Sunday, November 29, 2015

Anarchist Stefan Molyneux and His 'Freedomain Radio' Program Going in a Disturbing Eugenicist/Racial Separatist Direction

There is a rather popular, Murray Rothbard-influenced, Canada-based anarchist podcaster named Stefan Molyneux. This man -- the founder of a series of podcasts called Freedomain Radio (FDR) -- was popular enough to have been interviewed twice on The Joe Rogan Experience. The second time around, though, Rogan caught Molyneux telling several lies, and, since then, Rogan has expressed strong reservations about Mr. Molyneux's ideology and persuasion techniques. Still, Molyneux remains quite influential.

I had already been troubled by Molyneux since 2007. In many of his podcasts, he would be quick to manipulate his callers, attempting to get them to re-interpret relatively minor slights on the parts of their parents as abuse. He would then urge, with the utmost seriousness, that they disown their parents and siblings.

That remains a concern for me, but I want to address something else. Molyneux increasingly calls for separation among races and promotes the eugenicist ideas of Richard Herrnstein's (1) that IQ is the main determinant of people's productivity or violent tendencies, (2) that genetics, including racial background, is a significant factor influencing IQ, and therefore (3) one's race-related genetic background influences the degree to which someone is economically productive or has violent criminal tendencies. This argument is used by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in The Bell Curve to rationalize new restrictions on immigration. It is the old, early-twentieth-century eugenics in a new guise. And Molyneux is advancing this.

At the 0:01:26 mark of his YouTube video "The Death of Europe | European Migrant Crisis," Molyneux asserts,

Looking at human beings as one species is not biologically valid. We are a variety of subspecies -- politically, definitely ethnically, sometimes gender, in terms of IQ, in terms of culture. These produce differences that are physical but hard to remediate [remedy?] as you get older. So we are a cluster of genetics getting ready to reproduce their own particular genetics.

Throughout this blog post, the boldface is emphases I have added.

At the 0:22:47 mark of the same video, he says,
And all of this [saving Europe from destruction] requires that the IQ can be raised. The [average] IQ of a lot of these countries [that Muslim immigrants are from] is 85. That is a full standard deviation below the [average] IQ of Europe. Now, if there's any genetic component to that, and I believe that there is -- nobody knows for sure; it's just a belief, but it's a belief with quite a bit of data and we're just about to put out an interview with Dr. Jason Richwine about this -- but if there's any genetic components, or if the culture is so insular that it's equivalent to genetics in the transmission of low intelligence, then you cannot run a high-IQ society with low-IQ people. [ . . . ]
Now, if there are genetic components to the low IQ of the people coming in [to the West, from non-Western countries], I will tell you exactly what's going to happen, and it's really obvious.  And if it is genetic or equivalent to genetic -- their low IQ -- I can tell you exactly what's going to happen:  they're gonna fail.  These immigrants are going to fail, and they're not gonna just fail a little bit; they're gonna fail hard.  You are importing a radicalized, low-IQ population into a high-IQ society, and capitalism pays for intelligence. That's what it does; you get paid for your intelligence. And so you are importing a huge bunch of people into Europe, who are going to fail. They're not staying on welfare because they're lazy; they're not. That's like saying somebody with an IQ of 80 hasn't applied to graduate school because they're [sic] lazy.  No!  They're doing what is economically the best option for them. . . . But you are importing a gene set that is incompatible with success in a free-market economy. Now, because no one can talk about IQ and no one can talk about any potential genetic relationship between ethnic communities and IQ, what that means is that the only way that anyone will ever explain the failures of these Africans in European society -- you know as well as I do -- how is anyone going to explain that? . . . [Mockingly, here:]  White racism.

Near the end of his video, "The Impending Collapse of Western Civilization," Molyneux touts racial separatism as a solution to what he judges to be the self-destruction of the welfare state.

From the 0:32:45 mark:
When you have a largely homogeneous society -- right, let's say Haiti; Haiti has a lot of blacks and so on, right? -- if there's a big change in society, say, Haiti runs out of money, or, as you said, right, New Zealand ran out of money [some joke about The Hobbit and 'Peter Jackson money bombs'] -- if you have a largely ethnically homogeneous society, when the shit hits the wall an people gotta change, there isn't really that much in-fighting. There's a sense of, 'OK, we've all got to pull together. We all kind of have the same color eyes and there's no point turning on each other, because we all kind of got into this together, and so we've got to pull together to get out of it together.'; When you have an ethnically homogeneous society, when the shit hits the wall, you don't dissolve into massive race-baiting wars, which is a problem that happens because skills and abilities have not been distributed evenly by Mother Nature among various ethnicities, and what that means is that when the shit hits the wall, it hits some ethnicities a lot harder than others, you get endless screams of 'racism!';. This is one fundamental reason why America is having a hard time solving these problems. If you cut spending, which [racial] community is it going to hit the hardest? Hint: it's not Korean. If you cut spending in America, it's the black community it will hit the hardest.

The 0:35:05 mark:
This is another reason why multi-ethnic societies is a problem. It wouldn't be as much of a problem if all ethnicities acted the same, roughly. . . . The Germans came over, the Irish came over, and they kind of ended up acting pretty much the same after a certain amount of time -- a generation or two. But the problem is that among the blacks and the Hispanics, they don't end up acting the same as the white population or the Asian population, and the white population doesn't even act as well as the Asian population in terms of murder rates and income and unemployment and so on and single motherhood and family stability and so on. So we all need to turn Japanese; that's my first point. [Joke.] My second point is that when the shit hits the wall and the government runs out of money, it doesn't end up affecting ethnicites in the same way.

The 0:37:17 mark:
Because you've got the Racist-in-Chief [President Obama] currently manning the helm, and the media, of course, compliant, and willing to scream 'racist' at anyone who points out basic fact-based differences between ethnicities, you've got a problem. You can't deal with the situation until Obama's out, or until people understand ethnicities in America and all around the world tend to act differently collectively -- individuals are always different -- but collectively ethnicities around the world tend to act differently. They tend to have different incomes, they have different rates of marital stability, they have different rates of criminality, they tend to have different rates of accumulations of assets, they have different levels of education. Go on and on and on. Until people accept that and say, "OK, if we cut spending, government spending, it's going to affect the black community the worst, it's going to affect the Hispanic community the second worst, it's going to affect the white community the third worst, and I think Asians will heave up a giant sigh of relief at not being taxed with a giant suction hole through the butt'; Until these facts are either dealt with, or until people give up race-baiting -- I'm not sure which one I consider more likely -- trying to deal with these problems is a real challenge. And because you have a Race-Baiter-in-Chief in charge of the White House, the Republicans, I think, have been very loathe to cut spending, because it will hit the black community and you've got this giant klaxon who will amplify it through the mainstream media to the point where society will probably hit a revolution.

I am familiar with the argument that people have an easier time getting along when they're all the same ethnicity; I think there might be an empirical basis for that descriptive evaluation. What worries me, though, is Molyneux repeatedly conveying that as long as there's a welfare state, different ethnicities pretty much should just give up trying to live together. And when he says human beings are not all one species, that isn't him being facetious; that part is intended to be taken seriously.

There is no delicate way to put this: the degree to which people follow and transmit Molyneux's race rhetoric is the degree to which they imperil Western society.



UPDATE from April 21, 2017:  Upon further gathering of data, I retract part of the above sentence, the part following the semicolon: "I am familiar with the argument that people have an easier time getting along when they're all the same ethnicity; I think there might be an empirical basis for that descriptive evaluation" (emphasis added).  As I have written in the newer post over here, Patrick Sturgis and his team have found that, adjusting for financial deprivation and everything else being equal, an increase in ethnic diversity in a neighborhood does not contribute to a loss of trust among that neighborhood's denizens. This whole time, Robert D. Putnam and Frank Salter were wrong to proclaim that ethnic diversity causes social turmoil -- and so was Molyneux in citing them to advance his agenda.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

18 Letters

Stuart K. Hayashi

Here's a riddle.  What 18 letters did the flirt say to Emily when he admitted to being an extraterrestrial capable of detecting static electricity via his optical sensory organs?

The answer:  O, MLE, U QT, I M N LEN.  I C NRG!  (Oh, Emily, you cutie, I am an alien.  I see energy!)

This was inspired by an older riddle that goes, "What seven letters did Garfield [the cat] say to the refrigerator when he looked inside it?"  The answer is: O, I C U R MT (Oh, I see you are empty).  This was in an official Garfield chidren's book approved by Jim Davis. 



UPDATE from July 26, 2016:  I think I have another one:




What 23 letters did the alien flirt say to Emily when he admitted that he was an extraterrestrial and that both he and earthling Katie were capable of detecting static electricity via their optical sensory organs?








