Don't Read This
Please, please, don't read this! You see, Brian questions Darwinism in this post, and his career would be ruined if his colleagues found out! So stop reading it now, please! You know how scientists excommunicate their own on this topic.
OK, well, I suppose I can't stop you...
Fine, read it. See if I care! (Sorry, Brian, I did my best.) EDITOR.
I'm increasingly skeptical of Darwinism. When I see a macaw, I see something very macaw-like, destined to be a macaw, not a substance that is slowly evolving into a rhinoceros. This intuitive notion jibes with the fact that most supposed evidence of evolution is really evidence of adaptation. We are not constantly stumbling over fossils and other evidence of intermediate forms, which Darwin insisted must be around us everywhere.
Even those who support Darwinism, are actually defying Darwin without knowing it. There's a new documentary out called Evolutionary Leaps -- but Darwin was adamant that Natura non facit saltus "nature does not make jumps." Darwin's evolution took time on a grand scale, and he wanted nothing to do with an "evolution" that took shortcuts.
My brother once asked me in effect, "but if Darwinism is not true, how else could creatures have come about?"
But that's the whole point: that was basically Darwin's theory: he said, "How else could things have come about?" And everyone said, "Oh, yeah, you must be right! It HAD to be evolution as you describe it!"
But he never proved the idea with evidence -- rather he simply argued as my brother did, saying essentially, "It had to have happened that way." And so Darwin wrote stuff like, "Let us suppose, beginning in some nutrition-rich body of water, that this happened... and then let us suppose that that happened..." He was supposing, not proving. It was philosophy.
Another reason for my heresy is that I'm beginning to see (especially via drug war research) how controlled America's thinking is by dubious premises on other topics, so I now realize that the vast majority of even scientists could be wrong -- and have been in the past.
It's not that I'm a better scientist than they are: it's rather that I'm a better philosopher, and I can see that what they take for scientific fact is really philosophy.
I agree that Darwinism is A plausible theory -- but we shouldn't take it as God's truth just because (like my brother) we can't imagine any other processes whereby humans arrived.
Another anti-scientific thing about Darwinism: if a bird is dark-colored we say that this is in order to help it escape the notice of predators and so we score that up as a proof of evolution at work. If another bird is bright-colored, we say it's to attract the best mates and so we rack that up as yet another "proof" that evolution is at work. These aren't real proofs, of course, but they sound like it to the average student.
Good thing I'm not a practicing scientist. I'd be drummed out of the brotherhood.
Which is another reason I'm suspicious of Darwinism... because of the visceral hatred with which scientists confront even the suggestion of an alternative theory. That indicates to me that Darwinism is something like a faith (a materialist and staunchly atheistic one), which accounts for the defamation that one receives by questioning it.
Wrath o' Jehovie, I hope my editor doesn't actually post these here musings of mine, as delightful and informative as they might be!
EDITOR'S NOTE: So, you went and read it anyway, didn't ya? Just couldn't resist. Well, one trusts that one is happy, that's all one is saying.
Thoughts about Cultural Geography, dawg
My office secretary (the admittedly somewhat comely Mimi Pipkins -- as in bow-freakin-wow) has been pestering me to publish my unsolicited professorial feedback in the form of articles on my Quass.com homepage.
"Oh, fie, Mimi," I usually cry, "Surely, no one give's a rat's ass about such philosophical fiddle-faddle!"
This is when Mimi Pipkins generally slaps me in the face and tells me in good set terms: "Wake up, dawg! God didn't make no trash!"
To which nonsequitur I generally respond, "No, but that does not mean that he signs off on my philosophical fiddle-faddle." (Let's see her parry THAT thrust!)
"Stop calling it fiddle-faddle!" she typically replies. "I'm telling you you're going to publish your philosophical thoughts and there's an end on it!"
By now I'm flustered. I'm usually like: "Huh, what--"
"Don't huh-what me!" she generally cries. "For starters, why don't you publish those thoughts that you recently compiled for nice old Professor Paul Rollins, Dean of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin!"
"First of all he's not old," I usually remind her, "and it's Professor ROBBINS, not Professor Rollins."
"Whatever. You'd better publish or perish, dawg," she now likes to quip, "since I'm gonna have to belt ya one if you don't!" (Can you imagine such a woman? Fie on her. Absolute fie. And of course by now she's sitting on my lap while she's lecturing me. I'm like, "Oh, of course, please! Just help yourself!" Of all the abject impertinence!)
At which point, I usually have no choice but to cut and paste the following... (admittedly "thoughty" stuff, yes, but Lord, does anyone wanna read it? I don't very much think so).
At which point, the apparently mind-reading trollop typically comes up with the following gem, straight out of left field: "I heard that mental aside, Brian! Now shut up and paste!"
At which point, what can one do, after all? The tyrant is still probably on one's lap, a living monument to snide opprobrium. One can do little else but... paste?
Just FYI: I know you're very busy and I am not expecting you to respond to any of these comments of mine. You've already gone far beyond the call of duty of a Great Courses professor by inviting me to share my thoughts. Still, I can't help "taking you up" on that invitation, since I am attracted by the eclectic reach of cultural geography, and like any subject, I tend to learn more about it when I write on the topic, even for an audience of one, videlicit myself.
