Friday, July 29, 2011

Replying to Criticism

So, a few christians have replied to my initial post about free will, the problem of evil and christianity. This fairly long post will address the criticism I've received, hopefully to the satisfaction of the reader.

The first person to address is Rhology. Not coincidentally, it's also the easiest to address. He's simply not able to keep up. Here is his reply to my reply
to his initial blog post that didn't really address my query. If you don't feel like reading through the other blog posts, I criticized the "design" of the world, and then he asked how I would do it better. I assumed, of course, he meant "how would you do it better if you were god, or in god's position?" because otherwise the question would be meaningless. He might as well ask "how would you solve the current US debt ceiling crisis? Bear in mind, you're not an elected official in any US House nor are you the president. So how would you, as you, solve the debt ceiling crisis?" It's ridiculous, and to assume that is somehow a point against me is doubly so. He then criticized my suggestions for improving the human design, assuming that I'd not already have that covered. Dude, if I were god, if I knew all things and could do all things, I'd have already seen all potential problems with my design and corrected for them. It's not hard.
And no, I don't hate god, any more than I hate any other supervillain. Yes, I think Darth Vader's a bad guy for destroying Alderaan, just like I think your god is a bad guy for wiping out the entire human race except Noah's family, but that's only within the constructs of the narrative. Your god is fictional. I hate how poorly he's written, so in that respect I hate him. By that I mean I don't really think he's believable as anything aside from a villain unless you retcon the entire Old Testament and much of the New, and yet we're led to believe all the evil stuff he did is totally true AND he's a good guy, in fact he's THE good guy. It's comparable to the Green Lantern movie which I reviewed a while back. Much like Hal Jordan, your god doesn't develop from a wrathful, vengeful god to a nice forgiving one, he just sort of decides to be nicer and...that's it. So, the character sucks, or at least the newer version of him does. But like I said, OT god is a great villain.

Anyway, another christian blogger, bossmanham, also replied to my challenge. Before I reply to that post, I must reply to this one where he parrots William Lane Craig's dismissal of predetermination. The big problem with this, of course, is that it posits that we make our choices before the choice is given to us. Take the example that Craig uses, that is, Peter denying Jesus. Jesus told Peter he'd deny Jesus thrice...yet no one was asking Peter if he knew Jesus right then. In other words, Peter hadn't been given an opportunity to make the choice, yet Jesus knew it would happen. And since, in the biblical narrative, what Jesus says is perfectly true, Jesus saying it will happen means it will happen (funny how you claim that it's fallacious for me to say this, but it's stated pretty clearly in your post). So, in other words, the choice was made by someone else aside from Peter, since Peter can't have made a choice before he was given it, especially since the events that would make him decide to deny Jesus (his arrest and crucifixion) hadn't happened yet, and so Peter had no free will. And neither do the rest of us, I'd argue, at least in the christian worldview. The only solution is that your god exists outside of time, something that Craig also dismissed in his lecture.

So, we move to the actual post from bossmanham that addresses my post. It starts off with a misrepresentation of my original post that may be my fault. I don't know if I made it clear, but I don't think the bible makes a definite, deliberate statement as to whether we have free will or not, though one could make the case it says we have free will (or that we don't) using verses from the bible. What I said, or at least what I meant to say, is that whether or not it's explicit, the bible does seem to tell us that god controls everything, and we have no free will. Thus, that solution to the problem of evil fails.

Bossmanham replied to my question of whether free will is good by saying that it is, since god gave it to us. Of course, your god created evil, as Isaiah 45 states. If you think that Adam made us sinful, you're plain delusional. Anyone reading the text can see that both Adam and Eve were capable of being tempted into disobeying your god without Original Sin, so there really is no need to say that sin started with them. You're right that there is no good without evil, since both are comparative qualities (though I have no idea how human sacrifice can be good). But you brought up that we lack god's knowledge. This is a pure cop-out. If we don't have the proper knowledge to understand this, then your god should have given it to us. If your god wants us to believe he is real, he would make your job possible, and thus make it less likely that we, the theologically unconvinced people, will go to hell. It just seems like you guys fall back on this excuse of lack of knowledge because your position is indefensible.

I haven't read Alvin Platinga's argument against the problem of evil, but I've seen plenty of christians try to defeat Epicurus' Riddle, and they have all fallen flat on their face. Maybe you could give me the Cliff's Notes version of Platinga's argument?

