Welcome aboard the H.M.S. Elitist Bastard. Admiral Hunter sends her regrets. She's been called away to pressing duties ashore. She's asked me to conduct this voyage. I'm Commander Cujo359. I'm normally captain of the U.S.S. Slobber And Spittle. She's a single-masted schooner that tends to lean to port, but she's good against the wind, which is a course she's frequently asked to steer. I'm looking forward to commanding a vessel with so much more rhetorical firepower.
Clearly, I haven't had much experience commanding a vessel this size, but Admiral Hunter assures me that you're - excuse me, I need to talk to this large gentleman in the red coat for a moment ...
Ahem, Mr. - Cornwell, is it? You wouldn't have any more of those, would you? They're single shot, you know, and I'm not used to a crew this size. Thank you. Bloody Nineteenth Century. Oh, and hand me the organization chart, will you, Mr. Hornblower?
As I was saying, Admiral Hunter has expressed her confidence in your elitism and your bloody-mindedness in the face of stupidity and ignorance. I have every confidence you'll perform admirably.
Now that we're pulling away from the dock, I'll read you Admiral Hunter's orders:
You are hereby ordered to seek out stupidity and ignorance wherever you see fit, and dispel it where possible. In keeping with the Napoleanic Wars metaphor of this carnival, these targets of opportunity will present themselves in the form of oddly named French ships of war.
In particular, you are to pursue and harass the Faux Nouvelle, an oversize ship-of-the-line armed to the teeth with mendacious anger.
Use of deadly sarcasm is authorized, and, indeed, encouraged.
Pleasant voyage, everyone, and as they say in another alternate universe, good hunting.
Captain's Log: May 1, 1807
Thinking her to be the Faux Nouvelle, we track and then overtake Sac Religieux D'écrou, another overly large ship-of-the-line with a particularly fanatical crew. Mr. Russell Blackford, of H.M.A.S. Metamagician And The Hellfire Club aims a ranging shot in her direction as part of a discussion of the U.N.'s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and finds the mark:
If I call on you to lynch a corn dealer (or, in more modern times, perhaps a merchant banker) on the basis that corn dealers (or merchant bankers) are starvers of the poor, that is incitement to violence. But if I am merely critical of the Catholic Church or its leaders, or its influence or its doctrines or its traditional attitude to sexuality, that is legitimate, indeed valuable, critical speech. If I criticise contemporary Iran for barbaric practices such as stoning adulterers or hanging homosexuals, that is legitimate critical speech, even if I (fairly or otherwise) blame Islam for these practices. But these are just the kinds of legitimate speech that the Organisation of the Islamic Conference nations, with majority support within the UN membership, wishes to see banned. The Human Rights Council has already banned all such speech in its own discussions, effectively gagging the International Humanist and Ethical Union's valuable contributions.
Dacey Gets It Right on Durban II
His larger point is that countries that value freedom of speech must make clearer distinctions between speech that is merely disrespectful or hateful and speech that incites violence. Nevertheless, in the presence of this opponent, his thoughts on suppression of speech against religion strike close to home for many of us.
His next salvo blasts the tendency that some people have to label speech as bigoted whenever it criticizes a religion, no matter how valid that criticism might be:
Often, people who express concerns about the compatibility of Islam with modernity, social pluralism, and individual liberty are accused of something akin to racism - of so-called "Islamophobia". That accusation is a dangerous one to make, since it can intimidate people of good will into holding their peace and refusing to say anything critical of Islam or its traditions and associated practices. It is not comfortable discussing these things, knowing that the slightest error of fact or judgment can lead to something like a charge of racism - perhaps the second most damaging, and personally painful, accusation that can be levelled against anyone in a contemporary Western society (exceeded only by an accusation of pedophilia).
Harvard's Islamic Chaplain: "Great Wisdom" In Death Penalty For Apostates
As we saw in the last Presidential campaign, charges of racism are often leveled with little thought. Charges of prejudice against religion are similarly common.
Mr. Blackford then fires this broadside:
The image of the universe in space and time that has been built up by the converging investigations of scientists in such fields as geology, astrophysics, and evolutionary biology was not contrived for the purpose of discrediting religion. Rather, it is the gradual result of ordinary methods of rational inquiry supplemented by more precise methods that have become increasingly available since the time of Galileo — such as instruments that extend the human senses, mathematical modelling, and apparatus that enables many decisive experiments to be done. As a result of patient scientific work over the past few centuries, increasingly specialised and professionalised in recent decades, we now know that the universe we live in is billions of years old, that our planet itself is something like four-and-half billion years old, that life diversified through an evolutionary process involving mechanisms that prominently included Darwinian natural selection, that our own species, Homo sapiens, first appeared in Africa about 100,000 to 200,000 years ago, and so on.
However, some religious leaders teach that our planet is only about 6,000 to 10,000 years old, that biological species have not evolved from earlier species, and so on. Given the overwhelming scientific evidence against that image of the world, all such religious doctrines are plainly irrational: they are plainly and directly at odds with well-established outcomes from rational inquiry.
Jerry Coyne On Science Organisations And Accommodationism
Trying to make science compatible with religion is at best a fools' game, and we take savage joy in this exchange.
