Thursday, April 26, 2012

Politics vs. Issues

As a general rule, I try not to let politics affect my voting decisions. As anyone in my class is now probably painfully aware, there's a massive difference between the right choice to make and the popular choice. So I try not to let individual politicians sway my thinking too far, and focus on individual issues.

Sometimes, though, there comes a moment when a politician is too willing to lie to you or too stupid to know he is, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently learned the hard way. During debates in Parliment over extending the Afghan mission, he accused NDP leadership of being "pacifistic" (as if that were somehow a bad thing) and said that the NDP leadership was against acting against Hilter's Nazi Germany in 1939.

The New Democratic Party was founded in 1961. You missed the mark by more than two decades. Congratulations, sir. You just made it impossible for me to vote for the Conservative party with you at the head. Which was a shame, because when it comes to Arctic Sovereignty, I was actually starting to favour your party.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Discipline to be Retained

Occupy Toronto is calling for everyone to call in sick on May 1 as a protest. While I certainly support the right of the people to protest, and the general call for higher taxation on the top income brackets (actually, I advocate a flat tax for everyone over the poverty line, as opposed to the current graduated system), I think this is about the dumbest idea I've ever heard.

Granted, I just got my job. But I've lost jobs in the past for exactly this kind of a stunt. Moreover, I've had to pick up the slack on people who pull this kind of thing. If you want to protest, fine. Declare it. You have legal protections in this country if you wish to protest. If you wish to defraud your employer you get no protection. And if you really want to protest taxation structure and a culture of entitlement, don't do it by allying yourself with Occupy. It always struck me as funny that such materialistic people would espouse socialist ideology, until I realized it was largely malfocused envy and their own sense of material entitlement.

You know what? Feeling entitled to having nice things is fine. Having a hissyfit, taking the day off and making the rest of us work harder is not. It's puerile. And God forbid now, that anyone actually happens to be sick on May 1. The odds are pretty good, given the time of year, that you might be, and now you're going to get lumped in with the protesters whether your illness was genuine or not.

The rest of us, though, are thankful we're working in an economy with 7.2% (StatsCan) unemployment (and that only counts the people who haven't given up on trying to find work). Pick eleven friends at random and one of them is probably unemployed. Some of us even have jobs where we need to work hard to hold onto them. Some of us would rather advance our positions as opposed to wallowing in self-pity. If we collectively work hard, earn money, and spend it, we create new jobs. We help that friend of ours find work.

Hard work and forbearance are virtuous. Protest is only valid if it's open. And if you don't have a potential solution, you're just complaining.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Retrospeculation is most certainly not a word, but you're going to have to bear with me until I find a better portmanteau of "retro-" (meaning backward-looking) and introspection.

I was thinking about the various reasons I started looking into Catholicism specifically a few years ago, and I noticed a pattern I wanted to share. Throughout my life, I have been rather fascinated with monastic practice; the idea that a life could be devoted to the pursuit of Spiritual Outcome X at the expense of all other experiences. Monasticism is a surprisingly common practice and the goals are commonly the same (if the motivations aren't somewhat different). Whether we're talking Christian or Buddhist, a monk is usually striving toward serenity, wisdom, compassion, and virtue (the different religions tend to value different virtues, mind you). Lives of poverty are often encouraged. All in all, the idea is to live one's Faith more directly.

I wonder though if monasticism genuinely must be cloistered. After all, if Buddhist monks, Carthusians, and Benedictines all wall themselves up, maybe there's something to the idea of running away from the world. I wondered if there wasn't a happy medium, and I found it, in a way, in the Franciscan order.

Well, not really, but it's the closest anyone's come to that balance yet. Mostly, I just envy monks their discipline. It's something I lack, to be frank, and I never really figured out why. I seemed to have it, for a little while. I wonder what changed.

Virtue Get!

... Assuming failure to give further damns is a virtue.

