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Atheist Perspective: Tradition

November 25, 2014 Leave a comment

In a few days it will be Thanksgiving (for the U.S.), a secular holiday quickly being swallowed by the real true religion of this country: consumerism. I want to be clear: I’m not a socialist or a Marxist. I’m also not anti-American (although about 50% of the country will claim that I am). It’s hard to admit it when we can watch the only holiday that is solely dedicated to eating with family get absorbed into a ritualistic buying frenzy that compels people to ignore said family for either the buying or the selling of things. It’s a holiday based on a story that no one can pin down when it really happened, or what really happened on the day that it was said to. The tradition is set in stone at this point, although younger family members having to leave dinner to go sell cheap items at their place of business is a new factor.

This year, I’m saying it aloud: I don’t like turkey. I haven’t liked turkey in a long time. The taste is tolerable but given a choice I will eat something else. Even deep fried it’s still pretty bad, just fried.Yet, at any gathering I feel compelled to at least grab a slice of it and throw it on my plate where it gets cut up quickly and mixed with something else. I do this because of tradition, as well as to avoid the look on people’s faces when I say, “I don’t really care for it.” For some reason, people tend to take my preference personally, as if I’m saying “I don’t likeĀ your turkey.” I’ve never cooked it myself, because I don’t like it, but it seems to be similar to roasting a chicken–just bigger, any special skill required is to keep it from drying out, which just means that you have to baste it once every half hour (or fifteen minutes).

What’s interesting to me is that when I tell people that I don’t like the ugly bird I get a similar reaction as when I tell them that I am an atheist. This at first puzzled me, but then I realized it’s because I’m breaking tradition. Last year was the first year I fully broke one tradition by cooking beef wellington instead of turkey because I wanted to try it. As a celebration of food the holiday provided a nice excuse to make something new and different. I also don’t particularly care for cranberry sauce, it’s too bitter and I may be going out on a limb here but I don’t think that anyone likes straight cranberry sauce. Everyone I know eats it by spreading it on something else or eating it slowly in tiny spoons. Green bean casserole isn’t good and I am of the strong opinion that this portion of the meal was developed as “a tradition” by some company that sold canned green beans. Stuffing is just mushy, grease soaked bread that has the consistency of a wet sponge while the sweet potatoes (or yams) with the marshmallows on top seems to me to be an excuse to eat marshmallows as every time I see a person serve themselves they are always a little over generous with the coating rather than the substance.

This isn’t to say that I dislike the holiday. It’s just the factors of the holiday are traditions that are carried on for the sake of tradition. What really is to say that you can’t eat whatever you want on Thanksgiving? There is no law, and even early reports of the original story claim that the Natives taught the Pilgrims how to catch eels and grow corn. Shouldn’t we be eating eel and corn pie?

I hope by now that you’ve figured out the religious allegory. When we think of holidays, we can’t think too much about them or the stories begin to fall apart. We end up celebrating something other than what was intended (with the understandable exceptions of Veteran’s day [originally celebrating WWI veterans but now all veterans], Memorial day [originally the Civil War], and July 4th [Adams said it would be July 3rd but it’s not really Independence day we still had the war to fight]). It may simply be that in questioning the role of an ugly stupid bird as the central piece of a holiday I am forcing people to think about something that they had always taken for granted. This is certainly the case regarding atheism–where the thought never enters a person’s head that you could live without any kind of religion. It’s simply the way things have always been done.

Traditions are just that, there’s nothing right or wrong with them, but what is wrong is always thinking that they are right, or more importantly; necessary. Keep your turkeys, I don’t want them; but I won’t want to take your turkey away if you don’t try to force me to eat it. This year I’m having duck.

October 1st

October 1, 2011 Leave a comment

The beginning of October usually marks nothing particular. It’s just another month, with three months left in the semester. Possibly the wiccans get all excited because Halloween is approaching and they think it’s some kind of witch festival (Samhein was originally a harvest festival), but for the most part October is nothing.

