Archive for December, 2010

Good, Bad or Ugly Atheists

December 30, 2010

I promised I’d get back to Myers’ comments on the column by S.E. Cupp, and now I am.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/12/the_good_atheist.php

Myers starts off by basically saying that he doesn’t think that much of what she says is interesting, but he doesn’t really give any real link to us being able to find out what she’s said before this since he makes no other links.  I did find some of her other columns on her own site.  The interesting thing is that I had no idea who she was until he mentioned her, so he just basically gave her free advertising.

But let’s move on to the meat of his post:

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But reading her latest column, I suddenly realized what she is: she’s the Good Atheist the believers want us all to be like. Good Atheists don’t criticize religion; they praise it and make excuses for it and pine away, wishin’ they had the faith themselves. Good Atheists do criticize atheism and atheists. They work hard to tell the Bad Atheists to shut up and stop making it hard for believers to be comfortable with their superstitions. Good Atheists love C.S. Lewis, and read theologians in their spare time, and marvel at their wonderful insights. Good Atheists follow right-wing politics diligently, and think theocracy might not be so bad, after all; at least the trains would all run on time, and the criminals and foreigners wouldn’t get so much slack, and church-goers are such good and upstanding members of society anyway — we should be encouraging them.

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Well, reading the column, she’s certainly sounding like she might be a good atheist to this believer … but for none of the reasons he mentioned above.

First, in her article I don’t think she’s praising religion and wishing she could have faith herself.  She basically says that she was impressed by the actual intellectual work her father and others who were religious did and at best wanted to understand what it was she was arguing against.  She’s particularly impressed by how her father read atheist works in thinking about his religion.   That’s something that anyone who advocates critical thinking should applaud.  But, then, Myers doesn’t quote anything of hers, to support his contention so it’s hard to know what he’s referring to there.

Second, well she is criticizing what she calls “neoatheists”.  But she’s critcizing them not for not making it comfortable for believers to be superstitious, but for making it hard or impossible for them to examine their beliefs and decide for themselves what to accept. Again, her father made a long “spiritual journey” as she put it and ended up religious.  The atheists she criticizes want to stop people from doing that sort of thinking, by declaring — as again, she puts it — that the issue is settled and that only irrational and uneducated people don’t accept that.  Basically, she criticizes them for declaring all religious people superstitious without considering how much thinking they’ve put into it … which is exactly what Myers is doing here.  Good job.

Third, well, yes, Good Atheists read C.S. Lewis and leading theologians to try to understand what religious people actually think and what the basis of religion really is.  This seems to be a critical part of critical thinking.  Is Myers really criticizing this?

And finally, there’s nothing in this column that indicates that she’s right-wing; I had to go to her other columns — unlinked — to get that.  There’s no indication that she wants a theocracy for any of those reasons.  And since I didn’t know that she was right-wing, it clearly wasn’t that that made me think that she was a Good Atheist, and Myers gives no evidence or quotes to suggest that that is why anyone would think that that is what makes a Good Atheist as opposed to a bad one.

So, Myers is mainly making up her positions, making up the positions of believers, and when he gets the positions right is railing against things he, by all rights and all of his other rhetoric, should support.  It looks a lot like he doesn’t like her because he doesn’t agree with her, which is his right but is hardly an example of critical thinking and rationality.

But wait.  It gets better.

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“S.E. Cupp has found a profitable niche. She’s the Token Atheist, the Good Atheist, the Beloved Atheist who affirms religion. It’s sweet and creepy at the same time. I don’t know whether to say, “Poor girl — no principles and no mind, a sell-out to status quo” or “Lucky girl — the Christian majority loves her, and she’s going to be raking in the accolades”.”

