Friday, December 16, 2011

It's Official : Hitch Did Not Convert

Religion has often been a crutch for the hopelessly weak and pathetic.  One of the many claims that I've heard so many people make is that people who were previously not religious declare suddenly the existence of God and convert on their deathbed.  Every creationist at some point or another has claimed that Darwin converted to Christianity on his deathbed...  Something which is known to be untrue.  I've had people claim to me that Einstein converted from Judaism to Christianity on his deathbead, which is funny since Einstein was essentially only a Jew by descent, and anything he said on his deathbed can't possibly be known because he is on record as having said it all in German...  and none of the attending doctors or nurses understood enough German to decipher it.  Richard Dawkins quipped at one point that he would put a tape recorder by his deathbed to ensure that nobody mistakes what he says.

Christopher Hitchens died last night of complications from his esophageal cancer.  He did not convert.  He did not call out for any god's help.  He did not accept anything supernatural right down to the very end.  He laid down his final "Hitchslap" with that.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kalam Defense Showing More Failure (part 2)

If you missed part 1 wherein I deal with the premises of William Lane Craig's favorite argument, here is the link to that part --

Link to Part 1

In a generic sense, part 1 is actually a sufficient stopping point because it simply tears down the validity of the premises on which it draws its conclusion.  When all your premises have some faulty aspects, and the very construct on which you build your argument is inherently weak in the context and every means of support you offer is provably and demonstrably dishonest in all instances, you don't have much room to go any further.  But we are talking about William Lane Craig here, and like all forms of religious apologetics, the truth of any idea is not based on investigation and forward-looking progress and future gathering of information, but on the acceptance of revelation and the rationalization of previously existing preference towards specific brands thereof.  No amount of fact or reason could ever mean anything to these people.  Reason, logic, and evidence are things which are to be filtered through the lens of pre-existing belief...  and Craig says this rather clearly while simultaneously surrounding it in a veneer of loquacity that serves to mask the intrinsic anti-thought bias.

Well, the thing is that there's no need to stop there anyway.  You can tear apart and/or poke holes in every single idea that Craig has to offer from A to Z and back again.  There is not a single concept anywhere in the argument which holds so much as a molecule of water.  So in this part, I attack everything that follows after he draws his primary conclusion of the existence of causality for the universe.  This is where he draws a series of insane speculations declaring them to be definitive certainties in order to identify the cause as a personal god.

For the sake of getting into this particular area, we have to assume the validity of the Kalam argument's assertion that the universe had a cause.  So at least for the sake of argument, I'll just take the first part of the Kalam argument as correct.  Even doing that, it leaves a wonderful example of how much of an abject failure William Lane Craig really is.  Even if you accept everything on the cosmological argument, where he goes from there is just a putrid pile of stupid.  And, yes, I'm putting it nicely when I say that.

Monday, December 5, 2011

We Have Trust Issues Here...

It's always a funny thing whenever you see religious people play the victim.  "How dare you nasty atheists bring facts into the argument?"  "It's so mean of you to expose the flaws in our thinking!"  Sure, there are those who apply the live and let live philosophy, but the religious ignore that fact that "live and let live" is a two-way street.  The standard excuse is of course, that being brainless intolerant and willfully ignorant assholes who make a point of marginalizing outsiders is part of their belief system, whereas atheism demands no such duty upon atheists -- which is ironic considering that these are often the same people who will purport that atheism is a religion.

Of course, you look at the facts, and you can easily find that atheists are the most hated of all groups.  Which itself is a bit of an oddity because of the fact that atheists aren't really a cohesive group in the way followers of a particular religion might well be, though there is some indication based on the test that the very existence of prominent literature like that of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al all count for some degree of perception .  There was a study performed at UBC recently which has been garnering a fair bit of press.  If you go by the news articles, the study says that religious people tend to vilify atheists to roughly the same degree as they do rapists.  Actually, if you read the study itself, atheists are slightly more distrusted than rapists, though the difference is not really statistically significant.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kalam Defense Showing More Failure

I came across a video a few days ago wherein a William Lane Craig fanboy collected a series of clips into an hour-long video attempting to refute established refutations of WLC's favorite argument, the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  The KCA is a modern re-jiggering of the old first mover argument, really, and all it really does is play with wording in order to mask the special pleading that it does for "God."  The cosmological argument is one that has been refuted absolutely and conclusively and without a shred of hope several hundred years ago, but for people of faith, facts are things meant to be denied.  It is old hat for religious apologists to be miles deep in denial and to brazenly lie about things and deceive the listeners, and Craig has this weapon of being able to coat his lies with a veneer of verbosity that makes him (and pretty much any believer who follows his apologetics) feel as if he's invincible enough to pretty much assert anything without ever having to actually explain himself.

I believe one can review much of William Lane Craig's content and realize that what he is is not a skilled philosopher, logician, or even an intellectual of any stripe.  He's a person who knows how to play around the format of formal debate in order to basically dodge the need ever to have to do anything.  But he can throw enough words into the system to make it sound as if he's made a point and then when there's enough of a word salad out there, he can throw in a bald, baseless assertion, and then say it's true for reasons he's already stated...  never mind that he never actually states them.  But the worst part of his responses to rebuttals is that he never takes on any of them.  He prefaces every response with a blanket insult to say that atheists are intellectual lightweights because they don't believe in talking snakes and global floods.  Of course, he doesn't actually draw anything from those pejoratives, so he narrowly avoids the direct application of an ad hominem.  But being that he has no actual evidence or facts or explanations to offer, it is of the utmost importance for him to belittle the opposition, else his own feigning towards making a point might be exposed for the pitifully thin shadows of thought they are.

Well, Mr. William Lane Craig...  turnabout is fair play, and there is one thing all religious apologists -- whether it is you, or Duane Gish or Zakir Naik or Babu Ranganathan or whoever it may be -- have in common.  And it is something you have demonstrated clearly and indisputably in every appearance I have ever seen you make.  When I say "every" here, I do indeed mean "every" without even a single isolated exception.  That thing happens to be a criminally egregious magnitude of outright intellectual dishonesty.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chris Langan's "theory"

Pretty much every person out there who tries to support creationism on some claimant scientific and/or logical basis have one thing in common -- all of them lie, distort, and make a mockery of reality in order to get the job done.  I've had a number of whirls at the joke that is William Demsbski, and I allude quite a bit to core failures he makes in the nonsense he publishes when I did my post about creationists and their screwy ideas about math.  Well, recently, someone pointed me to this fellow named Chris Langan.  I'd never heard of the guy until then, and I really didn't care.  Among the reasons given as to why I should consider taking what this guy says seriously is because his IQ has been tested as being around 195-210...  Ummm...  okay.

Well, I tried looking up what I could about the fellow, and actual examples were pretty sparse.  I did find a rather dismal performance on 1 vs 100...  a show I had never even seen prior to this, but whatever.  It's not really fair to judge someone's intellect based on knowledge of trivia, as it is called 'trivia' for a reason.  But I think it is also worth mentioning that even if I am to take his intellectual capacity at face value, that doesn't really serve in any way to validate anything he has to say.  So already, the fact that the man's work was suggested to me on the basis of what can effectively be called an invocation of the argument from authority fallacy does not bode well.

Anyway, the so-called "theory" I was pointed to and suggested to read (by someone who had not read a word of it himself, of course) was something that Langan calls his "Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe" or CTMU.  To be honest, I've yet to completely read through this work, as even a small section reveals massive wrongness within.  I guess I can probably agree with the theists on one thing, though : This work may well be the very best that theists can offer.

... and it's still eminently moronic.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Idiocy worn on the sleeve.

For a long time, many people in the atheist community, myself included, have been denouncing many members of the Republican party, and especially of the extremist Tea Party nutjobs as being anti-intellectual.  It isn't exactly rare to hear them lie about science and particularly evolution.  It isn't rare to have them support the teaching of creationism in a science class.  It isn't rare for them to rewrite history to claim that Reagan brought income taxes to their lowest level ever or that the "Hoot-Smalley" tariff was created by liberals.  So often, they get on the backs of some of us for being too "elitist"...  as if that's a bad thing.  Is it necessarily wrong for people to want the best of the best that the country has to offer...  the most eminently competent individuals to be the ones in the seats of power?  If I'm to elect a person who is to represent the needs of the greater good, wouldn't it be a decent idea to actually have someone there who is better equipped than Joe Six-pack to do the job?  I don't particularly care if the guy is such an asshole that I'd not dare make small talk with him over beers.  Elitism isn't just not bad; it's in every way the correct attitude to have when it comes to picking your leader.  Oh wait... that's an elitist thing to say, isn't it?  Big fat hairy deal.  Roll over and die if you think the laws of the land need to be decided upon by someone with no greater brain-power than the average person.

So, there have been a number of  Republican debates already, all of which showcased various brands of insane stupidity...  and a few pro-stupidity.  Then Rick Perry dropped this gem.