There was a time, up until fairly recently, when I would absolutely fly off the handle if somebody was wrong on the internet, which frankly could be an entire blog in itself. If we're being perfectly honest, I still do. I just don't invest nearly as much time as I used to in the process. The lazy part of me has realized it's often easier to hit "back" than to hit "reply". This is particularly true when the wrongness is centred around theology, morality, or philosophy.

As I try to remind myself, I have no formal training in either the former or latter field, and my own culture-level rendition of moral relativism makes it hard to come down saying "X is wrong" without appending "because Y says so.". Sure, there are a few moral absolutes that are a lot easier to argue in favour of (for example, I am generally against the taking of human life regardless of purpose or authority). In philosophy, I can generally only look for logical fallacies in the argument. With Theology, I can't even really do that; I'm pretty much limited to making sure that quotes used are in context.

But I suppose it leaves me happier. I still engage in political debate, where time allows, but even then I don't follow as voraciously as many other people do. I might read on for a page or two after my post but as a general rule, I'm not narcissistic enough to troll, and don't get called "wrong" often enough to necessitate living on my refresh button.

I suppose there's a zen in there some place. I had grander plans for this post (I intended to talk about the similarities between eastern meditative practice and lectio divina), but I like this better.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Lesson from Augustino
This is a familiar map to many people, and one we've shown here before. It's produced from measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, the residual energy from the Big Bang event in the modern cosmological model. From such measurements we were able to calculate the age of the universe, and also, in many ways, to map it.

I bring it back because, as ever, it fascinates me. I consider cosmology to be the pinnacle of the sciences, answering the most fundamental questions which can still have empirical answers. No new development has come about in it. I wanted to talk about something totally unrelated, as a matter of fact.

Well, perhaps not totally unrelated. Most of you know that I underwent RCIA and became a Roman Catholic in the Latin Rite late last year, and a lot of you probably know my track record with this sort of thing by now. I'm irreverent and hopelessly liberal, one of those antireactionary "live-and-let-live" liberals who can't reasonably make an argument in favour of any law with a primarily religious motivation, and who uses some of the very best in mental gymnastics to weasel my way out of a few moral sticking points I just can't bring myself to accept. These mental gymnastics are perhaps endemic of other problems, but who am I to say.

I like to think I'm pretty good at studying religion and philosophy. The problem is that I'm not very good at retaining anything. I mean sure, I pick up facts and object-lessons and can explain them as reasonably as can be expected of someone with no formal training, but they don't terribly alter my behaviour. Understanding philosophical arguments in favour of eugenics is unlikely to make me a eugenicist (though it is very useful in combating eugenicists).

At the root of it all is a sort of mental or behavioural inertia, which I've probably talked about before. Like many people of all ages, I am a creature of hard-worn habits, habits that neither like to be broken nor readily altered. In many cases, these habits are as frequently about not doing something as they are about doing something. Some are genuinely harmful, like an inclination to sleep past my alarm. Others are actually quietly helpful, like my inclination to write everything down. Some habits are neither, particularly, like favouring button-down shirts and sweaters over t-shirts.

In any event, many of these habits are habits I'd like to change. In lots of cases, I do change habits, for very good reasons. But I need that reason, and somehow, somewhere in the road, I'm lacking that reason in a lot of places I shouldn't be.

Take, for example, a habit I developed since the winter cold set in, of missing mass. Sure, I made it to mass on Easter Sunday. But I've missed the two Sundays after that, for reasons that are emblematic of my usual mental gymnastics. A big part of it is that I'm not so sure that the Catholic Church has the monopoly on truth. When it comes to spirituality, I've always been the "do it yourself" type, which has made working through the parables a lot more rewarding when you finally "get it" in a puff of logic. Lectio Divina is the practice.

Now, I'm not saying that there's no truth in Catholicism, either. The Vatican is making fantastic strides in attempting to erase the schismatic past of the Church and bring Christianity back into (relative) unity, which is what the bible makes pretty clear that Christ intended all along. I feel that ultimately it is "more good" to strive to be a good Christian than to be a good Catholic. I'm certainly thankful for having read through much of the Catechism line-by-line and examined its sources. In more cases than otherwise, I agree with it, especially on theological grounds and the nature of genuine spiritual events, such as the transubstantiation (though my brain hurts a little when I comprehend that a thing can change from one thing to another without an empirical marker), the nature of the sacraments, the value of virtue, and the generally-corrupting power of sin. I can even swing believing in the full and literal ressurection of the body at the end of time, though I have difficulty at the moment picking out biblical support for it.