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So, here Myers basically gives up and says “She doesn’t really believe that; she’s just doing it to get accolades/money/whatever.”  He claims she has no mind or principles on what basis?  That she doesn’t agree with him?  That she’s popular with people that he hates and thinks that all atheists should hate, too?  Why shouldn’t we claim that his strong atheist stance is just as unprincipled, just a way for him to get attention (which he gets in spades)?  It says something about someone when their first reaction to someone who doesn’t agree with them is to accuse them of not really believing what they say.

And this is not new; a major part of the discussions about other accomodationists is an accusation that they are saying things they don’t really believe in order to “play nice”.  No thought is given to the idea that they might actually believe that religion and science are not necessarily incompatible, or that they really think that the Bad Atheists are being far too harsh.  No, they just want to play nice.

Now, someone may booklink this post and pray — or, well, whatever passes for prayer for them — for the day when she is revealed to be a shill, so let me just address that now:  it doesn’t matter.  Myers has no evidence of her being a shill other than what she believes, and it is quite possible for her to legitimately believe it.  Thus, even if it turns out that she doesn’t actually believe that, Myers is still wrong since he has no real evidence to support that contention, and is just making it because he disagrees with her — proving that critical thinking was not engaged when he made these criticisms.

At the end, Myers says he’d rather be a Bad Atheist and keep his self-respect.  If, as I say, a Bad Atheist is one that abandons critical thinking to oppose religion, then he should not be able to keep his self-respect and be one, and that he can says oh, so much.

(And yes, he can argue that that’s not his definition … but his Good Atheist definition was based on what he claimed believers thought … and being a believer, clearly I have more right to define those terms for believers than a non-believer does, no?)

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Arrogant Atheists?

December 30, 2010

P.Z. Myers linked and made a post about this article, and I’l probably get into talking about his post later.

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/12/29/2010-12-29_the_arrogance_of_the_atheists_they_batter_believers_with_smug_certainty.html

While, as you might guess, Myers pans it, this article is, in fact, precisely my problem with the New or Gnu or Schmoo or whatever Atheists:  the overwhelmingly arrogant position that they are the only ones who are right or rational, and no one who disagrees with them can be, even as they often reveal that they neither understand nor care to understand the people they’re saying are just plain irrational idiots.

Some nice quotes:

“It’s these snarky and condescending rejections, not of faith itself but of those who profess it, that reflect a total unwillingness to learn something new about human nature, the world around us and even of science itself. While the neoatheists pay only cursory attention to dismantling arguments for God, they spend most of their time painting his followers as uncultured rubes.”

The Courtier’s Argument is precisely the sort of argument that allows those “neoatheists” to ignore theology and all of the more profound thoughts on religion to instead pick on “folk religion” that’s easier to mock.  And even when they engage, so many of their replies are, in fact, shallow readings that are there just to mock the argument without understanding it.

“The truth is, folks like Maher and Silverman don’t want to know about actual belief – in fact, they are much more certain about the nature of the world than most actual believers, who understand that a measure of doubt is necessary for faith. They want to focus on the downfall of a gay pastor or the Nativity scene at a mall.”
“I implore my fellow atheists to take this humility to heart. There’s still a lot to learn, but only if you’re not too busy being a know-it-all.”

A know-it-allness that’s even more puzzling given how a lot of these people so proudly tout their willingness to say “I don’t know”.  You’d think they’d say it a lot more than they do if that was the case.

It’s a good article, and I think it sums up quite well where a lot of the “accomodationist” anger and frustration is coming from.

How often do you say you attend services?

December 28, 2010

There’s also been a bit of kerfuffle over a recent set of studies that showed that while Canadians and Americans attended religious services about as often as people from other areas — like Europe — they tended to say they attended more than people who didn’t.  Daylight Atheism talks about it a bit here:

http://www.daylightatheism.org/2010/12/breaking-the-religion-morality-link.html

The supposed explanation for this is that the people who are reporting when they are going to services are flat-out lying about how often they go in an attempt to be seen as being more moral, since being religious is associated with being moral.  Now, when the comments were limited to it being Americans, that made more sense, but Canada certainly does not have anywhere near as strong an association between morality and religion as the U.S. does and their numbers were the same, according to the quoted Slate article.  And when one thinks about that theory, it becomes even more untenable.

