“Health-scare stories, even those that are not overblown, draw their special power from the fact that we go through the days denying our mortality.”

Why Everything Is Bad for You [NYT]

Jim Windolf:

Health-scare stories, even those that are not overblown, draw their special power from the fact that we go through the days denying our mortality. Each one reminds us anew that there’s no way out. Unable to avoid this tragic and absurd-seeming condition, we lash out against our fates by finding fresh reasons to make a villain out of the one thing that is doing its part to keep us alive: food. We add salt to the psychic wound when we momentarily trick ourselves into believing that bugs, worms and dirt are the only things fit for human consumption. I’m not falling for it anymore. I’m going back to bologna and cheese.


September 27, 2015  |  

“To these young tech workers who flock to the festival, Burning Man reinforces and fosters the idea that they can remake the world without anyone else’s input.”

Keith A. Spencer:

… Burning Man is supposed to be a fun, liberating world all its own. But it isn’t. The top-down, do what you want, radically express yourself and fuck everyone else worldview is precisely why Burning Man is so appealing to the Silicon Valley technocratic scions.

To these young tech workers — mostly white, mostly men — who flock to the festival, Burning Man reinforces and fosters the idea that they can remake the world without anyone else’s input. It’s a rabid libertarian fantasy. It fluffs their egos and tells them that they have the power and right to make society for all of us, to determine how things should be.

This is the dark heart of Burning Man, the reason that high-powered capitalists — and especially capitalist libertarians — love Burning Man so much. It heralds their ideal world: one where vague notions of participation replace real democracy, and the only form of taxation is self-imposed charity.

Burning Man foreshadows a future social model that is particularly appealing to the wealthy: a libertarian oligarchy, where people of all classes and identities coexist, yet social welfare and the commons exist solely on a charitable basis.

Why the Rich Love Burning Man [Jacobin]

September 26, 2015  |  

“Religion was the race’s first (and worst) attempt to make sense of reality.”

Christopher Hitchens:

Religion invents a problem where none exists by describing the wicked as also made in the image of god and the sexually nonconformist as existing in a state of incurable mortal sin that can incidentally cause floods and earthquakes.

How did such evil nonsense ever come to be so influential? And why are we so continually locked in combat with its violent and intolerant votaries? Well, religion was the race’s first (and worst) attempt to make sense of reality. It was the best the species could do at a time when we had no concept of physics, chemistry, biology or medicine. We did not know that we lived on a round planet, let alone that the said planet was in orbit in a minor and obscure solar system, which was also on the edge of an unimaginably vast cosmos that was exploding away from its original source of energy. We did not know that micro-organisms were so powerful and lived in our digestive systems in order to enable us to live, as well as mounting lethal attacks on us as parasites. We did not know of our close kinship with other animals. We believed that sprites, imps, demons, and djinns were hovering in the air about us. We imagined that thunder and lightning were portentous. It has taken us a long time to shrug off this heavy coat of ignorance and fear, and every time we do there are self-interested forces who want to compel us to put it back on again.

By all means let us agree that we are pattern-seeking mammals and that, owing to our restless intelligence and inquisitiveness, we will still prefer a conspiracy theory to no explanation at all. Religion was our first attempt at philosophy, just as alchemy was our first attempt at chemistry and astrology our first attempt to make sense of the movements of the heavens. I myself am a strong believer in the study of religion, first because culture and education involve a respect for tradition and for origins, and also because some of the early religious texts were among our first attempts at literature. But there is a reason why religions insist so much on strange events in the sky, as well as on less quantifiable phenomena such as dreams and visions. All of these things cater to our inborn stupidity, and our willingness to be persuaded against all the evidence that we are indeed the center of the universe and that everything is arranged with us in mind.

The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever [Amazon]

September 24, 2015  |  

“Save the planet, skip the salad.”

Why sald is so overrated [WaPo]

Salad vegetables are pitifully low in nutrition. The biggest thing wrong with salads is lettuce, and the biggest thing wrong with lettuce is that it’s a leafy-green waste of resources.


Lettuce is a vehicle to transport refrigerated water from farm to table. When we switch to vegetables that are twice as nutritious — like those collards or tomatoes or green beans — not only do we free up half the acres now growing lettuce, we cut back on the fossil fuels and other resources needed for transport and storage.

I’ve been saying this for years: lettuce is for rabbits.

August 24, 2015  |  

“Race is a medieval European invention.”

Meredith Talusan:

The fundamental difference between Dolezal’s actions and trans people’s is that her decision to identify as black was an active choice, whereas transgender people’s decision to transition is almost always involuntary. Transitioning is the product of a fundamental aspect of our humanity – gender – being foisted upon us over and over again from the time of our birth in a manner inconsistent with our own experience of our genders. Doctors don’t announce our race or color when we are born; they announce our gender. People who are alienated from their presumed gender and define themselves according to another gender have existed since earliest recorded history; race is a medieval European invention. Thus, Dolezal identified as black, but I am a woman, and other trans people are the gender they feel themselves to be.

There is no comparison between transgender people and Rachel Dolezal [Guardian, via CommonDreams]

June 16, 2015  |  

Q: What would happen to me, and everything around me, if a black hole the size of a coin instantly appeared?

Suppose a nickel in your pocket magically collapsed into a black hole. A US nickel has a mass of 5 grams. This black hole would have a radius of 10-30 meters. For comparison, an atom is about 10-10 meters. If atoms were made of atoms, this black hole would be the size of the micro-atom that makes up the milli-atoms that makes up real atoms. Basically, it’s unimaginably small.

Such a small black hole would have a similarly unimaginably short lifetime to decay by Hawking radiation – it would radiate away what little mass it has in 10-23 seconds. This 5 grams of mass will be converted to 450 teraJoules of energy, which is comparable to the detonation of about 100,000 tonnes of TNT, and will produce an explosion three times bigger than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. In this case, you die.

Of course, if the black hole has the radius of a common coin, then it will be considerably more massive. A nickel, again, has a radius of about 10 mm. This black hole has a mass of 1024 kilograms – slightly bigger than the mass of the earth. Its surface gravity is a billion billion times greater than earth’s. If it is in your pocket, you will find yourself being drawn towards the black hole at breakneck speeds. Literally breakneck. The difference between your chin and your teeth is about ten trillion g’s of acceleration. You’ll cross the event horizon before you even realize what’s happening. The black hole is now a dominant gravitational piece of the earth-moon-black hole of death system. If you watch sci-fi movies a lot, you might think that the black hole sinks towards the center of the planet and will consume it from the inside out. In actuality, the earth will also move up onto the black hole, and begin to bob around as if it was orbiting the black hole, all while having swaths of mass eaten with each pass. The bulk of the planet earth is consumed after some time, leaving a scattered disk of hot dust and rock in a tight orbit where the earth once was. The black hole grows slowly during this time, eventually doubling its mass by the time it’s done feeding.

The effects on the solar system are awesome, but moreso in the Biblical sense of “awesome”, which more closely means terrifying. The moon’s orbit is now highly elliptical. Tidal forces from the black hole could disrupt the asteroid belt, sending rocks careening through the solar system – bombardment and impacts may become commonplace for the next few million years. The planets are slightly perturbed, but they stay approximately on the same orbit. The black hole we used to call earth will now continue on orbiting the sun, in the earth’s place. In this case, you also die.


June 15, 2015  |