O, MLE, U R A QT! I M N LEN.  KT N I C NRG! (Oh, Emily, you are a cutie!  I am an alien.  Katie and I see energy!)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

There Is No 'Intentions Vs. Results': Debunking the Conservative Cliche of 'Liberal Intentions Vs. Conservative Results'

Stuart K. Hayashi


I reject the conservative cliche that says, "Liberals only care about good intentions; they don't care about getting good results." This is false and it reflects the Platonic mind-matter dichotomy in conservatives. It pits the mind (“intentions”) against body/matter (“results”), as if they can be separated in the long run.


As one man on Twitter put it to Ashe Schow, “results are for Republicans, intentions are for Democrats.”

More verbose, Bob Funk writes in the Wall Street Journal,

Too many policy makers evaluate new interventions -- labor rules, wage laws, environmental regulations -- only by what they hope to accomplish. They do not consider the consequences, the unintended effects, and the trouble that their policies will cause for employers and workers, especially when the burdens are placed one on top of another [emphases added].
But recognizing the unity of mind and body means recognizing that an honest intention is about nothing more than remaining committed to achieving the explicitly desired result. The extent to which someone ignores the results of his methods in a project is the extent to which he is disingenuous about intending to make a success of that project. 

President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the War on Poverty in the 1960s, claiming that the intention was to reduce poverty. After more than 40 years of these programs, we see they have largely failed to reduce poverty. Many apologists for the welfare state acknowledge this failure, but they claim it is simply because the programs do not go far enough -- more tax money needs to be spent on such programs, and such programs should be expanded in complexity. 

And then conservatives issue their cliche, "See? Liberals are lofty idealists who care about intentions to help but are too naive to care when the results are poor. By contrast, we hard-nosed conservatives look to results, because we're so realistic!" 

 I reject this notion. Moreover, the degree to which anyone actually believe this assessment is the degree to which this person is not being realistic. Being realistic entails that one recognize that there isn't a disconnect between results and intention. 

If I say that I I intend to achieve result Y, that means that my priority is achieving a good result, result Y. Suppose I say, "My intention is to build a house that lasts -- the house lasting for decades is the desired result." I plan to go about this through Procedure C -- a haphazard procedure. I merely go through the motions of building the house. When I need a contractor, I hire the first one I come across, without examining the alternatives with respect to price or quality; nor do I look at the reviews of different contractors online. A year after the house is built, it collapses, because it is so shoddy. Then I shrug and say, "The results were poor, but it was nevertheless my sincere intention to build a house that lasts. I will try to rebuild the house. But instead of adopting new methods -- Procedure D -- to build the house, I will do everything exactly the same, Procedure C. My sincere intention is still to build a house that lasts for decades.” 

Would you judge that intention to be sincere? No, you would say that if I am, at most, half-hearted about achieving the desired result, then I am not honest about achieving the desired result being my intention. My saying that I want to build a strong house that lasts for decades is "all talk"; what I do in practice is what tells you whether my stated goal is my honest intention. 

The same logic applies to the welfare state. Advocates of the welfare state claimed in the 1960s that they wanted to achieve result Y, the eradication of poverty. They would go about it through Procedure C -- their welfare programs. More than forty years later, they have not achieved result Y. Someone honest about intending to achieve result Y would say, "Procedure C clearly isn't the means to achieve result Y. Therefore, let us try something new, Procedure D." Procedure D would simply be allowing the poor more freedom to lift themselves out poverty, not with the welfare programs that have failed. Instead, after more than four decades, apologists for the welfare state stick to Procedure C. When we judge people by their actions more than by what they say, we see that sticking to Procedure C is therefore a higher priority to these politicians and activists than is achieving result Y

But if Procedure C clearly won't achieve result Y, then there isn't an honest intention to achieve result Y -- there isn't an honest intention to reduce poverty. 

 And yet conservatives issue the cliche that advocates of the welfare state "honestly intend to reduce poverty; their problem is that they don't look to the results." For me to believe that, I would have to believe that somehow intent and result are not connected. But they are. By definition, sincerely intending to achieve result Y means one cares about results -- without concern for results, there is no honest intention. 

One might reply that advocates of the welfare state do sincerely hope that Procedure C  -- welfare programs -- alleviate poverty, but it is just that they are too blinkered and set in their ways to consider evidence that Procedure C has failed.  According to that argument, the intentions are sincere and welfare statists remain committed to Procedure C on account of errors in thinking and psychology. Should we concede that argument, though, that still would not bring coherence to the cliche "They care about intentions but not results."  Were this a matter of political leftists wanting to eliminate poverty but not having the evidence resonate with them so strongly, then their fault would not be that attaining practical results is of no interest to them.  The connection between results and honest intent would remain inextricable.

 Let's say that for ten years I go through Procedure C to attain result Y, and I fail repeatedly.  Upon consideration of the evidence, I switch to Procedure D and attain result Y at last.  In such a case, you could plausibly judge that even in the entire duration wherein I opted for Procedure C, I was indeed honest in intending to bring about result Y.  But if I remain beholden to Procedure C for forty years amid such horrid failures to induce result Y, it is sheer implausibility for others to entertain the notion that I mainly intended for result Y to come to fruition.

If you don't care to change your methods to achieve the stated desired result, then you do not honestly intend to achieve the stated desired result.

If you don’t care about results, then you don’t care about intentions.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Two Interpretations of Hume's Is-Ought Dictum, and a Reply to Each

Stuart K. Hayashi




In moral debate, participants frequently bring up David Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum. It can be summarized as follows:
Truths or facts cannot be where proper prescriptive rules of human conduct come from. That a truth or fact Is (meaning, is a truth or fact already validated) cannot tell you what you Ought or Ought Not to do. The simpler statement of this is: “You cannot get Ought-to-Do or Ought-Not-to-Do from that which Is.”
There are two possible interpretations for this:
  1. The Contextualist Interpretation: Truths or facts, by themselves and out-of-context, are not sufficient to indicate what you ought or ought not to do. Yet, that an out-of-context datum, by itself, is not sufficient to tell you what you ought or ought not to do, does not properly preclude you from taking facts into consideration of what you ought to do upon already having chosen the proper standard of value.
  2. The Nihilist Interpretation: Truths and facts do not properly tell you what you ought or ought not to do; period. It is indeed possible for you to take pertinent truths and facts into consideration for the purpose of accomplishing some goal, but there is still no objective reason why you ought or ought not to strive for that particular goal. Since truths and facts do not tell you what your goals ought or ought not to be, it follows that truths and facts have zero bearing on what you ought or ought not to do. In sum, truths and facts are ultimately irrelevant in judging, in the grand scheme of everything, whether your past actions were were objectively moral or not.
The first interpretation is partially true, and, even in conceding its partial truthfulness, it must be qualified. Insofar as the first interpretation is true, it is as much indubitably because it gives us some wiggle room whereby we can still get Ought from that which Is. By contrast, the second interpretation is wholly false and nihilistic. More than that, any time someone invokes Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum in an effort to get your to accept the second interpretation and thereby influence your thinking, it is implicitly self-refuting.


Interpretation 1 Meets Objectivist Metaethics

Again, Interpretation 1 (the Contextualist Interpretation) is correct inasmuch as it gives us room to get Ought from that which Is, provided that it is in the proper context. My standard of value is my life, meaning that my main goal -- and thus the source of every subsequent goal -- is to live life to the fullest. Note that this must be distinguished from mere physical survival. If I die at 121 years of age and was in consistent misery before then, that was physical survival but it was not living to the fullest. The to the fullest refers to quality of existing being the utmost within that duration, maximizing life not merely in terms of time span but also in terms of comfort and enjoyment.
 Truths and facts, by themselves -- outside of the context of how they affect my life -- are not enough to tell me what I ought or ought not to do. When the fact of gravity, the fact that [momentum] = [mass] x [velocity], and the fact that [final velocity] = [initial velocity] + [ (acceleration) x (time)], are isolated from any context pertaining to living my life to the fullest, such facts remain irrelevant.

Portrait of David Hume by Allan Ramsay, 1766.

Once we introduce the context of my goal to live my life to the fullest, though, such facts become pertinent. As my main goal is to live my life to the fullest, it follows that it would be contrary to this main goal for me, as a young man, to die painfully, violently, and quickly, based on some accident or misjudgment. In line with my goal, the facts about gravity and momentum and mass and human physiology do tell me that I ought not to jump out of a skyscraper’s fifth-story window; that would kill me.

Once I have chosen living life to the fullest as my primary goal, I can assess truths and facts to ascertain what my other goals ought or ought not to be, in direct contradiction to the nihilism of the second interpretation of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum. With my primary goal of life maximization in mind, I assess facts to determine what priorities I select as my secondary goals -- the secondary goals being intended to serve the first goal.
  1. Primary goal: Live life to the fullest, which requires that I not die in the next few weeks.
  2. Truth or fact: I will die if I do not eat anything within the next few weeks.
  3. Conclusion: I ought to eat within the next few weeks. As a corollary to that, my secondary goal is to find suitable food to eat.
Thus, we can form some agreement with Interpretation 1 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum though, as I shall explain in the section directly below, there is one primary Is that is sufficient to validate the subsequent Ought’s. Truths and facts, out of context, remain insufficient to guide me on what I ought or ought not to do. However, when we introduce the primary goal of maximizing life, truths and facts are precisely what we evaluate to instruct us on what we ought or ought not to do.