Note that numbers cited refer to either “Do you attend services regularly?” or “Do you attend weekly?”.  Both of these are fairly vague.   I couldn’t find the numbers that asked this question mentioned at Daylight Atheism which is more specific:  ” … for instance, when Americans are asked, “Did you attend religious services in the past week?”, high percentages say yes.”  And I highly doubt it was, because that would be really terrible for the “lying to seem moral theory”, since it would seem that they’d be willing to lie directly about whether they had gone that week, but wouldn’t fudge the actual time log.

In fact, the contradiction between what’s reported when they’re just asked and what’s reported when they directly log their time suggests that, in fact, lying isn’t what’s happening here.  It must be a subconscious factor that explains the differences, because if it was conscious they’d do it in both cases.  A clash between the reports and the actual numbers that attend might indicate lying, but a contradiction in two cases where they are equally able to lie suggests that they aren’t actually lying; they really believe both sets of reports.

So, what can explain this?  Well, let’s look at the questions.  Do you attend services regularly?  Do you attend services weekly?  These aren’t about “What did you do this week?” but are about “What do you usually do?” .  And they may, in fact, genuinely believe that, usually, they attend services regularly or weekly … even if that’s not every week.  For example, when asked how often I attend services I always answer “Occasionally”, even though for me they’re incredibly occasional since I don’t think I’ve been to services for over a year.  Am I right, or wrong?  Am I lying, or not lying?  What does “regularly” and “occasionally” really mean, anyway?

Now, at this point one may rightly protest that my above comments don’t matter.  After all, attendance at services is the same in Europe as it is in Canada and the United States, but they don’t over-report their attendance as much in Europe.  Surely they’d have the same issues with the wording?  Well, yes, and here’s where I think that, in some way, the calls for it relating to differing attitudes are right, but not in the way the New or Gnu or whatever the heck they are Atheists want or need it to be.

Let me ask you this:  Imagine that someone asks you “How often do you watch Survivor?”.  Imagine that you watch it, but it’s kinda a guilty pleasure for you.  Are you going to say “weekly”?  Or even “regularly”?  Or are you instead going to say something like “Occasionally”, even if that happens to be every week it’s on?  And imagine that someone asks you “How often do you watch House?”.  Aren’t you going to be more likely to inflate how often you watch that show?  Note that all of this will be subconscious; you’ll just count the days that you don’t watch Survivor more strongly against the claim that you’re a regular watcher of it than you’ll count that same amount of days against you being a regular watcher of House.

So, in Canada and the United States, attending religious services is indeed seen as more respectable, and so when people calculated how regularly they attend services they undercounted their absences subconsciously.  In Europe, it isn’t as respectable so they didn’t undercount their absences as much.  I’m not sure if we have a jurisdiction where it has as little respect as the Gnu Atheists think it should have, but I suspect that in those cases they’d overcount their absences, and claim to attend less than they actually do.

So, great, the attitudes are different and the Gnu Atheists win, right?  Well, not so fast.  I’m accepting and arguing that, yes indeed, the attitudes are different, which explains the difference in reporting … but note that one of the main thrusts of the polls was that the actual attendance wasn’t markedly different between those areas.  So, Europeans consider being religious and attending services less respectable, but that difference hasn’t translated into lower attendance rates.  So claims that if they make religion less respectable it will make people less religious seem overstated, if actual attendance means anything with respect to how religious someone is.

And while it may tie to respectability, it doesn’t seem to tie to morality, or else the time evaluations would be wrong, too.  Canadians and Americans are not, in fact, lying to be seen as moral; it’s all explained by underlying subconscious processes that don’t tie into that sort of reasoning at all.