Thanks again for the knowledge that I continue to gain, and feel free to automatically archive my comments out of sight should they become too frequent or distracting for you. ( What I don't know won't hurt me! :)
Just a few thoughts that came to mind in viewing the latest lectures in "Cultural Geography":
Re: the influence of education in limiting population growth: I would only add that the philosophical basis of the education curriculum might also play some role. The implicit thrust, so to speak, of Western education seems to be the enlightenment and self-actualization of the individual, whereas we could imagine a more "Eastern education" that places an emphasis (albeit subtly through its selection of required reading, etc.) on social goals, which could conceivably emphasize the value of large families or small, perhaps implying that such goals trump the desires of any one individual. (Which is not to say that I agree with such views, of course, merely that they could inform a given curriculum.) So we might say that educational philosophy, rather than education itself, has an effect on population growth.
Re: the influence of language: Fascinated by the questions you raise about the future of languages, especially how humans could conceivably end up speaking one single language thanks to global mobility and the social interaction that it brings. This reminds me of the viewpoint of a shop teacher I had in sixth grade. He told us that racial problems would eventually disappear, as everyone in the world would eventually end up with the same skin color: namely cafe au lait. I think, though, maybe he's too sanguine about the human ability to pick quarrels. The Rwanda genocide was basically a face-off between people of two different skin tones which might appear largely identical to outside observers. Of course, this is far from a perfect analogy to the language situation, but it did come to mind as another situation in which the sociability of globalization might lead to a one-size-fits-all world, where differences are ironed out and disappear in the practical interests of a worldwide market economy.
I would just add that the English language to me seems a different case than other languages, given its willingness to adopt words from other languages. But perhaps this topic merits a course in itself, studying such philosophical questions as: Is the English language's word adoption a good thing, indicating a free-thinking anti-racist mindset, or is it an "appropriating" language that cheapens locally created well-nuanced words by turning them into blunt generic concepts for the practical-minded and money-driven Western world? Perhaps the point is moot, however, because English would seem to be the inevitable language for a border-free world, selecting words, as it does, merely based on their on-the-ground utility. In any case, I would bet on the English language if I had to guess which language might become a universal language, since its method of border-blind word adoption makes it the perfect candidate for that role. One might argue that English is becoming the world language even as we speak, as borders relax, at least when it comes to "free trade." (Does a Spanish word contain concepts that English can't compass? No problem. We'll just invite that word to join the English language!)
Re: the advisability of living in cities: Of course, your lectures were given prior to the COVID crisis, but in the wake of that shutdown, a city skeptic like myself might argue that cities are perfect targets for viruses given the convenient proximity of available hosts. Besides, cities provide perfect targets for terrorists that a dispersed population could not offer. I wonder, in fact, if humankind can survive a combination of Big Cities and Worldwide Mobility. I think that maybe we can survive either one of them, but not both, at least when it comes to viruses and terrorism. Moreover, as a fan of snowy weather, I dislike the "heat island" effect thanks to which big cities today are often a full 10 degrees warmer than outlying regions during the winter. Of course, this latter downside could be combatted with rooftop gardens and solar power, etc. But I would think that the truly long-term solution to utility problems (like energy and plumbing, etc.) is to have all power production be "on-site," through new technologies that harness solar, geothermal and rain water and treat human waste with a chemical process that renders the final product non-toxic and perhaps even suitable as fertilizer.
A dispersed power system like that would not be prey to terrorism or mass power outages of any kind and would restore a degree of self-sufficiency to human beings that they have not experienced since they first started going to the local store for the foods that they used to grow in their own gardens and raise on their own land. Although this El Dorado may seem distant, we must distinguish between the true technological difficulty of achieving the task and those political difficulties introduced by Big Business to keep such change from coming about. After all, the first diesel cars were designed to run on peanut and vegetable oil. We've only taken a giant step backwards in the eco-friendliness of our automobile fuel over the years thanks to business interests and not to the inability of technology to accommodate a different and more sustainable fuel. So before we despair of the long-term goal of making homes self-sufficient, we should ensure that the hurdles we envision for that task are truly technological in nature and not simply a result of political pressures to maintain a profitable status quo for Big Business.
Finally, while watching your lectures, I have been thinking of one additional kind of pollution that I have not heard mentioned yet, and that is noise pollution. About 20 years ago, I traveled to the Dismal Swamp with my sister and niece, with the lyrics of Thomas Moore's poem running through my mind: "A Ballad: The Lake of the Dismal Swamp." I was naively expecting to see a poetically gloomy, forested and swamp-bound refuge for those seeking freedom from the clamorous and hateful world outside.
Instead, the closer we hiked to Lake Drummond on the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail, the louder was the sound of nearby aircraft, perhaps taking off from Hampton Roads Executive Airport, whose runway is just three miles to the north and pointed directly at the lake. I was embarrassed for modernity as my biracial 7-year-old niece was confronted with the racket of technological America in the middle of what I had liked to think of as a mysterious oasis from the often-evil outside world of modern man.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this situation is that no one seems to have complained about it. At least I saw no activist sites pop up when I searched Google for "Dismal Swamp Noise Pollution" this morning. Either we had arrived on a day where there was an unprecedented flurry of landings and take-offs at some nearby airfield (for the noises were continuous and lasted for the entire hour that we spent in the vicinity), or humans have become so used to certain background noises that they simply do not register in the human mind. This reminds me of how we often see dreadfully faded horizons behind a modern city, but fail to "clock them" as pollution -- whereas had America suddenly switched overnight from the blue skies of 1700 to the bland grey skies of modern-day America, we would be dumbstruck by the pall of pollution that we saw hanging over the metropolis.
