David M. Brown's Blog

September 8, 2019

When bad arguments happen to good writers

Filed under: News — davidmbrowndotcom @ 1:10 am

I had trouble posting this reply to an article at his site by Robert Ringer, “When Bad Things Happen to Innocent Bystanders.” The link will take you there.

*  *  *

Yes, the universe is a big and complicated place. However, the article–nicely written as usual–seems to me to be an extravagant non sequitur (or series of them). Any puzzle under the sun about human motives or the behavior of cats could be prefaced similarly.

A few of the statements in the piece that puzzle me despite all my knowledge of the physical universe:

1) “[B]ut no one has a clue as to what caused these atoms to come together in just the right way to create us.”

This assertion can only be made by treating all successful investigation into natural processes as irrelevant. We don’t know everything about how the universe works or how life works. But we know something. A good textbook on astrophysics, biochemistry, or evolution would make a good start toward dispelling the assumption that “no one has a clue” about how planets or human beings came about. That we cannot track the course of every atom or sperm cell throughout the history of the universe in order to know exhaustively how the atoms came together “in just the right way” goes without saying. But is omniscience a reasonable hope or demand or standard?

2) Life is not eternal. We are made of atoms that will remain after we die. “Strangely, those atoms are never alive in any sense that we understand, which, by secular standards of logic, makes no sense at all.”

The statement is not explained. Why does it make no sense that atoms are not alive? Life is a process of goal-directed action, the goal being preservation of the organism. Why would it “make no sense” that an organism containing carbon atoms can be alive without the carbon atoms being alive? One may as well express consternation and bafflement over the fact that a molecule of cardboard is not a box or a molecule of steel is not a car. A part is not the same as the whole or any emergent properties of the whole. A carbon atom is not an organism. Why would it “make no sense” that things that are unlike each other are unlike each other? Logic is about recognizing the identities of things and being consistent (non-contradictory) in one’s understanding of the world.

3) “What is the purpose of life?” asketh Robert Ringer. “Answer: No one has a clue.”

Really? Some persons drift purposelessly through life. But I thought that Robert Ringer had a long track record of productive achievement, including many thoughtful and engaging books and articles. Presumably, there are also many other aspects of Mr. Ringer’s life that we don’t necessarily know about, the relationships that enrich his life, the art that enriches his life, and many other things that enrich his life that are at least in part the effects of his own purposeful actions. But all the purposes that we ourselves choose and act to achieve and that give meaning to our lives are to be set aside as irrelevant, apparently. We must find “the” purpose of life–a purpose that has nothing to do with our own lives and purposes and values and striving and appreciation of things. A big fat mysterious lump of smirking Purpose that knows that we mere mortals will never figure out what it’s up to. This external alleged transcendent purpose is a figment. Do I have “no clue” as to the content of this figment (aside from the fact that it is empty)? I agree: I have no clue. But so what?

Much could be said about the original question raised by the essay, how to prevent man-made shootings (or, presumably, any other man-made evil). This question is not actually treated except to say that we know almost nothing about it. But we must know something about it, because most of us are not mass murderers, civilization has not yet expired, and there are still many life-promoting human achievements to admire and look forward to. Is the real question here how we can instantly eliminate all the bad ideas mingled with good ideas, and the effects of those bad ideas, in American culture and in cultures throughout the world? Or is the real question how we can constrain human free will so that every person will automatically value life and do only things that promote life, never anything to destroy life? If either one of these is the question, then I agree that we know nothing about the answer.

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May 24, 2019

I survived fluctuating Internet access

Filed under: Self-help,Society and culture,Technology — davidmbrowndotcom @ 9:58 pm

It would be all over if there were an Apocalypse, the Internet went down, and the Internet couldn’t be fixed. Fending off marauders, yes, a problem. Scarcity of food and other supplies, yes, a problem. But no Internet? That would be the end.

The Internet isn’t a do-it-yourself project. As is true of much other super-complicated stuff produced by division of labor and capital accumulation over many years, to make an Internet requires the prolonged labors of countless cooperating intelligences, some of them especially smart and visionary. All by yourself plus online instructions you can make rudimentary detergent, rudimentary mattresses, rudimentary stoves, rudimentary swords, rudimentary washing machines and much rudimentary else. But you can’t whip up even a rudimentary Internet. The Internet is one of the culminating achievements of thousands of years of civilization.