Friday, October 28, 2011

In search of Scientific Journalism

There are very few cases out there of science in the media which I can actually take as reliable.  Those of you out there who have read some of my earlier rants know how badly I wanted to eviscerate the fools who wrote about DCA and cancer treatment.  There is a general trend I find when it comes to science stories in the mainstream media.  They tend to be obscene scare stories, or stories of outrageous new breakthroughs.  Occasionally, you get something about strange occurrences or weird anomalies, but they are pretty silent entries on the back pages and nobody ever really remembers them.  The stuff that makes the front page are either stories that say how terrifying something is, or stories that say how amazingly wonderful something is.

Your iPhone could be giving you brain cancer!  But acai berry cures Alzheimer's!  The Large Hadron Collider will cause a black hole to form in the center of the Earth...  and they predict that it will happen on December 21, 2012.  Make sure to stock up on chocolate and red wine, because they will prevent all illnesses with their "essential" flavonols.  Don't you have a flavonol deficiency?  Well, it shouldn't bother you anyway, because every vaccine you take is full of poison!

It amazes me at times when you see a news program where someone will have a doctor interviewed, who has the benefit of decades of research, large-scale data, longitudinal studies, and scientific development on his side...  and then they will ensure that his time on air is shared with some horseshit peddling activist whose knowledge of medicine lies somewhere in the realm of a tapeworm's understanding of quantum mechanics...  or maybe even as poor as Michele Bachmann's grasp of anything that happens to actually be true.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Never say "Spiritual"

I get a whole lot of garbage laid before me by loads of people out there.  Unsurprisingly, religious nutcases dominate.  Most all of them are certain that everybody else is just following some false religion and that their particular belief is really The Truthtm.  And then there are those who feign a position above all that, and say they have all the "strengths" of religious belief and none of the weaknesses.  I'm talking about those who refer to themselves as "Spiritual."  These people act as if they've found some sort of all-encompassing uber-nebulous philosophy which envelopes the body of comfort-inducing religious tomfoolery and still maintains the open-mindedness that is a categorical requirement of rationalists.

I find these people to be just another brand of fatuous nonsense breeders.

The problem isn't just that "spiritualism" deals in spirits, souls, dualism, karma, and other such nonsense.  It's that the condition that we call being "spiritual" is little more than a ham-handed mechanism by which to insert any sort of metaphysical claim you could possibly imagine and treat as equal to any other idea regardless of whether it falls under the categories of the rigorously supported or the moronic claptrap of the first degree.  Spirituality is one of the many manifestations of the price of open-mindedness that Mark Twain once quipped about.

... The kind where your mind is so open that your brain falls out.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Are they really that stupid?

About a year ago, I came across an example page out of a "Christian Science" textbook.  To be exact, it was a textbook published by Bob Jones University expressly for use by Christian homeschooling parents.  This particular page scan was actually a margin note/caption about the nature of electricity.  Here, you can see the actual scan from BJU's great and wonderful 4th-grade level "science" textbook.
There are just so many things wrong with that... where do I begin?  Oh yeah!  About the same place I begin with Bill O'Reilly's insane argument that the tides are an unexplained phenomena!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Wherein I cite a different problem.

Not that long ago, I brought you a ridiculing look at WorldNet Daily's hilarious review of the film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  That review of the review can be seen again by following the blog link here -- Worldnuttery on Film Once Again.  Well, at the time, though, I had not actually seen the film.  Obviously, the first time I ridiculed one of WND's reviews, I had seen the film -- obviously, I would have considering that I worked on it and have my name in the credits.  This time around, I only got around to seeing the film much later...  and of course, for free (one of the perks of working in movies is that people actually share their stuff for review ...  It's SOCIALISM!!!)

Well, they had a rather laughable complaint based on the absence of a "Monkey Fall" and a "Monkey Moses" leading the "Monkey Jews" out of Egypt followed by a "Monkey Jesus" being crucified to absolve all "Monkey sins."  Okay, not quite, but pretty close.  Well, I had no problem with any of that...  or the lack thereof, to be precise.  The idea of a mother chimp being protective of her young is hardly a shock, nor is it in any way a misrepresentation of how actual apes would behave.

No, you're talking to the Grumpy Anti-theist here.  Overall, I rather liked the film, and I liked how it tied into the original series.  The space travel aspect of the film looked on the surface like a meaningless detail, but it actually serves to explain how the first film even happened, making this a nice prequel that wraps things up with a bow.  Tack on little niceties, like a reprisal of the "damn dirty ape" line from the original Charlton Heston flick, and you get something quite entertaining.  My only issue with the film is the way science is represented.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Are you against happiness?

Seriously?  I mean...  the "angry at god" thing wasn't enough?  I get questions that suggest I want people to be miserable?  I wonder if people just lash out because I'm proverbially pulling the beard off of the guy in the Santa suit or they simply don't get the point of being a rationalist.  It's not about happy vs. sad; It's not about hope vs. despair; It's not about moral vs. immoral; It's most certainly not about religion A vs. religion B; It's about fact vs. fantasy.  That's it.  There is nothing more to it than that.  I don't speak ill of religions because they do not occasionally teach otherwise valuable lessons;  I speak ill of them because they are fundamentally untrue, and believing that they are true is a bad thing that leads to other bad things.

I don't care how much your religious beliefs comfort you.  I don't care how big a difference Jesus or Sai Baba or Zarathustra or whoever has made in your life.  I don't care how happy you are to belong to some community of deluded psychopaths.  I don't care what sort of hope it brings you to believe in some divine form of justice.  And I certainly don't care about the sincerity with which you hold those beliefs.  None of these are important when establishing that any of these things are in any way true.

I refer to a quote by Penn Jilette on the matter --
"Believing something sincerely, without finding out if it is true, is actually a little worse than lying. It shits on the very idea of truth. To lie, you have to understand how to find out the truth, and then choose to fake it. To be sincere, you don't have to know anything. You just say whatever makes you feel good, and spin in smug circles in your tiny, fucked up little head... happy as long as you're true to yourself. In other words, sincerity is bullshit."
Well, I use that quote specifically to point out the irrelevance of any depth of belief.  I am a rationalist for a simple reason -- It is inherently better to be consistent with reality than not.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Impossibility of the Golden Rule

Almost every religion, every belief system, every moral code has some version of the Golden Rule.  The most well-known phrasing of it, at least in the English language is in the form of the phrase, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  I don't think you can find anybody, short of an outright sociopath, who would consider this a bad lesson.  Any decent human being would be all too glad to say that believe in such a moral precept; and as moral principles go, it's actually a pretty simple and elementary rule that seems as if it should apply anywhere, any time.  Also, most any honest person would accept that they probably don't apply it as well as they should, even though they also simultaneously believe that they apply it more effectively than they actually do.

The strange, and also sad, aspect of this is that people should not really be considered all that unusual for failing to apply the Golden Rule.  Surely, the majority of people wish they could apply it, but they really don't apply it all too universally.  It is not simply that it is difficult, but it is actually absolutely impossible...  at least for human beings.

Monday, September 12, 2011

If Only I had a Nuclear Arsenal...

...  I'd nuke every last ultra-conservative district.

After seeing the sorts of things that people had to say in the recent Republican debate, it is pretty well clear that if this is what conservatives really want out of the leader of the nation, then there is no place for them on this Earth.

Mitt Romney was leading the party for quite some time, and while I have my problems with him and his magic underpants, he is, in an odd way, more centrist than the liberal-by-affiliation-only Barack Obama.  Romney is willing to be anything and take on any sort of role in order to gain and hold onto the presidency.  If the populace swings conservative, he'll play conservative...  if he needs to be liberal, he'll be liberal.  If he's in a crowd which wants gay marriage, he's in support of it.  Another day, he'll be in a crowd which is anti-abortion, and he'll talk endlessly about the sacredness of any "potential life"...  while also remembering for another day that he's technically murdering thousands of "potential lives" every time he scratches his nose.  Well, simply put, he's the epitome of the phony politician.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

There is Only Nonsense in the Stars

I felt the need to put this up as I spent some time expressing my unbounded grumpiness when I saw this post on a mailing list at my office.  For the sake of protecting the innocent, I will leave out the original post and merely describe its message, posting only my rant.

Basically, a certain person had recommended a particular astrologer who offers his readings for an apparently reasonable fee (about 35% less than the average astrologer)...  and described this individual as a "No-Nonsense Astrologer."  Now, to those of you who have a little understanding of my character...  I think you know how I would react to such a description.

Of course, I prefaced the message by pointing out that there was no way I could ever possibly restrain my boundless anger at such a proposition.  What follows is the bulk content of the rant.  Removed are only the points where I preface the message by pointing out the necessity of it, and the closing statements which were more specific to the content of the original post.  The rest is entirely generic in where I eviscerate the very concept of astrology itself, and could apply to any message about recommendations thereof.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eat The New Thing!

