Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Acquired taste?

I like dark beer and coffee, so it stands to reason that I should like dark chocolate, too-- but I don't.

So I bought a bar of it (like 85% cacao or something) a few days ago and have been eating a little bit at a time, just to see if I would acquire a taste for it.

And it appears to work; at first little nibbles were enough to wrinkle my nose, but I just ate a whole square of it and thought it tasted decent. And some milk chocolate I had the other day tasted too sweet.

OK, now you can file this under "random" and go about your day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

More books

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

It's the most famous book by my favorite author, and I hadn't read it. It deserves its fame; it was good. There's two types of fiction; some books make you wish the world worked a certain way, some make you glad it doesn't. This is in the former category.

The Golem's Eye and Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud

The second and final book in the series that began with The Amulet of Samarkand. For once, I'm happy to report that each book in the series got better.

I've recently read a bunch of other things, too, but I can't think of them right now...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Major piece on polysleeping

I've written up everything I learned about how to adapt during my months of experimentation here.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Wikileaks is a website that posts sensitive documents without authorization, set up to protect whistle-blowers.

"Dr." Kent Hovind is a young-earth creationist currently doing time in Florida for tax evasion, if I recall correctly.

This is his doctoral thesis, which his college for some reason did not make publicly available. I skimmed it. Wow. It's terrible. It's so bad it's funny in places, like where he goes through the "history" of Evolution. Did you know evolution had an Eastern branch? Or that it actually started thousands of years ago? Yeah, that's right, people were evolutionists for thousands of years before Darwin. Origen, Agustine and other church fathers were evil evolutionists according to him. (You would think that having church fathers hold a position would tend to legetimize the position, but apparently not. Not that, in reality, they believed anything approaching evolution; they just didn't think Genesis 1-11 or whatever is literal, which practically makes them satanists in his mind.)

Oh, and evolution is responsible for both Nazism and Communism, and evolutionists will eat your babies. OK, one of those I didn't literally see in there, but again, I just skimmed it.

Also, I'm not sure if the guy was the originator of jillions of things I've heard Christians say over the years, or if he is the biggest parrot ever. I think half of his thesis is illustrations I've heard numerous times from various places, all of which are terrible. He (and this is a common failing) doesn't understand that you use an illustration to help explain yourself to someone who's not following you; you do NOT use them to help you argue a point to someone who is skeptical.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Interesting study

A study was recently done by Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago that I find very interesting. They asked their subjects their opinions on a variety of subjects, and then asked them how they thought Bill Gates, God, President Bush, and the average American would answer those same questions. They calculate how closely the subject's views match to each of those. Not surprisingly, the subjects views matched their perception of God's views much better than their perception of anyone else's. (Humorously, nobody's views matched poor bush's views-- except on the subject of the death penalty).

OK, that's great, you say, but it doesn't prove anything: They could genuinely be changing their minds to start believing what they think God believes, in which case it's no wonder they correlate well.

Ah, but that's where they get tricky:

... We investigated this in Study 5 by
influencing participants’ own attitudes about affirmative action
through exposure to persuasive arguments. In a pro-policy
condition, participants read one strong argument supporting
affirmative action and one weak argument opposing it. In an
anti-policy condition, participants read one weak argument
supporting affirmative action and one strong argument opposing
it (see SI Text). Participants then rated the strength of each
argument they received. Finally, participants reported their
attitude about affirmative action and did the same for God, the
average American, Gates, and Bush. ...

They have the subject read a paper designed to shift their view in some point, and administer the survey again. The paper does indeed shift the opinions of the subject, and it also shifts what they think God's opinions are, and what they think Bill Gate's are (though to a lesser extent), but not Bush or the average american.

In another study,

Study 6 sought convergent evidence by using a
different experimental manipulation that relied on internally
generated arguments rather than on externally provided ones. In
particular, participants were asked to write and deliver a speech
either consistent or inconsistent with their own preexisting
beliefs in front of a video camera. Under these circumstances,
people tend to shift their attitudes in a direction consistent with
the speech they deliver (21, 22). Participants first reported (in a
dichotomous choice task) whether they generally supported or
opposed the death penalty, among other issues. Approximately
30 min later, a new experimenter told participants that videotapes
were needed for another study of people evaluating
speeches about the death penalty. Participants were then asked,
depending on random assignment, if they would be willing to
deliver a speech in favor of or opposed to the death penalty. This
meant delivering a speech consistent with preexisting attitudes
for some participants and inconsistent with preexisting attitudes
for the other participants. All but five participants (two in the
consistent condition, three in the inconsistent condition) agreed
to the experimenter’s request. After delivering the speech,
participants reported their own attitude about the death penalty,
and then did the same for God, Gates, Bush, and the average

They did a similar thing, only with a different method of modifying the participants' beliefs, with the same result.

