Friday, November 14, 2014

Incredible Human Achievement VS. Poo-Flinging Monkeys: Reason #(one million and) 1 that I Simply Cannot Take Modern Feminists Seriously

I realized years ago that I enjoy observing internet media trends more closely than most of my friends and acquaintances, especially the two very large fields of science and popular politics.  If you are not familiar with the current state of astrophysics and space exploration, or the supposedly "progressive" and "tolerant" ideologies behind popular progressivism and feminism online, here is a quick update with some of my own commentary.....
....proper and polite, totally not sexist, and 100% feminist always, of course!

First, the REAL news:

  Today, there was incredible achievement tempered with some stinging disappointment in the world of space exploration and solar system research.  The European Space Agency completed the traveling and landing portions of the Rosetta mission, and landed the research craft Philae on a comet 300 million miles from Earth.

The articles linked below give a more thorough review of the science and the mission.

  The 10-year Rosetta mission was truly amazing, for a variety of reasons, even if those reasons only have mass appeal to astronomy buffs, science enthusiasts, and Sci-Fi fans like myself.  The simple fact that we are now capable of sending an unmanned research station hundreds of millions of miles and hitting such a small target could barely have been imagined even in the forward-thinking Sci-Fi of 100 years ago, and that's just the beginning.  
  Unfortunately, the landing was not perfect, and has probably severely compromised some of the research goals.  But because of incredibly detailed planning including multiple research goals, and along with backup plans and ingenuity in the face of setbacks, there is still great scientific value in the mission.  More than most people will ever bother to know.
  I realize that to many people this is, sadly, no big deal, succeed or fail.  Humans have been doing space missions off and on for 40+ years now, and the mass public as a group is easily bored.  But people will be reading a million pages of bullshit on the internet just like every day, so this is also a symptom of mass public and media ignorance of, and/or apathy toward, mankind's space exploration. The achievement today is a far bigger deal than 90% of what the media will likely focus on.

  Even if almost all of the planned mission fails, this first-of-a-kind attempt will still return valuable results, show a viable proof of concept, and give advice for perfecting future missions.  

  That is the real power of science, new research, experiment, and exploration:  even a near-total failure may still be a huge success, with real, tangible rewards that simply cannot be realized in any other way.

These linked articles detail the problems, and what can possibly be done about them.

  This mission represents incredible achievements of humankind, makes evident the inherent difficulty and risk involved in such enterprises, and helps us outline how we can carry on in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and achieve some success even when conditions aren't perfect.  It is a true lesson and inspiration for anyone looking toward the continued advancement of the human race.

That's the real news.

  And then......

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Year in Jail for a Completely Harmless Prank. We Must Protect Muslims from Ever Being Offended, No Matter the Cost!

So apparently, in Scotland, causing mild offense to Muslims is now a serious crime, a potential hate crime, that must be dealt with especially harshly.  Even if it's mild, joking, sort-of, almost, kind of, "vandalism" that only took five minutes and a wet-nap to clean up.

A 39-year old man and 18-year old woman were sentenced this week to nine months in custody, and one year in custody, respectively, for the heinous crime of exposing Muslims to bacon.

It's amazing to me, the deference people give to anything "religious".  Personally, I think public libraries are far more worthy of respect and public protection than any church.  Hospitals, fire stations, even private homes are all far more valuable and important to me than some community edifice that gullible or emotionally needy people are trained to see as "holy".  But some people feel that their religious beliefs MUST be respected, to a higher degree than any other thing in life, and not by just themselves but everyone else as well.  

The normal highest penalty for vandalism in Scotland would be a fine and three months imprisonment.  But hey, Muslims were offended, so what does the law really mean to a court?  Nothing, apparently.  Saving some very easily offended people from offense, and making an example of those who dare show disrespect, is apparently more important than equal treatment or fair application of the law.



Sunday, April 27, 2014

Extremist Insanity: 234 Nigerian Girls Kidnapped from School.

I don't usually bother to write about fresh news or international events with which I'm not familiar.  It's way too easy to just be dead wrong about everything.

