Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tax Time = Marriage Penalty Time

It's tax time! Yeah! Well, I'm always happy because I always get a refund. Not a ridiculously huge one, but a decent one. Yes, I know, it is best to minimize the refund so you don't just give a free loan to the government. But as the refund gets smaller and smaller every year, I'd rather be used to my current flow of income and get smaller and smaller refunds than have to pay more. It just feels better to get money back.

I generally get my taxes done before the end of Januaray - in fact, I'll probably finalize them tonight. I use TurboTax - for both federal and state, and I file electronically. I've used it ever since I've been a working professional making real money, so that's like ten or so years now. I really like it.

What I don't like, though, is the utterly ridiculous marriage penalty. I think this year my wife and I are paying about $6000 to $8000 extra in taxes because we are married. If we were single, we'd have saved that much combined on our taxes. Which is another reason I'm glad my deductions from my paycheck are set the way they are, because otherwise, we'd owe quite a lot. What saves us are our deductions, mostly for the house taxes and mortgage interest. Otherwise we'd be paying thousands in taxes now rather than getting a nearly $1800 refund. But still, we'd get up to a $10,000 refund if we were single filers. So in essence, we are paying the government over $500 a month, or over $6000 a year, to be married. That's pretty damn steep. Talk about "family values" - yet they will never fix it because they'd lose far too much revenue. We can only cut revenue when it saves the rich a lot of money. But marriage - well, that doesn't matter. Or apparently only is a big deal if there are two penises or two vaginas in a marriage - then it is the end of the world and will result in the destruction of marriage as we know it, and the collapse of our society. But paying six grand per year for the "pleasure" of marriage, well, that doesn't hurt the institution at all.

It is almost worth it just to get a divorce - we'd save so much money - the divorce would pay for itself in the first year. That's just sad.

But I don't expect this will ever be fixed. What a load of bullshit.

MySpace deletes Atheist group

This is just sickening and disgusting. MySpace deleted an entire Atheist group simply for being an atheist group. This after going out of their way to save a Christian group. I don't use MySpace, and this just guarantees I never will.

This is just another reminder that I'm in probably the last group in this country that can be so openly and blatently discriminated against. I guess atheists are about 150 years behind racism, 100 years behind sexism, and about 30 years behind GLBT in getting any real protection against bigotry. While none of those groups have gotten as far as they should, at least blatent, open discrimination has been eliminated for them. But not for atheists. But hey, that's ok, we're all just godless heathens who will burn in hell, so that's all we deserve.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Remote Controlled Sperm Valve

It looks like there is a new technology for birth control for men - an implanted valve that can turn on or off the flow of sperm with a remote control. The remote is security coded, so not just anyone can do it, and it looks like it stays with the doctor's office. But it brings the art of hacking to a whole new level. Imagine a man's surprise, after he's impregnated a woman unexpectedly, to find out that his penis has been hacked.

Ideology versus Morality?

Barefoot Bum put up a thoughtful post that quoted my preference for rationality then went on to expound how reality is not enough because we all have ideological values, such as the notion that stealing is wrong or that we want to punish rapists by hunting them down. And I agree with that notion in general, I just don't think of ideology when I think of such things, I think of morality. Maybe they are the same thing, but in my mind, there is a difference.

I think particular ideologies include certain views on morality, but I think of morality and ideology as two distinct things. When I think of ideology, I think of religion, I think of politics, I think of political pundits and talking heads, I think of priests and politicians. I think the main reason I don't think of morality is because I don't associate morals with any of those things and I don't buy the bullshit claim that all morality comes from religion. I think morality came first and religion just took credit for it after the fact, just like it takes credit for everything else in existence after the fact.

I recall having many an argument in my undergrad days and beyond (online and off) with theists who insisted that morality could only come from religion and thus those of us who were "godless" were amoral monsters. When I'd point out my lack of serial killer credentials, they'd just claim I'm benefiting from the moral structures put in place by the majority religious population and that I got my morals from osmosis from that.

My counter to that was always a basic thought experiment that if you just dumped a large population of humans on the earth, randomly shuffled with some who cooperated and acted what they would consider moral and some who would not, who would be total sociopaths, and the vast spectrum in between, that in the end, you'd end up with a population of mostly "moral" cooperators, simply because they would, by their nature, cooperate, form cooperating groups, and by that cooperation, out compete the amoral ones, who would go mostly extinct. Of course, there would (and are) free riders, who only pretend to cooperate, but in the end, many of them will be found out and ejected (or arrested) as their activities got them into trouble with the cooperators. Of course, the whole point of the exercise was to demonstrate how it is possible that evolution could select for morality and why one doesn't need a god to explain it.

On a more personal level, people don't like having their stuff stolen, or being raped, or even having this happen to a relative, so right there you have people wanting to protect their property and persons, and add that with a willingness to cooperate that is built into us (at least to some degree) and you have agreements that 'thou shalt not steal, kill, rape' and so on, again, with no god in sight. It is simple common sense. We agree not to steal from each other. We agree we will find any punish those who do because that protects all of us from stealing. To me, that's not ideology - that's common-sense morality.

Of course, there are layers on top of that - one group competing with another, wars, etc. But even then, if you have within-group cooperation, those same values can spread wider than just your small tribe - they are already established, you can already see the benefit, so eventually someone will see the benefit of extending this 'contract' of cooperation to a larger group.

The whole reason I got into this was to demonstrate to the theists that there was a basis for morality that didn't get handed down in stone tablets from a mountain. I'm sure someone with the relevant expertise in evolutionary biology, psychology, or whatever, could do a better job than me, but at least it showed the basic idea.

So to me, morality, the basics of it, the things such as "stealing, murder, rape, and so on are wrong" to me isn't ideologically based, it is morality based, of the base sort of morality any rational person would want enforced simply out of selfish self-interest. And even that has a rational basis for it - enforcing such rules means I won't be robbed, murdered, or raped, and neither will my wife or my children or friends. Well, at least the chances of that happening are reduced. Obviously there are no guarantees in life.

Now, I can already hear the counter arguments - what if I just have a big gun and I can steal and rob and murder all I want and no one can stop me? Why should I go in for such an agreement, then? Well, there'll always be someone else who comes along with a bigger gun. I'd have to sleep with that gun under my pillow all the time. And I'd have to find other people who favor guns to cooperation. And those people all would be gunning for me so they could be at the top of the pyramid. Huge resources are wasted in doing this and nobody sleeps well at night. In the end, such a system will eat itself because non-cooperators who favor guns to cooperation will be drawn to it. Those are the rational arguments I'd make against a gun-based rather than cooperation for mutual interest sort of society. Plus, people don't like being under the boot, so they will eventually rebel.

Ok, this is all just bullshit from my head, but that's my thought process on rationality, morality, and ideology.

To add one more distinction for ideology - for me, ideology isn't about morality, it is about issues that really aren't moral questions - like should teachers be unionized or are unions bad in general - questions that actually have empirical answers but that aren't exactly simple answers and that are answered with ideology rather than facts. There is probably some overlap there with morality at the fringes, or some overriding of morality because of some higher purpose for ideology (like we need our ideology in charge, so we override the whole murder thing to kill to get there). But then such groups don't really try and claim that we should end the whole 'no murder' rule, they just claim, on ideological grounds, that they need to break it for some specific purpose.

Now I've really wandered far. I'm basically thinking outloud here. I generally never have time to sit down and plan out an essay - nor am I much inclined to for a blog, though I have on occasion. I save my organization for work, where I spend all day researching and writing. So in other words, I hope this makes some sense, but if not, well, at least you got a tour of the inside of my brain.