Euthanisa and Self-Defense: A follow-up to yesterday’s post …

December 28, 2010

So, yesterday, I talked extensively about when it’s okay to kill in relation to the issue of abortion and a recent controversy in Phoenix:

https://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/when-is-it-okay-to-kill/

Now, a couple of other issues have been raised in discussing this.  Euthanasia was raised in Conte’s original essay, and discussion comments have talked about killing in war.  So it’s probably a good idea for me to discuss them.

For euthanasia, note that my ultimate reply in the abortion case was that the foetus should, morally, sacrifice its life to save that of the mother since it will die regardless.  Thus, those appointed to make moral decisions for the foetus should make that choice as well, which would make it a case of a willing sacrifice as opposed to a direct killing and would make it moral.  This isn’t the case for euthanasia.  The person being killed isn’t sacrificing their life for someone else, but are instead just asking to be relieved of their suffering.  Even if that’s moral — and again at least the Stoics and the Catholics will disagree — that’s a decision that cannot be made for the person being killed by anyone else, since only that person can decide how much suffering they are willing to take.  There is no moral demand under pretty much any moral system I can think of — well, perhaps under exceptionally strong forms of Utiltarianism — for someone who is suffering to kill themselves.  So those who are making the decisions for them have no moral basis to decide that morally they should be killed, and so direct killing is still direct killing, and so is still wrong.

Note that it is slightly different if someone is, in fact, taking a direct action to preserve their live.  Morally, that would come down to considering whether or not one should prolong their suffering, which is an entirely different matter and is probably a case of indirect killing.

But war … war is different (even as it never changes).  That’s clearly direct killing, and it’s normally considered morally justified, even by religions.  Most commonly, it’s defended under the principles of self-defense; if someone is trying to kill you or someone else, you’re allowed to kill them to stop that.  This might be iffy for the Stoics and Kant, but it’s closer than the euthanasia or abortion cases.  And one of the reasons for that is because of how Conte talks about the abortion case:  if someone is taking an immoral action, they aren’t innocent.  In the euthanasia and abortion cases, the person being killed is innocent, which is not the case in war or in self-defense.  It’s always wrong according to Conte’s interpretation of Catholic doctrine to directly kill an innocent person, but the people being killed in war or in self-defense are not innocent, so that isn’t the same moral case at all.

Being Stoic-leaning, I’m not convinced that that really makes a difference, and yet the Stoics did agree with fighting in wars and defending people.  Thus, that’s a bit of an open question, but there is a real difference to look at there.  The final answer to these cases might well have to wait for a fully-fleshed out theory of morality to solve.

When is it okay to kill?

December 27, 2010

So, there’s a lot of controversy over the decision of a Pheonix bishop to remove the Catholic affiliation with a hospital over an abortion that was performed there, but that was deemed medically necessary (ie the foetus was not going to survive regardless, but the mother would survive if the abortion was performed).  Details here:

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/wire/sns-ap-us-bishop-hospital,0,2169001.story

Ophelia Benson’s been going on at length about it, and here she almost reads and comments on a lengthly defense of the principle that the bishop was purportedly following:

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2010/regardless-of-the-cost-regardless-of-the-cost-regardless-of-the-cost/

Now, she can’t get all that far in it before exploding in moral indignation, but here’s the direct link to the comment from Ronald Conte Jr.:

http://www.catechism.cc/articles/Phoenix-abortion-case.htm

Now, he’s fairly wordy and circles back to the same arguments repeatedly, and a lot of his arguments are Catholic specific, but it does raise a very interesting philosophical position.  So after all that preamble, here it is:

Is it okay to deliberately kill someone to save the life of someone else?

With the added corrolary:  Even if the person you’d be killing is going to die anyway?

