Irishman in London. Googler. Physicist by training; software engineer by profession. Skeptic and liberal by nature. Film blogger.
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Hardball Questions For The Next Debate

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Dr. Carson:

One of your most important achievements as a neurosurgeon was inventing the functional hemispherectomy, reviving the functional hemispherectomy, a treatment for epilepsy in which the epileptic hemisphere of the brain is severed from the healthy hemisphere and the body, allowing the healthy hemisphere to have full control of the body free from any epileptic interference. Children who get a functional hemispherectomy sufficiently early will be partly paralyzed on one side, but they will mostly be seizure-free. generally not have seizures, or will at least have less of them.

Standard hemispherectomies remove the epileptic hemisphere from the body, but that tended to cause hydrocephalus, so your technique instead just left it intact but severed all of its sensory and motor connections, leaving it present but inert.

But an anonymous neuroscientist on Reddit expressed some concern that just as the functional hemisphere seems to develop full independent personhood after the split, so the epileptic hemisphere may do so as well. Obviously it remains impaired by the epilepsy, but it’s not seizing all the time, so there will still be comparatively lucid intervals.

So my question for you is – what do you think happens to that person who is in an empty hemisphere, locked out of all sensory input and motor control? Do you think they’re conscious? Do you think they’re wondering what happened? Do you think they’re happy that the other half of them is living a happy normal life? Do they sit rapt in unconditioned contemplation of their own consciousness like an Aristotelian god? Or do they go mad with boredom, constantly desiring their own death but unable to effect it?

Also, a follow-up question. You solve paediatric epilepsy by severing all connections between right and left, consigning one to the outer darkness declaring one unhealthy and leaving it to rot, and turning complete control over to the other. Given that you’re trying to become President, that has obvious kabbalistic implications. Do you stand behind those kabbalistic implications or not?

Ms. Fiorina:

One of the issues that’s played a central role in your campaign is your belief that the Ottoman Empire was the greatest civilization in the world. Certainly their five-hundred-plus year reign was marked by impressive military, political, and artistic achievements. But I want to bring up a particular aspect of Ottoman governance today.

One of the really unique Ottoman innovations was its so-called “millet system”, where every ethnicity and religion was almost its own little empire-within-an-empire. For example, although the Ottoman Empire was itself Muslim, Christians within it got their own millet, led by the Patriarch of Constantinople. They made their own laws, which applied only to Christians, settled disputes between two Christian claimants, levied taxes from Christians to pay for Christian-related projects, and generally kept their own people in line. When the Ottoman Empire as a whole wanted something from its Christian population, the Sultan would meet with the Patriarch and they would hammer it out. There were similar structures in place for Jews, Armenians, et cetera.

The past few years have seen an almost unprecedented rise in identity politics in America, usually marked by the claim that the society is using its weight to kick around people of some identity or another. Society is kicking around blacks. Society is kicking around conservative Christians. Society is kicking around bisexuals. They all feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick, but a lot of their preferences are mutually exclusive, and it’s hard to imagine some kind of centralized government policy that could satisfy any of them.

As an admirer of the Ottoman Empire, you’d be in a uniquely good position to import some of the advantages of the millet system into the modern Western world. Obviously this would be complicated given all the conflicting identity claims and the close quarters in which everyone is intermingled, but there are already some visions of what it could look like – including my own Archipelago – and if it were raised to the level of a national discussion, people could no doubt come up with many more.

So my question for you is – weren’t you a pretty crappy CEO?

Mr. Bush:

Assume that fitness-to-be-President is a normally distributed trait with known heritability. Suppose also that past elections have 100% efficiency; that is, they always choose the most qualified candidate. We can then use some of the standard regression-to-the-mean equations to determine the chances that the highest fitness-to-be-President individual in generation G will be the offspring of the highest fitness-to-be-President individual in generation G-1. G+1.