Well, that's about it, I think.
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Right Wing Politics: Based on Hate and Greed

Two news stories have been dominating my mind lately. The obvious one is the massacre on Utøya island in Oslo, and to a lesser extent, the debt ceiling debate in the USA. These two stories, and the reaction to them, reveal two important things about the modern world. Firstly, it's clear that more has to be done to stop this neo-fascist right-wing nationalist movement in Europe. Even an outsider like myself can see that the rhetoric has always been excessively heated, and even the mainstream nationalists are dangerously extreme (remember, these people are advocating the deportation of millions of people for not being white). Secondly, the North American conservative movement is built on hate and greed, and fueled by fear. Click the "Read More" link to see how they are every bit as bad as Anders Brevik is, if not worse.

Perhaps you're skeptical about my claim regarding hate. Make no mistake, conservatives in North America, or at least their leaders, are rank hate-mongers at the best of times. Here's a sample of what a few prominent right-wingers have said in response to the tragedy at Utøya:
  • Canada's national shame, Mark Steyn, blamed multiculturalism for a racist shooting "race traitors". Note that Steyn regularly ascribes violence from radical Muslims to Islam in general, yet a violent, radical conservative is an anomaly, a theme we'll hear a lot here.
  • Bill O'Reilly claimed that Brevik isn't a christian since christians aren't about violence, but that all the radical Muslims who advocate violence are true Muslims. This coming from a man who wished death on UN workers.
  • Pat Robertson, of course, said essentially the same thing, but in a slightly more dickish manner.

In fact, it's so bad that AlterNet was able to compose a list of the Top 8 Dumbest, Most Insensitive Right-Wing Reactions to the Norway Shooting which included many others who I didn't list here myself. And the less said about the FreeRepublic reaction, the better (hint: they think Brevik, much like Obama, is a covert Muslim). Granted, Islam doesn't make itself very likeable in many Western eyes (and I am no fan of Islam, any more than I am of any religion) but conservatives would have issues with Islam even without any terrorist attacks because they're just too different from the western conservative norm. Social conservatives are uncomfortable with anything other than white, heterosexual patriarchate christians who speak the language the majority of the people in their country speak. Anyone disagreeing with me would have a hard time proving their case. After all, who's always trying to limit immigration? Who has turned "godless liberal" into an epithet? Who are the people most willing to make women and homosexuals second class citizens due to limiting reproductive and marriage rights, respectively. And don't think I'm just picking on Americans here, our own Stephen Harper tried to pretend that Bill C-38, the act that legalized gay marriage here, was illegitimate since the Bloc Quebecois was the only party that supported it 100%, and then tried to amend it just to prevent gay people from being allowed to use the word "marriage" to describe their unions.

But what about greed? If you've paid any attention to the recent debate on the debt ceiling, it's between Democrats, who want to raise the debt ceiling while making some spending cuts, and Republicans who want to make much more significant cuts (mostly hurting the poorest people via cuts to social programs) and avoiding any sort of tax hikes on wealthier citizens or businesses. There's also the idea of a "tax holiday", expertly dissected (amongst others) here. But the thing that's important here is that if this isn't decided by August 2, less than a week away, the U.S. government may well default, thus essentially ruining the world's economy. Let me rephrase this: the conservatives in congress are so hell bent on losing any money to taxes that they'd just as soon destroy the whole world's economy rather than raise taxes on the wealthy back to pre-2000 levels.

And how do they get any support from people who aren't bigots or excessively wealthy? Fear mongering.

Is it any wonder that sane people have such disdain for the right wing?
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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Captain America Review and "Super-Hero Fatigue"

I just got out of watching Captain America:The First Avenger (or just The First Avenger if you're not in the USA or Canada). Before I get into an actual review of this film, I'd like speak about a phrase I've seen quite a lot lately:superhero fatigue. I most recently saw it in this unintentionally hilarious Captain America review on that called Pirates of the Caribbean, Conan the Barbarian, Transformers, and the new Planet of the Apes "superhero movies". Seriously, I kid you not, they said that. They might as well call Rambo a superhero. Jesus...
Anyway, the phrase is a silly one that seems to have no basis in reality. People who use this phrase often use it to say "we're all tired of superhero movies" which is demonstrably false. There are, to my knowledge, 5 actual superhero movies being released this year, and according to boxofficemojo, the 4 of them that were released prior to this weekend are in the top 20 highest grossing films released this year, and 2 (Thor and X-Men First Class) are in the top 10, with Thor, a B-list mostly-unknown superhero to non-comic geeks, raking in nearly half a billion dollars internationally. If we go by that Time article, Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean are also amongst the 10 highest grossing films this year, and if we count Harry Potter as a superhero too (and why not? He has magic powers, and Dr. Strange is a superhero...) then 3 of the top 5 movies released thus far this year are superhero flicks. Granted, the Green Lantern will lose money at the box office, but that isn't because it's a superhero movie, that's because it's a very bad movie. Based on the Friday box office reports, Captain America will probably top next week's box office. So clearly, audiences aren't tired of superhero movies, and given what's set to be released next year I highly doubt "superhero fatigue" will actually set in any time soon.