Being a die-hard dogged rationalist means that just about everything that human beings do gets on your nerves. It also means that someone is always trying to convince you that their way of thinking is more correct than whatever else other people do.  Diet is an easy target for this sort of warring because practically nobody has a proper diet, and because the ideas of what constitutes "proper" is very poorly understood, so it is easy to find new ideas and new thinking that supplants the old.

I get all sorts of things about diet fads and how this is the thing you should eat.  It's very easy to be fooled by it as well, because often times, there are real studies to back some of what people say about various foods...  the problem is that there isn't much understanding of those studies or even the scientific significance of their results by the people who spin fads out of them.  There are, for instance, studies that show that acai berry is a rich source of antioxidants...  so it becomes the new miracle food.  Problem is it ignores the fact that a berry which is rich in antioxidants is about as rare as a liquid that happens to be wet.

So I feel I have to rip apart at least one of the more current food fads that I keep getting requests and spam about -- that being, the raw food movement.  I don't think I have any limits to how far I can take this rant, but then, the same can be said about a lot of things.  Well, here goes...

The raw food movement is based entirely on partial truths and very limited understandings of food value.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Pitfalls of Rosy Retrospection

Among the few perks of working in films is that you occasionally get to see a handful of them for free, albeit in your office and not at a movie theater with popcorn and soda.  Recently, I got to watch Woody Allen's latest little doozy titled "Midnight in Paris."  Though the film is indeed set in Paris, and the key events are tied to the daily stroke of midnight, that's about the only extent to which the title really tells you anything about the story.  Besides the lovely jabs at Tea Party Republicans, there is a much more fundamental point being made and it is addressing a fallacy that definitely applies pretty well across the political spectrum.  It is one that I deal with a lot because it is also well-underlined in a lot of religious dogma as well.  It's the fantasy that there existed any sort of golden age in the past.

In the movie itself, there exists in the protagonist's mind, a fantasy about the 1920s as a golden age of literature, art, and cultural development.  It only becomes apparent later on in the film the extent to which it was a fantasy.  Although it is easy to point fingers at conservatives who feign to miss the "good ol' days", we all have a tendency to look back at things in a different light in retrospection.

Indeed, there were times past which were comparatively more fertile in some particular way for some particular thing, but that is not the same as saying that those were better times.  But when you look at the past through rose-colored glasses, you aren't going to see every color in the scene...  there never were any good ol' days.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Earn a PhD in TV Astrophysics!

There are a lot of great educational programs on TV these days. Everybody is aware of the kids' stuff like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers et al., though when I was a kid, I particularly enjoyed shows like The Mechanical Universe. This show, for those who don't remember it, was structured to include segments of CalTech's 100-level Physics lectures, but mainly trended down mathematical derivations and a lot of the history leading up to how many "laws" of physics were discovered. When we're all grown up, though, it's easy to look back on it and see it as rather elementary... though seeing some of Jim Blinn's animations of visual derivations of Maxwell's equations, or inverting space-time diagrams even today is striking in its implied significance. Though, that's hardly the reason why I'm now working in the same field as Jim Blinn is. Interestingly enough, that work was done in an era when anything and everything was brand new, and though the majority of new developments nowadays are very incremental in their value and hardly revolutionary in any sense, what he did back then is fundamental enough to be considered pretty elementary today.

Leaving aside the crazy and death-sentence-earning assholery of Ray Comfort, Ken Ham, et al, when you take what the average person knows about evolution, quantum mechanics, astrophysics, biochemistry, and so on... it's most likely to be the kind of stuff they picked up watching random stuff on The Discovery Channel. There is nothing all too wrong with this, but it does beg the question of how closely people really listen. While many of the people who appear on such programs whether it's on Discovery, History, PBS, Science Channel, whatever, are all very capable and skilled scholars in their fields (History Channel's disgusting pandering to cryptozoologists and Ancient Aliens believers notwithstanding), the shows are still pretty much made for the layman or novice in science. What they tell you is more or less true, but not really a complete or thorough picture of how scientists in their respective fields actually understand the pertaining material.

The dark lining to this rainbow is that it makes it easy to make some simple misunderstandings, which ultimately present in the form of burning stupidity.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Worldnuttery on Film once again.

After having read WorldNet Daily's reviews of Kung Fu Panda 2 and X-Men:First Class, I was interested in seeing how they would handle a film like Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Considering that the problem they had with KFP2 was that it was basically too "Chinese", what with it being set in China, and all...  X-Men, of course, has, at its core, the very idea of genetic mutation leading to beneficial results, and that rings too deeply of "evolution", which flies in the face of all creationists.  So here comes a film which is a sort of prequel to original Planet of the Apes series titled 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes.'

The WorldNut reviewer, Drew Zahn, had surprisingly few complaints, but it came down to one core Biblical failing.  There's no tree from which chimpanzee Adam and Eve can eat nor were they ever really tempted by Satan.  Therefore, the movie is entirely wrong because the apes grow violent without the need for a fall from grace.

Yep.  That's it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Defiling Touch of a Samosa

The U.S. has a history of truly bizarre laws and incredible examples of frivolous lawsuits.  This is a country where laws exist to prohibit raping a dog underwater...  or firing a shotgun from a moving vehicle when hunting whales.  Wonder how it works when we're on dry land or when we're hunting baby seals instead of whales.  I'm sure there are a few people out there who remember the tale of the couple who sued a manufacturer of ceiling fans for failing to provide a warning label which said "Caution : Do not toss your child up and down beneath a ceiling fan while it is operating."  Apparently, we have a court system which says that people are not at fault for being incomprehensibly stupid.  We also have a weird legal system that tries to weigh feelings and emotions in terms of dollars and cents by having things like "pain and suffering" as factors in lawsuits.

An Indian restaurant in New Jersey named Mughal Express committed what I would honestly consider a rather egregious criminal act.  That crime was to charge $35.00 for a plate of vegetable samosas.  Seriously??!??  $35 is the price for a platter of veggie samosas?!  What are you putting in there that is worth $35?  I'm aware that it's for a large tray suitable for a large party, but still, I can't comprehend it being worth more than $10.  Do they deep-fry in truffle oil or something?

Oh wait...  that's not what they were charged with.  They were charged with the crime of making a mistake and sending the wrong type of samosas to the customer.   The group of 16 that placed the order specifically ordered veggie samosas (they were vegetarians) and got a plate of meat-filled samosas (most likely lamb-filled, but I don't have a source which clarifies this) instead.  This sort of thing happens all the time all over the place.  I, being a vegetarian as well, have frequently ordered something to find that -- oh, wait, this has chicken, or it has bacon, or it has ham, or whatever...  The restaurants always take it back and replaces it without incident, and once in a while, they also tell me my meal is gratis, or at the very least offer some other addition like a dessert or drink for free.  I'm perfectly fine with that.

But then, I'm a filthy unbeliever, so what do I know?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The "Natural" Trap

This is one of those areas that I've been hearing a great deal lately, and I think there's no end to the degree to which I find this brand of mythology annoying.  It's particularly funny because just about everybody "knows" it to be true, and this most disappointingly includes those who have the background knowledge which indicates that they should know better.  It's the fallacy of believing that "natural" products are invariably better than "artificial" ones.  I wish I had a rope to tie people down to a desk and force them to read scientific papers and watch countless videos on biochemistry until they are stripped of this nonsense.

It's darn near impossible these days to find things that fall under the "health food" category that isn't labeled as "natural" on some part of the packaging.  Common supermarket products will be sure to tout their superiority on the basis of having "all-natural" ingredients.  It's well they do, right?  I mean, everybody knows that natural is always better than artificial... right?
Come now, you knew that was coming

Friday, July 29, 2011

Go get yourself some cancer!

I was recently reminded of an old argument I once came across in a discussion with a Young Earth Creationist.  It came up in the course of a discussion on the League of Reason forums regarding stupid things we've heard from creationists.  All the way from the public humiliation of Michele Bachmann arguing that global warming is fake because CO2 is natural or Bill O'Reilly "proving" that God is real by asserting that sunrise and sunset are things scientists have yet to explain...  to the neighborhood creotard who admonishes that Darwinian evolution can't explain rainbows.

What came up in the thread was someone who mentioned a New-Age Deepak Chopra type arguing with him that cancer is beneficial.  Before you think that I or the person who posted that entry into the thread happen to be straw-manning said quantum-consciousness-woo-woo-nutbar, the actual quote began with the statement in bold that cancer is beneficial.  Here's the original quote from the email from one ZelatorUK --
Cancer is beneficial, if we did not have cancer we would not live as long. When telomeres run out cells have 2 choices, suicide or bypass the procees and get immortality (Cancer). If all the cells chose suicide there would be a massive hole and chain reaction because other nearby cells would have to reproduce faster and end up losing a lot of lifespan. Do some research, cancer is a natural process designed to prolong the survival of the system, sometimes it looks like its bad.
The person who received that was apparently attempting to actually teach the zealot a thing or two about genetics, mutations, etc. and got this little gem in the middle of a longer response.  The nature of our New Age-y woo-woo believer, though, was to connect that Deepak Chopra idea of consciousness being intrinsic in every cell in our bodies, and somehow that includes cancerous tissue which is apparently conscious and makes the "intelligent" decision to become cancer.  That's a completely different tack to it than what I had come across, but in response, I mentioned my experience with a Young Earth Creationist who argued about cancer being a good thing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Honesty in Prayer?