Back to BB's posting, I agree with him. You need more than rationality. You need morality. Though I think we can get to morality through rationality. I mean, how else did we get morality in the first place? Given that there are no gods, that means we got there on our own. And I think we got there through the evoloutionary advantage given by rational cooperative self-interest. That seems the most rational explanation, in any case.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Economic Picture worth a Thousand Words

Here's a picture worth a thousand words that illustrates the economy under the Republican Congress and Bush.

And so is it any wonder that all week in the WSJ, I keep reading articles on the editorial page about how wonderful the economy really is, despite everyone who says otherwise. Hmmm, now which column on that bar chart do you think contains all of the writers of said articles?

Monday, January 28, 2008

What makes one a "Moderate?"

I like to say that I'm a "Moderate" when it comes to politics. But what does that mean? That I'm not in any political party? That I generally despise the two primary parties? That my positions are exactly halfway between the two parties? Well, no, it can't be that, because they really aren't. Is it that some of my positions are similar to one party and some are similar to another? Well, maybe, though some days I think my positions are far away from both parties - at least what they really do (as opposed to what they claim they stand for, like the usual bullshit about Republicans being for "small government" when they actually completely blow away the Democrats when it comes to being for "big huge overpowering government in every nook and cranny of your life").

I like to think I'm a moderate because I like to find the facts and find out what works rather than starting at an ideology or a party and working backwards (like the party hacks and pundits seem to do). I also am intellectually honest and consistent in my positions. Unlike the political parties.

For instance, if you talk to a GOPer, you will find out that juries are magically perfect, are beyond any sort of manipulation by plaintiff's lawyers, and never make mistakes, and if they do make mistakes, judges are perfect at catching them. Or rather, you find this when the discussion is about capital punishment and the plaintiff is the state prosecutor. On the other hand, if it is about torts, then suddenly juries are easily manipulated by slick plaintiff's lawyers, judges can't be trusted, and so we have to legislate away the mere possibility that a case could ever even get before a judge. This all despite the fact that the juries in question all come from the same pool of people and the judges are all the same judges.

For some on the left, the reverse is true, though not, from what I've seen, to the extreme it is with the GOP. But in any case, to be logically consistent and intellectually honest, one would have to have a consistent view of judges, juries, and the legal system.

For me, I know juries and judges aren't perfect, but the system in place usually works out ok. There are problems with prosecutors having too much power and judges being too ideological (usually if they are GOP judges, who are selected solely for ideological purity and a young age at the federal level). And these problems affect all trials, not just civil or criminal. And they need to be addressed. But the starting point needs to be reality, not some ideological construct.

And I see ideology as preventing any examination of reality because, as I've seen again and again, the ideological will denial reality til the end of time if there is even a hint that reality would conflict with their ideological agenda. So we're stuck with the bullshit.

And so I call myself a moderate. Did I really explain what that means? I don't know. I will probably think of other examples soon. (Also one needs to beware the ideologues who pretend to be "moderate" as just another way to foist their ideology on the unsuspecting).

Perhaps another good synonym for moderate is "reasonable." I've said before that "there are no battle cries for moderates." Maybe "be reasonable" is a good one.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Lessons in Hindsight from Maya's Granny

Maya's Granny has a new post about lessons she's learned in hindsight, that I think is a collection of very good advice, so I'm linking to it so others can benefit. And I just want to thank her for sharing her accumulated wisdom.

Nothing like the WSJ to let you know what the wingnutty right is thinking

I was reading the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) this morning, basically for lack of anything else handy to read, and saw a lovely article on the editorial page (the main page I read to see what the nutcases that pass for the right are thinking today). The article was by Arthur Laffer and it was talking again about how tax revenue will magically go up by cutting taxes.

In addition to the little gem noted by Brendan Nyhan, where Laffer accuses ecnomists of some vast conspiracy to keep this quiet (probably because no sane economist actually claims cutting taxes now would increase revenue - for the simple fact that such a claim is bullshit), there is a much bigger pile of festering nonsense.

Laffer has the audacity to not only claim the totally bullshit claim that cutting taxes increases revenue, he's now claiming that this ONLY works if you cut the taxes of the richest people. He says if you cut the taxes of the middle and lower class, you do, indeed, lower revenue. Nice to see him finally admit at least half of the truth, I suppose, except for the fact that now he's basically advocating, to increase revenue, you tax the poor and middle class and cut taxes on the rich. Nice load of bullshit to justify the bullshit economic policy of the GOP - cutting taxes on only the wealthy and screwing everyone else.

I can't wait to see other people call him on this bullshit. Megan? Anyone with an audience?

Dems Can Kiss my FISA

Given the latest Democratic cave-in (hell, facilitation of) FISA immunity for the telecoms, I really could give a shit anymore, even about the presidential race. Neither Clinton nor Obama are showing any leadership on this (they didn't even bother to show up for the vote), so fuck them all. I'm seriously considering now whether even bothering to show up on election day. Congratulations, Dems, you just lost another voter for being pig-headed assholes.

Fiscal Stimulus from Congress

I've heard (mostly) that this new "stimulus" package about to be passed is a horrible idea. But here's my take on it. So what?

Really, the total cost is less than $200 Billion - so already it is way way cheaper than the real hole in the ground we are dumping money into: Iraq. At least THIS stupid waste of money puts $1500 in my pocket. I figure, if the politicians are going to do something stupid, why not let it be something stupid that puts money in my pocket? Do I think it is going to help the economy? Hell no. It won't do diddly for the economy. Does it hurt the deficit? Sure it does. But then if they didn't spend the $200 Billion on this, they'd have given it to Halliburton or wasted it on a bunch of bridges to nowhere or something else equally stupid that wouldn't have put $1500 into my pocket. Is this cynical of me? I'd say yes, except that I think things are so bad that one doesn't even need to be cynical to think this way anymore.

So give me my $1500. I'll put it toward a new computer that I am planning (really hoping) to buy by the end of this year. (I tend to spend about $5,000 to $6,000 or more when I buy a new computer, so I'd still have a ways to go on that. My last computer is over 6 years old, so I figure I'm due.) Of course, since my employment situation is still uncertain starting a year from now, I still may not get my computer then, but I'm going to try and save for it anyway, just in case.

So to sum up, I don't think this "stimulus plan" will do jack shit to stimulate the economy, I don't think it really will change much of anything. It is just a stupid government stunt. But unlike most stupid government stunts, this one will put some money directly into my pocket, so I might as well take it. I certainly won't give any credit to either party for doing something this stupid, but I'll still be happy to have the cash.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jedi Flavor

I heard on the radio this morning that two guys (in England I think) just founded an official church - dedicated to the way of the Jedi. They will wear "traditionall" Jedi brown robes and run services based on the Jedi way, teaching about how you should act, etc.

I don't think they are claiming that Jedi are "real" - they are just using the Jedi from the Star Wars movies as a template for a new church. And I must say, I think it is cool they are doing this. But that's probably just the eight-year-old boy in me. I don't think I'd join such a church (since I wouldn't join any). And the really funny thing to me is that I think their church is probably more sane than most religions - they don't seem to be claiming any myths are real, they are just trying to follow a particular ideal.

Of course, there is the possibility they are nutcases who do think Jedi and The Force are real, but even if that were true, they would not be any less nutty than the grown men and women who wear large white robes and claim to feed the flesh and blood of some dead, possibly-never-existed prophet to patrons.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My probable advice to my children about sex

"Please at least wait until you are in college (and there's no need to rush when you get there) and always use a condom."

