Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Lohse, a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.
I knew it all along.

Correlation between mental illness and GW Bush voters | digg story

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Faith != God

(For those that don't know, "!=" is a common programming operator for "not equal".)

There was a recent debate between conservative radio host Dennis Prager and atheist author Sam Harris. There were many interesting points in this debate, and I may discuss it again, but one subject that particularly stood out to me was Prager's attempts to confuse the existence of God with the belief in God. This is especially apparent in this embarrassing paragraph from his closing statement:

You write: “If humanity can’t survive without a belief in God, this would only mean that a belief in God exists. It wouldn’t, even remotely, suggest that God exists.” This statement is as novel as the one suggesting that Stalin was produced by Judeo-Christian values. It is hard for me to imagine that any fair-minded reader would reach the same conclusion. If we both acknowledge that without belief in God humanity would self-destruct, it is quite a stretch to say that this fact does not “even remotely suggest that God exists.” Can you name one thing that does not exist but is essential to human survival?
This argument is so profoundly stupid that I had to ask a friend to verify that I had read it correctly. Prager repeatedly states -- even after Harris clearly and specifically points out the logical fallacy -- that the essentiality of the belief in God is a strong argument for the existence of God. On the contrary, as Harris states, this simply proves a point that no rational person would agree with: that belief in God exists. This fact that they both agree on in no way suggests that that belief is at all accurate, as Prager claims that it does. The last sentence clearly shows that Prager considers belief in God (something that Harris at least hypothetically agrees is "essential to human survival") to be the same as God ("one thing that does not exist"). I can only conclude that this is an attempt on Mr. Prager's part to make readers dismiss the debate as unfair by painting himself as a complete and utter moron. I guess that means that I'm not a "fair-minded reader" that he can easily imagine.

Belief in God has tangible benefits -- particularly for more primitive, unenlightened cultures of the past -- that few rational people would deny, but faith -- as a belief that can be neither proven nor disproven -- is utterly indifferent to its own accuracy. In the absence of the potential for proof, faith can only ever act as a placebo for the believer. To anyone who did not realize that, and for whom the placebo effect will no longer work due to the revelation, I apologize.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Dirty words

I began work on this post some time ago, but in light of current events, I thought it would be a good time to finish it up and get it out there.

Dirty words are stupid. I don't just mean the unnecessary use of them is stupid (which it is), I mean that the idea that certain words are vulgar or offensive and should not be used is stupid. Words are, by definition, simple linguistic constructs that have no meaning unless one is agreed upon. All of these words have definitions -- often sexual, racist, scatological, etc. -- but these meanings are barely understood anymore due to the stigma of their use. Many of them are also used figuratively to provide pejorative emphasis, and can be an effective and valid means of conveying ideas in such context, and to remove them from the permissible vernacular is no better than diluting their meaning through over-use. The use of censorship, even self-censorship, rather than one's own judgement in communication only causes problems.

Another oft-ignored meaning that they have is what they say about those who use them. While their use alone doesn't make an individual stupid, inappropriate or excessive use certainly demonstrates a lack of eloquence. Some are virtually meaningless beyond demonstrating the prejudice of the speaker. Epithetical remarks such as those for which Michael Richards has been receiving flak could just as easily be cognitively replaced with the phrase "I'm a racist". Beyond that, all that he stated was that the individuals that he was addressing were black, a fact of which I'm sure they where aware, and their reported attempt to extort money from a man who pointed out that they black and admitted to being racist is no less shameful.

Words have meaning because we give them meaning. They have no meaning that we don't give them, and we have no power that they don't give them, and it's foolish to give them the power to harm us.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Disinformation Show

Now Fox News Channel, a primary source of material for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, is teaming with the exec producer of "24" to try its hand at a news satire show for conservatives to love.
The Daily Show has often been derided by conservatives who claim that it encourages people to be uninformed, despite studies showing The Daily Show to be at least as substantive as other cable news sources and more informative than most news sources, but now the conservative propaganda machine seems to be changing its tune.