Finally, they did a comparison in an fMRI which confirmed that people use the same brain areas to process questions about their own beliefs and God's beliefs-- but they use different areas to process other people's beliefs. (In my mind, until we know more about the brain, this sort of thing is of limited use in proving anything)

So what does this prove, and what doesn't it prove?

They do seem to have shown fairly convincingly that these people do not maintain separate categories in their mind for their own opinions and God's opinions. This implies that these people are or could be serving as their own God: their perception of God's opinions are probably just echo boxes for their own opinions.

OK, so the sample sizes are adequate but not huge; I'd be willing to bet that there's one personality type that would probably break this mold, at least occasionally: the theology geek and/or pastor. The sort of person who would say something like "I wish I didn't have to believe this, but the bible says blah blah blah..."

I suspect a common Christian response to this will take the general form of claiming that that the individuals in the study were not *good* Christians, that, in fact, the majority of Christians in the country are not good Christians and do tend to remake God in their own image. So the people in the studies were sinful/backslidden/uninformed/idolatrous/fake Christians. I find this to be a very unpalatable response; what reason do we have for supposing those who propose this kind of argument are actually among the good/real Christians?

So how do you know if you are doing this yourself? I can only speculate, but chances would seem pretty good that if there's nothing you and God disagree on, you're doing this.

Here are two other takes on this study. I'll add other links to responses to the study if you have them and they're interesting.

Monday, November 30, 2009


The Magicians by Lev Grossman

This was a great book, it totally subverts the Narnia/Harry Potter genre with real characters with real problems. You should go read it. Warning: if you're offended by sex/language, you should deal with it and still read this book. Don't worry, nothing unnecessarily graphic.

The Amulet of Samarkand by Someone I Forgot

It was good, but reading it after The Magicians may not have left me with the best of comparisons. The characters seemed a little one-dimensional. It was a good story, don't get me wrong, but it didn't seem to be any more than a story--there didn't appear to be a theme or message to the book. I like fiction that illustrates an author's viewpoint(s). It is entirely possible that such a theme could be developed in the next books in the series, however, so I'm withholding judgement.

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman

Amazing retelling of a well-known story. Disturbing. It's a short story, and I managed to find it on-line for you. I read it in a collection of vampire stories.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Carbs raise triglycerides more than fats

Triglycerides are three fat particles stuck together with a glyceride backbone, so it's reasonable to assume that they would go up when you eat fat, and the medical community has been making that assumption in their diet advice for quite some time. Well, it ain't so.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Google's Chrome OS sounds really interesting, so much so that I thought I should try out their browser. Chrome is actually really nice, it's fast and everything seems to work just fine in it. You should try it out!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dear Texas,

I'm sure the vast majority of your residents would appreciate it if you would practice your homophobia without dissolving their marriages.

Monday, November 16, 2009


I roasted some pecans yesterday. It's easy; preheat oven to 350, evenly coat the nuts with oil (put in a bag and shake works well, bake for up to 10 minutes, stirring every couple minutes to keep them from burning. Then salt.

Unfortunately we can't stop eating them...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Two things

You must go see the movie "Fat Head". It's a great presentation of everything I've been saying. Entertaining, too, if a bit low-budget.

While you're waiting for netflix to send it to you, go read this post for another good overview.

Lightroom rocks

Lightroom is up to 2.5 now, and I had some pictures to process. I wasn't impressed with it before, but I just downloaded it again and either it's been polished up a lot or I suddenly knew how to use it. I'll have to buy it now. I even found a plugin to export to picasa.

Also, my new(ish) computer is a freaking beast, it just plows through my photos.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Health resources

Here's some useful links related to my new health obsession.

Start with these, esp. the first two:

* http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/ --he really goes through the studies. Excellent.
* http://www.paleonu.com/
* http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/

Continue with these:

* http://nephropal.blogspot.com/
* http://heartscanblog.blogspot.com/
* http://blog.zeroinginonhealth.com/ --warning, ZERO carbers here. Extreme but still interesting.