As I understand is traditional on Royal Navy ships, extra rum rations are authorized for a job well done.
Captain's Log: May 10, 1807
Days of fruitless searching for Faux Nouvelle have yielded only boredom and dissatisfaction among the crew. Mr. WhySharksMatter, an exchange officer from U.S.S Southern Fried Science, spots sharks trailing behind our ship. He wonders why sharks get such bad press:
Why, exactly, is it news when a single dolphin is bitten by a shark, but not news when 100 million sharks are brutally and unsustainably killed around the world each year? Apparently the fact that sharks are vital regulators of numerous ocean ecosystems is irrelevant when you consider the fact that dolphins are cute.
Media Covers A Shark Attack… On A Dolphin
He's on to something there, I think. When it comes to covering aquatic matters, the press's motto seems to be:
Dog bites man isn't news. Now, giant sea creature bites man - send a film crew!!
Attack Of The Giant Squid
Still, we hope that "shark bites man" doesn't become a headline on this voyage.
Captain's Log: May. 14, 1807
We appear to have found the trail of the Faux Nouvelle. Cheap tea bags, a tell-tale sign, were spotted by lookouts this morning. As we head South on her trail, Mr. Stephen Moore explains the significance of tea bags to Faux Nouvelle's crew:
There's been much hilarity coursing it way 'round the intertubes of late. Usonian conservatives have been in a tizzy about the changes to Federal Income Tax rates, and have decided to engage in a campaign of protest they call teabagging. Unaware (or perhaps fully aware) of the slang meaning of teabagging, the rest of the nation, and indeed the world, are having a merry ol' time laughing their socks off.
I tell the crew that while our quarry is well-provisioned, she sails at a disadvantage. Her engineering officer doesn't understand how wind works:
What makes [Fox pundit Glenn Beck's] position so foolish is that you don't store energy when there isn't any. You store it when it's available. There are plenty of means for storing energy that could be, and have, been put to use. If you're not a physicist or an engineer, it's possible that you wouldn't see through that argument, just barely. If you are a physicist or an engineer who didn't see through that argument, sit at the back of the class and start paying attention.
Glenn Beck: April Fool
Extra rations of rum for the crew as a reward for remaining sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued.
Captain's Log: May 17, 1807
While in pursuit of Faux Nouvelle we unexpectedly encounter the Man-O-War Dans L'environnement L'aliéné. She steers a course that will eventually run her aground, but we can't assume that she won't be blown off course. Gunnery Officer Andrew, reassigned from U.S.S. Southern Fried Science fires the opening salvo by asking "What the hell happened to the environmental movement?":
Yet I look at self-identified environmentalist today and I see them praising practices - ethanol fuel, corn starch-based disposable plastics, all-natural organic products - as the solution, even though the data show these to have no real lasting effect. I see them damning progress that I know to be effective - genetically modified foods, nuclear power, centralized recycling - for dogmatic reasons that have no basis in environmentalism. It’s almost as though the movement has written a codex, a set of beliefs that we must all agree on, that are not part of the environmental ethic at all. We refuse to look at data and instead latch on to feel-good, reason free woo that allows us to validate our ideals without doing anything.
What The Hell Happened To The Environmental Movement?
Dans L'environnement L'aliéné staggered momentarily, then returned to her course. Andrew's shipmate Mr. WhySharksMatter then named "5 things worse for the planet than global warming":
I personally don’t doubt that global warming is happening, and for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that it is. Let’s assume that not only is it happening, but every possible worst case scenario comes true- disruption of ocean currents resulting in a cooling of Europe, increased hurricanes, increased habitat range for various organisms that will result in harsh competition and increased spreading of disease, and the complete melting of the ice caps which will destroy the arctic/antarctic ecosystem and raise the sea level drastically.
Only the most extreme seriously believe that all of these things will happen, but EVEN IF THEY ALL DO, there are many threats that our planet is facing that are far worse.
5 Things Worse For The Planet Than Global Warming
After being hit with this broadside, Dans L.L. faltered, and altered course in a more positive direction. Dogma seems to affect her course less than before. Time will tell if she stays there.
Extra rum rations for the crew for an excellent rhetorical barrage. I'm concerned we may run out of rum rations at this rate, but Mr. Hornblower assures me that in the entire history of the Royal Navy such a thing has never happened.
Captain's Log: May 19, 1807
Still no fresh sign of Faux N. Lookouts spot sloop of war Critique Dément on a nearly opposite course. We turn to pursue, as Mr. John Pieret fills us in on one of her recent endeavors:
There is a review by Bryan Appleyard in New Statesman of Lewis Wolpert's new book, How We Live and Why We Die: the Secret Lives of Cells that prompted some early morning musings.
Anyway, Appleyard's review of Wolpert (who he calls a "distant friend") has all the indicia of what Wolpert once called him: a "closet Christian." There is talk of cells being "improbably complex;" and of the condition of being alive and aware as "a miracle, whatever meaning you attach to that word" and as a "wildly improbable process," a conclusion Appleyard reaches based, apparently, only on "a moment's introspection." And there is the "complaint" about the fact that humans have only about 30,000 genes, which "just doesn't seem to be enough,"
She sounds like a subject worth looking into, but before we could close on her she fired a dud in our direction, then scurried away.