Any real gems out there? I mean for real advice that is actually likely to be taken as opposed to the pointless holier-than-thou moralizing that many parents (and others) do to children that is more of the variety of "do as I say not as I do (or did)".

I don't recall getting any specific advice on the subject from my parents, though I do recall my older sister telling me, after I graduated high school (and perhaps before that) to "use a condom" and she even gave me a box of them, which then sat unused for years (and not because I was having unprotected sex). I guess that, at least, worked, because when I did become sexually active, I did use condoms. And so there were no unplanned pregnancies and no STDs, either. (Which I found out for sure after, in a bout of paranoia, I got tested for basically everything - in fact, I think that's what I told the doctor - "just test me for everything." The only bad part was they had to take a good bit of blood for that, and I nearly passed out.) Soon after, I got married, though I did not know I was going to soon be married at that time.

So, what are the gems of advice to give? I'm tempted to throw in also, with my own kids, the notion that one can have sex without having intercourse, and to do that safely as well. As in hands (yours or a partners) that can satisfy the urge without having to do the act. But then I probably wouldn't want anything that detailed from my parents, so I don't think I'll inflict that on my own kids.

I am now reminded of that commercial where the (pre-teen) kid comes into the house and sees his dad there with a huge table and chart set up all about sex, reproduction, and everything else, and he tells his son that he's all ready to have a conversation with him about sex and then you see the kid with wide eyes, ready to run for cover, until the dad says "... or we could talk about drugs" and the kid says, relieved, "yeah, let's talk about drugs." I don't know the relative merits of that sort of tactic, but I found the commercial hilarious every time I saw it. (For drugs, I'll tell my kids that it is stupid that they are illegal, but that it can ruin your life to get caught doing them or to test positive for them, so stupid though it may be, that's what we are stuck with, so best not to mess with them - and then also point out that some probably do have some rather bad side effects, but that even those that don't still can ruin your life because of the stupid stigma, so just go have sex instead (but with a condom!))

Oh boy.

Democrats are Useless

*SIGH* So today I see there are two more reasons to be depressed and write off the Democratic Party as an absolutely useless waste of oxygen.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Blog for Choice

I generally don't get into the whole blog carnivals or whatever they are, but I noted that today is a Blog for Choice day and I felt I had to say something. Thinking about it, though, I don't think I can really say anything more meaningful than what I said the first time I blogged about my views on abortion. The first anniversary of what led to that post was just a few weeks ago. I really want to focus on the positive right now. In about five weeks (or less!) I'll have a second baby, a boy, and then I imagine life will get even more interesting.

While I do think choice is important, for reasons I explained before, I don't think Roe will ever be overturned. Still, better safe than sorry.

Bush Leaves Many Judicial Vacancies

One thing I've never quite understood about the Bush administration is why, when they have this zeal to fill the judiciary with true-believer neo-con authoritatian judges, do they leave so many judicial vacancies. I'm not talking about vacancies left open due to a lack of confirmation - I'm talking about where they haven't even bothered to put up a name for consideration.

You'd think they'd have every available slot filled in with at least a nominee, hoping that at least some of them get through. But they don't - they just leave them empty, and I wonder why.

This article discusses it in a specific case, but it still doesn't suggest the reason for the phenomenon. The article mentions something known for a long time - that Bush circumvents the usual process and ignores what Senators say - which is certainly not a good way to start when it is Senators who decide if a nominee actually gets the job.

But why leave these positions open? The optimist in me says that there are so few truly neo-con authoritatians out there who would be qualified that they simply don't have enough names to offer. But given the nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, actual qualifications don't seem to be a sticking point for his nominees. So why leave all these vacancies? To slow down the caseload? What is the point of doing that? Maybe to stall cases in the courts regarding civil rights violations (like at Gitmo and elsewhere)? I could see them doing that, but wouldn't it be better to have those cases decided by good loyal Bush appointees? Except that judges keep annoyingly following the actual law and handing Bush losses in court. So come to think of it, perhaps it is better to slow things down.

Anyone else have any better ideas? Preferrably with evidence to back them up, rather than just wild speculation (like I'm doing here). This really puzzles me.


I saw Cloverfield this weekend with my wife. It was fun and it was different. I enjoyed it and so did she. That's my five second movie review. What was most remarkable was more that we managed to get out of the house to see a movie, something we rarely do these days.

Oh, and what was fun and unexpected was that we got to see a teaser trailer for the next Star Trek movie - though it took a bit to figure out that was what it was. Which made it even more fun.

I'll post something more substantial later today - I'm just too sleepy to think right now.

Friday, January 18, 2008

My Legal Disclaimer

I have noticed that any blog done by an attorney pretty much is guaranteed to have some sort of disclaimer that reading and commenting on their blog does not create an attorney-client relationship, or other some such nonsense. Which is a generally accurate statement. I could understand somewhat the need for it if you had a legal blog with your name and business address on it, linked to your attorney web-page that you put out for potential clients to contact you. But when I see it on anonymous blogs, then I just wonder, what the heck?

I mean, if a person truly thinks that communitcating with or just reading a blog written by some anonymous asshole suddenly means that they have an attorney and an attorney-client relationship, particlarly where that communication is public - well, I would have to say that person is crazy. And so any court would be crazy to penalize an attorney if someone actually was deranged enough to think that an anonymous blogger was now his or her attorney. So really, if it is an anonymous blog, common sense should dicatate that no such disclaimer is necessary. Which is why I don't have one. I think if you truly think I'm your attorney because you read this anonymous blog and you publicly posted a comment to me for the whole world to see, you need far more help than I could ever give you anyway, and not of the legal kind.

Gaming and Social Stigma

As I've mentioned here before, I'm a gamer. Specifcally, I play Dungeons and Dragons (though I've played other games as well, that is the primary one I still play now). This game has been grieviously misunderstood and slandered in the past. This happens much less so today, perhaps because time has proven that the claims of devil worship and other wierdness were bogus, perhaps because of the proliferation of online games that are similar. I don't pretend to know, but I do appreciate it. I'm not really going to get into that. I am going to talk about how my perception of the stigma has affected me over the years and my thoughts about it right now.

When I first started playing, I didn't think about or worry about any stigma. I was nine years old or so. Kids that age are supposed to play games and dream and also, I was already stigmatized just for being shy me, and that overshadowed everything else anyway on that front. I certainly didn't get it from my parents, who bought me the basic and expert boxed sets for Christmas when I was about ten or so. The only problem then was I really didn't have anyone to play with, save my friend next door, and being ten, I'm sure we didn't exactly play correctly by the rules anyway. But still, I had some fun with it, reading the books, marking them up in pencil with my 'extensions' and dreaming of far off adventures.

I got other RPGs as well, including the Star Trek RPG of the time, around the time I was in Junior high school. That was also when I met another friend who had some interest in that, but again, we never really played, we were more into Star Trek the shows and movies and just thought it was cool to see things from there put into statistic form in a game.

Around that time I learned of a gaming club that met at the local college campus in the student union building. I was too young to drive, so my dad would drop me off and pick me up there. That meant I could never stay all that late. First, I just watched games, but eventually after awhile, my patience paid off and I was asked by these much older folks to join a game. It was a strange combination of the James Bond RPG with psionics added on and a bit of future-tech as well (it took place in the future). I don't remember a lot of it now, but I had fun. It was just hard because of my limited hours. After that, I didn't really play any RPGs until college.

