A Cascade of Computations

February 25, 2016

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

The coming of the Depp to the Reason Rally is making news. Our evil plan is working.

Matthew Sheffield created NewsBusters, so I'm not exactly a fan, but at The American Conservative, he gets something very right: The right will have to contend with the fact that "nones" are the future:

In 2016 and beyond, Christian conservatives face a choice. They can embrace identity politics and become a small group of frustrated Christian nationalists who grow ever more resentful toward their fellow Americans, or they can embrace reality 

So it looks like Justice Scalia used to hang with the International Order of St. Hubertus, a dudes-only society of hunters that wears green robes with big crosses and lives by the motto "Honoring God by honoring His creatures." He was with these guys when he died.

Olga Khazan at The Atlantic reports on research that shows that when we silly humans make dumb mistakes, our brains undergo a "cascade of computations" when faced with a similar circumstance, and we fail, fail again.

Edzard Ernst looks at research showing that not only does alt-med not help cancer patients, its use is actually associated with a "significantly worse" survival rate

With the Apple-FBI thing going on, the debate over privacy and encryption is beginning to nudge its way into the skeptosphere. Two polar examples: Cory Doctorow compares the calls for encryption to be compromised with "back doors" as akin to climate change or vaccine denial. On the other side, on his latest podcast, Sam Harris says those who insist that phones must be forever impenetrable are adherents to a new dogmatic religion: the Cult of Privacy.

David Koepsell challenges the notion of "playing dirty" in political arguments, saying that as long as there aren't lies being promulgated, it's better to air out and debate facts rather than worry about what might or might not look bad:

Our arguments gain strength best through testing, through challenge, through exposure to counterarguments and counterexamples. Playing our cards very close to our chests does not alter the cards themselves, and when it comes time to lay out our hand, we had better have built it to be as strong as possible.  

NYT publishes two letters to the editor reacting to Susan Jacoby's recent piece on atheists and the language of politics. Bernard Goodman says:

It used to be said during World War II that there are no atheists in foxholes. I am a veteran of World War II. I fought in Europe. I was an atheist then and I am an atheist now.

But Michael Smith says:

If ending speeches with “God bless America” is an example of the problems the new godless bloc will tackle, any number of issues threaten us with more harm. One of them, from my perspective, is the proliferation of dubious grievance groups. 

Yesterday it was 1989 all over again, and today it's moved up to 1990, as a bishop in the Philippines says folks should keep away from Madonna's tour for being suggestive and vulgar. "Why is the Catholic Philippines the favorite venue for blasphemy against God and the Holy Mother?" 

CNNMoney looks into a massive psychic mail scam that's raked in over $200 million. 

Arkansas State Sen. Jason Rapert, who wants to raise money to put the Ten Commandments on the capitol grounds, calls the American Humanist Association the American Communist Association. OH! BURN! I bet they're smarting over that one. Someone check on the AHA folks and make sure they're okay.  

Salt Lake City Weekly interviews Felicia Entwistle of the Atheists of Utah:

There are some people [in Salt Lake City] that give you weird looks. I'll tell people that I'm an atheist for whatever reason, and they'll say, "What does that mean?" I respond that I don't believe in any gods, and they'll ask, "Not Jesus?" I just smile and go, "Yeah, not any of it." More than anything, you get people who are either sad for you or angry with you. 

The Big Bang is a "placeholder." That's a hell of a bookmark. 

Cellphones are not "cooking men's sperm." Well, I'm done having kids, so whatever. Cook away. 

LIPTON LARVA: No, not worms in their tea bags, just "flavor pieces." However, worm-based tea may be something my podcast co-host Brian Hogg might be into.

Quote of the Day:

A fellow is making T-shirts that say "Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer," and the proceeds go to help low-income women in Texas who need access to abortion. Or, as Lauren Nelson puts it:

TED CRUZ’S FACE WILL BE THE ONE THAT SPAWNED A THOUSAND ABORTIONS. IT’S AN IRONY SO DELICIOUS I’M SPEECHLESS. 

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Comments:

#1 Randy (Guest) on Friday February 26, 2016 at 9:15pm

Sam Harris is a smart guy, but even he seems to admit in his podcast that his anti-Apple argument has got some pretty big holes in it.  He seems to lack a fundamental understanding of computers and encryption.

Further, he doesn’t seem to be aware that (a) the phone was apparently locked by the police when it was in their possession, AT THE REQUEST OF THE FBI, (b) a competent software hacker can probably hack a passcode using old-school human means, (c) a competent hardware hacker might be able to rescue the data from the phone long before it was at risk from being wiped.  We’re supposed to believe the FBI and related agencies don’t have access to such competencies.

In any case, the FBI is asking Apple to create firmware signed by Apple that will bypass the security system that causes delays in between password attempts, and that normally erases the device (is anything ever really erased, even when it’s “erased” or “overwritten”?  I suspect not.)  And they don’t want it just for this one phone.  Once they have this tool, they will use it for an ever-expanding range of cases. 

I’d like to hear a computer encryption expert debate Harris on this one.

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