Over our dinner and extra rum, Mr. Blake Stacey attempts to amuse the crew with stories of cellular automata algorithms written in Python. Cellular automata are mathematical models that range from simple to very complex states and transitions. Mr. Blake's program shows the progression of a cellular automation sequence as a moving graphics file. To boil it down to simplest terms, it's a program that makes a little glowy explodey thing in the middle of the screen.
Since computers won't have been invented for another two and a half centuries, I begin to doubt the wisdom of this particular metaphor. Nevertheless, the crew seem pleased with this amusement.
Captain's Log: May 21, 1807
No sign of Faux N. for many days. A packet ship brings a message from Admiral Hunter. She reminds us of the importance of reason and knowledge:
In observing politics and religion, you soon notice a distinct abundance of stupidity. And I call it stupidity, not ignorance, because refusing knowledge is stupid. Everyone at times refuses knowledge, but some people raise it to an art form. It's a constant in their lives. They can't be bothered to think.
I thought of it watching the teabaggers get manipulated by the corporate lobbyists. These people were tools, and they were too stupid to realize it. It's not that they were ignorant of what was going on - the information was out there in abundance. They had it in their own hands.
The Necessity of Knowledge
Mr. George avers that things aren't looking better for future generations of Americans, given the disinterest in science on display at his childrens' schools:
It seemed to me that neither the administrators or the teachers had any enthusiasm about the sciences. At the risk of stepping into political territory (like that ever stopped me before) they were more concerned with self-esteem than chemistry, electricity, physics, or biology. And math took place in one concrete silo, never to bump into science in the other silo, which never seemed to make contact with history in the third silo, and so on.
Man, I Shoulda Done Somethin’ BAD!
We can only shake our heads. At sea knowledge of science is vitally important. People who don't understand it can't navigate. People who deliberately avoid learning about sea creatures and birds are often of little help when we need to repair the ship, or analyze intelligence.
The Admiral's mention of teabags reminds us of the subject of our quarry, but we have no better direction to chase her than south.
We drink an extra ration of rum to the Admiral, and sail southward.
Captain's Log: May 23, 1807
We caught wind of the L'intestin Obstrué early in the afternoon. Even though we approached from the windward, the smell of flim-flammery was strong enough to provoke discomfort among the crew. We overtook her toward evening. Her passengers were suffering from a variety of maladies thanks to her ship's physician, an incompetent whose bizarre notions of health care belong to an earlier age. Ship's Surgeon PalMD administered a strong dose of reality to her passengers:
I kind of get the whole infomercial thing. Sure, late-night health infomercials are deceptive, dangerous, and fraudulent, but at least they're labeled as ads. [Colon cleansing proponent Kim] Evans' piece is presented as fact, making it particularly immoral.
This immorality takes some very basic biology and creates a myth which encourages people to make purchases that benefit the author and at best rob the mark. To accomplish this sales pitch [she] subjects science and logic to the written equivalent of involuntary sodomy. Her crime is particularly egregious because of her use of the word "cancer" to scare people, perhaps turning away from or delaying real care.
HuffPo Hits A New Low---Medical Infomercials
Incredibly, the people on this vessel are there by choice.
Since L'intestin Obstrué carries nothing of interest, we send her on her way. She will be more use to us back in our adversary's hands than at the bottom of the sea. We feel sorrow for the souls on board, but they've chosen their fate.
An extra round of rum for the crew helps boost morale again.
Captain's Log: May 25, 1807
We encounter the Écriture Impaire De La Science in murky waters. Mr. Blake Stacey attempts to unravel her confusing signals about how to popularize science:
I guess we just can't win: tap into a grand "mythic narrative", and you give the impression that science is all linear 'n stuff. On the flipside, one could draw upon the shady underworld of private eyes and film noir, where evidence comes to light one fragment at a time, each mystery solved brings another around the corner, and the streets rearrange themselves every time you turn your back.
Mythic Conventions in the Physics Bookshelf?
I wish him luck. It all sounds quite confusing to me. Some tasks are best delegated.
Meanwhile, as we're unsure of her value as either a prize or intelligence asset, we set Écriture Impaire De La Science on her way with a stern warning to be more thoughtful next time.
Captain's Log: May 27, 1807
We've run out of rum rations. Department heads agree the mission cannot continue under these circumstances. The Royal Navy, having never anticipated this circumstance, can provide no guidance. So, we head for home.
Steady as she goes, Mr. Hornblower.
May I have your attention, please? We are now entering the harbor. It's been another successful voyage, and I couldn't have done it without you.
That splintering sound and the wood chips that are falling around us signify our arrival at the dock. Yes, Hornblower, they're chips when you compare them to the size of the dock. Incidentally, would you detail a couple of men to remove this chip from the forecastle? It nearly crushed Cornwell, and I'm sure he has no wish to revisit the experience.
Be careful ashore, ladies and gentlemen. Remember that it's still the early Nineteenth Century, and antibiotics haven't been invented.