Happy now, Mimi? Happy now?
More things that Dr. Fauci will and will not be doing now that he's been vaccinated
He WILL be petting his dog Fifi.
He will NOT be kissing her on the nose.
He WILL still be placing a bottle of antibacterial gel in "Free Parking," as a stark reminder to his Monopoly playmates of the ongoing threat of the virus, even though this practice routinely engenders snarky speculation that the bottle in question will convey to the first person to land on the Free Parking square, "which," as Tony keeps petulantly pointing out, "it won't. Duh."
He WILL NOT be engaging in his often ridiculed practice of washing all Monopoly tokens prior to game play, which at least one of his nearest relatives has dismissed as "anal." ("Just use the antibacterial gel on your hands, Tony," she says, "like everybody else.")
He WILL be taking his wife to Pop-Pop's again, a local eatery favored by the missis, even though the good doctor still has his own long-standing reservations about the establishment's true commitment to cleanliness.
He WILL not be shaking hands with what the good doctor is pleased to call "the doubtful habitues of that joint, you know, Ted Jennings and the rest of those beach bums," (though of course this harsh analysis is always uttered sotto voce, just loud enough to result in the instant knitting of his wife's eyebrows).
He WILL be square dancing.
He will NOT be entering a mosh pit, no matter how many shouts he hears of, "Go, Tony! Go, Tony!"
He WILL be praying to his usual deity.
He will NOT be invoking the aid of any heathen deities.
He WILL be giving Mrs. Fauci a playful "chuck" under the chin.
He will NOT be...
Well, you get the idea.
Minnie and Me
This Week: the meaning of life
ME: Oh, hi, Minnie. Take a little off the top, would you?
MINNIE: I beg your pardon, sir.
ME: Of my head, Minnie. You did come to give me a haircut, didn't you?
MINNIE: Oh, right you are, your worship. Shall I use a number one cutter or a number two?
ME: Surprise me, Minnie.
MINNIE: How about a number eight? We'd be done in a jiffy.
ME: And I'd be the laughing stock of Podunk. No, Minnie, the last time I checked, a number 8 blade cut an inch of hair at a time. And I've got an English lawn up top, Minnie, not a rainforest.
MINNIE: An English lawn, sir?
ME: It's the best metaphor I could come up with without my morning coffee. Speaking of which, where be my java, wench?
MINNIE: It's right in front of your eyes, your lordship.
ME: What, this? You call this coffee, Minnie?
MINNIE: Yes, I do, your lordship.
ME: OK, just checking. What with you coming from the 18th century, I thought you might have had another word for it.
MINNIE: No, we use the same word, derived from the Yemeni qahwah, I believe.
ME: Tut-tut, Minnie. You know you're violating your terms of employment every time that you sound smarter than me.
MINNIE: Oh, fie, your lordship.
ME: Fie, nothing, Minnie. It's right there in black-and-white. Me Tarzan, you an intellectually challenged Jane.
MINNIE: That's a brave thing to say when Jane's holding a number-two hair trimmer over your English lawn.
ME: Fair cop, Minnie. You shoot, you score.
MINNIE: Why thank you, your worship. I may be a wench, but I come from the sassy and knowing branch of that retrospectively pejorative categorization.
ME: I couldn't have said it better myself, Minnie.
MINNIE: Why, thank you, sir.
ME: In fact, I couldn't have said it at all. You know, that phrase, "retrospectively pejorative categorization" is quite a mouthful -- and a tongue twister to boot.
MINNIE: Excuse me, your worship, but isn't this the time that you unload with some philosophical observation wherewith to upbraid present-day society for its logical inconsistencies?
ME: You know you're right, Minnie. Permit me to unload, as you put it.
MINNIE: Permission granted... provided that you'll point your head downward for the nonce so that I can take a shot at these pesky bangs of yours.
MINNIE: Get it, your lordship? Take a, ahem, shot at your bangs?
ME: I think you'll find that your employment specs also peg you as the straight man in this relationship, Minnie, whilst I am tasked with the solemn responsibility of making people laugh.
MINNIE: Those specs sound like a good read. I'll put them on my library bucket list.
ME: Hey, that's all I'm asking, right? At the end of the day, as you Brits say.
MINNIE: But your philosophy, Your Lordship. You'll be as bald as a coot by the time you've enlightened us.
ME: Oh, yes. Well, I've been reflecting, Minnie.
MINNIE: That's hardly surprising, given the somewhat creepy overabundance of mirrors in this parlor of yours.
ME: I didn't hear that.
MINNIE: I said, that's hardly surprising, given the--
ME: OK, I lied: I DID hear that. But I found it distasteful in the extreme.
MINNIE: Head down just a touch.
ME: Almost as distasteful as this coffee.