At one of the Nascar Nationwide Series races, there was a rather interesting prayer recited by a Pastor Joe Nelms.  Now, normally, Nascar has this stigma of being "redneck" racing; partly because of its rum-running history; partly because it's always on a simple loop track; but mostly because of the audience and behavior it often tends to draw.  Personally, as lowbrow as Nascar often appears to be, I find you could do a lot worse.  Look at drag racing -- it's a straight line for a 1/4 mile.  Nonetheless, the pre-race prayers do not help the image at all; especially not when it includes some of the standard imagery of Bible Belt crazies.

However, Joe Nelms' pre-race prayer made me wonder whether he's not really all that crazy.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

For once, I agree with a Christian apologist

I know...  that title might scare you a bit.  Well, the agreement is not quite what you might think.  The apologist in question is none other than Josh McDowell.  McDowell's brand of apologetics is actually quite popular, partly because the level of intellectual effort put into them is so utterly superficial.  Nothing he writes about in his books has been researched to any degree beyond maybe just looking at some stats on Wikipedia (more likely Conservapedia) with the sort of obscene lack of intellectual rigor that can well be defined as status quo for the average fundie down the street.  I'm sure that's what makes him popular as well, seeing as how he puts so little thought into his work that it makes it easy to grasp for the average religious person who also puts similarly little thought into the matter of belief.

In any case, where I agree with him is his current assessment of what constitutes a threat to Christianity.  Just as lack of thought, lack of knowledge, lack of intellectual rigor are rife throughout the attitudes of all apologetics, the presence of though, information, intellect, etc. all serve to work against faith.  So what's the greatest threat to Christianity?  Why, it's the Internet, of course!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Creation School of Economics

It's often easy to point out the vile and twisted evils of fundamentalism and theocracy in the Middle East.  After all, these are places where the law is decided in accordance with the ~1400-year old dictates of an illiterate pedophile warrior charlatan who fooled an entire culture into believing he had some sort of connection to the divine.  Yet for all that I can say to condemn every Islamic nation ever to be conceived, it's hard to ignore theocratic nutbars a little closer to home.

Prior to living in the generally liberal environment that is Silicon Valley, I'd worked and lived in Texas for a little over 2.5 years, about half of which was in Houston and about 1 year in Dallas.  While my brief experiences of San Antonio and Austin both showed some promise for the state as far as having the semblance of brain power within the populace, I did find that my longer time in Houston and Dallas both demonstrated that the state of Texas can be quite the hotbed of religious lunacy and uneducated idiocy.  This is the place where I had an employer who believed that octagons have five sides, and threatened to fire anybody who disagreed... too bad he couldn't fire every dictionary ever made.  This is the place where I came across an activist group who petitioned the schools to remove heliocentrism from school science education and replace it with the "Biblically correct" geocentric model.  Thankfully, it kind of fell apart when they started to try and blame 9/11 on Stephen Hawking (slight exaggeration, but not far off).

Well, the state's current serving governor, Rick Perry, does not disappoint.  He brings forth further examples of how reprehensible right-wing reactionaries would love to conceive a nation on the proposition that a separation of church and state is illegal and causes gay angel rape and baby-eating.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

To all creationists who think they know math.

You don't.
The next time somebody tries to claim that life is impossible by natural means and then quotes some absurd made-up probability, the indisputable fact is that you don't have a clue what you're talking about.

I recently saw a little letter-to-the-editor in a local free paper that used the crazy numbers mode of argument about the question of teaching creationism in schools.  Here's the letter.
Evolution is a doctrine built entirely on crazy speculation, and the only reason they have it in school is because scientists want to say that God is not science.  Yet, in order to teach kids to hate Jesus as much as the scientists do, they have to pose an impossibility.  The probability of life forming on its own by natural means is an astronomically small probability of 1 in 10 to the 700-billionth power.  That is equivalent to winning the lottery jackpot 100 billion times in a row consecutively.  That's just the straight math, plain and simple.  You can't argue with numbers.  And we teach this impossibility to kids as science?  Instead of the one truth in the lord, our God?  It's high time we stop this foolishness and show our kids the real truths of life and avoid driving our nation further into hellfire.
That was utterly classic.
I especially love that attitude of how you can't argue with numbers.  It's a common one, and one that lies in this sense we have that numbers are absolute and immutable and there is nothing we can say to deny their value.  When we see raw statistics, everything looks so solid that it seems like an undeniable fact.  Well, it doesn't work that way.  Part of good academic process is not just the numbers you get, but how you get them.  The method used by creationists, which largely involves forcible extraction from the place where the sun never shines is not admissible by any standards of rigor.

What follows after the jump is my response to the author of the previous letter.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Why [am I] so Angry at God?"

I have gotten this question so many times, I don't think I can overstate it.  "Why are you so angry with 'God'?"  "What do you have against 'The Lord,' your god?"  "What is your problem with 'God'?"  If I had a problem with someone who doesn't even exist, I don't think I'd be in my right mind anyway.  Though if you want to define "God" as the idea of a supreme being rather than the being itself, then that is something I have a problem with.

Well, far more than just a problem...  The very idea of a supreme being is entirely misguided on every foundational aspect of it.  It is not enough to say that creationists have provided me with no reason to believe it, but that they've even provided quite an abundance of reasons not to believe it.  Not only have they shown without exception that everything on which they base their belief is shallow at best and most often fundamentally untrue or unprovable, but that the very same belief leads down paths which are demonstrably harmful, and without merit.

I know a great number of people would like to point to all the wars and killing caused by religious conflicts (something that all religious people will try to argue back against by associating any murderous act performed by atheists to be specifically caused by atheism without demonstrating this chain of causality)...  but to me, this is not the most serious issue.  Partly because, even in an all-atheist world, we'll still have wars over resources and people who want power by illicit means.  Sure, we can also point out that ALL statistics of ALL developed nations show that a higher relative percentage of atheists within a reasonably large population is accompanied by lower rates of crime, lower rates of drug abuse, lower suicide rates, lower murder rates, lower teen pregnancy, lower divorce rates, lower obesity, lower school dropout rates, higher literacy rates, higher longevity, and probably a whole bunch of others I can't entirely recall off the top of my head.  Still, that's not really what I consider the most serious issue of all because they're effects rather than causes.

No...  to me, the biggest problem with the idea of God is that it allows just about anything to be a virtue or a vice.  It is completely without morality because it redefines good and evil in terms of obedient and disobedient.  It is entirely without thought and without remorse in anything.  The common virtue to all religions (parody religions like Pastafarianism notwithstanding) that has no place being considered a virtue is gullibility.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Value of Uncommon Sense

Einstein once said that "common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen."  I don't know that I'd put that fine a point on it, but the general idea is pretty accurate.  Let's first think about that term -- "common sense."  Specifically, the "common" part.  Common, as in everyday...  as in experiences we run across regularly and very often... things we might have dealt with so many times that it just seems like second nature...  things we know forwards and backwards and can just deal with again without having to put much thought into it.  How useful is that in day-to-day life?  I think most people would agree that it is pretty useful...  to say nothing of wishing they had more of it.  How useful is it in science?  A lot of people would still think it's useful...  a lot of people are dead wrong.  It's about as useless as things get in a scientific context.

A very common avenue of objection to a lot of scientific principles lies in an appeal to common sense.
Apparently, common sense is so rare in science, it's considered a super-power
Oh yes, we see it all.  The Intelligent Design argument consists entirely of arguing that "common sense" tells us that complexity is impossible by way of nature alone.  The global warming deniers tell us that "common sense" shows the Earth can't be warming if I see snow in my backyard in March.  Geocentrists say that "common sense" tells us that if the planet was moving, we'd all fall off (yes, I've had my tussles with geocentrists).  Anti-vaccine activists all say that it's just "common sense" that mercury is dangerous, so vaccines must cause autism.

All fine examples of how, when it comes to science, one should never ever defer to common sense.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How Would Inorganic Food Look?

Being someone who lives in the SF Bay Area, where there is some sort of rule that everybody has to be some sort of activist, it is no surprise that the organic food movement is very big out here.  I find it almost sad to say that organic nuts are probably in the majority in certain regions.  Along with those who argue that marijuana should be legalized, all cars should be electric, beer should always be microbrew, and Pat Robertson needs to die.  Well, let's focus on one brand of activism at a time.