College was my awakening. I met a lot of gamers there, joined a gaming club. This was when D&D 2nd edition just came out, so I was getting those books. (I already had the 1st edition hardcover books, though I hadn't really played with them yet). I joined games of 1E, and I started one of my own for 2E, running it in the student union.

I played probably twice a week at least, sometimes more, like on spring break. Mostly it was 1E D&D, but there was also some 2E and then RuneQuest, TNMT, and probably a few others that escape me now. It was there I met two good friends who eventually married each other, and whom I still play with today. I made a few other friends as well but they have since moved far away, so I seldom see them now (though I gamed with them for years after that).

There, I didn't feel any stigma directed at me, though I knew about it - I had seen the ridiculous movie Mazes and Monsters (with Tom Hanks no less!) on TV, and laughed at it. But I hadn't experienced any first-hand stigma. Still, I was not exactly excited to talk about gaming to non-gamers and avoided talking about it in public where non-gamers would hear, in part worried about stigma. I'd always cringe when with my cousin who was also a gamer, as he would talk very loudly about gaming stuff in public around large groups of people.

After the first few years of college, I had a pretty good group of friends I played with, alternating between D&D and Shadowrun (a game I actually never played, only GMd, and haven't now for years). I actually had at one point three or four Shadowrun games going at the same time, with two different groups. I was staying at my parents house at the time and so I could use their large dining room table to play. That was very nice.

Eventually, I went back to school for a different undergrad degree and moved to a new place, where I didn't know anyone. And thus I stopped gaming. Even after I graduated, and moved again, I still wasn't gaming. Finally, a few years into my first real job, 3E came out, and that was the impetus to get me gaming again. My cousin was nearby and we got several other people from work and we played that for a while. That was fun to get into it again. I ran it. Eventually, it petered out. I connected up with my two (now married) friends from college and drove with my cousin to see them (they were an hour away) and we played intermittently. But that petered out and I started law school, leaving me with no time at all to do anything but study and go to work.

Post law school, with a fresh new baby, I had time again. I started playing with my friends an hour away, on Friday nights. That was fun. I also managed to post ads and meet some local people who, with another local friend (who also played with me and carpooled on the drives on Friday) made up a second group. So I played as much as twice a week.

And now I will get to how my wife is with this. She is not a gamer. She has no real interest in it. Her main concern has generally been what it always is - money. But obviously we both can spend our money on what interests us. The main cost with gaming sometimes is with babysitters. When I play at home, I still get one because it is impossible to play while chasing around a toddler. Also, for my wife, I only play on weeknights. During the middle of the week at home, the game is usually over and everyone is gone by the time she gets home from work. On Fridays, she also gets home late (and I get home even later) but we never did much on Fridays anyway - she'd usually get home late and just go to bed. That leaves the whole weekend free for us to do what we want. (Which lately isn't much... but she's 8 months pregnant so sitting at home in bed is rather nice).

Which brings me to stigma. I really don't talk about it with any non-gamers, still. But my wife worries about that - her friends who have heard what I do, some of them have told her they think it is weird, or childish or some such nonsense, and that bothers her and embarrasses her. She personally doesn't care, but I think she cares when she hears that from others. Of course, my attitude now is generally that anyone who is going to say such things about my gaming can go fuck themselves. But I still don't really talk about it with non gamers. The simple fact is, it is something I get great pleasure from and enjoy a great deal, it is something I look forward to, it is something I want to share with my children and hope they have fun with it as well (though I won't force it on them if they decide they don't like it). It bothers me that people would say things like that to my wife. It bothers me that she hasn't told them to go fuck themselves when she's heard it, though I suppose when it is friends or acquantances from work, that might be a bad idea.

I don't have the usual vices of men. I don't watch any sports. I don't go out to sports bars or do anything else like that. Really, as it is, gaming twice a week is my only social activity outside of spending time with my wife and daughter, except for the occasional thing. I would think that a wife would prefer me being home, or at a friends inside, playing a game to going out, getting drunk and doing who-knows-what at some bar. (And she probably does prefer that). I have scheduled it so that it barely even registers in her routine - except for late friday night, she's pretty much at work when I'm playing, which was deliberate on our part.

Now, our main babysitter, who has watched our toddler while I played on Thursday nights has expressed an interest in the game. And I am going to be taking a hiatus on the out-of-town game Fridays in a week or so because we are getting within six weeks of the due date of baby number two and my wife does not want me out of town even for a few hours a week, just in case. So I got the idea that perhaps for a few of those weeks, I could teach my babysitter and her friends how to play, if they were interested. I asked her, she asked her friends, and they are enthusiastic about it. So in a few weeks, I may be teaching the whole group of them how to play and running a short game for them. I am excited about the prospect of doing so - I think it would be great to be able to introduce more people to this game I love. Given time constraints, I could only do it a few weeks and then they'd have to do it on their own. But my wife is leery of this as well. She again is worried about what people will think about that. She's also worried about me playing a game with a bunch of teenagers. Which brings us back to the stigma. If I were teaching a bunch of kids to play soccer or football or some other sport, no one would question it or think it was strange that an adult was playing or teaching a game to teens (or younger kids). But because it isn't sports, there comes the stigma again. I find it upsetting. It feels like one more reason for me to obliquely dislike sports. Oh well.

I may have more to share later, but have other things to do... I probably will comment later.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Inevitible American Matriarchy

The title alone of the article in Reason is enough to raise some hackles, I'm sure, but it is an interesting read. Women already greatly outnumber men in universities, and it looks like this will continue. Get ready for the Matriarchy!

(Disclaimer: I think calling our society a patriarchy or a matriarchy is ridiculous, as I've said before. Oligarchy is probably the closest you'll get to an accurate description.)

FISA telecom immunity is up again

It looks like FISA is up again for a vote to grant telecoms immunity for the horribly blatent lawbreaking they did on behalf of the outlaw Bush Administration. (Lawbreaking that apparently was their patriotic duty - that is, until the government was unable to pay the bill, then suddenly, it wasn't).

I sure hope they stop this. And while I support Obama for president, if I find out he doesn't do anything to stop this bill - i.e. he doesn't go fillibuster it, I will rethink that support, and if I find out he votes for immunity, I will campaign against him. The same goes for Hillary Clinton even more so. Lip service doesn't cut it. Only results. They are the fucking majority party. They are running for president. Either they can show some leadership here or they can go the fuck away and let's just have another GOP president and just get the complete transformation to totalitarianism over with.

Democrats make me sick.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Interesting Article on Porn and Newspapers

I'll leave the article to mostly speak for itself, though I find the core notion very interesting - that porn is not about selling images or movies or anything else, it is about selling orgasms - and newspapers are not about selling information, they are about selecting it and sorting it.

Sex in Stalls in Public Restrooms is Private

You know, first, this is a good example of showing that the ACLU is apolitical and will defend the civil rights of anyone. But moreso, this is also a good argument and I agree with it. It is ridiculous that they charged him in the first place in this. I don't want the government trolling private stalls in restrooms for arrests. I think there is an expectation of privacy in a stall. So good for the ACLU.

Judicial Activism

This article at Glenn Greenwald's yesterday got me thinking again about Judicial Activism, and also reminded me that it was something I wanted to talk about that I have not quite gotten around to yet.

Really, there's not too much to say about it beyond what Glenn says. It is a nonsense term, that is essentially defined as "any judicial decision that a right-wing conservative disagrees with." I have in the past defined it more generally as "any judicial decision that the user of the term disagrees with," but I think the more specific definition is probably the more correct one given the usual usage.