Sometimes spreading the word of a relatively unknown but heinous crime is more important than being right on every detail.  Apparently, ten days ago, 234 girls were abducted from a school in Nigeria by an extremist Muslim religious group called Boko Haram.  From what the media and wikipedia say, their name can be translated as "western education is sinful", and their main self-appointed duty is to go around their area of Nigeria intimidating and punishing Muslims and others who aren't quite rabidly Muslimy enough for their taste.

There hasn't been a whole lot of media coverage on this...the first I heard about it was a facebook link to an article on a blog.  Please check out the following links.

This is a far more important issue, both to the victims and their families, and to the human race as a whole, than any of the idiot crap I've seen in the local and national media in the last few days.  Our "news" media is too busy wondering about the exact quantity of racism in things some assholes say and calling that "awareness" and "social justice issues", while young women are being kidnapped by the hundreds for daring to seek a bare minimum of the rights we all share in the West. Fuck that shit.  Some issues are great for fodder for lazy bloggers like myself to mull over, not for news organizations to pass of as serious issues and real news, while ignoring huge events just because they are far away.

This is a real social justice issue.  This is a real political issue.  This is a real issue for the religious and the non-religious, male and female, liberal and conservative or whatever else.  All of us.

There is of course an online petition to raise awareness of the issue.  It won't bring any victims home, but it can help get the word out and increase public pressure for the Nigerian government to do something other than pretend it isn't happening.  If there's something you can do, even if just spread the word, please consider doing it.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

This Post Will Not Be Popular. Media Bullshit Outrage 101

I certainly hope I don't lose my few readers and web friends by writing this.  If you are an intellectually honest and open-minded bunch, I don't think I will.  But those are the risks, I guess.  Maybe I should have titled this piece "Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as Liberal Bias".  

So, you're sitting there asking yourself what the new media outrage of the day is, and then here comes anti-federal government, free-grazing, armed stand-off performance artist and loudmouth Cliven Bundy to liven up your weekend!

While addressing his supporters about general standoff news, he took a segue into other general topics that small government advocates sometimes talk about.  Here's the relevant quote, the longest quote I could find:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said in comments quoted by the New York Times. He recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.”

 “And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

OK....I am not going to defend racism or Bundy's lack of tact, his behind-the-times lingo,or his bizarre need to take the conversation in that direction.  He may well be racist scum, like everyone thinks.  But the point is, none of us really know...but we're all ready to believe the worst the media can swill out for us.  Let's take a more skeptical look, hmmmm?    

I can't help but notice that some of the reports I've seen on the web have been edited down to just the two sentences containing "abort" and "slavery", sometimes with the "negro" sentence tacked on.  Or blog posts will mention the words but won't do a full quote.  In that context, and with the normal "good liberal" assumptions properly made, it looks very much like he is just an old racist fool a full century or more behind the rest of us.  But if you look at the actual content of his words, instead of the buzzwords, you might notice that he is not actually blaming black people for anything, and not defending slavery at all.  He's using slavery as a "bad thing" to compare to modern welfare dependence, and blaming the poverty of blacks on welfare dependence brought on by failed policies. 

In fact, he's pretty much doing a clumsy paraphrase of the same arguments made by conservative journalist and activist Star Parker,  and PhD economist Thomas Sowell, who also believe that welfare dependence and bad government programs have done more damage to the black community and all poor Americans than most anything else in the last century.  
Of course, since they are both black, educated, and successful, they will never be called out for their horrible terrible "racism", even though they make a living studying and publishing books and giving talks about those very issues and often saying essentially the same things. And if they are criticized, it certainly won't be just so it can be used as a tool paint them as barbaric throwbacks and silence them on a totally unrelated matter.

But painting Bundy as a crazy racist (while getting a great media attention bump in the process), and by association drowning out other issues he's involved with, is just about the only real reason for Bundy's statements to be considered "news".  Thomas Sowell and Star Parker have been singing this tune for decades, and moderate to left-wing media not only do not cover it at all, ever, but do their absolute best to ignore their very existence.   Even if click-bait is the only goal, and not silencing him on other issues, it is still a dishonest presentation, not any kind of reasonable journalism.   

Now, as a skeptical person, there are other matters of context.  The LDS church (of which Bundy is a member) has had a bad history with race relations in the past.  