A somewhat dated picture, last summer or just before, of my
darling and I overlooking the river. Happy 4/22, Love.
It's when we start getting close to issues of liberties that I begin to disagree. Unlike the Catholic line, I actually support birth control. While we certainly have a planet capable of sustaining much higher populations than this one, we lack the infrastructure, and if condoms can stem the tide of STIs and help reduce the rate of otherwise unwanted pregancies, I am all for that. Now, I know, the obvious counter-argument is that the marital act is intended to be procreative rather than recreational. and that relying on Artificial Birth Control is demonstrating a "closedness to", whereupon one may insert Life, Creation, the Will of God, or whatever other moniker you want to attach to the logical consequence of the sexual act. Certainly I agree that pregnancy follows sex as alcohol follows vegetable fermentation. But psychology studies from around the world generally come to the consensus that an absolute avoidance of the act is unhealthy in relationships.  Not that it's remotely all of what a relationship should be... but it is a part.

As I said before, I have a big problem with being asked to restrict liberties on purely religious grounds. I learned pretty early on not to dive head-first into anything, no matter how much you trust God. Even if you think he's calling you to something, you have to discern a while before you're really sure that he's calling you to do what you think. For example, I have the utmost respect for monks, and even briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a Benedictine. But it would be giving up entirely too much, and a man of my sincerity would do more harm than good in such a brotherhood. I still admire the monks and their disciplines, but I'm no monk myself and I probably never will be. I've had as clear a sign as any man will ever get that I'm called to marriage, and I think that it's fairly clear what His plans are in that regard. Relationships like ours don't last these six years without being very, very serious.

And all that having been said, I'm very open to the idea of being more devout. There's a part of me who really wants to be that guy. I've tried all sorts of formulaic devotions and felt good with a number of them, but I've never really formed the habit. Considering the money I've wrapped up in some of them, I wish I really could. Thing is, I always feel just a tiny bit off balance when I actually put my faith into practice. There's a feeling of having an audience, even if I have the house to myself, much like how I feel when I'm trying to do my work with a manager in the room.

I guess we can chalk that one up to fear of God, then. Cheers to those of you who recognize the titular reference.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

We Might As Well Play The Sims

I suppose I should not be surprised and there's probably a reason why I never really spend any time on NationState's "General" subforum, and stick largely to the roleplaying sections of the board. The website is, at any given time, consumed with debate over socialism, abortion, or a children's show called My Little Pony... in any and all possible combinations of any or all of the above, up to and including aborting socialist ponies, though I suspect that was quite a bit of satire.

It probably goes to show that we do tend to get a little more mature as we age that I've manageed nt to get myself sucked into any of these arguments. If I respond at all, I include a line to say I won't be actively following the topic, and that anyone who wishes to debate details should send me a message to my inbox (what we call a TG or Telegram) to let me know that they've responded. I don't have the time or the inclination to spend days upon days, quite literally, following a single topic waiting for people to tell me why I am wrong, so that I can simply tell them how they didn't understand my argument. My style of discussion has matured, along with my need for it, I guess.

However there's always been something that bothered me about the abortion debates, and that's the language used by the pro-choice crowd, using words like tumor and parasite to describe the foetus, and words like disease and disability to describe the pregnancy. Topics spring up all the time (in an attempt, I suppose, to get the not-inconsiderable right-wing portion of the forum to start admitting conditions where abortion would be "Okay, I guess", such as one topic that sprung up late last night asking if, and I quote the original post in full:
 If a doctor found a way to with 100% accuracy pinpoint the sexual orientation of fetuses, would an abortion be OK if the parants found out that their baby would be born gay?
Let's ignore the natural asshole-factor of taking two issues like homosexuality and abortion and stapling them together (expecting to get logical responses), and take as read that a great many members of the forum gave one-word answers and posted pictures of the famous jet-pack "nothing to do here" image. Essentially, this is an argument from eugenics.