For me, though, October 1st marked the end of a bet: “”As to the deal. Let’s just lay the ground floor down, I thought about it last night and realized that I don’t want any wiggle room plus there’s a little bit of unfairness in it. As I understand it the bet, or whatever, hinges on the United States going to war with Iran by the end of September. If they do, then I lost and have to admit that the President knew about and personally controlled the gun running operation known as “Fast and Furious” in Mexico. If you lose, you stop emailing me about it? No, that’s not fair, if you lose then you have to admit that you were wrong in an email to me about this whole conspiracy web that somehow links the gun operation to the president (I won’t repost the email but I will paraphrase it for my blog).”

One of the biggest problems with arguing with pseudo-science conspiracy theorists is that they are notoriously difficult to pin down. Each conspiracy theory is almost entirely unique they have a shared genera but individuals tend to spout their own specific theories. It’s really a case of “one-upmanship” they can’t tolerate being second place, so they add their own twist and then let the smugness and pretension flow from within. The other aspect of their slipperiness is that no single event ever happens on their own, it’s all interrelated. Which is evidenced by the fact that this person “Nick” seemed to somehow tie together the failed ATF operation with a looming war between the US and Iran. I had to be specific, ultra specific.

One of the defining aspects of the conspiracy set (as well as the pseudo science, and mysticism–basically anything you find in the “New Age” category at the book store) is that it’s un-recreatable. It’s an important aspect to History, Science, anything. Two people ought to be able to look at the information and draw the same conclusion. Right now several labs with the capabilities are retesting the CERN faster than light results. It’s the process that is important. Without the screaming or the rolling of the eyes, no two piles of “facts” put forth from a conspiracist generate the same conclusion. I backed “Nick” into a corner because not only did I know he was wrong, but also that he needed to see it as well. Forcing a prediction out of the supposed “facts” of his conspiracy would level the playing field. Objective evidence doesn’t work, it cannot. They simply deny it. I had an email exchange that directed me to explain the collapse of the WTC Towers without referring to the internal collapse of the floors creating a piledriving effect, more commonly known as “pancaking.” This would be like arguing with a Creationist who wants you to explain why there are no transition fossils but won’t let you present the Archaeopteryx, Velociraptor, or Homo Erectus.

If, as he claimed, I was the naive fool for not seeing it, than it ought to be predictive. It’s fact not theory (using the non-scientific uses of the words). However these facts are unique. They not only explain historical events but show that there is a guiding hand with a clear purpose. The conspiracists all claim to know the purpose so they should see what is happening next. Which is why I forced the prediction.

Thus October 1st has come and gone, no war with Iran. Not even a drone strike. Nothing. I’m still waiting for the email, but I doubt it will come.

The Optional Re-Write

January 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Back in December I had a one on one interview with a professor to discuss my final paper in the class. It wasn’t anything special, he required these in lieu of a presentation in the class. I didn’t like this requirement because without sounding too boastful I completely rock at giving presentations. Yet, a face-to-face interview is still nice because I’m a much better speaker than I am a writer. As long as the paper was adequate I could better explain the concepts in it orally rather than through the writing itself. I’m not sure what the difference actually is in my head, perhaps it’s the immediacy of the conversation and the opportunity to correct myself on the spot rather than having a written paper which is complete and final.

I walked into the professor’s office, which was completely Spartan by any definition of the word, and after introducing myself again to him he remarked that he didn’t like my paper. I didn’t blink at the comment, because it didn’t matter whether he liked it. Academics are about what you can prove not about what a person likes. If, for instance, a person wrote a paper I hated (which happened more than I would have liked–basically any pro-Marx paper I received) they could get a good grade if their argument was good. I knew the professor wasn’t that into American Pragmatism and my paper concentrated on John Dewey with respect to Martin Heidegger. He could not like it, but it could still be appreciated.