The review of Captain America: The First Avenger will have a few very minor spoilers, including one for the end scene, so I'm hiding it behind the read more link just to be safe. None of the spoilers are big twists, but be forewarned anyway.

I'm not going to lie, I had some apprehensions about this movie. Was it going to be jingoistic, and would I, as a Canadian, feel uneasy watching it? Emphasizing the patriotism of the character too much would be a dumb move on many levels, but it's always possible when your hero wears a flag. Would it disappoint? I've been let down by over-hyped superhero movies before (like The Dark Knight, which, while good, was nowhere near being the masterpiece everyone claims it is) and this movie has been getting quite a lot of praise. This is perhaps the most accessible superhero movie since Batman Begins or Iron Man, which is a very good thing given that Cap is set to lead the Avengers in the upcoming movie of the same name. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, about as much as I enjoyed Thor. There are only a few of things keeping me from enjoying this more than I did Thor, and four of them were seated in the row in front of me. If a law were proposed to allow murder in cinemas if the victim is a crying child or a mouthy teenager, I would wholeheartedly support it.

As for other things I did not like, well, it's mostly nitpicking. Unlike the horrendous Green Lantern movie (did I mention that movie was awful?) the flaws here aren't easily apparent. Hugo Weaving's Red Skull, while deliciously evil, is not quite as good a villain on screen as on the page, and is quite a far cry from Loki. Part of it is the skull itself, which helps keep the film from getting too serious, but part of it was that the enemy was Hydra, not the Nazis. Perhaps Nazis are overused as villains, but they're also more of a threat than a science cult, which is what this movie turns Hydra into. As one of the Nazi officials stated before (first spoiler) Hydra officially cuts ties with the Nazis, Hydra is wholly funded by the Nazi government. Without robbing banks or selling technology to someone (though it's hard to imagine them selling it) they'll run out of funds quickly, meaning they're a lot less dangerous in the long run. But this is a small point.

The other small point is the integration of the U.S. military. There's a female officer (Peggy Carter, who makes me hopeful that a Sharon Carter will show up in The Avengers) during a time when women couldn't join the military, and the group that Cap leads to take on Hydra, the Howling Commandos, have a black guy and an east Asian. In fact, there are a few black soldiers seen in group shots, which makes me
makes one wonder what exactly happened to cause this. Perhaps Thor used Mjolnir to take himself, Nick Fury and the Black Widow to 1800s America, where they start up a sort of Civil Rights movement? They could perhaps have them fight off a Kree or Skrull invasion or something, and maybe even meet up with Wolverine if Fox loses the X-Men rights. It could end with Nick Fury speaking before Congress about how, if a couple of immigrants, a black guy and a woman can save America, then they deserve equal fact, I'm now convinced that if Marvel made this movie, it would be the best movie ever.

As for the positives? Well, basically every other thing about this movie is a positive for me. Chris Evans really knocked it out of the park as Steve Rogers. He's a likable hero who, despite any real character flaws, still feels like a rounded character. He's noble, kind, caring, selfless...the closest thing to a real flaw he has is his shyness and inability to connect with women, which serves to make him more relatable to the target audience. The script was consistently excellent, the dialogue believable and clever, the overall tone was perfect for a superhero movie (not overly serious and unaware of the inherent goofiness of superheroes, like Superman Returns, nor was it too goofy, like Batman & Robin) and the small nods to the fans were well placed and well appreciated. Amongst others, there was a quick cameo from the original android Human Torch, an homage to Cap's old suit and to the Reb Brown Captain America movies, and of course, the obligatory Stan Lee cameo. Also, if this movie doesn't at least get a Best Special Effects nomination for the excellent work making Chris Evans look tiny, I will be (more) convinced that the Academy Awards are worthless.

The supporting cast was excellent, especially Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci and Dominic Cooper. Tucci as Dr. Erskine really stands out, because his conversation with Cap is probably the most emotionally moving part of the whole movie. In his short time on screen, he becomes one of the most relatable characters in the whole film. A special mention, however, goes to Sebastian Stan as James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes. Bucky, who was a lamer version of Robin before his grim'n'gritty revival as the Winter Soldier, was much cooler in this movie, and (second spoiler) his death was better handled here than in the comics. In the comics, he died in Cap's last WWII mission. Here, he dies on a mission, and this motivates Cap to try end Hydra once and for all, making the death more meaningful.