In any case, it is a legally meaningless term. I think I saw just how meaningless it was in a bulletin board discussion group I have been on for many years now where it is mostly just a handful of mostly right-wing cool-aid drinkers and me discussing various things political. Of course, it wasn't long before the "judicial activism" claim was put forth by the right-wingers, and in one particular case, they quoted to me a legal case they disagreed with and then asked me to opine, as a lawyer, was that an example of judicial activism (obviously thinking they cornered me into "admitting" this and agreeing with whatever point they were trying to make). I told them I would be happy to offer an opinion on that case (actually, it might have been several cases bundled together into a collective "outrage" bullet list as one often sees on and elsewhere) - I said I'd be happy to do that as soon as they gave me a definition of judicial activism, so I knew what criteria to use to evaluate the cases.

And thus began a very very very long series of back and forth messages where they kept claiming that I knew what the definition of judicial activism was and that my reluctance to offer an opinion was some sort of dodge - and I pointed out that if they wanted an answer, it was easy, they just had to post the definition. Needless to say, after many months of this, they never posted a definition, and I told them that I suspected they didn't have one beyond "this is an opinion I disagree with." But they still never gave up their claim that the word had meaning beyond that nor that the cases fit this mysterious definition of "judicial activism."

I suggest using the same tactic with anyone who gets all frothed at the mouth about a judicial opinion. Ask them for a definition of judicial activism, a definition you could use to neutrally evaluate whether a case is an example of it or not. I supsect you'll get crickets as your response.

An interesting discussion in comments

As I think I stated before, part of why I started this blog was to have somewhere to write my thoughts that wasn't just scattered out in the comment sections of other blogs.

Well, I still end up doing a lot of commenting elsewhere, and so now I try to make an effort to bring some of that back here, or at least highlight an interesting discussion.

With that in mind, there is this thread at belledame222's place. Specifically, a discussion there about a suggested movement or discussion group of men to talk about men's issues and focus on them rather than talking about women (and thus avoiding the whole 'us versus them' problem and also providing a true mirror to what is best in feminism - like where feminism focuses just on women as opposed to blaming or demonizing men).

I don't know that I'm the person to start such a thing, but it is at least worth talking about. I'll leave it at that for now and let the discussion at belle's speak for itself.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Obama is an Idiot

Edwards is too. I say this though I still support Obama, in the sense that I want him to get the nomination and then the presidency. (Though as I have said elsewhere, I am rather ambivalent about Dems in general, and in Congress in particular. While that remains true, I still think we are better off without a GOP president).

I say Obama is an idiot because the Michigan presidential primary is today and basically there is no point in voting in it. Because Michigan scheduled it "too early" for the party, they took away the delegates. But that really isn't a problem because I have a sneaking suspicion that at least some of those delegates will come back by the time of the convention because the Dems need Michigan in November and they don't want to totally piss off the whole state. No, what was stupid was Obama (and Edwards) taking their names off of the ballot "in protest." Particularly where Hillary Clinton did NOT take her name off of the ballot. So now there is a choice. Vote for Clinton or vote "Uncommitted." If you try to write in a name, the ballot is simply discarded. So the contest is totally pointless now. And Obama is an idiot. If he truly knew how to ruthlessly exploit power (like the GOP and like Clinton) then he would have left his name on the ballot. Then we could see how well he fared against Clinton - even better, you'd see how well he does without Edwards on the ballot. Instead, he took his name off in a meaningless "protest" and ceded the state to Clinton. Pretty boneheaded. I'd write him off as a complete idiot except I still can't help but smile every time I think of him telling Fox Noise Channel to go fuck themselves (by refusing to go on there). Still, Obama - you are going to have to do better if you are to have a chance of getting the nomination. Ceding ANY ground to Clinton is always a mistake.

Oh well. My wife, who just voted for the first time in 2006 (she was not a citizen until the end of 2005), just called me and asked if we got to vote today and how that works and I had to tell her that there was no point in voting because of all of the above. She also agreed that Obama was stupid, though she thought the Democratic party was stupid, too. But she's still, like me, voting to keep any GOP nominee from winning. Even if that means voting for Clinton. I told her we could go vote in the Republican primary for Mitt Romney - to help push him as the nominee - because I think he'd be easiest to beat. But somehow, it just doesn't seem worth the effort. Though he certainly has made a big push here - I've gotten like three robo calls from him now.

Barefoot Bum

Barefoot Bum (aka Larry) was kind enough to not only link to me here but to offer a few kind words about me, so I thought I'd reciprocate and also thank him for that here. I really respect his viewpoint. I also respect his ability to really dig down into the minutiae, making long, thoughtful, well-researched posts that are enough to make my usually from-the-hip posts seem rather inadequate (at least to me). I'm glad he decided to start blogging again after a short "retirement" and I encourage anyone who enjoys thoughtful commentary, particularly on philosophy, to read him. He has a sharp wit (and sometimes a sharp tongue for those who deserve it) and is an enjoyable read.

Monday, January 14, 2008

My Thoughts on Militant Atheism and an Argument with a Theist

This is an issue that I am somewhat ambivalent about. I've heard it argued back and forth between various atheists: the relative merits of "militant" atheism or the "hard sell" versus a softer approach. In the end, I think it is good to have both.

I really don't think "militant" atheism, by which I mean, the sort where it is "in your face" and even openly insulting to the religious, isn't particularly useful at convincing people of anything. I think, though, it can be viscerally satisfying. Many religious people, particularly fundamentalists, are simply insufferable. And since they likely would not be convinced no matter what you said anyway, it can be fun to verbally spar with them and jab them, an experience that can be shared by writing such spars down and then sharing them. Some worry that this will alienate others who might otherwise listen. And maybe they have a point. But at some point, we all need to let off steam, and it is good to have that outlet.

Which is why it is good that there are also those giving the soft sell. In my opinion, the best way to convince others of the truth of atheism, or at least convince them that atheists are not devil-incarnates, is to simply set a good example, be a decent human being, and let it be known that you are an atheist as you do so. That alone can dispel the furor of many a religious person. You will not convince them that their god is myth, but at least you can convince them not to be so harsh against atheists.

Just recently, I had an argument with a very devoted Christian. She was young, and she was utterly convinced she was right. She admitted that she was very stubborn and never changes her mind about anything. I pointed out to her that one should always be open to changing one's mind after receiving new information. I really didn't want to get into it all with her, but as these things go (when a true-believer finds out you are an atheist) it sort of spiraled from there. She seemed to think she could just "educate" me by telling me the "whole story" - I assured her that I had heard it all before and was very familiar with the "story" - and then proceeded to point out what I thought were the most ridiculous parts of it.

For instance, the central notion, that Christianity is so great, Jesus is so great, because of this great "sacrifice" - I pointed out that, if one is the ruler of the universe, and if one knows in advance that you are going to die, but don't worry, three days later you'll be resurrected and be the immortal ruler of the universe - well, that whole dying thing suddenly doesn't sound like much of a sacrifice at all - it doesn't even really sound like dying, because what makes dying so bad is that it is permanent. So you sacrifice nothing. Instead of being a "great sacrifice" it is really a sham. Nothing is lost. It looks more like Superman pretending to die, then popping back on stage after act 3. To this, I got no answer, just more of the prepackaged verbiage that is dumped into the minds of Christians that they think is an argument or a rational reason that they never actually examine. Soon after, the conversation ended (for other reasons - it was time to go) and that was that. Do I think I convinced her? No. But I admit that it felt good to at least offer the rational argument.