I do find a number of the movements more or less agreeable.  Gay marriage support, for instance, is among those worthy of mention.  But there are certain ones which I can't completely get behind, and that's basically because they're built on foundational falsehoods.  The love affair with organic food is one of them.  It is, unfortunately, a house of cards with very little going for it, and much of what people believe about it is actually just plain untrue.  I'm just going to deal here with a few myths and misconceptions -- if I tried to attack all of them that I could find in detail, it would amount to a volume of books rather than a mere blog post.

If you're looking for the Cliff Notes version without bothering to read past the jump, the summary of it is basically this -- just about everything you normally associate with organic food is simply not true.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Idiocy of Supply-side

It is rarely surprising when you see some right-wing nutbar say something incalculably stupid.  The general M.O. of conservatives is to basically blindly repeat certain rules as some sort of absolute.  In general, the difference between people who lean liberal vs. conservative is not the set of values they have, but in how they prioritize them.  Liberals tend to value fairness and minimization of harm over other values.  Conservatives tend to value authority and purity above other values.  This is why the sort of blind adherence to rigidly defined principles trumps everything when it comes to Republican discourse.  That's why being deeply religious to the point of rejecting science is practically a requirement of conservative politics.  You have to reject something like science because it indicates progress and change, while religion is indicative of order and authority (as well as unflappable loyalty to that authority) -- things that conservatives value more.

When it comes to economic policy, it's hard to hide the fact that all politicians are basically self-serving greedy douchebags looking to profit through under-the-table activities which aren't entirely kosher.  The real factor, though, is in how they rationalize it before their constituency.  Doing that basically rests on pandering to those specific values which your voters prioritize.

The thing I hear most from conservatives and libertarians alike on economics (as the latter is technically fiscally conservative) is that there is an immutable relationship between taxation on the rich and a dearth of jobs.  When you simplify to that extent, you're doomed to be wrong.  The problem isn't so much with the idea that taxation on the wealthy and/or corporations affects jobs, but that the relationship is immutable and absolute.  This is where Republicans and, to a large extent, fans of the Austrian school of economics, basically have no hope of of being anything other than intolerable idiots unworthy of ever drawing breath.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

I've Seen Stranger Objections.

I'm rather accustomed to hearing from people who object to my sentiments.  Hell, you can't be a vocal atheist, and not expect at least some people to hate your guts.  Idle threats come all the time, but it's been many years since I've seen a Molotov hurled in my general direction.  Most of them are pretty typical in making the most absurd assumptions, and it is quite easy to tear these people down.  If they find themselves shaken by the demonstrable absurdity of their beliefs, then that's a good thing.  You won't ever grow out of infantile ideas if you don't realize the necessity of it.

There are always a few that lead down the path of some sort of appeal to emotion, as if such trifling games could ever work on me.  Upon my railing on tradition in Indian classical music, one particular individual, who admitted he wasn't all that knowledgeable about music, took umbrage with my railing against tradition on a universal level.  And while the idea of someone being in favor of tradition itself is nothing new, this correspondence took a different form than I was used to.  He said that I should feel ashamed of the incredible hypocrisy I exhibit in associating myself in any way with India (or at least one of its cultural components) while at the same time diverging so far in opinion from the nation's greatest hero.

That hero he was referring to, was of course, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.  Just as a clarification to my readers in America, that is his actual name -- a lot of people, particularly in the U.S., think "Mahatma" (great soul) is his actual name rather than a nickname.

I'm a bit surprised that he came up in that context because Gandhiji's position on tradition is not one that often gets associated with his name.  We tend to remember the passive civil disobedience, the railing against caste formality, the attempts to reconcile Hindus and Muslims, etc.  Nobody remembers much more, because we like to paint our heroes only in the lights that glorify their positive achievements.  I don't think many people remember his attitude toward black Africans, whom he considered quite beneath humanity.  Similarly, Gandhiji's attitudes about tradition are not usually one of the topics one hears about when he comes up in discussion.  Nonetheless, the fellow is correct in his assessment that I disagree with the "nation's greatest hero" on the matter of tradition.  I'm not going to apologize for that or ever pretend that just because Gandhi said it, it's therefore worthy of respect.

If that makes me no longer a Desi in your eyes, then so be it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Oh, ye sanctimonious agnostics!

There is no real shortage of religious people who turn up their noses at you with a holier-than-thou attitude.  Pretty much any of them are bound to take the position that all things good and fine and decent in the world is exclusively found through their beliefs, or at the very least, that the absolute pinnacle of goodness can only be found through the perfection intrinsic to blind obedience unto their purported divine edicts.  I don't think it should come as any surprise, then that there would be the "Grumpier" brands of adversaries such as myself considering the arrogantly high and mighty ultra-pompous windbags on the side of various religions...  to say nothing of the outright harm that religion brings to humanity.  That said, there are windbags among non-believers, too.  One that comes to mind after I conveniently overheard yet another religion conversation at yet another eatery, and it reminded me furthermore of some discussions of long-past.  Specifically, I'm speaking of the self-professed "pure" agnostics who argue that they take the most rational position.

To put it succinctly, you are 100% wrong.

The majority of self-professed "agnostics" really aren't even aware of the fact that agnosticism is mutually exclusive of theism or atheism, and does not preclude either one.  Because "agnostic" seems to imply neutrality, it sounds as if it is some sort of middle ground, but it really isn't.  It's a completely independent question.  This sort of confusion, though, I have comparatively little problem with because it's something that can be cleared up by educating someone.  My problem is those windbags who think that they somehow know better than all the atheists and anti-theists out there claiming that agnosticism is apparently the one true middle ground, and that it is the proper default position.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Indian Classical Music (Part 5)

See --
Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4a    Part 4b

Those who have read through any of my previous posts, any of my articles or papers I wrote in college on the subject, or for that matter, my much older and very disorganized rant on thePolygoners -- a site which I have not updated in well over a year (the next update will probably only come when I can unfreeze the research on my simplified modular BRDF equations) -- know my stance on tradition.  It's inexcusable, indefensible, and has no place in society.  If I were ever to form a religion of my own, I would definitely put into its "commandments" the edict that tradition is a sin.  So it should come as no surprise, then, that I can offer no assent whatsoever to any notions that exist within the classical music circles on the weight of tradition in music.

If you haven't read my stance on it, then let me just make it clear here once more :  Tradition is simply a flowery word that people use to justify what it actually is -- NOT THINKING FOR ONESELF.  I'm not at all sorry to say this, and it will never really be possible to overstate this.

Specifically as it applies to music, I can offer no agreement to the idea that tradition should be a filter of any kind nor should it inform any systematic concentration of boundaries.  This is ridiculous, and ultimately limiting to what should be an art form.  The weight of tradition is pretty well-cemented in Indian culture, to the point where it bleeds into everything and poisons the waters of life in every corner.  So it's no surprise that tradition has its talons gripping onto something like music.

Indian classical music has a history of not really being passed down in quite as systematic and theoretical a fashion as Western music often is.  One of the things that makes this difficult is the nature of how the music is expressed.  On a technical level, you can essay it with terminology of microtonal inflections, 22-tone just temperament, linear and non-linear glissandos, etc.  It so happens, though that people in India haven't really put that down to such a degree of formality, and approach the teaching in a hands-on sort of way where demonstration becomes the tool of choice.  Which in a lot of ways, is strange to me, especially for Carnatic music, which is extremely technical and is generally attended by very technically knowledgeable audiences.  Nonetheless, we don't tend to learn how to evoke the characteristics of raga X by going over the properties of raga X and going over development of those properties...  rather, we hear phrases performed by our gurus, and how they present both in freeform melodic essay of a raga (i.e. alapana) and in song, and draw patterns off of those that we pick up from these sources.  What this leaves in is a lineage of style, because we tend to learn a raga the way our guru taught us, and with the same example sources.

This, by itself, is not so bad, though, because it still leaves room for a variety of artists to sally forth carrying a variety of different style lineages.  The difficulty lies in how new ground is covered.  New ground and new exploration is done through the active study, in-depth analysis, as well as new compositions, and absorption of what other people do.  There are definitely artists who do this, particularly the major scholars of music like Prof. S. Ramanathan and Prof. S.R. Janakiraman, but there are relatively few who attain any sort of major acceptance on that basis (often, one has to attain popularity separately from that).  The weight of tradition and also benediction unto your guru and the fact that even those who do develop their own schools of thought are typically raised into music through a path that involves strict adherence to the way they are taught.  Irrespective of the potential to use that knowledge and advance further, there is a ballast there which is difficult to shed because it is so deeply ingrained in how one came to understand music in the first place.

In terms of the damage done by tradition, this is comparatively less significant, because artists are the ones affected, and artists are the ones capable of attaining the knowledge to break those shackles.  It is much more of a problem when it is the weight of tradition which blocks change, and it makes for some results which are, to put it mildly, disgraceful.