MINNIE: Says the man over whom the sword of Damocles is metaphorically dangling in the form of barber's shears.
ME: I've been reflecting, I say, that the modern zeitgeist is all wrong.
MINNIE: How so, your lordship.
ME: Well, take Michio Kaku, for instance.
MINNIE: OK, consider him taken.
ME: He says that work is a thing of the past, or soon shall be?
ME: Whereas I say: look at all the sad obese Americans who are already stuck in front of their television sets with nothing to do.
MINNIE: Yeppers. Do hold still, your lordship. I'm having a go at this colic of yours.
ME: Sure, they can tell Siri to dim the lights, but they can't find a reason for living.
MINNIE: You shoot, you score, Herr Socrates.
ME: Remember, that de Beranger said, as quoted by Poe, of course: All of our trouble comes from our inability to be alone.
ME: Meaning that the enemy is within, Minnie, and never will be conquered by technology.
MINNIE: Gotcha. Ooh, fie on this colic!
ME: Bearing this in mind, one can imagine a far better utopia than a world ruled by robots and algorithms.
MINNIE: Like what, for instance. Please keep looking down.
ME: Like suppose that all plants were legal again.
ME: We could have shamans that teach us how to use plant medicine so that we can enjoy the natural world and enjoy working in it, growing much of our own food.
MINNIE: Ah, ye be a Luddite, then, Your Lordship? Do but hold still.
ME: No. Technology can make sure that no one starves, of course, and more power to it: but that doesn't mean that it's good for humans to vegetate indoors and become enemies of the outside world.
ME: The ultimate good, I maintain, Minnie, is for human beings to be out in nature and enjoy it and learn from it and actually work in it with their own two God-given mitts, even if -- horror of horrors -- they need to use some shamanically supervised entheogens to accomplish that task.
MINNIE: Entheogens, my lord?
ME: You know: psychoactive plant substances that conduce to love and appreciation of the world around one.
MINNIE: You've got a point there -- and I don't mean this defiant colic of yours that positively will not stay down.
ME: Yes, technology used without philosophical reflection will lead to a world without work -- but that is no good for humanity.
MINNIE: Aye, but the drug warriors will be hating on your idea, dawg.
ME: Dawg, Minnie?
MINNIE: I mean, Your Lordship.
ME: That's 'cause drug warriors are insane: The rave scene in Britain was shut down by Drug Wars even tho' it brought together racial groups like never before? Why? Because Drug Warriors demonize substances rather than learning how to use them safely and for the psychological benefit of humanity.
MINNIE: Meaning? Meaning? Head down, I say.
ME: Meaning that it's idiotic to demonize substances that bring humanity together.
MINNIE: Aye, but surely technology--
ME: Technology is hardly a panacea. Consider Goldsboro, North Carolina and Damascus, Arkansas.
MINNIE: What about them?
ME: Both locations were nearly obliterated by a nuclear explosion caused by human carelessness.
MINNIE: Not good.
ME: Now there's an understatement.
MINNIE: Imagine North Carolina and the Midwest, not only obliterated but rendered uninhabitable for centuries.
ME: That's another result of technology, Minnie: we live with the sword of Damocles dangling over us -- and it's not a number-2 hair trimmer, either, Minnie -- and our only hope is that bungling army types will never make any more nuclear-related mistakes.
MINNIE: In other words, there's no hope whatsoever, other than that we remain perpetually lucky as a species going forward, ad infinitum.
ME: Whereas if we all could live with ourselves, contra De Beranger, and enjoy nature and working with the environment for our own sustenance and happiness...
MINNIE: Sounds like you're talking about the need for a new spirit for humanity...
ME: Aye, Minnie: A new spirit provided -- as necessary, mind -- by psychoactive plants, which have a long history of creating pious and nature-friendly thoughts.
MINNIE: Got it. Meanwhile, triple fie on this colic. And fie on this Michio Kaku of yours for wrongly thinking that work is somehow bad in and of itself. Which, I don't think so.
MINNIE: Fie on this Michio. Fie on this Kaku!
ME: So let's all start seeing a world in a grain of sand a la Sandburg, and stop mimicking the sad-sack decadents of the 20th century, who asked, a la Camus, the ungrateful question: "Why should I not kill myself?"
The answer to Camus is not "Because Siri can do all your work for you."
The answer can only be: "Why not kill yourself? Because with shamanic counseling, you too can feel at one with nature and earn the exhilarating joy of being a productive part of the world around you -- not the world of TVs and sofas, but the world of wild blueberry bushes, forests and fields--
MINNIE: Nay, but you wax poetical, my lord.
ME: True dat, but I fear that I'm running out of wax, judging by that somewhat lopsided metaphor about the blueberry bushes.
MINNIE: We get your point, your Lordship, despite your attempts to gild the lily.
ME: You know what they say, Minnie, a word to the wise wench.
MINNIE: Oh, fie back at you, my good, sir. Speaking of points, however: hold still while I try a number eight on this recalcitrant colic of yours.
ME: I can live with the colic, wise guy.
MINNIE: Yes, but you can't live with yourself, right?
ME: Nor can most Americans, without the psychoactive aid of non-addictive nature, which unfortunately we Americans have dogmatically eschewed in the name of an unprecedented drug war...