Another of my favorite nonsense to point out is Heaven and evil. If Evil exists only because there is free will, then how do you explain heaven? Either everyone is a slave in heaven, without any free will, or there is just as much evil in heaven as there is here - otherwise, you'd have to say free will has nothing to do with evil. But then you'd have to conclude "god" was evil because you'd lose the "free will" dodge.

Truly, much in Christianity is simply incoherent nonsense. It is sad that so many are victim to it, but then they don't have much defense, as they are indoctrinated as children into it. I think I do agree with Dawkins that dumping such mythology as fact into defenseless little minds is child abuse. But I wouldn't outlaw it, because that way leads to totalitarianism, and I'm a freedom sort of guy. But I am saddened by it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thankful for Caller Id

My phone just rang. I picked it up and looked at the CallerID - it said, "Romney for Pres" on the little monitor. Needless to say, I did not answer. So I add to my list of things to be thankful for this year, CallerID. Hallelujah! Praise be, says atheist me!

Fox News takes facts "under advisement"

This is just so disgusting, I can't begin to describe how disgusted I am. I mean, I guess I'm not surprised, but I would think that after something this blatent, the other networks would adopt a general policy of mentioning that Fox News is not really a news organization every time Fox comes up. Olbermann does this now. Why the hell can't the rest of the networks figure this out and actually, you know, report it.

One of the reasons I love Obama is because he has frozen out Fox News because they are nothing more than a right-wing GOP propeganda channel. Why the heck can't all Democrats and pretty much everyone who isn't a GOP schill do the same thing? And do so publicly, and also proclaim that anyone who does go on Fox News who claims to be a liberal really isn't - because that generally is true as well - they find weak-spoken semi-liberals to act as paid punching bags for the right-wing talking heads that get the last word and get most of the airtime.

I've often thought that the complaints of the MSM somehow being 'liberally biased' were, in part, really more an indication that the complainers think the media is biased because if they had a news show, they'd be horribly biased themselves. I think this just about clinches it. (Of course, the false claim of bias has wider, strategic reasons, but I think it resonates as well as it does with the right-wing is because they think everyone else, including the left, would be as ruthlessly dishonest as they themselves are in the pursuit of power).

But the sad truth, as I see Glenn Greenwald illustrate day after day, is that even the non-Fox part of the media is terrible and shows absolutely no signs of getting any better. It is really quite depressing. I wish some billionaire would found a new network, newspaper, and web page and actually hire real journalists and do real reporting. I think it would quickly be shown to make a ton of money because of the lack of any real competition in the area of actual news reporting.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Watch "The Wire"

I really can't put it more simply than that. Watch The Wire. It is, quite simply, the best television show ever made. Not only that, but that statement will continue to be true well into the future.

You need to make a commitment. You need to start with season one, episode one and watch them all in order. But it is well worth it.

Season Five just started on HBO. That will be the last season. I don't want to say more or to spoil anything. You just need to watch it. I'm an atheist, but I am quite happy to spread the gospel of The Wire. It is that good. A word of warning, though. You will forever be spoiled from it, because it will make even the good crime shows (and dramas) of the past look lackluster by comparison.

So stop reading this post. Go out and buy the first season on DVD. Or rent it. Or borrow it. Any way you can, you must watch it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

This Post is Misogynist

At least, to some, probably it is.

Or, to answer the question posed by trinityva in a post titled "Is this just me..." no, it isn't just you.

Though I'd take it a notch further, and say that it isn't just that people inappropriately and inaccurately label less loaded forms of sexism as "misogyny" - I think it is overused to the point that all one needs to do be be labeled "misogynist" is to be male and say something that isn't 100% in agreement with the most radical feminist in a given forum.

And thus it is used to label someone to silence them, because obviously anyone who is a misogyst, well, we can just ignore what they have to say. Every word out of that person's mouth is just vile poison, and if you read between the lines they just want to see all women exterminated because they are so full of hatred of women. Sorry, I call bulshit.

I do not hate women. I have never hated women. Misgony means "hatred of women". Therefore, use of that label with me is 100% innacurate. And yet for the reasons noted above, I have been labeled a misognyst.

And just because someone doesn't agree with your own personal form of feminism, whatever that may be, does not mean they are a misogynist, even if they also have the gall to have a set of male sex organs concurrent with that disagreement.

So I'm not a misogynist. Sorry to disappoint. I rather like women. In many ways, I like women better than men, though I don't hate men, either.

So in my not so humble opinion, "misognyst", like "patriarchy" before it, needs to be retired from its overuse.

P.S. On the flip side of that coin, not all feminists or those who criticize the male elements of society are misandrysts, though there is plenty of misandry in the feminist movement.

A Non-Existent Problem

There is an excellent article about the recent Supreme Court case regarding voter ID laws, specifically the law in Indiana.

This from the article sums it up rather nicely:

"a non-existent problem . . . cured by burdening the fundamental right to vote."

It is sad that such a transparently partisan law that has NOTHING to do with solving any problem beyond Republicans losing elections because those pesky poor keep managing to vote despite their best efforts to prevent it (or to cajole them with religious fundamentalism). Michigan passed a similar law.

They passed a law to stop "voter fraud" of a sort that has NEVER happened in the history of the state of Indiana. And somehow this "compelling interest" of stopping this non-existent "problem" trumps our most fundamental right, the right to vote.

I sadly predict that the law will be upheld in this case, along party lines, and that yet another piece of what makes this country great will be sacrified at the altar of GOP partisanship.

This, combined with what appears to be a much more probable Clinton nomination has made me terribly depressed.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

To the Moon!

Michael Okuda, the man who did much of the art design for Star Trek, just designed the symbol patch for the Altair return to the moon mission. Which is pretty cool. Not just the patch, but going back to the moon, and then, to Mars.

I have heard plenty of people say that it is a waste of money and that we shouldn't do such things with all of the problems here on Earth. But I say poppycock on that. The government wastes tons of money no matter what we do. At least going to the Moon and Mars is COOL. It fires the imagination. It requires innovations in engineering and science. And it is inspiring. That alone makes it worth it to me. Hell, I'm sure we've spent ten times the cost of this space program on the Iraq war already. Why not put those government billions somewhere that can inspire humanity - on a project that requires great cooperation, rather than on just building bombs and killing people (or building bridges to nowhere).

So hell yeah! To the Moon!

College Rankings are a Load of Crap

This month I read an interesting article in Reason magazine about college admissions and rankings. It was nothing I hadn't seen before, but it reminded me of something that always annoyed me. College rankings. They are such a load of crap.

Universities get ranked well by being "exclusive" - that is, by denying lots of applicants. So the game is to try to get as many people to apply as possible so you can turn down as many of them as possible. While there is certainly some merit to the idea that if you filter out based on acheivement, you'll have better peers to compete against in school, making you learn more, it doesn't quite work out that way because of legacy admissions. People get let in for nothing more than the fact that their parent went to the school. So even the claim of high caliber students from "selective" admissions is a fraud, because one can be low caliber if you have some other factor, like a legacy.

But what ultimately bugs me about the whole thing is that it only measures quality of inputs, it does NOT measure any quality of the school itself. I mean, sure, you graduate lots of smart people if you only let smart people in to begin with, but so what? Smart people graduate as smart people no matter what school they go to. It has nothing to do with the school - its because they are smart. Duh.