Now, go get yourself some butter and coconut oil!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Everything you know about being healthy is wrong

So a bit after I started polysleeping, I started reading health blogs and stuff. Wanted to be sure I wasn't harming myself unnecessarily. Some of the stuff I've found out is not surprising:

* Fructose is really, really bad for you-- your liver stores it directly as fat, and it interferes with leptin, a hormone your fat cells make which tells your brain you're full. So it makes you fat *and* hungry. High fructose corn syrup gets demonized already. It's 55% fructose. Table sugar is... *drumroll* 50% fructose. Not a very big difference. So, sugar in general is terrible for you.
* Trans fats are extremely bad for you. (Why do they taste so good? Because they mimic saturated fats. See the next list.)

The rest of what I've found is completely shocking to me.

* Grains, wheat especially, are not good for you.
* Whole grains aren't much better than refined grains. Whole grains have more nutrients, but they also have more phytic acid, which binds with minerals and makes them unavailable to your body.
* Saturated fat is good for you. Yes, you heard that right. Butter, lard, tallow, coconut oil & palm oil. The fatty parts of your steak. Ground beef with 20% or more fat. Your body needs this fat.
* Fiber is not really necessary.
* Your teeth have the capability to heal cavities (provided you consume all the necessary nutrients).
* Meats are very good for you. Your digestive system is optimized for meat consumption.
* Vegetables do not contain anywhere near as much bio-available nutrition as does meat.
* Vegetable oils are bad for you. Including Canola (modified rapeseed oil), sunflower, safflower, corn, etc. They have way too much omega-6 PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) and little to no omega-3.
* Exercise burns calories, but it also makes you hungry. So hungry that you're very, very likely to eat the calories to replace what you burned.
* Carbohydrates are not very good for you. Carbohydrates, all of them, turn into glucose in the bloodstream.

Your body normally needs glucose in the bloodstream equivalent to about a teaspoon of sugar. High blood glucose (BG) will do a lot of damage to your body (just ask any diabetic). So, after you eat your cereal, bread, potatos, pasta, or any sugary thing, your pancreas senses rapidly rising BG and dumps insulin into your blood. Insulin is a hormone that tells your body, "Get this glucose the **** out of here." Your body responds by storing the glucose. Many tissues respond. Muscle responds by storing the glucose as glycogen, which it will burn for energy later. Unless it doesn't have room. One tissue in your body always has room; you guessed it, your fat cells. Insulin tells them to store fat. (If your fat stops listening to insulin, then you're diabetic.) It gets worse though-- after the insulin spike, your BG may drop below the body's preferred level. Low BG makes you feel week and urgently hungry.

So, carbs -> sugar -> rising BG -> insulin -> store as fat -> low BG -> hunger. This is how Americans get fat.

Just the taste of sweetness can cause your body to produce insulin in anticipation of a crapload of glucose being dumped into your bloodstream. This is (perhaps) why diet sodas cause as much or more weight gain as regular soda in studies.

And, oh yes, you're screwed. Sugar might be more addictive than cocaine. When given a choice, rats choose to push the sugar-water button instead of the cocaine button.

This post is just an overview. I may elaborate and give references on this stuff in the future. It seems so much is wrong with the common knowledge that it's hard to even know where to start. I really can't believe it. I've been reading up on this for months now.

People in America really do listen to the government's recommendations. We've been eating less saturated fats and more carbs, especially grains like we're told to. We've been exercising more. And we've been getting fatter and less healthy. The guidelines are totally wrong.

This stuff is starting to get out. 100 years from now, our current mainstream wisdom will seem as wrong as bloodletting sick people does.

I started a paleo/low carb type diet (just wanting to be healthier, not to lose weight) soon after I started reading about this stuff. Within 24 hours I felt way better, mostly because the wheat got out of my system. Turns out I feel like crap when I eat wheat. That's a bummer, because I really like bread. This is a good random place to end this post.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Book report

A Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge): Good plot, fascinating aliens. Suffers from a flaw common to SF, I imagine it would be totally incomprehensible to non-technical people.

Deep Secret (Diana Wynne Jones): A lot of fun to read, even though I didn't really like the main character. I liked the trip to Babylon a lot.