Eugenics is, of course, the idea that we can basically breed better people by eliminating genotypes we consider to be "subversive" or "undesirable". In the past it's been used to justify genocide and at present it's a justification for aborting children with birth defects and mental disabilities, such as those who show signs of developing Down Syndrome. Admittedly, some of these diseases, acquired during foetal development,  are entirely unsurvivable. Many others aren't, and questions like this one and the current practice of aborting children with the genetic markers for mental illness are an indication of what people have been telling me for years and I've been refusing to listen to:

We, as a society, are sick.

Now, I'm not going to get up on too high of a moralistic horse, being, generally speaking, who I am. It's hard to take a firm moral stance when you're as close to a live-and-let-live mentality as one can ever actually be without giving up one's own identity. But the fact that we've got it into our minds that, unless the baby is precisely the one you want, carrying it is a disease  which needs to be "cured". One female poster called any limitation on abortion an "attack on bodily sovereignty" and "forcing women to essentially be blood donors for 9 months".

Now, I've always been in the "I'd never abort" crowd, but being male that's easy for me to say as the closest I ever get to being pregnant comes from eating too much red meat. Even then, respecting the right to abort when the child is actually in-viable or the mother's life would be put at risk is an easy step to take. I've argued long and loud when I was younger for total legality and freedom of this particular choice. It's funny that it's the language of what was, for a long time, my own side, is what's convinced me to be about as anti-abortion as I'll likely ever become.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

An Answer for MegaSage007

I have an answer to a challenge raised about three weeks ago, albeit indirectly, by a youtube user named MegaSage007 (Personal Website Redirect), which was directed largely to atheists. As a former agnostic atheist myself, and seeing as the question wandered into one of my favourite disciplines (astrophysics), I thought I'd take some time while I eat my ham sandwich to speak to his statement.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's Finally Here!

After much fussing around with file-converting, middle-man applications, and narrating with both a bad speaking voice and a bad microphone, I've finally caved. The Introduction to Rationality presentation is not being shown on YouTube, but on a power-point sharing website called SlideShare. I'm a little disappointed because it did not preserve my sound or animation, but it serves the purpose nicely.

IR I - Introduction to Rationality
View more presentations from AuditorGentleman.

If you have any comments, questions, or catch a mistake I made, please let me know in the blog comments.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Good News Everyone!

I can't find a creative-commons licensed image of Professor Farnsworth, so you're just going to have to settle for the quote.

I got a job. I'm not sure how big a deal that might seem to you, since I haven't been employed for over a year. Let me make it clear how awesome that is. I. GOT. A. JOB. It's at Teavanna, which I am to understand is something quite big in the States, but up here in the Soviet Republic of Canuckistan it's sort of a new thing. My job's going to be sales. Sales of tea and tea products. I'm pretty excited for it, partly because I love tea and actually get to learn about it for once, and partly because, if I haven't made this clear:


Now, I will try and remember in the future to point this out if we're ever on the subject, but I do want to give the usual legal disclaimer and full disclosure warning that any oppinions I express, particularly related to the world of tea, are purely my own. I do not represent the company here on A&G in any capacity, artificial or otherwise. This is a part of proper business practice that should go without saying, but since it doesn't, I have said it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I may well start doing tea reviews on the off chance I become totally smitten with any of our products. I am not paid in any way, shape, or form for these reviews, and they should not be taken as any form of a communication from the company directly. The tea reviews will be a general function of The Gentleman tag, and I reserve the right to deviate from Teavanna's teas at any time should there prove a demand for it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Foot in the Door

There's a job out there that I've wanted pretty much since I realized what it was. I put in my name for it this morning, and found I had an interview for it tomorrow by this evening. So wish me some luck, guys. I really need this one.

Scientology? Scifientology, maybe.