To be even briefly semi-cutoff from the Internet requires courage and fortitude, including intrepid techniques for suppressing panic. My work depends upon access to cyberspace. I receive assignments online or by email. Doing the work often requires web-enabled research. I submit the assignments by email or through a web site. The Important Feedback comes by email or through a web site. The payment for my work electronically flies to my bank, or first to PayPal or Payoneer and then to my bank.

Life before email and the Internet was not good. It required frequent trudging into offices. You had to get up at a certain time every morning. You had to commute. The people you had to deal with in the offices were of mixed quality. There were other horrors…. As for freelancing, it was a lumbering and apparently nonviable alternative. Editors felt obliged to hold onto manuscripts for weeks and months before rejecting them. Acceptances were occasional but bills were frequent.

The problem with my Internet access was solved by the Xfinity technician, who deployed gnostic knowledge, magic glitch-detecting tools, and Herculean pole-ascending ability to find and replace a fried cable connection. He did all the work. But I’m the one who escaped death on the battlefield, where it was me versus the vicious onslaught of intermittent Internet access.

I can surf the web uninterruptedly again. I made it. I survived. I triumphed. My part in all this was very important. Did I not call customer service? Did I speak to the customer service representative, explaining which lights on the modem were solid or blinking and so forth? Did I not make the appointment for the service call? Did I not, despite all doubts and wishful thinking, refrain from canceling the appointment? Did I not wait for the technician to arrive? Did I not do my best to pretend to be helpful after the technician arrived?

May 15, 2019

David G. Hough (1962 or 1963-1977)

Filed under: David G. Hough — davidmbrowndotcom @ 6:29 pm

It is strange, after 42 years of wondering and sporadic inquiry, to again feel grief because I finally know for sure what happened to David Hough, and when.

He was a friendly and humorous, athletic blond kid with qualities I cannot express who befriended me during my freshman and only year (1976-1977) at Bishop Grimes High School in East Syracuse, New York. We were in the same homeroom and had the same history class. Once I helped him give the right answer when the teacher asked him a question about the Middle East. Although he palled around with others more, David called me his best friend and had a way of clasping my hand when he saw me. He teased me. He called me “Brownie” and I resented it if anyone else tried to. We had a special connection of some kind, one aspect of which, I am sure, was one-sided.

During the school year, he was out of school for quite a while because of cancer. I believe that he had a brain tumor. I was distressed. The teacher and students of his religion class used to visit him in the hospital. I was in a different religion class, and I didn’t think to ask the priest-teachers—or lacked the nerve to ask them—to let me switch to his religion class so that I could visit him when the other classmates did. I also didn’t figure out how to visit David on my own. Of course, visiting him would have been easy to arrange if I had simply asked for a little help.

When David eventually returned to class, pretty late in the school year, his face was swollen. I overheard him in the lunchroom saying that he would go out with himself now (presumably he assumed that girls would no longer date him because of his swollen face). I asked him once, after he was back, if I was still his best friend. He said yes. But things were different now.

After the school year ended, I never saw David again. I was unable to return to Bishop Grimes, spending the rest of my high school career at Corcoran Senior High instead. A couple of years after I left Bishop Grimes, someone I knew to be a friend of his saw me on the street in East Syracuse and gave me a lift. I should have asked him about David, but I didn’t.

Over the years, I came to believe that David Hough had probably died. I made various inquiries. After the Internet came along, every now and again I would search for “David Hough” in combination with other relevant search terms, like “Bishop Grimes” and “East Syracuse.” Once I contacted Bishop Grimes to see if the school had any information about him. They had no information. I received no reply when I once or twice, by email or regular postal mail, contacted people who seemed to be his relatives. A few years ago I came across an old news story about grade-school sports from earlier in the 70s. The story was illustrated by what may have been a picture of David’s grade-school lacrosse team. I can’t find that report any more. Also not very long ago, I found an obituary of a woman who died in 2010 and who was apparently David’s grandmother; it noted that she had been predeceased by her grandson, one David Hough.