Monday, June 20, 2011

KFC redefines Irony

Kentucky Fried Chicken (or apparently now officially called KFC) has, on numerous occasions attempted to feign being health-conscious.  When Atkins was the hot thing, they did a commercial campaign featuring dramatizations which made it appear as if eating deep-fried chicken was the path to miraculous weight loss.  Well, I suppose one could grant that it is low-carb.  More recently, they tried to revive their grilled chicken product (which actually proved something of a commercial failure before) through a comparatively smarter advertising campaign.  Now, they've shown they're committed to finding a cure for juvenile diabetes.  How?  By helping to cause it!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Atheism in Stereotype

Back when I got my U.S. citizenship, one of the questions I was asked in my interview was whether or not I had any intention of bombing a location in the United States.  I wish I was joking, but yes, that did happen...  It was apparently too soon after 9/11 to regain their senses (only a mere 4 years!).  I asked if that was really a serious question.  After all, if I did have such an intention, would they really expect me to tell them?  Their response was that apparently some die-hard fundamentalists might well be proud of their anti-American intentions.  Proud enough to announce it openly.

Sure...  Whatever...

I mentioned that 1 ) It's incredibly stupid to even bother with that question, since you're banking on an unlikely occurrence 2 ) Profiling based on association to a single event and its perpetrators is just going to mess you up worse and make you more likely to miss a genuine threat, 3 ) I'm from friggin' India which doesn't fall into their supposed profile.  I got no reply to 1 and 2, but the reply I got to 3 was "It's all the same to me."  I sighed knowing that I was foolish to expect any better than that.  Given that they had apparently presumed that I was a Muslim Indian, I added however, number 4 ) That I was never a Muslim, but was born into a Hindu family and that I was an atheist.  The response I got was "What's that?"  After asking to make sure whether my interviewer was asking about "Hindu" or "atheist," I clarified that it meant "someone who doesn't believe in any god."

The response I got to that was ...  "That's a thing?"

The forms I filled out specifically had an entry for religious affiliation, to which I marked the circle labeled "Agnostic/Nonbeliever/Other."  Though since "Other" was in there, Hindu would also fall under that same tick, since it wasn't one of the options provided (though its illegitimate child, Buddhism, was).  Either way, the fact that the gov't paperwork acknowledged the existence of non-believers at least implied that this was ignorance on the part of one worker.

That was then...  How are things in 2011?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Jig is UP!!!

Yes, I got this email, too.  It seems that more than a few atheist bloggers and ranters got this email sent to us, and I buried my face in my palms so long, and so hard, it left a mark.  Oh, the stupid hurts so much, that I hope so seriously that it's a Poe.

Read it and weep, my fellow atheist brethren...  I know I wept with unbounded sorrow in the knowledge that there are very well certain to be people who are fully convinced by arguments of this level.  It's clearly VERY scientific given all the numbers and maths and junk.
Seriously, though...
Never mind that this assumes that every person on Earth has access to 2 liters of safe drinking water every day.  Never mind that it doesn't even seem to differentiate between potable water and water which is unsuitable for drinking.  Never mind that it excludes the level to which we can partly hydrate ourselves using other sources that store plenty of moisture...  like fruit.  Never mind that it assumes that when scientists say life has been on Earth for about 3.5 billion years, that meant human beings throughout all that time.  Never mind that those assumed 3 billion years of human existence also assumes a constantly maintained population around 6 billion people.

Did the supposed non-Poe creationist of sub-jellyfish intelligence who did this calculation think that people don't urinate?  That the water we drink is simply wiped out of existence?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

If only Ancient China was a Christian Nation

It isn't often that I look through WorldNet Daily, since reading it probably lowers your IQ by a few points each time.  This time, I ran across it for its review of the film, Kung Fu Panda 2.  Being one of the crew members, I can't help but be curious.  Being an atheist, anti-theist, and someone who knows the kinds of immeasurably concentrated stupidity that WND cannot help but spew out, being the fountainhead of creationist crockery that they are...  I really can't help but be curious how they're going to play this one.

For a few sentences, I thought I might be disappointed, as it started to look like a serious movie review.  The reviewer, Drew Zahn, offered a very valid criticism of the film in that the Furious Five's role is still relatively small (at least Jackie Chan got to speak a little this time), with Po and Tigress taking control of the show.  He also offers praise of the visuals, the humor, and the typical feel-good ending that all family-friendly films apparently must have.

Then came this little gem in the segueway of his review (emphasis added) --
The movie's messages likewise offer promise, but stray from the truth down some heavily New Age paths.
Oh, boy...  the truth...  and here we go.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Real Life Covers Real Life

It'd been a long time since I'd read Greg Dean's Real Life -- a webcomic that oddly enough, has very little connection to reality.  For crying out loud, it has a guy who reconfigures space-time within a localized field to make a small room several thousand square feet in altered space and travels light-years in seconds by warping the fabric of reality, and all in all, defying the laws of physics.

It does include a few instances of real life, of course...  The protagonists of Greg and Liz got married in the comic the same day the cartoonist got married in reality, and similarly so with Liz's pregnancy in the comic.  Then again, some of them were just plain off the wall, and then you realized that you knew a person just like that.  One of the oldest comics in the series (and also one of the earliest in color) involved Greg snacking on sticks of butter that had been dipped in melted butter...  I think it was a silly joke to signify his lack of cooking skills, but yet, I knew someone who actually did that.

Anyway, I got around to reading up on several of the comics that I'd missed, and went back through them, and ran across this one that really hit the bullseye.

Grown-ups can't be healed

Just over a week ago, I was sitting down at a cafe noshing on a tabouleh salad and at a table behind me, there was a guy I wanted to murder.  Okay, I'll rephrase that -- there was a guy at a table behind me who was preaching to his compatriots that he'd discovered that The ScriptureTM has healing powers.  Oh, the many mortifyingly moronic manifestations of mindlessness I did hear.  (Why yes, I do have a fondness for alliteration!)

Among the most fun of them was when he draw a parallel between the power of the Holy Spirit and the Marvel Comics character, Wolverine.  I later discovered that this man apparently believed that the Wolverine character was based on a real person who had historically been mistaken to be Bigfoot (but was in fact Hugh Jackman's father?), but more on that later.  The basic thesis this guy was pushing was that there's apparently some mystical energy intrinsic in the Word of God, and that it provides an unexplainable and unknowable power that can physically heal wounds, cure sicknesses, and raise the dead.  I guess he must have been taking lessons from Randy Demain.
Well, at the cafe, I was quiet about it, but a few days ago, I ran into the same fellow again, and this time, he was trying to sell others (myself included) on his claims rather than simply preaching to the choir.  Though I was eating my lunch, I was unable to keep my mouth shut at this point.  I will say, though, that I didn't murder the fellow.  I did better than that -- I ripped him to shreds to the point where he just plain walked away silently realizing he had no hope of getting anywhere.

That was a happy moment.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Feeling Over Fact

Deepak Chopra sickens me almost all the time.  Well, the feeling is mutual, or so I'm told.  When he posts things on his Twitter feed that he somehow caused some disastrous earthquake by way of the power of his meditation, it's easy to laugh it off and presume he's just babbling towards the goal of selling something.  If he was serious, I'd be glad to blame him for that rib I fractured during an earthquake not that long ago.  When he posts things on HuffPo about how skepticism itself is morally evil and bad for your health, I find myself unable to contain my anger.  Chopra values the emotional because he knows it is an easy avenue by which his brand of woo-woo hocus-pocus littered with criminal misuse of "quantum" terminology can be effectively sold to the unwashed masses.  Again, he's relying on the same old misrepresentation that every other anti-science moron spouts, but he goes to the further step that irrational thinking should be considered equally valid.

Even among the responses I got to my previous post on vegetarianism was that the emotional value is something that should not be discounted;  That because it is so fundamental to the nature of being human, we should seriously consider it and not brush it aside.  Now I'd like to know...  among any of the people who read that entry...  where did I actually say that?  I specifically spoke first about the moral arguments being divorced from reason.  I also got into the point about a simple fact that gets overlooked and how there is more than one way to address the issues.  Where the line gets drawn here is the end effect that listening to one's feelings on that matter could not have found you all the ways to skin a cat.

This is why I cannot possibly offer the slightest assent to Chopra's notion that emotional values and experiences should be considered equally valid.

There is a simple reality that I think everybody accepts with regards to emotions -- they are personal.  They are part of the fabric of individual experiences.  How this differs from rationality and reason is that reason does not try to write the description of truth on an individual level.  Because of this simple distinction, the two are not only different, but undeniably unequal.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reasons for Vegetarianism (which I hate)

People often make presumptions about why I'm a vegetarian.  Most of the time, these fall in the realm of religious reasons or the belief that I have some sort of indomitable affinity for animals, and can't picture gobbling up Fido or Mittens.  Well, I hate those types of reasons for going with vegetarianism, and it is rather saddening that those are mainstream reasons for it.  Now if I were totally honest, while I'm not vegetarian for religious reasons, it would be wrong of me to say that they had no role in the matter.