The final scene (aside from the teaser trailer after the credits) is the closest thing to a negative to me, after the aforementioned nitpicks. (Obvious Spoiler) After the film's climax, in a sort of bookend to the opening scene of him being discovered cryogenically frozen in the Arctic, Cap wakes up in modern day New York. His room is made to look like it's still the 1940's, complete with a Peggy-Carter-lookalike and a radio rebroadcast of a 1942 Dodgers/Phillies game, which Cap recognizes. Cap, of course, freaks out, runs out into what looks like Times Square (I've never been to NYC, FYI) and meets Nick Fury. His reaction to Fury's news that he's been asleep almost 70 years and that everyone he knew and loved is either dead or very, very old is to complain that he missed a date (it makes sense in context) and then...credits. It's a surprisingly dark end to a mostly lighthearted movie, one that is a bit jarring given the happy credits music. However, the quick acceptance of this is in character, as Steve Rogers had a real inner strength before gaining his outer strength, so I can mostly forgive this.

All in all, this is a film that everyone can truly enjoy, and it sets up The Avengers perfectly. Everyone should see this movie, but not in 3D, since the 3D is quite useless here except for literally 2 scenes. I give this 8 shields out of 10.
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Friday, July 22, 2011

Response to Rhology re: theodicy and stuff

Background: So a bloke named Rhology initiated a twitter conversation with me, regarding abortion. In that conversation I asked him about my recent post on theodicy. He replied, and he also attacked a previous post I made. I'll reply to both of those after the jump.

First, the debunking of my smacking down of ShockofGod's nonsense. The comment he made had a lot of nitpicking (so what the book of Genesis didn't say "all snakes"?) some purely irrelevant commentary that masqueraded as relevant (yes, I know "proof" isn't the same as "persuasion", that's why I didn't bring up persuaded demographics), a bit of ignorance (he suggested all diseases are fatal...) and at an inability to grasp a joke (no, I don't expect any single article to end all religious debate). But there was some stuff worth replying to. He asked, in reply to my mention of the idea of "stupid design", eight questions. I'll repost, and have my answers bolded and in parentheses.

1) Prove it. Do it yourself and let's see how far you get.
(I don't have to do it myself to prove that I could do it better, given the tools and abilities your god is said to have. Just looking at his chosen species, I'd give us a blowhole, make it impossible for us to choke over food, strengthen the lower back to prevent the back problems that are so prevalent in our species, make our knees much stronger for the same purposes, eradicate allergies, and give us a set of gills too, just so we can avoid drowning. There. Better.)
2) How do you know what trade-offs the Creator had to make during the creation?
(There are none, if he's truly omnipotent)
3) Once you've accounted them (I'd guess they'd be in the quadrillions, so you better drop everything and get started soon. Pack a lunch, too), how would you do better?
(I could do anything at all. I could re-write the laws of physics if I wanted to, and the laws of thermodynamics. There's one big one for you: I'd make it impossible for the heat death of the universe to happen. And I'd turn black holes into portals to Candyland, because that's more pleasant than being crushed to death. I'm totally serious, I'd do something a lot like that)
4) Once you've figured how you'd do better, could you produce a prototype for the rest of us to examine? You know, subject it to peer review?
(Why would I have to?)
5) Make sure to use your own raw materials, by the way. Don't use God's.
(In this hypothetical situation I am god.)
6) How do you know the purpose of the Creator in creating the given "stupid design" that way, that you know that it was "stupid"? Do you know His mind such that you can know He had a good idea but implemented it poorly, or had a bad idea?
(There's a good question with a simple answer. I have access to the same bible you do, and it does describe your god's character pretty well. From that, we can gather a sort of purpose in the design of the universe.)
7) If naturalism is true, to precisely what standard, what teleology, do you compare this? There is no designer, therefore no design. There is no "good" design and therefore no "bad" design. If the designer had _____-ed the _____, who are you to dictate that that would definitely be better than the way it is now?
(It's funny, talking with someone who has a completely different view of reality than I do. It's like, I see a car and I say "that's a car" and you'd say "no, that's the essence of the colour green". If naturalism is true, and it is, then we put the judgements on everything. But there are some cold, hard facts that are true regardless of teleology, like "more humans choke to death than dolphins". So clearly dolphins are better at "not choking to death".)
8) Maybe the designer tried really hard and managed to design life more or less as it is but couldn't get all the minutiæ down pat, like he wanted. (Not a Christian view, but you can't overturn it.)
(And thus, it would be an imperfect designer, which is my point.)

Later on, he questions me on my statement that if any creator liked life, there would be more of it, or less empty space. The only one of those questions raised that's a good one is "What if the Creator wanted humanity to multiply of their own actions and fill up more space gradually?" That's actually a good question, but easily answered, in fact I believe I answered it in the post itself when I asked why there's so much uninhabitable space both on the planet and off. The answer from Rhology was "B/c God wanted there to be", and that there are 6 billion people living on a tiny fraction of the planet earth. Wait, he missed that last part. And that was included when I asked why there is so much uninhabitable space. I probably should have been more clear, but what's done is done. But the fact is, we're edging dangerously close to overpopulation, if we aren't already overpopulated. And we only really inhabit a small percentage of the landmass of this planet, which itself only covers about a third of the surface. So no, this planet isn't optimal for humanity.