The single most fit-to-be president man in a population of 300 million would be about six standard deviations above the norm. If that man breeds with the single most fit-to-be-president woman, and if in keeping with findings for other complex traits heritability is about 60%, we would expect their offspring to be about 3.6 standard deviations above the mean in fitness-to-be-president. One in every 2500 or so people is 3.6 standard deviations or so above average, meaning there would be at least 120,000 equally good or better presidential candidates than they in the United States.

How high would the heritability of presidential fitness have to be before there was at least a 10% chance that the offspring of the two most presidential Americans was himself presidential material? My calculations suggest about 90%, which is very high compared to what we know about similar traits – but actually not entirely outside the realm of plausibility.

But if a maximally-presidential man breeds with a woman who is less than maximally presidential, the odds fall precipitiously. Suppose that a maximally-presidential man breeds with a woman who is merely in the 99th percentile for presidential ability. Now given a heritability of 60% there will be three million Americans more presidential than their average offspring. Even given a 100% heritability, there is only a 1/73 chance that their offspring will themselves be worthy of the presidency.

So my question for you is: do you think Barbara Bush is an unrecognized political super-genius, or are there probably hundreds of thousands of Americans who would make a better president than you would?

Senator Cruz:

You were on your college debate team, and you were good at it. Really good. You won the national championships and you were pretty widely believed to be the best debater in the country. Quite an achievement. But my worry is – which is more likely? That the best debater in the country would also be the best choice for President? Or that he would be really really really good at making us think that he would be?

Don’t respond yet. Before you answer that question – well, before you answer any question – we’ve got to think about this on the meta-level. There’s a classic problem in epistemology. Suppose that we have a superintelligence with near-infinite rhetorical brilliance. The superintelligence plays a game with interested humans. First, it takes the hundred or so most controversial topics, chooses two opposing positions on each, writes the positions down on pieces of paper, and then puts them in a jar. Then it chooses one position at random and tries to convince the human of that position. We observe that in a hundred such games, every human player has left 100% convinced of the position the superintelligence drew from the jar. Now it’s your turn to play the game. The superintelligence picks a position from the jar. It argues for the position. The argument is supremely convincing. After hearing it, you are more sure that the position is true than you have ever been of anything in your life; there’s so much evidence in favor that it is absolutely knock-down obvious. Should you believe the position?

The inside view tells you yes; upon evaluating the argument, you find is clearly true. The outside view tells you no; judging from the superintelligence’s past successes, it could have convinced you equally well of the opposite position. If you are smart, you will precommit to never changing your mind at all based on anything the superintelligence says. You will just shut it out of the community of entities capable of persuading you through argument.

Senator Cruz, you may not quite be at the superintelligence level, but given that you’ve been recognized as you’re literally the most convincing person out of all three hundred million Americans, shouldn’t we institute similar precautions with you? Shouldn’t your supporters, even if they agree with everything you are saying, precommit to ignore you as a matter of principle?

Senator Rubio:

When you became Florida’s Speaker of the House, one of the other men on stage here tonight, Jeb Bush, presented you with a golden sword, which he said was the “Sword of Chang”. He told you that “Chang is somebody who believes in conservative principles, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism, believes in moral values that underpin a free society. Chang, this mystical warrior, has never let me down.” You looked pretty excited about it.

Now, some might say that this all came from a giant misunderstanding. Back in the late 1940s, Mao Zedong’s victorious Chinese communists forced Chiang Kai-shek’s defeated Chinese nationalists to retreat to the island of Taiwan. The United States kept the peace in the the Taiwan Strait, mostly to prevent Mao from invading and finishing the job, but a common refrain in 1950s conservativism went that we should “unleash Chiang”; that is, advise Chiang Kai-Shek to go back across the strait and reconquer China. George H. W. Bush served as envoy to China, had to listen to this sort of stuff, and got annoyed enough at the “unleash Chiang” rhetoric that he would quote it ironically at bizarre times, like his documented habit of threatening that his serve would “unleash Chiang” on his tennis opponents. It’s unclear how we got from George H. W. Bush’s constant threats to “unleash Chiang” on people, to his son’s belief that Chang was a mystical conservative warrior. Maybe it was a joke, either Bush Sr. pranking Jeb or Jeb pranking you.

