The trouble with transporters on Star Trek (and elsewhere)

Is the transporter on Star Trek a nifty sci-fi transportation mechanism? Or is it a sinister murder machine, killing the person who steps on the platform and spitting out a duplicate on the other end?

Start watching for the geeky fanwankery, stay for the meaty speculation about an astounding philosophical problem: The problem of consciousness. Everybody has consciousness, but nobody knows what consciousness is. You can’t prove that anybody other than you is conscious, and you can’t prove to anybody else that you’re conscious.

This is another in a series of wonderful CGP Grey video.

Mismatched

Wallace Shawn: I wish people knew me as a radical playwright instead for “The Princess Bride”

Disappointing article. The interview is good but the headline and introduction are terrible. The writer is simply making up attitudes and statements that Shawn never makes in the interview.

I made an offhand comment a couple of days ago about how I dislike the phrases “highbrow,” “lowbrow,” and “guilty pleasures.” Like what you like, I said. Shawn’s career spans the brows (so to speak) as broadly as can be imagined. I’m curious how he looks back on, basically, his two careers. Is he ashamed of is work on Star Trek, Toy Story, and The Princess Bride? As proud of one body of work as he is of the other? Or does he view the character acting as just his day job — something he does to pay the bills for his real life’s work?

I call shenanigans on this life advice

(1) Yes it is important to realize that time on this Earth is finite. You’re not going to live forever. You’re going to die someday. Don’t take time for granted. Accept that it’s all too easy to put things off for too long until you run out of time to do them.

(2) BUT YOU’RE ALMOST CERTAINLY NOT GOING TO DIE TODAY!! Shoot, you’ve almost certainly got the whole weekend ahead of you. Sleep in tomorrow. You deserve it, you hard-working fool.

(3) The “eat the frog” quote doesn’t sound like anything Mark Twain would have said. It doesn’t sound like his voice. It doesn’t appear on any authoritative Twain site. And most importantly, Mark Twain was a man who understood the value of loafing.

Remember that: You’re ALMOST CERTAINLY NOT GOING TO DIE TODAY! As a matter of fact, my social media and blog following is sufficiently small that I feel confident predicting that all of us will be here Monday morning. Many of us will be moving slow because of the shift from weekend to workweek sleep schedules. But otherwise we’ll all be none the worse for wear.

This is not actually a post about Minnie

Every day, as soon as I wake up, I walk from our bedroom to my adjacent office, and I let Minnie out of her crate. I pull the blanket off the top and say, “Good morning!” Lately, Minnie is stretched out on the floor of the crate when I come in the office. But when I open the door of the crate she comes out. I open the exterior door to my office and let her out.

She greets each new day with over-the-top enthusiasm, joyfully bounding around the yard. Every morning she’s ecstatic to see me, wagging her tail furiously and jumping up on me and licking my face.

All of this is a observation about dogs, and we’re supposed to learn a lesson from this about not taking blessings for granted. And I do. I’m happy to see Minnie every morning.

But to be human is to be able to hold contradictory ideas in your head at once. And sometimes it’s a bit much, you know? Minnie’s not the only creature of ritual in this house. I am too. And my morning ritual is to let her out, wash up, then make my tea and change her water dishes. On workdays I go right to my desk with my tea and get started on email and check the news. On days off I sit out on the deck and do social media on my iPad for a while

And sometimes I don’t want to bound around the yard joyfully. Sometimes I just want to quietly sip my tea and look at the Internet a while.

Not everything has to be a joyful experience. We can’t always be passionate about life and our work. We can’t always cry with joy at the beauty of a sunset. We can’t always be mindful. Sometimes it’s enough to just be, and breathe in and out, and put one foot in front of the other, and not feel anything about it. That’s enough.

P.S. Minnie really is pretty cute in the mornings though.

Yay! I have a political label!

I haven’t been comfortable calling myself “conservative” or “progressive,” which are the two major labels floating around American discourse.

I certainly don’t identify with either political party. Even though I’m a registered Democrat and have always voted the straight Democrat party line, I’m often voting against the Republicans, who are wedded to a pernicious social conservative platform.

I’m drawn to elements of market capitalism, socialism, Objectivism, and libertarianism, contradictory though those philosophies are. While I’m a religious unbeliever, and push back hard against attempts to make religious policy into law, I respect that religion is a source of strength, wisdom, and comfort to billions of people.

So I’ve flailed around in trying to describe my political beliefs.

Until now.