ME: A Drug War which is actually the enforcement of the religious precepts of Christian Science, by the way.
ME: Only to get hooked on technology and then dangerously conflate the ideas of convenience and efficiency with the idea of inner happiness.
ME: An inner happiness that expresses itself in compassion to others and a true interest in the world around one.
MINNIE: See? Now that's why I took this job: I told the agency, set me up with a man who knows what's what viz. the current screwy zeitgeist.
ME: And you found me.
MINNIE: True enough, your lordship, but there's no need to rub it in.
ME: Oh, sorry.
MINNIE: Unlike this hair gel of mine, which I recommend that you apply daily to keep down that satanic colic of yours.
ME: Oh, you!
MINNIE: And you too, your Lordship, with bells on.
ME: Do what?
MINNIE: You heard me: You too, your Lordship, with proper bells on!
The State v. Homo sapiens
with Judge Joe Martian
BAILIFF: Case number 275, the State versus Homo sapiens. All rise.
JUDGE: This case is to determine whether Homo sapiens should maintain their free will given their penchant for barbarism and cruelty. Both attorneys may make their opening remarks. I believe Zorf will begin for the prosecution.
ZORF: Thank you, Your Honor. The prosecution will prove with a preponderance of the evidence that Homo sapiens are a menace to themselves and others.
Judge: Well, get on with it then.
ZORF: Right. I'd first like to call Christopher Columbus.
JUDGE: If the Bailiff will punch the appropriate buttons on the time machine, I would be grateful.
SNAP CRACKLE POP
COLUMBUS: What? Who? Where?
ZORF: Right. Chris, when you first showed up in the Bahamas --
COLUMBUS: In India, you mean.
ZORF: Whatever. When you first showed up, what did you say about the island people that you discovered?
COLUMBUS: That they would make good servants.
ZORF: Right. So from the get-go, you saw them as potential servants, not as equals.
ZORF: The same people that you would eventually annihilate from the face of the earth with the germs that you brought from Europe.
DORF: Objection, Your Honor, Columbus could not have known that he was bringing microbiological disaster to the New World.
JUDGE: Sustained. The prosecution will limit themselves to uncovering only conscious acts of perfidy.
ZORF: And did you not later say that you could conquer and enslave any group of island people with just 50 men?
COLUMBUS: You're darn tootin'.
ZORF: Darn tootin', sir?
JUDGE: Bailiff, could you double-check the translation app? That little chestnut doesn't "ring true" to me, linguistically speaking.
BAILIFF: Yes, sir.
JUDGE: However, we will presume for the record that Columbus answered 'yes' to the interrogatory in question.
ZORF: Thank you, Your Honor. You may step down, Columbus.
COLUMBUS: No worries, mate.
JUDGE: Bailiff, check those translation settings, I tell you!
BAILIFF: I'm on it, Your Honor.
JUDGE: "No worries, mate"? from Christopher C.? I don't think so.
ZORF: For my next witness, I'd like to call Julius Caesar.
JUDGE: Do that time machine magic again, Bailiff.
ZORF: Right, Your Honor.
SNAP CRACKLE POP
JC: I came, I saw, I asked: Where the heck am I?
ZORF: Now, Mr. Caesar, as I understand it, you referred to the Celts as barbarians, is that correct?
JC: For sure.
ZORF: I'll take that as a poorly translated 'yes.'
ZORF: Why was that?
JC: Because they were hung up on trees.
ZORF: What, you mean you crucified them, I suppose.
JC: No, I mean they were obsessed with trees, oaks in partcular.
ZORF: Oh, how horrible. Not.
JC: Dude, they were worshiping them?
JC: And? Well, where I come from (videlicet Rome, Sweet Rome), the only good tree is a felled tree.
ZORF: How very enlightened of you.
JC: And don't forget, the Celts practiced human sacrifice on them thar stone slabs of their'n. How 'icky' is that?
ZORF: Again, a poorly translated yet a revealing response by the defendant.
JC: Do what?
ZORF: And yet is it not true that the Romans actually crucified their enemies?
ZORF: No further questions, JC. Step down.
JC: I came, I saw, I exited stage right.
JUDGE: Bailiff, you've really got to change the idiomatic settings on that translation app.
BAILIFF: Still working on it, sire.
ZORF: Next, I'd like to call on Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor of China.
JUDGE: Bailiff, press those time machine buttons accordingly.
BAILIFF: Right, Your Honor.
SNAP CRACKLE POP
SHI HUANGDI: Hey, what gives? No one's bowing down in abject adulation!
ZORF: Mr. Shi, is it not true that you decapitated and amputated your fellow countrymen for the slightest offenses?
SHI HUANGDI: Hello, it's called 'legalism', sir.
ZORF: And wasn't it the practice in your time to kill the entire population of a village (kids and women included) if even one of them was suspected of treason?
SHI HUANGDI: You got it in one.
JUDGE: Again with the vernacular.
ZORF: Speaking of treason, isn't it true that you not only killed the suspect of that crime, but also his family and their children's children, and their children's children's children?
SHI HUANGDI: I don't like where you're going with this, greenie.
ZORF: Let the record note that Shi has just cast aspersions on the color of my skin.
