There never has been any mystery, just people who won’t read history.
Far from the pillaging rapists history remembers them as, the Vikings were stylish trendsetters considered far too concerned with their personal hygiene, thus explaining the great mystery of how the Vikings turned into the Swedes
These are in reference to the Discovery Institute’s intelligent design promotional campaign. I don’t know if they have a T-shirt too.
(Found at Fark)
Recycling may or may not be bullshit, but the combination of new programs I’ll be signed up for in 2009 probably are.
The City of Calgary will soon be charging $8 a month for curbside recycling. This is not an optional charge. The program gives you a second garbage can to throw certain trash into. The city will hire people to sort the trash and presumably reclaim it (although I haven’t seen the plan for this explained in any detail).
Also in 2009, I’ll be paying a new fee for for plastic milk bottles. This is over and above the ones I pay for other plastic, glass, and metal containers; there’s several depending on the specific container.
By themselves, neither of these programs are terribly bad. The combination leads to double taxation though. If I throw my containers into the recycling bin, I end up losing the “deposit” I paid at the store, and that charge becomes a direct expense. If I do my own recycling at the local recycling depot to get the deposit back (which, by the way, is not worth my time), then I’m not taking advantage of the curbside recycling that I’m paying for, which amounts to a net loss of value.
I’m not against recycling in principle, but I am against any program that’s based on flawed reasoning or trendiness, and these may qualify. Is the goal really to help the environment? If so, is the benefit worth the environmental costs of maintaining a team of people and fleet of trucks (over and above the regular garbage infrastructure)? Has this cost/benefit analysis been done? Is it public? Why turn “deposits” into “fees” with the overlapping programs? Is the city recycling program keeping the money earned on the provincial deposit returns? If so, is this part of the plan to pay for the program, or was this fact simply swept under the rug? Is this all about feel-good environmentalism without any real benefit?
I’ll welcome any answers that are backed by evidence.
Marco has cooked up some ethical questions designed to push ethical boundaries, spark debate, and generate insight. He’s written up a good “why ask these questions” already so I won’t repeat it here. Instead, I’ll dive right in with my responses.
- Obviously, the situations invented by these questions mostly suck. However, trying to avoid making a decision defeats the purpose, and so I won’t take that option.
- Whenever Marco says “you must” I’ll follow that direction; in real life I’d of course be looking for other options.
- I won’t use randomness to make a decision, even though that might be a preferable result.
- I just read a very interesting article (courtesy J.) that’s very relevant to these types of questions. Based on that article, the answer to all of these is “I refuse the answer because, as a fallible human, I cannot accurately predict the consequences of major actions like these.” In real life that’s a good policy, but as above it defeats the purpose of asking the questions in the first place… so I won’t follow it here.
- I’ll also expand a bit with explanations of my thought process (which is really the whole point of this exercise).
- I can give an intellectual response from behind the safety of fictional circumstances. Often when confronted with real decisions, I’ve found my responses to be more emotionally charged. If I was ever actually in one of these situations, I might react very differently than what I say here.
- A bit more information could easily prompt me to flip my answer the other way. We don’t have more information than this though, so I’ll operate as best as I can in its absence.
- These are all rationalizations. I’m aware of that. I don’t have much confidence in any of them.
You must choose to spare one life: either a religious leader who to all known facts is a good and decent man who has brought solace to thousands or a scientist who tests as brilliant but has never accomplished anything in their field. Who do you save and why?
I vote to save the scientist. Presumably, as a scientist, he has a more realistic/truthful view of the world than the religious leader (the truth of this statement is a whole other discussion; I won’t go into it here). We don’t know how the preacher brought his solace. It could very well have been at the expense of others, and at the very least is probably based on false premises. Basically, I’m voting for truth (even if harsh) rather than falsehood (even if comforting).
‘Til They Glow
You have one city-buster nuclear weapon. You must use it on a major metropolitan area. There will be no direct repercussions. Who do you nuke?
I’ll go with “the city that has the least worldwide impact.” I started thinking along the lines of “least worldwide economic impact” (ie: poorest); dikaiosunh posted a less-assholish version that involved the lowest population that still qualified. Let’s mix in cultural value as well (ie: don’t nuke Rome because of the huge art history that resides there). I don’t know which city that is but I’m sure Wikipedia could tell me.
Convert The Infidel
You have a machine that will mentally swicht all adherents from one religion to another (it cannot make them atheists, it must be a real religion–with church-like infrastructure, no flying spaghetti monsters). Which religion is the target. What do they believe now?