What the Most Important ‘IS’ Is

Yes, Interpretation 1 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is true, insofar as truths and facts -- separated from the context of maximizing your life -- are not enough to convey to you what your secondary goals ought to be or ought not to be. In one important respect, though, there is one singular fact or truth -- one singular Is -- that provides the basis for every Ought-to-Do and Ought-not-to-Do in your life. That truth and fact -- that most important Is -- is the fact that you live, the fact of your very existence. Once you accept that fact and accordingly opt to push for life to the fullest, at least in practice if not in conscious and explicit philosophizing, you end up considering the truths and the facts -- everything that Is, pertinent to you -- in ascertaining what you Ought and Ought Not to do in reaching the secondary goals that maintain and improve your life. That one Is -- your life -- is the foundation for everything you Ought and Ought Not to do. In that respect, even Interpretation 1 is misleading. One grand truth and fact -- your existence -- ultimately justifies every ethical prescriptive. You are the Is that justifies Ought.

Here is another manner in which it can be phrased. Your life is the fact which gives meaning to value; your life is the "Is" that gives meaning to Ought and Ought Not.

Hence, it is facts and truths -- the Is -- that properly give rise to Ought-to-Do and Ought-Not-to-Do. On that understanding, Ought-to-Do and Ought-Not-to-Do NECESSARILY come from Is.


Interpretation 2: The Nihilistic Interpretation

In his arguments, the late Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick implicitly accepts Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum. In direct rebuttal to Objectivism, Nozick proclaims that there is no reason why you ought to choose a full life as your primary goal. And, he adds, if there is no out-of-context Is -- no out-of-context truth or out-of-context fact -- that commands you to choose a full life as your primary goal, then it follows that is no objective reason, in the grand scheme of everything, why you Ought-to-Do or Ought-Not-to-Do anything.

Thus, what can be inferred from Nozick’s argument is that facts and truths can never provide any input in helping you consider what you ought or ought not to do. That is, Nozick’s argument is that it is not merely the case that out-of-context truths and out-of-context facts -- separated from the goal of a full life -- are unable to provide a guide for ethical prescription. Rather, Nozick goes as far as saying that in any and every context, truths and facts will never have any bearing on what you should or should not do.

This is not to say that Nozick explicitly denies there is any morality, though. Explicitly influenced by Immanuel Kant, Nozick puts forth what he proclaims to be absolute objective moral principles, and then adds that such allegedly absolute objective moral principles did not and cannot come from observation-based reasoning. (That is, though Kant and Nozick would not put it in such explicit terms, this really comes down to their allegedly absolute and objective principles being unsubstantiated and arbitrary.)

My answer to Nozick is the same one that Ronald E. Merrill gave him. I entirely concede that there is nothing I can say or cite to make you choose full living as your primary goal. But unlike Nozick, I do not see this as any sort of dilemma for Objectivism. Anyone who does not want to live fully is free to go somewhere and die. It is for those of us who choose maximal living -- at least, choose it in practice if not by conscious explication -- that secondary goals become pertinent. And to reach those secondary goals, we must consider the facts and act in accordance with them, and that is where Is becomes a guide for what we Ought and Ought Not to do.


Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum Is Truth, So You Ought Not...

Now I want to address the internal contradiction of anyone in an ethical debate, such as Nozick, invoking Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum in order to influence the thinking and debate behavior of his debate interlocutor. Anytime someone in an ethical debate cites Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum to you, there is an implicit imparting to you that there is something you Ought-to-Do or Ought-Not-to-Do in ethical debates, based on the premise that Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is itself a truthful Is.

The reasoning is as follows.

  • Explicit Statement 1: Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is that you cannot properly learn what you Ought or Ought Not to do, based on truths or facts, based on what Is.
  • Explicit Statement 2: Hume’s Is-Ought-Dictum is the truth. Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is a truthful Is.
  • Implicit Conclusion You Are Supposed to Draw From This: Based on the truthful Is that is Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum, you Ought Not to derive any Ought-Not from any truthful Is.

You see the internal contradiction there? Someone tells me that Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum is a fact or, at minimum, an objective truth. Based on acceptance of this objective truth -- this objective Is -- that is Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum, I Ought to stop making these ridiculous attempts to argue that Ought-to does come from Is.


“Cannot Do It” Vs. “Ought Not to Try It”?

In response to my pointing out this internal contradiction, one nihilistic apologist for Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum (who claims to be an Objectivist!), replied along these lines:

No, no, no, no, no! You Ought to [why should I Ought-to, silly?!! --S.H.] pay heed to the distinction between my saying you are forever unable to do something versus my saying you ought not to try to do it. When I cite Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum, I am not telling you that you Ought or Ought Not to pay heed to it; I am not telling you that you Ought Not to try to get your Ought -Not rules from that which Is. I am merely saying that if you do attempt such an effort, you will always fail, because it is logically impossible.

I do not buy into that rebuttal, because it slyly obfuscates the implicit purpose behind telling anyone that any proposition is impossible to accomplish.

Suppose I know someone named Bob. Bob seriously believes that if he keeps flapping his arms hard enough, there will come day in the years ahead when flapping his arms will enable him to fly. I tell him, “Bob, it is impossible for you to fly, ever, by flapping your arms.” What is the point in my telling Bob this? The implicit message behind telling anyone that a proposition is impossible to accomplish is that that person ought not to act on that proposition.

If it is logically impossible for me to acquire Ought-Not-to from that which Is, then -- because living a full life is my implicit primary goal -- it logically follows I Ought Not to try to acquire an Ought-Not-to from that which Is, does it not? The point in telling someone that he is forever unable to accomplish a specific task is to convey that he ought not to expend any more effort at that specific task. Therefore, the rebuttal from that nihilistic apologist for Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum does not hold up; any citation of Interpretation 2 of Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum in philosophic debate remains implicitly self-contradictory and hypocritical, because it conveys that, in consideration of the allegedly truthful Is that is Hume’s Is-Ought Dictum, I Ought Not to do something.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

'Gotham' Is 'The Loner Show'

Stuart K. Hayashi
 

I think of Gotham on Fox -- which is about Bruce Wayne as a 'tween boy -- as "the loner show."  As it boasts an ensemble cast, it follows many different story arcs about different characters, and most of the arcs explore what it means to be alone.  Bruce Wayne and Edward Nygma (who will become the Riddler) are the more obvious loners, but "loner" applies to most of the main characters in their respective arcs.  Each arc approaches the character's loner status from a different angle.

Edward Nygma most closely follows the stereotype that modern society has about loners.  He is a huge nerd and is consistently rebuffed by his love interest.  Bruce Wayne is very physically alone. As an autodidact, he spends most of his time alone trying to train himself in a new skill or investigating some pattern in what he sees on the news.  Alfred the butler is his sole companion.

Selina Kyle, the street kid who will become Catwoman, also spends most of her time alone, believing that getting by as a homeless thief is the one way to maintain her independence.  The interactions between Bruce and Selina, when they are both 'tweens, also shows the distinction between "loner" and "introvert." Introvert doesn't mean "always being alone" and extravert doesn't mean "always being with other people." Introverts feel more relaxed when alone and more drained by social interaction; extraverts are more bored when alone and more relaxed when interacting with someone else.  Both Selina and Bruce spend a lot of time alone, but between the two, Selina is the more extraverted. Their interactions, so far, have consisted of Bruce doing something alone, and then Selina, seeking stimulation, interrupting Bruce to flirt.  He feels ambivalent about this; he appreciates that someone shows an interest in what he does but he also prefers not to be distracted from his tasks. Selina Kyle, as depicted on this program, has been an extraverted loner. 

The show also follows the respective narratives of Det. James Gordon (he is not commissioner) and the mafia lackey Oswald Cobblepot, who will become the Penguin.  Gordon and Penguin are seldom physically alone. In most of their scenes, there are usually other people in the immediate vicinity, within at least a few feet from them.  However, each of them is "psychologically alone" -- they are not well-understood or well-appreciated by the people around them.

Penguin is psychologically alone because of his secrecy.  His only major concern is grabbing power for himself by ingratiating himself to those who have power, but he will betray anyone who's powerful if it means getting that power.  He is loyal to no one but his mother.  He is the most Peter Keating-ish of the characters on Gotham.