Let’s get the whole “a foetus isn’t a person!” argument out of the way immediately.  Catholics think it is, and if it isn’t then there wouldn’t be any discussion here worth having.  You’d just do the abortion and be done with it.  So the moral debate in this specific case — where the mother will die if the abortion doesn’t happen — is over killing something that whose life we might want to protect to save the life of someone else.  The debate over the personhood of the foetus is for other cases, not this one, because judging this case is done primarily on the idea of “Do you not even make an exception for the life of the mother?”.

I guess the best way to focus the debate is to say that the criticism of the bishop and the Catholic position here is, in fact, based on the Catholic position.  Since the Catholic position here gives the foetus personhood, it must be judged taking that into account; you can’t hold the Catholic Church here to a position that it doesn’t hold.  That’s why the main debate topic here is over whether the Catholic position should indeed hold that an abortion is not allowed even when both the mother and foetus will die if it is not performed.

And that leads to the question raised by Conte’s essay:  when is it okay to kill someone to save someone else’s life?

Now, at the outset, let me state that I lean very much towards the position that if both the mother and the foetus will die if an abortion is not performed, but that only the foetus will die if it is performed, that in those cases the right thing to do is to allow or perform the abortion.  But Conte’s essay challenges that, and reminds me that morality is no where near as simple as some — and even I — think it is.

Because he bases his judgement on this principle:  what the doctor/hospital/whatever is doing in that case is taking a direct action to kill someone.  And taking a direct action to kill someone is always wrong, no matter what good consequences you intend by it or what bad consequences it is avoiding.

One of the issues for me is that this does seem to fit into Stoic philosophy, which I very much lean towards.  For the Stoics, it is always wrong to commit a vice, no matter what the circumstances.  Killing someone is a vice, and you shouldn’t do it no matter what threats or consequences come from it.  You only control what you do, not the consequences, and you’re not responsible for bad consequences that arise because you refused to act viciously.  So, if killing is always a vice, then you should never kill a person, even if it’s to save the life of someone else.  The Stoics are clear about this, noting that threats to your own life or the life of others should never get you to commit any vice, no matter how minor.  Killing’s not minor.

Note that even the famous trolley cases seem to hint that this intuition is fairly common.  When given the choice to switch the track so that one person dies instead of the five on the other track, most people choose to switch the track.  However, when they’re asked to push someone onto the tracks to stop the train and thus save five people, most people say that that wouldn’t be morally right.

When this experiment was run on me recently in class, I answered based on the idea that it was not right to take someone else’s life directly, even to save someone else’s, and was in agreement with the majority.  So it does seem that, intuitively, it is at least plausible that we have objections to killing someone directly to save the life of someone else.   And that is what Conte says is happening in the Phoenix case.

Now, there is a difference, and the difference is one that Lysaught is relying on and that Conte is replying to:  in that case, the foetus was going to die anyway, no matter what happened.  There was no chance of it coming out this any way but dead.  Thus, she argues, it’s not a direct killing, but what might be called “indirect”, and thus in accordance with Catholic morality on the matter and, in fact, in accordance with the trolley case.  The switch is indirect, and the pushing is direct.  Lysaught wants to claim that the fact that the foetus will die anyway changes it from the second example in the trolley case to the first, from direct killing to indirect killing.

Well, clearly, that’s not a well motivated argument.  That someone is going to die anyway does not change the fact that you are still taking a direct action to kill someone.  For example, if someone is infected with a fatal disease and you shoot them before it can spread to others, you’re still killing them.  You could have simply left them to die.  So Conte is right to point that out.  But the really interesting question is if it changes the moral permissability of the action.  In short, is it ever okay to directly kill someone, and does the fact that the person is going to die anyway make it okay?

A trite, useless, but somewhat entertaining answer would be to argue that life is, in fact, a terminal disease; everything that comes down with it eventually dies.  We’re all going to die anyway, so that would mean that you can kill anyone, anytime and it would be okay.  Whether you consider this a nice fringe benefit of the argument or whether you consider that this pretty much refutes it probably depends on your moral character.  But it’s not relevant to the overall discussion; clearly that’s not the sort of case under discussion, and most people do think that claiming that life being fatal is just a bit of sophistry.  So that case need not be considered.