In any case, you hung the sword in “a place of honor in your office”. From that point forward, Jeb’s fortunes declined. declined and yours rose. He left the Florida governorship, failed to get any further high positions, and then ran a very decidedly lackluster Presidential campaign. But from that same point your own fortunes decidedly massively rose. You started a law firm, were appointed a professor, got elected to the Senate, and are currently running a spectacular Presidential campaign with most pundits betting on your eventual victory after Trump and Carson lose their shine. The connection between the transfer of the sword and the sudden switch in both your fortunes is so striking that even the obvious that even Huffington Post, not normally a top source for magic-sword-related journalism, wrote about it: Jeb’s Last Hope – the article Jeb’s Last Hope: Reclaim the Sword of Chang.

But here we have a conundrum: if there was never a mythical Chinese warrior named Chang, by what magic does this sword grant worldly success to its possessor and ignomious ruin to any who lose it? There is a legend that fits almost exactly: the tale of the Holy Lance, aka the Spear of Destiny, aka several other portentious sounding names. According to the story, this relic from Christ’s crucifixion grants victory to all who own it and swift ruin to all who lose it. Charlemagne was reputedly the first to make use of its power; he was unstoppable while he wielded it but died moments after dropping it during battle. The same pattern repeated with Frederick Barbarossa, then a host of other military leaders, until finally it passed to the Austrian Habsburgs. They realized its power, locked it away, and ended up winning the greatest empire in European history. Supposedly Hitler Hitler’s was obsessed with it, so much so that his fascination with the object inspired the depiction of Nazi archaeologists in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and he took it for himself after the Anschluss. As the war wound down, the relic caught the special attention of General George Patton, who brought it back safely to Vienna afterwards. But ever since that time there have been various rumors that it was a fake, and that Nazi sympathizers took the real Lance Spear in preparation for the time when the Reich would rise again.

The book Secrets of the Holy Lance describes one possible route by which the artifact might have been smuggled out of Europe:

Reporters John Buchanan and Stacey Michael cite recently declassified documents from the US National Archives that indicate that Prescott Bush “failed to divest himself of more than a dozen enemy national relationships that continued until as late as 1951. Bush conducted business following the end of World War II with moving assets into the Nazi refuges of Argentina, Panama, and Brazil.

So Prescott Bush was involved in moving Nazi “assets” from conquered Europe to South American refuges, presumably including the true Lance. Far be it from me to impugn his business ethics, but I don’t remember Nazi refugees in Argentina becoming an unstoppable force aided by a weapon of legendary mystical power. On the other hand, I do remember Prescott Bush being elected to the United States Senate just a few years later. Then his son and the presumed heir of his property was elected US President. Then his son was also elected US President. I need not shouldn’t have to add that according to the the laws of genetics, the chance of this happening by coincidence is hundreds-of-thousands to one even assuming implausibly high heritability of the fitness-to-be-president trait. Then his other son starts rocketing up through the ranks right up until the moment he gave you the sword of Chang, a sword named after a weird Bush family in-joke about a Chinese mystical warrior who doesn’t exist.

I think we can start to sketch out a plausible explanation here. Hitler didn’t want the Holy Lance falling into the hands of his enemies, so he replaced it with a fake and hired Nazi-artifact-smuggler Prescott Bush to transport the real one to safety in South America. Bush realized what he had, handed the South Americans a second fake, and kept the real one for himself, reforging it from a lance into a sword to cover his tracks – an action the trail. Note that this sort of relic-thievery is entirely in character for Prescott Bush, whose other relic-stealing adventures include the theft of Geronimo’s skull. who is known to have stolen the skull of Geronimo as well. He died unexpectedly without getting the chance to explain the significance of the artifact to his son George H. W. Bush. George. But since it seemed like a sentimentally important heirloom, George H. Bush took care of his father’s weird golden sword anyway. When his sons asked him about it he didn’t have a real answer, so he just made his favorite in-joke about “unleashing Chiang”, and they believed him. Then eventually it passed to George W, later on to Jeb, and then Jeb thought it would be a funny present to give you to honor your election as Florida speaker.