So, the people who hang out around me and try to prod me into a rant have been asking about Scientology, and I wasn't going to come out and say a word, until new hit the wire today that Narcanon Trois-Rivieres rejected a withdrawal patient outright, charging his mother $10,000 for 1 week's stay before throwing him on a bus bound for Toronto.

I don't actually have a problem with Scientology's theology, excepting of course that it's hard to take anything written by a writer of speculative fiction as divine revelation, especially when it's of the same genre as his previous titles. My main problem is with the behaviour of Scientologists and the way that the "Church" treats its own. When you start copyrighting and classifying religious material, it's your own fault if you get called cult-like... just ask Freemasons everywhere.

No, my main problem with Scientology is the way individual Scientologists behave on the whole. The ones who respond to being asked to answer questions about their faith on camera with a string of serious but fruitless accusations, the futility of which cheapens the severity of the crimes purported, and does nothing but convince the rest of us that you're indoctrinated beyond the point of holding sensible discourse.


On the whole, it's no way to behave... and precisely the problem I have with Westboro Baptist Church. Never mind their oppressive practices, never mind their wealth-based "enlightenment" portfolio... it's being rude.

By the way, the woman in Toronto is getting her money back. Son's homeless and still hasn't received treatment.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Consequential Inconsequentiality

We have a tendency to declare things to be inconsequential,, as a society. In Canada in particular, we often look at certain laws, declare them to be inconsequential, and summarily ignore them. They're usually little laws: digital piracy, using a mobile phone while driving, under-age drinking, smoking marijuana, et cetera. Sometimes we're right, and sometimes, over a few years or decades, we're able to get those laws revoked in the interest of general freedom (though this happens only rarely). The problem is, we're just as often wrong: see my first three examples. Still, the citizenry considers themselves the end-all-be-all authority, and circumvent the laws they see no need for at their leisure... most people I know have, from time to time.

The problem is that we really don't know what we're doing, most of the time. What seems of no consequence at one moment can be of grave consequence in another, and very often, one evasion begets others. For example, what starts as lighting up with the fellas on the post-finals weekend might turn into nightly use, which might turn into keeping a potted plant in your closet under lights, which could potentially turn into filling the attic over your garage with several such plants.

The general scene around here seems to be that smoking pot isn't a crime. I mean, it is, on the books, but in general, you get your stuff confiscated, maybe spend a couple hours in a cell waiting for your parents or guardians to come pick you up, and are told very sternly not to do it again. By contrast, growing marijuana is serious business, netting real jail time and first-hand-experience of RCMP home invasion techniques.

This is just one example in a room and country full of them. I'm looking chiefly at those of you who pirated enough Eidos games that they went under. Thanks fellas. Now I have to put up with the lame SquareEnix reboot series.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday, and Where I Am.

Today was good for a Friday.

Okay, all joking aside, it actually was a pretty good day. I got to see Kitten, visit with her mother, and eat like a king, for which I am much obliged. I also attended a service for the holiday at their church, a respectable baptist outfit with quite the reputation for their music. All in all, a very enjoyable day, and one that bears repeating.

I don't normally put much thought into Holy Week, largely because, until recently, I wasn't up to speed on it. But today got me thinking about the meaning of the whole thing, which the most of you are familiar with by now, and not being properly equipped for apologetics, I'm going to skip to the latter part of my little thought process, which brings me, as it always does, to the idea of Christian Identity... specifically, mine.

I've never liked to feel confined, and I like labels even less. It's easy enough to answer when a person asks me what religion I am by saying "Christian", and most of the time that answer satisfies. But I get the odd person, usually an overly nosey denizen of the web, for whom that answer is not enough. They want to know a denomination.

I don't like denominations. For one thing, they sort of defeat the point of Christianity. For another, there's far more to unite the disparate Churches than divide them. Throwing a denomination on is sort of like throwing on a political party. I don't like the designation. It invites being painted with a broad brush, and marginalizes the ability to take contrarian positions.