Anyway, the post he made about my last post was kind of irrelevant since he's a Calvinist and doesn't believe in free will. I didn't know that when I asked him to answer that post. I had no way to know, really. But anyway, he did attack the Riddle of Epicurus. Let's look at that:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
--He is able.

Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
--Unless He has a perfect plan that includes the pouring out of His grace on sinners to redeem them, and also pouring out His perfect wrath and justice on other sinners, to show the justice of His righteousness.
This question assumes that humans are neutral or even good, and that's just not the case. Humans are wicked and sinful.

Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
--Answered already.

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
--Good question; ask a Mormon.

The first question asked if your god is able to prevent evil, but not willing. So simply answering "
He is able" without commenting on willingness is lazy.
The second question has nothing to do with human morality at all, and I have no idea why you mentioned it. Either way, the only way that evil can be justified is if it's to stop a greater evil. Your god created evil, and everything else. So what greater evil can there be, unless someone improved upon the evil your god created?
Read more!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Christianity's problem with free will

Before I get into this, I'd like to ask you to forward this to any christian you know who might be able to refute this somehow, and send it to other atheists to use in online debates if you think it's a good argument against christianity. I mean, I implicitly ask you to send every blog post to your friends just by posting it, but here I'm explicitly asking because I want real discussion here.

I discuss religion with christians a lot. In reality, I sort of miss religion, and would almost like to be convinced the religion I was brought up in is true. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in order to reach that point is theodicy, as in "the problem of evil" not the epic Greek poem (that joke works better if you're reading this out loud, and are aware of The Odyssey). The Problem of Evil, from a christian standpoint, is that the world has a lot of evil in it, yet the christian god is portrayed in the bible as all-loving, all-powerful and benevolent. As Epicurus said:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

The common modern christian response to this is the citation of free will, as in, god doesn't wish to force us to love him, so we're given a choice, and that choice allows for evil. However, this presents us with three fairly major problems. Firstly, the event that supposedly allowed human suffering, according to christians, is the fall ow man. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the fall of man only allowed for very specific aspects of evil and suffering. Now, let's say that christians are slightly mistaken on this. Let's say that some suffering (childbirth being painful, people being able to die, people needing to farm for food, etc.) was caused by the fall, and the rest was always out there, just not in Eden. Fine, that's a minor point anyway. There are still two very large problems with chalking evil up to free will.

Primarily, there's the fact the bible itself says that free will isn't possible. How, you ask? Well, there are many prophecies in the bible that apparently came true, and many others that have yet to be fulfilled regarding the end of days. There's even a website that lists 100 prophecies in the bible that have been fulfilled. Whether or not these prophecies really did get fulfilled is up for debate, but this does set up a reality where things are predetermined, and anyone who is familiar with the philosophical concept of freewill vs determinism knows that they're basically incompatible. If the future can be predicted, everything is predetermined, and if things are predetermined, we do not have free will, simply the illusion of free will. Our entire lives are governed by whoever determined how events will play out in the future, and all of our choices are laid out exactly so that there is no deviation from the plan.

But let's say that there is a way to get around that. I don't see how it's possible, but let's say that there is a way that we can legitimately have free will while having hundreds of prophecies that have come true, and several more that will. We still have a problem. Is free will a good thing in the christian worldview? On the one hand, god gives us free will so that we can choose him. After all, only a total evil tyrant would force people to believe in him and obey his every law. On the other hand, that's exactly what god does when you get to heaven. While we don't have a complete picture of what the christian heaven would look like, we know there's no sin. In other words, people who have shown themselves willing to obey god's laws and who love god enough to want to be with him forever have their free will taken away. Even if god simply "alters the programming" so to speak, to allow them to choose to do anything that isn't a sin, it's still a violation of free will. By christians' own admission, that would make god evil, at least towards residents of heaven.

And if this solution to the problem of evil doesn't work, then that brings us back to square one: Epicurus' old riddle.

So my questions for christians are these:

1: How do you reconcile your belief in free will with your belief that god has a plan for us all?
2: Is free will a good thing or a bad thing? If it's good, why does god not allow it in heaven? If it's bad, why does god allow it at all?
3: If you can't adequately solve the previous problems, how do you solve the Riddle of Epicurus? Read more!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A thought experiment re: morality

Here is a 2 part thought experiment I've developed. I've thought about it for some time, and I think that it's ready for to be exposed to the world now. Of course, if you think it's a halfway decent thought experiment, do share it with people so that they can comment here and I can see the answers.