The true measure of a school should not be the input, it should be the difference between the input and the output - that would show truly what the school actually does. But schools don't want to have to compete on that, because then theoretically some fourth tier college from nowhere can end up being number one and the prestige-worshipping folks can't have that! I remember at one point that there was an objective criteria, unbiased ranking done of law schools, and the usual number one and two for Harvard and Yale ended up in the teens. Guess what happened after that? They changed the criteria, made the criteria secret, and then ranked them all again, and miraculously, Harvard and Yale were back at the top again. Basically, all rankings are rigged to make certain schools come out on top. It is all a load of bullshit.

And then you get students all falling over themselves to get into the "prestigious" schools - spending a ton of money to do so. When really, you can get just as good an education at just about any accredited school - it is all about the effort YOU put into it, ultimately, no matter where you go. Which means (assuming you have good enough grades to have a chance to get in) unless you have some special reason to go to Harvard (basically to get hot political connections, for I can't think of any other good reason to go there) you're better off saving $100,000 and going to a fourth tier law school that you probably will be able to get a scholarship for on merit alone, than you would going to Harvard, because you'll graduate without debt and then you'll be much freer to start your life with a clean slate. That's what I did. Sure, you don't have the prestige factor. But so what. I don't think any level of prestige is worth it for me to fork over $100,000 or more in cash. Sorry. And I got the same education as someone at Harvard - we learn the same law, the same cases, the same procedures. Hell, I probably learned more because I focused on the practical and a lot of the "big" schools have an awful lot of fluffy theory you can take after the first year which may make for a nice, obscure law journal article, but won't actually be of any use in the real practice of law.

I'm going to encourage my kids to get the best deal they can for an education - better to get a lower tier degree with no debt than to get a higher-tier one with a lot of debt. No one much cares about your school past your first job anyway, most of the time. In my case, I got exactly the job I wanted right out of law school, so I really would have gotten no additional value had I spent $100K at some high-tier school. Heck, since I worked almost all the way through school, something I couldn't do at any of the ivy-leagers, I would have lost the equivalent of over $250,000 if I had gone to one of those schools.

Education is ultimately worth what you put into it. A fancy school doesn't teach you any better than a cheap one. Because the main important component there is you. Why not save your money? Lots of people end up with degrees, still can't find a job, and then they have huge debt. Might as well minimize that debt as much as possible. Heck, degrees in many cases don't mean much, though HR departments still require them anyway as screening devices. But that is a whole different issue - whether even a cheap degree is really worth it. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, you still need one to get certain jobs even though, objectively, that's ridiculous. Which again, is why it is a good idea to get that otherwise useless piece of paper as cheaply as possible. Then you can enjoy your life as an adult much more, starting out debt free, or much closer to that than you would have if you spent a ton of money for your college.

New Hampshire Disappointment

I'm disappointed Obama didn't win. Though I suppose a 39-36 loss isn't all that bad, especially after winning by a wider margin in Iowa. And I suppose that a tough race against Hillary Clinton is good warm up for the horribly nasty things that will be coming from the GOP if Obama wins the nomination. But still, it is disheartening to think that it isn't a lock for Obama and he still may lose it. While I will be holding my nose and voting for Hillary Clinton if she wins the nomination, there are many many many many others who will not (but who would vote for Obama). Which makes me wonder sometimes if Democrats even want to win the Presidency. Obama totally blows everyone else away among Independents - and Independents are the ones who decide every election. Why shoot yourself in the foot and turn down the candidate with, by far, the best chance of winning the general election? I just don't understand that - just like I didn't understand people voting for Nader in 2000 when anyone with half a brain should have known that was essentially a vote for Bush, and Gore was closer to the philosophy of Nader than Bush was. That's just retarded.

Seeing McCain win the GOP in NH gives me mixed feelings. I used to really like McCain, before he sold his soul to the GOP base and caved in even on torture. After seeing that, I don't think we'll get anything from him different than Bush, and that is disappointing - that apparently to get the GOP nomination now you really do have to drink the neocon-fundie cool aid. And no candidate willing to do that is fit to be president. One could have a small hope that he would feel less need to do that once he was securely in office, but I don't have that hope - I've seen him cave in too many times to Bush to think he has anything independent of that left in him.

Of course, the Democrats also cave into Bush, but that still isn't enough to get me to vote GOP. One can hold out a small hope that some of them will resist, like Dodd recently did on FISA and telecom immunity. All hope for the GOP is dead and gone.

Michigan's primary comes up soon, and it sucks because Obama isn't even on the ballot, in "protest" of the early date. Hillary's name is on there. So basically, he ceded the state to her. That concerned me because it shows that Obama doesn't realize that you need to ruthlessly exploit power to get in - no GOP candidate would ever take his name off a ballot in "protest" - they all want power and know how to get it. Hillary apparently understands this as well. Too bad the Democrats still seem to be generally clueless about how to get and exploit power. Meaningless "protests" that lose you the chance to win are just plain stupid.

So I really have no reason to vote in the Primary here, nor do most of the other voters in this state. Sad.

I just hope the news improves as the race continues. If Hillary Clinton wins the nomination and faces off against McCain, I think the Dems will have yet again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory like a bunch of stupid freaking idiots.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The James Randi Million-Dollar Challenge comes to a close

It looks like time is running out for anyone who wants to claim James Randi's million-dollar prize for verifiably proving paranormal abilities. I suppose they can't waste time on this forever, but I agree with the sentiment that it was a great thing to have out there for anytime someone claimed supernatural powers - put it to the test and get your money or shut up!

There's no Heaven (Imagine that?)

I was going to title this post "Imagine there's no heaven" but then, while that does evoke the song that comes to mind, it is somewhat innacurate for my purposes, because there is no heaven, so imagination only comes into play when one wants to say there is one.

How can I say there's no heaven? How can you say that the planet Vulcan, complete with Vulcans with pointy ears who are very logical, doesn't exist? How can you say Thor doesn't exist? Ok, I really don't want to get into that.

I write this because I wonder how to deal with this issue with my daughter and (soon-to-be) son. It is made more interesting by the fact that their atheist parents have them in a Christian daycare. Yes, it was the closest, best option for us (and cheapest as well). No, there is no stated requirement that we be Christians to use it - and they never asked. Come to think of it, when I was a child, I was in a Christian daycare/nursery school, probably for the same reasons - it was convenient and close and probably there aren't a lot of other good options. Which also makes me feel better about it, because I was not particularly brainwashed by the experience, likely because my parents did not reinforce it at home. (The religious thing, that is).

When my daughter directly asks me about things like heaven and hell, I'll tell her the truth - that they are mythological places, made up by humans for various reasons. And I'll tell her the truth about religion as well - for instance, that there may have been a real person named Jesus, but he was just a person, and that the true origin of Christianity as a force really owes much more to the letters written much later by someone who never met anyone named Jesus. (Peter, I think was his name, but I am terrible with names).

I want to teach her these things without really indoctrinating her or making her an outcast among the majority religious people out there. Everyone has their own mythology of sorts. I want to teach her that. Ultimately, I want to teach her to be a good person and show her that you don't need religion for that. But I don't want her to be combative with religious people - that helps no one. I think I'll tell her that she can be an example to them that atheists are not monsters. And I don't just want to tell her things authoritatively - I want her to think for herself - to see the process one can use to sift through ideas to see which are true and which are false, to see what history is true and what is legend or myth. So I don't really just want to tell her things straight out, I want to tell her, when asked, "how do you think we can figure that out?" That is a far better use of her brain than just stuffing it with myths or even truths that are given without source.