The problem was that the reason he didn’t like it was exactly for the reason that I feared the most: I had made a mistake. Heidegger has these concepts of ready-to-hand and present-at-hand. Because he’s German he likes to hyphen, don’t ask me why but I’ll bet it has something to do with the German language which I don’t speak. In basic definitions present-at-hand is the theory of an object. If you need to pound something you think of the idea of an object for which to pound and that object is a hammer. Present-at-hand is the idea of a hammer and its possible function. In this respect as well, it is any object that could possibly be used to pound things. The second, the ready-to-hand, is the object as you are using it. We tend not to think of the objects that we use while we are using them. To do so would severely impede our abilities to perform actions. My typing is me using the keyboard without thinking of the keyboard or the location of my fingers. If I did so, my typing would completely slow down reverting possibly to the hunt and peck method of writing. Even now, in writing these sentences I am having trouble not thinking of my fingers while typing. More to the point is walking. One of the most difficult problems in robotics is getting a robot to do everyday tasks that we perform without thinking of them. Walking was the first hurdle, which is why that 1950s looking Toyota robot (from the late 90s early 00s) moved so slow, it needed to compute weight balances and such just to take a couple of steps.

That makes sense right? The problem I had was that I had messed up the definition of the ready-to-hand. I had written the paper as though the object being used was still considered an object. To do this would fall into the consciousness trap that I had just previously mentioned. Since the whole paper was built around this it essentially collapsed under this fault. Not good, what saved the paper (and my subsequent grade) was the section on John Dewey after the mistake which was independent of the mistake–until I put the two together–and my explanation of some of the concepts in the paper.

I re-read the paper and huffed. I tried to turn the paper in early so I could get some pointers on it as Heidegger is notoriously difficult to read, comprehend, and enjoy (although people like the Nazi for some reason). Yet the professor stated that he didn’t do pre-reads of drafts. A policy that I am unfamiliar with and disagree with, but that’s his policy so I just have to deal with it. A reviewed draft would have saved my grade, but I stress that I should NOT have made the mistake in the first place. So today, sans conclusion, i have just re-written the paper making the changes necessary.

Here’s the thing: it probably won’t be accepted for a change of grade. If the professor in question won’t even look at them early the odds that a grade change for a better paper are pretty slim. None of this really matters to me though. My other class grades are sufficient to bolster what I received in the class. Why am I doing this? Because I feel terrible for having turned in a bad paper.

Statistics rule society. People need things that can be measured, because as Calvin said (the comic character not the theologian) when the numbers go up you are having more fun. We know things are effective when the numbers increase or decrease depending on what the numbers are attached to. Thus an effective student has good objectively defined grades. This doesn’t take into consideration whether or not that student can teach, speak, or perform only that the student is technically proficient. This goes for any subject. Good accounting and the focus on the numbers are what got us into the banking collapse. The numbers went up so the business was doing well and this focus is inherently dangerous because it removes any focus on the individual or on ethical considerations.

I want to turn in the revised paper because I want to show that I can write without making a mistake. Nothing in the paper was that groundbreaking but the mistake burns in the back of my head. Even if I had gotten a good grade in the class overall, I would still have rewritten this paper because I care about more than just my grade. Education is supposed to be about more than just grades and numbers, we are supposed to be learning something and I cannot without hypocrisy let the paper slide and still hold that opinion. In all the requirements of passing classes in graduate school should go way up and everything should just be a pass/fail. We would probably turn out better doctoral (Ph.Ds and Mds) and Master’s students that way.

Random Disjointed Blog Post

December 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Gwen’s getting stranger. I guess that’s to be expected from a two year old, but she’s just a weird little monster now. It’s getting harder and harder to argue with her she uses her cuteness to wear me down. I fear for the people that she will eventually date if she keeps this up. One thing that I have noticed is that she will say “no” to a suggestion only to suggest it herself later so that it will be her idea. It’s hard to tell her no in turn since she remembers that I asked it earlier, only now it comes from her so she takes a bit of pride when we do it. She can be so smug sometimes.