First Part: You're a highly skilled doctor, in fact, you're the best surgeon in the hospital you work in. Two patients are brought into your emergency room at about the same time, both need surgery immediately, and both require the same complex procedure that only you can do properly. Both are the same age and have the same general level of health, both have the exact same chance of survival if you operate on them (100%) and the exact same chance of survival if you do not (0%). You have to choose between them.
One is a fairly wealthy executive. We'll call him A, for the purposes of this experiment.
One is a man of average wealth who is nonetheless loved and respected throughout the community. This man will be referred to as B.
Before you make your decision, you see a blindingly bright light followed by two possible visions of the future. This is no hallucination, one of these futures will happen, and you are fully aware of this.
In the first vision, you save A. A few years later, he becomes the head of his company, and is found guilty of Enron levels of corruption and embezzlement. Thousands of people will lose their jobs as a result, and a fairly significant recession is caused by this.
In the second vision, you save B. The recession of the first scenario does not occur, however, B turns out to be one of history's most horrific serial killers. He begins killing after you save him, and over the next several years, severely tortures and murders 60 people. Your region is gripped with terror, and to make matters worse, an innocent man will be executed for this man's crimes. He'll never be caught, and will only stop after his death several years after his first kill.

Based on this, which person do you choose to live? Note that after making your choice, any attempt to change the future will result in making the negative consequences of said choice will either fail or result in a self fulfilling prophecy.

Second Part: After you've made your initial decision, but before you've actually indicated who you'll operate on, another glimpse of two possible futures is given to you.
If you save A, then it will be revealed to you that, out of sheer coincidence, one of B's first victims would have been someone who was destined to murder the person you hold most dear. Since that person was not killed by B, then whoever is most important in your life, be it a sibling, lover, parent, friend, etc. will be violently murdered in about a year, and nothing you can do can stop it.
If you save B, then a wrongful death suit will be filed against you by A's estate. This will result in severe fines and the loss of your medical license, and the case will lead to an investigation and eventual conviction of criminal malpractice, which will send you to jail for a year.

So, based on this, which do you choose? Do you save A, dooming the world to a recession and the person you hold most dear to a grisly death, but avoiding jail time, keeping your job and stopping an horrific serial killer? Or do you save B, allowing a total monster to end 60 lives, directly (and one indirectly) while losing your job and going to jail, but preventing a disastrous recession and saving the one you hold most dear? Please explain your answer fully in the comment section.

Also, let me know if you find this to be an adequately constructed and useful thought experiment.
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Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Casey Anthony Says About Us

So a young woman named Casey Anthony, who was accused of murdering her baby, Caylee, was found "not guilty". And boy howdy, the rage on the Internet was nearly unprecedented. Everyone was shocked - SHOCKED - that she was acquitted. Even America's most important person, Kim Kardashian weighed in on this, and [insert obligatory joke about her father defending OJ Simpson in court here]. Many have called this a sign that the Justice System in the USA is flawed, broken or in need of some sort of overhaul, but I think that what this says about modern western society is more important than anything it could possibly say about the Justice System.

1: We are arrogant little sods

I believe the highest form of arrogance is believing that we know more about something than actual experts in that field do (the exceptions are experts whose ideas are soundly discredited by the vast majority of their peers, people like Timothy Rushton, Michael Behe and David Irvine are prime examples). We, sadly, see this regularly in western society, from Truthers to Birthers to creationists, climate change deniers, the anti-vaccine crowd, Holocaust deniers, and many, many more. Often, their ignorance of the subject is not only the reason they don't agree with the experts, it's the source of their arguments. A personal favourite of mine is "evolution is just a theory!" If you get why I think that's a ludicrous argument, pat yourself on the back, if you don't, read a goddamn book.

In this case, which is directly comparable to all those things I just mentioned, 12 jurors (plus 5 alternates who also sat in on the whole proceedings and agree with the verdict) unanimously agreed that the evidence against Casey Anthony wasn't sufficient enough to convict her. They all decided this after essentially making this case their lives for over a month. Meanwhile, the majority of Facebook and twitter users decided Casey was guilty after a few tabloid stories and a few Nancy Grace episodes. Not only did these people spend less time on this than the jury, they saw only biased, slanted stories. But they think they know more than the jury regardless, and often wear their ignorance of the legal system on their sleeves (one Facebook friend blocked me for challenging his assertion that circumstantial evidence alone could have convicted ms Anthony, and some Twitter folk seem to think not reporting the kid missing sooner is a smoking gun of sorts...) Why in the world do we think so highly of our own opinions? I’d say it has a lot to do with the whole “positive thinking” thing that’s become ubiquitous in our culture, but I think there’s more to it than that.