From wikipedia:

From the mid-1800s until 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) had a policy which prevented most men of black African descent from being ordained to the church's lay priesthood. This resulted in these members being unable to participate in some temple ordinances. Though the church had an open membership policy for all races, relatively few black people who joined the church retained active membership, despite reassurance that the ban would one day be lifted when "all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the priesthood and the keys thereof"
Even here, the relationship was complicated by time and circumstance.  In the early days of the LDS, at least two black men became Mormon Priests, and the Church was officially anti-slavery.   Apparently Brigham Young, the second great leader of the church, was a racists bastard and promoted it in the church, a policy which to some degree stood until 1978.  However, now, there are over half a million black Mormons.  I can't count how many times I've seen the tropes about LDS and racism on liberal or atheist-oriented websites, but it's not really so simple, is it?  And even if most Mormons really are racist, what does that tell us about a specific Mormon?  Not much.  Bad skepticism and bad thinking could lead one to believe that every Mormon ever might as well be in the KKK.

Mormons and other conservatives, particularly white conservatives, are accused of blatant racism all across the media anytime they open their mouths about anything to do with race, no matter what they say.  And if a racial issue comes up and they are silent in order to avoid accusations, then accusations of promoting racism by not speaking out are leveled, and racism is still assumed no matter what they do.  The only way conservatives can avoid these accusations in the media is by immediately forgetting their principles and turning into a progressive liberal, or by being black themselves, in which case they will simply be ignored.

The whole media process that we see every day when it comes to race issues, and the assumptions made of whole classes of (white) people, and the ignoring of black conservative voices....well.... all that seems kind of racist to me.   But hey, I'm just a guy who pays attention and thinks about things, rather than just reacting to what I want to hear.  

Being a fairly liberal guy myself, I can imagine someone thinking...why are you even bothering to write about this crazy asshole?  The answer is:  Of the many things that get under my skin, one of the worst is other well-meaning, generally honest, open-minded, liberal people making media noise by lying or distorting appearances in order to give the screaming monkey idiots on the internet something else to cry about.  There's still racism in the world, we don't need to invent any for political purposes, career advancement, or ambitions of censorship.  

But that's just my Buck-oh-five on the matter.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Update, a Bit of Local Atheist News, and my thoughts on it.

As my few readers have probably noticed, I haven't posted anything in two months.  I've been quite busy with real life, and I've also been doing a lot of thinking about the direction (or directions) I want to take my online activities.  I will have a new post about that soon, but don't worry, I'm still the same honest, godless, slightly lazy curmudgeon I've been for years.
  While I've been on a blog sabbatical, a city government in my area has made the news in a situation involving secularism and church/state separation.  Of course, the nearly omniscient Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, beat me to it while I was napping *ahem* fapping *AHEM* ....working a lot, catching up on real life, and seriously considering what I want to do in the future.  He did a great basic write-up with all the relevant facts and links.

  On both my own blog and the comments I leave elsewhere, I tend to focus more on personal thoughts about culture and religion, or larger national and internet news rather than local stuff.  Frankly, not much really exciting stuff happens here, and when something does happen, most of the internet knows about it before I do.  The only things I get the scoop on are local earthquakes.

  I remember hearing last year that Pismo Beach was being sued by the Freedom From Religion Foundation over sectarian Christian invocations at city council meetings, but instead of sitting down and writing an inflammatory essay, I promptly shrugged my shoulders and had a beer. Although the Pismo Beach city limits are all of about a mile from my apartment, I don't live there, I don't go to their city council meetings, I have a busy day most days, and I just couldn't be bothered to give a shit.

  But I am glad that someone cared enough to challenge the policy.  Let me explain why.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Philosophical Question: What Is One of My Most "Cherished Beliefs", and What Would It Take to Change It?

Justin Vacula asked a question on his Facebookpage today.  He does that a lot, and I like that he does, 

because he asks good questions.    The question today was:

What is one of your most cherished beliefs?  Under which circumstances, if any, will you change it?

I've been doing some reading lately on various points of philosophy, especially Free Will(or the lack thereof), so I decided to share one of my cherished beliefs that has to do with that subject.

