Friday, March 26, 2010

Depose the Poser

This needn't be an extended justification, for what I suggest should be taken as unremarkable.

Depose the Pope.

Depose him for his testimony, then after a full interrogation by authorities, depose him from that false throne.  This human shall have no right at all, forevermore, to expound on 'moral' law, or much more offensively, to claim 'authority' on its interpretation or imposition.  Preaching to the poor and infected of sub-Saharan Africa that condoms are immoral and forbidden, even as they stare down a genocidal virus, while systematically protecting serial child-rapists as a matter of expediency, should qualify a level of depraved hypocrisy no public should let pass.

Nor should any man be above the law.  To be complicit in the raping of children is to be guilty of it (and let's, please, not use a nicer word; rape is what it was, and what it will remain).  If that complicity is substantiated, as seems likely, Pope Benedict should be prosecuted, as would be the head of any other organization guilty of these crimes.

I would confidently guess that if, in Europe, it was discovered that a leading Muslim Cleric was systematically hiding and facilitating the rape of numerous children, he would be subjected to legal inquiry, and public demands for justice. The same process applies to any illegal action undertaken, and has been enforced several times with clerics found to be complicit in terrorist activities.  The crimes here are no less grave. 

Why, then, is it considered wishful thinking to expect equal treatment for the Pope?  When you answer that for yourself, as you easily will, the abyssal absurdity of this scandal will crystallize in your mind.

Reflections on Our Place in the Cosmos - A Short Reading By Carl Sagan

Monday, March 22, 2010

No Man Is Above The Law - Christopher Hitchens in Slate

Pope Benedict. Click image to expand.Excerpted:  
Here's a little thought experiment on practical ethics. Suppose that you are having a drink with a new acquaintance and the subject of law-breaking comes up. "Ever been in any trouble with the authorities?"

You may perhaps mention your arrest at a demonstration, your smuggling of excess duty-free goods, that brush with the narcotics people, that unwise attempt at insider trading. Your counterpart may show a closer acquaintance with the criminal justice system. He once did a bit of time for forgery, or for robbery with a touch of violence, or for a domestic dispute that got a bit out of hand. You are still perhaps ready to have lunch next Friday. But what if he says: "Well, I once knew a couple who trusted me as their baby sitter. Two little boys they had—one of 12 and one of 10. A good bit of fun I had with those kids when nobody was looking. Told them it was our secret. I was sorry when it all ended." I hope I don't seem too judgmental if I say that at this point the lunch is canceled or indefinitely postponed.

And would you feel any less or any more revulsion if the man went on to say, "Of course, I wasn't strictly speaking in any trouble with the law. I'm a Catholic priest, so we don't bother the police or the courts with that stuff. We take care of it ourselves, if you catch my meaning"?

Read the full article by Christopher Hitchens in Slate.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Epiphenom: Altruism


One of the mysteries of human behaviour is why we sometimes act with completely selfless altruism. When asked to play totally anonymous games in which we can cheat without anyone else ever finding out, very often we don't.

Instead, we play the game fairly, which results in a cost to ourselves (compared with what we could've had) and a benefit to the stranger. That's a mystery because evolution says that organisms which don't act to maximise benefit to themselves - whatever the cost to others - should die out.

Several explanations have been put forward, but one of the most intriguing stems from the fact that we live in social networks. In a network like this, we depend critically on the kindness of others.

A new study has looked at how altruistic behaviour can be transmitted between players in the kinds of anonymous games that social psychologists are so fond of. The data were from some earlier experiments in which 240 people played the games over six rounds, each time with different partners (all anonymous).
What they found was that the amount individuals contributed in one round was affected by how generous their partners were in previous rounds. If they played with generous people in round 1, then they would be more generous to the new partners they had in round 2.

In fact, they showed that this effect was propagated through new partners. As you can see in the figure, if Eleni was generous to Lucas, then Lucas would be generous to Erika, and Erika more generous to Jay.

Unselfish acts propagated out to 3 degrees of separation. When you remember that only 6 degrees of separation stand between you and every other person on the planet, you can understand how powerful and important this effect is.
Full article by Tom Rees from Epiphenom (a great site if you haven't already checked it out).

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sean Penn Hopes I Die of Rectal Cancer

For I am now publicly his critic...  

Last Friday on Real Time With Bill Maher, Penn gave one of the most incoherent, string-along, delirious rants I have ever had the pain of watching on television. His sentences stumble from one non sequitur to another in a physically discomfiting way.  

Maher asks Penn of his buddy Hugo Chávez, who has shut down many news outlets in Venezuela for the licentious crime of questioning the policies of 'The Great Leader.' Penn defends Chávez, and then claims that those in the media who call him a dictator should be punished with prison. Apparently Chávez's censorious excesses have made an impression on Penn. To hell with free speech (even after Penn praises transparency), jail the detractors!

Oh... then comes the rectal curse, specially reserved for critics of the great humanitarian Penn.  The scorching flames of burning stupid have wounded mine eyes and ears...

I can accept that Penn truly wants to help people and that his motivation is sincere, but he is so far outside the bounds of critical thinking that he may never find his way back.
Any totalitarian leader that manages to rule benevolently (which of Chávez I wouldn't concede), would qualify a dictator, all the same. Chávez is certainly trending in that direction, though it may not yet be right to call him a full-blown dictator. You'll notice that Maher doesn't seem at all convinced, when all is said (ahh!) and done (thank God!).

The better part of the rambling interview (the Chávez portion is actually Penn at his most coherent) can be found here.