Only a few days ago, I found the following brief notice at a newspaper archive site about David G. Hough. It had been first published in the Syracuse Herald-Journal of November 26, 1977:

“David G. Hough, 14, of…East Syracuse, died yesterday at Roswell Park Memorial Institute, Buffalo. He was a sophomore at Bishop Grimes High School and was a life resident of the Syracuse area. He was a communicant of St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, East Syracuse. Surviving are his parents, L. Gilbert Hough and Mrs. Joan A. Hough; a sister, Nancy; three brothers, Steven, John and Richard, all of East Syracuse; his maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Carl L. Burkhard and his paternal grandmother, Mrs. Leontine Catania of California. Services will be Monday at 9 a.m. in St. Matthew’s Church. Burial will be in St. Mary’s Cemetery, DeWitt. There will be no calling hours. Arrangements are by Welter Funeral Home.”

I guess I missed that issue of the newspaper.

October 10, 2016

The Trump stomping of Clinton(s)

Filed under: News — davidmbrowndotcom @ 6:21 am

“Always attack” can’t be universal rule, as commanders and soldiers discovered in the American Civil War and in World War One. Attacking should certainly be at the top of the tactical list, all other things being equal.

I don’t know whether Trump held back in Debate One as strategy or not. If it was strategy, it was misguided in this respect: any time in a campaign like this that you have 80-100 million viewers, you have to treat it as the last time you’ll get such a large audience. Unleash everything. Circumstances of the future aren’t guaranteed. But if Trump was being more subdued in the first debate than he knew he would be in future ones for whatever tactical reasons, the risk of doing so seems to have paid off bigly. In any case, the audience will be there for Debate Three.

( @witscribbler is my user name on Gab.ai, the non-speech-gagging, 300-character alternative to Twitter. Add me. And read my satire of UFOlogy, The Flying Saucers Are Very Very Real—and my parody of the bard, Omelet: A Tragedy of Bill Shake-a-speare—and my pastiche of hardboiled detective fiction, The Case of the Cockamamie Killer )

October 6, 2016

WordPress is telling me to tell you to vote

Filed under: News — davidmbrowndotcom @ 11:36 pm

“Encourage your US-based visitors to vote by adding a subtle prompt to your site” is the banner greeting me at this moment after logging into my WordPress account.

Encourage WordPress to not tell you what to tell your visitors by publishing a subtle post saying “WordPress, do not tell me what to tell my visitors. I’ll decide the content without your unsubtle encouragement.”

If you plan to vote for Hillary Clinton: don’t vote.

 

September 20, 2016

The case for Hillary Clinton

Filed under: Politics,Television — davidmbrowndotcom @ 5:56 am

Hillary Clinton is strong. Fighting for us. No matter how tired and weary and collapsing and decrepit she may be feeling at any particular moment, her lust for power so that she can help us (and the kids) will keep her valiantly crawling feebly forward. That’s the story and I’m sticking to it.

Dem chair and hack Donna Brazile says on TV in an I-don’t-even-believe-me, rattling-it-off-of-a-3×5-card tone of voice: “Every time I hear Hillary Clinton, I’m always inspired by her.” This is about as credible as Obama telling a bunch of grade-schoolers, “You inspire me.” (They laughed in his face.) So, super-credible.

Read The Flying Saucers Are Very Very Real

Read Omelet: A Tragedy of Bill Shake-a-speare

Read The Case of the Cockamamie Killer

September 16, 2016

It’s my money.

Filed under: Ethics,Politics — davidmbrowndotcom @ 3:34 am

Behold this sentiment, quoted at Instapundit, about the Trump camp’s child-care proposal: “Anything that helps them [parents] cover those expenses without being taxed on the extra money they have to earn to pay the costs of raising a family is a good idea.”

Um, just cut my taxes. Anything that helps me cover my expenses by letting me keep more of my own extra money I need to earn to pay for the things in my life that cost more money than I had before I earned the extra money is a good idea. You don’t need to know what I’m doing with my money. You don’t need to give me more of a tax break for one kind of thing I want to do with my money than another kind of thing I could spend it on. Let me hasten to assure you that the stuff I spend my money on is very important to me. I always spend it on whatever is the highest priority to me at that moment. It doesn’t have to be at all important to you. It’s not your money, not your life.