James Gordon is always surrounded by people, but, in his moral and psychological position, he stands alone.  Except for being occasionally helped by assistant prosecutor Harvey Dent and his frequently unreliable partner Harvey Bullock, Gordon is almost completely independent in fighting against Gotham City Police Department's internal corruption.  He is alone because he won't give in to the cynicism around him.

At one point, the Penguin mentions the contrast between he and Gordon, and it is the theme of the show.  Penguin says to Gordon that they should work together, and he notices Gordon's revulsion at the idea.  To that, Penguin asserts, "It's better to be with a friend in the dark than walk alone in the light." What Penguin means by this is that, if you're surrounded by corrupt people, it's better to join in their corruption than to stand alone against it.  Gordon disagrees with that notion, and that is the idea that the show's events debates. Is it better to take the moral high ground even if you must be alone in doing so?  In their contrasting examples, the story is a debate between the respective positions of Gordon and Penguin.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The 'Power Dynamic' Definition of Racism Fails to Anticipate Changes in Political Status Quo

Stuart K. Hayashi 

I think that any form of prejudice against a group of people based on race, counts as racism. This means that even if white people are richer and more politically powerful than I am, I am still capable of being racist against whites.  However, numerous politically-correct activists, including Feminist Frequency producer Jonathan McIntosh and critic "Movie" Bob Chipman, advance what they consider a superior definition of racism.

 They say that the definition of racism is not merely unjustified generalizations about an entire genetic/racial grouping, but also a power dynamic. They say racism, by definition, is the racial group in a position of power acting in such a way as to keep other racial groups down, with such hostility running the gamut from relatively minor "microaggressive" condescension to outright violence.
 
According to that definition, by analytic logic alone we are to presume that  there can be no racism against white people in the West.

On Twitter, "Movie" Bob says, "BIGOTRY against white people exists. RACISM describes bigotry translated to a functioning power dynamic... . . . such a thing does not meaningfully exist against white people."

This "power dynamic" definition is intended to score political points for activists who want to shame people for being white and/or being born into wealth, but it does not help anyone combat racial violence.  The reason is that people who say that racial violence is caused only by some racial group in power happen to ignore that, because political change is possible, it is entirely possible for there to be dangerous racial hatred against Group X even if Group X is presently wealthier and/or even has more members in government than other groups. 

Consider the position of Jews in Germany throughout the first half of the twentieth century. A common complaint that the Volkish movement made was that Jews, despite being a minority widely disliked, tended to become richer and even more politically powerful than Aryans. If it is true that one cannot be racist against a group that is supposedly richer and more powerful than the other groups, then, by that twisted logic, it would be impossible to be racist against Jews in the Weimar Republic.

If this "power dynamic" definition of racism were the correct one, then it would seem that the Nazis' anti-Semitic prejudices were somehow non-racist during the 1920s and only became racist once Hitler was chancellor. The fact is that this prejudice was dangerous the entire time, regardless of whether Jews were so much richer than other groups in the Weimar period.


 The "power dynamic" definition of racism fails because it doesn't account for the fact that a race that supposedly hogs all the wealth and political power can actually lose that political power and be targeted by the State for abuse.

If Group X supposedly has more wealth and officeholders than Group Y, it is counterproductive to do as McIntosh and Movie Bob do, and say that Group X's prejudice against Y is horrendous racism whereas anything prejudiced that Y does against X is somehow less bad.  If Group Y nurses seething hatred for Group X, then if political fortunes change and Group Y gets into power, Group Y can be just as cruel and unjust toward members of X as members of X once were toward Y.  

Therefore, rather than wrangling over which group is richer and more powerful than which, it would be best to discourage any animosity toward any racial collective and instead to judge persons on individual merit. 

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Holding Unvaccinated Households Civilly Liable for Transmitting Pathogens Would Incentivize Vaccination

Stuart K. Hayashi


Instead of having command-and-control mandates forcing everyone to be vaccinated, I think individuals should be able to be held civilly liable if they transmit diseases that they could have been vaccinated against.

For example, if I refuse to have my household vaccinated for measles, and then my child contracts measles and inadvertently transmit it to your child, that is an inadvertent initiation of the use of force against your household, just as it would be if I drove recklessly and hit you with my car. Therefore, you should be able to file a lawsuit against my estate for damages, such as the medical expenses my household's transmission of measles imposed on you.

And having been vaccinated would serve as a legal defense. That is, if someone was vaccinated for measles and I tried to sue that person's household anyway for having transmitted measles to my child, the respondent could defend against my suit in court by pointing out that his or her own household has already been vaccinated. Therefore, we wouldn't have a command-and-control mandate forcing vaccination but vaccination would still be incentivized.

Some people have told me that they don't like my idea because it's too difficult to prove Person A transmitted a specific virus to Person B. But bioethicist Arthur Caplan has pointed out that officials at the CDC are actually improving in the ability to pinpoint the source of an epidemic.

It might be difficult for them to prove who gave who the flu, but they have identified Patient Zero in the case of the Disneyland measles outbreak and they have identified Patient Zero in the case of the recent ebola outbreak. Therefore, as Dr. Caplan has argued, this idea has more scientific plausibility than critics are giving it credit for .


Now, when it comes to liability, there is an issue of whether the exact person who transmitted the pathogen is a minor or legal adult.  If I refuse to have my kid vaccinated for measles, and my kid gives another kid measles, then, as long as my child remains a minor, I am the one held liable. However, if my kid was never vaccinated, and then grows into an adult and gives measles to a kid, then my son or daughter -- now being an adult -- is the one who can be held liable. 

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

How to Achieve High Vaccination Rates Without Forcing a Command-and-Control Vaccination Edict on Everyone

Stuart K. Hayashi


 I think that people are trying to make vaccination a binary issue, where either we have command-and-control mandates that everyone be vaccinated, or the State leaves people be free to avoid vaccination and thus contribute to the risk of spreading measles. I think that there can be an individualist solution -- for individuals to be held civilly liable for transmitting particularly dangerous communicable diseases.

Let's suppose I refuse to let everyone in my household be vaccinated for measles. Then I contract measles and transmit it to you. That would be an inadvertent initiation of the use of force, comparable to what would happen if I drove recklessly and accidentally hit you with my car. Therefore, you should be able to hold me civilly liable. You should be able to sue me for damages, since the transmission of measles is an accidental initiation of the use of force.

And I think that a family choosing to vaccinate would be a legal protection against such lawsuits. Under those circumstances, there wouldn't be a command-and-control edict forcing everyone to be
vaccinated, but individuals would still be incentivized to vaccinate.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Godzilla Movies for Beginners: Which Movies to Start With, and Other Notes

Stuart K. Hayashi


Some friends informed me that they had considered watching some Godzilla movies,and thus asked me which entries were good introductions to the series.   I didn't know how to answer.  These people would be approaching the series from a context very different from my own.  I began watching as a small child, and I didn't concern myself with how realistic or unrealistic the special effects looked.  I liked the symbolism involved, and, of course, the good monster action.  For me, that outweighed the unrealism of the special effects; it was easy for me to suspend disbelief.  But that's far from the sole issue.  All of the movies are filled with far-fetched ideas, but some movies are deliberately sillier than others.  The first Godzilla movie I ever saw was Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), and it made me want to see more.  But it occurred to me that if an adult chose that as his first Godzilla movie, it would probably turn him off from the rest of the series.  The same applies to Godzilla's Revenge (1969) -- if an adult chooses that as his first Godzilla movie, it would be easy for him to assume that all of the movies are at least as cringe-inducing, and he probably won't want anymore.  I want to choose movies that can maintain my friend's interest, which will motivate them to looking at other entries. 

All of the entries are mixed bags, and therefore I cannot anticipate what would or wouldn't be tolerable.  For example, Godzilla vs. Gigan is, many respects, one of the weaker entries.  It has one of the weakest stories and it even uses stock footage from previous movies but presents them as if they are new  -- that's pretty lazy.  However, I find it has a lot of re-watch value, due to its introduction of Gigan, whom I find to be one of the most fascinating of Godzilla's opponents.

Another consideration is that if a first-timer randomly chooses a first movie among any of the entries from 1965 to 1975, he will find it confusing, not being aware of the chronology of the series.  The first-timer would probably ask, "Why are the humans rooting for Godzilla?  And why didn't Godzilla attack them?"  In the first four movies -- ranging from 1954 to 1964 -- Godzilla is consistently antagonistic toward humans.  But starting from Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster -- the second G movie of 1964 -- on to 1975, Godzilla is on the side of the humans.  This is explained in Ghidrah

I have decided that, because of the chronological considerations, I should recommend the movies that do the most to change the arcs of the series.  For a first-timer, I recommend watching the following four movies, in the order that I present them.  After  that, I will discuss some other notable entries -- these entries are notable, not always because they are good, but because they stand out for some specific reasons (some good, some bad).