Her new hobby is drawing. I don’t mean doodling either nor do I mean scratches on paper that only she can decipher. She draws people, little heads with eyes, mouth, teeth, and hair. Then she puts in a couple of stick legs and names them. I really hope that all of the drawings of me are not how she seems me. Laura and I jokingly call them her “deformities” but it’s really cool to ask her to draw a picture of someone and watch her sit down and sketch them out. I don’t know if this is advanced or on par, and I would hate to be one of those parents that thinks everything she does is evidence of her inherent genius but it’s hard not to. Although she will speak in full sentences and I know that is something my peers sometimes can’t do.

One semester of Grad school over with and it went well…I suppose. I made a huge mistake on one paper which led to a B-. That wasn’t good at all. I need to rewrite that, not just for a better grade (which I’m not sure the professor will change) but just to have a paper that’s correct. The other one, also a B, I can revise but I haven’t looked at it yet. I just don’t want to worry about it between now and the New Year. Although I have an idea what was wrong with it and it was mostly stylistic.

I should get a book reader, and not a color one either. The color ones are just laptop screens, and if I could read a book off of a laptop I wouldn’t have a problem. The whole publishing industry is moving in that direction, right now Borders is in deep financial trouble and Barnes and Noble is heading there also. The price drop between electronic and paper is quite incredible, one book I am going to need costs 47 in paper but 9 as a file. It shouldn’t even really cost that, but someone has to get their taste of the action.

Kind of addicted to Hearts on the computer. I can’t do anything without having to play a game…that reminds me. Cool I just won a squeaker.

Trying to read Aristotle over the break. I’m taking a class on the Metaphysics this coming semester but attention keeps straying. I mean that I’m still reading Aristotle but I keep drifting from Metaphysics and into De Caleo or De Politica. It’s a good thing I don’t have “On Things Heard,” which could be titled “De Bullshitica” but I don’t think that’s a word in Greek. I should probably get the Oxford Complete Works but it’s 97 dollars in the stores and online…although it’s 18 bucks on a reader, further backing up my claim that I should get one.

X-Mas tomorrow, makes me glad I don’t live in the year 3000.

Categories: daily observations

Blocked

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

This is exactly the worst time that I should be doing this. However, I think that I need to kick start my brain into writing mode and although some people may not believe that these blog entries serve any purpose it’s all just practice for the paper writing. I currently sit in Starbucks on the library table that takes up a good deal of space in the small building. I am surrounded by source material to the left of me are both of the text books that I used when I was teaching Medical Ethics. To the left of me are two magazines (The Atlantic and Skeptic Quarterly) opened to articles on Autism. Beneath those are the PDF articles that are useful to my paper. This table could easily fit three people on one side and I have annexed the entire side with my stuff.

Yet, with all of this material around me, not to mention that I have two power points, another PDF, and my already started paper open on my laptop, I cannot get writing. The trouble is that immensity of the paper that i have to write and my love of the subject. For the most part I didn’t really like teaching bioethics. Mostly because I stuck with the cliche topics and after five semesters they became kind of rote. However I never tackled the subject of pseudoscience and the danger of legitimizing it before. It was one of those traps that I fall into, I don’t like talking about the subjects that I really like because it can infuriate me when someone disagrees.

This time the danger is a bit more real. It’s not just disagreement, it’s a grade. If I can’t prove that medical ontologies should not include false beliefs or at the very least include them but indicate that they are false, then am I just bullshitting this? The worst part is that it’s all here, both the theoritical reasons why (with some minor objections about patients’ rights) and actual evidence about what happens when you let such false beliefs propagate, outbreaks of pertussis in California for example.