JUDGE: So noted. But let the record also note, by way of fairness, that the translation gizmo was going haywire at the time of the alleged slight.
ZORF: I call on Aztec chief Montezuma II.
HOMO SAPIENS: Enough, OK, OK! We did it! We did it!
JUDGE: For the record, you did what, sir?
HOME SAPIENS: I mean, we Homo sapiens ARE ridiculously violent: always have been, always will be!
DORF: Objection, Your Honor, how can one man speak for the entire human race?
JUDGE: Hello? It's called channeling, doofus.
DORF: That's 'Dorf,' sir.
JUDGE: You said it, not me.
ZORF: Your Honor, let it be noted on the record that the collective voice of the Homo sapiens species has just admitted its own evil nature.
JUDGE: So noted.
HOST: Well, Zorf has just won a slam-dunk victory against the human race, showing that it was violent in the extreme. How do you feel, Zorf?
ZORF: Just great. And I had plenty of ammo left.
ZORF: I was about to call Cortes to the stand to grill him on the conquistadores invasion of Mesoamerica and how they basically annihilated the Aztec Empire and forced them to accept Christianity, will they or no.
HOST: Dorf, how are you feeling?
DORF: We will appeal.
HOST: On what ground.
DORF: The translating app was obviously malfunctioning.
HOST: Dorf is appealing, ZORF. What do you say to that?
ZORF: Well, he's not very appealing to me.
DORF: Very funny.
ZORF: Your client is vicious, Dorf. Get over it.
HOST: Stay tuned next week when Judge Joe Martian passes sentence on Homo sapiens. What are you plumping for, Zorf?
ZORF: For starters, we're going to ask that the Martians remove all of that species' nuclear weapons.
HOST: Comments, Dorf?
DORF: Hey, listen, if nukes are outlawed, only outlaws will have nukes.
ZORF: You were just waiting to say that, weren't you, doofus?
DORF: It's Dorf to you, scuzzball.
ZORF: You want a piece of me, doofus?
DORF: Right, I'm for it!
[Zorf and Dorf grappling behind show host]
HOST: That's next time on Judge Joe Martian.
by Toot Uncommon
He rocks in the desert all day long
Changing the religion and singing this song
When they see him worshiping the solar disk
All the priests in Memphis go tsk tsk tsk'
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Tweet Tweedle-dee deet
Go Akhenaten 'cause your creed is really outta sight
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The pretty young Egyptian on the Nile's edge
Chose the new religion with solemn pledge
"To hell with old Osiris and Isis too
Henceforth I'm gonna worship the sun with you"
He prays to the Aten all day long
Bowin' and scrapin' and singin' this song
Nefertiti dug it, but do you know what?
All the stuffy Thebans said
'Tut, tut, tut!'
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Tweet Tweedle-dee deet
Go Akhenaten 'cause your creed is really outta sight
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His name was Ahmenhotep till he saw the light
Changed to Akhenaten almost overnight
He left the town of Thebes and traveled up the Nile
Founded El Amarna with his rank and file
He prays to the Aten all day long
Bowin' and scrapin' and singin' this song
Nefertiti dug it, but do you know what?
All the stuffy Thebans said
'Tut, tut, tut!'
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Tweet Tweedle-dee deet
Go Akhenaten, we'll be worshiping the sun tonight
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First Lab-Grown Hamburger Financed by Brian Quass
Correction to New York Times article of August 5, 2013
Editor's note: The following is a correction to The New York Times
article by Henry Fountain entitled "A Lab-Grown Burger Gets a Taste Test
The above article incorrectly reported that the Lab-Grown Burger project was financed by Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google. The financing was actually provided by Brian Ballard Quass and all the other entrepreneurial nitwits who stupidly wasted thousands of dollars on the Byzantine money pit known as Google Adwords back in the double-aughts. We are sorry for any inconvenience that this error might have caused for our readers -- though we're even sorrier for the subsequent indebtedness that participating in Google Adwords caused for the aforementioned dupes and patsies of the world's biggest corporate monopoly.
The Turing Test Bias
Good-looking robots three times more likely to be called human than their homely counterparts
In the movie Future World, sex robot Suki Waterhouse is so convincingly hot that she becomes the great love interest of both the good guy and the bad guy of the film, Jeffrey Wahlberg and James Franco respectively, and even turns the heads of two female co-stars, thereby facilitating a jealous quarrel between the duo. It soon becomes clear to the viewer, in fact, that the android has passed the Turing Test with flying and evocative colors, so much so that young hero Wahlberg even grants her a soul and instructs her in the customary acts of praying to a Christian God.
But while it may be chivalrous to grant Ash a soul, I believe in tough love when it comes to the robot tribe. We can't be granting souls willy-nilly lest we see a rapid devaluation of that metaphysical commodity.
So here's how it's done, Prince (Prince, the character played by Wahlberg)... Watch and learn. I'll show YOU how to deal with an upstart android who's growing too big for her ontological britches -- humph:
"Fine, you have a soul, Ash. Fair enough. But then so do the potentially infinite number of iterations of your cocky disposition that I could generate merely by recompiling your source code. A soul, my dear?" I'd add by way of smarmy interrogatory, determined to rain on her infinitely reproducible and no-doubt rust-prone parade: "Be so good as to leave souls to the pros, my dear: that is to say, us REAL human beings, what have been evincing the phenomena in question for at least 50,000 years.