Firstly, let me start off by saying that this would probably not have much effect. The differences between various religions are dwarfed by the differences in degree of religiousness. That is to say: an extremist probably won’t stop being an extremist simply because the particular beliefs change.
However, if I have to choose…
I gotta go with Sam Harris and pick Islam as the “from” religion, because:
- It’s big. The goal here is to have a positive effect, and since I want the biggest positive effect possible, I have to pick one of the big ones. That limits me to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and perhaps Chinese folk religion. All of the other religions might be “more deserving” candidates but they’re smaller and thus don’t have as much of an impact.
- It’s somewhat more exclusionary than the others. It’s less tolerant of other views, especially relative to Buddhism.
- It’s very authoritarian. It’s less so than Christianity, but moreso than Buddhism.
- It’s militant. This is especially true when you consider recent history relative to the other religions. For example, Christianity has plenty of blood on its hands but a lot less has been spilled in the past fifty years; Islam encourages plenty of violent behavior here-and-now.
As for the “to” religion: I want something that’s the exact opposite: nonviolent, nonexclusive, egalitarian, and accepting of outsiders. Again, I’m not sure which religion best qualifies. I don’t think Marco would accept any of my favorites picks as “religions:”
Marco suggested Unitarian Universalism, and I think that’s a good pick. The Quakers are pretty close too. I’ll give a shout-out to the Doukhobors (of which my maternal ancestors were members) for their staunch pacifism. However, all of these groups still fall short on their supernatural / nonscientific worldviews. Maybe when the Brights get a building I’ll be able to switch my target.
You can make something that didn’t used to be a criminal act and choose the penalty. What would you criminalize?
Unfortunately, criminalizing something doesn’t keep people from doing it, so this is not necessarily a worthwhile action. I’m tempted to pick something ridiculous (ex: “simultaneously being in two places at once”) in order to prevent any unintended consequences, but that’s goes against the spirit of not weaseling out of an answer. If I view this as “what would I really like people to stop doing”, I’d chose “believing things that aren’t supported (or are contradicted by) reasoning and evidence.” Penalty: you have to sit through lessons by Sagan, Dawkins, Randi, Douglas Adams, Penn & Teller, and others until you stop.
Yo ho! Yo HO!
You have a choice between stopping all internet piracy or all speeding on the highway but the cost is that your favorite living artist will be forever put out of business. Is it worth it to you to stop either of those at that cost?
My answer is no, because I’m not certain that all piracy and speeding are bad. Putting my favorite (and thus IMO valuable) artist out of business definitely is. So, doing this might very well mean a double-negative, which is thus a no-brainer to vote against. On the other hand, if the question was phrased “stop the bad aspects of piracy and speeding” then I’d probably say yes; one artist’s preferred livelihood (note: not only livelihood) isn’t worth far-reaching social implications. (Besides, my favorite artist is already dead.)
One Makes You Larger
This one has multiple aspects so I’ll split them up.
There is a 100% safe procedure that will ensure that your child will be hetrosexual. Do you use it on him/her?
If I was 100% sure that this was also 100% without other consequences, then I’d probably say “yes”. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with homosexuality or bisexuality, but a lot of people do, and I’d prefer my child didn’t have to face that. He or she would presumably gain a slight advantage for it, and that’s good.
But that’s a big “if”. More than likely, I could not be 100% sure of zero other consequences. In that case the answer is definitely “no”; in this day and age (and location) it’s not a big enough advantage to risk the consequences.
Do you release it to the world at large?
Here I say “no”, mainly because it’s unlikely to see how the lack of other consequences could ever be achieved. The same prejudices that cause me to consider it in the first place pretty much guarantee that it would be abused by at least some portion of the rest of the world. I realize that this approaches hypocrisy. Note that if you said “you can use it, but only if you give it to the world at large” then my answer would be “no, I wouldn’t use it, and then wouldn’t release it either.”
What if it is 90% safe?
A one-in-10 chance of real harm isn’t worth it when the benefits are so minimal. If I was living in in a place where homosexuality meant a horrible death, then I might take that risk. Here and now though it’s a no-brainer.
Choose Your Punishment
You are convicted of speeding while on vacation in another country. You are given a choice of 10 lashes with a cane or 90 days in jail. Which do you think you’d choose? (Assume the jails are relatively safe but only to a ‘realistic’ degree–no perfect guarantee).