I just can’t transition well enough to get past the six page block where I am now. I’ve performed all of the actions that normally stall me in writing: checked three email accounts, briefly skimmed facebook, and now I am writing this. It’s a jump start…hopefully. I’ve even found the articles in the text book that I need I just can’t get into it.

The largest trouble is that I need to get this one done this weekend because a week from Monday I have another paper due. One that I haven’t actually started but I have all of that research done. The writing for that paper, save some new block like this, will just be a grind.

Perhaps, I have something right now, or perhaps I will just end up staring at the blinking cursor for awhile longer. Either way I can feel it in my brain the inkling of an idea, a transition sentence. It really is all I need to get going.

Then again it may just be another game of hearts…

Categories: daily observations, School

One More Day

December 7, 2010 Leave a comment

I like being in school, I just don’t like being in classes. Perhaps I should say that I don’t like being a student in classes, but that would be a lie, I just don’t like having to do the final papers. For the first month or so of my classes those due dates are like abstract art, you kind of understand that they exist but it doesn’t really matter. Until someone rips the painting off the wall and holds it ransom. Which is what these last two weeks feel like.

This is your life as it stands right now: two papers left, two down, and one presentation.

We must remember the maxim of Murphy as well because everything is going wrong. The weather turned, which isn’t a surprise this is Western New York in the corridor of the Great Lakes, but no one else apparently can remember that. Push the plows out and get it done, I have an hour commute. Then the wireless internet decides that it is going to quit at school, I wonder if the professors will take, “I left my ethernet cable at home” for a valid excuse?

Then I mysteriously became ill. I only get sick about once a year and unfortunately it is usually a crippling cold, but sometimes not. This time I know what it is going to be, because a little gremlin that I live with is sick right now and she gave it to me. It’s just not a good time to get sick I have two papers to write.

One paper is difficult because I have all the research but no topic to write about. That’s the Monday morning class, and it’s not due until the 20th of this month…somehow we worked that out. I’ll give one guy in the class credit for the hail mary pass he went for today, “So professor it’s a 12-15 page paper right?”

No, it’s a 15 minimum. That’s fine, I can do that…I already have the research done, two years of papers from grad school previously of which to mine for sources and subjects, two and a half years of lectures and assignments from which to mine from, I just need a topic. Like the Sophist Gorgias give me a topic I can find fifteen pages of words on it, that’s not hard. Making it good is only hard if you have trouble with a topic…that’s my problem right now. It haunts my dreams.

The fifteen minimum is normal, a standard really, but today in the Biomedical class we were thrown a loop. We all made assumptions of the final paper thinking they would be like the standard, but “standard” is a concept like “average.” It means there will be deviation from the norm. Whereas one of my papers had to be a maximum of 10 pages, this one has to be a minimum of 20…with the added bonus of having something publishable. Not that our grade is going to hinge on journal acceptance, but the two professors would like something to be there.

That’s actually the easy part. I know that exposing quackery in medical science/pseudo-science is interesting to people because it causes controversy and people like controversy, but that minimum of 20 makes it hard. I know that the paper I was going to write was going to be in need of fluff at around 10 pages, so i added a case study. Now I need more case studies which will hopefully make it more general as opposed to the specific focus I had in making the anti-vaccination crowd look like idiots.

I like the writing which is why i hate the 20 minimum. Because I like it, I don’t want to fluff it filling the topic with bullshit just to make a minimum. They know I know the stuff, because not only did I trash the medical quakery of the Jenny McCarthy crowd but I also dug into the African Traditional Medical Ontologies which include witchcraft and soothsaying as entries (don’t laugh too hard there is a repeated push to include such things as “faith healing” and “miraculous recovery” which is as preposterous as it is unfalsifiable). Now I need more examples, journalistic examples at least….any skeptics out there want to help me out?

The Drinking Commandments

October 30, 2010 Leave a comment

My drinking commandments, inspired by personal life experience and a google search for “drinking ten commandments.”