I'm pretty comfortable with doubt, so I don't have a lot of cherished beliefs for which I cannot find enough evidence to at least tentatively justify the beliefs.  
However, at the moment I am somewhere close to being a compatibilist on the issue of free will, or at least rejecting the current concept of Hard Determinism as a position on what we can say for certain about various aspects of the question of free will.

I think the current state of determinism suffers flaws similar to those which plague solipsism. They are not necessarily flaws of reasoning, but flaws when trying to apply that reasoning to the reality we experience.  Philosophy or reasoning alone cannot determine the truth or falsity of solipsism. Our minds, a bundle of nerves, or a computer program may be all that exists, but it cannot be proved by reasoning one way or the other. In any practical matters, we must use empiricism and our experience as a guide. Our experience shows us evidence that the world, other people, and history of other people and objects exist. If we do not use our experience and some form of empiricism to navigate the possibly non-existent world, then our minds, the only provable thing according to the solipsist, would cease to exist.  Empiricism, based on my mind's experience, tells me that if I truly act as if my mind is all that exists, I will soon die of starvation, or get hit by a car, or whatever. It may all be "in my mind", but it's still "game over". 

I think arguments for hard determinism, logical determinism, and lack of all free will suffer from similar problems when put in a real-world context. They cannot be proved or disproved by logic or reasoning alone, and they also go against the lived experience of ...well, just about everyone.  Despite what some people may believe about free will, I have never, ever met anyone who actually ACTED as if they have no free will(maybe they're not free to? Maybe I'm not free to perceive it as such?) If, like the world and other people are to the solipsist, free will is an illusion, I don't think it is possible to uncover the illusion with reason alone. We do not have a full inventory or understanding of the universe, all causes, or even our own minds, and I think we would have to have such before we could eliminate all possibility of free will.      

My own experience, and my observed experience of others, shows me some evidence that we have at least freedom of action if not freedom of motivation, and I can't even rule out freedom of motivation completely. I am not a dualist. I accept that I am my body and my mind as one being, both dependent on matter. But that still doesn't rule out all possible sources of some useful form of free will. It makes just as much sense to say that maybe we, through no original free will of our own, have evolved the capacity for free will, the ability to partially control our minds from within, in a similar way we have evolved the capacity to control our bodies, our environments, etc. I don't think that logical determinism(the entire future is determined and therefore no form of free will exists) can be shown to be true without complete knowledge of the universe, including any first cause, and a complete knowledge of the nature of life and existence.   

But the existence of Free Will is not the "cherished belief" I hold.  As with solipsism, I cannot prove or disprove free will, and it is therefore a tentative belief on my part that simply makes sense to me given my experiences.

The "cherished belief" I hold is that people who state with (often disdainful) 100% certainty that the universe and all existence is completely deterministic and that free will can not possibly exist, based only on their philosophical speculations that have no more empirical evidence than anyone else's, are not necessarily honest seekers of truth, but are instead just a bunch of smug cunts trying to look smart. 

THAT is the cherished belief I hold, and I am not yet sure what circumstance or evidence would convince me to change that cherished belief.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My Answers to Atheist Revolution's Big Questions, Part 4

In this post I will give my answers to Question 4 of the six Big Questions that Divide Atheists from Atheist Revolution.  I have covered Questions 1-3 and Question 5 in previous posts.

4.  How tolerant should atheists be of diverse ideas within our own community and those who hold them? Some atheists are interested in purging the community of ideas they find unacceptable (e.g., conservative political views); others believe that there is strength in diversity and that our community is big enough for those holding what may be unpopular views to be included (i.e., "big tent" atheism). I'm inclined to include much of the Atheism+ (and Freethought Blogs/Skepchick) debate here because much of it seems to boil down to whether we must chose a single ideology (i.e., liberal politics married to third wave feminism) and banish those who do not agree with it from our community or accept others who might have some different opinions.

I had already skipped ahead to answer Question 5, "What is the role of skepticism in atheism?" before answering this one, because skepticism for me is foundational to my other views.  I can't reliably decide what ideas are good or bad without skepticism.  But, while there have already been individuals and groups who have tried to "take over" organized atheism,  I am not being asked what ideas should rule, or be allowed to lay claim to "atheism" as a social force, but rather the opposite question- what ideas should we, as a group tolerate?  In short, are there any ideas so obviously wrong or vile that they should result in some kind of expulsion or disavowal from all other atheists?

