarding Obama's family Mullah. If my generation had learned to think instead of learning the names of the veins in fetal pigs, perhaps we wouldn't be mindlessly buying into counterproductive nonsense like all-electric cars and high-speed rail (this latter article, fittingly, was on the page opposite Begley's).

And perhaps, just perhaps, a fellow who demands that scientists pony up evidence to back their claims would demand likewise from himself.

posted by john at 7:59 AM  â€¢  permalink

October 6, 2010

great reads: the kill whitey study

Would it be moral to sacrifice one life to save several?

I remember these f-u questions from Philosophy 101 class. I also remember being quite alone in my eagerness to throw grandpa under the out-of-control bus in order to save 30 children from certain death. "But John, what if it was your grandpa?" my teacher asked, trying to trap me.

"Easy. He's dead as a carp."

"Yes. Well. But what if he were alive?"

"Even better. Can we get more busses? He was a miserable asshole. The kids are presumably still innocents."

greatreads.jpg"But..." The teacher was trying to get me to change my moral choice, to prove that my choice was a matter of preference and not ethics. He shouldn't have chosen to kill a relative, which I found both ethical and quite satisfying.

Now imagine if my teacher had trapped us differently. Would it be okay to sacrifice a man named Tyrone Payton in order to save the New York Philharmonic? How about offing Chip Ellsworth III in order to save the Harlem Jazz Orchestra? Oh, and are you a conservative or liberal?

Just such a study found that the suggestion of race changed people's moral choices. That our preference trumps any consistent set of ethics. Conservatives were more likely to chuck Tyrone than Chip, and liberals were their mirror image, preferring to off Chip over Tyrone.

Says the study's author: “The idea is not that people are or are not utilitarian; it’s that they will cite being utilitarian when it behooves them. People aren’t using these principles and then applying them. They arrive at a judgment and seek a principle.”

But of course, we already knew that people are swine who retro-justify doing whatever they want. We just hadn't seen it quantified.

posted by john at 9:34 AM  â€¢  permalink

August 6, 2010

great reads: into the mind of a modern teenager

greatreads.jpgToday, I'm starting a new post category: great reads. Whenever I come upon an article I love, I'll pass it on.

• • •

Tired of seeing his work stolen online, a composer had given up on doing anything about it. But then he realized there was one thing no one ever tried. So he personally wrote the thieves and asked them to stop stealing his work. Many wrote back. One was a teenage girl who didn't understand why he was infringing on her rights.

Fighting with Teenagers: A Copyright Story

This girl takes the classic "if a starving man steals a loaf of bread to feed his family, is it wrong?" ethical debate to a whole new level. She's an artist. Artists want, nay, need to steal his music and take money from his pocket. Why is he being such a douche about it?

posted by john at 9:47 AM  â€¢  permalink

July 21, 2010

great reads: ye know on earth, and all ye need to know

greatreads.jpgIntuitively, we know that the more we challenge people's beliefs, the more they dig their heels into whatever bullshit they believe.

Well, these guys proved it. A fascinating study that indicts people all over the political spectrum. And my, does it support my core belief: that the human need for validation trumps everything else. Even iron-clad facts.

A great read.

posted by john at 10:25 AM  â€¢  permalink