1) “Thou shalt learn that brown liquors are the holiest of liquors.”–Name a brown colored liquor that you can’t do a shot of and then order on the rocks. All Whiskeys, Bourbons, Scotches are pretty much universal in purpose booze, on the other hand you may be physically able to shoot gin but unless you are looking to throw up immediately you probably shouldn’t. One might object and say, “What about vodka?” Well, I must admit that I am a big vodka fan and occasionally drink it on the rocks, but it has no distinct taste. If you are drinking a glass full of Russian drinking water (“Vodka” is derived from the Slavic word for “Water”) you are looking to get drunk.

2)“There is no such thing as a Chocolate Martini.”–Or an appletini, or a stawberry martini. A martini is not the glass it comes in, it is the ingredients in it. Which should only consist of Vodka or Gin, Dry Vermouth, and a small olive. Some people use a cocktail onion but I’ve never done it. And ladies: stop stealing my olives!

3)”The Longer the Name the Weaker the Drink.”–I was tending bar once and a guy kept drinking a substance with Orange Juice, Cranberry juice, Peach Schnapps, and Vodka. I served it in a cup that was 1.5 Pints. For those of you who don’t know this is called a sex-on-the-beach. It will not get you drunk. The fruit juice and ice effectively water down the drink, you end up getting full before you get drunk. The long name indicates that it tastes good, is usually for women, and are reserved for times when you want to go all day.

4)”If your beer brags about being Low Calorie It Is NOT Worth Drinking” This seems to be common sense. Low calorie means low taste, usually. The thing about low calorie beer is that it is made for people trying to lose weight. If you want to lose weight don’t drink beer. On the other hand beers like Guinness have typically lower calories than Pilsners or Ales, but they don’t brag about it.

5)”Do Not Set Thy Shot Glass Down Until It Is Empty” You are sitting at the bar having a good time, and someone buys a couple of shots. You toast, then drink, then notice that the person next to you still has liquid in their glass after they put the glass down. I’m sorry do you not understand the meaning of a shot? If you can’t finish it, don’t take it.

6)”Honor thy Bartender” They are the ones that give you the drinks and they have to put up with a LOT of shit. Sure bartending may seem like the best of all possible jobs, but that’s only because you are drunk at the bar…they are working. Plus good bartenders know good customers (i.e. the ones that tip well) and usually can be relied upon to hand out a couple of free shots or at least turn your whiskey and coke into a coke and whiskey.

7)”Thou Shalt Not Refuse a Free Drink” Seriously, it’s free. Unless you have to drive, what have you got to lose? Just take the damn thing, but remember that you must reciprocate.

8)”Thou Shalt Always Know What is in Thy Favorite Drink” This was a complaint of a friend of mine and I never understood it until I was behind the bar myself. Example: “Can I have a {insert whatever stupid drink here}?”, “You know, I’m not really sure how to make it could you tell me what’s in it?” “No, the guy down the street makes them really good, are you sure you can’t do it?” The thing is that no, I’m not sure because I have no idea what is in it. In fact, it might be the guy down the street’s signature but more than likely it’s something simple with a stupid name or one stupid superfluous ingredient. Like a Screwdriver (Orange Juice and Vodka) with Blue Curacao and called the blue whale.

9)”The Franchise Bar Is Going to Rip You Off” This is because they take inventory quite seriously. They not only count beer but also liquor, some places even weigh the bottle at the end of the night. Most have magnetic shot pourers that cut the stream off after exactly one ounce, if you want to get drunk at these places skip their margarita menu and just stick to the oversize beers.

10)”Thou Shall Always Obey Thy Rule of Threes” If you plan on going out for one drink, you are always going to get three. The first one doesn’t count, and there is always, “ok one more” before you leave. While going out for “just a couple” usually means the whole night since the word “couple” is a vague term with no definitive meaning. And if you say “I’m going out for a bit” it means you are probably coming home at three in the morning in a cab…or a police car. 

Categories: daily observations