Watchmen (Alan Moore): This was great, really good storytelling, well-developed characters. I guess I'll have to see the movie now. Highly recommended.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, seasons 1-4: Hey, it was on hulu (operative word being *was*) and I needed something to watch. Very entertaining. I'd prefer a little less kissing and more monster killing, but whatever. Now I have to finish it up with DVDs from the library, curse you hulu.

Death Note: This is still on hulu, it was... interesting.

Friday, September 25, 2009

On reading way to much into your data

Studies like this one are very annoying.

So you hook up some people to fMRIs and watch their heads while they make some decisions. And guess what? You can predict with better than 50% accuracy what they'll do slightly before they do it. Whoop-dee-freakin-do, what did you expect was going on inside their heads? Parties? Not inside the fMRI machines, that's for sure. See, the thing about brains is people use them to think and decide things.

The thing that actually annoys me, though, is the leap from "we can sorta kinda predict what they'll do" to "therefore, they do/do not have free will." I mean, whatever things your brain thinks are the result of physical processes that actually go on inside your skull. That's why people with head injuries get so seriously messed up. So if you spy on that process, why shouldn't you be able to get a good clue as to what the result will be? And what bearing does that have on free will? The brain will come to the conclusion it will come to. The physical process is the means by which that happens.

To complain about a lack of free will because your brain runs according to the laws of the universe is bizarre. They aren't limiting you or locking you into your choices. They enable your choices.

Anyway, it's about time for my core sleep so sorry if this makes no sense.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Three-hour core plus four naps

I'm a lot more alert nowadays, so much so that I'm cutting down on the video games and starting to do more productive things. I'm still a little groggy when I get up from my core sleep at 4-ish, but it's getting better. This morning I watched the first episode of Firefly (on hulu), a show I've been meaning to watch for a while. That kept me pretty alert.

I'm pretty happy that this is working out so well.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Continuing adventures in polysleeping

I've been reading on health and diet, and a few days ago because I'm crazy, I tried another experiment: I went on a no/very low carb diet. Shockingly, within a day, I was sleeping better and more alert when not sleeping. I felt better all over, except for my stomach which took a little adjusting. I also needed some HCL for the first two days, but that requirement had already begun fading by the third day. (Meat requires HCL (= hydrochloric acid) to digest) The dosage for HCL was much easier to get right when eating only meat, I didn't really have any of the troubles I had before.

I've been eating eggs (this awesome grocery store carries some cage free eggs from an amish farm that are great), some bacon, cream, butter, cheese, and mostly beef, cooked rare. Prime rib is a good cut, although a little too expensive perhaps to eat for every meal.

It's important to note that a zero/low carb diet is a high fat diet, not a high protein diet. If you get more than 35-40% of your calories from protein, it can be toxic. So I try to eat all parts of the steak or whatever I'm eating, fat included. Fat has a very good flavor but the texture is not that pleasant to me; it's ok if I eat it along with the other parts of the meat. Note that 60-80% calories from fat means you're eating like 20% fat by weight, which isn't that much, really. I will probably go into more diet theory later, but this is basically what I'm doing at the moment.

So then I ate a big Indian meal. I'm sorry, but I'm going to have naan when I'm at an Indian place. Well, I payed for it. I felt terrible and was really tired for like a day afterwards. I think I'm starting to recover. The beer I had the night after didn't seem to hurt me nearly as much as the naan, so I wonder if wheat is especially hard on my system. Which would really suck because I LOVE bread. I haven't been eating any. It would be nice to have it as a treat once in a while, but if it makes me feel like crap it wouldn't be much of a treat.

Anyway, I think tomorrow I should be back to my zero/low carb state. Hopefully I will feel great again.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Resistance

Currently halfway through my third listen of Muse's latest. Wasn't so sure the first time through but... yeah, it's great. I think it's track 2 (Resistance) that I'm digging the most right now. Can't say it's better than Absolution but it's not worse, which is a tough thing to accomplish. You should totally listen to it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Five weeks of polysleep

So I started August 4th. Since then I've had around 120 extra hours of time. Some of it was pretty unproductive (walking in circles trying to stay awake). Most of my alert time has been at work, in the middle of the day. Most of my free time at home I've not been alert enough to do the brainy things that are the point of this transition, like study go, etc, so I've wasted it playing video games. :) (however, I'm feeling much more alert the last couple of days, so this is due to change)

The stages of adaptation, as I see them: first, you have to learn to sleep when you're dead tired-- if it takes you 10 minutes to fall asleep, you'll waste half your naps. You have to do better than that, and you will when you're tired enough-- this took until day 7 or 8 for me. Then (or concurrently, actually), you have to get your body used to sleeping at the particular times you want to. This takes about a month. Finally, you have to learn to sleep when you're *not* dead tired. This is what I'm working on right now, and I think I'm doing pretty well.