The problem with this tactic, of course, is that a Faux News clone would only be so much disinformation, just like most of the "fair and balanced" network's other programming. The Daily Show is an equal-opportunity satirical mockery, and conservatives only feel singled-out because it has been true in recent years that, in the words of Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondent Dinner, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias," such that his own show is as close as anyone can honestly come to a conservative counterpart to The Daily Show. There's a reason that Colbert's conservative talking points are so amusing, and shows like O'Reilly's would be almost as funny if the audience knew that he didn't believe them.

Satire is only funny if it rings true, so FNC will never air anything humorous... at least not intentionally.

read more | digg story

Monday, November 20, 2006

Depends on What Your Definition of "Succeed" Is

Recently, when asked if there were lessons about our situation in Iraq to be learned from the Vietnam War, Bush once again embarrassed us all by saying that "we will succeed unless we quit."

What's going on in Iraq is not a war, and it's certainly not something that we can win. It would be so much simpler if it was a war, because we could just complete the genocide and leave... or more realistically, we could finish the genocide and pave the land with oil pumps. Obviously, Bush would never be allowed to get away with this, so what are his goals? What would a "clear military victory" be? Kissenger interprets it as "an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control," which he doesn't believe is possible. Someone will need to explain to me how an independent government fitting that description could be brought about by any amount of military force.

Republican senator John McCain says that we're "fighting and dying for a failed policy", but this is wrong. We're fighting and dying for absolutely nothing. There isn't a plan. There isn't even a goal. If there was, we'd have to weigh whether it was worth the losses that we are suffering to eventually achieve it, but there isn't. We've passed the "quit while you're ahead" point, but we can still cut our losses. We can continue sending our brothers, sisters, parents and children to die while we search for a reason to do so, or we can admit our mistake and leave before more of us die. That is the lesson we should have learned from the Vietnam War.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Still sick

I'm still sick. Go listen to what this insightful 8-year-old has to say:

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sick day

Leave me alone, I'm sick.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Not-so-lame Ducks

I don't like the term "lame duck". "Lame duck" implies that a person is ineffectual and can be ignored. This does not take into account the fact that such politicians often have all of the authority or their office, but lack the accountability of an official seeking re-election. This can make an individual extremely dangerous. This is evidenced by the unpopular pardons, appointments, and legislation that these "lame duck" periods are known for.

I think a better term would be the "kamikaze period". During this time, when officials hold offices but do not need to worry about keeping them, they can concentrate on doing as much damage -- or furthering of their own and their party's goals -- without worrying about the ramifications, like a kamikaze pilot or suicide bomber attempting to do maximum damage to the enemy without worrying about his own survival.

I have some personal experience with this mindset from playing Halo online. In these games, I frequently kill enemy characters driving vehicles using a well-placed grenade thrown right before they run me over. Because my character will respawn a few seconds later, I don't have to worry about my own death, and when the character in the vehicle is carrying the flag in an attempt to score for his team, it's well worth standing still to aim my grenade -- ensuring my own death -- to ensure that the flag carrier is also killed. In the same way, an outgoing politician -- voted out of office to be replaced by a member of another party -- is willing to damage his own credibility to to ensure that his successor will be unable to "score" for his party. This, of course, is bad because it is the incoming politician who represents the will of the constituents.

The democratic Senate and House majorities may have been elected, but we're not out of the woods yet, and things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Racist Club: You may already be a member

A 15-year-old girl at Freedom High School in Oakley, California is trying to start an ethnic club for caucasians. The school, which already has similar clubs for Latino, Asian, and African-American students, has been unsurprisingly resistant to the idea. Some are saying that such a club would promote racism, while other argue that disallowing the club would be "reverse racism". I believe that both of these views are stupid and, ironically, both racist.

Racism is racism, no matter what racial group is being discriminated for/against. The idea of racism against whites as "reverse racism" is racist because it assumes that racism is characteristic of whites. In junior high, I was once accused of being racist by a classmate (who may or may not have realized the irony of his statement ahead of time). When I, hurt by the accusation, asked him why he thought that, his only response was "Because you're white." It is this mindset that is arguably the most prevalent form of racism in the United States today, and the belief that racism against whites is any different from any other form of racism is, itself, racist.