I’m a liberal.

This is satisfactory as a political label, in that people sort-of know what it means. It’s also appealing in that it’s a word that has fallen out of favor. People like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter despise liberals. It’s good to be despised by people like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

What is a liberal? Edmund Fawcett tackles the question in, “Reclaiming liberalism: Liberalism is not dead – its ideals are more important than ever – but it must change radically to survive in the future.”

At its broadest, liberalism is about improving people’s lives while treating them alike and shielding them from undue power. Four ideas in particular seem to have guided liberals through their history.

The first is that the clash of interests and beliefs in society is inescapable. Social harmony, the nostalgic dream of conservatives and the brotherly hope of socialists, is neither achievable nor desirable – because harmony stifles creativity and blocks initiative. Meanwhile conflict, if tamed and put to use as competition in a stable political order, could bear fruit as argument, experiment and exchange.

I like political arguments. I enjoy reading both conservative and progressive blogs. To tell the truth, I actually like conservative blogs like Hot Air and even Breitbart and Drudge Report better than progressive blogs as a class. On the other hand, the progressive Talking Points Memo is emerging as my favorite source of national news.

Secondly, human power is not to be trusted. However well power behaves, it cannot be counted on to behave well. Be it the power of state, market, social majorities or ethical authorities, the superior power of some people over others tends inevitably to arbitrariness and domination unless resisted and checked. Preventing the domination of society by any one interest, faith or class is, accordingly, a cardinal liberal aim.

America’s failure to grasp this point drives me crazy. Progressives say Big Business is evil. Conservatives say Big Government is evil. I say yes to both.

Or, more precisely, both Big Business and Big Government are necessary forces, but left unchecked they can do great damage. They’re powerful, dangerous tools. When managed correctly, they manage each other.

Also, government is better at some things, and business is better at others. For some things, government and business need to work together in the form of government contracts and incentives.

Liberals also hold that, contrary to traditional wisdom, human life can improve. Progress for the better is both possible and desirable, for society as a whole and for people one by one, through education above all, particularly moral education.

Finally, the framework of public life has to show everyone civic respect, whatever they believe and whoever they are. Such respect requires not intruding on people’s property or privacy; not obstructing their chosen aims and enterprises; and not excluding anyone from such protections and permissions because they’re useless to society or socially despised.

This point about civic respect is arguably the most difficult to put in practice. It’s why I’m ultimately sympathetic to Holly Lobby, even though they’re wrong. Holly Lobby has a right to withhold payment for birth control it considers immoral — but it should not exercise that right.

By insisting on pursuing all its ideals at once and in parallel, liberalism made a high bid. It was never easy to better people’s lives while letting them alone, nor was it ever easy to respect people’s beliefs while improving their minds. At the same time government could protect markets from state power, or people from market power, and give majorities their say while protecting minorities. Liberalism’s high bid has made it a doctrine of hope but equally an engine of disappointment….

And:

Its most obvious current failing is letting the power of the market run out of control. A direct consequence, rising inequality, has become the number-one topic in public debate. The economic arguments on this question are old.

Since the late 19th century, liberal thinking about the economy has gone back and forth between using the state to tame market power and using the market to tame state power. After 1945, liberal democracies appeared to get the balance right. Then in the 1980s, following a decade of inflation, joblessness and tax revolts, the balance swung strongly away from the state towards market power. Super-returns for a few and stagnant wages for the many have created social inequalities that are ethically offensive and, in a liberal democracy, politically unsustainable. Something has to give.

For the free-market right, the capitalist engine spreads its benefits in the end. If in the meantime it spreads inequality, so be it. On this reading, the egalitarian hopes of liberal democracy have to give. Left-wing liberals, meanwhile, see no inevitabilities here. Capitalism spreads inequality, they believe, if politics allows it to. They continue to trust the capacity of politics to tame markets, and so, for them, untrammeled capitalism has to give.

I would not say liberals have let the market run out of control. Quite the contrary: Government in the West acts to preserve Big Business against outside forces. If markets were free, Aero would be legal and big banks and auto companies would have been allowed to go out of business (while government would have stepped in to protect employees from the damage done by feckless upper management and investors). Government propping up Big Business is one of the biggest threats faced by Western civilization (although Big Business itself is necessary and beneficial).

Liberalism is currently flailing. In the United States, neither political party is liberal. Liberalism needs a 21st Century framework to operate, just as it found frameworks in the 19th and 20th Centuries.