Obviously the Lance is a significant strategic asset for America, and I imagine if you were President then its aura of victory would apply adhere to the country as well, much as the Habsburgs’ Habsburg’s possession of the lance enlarged Austria-Hungary. However, its powers are generally held to come from the Antichrist.

So my question for you is, do you think it’s ethical to use your magic sword to channel the power of the Antichrist if that would ensure America’s military success?

Mr. Trump:

You are famous both for your vast corporate empire and for your tendency to name the pieces of that corporate empire after yourself. By my count there are six buildings named “Trump Tower”, ten named some variation on “Trump Hotel”, a Trump Building, a Trump Palace, and a Trump Estate. You founded a financial services group called Trump Mortgage, a modeling agency called Trump Model Management, a bottled water brand called Trump Ice, and a magazine called Trump Magazine. You also started an airline called Trump Airlines, a TV company called Trump Productions, a book series called Trump Books, and your own radio talk show called Trumped!. There are also several Trump-themed games, like Donald Trump’s Real Estate Tycoon and Trump: The Game.

Mother Jones wrote a great article on this last one. Trump: The Game seems to be a tacky Monopoly clone. Players move around a board and bid on properties, and when one of them gets locked out of bidding for a property the other player gets to say “YOU’RE FIRED” the same way you do on your show. The only way to get back in to a property once you’ve been fired is to use the game’s most powerful card, which has piece, a card with a picture of your face on it and is called “The Donald”.

My question for you is: WHY DIDN’T YOU CALL IT THE TRUMP CARD?!?!!!!111111111asdfdf

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roryparle
315 days ago
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This is glorious.
London
popular
316 days ago
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6 public comments
jprodgers
305 days ago
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Mind solidly blown
Somerville, MA
Courtney
315 days ago
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I lost it at the Rubio question omfg
Portland, OR
JayM
315 days ago
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:)
Atlanta, GA
Dugstar2020
315 days ago
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Great questions for future leaders
rtreborb
316 days ago
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This is the type of politics that I can get behind
skittone
316 days ago
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Ha.

#1135; Throw Back the Dead Man’s Coin

4 Comments and 23 Shares

Of course you can live without actual, coherent ideals. Wad enough tiny strands of hair together, it'll still clog a drain.

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roryparle
461 days ago
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461 days ago
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bronzehedwick
456 days ago
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Ha! Awesome
Brooklyn NY
Courtney
461 days ago
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No but really get rid of student and medical debt and close the loophole on trusts tho
Portland, OR
satadru
461 days ago
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.
New York, NY
expatpaul
462 days ago
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'nuff said
Belgium

Comic for 2015.06.12

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476 days ago
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Attention Bankruptcy

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Hovertext: Can I get this expunged?


New comic!
Today's News:
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roryparle
508 days ago
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Drunkspo

jwz
6 Comments and 22 Shares
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roryparle
530 days ago
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531 days ago
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StunGod
530 days ago
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So inspirational!
Eugene, Oregon, USA
Courtney
530 days ago
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Hey this is honestly what addiction to alcohol looks like. So...good job?
Portland, OR
dmierkin
531 days ago
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Cute
evaryont
531 days ago
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This is one of those things that is both wonderful, and terrible.
Phoenix, AZ
ktgeek
531 days ago
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I need to print everyone of these out.
Bartlett, IL
jimwise
531 days ago
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(!)

Zoolander 0.9 beta

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Somehow I didn't know that Zoolander (which Terrence Malick and I both love and Roger Ebert hated) began as a short clip Ben Stiller did for the 1996 VH1 Fashion Awards.

(via the dissolve)

Tags: Ben Stiller   movies   video   Zoolander
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640 days ago
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