Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Leap Of Faith

This article was originally going to have the much more arrogant title of "You're both wrong, so shut up", and a more cranky tone, but then I drank some orange juice and tried to remember I'm past that now. -Z

Someone recently asked me if the Introduction on Rationality series and my departure from CAF were related, and I bluntly replied yes, which was a mistake. That same person, who I've known for a while, now, asked me if I was back to being "just another agnostic atheist", to which I replied with a qualified no. When he asked me what I was, I rather bluntly replied that I don't like labels, and so I moved on, putting that question out of mind.

Local Elections and Shout Outs.

Author's Head-Note: I'd just like to take the time in advance to thank the lot of you, bots included, for 1000 career page-views, which we passed shortly after my supper time this evening. your continued readership means a lot to me, and watching that little ticker climb is a good motivator for keeping this going. Thank you very much.

Saint John Municipal Elections
So, the time has come again to elect our city council. Municipal government has the most direct impact on our day to day lives... something we start to forget when we think about the larger issues of medical care, criminal law, and Realpolitik. Municipal officials have the rather inglorious job of keeping track of who has title to what land, how our garbage is connected, how our water is kept clean and plentiful, and all sorts of other mundanities that we, frankly, take for granted. Elections will be held on May 14th for council and mayoral positions. Traditionally, municipal elections have been dominated by retirees, which has given our city a strong anti-change slant. That'd be good, if we weren't in major need of an overhaul. Occupy Saint John might have been a dismal flop (though, for full disclosure, I'm opposed to Occupy as a whole), but that liberal base is exactly what a city mired in decades of ignored problems needs.

House Keeping
It's been eating away at me that the Intro to Rationality video isn't up yet, and there's a very good reason why: I've yet to find a solution to my sound quality problem, up to and including using a bluetooth headset to record audio. I'm going to find an affordably-priced mic, perhaps through one of my tech savvy friends.

Also, you might have already noticed, but I added an orange donation button up in the top right corner of the page. Honestly, feel free to ignore it. At present, my out-of-pocket expense for this project is pretty much near zero. But it's there, if you're in a giving mood.

Shout Outs
It's a good time again to give some shout-outs to people who have helped make the blog a success, starting, of course, with the readers themselves. Whether you're still hanging around from CAF, or you're someone new from off of NationStates, or you found me through another blogger, I hope you're enjoying the read. Drop me a line or a comment at any time and I'll be sure to get back to you! Secondly (and as importantly), my dear darling, who keeps me honest when I'm leaning too far to the right, or left.

Also, I'd like to than Cam of A Woman's Place, for two reasons: I often find my writing material of the day while I'm reading her posts (or interviewing her directly), and she generally lets me get away with throwing the odd link up on her comments... which, let's face it, are usually tangentally relevant at best. Kudos, many happy returns, and thanks for the Effert thing.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Alarmism, Futurism, and the Slippery Slope

This is a response article to Cam of A Woman's Place, and her article on abortion and euthanasia titled "The Next Great Evil", which was posted earlier this morning. The quoted text is being used with express permission, and as always I invite you to review the source material here. Cam is a marvellously insightful person who I can't help but agree with even when I don't, and for the sake of full disclosure, I should thank her for bringing me my largest readership boost ever when she brought up my coverage of R. v. K. Effert and the crime of infanticide. The post will be long, and probably rather dry, given the format. You can find it below the cut.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Subsidies: The Governmental Weapon of Change

The polymer bank notes introduced in 2011 (for the $50)
and this month (for the $50). The remaining denominations
will be updated by late next year. Bank of Canada Photo.
I'm a bit of a numismatics freak. I like the concept of currency, the way we secure it, and the way it's evaluated. There's some really fun statistical math to be done there, and since I don't have an excuse to do engineering or physics problems as part of my school work, I tend to focus on mathematics. So you can understand my interest in the new polymer banknotes the Bank of Canada is issuing over the next year or so.

However, what I actually came in here to write about is the use of subsidies by governments on all three levels to influence industrial development, research, and essentially anything else they want done or changed. Subsidies are a sort of a double-edged sword, as we shall see.

Crescent's Edge

My brother has set up a blogger-hosted webcomic about our misadventures in the game of D&D, over at I'd recommend checking it out.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Divining Reality

Full Disclosure: This idea is a train-of-thought spinoff from Cam's recent entry over at her blog (article link), which addresses the difference between belief and reality, or, perhaps more accurately, outward and inward truth. It isn't intended as a response, but an application of the same basic argument to a different topic. Think of it as a non-rigorous thought experiment. The entry is excellent.