So we can turn to a more relevant example.  Imagine that someone, say, is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  They are, in fact, going to die from it, whether over the next few days, weeks, or months.  Now imagine that you’re told to kill that person or someone else will be killed.  Does the fact that they are going to die anyway make it right?

I think most of our intuitions say that it doesn’t.  On the Stoic side, it clearly doesn’t seem to matter that they’re going to die anyway; the consequences aren’t important.   Killing is still killing.  And I think that most intuitions seems to accept that, unless it involves loved ones.  Though this is a little dodgy, but I think everyone accepts that this is a little dodgy.  True Utilitarians would accept it if the other person would give more happiness, but then they’d accept pushing the person in front of the train, too.

But there’s a hidden premise here:  someone is indeed threatening to kill someone else.  We aren’t responsible for their moral choices, and so we can excuse ourselves by saying that their immorality in killing someone else is not our problem.  And that’s certainly the Stoic line.

So, what happens if there isn’t a person involved, and we’re just faced with nature taking its course?  After all, that’s what’s happening here.  Essentially, we’re coming across a case where if we let nature take its course, two people will die, but if we intervene, one person will die.  And intuitively, our immediate reaction is that we should intervene and save one of them.  Now, does that intuition hold when we have to directly kill someone?

So, imagine this case:  There are two people trapped in separate airlocks on a spaceship.  Air is slowly leaking out of each airlock, and in a matter of minutes both of them will suffocate.  You have access to a button that will shunt the air from one airlock to the other and seal that one off, saving the life of one person while killing someone else.  Do you hit the button?

(Note:  the above example is a slightly modified version of a “love test” from Space: 1999).

Anyway, I think that in considering this case most of us feel a strong wrench in our moral reasoning systems, but think that we really should save at least one of them, and so should hit the button.  However, the Stoics and quite possibly the Kantians would argue that you probably shouldn’t:  the Stoics because it’s still a vice, and the Kantians because it treats the person you kill as just a means, and not an end.  Note that pretty much all of the objections go away if one of them willingly volunteers to be killed to save the other.

Now, let’s alter it slightly, so that one of these people has access to a button that will save themselves but kill the other person.  Is it right for them, in that case, to kill the other person?   And I think this gets a little harder; we feel a little less certain when the person taking the action gets to save their own life at the expense of someone else’s.  That being said, we probably all do think it okay.  The Stoics and Kantians, however, would disagree for the same reasons as stated above.

So, let’s assemble the case in detail.  We have two people, the woman and the foetus.  Both of them will die will if the action is not taken, and the foetus will die and the woman will live if the action is taken.  The action is, in fact, direct killing.  Is it morally right?  Following our example above, the Stoics, the Kantians and, of course, the Catholics would say “No”.  Utilitarians would say “Yes”.  It’s not clear how others would answer.  So it isn’t anywhere near as clear a question as people think.

Now, all of this would go away if the foetus could choose to sacrifice itself for the mother, and say “Go ahead and kill me”.  That eliminates all of the objections.  But the foetus cannot willingly sacrifice itself because it isn’t capable of making that decision.  Normally, such decisions would default to the parent, but the woman is the most directly relevant parent and she has a direct interest in the foetus dying.  And surely we wouldn’t want someone who has a vested interest in the death of the foetus deciding if it should willingly sacrifice itself.  So the decision shouldn’t default to her.

So, what we need is a willing decision by a moral agent to accept the direct killing and save the other life.  But the foetus — like a baby or someone in a coma — can’t make that moral decision.  They aren’t capable of making it at this point in time.  So, for such people, all such decisions are made by some appointed and relevant moral agent.  That moral agent must be concerned mainly with the best and, preferably, best moral interest of the person they are appointed to make decisions for.  This clearly leaves out the mother.  The father might be acceptable unless he has a bias like, say, he doesn’t really like the mother.  So, ultimately, the doctor or some kind of ethics board must be appointed to settle the issue, and represent the interests of the foetus because no one else can or will.  So, acting in the moral interest of the foetus, and making the moral decision that it should make, what decision should be made?