1. Godzilla (1954) -- as one magazine put it, this is "the first and -- by far -- the fiercest."  This is the one that introduces the monster.  You might be surprised by the tone.  It is quite bleak.  Even more surprising, it is actually a quiet movie.  Godzilla's rampage throughout the city is presented, not as fun or glamorous, but genuinely unnerving.  With one possible, weird exception from 1971 (more about that below), this is the only entry in the series that can be counted as a horror movie. 

I have to make a special note about the differences in Japanese and U.S. versions.   When this movie was brought to the United States in 1956, the U.S. distributor worried that U.S. audiences would not relate to it unless it featured an American actor.  Fresh off of Rear Window, Raymond Burr was cast as Steve Martin, a not-so-wild-and-crazy American journalist.  Raymond Burr is very good in his scenes, but the U.S. version is still inferior to the original.  The U.S. version edits out many important scenes from the original.  These scenes are dramatic and important to the narrative and tone.   There is one scene concerning a mother and her children which was omitted from the U.S. release, probably out of the worry that U.S. audiences would find it too disturbing. 


The man in the eye patch in the lower right-hand corner is important to the story. On this poster, he is depicted with facial keloids, though he doesn't have those in the movie.



2. Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964) -- At this point, you will notice the jarring change in tone.  The first film was gravely serious.  The second film in the series, Gigantis the Fire Monster/Godzilla Raids Again also intended to be serious, but, because its production was rushed, much of the dramatic heft was lost.  Then came 1962's King Kong Vs. Godzilla, which was in bright color and played for laughs.  Ever since that one, the movies have, with a few exceptions, taken on a generally light tone.  The fourth movie was Godzilla vs. the Thing/Godzilla vs. Mothra/Mothra Against Godzilla (1964).  That movie was more serious than the others, but still less sober in tone than the first one. I'll discuss it more below.  Ghidrah directly alludes to the ending of that one.  It is also what is known in the vernacular of comic books as a "crossover," because it brings Godzilla into contact with two monsters who also had their own stand-alone features -- Rodan (1957) and Mothra (1961) -- all from the same company that owns Godzilla, Toho Co., Ltd.  This movie is notable for introducing Godzilla's archenemy -- the three-headed golden space dragon King Ghidorah ("Ghidorah" sounds more like it is two syllables than one -- "GEE-d'ruh") -- which is one of my favorite members of the Big G's rogue's gallery.  King Ghidorah is the Joker to Godzilla's Batman.  This is one of the best movies in the series, but I place this entry on my list for another reason -- it creates a major change in the narrative arc.  Godzilla starts out in this movie as a menace to mankind, but in every installment from 1965 to 1975, Godzilla is generally on the side of the humans against bigger threats.  The reason is vague, but it will be easier to understand if you watch this movie.

This movie will probably make more sense to you if you watch both Mothra (1961) and Godzilla vs. the Thing (1964) before this one, as it alludes to events from vs. the Thing, but I don't think watching those prior to this one is mandatory.  For reasons I will address, I don't like Godzilla vs. the Thing all that much. 


A truly epic battle
Note that King Ghidorah is taller than Godzilla. Except for the case of one movie (mentioned below), that rule always applies.

3. Godzilla 1985 (actually 1984) -- Here's the story behind this one.  As the movies went on in the 1960s and 1970s, they became increasingly kid-friendly and benign.  After 1975, the producer of all the G movies -- Tomoyuki Tanaka -- decided that he regretted the direction in which the series went.  Therefore, long before there was Batman Begins, Tanaka decided to do what is now known as a "reboot."  The series starts all over again at this point.  The characters remember the events of the very first movie from 1954, but it is as if none of the entries from 1955 to 1975 took place.  Godzilla is once again a menace to mankind.  It would be misleading, though, to say -- as many American writers have -- that here "Godzilla goes back to being a bad guy."  The truth is that neither the films' makers nor their characters ever thought of Godzilla as evil; they don't think in those terms.  Rather, their attitude is, "Godzilla is just going to do what he's going to do, and either you fight him or you don't."  The characters try their hardest to stop Godzilla's devastation, but they find it pointless to judge him as a bad guy or even as their enemy.  He just is

This movie also introduces something new to the Godzilla canon.  It explicitly establishes that Godzilla does not eat in any conventional sense. Rather, he absorbs nuclear radiation through his skin and stores it in his dorsal spikes. 

This movies is quite good, and, though far from being as somber as the original, this returns to seriousness in tone.  You wouldn't notice that seriousness, though, from the U.S. release.  Again, I must make note of that.  This movie was released in Japan in 1984 -- exactly thirty years subsequent to the original.  In 1985, Roger Corman's New World Pictures released the movie in the USA.  In a rather inspired move, New World hired Raymond Burr to reprise his role as the reporter Mr. Martin -- now, conspicuously, with his first name going unmentioned.  Burr is great, but, unfortunately, he plays his scenes alongside a really irritating, smarmy major who delivers such wisecracks as "Wonder Lizard is down for the count!"  The major is supposed to provide comic relief, but he's really superfluous at best.  Also, since this came out at the height of tensions between the Reagan administration and the Soviet Union, the U.S. release bowdlerized dialog in some scenes (the subtitles don't actually match what is said in Russian!) and it added new scenes to make the Soviet characters more belligerent and less sympathetic. 

The U.S. release cut the movie to be shorter, allegedly to help its pacing.  However, in the process, some important explanatory scenes were excised.  In the beginning, a sea louse -- an ocean parasite -- that is three feet long jumps out and attacks a man. Later, a scientist tells that man that the giant sea louse was a parasite that fell off of Godzilla.  The scientist mentions that the sea louse was that big because the nuclear radiation mutated the sea louse much as it did Godzilla.  That explanatory dialog was removed from the U.S. release, which leaves the giant sea-louse scene unexplained and completely baffling.  Since I saw the U.S. release first, I thought it was pretty funny that this weird, previously unknown creature attacks this man and, later, it's never explained; the man forgets about it as if the scene never happened. 

Finally, unlike the first entry in this series, this movie is loud, as it should be.  The U.S. release reduced the movie to monaural.  Recently, I watched the original Japanese version in stereo.  It was beautiful.  When you have this on stereo, it really is as if you are close to Godzilla as the devastation takes place.  From this entry forward, every Godzilla movie should be watched in stereo, with the volume pumped up to the max.




4. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) -- This is a game-changer for the series.  It is a direct sequel, starting off directly following the events of Godzilla 1985.  It sets the tone for most of the sequels to come.  From 1989 to 1995, the filmmakers do a good job of maintaining continuity.   There are recurring characters in several movies from 1989 to 1995, and, except for one minor casting change, these characters are always played by the same actors.  There is one character -- psychic(!) Miki Saegusa -- who appears in all six entries from 1989 to 1995.  Prior to 1985, continuity in the series was pretty sloppy -- as with the Sean Connery James Bond movies, the characters in the G movies from 1962 to 1975 exhibited no more than a vague recollection of what happened in the previous movie.  Unfortunately, the good continuity that existed from 1989 to 1995 dissolved after 1999.  When it comes to the Godzilla movies made between 1999 and 2004, every entry -- with one exception -- was a "reboot," in which the movie was taken as a continuation of only the first film, and in which all other previous entries were ignored.

Anyhow, this is quite a good movie.  Great detail and time is spent on the intricate miniatures used, and the pyrotechnics are superb. Sadly, the filmmakers got lazier in this area from 1993 to 1995. Also notable is the appearance of Biollante, one of Godzilla's most menacing foes.  The climactic showdown between Godzilla and Biollante is impressive and, in my mind, one of the most exciting Godzilla battles -- better than the one from the 2014 Godzilla movie.

There are many annoying, preachy speeches in this movie about the supposedly inherent badness and hubris of humans manipulating genes for selfish purposes.  Whenever I hear one of these speeches, I shrug and think, "What can ya do? It's a Godzilla movie."

So those are the four must-see Godzilla movies for the beginner, in the order I think they should be watched.  Now I will discuss some other noteworthy (not necessarily good) entries.




NOTABLE ENTRIES (SOME BETTER THAN OTHERS)




* Godzilla vs. the Thing/Godzilla Against Mothra (1964) -- This is considered one of the best entries in the series.  It is one of the most well-made.  It has some of the best acting.  The tone is mostly serious.  But I find it to be the least fun.  The "businessmen are evil" theme is even heavier-handed than usual.  And I must admit Mothra is one of the most boring -- possibly the most boring -- of Godzilla's opponents.  I love Godzilla; I don't love Mothra.  I really don't appreciate the indignity with which the filmmakers treat Godzilla near the end. 

* Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster/Great Duel in the South Seas/Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966) -- This has a reputation for being one of the weakest movies of the series, but I don't know why.  The giant shrimp Ebirah makes for an interesting foe.  The scenes where Godzilla stomps on the communist agents' secret military operations are quite fun. 