I’d pick prison. I haven’t had any pain approaching a cane (at least I don’t think so; maybe it’s not all that bad) so it’s hard imagine what that would be like. I think that, on average, prison would be better. There’s actually some good that could come out of prison time:
- Pick up useful skills and contacts
- Do community service (if allowed)
- Spend time reading, writing, and reflecting
Heck, that’s nearly a holiday!
On the other hand, caning is done in a matter of minutes, so maybe it’s better to get it over with and move on.
You get to choose our next president: Bob Barr or Ron Paul! Ready, set, go!
I don’t know many specifics about either of them. Obviously I’d research both before choosing. If I couldn’t do that, I’d pick Ron Paul just because he’s the wisdom-of-crowds pick. From the little I’ve read they both seem to be very close politically. I don’t think either would be horrible (both would probably be better than GWB).
That’s it! Now it’s your turn.
- Obviously, the situations invented by these questions mostly suck. However, trying to avoid making a decision defeats the purpose, and so I won’t take that option.
Also: Canada now has greater economic freedom than the U.S., although both are declining.
I signed up for on-line faxing service MyFax today. I canceled my account the same day.
The biggest problem was that when I sent a fax, it came out as blank pages and not the actual document content. I called up tech support to ask why. They gave me some song and dance about the file I sent being too small (my first test was a 3K text file). This is a bullshit argument:
- There’s no good reason to limit the file sizes above a certain amount.
- I tried sending a 40K PDF afterwards and got the same result.
- They don’t have any warnings about the file size being “too small” during the fax creation.
- Their online fax preview system displays the file just fine
They recommended that I not use their web-based fax creation tool and instead send in faxes by email. Not only is that a hassle, insecure, and prone to error, but it shows that they’re unreliable (they can’t even get their own tool to work).
Two other nuisances:
- Once you send a fax, you can’t un-send it. On my tests, I accidentally an incorrect number (a voice line). The recipient is forced to sit through 3 attempts at a fax call before it’s automatically canceled; there was no way I could correct my mistake.
- The email address you use during signup is unchangeable; you’re stuck with it forever.
On the other hand, the billing cancellation process was hassle-free. Also, they allowed charges in both Canadian and US dollars, which was nice.
The current market turmoil has lots of people believing the economic sky is falling. However, downturns have happened repeatedly in the past, and the markets have recovered.
You’ve probably heard about the financial, stock, and housing market upheaval in the United States. You may also know that similar events are happening in Europe, and that Canada is having its own issues. You may have heard talk about “Depression” (hearkening back to the Great one). Some have been calling the economy “broken“, and that the U.S. is due for a protracted economic downturn. There’s lots of panic to go around. Even though there have been downturns and recoveries in the past, we hear “This Time It’s Different”: that the circumstances we’re in today are “unprecedented”, and that this uncertainty will lead to major strife.
When considering this, it’s very important to understand that humans do a very poor job of estimating risk. When thinking subjectively, we overestimate the probabilities of some risks and underestimate others. The invention of for-profit mass media has probably made this behavior worse:
- News sources make their money by attracting viewers.
- Viewers are attracted to bad and/or impressive-sounding news.
- To maximize viewership, news sources tend to emphasize (and possibly exaggerate) the frequency and impact of the stories they report.
- People view this and gain beliefs that don’t reflect reality.
With that in mind, I’d like to offer this presentation on how the current downturn measures up to previous ones. I think it’s very illustrative of what’s happening now and in the past. The premise is stated early on:
I don’t want to dismiss the anxiety some investors may be feeling, but just looking at the numbers, there is nothing remarkable about the severity or duration of this particular bear market.
The presenter (Weston Wellington) then follows with some statistics regarding the depth and duration of previous slowdowns and their corresponding recoveries. The remainder of the presentation is historical news articles and magazine covers that predicted doom yet turned out to be false.
We don’t know with any certainty what the future will bring; anyone who claims otherwise is misleading you. It’s possible that we’re still at the leading edge of a major long-term economic valley. However, there’s little evidence to suggest that that’s the case, and quite a bit to indicate that we’ll be past it sooner rather than later. “Unprecedented” is a word used more often than it should be, and even then it does not mean “unsolvable.” It’s very important to separate the facts from the rhetoric, and then act on the former while ignoring the latter.
The song was later parodied as “Bomb Iran” by Vince Vance and the Valiants, written during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. A different parody version was a viral during 2006, courtesy of Adam Kontras, and the idea was sourced into a number of flash animations that same year. John McCain referenced the song, and attempted a line or two of the refrain as “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” in an answer to a question at a campaign stop on April 19, 2007; there was considerable criticism of the witticism.