Sunday, October 6, 2013

Three of these things belong together

♫ Three of these things belong together. Three of these things are kinda the same. One of these things does not belong here. Now it's time to play our game. 

1. "The difference between science and religion is the difference between a genuine openness to fruits of human inquiry in the 21st century, and a premature closure to such inquiry as a matter of principle."
—Sam Harris

2. "Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time."
—Richard Dawkins

3. "This imperviousness to reason is, I think, the property that we should most fear in religion."
—Daniel Dennett

4. "For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself."
—Jorge Mario Bergoglio

Well, can you spot the one that doesn't belong?

Yes. You're right. Three of these statements are made by people who studied science (neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and cognitive science) their whole lives, but not religion. The statement that doesn't belong is the last one which is by a religious, who studied religion his whole life.

Here is Bergoglio, the religion scholar, again:
"Exegetes and theologians help the church to mature in her own judgment. Even the other sciences and their development help the church in its growth in understanding. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong."

But I wouldn't jump to any conclusions. Bergoglio might be wrong in his description of religion and the others right. Most likely they did learn about religion as children.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Money Can’t Buy Happiness; It Can’t Even Buy MLB Championships

If you look at payroll numbers and compare them to what teams made the playoffs, you’ll find very little congruence between winning and size of payroll – at least this year.  The Yankees of course have the mother of all payrolls – at almost $229 million, three and a half times that of the Pirates – and ended up with a mediocre .525 winning percentage and no playoff berth.

Sure, Boston, the LA Dodgers and Detroit, all with hefty payrolls, made the playoffs.  But so did Cleveland, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, who respectively rank 21, 26, 27 and 28 in payroll among the 30 MLB teams.  (There’s Billy Beane again.) The remaining teams in the playoffs, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Atlanta, are all in the middle third of the payroll rankings, respectively ranking 11, 13 and 18.  Five playoff teams are in the top half of the payroll rankings; five are in the bottom half.

Among the top 10 largest payrolls in major league baseball, Philadelphia, the LA Angels, the Chicago White Sox and Toronto all had losing records, and the poor White Sox had a winning percentage of only .389, close to the worst in baseball.

It’s not so much that spending less increases your chances of having a winning team, it’s that the amount you spend seems to have no bearing at all on how well you do.  There must be some other factor.

People who know more about baseball than I may be able to explain to me why teams win, but it’s at least clear that payroll is not a particularly good indicator.  

Meanwhile, the Buccos are 1 and 1 with St. Louis and headed for home for the next two games (where they usually do much better).  The chance is still there for the Pirates to show in spectacular fashion how money doesn’t matter.

2013 MLB Payrolls*

New York Yankees $228,995,945
Los Angeles Dodgers $216,302,909
Philadelphia $159,578,214
Boston $158,967,286
Detroit $149,046,844
San Francisco $142,180,333
Los Angeles Angels $142,165,250
Texas $127,197,575
Chicago White Sox $124,065,277
Toronto $118,244,039
St. Louis $116,702,085
Washington $112,431,770
Cincinnati $110,565,728
Chicago Cubs $104,150,726
Baltimore $91,793,333
Milwaukee $91,003,366
Arizona $90,158,500
Atlanta $89,288,193
New York Mets $88,877,033
Seattle $84,295,952
Cleveland $82,517,300
Kansas City $80,491,725
Minnesota $75,562,500
Colorado $75,449,071
San Diego $71,689,900
Oakland $68,577,000
Pittsburgh $66,289,524
Tampa Bay $57,030,272
Miami $39,621,900
Houston $24,328,538


Thursday, October 3, 2013

The New Tobacco Industry

No surprise here. We've seen this health versus profits battle before. Big tobacco lawyers should be sending out their résumés.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Privacy is not the issue comment

Becasuse we can't place pictures in comments, this comment requires a separate post.

Anyway, below is the NSA's logo for its new PR campaign to improve it's image:

The Competition

I’ve discovered a rival blog to ours that probably we would do well to keep an eye on: The Learning Curve.

Privacy is not the issue

At least it's not the big issue.

In May Edward Snowden disclosed the Nation Security Agency's (NSA) mass surveillance activities on both foreign and domestic citizens. In June U.S. federal prosecutors charged him with espionage and theft of government property. Ever since there has been debate over the importance of Snowden's secrets and whether he should be viewed as a hero or villain.

Curiously, though charged with espionage, Edward Snowden's disclosures initiated a congressional investigation into the NSA. Like other times U.S. intelligence agencies have been investigated (Pentagon Papers, Church Committee, 2005 New York Times report on warrantless wiretapping), the investigation found illegal activities, cover ups, lying to congress, and the refusal to reveal documents. This time, among other revelations, Congress found that the NSA falsely certified that its analysts conducted searches only with telephone numbers that had a "reasonable, articulate suspicion" of terrorism. There also seems to be some question over whether anyone really knew what was going on or the scope of the surveillance activities.

In my mind, the most curious part is casting the debate as an invasion of privacy issue. Here's a Washington Post article in July. Aside from Edward Snowden losing support, the entire poll is centered on national security versus personal privacy. I can see why Snowden's support wanes. Most people have nothing to hide. While I'd love to keep my love letters private, that is not so important as national security.

As an aside, I love the phase 'national security'. It is a rallying phrase. It conjures up images of defending our American life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness in a very fragile world. But often it is nothing more than covering up actions by our own intelligence agencies for doing the exact opposite—of trying to destroy the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of others, either in this country or elsewhere.

So the issue is not about privacy. It is about accountability. And here I will reintroduce something we have all seen before. It is, perhaps, the most shocking and tested human trait as demonstrated by the many Milgram experiments and innumerable historic examples of what happens when humans are relieved of accountability—either from believing that a superior is taking responsibility, or that the greater good of some agency or ideal relieves them of responsibility. When this happens, we are capable of the most horrendous actions.

If intelligence agencies and more specifically the agents themselves aren't held accountable for their actions, we will continue to have law breaking, lying, covering up, and unthinkable acts directed against others. It's who we are.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What does the U.S. government do?

Well, that's one of the benefits of it shutting down. We can get a good feel for what the government does and how it affects our lives. Unfortunately or not, some parts of the federal government will not shut down. The government has determined what is essential and what is not. The military will continue to carry out drone attacks, homeland security will still target the unsuspecting, and we may rest assured that all foreign menaces will remain less threatening than deer or household furniture.

There will be a lot of federal employees free to leave work today, but vacation plans may have to be modified as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and other spots will be closed. Pennsylvania is open, however, and lovely this time of year.

There really is no need for a news post here other than to guide you to the Washington Post's excellent article of Absolutely everything you need to know about how the government shutdown will work.

I would recommend keeping notes or a journal to record how you are personally affected by the greatest country on earth closing its doors. How is your life changed? From various articles and news reports thus far it appears that the biggest consequence of the shut down is that the National Zoo's Panda Cam goes dark. I'm not kidding.