Jack's own answer to his question can be read here:

I think he sums up all the issues quite well and reasonably, especially from the point of view of am atheist secular activist.  My own answer is a little more personal, and has more to do with attitudes and social expectations among public atheists rather than successful secular activism.  

When faced with social issues relating to the politics and ideas of differing groups, my first response is always tolerance.  At the very least, I believe people who say that they base their views on reason are obligated to give a fair and open hearing to differing views, instead of simply dismissing them based on one's previous beliefs and prejudices.  And for all the talk of "tolerance" I've heard from progressives and liberals in the atheist community, I have to say:  Atheists as a group, particularly some of the progressives, are not very good at this, maybe no better than the fundamentalists we all criticize for intolerance and close-mindedness. 
  In the last three years, I have seen enough online atheist witch-hunts to give a good, long, ironic laugh to the Inquisitors of the Church.  And I'm not talking about atheists or skeptics who are going against settled science, or evolution, or falling for Pascal's wager, or other trifles or old-hat cliches, but about people who simply have a non-party-line position on emotional, politicized issues that are far from settled.  I do find it entertaining, if also predictable, that the people and groups who do want to install some kind of ideological gatekeeping in the atheist community, mostly "revolutionary" marxists, third-wave feminists, race-trolling activists, etc, are for the most part the people whose social ideas and political goals are based almost entirely on emotion rather than reason, who are notorious cherry-pickers when it comes to science and evidence,  who tightly shut their ears to anything they don't want to hear, and censor it if they can.  They constantly talk of tolerance while showing none themselves, appeal to science and skepticism while just as often eschewing both, and champion freedom of expression for some, while reserving for themselves the right to say who is too "privileged" to be allowed a voice.  It seems that no small number of people want to force all organized atheism and skepticism to be the sole property of self-righteous sociology clown-school messiahs and upper-middle class liberals who are so far out of touch with those they pity that it's ridiculous.  

No thanks.          

I don't think there is any need among atheists for direct or organized policing of ideas of any kind, other than that which individual organizations do for themselves, and individuals do for themselves.  The evidence I've seen shows me that as a group, atheists are more than able to decide what people and what ideas they want to be associated with, and that they will take steps to distance themselves if they deem it necessary.  I know I can handle this responsibility just fine on my own, and not only do I think it unnecessary to do as a group, I am automatically suspicious of anyone who claims to be willing or able to do it for me or the group as a whole.  If anything, I think many popular bloggers and media personalities take it too far already, constantly and heatedly disavowing people and ideas for purposes of drama and self-aggrandizement, or for political power-plays, instead of for legitimate discussion or debate.  

Part of the beauty, possibly even the main point of being public about atheism is the act of breaking free from irrational dogma and unnatural restrictions on knowledge, of reclaiming one's life and one's beliefs as one's own, instead of the group property of a society or a cult, or the possession of an all-powerful tyrant.  Now that such acts and attitudes are becoming more popular, some seem to think that we need to start electing Popes and establishing our own dogmas which which we can achieve some nebulous group goals or start building our atheist utopia(with the "right" people and the "right" dogmas in power, naturally).  Or at the very least, that we need to prune the trees, to rid our elite group of any who don't pass some kind of basic political purity test.  Some people seem to have got this idea into their heads, that the rejection of oppressive religions must automatically lead to whatever they see, through their limited perspective, as the opposite.   

Instead, I propose that we remember to value and celebrate our freedom and independence.  I propose that we embark on the next stage of this adventure of freedom, which is not establishing Holy rules and hierarchies, or grasping for social power, or following a herd so we can go back to feeling those powerful emotions that group solidarity so readily supplies to us mammals.  The next stage of the atheist community is not to re-create the flaws of our previous communities, but to move on and take responsibility for moving on individually, by simply and truthfully thinking for ourselves, in public, out in front of everybody.  As in the scientific endeavor, I believe that this process of independent thought and honest debate, performed openly and publicly, will do much more for us, as individuals and as a group, and eventually as a society, than any political policing or pissing contests.