* Godzilla's Revenge (1969) -- I am not being controversial when I say this is the single worst film in the entire series.  It is pandering to the child audience taken to a terrible extreme.  The movie's protagonist is a small latch-key boy named Ichiro, who is bullied.  None of the monster scenes are "real."  All the scenes pertaining to the monsters involve Ichiro dreaming that he is on Monster Island. There, Godzilla's son Minilla -- who looks like Barney the Singing Dinosaur -- shrinks down to human size to speak to Ichiro in the same voice as Barney the Singing Dinosaur.  Ichiro and Minilla then watch Godzilla battle some monsters but, unfortunately, all of these scenes are stock footage from previous movies!  The only new monster battles are those of Godzilla and Minilla against a new creature called Gabara.  Contrary to what many G fans say, though, Gabara is interesting-looking.  Ichiro then tries to incorporate what he learns from these battles into his own struggles against bullies and a couple of bumbling criminals.  The arc involving Ichiro and the two crooks seems to anticipate the Home Alone movies.  And this one undercuts its own anti-bullying message because, at the very end -- SPOILERS -- Ichiro does something really crummy to "earn" the bullies' respect.  And -- perversely!-- the audience is expected to approve of that.  This remains in my collection for three reasons only:  (1) I want my collection to be complete; (2) contrary to most G-fans, Gabara is pretty neat-looking, and, related (3) the battle between Godzilla and Gabara is decent.  


* Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster/Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) -- There is so much to say about this movie.  It was made during the psychedelic era, and it shows.  There are very odd sequences in this movie that have no bearing on anything, and have no explanation other than "this was the psychedelic era." In one scene, the young boyfriend gets high in the disco and starts hallucinating.  He thinks that all of the people around him have fish heads instead of human heads!  After that scene takes place, it is never mentioned, and it doesn't affect anything that happens to the characters.  The trippy hallucinogenic fish-head sequence wasn't pertinent to the story at all!

Recall that I said that with one other exception, the first Godzilla movie is the only entry in the series that can count as a horror movie.  This one is the other exception.  It is surprisingly gory.  Hedorah -- the smog monster -- is made out of a corrosive substance.  It gnaws away half of a scientist's face.  People disrespect Godzilla movies' special effects all the time, but makeup for the man's facial wound is gruesomely impressive.  The director, Yoshimitsu Banno, said that he made the movie gory because he really wanted the movie's environmentalist message to be that heavy-handed.  The series producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, was angered by the final product and yelled, "You ruined Godzilla!"  That is why Tanaka refrained from hiring Banno for directing any more G movies. Ah, but this was not the final interaction Banno had in the franchise.  Banno acquired licensing rights to make another Godzilla movie, and he ended up being one of the producers to the 2014 American Godzilla movie.  Consider that Banno's Revenge!

* Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster/Godzilla vs. Mecha-Godzilla (1974) -- This is the first appearance of Mecha-Godzilla.  The battles between Godzilla and Mecha-Godzilla are quite lavish.  But I'm worried that if a beginner picks this as his first Godzilla movie, he might still find the scenes with the silver-clad space apes to be too silly and be turned off to the rest of the series.  Also, the other monster this movie introduces -- King Caesar -- I find pretty boring. 

* Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) -- This movie is good but, unfortunately, it has a lot going against it.  When a friend of mine who normally appreciates Godzilla movies said this movie was "crap," I was horrified.  But I can see the many reasons why this movie would turn someone off.

This movie involves time travel.  Three people -- Wilson from the USA, Grenchiko from Russia, and Emi Kano from Japan -- arrive from the twenty-third century.   They propose to the Japanese of 1992 that they use their time machine to travel back in time to eliminate Godzilla.  They therefore explain Godzilla's origin.  Godzilla was once a normally docile, plant-eating dinosaur called Godzillasaurus, who was approximately fifty feet tall.  Godzillasaurus survived long past the great Cretaceous extinction.  He occupied Lagos Island in the South Pacific in 1944, during the Second World War.   The atomic bomb tests off the coast of the Bikini Atoll mutated Godzilla and made him grow to 100 meters in height.  The Futurians propose that they take some twentieth-century Japanese along with them as they alter history.  Before Godzillasaurus is to be mutated by the bomb blast, they use a matter transporter to move Godzilla to where the nuclear radiation will not affect him.  Thus, they propose, the Godzillasaurus will not mutate into Godzilla. There will therefore be no Godzilla attacks on Japan -- Godzilla will be erased from history.

The characters succeed -- or do they? -- and return to 1992.  Bizarrely, the Japanese government officials greet these time-travelers and congratulate them on a job well done.  They remember Godzilla's existence in the original chronology and commend the Futurians for changing the past. Whaaaaaaa?  If Godzilla was erased from history and Godzilla didn't attack Japan in 1954 or 1984 or 1989, then the Japanese officials shouldn't know who Godzilla is and they would have no memory of agreeing to the time-travel project.  That's silly!   This really obvious plot hole is one reason this movie can easily turn off a first-timer.

Another issue is the very obvious homage to Terminator 2.  There is an android in this movie called M-11 who is a blatant riff on the Terminator,  One scene in particular is obviously supposed to copy a famous scene from Terminator 2, but its rendering is far inferior.

Most controversial are the scenes that take place in 1944, which portray U.S. military personnel.  They are not portrayed as evil or deliberately goofy.  However, the Gaijin actors cast for these roles do quite a poor job, and I can see why Americans would be offended by how unsympathetically these U.S. military officers are treated when the Godzillasaurus stomps them to death.  The viewer is not expected to root for that to happen -- you're not supposed to cheer for that -- but the viewer isn't expected to mourn that either.  I therefore understand why the depiction of U.S. military personnel in this movie makes viewers cringe.

I also have to make a note about the differences between the original Japanese release an the U.S. release.  This movie was in stereo.  The first time I saw it, I rented it from a Japanese store. Even though the movie was entirely in Japanese and had no subtitles, I cranked up the volume all the way and watched in stereo. IT. WAS. GLORIOUS.  When this movie was finally released in the USA, I was disappointed to find the U.S. release was monaural.  The excitement of hearing all those big explosions in three dimensions, was gone from the U.S. release.  As is always the case of Godzilla movies made from 1985 to 1995, the meticulously-performed pyrotechnics of this film are a treat  -- and an enormous part of the treat is hearing those blasts in stereo.  Therefore, I have this important message: if you do watch this movie, watch the Japanese version in stereo and absolutely avoid the monaural U.S. release.

Now, since I explained some of the movie's biggest issues (there are still other issues, such as the bizarre, out-of-place jingoism), I will explain what goes right with this movie.  The pivotal scene between Shindo -- the Japanese industrialist character-- and Godzilla, is haunting and moving.  Moreover, the third act begins with a really exciting twist.  King Ghidorah does something that no longtime Godzilla fan ever expected King Ghidorah to do.

This movie also features two of the most exciting Godzilla battles in history.  The final battle in this installment is better than the one from the 2014 Godzilla movie.

* Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah:  Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001) -- Many fans consider this one of the best movies in the series, but I find it overrated.  It is from the third wave of Godzilla movies.  This is the phase in which all the movies, except for one, are reboots in which all the previous movies except the first movie are forgotten.   This entry is unusual in that it states explicitly that Godzilla and the other monsters are supernatural entities. Godzilla is the amalgamation of all the spirits of people Japan has killed in war; they have combined and attack Japan to punish Japan for its sins.  This time around, the three monsters King Ghidorah, Mothra, and Baragon are spirits assigned with the task of defending Japan from outside threats -- in this case, Godzilla.  This is the first time in which, from inception, King Ghidorah is an unmitigated defender of Japan; it is the first time that, on his own free will, King Ghidorah fights to save Japan from Godzilla.  Because King Ghidorah is the protagonist and Godzilla is the antagonist, the filmmakers decided to make Godzilla more menacing than King Ghidorah.  The end result is that Godzilla is substantially taller than King Ghidorah.  That is just . . . wrong.  It's wrong. Perverse.  -_-  Come on, people!  King Ghidorah is always taller than Godzilla.  You know that!  This is another movie where I don't appreciate how Godzilla is treated at the end. 

Next I will go over two entries that you should save until the end, after you have become an expert both on Godzilla movies and on Toho monster movies in which Godzilla doe not appear.


ENTRIES YOU SHOULD SAVE UNTIL AFTER YOU BECOME AN EXPERT ON TOHO AND GODZILLA

* Destroy All Monsters (1968)

* Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

For their own reasons, both of these movies are disappointing.  But they also have good points, and the good points are the reason why you should wait until you become an expert on Godzilla movies and other Toho giant-monster movies before watching them. The reason is that they gather together many monsters from previous Godzilla movies and even allude to other Toho monster movies in which Godzilla did not even show up.  Unless you're an expert on these other movies, these references and in-jokes will go over your head.