Forget the social engineering. Don’t try to encourage me to do this or that as the price of keeping more of my own money. I don’t need your opinion on whether certain peaceful activities that require money to do them are more deserving of my expenditures on them than other activities. I don’t need you to approve of what I do with my own money. Just let me keep my money. It’s my money.

Read The Flying Saucers Are Very Very Real

Read Omelet: A Tragedy of Bill Shake-a-speare

Read The Case of the Cockamamie Killer

September 14, 2016

Rush Limbaugh’s shines pale “best light” on Comey’s conduct

Filed under: Ethics,Politics — davidmbrowndotcom @ 9:05 pm

In a recent broadcast Rush Limbaugh said, as transcribed, “And the reason for [Comey’s failure to recommend indicting HC for sloppiness about classified material, ignoring laws and rules about classified material, then lying about what she had done] — I’m totally convinced — is he doesn’t want to the guy in American history who took out the duly nominated…Democrat candidate for president. That’s why he just didn’t want to go there, and knew they weren’t gonna indict. That’s looking at it in as favorable a light as possible.”

“Favorable” light? According to Rush’s own statement, Comey allowed his concern about how he would be perceived to prevent him from doing what the facts of the case objectively called for in his own judgment. I think if we reduce the example to (greater) absurdity, the fallacy of what Rush is saying will be more obvious: “And the reason for that [failure to recommend indicting Democratic candidate Jack the Ripper for a string of murders] — I’m totally convinced — is he doesn’t want to the guy in American history who took out the duly nominated…Democrat candidate for president. That’s why he just didn’t want to go there, and knew they weren’t gonna indict. That’s looking at it in as favorable a light as possible.”

Anybody with the job of being just and objective for a living who allows other considerations short of a gun being held to his head to cause him to be unjust and non-objective has willfully violated the fundamental principles it is the purpose of his job to uphold and apply. Anyone at any stage in the judicial process who deliberate fails to do his job because he anticipates that others would fail to do their job if he does his properly is defaulting on his responsibility. He is not responsible for what others do. He is responsible for what he does.

The actual “most favorable” way of interpreting Comey’s actions is to conclude that he honestly believed he had no proper grounds for recommending indictment. But Rush doesn’t believe this and I don’t either. There are no grounds for believing this. That Comey’s default is motivated goes without saying.

 

Read The Flying Saucers Are Very Very Real

Read Omelet: A Tragedy of Bill Shake-a-speare

Read The Case of the Cockamamie Killer

September 12, 2016

A tale of two interpretations of the general-election vote

Filed under: Politics — davidmbrowndotcom @ 11:01 pm

The structure of the electoral process is such that voters first choose among potential nominees for the parties; this is the primary process.

After the primary elections, we have the general election. In the United States, two parties are dominant. They are called the Republicans and the Democrats.

In most presidential elections, including this one, the overwhelming likelihood is that the winner of the general election will be either a Republican or a Democrat. Unnominated Ideal Candidate Pulling the Lever For Whom Will Erase All Operative Political Realities is not an option on the ballot.

Preferring one candidate to the other listed on the general election ballot does not preclude any possibility of affecting political life for the better over the next four years. Nor does preferring one candidate to the other constitute the voter’s affirmation that he endorses all policies and embraces all flaws of the candidate that he prefers.

What preferring and voting for one major-party candidate rather the other does mean is that, given a choice between Candidate A and Candidate B, and regarding the difference between A and B as significant enough to justify making a choice, the voter prefers either Candidate A to Candidate B or Candidate B to Candidate A.

August 27, 2016

So, uh, the name “iPad” worked out okay after all, eh?

Filed under: Language and grammar — davidmbrowndotcom @ 1:02 am

Remember how horrible, insupportable, inadvertently funny-ludicrous the name “iPad” was claimed to be when the tablet became available in 2010, inasmuch as it had the syllable “pad” in it? (Well, then, you’re very young.) It was supposed to automatically evoke images of Maxi Pads, etc. There was a thankfully brief “Mad TV” skit. (Nobody had been waxing merry over the embarrassing associations of “pad of paper,” though. And English-speaking humanity had always somehow endured double-entendre-susceptible names for cats, roosters, detectives, and lousy workmanship.)

Read The Flying Saucers Are Very Very Real

Read Omelet: A Tragedy of Bill Shake-a-speare

Read The Case of the Cockamamie Killer

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