They should decide to allow the procedure, because that, morally, is what the foetus should do.  It should sacrifice itself because, for it, it changes nothing but it can indeed save the life of someone else.  This may not be demanded by the Stoics or Kant, but it’s almost certainly demanded by Catholicism.  So the duly appointed representatives who may make choices for the foetus should make that choice.

Conte is right that Lysaught is wrong to think that the foetus dying either way changes it from direct killing to indirect killing.  However, what this does change is that if the foetus was capable of making a moral choice, it should choose to sacrifice itself to save the mother.  And if that is what it should choose, then those appointed to make choices for it and represent its legal and more importantly moral interests should choose that as well.  And taking that into account, the abortion should be allowed.  Surely that is what Jesus would want us to do if we were in the foetus’ situation.

Everything you always didn’t want to know about hot dogs …

December 25, 2010

Here, and check out the annotations:

http://www.irregularwebcomic.net/2879.html

My favourite part is this (although it’s busted later):

“In Frankfurt, they call them wieners (after Wien, or Vienna). In Vienna, however, they call them frankfurters. The fact that neither city wants to claim credit for them might tell you something.”

Break update …

December 24, 2010

So, I’ve been on break for the past, well, almost two weeks because of the fact that my employer says that I lose my vacation if I don’t use it in a calendar year and for me there’s really no other time to take it, so as a matter of public interest — and to guilt myself into doing more — I’m going to see where I am on what I wanted to do.

I got my essay for my course finished and handed in.  I handed it in almost a week later than I had originally planned, but that was when the deadline actually was, so that seems reasonably responsible.

I did manage to get downtown and pick up some new Christmas CDs and a few other things.  The downtown shopping run, though, didn’t feel as important now that I’m down there every week anyway.  Why buy new CDs or board games when I’m not going to play them over my break anyway?

I was intending on working on some minor programs on my break, but, well, that just didn’t happen.  In no small part because the things I wanted to program I didn’t need or want to program anymore, at least right now.

I also wanted to play some of the old games that I managed to find on emulators, and that didn’t happen either.

I was supposed to watch Babylon 5 and Deep Space 9 on my break.  I was hoping to finish Babylon 5 by after New Year’s, but I’m behind on that.  I’m only about half-way through Season 2 in almost two weeks.  I was hoping to finish Deep Space 9 by the end of, well, today and I’m close, but it took a lot of effort to make it that far.  How in the world did I manage to get into the situation where on my break I didn’t watch enough TV?

I did manage to write out that thing on consciousness and so actually add some content to this blog.  I should have added more, but then again a lot of my time was spent on my essay, which is out of the way.  Time to get back into more writing.

So far, not too bad.  If the biggest things I’m missing are things that I was supposed to do for fun, then that’s okay:  vacations are supposed to be about choosing what fun things you do and what you don’t.  I did a lot of reading so far, so that’s enough for me.

Season’s Greetings …

December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the reader of this blog.

>Don’t you mean “the readers”?<

Nope, WordPress says it’s pretty much just the one.

(Joke shamelessly stolen from the intro page from a Deadpool comic.  Ah, Deadpool.  Is there nothing that character can’t make funny?)

“Children” at Christmas …

December 23, 2010

I read this story today, and it reminds me of, really, what I hate about, at least, some people:

http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2010/12/23/16653786.html

So, the meat of the story is that Canada Post has asked people to not put decorations on the railings of their outdoor steps and stairs to help avoid accidents.  The reasoning for this seems to be that when it’s snowy and icy outside their mail carriers could use the railings to hold on to, and it’s hard to do when they have things on them, and trying might cause accidents (the article cites an incident — sans details — where a mail carrier almost lost a finger four years ago).  If the people don’t do this, Canada Post is threatening to stop delivering mail until they do

Well, it doesn’t sound like a really big threat, and Canada Post is almost certainly overreacting.  But there does seem to be a risk.  So what is the reply from people?