I am, by all rights, a Catholic, and I've learned to recognize that it wasn't exactly a political choice - the Magisterial and I have as many points of contention as agreement when it comes to matters of the mundane world, which is probably a normal post-adolescent reaction to authority, more than anything else. The decision was made on other grounds: apostolic succession, mostly.

I remain a Catholic forever, baptised and confirmed as I am, even while lapsed. But I prefer not to identify. The differing churches do not get along, and I live largely in the middle of that situation. For a while, this has manifested as a sort of refusal to engage in anything that might be considered a Catholic practice.

But then I swung a little closer to the middle of the pendulum, as I usually do. I'm a catholic because I believe in a great majority of moral teachings. Where we differ (largely on the dignity of the person, and on ABC) is not enough to outweigh where we agree. In time, I might even come to change my mind about those, thought I doubt it.

Regardless of whatever church or religion you follow, your spirituality is a personal journey. That's why single life, married life, and religious life are all perfectly valid. When I'm meeting people, I don't pidgeonhole them in by their sexual characteristics or political views. First thing I look for is a mind at work. Then a good person.

I've railed against this before, but the quote is worth repeating. Catholic means universal. United. We are one body in Christ. The divisions between denominations are entirely artificial.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bugs in my Beverage? Absolutely!

Starbucks in the US (and possibly here) is changing some of their ingredients.

Their Strawberries and Cream Frappucinio, which is the absolutely coffee-free beverage shown on the right, has inspired a consumer backlash. Why's that? Well, that's because they're replacing the old synthetic red dye with extract of cochineal, a natural red dye that was the benchmark for the hue we now call Crimson.

This is excellent news, right? One less synthetic ingredient in mass-consumed food.

But Zac, you only ever use this space to complain!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Penalty for Slave Trading in Canada?

Toronto Star Image
We've come a long way from The Underground Railroad.

This is Ferenc Domotor, a Hungarian-Canadian man who today was sentenced for having lead what was called by the CBC "The leader of what has been called the largest proven human smuggling ring in Canadian history", along with his wife and son, who helped him orchestrate the slavery of 19 Hungarian men. They were held against their will and forced for years to work for table scraps, under threat of violence to their families back home in Hungary. The family and twelve fellow gang members essentially helped ruin the lives of these men and their families for years at a time.

Domotor was given a nine-year sentence for his part in the crimes, which, less time served (and sundry other deductions) means he'll be spending another four and a half years in federal prison, which is where I come in.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Palm Sunday Bombing of Planned Parenthood

NBC's Brian Miller reports a firebombing at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Wisconsin. Other sources report that the device used was of an incendiary nature. Nobody was hurt, and only minor damage was done to the building. An FBI investigation is ongoing.

The bigger story here is that this sort of thing hasn't just happened before, but that it can almost be called commonplace. Abortion clinics and abortion doctors  are threatened with violence, attacked, and killed more frequently in the United States than anyone is comfortable admitting. Whether you agree with abortion's legality or not, you must recognize that this is a serious problem.

This sort of attack weakens the pro-life argument. While nobody was inside at the time of the bombing, this was not assured, and even if it were, violating a law without hurting anyone is still violation of the law. If I want to defend a moral cause, say, the abolition of the use of condoms (this being only an example), and I do that by stealing a shopping cart full of condoms and setting fire to them on the sidewalk, not only am I personally going to look pretty crazy, but now the entire anti-birth-control crowd is going to be associated with that level of crazy. How much worse is it, then, when people get hurt?

The main argument for the pro-life side is that all life is sacred, and that life begins at conception. If we defend that life by taking away other lives, how is that internally consistent logic? There is talk all the time of moral relativism being a slippery slope, but it seems to be a slope with a cutting edge in both directions. Is abortion being the logical precursor to assisted suicide worse than abortion being the precursor to terrorism? I'll leave that for the individual conscience to decide.

Am I about to get an abortion? No. Does this sort of thing make me nervous? Not really, I live in a much different social climate. But does terrorism from the "Christian" Right make me, a Christian myself, absolutely furious? You better believe.