More often than you would think, I have heard people make absolute statements about a reality, as if saying something is real (or true), or unreal (or false), is enough to make it so... what I like to think of as the "Abra Kadabra" fallacy. (From the kabbalistic phrase "I create as I speak".) It most frequently takes as a basis one source or another, and in the circles I run in, it's either "the bible" or "science" standing in as the source, with appropriate variations (making it an Appeal to Authority).

The problem with this statement is that there are two realities: the natural and the supernatural. Some of us prefer not to dabble in matters supernatural, for very good reasons that I'm not going to pound the table over right now. And while we can make definitive statements about natural realities through empirical study (which is what science is for), we cannot make definitive statements about the supernatural. So we can make the argument, for example, that the universe is 13.5 Billion years old (give or take a reasonably small margin of error), but we can't make the argument whether God did, or didn't, create it. I can make the argument that the bible was written by men, because, of course, it was, but I cannot say if they were inspired by angels/the divine, or whether they were suffering from schizophrenia.  This is basically the root idea of empiricism.

The Divine is a personal reality, a supernatural conviction that each person must arrive at on his or her on (or not, as the case may be). So, while it is perfectly acceptable to correct those who misunderstand your belief (which is a natural force), it is not correct (nor polite), to tell them that their belief is logically untrue. Who is to say if there is or is not a God, or Gods, and which God or Gods is the "truth", when it is so subjective a thing?

In some senses, truth is mutable, but in those cases, the mutability is ambiguity. It is room to question, and questions are opportunities for growth.

Keep thinking. It's good for you, and it makes people nervous.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Argument from "Duh"

WMAP Cosmic Microwave Background Map - NASA
Brief Aside: I have the slides for the presentation prepared in full, and I'm merely working out whether to give a narration or not. I know that most popular youtube videos on related subjects do use voiceovers, but I myself have a problem in (a) not knowing how to sync the voice to the slides, and (b)not having enough private time to actually do the recording. I hope to have the video up either way by week's end. Thanks for being patient.

I've seen one argument in particular cropping up lately, as I cruise for my daily fix of the nerdish in arguments over differing cosmologies. The argument is particularly prevalent among Young Earth Creationists in "debate" (which it can only loosely be called) with those who consider modern cosmology to be accurate, though it is by no means their invention, nor is it their sole province. The argument goes something like this:
Party A: You believe that the Big Bang began the universe, so what caused the big bang? or You believe that life began from nothing, so how did life begin?
Party B: The big bang "began" when a quantum singularity that contained all matter and energy in the universe began to expand. or Life began with the first self-replicating molecular systems.
Party A: So how did that happen? 

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Small Bit of Housekeeping

So, two small housekeeping items, the first being that we have a new mobile browsing look, which should work a little better for the fifteen of you that came last month on their iPads/iPods, or whatever it is the kids are using these days.

The second, that I'm sure might annoy some people, is that I've added a google AdSense script to the sidebar. Call it a call out from my marketing class, or an attempt to monetize the blog without just throwing up a needy-student paypal button.

They shouldn't be too obstructive, but you'll probably get odd hits for a while. They also shouldn't appear for a few days, maybe a week.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What I've Been Up To (And What to Expect)

So, I got a very nice little email from someone asking where I've gone to, since my posting has become sporadic over the last couple of weeks. I figured I ought to come explain myself, so, as Firefly rather inadequately ended "Here I Am.".

  • Academic and Professional Pursuits - I'm not sure if I ever said it here or not, but most of you probably know that I'm back in college now, and this is the time of year when I become academically and financially pinched. As such, I'm busy catching up on past-due work and trying to find employment, so there's that. Those two pursuits eat up a surprising amount of my time and it shouldn't surprise anyone that I feel that those two things come before my hobby.
  • Social Activities - Two big things: I no longer spend Saturday Afternoon with nothing better to do than re-read the last week's worth of news stories and start marking them up for commentary, and: This is the big March Break week, which is the perfect (and often only) opportunity this semester to take a little road trip and spend some time with my beloved Katherine Simply (of considerable artistic skill). When I'm out of town I'm usually kept busy enough that I barely have time to read the blogroll, let alone add a post or two of my own, so there's that.
  • Bipolar Disorder Is What It Is - Sometimes, I just don't feel like talking about even the things I like talking about.
Moreover, I've been trying to get back on track with the "Introduction to Rationality Series", and organizing that has been taking quite a bit of time out of my other pursuits, largely because I'm hoping to do it as more than just a handful of my long-winded essays. I paid good money and spent quite a bit of time building the presentation suite I have at my disposal and I think it's high time I use it. Look for the first instalment toward the end of the month.