It hasn't been completely smooth sailing. I haven't had a problem many others have, which is struggling to get up/oversleeping (I did fall asleep sitting up a couple times on the couch, hehe). Just get into the habit of always getting up when you wake up/the alarm goes off.

My problem was I started getting really bad heartburn, and it took a bit to figure out exactly what was going on. When you sleep your body builds up gastric acid. Less core sleep = less acid (at least for me). Less acid in your stomach can cause the valve at the bottom of your stomach to fail to open correctly (it's triggered by acid). This causes a pound of almost-acidic-enough digesting food to sit in your stomach. It doesn't reach your small intestine, so you don't feel satiated, which causes you to eat more, which packs more into your stomach than it can really handle, which causes it to back up into the esophagus, giving you heartburn.

The solution isn't too hard in theory, you take some HCL to supplement your body's acid store. Unfortunately, even after I managed to obtain some (you should have seen the looks I got at Walgreen's), the dosage proved to be too tricky. Too much gives you the same symptoms as too little. So I was all set to give up this weekend. I decided I'd go to bed when I was tired and get up when I woke up. Time to start paying attention to my body. Went to bed 12:30 or so, got up around 5 (same today): my body had adapted. Stomach problems appear to be solved, for the price of an extra hour or so of sleep.

So, it's not quite the schedule I planned originally. I had planned 3 hours + 3 naps. Day 8 I added a 4th nap so I could function at work. Currently I'm at ~4 hours + 4 naps. That sums to something like 5.5 hours of sleep. Either one of two things will happen: I'll drop a nap (in theory I should be able to make do with only two with a 4.5 hour core), or as my body gets better at sleeping it will naturally need less core.

I'm so addicted to the extra time now. OK, this post is disjointed and long enough. I still have more to say on the subject, stay tuned.

Posting this here...

...so I can find it next time I want to persuade someone that legalization is the way to go.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

You can probably file this under "TMI"


I found it odd and amusing. Judging from the comments, nine out of ten of you (as if I had ten readers) will find it violently repulsive.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Before you ask, yes, I am completely crazy. I'm stark raving mad, I'm sure.

So 3 or 4 weeks ago I decided to try something I've always wanted to try ever since I first heard about it. That's right, I'm trying polyphasic sleeping. I sleep for three hours at night and (currently) four 20 minute naps spaced throughout the day (this is known as the "everyman" schedule). This adds about 4 hours of free time to my day.

I think it's obvious why one would want to do this; if you can't think of things to do with 4 extra hours then you need more hobbies. I had some additional goals; I've never been able to take naps and I wanted to be able to. I have always had a terrible time getting to bed and getting up in the morning, and I didn't like it.

As for how it works out at work, I take a nap at lunch time in my car. I bring food and eat it at non-lunch times at my desk. (4 extra hours = time to prepare food ahead of time.) I take a nap right before I leave home and right when I get back.

My wife doesn't seem to mind so far. Now she sees me in the morning when she gets up (I used to not get up for work until she had already left). I've been washing the dishes, which neither of us ever seems to get around to. I even make her breakfast once in a while.

The first week or so of the adaptation process was pretty hellish. Basically the idea is to deprive yourself of sleep until you're so tired that you can practically sleep standing up. Then your body will start taking advantage of the 20 minute chunks you give it.

It's supposed to take around a month to adapt to the everyman schedule. I think it's going to take another week or so for me to reach complete adaptation, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The 4:30 to 7:50 block of time has been the worst one for me, but today I felt fairly alert after being up for half an hour. It gets a little easier every day. So I'm now pretty confident that this is going to work out for me (and hence the blog post).

No clinical trials have been done of this, but many people have adapted successfully (yay internets, where were we without you). I feel pretty good, I'm not back to 100% yet but I'm getting there. Anyway, it's almost time for a nap. I'll take your questions in the comments. ;)

And yes, I'm crazy. I warned you...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I don't know why it's news...

