A better formulation of the Golden Rule

We are most familiar with the form of the so-called Golden Rule that says that one should treat others as you would like others to treat you. That seems reasonable on the surface but it has the problem that how you would like to be treated may not be how someone else would like to be treated. Some time ago, I argued for a better form of the Golden Rule that says simply “Don’t be a jerk” because the standard form was too vague and too subject to idiosyncratic interpretations to be useful.

My formulation was not very elegant but it turns out that there is a better way of expressing the same sentiment that has been around for millennia. It also takes a negative form of the rule and says that one should not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated. This seems better because avoiding doing things to others that one would not like have done to you avoids many pitfalls, since it is not requiring you to do something to others.
[Read more…]

How you can support Freethoughtblogs

This network of blogs does not have paywalls and does not have annoying advertisements. The bloggers do not get paid, doing what they do just for the love of it. We also do not have a technical support staff. But running an online site, however lean it is, does have unavoidable costs, such as paying for servers and the like. So where does the money come from to pay for such things?

Basically, PZ Myers over at Pharyngula, one of the founders of the network, does it as a labor of love. He does have a Patreon account and the money that people donate to that account helps to defray the costs.

So if you can afford to give something however small, please go to that Patreon site and make a contribution.


The celebrity memorabilia craze

People seem to love what are known as collectibles, items that have no functional use but they want to own either because they see it as an investment that they think will grow in value over time and/or because they attach some significance to it. In the case of the former category, one has thing like works of art and jewelry and people have been collecting them for a long time. Aesthetics play an important role in this market.

But more recently there has been a surge in people seeking out items whose only value is that they were once owned by a celebrity. In the March 25, 2024 issue of The New Yorker, Rachel Monroe takes a deep dive into this world.
[Read more…]

This royal photoshopping thing is getting ridiculous

After all the hyperventilating over the photoshopped photograph of Kate Middleton and her three children, the media have unearthed another photograph that she had purportedly taken earlier of the late Queen and her great grandchildren that apparently was also altered in 19 different places.

What I do not get is that, as far as I know, it is not being alleged that entire people were inserted into the photo or removed, so that the photograph is no longer a reasonably accurate historical record of an event. The changes are so tiny that I cannot see them even after they have been pointed out. Why would anyone bother to make such minute changes? Even though the changes are infinitesimally small, it would seem to me that it would take a lot of skill and effort to make them. I know that I would not have the ability to do it. So what would be the point of doing this?

It is possible , I suppose, that entire people were inserted into the photograph and these almost invisible discrepancies are evidence of that. But the discrepancies are all over the photo. So was the entire photograph a photoshopped construction? Again, why bother? It is only a family photograph, after all, not a photograph of a political gathering that analysts pore over to see who who is in or out as an indicator of their political fortunes.

Even for those like me who tend to give news about the British royal family a miss, this particular puzzle intrigues me. not so much because of who it is about (though that is undoubtedly why is has created such a media frenzy), but because of the sheer pointlessness of it. I just cannot fathom any plausible motive for the alterations.

Yay, we are back!

As you are no doubt aware, the entire Freethoughtsblog network has been down for a week. PZ Myers at Pharyngula has been working tirelessly to identify the problem and rectify it and finally succeeded.

He explains that the problem was an entirely spurious allegation that was made to our blog hosting service by someone who goes by the name “Deathlord Al-Zawahiri”, and how it was resolved.

This surprises me. You would have thought that getting a complaint from someone who styles themselves with such an absurd name would be cause for serious skepticism. But the people who run these places do not seem to exercise much common sense.

Anyway, thanks to PZ for his tireless work. We don’t pay him nearly enough. In fact, we do not pay him anything at all. He does this purely out of personal commitment.

I see doppelgangers

A doppelganger is what we call someone who looks a lot like someone else, although the dictionary says it can also refer to someone with the same name.

I have noticed that I see doppelgangers everywhere. There are many people whom I meet who strike me as having a strong resemblance to someone else I know or, more likely, to a public figure whose image frequently appears in the media. It seems to be a personal quirk since other people don’t seem to see the resemblances that I see. When I am watching TV with friends and family and I say that someone on the screen looks like someone else whom we both know, very often they cannot see the resemblance at all.

The funny thing is that even though I often see doppelgangers of other people, I have never seen a doppelganger of myself. Perhaps we are reluctant to give up the idea that we are so distinctive that there is no one else who could be possibly like us. This may also explain why, when I tell someone that their looks remind me of someone well-known, they are always surprised and because they sometimes do not view it as a compliment, I have stopped telling people this.

The ‘average’ child

As someone who has spent almost his entire life in academic institutions, I know how easy it is to put labels on students depending upon one’s perception of their academic potential. When faculty talk about students, they will frequently characterize them by such labels. It is a destructive habit since it seems to suggest to students that they are limited in what they can do. I tried to fight against that tendency in my own speech and encouraged fellow faculty to take a less rigid view but was not always successful, so encompassing is that mindset in academia.

It can affect more harmfully those who are thought to be ‘average’ or below since it can reduce their ambitions, as this poem by Mike Buscemi serves to remind us.


I don’t cause teachers trouble;
My grades have been okay.
I listen in my classes.
I’m in school every day.

My teachers think I’m average;
My parents think so too.
I wish I didn’t know that, though;
There’s lots I’d like to do.

I’d like to build a rocket;
I read a book on how.
Or start a stamp collection…
But no use trying now.

Cause, since I found I’m average,
I’m smart enough you see
To know there’s nothing special
I should expect of me.

[Read more…]

Wind, rain, and power outages

California has been hit with heavy rain and gusty winds the last few days. In my area, yesterday was the worst, with wind gusts up to 60 mph and heavy rain, with short periods of bright sunshine in between. I lost power the whole of Sunday which is why there were no posts. Since I did not have to go anywhere, I stayed at home and watched the weather changes through my window, with the winds causing the trees to sway to and fro. I have not seen this kind of weather since I moved here over four years ago.

Since sunset is about 5:30 pm at this time of year, it was interesting to sit inside and slowly watch everything becoming totally dark, since there were no lights anywhere in the area and the heavy cloud cover shut off any light from the moon and stars.

Today the winds and rain have eased up here but the news says that it is still hitting the southern part of the state hard, with further flooding expected.

Tidy mouse

A man in Wales, UK has found that a mouse tidies up the stuff in his shed every night.

 After regularly discovering that things from the night before had been mysteriously tidied, he set up a night vision camera on his workbench.

It captured a mouse picking up clothes pegs, corks, nuts and bolts.

The 75-year-old from Builth Wells, Powys, said the tidying ritual had been going on for two months.

“At first I noticed that some food that I was putting out for the birds was ending up in some old shoes I was storing in the shed,” he said.

“Ninety nine times out of 100 the mouse will tidy up throughout the night.

No word on if the mouse is taking on new clients whose sheds need cleaning.