The simple reason why I'm a vegetarian is the same reason most people who eat meat eat meat -- I happen to like that type of food.  Now the reason I do say religion had some role in the matter is because I did grow up in a house of Hindu Brahmins, all of whom are strict vegetarians (not vegans, though.  They'd be considered lacto-vegetarians formally).  That meant I grew up most of my life eating no meat, no seafood, no poultry, and no eggs. Well, that's pretty much the role it played, to be honest.  I'd already found my own religion to be pure idiocy of the highest order and considered myself an atheist around the age of 5.  I thought science was far more magical than anything Vishnu could do (or more accurately, pretend to do, since he really only creates illusions).  But having that sort of food growing up meant it colored my tastes and preferences.  Those preferences still carry on to this day.  That's basically it.

That's also how it is for most people.  We're all most likely to have a preference for the food we grew up on.  The food which is familiar to us.  The food which signifies the comforts of home and childhood.  We're pretty well-conditioned to like something which we've generally liked for a long time.  That's perfectly fine, and at the very least, it's a reason based on food (which a lot of reasons for vegetarianism/veganism are not).  If people did not seek out that which is familiar to them, there probably would not be a market for things like veggie burger patties or vegan hot dogs.  It's really quite normal for a person to eat more of that which he/she likes the most.  Now in all fairness, that sort of decision, when carried out to a full diet plan, is only a really complete and full decision when you've actually explored outside your normal boundaries.

Friday, May 27, 2011

I Can Fix You...

Do you suffer from horrifying arthritis pain?  I've got a fix for that.  Are you overweight and out of shape?  I've got just the thing.  The stress of work and paying the bills got you down?  I can fix that!  Not enough time to cook a healthy dinner?  Well, now, there's a cure!  All you have to do is send me money!

There's always a product or service out there to help you with every ill.  Sometimes, when I fly, I take a nice load of amusement reading some of the absurd products in the SkyMall catalogs.  The best one I saw was actually labeled as a "Wireless Umbrella."  I had to wonder...  I can't recall the last time I ever had to plug my umbrella in.  I like dogs and cats as much as the next person, but seriously...  dog nail-polish?  A walker cart for your goldfish?  There exist minor products to solve the most inane problems, like a neck lanyard to hold a wine glass level while leaving both hands free.  Who the devil buys these things?!?!

Well, as it so happens, there's a plentiful array of buyers.  This is America -- where nobody does things to deal with their problems, but rather, they just figure there has to be a product or service to fix anything.  In fact...  let me rephrase that -- we NEED to buy a product or service to fix whatever we have.

I will go vomit now.

Monday, May 23, 2011

On Indian Classical Music (Part 4b)

See --
Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4a

...  continuing.

Picking up where I left off on the point of bhakthi in music, I felt I had to address first the connection between the music and performance and the the devotion to the imaginary divine.  The vocalist, Vijay Siva, had a counterpoint to my gripes as I addressed them in part 4a.  The point was that we cannot escape the fact that the music of India exists very much because of the religion, and that it owes its very existence to Hinduism.  I don't really deny that point in the sense that religion and the various aspects of Hinduism are precisely why Indian music is the way it is.  That is a different thing from saying that its merits exist in the frame of religion, or that devotion to the religion is an integral component to the music.  Indeed, one cannot escape the fact that so much of the lyrical content is devotional, but that doesn't mean music itself must be.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

No Armageddon, and nobody offered me a Mercedes...

Below are Garry Trudeau's series of Doonesbury comics relating to Armageddon.  These are in order from 16th of May to the 21st...  the final day before only the damned remain to face months of abominable horrors.  What's particularly nice about this, as is often the case with Doonesbury, is that the character who represents the fundamentalist nutjob is not really an exaggeration.  Many of the people who believe in the rapture already gave up all their stuff, wiped out their savings, and cashed out every investment they had, and stopped paying any of their bills, on account of their outright certainty that the apocalypse would come crashing down.  Not only are they certain that their claimant end would come, but that they would be the ones raptured away, because they have been washed clear of their sins while everyone else will and deserves fully to be damned to hell.  How very nice of them.  And so humble, too.

What adds to the hilarity of this is the depiction of the non-believer who somehow knew more about the scripture than the batshit insane religious crazy, and was actually competent enough to debate him in it.  It's a common conception among theists that atheists do not accept religion because their understanding of it is very shallow.  The reality is quite the opposite.  It's often because we do know it all that we don't buy it.  We have enough of an understanding of religion to understand what is so wrong with it.  And we tend to know it well enough that we can make a fool out of the average theist even if we were to make the same assumptions that they do.

How beautiful irony can be sometimes.  I have to say, though, that if any such idiot signed his car or some other valuable asset over to me "knowing" that I'd be one of the damned who would remain behind while he/she would be raptured...  you can bet I'd take it, and never give it back when they come to realize that their "knowledge" was complete garbage.  You'd deserve it for being the idiot that you are and for committing the unpardonable crime of having faith.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I hope my flight isn't canceled...

The wonders of Blogger maintenance updates...  Postings you made some time ago enter a state of limbo and then reappear as "not yet published."  So I'll edit it and bring it up to date.

So, I'll apparently be in L.A. during Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, so I'll have to post my contribution late.

Basically, on account of various hassles, I have to return the following day.  There's a small problem with that...  That's the day the world comes to an end, according to yet another Rapture prediction from yet another horde of Bible-thumping loonies who have not a single surviving cell of gray matter.  Well, to be exact, it's the day that the Armageddon begins, and then the universe will cease to exist 153 days after.  Yeah.  I think I'm more likely to die laughing than of any "second coming" of someone who likely never even had a first coming.

Well, assuming that the airports and the TSA run their operations on the basis of...  reality... all will go well.  The very nice thing about the apocalypse, though, is that it apparently will be cascading with the time zones such that it appears at 6:00 pm local time wherever you are.  I'll be home in time for it, but I'll also be in time to call my brother (who's 3 hours ahead) and see if he has seen any of the Four Horsemen coming his way.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Do You Believe in Karma?

A number of years ago, I had an employer who was, to put it mildly, a colossal idiot.  Many of the stories of my experiences there have become famous enough to have turned legendary throughout the video game industry.  The game Bioshock even includes a few hidden references to real-life events that I personally experienced and wrote about.  Not that I worked on Bioshock, but the team who did know my stories.  One of the more famous (or infamous) stories involves a dispute with said employer (who I took to referring to as "the creature", or at least using the pronoun "it")...  over the number of sides in an octagon.  I kid you not.  Well, that argument, after finding no dictionary which agreed with the creature's notion of a 5-sided octagon, culminated in it telling us employees that we are required to agree that an octagon has 5 sides if the creature says it does.  As this point branched off into a digression about timing and schedules and task appropriation, the issues of how long things take were placed on his head as the creature was the scatterbrained fool who would repeatedly change priorities on us for every new episode of Star Trek he would happen to watch.  To this, it responded that if things take as long as we had projected based on the nonsensical whims of the idiot in charge, the same idiot would fire everybody and restart the company from zero.  A fine display of maturity.

About an hour after that ordeal, the fool dashed out of the office.  I had my headphones on and was listening to music while I was working, so I didn't know anything about what was going on, but the art director on my team tried to get my attention at that point.  He asked me "Do you believe in Karma?"  For a moment, I was confused because I happened to be reading through code for wrappers to our middleware engine for rigid-body simulation (Mathengine Karma).  But I figured after a second or so that he was talking about the religious concept.  I don't believe in it, nor did I believe in it then, but I knew from the sly smirk on his face and giggles around that he was driving to a point worth hearing, so for the sake of getting there, I replied in the affirmative.  To be exact, I said "Sure, why not?".  He replied that the creature's house had just been robbed, and that's why it ran out so suddenly.  Ah, schadenfreude...

If anyone were to ask me seriously, I would pretty flatly say "No, I do not."  The notion of Karma is indeed a comforting one which offers this sort of sense of an overarching justice which is inbuilt into the universe.  It offers this message that anyone who does good will have good fortune, and anyone who does ill will be mete out with ill fortunes.  Although other religions may not necessarily have the exact same construct as Karma in the sense of being some inherent force that imbues all of existence, but they have something which provides roughly the same image.  Often, this comes in the form of "God" itself passing some form of judgment, meaning that the person's uppance will at least come after they're dead if it didn't happen during their life.  Karma extends beyond the current life as well, since it integrates nicely into reincarnation and lets people pay in future lives.  At least, that's the idea.

The idea that there is some universal force of justice that offers both boons to the good and retribution to the evil is something that people created so that they can feel better about things.  It's the same reason why the concepts of heaven and hell were ever devised.  There are certainly a variety of reasons why it makes sense that someone would want to believe it.  I can certainly imagine that if life gives you lemons, you will want to believe that something will be better at some future point.  I can certainly imagine that if you are at least aware of some crime where the criminal has escaped the legal justice system, one would want there to be a divine universal justice from which he/she cannot escape.  I can certainly imagine that if bad people amass untold riches and good people suffer terribly, one would want to believe that some force out there will rectify this inequity.