...But Sgt. what's-his-name has better taste in beer than Obama.

Red Stripe is OK, but Blue Moon is very, very good. And I'm not sure if Bud Light really ought to be called beer.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Prince Caspian

Saw it a week ago. Definitely the worst novel -> movie adaptation I've ever seen. I'll admit that it was the weakest book in the series, but that's no reason to defile it like they did.

Susan = Legolas. Aslan = treebeard. Do these people have any originality at all??

Peter was bone-headed in the book, yes, but did they really have to make him a complete moron? And the whole Susan and Prince Caspian thing, ugh. Part of the point of the books is that the kids were pre-sexual.

Really, it was terrible.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ultra Wide

I've submitted four images to The Ultra Wide Views 2009.

If they're accepted, they will be projected on a 360 degree screen (30 degrees tall). It appears not too many images have been submitted yet (probably due to the odd aspect ratio of 7200x600), and I think at least two of my images have a very good chance.

See all my spherical pans here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

stupid studies

I won't dignify it with a link, but recently some scientists put some religious people in an fMRI machine and had them pray. Believe it or not, the "I'm interacting with someone" parts of their brains lit up (i.e. had increased blood flow).

Well, duh. What did they expect? Their brains to light up in the shapes of angels? Golden halos to appear on their screens?

It really doesn't matter what you believe, you should have expected this. If god exists, people interact with him as if he is a person. If god doesn't exist, but people think he does, they will interact with him as if he were a person. So when you stick people in an fMRI and find that they interact with him as if he were a person, why the hell do you think that is news? Now I have to listen to moronic atheists saying that god doesn't exist because science proved that people interact with him as if he were a person, AND I have to listen to moronic Christians saying god must exist because science proved they interact with him as a person.

BTW, they also had the people "pray" to Santa Claus, and those parts of their brains did not light up. Whoop-dee-freakin'-doo.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Actual conversation at my office

Coworker #1: Are you making illegal copies of things you own?

Coworker #2: I don't have a CD player in my car, so I have to mp3 it.

Coworker #1: You could cassette it.

Coworker #2: Is that a verb?

(Everyone bursts out laughing)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Someone else has to have noticed this

But a quick search on google gave no relevant hits.

C has an answer for Hamlet.

((2 * b) || !(2 * b)) == true, for all values of b.

mmm, scones & coffee

From Learning my 5DII

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pictures up

Hey, I'm only 3 months behind. Clearly I need a better photo processing system. Now that my queue is empty I'm trying to think of one.

This is one of my favorites. Christmas in AZ; look at that sky (no polarizer, and I didn't tweak the colors, either-- I don't have time to be tweaking colors).

From Two Christmases

Friday, March 6, 2009

Best description of the fundamentalist mindset I've ever read

Source: http://boarsheadtavern.com/2009/03/05/4911/

...for certain exegetes, Descartes may as well have never been born. Most of us are used to prefacing most things we say, including exegetical and theological conclusions, with an implicit or explicit “I think” that entails, “I will grant the possibility that I have erred, though I must be convinced first.” In this way of thinking, certainty is not so much the elimination of the possibility of error as it is raising the criteria of convincing me that I am wrong to nearly insurmountable heights. You may have already noted that many converts say the great glory of Catholicism is that it eliminates any epistemological uncertainty, which is merely a different form of fundamentalism.

Not so for the fundamentalist. What you need to understand is that the fundamentalist is not an “ass” or a “jerk;” rather, he simply skips the entire process of self-doubt and is therefore incognizant of there being any degree of separation between texts/data and his own beliefs. When it comes to theological matters and exegetical questions, there is no “I think;” there is only “The clear Word of God [whether in Scripture, a papal bull, or an IPCC climate model] has said.” He doesn’t see you as someone who has read the texts, surveyed the available information, critically assessed his own and others’ ideas, and come to a conclusion because he doesn’t see himself that way. Rather, he sees himself as simply having heard and believed the truth, so that anyone who disagrees with him has either not heard or refuses to believe (i.e. you are denying the truth of the Word of God out of weakness, ignorance, or impiety). Thus there can be no discussion or argument–you either believe what Jesus said, or you deny it. Case closed.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Is there anyone I can't irritate with this post? I don't think so.

I don't know if I can think of an issue with more polarization than the abortion debate. Maybe the middle east peace process. Shrug.