Some caucasians in the United States -- a few of whom may or may not have been my ancestors -- have done some terrible, racist things, but to assume that I am racist because of that is no less racist.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

2006 Midterms

Well, I was hoping to sum up the election for yesterday's post, but Senator Allen has yet to concede the loss of his seat, the last of the six that the democrats need -- and the only one for which a winner has still not been declared -- for a Senate majority to compliment their already-guaranteed House majority. With 100% of the vote now counted, the only thing Allen could be waiting for before conceding is a recount, which he cannot even request for nearly three weeks under Virginia law.

This majority, of course, is technically a 49/49 split, with independent candidates filling the remaining two seats. The first of these is Vermont's Bernard Sanders, a self-described socialist who who beat his Republican challenger by a margin of more than two to one and who caucuses with the Democrats. The second is famed Democrat-in-name-only and former vice-presidential candidate, Joel Lieberman of Connecticut, who lost the democratic nomination to Ned Lamont, but ran as an independent democrat. The two finished the race with 50% and 40% of the vote, respectively.

Counting both of these senators with the Democratic caucus, the Democrats are now the majority party in the Senate. Only one is required for a plurality, but both would be required to prevent tied votes, which would be broken by Darth Va- I mean Dick Cheney. This of course assumes party-line voting, which may not be the case with so many Republicans as disgusted with the President's actions as everyone else, and the Republicans' dirty tactics for maintaining control of the 109th Congress will be much more difficult without a majority behind them.

As I've been typing this, media outlets have finally begun declaring Democrat Jim Webb the winner in Virginia, with Republican Incumbent George Allen expected to offer his concession tomorrow. Allen is not expected to request a recount unless the margin somehow decreases in the meantime.

Monday, November 06, 2006


I spent several hours today permanently transforming my hair into a knotty, matted symbol of rejection of "the establishment" and traditional values. I must admit, though, that creating this symbol feels a bit hypocritical, as I consider emphasis on symbols to be part of what I'm rejecting. In many aspects of our society, far too much emphasis is placed on symbols, often to the detriment of what they are supposed to symbolize. Update: The dreadlocks fell apart when I tried to wash them, so I'm back to my regular, long hippie hair.

This is especially true for religions. I am frequently disgusted to see borderline idol worship directed at crosses/crucifixes by those who claim the Holy Trinity as their one true god. This type of prayer by proxy, at best, shows an individual lack of understanding by those who engage in them of their own religion's principles. While I have problems with the way Christianity defines its deity as a trinity so that it can technically qualify as monotheistic, I don't buy the Catholic variant -- with all of its saints and symbols and superstitious rituals -- as monotheistic for a second.

This hypocrisy is not unique to religion, though. The recent attempt to pass a constitutional amendment to abridge our freedom with a ban on the burning of the American flag, which proponents of the amendment loved to call a symbol of freedom. This clearly shows the problem with putting too much emphasis on a symbol: When reverence for a symbol is used to harm that which it symbolizes, it's obviously gone too far.

Both of these types of symbols have been abused by the current administration to further its own goals, to the detriment of what they symbolize. Symbols, without knowledge of what they symbolize, are meaningless. The use of a symbol is little more than an invitation for its meaning to be misconstrued, and given the danger of a misconstrued symbol, it's a risk that's not worth taking.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Good and Evil

I've really been enjoying the new TV series, Heroes, and I was listening to a podcast about the show today. In the most recent installment of this podcast, the speakers discuss their uncertainty as to whether certain characters are good or evil. I quickly wrote them an email explaining that this was a gross oversimplification, not only of the themes of the show (which is more nuanced than most) but of the concepts of good and evil themselves.