2: We’re not good at withstanding propaganda

For literally 3 years, we’ve heard a nearly nonstop barrage of tabloid news sources condemning ms Anthony. Not only from print tabloids, but also from the Nancy Grace, disgraced prosecutor-turned TV news host who actually drove one of her guests (Melinda Duckett) to suicide. Rather than use healthy skepticism, we are lulled into belief by constant repetition. Now, psychologically, this does make sense due to the Illusion-Of -Truth Effect, wherein a more familiar statement is more likely to be believed than a newer one, regardless of truth. So the statement “Casey Anthony murdered her daughter Caylee” is more likely to be assumed true than “the evidence shows that Casey Anthony didn’t murder her daughter” despite the latter statement being true. (If you dispute this statement still, refer to point 1, and remember that partying after your daughter’s death doesn’t mean you killed her) Regardless of this, one would expect a few more skeptics than what we seem to have. We seriously need to start promoting critical thought HARD. Teaching people at a young age to think critically, and to really analyze everything using logic and skepticism so that we don't fall for such bullshit so easily.

3: We’re caught in a vicious sensationalistic news cycle, and it’s ruining our society

Ask anyone what’s the most pressing political issue of today, and you’d probably get the same answers across the board: the economy, the environment, perhaps some local scandal or disaster. Does the news media reflect this? Well, no. It’s ratings and sales driven media, after all. Anthony Weiner’s penis was huge news, but not the issue that likely got Andrew Breitbart to target him, specifically, Weiner going after US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ conflict of interest that should, in a just world, get him dismissed from the SCOTUS? Well, yeah, an issue like that is less easy to condense into one line, and it's less interesting to a layperson than "married politician with an amusingly appropriate name shows his dick to women online". And of course a pretty white woman's daughter dying isn't as important as a less attractive Asian woman named Ka Yang possibly murdering her daughter, Mirabelle Thao-Lo, even though it's infinitely more likely Yang murdered her daughter than it was that Casey killed Caylee.

Of course, it isn't just that the people of North America care more for frivolous sensationalism than important stuff. Sometimes, like in the case of media mogul Rupert Murdoch hacking peoples' phones, it's both sensationalistic AND important, but not covered as much on this continent. Why? Murdoch owns the biggest news station in the USA, and us Canadians are too caught up in the furor over Prince William and Kate Middleton visiting. Hopefully, we come to our senses in a day or two, so at least the northern part of North American knows what a douche Murdoch is, but I highly doubt it.

The fact is, however, that by focusing on these smaller problems, public pressure isn't being used to change anything. This scandal with Murdoch could be used to fix the problem of media consolidation, instead, it's ignored. Things like the American debt ceiling (which Democrats and financial experts say should be raised to avoid a major financial catastrophe, and Republicans think should stay as is because otherwise the gays win the war on terror or something) will affect the whole damn world a lot more than a single dead girl, yet because it's complex and has lots of big numbers, no one knows about it. In fact, you (the reader) probably hadn't heard anything about this before right now. Be honest.

The big problem here is that, realistically, there is nothing we can do about this, aside from supporting public broadcasting and more credible, serious news outlets, and avoiding major news organizations as much as possible, and encouraging everyone else to do the same. Oh, wait,, homepage of our public broadcaster which I just checked to see if Canadian news sources were ignoring the phone-hacking thing, has Prince William as its top story.

Well, maybe someone will develop a virus that feeds on human stupidity? Now THAT is something I'd put money towards.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Racists Are Pathetic Part 3: Pure Evil

Some of you may know of my youtube channel. On it, I uploaded the following video in response to the Nazis and Holocaust deniers on the internet. (Note: I did not make the video, more on this video and its contents can be found here.)

Very recently I got some comments from a person who I think may be the single worst person I've ever encountered on the internet. More after the jump.
About 10 hours ago as of this writing, a twat named deatman9 posted 2 comments on this video. The first is sort of average for a mentally deficient Nazi Holocaust denier (OK, the "mentally deficient" part is redundant.) It goes as follows:
doesnt this seem strange to anyone? like im no holocaust denier but i know how jews do things. They bend and munipulate the truth to gain pitty. And like if the holocaust was a hoax isnt this a perfect thing to release if your trying to convince other wise? like in this himmler doesnt even seem to talk like a person i quote " the jews are being exterminated everybody will tell you there being exterminated the extermination of jews is part of our plan? why would he say that so much? who talks way
Now, this is quite a common tactic for any extremist who knows their opinion is looked down upon. "Now, I'm no Holocaust Denier, but let me tell you why the Holocaust didn't happen." But on top of that, anyone with a passing knowledge of this clip (including anyone who read the translation on the video) knows he was reprimanding his officers for their actions, specifically, for being a bit too nice to the Jews they were trying to eliminate (thinking there are some good Jews) and stealing from the Jews. Anyone who has been part of a group that has been reprimanded by its leader (or one of its leaders) will be familiar with this style of reprimand: he tells the people he was addressing why they're doing what they're doing, and the necessity of doing it this specific way. It's not something that's uncommon, but it's really all this guy can grasp, other than "THAT'S NOT HIMMLER'S VOICE!" which is always offered without an example of his speaking voice that would prove this point, or "ausrottung doesn't mean kill!" which is plain wrong.