Here's the problem -- The kind of universe you want to live in has no bearing on the one in which you actually do live.  Life is not fair.  This is simply a fact.  We do not have any guarantee that doing good will net you a happy life, nor do we have any guarantee that doing bad will guarantee your suffering.  Sometimes, the nicest people in the world will suffer horrifying tribulations and live a life of utter tragedy.  Sometimes, the most vile crooks will get all the luck and never get caught on any count.  Sometimes, someone will try their hardest and never have their efforts acknowledged.  Sometimes, someone will lie and cheat their way to success without truly earning a shred of it.  That's just the way reality is.  The fact that we would like to make it fair is exactly why things like a legal justice system exist in the first place.  The fact that we recognize the inequity and unevenness of the way things are is exactly what inspires us to enact change.

A common sentiment I hear from religious people with an otherwise weak grip of faith is that they don't want to live in a world where their god's justice isn't there.  Well, so what if you don't want to?  I don't want to live in a world where I'm not a billionaire -- doesn't mean I am one now.  And if I try to live as if I am filthy rich without actually being so, I'm going to do some pretty stupid things as a result.  Similarly, if you live as if there is such a thing as God or Karma dictating a universal justice just in order to ease your mind about the unfairness of life, it just means you avoid having to face reality as it is.  There is no reason whatsoever to believe that reality is either moral or immoral.  It is amoral...  it is simply the state of things, and that state and all the forces acting on it are entirely indifferent to our wants and needs.  Those of us who prefer to face reality for what it actually is are the only ones who can actually do something about it.  When we don't expect justice from a supernatural ultimate force controlling all things, it ensures that we come to analyze what steps we need to take in order for justice to be carried out.  When we don't globally expect justice as a fundamental component of reality, that is exactly what makes us appreciate justice when it does happen.  When we don't expect evil to always go punished, that is exactly why we work together as a cooperative society to ensure that evil is punished and harm is minimized.

A belief in a cosmic sense of justice betrays both an intellectual laziness and an emotional ineptitude to face reality on reality's terms.  Get over it, and join the rest of us in the real world.

Friday, May 13, 2011

On Indian Classical Music (Part 4a)

See --
Part 1    Part 2    Part 3

I'll admit that I've been writing these to a certain extent keeping in mind that a majority of the audience will be people unfamiliar with any of the characteristics of Indian classical music in general.  The average person outside the community knows Indian music only in two forms -- wildly famous personalities like Ravi Shankar, or Bollywood dance numbers.  Both of these hold their attraction generally on account of the aura of being exotic and unusual...  well, and in the latter case, the opportunity to ogle sexy starlets.  Many otherwise don't really know what makes Indian music the way it is, or even the difference between a tambura and a sitar.  For the most part, the explosion of interest in Hindustani music in the west during the 1960s was made up of hippies who, under the influence of irresponsibly high quantities of experimental drugs, found themselves entranced by the timbral qualities of instruments like the sitar and tabla.  That has changed somewhat over the past few decades where most any student of music in any system has at least a cursory understanding of it on a theoretical level, even if seriously outdated.

There is a common sentiment throughout most of the world that Indian music has a deeply meditative quality to it that delivers a sort of religious experience.  Even if you ignore the qualitative aspects of it, it is hard to ignore that the lyrical content is almost entirely made up of devotional music, with perhaps padams and javalis being the only real exceptions which are inherently non-devotional in form.  This gets into another point on Indian classical music, which, for me, inspires a fairly heated rant;  that is the notion that bhakti (devotion) is somehow an essential, and even of primal importance to the music.  Not merely the performance, but to the appreciation thereof.  I find this not merely ridiculous, but tremendously insulting...  and by insulting, I mean to say that it is an insult to humankind itself.

I suppose I'm a little bit more free to speak on such a matter in that I'm not a practicing artist.  When a practicing Carnatic vocalist, namely T.M. Krishna, expounded the same sentiments, it raised quite a controversy.  By contrast, when Sanjay Subrahmanyam (who also doesn't really buy into this belief) was asked to comment, he is left with little recourse but to dodge the question.*

I suppose the first point that makes me fume with anger is this idea that it is only through devotion to the divine that one can truly come to understand the beauty of the music.  There are countless occasions on which a member of the audience will comment to an artist that some particular song brought to his/her mind, the very image of "the Lord."  Fine.  That person may well have such a deep devotion that the level of artistry evoked such imagery in their minds.  But is it fair to say that that was the true measure of quality?  Is it fair to presume that because the artist's rendering of a song had that effect on that particular person, that the artist as well shared in that same feeling of bhakti?  What if someone else in the audience had a similar experience with respect to a different deity?  What if a non-believer in the audience was moved to tears, when none of the believers were?  What if the artist(s) themselves were non-believers, or at least followers of a different religion?

I find it an egregious insult to say that without sharing in the very same bhakti, it is impossible to deliver a quality performance or to even enjoy a heartfelt performance.  I have seen all too many an article on this topic from the faithful which asserts that devotion to the divine is inextricable from music.  If that were really true, there could never be a non-believer who contributes to the field of music.  Similarly, one would have to say that it is sacrilegious of a Muslim to sing a song about Hindu deities or their respective folklore.  Oh wait, that actually happens...  quite often, in fact.  There's a simple reason why this is the case -- musicians actually care about music.  I figured this would go without saying, but apparently not.  How did figures like Jon B. Higgins or George Harrison attain any sort of proficiency in Indian styles of music or classical instruments without having a deep devotion to Hindu gods, or at least converting?  It's because they took it seriously as an art form on its own irrespective of its origin or content.

The characteristics of ragas, the various pitch effects (or gamakas), the interplay of rhythm, the overall flow and structure of a song, the purity with which it's rendered, and the inventiveness of a performer to devise intricate tunes and variations from there... none of these are religious qualities in any way.  Similarly, we associate a lot of ragas with the divine in ways that have absolutely no extrinsic justification.  Rather, people simply decided by fiat, for example that Shiva was fond of a particular raga, so it is called Sankarabharanam (ornament of Shiva).  Does this mean, for instance, that Mozart carried a deep Shiva-bhakti?  Most of his symphonies, save for #25 and #40 are effectively in Sankarabharanam**.  Symphonies #25 and #40, by the way, are in Natabhairavi**.  I know the system he applied is completely different, but the point here is to illustrate the absurdity of associating a tune or scale with a deity and asserting that this is a necessary association.
The main reason I bring this video of Prof. S. R. Janakiraman to your attention is not just to bring up technical details about the ragas, but to point out that the details are strictly technical.  The qualities of the raga lie in those technical details, and it is through the knowledge of these aspects that one is able to bring out those qualities.

Say that I wanted to do an RTP in a rare raga.  For the sake of discussion, I'll choose the 14th melakartha raga -- Vakulabharanam.  At no point in my decision to do so am I necessarily expressing a motivation deep down in my heart towards worship of the supposed mother of Tirupathi Balaji.  If I was to do such a thing, it would be out of interest and curiosity in trying to explore an area rarely covered and see what I can find out.  To be sure, we have to at least acknowledge that the raga Vakulabharanam (Basant Mukhari in Hindustani) is not really Indian in origin.  Its history traces back to a Persian scale named Hijaz.

I feel that to address all the aspects of this particular gripe I have will take more than one post, so I'm going to divide this up and cover more in a later posting.  Whatever you want to believe about the sort of religious experiences you might have, what cannot be escaped is the fact that devotion is a very personal thing.  There is no other person in the world who is going to share exactly your particular flavor of bhakti.  Delivering a performance that is provocative to your feelings of devotion says nothing about the devotion of the performer.  For all you know, that person's devotion may simply be towards a faithful reproduction of the qualities of the raga...  it may be a devotion to his teacher and his teacher's particular style...  or it may just be that he/she is more knowledgeable about music than you are and is demonstrating that gap through imaginative and well-thought-out tunes that elucidate the feel or bhaavam of the raga very very well.  That is the first point I want to get across.  It is not devotion to any imaginary divine being that matters, but devotion to the search for knowledge and depth of understanding of the system of music that makes all the difference.  It is through that knowledge that not only can one individual artist come to achieve mastery, but also a rasika (fan of music) among the audience can truly appreciate all the qualities of it.

And conversely, if you are so dyed-in-the-wool with your faith that you see a god when some musicians are singing/playing, you're obviously too preoccupied with your god on the brain to pay attention to the fact that there's still more music being made.

...  to be cont'd.

* For the readers out there who don't know Tamil, aside from the joke he referenced from the drama series, the main point is that he replied by saying that he's not equipped to answer such a question, and that he has never had any sort philosophical understanding to even attempt it.

** The raga Sankarabharanam has a scale which is equivalent to the Ionian or Major scale, albeit in just temperament.  Natabhairavi, similarly, is equivalent to the Aeolian or Minor scale.