” “It’s moronic. They are stupid,” said St-Hubert resident Ghislaine St-Pierre. “I’ve been putting the garlands up for five years and they have never said anything. My entrance way is always clear.” ”

Well, they didn’t say anything and it might not be a problem on your stairs.  Or, it might be.  Canada Post doesn’t have the time to check all of these to see what’s okay and what might not be, and just because you’ve never had an accident doesn’t mean that you won’t.  Maybe you just got lucky.  Maybe we’ll get more freezing rain this year and your entrance way won’t be clear.  None of this, really, has anything to do with their claim, and certainly calling them stupid and moronic isn’t doing anything to deal with it.

And they can counter with the obvious “Why are you putting a little bit of decoration over potential safety issues?”.

“But St-Pierre says there is no way she’s taking down her decorations.

“If they aren’t happy, they can keep my mail until Jan. 2,” she said.”

Well, that’s fair enough.  If those decorations are all that important to her, saying “They can suspend my service if they want” is a good response.  And I’d be more impressed with it if I didn’t think that she was saying that in a very bitter sense, filled with superiority.

“Boisvert received two notices before an inspector left him a note on Tuesday. The note said if the problem wasn’t fixed, Canada Post would be forced to temporarily suspend his delivery.

I think that my mail carrier doesn’t like Christmas,” he said. To keep the peace and ensure his mail delivery continued he installed a temporary ramp made with a few pieces of wood.”

Well, kudos on the compromise, but he loses a lot for claiming that the mail carrier doesn’t like Christmas for complaining about it.  He might be too concerned about safety, but there’s no indication that sending repeated notices means he doesn’t like Christmas.

“The explanation doesn’t satisfy Nathalie Gagnon, who has decorated her railings with small Christmas lights for 15 years without any issue.

“Don’t they have other things to do?” she wondered. “They are exaggerating. If they don’t want to deliver, they can keep my mail and then pay my bills when the time comes.” ”

It’s so nice that the article arranged the responses from most to least reasonable.

See, the first person said that they can keep her mail, and she’ll deal with it after the decorations are taken down.  The last person says that she’s not going to take down her decorations or make any accomodation, which will force Canada Post to carry out their threat … and then argues that they can then go further and actually pay her bills.  Excuse me?  Why?  If you don’t accept their terms, why aren’t you responsible for your own bills that end up overdue because of it … even if you’re right?

Ultimately, Canada Post almost certainly is overreacting.  That being said, in today’s society — and I dislike this, too — they almost have to; they probably have unions and their employees looking to sue or get on their case if they don’t try to improve such conditions.  But the response from people is “I’m not going to take down these decorations.  They’re mine and they’re staying up!” when, really, it’s just Christmas decorations.   Even if overstated, having garlands and things on the rails might cause problems if anyone needs or wants to use them, even just if their hand might slip or get tangled in them.  Are those decorations that important?

Probably not.  But some people seem to think that asking them to take them down is some major violation of their rights, just as asking them to do anything they don’t want to do is a major violation of their rights.  We’re turning into a selfish society, thinking only of “me” and making even the most minor desire of ours a critically important right, and if we’re deprived these things it’s a huge, unreasonable deprivation.

Even though the danger is exaggerated, Canada Post seems to be on the right side here.   So those who don’t want to take their decorations down can, indeed, leave them up and face the consequences.  Their choice.  But it is a choice, and they really have to own up to that.

Consciousness page up …

December 21, 2010

It’s here:  https://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/nailing-the-third-person-science-of-consciousness-to-the-wall/ .

I’ll be editing it over the next couple of days, though …