Also, if you watch Destroy All Monsters as your first Godzilla movie, it is easy for this movie to spoil a viewer.  If you watch this as your first Godzilla movie, you probably won't be impressed that it features 11 monsters (although only seven participate in battle).  To a seasoned Godzilla movie viewer, that is quite a feat, because it is unusual for more than four monster suits to appear in a Godzilla movie if no stock footage is used.  When Toho's crew made Destroy All Monsters, they planned for it to be the final G movie, and that's why they thought it would be fun to throw in as many of the classic Toho creatures as possible.  This involved monsters from non-Godzilla movies meeting Godzilla for the first time.  Hence the appearances of Manda from Gohten-Go!/Atragon, Gorosaurus from King Kong Escapes, Baragon from Frankenstein Conquers the World, and Varan from Varan the Unbelievable

The climactic battle pits Godzilla and six other monsters against King Ghidorah.  That many monsters appearing in a single Godzilla battle was unprecedented.  That is what makes it unforgettable.  That King Ghidorah has to take on seven monsters at once, though, causes disappointment.  Previous movies established that Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra are sufficient to defeat King Ghidorah, and therefore you know he is outmatched when he faces those same three in addition to four other monsters.  Therefore, the good guys in the battle come across as bullies.  :-(

A similar principle is at work in Godzilla: Final Wars.  This is another monster mash that wrangles many of the classic Toho monsters together into a single movie, and even alludes to past sci-fi Toho movies such as Gorath.  It's a shame that those fun allusions fly over the heads of first-time fans.  And this movie doesn't make the mistake of  having many heroic monsters gang up on one villain.  Instead, the two good guys -- Godzilla and Mothra -- are outnumbered.  Godzilla, standing alone, battles ten other monsters.  Unfortunately, the monster battles aren't given priority.  Instead, most of the movie is wasted on the "mutant human" characters, who have ridiculously long fight sequences that are highly derivative of The MatrixThere are two sequences in particular that are shot-for-shot re-doings of scenes from The Matrix.  For shame!  Godzilla is better than The Matrix, so Godzilla shouldn't have to resort to ripping off from The Matrix.  These Matrix-influenced fight scenes between humans/mutants go on forever, whereas the monster battles are ridiculously short.  Also, although the character of Captain James Gordon is pretty amusing and humorous,  the actor who portrays him -- notorious kickboxer Don Frye -- is overall poor in his performance, and his one-liners aren't enough to save the movie.  Worse, the human-sized alien villain, who should be really menacing, comes across as too undignified to take seriously as a villain -- he is decidedly whiny and petulant.  That is played for laughs, which undercuts the villain's presence.

Anyhow, those are my tips.  ^_^

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fellow Objectivists, Please Be Wary of 'Alternative Health News' Sites That Peddle Snake Oil (Some Red Flags)

Stuart K. Hayashi

To my great distress, a growing number of my fellow Objectivists have been citing, as reliable journalistic and scientific sources, "health news" websites that exist primarily for the purpose of peddling the modern equivalent of snake oil.  I am not speaking about websites that are ideological to the point of providing inaccurate information (although such ideological people are the sites' target audience).  Nor am I saying that the owners of these sites are honestly mistaken in their pronouncements.  Nor do I mean that the sites make unpopular claims in areas of legitimate controversy, such as the healthfulness or harmfulness of animal fats.

I mean that the sites make brazenly unsound claims -- rationalizing the claims' unsoundness as "suppressed by big business/big government establishment" -- for the purpose of bilking unsuspecting "alternative lifestyle" libertarian-types out of their money.  At this point, we are in Kevin Trudeau territory.  I am not going to criticize people's dietary choices.  But I am going to criticize an effort to make people shun modern medical treatments, such as vaccines, on the basis of grandiose conspiracy theories and defamatory accusations. 

Under normal circumstances, my position is "If people want to waste their money on quackery, I won't interfere with that."  On one of these sites, though, I found something so dangerously foolish, that I do have a make a big deal out of it.  I think that insofar as parents follow a certain site's advice, they are needlessly making life more dangerous for their children.


THE SITE IS NOT "WRONG ON THE INTERNET"; IT'S DANGEROUS DEMAGOGUERY
 A huckster website that seems rather popular among my fellow Objectivists is Mike Adams's http://www.naturalnews.com (not to be confused with Nature News from Nature magazine).  But in this post, I will particularly object to Health Impact News at http://healthimpactnews.com/ .  Health Impact News has an item titled "Study:  HPV Vaccine Linked to Premature Menopause in Young Girls."  This is at http://healthimpactnews.com/2013/studyhpv-vaccine-linked-to-premature-menopause-in-young-girls/ .  It cites two sources to "prove" that if you allow your child to be vaccinated for Human Papillomavirus (which causes cervical cancer), you are needlessly subjecting your child to an extreme risk of experiencing menopause at age 16 and becoming infertile for life.

Here are the two "sources" for the claim.

First, there is Dr. Deirdre Little. What this page neglects to mention is that Dr. Little has an explicitly Religious-Right agenda that interferes with her judgment on HPV vaccines.  The Religious Right objects to HPV vaccines out of the fear that if children receive HPV vaccines, they will take this as some sort of license to be more promiscuous as teenagers.  The Religious Right ostensibly believes that getting HPV always should be a risk in having sex, as the mere presence of this risk is somehow supposed to discourage adolescents from sex (teen sex would be morally objectionable even if these health risks did not exist).   The twisted reasoning behind this goes:

 (1) If we can inundate children with all sorts of scare stories about the bad consequences of teenage sex (like cervical cancer!!!), they are likelier to stay away from sex and remain sexually purer than they otherwise would be.

 (2) The existence of contraceptives, condoms, and HPV vaccines undermines the effectiveness of our scare stories.

(3) To protect the effectiveness of our scare stories, we also have to rationalize that contraceptives, condoms, and HPV vaccines don't work.  Even better, we ought to convince people that the HPV vaccine is actually more dangerous than the risk of HPV itself.

Here is an example of a Religious-Right website trumpeting scare stories about the HPV vaccine in order to preserve the "Nature will punish you for having sex" narrative: http://cal-catholic.com/wordpress/2013/08/15/16-year-old-girl-became-infertile-from-gardasil-vaccine/

 More important than Dr. Little's ideological bias, though, is the evidence.  Her argument is lacking in evidence.  See:

  https://ama.com.au/ausmed/no-link-between-gardasil-and-infertility-tga

 http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/religion-gardasil/

 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/10/18/fundamentalist-christians-and-anti-vaxxers-a-toxic-combination/

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2012/10/30/ovarian-failure-caused-by-gardasil-not-so-fast/

In its anti-HPV-vaccine post, though, Health Impact News cites a second source, not just Dr. Little.  It speaks of a "new study" with new evidence.  It links to this impressive-looking page from the U.S. federal government: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23902317

This is just anecdotes about three girls, though.  That is not a sample that provides statistical evidence of the HPV vaccine causing infertility.  In a controlled experiment, over 190,000 young women received dosages of the HPV vaccine, and none experienced adverse health effects from it: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23027469

One might say, "But it's true that even if you don't get the HPV vaccine, the statistical probability of you getting cervical cancer is small.  Therefore, when schools talk about the importance of being vaccinated HPV, they overstate the case."

Well, if that is your objection, just say that.  Just say, "On a cost-benefit analysis, I think that having the HPV vaccine doesn't reduce the cancer risk to the point where I think parents should go through a lot of trouble to have their children vaccinated." Saying that does not require resorting to the demagoguery of claiming that HPV vaccines make girls infertile at sixteen and that to receive the HPV vaccine is substantially more dangerous than going without it.

That Health Impact News would resort to such demagoguery on this issue is strong evidence that this website resorts to demagoguery on the other issues it discusses. People who read Health Impact News are under the misapprehension that following the website's advice will reduce the chances of themselves and their families having cancer.  But insofar as they follow Health Impact News's advice about HPV, they will actually increase the chances of their children having cervical cancer in the future.


IT'S NOT ABOUT BEING IDEOLOGICALLY WRONG; IT'S ABOUT BILKING YOU OUT OF MONEY
"Health news" websites that peddle snake oil, follow a certain formula in making their pitch to you.  First, they announce "the problem" in literally dozens of mini-site articles listed on the front page.   They first say that all of modern medicine and modern industrialized agriculture is corrupt and only wants to exploit you financially, and therefore you should reject these institutions in general.  This sort of pitch appeals to people like us who are skeptical about government and the mainstream.  We can cite specific examples of the mainstream opinion -- including the official opinion of mainstream scientific bodies -- being wrong.  But it's one thing to say that the mainstream opinion is wrong in certain specific instances; it's another to say that the scientific, medical, and agricultural establishments are wrong and corrupt in general -- so much so that their assessments should be rejected out of hand (or at least most of the time).