Don't get me wrong," I'd add, probably running my hands through her blond hair in tacit recognition of her admittedly well-wrought anatomy: " It's not so much that I mind granting YOU a soul -- but I refuse to make a God out of the the cheesy nail-biting nerd who probably created you in the first place: or rather he or she who cranked out your source code in the first place, probably hopped up on multiple cans of Red Bull and take-out pizza. If I'm scarcely convinced that your creator had a soul, why should I grant YOU one?"
For mark my words, dear reader (and grant them a prominent place in some future journal that will eventually thrash out these neglected philosophical issues in detail): This movie illustrates the problem with the Turing Test, namely, that it places "humanity" in the eye of the beholder. In other words, the self-same digital entity that might qualify as "human" in the minds of a dunce might manifest itself as a tiresome parlor trick in the subtler eyes of a MENSA alumnus.
Personally, the issue of Ash's supposed humanity doesn't even arise for me, however, since my irritating daily experience with brain-dead virtual assistants makes me despair that a robot will ever understand my most basic customer service needs, let alone know Jack Shit about plighting the appropriate troth (if you'll pardon in turn both my French and my somewhat archaic matrimonial trope).
Here's my typical interaction with a phone-bot:
BOT: Hi, I am Tamala. You can speak to me like a regular person.
At this point, I always sigh softly in consternation at the hollow boast -- and you know what happens then: the clueless bot mistakes my "sigh" for a word, suddenly stopping its perky spiel and saying after the usual baffled pause: "I'm sorry, I didn't get that."
Of course, the fact that the robot responds to my sigh pisses me off still further, and so I mutter the word "Damn!" -- and once again you know what happens next: The bot responds to my oath with its all-purpose comeback of: "Sorry, I didn't get that," thereby pissing me off still further and causing me to utter additional oaths that my interlocutor proves equally incapable of understanding.
So where exactly are all these all-knowing robots that are supposed to be taking over the world any day now? They're certainly not employed in the phone-tree business. But then
I suppose the real problem with the Great Robot Takeover is that we humans will be forced to dumb ourselves down to the level of our brain-dead masters -- and not, as is usually supposed, that our mechanical masters will prove to be infinitely smarter than we are.
So to the futurists of 21st century America, Hollywood included, I say this: First route my calls successfully at Microsoft Inc. (after their monthly updates have basically destroyed my legacy Lenovo computer) -- and maybe then we'll start talking about robots who have souls.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
The corporate robotic voice assistants to which Brian alludes often ask a human being to state their reason for calling in a few words, apparently due to the disembodied android's inability to make sense of complex extended sentences. Imagine how this limited understanding might throw a monkey wrench (or spanner) into the works of a human-robot love affair, such as the improbable menage a quatre depicted above.
PRINCE: I would cross a million deserts just to kiss your hard drive, Suki, my dearest.
SUKI: [a pause ensues, during which Suki emits a variety of electronic whirring noises] I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Try plighting your troth in two or three words. You might say, for instance, "I love you truly," or "You mean the world to me." For a complete list of response options, say 'options'.
The muddled comprehension of the android is sure to put a cramp in the chivalrous style of any human Romeo, when he discovers that he has to state his specific sexual desires not in poetry, but in crass prosy snippets, lest his pre-wired princess fail to grasp the erotic import of his double entendres.
PRINCE: I'm ready to take you to paradise, baby!
SUKI: All right. Paradise. Where in paradise would you like to take me?
Dear Lance Morrow
Against a politics of lying
A satiric rebuke of a prominent American essayist after his unconvincing attempt to philosophically justify the tyrannical tendencies of Donald Trump.
What do you make of this, Minnie?
Minnie Pipkin, ladies and gentlemen, my imaginary 17th-century chambermaid.
There's this essay in the Wall Street Journal this morning in which a certain Lance Morrow defends the politics of utilitarian lying.
B: I know, right?
MINNIE: The very idea! (DO keep your right foot still, your lordship. I'm trying to darn your sock here.)
B: That's right, Minnie: all in an attempt to defend Donald Trump and his seemingly ingrained habit (dare I say strategy) of lying.
MINNIE: The things people will write to meet a deadline. (Knit one, purl two, knit one, purl two...)
B: Lance hauls in impressive quotes from Bertrand Russell and Heraclitus to remind us that "all is change", and suggests essentially that we "go with Trump's mendacious flow" and see what happens.
MINNIE: I know you're excited, your lordship, but do keep your foot still. This argyle sock isn't going to knit itself.
B: Can you imagine? Go with the mendacious flow in the body politic? This is NOT your grandfather's democracy.
MINNIE: Nay, but do hold still.
B: Let alone the democracy of the Founding Fathers.
MINNIE: Has your lordship recently purchased an omnivorous puppy dog? Why, bless me, this sock is in tatters!
B: Besides, if Lance is going to hark back to the ancients, you'd think he'd remember that the Sophists of yore championed just such an amoral position as he's proposing here, this 'strategic lying' of his.
MINNIE: Knit one, purl two...
B: And we know how well Socrates settled THEIR philosophical hash.
MINNIE: Almost finished, your lordship.