Getting back to the title of this post, I want her to feel ok with the idea that there is no heaven - pointing out that this just gives life more meaning because we only get one life. Pointing out that what we do matters because of that, because there are no second lives. And finally, pointing out that this is nothing to fear because the nothingness of non-existence after death is no worse than the nothingness of the entire age of the universe before you were born. Enjoy life, savor it, and don't waste it. That's what I want to teach my children. My daughter. I wonder how that will go.

Monday, January 7, 2008


This week has two anniversaries. One good, one bad. This past weekend was the one-year anniversary of my wife's miscarriage, something that I wrote about last April and that had a rather wider audience than I ever expected. Needless to say, this was not a milestone we celebrated, except in the sense that we are glad that her pregnancy now is going well. I don't even know if she remembers the signficance of the dates this past weekend. I certainly didn't remind her. Especially given that Friday night she started having contractions that lasted all night and then she spent all day on Saturday in the hospital, alone (I was home with the two-year old), for tests. I wasn't worried, though - the contractions weren't that strong, and I remembered something similar with our daughter, even if she didn't, that turned out to be nothing. Still, it made for a long, exhausting weekend. As I thought, it was nothing - there's less than a 1% chance she'll go into preterm labor in the next two weeks, according to all the tests they did. And even if she did, the baby would probably be fine, since she's at 32 weeks now. Still, I'd much rather we go full term, for many reasons.

So while this anniversary is nothing we'd want to "celebrate" we don't feel bad right now because everything is going well with baby number two. Well, except for our lack of a name. We know its a boy. But we have no boy's names we have agreed on yet. I guess we ought to get on that soon...

The other anniversary this week, in a few days, is that of our wedding. We actually have two dates for that, for reasons that will take longer to explain than I have right now, but suffice it to say that it is an interesting story and we have only been married once. Usually, though, we don't do much to celebrate either of them. We get so busy we sometimes barely notice it. For obvious reasons, last year, we didn't even think of it at all as we had other things on our mind at the time. It will be nine years now. It is amazing to me to think about all that has happened in that time. I guess nine years really is a long time. Which is good to know as I approach 40.

So two dates of significance this week, but I don't think we'll be celebrating anything. Though maybe we'll go out to eat next weekend. I don't know. I do know, though, that right now I feel thankful that everything is going relatively ok right now. I think it is important to stop and take notice of life when times are reasonably good. Savor it. Enjoy the moment. You never know how long it will last. I guess the standard line for that is to "stop and smell the roses." Well, I'm stopping and inhaling really deeply right now. Mmmmm, good.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Male Monkeys Pay for Sex

This article indicates that male monkeys "pay" for sex with females. Oh boy, the blogsphere in certain quarters that start with the letter 'f'' (or orbit near it) would have a field day with that one... I post it without comment (for now...)

Friday, January 4, 2008

Obama Wins Iowa!

Which,of course, probably anyone reading these words already knows. But what you may not know is how happy I am about this! I really want Obama to get the nomination. I think he has the best chance of winning the general election (even though a Dem is likely to win in any case, why chance it?) I also like his more moderate message. As for how he'll govern, who knows. One never knows for sure. He'll be a million times better than Bush, but that is because Bush was so bad. Hillary would likely put in competent people, which would also be better than Bush, but she would also have a lot of negatives - the same negatives that may lose the Dems the election if she were the nominee.

I really like Edwards's policies. I just don't think he can win. I was excited about him when he was running in 2004. Then I saw his VP debate with Dick Cheney. I hate Cheney. He is an evil person. (I think Bush is also evil in his own way but I don't hate Bush). I really wanted to see Cheney go down. Instead, Cheney, in that debate, wiped the floor with Edwards - and after I saw that, I never saw Edwards as a viable candidate again. I think he would get destroyed in the general election. Unfortunately, policies don't get you elected. Ruthless politics do that. Edwards simply isn't very good at that. That, combined with his tepid support overall and tepid fundraising, simply does not make him a viable candidate in the long run.

So I'm excited about Obama. I hope he goes all the way.

On the Republican side, frankly, I don't care who wins. Though I really don't want it to be Rudy - so I guess I was satisfied to see him get less than half of Ron Paul's support last night. Beyond that, I really don't care. I think it is funny to see Romney get trashed by the party that Rove built (evangelicals going to Huckabee) - some say the GOP is splitting into pieces right now. But that doesn't really matter - the GOP always gather together like lemmings on election day. As authoritarians, they can't help it. Which is why the fact that there are fewer GOP voters today (and many more Dems) is really what will decide the election.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Malls are Dangerous

At least, the parking lots are. Particularly in the crazy holiday season. As my wife found out a few weeks ago when she went to the mall (after I begged her not to because of the craziness) and then, on the way out, she was hit by someone.

She's fine. The baby is fine. Her car, however, had body damage to the tune of $1850 or so, though the frame was ok. (It was basically the fender around the left wheel well that was destroyed). So we're out $400 of deductible and the cost of a rental car so she could finish working that week before we went on vacation. Happy freakin' holidays!

I was going to write about it before now, but I decided I just did not want to think about it because I wanted to enjoy my vacation and relax. But now vacation and relaxing are over with, so I might as well share.

It seems probable that the other party was at fault - there was a stop sign a bit back from the intersection for them while my wife had no stop sign. No one got a ticket because it was in the parking lot of private property. It was a crossroads of sorts between two "mall drives" through the lots.

Ultimately, we are out almost $500, which sucks, but I suppose it could have been worse. We just were trying to save for the new baby, we just bought new furniture for our two year old (so we can use her old furniture for the coming baby). In fact, my wife just ordered the furniture that same day she was hit. So that was a very expensive day ($1000 for the furniture - a tall dresser and a long, short dresser).

On the plus side, now the furniture is safely delivered, our toddler's room is now all set with all of her clothes and things in there, and the baby room is now ready for a new baby. We cleaned the house and got everything in order and ready. Now we just need the baby. Eight or so more weeks to go. (Or less...)

It sucks that vacation is over, but at least we accomplished a lot. So we feel good about that. On the negative side, a good friend is moving to Arizona for work in two weeks, so that's one less friend (really the last good friend I had living in the immediate area), and one less gamer twice a week. He may be back in six months, but who knows. Work is fickle.

I have only about a year and two months left at my current job, then I need to find another one. That will be fun. Maybe I'll hang a shingle. I guess I'll have to figure that out as this year progresses. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Emphasize Effort over Smarts - A good guide for kids

There is an interesting article about how those who attribute acheivement to innate intelligence ultimately fare far worse thant hose who attribute acheivement to hard work.

I can see why this would be the case. It is certainly something I will keep in mind with my children. I think I will make a conscious effort to praise effort when an acheivement is made rather than skill or smarts. I want to teach my children that you become good at something through hard work (and that you can overcome difficulties and failures the same way).

Now, as I think about this, I wonder if the same sort of thing could be said for those who go on and on about privilege. If one sees the world through the 'privilege' lens, thinking people only get what they get through 'privilege', discounting the value of hard work, then I can see that mindset being just as poisonous as the fixed-mindset discussed in the article. Better to focus on effort. If you think you are not 'privileged' then overcome that with hard work. You will probably do better than those who just sit around thinking they can coast on 'privilege' (if they even have it). In that way, I think the whole 'privilege' mentality is self-defeating.

Happy New Year

One day late...

I just felt like having a post for the new year before too many days went by. Though I'll probably be posting more regularly now that my vacation is over and my brain has had time to recharge.

Only about eight weeks left until I'll have a baby boy to supplement my now nearly 2 1/2 old daughter in draining away most of our financial resources. But hey, they are so cute!

I hope everyone has had an enjoyable holiday and I hope everyone's new year will be a good one!