Once "the problem" is identified, the snake-oil-peddling "health news" site presents "the solution."  The site says that you cannot trust the medical or scientific establishment, but you can trust the website's owners, who are scrappy, rebellious underdogs fighting for your interests against The System.  Once the website's owners have won over your trust, they tell you that you ought to go to them for health advice.  That is, you ought to purchase their dubious merchandise.

For instance, the "About" section of Health Impact News is at http://healthimpactnews.com/about/ .  At the very bottom, the website's owners names are links.  Those links go to the much-more-important page at http://www.coconutdiet.com/about.htm, where the site's owners hawk their own merchandise.

The implicit message of a huckster's website is:  "Don't trust the medical or agricultural establishment; it only wants to make money and exploit you financially.  Therefore, you should instead trust me and purchase my book for only $14.99."

Now, am I guilty of doing what the website's owners are of doing?  The websites's owners want you to doubt, on duty, everything that the scientific mainstream says. Am I saying that you have some duty to doubt everything that a dubious website says, just because the claims were made on a dubious website?  No.  Joseph Goebbels was a big liar.  But if Goebbels told you that gravity exists, you shouldn't doubt the existence of gravity just because a big liar like Goebbels affirmed it.

If you see something on one of these huckster sites, such as http://www.naturalnews.com , that sounds plausible to you, I recommend that you seek a second opinion.  If Natural News says that eating genetically modified corn will give you tumors, I recommend that you check out a more respected journal, such as http://www.sciencemag.org/ , http://www.nature.com/ , or even http://www.webmd.com/ or http://discovermagazine.com/ .  (When I say "Please look for a second opinion," I don't mean that I recommend simply going to a second huckster website that pretty much repeats the claims of all the other huckster websites.)

I suppose one might say, "But those mainstream publications are part of the conspiracy to keep you ignorant of the truth, remember?"  Well, please indulge silly old me and check out those sources for corroboration anyway.  Once in a while, the "conspirators" slip up and say things that might partially corroborate the huckster sites (though usually in much more measured terms).



COMMON ATTRIBUTES OF HUCKSTER WEBSITES
If you're unclear on what separates a huckster website from what is merely an earnest, non-mainstream-yet-attempting-to-be-honest journal, here are some tips that I have.   Below are some qualities that I think are red flags.  I understand that there are many cases where a single individual is right and the mainstream is wrong, and in which mainstream authorities ridicule and try to suppress the rebellious individual.  If you believe that an "alternative news site" genuinely believes in what it is saying, though, and is not trying to exploit you financially, then I think the following attributes below should largely be absent from that alternative news site.

1. It sensationalistically denounces an entire category of technology as inherently unsafe, without comparing unfamiliar risks against more familiar, more mundane risks.  New technologies really do impose certain risks to health and life.  But all risks are contextual.  When authentic scientists speak about a certain technology posing risks to health, they speak of risks in relational terms.  By that, I mean that to provide you perspective when speaking about a new risk, they will compare it to another, more familiar risk.  For example, it would give you no perspective if a scientist said, "Don't drink cola.  It gives you cancer. It's dangerous.  The end."  When someone tells you a technology is dangerous, we have to think, "Dangerous compared to what?"  For example, a scientist might tell you that consuming a single liter of cola every day for 30 years is so-and-so percent likelier to give you cancer than consuming a single liter of coffee every day for 30 years.  Likewise, living within a three mile radius of a coal-fired power plant might expose you to more millirems of radioactivity, on average, than living within a three mile radius of a nuclear power plant.  Making those comparisons make more sense than denouncing a whole category of technology as inherently dangerous.

As an example, be wary of "health news" sites that tell you that genetic engineering technology is categorically dangerous because of "the precautionary principle."  There can be risks in using genetic engineering but, again, these are contextual risks -- risks that can be compared against other risks.  One might say that there is a risk that herbicide-resistance GMOs might cross-pollinate with weeds and create a new strain of weed that is herbicide-resistant.  That is not the same, though, as force-feeding a rat three times its own body weight in GMO corn -- an experiment rigged from the outset to give the rat tumors -- and then citing this as "proof" that eating modified corn-on-cob once a month is going to give you tumors.  The sweeping claims about GMOs that we find out http://www.naturalnews.com and http://www.healthimpactnews.com are what respectable scientists consider to be wholly unprofessional. 

2. The website denounces the establishment for caring about making money off of you, and then, soon afterward, tries to sell you its own merchandise.  You see this on all of the huckster websites, and this is what separates them from people who are merely just ideological and misguided.  If the website's owner thinks Big Pharma and Big Agribusiness are so bad in trying to profit, then why is the website's owner so eager to sell his own merchandise to you?

3. Almost all "articles" on the website fall into two types: "Extreme problem (mainstream stuff gives you cancer!)" and "Extreme solution!" Note that on http://healthimpactnews.com , there are only two types of articles.  There are lots of articles about how something mainstream (like a vaccine or lipstick) will give you cancer.  This is framed in the most dire terms possible.  The second type of article is the Extreme Solution -- if you follow a certain health formula of the website's owner, you will be really healthy.  In the case of Health Impact News, eating coconut-based foods is touted as a cure-all.  I am not going to tell you to not eat coconuts, but I do not recommend that your entire diet revolve around coconuts.  It makes more sense to have a balanced diet.  Anyway, the second type of article touts the author's solution, which is the coconut diet.  Naturally, if this solution appeals to you, you will want to read about it in more detail.  That's when the pitch works -- you're going to purchase the website owner's book, which is the whole point (even though the website's owners revile the money-grubbing mainstream!).

In real life, science is more nuanced.  In real life, too high a dosage of almost any substance (even oxygen) can be toxic to you.  What determines toxicity is the dosage.  Instead of talking about how a new technology is inherently dangerous, authentic scientists will normally talk about moderation and about their estimates of what constitutes a safe dosage.  For example, if I drank ten cups of coffee every day, that might cause certain health problems for me after a ten-year-period.  By contrast, if I drank one cup of coffee every day for teen years, that might not produce noticeable adverse consequences.  

Again, I am not saying that the mainstream or consensus is always right.  We individualists, libertarians, and Objectivists often pride ourselves on how we stand up to, and challenge, mainstream opinion, even in the hard sciences.  Sometimes we can become susceptible to scams that try to appeal to our contrarian tendencies.  If you want to look for information in a non-mainstream source, then go ahead and do so.  But I ask that you please keep on the lookout for the demagoguish tactics mentioned above. That brings us to the next one.

4. Grandiose Conspiracy Theories.  We're skeptical of the government and of the mainstream.  Huckster websites can take advantage of that in another way.  Many of these huckster websites express views that are very skeptical of government, gun control, etc.  When we see that someone else agrees with our political views, it makes us more apt to agree with them and then trust them in other areas . . . such as how big government enables big corporations to give us cancer!  The political views on these websites, though, are often expressed in grandiose terms, speaking of New World Order conspiracy theories.  The implication is that by subscribing to the health site editors' worldview and getting into the lifestyle they promote (for which we pay them good money), we are fighting against the influence of the New World Order and the establishment. That makes things more exciting.  Sadly, it is also a manipulative method of indoctrination.  It makes us more emotionally invested in believing our "alternative health news sites."  Big offenders in this area are http://www.naturalnews.com and G. Edward Griffin at http://www.amazon.com/World-Without-Cancer-Story-Vitamin/dp/0912986190


HAVING A PH.D. IN THE HARD SCIENCES DOES NOT JUSTIFY CITING HUCKSTER SITES AS CREDIBLE NEWS SOURCES

Someone who has a Ph.D. in the hard sciences might cite, online, these huckster websites as credible news sources and recommend them to fellow opponents of statism (and also tacitly agree with the grandiose conspiracy theories about the Boston bombers being puppets of President Obama).  This really breaks my heart.  If you have a Ph.D. in the hard sciences, people trust your judgment when you give them health advice.  If you teach a hard science at the college level, people trust your judgment when you give them health advice.  It may seem fine and safe to place oneself in this "alternative health news" echo chamber to rationalize certain things, such as preferring a certain lifestyle that involves more-traditional farming methods, which, evidently, I am told that industrialized "factory farming" methods are encroaching upon.  But when one reaches the point where one is endorsing anti-vaccine demagoguery, this proves to be a very dark, regrettable path.  This is not the best way to capitalize on one's educational achievements.  This makes my heart ache, and I hope you realize that you don't have to go on like this.  :'(


SOME PROMINENT OFFENDERS IN THIS CATEGORY

* Kevin Trudeau

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Trudeau

* G. Edward Griffin

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._Edward_Griffin

* Mike Adams from http;//www.naturalnews.com

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NaturalNews

http://skepdic.com/skeptimedia/skeptimedia117.html

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/tag/mike-adams/

* Joseph Mercola

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Mercola

*Jeffrey Smith

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_M._Smith

 http://academicsreview.org/reviewed-individuals/jeffrey-smith/