OMG AHH!!

27 04 2009

DID YOU HEAR? THE SKY IS FLUING THE SKY IS FLUING!! WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIIIIIEEEEE!!! THE FLU WILL KEEEEEEEEL UUUUUUSSS!!!!!

Oh, what’s that you say? It’s only a 6% mortality rate, and that’s only counting people diagnosed, meaning the mortality rate is actually much lower? This isn’t 1918, we have antiviral medication and understand how the flu works and can treat it quite well? The chances of it even going pandemic are very low? Hysterics make things worse, not better? LIAR! THE SKY, SHE IS FALLING!

This whole thing is a perfect example of why the news media is not functional. They do not provide a reasoned, calm, realistic analysis, they launch “swine flue tracking” programs, run stories about the panic it (they) are causing, and are generally more histrionic than a squirrel on amphetamines.

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Go China!

27 04 2009

That’s right, I’m rooting for the Chinese. In what, and why? Well, let’s start at the beginning.

On July 16th, 1945, the Trinity test was conducted. America was the first and only country to master the most devastating weapon humanity had ever seen.

When 1949 dawned, we were secure in the knowledge that the Russians would not have the bomb for at least 3 more years. We were rather shocked (not to mention terrified), therefore, when later that year the Russians detonated their own nuclear bomb. We were ahead of them and could blame it on spies, however, so all that came of it was the Red Scare, rather than a period of national introspection.

Then, in 1957, the event which I consider to be, symbolically if not practically, the most important event in human history to date took place. I’m referring, of course, to Sputnik’s launch. This time, America had no response. We were still a long way from space, and so this time we looked at ourselves and realized that we were simply not prepared to compete.

Our response was to launch a massive research and education program. Sputnik brought about a fundamental rethinking of United States STEM education, especially science and math programs in public schools. Excellence, it was realized, mattered. Science and math programs received huge amounts of funding and attention, and were reformed to truly provide a solid science and mathematics education. Post Sputnik programs weren’t perfect (funding was often pulled from other subjects, most of which also matter), but they were important, and they generally worked.

***

US education is a mess. Science isn’t really taught in schools, facts are. The scientific method is, ironically, taught by memorization, and as if it were a rigid, restrictive, tidy structure. Math, when it isn’t paced far too slowly, often skims over important fundamental concepts. English destroys rather than fosters a love of reading, and where it could be used to teach intelligent insight and thought, is instead turned into a postmodern playground. History is taught as dates, names, and bits of legislation. Analysis of it and application of it is mediocre at best.

That brings us to China. They are going to be the next superpower, and pretty soon will be our biggest scientific and economic rival. I’m hoping desparately that they will give us another Sputnik moment, whether it be with nanotech, genetics, or anything else. Anything less than another Sputnik, I think, won’t be enough to drive America to fix our education system, a fix that we are in dire need of before we fall too far behind to catch back up.





I love the whole world…

19 04 2009

I was going through my old bookmarks and came across this video, and even if you’ve seen it, I think you’ll agree that it’s worth another watch =)





Transhumanism

18 04 2009

This is probably going to be all over the place because even I’m not actually sure what I think about transhumanism, but bear with me.

First, a quick intro for those who don’t know what transhumanism is. Essentially, transhumanists want to develop technology to the point where humans can mechanically augment their bodies and electronically augment their minds. They advocate “evolving” further in this manner and moving past the homo Sapiens portion of history (thus the name).

I think that there are legitimate objections to it, morally and practically, but I also think that many of the ones raised are not legitimate arguments. The first of these is the “tampering with nature,” or “playing God,” argument, depending on who’s raising it. The argument suffers many of the same problems in this case that it does in other cases though. For instance, the “so what” response is fairly compelling. Glasses are artificially augmenting the human body, as are binoculars, telescopes, flashlights, hearing aids, and pretty much every other piece of technology used to aid our senses, and in addition even to those there are things like flippers and wetsuits. It’s not relevant that something is artificial.

Another one I’ve seen that’s really absurd is the accusation against transhumanists that they just want to escape dying. While I think it may be true of many, again, so what? That’s not even an argument against transhumanism, it’s just an ad hominem attack. It doesn’t matter why they want it, it just matters what it would actually bring and whether it’s actually feasible.

There’s also the “they’ll kill us all” argument (although it seems to be used more to apply to the singularity, that’s tied into transhumanism to some extent). Certainly if computers and robots surpass (or approach) human intelligence they’ll have the capability, but once again, so what? Why would they want to unless we tried to kill them first? And if they had reached near human (or greater than human) intelligence, they would have the right to defend themselves, no?

Finally, there’s the eugenics argument, the claim that everyone would be forced to have their bodies augmented with machines and that those who refuse will be killed. Really, though, why? All that’s required is for people to be allowed to make the decision for themselves and have their choice protected in some way (there are various ways, like allowing them to set up their own communities in a manner similar to the Amish), and I think that humanity is capable of that.

Like I said though, there are definitely legitimate aspects to the criticisms of transhumanism too. For instance, what does this imply for the rich-poor divide? The world’s poor, those who worry more about getting enough food than anything, are not going to be able to buy themselves cyborg augmentation. Looking at history, it seems unlikely that the rich will be pushing very hard to help them, except perhaps inside their own countries. This isn’t really an inditment of transhumanism though, since it already applies to many things today. This just exacerbates it.

The second reasonable argument is that if we as a species try to use these sorts of technologies before we really understand them, the consequences could be dire. That’s absolutely true. We’ve shown before and continue to show that we can cause tremendous harm if we use something before we’re really prepared for it or before we understand exactly what it does. Climate change is a good example. We started industrial production before we knew what the processes involved were really doing and what their secondary effects were.

One of the best, I think, is the feasibility argument. We’re really no where near the technological level to do this. Technological advancement has accelerated, but not at the enormous rate transhumanists and singularitarians often claim. It’s going to be a long, long time before any of the major proposed changes to the body are even possible, so the hyping of it is an exaggeration.

The best of all the arguments, I think, is that it poses a threat to scientific, social, and technological advancement. This seems paradoxical at first, but in fact is probably true. Science often advances when the proponents of the old theories and paradigms that have been refuted have died, and the field is free to move forward with the new ideas of the younger scientists. Prejudices are often overcome not by convincing people but by teaching the young, who then replace the old as the people running the world. If the old aren’t dying off, significant change becomes much harder. The only way I can think of to prevent this is by somehow keeping the childhood brain plasticity (or electronic equivalent) that allows for children to accept new ideas through adulthood.





Republican slogans

16 04 2009

Teabagging? M4M? Whoever’s been coming up with the Republican slogans, acronyms, and symbols needs a raise. From the Democrats.





Amazon FAIL

12 04 2009

So, it’s difficult to piece together exactly what’s happening through the twittering hordes, but what it sounds like is that Amazon is either removing the sales ranking of or downright unlisting “adult” content. Well, you can guess both what they’re defining as “adult” and which group this is going after I think.

If it’s anything like as bad as it sounds, it’s absolutely disgusting. I really don’t have anything to say beyond that except repeating myself, because that’s really all there is to it.

UPDATE: CNET’s reporting that Amazon is claiming “software glitch.” Well, if you believe that God designed humankind’s software, maybe.

UPDATE 2: http://blog.seattlepi.com/amazon/archives/166329.asp?source=mypi





Obama

8 04 2009

Obama is the antichrist! The backwards said it, it must be true!!!

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/#30079323 since the above seems to have decided it won’t work. vopod fails.