Good and evil are not motivations, nor are they goals, and they're certainly not forces that act independently. Rather, they are subjective interpretations of actions and concepts. Racial oppression -- at least in the overt, white-against-black form that is so prominent in our nation's history -- is generally considered to be evil by most of the western world, but this was not always the case. Many of our religious institutions, which claim to be the highest authority on good and evil, used to be among the staunchest supporters of slavery and segregation. Now these groups are advocating similar forms of hate directed at homosexuals, and history will no doubt eventually cast this stance in a similar light.

It's been said that the victors write the history books. This would explain why good always seems to eventually win out over evil; The winning side is not necessarily more righteous, but the conflict would likely continue if the status quo was believed to be evil. It's easy to cast fictional characters as good or evil, but their stories are more realistic (and more interesting) if, like in reality, good and evil cannot be defined in such certain terms without the benefit of hindsight.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

On stem cells and abortion

Scott Adams discussed stem cell research today, and I donated blood. The link between the two may seem a bit tenuous, but it was enough to make me decide that it would be a good time to talk about the stem cell issue.

Ignoring the potential benefits of this research, the destruction of embryos for the purpose of harvesting stem cells is little different from abortion, and should be governed by the same laws. I think most people on either side of the issue would agree with that, as the people who oppose abortion seem to be the same ones who oppose embryonic stem cell research. If anything, the stem cell research should be less objectionable than any method of abortion other than the morning-after pill, because of the stage of development at which the various procedures take place. In short, harvesting embryonic stem cells should be legally tantamount to an abortion 4 to 5 days after conception.

So, should such abortions be allowed? Most pro-lifers seem to be opposed to abortion at any stage of development -- including the use of emergency contraception, or "morning-after", pills -- and some even take this to the extreme of vilifying (male) masturbation and the use of contraception because they result in the destruction of cells that could potentially be used to create life. Not to dismiss these people off-hand as lunatics, but by this logic, menstruation and nocturnal emission are, at the very least, involuntary manslaughter.

Such people are usually opposed these things for religious reasons. I will not argue with these reasons, except to remind the reader that creating laws to enforce religious values is unconstitutional. Without the religious basis, all that matters is what rights the embryo/fetus has at what stage of development. A living creature has rights that a collection of cells -- such as the blood that I donated -- does not, anyone but the most hardcore vegans would likely agree that a person has rights that a living creature does not, and persons is a subset of living creatures, which is a subset of collections of cells. I am all three, and if you're reading this, chances are you are too.

Now this will sound cynical, but I'm not entirely convinced that a child achieves the level of self-awareness required for personhood until sometime after birth. Now, I'm not suggesting that post-birth abortions should be allowed, but I do think that the reason they shouldn't has more to do with the psychological effects on the mother and others involved than it does with the rights of the child.

Well, there's more to say on the issue, but I hope I've given you something to think about, and I'm sure some of you will have something to say about what I've already written (I'm looking in your direction, Lou), so I'll finish discussing the issue later.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sexual denial: It's not just for teenagers anymore

The federal government's "no sex without marriage" message isn't just for kids anymore.

Now the government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs, which include millions of dollars in federal money that will be available to the states under revised federal grant guidelines for 2007.

The government says the change is a clarification. But critics say it's a clear signal of a more directed policy targeting the sexual behavior of adults.
This is yet another example of the Bush administration abusing its power -- as well as taxpayer dollars -- to push a religious agenda, ultimately to the detriment of our society.

While it's true that abstinence is the most reliable method of preventing both pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease, no method will work if people aren't willing to use it. Most people are going to have sex no matter what you tell them, and according to The National Center for Health Statistics, over 90% of this new target group have already had sex. Teaching abstinence to the exclusion of safe sex practices only serves to ensure that when teenagers (and twenty-somethings) do have sex, they'll be blissfully ignorant of how to do so safely, making unwanted pregnancies and the contraction of STDs more likely.

To put a religious agenda ahead of a healthy and informed public is deplorable. Using government authority and tax funds to do it is a betrayal. Sadly, it's far from this administration's biggest betrayal of its constituents.

read more | digg story