I think both sides are pretty seriously dishonest about each other. I also think that, while there are definitely irreconcilable differences between the two camps, some progress could be made if we hold the discussion on more honest grounds.

First, why everyone on both sides sucks. Nobody, nobody, thinks it is ok to murder babies. Implying that the other side thinks this is ok is very dishonest. Nobody is trying limit women's choices. Yes, it may have that effect, but that is no one's goal. We as a society limit the choices of murderers and bank robbers, and that doesn't upset anyone (except them, of course). That line of argumentation is dishonest.

That brings me to the point, which is that the whole debate ought to be about WHEN LIFE STARTS. Everything flows from this simple question. If you want to talk constructively, talk about that.

It's actually a really difficult question. I do not think I, or anyone, can definitively say, but I think we can set upper and lower bounds (mathmaticians do this when they are trying do find the value of a constant, like pi or e).

I will posit that implantation is the *earliest* time one can call a group of cells a baby. My reasoning is that without implanting, a fertilized egg has exactly a 0% chance of being born.

I will further posit that the point at which doctors could save a baby is the *latest* possible time one could decide it's alive. I believe this is around 28 weeks. Perhaps it's 22, I don't recall.

In other words, I'm saying that before implantation, it's definitely not a baby. I'm saying that after 22 weeks (or whatever it is), it definitely is a baby. I think these are reasonable cut off points, and that though it will be uncomfortable for both sides, they could, if they were to try, agree with me. It still leaves 22 weeks of ambiguity, but that's a significant improvement over the current state of affairs.

If society adopted these definitions, I think it would be a good thing, for a few reasons:

* The morning after pill becomes universally licit. I do not think we need to burden rape victims with the thought that they may now be murdering a baby (it should be clear from the above that I don't think they are). Nor should we be rewarding rapists with children. (It would still make me uncomfortable to have people use this as their birth control; plan better, please!)
* Fewer babies would be aborted. Those abortions that still would occur would at least be morally ambiguous.
* There should be options for women who will suffer serious complications (like death) from having a baby.
* Both sides will have compromised.

Further, it avoids some philosophical problems.

* I don't do any person-value calculus. I.e., I didn't say a fetus becomes more and more of a person, until at birth it is a full person, and that it is less of a problem to kill partial persons than full persons. This line of reasoning opens up the door for things like euthanasia (are old people that can't get around anymore really full persons still?) and infanticide (infants aren't really full persons yet, they can't do anything on their own). Under my view you either are a person, or you're not (or we don't know), but you can't be half a person with partial rights.

Now, as if I haven't already made everyone mad enough, I have a few additional thoughts, mostly targeted at the right.

If you're going to be consistently "pro-life", then why do you stop at conception? Has anything fundamentally changed from the moment before? I don't think so; I think you need to back up and say that birth control is a form of abortion. The Catholics almost get full marks, but I believe they allow the rhythm method (which, arguably works poorly enough that it's not a method-- but I think it's the thought that counts). C.S. Lewis seems to take this position in his book "That Hideous Strength".

I guess that's another way of saying that if you posit that life starts at conception, you need to have some way of convincing us that you're right. Waving bibles around doesn't help. (It doesn't even make your case for you. Go on, find a verse that says life starts at conception. I'll wait here.)

Finally, to make things even, I have to criticize the left. First, let's not speak of babies as a "punishment." A human life is not a punishment. I know it is difficult to phrase things well, but if you want the right to pay any attention to you, you need to do much better. Second, let's agree that we as a society would do well to reduce the number of abortions, and not act all cool and rub abortions in the faces of those who disagree.

One last anecdote. I recall that as a kid reading some history book or other, I ran across an account of Napoleon, struggling to have a child, was brought a message that there were complications in labor, and what did he want done? He responded that the normal thing ought to be done-- the life of the mother was most important. The author of the book was impressed by this because it showed character. I have never forgotten this random factoid, possibly because of the implication that xxx years ago it was *normal* to consider the mother's life *more valuable* than the life of the nearly born child.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

kubuntu and wine

I had a spare HD which I stuck in my computer and I installed kubuntu on it. Linux is great. The only problem is I haven't gotten it to work with my motherboard's wireless card.

But really I'm writing to say that WINE (it's a program that will run windows programs under linux) is way better than I thought it would be. I can still run all the windows programs I need to.

OK, I'm done geeking out for the moment now.