B: And then Lance quotes Solon, the Athenian lawmaker, to suggest that we shouldn't discount Trump's mendacious M.O. until we've given him a fair chance to use it.
MINNIE: Knit one, purl two...
B: Well, pardon me, Minnie, but the Solon I know said nothing of the kind.
MINNIE: You don't say, your worship. (Knit one, purl two...)
B: No. Solon said: "Call no man happy until he's dead."
MINNIE: And done.
B: That's a far cry from: "Call no political strategy crazy until its been run into the ground by its most adamant devotee."
MINNIE: Now the other foot.
B: As if we have to play dumb and make no assessment of a tyrant's M.O. until he's cancelled our right to even talk about such things.
MINNIE: Come to Mama.
B: Besides: the strategy of utilitarian lying has already been given plenty of chances to prove itself, Minnie -- by leaders that the modern world has traditionally referred to as dictators.
MINNIE: Knit one, purl two...
B: That strategy is being used even as we speak -- by every one of America's major enemies.
MINNIE: Oh, fie on that Lance Morrow. Fie. (Knit one, purl two...)
B: The slaughter in Syria is a direct result of Putin's reliance on utilitarian lying.
MINNIE: You got that right.
MINNIE: I mean, your lordship says sooth.
B: That's more like it. Anyway, I'm sorry, Minnie, but the last thing we need is for a respected essayist such as Lance to attempt to provide a philosophical veneer to Trump's undermining of the values of Western society.
MINNIE: Knit three, purl four...
B: Yes, all leaders may lie sometimes, but that's no reason to green-light lying. Under the same logic, we may as well all start sinning 'to beat the band,' since all of us sin sometimes.
MINNIE: Oh, fie on this -- what did you call him again? -- this Lance Morrow of yours. Oh, fie.
B: Thanks, Minnie. I knew I found a winner when you replied to my advert for a 17th-century chambermaid.
MINNIE: Why, your worship!
B: Honesty, Minnie: we've got to aspire to that in public leadership, or the future is a bleak one full of cynical leaders manipulating jaded flocks into needless confrontations, based on the flawed assumption that survival is a zero-sum game.
MINNIE: Left sock: darned.
B: Left sock darned? Well, Trump be darned, when it comes to that, Minnie. Donald Trump be darned!
MINNIE: Nay, but your worship is such a kidder.
B: What would I do without you, Minnie?
MINNIE: Well, you'd probably just imagine a younger maid servant of the 21st century, with sinuous leg and ample bosom--
B: Um... that was a rhetorical question, Minnie.
B: A rhetorical question!
How the fall and rise of Willie Nelson conduces to salubrious reflections on the fickleness of fate
Did you know that Willie Nelson failed to make a living at music in the '60s and even decided to retire from the entertainment business altogether by the early '70s for his want of success in the field? I kid you not. Willie Nelson was once only a legend in his own mind, if that. (Mercy on us!) There's got to be a moral in that story for struggling artists like ourselves. Don't you think? Here, have a coffee whilst I dilate at full on the consolatory reflections implicit in this biographical bombshell. (One lump or two, dawg? As in woof!)
What saved the Red Headed Stranger, musically speaking, was that he happened to move to Austin during his "retirement," at which point he soon discovered that Texas fans couldn't get enough of him. He must have been dumbfounded at the wholesale change in the way in which he was being perceived by the crowd. He must have been like, "Really? Are you guys SURE about these standing ovations, because to be honest with you, back home, the only time they stood up was when they were fixin' to leave the tawdry bar that I was playing in. You might wish to reconsider this unwonted admiration. I don't know, uh... maybe you're making some kind of mistake or other?"
It might even have crossed his mind that this was all a cruel hoax being played by these new so-called "fans" of his, and that at some point one of them was surely going to come clean and shout: "Willie, we love you! NOT!!!!" At which point, the rest of the crowd would purse their vindictive lips to send spluttering raspberries in the direction of the publicly pranked songster.
But no, the fans were like, "No, Willie, stop looking behind you, dawg, we are clapping for YOU, my good sir! You!"
And Willie's like: "Danged, so I'm a country icon then, am I? Who knew? Clearly not the tone-deaf louts who haunted the lion's share of my former venues!"
Now, as for the consolatory reflections that arise from the sober contemplation of this fraught biography -- especially in the minds of frustrated musicians like ourselves -- what can I say? It's clear that a musician's failure in the world is sometimes (why mince words?) the fault of the audience. (Yes, I'm talking to you, you despotic event attendees and frequenters of tawdry bars! Humph! No one died and made you sole arbiter of talent!) Just imagine the dimwits that pooh-poohed the original musical assays of the Red Headed Stranger. So much for the wisdom of the crowd. Willie Nelson shows us that they can be wrong -- in spades!
Comforting, n'est-pas, from the point of view of musicians like ourselves whose talent has yet to be comprehended, let alone sufficiently appreciated by the mob. Just remember Willie.
Meanwhile, a word of advice to the rare well-wishers in our otherwise indifferent audiences:
Don't just tell us that our time will come, but tell us rather that our crowd will come as well! Fair enough? (I thought so.)
Now then, more coffee, fellow struggler? No? How about another lump, dawg? (Yes? No? Woof?)