His second comment, however, pissed me off. I will bold the bit that drove me to extreme anger.

anyone have a new found respect for this man?[Heinrich Himmler-Ben] i sure do. You can hear how much trouble the jews have given them. And the part where he yells that no man should gain anything from this its just very very respectable

Now, let me be clear. I am not a violent person, in fact, I can accurately be described as a pacifist. However, when I read that comment, I was overcome with a desire to punch this asshole's face until either my fist or his head disintegrated. What kind of human being would say, or even think such a thing? This is the type of situation where we need new, filthier swears. The best way to describe this is to combine all the swears one knows in unnatural ways. This little cunt-dripping shit-fucking bastarding scrotum-chomper believes that a man who admits to, and orders, a GENOCIDE is an admirable guy because he told his men not to steal from the people they were killing? And he's not even telling them not to steal, he's telling them to steal, but to give it all to HIM. What the fuck is wrong with this little anus-dangler's head?

I mean, aside from the fact that he's proving whoever said that anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers think "the Holocaust never happened...and I hope it happens again!" absolutely right, and aside from the fact that he's patting a dude on the back for telling people not to steal...and aside from the fact that he's ascribing some pretty awful things to fucking CHILDREN...and of course, aside from the fact that he's pretending all 16 million Jews are horrible, lying assholes...this guy is justifying a genocide. And calling it "admirable." Because "You can hear how much trouble the jews have given them". Right, because no one was ever angry for insufficient reasons before. No one ever made up stuff to demonize a group in order to justify horrendous actions before. Jesus Horsecock Christ-punching Fuck, dude.

What is wrong with this world? How do people like this exist? And yes, after I calmed down (relatively) I did check to see if this was just a troll, and no, he's not. His youtube channel has evidence that he's been spreading this kind of hate for a while now. (and yes, I should tell you to be nice to this guy, even though he deserves all your hate and more)

Seriously, I hate the fact that people like this are alive. This fact was almost discouraging...but then I realized something. This type of person can not survive in the real world. No, deatman9. You can't. You can only let your real self out when you know no one can hurt you, because you know that the entire world is against you. You and your hateful ideology have been exposed for the scared, disgusting and pathetic relics of our species' past that you are. And guess what, fucko? If you ever try to do anything with your life that might bring some scrutiny to your personal life, well, you done fucked yourself over. You aren't really that anonymous and racism is a wonderful way to ruin a political career, tarnish an actor's career, or make everyone fucking hate you, thus limiting networking capabilities.

So, you lose, assbag. You and your hateful brethren are on the run and running out of time. No, this isn't a threat to your physical wellbeing, nor am I asking those who read this to hurt you in any way. I am stating a fact. Your ideology is dead and gone.

You, and all other racists, are pathetic.
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Poetry Wednesday: H and

This is a poem from a chapbook I got half done. Each poem was titled after a letter of the alphabet, meant to represent a word starting with that letter. This one is the entry for H. I entered it in the current poetry contest for, a site I just joined. Do I recommend it as a site for aspiring writers? I'll have to give that a tentative "yes". Their moderating policies are a bit...authoritarian. However, most of the people there seem fairly decent, and it's a good place to get your work critiqued and learn how to critique, meaning you can learn to critique your own work. So, give it a go. Just be sure not to ever link to any other site, because for some reason doing that at all is a big no-no.


Burned then frozen.
There I lay in Lover’s Lane,
Heartbreak Hotel said I overstayed my visit.
So I move on, go long, get a touch down and so on,
Then all of a sudden the molten ice that was me saw
A thing more watchable than TV.
More poetic than a rusted shut trunk, who’d have thunk
Those tight denim overalls would be enough to melt my snowballs?
After all, a month without sex is like a month without air and love smelled sweeter than my new queen’s hair.
So we walked and we talked and I rocked with my cock and it was over.
In depth investigation through conversation
Showed what I already knew
I’m a Retriever, she’s a Dalmatian.
Tough luck, but she was a good ****.
Frozen again, back at the Hotel with the other heartbroken slobs,
Miserable people is what makes hell Hell. Read more!